Exploring & Sharing the Wabanaki History of Interior New England
A Maine Nonprofit Corporation - 501(c)3 Public Charity
Last updated Feb-2009
Annie Denis, was born about 1855 in Canada, probably at Odanak or Durham. She appears to be the daughter of Newell Paul-Denis and Ellen Lawless. Ellen married 2nd to Louis Denis, who may very well be a brother to her first husband. There is also the possibility there was only one marriage for Ellen, with Newell and Louis being two names used at different times by the same man. We have not been able to learn much about either man. Ellen Lawless is believed to be the daughter of John Lawless (said to be a white man) and Anastasie Helen Sasiboite, an Abenaki woman found in records at Odanak.
About the year 1879, Annie married Silas Fuller and gave birth to a child, Carrie Maude Fuller. Carrie died at Luzerne on 1-Oct-1894. We have not been able to learn anything about Silas. Locally it is believed that he came from Keesville, NY. He is not with Annie and Carrie in the 1880 census, where they are enumerated using the surname Fuller but living with her parents. We assume Silas died shortly after their marriage.
Annie has two known sisters; Marie Anne, born about 1864 and Angeline, born about 1870. Angeline would be a half sister, but we can't be sure about Marie Anne. It is very likely that Newell Paul, buried in the family plot at Lake Luzerne, is Annie's full brother. He was born about 1850 and died in 1893.
Louis Denis and Ellen are found in Chesterfield, Essex Co., NY in the 1870 and 1880 Federal census records, along with children; Annie, Marie Anne, and Angeline. They are all recorded as "white" in these census records. In 1870, the family is living in the household of a woman named Anne Brown, described as born in Ireland. In 1880, they are in a separate household.
By 1900, Louis had moved the family to Lake Luzerne, NY, where they are recorded in the Federal Census for that year on the "Indian Schedule". In this schedule, all members of the family are listed along with their parents as "Abenaki" from French Canada - Angeline is the only exception, being born in NY. Although all identify themselves as Abenaki, the blood quantity of each individual (including Louis & Ellen) is listed as 1/2 white.
Although this 1900 census information is valuable, it should not be relied upon to accurately describe the family. We feel all the information for this particular census family is highly questionable and may not have been provided by an actual family member. We have found that most of the ages and dates given for the family in this census are not accurate based on other documents we have access to. For example; Angeline is listed as age 23 and born Apr-1877, but she was found in the 1870 census as 1 year old and in the 1880 census as 10 years old. In these census; Louis is always described as a laborer, Ellen is keeping house, and Annie & Angeline are referred to as basket makers in 1900.
Annie became very well known as an artist's model using the stage name "Falling Star". You can read all about that aspect of her life in the following articles.
Anne died at Lake Luzerne on 16-Jan-1903 after being crippled the year before in a railroad accident. She is buried at Lake Luzerne in an unmarked grave. What a shame, for this remarkable woman to have such an anonymous ending.
In the Museum of Natural History is a bust by Caspar Mayer, the sculptor, of Mrs. Annie Fuller, better known as Falling Star, the Abenaki Indian woman whose death at Luzerne, N. Y. was recorded in THE SUN last week. Like many other sculptors and artists, Mr. Mayer considered Falling Star the finest type of Indian beauty that he had ever seen.
For four years the demand for her services as a model was unceasing. She was injured in a railroad accident less than a year ago, and her usefulness as an artist’s model was at an end. Then, a cripple, she went back to her home among the Indians at Luzerne; lived a life of suffering, though still able to weave baskets, and at length passed away.
Falling Star was a typical Indian woman. Civilization had made her an Episcopalian, altered her life somewhat and made her the wife and then the widow of a white man, but it never robbed her of her Indian instincts, traditions or accomplishments. She was always an Indian at heart.
Her entrance into the world of art was dramatic. One cold night about five years ago an Indian woman went to Mrs. Harriet Maxwell Converse in this city, carrying on her back a pack of beautifully made sweet grass baskets. Mrs. Converse was then, as she is now, the most trusted friend the Indians have in this city. She is, herself, an adopted chief among the Indians.
To her the Indian woman, who was "Falling Star," applied for money to take her back to Luzerne, offering, as security for the payment of the loan, the pack of baskets she carried.
Mrs. Converse surprised the woman by telling her to take off her hat and coat and sit down. Then she told her to loosen her hair and it fell in jet black masses to her feet. It was the first time Mrs. Converse had ever seen Falling Star and the beauty of the woman impressed her, and she quickly realized Falling Star’s value as an artist’s model.
Mrs. Converse told her that she could probably earn more money by sitting still before an artist for five hours than she could by selling baskets for a week, but Falling Star did not take to the plan. She had the sense of modesty that is characteristic of all Indian women and thought that she must pose undraped. That she refused to do and would not until she was told that not even her arms and shoulders need be bared, would she agree to pose. Even then she could not understand why people were willing to pay her so handsomely for so little work.
The Indian made a hit with the artists who wished to draw only her face, but it was only after hours of argument that she could be persuaded to show her arms and shoulders. A sculptor who wished to make a cast of one of her feet almost got gray hair before he won permission.
Falling Star posed for the Metropolitan School of Fine Arts and the Chase School many times, and when the students of the former gave a tea a few years ago, the Indian presided at a table and was the feature of the affair. She also posed at the Art Union League and at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.
The fame of the Abenaki model reached Caspar Mayer, who made a bust of her, which was placed in the Museum of Natural History.
While she was posing for the sculptor she was asked how she liked the museum building.
"It is fine," she answered, "but it will be finer when it becomes my eternal home."
Another sculptor used her for a model, and his full length statue of her dressed in characteristic costume stands in front of the Thomas Orphan Asylum on the Cattaraugus reservation, the territory of the Senecas.
Mrs. Converse became the woman’s best friend, and by inquiry among the Indians and by questioning Falling Star herself managed to learn her history.
She was born about forty years ago in the Indian village of St. Francis near Montreal. Her grand uncle was Sebatis, who later became one of the best known Adirondack guides. From him the girl learned all the tricks of wood craft, hunting and fishing and when she grew up none of the braves was more sure with the rifle or more skillful in luring trout.
She was also an expert with the bow and arrow and was never more happy than when showing her skill. That fact caused some trouble to Mrs. Converse a little more than a year ago.
Falling Star called at her apartment during her absence one afternoon and, seeing a bow and quiver of arrows on the wall, amused herself by shooting across the room at a mark. Each arrow embedded itself in the wood mantel and had not Mrs. Converse returned when she did, it would have been reduced to kindling wood.
When about 20 the girl moved to the Adirondack country where she made baskets and peddled them among the guests at the summer hotels. Not a few New Yorkers saw her there but once and nevertheless remember her well on account of her beauty.
She was so good a sportswoman and knew the woods so thoroughly that, if she had wished, she could have found steady employment as a guide. But she would render that service for only a chosen few.
Her experience in the woods and her picturesque appearance caused her to be much sought for to grace the Adirondack camps at the Sportsmen’s Show and the various outfits vied with one another to secure her services. For several years she attracted no end of attention at the show and, in one instance, more than she wished.
One day a coarse, flashily dressed man, with a big diamond glaring in a striped shirt front, hung around her camp attempting to be familiar. He had just suggested that she should dine with him when she spied Mrs. Converse.
"Chief," she called, "come here. I wish you’d protect that man from me."
The man fled in disorder.
Like most Indians, no matter what their religion, she believed in spirits and witchcraft. One story which she told Mrs. Converse will illustrate this.
She said that a girl of her tribe was warned by her grandmother not to let a certain woman touch her, because a spell might be cast. But one day the supposed witch carried the girl to the woods and, after keeping her there all day, sent her home again. Her grandmother heard of her misbehavior and punished her.
That evening, she said, the girl saw a worm, almost as large as a snake, crawl between the logs of her cabin. The worm commanded her to follow and led her to the witch. Then, she said, the girl told of her punishment and the witch, in revenge, sent the worm to stay forever in the grandmother’s knee. And always after that the grandmother was lame. Falling Star believed the story was true.
Among her other qualities Falling Star had the Indian ability to heal the sick. She knew the antidote for stings and rattlesnake bites and gave the secret to Mrs. Converse. Take the leaves and roots of the wild violet, she said, and after crushing them in the hands, apply a ball of the pulp to the wound and it will not result seriously. Indians say it is a sure cure.
Members of her tribe said that once she cured a man of cancer. Falling Star said that was so but would not divulge that secret and it died with her.
"She was a kind and splendid nurse," says Mrs. Converse. "One day I had a knotted cramp in my wrists and told Falling Star about it. She ran her hands over it and then gave a tremendous pull which hurt terribly for a moment but accomplished a cure."
"Talk about Dr. Lorenz! These Indians have approximated his bloodless method of curing dislocations and the like, for many years."
One of her gifts to Mrs. Converse was a curtain made like those of Japan, but composed of dried kernels of corn as well as beads. Its beauty and novelty attracted attention and one day some ladies asked how it was made.
"Thread the kernels on a needle," said the Indian.
"But we can’t," they answered.
"You didn’t use a needle small enough,"responded the woman.
The ladies went away to try again. Then Falling Star laughed because they did not know that a needle could not puncture a kernel of corn until it had been soaked in water.
Artists noticed that, as a rule, her face bore a sad expression. They could not understand it but Mrs. Converse did. She had learned that Falling Star had lived a half orphan for twenty years. Then her husband died, her brother was murdered, her five year old son died and her mother became a helpless invalid. In spite of all those misfortunes she never ceased to work cheerfully to support the mother who is the only relative left to mourn her death.
Falling Star never knew what fear was. She never forgot a wrong, but sought no revenge. Her favorite motto was: "Don’t disown a person who has lied to you but once. If he lies twice, disown him."
Luzerne, Jan. 21 - Mrs. Annie Fuller, better known as "Falling Star," the noted Abenaki Indian beauty, died here Monday night. "Falling Star" was a favorite model for the artists of New York city, and was considered by them as a most perfect type of Indian beauty. She was in great demand for portraits and Indian life scenes. There is a fine bust of her at the Museum of Natural History in New York by Casper Megee. She was well known at the sportsmen's exhibits, and in her tepee was a most successful saleswoman. As a basket maker she was an expert. She was frequently invited by the society people in New York to attend their social teas, and in her Indian costume was the attraction.
She was the granddaughter of Sebatis, the well-known Adirondack guide, a chief who boasted of his white friends, and so well known by hunters that a mountain of the Adirondacks was named for him, also a station and post office on the Adirondack railroad.
"Falling Star" never fully recovered from a railroad accident last year, since which time she had been a cripple, though able to use her hands, and continued to weave her exquisite baskets. She was the sole support of an aged mother.
Ne-Do-Ba Comment - - - We would like to address a couple of items in her obituaries at this time. Both speak of "a fine bust of her at the Museum of Natural History in New York by Casper Megee". Robert Green of the Hadley-Luzerne Historic Society contacted this museum and learned "they don't have the bust of her done by Casper Mayer, just a face cast which they said is in poor condition and not on display". The other item relates to the mention of Annie being related to the Sabatis family, well known as Adirondack guides - we have not been able to make this connection, but intent to keep trying.