Story of Mathis Splitlog

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There are many stories and legends of Mathias Splitlog the "Millionaire Indian." According to a federal land allotment report, Mathias was born in 1812 in Canada. Another report gives his birthplace as New York State. Some sources report he was a French-Canadian. Others say he was Wyandotte, and others claim he was part Cayugan. Another report was that he was stolen by Indians when a baby and reared by the Wyandottes in Ohio and at the age of fifteen was made a scout for the Indians.

In 1843 Splitlog, along with about eight hundred members of the Ohio Wyandotte tribe, migrated to Kansas; a movement as harsh as the more publicized "Trail of Tears". The Wyandottes were assigned a tract of 148,110 acres on the Neosho River. This proved to be unsuitable for the tribe so they purchased thirty-nine sections of land from the Delawares. The new holdings, located in the fork of the Missouri and the Kansas Rivers, encompassed the present location of Kansas City, Kansas.

In 1815, Mathias married Eliza Charloe Barnett, a great-niece of Chief Jacques. He later built a log home on a small hill overlooking his land along the Kansas (present name is Kaw) river bottoms. After he and his family were settled, he built a grist mill, and later he built a saw mill. Both mills were run by a steam engine.

For a man without education Mathias was a mechanical genius. He could study a piece a machinery and soon build an exact replica. In 1860, using new principles he had reasoned out, Splitlog constructed a steamboat to ply the Missouri river, carrying freight to the small settlements along the water, highway. It had an engine of tremendous power; however, no one but Mathias could operate it. Then the area was gripped in the frenzy of the Civil War and Mathias became a soldier in the Union Army. Mathias was an engineer on this boat, and while they were transporting a regiment to the battle area, it was captured near Lexington, Missouri. A court martial was held and Mathias was paroled and he walked all the way back to his home.

In September 1863, the Union Pacific Railroad crossed the Kansas river near Splitlog's sawmill and lumber yard. Splitlog was spellbound by the railroad work and especially by the excavating machine that could do the work of a hundred men. Not even the steamboats had fascinated Mathias like the first locomotive he saw. It was a love that he never relinquished and had a bearing on his later life. With his land located as it was, Mathias began to amass his great fortune with the Union Pacific paying a fabulous sum for the right-of-way and several acres on which to locate railroad shops.

Always cautious and suspicious in his dealings with the white man, Mathias began swinging some shrewd land deals, The largest part of his allotment on the hill, still referred to as "Splitlog Hill," he sold to a syndicate that plotted early Kansas City, Kansas. These land sales created international recognition and he was known as the "Millionaire Indian."

By 1855 the white men realized that the Indians were living on some of most valuable land in the area. Then began again the familiar story of agitation for Indian removal. By 1857 most of the Wyandottes had either sold or lost their Kansas holdings so they were homeless. It was at time that the Seneca tribe paid an age-old debt to the Wyandottes by giving them 30,000 acres of land across the north end of the Seneca reservation in Indian Territory. In 1874 Mathias sold the remainder of his holdings in Kansas and moved his family to Indian Territory. He chose as his home an area near the Cowskin and the Grand Rivers. There was a large spring on his land which he named "Cayuga" in honor of his wife who was a member of the Cayuga tribe.

The Cayuga tribe meeting grounds are located north of the Elk River area of Grand Lake. Sitting on the bank of the lake in a grove of virgin oak timber, the location is ideal for their monthly council meetings and yearly ceremonial dances. These dances annually draw well over 2,000 people during the week long festival.

One of the first enterprises established by the Splitlog in Indian Territory was the installation of a sawmill. He also built a grist mill. He put in a ferry and built a general store. Mathias built a fine home which was embellished with cupolas and, as was the style of the era, a plentiful amount of architectural "gingerbread." He also built a well equipped blacksmith shop. There no schools so Splitlog organized a subscription school, furnished a building, and allowed the teacher to retain all that she collected.

After the other businesses were in successful operation, Splitlog started construction of a large factory which, when completed, contained three stories and a basement. Here he began the manufacture of wagons, buggies and two-seated hacks. All of the wooden parts for the vehicles came from Splitlog's own sawmill. This factory also made coffins from well-seasoned walnut. When there was a death in the community all other work at the factory ceased while a coffin was being built.

The post office of Cayuga Springs was established in June 1894 with Joseph Splitlog, one of Mathias sons, as the first postmaster. It was about this time that the far-seeing Splitlog discerned that the days of the hack and the horse were numbered, and that if Cayuga were to continue to develop it must have a railroad. Enlisting the aid of friends and pouring his own wealth and energy the project.

Splitlog promoted the three-million-dollar "Splitlog Line" from Joplin, Missouri to Neosho, Missouri, thence to Splitlog City. On August 15, 1887 the road was completed to Neosho, Missouri and a silver spike celebration was held, Then on June 30, 1869 another celebration was held, this time at Splitlog City, the new end of the track. After it was completed to Splitlog City, there were many couples who rode the Splitlog line from Joplin to Splitlog City to spend their honeymoon at the fancy, ornate Occidental Hotel built by the millionaire Indian.

Legend tells that Splitlog paid his payroll in gold. The gold was transported from Cayuga Springs in a wagon driven by Chief Splitlog and guarded by his heavily armed sons.

It was about this time that Splitlog was swindled in a fake gold mining scheme. Clay, a director of the railroad came to Splitlog with a story of the strike in McDonald County, Missouri. Splitlog purchased forty acres where the strike was made, plus many acres surrounding the farm.

Splitlog Land and Mining Company was formed and leases upon five thousand acres of land. On the road and trails leading to Splitlog City were seen white canvas-topped wagons with Bound for Splitlog" painted on their sides. It wasn't long until everyone was aware the entire mining venture was a hoax and that the mine had been salted with "Fool's Gold." M.C. Clay left the country and as a last gesture of honest effort to set things right, Splitlog sacrificed other property and paid off in cash the losses suffered by innocent persons. This display of generosity almost broke him.

Mathias Splitlog was adopted into the Seneca tribe and in 1890. He was elected Chief of the Senecas, The day of the election he gave a feast for his friends and fellow tribesmen. Fifteen hundred loaves of bread were hauled from the bakery at Southwest City. Three beefs were prepared to feed the multitude. The Indian band, which was outfitted and sponsored by Splitlog, lent a festive air to the occasion.

In 1892 the railroad had been extended to Sulphur Springs, Arkansas. Arthur E. Stilwell started dickering for the Splitlog Line. Finally the hard-pressed owners sold for the fabulously low price of $50,000.00. Age was beginning to tell on Mathias Splitlog and he had already lost twice that much on the line.

Although not as devout a Catholic as his wife, Splitlog became more interested in religion as the years rolled by. So in 1886 he began plans for a church to be built south of the factory. Constructed a hewn limestone from the area, the inside was embellished with beautifully hand-carved imported wood. Starting at the right front window and proceeding in a counter-clockwise route, the name "Splitlog" is spelled out, one letter over each arched stained-glass window. The arch forming the doorway is formed of fifteen stones, each of which is carved with an Indian symbol.

When Eliza Splitlog died in 1894, the church was still unfinished but her funeral was held in the partially completed building. Work continued on the church with several interruptions when Splitlog had to journey to Washington, D.C. on tribal business. It was practically completed on November 25, 1896 when it was dedicated. It was blessed by Bishop Meerschaert and by Father Ketcham. The bronze bell, which had been cast in Belgium, first tolled on memory of Eliza Splitlog during the dedication. This is the only church in Oklahoma and perhaps in the United States which was built solely by an Indian from his own funds for the religious use of all people.

Splitlog was now eighty-five years of age and the shadows of his life were growing longer and longer. It was on December 22, 1896, the Splitlog again started a journey to Washington on behalf of his adopted people. On the way, he sickened and soon after he arrived in the capital city, he developed pneumonia and died soon thereafter. His body was returned to Cayuga where Requiem Mass was said on January 14, 1897 in the church the old man had dreamed, financed and built.

Mathias Splitlog was buried beside his wife a few hundred feet from the Cayuga Mission. Almost single-handedly Splitlog had hammered a wilderness into a progressive, civilized way of life.  Few photos of the family exist today, but this one may be Israel and Sarah Splitlog.

Today the old church bell still rings. It calls the faithful to worship every Sunday morning at 8:30am. Loud and clear, its clarion peals over the streams and valleys of what was once the Seneca Nation.

More recently, the church was purchased from the Methodist church by a private individual in 1949.  He did major repairs on the building and received the original bell from a church in Nowata, Oklahoma.  The pews and alter in the front of the church were purchased from a Catholic church in the early 1950's.  The pews in the balcony are the original ones.

The Lord's Supper painting on the front of the altar was very faded when first purchased, so it was removed and repainted by an artist related to the private individual.  The church has now changed ownership from the private owner to his son who has done additional restorations.  Because of the blessings of God, the church is now a full-time place of worship for many today.   Christian, non-denominational services are held every Sunday at 8:30am, and are "come as you are".

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