NIU Libraries Digitization Projects
Lincoln/Net Prairie Fire Illinois During the Civil War Illinois During the Gilded Age Mark Twain's Mississippi Back to Digitization Projects Contact Us

Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document:

Previous section

Next section

Section Sixteenth. — Effects of the Expansion of the Population Westward, and of the Creation of New States on the Exhausted Indian Hunting-grounds of the Mississippi Valley. Chapter I. — A New Phasis in Indian History.

THE close of the war of 1812 not only ended the Indian hostilities, but also initiated a thorough geographical exploration of the Mississippi valley; the extent, fertility, and resources of which, were then fully ascertained. Noble rivers, the names of which had been for years only known by their connection with romantic tales, and the narratives of adventurous exploits, now attracted attention by the facilities they afforded for navigation. The entire valley seemed to be one vast series of plains, reticulated by streams, which poured their resistless currents into the Mexican gulf. These plains, once the haunts of uncounted herds of deer, elk, and buffalo, were now deserted by them, and elicited interest only by their fertility, and by their adaptiveness to the purposes of agriculture.

Changes of such a striking character, and apparently fraught with such disastrous consequences to the Indian tribes, produced, however, a favorable effect. It was the triumph of the arts of peace. This was the beginning of a new era in their history. The chase, it was seen, must, perforce, be abandoned, and agricultural and industrial pursuits adopted. But the question was, how could this be done by a people so reduced

-- 378 --

in circumstances, so destitute of all apparent means as the Indians? At this time, the population of the Eastern States began to emigrate to the West in renewed force, creating a demand for those fertile lands, which, being denuded of their game, were no longer useful to hunter tribes. By the cession of these lands to the United States Government, the Indians were provided, through the medium of money annuities, with the means of procuring the requisites necessary to their advancement in the social scale. They became, in a few years, permanently possessed of cattle, implements of husbandry, and schools: a life of industry was commenced. Thus, what appeared, at first, to have sealed their destruction, was in reality, the means of their elevation and deliverance.

-- 379 --

Chapter II. — Condition of the Tribes at the Conclusion of the War.

THE ninth article of the treaty of Ghent, signed December 24, 1814, left the Indian tribes to make their own terms with the United States. They had fought in vain, and received so little consideration from their late ally at the close of the contest, that they were not even accorded a national position in the treaty of peace concluded between the belligerent powers; consequently, the year 1815 was to them the commencement of a period in their history, of very self-reliant interest. Misled by the false theories of their prophets, and defeated in numerous battles, they had yet believed that they were fighting to preserve intact their ancient territorial limits. They had lost great numbers of their warriors in battle; the Creeks alone, in the contests at Talladega, Tullushatches, Hillabee, Attasee, and Emucfau, or the Horse-Shoe, had suffered to the extent of not less than 1000 men. The losses experienced in battle by all the tribes, constituted, however, but a fraction of what they suffered from diseases engendered in camps, superinduced by unsuitable, bad, or scanty supplies of food, as well as by the toils and accidents incident to forced marches. Fevers, colds, and consumptions, to which they are liable, had been fearfully prevalent; chicken-pox and the varioloid had nearly decimated them. 530 In addition to this, their families had been left in an unprovided and starving condition at home. In 1812, the numbers summoned by the voice of the Shawnee prophet to the banks of the Wabash were immense. They abandoned everything else for the purpose of participating in this new revolution, and many who left their western and northern homes, on this errand, never returned. The writer has walked over the sites of entire villages thus desolated, which had been in a few years covered by weeds, and a young forest growth.

This was not, however, the worst of their misfortunes. Their hunting-grounds had been rendered valueless by the operations of the contending armies. The deer, elk, and bear always precede the Indians to more dense forests; the cunning beaver immediately abandons a stream into which he cannot, by gnawing, make the trees fall,

-- 380 --

on the bark of which he subsists; the otter, which lives on fish, remains for a longer period. But the entire species of furred animals, whose skins form the staple of the Indian trade, were greatly diminished, and the vast region of country extending from 38° to 44° north, between the Ohio and the Mississippi rivers, had been rendered useless as a hunting-ground. Another result of the passage of troops through remote parts of the Indian country, was the discovery of tracts of arable land, of great value to the agriculturist; of water-powers, mines, and resources, offering tempting inducements to the mill-wright, manufacturer, and miner. Coal, iron, and lead, were found in abundance, and, subsequently, copper and gold. War, bad seasons, and the depreciation of a very extended and inflated paper currency, with a resulting decline in the prices of all merchantable articles, had alarmed thousands of persons in the Atlantic States, who sought to repair their fortunes, or find a field for the exercise of their ingenuity and talents, by emigrating to the West; so that, by a singular coincidence, when the Indians began to part freely with their exhausted hunting-grounds, by sales to the Government, the emigrant masses clamored for new and ample farms on these ceded tracts, where both they and their children might lay the foundations of happy homes. This was the germ of new States.

We have placed the commencement of this era in the year 1816; which was as early, indeed, as the full cessation of Indian hostilities rendered it safe for the emigrant to enter remote districts. The Creeks had signed the treaty of Fort Jackson as early as August 9, 1814; and they were followed by other tribes, both in the North and South. On the 8th of September, 1815, an important treaty was concluded with the Wyandots, Senecas, Shawnees, Miamies, Chippewas, Ottawas, and Pottawattamies, by which these tribes were restored to all the immunities accorded them by the treaty entered into at Greenville in 1795; and the three latter tribes reinvested with all the territorial rights which they possessed at the outbreak of Tecumseh's war, in 1811. 531 Treaties were also concluded during this year with the Kickapoos, Weas, Winnebagoes, Sacs and Foxes, Sioux, Osages, Chickasaws, Choctaws, and other tribes. These treaties were negotiated by commissioners appointed by the United States, who were well acquainted with the territories, character, resources, local history, and feelings of the tribes. Some of these commissioners had been military commanders, or had occupied high civil stations on the frontiers. No one of them was so celebrated for his knowledge, experience, and standing, as General William Clark, of St. Louis, the companion of the intrepid Lewis in his adventurous journeys to the mouth of the river Columbia, in 1804, and in 1805 and '6. He had succeeded Lewis as governor of the Missouri Territory, in 1806, and had acquired the respect and confidence of the southwestern and western tribes, who were located on the banks of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. He was a man possessed of great sagacity, amenity of manners, and a

-- 381 --

comprehensive knowledge of the geography of the country. In many respects, he was comparable to Sir William Johnson, who so long exercised a similar power in the North. Indian disputes were frequently referred to him for settlement by the tribes themselves; and the number of Indian treaties he negotiated in the course of his long administration of Indian affairs on the frontiers, is a proof of his abilities in this department.

Reference is particularly made to the era commencing with 1816, when an extensive system of changes and movements, the long smouldering effects of the by-gone wars, difficulties, and mutations of past years, began to develop itself prominently in the West. The war of 1812, on the north-western frontiers, had brought into notice another man, who was destined to exercise, for many years, an important influence on our Indian relations. Lewis Cass was a brigadier-general in the United States army, and had served in the war of 1812 with great credit to himself. A lawyer by profession, marshal of the State of Ohio at the commencement of the war, he united civil with military talent, and, on the conclusion of peace, held the commission of commandant of Detroit. Succeeding to the executive chair of Michigan, after the disastrous rule of Governor William Hull, and the subsequent interregnum, great energy was required to revive and reinstate, on their former basis, its civil and social institutions. Six years of wild wars and turmoils had left the territory without either civil or military organization. It might have been justly compared to a region submerged by a sudden deluge in the geological systems, in which the evidences of its former condition were to be sought in boulders, drifts, and heaps of ruins. Society was literally down-trodden.

Michigan had been, more or less, occupied by the French from the days of La Salle. A fort was first erected at Detroit in 1701; in 1760 it was surrendered to the British; and did not come into the possession of the United States until 1796. Hull surrendered it in 1812. A fierce and sanguinary war, beginning at that time, had so desolated the territory, that to resuscitate its energies was no ordinary task, which any person of less strength of character and foresight than the newly-appointed executive, would probably have failed to accomplish. It was a work of time to restore the Indian relations to a permanent footing; to induce the inhabitants to return to their old locations; to apply the civil code to an almost anarchical condition of society; and, above all, to ascertain and develop the true resources of the territory.

-- 382 --

Chapter III. — Indian Tribes of Michigan, Exploration of its Boundaries, Reaching to the Upper Mississippi.

MICHIGAN had been the strongest rallying point for the Indians, from the days of Denonville. It was first visited by La Salle in 1679, and formal possession was taken of the straits between Lakes Erie and Huron, in the month of June, 1687; 532 but Detroit was not occupied by an authorized agent of the French government, at Quebec, until the year 1701. 533 One hundred and twenty years had served to spread its fame and importance in Indian wars, Indian trade, and Indian affairs. But the hand of time had still left it, a remote outpost, surrounded by the original French settlements, among which might, here and there, be found an adventurous American. The houses of the French habitans were surrounded with cedar palings, as if to resist an attack; and, in their orchards, they raised apple trees, the parent stocks of which were originally brought from Normandy. In their dress, manners, suavity, nonchalance, gaiety, and loyalty to the governing power, the French of Michigan presented a striking similitude to the peasantry under Francis I. and Louis XIII. It was at this ancient seat of French dominion on the Lakes, that Pontiac formed his confederacy, in 1760, and Tecumseh convened the natives, in 1810-11. The failure of the latter scheme, stoutly backed as it was by the British army and navy, convinced the Indians that their efforts to resist the onward march of civilization were vain, and that education, arts, and labor must triumph. This was the language of Ningwégon, in 1812.

This low position of their affairs, in a politico-economical point of view, in strength, numbers, power of combination, and every thing like national capacity, we regard as their zero point; for it now became evident that their whole system was a congeries of errors; that the pursuit of the chase only sunk them in barbarism and want; and that if they were ever elevated in the scale of society, it must be by the practice of industry, temperance, virtue, the dissemination of education, and the

-- 383 --

adoption of moral truth. Though this view did not strike the Indian mind at once, it was only necessary to take a wider, broader, and more comprehensive retrospect of their state to render it manifest; and the lapse of a few years made the truth apparent. The Indian tribes had been thoroughly defeated; their political institutions were but "as a rope of sand;" their fury but the rage of a madman. To learn this truth, two centuries had been necessary. The contests with Virginia, New England, and the West, had not been waged in vain; persuasion, as well as blows, had been used to produce this great result. The voices of John Eliot and Brainerd, had not been thrown to the winds; nor the sword of a Wayne, a Harrison, and a Jackson, drawn for nought. To convince the Indian of his weakness, was the first step toward his attaining strength; and herein he may be said, mentally, to have advanced.

In 1816 President Monroe appointed General Lewis Cass governor of this territory, the condition of which has been shown to have been one of extreme prostration. Desolated by wars, its inhabitants decimated by appalling murders and massacres, with but few resources, some fragments of disconnected population, and neither enterprise, nor capital, another such forlorn district could not have been pointed out in America. It had neither roads, nor bridges, and its very soil was considered so worthless, that it was deemed unfit to be given in bounty lands to the surviving soldiers of the war of 1812. The Indian tribes who had rallied under Proctor, and other weak and inhuman officers, were yet unfriendly and vindictive. By the interposition of a friendly hand, Cass' life was once saved from being taken by a rifle-ball, aimed by an Indian from behind a tree; and most of the tribes hovered around Detroit, destitute of everything, daily besieging the doors of the territorial executive. The tide of emigration had not, at that period, set strongly in that direction, and the business of the Superintendent of Indian Affairs on that frontier was, for some years, the most important function of the gubernatorial office. He commenced his negotiations with the sons of the forest at the rapids of the Miami of the Lakes, on the 29th of September, 1817. 534 This event was followed in 1818 by an important assemblage of various Algonquin tribes at St. Mary's, on the sources of the Miami; and in 1819 by the conclusion of an important treaty with the Chippewas of Saganaw, in Michigan, which gave an impetus to settlements in that territory. The wide area over which the Chippewa tribe extended; its multiplicity of bands, or tribal communities, each of which professed to be independent; and the imperfect knowledge of their location and stastistics, as well as of the geographical features and resources of their territory, induced him to call the attention of the War Department to their examination. The cherished policy of Mr. Calhoun being to keep the military posts in the West in advance of the settlements, that they might cover the progress of the new emigrants, and shield them from Indian depredations, that gentleman cordially approved of this

-- 384 --

measure; to carry out the objects of which, an expedition composed of a corps of scientific observers, under the escort of a small detachment of infantry, was organized at, and despatched from, Detroit in the spring of 1820. This enterprise first brought Mr. Schoolcraft into the new field of observation on Indian life and manners. Being appointed geologist to the expedition, he became its historiographer, and, during the following year, published a journal of its progress. Its mineralogy and geology were examined, and the copper mines on the Ontonagon river and Lake Superior explored. A detached expedition visited the lead mines of Dubuque. The fresh-water conchology of the country was examined; collections made of the flora and fauna; an elaborate report of its geology presented, accompanied with a map; and conchology, as well as other departments of science considerably augmented by the addition of new species. From this source was obtained an accurate knowledge of the tribes, their location, strength, and character, and also of the natural history, climatology, resources and physical geography of that region. 535 The expedition left Detroit on the 24th of May, in large and well-constructed canoes, of the Indian model; and the explorers circumnavigated the shores of Lakes Huron and Superior. Prom the head of the latter lake, they crossed the intervening highlands to the valley of the Upper Mississippi, which they entered at Sandy Lake, and, ascending it in search of its true source, they passed its upper falls, at Pakagama, as well as the source of Leech Lake, laid down by Lieutenant Pike, in 1806, and thence through Lake Winnebeegoshish to the large body of water in lat. 47° 25' 23", 536 since denominated Cass Lake. This point is, following the course of the river, 2755 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, and was reached on the 21st of July. The Mississippi was then descended to the falls of
St. Anthony, 537 and Prairie du Chien, and the chain of the great lake basins again reached through the Wisconsin and Fox river valleys, at Green Bay, on the western shores of Lake Michigan. The extent of Indian hunting-grounds traversed was nearly 4000 miles, and at only one point, namely, St. Mary's Falls, at the lower end of Lake Superior, was there any demonstration of hostile feelings. The effect resulting from this extensive exploratory tour was, to convince the Indians that a wise government sought to ascertain the extent of their territory and its resources, as well as to bring the tribes into friendly communication with it. The Chippewas were found, with some slight change of name, to occupy the entire borders of Lakes Huron and Superior, together with the eastern side of the valley of the Upper Mississippi, above lat. 44° 53' 20" north. On the west banks, in about lat. 46°, the frames of Sioux lodges were still standing, which had evidently been but recently occupied. On the 30th of July they reached the falls of St. Anthony (
Plate XY.); between which and Prairie du Chien, but nearer to the latter, the Sioux inhabited both banks of the river. The Sacs and Foxes occupied the

-- 385 --

Mississippi valley between Prairie du Chien and Rock Island, at the entrance to the river Des Moines. The Winnebagoes were in possession of the Wisconsin and Rock river valleys. The Menomonees were scattered along the Fox river to Buttes des Morts and Winnebago Lake, thence quite to Green Bay, and, with interchanges of location with the Winnebagoes, to Milwaukie on Lake Michigan. The Pottawattamies, Chippewas, and Ottowas, were located at Chicago, as also in northern Illinois and southern Michigan. The Ottowas lived in Grand River valley, as well as on Little Traverse Bay; and the Chippewas on the peninsula and shores of Grand Traverse Bay. An escort of infantry having accompanied this expedition, the flag of the Union was thus displayed in regions where, previously, it had seldom or never been seen.

This expedition had the effect, not only to attract the attention of the Indians to the power and vigilance of the Government, but also to direct popular enterprise to this hitherto unceded part of the Union; the value and importance of which can already be attested by an examination of Upper Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota. An instance of the interest excited in the Indian mind by this visit, occurred at Winnebago Lake. When the party halted on its shores, the geologist broke off several specimens of some novel rocky formations, with a view of determining their character. A very aged Winnebago observing this, said to his companions: "This is remarkable. Our country was long occupied by the French and the English, who were satisfied to trade with us; but no sooner have the Americans come, than they must examine our very rocks. What can they possibly expect to get from them?"

During the progress of this memorable exploration, several instances were observed of the Indian mode of communicating ideas by pictographic inscriptions on scrolls of bark. 538 Statistics of their population and trade were obtained, and accurate knowledge acquired of their manners and customs, feelings, and disposition. One of the peculiar customs observed while in the Dakotah country, was that of offering the first ears of the green corn to the Great Spirit; 539 of which ceremony the party were, by permission of the chiefs, allowed to be spectators.
Plate XV.

In the Chippewa territories, extending from the precincts of Rock Island to the
sources of the Mississippi, the ruling power was found to be exercised by certain totemic families, who claimed the right by descent. This right, however, was ascertained to be nugatory when not supported by the popular voice of the clans; which act virtually bestowed upon it all the force of a representative system. The ancient seat of the Chippewas, located at Sault Ste. Marie, at the lower end of Lake Superior, had for its ruling chief Shingabawassin, a tall, well-made, grave man, who possessed an easy, dignified, and pleasing manner. 540 (
Plate XVI.) The Indians residing on the upper shores of the lake were ruled by a chief called Pezhikee, or Buffalo, and Sappa. At Sandy

-- 386 --

Lake, on the Upper Mississippi, Katawabeda, Babesikundabay, and Guele Plat, were the presiding chiefs. The Mendawakantons, or Dakotahs of the river, acknowledged the government of the younger Wabasha. The Winnebagoes were ruled by De Corrie and Tshoop, the quatre jamb, or "Four Legs," of the French. The Pottawattamies acknowledged the sway of Topinabee, an aged man, who had signed the treaty of peace concluded at Greenville by General Wayne in 1794. At Grand river, presided the Ottowa chief, Nawagizhi, or Noon-Day; at Grand Traverse Bay, Aishquagonabi, or the
Feather of Honor; and at the Ottowa towns of L'Arbre Croche, the very old chief, Nishcaudjinine, or the Angry Man, and Pauskooziegun, or the Smoker.

The Indian government being founded on certain established customs and prescriptions, was clearly controlled by popular opinion, which changed with the passage of time and the occurrence of events. Although the totemic sovereignty was hereditary, yet the tribal succession could be set aside at any time when it was thought necessary to reward with the chieftancy bravery on the war-path, great energy of character, talent as a speaker, or skill as a magician; and the tribes were thenceforth ruled by the newly-installed chief.

Treaties were concluded with the Indians at L'Arbre Croche, 541 and at Sault Ste. Marie. 542 An incident occurred at the latter which for a time foreboded serious difficulty. The negotiations for this treaty were commenced about the middle of June; at which period of the year, the hunting season being ended, the Indians crowd to the towns nearest the frontiers, to enjoy themselves in dancing, feasting, and the celebration of ceremonies. But four or five years having elapsed since the conclusion of the war, there was still a vivid feeling of hostility existing among them towards the Americans. It chanced that, among the large number assembled, was the war-captain who had led the Chippewas into action, and an ambitious chief, called Sassaba, of the reigning totem of the Crane, whose brother had been killed fighting beside Tecumseh, at the battle of the Thames. An attempt was made to deter the party from carrying the American flag through the Chippewa country. Sassaba, having broken up a public council, raised the British flag on a brow of the height where the Indians were encamped, and it was observed that, at the same moment, women and children were precipitately sent from the lodges, across the river, to the Canada shore. Vivid apprehensions were entertained of a hostile encounter; the party grasped their rifles, and stood ready for conflict. General Cass, by his knowledge of the Indian character, his cool self-possession, and decision, disconcerted their plans, and averted the danger. Unarmed, and accompanied only by an interpreter, he ascended the elevated plain on which the Indians were encamped, and, proceeding to the lodge of Sassaba, he pulled down the flag, and addressed the Indians in terms of just reproof for this act of bravado. This rebuke was received without any further demonstration of hostility. On the following day, negotiations were renewed, and the treaty concluded, which recognised the old grant to the French by a cession of territory four miles square. 543

-- 387 --

Chapter IV. — War Between the Chippewas and Sioux. A Peculiar Mode of Negotiation Between Them by Means of Pictography, or Devices Inscribed on Bark.

WHEN the French traders and missionaries first visited the head of Lake Superior, which event may be placed as early as the year 1620, the Chippewas and Sioux were at war. The most ancient local traditions, both of the red and white men, represent the Chippewas to have migrated from the east towards the west, and to have conquered the pre-existing Indian tribes, from whom they wrested the territories lying west of those waters. 544 Traditional testimony, attesting the early existence of hostility between these two prominent tribes, was obtained in 1820, by the expedition through their territory to the
sources of the Mississippi. The history of the contest, as well as its origin and cause, were investigated, as a preliminary step towards effecting a pacification between the contending tribes. In an official communication to the government, Governor Cass makes the following observations regarding this hereditary war, which are worthy of notice, not only as embodying the views of aged and respectable chiefs then living, with whom he conversed, but because they reveal the existence of a means of communication between them, through the interchange of ideographic notes, by devices inscribed on slips of the inner bark of the betula papyracea:

"An incident occurred upon my recent tour to the north-west, so rare in itself, and which so clearly shows the facility with which communications may be opened between savage nations, without the intervention of letters, that I have thought it not improper to communicate it to you.

"The Chippewas and Sioux are hereditary enemies, and Charlevoix says they were at war when the French first reached the Mississippi. I endeavored, when among them, to learn the cause which first excited them to war, and the time when it commenced. But they can give no rational account. An intelligent Chippewa chief informed me that the disputed boundary between them was a subject of little importance,

-- 388 --

and that the question respecting it could be easily adjusted. He appeared to think that they fought because their fathers fought before them. This war has been waged with various success, and, in its prosecution, instances of courage and self-devotion have occurred, within a few years, which would not have disgraced the pages of Grecian or of Roman history. Some years since, mutually weary of hostilities, the chiefs of both nations met and agreed upon a truce. But the Sioux, disregarding the solemn compact which they had formed, and actuated by some sudden impulse, attacked the Chippewas, and murdered a number of them. Babisikundabi, the old Chippewa chief, who descended the Mississippi with us, was present upon this occasion, and his life was saved by the intrepidity and generous self-devotion of a Sioux chief. This man entreated, remonstrated, and threatened. He urged his countrymen, by every motive, to abstain from any violation of their faith, and, when he found his remonstrances useless, he attached himself to this Chippewa chief, and avowed his determination of saving, or perishing with him. Awed by his intrepidity, the Sioux finally agreed that he should ransom the Chippewa, and he accordingly applied to this object all the property he owned. He then accompanied the Chippewa on his journey, until he considered him safe from any parties of the Sioux who might be disposed to follow him.

"The Sioux are much more numerous than the Chippewas, and would have overpowered them long since, had the operations of the former been consentaneous. But they are divided into so many different bands, and are scattered over such an extensive country, that their efforts have no regular combination.

"Believing it equally consistent with humanity and sound policy, that these border contests should not be suffered to continue; satisfied that you would approve of any plan of pacification which might be adopted; and feeling that the Indians have a full portion of moral and physical evils, without adding to them the calamities of a war which had no definite object, and no probably termination, on our arrival at Sandy Lake, I proposed to the Chippewa chiefs that a deputation should accompany us to the mouth of the St. Peter's, with a view to establish a permanent peace between them and the Sioux. The Chippewas readily acceded to this proposition, and ten of their principal men descended the Mississippi with us.

"The computed distance from Sandy Lake to the St. Peter's, is six hundred miles; and, as I have already had the honor to inform you, a considerable proportion of the country has been the theatre of hostile enterprises. The Mississippi here traverses the immense plains which extend to the Missouri, and which present to the eye a spectacle at once interesting and fatiguing. Scarcely the slightest variation in the surface occurs, and they are entirely destitute of timber. In this debateable land, the game is very abundant; buffaloes, elks, and deer range unharmed and unconscious of harm. The mutual hostilities of the Chippewas and Sioux render it dangerous for either, unless in strong parties, to visit this portion of the country. The consequence has been, a great increase of all the animals whose flesh is used for food, or whose fur is

-- 389 --

valuable for market. We found herds of buffaloes quietly feeding upon the plains. There is little difficulty in approaching sufficiently near to kill them. With an eagerness which is natural to all hunters, and with an improvidence which always attends these excursions, the animal is frequently killed without any necessity, and no other part of them is preserved but the tongue.

"There is something extremely novel and interesting in this pursuit. The immense plains, extending as far as the eye can reach, are spotted here and there with droves of buffaloes. The distance, and the absence of known objects, render it difficult to estimate the size or the number of these animals. The hunters approach cautiously, keeping to the leeward, lest the buffaloes, whose scent is very acute, should observe them. The moment a gun is fired, the buffaloes scatter, and scour the fields in every direction. Unwieldy as they appear, they move with considerable celerity. It is difficult to divert them from their course, and the attempt is always hazardous. One of our party barely escaped with his life from this act of temerity. The hunters, who are stationed upon different parts of the plain, fire as the animals pass them. The repeated discharge of guns in every direction, the shouts of those who are engaged in the pursuit, and the sight of the buffaloes at full speed on every side, give an animation to the scene which is rarely equalled.

"The droves which we saw were comparatively small. Some of the party, whom we found at St. Peters, and who arrived at that place by land from the Council Blufls, estimated one of the droves which they saw to contain two thousand buffaloes.

"As we approached this part of the country, our Chippewa friends became cautious and observing. The flag of the United States was flying upon all our canoes, and, thanks to the character which our country acquired by the events of the last war, I found, in our progress through the whole Indian country, after we had once left the great line of communication, that this flag was a passport which rendered our journey safe. We consequently felt assured that no wandering party of the Sioux would attack even their enemies while under our protection. But the Chippewas could not appreciate the influence which the American flag would have upon other nations; nor is it probable that they estimated with much accuracy the motives which induced us to assume the character of an umpire.

"The Chippewas landed occasionally, to examine whether any of the Sioux had recently visited that quarter. In one of these excursions, a Chippewa found, in a conspicuous place, a piece of birch-bark, made flat by being fastened between two sticks at each end, and about eighteen inches long by fifteen broad. This bark contained the answer of the Sioux nation to the proposition which had been made by the Chippewas for the termination of hostilities. So sanguinary has been the contest between these tribes, that no personal communication could take place. Neither the sanctity of the office, nor the importance of the message, could protect the ambassadors of either party from the vengeance of each other. Some time preceding, the Chippewas, anxious

-- 390 --

for the restoration of peace, had sent a number of their young men into these plains with a similar piece of bark, upon which they had represented their desire. The scroll of bark had been left hanging to a tree in an exposed situation, and had been found and taken away by a party of the Sioux.

"The propositions had been examined and discussed in the Sioux villages, and the bark which we found contained their answer. The Chippewa who had prepared the bark for his tribe was with us, and on our arrival at St. Peter's, finding it was lost, I requested him to make another. He did so, and produced what I have no doubt was a perfect fac simile. We brought with us both of these projets, and they are now in the hands of Captain Douglass. He will be able to give a more intelligible description of them than I can from recollection, and they could not be in the possession of one more competent to the task.

"The Chippewas explained to us with great facility the intention of the Sioux, and apparently with as much readiness as if some common character had been established between them.

"The junction of the St. Peter's with the Mississippi, where a principal part of the Sioux reside, was represented, and also the American fort, with a sentinel on duty, and the flag flying. The principal Sioux chief is named the Six, alluding, I believe, to the bands or villages under his influence. To show that he was not present at the deliberations upon the subject of peace, he was represented upon a smaller piece of bark, which was attached to the other. To identify him, he was drawn with six heads and a large medal. Another Sioux chief stood in the foreground, holding the pipe of peace in his right hand, and his weapons in his left. Even we could not misunderstand that. Like our own eagle, with the olive branch and arrows, he was desirous of peace, but prepared for war.

"The Sioux party contained fifty-nine warriors, and this number was indicated by fifty-nine guns, which were drawn upon one corner of the bark. The only subject which occasioned any difficulty in the interpretation of the Chippewas, was owing to an incident, of which they were ignorant. The encampment of our troops had been removed from the low grounds upon the St. Peter's, to a high hill upon the Mississippi; two forts were therefore drawn upon the bark, and the solution of this enigma could not be discovered till our arrival at St. Peter's.

"The effects of the discovery of this bark upon the minds of the Chippewas was visible and immediate. Their doubts and apprehensions appeared to be removed, and during the residue of the journey their conduct and feelings were completely changed.

"The Chippewa bark was drawn in the same general manner, and Sandy Lake, the principal place of their residence, was represented with much accuracy. To remove any doubt respecting it, a view was given of the old North-West establishment, situated upon its shore, and now in the possession of the American Fur Company. No

-- 391 --

proportion was preserved in their attempt at delineation. One mile of the Mississippi, including the mouth of the St. Peter's, occupied as much space as the whole distance to Sandy Lake; nor was there anything to show that one part was nearer to the spectator than another; yet the object of each party was completely obtained. Speaking languages radically different from each other, for the Sioux constitute one of three grand divisions, into which the early French writers have arranged the aborigines of our country, while the Chippewas are a branch of what they call Algonquins, and without any conventional character established between them, these tribes thus opened a communication upon the most important subject which could occupy their attention. Propositions leading to a peace were made and accepted, and the simplicity of the mode could only be equalled by the distinctness of the representations, and by the ease with which they were understood.

"An incident like this, of rare occurrence at this day, and throwing some light upon the mode of communication before the invention of letters, I thought it not improper to communicate to you. It is only necessary to add, that on our arrival at St. Peter's, we found Colonel Leavenworth had been as attentive and indefatigable upon this subject as upon every other which fell within the sphere of his command.

"We discovered a remarkable coincidence, as well in the sound as in the application, between a word in the Sioux language, and one in our own. The circumstance is so singular that I deem it worthy of notice. The Sioux call the
Falls of St. Anthony, Ha ha, and the pronunciation is in every respect similar to the same words in the English language. 545 I could not learn that this word was used for any other purpose, and I believe it is confined in its application to that place alone. The traveller, in ascending the Mississippi, turns a projecting point, and these falls suddenly appear before him at a short distance. Every man, savage, or civilized, must be struck with the magnificent spectacle which opens to his view. There is an assemblage of objects which, added to the solitary grandeur of the scene, to the height of the cataract, and to the eternal roar of its waters, inspire the spectator with awe and admiration.

"In his ANECDOTES OF PAINTING, it is stated by Horace Walpole, that ‘on the invention of fosses for boundaries, the common people called them Ha ha's! to express their surprise on finding a sudden and unperceived check to their walk.’ I believe the word is yet used in this manner in England. It is certainly not a little remarkable that the same word should be thus applied by one of the most civilized, and by one of the most barbarous people, to objects which, although not the same, were yet calculated to excite the admiration of the observer.

"Nothing can show more clearly how fallacious are those deductions of comparative etymology, which are founded upon a few words carefully gleaned here and there from

-- 392 --

languages having no common origin, and which are used by people who have neither connection nor intercourse. The common descent of two nations can never be traced by the accidental consonance of a few syllables, or words, and the attempt must lead us into the regions of fancy.

"The Sioux language is probably one of the most barren which is spoken by any of our aboriginal tribes. Colonel Leavenworth, who made considerable proficiency in it, calculated, I believe, that the number of words did not exceed 1000. They use more gestures in their conversation than any Indians I have seen, and this is a necessary result of the poverty of their language." 546

-- 393 --

Chapter V. — The Chippewas, Pottawattamies, and Ottawas Cede Their Territory in Illinois and Southern Michigan.

REFERENCE has been previously made to the immigration which commenced after the close of the war of 1814; such a transfer of population had never then been known to have occurred. In all other countries, prior to this era, civilization had proceeded with slow and measured steps; but here it moved forward with such rapid strides that the expedition of the Argonauts, the march of the Huns, or the Scythians, into Europe, sink into insignificance, when contrasted with it. Unlike those efforts, it was not a hostile inroad backed by the spear and the sword, but a peaceful movement of agriculturists, artisans, and artists. The plow, the hammer, the sickle, and the hoe, were the means of extending this vast empire, which was conquered in a very short period. Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Louisiana, were matured, and entered the Union at an early day, though not without some little delay; but Indiana, Mississippi, Illinois, Alabama, and Missouri, seemed to spring into existence as if by magic, and were admitted into the confederacy within six years after the conclusion of the treaty of Ghent. Owing to this cause the demands made on the Indians for new territory were continuous; and the circle of civilization was constantly expanding, while that of the hunter was proportionally contracting. It would be anything but a light task to trace the resulting sequence of treaties, cessions, annuities, and stipulations for the payment of coin, merchandise, seeds, implements, and cattle, to the savage, in return for his land; but, while any section of their territories abounded in game, the Indians elected to retire thither, and bestowed but little attention on either grazing or agriculture. There was, therefore, a singular concurrence in the desire of the emigrants to buy, and in the willingness of the Indians to sell, their lands.

Some of these treaties merit notice, on account of the wide-spread and beneficial influence they exercised. In the month of August, 1821, the Pottawattamies, Chippewas, and Ottowas, of Illinois and western Michigan, having been summoned to attend a council at Chicago, about 3000 persons assembled at that place. On the 17th of that month, the public conferences were opened with the chiefs, when the

-- 394 --

commissioners laid before them the business, for the transaction of which the council had been convened. Having held the appointment of Secretary to the Board of Commissioners, I have, in another work, 547 related in detail the proceedings which took place at the negotiation of this treaty. The venerable chief, Topinabee, who had been present at Greenville in 1795, where he signed the treaty then concluded, and who had also appended his name to that formed at the Rapids of the Miami in 1817, was the principal personage among the sachems and counsellors. The most conspicuous speaker was METEA, a Pottawattamie, from the Wabash, whose tall and slender person was disfigured by a withered arm, and his sullen dignity of manners relieved by sparkling black eyes, a good voice, and ready utterance. He was the popular speaker on this occasion, and, as he possessed considerable reflective powers, his opinions and sentiments may, perhaps, justly be regarded as those of the Algonquin tribes of his day. "My father," he said, addressing the delegated authority of the Government, "you know that we first came to this country, a long time ago, and when we sat ourselves down upon it, we met with a great many hardships and difficulties. Our country was then very large, but now it is dwindled to a small spot, and you wish to purchase that. This has caused us much reflection, and we bring all our chiefs and warriors, and families, to hear you.

"Since you first came among us, we have listened with an attentive ear to your words; we have hearkened to your counsels. Whenever you have had a favor to ask of us, our answer has been, invariably, Yes!

"A long time has passed since we came upon these lands. Our old people have all sunk into their graves; they had sense. We are all young and foolish, and would not do anything they could not approve, if living. We are fearful to offend their spirits, if we sell our lands. We are fearful to offend you, if we do not. We do not know how we can part with the land.

"Our country was given to us by the Great Spirit, to hunt upon, to make corn fields to live on, and, when life is over, to spread down our beds upon, and lie down. That Spirit would never forgive us if we sold it. When you first spoke to us at St. Mary's, 548 we said we had a little land, and sold you a piece. But we told you we could spare no more; now, you ask us again. You are never satisfied. * * *

"Take notice, it is a small piece of land where we now live. It has been wasting away ever since the white people became our neighbors. We have now hardly enough to cover the bones of our tribe." 549

Such figures of speech and expressions were very popular among the Indians, but they were delusive. They were the usual arguments employed by the hunter to justify his

-- 395 --

tetention of millions of acres, for no higher purpose than to hunt the wild animals existing thereon. A critical examination has proved that, not a single acre of the land ceded by the Indians of this latitude was under cultivation, nor fifty acres of that lying between the banks of the Wabash and Chicago; and not one solitary cornfield could be found on the tract explored between Peoria and the same place. The aboriginal population occupied the banks, not only of the Illinois, but also of its tributaries, with a few meagre villages. To the northward, their lands stretched along the shores of Lake Michigan to those of the Menomonees of Milwaukie, and the Winnebagoes of Green Bay; and westward, their undivided territories were bounded by those of the Sacs and Foxes of the Mississippi. It was pertinently remarked by one of the commissioners, after taking an elaborate survey of the vast tracts which they possessed, that the portion actually under cultivation bore no greater proportion to the whole, than two or three flies did to the surface of the long table before them. 550 After examining the arguments adduced by the chiefs in the course of the conference, the commissioners terminated their analysis of them by alluding to the complaints made by the Indians because all persons were debarred from selling any liquor during the session of the conference. "If we wished to get your lands without paying a just equivalent for them, we have nothing to do but to get you all intoxicated, and we could purchase as much land as we pleased. You perfectly know, that when in liquor you have not your proper senses, and are wholly unfit to transact any business, especially business of so weighty a nature. When intoxicated, you may be induced to sign any paper, you then fall asleep, and, when you awake, find you have lost all your lands. But, instead of pursuing this course, we keep the whiskey from you, that you may make the best bargain for yourselves, your women, and children. I am surprised, particularly, that your OLD men should come forward, continually crying, whiskey! whiskey! whiskey!" 551

The discussions of the conference were principally sustained by Topinabee, Metea, Metawa, and Keewaygooshkum, with more spirit, freedom, and justice of reasoning, than the Indians generally evinced. Full two weeks were devoted to the discussion of the treaty, which was finally signed on the 20th of the month. By it these nations ceded 5,000,000 of acres lying within the southern boundaries of Michigan; 552 but from this tract 484 square miles were reserved for the Indians. A permanent annuity of $1000 in coin was granted, as also a limited annuity of $1500 per annum, which was designed to be used for the promotion of agriculture and the advancement of the useful arts.

-- 396 --

Previous section

Next section

Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document:
Powered by PhiloLogic