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Death of Colonel Lawrence Schoolcraft

Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians

Death of Col. Lawrence Schoolcraft--Perils of the revolutionary era--Otwin--Mr. Bancroft's history in the feature of its Indian relations--A tradition of a noted chief on Lake Michigan--The collection of information for a historical volume--Opinions of Mr. Paulding, Dr. Webster, Mr. Duer, John Quincy Adams--Holyon and Alholyon--Family monument--Mr. Stevenson, American Minister at London--Joanna Baillie--Wisconsin--Ireland--Detroit--Michilimackinack.

1840. June 7th. The first of June found me in Detroit, on my way to Washington, where I was in a few days met by the appalling intelligence of the death of my father (Col. Lawrence Schoolcraft), an event which took place on this day at Vernon, Oneida County, New York. He had reached his eighty-fourth year, and possessed a vigor of constitution which promised longer life, until within a few days of his demise. A dark spot appeared on one of his feet, which had, I think, been badly gashed with an axe in early life. This discoloration expanded upwards in the limb, and terminated in what appeared to be a dry mortification.

In him terminated the life of one of the most zealous actors in the drama of the American Revolution, in which he was at various times a soldier and an officer, a citizen and a civil magistrate. "Temperate, ardent and active, of a mind vigorous and energetic, of a spirit bold and daring, nay, even indomitable in its aspirations for freedom, he became at once conspicuous among his brethren in arms, and a terror to his country's foes1."

His grandfather was an Englishman, and had served with reputation under the Duke of Marlborough in some of his famous continental battles, in the days of Queen Anne, and he cherished the military principle with great ardor. He spoke fluently the German and Dutch languages, and was thus able to communicate with the masses of the varied population, originally from the Upper Rhine and the Scheldt, who formed a large portion of the inhabitants of the then frontier portions of Albany County, including the wild and picturesque range of the Helderbergs and of the new settlements of Schoharie, the latter being in immediate contact with the Mohawk Iroquois. The influence of the British government over this tribe, through the administration of Sir William Johnson, was unbounded. Many of the foreign emigrants and their descendants were also under this sway, and the whole frontier was spotted with loyalists under the ever hateful name of Tories. These kept the enemy minutely informed of all movements of the revolutionists, and were, at the same time, the most cruel of America's foes, not excepting the Mohawks. For the fury of the latter was generally in battle, but the former exercised their cruelties in cold blood, and generally made deliberate preparations for them, by assuming the guise of Indians. In these infernal masks they gave vent to private malice, and cut the throats of their neighbors and their innocent children. In such a position a patriot's life was doubly assailed, and it was often the price of it, to declare himself "a son of liberty," a term then often used by the revolutionists.

He had just entered his seventeenth year when the war against the British authorities in the land broke out, and he immediately declared for it; the wealthy farmer (Swartz) with whom he lived, being one of the first who were overhauled and "spotted" by the LOCAL COMMITTEE OF SAFETY, who paraded through the settlement with a drum and fife. He was at the disarming of Sir John Johnson, at Johnstown, under Gen. Schuyler, where a near relative, Conrad Wiser, Esq., was the government interpreter. He was at Ticonderoga when the troops were formed into hollow square to hear the Declaration of Independence read. He marched with the army that went to reinforce Gen. Montgomery, at Quebec, and was one of the besieged in Fort Stanwix, on the source of the Mohawk, while Gen. Burgoyne, with his fine army, was being drawn into the toils of destruction by Gen. Schuyler, at Saratoga--a fate from which his supersedeas by Gen. Gates, the only unjust act of Washington, did not extricate him.

The adventures, perils, and anecdotes of this period, he loved in his after days to recite; and I have sometimes purposed to record them, in connection with his name; but the prospect of my doing so, while still blessed with an excellent memory, becomes fainter and fainter.

8th. Otwin (vide ante) writes from La Pointe, in Lake Superior, in the following terms:--

"I often look back to the happy days I spent in your family, and feel grateful in view of them. A thousand blessings rest on your head, my dear friend, and that of your wife, for all your kindness to me, when first a stranger in a distant land. I cannot reward you, but know that you will be rewarded at the resurrection of the just."

9th. "I know of no good reason," says a correspondent, "why a man should not, at all times, stand ready to sustain the truth." This is a maxim worthy Dr. Johnson; but the experience of life shows that such high moral independence is rare. Most men will speak out, and even vindicate the truth, sometimes. But the worldling will stand mute, or evade its declaration, whenever his interests are to be unfavorably affected by it.

I reached Washington on public business during the heats of June, and, coming from northern latitudes, felt their oppressiveness severely.

27th. Mr. Bancroft, the historian, pursues exactly the course he should, to ferret out all facts, new and old. He does not hold himself too dignified to pick up information, or investigate facts, whenever and wherever he can find them. In what he has to say about the Indians, a subject that lies as a superstratum under his work, he is anxious to hear all that can be said. "Let me hear from you," he adds in a letter of this date, "before you go back. I want to consult you on my chapter about the Indians, and for that end should like to send you a copy of it."

The chief, Eshquagonaby, of Grand Traverse Bay, Lake Michigan, relates the following traditions: When Gezha Manido (the Good Spirit) created this island (continent), it was a perfect plain, without trees or shrubs. He then created an Indian man and woman. When they had multiplied so as to number ten persons, death happened. At this the man lamented, and went to and fro over the earth, complaining. Why, he exclaimed, did the Good Spirit create me to know death and misery so soon? The Good Spirit heard this, and, after assembling his angels to counsel, said to them, What shall we do to better the condition of man? I have created him frail and weak. They answered, O, Good Spirit, thou hast created us, and thou art everlasting, and knowest all things; thou alone knowest what is best.

Six days were given to this consultation. During this time not a breath of wind blew to disturb the waters. This is now called unwatin (a calm). On the seventh day not a cloud was seen; the sky was blue and serene. This is called nageezhik (excellent day) by the Indians.

During this day he sent down a messenger, placing in his right bosom a piece of white hare skin, and in his left, part of the head of the white-headed eagle. Both these substances had a blue stripe on them of the nature and substance of the blue sky, being symbols of peace.

The messenger said to the man that complained: "Your words are heard, and I am come from the Good Spirit with good words. You must conform yourself to his commands. I bring pieces of the white hare skin and the white eagle's head, which you must use in your MEDAWA (religico-medical rites), and whatsoever is asked on those occasions will be granted, and long life given to the sick." The messenger also gave them a white otter skin, with a blue stripe painted on the back part of the head. Other ceremonial rites and directions were added, but these may suffice to indicate the character of Mr. Eshquagonaby's tradition, which has just been sent to me.

July 1st. I was now anxious to collect materials for the publication of a volume of collections by the Michigan Historical Society, and addressed several gentlemen of eminence on the subject. Mr. J. K. Paulding, Sec. of the Navy (July 9th), pleads official engagements as preventing him from doing much in the literary way while thus employed.

Dr. Noah Webster, of New Haven, expresses his interest in the history of the country generally, and his willingness to contribute to the collection and preservation of passing materials. "In answer to the request for aid in collecting national documents, I can sincerely say it will give me pleasure to lend any aid in my power. Respecting the State of Michigan, I presume I could furnish nothing of importance. Respecting the history of our government for the last fifty years, I might be able to add something to the stock of information possessed by the present generation, for I find men in middle life absolutely ignorant of some material facts which have a bearing on our political concerns. But little can be expected, however, from a man of eighty-two, whose toils must be drawing to a close."

The Hon. John A. Duer, Prest. Col. College (July 15th), while expressing a sympathy in the object, declares himself too much occupied in the duties of his charge to permit him to hold forth any promise of usefulness in the case specified.

Hon. John Quincy Adams forwarded, with the expression of his interest in the subject, twelve pamphlets of historical value, the titles of each of which he carefully recites in his letter. "It will give me much pleasure," he says, "to transmit to the society, when it may be in my power, any of the articles pertaining to the history of the country and mentioned in your letter, as suited to promote the purposes for which it was instituted."

From other quarters and observers less absorbed in the discharge of specific functions, I received several valuable manuscript communications, chiefly relative, to transactions on the frontiers or to Indian history.

22d. Two half-breeds from the upper lakes, whom I shall designate Holyon and Alholyon, made their way to the seat of government during the winter of 1840. Holyon had been dismissed for improper conduct from the office of Indian interpreter at Mackinack about May. Alholyon had been frustrated in two several attempts to get himself recognized as head chief by the Ottawas, and consequently to some influence in the use of the public funds, which were now considerable. One was of the Chippewa, the other of the Ottawa stock. Holyon was bold and reckless, Alholyon more timid and polite, but equally destitute of moral principles. They induced some of the Indians to believe that, if furnished by them with funds, they could exercise a favorable influence at Washington, in regard to the sale of their lands. The poor ignorant Indians are easily hoodwinked in matters of business. At the same time they presented, in secret council, a draft for $4000 for their services, which they induced some of the chiefs to sign. This draft they succeeded in negotiating to some merchant for a small part of its value. No sooner had they got to head-quarters, and found they were anticipated in the draft matter, and the project of a chieftainship, by letters from the agent, than they drew up a long list of accusations against him, containing every imaginable and abominable abuse of office. This was presented at the Indian office, where its obvious character should have, it would seem, been at once suspected. The head of that Bureau, who began to see from the strong political demonstrations around him, "how the cat was about to jump," acceded to a request of Holyon and Alholyon, that the matter be referred for local examination to one or two of their personal advisers inland. This step (in entire ignorance of the private relations of the parties, it must be presumed,) was assented to. In a letter of Holyon to J.L.S., of May 19th, 1840, he says: "The department was predisposed against him (the agent), and wanted only a cause to proceed against him." But it left a stain on its fairness and candor by omitting the usual course of furnishing the agent a copy of the charges and requesting his attention thereto, or even of informing him of the pendency of an investigation. As the charges were entirely unfounded, and had been the diseased imaginings of disappointed and unprincipled minds, it only put the agent to the necessity of confronting his assailants, and with every advantage of accusers, examiners and the appellant power against him, he was triumphantly acquitted, by an official letter, of every charge whatever, and of every moral imputation of wrong. "Should thy lies make men hold their peace? and when thou mockest, shall no man make thee ashamed?" (Job xi. 3.)

1: Nat. Intell. July 31, 1840.

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

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