By Leo

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Austrian writer, adventurer, and academic, Karl Ritter von Scherzer traveled the United States along with Moritz Wagner in 1852 and 1853.  Their original German-language publication of Reisen in Nordamerika is free online through Google Books (image: wikimedia commons).

Chapter 21 of Wagner and Scherzer’s Reisen in Nordamerika in den Jahren 1852 und 1853 appeared on Chequamegon History in three posts in 2013.  Chapter 22 continues the story, as Carl Scherzer describes his trip up the full length of the Brule River in September 1852, riding in a birchbark canoe guided by two La Pointe voyageurs:  Souverain Denis and Jean Baptiste Belanger.

Chapter 22 lacks the variety and historical significance of chapter 21 (Ontonagon to the Mouth of the Bois-Brule), but even in Google-based translation, it maintains much of Scherzer’s beautiful (often comical) prose, that should be appreciated by readers with a fondness for canoeing.  It also includes the lyrics of an authentic voyageur song that does not appear to be published anywhere else on the web.

Themes in this chapter also continue ideas explored in other Chequamegon History posts.  If you wish to read more about the absolute misery encountered by inexperienced canoeists on the Brule, be sure to read the account of Lt. James Allen who accompanied Henry Schoolcraft to Lake Itasca in 1832.  If reading Chapter 22 makes you think that mid 19th-century European travel writers superficially appreciated Ojibwe culture more than American writers, but that their romanticism contained the seeds of dangerously-racist ideas, be sure to check out J. G. Kohl’s Remarks on the Conversion of the Canadian Indians, another Google-aided German translation first published in English right here on Chequamegon History.       

Enjoy:

XXII

A Canoe Ride through the Wisconsin Wilderness

The Rivière du Bois Brülé or Burnt Wood River (Indian: Wisakoda) has a rocky riverbed and runs east-southeast. Its serpentine curves are navigable close to 100 miles, nearly from the source to the mouth by canoes. It has 240 rapids, varying in length, alternating with smooth surface for a length of eighty miles. Most of the rapids have a one-foot, but many an eight to ten-foot slope. Four of them are so dangerous, they require portage, that is, they must be bypassed, and the boat and baggage are carried past the most dangerous points on land.

The width of the river changes tremendously. At its mouth, it is probably ninety feet wide, then sometimes narrows down to a few feet, and then expands just as quickly to the dimension of a considerable waterway. Its total slope from its source to its mouth in Lake Superior is about 600 feet. We therefore had the doubly-difficult task of overcoming river and the slope.

We took our frugal lunch of bacon and tea on a small mound of sand. We looked back and saw, probably for the last time in our eyes, but lasting forever in our memories, Lake Superior.

Amorin Mello has covered both postal irregularities and early surveys of northern Wisconsin, here on Chequamegon History.

It should be noted that such letters are not uncommon in this great primeval forest, where bald towering tree trunks are more reliable postmen than the whims of hunting Indians, ignorant of their duties.  Suddenly, Baptiste cried out, “Une lettre! Une lettre!” Mounted on a high pole, a letter hung wrapped in birch bark. It was addressed to a “Surveyor in the wilds of Lake Superior”–truly, an extended address! The letter was accompanied by a slip of paper, also in English, in which the readers, insofar as it did not concern them, were requested to leave it undamaged in its eye-catching position.

In winter, when Lake Superior is often unnavigable for months, the postal connection with La Pointe is an arduous forest path taking nine days to reach St. Croix Falls. Since it sometimes happens that the frivolous mix-bloods, growing weary of their postal duties hang their letters on the next branch and happily return to their favorite activity: hunting the wild forest thickets. The pack sits on the tree until a more-conscientious wanderer happens upon it. Thus, it takes three months to travel a road that would be covered in as many days in civilized area with modern transportation.

Birches (betula papyracea), elms, poplars, ash trees (fraxinus sambucifolia), and oak trees make up the bulk of these primeval forests. However, spruce, pine (pinus resinosa), firs, (abies balsamea and alba), cedars and juniper trees appear in such a pleasant mixture that their dark green forms a magnificent base note for the deciduous wood, as it bleaches golden in the autumn.

Within a half hour, the clear light-green water, 6 feet deep at the entrance, dropped to half a foot. From this, one may get a sense of the lightness of our birch-barked vehicle. In spite of the people, travel utensils, and provisions, probably amounting to 800 pounds of load, it glided gently, without even brushing the shallow riverbed.

The further we went up the river, the more virgin and primeval the forest, and the wilder and wilder the little waterway became. At places, tree trunks had fallen across the river and completely blocked our way. We had to take up the handy carpenter’s ax to cut a passage through. Under such navigational conditions, the oars lay quietly against the walls of the canoe, and long, hand-hewn poles were our only means of locomotion.

A heavy rain left us short on time to look for a bivouac. We spent the night in the woods under old spruce trees. Their trunks were more than 120 feet in height. Every night, we tied the thermometer to a tree branch out of the wind, and then recorded our observations in the morning. That was the only time we were able to maintain a regular hour of observation.

Friday, September 24, 53°F. Yesterday’s heavy rain has stopped, and as far as you can tell from under our green jungle canopy, the sky is quite clear and cloudless.

We continued the journey at 8 o’clock. At points, wind-broken spruce and beech hung from both sides, their still-green jewelry forming arcs of triumph across the river.

The splendorous color of the forests is enhanced by the mighty brush of autumn. You can already notice the work of this brilliant painter on the foliage of the oaks and elms. Only the stiff firs and ancient spruces, seen against the sky, allow the autumn storms to rush past without changing their defiant green.

We had a short portage to make, and a part of the provisions and effects had to be carried over the rapids. Landed at 12 o’clock for lunch. Our canoe was already severely damaged by the low water level and numerous rocky cliffs, and it began to fill with water. Now, all our luggage had to be brought to the shore and the empty boat had to be turned over to wrap the leaky areas watertight again.

For the whole afternoon’s journey, the same wild character of nature prevailed. Trees on opposite banks bent in pyramids and wrapped around each other at the summit. Sturdy roots of ash, elms, oaks having lost their balance, hung like an arched bridge over the surface of the water. All around, the eye sees the rugged beauty of the forest. Little has changed in nature or navigation in the two hundred years since the first missionary in a birch canoe passed through this wilderness.

At points, the thicket clears, the land becomes flatter, the river broadens, small lush archipelagoes rise, and the scenery gains the prestige of a modern park. In such areas, the wild rice (Zizania aquatica) comes into view. Along with hunting and fishing, it constitutes a staple food of the Indians. A marsh plant, it usually grows only in lowlands (sloughs), which are 8 to 10 inches under water for most of the year.

Oumalouminee:  while manoomin (wild rice) is at the root of it, the Ojibwe-Algonquian word Omanoominii (Oumalouminee on early French maps) actually means “Wild Rice People” (i.e. the Menominee Nation or the St. Croix (Folle Avoine) Ojibwe.  

The harvest happens in the autumn, in a simple and effortless way. The Indians drive their slender canoes through the reeds into the middle of the rice fields. They bend the ears from both sides over the boat, and then beat out the fruit with fists and sticks, where it falls to the floor of the canoe. Most of the time, they roast the rice (Oumalouminee) and enjoy it boiled in water. Sometimes, however, when this seems too much trouble for them, the humble forest-dwellers are content to chew the raw fruit like kinikinik or smoking tobacco as a noonday meal.

When we asked Souverain how far we still had to go to the next portage, he replied that it might still be a distance of two pipes (deux pipes), by which he meant to say that we would arrive after the time in which one is able to smoke two pipes.

The black rocky bottom of the river makes the water so dark, it becomes very difficult to distinguish the sharp slightly-covered, rocks from the water, and so our boat received more than one jolt and leak. At half past four, we had to make a second portage of half a mile in length. Both the boat and the baggage had to be carried through the forest. We camped at the other end of the trail at the edge of a northern beech forest. Evening, 7 o’clock 48° F.

Saturday, 25th of September, 40° F. Heavily clouded horizon, windless, rainy. Our matches got wet and prevented us from starting a fire. Finally, a flint was found in a tin, but the gathered wood was green and wet, and took a long time to burn. After 7 o’clock, we set out. Exclusively hardwood vegetation, now, namely ash, elm, silver poplar and birch, which would seem to indicate a milder climate.

The remnants of Indian night camps are noticed at many points in the forest: the charred fire, the fresh tree-branches placed in the ground where the kettle hung above the flame, the dry wooden skeletons that were once wigwams.

Several jumbles of tree branches had to be chopped in half this morning with the ax in order to make a passage for us. Only half an hour after our departure from bivouac, we arrived at the third portage. Under heavy rain, we carried the effects through the forest on a trail that only occasionally hinted at ancient, long-weathered tracks. This time, the canoe could be pulled over the rapids, but only through a heroic decision of the two leaders to wade alongside it in the frosty, cold river. At 8:30, this painstaking portage was over, and the journey across the less-dangerous rapids continued in the canoe.

Souverain Denis (Danie), a celebrated voyageur of La Pointe was around 67 years old in 1852, when Scherzer hired him to lead the voyage from La Pointe to Stillwater in the Minnesota Territory.

In the afternoon, more coniferous trees appeared, especially on the right bank. The rapids often continued for miles, and Souverain, the admiral of our birch-barked frigate, to whom was entrusted our destiny, had more than a hard row to hoe. Twice, shying away from the effort of cutting, we boldly passed over mighty tree trunks fallen into the river. Several times, our barge slid so narrowly under tree trunks hanging over the water there was scarcely enough space left us, lying with our backs against the bottom, to squeeze under with our slender canoe.

Despite the reappearance of softwood vegetation, the area visibly takes on a different character as it gradually changes from the hilly landscape of Lake Superior to the flat prairie ground of the West. The trees in the forest become less dense, while willows, cypresses, larches, and Thuja occidentalis are more frequently seen. On the banks, young saplings proudly take the place of the noble-stemmed spruce.

Based on our experiences so far, we would not recommend that future travelers rely too much on hunting and fishing while traveling through these wilderness areas. The almost incessant rapids give the river a current far too strong for it to be a popular habitat for fish, and the game is usually scanty along the shore. In addition, the gun often suffers much from the water, which the powerful sweep of the poles and paddles sends over the side of the canoe. Due to this moisture, which is almost unavoidable in such a small space, even the best-measured shots often fail.

Once, it was inspiring to see the keen-eyed Souverain pick out a water snipe among the bushes. Not knowing its mortal danger, it promenaded itself carelessly in search of food. We approached quietly with the boat, drawing near to fell the victim with the shotgun, and Souverain shot his enemy-snipe-weapon. The shot failed. A second and third had the same fate. The charges had been dampened by prolonged rain.

1._wilson27s_snipe._gallinago_wilsoni_bon._2._american_woodcock._philohela_minor_gray_lccn2017660746(wikimedia) Wasserschnepfe is a generic German term for several species in the family Scolopacidae (snipes and sandpipers). Wilson’s Snipe (left) or the American Woodcock (right) are likely candidates for the suicidal Brule bird.  Hypochondria was used as a synonym for depression in the 19th century–see the opening paragraph of Moby Dick for an example.

Quite remarkably, the poor animal had still not left its dangerous post, as if it were overpowered by melancholy, and would receive the mortal shot as a blessing. The fourth charge finally did its duty. The snipe staggered and fell dead in a nearby bush. She was haggard and skinny, and seemed to have truly suffered from hypochondria. In the evening, we shot a duck. General joy was had over their fatigue, and we lustily enjoyed a good evening meal.

In the final hours of the journey, the river assumes a regular, almost canal-like course, which for some miles continued in a straight line. The rapids become rarer, but the river is densely covered with rock, which hides itself under the smooth barren surface of the water. Surprised by nightfall, and in the deceitful twilight not daring to go further among the aforementioned jagged rocks, we bivouacked close to the shore in a flat, swampy area.

As a rule, since we were on the Bois-Brülé river, we drove for ten hours a day, from 7 o’clock in the morning until 5 o’clock in the evening, unless rain or canoe repairs prevented us. Every morning, before we left, we prepared our breakfast, and made a very short stop at lunchtime. We pitched our tent only at the resting hour of the evening, when possible on a hill in an area where the presence of numerous dry logs could suffice for preparing a comfortable night fire.

Only a few years removed from the Great Famine, Wagner and Scherzer visited America during a period of massive Irish immigration, which they discuss elsewhere in their travelogue.

After the two voyageurs had cut down and brought in 12 to 18 pieces of spruce or birch trunks in the forest, they usually left it to us to keep the fire at proper heat. No sooner had our evening meal been consumed, which, like the selection at the court of an Irish emigrant’s table–one day bacon and tea, and the next day tea and bacon–the two voyageurs, fatigued by the hard work of the day, would fall asleep. Our traveling companion, wrapped in a thick buffalo robe, found no more attraction in this body-strengthening pleasure. So we were faced with a choice, stoke or freeze.

Every night, we would get up four or five times to set new tree trunks on the dying glow. And when the fire flared up again, we’d sit a while and watch the joyous flaming wave, and think of our friends across the ocean. And as this new flame intensified, new glowing thoughts and feelings rose in us again and again, for the fire possesses the same miraculous power as the sea or the blue sky. One can gaze into it for hours and yet cannot get enough of it. One laughs and cries, becomes sad then cheerful again. – The logs that we burned last night, certainly amounted to half a cord of wood!

Sunday, September 25, 5:30, snowfall. A good fire in front of our tent makes it easier for us to bear the cold and the bad weather. All night long, we heard the cries of many flocks of ducks moving cheerfully off to the west. In the forest, now, one hears only the lonely lamentations of a woodpecker, his flight inhibited and decrepit, he could not follow the young flyers and is left behind. The snowfall prevents the boat from popping up, and we are forced to wait for better weather in this swampy, frosty wilderness.

7 o’clock, 35° F. A shot was fired nearby. It was probably the hunting rifle of wandering Indians.

Around 9:30, a canoe came up with an Indian and his squaw (Indian woman). It was the postman of La Pointe who had picked up the letters in St Croix and was on the way home. As soon as he saw our camp, he stopped, got out, and he and his wife warmed themselves by our brightly-lit fire.

The postman of La Pointe described here does not seem to be John Morrison, the mail carrier listed in the 1850 censusBoozhoo:  hello! greetings! (Ojibwe People’s Dictionary)

He was a poor, one-eyed devil. In his little boat he brought wild rice (folle avoine) tucked under animal skins, which he wished to exchange for resin to repair his damaged canoe. The shot we heard a few hours earlier fell from his shotgun, but the duck he aimed never did. The postman did not seem to be in a hurry. He talked to the voyageurs for more than an hour, then said good-bye and Boshu* to the fire’s warmth and to us.

[*Boshu, also bojoo or bojo, is undoubtedly a corruption of the French “Bon jour,” which is used by all Indian tribes on this side of the Mississippi for all kinds of greetings in the widest sense of the word. In general, the Chippewa language is teeming with English expressions, for which they have no name in their own language. The same is the case with the Indians of British Guiana, who have included many Spanish words in their language: cabarita, billy goat (Indian: cabaritü), sapatu, shoe (Indian zapato), aracabusca, firearm (Indian: arcabug). It deserves great attention at a time when we seem more inclined than ever to draw conclusions about the descent of peoples from certain similarities in languages. Comp. Dr. W. H. Brett, Dr. Thomas Jung, etc.]

11 o’clock in the morning. After the snow stopped, we quickly patched some areas on the boat, damaged by the sharp rocks. After a short snack of bacon and salt meat, we proceeded further up the river. We intended to continue, without further delay in a southwesterly direction, until dawn, hoping to escape this frighteningly-cold region.

The scenery and nature remained the same as yesterday. Hardwood, among which the American elm (ulmus americana) prevails. With its imposing height and rich crown of leaves, it is a major ornament of the American forests. With the shallow shores, rice marshes and trees hanging over the river under the weight of their leaves, our canoe laboriously sighs under its oppressive cargo. The rapids start again. The river is about 40 feet wide.

About 2:30, we passed through ten minutes of rapids, whose completion required the full effort of our two canotiers. In addition to the countless rocks, we passed through the lowest water levels, over uprooted trees that had fallen into the river. Our journey now resembled the pushing of a cart than it did the light gliding of a birch canoe. It was a fight with the water and nature. We were in danger of wounds to our heads and eyes, passing close under the wild bushy oaks and spruces that jutted into the water.

The landscape afforded variety of rich, picturesque views. Every bend, every new opening, showed the visitor a new image. At times, the river extended to the breadth of a lake, and cedars, cypresses, thujas, and all the green foliage of the swamp vegetation becomes visible. Where the rapids stop, the mirror-clear, calm water comes alive with trout and swimming birds. All at once, however, the picture will close, and the two shores form an incessantly-bright green alley, through which the smooth river stretches like a long white vein of silver.

Bakinawaan:  win over/ beat in a contest or game (Ojibwe People’s Dictionary)

By evening, our little boat was suffering greatly from the incoming cold. At sunset, we camped on the so-called Victory Grounds (pakui-aouon). It is a cleared piece of forest, about 40 feet above the river, that forms a kind of plateau, upon which bloody battles must have taken place in former centuries between the Sioux and Chippewas.

The Revolutions of 1848 were critical in the early development of Czech nationalism in the Austrian Empire.   Being from Vienna, Scherzer may have been acutely sensitive to dissatisfaction in nearby Prague.

The cause of the hatred between these two tribes of Indians remains an object of research. However, one only needs to mention the name one tribe, to a person of the other in order to provoke his rage. Against this, even the hatred of the Czechs, who in the blessed year of Revolution wished to devour all of Germany, pales in comparison. For as often as the Sioux come into contact with Chippewa Indians, they will certainly commit a murder, because according to their legal concepts, it is their duty to scalp as many Chippewas as possible.

Scherzer wrote Joseph Austrian at La Pointe for the lyrics of the Chanson canadienne, and while the Reisen does not identify the family of Jean Baptiste (the most common men’s name at La Pointe), Joseph Austrian’s memoirs suggest the singer was “one Balange,” presumably Jean Baptiste Belanger.

In the evening, when the tent is pitched, the night’s wood is felled and carried in from the forest, the fire is lighted and a small meal is prepared and consumed, the four of us would sit still for a while around the warming fire. We would listen to the voyageurs tell us about their experiences and destinies, and about the savagery of the whites and the gentleness of the Indians. Sometimes, they also sing songs that have strangely found their way from the home of the troubadours to these soundless primeval forests of the north*. Here we repeat one that Jean Baptiste sang out this evening with much emotion, as he lay carelessly, disregarding the flickers of the burning fire:

Chanson canadienne
(Canadien song)

Buvons tous le verre à la main,
Buvons du vin ensemble;
Quand on boit du vin sans dessein,
Le meilleur n’en vaut guère.
Pour moi je trouve le vin bon,
Quand j’en bois avec ma Lison.

(Let’s drink down the glasses, in our hands,
Let’s drink wine together;
When you drink wine without purpose,
Even the best is not worth it.
For me, I find the wine tastes good,
When I drink with my Lison.)

Depuis longtemps que je vous dis:
Belle Iris je vous aime,
Je vous aime si tendrement,
Soyez moi donc fidèle,
Car vous auriez en peu de temps,
Un amant qui vous aime.

(For a long time I have been telling you:
Beautiful Iris I love you,
I love you so dearly,
Be faithful to me,
For in a short time you will have,
A lover who loves you.)

Belle Iris, de tous vos amants
Faites une différence,
Je ne suis pas le plus charmant
Mais je suis le plus tendre.
Si j’étais seul auprès de vous,
Je passerais les moments les plus doux.

(Beautiful Iris, of all your lovers
Make a difference,
I am not the most charming
But I am the most tender.
If I were alone with you,
I would have the sweetest moments.)

Allons donc nous y promener,
Sous ces sombres feuillages,
Nous entendrons le rossignol chanter
Qui dit dans son langage,
Dans son joli chant d’oiseau,
Adieu amants volages.

(Let’s go for a walk,
Under the dark foliage,
We will hear the nightingale
Who sings in his language,
In his pretty bird song,
Farewell lovers.)

“Ah! rendez-moi mon coeur,
Maman me le demande.”
“”Il est à vous, si vous, pouvez le reprendre.
Il est confondu dans le mien,
Je ne saurais lequel est le tien.””

(“Ah! Give me back my heart,
Mother asks me.”
“It’s yours, if you can, take it back.
It is mixed up with mine,
I will not know which is yours.”)

[*It is a common observation that the painted native forest dwellers of America are not as eloquent as their much-simpler dressed German counterparts. Although we passed through the forests of Wisconsin, Missouri, and Ohio in all seasons, we never heard as beautiful and funny singing as in the German hall. It is as if nature wanted to compensate the German forest singer for his lack of splendor through the richer gift of song. Comp. Franz v. Neuwied and Agassiz, Lake superior etc., p. 68 u. 382, respectively.]

Monday, September 27th, 35°F. Sky is completely changed, haunting cold. The snow began to fall so thickly, we had to stop again, after a short time, to build an invigorating fire in a cedar forest amidst swamp and morass. But when the flame began to grow, its warmth reached the snowy branches of the cedar trees. The snow turned to water and fell upon us as heavy rain. We were all thoroughly soaked, and the fingers of the two canoe handlers were so frozen by the biting snow they could not paddle the ship. So we sought, as well as it was possible under such unfavorable weather conditions, to warm ourselves, and finally resumed our journey at noon under snow, rain, and a sharp north wind.

12 o’clock, 42°F. Soon after our embarkation, we had to make a small portage, and happily bypassed La Clef de Brülé, a number of rapids, which in their dangerous places are called by the voyageurs “The Key to the River”.

Cedarwood now grows almost exclusively on both banks, down to the river’s edge. They sometimes seem so harshly thrown over one another that the canoe can pass through only with difficulty.

american_medicinal_plants_28plate_16529_28602544095329american_medicinal_plants_28plate_16629_28602599656029“Cedar,” used generically on today’s Brule River could only mean the Whitecedar or Arbor Vitae Thuja occidentalis (top).  Curiously, however, Scherzer specifically distinguishes Thuja from Juniperus virginiana or redcedar (bottom) and describes the latter as more common, even though J. virginiana is not found this far north.

2:30 48°F. The snowflakes have changed to raindrops with the increasing temperature. Gradually, the rain stopped, and there was overcast, but rain-free weather. We now reached the Campement des Cedres, the only place up to the source of the river, where one still finds enough wood to prepare a night fire as all tree species except cedars (juniperus virginiana) are now becoming sparse along the shores. The discomfort of travel is now joined by a feeling of an unshakeable cold.

We therefore resolved to reach the navigable end of the Bois Brülé river that evening, and our captains endeavored to reach it before nightfall.

The rapids had now stopped, but another no-less uncomfortable and dangerous guest turned against us. The bushes of alders (alnus incana), willows, berberis, etc. grew on both banks. In their undisturbed growth, they had become so impenetrable that at the first sight of these thousands of closely intertwined branches, we often thought it impossible to break through with a canoe. The river was completely invisible in these thick, shady hangings, and hoe, pole, and fists had to be activated to fight all these natural hindrances.

Sometimes, we could only pass through horizontally, with our heads back to the bottom of the canoe. Closing our eyes to the relentless branches, we completely abandoned ourselves to the care of the brave Souverain. His face and hands scratched by the tiny branches, he undauntedly strove forward with unspeakable effort. Only a few times, when these forest barricades grew too overpowering, we heard a half-desperate, “mais c’est impossible!”

In September of 1852, it was still an open question of whether the Ojibwe would be removed west from Wisconsin.  The disastrous Sandy Lake Removal of two years earlier was partially prompted by trading interests wishing to focus westward.

This wild overgrowth of the two banks, which gave our boat journey more of a character of first voyage of discovery than that of following a well-trodden path, can only be explained by the circumstance that the river is only seldom traveled up to its source. Earlier, when La Pointe was the Fur Company’s trading post, several hundred canoes loaded with commodities traveled this route every year, and from there they crossed to the various trading places of Upper Mississippi. But since Indians, forest animals and fur traders have moved westward, the cheerful waters of the Bois Brülé often trickle by, through entire seasons, without being cut by the keel of a boat, and the lush vegetation of its shores is free to reach across and embrace in wild passion.

In this case, the “grand portage” or “great carrying place” referred to is the Brule-St. Croix portage, separating the waters of Lake Superior from the waters of the Mississippi.

Around 5 o’clock, we found the water of the river so low in several places that we decided to give some relief to the canoe by continuing the rest of the journey to the source of the river on foot. We walked back a mile and a half along a forest path, under the most unfavorable conditions. Our bodies wrapped from head to toe in India rubber, we sat with our travel companions against the moving forest, while the two voyageurs with canoe and effects followed the course of the river to meet us again at the grand portage.

Hardly could a hike offer more variety. Without the slightest indication of the path to be taken by the usual old footprints and tree cuts, we fought thorn bushes through deep snow, then passed through wild grain as tall as man, swiftly mowing it under our boots. In the hurry to disembark, we left our compass in the boat, so we could only guess what direction we should start navigating to find the so-called “Great Carrying Place.”

We wandered the wilderness, sweaty and fatigued, unable to move with any speed. The night was already falling, and as our innumerable “hallos,” went unanswered by our captain, we fell silent in the solitude of the forest, coming to terms with the idea of spending the night in these cold, fever-inducing swamps. All of the sudden, the voices of the voyageurs resounded like a hallelujah. We had to be very close to them, so we gained fresh courage against the complaints of pressing each step forcibly through dense undergrowth of thorny shrubs.

Drenched and chilled, we finally reached the Portage on a hill above some young cedars, and found the Voyageurs already occupied with the clearing and patching of the canoe. Unlike ourselves, our travel companion and the two Canadians had no rain-resistant rubber outfits, and were even more exposed to the cold, wet weather. For a time, the shivering appearance of our companion made us fear for his health.

In addition, we soon learned of a new misfortune. The snow cover and lack of wood in the vicinity prevented us from pitching our tent preparing a good fire as fast as our condition might desire. Besides, all our packs had gotten wet, and the provisions were in a poor state of edibility.

Our first concern, when we finally succeeded in pitching the tent and building a fire, was to dry our underwear and garments. All around us, hanging from tree branches and ropes were scattered cloths, spread out and drained of color. In our haste to remove the uncomfortable liquid from our needed garments through the warming power of the flame, we brought them into too-close contact with the wildly-flickering fire. Regrettably, they were soon covered in traces of scorch marks.

Nothing in our preceding traveling conditions had so deeply embittered us or made us as morose as these recent events. It is true that none of us complained, but each man stood in perfect silence before the burning logs, and regrettably stared at whatever soaked garment he was holding in his outstretched arms before the drying glow. Our medicines in vulgar condition, and our books, writings, documents, and physical instruments, all partially corrupted or totally broken, there was not a single piece of our effects which did not bear some lasting trace of damage.

The only consolation was that the snowstorm ended, and the overcast sky dissipated into a bright, starry, moonlit night, which made the prospect of a more favorable morning and forgetting the troubles of today, less and less difficult to fathom.

A short distance from the Portage is the inconspicuous source of the Bois-Brule River, in the marshes all around.* Only a single small stream pours into it during its long, winding course to Lake Superior. The Campement du Portage, where the travelers usually camp, is situated on a small hill, adorned with a serene cedar and spruce approach. While it may present a charming bivouac during a pleasant, warmer season. The eerie conditions under which we spent the night on the cold, damp ground could not possibly give us an idea of their summer loveliness.

[*The water of the Bois-brule River is about 12-14° Fahrenheit cooler than that of the La Croix River, for which may be explained by its forest-shaded banks being almost inaccessible to sunbeams, as well as its proximity to Lake Superior.]

In winter, when the river freezes along its entire length, it must be a marvelous sight: the wild rapids suddenly frozen by the harsh power of frost, and transformed into the strangest shapes and ice formations.

S.

 

By Leo

In April, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case Department of Commerce v. New York and could render a decision any day on whether or not the 2020 federal census should include a question asking about citizenship status.  In January, a Federal District Court in New York ruled that commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, violated the law by pushing for that question.

Those in agreement with the District ruling suggest that the Trump administration wants to add the question as a way of discouraging immigrants from participating in the census, thereby diminishing the political power of immigrant communities.  This, they say, would violate the Constitution on the grounds that the census must be an “actual enumeration” of all persons within the United States, not only citizens.

Proponents of the citizenship question counter that citizenship status is a perfectly natural question to ask in the census, that any government would want to know how many citizens it has, and that several past iterations of the 10-year count have included similar questions.

It remains to be seen how the Supreme Court will rule, but chances are it will not be the last time an issue of race, identity, or citizenship pops up in the politics of the census.  From its creation by the Constitution as a way to apportion seats in congress according to populations of the states, the count has always begged tricky questions that essentially boil down to:

Who is a real American?  Who isn’t?  Who is a citizen?  Who is three-fifths of a human being?  Who might not be human at all?  What does it mean to be White?  To be Colored? To be civilized?  How do you classify the myriad of human backgrounds, cultures and stories into finite, discrete “races?”

The Civil War and Fourteenth Amendment helped shed light on some of these questions, but it would be a mistake to think that they belong to the past.  The NPR podcast Codeswitch has done an excellent series on census, and this episode from last August gives a broad overview of the history.

Here at Chequamegon History, though, we aren’t in the business broad overviews.  We are going to drill down right into the data.  We’ll comb through the 1850 federal census for La Pointe County and compare it with the 1860 data for La Pointe and Ashland Counties. Just for fun, we’ll compare both with the 1855 Wisconsin State Census for La Pointe County, then double back to the 1840 federal census for western St. Croix County.  Ultimately, the hope is to help reveal how the population of the Chequamegon region viewed itself, and ultimately how that differed from mainstream America’s view.  With luck, that will give us a framework for more stories like Amorin’s recent post on the killing of Louis Gurnoe.

Background

Daniel Harris JohnsonJudge Daniel Harris Johnson of Prairie du Chien had no apparent connection to Lake Superior when he was appointed to travel northward to conduct the census for La Pointe County in 1850.  The event made an impression on him. It gets a mention in his short memorial biography in the 1902 Proceedings of the State Bar Association.

Two years after statehood, Lake Superior’s connection to the rest of Wisconsin was hardly existent.  This was long before Highways 51 and 53 were built, and commerce still flowed west to east.  Any communication to or from Madison was likely to first go through Michigan via Mackinaw and Sault Ste. Marie, or through Minnesota Territory via St. Paul, Stillwater, and Sandy Lake.  La Pointe County had been created in 1845, and when official business had to happen, a motley assortment of local residents who could read and write English:  Charles Oakes, John W. Bell, Antoine Gordon, Alexis Carpentier, Julius Austrian, Leonard Wheeler, etc. would meet to conduct the business.

It is unclear how much notice the majority Ojibwe and French-patois speaking population took of this or of the census generally.  To them, the familiar institutions of American power, the Fur Company and the Indian Agency, were falling apart at La Pointe and reorganizing in St. Paul with dire consequences for the people of Chequamegon.  When Johnson arrived in September, the Ojibwe people of Wisconsin had already been ordered to remove to Sandy Lake in Minnesota Territory for their promised annual payments for the sale of their land.  That fall, the government would completely botch the payment, and by February, hundreds of people in the Lake Superior Bands would be dead from starvation and disease.

So, Daniel Johnson probably found a great deal of distraction and anxiety among the people he was charged to count.  Indians, thought of by the United States as uncivilized federal wards and citizens of their own nations, were typically not enumerated.  However, as I wrote about in my last post, race and identity were complicated at La Pointe, and the American citizens of the Chequamegon region also had plenty to lose from the removal.

Madison, for its part, largely ignored this remote, northern constituency and praised the efforts to remove the Ojibwe from the state.  It isn’t clear how much Johnson was paying attention to these larger politics, however.  He had his own concerns:

Johnson1Johnson2Johnson3

House Documents, Volume 119, Part 1.  U.S. Government Printing Office, 1859.  Google Books.

So, in “that thinly settled and half civilized region,” Johnson only found a population of about 500, “exclusive of Indians.”  He didn’t think 500 was a lot, but by some counts, that number would have seemed very high.  Take the word of a European visitor to La Pointe:

Among 200 Indians, only a few white families live there. One of the boatmen gave us a name, with which we found Mr. Austrian.                           

~Carl Scherzer, 1852

And, from this Mr. Austrian, himself:

There were only about 6 white American inhabitants on the Island, about 50 Canadian Frenchmen who were married to squaws, and a number of full blooded Indians, among whom was chief Buffalo who was a descendant of chiefs & who was a good Indian and favorably regarded by the people.

~Joseph Austrian, Brother of Julius and La Pointe resident 1851-52

Who lived around La Pointe in 1850?

In her biography, William W. Warren:  the Life, Letters, and Times of an Ojibwe LeaderTheresa Schenck describes the short life of an ambitious young man from La Pointe.  William Whipple Warren (1825-1853) grew up on the Island speaking Ojibwe as his first language.  His father was a Yankee fur trader from New York.  His mother was a daughter of Michel and Madeline Cadotte.  In his famous History of the Ojibways Warren describes the Ojibwe as people with whom he readily claims kinship, but he doesn’t write as if he is an Ojibwe person himself.  However, he helped interpret the Treaty of 1847 which had definitively made him an Indian in the eyes of the United States (a fact he was willing to use for economic gain).  Still, a few years later, when he became a legislator in Minnesota Territory he dismissed challenges to his claims of whiteness.

If he were alive today, Warren might get a chuckle out of this line from the South African comedian Trevor Noah.

People mocked me. Gave me names like mixed breed, half caste — I hate that term ‘half’. Why half? Why not double? Or twice as nice, I don’t know.

— Trevor Noah

William Warren did not see himself as quite the walking contradiction we might see him as today.  He was a product of the time and place he came from:  La Pointe.  By 1850, he had left that place, but his sister and a few hundred of his cousins still lived there. Many of them were counted in the census.

What is Metis?

Half-breeds, Mixed-bloods, Frenchmen, Wiisakodewininiwag, Mitif, Creoles, Metis, Canadiens, Bois Brules, Chicots, French-of-the-country, etc.–at times it seems each of these means the same thing. At other times each has a specific meaning. Each is ambiguous in its own way.  In 1850, roughly half the families in the Chequamegon area fit into this hard-to-define category.

Kohl1

Kohl2

Kohl, J. G. Kitchi-Gami: Wanderings around Lake Superior. London: Chapman and Hall, 1860.  pg. 260-61.
“Where do I stay?  I cannot tell you.  I am a voyageur–I am a Chicot, sir.  I stay everywhere.  My grandfather was a voyageur; he died on voyage.  My father was a voyageur; he died on voyage.    I will also die on voyage and another Chicot will take my place.” ~Unnamed voyageur qtd. in Kohl
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 drawn more to the great American race, they thought, felt, and spoke—Indian!  ~Carl Scherzer

 

 

 

 

 

In describing William Warren’s people, Dr. Schenck writes,

Although the most common term for people of mixed Indian and European ancestry in the nineteenth century was “half-breed,” the term “mixed blood” was also used.  I have chosen to use the latter term, which is considered less offensive, although biologically inaccurate, today.  The term “métis” was not in usage at the time, except to refer to a specific group of people of mixed ancestry in the British territories to the north.  “Wissakodewinini,” the word used by the Ojibwe, meant “burned forest men,” or bois brulés in French, so called because half-breeds were like the wood of a burned forest, which is often burned on one side, and light on the other (pg. xv).

Schenck is correct in pointing out that mixed-blood was far more commonly used in 19th-century sources than Metis (though the latter term did exist).  She is also correct in saying that the term is more associated with Canada and the Red River Country.  There is an additional problem with Metis, in that 21st-century members of the Wannabe Tribe have latched onto the term and use it, incorrectly, to refer to anyone with partial Native ancestry but with no affiliation to a specific Indian community.

That said, I am going to use Metis for two reasons.  The first is that although blood (i.e. genetic ancestry) seemed to be ubiquitous topic of conversation in these communities, I don’t think “blood” is what necessarily what defined them.  The “pure-blooded French Voyageur” described above by Kohl clearly saw himself as part of Metis, rather than “blanc” society.  There were also people of fully-Ojibwe ancestry who were associated more with Metis society than with traditional Ojibwe society (see my post from April).  As such, I find Metis the more versatile and accurate term, given that it means “mixed,” which can be just as applicable to a culture and lifestyle as it is to a genetic lineage.

louis_riel.jpg

One time Canadian pariah turned national hero, Louis Riel and his followers had cousins at La Pointe (Photo:  Wikipedia)

The second reason I prefer Metis is precisely because of the way it’s used in Manitoba.  Analogous to the mestizo nations of Latin America, Metis is not a way of describing any person with Native and white ancestry.  The Metis consider themselves a creole-indigenous nation unto themselves, with a unique culture and history.  This history, already two centuries old by 1850, represents more than simply a borrowed blend of two other histories.  Finally, the fur-trade families of Red River came from Sault Ste. Marie, Mackinac, Grand Portage, and La Pointe. There were plenty of Cadottes, Defaults, Roys, Gurnoes, and Gauthiers among them.  There was even a Riel family at La Pointe.  They were the same nation    

Metis and Ojibwe Identity in the American Era

When the 1847 Treaty of Fond du Lac “stipulated that the half or mixed bloods of the Chippewas residing with them shall be considered Chippewa Indians, and shall, as such, be allowed to participate in all annuities which shall hereafter be paid…” in many ways, it contradicted two centuries of tradition.  Metis identity, in part, was dependent on not being Indian.  They were a minority culture within a larger traditional Anishinaabe society.  This isn’t to say that Metis people were necessarily ashamed of their Native ancestors–expressions of pride are much easier to find than expressions shame–they were just a distinct people. This was supposedly based in religion and language, but I would argue it came mostly from paternal lineage (originating from highly-patriarchal French and Ojibwe societies) and with the nature of men’s work.  For women, the distinction between Ojibwe and Metis was less stark.

The imposition of American hegemony over the Chequamegon region was gradual.  With few exceptions, the Americans who came into the region from 1820 to 1850 were adult men.  If new settlers wanted families, they followed the lead of American and British traders and married Metis and Ojibwe women. 

Still, American society on the whole did not have a lot of room for the racial ambiguity present in Mexico or even Canada.  A person was “white” or “colored.”  Race mixing was seen as a problem that affected particular individuals.  It was certainly not the basis for an entire nation.  In this binary, if Metis people weren’t going to be Indian, they had to be white.

The story of the Metis and American citizenship is complicated and well-studied.  There is risk of overgeneralizing, but let’s suffice to say that in relation to the United States government, Metis people did feel largely entitled to the privileges of citizenship (synonymous with whiteness until 1865), as well as to the privileges of Ojibwe citizenship.  There wasn’t necessarily a contradiction.

Whatever qualms white America might have had if they’d known about it, Metis people voted in American elections, held offices, and were counted by the census.

Ojibwe “Full-bloods” and the United States Census

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which
may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.     

~Excerpt from Article I Section II, U. S. Constitution

As I argued in the April post, our modern conception of “full-blood” and “mixed-blood” has been shaped by the “scientific” racism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  The distinction, while very real in a cultural sense, was not well-grounded in biology.

The relationship of Indians (i.e. full-bloods or those living a traditional lifestyle) to American society and citizenship was possibly more contradictory then that of the Metis.  In one sense, America saw Indians as foreigners on their own continent:  either as enemies to be exterminated, or as domestic-dependent ward nations to be “protected.”  The constitutional language about the census calls for slaves to be counted as three-fifths of a person.  It says Indians shouldn’t be counted at all.

In another sense, however, the path to personhood in America was somewhat clearer for Indians than it was for African Americans.  Many New England liberals saw exodus to Liberia as the only viable future for free blacks. These same voices felt that Indians could be made white if only they were separated from their religions, cultures, and tribal identities.  In 1834, to avoid a second removal, the Brothertown Indians of Wisconsin petitioned congress for citizenship and the termination of collective title to their tribal lands.  In 1839, their request was granted.  In the eyes of the law, they had effectively become white.  Other communities would follow suit.  However, most Native people did not gain any form of American citizenship until 1924.

How did that play out for the Ojibwe people of Chequamegon, and how did it impact the 1850 census?  Well, it’s complicated.

Race, the Census, and Classifying Households 

The enumeration forms Daniel H. Johnson carried to La Pointe had more rows and columns than ever.  The Seventh Census was the first to count everyone in the household by name (previous versions only listed the Head of Household with tally marks).  It was also the first census to have a box for “color.”  Johnson’s choices for color were “white,” “black,” and “mulatto,” forcing him to make some decisions.

He seems to have tried to follow the Indians not taxed clause strictly.  40-50% of households in the region were headed by a full-blood Ojibwe person, possibly only two of them were enumerated.  You won’t find Chief Buffalo, Makadebinesi (Blackbird), Oshkinaawe, Omizhinaawe, Edawegiizhig, and their immediate families in the 1850 census.  Jechiikwii’o (often called Little Buffalo) is not in the document, even though he was an early Catholic convert, dressed in “white” clothing, and counted more Metis Ojibwe among his followers than full-bloods.  However, his son, Antoine Buffalo Sr. (Antoine Jachequaon) is counted.  Antoine, along with George Day, were counted as white heads of household by the census, though it is unclear if they had any European ancestry (Sources conflict.  If anyone has genealogical information for the Buffalo and Day families, feel free to comment on the post).  A handful of individuals called full-bloods in other sources, were listed as white.  This includes 90-year old Madeline Cadotte, Marie Bosquet, and possibly the Wind sisters (presumably descendants of Noodin, one of the St. Croix chiefs who became Catholic and relocated to La Pointe around this time).  They were married to Metis men or lived in Metis households.  All Metis were listed as white.

Johnson did invent new category for five other Ojibwe people:  “Civilized Indian,” which he seemed to use arbitrarily.  Though also living in Metis households, Mary Ann Cadotte, Osquequa Baszina, Marcheoniquidoque, Charlotte Houle, and Charles Loonsfoot apparently couldn’t be marked white the way Madeline Cadotte was.  These extra notations by Johnson and other enumeration marshals across the country are why the Seventh Federal Census is sometimes referred to as the first to count Native Americans.        

Enumerated Population by Race_ (1850 Census La Pointe and Bad River).svg

So, out of 470 individuals enumerated at La Pointe and Bad River (I’ve excluded Fond du Lac from my study) Johnson listed 465 (99%) as white.  By no definition, contemporary or modern, was the Chequamegon area 99% white in 1850.  The vast majority of names on the lines had Ojibwe ancestry, and as Chippewas of Lake Superior, were receiving annuities from the treaties.

There were a few white American settlers.  The Halls had been at La Pointe for twenty years.  The Wheelers were well-established at Odanah.  Junius and Jane Welton had arrived by then.  George Nettleton was there, living with a fellow Ohioan James Cadwell.  The infamous Indian agent, John Watrous, was there preparing the disastrous Sandy Lake removal.  Less easy to describe as American settlers, but clearly of European origins, Fr. Otto Skolla was the Catholic priest, and Julius Austrian was the richest man it town.

There were also a handful of American bachelors who had drifted into the region and married Metis women.  These first-wave settlers included government workers like William VanTassel, entrepreneurs like Peter VanderVenter, adventurers with an early connection to the region like Bob Boyd and John Bell, and homesteaders like Ervin Leihy.

For several reasons, Metis genealogy can be very difficult.  For those interested in tracing their La Pointe ancestors to Quebec or anywhere else, Theresa Schenck’s All Our Relations:  Chippewa Mixed Bloods and the Treaty of 1837 is an absolutely essential resource.

It is unclear how many of French-surnamed heads of household were Chicots (of mixed ancestry) and how many were Canadiens (of fully-French ancestry).  My sense is that it is about half and half.  Some of this can be inferred from birthplace (though a birthplace of Canada could indicate across the river at Sault Ste. Marie as easily it could a farm in the St. Lawrence Valley).  Intense genealogical study of each family might provide some clarifications, but I am going to follow Kohl’s voyageurs and not worry too much about it.  Whether it was important or not to Jean Baptiste Denomie and Alexis Carpentier that they had no apparent Indian ancestry and that they had come from “the true homeland” of Quebec, for all intents and purposes they had spent their whole adult lives in “the Upper Country,” and their families were “of the Country.”  They were Catholic and spoke a form of French that wasn’t taught in the universities.  American society would not see them as white in the way it saw someone like Sherman Hall as white.

So, by my reckoning, 435 of the 470 people counted at La Pointe  (92.5%) were Metis, full-blood Ojibwe living in Metis households, or Canadians in Metis families.  Adding the five “Civilized Indians” and the six Americans married into Metis families, the number rises to 95%.  I am trying to track down accurate data on the of Indians not taxed (i.e. non-enumerated full-bloods) living at or near La Pointe/Bad River at this time.  My best estimates would put it roughly the same as the number of Metis.  So, when Johnson describes a land with a language and culture foreign to English-speaking Americans, he’s right.

Birthplace, Age, and Gender

Ethnic composition is not the only data worth looking at if we want to know what this area was like 169 years ago.  The numbers both challenge and confirm assumptions of how things worked.

Let’s take mobility for example:

Reported Birthplace_ (1850 Census La Pointe and Bad River).svg

The young voyageur quoted by Kohl may have felt like he didn’t have a home other than en voyage, but 86% of respondents reported being born in Wisconsin.  Except for ten missionary children, all of these were Metis or “Civilized Indian.”  Wisconsin could theoretically mean Lac du Flambeau, Rice Lake, or even Green Bay, this but this number still seemed high to me.  I’m guessing more than 14% of 21st-century Chequamegon residents were born outside the state, and 19th-century records are all about commerce, long-distance travel, and new arrivals in new lands.  We have to remember that most of those records are coming from that 14%.

In September of 1850 the federal government was telling the Ojibwe of Wisconsin they needed to leave Wisconsin forever.  How the Metis fit into the story of the Sandy Lake Tragedy has always been somewhat fuzzy, but this data would indicate that for a clear majority, it meant a serious uprooting.

For those born outside Wisconsin, more than two-thirds reported being born in Michigan, Canada, or Minnesota Territory.  These are overwhelmingly Metis or in the case of Anglo-Canadians like Robert Morrin, heads of Metis households from areas with a fur-trade tradition.  Only eighteen individuals reported being born in the eastern United States.  Only three reported Europe.

I had more questions than assumptions about the gender and age breakdown of the population.  Would there be more women than men because of the dangerous jobs done by men or would mortality from childbirth balance that out?  Or maybe widows wouldn’t be counted if they returned to the wigwams of their mothers?  How would newcomers skew the age and gender demographics of the area?

Let’s take a look:

AG1 Total Enumerated Age Gender

A quick glance at Figure AG 1 shows that the population skewed male 248-222 and skewed very young (61% under 20 years old).  On the eve of Sandy Lake, the natural increase in the population seemed to be booming.

Wisconsin-Born_ (1850 Census La Pointe and Bad River) by Age and Gender.svg

The hypotheses that women had higher mortality rates and were more likely to be undercounted looked good until we limit the data to the Wisconsin-born population.  In Figure AG 2, we see that the male majority disappears entirely.  The youthful trend, indicating large families and a growing population, continues with 66% of the Wisconsin-born population being under 20.

Non-Wisconsin-Born_ (1850 Census La Pointe and Bad River) by Age and Gender.svg

The male skew of the total population was entirely due to those born outside Wisconsin.  This is not surprising given how much we’ve emphasized the number of men who came into the Lake Superior country to marry local women.

A look at the oldest residents in chart AG 2 and AG 3 hints at another story.  Madeline Cadotte is the only Wisconsin-born person over seventy to be counted.  The oldest men all came from Michigan and Canada.  Why?  My hypothesis is that between the fall of New France in 1759 and the establishment of Michel Cadotte’s post sometime around 1800, there wasn’t a large population or a very active fur trade around La Pointe proper.  That meant Cadotte’s widow and other full bloods were the oldest locally-born residents in 1850.  Their Metis contemporaries didn’t come over from the Soo or down from Grand Portage until 1810 or later.

Economics

Before the treaties, the economy of this area was built on two industries:  foraging and trade.  Life for Ojibwe people revolved around the seasonal harvest of fish, wild rice, game, maple sugar, light agriculture, and other forms of gathering food directly from the land.  Trade did not start with the French, and even after the arrival of European goods into the region, the primary purpose of trade seemed to be for cementing alliances and for the acquisition of luxury goods and sacred objects.  Richard White, Theresa Schenck, and Howard Paap have all challenged the myth of Ojibwe “dependence” on European goods for basic survival, and I find their arguments persuasive.

Trade, though, was the most important industry for Metis men and La Pointe was a center of this activity.  The mid-19th century saw a steep decline in trade, however, to be replaced by a toxic cycle of debts, land sales, and annuity payments.  The effects of this change on the Metis economy and society seem largely understudied.  The fur trade though, was on its last legs. Again, the Austrian travel writer Carl Scherzer, who visited La Pointe in 1852:

After this discussion of the of the rates of the American Fur Company and its agents, we want to add some details about the men whose labor and time exerted such a great influence on the fate and culture of the Indian tribes. We wish to add a few explanatory words about the sad presence on La Pointe of the voyageurs or courriers du bois.

This peculiar class of people, which is like a vein of metal that suddenly disappears within the bedrock and reappears many hundreds of miles away under the same geological conditions, their light reaches the borders of the eastern Canadas. The British people, with their religion and customs, reappeared on the shores of these northern lakes only in 1808 with the Fur Company. For labor they drew on those who could carry their wares across the lakes and communicate with the Indians.

Many young men of adventurous natures left the old wide streets of Montreal and moved into the trackless primeval forests of the West. Young and strong as laborers, they soon started to adopt the lifestyle and language of the aborigines. They married with the Indians and inhabit small settlements scattered throughout those mighty lands which begin at Mackinow Island and come up the upper lake to the region of Minnesota. They almost all speak the Canadian patois along with the language of the Chippewas, the tribe with which they came into kinship. We found only a few, even among the younger generation, who understood English.

Since then, every day the population of the otherwise deserted shore of Lake Superior increases with the discovery of copper mines. The animals driven away by the whirlwind of civilization toward the west, attract the Indians with their sensitive guns, leaving La Pointe, abandoned by the Company for their headquarters at St. Paul in Minnesota. Most voyageurs left the island, having seen their business in ruins and lacking their former importance. Just a few families remain here, making a meager livelihood of hunting, fishing, and the occasional convoy of a few travelers led by business, science, or love of nature who purchase their limited resources.

From Scherzer’s description, two things are clear.  It’s pretty clear from the flowery language of the Viennese visitor.Washington Irving and other Romantic-Era authors had already made the Voyageur into the stock stereotypical character we all know today. Th only change, though, is these days voyageurs are often depicted as representatives of white culture, but that’s a post for another time.

The second item, more pertinent to this post, is that a lot of voyageurs were out of work.  This is especially relevant when we look at our census data.  Daniel Johnson recorded the occupations of all males fifteen or over:

Occupations (1850 Census La Pointe and Bad River) 135 men, 15 years or older, listed with occupations.svg

A full 55% of enumerated men fifteen and older still identified themselves as voyageurs in 1850.  This included teenagers as well as senior citizens.  All were from Metis households, though aside from farmer, all of the other occupation categories in Figure O 1 included Metis people.

Mean Household Size by Occupation_ (1850 Census La Pointe and Bad River) .svg

A look at household sizes did not show voyageurs having to support significantly larger or smaller families when compared to the other occupation categories.

The other piece of economic data collected was value of real estate.  Here we see some interesting themes:

valueofrealestate1850Census.svg

If real estate is a good proxy for wealth in a farming community, it is an imperfect one in the Chequamegon area of 1850.  If a voyageur had no home but the river and portage, then we might not expect him to put his coin into land and buildings.  A teacher or Indian agent might draw a consistent salary but then live in supplied housing before moving on.  With that caveat, let’s dig into the data.

Excluding the single farmer, men in the merchant/trader group controlled the most wealth in real estate, with Julius Austrian controlling as much as the other merchants combined.  Behind them were carpenters and men with specific trades like cooper or shoemaker.  Those who reported their occupation generally as “laborer” were not far behind the tradesmen.  I suspect their real estate holdings may be larger and less varied than expected because of the number of sons and close relatives of Michel Cadotte Sr. who identified themselves as laborers.  Government and mission employees held relatively little real estate, but the institutions they represented certainly weren’t lacking in land or power.  Voyageurs come in seventh, just behind widows and ahead of fishermen of which there were only four in each category.

It is interesting, though, that the second and third richest men (by real estate) were both voyageurs, and voyageur shows a much wider range of households than some of the other categories:  laborers in particular.  With the number of teenagers calling themselves voyageurs, I suspect that the job still had more social prestige attached to it, in 1850, than say farmer or carpenter.

With hindsight we know that after 1854, voyageurs would be encouraged to take up farming and commercial fishing.  It is striking, however, how small these industries were in 1850.  Despite the American Fur Company’s efforts to push its Metis employees into commercial fishing in the 1830s, and knowing how many of the family names in Figure O 3 are associated with the industry, commercial fishing seemed neither popular nor lucrative in 1850.  I do suspect, however, that the line between commercial and subsistence fishing was less defined in those days and that fishing in general was seen as falling back on the Indian gathering lifestyle.  It wouldn’t be surprised if all these families were fishing alongside their Ojibwe relatives but didn’t really see fishing (or sugaring, etc.) as an occupation in the American sense.

Finally, it could not have escaped the voyageurs notice that while they were struggling, their former employers and their employers educated sons were doing pretty well.   They also would have noticed that it was less and less from furs. Lump annuity payments for Ojibwe land sales brought large amounts of cash into the economy one day a year.  It must have felt like piranhas with blood in the water.  Alongside their full-blood cousins, Metis Ojibwe received these payments after 1847, but they had more of a history with money and capitalism. Whether to identify with the piranha or the prey would have depended on all sorts of decisions, opportunities and circumstances.

Education and Literacy

The census also collected data on education and literacy, asking whether children had attended school within the year, and whether adults over twenty could read and write.  The history of white education efforts in this area are fairly well documented.  The local schools in 1850 were run by the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions (A.B.C.F.M.) at the La Pointe and Odanah missions, and an entire generation had come of age at La Pointe in the years since Rev. Sherman Hall first taught out of Lyman Warren’s storehouse in 1831.  These Protestant ministers and teachers railed against the papists and heathens in their writings, but most of their students were Catholic or traditional Ojibwe in religion.  Interestingly, much of the instruction was done in the Ojibwe language.  Unfortunately, however, the census does not indicate the language an individual is literate in.  I highly recommend The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 1833-1849 if you are interested in these topics.

To start with, though, let’s look at how many people were going to school:

Number of Pupils by Age_ (1850 Census La Pointe and Bad River).svg

Thirty-nine students had gone to school in the previous year.  There is a lot of sample-size noise in the data, but it seems like ages 7-11 (what we would call the upper-elementary years) were the prime years to attend school.

Reported School Attendance for Children Ages 5-16_ (1850 Census La Pointe and Bad River).svg

Overall, most children had not attended school within the year.  Attendance rates were slightly higher for boys than for girls.  White children, all from two missionary families, had a 100% attendance rate compared to 24% for the Metis and “Civilized Indian” children.

We should remember, however, that not attending school within the year is not the same as having never attended school.  Twelve-year-old Eliza Morrin (later Morrison) is among the number that didn’t attend school, but she was educated enough to write her memoirs in English, which was her second language. They were published in 2002 as A Little History of My Forest Life, a fascinating account of Metis life in the decades following 1854.

Eliza’s parents were among the La Pointe adults who could read and write.  Her aunt, uncle, and adult cousins in the neighboring Bosquet (Buskey) house were not.  Overall, just over half of adults over 20 were illiterate without a significant gender imbalance.  Splitting by birthplace, however, shows the literacy rate for Wisconsin-born (i.e. Metis and “Civilized Indian”) was only 30%, down from the overall male literacy rate of 48%.  For Wisconsin-born women, the drop is only three points, from 47% to 44%.  This suggests Metis women were learning to read while their husbands and brothers (perhaps en voyage) were not.

Literacy Rate for Adults over 20 (1850 Census La Pointe and Bad River) by Gender and Birthplace_.svg

And this is exactly what the data say when we split by occupation.  The literacy rate for voyageurs was only 13%.  This beats fisherman–all four were illiterate–but lagged far behind all other types of work.

Literacy Rate for Adults over 20 (1850 Census La Pointe and Bad River) by Occupation_.svg

If education was going to be a factor in the economic mobility of unemployed voyageurs, the trends weren’t looking good.

Odds and Ends

Two marriages were reported as occurring in the year previous to the census:  Peter and Caroline Vanderventer and Pierre and Marguerite Robideaux (ak.a. Peter and Margaret Rabideaux).   Though married, however, Caroline was not living with her husband, a 32-year old grocer from New York.  She (along with their infant daughter) was still in the home of her parents Benjamin and Margaret Moreau (Morrow).  The Vanderventers eventually built a home together and went on to have several more children. It appears their grandson George Vanderventer married Julia Rabideaux, the granddaughter of Peter and Margaret.

I say appears in the case of George and Julia, because Metis genealogy can be tricky.  It requires lots of double and triple checking.  Here’s what I came across when I once tried to find an unidentified voyageur known only as Baptiste:

Voyageurs by Given Name (1850 Census La Pointe and Bad River)

Sometimes it feels like for every Souverain Denis or Argapit Archambeau, there are at least 15 Jean-Baptiste Cadottes, 12 Charles Bresettes, 10 Francois Belangers and 8 Joseph DeFoes.  Those old Canadian names had a way of persisting through the generations.  If you were a voyageur at La Pointe in 1850, there was nearly a 30% chance your name was Jean-Baptiste. To your friends you might be John-Baptist, Shabadis, John, JB, or Battisens, and you might be called something else entirely when the census taker came around.

The final column on Daniel Johnson’s census asked whether the enumerated person was “deaf and dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, pauper, or convict.”  20 year-old Isabella Tremble, living in the household of Charles Oakes, received the unfortunate designation of idiotic.  26-year-old Francois DeCouteau did not have a mark in that column, but had “Invalid” entered in for his occupation.    It’s fair to say we’ve made some progress in the treatment of people with disabilities.

Final Thoughts

I am not usually a numbers person when it comes to history.  I’ll always prefer a good narrative story, to charts, tables, and cold numbers.  Sometimes, though, the numbers help tell the story.  They can help us understand why when Louis Gurnoe was killed, no one was held accountable.  At the very least, they can help show us that the society he lived in was under significant stress, that the once-prestigious occupation of his forefathers would no longer sustain a family, and that the new American power structure didn’t really understand or care who his people were.

Ultimately, the census is about America describes itself.  From the very beginning, it’s never been entirely clear if in E. pluribus unum we should emphasize the pluribus or the unum.  We struggled with that in 1850, and we still struggle today.  To follow the Department of Commerce v. New York citizenship case, I recommend Scotusblog.  For more census posts about this area in the 19th century, keep following Chequamegon History.

Sources, Data, and Further Reading
  • Paap, Howard D. Red Cliff, Wisconsin a History of an Ojibwe Community ; Volume 1 The Earliest Years: the Origin to 1854. North Star Press of St. Cloud, Inc., 1854.
  • Satz, Ronald N. Chippewa Treaty Rights: the Reserved Rights of Wisconsin’s Chippewa Indians in Historical Perspective. University of Wisconsin Press, 1997.
  • Original Census Act of May 23, 1850 (includes form and instructions for marshals). (PDF)
  • Compiled data spreadsheets (Google Drive Folder) I’ll make these a lot more user friendly in future census posts.  By the time it occurred to me that I should include my tables in this post, most of them were already done in tally marks on scrap paper.
  • Finally, these are the original pages, scanned from microfilm by FamilySearch.com.  I included the image for Fond du Lac (presumably those living on the Wisconsin side of the St. Louis River) even though I did not include it in any of the data above.

 

 

By Leo Filipczak

When we last checked in with Joseph Austrian, or Doodooshaaboo (milk) as he was known in these parts, we saw some interesting stories and insights about La Pointe in 1851.  The later La Pointe stories, however, are where the really good stuff is.

Austrian’s brief stay on the island came at arguably one of the most important periods in our area’s history, spanning from a few months after the Sandy Lake Tragedy, until just after Chief Buffalo’s return from Washington D.C.  Whether young Joseph realized it or not, he recorded some valuable history.  In his memoir, we see information about white settlement and land speculation prior to the Treaty of 1854, as well as corroborating accounts of the La Pointe and Bayfield stories found in the works of Carl Scherzer and Benjamin Armstrong.

Most importantly, there is a dramatic scene of a showdown between the Lake Superior chiefs and Agent John Watrous, one of the architects of the Sandy Lake removal.  In this, we are privileged to read the most direct and succinct condemnation of the government, I’ve ever seen from Chief Buffalo.  It is a statement that probably deserves to be memorialized alongside Flat Mouth’s scathing letter to Governor Ramsey.    

So, without further ado, here is the second and final installment of Joseph Austrian’s memoirs of La Pointe, and fifth of this series.  Enjoy:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~   

 

Memoirs of Doodooshaboo

… continued from La Pointe 1851-1852 (Part 1).

 

Scherzer, Noted Traveller Pays Us a Visit.  1851.

Carl Scherzer and his companion Moritz Wagner recorded their travels in Reisen in Nordamerkia in der Jahren 1852 und 1853.  An e-translation of Chapter 21 appeared in English for the first time this fall on the Chequamegon History website.  You can read it here, here, and here.  The second installment records his time with Joseph Austrian.  From Austrian’s account, it appears Wagner did not accompany Scherzer through the Lake Superior country.  (Wikimedia Images)

During this summer a noted Austrian traveler Carl Scherzer arrived one Sept. night.  He had been commissioned by the “Academy of Science” of Vienna (a Government Institution) to make a tour of America to familiarize himself with the country and gather information to write a book for the Academy. This interesting book which he wrote is called “Scherzer’s Reisen.”  Mr. S. sent me a copy of this book which I have in my library.  In this book, mention is made of me and my cordial reception of him and his travelling companion, an Attache of the French Legation of Washington who accompanied him on his trip.  Scherzer was a highly educated gentleman, cultured and charming, tall and of imposing appearance.  Scherzer arrived at La Pointe at midnight coming from Ontonagan 90 miles in a small row boat.  To his dismay, he found that there was not a hotel in the place.  The boatman told him that he thought that one Austrian might give him shelter for the night, so he came to the house and knocked at the door.  Henry Schmitz, my fellow employee, who roomed with me opened the door and called out “Joe step auf freund von below sind da,” whereupon I cordially invited them to enter and made them as comfortable as possible.  They remained with us about three days and profoundly appreciated our hospitality.  Even making mention of it later on in his book.  Once on going to a fishing boat for our supply of fish, Scherzer went with me and begged the privilege of carrying two of the large fine white fish, one suspended from each hand.  He much enjoyed meeting the good Father Skolla, his country-mate, also an Austrian, and from him obtained more valuable and authentic information concerning that part of Lake Superior country that he could have otherwise gained.  From La Point Scherzer planned to go to St. Paul.  There were no railroads here at that time.  There were but two roads leading to St. Paul.  One was simply a footpath of several hundred miles through the woods.  The other led via St. Croix [Brule?] & St. Croix river shortening the foot travel considerably.  Scherzer chose the latter road.  I fitted out for him, at his request, a birch bark canoe and utensils and all necessary for the trip and Scherzer and his companion started on their way to St. Paul.

In Reisen in Nordamerika, Scherzer contradicts Austrian’s statement that the voyageurs who brought the travel writer from Ontanagon also brought him down the Brule and St. Croix.  The men who departed with him from La Pointe are identified only as Souverain, an older man, and Jean-Baptise, a young man.  Souverain Denis is the likely suspect for the captain, and if Austrian is correct here, it appears Jean-Baptise Belanger (Balange) was his partner.

He had engaged one “Balange” their voyageur who had brought them from Ontonoagan and a friend of his to take them through.  They were well acquainted with the route which at times necessitated their carrying the canoes around through the woods across the portage, where the river was inaccessible through rapids, obstacles and otherwise.  Scherzer arrived at St. Paul safely and wrote thanking me for my assistance and requesting me to send him a copy of the wording of a French rowing song (the oarsmen usually sang keeping time with their oars).  I sent it to him and received a letter of thanks from New Orleans whence he had gone from St. Paul by steamer via the Mississippi River.  This song is embodied in his book also.

A Steamer was a rare occurrence at La Point and when one did come, we often got up an Indian war dance or other Indian exhibit for the amusement of its passengers, and which they enjoyed greatly.  In the fall of the year steamers were sometimes driven there by the storms prevailing on the lakes, as the harbor offered the best of shelter.  We kept a good supply of cord wood on the dock which we sold to the steamers when they needed fuel.

 

Indians Decline to be Removed by Gov.  I attend Grand Council.  1851.

Although the Government had botched the previous year’s removal, leading to hundreds of deaths, John Watrous illegally told the Ojibwe chiefs in 1851 that they would have to remove to Sandy Lake again.  The Lake Superior bands adamantly refused.  Some of the details here, however, suggest that this may actually depict the Buffalo-Watrous showdown, over the same issue, that occurred at La Pointe in the summer of 1852.  Scherzer’s visit, described above, was in 1852, but Austrian (writing over fifty years later) puts it in 1851.  For more on the politics of the years following Sandy Lake, read (Paap, Howard D. Red Cliff, Wisconsin: A History of an Ojibwe Community. St. Cloud, MN: North Star, 2013.), and Bruce White’s section of (McClurken, James M., and Charles E. Cleland. Fish in the Lakes, Wild Rice, and Game in Abundance: Testimony on Behalf of Mille Lacs Ojibwe Hunting and Fishing Rights / James M. McClurken, Compiler ; with Charles E. Cleland … [et Al.]. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State UP, 2000).

During the first summer of my stay at La Point, the Indian Agent, Mr. Watrous was directed by the Secretary of the Indian Dept. at Washington to summon the chiefs of that part of the Chippewa tribe residing in the vicinity of Bad River, Bayfield, & Red River for a council.  The Agent accordingly sent runners around to the chiefs of the different lodges some of which were quite remote, summoning them to meet him on a certain day at La Point.  They came in obedience to the summons many bringing their squaws, papooses and their Indians of their lodges with them.  Near the lake shore the put up their wigwams, which were made of birch bark leaving an opening over hung with a blanket which served as a doorway.  It made an interesting Indian settlement.  The meeting was held on the appointed day, in my brother’s store which was a long wooden structure.  When the meeting opened the chiefs sat on the floor arranged along the left side of the room, with their blankets wrapped around them, and each one smoking a long stemmed pipe, which they make themselves, the sign of peace, many ornamented with paint and feathers.  On the other side of the room was seated the Indian Agent with an interpreter who translated what either had said.

I naturally felt greatly interested in witnessing their proceedings.  The President of the U. S. was known by the Indians as the Great Father and the Agent addressed them telling them what the Great Father wanted of them; namely that they remove from their reservations to interior points in order to make room for while settlers; pointing out to them that the proposed location was more suited for them, there being good fishing and hunting grounds.  The government offered to pay them besides certain annuities, partly in money and partly in Indian goods–such as blankets, cotton, beads, provisions, etc.  The proposition of the Government was met with murmurs of disapproval by the chiefs & Indians present, and Chief Buffalo made a most eloquent and impassioned speech saying,

“Go back to the ‘Great Father’ and tell him to keep the money and his goods.  We do not want them but we wish to be left in peace.  Tell him we will not move from the land that is our own, that we have always been peaceable and were always happy until the white man came among our people and sold ‘Matchie Mushkiki [majimashkiki (bad medicine)]’ (poison-whiskey) to them.“

(The real name of whiskey in Indian is “Ushkota wawa [ishkodewaaboo]” – fire water).

The Indians did remain and to this day are still occupying the same land.  I was present at this meeting and it so impressed me, that although it took place over fifty years ago it is still vivid in my mind.  Later on the Government encouraged the same Indians to engage in farming work on the reservation, and furnishing them with implements and seeds for that purpose, and in the course of a few years they had their own little farms on which they raised potatoes and other vegetables easily cultivated.  Schools also were established by the Government.  One of their large settlements today is on Bad River, and not far from Ashland Wis., known by the name of Odana.

 

Brother Marx Experience with Indians.  1851 .

Marx Austrian did not immigrate until 1853, or marry his first wife Malea until a year later.  His received a land patent for this claim from the General Land Office in Superior City during 1857.  This would date his pre-emption to the winter of 1855-1856, a few months before Bayfield was established by the Bayfield Land Company, not 1851.
Exciting research is being done on the land speculation and corruption in this area (much of it involving the Austrian brothers), just before and after the Treaty of 1854.  It was Henry M. Rice, richer and more powerful than even Julius Austrian, who eventually cashed in on the plots that became Bayfield.

Our blind brother Marx Austrian with brother Julius’ assistance at that time, preempted 160 acres of land near Bayfield from La Point, complying with preemption laws.  He built a small log house living there with his wife.  One night during their first winter in their new house, there was a knock at the door, and when opened they were confronted by a number of Indians, who were evidently under the influence of liquor and who swinging their tomahawks vigorously, making all sorts of threatening demands.  An old Indian who knew Marx interceded and enabled him and his wife to escape without injury who thoroughly scared fled panic stricken in the dark about two miles at night, over the ice, on the Bay which was covered with a foot of snow to La Point for safety.  The poor woman having the hazardous task of leading her blind husband over this long and difficult road, not to come back again and glad to escape with their lives and thus abandoning their right of preemption.  This place was later on platted and is now known as the Bayfield Addition.

 

My Experience in Lumbering

Brother Julius had a small saw mill operated by water power about two miles back of Bayfield on Pike’s Creek, near which were Pine lands.  In the winter I was sent with some woodsmen to look after the cutting and hauling of Pine logs for the mill.  These logs were hauled by ox teams to the mill.  In the spring I was again sent there to assist in the sawing of these logs into lumber.  We lived in a little log hut near by.  When the snow melted toward spring time, the creek was high and swollen.  One day the force of the waters burst through the dam, carrying it away and the great volume of water rushing down cut a new channel in the bed of which had become a river, and undermining to foundation of our little log house causing it to topple over into it, also carrying away the logs, many of which floated down into Lake Superior and were lost.

Jewish-immigrant brothers, Julius and Joseph Austrian, were prominent La Pointe residents at this time.

Pg. 218-219 (Armstrong, Benj G., and Thomas P. Wentworth. Early Life among the Indians: Reminiscences from the Life of Benj. G. Armstrong : Treaties of 1835, 1837, 1842 and 1854 : Habits and Customs of the Red Men of the Forest : Incidents, Biographical Sketches, Battles, &c. Ashland, WI: Press of A.W. Bowron, 1892).

In the winter when logging was going on, once I was sent across from La Point with a heavy load of provisions and supplies for the men.  This was loaded on a so called “Canadian flat sleigh.”  The road on the way to the mill led down a very steep high hill which half way down had a sharp bend and at this curve stood a tree.  After having started down the hill, the horse was not strong enough to hold back the load, which got the better of him, and pushed him swiftly down the hill with his hind legs dragging after him wedging him against and partly into the tree with his front legs up in the air.  I could not move the heavily laden sleigh with the horse wedged in so tightly I found it impossible to extricate him, and had to go to the mill for assistance.  The sled had to be unloaded before we could free the horse.  See Armstrong’s book in which mention and illustration is given of this as “Austrian up the tree.”  The book is in my library.

 

Ferrying Oxen Across the Bay in Row Boat.

My brother Julius had also a large tract of meadow land on Bad River, where he had a number of men employed in making hay, in order to gather this hay for stacking, a span of cattle and a wagon were needed to haul it.  There being no other means of ferrying them across the bay, one of the large Mackinaw boats of about twenty-five feet keel by six feet beam had to be used to get these over to the other side across a distance of about three miles to the mainland from where they could be driven to the meadow.  I was commissioned to attend to this assisted by four competent boatmen, we finally managed with coaxing and skill to get the two big oxen into the boat, standing them crosswise in it.  We tied their horns to the opposite side of the boat.  The width of the boat was not sufficient to allow them to stand in their natural position which made them restless.  The first thing we knew one of the oxen raised his hind leg and stuck it out over the side of the boat into the water, his other leg soon followed and we had aboard an ox half in the boat, with the weight of his body resting on and threatening to capsize the boat.  We quickly cut the rope which held his head and he fell backward overboard floundering in the water.  Little did I think that we would see the ox alive again.  Imagine my surprise on my return to the Island to find he had swam back to shore safe and sound.  When the other ox saw his mate go overboard, he tried to follow and it required much coaxing and extra feeding to restrain him and finally landed him all right on the opposite shore.

 

Lost in the Woods

Ervin Barnes Leihy was one of first American settlers of this area whose primary employment was not specifically the Indian trade or the missions.

I returned to the Island and the next morning I started for the meadow fields in a birch bark canoe with a Mr. Lehigh who had a little saw mill about five miles up Bad River.  We were obliged to sit in the bottom of the little boat in a most uncomfortable and cramped position, having been warned by the boatman in charge not to move as the least motion is apt to cause the frail craft to capsize.  On arrival at the meadow I found the men busily at work.  They were about to take dinner and I gladly consented to join them, and being hungry relished the spread of fried pork, crackers, and tea.  My companion Mr. Lehigh was bound for his little saw mill up the river where he lived, and I having business to attend to there started with him on a foot trail through the woods.  He loitered on the way picking wild raspberries, just ripe and tempting, but musquitos were thick and vicious and pestered us terribly.  I not being accustomed suffered more than my companion.  Asking him the distance we were still to go, and on his telling me three miles, I became impatient and went ahead alone to get away from the musquitos.  After walking on some time I came to a potato field into which the trail led, but was concealed by the high vines.  Crossing the field I struck a trail on the other side and took for granted it was the one leading to the mill.  On and on I went when it struck me that I had gone further than the three miles, and it dawned on me that I must have taken the wrong path from the potato field and I concluded to turn back and try to reach the meadow.  The sun had gone down, it grew dusk very soon amongst the tall pine and maple trees, in the dense forrest.  It grew so dark that I could not see my trail and became entangled in the underbrush and roots of trees, tripping and falling many times.  I had with me my double barrel shot gun, both barrels being loaded I shot these off to attract Lehigh’s attention. I listened breathlessly for some answer but there was no sign of a human soul and I became thoroughly frightened at the prospect of being lost in the woods but resolved to make the best of it.  I stumbled around and found a log hut near by, which had been put up for temporary use by the Indians in sugar making time.  I had neither matches nor ammunition, by feeling around, I discovered that what had been the doorway was closed up with birch bark. By climbing up I also discovered that the roof had been taken off the hut and I let myself down to see what might be inside.  I found there three rolls of birch bark and a rude bench made of rough poles laid along on one side lengthwise about a foot along the floor, which served as seats for the Indians while boiling the maple sap.  Being tired out I laid down on the rough bench and tried to rest, tying a handkerchief over my face, and with each hand up in the boot sleeves to protect myself from large and ravenous musquitos which tortured me nigh to desperation.  Having no matches with me to kindle a fire or create a smoke I was entirely at their mercy.  Presently I heard a noise on the outside as though of something stealthily climbing over the wall.  The moon was then shining brightly, the sky was clear and on looking up I saw the outlines of a young bear sticking his head over the wall looking down on me.  I sprang up and as I did so the bear jumped back and ran off.  No doubt the odor of the sugar attracted him more than I did.  Under these circumstances rest was out of the question.  I climbed out of the hut and made another attempt to find the lost trail by moonlight, crawling on hands and feet in some places.  In doing so, I placed my gun against a tree and had a hard time to find it again.  I decided there was no use to trip further and climbed back in the hut to stay there till day-light, then with renewed effort after repeated disappointment I finally struck a trail, but at this point I was confused and at a loss to know which direction to take.  I reached a steep hill that I did not remember having passed the day before.  As a last resort I ran up this hill and hallowed & yelled.  An answer came from the valley, from me working there.  Following the sound I reached the meadow.  My face was so swollen from the musquito bites that I was a sight to behold.  After resting and partaking of some food, I again started out for Lehigh’s place one of the me volunteering to show me the way and I arrived there a couple of hours after, and found that it was only one mile from the potato field where I had lost the trail.

For many miles in all other directions in this dense forrest there was not a single habitation nor likelihood of meeting with a soul and here a short time ago a man had been lost and never heard from again.  Hence I was lucky indeed to have found my way out of the woods.  Lehigh cooly informed me that when I saw him that he heard the report of my gun, but had paid no heed to it thinking I would eventually turn up.

 

Lost on the Ice and Night

Alexis was a common name among the mix-blooded families of La Pointe.  Alexis Carpenter Sr. was probably Julius Austrian’s trusted Frenchman.  This was probably Alexis Carpenter, Sr.

One time during the winter Brother Julius sent me with his trusted Frenchman Alexis, to look up certain Indians who owed him for goods and whom he thought would have considerable fur.  This tramp meant about ten miles each way through the woods on an Indian trail the ground being covered with snow.  Taking our faithful dog, who had been trained to hauling with the little toboggan sled, on which to bring back the fur which he hoped to get in payment for our debt.  We started from La Point, and I met with good success gathering quite a little fur.  On our return we reached the Bay shore late in the evening from where we had four or five miles to cross on the ice in order to reach the Island.  We rested for about an hour at an Indian wigwam and partook of some tea (such as it was) that the Indian squaw made for us and then started on. Alexis, acting as pilot went ahead, followed by the dog & then by me.  It was a clear cold night the moon shown brightly, but about half an hour afterwards snow clouds sprang up shutting out the moonlight, Still we pushed ahead.  Soon however Alexis lost his bearings and was uncertain as to direction, but on we went for several hours without reaching the Island.  Presently we encountered ice roughly broken and piled high by the force of a gale from the open lake, which indicated that we were too near the open water and that we had gone too far around the Island instead of the straight for La Point.  We stumbled along, and after having been out about two hours on the ice, with continued walking we managed to reach the shore and with guidance of Alexis tramped along toward La Point reaching there two hours afterwards almost exhausted by the hardships we had endured.

 

Trip to Ontonagon in Row Boat for Winter Supplies.  1851

It was in 1851 when brother Julius expected the last boat of the season would touch at La Point which was usually the case and deliver all his supplies but the quantity was not sufficient to induce the Captain to run in there and consequently he skipped La Pointe, thus leaving us short of necessary provisions for the winter, hence it was necessary to procure the same as best we could.  I was commissioned by my brother Julius to undertake the job which I did by manning a mackinaw boat with five voyageurs.  The boat was loaded with as many barrels of fish as we could carry.  We started for Ontonagon about the middle of November, intending to trade the fish for supplies required.  It was cold, the ground frozen and covered with snow. The wind was fair.  We hoisted our two sails and made good time reaching Montreal River late in the evening where we ran in and tied up for the night.  We had no tent with us but found a deserted log house by the river in which we spent the night.  There was a large open fire place, and my man cutting down a dry tree kindled a brisk wood fire in the fire place.  I slipped into a rough bunk in the room wrapped myself in my blankets and tried to sleep, but in vain.  The smoke from the fire was so dense it nearly suffocated me.  My met lighting a few tallow candles amused themselves playing cards until late at night.

The next morning early, we set sail and again had fair wind, reaching Iron River about noon and Ontonagon that night, next day succeeded in exchanging my fish for provisions and the following day started on our return trip to La Point.  We had mostly fair wind and reached there on the third day in good shape.

 

Another Trip to Ontonagon for Provisions.  1852.

The following year, in 1852, I agains made a similar trip for like reasons but did not have nearly as good luck as on the previous trip.  It was fraught with some danger and combined with a great deal of hardship.  The distance from La Point to Ontonagon is nearly 100 miles, all exposed to the storms of Lake Superior which in the Fall are generally very severe.  On our first day out we encountered a severe snow storm, which compelled us to make a landing near the mouth of Bad River to save the boat, which was threatened to be dashed to pieces on the shore or carried out into the open lake.  So she had to be beached and in order to do this her cargo of fish had all to be thrown overboard when we touched the beach, to lighten her and when this was done she was hauled up on the beach with a block and tackle and fastened to stump of a tree.  The boatmen had to go almost waist deep in the water and roll the heavy barrels up on the beach.  After completing the landing we sought shelter in the nearby woods from the raging storm, we were not equipped for camping, so we took the sail from the boat and stretched it over as far as it would reach for our own protection.  As before the men cut down a dead tree kindled a fire, hanging over it our camp kettle, made tea, tried some pork and this together with some crackers with which we were supplied composed our supper.  To get further away from the wind and snow we had gone further back into the woods to find some protection and there we rolled ourselves in our grey blankets and laid down keeping our faces under the protection of the sail as much as possible.  Being very much exhausted, we fell asleep, in spite of unfavorable conditions.  Toward morning when I awoke I tried to pull my blanket over me a little more but found I could not move it, and discovered that the snow had drifted over us to such an extent that we were fairly buried in it, nothing visible but part of our faces, our breath having kept that free for the time.  After daybreak we again started a fire, and this made things worse as the heat melted the snow on the trees around and water dripped down on our blankets, getting them wet.  We had to hang them near the fire to dry as we collected them later on.  They fairly steamed and we were delayed a whole day in getting arrangements completed to start again on our trip.  Toward morning the wind had subsided considerably, and the snow storm had abated somewhat and again we ventured on our trip.  After going through the same routine of reloading as on our previous occasion.  At 10 A.m. we started on our perilous voyage making good head way, the wind being favorable.  We reached Iron River after midnight.  We detected an Indian wigwam near by, thinking we might be able to get something to eat.  We tied up and investigated.  We peeped into the wigwam and found the same occupied with an Indian family.  The Indian squaw and papooses all tight asleep.  Not wishing to arouse them or to lose further time we moved on stopping early the next morning in a small bay on our route.  Kindling a fire as previously described, preparing a meager breakfast , the best scant supplies would permit.  These boatmen were accustomed to cooking (such as it was) as well as boating it being often a necessity, as they were accustomed to make long coasting trips in the pioneer days of the Lake Superior regions, which was sparsely settled and vessels were very scarce.  Supplies and all merchandise had to be transported all the way from Detroit to Lake Superior on those small Mackinaw boats.  After breakfast we set sail and continued our journey with fair wind enabling us to make good time, but it had grown bitterly cold and as we were but poorly protected for such severe weather.  It cost us untold suffering.

We finally reached Ontonagon River after dark, and to our great consternation found that the river was frozen over about an inch thick with ice.  This was not easy to break through with flimsy craft, but desperation gave strength to our men and they were equal to the situation.  With their heavy oars they pounded and broke the ice managing finally to get inside of the river to the dock of the merchant with whom I expected to do my trading in the town of Ontonagon, which was the Lakeport for the Minnesota and other copper mines in that vicinity, at that time being just developed.  On the following morning I attended to the selling of the load of fish, purchased our supplies and intending to start back for La Point the next morning.

 

Ordered to go to Eagle River.  1852.

Closely connected by marriage and business, the Bavarian-Jewish families Austrian and Leopold became titans of Great Lakes shipping.

In the meantime the propeller Napoleon arrived from there bringing for me a letter from brother Julius, instructing me if still in Ontonagon to take this steamer for Eagle River and to enter the employ of Mr. Henry Leopold, who had a small store there.  His man had left suddenly and he was anxious for my services.  I started for Eagle River just as I was and not until the following spring did I get my trunk.  I began working for Mr. Leopold as bookkeeper and general clerk, and thus abruptly terminated my business career at La Point.  My boatmen under direction of Mr. Henry Schmitz started without me on their return trip to La Point as planned when between Montreal River and Bad River, they encountered a terrific gale and snow storm.  It was so severe that to remain outside meant to be lost, and as a last resort, they ran their boat through the breakers, trying to beach her.  She was swamped with all the supplies, and tossed up on the beach and had to be abandoned for the time being.  Later on another boat was sent on from La Point to get the damaged cargo.  The Napoleon got abreast of Eagle River, this place being on the open shore of Lake Superior without any protection, it being too rough there for the boat to make a landing, therefore she went on to Eagle Harbor, about nine miles distant, where she could safely land.  On arrival there I put up at Charley King boarding house for the night.

To be continued after La Pointe 1852-1854

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Special thanks to Amorin Mello and Joseph Skulan for sharing this document and their important research on the Austrian brothers and their associates with me.  It is to their credit that these stories see the light of day.  This is the end of the La Pointe section, but the original handwritten memoir of Joseph Austrian is held by the Chicago History Museum and contains many interesting stories from the life of this brief resident of La Pointe.

By Leo Filipczak

Chief Buffalo died at La Pointe on September 7, 1855 amid the festivities and controversy surrounding that year’s annuity payment.  Just before his death, he converted to the Catholic faith, and thus was buried inside the fence of the Catholic cemetery rather than outside with the Ojibwe people who kept traditional religious practices.   

His death was noted by multiple written sources at the time, but none seemed to really dive into the motives and symbolism behind his conversion.  This invited speculation from later scholars, and I’ve heard and proposed a number of hypotheses about why Buffalo became Catholic.

Now, a newly uncovered document, from a familiar source, reveals new information.  And while it may diminish the symbolic impact of Buffalo’s conversion, it gives further insight into an important man whose legend sometimes overshadows his life.

Buffalo’s Obituary

The most well-known account of Buffalo’s death is from an obituary that appeared in newspapers across the country.  It was also recorded in the essay, The Chippewas of Lake Superior, by Dr. Richard F. Morse, who was an eyewitness to the 1855 payment.

While it’s not entirely clear if it was Morse himself who wrote the obituary, he seems to be a likely candidate.  Much like the rest of Chippewas of Lake Superior, the obituary is riddled with the inaccuracies and betrays an unfamiliarity with La Pointe society:


 

From Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Volume 3 (Digitized by Google Books)


 

It isn’t hard to understand how this obituary could invite several interpretations, especially when combined with other sources of the era and the biases of 20th and 21st-century investigators (myself included) who are always looking for a symbolic or political explanation.

Here, we will evaluate these interpretations.

Was Buffalo sending a message to the Ojibwe about the future?

The obituary states, “No tongue like Buffalo’s could control and direct the different bands.”  An easy interpretation might suggest that he was trying to send a message that assimilation to white culture was the way of the future, and that all the Ojibwe should follow his lead.  We do see suggestions in the writings of Henry Schoolcraft and William Warren that might support this conclusion.

The problem with this interpretation is that no Ojibwe leader, not even Buffalo, had that level of influence.  Even if he wanted to, which would have been completely contrary to Ojibwe tolerance of religious pluralism, he could not have pulled a Henry VIII and converted his whole nation.  

In fact, by 1855, Buffalo’s influence was at an all-time low.  Recent scholarship has countered the image crafted by Benjamin Armstrong and others, of a chief whose trip to Washington and leadership through the Treaty of 1854 made him more powerful in his final years. Consider this 1852 depiction in Wagner and Scherzer’s Reisen in Nordamerika:

…Here we have the hereditary Chippewa chief, whose generations (totem) are carved in the ancient birch bark,** giving us profuse thanks for just a modest silver coin and a piece of dry cloth. What time can bring to a ruler!

So, did Buffalo decide in the last days of his life that Christianity was superior to traditional ways?

The reason why the obituary and other contemporary sources don’t go into the reasons for Buffalo’s conversion was because they hold the implicit assumption that Christianity is the one true religion.  Few 19th-century American readers would be asking why someone would convert. It was a given.  160 years later, we don’t make this assumption anymore, but it should be explored whether or not this was purely a religious decision on Buffalo’s part.

I have a difficult time believing this.  Buffalo had nearly 100 years to convert to Christianity if he’d wanted to.  The traditional Ojibwe, in general, were extremely resistant to conversion, and there are several  sources depicting Buffalo as a leader in the Midewiwin.  This continuation of the above quote from Wagner and Scherzer shows Buffalo’s relationship to those who felt the Ojibwe needed Christianity.   

Strangely, we later learned that the majestic Old Buffalo was violently opposed for years to the education and spiritual progress of the Indians. Probably, it’s because he suspected a better instructed generation would no longer obey. Presently, he tacitly accepts the existence of the school and even visits sometimes, where like ourselves, he has the opportunity to see the gains made in this school with its stubborn, fastidious look of an old German high council.

Accounts like this suggest a political rather than a spiritual motive.

So, did Buffalo’s convert for political rather than spiritual reasons?

Some have tied Buffalo’s conversion to a split in the La Pointe Band after the Treaty of 1854, and it’s important to remember all the heated factional divisions that rose up during the 1855 payment.  Until recently, my personal interpretation would have been that Buffalo’s conversion represented a final break with Blackbird and the other Bad River chiefs.  Perhaps Buffalo felt alienated from most of the traditional Ojibwe after he found himself in the minority over the issue of debt payments.  His final speech was short, and reveals disappointment and exasperation on the part of the aged leader.  

By the time of his death, most of his remaining followers, including the mix-blooded Ojibwe of La Pointe, and several of his children were Catholic, while most Ojibwe remained traditional. Perhaps there was additional jealousy over clauses in the treaty that gave Buffalo a separate reservation at Red Cliff and an additional plot of land.  We see hints of this division in the obituary when an unidentified Ojibwe man blames the government for Buffalo’s death.  This all could be seen as a separation forming between a Catholic Red Cliff and a traditional Bad River. 

This interpretation would be perfect if it wasn’t grossly oversimplified.  The division didn’t just happen in 1854.  The La Pointe Band had always really been several bands.  Those, like Buffalo’s, that were most connected to the mix-bloods and traders stayed on the Island more, and the others stayed at Bad River more.  Still, there were Catholics at Bad River, and traditional Ojibwe on the Island.  This dynamic and Buffalo’s place in it, were well-established.  He did not have to convert to be with the “Catholic” faction.  He had been in it for years.

Some have questioned whether Buffalo really converted at all.  From a political point of view, one could say his conversion was really a show for Commissioner Manypenny to counter Blackbird’s pants (read this post if you don’t know what I’m talking about).  I see that as overly cynical and out of character for Buffalo.  I also don’t think he was ignorant of what conversion meant.  He understood the gravity of what he was deciding, and being a ninety-year-old chief, I don’t think he would have felt pressured to please anyone.

So if it wasn’t symbolic, political, or religious zeal, why did Buffalo convert?

 

The Kohl article

As he documented the 1855 payment, Richard Morse’s ethnocentric values prevented any meaningful understanding of Ojibwe culture.  However, there was another white outsider present at La Pointe that summer who did attempt to understand Ojibwe people as fellow human beings.  He had come all the way from Germany.

The name of Johann Georg Kohl will be familiar to many readers who know his work Kitchi-Gami:  Wanderings Around Lake Superior (1860).  Kohl’s desire to truly know and respect the people giving him information left us with what I consider the best anthropological writing ever done on this part of the world.

My biggest complaint with Kohl is that he typically doesn’t identify people by name.  Maangozid, Gezhiiyaash, and Zhingwaakoons show up in his work, but he somehow manages to record Blackbird’s speech without naming the Bad River chief.  In over 100 pages about life at La Pointe in 1855, Buffalo isn’t mentioned at all.  

So, I was pretty excited to find an untranslated 1859 article from Kohl on Google Books in a German-language weekly. The journal, Das Ausland, is a collection of writings that a would describe as ethnographic with a missionary bent.  

I was even more excited as I put it through Google Translate and realized it discussed Buffalo’s final summer and conversion.  It has to go out to the English-speaking world.    

So without further ado, here is the first seven paragraphs of Remarks on the Conversion of the Canadian Indians and some Stories of Conversion by Johann Kohl.  I apologize for any errors arising from the electronic translation. I don’t speak German and I can only hope that someone who does will see this and translate the entire article.  


 

 

J. G. Kohl (Wikimedia Images)

Das Ausland.

Eine Wochenschrift

fur

Kunde des geistigen und sittlichen Lebens der Völker

[The Foreign Lands:  A weekly for scholars of the moral and intellectual lives of foreign nations]

Nr. 2 8 January 1859

Remarks on the Conversion of the Canadian Indians and some Stories of Conversion

By J.G. Kohl

A few years ago, when I was on “La Pointe,” one of the so-called “Apostle Islands” in the western corner of the great Lake Superior, there still lived the old chief of the local Indians, the Chippeway or Ojibbeway people, named “Buffalo,” a man “of nearly a hundred years.” He himself was still a pagan, but many of his children, grandchildren and closest relatives, were already Christians.

I was told that even the aged old Buffalo himself “ébranlé [was shaking]”, and they told me his state of mind was fluctuating. “He thinks highly of the Christian religion,” they told me, “It’s not right to him that he and his family be of a different faith. He is afraid that he will be separated in death. He knows he will not be near them, and that not only his body should be brought to another cemetery, but also he believes his spirit shall go into another paradise away from his children.”

But Buffalo was the main representative of his people, the living embodiment, so to speak, of the old traditions and stories of his tribe, which once ranged over not only the whole group of the Apostle Islands, but also far and wide across the hunting grounds of the mainland of northern Wisconsin. His ancestors and his family, “the Totem of the Loons” (from the diver)* make claim to be the most distinguished chiefly family of the Ojibbeways.  Indeed, they believe that from them and their village a far-reaching dominion once reached across all the tribes of the Ojibbeway Nation.  In a word, a kind of monarchy existed with them at the center.

(*The Loon, or Diver, is a well-known large North American bird).

Old Buffalo, or Le Boeuf, as the French call him, or Pishiki, his Indian name, was like the last reflection of the long-vanished glory.  He was stuck too deep in the old superstition.  He was too intertwined with the Medä Order, the Wabanos, and the Jossakids, or priesthood, of his people.  A conversion to Christianity would have destroyed his influence in a still mostly-pagan tribe.  It would have been the equivalent of voluntarily stepping down from the throne he previously had.  Therefore, in spite of his “doubting” state of mind, he could not decide to accept the act of baptism.

One evening, I visited old Buffalo in his bark lodge, and found in him grayed and stooped by the years, but nevertheless still quite a sprightly old man. Who knows what kind of fate he had as an old Indian chief on Lake Superior, passing his whole life near the Sioux, trading with the North West Company, with the British and later with the Americans. With the Wabanos and Jossakids (priests and sorcerers) he conjured for his people, and communed with the sky, but here people would call him an “old sinner.”

But still, due to his advanced age I harbored a certain amount of respect for him myself.  He took me in, so kindly, and never forgot even afterwards, promising to remember my visit, as if it had been an honor for him. He told me much of the old glory of his tribe, of the origin of his people, and of his religion from the East.  I gave him tobacco, and he, much more generously,gave me a beautiful fife. I later learned from the newspapers that my old host, being ill, and soon after my departure from the island, he departed from this earth. I was seized by a genuine sorrow and grieved for him. Those papers, however, reported a certain cause for consolation, in that Buffalo had said on his deathbed, he desired to be buried in a Christian way.  He had therefore received Christianity and the Lord’s Supper, shortly before his death, from the Catholic missionaries, both with the last rites of the Church, and with a church funeral and burial in the Catholic cemetery, where in addition to those already resting, his family would be buried.

The story and the end of the old Buffalo are not unique. Rather, it was something rather common for the ancient pagan to proceed only on his death-bed to Christianity, and it starts not with the elderly adults on their deathbeds, but with their Indian families beginning with their young children. The parents are then won over by the children. For the children, while they are young and largely without religion, the betrayal of the old gods and laws is not so great. Therefore, the parents give allow it more easily. You yourself are probably already convinced that there is something fairly good behind Christianity, and that their children “could do quite well.” They desire for their children to attain the blessing of the great Christian God and therefore often lead them to the missionaries, although they themselves may not decide to give up their own ingrained heathen beliefs.  The Christians, therefore, also prefer to first contact the youth, and know well that if they have this first, the parents will follow sooner or later because they will not long endure the idea that they are separated from their children in the faith. Because they believe that baptism is “good medicine” for the children, they bring them very often to the missionaries when they are sick…

Das Ausland: Wochenschrift für Länder- u. Völkerkunde, Volumes 31-32.  Only about a quarter of the article is translated above.  The remaining pages largely consist of Kohl’s observations on the successes and failures of missionary efforts based on real anecdotes.

Conclusion

According to Johann Kohl, who knew Buffalo, the chief’s conversion wasn’t based on politics or any kind of belief that Ojibwe culture and religion was inferior.  Buffalo converted because he wanted to be united with his family in death.  This may make the conversion less significant from a historical perspective, but it helps us understand the man himself.  For that reason, this is the most important document yet about the end of the great chief’s long life.

  

 

Sources:
Armstrong, Benj G., and Thomas P. Wentworth. Early Life among the Indians:  Reminiscences from the Life of Benj. G. Armstrong : Treaties of 1835, 1837, 1842 and 1854 : Habits and Customs of the Red Men of the Forest : Incidents, Biographical Sketches, Battles, &c. Ashland, WI: Press of A.W. Bowron, 1892. Print.
Kohl, J. G. Kitchi-Gami: Wanderings round Lake Superior. London: Chapman and Hall, 1860. Print.
Loew, Patty. Indian Nations of Wisconsin: Histories of Endurance and Renewal.  Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society, 2001. Print.
McElroy, Crocket.  “An Indian Payment.”  Americana v.5.  American Historical Company, American Historical Society, National Americana Society Publishing Society of New York, 1910 (Digitized by Google Books) pages 298-302.
Morse, Richard F. “The Chippewas of Lake Superior.” Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. Ed. Lyman C. Draper. Vol. 3. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1857. 338-69. Print.
Paap, Howard D. Red Cliff, Wisconsin: A History of an Ojibwe Community. St. Cloud, MN: North Star, 2013. Print.
Satz, Ronald N. Chippewa Treaty Rights: The Reserved Rights of Wisconsin’s Chippewa Indians in Historical Perspective. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, 1991. Print.
Schenck, Theresa M. William W. Warren: The Life, Letters, and times of an Ojibwe Leader. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2007. Print.
Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe, and Seth Eastman. Historical and Statistical Information Respecting the History, Condition, and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Collected and Prepared under the Direction of the Bureau of Indian Affairs per Act of Congress of March 3rd, 1847. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo, 1851. Print.
Wagner, Moritz, and Karl Von Scherzer. Reisen in Nordamerika in Den Jahren 1852 Und 1853. Leipzig: Arnold, 1854. Print.
Warren, William W., and Theresa M. Schenck. History of the Ojibway People. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 2009. 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.

Our last excerpt from Wagner and Scherzer’s Reisen in Nordamerika in den Jahren 1852 und 1853.  The Austrian travelers chronicled their time at La Pointe in September 1852.  In this one, we will read of their adventures in my favorite part of the world, the south shore of Lake Superior between La Pointe and the Brule River.  160 years later, residents of Red Cliff, Little Sand Bay, Cornucopia, Bark Point, Herbster, and Port Wing will still recognize many of the natural features described here, and more interesting anecdotes can add to the small amount of written historical documentation of this part of the world.  Enjoy:

Red Sandstone:  South Shore of Lake Superior:  from David Dale Owen’s Report of a Geological Survey of Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota (1852).

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!

Since the weather was favorable, we decided prospects were right for our trip to the mouth of the Burnt Wood (Bois-brulé) River. We made all the necessary travel arrangements that evening, and even bought supplies of bacon and salted beef for fourteen days of “wild life.” We were also compelled to buy a new birch canoe*, to allow the two Canadians who will conduct us on the waters of the Bois-brulé and La Croix Rivers, through the wilds of Wisconsin to Stillwater, to make the return journey by water instead of through the woods on foot, and we had not been able to arrange for borrowing a boat.

(*These canoes are the only vehicles used by the Indians to navigate the lake. They are either made of a framework of cedar wood and covered with birch bark, with the individual parts made watertight with pitch, or they can also be carved out of a single spruce trunk hollowed to where two or three can sit. The former are preferred for their greater ease and convenience, but the latter are more durable, safer, and less expensive. Our canoe was made of birch bark and measured 18′ in length and 4′ in width. We bought it for 15 dollars, and we were very pleased when we were able to get rid of it at the end of our trip for five dollars).

Monday, September 20th, 53° F. Overcast weather but the lake completely calm, we left accompanied by the pious blessings of the Island’s Franciscan monk.

This time our boat carried a light burden. The captain stayed back out of concern there would be too many hardships and inconveniences. It was very strange to see such an experienced traveler unwisely refuse to carry a proper thick rain coat. With thin boots, a light Carbonari, and a few underwear tied in a small bundle, he took leave of us to shiver in the elements. Addio Capitano!

Our traveling companions were now a young Frenchman and two Canadians, Souverain and Jean Baptiste. The latter two were entrusted with managing the canoe. Souverain, though his thin gray hair, his toothless mouth, and his wrinkled face betrayed the features of advanced age, he was undoubtedly the more able and accomplished of the two voyageurs. Baptiste, however, strong and tireless in his youth, was an excellent complement to the old man.

Indian Sugar Camp (1850) by Seth Eastman, as depicted in Schoolcraft’s Information Respecting the History, Conditions and Prospect of the Indian Tribes of the United States, 1847-1857 (Digitized by Wisconsin Historical Society; Image ID: 9829).

We passed the Apostle Islands, 12 in number, most of which, including “Spook Island” are planted almost exclusively with maple trees (Acer saccharinum), from which the Indians prepare sugar. Every year in March and April, they make deep transverse incisions, from which, like the dripping pitch extracted from pine trees, a fresh green juice flows. Every tree can be tapped 5-6 years, in such a way to be made controllable, before the tree is disabled and is only good for the fire. In La Pointe, about 10 Indian families produce 1000-1500 pounds of sugar every year. In Bad River, there are more than 20 Indian families, who collectively produce 20,000 pounds. A pound of maple sugar is obtained by the traders for one shilling (twelve and one half cents) delivered to the Indians in kind.

Spook Island:  Devil’s Island
Riviere au Sable:  Sand River

We passed several miles of 40-60 foot high red sandstone cliffs, which the lashing tide had formed into the most picturesque architectural forms, among which arch and pillar structures were most prevalent. Several were formed in such a way as to create columned caverns under which a canoe could easily pass. The under-washing of this gigantic mass of rock may explain the gradual extension of the south shore.

Favored by a northwest wind, we had already covered 21 miles in 6 hours, and arrived at Riviere au Sable. We could clearly make out the north shore 50 miles distant, and the mountain chain of the British Territories, whose highest point, according to Dr. Norwood of Cincinnati is 1650 feet.

As with lucky speculators in the trading cities, our canoeists wanted to exploit the favorable wind direction even more. They turned their only protection against the cold, blue and white blankets, into excellent sails. They tied together cloth on one side to secure the oar, while they used green pine branches on the other side to maintain tension against the wind. It always remains dangerous, however, to attach a sail to so volatile a vehicle as a canoe, for a single contrary wind shock can cause the canoe to lose balance and leave the drivers to pay for their daring with terrible flooding.

Bay of Siscawit River:  Siskiwit River (now Cornucopia Beach).

In the evening, just as we were about to pitch our camp at the bay of Siscawit River, we were surprised by a terrible rain that drenched the greater part of our effects and brought great danger to our physical instruments. We were, for a long time, without the benefit of a warm fire, but our perseverance gradually allowed our flickering light to defeat the dampness, and we had flame to cook our modest supper. One often camps at the mouths of these numerous small tributaries of Lake Superior. It has always been this way, and the reason is that during stormy seas on the open water, the bays that surround the mouths of these rivers protect you from the wind and waves.

The small canvas tent, lent to us by the hospitable postmaster in Ontonagon, served us beyond expectation as powerful protection from the cold and wetness. We soon found ourselves under the soaked canvas roof in comfort we hardly thought possible in such harsh camp conditions. We must admit, however, that our foresight in bringing suits made of India rubber to spread on the ground, spared us the rheumatic breaths of the damp earth beneath us.

Tuesday, September 21, 53°F. Persistent rain and completely clouded-over sky with little chance of favorable traveling weather. During the night, the rains became so heavy that they seeped in through the canvas in several areas. Our laundry bags were totally soaked, and there was no opportunity to dry them. When camping like this, one should always keep items requiring special protection in the rear of the tent, and all care should be made to not let them touch the stretched canvas, which once wet will keep everything damp for weeks.

This morning, we had to celebrate wind, that is, a violent northeast wind prevented us from proceeding any further. “Nos sommes dégradés,” the old captain sighed, and told us how he was once stranded by violent storms, and had nothing but a dry biscuit to eat for four days. We held a small war council without a general, but with merely reason to guide us, and decided that due to this delay, we should limit our meals so that we would only enjoy the salted meat every other day. Decreasing to half rations, was necessary, as we were on the treacherous Lake Superior, which as already noted, often makes travel impossible or highly dangerous for weeks on end. Once we reached its desired tributary, the mouth of the Bois-brulé River, we would have no more fear of such a wicked delay from wind and waves.

Around 6 o’clock in the evening, the waves took on a less dangerous character. We quickly pulled down our tent, packed our belongings, and hastily boarded our already-floating boat. In boarding a canoe, caution must always be used to avoid stepping harshly with the whole foot above certain cedar ribs. This can disturb the equilibrium which can have the consequence of losing your effects, or even your life.

After an hour, we had followed a fierce north wind to Pointe aux écorces looking for a refuge. We wandered along the shore until after dark, but the rugged rocky reefs made landing impossible. Finally, we found sandbars, and pitched our tents near a tamarack swamp. Those who travel without a tent can usually find shelter from the rigors of the weather by setting the canoe at the proper angle and finding room underneath it.

Pointe aux ecorces:  Bark Point
Riviere aux Attacas:  Cranberry River (Now Herbster Beach)
Apacha River:  Flagg (Apakwa) River (Now Port Wing).

We camped in a group of pines as tall as the sky. At the foot of these ancient tree trunks, our fire burned like a flaming sacrifice of the ancients. As the two voyageurs fell fast asleep at the entrance of the tent, we continued to feed sticks into the fire so as to not lose its benevolent warmth. Our fire was basically built into the base of a great pine, which gave the whole scene a picturesque backdrop, until the whole thing fell during the night with a heavy crash. This brought us all to our feet, sober and alert. There was no danger, however, as we had put numerous cuts into the tree so that it would fall away from us in the event it gave way.

Wednesday, September 22, 64°F. Northwest wind. The cheerful light of the morning sun woke us weary sleepers early. The seas were pretty rough. Once we had the infamous Point aux écorces at our back, we heard the roar of the busy oncoming waves. The red sandstone remains the predominant formation. The green hills of a moderate height, almost 50′, are embraced by a wide belt of spruce, Scotch Pine, birch, and beech. The more we approach the western end of the lake, Fond du lac, the narrower the space between the southern and northern shores becomes.

At the Riviere aux Attacas, we landed for breakfast. This time, there was bacon, whitefish, tea, butter, and hardtack, all remnants of the past brought from La Pointe. The songs our guides sang to strengthen the heart were far more modest and ethical than the erotic verses of our previous voyageurs who brought us from Ontonagon to La Pointe. The brilliant sunshine gave way to a completely cloudy sky, and a terrible northwest wind blew us into the bay of Apacha River, and there we resignedly made our night camp even though the Bruly River, as the natives call it for short, was only 12 miles away.

In the evening, we unconsciously discovered Souverain’s severe, but honorable, strength of character. We had brought a bottle of franzbranntwein, more for health than to tickle the tongue, and we poured each of our leaders a glass of this invigorating stomach potion. The younger, Baptiste, opened his throat widely and readily, but Souverain steadfastly refused even though he had worked hard all day and had taken little food.

We were curious and asked him about the cause of this refusal. He told us how he was inclined too much toward the spirituous fluids, and that to combat this, as few years ago he joined a temperance society and pledged in writing to abstain for fifty long years from all liquors. Since then, he has had not a drop of wine. His total abstinence went so far that he was not even moved to enjoy a rice broth in which we had mixed a few drops of the franzbranntwein, to give our guides more power.

This incident reminded the Canadians of some humorous anecdotes from living memory. Souverain told of an elder mix-blood who joined him for a limited period of temperance, with the lovely intent of indulging all the more joyously after the “dry” time. Baptiste told of a fisherman in La Pointe, who, since the sale of alcohol is prohibited on the island under penalty of 200 dollars, would get intoxicated almost every day with a bottle of burning hot peppermint water. Since this liquid, when used at low doses, is an excellent and popular remedy for stomach ailments, it was not easy to restrict its sale. Therefore, to save the life of this islander, the magistrate issued a special edict that the sale of peppermint is only allowed in small vials for medicine.

7 o’clock in the evening, 53°F. A gorgeous aurora borealis creates wisps and horizontal streaks of rapidly-changing dreamlike light.

Thursday, September 23, 63°F. We left early, around half past 7 o’clock. The abundant ashes of our extinguished fire, the tree trunk where our kettle hung, and the thin supports, under which our tent assumed its triangular shape, were the only traces left behind as a memorial of our presence.

Galette:  Le Galette (lugalade, “lug”), is known as bannock in Anishinaabe communities with less French influence.

Although a fairly violent south wind blew, he came from the mainland, so the waves on the lake were fairly calm, unlike those of his antagonist the engulfing north wind who yesterday threw the water up on the shore. For breakfast, we had tea, fried bacon, and galette. The latter is a composite made of kneaded flour, water, and compressed yeast dough, that seems extremely difficult to digest. It is usually prepared every morning by a practiced hand, and is gladly enjoyed, even preferred, by the voyageur.

The shotgun of our traveling companions produced a duck that will provide us with an excellent lunch. It is striking how much the forests along the banks are already emptied by Indian rifles. Temporary flocks of ducks and geese, in their autumn migration to a more southerly area, were the only wild species we encountered on our long journey. Likewise, the fishing in this season is extremely sparse, and he who leaves during these journeys to hunt or fish alone, will soon labor hard and bitterly regret his mistake.

Fond du Lac Village, At St. Louis River from David Dale Owen’s Report of a Geological Survey of Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota (1852).

From the Bois Brule River to Fond du Lac, it’s about 21 miles, but to the mission and settlement on the St. Louis River, it’s about 42 miles. We could easily see with the naked eye, the contours of those western hills that mark the limit of this huge navigable water. And so, before we sailed up the Bruly, we paused to behold the joyous satisfaction of reaching the end of this enormous water, now reflecting the sky, on which we had spent 23 busy, enjoyable, and instructive days.

At 11 o’clock in the morning, we finally reached the destination we had anxiously waited for, the Bois-brulé River. Its discharge into Lake Superior was unusually low, but its flow was still very powerful. For our canoemen, it was a matter of routine to skillfully avoid a fatal collision with the bare rocky ridges at the landing.

Our captain had now thrown aside the oars as the long boat poles served better to find the sandy gaps among the rocks. Souverain stood at the upper end of the canoe and directed. He watched with a sharp eye for the moment when the perfect wave would come to our aid and carry us to the landing, and with the signal cry of, “Sauvons-nous!” it came suddenly, and we were borne to shore. We were at the mouth of the Bois-brulé River.

The End, for now…

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.

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.

When we last left Moritz Wagner and Carl Scherzer, the two Austrian adventurers who traveled across Lake Superior in 1852, they had avoided certain death when caught in a storm halfway through the crossing between Bad River and La Pointe.  In this post, we find them on Madeline Island in the wee hours of the morning, looking for a place to stay.

In the three days they spent in La Pointe, they produced a description of the island as colorful as any I’ve come across.  Enjoy: 

A View of La Pointe from Report of a Geological Survey of Wisconsin, Iowas, and Minnesota (1852) by David Dale Owen (Digitized by Google Books)

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!

It was 1 o’clock in the morning, and the whole settlement was in a deep sleep. We were at a loss as to which door to knock at. Among 200 Indians, only a few white families live there. One of the boatmen gave us a name, with which we found Mr. Austrian (a name meaning Oestreicher) a descendent of the Mosaic.

We knocked confidently by rattling at the window showing the distinguishing hemp of Austrian. We have always had a favorable bias for our Jewish countrymen in this nation. They have brought over so many ancient patriarchal customs of antiquity unadulterated, faithful, and pure in their sympathetic breasts. Here the noble manners of hospitality sweep away the cold breath of selfishness found among the Americans. The Jews are always ready to welcome strangers and donate a warm and magnanimous hand with every occasion.

They opened and the young doorman yelled out to the person in the next room, “Joe, steh auf, Leut from below, sind da!” and because it could not be doubted that we were, “One of our people!” We were then bombarded with all the tastes of the kosher delicatessen: belek, kugel, kindeln, and other tidbits of the Jewish frying pan. We were offered a nice, clean room and did not suspect that the close Yom Kippur (Jewish fast day) should frustrate our feast.

Jewish-immigrant brothers, Julius and Joseph Austrian, were prominent La Pointe residents at this time.

Jewish-immigrant brothers, Julius and Joseph Austrian, were prominent La Pointe residents at this time.  This image depicts an incident from Benjamin Armstrong’s Early Life Among the Indians (Engraving by Marr & Richards Co.).

17 September, early, 61° Fahr. The actual owner of the home was absent. However, his younger brother received us with all the warmth of a Bayreuth Jew. He had only been in the country a short time, and spoke English with a Spanish-sounding accent as he called to us in the room, “Waken sie!” He showed us a pair of Indian snowshoes, and asked, “Haben sie snow shoes noch nie geused?*” He finally told of the fish trade in the same mixed gibberish, “Below werden die Fische umgepakt, inspected, und dann weider vereignepakt again.”

(*German immigrants all have a peculiar manner of acquiring the English language. As they hear a strange new name, they mix it together immediately with the words of their native language, without regard for how the expression works in English. A carpenter told us, “Wenn sie ein loghouse bauen wollen un dasselbe inwendig geplastered und von außen geclapboarded wird, so wird es 700 dollars kosten!”

In Pennsylvania, all counties speak an unintelligible German-English slang. It may be that after a few generations, a whole new language is emerging. So, some German immigrants are a tragic example of how one can forget his native language without having to learn another language as a substitute.)

La Pointe is the largest of several islands known under the collective name of Isles des Apotres. It has an unusual history. One of the earliest points on Lake Superior where men of faith planted the cross of salvation in 1665, it wasn’t until a century later that the progress of civilization began to push the two and four-legged forest dwellers further and further west . For several years it was the home depot (post) of the Fur Trading Company. This trading company was founded in 1808 by John Jacob Astor as the American Fur Trading Company, by an act of law of the State of New York. It granted exclusive right of trade and intercourse with the Indians, and in earlier times, provided an immense source of power and wealth. Currently, the business is divided between a Company of the West and the North West, of which the latter united with the Hudson’s Bay Company* and created unrestricted competition and limited the field of activity. The company of the west, currently under the leadership of J. Chouteau and Company, trades with the Indians of the Missouri and Mississippi. Its headquarters are at the upper Mississippi. The company owns 25 stations (trading posts) employing 200 voyageurs who take care of transporting commodities in the business season and bring the furs to the businesses located in St. Paul, Mendota, and Crow Wing in the Minnesota Territory.

(*[This footnote goes on for several pages on the history and structure of the Hudson Bay Company. As it interrupts the narrative, and can be found in other sources, I’ve omitted it.])

The different Indian tribes will kill the animals of the forest in the course of the year and then gather at certain points for the individual bands. Every year there is a caravan of agents (traders) of the fur company who obtain this rich quantity of valuable animal skins from the ignorant Indians for a lowly price of trade items.

This commercial agent will bring birch canoes full of presents across Lake Superior, and usually in 26 to 30 days will bring back the skins of bears, wolves, silver and other foxes, beavers, raccoon, martens, wolverine, otters, muskrats, weasels, and buffalos. Whether their fate is to be a winter covering for the delicate lady’s hands or the lining of a skirt in the princely salons is yet to be determined.

Next door, in perhaps richer numbers and selection, but certainly of far less value, are items of the clever broker. The eyes glare as he flaunts his manufactures. One sees, woolen blankets, cloth fabrics, firearms, ammunition, tin kettles, earrings, finger rings, brass buttons, breastplates, wampum, chopping knives, birch canoes, and mirrors. There is makeup of red, blue, black, and green color, but all the items together carry only one color, that of speculation and dizzying purpose.

Although the furs are barter items, they have an adopted value determined so that the price of the animal fur always corresponds with a certain number of exchanged wares. But the furs are usually valued very low and in contrast, the reverse items are priced very high. The total traffic area with the Indians in the West should produce 1 million dollars annually. Together, the furs are shipped, via New York, to London which is the main market for the American fur trade.

Since we did not visit these remote areas during the season of barter, we could not bear witness to this certainly most-interesting and instructive spectacle, but we cannot omit some words and impart some pressure as we become aware of the facts which throw a sad light on the business of the whites with the Indians. We believe it is the same, and more truthful, to be told as it is by Schoolcraft, the highly-respected American historian, on his travels among the tribes on Lake Superior.

A shotgun worth 10 guineas was sold by an agent to an Indian chief for 120 pounds of beaver skins, or 480 dollars of value. A caravan of 6 bales of barter commodities was traded for $2000. In Athabasca, 96 sacks of beaver skins weighing 8640 pounds brought back four dollars of value when their real worth was $34,560!

Another scholarly researcher, Coldon,writing in 1741 in the area of the Five Nations, describes how the whites in general and the traders in particular, create debts. The vice of drunkenness among the wild Indians occurs so frequently because the greed of the traders allows them to shrink to the lowest means and intentionally put the foolish aborigines in a state of intoxication causing an even more advantageous position for fraud. This evil passion has wreaked more havoc among the Indians than disease or war. It has destroyed more than instruction in Christianity could ever be capable of building up.

Among the Indian tribes there is a strongly-held opinion that if you murder a fur trader, he will retaliate by intentionally bringing back infected goods.* This belief probably arose from the sensitivity caused by the way the whiteskins associate with the redskins. They treat the actual natives of American soil as their subjects and servants, and consider it their privilege to satisfy their greed and passion and claim material and bodily impunity.**

(*[Here the authors insert an extensive footnote about smallpox infections in the Lake Superior region. As it disrupts the narrative and is information that can be found in Schoolcraft’s Narrative of an Expedition Through the Upper Mississippi River to Itasca Lake, I’ve omitted it here.])

(**Two residents of La Pointe told us how a former agent convinced several Indians and mix-bloods to entrust him with their savings due to them from the sale of the Indian country to the government. He used the advantage of his position to gain their trust and did not issue receipts for the borrowed. He had about $800 from everyone but when it was claimed, the fraudulent agent told them they would have to be content with repayment in commodities, flour, sausage, and potatoes, for which the he charged an exorbitant price. We started this narrative not wanting to believe it, but two good Catholics swore on the host. The agent has since left this island, to general contempt, taking the gold pieces of the Indians with him.)

The Voyageurs (1846) by Charles Deas (Wikimedia Images)

After this discussion of the of the rates of the American Fur Company and its agents, we want to add some details about the men whose labor and time exerted such a great influence on the fate and culture of the Indian tribes. We wish to add a few explanatory words about the sad presence on La Pointe of the voyageurs or courriers du bois.

This peculiar class of people, which is like a vein of metal that suddenly disappears within the bedrock and reappears many hundreds of miles away under the same geological conditions, their light reaches the borders of the eastern Canadas. The British people, with their religion and customs, reappeared on the shores of these northern lakes only in 1808 with the Fur Company. For labor they drew on those who could carry their wares across the lakes and communicate with the Indians.

Many young men of adventurous natures left the old wide streets of Montreal and moved into the trackless primeval forests of the West. Young and strong as laborers, they soon started to adopt the lifestyle and language of the aborigines. They married with the Indians and inhabit small settlements scattered throughout those mighty lands which begin at Mackinow Island and come up the upper lake to the region of Minnesota. They almost all speak the Canadian patois along with the language of the Chippewas, the tribe with which they came into kinship. We found only a few, even among the younger generation, who understood English.

Since then, every day the population of the otherwise deserted shore of Lake Superior increases with the discovery of copper mines. The animals driven away by the whirlwind of civilization toward the west, attract the Indians with their sensitive guns, leaving La Pointe, abandoned by the Company for their headquarters at St. Paul in Minnesota. Most voyageurs left the island, having seen their business in ruins and lacking their former importance. Just a few families remain here, making a meager livelihood of hunting, fishing, and the occasional convoy of a few travelers led by business, science, or love of nature who purchase their limited resources.*

(*Except for us, this year they had only two travelers visit this area for scientific interest. The scarcity of this type of tourist seems to be the reason why the price the voyageurs and their companions ask is high. We paid all our leaders one and one half dollars a day and just as many for the days necessary for their return. The voyageurs are democratic and truly similar to those Alpine villagers who charged the emperor two Louis d’or for a breakfast of two eggs.)

A devout Franciscan friar, the family of a Methodist preacher, a school teacher, and a skilled tradesman, together with some old canoe houses, remains of the once large voyageur legion, make up the small numbers of the white population.

The island is 15 miles long, 5.6 miles wide, and has 30 miles in circumference. The main formation is sandstone and red clay. Vegetation proliferates in spruce, pine, cedar, birch, tamarack (Larix americana), etc. The oval horseshoe shape of the island makes it one of the best ports of the entirety of Lake Superior, and this, despite current unemployment, promises hope for a comfortable future.

Add to that, the infinite abundance of fish on their shores. Delicious, but only edible in the spring, are the Siscawit (Salmo siscowet), and the trout (Salmo amethystus). The whitefish (Coregonus albus) are available in uncommon quantities. The most successful fishmonger here sent during the past years, 300 barrels of various species of fish, each 200 pounds, to the markets of Cleveland and Detroit.

The Siscowet, or Fat Trout, is a subspecies of Lake Trout (Drawn by David Starr Jordan, and Barton Warren Evermann, 1911; Digitized by University of Washington)

At the invitation of the zealous schoolteacher*, we toured the schoolhouse. Here we met Old Buffalo (Chi Waishki or Pezhickee), the 90-year-old hereditary chief of the Chippewa band. He was wrapped in a blue striped shirt and a wool blanket. He carried a royal scepter made from a broken wooden base of a bed as a symbol of his authority. He was looking for some glue to repair a garment for a young Indian. We find it necessary here to mention that of the many Chippewas on this island, very few are full-blood Indians. Having crossed frequently with the European race, and through the efforts of Christian missionaries, they have adopted the habits of civilization. They inhabit the abandoned wooden shacks of the Fur Company, and are even given to industrial employment.

(*Mr. Pulcifer, the schoolmaster is a highly-educated teacher. He gives the Sabbath service in the absence of the Methodist preacher. The Methodist mission on the island of La Pointe was founded in 1831).

The Indian chief, worthy by his age, heredity, and his imposing figure, told us he was born near the island and left the area only once to travel in the matters of his tribe to the Great Father* in Washington. His stay was accompanied by many consoling words but little actual success. Since then, he’s been back to the chase. One winter, he brought in 150 fox skins. Despite this wealth of skins in a game-rich area, he is now poor. Here we have the hereditary Chippewa chief, whose generations (totem) are carved in the ancient birch bark,** giving us profuse thanks for just a modest silver coin and a piece of dry cloth. What time can bring to a ruler!

(*”Great Father” is what the Indians call the President and other agents of the United States government.)

(**Almost all Indian tribes have the custom of preserving their lineage from oblivion by carving characters, that correspond to the names of their tribe, on trees, canoes, weapons and everywhere else.

Strangely, we later learned that the majestic Old Buffalo was violently opposed for years to the education and spiritual progress of the Indians. Probably, it’s because he suspected a better instructed generation would no longer obey. Presently, he tacitly accepts the existence of the school and even visits sometimes, where like ourselves, he has the opportunity to see the gains made in this school with its stubborn, fastidious look of an old German high council.)

Although made of simple planks, the school hall is clean and well-ventilated. The youth, consisting of 25 mix-blooded children, are instructed by the Methodist teachers in reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, and natural history. The teacher takes 6 to 8 children to the teacher’s desk and tells them to read their lessons or recite them from memory. Most often, there are questions which are subjected to discussion, questions that relate to the everyday world. This gives the youth the advantage of preparation for practical life.*

(*One of these practical textbooks is similar to Guide to Knowledge, a popular textbook in England: Conversations on common things by a teacher. Boston, Munroe and Francis. 1849.)

For example, a student may read a sentence in which the word “lead” occurs. This immediately gives rise to an instructive conversation about this noble metal, such as where lead is most found, what it is used for, the compounds in which it is used, etc. The youth, by learning this way about various natural phenomena, learns at the same time to know and admire the sources of a country’s wealth. It is an early and delicate way to teach the students the important parts of the geographical, physical, and political history of the country before their own history.

The front page of the Kladderadatsh, a German-languague satirical newspaper published in Berlin. Despite it’s popularity among the masses in Europe, I’m not sure the kids in La Pointe had subscriptions (Wikimedia Images).

At the conclusion of the lesson, the older children, by their own reflection but encouraged by their teacher, asked us several questions about European life: if many European children went to school, and what they learned there…

It was shamefully difficult answering these simple questions asked by the children.

We told these smart young half-Indians that here in Europe the same God lives and moves as in their hemisphere, and that His sun is the only true light that rises for the peoples of the East. We replied further that children learn a tremendous amount but usually know incredibly little, and finally, that the Berliner Kladderadatsch is the most widely read political journal. This last answer left the little indigene who asked the pointed questions bewildered and seemed to discourage the asking of any further information about Europe. At that point, the school meeting was cancelled to our great relief.

Another no-less worthy host received us with warm greetings of the heart. It was the worthy Franciscan monk, Father Scolla, from Rudolphswerth in Carinthia. We went to deliver the pleasure of a recommendation to our pious countryman. We knocked at the meager gate of the little boarded house that grew out from the rear part of the church. We are now almost ashamed of the worldly manner in which we approached, given the distinguished reception we received at the hands of such a pious priest.

Alternate translation of this passage found in History of the diocese of Sault Ste, Marie and Marquette  (1906) by Antoine Ivan Rezek pg.367 (Digitized by Google Books)

Our traveling way of life often finds us witness to scenes of parting, separation, and reunion, but we have never seen any man become so pale, taken, and overcome with intimate emotion as this Franciscan when he learned through language and handshake that we were compatriots from the Imperial City.

We can reasonably account for this surprise in that almost 20 years had passed since the lone missionary had seen a countryman “of the Imperial City” and had been addressed in his language, and felt the warm shake of an Austrian hand. His whole religious intercourse with the faithful, be it preaching the gospel at the pulpit, forgiving sin in confessional, or donating food for the journey to the deathbed, happens in a foreign tongue, in French and Indian language.

What troubled us most about his monastic life was the poverty and helplessness with which this devout priest remains continually fights to preach the Way. The greater part of his church consists of converted Indians and mix-bloods, who all live in such poor circumstances that there is no thought of support for this priest. The maintenance costs for the church and its priests must therefore be restricted to those means which fall from the general missionary funds of the Catholic Church.

The quota, that makes its way to the Church of Our Lady of La Pointe, is extremely low, and sometimes isn’t received for so many years that one gets the impression that the bishop in Milwaukee has forgotten the lonely forests of Madeline Island, its Lady, and Father Scolla. The pious Franciscan, whose destitution has denied him any assistance in church and house, must therefore do as priests and lay ministers do. He decorates and adorns the high altar, paints the images of saints, rings the bell, and worries about the upkeep of his small house at the same time.

cntd. translation in Rezek pg.368

On the Sunday before we left, we attended the service. The small church was quite filled with Indian women, mix-bloods, and Canadian voyageurs. The women wore long cloth of dark green, blue, and black covering them from hips to head and wrapping them in one whole soft shape. The men were all dressed in European clothing. During the vicarious sacrifice of the mass, four half-Indians in white surplices sang the Latin text shouldering such edification that you would have sworn they understood every word.

The sermon was held in French, the most common language of the island, and it was appropriate for the comprehension of the people in the audience. In the afternoon, the tireless Franciscan monk preaches in Indian for his neophytes, which prevents age from weakening his intellectual ability to learn a foreign tongue.

Much more edification of the faithful would have prevailed if not for the wailing cries of the infants disturbed by the devotion, who were brought along on the backs of the countless “squaws.” But these grumpy little citizens of the world seemed to understand even less than the adult choir of the plot of the Latin score.

Fr. Otto Skolla was from Novo Mesto (Rudolfswert) in today’s Slovenia not far from the Slovenian homeland of his fellow Lake Superior priest, Bishop Frederick Baraga (Rezek pg. 360)

When we speak of the conviction in his calling and pure enthusiasm of the priest’s benediction, of the faithful community dropping to their knees, covering their faces, and reverently making the sign of the cross, we could not help but feel sadness that such a worthy and pious work could not flourish better due to a lack of temporal goods.

What ability to spread blessings the Catholic missionary would have if equipped with the necessary material resources: a teacher for the youth, a doctor for the sick, a support for the poor. How can the Church win over humanity when right now the distressing spectacle is such that the Catholic youth, lacking the funds for a teacher, get no education, and the narrow-minded principles of their spiritual board keep them from getting permission to attend the Methodist school?

If you watch the incredible speed of the other religious sects, such as the Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians, and the extraordinary sums taken in and put out for education and missionary purposes– they have missionaries in all ports in the Union–and how without consideration of their religion, they receive immigrants, comfort the sick, the suffering, and take care of the children, while the Herald of Catholic teaching to foreign lands moves slowly. It may not surprise you, especially here in the United States that foreign religious sects are gaining converts while the ranks of the Catholic Church, despite the massive influx of Catholic populations from Ireland and Germany, not only aren’t increasing, but are actually seeing a decrease in numbers.

The Catholic church on Madeline Island as drawn by Skolla (Rezek pg.361).

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.

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.

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.

             Vincent Roy Jr.                    (From Life and Labors of Rt. Rev. Frederic Baraga by Chrysostom Verwyst: Digitized by Google Books)

Chief Buffalo’s 1852 delegation to Washington D.C. is an iconic moment in the history of the Chequamegon region. As the story goes, the 92 year-old chief made the difficult journey by canoe, steamship, rail and foot all the way to the capital city, met with President Millard Fillmore, and came back with an order to stop the removal of the Wisconsin Ojibwe. Despite its continuing popularity, and its special importance to the Red Cliff community, recent scholarship has called into question several key details of this story.  Central to this controversy is whether or not Buffalo actually met the president.  However, I recently found a document in the archives of an early Red Cliff resident, Vincent Roy Jr.  It confirms what Red Cliff residents already know.  Chief Buffalo did travel to Washington and met the president in June of 1852.     

Benjamin Armstrong

According to the popular Buffalo story, some of the young men of the La Pointe Band were ready to fight the United States in early 1852.  The government removal efforts that led to the Sandy Lake Tragedy in the fall of 1850 were ongoing, and the future of the Ojibwe bands in Wisconsin was in doubt.  To maintain the peace, and gain title to reservations in Wisconsin, Buffalo and a small group of chiefs and headmen (including Oshogay Buffalo’s speaker and  Benjamin Armstrong his interpreter), left La Pointe that spring.  They encountered bad weather and negative government officials along the way, but they were able to gather signatures on their petition from several prominent Lake Superior whites.  In New York and Washington, they ran short on money and had to count on the kindness of wealthy Americans who were amazed by the culture and appearance of the Ojibwe from the western country. In Washington, the Indian Affairs department refused to hear their petition and ordered them to return to La Pointe, but through luck, they met a congressman who arranged a special meeting with the president.  As the story goes, Buffalo smoked with Fillmore and Oshogay delivered a long speech laying out the Ojibwe grievances.  In a second meeting, Fillmore declared the removal efforts over.  The delegation then returned to La Pointe via St. Paul and stopped at several Ojibwe villages causing “great rejoicing” as they announced the news.  Two years later the Treaty of La Pointe (1854) confirmed forever the promises made to Buffalo by Fillmore.

Washington Delegation, June 22 1852:  The man in the upper right is assumed to be Armstrong. (Engraved from unknown photograph by Marr and Richards Co. for B. Armstrong Early Life Among the Indians). Look for an upcoming post about this image

The hero, along with Buffalo, in this version story is often Benjamin Armstrong.  That shouldn’t be too surprising because all the details of it come from Armstrong’s 1891 memoir Early Life Among the Indians.  This entire work is freely available online on the website of the Wisconsin Historical Society.  Another well-made website, chiefbuffalo.com, has several additional primary documents related to Buffalo and Armstrong. I consider Early Life required reading for anyone who lives in the Chequamegon Bay area.  However, the reader has to be careful with Armstrong.  As I mentioned in the post on Hanging Cloud, the female warrior of the Chippewa River country, the memoir should be treated like a work of literature rather than scholarly piece.  It wasn’t unusual for 19th-century autobiographies to contain fictional parts, and Early Life is no exception.  The details that the elderly Armstrong (who admitted to a fuzzy memory) dictated to Thomas P. Wentworth in 1891, don’t always match the details found in the documents of the 1850s.  This is the case with the Buffalo-Fillmore story.  

Recent Scholarly Work and Primary Sources about the 1852 Delegation

 In his extremely thorough scholarly overview of the pro-Treaty Rights position, Chippewa Treaty Rights (1991), Ronald Satz admitted that “Armstrong’s reminiscences contain some factual errors” and that anti-Treaty Rights anthropologist James Clifton attacked Armstrong’s credibility in an attempt to undermine the Treaty Rights argument.  Still, Satz’ story of the 1852 delegation is straight out of Armstrong with the admission that “Scholars have not located a decree by Fillmore specifically rescinding President Taylor’s removal order.”  Patty Loew’s Indian Nations of Wisconsin (2001) also gives the story Chief Buffalo’s journey largely the way it appeared in Armstrong.  At that time, it appeared that the popular story, the Armstrong story, and the mainstream scholarship all matched up.

However, recent years have seen a shift in the interpretation of the Buffalo story  Bruce M. White’s The Regional Context of the Removal Order of 1850, published in Fish in the Lakes, Wild Rice, and Game in Abundance:  Testimony on Behalf of Mille Lacs Ojibwe Hunting and Fishing Rights (2000; Michigan State University Press), is a highly comprehensive account of the time period and the players involved.  He devotes an entire chapter to the 1852 delegation.  He does not dismiss Armstrong entirely, writing:

Some questions have been raised about the accuracy of Armstrong’s account.  Some details, including dates, in Armstrong’s memories of events that had occurred 40 years before, appear to be mistaken.  This, of course, is true of many autobiographical accounts written without the benefit of written documentation.  Nonetheless, many key features of Armstrong’s account find corroboration in Indian office records, though not always in the exact way or order in which Armstrong describes them.  (pg. 245)

Despite this nod to Armstrong, White’s examination of historical records from the National Archives, the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions, Minnesota Territorial records, and other sources, paint a different picture from that in Early Life Among the Indians.  He produces letters from federal officials saying the Indian Office sent the delegation home “with a flea in their ear,” while John Watrous, the Indian Agent the delegation came to complain about, received “flying colors.”  White also uncovered a letter that Bad River missionary Leonard Wheeler wrote after Buffalo’s return to La Pointe.  It stated the delegation “accomplished nothing.”  Most significantly, on page 253, White reproduces a letter from Buffalo and Oshogay to Minnesota Territorial governor Alexander Ramsey.  The letter is written in July 1852, after the delegation returned.  The chiefs inform the governor that the decision is his whether or not to remove the Ojibwe.  They plead with Ramsey to let them stay on the lake shore.  This a far cry from the situation described by Armstrong where Buffalo received a promise from Fillmore and spread “rejoicing” to all the Ojibwe bands. 

In fact, the very existence of the Buffalo-Fillmore meeting is called into question.  For all the documents White produces saying the delegation was unsuccessful, he fails to produce one that even speaks of a meeting with the president.  He leaves the possibility open for such a meeting, using some notations indicating chain of custody of the delegation’s petition as circumstantial evidence.  However he uses language like “Whether or not the Ojibwe actually met with Fillmore…” for an important symbolic event taken for granted in Ojibwe history up until that point.

If White’s investigation of the original sources calls into question the success of the delegation and its ability to meet the president, Theresa Schenck’s William W. Warren:  The Life, Letters, and Times of an Ojibwe Leader (2007; U. of Nebraska Press) makes one question Armstrong’s importance in the group.  In Early Life Among the Indians, Armstrong is the star of the show.  He claims the delegation was his idea, that he conducted it, made all the arrangements along the way, and was generally responsible for its success.  The historical record does not back these claims up.  Even before the Sandy Lake Tragedy, Ojibwe chiefs were doubting the truth of the removal order as stated by Agent Watrous and Governor Ramsey.  They demanded to hear it directly from the president himself.  By the end of 1852, after seeing hundreds of their fellow Ojibwe die in two botched removal attempts, and having missed out on two crucial years of annuity payments, the demands of the chiefs for a meeting with the president grew louder.  It was William Warren who wanted to lead and interpret for an officially-sanctioned delegation.  As Ramsey used stalling tactics, Warren’s health failed, and the hope of official approval waned, Buffalo took matters into his own hands and arranged his own delegation.  The elderly chief wanted to bring Leonard Wheeler along, but the missionary objected to the inclusion of a certain “half-breed” who was “incapable of doing justice to their affairs.”  White speculates that Wheeler meant Armstrong, but Armstrong was a white man from Alabama.  A June 24, 1852 letter, from William Warren to his cousin George, reveals who the mix-blooded interpreter likely was.  This letter, as quoted in Schenck (2007) reads:

…Old Beauf [Buffalo] with others having V. Roy Jr for Intpr have gone on to Washington.  All nonsense.  They can effect nothing going off like fools with poor interpreters and representing only the Lapointe band (pg. 162).

Warren had included Vincent Roy Jr. in his original plan for a Washington delegation, so it seems his objections to Buffalo’s choice of interpreter have more to do with the chief not following Warren’s plan than on any reflection on the merits of Roy himself.  Roy, who later in life was described as a man of outstanding character, may have earned the enmity of Wheeler because he was a strong Catholic.  Wheeler and the other ABCFM missionaries were working intensely at this time to counter Roman Catholic influence in the area.  In either case, Armstrong isn’t even mentioned.  Though his presence isn’t supported by these documents, I believe the details of Armstrong’s memoir show he was part of the delegation.  However, the claims that he “conducted” it seem grossly exaggerated. 

Local Response to the Questioning of the Chief Buffalo Story

Bruce White’s primary goal was to argue the Mille Lacs Treaty-Rights case rather than maintain the popular history of this area, and Theresa Schenck has never been one to shy away from challenging long-cherished myths, but what do scholars with a bigger stake in the Chief Buffalo story say?

On the Chequamegon History website, I’ve written a lot on Buffalo, and I’ve taken part in various projects related to Buffalo’s trip, so I was disappointed when I first heard from Dr. Schenck that our region’s defining historical event may have never happened.  Unfortunately, my primary research only seemed to confirm that the 1852 trip was a failure.  The only new document I could find was an untranslated German travelogue Reisen in Nordamerika in den Jahren 1852 and 1853 (Travels in North America in the Years 1852 and 1853) by the noted Austrian travel writers Moritz Wagner and Karl Ritter von Scherzer.  On page 336 of Volume 2, Wagner and Scherzer describe meeting Buffalo.  I don’t read German, so I had to work through Google Translate:

From page 336 of Reisen in Nordamerika Vol. 2 by Wagner and Scherzer. Look for an upcoming post with more from this obscure 19th-century travelogue (Digitized by Google Books).

 “The Indian chief, worthy by his age, heredity, and his imposing figure, told us he was born near the island and left the area only once to travel in the matters of his tribe to the Great Father [president] in Washington.  His stay was accompanied by words of comfort but little success.”   (My rough Google-aided translation of above)

This source, combined with the work of Schenck and White, and other issues I’ve had with Armstrong, led me to believe that perhaps the Chief Buffalo story was just a myth.  Then, this summer saw two locally-linked authors publish works.

This summer, Patty Loew released an updated version of her fantastic introduction to Wisconsin Indian history, Indian Nations of Wisconsin.  It revises the Armstrong-based section on the 1852 trip from the first edition to admit that Buffalo may not have met the president.  Loew lives in Madison but is a Bad River tribal member and a Chief Buffalo fan.

Howard Paap, who is married into the Red Cliff community, has written extensively about it.  His new book, Red Cliff, Wisconsin:  A History of an Ojibwe Community, also came out this summer He extends White’s arguments and thoroughly evaluates Armstrong’s story against the other primary sources.  Paap’s conclusions are bold for someone writing a history on behalf of a reservation community established for Buffalo’s descendants:

We are left with the question of whether or not the Buffalo and Oshaga delegation really did have an audience with President Fillmore in the summer of 1852, and if so, what actually transpired during such a meeting…  

…perhaps the easiest solution to the question of whether or not such a meeting occurred is to believe Benjamin Armstrong’s recollections, along with contemporary Ojibwe oral traditions about the trip, and leave it at that.

However, given the reality of the errors in Armstrong’s memoir, and much more importantly, the hard evidence of the trip’s paper trail as recently uncovered by Charles Cleland and Bruce White, we are confronted with a dilemma.  In today’s popular history the scene of Buffalo and President Fillmore standing eye to eye, as crafted in the Carl Gawboy painting wherein Fillmore is handing Buffalo a paper canceling the removal order, is compelling, but the surviving papers that document another scenario cannot be ignored (pg. 241).

Paap goes on to describe the Buffalo story as “folkloric,” but he suggests that while the 1852 delegation did not single-handedly end the threat of Ojibwe removal, the most symbolic part of the myth remains the meeting with the president.  Following White, Paap admits the possibility that the Buffalo-Fillmore meeting happened, reiterating that primary sources suggested the delegation did not achieve its objectives, but there was nothing that explicitly said there was no meeting with the president.

The Vincent Roy Jr. Account of the 1852 Trip   

In browsing the online catalog of the Wisconsin Historical Society archives this spring, I discovered the society had some of Vincent Roy Jr.’s papers.  The catalog description mentioned a fur trade journal, a description of early ships on Lake Superior, and some manuscript biographies of Roy from some Catholic priests.  Roy, who was raised in an Ojibwe-French mix-blood family, was a fur trader and government interpreter in his early years.  Still a young man at the time of the Treaty of 1854, he lived into the 20th century and was notable for several reasons including making multiple trips to Washington with Ojibwe delegations, being the namesake of Roy’s Point in Red Cliff, leading area mix-blooded Ojibwe in the cause of the “half-breed land claims,” and being one of the earliest and wealthiest settlers of Superior.  He was a commanding figure in the Catholic Church and Democratic Party of Wisconsin, and there is a lot out there about him.  

The wonderful staff at Wisconsin Historical Society Research Center in Ashland agreed to have the papers sent up from Madison for me.  The arrived in early August, mere days after I had the chance to read Paap and Loew.  Since the scope of Chequamegon History is pre-1860, I went in mostly interested in seeing the fur trade journal.  I assumed the biography would be identical to the biographical information about Roy published in Life and Labors of Rt. Rev. Frederic Baraga by Chrysostom Verwyst.  The Holland-born Verwyst was a priest who knew Roy personally and considered him “The Greatest Indian of the Northwest.”  I didn’t think there would be anything new in this part of the archive, but I was wrong:

[Letter accompanying manuscript biography written in Verwyst’s hand]

St. Agnes’ Church

205 E. FRONT ST.

Ashland, Wis., June 27, 1903

Reuben G. Thwaites,

Sec.  Wis. Hist. Soc.  Madison, Wis.

Dear Sir,

I herewith send you personal memories of Hon. Vincent Roy, lately deceased, as put together by Rev. Father Valentine O.F.M.  Should your society find them of sufficient historical interest to warrant their publication, you will please correct them properly before getting them printed.

Yours very respectfully,

Fr Chrysostom Verwyst O.F.M.

[From Page one of manuscript biography in Valentine’s handwriting]

~ Biographical Sketch – Vincent Roy ~

~ T. Apr. 2. 1896 – Superior Wis. ~

[Sections 1-3 (Roy’s early years) omitted.  Transcription picks up on page 5 (section 4).  Valentine lists his sources in the left margin.  I will put them in parentheses before each paragraph]. 

(Mr. Roy to V.)           

IV.            His first Visit to Washington, D.C. – The Treaty of La Pointe.

At the instance of Chief Buffalo and in his company Vincent made his first trip to Washington, D.C.  It was in the spring of the year 1852.  Buffalo (Kechewaishke), head chief of the Lake Superior Ojibways had seen the day when his people, according to indian estimation, was wealthy and powerful, but now he was old and his people sickly and starving poor.  Vincent referring once to the incidents of that time spoke about in this way “He (Buffalo) and the other old men of the tribe, his advisers, saw quite well that things could not go on much longer in the way they had done.  The whites were crowding in upon them from all sides and the U.S. government said and did nothing.  It appeared to these indians their land might be taken from them without they ever getting anything for it.  They were scant of food and clothing and the annuities resulting from the sale of their land might keep them alive yet for a while.  The desire became loud that it might be tried to push the matter at Washington admitting that they had to give up the land but insisting they be paid for it.  Buffalo was willing to go but there was no one to go with him.  He asked me to go with him.  As I had no other business just then on hand I went along.”

(Sources: Cournoyer or Mr. Roy to V.) [Vincent Cournoyer was V. Roy’s brother-in-law]

They went by way of the lakes.  Arriving in Washington, they found the City and the capitol in a garb of mourning and business suspended.  Henry Clay, the great statesman and orator, had died (June 29) and his body was lying in state.  Vincent said:  “we shook hands and spoke with the President (Fillmore) and with some of the headmen of the government.  They told us that they could not do anything at the moment, but that our petition should be attended to as soon as possible.  Unable to obtain any more, we looked around a few days and returned home.”  The trip had entailed a considerable drain on their private purses and the result towards the point at issue for them, the selling of the land of the indians, was not very apparent.

(the treaty doct.)

After repeated urging and an interval of over two years, during which Franklin Pierce had become President of the United States, the affairs of these Indians were at last taken up and dealt with at La Pointe by Henry C. Gilbert and David B. Herriman, commissioners on the part of the United States.  A treaty was concluded, September 30th 1854.  The Lake Superior Ojibways thereby relinquished their last claims to the soil of north west Michigan, north east Wisconsin, and an adjoining part of Minnesota, and, whilst it was understood that the reserves at L’Anse Michigan, Odanah, Court Oreille Wisconsin and Fondulac Minnesota were set apart for them, they received in consideration of the rest the aggregate sum of about four hundred and seventy five thousand dollars, which, specified as to money and material, ran into twenty years rations.

(Cournoyer)

Chief Buffalo in consideration of services rendered was allowed his choice of a section of land anywhere in the ceded terrain.  The choice he made, it is said, were the heights of the city of Duluth, but never complying with the incident law formalities, it matters little that the land became the site of a city, his heirs never got the benefit of it.  Of Vincent who had been also of service to the indians from the first to the last of the deal, it can only be said that he remained not just without all benefit from it.  A clause was inserted in the treaty (Art. 2. n. 7.) by which heads of families and single persons over twenty one years of mixed blood were each entitled to take and hold free of further charge eighty acres of the ceded lands:- this overruled in a simple and direct way the difficulties Vincent had met with of late in trying to make good his claim to such a property.  The advantages here gained was however common to others with him.  For the sacrifices he made of time and money in going with Chief Buffalo to Washington he was not reimbursed, so it is believed, and is very likely true judgeing from what was the case when later on he made the same trip a second time.

[End of Section 4, middle of page 7 of Valentine’s manuscript]

In my mind, this document is proof that the Buffalo-Fillmore meeting did happen.  We know Roy went on the trip, and his account (unlike Armstrong’s) supports rather than contradicts the documents from the time period.  It wasn’t two scheduled ceremonial meetings that permanently settled the removal question.  In fact, it may have only been a handshake and a few words, but the central image of the two leaders, ogimaa and president, meeting remains part of the Chief Buffalo story.

Vincent Cournoyer and Vincent Roy Jr. c. 1880 (Charles Bell, Washington:  Collections of the Smithsonian Institution)

Identified as Vincent Cournoyer and Vincent Roy Jr. c. 1880 in photo at Bayfield Library.  See the Photos, Photos, Photos post for an alternative identification. (Charles Bell, Washington: Collections of the Smithsonian Institution)

For Vincent Roy Jr., I hope this inquiry will lead to more attention.  His life spanned two key eras in Ojibwe history and he was often at the center of it.  His name is all over the primary sources, but compared with Armstrong, the Warrens, and the Beaulieus, we don’t see him much in the secondary scholarship.

For Benjamin Armstrong, I think the Roy documents require us to take a fresh look at Early Life Among the Indians.  If the Fillmore meeting can be verified after a long look, there’s a good chance some of the other details in the memoir can be as well.  I’m a Benjamin Armstrong fan, and he’s taken a beating in this post and some of the recent scholarship, but I still maintain that there is a lot of truth in Early Life.

For Chief Buffalo, it is gratifying to find out that the 1852 meeting with the president isn’t complete fiction.  Buffalo may not have been satisfied with the results of his trip, but I feel the ultimate appeal of his story is the fight to keep an Ojibwe homeland in Wisconsin.  We may not be able to point to a single event and say, “That’s where the removal died,” but ultimately, the Ojibwe leadership prevailed.  For that reason, we should continue to celebrate the 1852 delegation, all the people who were part of it, and all those who were part of the larger struggle for justice it represented.

Sources:
Armstrong, Benj G., and Thomas P. Wentworth. Early Life among the Indians: Reminiscences from the Life of Benj. G. Armstrong : Treaties of 1835, 1837, 1842 and 1854 : Habits and Customs of the Red Men of the Forest : Incidents, Biographical Sketches, Battles, &c. Ashland, WI: Press of A.W. Bowron, 1892. Print.
Loew, Patty. Indian Nations of Wisconsin: Histories of Endurance and Renewal. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society, 2001. Print.
———— Indian Nations of Wisconsin: Histories of Endurance and Renewal. 2nd ed.  Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society, 2013. Print.
McClurken, James M., and Charles E. Cleland. Fish in the Lakes, Wild Rice, and Game in Abundance: Testimony on Behalf of Mille Lacs Ojibwe Hunting and Fishing Rights / James M. McClurken, Compiler ; with Charles E. Cleland … [et Al.]. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State UP, 2000. Print.
Paap, Howard D. Red Cliff, Wisconsin: A History of an Ojibwe Community. St. Cloud, MN: North Star, 2013. Print.
Satz, Ronald N. Chippewa Treaty Rights: The Reserved Rights of Wisconsin’s Chippewa Indians in Historical Perspective. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, 1991. Print.
Schenck, Theresa M. William W. Warren: The Life, Letters, and times of an Ojibwe Leader. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2007. Print.
Verwyst, Chrysostom and Father Valentine.  Biographical Sketch – Vincent Roy Jr. 1896-1903. MS. Vincent Roy Jr. Papers. Wisconsin Historical Society Archives, n.p.
Verwyst, Chrysostom. Life and Labors of Rt. Rev. Frederic Baraga: First Bishop of Marquette, Mich., to Which Are Added Short Sketches of the Lives and Labors of Other Indian Missionaries of the Northwest. Milwaukee, WI: M.H. Wiltzius, 1900. Print.
Wagner, Moritz, and Karl Von Scherzer. Reisen in Nordamerika in Den Jahren 1852 Und 1853. Leipzig: Arnold, 1854. Print.
Warren, William W., and Theresa M. Schenck. History of the Ojibway People. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 2009. Print.

Thank you to Theresa Schenck, Howard Paap, Linda Mittlestadt, Pam Ekholm, Larry Balber, and Betty Johnson for help and encouragement in this research.