Fear and Loathing on the Brule River: or how Lt. Allen’s canoe skills fail to convince the Ojibwe of the overwhelming military might of the United States. (Part 1)

April 8, 2013

Note:  This is the first of four posts about Lt. James Allen, his ten American soldiers and their experiences on the St. Croix and Brule rivers.  They were sent from Sault Ste. Marie to accompany the 1832 expedition of Indian Agent Henry Schoolcraft to the source of the Mississippi River.  Each of the posts will give some general information about the expedition and some pages from Allen’s journal.  The journal picks up July 26, 1832, after the expedition has already reached the source, proceeded downriver to Fort Snelling (Minneapolis) and was on its way back to Lake Superior.   

Henry Rowe Schoolcraft (1793-1864)

Although I’ve been aware of it for some time, and have used parts of it before, I only recently read Henry Schoolcraft’s, Narrative of an Expedition Through the Upper Mississippi to Itasca Lake: The Actual Source of this River from cover to cover.  The book, first published in 1834, details Schoolcraft’s 1832 expedition through northern Wisconsin and Minnesota.  As Indian agent at Sault Ste. Marie, he was officially sent by the Secretary of War, Lewis Cass, to investigate the ongoing warfare between the Ojibwe and Dakota Sioux.  His personal goal, however, was to reach the source of the Mississippi River and be recognized as its discoverer.

Schoolcraft’s expedition included a doctor to administer smallpox vaccinations, an interpreter (Schoolcraft’s brother-in-law), and a protestant missionary.  Having been west before, Schoolcraft knew what it would take to navigate the country.  He hired several mix-blooded voyageurs who are hardly mentioned in the narrative, but who paddled the canoes, carried the portage loads, shot ducks, and did the other work along the way.

Ozhaawashkodewekwe (Susan Johnston) was the mother-in-law of Schoolcraft and the mother of expedition interpreter George Johnston. Born in the Chequamegon region, she is a towering figure in the history of Lake Superior during the late British and early American periods.

Attached the the expedition was Lt. James Allen and a detachment of ten soldiers, whose purpose was to demonstrate American power over the Ojibwe lands.  The United States had claimed this land since the Treaty of Paris, but it was only after the War of 1812 that the British withdrew allowing American trading companies to move in.  Still, by 1832 the American government had very little reach beyond its outposts at the Sault, Prairie du Chien, and Fort Snelling.  The Ojibwe continued to trade with the British and war with the Dakota in opposition to their “Great Father” in Washington’s wishes.

This isn’t to say the Ojibwe were ignorant of the Americans and their military.  By 1832, the Ojibwe were well aware of and concerned about the chimookomaanag (long knives) and what they were doing to other Indian nations to the south and east.  However, the reality on the ground was that the Ojibwe were still in power in their lands.

Allen1

Doc. 323, pg 55

Doc. 323, pg. 56

Doc. 323, pg. 56

Doc. 323, pg. 57 Allen's journal is

Doc. 323, pg. 57
Allen’s journal is part of Phillip P. Mason’s edition of Schoolcraft’s Expedition to Lake Itasca:  The Discovery of the Source of the Mississippi (1958).  However, these Google Books pages come from the original publication as part of the United States Congress Serial Set.

To be continued…

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