At the Tribal Council meeting in June, the Brothertown Indian Nation received a very generous donation from Mr. and Mrs. Russel Welch: a 231-year-old Brothertown Indian Record book. Records of the Brothertown Indians, as the book’s cover reads, was originally begun by our ancestors in 1788 in New York. It continued to be updated regularly with important Brothertown correspondence and records until 1810 and was updated once more in the year 1901. Since the late 1800’s, the book has been safeguarded and passed down through the generations of the Fowler/Kindness/Welch families until its donation on the 15th day of this past June.
“My main concern is that this book is kept safe,” said Mr. Welch. “After much thought about where to pass this book next, I decided it should be kept in Fond du Lac with the Brothertown Indians of Wisconsin.”
First cousin Cheri Welch, who was present at the event, said it was “very emotional for many of us. It gave me goosebumps and kind of choked me up.”
Councilwoman Jessica Ryan, who described the book as “absolutely beautiful” with “exquisite handwriting,” admitted that “as a lawyer, and as a judge, it is especially humbling to read, in our own historic record book, how our ancestors and relatives worked together to honor that long-time cultural value of finding, returning to, and maintaining that place of balance and harmony among our People.”
Mr. Welch remembers that he first learned about the book when he was 6 or 7 years old. It had been given to his father, Corliss in 1934 and was always kept protected and on a shelf in a closet. The book passed on to Russel when his father died in 1975. Corliss had received the book from his aunt, Lura Fowler Kindness who, in turn, had received it from her father, William Fowler. The family is not certain how William came to have the book. However, page 270 of Annals and Recollections of Oneida County (New York) may offer clues of its whereabouts prior to Mr. Fowler’s ownership: “Some time in the year 1850, the tribe now at Green Bay sent by a messenger for both books but for some reason the messenger did not obtain the book containing their town records, but did that containing their judicial proceedings [now more commonly known as the Peacemaker’s Record Book and a part of The Brothertown Collection] which he took to Green Bay.”
Throughout the years, the family received several offers from private collectors to purchase the book and from the Wisconsin Historical Society seeking its donation. One such incident was memorialized by Native American researcher Coe Hayne in 1934. After visiting and speaking with the Brothertown Indians still living in Brothertown, Wisconsin, he wrote a five-page paper on the history of the Tribe and its people which he titled The Long Trail of the Brothertown Indians. In this paper, Hayne mentions that he visited with Mrs. Lura Fowler Kindness who showed him the book and told him, “There were antique hunters in our village a few years ago. They asked me to sell this record book to them. I would as soon part with my life.”
Below: Mrs. Lura Fowler Kindness with Records of the Brothertown Indians c 1930’s
Councilwoman Ryan speaks for each of us when she says, “heartfelt gratitude to the family for donating this to the Tribe and for the generations of Brothertowners that have cared for this collection of historic writings.” Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Welch, for your very generous and priceless donation.