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Canadian Resource in a Tempest of Rain

Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians

Lake Superior--Its shores and character--Geology--Brigade of boats--Dog and porcupine--Burrowing birds--Otter--Keweena Point--Unfledged ducks--Minerals--Canadian resource in a tempest of rain--Tramp in search of the picturesque--Search for native copper--Isle Royal descried--Indian precaution--Their ingenuity--Lake action--Nebungunowin River--Eagles--Indian tomb--Kaug Wudju.

1831. LAKE SUPERIOR lay before us. He who, for the first time, lifts his eyes upon this expanse, is amazed and delighted at its magnitude. Vastness is the term by which it is, more than any other, described. Clouds robed in sunshine, hanging in fleecy or nebular masses above--a bright, pure illimitable plain of water--blue mountains, or dim islands in the distance--a shore of green foliage on the one hand--a waste of waters on the other. These are the prominent objects on which the eye rests. We are diverted by the flight of birds, as on the ocean. A tiny sail in the distance reveals the locality of an Indian canoe. Sometimes there is a smoke on the shore. Sometimes an Indian trader returns with the avails of his winter's traffic. A gathering storm or threatening wind arises. All at once the voyageurs burst out into one of their simple and melodious boat-songs, and the gazing at vastness is relieved and sympathy at once awakened in gayety. Such are the scenes that attend the navigation of this mighty but solitary body of water. That nature has created such a scene of magnificence merely to look at, is contrary to her usual economy. The sources of a busy future commerce lie concealed, and but half concealed, in its rocks. Its depths abound in fish, which will be eagerly sought, and even its forests are not without timber to swell the objects of a future commerce. If the plough is destined to add but little to its wealth, it must be recollected that the labors of the plough are most valuable where the area suitable for its dominion is the smallest. But even the prairies of the West are destined to waft their superabundance here.

We passed the lengthened shores which give outline to Taquimenon Bay. We turned the long and bleak peninsula of White Fish Point, and went on to the sandy margin of Vermilion Bay. Here we encamped at three o'clock in the afternoon, and waited all the next day for the arrival of Lieut. Robert Clary and his detachment of men, from Fort Brady, who were to form a part of the expedition. With him was expected a canoe, under the charge of James L. Schoolcraft, with some supplies left behind, and an express mail. They both arrived near evening on the 28th, and thus the whole expedition was formed and completed, and we were prepared to set out with the latest mail. Mr. Holliday came in from his wintering grounds about the same time, and we left Vermilion Bay at four o'clock on the morning of the 29th, J.L.S. in his light canoe, and chanting Canadians for Sault St. Marie, and we for the theatre of our destination.

We went about forty miles along a shore exclusively sandy, and encamped at five o'clock in the evening at Grand Marais. This is a striking inlet in the coast, which has much enlarged itself within late years, owing to the force of the north-west storms. It exhibits a striking proof of lake action. The next day we passed the naked and high dunes called Grand Sable, and the storm-beaten and impressive horizontal coat of the Pictured Rocks, and encamped at Grand Island, a distance of about 130 miles. I found masses of gypsum and small veins of calcareous spar imbedded in the sandstone rock of the point of Grand Sable. Ironsand exists in consolidated layers at the cliff called Doric Rock.

The men and boats were now in good traveling trim, and we went on finely but leisurely, examining such features in the natural history as Dr. Houghton, who had not been here before, was anxious to see. On the 1st of July, we encamped at Dead River, from whence I sent forward a canoe with a message, and wampum, and tobacco, to Gitchee Iauba, the head chief of Ancekewywenon, requesting him to send a canoe and four men to supply the place of an equal number from the Sault St. Marie, sent back, and to accompany me in my voyage as far as La Pointe.

GEOLOGY.--We spent the next day in examining the magnesian and calcareous rubblestone which appears to constitute strata resting against and upon the serpentine rock of Presque Isle. This rock is highly charged with what appears to be chromate of iron. We examined the bay behind this peninsula, which appears to be a harbor capable of admitting large vessels. We ascended a conical hill rising from the bay, which the Indians call Totoesh, or Breast Mountain. Having been the first to ascend its apex, the party named it Schoolcraft's Mountain. Near and west of it, is a lower saddle-shaped mountain, called by the natives The Cradle Top. Granite Point exhibits trap dykes in syenite. The horizontal red sandstone, which forms the peninsula connecting this point with the main, rests against and upon portions of the granite, showing its subsidence from water at a period subsequent to the upheaval of the syenite and trap. This entire coast, reaching from Chocolate River to Huron Bay--a distance of some seventy miles--consists of granite hills, which, viewed from the top of the Totoesh, has the rolling appearance of the sea in violent motion. Its chief value must result from its minerals, of which iron appears to constitute an important item.

We reached Huron River on the 4th of July about three o'clock in the afternoon, having come on with a fine wind. At this place we met Mr. Aitkin's brigade of boats, seven in number, with the year's hunts of the Fond du Lac department. I landed and wrote official notes to the Sault St. Marie and to Washington, acquainting the government with my progress, and giving intelligence of the state of the Indians.

TRADERS' BOATS.--Mr. Aitkin reports that a great number of the Indians died of starvation, at his distant posts, during the winter, owing to the failure of the wild rice. That he collected for his own use but eight bushels, instead of about as many hundreds. That he had visited Gov. Simpson at Pembina, and found the latter unwilling to make any arrangements on the subject of discontinuing the sale of whisky to the Indians. That I was expected by the Indians on the Upper Mississippi, in consequence of the messages sent in, last fall. That efforts continue to be made by the agent at St. Peters, to draw the Chippewas to that post, notwithstanding the bloodshed and evils resulting from such visits. That a hard opposition in trade has been manifested by the Hudson's Bay Company. That they have given out medals to strengthen and increase their influence with our Indians. And that liquor is required to oppose them at Pembina, War Road, Rainy Lake, Vermilion Lake and Grand Portage.

DOG AND PORCUPINE.--While at Huron River, we saw a lost dog left ashore, who had been goaded by hunger to attack a porcupine. The quills of the latter were stuck thickly into the sides of the nose and head of the dog. Inflammation had taken place, rendering the poor beast an object of pity and disgust.

BURROWING BIRDS.--At Point Aux Beignes (Pancake Point) one of the men caught a kingfisher by clapping his hand over an orifice in the bank. He also took from its nest six eggs. The bank was perforated by numbers of these orifices. At this point we observed the provisions of our advance camp, put in cache, to lighten it for the trip down the bay. Leaving Mr. G. Johnston and Mr. Melancthon Woolsey at this point to await the return of the canoe, I proceeded to Cascade, or, as it is generally called, Little Montreal River. Johnston and Woolsey came up during the night. Next morning an Indian came from a lodge, leading a young otter by a string. The animal played about gracefully, but we had no temptation to purchase him with our faces set to the wilderness. At the latter place, which is on a part of the Sandy-bay of Graybeast River, the trap formation, which is the copper-bearing rock, is first seen. This rock, which forms the great peninsula of Kewywenon, rises into cliffs on this bay, which at the elevation called Mammels by the French, deserve the name of mountains. Portions of this rock, viewed in extenso, are overlaid by amygdaloid and rubblestone--the latter of which forms a remarkable edging to the formation, in some places, on the north-west shore, that makes a canal, as at the Little Marrias.

KEWEENA PENINSULA.--We were six days in coasting around this peninsula, which is highly metalliferous. At some points we employed the blast, to ascertain the true character and contents of the soil. At others we went inland, and devoted the time in exploring its range and extent. We examined the outstanding isolated vein of carbonate of copper, called Roche Vert by the French. In seeking for its connection on the main shore, I discovered the black oxide in the same vein. In the range of the greenstone about two leagues south of this point, a vein of native copper, with ores and veinstones, was observed, and specimens taken.

The N.W. coast of the peninsula is greatly serrated and broken, abounding in little bays and inlets, and giving proofs of the terrible action of the storms on this rugged shore.

Notes of these examinations and of a trip inland were made, which cannot here be referred to more particularly.

UNFLEDGED DUCKS.--The men had rare and very exciting sport, in coasting around the peninsula, in catching the young of the onzig--which is the sawbill. In the early part of the month of July, the wings of the young are not sufficiently developed to enable them to fly. They will run on the water, flapping their unfledged wings, with great speed, but the gay Frenchmen, shouting at the top of their lungs, would propel their canoes so as to overtake them whenever the little fugitives could not find some nook in the rock to hide in. They chased down one day thirteen in this way, which were found a most tender and delicate dish. The excitement in these chases was extreme. At the Grand Marrias (now near Fort Wilkins) we obtained from the shore of the inner bay, agates, stilbite, and smoky quartz, &c.

SINGULAR VIVACITY.--In going from this bay through a rock-bound strait, the rain fell literally in sheets. There was no escape, and our only philosophy was to sit still and bear it. The shower was so great that it obscured objects at a short distance. All at once the men struck up a cheerful boat song, which they continued, paddling with renewed energy, till the shower abated. I believe no other people under the sun would have thought of such a resource.

TRAMP IN SEARCH OF THE PICTURESQUE.--The wind rising ahead, we took shelter in an inlet through the trap range, which we called Houghton's Cove. After taking a lunch and drying our things, it was proposed to visit a little lake, said to give origin to the stream falling into its head. The journey proved a toilsome one; but, after passing through woods and defiles, we at length stood on a cliff which overlooked the object sought for--a pond covered with aquatic plants. Wherever we might have gone in search of the picturesque, this seemed the last place to find it. On again reaching the lake the wind was found less fierce, and we went on to Pine River, where we encamped on coarse, loose gravel.

SEARCH FOR NATIVE COPPER.--The next day the wind blew fiercely, and we could not travel. In consequence of reports from the Indians of a large mass of copper inland, I manned a light canoe, and, leaving the baggage and camp in charge of Lesart, went back to a small bay called Mushkeeg, and went inland under their guidance. We wandered many miles, always on the point of making the discovery, but never making it; and returned with our fatigue for our pains. It was seven o'clock in the evening before we returned to our camp--at eight the wind abated, and we embarked, and, after traveling diligently all night, reached the western terminus of the Keweena portage at two o'clock next morning--having advanced in this time about twenty-four miles. Next day, July 10, the wind rose again violently ahead.

ISLE ROYAL DESCRIED.--In coming down the coast of the Keweena Peninsula, we descried the peaks of this island seen dimly in the distance, which it is not probable could have been done if the distance were over sixty miles.

INDIAN PRECAUTION, THEIR INGENUITY.--We found several Chippewa Indians encamped. They brought a trout, the large lake trout, and were, as-usual, very friendly. We saw a fresh beaver's skin stretched on the drying hoop, at the Buffalo's son's lodge. But the women had secreted themselves and children in the woods, with the dried skins, supposing that a trader's canoe had landed, as we had landed in the night. This may give some idea of the demands of trade that are usually made, and the caution that is observed by them when a trader lands.

We here saw the claws-of two owls, with the skin and leg feathers adhering, sewed together so closely and skilfully, by the Indian, women, as to resemble a nondescript with eight claws. It was only by a close inspection that we could discover the joinings.

LAKE ACTION.--The geological action of the lake against the high banks of diluvion, at this spot, is very striking. It has torn away nearly all the ancient encamping ground, including the Indian burials. Human bones were found scattered along the declivity of fallen earth. An entire skull was picked up, with the bark wrappings of the body, tibia, &c.

At seven in the evening the tempest ceased so as to enable us to embark. We kept close in shore, as the wind was off land, a common occurrence on these lakes at night. On turning the point of red sandstone rock, which the Indians call Pug-ge-do-wau (Portage), the Porcupine Mountains rose to our view, directly west, presenting an azure outline of very striking lineaments--an animal couchant. As night drew on, the water became constantly smoother; it was nine before daylight could be said to leave us. We passed, in rapid succession, the Mauzhe-ma-gwoos or Trout, Graverod's, Unnebish, or Elm, and Pug-ge-do-wa, or Misery River, in Fishing Bay. Here we overtook Lieut. Clary, and encamped at one o'clock A.M. (11th). We were on the lake again at five o'clock. We turned point a la Peche, and stopped at River Nebau-gum-o-win for breakfast. While thus engaged, the wind rose and shifted ahead. This confined us to the spot.

NEBAUGUMOWIN RIVER.--Mr. Johnston, Dr. Houghton, and Mr. Woolsey, made an excursion in a canoe up the river. They went about three or four miles--found the water deep, and the banks high and dry on the right side (going up), and covered with maple, ash, birch, &c. At that distance the stream was obstructed by logs, but the depth of water continued. Dr. H. added to his botanical collection. Altogether appearances are represented more favorable than would be inferred from the sandy and swampy character of the land about its discharge into the lake.

EAGLES.--While at the Mauzhe-ma-gwoos River, Lieut. Clary captured a couple of young eagles, by letting his men cut down a large pine. One of the birds had a wing broken in falling. They were of the bald-headed kind, to which the Chippewas apply the term Megizzi, or barker. He also got a young mink from an Indian called Wabeno. The men also caught some trout in that river, for which it is remarkable.

At two o'clock the wind had somewhat abated, so as to allow us to take the lake, and we reached and entered the Ontonagon River at half past four o'clock. Mr. Johnston with the store canoe, and Lieut. Clary with his boat, came in successively with colors flying. Kon-te-ka, the chief, and his band saluted us with several rounds of musketry from the opposite shore. Afterwards they crossed to our camp, and the usual exchange of ceremonies and civilities took place. In a speech from the chief he complained much of hunger, and presented his band as objects of charitable notice. I explained to him the pacific object of my journey, and the route to be pursued, and requested the efficient co-operation of himself and his band in putting a stop to war parties, referring particularly to that by Kewaynokwut in 1824, which, although raised against the Sioux, had murdered Finley and his men at Lake Pepin. This party was raised on the sources of the Ontonagon and Chippewa. I told him how impossible it was that his Great Father should ever see their faces in peace while they countenance or connive at such dastardly war parties, who went in quest of a foe, and not finding him, fell upon a friend. He said he had not forgotten this. Even now, I continued, a chief of the Sauks was trying to enlist the Indians in a scheme of extreme hostilities. It was a delusion. They had no British allies to rally on as in former wars. The time was past--past forever for such plans. We are in profound peace. And their Great Father, the President, would, if the scheme was pursued by that chief, order his whole army to crush him. I requested him to inform me of any messages, or tobacco, or wampum they might receive, on the subject of that chief's movement, or any other government matter. And to send no answer to any such message without giving me notice.

At three o'clock on the morning of the next day (12th July), Dr. Houghton, Mr. Johnston, Lieut. Clary, and Mr. Woolsey, with nine Canadians and one soldier, set out in my canoe to visit the copper rock. Konteka sent me a fine carp in the morning. Afterwards he and the other chief come over to visit me. The chief said that his child, who had been very ill, was better, and asked me for some white rice (waube monomin) for it, which I gave. I also directed a dish of flour and other provisions to enable him to have a feast.

INDIAN TOMB.--One of the Indians had a son drowned a few days before our arrival; the grave was neatly picketed in. On the west side of the river is a grave or tomb above ground, resembling a lodge, containing the coffin of a chief, who desired to be thus buried, as he believed his spirit would go directly up.

Konteka has a countenance indicative of sense and benevolence. I asked him the number of his band. He replied sixty-four men and boys, women and girls. Sixteen were hunters, of whom thirteen were men grown.

KAUGWUDJU.--The Porcupine Mountains, which first loomed up after passing Puggedawa Point, were very plainly pictured before us in the landscape. I asked Konteka their Indian name. He replied Kaug Wudju. I asked him why they were so called. He said from a resemblance to a couching porcupine. I put several questions to him to ascertain the best place of ascent. He said that the mountain properly faced the south, in a very high perpendicular cliff, having a lake at its bottom. The latter was on a level with Lake Superior. To see this lake it was necessary to go round towards the south. It was a day's journey from the lake to the top of the cliff. To the first elevation it was as far as to the Red Rocks--say three miles, but through a cedar thicket, and bad walking.

VISIT TO THE COPPER ROCK.--The party returned from this place on the 13th, late in the afternoon, bringing specimens of the native copper. They were nine hours in getting to the forks, and continued the rest of the day in getting to the rack, where they encamped. They had been four hours in descending what required nine in going up. The doctor brought several fine and large masses of the pure metal.

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Personal Memoirs of a Residence of Thirty Years with the Indian Tribes on the American Frontiers, 1851

Thirty Years with the Indians


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