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Becoming Protestant

 Native American Nations | Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of Michigan                    


     The next five years were passed among my people, doing a little of everything, laboring, teaching, and interpreting sermons among the Protestant missions--for there were by this time two Protestant missions established among the Ottawas of Arbor Croche, one at Bear River, now Petoskey, and another at Middle Village or Arbor Croche proper, where I acted as an assistant teacher and interpreter. I met much opposition from the Catholic community, because I had already become a Protestant and left the Romish church, not by any personal persuasion, however, but by terrible conviction on reading the word of God--"That there is no mediator between God and man but one, which is Christ Jesus, who was crucified for the remission of sins." One Sunday, some friend persuaded me to come to the church, but when the priest saw me he came and forcibly ejected me out of the room. The same priest left the Indian country soon afterwards, and it seems he went to England, and just before he died he wrote to my sister a very touching epistle, in which he said nothing about himself or any one in Little Traverse, but from the beginning to the end of the letter he expressed himself full of sorrow for what he had done to me when in this country among the Indians, and asking of me forgiveness for his wrongs towards me.
     Soon after the council of Detroit, I became very discontented, for I felt that I ought to have gone through with my medical studies, or go to some college and receive a degree and then go and study some profession. But where is the means to take me through for completing my education? was the question every day. So, after one payment of the treaty of 1855, late in the fall of 1856, I went up to Mr. Gilbert, who was then Indian agent, and made known to him my intention, and asked him if he would aid me towards completing my education, by arranging for me to receive the benefit of our educational fund, which was set apart at the last council for the education of the Indians in this State. But he would not. He bluffed me off by saying he was sorry I had voted the "black republican ticket," at the general election, which took place that fall of 1856. This was the first time that the Indians ever voted on general election. Mr. Gilbert was at North Port, Grand Traverse, on election day, managing the Indian votes there, and he sent a young man to Little Traverse to manage the voting there and sit as one of the Board at the Little Traverse election. He sent the message to Indians to vote no other ticket but the democratic ticket. At this election there were only two republican votes in Little Traverse, one of which was cast by myself. As I was depositing my ballot, this young man was so furiously enraged at me he fairly gnashed his teeth, at which I was very much surprised, and from my companion they tried to take away the ticket. Then they tried to make him exchange his ticket, but he refused. We went out quickly, as we did not wish to stay in this excitement. At that time I felt almost sorry for my people, the Indians, for ever being citizens of the State, as I thought they were much happier without these elections.
     After payment of our annuities, as the vessel was about starting off to take the Indian agent to Mackinac, they had already hoisted the sails, although there was not much wind, and I thought, this was the last chance to get to Mackinac. As I looked toward the vessel I wept, for I felt terribly downcast. As they were going very slowly toward the harbor point, I asked one of the Indian youngsters to take me and my trunk in a canoe to the vessel out there. I had now determined to go, in defiance of every opposition, to seek my education.6  I hurried to our house with the boy, to get my trunk and bid good bye to my aged father, and told him I was going again to some school outside, and if God permitted I hoped to return again to Little Traverse. All my father said was, "Well, my son, if you think it is best, go." And away we went. We overtook the vessel somewhere opposite Little Portage, and as I came aboard the agent's face turned red. He said, "Are you going?" I said, "Yes sir, I am going." So nothing more was said. The greater part of the night was spent by the agent and the captain gambling with cards, by which the agent lost considerable money. We arrived the next day at Mackinac, and again I approached the Indian agent with request if he could possibly arrange for me to have the benefit of our Indian educational fund, set apart for that purpose at the council of Detroit, 1855; and again he brought up the subject of my voting. Then I was beginning to feel out of humor, and I spoke rather abruptly to him, saying, "Well, sir, I now see clearly that you don't care about doing anything for my welfare because I voted for the republican party. But politics have nothing to do with my education; for the Government of the United States owes us that amount of money, not politics. I was one of the councilors when that treaty was made, and I will see some other men about this matter, sir." His face turned all purple, and as I was turning about to keep away from him, he called me back, saying, "Mr. Blackbird, how far do you intend to go to get your education?" I said, "I intend to go to Ann Arbor University, sir." "Well, I will do this much for you: I will pay your fare to Detroit. I am going by way of Chicago, but you can go down by the next boat, which will be here soon from Chicago." I thanked him, and he handed me money enough to pay my fare to Detroit.
     So I reached Detroit, and went to Dr. Stuben's house and inquired my way to Governor Cass' residence; and when I knocked at the door, behold it was he himself came to the door. I shook hands with him and said, "My friend, I would like to speak to you a few moments." "Is it for business?" he asked. "Yes sir, it is." "Well, my boy, I will listen to what you have to say." I therefore began, saying, "Well, my friend, I come from Arbor Croche. I am the nephew of your old friend, 'Warrior Wing,' am seeking for education, but I have no means; and I come to see you expressly to acquaint you with my object, and to ask you the favor of interceding for me to the Government to see if they could possibly do something towards defraying my expenses in this object. That is all I have to say." The old man raised his spectacles and said, "Why, why! your object is a very good one. I was well acquainted with your uncle in the frontier of Michigan during the war of 1812. Have you seen and told the Indian agent of this matter?" "Yes sir, I have asked him twice, but he would not do anything for me." "Why, why! it seems to me there is ample provision for your people for that object, and has been for the last twenty years. What is the matter with him?"
     I said, "I don't know, sir." "Well, well; I am going to Washington in a few days, and shall see the Indian Commissioner about this matter, and will write to you from there on the subject. I know they can do something toward defraying your expenses. Where do you intend to go?" I said, "I don't know, yet, sir, but I thought of going to the University at Ann Arbor." "Is it possible? are you prepared to enter such a college?" I told him I thought I was. "Well, sir, I think you had better go to Ypsilanti State Normal School instead of Ann Arbor: it is one of the best colleges in the State." This was the first time I ever heard of that school, and it sounded quite big to me; so I told him that I would gladly attend that school, provided I had means to do so. "Well, then, it is settled. You shall go to Ypsilanti, and I will direct my letter to Ypsilanti when I write to you; and now mind nobody, but just go about your business." After thanking him for his good counsel I shook hands with the old man and left.
     The next day was a terrible snow storm, but, however, I started out for Ypsilanti, which is only about thirty miles from Detroit. Of course, as I was totally a stranger in the place, I put up at a hotel, although my means were getting very short. The next day I went about to find out all about the institution, cost of tuition, and private board, etc., and saw some of the professors of the institution, but I did not dare to make any arrangements for a steady boarding place and begin school for fear Governor Cass should fail of getting help from the Government. Therefore, instead of beginning to go to school, I went and hired out on a farm about three miles from the city, and continued to work there for about three weeks before I heard from Governor Cass. At last the old farmer brought a package of letters from the post-office, one of which was post marked at Washington, D. C., and another from Detroit. I fairly trembled as I opened the one which I thought was from Governor Cass, as between doubt and hope, but my fears were suddenly changed into gladness, and quickly as possible I settled with the farmer, and away I went towards the city, singing as I went along. By intercession of Governor Cass, it was proposed to pay my whole expenses--board, clothes, books, tuition, etc. The other letter was from the Indian Agent, calling me to come down to Detroit, as he had already received some instructions from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to look after me and to arrange the matters of my schooling at Ypsilanti State Normal School. O, how I did hate to have to meet the Indian Agent again on this subject; to stand before him, and to have him think that I had overcome him, and succeeded in spite of his opposition to my desire. O, how I wished this matter could have been arranged without his assistance. However, I started out for Detroit the same evening I received these communications, and went to the agent. He never even said, "How do you do?" but immediately began, saying, "Well, sir, how much do you think that it will cost for your schooling at Ypsilanti?" "I don't know, sir," I responded. "Well, who knows? I think you ought to know, as you have been there," he said, in a gruff voice. "I have not been to school at all, sir," I said, "but have been working on a farm up to this morning." "Working on a farm, eh? I thought you came here on purpose to attend school?" "I did, sir; but you know I was very short of means, so I had to do something to keep me alive." "Can't you tell me the cost for your board per week?" "The private board is from $3.50 to $4 per week, sir, as according to accommodation." "How much for books and clothing?" "I don't know, sir; but I think I have enough clothing for at least one year."
     In the morning I went back to Ypsilanti, and with the aid of the professors of the institution I got a good boarding place. I attended this institution almost two years and a half, when I could not hold out any longer, as my allowance for support from the Government was so scanty it did not pay for all my necessary expenses. I have always attributed this small allowance to the Indian Agent who was so much against me. I tried to board myself and to live on bread and water; and therefore hired a room which cost me 75 cents a week, and bought bread from the bakeries, which cost me about 50 cents a week, and once in a while I had fire-wood as I did not keep much fire. I stood it pretty well for three months, but I could not stand it any longer. I was very much reduced in flesh, and on the least exertion I would be trembling, and I began to be discouraged in the prosecution of my studies. By this time I was in the D class, but class F was the graduating class in that institution, which I was exceedingly anxious to attain; but I imagined that I was beginning to be sick on account of so much privation, or that I would starve to death before I could be graduated, and therefore I was forced to abandon my studies and leave the institution.
     As I did not have any money to pay my passage homeward, I wept about working and occasionally lecturing on the subject of the Indians of Michigan, and at last I had enough means to return home and try to live once more according to the means and strength of my education. September 4th, 1858, I was joined in wedlock to the young lady who is still my beloved wife, and now we have four active children for whom I ever feel much anxiety that they might be educated and brought up in a Christian manner. Soon after I came to my country my father died at a great age. The first year we lived in Little Traverse we struggled quite hard to get along, but in another year I was appointed U. S. Interpreter by the Hon. D. C. Leach, U. S. Indian Agent for Mackinac Indian Agency, to whom I ever feel largely indebted, and I continued to hold this situation under several of his successors in office.
     During the Rebellion I was loyal to the Government, and opposed the bad white men who were then living in the Indian country, who tried to mislead my people as to the question of the war, to cause them to be disloyal. After the war was over, I was appointed as an auxiliary prosecutor of the Indian soldier claims, as quite a number of our people also helped to put down this rebellion, and many were killed and wounded. But most of this kind of business I performed without reward.
     Before I was fairly out as Interpreter, I was appointed with a very small salary as postmaster at Little Traverse, now Harbor Springs, where I discharged my duties faithfully and honestly for eleven years. But the ingress of the white population in this Indian country increased much from 1872-73 and onward. The office was beginning to be a paying one, and I was beginning to think that I was getting over the bridge, when others wanted the office, my opponents being the most prominent persons. Petitions were forwarded to Washington to have me removed, although no one ever had any occasion to complain of having lost his money or letter through this office during my administration. At last, the third assistant postmaster general at Washington wrote me a kind of private letter, stating that the main ground of the complaint was, that my office was too small and inconvenient for the public, and advising me to try and please the public as well as I could. And consequently I took what little money I had saved and built a comfortable office, but before the building was thoroughly completed I was removed. This left me penniless in this cold world, to battle on and to struggle for my existence; and from that time hence I have not held any office, nor do I care to. I only wish I could do a little more for the welfare of my fellow-beings before I depart for another world, as I am now nearly seventy years old, and will soon pass away. I wish my readers to remember that the above history of my existence is only a short outline. If time and means permitted, many more interesting things might be related.

6. Indians are now forbidden to leave their reservations without permission from the agent, so no ambitious and determined youth can now escape from the Indian Bureau machine.--ED.

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