Journey from Mackinac to the Sault Ste. Marie--Outard Point--Head
winds--Lake Huron in a rage--Desperate embarkation--St.
Vital--Double the Detour--Return to St. Mary's--Letters--"Indian
girl"--New volume of travels--Guess' Cherokee alphabet--New views of
the Indian languages and their principles of construction--Georgia
question--Post-office difficulties--Glimpses from the civilized
1825. Sept. 5th. I arose at seven, and we had breakfast at
half-past seven. I then went to the Company's store and ordered an
invoice of goods for the Indian department. This occupied the time
till dinner was announced. I then went to my camp and ordered the
tent to be struck and the canoe to be put into the water; but found
two of my men so ill with the fever and ague that they could not go,
and three others were much intoxicated. The atmosphere was very
cloudy and threatening, and to attempt the traverse to Goose Island,
under such circumstances, was deemed improper. Mr. Robert and David
Stuart, men noted in the Astoria enterprise; Mr. Agnew, Capt. Knapp,
Mr. Conner, Mr. Abbott, Mr. Currey, &c., had kindly accompanied me
to the beach, but all were very urgent in their opinion that I
should defer the starting. I ordered the men to be ready at two
o'clock in the morning should the weather not prove tempestuous.
6th. I arose at three o'clock, but found a heavy fog
enveloping the whole island, and concealing objects at a short
distance. It was not till half-past six that I could embark, when
the fog began to disperse, but the clearing away of the fog
introduced a light head wind. I reached Goose Island, a distance of
ten miles, after a march of three hours, and afterwards went to
Outard Point, but could go no further from the increased violence of
Outard Point, 8 o'clock P.M. Here have I been encamped since
noon, with a head wind, a dense damp atmosphere, and the lake in a
foam. I expected the wind would fall with the sun, but, alas! it
blows stronger than ever. I fondly hoped on quitting Mackinac this
morning, that I should see home to-morrow, but that is now
impossible. How confidently do we hope and expect in this life, and
how little do we know what is to befall us for even a few hours
beyond the present moment. It has pleased the All-wise Being to give
me an adverse wind, and I must submit to it. I, doubtless, exulted
too soon and too much. On reaching Mackinac, I said to myself: "My
journey is accomplished; my route to the Sault is nothing; I can go
there in a day and a half, wind or no wind." This vanity and
presumption is now punished, and, I acknowledge, justly. I should
have left it to Providence. Wise are the ways of the Almighty, and
salutary all His dispensations to man. Were we not continually put
in mind of an overruling Providence by reverses of this kind, the
human heart, exalted with its own consequence, would soon cease to
implore protection from on high.
I feel solitary. The loud dashing of the waves on shore, and the
darkness and dreariness of all without my tent, conspire to give a
saddened train to my reflections. I endeavored to divert myself,
soon after landing, by a stroll along the shore. I sought in vain
among the loose fragments of rock for some specimens worthy of
preservation. I gleaned the evidences of crystallization and the
traces of organic forms among the cast-up fragments of limestone and
sandstone. I amused myself with the reflection that I should,
perhaps, meet you coming from an opposite direction on the beach,
and I half fancied that, perhaps, it would actually take place. Vain
sport of the mind! It served to cheat away a tedious hour, and I
returned to my tent fatigued and half sick. I am in hopes a cup of
tea and a night's rest will restore my equipoise of mind and body.
that rends the heart, Bids expectation rise."
7th. Still detained on this bleak and desolate Point. A heavy
rain and very strong gale continued all night. The rain was driven
with such violence as to penetrate through the texture of my tent,
and fall copiously upon me. Daybreak brought with it no abatement of
the storm, but presented to my view a wide vista of white foaming
surge as far as the eye could reach. In consequence of the
increasing violence of the storm, I was compelled to order my
baggage and canoe to be removed, and my tent to be pitched back
among the trees. How long I am to remain here I cannot conjecture.
It is a real equinoxial storm. My ears are stunned with the
incessant roaring of the water and the loud murmuring of the wind
among the foliage. Thick murky clouds obscure the sky, and a chill
damp air compels me to sit in my tent with my cloak on. I may
exclaim, in the language of the Chippewas, Tyau, gitche sunnahgud
(oh, how hard is my fate.)
At two o'clock I made another excursion to view the broad lake and
see if some favorable sign could not be drawn, but returned with
nothing to cast a gleam on the angry vista. It seemed as if the lake
was convulsed to its bottom.
pleasures swell the bosom here,
A shore most
sterile, and a clime severe,
shrub seems stinted in its size,
sickens and where fancy dies."
If to the
lake I cast my longing view,
waves their noisy way pursue;
reminds me of my prison-strand,
Those waves I
most admire, but cannot stand.
If to the
shore I cast my anxious eye,
rocks and sand commingled lie,
the wrecks of shells and weeds and wood,
the storm and driven by the flood.
there, high cast upon the shore,
Yet pant with
life and stain the rocks with gore.
the curious eye expect to meet
precious in the sands beneath his feet,
or crystals, fitting for the case,
affords so poor, so drear a place.
stones, the sport of every wind,
Is all th'
inquirer shall with caution find.
unvaried spreads before the eye;
Drear is the
land and stormy is the sky.
fixed eye, that dotes on sylvan scenes,
from these dark funereal greens,
cedars and low scraggy pines,
stagnates and the soil repines--
source is small--small every bliss,
That e'er can
dwell on such a place as this.
barren, sandy, dreary, and confined,
Bathed by the
waves and chilled by every wind;
flower to beautify the scene,
cultured shore--a shady green--
harbor on a dangerous shore,
friend to joy with or deplore.
He who can
feel one lonely ray of bliss
In such a
thought-appalling spot as this,
His mind in
fogs and mists must ever roll,
heart, and torpid all his soul.
About three o'clock P.M. there was a transient gleam of sunshine,
and, for a few moments, a slight abatement of wind. I ordered my
canoe and baggage taken inland to another narrow little bay, having
issue into the lake, where the water was calm enough to permit its
being loaded; but before this was accomplished, a most portentous
cloud gathered in the west, and the wind arose more fierce than
before. Huron, like an offended and capricious mistress, seemed to
be determined, at last, on fury, and threw herself into the most
extravagant attitudes. I again had my tent pitched, and sat down
quietly to wait till the tempest should subside; but up to a late
hour at night the elemental war continued, and, committing myself to
the Divine mercy, I put out my candle and retired to my pallet.
8th. The frowning mistress, Lake Huron, still has the pouts.
About seven o'clock I walked, or scrambled my way through
close-matted spruce and brambles to get a view of the open lake. The
force of the waves was not, perhaps, much different from the day
before, but they were directly from the west, and blowing directly
down the lake. Could I get out from the nook of a bay where I was
encamped, and get directly before them, it appeared possible, with a
close-reefed sail, to go on my way. My engagees thought it
too hazardous to try, but their habitual sense of obedience to a
bourgeoise led them to put the canoe in the water, and at 10
o'clock we left our encampment on Outard Point, got out into the
lake, not without imminent hazard, and began our career "like a
racehorse" for the Capes of the St. Mary's. The wind blew as if "'twad
blawn its last." We had reefed our sail to less than four feet, and
I put an extra man with the steersman. We literally went "on the
wings of the wind." I do not think myself ever to have run such
hazards. I was tossed up and down the waves like Sancho Panza on the
blanket. Three hours and twenty minutes brought me to Isle St.
Vital, behind which we got shelter. The good saint who presides over
the island of gravel and sand permitted me to take a glass of
cordial from my basket, and to refresh myself with a slice of cold
tongue and a biscuit. Who this St. Vital may have been, I know not,
having been brought up a Protestant; but I suppose the Catholic
calendar would tell. If his saintship was as fond of good living as
some of his friends are said to be, I make no doubt but he will
freely forgive this trespass upon his territory. Taking courage by
this refreshment, we again put out before the gale, and got in to
the De Tour, and by seven o'clock, P.M., were safely encamped on an
island in St. Mary's Straits, opposite St. Joseph's. The wind was
On entering the straits, I found a vessel at anchor. On coming
alongside it proved to be the schooner Harriet, Capt. Allen, of Mont
Clemens, on her way from the Sault. A passenger on board says that
he was at Mr. Johnston's house two days ago, and all are well. He
says the Chippewa chiefs arrived yesterday. Regret that I had not
forwarded by them the letter which I had prepared at the Prairie to
transmit by Mr. Holliday, when I supposed I should return by way of
Chippewa River and Lake Superior.
I procured from the Harriet a whitefish, of which I have just
partaken a supper. This delicious fish is always a treat to me, but
was never more so than on the present occasion. I landed here
fatigued, wet, and cold, but, from the effects of a cheerful fire,
good news from home, and bright anticipations for to-morrow, I feel
quite re-invigorated. "Tired nature's sweet restorer" must complete
what tea and whitefish have so successfully begun.
9th. My journal has no entry for this day, but it brought me
safely (some 40 miles) to my own domicil at "Elmwood." The
excitement of getting back and finding all well drove away almost
all other thoughts.
The impressions made on society by our visit to New York, and the
circles in which we moved, are given in a letter from Mr. Saml. C.
Conant, of the 19th July, which I found among those awaiting my
arrival. To introduce a descendant of one of the native race into
society, as had been done in my choice, was not an ordinary event,
and did not presuppose, it seems, ordinary independence of
character. Her grandfather, by the maternal side, had been a
distinguished chief of his nation at the ancient council-fire, or
seat of its government at Chegoimegon and Lapointe. By her father, a
native of Antrim, in the north of Ireland, she was connected with a
class of clergy and gentry of high respectability, including the
Bishop of Dromore and Mr. Saurin, the Attorney-General of Ireland.
Two very diverse sources of pride of ancestry met in her father's
family--that of the noble and free sons of the forest, and that of
ancestral origin founded on the notice of British aristocracy. With
me, the former was of the highest honor, when I beheld it, as it was
in her case, united to manners and education in a marked degree
gentle, polished, retiring, and refined. No two such diverse races
and states of society, uniting to produce such a result, had ever
come to my notice, and I was, of course, gratified when any persons
of intellect and refinement concurred in the wisdom of my choice.
Such was Mr. Conant and his family, a group ever to be remembered
with kindness and respect. Having passed some weeks in his family,
with her infant boy and nurse, during my absence South, his
opportunities for judging were of the best kind.
"If you will suffer me to indulge the expression of both my own and
Mrs. Conant's feelings, I am sure that you cannot but be pleased
that the frankness and generosity of one, and the virtues and
gentleness of the other of you, have made so lively an impression on
our hearts, and rendered your acquaintance to us a matter of very
sweet and grateful reflection. Truly modest and worthy persons often
exhibit virtues and possess attainments so much allied to their
nature as to be themselves unconscious of the treasures. It does not
hurt such ones to be informed of their good qualities.
"When I first visited Mr. Schoolcraft, I looked about for his
Indian girl. I carried such a report to my wife that we were
determined to seek her acquaintance, and were not less surprised
than recompensed to find such gentleness, urbanity, affection, and
intelligence, under circumstances so illy calculated, as might be
supposed, to produce such amiable virtues. But all have learned to
estimate human nature more correctly, and to determine that nature
herself, not less than the culture of skillful hands, has much to do
with the refinement and polish of the mind.
"Mr. S.'s book ('Trav. Cent. Ports. Miss. Valley') has also received
several generous and laudatory notices; one from the U.S.
Literary Gazette, printed at Boston. I saw Gov. Clinton, also,
who spoke very highly both of the book and the author. He thought
that Mr. W.'s ill-natured critique would not do any injury either
here or in Europe."
Oct. 23d. C.C. Trowbridge, Esq., sends me a copy of "Guess'
Cherokee Alphabet." It is, with a few exceptions, syllabic.
Eighty-four characters express the whole language, but will express
no other Indian language.
Maj. John Biddle communicates the result of the delegate election.
By throwing out the vote of Sault Ste. Marie, the election was
awarded by the canvassers to Mr. Wing.
New views of Indian philology. "You know," says a literary friend,
"I began with a design to refute the calumnies of the Quarterly
respecting our treatment of the Indians, and our conduct during the
recent war. This is precisely what I have not done. My stock of
materials for this purpose was most ample, and the most of the labor
performed. But I found the whole could not be inserted in one
number, and no other part but this could be omitted without breaking
the continuity of the discussion. I concluded, therefore, it would
be better to save it for another article, and hereafter remodel it."
28th. Mr. C. writes that he has completed his review, and
transmits, for my perusal, some of the new parts of it. "I also
transmit my rough draft of those parts of the review which relate to
Hunter, to Adelang's survey, and to ----. These may amuse an idle
hour. The remarks on ----are, as you will perceive, materially
altered. The alteration was rendered necessary by an examination of
the work. The 'survey' is a new item, and I think, you will
consider, the occasion of it, with me, a precious specimen of Dutch
impudence and ignorance. Bad as it is, it is bepraised and bedaubed
by that quack D. as though it were written with the judgment of a
This article utters a species of criticism in America which we have
It breaks the ice on new ground--the ground of independent
philosophical thought and inquiry. Truth to tell, we have known very
little on the philosophy of the Indian languages, and that little
has been the re-echo of foreign continental opinions. It has been
written without a knowledge of the Indian character and history. Its
allusions have mixed up the tribes in double confusion. Mere
synonyms have been taken for different tribes, and their history and
language has been criss-crossed as if the facts had been heaped
together with a pitchfork. Mr. C. has made a bold stroke to lay the
foundation of a better and truer philological basis, which must at
last prevail. It is true the prestige of respected names will
rise up to oppose the new views, which, I confess, to be sustained
in their main features by my own views and researches here on the
ground and in the midst of the Indians, and men will rise to sustain
the old views--the original literary mummery and philological
hocus-pocus based on the papers and letters and blunders of
Heckewelder. There was a great predisposition to admire and overrate
everything relative to Indian history and language, as detailed by
this good and sincere missionary in his retirement at Bethlehem. He
was appealed to as an oracle. This I found by an acquaintance which
I formed, in 1810, with the late amiable Dr. Wistar, while
rusticating at Bristol, on the banks of the Delaware. The confused
letters which the missionary wrote many years later, were mainly due
to Dr. Wistar's philosophical interest in the subject. They were
rewritten and thoroughly revised and systematized by the learned Mr.
Duponceau, in 1816, and thus the philological system laid, which was
published by the Penn. Hist. Soc. in 1819. During the six years that
has elapsed, nobody has had the facts to examine the system. It has
been now done, and I shall be widely mistaken if this does not prove
a new era in our Indian philology.
Whatever the review does on this head, however, and admitting that
it pushes some positions to an ultra point, it will blow the
impostor Hunter sky high. His book is an utter fabrication, in which
there is scarcely a grain of truth hid in a bushel of chaff.
Nov. 4th. Difficulties have arisen, at this remote post,
between the citizens and the military, the latter of whom have shown
a disposition to feel power and forget right, by excluding, except
with onerous humiliations, some citizens from free access to the
post-office. In a letter of this date, the Postmaster-General (Mr.
McLean) declines to order the office to be kept out of the fort, and
thus, in effect, decides against the citizens. How very unimportant
a citizen is 1000 miles from the seat of government! The national
aegis is not big enough to reach so far. The bed is too long for the
covering. A man cannot wrap himself in it. It is to be hoped that
the Postmaster-General will live long enough to find out that he has
been deceived in this matter.
29th. Mr. Conant, of New York, writes: "I hope you will not
fail to prosecute your Indian inquiries this winter, getting out of
them all the stories and all the Indian you can. I conclude
you hear an echo now and then from the big world, notwithstanding
your seclusion. The Creek Delegation is at Washington, unfriendly to
the late treaty, and I expect some changes not a little interesting
to the aboriginal cause. Mr. Adams looks at his 'red children' with
a friendly eye, and, I trust, 'the men of his house,' as the Indian
orator called Congress, will prove themselves so. I have been
charmed with the quietude and coolness manifested in Congress in
reference to the Georgia business."
And with these last words from the civilized world, we are prepared
to plunge into another winter, with all its dreary accompaniments of
ice and snow and tempests, and with the consoling reflection
that when our poor and long-looked-for monthly express arrives, we
can get our letters and papers from the office after duly performing
our genuflections to a petty military chief, with the obsequiousness
of a Hindoo to the image of Juggernaut.
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Personal Memoirs of a Residence of Thirty Years with the
Indian Tribes on the American Frontiers, 1851
Years with the Indians