Indian Records of Ontonagon and Bad River

June 11, 2016

By Amorin Mello

This is a partial reproduction of<strong> <br /> <em>Western Reserve and Northern Ohio</em></strong><br /> <em> <strong> Historical Society</strong></em><br /> <em><strong>[Tract] Number 41</strong></em><br /> <em> <strong> Ancient Earthworks - Northern Ohio</strong></em><br /> by Charles Whittlesey, circa 1877<br /> as published in<br /> <a href="https://books.google.com/books?id=EawKAAAAIAAJ" target="_blank"><strong><span style="text-decoration: underline;">Western Reserve Historical Society Publication, Volume 2</span>,</strong></a><br /> pages 38-39.

This is a partial reproduction of 
Western Reserve and Northern Ohio
Historical Society
[Tract] Number 41: Ancient Earthworks – Northern Ohio
by Colonel Charles W. Whittlesey, circa 1877,
as republished in
Western Reserve Historical Society Publication, Volume 2,
pages 38-39.

INDIAN RECORDS.

Kundickan autobiography

Autobiography of Okandikan

Autobiography of Kundickan, a Chippeway Indian.

The subjoined pictorial record of his life, was made many years since by a Chippeway of Lake Superior.  He delivered it to the Hon. A. C. Davis, of Detroit, who placed it in the Museum of the Natural Science Association of that place where it is now.  The tracing was made in October, 1875, by Bela Hubbard, of Detroit.  The engraving is from a photograph by E. Decker of Cleveland, reduced to one-third the original size.

The signs or characters are cut with a knife on both sides of a flat piece of sugar maple wood, less than one-fourth of an inch thick, wrought out by the Indian himself, for this purpose.  The upright lines at a, a, a, appear to be divisions in the narrative, for the purpose of grouping events.  He explained to Mr. Davis that this board contained the principal occurrences of his life, which any other Chippeway could read.  How it should be read, whether from right to left or the reverse, or whether the inverted parts are to be taken in connection with those below, is not settled.  The partitions A and B are colored vermillion red.  It corresponds with the general character of the Indian pictorial writing, of which numerous examples are given by Schoolcraft, and shows a close relation to the rock inscriptions of the United States.  It embraces the usual variety of uncouth men, animals, and implements which characterize the rock sculptures.  Between the two sides of the board there does not appear to be any connection in regard to the sentences or paragraphs, though there must be as to dates.  They are all, without much doubt, the work of people in the condition of savages.  I saw this Indian on the Ontonagon river in 1845. He purported to have seen Alexander Henry in that region in 1769-70, who was engaged there in mining for copper and silver.

Okandikan pictograph, reproduced from birch bark by Seth Eastman, and published in Historical and statistical information respecting the history, condition, and prospects of the Indian tribes of the United States by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, 1851.

“Pictograph C. Okundekund and his Band of Ontonagon – Michigan,” as reproduced from birch bark by Seth Eastman, and published as Plate 62 in Historical and Statistical Information Respecting the History, Condition, and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States, Volume I., by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, 1851. Okandian’s pictograph petition was one of several from the 1849 Martell delegation:
“By this scroll, the chief Kun-de-kund of the Eagle totem of the river Ontonagon, of Lake Superior, and certain individuals of his band, are represented as uniting in the object of their visit of Oshcabewis. He is depicted by the figure of an eagle, Number 1. The two small lines ascending from the head of the bird denote authority or power generally. The human arm extended from the breast of the bird, with the open hand, are symbolic of friendship. By the light lines connecting the eye of each person with the chief, and that of the chief with the President, (Number 8,) unity of views or purpose, the same as in pictography Number 1, is symbolized. Number 2, 3, 4, and 5, are warriors of his own totem and kindred. Their names, in their order, are On-gwai-sug, Was-sa-ge-zhig, or The Sky that lightens, Kwe-we-ziash-ish, or the Bad-boy, and Gitch-ee-man-tau-gum-ee, or the great sounding water. Number 6. Na-boab-ains, or Little Soup, is a warrior of his band of the Catfish totem. Figure Number 7, repeated, represents dwelling-houses, and this device is employed to deonte that the persons, beneath whose symbolic totem it is respectively drawn, are inclined to live in houses and become civilized, in other words, to abandon the chase. Number 8 depicts the President of the United States standing in his official residence at Washington. The open hand extended is employed as a symbol of friendship, corresponding exactly, in this respect, with the same feature in Number 1. The chief whose name is withheld at the left hand of the inferior figures of the scroll, is represented by the rays on his head, (Figure 9,) as, apparently, possessing a higher power than Number 1, but is still concurring, by the eye-line, with Kundekund in the purport of pictograph Number 1.”

Inscriptions on Clay Banks, Bad River, Ashland County, Wis.

picto2

2

picto1

1

A few representations of recently inscribed figures are given for the purpose of comparison with ancient stone inscriptions.  A short distance below the portage, across a long, loop-like bend of the Mashkeg or Bad river, above the Odanah Mission, is a perpendicular bluff of clay, on the west bank of the stream.  Steep clay and sand bluffs are common through the flat country below the Falls of Bad River.  This one has been sheltered by a thick fringe of growing trees, from the wearing effects of storms.  It presents quite a smooth, upright face of dry clay; that is easily cut with a knife, about fifty feet long, and about ten to fifteen feet long, and about ten to fifteen feet high.  This space is completely covered with picture records, made by the Chippeways.  No doubt many of them are old, but most of them have been made recently, or by men now living, often obliterating or cutting new inscriptions over old ones.

picto4

4

picto3

3

In my explorations on the waters of Bad river in 1846, 1849, and 1860, I passed them repeatedly, but having other objects in view, made only a few sketches.  The effigies are grotesque outlines of animals, canoes, birds, fishes, men, women, trees, and other objects, animate and inanimate.  My Indians and some of the half-breed voyageurs, professed to be able to read them.  They said it was expected that every young man, when he was old enough to become a warrior, should retire to some solitary place and undergo a fast.  The length of time he could do without food was a test of his bravery.  Sometimes he perched in a tree, day and night, or sat on a rock or on a high mountain, without fire or shelter, in order to show his contempt of pain and exposure.  In due time he naturally had visions, in which his destiny or chart of life, was disclosed.  Weak constitutions are unable to fast more than three or four days.  When the incipient warrior had satisfied himself that his mission on earth was fully disclosed to him, he returned to the tribe and was received a man.  Their version of this ceremony, and its consequences agrees generally with that of Chingwauk to Mr. Schoolcraft in 1839, as related in vol. 1, pages 13-14, of his “North American Indians.”  The symbols of his destiny were generally put upon record, in such a manner and in such a place as he saw fit, but generally on trees or rocks, along a traveled route.  In some cases a full statement of the vision or visions, was written out in this pictorial mode, with his dodem or “totem” attached.  I remember the meaning of only one, of which figure No. 2 forms a part.  The tree with nine branches, and a hand pointing upward, signifies that the party making it had fasted nine days.

picto5

5

There is nothing in their customs to prevent other messages being left in such places.  Their records include nothing historical in regards to the nations or their chiefs.  Such matters are perpetuated by repetition from the old to the young, until every young man is thoroughly crammed.  General story telling, and the recital of their traditions, is the literary life work of an Indian.  His memory is a mental record, transmitted from generation to generation.  The fidelity of such records is, however, very far from reliable.

Figures one to five are random copies from a large number of the Bad river effigies, not made to scale, but they are fair representatives of Indian pictography.

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