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 Native American Nations | Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of Michigan                   

 

    The first winter we lived at Little Traverse as a permanent home was in the year 1828, and in the following spring my own dear mother died very suddenly, as she was burned while they were making sugar in the woods. She was burned so badly that she only lived four days after. I was small, but I was old enough to know and mourn for my dear mother. I felt as though I had lost everything dear to me and every friend; there was no one that I could place such confidence in, not even my own father. So my father's household was broken up: we were pretty well scattered after that. He could not very well keep us together; being the least one in the family, I became a perfect wild rover. At last I left Little Traverse when about 13 or 14 years age. I went to Green Bay, Wis., with the expectation of living with an older sister who had married a Scotchman named Gibson and had gone there to make a home somewhere in Green Bay. I found them, but I did not stay with them long. I left them and went to live with a farmer close by whose name was Sylvester. From this place I was persuaded by another man to go with him on the fishing ground, to a place called Sturgeon Bay, Wis. From there I sailed with Mr. Robert Campbell. Mr. Campbell was a good man and Christian. His father had a nice farm at Bay Settlement, near Green Bay, Wis., where also my sister settled down. I sailed with him one summer. We came to Mackinac Island in the fall of 1840, and there I met my father and all my relations, and great many Indians as they were about receiving their annual payment from the Government. So I left the vessel and hired out in the store to act as clerk during the payment time.
     After all the Indians had gone away from the island, I was still working in the store and thought to make my winter quarters there, but did not. One day I met my father's old friend, the Rev. Mr. Alvin Coe, the traveling missionary of whom I have already spoken as having asked me to go with him to the State of Ohio where I might have an opportunity to go to school and be educated like the white man. I told him I will go with him, provided he will take an interest to watch over me, that no one would abuse me out there after getting into the strange country. He faithfully promised that he would do all this, and would also do all he could to help me along to obtain my education. He said he was going that night and I must be on hand when the boat arrived; but I failed to tell him my stopping place. So when the boat arrived I was too sound asleep to hear it. Poor old man! I was told that he felt disappointed to have to go with, out me. As I woke in the morning I inquired if any boat had arrived during the night. I was told there was. I was also told there was an old man who seemed to be very anxious, and was looking for me all over the crowd on the dock, but he could not find me there. When the boat was pushing out he jumped on board and then turned to the crowd, saying, "Tell my little boy, Jackson, son of the old chief Macka-de-be-nessy, of Arbor Croche, that I have gone on this boat."
     Thus I was left, and missed the opportunity when I might have been educated while I was yet much younger. A few days afterwards, as I walked out from the store one evening, I met two young men in the street, one of whom I frequently saw during the payment time, but the other was entirely a stranger to me. He was a most noble-looking and tall young man, but, behold, he spoke perfectly and freely the Indian language, saying to me, "My boy, would you be willing to take us to that vessel out there?" at the same time pointing to a vessel which was already outside of the harbor, sails up, but in a perfectly dead calm, as there was not a breath of wind. I told them I would, provided I could get the boat to get there; in which he replied that they will do all that part of the business, but they wanted some one to bring the boat back. As I was walking with another mate of mine, I ask him to go with me to take these folks on board. The next thing we were on the way towards the vessel. As we went along this noble young man said to me, "My boy, would you like to come with us to Grand Traverse?" I replied, "I would like to see Grand Traverse, but am not prepared to go just now." "Would you not like to learn the blacksmith trade? This man is a government blacksmith in Grand Traverse," referring to his companion, "and he needs an assistant in the business. We will give you position as an assistant and a salary of $240 yearly, or $20 per month." I replied, "I will go, for I would be very glad to find a chance to learn a trade and at the same time to get my living." Therefore I also got on board, and my friend had to come back alone with the boat we borrowed. This was the same vessel that I had sailed on that season. We arrived at the place now called "The Old Mission," where there was a nice harbor. [Footnote: The Mission was already established by this time, 1840, conducted by the Presbyterian Board of missions. Rev. P. Dougherty, who was indeed a true Christian, and good to Indians, was a preacher for the Mission. Daniel Rod, the half-breed from St. Clair River, Mich., was his interpreter. Mr. Bradley acted as teacher, who afterwards proved himself unworthy for the position, which produced a bad effect among the Indians. The Mission is now out of existence.] This young man, whose name I now learned was John M. Johnstone, of Sault Ste. Marie, the brother-in-law of Henry Schoolcraft, our Indian agent, said when we arrived, "You have no commission yet to work in the shop; you will therefore have to go back to Mackinac with this letter which you will take to Indian agent yourself and nobody else. Then come back at the first opportunity if he tells you to come."
     So I had to return to Mackinac on the same vessel with which we went away. At Mackinac I received my commission without any trouble. On arriving at Grand Traverse the Indians were having a big council which was concocted, I was told, by the brother of my benefactor, who was trading there among the Indians. They were getting up remonstrances and petitioning the Government against my appointment, setting forth as reason of their complaint that I did not belong to that tribe of Indians, and was therefore not entitled to the position, and they would rather have one of their own boys belonging to the tribe put to this trade. But my friend Johnstone told me "not to mind anything, but go about my business. The blacksmith shop had been established here for more than two years, and they should have thought of putting their boy in the shop long before this." So accordingly I continued working and minding my own business for five years, when I quit of my own accord. There were no white people there at that time, only such as were employed by the Government, and the missionaries and teachers, and the Indians were very happy in those days.
     I have told my readers in the previous chapters of this little book, that from the time I was invited by our most estimable friend, Rev. Alvin Coe, to go with him to the State of Ohio in order to receive an education, "that it was never blotted out of my mind," and therefore the very day I quit the blacksmith shop at Grand Traverse, I turned my face toward the State of Ohio, for that object alone. I came to Little Traverse to bid a good-by to my father and relations late in October, 1845. I did not even stay half a day at Little Traverse. I started for Arbor Croche the same day I bid the last farewell to my folks, in order to obtain an opportunity there to get to Mackinac Island, from which I intended to take my passage for Cleveland. Arriving at Arbor Croche, which is fourteen miles from Little Traverse, I met an orphan boy, Paul Naw-o-ga-de by name, a distant relative, and proposed to pay his passage to Cleveland. The brother of this little boy had a boat of his own, and offered to take us to Mackinac Island, and I was vary glad of the opportunity. So the next day we started for Mackinac, not knowing what would become of us if my little means were exhausted and we should be unsuccessful in finding our old friend, Mr. Alvin Coe.
     The day we arrived at Mackinac we took passage for Cleveland. Arriving there we were scared at seeing so many people coming to us who wanted us to get into their cabs to take us to some hotel which might cost us two or three dollars a day. We went to Farmer's Hotel. In the evening the landlady was somewhat curious to know where we hailed from and where we were going to. I told her we came from Michigan, but we did not know yet where we should go to. I asked her if she ever knew or heard of a minister named Alvin Coe. "What,"--she seemed to be very much surprised--"Mr. Alvin Coe the traveling missionary?" I said, "Yes, the same." "Why, that is my own uncle. What is it about him?" "O, nothing; only I would like to know where he lives, and how far." I was equally surprised to think that we happened to meet one of his relatives, and thought at this moment, God must be with us in our undertaking. "You know my uncle, then," she said. I said, "Yes; he is my particular friend, and I am going to look for him." Of course, she told us the name of the town in which he lived, and how far and which road to take to get there. It also happened that there was one gentleman at Farmer's Hotel, who had been out west and came on the same boat on which we came, and he was going the next day in that direction on foot, and said he would guide us as far as he would go, which would be about twenty miles, and there was thirty miles to go after that. So the next day we started. Arriving late in the afternoon at the outskirts of the little village called Twinsburg, our white companion told us this is the place where he intended to stop for a while, and said, "You better stop with me for the night, and after supper you could visit the institution in the village and see the principal of the school here; you might possibly get a chance to attend that school, as you say that was your object in coming to this part of the country." I was very much surprised, as he had not said one word about it as we came along on the road. After supper, I went as he directed. As I approached the seminary I saw a good many boys playing on the square of the village, and I went and stood close by. Very soon one of the young men came up to me, saying, "Are you going to attend our school here?" I told him, "No, sir; I am going thirty miles further to attend some school there." "This is the best school that I know of anywhere about this country," he said. I asked him if he would introduce me to the proprietor of the school. "Most cheerfully," said he; "will you please to tell me what place you came from, and your name." "I came from Michigan, and my name is Blackbird." "All right, I will go with you." So we came to the professor's room, and he introduced me. "Well, Mr. Blackbird, do you wish to attend our school?" I said, "I do not know, sir, how that might be, as I have not much means to pay my way, but I am seeking for a man who invited me to come to come to Ohio some five years ago, and promised that he would help me all he could for my education. His name is Alvin Coe, a traveling missionary, my father's old friend." "We have two Indian boys here attending school, and I think you will not be very lonesome if you should conclude to stay with us." "What are their names?" I asked. "One is Francis Petoskey, and the other is Paul Ka-gwe-tosong." I said, "I know them both; I came from the same place they did, but I did not know they were here, I only knew they were attending school somewhere among the whites." "Can you do any kind of work?" "I am a blacksmith by trade, sir, and besides I can do most every other kind of work." He said, "If you conclude to stay, I will try to aid you in finding a place where you could work to pay for your lodging and board; and in the meantime we will cause Mr. Alvin Coe to come and see you, and if he sees fit to take you away he can do so, provided you would be willing to go with him." I told him I would stay, if I found a place to work to pay for my board, and provided that I could make some arrangement for the little companion who came with me. After considering a few moments, he proposed to take my little companion to his boarding house until a better arrangement could be made. This was the end of my conversation with this noble hearted professor and proprietor of this Institution, whose name was Rev. Samuel Bissell, of Twinsburg, Ohio.
     In the morning, after breakfast, I went back to the village and found arrangements were already made for both of us, and all we had to do was just to shift our quarters. I came to live with a young blacksmith in the village and work two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening, and many times I finished my hours at sunrise. Some time during the winter, my friend Mr. Alvin Coe came and took me off, with the understanding, however, that if I did not like the school where he was, I was to come back to Twinsburg. So in about two weeks I came back to the old institution, as I did not like the place. At last Dr. Brainsmade, of Newark, New Jersey, took a deep interest in my welfare and education, and he proposed to aid me and take me through the medical college. Therefore I quit working my hours in the shop and boarded at the institution, attending solely to my studies for over four years.
     I have already told my readers in previous chapters how bad I felt when I had to return to Michigan. After I came home I did everything towards the welfare and happiness of my people, beside attending to my aged father, as I found my people to be very different then from what they were, as they were beginning to have a free use of intoxicating liquors. I immediately caused the pledge to be signed in every village of the Indians, in which I was quite successful, as almost everyone pledged themselves never again to touch intoxicating drinks. I also advocated the right of citizenship for my people in the State of Michigan, although we were repeatedly told by our white neighbors that we could not very well be adopted as citizens of the State as long as we were receiving annuities from the general government on account of our former treaties. My object of promulgating this cause was, I thought it would be the only salvation of my people from being sent off to the west of the Mississippi, where perhaps, more than one-half would have died before they could be acclimated to the country to which they would be driven. I have suffered very great hardships for this cause, as I had to walk from Little Traverse through the dense forest, and almost the entire length of the southern peninsula of Michigan, in order to reach the authorities of the State to hold conference with them upon the subject of the citizenship of the Ottawas and Chippewas, and walked on snow-shoes in the middle of winter in company with one of our young chieftains from Cross Village.5 We were subjected to great exposure with only a camp fire for several days in the month of February.
     After crossing Houghton Lake, which is the head waters of the Muskegon river, that evening we swallowed the last morsel of food, and actually we traveled and camped out with empty stomachs for two days and a half before we came to any inhabited place. At last we struck the Te-ti-pe- wa-say (Tittabawassee), one of the principal branches of Saginaw river, and following down that stream on the ice we came to an Indian camp which stood by the river side, and also saw many human foot-prints on the ice, but the camp was deserted and we found nothing to eat. We left the place and once more followed the river, and after walking about half a mile we came to another Indian camp, and saw blue smoke coming out of it. As we came up to the camp we found nothing but women and children (all the men were out hunting). They gave us food, and we went on our journey the next day.
     We went to Detroit to see Judge Wing to obtain his legal opinion on the subject of the citizenship of the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of Michigan. We had a very pleasant visit with him, and he gave us as his legal opinion of this matter, that he did not think that it would debar us from being citizens of the State, because the Government owed us a little money on account of our former treaties, provided we should renounce our allegiance to our chiefs and recognize no other chief authority than the President of the United States; and that we would not be required to have any writ of naturalization as we are already naturalized by being American born. After a pleasant visit with Hon. Judge Wing, we next turned our faces to the State Legislature and Governor. In this also we thought we were very successful, for the Governor received us very kindly and gave us much good counsel on the subject of citizenship, giving us some instructions as to how we should live under the rule of the State if we should become the children of the same. He talked to us as though he was talking to his own son who had just come from a far country and asked his father's permission to stay in the household.
     After a pleasant visit with the Governor, and seeing some of the members of the State Legislature, receiving full assurance that our undertaking and object would be well looked after, we retraced our steps back to Little Traverse, to report the result of our visit. After that, not many Indians believed these flying reports gotten up by our white neighbors. In that year, the clause was put in the revised statutes of the State of Michigan, that every male person of Indian descent in Michigan not members of any tribe shall be entitled to vote.
     In the year 1855, I was again delegated to attend the council of Detroit for the treaty of 1855, and in that council I made several speeches before the Hon. Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Mr. Manypenny, of Washington, on the subject of our educational fund, $8000 per annum, which had been expended for the education of the Indian youths for the last nineteen years, and which was to be continued ten years longer. This sum had never been used directly for any scholars, but it was stated that it was given to the religious societies which had missions among the Michigan Indians. In that council I advocated that the said fund be retained in the hands of the general Government for the benefit of those Indian youths who really intended to be educated and who went among the whites or in civilized communities to be educated, and if it need be, to be used for the collegiate education of those Indian youths, but let the children at home be educated at home by taxation, and giving fully my reasons in advancing such proposition. The Hon. Commissioner was much taken up with my remarks on this subject, I being the youngest member, and told the older members of the council that he would like to hear some of them on this subject. "The young man who has been making remarks on this matter has a very good idea with regard to your educational funds; now let us hear farther remarks on this subject by some other members of the council." But not one Indian stirred. And again and again the next day, I tried to urge this matter to the Hon. Commissioner and the Indians to cooperate with me, but they would not, because my people were so ignorant they did not know the value of education, or else they misunderstood the whole subject. On the third day, as I was about getting up to make further remarks upon this subject, one of the old members, who was the most unworthy of all the company, as he got very drunk the day we arrived in Detroit and was locked up in jail as disorderly two or three days, arose and said to the Commissioner that I was not authorized by any of the council to get up here and make such remarks. "We did not come here to talk about education, but came expressly to form a treaty." Then burst into a great laughter all the spectators of the council and some of the members too. I was told afterwards that it was a put up job to prevent any change by the persons who had been handling for years this Indian educational fund, as there were a number of them in the council hall. Thus was lost one of the most noble objects which ought to have been first looked after.
     After the council dispersed and came home, I sat down and wrote a long article, giving the full history of the past in regard to this matter; how our educational fund, $8000 per annum, had been handled and conducted for nearly twenty years, and yet not one Indian youth could spell the simplest word in the English language, and these writings I had published in the Detroit Tribune for public inspection.


5. Mr. Wardsworth also accompanied us from Elk Rapids, on his way to Detroit to obtain a commission as surveyor on some part of the Grand Traverse region.

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