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Outlines of the Incidents of the Summer of 1823

Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians

Outlines of the incidents of the summer of 1823--Glance at the geography of the lake country--Concretion of aluminous earth--General Wayne's body naturally embalmed by this property of the soil of Erie--Free and easy manners--Boundary Survey--An old friend--Western commerce--The Austins of Texas memory--Collision of civil and military power--Advantages of a visit to Europe.

1823. June 10th. Mr. Thomas Tousey, of Virginia, writes from Philadelphia, after completing a tour to the West: "The reading of books and looking at maps make a fugitive impression on the mind, compared to the ocular view and examination of a country, which make it seem as though we cannot obtain valuable information, or money to serve a valuable purpose, without great personal labor, fatigue, and often danger. This was much verified to my satisfaction, from a view of the great western lakes; the interesting position where you are--Mackinaw, Green Bay, the fine country between Green Bay and Chicago, and Chicago itself, and the whole country between the latter place and St. Louis.

"Without seeing that country, supposed by many to be the region of cold and sterility, I could not have believed there was in it such a store of blessings yet to be drawn forth by the labor and enterprise of man, for succeeding generations. As yet, there are too many objects to tempt and attract the avarice of man to more mild, but more dangerous climates. But the progress of population and improvement is certain in many parts of the country, and with them will be connected prosperity and happiness."

When it is considered what a small population of civilized beings inhabit that part of the world, it is not to be wondered at that so little knowledge about it exists. I went from Green Bay, with the Express, where but few people ever travel, which was attended with fatigue and danger; but the journey produced this conviction on my mind, that the Michigan Territory has in it a great extent of fine country.

I regard Green Bay, at the mouth of Fox River, and Chicago, as two very important positions, particularly the latter. For many years I have felt a most anxious desire to see the country between Chicago and the Illinois (River), where it has generally been, ignorantly, supposed that only a small sum would be wanting to open a communication between them. By traveling on horseback through the country, and down the Illinois, I have conceived a different and more exalted opinion of this communication, and of the country, than I had before, while I am convinced that it will be attended with a much greater expense to open it than I had supposed1.

I, with my two companions, found your fossil tree, in the Des Plaines, with considerable labor and difficulty. This I anticipated, from the commonly reputed opinion of the uncommon height of the waters. With your memoir in my hand, we rode up and down the waters till the pursuit was abandoned by the others, while my own curiosity and zeal did not yield till it was discovered. The detached pieces were covered with twelve to twenty inches of water, and each of us broke from them as much as we could well bring away. I showed them to Col. Benton, the Senator in St. Louis; to Major O'Fallon; Col. Strother, and other gentlemen there; to Mr. Birkbeck in Wanboro'; to Mr. Rapp in Harmony; and to a number of different people, through the countries I traveled, till my arrival in Virginia.

"On my arrival here (Philadelphia), I handed the pieces to Mr. Solomon W. Conrad, who delivers lectures on mineralogy, which he made partly the subject of one of his lectures. Since that, I had a piece of it made into a hone, and I had marked on it, 'Schoolcraft's Fossil Tree.'

"Brooke's Gazetteer, improved by Darby, has been ready for delivery three or four months, and is allowed to be a most valuable book. He is, I am sorry to say, truly poor, while his labor is incessant. He set out, several weeks since, to deliver lectures, in the country, where he will probably continue through the summer."

16th. J. D. Doty, Esq., writes from Detroit that a District Court has been established by Congress in the upper country--that he has been appointed to the judgeship, and will hold a court at Michilimackinack, on the third Monday in July. A beginning has thus been made in civil jurisdiction among us benighted dwellers on this far-off land of God's creation. He states, also, the passage of a law for claimants to lands, which have been occupied since 1812. Where law goes, civilization will soon follow.

23d. Giles Sanford, of Erie (Penn.), sends me some curious specimens of the concrete alum-slate of that vicinity--they are columnar, fan-shaped--and requests a description. It is well known that the presence of strong aluminous liquids in the soil of that area had a tendency to preserve the flesh on General Wayne's body, which was found undecayed when, after twenty years' burial, they removed it to Radnor church, in Philadelphia.

28th. Governor C. sends me a pamphlet of additional inquiries, founded chiefly on my replies, respecting the Indian languages. He says--"You see, I have given new scope to your inquiries, and added much to your labors. But it is impracticable, without such assistance as you can render me, to make any progress. I find so few--so very few--who are competent to a rational investigation of the subject, that those who are so must be loaded with a double burden."

July 6th. Mr. Harry Thompson, of Black Rock, N.Y., writes me that he duly forwarded, by a careful teamster, my three lost boxes of minerals, shells, &c., collected in the Wabash Valley, Missouri, and Illinois, in 1821, and that they were received by Mr. Meech of Geneva, and forwarded by him to E.B. Shearman & Co., Utica. The loss of these collections of 1821 seems to me very grievous.

19th. Judge Doty writes from Mackinac: "Believing the winds and fates to have been propitious, I trust you had a speedy, safe, and pleasant passage to your home. A boat arrived this morning, but I heard nothing. Mr. Morrison leaves this evening, and I forward, by him, your dictionary, with many--many thanks for the use. We completed the copy of it last evening, making seventy-five pages of letter paper. I hope I shall be able to return you the favor, and give you soon some nice Sioux words."

August 5th. Judge Doty, in a letter of thanks for a book, and some philological suggestions, transmits a list of inquiries on the legal code of the Indians--a rather hard subject--in which, quotations must not be Coke upon Littleton, but the law of tomahawk upon craniums.

"The Sioux," he says, "must be slippery fellows indeed, if I do not squeeze their language, and several other valuable things, out of them next winter. I expect to leave for the Mississippi this week, in a barge, with Mr. Rolette."

6th. Mr. D. H. Barnes, of the New York Lyceum of Natural History, reports that the shells sent to him from the mouth of the Columbia, and with which the Indians garnish their pouches, are a species of the Dentalium, particularly described in Jewett's "Narrative of the Loss of the Ship Boston at Nootka Sound." He transmits proof plates of the fresh water shells collected by Professor Douglass and myself on the late expedition to the sources of the Mississippi.

11th. The Adjutant-General of the Territory, General J. R. Williams, transmits me a commission as captain of an independent company of militia infantry, with a view, it is presumed, on the part of the executive, that it will tend to strengthen the capacity of resistance to an Indian combination on this frontier.

20th. Mr. Giles Sanford, of Erie, sends me a specimen of gypsum from Sandusky Bay, and a specimen of the strontian-yielding limestone of Put-in-Bay, Lake Erie.

September 10th. Judge Doty writes from Prairie du Chien, that he had a pleasant passage, with his family, of fifteen days from Mackinaw; that he is pleased with the place; and that the delegate election went almost unanimously for Major Biddle. A specimen of native copper, weighing four pounds, was found by Mr. Bolvin, at Pine River, a tributary from the north of the Wisconsin, agreeing in its characters with those in my cabinet from the basin of Lake Superior.

15th. Dr. John Bigsby, of Nottingham, England, writes from the North-West House, that he arrived yesterday from the Boundary Survey, and is desirous of exchanging some of his geological and conchological specimens for species in my possession. The doctor has a very bustling, clerk-like manner, which does not impress one with the quiet and repose of a philosopher. He evidently thinks we Americans, at this remote point, are mere barbarians, and have some shrewd design of making a chowder, or a speculation out of our granites, and agates, and native copper. Not a look or word, however, of mine was permitted to disturb the gentleman in his stilted notions.

16th. Major Joseph Delafield, with his party, report the Boundary Survey as completed to the contemplated point on the Lake of the Woods, as called for by the Treaty of Ghent. The ease and repose of the major's manners contrast rather favorably with the fussiness of the British subs.

26th. Mr. Felix Hinchman, of Mackinac, transmits returns of the recent delegate election, denoting the election of Major Biddle, by a rather close run, over the Catholic priest Richard.

October 9th. Mr. W.H. Shearman of Vernon, New York, writes that my boxes of minerals and fresh water shells are irretrievably lost; that Mr. Meech, of Geneva, remains mum on the subject; and that they have not arrived at Utica. Hard fate thus to be despoiled of the fruits of my labor!

14th. Mr. Ebenezer Brigham of Springfield, Illinois, an honest gentleman with whom I embarked at Pittsburgh, in the spring of 1818 for the great West and the land of fortune, writes a letter of friendly reminiscences and sympathies at my success, particularly in getting a healthy location. Brigham was to have been one of my adventurous party at Potosi, in the fall of 1818, but the fever and ague laid violent hands on him. He managed to reach Potosi, but only to bid me good-by, and a God-speed.

"In this country," he says, "life is at least fifty per cent, below par in the months of August and September. I have often thought that I run as great a risk every season which I spend here, as I would in an ordinary battle. I really believe it seldom happens that a greater proportion of an army fall victims to the sword, during a campaign, than there was, of the inhabitants of Illinois, falling victims to disease during a season that I have been here."

"I have little doubt but the trade of this part of the State of Illinois will pass through that channel (the northern lakes). Our produce is of a description that ought to find its way to a northern market, and that, too, without passing through a tropical climate. Our pork and beef may arrive at Chicago with nearly the same ease that it can at St. Louis; and, if packed there and taken through the lakes, would be much more valuable than if taken by the way of the South; besides, the posts spoken of (Chicago, Green Bay, &c.) may possibly be supplied cheaper from this than any other source."

"Moses Austin, I presume you have heard, is dead, and his son Stephen is acting a very conspicuous part in the province of Texas. Old Mr. Bates, and his son William, of Herculaneum, both died last summer."

"I should like to know if the same warlike disposition appears amongst the northern Indians that does amongst those of the west. Nearly, or quite every expedition to the west of the Mississippi in the fur trade, this season, has been attacked by different tribes, and some have been defeated and robbed, and a great many lives have been lost. Those in the neighborhood of this place, to wit, the Kickapoos and Potawattomies, are getting cross and troublesome. I should not be surprised if a war with the Indians generally should take place soon. The troops at the Council Bluffs have found it necessary to chastise one tribe already (the Aurickarees), which they have done pretty effectually, having killed a goodly number, and burnt their towns."

19th. Governor C. writes, in response to a letter detailing difficulties which have arisen oh this frontier between the military and citizens: "Military gentlemen, when stationed at remote posts, too often 'feel power and forget right,' and the history of our army is replete with instances proving incontestably by how frail a tenure our liberties would be held, were it not for the paramount authority and redeeming spirit of our civil institutions."

"I thank you," he observes, "for the specimens of copper you have sent me. I participate with you in your feelings upon the important discovery you have been the instrument of communicating to the world, respecting the existence of that metal upon the long point of Lake Superior. This circumstance, in conjunction with others, will, I hope, lead to a congressional appropriation, at the next session, for exploring that country, and making such purchases of the Indians as may promise the valuable supplies."

"My Indian materials are rapidly accumulating; but, unfortunately, they are more valuable for quantity than quality. It is almost impossible to rely upon the information which is communicated to me on the subject of the languages. There is a lamentable obtuseness of intellect manifested in both collector and contributor; and there is no systematic arrangement--no analytical process, and, in fact, no correctness of detail. I may safely say that what I received from you is more valuable than all my other stock.

"It has recurred to me that you ought to visit Europe. Don't startle at the suggestion! I have thought of it frequently. You might easily procure some person to execute your duties, &c., and I think there would be no difficulty in procuring permission from the government. I speak, however, without book. Think of the matter. I see incalculable advantages which would result to you from it, and you would go under very favorable auspices, and with a rich harvest of literary fame."

23d. B. F. Stickney, Esq., writes on the occasion of not having earlier acknowledged my memoir on the Fossil Tree of the Des Plaines, in Illinois. "How little we know of the laws of nature," he observes, "of which we profess to know so much."

1: The Illinois Canal now exists here.

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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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