Oral history treasures show us other sides of research subjects difficult to reach through the sterile world of public documents.
There are two ladies still living who are descendants of Lee-o-netto’s sister, Carrie Horton. They have personal memories of Lee-o-netto. Randy has kindly shared these family remembrances with me concerning Lee-o-netto.
— K’chi Wliwni Nidobak —
Thank you my Friends
The ladies remember going to Lee-o-netto’s home in Allegany when they were young. Her home was a big Victorian house with tall ceilings and a wrap around porch. They remember a beaded curtain doorway they loved to run through.
They remember her as a very proper lady who would make them sit up straight. The kids were sent out to the porch when the adults wanted to talk.
Her obituary mentions she raised canaries. The family remembers a room in the home with bird cages all round the perimeter of the room and her parrot perched in the center of the room. No one is certain what happened to the canaries, but the family kept the parrot.
The parrot was called Popanuewsiak. The “iak” ending suggests the name could be Abenaki. However, I have consulted my dictionaries and my knowledgeable friends with no results. The closest I can get is something about cranberries, but I really don’t think this is correct.
A family story recalls a person stopping by and while there the person asked why the parrot was swearing in German? Lee-o-netto probably spoke Abenaki, French, and English as did many Natives of St. Francis in the time of her youth. Did she also speak Germany or did she acquire the parrot from another person?
Lee-o-netto probably had lots of free time, especially during the period she traveled a regular monthly route. What does a woman do when waiting for something? Reading, knitting, crocheting, and hand sewing are all things that come to mind. These activities don’t require lugging around bulky equipment and are pretty easy to put down at a moments notice.
When the house was cleaned out after her death the family discovered more than a half dozen trunks of lace tablecloths and linens and another group of blanket chests filled with quilts. The family is not sure who made these items and it appears only one tablecloth still exists today. I am trying to learn more about the table cloth. They refer to it as lace, but I wonder if it isn’t crochet work.
I speculate the trunks contained items she made to pass time while waiting on clients. It is a shame none were saved. Anthropologists would have a field day mining bits of cultural information by examining a large selection of her work. I would expect to find Victorian patterns and styles with subtle hints of Native heritage in the details. I wonder if she sold or gave away any of her work and if so, would we be able to identify it today?
The ladies remember the cough medicine Lee-o-netto made for them and how it worked better than anything you can buy.
The saddest thing I learned from the family was that Lee-o-netto stipulated all her herbal formulas should be destroyed at her death and her nephew, Leon, complied with her wishes. I wanted to cry when I heard that. I may never know her reasons, but must assume she felt the knowledge would be abused or misused in some way.
Her medical practice survived the early period of Federal regulation which put most of the “Patent Medicine” companies out of business and sent many a quack and medicine man running for cover. She survived the Great Depression without losing her impressive real estate holdings. She promoted herself as an “Indian Doctor” in times and places that certainly would have directed a fair amount of bigotry and discrimination at her. Lee-o-netto endured it all and continued to practice medicine well into her 90s. Her success suggests her medicine did exactly what it was supposed to do and did it well.
All the decades of learning and fine tuning her formulas and all the generations of knowledge handed down to her, gone in an instant. I have found nothing to suggest she ever had an apprentice, so it really is all gone. Tears come to my eyes even now as I write this. :-(
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