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Carlisle Indian school graduate duped the town

Published May 01. 2010 09:00AM

During the first decade of the 1900s there was a huge interest with anything to do with the wild West. First-hand accounts about cowboys and Indians not only fascinated the young boys, but adults as well.

The Indian culture was popularized in the traveling entertainment shows - such as the Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show - touring across America. Dime store novels which dramatized the deadly prairie confrontations between the Indians and the invading white settlers seeking to carve out a new life in the Western territories, were a big hit among youngsters.

Companies also tried to cash in on the interest of western expansionism. Between 1906 and 1910, American tobacco companies began inserting textile items into their cigarette and tobacco products that depicted western life.

So it was not surprising to learn that when an Indian by the name of Dark Cloud came to the area in early May of 1910, it aroused a great deal of local interest throughout the Panther Valley. What was more intriguing was the story circulating that he would possibly reside here by opening a novelty store in Tamaqua.

When Chief Dark Cloud, whose American name was Etea Martnix arrived in Tamaqua, he quickly befriended some of the most respected persons in town. One was Dr. Fleming, who taught a Sunday school class at the Presbyterian Church. Two others were Mr. and Mrs. William Ramp, who allowed Martnix to board with them at their residence at 20 East Broad Street.

Martnix arrived with what appeared to be excellent references and credentials. The Tamaqua Courier described him as "well educated and an excellent musician."

He was a graduate of Carlisle Indian School, the "industrial school" which had been gaining fame as a collegiate football powerhouse, thanks in large part to the exploits of the great Jim Thorpe.

The Cumberland County school emerged after the Civil War when Congress pushed through a bill to establish a school for American Indians who had been removed to reservations. The founders of Carlisle and other boarding schools felt the American Indians needed to adapt to majority culture to survive.

While most Indian students were taught trade and farm skills - such as artisan and domestic crafts, that were considered useful in their environments - there were others like Martnix, who excelled in the arts. The Courier said he had "considerable talent for reading music at sight, while his voice is remarkable."

The Carlisle school also had an outreach program whereby Indian children could go live with white families in the attempt to Americanize them. Indian students were also taught Christianity and expected to attend church while at Carlisle.

When he came to Tamaqua, Martnix quickly endeared himself to some of the town's leading citizens. A reception was given in his honor at his boarding home on the first Saturday evening after he arrived. This was a significant day on the Sioux Nation's religious calendar since it was the anniversary date of its sun ceremony.

The sun was a large part of the Sioux religion. The Sun Dance was considered one of the most religious ceremonies of the tribe and the 12-day summer ritual of self-sacrifice was a testimony to individual courage and endurance in serving the Great Spirit.

While the Sioux were known to be great warriors, the family was considered the key unit of Sioux life. The Sun Dance also instilled a sense of tribal unity.

Martnix, who was from the deeply-spiritual Sioux tribe, tried to explain some of these beliefs at the Saturday evening reception at the Ramp residence. He was also invited to share at the next morning's Sunday School at the Presbyterian Church. As expected, he had the young people on the edge of their seats.

But it was soon revealed that Martnix's intentions were far from noble and honest. He had told the Ramps of his intentions to open a store in town to sell Indian novelties. He also said he had been promised a job at the Tamaqua manufacturing shops the next week.

Both claims turned out to be false.

The Tamaqua Courier reported that he arose early on the Monday morning following his Sunday School appearance and did a little reading. He then "borrowed" from William Ramp a complete wardrobe, including new suit of clothes as well as a shirt, stockings, brand new shoes, some gold cuff links and a lodge pin, purportedly to negotiate some business in town pertaining to his future plans.

When he did not return to the Ramp home for dinner that evening, the Ramps contacted authorities. It was reported that Martnix slipped out of town on a southbound train.

A later police investigation revealed that Martnix had been arrested on suspicion of theft and murder of a man in New Jersey. He was released after authorities refused to bear the expense of sending for him. The Tamaqua Courier stated that the whole town had been duped.

"The chief put up such a good bluff in establishing his innocence and trying to prove that he was law abiding that he soon had a number of town people believing everything he said and did," it stated.

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