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Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians
 

25th. It is stated in the newspapers that hacks of an axe were lately found in the central and solid parts of a large tree near Buffalo, which were supposed to have been made by La Salle's party. Other evidences of the early footsteps of Europeans on this continent have been mentioned. A trammel was found in the solid substance of a tree in Onondaga. A gun barrel in a similar position in the Wabash Valley3. Growing wood soon closes over articles left upon it, in the wilderness, where they are long undisturbed.

27th. Monedo is strictly a term belonging to the Indian mythology and necromancy, and is constantly used to indicate a spirit. It has not the regular termination of the noun in win, and seems rather verbal in its aspect, and so far as we can decipher its meaning, mon is a syllable having a bad meaning generally, as in monaudud, &c. Edo may possibly be a derivation from ekedo, he speaks.

28th. It is a year ago to-day since I visited the tomb of Washington, at Mount Vernon. There were three representatives in Congress, in company. We left the city of Washington in the morning, in a private carriage, and drove down in good season. I looked about the tomb narrowly for some memento to bring away, and found some mineralogical fragments on the small mound over the tomb, which would bear the application of their book names. On coming back through Alexandria, we dined at a public hotel, where, among other productions of the season, we had cucumbers. What a contrast in climate to my present position! Here, as the eyes search the fields, heaps of snow are still seen in shaded situations, and the ice still disfigures the bays and indentations of the shore in some places, as if it were animated with a determination to hold out against the power of the sun to the utmost. Nature, however, indicates its great vernal throe. White fish were first taken during the season, this day, which is rare.

29th. A friend at Detroit writes under this date: "I had expected that before now, instructions would have reached here requiring you to repair to the St. Peter's. But as the season advances, and they do not arrive, I begin to fear that one of those mutations, to which of all governments upon this mundane sphere ours is the most exposed, has changed the intended disposition."

May 1st. Winter still holds its grasp upon the ice in the lower part of the river and straits.

The Claytonia Virginica observed in flower in favorable spots.

The bay opposite the fort on the north-west shore cleared of ice on the 2d, being the first day that the river has exhibited the appearance of being completely clear, a strong north-west wind blowing. It is just four months and ten days from the period of its final closing on the 22d of December.

The yellow sparrow, or boblinkin, appeared this day in the woods.

4th. The surface of the earth is undergoing a rapid transformation, although we are, at the same time, led to observe, that "winter lingering chills the lap of May." Sudden changes of temperature are experienced, which are governed very much by the course and changes of the wind. Nature appears suddenly to have been awakened from her torpid state.

All eyes are now directed to the east, not because the sun rises there, but it is the course from which, in our position, we expect intelligence by vessels. We expect a deliverance from our winter's incarceration.

6th. Lake Superior appears to be entirely open. A gentleman attached to the Boundary Survey at Fort William writes to me, under this date, that the bay at that place is free from ice, so as to permit them to resume their operations. They had been waiting for this occurrence for two weeks previously.

8th. It is a year since I received from the President (Mr. Monroe) a commission as agent for these tribes; and it is now more probable than it then was that my residence here may assume a character of permanency. I do not, however, cease to hope that Providence has a more eligible situation in reserve for me.

9th. "Little things," says Dr. Johnson, "are not valued, when they are done by those who cannot do greater." Thomas Jefferson uniformly spelled knowledge without a w, which might not be mentioned, had he not written the Notes on Virginia, and the Declaration of Independence.

10th. A trader proceeded with a boat into Lake Superior, which gives assurance that this great inland sea is open for navigation. White fish appeared in the rapids, which it is said they never do while there is running ice.

11th. Stearn sums up the points requisite for remembrance by posterity, in these four things--"Plant a tree, write a book, build a house, and get a child." Watts has a deeper tone of morality when he says--

            "We should leave our names, our heirs.
                Old time and waning moons sweep all the rest away."

12th. When last at Washington, Dr. Thornton, of the Patent Office, detained me some time talking of the powers of the letters of the English alphabet. He drew a strong line of distinction between the names and the sounds of the consonants. L, for instance, called el, was sounded le, &c.

Philology is one of the keys of knowledge which, I think, admits of its being said that, although it is rather rusty, the rust is, however, a proof of its antiquity. I am inclined to think that more true light is destined to be thrown on the history of the Indians by a study of their languages than of their traditions, or any other feature.

The tendency of modern inquiries into languages seems rather to have been to multiply than to simplify. I do not believe we have more than three mother stocks of languages in all the United States east of the Mississippi, embracing also large portions of territory west of it, namely, the Algonquin, Iroquois, and what may be called Apallachian. Perhaps a little Dakota.

15th. Our first vessel for the season arrived this day. If by a patient series of inquiries, during the winter, we had calculated the appearance of a comet, and found our data verified by its actual appearance, it could not be a subject of deeper interest than the bringing ashore of the ship's mail. Had we not gone to so remote a position, we could not possibly ever have become aware how deeply we are indebted to the genius and discoveries of Cadmus and Faust, whose true worshippers are the corps editorial. Now for a carnival of letters.

Reading, reading, reading, "Big and small, scraps and all."

If editors of newspapers knew the avidity with which their articles are read by persons isolated as we are, I have the charity to believe they would devote a little more time, and exert a little more candor, in penning them. For, after all, how large a portion of all that a newspaper contains is, at least to remote readers, "flat, stale, and unprofitable." The mind soon reacts, and asks if this be valuable news.

I observed the Erythronium dens canis, and Panax trifolium appeared in flower on the 25th.

28th. The schooner "Recovery" arrived from Fort William on the north shore of Lake Superior, bringing letters and despatches, political and commercial. Mr. Siveright, the agent of the H. B. C., kindly sent over to me, for my perusal, a letter of intelligence from an American gentleman in the North.

29th. I have, for some time, relinquished the expectation of being selected to conduct the exploring party, intended to be ordered by government, into the region of the St. Peter's, at least the present season. A letter of this date terminates the uncertainty. "Major Delafield," says a correspondent, "informs me that an exploring party has been ordered under Major Long, to make the tour which was intended for you. Why this arrangement has been made, and the original plan abandoned, I cannot conjecture, unless it resulted from the necessity of placing a military officer at the head of the party. I presume this was the fact, for I am certain that the change in the project did not arise from any feeling in Mr. C.'s mind unfriendly, or even indifferent to you. Upon that subject I can speak definitely, and say to you, that you have a hold upon his esteem, not to be shaken." Thus falls another cherished hope, namely, that of leading an expedition to the North.

30th. Minute particulars are often indicative of general changes. This is the first day that the mosquito has appeared. The weather for a few days has been warm. Vegetation suddenly put forth; the wild cherry, &c., is now in bloom, and gardening has commenced with fine prospects.

31st. Odjibwa language.--There are two generic words in the concrete forms of the Chippewa for water or a liquid, in addition to the common term neebi. They are aubo and gomee. Both are manifestly compounds, but, in our present state of knowledge, they may be temporarily considered as elements of other compounds. Thus, if the letter n be prefixed to the former, and the sound of b suffixed, the result is the term for soup, nabob. If to the same element of aubo, the word for fire, iscoda, be prefixed, the result is their name for ardent spirits, iscodawabo, literally fire-water. In the latter case, the letter w is thrown in as a coalescent between the sound of a, as a in hate; and the a, as a in fall. This is out of a mere regard to euphony.

"If they (the Chippewas) say 'A man loves me,' or 'I love a man,' is there any variation in the word man?" They do not use the word man in either of these instances. The adjective white takes the animate pronoun form in iz zi, by which the object beloved is indicated, waub-ishk-iz-ze Saugiau.

"Does the object precede or follow the verb?" Generally, it precedes the verb. Fish, have you any? not, Have you any fish?

The substantive preceded the verb in the organization of the language. Things were before the motion of things, or the acts or passions of men which led to motion and emotion. Hence, all substances are changed into and used as verbs.

I this day completed and transmitted the results of my philological inquiries, hoping they might prove acceptable to the distinguished individual to whom they were addressed, and help to advance the subject. This subject is only laid aside by the call of business, and to be effectual must be again resumed with the recurrence of our long winter evenings.


3: Hon. R.W. Thompson.


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Personal Memoirs of a Residence of Thirty Years with the Indian Tribes on the American Frontiers, 1851

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