Vincent Roy Jr.                    (From Life and Labors of Rt. Rev. Frederic Baraga by Chrysostom Verwyst: Digitized by Google Books)

Chief Buffalo’s 1852 delegation to Washington D.C. is an iconic moment in the history of the Chequamegon region. As the story goes, the 92 year-old chief made the difficult journey by canoe, steamship, rail and foot all the way to the capital city, met with President Millard Fillmore, and came back with an order to stop the removal of the Wisconsin Ojibwe. Despite its continuing popularity, and its special importance to the Red Cliff community, recent scholarship has called into question several key details of this story.  Central to this controversy is whether or not Buffalo actually met the president.  However, I recently found a document in the archives of an early Red Cliff resident, Vincent Roy Jr.  It confirms what Red Cliff residents already know.  Chief Buffalo did travel to Washington and met the president in June of 1852.     

Benjamin Armstrong

According to the popular Buffalo story, some of the young men of the La Pointe Band were ready to fight the United States in early 1852.  The government removal efforts that led to the Sandy Lake Tragedy in the fall of 1850 were ongoing, and the future of the Ojibwe bands in Wisconsin was in doubt.  To maintain the peace, and gain title to reservations in Wisconsin, Buffalo and a small group of chiefs and headmen (including Oshogay Buffalo’s speaker and  Benjamin Armstrong his interpreter), left La Pointe that spring.  They encountered bad weather and negative government officials along the way, but they were able to gather signatures on their petition from several prominent Lake Superior whites.  In New York and Washington, they ran short on money and had to count on the kindness of wealthy Americans who were amazed by the culture and appearance of the Ojibwe from the western country. In Washington, the Indian Affairs department refused to hear their petition and ordered them to return to La Pointe, but through luck, they met a congressman who arranged a special meeting with the president.  As the story goes, Buffalo smoked with Fillmore and Oshogay delivered a long speech laying out the Ojibwe grievances.  In a second meeting, Fillmore declared the removal efforts over.  The delegation then returned to La Pointe via St. Paul and stopped at several Ojibwe villages causing “great rejoicing” as they announced the news.  Two years later the Treaty of La Pointe (1854) confirmed forever the promises made to Buffalo by Fillmore.

Washington Delegation, June 22 1852:  The man in the upper right is assumed to be Armstrong. (Engraved from unknown photograph by Marr and Richards Co. for B. Armstrong Early Life Among the Indians). Look for an upcoming post about this image

The hero, along with Buffalo, in this version story is often Benjamin Armstrong.  That shouldn’t be too surprising because all the details of it come from Armstrong’s 1891 memoir Early Life Among the Indians.  This entire work is freely available online on the website of the Wisconsin Historical Society.  Another well-made website, chiefbuffalo.com, has several additional primary documents related to Buffalo and Armstrong. I consider Early Life required reading for anyone who lives in the Chequamegon Bay area.  However, the reader has to be careful with Armstrong.  As I mentioned in the post on Hanging Cloud, the female warrior of the Chippewa River country, the memoir should be treated like a work of literature rather than scholarly piece.  It wasn’t unusual for 19th-century autobiographies to contain fictional parts, and Early Life is no exception.  The details that the elderly Armstrong (who admitted to a fuzzy memory) dictated to Thomas P. Wentworth in 1891, don’t always match the details found in the documents of the 1850s.  This is the case with the Buffalo-Fillmore story.  

Recent Scholarly Work and Primary Sources about the 1852 Delegation

 In his extremely thorough scholarly overview of the pro-Treaty Rights position, Chippewa Treaty Rights (1991), Ronald Satz admitted that “Armstrong’s reminiscences contain some factual errors” and that anti-Treaty Rights anthropologist James Clifton attacked Armstrong’s credibility in an attempt to undermine the Treaty Rights argument.  Still, Satz’ story of the 1852 delegation is straight out of Armstrong with the admission that “Scholars have not located a decree by Fillmore specifically rescinding President Taylor’s removal order.”  Patty Loew’s Indian Nations of Wisconsin (2001) also gives the story Chief Buffalo’s journey largely the way it appeared in Armstrong.  At that time, it appeared that the popular story, the Armstrong story, and the mainstream scholarship all matched up.

However, recent years have seen a shift in the interpretation of the Buffalo story  Bruce M. White’s The Regional Context of the Removal Order of 1850, published in Fish in the Lakes, Wild Rice, and Game in Abundance:  Testimony on Behalf of Mille Lacs Ojibwe Hunting and Fishing Rights (2000; Michigan State University Press), is a highly comprehensive account of the time period and the players involved.  He devotes an entire chapter to the 1852 delegation.  He does not dismiss Armstrong entirely, writing:

Some questions have been raised about the accuracy of Armstrong’s account.  Some details, including dates, in Armstrong’s memories of events that had occurred 40 years before, appear to be mistaken.  This, of course, is true of many autobiographical accounts written without the benefit of written documentation.  Nonetheless, many key features of Armstrong’s account find corroboration in Indian office records, though not always in the exact way or order in which Armstrong describes them.  (pg. 245)

Despite this nod to Armstrong, White’s examination of historical records from the National Archives, the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions, Minnesota Territorial records, and other sources, paint a different picture from that in Early Life Among the Indians.  He produces letters from federal officials saying the Indian Office sent the delegation home “with a flea in their ear,” while John Watrous, the Indian Agent the delegation came to complain about, received “flying colors.”  White also uncovered a letter that Bad River missionary Leonard Wheeler wrote after Buffalo’s return to La Pointe.  It stated the delegation “accomplished nothing.”  Most significantly, on page 253, White reproduces a letter from Buffalo and Oshogay to Minnesota Territorial governor Alexander Ramsey.  The letter is written in July 1852, after the delegation returned.  The chiefs inform the governor that the decision is his whether or not to remove the Ojibwe.  They plead with Ramsey to let them stay on the lake shore.  This a far cry from the situation described by Armstrong where Buffalo received a promise from Fillmore and spread “rejoicing” to all the Ojibwe bands. 

In fact, the very existence of the Buffalo-Fillmore meeting is called into question.  For all the documents White produces saying the delegation was unsuccessful, he fails to produce one that even speaks of a meeting with the president.  He leaves the possibility open for such a meeting, using some notations indicating chain of custody of the delegation’s petition as circumstantial evidence.  However he uses language like “Whether or not the Ojibwe actually met with Fillmore…” for an important symbolic event taken for granted in Ojibwe history up until that point.

If White’s investigation of the original sources calls into question the success of the delegation and its ability to meet the president, Theresa Schenck’s William W. Warren:  The Life, Letters, and Times of an Ojibwe Leader (2007; U. of Nebraska Press) makes one question Armstrong’s importance in the group.  In Early Life Among the Indians, Armstrong is the star of the show.  He claims the delegation was his idea, that he conducted it, made all the arrangements along the way, and was generally responsible for its success.  The historical record does not back these claims up.  Even before the Sandy Lake Tragedy, Ojibwe chiefs were doubting the truth of the removal order as stated by Agent Watrous and Governor Ramsey.  They demanded to hear it directly from the president himself.  By the end of 1852, after seeing hundreds of their fellow Ojibwe die in two botched removal attempts, and having missed out on two crucial years of annuity payments, the demands of the chiefs for a meeting with the president grew louder.  It was William Warren who wanted to lead and interpret for an officially-sanctioned delegation.  As Ramsey used stalling tactics, Warren’s health failed, and the hope of official approval waned, Buffalo took matters into his own hands and arranged his own delegation.  The elderly chief wanted to bring Leonard Wheeler along, but the missionary objected to the inclusion of a certain “half-breed” who was “incapable of doing justice to their affairs.”  White speculates that Wheeler meant Armstrong, but Armstrong was a white man from Alabama.  A June 24, 1852 letter, from William Warren to his cousin George, reveals who the mix-blooded interpreter likely was.  This letter, as quoted in Schenck (2007) reads:

…Old Beauf [Buffalo] with others having V. Roy Jr for Intpr have gone on to Washington.  All nonsense.  They can effect nothing going off like fools with poor interpreters and representing only the Lapointe band (pg. 162).

Warren had included Vincent Roy Jr. in his original plan for a Washington delegation, so it seems his objections to Buffalo’s choice of interpreter have more to do with the chief not following Warren’s plan than on any reflection on the merits of Roy himself.  Roy, who later in life was described as a man of outstanding character, may have earned the enmity of Wheeler because he was a strong Catholic.  Wheeler and the other ABCFM missionaries were working intensely at this time to counter Roman Catholic influence in the area.  In either case, Armstrong isn’t even mentioned.  Though his presence isn’t supported by these documents, I believe the details of Armstrong’s memoir show he was part of the delegation.  However, the claims that he “conducted” it seem grossly exaggerated. 

Local Response to the Questioning of the Chief Buffalo Story

Bruce White’s primary goal was to argue the Mille Lacs Treaty-Rights case rather than maintain the popular history of this area, and Theresa Schenck has never been one to shy away from challenging long-cherished myths, but what do scholars with a bigger stake in the Chief Buffalo story say?

On the Chequamegon History website, I’ve written a lot on Buffalo, and I’ve taken part in various projects related to Buffalo’s trip, so I was disappointed when I first heard from Dr. Schenck that our region’s defining historical event may have never happened.  Unfortunately, my primary research only seemed to confirm that the 1852 trip was a failure.  The only new document I could find was an untranslated German travelogue Reisen in Nordamerika in den Jahren 1852 and 1853 (Travels in North America in the Years 1852 and 1853) by the noted Austrian travel writers Moritz Wagner and Karl Ritter von Scherzer.  On page 336 of Volume 2, Wagner and Scherzer describe meeting Buffalo.  I don’t read German, so I had to work through Google Translate:

From page 336 of Reisen in Nordamerika Vol. 2 by Wagner and Scherzer. Look for an upcoming post with more from this obscure 19th-century travelogue (Digitized by Google Books).

 “The Indian chief, worthy by his age, heredity, and his imposing figure, told us he was born near the island and left the area only once to travel in the matters of his tribe to the Great Father [president] in Washington.  His stay was accompanied by words of comfort but little success.”   (My rough Google-aided translation of above)

This source, combined with the work of Schenck and White, and other issues I’ve had with Armstrong, led me to believe that perhaps the Chief Buffalo story was just a myth.  Then, this summer saw two locally-linked authors publish works.

This summer, Patty Loew released an updated version of her fantastic introduction to Wisconsin Indian history, Indian Nations of Wisconsin.  It revises the Armstrong-based section on the 1852 trip from the first edition to admit that Buffalo may not have met the president.  Loew lives in Madison but is a Bad River tribal member and a Chief Buffalo fan.

Howard Paap, who is married into the Red Cliff community, has written extensively about it.  His new book, Red Cliff, Wisconsin:  A History of an Ojibwe Community, also came out this summer He extends White’s arguments and thoroughly evaluates Armstrong’s story against the other primary sources.  Paap’s conclusions are bold for someone writing a history on behalf of a reservation community established for Buffalo’s descendants:

We are left with the question of whether or not the Buffalo and Oshaga delegation really did have an audience with President Fillmore in the summer of 1852, and if so, what actually transpired during such a meeting…  

…perhaps the easiest solution to the question of whether or not such a meeting occurred is to believe Benjamin Armstrong’s recollections, along with contemporary Ojibwe oral traditions about the trip, and leave it at that.

However, given the reality of the errors in Armstrong’s memoir, and much more importantly, the hard evidence of the trip’s paper trail as recently uncovered by Charles Cleland and Bruce White, we are confronted with a dilemma.  In today’s popular history the scene of Buffalo and President Fillmore standing eye to eye, as crafted in the Carl Gawboy painting wherein Fillmore is handing Buffalo a paper canceling the removal order, is compelling, but the surviving papers that document another scenario cannot be ignored (pg. 241).

Paap goes on to describe the Buffalo story as “folkloric,” but he suggests that while the 1852 delegation did not single-handedly end the threat of Ojibwe removal, the most symbolic part of the myth remains the meeting with the president.  Following White, Paap admits the possibility that the Buffalo-Fillmore meeting happened, reiterating that primary sources suggested the delegation did not achieve its objectives, but there was nothing that explicitly said there was no meeting with the president.

The Vincent Roy Jr. Account of the 1852 Trip   

In browsing the online catalog of the Wisconsin Historical Society archives this spring, I discovered the society had some of Vincent Roy Jr.’s papers.  The catalog description mentioned a fur trade journal, a description of early ships on Lake Superior, and some manuscript biographies of Roy from some Catholic priests.  Roy, who was raised in an Ojibwe-French mix-blood family, was a fur trader and government interpreter in his early years.  Still a young man at the time of the Treaty of 1854, he lived into the 20th century and was notable for several reasons including making multiple trips to Washington with Ojibwe delegations, being the namesake of Roy’s Point in Red Cliff, leading area mix-blooded Ojibwe in the cause of the “half-breed land claims,” and being one of the earliest and wealthiest settlers of Superior.  He was a commanding figure in the Catholic Church and Democratic Party of Wisconsin, and there is a lot out there about him.  

The wonderful staff at Wisconsin Historical Society Research Center in Ashland agreed to have the papers sent up from Madison for me.  The arrived in early August, mere days after I had the chance to read Paap and Loew.  Since the scope of Chequamegon History is pre-1860, I went in mostly interested in seeing the fur trade journal.  I assumed the biography would be identical to the biographical information about Roy published in Life and Labors of Rt. Rev. Frederic Baraga by Chrysostom Verwyst.  The Holland-born Verwyst was a priest who knew Roy personally and considered him “The Greatest Indian of the Northwest.”  I didn’t think there would be anything new in this part of the archive, but I was wrong:

[Letter accompanying manuscript biography written in Verwyst’s hand]

St. Agnes’ Church

205 E. FRONT ST.

Ashland, Wis., June 27, 1903

Reuben G. Thwaites,

Sec.  Wis. Hist. Soc.  Madison, Wis.

Dear Sir,

I herewith send you personal memories of Hon. Vincent Roy, lately deceased, as put together by Rev. Father Valentine O.F.M.  Should your society find them of sufficient historical interest to warrant their publication, you will please correct them properly before getting them printed.

Yours very respectfully,

Fr Chrysostom Verwyst O.F.M.

[From Page one of manuscript biography in Valentine’s handwriting]

~ Biographical Sketch – Vincent Roy ~

~ T. Apr. 2. 1896 – Superior Wis. ~

[Sections 1-3 (Roy’s early years) omitted.  Transcription picks up on page 5 (section 4).  Valentine lists his sources in the left margin.  I will put them in parentheses before each paragraph]. 

(Mr. Roy to V.)           

IV.            His first Visit to Washington, D.C. – The Treaty of La Pointe.

At the instance of Chief Buffalo and in his company Vincent made his first trip to Washington, D.C.  It was in the spring of the year 1852.  Buffalo (Kechewaishke), head chief of the Lake Superior Ojibways had seen the day when his people, according to indian estimation, was wealthy and powerful, but now he was old and his people sickly and starving poor.  Vincent referring once to the incidents of that time spoke about in this way “He (Buffalo) and the other old men of the tribe, his advisers, saw quite well that things could not go on much longer in the way they had done.  The whites were crowding in upon them from all sides and the U.S. government said and did nothing.  It appeared to these indians their land might be taken from them without they ever getting anything for it.  They were scant of food and clothing and the annuities resulting from the sale of their land might keep them alive yet for a while.  The desire became loud that it might be tried to push the matter at Washington admitting that they had to give up the land but insisting they be paid for it.  Buffalo was willing to go but there was no one to go with him.  He asked me to go with him.  As I had no other business just then on hand I went along.”

(Sources: Cournoyer or Mr. Roy to V.) [Vincent Cournoyer was V. Roy’s brother-in-law]

They went by way of the lakes.  Arriving in Washington, they found the City and the capitol in a garb of mourning and business suspended.  Henry Clay, the great statesman and orator, had died (June 29) and his body was lying in state.  Vincent said:  “we shook hands and spoke with the President (Fillmore) and with some of the headmen of the government.  They told us that they could not do anything at the moment, but that our petition should be attended to as soon as possible.  Unable to obtain any more, we looked around a few days and returned home.”  The trip had entailed a considerable drain on their private purses and the result towards the point at issue for them, the selling of the land of the indians, was not very apparent.

(the treaty doct.)

After repeated urging and an interval of over two years, during which Franklin Pierce had become President of the United States, the affairs of these Indians were at last taken up and dealt with at La Pointe by Henry C. Gilbert and David B. Herriman, commissioners on the part of the United States.  A treaty was concluded, September 30th 1854.  The Lake Superior Ojibways thereby relinquished their last claims to the soil of north west Michigan, north east Wisconsin, and an adjoining part of Minnesota, and, whilst it was understood that the reserves at L’Anse Michigan, Odanah, Court Oreille Wisconsin and Fondulac Minnesota were set apart for them, they received in consideration of the rest the aggregate sum of about four hundred and seventy five thousand dollars, which, specified as to money and material, ran into twenty years rations.

(Cournoyer)

Chief Buffalo in consideration of services rendered was allowed his choice of a section of land anywhere in the ceded terrain.  The choice he made, it is said, were the heights of the city of Duluth, but never complying with the incident law formalities, it matters little that the land became the site of a city, his heirs never got the benefit of it.  Of Vincent who had been also of service to the indians from the first to the last of the deal, it can only be said that he remained not just without all benefit from it.  A clause was inserted in the treaty (Art. 2. n. 7.) by which heads of families and single persons over twenty one years of mixed blood were each entitled to take and hold free of further charge eighty acres of the ceded lands:- this overruled in a simple and direct way the difficulties Vincent had met with of late in trying to make good his claim to such a property.  The advantages here gained was however common to others with him.  For the sacrifices he made of time and money in going with Chief Buffalo to Washington he was not reimbursed, so it is believed, and is very likely true judgeing from what was the case when later on he made the same trip a second time.

[End of Section 4, middle of page 7 of Valentine’s manuscript]

In my mind, this document is proof that the Buffalo-Fillmore meeting did happen.  We know Roy went on the trip, and his account (unlike Armstrong’s) supports rather than contradicts the documents from the time period.  It wasn’t two scheduled ceremonial meetings that permanently settled the removal question.  In fact, it may have only been a handshake and a few words, but the central image of the two leaders, ogimaa and president, meeting remains part of the Chief Buffalo story.

Vincent Cournoyer and Vincent Roy Jr. c. 1880 (Charles Bell, Washington:  Collections of the Smithsonian Institution)

Identified as Vincent Cournoyer and Vincent Roy Jr. c. 1880 in photo at Bayfield Library.  See the Photos, Photos, Photos post for an alternative identification. (Charles Bell, Washington: Collections of the Smithsonian Institution)

For Vincent Roy Jr., I hope this inquiry will lead to more attention.  His life spanned two key eras in Ojibwe history and he was often at the center of it.  His name is all over the primary sources, but compared with Armstrong, the Warrens, and the Beaulieus, we don’t see him much in the secondary scholarship.

For Benjamin Armstrong, I think the Roy documents require us to take a fresh look at Early Life Among the Indians.  If the Fillmore meeting can be verified after a long look, there’s a good chance some of the other details in the memoir can be as well.  I’m a Benjamin Armstrong fan, and he’s taken a beating in this post and some of the recent scholarship, but I still maintain that there is a lot of truth in Early Life.

For Chief Buffalo, it is gratifying to find out that the 1852 meeting with the president isn’t complete fiction.  Buffalo may not have been satisfied with the results of his trip, but I feel the ultimate appeal of his story is the fight to keep an Ojibwe homeland in Wisconsin.  We may not be able to point to a single event and say, “That’s where the removal died,” but ultimately, the Ojibwe leadership prevailed.  For that reason, we should continue to celebrate the 1852 delegation, all the people who were part of it, and all those who were part of the larger struggle for justice it represented.

Sources:
Armstrong, Benj G., and Thomas P. Wentworth. Early Life among the Indians: Reminiscences from the Life of Benj. G. Armstrong : Treaties of 1835, 1837, 1842 and 1854 : Habits and Customs of the Red Men of the Forest : Incidents, Biographical Sketches, Battles, &c. Ashland, WI: Press of A.W. Bowron, 1892. Print.
Loew, Patty. Indian Nations of Wisconsin: Histories of Endurance and Renewal. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society, 2001. Print.
———— Indian Nations of Wisconsin: Histories of Endurance and Renewal. 2nd ed.  Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society, 2013. Print.
McClurken, James M., and Charles E. Cleland. Fish in the Lakes, Wild Rice, and Game in Abundance: Testimony on Behalf of Mille Lacs Ojibwe Hunting and Fishing Rights / James M. McClurken, Compiler ; with Charles E. Cleland … [et Al.]. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State UP, 2000. Print.
Paap, Howard D. Red Cliff, Wisconsin: A History of an Ojibwe Community. St. Cloud, MN: North Star, 2013. Print.
Satz, Ronald N. Chippewa Treaty Rights: The Reserved Rights of Wisconsin’s Chippewa Indians in Historical Perspective. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, 1991. Print.
Schenck, Theresa M. William W. Warren: The Life, Letters, and times of an Ojibwe Leader. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2007. Print.
Verwyst, Chrysostom and Father Valentine.  Biographical Sketch – Vincent Roy Jr. 1896-1903. MS. Vincent Roy Jr. Papers. Wisconsin Historical Society Archives, n.p.
Verwyst, Chrysostom. Life and Labors of Rt. Rev. Frederic Baraga: First Bishop of Marquette, Mich., to Which Are Added Short Sketches of the Lives and Labors of Other Indian Missionaries of the Northwest. Milwaukee, WI: M.H. Wiltzius, 1900. Print.
Wagner, Moritz, and Karl Von Scherzer. Reisen in Nordamerika in Den Jahren 1852 Und 1853. Leipzig: Arnold, 1854. Print.
Warren, William W., and Theresa M. Schenck. History of the Ojibway People. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 2009. Print.

Thank you to Theresa Schenck, Howard Paap, Linda Mittlestadt, Pam Ekholm, Larry Balber, and Betty Johnson for help and encouragement in this research.

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KAIZHEOSH, and his band from Lake Vieu Desert.  Michigan and Wisconsin: Copied from the original birch bark by Seth Eastman and published in Schoolcraft, Henry R. Information Respecting the History, Condition and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States, Volume 1. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo, and Company, 1853. (Digitized by the University of Nebraska Libraries)

In the fall of 1848, a group of Ojibwe Indians led by a charismatic mix-blooded interpreter, arrived in Cincinnati, Ohio.  They were bound for Washington D.C., but didn’t have the money to get there because they didn’t have “permission” from the Indian Agent for the trip. They had to raise funds along the way by putting on dances for the curious public.  Those who read Chequamegon History might remember this post and recognize them as John Baptiste Martell, Oshkaabewis, Gezhiiyaash, and the other chiefs from the Lac du Flambeau/Ontonagon region who carried the famous pictographic birch bark petitions to Washington.  The pictographs showing the united Ojibwe clans, and the written petition that accompanied them, asked the government to create reservations in Michigan and Wisconsin, and not remove the Oijbwe.

When Gezhiiyaash got sick in Cincinnati, the doctor he was seeing noticed that the petitions were not the only birch bark documents carried by the party.  The ill Lac Vieux Desert chief was a leader in the Midewiwin Society, and he had brought a Mide scroll.  His doctor, like many prominent American men in the middle of the 19th century, was a Freemason, and this is where things got interesting.  And, I’ll leave it at that because I don’t want to spoil any more of this story.  It’s a good one.

Masonic Voice Review, Volume 4.  J. Ernst., 1849.  Digitized by Google Books

There isn’t a whole lot to add to this other than to say the 1848-49 “Martell Expedition” gets weirder and more interesting with each new source that surfaces. Please read …a donation of twenty-four sections of land covering the graves of our fathers, our sugar orchards, and our rice lakes and rivers… and Reconstructing the “Martell” Delegation through Newspapers, for an explanation of the goals and accomplishments of these chiefs and the obstacles they faced along the way.

Sources:
Satz, Ronald N. Chippewa Treaty Rights: The Reserved Rights of Wisconsin’s Chippewa Indians in Historical Perspective. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, 1991. Print.
Schenck, Theresa M. William W. Warren: The Life, Letters, and times of an Ojibwe Leader. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2007. Print.
Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe, and Seth Eastman. Historical and Statistical Information Respecting the History, Condition, and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Collected and Prepared under the Direction of the Bureau of Indian Affairs per Act of Congress of March 3rd, 1847. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo, 1851. Print.

Oshogay

August 12, 2013

At the most recent count, Chief Buffalo is mentioned in over two-thirds of the posts here on Chequamegon History.  That’s the most of anyone listed so far in the People Index.  While there are more Buffalo posts on the way, I also want to draw attention to some of the lesser known leaders of the La Pointe Band.  So, look for upcoming posts about Dagwagaane (Tagwagane), Mizay, Blackbird, Waabojiig, Andeg-wiiyas, and others.  I want to start, however, with Oshogay, the young speaker who traveled to Washington with Buffalo in 1852 only to die the next year before the treaty he was seeking could be negotiated.

Two hundred years before Oshogay went to Washington D. C., the Jesuits of New France recorded the Outchougai (Atchougue) as a distinct nation among the many Anishinaabe peoples of the Western Great Lakes along with the Amikouet (Beavers), Nikikouet (Otters), Noquet (Bears), Monsoni (Moose), Marameg (Catfish), and several others.  By the 19th century, these nations were seen no longer seen as distinct nations but as clans of the Otchipoek (Cranes).  According to Schoolcraft and others, the Outchougai (Oshogays) were the Osprey or Fish Hawk clan.  However, others identified them with the Heron (zhashagi  in Ojibwe; Osprey is piichigiigwane).  I am far from being an expert on the Ojibwe clan system, but it seems by the 1800s, the Oshogay clan was either gone from the Anishinaabe of the Lake Superior country or had been absorbed into the Cranes. However, the word Oshogay continued to be a personal name. 

I debated whether to do this post, since I don’t know a lot about Oshogay.  I don’t know for sure what his name means, so I don’t know how to spell or pronounce it correctly (in the sources you see Oshogay, O-sho-ga, Osh-a-ga, Oshaga, Ozhoge, etc.).  In fact, I don’t even know how many people he is.  There were at least four men with that name among the Lake Superior Ojibwe between 1800 and 1860, so much like with the Great Chief Buffalo Picture Search, the key to getting Oshogay’s history right is dependent on separating his story from those who share his name.

In the end, I felt that challenge was worth a post in its own right, so here it is.

Getting Started

According to his gravestone, Oshogay was 51 when he died at La Pointe in 1853.  That would put his birth around 1802.  However, the Ojibwe did not track their birthdays in those days, so that should not be considered absolutely precise.  He was considered a young man of the La Pointe Band at the time of his death.  In my mind, the easiest way to sort out the information is going to be to lay it out chronologically.  Here it goes:

1)  Henry Schoolcraft, United States Indian Agent at Sault Ste. Marie, recorded the following on July 19, 1828:

Oshogay (the Osprey), solicited provisions to return home. This young man had been sent down to deliver a speech from his father, Kabamappa, of the river St. Croix, in which he regretted his inability to come in person. The father had first attracted my notice at the treaty of Prairie du Chien, and afterwards received a small medal, by my recommendation, from the Commissioners at Fond du Lac. He appeared to consider himself under obligations to renew the assurance of his friendship, and this, with the hope of receiving some presents, appeared to constitute the object of his son’s mission, who conducted himself with more modesty and timidity before me than prudence afterwards; for, by extending his visit to Drummond Island, where both he and his father were unknown, he got nothing, and forfeited the right to claim anything for himself on his return here.

I sent, however, in his charge, a present of goods of small amount, to be delivered to his father, who has not countenanced his foreign visit.

Oshogay is a “young man.”  A birth year of 1802 would make him 26.  He is part of Gaa-bimabi’s (Kabamappa’s) village in the upper St. Croix country.

2) In June of 1834, Edmund Ely and W. T. Boutwell, two missionaries, traveled from Fond du Lac (today’s Fond du Lac Reservation near Cloquet) down the St. Croix to Yellow Lake (near today’s Webster, WI) to meet with other missionaries. As they left Gaa-bimabi’s (Kabamappa’s) village near the head of the St. Croix and reached the Namekagon River on June 28th, they were looking for someone to guide them the rest of the way.  An old Ojibwe man, who Boutwell had met before at La Pointe, and his son offered to help. The man fed the missionaries fish and hunted for them while they camped a full day at the mouth of the Namekagon since the 29th was a Sunday and they refused to travel on the Sabbath.  On Monday the 30th, the reembarked, and Ely recorded in his journal:

The man, whose name is “Ozhoge,” and his son embarked with us about 1/2 past 9 °clk a.m. The old man in the bow and myself steering.  We run the rapids safely.  At half past one P. M. arrived at the mouth of Yellow River…  

Ozhoge is an “old man” in 1834, so he couldn’t have been born in 1802.  He is staying on the Namekagon River in the upper St. Croix country between Gaa-bimabi and the Yellow Lake Band.  He had recently spent time at La Pointe.

3)  Ely’s stay on the St. Croix that summer was brief.  He was stationed at Fond du Lac until he eventually wore out his welcome there. In the 1840s, he would be stationed at Pokegama, lower on the St. Croix.  During these years, he makes multiple references to a man named Ozhogens (a diminutive of Ozhoge).  Ozhogens is always found above Yellow River on the upper St. Croix.

Ozhogens has a name that may imply someone older (possibly a father or other relative) lives nearby with the name Ozhoge.  He seems to live in the upper St. Croix country.  A birth year of 1802 would put him in his forties, which is plausible.

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Ke-che-wask keenk (Gichi-weshki) is Chief Buffalo.  Gab-im-ub-be (Gaa-bimabi) was the chief Schoolcraft identified as the father of Oshogay.  Ja-che-go-onk was a son of Chief Buffalo.

4) On August 2, 1847, the United States and the Mississippi and Lake Superior Ojibwe concluded a treaty at Fond du Lac.  The US Government wanted Ojibwe land along the nation’s border with the Dakota Sioux, so it could remove the Ho-Chunk people from Wisconsin to Minnesota.

Among the signatures, we find O-sho-gaz, a warrior from St. Croix.  This would seem to be the Ozhogens we meet in Ely.

Here O-sho-gaz is clearly identified as being from St. Croix.  His identification as a warrior would probably indicate that he is a relatively young man.  The fact that his signature is squeezed in the middle of the names of members of the La Pointe Band may or may not be significant.  The signatures on the 1847 Treaty are not officially grouped by band, but they tend to cluster as such. 

5)  In 1848 and 1849 George P. Warren operated the fur post at Chippewa Falls and kept a log that has been transcribed and digitized by the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire.  He makes several transactions with a man named Oshogay, and at one point seems to have him employed in his business.  His age isn’t indicated, but the amount of furs he brings in suggests that he is the head of a small band or large family.  There were multiple Ojibwe villages on the Chippewa River at that time, including at Rice Lake and Lake Shatac (Chetek).  The United States Government treated with them as satellite villages of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band.

Based on where he lives, this Oshogay might not be the same person as the one described above.

6)  In December 1850, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in the case Oshoga vs. The State of Wisconsin, that there were a number of irregularities in the trial that convicted “Oshoga, an Indian of the Chippewa Nation” of murder.  The court reversed the decision of the St. Croix County circuit court.  I’ve found surprisingly little about this case, though that part of Wisconsin was growing very violent in the 1840s as white lumbermen and liquor salesmen were flooding the country.

Pg 56 of Containing cases decided from the December term, 1850, until the organization of the separate Supreme Court in 1853: Volume 3 of Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of the State of Wisconsin: With Tables of the Cases and Principal Matters, and the Rules of the Several Courts in Force Since 1838, Wisconsin. Supreme Court Authors: Wisconsin. Supreme Court, Silas Uriah Pinney (Google Books).

The man killed, Alexander Livingston, was a liquor dealer himself.

Alexander Livingston, a man who in youth had had excellent advantages, became himself a dealer in whisky, at the mouth of Wolf creek, in a drunken melee in his own store was shot and killed by Robido, a half-breed. Robido was arrested but managed to escape justice.

~From Fifty Years in the Northwest by W.H.C Folsom

Several pages later, Folsom writes:

At the mouth of Wolf creek, in the extreme northwestern section of this town, J. R. Brown had a trading house in the ’30s, and Louis Roberts in the ’40s. At this place Alex. Livingston, another trader, was killed by Indians in 1849. Livingston had built him a comfortable home, which he made a stopping place for the weary traveler, whom he fed on wild rice, maple sugar, venison, bear meat, muskrats, wild fowl and flour bread, all decently prepared by his Indian wife. Mr. Livingston was killed by an Indian in 1849.

Folsom makes no mention of Oshoga, and I haven’t found anything else on what happened to him or Robido (Robideaux?).

It’s hard to say if this Oshoga is the Ozhogen’s of Ely’s journals or the Oshogay of Warren’s.  Wolf Creek is on the St. Croix, but it’s not far from the Chippewa River country either, and the Oshogay of Warren seems to have covered a lot of ground in the fur trade.  Warren’s journal, linked in #4, contains a similar story of a killing and “frontier justice” leading to lynch mobs against the Ojibwe.  To escape the violence and overcrowding, many Ojibwe from that part of the country started to relocate to Fond du Lac, Lac Courte Oreilles, or La Pointe/Bad River.  La Pointe is also where we find the next mention of Oshogay. 

7)  From 1851 to 1853, a new voice emerged loudly from the La Pointe Band in the aftermath of the Sandy Lake Tragedy.  It was that of Buffalo’s speaker Oshogay (or O-sho-ga), and he spoke out strongly against Indian Agent John Watrous’ handling of the Sandy Lake payments (see this post) and against Watrous’ continued demands for removal of the Lake Superior Ojibwe.  There are a number of documents with Oshogay’s name on them, and I won’t mention all of them, but I recommend Theresa Schenck’s William W. Warren and Howard Paap’s Red Cliff, Wisconsin as two places to get started. 

Chief Buffalo was known as a great speaker, but he was nearing the end of his life, and it was the younger chief who was speaking on behalf of the band more and more.  Oshogay represented Buffalo in St. Paul, co-wrote a number of letters with him, and most famously, did most of the talking when the two chiefs went to Washington D.C. in the spring of 1852 (at least according to Benjamin Armstrong’s memoir).  A number of secondary sources suggest that Oshogay was Buffalo’s son or son-in-law, but I’ve yet to see these claims backed up with an original document.  However, all the documents that identify by band, say this Oshogay was from La Pointe.

The Wisconsin Historical Society has digitized four petitions drafted in the fall of 1851 and winter of 1852.  The petitions are from several chiefs, mostly of the La Pointe and Lac Courte Oreilles/Chippewa River bands, calling for the removal of John Watrous as Indian Agent.  The content of the petitions deserves its own post, so for now we’ll only look at the signatures.

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November 6, 1851 Letter from 30 chiefs and headmen to Luke Lea, Commissioner of Indian Affairs:  Multiple villages are represented here, roughly grouped by band.  Kijiueshki (Buffalo), Jejigwaig (Buffalo’s son), Kishhitauag (“Cut Ear” also associated with the Ontonagon Band), Misai (“Lawyerfish”),  Oshkinaue (“Youth”), Aitauigizhik (“Each Side of the Sky”), Medueguon, and Makudeuakuat (“Black Cloud”) are all known members of the La Pointe Band.  Before the 1850s, Kabemabe (Gaa-bimabi) and Ozhoge were associated with the villages of the Upper St. Croix.

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November 8, 1851, Letter from the Chiefs and Headmen of Chippeway River, Lac Coutereille, Puk-wa-none, Long Lake, and Lac Shatac to Alexander Ramsey, Superintendent of Indian Affairs:  This letter was written from Sandy Lake two days after the one above it was written from La Pointe.  O-sho-gay the warrior from Lac Shatac (Lake Chetek) can’t be the same person as Ozhoge the chief unless he had some kind of airplane or helicopter back in 1851.

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Undated (Jan. 1852?) petition to “Our Great Father”:  This Oshoga is clearly the one from Lake Chetek (Chippewa River). 

antiwatrous4

Undated (Jan. 1852?) petition:  These men are all associated with the La Pointe Band.  Osho-gay is their Speaker.

In the early 1850s, we clearly have two different men named Oshogay involved in the politics of the Lake Superior Ojibwe.  One is a young warrior from the Chippewa River country, and the other is a rising leader among the La Pointe Band.

Washington Delegation July 22, 1852 This engraving of the 1852 delegation led by Buffalo and Oshogay appeared in Benjamin Armstrong’s Early Life Among the Indians.  Look for an upcoming post dedicated to this image.

8)  In the winter of 1853-1854, a smallpox epidemic ripped through La Pointe and claimed the lives of a number of its residents including that of Oshogay.  It had appeared that Buffalo was grooming him to take over leadership of the La Pointe Band, but his tragic death left a leadership vacuum after the establishment of reservations and the death of Buffalo in 1855.

Oshogay’s death is marked in a number of sources including the gravestone at the top of this post.  The following account comes from Richard E. Morse, an observer of the 1855 annuity payments at La Pointe:

The Chippewas, during the past few years, have suffered extensively, and many of them died, with the small pox.  Chief O-SHO-GA died of this disease in 1854.  The Agent caused a suitable tomb-stone to be erected at his grave, in La Pointe.  He was a young chief, of rare promise and merit; he also stood high in the affections of his people.   

Later, Morse records a speech by Ja-be-ge-zhick or “Hole in the Sky,” a young Ojibwe man from the Bad River Mission who had converted to Christianity and dressed in “American style.” Jabegezhick speaks out strongly to the American officials against the assembled chiefs:

…I am glad you have seen us, and have seen the folly of our chiefs; it may give you a general idea of their transactions.  By the papers you have made out for the chiefs to sign, you can judge of their ability to do business for us.  We had but one man among us, capable of doing business for the Chippewa nation; that man was O-SHO-GA, now dead and our nation now mourns.  (O-SHO-GA was a young chief of great merit and much promise; he died of small-pox, February 1854).  Since his death, we have lost all our faith in the balance of our chiefs…

This O-sho-ga is the young chief, associated with the La Pointe Band, who went to Washington with Buffalo in 1852.

9)  In 1878, “Old Oshaga” received three dollars for a lynx bounty in Chippewa County.

It seems quite possible that Old Oshaga is the young man that worked with George Warren in the 1840s and the warrior from Lake Chetek who signed the petitions against Agent Watrous in the 1850s.

10) In 1880, a delegation of Bad River, Lac Courte Oreilles, and Lac du Flambeau chiefs visited Washington D.C.  I will get into their purpose in a future post, but for now, I will mention that the chiefs were older men who would have been around in the 1840s and ’50s. One of them is named Oshogay.  The challenge is figuring out which one.

Ojibwe Delegation c. 1880 by Charles M. Bell.   [Identifying information from the Smithsonian] Studio portrait of Anishinaabe Delegation posed in front of a backdrop. Sitting, left to right: Edawigijig; Kis-ki-ta-wag; Wadwaiasoug (on floor); Akewainzee (center); Oshawashkogijig; Nijogijig; Oshoga. Back row (order unknown); Wasigwanabi; Ogimagijig; and four unidentified men (possibly Frank Briggs, top center, and Benjamin Green Armstrong, top right). The men wear European-style suit jackets and pants; one man wears a peace medal, some wear beaded sashes or bags or hold pipes and other props.(Smithsonian Institution National Museum of the American Indian).

This same image is on display at the Bayfield Public Library.  The men in the picture are identified, presumably by someone in the early 20th century with some firsthand knowledge, but the identification doesn’t correspond to the names identified by the Smithsonian.  Osho’gay is the only name common to the Smithsonian’s information (in bold for reference) and the library’s information as follows:

Upper row reading from the left.
1.  Vincent Conyer- Interpreter 1,2,4,5 ?, includes Wasigwanabi and Ogimagijig
2.  Vincent Roy Jr.
3.  Dr. I. L. Mahan, Indian Agent   Frank Briggs
4.  No Name Given
5.  Geo P. Warren (Born at LaPointe- civil war vet.
6.  Thad Thayer      Benjamin Armstrong
Lower row
1.  Messenger    Edawigijig
2.  Na-ga-nab (head chief of all Chippewas)   Kis-ki-ta-wag
3.  Moses White, father of Jim White          Waswaisoug
4.  No Name Given         Akewainzee
5.  Osho’gay- head speaker     Oshawashkogijig or Oshoga
6.  Bay’-qua-as’ (head chief of La Corrd Oreilles, 7 ft. tall) Nijogijig or Oshawashkogijig
7.  No name given  Oshoga or Nijogijig

The Smithsonian lists Oshoga last, so that would mean he is the man sitting in the chair at the far right.  However, it doesn’t specify who the man seated on the right on the floor is, so it’s also possible that he’s their Oshoga.  If the latter is true, that’s also who the unknown writer of the library caption identified as Osho’gay.  Whoever he is in the picture, it seems very possible that this is the same man as “Old Oshaga” from number 9.

11) There is one more document I’d like to include, although it doesn’t mention any of the people we’ve discussed so far, it may be of interest to someone reading this post.  It mentions a man named Oshogay who was born before 1860 (albeit not long before).

For decades after 1854, many of the Lake Superior Ojibwe continued to live off of the reservations created in the Treaty of La Pointe.  This was especially true in the St. Croix region where no reservation was created at all.  In the 1910s, the Government set out to document where various Ojibwe families were living and what tribal rights they had.  This process led to the creation of the St. Croix and Mole Lake reservations.  In 1915, we find 64-year-old Oshogay and his family living in Randall, Wisconsin which may suggest a connection to the St. Croix Oshogays.  As with number 6 above, this creates some ambiguity because he is listed as enrolled at Lac Courte Oreilles, which implies a connection to the Chippewa River Oshogay.  For now, I leave this investigation up to someone else, but I’ll leave it here for interest.

This is not any of the Oshogays discussed so far, but it could be a relative of any or all of them.

In the final analysis

These eleven documents mention at least four men named Oshogay living in northern Wisconsin between 1800 and 1860.  Edmund Ely met an old man named Oshogay in 1834.  He is one.  A 64-year old man, a child in the 1850s, was listed on the roster of “St. Croix Indians.”  He is another.  I believe the warrior from Lake Chetek who traded with George Warren in the 1840s could be one of the chiefs who went to Washington in 1880.  He may also be the one who was falsely accused of killing Alexander Livingston.  Of these three men, none are the Oshogay who went to Washington with Buffalo in 1852.

Credit where credit is due, Theresa Schenck is the person who first told me about the strong St. Croix-La Pointe connection and the movement of many St. Croix families to Bad River in the 1850s. In his 2012 dissertation, The Murder of Joe White: Ojibwe Leadership and Colonialism in Wisconsin, Erik M. Redix identifies the “La Pointe” Oshoge as being a “St. Croix chief.”

That leaves us with the last mystery.  Is Ozhogens, the young son of the St. Croix chief Gaa-bimabi, the orator from La Pointe who played such a prominent role in the politics of the early 1850s?  I don’t have a smoking gun, but I feel the circumstantial evidence strongly suggests he is.  If that’s the case, it explains why those who’ve looked for his early history in the La Pointe Band have come up empty. 

However, important questions remain unanswered.  What was his connection to Buffalo? If he was from St. Croix, how was he able to gain such a prominent role in the La Pointe Band, and why did he relocate to La Pointe anyway?  I have my suspicions for each of these questions, but no solid evidence.  If you do, please let me know, and we’ll continue to shed light on this underappreciated Ojibwe leader.

 

 

Sources:

Armstrong, Benj G., and Thomas P. Wentworth. Early Life among the Indians: Reminiscences from the Life of Benj. G. Armstrong : Treaties of 1835, 1837, 1842 and 1854 : Habits and Customs of the Red Men of the Forest : Incidents, Biographical Sketches, Battles, &c. Ashland, WI: Press of A.W. Bowron, 1892. Print.
Ely, Edmund Franklin, and Theresa M. Schenck. The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 1833-1849. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2012. Print.
Folsom, William H. C., and E. E. Edwards. Fifty Years in the Northwest. St. Paul: Pioneer, 1888. Print.
KAPPLER’S INDIAN AFFAIRS: LAWS AND TREATIES. Ed. Charles J. Kappler. Oklahoma State University Library, n.d. Web. 12 August 2013. <http:// digital.library.okstate.edu/Kappler/>.
Nichols, John, and Earl Nyholm. A Concise Dictionary of Minnesota Ojibwe. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1995. Print.
Paap, Howard D. Red Cliff, Wisconsin: A History of an Ojibwe Community. St. Cloud, MN: North Star, 2013. Print.
Redix, Erik M. “The Murder of Joe White: Ojibwe Leadership and Colonialism in Wisconsin.” Diss. University of Minnesota, 2012. Print.
Schenck, Theresa M. The Voice of the Crane Echoes Afar: The Sociopolitical Organization of the Lake Superior Ojibwa, 1640-1855. New York: Garland Pub., 1997. Print.
———–William W. Warren: The Life, Letters, and times of an Ojibwe Leader. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2007. Print.
Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe. Personal Memoirs of a Residence of Thirty Years with the Indian Tribes on the American Frontiers: With Brief Notices of Passing Events, Facts, and Opinions, A.D. 1812 to A.D. 1842. Philadelphia, [Pa.: Lippincott, Grambo and, 1851. Print.
Warren, William W., and Theresa M. Schenck. History of the Ojibway People. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 2009. Print.