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Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians

I determined this day to close the house, and, leaving the furniture standing, we took refuge at Mr. Johnston's. Idolatry such as ours for a child, was fit to be rebuked, and the severity of the blow led me to take a retrospect of life, such as it is too common to defer, but, doubtless, wise to entertain. Why Providence should have a controversy with us for placing our affections too deeply on a sublunary object, is less easy at all times to reconcile to our limited perceptions than it is to recognize in holy writ the existence of the great moral fact. "I will be honored," says Jehovah, "and my glory will I not give to another." It is clear that there is a mental assent in our attachments, in which the very principle of idolatry is involved. If so, why not give up the point, and submit to the dispensations of an inevitable and far-seeing moral government, of affairs of every sort, with entire resignation and oneness of purpose? How often has death drawn his dart fatally since Adam fell before it, and how few of the millions on millions that have followed him have precisely known why, or been entirely prepared for the blow! To me it seems that it has been the temper of my mind to fasten itself too strongly on life and all its objects; to hope too deeply and fully under all circumstances; to grapple, as it were, in its issues with as "hooks of steel," and never to give up, never to despair; and this blow, this bereavement, appears to me the first link that is broken to loosen my hold on this sublunary trust. My thoughts, three years ago, were turned strongly, and with a mysterious power, to this point, namely, my excessive ardor of earthly pursuits, of men's approbation. Here, then, if these reflections be rightly taken, is the second admonition. Such, at least, has been the current of my thoughts since the 13th of the present month, and they were deeply felt when I took my Bible, the first I ever owned or had bought with my own money, and requested that it might be placed as the basis of the little pillow that supported the head of the lifeless child in his coffin.

April 30th. A progress in territorial affairs, in the upper lakes, seems to have commenced; but it is slow. Emigrants are carried further south and west. Slow as it is, however, we flatter ourselves it is of a good and healthy character. The lower peninsula is filling up. My letters, during this spring, denote this. Our county organization is complete. Colonel McKenney, on the 10th, apprises me that he is coming north, to complete the settlement of the Indian boundary, began in 1825, at Prairie du Chien, and that his sketches of his tour of last year is just issued from the press. He adds, "It is rather a ladies' book. I prefer the sex and their opinions. They are worth ten times as much as we, in all that is enlightened, and amiable, and blissful." Undoubtedly so! This is gallant. I conclude it is a gossiping tour; and, if so, it will please the sex for whom it is mainly intended. But will not the graver male sex look for more? Ought not an author to put himself out a little to make his work as high, in all departments, as he can?

Governor C. informs me (April 10th) that he will proceed to Green Bay, to attend the contemplated treaty on the Fox River, and that I am expected to be there with a delegation of the Chippewas from the midlands, on the sources of the Ontonagon, Wisconsin, Chippewa, and Menominie rivers.

Business and science, politics and literature, curiously mingle, as usual, in my correspondence. Mr. M. Dousman (April 10) writes that a knave has worried him, dogged his heels away from home, and sued him, at unawares. Mr. Stuart (April 15) writes about the election of members of council. Dr. Paine, of New York, writes respecting minerals.

May 10th. An eminent citizen of Detroit thus alludes to my recent bereavement: "We sympathize with you most sincerely, in the loss you have sustained. We can do it with the deeper interest, for we have preceded you in this heaviest of all calamities. Time will soothe you something, but the solace of even time will yet leave too much for the memory and affections to brood over."

Another correspondent, in expressing his sympathies on the occasion says: "The lines composed by Mrs. Schoolcraft struck me with such peculiar force, as well in regard to the pathos of style, as the singular felicity of expression, that I have taken the liberty to submit them for perusal to one or two mutual friends. The G---- has advised me to publish them."

14th. National boundary, as established by the treaty of Ghent. Major Delafield, the agent, writes: "Our contemplated expedition, however, is relinquished, by reason of instructions from the British government to their commissioners. It had been agreed to determine the par. of lat. N. 49 deg., where it intersects the Lake of the Woods and the Red River. But the British government, for reasons unknown to us, now decline any further boundary operations than those provided for under the Ghent treaty.

"We have been prevented closing the 7th article of that treaty, on account of some extraordinary claims of the British party. They claim Sugar, or St. George's Island, and inland, by the St. Louis, or Fond du Lac. Both claims are unsupported by either reason, evidence, or anything but their desire to gain something. We, of course, claim Sugar Island, and will not relinquish it under any circumstances. We also claim inland by the Kamanistiquia, and have sustained this claim by much evidence. The Pigeon River by the Grand Portage will be the boundary, if our commissioners can come to any reasonable decision. If not, I have no doubt, upon a reference, we shall gain the Kamanistiquia, if properly managed; the whole of the evidence being in favor of it."

ORNITHOLOGY.--An Indian boy brought me lately, the stuffed skin of a new species of bird, which appeared early in the spring at one of the sugar camps near St. Mary's. "We are desirous," he adds, "to see the Fringilla, about which you wrote me some time ago."

NATIVE COPPER.--"The copper mass is safe, and the object of admiration in my collection. Baron Lederer is shortly expected from Austria, when he will, no doubt, make some proposition concerning it, which I will communicate."

29th. Many letters have been received since the 13th of March, offering condolence in our bitter loss; but none of them, from a more sincere, or more welcome source, than one of this date from the Conants, of New York.

June 3d. Mr. Carter (N.H.) observes, in a letter of this date: "If there be any real pleasure arising from the acquisition of reputation, it consists chiefly in the satisfaction of proving ourselves worthy of the confidence reposed in our talents and characters, and in the strengthening of those ties of friendship which we are anxious to preserve."

8th. Mr. Robert Stuart says, in relation to our recent affliction: "Once parents, we must make up our minds to submit to such grievous dispensations, for, although hard, it may be for the best."

I embarked for Green Bay, to attend the treaty of Butte des Morts early in June, taking Mrs. S. on a visit to Green Bay, as a means of diverting her mind from the scene of our recent calamity. At Mackinac, we met the steamboat Henry Clay, chartered to take the commissioners to the bay, with Governor Cass, Colonel McKenney, and General Scott on board, with a large company of visitors, travelers and strangers, among them, many ladies. We joined the group, and had a pleasant passage till getting into the bay, where an obstinate head wind tossed us up and down like a cork on the sea. Sea-sickness, in a crowded boat, and the retching of the waves, soon turned everything and every one topsy-turvy; every being, in fine, bearing a stomach which had not been seasoned to such tossings among anchors and halyards, was prostrate. At last the steamer itself, as we came nearer the head of the bay, was pitched out of the right channel and driven a-muck. She stuck fast on the mud, and we were all glad to escape and go up to the town of Navarino in boats. After spending some days here in an agreeable manner, most of the party, indeed nearly all who were not connected with the commission, returned in the boat, Mrs. S. in the number, and the commissioners soon proceeded up the Fox River to Butte des Morts. Here temporary buildings of logs, a mess house, etc., were constructed, and a very large number of Indians were collected. We found the Menomonies assembled in mass, with full delegations of the midland Chippewas, and the removed bands of Iroquois and Stockbridges, some Pottowattomies from the west shores of Lake Michigan, and one hand of the Winnebagoes. Circumstances had prepared this latter tribe for hostilities against the United States. The replies of the leading chief, Four-Legs, were evasive and contradictory; in the meantime, reports from the Wisconsin and the Mississippi rivers denoted this tribe ripe for a blow. They had fired into a boat descending the Mississippi, at Prairie du Chien, and committed other outrages. General Cass was not slow to perceive or provide the only remedy for this state of things, and, leaving the camp under the charge of Colonel McKenney and the agents, he took a strongly manned light canoe, and passed over to the Mississippi, and, pushing night and day, reached St. Louis, and ordered up troops from Jefferson Barracks, for the protection of the settlement. In this trip, he passed through the centre of the tribe, and incurred some extraordinary risks. He then returned up the Illinois, and through Lake Michigan, and reached the Butte des Morts in an incredibly short space of time. Within a few days, the Mississippi settlements were covered; the Winnebagoes were overawed, and the business of the treaty was resumed, and successfully concluded on the 11th of August.

During the long assemblage of the Indians on these grounds, I was sitting one afternoon, in the Governor's log shanty, with the doors open, when a sharp cry of murder suddenly fell on our ears. I sprang impulsively to the spot, with Major Forsyth, who was present. Within fifty yards, directly in front of the house, stood two Indians, who were, apparently, the murderers, and a middle aged female, near them, bleeding profusely. I seized one of them by his long black hair, and, giving him a sudden wrench, brought him to his back in an instant, and, placing my knees firmly on his breast, held him there, my hand clenched in his hair. The Major had done something similar with the other fellow. Inquiry proved one of these men to be the perpetrator of the deed. He had drawn his knife to stab his mother-in-law, she quickly placed her arms over her breast and chest and received the wounds, two strokes, in them, and thus saved her life. It was determined, as her life was saved, though the wounds were ghastly, to degrade the man in a public assemblage of all the Indians, the next day, by investing him with a petticoat, for so unmanly an act. The thing was, accordingly, done with great ceremony. The man then sneaked away in this imposed matchcota, in a stolid manner, slowly, all the Indians looking stedfastly, but uttering no sound approvingly or disapprovingly.

I embraced the opportunity of the delay created by the Winnebago outbreak, and the presence of the Stockbridges on the treaty ground, to obtain from them some outlines of their history and language. Every day, the chiefs and old men came to my quarters, and spent some time with me. Metoxon gave me the words for a vocabulary of the language, and, together with Quinney, entered so far into its principles, and furnished such examples, as led me, at once, to perceive that it was of the Algonquin type, near akin, indeed, to the Chippewa, and the conclusion followed, that all the New England dialects, which were cognate with this, were of the same type. The history of this people clears up, with such disclosures, and the fact shows us how little we can know of their history without the languages.

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

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