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Treaty of Butte des Morts

Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians

Treaty of Butte des Morts--Rencontre of an Indian with grizzly bears--Agency site at Elmwood--Its picturesque and sylvan character--Legislative council of the Territory--Character of its parties, as hang-back and toe-the-marks--Critical Reviews--Christmas.

1827. August 11th.--The treaty of Butte des Morts was signed this day. It completes the system of Indian boundaries, which was commenced by the treaty of Prairie du Chien, on the 19th of August, 1825, and continued by the treaty of Fond du Lac of the 5th of August, 1826. These three conferences, which may, from their having been concluded in the month of August of the respective years, be called the Augustic treaties, embody a new course and policy for keeping the tribes in peace, and are founded on the most enlarged consideration of the aboriginal right of fee simple to the soil. They have been held exclusively at the charges and expenses of the United States, and contain no cession of territory.

As soon as it was signed I embarked for Green Bay, on a gloomy, drizzling day, and pursued my way to Michilimackinac and the Sault, without a moment's loss of time. I found the place still active, and filled with the summer visiting parties of Indians from the Lake Superior, the Upper Mississippi, and even from Pembina and the plains of Red River of the North.

Among the latter I observed a small and lithe Indian called Annamikens, or Little Thunder, also called Joseph, whose face had been terribly lacerated in a contest on the plains west of Pembina, with grizzly bears. The wounds were now closed, but the disfiguration was permanent. He told me the following story of the affair:--

The Sioux, Chippewas, Assinaboines, Crees, and Mandans, called by him in general Miggaudiwag, which means fighters, were at variance. About 400 half-breeds and 100 Chippewas went out from Pembina to make peace, and hunt the buffalo.

On the fourth day's march they reached the open plains, and met a large body of Assinaboines and Crees encamped. Their camp was fixed on eligible ground, and the lodges extended across the plain. Annamikens and his followers encamped with them. After they had encamped, they observed every hour during the night that fresh arrivals of Assinaboines and Crees took place. On the third day of their encampment he was sent for to Cuthbert Grant's tent, where he found a large circle of Indians formed, and all things in readiness for a council of the three nations, Assinaboines, Chippewas, and Crees. Grant was the trader of the Pembina metifs, and had followed them out. In the centre of the ring, buffalo robes were spread, and he with others was given a seat there. The object of this council was to decide upon a plan to attack a body of 200 Sioux lodges, which had been discovered at half a day's ride on horseback distant. The principal chiefs, &c., were agreed as to the propriety of an attack. He was asked to unite with them. He said he felt not only for the chiefs and young men, but also for the women and children, hereby expressing his dissent. Two of the principal chiefs stood up, each holding a pipe. He was then asked to take one of the pipes and hand it to the bravest man, giving him the power to elect the war chief. He gave it to one he knew to be brave.

This chief had no sooner received it than he presented it to Francis, his brother, to hand it round, thereby hoping that he would not refuse to smoke the war-pipe when handed by his brother. He took the pipe in both hands and smoked, then handed it to his brother, who also smoked it, and handed it to a chief who stood next to him, and it went round. He said, however, after smoking, "I do not consent to go to war, I am against it." After some talk the council broke up, it beginning to be late. At night he heard that some movement was on foot. He went to the quarter of the camp indicated, and used his influence against the plan. He had scarcely reached his tent when other reports of a like nature were brought from various parts of the camp, and he was most of the night busied in controverting the war spirit.

In the morning he made a descent through the camp, speaking openly against the meditated attack on the Sioux, and concluded by saying that for himself and the metifs, he had one thing to say, that they wished to preserve peace with all, and they should join and fight for the nation first attacked, and against whoever might raise a war-club. About 100 Crees, however, were determined to go, and in about four hours the whole camp was broken up and dispersed. He broke up his camp rather in anger, mounted his horse, put his family in the cart, and set out for home. Many followed him. Francis, not seeing his brother go, also set out, and many followed him, a greater number in fact than had followed Joseph. At night the hunters from each party met, and they found the two parties had traveled the same distance. On hearing this Francis sent a despatch in the morning to his brother, but they found he had departed, and, the country being a grassy plain, they could not exactly tell their course.

Meantime Joseph and his party had reached a point of woods, being the first woods seen since leaving Pembina, at about nine o'clock in the morning. Here they encamped at this early hour. He caught two wild geese, and told his wife to cook them. His followers all dispersed to hunt buffalo, as they were plenty about. He then put a new flint in his gun, and stripped himself all but his breech-cloth, and went out to explore the route he should pass on the next day.

He came into a ravine, and discovered three white bears' lairs fresh, saw several carcasses of buffaloes lying round, more or less eaten and decayed, and smelt quite a stench from them. One particularly was fresh killed, and partly eaten by the bears. He passed on across a brook, and after looking farther returned to the lairs. On returning to the brook he found several sticks in the way of his passage for the carts on the following day, which he commenced removing, having set his gun against a tree. One stick being larger than the rest, some exertion was necessary to displace it, and while in the act of doing this he heard a noise of some animal, and saw at a distance what he took to be a buffalo, as these animals were plenty, and running in all directions. He then took up his gun and went on, when the sounds were repeated close behind him, and looking over his shoulder he saw three white bears in full pursuit of him.

He turned, cocked his gun, and took deliberate aim at the head of the foremost, which proved to be the dam, and his gun missed fire. He re-cocked his piece and again snapped. At this moment the bear was so near that the muzzle nearly touched it. He knows not exactly how the bear struck him, but at the next moment his gun flew in one direction and he was cast about ten feet in another. He lit on his feet. The bear then raised on her paws and took his head in her mouth, closing her jaws, not with force, but just sufficient to make the tusks enter the top of his shoulders. He at this moment, with the impulse of fear, put up his hands and seized the bear by her head, and, making a violent exertion, threw her from her balance to one side; in the act of falling she let go his head.

At this time one of the cubs struck his right leg, being covered with metasses of their leather, and drew him down upon the ground, and he fell upon his right side, partly on his right arm. The right arm, which was extended in falling, was now drawn under his body by another blow from one of the cubs, and his hand was by this motion brought into contact with the handle of his knife (a large couteau used for cutting up buffalo-meat), and this bringing the knife to his recollection, he drew it, and struck a back-handed blow into the right side of the dam, whom he still held by the hair with his left. The knife went in to the hilt. On withdrawing it, one of the cubs struck his right hand, her nails piercing right through it in several places. He then let go of the dam and took the knife in his left hand, and made a pass at the cub, and struck it about half its length, the knife going into it, it being very bloody. The stroke was impeded, and the knife partly slipped. The left arm was then struck by one of the cubs, and the knife dropped from his grasp. He was now left with his naked hand to make such resistance as he could. The dam now struck him upon the abdomen with a force that deprived him for awhile of breath, and tore it open, so that when he rose his bowels fell upon his knees. He at first supposed that it was his powder-horn that had fallen upon his knees, but looking down, saw his entrails. The dam then repeated her blow, striking him upon the left cheek, the forenail entering just below the left eye, and tore out the cheek-bone, a part of the jaw, including three teeth, maimed his tongue, and tore down the flesh so that it hung upon his left shoulder.

He now fell back exhausted with the loss of blood, and being conquered, the bears ceased to molest him. But consciousness was not gone; he heard them walk off. He lay some time. He opened and shut his hands, and found he had not lost the use of them. He moved his neck, and found it had its natural motion. He then raised himself up into a sitting posture, and gathering up some grass, put it first to his left eye and cheek to wipe off the blood, but found that it struck the bone. He then passed it to his right cheek, wiped down the blood, and opening his eye, found he could see clearly. He saw his gun, powder-horn, and knife scattered about. He then got up, having bound his wounds.

He had at this time no clothing upon his body but the moccasin upon his left foot. He took his gun, re-primed it, and while in the act of priming, heard the peculiar noise this animal utters, and turning, saw the old bear close upon him. He put the muzzle into her mouth, and again missed fire. All hope now was lost, and all idea of resistance. They pawed and tore him at will, he knows not how long. At one time they seized him by the neck and dragged him some distance. They then once more left him.

After they left him, he lay some time. He then bethought himself that possibly he might still be able to rise and return to his camp, which was not distant. After some exertion and preparation, he got up, and again took his gun and powder-horn and knife. He picked the flint, addressing his gun, saying, "that the bears could not kill it, and that he hoped the gun would have more courage," &c., and putting it on his shoulder, commenced his way to his camp.

He had not proceeded far when the snorting of the old dam before him reminded him of his danger. He found his limbs stiff and swollen, and that he could not bring up the gun to his shoulder to take aim. He held it before him, and when the dam, still in front, advanced near him, fired at her head, and the ball entered just behind the shoulder. She fell dead. He saw the smoke issue from the wound.

One of the yearlings now rose on his hind paws and growled. He raised his knife (which was in his left hand, upon which the gun rested on firing), and made a pass at the bear, which the latter avoided by throwing himself to one side. The third bear now rose up before him, but at a greater distance than the second, and he made a pass at him, but found him out of reach. Yet the bear threw himself to one side, as the former had done.

Having them now on the run, he followed a short distance, but soon felt very faint. A darkness seemed before his eyes, and he sank down. In this act the blood gushed from his body. This appeared to relieve him. After sitting some time, he rose and proceeded homeward. He saw no more of the two yearling bears. Before reaching the lodge, he was met by a party who had been seeking him. As he walked along, he felt something striking the calf of his right leg, and found it to be a piece of flesh from his thigh behind. There were six open holes in his body through which air escaped, one in each side, one in his breast, abdomen, and stomach, besides the torn cheek. He found, on reaching home, he could not speak, but, after being bandaged, his utterance revived. On the next day the physician from the forks of Red River arrived and attended him.

20th. Annamikens resumed his narrative:--

"On the next day, I have said, the doctor arrived, but not having medicine sufficient to dress all my wounds, he put what he had on the principal wounds. On the same day my brother and the party who had separated on the council-ground also arrived. They remained that and the next day, and on the third day all moved for Pembina. To carry me they constructed a litter, carried by four persons; but I found the motion too great to endure. They then formed a bier by fastening two poles to a horse's sides, and placing such fixtures upon them, behind the horse, as to permit my being carried. I found this motion easier to endure. The Chippewas accompanied me, and were resolved, if I died, to go immediately to war against the Sioux. My condition was, at this moment, such that they hourly expected my death. I was prepared for it, and directed that I should be buried at the spot where I might die. On the third day we reached Pembina. For nine days I resisted food, feigning that I could not eat, but wishing to starve myself, as I was so disfigured and injured that I had no wish to survive, and would have been ashamed to show myself in such a state. On the ninth day my hunger was so great that I called for a piece of fish, and swallowed it; in about two hours after I called for another piece of fish, and also ate it. Six days after my arrival, Mr. Plavier, and another priest from Red River, arrived to baptize me. I resisted, saying that if there was no hope of living I would consent, but not otherwise. After fifteen days, I was so much recovered that the priest returned, as I had every appearance of recovery. I would neither permit white nor Indian doctors to attend me after my arrival; but had myself regularly washed in cold water, my wounds kept clean, and the bandages properly attended to. In about one month from the time I could walk; but it was two years before the wounds were closed."

I requested Dr. Z. Pitcher, the Post surgeon, to examine Annamikens, with a view to test the narrative, and to determine on the capacity of the human frame to survive such wounds. He found portions of the cheek-bones gone, and cicatrices of fearful extent upon that and other parts of the body, which gave the narrative the appearance of truthfulness.

On returning from Green Bay, I gave my attention, with renewed interest, to the means of expediting the completion of the Agency buildings, and occupying the lot and grounds. I have alluded to the success of my reference of this subject to the Secretary of War, in 1825. A site was selected on a handsomely elevated bank of the river, covered with elms, about half a mile east of the fort, where the foundation of a spacious building and office were laid in the autumn of 1826, and the frame raised as early in the ensuing spring as the snow left the ground.

Few sites command a more varied or magnificient view. The broad and limpid St. Mary, nearly a mile wide, runs in front of the grounds. The Falls, whose murmuring sound falls pleasantly on the ear, are in plain view. The wide vista of waters is perpetually filled by canoes and boats passing across to the opposite settlement on the British shore. The picturesque Indian costume gives an oriental cast to the moving panorama. The azure mountains of Lake Superior rise in the distance. Sailing vessels and steamboats from Detroit, Cleaveland, and Buffalo, occasionally glide by, and to this wide and magnificent view, as seen by daylight, by sunset, and by moonlight, the frequent displays of aurora borealis give an attraction of no ordinary force.

In selecting this spot, I had left standing a large part of the fine elms, maples, mountain ash, and other native forest trees, and the building was, in fact, embowered by tall clumps of the richest foliage. I indulged an early taste in horticulture, and planting trees to add to the natural attractions of the spot, which, from the chief trees upon it, was named "Elmwood," and every flowering plant and fruit that would thrive in the climate, was tried. Part of the grounds were laid down in grass. Portions of them on the water's edge that were low and quaggy, were sowed with the redtop, which will thrive in very moist soil, and gives it firmness. The building was ample, containing fifteen rooms, including the office, and was executed, in all respects, in the best modern style.

In addition to these arrangements for insuring domestic comfort and official respect, my agency abroad among the tribes was now well established, to the utmost sources of the Mississippi. The name and power of "Chimoqemon" (American) among the northern tribes, was no longer a term of derision, or uncertainty of character. The military post established at these ancient falls, where the power of France was first revealed as early as 1652; the numerous journeys I had made into the interior, often in company with the highest civil and military functionaries; the presents annually issued; the firm basis of a commissariat for all visiting and indigent Indians; the mechanics employed for their benefit; the control exercised over the fur traders, and the general effects of American opinions and manners; had placed the agency in the very highest point of view. It was a frontier agency, in immediate juxtaposition with Canada and Hudson's Bay, fifteen hundred miles of whose boundary closed upon them, separated only by the chain of lakes and rivers. Questions of national policy frequently came up, and tended much to augment the interest, which grew out of the national intercourse.

I had now attained that position of repose and quiet which were so congenial to my mind. The influence I exercised; the respect I enjoyed, both as an officer and as a scientific and literary man: every circumstance, in fact, that can add to the enjoyment of a man of moderate desires, seeking to run no political race, was calculated to insure my happiness. And I was happy. No part of my life had so completely all the elements of entire contentment, as my residence at the wild and picturesque homestead of Elmwood. I removed my family to this spot in October, having now a little daughter to enlarge my family circle, and take away, in a measure, the solitariness effected by the loss of my son, William Henry.

I resumed my Indian researches with twofold interest. The public duties of an agent for Indian affairs, if an industrious man, leave him a good deal of leisure on his hands, and, in a position so remote as this, if a man have no inclination for studies or belles lettres, he must often be puzzled to employ his leisure. I amused myself by passing from one literary study to another, and this is ever refreshing to the mind, which tires of one thing. Thus, such amusements as the Appeal of Pontiac, Rise of the West, and the Man of Bronze, found place among graver matters. In this manner, a man without literary society may amuse and instruct himself.

Nov. 1st. I have been elected a member of the Legislative Council of the territory--an office not solicited, and which is not declined. Party spirit has not yet reached and distracted this territory. So far as I know, political divisions of a general character, have not entered into society. The chief magistrate is an eminently conservative man, and by his moderation of tone and suavity of manners, has been instrumental in keeping political society in a state of tranquillity. All our parties have been founded on personal preference. If there has been any more general principles developed in the legislature, it has been a promptly debt paying, and a not promptly debt paying party--a non divorce, and a divorce party. I have been ever of the former class of thinkers; and shall let my votes tell for the right and good old way--i.e. pay your debts and keep your wife.

Dec. 22d. My study of the Indian language and history has not only enlarged my own sources of intellectual gratification, but it has, without my seeking it, procured me a number of highly intellectual philosophic correspondents, whose letters operate as an aliment to further exertion. My natural assiduity is thus continually stimulated, and I find myself begrudging a single hour, spent in gossiping hum-drum society--for even here there is society, or an apology for society.

The editor of the North American Review, inviting me to write for its pages, says (Sept. 1st): "Your knowledge and experience will enable you to say much concerning the western country, and its aboriginal inhabitants, which will be interesting to the community of readers. You cannot be too full in your facts and reflections on Indians and Indian character."

Judge H. Chipman, of Detroit, says (Oct. 21st): "If it were just cause of offence, that men should estimate differently the merits of opposing candidates, popular elections would be the greatest curse that could be inflicted upon a people."

Mr. Everett (Hon. E.) says: "I beg leave to unite with Mr. Sparks in expressing the hope that you will become a contributor to its pages (North American Review), as often as your leisure, the seasonableness of topics, and the appearance of works to be noticed, may admit."

24th. This day brought one of Mr. Johnston's warm-hearted notes, to take a Christmas dinner with him to-morrow. "I anticipate," he says, "great pleasure in seeing many dear relatives about me, on one of the greatest festivals the world has ever witnessed."

It was the last festival of that kind he ever enjoyed, though nothing could be further from our imaginations then; for before its recurrence in 1828, we were called to follow his body to the grave.

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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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