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Trip Through the Miami of the Lakes

Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians

Trip through the Miami of the lakes, and the Wabash Valley--Cross the grand prairie of Illinois--Revisit the mines--Ascend the Illinois--Fever--Return through the great lakes--Notice of the "Trio"--Letter from Professor Silliman--Prospect of an appointment under government--Loss of the "Walk-in-the-Water"--Geology of Detroit--Murder of Dr. Madison by a Winnebago Indian.

1821. I left New York for Chicago on the 16th June--hurried rapidly through the western part of that State--passed up Lake Erie from Buffalo, and reached Detroit just in season to embark, on the 4th of July. General Cass was ready to proceed, with his canoe-elege in the water. We passed, the same day, down the Detroit River, and through the head of Lake Erie into the Maumee Bay to Port Lawrence, the present site, I believe, of the city of Toledo. This was a distance of seventy miles, a prodigious day's journey for a canoe. But we were shot along by a strong wind, which was fair when we started, but had insensibly increased to a gale in Lake Erie, when we found it impossible to turn to land without the danger of filling. The wind, though a gale, was still directly aft. On one occasion I thought we should have gone to the bottom, the waves breaking in a long series, above our heads, and rolling down our breasts into the canoe. I looked quietly at General Cass, who sat close on my right, but saw no alarm in his countenance. "That was a fatherly one," was his calm expression, and whatever was thought, little was said. We weathered and entered the bay silently, but with feelings such as a man may be supposed to have when there is but a step between him and death.

We ascended the Miami Valley, through scenes renowned by the events of two or three wars. I walked over the scene of Dudley's defeat in 1812; of Wayne's victory in 1793; and of the sites of forts Deposit and Defiance, and other events celebrated in history. From Fort Defiance, which is at the junction of the River Auglaize, we rode to Fort Wayne, sleeping in a deserted hut half way. We passed the summit to the source of the Wabash, horseback, sleeping at an Indian house, where all the men were drunk, and kept up a howling that would have done credit to a pack of hungry wolves. The Canadians, who managed our canoe, in the mean time brought it from water to water on their shoulders, and we again embarked, leaving our horses at the forks of the Wabash. The whole of this long and splendid valley, then wild and in the state of nature, till below the Tippecanoe, we traversed, day by day, stopping at Vincennes, Terrehaute, and a hundred other points, and entered the Ohio and landed safely at Shawneetown. Here it was determined to send the Canadians with our canoe, round by water to St. Louis, while we hired a sort of stage-wagon to cross the prairies. I visited the noted locality of fluor spar in Pope County, Illinois, and crossing the mountainous tract called the Knobs, rejoined the party at the Saline. Here I found my old friend Enmenger, of Kemp and Keen memory, to be the innkeeper. On reaching St. Louis, General Cass rode over the country to see the Missouri, while I, in a sulky, revisited the mines in Washington, and brought back a supply of its rich minerals. We proceeded in our canoe up the River Illinois to the rapids, at what is called Fort Rock, or Starved Rock, and from thence, finding the water low, rode on horseback to Chicago, horses having been sent, for this purpose, from Chicago to meet us. There was not a house from Peoria to John Craft's, four miles from Chicago. I searched for, and found, the fossil tree, reported to lie in the rocks in the bed of the river Des Plaines. The sight of Lake Michigan, on nearing Chicago, was like the ocean. We found an immense number of Indians assembled. The Potawattomies, in their gay dresses and on horseback, gave the scene an air of Eastern magnificence. Here we were joined by Judge Solomon Sibley, the other commissioner from Detroit, whence he had crossed the peninsula on horseback, and we remained in negotiation with the Indians during fifteen consecutive days. A treaty was finally signed by them on the 24th of August, by which, for a valuable consideration in annuities and goods, they ceded to the United States about five millions of acres of choice lands.

Before this negotiation was finished, I was seized with bilious fever, and consequently did not sign the treaty. It was of the worst bilious type, and acute in its character. I did not, indeed, ever expect to make another entry in a human journal. But a vigorous constitution at length prevailed, and weeks after all the party had left the ground, I was permitted to embark in a vessel called the Decatur on the 23d of September for Detroit. We reached Michilimackinack the seventh day of our voyage, and returned to Detroit on the 6th of October. The incidents and observations of this journey have been given to the public under the title "Travels in the Central Portions of the Mississippi Valley" (1 vol. pp. 459, 8vo.: New York).

I still felt the effects of my illness on reaching Detroit, where I remained a few days before setting out for New York. On reaching Oneida County, where I stopped to recruit my strength, I learned that some envious persons, who shielded themselves under the name of "Trio," had attacked my Narrative Journal, in one of the papers during my absence. The attack was not of a character to demand a very grave notice, and was happily exposed by Mr. Carter, in some remarks in the columns of the Statesman, which first called my attention to the subject.

"A trio of writers," he observes, in his paper of 17th August, "in the Daily Advertiser of Wednesday, have commenced an attack on the Narrative Journal of Mr. Schoolcraft, lately published in this city. We should feel excessively mortified for the literary reputation of our country, if it took any three of our writers to produce such a specimen of criticism as the article alluded to; and 'for charity's sweet sake,' we will suppose that by a typographical error the signature is printed Trio instead of Tyro. At any rate, the essay, notwithstanding all its wes and ours, bears the marks of being the effort of one smatterer, rather than the joint production of three critics, as the name imports."

The Trio (if we admit there are tria juncta in uno, in this knot of savans) pretend to be governed by patriotic motives in attacking Mr. Schoolcraft. 'In what we have said, our object has been to expose error, and to shield ourselves from the imputation which would justly be thrown upon ourselves.' The construction of this sentence reminds us of the exordium of Deacon Strong's speech at Stonington--'the generality of mankind in general endeavor to try to take the disadvantage of the generality of mankind in general.' But not to indulge in levities on so grave a subject, we are happy in the belief that the reputation of our country does not demand the condemnation of Schoolcraft's Journal, as a proof of our taste, nor need such a shield as the trio have interposed, to protect it from the attacks of foreign reviewers:--

            'Non tali auxilio, nec defensoribus istis
            Tempus eget.'

It affords us great pleasure to relieve the anxiety of the Trio on the subject of shielding 'ourselves from the imputation which would be justly thrown upon ourselves,' by stating that one of the most scientific gentlemen in the United States wrote to the publishers of Schoolcraft's Journal, not a week since, for a copy of the work to send to Paris, adding to his request, the work is so valuable that I doubt not it would be honorably noticed.

"We have not taken the trouble to examine the passages to which the Trio have referred; for, admitting that a trifling error has been detected in an arithmetical calculation--that a few plants (or vegetables, as this botanist calls them) have been described as new, which were before known--and that in the haste of composition some verbal errors may have escaped the author, yet these slight defects do not detract essentially from the merit of the work, or prove that it has improperly been denominated a scientific, valuable, and interesting volume. Our sage critics are not aware how many and whom they include in the denunciation of 'a few men who pretend to all the knowledge, all the wisdom of the country;' if by a few they mean all who have spoken in the most favorable terms of Mr. Schoolcraft's book.

"One word in respect to the 'candor' of the Trio, and we have done. It would seem to have been more candid, and the disavowal of 'an intention to injure' would have been more plausible, if the attack had been commenced when the author was present to defend himself, and not when he is in the depth of a wilderness, remote from his assailants and ignorant of their criticisms. But we trust he has left many friends behind who will promptly and cheerfully defend his reputation till his return."

On reading the pieces, I found them to be based in a petty spirit of fault-finding, uncandid, illiberal, and without wit, science, or learning. It is said in a book, which my critics did not seem to have caught the spirit of--"Should not the multitude of words be answered, and should a man fall if talk be justified? Should thy lies make men hold their peace, and when thou mockest shall no man make thee ashamed?" (Job xi. 2, 3.) My blood boiled. I could have accepted and approved candid and learned and scientific criticism. I replied in the papers, pointing out the gross illiberality of the attack, and tried to provoke a discovery of the authors. But they were still as death; the mask that had been assumed to shield envy, hypercriticism, and falsehood, there was neither elevation of moral purpose, courage, nor honor, to lay aside.

In the mean time, all my correspondents and friends sustained me. Men of the highest standing in science and letters wrote to me. A friend of high standing, in a note from Washington (Oct. 24th) congratulating me on my recovery from the fever at Chicago, makes the following allusion to this concealed and spiteful effort: "When in Albany I procured from Mr. Webster copies of them (the pieces), with a view to say something in the papers, had it been necessary. But, from their character and effect, this would have been wholly unnecessary. They have fallen still-born from the press."

Mr. Carter (Oct. 28th) says: "G. C. was at my room, and spoke of the numbers with the utmost contempt, and thought they were not worth noticing. The same opinion is entertained by everyone whom I have heard speak on the subject. Chancellor Kent told me that your book is the most interesting he has ever read, and that the attack on it amounts to nothing. Others have paid it the same compliment, and I think your fame is in no danger of being injured by the Trio."

Mr. Baldwin, a legal gentleman of high worth and standing, made the following observations in one of the city papers, under the signature of "Albanian":--

"True criticism is a liberal and humane art, and teaches no less to point out and admire what is deserving of applause, than to detect and expose blemishes and defects. If this be a correct definition of criticism, and 'Trio' were capable of filling the office he has assumed, I am of opinion that a different judgment would have been pronounced upon Mr. Schoolcraft's book of travels; and that they would have been justly eulogized, and held up for the perusal of every person at all anxious about acquiring an intimate knowledge of the interesting country through which he traveled, and which he so ably and beautifully described. It is certainly true, that we abound in snarling critics, whose chief delight is in finding fault with works of native production; and though it is not my business to tread upon their corns, I could wish they might ever receive that castigation and contempt which they merit from a liberal and enlightened public. In the first article which appeared in your useful paper, over the signature of 'Trio,' I thought I discovered only the effervescence of a pedantic and caviling disposition; but, when I find that writer making false and erroneous statements, and drawing deductions therefrom unfavorable to Mr. Schoolcraft, I deprecate the evil, and invite the public to a free and candid investigation of the truth. Not satisfied with detracting from the merits of Mr. Schoolcraft's work, 'Trio' indulges in some bitter and illiberal remarks upon those gentlemen who composed the Yellow Stone River expedition; and to show how little qualified he is for the subject, I will venture to declare him ignorant of the very first principles upon which that expedition was organized."

So much for the "Trio." No actual discovery of the authors was made; but from information subsequently obtained, it is believed that their names are denoted under the anagram LENICTRA.

Other criticisms of a different stamp were, however, received from high sources, speaking well of the work, which may here be mentioned. Professor Silliman writes from New Haven, November 22d: "I perused your travels with great satisfaction; they have imparted to me a great deal of information and pleasure. Could any scientific friend of yours (Captain Douglass, for instance) prepare a notice, or a review, I would cheerfully insert it.

"In reading your travels, I marked with a pencil the scientific notices, and especially those on mineralogy and geology, thinking that I might at a future period embody them into an article for the journal. Would it not be consistent with your time and occupations to do this, and forward me the article? I would be greatly pleased also to receive from you a notice of the fluor spar from Illinois; of the fossil tree; and, in short, any of your scientific or miscellaneous observations, which you may see fit to intrust to the pages of the journal, I shall be happy to receive, and trust they would not have a disadvantageous introduction to the world."

How different is this in its spirit and temper from the flimsy thoughts of the Trio!

Literary Honors.--Dr. Alfred S. Monson, of New Haven, informs me (November 23d) of my election as a member of the American Geological Society. Mr. Austin Abbott communicates notice of my election as a member of the Hudson Lyceum of Natural History.

Appointment under Government.--A friend in high confidence at Washington writes (November 4th): "The proposition to remove from Sackett's Harbor to the Sault of St. Mary a battalion of the army, and to establish a military post at the latter place, has been submitted by Mr. Calhoun to the President. The pressure of other subjects has required an investigation and decision since his return; so that he has not yet been able to examine this matter. Mr. Calhoun is himself decidedly in favor of the measure, and I have no doubt but that such will be the result of the Presidential deliberation. The question is too plain, and the considerations connected with it too obvious and important, to allow any prominent difficulties to intrude themselves between the conception and the execution of the measure. If a post be established, it is almost certain that an Indian agency will be located there, and, in the event, it is quite certain that you will be appointed the agent."

Loss of the "Walk-in-the-water."--This fine steamer was wrecked near the foot of Lake Erie, in November. A friend in Detroit writes (November 17th): "This accident maybe considered as one of the greatest misfortunes which have ever befallen Michigan, for in addition to its having deprived us of all certain and speedy communication with the civilized world, I am fearful it will greatly check the progress of emigration and improvement. They speak of three new boats on Lake Erie next season; I hope they may be erected, but such reports are always exaggerated."

Geology of Detroit.--"No accurate measurement that I can find has ever been made of the height of the bank of the river at this place. As near as I can ascertain, however, from those who have endeavored to obtain correct information respecting it, and from my own judgment, I should suppose the base of the pillars at the upper end of the market-house, which stand three hundred feet from the water's edge, to be thirty-three feet above the surface of the river. The bank is of a gentle descent towards the water, and gradually recedes from the river for one mile above the lower line of the city.

"In digging a well in the north-east part of the city, in the street near the Council House, the loam appeared to be about a foot and a half deep. The workmen then passed through a stratum of blue clay of eight or ten feet, when they struck a vein of coarse sand, eight inches in thickness, through which the water entered so fast, as to almost prevent them from going deeper. They, however, proceeded through another bed of blue clay, twenty or twenty-two feet, and came to a fine yellow sand, resembling quicksand, into which they dug three feet and stopped, having found sufficient water. The whole depth of the well was thirty-three feet.

"The water is clear, and has no bad taste. No vegetable or other remains were found, and only a few small stones and pebbles, such as are on the shores of the river. A little coarse dark sand and gravel were found below the last bed of clay, on the top of the yellow sand."

The boring for water in 1830 was extended, on the Fort Shelby plateau, 260 feet. After passing ten feet of alluvion, the auger passed through 115 feet of blue clay, with quicksand, then two of beach sand and pebbles, when the limestone rock was struck. It was geodiferous for sixty feet, then lies sixty-five, then a carbonate of lime eight feet, at which depth the effort was relinquished unsuccessfully.--Historical and Scientific Sketches of Michigan.

"Bed of the Detroit River.--I am induced to believe the bed of the River Detroit is clay, from the fact that it affords good anchorage for vessels. Neither limestone nor any other rock has ever been discovered in it."

Murder of Dr. Madison.--A gentleman at the West writes to me (Nov. 17): "As to the murder of Dr. Madison, the facts were, that he started from Green Bay, with three soldiers, to go to Chicago, and from thence to his wife in Kentucky, who, during his absence, had added 'one' to the family. The Indian Ke-taw-kah had left the bay the day previous, had passed the Indian village on the Manatoowack River, on his way to Chebiogan on the west side of Lake Michigan, to see a relative, but had turned back. When the Doctor met him, he was standing by the side of a tree, apparently unemployed. The Indian, says the Doctor, addressed him, and said something, from which he understood they wanted them to guide him to Chicago. As he knew he should get something to eat from them, he concluded he would go with them as far as Chebiogan. Accordingly, he fell in with the party about 2 P.M., and walked on until they had passed the Manatoowack River, about three miles.

"They came to a small rise of ground, over which two of the soldiers had passed, and the other was by the side of the Doctor's horse, and both were just on the top. The Indian was about two rods in the rear, and was at the foot of the hill, when a gun was fired in the rear, and Madison received the charge in his shoulders and in the back of his neck, and immediately fell from his horse. The Indian instantly disappeared. The Doctor exclaimed, 'Oh! why has that Indian shot me? I never did him or any of them any injury. To kill me, too, when I was just returning to my wife and my little child, which I have never seen! It is more painful than death.' His conversation was very pathetic, as related by the soldier, and all who heard him were greatly affected.

"The Indian says he shot him without any cause or malice; that the thought came into his head, about two minutes before, that he would kill one of the four; and when he saw the Doctor on the top of the hill, he concluded he would fire at him, to see how pretty he would fall off his horse."

These things transpired late in the fall. I did not reach Albany till late in December, and immediately began to prepare my geological report.

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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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