By Amorin Mello

Early Life among the Indians

by Benjamin Green Armstrong

Early Indian History.

CHAPTER I.

The First Treaty.—The Removal Order.— Treaties of 1837 and 1842.—A Trip to Washington.—In New York City with Only One Dime.—At the Broker’s Residence.

 

Benjamin Armstrong is impressively detailed and yet inaccurate at times in his memoirs.  I recommend reading his words with a grain of salt.
There were four Treaties at Prairie Du Chien, but all were before 1835.  Armstrong probably meant the first Treaty in 1825.

My earliest recollections in Northern Wisconsin and Minnesota territories date back to 1835, at which time Gen. Cass and others on the part of the Government, with different tribes of Indians, viz : Potawatomies, Winnebagos, Chippewas, Saux and Foxes and the Sioux, at Prairie du Chien, met in open council, to define and agree upon boundary lines between the Saux and Foxes and the Chippewas. The boundary or division of territory as agreed upon and established by this council was the Mississippi River from Prairie du Chien north to the mouth of of Crow Wing River, thence to its source. The Saux and Foxes and the Sioux were recognized to be the owners of all territory lying west of the Mississippi and south of the Crow Wing River. The Chippewas, by this treaty, were recognized as the owners of all lands east of the Mississippi in the territory of Wisconsin and Minnesota, and north of the Crow Wing River on both sides of the Mississippi to the British Possessions, also Lake Superior country on both sides of the lake to Sault Ste. Marie and beyond. The other tribes mentioned in this council had no interest in the above divided territory from the fact that their possessions were east and south of the Chippewa Country, and over their title there was no dispute. The division lines were agreed to as described and a treaty signed. When all shook hands and covenanted with each other to live in peace for all time to come.

The 1837 Treaty with the Chippewa at St. Peters is also known as the White Pine Treaty.  Henry Dodge was the Commissioner.  (I could not find evidence of Josiah Snelling or Major Walking being present at this Treaty.)

In 1837 the Government entered into a treaty with the Chippewas of the Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers at St. Peter, Minnesota, Col. Snelling, of the army, and Maj. Walker, of Missouri, being the commissioners on the part of the Government, and it appears that at the commencement of this council the anxiety on the part of the commissioners to perfect a treaty was so great that statements were made by them favorable to the Indians, and understood perfectly by them, that were not afterwards incorporated in the treaty. The Indians were told by these commissioners that the great father had sent them to buy their pine timber and their minerals that were hidden in the earth, and that the great father was very anxious to dig the mineral, for of such material he made guns and knives for the Indians, and copper kettles in which to boil their sugar sap.

“The timber you make but little use of is the pine your great father wants to build many steamboats, to bring your goods to you and to take you to Washington bye-and-bye to see your great father and meet him face to face. He does not want your lands, it is too cold up here for farming. He wants just enough of it to build little towns where soldiers stop, mining camps for miners, saw mill sites and logging camps. The timber that is best for you the great father does not care about. The maple tree that you make your sugar from, the birch tree that you get bark from for your canoes and from which you make pails for your sugar sap, the cedar from which you get material for making canoes, oars and paddles, your great father cares nothing for. It is the pine and minerals that he wants and he has sent us here to make a bargain with you for it,” the commissioners said.

And further, the Indians were told and distinctly understood that they were not to be disturbed in the possession of their lands so long as their men behaved themselves. They were told also that the Chippewas had always been good Indians and the great father thought very much of them on that account, and with these promises fairly and distinctly understood they signed the treaty that ceded to the government all their territory lying east of the Mississippi, embracing the St. Croix district and east to the Chippewa River, but to my certain knowledge the Indians never knew that they had ceded their lands until 1849, when they were asked to remove therefrom.

Robert Stuart was an American Fur Company agent and Acting Superintendent on Mackinac Island.
~ Wikipedia.org

In 1842 Robert Stewart, on the part of the government, perfected a treaty at La Pointe, on Lake Superior, in which the Chippewas of the St. Croix and Superior country ceded all that portion of their territory, from the boundary of the former treaty of 1837, with the Chippewas of the Mississippi and St. Croix Indians, east and along the south shore of the lake to the Chocolate River, Michigan, territory. No conversation that was had at this time gave the Indians an inkling or caused them to mistrust that they were ceding away their lands, but supposed that they were simply selling the pine and minerals, as they had in the treaty of 1837, and when they were told, in 1849, to move on and thereby abandon their burying grounds — the dearest thing to an Indian known— they began to hold councils and to ask each as to how they had understood the treaties, and all understood them the same, that was : That they were never to be disturbed if they behaved themselves. Messengers were sent out to all the different bands in every part of their country to get the understanding of all the people, and to inquire if any depredations had been committed by any of their young men, or what could be the reason for this sudden order to move. This was kept up for a year, but no reason could be assigned by the Indians for the removal order.

The 1842 Treaty at La Pointe is also known as the Copper Treaty.

The treaty of 1842 made at La Pointe stipulated that the Indians should receive their annuities at La Pointe for a period of twenty-five years. Now by reason of a non-compliance with the order to move away, the annuity payment at La Pointe had been stopped and a new agency established at Sandy Lake, near the Mississippi River, and their annuities taken there, and the Indians told to go there for them, and to bring along their women and children, and to remain there, and all that did not would be deprived of their pay and annuities.

In the fall of 1851, and after all the messengers had returned that had been sent out to inquire after the cause for the removal orders, the chiefs gathered in council, and after the subject had been thoroughly canvassed, agreed that representatives from all parts of the country should be sent to the new agency and see what the results of such a visit would be. A delegation was made up, consisting of about 500 men in all. They reached the new agency about September 10th of that year. The agent there informed them that rations should be furnished to them until such time as he could get the goods and money from St. Paul.

Some time in the latter part of the month we were surprised to hear that the new agency had burned down, and, as the word came to us,

“had taken the goods and money into the ashes.”

The agent immediately started down the river, and we saw no more of him for some time. Crowds of Indians and a few white men soon gathered around the burnt remains of the agency and waited until it should cool down, when a thorough search was made in the ashes for melted coin that must be there if the story was true that goods and money had gone down together. They scraped and scratched in vain All that was ever found in that ruin in the shape of metal was two fifty cent silver pieces. The Indians, having no chance to talk with the agent, could find out nothing of which they wished to know. They camped around the commissary department and were fed on the very worst class of sour, musty pork heads, jaws, shoulders and shanks, rotten corned beef and the poorest quality of flour that could possibly be milled. In the course of the next month no fewer than 150 Indians had died from the use of these rotten provisions, and the remainder resolved to stay no longer, and started back for La Pointe.

The Sandy Lake Tragedy and Ojibwe Removal efforts have had profound impact upon Chequamegon History.  John S. Watrous was the Indian Agent that Armstrong refers to as “Waters”.

At Fond du Lac, Minnesota, some of the employees of the American Fur Co. urged the Indians to halt there and wait for the agent to come, and finally showed them a message from the agent requesting them to stop at Fond du Lac, and stated that he had procured money and goods and would pay them off at that point, which he did during the winter of 1851. About 500 Indians gathered there and were paid, each one receiving four dollars in money and a very small goods annuity. Before preparing to leave for home the Indians wanted to know of the agent, John S. Waters, what he was going to do with the remainder of the money and goods. He answered that he was going to keep it and those who should come there for it would get their share and those that did not would get nothing. The Indians were now thoroughly disgusted and discouraged, and piling their little bundles of annuity goods into two piles agreed with each other that a game of lacrosse should be played on the ice for the whole stock. The Lake Superior Indians were to choose twenty men from among them and the interior Indians the same number. The game was played, lasting three days, and resulting in a victory for the interiors. During all this time councils were being held and dissatisfaction was showing itself on every hand. Threats were freely indulged in by the younger and more resolute members of the band, who thought while they tamely submitted, to outrage their case would never grow better. But the older and more considerate ones could not see the case as they did, but all plainly saw there was no way of redress at present and they were compelled to put up with just such treatment as the agent saw fit to inflict upon them. They now all realized that they had been induced to sign treaties that they did not understand, and had been imposed upon. They saw that when the annuities were brought and they were asked to touch the pen, they had only received what the agent had seen fit to give them, and certainly not what was their dues. They had lost 150 warriors on this one trip alone by being fed on unwholesome provisions, and they reasoned among themselves :

Is this what our great father intended? If so we may as well go to our old home and there be slaughtered where we can be buried by the side of our relatives and friends.

Other accounts of Oshogay and Chief Buffalo’s 1852 delegation have also been covered by Chequamegon History.

These talks were kept up after they had returned to La Pointe. I attended many of them, and being familiar with the language, I saw that great trouble was brewing and if something was not quickly done trouble of a serious nature would soon follow. At last I told them if they would stop where they were I would take a party of chiefs, or others, as they might elect, numbering five or six, and go to Washington, where they could meet the great father and tell their troubles to his face. Chief Buffalo and other leading chieftains of the country at once agreed to the plan, and early in the spring a party of six men were selected, and April 5th, 1852, was appointed as the day to start. Chiefs Buffalo and O-sho-ga, with four braves and myself, made up the party. On the day of starting, and before noon, there were gathered at the beach at old La Pointe, Indians by the score to witness the departure. We left in a new birch bark canoe which was made for the occasion and called a four fathom boat, twenty-four feet long with six paddles. The four braves did most of the paddling, assisted at times by O-sho-ga and sometimes by Buffalo. I sat at the stern and directed the course of the craft. We made the mouth of the Montreal River, the dividing line between Wisconsin and Michigan, the first night, where we went ashore and camped, without covering, except our blankets. We carried a small amount of provisions with us, some crackers, sugar and coffee, and depended on game and fish for meat. The next night, having followed along the beach all day, we camped at Iron River. No incidents of importance happened, and on the third day out from La Pointe, at 10 a. m. we landed our bark at Ontonagon, where we spent two days in circulating a petition I had prepared, asking that the Indians might be left and remain in their own country, and the order for their removal be reconsidered. I did not find a single man who refused to sign it, which showed the feeling of the people nearest the Indians upon the subject. From Ontonagon we went to Portage Lake, Houghton and Hancock, and visited the various copper mines, and all there signed the petition. Among the signers I would occasionally meet a man who claimed personal acquaintance with the President and said the President would recognize the signature when he saw it, which I found to be so on presenting the petition to President Filmore. Among them was Thomas Hanna, a merchant at Ontonagon, Capt. Roberts, of the Minnesota mine, and Douglas, of the firm of Douglas & Sheldon, Portage Lake. Along the coast from Portage Lake we encountered a number of severe storms which caused us to go ashore, and we thereby lost considerable time. Stopping at Marquette I also circulated the petition and procured a great many signatures. Leaving there nothing was to be seen except the rocky coast until we reached Sault Ste. Marie, where we arrived in the afternoon and remained all the next day, getting my petition signed by all who were disposed. Among others who signed it was a Mr. Brown, who was then editing a paper there. He also claimed personal acquaintance with the President and gave me two or three letters of introduction to parties in New York City, and requested me to call on them when I reached the city, saying they would be much pleased to see the Indian chieftains from this country, and that they would assist me in case I needed assistance, which I found to be true.

The second day at the “Soo” the officers from the fort came to me with the inteligence that no delegation of Indians would be allowed to go to Washington without first getting permission from the government to do so, as they had orders to stop and turn back all delegations of Indians that should attempt to come this way en-route to Washington. This was to me a stunner. In what a prediciment I found myself. To give up this trip would be to abandon the last hope of keeping that turbulent spirit of the young warriors within bounds. Now they were peacably inclined and would remain so until our mission should decide their course. They were now living on the hope that our efforts would obtain for them the righting of a grievous wrong, but to return without anything accomplished and with the information that the great father’s officers had turned us back would be to rekindle the fire that was smoldering into an open revolt for revenge. I talked with the officers patiently and long and explained the situation of affairs in the Indian country, and certainly it was no pleasant task for me to undertake, without pay or hope of reward, to take this delegation through, and that I should never have attempted it if I had not considered it necessary to secure the safety of the white settlers in that country, and that although I would not resist an officer or disobey an order of the government, I should go as far as I could with my Indians, and until I was stopped by an officer, then I would simply say to the Indians,

“I am prevented from going further. I have done all I can. I will send you as near home, as I can get conveyances for you, but for the present I shall remain away from that country,”

The officers at the “Soo” finally told me to go on, but they said,

“you will certainly be stopped at some place, probably at Detroit. The Indian agent there and the marshall will certainly oppose your going further.”

More than one Steamer Northerner was on the Great Lakes in 1852. This may have been the one Chief Buffalo’s delegation rode on.
~ Great Lakes Maritime Database

But I was determined to try, and as soon as I could get a boat for Detroit we started. It was the steamer Northerner, and when we landed in Detroit, sure enough, we were met by the Indian agent and told that we could go no further, at any rate until next day, or until he could have a talk with me at his office. He then sent us to a hotel, saying he would see that our bill was paid until next day. About 7:30 that evening I was called to his office and had a little talk with him and the marshall. I stated to them the facts as they existed in the northwest, and our object in going to Washington, and if we were turned back I did not consider that a white man’s life would long be safe in the Indian country, under the present state of excitement; that our returning without seeing the President would start a fire that would not soon be quenched. They finally consented to my passing as they hardly thought they could afford to arrest me, considering the petitions I had and the circumstances I had related.

“But,” they also added, “we do not think you will ever reach Washington with your delegation.”

I thanked them for allowing us to proceed and the next morning sailed for Buffalo, where we made close connections with the first railroad cars any of us had ever seen and proceeded to Albany, at which place we took the Steamer Mayflower, I think. At any rate the boat we took was burned the same season and was commanded by Capt. St. John.

Lecture Room (theater) at Barnum’s American Museum circa 1853.
~ Commons.Wikimedia.org

We landed in New York City without mishap and I had just and only one ten-cent silver piece of money left. By giving the ‘bus driver some Indian trinkets I persuaded him to haul the party and baggage to the American House, which then stood a block or so from Barnum’s Theatre. Here I told the landlord of my financial embarrassment and that we must stay over night at any rate and in some way the necessary money to pay the bill should be raised. I found this landlord a prince of good fellows and was always glad that I met him. I told him of the letters I had to parties in the city and should I fail in getting assistance from them I should exhibit my fellows and in this way raise the necessary funds to pay my bill and carry us to our destination. He thought the scheme a good one, and that himself and me were just the ones to carry it out. Immediately after supper I started out in search of the parties to whom I had letters of introduction, and with the landlord’s help in giving me directions, I soon found one of them, a stock broker, whose name I cannot remember, or the street on which he lived. He returned with me to the hotel, and after looking the Indians over, he said,

“You are all right. Stay where you are and I will see that you have money to carry you through.”

The next day I put the Indians on exhibition at the hotel, and a great many people came to see them, most of whom contributed freely to the fund to carry us to our destination. On the second evening of the exhibition this stock broker came with his wife to the show, and upon taking his leave, invited me to bring the delegation to his house the next afternoon, where a number of ladies of their acquaintance could see them without the embarrassment they would feel at the show room. To this I assented, and the landlord being present, said he would assist by furnishing tho conveyance. But when the ‘bus was brought up in front of the house the next day for the purpose of taking the Indians aboard, the crowd became so dense that it was found impossible to get them into it, and it was with some difficulty that they were gotten back to their room. We saw it would not be possible to get them across the city on foot or by any method yet devised. I despatched a note to the broker stating how matters stood, and in less than half an hour himself and wife were at the hotel, and the ready wit of this little lady soon had a plan arranged by which the Indians could be safely taken from the house and to her home without detection or annoyance. The plan was to postpone the supper she had arranged for in the afternoon until evening, and that after dark the ‘bus could be placed in the alley back of the hotel and the Indians got into it without being observed. The plan was carefully carried out by the landlord. The crowd was frustrated and by 9 p. m. we were whirling through the streets with shaded ‘bus windows to the home of the broker, which we reached without any interruption, and were met at the door by the little lady whose tact had made the visit possible, and I hope she may now be living to read this account of that visit, which was nearly thirty-nine years ago. We found some thirty or forty young people present to see us, and I think a few old persons. The supper was prepared and all were anxious to see the red men of the forest at a white man’s table. You can imagine my own feelings on this occasion, for, like the Indians, I had been brought up in a wilderness, entirely unaccustomed to the society of refined and educated people, and here I was surrounded by them and the luxuries of a finished home, and with the conduct of my wards to be accounted for, I was forced to an awkward apology, which was, however, received with that graciousness of manner that made me feel almost at home. Being thus assured and advised that our visit was contemplated for the purpose of seeing us as nearly in our native ways and customs as was possible, and that no offense would be taken at any breach of etiquette, but, on the contrary, they should be highly gratified if we would proceed in all things as was our habit in the wilderness, and the hostess, addressing me, said it was the wish of those present that in eating their supper the Indians would conform strictly to their home habits, to insure which, as supper was then being put in readiness for them, I told the Indians that when the meal had been set before them on the table, they should rise up and pushing their chairs back, seat themselves upon the floor, taking with them only the plate of food and the knife. They did this nicely, and the meal was taken in true Indian style, much to the gratification of the assemblage. When the meal was completed each man placed his knife and plate back upon the table, and, moving back towards the walls of the room, seated himself upon the floor in true Indian fashion.

As the party had now seen enough to furnish them with tea table chat, they ate their supper and after they had finished requested a speech from the Indians, at least that each one should say something that they might hear and which I could interpret to the party. Chief O-sha-ga spoke first, thanking the people for their kindness. Buffalo came next and said he was getting old and was much impressed by the manner of white people and showed considerable feeling at the nice way in which they had been treated there and generally upon the route.

Our hostess, seeing that I spoke the language fluently, requested that I make them a speech in the Chippewa tongue. To do this so they would understand it best I told them a story in the Indian tongue. It was a little story about a monkey which I had often told the Indians at home and it was a fable that always caused great merriment among them, for a monkey was, in their estimation, the cutest and most wonderful creature in the world, an opinion which they hold to the present time. This speech proved to be the hit of the evening, for I had no sooner commenced (though my conversation was directed to the white people), than the Indians began to laugh and cut up all manner of pranks, which, combined with the ludicrousness of the story itself, caused a general uproar of laughter by all present and once, if never again, the fashionably dressed and beautiful ladies of New York City vied with each other and with the dusky aborigines of the west in trying to show which one of all enjoyed best the festivities. The rest of the evening and until about two o’clock next morning was spent in answering questions about our western home and its people, when we returned to the hotel pleased and happy over the evening’s entertainment.

To be continued in Chapter II

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