La Pointe Bands Part 1

April 19, 2015

By Leo Filipczak

lapointeband

(Click to Enlarge)

On March 8th, I posted a map of Ojibwe people mentioned in the trade journals of Perrault, Curot, Nelson, and Malhoit as a starting point to an exploration of this area at the dawn of the 19th Century. Later the map was updated to include the journal of John Sayer

In these journals, a number of themes emerge, some of which challenge conventional wisdom about the history of the La Pointe Band.  For one, there is very little mention of a La Pointe Band at all.  The traders discuss La Pointe as the location of Michel Cadotte’s trading depot, and as a central location on the lakeshore, but there is no mention of a large Ojibwe village there.  In fact, the journals suggest that the St. Croix and Chippewa River basins as the place where the bulk of the Lake Superior Ojibwe could be found at this time.

In the post, I repeated an argument that the term “Band” in these journals is less identifiable with a particular geographical location than it is with a particular chief or extended family.  Therefore, it makes more sense to speak of “Giishkiman’s Band,” than of the “Lac du Flambeau Band,” because Giishkiman (Sharpened Stone) was not the only chief who had a village near Lac du Flambeau and Giishkiman’s Band appears at various locations in the Chippewa and St. Croix country in that era.  

In later treaties and United State’s Government relations, the Ojibwe came to be described more often by village names (La Pointe, St. Croix, Fond du Lac, Lac du Flambeau, Lac Courte Oreilles, Ontonagon, etc.), even though these oversimplified traditional political divisions.  However, these more recent designations are the divisions that exist today and drive historical scholarship.

So what does this mean for the La Pointe Band, the political antecedent of the modern-day Bad River and Red Cliff Bands?  This is a complicated question, but I’ve come across some little-known documents that may shed new light on the meaning and chronology of the “La Pointe Band.”   In a series of posts, I will work through these documents.

This series is not meant to be an exhaustive look at the Ojibwe at Chequamegon.  The goal here is much narrower, and if it can be condensed into one line of inquiry, it is this:

Fourteen men signed the Treaty of 1854 as chiefs and headmen of the La Pointe Band: 

Ke-che-waish-ke, or the Buffalo, 1st chief, his x mark. [L. S.]

Chay-che-que-oh, 2d chief, his x mark. [L. S.]

A-daw-we-ge-zhick, or Each Side of the sky, 2d chief, his x mark. [L. S.]

O-ske-naw-way, or the Youth, 2d chief, his x mark. [L. S.]

Maw-caw-day-pe-nay-se, or the Black Bird, 2d chief, his x mark. [L. S.]

Naw-waw-naw-quot, headman, his x mark. [L. S.]

Ke-wain-zeence, headman, his x mark. [L. S.]

Waw-baw-ne-me-ke, or the White Thunder, 2d chief, his x mark. [L. S.]

Pay-baw-me-say, or the Soarer, 2d chief, his x mark. [L. S.]

Naw-waw-ge-waw-nose, or the Little Current, 2d chief, his x mark. [L. S.]

Maw-caw-day-waw-quot, or the Black Cloud, 2d chief, his x mark. [L. S.]

Me-she-naw-way, or the Disciple, 2d chief, his x mark. [L. S.]

Key-me-waw-naw-um, headman, his x mark. [L. S.]

She-gog headman, his x mark. [L. S.]

If we consider a “band” as a unit of kinship rather than a unit of physical geography, how many bands do those fourteen names represent?  For each of those bands (representing core families at Red Cliff and Bad River), what is the specific relationship to the Ojibwe villages at Chequamegon in the centuries before the treaty?

The Fitch-Wheeler Letter

Chequamegon History spends a disproportionately large amount of time on Ojibwe annuity payments.  These payments, which spanned from the late 1830s to the mid-1870s were large gatherings, which produced colorful stories (dozens from the 1855 payment alone),  but also highlighted the tragedy of colonialism.  This is particularly true of the attempted removal of the payments to Sandy Lake in 1850-1851.  Other than the Sandy Lake years, the payments took place at La Pointe until 1855 and afterward at Odanah.  

The 1857 payment does not necessarily stand out from the others the way the 1855 one does, but for the purposes of our investigation in this post, one part of it does.  In July of that year, the new Indian Agent at Detroit, A.W. Fitch, wrote to Odanah missionary Leonard Wheeler for aid in the payment:

Office Michn Indn Agency

Detroit July 8th 1857

Sir,

 

I have fixed upon Friday August 21st for the distribution of annuities to the Chippewa Indians of Lake Supr. at Bad River for the present year.  A schedule of the Bands which are to be paid there is appended.

I will thank you to apprise the LaPointe Indians of the time of payment, so that they should may be there on the day.  It is not necessary that they should be there before the day and I prefer that they should not.

And as there was, according to my information a partial failure in the notification of the Lake De Flambeau and Lake Court Oreille Indians last year, I take the liberty to entrust their notification this year to you and would recommend that you dispatch two trusty Messengers at once, to their settlements to notify them to be at Bad River by the 21st of August and to urge them forward with all due diligence.

It is not necessary for any of these Indians to come but the Chiefs, their headmen and one representative for each family.  The women and children need not come.  Two Bands of these Indians, that is Negicks & Megeesee’s you will notice are to be notified by the same Messengers to be at L’Anse on the 7th of September that they may receive their pay there instead of Bad River.

I presume that Messengers can be obtained at your place for a Dollar a day each & perhaps less and found and you will please be particular about giving them their instructions and be sure that they understand them.  Perhaps you had better write them down, as it is all important that there should be no misunderstanding nor failure in the matter and furthermore you will charge the Messenger to return to Bad River immediately, so that you may know from them, what they have done.

It is my purpose to land the Goods at the mo. of Bad River somewhere about the 1st of Aug. (about which I will write you again or some one at your place) and proceed at once to my Grand Portage and Fond Du Lac payments & then return to Bad River.

Schedule of the Bands of Chipps. of Lake Supr. to be notified of the payment at Bad River, Wisn to be made Friday August 21st for the year 1854.

____________________________

 

La Pointe Bands.

__________

 

Maw kaw-day pe nay se [Blackbird]

Chay, che, qui, oh, [Little Buffalo/Plover]

Maw kaw-day waw quot [Black Cloud]

Waw be ne me ke [White Thunder]

Me she naw way [Disciple]

Aw, naw, quot [Cloud]

Naw waw ge won. [Little Current]

Key me waw naw um [Canoes in the Rain]  {This Chief lives some distance away}

A, daw, we ge zhick [Each Side of the Sky]

Vincent Roy Sen.  {head ½ Breeds.}

 

Lakes De Flambeau & Court Oreille Bands.

__________

 

Keynishteno [Cree]

Awmose [Little Bee]

Oskawbaywis [Messenger]

Keynozhance [Little Pike]

Iyawbanse [Little Buck]

Oshawwawskogezhick [Blue Sky]

Keychepenayse [Big Bird]

Naynayonggaybe [Dressing Bird]

Awkeywainze [Old Man]

Keychewawbeshayshe [Big Marten]

Aishquaygonaybe–[End Wing Feather]

Wawbeshaysheence [Little Marten] {I do not know where this Band is but notify it.}

__________

And Negick’s [Otter] & Megeesee’s [Eagle] Bands, which (that is Negicks and Megeesees Bands only) are to be notified by the same Messengers to go to L’Anse the 7th of Sept. for their payt.

 

Very respectfully

Your Obedt Servt,

A W Fitch

Indn. Agent

 

Rev. L H Wheeler

Bad River msn.

Source:  Wheeler Family Papers, Wisconsin Historical Society, Ashland, WI

This letter reveals that in 1857, three years after the Treaty of La Pointe called for the creation of reservations for the La Pointe, Lac du Flambeau, and Lac Courte Oreilles Bands, the existence of these bands as singular political entities was still dubious.  The most meaningful designation attached to the bands in the instructions to Wheeler is that of the chief’s name.  

Canoes in the Rain and Little Marten clearly live far from the central villages named in the treaty, and Nigig (Otter) and Migizi (Eagle) whose villages at this time were near Lac Vieux Desert or Mole Lake aren’t depicted as attached to any particular reservation village. 

Edawigijig (Edawi-giizhig “Both Sides of the Sky”), 1880 (C.M. Bell, Smithsonian Digital Collections)

Additionally, Fitch makes no distinction between Red Cliff and Bad River.  Jechiikwii’o (Little Buffalo) and Vincent Roy Sr. representing the La Pointe mix-bloods could be considered “Red Cliff” chiefs while the rest would be “Bad River.”  However, these reservation-based divisions are clearly secondary to the kinship/leadership divisions.

This indicates that we should conceptualize the “La Pointe Band” for the entire pre-1860 historical period as several bands that were not necessarily all tied to Madeline Island at all times.  This means of thinking helps greatly in sorting out the historical timeline of this area.

This is highlighted in a curious 1928 statement by John Cloud of Bad River regarding the lineage of his grandfather Edawi-giizhig (Each Side of the Sky), one of the chiefs who signed the 1854 Treaty), to E. P. Wheeler, the La Pointe-born son of Leonard Wheeler:   

AN ABRAHAM LINCOLN INDIAN MEDAL
Theodore T. Brown

This medal was obtained by Rev. E. P. Wheeler during the summer of 1928 at Odanah, on the Bad River Indian Reservation, from John Cloud, Zah-buh-deece, a Chippewa Indian, whose grandfather had obtained it from President Abraham Lincoln. His grandfather, A-duh-wih-gee-zhig, was a chief of the La Pointe band of Chippewa. His name signifies “on both sides of the sky or day.” His father was Mih-zieh, meaning a “fish without scales.” The chieftain- ship of A-duh-wih-gee-zhig was certified to by the U. S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs on March 22, 1880.

His father, Mih-zieh, was one of the three chiefs who led the original migration of the Chippewa to Chequamegon Bay, the others being Uh-jih-jahk, the Crane, and Gih-chih-way-shkeenh, or the “Big Plover.” The latter was also sometimes known as Bih-zih-kih, or the “Buffalo.”

A-duh-wih-gee-zhig was a member of the delegation of Lake Superior Chippewa chiefs who went to Washington to see President Lincoln under the guidance of Benjamin G. Armstrong, during the winter of 1861…

~WISCONSIN ARCHEOLOGIST. Vol. 8, No. 3 pg.103

The three chiefs mentioned as leading the “original migration” are well known to history.  Waabajijaak, the White Crane, was the father of Ikwezewe or Madeline Cadotte, the namesake of Madeline Island.  According to his great-grandson, William Warren, White Crane was in the direct Crane Clan lineage that claimed chieftainship over the entire Ojibwe nation.  

Mih-zieh, or Mizay (Lawyerfish) was a prominent speaker for the La Pointe band in the early 19th Century.  According to Janet Chute’s research, he was the brother of Chief Buffalo, and he later settled at Garden River, the village of the great “British” Ojibwe chief Zhingwaakoons (Little Pine) on the Canadian side of the Sault.

Bizhiki, of course, is Chief Buffalo, the most famous of the La Pointe chiefs, who died in 1855.  Gichi-Weshkii, his other name, is usually translated meaning something along the lines of “Great First Born,” “Great Hereditary Chief,” or more literally as “Great New One.”  John Cloud and E. P. Wheeler identify him as the “Big Plover,” which is interesting.  Buffalo’s doodem (clan) was the Loon, but his contemporary Zhingwaakoons was of the Plover doodem (Jiichiishkwenh in Ojibwe).  How this potentially relates to the name of Buffalo’s son Jechiikwii’o (identified as “Snipe” by Charles Lippert) is unclear but worthy of further investigation.

The characterization of these three chiefs leading the “original migration” to Chequamegon stands at odds with everything we’ve ever heard about the first Ojibwe arrival at La Pointe.  The written record places the Ojibwe at Chequamegon at least a half century before any of these chiefs were born, and many sources would suggest much earlier date.  Furthermore, Buffalo and White Crane are portrayed in the works of William Warren and Henry Schoolcraft as heirs to the leadership of the “ancient capital” of the Ojibwes, La Pointe.  

Warren and Schoolcraft knew Buffalo personally, and Warren’s History of the Ojibways even includes a depiction of Buffalo and Daagwagane (son of White Crane, great uncle of Warren) arguing over which of their ancestors first reached Chequamegon in the mists of antiquity.  Buffalo and Daawagane’s exchange would have taken a much different form if they had been alive to see this “original migration.”

Still, Cloud and Wheeler’s statement may contain a grain of truth, something I will return to after filling in a little background on the controversies and mysteries surrounding the timeline of the Ojibwe bands at La Pointe.

 TO BE CONTINUED

“We sold our land for our graves–that we might have a home, where the bones of our fathers are buried.  We were not willing to sell the ashes of our relatives which are so dear to us.  This was the reason why we sold our lands.  It was not to pay debts over and over again, but to benefit the living, those of us who yet remain upon earth, our young men & women & children.”

~Makade-binesi (Blackbird)

Scene at Indian Payment–Odanah, Wis.  This image is from a later payment than the one described below (Whitney & Zimmerman c.1870)

Most of us have heard Chief Joseph’s “Fight No More Forever” speech and Chief Seattle’s largely-fictional plea for the environment, but very few will know that a outstanding example of Native American oratory took place right here in the Chequamegon Region in the summer of 1855.  

It was exactly eleven months after the Lake Superior Ojibwe bands gave up the Arrowhead region of Minnesota, in their final treaty with the United States, in exchange for permanent reservations.  Already, the American government was trying to back out of a key provision of the agreement.  It concerned a clause in Article Four of the 1854 Treaty of La Pointe that reads:

The United States will also pay the further sum of ninety thousand dollars, as the chiefs in open council may direct, to enable them to meet their present just engagements.

The inclusion of clauses to pay off trade debts was nothing new in Ojibwe treaties.  In 1837, $70,000 went to pay off debts, and in 1842 another $75,000 went to the traders.  Personal debts would often be paid out of annuity funds by the government directly to the creditors and certain Ojibwe families would never see their money.  However, from the beginning there were accusations that these debts were inflated or illegitimate, and that it was the traders rather than the Ojibwe themselves, who profited from the sale of the lands.  Therefore, in 1854, when $90,000 in claims were inserted in the treaty, the chiefs demanded that they be the ones to address the claims of the creditors.  

However, less than a year later, at the first post-1854 payment, the government was pressured to back off of the language in the treaty.  George Manypenny, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, came to La Pointe to oversee the payment where he was asked by Indian Agent Henry Gilbert to let the Agency oversee the disbursement of the $90,000.  Most white inhabitants, and many of the white tourists in town to view the spectacle that was the 1855 payment, supported the agent’s plan, as did most of the mix-blooded Ojibwe (most of whom were employed in the trading business in one way or another) and a substantial minority of the full-bloods. 

However, the clear majority of the Lake Superior chiefs insisted they keep the right to handle their own debt claims.  As we saw in this post, the Odanah-based missionary Leonard Wheeler also felt the Government needed to honor its treaties to the letter.  This larger faction of Ojibwe rallied around one chief.  He was from the La Pointe Band and was entrusted to speak for Ojibwe with one voice.  From this description, you might assume it was Chief Buffalo.  However, Buffalo, in the final days of his life, found himself in the minority on this issue.  The speaker for the majority was the Bad River chief Blackbird, and he may have delivered one of the greatest speeches ever given in the Chequamegon Bay region.

Unfortunately, the Ojibwe version of the speech has not survived, and it’s English version, originally translated by Paul Bealieu, exists in pieces recorded by multiple observers.  None of these accounts captures all the nuances of the speech, so it is necessary to read all of them and then analyze the different passages to see its true brilliance.    

The first reference to Blackbird’s speech I remember seeing appeared in the eyewitness account of Dr. Richard F. Morse of Detroit who visited La Pointe that summer specifically to see the payment.  His article, The Chippewas of Lake Superior appeared in the third volume of the Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin.  As you’ll read, it doesn’t speak very highly of Blackbird or the speech, celebrating instead the oratory of Naaganab, the Fond du Lac chief who was part of the minority faction and something of a celebrity among the visiting whites in 1855: 

From Morse’s clear bias against Ojibwe culture, I thought there may have been more to this story, but my suspicions weren’t confirmed until I transcribed another account of the payment for Chequamegon History. An Indian Payment written by another eyewitness, Crocket McElroy, paints a different picture of Blackbird and quotes part of his speech:

Paul H. Beaulieu translated the speeches at the 1855 annuity payment (Minnesota Historical Society Collections).

In August 1855 about three thousand Chippewa Indians gathered at the village of Lapointe, on Lapointe Island, Lake Superior, for an Indian Payment and also to hold a council with the commissioner of Indian affairs, who at that time was George W. Monypenny of Ohio. The Indians selected for their orator a chief named Blackbird, and the choice was a good one, as Blackbird held his own well in a long discussion with the commissioner. Blackbird was not one of the haughty style of Indians, but modest in his bearing, with a good command of language and a clear head. In his speeches he showed much ingenuity and ably pleaded the cause of his people. He spoke in Chippewa stopping frequently to give the interpreter time to translate what he said into English. In beginning his address he spoke substantially as follows:

“My great white father, we are pleased to meet you and have a talk with you We are friends and we want to remain friends. We expect to do what you want us to do, and we hope that you will deal kindly with us. We wish to remind you that we are the source from which you have derived all your riches. Our furs, our timber, our lands, everything that we have goes to you; even the gold out of which that chain was forged (pointing to a heavy watch chain that the commissioner carried) came from us, and now we hope that you will not use that chain to bind us.”

These conflicting accounts of the largely-unremembered Bad River chief’s speech made me curious, and after I found the Blackbird-Wheeler-Manypenny letters written after the payment, I knew I needed to learn more about the speech.  Luckily, digging further into the Wheeler Papers uncovered the following.  To my knowledge, this is the first time it has been transcribed or published in any form.

[Italics, line breaks, and quotation marks added by transcriber to clearly differentiate when Wheeler is quoting a speaker.  Blackbird’s words are in blue.]

O-da-nah Jan 18, 1856.

L. H. Wheeler to Richard M. Smith

Dear Sir,

The following is the substance of my notes taken at the Indian council at La Pointe a copy of which you requested.  Council held in front of Mr. Austrian’s store house Aug 30. 1855.

Short speech first from Kenistino of Lac du Flambeau.

My father, I have a little to say to you & to the Indians.  There is no difference between myself and the other chiefs in regard to the subject upon which we wish to speak.  Our chiefs and young men & old men & even the women & children are all of the same mind.  Blackbird our chief will speak for us & express our sentiments.

The Commissioner, Col Manypenny replied as follows.

My children I suppose you have come to reply to what I said to you day before yesterday.  Is this what you have come for?

“Ah;” or yes, was the reply.

I am happy to see you, but would suggest whether you had not better come tomorrow.  It is now late in the day and is unpleasant & you have a great deal to say and will not have time to finish, but if you will come tomorrow we shall have time to hear all you have to say.  Don’t you think this will be the best way?

“Ah!” yes was the response.

Think well about what you want to say and come prepared to speak freely & fully about all you wish to say.  I would like not only to hear the chiefs and old men speak, but the young men talk, and even the women, if they wish to come, let them come and listen too.  I want the women to understand all that is said and done.  I understand that some of the Indians were drunk last night with the fire-water.  I hope we shall hear nothing more of it.  If any body gives you liquor let me know it and I will deal with him as he deserves.  I hope we shall have a good time tomorrow and be able to explain all about your affairs.

Aug 31. Commissioner opened the council by saying that he wanted all to keep order.

Let the whites and others sit down on the ground and we will have a pleasant time.  If you have anything to say I hope you will speak to the point.

Black Bird.  To the Indians.

My brother chiefs, head men & young men & children.  I have listened well to all the men & women & others who have spoken in our councils and shall now tell it to my father.  I shall have but one mouth to speak your will.

Nose [noose (no-say) “my father”].  My father.  We present you our salutations in your heart.  We salute you in the name of our great father the President, whose representative you are.  We want the Great Spirit now to bless us.  The Day is clear, and we hope our thoughts will be clear too.  My intention is to tell you what the owner of life has done for us.  He has provided for the life of us all.  When the Lord made us he provided for us here upon earth he invested it (ie, he made provision for our wants) in the running streams, in the woods & lakes which abound with fish and in the wild animals.  We regard you as if men like a spirit, perhaps it is because of your education, because you are so much wiser than we, but if we can trace our tradition right the Great Spirit has not made the white man to cheat us.  There is a difference of opinion as it regards different colors among, as to which shall have the preeminence, but the Great Spirit made us to be happy before you discovered us.

I will now tell you about how it was with us before our payments, and before we sold any land.  Our furs that we took we sold to our traders.  We were then paid 4 martin skins for a dollar.  4 bears skins also & 4 beaver skins for $1.00 too.  Can you wonder that we are poor?  I say this to show you what our condition was before we had any payments.  I[t] was by our treaties that we learned the use of money.  I see you White men that sit here how you are dressed.  I see your watch chains & seals and your rich clothing.  Now I will tell you how it is with our traders.  When they first came among us they were very poor, but by & by they became very fat & rich, and wear rich clothing and had their watches & gold chains such as I see you wear.  But they got their things out of us.  They were made rich at our expense.  My father, you told us to bring our women here too.  Here they are, and now behold them in their poverty, and pity their condition (at this juncture in the speech several old women stood dressed in their worn out blankets and tattered garments as if designed to appeal to his humanity[)].

My father, I am now coming to the point.  We are here to protect our own interests.  Our land which we got from our forefathers is ours & we must get what we can for it.  Our traders step between us & our father to controll our interests, and we have been imposed upon.  Mr. Gilbert was the one I shook hands with last year when he was sent here to treat for our lands.  He was the one who was sent to uphold us in our poverty.  We are thankful to see you both here to attend to our interests, and that we are permitted to express to you our wants.  Last year you came here to treat for our lands we are now speaking about.  We sold them because we were poor.  We thank our father for bringing clothing to pay for them.  We sold our land for our graves–that we might have a home, where the bones of our fathers are buried.  We were not willing to sell the ashes of our relatives which are so dear to us.  This was the reason why we sold our lands.  It was not to pay debts over and over again, but to benefit the living, those of us who yet remain upon earth, our young men & women & children.

You said you wanted to see them.  They have been sent for and are now here.  Behold them in their poverty & see how poor they look.

They are poor because so much of our money is taken to pay old debts.  We want the 90,000 dollars to be paid as we direct.  We know that it is just and right that it should be so.  We want to have the money paid in our own hands, and we will see that our just debts are paid.  We want the 90,000 to feed our poor women, and after paying our just debts we want the remainder to buy what we want.  This is the will of all present.  The chiefs, & young men & old men & the women & children.

Let what I have now said, my father, enter your head & heart; and let it enter the head of our great father the President, that it may be as we have now said.  We own no more land.  We must hereafter provide for ourselves.  We want to profit by all the provisions of the treaty we have now made.  We want the whole annuity paid to us as stipulated in the treaty.  I am now done.  After you have spoken, perhaps there are others who would like to speak.

This is the first time my father that I have appeared dressed in a coat & pants & I must confess I feel a little awkward.

The Commissioner replied as follows

We have all heard & noted down what you have said.  If any others wish to speak they had better speak first and I will reply to all at once.

The Grand Portage Indian [Adikoons] then spoke as follows.

My father, I have a few words to say, and I wish to speak what I think.  We have long coveted the privilege of seeing our Great Father.  Why not now embrace the opportunity to speak freely while he is here?  This man will speak my mind.  He is old enough to speak and is a man endowed with good sense.  He will speak our minds without reserve.

When we look around us, we think of our God who is the maker of us all.  You have come here with the laws of that God we have talked about, and you profess to be a Christian and acknowledge the authority of God.  The word of God ought to be obeyed not only by the Indians, but by all.  When we see you, we think you must respect that word of God, who gives life to all.  Your advice is like the law of God.  Those who listen to his law are like God–firm as a rock, (not fickle and vacilating).  When the word of the Great Spirit ends.  When there is an end to life, we are all pleased with the advice you have given us, and intend to act in accord with it.  If we are one here, and keep the word of the Great Spirit we shall be one here after.  In what Blackbird said he expressed the mind of a majority of the chiefs now present.  We wish the stipulations of the treaty to be carried out to the very letter.

I wish to say our word about our reserves.  Will these reserves made for each of our bands, be our homes forever?

When we took credits of our trader last winter, and took no furs to pay him, and wish to get hold of this 90,000 dollars, that we may pay him off of that.  This is all we came here for.  We want the money in our own hands & we will pay our own traders.  We do not think it is right to pay what we do not owe.  I always know how I stand my acct. and we can pay our own debts.  From what I have now said I do not want you to think that we want the money to cheat our creditors, but to do justice to them I owe.  I have my trader & know how much I owe him, & if the money is paid into the hands of the Indians we can pay our own debts.

Naganub.

We have 90,000 dollars set apart to pay our traders, for my part I think it is just that the money should go for this object.  We all know that the traders help us.  We could not well do without them.

It is unfortunate that Wheeler left Buffalo’s part ambiguous.  This was likely his final speech.  He died the following week, with most reports giving his age as between ninety and one hundred years.

Buffalo.

We who live here are ready to pay our just debts.  Some have used expressions as though these debts were not just.  I have lived here many years and been very poor.  There are some here who have been pleased to assist me in my poverty.  They have had pity on me.  Those we justly owe I don’t think ought to be defrauded.  The trader feeds our women & children.  We cannot live one winter without him.  This is all I have to say.

11594564393_f6e293a65f_h[Wheeler does not identify a new speaker here, but marks a a star (right).  Kohl (below) attributes the line about the “came out of the water” to Blackbird, but the line about the copper diggings contradicts Blackbird’s earlier statement, in Kohl, about not knowing their value.  This, and Wheeler’s marking of Blackbird as the one who spoke after this speech would indicate this is Buffalo still talking].

Our rights ought to be protected.  When commissioners have come here to treat for our lands, we have always listened well to their words.  Not because we did not know ourselves the worth of our lands.  We have noticed the ancient copper diggings, and know their worth.  We have never refused to listen to the words of our Great Father.  He it is true has had the power but we have made him rich.  The traders have always wanted pay for what we do not remember to have bought.  At Crow [W]ing River when our lands were ceded there, then there was a large sum demanded to pay old debts.  We have always paid our traders we have acted fair on our part.  At St. Peters also there was a large amount of old debts to be paid–many of them came from places unknown–for what I know they came out of the water.  We think many of them came out of the same bag, and are many of them paid over & over again at every treaty.

Black Bird.

I get up no[w] to finish what you have put into my heart.  The night would be heavy on my breast should I retain any of the words of them with whom I have councilled & for whom I speak.  I speak no[w] of farmers, carpenters, & other employees of Govt.  Where is the money gone to for them?  We have not had these laborers for several years that has been appropriated.  Where is the money that has been set apart to pay them?  You will not probably see your Red Children again in after years to council with them.  So we protest by the present opportunity to speak to you of our wants & grievances.  We regard you as standing in the place of our great father at Washington, and your judgement must be correct.  This is all I have to say about our arrearages, we have not two tongues.

As exciting as it was to have the full speech, as I transcribed some of the passages, some of them seemed very familiar.  Sure enough, on page 53 of Johann Georg Kohl’s Kitchi-Gami:  Life Among the Lake Superior Ojibway, there is another whole version.  Kitchi-Gami is one of the standards of Ojibwe cultural history, and I use it for reference fairly often, but it had been so long since I had read the book cover to cover that I forgot that Kohl had been another witness that August day in 1855:

 

When one considers that Paul Beaulieu, the man giving the official English translation was probably speaking in his third language, after Ojibwe and Metis-French, and that Kohl was a native German speaker who understood English but may have been relying on his own mix-blood translator, it is remarkable how similar these two accounts are.  This makes the parts where they differ all the more fascinating.  Undoubtedly there are key parts of this speech that we could only understand if we had the original Ojibwe version and a full understanding of the complicated artistry of Ojibwe rhetoric with all its symbolism and metaphor.  Even so, there are enough outstanding passages here for me to call it a great speech.

“My father…great Father…We regard you as if men like a spirit, perhaps it is because of your education, because you are so much wiser than we…”

The ritual language of kinship and humility in traditional Ojibwe rhetoric can be off-putting to those who haven’t read many Ojibwe speeches, and can be mistaken as by-product of American arrogance and paternalism toward Native people.  However, the language of “My Father” predates the Americans, going all the way back to New France, and does not necessarily indicate any sort weakness or submission on the part of the speaker.  Richard White, Michael Witgen, and Howard Paap, much smarter men than I, have dedicated pages to what Paap calls “fur-trade theater,” so I won’t spend too much time on it other than to say that 1855 was indeed a low point in Ojibwe power, but Blackbird is only acting the ritual part of the submissive child here in a long-running play.  He is not grovelling. 

On the contrary, I think Blackbird is playing Manypenny here a little bit.  George Manypenny’s rise to the head of Indian Affairs coincided with the end of American removal policy and the ushering in of the reservation era.  In the short term, this was to the political advantage of the Lake Superior Ojibwe.  In Manypenny the Ojibwe got a “Father” who would allow them to stay in their homelands, but they also got a zealous believer in the superiority of white culture who wanted to exterminate Indian cultures as quickly as possible.

In a future post about the 1855 treaty negotiations with the Minnesota Ojibwe we will see how Commissioner Manypenny viewed the Ojibwe, including masterful politicians like Flat Mouth and Hole in the Day, as having the intelligence of children.  Blackbird shows himself a a savvy politician here by playing into these prejudices as a way to get the Commissioner off his guard.  Other parts of the speech lead me to doubt that Blackbird sincerely believed that the Americans were “so much wiser” than he was.  

My intention is to tell you what the owner of life has done for us.  He has provided for the life of us all.  When the Lord made us he provided for us here upon earth he invested it (ie, he made provision for our wants) in the running streams, in the woods & lakes which abound with fish and in the wild animals… There is a Great Spirit from whom all good things here on earth come.  He has given them to mankind–to the white as to the red man; for He sees no distinction of colour…but if we can trace our tradition right the Great Spirit has not made the white man to cheat us.  There is a difference of opinion as it regards different colors among, as to which shall have the preeminence, but the Great Spirit made us to be happy before you discovered us…

This part varies slightly between Wheeler and Kohl, but in both it is very eloquent and similar in style to many Ojibwe speeches of the time.  One item that piqued my interest was the line about the “difference of opinion.”  Many Americans at the time understood the expansion of the United States and the dispossession of Native peoples in religious terms.  It was Manifest Destiny.  The Ojibwe also sought answers for their hardships in prophecy. On pages 117 and 118 of History of the Ojibwe People, William Warren relates the following:

Warren, writing in the late 1840s and early 1850s, contrasts this tradition with the popularity of the prophecies of Tenskwatawa, brother of Tecumseh, in Ojibwe country forty years earlier.  Tenskwatawa taught that Indians would inherit North America and drive whites from the continent.  Blackbird seems to be suggesting that in 1855 this question of prophecy was not settled among the Lake Superior Ojibwe.  Presumably there would have been fertile ground for a charismatic millenarian Native spiritual leader along the lines of Neolin, Tenskwatawa, or Wovoka to gain adherents among the Lake Superior Ojibwe at that time.   

Johann Georg Kohl recorded Blackbird’s speech in his well known account of Lake Superior in the Summer of 1855, Kitchi-Gami: Life Among the Lake Superior Ojibway.

Our furs, our timber, our lands, everything that we have goes to you; even the gold out of which that chain was forged…Now I will tell you how it is with our traders.  When they first came among us they were very poor, but by & by they became very fat & rich, and wear rich clothing and had their watches & gold chains such as I see you wear.  But they got their things out of us.  They were made rich at our expense…and now we hope that you will not use that chain to bind us…

The  gold chain appears in each of McElroy, Wheeler, and Kohl’s accounts. It acts as a symbol on multiple levels.  To Blackbird, the gold represents the immense wealth produced during the fur trade on the backs of Indian trappers.  By 1855, with the fur trade on its last legs, some of the traders are very wealthy while the Ojibwe are much poorer than they were when the trade started.  The gold also stands in for the value of the ceded territory itself, specifically the lakeshore lands (ceded in 1842), which thirteen years later were producing immense riches from that other shiny metal, copper.  Finally, in McElroy’s account, we also see the chain acting as the familiar symbol of bondage.    

We sold our land for our graves–that we might have a home, where the bones of our fathers are buried…Our debts we will pay.  But our land we will keep.  As we have already given away so much, we will, at least, keep that land you have left us, and which is reserved for us.  Answer us, if thou canst, this question.  Assure us, if thou canst, that this piece of land reserved for us, will really always be left to us…

This passage of Blackbird’s speech, and a similar statement by the “Grand Portage Indian” (identified by Morse as Adikoons or Little Caribou), indicate that perhaps, the actual disbursement of the $90,000 was a secondary to the need to hold Agent Gilbert and the Government to their word.  It was very important to the Ojibwe that words of the Treaty of 1854 be rock-solid, not for a need to pay off debts or to get annuity payments, but because the Government absolutely needed to keep its promise to grant reservations around the ancestral villages.  The memory of the Sandy Lake Tragedy, less than five years earlier, cast a long shadow over this decade.  Paap argues in Red Cliff, Wisconsin that the singular goal of the treaty, from the Ojibwe perspective, was to end the removal talk forever, a goal that had seemingly been accomplished.  To hear the Government trying to weasel out of a provision of the 1854 Treaty must have been very frightening to those who heard Robert Stuart’s promises in 1842.  This time, the chiefs had to make sure a promise of a permanent homeland for their people wouldn’t turn out to be another lie.

This is the first time my father that I have appeared dressed in a coat & pants & I must confess I feel a little awkward.

You can argue that a great speech can’t end with the line, “I must confess I feel a little awkward.”  However, I will argue that this might be the best line of all.  It is another example of the political brilliance of Blackbird.  The Bad River chief knew who his allies were, knew who his opponents were, and knew how to take advantage of the Commissioner’s prejudices.  Clothing played a role in all of this.

George Manypenny despised Indian cultures.  In fact, the whole council had almost derailed a few days before the speeches when the Commissioner refused to smoke the pipe presented to him by the chiefs in open ceremony.  He remedied this insult somewhat by smoking it later while indoors, but he let it be known that he had no use for Ojibwe songs, dances, rituals or clothing.  This put Blackbird, an unapologetic traditionalist and practitioner of the midewiwin at a distinct disadvantage, when compared with chiefs like Naaganab who were known to wear European clothes and profess to be Christians.   

Although he had the majority of the people behind him, Blackbird had very little negotiating power.  He had to persuade Manypenny that he was in the right.  He had no chance unless he could appear to the Commissioner that he was trying to become “civilized” and was therefore worthy enough to be listened to.  However, by wearing European clothes, he ran the risk of alienating the majority of the people in the crowd who preferred traditional ways and dress.  Furthermore, the chiefs most likely to oppose him, Naaganab and Jayjigwyong (Little Buffalo) had been dressing like whites (I would argue also largely for political reasons) for years and were much more likely to come across as “civilized” in the Commissioner’s eyes.

How did the chief solve these dilemmas?  In the same way he turned Manypenny’s request to see the Ojibwe women to his advantage, he used the clothing to demonstrate that he had gone out of his way to work with the Commissioner’s wishes, while still solidifying the backing of the traditional Ojibwe majority and putting his opponents on the defensive all with one well-timed joke.  Although this joke seems to have gone over Wheeler’s head, and likely Manypenny’s as well, Kohl’s mention of the “applauding laughter of the entire assembly,” shows it reached its target audience.  So, contrary to first appearances, the crack about the awkward pants is anything but an awkward ending to this speech.

Conclusion

In the 1840s and early 1850s, Blackbird rarely appears in the historical record.  Here and there he is mentioned as a second chief to Chief Buffalo or as leading the village at Bad River.  Many mentions of him by English-speaking authors are negative.  He is referred to as a rascal, scoundrel, or worse, and I’ve yet to find any mention of his father or other family members as being prominent chiefs.

However, in the late 1850s and early 1860s, he was clearly the most important speaker for not just the La Pointe Band, but for the other Lake Superior Bands as well.  This was a mystery to me.  I temporarily hypothesized his rise was due to the fact that Chequamegon was seen as the center of the nation and that when Buffalo died, Blackbird succeeded to the position by default.  However, this view doesn’t really fit what I understood as Ojibwe leadership.  

This speech puts that interpretation to rest.  Blackbird earned his position by merit and by the will of the people.

He did not, however, win on the question of the $90,000.  A Chequamegon History reader recently sent me a document showing it was eventually paid to the creditors directly by the Agent.  However, if my argument is correct, the more important issue was that the Government keep its word that the reservations would belong to the Ojibwe forever.  The land question wasn’t settled overnight, and it required many leaders over the last 160 years to hold the United States to its word.  But today, Blackbird’s descendants still live beside the swamps of Mashkiziibii at least partially because of the determination of their great ogimaa.

Sources:
Kohl, J. G. Kitchi-Gami: Wanderings round Lake Superior. London: Chapman and Hall, 1860. Print.
McClurken, James M., and Charles E. Cleland. Fish in the Lakes, Wild Rice, and Game in Abundance: Testimony on Behalf of Mille Lacs Ojibwe Hunting and Fishing Rights / James M. McClurken, Compiler ; with Charles E. Cleland … [et Al.]. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State UP, 2000. Print.
McElroy, Crocket.  “An Indian Payment.”  Americana v.5.  American Historical Company, American Historical Society, National Americana Society Publishing Society of New York, 1910 (Digitized by Google Books) pages 298-302.
Morse, Richard F. “The Chippewas of Lake Superior.” Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. Ed. Lyman C. Draper. Vol. 3. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1857. 338-69. Print.
Paap, Howard D. Red Cliff, Wisconsin: A History of an Ojibwe Community. St. Cloud, MN: North Star, 2013. Print.
Satz, Ronald N. Chippewa Treaty Rights: The Reserved Rights of Wisconsin’s Chippewa Indians in Historical Perspective. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, 1991. Print.
Schenck, Theresa M. The Voice of the Crane Echoes Afar: The Sociopolitical Organization of the Lake Superior Ojibwa, 1640-1855. New York: Garland Pub.,1997. Print.
—————— William W. Warren: The Life, Letters, and times of an Ojibwe Leader. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2007. Print.
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.

Symbolic Petition of Chippewa Chiefs: Original birch bark petition of Oshkaabewis copied by Seth Eastman and printed in “Historical and statistical information respecting the history, condition, and prospects of the Indian tribes of the United States” by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft (1851). Digitized by University of Wisconsin Libraries Wisconsin Electronic Reader project (1998).

For the first post on Chequamegon History, I thought I’d share my research into an image that has been circulating around the area for several years now. The image shows seven Ojibwe chiefs by their doodemag (clan symbols), connected by heart and mind to Lake Superior and to some smaller lakes.  The clans shown are the Crane, Marten, Bear, Merman, and Bullhead.

All the interpretations I’ve heard agree that this image is a copy of a birch bark pictograph, and that it represents a unity among the several chiefs and their clans against Government efforts to remove the Lake Superior bands to Minnesota.

While there is this agreement on the why question of this petition’s creation, the who and when have been a source of confusion. Much of this confusion stems from efforts to connect this image to the famous La Pointe chief, Buffalo (Bizhiki/Gichi-weshkii).

In 2007, the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) released the short documentary Mikwendaagoziwag: They Are Remembered. While otherwise a very good overview of the Lake Superior Ojibwe in this era, it incorrectly uses this image to describe Buffalo going to Washington D.C. in 1849. Buffalo is famous for a trip to Washington in 1852, but he was not part of the 1849 group.

At the time the GLIFWC film was released, the Wisconsin Historical Society website referred to this pictograph as, “Chief Buffaloʼs Petition to the President,” and identified the crane as Buffalo. Citing oral history from Lac Courte Oreilles, the Society dated the petition after the botched 1850-51 removal to Sandy Lake, Minnesota that resulted in hundreds of Ojibwe deaths from disease and starvation due to negligence, greed, and institutional racism on the part of government officials. The Historical Society has since revised its description to re-date the pictograph at 1848-49, but it still incorrectly lists Buffalo, a member of the Loon Clan, as being depicted by the crane.  The Sandy Lake Tragedy, has deservedly gained coverage by historians in recent years, but the pictographic petition came earlier and was not part of it.

If the Historical Society had contacted Chief Buffaloʼs descendants in Red Cliff, they would have known that Buffalo was from the Loon Clan. The relationship between the Loons and the Cranes, as far as which clan can claim the hereditary chieftainship of the La Pointe Band, is very interesting and covered extensively in Warrenʼs History of the Ojibwe People.  It would make a good subject for a future post.

After looking into the history of this image, I can confidently say that Buffalo is not one of the chiefs represented. It was created before Sandy Lake and Buffalo’s journey, but it is related to those events. Here is the story:

In late 1848, a group of Ojibwe chiefs went to Washington. They wanted to meet directly with President James K. Polk to ask for a permanent reservations in Wisconsin and Michigan. At that time the Ojibwe did not hold title to any part of the newly-created state of Wisconsin or Upper Michigan, having ceded these lands in the treaties in 1837 and 1842. In signing the treaties, they had received guarantees that they could stay in their traditional villages and hunt, fish, and gather throughout the ceded territory. However, by 1848, rumors were flying of removal of all Ojibwe to unceded lands on the Mississippi River in Minnesota Territory. These chiefs were trying to stop that from happening.

John Baptist Martell, a mix-blood, acted as their guide and interpreter. The government officials and Indian agents in the west were the ones actively promoting removal, so they did not grant permission (or travel money) for the trip. The chiefs had to pay their way as they went by putting themselves on display and dancing as they went from town to town.

Martell was accused by government officials of acting out of self interest, but the written petition presented to congress asked for, “a donation of twenty-four sections of land covering the graves of our fathers, our sugar orchards, and our rice lakes and rivers, at seven different places now occupied by us at villages…” The chiefs claimed to be acting on behalf of the chiefs of all the Lake Superior bands, and there is reason to believe them given that their request is precisely what Chief Buffalo and other leaders continued to ask for up until the Treaty of 1854.

1849petition2

This written petition accompanied the pictographic petitions. It clearly states the goal of the the chiefs was to secure permanent reservations around the traditional villages east of the Mississippi.

The visiting Ojibwes made a big impression on the nationʼs capital and positive accounts of the chiefs, their families, and their interpreter appeared in the magazines of the day. Congress granted them $6000 for their expenses, which according to their critics was a scheme by Martell. However, it is likely they were vilified by government officials for working outside the colonial structure and for trying to stop the removal rather than for any ill-intentions of the part of their interpreter. A full scholarly study of the 1848-49 trip remains to be done, however.

Amid articles on the end of the slave trade, the California Gold Rush, and the benefits of the "passing away of the Celt" during the Great Irish Famine, two articles appeared in the Living Age magazine about the 1849 delegation.  The first is tragic, and the second is comical.

Amid articles on the end of the slave trade, the California Gold Rush, and the benefits of the “passing away of the Celt” during the Great Irish Famine, two articles appeared in Littell’s Living Age magazine about the 1849 delegation. The first is tragic, and the second is comical.

Along with written letters and petitions supporting the Ojibwe cause, the chiefs carried not only the one, but several birchbark pictographs. The pictographs show the clan animals of several chiefs and leading men from several small villages from the mouth of the Ontonagon River to Lac Vieux Desert in Upper Michigan and smaller satellite communities in Wisconsin. After seeing these petitions, the artist Seth Eastman copied them on paper and gave them to Henry Schoolcraft who printed and explained them alongside his criticism of the trip.  They appear in his 1851 Historical and statistical information respecting the history, condition, and prospects of the Indian tribes of the United States.

Kenisteno, and his Band of Trout Lake, Wisconsin

Okundekund, and his Band of Ontonagon, Michigan (Upper) Kakake-ogwunaosh, and his Band of the head of Wisconsin River (Lower)

To view all of these pictographs with Schoolcraft’s original interpretations visit the University of Wisconsin Libraries Wisconsin Electronic Reader project (1998)

According to Schoolcraft, the crane in the most famous pictograph is Oshkaabewis, a Crane-clan chief from Lac Vieux Desert, and the leader of the 1848-49 expedition.  In the Treaty of 1854, he is listed as a first chief from Lac du Flambeau in nearby Wisconsin.  It makes sense that someone named Oshkaabewis would lead a delegation since the word oshkaabewis is used to describe someone who carries messages and pipes for a civil chief.

Kaizheosh [Gezhiiyaash], and his band from Lake Vieu Desert, Michigan and Wisconsin (University of Nebraska Libraries)

Two of the six chiefs on the written petition do not seem to be represented in the pictographic petitions.  Wis-Kok doesn’t ring a bell, but I’ll be on the lookout for information on him.  Na-gon-nob was the name of a prominent chief from Fond du Lac at that time.  It shouldn’t be too hard to determine if it’s the same person.  If so, it wouldn’t be the only Washington trip for the Fond du Lac chief. He traveled to Washington in the 1860s to meet with President Lincoln.

Long Story Short…

This is not Chief Buffalo or anyone from the La Pointe Band, and it was created before the Sandy Lake Tragedy. However it is totally appropriate to use the image in connection with those topics because it was all part of the efforts of the Lake Superior Ojibwe to resist removal in the late 1840s and early 1850s.  However, when you do, please remember to credit the Lac Vieux Desert/Ontonagon chiefs who created these remarkable documents.

The story continues.  For an interesting tale of “Martell’s Chiefs” meeting some Freemasons in Cincinnati, read this post. 

For a more in-depth  look at the accomplishments of this delegation, and answers to some of the questions raised here, read this post.

Sources:
“An Interesting Incident.” Western Literary Messenger 12.2 (1849): 58-59. Print.

KAPPLER’S INDIAN AFFAIRS: LAWS AND TREATIES.
Ed. Charles J. Kappler. Oklahoma State University Library, n.d. Web. 21 June 2012. <http:// digital.library.okstate.edu/Kappler/>.
Littell, Eliakim, and Robert S. Littell, eds. “Indian Incidents-Indians in Congress.” Littells’Living Age 20.253 (1849): 573. Print.

Mikwendaagoziwag, They Are Remembered.
Prod. Lorraine Norrgard and Charlie O. Rasmussen. Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, 2007. DVD.
Satz, Ronald N. Chippewa Treaty Rights: The Reserved Rights of Wisconsin’s Chippewa Indians in Historical Perspective. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, 1991. Print.
Schenck, Theresa M. William W. Warren: The Life, Letters, and times of an Ojibwe Leader. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2007. Print.
Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe, and Seth Eastman. Historical and Statistical Information Respecting the History, Condition, and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Collected and Prepared under the Direction of the Bureau of Indian Affairs per Act of Congress of March 3rd, 1847. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo, 1851. Print.
United States. Cong. House. Miscellaneous Documents Printed by Order of the House of Representatives. By Ka-she-ansh, Osh-ka-ba-wis, On-gua-sug, Nah-gon-nob, O-gu-mah-ge-sic, and Wis-kok. Trans. John B. Martell. 30th Cong., 2nd sess. H. Doc. Miscellaneous No. 36. Washington: Tippin & Streeper, 1849. Print.
Warren, William W., and Theresa M. Schenck. History of the Ojibway People. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 2009. Print.
Wisconsin Historical Society. “Ojibwe Leaders Represent Their Credentials in a Picture: An Ojibwe Birch Bark Petition, Ca. 1849.” Turning Points. Wisconsin Historical Society, 1996-2012. Web. 28 June 2012. <http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=75>.
——– “Ojibwe Leaders Tell the Story of the Sandy Lake Tragedy in a Picture: Chief Buffalo’s Petition to the President.” Turning Points. Wisconsin Historical Society, 1996-2007. Web. 29 Sept. 2007. Internet Archive <http://web.archive.org/web/20070929120808/http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=75>.