Close of the winter solstice, and introduction of a northern
spring--News from the world--The Indian languages--Narrative
Journal--Semi-civilization of the ancient Aztec tribes--Their arts
and languages--Hill's ironical review of the "Transactions of the
Royal Society"--A test of modern civilization--Sugar making--Trip to
one of the camps--Geology of Manhattan Island--Ontwa, an Indian
poem--Northern ornithology--Dreams--The Indian apowa--Printed
queries of General Cass--Prospect of the mineral agency--Exploration
of the St. Peter's--Information on that head.
1823. March 1st. My reading hours, for the last few days,
have been, in great part, devoted to the newspapers. So long an
exclusion from the ordinary sources of information has the effect to
increase the appetite for this kind of intellectual food, and the
circumstance probably leads us to give up more time to it than we
should were we not subject to these periodical exclusions. The great
point of interest is the succession in the Presidential chair.
Parties hinge upon this point. Economy and retrenchment are
talismanic words, used to affect the populace, but used in reality
only as means of affecting the balance of party power. Messrs.
Calhoun, Crawford, and Adams are the prominent names which fill the
There is danger that newspapers in America will too much supersede
and usurp the place of books, and lead to a superficial knowledge of
things. Gleaning the papers in search of that which is really
useful, candid, and fair seems too much like hunting for grains of
wheat in a chaos of chaff.
3d. Our third express went off this morning, freighted with
our letters, and, of course, with our reasons, our sentiments, our
thanks, our disappointments, our hopes, and our fears.
6th. I resumed the subject of the Indian language.
Osanimun is the word for vermilion. This word is compounded
from unimun, or plant yielding a red dye, and asawa,
yellow. The peculiar color of yellow-red is thus indicated.
Beizha is the neuter verb "to come." This verb appears to remain
rigid in its conjugation, the tenses being indicated exclusively by
inflections of the pronoun. Thus nim beizha, I come;
ningee peizha, I came; ninguh peizha, I will come. The
pronoun alone is declined for past and future tense, namely gee
There does not appear to be any definite article in the Chippewa
language. Pazhik means one, or an. It may be doubtful whether
the former sense is not the exclusive one. Ahow is this
person in the animate form. Ihiw is the corresponding
inanimate form. More care than I have devoted may, however, be
required to determine this matter.
Verbs, in the Chippewa, must agree in number and tense with the
noun. They must also agree in gender, that is, verbs animate must
have nouns animate. They must also have animate pronouns and animate
adjectives. Vitality, or the want of vitality, seems to be the
distinction which the inventors of the language, seized upon, to set
up the great rules of its syntax.
Verbs, in the Chippewa language, are converted into nouns by adding
the particle win.
Kegido, to speak. Kegido-win, speech. This appears to
be a general rule. The only doubt I have felt is, whether the noun
formed is so purely elementary as not to partake of a participial
There are two plurals to express the word "we," one of which
includes, and the other excludes, the person addressed.
Neither of these forms is a dual.
Os signifies father; nos is my father; kos, thy
father; osun, his or her father. The vowel in this word is
sounded like the o, in note.
The language has two relative pronouns, which are much used--awanan,
who; and wagonan, what. The vowel a, in these words,
is the sound of a in fate.
There are two classes of adjectives, one of which applies to
animate, the other to inanimate objects.
The Chippewa word for Sabbath is animea geezhig, and
indicates prayer-day. There is no evidence, from inquiry, that the
Indians divided their days into weeks. A moon was the measure of a
month, but it is questionable whether they had acquired sufficient
exactitude in the computation of time to have numbered the days
comprehended in each moon. The phases of the moon were accurately
8th. Professor S., of Yale College, writes to me under this
date, enclosing opinions respecting my "Narrative Journal" of
travels, contained in a familiar private letter from D. Wadsworth,
Esq., of Hartford. They terminate with this remark: "All I regret
about it (the work) is, that it was not consistent with his plans to
tell us more of what might be considered the domestic part of
the expedition--the character and conduct of those who were of the
party, their health, difficulties, opinions, and treatment of each
other, &c. As his book was a sort of official work, I suppose he
thought it would not do, and I wish now, he would give his friends
(and let us be amongst them) a manuscript of the particulars that
are not for the public."
17th. Semi-civilization of the Mexican Tribes.--Nothing is
more manifest, on reading the "Conquest of Mexico" by De Solis, than
that the character and attainments of the ancient Mexicans are
exalted far above the reality, to enhance the fame of Cortez, and
give an air of splendor to the conquest. Superior as the Aztecs and
some other tribes certainly were, in many things, to the most
advanced of the North American tribes, they resemble the latter
greatly, in their personal features, and mental traits, and in
several of their arts.
The first presents sent by Montezuma to Cortez were "cotton cloths,
plumes, bows, arrows and targets of wood, collars and rings of gold,
precious stones, ornaments of gold in the shape of animals, and two
round plates of the precious metals resembling the sun and moon."
The men had "rings in their ears and lips, which, though they were
of gold, were a deformity instead of an ornament."
"Canoes and periogues" of wood were their usual means of conveyance
by water. The "books" mentioned at p. 100, were well-dressed skins,
dressed like parchment, and, after receiving the paintings observed,
were accurately folded up, in squares or parallelograms.
The cacique of Zempoala, being the first dignitary who paid his
respects personally to Cortez on his entry into the town, is
described, in effect, as covered with a cotton blanket "flung over
his naked body, enriched with various jewels and pendants, which he
also wore in his ears and lips." This chief sent 200 men to carry
the baggage of Cortez.
By the nearest route from St. Juan de Ulloa, the point of landing to
Mexico, it was sixty leagues, or about 180 miles. This journey
Montezuma's runners performed to and fro in seven days, being
thirty-five to thirty-six miles per day. No great speed certainly;
nothing to demand astonishment or excite incredulity.
Distance the Mexicans reckoned, like our Indians, by time, "A
sun" was a day's journey.
De Solis says, "One of the points of his embassy (alluding to
Cortez), and the principal motive which the king had to offer his
friendship to Montezuma, was the obligation Christian princes lay
under to oppose the errors of idolatry, and the desire he had to
instruct him in the knowledge of the truth, and to help him to get
rid of the slavery of the devil."
The empire of Mexico, according to this author, stretched "on the
north as far as Panuco, including that province, but was straitened
considerably by the mountains or hilly countries possessed by the
Chichimecas and Ottomies, a barbarous people."
I have thought, on reading this work, that there is room for a
literary essay, with something like this title: "Strictures on the
Hyperbolical Accounts of the Ancient Mexicans given by the Spanish
Historians," deduced from a comparison of the condition of those
tribes with the Indians at the period of its settlement. Humboldt
states that there are twenty languages at present in Mexico,
fourteen of which have grammars and dictionaries tolerably complete.
They are, Mexican or Aztec, Otomite, Tarase, Zapatec, Mistec, Maye
or Yucatan, Tatonac, Popolauc, Matlazing, Huastec, Mixed, Caquiquel,
Tarauma, Tepehuan, Cara.
20th. When the wind blows high, and the fine snow drifts, as
it does about the vernal equinox, in these latitudes, the Indians
smilingly say, "Ah! now Pup-puk-e-wiss is gathering his harvest," or
words to this effect. There is a mythological tale connected with
it, which I have sketched.
21st. I have amused myself in reading a rare old volume, just
presented to me, entitled "A Review of the Works of the Royal
Society of London, &c., by John Hill, M.D., London, 1751." It
evinces an acute mind, ready wit, and a general acquaintance with
the subjects of natural history, antiquities, and philosophical
research, adverted to. It is a racy work, which all modern
naturalists, and modern discoverers of secrets and inventions ought
to read. I should think it must have made some of the contributors
to the "Transactions" of the Royal Society wince in its day.
22d. Knowledge of foreign nations has increased most
wonderfully in our day, and is one of the best tests of
civilization. Josaphat Barbaro traveled into the East in 1436. He
says of the Georgians, "They have the most horrid manners, and the
worst customs of any people I ever met with." Surely this is vague
enough for even the clerk who kept the log-book of Henry Hudson.
Such items as the following were deemed "food" for books of travels
in those days: "The people of Cathay, in China, believe that they
are the only people in the world who have two eyes. To the Latins
they allow one, and all the rest of the world none at all."
Marco Polo gives an account of a substance called "Andanicum," which
he states to be an ore of steel. In those days, when
everything relating to metallurgy and medicine was considered a
secret, the populace did not probably know that steel was an
artificial production. Or the mineral may have been sparry iron ore,
which is readily converted into steel.
26th. It is now the season of making sugar from the rock
maple by the Indians and Canadians in this quarter. And it seems to
be a business in which almost every one is more or less interested.
Winter has shown some signs of relaxing its iron grasp, although the
quantity of snow upon the ground is still very great, and the
streams appear to be as fast locked in the embraces of frost as if
it were the slumber of ages. Sleighs and dog trains have been
departing for the maple forests, in our neighborhood, since about
the 10th instant, until but few, comparatively, of the resident
inhabitants are left. Many buildings are entirely deserted and
closed, and all are more or less thinned of their inhabitants. It is
also the general season of sugar-making with the Indians.
I joined a party in visiting one of the camps. We had several
carioles in company, and went down the river about eight or nine
miles to Mrs. Johnston's camp. The party consisted of several
officers and ladies from the fort, Captain Thompson1
and lady, Lieutenant Bicker and lady and sister, the Miss Johnstons
and Lieutenants Smith2 and Folger. We
pursued the river on the ice the greater part of the way, and then
proceeded inland about a mile. We found a large temporary building,
surrounded with piles of ready split wood for keeping a fire under
the kettles, and large ox hides arranged in such a manner as to
serve as vats for collecting the sap. About twenty kettles were
boiling over an elongated central fire.
1: Killed in Florida, at the battle of Okechobbee,
as Lt. Col. of the 6th U.S. Infantry.
2: Died at Vera Cruz, Mexico, as Quarter-Master
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Personal Memoirs of a Residence of Thirty Years with the
Indian Tribes on the American Frontiers, 1851
Years with the Indians |