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Popular Common School Education

Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians

Popular common school education--Iroquois name for Mackinack--Its scenic beauties poetically considered--Phenomenon of two currents of adverse wind meeting--Audubon's proposed work on American quadrupeds--Adario--Geographical range of the mocking-bird--Removal from the West to the city of New York--An era accomplished--Visit to Europe.

1841. May 3d. F. SAWYER, Jr., Esq., a gentleman recently appointed Superintendent of Public Instruction, from Ann Arbor, writes: "Yours of the 19th April came during my absence at Marshall, and I take the first opportunity to reply, thanking you for the suggestions made. It is my intention to attempt the publication of a monthly, something after the manner of the Boston Common School Journal, one of the best things of the kind, in my humble opinion, to be found in the Union. As the legislative resolution authorizing a subscription for such a publication is repealed, a journal, if started, will depend upon the disposition of the people to sustain it.

"My intention is to address a circular to the different Boards of School Inspectors throughout Michigan, urging upon them the necessity of doing something for the cause, and invoking their efficiency in the matter. If they will take hold and raise a certain amount in their district, and pledge their constant exertions to excite and keep alive public interest on the subject of common schools, much will have been effected.

"To succeed, the journal must treat of subjects in the most popular manner, avoiding, as far as is consistent with the dignity of the object in view, very elaborate and prosy disquisitions. I shall endeavor to get a circular out next week. Meantime accept my thanks for the interest you take in the subject, and be assured that if I succeed in starting the journal, I shall, at all times, be grateful for contributions from you."

22d. Landed at Mackinack after having passed the winter at Detroit. It appears from Colden that the Iroquois called this island Teiodondoraghie. What an amount of word-craft is here--what a poetic description thrown into the form of a compound phrase! The local term in doraghie is apparently the same heard in Ticonderoga--the imprecision of writing Indian making the difference. Ti is the Iroquois particle for water, as in Tioga, &c. On is, in like manner, the clipped or coalescent particle for hill or mountain, as heard in Onondaga. The vowels i, o, carry the same meaning, evidently, that they do in Ontario and Ohio, where they are an exclamatory description for beautiful scenery. What a philosophy of language is here!

June 15th. The balmy, soft influence of a June atmosphere, resting upon this lovely scene of water, woods, and rocks--a perfect gem in creation, deeply impressed me. Under a strong sense of its geological frame-work of cliffs and winding paths, it appeared that it only required a poetic drapery to be thrown over it and its historical associations, to render it a pleasing theme of description. So unlike English scenery, and yet so characteristic--so very American.

21st. While standing on the piazza in front of the agency house at Mackinack, about five o'clock P.M., my attention was directed to the strong current which set through the strait, west, under the influence of a strong easterly wind. The waves were worked up into a perfect series of foam wreaths, succeeding each other for miles. While admiring this phenomenon, a cloud gathered suddenly in the west, and, in a few minutes, poured forth a gust of wind towards the east, attended with heavy rain. So suddenly was this jet of wind propagated towards the east, that the foam of waves running west was driven back eastwardly, before the waves had time to reverse their motion, which created the unusual spectacle of two opposing currents of wind and waves, in the most active and striking manner. The wave current still running west, while the wind current seized its foam and carried it in a long line towards the east. The new current soon prevailed. At half-past six o'clock the storm had quite abated, and the wind settled lightly from the south-west.

26th. Mr. John J. Audubon announces his intention to prepare a complete work on American quadrupeds, correspondent, in the style of execution, to his great work on ornithology. "As I do not know," he modestly says, "whether you are aware of my having published a work on the birds of America, I take this opportunity to assure you that I have, and, at the same time, to apprise you of my having undertaken, and in fact, began another on the viviparous quadrupeds of our country, which it is also my intention to publish as soon as I can.

"In all such undertakings, the simple though unintermitted labors of an individual are not sufficient, and assistance from others is not only agreeable, but is, in my opinion, absolutely necessary to render them as complete as possible.

"Having not only heard, but also read, of your having rendered essential services to Charles Bonaparte, Mr. Cooper of this city, and other eminent naturalists, I think that perhaps, you would not look upon my endeavors to advance science as not unworthy of the same species of assistance at your hands, and I will therefore say, at once, what my desires are, and wish of you to have the goodness to let me know, whether it is agreeable or convenient for you to assist me.

"My wishes are to procure of quadrupeds, of moderate and small sizes, preserved entire in the flesh, and in strong common rum (no other spiritous liquor will preserve them equally well), and the heads and feet of the larger species, likewise in rum. The large animals in the skins, after having taken accurate notes of measurements, the color of the eyes, date of capture, locality, and also, whatever may relate to their habits and habitats! By the first of which, I more particularly mean, their usual and unusual postures, gaits, &c., and whether they climb trees, or are altogether terrestrial. My desire to have the animals in the flesh, is in connection with my wish to give their anatomy, or as much of it as may be thought useful or necessary to the student of nature, and by which the species may be better hereafter known than heretofore."

28th, Maj. Delafield writes respecting the contemplated work of Audubon: "If in your power to aid him as proposed, you will contribute to another magnificent American work on natural science, intended to be on the same grand scale with his ornithology."

July 7th. Among the most noted aboriginal characters who have, in bygone times, lived here, was Adario, a Wyandot, who flourished while that tribe were in exile on this island. He appears to me, from the descriptions given of him, to have had larger inductive powers than the Indians generally though they were only employed on stratagems and in negotiations, in which, curiously enough, he succeeded in making the Iroquois vengeance fall on the French, his allies. To be wise with him was more than to be just. Look at Colden. The philosophy put into his mouth by La Hontan, probably has some basis, in actual talk, with the gay baron.

The following appear to be turning points in Iroquois history:--
Father de Moyn discovers the Onondaga country 1653
Erie war closes 1655
New Amsterdam surrenders to the Duke of York 1664
First treaty of the Iroquois with the French 1667
La Salle builds the first vessel on the lakes 1679
La Salle lays the foundation of Fort Niagara 1679
English revolution bringing in a new dynasty in William 1688
Capture and burning of Schenectady 1690

27th. I received notice of my election as an honorary member of the Pennsylvania Historical Society.

Aug. 1st. During the number of years I have passed in the country of the upper lakes, I have noticed the mocking bird, T. polyglottis, but once or twice as far north as the Island of Michilimackinack. I have listened to its varied notes, during the spring season, with delight. It is not an ordinary inhabitant, nor have I ever noticed it on, the St. Mary's Straits, or on the shores of Lake Huron north of this island. This island may, I think, be referred to as its extreme, northern and occasional limit.

10th. I determined to remove from Michilimackinack to the city of New York. More than thirty years of my life have been spent in Western scenes, in various situations, in Western New York, the Mississippi Valley, and the basins of the Great Lakes, The position is one which, however suitable it is for observation on several topics, is by no means favorable to the publication of them, while the seaboard cities possess numerous advantages of residence, particularly for the education of the young. So much of my time had been given to certain topics of natural history, and to the languages and history, antiquities, manners, and customs of the Indian tribes, that I felt a desire to preserve the record of it, and, in fact, to study my own materials in a position more favorable to the object than the shores, however pleasing, of these vast inland seas. The health of Mrs. Schoolcraft having been impaired for several years, furnished another motive for a change of residence. However great was the geographical area to be traversed, the change could be readily effected, and promised many of the highest concomitants of civilization. Beyond all, it was a return to my native State after long years of travel and wandering, adventure, and residence, which would bear, I thought, to-be looked at and reflected on through the mellowed medium of reminiscence and study.

The journey was easily performed by steamers and railroads, which occupy every foot of the way, and it was accomplished without any but agreeable incidents. I left the island, which is the object of so many pleasant recollections, about the middle of August, and reached the city of New York during that month, in season, after some weeks agreeably passed at a hotel, to take a private dwelling-house in the upper part of it (Chelsea, 19th street) early in September. I now cast myself about to publish the results of my observation on the RED RACE, whom I had found, in many traits, a subject of deep interest; in some things wholly misunderstood and misrepresented; and altogether an object of the highest humanitarian interest. But our booksellers, or rather book-publishers, were not yet prepared in their views to undertake anything corresponding to my ideas. The next year I executed my long-deferred purpose of visiting England and the Continent with this plan in view, and was highly gratified with the means of comparison which these finished countries afforded with the rough scenes of Western America. France, Belgium, Prussia, Germany and Holland were embraced in this tour.

This visit was one of high intellectual gratification, and carried me into scenes and situations for which the reading of books had but poorly prepared me. I kept a journal to refresh my memory of things seen and heard, approved and disapproved.

The Western World, they tell me, turns too fast, By European optics scanned and glassed; But when we look at Europe, although fair, They must have had new Joshuas working there; For, be our eagerness just what it will, She, spell-bound, seems to stand profoundly still.

This site includes some historical materials that may imply negative stereotypes reflecting the culture or language of a particular period or place. These items are presented as part of the historical record and should not be interpreted to mean that the WebMasters in any way endorse the stereotypes implied.

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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