The whole air of the place resembled that of a manufactory. The
custom on these occasions is to make up a pic-nic, in which each one
contributes something in the way of cold viands or refreshments.
The principal amusement consisted in pulling candy, and eating the
sugar in every form. Having done this, and received the
hospitalities of our hostess, we tackled up our teams, and pursued
our way back to the fort, having narrowly escaped breaking through
the river at one or two points.
27th. I received a letter of this date from G.W. Rodgers, a
gentleman of Bradford county, Pennsylvania, in behalf of himself and
associates, proposing a number of queries respecting the
copper-yielding region of Lake Superior, and the requisites and
prospects of an expedition for obtaining the metal from the Indians.
Wrote to him adversely to the project at this time. Doubtless the
plan is feasible, but the Indians are at present the sole owners and
occupants of the metalliferous region.
28th. Dies natalis.--A friend editing a paper on the seaboard
writes (10 Jan. 1822)--"I wish you to give me an article on the
geology and mineralogy of Manhattan Island, in the form of a letter
purporting to be given by a foreign traveler. It is my intention to
give a series of letters, partly by myself and partly by others,
which shall take notice of everything in and about the city, which
may be deemed interesting. I wish to begin at the foundation, by
giving a geographical and geological sketch of the island.3"
"I have read Ontwa, the Indian poem you spoke of last summer. The
notes by Gov. Cass are extremely interesting, and written in a
superior style. I shall notice the work in a few days." "I inform
you, in confidence, that M.E., of this city, is preparing a notice
of your 'Journal' for the next number of the Repository,
which will appear on the first of next month."
29th. Novelty has the greatest attraction for the human mind.
There is such a charm in novelty, says Dr. John Mason Good, that it
often leads us captive in spite of the most glaring errors, and
intoxicates the judgment as fatally as the cup of Circe. But is not
variety at hand to contest the palm?
"The great source of pleasure," observes Dr. Johnson, "is variety.
Uniformity must tire at last, though it be uniformity of
April 1st. The ice and snow begin to be burthensome to the
eye. We were reconciled to winter, when it was the season of winter;
but now our longing eyes are cast to the south, and we are anxious
for the time when we can say, "Lo, the winter is past, the flowers
appear on the earth, the time of singing of birds is come, and the
voice of the turtle is heard in our land."
The Chippewas have quite a poetic allegory of winter and spring,
personified by an old and a young man, who came from opposite points
of the world, to pass a night together and boast of their respective
powers. Winter blew his breath, and the streams were covered with
ice. Spring blew his breath, and the land was covered with flowers.
The old man is finally conquered, and vanishes into "thin air."
2d. We talked to-day of dreams. Dreams are often talked
about, and have been often written about. But the subject is usually
left where it was taken up. Herodotus says, "Dreams in general
originate from those incidents which have most occupied the thoughts
during the day." Locke betters the matter but little, by saying,
"The dreams of sleeping men are all made up of waking men's ideas,
though, for the most part, oddly put together." Solomon's idea of
"the multitude of business" is embraced in this.
Sacred dreams were something by themselves. God chose in ancient
times to communicate with the prophets in dreams and visions. But
there is a very strong and clear line of distinction drawn on this
subject in the 23d of Jeremiah, from the 25th to the 28th verses.
"He that hath a dream, let him tell a dream, and he that hath my
word let him speak my word." The sacred and the profane, or idle
dream, are likened as "chaff" to "wheat."
The Indians, in this quarter, are very much besotted and
spell-bound, as it were, by dreams. Their whole lives are rendered a
perfect scene of doubts and fears and terrors by them. Their
jugglers are both dreamers and dream interpreters. If the "prince of
the power of the air" has any one hold upon them more sure and fast
than another, it seems to be in their blind and implicit reliance
upon dreams. There is, however, with them a sacred dream, distinct
from common dreams. It is called a-po-wa.
I have had before me, during a considerable part of the season, a
pamphlet of printed queries respecting the Indians and their
languages, put into my hands by Gov. C. when passing through Detroit
in the summer. Leaving to others the subjects connected with history
and traditions, &c., I have attempted an analysis of the language.
Reading has been resorted to as a refreshment from study. I used to
read to gratify excitement, but I find the chief pleasure of my
present reading is more and more turning to the acquisition and
treasuring up of facts. This principle is probably all that sustains
and renders pleasurable the inquiry into the Indian language.
One of the printed queries before me is, "Do they (the Indians)
believe in ghosts?" I believe all ignorant and superstitious nations
believe in apparitions. It seems to be one of the most natural
consequences of ignorance; and we have seen, in the history of wise
and learned men, that it requires a high intellectual effort to
shake this belief out of the mind. If God possessed no other way of
communicating with the living, it is reasonable to believe that he
would send dead men, or dead men's souls. And this is the precise
situation of the only well authenticated account we have, namely,
that of Saul at Endor [vide 1st Samuel, 7th to 15th verses].
The Chippewas are apt to connect all their ghost stories with fire.
A lighted fire on the grave has a strong connection with this idea,
as if they deemed some mysterious analogy to exist between
spirituality and fire. Their name for ghost is Jeebi, a word
rendered plural in ug. Without nice attention, this word will
be pronounced Chebi, or Tchebi.
Another is as follows: "Do they use any words equivalent to our
habit of swearing?" Many things the Indians may be accused of, but
of the practice of swearing they cannot. I have made many inquiries
into the state of their vocabulary, and do not, as yet, find any
word which is more bitter or reproachful than matchi annemoash,
which indicates simply, bad-dog. Many of their nouns have, however,
adjective inflections, by which they are rendered derogative. They
have terms to indicate cheat, liar, thief, murderer, coward, fool,
lazy man, drunkard, babbler. But I have never heard of an
imprecation or oath. The genius of the language does not seem to
favor the formation of terms to be used in oaths or for purposes of
profanity. It is the result of the observation of others, as well as
my own, to say, that an Indian cannot curse.
31st. The ornithology of the north is very limited in the
winter. We have the white owl, the Canada jay, and some small
species of woodpeckers. I have known the white partridge, or
ptermigan, to wander thus far south. This bird is feathered to the
toes. There are days when the snow-bird appears. There is a species
of duck, the shingebis, that remains very late in the fall,
and another, the ae-ae-wa, that comes very early in the
The T. polyglottis, or buffoon-bird, is never found north of
46 deg. N. latitude in the summer. This bird pours forth all sorts
of notes in a short space of time, without any apparent order. The
thrush, the wren, the jay, and the robin are imitated in as short a
time as it takes to write these words.
7th. During severe winters, in the north, some species of
birds extend their migrations farther south than usual. This appears
to have been the case during the present season. A small bird,
yellowish and cinereous, of the grosbec species, appeared this day
in the neighborhood of one of the sugar-camps on the river below,
and was shot with an arrow by an Indian boy, who brought it up to
me. The Chippewas call it Pashcundamo, in allusion to the
stoutness of its bill, and consequent capacity for breaking surfaces4.
8th. The ice on the river still admits of the passage of
horse trains, and the night temperature is quite wintry, although
the power of the sun begins to be sensibly felt during the middle
and after part of the day.
9th. A friend recently at Washington writes from Detroit
under the date of the 12th March: "A proposition was submitted to a
committee of the Senate, soon after my arrival in the city, by the
Secretary of War, for the establishment of the office of
Superintendent of Mines. To this office, had the project been
carried into execution, you would have been appointed. But shortly
before I left there, it was thought more expedient to sell all the
mines than to retain them in the hands of the government. Of course,
if this plan be adopted, as I think it will be, the other will be
superseded." Here, then, drops a project, which I had conceived at
Potosi, and which has been before my mind for some four years, and
which I am still satisfied might have been carried through Congress,
had I given my personal attention to the subject, during the present
session. I have supposed myself more peculiarly qualified to fill
the station indicated, than the one I now occupy. And I accepted the
present office under the expectation that it would be temporary.
When once a project of this kind, however, is superseded in the way
this has been, it is like raising the dead to bring it up again; and
it is therefore probable that my destiny is now fixed in the
North-West instead of the South-West, for a number of years. I
thought I had read Franklin's maxims to some purpose; but I now see
that, although I have observed one of them in nine cases, I missed
it in the tenth:--
"He that by the plough would thrive,
Himself must either hold, or
I trusted, in the fall, that I could safely look on, and see this
As to the mines, they will still require a local superintendent.
They cannot be sold until there are some persons to buy, and it is
not probable such extensive tracts of barren lands can be disposed
of in years. Meantime, the rents of the mines are an object. The
preservation of the public timber is an object. And the duties
connected with these objects cannot be performed, with justice to
the government, and convenience to the lessees, without a local
agent. In proportion as some of the districts of mineral lands are
sold, others will claim attention; and it may be, and most
probably will be, years before the intention of Congress, if
expressed by law, can be fully carried into effect.
Life has more than one point of resemblance to a panorama. When one
object is past, another is brought to view. The same correspondent
adds: "Mr. Calhoun has come to the determination to authorize you to
explore the River St. Peter's this season. I think you may safely
make the necessary arrangements, as I feel confident the
instructions will reach you soon after the opening of the
In consequence of this intimation, I have been casting about to find
some authors who treat of the region of country which embraces the
St. Peter's, but with little success. Hennipin's "Discovery of a
large Country in the Northern America, extending above Four Thousand
Miles," I have read with care. But care indeed it requires to
separate truth from error, both in his descriptions and opinions. He
thinks "Japan a part of the American Continent;" and describes the
Wisconsin as "navigable for large vessels above one hundred
leagues." Yet, notwithstanding this gross hyberbole, he describes
the portage between the Fox and Wisconsin at "half a league," which
is within the actual distance. It may be admitted that he was within
the Sioux country, and went up the Mississippi as high as the St.
La Hontan, whose travels were published in London only a few years
after the translation of Hennipin's, is entitled, it is believed, to
no credit whatever, for all he relates of personal discoveries on
the Mississippi. His fiction of observations on "River La Long," is
quite preposterous. I once thought he had been as far as Prairie du
Chien; but think it more probable he never went beyond Green Bay.
Carver, who went from Boston to the Mississippi in the latter part
of the 18th century, is not an author to glean much from. I,
however, re-perused his volume carefully, and extracted notes. Some
of the stories inserted in his work have thrown an air of discredit
over it, and caused the whole work to be regarded in rather an
apocryphal light. I think there is internal evidence enough in his
narrative to prove that he visited the chief portions of country
described. But he probably neglected to keep diurnal notes. When in
London, starvation stared him in the face. Those in office to whom
he represented his plans probably listened to him awhile, and
afterwards lost sight of, or neglected him. He naturally fell into
the hands of the booksellers, who deemed him a good subject to get a
book from. But his original journal did not probably afford matter
enough, in point of bulk. In this exigency, the old French and
English authors appear to have been drawn upon; and probably their
works contributed by far the larger part of the volume after the
114th page (Philadelphia ed. 1796), which concludes the "Journal." I
think it questionable whether some literary hack was not employed,
by the booksellers, to draw up the part of the work "On the origin,
manners, customs, religion, and language of the Indians."
Considerable portions of the matter are nearly verbatim in the
language of Charlevoix, La Hontan, and other authors of previous
date. The "vocabulary of Chippewa," so far as it is Chippewa at all,
has the French or a mixed orthography, which it is not probable that
an Englishman or an American would, de novo, employ.
3: Furnished the article, as desired, under the
signature of "Germanicus." Vide "N.Y. Statesman."
4: This specimen was sent to the New York Lyceum,
where it was determined to be an undescribed species, and named Fringilia
vespertina, or evening grosbec.
This site includes some historical
materials that may imply negative stereotypes reflecting the culture or language
of a particular period or place. These items are presented as part of the
historical record and should not be interpreted to mean that the WebMasters in
any way endorse the stereotypes implied.
Personal Memoirs of a Residence of Thirty Years with the
Indian Tribes on the American Frontiers, 1851
Previous | Thirty
Years with the Indians