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Unknown Stories of WNY: Peace medal finds way home to the Tuscarora Nation

The medal, originally presented by George Washington, was lost for centuries.

LEWISTON, N.Y. — Just in time for Native American Heritage Month, what had been an unknown story of Western New York, has now been solved and the Tuscarora Nation has a long-lost artifact back back where it belongs.

Chief Tom Jonathan calls it an important part of their history. It is a quite a history. The Tuscarora's migrated south to the Carolinas in pre-colonial days and then after battles with English settlers and other indigenous nations, they moved back north settling in New York and becoming part of the Iroquois Confederacy. Now a piece of that history is back home. 

"Coming from the very 1st president is an important piece," Jonathan said. 

Now many are familiar with the Red Jacket medal that was recently returned to the Seneca Nation by the Buffalo History Museum, but other medals were given out by George Washington in the infancy of our nation. One such medal honored Tuscarora Nicholas Cusick, a revolutionary war hero, spy, personal assistant/bodyguard and interpreter for the Marquis de Lafayette, the French leader who helped the colonists defeat Britain. Tuscarora history group member Vince Schiffert says he always wondered why Washington gave Red Jacket the medal but they had no record of Cusick ever getting one, until now. 

"It was amazing, I've known about Nicholas Cusick. As a kid my mom told me about him, explained his exploits in the revolutionary war and and his early leadership here in the community. As I got older and did a lot of research on, not just Tuscarora, but all nations of the Haudenosaunee in history and learning a lot, I always wondered why he didn't have one of those medals of peace because he had such an instrumental role in the 1790s in our community."

As it turns out, it was out there. Jonathan got an amazing call about a year ago. The medal had been removed from the Tuscarora Nation, and surfaced at an auction house. Lacking any documents showing its original owner, the auction house donated the medal to the Chickasaw Nation. They accepted it, determined to identify its original recipient. Their investigation found that the medal was sold in the 1870s to a collector by U.S. Army Capt. Cornelius Cusick, a grandson of Nicholas Cusick. It was also confirmed that George Washington had indeed awarded the medal to the elder Cusick.

Recently a delegation, including Chief Jonathan and other members of the Tuscarora History Group traveled to Oklahoma to accept the medal and return it to it's home.

"It was amazing just to actually have something in our hands that's at 1 of our former leaders from the revolutionary era where era once owned and had" says Schiffert. 

Chief Jonathan adds, "it was a really good feeling, you know, and a good feeling is good medicine to our people."

The medal will be on display to the public from noon to 2 p.m. on Saturday, in the Tuscarora Nation House, 5226 Walmore Road, Lewiston. Members of the Chickasaw Nation and their historian will attend the event as the Tuscarora people say nya:weh, or thank you.

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