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Indiana Tampered With at Grand River

Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians

Indiana tampered with at Grand River--Small-pox in the Missouri Valley--Living history at home--Sunday schools--Agriculture--Indian names--Murder of the Glass family--Dr. Morton's inquiries respecting Indian crania--Necessity of one's writing his name plain--Michigan Gazetteer in preparation--Attempt to make the Indian a political pack-horse--Return to the Agency of Michilimackinack--Indian skulls phrenologically examined--J. Toulmin Smith--Cherokee question--Trip to Grand River--Treaty and annuity payments--The department accused of injustice to the Indians.

1838. March 2d. LIEUT. E. S. SIBLEY, U.S.A., called at the office, and reported certain things which had been put into the heads of the Indians of Grand River, by interested persons, which they had at the recent annuity payments, requested him to state to me. Also, the fact of an outrage upon one of their number, committed by a white person, which should have been redressed at once by the civil magistrates. There is but one way of escape for the Indians living in white communities, that is, to place them, at once, under the protection, and subject to the penalties of our criminal and civil codes.

3d. Renewed and confirmatory accounts are published at St. Louis, of the desolating effects of the small-pox among the Indian tribes on the Missouri. In addition to the tribes mentioned in the first accounts as having suffered, the Upsarokees, or Crows, have been dreadfully afflicted. The various bands of the Pie-gans, Blood Indians, and Blackfeet, have lost great numbers. And the visitation of this appalling disease, against which they have no remedy, has been one of the severest ever felt by these tribes. Compared to it, the loss that the Saginaws and other local bands in Michigan have felt, is small; but it is an instructive fact, that the outbreak has been concurrent in point of time, on the Missouri and in Michigan, which would seem to imply a climatic condition of the atmosphere, on a wide scale, favorable to morbid eruptions.

6th. A.E. Wing, Esq., declines to deliver the annual address before the Michigan Historical Society, owing to other engagements. Few men who have capacity are found willing to devote the time necessary for the preparation of a literary address, even where the materials for it would appear to lie ready. The pressing practical calls of life, in a new country, where there is no hereditary wealth, appear to furnish a valid reason for this. But another reason is, that the materials and frame-work of an address are sought for at too great a distance, and are thought to lie too deeply buried, to be disinterred by any but extraordinary hands. This is a mistake. The subjects are at home, and exist not only in exploring old literary mines, but in the very circumstances around us. What more extraordinary than the current which throws such masses of people daily among us, tearing up, as it were, the old plan of life, and laying the foundations of new social ties in the wilderness. Not a county is settled in the West, the initial steps of which does not furnish legitimate materials for an address which would edify the living generation, and instruct those which are to follow us. A single century hence, and how much tradition will sleep in the grave that might now be rescued! Somebody has written a book "How to Observe," but there is good need of another--"HOW TO THINK."

7th. A new and growing society has every kind of moral want. The necessity for education exists in a thousand forms; and if the friends of it do not bestir themselves, the enemies will. The friends of the Sunday School Union, in Michigan, feeling impressed with these views, issued a circular this day, making an appeal which deserves a hearty response. Michigan mind appears very active in every department.

17th. Received a circular (from Messrs. Baloh & Wales, of Marshall, Calhoun Co.) for the issue of an agricultural paper, adequate to the wants of that interest.

29th. Dr. D. Houghton, the agent of the Geological Survey of the State, which is in progress, commits to me, in a letter of this date, the topic of the Indian terminology, and the bestowal of new names, from the aboriginal vocabulary.

30th. An inquest was held this day, in Ionia, on the head waters of Grand River, on the bodies of a woman and two children, supposed (mistakingly) to have been murdered by the Indians. By the testimony adduced, it is shown that a Mr. Aensel D. Glass, of whose family the bodies consist, lived about four miles from the nearest neighbor. He had not been seen since the 14th of the month. On the 28th, a Mr. Hiram Brown, one of his nearest neighbors, went there on business, and found the house burned, and the bodies of his wife and children lying half burned in the area of the house (which was of logs), having been previously most horribly mutilated. No trace could be found of Mr. Glass, nor of a good rifle, two axes, and two barrels of flour, which he was known to have had.

Suspicion first fell on the Grand River Ottawas. I investigated the subject, and found this unjust. They are a peaceable, orderly, agricultural people, friendly to the settlers, and having no cause of dislike to them. Suspicion next fell on the Saginaws, who hunt in that quarter, and whose character has not recovered from the imputation of murder and plunder committed during the war of 1812. Petossegay was named as the probable aggressor. But on an investigation made by Mr. Conner, at Saginaw, this imputation was also found improbable, and he was dismissed, leaving the horrible mystery unexplained1.

April 1st. Dr. Samuel George Morton, of Philadelphia, who is preparing a comprehensive work on aboriginal crania, writes:--"Your obliging letter, offering me any information you might possess that would promote my work on the skulls of the American tribes, makes me free to put to you the following inquiries, inasmuch as I am desirous of seeing as many tribes, and as many individuals as possible, in a limited space of time.

"When will the next annual payment be made at Mackinaw, and how many tribes, and what number of people do you think will assemble on that occasion?

"If I visit Mackinaw, can I readily cross the country to the Mississippi, and what length of time will be required on the journey?

"It is my intention to visit Mackinaw, or any adjacent place, that, in your judgment, will give me the greatest opportunity for seeing the Indians, and I shall await your advice thereon.

"My work progresses rapidly. Twenty of sixty plates are already finished, and I hope to complete the work before the close of the year. I shall soon have an opportunity of forwarding, as far as Detroit, a set of my plates for your inspection and acceptance."

10th. Washington Irving writes: "I have to acknowledge the receipt of a letter informing me of my having been elected an honorary member of the Michigan Historical Society, of which, I perceive, you are President. Not being able to make out the name of the Corresponding Secretary, I have to ask the favor of you to assure the Society of the deep sense I entertain of the honor they have done me, and my ready disposition to promote the views of so meritorious an institution." What is worthy of note herein is this, that the name which the distinguished writer could not make out, is that of one of our most fluent penmen, namely, C.C. Trowbridge, Esq., but who, on scrutiny, I perceive, writes his name worse than anything else, and so inconceivably bad that a stranger might not be able to guess it.

16th. Mr. John T. Blois, who is engaged on a Gazetteer of the State of Michigan, acknowledges the receipt from me of some details respecting the statistical and topographical departments of his work. The difficulty to be met with by all gazetteers of the new States, consists in this, that most classes of the data alter so much in a few years that the books do not present the true state of things. Towns and counties spring up like magic, and if old Aladdin had his lamp he could not more expeditiously cover the shores of streams, and valleys, and plains, with seats, mills, and various institutions belonging to our system2.

19th. A memorial is got up in Ionia County, on Grand River, respecting the Indians, their feelings and their affairs. In it facts are distorted, opinions misapprehended, and the acts and policy of the government and its agents greatly misconceived in some things, and wholly misrepresented in others. And the paper, when examined by the lights of treaties and acts, as they really occurred, is to be regarded as the work of some ambitious man who wishes to get on the backs of the Indians to ride into office, or to promote, in some other way, selfish and concealed ends. All such attempts, though they may seem to "run well" for a time, and may result in temporary success, may be safely left to the counteraction of right opinions. For it has always remained an axiom of truth, verified by every day's experience, "That he that diggeth a pit for his neighbor shall himself fall into it."

20th. General Jo. M. Brown, of the militia, who with the valor of the redoubtable Peter Stuyvesant at Christina, marched into Toledo, "brimful of wrath and cabbage," transmits the above precious memorial, not to the Department, or the President, to whom it is ostensibly addressed, but to the editor of a political party paper at Detroit, to "manufacture" public opinion, claiming, at the same time, very high motives for so very disinterested an act, in which the good of the Indians, and the integrity of public faith, are clearly held forth as the aim of the writer. The editor endorsing it with most high-sounding phrases, in which he speaks of it as taking fit place beside the most atrocious fictions, which have been conjured up by mistaken heads and zealous hearts, anxious to ride the aforesaid "Indian question," in relation to the Cherokees and Florida Indians. When all this grandiloquent display of parental sympathy, and a sense of outraged justice, is stripped of its false garbs and put into the crucible of truth, the result is, that political capital can be made just now of the handling of the topic. A delay of a few months (owing to the fiscal crisis at Washington) in the payment of half the annuity for the year, and the neglect or refusal of a few bands to come for the other moiety, as ready in silver, and paid at the stipulated time and place, is made the subject of allusion in this political hue and cry. As to these bands, they are the most peaceable, corn-planting, and semi-agricultural bands in the State. They have been pre-eminently cultivators from an early date of their history, and have been so characteristically addicted to barter, in the products of their industry as to be called by the other Algonquin bands, Ottawas, or traders from the days of Champlain. They had probably as little to do with the Glass murder in Ionia, which is alleged as an instance of hostility to the United States, as Gen. Jo. M. Brown himself.

20th. Mrs. Caroline Lee Hentz, one of our female writers, in a note of acknowledgment to the Hist. Soc., falls into the same quandary about making out the signature of one of our most expert and beautiful penmen, that Washington Irving did. She could by no means make out Mr. Trowbridge's name, and addressed her reply to me.

21st. Having passed the winter at Detroit, I left the Superintendency office in charge of Mr. Lee, an efficient clerk, and embraced the sailing of one of the earliest vessels for the Upper Lakes, to return to Michilimackinack. Winter still showed some of its aspects there, although gardening at Detroit had been commenced for weeks. The difference in latitude is nearly four and a half degrees; the geographical distance is computed by mariners at 300 miles.

May 1st. In a communication from Mr. J. Toulmin Smith, he expresses his anxiety to procure some Indian skulls from the tribes of the Upper Lakes, to be employed in his lectures on phrenology; and, also, for the purpose of transmission to London. This gentleman lectured acceptably on this topic during the winter at Detroit. During these lectures, I gave him the skull of Etowigezhik, a Chippewa, who was killed on Mr. Conner's farm about four or five years ago. He pronounced the anterior portion to exceed in measurement by one-half an inch the posterior, and drew conclusions favorable to the natural intellect.

10th. The Cherokee question assumes a definite crisis. Gen. Scott issues, under this date, a friendly proclamation to the Cherokees, calling on them to remove peaceably, under the terms of the treaty of 1835, telling them that more than two years had already elapsed after the time agreed on, and that they would be provided, in their removal to the west of the Mississippi, with food, clothing, and every means of transportation; and making a just and humane appeal to their sense of justice to remote; but assuring them that, if these considerations were allowed to pass unheeded, his instructions were imperative, and he had an army at his command, and would be compelled to order it to act in the premises. Such an appeal must be successful.

However much we may sympathize with the poetic view of the subject, and admire that spirit of the human heart which loves to linger about its ancient seats and homes, the question in this case has assumed a purely practical aspect founded on public transactions, which cannot be recalled. The inaptitude of the Indian tribes generally, for conducting the business of self-government, and their want of a wise foresight in anticipating the relative power and position of the two great opposing races in America, namely, the white and red, has been the primary cause of all their treaty difficulties. The treaties themselves are not violated in any respect, but being written by lawyers and legalists, the true intent of some of these provisions, or the relative condition of the parties at a given time, are not sometimes fully appreciated; and at other times, the Indian chiefs exercise diplomatic functions which their nation has not restored, as in the case of the Creeks of Georgia, or to the exercise of which the majority are actually opposed, as in the treaty of New Echota with the Cherokees. Some of their most intelligent and best minds led the way to and signed the treaty of final cession of New Echota, in 1835. But the compensation being found ample, and the provisions wise, and such as would, in the judgment of the United States Senate, secure their prosperity and advancement permanently, that body, on large consideration, yielded its assent, making, at the same time, further concessions to satisfy the malcontents. These are the final arrangements for leaving the land to which Gen. Scott, in his proclamation, alludes.

This tribe has lived in its present central position longer than the period of exact history denotes. They are first heard of under the name of "Achalaques," by the narrator of De Soto's Conquest of Florida, in 1540; within a dozen years of three centuries ago.

June 2d. I proceeded, during the latter part of May, to visit the Ottawas of the southern part of Michigan, to inquire about their schools under the treaty of '36, and to learn, personally, their condition during the state of the rapid settlements pressing around them. I went to Chicago by steamboat, and there found a schooner for Grand River. Here I was pleased to meet our old pastor, Mr. Ferry, as a proprietor and pastor of the newly-planned town of Grand Haven. I had to wait here, some days, for a conveyance to the Grand Rapids, which gave me time to ramble, with my little son, about the sandy eminences of the neighborhood, and to pluck the early spring flowers in the valley. The "Washtenong," a small steamer with a stern-wheel, in due time carried us up. Among the passengers was an emigrant English family from Canada, who landed at a log house in the woods. I was invited, at the Rapids, to take lodgings with Mr. Lewis Campeau, the proprietor of the village. The fall of Grand River here creates an ample water power. The surrounding country is one of the most beautiful and fertile imaginable, and its rise to wealth and populousness must be a mere question of time, and that time hurried on by a speed that is astonishing. This generation will hardly be in their graves before it will have the growth and improvements which, in other countries, are the results of centuries.

5th. I this day, in a public council at the court house, paid the Indians the deferred half annuity of last year (1837) in silver coin, and afterwards concluded a treaty with them, modifying the treaty of 28th March, 1836, so far as to make it obligatory on the government to pay their annuities here instead of Michilimackinack. The annuities in salt, tobacco, provisions and goods, were also delivered to them by agents appointed for the purpose. They expressed themselves, and appeared to be highly gratified, with the just fulfilment of every treaty obligation, and with the kind and benevolent policy and treatment of the American government.

I took this occasion to call their attention to the murder of the Glass family in Ionia, in the month of March last. They utterly disclaimed it, or any participation of any kind in its perpetration. They agreed to send delegates west, in accordance with the 8th art. of the treaty of '36, to explore the country on the sources of the Osage River, for their future permanent residence. They were well content with their teachers and missionaries of all denominations. The Chief Nawequageezhig, in particular, spoke with a commanding voice and just appreciation on the subject, which evinced no ordinary mental elevation, purpose and dignity.

11th. George Bancroft, Esq., of Boston, in a letter of this date, observes: "I can only repeat, what before I have urged on you, to collect all the materials that can illustrate the language, character and origin of the natives, and the early settlement of the French." The encouragement I receive from my literary and scientific friends, and which has been continued these many years, is, indeed, of a character which is calculated to stimulate to new exertions, although the love for such exertions pre-exists. I do not know that I shall live to make use of the materials I collect, or that I have the capacity to digest and employ them; but if not, they may be useful in the hands of other laborers.

16th. Office of Indian Affairs, Michilimackinack. On returning from Grand River, I observed a continuation of the misrepresentations begun last winter, respecting the Indian policy and proceedings of the Department. A ground for these misconceptions, and in some things, perversions, arose from the goods' offer for the half annuity, made in 1837. This offer being rejected by the Michigan Indians, was renewed to those of Wisconsin, and accepted by the Menomonies of Green Bay. Traders and merchants who were expecting the usual payments of cash annuities to the Indians, were sorely disappointed by finding a single tribe in the lake country paid in merchandise. The policy itself was a bad one, and denoted the inexperience and consequent unfitness of Mr. Carey A. Harris for the post of Commissioner of Indian Affairs at Washington. I anticipated the storm it would raise on the frontiers, and, when the project was transmitted to me, did not attempt to influence my Indians (the Michigan Indians) to accept or reject it, but left it entirely to their own judgments, after appointing two honest men to show the goods and state the prices. A less impartial course appears to have been pursued at Green Bay, where this policy of the "goods offer" of 1837 was loudly called in question. I had shielded the tribes under my care from it, and should have had credit for it from all honest and candid men, but finding no disposition in some quarters to discriminate, I immediately, on reaching home, sat down and wrote a plain and clear statement of the affair for the public press, and having thus satisfied my sense of justice and truth, left others, who had acted wholly out of my jurisdiction and influence, to vindicate themselves. J.W. Edmonds, Esq., and Maj. John Garland, who had been chief actors in the matter, did so. But it seemed like talking against a whirlwind. The whole action of this offer, on the Michigan Indians, was to postpone, by their own consent, the payment of the half annuity in coin one year.

The Grand River Indians declined to come to Mackinack, the place specially named in the treaty, to receive their half annuity, in consequence of which, it was not practicable to send it to them till the next spring. I paid it myself on the 5th of June, 1848, in silver. Yet the rumor of gross injustice to the Indians only gained force as it spread. The Grand River memorialists made "nuts" of it, and General Jim Wilson wielded it for my benefit, in his classical stump speeches in New Hampshire. I had carefully shielded my Indians from a cent's loss, yet my name was pitched into the general condemnation, like the thirteenth biscuit in a baker's dozen. Nothing rolls up so fast as a lie, when once afloat3.

1: Mr. Glass was subsequently, in 1841, found alive in Wisconsin.

2: This was proved by the result. The work was published in Oct., 1838, and was a very creditable performance, but the author had been two or three or even four years about it, and the information was just this time out of date.

3: Harris felt disobliged by my independence of action respecting the "goods offer." He had, in fact, been overreached by a noted commercial house, who dealt heavily in Indian goods in New York, who sold him the goods on credit; but who actually collected the specie from the western land offices, on public drafts, before the year expired. He vented this pique officially, by suspending my report of Oct. 18th, 1837, on the debt claims against the Indians, finally assumed powers in relation to them, directly subversive of the principles of the treaty of March 28th, 1836, which had been negotiated by me, and referred them for revision to a more supple agent of his wishes at New York, who had been one of the efficient actors in the "goods offer" at Green Bay, Wisconsin, as above detailed.

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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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