The Woman In Stone

March 15, 2016

By Amorin Mello & Leo Filipczak

Portrait of the Wheeler and Wood Families from the Wheeler Family Papers at the Wisconsin Historical Society. The woman dressed in white is Harriet "Hattie" Wheeler, according to the book Woman in the Wilderness: Letters of Harriet Wood Wheeler, Missonary Wife, 1832-1892, by Nancy Bunge, 2010.

Photograph of the Wheeler and Wood Families from the Wheeler Family Papers at the Wisconsin Historical Society. The woman dressed in white is Harriet Martha Wheeler, according to the book about her mother, Woman in the Wilderness: Letters of Harriet Wood Wheeler, Missonary Wife, 1832-1892, by Nancy Bunge, 2010.

Leonard Hemenway Wheeler ~ Unnamed Wisconsin by [????]

Leonard Hemenway Wheeler: husband of Harriet Wood Wheeler, and father of author Harriet Martha Wheeler. 
~ Unnamed Wisconsin, by John Nelson Davidson, 1895.

Harriet Wood Wheeler: wife of Leonard Wheeler, and mother of Harriet Wheeler. ~ Wisconsin Historical Society

Harriet Wood Wheeler: wife of Leonard Wheeler, and mother of author Harriet Martha Wheeler.
~ Wisconsin Historical Society

This is a reproduction of the final chapter from Harriet Martha Wheeler’s 1903 book, The Woman in Stone: A Novel.  If you want to read the entire novel without spoiling the final chapter featured here, you can download it here as a PDF file:  The Woman in Stone: A Novel.  Special thanks to Paul DeMain at Indian Country Today Media Network for making the digitization of this novel possible for the  public to read with convenience.

“Hattie” was named after her mother, Harriet Wood Wheeler; the wife of Reverend Leonard Hemenway Wheeler.  Hattie was born in 1858 at Odanah, shortly after the events portrayed in her novel.  Hattie’s experiences and writings about the Lake Superior Chippewa are summarized in an academic article by Nancy Bunge, published in The American Transcendental Quarterly , Vol. 16, No. 1 , March 2002: Straddling Cultures: Harriet Wheeler’s and William W. Warren’s Renditions of Ojibwe History

William Whipple Warren (c. 1851) ~ Wikimedia.org

William Whipple Warren (c. 1851)
~ Wikimedia.org

"Mary Warren English, White Earth, Minnesota" ~ University of Minnesota Duluth, Kathryn A. Martin Library, NEMHC Collections

“Mary Warren English, White Earth, Minnesota”
~ University of Minnesota Duluth, Kathryn A. Martin Library, NEMHC Collections

Harriet Wheeler and William W. Warren not only both lived on Ojibwe reservations in northern Wisconsin during the nineteenth century, but their families had strong bonds between them.  William Warren’s sister, Mary Warren English, writes that her brother returned to La Pointe, Wisconsin, from school on the same boat Harriet’s parents took to begin their mission work. The Wheelers liked him and appreciated his help: “He won a warm and life-long friendship–with these most estimable people–by his genial and happy disposition–and ever ready and kindly assistance–during their long and tedious voyage” (Warren Papers). When Mary Warren English’s parents died, she moved in with the Wheelers, and, long after she and Harriet no longer shared the same household, she began letters to Harriet with the salutation, “Dear Sister.” But William Warren’s History of the Ojibwe People (1885) and Harriet Wheeler’s novel The Woman in Stone (1903) reveal that this shared background could not overcome the cultural differences between them. Even though Wheeler and Warren often describe the same events and people, their accounts have different implications. Wheeler, the daughter of Congregational missionaries from New England, portrays the inevitable and necessary decline of the Ojibwe, as emissaries of Christianity help civilization progress; Warren, who had French and Ojibwe ancestors, as well as Yankee roots, identifies growing Anglo-Saxon influence on the Ojibwe as a cause of moral decay.

Hattie’s book appears to provide some valuable insights about certain events in Chequamegon history, yet it is clearly erroneous about other such events.  According to the University of Wisconsin – Madison, Harriet’s novel is based on discovery of petrified body of Indian woman in northern Wisconsin.”  This statement seems to acknowledge this peculiar event as being somewhat factual.  However, Hattie’s novel is clearly a work of fiction; it appears that some of her references were to actual events.  At this point in time, this mystery of the forest may never be thoroughly confirmed or debunked.  

An incomplete theater screenplay, with the title “Woman in Stone,” was also written by Hattie.  It appears to be based on her novel, can be found at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center Archives, in the Wheeler Family Papers: Northland Mss 14; Box 10; Folder 19.  However, only several pages of this screenplay copy still exist in the archive there.  A complete copy of Hattie’s screenplay may still exist somewhere else yet.


"The Woman in Stone: A Novel" by Harriet Wheeler

The Woman in Stone: A Novel by Harriet Martha Wheeler, 1903.

[Due to the inconsistencies found in Hattie’s novel, we have omitted most of this novel for this reproduction.  We shall skip to the final chapter of Hattie’s novel, to the rediscovery of long lost “Wa-be-goon-a-quace,” the Little Flower Girl.  If you want to read the entire novel first, before spoiling this final chapter, you can download it here:  The Woman in Stone: A Novel, by Harriet Wheeler, 1903.  Special thanks to Paul DeMain at Indian Country Today Media Network for making the digitization of this novel possible for the  public to read with convenience.]

(Pages 164-168)

CHAPTER XX.

THE DISCOVERY OF THE WOMAN IN STONE

A hundred years swept over the island Madelaine, bringing change and decay in their train. But, nature renews the waste of time with a prodigal hand and robed the island in verdant loveliness.

lore dedication

Madelaine still towers the queen of the Apostle group, with rocky dells and pine clad shores and odorous forests, through which murmur the breezes from the great lake, and over all hover centuries of history, romance, and legendary lore.

Jean Michel Cadotte was Madelaine’s father-in-law, not husband.  Madelaine Cadotte’s Ojibwe name was Ikwezewe, and she was still alive at La Pointe, in her ’90s, during Hattie‘s childhood in Odanah.  It’s kind of disturbing how little of this Hattie got right considering Mary Warren (Madeline’s granddaughter) was basically Hattie’s stepsister.

Evolution toward the spiritual is the destiny of humanity and in this trend of progress the Red Men are vanishing before the onward march of the Pale Face. In the place of the blazing Sacred Fire stands the Protestant Mission. The settlers’ cabin supplants the wigwam. No longer are heard the voyageur’s song and the rippling canoes. This is the age of steam, and far and near echoes the shrill whistle. Overgrown mounds mark the sites of the forts of La Ronde and Cadotte. In the spacious log cabin of Jean and Madelaine Cadotte lives their grandson, John Cadotte.

"Dirt trail passing log shack that was probably the home of Michael and Madeline Cadotte, La Pointe." ~ Wisconsin Historical Society

“Dirt trail passing log shack that was probably the home of Michael and Madeline Cadotte, La Pointe,” circa 1897.
~ Wisconsin Historical Society

Jean and Anastasia Cadotte had several grandsons named John Cadotte or Jean Baptiste Cadotte at La Pointe.  So did Michel and Madelaine Cadotte.

A practical man is John. He tills his garden, strings his fish-net in the bay, and acts as guide, philosopher and friend for all the tourists who visit the island.

Hildreth Huntington and his father may have been fictionalized, or they may be actual people from the Huntington clan:

The Huntington Family in America: A Genealogical Memoir of the Known Descendants of Simon Huntington from 1633 to 1915, Including Those who Have Retained the Family Name, and Many Bearing Other Surnames

by the Huntington Family Association, 1915.

On a June morning of the year 1857, John sat beneath a sheltering pine mending his fish-net. he smoked a cob-pipe, which he occasionally laid by to whistle a voyageur’s song. A shrill whistle sounded and a tug steamed around the bend to the wharf. John laid aside his fish-net and pipe and strolled to the beach. Two gentlemen, clad in tourist’s costume, stepped from the tug and approached John.

“Can you direct us to Mr. John Cadotte?” said the elder man.

“I am your man,” responded John.

Augustus Hamilton Barber had copper and land claims around the Montreal and Tyler Forks Rivers before his death in 1856.  It is possible that this father and son pair in Hattie’s novel actually represent Joel Allen Barber and his father, Giles Addison Barber.  They were following up on their belated Augustus’ unresolved business in this area during June of 1857.  This theory about the Barber family is explored in more details with Legend of the Montreal River,” by George Francis Thomas.

“My name is Huntington. This young man is my son, Hildreth. We came from New York, and are anxious to explore the region about Tyler’s fork where copper has been discovered. We were directed to you as a guide on whom we might depend. Can we secure your services, sir?” asked the stranger.

“It is also proper to state in addition to what has been already mentioned, that at, or about this time [1857], a road was opened by Mr. Herbert’s order, from the Hay Marsh, six miles out from Ironton, to which point one had been previously opened, to the Range [on the Tyler Forks River], which it struck about midway between Sidebotham’s and Lockwood’s Stations, over which, I suppose, the 50,000 tons as previously mentioned, was to find its way to Ironton, (in a horn).
~ Penokee Survey Incidents: IV

“I am always open to engagement,” responded John.

“Very well, we will start at once, if agreeable to you.”

“I will run up to the house and pack my traps,” said John.

The stranger strolled along the beach until John’s return. Then all aboard the tug and steamed away towards Ashland. John entertained the strangers with stories and legends of those romantic and adventurous days which were fading into history.

“The company not being satisfied with Mr. Herbert as agent, he was removed and Gen. Cutler appointed in his place, who quickly selected Ashland as headquarters, to which place all the personal property, consisting of merchandise principally, was removed during the summer by myself upon Gen. C.’s order – and Ironton abandoned to its fate.”
~ Penokee Survey Incidents: I

The party left the tug at Ashland and engaged a logger’s team to carry them to Tyler’s Forks, twenty miles away. A rough road had been cut through the forest where once ran an Indian trail. Over this road the horses slowly made their way. Night lowered before they had reached their destination and they pitched their tents in the forest. John kindled a camp-fire and prepared supper. The others gathered wood and arranged bough beds in the tent. They were wearied with the long and tedious journey and early sought this rude couch.

John’s strident tones summoned them to a sunrise breakfast. They broke camp and resumed their journey, arriving at the Forks at noon.

The tourists sat down on the banks of the river and viewed the beautiful falls before them.

“This is the most picturesque spot I have seen, Hildreth. It surpasses Niagara, to my mind,” said Mr. Huntington.

Preface

The preface to this novel is a photograph of Brownstone Falls, where the Tyler Forks River empties into the Bad River at Copper Falls State Park.  George Francis Thomas’ “A Mystery of the Forest” was originally published as Legend of the Montreal River (and republished here).  It suggests that the legend takes place at the Gorge on the Tyler Forks River, where it crosses the Iron Range; not where it terminates on Bad River along the Copper Range.

They gazed about them in wondering admiration. The forest primeval towered above them. Beyond, the falls rolled over their rocky bed. The ceaseless murmur of the rapids sounded below them and over all floated the odors of the pines and balsam firs.

“This description will, I think, give your readers a very good understanding of the condition as well as the true inwardness of the affairs of the Wisconsin & Lake Superior Mining and Smelting Co., in the month of June, 1857.”
[…]
“Rome was not built in a day, but most of these cabins were.  I built four myself near the Gorge [on Tyler Forks River], in a day, with the assistance of two halfbreeds, but was not able to find them a week afterwards.  This is not only a mystery but a conundrum.  I thinksome traveling showman must have stolen them; but although they werenon est we could swear that we had built them, and did.
~ Penokee Survey Incidents: IV

After dinner the party began their explorations under John’s leadership. Two days were spent in examining the banks of Bad River. On the third morning they came to the gorge. Here, the river narrowed to a few feet and cut its way through high banks of rock. The party examined the rocks on both sides. John climbed to the pool behind the gorge and examined the rocks lying beneath the shallow water. He rested his hand on what seemed to be a water-soaked log and was surprised to find the log a solid block of stone. He examined it carefully. The stone resembled a human form.

“Mr. Huntington, come down here,” he called.

“Have you struck a claim, John?” asked Mr. Huntington.

“Not exactly. Look at this rock. What do you call it, sir?”

Mr. Huntington, his son and the teamster climbed down to the pool and examined the rock.

“A petrification of some sort,” exclaimed Mr. Huntington. “Let us lift it from the water.”

The men struggled some time before they succeeded in raising the solid mass. They rested it against the rocky bank.

Wabigance: Little Flower Girl

Hattie identified this character as “Wa-be-goon-a-quace.”  In the Ojibwemowin language, Wabigance is a small flower. Wabigon or Wabegoon is a flower. Wabegoonakwe is a flower that is female.

 In Ojibwemowin, a lot of female names have qwe, kwe, quay, on the end of them to make them female. (Kwe is in reference to the head or literally “of the head”). But is is not aways necessary.

“A petrified Indian girl,” exclaimed Mr. Huntington.

The men bent low over the strange figure, examining it carefully.

“Look at her moccasins, father,” exclaimed Hildreth, “and her long hair. Here is a rosary and cross about her neck. Evidently she was a good Catholic.”

 “Holy Mother,” exclaimed John, “it is the Little Flower Girl.”“And who was she?” asked Mr. Huntington.

“She was my grandmother Madelaine’s cousin. I have heard my grandmother tell about her many times when I was a boy. The Little Flower Girl lost her mind when her pale-faced lover died in battle. She was always hunting for him in the island woods. One evening she disappeared in her canoe and never returned.”

“How came she by this cross?”

Jacques Marquette aka Pere Marquette aka James (Jim) Marquette ~ Wikipedia.org

Portrait of Jacques Marquette
~ Wikipedia.org

Father Marquette was stationed at the Jesuit mission at La Pointe du Saint Esprit on Madeline Island during 1669-1670.

“The Holy Father Marquette gave it to her grandmother, Ogonã. The Little Flower Girl wore it always. She thought it protected her from evil and would lead her to her lover, Claude.”

And so it has. The cross has led the Little Flower Girl up yonder where she has found her Claude and life immortal.

“A touching romance, worthy to be embalmed in stone,” said Hildreth.

"Barnum's Museum Fire, New York City, 1868 Incredible view of the frozen ruins of Barnum's 'American Museum' just after the March, 1868 fire. 3-1/4x6-3/4" yellow-mount view published by E & HT Anthony; #5971 in their series of 'Anthony's Stereoscopic Views.' Huge ice formations where the water sprays hit the building; burned out windows and doors. ~ CraigCamera.com

“Barnum’s Museum Fire, New York City, 1868 Incredible view of the frozen ruins of Barnum’s ‘American Museum’ just after the March, 1868 fire. 3-1/4×6-3/4″ yellow-mount view published by E & HT Anthony; #5971 in their series of ‘Anthony’s Stereoscopic Views.’ Huge ice formations where the water sprays hit the building; burned out windows and doors.”
~ CraigCamera.com

“Yes, and worthy of a better resting place,” responded Mr. Huntington. “We must take the Little Flower Girl with us, Hildreth. Her life belongs to the public. Our great city will be better for this monument of her romantic, tragic, sorrowing life.”

Over the forest road, where her moccasined feet had strayed one hundred years before, they bore the Little Flower Girl. And the eyes of the Holy Father shone on her as she crossed the silvery water where her “Ave Maria” echoed long ago. Back to the island Madelaine they carried her, and on, down the great lakes, the Little Flower Girl followed in the wake of her lover, Claude. To the great city of New York they bore her. In one of that great city’s museum rests the Woman in Stone.

Rare sighting of Wabigance at the Tyler Forks Gap. (M. Matusewic © 2013)

Wabigance below the Gorge on the Tyler Forks River.
~ Photograph by M. Matusewic © December 2013.
Reproduced with permission.

Rev. Leonard Hemenway Wheeler 1811-1872 (Photo:  In Unnamed Wisconsin)

Bob Nelson recently contacted me with a treasure he transcribed from an 1872 copy of the Bayfield Press.  For those who don’t know, Mr. Nelson is one of the top amateur historians in the Chequamegon area.  He is on the board of the Bayfield Heritage Association, chairman of the Apostle Islands Historic Preservation Conservancy, and has extensively researched the history of Bayfield and the surrounding area.  

The document itself is the obituary of Leonard Wheeler, the Congregational-Presbyterian minister who came to La Pointe as a missionary in 1841.  Over the next quarter-century, spent mostly at Odanah where he founded the Protestant Mission, he found himself in the middle of the rapid social and political changes occurring in this area.  

Generally, my impression of the missionaries has always tended to be negative.  While we should always judge historical figures in the context of the times they lived in, to me there is something inherently arrogant and wrong with going among an unfamiliar culture and telling people their most-sacred beliefs are wrong.  The Protestant missionaries, especially, who tended to demand conversion to white-American values along with conversion to Christianity, generally come off as especially hateful and racist in their writings on the Ojibwe and mix-blooded families of this area.  

Leonard Wheeler, however, is one of my historical heroes.  It’s true that he was like his colleagues Sherman Hall, William T. Boutwell, and Edmund Ely, in believing that practitioners of the Midewiwin and Catholicism were doomed to a fiery hell.  He also believed in the superiority of white culture and education.  However, in his writings, these beliefs don’t seem to diminish his acceptance of his Ojibwe neighbors as fellow human beings.  This is something that isn’t always clear in the writings of the other missionaries.  

Furthermore, Wheeler is someone who more than once stood up for justice and against corruption even when it brought him powerful enemies and endangered his health and safety.  For this, he earned the friendship of some of the  staunchest traditionalists among the Bad River leadership.  He relocated to Beloit by the end of his life, but I am sure that Wheeler’s death in 1872 brought great sadness to many of the older residents of the Chequamegon Bay region and would have been seen as a significant event. 

Therefore, I am very thankful to Bob Nelson for the opportunity to present this important document:      

 

Reverend Leonard H. Wheeler
Missionary to the Ojibway

From the Beloit Free Press
Entered in the Bayfield Press
March 23, 1872

 

The recent death of Reverend Leonard H. Wheeler, for twenty-five years missionary to the Ojibway Indians on Lake Superior and for the last five and one half years a resident of Beloit, Wisconsin and known to many through his church and business relations, seems to call for some notice of his life and character through your paper.

Mr. Wheeler was born at Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, April 13, 1811. His mother dying during his infancy, he was left in charge of an aunt who with his father soon afterward removed to Bridgeport, Vermont, where the father still lives. At the age 17 he went first from home to reside with an uncle at Middlebury, Vermont. Here he was converted into the church in advance of both his father and uncle. His conversion was of so marked a character and was the occasion of such an awakening and putting forth of his mental and spiritual facilities that he and his friends soon began to think of the ministry as an appropriate calling. With this in view he entered Middlebury College in 1832, and soon found a home in the family of a Christian lady with whom he continued to reside until his graduation. For the kindly and elevating influences of that home and for the love that followed him afterwards, as if he had been a son, he was ever grateful. After his graduation he taught for a year or two before entering the theological seminary at Andover.

The wave of evangelical fervor that swept New England in this era, often called the Second Great Awakening, was very much tied to abolitionism, temperance, women’s suffrage, and other reform movements along with foreign and domestic mission work. 

During his theological course the marked traits of character were developed which seem to have determined his future course. One was a deep sympathy with the wronged and oppressed; the other was conscious carefulness in settling his convictions and an un-calculating and unswerving firmness (under a gentle and quiet manner) in following such ripened convictions. These made him a staunch but a fanatical advocate of the enslaved, long before anti-slavery sentiments became popular. And thus was he moved to offer his services as a missionary to the Indians – relinquishing for that purpose his original plan to go on a mission to Ceylon. The turning point of his decision seems to have been the fact that for the service abroad men could readily be found, while few or none offer themselves to the more self-denying and unromantic business of civilizing and Christianizing the wild men within our own borders.

Harriet Wood Wheeler much later in life (Wisconsin Historical Society)

Reverend Wheeler found in Ms. Harriet Woods, of Lowell, Massachusetts, the spirit kindred with his own in these self-denying purposes and labors of love. There married on April 26, 1841, and June of that year they set out, and in August arrived at La Pointe – a fur trading post on Madeline Island in Lake Superior. They spent four years in learning the Ojibway language, in preaching and teaching, and in caring for the temporal and spiritual welfare of the Indians and half-breeds at that station. Their fur trading friends held out many inducements to remain at La Pointe but having become fully satisfied that the civilizing of the Indians required their removal to someplace where they might obtain lands and homes of their own; the Wheelers secured their removal to Odanah on the Bad River. Here the humble and slowly rewarded labors of the island were renewed with increased energy and hopefulness, and continued without serious interruption for seven years. Then, the white man’s greed, which has often dictated the policy of the government toward the Indians, and oftener defeated its wise and liberal intentions, clamored for their second removal to the Red Lake region, in Minnesota, and by forged petitions and misrepresentation, an order to this effect was obtained.

Wheeler was a strong opponent of what he perceived as the “Indian Ring,” a corrupt alliance of traders and government officials who exploited to inflow of money during annuity payments.  The details of the obituary are off in places (Red Lake should be Sandy Lake), but it is accurate to say that Wheeler spoke out strongly for both fair interpretation of the treaties and for Ojibwe land rights after the Sandy Lake Tragedy (1850-51) and after the Treaty of 1854.

Mr. Wheeler’s spirit was stirred within him by these iniquitous proceedings, and he set himself calmly but resolutely to work to defeat the measure, even after it had been so far consummated. To make sure of his ground he explored the Red Lake region during the heat of midsummer. Becoming fully satisfied with the temptations to intemperance and other evil thereof, bonding would prove the room of this people. He made such strong and truthful representations of this matter (not without hazards to himself and his family) that the order was at last revoked. But the agitation and delays thus occasioned proved well nigh the ruin of the mission. For two years Mr. Wheeler without help from government, stood between his people and absolute starvation; and had at last the satisfaction of knowing that his course was fully approved. The year 1858 found the mission and Odanah almost prostrate again by unusual labors. Mrs. Wheeler was compelled by order of her physician to return to her eastern home for indispensable rest. Mr. Wheeler, worn by superintending the erection of buildings in addition to his preaching four times on the Sabbath and in other necessary cares and labors, also undertook a journey to the east to bring back his family and partly as a measure of relief to himself.

He started in March on snowshoes and traveled nearly 200 miles in that way. On his way he fell in with the band of Indians whose lands were about to be sold in violation of solemn treaties. He undertook their case and did not abandon it, yet visited Washington and obtained justice in their behalf. He reached Lowell, Massachusetts on his return from Washington, worn in body and mind, and with the severe cold firmly settled on his lungs. Trusting to an iron constitution to right it, he kept on preaching and visiting among his eastern friends. He then set out to return to his beloved people and his eastern home, trusting to find in a quiet journey by water the rest which had now become imperative. But he was not thus to be relieved. Soon after reaching home he was taken with violent hemorrhage and was ever after this a broken man.

Once again he asked to be relieved and a stronger man be sent in his place. But this was not done, and he continued to struggle on doing what he could until the fall of 1866, when the boarding school – which had been his right hand – was denied further support from the government. Mr. Wheeler’s strength not being equal to the task of obtaining for its support from other quarters, he retired from the mission, and he, with his family became residents of Beloit, and for these five years and more he has bravely battled with disease, and, for a sick man, has led a happy and withal useful life.

“ECLIPSE BELOIT:” Originally invented for the Odanah mission, Rev. Wheeler’s patent on the Eclipse Windmill brought wealth to his descendants (Wikimedia Images).

Mr. Wheeler had by nature something of that capacity for being self-reliant and patient, continuous thoughts which marks the inventor. Thrown upon his own resources for as much, and in need of a mill for grinding, he devised, while in his mission, a windmill for that purpose with improvements of his own. Unable to speak or preach as he was when he came among us, and incapacitated for continuous manual laborers, he busied himself with making drawings and a model of his previous invention. He obtained a patent, and with the aid of friends here began the manufacture of windmills. Thus has the sick man proved one of our most useful citizens, and established a business which we hope will do credit to his ingenuity and energy and be a source of substantial advantage to his family in the place.

Debilitated by the heat of last summer he took a journey to the east in September for his health, and to visit their aged parents. His health was for a time improved, but soon after his return hemorrhages began to appear, and after a long and trying sickness, borne with great cheerfulness and Christian resignation, he went to his rest on the Sabbath, February 25, 1872. During the delirium of his disease, and in his clear hours, his thoughts were much occupied with his former missionary cares and labors. Doing well to that people was evidently his ruling passion. It was a great joy in his last sickness to get news from there, to know that the boarding school had been revived and then some whom he had long worn upon his heart had become converts to Christ.

Thus has passed away one whose death will be severely limited by the people for whom he gave his life and whom he longed once more to visit. It will add not a little to the pleasure and richness of life’s recollections that we have known so true a fair and good a man. While we cherish his memory and follow his family with affectionate sympathy for his sake in their own, let us not overlook the simple faith, the utter integrity and soundness of soul which one for him such unbounded confidence from us and from all who knew him, and gave to his character so much gentleness blended with so much dignity and strength. He was an Israelite, indeed in who was no guile, a Nathaniel, given of God, prepared in a crystalline medium through which the light from heaven freely passed to gladden and to bless.

For more on Rev. Leonard Wheeler on this site, check out the People Index, or the Wheeler Papers category.   

Leonard Wheeler’s original correspondence, journals, legal documents and manuscripts can be found in the Wheeler Family Papers at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center.

The book In Unnamed Wisconsin (1895) contains several incidents from Wheeler’s time at La Pointe and Odanah from the original writings of his widow, Harriet Wood Wheeler.

Finally, the article White Boy Grew Up Among the Chippewas from the Milwaukee Journal in 1931 is a nice companion to this obituary.  The article, about Wheeler’s son William, sheds unique insight on what it was like to grow up as the child of a missionary.  This article exists transcribed on the internet because of the efforts of Timm Severud, the outstanding amateur historian of the Barron County area. This is just one of many great stories uncovered by Mr. Severud, who passed away in 2010 at age 55.    

 

Indian Sugar Camp by Seth Eastman c.1850 (Minnesota Historical Society)

Since we’re into the middle of March 2014 and a couple of warm days have had people asking, “Is it too early to tap?” I thought it might be a good time to transcribe a document I’ve been hanging onto for a while.

170 years ago, that question would have been on everyone’s mind.  The maple sugar season was perhaps the most joyous time of the year.  The starving times of February and early March were on the way out, and food would be readily available again.  Friends and relatives, separated during the winter hunts, might join back together in sugar camp, play music around the fire as the sap boiled, and catch up on the winter’s news.

Probably the only person around here who probably didn’t like the sugar season was the Rev. Sherman Hall.  Hall, who ran the La Pointe mission and school, aimed to convert Madeline Island’s Native and non-Native inhabitants to Protestantism.  To him, Christianity and “civilization” went hand and hand with hard labor and settling down in one place to farm the land.  When, at this time of the year, all his students abandoned the Island with everyone else, for sugar camps at Bad River and elsewhere on the mainland and other islands, he saw it as an impediment to their progress as civilized Christians.

Rev. Leonard Wheeler, who joined Hall in 1841, shared many of his ethnocentric attitudes toward Ojibwe culture.  However, over the next two decades Wheeler would show himself much more willing than Hall and other A.B.C.F.M. missionaries to meet Ojibwe people on their own cultural turf.  It was Wheeler who ultimately relocated from La Pointe to Bad River, where most of the La Pointe Band now stayed, partly to avoid the missionaries, where he ultimately befriended some of the staunchest traditionalists among the Ojibwe leadership.  And while he never came close to accepting the validity of Ojibwe religion and culture, he would go on to become a critical ally of the La Pointe Band during the Sandy Lake Tragedy and other attempted land grabs and broken Government promises of the 1850s and ’60s.

In 1844, however, Wheeler was still living on the island and still relatively new to the area.  Coming from New England, he knew the process and language of making sugar–it’s remarkable how little the sugar-bush vocabulary has changed in the last 170 years–but he would see some unfamiliar practices as he followed the people of La Pointe to camp in Bad River.  Although there is some condescending language in his written account, not all of his comparisons are unfavorable to his Ojibwe neighbors.  

Of course, I may have a blind spot for Wheeler.  Regular readers might not be surprised that I can identify with his scattered thoughts, run-on sentences, and irregular punctuation.  Maybe for that reason, I thought this was a document that deserved to see the light of day.  Enjoy:             

Bad River  Monday  March 25, 1844

We are now comfortably quartered at the sugar camps, Myself, wife, son and Indian Boy.  Here we have been just three weeks today.

Leonard (Lenny) Wheeler, the oldest son of missionaries Leonard and Harriet Wheeler, was just a baby in 1844.  The Wheelers had several more children after settling at Odanah.  I don’t know who “Indian Boy” is.  It may be one of the sons or nephews of Lyman and Marie Warren.

I came myself the middle of the week previous and commenced building a log cabin to live in with the aid of two men , we succeeded in putting up a few logs and the week following our house was completed built of logs 12 by 18 feet long and 4 feet high in the walls, covered with cedar birch bark of most miserable quality so cracked as to let in the wind and rain in all parts of the roof.  We lived in a lodge the first week till Saturday when we moved into our new house.  Here we have, with the exception of a few very cold days, been quite comfortable.  We brought some boards with us to make a floor–a part of this is covered with a piece of carpeting–we have a small cooking stove with which we have succeeded in warming our room very well.  Our house we partitioned off putting the best of the bark over the best part we live in, the other part we use as a sort of storeroom and woodhouse.

Bob Boyd, who married Julia Cadotte in 1847 and was the first Justice of the Peace for La Pointe County after Wisconsin’s statehood, came into the area around this time. The scale of his ambition and other context clues make him my prime suspect for Wheeler’s “Robert.”  Robert Morrin, worked for the Protestant mission.  His sugar camp is described by his daughter, Eliza Morrison, in A Little History of My Forest Life.  Ed. Victoria Brehm.  Ladyslipper Press, 2002.   

We have had meetings during on the Sabbath and those who have been accustomed to meet with us have generally been present.  We have had a public meeting in the foreroom at Roberts sugar bush lodge immediately after which my wife has had a meeting with the women or a sabbath school at our house.  Thus far our people have seemed to keep up their interest in Religion.

They have thus far generally remembered the Sabbath and in this respect set a good example to their neighbors, who both (pagan) Indians and Catholics generally work upon the Sabbath as upon other days.  If our being here can be the means of preventing these from declension in respect to religion and from falling into temptation, (especially) in respect to the Sabbath, an important end will be gained.

Of all the Christian commandments they wanted the Ojibwe to keep, the A.B.C.F.M. missionaries were especially obsessed with keeping the Sabbath holy.  See the writings of William T. Boutwell and Edmund F. Ely for more extreme examples.

The sugar making season is a great temptation to them to break the sabbath.  It is quite a test upon their faith to see their sap buckets running over with sap and they yet be restrained from gathering it out of respect to the sabbath, especially should their neighbors work in the same day.  Yet they generally abstain from Labor on the Sabbath.  In so doing however they are not often obliged to make much sacrifice.  By gathering all the sap Saturday night, their sap buckets do not ordinarily make them fill in one day, and when the sap is gathered monday morning.

N.E.=New England: The Wheelers were natives of Massachusetts.

They do not in this respect suffer much loss.  In other respects, they are called to make no more sacrifice by observing the sabbath than the people of N.E. do during the season of haying.  We are now living more strictly in the Indian country among an Indian community than ever before.  We are almost the only persons among a population of some 5 or 600 people who speak the English language.  We have therefore a better opportunity to observe Indian manners and customs than heretofore, as well as to make proficiency in speaking the language.

Process of making sugar and skillful use of birch bark.

The process of making sugar from the (maple) sap is in general as that practiced elsewhere where this kind of sugar is make, and yet in some respects the modus operandi is very different.  The sugar making season is the most an important event to the Indians every year.  Every year about the middle of March the Indians, French and halfbreeds all leave the Islands for the sugar camps.  As they move off in bodies from the La Pointe, sometimes in companies of 8, 10, 12 or 20 families, they make a very singular appearance.

Apakwe (apuckwais) is one of the Ojibwe words most often left untranslated in English records of this era.  Generally meaning “covering,” it usually refers to woven rush (flagg) mats as in this post, or to the wide birch bark rolls used to cover a wigwam.  Wheeler uses the word for both types of covering in this account.

Upon some pleasant morning about sunrise you will see these, by families, first perhaps a Frenchman with his horse team carrying his apuckuais for his lodge–provisions kettles, etc., and perhaps in addition some one or two of the [squaw?] helpers of his family.  The next will be a dog train with two or three dogs with a similar load driven by some Indians.  The next would be a similar train drawn by a man with a squaw pushing behind carrying a little child on her back and two or three little children trudging behind on foot.  The next load in order might be a squaw drawn by dogs or a man upon a sled at each end.  This forms about the variety that will be witnessed in the modes of conveyance.  To see such a ([raucous?] company) [motley process?] moving off, and then listen to the Frenchmen whipping his horse, which from his hard fare is but poorly able to carry himself, and to hear the yelping of the dogs, the (crying of) the children, and the jabbering in french and Indian.  And if you never saw the like before you have before you the loud and singular spectacle of the Indians going to the sugar bush.

“Frame of Lodge Used For Storage and Boiling Sap;” undated (Densmore Collection: Smithsonian)

One night they are obliged to camp out before they reach the place of making sugar.  This however is counted no hardship the Indian carries his house with him.  When they have made one days march it might when they come to a place where they wish to camp, all hands set to work to make to make a lodge.  Some shovel away the snow another cut a few poles.  Another cuts up some wood to make a fire.  Another gets some pine, cedar or hemlock (boughs) to spread upon the ground for floor and carpet.  By the time the snow is shoveled away the poles are ready, which the women set around in a circular form at the bottom–crossed at the top.  These are covered with a few apuckuais, and while one or two are covering the putting up the house another is making a fire, & perhaps is spreading down the boughs.  The blankets, provisions, etc. are then brought in the course of 20 or ½ an hour from the time they stop, the whole company are seated in their lodge around a comfortable fire, and if they are French men   you will see them with their pipes in their mouths.  After supper, when they have anything to eat, each one wraps himself in a blanket and is soon snoring asleep.  The next day they are again under way and when they arrive at the sugar camp they live in their a lodge again till they have some time to build a more substantial (building) lodge for making sugar.  A sugar camp is a large high lodge or a sort of a frame of poles covered with flagg and Birch apuckuais open at the top.  In the center is a long fire with two rows of kettles suspended on wooden forks for boiling sap.  As Robert (our hired man) sugar makes (the best kind of) sugar and does business upon rather a large scale in quite a systematic manner.  I will describe his camp as a mode of procedure, as an illustration of the manner in which the best kind of sugar is made.  His camp is some 25 or 30 feet square, made of a sort of frame of poles with a high roof open at the (top) the whole length coming down with in about (4 feet) of the ground.  This frame is covered around the sides at the bottom with Flag apukuais.  The outside and roof is covered with birch (bark) apukuais.  Upon each side next to the wall are laid some raised poles, the whole length of the (lodge) wall.  Upon these poles are laid some pine & cedar boughs.  Upon these two platforms are places all the household furniture, bedding, etc.  Here also they sleep at night.  In the middle of the lodge is a long fire where he has two rows of kettles 16 in number for boiling sap.  He has also a large trough, one end of it coming into the lodge holding several Barrels, as a sort of reservoir for sap, beside several barrels reserved for the same purpose.  The sap when it is gathered is put into this trough and barrels, which are kept covered up to prevent the exposure of the sap to the wind and light and heat, as the sap when exposed sours very quick.  For the same reason also when the sap and well the kettles are kept boiling night and day, as the sap kept in the best way will undergo some changes if it be not immediately boild.  The sap after it is boild down to about the consistency of molases it is strained into a barrel through a wollen blanket.  After standing 3 or 4 days to give it an opportunity to settle, some day, when the sap does not run very well, is then set aside for sugaring off.  When two or 3 kettles are hung over the fire a small fire built directly under the bottom.  A few quarts of molasses are then put into the kettles.  When this is boiled enough to make sugar one kettle is taken off by Robert, by the side of which he sets down and begins to stir it with a small paddle stick.  After stirring it a few moments it begins to grow all white, swells up with a peculiar tenacious kind of foam.  Then it begins to grain and soon becomes hard like [?] Indian pudding.  Then by a peculiar moulding for some time with a wooden large wooden spoon it becomes white as the nicest brown sugar and very clean, in this state, while it is yet warm, it is packed down into large birch bark mukoks made of holding from 50 to a hundred lbs.

Makak:  a semi-rigid or rigid container: a basket (especially one of birch bark), a box (Ojibwe People’s Dictionary) Photo:  Densmore Collection; Smithsonian

Certainly no sugar can be more cleaner than that made here, though it is not all the sugar that is made as nice.  The Indians do not stop for all this long process of making sugar.  Some of (their) sorup does not pass through anything in the shape of a strainer–much less is it left to stand and settle after straining, but is boiled down immediately into sugar, sticks, soot, dirt and all.  Sometimes they strain their sorup through the meshes of their snow shoe, which is but little better than it would be to strain it through a ladder.  Their sugar of course has rather a darker hue.  The season for making sugar is the most industrious season in the whole year.  If the season be favorable, every man wom and child is set to work.  And the departments of labor are so various that every able bodied person can find something to do.

The British missionary John Williams describes the coconut on page 493 of his A Narrative of Missionary Enterprises in the South Sea Islands (1837).   (Wikimedia Commons)

In the business of making sugar also we have a striking illustration of the skillful and varied use the Indians make of birch bark.  A few years since I was forcibly struck, in reading Williams missionary enterprises of the South Seas, with some annals of his in regard to the use of the cocoanut tree illustrated of the goodness and wisdom of God in so wonderfully providing for their condition and wants (of men).  His remarks as near as I can recollect are in substance as follows.  The cocoanut tree furnishes the native with timber to make his house, canoe, his fire and in short for most of the purposes for which they want wood.  The fruit furnishes his most substantial article of food, and what is still more remarkable as illustrating that principle of compensation by which the Lord in his good providence suplies the want of one blessing by the bestowment of another to take its place.  On the low islands their are no springs of water to supply the place of this.  The native has but to climb the cocoanut tree growing near his door and pluckes the fruit where in each shall he find from ¼ a pint to a kind of a most agreeable drink to slake his thirst.  His tree bearing fruit every month in year, fresh springs of water are supplied the growing upon  the trees before his own door.  Although the birch bark does not supply the same wants throughout to the Indian, yet they supply wants as numerous and in some respects nearly as important to their mode of living as does the cocoanut to the Inhabitants of the South Sea Islands.

Biskitenaagan:  a sap bucket of folded birch bark (Ojibwe People’s Dictionary) Photo:  Waugh Collection; Smithsonian

It is with the bark he covers his house.  With this bark he makes his canoe.  What could the Indian do without his wigwam and his canoe?  The first use (of the bark) we notice in the sugar making business what is called the piscatanagun, or vessel for catching sap in.  The Indian is not to the expence or trouble of making troughs or procuring buckets to catch the sap at the trees.  A piece of birch bark some 14 inches wide and 18 or 20 inches wide in the shape of a pane of glass by a peculiar fold at each end kept in place by a stitch of bark string makes a vessel for catching sap called a piskitenagun.  These are light, cheap, easily made and with careful usage will last several years.  When I first saw these vessels, it struck me as being the most skillful use of the bark I had seen.  It contrasted so beautifully with the clumsy trough or the more expensive bucket I had seen used in N.E.  This bark is not only used to catch the sap in but also to carry it in to the sugar camps, a substitute for pails, though lighter and much more convenient for this purpose than a pail.

“Chippewa Bucket and Trays Made of Birch Bark”  (Smithsonian)

In making a sap bucket bark of a more substantial kind is used than for the piskatanaguns.  They made large at the bottom small at the top, to prevent the sap from spilling out by the motion of carrying.  They are sewed up with bark the seams gummed and a hoop about the top to keep them in shape and a lid.  But we are not yet done with the bark at the sugar bush.  In boiling sap in the evening thin strips are rolled tight together, which is a good substitute for a candle.  Every once in a little while the matron of the lodge may be seen with her little torch in hand walking around the fire taking a survey of her kettles.  Lastly when the sugar is made it is finally deposited in large firmly wrought mukuks, which are made of bark.  This however is not the end of bark.  It is used for a variety of other purposes.  Besides being a substitute in many cases for plates, [bearers & etc.?], it is upon birch bark that the most important events in history are recorded–National records–songs, & etc. are written in hieroglific characters (upon this article) and carefully preserved by many of the Indians.

In Red Cliff, Wisconsin (2013), Howard Paap dismantles the still widely-held belief that shortly after the start of the fur trade the Ojibwe lost their traditional methods of making goods and became dependent on Europeans.  In 1844, two centuries after the first Ojibwe trade canoes probably reached Montreal, the use of birch bark kettles was still in living memory.

And finally the most surprising use of bark of which I have heard or could conceive of, is before the acquaintance of the Indians with the whites, the bark was used as a substitute for kettles in cooking, not exactly for bake kettles but for (kettles for) boiling fish, potatoes, & etc.  This fact we have from undoubted authority.  Some of the Indians now living have used it for this purpose themselves, and many of them say their fathers tell them it was used by their ancestors before iron kettles were obtained from the whites.  One kettle of bark however would not answer but for a single use.

Transcription note:  Spelling and grammatical errors have been maintained except where ambiguous in the original text.  Original struck out text has been maintained, when legible, and inserted text is shown in parentheses.  Brackets indicate illegible or ambiguous text and are not part of the original nor are the bolded words and phrases, which were added to draw attention to the sidebars.

The original document is held by the Wisconsin Historical Society in the Wheeler Family Papers at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center in Ashland.

Identified by the Minnesota Historical Society as “Scene at Indian payment, probably at Odanah, Wisconsin. c. 1865.”  by Charles Zimmerman.  Judging by the faces in the crowd, this is almost certainly the same payment as the more-famous image that decorates the margins of the Chequamegon History site (Zimmerman MNHS Collections)

A staunch defender of Ojibwe sovereignty, and a zealous missionary dedicating his life’s work to the absolute destruction of the traditional Ojibwe way of life, may not seem like natural political allies, but as Shakespeare once wrote, “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.”

In October of 1855, two men who lived near Odanah, were miserable and looking for help.  One was Rev. Leonard Wheeler who had founded the Protestant mission at Bad River ten years earlier.  The other was Blackbird, chief of the “Bad River” faction of the La Pointe Ojibwe, that had largely deserted La Pointe in the 1830s and ’40s to get away from the men like Wheeler who pestered them relentlessly to abandon both their religion and their culture.  

Their troubles came in the aftermath of the visit to La Pointe by George Manypenny, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, to oversee the 1855 annuity payments.  Many readers may be familiar with these events, if they’ve read Richard Morse’s account, Chief Buffalo’s obituary (Buffalo died that September while Manypenny was still on the island), or the eyewitness account by Crockett McElroy that I posted last month. Taking these sources together, some common themes emerge about the state of this area in 1855: 

  1. After 200 years, the Ojibwe-European relationship based on give and take, where the Ojibwe negotiated from a position of power and sovereignty, was gone.  American government and society had reached the point where it could by impose its will on the native peoples of Lake Superior.  Most of the land was gone and with it the resource base that maintained the traditional lifestyle, Chief Buffalo was dead, and future chiefs would struggle to lead under the paternalistic thumb of the Indian Department.  
  2. With the creation of the reservations, the Catholic and Protestant missionaries saw an opportunity, after decades of failures, to make Ojibwe hunters into Christian farmers.
  3. The Ojibwe leadership was divided on the question of how to best survive as a people and keep their remaining lands.  Some chiefs favored rapid assimilation into American culture while a larger number sought to maintain traditional ways as best as possible.
  4. The mix-blooded Ojibwe, who for centuries had maintained a unique identity that was neither Native nor European, were now being classified as Indians and losing status in the white-supremacist American culture of the times.  And while the mix-bloods maintained certain privileges denied to their full-blooded relatives, their traditional voyageur economy was gone and they saw treaty payments as one of their only opportunities to make money.
  5. As with the Treaties of 1837 and 1842, and the tragic events surrounding the attempted removals of 1850 and 1851, there was a great deal of corruption and fraud associated with the 1855 payments.

This created a volatile situation with Blackbird and Wheeler in the middle.  Before, we go further, though, let’s review a little background on these men.

This 1851 reprint from Lake Superior Journal of Sault Ste. Marie shows how strongly Blackbird resisted the Sandy Lake removal efforts and how he was a cultural leader as well as a political leader. (New Albany Daily Ledger, October 9, 1851. Pg. 2).

Who was Blackbird?

Makadebineshii, Chief Blackbird, is an elusive presence in both the primary and secondary historical record.  In the 1840s, he emerges as the practical leader of the largest faction of the La Pointe Band, but outside of Bad River, where the main tribal offices bear his name, he is not a well-known figure in the history of the Chequamegon area at all.  

Unlike, Chief Buffalo, Blackbird did not sign many treaties, did not frequently correspond with government officials, and is not remembered favorably by whites.  In fact, his portrayal in the primary sources is often negative.  So then, why did the majority of the Ojibwe back Blackbird at the 1855 payment?  The answer is probably the same reason why many whites disliked him.  He was an unwavering defender of Ojibwe sovereignty, he adhered to his traditional culture, and he refused to cooperate with the United States Government when he felt the land and treaty rights of his people were being violated.     

One needs to be careful drawing too sharp a contrast between Blackbird and Buffalo, however.  The two men worked together at times, and Blackbird’s son James, later identified his father as Buffalo’s pipe carrier.  Their central goals were the same, and both labored hard on behalf of their people, but Buffalo was much more willing to work with the Government.  For instance, Buffalo’s response in the aftermath of the Sandy Lake Tragedy, when the fate of Ojibwe removal was undecided, was to go to the president for help.  Blackbird, meanwhile, was part of the group of Ojibwe chiefs who hoped to escape the Americans by joining Chief Zhingwaakoons at Garden River on the Canadian side of Sault Ste. Marie. 

Still, I hesitate to simply portray Blackbird and Buffalo as rivals.  If for no other reason, I still haven’t figured out what their exact relationship was.  I have not been able to find any reference to Blackbird’s father, his clan, or really anything about him prior to the 1840s.  For a while, I was working under the hypothesis that he was the son of Dagwagaane (Tugwaganay/Goguagani), the old Crane Clan chief (brother of Madeline Cadotte), who usually camped by Bad River, and was often identified as Buffalo’s second chief.  

However, that seems unlikely given this testimony from James Blackbird that identifies Oshkinawe, a contemporary of the elder Blackbird, as the heir of Guagain (Dagwagaane):

Statement of James Blackbird: Condition of Indian affairs in Wisconsin: hearings before the Committee on Indian Affairs, United States Senate, [61st congress, 2d session], on Senate resolution, Issue 263.  pg 203.  (Digitized by Google Books).

But whether James’ grandfather was a prominent chief or not, his father Blackbird certainly had become one by 1855.  Both Morse and McElroy record him as speaking for the majority of the assembled Ojibwe.  The big issue of debate at that council was how to distribute the payments and how to handle the claims of traders who said they were owed money by the Ojibwe for debts.  The agent, Henry Gibert, asked that all the money go to him so he could evaluate the claims and then distribute the money to individual families.  Some chiefs, including Naaganab of Fond du Lac and Jayjigwyong (Little Buffalo) of La Pointe, along with most of the mix-blooded Ojibwe favored this plan. Blackbird’s larger group wanted to see the money go directly to the chiefs for distribution.

It seems Commissioner Manypenny left La Pointe before the issue was entirely settled, because a month later, we find a draft letter from Blackbird to the Commissioner transcribed in Wheeler’s hand: 

Mushkesebe River Oct. 1855

Blackbird.  Principal chief of the Mushkisibi-river Indians to Hon. G. Manepenny Com. of Indian Affairs  Washington City.

Father;  Although I have seen you face to face, & had the privilege to talking freely with you, we did not do all that is to be attended to about our affairs.  We have not forgotten the words you spoke to us, we still keep them in our minds.  We remember you told us not to listen to all the foolish stories that was flying about–that we should listen to what was good, and mind nothing about anything else.  While we listened to your advice we kept one ear open and the other shut, & [We?] kept retained all you spoke said in our ears, and.  Your words are still ringing in our ears. The night that you left the sound of the paddles in boat that carried you away from us was had hardly gone ceased before the minds of some of the chiefs was were tuned by the traders from the advice you gave, but we did not listen to them.  Ja-jig-wy-ong, (Buffalo’s son) son says that he & Naganub asked Mr. Gilbert if they could go to Washington to see about the affairs of the Indians.  Now father, we are sure you opened your heart freely to us, and did not keep back anything from us that is for our good.  We are sure you had a heart to feel for us & sympathise with us in our trials, and we think that if there is any important business to be attended to you would not have kept it secret & hid it from us, we should have knew it.  If I am needed to go to Washington, to represent the interests of our people, I am ready to go.  The ground that we took against about our old debts, I am ready to stand shall stand to the last. We are now in Mr. Wheelers house where you told us to go, if we had any thing to say, as Mr. W was our friend & would give us good advice.  We have done so.  All the chiefs & people for whom I spoke, when you were here, are of the same mind.  They all requested before they left that I should go to Washington & be sure & hold on to Mr. Wheeler as one to go with me, because he has always been our steadfast friend and has al helped us in our troubles. There is another thing, my father, which makes us feel heavy hearted.  This is about our reservation.  Although you gave us definite instructions about it, there are some who are trying to shake our reserve all to pieces.  A trader is already here against our will & without any authority from Govt, has put him up a store house & is trading with our people.  In open council also at La Pointe when speaking for our people, I said we wanted Mr. W to be our teacher, but now another is come which whom we don’t want, and is putting up a house.  We supposed when you spoke to us about a teacher being permitted to live among us, you had reference to the one we now have, one is enough, we do not wish to have any more, especially of the kind of him who has just come.  We forbid him to build here & showed him the paper you gave us, but he said that paper permitted him rather than forbid him to come.  If the chiefs & young men did not remember what you told them to keep quiet there would already be have been war here.  There is always trouble when there two religions come together.  Now we are weak and can do nothing and we want you to help us extend your arms to help us.  Your arms can extend even to us.  We want you to pity & help us in our trouble.  Now we wish to know if we are wanted, or are permitted, three or four of us to come to which Washington & see to our interests, and whether our debts will be paid.  We would like to have you write us immediately & let us know what your will is, when you will have us come, if at all. One thing further.  We do not want any account to be allowed that was not presented to us for us to pass our opin us to pass judgement on, we hear that some such accounts have been smuggled in without our knowledge or consent.

 

 

The letter is unsigned, lacks a specific date, and has numerous corrections, which indicate it was a draft of the actual letter sent to Manypenny.  This draft is found in the Wheeler Family Papers in the collections of the Wisconsin Historical Society at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center. As interesting as it is, Blackbird’s letter raises more questions than answers.  Why is the chief so anxious to go to Washington?  What are the other chiefs doing? What are these accounts being smuggled in?  Who are the people trying to shake the reservation to pieces and what are they doing?  Perhaps most interestingly, why does Blackbird, a practitioner of traditional religion, think he will get help from a missionary?

For the answer to that last question, let’s take a look at the situation of Leonard H. Wheeler. When Wheeler, and his wife, Harriet came here in 1841, the La Pointe mission of Sherman Hall was already a decade old.  In a previous post, we looked at Hall’s attitudes toward the Ojibwe and how they didn’t earn him many converts.  This may have been part of the reason why it was Wheeler, rather than Hall, who in 1845 spread the mission to Odanah where the majority of the La Pointe Band were staying by their gardens and rice beds and not returning to Madeline Island as often as in the past.

When compared with his fellow A.B.C.F.M. missionaries, Sherman Hall, Edmund Ely, and William T. Boutwell, Wheeler comes across as a much more sympathetic figure.  He was as unbending in his religion as the other missionaries, and as committed to the destruction of Ojibwe culture, but in the sources, he seems much more willing than Hall, Ely, or Boutwell to relate to Ojibwe people as fellow human beings.  He proved this when he stood up to the Government during the Sandy Lake Tragedy (while Hall was trying to avoid having to help feed starving people at La Pointe).  This willingness to help the Ojibwe through political difficulties is mentioned in the 1895 book In Unnamed Wisconsin by John N. Davidson, based on the recollections of Harriet Wheeler: 

From In Unnamed Wisconsin pg. 170 (Digitized by Google Books).

So, was Wheeler helping Blackbird simply because it was the right thing to do?  We would have to conclude yes, if we ended it here.  However, Blackbird’s letter to Manypenny was not alone. Wheeler also wrote his own to the Commissioner. Its draft is also in the Wheeler Family Papers, and it betrays some ulterior motives on the part of the Odanah-based missionary:   

  

example not to meddle with other peoples business.

Mushkisibi River Oct. 1855

L.H. Wheeler to Hon. G.W. Manypenny

Dear Sir. In regard to what Blackbird says about going to Washington, his first plan was to borrow money here defray his expenses there, & have me start on.  Several of the chiefs spoke to me before soon after you left. I told them about it if it was the general desire. In regard to Black birds             Black Bird and several of the chiefs, soon after you left, spoke to me about going to Washington.  I told them to let me know what important ends were to be affected by going, & how general was the desire was that I should accompany such a delegation of chiefs.  The Indians say it is the wish of the Grand Portage, La Pointe, Ontonagun, L’anse, & Lake du Flambeaux Bands that wish me to go.  They say the trader is going to take some of their favorite chiefs there to figure for the 90,000 dollars & they wish to go to head them off and save some of it if possible.  A nocturnal council was held soon after you left in the old mission building, by some of the traders with some of the Indians, & an effort was made to get them Indians to sign a paper requesting that Mr. H.M. Rice be paid $5000 for goods sold out of the 90,000 that be the Inland Indians be paid at Chippeway River & that the said H.M. Rice be appointed agent.  The Lake du Flambeau Indians would not come into the [meeting?] & divulged the secret to Blackbird.  They wish to be present at [Shington?] to head off [sail?] in that direction.  I told Blackbird I thought it doubtful whether I could go with him, was for borrowing money & starting immediately down the Lake this fall, but I advised him to write you first & see what you thought about the desirability of his going, & know whether his expenses would be born.  Most of the claimants would be dread to see him there, & of course would not encourage his going.  I am not at all certain certain that I will be [considered?] for me to go with Blackbird, but if the Dept. think it desirable, I will take it into favorable consideration.  Mr. Smith said he should try to be there & thought I had better go if I could.  The fact is there is so much fraud and corruption connected with this whole matter that I dread to have anything to do with it.  There is hardly a spot in the whole mess upon which you can put your finger without coming in contact with the deadly virus.  In regard to the Priest’s coming here, The trader the Indians refer to is Antoine [Gordon?], a half breed.  He has erected a small store house here & has brought goods here & acknowledges that he has sold them and defies the Employees.  Mssrs. Van Tassel & Stoddard to help [themselves?] if they can.  He is a liquer-seller & a gambler.  He is now putting up a house of worship, by contract for the Catholic Priest.  About what the Indians said about his coming here is true.  In order to ascertain the exact truth I went to the Priest myself, with Mr. Stoddard, Govt [S?] man Carpenter.  His position is that the Govt have no right to interfere in matters of religion.  He says he has a right to come here & put up a church if there are any of his faith here, and they permit him to build on his any of their claims.  He says also that Mr. Godfrey got permission of Mr. Gilbert to come here.  I replied to him that the Commissioner told me that it was not the custom of the Gov. to encourage but one denomination of Christians in a place.  Still not knowing exactly the position of Govt upon the subject, I would like to ask the following questions.

1.  When one Missionary Society has already commenced labors a station among a settlement of Indians, and a majority of the Indians people desire to have him for their religious teacher, have missionaries of another denomination a right to come in and commence a missionary establishment in the same settlement?

Have they a right to do it against the will of a majority of the people?

Have they a right to do it in any case without the permission of the Govt?

Has any Indian a right, by sold purchase, lease or otherwise a right to allow a missionary to build on or occupy a part of his claim?  Or has the same missionary a right to arrange with several missionaries Indians for to occupy by purchase or otherwise a part of their claims severally? I ask these questions, not simply with reference to the Priest, but with regard to our own rights & privileges in case we wish to commence another station at any other point on the reserve. The coming of the Catholic Priest here is a [mere stroke of policy, concocted?] in secret by such men as Mssrs. Godfrey & Noble to destroy or cripple the protestant mission.  The worst men in the country are in favor of the measure.  The plan is under the wing of the priest.  The plan is to get in here a French half breed influence & then open the door for the worst class of men to come in and com get an influence.  Some of the Indians are put up to believe that the paper you gave Blackbird is a forgery put up by the mission & Govt employ as to oppress their mission control the Indians.  One of the claimants, for whom Mr. Noble acts as attorney, told me that the same Mr. Noble told him that the plan of the attorneys was to take the business of the old debts entirely out of your hands, and as for me, I was a fiery devil they when they much[?] tell their report was made out, & here what is to become of me remains to be seen.  Probably I am to be hung.  If so, I hope I shall be summoned to Washington for [which purpose?] that I may be held up in [t???] to all missionaries & they be [warned?] by my […]

 

The dramatic ending to this letter certainly reveals the intensity of the situation here in the fall of 1855.  It also reveals the intensity of Wheeler’s hatred for the Roman Catholic faith, and by extension, the influence of the Catholic mix-blood portion of the La Pointe Band.  This makes it difficult to view the Protestant missionary as any kind of impartial advocate for justice.  Whatever was going on, he was right in the middle of it.

So, what did happen here?

From Morse, McElroy, and these two letters, it’s clear that Blackbird was doing whatever he could to stop the Government from paying annuity funds directly to the creditors.  According to Wheeler, these men were led by U.S. Senator and fur baron Henry Mower Rice.  It’s also clear that a significant minority of the Ojibwe, including most of the La Pointe mix-bloods, did not want to see the money go directly to the chiefs for disbursement.  

I haven’t uncovered whether the creditors’ claims were accepted, or what Manypenny wrote back to Blackbird and Wheeler, but it is not difficult to guess what the response was.  Wheeler, a Massachusetts-born reformist, had been able to influence Indian policy a few years earlier during the Whig administration of Millard Fillmore, and he may have hoped for the same with the Democrats. But this was 1855.  Kansas was bleeding, the North was rapidly turning toward “Free Soil” politics, and the Dred Scott case was only a few months away. Franklin Pierce, a Southern-sympathizer had won the presidency in a landslide (losing only Massachusetts and three other states) in part because he was backed by Westerners like George Manypenny and H. M. Rice.  To think the Democratic “Indian Ring,” as it was described above, would listen to the pleas coming from Odanah was optimistic to say the least.

“[E]xample not to meddle with other peoples business”  is written at the top of Wheeler’s draft.  It is his handwriting, but it is much darker than the rest of the ink and appears to have been added long after the fact.  It doesn’t say it directly, but it seems pretty clear Wheeler didn’t look back on this incident as a success.  I’ll keep looking for proof, but for now I can say with confidence that the request for a Washington delegation was almost certainly rejected outright.

So who are the good guys in this situation?

If we try to fit this story into the grand American narrative of Manifest Destiny and the systematic dispossession of Indian peoples, then we would have to conclude that this is a story of the Ojibwe trying to stand up for their rights against a group of corrupt traders.  However, I’ve never had much interest in this modern “Dances With Wolves” version of Indian victimization.  Not that it’s always necessarily false, but this narrative oversimplifies complex historical events, and dehumanizes individual Indians as much as the old “hostile savages” framework did.  That’s why I like to compare the Chequamegon story more to the Canadian narrative of Louis Riel and company than to the classic American Little Bighorn story.  The dispossession and subjugation of Native peoples is still a major theme, but it’s a lot messier.  I would argue it’s a lot more accurate and more interesting, though.

So let’s evaluate the individuals involved rather than the whole situation by using the most extreme arguments one could infer from these documents and see if we can find the truth somewhere in the middle:

Henry Mower Rice (Wikimedia Images)

Henry M. Rice

The case against:  H. M. Rice was businessman who valued money over all else. Despite his close relationship with the Ho-Chunk people, he pressed for their 1847 removal because of the enormous profits it brought. A few years later, he was the driving force behind the Sandy Lake removal of the Ojibwe.  Both of these attempted removals came at the cost of hundreds of lives.  There is no doubt that in 1855, Rice was simply trying to squeeze more money out of the Ojibwe.

 The case for:  H. M. Rice was certainly a businessman, and he deserved to be paid the debts owed him.  His apparent actions in 1855 are the equivalent of someone having a lien on a house or car.  That money may have justifiably belonged to him.  As for his relationship with the Ojibwe, Rice continued to work on their behalf for decades to come, and can be found in 1889 trying to rectify the wrongs done to the Lake Superior bands when the reservations were surveyed.

From In Unnamed Wisconsin pg. 168.  It’s not hard to figure out which Minnesota senator is being referred to here in this 1895 work informed by Harriet Wheeler. (Digitized by Google Books).

Antoine Gordon from Noble Lives of a Noble Race (pg. 207) published by the St. Mary’s Industrial School in Odanah.

Antoine Gordon 

The case against:  Antoine Gaudin (Gordon) was an unscrupulous trader and liquor dealer who worked with H. M. Rice to defraud his Ojibwe relatives during the 1855 annuities.  He then tried to steal land and illegally squat on the Bad River Reservation against the expressed wishes of Chief Blackbird and Commissioner Manypenny.

The case for:  Antoine Gordon couldn’t have been working against the Ojibwe since he was an Ojibwe man himself. He was a trader and was owed debts in 1855, but most of the criticism leveled against him was simply anti-Catholic libel from Leonard Wheeler.  Antoine was a pious Catholic, and many of his descendants became priests.  He built the church at Bad River because there were a number of people in Bad River who wanted a church.  Men like Gordon, Vincent Roy Jr., and Joseph Gurnoe were not only crucial to the development of Red Cliff (as well as Superior and Gordon, WI) as a community, they were exactly the type of leaders the Ojibwe needed in the post-1854 world.

Portrait of Naw-Gaw-Nab (The Foremost Sitter) n.d by J.E. Whitney of St. Paul (Smithsonian)

Naaganab

The case against: Chiefs like Naaganab and Young Buffalo sold their people out for a quick buck.  Rather than try to preserve the Ojibwe way of life, they sucked up to the Government by dressing like whites, adopting Catholicism, and using their favored position for their own personal gain and to bolster the position of their mix-blooded relatives.

The case for: If you frame these events in terms of Indians vs. Traders, you then have to say that Naaganab, Young Buffalo, and by extension Chief Buffalo were “Uncle Toms.”  The historical record just doesn’t support this interpretation.  The elder Buffalo and Naaganab each lived for nearly a century, and they each strongly defended their people and worked to preserve the Ojibwe land base.  They didn’t use the same anti-Government rhetoric that Blackbird used at times, but they were working for the same ends.   In fact, years later, Naaganab abandoned his tactic of assimilation as a means to equality, telling Rice in 1889:

“We think the time is past when we should take a hat and put it on our heads just to mimic the white man to adopt his custom without being allowed any of the privileges that belong to him. We wish to stand on a level with the white man in all things. The time is past when my children should stand in fear of the white man and that is almost all that I have to say (Nah-guh-nup pg. 192).”   

Leonard H. Wheeler

L. H. Wheeler (WHS Image ID 66594)

The case against:  Leonard Wheeler claimed to be helping the Ojibwe, but really he was just looking out for his own agenda.  He hated the Catholic Church and was willing to do whatever it took to keep the Catholics out of Bad River including manipulating Blackbird into taking up his cause when the chief was the one in need.  Wheeler couldn’t mind his own business.  He was the biggest enemy the Ojibwe had in terms of trying to maintain their traditions and culture.  He didn’t care about Blackbird.  He just wanted the free trip to Washington. 

The case for:  In contrast to Sherman Hall and some of the other missionaries, Leonard Wheeler was willing to speak up forcefully against injustice.  He showed this during the Sandy Lake removal and again during the 1855 payment.  He saw the traders trying to defraud the Ojibwe and he stood up against it.  He supported Blackbird in the chief’s efforts to protect the territorial integrity of the Bad River reservation.  At a risk to his own safety, he chose to do the right thing.

Blackbird

The case against:  Blackbird was opportunist trying to seize power after Buffalo’s death by playing to the outdated conservative impulses of his people at a time when they should have been looking to the future rather than the past.  This created harmful factional differences that weakened the Ojibwe position.  He wanted to go to Washington because it would make him look stronger and he manipulated Wheeler into helping him.

The case for:  From the 1840s through the 1860s, the La Pointe Ojibwe had no stronger advocate for their land, culture, and justice than Chief Blackbird.  While other chiefs thought they could work with a government that was out to destroy them, Blackbird never wavered, speaking consistently and forcefully for land and treaty rights.  The traders, and other enemies of the Ojibwe, feared him and tried to keep their meetings and Washington trip secret from him, but he found out because the majority of the people supported him.

I’ve yet to find a picture of Blackbird, but this 1899 Bad River delegation to Washington included his son James (bottom right) along with Henry and Jack Condecon, George Messenger, and John Medegan–all sons and/or grandsons of signers of the Treaty of 1854 (Photo by De Lancey Gill; Smithsonian Collections).

Final word for now…

An entire book could be written about the 1855 annuity payments, and like so many stories in Chequamegon History, once you start the inquiry, you end up digging up more questions than answers.  I can’t offer a neat and tidy explanation for what happened with the debts.  I’m inclined to think that if Henry Rice was involved it was probably for his own enrichment at the expense of the Ojibwe, but I have a hard time believing that Buffalo, Jayjigwyong, Naaganab, and most of the La Pointe mix-bloods would be doing the same.  Blackbird seems to be the hero in this story, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there was a political component to his actions as well.  Wheeler deserves some credit for his defense of a position that alienated him from most area whites, but we have to take anything he writes about his Catholic neighbors with a grain of salt.

As for the Blackbird-Wheeler relationship, showcasing these two fascinating letters was my original purpose in writing this post.  Was Blackbird manipulating Wheeler, was Wheeler manipulating Blackbird, or was neither manipulating the other?  Could it be that the zealous Christian missionary and the stalwart “pagan” chief, were actually friends? What do you think?  

Sources:
Davidson, J. N., and Harriet Wood Wheeler. In Unnamed Wisconsin: Studies in the History of the Region between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi. Milwaukee, WI: S. Chapman, 1895. Print.
Ely, Edmund Franklin, and Theresa M. Schenck. The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 1833-1849. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2012. 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.
Pupil’s of St. Mary’s, and Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. Noble Lives of a Noble Race. Minneapolis: Brooks, 1909. 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.

CAUTION:  This translation was made using Google Translate by someone who neither speaks nor reads German.  It should not be considered accurate by scholarly standards.

Deutsch: Der bayrische Reisende, Geograph und ...

Moritz Wagner (1813-1887) (Wikimedia Images)

Americans love travelogues.  From  de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, to Twain’s Roughing It, to Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, a few pages of a well-written travelogue by a random interloper can often help a reader picture a distant society more clearly than volumes of documents produced by actual members of the community.  And while travel writers often misinterpret what they see, their works remain popular long into the future.  When you think about it, this isn’t surprising.  The genre is built on helping unfamiliar readers interpret a place that is different, whether by space or time, from the one they inhabit.  The travel writer explains everything in a nice summary and doesn’t assume the reader knows the subject.

You can imagine, then, my excitement when I accidentally stumbled upon a largely-unknown and untranslated travelogue from 1852 that devotes several pages to to the greater Chequamegon region. 

I was playing around on Google Books looking for variants of Chief Buffalo’s name from sources in the 1850s.  Those of you who read regularly know that the 1850s were a decade of massive change in this area, and the subject of many of my posts.  I was surprised to see one of the results come back in German.  The passage clearly included the words Old Buffalo, Pezhickee, La Pointe, and Chippewa, but otherwise, nothing.  I don’t speak any German, and I couldn’t decipher all the letters of the old German font.   

Karl (Carl) Ritter von Scherzer (1821-1903) (Wikimedia Images)

The book was Reisen in Nordamerika in den Jahren 1852 und 1853 (Travels in North America in the years 1852 and 1853) by the Austrian travel writers Dr. Moritz Wagner and Dr. Carl Scherzer.  These two men traveled throughout the world in the mid 19th-century and became well-known figures in Europe as writers, government officials, and scientists.  In America, however, Reisen in Nordamerika never caught on.  It rests in a handful of libraries, but as far as I can find, it has never been translated into English. 

Chapter 21, From Ontonagon to the Mouth of the Bois-brule River, was the chapter I was most interested in.  Over the course of a couple of weeks, I plugged paragraphs into Google Translate, about 50 pages worth. 

Here is the result (with the caveat that it was e-translated, and I don’t actually know German).  Normally I clog up my posts with analysis, but I prefer to let this one stand on its own.  Enjoy:

             

XXI

From Ontonagon to the mouth of the Bois-brule River–Canoe ride to Magdalen Island–Porcupine Mountains–Camping in the open air–A dangerous canoe landing at night–A hospitable Jewish family–The island of La Pointe–The American Fur Company–The voyageurs or courriers de bois–Old Buffalo, the 90 year-old Chippewa chief–A schoolhouse and an examination–The Austrian Franciscan monk–Sunday mass and reflections on the Catholic missions–Continuing the journey by sail–Nous sommes degrades–A canoeman and apostle of temperance–Fond du lac–Sauvons-nous!

On September 15th, we were under a cloudless sky with the thermometer showing 37°F.  In a birch canoe, we set out for Magdalene Island (La Pointe).  Our intention was to drive up the great Lake Superior to its western end, then up the St. Louis and Savannah Rivers, to Sandy Lake on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River.  Our crew consisted of a young Frenchman of noble birth and education and a captain of the U.S. Navy.  Four French Canadians were the leaders of the canoes.  Their trustworthy, cheerful, sprightly, and fearless natures carried us so bravely against the thundering waves, that they probably could have even rowed us across the river Styx.

Upon embarkation, an argument broke out between passengers and crew over the issue of overloading the boat.  It was only conditioned to hold our many pieces of baggage and the provisions to be acquired along the way.  However, our mercenary pilot produced several bags and packages, for which he could be well paid, by carrying them Madeline Island as freight.

Shortly after our exit, the weather hit us and a strong north wind obliged us to pull to shore and make Irish camp, after we had only covered four English miles to the Attacas (Cranberry) Rive,r one of the numerous mountain streams that pour into Lake Superior.  We brought enough food from Ontonagon to provide for us for approximately 14 days of travel.  The settlers of La Pointe, which is the last point on the lake where whites live, provided for themselves only scanty provisions.  A heavy bag of ship’s biscuit was at the end of one canoe, and a second sack contained tea, sugar, flour, and some rice.  A small basket contained our cooking and dining utensils.

The captain believed that all these supplies would be unecessary because the bush and fishing would provide us with the richest delicacies.  But already in the next lunch hour, when we caught sight of no wild fowl, he said that we must prepare the rice.  It was delicious with sugar.  Dry wood was collected and a merry flickering fire prepared.  An iron kettle hung from birch branches crossed akimbo, and the water soon boiled and evaporated.  The sea air was fresh, and the sun shone brightly.  The noise of the oncoming waves sounded like martial music to the unfinished ear, so we longed for the peaceful quiet lake.  The shore was flat and sandy, but the main attraction of the scenery was in the gigantic forest trees and the richness of their leafy ornaments.

At a quarter to 3 o’clock, we left the bivouac as there was no more wind, and by 3 o’clock, with our camp still visible, the water became weaker and weaker and soon showed tree and cloud upon its smooth surface.  We passed the Porcupine Mountains, a mountain range made of trapp geological formation.  We observed that some years ago, a large number of inexperienced speculators sunk shafts and made a great number of investments in anticipation of a rich copper discovery.  Now everything is destroyed and deserted and only the green arbor vitae remain on the steep trap rocks.

Our night was pretty and serene, so we went uninterrupted until 1 o’clock in the morning.  Our experienced boatmen did not trust the deceptive smoothness of the lake, however, and they uttered repeated fears that storms would interrupt our trip.  It happens quite often that people who travel in late autumn for pleasure or necessity from Ontonagon to Magdalene Island, 70 miles away, are by sea storms prevented from travelling that geographically-small route for  as many as 6 or 8 days.

Used to the life of the Indians in the primeval forests, for whom even in places of civilization prefer the green carpet under the open sky to the soft rug and closed room, the elements could not dampen the emotion of the paddlers of the canoe or force out the pleasure of the chase.*  But for Europeans, all sense of romantic adventure is gone when in such a forest for days without protection from the heavy rain and without shelter from the cold eeriness for his shivering limbs.

(*We were accompanied on our trip throughout the lakes of western Canada by half-Indians who had paternal European blood in their veins.  Yet so often, a situation would allow us to spend a night inside rather than outdoors, but they always asked us to choose to Irish camp outside with the Indians, who lived at the various places.  Although one spoke excellent English, and they were both drawn more to the great American race, they thought, felt, and spoke—Indian!)

It is amazing the carelessness with which the camp is set near the sparks of the crackling fire.  An overwhelming calm is needed to prevent frequent accidents, or even loss of human life, from falling on the brands.  As we were getting ready to continue our journey early in the morning, we found the front part of our tent riddled with a myriad of flickering sparks.

16 September (50° Fahrenheit)*)  Black River, seven miles past Presque Isle.  Gradually the shore area becomes rolling hills around Black River Mountain, which is about 100 feet in height.  Frequently, immense masses of rock protrude along the banks and make a sudden landing impossible.  This difficulty to reach shore, which can stretch for several miles long, is why a competent captain will only risk a daring canoe crossing on a fairly calm lake.

(*We checked the thermometer regularly every morning at 7 o’clock, and when travel conditions allowed it, at noon and evening.)

At Little Girl’s Point, a name linked to a romantic legend, we prepared lunch from the unfinished bread from the day before.  We had rice, tea, and the remains of the bread we brought from a bakery in Ontonagon from our first days.

In the afternoon, we met at a distance a canoe with two Indians and a traveler going in an easterly direction.  We got close enough to ask some short questions in telegraph style.  We asked, “Where do you go?  How is the water in the St. Louis and Savannah River?”

We were answered in the same brevity that they were from Crow Wing going to Ontonagon, and that the rivers were almost dried from a month-long lack of rain.

The last information was of utmost importance to us for it changed, all of a sudden, the fibers of our entire itinerary.  With the state of the rivers, we would have to do most of the 300-mile long route on foot which neither the advanced season of the year, nor the sandy steppes invited.  If we had been able to extend our trip, we could have visited Itasca Lake, the cradle of the Mississippi, where only a few historically-impressive researchers and travelers have passed near:  Pike, Cass, Schoolcraft, Nicollet, and to our knowledge, no Austrian.

However, this was impossible considering our lack of necessary academic preparation and in consideration of the economy of our travel plan.  We do not like the error, we would almost say vice, of so many travelers who rush in hasty discontent, supported by modern transport, through wonderful parts of creation without gaining any knowledge of the land’s physical history and the fate of its inhabitants.*

(*We were told here recently of such a German tourist who traveled through Mexico in only a fortnight– i.e. 6 days from Veracruz to the capital and 6 days back with only two days in the capital!)

While driving, the boatmen sang alternately.  They were, for the most part, frivolous love songs and not of the least philological or ethnographic interest.

After 2 o’clock, we passed the rocks of the Montreal River.  They run for about six miles with a long drag reaching up to an altitude of 100 feet.  There are layers of shale and red sandstone, all of which run east to west.  By weathering, they have obtained such a dyed-painting appearance, that you can see in their marbled colors something resembling a washed-out image.

The Montreal* is a major tributary of Lake Superior.  About 300 steps up from where it empties into the lake, it forms a very pretty waterfall surrounded by an impressive pool.   Rugged cliffs form the 80’ falls over a vertical sandstone layer and form a lovely valley.  The width of the Montreal is 10’, and it also forms the border between the states of Michigan and Wisconsin.

(*Indian:  Ka-wa’-si-gi-nong sepi, the white flowing falls.)

We stayed in this cute little bay for over an hour as our frail canoes had begun to take on a questionable amount of water as the result of some wicked stone wounds.

Up from Montreal River heading towards La Pointe, the earlier red sandstone formation starts again, and the rich shaded hills and rugged cliffs disappear suddenly.  Around 6 o’clock, we rested for half an hour at the mouth of the Bad River of Lake Superior.  We quickly prepared our evening snack as the possibility of reaching Magdalene Island that same night was still in contention.

Across from us, on the western shore of Bad River*, we saw Indians by a warm fire.  One of the boatmen suspected they’d come back from catching fish, and he called in a loud voice across the river asking if they wanted to come over and sell us some.  We took their response, and soon shy Indian women (squaws) appeared.  Lacking a male, they dreaded to get involved in trading with Whites, and did not like the return we offered.

(*On Bad River, a Methodist Mission was founded in 1841.  It consists of the missionary, his wife, and a female teacher.  Their sphere of influence is limited to dispensing divine teaching only to those wandering tribes of Chippewa Indians that come here every year during the season of fishing, to divest the birch tree of its bark, and to build it into a shelter).

A part of our nightly trip was spent fantastically in blissful contemplation of the wonders above us and next to us.  Night sent the cool fragrance of the forest to our lonely rocking boat, and the sky was studded with stars that sparkled through the green branches of the woods.  Soon, luminous insects appeared on the tops of the trees in equally brilliant bouquets.

At 11 o’clock at night, we saw a magnificent aurora borealis, which left such a bright scent upon the dark blue sky.  However, the theater soon changed scene, and a fierce south wind moved in incredibly fast.  What had just been a quietly slumbering lake, as if inhabited by underwater ghosts, struck the alarm and suddenly tumultuous waves approached the boat.  With the faster waves wanting to forestall the slower, a raging tumult arose resembling the dirt thrown up by great wagon wheels.

We were directly in the middle of that powerful watery surface, about one and one half miles from the mainland and from the nearest south bank of the island.  It would have been of no advantage to reverse course as it required no more time to reach the island as to go back.  At the outbreak of this dangerous storm, our boatmen were still determined to reach La Pointe.

But when several times the beating waves began to fill our boat from all sides with water, the situation became much more serious.  As if to increase our misery, at almost the same moment a darkness concealed the sky and gloomy clouds veiled the stars and northern lights, and with them went our cheerful countenance.

Now singing, our boatmen spoke with anxious gestures and an unintelligible patois to our fellow traveler.  The captain said jokingly, that they took counsel to see who should be thrown in the water first should the danger increase.    We replied in a like manner that it was never our desire to be first and that we felt the captain should keep that honor.  Fortunately, all our concern soon ended as we landed at La Pointe (Chegoimegon).

To be continued…

CAUTION:  This translation was made using Google Translate by someone who neither speaks nor reads German.  It should not be considered accurate by scholarly standards.

“Chippewa Indians Fishing on the Ice” (Digitized by New York Public Library from Heroes and hunters of the West : comprising sketches and adventures of Boone, Kenton, Brady, Logan, Whetzel, Fleehart, Hughes, Johnston, etc. Philadelphia : H. C. Peck & Theo. Bliss, 1859.)

On June 9th, I transcribed and posted two letters related to the Sandy Lake Tragedy (the attempted removal of the Lake Superior Ojibwe in the fall of 1850, which claimed as many as 400 innocent lives). The letters, digitized by the Wisconsin Historical Society, were from the Warren Family Papers. One was from missionary Leonard Wheeler to William Warren before the tragedy, and another was from Indian Agent John Watrous to Warren during a second removal attempt a year later.

That post sought to assess how much responsibility Warren and Watrous bear for the 400 deaths. It also touched on the role of the Protestant A.B.C.F.M. missionaries in the region. This post continues those thoughts. This time, we’re looking at two more letters and evaluating one of the missionaries himself.

Both of these letters are from the Wheeler Family Papers, held by the Wisconsin Historical Society at the Ashland Area Research Center. I went directly to the original documents for these, and while I’ve seen them referenced in published works, I believe this is the first time these particular letters have been transcribed or posted online.

The first is from Sherman Hall, the founder of the La Pointe Mission, to his colleague Leonard Wheeler, who operated the satellite mission at Odanah. Hall traveled to Sandy Lake for the annuity payments and sent this letter to Wheeler, who was visiting family back in Massachusetts, after returning to La Pointe.


Lapointe. Dec. 28th 1850

Brother Wheeler:

I wrote you while at Sandy Lake and promised to write again when I should reach Lapointe. That promise I now redeem. I started from Sandy Lake on the fourth inst. and reached home on the 16th having been absent from home just eight weeks. I was never more heartily glad to leave a place than I was Sandy Lake, nor more glad to reach home after an absence. Of course winter here has justly begun. The snow was some ten inches deep on the Savannah Portage. On reaching the East Savannah River we found the ice good and clear of snow and water. This continued to be the case most of the way to the Grand Portage at Fond du Lac. From Fond du Lac to Lapointe the traveling most of the way was hard, and it was not till the seventh day from F. du L. that I reached home. Besides bad traveling I had to carry a pack which I found, when I got home weighed 60 pounds. With this however I found it not difficult to keep up with most of my traveling companions who were much heavier loaded than I. This is my first experience of carrying a heavy pack on a long journey and I am fully satisfied with the experiment. I had no alternative however, bet either to throw away my blankets and clothes, or carry them. Every body was loaded with a heavy pack, and I could employ no one. I however got through well—did not get lame as many others did, nor do I feel any furious[?] by ill effects of my journey since my arrival.

I found the mission family well on my arrival. They had felt somewhat lonesome while so many were absent from this place. Things in the community here are generally in a quiet state at present. I apprehend that there will be considerable pinching for provisions before spring. It has been a very windy and stormy fall. The people have taken but little fish. Many nets have been lost. The traders have but a small quantity of provisions, and if they had the people have but little to buy with. The bay opposite to this island is now principally covered with ice so that the Indians are on the ice some to spear fish. The ice has once broken up since it first closed, and a heavy wind would break it up again, as it is yet very thin, and the weather mild. If the lake is frozen the Inds will probably get considerable fish; but if it should be open they must suffer.

Our Indian meetings are pretty well attended, and I feel that there is ground for encouragement. Simon I think is exerting a good influence. His Catholic friends have tried to draw him back to their church; but seems stable. His oldest brother, who has recently lost his wife, has expressed a wish to hear the word of God. I hope he will yet become a sincere listener.

Our English exercises are attended by a smaller number than formerly since many have left this place. I think however for our own good, as well as on account of others, we ought to keep them up. Mr. Van Tassel has returned to remain here till spring. I have heard nothing from Bad River for some time past. I had formed a design to go there this week, but have been prevented by the state of the ice. I intend going as soon as the ice gets a little stronger. I suppose there are very few Indians there. More are about the Lake.

I heard that Mr. Leihy has lost both his horses which will be a serious inconvenience to him in this mill enterprise I presume.

Mr. Pulsifer has received one letter from you, and by our last mail he heard through his correspondent at Lowell that you had arrived at that place.

I suppose you find some changes have taken place in the wide world during the times you have been shut up in the wilderness. Do you find calls enough to keep you busy? I have been expecting a letter from you. I want to hear what you have to say about the things you see, and how you like visiting, etc.

I have just had a letter from Mr. Ely, who says, “We are [snugly by quarters?] in St. Paul. My home is full of music—am employed as choir leader in Mr. [Mill’s?] (Prs.) church—sing two evenings a week at Stillwater, and the rest of my time is well filled with the private scholars & tuning Pianos, of which there are 7 or 8 at St. Paul.” Perhaps Br. Ely will find this a more lucrative business than cutting and hauling pine logs. I am glad he has found employment.

Our children all attend school except Harriet. Marydoes very well. Please give my regards to your friends at Lowell. I am writing to Mr. Treat by this opportunity. [Wish?] kind regards to Mrs. W. I remain

yours

S. Hall.

“I was never more heartily glad to leave a place…” According to Chief Buffalo, 150 Ojibwe died at Sandy Lake that fall, and as many as 250 more died returning home along the route Hall describes. While still a very harsh journey, La Pointe would have been easier to reach alive than other Ojibwe villages inland from Lake Superior.
The Savannah Portage connects the West Savannah River (Mississippi watershed) to the East Savannah River (Lake Superior watershed). It was one of the most difficult parts of the route from Sandy Lake to Fond du Lac.
The Old Mission Church, La Pointe, Madeline Island. (Wisconsin Historical Society Image ID: 24827)
“…and if they had the people have but little to buy with.” This is because the government failed to honor its treaty obligations and pay the annuities at Sandy Lake as promised.
The Indian meetings were prayer services conducted in Ojibwe. The ABCFM put a lot of effort into translating scriptures and hymns, and missionaries like Hall produced many of the earliest published works in the Ojibwe language. Simon is mentioned in both of the letters in this post. Rather than guess who he is, I will do more research and find out. From context, it seems he was one of the small number of mix-blood converts, or even fewer Ojibwe converts.
The 1850 US Census and 1855 Wisconsin State Census list William Van Tassel a blacksmith, Charles Pulsifer a teacher in the mission, and Erwin Leihy among the early American settlers of the Chequamegon Region.
A former colleague of Wheeler and Hall, Edmund F. Ely had left the missionary business by this time. His journals, edited and published by Theresa Schenck in 2012, provide some of the best insight available about this area in the 1830s.
Selah B. Treat was Secretary of the A.B.C.F.M. back in Boston.
Two months later, Hall is compelled to write the Wheelers in Massachusetts again. The reverend’s December predictions of “considerable fish” have not materialized, and the Ojibwe of La Pointe without their annuity payments, are starving.
This time, Hall addressed the letter to Harriet Wheeler, Leonard’s wife. She apparently had written to Hall’s teenage daughter (also named Harriet). It is unclear if Harriet Wheeler had expressed doubts about the effectiveness of the missionary efforts in that letter, but Reverend Hall’s letter back seems to suggest it does. In trying to convince Wheeler to “come back home,” Hall reveals his own doubts and beliefs. Taken in the context of the recent horrors of Sandy Lake and the continued starvation and suffering in the winter of 1851, it is a chilling letter to read–as much for Hall’s statements about the people he’s trying to “save” as it is for the hardships it describes.

Harriet Wheeler, pictured about forty years after receiving this letter. (Wisconsin Historical Society: Image ID 36771)

…your note to Harriet” Harriet Hall was Sherman’s oldest daughter, about 19 years old at this time.

“Generally they do not want to improve their condition.” This paragraph highlights, in part, why the missionaries gained so few converts. For them, conversion didn’t just demand a change in faith. It required that Indians fully adopt a particular kind of American Protestant worldview.
“But as long as they continue to waste their summers in idleness they must starve in the winter.” Hall neglects to mention that the government actively discouraged the Ojibwe from planting gardens or gathering wild rice in the summer of 1850, saying they would be removed to Sandy Lake and the annuity payments (which never arrived) would see them through the winter.
Many Ojibwe leaders, including Hole in the Day, blamed the rotten pork and moldy flour distributed at Sandy Lake for the disease that broke out. The speech in St. Paul is covered on pages 101-109 of Theresa Schenck’s William W. Warren: The Life, Letters, and Times of an Ojibwe Leader, my favorite book about this time period. (Photo from Whitney’s Gallery of St. Paul: Wisconsin Historical Society Image ID 27525)
Naw-waw-ge-waw-nose, the Little Current, was one of nine men from the La Pointe Band to sign the Treaty of 1854 as a “2nd Chief (Buffalo was the only member of the band to sign as a “1st Chief). According to Charles Lippert on Wikipedia, the modern spelling would be Naawajiwanose, translated as “Walks through the Middle of the Current.” In History of the Ojibways, William Warren mentions a man named the Little Eddy living at La Pointe in the early 1850s. According to Warren, he was part of the war party that killed trader John Findley and a group of voyageurs in 1824 at Lake Pepin.
“Such are the methods the heathens & Catholics take to deceive us. We could make many converts with flour and pork, especially at this time.” This statement brings to mind the Great Famine in Ireland, also going on at this time. Some Protestant aid societies would only serve soup to starving Catholics who gave up their faith. This phenomenon, known as “souperism,” continues to weigh heavily on the Irish popular imagination.
Mary Warren (1835-1925), was a teenager at the time of the Sandy Lake Tragedy. She is pictured here over seventy years later. Mary, the sister of William Warren, had been living with the Wheelers but stayed with Hall during their trip east. (Photo found on University of Connecticut Radio website, scanned from Frances Densmore photos in the Smithsonian Bureau of Ethnology)

Lapointe, Feb. 24th 1851.

Mrs. Wheeler,

By our last mail I wrote to Mr Wheeler, and by this I will address a few lines to you. From your note to Harriet I suppose you are happy among your friends. I am glad you are so, and hope you will not only spend your winter pleasantly, but that you will find the present season of relaxation from the severe duties of your station here, the occasion of reconnecting[?] your health and spirits.

I do not feel that the time has yet come when the churches ought to close their efforts to save these Indians. I do not think they are entirely beyond the reach of hope. The prospect however looks dark. But I think the greatest cause of discouragement arises from their character, and not from their present political condition. Generally they do not want to improve their condition. They are satisfied with their ignorance and degradation. All they think of is to supply for their present wants without their own exertions, while they wish to live in idleness and sin. This is the cause of their keeping so much aloof from the influence of the missions. Their minds are dreadfully dark respecting the things of the future world. They seem to have no ideas of happiness superior to that derives from the gratification of the lowest animal appetites and passions. This is the reason why the truths of the gospel so little effect on them. These things present to my mind much stronger grounds of discouragement than their present political difficulties, though those at present are not inconsiderable.

But as stupid as is the conscience, and as dark as is the understanding and the heart, and as much as they are given up to [?]ality and sin, I believe there is a Power that can quicken them into life. My only hope is that He who has made them, and has power to save them, will come and add his blessing to the preaching of his own gospel, and make it to them the power and wisdom of God. Thousands of others as dead in trespasses and sins, have been saved. Why may not they be saved? Come back home and let us try still to do something for them. Tell Christians to remember them and pray for them, that the word of God among them may have free course and be glorified.

It is a time of great scarcity of food among the Indians. There is some one in our houses almost every hour of the day begging for food. Very few get more than a meal a day; many not half of one. I have been told by several individuals, that they have tried three or four days in succession to catch fish, and have been obliged to return to their starving families each night with nothing for them. I am frequently importuned to spare a little provisions till I am obliged to go away out of sight to get rid of their pleading. I have spared the last potatoes I dare let go. Corn we have none. We have but a small quantity of flour over what will be required to sustain our families till we can expect to obtain a new supply. For a long time I have not known fish so scarce as the present winter. That is almost the only dependence of this people. For a month to come there will be many hungry ones. Many of the French and half-breeds are but little better off than the Indians. All we can do is to divide a little morsel with the hungry ones who come to beg. We have not much to give to those who importune for something to carry to their families. But as long as they continue to waste their summers in idleness they must starve in the winter.

The young Hole-in-the-day has been down to St Paul and there made a public speech in which he attributes the sickness at the payment last fall to the bad provisions which were dealt out to the Indians, and imparts much blame to the officers of the government for the way in which they [were with?]. In time they had some flour dealt out to them which was much damaged. But I think there were other causes for the sickness which prevailed besides the bad provisions. I think however that in some [aspects?] the Indians were wronged. Treaty stipulations were not carried out. H is very confident that many of the Indians are not satisfied with the manner in which they have been dealt with, and recent events have not served to strengthen their attachment to the Government.

We had our communion yesterday. I think there is a [?]ably good state of feeling among the native church members at this time. Simon has been frequently sick this winter. But his trials appear to bring nearer to God. He appears to be growing in the knowledge of God and in piety.

You will probably recollect Mo-ko-kun-ens-ish, an Indian with a bunch[?] between his shoulders, married into the family of the Little-current. He is, by profession, a Catholic. About a week ago, he made me a visit, and said his priest had offended him, and he wished to join us. A short time since he lost a child, and when the priest came to bury it, he said he “scolded him” because he had not cleaned away the snow from the gate of the burying yard, and made a better path for him to come to the grave. He told a long story. I suspected his object was to get some provisions of me. I told him we should be happy to see him at our meetings, and told him where and when they would be held. He said he should attend only sometimes he might be obliged to fish to get something to eat, and be occasionally away. I said a few words to him on religious subjects, and he left without asking for anything. The next day he came with a small piece of cloth and asked me to give him provisions for it. I told I had not provisions to trade. He then enquired about meeting. I told him we were to hold one that evening in the school-house. He said he should attend. The evening came, the meeting was held—but he was not there. Nor have we seen him at any other meeting. Such are the methods the heathens & Catholics take to deceive us. We could make many converts with flour and pork, especially at this time.

Yours Truly,

S. Hall

[Written in margins]

All send love though I have not room to write it.

Mary goes to school and is doing very well.

 

 

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These are the originals of the paragraph about Hole in the Day’s speech in St. Paul. I couldn’t quite decipher all of it. Let me know what you see (Wheeler Family Papers, Personal Correspondence 1851, Wisconsin Historical Society Ashland Area Research Center).

In the June 9th post, we tried to determine how much William Warren and John S. Watrous were at fault for the deaths resulting from the 1850 Sandy Lake removal attempt. In this post, we will do the same for Sherman Hall.

Before we begin, it’s worth reviewing the facts. By 1850, Hall had lived at La Pointe for twenty years. He knew the people who lived here, and he knew the promises the Ojibwe were given at the Treaty of 1842. He was certainly aware of the Ojibwe position on the removal.

Rev. Hall did not order the removal. Compared with the government and Fur Company officials, he was fairly powerless within the Lake Superior region. However, he had a power of a different sort. As the primary voice of the ABCFM in Ojibwe country, he had powerful friends in the eastern states. Many Americans perceived the missionaries as the only neutral voice in the area. Hall admits in the December 28th letter that the Ojibwe were wronged. He could have advocated for their cause in the summer of 1850 as the illegal removal was unfolding. Instead, he largely went along with government efforts.

To his credit, in other letters Hall did blame the government for the failure of the Sandy Lake payment. The best book I’ve encountered about this time period is William W. Warren: The Life, Letters, and Times of an Ojibwe Leader by Theresa Schenck (Nebraska UP, 2007). On page 94, Dr. Schenck quotes a letter from Hall to ABCFM Secretary S.B. Treat. It is dated December 30, and is probably the letter referred to in the letter to Leonard Wheeler above. Hall is honest about Ojibwe feelings on the removal and seems to empathize somewhat. On page 155, Schenck details how the La Pointe mission did eventually turn against government removal efforts later in 1851.

So, it probably seems that I am defending Sherman Hall. Why? Truthfully, it’s because I want to have some balance in this post because, quite frankly, these two letters are some of the most disgusting, horrifying documents I’ve ever read. I felt especially sick typing up the February 24th letter to Harriet Wheeler. For a man who claimed to be “saving” the Ojibwe to be so heartless in the midst of so much suffering is appalling.

Was the mission running low on food? Sure, but doesn’t true Christian charity demand sharing to the last?

Should Hall’s language be judged by the standards of the racist times he lived in? Absolutely, but to say the things he says about human beings, his neighbors of twenty years, is inexcusable in any time period.

Is it possible he was traumatized by his experience at Sandy Lake, and this was a way of dealing with his personal guilt? This is possible. He does seem to be speaking to himself in the letter as much as he is to the Wheelers.

There is a danger in judging too much from just two letters, but I think Hall needs to be held to the same standard as Warren and Watrous were in the June 9th post. He could have spoken out against the removal to begin with. He didn’t. He was an eyewitness to Sandy Lake. He knew what the Ojibwe had been promised, and he saw the consequences of the government breaking those promises. His letters to the Wheelers in Boston could have been used to help right those wrongs by uniting the missions behind the Ojibwe cause. Instead, he chose to blame the people who had been wronged to the point of 400 deaths. For these reasons, I think when we list the villains of Sandy Lake, the Reverend Sherman Hall needs to be among them.

Sources:
Densmore, Frances. Chippewa Customs. Washington: U.S. G.P.O., 1929. Print.
Ely, Edmund Franklin, and Theresa M. Schenck. The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 1833-1849. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2012. 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/>.
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.
Warren, William W., and Theresa M. Schenck. History of the Ojibway People. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 2009. Print.