By Leo

Here is another gem from Wheeler.  It appears to be a short description of a meeting in Odanah that quickly devolves into absurdity.  It appears without any associated documents in the chronological professional papers of the Wheeler Family Collection at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center.  For what it lacks in length and context, it makes up for in insight into the personalities of some prominent Chequamegon residents. 

Odanah July 6, 1856

Council of Indians called by Mr Warren to make regulations in regard to the partitions of Domestic Arrivals & crops here.  Mr S. C. Collins was appointed chairman & L. H. Wheeler Secretary.

Mr Warren presented some resolutions stating the object of the meeting , which was interpreted to the Indians.

After reading the paper Mr. Warren added remarks explaining the importance of some such regulations for the good of both the Whites & Indians.

After he stopped Blackbird spoke.  The substance of his remarks was that the commissioner & agent told him to be still and do nothing till the agent should come, and therefore he should have nothing to do with what was proposed to them.  

Out of contempt to Mr Warren he proposed that he should be made chief.  He said it was treating them like children for Mr W to pass laws & rules for them to observe, just as though they were not able to take care of their own interests.  He was asked more fully  Mr Stoddard regarding the concluding remarks of Black Bird in substance, as a motion, to drop the whole subject, seconded the motion upon which considerable altercation ensued.  The result of which was that the question should be considered still open for discussion and free remarks be allowed on both sides.

Odanah in 1856, just two years removed from the Treaty of 1854, was a community in flux.  The cities of Ashland and Bayfield were growing rapidly with white American settlers.  Being the largest of the newly-created reservations, Bad River was also growing as some of the Ojibwe bands from the Island, Ontonagon, St. Croix and the Chippewa River relocated there.  In contrast to the Buffalo Bay (Red Cliff) reservation whose population included numerous mix-blood and Catholic families, the people of Bad River were largely full-bloods practicing traditional ways.

A handful of mix-blood and white families did live in Odanah, sponsored by the US Government and eastern missionary societies for Christianizing and “civilizing” the Ojibwe.  These included the families of Reverend Leonard H. Wheeler founder of the Odanah mission, Truman A. Warren the government farmer, and John Stoddard the government carpenter.  At this point in history, each of these men had lived in or around Odanah for several years and were well-known to area residents. 

 

9999003800-l

Truman A. Warren, brother of William W. Warren (Wisconsin Historical Society).

From the document, it appears that Warren called a meeting to create rules for the distribution of crops and goods to the Bad River Band.  Warren was born at La Pointe in the mid-1820s to fur-trader Lyman Warren and Marie Cadotte Warren.  Most Ojibwe men of the era avoided farming as it was considered women’s work.  Warren, however, did not appear to share this view. He was a Christian mix-blood whose grandfather, Michel Cadotte, planted numerous crops on the Island.  As a teenager, Truman, spent several years at school in New York learning English and doing farm labor.

 Getting the farmer position, which had been created by the Treaty of 1842, was seen as a stroke of good fortune.  His sister, Julia Warren Spears later described it as such:

My brother Truman A. Warren was the government farmer for the Indians, who lived at Bad River about 15 miles on the main land from La Pointe. That is where they made there garden and what other farming they did. The government farmer, carpenter, and blacksmith all had good houses to live in and received good salaries. (Spears to Bartlett; October 26, 1924) 

9999011424-l

Leonard H. Wheeler (Wisconsin Historical Society)

S. C. Collins is listed as the chairman of the meeting.  I have been unable to find any other information about his connection to this area. I suspect he may have been a visitor or brief resident enlisted by Leonard Wheeler as a neutral party to conduct the meeting.

 

The Wheelers and Warrens were very close.  Truman’s father was the original force behind bringing the Protestant missions into the area and Leonard and Harriet Wheeler helped raise Truman’s younger sister.  

John Stoddard, the government carpenter has been identified by Amorin Mello as the most likely author of the mystery journal found in the Wheeler Collection.  He was also close to Wheeler.  As was Blackbird, the most prominent chief of the Bad River Ojibwe.

I’ve written before on how Blackbird and Wheeler were an odd couple.  Wheeler was dedicated to the destruction of Ojibwe culture while Blackbird was perhaps the strongest advocate for maintaining traditional ways.  Even so, the primary sources seem to indicate the men had a strong respect for one another.  

Blackbird’s affections for Wheeler, however, don’t appear to extend to Warren.  This isn’t overly surprising.  Truman, and his deceased brother William, had run counter to the chief’s wishes on multiple occasions.  William Warren criticized Blackbird directly at the time of the Martell Delegation.  Blackbird also wanted to limit the power of Henry Rice’s “Indian Ring,” which employed numerous La Pointe mix-bloods including the Warrens.  

In Theresa Schenck’s excellent William W. Warren:  The Life, Letters, and Times of an Ojibwe Leader, the Warrens occasionally betray a paternalistic attitude toward their Ojibwe relatives.  For example, William and Truman both initially supported the tragic Sandy Lake Removal of 1850-51 even though the Ojibwe leadership was rightfully opposed to it.  Blackbird, of all the chiefs, seemed the least willing to accept condescension and threats to tribal sovereignty so it’s not surprising that a “considerable altercation ensued.”

For Wheeler’s part, I haven’t found any evidence he tried to force Robert’s Rules of Order on this area again.      

 

 

Davidson, John N. In Unnamed Wisconsin. N.p.: Nabu, 2010. Print.
Paap, Howard D. Red Cliff, Wisconsin: A History of an Ojibwe Community. St. Cloud, MN: North Star of St. Cloud, 2013. Print.
Schenck, Theresa M. William W. Warren: The Life, Letters, and times of an Ojibwe Leader. Lincoln, Neb.: U of Nebraska, 2009. Print.

 

 

 

 

By Amorin Mello

United States. Works Progress Administration:

Chippewa Indian Historical Project Records 1936-1942  

(Northland Micro 5; Micro 532)

1860 bad river settlement

Details of early settlements on the La Pointe Reservation from Charles Whittlesey‘s 1860 Geological Map of the Penokie Range.

Reel 1; Envelope 1; Item 30.

EARLY SETTLEMENT OF THE BAD RIVER INDIAN RESERVATION

by James Scott

Several years before the final treaty was signed by the Chippewas of Lake Superior, a strange gentleman appeared in the Indian country: He was a white man and became very well acquainted with some of the Indians His name was Ervin Leihy, but the Indians called him Neg-gi-goons (a young otter). When he saw that the Indians were making their homes on each side of the Bad River, as far up as the Bad River Falls, he too decided to build a little home for himself on the bank at the foot of the Falls. He cleared a small piece of land, built his house and in time erected a saw mill which was run by water power. There he lived for many years cultivating the soil and manufacturing lumber. He was never bothered by any of the Indians because he never gave them any cause for unfriendliness. He associated mostly with the young men of the tribe, learned their language, and spoke it quite fluently. He was soon familiar with Indian ways and habits and adopted many of them.

Senator Henry Mower Rice ~ United States Senate Historical Office

Senator Henry Mower Rice
~ United States Senate Historical Office

On September 30, 1854, the final treaty between the Chippewa of Lake Superior and the United States was concluded, (ratified Jan. 10, 1855). The preliminaries required thirty days of deliberation.

Before the last conference, a gentleman by the name of Henry M. Rice, approached the chiefs and headmen of the La Pointe Band at night, and held a secret conference with them. He coached and advised them to be on the alert should a question arise concerning the selection of a reservation.

“I have been secretly approached,” he said, “by a certain band of Chippewa to assist them in securing the land where you have maintained your homes for years. It would be a shame if another band should cheat you out of this place where you have built your homes and lived so long. Any band, or member of such band, which is a part of the Lake Superior Chippewa who reside in the territory you are now ceding to the United States government, have equal rights to make a selection anywhere in the territory the United States is reserving for you.”

When the conference convened the next day, the question of selecting reservations was in order. Immediately after the announcement was made by the official interpreter, Chief Blackbird of the Bad River Band was on his feet shouting and pointing in different directions with a large flat ceremonial pipe which he held in his right hand, describing the boundary lines of his reservation.  (See Article 2, paragraph 2, page 648, Chippewa Treaty of 1854).1

Manidoons (Small Bug).

As soon as Chief Blackbird arose, Chief Moni-don-se (Small Bug) of the Lac du Flambeau Band, also arose at the same time, and tried hard to discourage Chief Blackbird. Chief Moni-don-se claimed that he was supposed to make the selection that Chief Blackbird was now making. Then both chiefs became angry and exchanged unpleasant words with one another. One of the Government officials intervened. Chief Moni-don-se claimed that his people had as much right to select this land as Chief Blackbird had. Moni-don-se was finally over-ruled, so he had to settle on the Lac du Flambeau Reservation. Chief Blackbird then thanked Mr. Henry M. Rice for his advice and assistance.

Vincent Roy, Jr., portrait from "Short biographical sketch of Vincent Roy, [Jr.,]" in Life and Labors of Rt. Rev. Frederic Baraga, by Chrysostom Verwyst, 1900, pages 472-476.

Vincent Roy, Jr. was Henry Mower Rice’s interpreter during the 1854 Treaty with the Chippewas at La Pointe, according to The Sawmill Community at Roy’s Pointe, by Mary Carlson, 2009, page 21.

Mr. Henry M. Rice was an attorney-at-law, and also a fur trader and merchant. He was a very influential man, and the Government granted him the authority to establish a trading post among the Chippewa of Lake Superior. He supplied Indian trappers with food, clothing, traps, guns, ammunition and tobacco, in return for furs. Maple sugar makers also bartered their production for provisions, clothing and other necessities.

A few years after the reservations were set aside for the Chippewa people, the construction of more log houses was begun, even being used to bring the timber required for this purpose from the forest.  Many new homes were built along the Bad River, the location of the houses extending as far as the Falls.  The then existing homes were not lost from view in this movement, and houses needing repairs were given attention.  A sub-agent was appointed and placed in charge of the Bad River Reservation, whose duty it was to assist the Indians in agricultural pursuits, as well as guide and advise them in matters concerning such pursuits.  None was known as the Government Farmer.

The Indians always took the responsibility and care of his children quite seriously.  He taught them early the rudiments of the hunt and the trapping of wild game.  He instilled into them from infancy a love of the traditions and customs of their forefathers; he brought before their young minds the organization of the tribe and clans and their duties.  He also taught them early in life to be grateful to the Great Spirit and appreciate his many gifts.

Duluth News Tribune Tribune
Sunday, 21 Apr. 1918
“ASHLAND, Wis., April 20. – Chief Adam Scott, of the Chippewa tribe of Indians is dead. He passed away at his home in Odanah after a short illness of pneumonia at the age of 76 and was buried today.
Chief Scott was one of the head chiefs of the Chippewas since the death of his father who was a head chief of the Chippewa tribe when they were uncivilized. His father was Ka-ta-wa-ba-bay Scott and he lived to see his tribe emerge from a savage state to civilization. His son has been one of the chief advisors of the tribe and has made many trips to Washington on tribal business. Chief Adam Scott leaves one son who becomes chief. Chief Scott was born on Madeline Island and has lived either at Madeline Island or on the Bad River reservation all his life.”

Gic-he-chi-gie-nig Bah-dub-wah-be-da Scott, my father, who died at the age of seventy-six years and ten months, (born June 12, 1840; died April 16, 1916, told me the following:

Gaagaagens was Young Raven (George Cedar Root).
Kiskitawag (Giishkitawag: “Cut Ear”) signed multiple treaties as a warrior of the Ontonagon Band but afterwards was associated with the Bad River Band. ~C.M. Bell, Smithsonian Digital Collections

Kiskitawag (Giishkitawag: “Cut Ear”) signed multiple treaties as a warrior of the Ontonagon Band but afterwards was associated with the Bad River Band.  Photograph circa 1880.
~ C.M. Bell, Smithsonian Digital Collections

About four years after the signing of the Treaty of 1854, in the spring of 1858, Chief Keesh-ke-tow-wug (Cut Ear), one of the signers of the treaty, sent invitations through his runner, George Cedar Root (Ke-ka-geese, meaning young Raven) to tell all the people he could contact, to come to his home on a certain day.  He had his wife and daughters prepare a great feast and opened up a large Mo-kuk (birch bark container for maple sugar) of maple sugar.  About a hundred people ate at his feast that day.

Chief Keesh-ke-tow-wug ordered his runner to light his personal ceremonial pipe and pass it to each of his male guests.  After the pipe ceremony he arose in a very dignified manner.  He was a tall, lanky old gentleman, and when standing erect was over six feet tall.  He said:

“My children, I want you to listen to me.  The proposition I am about to present will benefit all of you, and I need your cooperation.  I would like to have you donate your labor to clear land for a large community garden, where every family, or any one who wishes can plant.  The place I would suggest is that swampy flat, near the cemetery.  It will take time to drain it and dry out but I know it will make good garden plats.”

The people approved of the idea and gave him the assurance that they would cooperate with him to carry out his plans.  The old chief was more than pleased.  he designated a date on which to start.

When they started clearing the ground for this purpose, many things had to be done.  The land was covered with willows and scrubby tamarack and water.  Long ditches had to be dug to furnish adequate drainage into both rivers, the Ka-ka-gon and the Bad.  It was not long before a tract of land of about eighty acres was prepared for the plow and under actual cultivation.

Weshki is a common Ojibwemowin name for the oldest son of a chief.  There were a number of chiefs with the Marten surname, especially at Lac du Flambeau and Lac Courte Oreilles.

This community garden extended from Mrs. Armstrong’s dwelling on the U. S. Highway No. 2 to where the steel and concrete bridge now crosses the Bad River on the east; and north-west to Waish-ki Martin’s house.  This old community clearing is now known as the “Blackbird Field.”  The Indians used this ground for their gardens about twenty-five years.

Detail of Chief James Blackbird from photo by De Lancey Gill. ~ Smithsonian Collections

Detail of Chief James Blackbird from an 1899 photo by De Lancey Gill.
~ Smithsonian Collections

In the years 1888 to 1890, Gic-caw-kie-yesh-sheese (Minor Surface Wind), son of the old chief Ma-ca-day-pe-nay-se (Blackbird), filed on this community clearing as his allotment.  He was later known as Chief James Blackbird.  The selection was approved by the Indian Department and a patent issued, covering the greater portion of the community garden, in the name of James Blackbird.  (see Article 3, granting of allotments, in the Chippewa Treaty of 1854, page 649).1

Under the stipulations of the Treaty of 1854, the chiefs with the assistance of a field Indian Agent constituted an allotment committee, who made membership rolls and gave allotments to those who were recognized as members of the Bad River band.  Tracts of eighty acres of land were allotted to each.

1 Laws and Treaties – Kappler

1820 Cass Schoolcraft

The Cass-Schoolcraft Expedition identified “Chippewa Gardens” at the location of Odanah.  This map is several decades older than Kiskitawag‘s proposal to pursue agriculture at the same location.
~ Narrative journal of travels from Detroit northwest through the great chain of American lakes to the sources of the Mississippi River in the year 1820, by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, page 105.

La Pointe Bands Part 1

April 19, 2015

By Leo Filipczak

lapointeband

(Click to Enlarge)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fitch-Wheeler Letter

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

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

Office Michn Indn Agency

Detroit July 8th 1857

Sir,

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

____________________________

 

La Pointe Bands.

__________

 

Maw kaw-day pe nay se [Blackbird]

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

Maw kaw-day waw quot [Black Cloud]

Waw be ne me ke [White Thunder]

Me she naw way [Disciple]

Aw, naw, quot [Cloud]

Naw waw ge won. [Little Current]

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

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

Vincent Roy Sen.  {head ½ Breeds.}

 

Lakes De Flambeau & Court Oreille Bands.

__________

 

Keynishteno [Cree]

Awmose [Little Bee]

Oskawbaywis [Messenger]

Keynozhance [Little Pike]

Iyawbanse [Little Buck]

Oshawwawskogezhick [Blue Sky]

Keychepenayse [Big Bird]

Naynayonggaybe [Dressing Bird]

Awkeywainze [Old Man]

Keychewawbeshayshe [Big Marten]

Aishquaygonaybe–[End Wing Feather]

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

__________

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

 

Very respectfully

Your Obedt Servt,

A W Fitch

Indn. Agent

 

Rev. L H Wheeler

Bad River msn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AN ABRAHAM LINCOLN INDIAN MEDAL
Theodore T. Brown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 TO BE CONTINUED

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.

 

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

~Makade-binesi (Blackbird)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

O-da-nah Jan 18, 1856.

L. H. Wheeler to Richard M. Smith

Dear Sir,

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

Short speech first from Kenistino of Lac du Flambeau.

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

The Commissioner, Col Manypenny replied as follows.

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

“Ah;” or yes, was the reply.

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

“Ah!” yes was the response.

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

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

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

Black Bird.  To the Indians.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Commissioner replied as follows

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

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

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

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

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

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

Naganub.

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

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

Buffalo.

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

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

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

Black Bird.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

Sources:
Kohl, J. G. Kitchi-Gami: Wanderings round Lake Superior. London: Chapman and Hall, 1860. Print.
McClurken, James M., and Charles E. Cleland. Fish in the Lakes, Wild Rice, and Game in Abundance: Testimony on Behalf of Mille Lacs Ojibwe Hunting and Fishing Rights / James M. McClurken, Compiler ; with Charles E. Cleland … [et Al.]. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State UP, 2000. Print.
McElroy, Crocket.  “An Indian Payment.”  Americana v.5.  American Historical Company, American Historical Society, National Americana Society Publishing Society of New York, 1910 (Digitized by Google Books) pages 298-302.
Morse, Richard F. “The Chippewas of Lake Superior.” Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. Ed. Lyman C. Draper. Vol. 3. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1857. 338-69. Print.
Paap, Howard D. Red Cliff, Wisconsin: A History of an Ojibwe Community. St. Cloud, MN: North Star, 2013. Print.
Satz, Ronald N. Chippewa Treaty Rights: The Reserved Rights of Wisconsin’s Chippewa Indians in Historical Perspective. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, 1991. Print.
Schenck, Theresa M. The Voice of the Crane Echoes Afar: The Sociopolitical Organization of the Lake Superior Ojibwa, 1640-1855. New York: Garland Pub.,1997. Print.
—————— William W. Warren: The Life, Letters, and times of an Ojibwe Leader. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2007. Print.
Warren, William W., and Theresa M. Schenck. History of the Ojibway People. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 2009. Print.
White, Richard. The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1991. Print.
Witgen, Michael J. An Infinity of Nations: How the Native New World Shaped Early North America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2012. Print.

To mark the new year 2014, today we’ll go back 170 years and look at New Year’s 1844.  .  I haven’t researched this specific topic,  but a study could certainly be done on celebrations of the first of January in the Lake Superior country before 1850.  My impressions are that New Years was one of the most joyously-celebrated holidays of the era.  In the journals and records, it stands out as an occasion with plenty of food, drink, kissing, and visiting.  I would be interested to know the origins of the New Year customs described below. Obviously, the observation of January 1st comes from the Christian rather than the Ojibwe calendar, but these celebrations seem well established by 1844, and are somewhat alien to the two Anglo-American authors.  These are customs that certainly date back to the British fur-trade era, probably stretch back to the French era, and pull in practices that are much older than either.   

Although, the celebration of the New Year on January 1st didn’t originate with the Ojibwe, in this part of the the world, it integrated several elements of Ojibwe and French-Ojibwe mix-blood culture.  This is what our two American authors, Rev. Leonard Wheeler at La Pointe, and the unidentified carpenter at Fond du Lac, cannot seem to figure out.

Wheeler, having been at La Pointe for a few years, is prepared with gifts and knows to honor the chiefs and elders, but he still hasn’t wrapped his head around the concept that the Ojibwe at his house are engaged in a tribal tradition of “feasting” door to door, rather than begging (as his Protestant ethic of “individual initiative” demands).  

The carpenter, who we met in this post, wants to participate in all the festivities but he freezes at a key moment and doesn’t know what to do when a group of pretty girls shows up at his door.  Let’s hope that by New Year 1845, he made good on his promise that “they’ll never slip through my fingers in that way again.”   

La Pointe, January 1, 1844:

Missionary Journal                 Jan 1, 1844.                                L. H. Wheeler

Jan 1. 1844. To day the Indians called as usual for their presents.  By keeping our doors locked we were able to have a quiet house till after the customary duties & labors of the morning were through, when our house was soon thronged with visitors very happy to see us, and especially when they received their two cakes apiece as a reward for their congratulations.  Nearly all our ladies received a kiss and some of them were, in this respect highly favored.  At 9 o’clock the bell was rung to give notice that we were ready to receive the Chief and his suit.  When Buffalow and Blackbird with the elderly men entered, followed by the principle men of influence in the Band–and these were succeeded by the young men.  The Indians seated in chairs and on the floor had a short smoke, after which they took their presents and departed.  Then came the Sabbath and day school scholars, who received in addition to their cakes, some little books, work bags and other present from their teachers when they sang fun little hymns and departed.  Our next company at about 11, consisted of our Christian Indians.  Embracing 6 families.  They received their presents of flour, pork, corn potatoes, and turnips and went away very much pleased.  At dinner we were favored with the company of Mrs La Pointe, Francis & Mary [St. Amo?].  At Supper, we had Miss Gates–and all her scholars and some of Mrs Spooners larger Scholars.  At 8 o’clock we had a full meeting of the Indians at the school room after which our tea party returned again to our house, and spent the evening in singing, visiting and in other ways highly gratifying to their juvenile feelings, and adapted to make a good impression upon their minds.  We had the privilege of giving away all our cakes and of receiving nearly all the the expressions of gratitude we expect during the year, except where similar favors are again bestowed.

The same night at Fond du Lac of Lake Superior:

Jan 1st 1844        Warm and misty—more like April fool than New years day

1844

Jan 1st               On this day I must record the honor of being visited by some half dozen pretty squaws expecting a New Years present and a kiss, not being aware of the etiquette of the place, we were rather taken by surprise, in not having presents prepared—however a few articles were mustered, an I must here acknowledge that although, out presents were not very valuable, we were entitled to the reward of a kiss, which I was ungallant enough not to claim, but they’ll never slip through my fingers in that way again.

Happy New Year!

(Both of these journals are from the Wheeler Family Papers, held by the Wisconsin Historical Society at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center in Ashland.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who was Blackbird?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mushkesebe River Oct. 1855

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

  

example not to meddle with other peoples business.

Mushkisibi River Oct. 1855

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

So, what did happen here?

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

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

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

So who are the good guys in this situation?

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

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

Henry Mower Rice (Wikimedia Images)

Henry M. Rice

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

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

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

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

Antoine Gordon 

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

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

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

Naaganab

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

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

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

Leonard H. Wheeler

L. H. Wheeler (WHS Image ID 66594)

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

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

Blackbird

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

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

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

Final word for now…

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

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

Sources:
Davidson, J. N., and Harriet Wood Wheeler. In Unnamed Wisconsin: Studies in the History of the Region between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi. Milwaukee, WI: S. Chapman, 1895. Print.
Ely, Edmund Franklin, and Theresa M. Schenck. The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 1833-1849. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2012. Print. 
McElroy, Crocket.  “An Indian Payment.”  Americana v.5.  American Historical Company, American Historical Society, National Americana Society Publishing Society of New York, 1910 (Digitized by Google Books) pages 298-302.
Morse, Richard F. “The Chippewas of Lake Superior.” Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. Ed. Lyman C. Draper. Vol. 3. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1857. 338-69. Print.
Paap, Howard D. Red Cliff, Wisconsin: A History of an Ojibwe Community. St. Cloud, MN: North Star, 2013. Print.
Pupil’s of St. Mary’s, and Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. Noble Lives of a Noble Race. Minneapolis: Brooks, 1909. Print.
Satz, Ronald N. Chippewa Treaty Rights: The Reserved Rights of Wisconsin’s Chippewa Indians in Historical Perspective. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, 1991. Print.

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

(Wisconsin Historical Society, Image ID: 3957)

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Wisconsin Historical Society WHI(x3)41266

If any image has been as closely tied to Chief Buffalo from La Pointe as the the bust of the Leech Lake Buffalo in Washington, it is an image of a kindly but powerful-looking man in a U.S. Army jacket with a medal around his neck. This image appears on the cover of the 1999 edition of Walleye Warriors, by treaty-rights activist Walter Bresette and Rick Whaley. It is identified as Buffalo in both Ronald Satzʼs Chippewa Treaty Rights, and Patty Loewʼs Indian Nations of Wisconsin. It occupies a prominent position in the collections of the Wisconsin Historical Society and hangs in the Madeline Island Museum, but in spite of the enduring popularity of this image, very little is known about it.

As I have not been able to thoroughly examine the originals or find any information whatsoever about their creation, chain of custody, or even when they entered the Historical Society’s collections, this post will be the most speculative of the Chief Buffalo Picture Search.

There are two versions of this image. One appears to be an early type of photograph. The Wisconsin Historical Society describes it as “over-painted enlargement, possibly from a double-portrait (possibly an ambrotype).”  I’ve been told by staff that the painting that hangs in the museum is a copy of this earlier version.

A photograph of the original image is in the Societyʼs archives as part of the Hamilton Nelson Ross collection.  On the back of the photo, “Chief Buffalo, Grandson of Great Chief Buffalo” is handwritten, presumably by Ross. This description would seem to indicate that the image shows one of Chief Buffaloʼs grandsons.  However, we need to be careful trusting Ross as a source of information about Buffalo’s family.

Ross, a resident of Madeline Island, gathered volumes of information on his home community in preparation for his book La Pointe Village Outpost on Madeline Island (1960). Although the book is exhaustively researched and highly detailed about the white and mix-blooded populations of the Island, it contains precious little information about individual Indians. The image of Buffalo is not in the book. In fact, the only mention of the chief comes in a footnote about his grave on page 177:

O-Shaka was also known as O-Shoga and Little Buffalo, and he was the son of Chief Great Buffalo.  The latter’s Ojibway name was Bezhike, but he was also known as Kechewaishkeenh–the latter with a variety of spellings.  Bezhike’s tombstone, in the Indian cemetery, has had the name broken off…

Oshogay was not Buffalo’s son (though he may have been a son-in-law), and he was not the man known as “Little Buffalo,”  but until his untimely death in 1853, he seemed destined to take over leadership of Buffalo’s “Red Cliff” faction of the La Pointe Band.  The one who did ultimately step into that role, however, was Buffalo’s son Jayjigwyong (Che-chi-gway-on):

Drew, C.K. Report of the Chippewa Agency of Lake Superior.  26 Oct. 1858.  Printed in Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs.  1858 (Digitized by Google Books)

We will return to Jayjigwyong later in the post, but for now, let’s examine the image itself.

The man in the picture wears an early 19th-century army jacket and a medal. This is consistent with the practices of Chief Buffalo’s day. The custom of handing out flags, jackets, and medals goes back at least to the 1700s with the French. The practice continued under the British and Americans as a way of recognizing certain individuals as chiefs and asserting imperial claims. For the chiefs, the items were symbolic of agreements and alliances. Large councils, treaty signings, and diplomatic missions were all occasions where they were given out. Buffalo had received medals and jackets from the British, and between 1820 and 1855, he took part in the negotiations of at least five treaties, many council meetings and annuity payments, visited Washington, and frequently went back and forth to the agency at Sault Ste. Marie. The United States Government favored Buffalo over the more forcefully-independent chiefs on the Ojibwe-Dakota frontier in Minnesota. Considering all this, it is likely that Buffalo received many jackets, flags, and medals from the Americans over the course of his long interaction with them. An excerpt from a letter by teacher Granville Sproat, who lived in the Lake Superior region in the 1830s reads:

Ke-che Be-zhe-kee, or Big Buffalo, as he was called by the Americans, was then chief of that band of Ogibway Indians who dwell on the south-west shores of Lake Superior, and were best known as the Lake Indians. He was wise and sagacious in council, a great orator, and was much reverenced by the Indians for his supposed intercourse with the Man-i-toes, or spirits, from whom they believed he derived much of his eloquence and wisdom in governing the affairs of the tribe.

“In the summer of 1836, his only son, a young man of rare promise, suddenly sickened and died. The old chief was almost inconsolable for his loss, and, as a token of his affection for his son, had him dressed and laid in the grave in the same military coat, together with the sword and epaulettes, which he had received a few months before as a present from the great father [president] at Washington. He also had placed beside him his favorite dog, to be his companion on his journey to the land of souls (qtd. in Peebles 107).

It is strange that Sproat says Buffalo had only one son given that his wife Florantha Sproat references another son in her description of this same funeral, but sorting out Buffalo’s descendants has never been an easy task. There are references to many sons, daughters, and wives over the course of his very long life.

Another description from the Treaty of 1842 reads:

On October 1 Buffalo appeared, wearing epaulettes on his shoulders, a hat trimmed with tinsel, and a string of bear claws about his neck (Dietrich qtd. in Paap 177-78).

From these accounts we know that Buffalo had these kinds of coats, but dozens of other Ojibwe chiefs would have had similar ones, so the identification cannot be made based on the existence of the coat alone.  Consider Naaganab at the 1855 annuity payment:

Na-gon-ub is head chief of the Fond du Lac bands; about the age of forty, short and close built, inclines to ape the dandy in dress, is very polite, neat and tidy in his attire. At first, he appeared in his native blanket, leggings, &c. He soon drew from the Agent a suit of rich blue broadcloth, fine vest, and neat blue cap,–his tiny feet in elegant finely-wrought moccasins. Mr. L., husband of Grace G., with whom he was a special favorite, presented him with a pair of white kid gloves, which graced his hands on all occasions. Some two or three years since, he visited Washington, a delegate from his tribe. Upon this journey, some one presented him with a pair of large and gaudy epaulettes, said to be worth sixty dollars. These adorned his shoulders daily; his hair was cut shorter than their custom. He quite inclined to be with, and to mingle in the society, of the officers, and of white men. These relied on him more, perhaps, than any other chief, for assistance among the Chippewas… (Morse pg. 346)

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

In many ways, this description of Naaganab fits the image better than any description of Buffalo I’ve seen.  The man is dressed in European fashion, has short hair, and large epaulets.  We also know that Naaganab had presidential medals, since he continued to display them until his death in the 1890s.  The image isn’t dated, but if it truly is an ambrotype, as described by the State Historical Society, that is a technique of photography used mostly in the late 1850s and 1860s.  When Buffalo died in 1855, he was reported to be in his nineties.  Naaganab would have been in his forties or fifties at that time.  To me, the man in the image appears middle-aged rather than elderly.

So is Naaganab the man in the picture?  I don’t think so.  For one, there are multiple photographs of the Fond du Lac chief out there. The clothing and hairstyle largely match, but the face is different.  The other thing to consider is that this image, to my knowledge, has never been identified with Naaganab.  Everything I’ve ever seen associates it with the name Buffalo.

However, there is a La Pointe chief who was a political ally of Naaganab, also dressed in white fashion, could have easily owned a medal and fancy army jacket, would have been middle-aged in the 1850s, and bore the English name of “Buffalo.”  It was Jayjigwyong, the son of Chief Buffalo.

Alfred Brunson recorded the following in 1843:

(pg. 158) From elsewhere in the account, we know that the “fifty” year-old is Chief Buffalo.  This is odd, as most sources had Buffalo in his eighties at that time.

(pg. 191)

UPDATE APRIL 27, 2014 The connection of the image to Jechiikwii’o is further explored in this post and this post.

Unlike his famous father, Jayjigwyong, often recorded as “Little Buffalo,” is hardly remembered, but he is a significant figure in the history of our region.  He was a signatory of the treaties of 1837, 1847, and 1854.  He led the faction of the La Pointe Band that felt that rapid assimilation represented the best chance for the Ojibwe to survive and keep their lands.  In addition to wearing white clothing and living in houses, Jayjigwyong was Catholic and associated more with the mix-blooded population of the Island than with the majority of the La Pointe band who sought to maintain their traditions at Bad River.

According to James Blackbird, whose father Makadebineshiinh (Black Bird) led the Bad River faction, it was Jayjigwyong who chose where the Red Cliff reservation was to be.  James Blackbird, about eleven or twelve at the time of the Treaty of 1854, would have known both the elder and younger Buffalo.

Statement of James Blackbird in the Matters of the Allotments on the Bad River Reservation, Wis.  Odanah, 23 Sep. 1909.  Published in Condition of Indian affairs in Wisconsin: hearings before the Committee on Indian Affairs, United States Senate, [61st congress, 2d session], on Senate resolution, Issue 263.  United States Congress.  1910.  Pg. 202.

The younger Blackbird, offered more information about the younger Buffalo in another publication.

Superior Telegram.  17 Sep. 1915.  (Digitized by Wisconsin Historical Society)

Even though it is from 1915, there are a number of items in this account that if accurate are very relevant to pre-1860 history.  For this post, I’ll stick to the two that involve Jayjigwyong.  This is the only source I’ve ever seen that refers to Chief Buffalo marrying a white woman captured on a raid.  This lends further credence to the argument explored by Dietrich and Paap that Chief Buffalo fought in the Ohio Valley wars of the 1790s.  It also begs the question of whether being perceived as a “half-breed” had an impact on Jayjigwyong’s decisions as an adult.

James Blackbird (seated) with interpreter John Medeguan in Washington, 1899.  (Photo by Gil DeLancy, Smitsonian Collections)

The other interesting part of the statement is that James Blackbird says his father was pipe carrier for Jayjigwyong.  This would be surprising as Blackbird was the most influential La Pointe chief after the death of Buffalo.  However, this idea of Jayjigwyong, inheriting the symbolic “head chief” title from his father can also be seen in the following document from 1857:

Published in Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to the Secretary of the Interior.  Office of Indian Affairs.  1882.  pg. 299.  (Digitized by Google Books)

Today the fishing ground at the tip of Madeline Island is now considered part of the Bad River Reservation, but it was the Red Cliff chief who picked it out.  This shows how the political division of the La Pointe Band into two distinct entities took several years to take shape, and was not an abrupt split at the Treaty of 1854.

Jayjigwyong continued to be regarded as a chief until his death in 1860:

Drew, C.K. Report on the Chippewas of Lake Superior.  Red Cliff Agency.  29 Oct. 1860.  Pg. 51 of Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs.  Bureau of Indian Affairs.  1860.  (Digitized by Google Books).  Zhingob (Shing-oop) was Naaganab’s cousin and the hereditary chief at Fond du Lac.  Also known as Nindibens, he figures prominently in Edmund F. Ely’s journals of the mid-1830s.

Future generations of the Buffalo family continued to be looked at as hereditary chiefs in Red Cliff, and sources can be found calling these grandsons and great-grandsons “Chief Buffalo.”

J.H. Beers and Co.  Commemorative Biographical Record of the Upper Lake Region.  1905.  Pg. 379. (Digitized by Google Books).

Antoine brings us full circle.  If we remember, Hamiton Ross wrote that the image of the chief in the army jacket was Chief Buffalo’s grandson.  And while we don’t know where Ross got his information, and he made mistakes about Buffalo’s family elsewhere, we have to consider that Antoine Buffalo was an adult by 1852 and he could have inherited his father’s, or grandfather’s, medal and coat.

The Verdict

Although we’ve uncovered several lines of inquiry for this image, all the evidence is circumstantial.  Until we know more about the creation and chain of custody, it’s impossible to rule Chief Buffalo in or out.  My gut tells me it’s Buffalo’s son, Jajigwyong, but it could be his grandson, Naaganab, or and entirely different chief.  We don’t know.

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Inconclusive: It could be Chief Buffalo, but there is also evidence pointing to others.

Sources:
Brunson, Alfred. A Western Pioneer, Or, Incidents of the Life and times of Rev. Alfred Brunson Embracing a Period of over Seventy Years. Cinncinnati: Hitchchock and Walden, 1872. Print.
Commemorative Biographical Record of the Upper Lake Region. Chicago: J. H. Beers &, 1905. Print.
Ely, Edmund Franklin, and Theresa M. Schenck. The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 1833-1849. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2012. Print. 
KAPPLER’S INDIAN AFFAIRS: LAWS AND TREATIES. Ed. Charles J. Kappler. Oklahoma State University Library, n.d. Web. 21 June 2012. <http:// digital.library.okstate.edu/Kappler/>.
Loew, Patty. Indian Nations of Wisconsin: Histories of Endurance and Renewal.  Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society, 2001. Print.
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.
Peebles, J. M.  Immortality, and Our Employments Hereafter. With What a Hundred Spirits, Good and Evil, Say of Their Dwelling Places.  Boston: Colby and Rich, 1880. Print.
Ross, Hamilton Nelson. La Pointe, Village Outpost. St. Paul: North Central Pub., 1960. Print
Satz, Ronald N. Chippewa Treaty Rights: The Reserved Rights of Wisconsin’s Chippewa Indians in Historical Perspective. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, 1991. Print.
Schenck, Theresa M. The Voice of the Crane Echoes Afar: The Sociopolitical Organization of the Lake Superior Ojibwa, 1640-1855. New York: Garland Pub.,1997. Print.
Warren, William W., and Theresa M. Schenck. History of the Ojibway People. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 2009. Print.
Whaley, Rick, and Walter Bresette.  Walleye Warriors: The Chippewa Treaty Rights Story. Warner, NH: Tongues of Green Fire, Writers Pub. Cooperative, 1999. Print.

Symbolic Petition of the Chippewa Chiefs:  This pictographic petition was brought to Washington D.C. by a delegation of Ojibwe chiefs and their interpreter J.B. Martell.  This one, representing the band of Chief Oshkaabewis, is the most famous, but their were several others copied from birch bark by Seth Eastman and published in the works of Henry Schoolcraft.  For more, follow this link.

Henry Schoolcraft.  William W. Warren.  George Copway.  These names are familiar to any scholar of mid-19th-century Ojibwe history.  They are three of the most referenced historians of the era, and their works provide a great deal of historical material that is not available in any other written sources.  Copway was Ojibwe, Warren was a mix-blood Ojibwe, and Schoolcraft was married to the granddaughter of the great Chequamegon chief Waabojiig, so each is seen, to some extent, as providing an insider’s point of view.  This could lead one to conclude that when all three agree on something, it must be accurate.  However, there is a danger in over-relying on these early historians in that we forget that they were often active participants in the history they recorded.

This point was made clear to me once again as I tried to sort out my lingering questions about the 1848-49 “Martell” Delegation to Washington.  If you are a regular reader, you may remember that this delegation was the subject of the first post on this website.  You may also remember from this post, that the group did not have money to get to Washington and had to reach out to the people they encountered along the way. 

The goal of the Martell Delegation was to get the United States to cede back title to the lands surrounding the major Lake Superior Ojibwe villages.  The Ojibwe had given this land up in the Treaty of 1842 with the guarantee that they could remain on it.  However, by 1848 there were rumors of removal of all the bands east of the Mississippi to unceded land in Minnesota.  That removal was eventually attempted, in 1850-51, in what is now called the Sandy Lake Tragedy. 

The Martell Delegation remains a little-known part of the removal story, although the pictographs remain popular.  Those petitions are remembered because they were published in Henry Schoolcrafts’ Historical and statistical information respecting the history, condition, and prospects of the Indian tribes of the United States (1851) along with the most accessible primary account of the delegation:

In the month of January, 1849, a delegation of eleven Chippewas, from Lake Superior, presented themselves at Washington, who, amid other matters not well digested in their minds, asked the government for a retrocession of some portion of the lands which the nation had formerly ceded to the United States, at a treaty concluded at Lapointe, in Lake Superior, in 1842. They were headed by Oshcabawiss, a chief from a part of the forest-country, called by them Monomonecau, on the head-waters of the River Wisconsin. Some minor chiefs accompanied them, together with a Sioux and two boisbrules, or half-breeds, from the Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. The principal of the latter was a person called Martell, who appeared to be the master-spirit and prime mover of the visit, and of the motions of the entire party. His motives in originating and conducting the party, were questioned in letters and verbal representations from persons on the frontiers. He was freely pronounced an adventurer, and a person who had other objects to fulfil, of higher interest to himself than the advancement of the civilization and industry of the Indians. Yet these were the ostensible objects put forward, though it was known that he had exhibited the Indians in various parts of the Union for gain, and had set out with the purpose of carrying them, for the same object, to England. However this may be, much interest in, and sympathy for them, was excited. Officially, indeed, their object was blocked up. The party were not accredited by their local agent. They brought no letter from the acting Superintendent of Indian Affairs on that frontier. The journey had not been authorized in any manner by the department. It was, in fine, wholly voluntary, and the expenses of it had been defrayed, as already indicated, chiefly from contributions made by citizens on the way, and from the avails of their exhibitions in the towns through which they passed; in which, arrayed in their national costume, they exhibited their peculiar dances, and native implements of war and music. What was wanting, in addition to these sources, had been supplied by borrowing from individuals.

Engraving of Henry Schoolcraft by Wellstood an...

Engraving of Henry Schoolcraft by Wellstood and Peters (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Martell, who acted as their conductor and interpreter, brought private letters from several persons to members of Congress and others, which procured respect. After a visit, protracted through seven or eight weeks, an act was passed by Congress to defray the expenses of the party, including the repayment of the sums borrowed of citizens, and sufficient to carry them back, with every requisite comfort, to their homes in the north-west. While in Washington, the presence of the party at private houses, at levees, and places of public resort, and at the halls of Congress, attracted much interest; and this was not a little heightened by their aptness in the native ceremonies, dancing, and their orderly conduct and easy manners, united to the attraction of their neat and well-preserved costume, which helped forward the object of their mission.

The visit, although it has been stated, from respectable sources, to have had its origin wholly in private motives, in the carrying out of which the natives were made to play the part of mere subordinates, was concluded in a manner which reflects the highest credit on the liberal feelings and sentiments of Congress. The plan of retrocession of territory, on which some of the natives expressed a wish to settle and adopt the modes of civilized life, appeared to want the sanction of the several states in which the lands asked for lie. No action upon it could therefore be well had, until the legislatures of these states could be consulted (pg. 414-416, pictographic plates follow).

I have always had trouble with Schoolcraft’s interpretation of these events.  It wasn’t that I had evidence to contradict his argument, but rather that I had a hard time believing that all these chiefs would make so weighty a decision as to go to Washington simply because their interpreter was trying to get rich.  The petitions asked for a permanent homeland in the traditional villages east of the Mississippi.  This was the major political goal of the Lake Superior Ojibwe leadership at that time and would remain so in all the years leading up to 1854.  Furthermore, chiefs continued to ask for, or go “uninvited” on, diplomatic missions to the president in the years that followed.

I explored some of this in the post about the pictograph, but a number of lingering questions remained:

What route did this group take to Washington?

Who was Major John Baptiste Martell?

Did he manipulate the chiefs into working for him, or was he working for them? 

Was the Naaganab who went with this group the well-known Fond du Lac chief or the warrior from Lake Chetek with the same name?

Did any chiefs from the La Pointe band go?

Why was Martell criticized so much?  Did he steal the money?

What became of Martell after the expedition?

How did the “Martell Expedition” of 1848-49 impact the Ojibwe removal of 1850-51?

Lacking access to the really good archives on this subject, I decided to focus on newspapers, and since this expedition received so much attention and publicity, this was a good choice.  Enjoy:

Indiana Palladium.  Vevay, IN.  Dec. 2, 1848

Capt. Seth Eastman of the U.S. Army took note of the delegation as it traveled down the Mississippi from Fort Snelling to St. Louis.  Eastman, a famous painter of American Indians, copied the birch bark petitions for publication in the works of his collaborator Henry Schoolcraft.  At least one St. Louis paper also noticed these unique pictographic documents.

Lafayette Courier.  Lafayette, IN.  Dec. 8, 1848.

The delegation made its way up the Ohio River to Cincinnati, where Gezhiiyaash’s illness led to a chance encounter with some Ohio Freemasons.  I won’t repeat it here, but I covered this unusual story in this post from August.

At Cincinnati, they left the river and headed toward Columbus.  Just east of that city, on the way to Pittsburgh, one of the Ojibwe men offered some sound advice to the women of Hartford, Ohio, but he received only ridicule in return.

Madison Weekly Courier.  Madison, IN.  Jan. 24, 1849

It’s unclear how quickly reports of the delegation came back to the Lake Superior country.  William Warren’s letter to his cousin George, written in March after the delegation had already left Washington, still spoke of St. Louis:

William W. Warren (Wikimedia Images)

“…About Martells Chiefs.  They were according to last accounts dancing the pipe dance at St. Louis.  They have been making monkeys of themselves to fill the pockets of some cute Yankee who has got hold of them.  Black bird returned from Cleveland where he caught scarlet fever and clap.  He has behaved uncommon well since his return…” (Schenck, pg. 49)

From this letter, we learn that Blackbird, the La Pointe chief, was originally part of the group.  In evaluating Warren’s critical tone, we must remember that he was working closely with the very government officials who withheld their permission.  Of the La Pointe chiefs, Blackbird was probably the least accepting of American colonial power.  However, we see in the obituary of Naaganab, Blackbird’s rival at the 1855 annuity payment, that the Fond du Lac chief was also there.

New York World.  New York.  July 22, 1894

Before finding this obituary, I had thought that the Naaganab who signed the petition was more likely the headman from Lake Chetek.  Instead, this information suggests it was the more famous Fond du Lac chief.  This matters because in 1848, Naaganab was considered the speaker for his cousin Zhingob, the leading chief at Fond du Lac.  Blackbird, according to his son James, was the pipe carrier for Buffalo.  While these chiefs had their differences with each other, it seems likely that they were representing their bands in an official capacity.  This means that the support for this delegation was not only from “minor chiefs” as Schoolcraft described them, or “Martells Chiefs” as Warren did, from Lac du Flambeau and Michigan.  I would argue that the presence of Blackbird and Naaganab suggests widespread support from the Lake Superior bands.  I would guess that there was much discussion of the merits of a Washington delegation by Buffalo and others during the summer of 1848, and that the trip being a hasty money-making scheme by Martell seems much less likely.

Madison Daily Banner.  Madison, IN.  Jan. 3, 1849.

From Pittsburgh, the delegation made it to Philadelphia, and finally Washington.  They attracted a lot of attention in the nation’s capital.  Some of their adventures and trials:  Oshkaabewis and his wife Pammawaygeonenoqua losing an infant child, the group hunting rabbits along the Potomac, and the chiefs taking over Congress, are included this post from March, so they aren’t repeated here.

Adams Sentinel.  Gettysburg, PA.  Feb. 5, 1849.

According to Ronald Satz, the delegation was received by both Congress and President Polk with “kindly feelings” and the expectation of “good treatment in the future” if they “behaved themselves (Satz 51).”  Their petition was added to the Congressional Record, but the reservations were not granted at the time.  However, Congress did take up the issue of paying for the debts accrued by the Ojibwe along the way.

George Copway (Wikimedia Commons)

Kah-Ge-Ga-Gah-Bowh (George Copway), a Mississauga Ojibwe and Methodist missionary, was the person “belonging to one of the Canada Bands of Chippewas,” who wrote the anti-Martell letter to Indian Commissioner William Medill.  This is most likely the letter Schoolcraft referred to in 1851.  In addition to being upset about the drinking, Copway was against reservations in Wisconsin.  He wanted the government to create a huge pan-Indian colony at the headwaters of the Missouri River.

William Medill (Wikimedia Commons)

Iowa State Gazette.  Burlington, IA.  April 4, 1849

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Weekly Wisconsin.  Milwaukee.  Feb. 28, 1849.

With $6000 (or did they only get $5000?), a substantial sum for the antebellum Federal Government,  the group prepared to head back west with the ability to pay back their creditors.

martellcongressspeech

It appears the chiefs returned to their villages by going back though the Great Lakes to Green Bay and then overland.

The Chippewa Delegation, who have been on a visit to see their “great fathers” in Washington, passed through this place on Saturday last, on their way to their homes near Lake Superior.  From the accounts of the newspapers, they have been lionized during their whole journey, and particularly in Washington, where many presents were made them, among the most substantial of which was six boxed of silver ($6,000) to pay their expenses.  They were loaded with presents, and we noticed one with a modern style trunk strapped to his back.  They all looked well and in good spirits (qtd. in Paap, pg. 205)

Green Bay Gazette.  April 4, 1849

So, it hardly seems that the Ojibwe chiefs returned to their villages feeling ripped off by their interpreter.  Martell himself returned to the Soo, and found a community about to be ravaged by a epidemic of cholera.

Weekly Wisconsin.  Milwaukee.  Sep. 5, 1849.

Martell appears in the 1850 census on the record of those deceased in the past year.  Whether he was a major in the Mexican War, whether he was in the United States or Canadian military, or whether it was even a real title, remains a mystery.  His death record lists his birthplace as Minnesota, which probably connects him to the Martells of Red Lake and Red River, but little else is known about his early years.  And while we can’t say for certain whether he led the group purely out of self-interest, or whether he genuinely supported the cause, John Baptiste Martell must be remembered as a key figure in the struggle for a permanent Ojibwe homeland in Wisconsin and Michigan.  He didn’t live to see his fortieth birthday, but he made the 1848-49 Washington delegation possible.

So how do we sort all this out?

To refresh, my unanswered questions from the other posts about this delegation were:

1)  What route did this group take to Washington?

2)  Who was Major John Baptiste Martell?

3) Did he manipulate the chiefs into working for him, or was he working for them? 

4)  Was the Naaganab who went with this group the well-known Fond du Lac chief or the warrior from Lake Chetek with the same name?

5)  Did any chiefs from the La Pointe band go?

6)  Why was Martell criticized so much?  Did he steal the money?

7)  What became of Martell after the expedition?

8)  How did the “Martell Expedition” of 1848-49 impact the Ojibwe removal of 1850-51?

We’ll start with the easiest and work our way to the hardest.  We know that the primary route to Washington was down the Brule, St. Croix, and Mississippi to St. Louis, and from there up the Ohio.  The return trip appears to have been via the Great Lakes.

We still don’t know how Martell became a major, but we do know what became of him after the diplomatic mission.  He didn’t survive to see the end of 1849.

The Fond du Lac chief Naaganab, and the La Pointe chief Blackbird, were part of the group.  This indicates that a wide swath of the Lake Superior Ojibwe leadership supported the delegation, and casts serious doubt on the notion that it was a few minor chiefs in Michigan manipulated by Martell.

Until further evidence surfaces, there is no reason to support Schoolcraft’s accusations toward Martell.  Even though these allegations are seemingly validated by Warren and Copway, we need to remember how these three men fit into the story.  Schoolcraft had moved to Washington D.C. by this point and was no longer Ojibwe agent, but he obviously supported the power of the Indian agents and favored the assimilation of his mother-in-law’s people.  Copway and Warren also worked closely with the Government, and both supported removal as a way to separate the Ojibwe from the destructive influences of the encroaching white population.  These views were completely opposed to what the chiefs were asking for:  permanent reservations at the traditional villages.  Because of this, we need to consider that Schoolcraft, Warren, and Copway would be negatively biased toward this group and its interpreter.

Finally there’s the question Howard Paap raises in Red Cliff, Wisconsin.  How did this delegation impact the political developments of the early 1850s?  In one sense the chiefs were clearly pleased with the results of the trip.  They made many friends in Congress, in the media, and in several American cities.  They came home smiling with gifts and money to spread to their people.  However, they didn’t obtain their primary goal:  reservations east of the Mississippi, and for this reason, the following statement in Schoolcraft’s account stands out:

The plan of retrocession of territory, on which some of the natives expressed a wish to settle and adopt the modes of civilized life, appeared to want the sanction of the several states in which the lands asked for lie. No action upon it could therefore be well had, until the legislatures of these states could be consulted.

“Kindly feelings” from President Polk didn’t mean much when Zachary Taylor and a new Whig administration were on the way in.  Meanwhile, Congress and the media were so wrapped up in the national debate over slavery that they forgot all about the concerns of the Ojibwes of Lake Superior.  This allowed a handful of Indian Department officials, corrupt traders, and a crooked, incompetent Minnesota Territorial governor named Alexander Ramsey to force a removal in 1850 that resulted in the deaths of 400 Ojibwe people in the Sandy Lake Tragedy.

It is hard to know how the chiefs felt about their 1848-49 diplomatic mission after Sandy Lake.  Certainly their must have been a strong sense that they were betrayed and abandoned by a Government that had indicated it would support them, but the idea of bypassing the agents and territorial officials and going directly to the seat of government remained strong.  Another, much more famous, “uninvited” delegation brought Buffalo and Oshogay to Washington in 1852, and ultimately the Federal Government did step in to grant the Ojibwe the reservations.  Almost all of the chiefs who made the journey, or were shown in the pictographs, signed the Treaty of 1854 that made them.

Sources:
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.
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.

         

The banner at the top of this website reads “Primary history of the Chequamegon Region before 1860.  In the About page, I explain that 1860 is really an arbitrary round number, and what I’m really focusing on is this area before it became dominated by an English-speaking American society.  This is not an easy date to pinpoint, though I think most would argue it happened between 1842 and 1855.  While the Treaty of La Pointe in 1854 is an easy marker of separation between the two eras, I would argue that the annuity payments that took place on the island the next summer, can also be seen as a watershed moment in history.

The 1855 payment, in many ways, illustrates the change in the relationship between the United States and the Ojibwe people that would characterize the rest of the 19th century and early 20th century.  The threats of Ojibwe removal or military conflict  between the two nations largely ended with the treaty and the establishment of reservations.  However, in their place was a paternalistic and domineering government that felt a responsibility to “civilize the Indian.”  No one at this time embodied this idea more than George Manypenny, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, and it was Manypenny, himself, who presided over the 1855 payment.

The days were over when master politicians like Buffalo and Flat Mouth could try to negotiate with the Americans as equals while playing them off of the British in Canada at the same time.  In fact, Buffalo died during the 1855 payment, and the new generation of chiefs were men who had spent their youth in a time of Ojibwe power, but who would grow old in an era where government Indian Agents would rule the reservations like petty dictators.  The men of this generation, Jayjigwyong (“Little Buffalo”) of Red Cliff, Blackbird of Bad River, and Naaganab of Fond du Lac, were the ones who were prominent during the summer of 1855.

Until this point, our knowledge of the 1855 payment cams largely from the essay The Chippewas of Lake Superior  by a witness named Richard Morse.  Dr. Morse’s writing includes a number of speeches by the Ojibwe leadership and a number of smaller accounts of items that piqued his interest, including the story of Hanging Cloud the female warrior, and the deaths of Buffalo and Oshogay.  However, when reading Morse, one gets the sense that he or she is not getting stray observations of an uninformed visitor rather than a complete story.

It was for this reason that I got excited today when I stumbled across a second memoir of the 1855 payment.  It comes from Volume 5 of Americana, a turn-of-the-century historical journal.  Crocket McElroy, the author, is writing around fifty years after he witnessed the 1855 payment as a young clerk in Bayfield.

We still do not have a full picture of the 1855 payment, since we will never have full written accounts from Blackbird, Naaganab, and the rest of the Ojibwe leadership, but McElroy’s essay does provide an interesting contrast to Morse’s.  The two men saw many of the same events but interpreted them very differently.  And while McElroy’s racist beliefs skew his observations and make his writing hard to stomach, in some ways his observations are as informative as Morse’s even though his work is considerably shorter: 

From 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.

 

AN INDIAN PAYMENT

By Crocket McElroy

Morse describes Blackbird as “ugly”, “cunning”, and skilled at “rascality,” while Naaganab is “wise,” “judicious” and “intelligent.”  To McElroy, Blackbird is “modest” and speaks with a “clear head” and “ingenuity”, while Naaganab is “shrewd.”  Blackbird wanted the payments to go directly to the chiefs for distribution, while Naaganab supported the Agent’s plan to distribute the money to the Ojibwe and their creditors.

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

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

Buffalo’s death in 1855 marked the end of an era.  Jayjigwyong (Young Buffalo) was no young man when he took over from his father.  The connection between Buffalo and Buffalo, New York also appears in Morse on page 368, although he says the names are not connected.  If Buffalo did indeed live in the Niagara region, it may lend credence to the hypothesis explored in Paap’s Red Cliff Wisconsin, that Buffalo fought the Americans in the Indian Wars of the 1790s and signed the Treaty of Greenville (Photo:  Wikimedia Images).

The commissioner was an amiable man and got along pleasantly with his savage friends, besides managing the council skilfully.

Among the prominent chiefs attending the payment was Buffalo, then called “Old Buffalo,” as he had a son called “Young Buffalo” who was also an old man. Old Buffalo was said to be over one hundred years old. He died during the council and the writer witnessed the funeral. He was buried in the Indian grave yard near the Indian church in Lapointe village. The body was laid on a stretcher formed of two poles laid lengthwise and several poles laid crosswise. The stretcher was carried on the shoulders of four Indians. Following the corpse was a long procession of Indians in irregular order. It was claimed for Buffalo, that he maintained a camp many years before at the mouth of Buffalo Creek on the Niagara River, and that the creek and the present large and flourishing city of Buffalo were named after him.

Naaganab’s (above) comments about Wheeler being ungenerous with food echoed a common Ojibwe complaint about the ABCFM missionaries.  Wheeler’s Protestant Ethic of upward mobility and self-reliance made little sense in a tribal society where those who had extra were expected to share.  Read The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, edited by Theresa Schenck, for Naaganab’s experience with another missionary two decades earlier.  Read this post if you don’t understand why the Ojibwe resented the missionaries over the issue of food (Photo from Newberry Library Collections, Chicago).

Another prominent chief attending the conference was Ne-gon-up, head chief of the Fond du lac Indians. Negonup’s camp was on the south side of the St Louis River in Wisconsin, about where the city of Superior now stands. Negonup was a shrewd, practical Indian and had considerable influence. The writer saw him going to the Indian church one Sunday, there was a squaw on each side of him and one behind, they were said to be his wives. A good and zealous Methodist minister named Wheeler desired to talk to Negonup and his tribe about the Great Spirit. Negonup it is said expressed himself in regard to Mr. Wheeler in this manner:

“Mr. Wheeler comes to us and says he wants to do us good. He looks like a good man and we think he is and we believe his intentions are good, but he does not bring us any proof. Now if Mr. Wheeler will bring to me a good supply of barrels of flour and barrels of pork, for distribution among my people, then I shall be convinced that he is a good man.”

The sessions of the council began on August 30th and were held in the open air on a grass common. On the second day the special police acting under directions from the Indian agent H. Gilbert, seized two barrels of whisky that was being secretly sold to the half-breeds and Indians. The proceedings of the council were suspended and the two barrels of whisky were rolled into the center of the common. Mr. Gilbert then took a hatchet, chopped a hole into each barrel and poured the whiskey out on the ground. A few half-breeds and Indians in the outer edge of the crowd dropped on their knees and sucked some of the whisky out of the grass.

In accordance with the stipulations of a treaty, the government was distributing among the Indians a large quantity of blankets, cotton cloth, calico, and other kinds of cloth to be used for clothing or bedding. Also provisions, farming implements, cooking utensils, and other articles supposed to be useful to the Indians The Indians were entitled to a certain value per head in goods and also in cash. The cash payment was I think two dollars and fifty cents per head. The goods were distributed first to the heads of families. After the goods were disposed of the money was paid in gold and silver.

“Either the laws of the United States give the Indian agent in such cases arbitrary power, or the agent assumed it…”   There are many references to agents of the OIA/BIA acting with absolute power on reservations in the 19th-century.  What makes this one stand out is how early (1855) it is.

Notwithstanding the care exercised by the Indian agent to prevent the sale of liquor to Indians they were still able to find it, and occasionally some would be found drunk. One who was acting badly was arrested and confined in a log lockup, and while there created a great disturbance. He pounded his head against the logs and yelled so loud and continuously as to excite the other Indians and some of them became very angry. It was feared they would make trouble and a rumor spread through the village that the Indians would rise that night, break into the jail, release the prisoner and then murder all the white people on the island. As the Indians outnumbered the whites ten to one the excitement became painfully intense and a meeting of whites and half breeds was called to take action. A company of volunteers was organized to assist the Indian agent in searching for and destroying liquors. A systematic and thorough search was made of nearly every building in the village, from attic to cellar. A good deal of liquor was found and promptly destroyed. After two days of this kind of work the danger of murders being committed by drunken Indians was supposed to be past and quiet was restored. Either the laws of the United States give the Indian agent in such cases arbitrary power, or the agent assumed it at any rate it was courageously exercised.

Rev. Leonard Wheeler’s mission was Congregational-Presbyterian, not Methodist as McElroy states.  The Fond du Lac Indians were familiar with both Protestant sects, but the “civilized” Fond du Lac chiefs Zhingob (Nindibens) and Naaganab, much like Jayjigwyong in Red Cliff, aligned with the Catholics.  This represented a major threat to Wheeler and his virulently anti-Catholic colleagues who envisioned a fully-assimilated  Protestant future for the Ojibwe (Photo:  Wisconsin Historical Society). 

A good many of the Indians were warriors, who were frequently, in fact, almost constantly at war with the Sioux. They were pure savages, totally uncivilized, and the faces of some of them had an expression as utterly destitute of human kindness as I have ever seen in wild beasts. A small portion of them were partially civilized and a very few could talk a little English.  Nearly all the Indians came to the island in their own canoes bringing along the entire family.

The agent completed his work in about twenty-five days.

There is hardly anything that a savage Indian has less use for than money and when it comes into his hands he hastens to spend it. It goes quickly into the hands of traders, half-breeds and the partially civilized Indians.

A few days previous to the opening of the council, the Indians gave a war dance which was attended by a large crowd of Indians and whites. A ring about twenty feet in diameter was formed by male Indians and squaws sitting cross legged around it, a number of whom had small unmusical drums. The ceremony commenced with the Indians in the circle singing: “Hi yi yi, i e, i o.” This was the whole song and it was repeated over and over with tiresome monotony, and the drums were beaten to keep time with the singing. After the singing had been going on for some minutes a warrior bounced into the ring and began to talk. Instantly the singing stopped. The orator showed great agitation, no doubt for the purpose of convincing his hearers that he was a brave warrior. He hopped and jumped about the ring, swung his arms violently and pointed toward his enemies in the west. He was apparently telling how badly the Sioux had been beaten in the last fight, or how they would be whipped in the next one, and perhaps also how many scalps he had taken. So soon as the talking stopped the singing would begin again and after a little more of the ridiculous music, another warrior would bounce into the ring and begin his speech.

For this occasion some of the Indians were painted with different colored paints, made out of clay and other coarse materials daubed on without much regard to order or taste. A good many males were entirely naked except that they wore breech clouts. One Indian had one leg painted black and the other red, and his face was daubed with various colored paints, so that except in the form of his body, he looked like anything but a human being. When a few speeches had been made the war dance ended.

As with the Naaganab-Blackbird debate and Buffalo’s funeral, the dance, the woman with the dog, and the experiences of Mr. and Mrs. Lippincott are all covered in Morse with differing details and interpretations.

During the council a begging party of Indians went the rounds of the camps to solicit donations for a squaw widow with four children, whose husband had been killed by the Sioux. At every tent something was given and the articles were carried along by the party. One of the presents was a dead dog, a rope was tied to the dog’s legs and an Indian put the rope over his head and let the dog hang on his back. The widow marched in the procession she was a large strong woman with long hair in a single braid hanging down her back. To the end of the braid was tied two scalps which dangled about one foot below. It was said she had killed two Sioux in revenge for their killing her husband and had taken their scalps.

Among the notable persons in attendance at the council, was a lady distinguished as a writer of fiction under the pen name of Grace Greenwood. She had been recently married to a Mr. Lippincott and was accompanied by her husband. Mrs. Lippincott. did not look like a healthy woman, but she lived to be forty-nine years older and to be highly respected and honored before she died in the year 1904.

Hopefully this document will contribute to the understanding of our area in the earliest years after the Treaty of 1854.  Look for an upcoming post with a letter from Blackbird himself on issues surrounding the payment.

Sources:
Ely, Edmund Franklin, and Theresa M. Schenck. The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 1833-1849. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2012. Print. 
McElroy, Crocket.  “An Indian Payment.”  Americana v.5.  American Historical Company, American Historical Society, National Americana Society Publishing Society of New York, 1910 (Digitized by Google Books) pages 298-302.
Morse, Richard F. “The Chippewas of Lake Superior.” Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. Ed. Lyman C. Draper. Vol. 3. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1857. 338-69. Print.
Paap, Howard D. Red Cliff, Wisconsin: A History of an Ojibwe Community. St. Cloud, MN: North Star, 2013. Print.
Western Publishing and Engraving.  Cyclopedia of Michigan: historical and biographical, comprising a synopsis of general history of the state, and biographical sketches of men who have, in their various spheres, contributed toward its development.  John Bersey Ed. Western Publishing and Engraving Co., 1890.