Mary McKee

“Tarema” – or “Carrying A Pond” 1838-1922

By Sallie Cotter Andrews
Wyandotte Nation Culture Committee

Mary McKee was born in 1838 in her grandfather Quoqua’s cabin on the Huron River in what is now Wayne County, Michigan. Her mother was the beautiful Katie Quoqua, daughter of Wyandot Chief Quoqua. Her father was Thomas McKee, a descendant of the Thomas McKee family, originally from Ireland, who were well known in the Revolutionary War days as traders with the Indians. Thomas’s mother (Mary’s grandmother) was Charlotte Brown, a Wyandot.

In 1842, when Mary was five years old, her family decided to move with the Wyandot of Ohio to a new home in Kansas. The family traveled from their home on the Huron River to Upper Sandusky, Ohio, to move with the group. On July 12, 1843, the Wyandots then numbering 664 people (609 from Ohio and 55 from Michigan and Canada), left Ohio for Kansas. In groups of 30 to 40 people each, they traveled to Cincinnati in a caravan that totaled 120 wagons, buggies and 300 horses and ponies. From Upper Sandusky the tribe went south through Kenton, Bellefontaine, Urbana, and Springfield, then on to Cincinnati, Ohio. There they boarded two steamers, the Republic and the Nodaway, and proceeded on to their destination via the Ohio, Mississippi and Missouri rivers. In 19 days, the people arrived at what they anticipated would be a good new home in Kansas. Unfortunately, it was not.

Within a few months, the Wyandot people were sick and dying due to lack of housing, flooding, and the quick spread of disease. In 1844, Thomas McKee, Mary’s father, was one of the casualties. Mary’s mother, Katie, decided that she and her daughter would move back to the Anderdon Reserve as soon as they could afford to do so. In 1846, they returned north. Later that year, Katie married Jim Clarke, a Wyandot man whose property was adjacent to hers, giving Mary a stepfather. Mary McKee, whose native name was “Tarema” meaning “Carrying-A-Pond,” belonged to the Bear Clan like her mother. Her nickname was “Turtle.” From her step-father, Mary learned many of the old ways of her people. From her mother, Mary learned how to use herbs and roots for healing. From both of them, she learned independence and tenacity.

Mary, like a turtle, was a traveler. She stayed in close contact with her relatives in Kansas, and when she was old enough, she moved to Kansas to go to school. She lived with her cousins, the Isaiah Walker family, during her teenage years. Mary, like her mother, was also a beauty. About 1856, Mary had a baby girl whom she named Catherine after her mother.

Mary McKee and her daughter returned to her mother’s home in 1867. Mary and her mother petitioned the government for Mary’s rightful land allotment and pay. She attempted to explain that she had gone to Kansas for schooling and always intended to return home to her mother. For all her effort, she only ever received one $21 annuity payment. The Wyandot people of Anderdon did not fully welcome Mary back. They were split into two groups over the issue of “enfranchisement,” and another member simply meant less for each person there. Nevertheless, she persevered and kept up the battle.

In 1877, Mary wrote a formal petition to the Minister of the Interior for her fair share of the Reserve. It was a difficult struggle, but finally some ten years later on February 24, 1887, at 2 p.m. in Ottawa, the “absolute purchase of the 50 acre tract in Anderdon Township to one Mary McKee was granted for the consideration of $1.” It was registered with the Department of Indian Affairs on March 2, 1887. Under the reign of Queen Victoria, and carrying her name, the paper she had long fought for gave Mary McKee part of the land set apart in Anderdon for Wyandot Indians. Mary received her 50 acres in the Second Concession of Anderdon.

Before Mary received her property, however, her mother passed away. Katie Quoqua Clarke died in 1876, when Mary was 36 years old. Mary and her daughter Catherine were living with her. Her step-father, James Clarke, continued to live with Mary for 19 more years before he passed away in 1895 at the age of 91 years.

During Mary’s adult life, one of her great joys was traveling to Oklahoma to visit her relatives who had moved to Oklahoma from Kansas. Each year Mary stayed in the home of her Uncle Bertram N. O. Walker and Aunt Mary (Mrs. Isaiah) Walker. Mr. B. N. O. Walker, a member of the Big Turtle clan, was a bachelor and one of the tribe’s most colorful and talented persons. He was an avid storyteller, poet, singer, musician and businessman. Using his Wyandotte name, “Hen-Toh,” he wrote two books – “Tales of the Bark Lodges” and “Nubbins.” Evenings spent in his home would have been filled with wonderful conversation and traditional stories of Old Fox and Old Coon, Rabbit, Beaver, Otter and other animal characters.

In 1911, Mary met anthropologist Marius Barbeau. Mr. Barbeau was interested in interviewing Mary about her knowledge of the Wyandot people and in particular recording her use of the Wyandot language. In August 1912, Mary told Mr. Barbeau some of the old stories, and sang him some Wyandot songs which he recorded on wax cylinders. He also photographed her outside her home in Amherstburg, Essex County, Ontario. In 1912, she sold Mr. Barbeau her all Wyandot artifacts for $60. Mary was described by Mr. Barbeau as “a refined Wyandot, aged 73, belonging to Anderdon Township, Essex County, Ontario, and one of the very last to speak the language of her nation on the Detroit River.”

By 1914, Mary had become too feeble to make her annual journey to Oklahoma, so she sold to her house to Annie Splitlog Gibb and moved permanently to the home of B. N. O. Walker in Oklahoma. Her house remained in the Gibb family for many years. It was modernized over the years and at one time was jacked up, had a basement put under it, and windows cut through its log walls. In 1949, Mary’s official document granting her 50 acres of the Anderdon Reserve was in the possession of Norman Gibb, son of Annie Splitlog Gibb. In recent years, it was in the possession of Annie’s grandson, Russell Dupuis. From Oklahoma, Mary wrote to friends in Canada, principally a Mrs. Eno in Windsor, Ontario.

Besides leaving her recordings and photographs, Mary McKee left a recipe for salve. It is as follows:

Mary McKee’s Salve – Good for Man or Beast?

_ lb. of butter without salt

_1/3 lb. of rosin

_ lb. of beeswax

_ ounce of Camphor or cake

_ ounce of Alum

_ lb. common soap (yellow)

Green Salve – add

_1/8 ounce Blue Vitrol to the above recpt.

Mary McKee died in Oklahoma on June 11, 1922. She is buried near Wyandotte, Oklahoma, in the Walker family cemetery on the hill near the highway. Her grave is unmarked. The small cemetery where she is buried is fenced, very pretty, and on private property.

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