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Political Horizon

Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians

Political horizon--Ahmo Society--Incoming of Gen. Jackson's administration--Amusements of the winter--Peace policy among the Indians--Revival at Mackinac--Money crisis--Idea of Lake tides--New Indian code--Anti-masonry--Missions among the Indians--Copper mines--The policy respecting them settled--Whisky among the Indians--Fur trade--Legislative council--Mackinac mission---Officers of Wayne's war--Historical Society of Michigan--Improved diurnal press.

1829. Jan. 1st. The administration of John Quincy Adams now draws to a close, and that of Gen. Jackson is anticipated to commence. Political things shape themselves for these events. The close of the old year and the opening of the new one have been remarkable for heralding many rumors of change which precede the incoming of the new administration. Many of these relate to the probable composition of Gen. Jackson's cabinet. Among the persons named in my letters is Gov. Cass, who has attracted a good deal of exterior notoriety during the last year. Within the territory, his superiority of talents and energy have never been questioned. Michigan would have much to lament by such a transference, for it is to be feared that party rancor, which he has admirably kept down, would break forth in all its accustomed violence.

17th. AHMO SOCIETY.--Under this aboriginal term, which signifies a bee, the ladies of the fort and village have organized themselves into a sewing society for benevolent purposes. I find myself honored with a letter of thanks from them by their secretary, Mrs. E.S. Russell. Truly, the example of Dorcas was not mentioned in vain in the Scriptures, for its effect is to excite the benevolent and charitable everywhere to do likewise. Every such little influence helps to make society better, and aids its sources of pleasing and self-sustaining reflection.

February 12th. A letter from the editor of the North American Review acknowledges the receipt of a paper to appear in its columns.

March 4th, The administration of the government this day passes into the hands of a man of extraordinary individuality of character, indomitable will, high purpose, and decided moral courage. He was fighting the Creeks and Seminoles when I first went to the West, and they told the most striking anecdotes of him, illustrating each of these traits of character. Ten or eleven years have carried him into the presidential chair. Such is the popular feeling with respect to military achievements and strong individuality of character. Men like to follow one who shows a capacity to lead.

31st. The winter has passed with less effect from the intensity of its cold and external dreariness, from the fact of my being ensconsed in a new house, with double window-sashes, fine storm-houses, plenty of maple fuel, books, and studies. Besides the fruitful theme of the Indian language, I amused myself, in the early part of the season, by writing a review for one of the periodicals, and with keeping up, throughout the season, an extensive correspondence with friends and men of letters in various parts of the Union. I revised and refreshed myself in some of my early studies, I continued to read whatever I could lay my hands on respecting the philosophy of language. Appearances of spring--the more deepened sound of the falls, the floating of large cakes of ice from the great northern depository, Lake Superior, and the return of some early species of ducks and other birds--presented themselves as harbingers of spring almost unawares. It is still wintry cold during the nights and mornings, but there is a degree of solar heat at noon which betokens the speedy decline of the reign of frosts and snows.

The Indians, to whom the rising of the sap in its capillary vessels in the rock-maple is the sign of a sort of carnival, are now in the midst of their season of sugar-making. It is one of their old customs to move, men, women, children, and dogs, to their accustomed sugar-forests about the 20th of March. Besides the quantity of maple-sugar that all eat, which bears no small proportion to all that is made, some of them sell a quantity to the merchants. Their name for this species of tree is In-in-au-tig, which means man-tree.

April 5th. PEACE POLICY.--The agent from La Pointe, in Lake Superior, writes: "My expressman from the Fond du Lac arrived on the 31st of last month, by whom I learned that the Leech Lake Indians were unsuccessful in their war excursion last fall, not having met with their enemies, the Sioux, and I trust my communication with Mr. Aitkin will be in time to check parties that may be forming in the spring.

"The state of the Indians throughout the country is generally in a critical way of starvation, the wild-rice crops and bear-hunts having completely failed last fall."

21st. REVIVAL OF RELIGION AT MACKINAC.--My brother James, who crossed the country on snow-shoes, writes: "Mr. Stuart, Satterlee, Mitchell, Miss N. Dousman, Aitken, and some twenty others, have joined Ferry's church." This may be considered as the crowning point of the Reverend Mr. Ferry's labors at that point. This gentleman, if I mistake not, came up in the same steamer with me seven years ago. It is seed--seed literally sown in the wilderness, and reaped in the wilderness.

29th. MONEY CRISIS.--"The fact is," says a person high in power, "the fiscal concerns of the department have come to a dead stand, and nothing remains but to ascertain the arrearages, and pay them up. You well know how all this has happened (by diversions and misappropriations of the funds at Washington). Such management you can form no conception of. There will be, during the year, a thorough change.

"I was glad to see your article. It is an able, and temperate, and practical view of the subject (N.A.R., Ap. 1829), grossly exaggerated, and grossly misunderstood."

May 19th. IDEA OF LAKE TIDES.--Maj. W. writes: "If you see Silliman's Journal, you will observe an article on the subject of the Lake Tides, as Gen. Dearborn calls them, in which he has inserted some hasty letters I wrote to him on this subject, without, however, ever expecting to see them in such a respectable guise. The Governor made some more extended observations at Green Bay. If you can give anything more definite in relation to the changes of Lake Superior, pray let me have a letter, and we will try to spread before Mr. Silliman a better view of the case. I have no idea that anything in the shape, of a tide exists, The Governor is of the same opinion."

To these opinions I can merely add, Amen. It requires more exactitude of observation than falls to the lot of casual observers, to upset the conclusions of known laws and phenomena.

26th. NEW INDIAN CODE.--Mr. Wing, the delegate in Congress, forwards to me a printed copy of the report of laws proposed for the Indian department. It denotes much labor on the part of the two gentlemen who have had it in hand, and will be productive of improvement. I should have liked a bolder course, and not so careful a respect all along, for what has previously been done. Congress requires, sometimes, to be instructed, or informed, and not to be copied in its attempts to manage Indian, affairs.

Every paper brings accounts of removals and appointments under the new administration; but nothing, so far as I can judge, that promises much, in this way, of material benefit to Indian affairs. The department at head-quarters has been, so far as respects fiscal questions, wretchedly managed, and is over head and ears in debt, and the result of all this mal-administration is visited on the frontiers, in the bitter want of means for the agents, sub-agents, and mechanics, and interpreters, who are obliged to be either suspended, or put on short allowance. Doubtless, Gen. Jackson, who is a man of high purpose, would remedy this thing, if the facts were laid before him.

30th. MASONRY.--It has recently been discovered, that there is a hidden danger in this ancient fraternity, and that society has been all the while sitting, as it were, on the top of a volcano, liable, at any moment, to burst. Such, at least, appear to be the views of some politicians, who have seized upon the foolish and apparently criminal acts of some lack-wits in western New York, to make it a new political element for demagogues to ride. Already it has reached these hitherto quiet regions, and zealots are now busy by conventions, and anxious in hurrying candidates up to the point. "Anti-masonic" is the word, a kind of "shibboleth" for those who are to cross the political "fords" of the new Jordan.

June 1st. MISSIONARY LABORS AMONG THE INDIANS.--There are evidently some defects in the system. There is too much expended for costly buildings, and the formation of a kind of literary institutes of much too high a grade, where some few of the Indians are withdrawn and very expensively supported, and undergo a sort of incarceration for a time, and are then sent back to the bosom of the tribes, with the elements of the knowledge of letters and history, which their parents and friends are utterly unable to appreciate, and which they, in fact, ridicule. The instructed youth is soon discouraged, and they most commonly fall back into habits worse than before, and end their course by inebriety, while the body of the tribe is nowise bettered. Whatever the defects are, there are certainly some things to amend in our measures and general policy.

Mr. Stevens and Mr. Coe, both missionaries, have recently been appointed to visit the Indian country, with the object of observing whether some less expensive and more general effort to instruct and benefit the body of the tribes, cannot be made. The latter has a commentatory letter to this end, from Gen. Jackson, dated the 19th of March, which denotes an interest on this topic that argues favorably of his views of moral things.

"The true system of converting the Indians was, it is apprehended, adopted by David Brainerd in 1744. He took the Bible, and declared its truths with simplicity and earnestness in the Indian villages. There was no preparation of buildings or outlays. In one year he had gathered a church of pure believers. Their manners immediately reformed; they became industrious and cleanly, and built houses, and schools, and tilled the land. All this was a consequence, and not a cause of Christianity1."

2d. A friend writes: "I believe the literary world is rather lazy just at this time; at least nothing novel, except words, has reached my eye. Your Literary Voyager has lately been traveling the rounds amongst your friends."

12th. COPPER MINES.--A private letter, from a high quarter, says: "Col. Benton's bill, respecting the copper mines, which passed Congress, only provided for permission being granted to individuals to work them at their own expense. There is no intention of doing anything on public account." This, it will be perceived, was the view presented (ante) by Mr. Dox, in his able letter to me on the subject, several years ago. Congress will not authorize the working of the mines. It is a matter for private enterprize.

July 14th. WHISKY AMONG THE INDIANS.--Mr. Robert Stuart, Agent to the American Fur Company, writes from Mackinac, that some of the American Fur Company's clerks are not inclined to take whisky, under the general government permit, provided their opponents take none. This tampering with the subject and with me, in the conduct of the agent of that company, whose duty it is rigidly to exclude the article by every means, would accord better, it should seem, with the spirit of one who had not recently taken obligations which are applicable to all times and all space. Little does the spirit of commerce care how many Indians die inebriates, if it can be assured of beaver skins. The situation of any of its agents, who may acknowledge Christian obligations, is doubtless an embarrassing one; and such persons should seek to get out of such an employment as soon as possible. The true direction, in all cases of this kind, is, to take high moral grounds. The department, by granting such permits, violates a law. The agent of the company who seeks to exclude "opponents" in the trade, errs by attempting to throw the responsibility of the minor question upon the local agent, over whose head he already shakes his permits from a superior power. Now the "opponents," be it understood, have no such "permits," and the agent can give them none.

This subject of ardent spirits is a constantly recurring one in every possible form; and no little time of an agent of Indian affairs, and no small part of his troubles and vexations, are due to it. The traders and citizens generally, on the frontiers, are leagued in their supposed interests to break down, or evade the laws, Congressional and territorial, which exclude it, or make it an offence to sell or give it. If an agent aims honestly to put the law in force, he must expect to encounter obloquy. If he appeals to the local courts, it is ten to one that nine-tenths of his jury are offenders in this very thing. So far as the American Fur Company is concerned, it is seen, I think, by the course of the managers, that it would conduce to better hunts if the Indians were kept sober, and liquor were rigidly excluded; but the argument is, that "on the lines"--that the Hudson's Bay Company use it, and that their trade would suffer if they had not "some." And they thus override the agents, by appealing to higher powers, and so get permits annually, for a limited quantity, of which they and not the agents are the judges. In this way the independence of the agents is constantly kept down, and made to bend to a species of mock popular will.

In view of the counteracting influence of the American Fur Company on this frontier, it would be better for the credit of morals, properly so considered, if the chief agent of that concern at Michilimackinac were not a professor of religion, or otherwise, if he were in a position to act out its precepts boldly and frankly on this subject. For, as it now is, his position is perpetually mistaken. A temperance man, he is yet a member of a local temperance society, which only operates against the retailers, but leaves members free to sell by the barrel. Bound, by the principles of law, not to introduce whisky into the interior, he yet sells it to others, knowing their intention to be to run it over the lines, in spite of the agents. This is done by white and red men. And he obtains "permits" besides, as head of the company, at head-quarters at Washington, to take in, openly, a certain quantity of high wines every year. Talk to that gentleman on the subject, and he is eloquent in defence of temperance. Thus the obligation is kept to the ear, but broken in the practice. A business that thus compels a man to hamper his conscience, and cause scandal to the church, should be abandoned at once.

Aug. 29th. FUR TRADE.--Mr. Sparks, Ed. N.A. Rev., reminds me of an intimation mentioned to Mr. Palfrey, to write an article on this subject, "From observation," he remarks, "and inquiry you have enjoyed peculiar advantages for gaining a knowledge of the Indians, their history, character and habits, and the world will be greatly indebted to you for continuing to diffuse this knowledge, as your opportunities may allow."

The fur trade has certainly been productive of a market to Indians for the result of their forest labors, without which they would want many necessaries. But while it has stimulated hunting, and so far as this goes, industry, in the Indian race, it has tended directly to diminish the animals upon which they subsist, and thus hastened the period of the Indian supremacy, while it has introduced the evil of intoxication by ardent spirits.

LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL.--I left St. Mary's the latter part of August, to attend the second session of the third legislative council at Detroit. The same tendency was manifested as in the first session, to lean favorably to the old pioneers and early settlers of an exposed frontier, which has suffered severely from Indian wars, and other causes of depression. With the exception of divorce cases, there were really no bad laws passed; and no disposition manifested to excessive legislation, or to encumber the statute book with new schemes. Local and specific acts absorbed the chief attention during the session.

Deeming it ever better to keep good old laws than to try ill-digested and doubtful new ones, I used my influence to repress the spirit of legislating for the sake of legislation, wherever I saw appearances of it. As Chairman of the Committee on Finances, I managed that branch with every possible care. I busied myself with the plan of trying to introduce terse and tasty names for the new townships, taken from the Indian vocabulary--to suppress the sale of ardent spirits to the Indian race, and to secure something like protection for that part of the population which had amalgamated with the European blood.

MACKINAC MISSION.--Towards the close of the session, a movement was made against the Mackinac Mission by an attempt to repeal the law exempting the persons engaged in it from militia and jury service. A formal attack was made by one of the members against that establishment, its mode of management, and character. This I resisted. Being in my district, and familiar with the facts and persons implicated, I repelled the charge as being entirely unjust to the Rev. Mr. Ferry, the gentleman at the head of that institution. I drew up a report on the subject, vindicating the institution, which was adopted and printed. This was a triumph achieved with some exertions.

NAMES OF THE OFFICERS WHO SERVED WITH GEN. WAYNE.--Gen. Brady gave me, during this session, a list of the names of the officers who had served reputably in the Indian campaigns conducted by Gen. Wayne in 1791-2-3. I proposed to retain them in naming the townships, the possession of the territorial area of which we owe to their bravery and gallantry.

HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF MICHIGAN.--This institution was incorporated at the first session of the Third Legislative Council, in 1828. The bill for this purpose was introduced by me, after consultation with some literary friends. It contained the plan of constituting the members of the Legislative Council members ex-officio. This, it was apprehended, and rightly so, would give it an official countenance, and serve, in some things, as a convenient basis for meetings during the few years that precede a State government, while our literary population continues sparse. My experience in the East had shown me that quorums are not readily attained in literary societies, which is a sore hindrance to the half dozen efficient laborers out of a populous city, who generally hold the laboring oar of such institutions.

The historical incidents of this section of the Union are quite attractive, and, while general history has cognizance of the leading events, there is much in the local keeping of old men who are ready to drop off. There is more in the aboriginal history and languages that invites attention, while the modern history--the exploration and settlement of the country, and the leading incidents which are turning a wilderness into abodes of civilization--is replete with matter that will be of deep interest to posterity. To glean in this broad field appears an important literary object.

Gov. Cass gave us this session the first discourse, in a rapid and general and eloquent review of the French period, including the transfer of authority to Great Britain, and an account of the bold and original attempted surprise of the English garrison at Detroit, by Pontiac. This well-written and eloquently-digested discourse was listened to with profound interest, and ordered to be printed2.

IMPROVED PRESS.--In a state of society which relies so much on popular information through the diurnal press, its improvement is of the highest consequence. Mr. William Ward, of Massachusetts, performed this office for the city of Detroit and Michigan this fall, by the establishment of a new paper, which at first bore the title of North-west Journal, and afterwards of Detroit Journal. This sheet exhibits a marked advance in editorial ability, maturity of thought, and critical acumen.

I embarked at Detroit, on my return to St. Mary's, late in October, leaving the council still in session, and reached that place on one of the last days of the month.

Dec. 20th. Mr. Ward writes: "We have published The Rise of the West, and the Ages of Michigan. It is printed well, but bound, sorry I am to say, carelessly. I suppose the Major will send you a copy."

Rise of the West, or a Prospect of the Mississippi Valley, embraces reminiscences of this noble stream, and of its banks being settled by the Anglo-Saxons.

1: Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 10.

2: Vide Historical and Scientific Sketches of Michigan, 1 vol. 12mo; Wells and Whitney, 1834.

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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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