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The Author's Father Appointed Speaker for the Ottawa and Chippewa

 Native American Nations | Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of Michigan                    

 

     After my father's return to Arbor Croche, he became quite an orator, and consequently he was appointed as the head speaker in the council of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. He continued to hold this office until his frame was beginning to totter with age, his memory became disconnected and inactive, and he therefore gave up his office to his own messenger, whose name was Joseph As-saw-gon, who died during the late rebellion in the United States while Hon. D. C. Leach, of Traverse City, was the Michigan Indian Agent. As-saw-gon was indeed quite an orator, considering his scanty opportunities. He had no education at all, but was naturally gifted as an orator. He was quite logical and allegorical in his manner of speaking. I have heard several white people remark, who had listened to his speeches through the imperfect interpreters, that he was as good a speaker as any orator who had been thoroughly educated.
     My father was the only man who was friendly to education. When I was a little boy, I remember distinctly his making his own alphabet, which he called "Paw-pa-pe-po." With this he learned how to read and write; and afterwards he taught other Indians to read and write according to his alphabet. He taught no children, but only the grown persons. Our wigwam, which was about sixty or seventy feet long, where we lived in the summer time, was like a regular school-house, with my father as teacher of the school, and they had merry times in it. Many Indians came there to learn his Paw-pa-pe-po, and some of them were very easy to learn, while others found learning extremely difficult.
     We were ten of us children in the family, six boys and four girls. I was the youngest of all who were living at that time. The eldest boy was one of the greatest hunters among the Ottawas. His name was Pung-o- wish, named after our great-grandfather, but he was afterwards called Peter by the Catholic missionaries when he was baptized into the Catholic religion. One of my brothers who was five or six years younger than my eldest brother was a remarkably interesting boy. His name was Pe-taw-wan-e-quot, though he was afterwards called William. He was quick to learn Paw-pa-pe-po, and very curious and interesting questions he would often ask of his father, which would greatly puzzle the old man to answer.
     All the Indians of Arbor Croche used only to stay there during the summer time, to plant their corn, potatoes, and other vegetables. As soon as their crops were put away in the ground, [Footnote: The mode of securing their corn was first to dry the ears by fire. When perfectly dry, they would then beat them with a flail and pick all the cobs out. The grain was then winnowed and put into sacks. These were put in the ground in a large cylinder made out of elm bark, set in deep in the ground and made very dry, filling this cylinder full and then covering it to stay there for winter and summer use.] they would start all together towards the south, going to different points, some going as far as Chicago expressly to trap the muskrats, beavers, and many other kinds of furs, and others to the St. Joe River, Black River, Grand River, or Muskegon River, there to trap and hunt all winter, and make sugar in the spring. After sugar making they would come back again to Waw-gaw-naw-ke-zee, or Arbor Croche, to spend the summer and to raise their crops again as before.
     In navigating Lake Michigan they used long bark canoes in which they carried their whole families and enough provisions to last them all winter. These canoes were made very light, out of white birch bark, and with a fair wind they could skip very lightly on the waters, going very fast, and could stand a very heavy sea. In one day they could sail quite a long distance along the coast of Lake Michigan. When night overtook them they would land and make wigwams with light poles of cedar which they always carried in their canoes. These wigwams were covered with mats made for that purpose out of prepared marsh reeds or flags sewed together, which made very good shelter from rain and wind, and were very warm after making fires inside of them. They had another kind of mat to spread on the ground to sit and sleep on. These mats are quite beautifully made out of different colors, and closely woven, of well prepared bull-rushes. [Footnote: To prepare these bull-rushes for mats, they are cut when very green, and then they go through the process of steaming, after bleaching by the sun; they are colored before they are woven. They are generally made about six or eight feet long and about four feet wide.] After breakfast in the morning they are off again in the big canoes.
     My father's favorite winter quarters were somewhere above Big Rapids on Muskegon River. He hunted and trapped there all winter and made sugar. A very mysterious event happened to my brother William while my folks were making sugar there. One beautiful morning after the snow had entirely disappeared in the woods, my brother William, then at the age of about eight or nine years, was shooting around with his little bow and arrows among the sugar trees, but that day he never came home. At sundown, our parents were beginning to feel very uneasy about their little boy, and yet they thought he must have gone to some neighboring sugar bush, as there were quite a number of families also making sugar in the vicinity. Early in the morning, my father went to all the neighboring sugar camps, but William was nowhere to be found. So at once a search was instituted. Men and boys were out in search for the boy, calling and shooting their guns far and near, but not a trace of him anywhere could be found. Our parents were almost distracted with anxiety and fear about their boy, and they continued the search three days in vain. On the fourth day, one of our cousins, whose name was Oge-maw-we-ne-ne, came to a very deep gully between two hills. He went up to the top of the highest hill in order to be heard a long distance. When he reached the top, he began to halloo as loud as he could, calling the child by name, Pe-taw-on-e-quot. At the end of his shouting he thought he heard some one responding to his call, "Wau?" This word is one of the interrogatives in the Indian language, and is equivalent to "what" in the English language. He listened a few minutes, and again he called as before, and again heard distinctly the same response, "Wau?" It came from above, right over his head, and as he looked upwards he saw the boy, almost at the top of a tree, standing on a small limb in a very dangerous situation. He said, "Hello, what are you doing up there? Can't you come down?" "Yes, I can," was the answer; "I came up here to find out where I am, and which way is our sugar camp." "Come down, then; I will show you which way is your home." After he came down from the tree, our cousin offered him food, but the child would not touch a morsel, saying that, he was not hungry as he had eaten only a little while ago. "Ah, you have been fed then. Who fed you? We have been looking for you now over three days." The boy replied, "I had every thing that I wanted to eat in the great festival of the Wa-me-te-go-zhe-wog." which is "the white people." "Where are they now?" asked our cousin. "That is just what I would like to know, too," said the boy; "I had just come out of their nice house between the two hills, and as I looked back after I came out of their door I saw no more of their house, and heard no more of them nor their music." Our cousin again questioned the boy, "How did you come to find these Wa-me-te-go-zhe-wog here?" And little William replied, "Those Wa-me-te- go-zhe-wog came to our sugar camp and invited me to go with them, but I thought it was very close by. I thought we walked only just a few steps to come to their door." Our cousin believed it was some supernatural event and hastened to take the boy to his anxious parents. Again and again little William told the same story when interrogated by any person, and it is firmly believed by all our family and friends that he was cherished and fed three days in succession by angelic beings.
     When he was about twelve or thirteen years of age the Protestant Mission School started at Mackinac Island, and my father thought best to put him to that school. After being there less than a year, he was going around with his teachers, acting as interpreter among the Indian camps at the Island of Mackinac. I was perfectly astonished to see how quick he had acquired the English language. After the mission broke up at the island, about the time the Catholic mission was established at Little Traverse, William came home and stayed with us for about two years, when he was again taken by Bishop Reese with his little sister, a very lovely girl, whom the white people call Auntie Margaret, or Queen of the Ottawa. They were taken down to Cincinnati, Ohio, where they were put into higher schools, and there my brother attained the highest degree of education, or graduation as it is called.
     From thence he was taken across the ocean to the city of Rome, Italy, to study for the priesthood, leaving his little sister in Cincinnati. It is related that he was a very eloquent and powerful orator, and was considered a very promising man by the people of the city of Rome, and received great attention from the noble families, on account of his wisdom and talent and his being a native American; and yet he had a much lighter complexion than his cousin Aug Hamlin, who was also taken over there and represented as half French.
     While he was at Rome, the proposition arose in this country to buy out the Michigan Indians by the Government of the United States, and he wrote to his people at Arbor Croche and to Little Traverse on this very subject, advising them not to sell out nor make any contract with the United States Government, but to hold on until he could return to America, when he would endeavor to aid them in making out the contract or treaty with the United States. Never to give up, not even if they should be threatened with annihilation or to be driven away at the point of the bayonet from their native soil. I wish I could produce some of this correspondence, but only one letter from him can now be found, which is here given:

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