By Leo


“They fade, they perish, as the grass of the prairies withers before the devouring element.  The officers of our government, in their conference, have been accustomed to talk about the protection their Great Father vouchsafes to them, but it is the protection which the vulture affords the sparrow.  Whatever may be the intentions of our professedly paternal government, no alternative seems to remain to the Indian, but submission to its crushing and onward march.”  

-Joseph R. Williams, 1855

steam

When Joseph R. Williams stepped out from the steamboat Planet onto the dock at La Pointe in August of 1855 he tried to make sense out of the scene before him.  The arrival of the Toledo-based newspaper editor and hundreds of his fellow passengers, including dignitaries, celebrities, and politicians at Madeline Island coincided with the arrival of thousands of members of the Lake Superior Ojibwe bands for the first annuity payment under the Treaty of 1854.  

The portrayal of the Chequamegon region in history would never be the same.

Prior to that year, the main story depicted in the written record is the expansion of the indigenous Ojibwe and Ojibwe-French mix-blood populations, their interactions with the nations of France, Britain, and the Dakota Sioux, and ultimately their attempt to defend their lands and sovereignty against an ever-encroaching United States.  

After 1855, the Ojibwe and even the first-wave white settlers appear in the written history only as curious relics of a bygone age.  They are an afterthought to the story of “progress”:  shipping, real estate, mining, logging, and tourism.  This second version of history, what I often call “Shipwrecks and Lighthouses” still dominates today.  Much of it has been written by outsiders and newcomers, and it is a more sanitary history.  It’s heavy on human triumph and light on controversy, but ultimately it conceals the earlier more-interesting history and its legacy. 

If we could pick one event to mark this shift, what would it be?  Was it the death of Chief Buffalo that summer of 1855?  Was it the creation of the reservations?  Was it the new Indian policies in Washington?  While those events are related, and each is significant in its own right, none explains why the ideology of Manifest Destiny (as expressed by men like Williams) so swiftly and thoroughly took over the written record.   

No, if there is one event that gets credit (or I would argue blame) for changing the tone of history in the summer of 1855, it was that the first vessels passed through the new canal at Sault Ste. Marie.

The Soo Locks and Superior

The St. Mary’s Falls Canal, or the Soo Locks as we commonly call them today, had been a dream of Great Lakes industrialists and the State of Michigan for years.  In their view, Lake Superior was essentially cut off from the rest of the United States because all its water passes through Sault Ste. Marie, dropping over twenty feet as it drains into Lake Huron.  

These falls, or more accurately rapids, were of immense economic, symbolic, and strategic value to the Ojibwe people.  The French, British, and American governments also recognized their significance as a gateway to Lake Superior and beyond.  However, for the merchants of Detroit, Cleveland, and Buffalo, drawn to Lake Superior by the copper mines of the Upper Peninsula or the rich iron deposits on the North Shore (opened up by the Treaty of 1854), the falls were only an obstacle to be overcome.  Traders and speculators in the western part of Lake Superior also stood to gain from increased shipping traffic and eagerly watched the progress on the canal.  We can see this in the amount of space Joseph Austrian, brother of La Pointe merchant Julius Austrian, gave the canal in his memoirs.

For the young city of Superior, the opening of the canal was seen as one of the critical steps toward becoming the next St. Louis or Chicago.  In 1855, Duluth did not exist.  Squatters had made claims on the Minnesota side under the Preemption Act, but the real action was on the Wisconsin side where a faction of Americans led by Col. D. A. Robinson was locked in a full-on real estate speculation battle with Sen. Henry M. Rice of Minnesota.   Rice, had many La Pointe traders including Vincent Roy Jr. wrapped up in his scheme, but without the lifeline of the canal, neither faction would have the settlers, goods, or commerce necessary to grow the city beyond its few hundred residents. 

Steamer North Star: From American Steam Vessels, page 40 by Samuel Ward Stanton (Wikimedia Images)

The Steamers

Port of Superior Arrivals Up to Sept. 25, 1855 (Superior Chronicle, 25 Sep. 1855)

When the first steamboats embarked on the lower Great Lakes in the 1810s, few large sailing vessels had ever appeared on Lake Superior. Birchbark canoes and Mackinac boats provided virtually all the shipping traffic. Brought by the copper rush in the Upper Peninsula, a few steamers appeared on Lake Superior in the late 1840s and early 1850s but these were modified from earlier sailing ships or painfully brought overland around the Sault.  Once on Lake Superior, these vessels were confined  and could no longer go back and forth to Mackinaw, Detroit, or beyond.  These steamers did carry passengers, but primarily their job was to go back and forth from the copper mines to the Sault.

The opening of the canal on June 22, 1855, however, brought a new type of steamer all the way to the western end of Lake Superior.  The North Star, Illinois, and Planet were massive, brightly-painted, beauties with grand dining halls with live music.  They could luxuriously carry hundreds of passengers from Cleveland to Superior and back in a little over a week, a trip that had previously taken three weeks.

Decrease travel time also meant that news could travel back and forth much more quickly.  Chequamegon Bay residents could get newspaper articles about unfolding war in the Crimea and the bloody fallout from the Kansas-Nebraska Act.  And on June 12, 1855 the first issue of the weekly Superior Chronicle appeared off the presses of John C. Wise and Washington Ashton of Superior.  The paper printed literature, world news, local events and advertisements, but large portions of its pages were devoted to economic opportunities and descriptions of the Superior area. Conspicuously absent from its pages is much mention at all of the politics of the local Ojibwe bands or any indication whatsoever that Ojibwe and mix-blooded families made up the largest percentage of the area’s population. In this way, the Chronicle, being backed by Henry Rice, was as much about promoting Superior to the outside world as it was about bringing news in.      

Advertisements began to appear in the eastern papers…

New-York daily tribune.  August 04, 1855 (Image provided by Library of Congress, Washington, DC Persistent link: http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030213/1855-08-04/ed-1/seq-3/)

…and the press took notice:

THE NEW YORK MIRROR says:  “The fashionable watering places are not nearly as full as they were a year ago at this season; one reason for the falling off is, that thousands who have hitherto summered at these resorts have gone to Europe; and another is that the hard times of last autumn and winter have left their pinching reminiscences in many men’s purses.”  The editor of the Sandusky Register seems to think that if these “fashionables” would cease to frequent Saratoga, Newport and Niagra, where $100 goes just far enough to make a waiter smile, there would be no cause for complaints of “too poor to spend the season North.”–When the snobs and devotees at the shrine of show and fashion learn that there are such places as Lake Superior, as the Islands in Lake Erie, as St. Catherines in Canada, where to live costs no more than a residence at home, we might suppose no further cause for complaint of poverty would exist.  But the fact is, “go where the crowd goes or go not at all” is the motto with the fashionables; and until the places above named become popular resorts they will receive the attention only of those whose good sense leads them to prefer pure air, quiet, the pleasures of boating, bathing, fishing, &c., to the follies of Saratoga or Newport.  To those who would enjoy a healthful and truly agreeable resort we can but commend the islands in Lake Erie, with a trip to the Upper Lake of Superior.

Bedford [IN] White River Standard,  July 26, 1855

North Star:  from American Steam Vessels by Samuel Ward Stanton, 1895 (Google Books).

By the time the August payment rolled around, steamers carrying hundreds of passengers from the highest rungs of American society.  Chequamegon Bay had become a tourist destination. 

The Tourists

Prof. J. G. Kohl (Wikimedia Images)

Johann Georg Kohl is a familiar name to readers of the Chequamegon History website.  Kohl’s Kitchi Gami, originally published in his native Germany, is a standard of Ojibwe cultural history and anthropology.  His astute observations and willingness to actually ask questions about unfamiliar cultural practices of the people practicing them, created a work that has stood the test of time much better than those of his contemporaries.  The modern reader will find Kohl’s depiction of Ojibwe people as actual intelligent human beings stands in refreshing contrast to most 19th-century works.  Kohl also wrote some untranslated articles for German newspapers mentioning his time at La Pointe.  One of these, on the subject of the death and conversion of Chief Buffalo, partially appeared on this site back in April.

Johann Kohl was atypical of the steamboat tourists, but he was a steamboat tourist nonetheless: 

Prof. Kohl, professor in Dresden University has been rusticating for a few weeks past, in the Lake Superior Country, collecting matter for a forthcoming work, which he intends publishing after his return to Germany.  He expressed himself highly pleased with his visit, and remarked that the more familiar he became with the American people and the resources of our country, the better satisfied he was that America had fallen into the hands of those who were perfectly competent to develop her riches and improve the natural sources of wealth and prosperity, which nature has given her.

Grace Greenwood has also been paying her respects to the Lake Superior region, and came down on the North Star with Prof. Kohl.

[Milwaukee] Daily Free Democrat, September 15, 1855

Sara Jane Lippincott, a.k.a. Grace Greenwood (Wikimedia Images).

“Grace Greenwood” was the pseudonym of Sara Jane Lippincott, and a household name in 1855.  Though more forgotten to history than some of the other names in this post, the New York native was probably the biggest celebrity to visit La Pointe in the summer of 1855. As an acclaimed poet, she had risen to the highest rungs of American literary society and was a strong advocate of abolitionism and women’s rights.  However, she was probably best known as the editor of The Little Pilgrim, a popular children’s magazine.  She is mentioned in several accounts of the 1855 payment, but none mention an important detail, considered improper for the time, detail.  Sara was very pregnant.  Annie Grace Lippincott was born less than two months after her mother left Lake Superior on the North Star.  

Although much of her work is digitized and online for the public, the only mention of the trip I’ve found from her pen is this blurb from the front page of the September 1855 edition of The Little Pilgrim: 

Our little readers will please forgive whatever delay there may be in the coming of our paper this month, for we are among the wild Indians away up in Lake Superior on the island of La Pointe; and the mails from this far region are so slow and irregular that our articles may not reach Philadelphia till two or three weeks after they should do so (The Little Pilgrim:  Google Books).

Dr. Richard F. Morse was one of the chroniclers of the 1855 payment who made sure to mention Lippincott.  Morse’s essay, The Chippewas of Lake Superior, published in the third volume of the Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin (1857), is entirely about the payment.  It is also the clearest example of the abrupt shift in narrative discussed above.  It is full of the suffocating racism of benevolent paternalism.  Morse arrogantly portrays himself as an advocate for the Lake Superior bands, but his analysis shows how little he knows of the Ojibwe and their political situation in 1855.  Unlike Kohl, he doesn’t seem to care enough to ask and learn.

In fairness, Morse’s account is a valuable document, excerpted in several posts on this website (see People Index).  It is also the document that years ago inspired the first steps toward this research by planting the question, “Where did all these fancy people at the 1855 annuity come from?”  Chippewas of Lake Superior is too long and too well-known to bother reproducing on this site, but it can be read in it’s entirety on Google Books.    

Crockett McElroy (Cyclopedia of Michigan [1890])

Shorter and more obscure than Morse’s article, Crockett McElroy‘s reminiscences of the 1855 payment were transcribed from the turn-of-the-century historical journal Americana and put on this website on October 13, 2014.  The article, An Indian Payment, is certainly as racist as Morse’s account but more in the earlier “pioneer” way than in the new assimilationist rhetoric.

After the Civil War, McElroy would go on to find wealth in the Great Lakes shipping industry and be elected as a Republican to several offices in the State of Michigan.  In the summer of 1855, however, he was only nineteen years old and looking for work.  Crockett’s father, Francis McElroy appears in several later 19th-century censuses as a resident of Bayfield.  Apparently, Francis (along with Crockett’s younger brothers) split time between Bayfield and Michigan.  Young Crockett did not stay in Bayfield, but his biography in the Cyclopedia of Michigan (1890) suggest his account can be considered that of a semi-local laborer in contrast to the fancier visitors he would have shared a steamboat with:    

Crocket McElroy, the subject of this sketch, received his early education at Gait, Ontario; and, when twelve years of age, removed to Detroit. Here he attended one of. the public schools of that city for a short time, and, afterwards, a commercial academy. When thirteen years of age, he began to act as clerk in a wholesale and retail grocery store, remaining three years; he then, for two years, sold small beer. In 1853 he went to Ira, St. Clair County, as clerk, to take charge of a general store; and for the next five years served as clerk and taught school, spending the summer months of 1854-55 in the Lake Superior region (pg. 310).        

Lewis Cass (Wikimedia Images)

Another Michigan-based politician, considerably more famous than McElroy, Lewis Cass’ excursion to Lake Superior in 1855 was portrayed as a homecoming of sorts.  The 72 year-old Michigan senator had by then occupied several high-level cabinet and congressional positions, and was the Democratic nominee for president in 1848, but those came after he had already entered the American popular imagination.  Thirty-five years earlier, as a little known governor of the Michigan Territory (which included Wisconsin and the arrowhead of Minnesota) he led an American expedition to Red Cedar (Cass) Lake near the headwaters of the Mississippi.  Thirty-seven years after the Treaty of Paris, and seven years after the death of Tecumseh, it was the first real attempt by the United States to assert dominion over the Lake Superior country.  In some ways, 1855 marked the end of that colonization process and brought the Cass Expedition full-circle, the significance of which was not lost on the editors of the Superior Chronicle:

The Predictions of Gen. Cass.:  At the opening of the Wabash and Erie Canal, which unites the waters of Lake Erie with those of the Mississippi, the celebration of which took place at Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 1844, Gen. Cass in his address subsequently predicted the union of Lake Michigan from Chicago to the Mississippi;  this prediction was fulfilled in 1850.  At the same time he said that there were then present those who would witness the settlement of the region at the southwest extremity of Lake Superior, and lay the foundation for a similar union of the waters of that lake with the Mississippi.

On the last trip of the steamer Illinois to this place, Gen. Cass was among the passengers, and witnessed the fulfillment of his prediction in respect to the settlement of this region.  May he live to be present at the opening of the channel which will connect this end of the lake with the Mississippi, and witness the consummation of all his prophesies.

Superior Chronicle, August 21, 1855

Charles Sumner in 1855 (Wikimedia Images)

A political opponent of western Democrats like Cass, Charles Sumner has gone down in history as the only man to be nearly beaten to death on the floor of the United States senate.  Less than a year before Rep. Preston Brooks of South Carolina would attack him with a cane, sending the country hurtling ever-faster toward civil war, the Massachusetts senator visited La Pointe to watch the annuity payment.  By 1855, Sumner already had a reputation as a staunch abolitionist, and he even wrote a letter to the Anti-Slavery Reporter while on board the North Star.  Aside from a handful of like-minded native New Englanders like Edmund Ely and Leonard Wheeler, Sumner was not in a part of the country where most voters shared his views (the full-blood and most mix-blood Ojibwe were not considered citizens and therefore ineligible to vote).  The Lake Superior country was overwhelmingly Democratic, and the Superior Chronicle praised the “popular sovereignty” views of Stephen Douglas in the midst of the violence following the Kansas-Nebraska Act.  Sumner, whose caning resulted from his fierce criticism of popular sovereignty, was among those “radical Bostonians” the Chronicle warned its readers about.  However, the newspaper was kind and uncritical when the senator appeared in its city:

Senator Sumner at Superior and La Pointe.:  In our last number we neglected to announce the visit of Hon. Charles Sumner, Bishop McClosky, and other distinguished persons to Superior.  They came by the North Star, and staying but a few hours, had merely time to hastily view our thriving town.  They expressed gratfication at its admirable location and rapidity of its growth.

At La Pointe, the heat stopped to allow the passengers an opportunity to see that pretty village and the large number of Indians and others congregating there to the last great payment at this station of the Lake Superior Chippewas.  Here Mr. Sumner was the guest of the reverend Catholic missionary, whose successful endeavors to gratify the numerous visitors at La Pointe we have frequently heard commended.

Superior Chronicle, August 14, 1855

Jesse D. Bright (Wikimedia Images)

Staying a little longer at Superior, another U.S. senator, Jesse Bright the President pro tempore Indiana, also appeared on Lake Superior in the summer of 1855.  For Bright, however, this was more than a pleasure excursion.  He had a chance to make real money in the real estate boom of the 1850s.  Superior, at the head of the lake with ship traffic through the Soo, and military road and potential  railroad connection to St. Paul, looked poised to be the next great gateway to the west.  He invested and apparently lost big when the Great Lakes real-estate boom busted in the Panic of 1857.

Bright would go on to be a Southern sympathizer and a “Copperhead” during the Civil War and was the only northerner to be expelled from the Senate for supporting the Confederacy.  In 1855, he was already a controversial figure in the partisan (Democrat, Whig, Know-Nothing) newspapers:

The Buffalo Commercial, upon the authority of the Cincinnati Gazette, states “that Mr. Bright, of Indiana, President of the Senate, pro tem lately made a Sunday speech, an hour and a half long to the people of a town on Lake Superior, and the passengers of the steamer in which he was travelling.  He discoursed most eloquently on the virtues and glories of modern Democracy, whose greatest exemplar, he said, was the administration of Franklin Pierce.”  The Know Nothing press, of which the Commercial and the Gazette are leading journals, must be rather hard up for material, when recourse to such misrepresentation as the above becomes necessary…

…The speaker did not allude to politics, and did not speak over ten minutes.

And out of this mole hill the Commercial manufactures a mountain of speculation, headed “Jesse D. Bright–The Presidency.” –Sandusky Mirror.

Fort Wayne [IN] Sentinel, September 5, 1855

Promoters & Proprietors of Old Superior:  (Clockwise from upper left)  U.S. Senator W[illiam]. A. Richardson, Sen. R[obert] M. T. Hunter, Sen. Jesse Bright, Sen. John C. Breckinridge, Benjamin Brunson, Col. John W. Fourney, Henry M. Rice (Flower, Frank A.  Report of the City Statistician [1890]  Digitized by Google Books) 

Bright’s alleged Sabbath speech was not the biggest scandal to emerge from his trip to Lake Superior.  He was part of a group of high-powered men within the Democratic Party organized by Henry Mower Rice (then Minnesota’s delegate to Congress) to invest in real estate in the growing city of Superior. Rice’s scheme for Superior, which conflicted with another claim, would need it’s own post to be fully analyzed.  However, it should be mentioned that it brought famous politicians in on the steamboats.  These included multiple senators and future United States and Confederate cabinet members, prominent Washington lawyers, President Pierce’s personal secretary Sidney Webster, and John L. Dawson the president’s pick for Governor of “Bleeding Kansas.”  This was a clear conflict of interest, given that Rice was also organizing Federal contracts for Superior, and was certainly noticed by the Whig and Free Soil papers.  However, since land speculation from a position of political power was deemed unethical but not illegal, it appears nothing came of the accusations.  

John C. Breckinridge (Wikimedia Images)

It may also be uncomfortable for the modern northern reader to see how cozy the politicians of our area were with unabashedly pro-slavery Democrats and future Confederates.  The biggest name among these Lake Superior investors and 1855 visitors would be John C. Breckinridge.  Breckinridge, coming off a stint as U.S. Representative from Kentucky, would go on to be Vice President of the United States under James Buchanan, and Secretary of War for the Confederacy.  However, he is most famous for finishing second to Abraham Lincoln in the pivotal presidential election of 1860.  Chequamegon Bay residents will probably find another investment of the future vice-president more interesting even than the Superior scheme:

A PLEASANT SUMMER RESIDENCE–The senior editor of the Chicago Press writes from Lake Superior:

Basswood Island, one of the group of Apostle Island has been entered by Mr. Breckinridge of Kentucky, who, I am told, contemplates the erection of a summer residence upon it.  We landed at this Island for wood.  There is deep water up to its base, and our steamer lay close alongside the rocky shore as though it had been a pier erected for the purpose.  There is deep water, I am told, in the channels between most of the Islands of the group furnished an excellent shelter for vessels in tempestuous weather.

[Milwaukee] Weekly Wisconsin, August 15, 1855

Hon J. C. Breckenridge, of Kentucky, has purchased Basswood Island, one of the group of Apostle Islands, in Lake Superior, and intends erecting a summer residence thereon.

Boston Post, August 23, 1855

Captain John Wilson (Frank Leslie’s Illustrated)

The Whig/Free Soil press’ condemnation of Senator Bright for allegedly forgetting the Sabbath and to keep it holy may remind the Chequamegon History reader of the A.B.C.F.M missionaries’ obsession with that particular commandment in their efforts among the Ojibwe people.  However, it seems to be one of those features of 19th-Century America that was fussed about more than it was actually observed.  

A good example of this comes from Captain John Wilson, who led the steamer Illinois to La Pointe in the summer of 1855.  He seems to have been one of those larger-than-life characters, and he is often mentioned in newspaper accounts from the various Great Lakes ships he commanded.  Wilson died off the shore of Milwaukee in the sinking of the Lady Elgin, in 1860 along with over 300 passengers.  “The Titanic of the Great Lakes,” as the disaster came to be known, is still the greatest loss of life in the history of the lakes (this article gives a good overview).  Other than the North Star, the Lady Elgin, which began its runs to the “Upper Lake” in 1855, was probably the most famous steamer on Lake Superior before its sinking. Captain Wilson was afterwards praised for his character heroism during the ordeal, which was blamed on the captain of the schooner that collided with the Elgin.  

Captain Wilson’s charisma shines through in the following 1855 Lake Superior account, but I’ll let the reader be the judge of his character:

A MAN FOR ALL OCCASIONS–TWO AMUSEMENTS–Capt Wilson, of the steamer Illinois, on the Upper Lakes is proverbially a man for all occasions and is equally at home in a horse-race or a dance.  During a recent excursion of his beautiful boat to Lake Superior, he happened to arrive at a place on Sunday, where several tribes of Indians were soon to receive their annuity from the General Government and where a large number were already present.  As soon as the breakfast table was cleared Capt. W. commenced arrangements for religious services in the ladies’ cabin, agreeably to the request of a preacher on board.  Chairs and sofa were placed across the hall and the piano, with a large bible on it, represented a pulpit.  The large bell of the boat was tolled, and in a short time quite a respectable congregation occupied the seats.  As soon as service had fairly begun, the Captain came upon the forward deck where a number of gentlemen were enjoying their pipes and meerschaum, and thus addressed them.

Gentlemen–I come to let you know that meetin‘ is now going on in the aft cabin, where all of you in need of prayers and who wish to hear a good sermon had better retire.  I would also state that in accordance with the desire of several passengers , I intend to get up an Indian foot race on shore for a barrel of flour.–You can make your own selection of the two amusements.” 

The foot race did come off, and it was fortunate that all the lady passengers were at “meetin,” as one of the Indians who started with nothing on him but a calico shirt came in minus that!  He won the flour, however.  Good for you! —Spirit of the Times

[Milwaukee] Weekly Wisconsin, October 3, 1855

Joseph R. Williams (Wikimedia Images)

Finally, we get back to Joseph R. Williams. The reason so many stories like Captain Wilson’s made it into the papers that summer was that each of the steamboats seemed to be carrying one or more Midwestern newspaper editors.  Williams, the editor of the Toledo Blade, arrived on the Planet in time to witness the La Pointe payment.  

Williams would go on to become the first president of what would become Michigan State University and serve in multiple positions in the state government in Michigan.  His letters and notes from Lake Superior turned into multiple articles that made their way back up to the Superior Chronicle.  In a later post, I may transcribe his record of C. C. Trowbridge’s account of the 1820 Cass Expedition or his description of Superior, but in the name of brevity, I’ll limit this post to his a article on the payment itself:

From La Pointe–Indian Payment, etc.

The following interesting incidents of the recent meeting of Chippeways at La Pointe are taken from the letters of Mr. Williams, editor of the Toledo Blade.  Mr. W. was among those who visited Lake Superior on the last excursion of the steamer Planet. In another portion of this week’s paper will be made an account of General Cass’ expedition to the Northwest, from the pen of the same gentleman.  We commend it and the following extracts, to the perusal of our readers.

This is one of the old American Fur Company’s stations, a village such as formerly existed at Detroit and Mackinac.  Indian huts with bark roofs, the long low warehouse, the half dressed and painted Indians, here and there a Frenchman speaking his mother tongue, his whole air indicating his lineage plainly that he was the descendant of an old voyager, revive the reflection of those days so graphically described by Washington Irving in his Astoria.  La Pointe is upon an island, and the harbor gracefully curves around us from the north.

Here we find Colonel Manypenny, Commissioner of Indian Affairs; H. C. Gilbert, Indian Agent for Michigan; Hon. D. A. Noble and Hon. H. L. Stevens, late members of Congress, and other gentlemen, who are awaiting the Indian payment to take place the beginning of next month.  Grace Greenwood, who came up on the Illinois a few days since is also excursioning here.  The store houses are full of the goods provided for the payment, piles of [?] and provisions, [?], plows, spades, [?] carts, mattresses, bedsteads, blankets, clothing, and [?] a well [?] supply of such articles as are calculated to promote the comfort and civilization of the ill-fated remnant of the former lords of these [many] isles scattered around us, and [the] “forests primeval,” on either shore of this vast inland sea.

Colonel Manypenny deserves great credit for the [ind?bility] with which he has endeavoured to carry into wholesale effect the [?] method adopted of paying the Indians their annuities.  Formerly, the unfortunate [race] were paid in specie, and close on the tract of the dispenser of the payment came a swarm of cormorant and heartless Indians traders, who, for whisky and trinkets, and inferior arms and implements, including perhaps blankets and some useful articles of dress, obtained the dollars as soon as they were paid.  The Indian dances followed by wild drunken orgies, were a perpetual accompaniment.  The Indian, besotted by liquor, parted with almost everything of value, and returned to his home and his hunting grounds, poor and in worse condition than he came.  Many years since I attended a payment at Grand Rapids, Michigan, and it was a mournful spectacle.  One hardly knew whether to pity the weakness of the victims or abhor the heartlessness of the destroyers most.  As late as 1833 the last Indian payment was made on the Maumee in the immediate vicinity of Toledo, on the point below Manhattan.  One Lloyd was Indian Agent in 1830.  It is said that he purloined from each of the thousand dollar boxes paid the Indians one or two hundred dollars, and that during the night whites went around among the wigwams and cut off the portion of the dresses of the Indians in which the specie was tied up.  But the picture before us is relieved of features so disgraceful and disgusting.  We saw no drunken Indian on shore.  Indeed several of the Caucasian lords of these fading tribes, whom we had on board, might have taken a useful lesson in sobriety from the red men.  The traders however are here.  They mutter curses upon Colonel Manypenny, because he does not wink at their robberies.  It is supposed abundance of whisky is concealed on the island, which will be unwrapped and sold, to besot the Indians, as soon at the valuables are distributed among them.

***

On his arrival here, the Indians proposed a dance.  As dances end in Bacchanalian revels, the colonel has set his face against them.  Enlivened and excited, however, by our band of music, the Indians could resist no longer.  A dozen or more emerged from their cabins, bearing before them their war flag, which was a staff with a fringe of long feathers extending its length, and with bells attached to it, and engaged in a war dance.  Their bodies were nearly naked and painted.  The dance was a pantomimic description of war scenes.  The leading brave struck the flagstaff to stop the dance, and made a speech describing how he had, less than thirty days ago, killed and scalped a Sioux, and he held up in his clenched fist, in triumph before us, the almost yet reeking scalp of his victim.  His speech was accompanied by vigorous and appropriate [motion].  It was the imprompt and natural movement of body, [hands], and features from this brief specimen, it was easy enough to imagine that the Indian is often eloquent.  This small band of dancers were splendid physical specimens of men, and the dance was real exultation over a late actual achievement.  The Chippeways–and they are all Chippeways in these regions–maintain a traditional hostility to the Sioux, and are rarely at peace.  It was only a few months since a band of Chippeways pioneered down into the village of St. Paul, and killed a Sioux woman trading in a store.  Before the witnesses had recovered from the terror excited, the band had fled as rapidly as they appeared.  The Sioux remain on the lands beyond, and the Chippeways this side of the Mississippi.

After the war dance was finished, they danced a beggar’s dance, the purport of which was that they wanted three beeves of Colonel Manypenny.  At its close, the brave presented a pipe to Captain Ward, who smoked it in a token of amity.  He then forced through the surrounding crowd, and sought Colonel M., who stood at a distance.  The Colonel rejected the proffered pipe.  His acceptance would have been a sanction of the dances he disapproved, and a concession of the three beeves.  The Chief returned to the ring, and made a brief vehement speech, evidently a concentration of indignant scorn.  Mrs. A., of Monroe, Michigan, an educated lady of Indian blood, informed me that it was full of defiance, bitterness and mortification.

******

In speaking of the Indians assembled at the payment in my last, I said they were a motley crew, and indeed they are.  The braves, engaged in the dances described, were fine specimens of manhood.  Their erect forms, developed chests, and symmetry, and general health, as developed in every muscle and feature, illustrate the perfection to which physical man is brought in savage life.  But in sad contrast, we see around us pitiable specimens of humanity, crouching, lazy, filthy, besotted beings, who possess all the vices of both the white and the red races, and none of the virtues of either.

Canoes are marshalled along the beach, which have wafted here the tenants of both shores of Superior.  Indians have dotted their clusters of wigwams over the vicinity, and seem to have brought along all their aged and infirm as well as infants.

I think one Indian woman here is the oldest human being I ever saw.  The deep furrows, the folds of skin which have lost almost the appearance of vitality, so withered and dead as to resemble gutta percha, eye sight lost, hearing gone, no sense left except touch, which was indicated by the avidity with which she seized small pieces of money thrown into her lap, all these proofs convinced me that she was older by ten or fifteen years than any person I ever saw.  A son and daughter were near her, apparently kind and affectionate, and proud to protect her, who themselves, were verging upon old age, an illustrative example of these [?ate] savages, to unnatural whites of whom melancholy tales of ingratitude are told.  Even her children could not tell her age.  All they could say was that she was “the oldest Indian.”  Old Buffalo, the Chief, who was ninety years old, looked like a young man compared with her.

Nothing more surprised our party than the great proportion of their children, of all sizes, and I may add, shades of color, for the infusion of French blood from a long series of successive intermarriages, is found in every tribe.  Infants fastened on boards, with the children and youth under sixteen, outnumber the adults.  The children are all plump, all have rounded and full muscles, all good chests, thus showing that their life, vicious as it is, is more favorable to health and development, in consequence of their freedom of motion, perpetual exercise in the open air.  Their gregariousness, flocking together where impulse carried them, as self reliant as their parents who seemed to allow them perfect freedom, even though strangers were so numerous among them, bore a pleasing, and to us instructive contrast to the entire and melancholy helplessness to which white children, especially in cities, are doomed.

Many of the Indians wore a feather or feathers in their cap, indicating the number of Sioux they had scalped.  One displayed six feathers.  He told us that he had in battle killed two, and taken the scalps of four others, killed by unknown hands of his band.  The last victim he had slain but a month ago.  One erect youth, of not more than eighteen, with a fresh and handsome face, bore proudly a single feather as a token of his early prowess.  One man, in answer to the question, whether he had ever taken a scalp, replied gravely, without a smile, that he had not, and was of no more account that a woman in his tribe.  An illustration of their generosity and savage ferocity is afforded by a sub-Chief who had an interview with Mr. Gilbert, the Indian Agent, a few days since.  He presented Mr. G. an elegant cloak, made entirely of beaver skins, in expectation of nothing but a large medal in return.  He was intent in speech, and animated and pleasant in address.  No trace of savage ferocity lingered in his face.  Yet it was stated that this man had actually killed and eaten his own child.

Sometimes their earnings if economically used would afford them a comfortable subsistence.  The whites, even in their ordinary trade have practiced habitually heartless extortion.  When Gov. Cass’s expedition visited this country in 1820, the Indians were in the habit of paying the traders a beaver skin, worth sixteen dollars, for a gill of powder; the same for a shirt; the same for thirty balls; and three beaver skins for a single blanket.  I inquired of the Chief, Old Buffalo, what was the highest price he had ever paid for tobacco.  He replied that they formerly made purchases of the Hudson Bay Company, tobacco was coiled up in ropes of about three quarters of an inch in diameter, and that he had paid ten beaver skins for a fathom, or at least ten dollars for a foot in length.   But when the poor creatures became maniacs or idiots from drink, no possession was so prized that they would not part with it for a single cup of fire water.  That the trader availed himself of the imbecility he created, is acknowledged.  A large share of the boundless wealth of Mr. Astor was based on acquisitions, through his instruments and agents of this questionable and indeed diabolical character.  Well might Burns exclaim in sorrow,

“Man’s inhumanity to man.

Makes countless thousands mourn.”

for whether among men and families of the same blood, or between civilized and savage men, either in peace or in the antagonism of war, the whole world and all time has teemed with sickening, heart-rending examples of its melancholy truth.

By chance we have been able to witness what can not be seen, a few years hence on this side of the “Father of waters,” or indeed on the continent.  Here in our magnificent floating palace and the crowd of intellectual and cultivated people on board, surrounded by the refinements of life, we have the highest triumphs of civilization, side by side and in contrast with the rudest manifestations of primitive savage life.–An interesting episode in human affairs, though prompting [a] thousand sad reflections.  The doom of entire extirpation of the red man seems surely and gradually to approach.  The perpetual warfare among tribes on the extreme frontier annually declinates their most vigorous braves, and consequently it is manifest that among this tribe at least there were far more women than men between the ages of twenty and forty.  Many perish from ignorance of the laws of nature, and many from excessive exposure and famine.  Rapacity of the whites, and whiskey, finish the merciless work.  They fade, they perish, as the grass of the prairies withers before the devouring element.  The officers of our government, in their conference, have been accustomed to talk about the protection their Great Father vouchsafes to them, but it is the protection which the vulture affords the sparrow.  Whatever may be the intentions of our professedly paternal government, no alternative seems to remain to the Indian, but submission to its crushing and onward march.

Dr. Bethune Duffield  (Detroit–biographical sketches by Walter Buell [1886] Google Books)

I had forgotten to mention that here both a Catholic and Presbyterian Mission have been sustained.  The officiating Catholic priest, Pere Carriere, is a Frenchman, recently from his native land.  His appearance is that of a quiet and refined gentleman, in contrast with his flock.  Dr. Duffield of Detroit, who is with us, and who has seen his Holiness, declares that he resembles the present Pope, Pio Nono (Pious the Ninth).  His mission from some cause is said to be eminently unsuccesful, and he leaves the Island to return in the Planet with us.

1855 as a Turning Point:  A plea to today’s Chequamegon Bay residents

Williams’ quote about the vulture and the sparrow, excerpted at the very top of this post, is about as succinct a statement about Manifest Destiny as I have ever read.  If it weren’t surrounded by so many grossly-ignorant and disgusting statements about Ojibwe people, one might almost take it as sympathy for the Ojibwe cause.  Still, the statement holds the key to our understanding of the story of 1855.

In the grand scheme of our region’s history, the payment was less significant  than the treaty itself or the tragic removal politics of the early 1850s.  Sure, it was the first payment under the final treaty and it featured the visit of Indian Affairs Commissioner George Manypenny to La Pointe, but ultimately it was largely like the rest of the 30-plus annuity payments that took place in our area in the middle of the 19th century. The death of Chief Buffalo in September 1855, and visit of Manypenny who shifted American Indian policy from removal to assimilation, represented both real and symbolic breaks with the past, but ultimately the great shift of 1855 is only one of tone. 

Ultimately, however, this shift is only superficial and the reality of life for most Chequamegon residents didn’t change overnight in 1855.  The careers of men like Blackbird, Vincent Roy Jr., Julius Austrian, Naaganab, and others show the artificiality of such a line.  To them, the tourists on the Planet  and North Star were probably just a distraction or curiosity.  

Williams was wrong.  The Ojibwe did not perish before the “devouring element,” and neither did that earlier history.  Somehow, though, since then those of us who live in this area have allowed outsiders to write the story.  Maybe it’s comfortable for those, like myself, of European ancestry to focus on shipwrecks and lighthouses rather than colonialism and dispossession, but in doing so we deny ourselves the most significant events of our area’s history and an understanding of its legacy on today.

By all means, learn the names of Grace Greenwood, John Breckinridge, and the Lady Elgin, but understand the fleeting impact of those names on our area’s history.  Then, read up on Blackbird, Jechiikwii’o, Leonard Wheeler, Benjamin Armstrong and other players in 1855 politics who really did leave a lasting legacy.

Off my soapbox for now… 

The bulk of this article comes from newspaper articles found on two digital archives.  Access Newspaper Archive is available to Wisconsin library card holders through badgerlink.net.  The Library of Congress Chronicling America site is free at http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/.  Other sources are linked within the post.

 

By Leo Filipczak

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

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

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

Buffalo’s Obituary

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

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


 

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


 

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

Here, we will evaluate these interpretations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Kohl article

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

 

J. G. Kohl (Wikimedia Images)

Das Ausland.

Eine Wochenschrift

fur

Kunde des geistigen und sittlichen Lebens der Völker

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

Nr. 2 8 January 1859

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

By J.G. Kohl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

  

 

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

 

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

~Makade-binesi (Blackbird)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

O-da-nah Jan 18, 1856.

L. H. Wheeler to Richard M. Smith

Dear Sir,

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

Short speech first from Kenistino of Lac du Flambeau.

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

The Commissioner, Col Manypenny replied as follows.

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

“Ah;” or yes, was the reply.

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

“Ah!” yes was the response.

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

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

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

Black Bird.  To the Indians.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Commissioner replied as follows

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

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

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

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

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

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

Naganub.

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

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

Buffalo.

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

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

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

Black Bird.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who was Blackbird?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mushkesebe River Oct. 1855

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

  

example not to meddle with other peoples business.

Mushkisibi River Oct. 1855

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

So, what did happen here?

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

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

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

So who are the good guys in this situation?

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

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

Henry Mower Rice (Wikimedia Images)

Henry M. Rice

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

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

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

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

Antoine Gordon 

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

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

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

Naaganab

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

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

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

Leonard H. Wheeler

L. H. Wheeler (WHS Image ID 66594)

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

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

Blackbird

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

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

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

Final word for now…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Americana v.5 American Historical Company, American Historical Society, National Americana Society Publishing Society of New York, 1910 (Digitized by Google Books) pages 298-302.

 

AN INDIAN PAYMENT

By Crocket McElroy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oshogay

August 12, 2013

At the most recent count, Chief Buffalo is mentioned in over two-thirds of the posts here on Chequamegon History.  That’s the most of anyone listed so far in the People Index.  While there are more Buffalo posts on the way, I also want to draw attention to some of the lesser known leaders of the La Pointe Band.  So, look for upcoming posts about Dagwagaane (Tagwagane), Mizay, Blackbird, Waabojiig, Andeg-wiiyas, and others.  I want to start, however, with Oshogay, the young speaker who traveled to Washington with Buffalo in 1852 only to die the next year before the treaty he was seeking could be negotiated.

Two hundred years before Oshogay went to Washington D. C., the Jesuits of New France recorded the Outchougai (Atchougue) as a distinct nation among the many Anishinaabe peoples of the Western Great Lakes along with the Amikouet (Beavers), Nikikouet (Otters), Noquet (Bears), Monsoni (Moose), Marameg (Catfish), and several others.  By the 19th century, these nations were seen no longer seen as distinct nations but as clans of the Otchipoek (Cranes).  According to Schoolcraft and others, the Outchougai (Oshogays) were the Osprey or Fish Hawk clan.  However, others identified them with the Heron (zhashagi  in Ojibwe; Osprey is piichigiigwane).  I am far from being an expert on the Ojibwe clan system, but it seems by the 1800s, the Oshogay clan was either gone from the Anishinaabe of the Lake Superior country or had been absorbed into the Cranes. However, the word Oshogay continued to be a personal name. 

I debated whether to do this post, since I don’t know a lot about Oshogay.  I don’t know for sure what his name means, so I don’t know how to spell or pronounce it correctly (in the sources you see Oshogay, O-sho-ga, Osh-a-ga, Oshaga, Ozhoge, etc.).  In fact, I don’t even know how many people he is.  There were at least four men with that name among the Lake Superior Ojibwe between 1800 and 1860, so much like with the Great Chief Buffalo Picture Search, the key to getting Oshogay’s history right is dependent on separating his story from those who share his name.

In the end, I felt that challenge was worth a post in its own right, so here it is.

Getting Started

According to his gravestone, Oshogay was 51 when he died at La Pointe in 1853.  That would put his birth around 1802.  However, the Ojibwe did not track their birthdays in those days, so that should not be considered absolutely precise.  He was considered a young man of the La Pointe Band at the time of his death.  In my mind, the easiest way to sort out the information is going to be to lay it out chronologically.  Here it goes:

1)  Henry Schoolcraft, United States Indian Agent at Sault Ste. Marie, recorded the following on July 19, 1828:

Oshogay (the Osprey), solicited provisions to return home. This young man had been sent down to deliver a speech from his father, Kabamappa, of the river St. Croix, in which he regretted his inability to come in person. The father had first attracted my notice at the treaty of Prairie du Chien, and afterwards received a small medal, by my recommendation, from the Commissioners at Fond du Lac. He appeared to consider himself under obligations to renew the assurance of his friendship, and this, with the hope of receiving some presents, appeared to constitute the object of his son’s mission, who conducted himself with more modesty and timidity before me than prudence afterwards; for, by extending his visit to Drummond Island, where both he and his father were unknown, he got nothing, and forfeited the right to claim anything for himself on his return here.

I sent, however, in his charge, a present of goods of small amount, to be delivered to his father, who has not countenanced his foreign visit.

Oshogay is a “young man.”  A birth year of 1802 would make him 26.  He is part of Gaa-bimabi’s (Kabamappa’s) village in the upper St. Croix country.

2) In June of 1834, Edmund Ely and W. T. Boutwell, two missionaries, traveled from Fond du Lac (today’s Fond du Lac Reservation near Cloquet) down the St. Croix to Yellow Lake (near today’s Webster, WI) to meet with other missionaries. As they left Gaa-bimabi’s (Kabamappa’s) village near the head of the St. Croix and reached the Namekagon River on June 28th, they were looking for someone to guide them the rest of the way.  An old Ojibwe man, who Boutwell had met before at La Pointe, and his son offered to help. The man fed the missionaries fish and hunted for them while they camped a full day at the mouth of the Namekagon since the 29th was a Sunday and they refused to travel on the Sabbath.  On Monday the 30th, the reembarked, and Ely recorded in his journal:

The man, whose name is “Ozhoge,” and his son embarked with us about 1/2 past 9 °clk a.m. The old man in the bow and myself steering.  We run the rapids safely.  At half past one P. M. arrived at the mouth of Yellow River…  

Ozhoge is an “old man” in 1834, so he couldn’t have been born in 1802.  He is staying on the Namekagon River in the upper St. Croix country between Gaa-bimabi and the Yellow Lake Band.  He had recently spent time at La Pointe.

3)  Ely’s stay on the St. Croix that summer was brief.  He was stationed at Fond du Lac until he eventually wore out his welcome there. In the 1840s, he would be stationed at Pokegama, lower on the St. Croix.  During these years, he makes multiple references to a man named Ozhogens (a diminutive of Ozhoge).  Ozhogens is always found above Yellow River on the upper St. Croix.

Ozhogens has a name that may imply someone older (possibly a father or other relative) lives nearby with the name Ozhoge.  He seems to live in the upper St. Croix country.  A birth year of 1802 would put him in his forties, which is plausible.

capt

Ke-che-wask keenk (Gichi-weshki) is Chief Buffalo.  Gab-im-ub-be (Gaa-bimabi) was the chief Schoolcraft identified as the father of Oshogay.  Ja-che-go-onk was a son of Chief Buffalo.

4) On August 2, 1847, the United States and the Mississippi and Lake Superior Ojibwe concluded a treaty at Fond du Lac.  The US Government wanted Ojibwe land along the nation’s border with the Dakota Sioux, so it could remove the Ho-Chunk people from Wisconsin to Minnesota.

Among the signatures, we find O-sho-gaz, a warrior from St. Croix.  This would seem to be the Ozhogens we meet in Ely.

Here O-sho-gaz is clearly identified as being from St. Croix.  His identification as a warrior would probably indicate that he is a relatively young man.  The fact that his signature is squeezed in the middle of the names of members of the La Pointe Band may or may not be significant.  The signatures on the 1847 Treaty are not officially grouped by band, but they tend to cluster as such. 

5)  In 1848 and 1849 George P. Warren operated the fur post at Chippewa Falls and kept a log that has been transcribed and digitized by the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire.  He makes several transactions with a man named Oshogay, and at one point seems to have him employed in his business.  His age isn’t indicated, but the amount of furs he brings in suggests that he is the head of a small band or large family.  There were multiple Ojibwe villages on the Chippewa River at that time, including at Rice Lake and Lake Shatac (Chetek).  The United States Government treated with them as satellite villages of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band.

Based on where he lives, this Oshogay might not be the same person as the one described above.

6)  In December 1850, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in the case Oshoga vs. The State of Wisconsin, that there were a number of irregularities in the trial that convicted “Oshoga, an Indian of the Chippewa Nation” of murder.  The court reversed the decision of the St. Croix County circuit court.  I’ve found surprisingly little about this case, though that part of Wisconsin was growing very violent in the 1840s as white lumbermen and liquor salesmen were flooding the country.

Pg 56 of Containing cases decided from the December term, 1850, until the organization of the separate Supreme Court in 1853: Volume 3 of Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of the State of Wisconsin: With Tables of the Cases and Principal Matters, and the Rules of the Several Courts in Force Since 1838, Wisconsin. Supreme Court Authors: Wisconsin. Supreme Court, Silas Uriah Pinney (Google Books).

The man killed, Alexander Livingston, was a liquor dealer himself.

Alexander Livingston, a man who in youth had had excellent advantages, became himself a dealer in whisky, at the mouth of Wolf creek, in a drunken melee in his own store was shot and killed by Robido, a half-breed. Robido was arrested but managed to escape justice.

~From Fifty Years in the Northwest by W.H.C Folsom

Several pages later, Folsom writes:

At the mouth of Wolf creek, in the extreme northwestern section of this town, J. R. Brown had a trading house in the ’30s, and Louis Roberts in the ’40s. At this place Alex. Livingston, another trader, was killed by Indians in 1849. Livingston had built him a comfortable home, which he made a stopping place for the weary traveler, whom he fed on wild rice, maple sugar, venison, bear meat, muskrats, wild fowl and flour bread, all decently prepared by his Indian wife. Mr. Livingston was killed by an Indian in 1849.

Folsom makes no mention of Oshoga, and I haven’t found anything else on what happened to him or Robido (Robideaux?).

It’s hard to say if this Oshoga is the Ozhogen’s of Ely’s journals or the Oshogay of Warren’s.  Wolf Creek is on the St. Croix, but it’s not far from the Chippewa River country either, and the Oshogay of Warren seems to have covered a lot of ground in the fur trade.  Warren’s journal, linked in #4, contains a similar story of a killing and “frontier justice” leading to lynch mobs against the Ojibwe.  To escape the violence and overcrowding, many Ojibwe from that part of the country started to relocate to Fond du Lac, Lac Courte Oreilles, or La Pointe/Bad River.  La Pointe is also where we find the next mention of Oshogay. 

7)  From 1851 to 1853, a new voice emerged loudly from the La Pointe Band in the aftermath of the Sandy Lake Tragedy.  It was that of Buffalo’s speaker Oshogay (or O-sho-ga), and he spoke out strongly against Indian Agent John Watrous’ handling of the Sandy Lake payments (see this post) and against Watrous’ continued demands for removal of the Lake Superior Ojibwe.  There are a number of documents with Oshogay’s name on them, and I won’t mention all of them, but I recommend Theresa Schenck’s William W. Warren and Howard Paap’s Red Cliff, Wisconsin as two places to get started. 

Chief Buffalo was known as a great speaker, but he was nearing the end of his life, and it was the younger chief who was speaking on behalf of the band more and more.  Oshogay represented Buffalo in St. Paul, co-wrote a number of letters with him, and most famously, did most of the talking when the two chiefs went to Washington D.C. in the spring of 1852 (at least according to Benjamin Armstrong’s memoir).  A number of secondary sources suggest that Oshogay was Buffalo’s son or son-in-law, but I’ve yet to see these claims backed up with an original document.  However, all the documents that identify by band, say this Oshogay was from La Pointe.

The Wisconsin Historical Society has digitized four petitions drafted in the fall of 1851 and winter of 1852.  The petitions are from several chiefs, mostly of the La Pointe and Lac Courte Oreilles/Chippewa River bands, calling for the removal of John Watrous as Indian Agent.  The content of the petitions deserves its own post, so for now we’ll only look at the signatures.

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November 6, 1851 Letter from 30 chiefs and headmen to Luke Lea, Commissioner of Indian Affairs:  Multiple villages are represented here, roughly grouped by band.  Kijiueshki (Buffalo), Jejigwaig (Buffalo’s son), Kishhitauag (“Cut Ear” also associated with the Ontonagon Band), Misai (“Lawyerfish”),  Oshkinaue (“Youth”), Aitauigizhik (“Each Side of the Sky”), Medueguon, and Makudeuakuat (“Black Cloud”) are all known members of the La Pointe Band.  Before the 1850s, Kabemabe (Gaa-bimabi) and Ozhoge were associated with the villages of the Upper St. Croix.

antiwatrous2

November 8, 1851, Letter from the Chiefs and Headmen of Chippeway River, Lac Coutereille, Puk-wa-none, Long Lake, and Lac Shatac to Alexander Ramsey, Superintendent of Indian Affairs:  This letter was written from Sandy Lake two days after the one above it was written from La Pointe.  O-sho-gay the warrior from Lac Shatac (Lake Chetek) can’t be the same person as Ozhoge the chief unless he had some kind of airplane or helicopter back in 1851.

antiwatrous3

Undated (Jan. 1852?) petition to “Our Great Father”:  This Oshoga is clearly the one from Lake Chetek (Chippewa River). 

antiwatrous4

Undated (Jan. 1852?) petition:  These men are all associated with the La Pointe Band.  Osho-gay is their Speaker.

In the early 1850s, we clearly have two different men named Oshogay involved in the politics of the Lake Superior Ojibwe.  One is a young warrior from the Chippewa River country, and the other is a rising leader among the La Pointe Band.

Washington Delegation July 22, 1852 This engraving of the 1852 delegation led by Buffalo and Oshogay appeared in Benjamin Armstrong’s Early Life Among the Indians.  Look for an upcoming post dedicated to this image.

8)  In the winter of 1853-1854, a smallpox epidemic ripped through La Pointe and claimed the lives of a number of its residents including that of Oshogay.  It had appeared that Buffalo was grooming him to take over leadership of the La Pointe Band, but his tragic death left a leadership vacuum after the establishment of reservations and the death of Buffalo in 1855.

Oshogay’s death is marked in a number of sources including the gravestone at the top of this post.  The following account comes from Richard E. Morse, an observer of the 1855 annuity payments at La Pointe:

The Chippewas, during the past few years, have suffered extensively, and many of them died, with the small pox.  Chief O-SHO-GA died of this disease in 1854.  The Agent caused a suitable tomb-stone to be erected at his grave, in La Pointe.  He was a young chief, of rare promise and merit; he also stood high in the affections of his people.   

Later, Morse records a speech by Ja-be-ge-zhick or “Hole in the Sky,” a young Ojibwe man from the Bad River Mission who had converted to Christianity and dressed in “American style.” Jabegezhick speaks out strongly to the American officials against the assembled chiefs:

…I am glad you have seen us, and have seen the folly of our chiefs; it may give you a general idea of their transactions.  By the papers you have made out for the chiefs to sign, you can judge of their ability to do business for us.  We had but one man among us, capable of doing business for the Chippewa nation; that man was O-SHO-GA, now dead and our nation now mourns.  (O-SHO-GA was a young chief of great merit and much promise; he died of small-pox, February 1854).  Since his death, we have lost all our faith in the balance of our chiefs…

This O-sho-ga is the young chief, associated with the La Pointe Band, who went to Washington with Buffalo in 1852.

9)  In 1878, “Old Oshaga” received three dollars for a lynx bounty in Chippewa County.

It seems quite possible that Old Oshaga is the young man that worked with George Warren in the 1840s and the warrior from Lake Chetek who signed the petitions against Agent Watrous in the 1850s.

10) In 1880, a delegation of Bad River, Lac Courte Oreilles, and Lac du Flambeau chiefs visited Washington D.C.  I will get into their purpose in a future post, but for now, I will mention that the chiefs were older men who would have been around in the 1840s and ’50s. One of them is named Oshogay.  The challenge is figuring out which one.

Ojibwe Delegation c. 1880 by Charles M. Bell.   [Identifying information from the Smithsonian] Studio portrait of Anishinaabe Delegation posed in front of a backdrop. Sitting, left to right: Edawigijig; Kis-ki-ta-wag; Wadwaiasoug (on floor); Akewainzee (center); Oshawashkogijig; Nijogijig; Oshoga. Back row (order unknown); Wasigwanabi; Ogimagijig; and four unidentified men (possibly Frank Briggs, top center, and Benjamin Green Armstrong, top right). The men wear European-style suit jackets and pants; one man wears a peace medal, some wear beaded sashes or bags or hold pipes and other props.(Smithsonian Institution National Museum of the American Indian).

This same image is on display at the Bayfield Public Library.  The men in the picture are identified, presumably by someone in the early 20th century with some firsthand knowledge, but the identification doesn’t correspond to the names identified by the Smithsonian.  Osho’gay is the only name common to the Smithsonian’s information (in bold for reference) and the library’s information as follows:

Upper row reading from the left.
1.  Vincent Conyer- Interpreter 1,2,4,5 ?, includes Wasigwanabi and Ogimagijig
2.  Vincent Roy Jr.
3.  Dr. I. L. Mahan, Indian Agent   Frank Briggs
4.  No Name Given
5.  Geo P. Warren (Born at LaPointe- civil war vet.
6.  Thad Thayer      Benjamin Armstrong
Lower row
1.  Messenger    Edawigijig
2.  Na-ga-nab (head chief of all Chippewas)   Kis-ki-ta-wag
3.  Moses White, father of Jim White          Waswaisoug
4.  No Name Given         Akewainzee
5.  Osho’gay- head speaker     Oshawashkogijig or Oshoga
6.  Bay’-qua-as’ (head chief of La Corrd Oreilles, 7 ft. tall) Nijogijig or Oshawashkogijig
7.  No name given  Oshoga or Nijogijig

The Smithsonian lists Oshoga last, so that would mean he is the man sitting in the chair at the far right.  However, it doesn’t specify who the man seated on the right on the floor is, so it’s also possible that he’s their Oshoga.  If the latter is true, that’s also who the unknown writer of the library caption identified as Osho’gay.  Whoever he is in the picture, it seems very possible that this is the same man as “Old Oshaga” from number 9.

11) There is one more document I’d like to include, although it doesn’t mention any of the people we’ve discussed so far, it may be of interest to someone reading this post.  It mentions a man named Oshogay who was born before 1860 (albeit not long before).

For decades after 1854, many of the Lake Superior Ojibwe continued to live off of the reservations created in the Treaty of La Pointe.  This was especially true in the St. Croix region where no reservation was created at all.  In the 1910s, the Government set out to document where various Ojibwe families were living and what tribal rights they had.  This process led to the creation of the St. Croix and Mole Lake reservations.  In 1915, we find 64-year-old Oshogay and his family living in Randall, Wisconsin which may suggest a connection to the St. Croix Oshogays.  As with number 6 above, this creates some ambiguity because he is listed as enrolled at Lac Courte Oreilles, which implies a connection to the Chippewa River Oshogay.  For now, I leave this investigation up to someone else, but I’ll leave it here for interest.

This is not any of the Oshogays discussed so far, but it could be a relative of any or all of them.

In the final analysis

These eleven documents mention at least four men named Oshogay living in northern Wisconsin between 1800 and 1860.  Edmund Ely met an old man named Oshogay in 1834.  He is one.  A 64-year old man, a child in the 1850s, was listed on the roster of “St. Croix Indians.”  He is another.  I believe the warrior from Lake Chetek who traded with George Warren in the 1840s could be one of the chiefs who went to Washington in 1880.  He may also be the one who was falsely accused of killing Alexander Livingston.  Of these three men, none are the Oshogay who went to Washington with Buffalo in 1852.

Credit where credit is due, Theresa Schenck is the person who first told me about the strong St. Croix-La Pointe connection and the movement of many St. Croix families to Bad River in the 1850s. In his 2012 dissertation, The Murder of Joe White: Ojibwe Leadership and Colonialism in Wisconsin, Erik M. Redix identifies the “La Pointe” Oshoge as being a “St. Croix chief.”

That leaves us with the last mystery.  Is Ozhogens, the young son of the St. Croix chief Gaa-bimabi, the orator from La Pointe who played such a prominent role in the politics of the early 1850s?  I don’t have a smoking gun, but I feel the circumstantial evidence strongly suggests he is.  If that’s the case, it explains why those who’ve looked for his early history in the La Pointe Band have come up empty. 

However, important questions remain unanswered.  What was his connection to Buffalo? If he was from St. Croix, how was he able to gain such a prominent role in the La Pointe Band, and why did he relocate to La Pointe anyway?  I have my suspicions for each of these questions, but no solid evidence.  If you do, please let me know, and we’ll continue to shed light on this underappreciated Ojibwe leader.

 

 

Sources:

Armstrong, Benj G., and Thomas P. Wentworth. Early Life among the Indians: Reminiscences from the Life of Benj. G. Armstrong : Treaties of 1835, 1837, 1842 and 1854 : Habits and Customs of the Red Men of the Forest : Incidents, Biographical Sketches, Battles, &c. Ashland, WI: Press of A.W. Bowron, 1892. Print.
Ely, Edmund Franklin, and Theresa M. Schenck. The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 1833-1849. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2012. Print.
Folsom, William H. C., and E. E. Edwards. Fifty Years in the Northwest. St. Paul: Pioneer, 1888. Print.
KAPPLER’S INDIAN AFFAIRS: LAWS AND TREATIES. Ed. Charles J. Kappler. Oklahoma State University Library, n.d. Web. 12 August 2013. <http:// digital.library.okstate.edu/Kappler/>.
Nichols, John, and Earl Nyholm. A Concise Dictionary of Minnesota Ojibwe. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1995. Print.
Paap, Howard D. Red Cliff, Wisconsin: A History of an Ojibwe Community. St. Cloud, MN: North Star, 2013. Print.
Redix, Erik M. “The Murder of Joe White: Ojibwe Leadership and Colonialism in Wisconsin.” Diss. University of Minnesota, 2012. Print.
Schenck, Theresa M. The Voice of the Crane Echoes Afar: The Sociopolitical Organization of the Lake Superior Ojibwa, 1640-1855. New York: Garland Pub., 1997. Print.
———–William W. Warren: The Life, Letters, and times of an Ojibwe Leader. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2007. Print.
Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe. Personal Memoirs of a Residence of Thirty Years with the Indian Tribes on the American Frontiers: With Brief Notices of Passing Events, Facts, and Opinions, A.D. 1812 to A.D. 1842. Philadelphia, [Pa.: Lippincott, Grambo and, 1851. Print.
Warren, William W., and Theresa M. Schenck. History of the Ojibway People. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 2009. Print.

      

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

Posts on Chequamegon History are generally of the obscure variety and are probably only interesting to a handful of people.  I anticipate this one could cause some controversy as it concerns an object that holds a lot of importance to many people who live in our area.  All I can say about that is that this post represents my research into original historical documents.  I did not set out to prove anybody right or wrong, and I don’t think this has to be the last word on the subject.  This post is simply my reasoned conclusions based on the evidence I’ve seen.  Take from it what you will.  

Be sheekee, or Buffalo by Francis Vincenti, Marble, Modeled 1855, Carved 1856 (United States Senate)

Be Sheekee: A Chippewa Warrior from the Sources of the Mississippi, bronze, by Joseph Lassalle after Francis Vincenti, House wing of the United States Capitol (U.S. Capitol Historical Society).

“A Chippewa Warrior from the Sources of the Mississippi”

There is no image that has been more widely identified with Chief Buffalo from La Pointe than the marble bust and bronze copy in the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington D.C. Red Cliff leaders make a point of visiting the statues on trips to the capital city, the tribe uses the image in advertising and educational materials, and literature from the United States Senate about the bust includes a short biography of the La Pointe chief.

I can trace the connection between the bust and the La Pointe chief to 1973, when John O. Holzhueter, editor of the Wisconsin Magazine of History wrote an article for the magazine titled Chief Buffalo and Other Wisconsin-Related Art in the National Capitol. From Holzhueterʼs notes we can tell that in 1973, the rediscovery of the story of the La Pointe Buffalo was just beginning at the Wisconsin Historical Society (the publisher of the magazine).  Holzhueter deserves credit for helping to rekindle interest in the chief. However, he made a critical error.

English: Aysh-ke-bah-ke-ko-zhay ojibwa chief

English: Aysh-ke-bah-ke-ko-zhay ojibwa chief (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the article he briefly discusses Eshkibagikoonzhe (Flat Mouth), the chief of the Leech Lake or Pillager Ojibwe from northern Minnesota.  Roughly the same age as Buffalo, Flat Mouth is as prominent a chief in the history of the upper Mississippi as Buffalo is for the Lake Superior bands. Had Holzhueter investigated further into the life of Flat Mouth, he may have discovered that at the time the bust was carved, the Pillagers had another leader who had risen to prominence, a war chief named Buffalo.

Holzhueter clearly was not aware that there was more than one Buffalo, and thus, he had to invent facts to make the history fit the art. According to the article (and a book published by Holzhueter the next year) the La Pointe Buffalo visited President Pierce in Washington in January of 1855.  Buffalo did visit Washington in 1852 in the aftermath of the Sandy Lake Tragedy, but the old chief was nowhere near Washington in 1855. In fact, he was at home on the island in declining health having secured reservations for his people in Wisconsin the previous summer. He would die in September of 1855.  The Buffalo who met with Pierce, of course, was the war chief from Leech Lake.

“He wore in his headdress 5 war-eagle feathers

The Pillager Buffalo was in Washington for treaty negotiations that would transfer most of the remaining Ojibwe land in northern Minnesota to the United States and create reservations at the principal villages. The minutes of the February 1855 negotiations between the Minnesota chiefs and Indian Commissioner George Manypenny are filled with Ojibwe frustration at Manypennyʼs condescending tone. The chiefs, included the powerful young Hole-in-the-Day, the respected elder Flat Mouth, and Buffalo, who was growing in experience and age, though he was still considerably younger than Flat Mouth or the La Pointe Buffalo. The men were used to being called “red children” in communications with their “fathers” in the government, but Manypennyʼs paternalism brought it to a new low. Buffalo used his clothing to communicate to the commissioner that his message of assimilation to white ways was not something that all Ojibwes desired. Manypennyʼs words and Buffaloʼs responses as interpreted by the mix- blooded trader Paul Beaulieu follow:

The commissioner remarked to Buffalo, that if he was a young man he would insist upon his dispensing with his headdress of feathers, but that, as he was old, he would not disturb a custom which habit had endeared to him.
Buffalo repoled ithat the feathered plume among the Chippewas was a badge of honor. Those who were successful in fighting with or conquering their enemies were entitled to wear plumes as marks of distinction, and as the reward of meritorious actions.

The commissioner asked him how old he was.

Buffalo said that was a question which he could not answer exactly. If he guessed right, however, he supposed he was about fifty. (He looked, and was doubtless, much
older).

Commissioner. I would think, my firend, you were older than that. I would like to philosophise with you about that headdress, and desired to know if he had a farm, a house, stock, and other comforts about him.

Buffalo. I have none of those things which you have mentioned. I live like other members of the tribe.

Commissioner. How long have you been in the habit of painting—thirty years or more?

Buffalo. I can not tell the number of years. It may have been more or it may have been less. I have distinguished myself in war as well as in peace among my people and the whites, and am entitled to the distinction which the practice implies.

Commissioner. While you, my firend, have been spending your time and money in painting your face, how many of your white brothers have started without a dollar in the world and acquired all those things mentioned so necessary to your comfort and independent support. The paint, with the exception of what is now on my friend’s face, has disappeared, but the white persons to whom I alluded by way of contrast are surrounded by all the comforts of life, the legitimate fruits of their well-directed industry.  This illustrates the difference between civilized and savage life, and the importance of our red brothers changing their habits and pursuits for those of the white.

Major General Montgomery C. Meigs was a Captain before the Civil War and was in charge of the Capitol restoration, As with Thomas McKenney in the 1820s, Meigs was hoping to capture the look of the “vanishing Indian.” He commissioned the busts of the Leech Lake chiefs during the 1855 Treaty negotiations. (Wikimedia Images)

While Manypenny clearly did not like the Ojibwe way of life or Buffaloʼs style of dress, it did catch the attention of the authorities in charge of building an extension on the U.S. Capitol. Captain Montgomery Meigs, the supervisor, had hired numerous artists and much like Thomas McKenney two decades earlier, was looking for examples of the indigenous cultures that were assumed to be vanishing. On February 17th, Meigs received word from Seth Eastman that the Ojibwe delegation was in town.

The Captain met Bizhiki and described him in his journal:

“He is a fine-looking Indian, with character strongly marked. He wore in his headdress 5 war-eagle feathers, the sign of that many enemies put to death by his hand, and sat up, an old murderer, as proud of his feathers as a Frenchman of his Cross of the Legion of Honor. He is a leading warrior rather than a chief, but he has a good head, one which would not lead one, if he were in the Senate, to think he was not fit to be the companion of the wise of the land.”

Buffalo was paid $5.00 and sat for three days with the skilled Italian sculptor Francis Vincenti. Meigs recorded:

“Vincenti is making a good likeness of a fine bust of Buffalo. I think I will have it put into marble and placed in a proper situation in the Capitol as a record of the Indian culture. 500 years hence it will be interesting.”

Vincenti first formed clay models of both Buffalo and Flat Mouth. The marbles would not be finished until the next year. A bronze replica of Buffalo was finished by Joseph Lassalle in 1859. The marble was put into the Senate wing of the Capitol, and the bronze was placed in the House wing.

Clues in the Marble

The sculptures themselves hold further clues that the man depicted is not the La Pointe Buffalo. Multiple records describe the La Pointe chief as a very large man. In his obituary, recorded the same year the statue was modeled, Morse writes:

Any one would recognize in the person of the Buffalo chief, a man of superiority. About the middle height, a face remarkably grave and dignified, indicating great thoughtfulness; neat in his native attire; short neck, very large head, and the most capacious chest of any human subject we ever saw.

At the time of his death, he was thought to have been over ninety years old. The man in the sculpture is lean and not ninety. In addition, there is another clue that got by Holzhueter even though he printed it in his article. There is a medallion around the neck of the bronze bust that reads, “Beeshekee, the BUFFALO; A Chippewa Warrior from the Sources of the Mississippi…”  This description works for a war chief from Leech Lake, but makes no sense for a civil chief and orator from La Pointe.

Another Image of the Leech Lake Bizhiki

Be-She-Kee (Buffalo), Head Chief of the Leech Lake Chippewas c. 1863 (Whitney’s Gallery, St. Paul)

The Treaty of 1855 was signed on February 22, and the Leech Lake chiefs returned to Minnesota. By the outbreak of the Civil War, Flat Mouth had died leaving Buffalo as the most prominent Pillager chief. Indian-White relations in Minnesota grew violent in 1862 as the U.S.- Dakota War (also called the Sioux Uprising) broke out in the southern part of the state. The Gull Lake chief, Hole in the Day, who had claimed the title of head of the Ojibwes, was making noise about an Ojibwe uprising as well. When he tried to use the Pillagers in his plan, Buffalo voiced skepticism and Hole in the Dayʼs plans petered out.  In 1863, Buffalo returned to Washington for a new treaty.  Ironically, he was still very much alive in the midst of complicated politics in a city where his bust was on display as monument to the vanishing race.

At some point during these years, the Pillager Buffalo had his photograph taken by Whitneyʼs Gallery in St. Paul. Although the La Pointe Buffalo was dead by this time, internet sites will occasional connect it with him even with an original caption that reads “Head Chief of the Leech Lake Chippewas.”

The Verdict

Although it wasn’t the outcome I was hoping for, my research leads me to definitively conclude that the busts in the U.S. Capitol are of Buffalo the Leech Lake war chief.  It’s disappointing for our area to lose this Washington connection, but our loss it Leech Lake’s gain.  Though less well-known than the La Pointe band’s chief, their chief Buffalo should also be remembered for his role in history.

Not Chief Buffalo from La Pointe: This is Chief Buffalo from Leech Lake.

Not Chief Buffalo from La Pointe: This is Chief Buffalo from Leech Lake.

Not Chief Buffalo from La Pointe: This is Chief Buffalo from Leech Lake.

 

Sources:
Holzhueter, John O. “Chief Buffalo and Other Wisconsin-Related Art in the National Capitol.” Wisconsin Magazine of History 56.4 (1973): 284-89. Print.
———– Madeline Island & the Chequamegon Region. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1974. 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/>.
Kloss, William, Diane K. Skvarla, and Jane R. McGoldrick. United States Senate Catalogue of Fine Art. Washington, D.C.: U.S. G.P.O., 2002. Print.
Legendary Waters Resort and Casino. Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, 2012. Web. 28 June 2012. <http://www.legendarywaters.com/&gt;.
Minutes of the 1855 Treaty. 1855. MS. Bureau of Indian Affairs, Washington. Gibagdinamaagoom. White Earth Tribal and Community College Et. Al. Web. 28 June 2012. <gibagadinamaagoom.info/images/1855TreatyMinutes.pdf>.
Morse, Richard F. “The Chippewas of Lake Superior.” Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. Ed. Lyman C. Draper. Vol. 3. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1857. 338-69. Print.
Schenck, Theresa M. William W. Warren: The Life, Letters, and times of an Ojibwe Leader. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2007. Print.
Treuer, Anton. The Assassination of Hole in the Day. St. Paul, MN: Borealis, 2010. Print.
Warren, William W., and Theresa M. Schenck. History of the Ojibway People. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 2009. Print.
Whitney’s Gallery. Be-she-kee (Buffalo). c.1860. Photograph. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul. MHS Visual Resource Database. Minnesota Historical Society, 2012. Web. 28 June 2012. <http://collections.mnhs.org/visualresources/&gt;.
Wolff, Wendy, ed. Capitol Builder: The Shorthand Journals of Montgomery C. Meigs, 1853-1859, 1861. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC: 2001. Print.

This image of Aazhawigiizhigokwe (Hanging Cloud) was created 35 years after the battle depicted by Marr and Richards Engraving of Milwaukee for use in Benjamin Armstrong’s Early Life Among the Indians (Wikimedia Images).

Here is an interesting story I’ve run across a few times.  Don’t consider this exhaustive research on the subject, but it’s something I thought was worth putting on here.

On Wikipedia, Charles Lippert spells her name as Aazhawigiizhigokwe and translates it literally as “Goes across the sky woman.” I know a lot of people are freaked out by the whole concept of Wikipedia because any fool can put whatever he wants on it. Me, I look at 95% of the internet that way (including this site). The important thing is the quality of the information. Lippert works for the Mille Lacs band with first-language Ojibwe speakers and has contributed to several on and offline published works.  I find his transliterations to be solid.

In late 1854 and 1855, the talk of northern Wisconsin was a young woman from from the Chippewa River around Rice Lake. Her name was Ah-shaw-way-gee-she-go-qua, which Morse (below) translates as “Hanging Cloud.”  Her father was Nenaa’angebi (Beautifying Bird) a chief who the treaties record as part of the Lac Courte Oreilles band.  His band’s territory, however, was further down the Chippewa from Lac Courte Oreilles, dangerously close to the territories of the Dakota Sioux.  The Ojibwe and Dakota of that region had a long history of intermarriage, but the fallout from the Treaty of Prairie du Chien (1825) led to increased incidents of violence.  This, along with increased population pressures combined with hunting territory lost to white settlement, led to an intensification of warfare between the two nations in the mid-18th century.

As you’ll see below, Hanging Cloud gained her fame in battle.  She was an ogichidaakwe (warrior).  Unfortunately, many sources refer to her as the “Chippewa Princess.”  She was not a princess. Her father was not a king.  She did not sit in a palace waited on hand and foot. Her marriageability was not her only contribution to her people.  Leave the princesses in Europe.  Hanging Cloud was an ogichidaakwe.  She literally fought and killed to protect her people.

Americans have had a bizarre obsession with the idea of Indian princesses since Pocahontas. Engraving of Pocahontas by Simon van de Passe (1616) Wikimedia Images

In An Infinity of Nations, Michael Witgen devotes a chapter to America’s ongoing obsession with the concept of the “Indian Princess.”  He traces the phenomenon from Pocahontas down to 21st-century white Americans claiming descent from mythical Cherokee princesses.  He has some interesting thoughts about the idea being used to justify the European conquest and dispossession of Native peoples. I’m going to try to stick to history here and not get bogged down in theory, but am going to declare northern Wisconsin a “NO PRINCESS ZONE.”    

Ozhaawashkodewekwe, Madeline Cadotte, and Hanging Cloud were remarkable women who played a pivotal role in history.  They are not princesses, and to describe them as such does not add to their credit.  It detracts from it.  

Anyway, rant over, the first account of Hanging Cloud reproduced here comes from Dr. Richard E. Morse of Detroit.  He observed the 1855 annuity payment at La Pointe.  This was the first payment following the Treaty of 1854, and it was overseen directly by Indian Affairs Commissioner George Manypenny.  Morse records speeches of many of the most prominent Lake Superior Ojibwe chiefs at the time, records the death of Chief Buffalo in September of that year, and otherwise offers his observations.  These were published in 1857 as The Chippewas of Lake Superior in the third volume of the State Historical Society’s Wisconsin Historical Collections.  This is most of pages 349 to 354:       

“The “Princess”–AH-SHAW-WAY-GEE-SHE-GO-QUA–The Hanging Cloud.

The Chippewa Princess was very conspicuous at the payment.  She attracted much notice; her history and character were subjects of general observation and comment, after the bands, to which she was, arrived at La Pointe, more so than any other female who attended the payment.

She was a chivalrous warrior, of tried courage and valor; the only female who was allowed to participate in the dancing circles, war ceremonies, or to march in rank and file, to wear the plumes of the braves.  Her feats of fame were not long in being known after she arrived; most persons felt curious to look upon the renowned youthful maiden.

Nenaa’angebi as depicted on the cover of Benjamin Armstrong’s Early Life Among the Indians (Wikimedia Images).

She is the daughter of Chief NA-NAW-ONG-GA-BE, whose speech, with comments upon himself and bands, we have already given.  Of him, who is the gifted orator, the able chieftain, this maiden is the boast of her father, the pride of her tribe.  She is about the usual height of females, slim and spare-built, between eighteen and twenty years of age.  These people do not keep records, nor dates of their marriages, nor of the birth of their children.

This female is unmarried.  No warrior nor brave need presume to win her heart or to gain her hand in marriage, who cannot prove credentials to superior courage and deeds of daring upon the war-path, as well as endurance in the chase.  On foot she was conceded the fleetest of her race.  Her complexion is rather dark, prominent nose, inclining to the Roman order, eyes rather large and very black, hair the color of coal and glossy, a countenance upon which smiles seemed strangers, an expression that indicated the ne plus ultra of craft and cunning, a face from which, sure enough, a portentous cloud seemed to be ever hanging–ominous of her name.  We doubt not, that to plunge the dagger into the heart of an execrable Sioux, would be more grateful to her wish, more pleasing to her heart, than the taste of precious manna to her tongue…

…Inside the circle were the musicians and persons of distinction, not least of whom was our heroine, who sat upon a blanket spread upon the ground.  She was plainly, though richly dressed in blue broad-cloth shawl and leggings.  She wore the short skirt, a la Bloomer, and be it known that the females of all Indians we have seen, invariably wear the Bloomer skirt and pants.  Their good sense, in this particular, at least, cannot, we think, be too highly commended.  Two plumes, warrior feathers, were in her hair; these bore devices, stripes of various colored ribbon pasted on, as all braves have, to indicate the number of the enemy killed, and of scalps taken by the wearer.  Her countenance betokened self-possession, and as she sat her fingers played furtively with the haft of a good sized knife.

The coterie leaving a large kettle hanging upon the cross-sticks over a fire, in which to cook a fat dog for a feast at the close of the ceremony, soon set off, in single file procession, to visit the camp of the respective chiefs, who remained at their lodges to receive these guests.  In the march, our heroine was the third, two leading braves before her.  No timid air and bearing were apparent upon the person of this wild-wood nymph; her step was proud and majestic, as that of a Forest Queen should be.

He has a way of showing up in every post I do.  For more on Loon’s Foot (Maangozid) see this post about his family tree.

The party visited the various chiefs, each of whom, or his proxy, appeared and gave a harangue, the tenor of which, we learned, was to minister to their war spirit, to herald the glory of their tribe, and to exhort the practice of charity and good will to their poor.  At the close of each speech, some donation to the beggar’s fun, blankets, provisions, &c., was made from the lodge of each visited chief.  Some of the latter danced and sung around the ring, brandishing the war-club in the air and over his head.  Chief “LOON’S FOOT,” whose lodge was near the Indian Agents residence, (the latter chief is the brother of Mrs. Judge ASHMAN at the Soo,) made a lengthy talk and gave freely…

…An evening’s interview, through an interpreter, with the chief, father of the Princess, disclosed that a small party of Sioux, at a time not far back, stole near unto the lodge of the the chief, who was lying upon his back inside, and fired a rifle at him; the ball grazed his nose near his eyes, the scar remaining to be seen–when the girl seizing the loaded rifle of her father, and with a few young braces near by, pursued the enemy; two were killed, the heroine shot one, and bore his scalp back to the lodge of NA-NAW-ONG-GA-BE, her father.

At this interview, we learned of a custom among the Chippewas, savoring of superstition, and which they say has ever been observed in their tribe.  All the youths of either sex, before they can be considered men and women, are required to undergo a season of rigid fasting.  If any fail to endure for four days without food or drink, they cannot be respected in the tribe, but if they can continue to fast through ten days it is sufficient, and all in any case required.  They have then perfected their high position in life.

This Princess fasted ten days without a particle of food or drink; on the tenth day, feeble and nervous from fasting, she had a remarkable vision which she revealed to her friends.  She dreamed that at a time not far distant, she accompanied a war party to the Sioux country, and the party would kill one of the enemy, and would bring home his scalp.  The war party, as she had dreamed, was duly organized for the start.

Against the strongest remonstrance of her mother, father, and other friends, who protested against it, the young girl insisted upon going with the party; her highest ambition, her whole destiny, her life seemed to be at stake, to go and verify the prophecy of her dream.  She did go with the war party.  They were absent about ten or twelve days, the had crossed the Mississippi, and been into the Sioux territory.  There had been no blood of the enemy to allay their thirst or to palliate their vengeance.  They had taken no scalp to herald their triumphant return to their home.  The party reached the great river homeward, were recrossing, when lo! they spied a single Sioux, in his bark canoe near by, whom they shot, and hastened exultingly to bear his scalp to their friends at the lodges from which they started.  Thus was the prophecy of the prophetess realized to the letter, and herself, in the esteem of all the neighboring bands, elevated to the highest honor in all their ceremonies.  They even hold her in superstitious reverence.  She alone, of the females, is permitted in all festivities, to associate, mingle and to counsel with the bravest of the braves of her tribe…”

Benjamin Armstrong

Benjamin Armstrong’s memoir Early Life Among the Indians also includes an account of the warrior daughter of Nenaa’angebi.  In contrast to Morse, the outside observer, Armstrong was married to Buffalo’s niece and was the old chief’s personal interpreter.  He lived in this area for over fifty years and knew just about everyone.  His memoir, published over 35 years after Hanging Cloud got her fame, contains details an outsider wouldn’t have any way of knowing.

Unfortunately, the details don’t line up very well.  Most conspicuously, Armstrong says that Nenaa’angebi was killed in the attack that brought his daughter fame.  If that’s true, then I don’t know how Morse was able to record the Rice Lake chief’s speeches the following summer.  It’s possible these were separate incidents, but it is more likely that Armstrong’s memories were scrambled.  He warns us as much in his introduction.  Some historians refuse to use Armstrong at all because of discrepancies like this and because it contains a good deal of fiction.  I have a hard time throwing out Armstrong completely because he really does have the insider’s knowledge that is lacking in so many primary sources about this area.  I don’t look at him as a liar or fraud, but rather as a typical northwoodsman who knows how to run a line of B.S. when he needs to liven up a story. Take what you will of it, these are pages 199-202 of Early Life Among the Indians.

“While writing about chiefs and their character it may not be amiss to give the reader a short story of a chief‟s daughter in battle, where she proved as good a warrior as many of the sterner sex.

In the ’50’s there lived in the vicinity of Rice Lake, Wis. a band of Indians numbering about 200. They were headed by a chief named Na-nong-ga-bee. This chief, with about seventy of his people came to La Point to attend the treaty of 1854. After the treaty was concluded he started home with his people, the route being through heavy forests and the trail one which was little used. When they had reached a spot a few miles south of the Namekagon River and near a place called Beck-qua-ah-wong they were surprised by a band of Sioux who were on the warpath and then in ambush, where a few Chippewas were killed, including the old chief and his oldest son, the trail being a narrow one only one could pass at a time, true Indian file. This made their line quite long as they were not trying to keep bunched, not expecting or having any thought of being attacked by their life long enemy.

Clearly, these details don’t match up with Morse’s description of Nenaa’angebi surviving an attack on his village and being alive in 1855 to give speeches at the annuity payment. However, there is a website by Timm Severud, that not only backs up Armstrong’s story, it suggests that the Dakotas killed by Hanging Cloud were her close relatives.  It doesn’t say what the source of the information is though.

The chief, his son and daughter were in the lead and the old man and his son were the first to fall, as the Sioux had of course picked them out for slaughter and they were killed before they dropped their packs or were ready for war. The old chief had just brought the gun to his face to shoot when a ball struck him square in the forehead. As he fell, his daughter fell beside him and feigned death. At the firing Na-nong-ga-bee’s Band swung out of the trail to strike the flanks of the Sioux and get behind them to cut off their retreat, should they press forward or make a retreat, but that was not the Sioux intention. There was not a great number of them and their tactic was to surprise the band, get as many scalps as they could and get out of the way, knowing that it would be but the work of a few moments, when they would be encircled by the Chippewas. The girl lay motionless until she perceived that the Sioux would not come down on them en-masse, when she raised her father‟s loaded gun and killed a warrior who was running to get her father‟s scalp, thus knowing she had killed the slayer of her father, as no Indian would come for a scalp he had not earned himself. The Sioux were now on the retreat and their flank and rear were being threatened, the girl picked up her father‟s ammunition pouch, loaded the rifle, and started in pursuit. Stopping at the body of her dead Sioux she lifted the scalp and tucked it under her belt. She continued the chase with the men of her band, and it was two days before they returned to the women and children, whom they had left on the trail, and when the brave little heroine returned she had added two scalps to the one she started with.

Edward Dingley (b.1836) was one of the mix-blooded sons of fur trader Daniel Dingley.  The 1880 census shows him living near Rice Lake and married to Waabikwe Dingley.  Waabikwe’s birth year is shown as 1850, which if correct, would make her too young to be Aazhawigiizhigokwe (Hanging Cloud).  After his death in 1909, Edward’s widow “Charlotte” applied for the remainder of his Civil War veteran’s pension.  Substitutes were paid by wealthy Union draftees to serve in their place.  Armstrong seems to indicate that Dingley was a substitute.

She is now living, or was, but a few years ago, near Rice Lake, Wis., the wife of Edward Dingley, who served in the war of rebellion from the time of the first draft of soldiers to the end of the war. She became his wife in 1857, and lived with him until he went into the service, and at this time had one child, a boy. A short time after he went to the war news came that all the party that had left Bayfield at the time he did as substitutes had been killed in battle, and a year or so after, his wife, hearing nothing from him, and believing him dead, married again. At the end of the war Dingley came back and I saw him at Bayfield and told him everyone had supposed him dead and that his wife had married another man. He was very sorry to hear this news and said he would go and see her, and if she preferred the second man she could stay with him, but that he should take the boy. A few years ago I had occasion to stop over night with them. And had a long talk over the two marriages. She told me the circumstances that had let her to the second marriage. She thought Dingley dead, and her father and brother being dead, she had no one to look after her support, or otherwise she would not have done so. She related the related the pursuit of the Sioux at the time of her father‟s death with much tribal pride, and the satisfaction she felt at revenging herself upon the murder of her father and kinsmen. She gave me the particulars of getting the last two scalps that she secured in the eventful chase. The first she raised only a short distance from her place of starting; a warrior she espied skulking behind a tree presumably watching for some one other of her friends that was approaching. The other she did not get until the second day out when she discovered a Sioux crossing a river. She said: “The good luck that had followed me since I raised my father‟s rifle did not now desert me,” for her shot had proved a good one and she soon had his dripping scalp at her belt although she had to wade the river after it.”

At this point, this is all I have to offer on the story of Hanging Cloud the ogichidaakwe.  I’ll be sure to update if I stumble across anything else, but for now, we’ll have to be content with these two contradictory stories.

 

Sources:
Armstrong, Benj G., and Thomas P. Wentworth. Early Life among the Indians: Reminiscences from the Life of Benj. G. Armstrong : Treaties of 1835, 1837, 1842 and 1854 : Habits and Customs of the Red Men of the Forest : Incidents, Biographical Sketches, Battles, &c. Ashland, WI: Press of A.W. Bowron, 1892. Print.
Morse, Richard F. “The Chippewas of Lake Superior.” Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. Ed. Lyman C. Draper. Vol. 3. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1857. 338-69. Print.
Warren, William W., and Theresa M. Schenck. History of the Ojibway People. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 2009. Print.
Witgen, Michael J. An Infinity of Nations: How the Native New World Shaped Early North America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2012. Print.