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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: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=schoolcraft6.html


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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,

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=schoolcraft6.html
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