Novel reading--Greenough's "Geology"--The cariboo--Spiteful
plunder of private property on a large scale--Marshall's
Washington--St. Clair's "Narrative of his Campaign"--Etymology of
the word totem--A trait of transpositive
languages--Polynesian languages--A meteoric explosion at the maximum
height of the winter's temperature--Spafford's "Gazetteer"--Holmes
on the Prophecies--Foreign politics--Mythology--Gnomes--The Odjibwa
based on monosyllables--No auxiliary verbs--Pronouns declined for
tense--Esprella's letters--Valerius--Gospel of St. Luke--Chippewayan
group of languages--Home politics--Prospect of being appointed
superintendent of the lead mines of Missouri.
1823. Jan. 22d. A pinching cold winter wears away slowly.
The whole village seems to me like so many prescient beavers,
in a vast snow-bank, who cut away the snow and make paths, every
morning, from one lodge to another. In this reticulation of snow
paths the drum is sounded and the flag raised. Most dignified bipeds
we are. Hurrah for progress, and the extension of the Anglo-Saxon
I read the "Recluse," translated from D'Arlincourt's popular novel
Le Solitaire, and think the commendations bestowed upon it,
in the translator's preface, just in the main. It is precisely such
a novel as I should suppose would be very popular in the highest
circles of France, and consequently, owing to difference of
character, would be less relished by the same circles in England. I
suspect the author to be a great admirer of Chateaubriand's "Atala,"
whose death is brought to mind by the catastrophe of Elode's. Here,
however, the similitude ends. There is nothing to be said respecting
the comparative features of Charles the Bold and Chactas, except
that the Indian possessed those qualities of the heart which most
ennoble human nature.
To the readers of Scott's novels, however (for he is certainly the
"Great Unknown"), this pleasing poetical romance, with all its
sparkling passages, will present one glaring defect--it is not
sufficiently descriptive. We rise from the perusal of it with no
definite ideas of the scenery of the valley of Underlach. We suppose
it to be sublime and picturesque, and are frequently told so by the
author; but he fails in the description of particular scenes. Scott
manages otherwise. When he sends Baillie Nicoll Jarvie into the
Highlands, he does not content himself with generalities, but also
brings before the mind such groups and scenes as make one fear and
tremble. To produce this excitement is literary power.
23d. I devoted the time before breakfast, which, with us,
happens at a late hour, to the Edinburgh Review. I read the
articles on Greenough's "First Principles of Geology," and a new
edition of Demosthenes. When shall we hear the last panegyric of the
Grecian orator, who, in the two characteristics of his eloquence
which have been most praised, simplicity and nature, is every day
equalled, or excelled, by our Indian chiefs?
Greenough's Essays are bold and original, and evince no weak powers
of observation and reasoning. But he is rather a leveler than a
builder. It seems better that we should have a poor house over our
heads than none at all. The facts mentioned on the authority of a
traveler in Spain, that the pebbles in the rivers of that country
are not carried down streams by the force of the current, are
contradicted by all my observations on the rivers of the United
States. The very reverse is true. Those streams which originate in,
or run through districts of granite, limestone, graywacke, &c.,
present pebbles of these respective rocks abundantly along their
banks, at points below the termination of the fixed strata. These
pebbles, and even boulders, are found far below the termination of
the rocky districts, and appear to owe their transportation to the
force of existing currents. I have found the peculiar pebbles of the
sources of the Mississippi as low down as St. Louis and St.
I resumed the perusal of Marshall's "Life of Washington," which I
had laid by in the fall. Lieutenants Barnum and Bicker and Mr.
Johnston came to visit me.
24th. I made one of a party of sixteen, who dined with Mr.
Ermatinger. I here first tasted the flesh of the cariboo,
which is a fine flavored venison. I do not recollect any wise or
merry remark made during dinner, which is worth recording. As toasts
show the temper of the times, and bespeak the sentiments of those
who give them, a few of them may be mentioned. After several formal
and national toasts, we had Mr. Calhoun, Governor Cass, General
Brown, Mr. Sibley, the representative of Michigan, Colonel Brady,
and Major Thayer, superintendent of the military academy. In coming
home in the cariole, we all missed the balizes, and got
completely upset and pitched into the snow.
25th. Mr. John Johnston returned me Silliman's Travels, and
expressed himself highly pleased with them. Mr. Johnston evinces by
his manners and conversation and liberal sentiments that he has
passed many of his years in polished and refined circles. He told me
he came to America during the presidency of General Washington, whom
he esteems it a privilege to have seen at New York, in 1793. Having
letters to Lord Dorchester, he went into Canada, and through a
series of vicissitudes, finally settled at these falls about thirty
years ago. In 1814, his property was plundered by the Americans,
through the false representations of some low-minded persons, his
neighbors and opponents in trade, with no more patriotism than he;
in consequence of which he returned to Europe, and sold his
patrimonial estate at "Craige," in the north of Ireland, within a
short distance of the Giant's Causeway, and thus repaired, in part,
26th. Devoted to reading--a solid resource in the wilderness.
27th. Finished the perusal of Marshall's Washington, and took
the notes contained in memorandums P. and R. The first volume of
this work is intended as introductory, and contains the best recital
of the political history of the colonies which I have read. The
other four volumes embrace a wide mass of facts, but are rather
diffuse and prolix, considered as biography, A good life of
Washington, which shall comprise within a small compass all his
prominent public and private acts, still remains a desideratum.
28th. Our express returned this morning, bringing me New York
papers to the 11th of November. We are more than two months and a
half behind the current news of the day. We have Washington dates to
the 9th of November, but of course they convey nothing of the
proceedings of Congress.
29th. I read St. Clair's "Narrative of his Campaign" against
the Indians in 1791, and extracted the notes contained in memorandum
A.A. The causes of its failure are explained in a satisfactory
manner, and there is proof of Gen. St. Clair's vigilance and
intrepidity. Dissensions in his camp crippled the old general's
30th. I took up the subject of the Indian language, after an
interval of eight or nine days, and continued to transcribe into my
vocabulary until after the hour of midnight. It comprises now rising
of fifteen hundred words, including some synonyms.
31st. "Totem" is a word frequently heard in this
quarter. In tracing its origin, it is found to be a corruption of
the Indian "dodaim," signifying family mark, or armorial
bearing. The word appears to be a derivative from odanah, a
town or village. Hence neen dodaim, my townsman, or
kindred-mark. Affinity in families is thus kept up, as in the feudal
system, and the institution seems to be of some importance to the
several bands. They often appeal to their "totem," as if it were a
At three o'clock I went to dine at Col. Lawrence's. The party
consisted of Capts. Thompson and Beal, Lieuts. Barnum, Smith, Waite,
and Griswold, Mr. Johnston, Mr. Ermatinger and son, Dr. Foot and Mr.
Siveright of the H.B. House. In the evening the party adjourned to
February 1st. Transpositive languages, like the Indian, do
not appear to be well adapted to convey familiar, easy, flowing
conversation. There seems to be something cumbrous and stately in
the utterance of their long polysyllabic words, as if they could not
readily be brought down to the minute distinctions of every day
family conversation. This may arise, however, from a principle
adverted to by Dr. Johnson, in speaking of the ancient languages, in
which he says "nothing is familiar," and by the use of which "the
writer conceals penury of thought and want of novelty, often from
the reader, and often from himself." The Indian certainly has a very
pompous way of expressing a common thought. He sets about it with an
array of prefix and suffix, and polysyllabic strength, as if he were
about to crush a cob-house with a crowbar.
2d. The languages of New Zealand, Tonga, and Malay have no
declension of nouns, nor conjugation of verbs. The purposes of
declension are answered by particles and prepositions. The
distinctions of person, tense, and mode are expressed by adverbs,
pronouns, and other parts of speech. This rigidity of the verb and
noun is absolute, under every order of arrangement, in which their
words can be placed, and their meaning is not helped out, by either
prefixes or suffixes.
I read Plutarch's "Life of Marcellus," to observe whether it bore
the points of resemblance to Washington's military character,
suggested by Marshall.
3d. Abad signifies abode, in Persian. Abid denotes
where he is, or dwells, in Chippewa.
I refused, on an invitation of Mr. Ermatinger, to alter the
resolution formed on the seventh ultimo, as to one mode of
4th. A loud meteoric report, as if from the explosion of some
aerial body, was heard about noon this day. The sound seemed to
proceed from the south-west. It was attended with a prolonged, or
rumbling sound, and was generally heard. Popular surmise, which
attempts to account for everything, has been very busy in assigning
the cause of this phenomenon.
A high degree of cold has recently been experienced. The thermometer
stood at 28 deg. below zero at one o'clock this morning. It had
risen to 18 deg. at day-break--being the greatest observed degree of
cold during the season. It did not exceed 4 deg. above zero during
any part of the day.
5th. A year ago to-day, a literary friend wrote to me to join
him in preparing a Gazetteer of the State of New York, to supplant
Spafford's. Of the latter, he expresses himself in the letter, which
is now before me, in unreserved terms of disapprobation. "It is
wholly unworthy," he says, "of public patronage, and would not stand
in the way of a good work of the kind; and such a one, I have the
vanity to believe, our joint efforts could produce. It would be a
permanent work, with slight alterations, as the State might undergo
changes. My plan would be for you to travel over the State, and make
a complete geological, mineralogical, and statistical survey of it,
which would probably take you a year or more. In the mean time, I
would devote all my leisure to the collection and arrangement of
such other materials as we should need in the compilation of the
work. I doubt not we could obtain the prompt assistance of the first
men in the State, in furnishing all the information required. Our
State is rapidly increasing in wealth and population, and I am full
in the faith that such a work would sell well in different parts of
6th. I did nothing to-day, by which I mean that it was given
up to visiting and talking. It is Dr. Johnson, I think, who draws a
distinction between "talk and conversation." It is necessary,
however, to assign a portion of time in this way. "A man that hath
friends must show himself friendly," is a Bible maxim.
7th. The garrison library was this morning removed from my
office, where it had been placed in my charge on the arrival of the
troops in July, the state of preparations in the cantonment being
now sufficiently advanced to admit its reception. A party of
gentlemen from the British garrison on Drummond Island came up on a
visit, on snow shoes. The distance is about 45 miles.
8th. I commenced reading Holmes on "The Fulfilment of the
Revelation of St. John," a London work of 1819. The author says
"that his explanation of the symbols is founded upon one fixed and
universal rule--that the interpretation of a symbol is ever
maintained; that the chronological succession of the seals,
trumpets, and vials is strictly preserved; and that the history
contained under them is a uniform and homogeneous history of the
Roman empire, at once comprehensive and complete."--Attended a
dining-party at Mr. Johnston's.
9th. Continued the reading of Holmes, who is an energetic
writer, and appears to have looked closely into his subject. The
least pleasing trait in the work is a polemic spirit which is quite
a clog to the inquiry, especially to those who, like myself, have
never read the authors Faber, Cunningham, and Frere, whose
interpretations he combats. For a clergyman, he certainly handles
them without gloves.
10th. The principal Indian chief of the vicinity,
Shingabawossin, sent to inquire of me the cause of the aerial
explosion, heard on the 4th. At four I went to dine with Mr.
Ermatinger on the British shore.
11th. I did something, although, from the round of visiting
and gayety which, in consequence of our Drummond Isle visitors, has
existed for a few days, but little, at my vocabulary. At half-past
four, I went to dine with Lieutenants Morton and Folger in the
cantonment. The party was nearly the same which has assembled for a
few days, in honor of the foreign gentlemen with us. In the evening
a large party, with dancing, at Mr. Johnston's.
12th. I read Lord Erskine's Letter to Lord Liverpool on the
policy to be pursued by Great Britain in relation to Greece and
Turkey. The arguments and sentiments do equal credit to his head and
heart, and evince no less his judgment as a statesman, than they do
his taste and erudition as a scholar. This interesting and valuable
letter breathes the true sentiments of rational liberty, such as
must be felt by the great body of the English nation, and such as
must, sooner or later, prevail among the enlightened nations of the
earth. How painful to reflect that this able appeal will produce no
favorable effect on the British ministry, whose decision, it is to
be feared, is already made in favor of the "legitimacy" of the
At four o'clock, I laid by my employments, and went to dine at the
commanding officer's quarters, whence the party adjourned to a
handsomely arranged supper table at Capt. Beal's. The necessity of
complying with times and occasions, by accepting the current
invitations of the day, is an impediment to any system of
intellectual employment; and whatever the world may think of it, the
time devoted to public dinners and suppers, routs and parties, is
little better than time thrown away.
"And yet the
fate of all extremes is such;
Books may be
read, as well as men, too much."
13th. I re-perused Mackenzie's "History of the Fur Trade," to
enable me more fully to comprehend the allusions in a couple of
volumes lately put into my hands, on the "Disputes between Lord
Selkirk and the North West Company," and the "Report of Trials" for
certain murders perpetrated in the course of a strenuous contest for
commercial mastery in the country by the Hudson's Bay Company.
Finding an opportunity of sending north, I recollected that the
surveyors of our northern boundary were passing the winter at Fort
William, on the north shore of Lake Superior; and wrote to one of
the gentlemen, enclosing him some of our latest papers.
14th. The gentlemen from the neighboring British post left us
this morning. I devoted the day to my Indian inquiries.
15th. I commenced a vocabulary of conversation, in the
17th. Native Mythology.--According to Indian mythology,
Weeng is the God of sleep. He has numerous emissaries, who are
armed with war clubs, of a tiny and unseen character. These fairy
agents ascend the forehead, and knock the individual to sleep.
Pope's creation of Gnomes, in the Rape of the Lock, is here
18th. It has been said that the Indian languages possess no
monosyllables. This remark is not borne out with regard to the
Chippewa. Marked as it is with polysyllables, there are a
considerable number of exceptions. Koan is snow, ais a
shell, mong a loon, kaug a porcupine, &c. The number
of dissyllables is numerous, and of trisyllables still more so. The
Chippewa has no auxiliary verbs. The Chippewa primitive pronouns
are, Neen, Keen, and Ween (I, Thou, He or She). They are rendered
plural in wind and wau. They are also declined for
tense, and thus, in the conjugation of verbs, take the place of our
19th. Resumed the perusal of Holmes on "Revelations." He
establishes a dictionary of symbols, which are universally
interpreted. In this system, a day signifies a natural year; a week
seven years; a month thirty years; a year a period of 360 years. The
air means "church and state;" waters, "peoples, multitudes,
tongues;" seven, the number of perfection; twelve, totality or all;
hail storms, armies of northern invaders. If the work were divested
of its controversial character, it would produce more effect.
Agreeably to this author, the downfall of Popery will take place
about the year 1866.
20th. I read "Esprella's Letters on England," a work
attributed to Southey, whose object appears to have been to render
English manners and customs familiar in Spain, at a time when the
intercourse between the two countries had very much augmented, and
their sympathies were drawn together by the common struggle against
21st. I commenced "Valerius, a Roman Story." In the evening
the commanding officer (Col. L.) gave a party, in honor of
Washington's birthday. That the time might not be wholly
anticipated, dancing was introduced to give it wings, and continued
until two o'clock of the morning of (the actual birthday) the
22d. Finished "Valerius." This is an interesting novel on the
Waverley plan, and must certainly be considered a successful attempt
to familiarize the class of novel-readers with Roman history and
Roman domestic manners. The story turns on the persecution of the
Christians under Trajan. The expression "of a truth," which is so
abundantly used in the narrative, is a Scripture phrase, and is very
properly put into the mouth of a converted Roman. I cannot say as
much for the word "alongst" used for along. There are also some
false epithets, as "drop," for run or flow, and "guesses" for
conjectures. The only defect in the plot, which occurs to me, is,
that Valerius, after his escape with Athanasia from Ostium, should
have been landed safely in Britain, and thus completed the happiness
of a disconsolate and affectionate mother, whom he left there, and
who is never afterwards mentioned.
23d. From the mention which is made of it in "Valerius," I
this day read the Gospel of Luke, and truly am surprised to find it
so very important a part of the New Testament. Indeed, were all the
rest of the volume lost, this alone would be sufficient for the
guidance of the Christian. Divines tell us that Luke was the most
learned of the evangelists. He is called "the beloved physician," by
St. Paul. His style is more descriptive than the other evangelists,
and his narrative more clear, methodical, and precise, and abounds
equally with sublime conceptions1.
24th. Mr. Harman, from a long residence in the Indian
country, in high northern latitudes, was qualified by his
opportunities of observation, to speak of the comparative character
of the Indian language in that quarter. He considers them as
radically different from those of the Algonquin stock. The group
which may be formed from his remarks, will embrace the Chippewayans,
Beaver Indians, Sicaunies, Tacullies, and Nateotetains. If we may
judge of this family of dialects by Mackenzie's vocabulary of the
Chippewayan, it is very remote from the Chippewa, and abounds in
those consonantal sounds which the latter studiously avoids.
Harman says, "The Sicaunies bury, while the Tacullies burn their
dead." "Instances of suicide, by hanging, frequently occur among the
women of all the tribes, with whom I have been acquainted; but the
men are seldom known to take away their own lives."
These Indians entertain the same opinions respecting the dress of
the dead, with the more southerly tribes. "Nothing," he says,
"pleases an Indian better than to see his deceased relative
handsomely attired, for he believes that they will arrive in the
other world in the same dress with which they are clad, when they
are consigned to the grave."
27th. Our second express arrived at dusk, this evening,
bringing papers from the seaboard to the 14th of January, containing
the President's message, proceedings of Congress, and foreign news,
up to that date. A friend who is in Congress writes to me--"We go on
slowly, but so far very harmoniously, in Congress. The Red Jackets2
are very quiet, and I believe are very much disposed to cease their
warfare against Mr. Monroe, as they find the nation do not relish
Another friend at Washington writes (15th Dec.): "The message of the
President you will have seen ere this reaches you. It is thought
very well of here. He recommends the appointment of a Superintendent
of the Western Lead Mines, skilled in mineralogy. If Congress should
make provision for one, it is not to be doubted who will
receive the situation. In fact, in a conversation a few days since
with Mr. C., he told me he had you particularly in view when he
recommended it to the President."
28th. Wrote an application to the Postmaster General for the
appointment of S.B. Griswold as postmaster at this place3.
1: This opinion was thrown out from mere impulse,
on a single perusal, and so far as it may be regarded as a literary
criticism, the only possible light in which it can be considered, is
vaguely hazarded, for I had not, at that time, read the other
Gospels with any degree of care or understanding, so as to be
capable thereby of judging of their style or merits as compositions.
Spiritually considered, I did not understand Luke, or any of
the Evangelists, for I regarded the Gospels as mere human
compositions, without the aid of inspiration. They were deemed to be
a true history of events, interspersed with moral axioms, but
derived no part of their value, or the admiration above expressed,
as revealing the only way of salvation through Christ.
2: Opponents of the then existing administration,
who looked to Gen. Cocke, of Tennessee, as a leader.
3: Mr. G. was appointed.
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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