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The Author's Reasons for Recording the History of His People, and Their Language

 Native American Nations | Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of Michigan                    

 

    The Indian tribes are continually diminishing on the face of this continent. Some have already passed entirely out of existence and are forgotten, who once inhabited this part of the country; such as the Mawsh-ko-desh, Urons, Ossaw-gees--who formerly occupied Saw-gi-naw bay; and the Odaw gaw-mees, whose principal habitation was about the vicinity of Detroit River. They are entirely vanished into nothingness. Not a single page of their history can be found on record in the history of this country, or hardly an allusion to their existence. My own race, once a very numerous, powerful and warlike tribe of Indians, who proudly trod upon this soil, is also near the end of existence. In a few more generations they will be so intermingled with the Caucasian race as to be hardly distinguished as descended from the Indian nations, and their language will be lost. I myself was brought up in a pure Indian style, and lived in a wigwam, and have partaken of every kind of the wild jubilees of my people, and was once considered one of the best "Pipe" dancers of the tribe. But when nearly grown up, I was invited by a traveling Protestant Missionary, whose name was Alvin Coe, to go home with him to the State of Ohio, with the assurance that he would give me a good education like the white man, and the idea struck me that I could be really educated and be able to converse with the white people. And although at that time (in the fall of 1840) I missed the opportunity, the idea was never after off of my mind. So some time afterwards I started out voluntarily to obtain an education; and I had nearly succeeded in completing my professional studies when I called away to come home and look after my aged father, in 1850. And now I have four children, but not one of them can speak the Indian language. And every one of the little Indian urchins who are now running about in our town can speak to each other quite fluently in the English language; but I am very sorry to add that they have also learned profanity like the white children. For these reasons it seems desirable that the history of my people should not be lost, like that of other tribes who previously existed in this country, and who have left no record of their ancient legends and their traditions.
     Before proceeding to record the history of the Ottawa of the State of Michigan, to whom I am immediately connected in their common interests and their future destinies, I propose to rehearse in a summary manner my nationality and family history. Our tradition says that long ago, when the Ottawa tribes of Indians used to go on a warpath either towards the south or towards the west, even as far as to the Rocky Mountains, on one of these expeditions towards the Rocky Mountains my remote ancestors were captured and brought to this country as prisoners of war. But they were afterwards adopted as children of the Ottawa, and intermarried with the nation in which they were captives. Subsequently these captives' posterity became so famous among the Ottawa on account of their exploits and bravery on the warpath and being great hunters that they became closely connected with the royal families, and were considered as the best counselors, best chieftains and best warriors among the Ottawa. Thus I am not regularly descended from the Ottawa nations of Indians, but I am descended, as tradition says, from the tribe in the far west known as the Underground race of people. They were so called on account of making their habitations in the ground by making holes large enough for dwelling purposes. It is related that they even made caves in the ground in which to keep their horses every night to prevent them from being stolen by other tribes who were their enemies. It is also related that they were quite an intelligent class of people. By cultivating the soil they raised corn and other vegetables to aid in sustaining life beside hunting and fishing. They were entirely independent, having their own government and language, and possessing their own national emblem which distinguished them as distinct and separate from all other tribes. This symbolical ensign of my ancestors was represented by a species of small hawk, which the Ottawa called the "Pe-pe-gwen." So we were sometimes called in this country in which we live the "Pe-pe-gwen tribe," instead of the "Undergrounds." And it was customary among the Ottawa, that if any one of our number, a descendant of the Undergrounds, should commit any punishable crime, all the Pe-pe-gwen tribe or descendants of the Undergrounds would be called together in a grand council and requested to make restitution for the crime or to punish the guilty one, according to the final decision of the council.
     There were several great chieftains of the Undergrounds among the Ottawa who were living within my time, and some are here mentioned who were most known by the American people, particularly during the war with Great Britain in 1812. Most of these chieftains were my own uncles. One was called Late Wing, who took a very active part for the cause of the United States in the war of 1812, and he was a great friend to Governor Lewis Cass of Michigan. Wing was pensioned for life for his good services to the United States. He was one of my father's own brothers. Shaw-be-nee was an uncle of mine on my mother's side, who also served bravely for the United States in the war of 1812. He traveled free all over the United States during his lifetime. This privilege was granted to him by the Government of the United States for his patriotism and bravery. He died in the State of Illinois about twenty years ago from this writing, and a monument was raised for him by the people in that State. Wa-ke-zoo was another great chieftain who died before my time in the country of Manitoba, out north. He was also one of my father's brothers. It is related that he was also a prophet and a great magician.
     My own dear father was one of the head chiefs at Arbor Croche, now called Middle Village or Good Heart, which latter name was given at my suggestion by the Postoffice Department at Washington. My father died in June, 1861. His Indian name was Macka-de-pe-nessy, [Footnote: This name is written variously, the letters d, b, t, and p, being considered identical in the Ottawa language.--Ed.] which means Black Hawk; but somehow it has been mistranslated into Blackbird, so we now go by this latter name. My father was a very brave man. He has led his warriors several times on the warpath, and he was noted as one who was most daring and adventurous in his younger days. He stayed about twenty years in the country of Manitoba with his brother Wa-ke-zoo, among other tribes of Indians and white fur-traders in that section of the country. Many times he has grappled with and narrowly escaped from the grizzly bear and treacherous buffalo which were then very numerous in that portion of the country. This was about one hundred years ago. He has seen there things that would be almost incredible at this present age: liquor sold to the Indians measured with a woman's thimble, a thimbleful for one dollar; one wooden coarse comb for two beaver skins; a double handful of salt for one beaver skin--and so on in proportion in everything else; the poor Indian had to give pile upon pile of beaver skins, which might be worth two or three hundred dollars, for a few yards of flimsy cloth. Englishmen and Frenchman who went there expressly to traffic with the Indians, generally started from Quebec and Montreal, leaving their families at home; but so soon as they reached this wild country, they would take Indian wives. When they left the country, they would leave their Indian wives and children there to shift for themselves. Consequently there are in this region thousands of half breeds, most beautiful men and beautiful women, but they are as savage as the rest of the Indians. No white man there ever told these poor Indians anything about Christianity, but only added unto them their degradations and robbed them.
     My father was once there left to perish on a lonely island by the fur traders, not because he had done any crime, but simply from inhuman cruelty and disregard of Indians by these white men. He was traveling with these traders from place to place in a long bark canoe, which was the only means of conveyance on the water in those days. It appears that there were two parties, and two of these long bark canoes were going in the same direction, one of which my father was paddling for them. He was not hired, but simply had joined them in his travels. But these two parties were thrown into a great quarrel about who should have my father to paddle their canoe. Therefore they landed on this little island expressly to fight amongst themselves; and after fighting long and desperately, they left my poor father on this little island to die, for they concluded that neither of them should take him into their canoe. He was left to die! What must be the feelings of this poor Indian, to whom life was as sweet as to any human creature? What revenge should he take upon those traders? He had a gun, which he leveled at them as they started off in their canoes. His fingers were on the trigger, when suddenly a thought flashed across his mind--"Perhaps the Great Spirit will be displeased." So he dropped his gun, and raised a fervent prayer to the Almighty Ruler for deliverance from this awful situation. After being several days on this little island, when almost dying from starvation, fortunately deliverance came. He spied a small canoe with two persons in it within hail. They came and took him off from his dying situation. It was an Indian woman with her little son who happened to travel in that direction who saved my father's life.
     From this time hence my father lost all confidence in white men, whatever the position or profession of the white man might be, whether a priest, preacher, lawyer, doctor, merchant, or common white man. He told us to beware of them, as they all were after one great object, namely, to grasp the world's wealth. And in order to obtain this, they would lie, steal, rob, or murder, if it need be; therefore he instructed us to beware how the white man would approach us with very smooth tongue, while his heart is full of deceit and far from intending to do us any good.
     He left Manitoba country about 1800, or about the time when the Shawanee prophet, "Waw-wo-yaw-ge-she-maw," who was one of Tecumseh's own brothers, sent his emissaries to preach to the Ottawa and Chippewa in the Lower and Upper Peninsulas of Michigan, who advised the Ottawa and Chippewas to confess their sins and avow their wrongs and go west, and there to worship the Great Spirit according to the old style as their forefathers did,2  and to abandon everything else which the white man had introduced into the tribes of Indians, to abandon even the mode of making fire, which was by flint and steel, and to start their fires by friction between the two pieces of dry wood as their forefathers made their fires before the white people came to this country, and to eat no flesh of domestic animals, but to eat nothing but wild game, and use their skins for their wearing apparel and robes as the Great Spirit designed them to be when He created them. He taught them that the Great Spirit was angry with them because they conformed to the habits of the white man, and that if they did not believe and practice the old habits, the Great Spirit would shake the earth as an evidence that he tells them the truth. A great many Ottawa believed and went far west accordingly. And it happened about this time the earth did quake in Michigan; I think, if I am not mistaken, the earth shook twice within a year, which is recorded in the annals of this country. At the earthquake many Indians were frightened, and consequently many more believed and went west; but nearly all of them died out there because the climate did not agree with them. Saw-gaw- kee--Growing-plant--was the head chief of the Ottawa nation of Indians at that time, and was one of the believers who went with the parties out west, and he also died there.3  This is the second time that the Ottawas were terribly reduced in numbers in the country of Arbor Croche.


2. The worship of the Great Spirit consisted mostly in songs and dancing accompanied with an Indian drum, which has a very deep and solemn sound, an not very large, about a foot in diameter. I used to think that the sound of it must reach to the heaven where the Great Spirit is.
3. Footnote: This Chief Saw-gaw-kee was Ne-saw-wa-quat's father, the last head chief of Little Traverse. Ne- saw-wa-quat was the only child remaining alive of the whole family of Saw-gaw-kee. Therefore the child was brought back to this country and was the last head chief of Little Traverse, now Harbor Springs.

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