By Leo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Background

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

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

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

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

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

Johnson1Johnson2Johnson3

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

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

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

~Carl Scherzer, 1852

And, from this Mr. Austrian, himself:

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

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

Who lived around La Pointe in 1850?

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

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

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

— Trevor Noah

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

What is Metis?

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

Kohl1

Kohl2

Kohl, J. G. Kitchi-Gami: Wanderings around Lake Superior. London: Chapman and Hall, 1860.  pg. 260-61.
“Where do I stay?  I cannot tell you.  I am a voyageur–I am a Chicot, sir.  I stay everywhere.  My grandfather was a voyageur; he died on voyage.  My father was a voyageur; he died on voyage.    I will also die on voyage and another Chicot will take my place.” ~Unnamed voyageur qtd. in Kohl
We were accompanied on our trip throughout the lakes of western Canada by half-Indians who had paternal European blood in their veins.  Yet so often, a situation would allow us to spend a night inside rather than outdoors, but they always asked us to choose to Irish camp outside with the Indians, who lived at the various places.  Although one spoke excellent English, and they were drawn more to the great American race, they thought, felt, and spoke—Indian!  ~Carl Scherzer

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

louis_riel.jpg

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

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

Metis and Ojibwe Identity in the American Era

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

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

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

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

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

Ojibwe “Full-bloods” and the United States Census

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race, the Census, and Classifying Households 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Birthplace, Age, and Gender

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

Let’s take mobility for example:

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s take a look:

AG1 Total Enumerated Age Gender

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

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

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

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

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

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

Economics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

valueofrealestate1850Census.svg

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

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

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

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

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

Education and Literacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Odds and Ends

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

 

 

By Leo Filipczak

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

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

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

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

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

 

Memoirs of Doodooshaboo

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

 

Scherzer, Noted Traveller Pays Us a Visit.  1851.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Brother Marx Experience with Indians.  1851 .

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

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

 

My Experience in Lumbering

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

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

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

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

 

Ferrying Oxen Across the Bay in Row Boat.

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

 

Lost in the Woods

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

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

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

 

Lost on the Ice and Night

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

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

 

Trip to Ontonagon in Row Boat for Winter Supplies.  1851

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

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

 

Another Trip to Ontonagon for Provisions.  1852.

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

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

 

Ordered to go to Eagle River.  1852.

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

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

To be continued after La Pointe 1852-1854

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

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

By Leo Filipczak

Joseph Oesterreicher was only eighteen years old when he arrived at La Pointe in 1851.  Less than a year earlier, he had left his native Germany for Mackinac, where he’d come to work for the firm of his older brother Julius and their in-laws, the Leopolds, another Bavarian Jewish family trading on Lake Superior.

In America, the Oesterreichers became the Austrians, but in his time at Mackinac, Joseph Austrian picked up very little English and even less of the Ojibwe and Metis-French that predominated at La Pointe.  So, when Joseph made the move to his brother’s store at Madeline Island, it probably felt like he was immigrating all over again.

In the spring of 1851, he would have found at La Pointe, a society in flux.  American settlement intensified as the fur trade economy made its last gasps.  The island’s mix-blooded voyageurs found it harder and harder to make a living, and the Fur Company, and smaller traders like Julius Austrian, began to focus more on getting Ojibwe money from treaty annuity payments than they did from the actual trade in fur.  This competition for Indian money had led to the deaths of hundreds of Ojibwe people in the Sandy Lake tragedy just a few months earlier.  

The uncertainty surrounding Ojibwe removal would continue to hang heavily over the Island for both of Joseph’s years at La Pointe, as the Ojibwe leadership scrambled to process the horror of Sandy Lake and tried to secure a permanent homeland on the lakeshore.

The Austrians, however, found this an opportune time to be at the forefront of all the new business ventures in the Lake Superior country.  They made money in merchandise, real estate, shipping, mining, lumber, government contracts, and every other way they could.  This was not without controversy, and the name of Julius Austrian is frequently attached to documents showing the web of corruption and exploitation of Native people that characterized this era.  

It’s difficult to say whether Joseph realized in 1851, while sweeping out his brother’s store or earning his unfortunate nickname, but he would become a very wealthy man.  He lived into the 20th century and left a long and colorful memoir.  I plan to transcribe and post all the stories from pages 26-66, which consists of Joseph’s time at La Pointe.  Here is the first fourth [our original] installment:  

 

Memoirs of Doodooshaboo

… continued from Mackinac 1850-1851.

 

Left for La Point:  My First Trip on Lake Superior

1851

Julius Austrian ~ Madeline Island Museum

Julius Austrian
~ Madeline Island Museum

Mr. Julius Austrian was stationed at La Pointe, Madaline Island, one of the Apostle Group in Lake Superior, where he conducted an Indian Trading post, buying large quantities of fur and trading in fish on the premises previously occupied by the American Fur Co. whose stores, boats etc. the firm bought.

Julius Austrian, one of the partners had had charge of the store at La Point for five years past, he was at this time expected at Mackinaw and it had been arranged that I should accompany him back to La Pointe when he returned there, on the first boat of the season leaving the Sault Ste. Marie.  I was to work in the store and to assist generally in all I was capable of at the wages of $10 a month.  I gladly accepted the proposition being anxious for steady employment.  Shortly after, brother Julius, his wife (a sister of H. Leopold) and I started on the side wheel steamer Columbia for Sault Ste. Marie, generally called “The Soo,” and waited there five days until the Napoleon, a small propellor on which we intended going to La Point, was ready to sail.  During this time she was loading her cargo which had all to be transported from the Soo River to a point above the rapids across the Portage (a strip of land about ¾ of a mile connecting the two points) on a train road operated with horses.  At this time there were only two propellers and three schooners on the entire Lake Superior, and those were hauled out below the rapids and moved up and over the portage and launched in Lake Superior.  Another propeller Monticello, which was about half way across the Portage, was soon to be added to the Lake Superior fleet, which consisted of Independence & Napoleon and the Schooners Algonquin, Swallow, and Sloop Agate owned by my brother Julius.  Quite different from the present day, where a very large number of steel ships on the chain of Lakes, some as much as 8000 tons capacity, navigate through the canal to Lake Superior from the lower lakes engaged in transporting copper, iron ore, pig iron, grain & flour from the various ports of Marquette, Houghton, Hancock, Duluth, and others.  It was found necessary in later years to enlarge the locks of the canal to accomodate the larger sized vessels that had been constructed.

 

Building Sault Ste. Marie Canal.  1851.

The ship canal at that time had not been constructed, but the digging of it had just been started.  The construction of this canal employed hundreds of laborers, and it took years to complete this great piece of work, which had to be cut mostly through the solid rock.  The State of Michigan appropriated thousands of sections of land for the purpose of building this canal, for the construction of which a company was incorporated under the name of Sault Ste. Marie Ship Canal & Land Co., who received the land in payment for building this canal, and which appropriation entitled the Co. to located in any unsold government land in the State of Michigan.  The company availed itself of this privilege and selected large tracts of the best mineral and timber land in Houghton, Ontonagan & Kewanaw Counties, locating some of the land in the copper district, some of which proved afterwards of immense value, and on which were opened up some of the richest copper mines in the world, namely:  Calumet, Hecla, and Quincy mines, and others.  There were also very valuable timber lands covered by this grant.

The canal improved and enlarged as it now stands, is one of the greatest and most important artificial waterways in the world.  A greater tonnage is transported through it annually that through the Suez or any other canal.  In later years the canal was turned over by the State of Mich. to the General Government, which made it free of toll to all vessels and cargoes passing through it, even giving Canadian vessels the same privilege; whereas when operated by the State of Mich. toll was exacted from all vessels and cargoes using it.

The Napoleon, sailed by Capt. Ryder, had originally been a schooner, it had been turned into a propeller by putting in a small propeller engine.  She had the great (?) speed of 8 miles an hour in calm weather, and had the reputation of beating any boat of the Lake in rolling in rough weather, and some even said she had rolled completely over turning right side up finally.

To return to my trip, after passing White Fish Point, the following day and getting into the open lake, we encountered a strong north wind raising considerable sea, causing our boat to toss and pitch, giving us our first experience of sea sickness on the trip.  Beside the ordinary crew, we had aboard 25 horses for Ontonogan where we arrived the third day out.  The Captain finding the depth of water was not sufficient to allow the boat to go inside the Ontonogan river and there being no dock outside, he attempted to land the horses by throwing them overboard, expecting them to swim ashore, to begin with, he had three thrown overboard and had himself with a few of his men lowered in the yawl boat to follow, he caught the halter of the foremost horse intending to guide him and the others ashore. The lake was exceedingly rough, and the poor horses became panic stricken and when near the shore turned back swimming toward the boat with hard work.  The Captain finally succeeded in land those that had been thrown overboard, but finding it both hazardous to the horses and the men he concluded to give up the attempt to land the other horses in this way, and ordered the life boat hoisted up aboard.  She had to be hoisted up the stern, in doing so a heavy wave struck and knocked it against the stern of the boat before she was clear of the water with such force as to endanger the lives of the Capt. and men in it, and some of the passengers were called on to assist in helping to hoist the life boat owing to its perilous position.  Captain and the men were drenched to the skin, when they reached the deck.  Capt. vented his rage in swearing at the hard luck and was so enraged that he did not change his wet clothing for some time afterward.  The remaining horses were kept aboard to be delivered on the return trip, and the boat started for her point of destination La Point.

 

Arrived at La Point and Started in Employ of Brother Julius.  1851

Next morning we sighted land, which proved to be the outer island of the Apostle Group.  Captain flew into the wheel room and found the wheelsman fast asleep.  He grasped the wheel and steered the boat clear of the rocks, just in time to prevent the boat from striking.  Captain lost no time in changing wheelsman.  We arrived without further incidents at La Point the same afternoon.  When she unloaded her cargo, work was at once begun transferring goods to the store, in which I assisted and thus began my regular business career.  These goods were hauled to the store from the dock in a car, drawn by a horse, on wooden rails.

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

Fr. Otto Skolla (self-portrait contained in History of the diocese of Sault Ste, Marie and Marquette (1906) by Antoine Ivan Rezek; pg.360; Digitized by Google Books)

The most conspicuous building in the place was an old Catholic Church which had been created more than 50 years before by some Austrian missionaries.  This church contained some very fine and valuable paintings by old masters.  The priest in charge there was Father Skolla, an Austrian, who himself was quite an artist, and spent his leisure hours in painting Holy pictures.  The contributions to the church amounted to a mere pittance, and his consequent poverty allowed him the most meager and scant living.  One Christmas he could not secure any candles to light up his church which made him feel very sad, my sister-in-law heard of this and sent me with a box of candles to him, which made him the happiest of mortals.  When I handed them to him, his words were inadequate to express his gratitude and praise for my brother’s wife.

 

Sherman Hall and the other A.B.C.F.M missionaries were actually Congregational-Presbyterian, but they were known to collaborate with Canadian Methodist missionaries.  The Wheeler Family correspondence from 1854 reveals that Julius Austrian and Rev. Hall were not always  on “friendly terms.”  Charles Pulsifer was a teacher in the mission school.

There was also a Methodist church of which a man by the name of Hall was the preacher.  He had several sons and his family and my brother Julius and his wife were on friendly terms and often met.

The principle man of the place was Squire Bell, a very genial gentleman who held most of the offices of the town & county, such as Justice of the Peace & Supervisor.  He also was married to a squaw.  This was the fashion of that time, there being no other women there.

John W. Bell, “King of the Apostle Islands” as described by Benjamin Armstrong (Digitized by Google Books) .

There was a school in the place for the Indians and half breeds, there being no white children there at this time.  I took lessons privately of the teacher of this school, his name was Pulsevor.  I was anxious to perfect myself in English.  I also picked up quite a bit of the Chippewa language and in very short time was able to understand enough to enable me to trade with the Indians.

My brother Julius was a very kind hearted man, of a very sympathetic and indulgent nature, and to his own detriment and loss he often trusted needy and hungry Indians for provisions and goods depending on their promise to return the following year with fur in payment for the goods.  He was personally much liked and popular with the Indians, but his business with them was not a success as the fur often failed to materialize.  The first morning after my arrival, my brother Julius handed me a milk pail and told me to go to the squaws next door, who having a cow, supplied the family with the article.  He told me to ask for “Toto-Shapo” meaning in the Indian language, milk.

Doodooshaaboo:  milk 
Makadewikonaye:  a priest
Gichi-mookomaan:  1. A white person 2.  American
Ishkode-jiimaan:  a steamboat, a ship.  Wiigiwaam:  a wigwam, a lodge
Ishkodewaaboo:  alcohol, liquor
(Ojibwe Peoples Dictionary)

I repeated this to myself over and over again, and when I asked the squaw for “Toto Shapo” she and all the squaws screamed with delight and excitement to think that I had just arrived and could make myself understood in the Indian tongue. This fact was spread among the Indians generally and from that day on while I remained on the Island I was called “Toto Shapo.”  One of the Indian characteristics is to name people and things by their first impression–for instance on seeing the first priest who work a black gown, they called him “Makada-Conyeh,” which means a black gown, and that is the only name retained in their language for priests.  The first soldier who had a sword hanging by his side they called “Kitchie Mogaman” meaning “a big knife” in their language.  The first steamboat they saw struck them as a house with fire escaping through the chimney, consequently they called it “Ushkutua wigwam” (Firehouse) which is also the only name in their language for steamboat.  Whiskey they call “Ushkutua wawa” meaning “Fire Water.”

My brother Julius had the United States mail contract between La Point & St. Croix.  The mail bag had to be taken by a man afoot between these two places via Bayfield a distance of about 125 miles, 2 miles of these being across the frozen lake from the Island to Bayfield.

 

Dangerous Crossing on the Ice.

An Indian named Kitchie (big) Inini (man) was hired to carry it.  Once on the way on he started to cross on the ice but found it very unsafe and turned back.  When my brother heard this, he made up his mind to see that the mail started on its way across the Lake no matter what the consequence.  He took a rope about 25 ft. long tying one end around his body and the other about mine, and he and I each took a long light pole carrying it with two hands crosswise, which was to hold us up with in case we broke through the ice.  Taking the mail bag on a small tobogan sled drawn by a dog, we started out with the Indian.  When we had gone but a short way the ice was so bad that the Indian now thoroughly frightened turned back again, but my brother called me telling me not to pay any attention to him and we went straight on.  This put him to shame and he finally followed us.  We reached the other side in safety, but had found the crossing so dangerous, that we hesitated to return over it and thought best to wait until we could return by a small boat, but the time for this was so uncertain that after all we concluded to risk going back on the ice taking a shorter cut for the Island, and we were lucky to get back all right.

In the summer when the mail carrier returned from these trips, he would build a fire on the shore of the bay about 5 miles distant, as a signal to send a boat to bring him across to the Island.  Once I remember my brother Julius not being at home when a signal was given.  I with two young Indian boys (about 12 yrs. of age) started to cross over with the boat, when about two miles out a terrific thunder and hail storm sprang up suddenly.  The hail stones were so large that it caused the boys to relax their hold on the oars and it was all I could do to keep them at the oars.  I attempted to steer the boat back to the Island, and barely managed to reach there.  The boat was over half full of water when we reached the shore.  When I landed we were met by the boys’ mothers who were greatly incensed at my taking their boys on this perilous trip, nearly resulting in drowning them.  They didn’t consider I had no idea of this terrible thunder storm which so suddenly came up and had I known it for my own safety would not dreamed of attempting the trip.

 

Nearly Capsize in a Small Boat.

Once I went out in a small sail boat with two Frenchmen to collect some barrels of fish near the Island at the fishing ground near La Point.  We got two barrels of fish which they stood up on end, when a sudden gust of wind caused the boat to list to one side so that the barrels fell over on the side and nearly capsized the boat.  By pulling the barrels up the boat was finally righted after being pretty well filled with water.  I could not swim, and as a matter of self-preservation grabbed the Frenchman nearest me.  He was furious, expressing his anger half in French and half in English, saying, “If I had drowned, I would have taken him with me.” which no doubt was true.

 

A Young Indian Locked up for Robbery

Indian Agent John S. Watrous was the most conspicuous villain of the previous year’s Sandy Lake Tragedy.  Despite hundreds of deaths, and the Indian Department’s cancellation of the removal order, Watrous tried to illegally force a second removal in the fall of 1851 by holding the payments in Sandy Lake again.  Very few Ojibwe agreed to return to Sandy Lake, and most went without their payments for a second-straight year.  Joseph’s chronology is a little unclear.  This may be a reference to the cash payments at Fond du Lac in January 1852.
Like Joseph, Henry Schmitz, was an employee and later a business partner of Julius Austrian.

One day brother Julius went to the Indian payment.  During his absence I with another employee, Henry Schmitz, were left in charge.  A young Indian that night burglarized the store stealing some gold coins from the cash drawer.  The same were offered to someone in the town next day who told me, which led to his detection.  He admitted theft and was committed to jail by the Indian agent Mr. Watrous, which the Indians consider a great disgrace.

Some inquisitive boys peering through the window discovered that the young Indian had attempted to commit suicide and spread the alarm.  His father was away at the time and his mother and friends were frenzied and their threats of vengeance were loud.  The jailer was found but he had lost the key to the jail (the jail was in a log hut) the door of which was finally forced open with an axe, and the young culprit with his head bleeding was handed over to his people who revived him in their wigwam.  The next day the money was returned and we and the authorities were glad to call it quits.

To be continued at La Pointe 1851-1852 (Part 2)

 

Special thanks to Amorin Mello and Joseph Skulan for sharing this document and their important research on the Austrian brothers and their associates with me.  It is to their credit that these stories see the light of day.  The original handwritten memoir of Joseph Austrian is held by the Chicago History Museum.    

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

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

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

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

XXI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cntd. translation in Rezek pg.368

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TO BE CONTINUED…

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

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

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

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

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


Lapointe. Dec. 28th 1850

Brother Wheeler:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

yours

S. Hall.

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

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

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

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

Lapointe, Feb. 24th 1851.

Mrs. Wheeler,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours Truly,

S. Hall

[Written in margins]

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

Mary goes to school and is doing very well.

 

 

20130711-160019.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:
Densmore, Frances. Chippewa Customs. Washington: U.S. G.P.O., 1929. Print.
Ely, Edmund Franklin, and Theresa M. Schenck. The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 1833-1849. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2012. Print.
KAPPLER’S INDIAN AFFAIRS: LAWS AND TREATIES. Ed. Charles J. Kappler. Oklahoma State University Library, n.d. Web. 21 June 2012. <http:// digital.library.okstate.edu/Kappler/>.
Satz, Ronald N. Chippewa Treaty Rights: The Reserved Rights of Wisconsin’s Chippewa Indians in Historical Perspective. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, 1991. Print.
Schenck, Theresa M. William W. Warren: The Life, Letters, and times of an Ojibwe Leader. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2007. Print.
Warren, William W., and Theresa M. Schenck. History of the Ojibway People. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 2009. Print.