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Site of an Ancient Indian Village

Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians

Visit to Isle Rond--Site of an ancient Indian village--Ossuarie--Indian prophet--Traditions of Chusco and Yon respecting the ancient village and bone deposit--Indian speech--Tradition of Mrs. La Fromboise respecting Chicago--Etymology of the name--Origin of the Bonga family among the Chippewas--Traditions of Viancour--Of Nolan--Of the chief Aishquagonaibe, and of Sagitondowa--Evidences of antique cultivation on the Island of Mackinack--View of affairs at Washington--The Senate an area of intellectual excitement--A road directed to be cut through the wilderness from Saginaw--Traditions of Ossaganac and of Little Bear Skin respecting the Lake Tribes.

1834. May 1st. At last "the winter is gone and past," and the voice of the robin, if not of the "turtle," begins to be heard in the land. The whole day is mild, clear, and pleasant, notwithstanding a moderate wind from the east. The schooner "Huron" comes in without a mail--a sad disappointment, as we have been a long time without one.

I strolled up over the cliffs with my children, after their return from school at noon, to gather wild flowers, it being May-day. We came in with the spring beauty, called miscodeed by the Indians, the adder's tongue, and some wild violets.

The day being fine and the lake calm, I visited the Isle Rond--the locality of an old and long abandoned village. On landing on the south side, discovered the site of an ancient Indian town--an open area of several acres, with graves and boulder grave stones. Deep paths had been worn to the water. The graves had inclosures, more or less decayed, of cedar and birch bark, and the whole had the appearance of having been last occupied about seventy years ago. Yet the graves were, as usual, east and west. I discovered near this site remains of more ancient occupancy, in a deposit of human bones laid in a trench north and south. This had all the appearance of one of the antique ossuaries, constructed by an elder race, who collected the bones of their dead periodically. The Indians call this island Min-nis-ais, Little Island. Speaking of it, the local termination ing is added.

During the day the old Indian prophet Chusco came in, having passed the winter at Chingossamo's village on the Cheboigan River, accompanied by an Indian of that village, who calls himself Yon, which is probably a corruption of John, for he says that his father was an Englishman, and his mother a Chippewa of St. Mary's.

Chusco and Yon concur in stating that the old town on Round Island was Chi Naigow's, where he and Aishquonaibee's1 father ruled. It was a large village, occupied still while the British held old Mackinack, and not finally abandoned until after the occupancy of the island-post. It consisted of Chippewas. Chi Naigow afterwards went to a bay of Boisblanc, where the public wharf now is, where he cultivated land and died2.

These Indians also state, that at the existence of the town on Round Island, a large Indian village was seated around the present harbor of Mackinack, and the Indians cultivated gardens there. Yon says, that at that time there was a stratum of black earth over the gravel, and that it was not bare gravel as it is now3. (He is speaking of the shores of the harbor.)

Yon says that a man, called Sagitondowa, is now living at Chingassamo's village, who once lived in Chi Naigow's village at Minnissais--and that he is about his age. Yon was about seventy. He further says that the traverse to Old Mackinack was made directly from the old town, on Round Island, and that it was from thence they-went over to get rum.

Chusco made the following speech: "Nosa, when I first spoke to you it was at the camp of the Strong Wind (Gen. Wayne). You then told me that I should not be troubled with the smoke, (meaning intrusion from settlement.) It was said to me that a place should be provided by our Great Father for us. My home was then at Waganukizzi, the place of the crotched tree (L'Arbre Croche).

"About twenty men had the courage to go, and united in the treaty. Chemokoman was one of them. The old chief Niskauzhininna did not go. He was afraid of the Americans. I carried my ancient implements, which you know I have forever laid aside. (He was the Seer.)

"The English did not come up to their promises. The land was lost. The posts were lost. They were all given up, and we only were the sufferers. Hard is our fate.

"Strong Wind said to the chiefs that there should be a place for the old and disabled, where they should have food. We were absent at this treaty all summer. We came back late in the fall."

"Forty winters have past. I am poor and old, and cannot go about any more. Look at me. I want a house and a shelter. Tell me, shall I have it?4"

2d. Having, on the 19th of April, called the attention of Mrs. La Fromboise, an aged Metif lady, to the former state of things here, she says that the post of Chicago was first established under English rule, by a negro man named Pointe aux Sables, who was a respectable man.

The etymology of Chicago appears to be this:--

Chi-cag, Animal of the Leek or Wild Onion. Chi-cag-o-wunz, The Wild Leek or Pole-cat Plant. Chi-ca-go, Place of the Wild Leek.

She also says that Captain Robinson, while commanding at Mackinack, discharged a negro servant named Bonga, who afterwards, with his wife, purchased the house and lot in which Mr. Wendell now lives (the old red house next Dousman's, south), where he kept a tavern, and maintained a respectable character. He afterwards sold out and went to Detroit, and lived with Mr. Meldrum.

She adds: "The son of this Bonga was the late Bonga, who died as a comme, at Lake Winnepec, of the Fond du Lac Department. The present Stephen Bonga of Folleavoine, a trustworthy trader, is the grandson of this Bonga--Robinson's freed slave. His connections are Chippewas, and all speak the Chippewa language fluently."

Having seen and known this Bonga, the grandson, I was led to remark that climate and intermarriage have had little or no appreciable effect on the color of the skin.

The traditions of Mr. Viancourt, one of the oldest French residents of Point St. Ignace, who visited the office (24th April), relate that he was born the year Montreal was taken, 1759. That Mackinack (the island) was first occupied four years after.

He further says that Gov. Sinclair built a small fort on Black River, and that he gave his name to that part of the straits which have since been called St. Clair5. Says he has been on the island forty-seven years, consequently came in 1788.

The late Mr. J.B. Nolin, of Sault St. Marie, remarked to John Johnson, Esq., that Governor Sinclair came up with troops the year after the massacre at old Mackinack; and that he landed with a broad belt of wampum in his hands.

Aishkwagon-ai-bee, or the feather of honor, first chief of the Chippewas of Grand Traverse Bay, Lake Michigan, says that the Nadowas (Iroquois) formerly lived at Point St. Ignace--that they fell out with the Chippewas and Ottawas on a certain day, at a ball-playing, when a Chippewa was killed. Hereupon, the Chippewas and Ottawas united their strength and drove them away, destroying their village.

The Chippewas and Ottawas then divided the land by natural boundaries. Grand Traverse Bay fell to the Chippewas.

Another Indian tradition respecting the old village on Isle Rond, was gleaned:--

Sagitondowa visits the office: he says he lacks one year of fifty. His earliest recollections are of the old village on Round Island. It was then (say 1783, the close of the American Revolutionary War) a large village, and nearly half the island in cultivation. It was not finally abandoned until lately.

Having his attention called to the deposit of old bones exposed by the action of the lake, he finally said he knew not how they came there; that they must be of ancient date, and were probably of the same era with the bones in the caves of the island of Mackinack. He said when he was young there was no village on that part of the bay of Mackinack situated between the old Government house, and the present Catholic church. This was formerly a cedar swamp. There was a village near Porkman's (Mr. Edward Biddle's), and another near the Presbyterian Church.

3d. Seed the borders around the garden lots with clover and timothy, united with oats. Continue to plant in hot-beds, and in the ornamental mound. The "Huron" departs up the lake, the "Austerlitz" returns.

Drove out in my carriage with Mrs. Schoolcraft and children, round the island. I found no traces of snow or ice.

5th. A gale from the east, which began to show itself yesterday.

The schooner "Lady of the Lake" comes in, without a mail. During the afternoon, the wind also brings in the "Marengo," with a mail, and in the night, the "Supply."

6th. Wind from the S.W. and W. Rain, chilly, cloudy.

7th. A complete counterpart of the weather of yesterday.

8th. The same weather in every respect, with light snow flurries. The last four or five days have been most disheartening weather for this season, and retarded gardening. The leaves of the pie plant have been partially nipped by the frost.

9th. Clear and pleasant--wind west. Drove out with Mrs. Schoolcraft and children to see the arched rock, the sugar-loaf rock, Henry's cave, and other prominent curiosities of the island. There are extensive old fields on the eastern part of the island, to which the French apply the term of Grands Jardins. No resident pretends to know their origin. Whether due to the labors of the Hurons or the Wyandots, who are known to have been driven by the Iroquois to this island from the St. Lawrence valley, early in the 17th century; or to a still earlier period, when the ancient bones were deposited in the caves, is not known. It is certain that the extent of the fields evince an agricultural industry which is not characteristic of the present Algonquin race. The stones have been carefully gathered into heaps, as in the little valley near the arched rock, to facilitate cultivation. These heaps of stones, in various places might be mistaken for Celtic cairns.

10th. The schooner "Mariner," our old friend, comes into port with forty emigrants for Chicago. During the evening the "Commerce" and "America" join her.

11th. S. Cold north-west wind, gloomy and cloudy.

12th. A report is received that the President has communicated a protest to the Senate on the expression of their views respecting the removal of the deposits.

I told a party of Ottawas, who applied for food, that their Great Father was not pleased that his bounties should be misused by their employing them merely to further their journeys to foreign agencies, where the counsels they got were such as he could not approve. That hereafter such bounties must not be expected; that the poor and suffering would always find the agency doors open, but I should be compelled to close them to such as turned a deaf ear to his advice, if their practices in visiting these foreign assemblies were persisted in.

13th. A slight snow covers the ground in the morning, it melts soon, but the day is ungenial, with S.W. wind, and cloudy atmosphere.

14th. A powder of snow covers the ground in the north, the wind in the N.W. It varies from N.W. to S.W., and by ten o'clock, A.M., it is pleasant and clear. Plant garden corn, an early species cultivated by the Ottawas.

15th. Cold and clear most of the day.

16th. Young Robert Gravereat first came to the office in the capacity of interpreter. It is a calm and mild day; the sun shines out. The thermometer stands at 50 deg. at 8 o'clock, A.M., and the weather appears to be settled for the season. Miss Louisa Johnston comes to pass the summer.

15th. Ploughed potato land, the backward state of the season having rendered it useless earlier. Even now the soil is cold, and requires to lay some time after being ploughed up.

The steamer "Oliver Newberry" arrives in the afternoon, bringing Detroit dates of May 5th, and Washington dates a week later.

The new brig "John Kinzie" enters the harbor on the 19th, bringing up Gov. D.R. Porter, of Pennsylvania, and suit, with forty passengers.

20th. I may now advert to what the busy world has been about, while we have been watching fields of floating ice, and battling it with the elements through an entire season. A letter from E.A. Brush, Esq., Washington, March 13th, says: "Nothing is talked about here, as I may well presume you know from the papers, but the deposits and their removal, and their restoration; and that frightful mother of all mischief, the money maker (U.S. Bank). Every morning (the morning begins here at twelve, meridian) the Senate chamber is thronged with ladies and feathers, and their obsequious satellites, to hear the sparring. Every morning a speech is made upon presentation of some petition representing that the country is overwhelmed with ruin and disasters, and that the fact is notorious and palpable; or, that the country is highly prosperous and flourishing, and that everybody knows it. One, that its only safety lies in the continuance of the Bank; and the other, that our liberties will be prostrated if it is re-chartered. Of course, the well in which poor truth has taken refuge, in this exigency, is very deep.

"But the Senate is, at this moment, an extraordinary constellation of talent. There is Mr. Webster, and Mr. Clay, and Mr. Calhoun, and a no-way inferior, Mr. Preston, the famous debater in the South Carolina troubles, and Mr. Benj. Watkins Leigh, the equally celebrated ambassador near the government of South Carolina. All are ranged on one side, and it is a phalanx as formidable, in point of moral force, as the twenty-four can produce. Mr. Forsyth is the atlas upon whose shoulders are made to rest all the sins of the administration. Every shaft flies at him, or rather is intended for others through him; and his Ajax shield of seven bull hides is more than once pierced, in the course of the frequent encounters to which he is invited, and from which they will not permit him to secede. But it is all talk. They will do nothing. A constitutional majority in the Senate (two-thirds) is very doubtful, and a bare one in the House, still more problematical. Of course, you are aware that the executive has expressed its unyielding determination not to sign a bill for the re-charter, or to permit a restoration of the deposits.

"Houses are cracking in the cities, as if in the midst of an earthquake, and there is hardly a man engaged in mercantile operations (I might say not one) who will not feel the 'pressure.'"

Major W. Whiting writes from Detroit, March 28th: "I spoke of the project of a road to Mackinack, which you wished me to bear in mind. The Secretary approved the project, and the Quarter-Master General said it might be done without a special appropriation. I was authorized to have the survey made as soon as the season will permit, and an officer has reported to me for that purpose. He will start from Saginaw some time in the next month, to make a reconnoisance of the country, and will appear at the head of the peninsula when perhaps you little expect such a visitor.

"As soon as the survey shall be completed, the cutting out will be put under contract. When this road shall be completed, you will feel more neighborly to us. The express will be able to perform the journey in half the time, and, of course, the trips can be multiplied."

June 4th. Reuben Smith, a Mission scholar of the Algonquin lineage, determines to leave his temporary employment at the agency, and complete his education at the eastward.

5th. Ossiganac, an Ottawa, who was formerly interpreter at the British post at Drummond Island, says that Ottawa tradition points back to the Manitouline Islands, as the place of their origin. They call those islands Ottawa Islands, and Lake Huron Ottawa Lake. They call Lake Superior Chippewa Lake. All the Ottawas, he says, of L'Arbre Croche, Grand River, &c., came from the Ottawa or Manitouline Islands. The French first found them there6.

They migrated down Lake Michigan, and lived with the Potawattomies. After awhile, the Potawattomies growing uneasy of their presence, accused them of using bad medicine, which was the cause of their people dying. The Ottawas replied, that if they were jealous of them, they would retire, and they accordingly withdrew up the peninsula. While in the course of withdrawing, one of their number was killed by the Potawattomies.

6th. Ossiganac, at an interview at my house this afternoon, says that the Ottawas of Maumee, Ohio, sent a message to the Ottawas of L'Arbre Croche, in Governor Hull's time--consequently between 1805 and 1812--saying: "We were originally of one fire, and we wish to come back again to you, that we may all derive heat again from the same fire."

The Ottawas of L'Arbre Croche replied: "True, but you took a coal to warm yourselves by. Now, it will be better that you remain by your own coal, which you saw fit long ago to take from our fire. Remain where you are." From that day the Ottawas of Maumee have said nothing more about joining us.

Now (1834) the Potawattomies come with a request to join our fire. Shall we receive them, when we refused our brethren, who are more nearly related to us? I think not.

7th. The Little Bear Skin, Muk-ons-e-wy-an-ais, of Manistee, inquires respecting the truth of a rumor, that the Potawattomies, since selling their lands at Chicago, are coming to the North, amongst the Ottawas and Chippewas. He deprecates such a movement. Says the habits of the Potawattomies are so different that they would not be satisfied were they to come. Their horses are their canoes. They know nothing of traveling by water; beyond shore navigation. They are sea-sick on the lakes.

Little Bear Skin says he lives on the first forks of the Manistee. Although a Chippewa, he is in the habit of cultivating gardens. He is originally, by his parents, from the North--is related to the St. Mary's and Taquimenon Indians. He himself was born on the Manistee. He is a temperance man.

Cherry trees in full bloom. The steamer "Uncle Sam" enters the harbor, being the first of a line established to Chicago.

9th. Apple and plum trees pretty full in flower.

10th. Mrs. Robert Stuart makes a handsome present of conchological species from foreign localities to be added to my cabinet.

15th. Major Whistler interdicts preaching in the fort. Mr. B. Stuart, having returned recently from the East, resumes the superintendence of the Sabbath School at the Mission, from which I had relieved him in the autumn.

I have written these sketches for my own satisfaction and the refreshment of my memory, in the leading scenes and events of my first winter on the island, giving prominence to the state and changes of the weather, the occurrences among the natives, and the moral, social, and domestic events around me. But the curtain of the world's great drama is now fully raised, by our free commercial and postal union with the region below us; new scenes and topics daily occur, which it would be impossible to note if I tried, and which would be useless if possible. Hereafter my notices must be of isolated things, and may be "few and far between."

1: A Chief of Grand Traverse.

2: His daughter, who was most likely to know, says he died at Manista. See prior part of Journal.

3: At Mackinack, they, in some places, raise potatoes in clean gravel.

4: In the treaty of 28th March, 1836, a dormitory was provided for the Indians visiting the post of Mackinack. Chusco was granted an annuity in coin.

5: Consult Charlevoix's Journal. Is not so, go far as the origin of the name is concerned.

6: This is pretty well for Indian tradition, but is not so, in truth, as Charlevoix's Hist. of New France denotes.

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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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