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General Aspects of the Indian Cause

Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians

General aspects of the Indian cause--Public criticism on the state of Indian researches, and literary storm raised by the new views--Political rumor--Death of R. Pettibone, Esq.--Delegate election--Copper mines of Lake Superior--Instructions for a treaty in the North--Death of Mr. Pettit--Denial of post-office facilities--Arrival of commissioners to hold the Fond du Lac treaty--Trip to Fond du Lac through Lake Superior--Treaty--Return--Deaths of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

1826. Feb. 1st. The year opens with unfavorable symptoms for the Indian cause. The administration is strong in Congress, and the President favorable to the Indian view of their right to the soil they occupy east of the Mississippi until it is acquired by free cession. But the doctrine of state sovereignty contended for by Georgia, seems to be an element which all the States will, in the end, unite in contending for. And the Creeks may settle their accounts with the fact that they must finally go to the West. This is a practical view of the subject--a sort of political necessity which seems to outride everything else. Poetry and sympathy are rode over roughshod in the contest for the race. We feel nothing of this here at present, but it is only, perhaps, because we are too remote and unimportant to waste a thought about. Happy insignificance! As one of the little means of supporting existence in so remote a spot, and keeping alive, at the same time, the spark of literary excitement, I began, in December, a manuscript jeu d'esprit newspaper, to be put in covers and sent from house to house, with the perhaps too ambitious cognomen of "The Literary Voyager."

6th. The author of a leading and pungent critique for the North American Review writes in fine spirits from Washington, and in his usual literary tone and temper about his review: "Dr. Sparks' letter will show you his opinion. He altered the manuscript in some places, and makes me say of--what I do not think and what I would not have said. But let that pass. I gave him carte blanche, so I have no right to find fault with his exercise of his discretion. W. is in a terrible passion. He says that the article is written with ability, and that he always entertained the opinion expressed in the review of Heckewelder's work. But he is provoked at the comments on ----'s work, and, above all, at the compliment to you. Douglass, who is here, says this is merely Philadelphia versus New York, and that it is a principle with the former to puff all that is printed there, and to decry all that is not."

This appears to have been known to Gov. Clinton, and is the ground of the opinion he expressed of W. to Mr. Conant.

March 6th. Col. De Garmo Jones writes from Detroit that it is rumored that McLean is to leave the General Post-office Department, and to be appointed one of the United States Judges.

Mr. L. Pettibone, of Missouri, my companion in exploring the Ozark Mountains in 1818 and 1819, writes from that quarter that his brother, Rufus Pettibone, Esq., of St. Louis, died on the 31st July last. He was a man of noble, correct, and generous sentiments, who had practiced law with reputation in Western New York. I accompanied him and his family on going to the Western country, on his way from Olean to Pittsburgh. His generous and manly character and fair talents, make his death a loss to the community, and to the growing and enterprising population of the West. He was one of the men who cheered me in my early explorations in the West, and ever met me with a smile.

7th. My sister Maria writes, posting me up in the local news of Detroit.

9th. Mr. Trowbridge informs me that Congress settled the contested delegate question by casting aside the Sault votes. We are so unimportant that even our votes are considered as worthless. However that may be, nothing could be a greater misrepresentation than that "Indians from their lodges were allowed to vote."

14th. Col. Thomas H. Benton, of the Senate, writes that an appropriation of $10,000 has been granted for carrying out a clause in the Prairie du Chien treaty, and that a convocation of the Indians in Lake Superior will take place, "so that the copper-mine business is arranged."

17th. Maj. Joseph Delafield, of New York, says that Baron Lederer is desirous of entering into an arrangement for the exchange of my large mass of Lake Superior copper, for mineralogical specimens for the Imperial Cabinet of Vienna.

April 16th. A letter from the Department contains incipient directions for convening the Indians to meet in council at the head of Lake Superior, and committing the general arrangements for that purpose to my hands, and, indeed, my hands are already full. Boats, canoes, supplies, transportation for all who are to go, and a thousand minor questions, call for attention. A treaty at Fond du Lac, 500 miles distant, and the throwing of a commissariat department through the lake, is no light task.

27th. A moral question of much interest is presented to me in a communication from the Rev. Alvan Coe. Of the disinterested nature and character of this man's benevolence for the Indian race, no man knowing him ever doubted. He has literally been going about doing good among them since our first arrival here in 1822. In his zeal to shield them from the arts of petty traders, he has often gone so far as to incur the ill-will and provoke the slanderous tongues of some few people. That he should deem it necessary to address me a letter to counteract such rumors, is the only thing remarkable. Wiser, in some senses, and more prudent people in their worldly affairs, probably exist; but no man of a purer, simpler, and more exalted faith. No one whom I ever knew lives less for "the rewards that perish." Even Mr. Laird, whose name is mentioned in these records, although he went far beyond him in talents, gifts, and acquirements of every sort, had not a purer faith, yet he will, like that holy man, receive his rewards from the same "Master."

May 2d. Mr. Trowbridge writes me of the death of Wm. W. Pettit, Esq., of Detroit, a man respected and admired. He loaned me a haversack, suitable for a loose mineral bag, on my expedition in 1820.

8th. Difficulties between the military and citizens continue. The Postmaster-General declined, on a renewed memorial of the citizens, to remove the post-office without the garrison. He says the officers have evinced "much sensibility" on the subject, and denied that "any restraints or embarrassments" have been imposed, when every man and woman in the settlement knows that the only way to the post-office lies through the guard-house, which is open and shut by tap of drum. Restraints, indeed! Where has the worthy Postmaster-General picked up his military information?

June 6th. Definite information is received that the appropriation for the Lake Superior treaty has passed Congress.

10th. Mr. John Agnew, designated a special agent for preliminaries at Fond du Lac, writes of his prompt arrival at that place and good progress.

Gov. C. writes: "We must remove the copper-rock, and, therefore, you will have to provide such ropes and blocks as may be necessary."

22d. The citizens on this frontier, early in the season, petitioned the Legislative Council for the erection of a new county, embracing the Straits of St. Mary's and the Basin of Lake Superior, proposing to call it Chippewa, in allusion to the tribe occupying it. Maj. Robert A. Forsyth, of Detroit, M.C., writes of the success of the contemplated measure.

July 4th. The proposed treaty of Fond du Lac has filled the place with bustle for the last month. At an early hour this morning expectation was gratified by the arrival of His Excellency, Gov. Cass, accompanied by the Hon. Thomas L. McKenney, Commissioner of Indian Affairs. They reached the village in boats from Mackinac.

These gentlemen are appointed by the President to hold the conferences at Fond du Lac.

10th. Everything has been put in requisition for the last six days to facilitate the necessary embarkation. Jason could not have been more busy in preparing for his famous expedition to Argos. The military element of the party consisted of a company of the 2d Infantry, with its commissariat and medical department, numbering, all told, sixty-two men. It was placed under the command of Capt. Boardman. They embarked in three twelve-oared barges, and formed the advance. The provisions, presents of goods, and subsistence supplies of the commissioners' table, occupied four boats, and went next. I proceeded in a canoe allege with ten men, with every appendage to render the trip convenient and agreeable. Col. McKenney, struck with "the coach-and-six" sort of style of this kind of conveyance, determined to take a seat with me, and relying upon our speed and capacity to overtake the heavy boats, we embarked a day later. The whole expedition, with flags and music, was spread out over miles, and formed an impressive and imposing spectacle to the natives, who saw their "closed lake," as Superior was called in 1820, yield before the Anglo-Saxon power. The weather was fine, the scenery enchanting, and the incidents such as might fill a volume1. We were eighteen days in traversing the lake by its shores and bays. The distance is about 530 miles, which gives an average of thirty miles per day.

On reaching the post of Fond du Lac, of St. Louis, near the point where that bold stream deploys below the Cabotian Mountains2, we found a large assemblage of Indians from every part of the wide-spread Chippewa territories. It embraced delegations from the extreme sources of the Mississippi, the Rainy Lake borders, and Old Grand Portage, besides the entire American borders of Lake Superior and the Rice Lake region, the sources of the Wisconsin, Chippewa, and St. Croix valleys. The negotiations were held under a large bower, supported by posts, and provided with rude seats. The principles of the treaty of Prairie du Chien, of 1825, were fully explained and assented to. They ceded the right to explore and take away the native copper and copper-ores, and to work the mines and minerals in the country. They agreed to surrender the murderers still inland, who belonged to the misguided war party of 1824. They fully acknowledged the sovereign authority of the United States, and disclaimed all connection whatever with foreign powers. They stipulated that the boundary lines of the treaty of Prairie du Chien should be carried out in 1827 with the Menomonies and Winnebagoes, in the region of the sources of the Fox, Wisconsin, and Menomonee rivers. They provided for an Indian school at St. Mary's, and made some further important stipulations respecting their advance in the arts and education, through the element of their half-breeds. The effects of this treaty were to place our Indian relations in this quarter on a permanent basis, and to ensure the future peace of the frontier. My agency was now fixed on a sure basis, and my influence fully established among the tribes. During the treaty I had been the medium of placing about forty silver medals, of the first, second, and third classes, on the necks of the chiefs. A list of their names is appended.

While the Commissioners were engaged in the treaty, an effort was made, under their direction, to get out the large copper-boulder on the Ontonagon. It was entrusted to Col. Clemens, of Mount Clemens, and a Mr. Porter. The trucks and ropes taken inland by them proved inadequate. They then piled up the dry trees in the valley on the rock, and set them on fire. They found this effort to melt it inefficacious. They then poured on water from the river on whose brink it lays. This cracked off some of the adhering rock. And this attempt to mutilate and falsify the noblest specimen of native copper on the globe was the result of this effort.

The whole expedition re-embarked on the 9th of August, and being now relieved of its heavy supplies and favored with winds, returned to the Sault St. Marie on the 18th of that month.

No sooner were we arrived at St. Mary's than we were informed of the remarkable coincident deaths, on the 4th July, 1826, of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the second and third Presidents of the United States.

Among the letters accumulated during my absence, was one of Aug. 2d, from Gov. Clinton, requesting some wild rice for foreign distribution.

Another one was from my excellent friend Conant, of N.Y., who, with a fine sensitive mind, just appreciation of facts, and no ordinary capacity, appears to be literally breaking down in health and spirits, although still a young man. In a joint letter to Mrs. S. and myself, he says: "It appears you do not escape afflictions and visitations to teach you 'how frail you are,' how liable at any moment to render up to Him who gave them, your spirit and your life. Mr. S.," he adds, in evident allusion to my excess of "hope," "firm in body and ambitious in his pursuits, does not, I suppose, give over yet, and can scarcely understand how anybody should tire of life, and look at its pursuits with disgust."

Among my unread letters was one, Aug. 28th, from a Mr. Myer and Mr. Cocke, of Washington, District of Columbia, who propose to establish a periodical to be called "The Potomac Magazine," and solicit contributions. These abortive attempts to establish periodicals by unknown men are becoming more frequent as population increases in the land. It is felt truly that the number of readers must increase, but it is a mistake to suppose that they will read anything but the very best matter from the first sources, European and American. It is, at any rate, a mistake to suppose that a man who has attained reputation in any branch of science, literature, or general knowledge, should not seek the highest medium of communicating it, or that he would throw away his time and efforts in writing for these mere idealities of magazines without the strong inducements of either fame, money, or, at least, personal friendship.

E.A. Brush, Esq., of Detroit, writes (Aug. 28th) from Mackinac, that honors were performed that day by the military authorities on the island, in commemoration of the deaths of Adams and Jefferson. "The obsequies have this morning commenced here; but at this moment it is rather difficult to select the report of a cannon, at intervals of half an hour, from the claps of thunder at those of half a minute."

Aug. 20th. Mr. Robert Stuart, agent of the A.M. Fur Co., writes a letter of congratulations on the good policy to result from placing a sub-agent at La Pointe, in Lake Superior, a location where the interior tricks of the trade may be reported for the notice of the government. The selection of the sub-agent appointed by Commissioner McKenney is gall and wormwood to him. He strives to conceal the deep chagrin he feels at the selection of Mr. George Johnston as the incumbent.

1: Vide "Sketches of a Tour to the Lakes, of the Character and Customs of the Chippewa Indians, and of Incidents connected with the Treaty of Fond du Lac, by Thomas L. McKenney." Baltimore, Fielding Lucas, 1827; one vol. 8vo., 493 pp.

2: From Cabot.

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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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