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Oral Tales and Legends of the Chippewas

Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians
 

Oral tales and legends of the Chippewas--First assemblage of a legislative council at Michigan--Mineralogy and geology--Disasters of the War of 1812--Character of the new legislature--Laconic note--Narrative of a war party, and the disastrous murders committed at Lake Pepin in July 1824--Speech of a friendly Indian chief from Lake Superior on the subject--Notices of mineralogy and geology in the west--Ohio and Erie Canal--Morals--Lafayette's progress--Hooking minerals--A philosophical work on the Indians--Indian biography by Samuel L. Conant--Want of books on American archaeology--Douglass's proposed work on the expedition of 1820.


1824. May 30th. Having found, in the circle of the Chippewa wigwams, a species of oral fictitious lore, I sent some specimens of it to friends in the lower country, where the subject excited interest. "I am anxious," writes a distinguished person, under this date, "that you should bring with you, when you come down, your collection of Indian tales. I should be happy to see them1."  That the Indians should possess this mental trait of indulging in lodge stories, impressed me as a novel characteristic, which nothing I had ever heard of the race had prepared me for. I had always heard the Indian spoken of as a revengeful, bloodthirsty man, who was steeled to endurance and delighted in deeds of cruelty. To find him a man capable of feelings and affections, with a heart open to the wants, and responsive to the ties of social life, was amazing. But the surprise reached its acme, when I found him whiling away a part of the tedium of his long winter evenings in relating tales and legends for the amusement of the lodge circle. These fictions were sometimes employed, I observed, to convey instruction, or impress examples of courage, daring, or right action. But they were, at all times, replete with the wild forest notions of spiritual agencies, necromancy, and demonology. They revealed abundantly the causes of his hopes and fears--his notions of a Deity, and his belief in a future state.

June 18th. Michigan is gradually assuming steps which are a part of that train which will in time develop her resources and importance. She has lately taken measures to enter what is called the second grade of government. General Charles Larned, of Detroit, writes me that the first session of the first territorial legislature is now convened, and that the members acquit themselves with credit.

22d. The mineralogy and geology of the region furnish topics of interest, which help to fill up pauses in the intervals of business. By making my office a focus for collecting whatever is new in the unexplored regions, excitement is kept alive, and knowledge in the end promoted. Lewis Saurin Johnston, of Drummond Island, sends me a box of specimens from that locality. This gentleman, who occupies a situation in the British Indian department, is a grandson of the late Waubojeeg, a celebrated orator and warrior formerly of La Pointe, in Lake Superior.

On the 26th, Mr. Giles Sanford, of Erie in Pennsylvania, contributes a collection of the minerals of that vicinity.

July 10th. The War of 1812 proved disastrous to some individuals on this frontier. After a delay of ten years, the British government has announced its intention to indemnify those of its subjects who lost property. Mr. Johnston, who suffered heavily, determined to visit Toronto with the view of laying his case before Lieutenant-Governor Maitland. He writes, on his way down, during a delay at Drummond Island, in his usual hopeful, warm-hearted strain--full of love to those left behind, and free forgiveness to all who have injured him. With the highest purposes of honor, and the soul of hospitality and social kindness, surely such a man deserves to succeed.

12th. Dr. J.J. Bigsby, of England, writes a letter introducing Lieutenant Bolton of the British engineers, a zealous naturalist, and Major Mercer of the artillery--both being on an official tour of inspection.

18th. Judge J.D. Doty announces himself at Michilimackinack, on his return from Detroit to Green Bay. He says that the members of the legislative council are disposed to be rather menders of old laws than makers of new ones, and that they are guided by the spirit of prudence.

21st. John Tanner, the returned captive, dictates from Mackinac this laconic appeal for employment: "All my property is now made away with, so that I have nothing left but one old blanket. I am in such a situation that I am unable to go anywhere--have no money, no clothes, and nothing to eat."

Aug. 19th. Mr. George Johnston writes from the sub-agency of La Pointe, Lake Superior, that a rumor prevails of a murder lately committed by a Chippewa war party, on American citizens, on the upper Mississippi.

31st. Mr. John Holiday, a trader, arrived from the Ance Kewy-winenon in Lake Superior, bringing a small coffin painted black, inclosing an American scalp, with the astounding intelligence that a shocking murder had been committed by a war party of Chippewas at Lake Pepin, on the Mississippi. The facts turned out to be these: In the spring of the year (1824), Kewaynokwut (Returning Cloud), a chief of Lake Vieux Desert, at the source of the Wisconsin, suffered a severe fit of sickness, and made, a vow, if he recovered, to collect a war party and lead it against the Sioux, which he did early in the summer. He passed the trading-post of Lac du Flambeau, with twenty-nine men in canoes on the 1st of July. He pursued down the Waswagon branch into the main Chippewa River, after a cautious journey, and came to its mouth early in July, at an early hour in the morning, when a fog prevailed. This river enters the Mississippi at the foot of the expanse called Lake Pepin, which is a common place for encampment. It is the usual point of issue for Chippewa war parties against the Sioux, for which it has been celebrated since the first migration of the Chippewas into the rice lake region at its sources. Prom the usual lookout, called Mount Le Gard, they discovered imperfectly an encampment on the shores of Lake Pepin. On coming to it, it proved to be an American, a trader of the name of Finley, with three Canadians, on his way from Prairie du Chien to St. Peter's. One of the men spoke Chippewa. They were asleep when the advance of the Indian party arrived. When they awoke they saw the Indians with terror and surprise. The Indians cried out to their comrades in the rear that they were not Sioux, that they were white people. The party then all came up. The war chief Kewaynokwut Said, "Do not be afraid. This party you see are my young men; and I command them. They will not do you any harm, nor hurt you." Some of the party soon began to pillage. They appeared to be half famished, first taking their provisions, which consisted of half a bag of flour, half a bag of corn, a few biscuits, and half a hog. The biscuits they immediately eat, and then began to rob the clothing, which they parted among themselves.

The Indians diligently inquired where the Sioux abroad on the river were, what number they might be, where they came from, and whither they were going? to all which judicious replies appear to have been made, but one, namely, that they consisted of thirty, on their way from St. Peter's to Prairie du Chien. Being but twenty-nine men, the rencontre appeared to them to be unequal, and, in fact, alarmed them. They immediately prepared to return, filing off one after another, in order to embark in their canoes, which were lying at a short distance. Before this movement, Kakabika had taken his gun to fire at the whites, but was prevented by the others. But they went off disappointed, and grumblingly. This was the case particularly with Kakabika, Okwagin, Whitehead, Wamitegosh, and Sagito, who began crying they wanted to kill the whites. Sagito then said that it was a very hard thing that they should return light--that when one went out a hunting, he did not like to return without killing something. "What," he said, "did we come here for? Was it not to kill?" At this Kewaynokwut wavered, who had promised safety, and did not interpose his authority to check the brooding evil, although he took no part in it. Whitehead, Okwaykun, and Wamitegosh, who were in the rear of the party, leveled their arms and fired, killing on the spot the three men, who were immediately scalped. The wildest fury was instantly excited.

Finley, in the mean time, had gone to the Indian canoes to recover his papers, saying they were of no use to them, and of importance to him. Hearing the report of guns behind him, he perceived that his companions were killed, and took to flight. He threw himself into the water. Annamikees, or the Little Thunder, then fired at him and missed. He quickly reloaded his gun, and fired again, effectively. Finley was mortally shot. The Indian then threw himself into the water, and cut off the unfortunate man's head, for the purpose of scalping it, leaving the body in the water. The party then quickly returned back into the region whence they had sallied, and danced the scalps in their villages as Indian scalps.

Mr. Holliday was also the bearer of a speech from Gitshe Iauba, the ruling chief of Ance Kewywenon, through whose influence this occurrence was brought to light. He first addressed his trader in the following words:--

"We were deceived. Word was sent to us to come and fetch the scalp of a Sioux Indian of our enemy. This was my reason for sending for it. But, ah me! when they brought word that it was the scalp of an American, I sent for the young man whom you left in charge of your house and store, and asked him what should be done with the scalp of our friend. It was concluded to have it buried in the burying-ground."

He then addressed the United States agent at Sault Ste. Marie, in the following words, accompanying them with a string of wampum:--

"Our father. This wampum was given to me that I might remain in peace. I shook hands with you when I left St. Mary's. My heart was in friendship. I have taken no rest since I heard of the foul deed of our friends, the people of Vieux Desert, and Torch Lake, in killing a citizen of the American Government, the government that protects me.

"Now, Americans, my situation is to be pitied. My wish is, that we should live in friendship together. Since I shook hands with you, nothing on my part shall be wanting to keep us so."

I immediately forwarded the little scalp-coffin received from the interior, with a report of this high-handed outrage to the Executive of the Territory and Superintendent of Indian Affairs, at Detroit, that the occurrence might be reported promptly to the War Office at Washington.

November 27th. I determined to spend the winter in New York; to place the agency, in the interim, in charge of an officer of the garrison, and to visit Washington from this city during the season. Captain N.S. Clarke, 2d Infantry, consented to perform the duties of the agency during my absence. And having obtained leave of absence from my superior in the department, I embarked, in September, on board a schooner for Detroit, with Mrs. Schoolcraft, her infant son William Henry, my sister-in-law, Miss Anna Maria Johnston, and a servant, making a little group of five. We touched at Michilimackinack.

We were kindly received at Detroit by General and Mrs. Cass, who had invited us to be their guests, and pursued our way, without accident, to New York, where we arrived the day prior to the annual celebration of the Evacuation. New scenes and new situations here rapidly developed themselves. But before these are named, some letters that followed me from the Lake may be noticed.

B. F. Stickney, Esq., writes (October 15th) from the foot of the Miami of the Lakes (now Toledo): "Recently I have had brought to me a specimen of manganese, the bed of which is located about nine miles south-west of this. The quantity is represented to be very extensive."

I find that strontian is much more extensively interspersed through the rock formations of this region than I had heretofore conceived. At the foot of the rapids of this river, there are extensive strata of carbonate of lime, sufficiently charged with magnesia to destroy all vegetation, when converted to the state of quicklime; although Dr. Mitchell, in his "Notes to Phillips' Mineralogy," denies to magnesian carbonate of lime this quality. But I have tested it fully. I rather think the doctor's mistake must have arisen from a supposition that Mr. Phillips intended to say that the magnesia, when in combination with carbonate of lime, and in situ, was destructive to vegetation.

Ohio and Erie Canal.--"A commissioner of the State of Ohio, with engineers, is taking levels, examining water-courses, and making estimates of cost, to ascertain the practicability of making a canal from Cincinnati up the valley of the Big Miami, and Loromier's creek, across the summit level, to the Auglaize and Miami of Lake Erie, to the level of the lake water. These surveys will give us much assistance in judging of the geological formations between the Lake and the Mississippi."

Geology.--"As an outline sketch, I should say that, from the rock basin of the Erie-sea to the Ohio River, by the way of Fort Wayne, there is a ridge, of about 200 feet elevation, of rock formation, all new floetz, with a covering of from ten to seventy feet of pulverulent earth. At the summit this layer is twenty feet. That the Miami and Wabash have cut their courses down to the rock, with only here and there a little sand and gravel upon its surface. As far as conjecture will go, for the levels of the strata on the Wabash and Miami, the same mineralogical characters are to be found in the strata, at the same elevation. This would be an important fact to be ascertained, by the levels accurately taken."

"I am pleased that you have not abated your usual industry in the pursuit of knowledge in the science of geology and mineralogy, first in magnitude and first in the order of nature."

Morals of Green Bay.--J.D. Doty, Esq., Judge of the District, reports (Oct. 15th) that the Grand Jury for Brown County, at the late special session of court, presented forty indictments! Most of these appear to have been petty affairs; but they denote a lax state of society.

John Johnston, Esq., writes (Oct. 30th): "Since the arrival of the mail, I have been the constant companion in thought of the great and good Lafayette, throughout his tour, or rather splendid procession as far as the account has reached us, and for which history has no parallel. Oh! how poor, how base, the adulation given by interested sycophants to kings and despots, compared to the warm affections of the grateful heart, and spontaneous bursts of admiration and affection from a great, free, and happy people."

Hooking Minerals.--L. Bull, now of Philadelphia, writes respecting the position of several boxes of minerals left in the Lyceum of Natural History, of New York, in 1822, which have, been sadly depredated on.

Plan of a Philosophical Work on the Indians.--General C. announces to me (Dec. 5th) that he has settled on a plan for bringing forward the results of his researches on the subject of the Indian tribes. The details of this appear to be well selected and arranged, and the experiment on the popular taste of readers, for as such the work is designed, cannot but be hailed by every one who has thought upon the subject. Few men have seen more of the Indians in peace and war. Nobody has made the original collections which he has, and I know of no man possessing the capacity of throwing around them so much literary attraction. It is only to be hoped that his courage will not fail him when he comes to the sticking point. It requires more courage on some minds to write a book than to face a cannon.

14th. Major Joseph Delafield, of New York, commends to my acquaintance Samuel S. Conant, Esq., of the city; a gentleman of a high moral character and literary tone, an occasional writer for the "American" newspaper, who proposes to compile a work on Indian eloquence. Charles King, Esq., the editor of the paper, transmits a note to the major, which is enclosed, speaking of Mr. Conant as "a man of merit and talents, who in his design is seeking to save a noble but persecuted race."

19th. General Cass writes further of his literary plans: "If I am favorably situated, in some respects, to procure information, as a drawback upon this, I feel many disadvantages. I have no books to refer to but what I can purchase, and independently of the means which any one person can apply to this object, those books which can alone be useful to me are so rare that nothing but accident can enable a person to purchase them."

Lake Superior Copper Mines.--"I have written to Colonel Benton fully on the subject of the copper country, and I have referred him to you for further information."

25th. Expedition of 1820.--Professor D. B. Douglass, of West Point, returns a portfolio of sketches and drawings of scenery, made by me on the expedition to the sources of the Mississippi, in 1820, with several of which he has illustrated the borders of his map of that expedition. "Have you," he says, "seen Long's Second Expedition? We have only one copy on the Point, and I have only had time to look at the map. It makes me more than ever desirous to consummate my original views of publishing relative to that country. I have never lost sight of this matter; and, if my professional engagements continue to engross as much of my time as they have done, I will send my map to Tanner, and let him publish it, hap-hazard."


1: This counsel I pursued in the autumn of that year, and published specimens of the legends in the winter of 1825, in "Travels in the Central Portions of the Mississippi Valley," and in 1839 submitted to the public two duodecimo volumes, under the title of "Algie Researches, Part I."


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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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