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Rome, April 17, 1833 My Dear Sister

 Native American Nations | Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of Michigan                    


Rome, April 17, 1833 My Dear Sister

    It is a long time since I wrote you a few lines. I would write oftener if the time would permit, but I have very few leisure moments. However, as we have a holiday to-day, I determine to write a line or two. I have to attend to my studies from morning till sunset. I thank you very much for your kind letter which I received some time ago by politeness of Rev. Mr. Seajean. My dearest sister, you may have felt lost after I left you; you must consider who loves you with all the affection of parents. What can we return to those who have done us much good, but humble prayers for them that the Almighty may reward them for the benefit they have done in this poor mortal world. I was very happy when informed by Father Mullen that you had received six premiums at the examination; nothing else would more impress my heart than to hear of the success of your scholastic studies. I entreat you, dearest sister, to learn what is good and to despise the evil, and offer your prayers to the Almighty God and rely on Him alone, and by His blessing you may continue to improve your time well. You can have no idea how the people here are devoted to the Virgin Mary. At every corner of the streets there is the image of her, and some of these have lights burning day and night. I think of you very often: perhaps I shall never have the pleasure of seeing you again. I have been unwell ever since I came to this country. However, I am yet able to attend my school and studies. I hope I will not be worse, so that I may be unable to follow my intention.
     There are really fine things to be seen in Rome. On the feast of SS. Sebastian and Fabian we visited the Catacombs, two or three miles out of the city, where is a church dedicated to those saints, which I have already mentioned in previous letters. Perhaps our countrymen would not believe that there was such a place as that place which I saw myself with my own naked eyes. We entered in with lights and saw the scene before us. As soon as we entered we saw coffins on the top of each other, in one of which we saw some of the remains. The cave runs in every direction, sometimes is ascended by steps, and sometimes runs deeper, and one would be very easily lost in it. There are some large places and a chapel; I am told by the students that the chapel is where Pope Gregory was accustomed to say mass. I assure you it would excite any human heart to behold the place where the ancient Christians were concealed under the earth from the persecution of the anti-christians. Indeed they were concealed by the power of God. They sought Jesus and Him alone they loved.
     It is the custom of the College of the Propaganda, on the feast of Epiphany each year, that the students should deliver a discourse in their own respective languages. This year there were thirty-one different languages delivered by the students, so you may judge what kind of a college this is. At present it is quite full; there are ninety-three, of which thirteen are from the United States.
     On Easter Sunday the Holy Father celebrated mass in the church of St. Peter. It is very seldom that his holiness is seen personally celebrating mass in public except on great festivals. The church was crowded with spectators, both citizens of Rome and foreigners. On the front part of the church there was an elevated place beautifully ornamented. After the solemn ceremonies the Holy Father went up and gave his paternal benediction to the people. There is a large square before St. Peter's, and it was crowded so that it was impossible to kneel down to receive the benediction.
     This week we are quite merry; we seem to employ our minds on the merriment which is always displayed amongst us on such occasions. Our secretary is now Cardinal, and to-morrow he will be crowned with the dignity of the Cardinal. Our college has been illuminated these two evenings. The congregational halls of the Propaganda were opened on this occasion. The new Cardinal then received all the compliments of the Cardinals, Bishops, Prelates, Ambassadors, Princes, and other distinguished dignities. There are two large beautiful rooms, in one of which the new Cardinal was seated and received all those who came to pay him compliments. The visitors all came through the same passage, and there was a man posted in each room who received them and cried out to others that such man was coming, and so on through all those that were placed for the purpose, and one called the Cardinal gentleman introduced them to the new Cardinal. If there were such a thing in America it would be quite a novelty.
     It is time for me to close, and I hope you will write me sometimes. My respects to the Sisters and Father Mullen. Farewell, dear sister; pray for your Superior and for me.

I remain your most affectionate brother,
William MacCatebinessi

     After his death, some one at Cincinnati wrote the following, to be repeated before a large audience in that city by his little sister Margaret, who was there at school. The poetry was impressively recited and listened to by many people with wet eyes. This gifted child of nature died June 25, 1833.

The morning breaks; see how the glorious sun, Slow wheeling from the east, new luster sheds O'er the soft clime of Italy. The flower That kept its perfume in the dewy night, Now breathes it forth again. Hill, vale and grove, Clad in rich verdure, bloom, and from the rocks The joyous waters leap. O! meet it is That thou, imperial Rome, should lift thy head, Decked with the triple crown, where cloudless skies And lands rejoicing in the summer sun, Rich blessings yield.

     But there is grief to-day. A voice is heard within thy marble walls, A voice lamenting for the youthful dead; For o'er the relics of her forest boy The mother of dead Empires weeps. And lo! Clad in white robes the long procession moves; Youths throng around the bier, and high in front, Star of our hope, the glorious cross is reared, Triumphant sign. The low, sweet voice of prayer, Flowing spontaneous from the spirit's depths, Pours its rich tones; and now the requiem swells, Now dies upon the ear.

     But there is one4 who stands beside my brother's grave, and tho' no tear Dims his dark eye, yet does his spirit weep. With beating heart he gazes on the spot Where his young comrade shall forever rest. For they together left their forest home, Led by Father Reese, who to their fathers preached Glad tiding of great joy; the holy man my brother, Who sleeps beneath the soil the Father Reese's labors blessed. How must the spirit mourn, the bosom heave, Of that lone Indian boy! No tongue can speak The accents of his tribe, and as he bends In melancholy mood above the dead, Imagination clothes his tearful thoughts In rude but plaintive cadences.
     Soft be my brother's sleep! At nature's call the cypress here shall wave, The wailing winds lament above the grave, The dewy night shall weep.
And he thou leavest forlorn, Oh, he shall come to shade my brother's grave with moss, To plant what thou didst love--the mystic cross, To hope, to pray, to mourn.
No marble here shall rise; But o'er thy grave he'll teach the forest tree To lift its glorious head and point to thee, Rejoicing in the skies.
And when it feels the breeze, I'll think thy spirit wakes that gentle sound Such as our fathers thought when all around Shook the old forest leaves.
Dost thou forget the hour, my brother, When first we heard the Christian's hope revealed, When fearless warriors felt their bosoms yield Beneath Almighty power?
Then truths came o'er us fast, Whilst on the mound the missionary stood And thro' the list'ning silence of the wood His words like spirits passed.
And oh, hadst thou been spared, We two had gone to bless our fathers' land, To spread rich stores around, and hand in hand Each holy labor shared.
But here the relics of my brother lie, Where nature's flowers shall bloom o'er nature's child, Where ruins stretch, and classic art has piled Her monuments on high.
Sleep on, my brother, sleep peaceful here The traveler from thy land will claim this spot, And give to thee what kingly tombs have not--The tribute of a tear with me, my brother.

     He died almost the very day when he was to be ordained a priest. He received a long visit from his cousin Hamlin that evening, and they sat late in the night, talking on various subjects, and particularly on American matters and his ordination. My brother was perfectly well and robust at that time, and full of lively spirits. He told his cousin that night, that if he ever set his foot again on American soil, his people, the Ottawa and Chippewa of Michigan, should always remain where they were. The United States would never be able to compel them to go west of the Mississippi, for he knew the way to prevent them from being driven off from their native land. He also told his cousin that as soon as he was ordained and relieved from Rome, he would at once start for America, and go right straight to Washington to see the President of the United States, in order to hold conference with him on the subject of his people and their lands. There was a great preparation for the occasion of his ordination. A great ceremony was to be in St. Peter's Church, because a native American Indian, son of the chief of the Ottawa tribe of Indians, a prince of the forests of Michigan, was to be ordained a priest, which had never before happened since the discovery of the Aborigines in America. In the morning, at the breakfast table, my brother William did not appear, and every one was surprised not to see him at the table. After breakfast, a messenger was sent to his room. He soon returned with the shocking news that he was dead. Then the authorities of the college arose and rushed to the scene, and there they found him on the floor, lying in his own blood. When Hamlin, his cousin heard of it, he too rushed to the room; and after his cousin's body was taken out, wrapped up in a cloth, he went in, and saw at once enough to tell him that it was the work of the assassin.
     When the news reached to Little Traverse, now Harbor Springs, all the country of Arbor Croche was enveloped in deep mourning, and a great lamentation took place among the Ottawa and Chippewa in this country with the expression, "All our hope is gone." Many people came to our dwelling to learn full particulars of my brother's death, and to console and mourn with his father in his great bereavement.
     No motive for the assassination has ever been developed, and it remains to this day a mystery. It was related that there was no known enemy in the institution previous to his death; but he was much thought of and beloved by every one in the college. It was an honor to be with him and to converse with him, as it is related that his conversation was always most noble and instructive. It was even considered a great honor to sit by him at the tables; as it is related that the students of the college used to have a strife amongst themselves who should be the first to sit by him. There were several American students at Rome at that time, and it was claimed by the Italians that my brother's death came through some of the American students from a secret plot originating in this country to remove this Indian youth who had attained the highest pinnacle of science and who had become their equal in wisdom, and in all the important questions of the day, both in temporal and spiritual matters. He was slain, it has been said, because it was found out that he was counseling his people on the subject of their lands and their treaties with the Government of the United States. His death deprived the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians of a wise counselor and adviser, one of their own native countrymen; but it seems that it would be impossible for the American people in this Christian land to make such a wicked conspiracy against this poor son of the forest who had become as wise as any of them and a great statesman for his country. Yet it might be possible, for we have learned that we cannot always trust the American people as to their integrity and stability in well doing with us.
     It is said the stains of my brother's blood can be seen to this day in Rome, as the room has been kept as a memorial, and is shown to travelers from this country. His statue in full size can also be seen there, which is said to be a perfect image of him. His trunk containing his books and clothing was sent from Rome to this country, and it came all right until it reached Detroit. There it was lost, or exchanged for another, which was sent to Little Traverse. It was sent back with a request to forward the right one, but that was the end of it, and no explanation was ever received.
     Soon after the death of my brother William, my sister Margaret left Cincinnati, Ohio, and came to Detroit, Mich., where she was employed as teacher of the orphan children at a Catholic institution. She left Detroit about 1835, and came to Little Traverse, where she at once began lo teach the Indian children for the Catholic mission. She has ever since been very useful to her people, but is now a decrepit old lady and sometimes goes by the name of Aunty Margaret, or Queen of the Ottawa. She is constantly employed in making Indian curiosities-- wearing out her fingers and eyes to make her living and keep her home. Like many others of her race, she has been made the victim of fraud and extortion. Some years ago a white man came to the Indian country and committed many crimes, for some of which he is now in prison. Soon after he came here, this wicked man pretended he was gored by an ox-- although there were no marks of violence--which he claimed belonged to Mr. Boyd, Aunty Margaret's husband, and he therefore sued Mr. Boyd for damages for several hundred dollars; and although the ox which he claimed had injured him did not belong to Mr. Boyd, and there was no eye witness in the case, yet he obtained judgment for damages against him, and a mortgage had to be given on the land which the Government had given her. The Indian's oath and evidence are not regarded in this country, and he stands a very poor chance before the law. Although they are citizens of the State, they are continually being taken advantage of by the attorneys of the land; they are continually being robbed and cheated out of their property, and they can obtain no protection nor redress whatever.
     Before Mr. Hamlin, my cousin, left Italy, he was asked by the authorities if William had any younger brother in America of a fit age to attend school. He told the authorities that the deceased had one brother just the right age to begin school--that was myself. Then there was an order for me to be sent to Rome to take the place of my brother; but when my father heard of it, he said, "No; they have killed one of my sons after they have educated him, and they will kill another." Hamlin came home soon after my brother's death, and some time after the Treaty of 1836 he was appointed U.S. Interpreter and continued to hold this office until 1861, at which time I succeeded him.

4. His cousin Hamlin.

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