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Incidents of the Year 1824 

Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians

Incidents of the year 1824--Indian researches--Diverse idioms of the Ottowa and Chippewa--Conflict of opinion between the civil and military authorities of the place--A winter of seclusion well spent--St. Paul's idea of languages--Examples in the Chippewa--The Chippewa a pure form of the Algonquin--Religion in the wilderness--Incidents--Congressional excitements--Commercial view of the copper mine question--Trip to Tackwymenon Falls, in Lake Superior.

1824. Jan. 1st. As soon as the business season closed, I resumed my Indian researches.

General C. writes: "The result of your inquiries into the Indian language is highly valuable and satisfactory. I return you my sincere thanks for the papers. I have examined them attentively. I should be happy to have you prosecute your inquiries into the manners, customs, &c., of the Indians. You are favorably situated, and have withal such unconquerable perseverance, that I must tax you more than other persons. My stock of materials, already ample, is rapidly increasing, and many new and important facts have been disclosed. It is really surprising that so little valuable information has been given to the world on this subject."

Mr. B.F. Stickney, formerly an agent at Fort Wayne, Indiana, writes from Depot (now Toledo): "I am pleased to see that your mind is engaged on the Chippewa language. It affords a field sufficiently extensive for the range of all the intellect and industry that the nation can bring into action. If the materials already collected should, after a scrutiny and arrangement, be thrown upon the literary world, it would excite so much interest as not to permit the inquiry thus to stop at the threshold. It is really an original inquiry concerning the operations of the human mind, wherein a portion of the human race, living apart from the rest, have independently devised means for the interchange of thoughts and ideas. Their grammatical rules are so widely different from all our European forms that it forces the mind to a retrospective view of first principles.

"I have observed the differences you mention between the Ottowa and Chippewa dialects. Notwithstanding I conceive them to be (as you observe) radically the same language, I think there is less difference between the band of Ottowas you mention, of L'Arbre Croche, than the Ottowas of this vicinity. It appears that their languages are subject to very rapid changes. From not being written, they have no standard to resort to, and I have observed it demonstrated in bands of the same tribe, residing at considerable distances from each other, and having but little intercourse for half a century; these have with difficulty been able to understand each other.

"I am pleased to learn that you are still advancing the sciences of mineralogy and conchology. Your discovery of native silver imbedded in native copper is certainly a very extraordinary one."

28th. Major E. Cutler, commanding officer, applies to me, as a magistrate, to prosecute all citizens who have settled on the reserve at St. Mary's, and opened "shops for the sale of liquor." Not being a public prosecuting attorney, it does not appear how this can at all be done, without his designating the names of the offenders, and the offences for which they are to be tried.

30th. The same officer reports that his duties will not permit him to erect quarters for the Indian agent, which he is required to put up, till another year. If this step is to be regarded, as it seems, as a retaliatory measure for my not issuing process, en masse, against the citizens, without he or his subordinates condescending to name individuals, it manifests an utter ignorance of the first principles of law, and is certainly a queer request to be made of a justice of the peace. Nor does it appear how the adoption of such whims or assumptions is compatible with a just official comity or an enlarged sense of public duty, on his part, and pointed instructions, to boot, in co-operating with the Indian department on a remote and exposed frontier.

There seems to be a period, on the history of the frontiers, where conflicts between the military and civil authorities are almost inevitable; but there are, perhaps, few examples to be found where the former power has been more aggressively and offensively exercised than it has been under the martinet who is now in command at this post. It is an ancient point of settlement by the French, who are generally a mild and obliging people, and disposed to submit to authorities. Some of these are descended from persons who settled here under Louis XIV. That a few Americans have followed the troops with more rigid views of private rights, and who cannot be easily trampled on, is true. And the military have, justly, no doubt, felt annoyances from a freedom of trade with the soldiery, who cannot be kept within their pickets by bayonets and commands. But he must be far gone in his sublimated notions of self-complacency and temporary importance who supposes that a magistrate would surrender his sense of independence, and impartiality between man and man, by assuming new and unheard-of duties, at the beck of a military functionary who happens to overrate his own, or misjudge another's position.

March 31st. I have given no little part of the winter to a revision of my manuscript journal of travels through the Miami and Wabash Valleys in 1821. The season has been severe, and offered few inducements to go beyond the pale of the usual walk to my office, the cantonment, and to the village seated at the foot of the rapids. Variety, in this pursuit, has been sought, in turning from the transcription of these records of a tourist to the discussion of the principles of the Indian languages--a labor, if literary amusement can be deemed a labor, which was generally adjourned from my office, to be resumed in the domestic circle during the long winter evenings. A moral enjoyment has seldom yielded more of the fruits of pleasure. In truth, the winter has passed almost imperceptibly away. Tempests howled around us, without diminishing our comforts. We often stood, in the clear winter evenings, to gaze at the splendid displays of the Aurora Borealis. The cariole was sometimes put in requisition. We sometimes tied on the augim, or snow-shoe, and ventured over drifts of snow, whose depth rendered them impassable to the horse. We assembled twice a week, at a room, to listen to the chaste preaching of a man of deep-toned piety and sound judgment, whose life and manners resemble an apostle's.

In looking back at the scenes and studies of such a season, there was little to regret, and much to excite in the mind pleasing vistas of hope and anticipation. The spring came with less observation than had been devoted to the winter previous; and the usual harbingers of advancing warmth--the small singing birds and northern flowers--were present ere we were well aware of their welcome appearance.

            Hope is a flower that fills the sentient mind
            With sweets of rapturous and of heavenly kind;
            And those, who in her gardens love to tread,
            Alone can tell how soft the odors spread.


April 20th. "There are, it may be," says Paul, "many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification." It could easily be proved that many of these voices are very rude; but it would take more philological acumen than was possessed by Horne Tooke to prove that any of them are without "signification." By the way, Tooke's "Diversions of Purley" does not seem to me so odd a title as it once appeared.

C. writes to me, under this date, "I pray you to push your philological inquiries as far as possible; and to them, add such views as you may be able to collect of the various topics embraced in my plan."

There is, undoubtedly, some danger that, in making the Indian history and languages a topic of investigation, the great practicable objects of their reclamation may be overlooked. We should be careful, while cultivating the mere literary element, not to palliate our delinquencies in philanthropic efforts in their behalf, under the notion that nothing can be effectively done, that the Indian is not accessible to moral truths, and that former efforts having failed of general results, such as those of Eliot and Brainerd, they are beyond the reach of ordinary means. I am inclined to believe that the error lies just here--that is, in the belief that some extraordinary effort is thought to be necessary, that their sons must be cooped up in boarding-schools and colleges, where they are taught many things wholly unsuited to their condition and wants, while the mass of the tribes is left at home, in the forests, in their ignorance and vices, untaught and neglected.

In the exemplification of St. Paul's idea, that all languages are given to men, with an exact significance of words and forms, and therefore not vaguely, there is the highest warrant for their study; and the time thus devoted cannot be deemed as wasted or thrown away. How shall a man say "raca," or "that fox," if there be no equivalents for the words in barbarous languages? The truth is that this people find no-difficulty in expressing the exact meanings, although the form of the words is peculiar. The derogative sense of sly and cunning, which is, in the original, implied by the demonstrative pronoun "that," a Chippewa would express by a mere inflection of the word fox, conveying a bad or reproachful idea; and the pronoun cannot be charged with an ironical meaning.

In ke-bau-diz-ze, which is an equivalent for raca, there is a personal pronominal prefix, and an objective pronominal suffix. The radix, in baud, has thus the second person thou in ke; and the objective inflection, iz-ze, means a person in a general sense. This reveals two forms of the Chippewa substantive, which are applicable to all words, and leaves nothing superfluous or without "significance." In fact, the whole language is susceptible of the most clear and exact analysis. This language is one of the most pure, clear, and comprehensive forms of the Algonquin.

May 20th. The Rev. Robert McMurtrie Laird, of Princess Anne, Maryland, but now temporarily at Detroit, writes to me in a spirit of affectionate kindness and Christian solicitude. The history of this pious man's labors on the remotest frontiers of Michigan is probably recorded where it will be known and acknowledged, in hymns of gladness, when this feeble and frail memorial of ink and paper has long perished.

Late in the autumn of 1823, he came, an unheralded stranger, to St. Mary's. No power but God's, it would seem, could have directed his footsteps there. There was everything to render them repulsive. The Indian wabene drum, proclaiming the forest tribes to be under the influence of their native diviners and jossakeeds, was nightly sending forth its monotonous sounds. But he did not come to them. His object was the soldiery and settlement, to whom he could utter truths in the English tongue. He was assigned quarters in the cantonment, where an entire battalion of infantry-was then stationed. To all these, but one single family, it may be said that his preaching was received as "sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal." Certainly, there were the elements of almost everything else there but religion. And, while occupying a room in the fort, his fervent and holy spirit was often tried

            "By most unseemly mirth and wassail rife."

He came to see me, at my office and at my lodgings, frequently during the season, and never came when he did not appear to me to be one of the purest and most devoted, yet gentle and most unostentatious, of human beings. It is hoped his labors were not without some witness to the truths which he so faithfully taught. But, as soon as the straits were relieved from the icy fetters of winter, he went away, never, perhaps, to see us more. He now writes to apprise me of the spread of a rumor respecting my personal interest in the theme of his labors, which had, without permission from his lips, reached the ears of some of my friends at Detroit. Blessed sensitiveness to rumor, how few possess it!

Having said this much, I may add that, in the course of the winter, my mind was arrested by his mode of exhibiting truth. The doctrine of the Trinity, which had seemed to me the mere jingle of a triad, as deduced from him, appeared to be a unity, which derived all its coherence and vitality from a belief in the Second Person. The word "Lord" became clothed with a majesty and power which rendered it inapplicable, in my views, to any human person. The assiduity that I had devoted, night and day, to my manuscripts, in the search after scientific truths, and the knowledge arising from study, did not appear to me to be wrong in itself, but was thought to be pursued with an intensity that withdrew my mind from, or, rather, had never allowed it properly to contemplate and appreciate the character of God.

23d. A literary friend writes: "I am rejoiced to learn that you have made such progress in your new work. I hope and trust that the celerity with which you have written has not withdrawn your attention from those subjects connected with literary success, which are more important than even time itself."

"My prospects of seeing you at the Sault, this season," writes the same hand, "grows weaker and weaker every day. I cannot ascertain in what situation Col. Benton's bill is, for the purchase of the copper country upon Lake Superior, nor the prospects of its eventual passage. Our last Washington dates are of the 8th instant, and at that time there was a vast mass of business pending before both Houses, and the period of adjournment was uncertain. Mr. Lowrie and Governor Edwards have furnished abundant matter for congressional excitement. It really appears to me that, as soon as two or three hundred men are associated together to talk at, and about one another, and everything else, their passions and feelings usurp the place of their reason. Like children, they are excited by every question having a local or personal aspect. Their powers of dispassionate deliberation are lost, and everything is forgotten but the momentary excitement."

25th. Commercial View of Copper Mine Question.--M.M. Dox, Esq., Collector at Buffalo, writes:--

I have long had it in contemplation to write to you, not only on the score of old friendship, but also to learn the feasibility of a scheme relating to the copper mines of Lake Superior. This subject has so often annoyed my meditations, or rather taken up so considerable a proportion of them, that I have been disposed, with the poet, to exclaim--

            'Visions of (copper1) spare my aching sight.'

"I have just met Mr. Griswold, from whom I learn that you made some inquiries in reference to the price of transportation, &c. I will answer them for him. Copper in pig, or unmanufactured, is free of duty, on entry into the United States; its price in the New York market is, at this time (very low), sixteen cents per pound. Copper in sheets for sheeting of vessels (also free), about twenty-five cents per pound, and brazier's copper (paying a duty of fifteen per cent, on its cost in England), equal to about two and a half cents per pound. Until this year, and a few previous, the article has uniformly been from thirty to forty per cent, higher than the prices now quoted, that is, in time of peace. In time of war (in Europe) the price is enhanced ten or twenty per cent. above peace prices: and in this country, during the Late War, the price was, at one time, as high as $1.50 to $2.00 per pound.

"The history of England and this country does not furnish a period when copper was as low as at the present time, according to its relative value with the medium of exchange. Time and invention have developed richer mines and produced greater facilities for obtaining it; but the world does not probably know a region from whence the article can be furnished so cheaply as from the shores of Lake Superior. All accounts concur in representing the metal in that quarter of a superior quality, and furnish strong indications that it may be obtained, in quantities, with more than ordinary facility. When obtained, if on the navigable waters of the lake, the transportation to the strait will be easy and cheap, and the smelting not cost to exceed $20 per ton (for copper), and the transportation thence to New York one or one and a half cent per pound; one cent per pound, in addition, will carry it to any market in the world.

"If the difficulties to be incurred in obtaining the ore should prove to be no greater than may be reasonably anticipated, it is evident that it must be a very profitable business. Will the government then have the mines worked? I answer for them, No. The experience had by Congress in regard to the Indian trade (the Factory System) will, for many years at least, prevent that body from making any appropriation for such a purpose. The most safe and judicious course for the government is to draw private enterprise into the business; and, by holding out proper inducements, it will be enabled, without a dollar of extra expense, to derive, before many years, a handsome revenue from this source."

* * * * *

30th. Trip to Tacquimenon Falls, Lake Superior.--Accounts from the Indians represented the falls of the Tacquimenon River of Lake Superior as presenting picturesque features which were eminently worthy of a visit. Confined to the house during the winter, I thought an excursion proper. I determined to take the earliest opportunity, when the ice had left the lake, and before the turmoil of the summer's business began, to execute this wish. For this purpose, I took a canoe, with a crew of Chippewa Indians, with whom I was well acquainted, and who were familiar with the scene. I provisioned myself well, and took along my office interpreter. I found this arrangement was one which was agreeable to them, and it put them perfectly at their ease. They traveled along in the Indian manner, talking and laughing as they pleased with each other, and with the interpreter. Nothing could have been better suited to obtain an insight into their manners and opinions. One of their most common topics of talk was the flight of birds, particularly the carnivorous species, to which they addressed talks as they flew. This subject, I perceived, connected itself with the notions of war and the enemy's country.

On one occasion after we had entered Lake Superior, and were leisurely paddling, not remote from the shore, one of the Indians fired at, and wounded a duck. The bird could not rise so as to fly, but swam ashore, and, by the time we reached land, was completely missing. A white man would have been nonplused. Not so the Indian. He saw a fallen tree, and carefully looked for an orifice in the under side, and, when he found one, thrust in his hand and drew out of it the poor wounded bird. Frightened and in pain, it appeared to roll its eyeballs completely round.

By their conversation and familiar remarks, I observed that they were habitually under the influence of their peculiar mythology and religion. They referred to classes of monetos, which are spirits, in a manner which disclosed the belief that the woods and waters were replete with their agency. On the second day, we reached and entered the Tacquimenon River. It carried a deep and strong current to the foot of the first falls, which they call Fairy Rocks. This Indian word denotes a species of little men or fairies, which, they say, love to dwell on rocks. The falls are broken into innumerable cascades, which give them a peculiarly sylvan air. From the brink of these falls to the upper falls, a distance of about six miles, the channel of the river is a perfect torrent, and would seem to defy navigation. But before I was well aware of it, they had the canoe in it, with a single man with a long pole in the bow and stern. I took my seat between the centre bars, and was in admiration at the perfect composure and sangfroid with which these two men managed it--now shooting across the stream to find better water, and always putting in their poles exactly at the right instant, and singing some Indian cantata all the while. The upper falls at length burst on our view, on rounding a point. The river has a complete drop, of some forty feet, over a formation of sandstone. The water forms a complete curtain. There is nothing to break the sheet, or intercept it, till it reaches the deep water below. They said there was some danger of the canoe's being drawn under the sheet, by a kind of suction. This' stream in fact, geologically considered, crosses through, and falls over, the high ridge of sandstone rock which stretches from Point Iroquois to the Pictured Rocks. I took sketches of both the upper and lower falls.

Being connected by marriage with an educated and intelligent lady, who is descended, by her mother's side, from the former ruler of the Chippewa nation--a man of renown--I was received, on this trip, with a degree of confidence and cordiality by the Indians, which I had not expected. I threw myself, naked handed, into their midst, and was received with a noble spirit of hospitality and welcome. And the incidents of this trip revealed to me some of the most interesting scenes of Indian domestic life.

1: "Glory."--Gray.

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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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