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Difficulties Resulting From a False Impression of the Indian Character

Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians

Difficulties resulting from a false impression of the Indian character--Treaty with the Saginaws--Ottawas of Grand River establish themselves in a colony in Barry County--Payments to the Ottawas of Maumee, Ohio--Temperance--Assassination of young Aitkin by an Indian at Leech Lake--Mackinack mission abandoned--Wyandots complain of a trespass from a mill-dam--Mohegans of Green Bay apply for aid on their way to visit Stockbridge, Mass.--Mohegan traditions--Historical Society--Programme of a tour in the East--Parental disobedience--Indian treaties--Dr. Warren's Collection of Crania--Hebrew language--Geology--"Goods offer"--Mrs. Jameson--Mastodon's tooth in Michigan--Captain Marryatt--The Icelandic language--Munsees--Speech of Little Bear Skin chief, or Mu-konsewyan.


1837. Jan. 5th. Difficulties are reported as existing between a party of Indians (of about fifteen souls) of Bobish, and the settlers of Coldwater, Branch county, (township 8, S. range, 5 west.) About forty families have settled there within the last fall and summer. The Indians, who have been in the habit of making sugar and hunting on the public lands, are disposed not to relinquish these privileges, probably not understanding fully their right. Mutual threats have passed, which are repeated by Thomas G. Holden, who requests the interposition of the Department.

Settlers generally move into the new districts with strong prejudices against the Indians, whom they regard, mistakingly, as thirsting for blood and plunder. It only requires a little conciliation, and proper explanations, as in this case, to induce them at once to adopt the proper course.

14th. Articles of a new treaty were this day signed at my office, by the Saginaw chiefs, for the sale of all their reservations in Michigan. These reservations were made under the treaty of September 24th, 1819. They were ceded by them at Washington, in the spring of 1836, but the terms, and particularly the advance of money stipulated to be made, were deemed too liberal by the Senate, and, in consequence, the treaty was rejected. The object is now attained in a manner which, it is hoped, will prove satisfactory. By this, as the former treaty, this tribe are allowed the entire proceeds of the sale of their lands.

20th. Rev. Mr. Slater reports that the Ottawas of Grand River, who were parties to the treaty of 28th of March, have purchased lands in Barry county for the $6,400 allowed by the ninth article of the treaty, in trust for Chiminonoquet; and that a mission has been established on the lands purchased, which is called Ottawa Colony. Difficulties have occurred with pre-emption claimants in the same lands.

31st. Captain Simonton reports the payment of the annuity, amounting to $1,700, due to the Ottawas of Maumee, Ohio. The entire number of persons paid by him was four hundred and thirty-three, dividing a fraction under $4 per soul. In these payments old and young fare alike. Henry Connor, Esq., the interpreter present, confirms the report of the equal division, per capita, among the Indians, and the satisfaction which attended the payment, on their part.

Feb. 1st. Delivered an address at the Presbyterian Church, before a crowded audience, on the temperance movement, showing that the whole question to be decided was, in which class of moderate drinkers men elected themselves to be arranged, and that ardent spirits, as a beverage, were wholly unnecessary to a healthy constitution.

Transmitted to Mr. Palfrey a review of Mr. Gallatin's "Synopsis of the Indian Tribes of America."

Feb. 1st. Mr. William A. Aitkin writes from Sandy Lake: "Since I left you at St. Peter's I have had a severe trial to go through. I came up by Swan River, but heard nothing there of the melancholy event which had taken place during my absence at Upper Red Cedar Lake. My eldest son had been placed at that place last fall, in charge of that post. You saw him, I believe, last summer; he was in charge of Leech Lake when you were at that place. He was a young man of twenty-two years of age, of a very amiable temper, humane and brave, possessed of the most unbounded obedience to my will, and of the most filial affection for my person. This, my son, was murdered in the most atrocious manner by a bloody monster of an Indian. My poor boy had arrived the evening previous to the bloody act, from a voyage to Red Lake. Early the next morning he sent off all the men he had to Lake Winnipeck, excepting one Frenchman, to bring up some things which he had left there in the fall. A short time after his men had gone, he sent the remaining man to bring some water from the river; the man returned into the house immediately, and told him an Indian had broken open the store, and was in it. He went very deliberately to the store, took hold of the villain, who tried to strike him with his tomahawk, dragged him out of the store and disarmed him of his axe, threw him on the ground, and then let him go--and was turned round in the act of locking the store-door. The villain stepped behind the door, where he had hid his gun, came on him unawares and shot him dead, without the least previous provocation whatever on the part of my poor lost boy. When arrived, I found the feelings of every one prepared for vengeance. I immediately, without one moment's loss of time, proceeded to Leech Lake. In a moment there were twenty half-breeds gathered round, with Francis Brunette at their head, full-armed, ready to execute any commands that I should give them. We went immediately to the camp where the villain was, beyond Red Cedar Lake, determined to cut off the whole band if they should raise a finger in his defence. Our mutual friend, Mr. Boutwell, joined the party, with his musket on his shoulder, as a man and a Christian, for he knew it was a righteous cause, and that the arm of God was with him. We arrived on the wretches unawares, disarmed the band, and dragged the monster from his lodge. I would have put the villain to death in the midst of his relations, but Mr. Boutwell advised it would be better to take him where he might be made an example of. The monster escaped from us two days after we had taken him, but my half-breeds pursued him for six days and brought him back, and he is now on his way to St. Peter's in irons, under a strong guard. My dear friend, I cannot express to you the anguish of my heart at this present moment.

"The Indians of all this department have behaved like villains during my absence, particularly the Indians of Leech Lake, committing the greatest depredations on our people, and would surely have murdered them if they had shown the least disposition to resist their aggravations. You will excuse me from giving you any other news at present. I'm not in a state of mind to do it."

Feb. 3d. Rev. David Green, of Boston, communicates the determination of the Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to break up and abandon the school and mission at Mackinack. This decision I have long feared, and cannot but deplore. The school is large, and the education of many of the pupils is such that in a few years they would make useful practicable men and women, and carry a Christian influence over a wide circle. By dispersing them now the labor is to some extent lost.

6th. Received, a vote of thanks of the Detroit Total Abstinence Society, for my temperance address of the 1st instant, which is courteously called "elegant and appropriate." So, ho!

22d. A party of Wyandots from the River Huron, of Michigan, visited the office. They complain that trespasses are committed by settlers on the lands reserved to them. The trespasses arise from the construction of mill-dams, by which their grounds are overflowed. They asked whether they hold the reservation for fifty years or otherwise. I replied that they hold them, by the terms of the treaty, as long as they shall have any posterity to live on the lands. They only escheat to the United States in failure of this. But that I would send an agent to inquire into the justice of their complaint, and to redress it.

24th. Robert Kankapot presents himself with about twenty followers. He is a Stockbridge Indian of Green Bay, Wisconsin, on his way to the East. He is short of funds, and asks for relief. No annuity or other funds are payable, at this office, to this tribe. I deemed his plea, however, a reasonable one, and loaned him personally one hundred dollars.

I detained him with some historical questions. He says he is sixty-four years of age, that he was born in Stockbridge, on the head of the Housatonic River, in Massachusetts. From this town they take their present name. They are, however, the descendants of the ancient Mohegans, who lived on the sea coast and in the Hudson Valley. They were instructed by the Rev. Jonathan Edwards, the eminent theologian, who was afterwards president of Princeton College. Their first migration was into New Stockbridge, in Oneida County, New York, where the Oneida tribe assigned them lands. This was about the era of the American Revolution. They next went, about 1822, to Fox River of Green Bay, where they now reside. Their oldest chief, at that point, is Metoxon, who is now sixty-nine.

He says his remote ancestry were from Long Island (Metoacs), and that Montauk means great sea island. (This does not appear probable philologically.) He says the opposite coast, across the East River, was called Monhautonuk. He afterwards, the next day, said that Long Island was called Paum-nuk-kah-huk.

March 1st. To a friend abroad I wrote: "I have written during the winter an article on Mr. Gallatin's recently published paper on the Indian languages, entitled A Synopsis of the Indian Tribes, which is published by the American Antiquarian Society. It was with great reluctance that I took up the subject, and when I did, I have been so complete a fact hunter all my life, that I found it as difficult to lay it down. The result is probably an article too long for ninety-nine readers out of a hundred, and too short for the hundredth man."

8th. Mr. Palfrey acknowledges the safe arrival of my article for the North American Review.

The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions decline $6000 for the abandoned missionary house at Mackinack, offered under the view of its being converted into a dormitory for receiving Indian visitors at that point under the provisions of the treaty of 1836.

17th. Received a letter of thanks from old Zachariah Chusco, the converted Jos-sa-keed, for kindness.

23d Received a commission from Gov. Mason, appointing me a regent of the University of Michigan.

22d. The Historical Society of Michigan hold their annual meeting at my office. In the election for officers I was honored by being selected its President. A deep interest in historical letters had been manifested by this institution since its organization in 1828, particularly in the history of the aboriginal tribes, and means have been put on foot for the collection of facts. To these, the recent and extraordinary settlement of the country by emigration from the Bast, has added a new branch of inquiry, respecting town, county, and neighborhood settlements. Much of this is held in the memory of old persons, and will be lost if not gleaned up and preserved in the shape of narratives. Resolutions for this purpose were adopted, and an appeal made to the legislature to facilitate the collection of pamphlets and printed documents. Men live so rapidly now that few think of posterity; society hastens at a horse's pace, and we pass over so large a surface in so short a time, that the historian and antiquarian will stand aghast, in a few years, and exclaim "would that more minute facts were within our reach!"

23d. The Department at Washington instructs me to examine additional and unsatisfied claims arising under the 5th article of the treaty of March 28th, 1836, and, after submitting them to the Indians, to report them for payment.

28th. Very different are the diurnal scenes enacted from those which passed before my eyes at the ice-closed post of Mackinack last winter. Yet in one respect they are entitled to have a similar effect on my mind; it is in the craving that exists to fill the intervals of business with some moral and intellectual occupation that may tend to relieve it of the tedium of long periods of leisure. When a visitor is dismissed, or a transaction is settled, and the door closes on a man habituated to mental labor, the ever-ready inquiry is, What next? To sit still--to do nothing absolutely but to turn over the thoughts of other men, though this be a privilege, is not ultimate happiness. There is still a void, which the desire to be remembered, or something else, must fill.

31st. Gen. Cass writes from Paris that he is on the eve of setting out, with his family, for the Levant, to embark on a tour to the East, to visit the ancient seats of oriental power. "We proceed directly to Toulon, where we shall embark on board the frigate Constitution. From thence we touch at Leghorn, Civita Vecchia, Naples, and Sicily, and then proceed to Alexandria. After seeing Cairo, the Pyramids, Memphis, and, I hope, the Red Sea, we shall proceed to Palestine, look at Jerusalem, see the Dead Sea, and other interesting places of Holy Writ, pass by and touch at Tyre and Sidon, land at Beyrout, and visit Damascus and Baalbec, and probably Palmyra; touch at Smyrna, proceed to Constantinople and the Black Sea, and then to Greece, &c.; after that to the islands of the Archipelago, then up the Adriatic to Venice and Trieste, and thence return to this place. So, you see, here is the programme of a pretty good expedition, certainly a very interesting one."

April 6th. By letters received from Albany, a singular chapter of the inscrutable course and awards of Providence for parental disobedience and youthful deception is revealed. Alfredus, who departed from my office in Detroit early in March last, to receive a warrant as a cadet at West Point, has not appeared among his friends. He was a young man of good mind, figure, and address, and would doubtless have justified the judgment of his friends in giving him a military education. His father had been one of the patriots of 1776, and served on the memorable field of Saratoga. But the young man was smitten with the romance of going to Texas and joining the ranks of that country, striving for a rank among nations. This secret wish he carefully concealed from me, and, setting out with the view of returning to his father's roof, and solacing his age by entering the military academy, he secretly took the stage to Columbus, Ohio. Thence he pushed his way to New Orleans and Galveston. The next intelligence received of him, was a careful measurement of his length, by unknown hands, and the statement that, in ascending the Brazos, he had taken the fever and died.

10th. Issued notice to claimants for Indian debts, under the 5th article of the treaty of March 28th, 1886; that additional claims would be considered, and that such claims, with the evidence in support of them, must be produced previous to the first of June next.

26th. Received notice of my election as a corresponding member of the Hartford Natural History Society, Connecticut.

I have filled the pauses of official duty, during the season, by preparing for the press the oral legends which have been gleaned from the Indians since my residence at Sault St. Marie, in the basin of Lake Superior, and at Michilimackinack, under the name of Algic Researches, vol. i.

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

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