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Rage for Investment in Western Lands

Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians

Rage for investment in western lands--Habits of the common deer--Question of the punishment of Indian murders committed in the Indian country--A chief calls to have his authority recognized on the death of a predecessor--Dr. Julius, of Prussia--Gen. Robert Patterson--Pressure of emigration--Otwin--Dr. Gilman and Mr. Hoffman--Picturesque trip to Lake Superior--Indians desire to cede territory--G.W. Featherstonehaugh--Sketch of his geological reconnoisance of the St. Peter's River--Dr. Thomas H. Webb--Question of inscriptions on American rocks--Antiquities--Embark for Washington, and come down the lakes in the great tempest of 1835.

1835. August. The rage for investment in lands was now manifest in every visitor that came from the East to the West. Everybody, more or less, yielded to it. I saw that friends, in whose prudence and judgment I had confided for years, were engaged in it. I doubted the soundness of the ultra predictions which were based on every sort of investment of this kind, whether of town property or farming land, and held quite conservative opinions on the subject, but yielded partially, and in a moderate way, to the general impulse, by making some investments in Wisconsin. Among other plans, an opinion arose that Michilimackinack must become a favorite watering place, or refuge for the opulent and invalids during the summer; and lots were eagerly bought up from Detroit and Chicago.

17th. I embarked in a steamer for Green Bay--where I attended the first land sales, and made several purchases. While there, I remarked the curious fluctuations in the level of the waters at the mouth of Fox River. The lake (Michigan) and the bay appear to hold the relation of separate parts of a syphon. It was now fourteen years since I had first noticed this phenomenon, as a member of the expedition to the sources of the Mississippi. While at Green Bay I procured a young fawn, and carried it to be a tenant of my garden and grounds. This animal grew to its full size, and revealed many interesting traits. Its motions were most graceful. It was perfectly tame. It would walk into the hall and dining-room, when the door was open, and was once observed to step up, gracefully, and take bread from the table. It perambulated the garden walks. It would, when the back-gate was shut, jump over a six feet picket fence, with the ease and lightness of a bird.

Some of its instincts were remarkable. At night it would choose its place of lying down invariably to the leeward of an object which sheltered it from the prevailing wind. One of its most remarkable instincts was developed with respect to ladies. On one occasion, while an unattended lady was walking up the avenue from my front gate to the door, through the garden grounds, the animal approached from behind, in the gentlest manner possible, and placed his fore feet on her shoulders. This happened more than once. Its propensity to eat plum leaves at last banished it from the garden. It was then allowed to visit distant parts of the island, and, at length, some vicious person broke one of its legs, from its propensity to browse on the young leaves of fruit trees. This was fatal to it, and I was induced to allow its being shot, after it had been an inmate of my grounds for about three years, where it was familiarly known to all by the name of Nimmi.

            Poor Nimmi, some are hanged for being thieves,
            But thou, poor beast! wast killed for eating leaves.

24th. I received instructions from Washington respecting recent murders of Chippewas by the Sioux. This is a constantly recurring topic for the action of an Indian agent. Unfortunately, his powers in the matter are only advisory. The intercourse act does not declare it a crime for one Indian nation to make reprisals, club in hand, on another Indian nation, on the area in which their sovereignty is acknowledged. It only makes it a criminal offence to kill a white man in such a position, for which his nation can be invaded, and the murderer seized and delivered up to justice.

28th. Ottawance, chief of the Beaver Islands, died last summer (1834). Kin-wa-be-kiz-ze, or Man of the Long Stone (noun inanimate), called to day, and announced himself as the successor, and asked for the usual present of tobacco, &c. By this recognition of the office, his authority was sought to be confirmed.

29th. Dr. Julius, of Prussia, visited me, being on his return from Chicago. He evinced a deep interest in the history of the Indian race. He remarked the strong resemblance they bore in features and manners to the Asiatics. He had remarked that the Potawattomies seem like dogs, which he observed was also the custom of the Tartars; but that the eyes of the latter were set diagonally, whereas the American Indians had theirs parallel. In other respects, he saw great resemblances. He expressed himself as greatly interested in the discovery of an oral literature among the Indians, in the form of imaginative legends.

Gen. Robert Patterson, of Philadelphia, with his daughter and niece, make a brief visit, on their way from Chicago and the West, and view the curiosities of the island. These visits of gentlemen of wealth, to the great area of the upper lakes, may be noticed as commencing with this year. People seem to have suddenly waked up in the East, and are just becoming aware that there is a West--to which they hie, in a measure, as one who hunts for a pleasant land fancied in dreams. But the great Mississippi Valley is a waking reality. Fifty years will tell her story on the population and resources of the world.

Sept. 12th. Received instructions from the Department, to ascertain whether the Indians north of Grand River would sell their lands, and on what terms. The letter to which this was a reply was the first official step in the causes which led to the treaty of March 28th, 1836. A leading step in the policy of the Department respecting the tribes of the Upper Lakes.

15th. The great lakes can no longer be regarded as solitary seas, where the Indian war-whoop has alone for so many uncounted centuries startled its echoes. The Eastern World seems to be alive, and roused up to the value of the West. Every vessel, every steamboat, brings up persons of all classes, whose countenances the desire of acquisition, or some other motive, has rendered sharp, or imparted a fresh glow of hope to their eyes. More persons, of some note or distinction, natives or foreigners, have visited me, and brought me letters of introduction this season, than during years before. Sitting on my piazza, in front of which the great stream of ships and commerce passes, it is a spectacle at once novel, and calculated to inspire high anticipations of the future glory of the Mississippi Valley.

Oct. 5th. Washington Irving responds, in the kindest terms, to my letter transmitting some manuscript materials relative to the Indian history.

12th. Mr. Green, of Boston, wrote me on the 8th instant unfavorably to the stability of the Christian character of my friend Otwin, whom I had recommended to the Board for employment in the missionary field in Lake Superior, in connection with the missionary family at La Pointe. Mr. S. Hall, the head of that Mission, writes (Oct. 12th): "I am glad that the providence of God directed (him) this way, and trust his coming into this region will be for the interest of Zion's Kingdom here. He appears to be a man of faith and prayer. I trust he will be the means of stirring up to more diligence in the service of our Master." What greater aid could be given to a lone far off Indian mission, than "a man of faith and prayer." When an observer in the vast panorama of the West and North has seen a poor missionary and his family, living five-hundred miles from the nearest verge of civilization, solitary and desolate, surrounded with heathen red men, and worse than heathen white men, with none out of his little circle to honor God or appreciate his word, it is presumable to him that any reinforcement of help must be hailed as cold water to a parched tongue. Not that there is any supposed difference of opinion on the main question, between the Head and the forest hands, so to say, of the Board, but it is difficult, at Boston, to appreciate the disheartening circumstances surrounding the missionary in the field. And any youthful instability, or eccentricity of means in the way of advancing the Gospel, should be forgiven, for the cause, after years of experience, and not written against "a man of faith and prayer," as it appears to have been by the pastor of Middleburgh, as with a pen of iron.

14th. Pendonwa, son of Wahazo, a brother of the Ottawa chief, Wing, reports himself as electing to become "an American," and says he had so declared himself to Col. Boyd, the former Indian agent.

27th. Dr. C.R. Gilman, of New York, having, with Major M. Hoffman, of Wall Street, paid me a visit and made a picturesque "trip to the Pictured Rocks of Lake Superior," writes me after his safe return to the city, piquing himself on that adventure, after having exchanged congratulations with his less enterprising cityloving friends. It was certainly an event to be booked, that two civilians so soldered down to the habits of city life in different lines as the Doctor and the Major, should have extended their summer excursion as far as Michilimackinack. But it was a farther evidence of enterprise, and the love of the picturesque, that they should have taken an Indian canoe, and a crew of engagees, at that point, and ventured to visit the Pictured Rocks in Lake Superior. "Life on the Lakes" (the title of Dr. G.'s book) was certainly a widely different affair to "Life in New York."

31st. Circumstances had now inclined the Chippewa and Ottawa tribes of Indians to cede to the United States a portion of their extensive territory. Game had failed in the greater part of it, and they had no other method of raising funds to pay their large outstanding credits to the class of traders, and to provide for an interval of transition, which must indeed happen, in view of their future improvement, between the hunter and agricultural state.

The Drummond Island band had, for a year or two, advocated a sale. The Ottawas of the peninsula determined to send a delegation to Washington on the subject. I could not hesitate as to the course which duty proscribed to me, under these important circumstances, and determined to proceed to Washington, although the Secretary and acting Governor of the Territory, Mr. Horner, on being consulted by letter, refused his assent to this step. His want of proper information on the subject, being but recently come to the territory, did not appear to be such as to justify me in remaining on the island, while the question had been carried by the Indians themselves to, and was, probably, to be decided at Washington before another season. I determined, therefore, to proceed to Washington, taking one of the latest vessels for the season, on their return from the ports on Lake Michigan.

Nov. 2d. Mr. Featherstonehaugh writes to me from Galena, on his return from his geological reconnoisance in the north-west, sketching some of the leading events of his progress:--

"Desirous of giving you a passing notice of my progress, I make time, a few moments' leisure, to say that, when I had entered the Terre Bleu River, which you remember is that tributary of the St. Peter's I was anxious to visit, I found I could not penetrate to the Coteau de Prairie from that quarter, and no resource was left to me but to return, or go about three hundred miles higher up, where I was aware I should meet a pretty insolent set of fellows amongst the Yanktons and Tetons. The Sioux, who had committed pretty bad Indian murders amongst the Chippewas, were in great numbers about Lac qui Parle, and there was no avoiding them. However, it was in the line of the duty I had undertaken, and I was willing to run some risks to see them. They were a precious set when I got to them, but by prudence and presents I got along with them, and, having began to sputter a little Sioux, I took courage, left my canoe and men there, and took a guide and interpreter and pushed on to Lac Traverse, and from thence to Coteau de Prairie, the head waters of the St. Peter's, and to within four days' march of the Mandan Village, Here I wheeled about back, afraid of winter. Indeed, on my arrival at Lac Traverse, the weather was bitterly cold, and wood and water were sometimes found with great difficulty, in the intermediate prairies. The day I left Fort Snelling, the thermometer was very low, the snow six or eight inches deep on the ground; in fact it was quite winter, and all were of opinion, at the fort, that ice would form and drive in a few days.

"I found Mr. Keating's account of the Mississippi, and especially of the St. Peter's, most surprisingly erroneous, and old Jonathan Carver's book, which he is constantly denouncing, very accurate.

"I ascertained, to my perfect satisfaction, the termination of the horizontal beds of sandstone of carboniferous limestone formation, and came upon the outcrop of the adjacent granite, just where I expected to find the primary rocks."

"You will greatly oblige me by communicating to me your opinion, approximatively, of the course held by the primary rocks south of Lake Superior, as far as you are acquainted with it, or with the edges of the secondary rocks, which have a junction line with, or near them. I found no primary rocks on my way from Green Bay to Prairie du Chien. The rocks in place at Fort Winnebago, are secondary sandstone of the carboniferous series."

2d. The question of "inscriptions" on rocks by the aborigines has recently attracted some attention. Dr. Thomas H. Webb, of Providence, Rhode Island, in a letter of this date, notifying me of my election as an honorary member of the Rhode Island Historical Society, calls my attention to this subject. "In your last work," he remarks, "you allude to some hieroglyphics on a tree. Have you particularly examined any on rocks; and if so, were they mere paintings, or were they inscribed thereon? If the latter, in what manner do they appear to have been done--pecked in with a pointed instrument, or chizzled out? Are they simply representations of men and animals, without method in their arrangement, or combinations of these, with other characters bearing evidence of greater design? Will you be kind enough to furnish me with the locations of those with which you are acquainted? Is it possible for me to procure drawings of them? Do you know any one living near such rocks, whom I could hire to take copies of them, and upon the accuracy of whose work reliance can be placed?

"I do not wish finished views--correct drawings of the characters with a pen will be amply sufficient for my purposes; although I should not object to outlines of the rocks themselves. I would also ask if some of the 'relics of things that have passed away,' which are found so abundantly in the west, e.g., articles of pottery, iron and copper implements, &c., can be procured by purchase, or in the way of exchange for minerals, or in some other way?"

Imprimis--no "iron" implements have ever been found. Secondly, no observations not made by an antiquarian can be relied on.

9th. I embarked for Detroit, on board a schooner under command of an experienced navigator (Capt. Ward), just on the eve, unknown to us, of a great tempest, which rendered that season memorable in the history of wrecks on the great lakes. We had scarcely well cleared the light-house, when the wind increased to a gale. We soon went on furiously. Sails were reefed, and every preparation made to keep on our way, but the wind did not admit of it. The captain made every effort to hug the shore, and finally came to anchor in great peril, under the highlands of Sauble. Here we pitched terribly, and were momently in peril of being cast on shore. In the effort to work the ship, one of the men fell from the bowsprit, and passed under the vessel, and was lost. It was thought that our poor little craft must go to the bottom; it seemed like a chip on the ocean contending against the powers of the Almighty. It seemed as if, agreeably to Indian fable, Ishkwondameka himself was raising a tempest mountain high for some sinister purposes of his own. But, owing to the skill of the old lake mariner, we eventually triumphed. He never faltered in the darkest exigency. For a day and night he struggled against the elements, and finally entered the straits at Fort Gratiot, and he brought us safely into the port of our destination.

On reaching Detroit, the lateness of the season admonished me to lose no time in making my way over the stormy Erie to Buffalo, whence I pursued my journey to New York. I reached the latter city the day prior to the great fire, in December. I took lodgings at the Atlantic Hotel, which is near the foot of Broadway, and immediately west of the great scene of conflagration. The cold was so bitter while the fire raged that I could not long endure the open air, which seemed to be surcharged with oxygen. I reached Philadelphia the 19th, and Washington a day or two after.

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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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