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Question of the U.S. Senate's Action on Certain Treaties of the Lake Indians

Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians

Home matters--Massachusetts Historical Society--Question of the U.S. Senate's action on certain treaties of the Lake Indians--Hugh L. White--Dr. Morton's Crania Americana--Letter from Mozojeed--State of the pillagers--Visit of Dr. Follen and Miss Martineau--Treaty movements--Young Lord Selkirk--Character and value of Upper Michigan--Hon. John Norvell's letter--Literary Items--Execution of the treaty of March 28th--Amount of money paid--Effects of the treaty--Baron de Behr--Ornithology.

1836. June 16th. My winter in Washington had thrown my correspondence sadly in the rear. Most of my letters had been addressed to me directly at Mackinack, and they were first read several months after date. Whilst at the seat of government my duties had been of an arduous character, and left me but little time on my hands. And now, that I had got back to my post in the interior, the duties growing out of the recent treaties had been in no small degree multiplied. While preparing for the latter, the former were not, however, to be wholly neglected, or left unnoticed. I will revert to them.

April 28th. The Massachusetts Historical Society this day approved a report from a committee charged with the subject--"That, in their opinion, the dissertation on the Odjibwa language with a vocabulary of the same, contemplated by Mr. Schoolcraft, would be a suitable and valuable contribution to our collections, and that he be requested to proceed and complete the work, and transmit it to the society for publication." This was communicated to me by Hon. Thomas L. Winthrop, their president, on the 2d of May, and opened an eligible way for my bringing forward my investigations of this language, without expense to myself. The difficulty now was, that the offer had come, at a time when it was impossible to complete the paper. I was compelled to defer it till the pressure of business, which now began to thicken on my hands, should abate. It was in this manner, and in the hope that the next season would afford me leisure, that the matter was put off, from time to time, till it was in a measure cast behind and out of sight, and not from a due appreciation of the offer.

May 17th In the letter of appointment to me, of this date, from the Secretary of War, to treat with the Saginaws, it is stated: "You are authorized to offer them the proceeds which their lands may bring, deducting such expenses as may be necessary for its survey, sale, &c. You will take care that a sufficient fund is reserved to provide for their removal, and such arrangements made for the security and application of the residue as will be most beneficial to them." These instructions were carried out, in articles of a compact, in which the government furthermore agreed, in view of the lands not being immediately brought into market, to make a reasonable advance to these Indians. Yet the Senate rejected it, not, it would seem, for the liberality of the offer of the nett proceeds of the lands, but for the almost per necessitate offer of a moderate advance, to enable the people to turn themselves in straitened circumstances, which had been the prime motive for selling.

The advance was, in fact, as I have reason to believe, a mere bagatelle, but the chairman of the Indian Committee in the Senate was rather on the lookout for something, or anything, to embarrass or disoblige General Jackson and his agents, having fallen out with him, and being then, indeed, a candidate for President of the U.S. himself, at the coming election. If I had not heard the pointed expressions of Hon. Hugh L. White, on more than one occasion, in which my three treaties were before him, in relation to this matter of not affording the presidential incumbent new sources of patronage, &c., I should not deem it just to add the latter remark. He was a man of strong will and feelings, which often betrayed themselves when subjects of public policy were the topics. And, so far as he interfered with the principles of the treaties which I had negotiated with the Lake Indians in 1836, he evinced an utter ignorance of their history, character, and best interests. He violated, in some respects, the very principle on which alone two of the original cessions, namely, those of the Ottawas and Chippewas and of the Saginaws, were obtained; and introduced features of discord, which disturb the tribes, and some of which will long continue to be felt. And the result is a severe caution against the Senate's ever putting private reasons in the place of public, and interfering with matters which they necessarily know but little about.

16th. Dr. Samuel George Morton, of Philadelphia, makes an appeal to gentlemen interested in the philosophical and historical questions connected with the Indians, to aid him in the collection of crania--to be used in the comprehensive work which he is preparing on the subject.

26th. Hon. J. B. Sutherland expresses the wish to see an Indian lexicography prepared under the auspices of the Indian Department, and urges me to undertake it.

30th. Mozojeed, or the Moose's Tail, an Ojibwa chief of Ottawa Lake, in the region at the source of Chippewa River of the Upper Mississippi, dictates a letter to me. The following is an extract:--

"My Father--I have a few remarks to make. Every morning of the year I wish to come and see you. As soon as I take up my paddle I fall sick. It is now two years since I began to be sick. Sometimes I am better--sometimes worse. I am pained in mind that I am not to see you this summer.

"Since you gave me the shonea nahbekawahgun (silver medal) I think I have walked in your commands. I have done all I could to have the Indians sit still. Those that are far off I could not sway, but those that are near have listened to me."

His influence to keep the Indians at peace, and the reasons which have hindered the influence in part, are thus, partly by symbolic figures, as well expressed as could be done by an educated mind. I have italicised two sentences for their peculiarity of thought.

31st. Mr. Featherstonehaugh expresses a wish to have me point out the best map extant of the eastern borders of the Upper Mississippi, above the point visited by him in his recent reconnoissance, in order "to avoid gross blunders--all I do not expect to avoid!" Why undertake to make a map of a part of the country which he did not see?

31st. Rev. Alvan Coe, of Vernon, O., expresses his interest in the provisions of the late treaty with the Ottawas and Chippewas, which regards their instruction.

June 1st. Mr. W. T. Boutwell, from Leech Lake, depicts the present condition of the Odjibwas on the extreme sources of the Mississippi.

"There has been nothing, so far as I have discovered, or been informed, like a disposition to go to war this spring. There is, evidently, a growing desire on the part of not a few, to cultivate their gardens more extensively and better. These are making gardens by the side of me. I have furnished them with seed and lent them hoes, on condition that they do not work on the Sabbath. From fifteen to twenty bushels of potatoes I have given to one and another to plant.

"The Big Cloud has required his two children to attend regularly to instruction; others occasionally. The Elder Brother has procured him a comfortable log house to be built--bought a horse and cow. I have bought a calf of Mr. A. for him.

"I am making the experiment whether I can keep cattle here. They have wintered and passed the spring, and we are now favored with milk, which is a rarity and luxury here.

"Mr. Aitkin is establishing a permanent post at Otter Tail Lake. G. Bonga had gone with a small assortment of goods to build and pass the summer there. The Indians are divided in opinion and feeling with regard to the measure. Those who belong to this lake, or who make gardens in this vicinity, are opposed to the measure. Those who pass the summer in the deer country and make rice towards the height of land, are in its favor. It is on the line dividing us and our enemies--some say, where we do not wish to go. Whether he has consulted the agent on the subject, I know not.

"The past winter has been severe--the depth of snow greater, by far, than has fallen for several years. Feb. 1 the mercury fell to 40 deg. below zero. This is the extreme. Graduated on the scale I have--it fell nearly into the ball."

9th. The Secretary of War writes me a private letter, suggesting the employment of Mr. Ryly, of Schenectady, in carrying out the large deliveries of goods ($150,000) required by the late treaty, and speaking most favorably of him, as a former resident of Michigan, and a patriotic man in days when patriotism meant something.

14th. My brother James writes in his usual frank and above-board manner: "If the Indians are to audit accounts against the Indians (agreeably to the Senate's alteration of the treaty), there will be a pretty humbug made of it; then he that has most whisky will get most money."

July 5th. Dr. Follen and lady, of Cambridge, Mass., accompanied by Miss Martineau, of England, visited me in the morning, having landed in the ship Milwaukee. They had, previously, visited the chief curiosities and sights on the island. Miss Martineau expressed her gratification in having visited the upper lakes and the island. She said she had, from early childhood, felt an interest in them. I remarked, that I supposed she had seen enough of America and the Americans, to have formed a definite opinion, and asked her what she thought of them? She said she had not asked herself that question. She had hardly made up an opinion, and did not know what it might be, on getting back to England. She thought society hardly formed here, that it was rather early to express opinions; but she thought favorably of the elements of such a mixed society, as suited to lead to the most liberal traits. She spoke highly of Cincinnati, and some other places, and expressed an enthusiastic admiration for the natural beauties of Michilimackinack. She said she had been nearly two years in America, and was now going to the seaboard to embark on her return to England.

9th. Instructions were issued at Washington for the execution of the treaty, which had been ratified, with amendments, by the Senate.

10th. The admission of Michigan as one of the States, had left the office of Superintendent of Indian Affairs, for the region, vacant. An Act of Congress, passed near the close of the session, had devolved the duties of this office on the agent at Michilimackinack. Instructions were, this day, issued to carry this act into effect.

12th. The chiefs in general council assembled by special messengers at the Agency at Mackinack, this day assented to the Senate's alterations of the treaty. Its principles were freely and fully discussed.

13th and 14th. Signatures continue to be affixed to the articles of assent.

15th. I notified the various bands of Indians to attend in mass, the payments, which were appointed to commence on the 1st of September.

27th. A friend writes from Detroit: "Lord Selkirk, from Scotland, is on his route to Lake Superior, and, as he passes through Mackinack, I write to introduce him to you, as a gentleman with whom you would be pleased to have more than a transient association. The name of his father is connected with many north-western events of much interest and notoriety, and a most agreeable recollection of his mother, Lady Selkirk, has recommended him strongly to our kindness. I feel assured you will befriend him, in the way of information, as to the best means of getting on to the Sault St. Marie."

I found the bearer an easy, quiet, young gentleman, with not the least air of pretence or superciliousness, and one of those men to whom attentions ever become a pleasure.

Aug. 2d. Hon. John Norvell, U.S.S., calls my attention to the recent annexation to Michigan of the vast region north of the Straits of Michilimackinack.

"Your personal knowledge," he observes, "of the country on Lake Superior, which, by a late act of Congress has been annexed to, and made a part of the State of Michigan, induces me respectfully to request of you information concerning the nature and extent of the territory thus attached to the State; the qualities of its various soils; the timber and water-powers embraced in it; its minerals and their probable value; the extent of lake-coast added to Michigan; the fisheries and their probable value and duration; the capabilities and conveniences of Lake Superior and the northern Michigan shores, and the cheapness and facility with which a communication may be opened with the lower lakes; together with such other information as it may be in your power to furnish, and as may enable the people of Michigan duly to appreciate the importance of the acquisition." Vide Letters of Albion in reply.

16th. Mr. Daniel B. Woods, of New York, announces the project of the publication of "a religious and missionary souvenir," and solicits my aid in the preparation of an article.

26th. The citizens, merchants, and traders of the town agree not to sell or furnish whisky or ardent spirits to the Indians during the payments and preliminary examinations--a conclusive evidence this that, where the interests of the population combine to stop the traffic in ardent spirits, it requires no Congressional or State laws.

Sept. 26th. John G. Palfrey, Esq., editor of the North American Review, wishes me to review Mr. Gallatin's forthcoming paper on the Indian languages, which is about to appear in the second volume of the collections of the American Antiquarian Society.

28th. A busy business summer, replete with incident and excitement on the island, closes this day by the termination of the several classes of payments made under the treaty of March 28th, 1836. Upwards of four thousand Indians have been encamped along the pebbly beaches and coves of the island, and subsisted by the Indian Department for about a month. To these an annuity of $42,000 has been paid per capita. Of these there were 143 chiefs, namely, 25 of the first class, 51 of the second, and 67 of the third class, who received an additional payment of $30,000. In addition to the provisions consumed, two thousand dollars worth of flour, pork, rice, and corn were delivered to the separate villages in bulk prior to their departure, and one hundred and fifty thousand dollars in the best quality of Indian goods and merchandise, cutlery, and other articles of prime necessity, systematically divided amongst the mass. The sum of two hundred and twenty thousand dollars has been paid on accounts exhibited to the agent, and approved by the creditors of the two tribes. One hundred and fifty thousand dollars have also been paid to the half-breed relatives of the two tribes on carefully prepared lists.

These several duties required care and involved responsibilities of no ordinary character. They have been shared by Major H. Whiting, the Paymaster of the Northern Department, by whom the funds were exclusively paid, and John W. Edwards, Esq., of New York, who divided the half-breed fund, to both of whom I am indebted for the diligence with which they addressed themselves to the duty, and the kindness and urbanity of their manners.

So large an assemblage of red and white men probably never assembled here before, and a greater degree of joy and satisfaction was never evinced by the same number. The Indians went away with their canoes literally loaded with all an Indian wants, from silver to a steel trap, and a practical demonstration was given which will shut their mouths forever with regard to the oft-repeated scandal of the stinginess and injustice of the American government.

Not a man was left, of any caste or shade of nativity, to utter a word to gainsay or cavil with the noble and high public manner in which these proceedings were done. The blood-relatives of the Indian found that the two nations, actuated by a sense of their kindness and real friendship for years, had remembered them in the day of their prosperity. The large number of Indian creditors, who had toiled and suffered and lost property in a trade which is always hazardous, were glad in seeing the ample provision for their payment.

The agents of the government also rejoiced in the happy termination of their labors, and the drum, whose roll had carried away the troops who had been present to preserve order, now converted to a symbol of peace, was never more destined to be beaten to assemble white men to march in hostility against these tribes. They were forever our friends. What war had not accomplished, the arts of peace certainly had. Kindness, justice, and liberality, like the "still small voice" at Sinai, had done what the whirlwind and the tempest failed to do.

Fourteen years before, I had taken the management of these tribes in hand, to conduct their intercourse and to mould and guide their feelings, on the part of the government. They were then poor, in a region denuded of game, and without one dollar in annuities. They were yet smarting under the war of 1812, and all but one man, the noble Wing, or Ningwegon, hostile to the American name. They were now at the acme of Indian hunter prosperity, with every want supplied, and a futurity of pleasing anticipation. They were friends of the American government. I had allied myself to the race. I was earnest and sincere in desiring and advancing their welfare. I was gratified with a result so auspicious to every humane and exalted wish.

War, ye wild tribes, hath no rewards like this; 'tis peaceful labors that result in bliss.

29th. Baron de Behr, Minister of Belgium, presented himself at my office. He was cordially received, although bringing me no letter to apprize me of his official standing at Washington. He had been to the Sault Ste. Marie, and visited the entrance into Lake Superior. He presented me a petrifaction picked up on Drummond Island, and looked at my cabinet with interest.

The troops under Major Hoffman embarked in a steamer for Detroit. Also Major Whiting, the U.S. Paymaster, and Mr. Edmonds, my adjuncts in official labor.

Oct. 17th. Old friends from Middlebury, Vermont, came up in a steamer bound to Green Bay, among whom I was happy to recognize Mrs. Henshaw, mother of the bishop of that name of Rhode Island.

18th. Alfred Schoolcraft, who had commenced the study of ornithology with decided ability, hands me the following list of birds, which have been observed to extend their visits to this island and the basin of Lake Huron.


Common Name. Order Family Genus  
Brown Thrush Passeres Canori Turdus T. Rufus.
Cedar Bird

" "

Sericati Bonelycilla B. Carolinensis.
Canada Jay

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Gregarii Corvus C. Canadensis.

" "

" "

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C. Corone.
House Wren

" "

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Trylodites T. Edom.
Blue Jay

" "

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Corvus C. Vociferus.

" "

" "

" "

C. Corax.
Snow Bird

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Passerini Fringilla F. Hyemalis.
Sing Cicily

" "

" "

" "

F. Melodia.

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Canori Turdus T. Migratoria.

" "

Passerini Loxia L. Corvurostra.
Red Winged Starling

" "

Gregarii Icterus I. Phoenicus.

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Passerini Fringilla F. Tristis.
Little Owl Accipetres Stapaces Stryx S.
Sparrow Hawk

" "

" "

Falco F. Sparverius.
Golden Plover Gralle Pressirostre Charadrus C. Plurailis.

" "

Semicole Scolipax S. Minor.
Green Winged Teal   Lamelasodenta Anas Anas Crecca
Wood Duck  

" "

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A. Sponsa.
Golden Eyed Duck  

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Fatigula F. Clengula.
Hooping Crane   Herodii Grus G. Americana.
Kingfisher Passeres Augubrostres Alcedo A. Alcyon.
Loon   Pygopodes Colymbus C. Glacialis.
Partridge   Galinacia Perdix P. Virginiana.

Of their habits he appends the following remarks:--

"The Canada Jay (C. Canadensis) preys upon smaller birds of the sparrow kind. This fact has been related to me by persons of undoubted veracity, and I have myself seen one of them in pursuit of small birds.

"There is a small species of sparrow, that inhabits the forests near the settlements in this region, of a very interesting character. It matters not how intense the cold, it never deserts our woods, but remains hunting for insects in the cavities and among the branches of the trees with the most assiduous caution. They hatch their young in holes, which they perforate in decayed trees with their sharp bills. If a person happens to come near their nests during the time of incubation, it vociferates most strenuously against the intrusion, while its feathers expand, its eyes sparkle with rage, and it darts from branch to branch with the most astonishing rapidity. It is frequently to be seen near our houses in the winter, and in the most severe and inclement weather they will tend, by their chirping and gambols, to amuse and enliven our minds, while at the same time they afford us an entertaining study.

"Their wants are very small. If a piece of meat, weighing two or three pounds, is hung against some tree or fence near to our houses in the winter, we can have the pleasure of witnessing them merrily banqueting on it every day for several weeks.

"Sandpipers of the smaller kinds can swim on the surface of the water, dive beneath and remain under it with the same facility as the duck and other aquatic birds, although they do not make use of this property unless driven to extremity. This fact I can pledge my veracity on from personal observation. They need not use this power of swimming for the purpose of procuring food, as the substances on which they subsist are found on the margin of the water."

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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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