Naval Marine Archive - The Canadian Collection
Library Catalogue Ships database Research Collections Bibliography About us Donate

Inner Man

Dr. Peter Martin - white man, or, Oronhyateka - Mohawk Indian?

Born under the English name of Peter Martin, on August 10, 1841, he was also given a formal Indian (Mohawk) name. Oronhyateka (A-Ron-Ya-Take-A), when translated meant "Burning Cloud".

From the day of his birth he was influenced by "English ways". Christened with a common English name, he could write and speak English, along with his native Mohawk language. There was still strong Mohawk traditions and ways in Oronhyateka's Village during his early years. Oronhyateka received a formal elementary education on the Reservation. The school he attended was primarily established by the New England Company for the training of the young Indians of the Grand River Indian Reservations.

At this point in Oronhyateka's life he seemed to display more Indian characteristics than white man. This was mainly due to his parents, family and general Reservation influences which were the strongest.

At the age of fourteen, his elementary school education was completed. For the other boys of the Reservation this meant, and was accepted to be, the end of their education and the time to start work and earn what money they could. Oronhyateka did not accept this stereotyped life, he wanted to secure a far better education. His strong ambition for a higher level of education, perhaps, was brought about because of the great influence Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea), who has been acknowledged and recognized to be the greatest of all Mohawk chiefs, had on Oronhyateka, owing to the fact that Brant himself was an university graduate. The decision to continue his education could also have been suggested by the teacher at the New England Company school. The white society's idea being thrown at and accepted by Oronhyateka, even though his parents deemed his education finished and were opposed to his wasting any future time in educational institutions.

Being unable to persuade his parents to consent to further study, Oronhyateka, still at the age of 14, left the Reservation and his direct contact with his native Mohawk life. He ventured to the Wesleyan Academy at Wilbraham, Massachusetts, where he spent two years.

During the two years at Wesleyan, Oronhyateka displayed the financial state typical of his race, virtually devoid of financial resources and only by great effort was he able to afford to stay at the Academy. To earn his living he worked before and after school doing any chore that came his way. For these various chores Oronhyateka received small amounts of money and along with his family, who helped as they could, he was able to graduate from Wesleyan, with the highest standing in his class.

Oronhyateka was in the middle of the "white man's" society and he did show it. How could he not be affected by it? No close-by friends of Indian race, the only Indian at the Academy and in contact with his family and their traditions for a very small percentage of his time. He wore fine-looking suits of English cloth as well as his white shirts. It became a rarity for him to be seen in Indian costume and almost never in full Indian dress. His physical appearance was characteristic of his race, a commanding figure, a well-proportioned body, which was as straight as an arrow and a height of over 6 feet. His distinctive face and figure along with his native colour made him noticeable among any number of men.

During his years at Wesleyan, a school was opened just east of the Martin family home. Oronhyateka returned to his home and tribe and was hired for a year's teaching at the newly opened school.

So now he was teaching other young Mohawk Indians the teachings of the modern world, the white man's world.

It is not known who financed the school or who made the decision to hire Oronhyateka. It is unlikely it was the Mohawks, as they were never known to have the funds for such a project. I suspect it to be an outside party, perhaps the Canadian government. Whoever did make the decisions, pay the bills, and hired Oronhyateka, may have had the idea the young Indians would listen and believe whatever Oronhyateka, a fellow Mohawk of their tribe, would tell them and since he was educated in a formal "white" school, he would teach the white society's beliefs and ways of life, which was what Oronhyateka demonstrated in his dress and behaviour. He could be considered remolded and fitting into the modern society much more then the society he was originally born into. The year of teaching provided the funds necessary for Oronhyateka to continue his formal "white" education at the Episcopal school for men, Kenyon College at Gambier, Ohio. He completed the four-year course in three years, graduating with very high marks.

By this time Oronhyateka knew what he wanted to do with his life, for he had set his heart on becoming a doctor of medicine, trained in a Canadian university. So he entered the University of Toronto (provincial university).

It was during his studies at the University of Toronto, King Edward VII, then the Prince of Wales, came to visit Canada in 1860. Oronhyateka was 20 years old at the time and was selected by the chiefs of the Six Nations to present the address to the son of their "Great Mother". The chiefs also wished him to represent them wearing full Indian dress.

What he had been selected to do and the outfit that was selected for him to wear did not seem to go along with the "new" Oronhyateka, highly educated citizen, which he displayed at the time.

It is during this historical event the true man is revealed. He refused to deliver the address in English, so the address was delivered in Mohawk and duly translated by an interpreter. So even in the presence of royalty he was proud to be a Mohawk Indian and showed it.

The Prince was impressed by the fine reading and the chiefs were deeply proud that they had a speaker who carried their tradition of eloquence. The later inquiries the Prince made interested him so much that he asked the Chiefs' Council for the full story of Oronhyateka's struggle for an education. The remarkable report led the Prince to invite Oronhyateka to go to Oxford, England for further study. He placed him under the direct care and influence of Sir Dr. Henry Acland, Bart., the Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford and the Prince's physician.

Three years were spent at Oxford by Oronhyateka and along with the high quality of education he gained, he also found a friendship that lasted to the end of his life. Dr. Acland always spoke of him with great affection, saying "No son could be dearer" and "He is a rare fellowman!". So again Oronhyateka is away from his native traditions and in the middle of white men and high society too. You have to wonder if he had been changed culturally during the two years. Perhaps it was his own choosing or maybe it occurred without his realization. Either way, it must be considered as a possibility.

He returned to Canada at the end of his Oxford years, since he had never lost sight of his goal to be a physician in Canada. He entered the Toronto School of Medicine, then a department of the University of Toronto and graduated in 1864, at the age of approximately 23 years. Before the start of Oronhyateka's last year of medical school he took a wife. She was of the Mohawk tribe, and the great-granddaughter of Joseph Brant, the celebrated Indian Chief mentioned earlier.

Dr. Oronhyateka began his medical practice in Frankford, Ontario, a village near Belleville and Deseronto. After a few years, he decided to move when an opportunity of advancement came in an offer of a partnership with Dr. Lucas of Stratford. he remained there for nine years and built up a flourishing practice.

During his life in Stratford the doctor had a slight fling in politics. Out of this activity, for the Conservatives, grew a warm and lasting friendship with the Conservative leader, Sir John A. Macdonald. Macdonald described Dr. Oronhyateka to be "the greatest leader of men Canada had ever produced". Later Sir John recommended an appointment for Oronhyateka as Government Consulting Physician to the Mohawks at Deseronto, and thus the family left for Napanee. Mrs. Oronhyateka loved the idea of being near "her" people.

By the end of their Napanee stay they had a daughter and two sons. One son, Acland Oronhyateka, was named after his father's dear friend from Oxford days. The other son, Henry, died several years later in a tragic water accident.

In 1873, financial reasons forced the doctor to move his family and practice to London, Ontario and for the next five years devoted his energies to his profession. He became well-known as a diagnostician.

It was while in London, when Dr. Oronhyateka was trying to establish his medical practice, that this old friend (Dr.) Sir Henry Acland gave him letters of introduction to his friends, which made matters smooth for Oronhyateka. The following is one of such letters:

OXFORD, June 6th, 1891.

My Dear Alan Herbert:

May I introduce to you Oronhyatekha, with his wife and daughter. He is a pure Mohawk Indian, whom I met when in Canada with the Prince of Wales in 1860. He came to Oxford as an undergraduate upon my invitation, and subsequently became a most excellent physician and surgeon. He has left medicine and is now at the head of a great society of Foresters a large insurance body in America.

He was attached to us and we to him. Be kind to a rare fellowman.

Very affectionately,

H. W. Acland.

Three years after moving to London, Dr. Oronhyateka first became actively interested in the Independent Order of Foresters and its fraternal beneficiary movement. How he first became interested in Forestry is quite characteristic of the man and is good proof that he was still very much an Indian.

He himself declares that it is doubtful if he would ever have been a Forester but for the fact that when he was solicited to become a charter member of Court Dufferin, #7, then forming in London, his attention was directed to the fact that laws of the Order restricted the membership to "male whites". This apparent reflection, cast upon his race, decided the matter and he signed the application for a Charter... the Supreme Chief Ranger was himself present to institute the Court and granted a dispensation to Court Dufferin, #7, London to allow the said court to initiate one Doctor Oronhyateka, a gentleman of Indian parentage. who was highly recommended by everyone who knew him.

This event occurred in February 1878.

In September 1878, Oronhyateka was elected Right Worthy High Chief Ranger of the Right Worthy High Court of Ontario and he held the position for one year. Shortly after his retirement from the office a considerable number of members, including Oronhyateka, succeeded to organize the Canadian Order of Foresters (which is still the present Order.) On June 30, 1881 the Independent Order of Foresters was reorganized at Ottawa, with a membership of 396, and Oronhyateka as Supreme Chief Ranger.

With the splitting of the Order came the necessity to split the regalia and money. This ensued a court suit and trial with Oronhyateka having the task of representing the new Order. The representatives of the old Order requested that the case be dismissed since "the representative of the new Independent Order was not a qualified member because of the race restriction in the constitution" and as "an Indian he had no legal right to be in the courtroom to represent The Independent Order of Foresters or any other Order". The statement was shot down by Oronhyateka when he vocally stated:

"What you have quoted was only intended to exclude those who belonged to a race which was considered to be inferior to the white race... (the IOF) legalized my admission because they acknowledge the fact that I belong to a race which was superior to the white race".

The case was settled and the new Order faired well because of the great presentation by Oronhyateka.

At the start of the new IOF there were only 396 members and a debt of $4,000.00. But, the IOF quickly gained a solid financial base and never has been in debt since that day.

The demands of his office in the Order took him away more and more from his medical practice and with the need to move the Headquarters of the Order to the capital of the Province (Toronto, Ontario) the matter as settled and he gave up his medical practice. So the Order and the Oronhyateka family moved to Toronto in 1889.

Through the decades that followed there are specific events and pieces of information before Oronhyateka's death that should be noted.

Dr. Oronhyateka had several homes, "after the fashion set by royalty", but the home nearest his heart was the one called "The Pines", situated in the midst of his people on the Mohawk Reservation. Second was a newer home on an island in the Bay of QUinte, at Deseronto, named "The Wigwam". In both of these homes the Mohawk language was always spoken.

The following are excerpts from the June, 1901 Independent Forester and informs us of a great tragedy in the doctor's life, and is also proof that he and his family never forgot or lost their heritage.

There has befallen our Chief, Oronhyateka, the greatest personal calamity that can fall to any man in his later years, the loss of his wife and help-mate, who passed away at the family residence near Deseronto, on May 28th... she entered heartily into and supported her distinguished husband in his numerous and important undertakings for the benefit of his race and mankind... The funeral... proceeded to Christ Church near Deseronto... members of the Mohawk Church gathered around the casket, and sang in beautiful and sonorous tongue of their race and hymn or funeral dirge.

Dr. Peter 'Oronhyateka' Martin died on the morning of Sunday, March 3, 1907. He did not leave much of an estate, $150,000.00, which included property and life insurance.

I believe, although he received a formal "white" education, lived almost fifty percent of his life in the "white" society, had many influential high society friends, including royalty, and ran a successful fraternal society which dealt mainly with Whites, he never lost his true self. He was born a Mohawk Indian, lived believing and proud of his birth and died a proud and strong Indian. The following quotes support this conclusion.

E.J. Dunn, author of Builders of Fraternalism in America, stated,

He sensed it as the beginning of the end. His mind turned to the land and the customs of his forefathers. He decided to go South in the forlorn hope of gaining a further respite from his fatal malady. One morning, late in 1906 or early in 1907, he went down to his office for the last time. He knew it was the last time. He strolled through the corridors and offices of the great IOF Temple for the last time. He knew it was the last time. He gazed out upon Toronto, the city that he had learned to love so well, for the last time. He knew it was the last time. He shook hands and said "Good-bye" to his associates and fellow-workers in the great cause of Forestry for the last time. He knew it was the last time. He went to Deseronto and bade farewell to his people for the last time. He knew it was the last time He visited the graves of his wife and son for the last time. He embraced his son and daughter for the last time. He knew it was the last time. As he started South he saw the hills and valleys, the lakes and rivers, the soil of Canada and Great Britain -- his native land -- recede from his sight for the last time. He knew it was the last time. He embarked on an outward journey for the last time. And he knew it was the last time.

Down through the ancient home of the Iroquois and the Mohawks -- his people; down through the land of the Tuscaroras--an off-shoot from his own people, that had journeyed South a century or more before Columbus discovered America and whose blood mingling with that of the Cherokees in mortal combat had reddened the waters of the stream ever after known as the Chickamuauga, or River of Death; down through the rugged mountains and the whispering pines to the lowlands and the soothing surf of the sea, this great Captain of Fraternalism went upon his journey of death.

...That afternoon he saw his last outgoing tide and, as old ocean's tide receded, his own life ebbed away. The end had come. Sun of the morning was dead.

A close personal friend and fellow IOF employee, Thomas Lawless, wrote in the June, 1907 Forester,

With the sun which sank peacefully in the West on the quiet Sabbath evening of the third of March, the "Burning Cloud", which for a quarter of a century led our Forestric hosts, vanished from the firmament of human beneficence.

The Great Spirit whispered to him, and the soul of Oronhyateka silently took the trail to the Happy Hunting Grounds, where rest the spirits of his fathers.

The simple Indian, the cultured Gentleman, the towering Genius, the great Fraternalist...


This document came from an old Mohawk friend of our organization who could not identify the author. It is a typewritten manuscript, and appears to be from the 1930s.


Naval Marine ArchiveThe Canadian Collection
205 Main Street, Picton, Ontario, K0K2T0, Canada
Telephone: 1 613 476 1177
E-mail: for comments, queries and suggestions.

Copyright © 2024
Naval Marine Archive
The Canadian Collection

Revised: 23 January 2016