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CHARLES BALLAGH, SENECA NATION LEADER, INNOVATOR
AUG. 18, 1938 -- NOV. 9, 2004

In the early 1990s, Charles "Larry" Ballagh found a tobacco marketing idea that made him rich beyond his wildest dreams.

The retired Army major became the first member of the Seneca Indian Nation -- and one of the first Indians in the United States -- to sell cigarettes and other tobacco products over the Internet.

The Internet sales pitch made millions of dollars for the Senecas, but instead of hoarding the idea, Mr. Ballagh taught other Senecas who wanted to learn how to run an Internet tobacco shop.

"He taught many of the people who later became his business competitors," his son, Charles L. Jr., recalled Tuesday. "His feeling was, if they were willing to work at it, he would show them how."

Mr. Ballagh, of Irving, one of the co-founders of the powerful Seneca Party, died early Tuesday in Buffalo General Hospital after a brief illness. He was 66 and had suffered from a wide variety of medical problems in recent years.

Mr. Ballagh grew up on the East Side of Buffalo. He was fiercely proud of his Seneca heritage but distressed over the poverty and alcoholism that he saw around him.

"He saw the depression around him, and his goal was always to make things better for the Seneca people," his son said. "The reason he got involved with the Seneca Party was to find ways to bring more federal dollars into the nation for housing, medical services and other things."

While best known on the Cattaraugus Reservation as the founder of a business called Traveling Smoke, Mr. Ballagh also was a retired Army major, with top-secret clearance.

He was a competitive boxer and had a black belt in judo. He was a pilot, a skydiver, an accomplished photographer and an expert hunter.

Before starting a mail-order tobacco business in 1988, he had operated a trucking company, a construction company, a laundry company, a grocery store and several restaurants or taverns in Buffalo, Olean, Cheektowaga and Hamburg.

He was an intense student of Seneca history and helped lead the Senecas' successful fight to keep New York State from taxing Native American gasoline and tobacco sales.

He also forged alliances with Buffalo businessmen and power brokers such as Carl Paladino, Paul Snyder and Joseph Crangle, former chairman of the Erie County Democratic Party.

Mr. Ballagh "fought for his people, for what's good for the nation and for making sure our treaties were honored," said Seneca Nation President Barry E. Snyder Sr. "I had a lot of respect and admiration for that man. The Seneca Nation is going to miss him."

Mr. Ballagh was a business administration graduate from the University at Buffalo. He was a former member of the Seneca Tribal Council and of numerous Seneca government committees.

Besides his son, a Depew resident, he is survived by his wife, the former Cynthia L. Jackson of Irving; two daughters, Cheryl Ann Wienkowski and Lisa Deanna Mazurek, both of Grand Island; a sister, Brenda Kaufmann of Sarasota, Fla; and four grandchildren.

A memorial service will be at 10 a.m. Friday in John J. Kaczor Funeral Home, 5453 Southwestern Blvd., Hamburg. Burial will be in the family cemetery plot on the Cattaraugus Reservation in Irving.

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