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Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians

Mineralogy--Territorial affairs--Vindication of the American policy by its treatment of the Indians--New York spirit of improvement--Taste for cabinets of natural history--Fatalism in an Indian--Death of a first born son--Flight from the house--Territorial matters--A literary topic--Preparations for another treaty--Consolations--Boundary in the North-west under the treaty of Ghent--Natural history--Trip to Green Bay--Treaty of Butte des Morts--Winnebago outbreak--Intrepid conduct of General Cass--Indian stabbing--Investment of the petticoat--Mohegan language.

1827. January 10th.--Mineralogy became a popular study in the United States, I believe, about 1817 or thereabouts, when Professor Cleveland published the first edition of his Elements of Mineralogy, and Silliman began his Journal of Science. It is true Bruce had published his Mineralogical Journal in 1814, but the science can, by no means, be said to have attracted much, or general attention for several years. It was not till 1819 that Cleveland's work first came into my hands. The professor writes me under this date, that he is about preparing a new edition of the work, and he solicits the communication of new localities. This work has been about ten years before the public. It was the first work on that subject produced on this side of the Atlantic, and has acquired great popularity as a text-book to classes and amateurs. It adopts a classification on chemical principles; but recognizes the Wernerian system of erecting species by external characters; and also Hany's system of crystallography, so far as it extends, as being coincident, in the respective proofs which these systems afford to the chemical mode of pure analysis. As such it commends itself to the common sense of observers.

20th. Territorial affairs now began more particularly to attract my attention. Robert Irwin, Jr., Esq., M.C. of Detroit, writes on territorial affairs, growing out of the organization of a new county, on the St. Mary's, and in the basin of Lake Superior. I had furnished him the choice of three names, Allegan, Algonac, and Chippewa.

Major R.A. Forsyth, M.C., says (Jan. 22d), "the new county bill passed on the last of December (1826). It is contemplated to tender to you the appointment of first judge of the new county. We have selected the name of 'Chippewa.'"

Mr. C.C. Trowbridge writes (25th) that "it is proposed in Congress to lay off a new territory, embracing all Michigan west of the lake. This territory, at first proposed to be called Huron, was eventually named Wisconsin."

25th. Mr. Cass has examined, in an able article in the North American Review, the policy of the American government in its treatment of the Indians, in contrast with that of Great Britain. In this article, the charges of the London Quarterly are controverted, and a full vindication made of our policy and treatment of these tribes, which must be gratifying to every lover of our institutions, and our public sense of justice. As between government and government, this paper is a powerful and triumphant one. As a legal question it is not less so. The question of political sovereignty is clear. Did our English Elizabeths, James', and Charles', ever doubt their full right of sovereignty? The public sense of justice and benevolence, the Republic, if not the parent monarchy, fully recognized, by tracing to these tribes the fee of the soil, and by punctually paying its value, as established by public treaties, at all times.

26th. Mr. T.G. Anderson, of Drummond Island, transmits a translation of the Lord's Prayer, in Odjibwa, which he requests to be examined.

Feb. 5th. No State seems comparable, for its enterprise and rapid improvements, to New York. Mr. E.B. Allen, who recently removed from this remote village to Ogdensburgh, New York, expresses his agreeable surprise, after seven years' absence in the West, at the vast improvements that have been made in that State. "There is a spirit of enterprise and energy, that is deeply interesting to men of business and also men of science."

March 1st. Dr. Martyn Paine, of New York, proposes a system of philosophic exchanges. The large and fine collection of mineralogical and geological specimens which I brought from Missouri and other parts of the Mississippi valley in 1819, appears to have had an effect on the prevalent taste for these subjects, and at least, it has fixed the eyes of naturalists on my position on the frontiers. Cabinets of minerals have been in vogue for about nine or ten years. Mr. Maclure, of Philadelphia, Colonel Gibbs, of New Haven, and Drs. De Witt, Bruce and Mitchill, of New York, and above Profs. Silliman and Cleveland, may be said to have originated the taste. Before their day, minerals were regarded as mere "stones." Now, it is rare to find a college or academy without, at least, the nucleus of a cabinet. By transferring my collection here, I have increased very much my own means of intellectual enjoyment and resistance to the power of solitariness, if it has not been the means of promoting discovery in others.

* * * * *

4th. Fatalism,--An Indian, called Wabishkipenace, The White Bird, brings an express mail from the sub-agency of La Pointe, in Lake Superior. This proved to be the individual who, in 1820, acted as one of the guides of the exploring expedition to the Copper Rock, on the Ontonagon River. Trifles light as air arouse an Indian's suspicions, and the circumstance of his being thus employed by the government agents, was made use of by his fellows to his prejudice. They told him that this act was displeasing to the Great Spirit, who had visited him with his displeasure. Whatever influence this idea had on others, on Wabishkipenace it seemed to tell. He looked the image of despair. He wore his hair long, and was nearly naked. He had a countenance of the most melancholy cast. Poverty itself could not be poorer. Now, he appears to have taken courage, and is willing once more to enter into the conflicts of life. But, alas! what are these conflicts with an Indian? A mere struggle for meat and bread enough to live.

13th. This is a day long to be remembered in my domestic annals, as it carried to the tomb the gem of a once happy circle, the cherished darling of it, in the person of a beloved, beautiful, intellectually promising, and only son. William Henry had not yet quite completed his third year, and yet such had been the impression created by his manly precocity, his decision of character, perpetual liveliness of temper and manners, and sweet and classic lineaments, and attachable traits, that he appeared to have lived a long time. The word time is, indeed, a relative term, and ever means much or little, as much or little has been enjoyed or suffered. Our enjoyment of him, and communion with him, was intimate. From the earliest day of his existence, his intelligence and quick expressive eye was remarkable, and all his waking hours were full of pleasing innocent action and affectionate appreciation.

We took him to the city of New York during the winter of 1824-25, where he made many friends and had many admirers. He was always remembered by the youthful name of Willy and Penaci, or the bird--a term that was playfully bestowed by the Chippewas while he was still in his cradle. He was, indeed, a bird in our circle, for the agility of his motions, the liveliness of his voice, and the diamond sparkle of his full hazel eyes, reminded one of nothing so much. The month of March was more than usually changeable in its temperature, with disagreeable rains and much humidity, which nearly carried away the heavy amount of snow on the ground. A cold and croup rapidly developed themselves, and no efforts of skill or kindness had power to arrest its fatal progress. He sank under it about eleven o'clock at night. Such was the rapidity of this fatal disease, that his silver playful voice still seemed to ring through the house when he lay a placid corpse. Several poetic tributes to his memory were made, but none more touching than some lines from his own mother, which are fit to be preserved as a specimen of native composition1.

17th. This being St. Patrick's day, we dined with our excellent, warm-hearted, and truly sympathizing friend, Mr. Johnston, in a private way. He is the soul of hospitality, honor, friendship, and love, and no one can be in his company an hour without loving and admiring a man who gave up everything at home to raise up a family of most interesting children in the heart of the American wilderness. No man's motives have been more mistaken, no one has been more wronged, in public and private, by opposing traders and misjudging governments, than he, and no one I have ever known has a more forgiving and truly gentle and high-minded spirit.

28th. I began housekeeping, first on my return from the visit to New York, in the spring of 1825, in the so-called Allen House, on the eminence west of the fort, having purchased my furniture at Buffalo, and made it a pretty and attractive residence. But after the death of my son, the place became insupportable from the vivid associations which it presented with the scenes of his daily amusements.

1:         Who was it nestled on my breast,
            And on my cheek sweet kisses prest,
            And in whose smile I felt so blest?
                                                    Sweet Willy.

            Who hail'd my form as home I stept,
            And in my arms so eager leapt,
            And to my bosom joyous crept?
                                                    My Willy.

            Who was it wiped my tearful eye,
            And kiss'd away the coming sigh,
            And smiling, bid me say, "good boy?"
                                                    Sweet Willy.

            Who was it, looked divinely fair,
            Whilst lisping sweet the evening pray'r,
            Guileless and free from earthly care?
                                                    My Willy.

            Where is that voice attuned to love,
            That bid me say "my darling dove?"
            But, oh! that soul has flown above,
                                                    Sweet Willy.

            Whither has fled the rose's hue?
            The lily's whiteness blending grew
            Upon thy cheek--so fair to view,
                                                    My Willy.

            Oft have I gaz'd with rapt delight,
            Upon those eyes that sparkled bright,
            Emitting beams of joy and light!
                                                    Sweet Willy.

            Oft have I kiss'd that forehead high,
            Like polished marble to the eye,
            And blessing, breathed an anxious sigh,
                                                    For Willy.

            My son! thy coral lips are pale--
            Can I believe the heart-sick tale,
            That I thy loss must ever wail?
                                                    My Willy.

            The clouds in darkness seemed to low'r,
            The storm has past with awful pow'r,
            And nipt my tender, beauteous flow'r!
                                                    Sweet Willy.

            But soon my spirit will be free,
            And I my lovely son shall see,
            For God, I know did this decree!
                                                    My Willy.

This site includes some historical materials that may imply negative stereotypes reflecting the culture or language of a particular period or place. These items are presented as part of the historical record and should not be interpreted to mean that the WebMasters in any way endorse the stereotypes implied.

Personal Memoirs of a Residence of Thirty Years with the Indian Tribes on the American Frontiers, 1851

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