Early Life Among the Indians
In Washington - Told to Go Home - Senator Briggs of New York - The Interviews with President Fillmore - Reversal of the Removal Order - The Trip Home - Treaty of 1854 and the Reservations - The Mile Square - The Blinding
After a few days more in New York City I had raised the necessary funds to redeem the trinkets pledge with the bus driver and to pay my hotel bill, etc., and on the 22nd day of June 1852, we had the good fortune to arrive in Washington.
I took my party to the Metropolitan Hotel and engaged a room on the first floor near the office for the Indians, as they said they did not like to get high in a white man's house. As they required but a couple of mattresses for their lodging they were soon made comfortable. I requested the steward to serve their meals in their room, as I did not wish to take them into their dining room among distinguished people, and their meals were thus served.
The morning following our arrival I sent out in search of the Interior Department of the Government to find the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, to request an interview with him, which he declined and said: "I want you to take your Indians away on the next train west, as they have come here without permission, and I do not want to see you or hear of your Indians again."
I undertook to make explanations, but he would not listen to me and ordered me from his office. I went to the sidewalk completely discouraged, from my present means was insufficient to take me home. I paced up and down the sidewalk pondering over what was best to do, when a gentleman came along and of him I inquired the way to the office of the Secretary of the Interior. He passed right along saying, "This way, sir; this way, sir;" and I followed him. He entered a side door just back of the Indian Commissioner's office and up a short flight of stairs, and going behind a railing, divesting himself of hat and cane and said: "What can I do for you sir."
I told him who I was, what my party consisted of, where we came from and the object of our visit, as briefly as possible. He replied that I must go and see the Commissioner of Indian Affairs just down stairs. I told him I had been there and the treatment I had received at his hands, then he said: "Did you have permission to come and why did you not go to your agent in the west for permission?"
I attempted to explain that we had been to the agent, but could get no satisfaction; but he stopped me in the middle of my explanation saying: "I can do nothing for you. You must go to the Indian Commissioner," and turning, began a conversation with his clerk who was there when we went in.
I walked out more discouraged than ever and could not imagine what next I could do. I wandered around the city and to the Capitol, thinking I might find someone I had seen before, but in this I failed and returned to the hotel, where I found Buffalo surrounded by a crowd who were trying to make hem understand them and among them was the steward of the house. On my entering the office and Buffalo recognizing me, the assemblage, seeing I knew him, turned their attention to me, asking who he was, etc., to all of which questions I answered as briefly as possible, by stating that he was the head chief of the Chippewas of the Northwest. The steward then asked: "Why don't you take him into the dining room with you? Certainly such a distinguished man as he, the head of the Chippewa people, should have at least that privilege." I did so and as we passed into the dining room we were shown to a table in one corner of the room, which was unoccupied. We had only been seated a few moments when a couple of gentlemen who had been occupying seats in another part of the dining room came over and sat at our table and said that if there were no objections they would like to talk with us. They asked about the party, where from, the object of the visit, etc. I answered them briefly, supposing them to be reporters and I did not care to give them too much information. One of these gentlemen asked what room we had, say that himself and one or two others would like to call on us right after dinner. I directed them where to come and said I would be there to meet them.
About 2 o'clock they came, and then for the first time I knew who those gentlemen were. One was Senator Briggs of New York, and the others were members of President Filmore's cabinet, and after I told them fully what had taken me there, and the difficulties I had met with, and they consulted a little while aside, Senator Briggs said: "We will undertake to get you and your people an interview with the President, and will notify you here when a meeting can be arranged." During the afternoon I was notified that an interview had been arranged for the next afternoon at 3 o'clock. During the evening Senator Briggs and other friends called, and the whole matter was talked over and preparations were made for the interview the following day, which were continued the next day until the hour set for the interview.
When we were assembled Buffalo's first request was that all be seated, as he had the pipe of peace to present, and hope that all who were present would partake of smoke from the pipe. The pipe, a new one brought for the purpose, was filled and lighted by Buffalo and passed to the President who took two or three draughts from it, and smiling said, "Who is the next?" at which Buffalo pointed out Senator Briggs and desired he should be next. The Senator smoked the pipe and then passed it to me and others, including the Commissioner of Indians, Secretary of the Interior and several others whose names I did not learn or cannot recall. From them to Buffalo, then to O-sho-ga and from him to the four braves in turn, which completed that part of the ceremony. The pipe was then taken from the stem and handed to me for safe keeping, never to be used again on any occasion. I have the pipe still in my possession and the instructions of Buffalo have been faithfully kept. The old chief now rose from his seat; the balance following his example and marched in single file to the President and general hand shaking that was begun with the President was continued by the Indians with all present. This over Buffalo said his under chief, O-sho-ga, would state the object of our visit and he hoped the great father would quiet the excitement in his country and keep his young men peaceable. After I had this speech thoroughly interpreted, O-sho-ga began and spoke for nearly an hour. He began with the treaty of 1837 and showed plainly what the Indians understood the treaty to be. He next took up the treaty of 1842 and said he did not understand that in either treaty they had ceded away the land and he further understood in both cases that the Indians were never to be asked to remove from the lands included in those treaties, provided they were peaceable and behaved themselves and this they have done. When the order came to remove Chief Buffalo sent runners out in all directions to seek the reasons and causes for the order, but all those men returned without finding a single reason among all the Superior and Mississippi Indians why the great father had become displeased. When O-sho-ga had finished his speech I presented the petition I had brought and quickly discovered that the President did recognize some names upon it, which gave me new courage. When the reading and the examination of it had been concluded the meeting was adjourned, the President directing the Indian Commissioner to say to the landlord at the hotel that our hotel bill would be paid by the government. He also directed that we were to have the freedom of the city for a week.
The second day following this Senator Briggs informed me that the President desired another interview that day, in accordance with which request we went to the White House soon after dinner and meeting the President, he told the delegation in a brief speech that he would countermand the removal order and that the annuity payments would be made at La Pointe as before and hoped that in the future there would be no further cause for complaint. At this he handed to Buffalo a written instrument which he said would explain to his people when interpreted the promises he had made as to the removal order and the payment of the annuities at La Point and hoped when he returned home he would call his chiefs together and have all the statements therein contained explained fully to them as the words of their great father at Washington. The reader can imagine the great load that was then removed from my shoulders for it was a pleasing termination of the long and tedious struggle I had made in behalf of the untutored but trustworthy savage.
On June 28th 1852, we started on our return trip, going by cars to La Crosse, Wisconsin, thence by steamboat to St. Paul, thence by Indian trail across the country to Lake Superior. On our way from St. Paul we frequently met bands of Indians of the Chippewa tribe to whom we explained our mission and its results, which caused great rejoicing, and before leaving there bands Buffalo would tell their chief to send a delegation, at the expiration of two moons, to meet him in a grand council at La Pointe, for there was many things he wanted to say to them about what he had seen and the nice manner in which he had been received and treated by the great father.
At the time appointed by Buffalo for the grand council at La Pointe, the delegates assembled and the message given Buffalo by President was interpreted, which gave the Indians great satisfaction. Before the grand council adjourned word was received that their annuities would be given to them at La Pointe about the middle of October, thus giving them time to get together to receive them. A number of messengers were immediately sent out to all parts of the territory to notify them and by the time the goods arrived, which was about October 15th, the remainder of the Indians had congregated at La Pointe. On that date the Indians were enrolled and the annuities paid and the most perfect satisfaction was apparent among all concerned. The jubilee that was held to express their gratification to the delegation that had secured a countermanding order in the removal matter was almost extravagantly profuse. The letter from the great father was explained to them all during the progress of the annuity payments and Chief Buffalo explained to the convention what he had seen; how the pipe of peace had been smoked in the great father's wigwam and as that pipe was the only emblem and reminder of their duties yet to come in keeping the peace with his white children, he requested that the pipe be retained by me. He then went on and said that there was yet one more treaty to be made with the great father and he hoped in making it they would be more careful and wise than they heretofore been and reserve a part of their land for themselves and their children. It was here that he told his people that he had selected and adopted me as a son and that I would hereafter look to treaty matters and see that in the next treaty matters they did not sell themselves out and become homeless; that as he was getting old and must soon leave his entire cares to others he hoped they would listen to me as his confidence in his adopted son was great and that when treaties were presented for them to sign they would listen to me and follow my advice, assuring them that in doing so they would not again be deceived.
After this gathering of Indians there was not much of interest in the Indian country that I can recall until the next annual payment in 1853. This payment was made at La Pointe and the Indians had been notified that commissioners would be appointed to make another treaty with them for the remainder of their territory. This was the territory lying in Minnesota west of Lake Superior; also east and west of the Mississippi River north to the territory of the Bois Fort and Pillager tribes, who are a part of the Chippewa nation, but through some arrangement between themselves, were detached from the main or more numerous body. It was at this payment that the Chippewa Indians proper desired to have one dollar each taken from their annuities to recompense me for the trouble and expense I had been to on the trip to Washington in their behalf, but I refused to accept it by reason of their very impecunious condition.
It was sometime in August 1854, before the commissioners arrived at La Pointe to make the treaty and pay the annuities of that year. Messengers were dispatched to notify all Indians of the fact that the great father had sent for them to come to La Pointe to get their money and clothing and to meet the government commissioners who wished to make another treaty with them for the territory lying west of Lake Superior and they were further instructed to have the Indians council among themselves before starting that those who came could be able to tell the wishes of any that might remain away in regards to a further treaty and disposition of their lands. Representatives came from all parts of the Chippewa country and showed a willingness to treat away the balance of their country. Henry C. Gilbert, the Indian Agent at La Pointe, formerly of Ohio, and David B. Herriman, the agent for the Chippewas of the Mississippi country, were the commissioners appointed by the government to consummate this treaty.
While we were waiting for the arrival of the interior Indians I had frequent talks with the commissioners and learned what their instructions were and about what they intended to offer for the lands which information I would communicate to Chief Buffalo and other head men in our immediate vicinity, and ample time was had to perfect our plans before the others should arrive, and when they did put in an appearance we were ready to submit to them our views for their approval or rejection. Knowing as I did the Indians unwillingness to give up and forsake their old burial grounds I would not agree to any proposition that would take away the remainder of their lands without a reserve sufficient to afford them homes for themselves and posterity, and as fast as they arrived I counseled with them upon the subject and to ascertain where they preferred these reserves to be located. The scheme being a new one to them it required time and much talk to get the matter before them in its proper light. Finally it was agreed by all before meeting of the council that no one would sign a treaty that did not give them a reservations at different points of the country that would suit their conveniences, that should afterwards be considered their bona fide home. Maps were drawn of the different tracts that had been selected by the various chiefs for their reserves and permanent homes. The reservations were as follows: One at L'Anse Bay, one at Ontonagon, one at Lac du Flambeau, one at Courte Oreilles, one at Bad River, one at Red Cliff or Buffalo Bay, one at Fond du Lac, Minnesota, and one at Grand Portage Minnesota. The boundaries were to be as near as possible by metes and bounds of waterways and courses. This agreed to before the Mississippi Chippewas arrived and was to be brought up in the general council after they came in, but when they arrived they were accompanied by the American Fur Company and most of their employees, and we found it impossible to get them to agree to any of our plans or to come to any terms. A proposition was made by Buffalo when all were gathered in council by themselves that as they could not agree as they were, a division should be drawn, dividing the Mississippi and the Lake Superior Indians from each other altogether and each make their own treaty. After several days of counseling the proposition was agreed to, and thus the Lake Superiors were left to make their own treaty for the lands north of Lake Superior to the Mississippi and the Mississippis to make their own treaty for the lands west of the Mississippi. The council lasted several days, as I have stated, which was owing to the opposition of the American Fur Company, who were evidently opposed to having any such division made; they yielded however, but only when they saw further opposition would not avail, and the proposition of Buffalo became an Indian law. Our side was ready to treat with the commissioners in open council. Buffalo, myself and several of the chiefs called upon them and briefly stated our case but were informed that they had no instructions to make any such treaty with us and were only instructed to buy such territory as the Lake Superiors and Mississippis then owned. Then we told them of the division of the Indians had been agreed upon and after several days they agreed to set us off the reservations as previously asked for and to guarantee that all lands embraced within those boundaries should belong to the Indians and that they would pay a nominal sum for the remainder of their possessions on the north shores. It was further agreed that the Lake Superior Indians should have two-thirds of all money appropriate for the Chippewas and the Mississippi contingent the other third. The Lake Superior Indians did not seem, through all these councils, to care so much for future annuities either in money or goods as they did for securing a home for themselves and their posterity that should be a permanent one. They also reserved a tract on land embracing about 100 acres lying across and along the eastern end of La Pointe or Madeline Island so that they would not be cut off from the fishing privilege.
It was about in the midst of the councils leading up to the Treaty of 1854 that Buffalo states to his chiefs that I had rendered them services in the past that should be rewarded by something more substantial than their thanks and good wishes, and that at different times the Indians had agreed to reward me from their annuity money but I had always refused such offers as it would be taking from their necessities and as they had had no annuity money for the two years prior to 1852 they could not well afford to pay me in this way. "And now," continued Buffalo, "I have a proposition to make to you. As he has provided us and our children with homes by getting these reservations set off for us, and as we were about to part will all the lands we possess, I have it in my power, with your consent, to provide him with a future home by giving him a piece of ground which we are about to part with. He has agreed to accept this as it will take nothing from us and make no difference with the great father whether we reserve a small tract of or territory or not, and if you agree I will proceed with him to the head of the lake and there select the piece of ground I desire him to have, that it may appear on paper when the treaty has been completed. The chiefs were unanimous in their acceptance of the proposition and told Buffalo to select a large piece of land that his children might also have a home in the future as has been provided for by ours. This council last all night and just at break of day the old chief and myself, with four braves to row the boat, set out for the head of Lake Superior and did not stop anywhere only long enough to make and drink some tea, until we reached St. Louis Bay. We landed our canoe by the side of a flat rock quite a distance from the shore, among grass and rushes. Here we ate our lunch and when completed Buffalo and myself, with another chief, Kish-ki-to-uk, wades ashore and ascended the bank to a small level plateau where we could get a better view of the bay. Here Buffalo turned to me saying: "Are you satisfied with this location? I want to reserve the shore of this bay from the mouth of the St. Louis River. How far that way do you want it to go?" pointing southeast, or along the south shore of the lake. I told him we had better not try to make it too large for if we did the great father's offers at Washington might throw it out of the treaty and said: "I will be satisfied with one mile square, and let it start from the rock which we have christened Buffalo Rock, running easterly in the direction of Minnesota Point, taking in a mile square immediately northerly from the head of St. Louis Bay." As there was no other way of describing it than by metes and bounds we tried to describe it in the treaty but Agent Gilbert, whether by, mistake or not I am unable to say, described it differently. He described it as follows: "Starting from a rock immediately above and adjoining Minnesota Point, etc." We spent and hour or two here in looking over the plateau then went back to our canoe and set out for La Pointe. We traveled night and day until we reached home. During our absence some of the chiefs had been talking more or less with the commissioners and immediately on our return all the Indians met in grand council when Buffalo explained to them what he had done on the trip and how and where he had selected the piece of property that I was to have reserved in the treaty for my future home and in payment for my services I had rendered them in the past. The balance of the night was spent in preparing ourselves for the meeting with the treaty makers the next day, and about 10 o'clock next morning we were in attendance before the commissioners all prepared for a big council.
Agent Gilbert started the business by beginning a speech interpreted by the government interpreter, when Buffalo interrupted him by saying that he did not want anything interpreted to them from the English language by anyone except his adopted son for there had always been things told the Indians in the past that proved afterwards to be untrue, whether wrongly interpreted or not, and we can get it correctly, we wish to hear your words repeated by him, and when we talk to you our words can be interpreted by your own interpreter, and in this way one interpreter can watch the other and correct each other should there be mistakes. We do not want to be deceived any more as we have been in the past. We now understand that we are selling our lands as well as the timber and that the whole, with the exception of what we shall reserve, goes to the great father forever." Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Col. Manypenny, then said to Buffalo: "What you have said meets with my own views exactly and I will now appoint your adopted son your interpreter and John Johnson, of Sault Ste. Marie, shall be the interpreter on the part of the government," then turning to the commissioners said, "How does that suit you gentlemen?" They at once gave their consent and the council proceeded. Buffalo informed the commissioners of what he had done in regard to selecting a tract of land for me and insisted that it become a part of the treaty and that it should be patented to me directly by the government without any restrictions. Many other questions were debated at this session but no definite agreements were reached and the council was adjourned in the middle of the afternoon, Chief Buffalo asking for the adjournment that he might talk over some matter further with his people, and that night the subject of providing homes for their half-breed relations who lived in different parts of the country was brought up and discussed and all were in favor of making such a provision in the treaty. I proposed to them that as we had made provisions for ourselves and children it would be only fair that an arrangement should be made in the treaty whereby the government should provide for our mixed blood relations by giving to each person head of a family or to each single person twenty-one years of age a piece of land containing at least eighty acres which would provide homes for those now living and in the future there would be ample room on the reservations for their children, where all could live happily together. We also asked that all teachers and traders in the ceded territory who at that time were located there by license and doing business by authority of law, should each be entitled to 160 acres of land at $1.25 per acre. This was all reduced to writing and when the council met the next morning we were prepared to submit all our plans and requests to the commissioners save one, which we required more time to consider. Most of this day was consumed in speech making by the chiefs and the commissioners and in the last speech of the day, which was made by Mr. Gilbert, he said: "We have talked a great deal and evidently understand one another. You have told us what you want, and now we want time to consider your requests, while you want time as you say to consider another matter, and so we will adjourn until tomorrow and we, with your father, Col. Manypenny, will carefully examine and consider your propositions and when we meet tomorrow we will be prepared to answer you with an approval or rejection."
That evening the chiefs considered the other matter, which was to provide for the payment of the debts could not be more than $90,000 and that that amount should be taken from the Indians in bulk and divided up among their creditors in a pro-rata matter according to the amount due to any person or firm, and that this should wipe out their indebtedness. The American Fur Company had filed claims, which, in the aggregate, amounted to two, or three times this sum and were at the council heavily armed for the purpose of enforcing their claim by intimidation. This and the next day were spent in speeches pro and con but nothing was affected towards a final settlement. Col. Manypenny came to my store and we had a long private interview relating to the treaty then under consideration and he thought that the demands of the Indians were reasonable and just and that they would be accepted by the commissioners. He also gave me considerable credit for the manner in which I had conducted the matter for the Indians, considering the terrible opposition I had to contend with. He said he had claims in his possession, which had been filed by the traders that amounted to a large sum but did not state the amount. He saw the Indians had every confidence in me and their demands were reasonable he could see no reason why the treaty could not be speedily brought to a close. He then asked if I kept a set of books. I told him I only kept a daybook or blotter showing the amount each Indian owed me. I got the books and told him to take them along with him so that he or his interpreter might question any Indian whose name appeared thereon as being indebted to me and I would accept what ever that Indian said he owed me whether it be one dollar or ten cents. He said he was certain that some traders were making claims for far more than was due them. Messrs. Gilbert and Herriman and their chief clerk, Mr. Smith, were present when Mr. Manypenny related the talk he had with me at the store. He considered the requests of the Indians fair and just, he said, and he hoped there would be no further delays in concluding the treaty and if it was drawn up and signed with the stipulations and agreements that were now understood should be incorporated in it, he would strongly recommend its ratification by the President and the Senate.
The day following the council was opened by a speech from Chief Na-gon-abe in which he cited considerable history. "My friends," he said, "I have been chosen by our chief, Buffalo, to speak to you. Our wishes are now on papers before you. Before this it was not so. We have been many times deceived. We had no one to look out for us. The great father's officers made marks on paper with black liquor and quill. The Indian cannot do this. We depend upon our memory. We have nothing else to look to. We talk often together and keep your words clear in our minds. When you talk we all listen, then we talk it over many times. In this way it is always fresh with us. This is the way we must keep our record. In 1837 we were asked to sell our timber and minerals. In 1842 we were asked to do the same. Our white brothers told us the great father did not want the land. We should keep it to hunt on. Bye and bye we were told to go away; to go and leave our friends that were buried yesterday. Then we asked each other what it meant. Does the great father tell the truth? Does he keep his promise? We cannot help ourselves! We try to do as we agree in the treaty. We ask you what this means? You do not tell from your memory! You go to your black marks and say this is what those men put down; this is what they said when they made the treaty. The men we talked with do not come back; they do not come and you tell us they did not tell us so! We ask you where they are? You say you do not know or that they are dead and gone. This is what they tell you; this is what was done. Now we have a friend who can make black marks on paper. When the council is over he will tell us what we have done. We now know what we are doing! If we get what we ask our chiefs will touch the pen, but if not we will not touch it. I am told by our chief to tell you this: We will not touch the pen unless our friend says the paper is all right."
Na-gon-abe was answered by Commissioner Gilbert, saying: "You have submitted through your friend and interpreter the terms and conditions upon which you will cede away your lands. We have not had time to give them all consideration and want a little more time, as we did not know last night what your last proposition would be. Your father, Col. Manypenny, has ordered some beef cattle killed and a supply of provisions will be issued to you right away. You can now return to your lodges and get a good dinner and talk matters over among yourselves the remainder of the day and I hope you will come back tomorrow feeling good natured and happy, for your father, Col. Manypenny, will have something to say to you and will have a paper which your friend can read and explain to you."
When the council met the next day in front of the commissioners' office to hear what Col. Manypenny had to say a general good feeling prevailed and a hand-shaking round proceeded the council, which Col. Manypenny opened by saying: "My friends and children: I am glad to see you all this morning looking so good natured and happy and as if you could sit here and listen to what I have to say. We have a paper here for your friend to examine to see if it meets your approval. Myself and the commissioners, which your great father has sent here, have duly considered all your requests and have concluded to accept them. As the season is passing away and we are all anxious to go to our families and you to your homes, I hope when you read this treaty you will find it as you expect to and according to the understanding we have had during the council. Now your friend may examine the paper and while he is doing so we will take a recess until afternoon."
Chief Buffalo, turning to me said" "My son, we, the chiefs of all the country, have placed this matter entirely in your hands. Go and examine the papers and if it suits you it will suit us." Then turning to the chiefs, he asked, "What do you say to that?" The ho-ho that followed showed the entire circle was satisfied.
I went carefully through the treaty as it had been prepared and with a few exceptions found it was right. I called the attention of the commissioners to certain parts of the stipulations that were incorrect and they directed the clerk to make the changes. The following day the Indians told the commissioners that as their friend had made objections to the treaty as it was they requested that I might again examine it before proceeding further with the council. On this examination I found that the changes had been made but on a sheet of paper not attached to the body of the instrument, and as those sheets contained some of the most important items in the treaty, I again objected and told the commissioners that I would not allow the Indians to sign it in that shape and not until the whole treaty was re-written and the detached portions appeared in their proper places. I walked out and told the Indians that the treaty was not yet ready to sign and they gave up all further endeavors until the next day. I met the commissioners alone in their office that afternoon and explained the objectionable points in the treaty and told them the Indians were ready to sign as soon as those objections were removed. They were soon at work putting the instrument in shape.
The next day when the Indians assembled they were told by the commissioners that all was ready and the treaty was laid upon a table and I found it just as the Indians had wanted it to be, except the description of the mile square. The part relating to the mile square that was to have been reserved for me read as follows: "Chief Buffalo, being desirous of providing for some of his relatives who had rendered them important services, it I is agreed that he may select one mile square of ceded territory heretofore described."
"Now," said the commissioner, "We want Buffalo to designate the person or persons to whom he wishes the patents to issue." Buffalo then said: "I want them to be made out in the name of my adopted son." This closed all ceremony and the treaty was duly signed on the 30th day of September 1854. This done the commissioners to a farewell shake of the hand with all the chiefs, hoping to meet them again at the annuity payment the coming year. They then boarded the steamer North Star for home. In the course of a few days the Indians also disappeared, some to their interior homes and some to their winter hunting grounds and a general quiet prevailed on the island.
About the second week in October 1854, I went from La Pointe to Ontonagon in an open boat for the purpose of purchasing my winter supplies as it had got too late to depend on getting them from further below. While there a company was formed for the purpose going into the new ceded territory to make claims upon lands that would be subject to entry as soon as the late treaty should be ratified. The company consisted of Samuel McWaid, William Whitesides, W.W. Kingsbury, John Johnson, Oliver Melzer, John McFarland, Daniel S. Cash, W.W. Spaulding, all of Ontonagon, and myself. The last two named gentlemen, Daniel S. Cash and W.W. Spaulding, agreeing to furnish the company with supplies and all the necessaries, including money, to enter the lands for an equal interest and it was so stipulated that we were to share equally in all that we, or either of us might obtain. As soon as all the supplies were purchased and put aboard the schooner Algonquin we started for the head of the lake, stopping at La Pointe long enough for me to get my family aboard and my business matters arranged for the winter. I left my store at La Pointe in charge of Alexander Nevaux, and we all sailed for the head of Lake Superior, the site of which is now the city of Duluth. Reaching there about the first week in December - the bay of superior being closed by ice - we were compelled to make our landing at Minnesota Point and take our goods from there to the main land on the north shore in open boats, landing about one and one half miles east of Minnesota point at a place where I desired to make a preemption form myself and to establish a trading post for the winter. Here I erected a building large enough for all of us to live in, as we expected to make this our headquarters for the winter, and also a building for a trading post. The other members of the company made claims in other places, but I did no more land looking that winter.
About January 20th 1855, I left my place at the head of the lake to go back to La Pointe and took with me the furs I had collected up to that time, and I had a good place at La Pointe to dry and keep them. I took four men along to help me though and two dog trains. As we were passing down Superior Bay and when just in front of the village of West Superior a man came to us on the ice carrying a small bundle on his back and asked me if I had any objections to his going through in my company. He said the snow was deep and the weather cold and it was bad for one man to travel alone. I told him I had no objections provide he would take his turn with the other men in breaking the road for the dogs. We all went on together and camped that night at a place well known as Flag River. We made preparations for a cold night, as the thermometer must have been twenty-five or thirty degrees below zero and the snow fully two feet deep. There were enough of us we cut and carried a large quantity of wood, both green and dry, and shoveled the snow away to the ground with our snowshoes and built a large fire. Then we cut evergreen boughs and made a windbreak or bough camp and concluded we could put in a comfortable night. We then cooked and ate our supper and all seemed happy. I unrolled a bale of bear skins and spread them out on the ground for my bed, filled my pipe and lay down to rest while the five men with me were talking and smoking around the campfire. I was very tired and presume I was not long in falling asleep. How long I slept I cannot tell, but was awaken by something dropping into my face, which felt like a powdered substance. I sprang to my feet for I found something had got into my eyes and was smarting them badly. I rushed for the snow bank that was melting from the heat and applied handful after handful to my eyes and face. I found the application was peeling the skin off my face and the pain soon became intense. I woke up the crew and they saw by the firelight the terrible condition I was in. In an hour's time my eyeballs were so swollen that I could not close the lids and the pain did not abate. I could do nothing more than bathe my eyes until morning, which I did with tea-grounds. It seemed an age before morning came and when it did come I could not realize it, for I was TOTALLY BLIND. The party started with me at early dawn for La Pointe. The man who had joined us the day before went no further, but returned to Superior, which was a great surprise to the men of our party, who frequently during the day would say: "There is something about this matter that is not right," and I never could learn afterward of his having communicated the fact of my accident to any one or to assign any reason or excuse for turning back, which cause us to suspect he had a hand in the blinding, but as I could get nothing in the matter. This man was found dead in his cabin a few months afterwards.
At La Pointe I got such treatment as could be procured from the Indians, which allayed the inflammation but did not restore the sight. I remained at La Pointe about ten days, and then returned home with the dog train to my family, where I remained the balance of the winter, when not at Superior for treatment. When the ice moved from the lake in the spring I abandoned everything there and returned to La Pointe and was blind or nearly so until the winter of 1861.
Returning a little time to the north shore I wish to relate an incident of the death of one of our Ontonagon Company. Two or three days after I had reached home from La Pointe, finding my eyes constantly growing worse I had the company take me to Superior where I could get treatment. Dr. Marcellus, son of Prof. Marcellus, of an eye infirmary in Philadelphia, who had just then married a beautiful young wife and come west to seek his fortune, was engage to treat me. I was taken to the boarding house of Henry Wolcott, where I engaged rooms for the winter as I expected to remain there until spring. I related to the doctor what had befallen me and he began treatment. At times I felt much better but no permanent relief seemed near. About the middle of February my family required my presence at home, as there was some business to be attended to which they did not understand. My wife sent a note to me by Mr. Melzer, stating that it was necessary for me to return, and as the weather that day was very pleasant she hoped I would come that afternoon. Mr. Melzer delivered me the note, which I request him to read. It was then 11 a.m. and I told him we would start right after dinner, and requested him to tell the doctor that I wished to see him right away, and then return to get his dinner, as it would be ready at noon, to which he replied: "If I am here do not wait for me, but I will be here at the time you are ready for home." Mr. Melzer did return shortly after we had finished our dinner and I requested him to eat, as I would not be ready to start for about a half an hour, but he insisted he was not hungry. We had no conveyance and about 1 p.m. we set out for home. We went down a few steps to the ice, as Mr. Wolcott's house stood close to the shore of the bay, and went straight across Superior Bay to Minnesota Point, and across the point six or eight rods and struck the ice on Lake Superior. A plain, hard beaten road led from here directly to my home. After we proceeded about 150 yards, following this hard beaten road, Melzer at once stopped and requested me to go ahead, as I could follow the beaten road without assistance, the snow being deep on either side. "Now," he says, "go ahead, for I must go back after a drink." I followed the road quite well, and when near the house my folks came out to meet me, their first inquiry being: "Where is Melzer?" I told them the circumstances of his turning back for a drink of water. Reaching the bank on which my house stood some of the folks, looking back over the road I had come, discovered a dark object apparently floundering on the ice. Two or three of our man started for the spot and there found the dead body of poor Melzer. We immediately notified parties in Superior of the circumstances and ordered a post-mortem examination of the body. The doctors found that his stomach was entirely empty and mostly gone from the effects of whiskey and was no thicker than tissue paper and that his heart had burst into three pieces. We gave him a decent burial at Superior and peace to his ashes. His last act of kindness was on my behalf.
Contributed and used with permission on this site by Timm Severud. The Lac Courte Oreilles Historical Preservation Office created this reproduction.Timm Severud manually typed it in and some minor changes to text have been made from the original, to correct spelling mistakes, and slight grammar mistakes. There is no copyright on this book or this reproduction. Feel free to use and share with others. Enjoy what I consider the best historical biography I have ever read. T.L.S.
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