Note:  This is the final post of four 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 gives some general information about the expedition and some pages from Allen’s journal.   

Sauk Chief Makataimeshekiakiah, or Black Hawk
Sauk Chief Makataimeshekiakiah, or Black Hawk by Charles Bird King (Wikimedia Images)

On the night of August 1, 1831, the section of the Michigan Territory that would become the state of Wisconsin, was a scene of stark contrasts regarding the United States Army’s ability to force its will on Indian people.  In the south, American forces had caught up and skirmished with the starving followers of Black Hawk near the mouth of the Bad Axe River in present-day Vernon County.  The next morning, with the backing of the steamboat Warrior, the soldiers would slaughter dozens of men, women, and children as they tried to retreat across the Mississippi.  The massacre at Bad Axe was the end of the Black Hawk War, the last major military resistance from the Indian nations of the Old Northwest.

Less than 300 miles upstream, Lieutenant James Allen had his bread stolen right out of his fire as he slept. Presumably, it was taken by Ojibwe youths from the Yellow River village on the St. Croix.  Earlier that day, he had been unable to get convince any members of the Yellow River band to guide him up to the Brule River portage.  The next morning, (the same day as the Battle of Bad Axe), Allen was able to buy a new bark canoe to take some load off his leaky fleet.  However, the Ojibwe family that sold it to him was able to take advantage of supply and demand to get twice the amount of flour from the soldiers that they would’ve gotten from the local traders.  Later that day, the well-known chief Gaa-bimabi (Kabamappa), from the upper St. Croix, brought him a desperately-needed map, so not all of his interactions with the Ojibwe that day were negative.  However, each of these encounters showed clearly that the Ojibwe were neither cowed nor intimidated by the presence of American soldiers in their country.

In fact, Allen’s detachment must have been a miserable sight.  They had fallen several days behind the voyageur-paddled canoes carrying Schoolcraft, the interpreter, and the doctor. Their canoes were leaking badly and they were running out of gum (pitch) to seal them up.  Their feet were torn up from wading up the rapids, and one man was too injured to walk.  They were running low on food, didn’t know how to find the Brule, and their morale was running dangerously low.  If the War Department’s plan was for Allen to demonstrate American power to the Ojibwe, the plan had completely backfired.

The journey down the Brule was even more difficult for the soldiers than the trip up the St. Croix. I won’t repeat it all here because it’s in the posted pages of Allen’s journal in these four posts, but in the end, it was our old buddy Maangozid (see 4/14/13 post) and some other Fond du Lac Ojibwe who rescued the soldiers from their ordeal.

Allen’s journal entry after finally reaching Lake Superior is telling:

“[T]he management of bark canoes, of any size, in rapid rivers, is an art which it takes years to acquire; and, in this country, it is only possessed by Canadians [mix-blooded voyageurs] and Indians, whose habits of life have taught them but little else.  The common soldiers of the army have no experience of this kind, and consequently, are not generally competent to transport themselves in this way; and whenever it is required to transport troops, by means of bark canoes, two Canadian voyageurs ought to be assigned to each canoe, one in the bow, and another in the stern;  it will then be the safest and most expeditious method that can be adopted in this country.”

The 1830s were the years of Indian Removal throughout the United States, but at that time, the American government had no hope of conquering and subduing the Ojibwe militarily.  When the Ojibwe did surrender their lands (in 1837 and 1842 for the Wisconsin parts), it was due to internal politics and economics rather than any serious threat of American invasion.  Rather than proving the strength of the United States, Allen’s expedition revealed a serious weakness.

The Ojibwe weren’t overconfident or ignorant.  The very word for Americans, chimookomaan (long knife), referred to soldiers.  A handful of Ojibwe and mix-blooded warriors had fought the United States in the War of 1812 and earlier in the Ohio country.  Bizhiki and Noodin, two chiefs whose territory Allen passed through on his ill-fated journey, had been to Washington in 1824 and saw the army firsthand.  The next year, many more chiefs got to see the long knives in person at the Treaty of Prairie du Chien.  Finally, the removal of their Ottawa and Potawatomi cousins and other nations to Indian Territory in the 1830s was a well-known topic of concern in Ojibwe villages.  They knew the danger posed by American soldiers, but the reality of the Lake Superior Country in 1832 was that American power was very limited.

The journal picks up from part 3 with Allen and crew on the Brule River with their canoes in rapidly-deteriorating condition.  They’ve made contact with the Fond du Lac villagers camped at the mouth, but there are still several obstacles to overcome.

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Doc. 323, pg. 66

Doc. 323, pg. 65

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Doc. 323, pg. 66
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.

James Allen (1806-1846)
Collections of the Iowa Historical Society

Allen and all of his men survived the ordeal of the 1832 expedition.  He returned to La Pointe on August 11 and left the next day with Dr. Houghton.  The two men returned to the Soo together, stopping at the great copper rock on the Ontonagon River along the way.

On September 13, 1832, he wrote Alexander Macomb, his commander at Fort Brady.  The letter officially complained about Schoolcraft “unnecessarily and injuriously” leaving the soldiers behind at the mouth of the St. Croix.  When the New York American published its review of Schoolcraft’s Narrative on July 19, 1834, it expressed “indignation and dismay” at the “un-Christianlike” behavior of the agent for abandoning the soldiers in the “enemy’s country.”  The resulting controversy forced Schoolcraft to defend himself in the Detroit Journal and Michigan Advertiser where he pointed out Allen’s map’s importance to the Narrative.  He also reminded the public that the Ojibwe and the United States were considered allies.

James Allen went on to serve in Chicago and at the Sac and Fox agency in Iowa Territory.  After the Mexican War broke out in 1846, he traveled to Utah and organized a Mormon Battalion to fight on the American side.  He died on his way back east on August 23, 1846. He was only forty years old.  (John Lindquist has great website about the career of James Allen with much more information about his post-1832 life). 

Sources:
Ely, Edmund Franklin, and Theresa M. Schenck. The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 1833-1849. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2012. Print.
Loew, Patty. Indian Nations of Wisconsin: Histories of Endurance and Renewal. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society, 2001. Print.
Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe, and Philip P. Mason. Expedition to Lake Itasca; the Discovery of the Source of the Mississippi,. [East Lansing]: Michigan State UP, 1958. Print.
Warren, William W., and Theresa M. Schenck. History of the Ojibway People. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 2009. Print.
Witgen, Michael J. An Infinity of Nations: How the Native New World Shaped Early North America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2012. Print.

 

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Note:  This is the third 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.   

Douglass Houghton (1809-1845) was the naturalist and physician for the expedition. While traveling with Schoolcraft’s lead group, he expressed frequent concern for Allen and the soldiers as they fell behind (painted by Alva Bradish, 1850; Wikimedia Commons).

Schoolcraft’s original book takes up the first quarter of the pages in the 1958 edition of Narrative of an Expedition, edited by Phillip P. Mason.  The rest of the pages are six appendixes including the journals of Douglass Houghton the surgeon and geologist, W.T. Boutwell the missionary, and Allen.  Of the four, Schoolcraft’s provides the blandest reading.  His positive, official spin on everything offers little glimpse into his psyche.  In contrast, Houghton gives us a unique account of smallpox vaccinations, botany, and geology. Boutwell gives us detailed descriptions of Ojibwe religious practices through his zealous missionary filter.  His frequent complaints about mosquitoes, profane soldiers, Indian drumming, and voyageur gambling ruining his Sabbaths are very humorous to those who aren’t sympathetic to his mission.

Allen’s journal is fascinating. He was sent by the War Department to record information about the geography of the country and its people for military purposes.  Officially the Ojibwe and the United States were friendly. Schoolcraft, being married into a prominent Ojibwe family at the Sault, promoted this idea.  However, a sense of future military confrontation looms over the narrative.  The Indian Removal Act was only two years old, and Black Hawk’s War broke out just as the expedition was starting out.  In 1832, lasting peace between the Ojibwe and the United States was not automatically guaranteed.

The journal reads, at times, like a post-modern anti-colonial novel complete with Allen as the villainous narrator looking to get rich off Lake Superior copper and making war plans against Leech Lake.  However, Allen’s writing style allows the reader in as Schoolcraft’s doesn’t, and he shows himself to be thoughtful and observant.

Allen’s primary objective was to protect Schoolcraft and show the Ojibwe that the United States could easily deliver soldiers to their remotest villages.  This mission proved difficult from the beginning.  Once they left Lake Superior and reached the Fond du Lac portages, it became evident that Allen’s soldiers had no canoe experience and could not keep up with Schoolcraft’s mix-blooded voyageurs.  Schoolcraft never seems overly concerned about this, and much of Allen’s narrative is about his men painfully trying to catch up while the Ojibwe and mix-blooded guides laugh at their floundering techniques for getting through rapids.

Through all the hardship, though, Allen did complete the journey to Elk Lake (Itasca) and back down the Mississippi to Fort Snelling.  His map of the trip was praised back east as a great contribution to world geography, and Schoolcraft used it to illustrate the published narrative.  However, it was the final stretch through the St. Croix and Brule, after Schoolcraft had already declared the expedition a success, where things really got bad for the soldiers.

Continued from Part 2:

Section of Allen’s map showing the St. Croix to Brule portage.  Note Gaa-bimabi’s (Keppameppa’s) village on Whitefish Lake near present-day Gordon, Wisconsin. (Reproduced by John Lindquist).

At this point, Allen and his men have fallen multiple days behind Schoolcraft.  They have no knowledge of the country save a few rough maps and descriptions. Their canoes are falling apart, and they are physically beaten from their difficult journey up the St. Croix.  In theory, the portage over the hill to the Brule should be an easy one given the fact they have little food and supplies left to carry.  However, the men are demoralized and ready to quit.  Little do they know, the darkest days of their journey are still to come.

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Doc. 323, pg. 61

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Doc. 323, pg. 62

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Doc. 323, pg. 63
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 completed…

Note:  This is the second 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 expedition made good time along the south shore of Lake Superior, with the soldiers in the larger Mackinac boats and the rest of the group in smaller and faster canoes.  At the mouth of the Brule River, they got lucky.  They met an Ojibwe named Ozaawindib (Yellow Head) who was part of the Cass Lake band and who considered the headwaters of the Mississippi part of his hunting territory.

He agreed to guide the group all the way past Fond du Lac, across the portages to Sandy Lake, and up the Mississippi to what the Ojibwe called Omashkooz (Elk) Lake and the French called Lac la Biche.  Possibly thinking that a lake already possessing an indigenous and a European name wouldn’t need to be “discovered,” Schoolcraft renamed it Lake Itasca and told the world he had found the source of the Mississippi (Ozaawindib’s hunting camp).

  • (Side note:  if the last paragraph seemed a little cynical, I apologize.  I hate stories about “discoveries” that aren’t really discoveries.  I’m pretty sure that’s why it took me so long to read this book.  I need to get over this prejudice, or I’m going to miss something good.  Still, you won’t see many “First [insert name of WASP] to visit [insert natural feature well known to Native, nonwhite, or Catholic people]stories on this site).    

Eshkibagikoonzhe (Guelle Platte; Flatmouth), chief of Leech Lake band is a towering figure in the history of the upper Mississippi country in the early 19th century. He gave Schoolcraft and company a friendly but clear demonstration of the limits of American power (Minnesota Historical Society).

Schoolcraft’s relative ease (due to having mix-blood and Ojibwe guides and paddlers) in reaching Elk Lake caused him to remark that the Ojibwe would have to accept American authority now that Government officials and soldiers could penetrate that far into their territory.  Of particular concern to him was the Leech Lake band.  Eshkibagikoonzhe (Flat Mouth) the chief was powerful and independent, and so was the rest of the band. When the expedition returned through Leech Lake, Allen had his dozen soldiers drill and parade, but Flat Mouth put it in friendly but very clear terms.  They were guests in his house.  (The expedition’s experiences in Leech Lake are great reading.  A short rundown here wouldn’t do them justice.  Read the introduction to Witgen’s An Infinity of Nations to get a very good analysis).

Schoolcraft and company took the Crow Wing route to the Mississippi and Fort Snelling (later Minneapolis), and met with more Ojibwe and Dakota bands along the way.  He came back north through the St. Croix and Brule to Lake Superior, returned to the Sault, and sent off a positive report of an efficient and effective trip to bring the Ojibwe under American domination.  All had gone according to plan, right?  Read on.

Pee-Che-Kir: a Chippewa Chief by Charles Bird King: This image of Bizhiki (the “Pee-ghee-kee” mentioned below) was originally painted in 1824 while the Snake River chief was part of a delegation to Washington D.C.  Bizhiki (Buffalo) is a name shared with a famous contemporary, Chief Buffalo of La Pointe (Wikimedia Commons).

The journal picks up July 29, 1832 on the St. Croix River.  The expedition has already reached the source of the Mississippi, proceeded downriver to Fort Snelling (Minneapolis) and was on its way back to Lake Superior. 

These pages document Allen’s journey up the St. Croix.  Schoolcraft, along with the expedition’s interpreter and doctor, are in canoes paddled by mix-blooded voyageurs and are making good time.  The soldiers are a few days back and falling farther behind each day.  They pass through the villages of the “St. Croix band.” The St. Croix Ojibwe are not a single unit, but have several villages and camps.  Their biggest villages are at Snake River and Yellow River, but the account also mentions the small village of the prominent chief  Gaa-bimabi (Keppameppa).  This was near present-day Gordon, Wisconsin.

Section of Allen’s map showing the St. Croix around Yellow River and Namakagon River. Ottawa Lake is Lac Courte Oreilles (reproduced by John Lindquist)

At this point, Allen is becoming increasingly angry at Schoolcraft for ditching the soldiers.  As he passes through the three Ojibwe villages, his racism towards Indians shifts from a comfortable sense of superiority to a fearful paranoia.

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Doc. 323; pg 58

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Doc. 323, pg. 59

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Doc. 323, pg. 60
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…

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…