Marshall Historical Society

Romance Wyatt
By Janet Dangler, February 13, 2016

The Last of the Brothertown Indians, Romance Wyatt, who died in 1907, was described as a kindhearted gentleman who had a sense of humor, laughed often and enjoyed a good joke. But to appreciate his story, it's necessary to understand a little of the history of the Brothertowns.

Around 1774, the remnants of once-mighty tribes, reduced in numbers and driven from their homes in New England, New Jersey and Long Island, united to form a new tribe at the encouragement of the Oneida Indians, part of the Five Nations in New York State. The Oneidas were land-rich at that time, and deeded them land about 10 miles square around the present Town of Marshall, extending from the foot of Sanger Hill northward along Brothertown Road, across Forge Hollow, along the east side of the Deansboro Valley and up to the Dugway at Franklin Springs. Because so many tribes had joined to make a family, and because they were intent on following a path of peace, they decided on the name Brothertown. Due to the fact they had no common language, they adopted the English language. Among the tribes represented were the Pequot, Narragansett, Natnick, Mohegan and Montauk.

Romance Wyatt, by all accounts, was a Montauk. Wyatt was born in 1826 in the Town of Marshall. Here accounts of his very early life differ. Some tell us that the age of 6 months his parents gave him to Cynthia Dick to raise; others state his parents died when he was 6 months old and he was adopted; and others assert that, although he had no memory of his mother, he was seven years old when his father died. However he came to live with Cynthia Dick of Dicksville, the fact remains she nurtured and cared for him, making sure he attended Dicksville school until he was 12 or 13 years old. After that time, he worked for farmers in the area, but decided to start for Green Bay, Wisc, where many of his fellow tribesmen, including Cynthia Dick, had emigrated due to the increasing demand for Brothertown land by the whites. At one time there were 600 members of the tribe and they were said to be industrious farmers. Gradually they gave up and moved. Wyatt stayed in the Northwest only a few years, however, and came back to live in Marshall, where he went to work on the Chenango Canal which opened in 1837. He was at first a driver and then promoted to steersman, at which position he worked for over 30 seasons. In those days a canaller had to fight his way along the towpath and at the locks. It is said that young Wyatt never picked a fight, but when forced into one he always came out on top; when he had a black eye the other fellow had two.

Romance Wyatt, commonly called Matt Wyatt, lived for a time in Hamilton, and it was there he got involved with the case of Jared Comstock and his wife Clarissa in 1858. Wyatt was frequently called to the home of the Comstocks to protect them from the murderous threats and attacks of their drunken son William. On the night Mr. and Mrs. Comstock were actually murdered by their son, Wyatt was unable to go to their home at their request due to a previous engagement; however, he was part of the search party who found William Comstock, the murderer, in the woods "secreted behind a log." He visited the prisoner, who escaped being lynched on the spot, many times while he was in prison in Morrisville, and was a witness for the prosecution at the trial. An aside: William Comstock was allowed to plead guilty to manslaughter in the first degree by reason of insanity, and was sent to Auburn prison where he presumably lived out his life sentence. He was said to have been a model prisoner.

When the Civil War broke out Wyatt traveled to Utica to enlist in Co. K, 26th Regiment, and when that company was mustered out after about six months, he re-enlisted in the 83d Infantry, part of Company K and later in Company A. He was in the first battle of Fredericksburg, where he was wounded in his left thigh, and also in the battles of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. At Gettysburg he was in the thick of the fight at Little Round Top. He was shot in the right ankle, which left him with a slight limp, and on July 6, 1865, was honorably discharged with a pension of $4. Wyatt was a great admirer of Abraham Lincoln, and while in the South he secured leave of absence long enough to come back to his home and vote for him.

In conjunction with voting, the story goes that as he entered the polling place, a man came up to Wyatt and said to him, "You know what side your bread is buttered on, don't you?" and gave him a $5.00 bill. A few minutes later another man asked the same question and gave him $1.00. Said Romance Wyatt, "Neither one of them asked me as to how I intended to vote, and I went ahead and cast my ballot as I had expected to. I had always known which side my bread was buttered on, but I had never expected to be paid merely for possessing that knowledge."

Romance Wyatt's houseAfter the war, Romance Wyatt returned to the Town of Marshall, having developed a strong attachment for this valley and its inhabitants. He bought a house in 1866 on the road from Deansboro to Oriskany Falls (Route 12B). It is no longer there, but was directly across from where the Signal Trailer Park in Deansboro is now located. In 1867 he married Eunice Ann Beach, a white woman, by whom he had one daughter, Hattie. Wyatt worked on the canal and Mrs. Wyatt found a ready market for her spruce gum, which she sold to the nearby school children for a penny. It was made from the resin Mr. Wyatt gathered from the trees in the Nile Mile Swamp. The gum was a rather hard, brown substance with a sweetish, pungent flavor.

In 1881, Hattie Wyatt died of pneumonia at the age of 15, and a hydrangea tree was planted to mark her gravesite on the east slope of the Deansboro cemetery. Despite the considerable grief at the loss of their daughter, Mr. and Mrs. Wyatt carried on. Wyatt, when he found the time in the winter, wove baskets of white ash, and also produced and sold chair seats; and his wife, besides supplying the gum, was the creator of fancy work for the people of the village. Romance Wyatt was elected game constable in the Town of Marshall in 1877. It was hoped, an article in the Waterville Times stated, that Wyatt's fondness for fishing would encourage him to enforce the fishing and gaming laws, which he did.

Mrs. Wyatt died in 1893, and Romance Wyatt was left alone once again. Lewis Kindness, another Indian, lived with him for a while, but he eventually went west. Wyatt always enjoyed hard cider, and during one of his "sprees" during this time, he attended a revival meeting at the Congregational (Stone) church in Oriskany Falls. He listened to the appeals of the minister, but could not make up his mind to covert until he had one last drink. He did, and told the bar tender, "This is my last drink." He signed a pledge, which he kept faithfully to the end, not to indulge in any more "firewater." Wyatt went back to the Congregational church, became a member, and even worked for some years there as janitor. It is said that every Sunday he walked from his home in Deansboro to Oriskany Falls to attend church, and hardly ever missed a service.

Wyatt, who elected not to leave the banks of the Chenago Canal, died in 1907, sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch of his house on the Deansboro-Oriskany Falls Road. Reportedly, he had been in feeble health, so his death was not unexpected. He was buried in the Deansboro cemetery next to his wife and daughter. Although there is a population of Brothertown Indians in Wisconsin, no more are left in this area. Hence, Romance (Matt) Wyatt is referred to as "The Last of the Brothertowns."

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