(Click to Enlarge)

On March 8th, I posted a map visually laying out the names of Ojibwe people and certain traders and voyageurs who appeared in the journals and narratives of Perrault, Curot, Nelson, and Malhoit.  These four men traded during years of fierce competition between the North West Company (Perrault, Malhoit), and the upstart XY Company (Nelson, Curot), at the dawn of the 19th-century.  These were British companies, working on American-claimed territory, but they mostly employed French-Ojibwe mix blood and French-Canadians.  These were violent and turbulent times, but they are valuable to written history because the competition led the companies to require journals from their clerks and traders.

I recently came across the published journal of John Sayer, a prominent North West trader of this era. He wintered at Cross Lake on Snake River in 1804-05, the same winter that Francois Malhoit spent at Lac du Flambeau, and the same winter that the North West and XY began the process of combining back into one company.  I decided the names from Sayer’s journal absolutely belonged on the map.

Sayer’s journal is very similar to the others, but is probably the least interesting, and least historically-important of the five.  It records day-to-day operations of the post with little commentary.  It largely lacks the colorful stories of Perrault and Nelson, and does not reveal as much about its author as Curot’s or Malhoit’s.  In fact, for several years historians did not know Sayer had even written it.  The online version, is scanned from Five fur traders of the Northwest: being the narrative of Peter Pond and the diaries of John Macdonell. Archibald N. McLeod, Hugh Faries, and Thomas Connor (1933), and identifies the journal with Thomas Connor.  It wasn’t until the 1970s that Douglas Birk and Bruce White revealed the true identity of the journal’s author.  Birk later had it republished as John Sayer’s Snake River Journal, 1804-1805: A Fur Trade Diary from East Central Minnesota.


Detail from map at the top of the post:  note that the black dot is at the mouth of the Snake River, while Sayer’s post was farther upstream at Cross Lake.  JS=John Sayer, MC=Michel Curot, and GN=George Nelson.


Surprisingly, there was very little overlap between Sayer’s names the names recorded by Michel Curot the previous winter at nearby Yellow Lake.  Pike (Brochet, presumably Ginoozhe) is the only one I saw.

Zhaagobe (Jack-o-pa, Shakopee, Chacoubai) was the name of several Ojibwe and Dakota chiefs in this part of the world. The one Sayer traded with was likely the man above, in this lithograph of a Charles Bird King revision of a James Otto Lewis portrait from the Treaty of Prairie du Chien. Charles Lippert’s Wikipedia articles are very helpful in sorting out the different Zhaagobes and Ozaawindibs (Wikimedia Images).

This gives additional support to the notion, repeated in the March 8th post, that kinship ties rather than geographic proximity is what defines a “band” in this time period.  In these journals, you see references to both chiefs and villages, but descriptions like “Tete Jaune’s Band” appear much more often than ones like “Pokegama Band.”  Undoubtedly, these definitions were still very strong in mid-18th century, which begs the question of how meaningful the categories in the Chequamegon History People Index (or for that matter, the treaties) are.

It also appears that these kinship-based bands were often affiliated with one trading company or the other, and moved according to where there was a trader.  La Plat is described by Sayer as one of “Chernier’s (XY trader) Indians,” and along with Giishkiman (Sharpened Stone), he seems to pop up at XY posts from the St. Croix, to the Chippewa River, to Lac du Flambeau.

Anyway, I get out of my league if I go too far down this “big-picture” path, so I’ll wrap it up for now.  I may revisit this section of the map if I’m ever inclined to write about Zhaagobe (Shakopee “Six”), Ozaawindib (Yellow Head), and the shifting identities of the Ojibwe and Dakota of the Snake River area, but for now I leave that in the hands of people much more qualified than myself.

This post concludes the Chief Buffalo Picture Search, a series of posts attempting to determine which images of Chief Buffalo are of the La Pointe Ojibwe leader who died in 1855, and which are of other chiefs named Buffalo.  To read from the beginning, click here to read Chief Buffalo Picture Search:  Introduction.


This is Chief Buffalo from St. Croix, not Chief Buffalo from La Pointe.

This lithograph from McKenney and Hall’s History of the Indian Tribes, was derived from an original oil painting (now destroyed) painted in 1824 by Charles Bird King.Buffalo from St. Croix was in Washington in 1824.  Buffalo from La Pointe was not.  Read:

Chief Buffalo Picture Search:  The King and Lewis Lithographs

This could be Chief Buffalo from La Pointe.  It could also be Chief Buffalo from St. Croix

This lithograph from James Otto Lewis’ The Aboriginal Port-Folio is based on a painting done by Lewis at the Treaty of Prairie du Chien in 1825 or at the Treaty of Fond du Lac in 1826 (Lewis is inconsistent in his own identification). The La Pointe and St. Croix chiefs were at both treaties.  Read:

Chief Buffalo Picture Search:  The King and Lewis Lithographs

This is not Chief Buffalo of La Pointe.  This is the clan marker of Oshkaabewis, a contemporary chief from the headwaters of the Wisconsin River.

The primary sources clearly indicate that this birch bark petition was carried by Oshkaabewis to Washington in 1849 as part of a delegation of Lake Superior Ojibwe protesting Government removal plans.  Read:

…a donation of twenty-four sections of land covering the graves of our fathers, our sugar orchards, and our rice lakes and rivers…  

One of these men could be Chief Buffalo of La Pointe.

This engraving from Benjamin Armstrong’s Early Life Among the Indians appears to depict the 1852 Washington Delegation led by Buffalo.  However, the men aren’t identified individually, and the original photograph hasn’t surfaced. Read:

Chief Buffalo Picture Search:  The Armstrong Engraving 

This is not Chief Buffalo of La Pointe. This is Buffalo the war chief from Leech Lake.

Buffalo and Flatmouth, two Pillager (Leech Lake) leaders had their faces carved in marble in Washington in 1855.  Buffalo was later copied in bronze, and both busts remain in the United States capitol.  The chiefs were part of a Minnesota Ojibwe delegation making a treaty for reservations in Minnesota.  Buffalo of Leech Lake was later photographed in St. Paul. Read:

Chief Buffalo Picture Search:  The Capitol Busts

This could be Chief Buffalo of La Pointe.  

Very little is known about the origin of this image.  It is most likely Chief Buffalo’s son Jayjigwyong, who was sometimes called “The Little Buffalo.”  Read:

Chief Buffalo Picture Search:  The Island Museum Painting

As it currently stands, out of the seven images investigated in this study, four are definitely not Chief Buffalo from La Pointe, and the other three require further investigation. The lithograph of Pee-che-kir from McKenney and Hallʼs History of the Indian Tribes, based on the original painting by Charles Bird King, is Buffalo from St. Croix. The marble and bronze busts in Washington D.C., as well as the carte-d-visite from Whitneyʼs in St. Paul, show Bizhiki the war chief from Leech Lake. The pictograph of the crane, once identified with Buffalo, is actually the Crane-clan chief Oshkaabewis. There is not enough information yet to make a determination on the lithograph of Pe-schick-ee from James Otto Lewisʻ Aboriginal Port Folio, on the image of the 1852 delegation in Armstrongʼs Early Life Among the Indians, or on the photo and painting of the man in the military coat.

In the end, the confusion about all of these images can be attributed to authors with motivations other than recording an accurate history of these men, authors who were not familiar enough with this time period to realize that there was more than one Buffalo. Charles Bird King and Francis Vincenti created some beautiful work in the national capital, but their ultimate goal was to make a record of the look of a supposedly vanishing people. The Pillager Bizhiki was chosen to sit for the sculpture not for who he was, but for what he looked like. The St. Croix Buffalo was chosen because he happened to be in Washington when King was painting.  Over a century later, scholars like Horan and Holzhueter being more concerned with the art itself than the people depicted, furthered the confusion. Unfortunately, these mistakes had consequences for the study of history.

While this new information, especially in regard to the busts in Washington, may be discouraging to the people of Red Cliff and other descendants of Buffalo from La Pointe, there is also cause for excitement. The study of these images opens up new lines of inquiry into the last three decades of the chief’s life, a pivotal time in Ojibwe history. Inaccuracies about his life can be corrected, and people will stop having to come up with stories to connect Buffalo to images that were never him to begin with.

My hope is that this investigation will encourage people to learn more about all three Chief Buffalos, all of whom represented their people in Washington, as well as the other Ojibwe leaders from this time period. It is this hopeful story, as well as the possibility of further investigation into the three remaining images, that should lead Chief Buffaloʼs descendants to feel optimism rather than disappointment.

For now, this concludes the Great Chief Buffalo Picture Search.  I will update in the future, however, if new evidence surface.  Thanks for reading, and feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.

This post is on of several that seeks to determine how many images exist of Great Buffalo, the famous La Pointe Ojibwe chief who died in 1855.  To learn why this is necessary, read this post introducing the Great Chief Buffalo Picture Search.

Today’s post looks at two paintings from the 1820s of Ojibwe men named Bizhiki (Buffalo).  The originals are lost forever, but the images still exist in the lithographs that follow.

Pee-che-kir: A Chippewa Chief Lithograph from McKenney and Hall’s History of the Indian Tribes of North America based on destroyed original by Charles Bird King; 1824. (Wikimedia Images)

Pe-shick-ee: A Celebrated Chippeway Chief from the Aboriginal Port-Folio by James Otto Lewis.  The original painting was done by Lewis at Prairie du Chien or Fond du Lac of Lake Superior in 1825 or 1826 (Wisconsin Historical Society).

1824 Delegation to Washington

Chronologically, the first known image to show an Ojibwe chief named Buffalo appeared in the mid-1820s at time when the Ojibwe and the United States government were still getting to know each other. Prior to the 1820s, the Americans viewed the Ojibwe as a large and powerful nation. They had an uncomfortably close history with the British, who were till lurking over the border in Canada, but they otherwise inhabited a remote country unfit for white settlement. To the Ojibwe, the Americans were chimookomaan, “long knives,” in reference to the swords carried by the military officers who were the first Americans to come into their country.  It was one of these long knives, Thomas McKenney, who set in motion the gathering of hundreds of paintings of Indians. Two of these showed men named Buffalo (Bizhiki).

Charles Bird King: Self portrait 1815 (Wikimedia Images)

McKenney was appointed the first Superintendent of Indian Affairs in 1824. Indian Affairs was under the Department of War at that time, and McKenneyʼs men in the West were mostly soldiers. He, like many in his day, believed that the Indian nations of North America were destined for extinction within a matter of decades.  To preserve a record of these peoples, he commissioned over 100 portraits of various Indian delegates who came to Washington from all over the U.S. states and territories. Most of the painting work fell to Charles Bird King, a skilled Washington portrait artist. Beginning in 1822, King painted Indian portraits for two decades.  He would paint famous men like Black Hawk, Red Jacket, Joseph Brandt, and Major Ridge, but Kingʼs primary goal was not to record the stories of important individuals so much as it was to capture the look of a vanishing race.

No-tin copied from 1824 Charles Bird King original by Henry Inman. Noodin (Wind) was a prominent chief from the St. Croix country.  King’s painting of Buffalo from St. Croix was probably also copied by Inman, but its location is unknown (Wikimedia Images).

In July of 1824, William Clark, the famous companion of Meriwether Lewis, brought a delegation of Sauks, Foxes, and Ioways to Washington to negotiate land cessions. Lawrence Taliaferro, the Indian agent at Fort St. Anthony (now Minneapolis), brought representatives of the Sioux, Menominee, and Ojibwe to observe the treaty process. The St. Croix chiefs Buffalo and Noodin (Wind) represented the Ojibwe.

1824 group

Charles Bird King painted portraits of most of the Indians listed here in the the 1824 Washington group by Niles’ Weekly Register, July 31, 1824. (Google Books)

The St. Croix chiefs were treated well: taken to shows, and to visit the sights of the eastern cities. However, there was a more sinister motivation behind the governmentʼs actions. McKenney made sure the chiefs saw the size and scope of the U.S. Military facilities in Washington, the unspoken message being that resistance to American expansion was impossible. This message seems to have resonated with Buffalo and Noodin of St. Croix as it is referred to repeatedly in the official record.  McKenney pointed Buffalo out as a witness to American power at the Treaty of Fond du Lac (1826). Schoolcraft and Allen mention Buffalo’s trip in their own ill-fated journey up the St. Croix in 1832 (see it in this post), and Noodin talks about the soldiers he saw in Washington in the treaty deliberations in the 1837 Treaty of St. Peters.

While in Washington, Buffalo, Noodin, and most of the other Indians in the group sat with King for portraits in oil. Buffalo was shown wearing a white shirt and cloak, holding a pipe, with his face painted red. The paintings were hung in the offices of the Department of War, and the chiefs returned to their villages.

James Otto Lewis

The following summer, St. Croix Buffalo and Noodin joined chiefs from villages throughout the Ojibwe country, as well as from the Sioux, Sac and Fox, Menominee, Ho-Chunk, Ioway, Ottawa, and Potawatomi at Prairie du Chien. The Americans had called them there to sign a treaty to establish firm borders between their nations. The stated goal was to end the wars between the Sioux and Ojibwe, but it also provided the government an opportunity to assert its authority over the country and to set the stage for future land cessions.

McKenney did not attend the Treaty of Prairie du Chien leaving it to Clark and Lewis Cass to act as commissioners. A quick scan of the Ojibwe signatories shows “Pee-see- ker or buffalo, St. Croix Band,” toward the bottom. Looking up to the third signature, we see “Gitspee Waskee, or le boeuf of la pointe lake Superior,” so both the St. Croix and La Pointe Buffalos were present among the dozens of signatures. One of the government witnesses listed was an artist from Philadelphia named James Otto Lewis.  Over the several days of negotiation, Lewis painted scenes of the treaty grounds as well as portraits of various chiefs. These were sent back to Washington, some were copied and improved by King or other artists, and they were added to the collection of the War Department.

The following year, 1826, McKenney himself traveled to Fond du Lac at the western end of Lake Superior to make a new treaty with the Ojibwe concerning mineral exploration on the south shore. Lewis accompanied him and continued to create images.  At some point in these two years, a Lewis portrait of an Ojibwe chief named Pe-schick-ee (Bizhiki) appeared in McKenneyʼs growing War Department collection.


By 1830, McKenney had been dismissed from his position and turned his attention to publishing a portfolio of lithographs from the paintings in the War Department collection.  Hoping to cash in his own paintings by beating McKenney to the lithograph market, Lewis released The Aboriginal Port Folio in May of 1835. It included 72 color plates, one of which was Pe-schick-ee: A Celebrated Chippeway Chief.

Pencil sketch of Pee-che-kir by Charles Bird King. King made these sketches after his original paintings to assist in making copies.  (Herman J. Viola, The Indian Legacy of Charles Bird King.)

Due to financial issues The History of the Indian Tribes of North America, by McKenney with James Hall, would not come out in full release until the mid 1840s. The three-volume work became a bestseller and included color plates of 120 Indians, 95 of which are accompanied by short biographies. Most of the lithographs were derived from works by King, but some were from Lewis and other artists. Kingʼs portrait of Pee-Che-Kir: A Chippewa Chief was included among them, unfortunately without a biography.  However, we know its source as the painting of the St. Croix Buffalo in 1824. Noodin and several others from that delegation also made it into lithograph form. The original War Department paintings, including both Pee-Che-Kir and Pe-schick-ee were sent to the Smithsonian, where they were destroyed in a fire in 1858.  Oil copies of some of the originals, including Henry Inmanʼs copy of Kingʼs portrait of Noodin, survive, but the lithographs remain the only known versions of the Buffalo portraits other than a pencil sketch of the head of Pee-Che-Kir done by King.

The man in the Lewis lithograph is difficult to identify. The only potential clue we get from the image itself is the title of “A Celebrated Chippeway Chief,” and information that it was painted at Prairie du Chien in 1825. To many, “celebrated” would indicate Buffalo from La Pointe, but in 1825, he was largely unknown to the Americans while the St. Croix Buffalo had been to Washington. In the 1820s, La Pointe Buffaloʼs stature was nowhere near what it would become.  However, he was a noted speaker from a prominent family and his signature is featured prominently in the treaty.  Any assumptions about which chief was more “celebrated”  are difficult.

In dress and pose, the man painted by Lewis resembles the King portrait of St. Croix Buffalo. This has caused some to claim that the Lewis is simply the original version of the King.  King did copy and improve several of Lewisʼ works, but the copies tended to preserve in some degree the grotesque, almost cartoonish, facial features that are characteristic of the self-taught Lewis (see this post for another Lewis portrait). The classically-trained King painted highly realistic faces, and side-by-side comparison of the lithographs shows very little facial resemblance between Kingʼs Pee-Che-Kir and Lewisʼ Pe-schick-ee.

Thomas L. McKenney painted in 1856 by Charles Loring Elliott (Wikimedia Images)

Of the 147 War Department Indian portraits cataloged by William J. Rhees of the Smithsonian prior to the fire, 26 are described as being painted by “King from Lewis,” all of which are from 1826 or after. Most of the rest are attributed solely to King. Almost all the members of the 1824 trip to Washington are represented in the catalog. “Pee-che-ker, Buffalo, Chief of the Chippeways.” does not have an artist listed, but Noodin and several of the others from the 1824 group are listed as King, and it is safe to assume Buffalo’s should be as well. The published lithograph of Pee-che-kir was attributed solely to King, and not “King from Lewis” as others are.  This further suggests that the two Buffalo lithographs are separate portraits from separate sittings, and potentially of separate chiefs.

Even without all this evidence, we can be confident that the King is not a copy of the Lewis because the King portrait was painted in 1824, and the Lewis was painted no earlier than 1825. There is, however, some debate about when the Lewis was painted. From the historical record, we know that Lewis was present at both Prairie du Chien and Fond du Lac along with both the La Pointe Buffalo and the St. Croix Buffalo. When Pe- schick-ee was released, Lewis identified it as being painted at Prairie du Chien.  However, the work has also been placed at Fond du Lac.

The modern identification of Pee-che-kir as a copy of Pe-schick-ee seems to have originated with the work of James D. Horan. In his 1972 book, The McKenney-Hall Portrait Gallery of American Indians, he reproduces all the images from History of the Indian Tribes, and adds his own analysis. On page 206, he describes the King portrait of Pee-che-kir with:

“Peechekir (or Peechekor, Buffalo) was “a solid, straight formed Indian,” Colonel McKenney recalled many years after the Fond du Lac treaty where he had met the chief. Apparently the Chippewa played a minor role at the council.

Original by James Otto Lewis, Fond du Lac council, 1826, later copied in Washington by Charles Bird King.”

Presumably, the original he refers to would be the Lewis portrait of Pe-schick-ee. However, Horanʼs statement that McKenney met St. Croix Buffalo at Fond du Lac is false. As we already know, the two men met in 1824 in Washington. It is puzzling how Horan did not know this considering he includes the following account on page 68:

The first Indian to step out of the closely packed lines of stone-faced red men made McKenney feel at home; it was a chief he had met a few years before in Washington. The Indian held up his hand in a sign of peace and called out:
“Washigton [sic]… Washington… McKenney shook hands with the chief and nodded to Lewis but the artist had already started to sketch.”

McKenneyʼs original account identifies this chief as none other than St. Croix Buffalo:

In half an hour after, another band came in who commenced, as did the others, by shaking hands, followed, of course, by smoking. In this second band I recognized Pee-che-kee, or rather he recognized me–a chief who had been at Washington, and whose likeness hangs in my office there. I noticed that his eye was upon me, and that he smiled, and was busily employed speaking to an Indian who sat beside him, and no doubt about me. His first word on coming up to speak to me was, “Washington”–pointing to the east. The substance of his address was, that he was glad to see me–he felt his heart jump when he first saw me–it made him think of Washington, of his great father, of the good living he had when he visited us–how kind we all were to him, and that he should never forget any of it.

From this, Horan should have known not only that the two men knew each other, but also that a portrait of the chief (Kingʼs) already was part of the War Department collection and therefore existed before the Lewis portrait. Horanʼs description of Lewis already beginning his sketch does not appear in McKenneyʼs account and seems to invented. This is not the only instance where Horan confuses facts or takes wide license with Ojibwe history.  His statement quoted above that the Ojibwe “played a minor role” in the Treaty of Fond du Lac, when they were the only Indian nation present and greatly outnumbered the Americans, should disqualify Horan from being treated as any kind of authority on the topic.  However, he is not the only one to place the Lewis portrait of Pe-schick-ee at Fond du Lac rather than Prairie du Chien.

Between, 1835 and 1838 Lewis released 80 lithographs, mostly of individual Indians, in a set of ten installments. He had intended to include an eleventh with biographies. However, a dispute with the publisher prevented the final installment from coming out immediately. His London edition, released in 1844 by another publisher, included a few short biographies but none for Pe-schick-ee. Most scholars assumed that he never released the promised eleventh installment. However, one copy of a self-published 1850 pamphlet donated by Lewisʼs grandson exists in the Free Library of Philadelphia. In it are the remaining biographies. Number 30 reads:

No. 30. Pe-shisk-Kee. A Chippewa warrior from Lake Huron, noted for his attachment to the British, with whom he always sided. At the treaty held at Fond du Lac, when the Council opened, he appeared with a British medal of George the III. on his breast, and carrying a British flag, which Gen. Cass, one of the Commissioners, promptly and indignantly placed under his feet, and pointing to the stars and stripes, floating above them, informed him that that was the only one permitted to wave there.

The Chief haughtily refused to participate in the business of the Council, until, by gifts, he became partly conciliated, when he joined in their deliberations. Painted at Fond du Lac, in 1826.

This new evidence further clouds the story. Initially, this description does not seem to fit what we know about either the La Pointe or the St. Croix Buffalo, as both were born near Lake Superior and lived in Wisconsin. Both men were also inclined to be friendly toward the American government. The St. Croix Buffalo had recently been to Washington, and the La Pointe Buffalo frequently spoke of his desire for good relations with the United States in later years. It is also troubling that Lewis contradicts his earlier identification of the location of the portrait at Prairie du Chien.

It is unlikely that Pe-schick-ee depicts a third chief given that no men named Buffalo other than the two mentioned signed the Treaty of Fond du Lac, and the far-eastern bands of Ojibwe from Lake Huron were not part of treaty councils with the Lake Superior bands. One can speculate that perhaps Lewis, writing 25 years after the original painting, mistook the story of Pe-schick-ee with that one of the many other chiefs he met in his travels, but there are some suggestions that it might, in fact, be La Pointe Buffalo.

The La Pointe Band traded with the British in the other side of Lake Superior for years after the War of 1812 supposedly confirmed Chequamegon as American territory.  If you’ve read this post, you’ll know that Buffalo from La Pointe was a follower of Tenskwatawa, whose brother Tecumseh fought beside the British.  On July 22, 1822, Schoolcraft writes:

At that place [Chequamegon] lived, in comparatively modern times, Wabojeeg and Andaigweos, and there still lives one of their descendants in Gitchee Waishkee, the Great First-born, or, as he is familiarly called, Pezhickee, or the Buffalo, a chief decorated with British insignia. His band is estimated at one hundred and eighteen souls, of whom thirty-four are adult males, forty-one females, and forty-three children.

It’s possible that it was La Pointe Buffalo with the British flag.  Archival research into the Treaty of Fond du Lac could potentially clear this up.  If I stumble across any, I’ll be sure to add it here.  For now, we can’t say one way or the other which Buffalo is in the Lewis portrait.

The Verdict

Not Chief Buffalo from La Pointe: This is Chief Buffalo from St. Croix.

Inconclusive:  This could be Buffalo from La Pointe or Buffalo from St. Croix.

Horan, James David, and Thomas Loraine McKenney. The McKenney-Hall Portrait Gallery of American Indians. New York, NY: Bramhall House, 1986. Print.
KAPPLER’S INDIAN AFFAIRS: LAWS AND TREATIES. Ed. Charles J. Kappler. Oklahoma State University Library, n.d. Web. 21 June 2012. <http://>.
Lewis, James O., The Aboriginal Port-Folio: A Collection of Portraits of the Most Celebrated Chiefs of the North American Indians. Philadelphia: J.O. Lewis, 1835-1838. Print.
———– Catalogue of the Indian Gallery,. New York: J.O. Lewis, 1850. Print.
Loew, Patty. Indian Nations of Wisconsin: Histories of Endurance and Renewal.
Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society, 2001. Print.
McKenney, Thomas Loraine. Sketches of a Tour to the Lakes of the Character and Customs of the Chippeway Indians, and of Incidents Connected with the Treaty of Fond Du Lac. Baltimore: F. Lucas, Jun’r., 1827. Print.
McKenney, Thomas Loraine, and James Hall. Biographical Sketches and Anecdotes of Ninety-five of 120 Principal Chiefs from the Indian Tribes of North America. Washington: U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1967. Print.
Moore, Robert J. Native Americans: A Portrait : The Art and Travels of Charles Bird King, George Catlin, and Karl Bodmer. New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1997. Print.
Niles, Hezekiah, William O. Niles, Jeremiah Hughes, and George Beatty, eds. “Indians.” Niles’ Weekly Register [Baltimore] 31 July 1824, Miscellaneous sec.: 363. Print.
Rhees, William J. An Account of the Smithsonian Institution. Washington: T. McGill, 1859. 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.
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.
Schoolcraft, Henry R. 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: Lippincott, Grambo and, 1851. Print.
Viola, Herman J. The Indian Legacy of Charles Bird King. Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1976. Print.
Warren, William W., and Theresa M. Schenck. History of the Ojibway People. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 2009. Print.

Special thanks to Theresa Schenck of the University of Wisconsin and Charles Lippert for helping me work through this information, and to Michael Edmonds of the Wisconsin Historical Society, and Alice Cornell (formerly of the University of Cincinnati) for tracking down the single copy of the unpublished James Otto Lewis catalog.

The Shawnee Prophet, Tenskwatawa painted by Charles Bird King c.1820 (Wikimedia Commons)

In contrast with other Great Lakes nations, the Lake Superior Ojibwe are often portrayed as not having had a role in the Seven Years War, Pontiac’s War, Tecumseh’s War, or the War of 1812.  The Chequamegon Ojibwe are often characterized as being uniformly friendly toward whites, peacefully transitioning from the French and British to the American era.  The Ojibwe leaders Buffalo of La Pointe and Flat Mouth of Leech Lake are seen as men who led their people into negotiations rather than battle with the United States.

No one tried harder to promote the idea of Ojibwe-American friendship than William W. Warren (1825-1853), the Madeline Island-born mix-blooded historian who wrote History of the Ojibway People.  Warren details Ojibwe involvement in all of these late-18th and early 20th-century imperial conflicts, but then repeatedly dismisses it as solely the work of more easterly Ojibwe bands or a few rogue warriors.  The reality was much more complicated.

It is true, the Lake Superior Ojibwe never entered into these wars as a single body, but the Lake Superior Ojibwe rarely did anything as a single body.  Different bands, chiefs, and families pursued different policies.  What is clear from digging deeper into the sources, however, is that the anti-American resistance ideologies of men like the Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa (The Prophet) had more followers around here than Warren would have you believe.  The passage below, from none other than Warren himself, shows that these followers included Buffalo and Flat Mouth.

History of the Ojibway People is available free online, but I’m not going to link to it. I want you to check out or buy the second edition, edited and annotated by Theresa Schenck and published by the Minnesota Historical Society in 2009.  It is not the edition I first read this story in, but this post does owe a great debt to Dr. Schenck’s footnotes.  Also, if you get the book, you will find the added bonus of a second account of these same events from Julia Warren Spears, William’s sister (Appendix C).  The passage that is reproduced here can be read on pages 227-231.    

The great mix-blooded La Pointe fur trader, Michel Cadotte, was Warren’s grandfather. John Baptiste Corbin (Corbine), traded under him for both British and American companies.

“… no event of any importance occured on the Chippeway and Wisconsin Rivers till the year 1808, when, under the influence of the excitement which the Shaw-nee prophet, brother of Tecumseh, succeeded in raising, even to the remotest village of the Ojibways, the men of the Lac Coutereille village, pillaged the trading house of Michel Cadotte at Lac Coutereilles, while under charge of a clerk named John Baptiste Corbin.  From the lips of Mons. Corbin, who is still living at Lac Coutereille, at the advanced age of seventy-six years, and who has now been fifty-six years in the Ojibway country, I have obtained a reliable account of this transaction…”

“…In the year 1808, during the summer while John B. Corbin had charge of the Lac Coutereille post, messengers, whose faces were painted black, and whose actions appeared strange, arrived at the different principal villages of the Ojibways. In solemn councils they performed certain ceremonies, and told that the Great Spirit had at last condescended to hold communion with the red race, through the medium of a Shawano prophet, and that they had been sent to impart the glad tidings.

Shawano or Shawnee (Zhaawano- or Zhaawani-) means “Southern” in Ojibwe and related languages.  The Shawnee, living in the Ohio Country, were considered the southerners.  The name of Shawano, Wisconsin also means “south.”

The Shawano sent them word that the Great Spirit was about to take pity on his red children, whom he had long forsaken for their wickedness. He bade them to return to the primitive usages and customs of their ancestors, to leave off the use of everything which the evil white race had introduced among them. Even the fire-steel must be discarded, and fire made as in ages past, by the friction of two sticks. And this fire, once lighted in their principal villages, must always be kept sacred and burning. He bade them to discard the use of fire-water—to give up lying and stealing and warring with one another. He even struck at some of the roots of the Me-da-we religion, which he asserted had become permeated with many evil medicines, and had lost almost altogether its original uses and purity. He bade the medicine men to throw away their evil and poisonous medicines, and to forget the songs and ceremonies attached thereto, and he introduced new medicines and songs in their place. He prophesied that the day was nigh, when, if the red race listened to and obeyed his words, the Great Spirit would deliver them from their dependence on the whites, and prevent their being finally down-trodden and exterminated by them. The prophet invited the Ojibways to come and meet him at Detroit, where in person, he would explain to them the revelations of the “Great Master of Life.”  He even claimed the power of causing the dead to arise, and come again to life.

To read about Tenskwatawa’s messengers among the prairie Ojibwe (Saulteaux) and their Cree and Assiniboine allies, check out pages 155-158 of John Tanner’s A Narrative of the Captivity and Adventures of John Tanner (1830) on Google Books.

It is astonishing how quickly this new belief obtained possession in the minds of the Ojibways. It spread like wild-fire throughout their entire country, and even reached the remotest northern hunters who had allied themselves with the Crees and Assiniboines. The strongest possible proof which can be adduced of their entire belief, is in their obeying the mandate to throw away their medicine bags, which the Indian holds most sacred and inviolate. It is said that the shores of Sha-ga-waum-ik-ong were strewed with the remains of medicine bags, which had been committed to the deep. At this place, the Ojibways collected in great numbers. Night and day, the ceremonies of the new religion were performed, till it was at last determined to go in a body to Detroit, to visit the prophet. One hundred and fifty canoes are said to have actually started from Pt. Shag-a-waum-ik-ong for this purpose, and so strong was their belief, that a dead child was brought from Lac Coutereille to be taken to the prophet for resuscitation.

Warren’s characterization of the journey as “foolish,” and his condemnation of Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa’s pan-Indian resistance ideology, is consistent with the tone found in much of History of the Ojibways.  Although he was three-eighths Ojibwe himself, and advocated for Ojibwe causes, the book was written for a white American audience.  Like many in his day, Warren thought Indian cultures were doomed and that assimilation was the only hope for Indian survival.

This large party arrived on their foolish journey, as far as the Pictured Rocks, on Lake Superior, when, meeting with Michel Cadotte, who had been to Sault Ste. Marie for his annual outfit of goods, his influence, together with information of the real motives of the prophet in sending for them, succeeded in turning them back.

The few Ojibways who had gone to visit the prophet from the more eastern villages of the tribe, had returned home disappointed, and brought back exaggerated accounts of the suffering through hunger, which the proselytes of the prophet who had gathered at his call, were enduring, and also giving the lie to many of the attributes which he had assumed. It is said that at Detroit he would sometimes leave the camp of the Indians, and be gone, no one knew whither, for three and four days at a time. On his return he would assert that he had been to the spirit land and communed with the master of life. It was, however, soon discovered that he only went and hid himself in a hollow oak which stood behind the hill on which the most beautiful portion of Detroit City is now built. These stories became current among the Ojibways, and each succeeding year developing more fully the fraud and warlike purpose of the Shawano, the excitement gradually died away among the Ojibways, and the medicine men and chiefs who had become such ardent believers, hung their heads in shame whenever the Shawano was mentioned.

Two men of “strong minds and unusual intelligence,” Buffalo of La Pointe (top) and Eshkibagikoonzhe or “Flat Mouth” of Leech Lake. (Wisconsin Historical Society) (Minnesota Historical Society)

At this day it is almost impossible to procure any information on this subject from the old men who are still living, who were once believers and preached their religion, so anxious are they to conceal the fact of their once having been so egregiously duped. The venerable chiefs Buffalo, of La Pointe, and Esh-ke-bug-e-coshe, of Leech Lake, who have been men of strong minds and unusual intelligence, were not only firm believers of the prophet, but undertook to preach his doctrines.

One essential good resulted to the Ojibways through the Shawano excitement–they threw away their poisonous roots and medicines, and poisoning, which was formerly practiced by their worst class of medicine men, has since become entirely unknown.

So much has been written respecting the prophet and the new beliefs which he endeavored to inculcate amongst his red brethren, that we will no longer dwell on the merits or demerits of his pretended mission.  It is now evident that he and his brother Tecumseh had in view, and worked to effect, a general alliance of the red race, against the whites, and their final extermination from the ‘Great Island which the great spirit had given as an inheritance to his red children.’”

From 1805 to 1811, the Shawnee Prophet Tenskwatawa and his brother Tecumseh spread a religious and political message from the Canadas in the north, to the Gulf of Mexico in the south, to the prairies of the west.  They called for all Indians to abandon white ways, unite as one people, and create a British-protected Indian country between the Ohio and the Great Lakes.  While he seldom convinced entire nations (including the Shawnee) to join him, Tecumseh gained followers from all over.  

This picture of Tecumseh in British uniform was painted decades after his death by Benson John Lossing (Wikimedia Commons)

His coalition came apart, however, at the Battle of Tippecanoe on November 7, 1811.  Tecumseh was away recruiting more followers when American forces under William Henry Harrison defeated Tenskwatawa.  Accounts suggest it was a closely-fought battle with the Americans suffering the most casualties.  However, in the end Harrison prevailed due to his superior numbers.

With Tenskwatawa discredited, Tecumseh ended up raising a new coalition to fight alongside the British against the Americans in the War of 1812.  He was killed in the Battle of the Thames, October 5, 1813, when the British forces under General Henry Procter abandoned their Indian allies on the battlefield.

After the War of 1812, British traders pulled out of their posts in American territory.  However, the Ojibwe of Lake Superior continued to trade across the line in Canada.  In 1822, the American agent Henry Schoolcraft’s gave his first description of Buffalo, a man he would come to know well over the next thirty-five years.  He described “a chief decorated with British insignia.”  Ten years later, Flat Mouth was telling Schoolcraft he had no right or ability to stop the Ojibwe from allying with the British.  These chiefs were not men who were unwavering friends of the United States for their whole lives.

Buffalo and Flat Mouth lived to be very old men, and lived to see the Ojibwe cede their lands in treaties, suffer the tragic 1850-51 removal to Sandy Lake, and see the beginnings of a paternalist American regime on the newly-created reservations.  Their Shawnee contemporary, Tecumseh, did not live that long.  

Tecumseh’s life and death are documented in the second episode of the 2009 television miniseries American Experience: We Shall Remain.  The episode, Tecumseh’s Vision, is very good throughout.  The most interesting part comes at the very end when several of the expert interviewees comment on the meaning of Tecumseh’s death:

“I think Tecumseh is, in a sense, saved by his death. He’s saved for immortality through death on the battlefield.”

Stephen Warren, Augustana College

“One of the great things in icons is to bow out at the right time, and one of the things Tecumseh does is he never lets you down. He was there, articulating his position — uncompromisingly pro-Native American position. He never signs the treaties. He never reneges on those basic as principles of the sacrosanct aboriginal holding of this territory. He bows out at the peak of this great movement he is leading. He’s there, right at the end, whatever the odds are, fighting for it into the dying moments.”

John Sugden, author Tecumseh:  A Life

For some people, they may call him a troublemaker. And I think that’s because, in the end, he lost. Had he won, he’d have been, you know, a hero. But I think, to a degree, he still has to be recognized as a hero, for what he attempted to do. If he had a little more help, maybe he would have got a little farther down the line. If the British would have backed him up, like they were supposed to have, maybe the United States is only half as big as it is today.”    

Sherman Tiger, Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma

Stephen Warren and John Sugden indicate that he is a hero because of the way he died. Sherman Tiger seems to say that Tecumseh’s death, in part, is what kept him from being a hero, and that if he had more men, maybe his “vision” of a united Indian nation would have come true. 

In 1811, the Ojibwe of Lake Superior and the upper Mississippi had hundreds of warriors experienced in battle with the Dakota Sioux.  They were heirs to a military tradition that defeated the Iroquois and the Meskwaki (Fox).  A handful of Ojibwe did fight beside Tecumseh, and according to John Baptiste Corbine through Warren, many more could have.  It’s possible they could have tipped the balance and caused Tippecanoe or Thames to end differently.  It is also possible that Buffalo, Flat Mouth, and other future Ojibwe leaders could have died on the battlefield.  

Tecumseh died young and uncompromised. Buffalo and Flat Mouth faced many tough decisions and lived long enough to see their people lose their independence and most of their land.  However, they were there to lead their people through the hard times of the removal period.  Tecumseh wasn’t. 

Ultimately, it’s hard to say which is more heroic?  What do you think?

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 Philip P. Mason. Expedition to Lake Itasca; the Discovery of the Source of the Mississippi,. [East Lansing]: Michigan State UP, 1958. Print.
Schoolcraft, Henry R. 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: Lippincott, Grambo and, 1851. Print.
Warren, William W., and Theresa M. Schenck. History of the Ojibway People. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 2009. Print.
White, Richard. The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1991. Print.
Witgen, Michael J. An Infinity of Nations: How the Native New World Shaped Early North America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2012. Print.