Chief Thunderwater

Oghema Niagara
Chief Thunderwater
Henry Palmer

What man was this of many names who saved this sacred Erie site?

Rich man, Poor man, beggar-man, thief
Doctor, Lawyer, Merchant, Indian chief. . .
Yes and No and Maybe so, but certainly More.

Oghema Niagara of the band Pishqua, tribe Osauckee of the Algonquin nation was born to the sound of the thunder of the rushing waters of the Niagara, on September 10, 1865, in the Hut of Two Kettle on the Tuscarora Indian Village in Lewistown, NY. Cleveland became his home at an early age.

Rich in Native pride, this self taught prominent member of the Pioneers Memorial Association led the long crusade to save the Erie Street Cemetery from desecration with a warning 'that should the body of Joc-o Sot's ever be touched, a terrible disaster would befall Cleveland.' The Erie Street Cemetery is, too, the final resting home of Chief Thunderwater who died June 10, 1950 at age 85.

Head of the Supreme Council of Indian tribes here and in Canada until his death, Chief Thunderwater addressed Indian Affairs from his home located at 6716 Baden Ct., in Cleveland. Often traveling thousands of miles to personally diffuse situations throughout both countries, Oghema Niagara lectured vigorously in support of American Indian rights, leading the fight, for example, in United States, Ex Rel. Diabo vs. McCandless regarding the border between the U.S. and Canada and Indian acknowledgement thereof. Thundering against the 'wrongs that the white man did unto his red people,' Oghema Niagara led The Thunderwater Movement suggesting, among other things, unification of tribes to secure an independent Indian Nation roughly the size of Texas.

Chief Thunderwater's 17 room dwelling was often an inn to traveling Native Americans or a home for those in need. Also known as the Big Chief Medicine Man, Chief Thunderwater was Cleveland's last known sachem. In his younger days, he took to the road with little packets of precious herbs and roots which he claimed 'cured his people back in the days when bison trampled the prairie flowers in the dust'. In time, he operated The Preservative Cleaner Company as well as Thunderwater and Rose Herb and essential Oil Products at his Baden Court address. Products included Mohawk Penetrating Oil, Thunderwater Tonic Bitters, Seminole Sweet Gum Salve and Jee-wan-ga tea.

Born and raised during the age of the Indian Wars, Oghema Niagara knew the risks of losing Native culture while also adopting the ways of the White man. He learned that if he were to preserve his culture, he would need to understand what Whites saw as important. He was wise. By showcasing imagined Native ways, he was able to achieve for his people what he did. Chief Thunderwater traveled and performed with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. He was a personal friend to Buffalo Bill and Kit Carson.

In 1948, as the Cleveland tribesmen were about to face the Braves from Boston in baseball's World Series, Chief Thunderwater, in full regalia, offered his benediction: "May the best warriors win, as long as they are Cleveland's." And they did.

And there are those who would ask, Is he Chief Wahoo, too? And while we do not know, it may be that this American Native American could reconcile it. Or not.