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Question of the Rise of the Lakes

Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians

Missions--Hard times, consequent on over-speculation--Question of the rise of the lakes--Scientific theory--Trip to Washington--Trip to Lake Superior and the Straits of St. Mary--John Tanner--Indian improvements north of Michilimackinack--Great cave--Isle Nabiquon--Superstitious ideas of the Indians connected with females--Scotch royals--McKenzie--Climate of the United States--Foreign coins and natural history--Antique fort in Adams County, Ohio--Royal Society of Northern Antiquaries--Statistics of lands purchased from the Indians--Sun's eclipse--Government payments.

1838. June 18th. W. Lowrie, Esq., Missionary Rooms, N.Y., announces the sending of an agent to explore the missionary field, which it is proposed to occupy by the Presbyterian Board, in the region of Lake Michigan, bespeaking my friendly offices to the agent.

The plethora of success which has animated every department of life and business, puffing them up like gas in a balloon, since about '35 has departed and left the fiscal system perfectly flaccid and lifeless. The rage for speculation in real estate has absorbed all loose cash, and the country is now groaning for its fast-locked circulating medium. A friend at Detroit writes: "With fifty thousand dollars of productive real estate in the city, and as much more in stocks and mortgages, I am absolutely in want of small sums to pay my current expenses, and to rid myself of the mortification produced by this feeling I am prepared to make almost any sacrifice."

27th. Received a communication from the chief engineer of the New York canal (Alfred Barrett, Esq.) on the subject of the rise of water in the lakes. "A question of considerable importance," he says, "has arisen in our State Legislature, in relation to the rise of water in Lake Erie. The lake has been gradually increasing in its height for the last ten years, and has gained an elevation of four feet above that of 1826. The inhabitants along the shores of the lake as far as Detroit, upon both sides, and many throughout our State, have been led to attribute this increase to the erection of the State and the United States pier at the outlet of the lake, opposite Black Rock, which presents an obstruction to the action of the river. But this evidently is not the only cause of the rise of the lake, for, by observation, we find the Niagara River below the dam, and the surface of Lake Ontario, to have increased in the same ratio in the same time. Lake Ontario is four feet higher than it was in 1826.

"Our Legislature has called for information on the subject. And for many important facts we shall be indebted to the goodness of persons residing or acquainted at the places where they may exist. The canal commissioners of the State have desired me to communicate with you, desiring such data as you may have in your possession relevant to the subject. And we are induced to trouble you for information respecting the condition of the water in Lake Superior and other western waters, believing that your extensive acquaintance and close observation in that region have put you in possession of facts which will enable you to determine, with a degree of accuracy, the fluctuations of these waters, and their present increased or diminished height, as well as to trace some of the causes which have an influence in producing the results that are experienced in the rise and fall of the lakes."

This rise and fall is found to be concurrent in volume and time in the whole series of lake basins, and is not at all influenced by artificial constructions. It is believed to be dependent on the annual fall of water, on the water sheds of the lake basins, and the comparative evaporation caused by the annual diffusion of solar heat during the same periods. Nothing less than the accumulation of facts to illustrate these general laws, for considerable periods of time, will, it is believed, philosophically account for the phenomena. Tables of solar heat, rain guages, and scientific measures, to determine the fall of snow over the large continental era of the whole series of basins, are, therefore, the scientific means that should be employed before we can theorize properly. As to periodical rises, actually observed, they are believed to be the very measure of these phenomena, namely, the fall of atmospheric moisture, and the concurrent intensity of solar heat between the unknown periods of the rise.

The fluctuations in Lake Michigan and the Straits of Michilimackinack are capable of being accounted for on a separate theory, namely, the theory of lake winds.

4th July. Letters from Detroit show that the political agitations respecting Canada still continue. One correspondent remarks: "The fourth of July passed off here with more apparent patriotic feeling than I have ever known before. Canada is still across the river--the pat-riots have not yet removed any part of it; they are, however, still busy."

Another says: "Times look troublesome, but I am in hopes that it will all blow over and peace continue, which should be the earnest wish of every Christian."

23d. Public business calling me to Washington, I left Mackinack late in June, and, pushing day and night, reached that city on the 9th of July. The day of my arrival was a hot one, and, during our temporary stop in the cars between the Relay House and Bladensburg, some pickpocket eased me of my pocket-book, containing a treasury-note for $50, about $60 in bills, and sundry papers. The man must have been a genteel and well-dressed fellow, for I conversed with none other, and very adroit at his business. I did not discover my loss till reaching the hotel, and all inquiry was then fruitless. After four days I again set out for the North in an immense train of cars, having half of Congress aboard, as they had just adjourned, and reached Mackinack about the tenth day's travel. This was a toilsome trip, the whole journey to the seat of government and back, say 2,000 miles, being made in some twenty-five days, all stops inclusive.

31st. I set out this day from Mackinack in a boat for Lake Superior and the Straits of St. Mary, for the purpose of estimating the value of the Indian improvements North, under the eighth art. of the treaty of March 28th, 1836. The weather being fine, and anticipating no high winds at this season, I determined, as a means of health and recreation, to take Mrs. S. and her niece, Julia, a maid, and the children along, having tents and every camping apparatus to make the trip a pleasant one. My boat was one of the largest and best of those usually employed in the trade, manned with seven rowers and provided with a mast and sails. An awning was prepared to cover the centre-bar, which was furnished with seats made of our rolled-up beds. Magazines, a spy-glass, &c., &c., served to while away the time, and a well-furnished mess-basket served to make us quite easy in that department. At Sault St. Marie I took on board Mr. Placidus Ord to keep, the record of appraisements.

While here, the notorious John Tanner, who had been on very ill terms with the civilized world for many years--for no reason, it seems, but that it would not support him in idleness--this man, whose thoughts were bitter and suspicious of every one, followed me one day unperceived into a canoe-house, where I had gone alone to inspect a newly-made canoe. He began to talk after his manner, when, lifting my eyes to meet his glance, I saw mischief evidently in their cold, malicious, bandit air, and, looking him determinedly in the eyes, instantly raising my heavy walking-cane, confronted him with the declaration of his secret purpose with a degree of decision of tone and manner which caused him to step back out of the open door and leave the premises. I was perfectly surprised at his dastardly movement, for I had supposed him before to be a brave man, and I heard or saw no more of him while there1.

Tanner was stolen by old Kishkako, the Saginaw, from Kentucky, when he was a boy of about nine years old. He is now a gray-headed, hard-featured old man, whose feelings are at war with every one on earth, white and red. Every attempt to meliorate his manners and Indian notions, has failed. He has invariably misapprehended them, and is more suspicious, revengeful, and bad tempered than any Indian I ever knew. Dr. James, who made, by the way, a mere pack-horse of Indian opinions of him, did not suspect his fidelity, and put many things in his narrative which made the whites about St. Mary's call him an old liar. This enraged him against the Doctor, whom he threatened to kill. He had served me awhile as an interpreter, and, while thus employed, he went to Detroit, and was pleased with a country girl, who was a chambermaid at old Ben. Woodworth's hotel. He married her, but, after having one child, and living with him a year, she was glad to escape with life, and, under the plea of a visit, made some arrangement with the ladies of Fort Brady to slip off, on board of a vessel, and so eluded him. The Legislature afterwards granted her a divorce. He blamed me for the escape, though I was entirely ignorant of its execution, and knew nothing of it, till it had transpired.

In this trip to the North, I called on the Indians to show me their old fields and gardens at every point.

It was found that there were eight geographical bands, consisting of separate villages, living on the ceded tract. The whole population of these did not exceed, by a close count, 569 souls. The population had evidently deteriorated from the days of the French and British rule, when game was abundant. This was the tradition they gave, and was proved by the comparatively large old fields, not now in cultivation, particularly at Portagunisee, at various points on the Straits of St. Mary's, and at Grand Island and its coasts on Lake Superior.

They cultivate chiefly, the potato, and retire in the spring to certain points, where the Acer saccharinum abounds, and all rely on the quantity of maple sugar made. This is eaten by all, and appears to have a fattening effect, particularly on the children. The season of sugar-making is indeed a sort of carnival, at which there is general joy and hilarity. The whole number of acres found in cultivation by individuals, was 125-1/2 acres; and by bands, and in common, 100-3/4 acres, which would give an average of a little over 1/3 of an acre per soul. Even this is thought high. There were 1459 acres of old fields, partly run up in brush. There were also 3162 acres of abandoned village sites, where not a soul lived. I counted 27 dwellings which had a fixity, and nineteen apple trees in the forest. In proportion as they had little, they set a high value on it, and insisted on showing everything, and they gave me a good deal of information. The whole sum appraised to individuals was $3,428 25; and to collective bands, $11,173 $11,173 50.

While off the mural coast of the Pictured Rocks, the lake was perfectly calm, and the wind hushed. I directed the men to row in to the cave or opening of the part where the water has made the most striking inroad upon the solid coast. This coast is a coarse sandstone, easily disintegrated. I doubted if the oarsmen could enter without pulling in their oars. But nothing seemed easier when we attempted it. They, in fact, rowed us, in a few moments, masts standing, into a most extraordinary and gigantic cave, under the loftiest part of the coast. I thought of the rotunda in the Capitol at Washington, as giving some idea of its vastness, but nothing of its dark and sombre appearance; its vast side arches, and the singular influence of the light beaming in from the open lake. I took out my note-book and drew a sketch of this very unique view2.

The next day the calmness continued on the lake, and I took advantage of it to visit the dimly seen island in the lake, off Presque Isle and Granite Point, called Nabikwon by the Indians, from the effects of mirage. Its deep volcanic chasms, and upheaved rocks, tell a story of mighty elemental conflicts in the season of storms; but it did not reward me with much in the way of natural history, except in geological specimens.

Aug. 7th. The Chippewas have some strange notions. Articles which have been stepped over by Indian females are considered unclean, and are condemned by the men. Great aversion is shown by the females at finding hairs drawn out by the comb, which they roll up, and, making a hole in the ashes, bury.

Indian females never go before a man: they never walk in front in the path, or cross in front of the place where a sachem is sitting.

A man will never eat out of the same dish with a woman. The lodge-separation, at the period of illness, is universally observed, where the original manners have not been broken down. If she have no barks, or apukwas to make a separate lodge, a mere booth or bower of branches is made near by.

10th. Mrs. Deborah Schoolcraft Johnson died at Albany, aged fifty-four years. The father of this lady (John McKenzie, usually called McKenny) was a native of Scotland, and served with credit in the regiment of Royal Highlanders, before the Revolutionary War, of whose movements he kept a journal. He was present during the siege of Fort Niagara, in 1759, witnessed the death of Gen. Prideau, and participated in the capture of the works, under Sir William Johnson. He was also engaged in the movements of Gen. Bradstreet, to relieve the fort of Detroit from the hosts brought against it by Pontiac and his confederates three or four years after. He settled, after the war, as a merchant at Anthony's Nose, on the Mohawk, where he was surprised, his store and dwelling-house pillaged, and himself scalped. He recovered from this, as the blow he received had only been stunning, and the copious bleeding, as is usual in such cases, had soon restored consciousness. He then settled at Albany, a place of comparative safety, and devoted himself in old age to instruction. He left a numerous family. His son John, who embraced the medical profession, became a distinguished man in Washington County (N.Y.), where his science, as a practitioner, and his talents as a politician, rendered him alike eminent. But he embraced the politics of Burr, a man whose talents he admired, when that erratic man ran for Governor of the State, and shortly after died. Five daughters married respectable individuals in the county, all of whom have left families. Of such threads of genealogy is the base of society in all parts of America composed. One of her granddaughters, now living in Paris, is a lady entitled to respect, on various accounts. Deborah, whose death is announced, married in early life, as her first husband, John Schoolcraft, Jr., Esq., a most gifted son of one of the actors and patriots of the revolution--a man who was engaged in one of its earliest movements; who shared its deepest perils, and lived long to enjoy its triumphs. The early death of this object of her choice, induced her in after years to contract a second marriage with an enterprising son of Massachusetts (R. Johnson), with whom she migrated to Detroit. Death here again, in a few years, left her free to rejoin her relatives in Albany, where, at last at ease in her temporal affairs, she finally fell a victim to consumption, at a not very advanced age, meeting her death with the calmness and preparedness of a Christian.

"As those we love decay, we die in part."

25th. Returned to Michilimackinack, at a quarter past one o'clock, A.M., from my trip to the north, for the appraisal of the Indian improvements.

31st. According to observations kept, the average temperature of the month of August (lat. 42 deg.) was 69.16 degrees. Last year the average temperature of the same month was sixty-five degrees. The average temperature of the entire summer of 1838 was 70.85; while that of the summer of 1837 was but 65.48. Our lakes must sink with such a temperature, if the comparative degree of heat has been kept up in the upper lakes during the year.

Sept. 4th. Troops arrive at Fort Mackinack to attend the payments.

An officer of the army, who has spent a year or so in Florida, and has just returned to Michigan, says: "I have seen much that was well worth seeing, am much wiser than I was before, and am all the better contented with a lot midway of the map. The climate of Florida, during the winter, was truly delicious, but the summers, a part of one of which I saw and felt, are uncomfortable, perhaps more so than our winters. This puts the scales even, if, it do not incline the balance in our favor. The summer annoyances of insects, &c., are more than a counterbalance for our ice and snow, especially when we can rectify their influences by a well-warmed house."

6th. A literary friend in Paris writes: "I send a box to Detroit to-day, to the address of Mr. Trowbridge. It contains, for you, upwards of 200 coins, among which is one Chinese, and the rest ancient. You must busy yourself in arranging and deciphering them. I send you, also, some specimens, one from the catacombs of Paris, others from the great excavations of Maestricht, where such large antediluvian remains have been found, also relics from the field of Waterloo. The petrifactions are from Mount Lebanon."

Mr. Palfrey writes in relation to the expected notice of Stone's "Brant," but my engagements have not permitted me to write a line on the subject.

10th. Dr. John Locke, of Ohio, announces the discovery in Adams County, in that State, of the remains of an antique fort, supposed to be 600 years old. It is on a plateau 500 feet above Brush Creek, and is estimated at 800 to 1000 feet above the Ohio at low water. It is covered by soil, forest, and trees. Some of the trees in the vicinity are twenty-one feet in diameter. He infers the age from a large chestnut in the enclosure. His data would give A.D. 1238, as the date of the abandonment. We must approach the subject of our western antiquities with great care and not allow hasty and warm fancies to run away with us.

12th. A communication from Mr. Rafn informs me that the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Copenhagen, Denmark, have honored me by enrolling my name as one of its members.

12th. Congress publishes a statement submitted by the Indian Bureau, showing, 1. That upwards of fifty treaties have been concluded with various tribes since Jan. 1, 1830, for their removal to the west, in accordance with the principles of the organic act of May 28th, 1830. 2. That by these treaties 109,879,937 acres of land have been acquired. 3. That the probable value of this land to the United States is $137,349,946. 4. That the total cost of these cessions, including the various expenses of carrying the treaties into effect, is $70,059,505.

13th. Major Chancy Bush, Assistant to Major Garland, the Disbursing Agent, arrives with funds to make the annuity payments.

14th. The Cherokees West, meet in general council to consult on their affairs, and adopt some measures preparatory to the arrival of the eastern body of the nation. John Ridge, a chief of note of the Cherokees West, states, that this meeting is entirely pacific--entirely deliberative--and by no means of a hostile character, as has been falsely reported.

18th. The obscurity which attends an Indian's power of ratiocination may be judged of by the following claim, verbally made to me and supported by some bit of writing, this day, by Gabriel Muccutapenais, an Ottawa chief of L'Arbre Croche. He states that, at one time, a trader took from him forty beavers; at another, thirty beavers and bears; at another, ten beavers, and at another, thirty beavers, and four carcasses of beavers, for all which he received no pay, although promised it. He also served as a clerk or sub-trader for a merchant, for which he was to have received $500, and never received a cent. He requests the President of the United States to pay for all these things. On inquiry, the skins were hunted, and the service rendered, and the wrong received at Athabasca Lake, in the Hudson's Bay Territory, when he was a young man. He is now about sixty-six years old.

18th. The sun's eclipse took place, and was very plainly visible to the naked eye, agreeably to the calculation for its commencement and termination. I took the occasion of its termination (four o'clock, fifty minutes) to set my watch by astronomical time.

18th. The Indian payments were completed by Major Bush this day. These payments included the full annuity for 1838, and the deferred half annuity for 1837, making a total of $47,000, which was paid in coin per capita.

The whole number of Indians on the pay rolls this year amounted to 4,872, of whom 1,197 were in the Grand River Valley. Last year they numbered, in all, 4,561, denoting an increase of 311. This increase, however, is partly due to emigrations from the south, and partly to imperfect counts last season, and but partially to the increase of births over deaths. The annuity divided $12 57 on the North, $22 50 in the Middle, or Thunder Bay district, and $11 50 on the Southern pay list. The Indians requested that these per capita divisions might be equalized, but the terms in the treaty itself create the geographical districts.

1: Eight years afterwards, namely, in July, 1846, this lawless vagabond waylaid and shot my brother James, having concealed himself in a cedar thicket.

2: See Ethnological Researches, vol. i., plate xliv.

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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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