Smoke Johnson, George Johnson, Barton Farr, Pauline Johnson

“For the rest of his life Skunny Wundy told anybody who would listen the story of his encounter with the Stone Giant(s), but nobody ever believed him.” Arthur Caswell Parker, Collected Stories of Skunny Wundy. 

A.C. Parker


On his life journey, lower Mohawk Squire Davis, Tehawennihárhos, faces off with stone giants – as, one supposes, do we all – but most of us cherish the hope that when we raise our voices in protest we will be heard and, better, believed.


There are amazing women in Squire’s story.

“I believe her.” We believe Margaret Riley Davis. And Jennet Ferguson. And Sarah Maria Farr. We must believe Velma Farr. And Addie Farr. Their voices, beckoning to us from the past, have only a faint audience. Recently, the stories of the women and “the Mohawk” have caught the attention of a few of their descendants, who, through years of research, have managed to recall these people from oblivion.

Each one of our antecedents, Jennet, Sarah Maria, Velma, Addie, and, of course our Squire, faces a stone giant, and overcomes. The stories of the lives and times of individuals are the historical vertebrae holding together the spine of our enormous, diverse, 21st-century Canadian nation, a mare usque ad mari. Or a mari usque ad mare usque ad mare – from sea to sea to sea.

Seas and stories make a nation. One hopes, someday, the Farr women, Margaret Riley Davis, Jennet Ferguson, and Squire himself, will add their stories to the national conversation. To have a successful community of citizens with common purpose, a nation needs to acknowledge its history – even the absurd and painful bits. 

John Smoke Johnson steals land from Squire’s mother, the widow of Peter Davis, a certain Margaret Davis.

Bart Farr sexually preys upon the Farr women.

With his own house in some disorder, Chief George H. M. Johnson spreads scurrilous gossip about the Davises.

To build Chiefswood, Johnson may have scooped money, illicitly, from an estate of which he was executor.

Most disturbing of all is the story of the Grand River Navigation Company (GRNC). A  travesty. It is the story of how an imperial nation bankrupts an (allied) Indigenous federation. From 1832 to 1846, colonials, with the Crown’s blessing, rob the Haudenosaunee (Confederacy of Six Nations) of £40 000 (some sources suggest it’s the equivalent in today’s buying power of £40, 000, 000–but it’s likely more than that).

David Thompson l, builder of Ruthven Hall, stands at the head of the pack of opportunistic crooks. The GRNC and Thompson’s story are detailed in Sky Walker Tehawennihárhos Charter.

British spike polls in War of 1812

Squire and the law

Research hints Squire Davis may not stand on the sunny side of the law. Poverty is like the wolf, beating, night and day, on the Davis door. Al Swearengen of Deadwood advises the weebles of the world to stand up and give some back. The Davis family does that but, we wonder, when does one’s scrabbling for a subsistence-level existence suddenly graduate into the full-fledged hustle? That I don’t know.

I do know poaching and smuggling are commonplace on the reserve, justified then and now, one notes, because the Six Nations strenuously object to their own lack of sovereignty within the ‘host’ sovereignty of British Canada. Justified, because in 1845 the people have no food. Justified, because Chief G. M. H. Johnson builds his grand home (1853-56) during a time of his people’s poverty. One cannot say for certain Squire Davis is a smuggler or poacher. One can only say one would not be surprised to hear it. Squire may smuggle. Tobacco? Liquour? He may poach. Sycamores? Johnsons accuse Davis of cutting down trees to sell for profit. Perhaps.

Carolinian, American sycamore

But not a scintilla of evidence exists of more serious offences, say, crimping.

Squire Davis does not sell inebriated souls to the Union Army. A certain H. H. (Hilton Hill?) dredges up Johnson-based rumours, repeated in John A. Noon’s book, that Squire is a racketeer, suspected of crimping.

Researcher Stephen Heeney, after an exhaustive probe into the life of Squire Davis, finds no evidence to support the Johnsons’ rumour. What is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence (Hitchens’ razor). There is, however, ample evidence of powerful and resentful cliques, willing, always, to defame their adversaries.

What Squire is, is poor. A successful crimper (c 1861-64), or so one imagines, would occasionally have access to some means. Squire does not appear to have means (or make improvements to his house and grounds) until much later than the Civil War.

Speaking of money, in the time after Thayendanegea’s death (1807), the Haudenosaunee are wealthy. As a member of the Six Nations of the Grand River, Squire should have enough money to allow him to live comfortably. Horrifying to the people, then, is the outcome of the Grand River Navigation Company’s wholesale swindle. The canal company steals their money, land and, in effect, the river itself.

The theft of the people’s funds and property drives the Grand River settlement (c 1832-1880) to levels of poverty and despair previously unknown (see Bruce E. Hill).

But poverty does not impede desire. The desire to be great and respected (and to spend other people’s money if there is opportunity) never leaves the breasts of humans. Chiefswood, George and Emily Howells Johnson’s elegant home on the Grand River, is constructed in an era of poverty.

George Johnson and Emily Howells, wedding photo

David Thompson’s villa, Ruthven Hall, also on the river, is also constructed in an era of Indigenous poverty (1845-46). In the 1830s and going forward, famine on the reserve is bad enough to inspire the likes of the merrie men of Sherwood Forest, and yet both Thompson and Johnson manage to locate the resources to build large homes – large enough to astound their struggling, poverty-stricken neighbours.

Ruthven Hall, archives

Fighting inequality leads to protest. Protest leads to risk-taking. Risk-taking leads to heaven know what unlawful activities! Only the Shadow knows. And Squire. Noon’s H. H. knows only gossip, cited eighty years after the fact.

Scouting Party, Michael Swanson

Squire and Jennet in Uxbridge and Onondaga

At 37, from first-hand experience, Squire Davis understands two worlds: the European settler world and the Grand-River-settlement world.

William Ferguson, Jennet’s father, donates a corner of his property to the Hicksite Quakers of Uxbridge Township.

One is a world of opportunity. Uxbridge, below, William Ferguson Jr’s farm, 1877.

The world of the Six Nations of the Grand River has challenges. Mohawk Institute, below.

For over a dozen years, Squire and Jennet reside in Uxbridge – in the European settler world.

Squire does not make his mark in Uxbridge but he is smart. He sees things. He sees the settlers’ freedoms – astonishing freedoms compared to the “wards” living on an Indian reserve.

Settler freedom means a family can grow more crops and raise more stock than the family can consume, with the option to sell the excess at market. Settler freedom means a family can cut down trees, either to sell for profit or for making improvements for family.

Settler freedom means farmers can grow tobacco and wheat and corn and sell their products nationally and internationally. Settler freedom allows a person to trade farm produce outside the community. Settler freedom means family members can sell unentailed land to whomsoever they please, and not worry that a foreign power will hold title after the sale. Settler freedom means the white man’s law (most often) will adjudicate in favour of the settler’s improvements over Indigenous stewardship – let alone sovereignty. Settler freedom means persons can speak about politics and religion and history and say their piece in the language of the mothers.

Settler freedoms do not extend to the robbed and devastated Haudenosaunee at the Grand River. Squire knows it. Before Squire arrives to take up residence in Onondaga, the Grand River settlement (1859), Haudenosaunee resistance is well underway but it is a fractured effort (see readings, Sally Weaver).

An impediment to a united resistance is the truth that, due to the effects of displacement and trauma, the people do not get along well with each other. The territory is almost lawless. Outlaws, both Indigenous and European, operate within the settlement. Families sink to devious means to eat and survive. If smuggling adds to the coffers, Squire sounds like the kind of man who might take such a risk.

Whatever Squire does to circumvent the Indigenous establishment’s legal conventions (does he smuggle? poach?), he is a dedicated father, shrewdly ready to appeal to whatever jurisdiction he believes will favour him and his family with a decent outcome.

For the most part his twelve children do well and are grateful for the ways and means Squire and Jennet find to shelter and clothe and educate them. Plus. Presbyterian Jennet and her insistence on the value of literacy and truth and schooling mark the family for generations.

Johnsons, who hate and malign the Davises,  misbehave. Smoke Johnson and Pauline Johnson (see Pauline Johnson and the wampum belt) sell Six Nations’ artefacts to American collectors.

The class-conscious Johnsons have the ear of a Scottish snob, Jasper Tough Gilkison – son of William Gilkison, and a relative of the ambitious colonizer, John Galt. (Galt founds the Canada Company.)  

Superintendent Jasper Gilkison does not think well of the people, the Johnson family’s being the one notable exception. (See L.K. Quirk).

As Superintendent of the Six Nations of the Grand River, Gilkison has the ear of the Johnsons, the Indian department, and the colonial government. Nothing good about the Davis family (or anyone’s family, actually, with the notable exception of the Johnsons) goes forward to the department, at least not from Gilkison’s pen.

Gilkison’s friends, the Johnsons, are praised to the skies. Fair enough.  However, we must remember that three of the famous Johnsons, Smoke, George, and Pauline – those whom the Superintendent so admires – involve themselves in some underhanded dealings.

  • Scholars dig out stories. In Scratchings, Across Cultures: a memoir of denial and discovery, Stephen Heeney delves into artifacts relating to Squire Davis and Jennet Ferguson Davis, and writes about their lives and times.
  • In so doing, Heeney unearths not only Squire’s various legal troubles (Johnson’s charge against Squire for poaching timber) but also a charge against George Johnson himself. Heeney writes, “In 1888 [George dies in 1884], the Council of Chiefs heard a statement of claim against Johnson’s estate from the Rev. A. Anthony, who accused Johnson of having misappropriated, as Executor, the funds and other property of a certain George Anthony, the proceeds from which Johnson used in the construction of Chiefswood and the purchase of its lands.” Heeney adds, “This is getting far from the objective of my memoir, but it is a story that some scholar might well want to follow up” (pgs 90-91). One has yet to see it.

  • What about Smoke and Pauline?
  • After G. H. M. Johnson’s untimely death, the Johnson family is left with limited means. In time, some valuable Haudenosaunee treasures find themselves stolen and on the block, ripe for American pickings.
  • A twist of fate points the finger not at the Davises but at Smoke Johnson and his granddaughter, the famous Pauline Johnson. The Johnsons are the culprits who sell off the Haudenosaunee’s treasures.
  • Smoke and Pauline, at different times, sell to eager Americans their people’s valuable artefacts, which don’t belong to them. Both the Johnsons keep the money.
  • Why do it? Pauline Johnson is seriously down on her luck. She is desperate.
  • Who knows what’s up with Smoke? I cannot say. I do not believe Douglas Leighton’s biography tells the whole story about this very devious man. The way he is supposed to have gained access to the Book of Condolence, which was once held by David of Schoharie, gives me grave doubts about the veracity of the received story, and a pile of questions relating to the honesty of the “paragon.”

Squire’s stone giants are three: Pine Tree Chief John Smoke Sakayengwaraton Johnson, Chief George Henry Martin Onwanonsyshon Johnson (Smoke Johnson’s son and the father of actor/poet E. Pauline Johnson), and last and by far the most vile a certain Captain Barton Farr.


Legends involving a race of Giants that lived on Earth – usually malevolent – is a universal archetype.

The Legends that follow are from the Iroquois as recorded by Erminnie A. Smith [the same woman who buys from Smoke Johnson the precious and rare Book of Condolence], published by the Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of Ethnology “Myths of the Iroquois.” Related by Mr. O’BEILLE BEILLE, grandson of Cornplanter.

  • “The stone giants, who principally inhabited the far West, resolved to come East and exterminate the Indians. A party of Senecas [keepers of the western door of the Haudenosaunee Longhouse], just starting out on the war-path, were warned of their impending danger and were bidden to accept the challenge to fight the stone giants and appoint a time and place. This they did. At the appointed time the giants appeared at the place, which was near a great gulf. Then there came a mighty wind from the west which precipitated the whole race of giants down into the abyss, from which they were never able to extricate themselves, and the God of the West Wind was ever after held in reverence by the Senecas.”

The West Wind does not blow the stone giants who are tormenting the Davises into the abyss. But records can fly in one’s face. Reputations are at stake. Vital statistics record both Johnson and Farr’s deeds. Damning paper trails can float from the abyss into the light of day – for all to see. 

 Alleged theft and assault and misappropriation

Stone Giant Pine Tree Chief John Smoke Sakayengwaraton Johnson


Onwanonsyshon Chief George Henry Martin Johnson 

The proximity of the Davis-Johnson farms on the Oxbow and the cholera epidemic of 1832  – and the ensuing deaths of the Davis men, Peter Davis and Peter the Runner – give John “Smoke” Sakayengwaraton Johnson the excuse he needs to remove, forcibly, the Davis widow and Davis children from the property of their fathers.

  • Back in 1832 Margaret Riley Davis and Peter Davis have seven-year-old Squire and his older brother, John, and his younger brother, Charles, baptized at St. Paul’s Anglican Chapel of the Mohawk. The transcriber mistakenly writes John Esq.

  • In her deposition against Smoke Jonson (1845) set before Magistrate Nathan Gage and intended for Special Commissioner David Thorburn, Margaret Riley Davis asserts she was married to Peter Davis “about twenty years ago.” Perhaps Margaret David(s) and Peter Davis marry in 1828. See record below. In 1832 Margaret’s then husband, Peter Davis, and her father-in-law, Peter the Runner, die in a devastating and far-flung cholera epidemic.

  •  In the fall of the same tragic year (1832) a knife- and gun-wielding John Smoke Johnson (backed by several armed cohorts) chases the Davis family off the farm when the family members return to claim their goods on the Oxbow property.

  • Smoke Johnson takes over the Davis farm. In 1845 – no doubt rubbing salt in Squire’s open wound – a certain William Johnson, possibly the son of Smoke Johnson, holds the Davis property on the Oxbow, adjacent to the property of Smoke Johnson. What could be more satisfying (to a thug of a man) than to grab the land adjacent to your land and pay nothing for it?

  • Chief George H. M. Johnson wants to toss the s0-called “ordinary Indian,” Squire Davis, into the jailhouse and throw away the key. On more than one occasion, Johnson succeeds. Yet Johnson is not successful in keeping Squire contained, and Squire and George carry on their feud over decades.
  • The Johnson-Davis feud cannot have been much of a secret, nor very much of an unusual occurrence. The Six Nations is rife with feuds, then and now (See Sally Weaver and John A Noon). After George Johnson’s untimely death and the death of the ancient Smoke Johnson, the council has the grace to appoint Squire Davis to the post of path-master. The honour is short-lived. Squire dies the same year of typhoid fever.
  • In the Sky Walker novels (historical fiction), the frightening eviction of the Davises by Smoke Johnson, thirteen years past (1832), leaves an imprint on the boy, Squire. Smoke Johnson causes Squire’s ever-after traumatic moment. The Johnsons are Squire’s enemies. The first stone giant’s cruelty lives on in a young man’s obsession with owning land on the Grand River. In his dreams, Squire wants to find a replacement for the lost farm of his childhood. 

Stone Giant Captain Barton Farr

Image found in Grand Heritage: A history of Dunnville, Canborough, Dunn, Moulton, Sherbrooke and South Cayuga. Ed. Cheryl MacDonald. Dunnville: Dunnville District Heritage Assoc, 1992

“Histoire de ma vie”

Let us now remember Casanova, he who fathers his own grandchild, and let us duly transfer the crown of depravity to Barton Farr, who not only fathers his own grandchild, Sarah Maria Farr, but also his own great-grandchild, Addie Farr.

  • William Davis out-lives his wife, Sarah Maria (Mariah) Farr. William fills out her death-certificate form. William and Sarah Maria’s foster son, Dr. Walter Davis, signs it. Sarah Maria’s death certificate, declared and submitted by husband and son, names her parents: her father is Bart Farr, and her mother is Elizabeth (Betsy) Lymburner. But! Bart Farr is also Sarah Maria’s grandfather because Sarah Maria’s mother, Elizabeth Lymburner, marries Harley H. Farr, the natural son of Barton and Maria (Burnham) Farr. 

  • Addie Farr, born 1869, is the daughter of sixty-nine year-old Bart Farr and Farr’s granddaughter, sixteen-year-old Velma Catherine Farr. Velma Catherine Farr marries Squire and Jennet’s second son, David Davis, in 1871. Two-year-old Addie moves in with the newlyweds. (See census records, 1871)

  • Via public records, voices from the past echo with anguish. Velma Davis’s voice. Addie Farr’s voice. As a young woman Addie Farr marries the Davis boys’ good friend, Frank Miller, and on the marriage certificate, there it is. Plain as day. Addie’s mother is Velma C. Farr and her father is Bark (Bart) Farr.

  • Bart Farr is a wealthy landowner, a church-goer, a reeve and a magistrate, a Navigation supporter, and a grade-A asshole. In documents and records, the aggrieved women out the story of this hypocritical, 19th-century sexual predator.

There is no clear remedy for Velma Farr Davis and Addie Farr Miller, but Sarah Maria Farr Davis may have gained some financial ground. 

In later life, Squire takes Barton Farr’s estate to court on behalf of Sarah Maria. Sarah Maria has married William Davis, Squire and Jennet’s oldest son. Farr’s “legitimate” family members are obstructive in executing Bart Farr’s will. The Farr family doesn’t want to hand over to Sarah Maria her rightful inheritance, some prime land her father/grandfather, that old devil Bart, left to her. I don’t know how the case is resolved but I do know Squire takes on the Farrs who defend Bart. That makes me proud.



John Davids Esq.






Mohawk Chapel, Brantford




Indian Baptisms at the Mohawk Chapel 1827-1840’s, publication #187, Ontario Genealogical Society, Brant County Branch, Brantford.






Margaret Davids






Mohawk Chapel, Brantford




Marriage Records at the Mohawk Chapel 1827-1877, publication #189, Ontario Genealogical Society, Brant County Branch, Brantford.





1) Death certificate of Sara Maria Farr Davis, parents, Bart Farr and Betsy (Elizabeth) Lymburner.


2) Marriage certificate of David Davis, 22, and Catherine Velma (Velma Catherine) Farr, 18. David’s parents are Squire Davis and Janet Davis. 

Velma’s parents are Harley Hamilton Farr and Elizabeth Betsy Lymburner.


3) 1871 census, the year of their marriage, showing David Davis, Velma “Catharine”  Farr, and two-year-old “Ada” – Addie.

According to the 1871 census, the Davis newlyweds live next door to Velma’s mother, Elizabeth (Lymburner) Farr, who resides with young Harley Hamilton Farr Jr (6). (Harley Hamilton Farr Sr marries Elizabeth Lymburner Farr in 1849. Harley Farr Sr dies in 1865.)

Before her marriage to Harley Farr, Elizabeth/Betsy Lymburner has a child by Harley’s father, Bart Farr (Sarah Maria b. 1848). One cannot imagine how bad the poor Lymburner woman feels about her daughter Velma’s having a child with Bart Farr.

The Davis boys are William and David. They identify as Indigenous. Each marries a daughter of Bart Farr. Sarah Maria Farr and Addie Farr are twice related. They are half sisters (though their father, Bart Farr). They are aunt and niece (through Betsy Lymburner).

Two Davis brothers marry two Farr sisters, who hail from the strangest tale of depravity. See below, Addie Farr’s marriage certificate, wherein she names Bart Farr as her father, and Velma Farr as her mother.



4) Marriage certificate of Addie Farr and Frank Miller, showing Addie’s parents as Bart Farr and Velma Farr

Marker of Velma C Farr Davis (mother of Addie and wife of David Davis) and Velma’s sister, Gracey Farr

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