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While in Missouri

 Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians                   

While in Missouri, and after his return from this adventurous journey, he drew up a description of the mines, geology, and mineralogy of the country. Conceiving a plan for the better management of the lead mines as a part of the public domain, he determined to visit Washington, to submit it to the government. Packing up his collections of mineralogy and geology, he ordered them to the nearest point of embarkation on the Mississippi, and, getting on board a steamer at St. Genevieve, proceeded to New Orleans. Thence he took shipping for New York, passing through the Straits of Florida, and reached his destination during the prevalence of the yellow fever in that city. He improved the time of his quarantine at Staten Island by exploring its mineralogy and geology, where he experienced a kind and appreciating reception from the health officer, Dr. De Witt.

His reception also from scientific men at New York was most favorable, and produced a strong sensation. Being the first person who had brought a collection of its scientific resources from the Mississippi Valley, its exhibition and diffusion in private cabinets gave an impulse to these studies in the country.

Men of science and gentlemen of enlarged minds welcomed him. Drs. Mitchell and Hosack, who were then at the summit of their influence, and many other leading and professional characters extended a hand of cordial encouragement and appreciation. Gov. De Witt Clinton was one of his earliest and most constant friends. The Lyceum of Natural History and the New York Historical Society admitted him to membership.

Late in the autumn of 1819, he published his work on the mines and mineral resources of Missouri, and with this publication as an exponent of his views, he proceeded to Washington, where he was favorably received by President Monroe, and by Mr. Calhoun and Mr. Crawford, members of his cabinet. At the request of the latter he drew up a memoir on the reorganization of the western mines, which was well received. Some legislation appeared necessary. Meantime Mr. Calhoun, who was struck by the earnestness of his views and scientific enterprise, offered him the situation of geologist and mineralogist to an exploring expedition, which the war department was about dispatching from Detroit to the sources of the Mississippi under the orders of Gen. Cass.

This he immediately accepted, and, after spending a few weeks at the capital, returned in Feb., 1820, to New York, to await the opening of the interior navigation. As soon as the lakes opened he proceeded to Detroit, and in the course of two or three weeks embarked on this celebrated tour of exploration. The great lake basins were visited and explored, the reported copper mines on Lake Superior examined, and the Upper Mississippi entered at Sandy Lake, and, after tracing it in its remote mazes to the highest practical point, he descended its channel by St. Anthony's Falls to Prairie du Chien and the Du Buque lead mines. The original outward track north-westward was then regained, through the valleys of the Wisconsin and Fox Rivers, and the extended shores of Lake Michigan and Huron elaborately traced. In this he was accompanied by the late Professor David B. Douglass, who collected the materials for a correct map of the great lakes and the sources of the Mississippi.

It was late in the autumn when Mr. Schoolcraft returned to his residence at New York, when he was solicited to publish his "narrative journal." This he completed early in the spring of 1821. This work, which evinces accurate and original powers of observation, established his reputation as a scientific and judicious traveler. Copies of it found their way to England, where it was praised by Sir Humphrey Davy and the veteran geographer, Major Rennel. His report to the Secretary of War on the copper mines of Lake Superior, was published in advance by the American Journal of Science, and by order of the Senate of the United States, and gives the earliest scientific account of the mineral affluence of the basin of that lake. His geological report to the same department made subsequently, traces the formations of that part of the continent, which gives origin to the Mississippi River, and denotes the latitudes where it is crossed by the primitive and volcanic rocks. The ardor and enthusiasm which he evinced in the cause of science, and his personal enterprise in traversing vast regions, awakened a corresponding spirit; and the publication of his narratives had the effect to popularize the subject of mineralogy and geology throughout the country.

In 1821, he executed a very extensive journey through the Miami of the Lakes and the River Wabash, tracing those streams minutely to the entrance of the latter into the Ohio River. He then proceeded to explore the Oshawanoe Mountains, near Cave-in-Rock, with their deposits of the fluate of lime, galena, and other mineral treasures. From this range he crossed over the grand prairies of the Illinois to St. Louis, revisited the mineral district of Potosi, and ascended the Illinois River and its north-west fork, the _Des Plaines_, to Chicago, where a large body of Indians were congregated to confer on the cession of their lands. At these important conferences, he occupied the position of secretary. He published an account of the incidents of this exploratory journey, under the title of _Travels in the Central Portions of the Mississippi Valley_. He found, in passing up the river _Des Plaines_, a remarkably well characterized specimen of a fossil tree, completely converted to stone, of which he prepared a descriptive memoir, which had the effect further to direct the public mind to geological phenomena.

We are not prepared to pursue minutely these first steps of his energetic course in the early investigation of our natural history and geography. In 1822, while the lead-mine problem was under advisement at Washington, he was appointed by Mr. Monroe to the semi-diplomatic position of Agent for Indian Affairs on the North-west Frontiers. This opened a new field of inquiry, and, while it opposed no bar to the pursuits of natural science, it presented a broad area of historical and ethnological research. On this he entered with great ardor, and an event of generally controlling influence on human pursuits occurred to enlarge these studies, in his marriage to Miss Jane Johnston, a highly cultivated young lady, who was equally well versed in the English and Algonquin languages, being a descendant, by the mother's side, of Wabojeeg, a celebrated war sachem, and ruling cacique of his nation. Her father, Mr. John Johnston, was a gentleman of the highest connections, fortune, and standing, from the north of Ireland, who had emigrated to America during the presidency of Washington. He possessed great enthusiasm and romance of character, united with poetic tastes, and became deeply enamored of the beautiful daughter of Wabojeeg, married her, and had eight children. His eldest daughter, Jane, was sent, at nine years of age, to Europe to be thoroughly educated under the care of his relatives there, and, when she returned to America, was placed at the head of her father's household, where her refined dignified manners and accomplishments attracted the notice and admiration of numerous visitors to that seat of noble hospitality. Mr. Schoolcraft was among the first suitors for her hand, and married her in October, 1823.

Mr. Johnston was a fine belles lettres scholar, and entered readily into the discussions arising from the principles of the Indian languages, and plans for their improvement.

Mr. Schoolcraft's marriage into an aboriginal family gave no small stimulus to these inquiries, which were pursued under such singularly excellent advantages, and with untiring ardor in the seclusion of Elmwood and Michilimackinack, for a period of nearly twenty years, and, until his wife's lamented death, which happened during a visit to her sister, at Dundas, Canada West, in the year 1842, and while he himself was absent on a visit to England. Mr. Schoolcraft has not, at any period of his life, sought advancement in political life, but executed with energy and interest various civic offices, which were freely offered to him. From 1828 to 1832, he was an efficient member of the Territorial Legislature, where he introduced a system of township and county names, formed on the basis of the aboriginal vocabulary, and also procured the incorporation of a historical society, and, besides managing the finances, as chairman of an appropriate committee, he introduced and secured the passage of several laws respecting the treatment of the native tribes.

In 1828, the Navy Department offered him a prominent situation in the scientific corps of the United States Exploring Expedition to the South Seas. This was urged in several letters written to him at St. Mary's, by Mr. Reynolds, with the approbation of Mr. Southard, then Secretary of the Navy. However flattering such an offer was to his ambition, his domestic relations did not permit his acceptance of the place. He appeared to occupy his advanced position on the frontier solely to further the interests of natural history, American geography, and growing questions of philosophic moment.

These particulars will enable the reader to appreciate the advantages with which he commenced and pursued the study of the Indian languages, and American ethnology. He made a complete lexicon of the Algonquin language, and reduced its grammar to a philosophical system. "It is really surprising," says Gen. Cass, in a letter, in 1824, in view of these researches, "that so little valuable information has been given to the world on these subjects."

Mr. Duponceau, President of the American Philosophical Society, translated two of Mr. Schoolcraft's lectures before the Algic Society, on the grammatical structure of the Indian language, into French, for the National Institute of France, where the prize for the best essay on Algonquin language was awarded to him. He writes to Dr. James, in 1834, in reference to these lectures: "His description of the composition of words in the Chippewa language, is the most elegant I have yet seen. He is an able and most perspicuous writer, and treats his subject philosophically."

Approbation from these high sources had only the effect to lead him to renewed diligence and deeper exertions to further the interests of natural science, geography, and ethnology; and, while engaged in the active duties of an important government office, he maintained an extensive correspondence with men of science, learning, and enterprise throughout the Union.

The American Philosophical, Geological, and Antiquarian Societies, with numerous state and local institutions, admitted him to membership. The Royal Geographical Society of London, the Royal Society of Northern Antiquaries at Copenhagen, and the Ethnological Society of Paris, inscribed his name among their foreign members. In 1846, the College of Geneva conferred on him the degree of LL.D.

While the interests of learning and science thus occupied his private hours, the state of Indian affairs on the western frontiers called for continued exertions, and journeys, and expeditions through remote regions. The introduction of a fast accumulating population into the Mississippi Valley, and the great lake basins, continually subjected the Indian tribes to causes of uneasiness, and to a species of reflection, of which they had had no examples in the long centuries of their hunter state.

In 1825, 1826, and 1827, he attended convocations of the tribes at very remote points, which imposed the necessity of passing through forests, wildernesses, and wild portages, where none but the healthy, the robust, the fearless, and the enterprising can go.

In 1831, circumstances inclined the tribes on the Upper Mississippi to hostilities and extensive combinations. He was directed by the Government to conduct an expedition through the country lying south and west of Lake Superior, reaching from its banks, which have from the earliest dates been the fastnesses of numerous warlike tribes. This he accomplished satisfactorily, visiting the leading chiefs, and counseling them to the policy of peace.

In 1832, the Sauks and Foxes resolved to re-occupy lands which they had previously relinquished in the Rock River Valley. This brought them into collision with the citizens and militia of Illinois. The result was a general conflict, which, from its prominent Indian leader, has been called the Black Hawk war. From accounts of the previous year, its combinations embraced _nine_ of the leading tribes. It was uncertain how far they extended. Mr. Schoolcraft was selected by the Indian and War Department, to conduct a second expedition into the region embracing the entire Upper Mississippi, north and west of St. Anthony's Falls. He pursued this stream to the points to which it had been explored in 1806, by Lieut. Pike, and in 1820, by Gen. Cass; and finding the state of the water favorable for ascending, traced the river up to its ultimate forks, and to its actual source in Itasca Lake. This point he reached on the 23d July, 1832; but a fraction under 300 years after the discovery of its lower portions by De Soto. This was Mr. Schoolcraft's crowning geographical discovery, of which he published an account, with maps, in 1833. He is believed to be the only man in America who has seen the Mississippi from its source in Itasca Lake to its mouth in the Gulf of Mexico.

In 1839, he published his collection of oral legends from the Indian wigwams, under the general cognomen of Algic Researches. In these volumes is revealed an amount of the Indian idiosyncrasies, of what may be called their philosophy and mode of reasoning on life, death, and immortality, and their singular modes of reasoning and action, which makes this work one of the most unique and original contributions to American literature. His love of investigation has always been a characteristic trait.

The writer of this sketch, who is thoroughly acquainted with Mr. Schoolcraft's character, habits, and feelings, has long regarded him the complete embodiment of industry and temperance in all things. He rises early and retires early, eats moderately of simple food, never uses a drop of stimulant, and does not even smoke a cigar. In temperament he is among the happiest of human beings, always looks at the bright side of circumstances--loves to hear of the prosperity of his neighbors, and hopes for favorable turns of character, even in the most depraved. The exaltation of his intellectual pursuits, and his sincere piety, have enabled him to rise above all the petty disquietudes of everyday life, and he seems utterly incapable of envy or detraction, or the indulgence of any ignoble or unmanly passions. Indeed, one of his most intimate friends remarked "that he was the _beau-ideal_ of dignified manliness and truthfulness of character." His manners possess all that unostentatious frankness, and self-possessed urbanity and quietude, that is indicative of refined feelings. That such a shining mark has not escaped envy, detraction, and persecution, will surprise no one who is well acquainted with the materials of which human nature is composed. "Envy is the toll that is always paid to greatness."

Mr. Schoolcraft has had enemies, bitter unrelenting enemies, from the wiles of whom he has lost several fortunes, but they have not succeeded, in spite of all their efforts, in depriving him of an honored name, that will live as the friend of the red man and an aboriginal historian, for countless ages.

Some twenty years ago he became a professor of religion, and the ennobling influences of Bible truth have mellowed, and devoted to the most unselfish and exalted aims his natural determination and enthusiasm of character. God has promised to his people "that their righteousness shall shine as the light, and their just dealing as the noonday." Protected in such an impregnable tower of defense from the strife of tongues, Mr. Schoolcraft has been enabled freely to forgive, and even befriend, those narrow-minded calumniators who have aimed so many poisoned arrows at his fame, his character, and his success in life. These are they who hate all excellence that they themselves can never hope to reach.

Mr. Schoolcraft's persevering industry is so indomitable, that he has been known to write from sun to sun almost every day for many consecutive years, taking no recreation, and yet these sedentary habits of untiring application being regulated by system, have not impaired the digestive functions of his usually robust health. One of his family remarks, "that she believed that if his meals were weighed every day in the year they would average the same amount every twenty-four hours." He has, however, been partly lame for the last two years, from the effects, it is thought, of early exposure in his explorations in the west, where he used frequently to lie down in the swamps to sleep, with no pillow save clumps of bog, and no covering but a traveling Indian blanket, which sometimes when he awoke was cased in snow. This local impediment, however, being entirely without neuralgic or rheumatic symptoms, has had no effect whatever upon his mental activity, as every moment of his time is still consecrated to literary pursuits.

In 1841 he removed his residence from Michilimackinack to the city of New York, where he was instrumental, with Mr. John R. Bartlett, Mr. H. C. Murphy, Mr. Folsom and other ethnologists, in forming the American Ethnological Society--which, under the auspices of the late Mr. Albert Gallatin, has produced efficient labors. In 1842 he visited England and the Continent. He attended the twelfth meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science at Manchester. He then visited France, Germany, Prussia, Belgium, and Holland. On returning to New York he took an active interest in the deliberations of the New York Historical Society, made an antiquarian tour to Western Virginia, Ohio, and the Canadas, and published in numbers the first volume of an Indian miscellany under the title of "Oneota, or the Indian in his Wigwam."

In 1845 the Legislature of New York authorized him to take a census, and collect the statistics of the Iroquois, or Six Nations, which were published, together with materials illustrating their history and character, in a volume entitled, NOTES ON THE IROQUOIS.

This work was highly approved by the Legislature, and copies eagerly sought by persons taking an interest in the fortunes of this celebrated tribe. Contrary to expectation, their numbers were found to be considerable, and their advance in agriculture and civilization of a highly encouraging character; and the State has since made liberal appropriations for their education.

In 1846 he brought the subject of the American aborigines to the notice of the members of Congress, expressing the opinion, and enforcing it by facts drawn from many years' experience and residence on the frontiers, that it was misunderstood, that the authentic published materials from which the Indians were to be judged were fragmentary and scanty, and that the public policy respecting them, and the mode of applying their funds, and dealing with them, was in many things false and unjust. These new views produced conviction in enlightened minds, and, during the following session, in the winter of 1847, an appropriation was made, authorizing the Secretary of War to collect the statistics of all the tribes within the Union; together with materials to illustrate their history, condition, and prospects. Mr. Schoolcraft was selected by the government to conduct the inquiry, in connection with the Indian Bureau. And he immediately prepared and issued blank forms, calling on the officers of the department for the necessary statistical facts. At the same time a comprehensive system of interrogatories was distributed, intended to bring out the true state and condition of the Indian tribes from gentlemen of experience, in all parts of the Union.

These interrogatories are founded on a series of some thirty years' personal observations on Indian society and manners, which were made while living in their midst on the frontiers, and on the data preserved in his well-filled portfolios and journals; and the comprehensive character of the queries, consequently, evince a complete mastery of his subject, such as no one could have been at all prepared to furnish, who had had less full and favorable advantages. In these queries he views the Indian race, not only as tribes having every claim on our sympathy and humanity, but as one of the races of the human family, scattered by an inscrutable Providence, whose origin and destiny is one of the most interesting problems of American history, philosophy, and Christianity.

The first part of this work, in an elaborate quarto volume, was published in the autumn of 1850, with illustrations from the pencil of Capt. Eastman, a gentleman of the army of the United States, and has been received by Congress and the diurnal and periodical press with decided approbation. It is a work which is national in its conception and manner of execution; and, if carried out according to the plan exhibited, will do ample justice, at once to the Indian tribes, their history, condition, and destiny, and to the character of the government as connected with them. We have been reproached by foreign pens for our treatment of these tribes, and our policy, motives, and justice impugned. If we are not mistaken, the materials here collected will show how gratuitous such imputations have been. It is believed that no stock of the aborigines found by civilized nations on the globe, have received the same amount of considerate and benevolent and humane treatment, as denoted by its laws, its treaties, and general administration of Indian affairs, from the establishment of the Constitution, and this too, in the face of the most hostile, wrongheaded, and capricious conduct on their part, that ever signalized the history of a barbarous people.

In January, 1847, he married Miss Mary Howard, of Beaufort District, South Carolina, a lady of majestic stature, high toned moral sentiment, dignified polished manners, gifted conversational powers and literary tastes. This marriage has proved a peculiarly fortunate and happy one, as they both highly appreciate and respect each other, and she warmly sympathizes in his literary plans. She also relieves him of all domestic care by her judicious management of his household affairs. Most of her time, however, is spent with him in his study, where she revises and copies his writings for the press. She is the descendant of a family who emigrated to South Carolina from England, in the reign of George the Second, from whom they received a large grant of land, situated near the Broad River. Upon this original grant the family have from generation to generation continued to reside. It is now a flourishing cotton and rice growing plantation, and is at present owned by her brother, Gen. John Howard. Her sister married a grandnephew of Gen. William Moultrie, who was so distinguished in the revolutionary war, and her brother a granddaughter of Judge Thomas Heyward, who was a ripe scholar and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Although one of her brothers was in the battle of San Jacinto, she is herself the first permanent emigrant of her family from South Carolina to the North, having accompanied her husband to Washington, D.C., where he has ever since been engaged in conducting the national work on the history of the Indians. To this work, of which the second part is now in the press, every power of his extensive observation and ripe experience is devoted, and with results which justify the highest anticipations which have been formed of it. Meantime it is understood that the present memoirs is the first volume of a revised series of his complete works, including his travels, reviews, papers on natural history, Indian tales, and miscellanies.

To this rapid sketch of a man rising to distinction without the adventitious aids of hereditary patrimony, wealth, or early friends, it requires little to be added to show the value of self-dependence. Such examples must encourage all whose ambitions are sustained by assiduity, temperance, self-reliance, and a consistent perseverance in well weighed ends.

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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