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Rapid Improvement of Michigan

Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians

Value of the equivalent territory granted to Michigan, by Congress, for the disputed Ohio boundary--Rapid improvement of Michigan--Allegan--Indian legend--Baptism and death of Kagoosh, a very aged chief at St. Mary's--New system of writing Indian, proposed by Mr. Nash--Indian names for new towns--A Bishop's notion of the reason for applying to Government for education funds under Indian treaties--Mr. Gallatin's paper on the Indians--The temperance movement.

1836. Oct. 27th. I embarked this day, at Michilimackinack, with my family, for Detroit, to assume the duties of the superintendency at that point. Nothing, demanding notice, occurred on the passage; we reached our destination on the 30th. Political feeling still ran high respecting the terms of admission proposed by Congress to Michigan, and the convention, which recently met at Ann Arbor, refused their assent to these terms, under a mistaken view of the case, as I think, and the lead of rash and heady advisors; for there is no doubt in my mind that the large area of territory in the upper country, offered as an equivalent for the disputed boundary with Ohio, will be found of far greater value and importance to the State than the "seven mile strip" surrendered--an opinion, the grounds of which are discussed in my "Albion" letters. I expressed this opinion in the spring of the year, before the Judiciary Committee of the Senate, where I attended, on the invitation of Hon. Silas Wright, to impart information, which I was supposed to possess, on the geography and natural resources of the Lake Superior region.

Nov. 2d/. Mr. J.G. Palfrey, acting editor of the N.A. Review, invites me to become a contributor to the pages of that standard periodical.

8th. No territory in the Union has required so long, so very long a time for its appreciation, as Michigan, and now, that emigration is freely coming in, it is difficult to estimate the very rapid improvement of places. An instance of the kind occurs in the details of a letter which I have just received. "It may not be amiss," says Mr. A.L. Ely, "to give you a short description of the growth of Allegan. The site was bought at government prices, in the spring of 1833, by two gentlemen now living at Bronson, namely, Anthony Cooly and Stephen Vickery. In November of that year, my father, who was then in Michigan looking for a location, both for him and myself, purchased for me one-third of the property, there being in all about 452 acres of land, for which he paid $1750. In June, 1834, we sent one family from Rochester, who built two log houses, and grubbed the ground for a mill race. In October, 1834, Mr. Sidney Ketchum, as agent for some gentlemen in Boston, purchased all the interests in the property, except those held by me, for something under $5,000.

"The winter of '34 and '35 was spent in making roads, and getting provisions together, and preparing to commence improvements. In April, 1835, we commenced the dam and canal for a double saw mill, which were completed that fall. In May, our plat was laid out in lots. In June, we commenced selling them. We have sold up to this date 175 lots. In June, 1835, the second family came into the place. In November, the first merchant commenced selling goods. In December, we commenced the erection of a small building for a church; it was completed in May, 1836, and a few days after, accidentally burnt down.

"There are now (Nov. 1836) in Allegan three stores, two large taverns, a cupola furnace, a chairmaker's shop, two cabinet shops, two blacksmiths, a shoemaker's shop, a tailor's shop, a school house 20 by 40, costing $1200; about 40 frame buildings, and over 500 people."

10th. I have for many years been collecting from the Indian lodges a species of oral fictitious legends, which attest in the race no little power of imagination; and certainly exhibit them in a different light from any in which they have been heretofore viewed. The Rev. Mr. McMurray, of St. Mary's, transmits me a story of this kind, obtained some two months ago by his wife (who is a descendant, by the mother's side, of Chippewa parents) from one of the natives. This tale impressed me as worthy of being preserved. I have applied to it, from one of its leading traits, the name of "The Enchanted Moccasons." "I have written the story," he remarks, "as near the language in which Charlotte repeated it as possible, leaving you the task to clothe it with such garb as may suit those which you have already collected, or as the substance will merit."

Sept. 7th. Mr. McMurray (who is an Episcopal Missionary at St. Mary's) announces the death of one of the principal and most aged chiefs of the Odjibwas, in that quarter of the country--Kagcosh. "He bade adieu to this world of trouble last evening at sunset. I visited him about two weeks since, and conversed with him on religious subjects, to which he gave the utmost attention, and on that occasion requested me to baptize him. I told him that I was willing to do so whenever I could, without leaving a doubt in my mind as to his preparedness for the rite. I, however, promised, if his mind did not change, to administer it soon. He sent for me the day before he died, and requested me again, without delay, to baptize him, which I did, and have every reason to believe that he understood and felt the necessity of it."

This venerable chief must have been about ninety years of age. His head was white. He was about six feet two inches in height, lithe of form, and long featured, with a grave countenance, and cranial developments of decided intellectuality. He was of the Crane totem, the reigning family of that place, and the last survivor of seven brothers, of whom Shingabowossin, who died in the fall of 1828, was noted as the most distinguished, and as a good speaker. He was entitled to $500, under the treaty of 28th March, as one of the first class chiefs of his nation.

Nov. 2d. Rev. Mr. Nash presented me letters as a missionary to the Chippewas. He had prepared a new set of characters by which to write that language, and presented me a copy of it. Every one is not a Cadmus, and the want of success which has, therefore, attended the efforts at new systems of signs to express sounds, should teach men that it is easier, and there are more practical advantages attending the use of an old and well-known system, like that of the English alphabet, than a new and unknown system, however ingenious and exact. The misfortune is that all attempts of this sort, like new systems of notation with the Roman alphabet, are designed rather to show that their authors are inventive and exact, than to benefit the Indian race. For if an Indian be taught by these systems to read, yet he can read nothing but books prepared for him by this system; and the whole body of English literature, history, and poetry, is a dead letter to him. Above all, he cannot read the English version of the Bible.

23d. A friend asked me to furnish him an aboriginal name for a new town. I gave him the choice of several. He selected Algonac. In this word the particle ac, is taken from ace, land or earth; and its prefixed dissyllable Algon, from the word Algonquin. This system, by which a part of a word is made to stand for, and carry the meaning of a whole word, is common to Indian compound substantives. Thus Wa-we-a-tun-ong, the Algonquin name for Detroit, is made up from the term wa-we, a roundabout course, atun a channel, and ong, locality. Our geographical terminology might be greatly mended by this system. At least repetition, by some such attention to-our geographical names, to the liability of misdirecting letters, might be, to a great extent, avoided.

24th. Mr. Bishop Rese, of the Catholic Church, called to make some inquiry respecting a provision in the late treaty, designed to benefit his church. I had traveled on the lake with the Bishop. He is a short, club nosed, smiling man, of a quizzical physiognomy. He asked me what I supposed was the cause of the press for the treaty appropriations for educations, by Protestant missions. I told him that I supposed the conversion of the souls of the Indians constituted the object of these applications. "Poh! poh!" said he, "it is the money itself."

Dec 19th. Mr. Gallatin's Synopsis of the Indian Tribes is forwarded to me for a review. "The publication," says Mr. Palfrey, "of the second volume of Transactions of the American Antiquarian Society was delayed considerably beyond the time appointed. It was only a week ago that a copy reached me. I transmit it by mail. Should it not reach you within a week after the receipt of this, will you have the goodness to inform me, and I will forthwith let another copy try its fortune."

23d. The temperance movement has excited the community of Detroit this season, as a subject essential to the cause of sound morals. Its importance is undeniable on all hands, but there is always a tendency in new measures of reform, to make the method insisted on a sort of moral panacea, capable of doing all things, to the no little danger of setting up a standard higher than that of the Decalogue itself. In the midst of this tendency to ultraism, the least particle of conservative opinion would be seized upon by its leaders as the want of a thorough acquiescence and heartiness in the cause. Rev. Mr. Cleaveland transmits me a resolution of the "Total Abstinence City Temperance Society," for an address to be delivered in one week. "Do not, do not, do not," he remarks, "say us nay."

I determined to devote two or three winter evenings to gratify this desire.

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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