MATTAPONI INDIAN RESERVATION, Va. – Described as “the strongest connection” between the remaining Powhatan Indian tribes, Daniel Webster Little Eagle Custalow, chief of the Mattaponi Indians, died March 21 in his home.
Custalow, 90, a descendant of Pocahontas and known by both Indian and non-Indian people for his spirituality, served as the tribe’s chief for the past 25 years. During this time, Custalow continued the “Mattaponi Treaty of Tribute to the Commonwealth of Virginia,” an annual tribute since the treaty’s 1646 signing and 1677 ratification.
When the city of Newport News, Va., sought to build a reservoir that would withdraw water from the Mattaponi River and harm the reservation’s shad fishery, Custalow spoke out against the plans. This action, some say, broke the tribe’s centuries of silence against political actions affecting them.
Other Virginia chiefs say that Custalow was a very loved man by everyone who met him.
“Webster was one of those kinds of leaders that when he spoke, everyone listened,” said Chief Ken Adams of the Upper Mattaponi Tribe. “I remember as a child, even though we were separated by distance, all of the Powhatan Indians were very connected. Webster was one of our strongest connections. When I would go to a place and I would hear Webster speak, I would automatically start to listen because he had a powerful voice, and the words that he spoke, you knew that they would have some significance.
“He wasn’t just speaking to be heard; he was speaking with authority. I remember the authority in his voice and his deep faith. I believe we have lost one of our finest.”
Custalow, who operated a trucking service to haul pulpwood, farmed and fished on the Mattaponi River. He also helped provide community service on the reservation and in King William County during the Great Depression, according to the people who knew him.
“I thought very highly of him, and he will definitely be missed,” said William Swift Water Miles, Pamunkey Indian Tribe chief and a Powhatan descendant. “People listened to what he had to say and thought very much of what he had to say.”
Born Nov. 14, 1912, on the Mattaponi Indian Reservation, Custalow was the youngest of 10 children and resided on the reservation until his death. He was preceded by his wife, Mary White Feather Custalow in 1993 and three grandchildren, Donald Kuhns, Michael Salmons and Darrell Custalow.
Chief Custalow is survived by nine children: five daughters, Eleanor Pocahontas Cannada and husband, Alton; Edith White Feather Kuhns and husband, Raymond; Dolores Little White Dove Salmons and husband, Ralph; Shirley Little Dove McGowan and husband, Olsson; Debra White Dove Perreco and husband, Louis; and four sons, Dr. Linwood Little Bear Custalow and wife, Barbara; Assistant Chief Carl Lone Eagle Custalow; Ryland Little Beaver Custalow and Leon Two Feathers Custalow and wife, Helen. He had 24 grandchildren, and 32 great-grandchildren.
Chief Little Eagle’s body was laid to rest on the Mattaponi Indian Reservation March 24.