Annual report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs 1850
U.S. Government Indian Affairs
The US Government Indian agent/commissioner's view of the Ojibwa living in the St. Croix Valley and surrounding area in 1850. It is shows some of the stereotypes of the era. Another in the series of earliest written historical records that include the St. Croix Valley.
The Chippewas number within the limits of the United States about eight thousand souls. Of this number four hundred, at the present time, reside in the State of Michigan, three thousand in Wisconsin, and the remaining four thousand five hundred in the Territory of Minnesota. As those living in Michigan and Wisconsin, on lands ceded to government, will soon fall under the jurisdiction of this superintendency, having been ordered to remove to the country appropriated for them within this territory,—I have thought proper to embrace them in a brief sketch of the history, numbers, villages and modes of livelihood of the different divisions of the tribe. For much of my information upon this subject I am indebted to the researches of Mr. W. W. Warren, an educated Ojibway half breed.
Five thousand Chippewas are equal parties to, and receive annuities under the treaties of St. Peter's in 1837, and of La Pointe in 1842. Of all treaties from time to time entered into by the several bands of this tribe, these two are in every respect the most important. In these treaties they ceded to the United States all their possessions in Wisconsin and Michigan, comprising the rich mineral .district which extends along the south coast of Lake Superior, and the valuable pineries which skirt Black Chippewa, St. Croix, Rum and Wisconsin rivers, and tributaries. For this large cession they receive annually for the respective periods of twenty and twenty-five years, the sum of sixty-four thousand dollars in goods, money, &c. The parties to these treaties, with the exception of the Mississippi division, numbering some eleven hundred, still reside upon the lands they have ceded. By treaty provisions the term of their stay was left optional with the President, and not till last spring was a mandate for their removal given by the Chief Magistrate of the country. Besides the body of five thousand who receive annuities under treaties at St. Peter's, La Pointe, and Fond du Lac, a division of one thousand, known as the Pillager Chippewas, residing in Minnesota, receive a stated amount of goods under the treaty of Leech Lake, in 1847, wherein they sold the lands which have been set apart for the Menomonees. The remaining body of two thousand, residing in this territory, receive neither annuities nor presents.
The Chippewas are a well-marked type, and leading tribe of the Algonquin stock. They call themselves Ojibwaig, the plural of Ojibway, from Ojibwah, "puckered," or "drawn up.'' According to an eminent writer, this name "denotes a peculiarity in their voice or manner of utterance." But as there is no discernible "pucker" in their voice, or mode of speaking their really musical language, a more natural genesis of the word could probably be derived from a circumstance in their past history. Upwards of two centuries ago, they were driven by the Iroquois, or Six Nations of New York, into the straits of Mackinaw, where Lakes Huron, Michigan, and Superior, are "puckered" into a small channel, or narrow compass. Prior to this event, there is nothing in their traditions, or in the writings of early travellers, to indicate that they were known by the name of Ojibwaig. When interrogated upon the subject, some of their old men affirm, that they are named after the Ojibway moccasin, a peculiarly made article "puckered" into a seam the whole length of the foot.
The history of this tribe, prior to eight generations ago, is collected entirely from oral traditions, which savor of the marvellous or supernatural, and from which but vague and unsatisfactory deductions can be drawn. From these traditions, however, we learn, that they once were familiar with the salt-ocean, that they lived on a large river, again on a great lake, where they exterminated a tribe they call the Meendua, and at last in a large centre town, on an island in the Bay of Shag-uh-waum-ik-ong, on Lake Superior, or Keche Grumme. The old men of the tribe agree in saying, that to this spot their ancestors first came about eight generations, or two hundred and forty years ago, estimating an Indian generation at thirty years. They were driven from the east by powerful tribes, whom they denominate Nodowaig, meaning "Adders.'' These were the Iroquois, or Six Nations of New York and Canada, who coming first in contact with whites, became first armed with their deadly weapons, giving them great advantage over our more western and remote tribes, who still wielded the primitive weapon of bow and arrow. Driven westwardly upon Lake Superior, the Ojibwas came in collision with the Ab-boinng Sioux, -or "Roasters," and the Odugaumecg,"opposite side people," or Foxes. These two tribes became their inveterate enemies, and for a long time hemmed them in upon the Island of La Pointe, where they subsisted mainly by fishing and agriculture. From this period they relate their own history with considerable accuracy. Their village and cultivated grounds occupied a space upon the island, about three miles long and two broad. Here they cherished a perpetual fire as symbol of their nationality; and in their civil polity maintained a certain system, very much confused and tinged, however, with their religious and medicinal beliefs. The Jl-cah-wauh, or Loon totem family constituted the royal line, and the Mukwah, or Bear family, led them to war, and protected them from the inroads of their enemies. The rites of Meda-we-win, or their mode of worshipping the Great Spirit, and the lesser spirits which fill earth, sky, and waters, were in those days practiced in their purest and most original form. Upon the island was erected a large wigwam, called the Meda-we-gaun, in which the holier rites of their religion were practiced. The building, though probably rude in structure, and perishable in materials, was yet the temple of a powerful tribe, and in their religious phraseology the island is still known by the name of Meda-we-gaun.
The Ojibwas were for a time so harassed by the Sioux and Foxes, that they were not even safe from attack upon the island of La Pointe, though situate some miles from the main shore of the lake. Twice their enemies found opportunity to land among them in the night, and carry off prisoners and scalps. It was not till the earlier French traders had supplied them in a measure with firearms, that they became formidable to their enemies. From this era, now about two centuries ago, can be dated the dispersal of the Chippewas from their island home, and the expansion of their bands along the shore of the lake, and over the country in the interior. In a severe engagement on Point Shag-ah-waum-ik-ong, they killed over one hundred Sioux warriors, and in a lake fight, near the mouth of Montreal river, they killed and drowned upwards of three hundred Foxes, who had intruded upon their island in the night, and taken prisoners. In a concentrated effort they destroyed with one war party six villages of Foxes, scattered along the Chippewa river. About eighty years ago the Foxes made their last stand against them, at the falls of St. Croix. The Chippewas, led by their war chief Waub-o-jeeg, were victorious, and from that time the Foxes finally retired from the country. Gaining possession of the head waters of the Mississippi, it became an easy matter for the Chippewas to descend in their enemies' country. Within two centuries they have occupied by conquest a tract of country extending west from Lake Superior to the Mississippi, and south from Red river of the north, and Selkirk's settlement, to Lake Michigan. Diverted by the tempting resources, and lured by the varied seductions of so extended a region, they have become separated into several divisions, of which a brief sketch will here be given.
Lake Superior Chippewas. This body number about thirteen hundred, and are known as the Ke-che-gum-me-win-in-e-wug, or Great Lake men. The principal villages at Ance, Kewenaw, Ontonagon, La Pointe, Fond du Lac and Grand Portage, on the lake shore. They subsist mainly on the excellent fish with which the lake abounds. Since 1842, they have received the services of four blacksmiths, three farmers and two carpenters, embracing, with the exception of one blacksmith and one farmer, all the laborers allowed the entire quota of bands who were parties to the treaties of 1837 and 1842. In consequence of this help among this division flattering progress has been made.
The Ance band, numbering three hundred, have become comparatively civilized. They dwell in houses, assume the costume of the whites, and are essentially agriculturists. Their chief, and some of the principal men have been admitted to the rights of citizenship in the State of Michigan.
The La Pointe band number about four hundred. Among them are many who are partially civilized, and besides dwelling in houses, and owning cattle, are devout members either of Catholic or Protestant churches. Among the elder chiefs and headmen, however, are others still attached to primitive customs. The religion of their fathers is engraved upon the hearts of these, and guides their daily habits of life. The improvement of this band for the past ten years has been gradual and sure. They own a large farm upon Bad river, from which they raise corn and potatoes sufficient for their own consumption, and not unfrequently a surplus for sale. They also manufacture large quantities of maple sugar, which they sell to their traders: and catch and salt fish, for which they find a ready market.
The Fond du Lac band, who reside upon unceded lands in Minnesota, number about four hundred. They are much less advanced in the arts of civilization than the two bands last mentioned, and depend for subsistence upon the scanty and precarious supplies furnished by the chase. One cause of this is the absence of good soil in the vicinity of their present location.
The Ontonagon and Grand Portage bands number a little over one hundred each.
The Lake Shore Chippewas have an inexhaustible resource in the fish, which plentifully abounds in the waters of the lake. They are naturally well disposed towards the whites, docile and harmless. Owing to their distance from the Sioux, they have not, for the past half century, joined the war parties of their more western brethren.
The Wisconsin Chippewas are physically larger and stronger than their more northern brethren.
The Saint Croix division. This portion of the tribe reside upon the St. Croix river, on lands lying partly in Wisconsin, and partly in Minnesota, ceded in 1837, by the treaty of St. Peter's. They number about eight hundred, and have their villages at upper St. Croix Lake, Num-aguag-um, Poka-go-mon, Yellow and Rice lakes, and on Snake river. They are known among the tribe as the Mun-o-min-ik-a-she-ug, or "rice makers." The country they occupy abounds in wild rice, and formerly these bands were noted for gathering large quantities of it. Since the sale of their country, they have become the most miserable and degenerate of their tribe. Living altogether among the prairies, which of late years have been so much resorted to by the whites, their deterioration, through the agency of intoxicating drinks, has been rapid, and almost without parallel. Murders amongst themselves have become of frequent occurrence; and quarrels arising in drunken brawls, have caused feuds between families, which have grown so serious, that small war parties have been fitted out against one another. During the past few years a number of
whites have also been murdered, and a most aggravating case of homicide occurred the past summer.
This state of things calls for prompt action from government. Living but a short distance from their own lands, about Mille Sac, they should without delay be removed thither, though after removal it would probably require a force to keep them within bounds. The residue of the tribe labor under the belief that the bad conduct of the "rice makers" has accelerated the mandate of the President for their removal from the ceded lands. Hence the St. Croix bands are obnoxious to their brethren, and no measures, even of forcible removal, would excite for them sympathy. For their own good, as well as for the safety of the white population who are exposed to their depredations, their immediate removal should be enforced. To carry this object into effect, it will be necessary to settle their bloody family feuds. At present they fear one another, much more than they fear any common enemy; and they will not coalesce until their implacable resentments are appeased. It is proper to mention the St. Croix lake bands, numbering over one hundred, have kept aloof from the white settlements, fearing to be implicated in the act of their brethren, and have even gradually removed towards Lake Superior. The chief of the Snake river band Nodin, and a principal man Mun-o-min-ik-ash-an, have migrated this summer to Mille Sac, and located within their own lines, and are inducing as many as possible of their bands to follow their example.