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Journey from Mackinac to the Sault Ste. Marie

Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians
 

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 world.


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 the wind.

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. Thus

            "Every pang 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.

            OUTARD POINT.

            What narrowed pleasures swell the bosom here,
            A shore most sterile, and a clime severe,
            Where every shrub seems stinted in its size,
            "Where genius sickens and where fancy dies."

            If to the lake I cast my longing view,
            The curling waves their noisy way pursue;
            That noise reminds me of my prison-strand,
            Those waves I most admire, but cannot stand.

            If to the shore I cast my anxious eye,
            There broken rocks and sand commingled lie,
            Mixed with the wrecks of shells and weeds and wood,
            Crushed by the storm and driven by the flood.

            E'en fishes there, high cast upon the shore,
            Yet pant with life and stain the rocks with gore.
            Would here the curious eye expect to meet
            Aught precious in the sands beneath his feet,
            Ores, gems, or crystals, fitting for the case,
            No spot affords so poor, so drear a place.
            Rough rounded stones, the sport of every wind,
            Is all th' inquirer shall with caution find.
            A beach unvaried spreads before the eye;
            Drear is the land and stormy is the sky.

            Would the fixed eye, that dotes on sylvan scenes,
            Draw pleasure from these dark funereal greens,
            These stunted cedars and low scraggy pines,
            Where nature stagnates and the soil repines--

            Alas! the source is small--small every bliss,
            That e'er can dwell on such a place as this.
            Bleak, barren, sandy, dreary, and confined,
            Bathed by the waves and chilled by every wind;
            Without a flower to beautify the scene,
            Without a cultured shore--a shady green--
            Without a harbor on a dangerous shore,
            Without a 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,
            Without a 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 here ahead.

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 Charlevoix."

This article utters a species of criticism in America which we have long wanted.

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

Thirty Years with the Indians

 

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