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Treaty of St. Joseph

Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians

Treaty of St. Joseph--Tanner--Visits of the Indians in distress--Letters from the civilized world--Indian code projected--Cause of Indian suffering--The Indian cause--Estimation of the character of the late Mr. Johnston--Autobiography--Historical Society of Michigan--Fiscal embarrassments of the Indian Department.

1828. Tanner was a singular being--out of humor with the world, speaking ill of everybody, suspicious of every human action, a very savage in his feelings, reasonings, and philosophy of life, and yet exciting commiseration by the very isolation of his position. He had been stolen by the Indians in the Ohio Valley when a mere boy, during the marauding forays which they waged against the frontiers about 1777. He was not then, perhaps, over seven years of age--so young, indeed, as to have forgotten, to a great degree, names and dates. His captors were Saganaw Chippewas, among whom he learned the language, manners and customs, and superstitions of the Indians. They passed him on, after a time, to the Ottowas of L'Arbre Croche, near Mackinac, among whom he became settled in his pronunciation of the Ottowa dialect of the great Algonquin family. By this tribe, who were probably fearful a captive among them would be reclaimed after Wayne's war and the defeat of the combined Indians on the Miami of the Lakes, he was transferred to kindred tribes far in the north-west. He appears to have grown to manhood and learned the arts of hunting and the wild magic notions of the Indians on the Red River of the North, in the territory of Hudson's Bay. Lord Selkirk, in the course of his difficulties with the North-west Company, appears to have first learned of his early captivity.

He came out to Mackinac with the traders about 1825, and went to find his relatives in Kentucky, with whom, however, he could not long live. His habits were now so inveterately savage that he could not tolerate civilization. He came back to the frontiers and obtained an interpretership at the U.S. Agency at Mackinac. The elements of his mind were, however, morose, sour, suspicious, antisocial, revengeful, and bad. In a short time he was out with everybody. He caused to be written to me a piteous letter. Dr. James, who was post surgeon at the place, conceived that his narrative would form a popular introduction to his observations on some points of the Indian character and customs, which was the origin of a volume that was some years afterwards given to the public.

A note he brought me in 1828, from a high source, procured him my notice. I felt interested in his history, received him in a friendly manner, and gave him the place of interpreter. He entered on the duties faithfully; but with the dignity and reserve of an Indian chief. He had so long looked on the dark side of human nature that he seldom or never smiled. He considered everybody an enemy. His view of the state of Indian society in the wilderness made it a perfect hell. They were thieves and murderers. No one from the interior agreed with him in this. The traders, who called him a bad man, represent the Indians as social when removed from the face of white men, and capable of noble and generous acts. He was, evidently, his own judge and his own avenger in every question. I drew out of him some information of the Indian superstitions, and he was well acquainted practically with the species of animals and birds in the northern latitudes.

30th. A letter informs me that a treaty has just been concluded with the Potawattomies of St. Joseph's, who cede to the United States about a million and a half acres, comprising the balance of their lands in Michigan. I received, at the same time, a few lines from Gen. Cass, speaking a word for the captive, John Tanner, the object of which was to suggest his employment as an interpreter in the Indian Department1.

October 31st. The Indian visits, from remote bands, which were very remarkable this year, continued through the entire month of August, and beyond the date at which I dropped the notices of them, during September, when they were reduced, as party after party returned to the interior, to the calls of the ordinary bands living about the post, and, at furthest, to the foot of Lake Superior and the valley and straits of the St. Mary's. With them, or rather before them, went the traders with their new outfits and retinues, chiefly from Michilimackinac. As one after another departed, there was less need of that vigilance, "by night and by day," to see that none of the latter class went without due license; that the foreign boatmen on their descriptive lists were duly bonded for; that no "freedmen" slipped in; and that no ardent spirits were taken in contrary to law. Gradually my public duties were thus narrowed down to the benevolent wants of the bands that were immediately around me, to seeing that the mechanics employed by the Department did their duties, and to keeping the office at Washington duly informed of the occurrences and incidents belonging to Indian affairs. All this, after the close of summer, requires but a small portion of a man's time, and as winter, which begins here the first of November, approached, I felt impelled to devote a larger share of attention to subjects of research or literary amusement. I missed two men in plunging into the leisure hours of my seventh winter (omitting 1825), in this latitude, namely, Mr. Johnston, whose conversation and social sympathies were always felt, and Dr. Pitcher, whose tastes for natural science and general knowledge rendered him a valuable visitor.

Letters from the civilized world tended to keep alive the general sympathies, which none more appreciate than those who are shut out from its circles. Mr. Edward Everett (Oct. 6th) communicates his sentiments favorably, respecting the preparation of an article for the North American Review. The Rev. Mr. Cadle (Oct. 7th) sends a package of Bibles and Prayer Books for distribution among the soldiers, which he entrusts to Mrs. S. The Rev. Mr. Wells, of Detroit, writes of some temporality. Mr. Trowbridge keeps me advised respecting the all important and growing importance of the department's fiscal affairs.

The author of "Sanillac" (Oct. 8th) acknowledges the reception and reading of my "Notes," with which he expresses himself pleased. The head of the Indian office writes, "The plan has been adopted of compiling a code of regulations for the Indian intercourse during the winter. For this duty, Gen. Clarke, of St. Louis, and Gen. Cass, of Detroit, have been selected." Such were some of the extraneous subjects which the month of October brought from without.

The month of November was not without some incidents of interest. From the first to the fifteenth, a number of Indian families applied for food, under circumstances speaking loudly in their favor. The misfortune is, that these poor creatures are induced to part with everything for the means of gratifying their passion for drink, and then lingering around the settlements as long as charity offers to supply their daily wants. The usual term of application for this class is, Kittemaugizzi, or Nim bukkudda, I am in want, or I am hungry. By making my office a study, I am always found in the place of public duty, and the latter is only, in fact, a temporary relief from literary labor. I have often been asked how I support solitude in the wilderness. Here is the answer: the wilderness and the busy city are alike to him who derives his amusements from mental employment.

Nov. 7th. The Indian Cause.--In a letter of this date from Mr. J.D. Stevens, of the Mission of Michilimackinac, he suggests a colony to be formed at some point in the Chippeway country of Lake Superior, and inquires whether government will not patronize such an effort to reclaim this stock. The Indian is, in every view, entitled to sympathy. The misfortune with the race is, that, seated on the skirts of the domain of a popular government, they have no vote to give. They are politically a nonentity. The moral and benevolent powers of our system are with the people. Government has nothing to do with them. The whole Indian race is not, in the political scales, worth one white man's vote. Here is the difficulty in any benevolent scheme. If the Indian were raised to the right of giving his suffrage, a plenty of politicians, on the frontiers, would enter into plans to better him. Now the subject drags along as an incubus on Congress. Legislation for them is only taken up on a pinch. It is a mere expedient to get along with the subject; it is taken up unwillingly, and dropped in a hurry. This is the Indian system. Nobody knows really what to do, and those who have more information are deemed to be a little moon-struck.

18th. ESTIMATION OF MR. JOHNSTON.--Gov. Cass writes from Washington: "Mr. Johnston's death is an event I sincerely deplore, and one upon which I tender my condolements to the family. He was really no common man. To preserve the manners of a perfect gentleman, and the intelligence and information of a well-educated man, in the dreary wastes around him, and in his seclusion from all society but that of his own family, required a vigor and elasticity of mind rarely to be found."

NEW INDIAN CODE.--The loose and fragmentary character of the Indian code has, at length, arrested attention at Washington, and led to some attempts to consolidate it. A correspondent writes (Nov. 18th): "Gen. Clarke has not yet arrived, but is expected daily. In the meantime, I have prepared an analysis of the subject, which has been approved by the department, and, on the arrival of Gen. Clarke, we shall be prepared to proceed to the compilation of our code, which, I do hope, will put things in a better situation for all."

The derangements in the fiscal affairs of the Indian department are in the extreme. One would think that appropriations had been handled with a pitchfork. A correspondent writes: "For 1827, we were promised $48,000, and received $30,000. For 1828, we were promised $40,000, and have received $25,000; and, besides these promises, were all the extra expenditures authorized to be incurred, amounting to not less than $15,000. It is impossible this can continue." And these derangements are only with regard to the north. How the south and west stand, it is impossible to say. But there is a screw loose in the public machinery somewhere.

Dec. 5th. AUTOBIOGRAPHY.--"It is to be regretted," writes Dr. Edwin James, "that our lamented friend (Mr. Johnston) had not lived to complete his autobiography. This deficiency constitutes no valid objection to the publication of the memoirs, though it appears to me highly desirable that you should complete the sketch, so as to include the history of the latter portion of his life. In perfect accordance with the plan of such a continuation, you would embody much valuable detail in relation to the history and condition of this section of the country for the last thirty years. You must, doubtless, have access to all the existing materials, and to many sources of authentic information, which could, very appropriately, be given to the public in such a form."

15th. UNION OF THE PURSUITS OF NATURAL AND CIVIL HISTORY.--I brought forward, and had passed at the last session of the Legislature, an act incorporating the Historical Society of Michigan. Dr. Pitcher, who has recently changed his position to Fort Gratiot, at the foot of Lake Huron, proposes the embracing of natural history among its studies. He finds his position, at that point, to be still unfavorable in some aspects, and not much, if anything, superior to what it was at St. Mary's.

27th. FISCAL PERPLEXITIES OF THE DEPARTMENT.--These were alluded to before. No improvement appears, but we are all destined to suffer. A friend, who is versed in the subject, writes from Washington: "The fact is, that nothing could be worse managed than the fiscal concerns of the department. Not the slightest regard has been paid to the apportionment made, and there is now due to our superintendency more than the sum of $40,000. You can well conceive how this happens, and I have neither time nor patience to enter into the details; suffice it to say, that I am promised by the Secretary that the moment the appropriation law passes, which will probably be early in January, every dollar of arrearages shall be paid off. This is all the consolation I can furnish you, and, I suppose I need not say that I have left no stone unturned to effect a more desirable result. It is manifest, however, that the whole department will be exceedingly pressed for funds next year, as a considerable part of the appropriation must be assigned to the payment of arrearages, which have been suffered to accumulate; and it is not considered expedient, in the present state of affairs, to ask for a specific appropriation. It will require at least two years to bring our fiscal concerns to a healthy state."

In fact, to meet these embarrassments, many retrenchments became necessary; some sub-agencies were drawn in from the Indian country, mechanics and interpreters were dismissed, and things put on the very lowest scale of expenditure.

1: This man served a short time, but turned out, for eighteen years, to be the pest of that settlement, being a remarkably suspicious, lying, bad-minded man, having lost every virtue of the white man, and accumulated every vice of the Indian. He became more and more morose and sour because the world would not support him in idleness, and went about half crazed, in which state he hid himself one day, in 1836, in the bushes, and shot and killed my brother, James L. Schoolcraft. He then fled back to the Indians, and has not been caught. The musket with which this nefarious act was done, is said to have been loaned to him from the guard-house at Fort Brady. Dr. Bagg pronounced the ball an ounce-ball, such as is employed in the U.S. service. The wad was the torn leaf of a hymn book. It was extensively reported by the diurnal press, that I had been the victim of this unprovoked perfidy.

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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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