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Parallelism of Customs

Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians
 

Parallelism of customs--Home scenes--Visit to Washington--Indian work respecting the Western Tribes--Indian biography--Professor Carter--Professor Silliman--Spiteful prosecution--Publication of Travels in the Mississippi Valley--A northern Pocahontas--Return to the Lakes--A new enterprise suggested--Impressions of turkeys' feet in rock--Surrender of the Chippewa war party, who committed the murders in 1824, at Lake Pepin--Their examination, and the commitment of the actual murderers.


1825. January 1st. New Year's day here, as among the metif, and also the pure descendants of the ancient French of Normandy in Michigan, is a day of friendly visiting from house to house, and cordial congratulations, with refreshments spread on the board for all. As this was also the custom of the ancient Hollanders, who, from the Texel and Scheldt, landed here in 1609, it affords a species of proof of the wide-spread influence of the customs of the Middle Ages in Western Europe, which is remarkable. And it would form an interesting topic of historical inquiry.

4th. Home and its scenes. The sympathy kept up by domestic letters when absent from home is one of the purest supports of the heart and mind. Mr. John Johnston, of St. Mary's, writes me one of his warm-hearted letters of friendship, which breathes the ardor of his mind, and shows a degree of sympathy that is refreshing, and such as must ever be a great encouragement in every noble pursuit. The how-d'ye-do, everyday visitor is satisfied with his "how d'ye do;" but there is a friend that "sticketh closer than a brother."

10th. My position at St. Mary's, and the prominent part I occupied in the collision of authority between the military and the citizens, on some points, and between the former and the Indian department, was anything but agreeable, and would have been intolerable to any one, having less resources than I had, in an absorbing study, which every day and every evening turned up some new and fresh point of interest. I had therefore sources of enjoyment which were a constant support, and this was particularly the case, after the scenes which were opened up in the winter of 1824 by my intercourse with the Rev. Mr. Laird. But I resolved early in the summer to spend the winter in New York, and to visit Washington, to place some of the official transactions to which I have referred, in their proper lights. This day I therefore left the city, to visit the Capitol. During the expected absence; Mrs. Schoolcraft, with her child, little sister, and nurse, had accepted an invitation to spend the time with Mr. and Mrs. Samuel S. Conant, who had a pleasant residence on the Bloomingdale road, some two or three miles from the Park. My visit was altogether agreeable. So far as the subjects at issue on the frontier were not of local jurisdiction, in which I was fully and promptly sustained by the Executive, I was met by Mr. Calhoun in his usual frank, explicit, and friendly manner. I was authorized to erect buildings for the agency, and to define the Indian reservation under the treaty, and counseled to go forward in a firm, cautious, and conciliatory policy in establishing the intercourses with the bands of the agency, and to take every proper measure to see that the intercourse laws were faithfully executed, and a good understanding cultivated with the tribes. And I returned to New York early in February, with "flying colors," as a friend wrote.

During my absence, some letters, disclosing matters of literary interest, were received. General C. writes (January 20th):--

"In investigating the subject before me, agreeably to the views I have communicated to you, it appears to me that Purchas's Pilgrimage, and Hackluyt's collection are indispensable to my progress. They contain translations or abstracts of all the earlier voyages and travels to this country." "In considering the various points which are involved in the subject I have undertaken, a thousand doubtful facts present themselves, which require time, labor, and opportunities to solve. For instance, I strongly suspect that the Eries, who are said to have been destroyed by the Iroquois, were the Shawnese, who were driven from their ancient seat upon Lake Erie to the south-west." "Volney mentions two works upon the Indians. One is Umphraville, and the other Oldmixon."

On the 7th of February, he encloses an extensive list of books, which he wishes to procure, to aid him in his contemplated examinations of aboriginal subjects, with discriminating remarks on their character. In calling my attention to a close examination of them in the various book-stores and libraries of the Atlantic cities, where they may be found, he imposes no light nor important labor. "You know my general object is confined to the Indians of this quarter (the west). Their particular history, however, will be preceded by a review of the condition of the Indians in this part of America, at the time it became known to Europeans. I have myself little doubt but that they were then pretty much as they are now.

"There is, however, one historical event, the narrator of which represents the Indians to have been in an entirely different condition from what they are now, or have been since. This is the account of Ferdinand de Soto's expedition to Florida. There are two historians of this expedition. One is Garcilasso de la Vega, and the other is an anonymous gentleman of Elvas. I believe both are found in Purchas or Hackluyt. I believe the narrative is almost entirely fabulous. One mode of ascertaining this is by an examination of the earlier accounts of the Indians. If they agree with De Soto's history, the latter may be correct. If not, they must be unworthy of credit, more particularly in the amount of the Indian population, which was certainly greatly misrepresented by the Spanish historians, and which has been always overrated.

"If any of the above works touch upon these subjects, they may be useful to me; if not, I do not wish them. Can you find any of the other Spanish writers describing or alluding to this expedition?

"Is there any account of the expedition of Pamphilo Narvaez into Florida in 1528?"

"Should I go to Prairie du Chien, would you not like the trip? I see many reasons to induce you to take such a measure. If you come on, as I hope you will, by the first boat, we can make all the necessary arrangements; for, if I go, I shall go early, certainly in May. Unless I am greatly deceived, you would make something interesting out of the proposed treaty."

Samuel S. Conant, Esq., informs me (January 21st) that he is making progress in his contemplated work on Indian biography.

"I shall read," he says, "everything which speaks of Indians, and my enthusiasm may take the place of ability, and enable me to present not only honorable testimonials of Indian genius and valor, but some defence of their character, and an exposition of the slanders and vulgar errors which, through blind traditions, have obtained the authority of truth."

"It would have pleased me," says he (Feb. 16th), "to have presented Mr. Theodore Dwight, Jr., to you in person. But this introductory note will do as well. He is one of those who feel an interest, disinterested and benevolent, in the fate of the remnants of the Indian tribes, and wishes some conversation with you relative to their feelings on the subject of their removal west of the Mississippi."

March 18th. Mr. Nathaniel H. Carter, editor of the Statesman, announces his recovery from a dangerous illness, and wishes, in his usual spirit of friendship, to express the pleasure it will afford him to aid me in any literary labor I may have in hand.

20th. The plan of a magazine devoted to Indian subjects, which has been discussed between Mr. Conant, Mr. Dwight, and myself, is now definitely arranged with Messrs. Wilder and Campbell, publishers.

28th. Professor Silliman renews his friendly correspondence, and tenders me the use of the pages of his journal, as the medium of communicating observations to the public.

April 8th. I am officially called on, by the authority of General Gaines, as a witness in the case of Lieutenant Walter Bicker, U.S.A., who is summoned to a court martial in Fort Brady. This is the gentleman whose family is referred to in a previous part of my journal in the autumn of 1822, on the occasion of the gentle Mr. Laird's missionary visit to St. Mary's; and his high moral character and correct deportment render it a subject of mystery to me what cause of complaint his brother officers could conjure up against him.

14th. The superintendence of the press in the printing of my "Travels in the Central Portions of the Mississippi Valley," has constituted a groundwork to my amusements during the winter. The work is this day published by Collins and Hannay. I immediately prepared to return to the lakes. About five months had passed away, almost imperceptibly. We had held a most gratifying intercourse with a highly moral and refined portion of society. The city had been seen in its various phases of amusement and instruction. A large part of the interest to others and attention excited arose manifestly from the presence of a person of Indian descent, and of refined manners and education, in the person of Mrs. Schoolcraft, with an infant son of more than ordinary beauty of lineament and mental promise. There was something like a sensation in every circle, and often persons, whose curiosity was superior to their moral capacity of appreciation, looked intensely to see the northern Pocahontas. Her education had been finished abroad. She wrote a most exquisite hand, and composed with ability, and grammatical skill and taste. Her voice was soft, and her expression clear and pure, as her father, who was from one of the highest and proudest circles of Irish society, had been particularly attentive to her orthography and pronunciation and selection of words of the best usage abroad.

20th. This day we left the mansion of our kind hostess, Mrs. Mann, on lower Broadway, and ascended the Hudson by daylight, in order to view its attractive scenery.

We discussed the etymology of some of the ancient Indian names along the river, which we found to be in the Manhattan or Mohegan dialects of the Algonquin, and which appeared so nearly identical in the grammatical principles and sounds with the Chippewa, as to permit Mrs. S. in many cases to recover the exact meanings. Thus, Coxackie is founded on an Indian term which means Falling-in bank, or cut bank.

We stopped a week or two in Western New York at my brother-in-law's, in Vernon, Oneida County. I took along to the West, which had been favorable to me, my youngest brother James, and my sister Maria Eliza. We pursued our route through Western New York and Buffalo, and reached Detroit on the 6th of May.

I here found a letter from Dr. J. V. Rensselaer, of New York, written two days after leaving the city, saying: "I have this morning finished the perusal of your last work, and consider myself much your debtor for the new views you have given me of the interesting region you describe. Nor am I more pleased with the matter than with the simple unpretending manner in which you have chosen to clothe it."

I also found a note informing me that Gov. Cass had gone to hold a conference with the Wyandot Indians at Wapakennota, Ohio, that he would return about the 10th of June, and immediately set out for Prairie du Chien by the way of the Fox and Wisconsin rivers, and would have me to go with him.

"You must calculate the time when I shall probably reach Mackinack, and I trust you will join us there. I have a thousand reasons why you should undertake the tour. Many of the Indians will be from your agency, and such a convocation will never again be seen upon this frontier. You can return by the Chippewa River, which will give you a fine opportunity of becoming acquainted with a part of the country very little known."

Leaving my sister with friends temporarily at Detroit, I pursued my way, without loss of time, to the Sault; where, among the correspondence accumulated, I found some subjects that may be noticed. Mr. C. C. Trowbridge gives this testimony respecting Mr. A. E. Wing, a gentleman then prominent as a politician.

"He is an intelligent, high minded and honorable man, and gifted with habits of perseverance and industry which eminently qualify him to represent the Territory in Congress."

On the 1st of June the Executive of the Territory apprizes me of his return from Wapekennota, and that he is bending all his force for the contemplated trip to Prairie du Chien.

"I enclose you," he adds, "the copy of a letter from the war department, by which you will perceive that the Secretary has determined, that the outrage of last fall shall not go unpunished. His determination is a wise one, for the apprehension of the Chippewa murderers is essential to the preservation of our character and influence among the Indians."

June 17th. Business and science, antiquities and politics are curiously jumbled along in the same path, without, however (as I believe they never do where the true spirit of knowledge is present), at all mingling, or making turbid the stream of inquiry.

Colonel Thomas L. M'Kenney, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, in a letter of this date says: "At the Little Falls of the Potomac, are to be seen the prints of turkeys' feet in stone, made just as the tracks of the animal appear, when it runs upon dust or in the snow."

22d. On this day, there suddenly presented themselves, at the office of Indian Agency, the Chippewa war party who committed the murders at Lake Pepin, on the Mississippi, last year, who, on the demand made upon the nation, with a threat of military punishment, surrendered the murderers. I immediately commenced their examination, after having an additional special interpreter sworn in (Truman A. Warren), and sending for a justice of the peace to assist in their examination. The entire day was devoted in this manner, and at the close, six of the party against whom an indictment for murder would lay, committed on a mittimus, with a note requesting the commanding officer to imprison them in the guard house, until he could have them conveyed to the sheriff of the county, at Michilimackinack. Their names were, Sagetone, Otagami, Kakabisha, Annimikence, and Nawa-jiwienoce--to whom was afterwards added Kewaynokwut, the leader of the party. The incidents of this transaction, as they appeared in that examination, have been narrated on a previous page.

This surrendery was evidently made on representations of the traders, who acted on strong assurance that it would avert the marching of a military force against them, and on some mistaken notions of their own about public clemency.

When the examination was finished, and while preliminary steps were in process, for their committment, I addressed them as follows:--

Chippewas--I have listened attentively to all that has been said, either for or against you, and have been careful to have it put upon paper, that nothing might be forgotten. It appears you went to the Mississippi, for the purpose of attacking the Sioux, to revenge murders which they had committed in your country. In an evil hour you encountered a party of Americans, consisting of four persons, encamped at the foot of Lake Pepin. It was night. They were all asleep. You went to their tent in a hostile manner, and were received as friends. They gave you tobacco and presents; and your war chief told them they need not fear, that they should not be molested.

On this declaration he withdrew, followed by the whole party, and had proceeded some distance, when an evil suggestion occurred to one of the party, who said, "that when he went out hunting he did not like to return without having killed something." Guns were fired. An electric effect was produced and a rush towards the tent they had left took place among those who were in the rear. The strife seemed who should get there first, and imbrue his hands in blood.

"Of this number you Sagetone, you Kakabisha, you Otagami, you Annimikence, and you Nawajiwienoce, were principal actors, and you had the meanness to put to death men who had never harmed you, and who, by your own confession, you had robbed of their arms, but whom you had, nevertheless, promised their lives. This was not an evidence of courage, but of cowardice. By this perfidious act you also violated your promises, and proved yourselves to be the most debased of human beings--liars!

"You have asked me many times in the course of this day to take pity on you. How have you the hearts to stand up and ask me for pity, when you have showed no pity yourselves. When those poor disarmed and despairing men implored you to pity their condition, reminding you of your promises, and their generosity in making you presents, when you saw them afterwards submit to be plundered, you gave them not pity but the war club and scalping knife. Did you suppose the God of white men would permit you to go unpunished? Did you think you had got so far in the woods that no person could find you out? Or, did you think your great father, the President, governed by a pusillanimous principle, would allow you to kill any of his people, without seeking to be revenged?

"Let this day open your eyes. You have richly deserved death, and not a man of your nation could complain, if I should order you at this instant, to be drawn out before my door, and shot. But a less honorable death awaits you.

"I have before told you, that your Great Father the President is as just as he is powerful; and that he seeks to take away the life of no man, without full, just, and clear proof of guilt. For this purpose he has appointed other chiefs, whose duty it is to hear, try, and punish all offences.

"Before these judges you shall now be sent. You will be closely examined. You will have counsel assigned to defend your cause. You will have every advantage that one of our own citizens could claim. If any cause can be shown why one of you is less guilty than another it will then appear; if not, your bodies will be hung on a gallows."

I then addressed Kewaynockwut. "No person has accused you of murder; but you have led men who committed murder, and have thereby excited the anger of your Great Father, who is slow to forgive when any of his people, even the poorest of them, have been injured, far less when a murder has been committed. Though I include you with those cowards who first took away the arms of our people, and then shot them--those mean dogs who sit trembling before me--I do not forgive you. The blood of our citizens rests upon you. I can neither take you by the hand, nor smoke the pipe you offer to me. You lie under the severe censure of your Great Father, whose anger, like a dark cloud, rests upon you and your people.

"Four of the chief murderers, namely, Okwagun, Pasigwetung, Metakossiga, and Wamitegosh, yet remain inland. Go, in order to appease his anger; take your followers with you, and bring them out. You cannot do a more pleasing act to him and to your own nation. For you must reflect that if these murderers are not promptly brought out, war will be immediately made against your villages, and the most signal vengeance taken."

Great alarm was manifested by the murderers, when they saw that the questions and answers were written down, and a strict course of accountability taken as the basis of the examination. I had foreseen something of this alarm, and requested the commanding officer to send me a detachment of men. Lieutenant C. F. Morton, 2d Infantry, to whom this matter was entrusted, managed it well. He paraded his men in a hollow square, in front of the office, in such manner that the office formed one angle of the square, so that the main issue from the door ushered the individual into a square bristling with bayonets. He stood himself with a drawn sword.

It was eleven o'clock in the evening when their examination and the final arrangements were completed; and when I directed the interpreter to open the door and lead out the murderers, they were greatly alarmed by the appearance of the bright array of musquetry, supposing, evidently, that they were to be instantly shot. They trembled.


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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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