Long-Time Chief of Tribe Is Dead

Donald F. Malonson Led Wampanoags for Half Century

Donald F. Malonson, chief of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), died peacefully at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston on Friday, August 22, after a long illness. Mr. Malonson, also known as Chief Running Deer, was the ceremonial leader of the tribe for more than half a century.

He was the son of the late Minnie F. (Manning) Malonson of Gay Head and was born on July 25, 1917, at the Manning homestead on How-Woss-Wee Way. As a child, when not attending school or completing his chores, his playground was the whole of Gay Head. He attended the one room Gay Head schoolhouse and then continued on to the Tisbury School. He left high school to work and as jobs became scarce on the Island in the early 1940s, he and his mother moved to the Boston area where he went to work in the Charlestown Naval Yard.

While on his way to work the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Donald heard that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. He left the trolley and went right away to enlist before reporting to his job. He was sent to Camp Perry in Virginia for training, and he shipped out of California with the 61st United States Naval Construction Battalion to serve in the Pacific. He traveled throughout the South Pacific and was honorably discharged on Oct. 10, 1945.

Upon discharge, he decided to return to the Island and took up residence in his family homestead. In 1951, Harrison Vanderhoop, Chief No-Ho-No, stepped down and recommended his nephew, Donald, as his successor as Chief of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head. For the next 52 years he would lead his people.

On August 18, 1951, he and Rachel P. Ryan were married at the Community Baptist Church of Gay Head and they made their home at How-Woss-Wee Acres for the next 40 years. During his lifetime he served as a Gay Head selectman and was the driving force behind the establishment of the Gay Head fire and police departments, and followed by serving for years as fire warden and chief; during many of those early years he also assumed the duties of police chief. He and Rachel both served for many years as deputy sheriffs for the County of Dukes County. During his lifetime he held a variety of jobs including plumber's assistant, school bus driver for the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School and automotive mechanic, to name a few.

He attended Community Baptist Church of Gay Head, where he carried on the duties once held by his grandfather, Thomas Manning.

Chief Malonson was well known all over the Island, earning the respect of all.

In a 1992 interview with the Vineyard Gazette's sister publication, Martha's Vineyard Magazine, Chief Malonson spoke of his connection to his community and of his tribe's rich heritage.

"I'm not political," he said. "The role of the chief is to be a patriarch and attend to powwows and tribal gatherings. More and more these days, if a tribe has a chief at all he's a figurehead. They now have presidents and councils - I represent the tribe, but stay out of the politics."

He continued, "We are a woodland people, but a fishing tribe. Amos Smalley, a Gay Head Wampanoag, was the only man to ever actually harpoon and kill a white whale, a 90-footer, somewhere off the Azores in 1902. And Tashtego, the second harpooner in Moby-Dick, was a Gay Head Indian."

In 1967, the Gazette published a letter written by Chief Malonson to an inquiring Northeastern University student who, as part of his fraternity initiation, had written to ask the Wampanoag Indians how much money they wanted for their land.

"You speak of a charge or price for our Island," Mr. Malonson wrote in reply. "Charges and prices vary from time to time but our Island remains as valuable as it always has been.

"Our Island, 20 miles long by seven miles wide is blessed with all the essential elements of life. Combination of sun, moon, wind and variable temperatures make for our healthy state of body and mind.

"Game, deer, rabbit, ducks and other waterfowl, not to mention the fish which abound around our shores and freshwater streams.

"The soil of our Island can produce almost any kind of plant you would want to cultivate. The rolling hills and plains are all farms in the making."

He concluded: "In exchange for our Island we must have an area of 40,000 acres with gently rolling hills, an area of plains, these with good vegetation, stocked with wildlife, with freshwater streams free from contamination. Supply of drinking water from driven wells. This area to be near the ocean as many of our people are fishermen.

"Last but by no means least is a supply of natural colored clay so we can carry on our fine honored art of pottery making.

"A request for friendly and understanding neighbors of course goes without saying.

"When this area is found, you may contact me at this place.

"When the moon is at its brightest, I, with the people of the tribe, will weigh the matter. The decision will be handed to me for you.

"Every voice will be heard. No leader's voice, voice of the squaw, voices of every brave and maiden or the cry of the smallest papoose shall go unheard.

"So I have spoken."

Chief Malonson was predeceased by his wife of 49 years, Rachel P. (Ryan) Malonson and their sons, Horatio C. and Thomas R. He is survived by his daughter, son in law and grandson, Bettina M. and Michael Washington and Micah H., all of Waltham; his son, F. Ryan Malonson of Aquinnah; daughter in law Liz O'Melvey of Cambridge; his sister, Gladys Widdiss, of Aquinnah; sister in law Stella W. Hopkins of Cambridge; nephews, Donald Widdiss of Chilmark, Carl Widdiss of Aquinnah, William Kestenbaum of San Anselmo, Calif., Charles Hopkins of Worcester, Thomas Hopkins of Boston; nieces, Dawn Lopes of Natick, Kristina Kestenbaum of Aquinnah and Thea Gerwitz of Boston. He was also predeceased by his nephew, Marc E. Widdiss. Chief Malonson is also survived by his extensive tribal family and his many Island friends.

Interment services will be at noon on Thursday, August 28, at the Gay Head Cemetery. Arrangements are by the Chapman, Cole and Gleason Funeral Home of Oak Bluffs.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made payable to the Deer-n-Dove Scholarship Fund, Dukes County Savings Bank.