Early Life Among the Indians
First Payment under the 1854 Treaty - Swamp and Overflowed Lands - Death of Chief Buffalo - An Indian Tradition - An Axe, A Gun, and A Knife, the First They had Ever Seen
I will now go back to 1855. About the middle of September word was sent me at Oak Island by Agent Gilbert that the annuities had arrived for the first payment under the Treaty of 1854, and if I was able to attend he should be pleased to have me do so; that he had some talking to do with the Indians and they as well as himself would like to have me present to hear it. I arranged matters to leave Oak Island and as I owned a house at La Pointe move my family there for the fall that I might have their care. Chief Buffalo had been prescribing for and treating my eyes and as he was then sick at La Pointe I had parties take me to his home. I had not talk with him more than an hour when it became apparent that he was quite feeble. I brought him articles of food and did all I could for his comfort that night and the next morning visited the agent and commissioners and told them of the old chief's illness and said I did not think he would be able to attend the councils that fall. Col. Manypenny and myself visited the old man that day. The Colonel gave him his best wishes and told him that anything he wishes to eat would be brought to him and hoped in a day or two he would be able to come down and hear what the agent had to say. But the old man was never able to attend the councils more.
The Indians were all in from the interior and the councils was called. The commissioners told the Indians that their last treaty had been ratified and that their great father had signed it; that the treaty had not been changed; that all they had asked for had been conceded, both in regards to the reservations and the script which was to go to the half-breeds and the household goods which were to go to the mixed bloods and to all living in houses he had brought along and would give them out and he hoped they would move onto their reservations and have their young men clear lands and build fences, "for next year great father will cause houses to be built for you and you can rest assured that no white man shall enter your reservation to claim or hold any portion of it, except it be such ones as the chief desires should live there, and that all the land embodied in these several tracts of yours, to be your permanent homes and the sooner you improve our land and open up garden spots the sooner your great father will send you horses, cattle and farming implements to work with and if at any time any white men invades your reservation for the purpose of taking your timber, or minerals, or anything else, you stop them and make them pay you for all damage they may have done."
As I have stated heretofore that misunderstandings have always crept into treaties, and the Treaty of 1854 was no exception, I will state what they were. Notwithstanding all the care that was taken and all the precautions used which our foresight could devise, and after everyone understood, and positively too, that the reservations should be and forever remain the home of the Indian alone, it was only a few years after they were set apart that the white man came and claimed to own every sixteenth section of their land under the state school land laws. Following these came men who clamed to have acquired title to all the swamp and overflowed lands on the reservations, depriving the Indians of their rice fields, cranberry marshes and hay meadows. Many times the Indians asked their agents how this was and why it was so, but never received any satisfactory answer. All the troubles with the Indians of the northwest can be traced directly to such misunderstandings, and as is well known the Indian in every case got the worst of it. Still people wonder what makes the Indian so troublesome. Why don't the white people kill them off and be done with it, etc.?
Now returning to the annuity payment at La Pointe, where I left the agent giving the Indians advice and making them promises, and from which I left off to speak of treaties not being lived up to on the part of the government. Chief Buffalo not being able to meet the commissioners, I requested them to go with me to see him, stating that I did not think he would last more than two or three days and I should like to have them talk with him on business matters, as he told me himself that he could live but a few days at most. In the afternoon they went with me, taking along their interpreter. I told them I wished they would ask him if he desired to change any of his former devices in the reservations he had made. He only requested that they be carried out as he had formerly directed. After some further talk the commissioners left, but I remained with the old veteran until he died. I gave him a decent burial. Calling all parties together we formed a procession and marched to the Catholic cemetery at La Pointe where we laid the old chief to rest. I ordered and place in position a tombstone at the head of his grave and also one at the grave of Chief O-sho-ga, which are there today.
Here I wish to digress again to give an Indian tradition, a legend handed down to buffalo and was one of many, some of which had come down for three hundred years. This one, as near as I can calculate, must be about two hundred and thirty or forty years old and was many times repeated to me by Buffalo, and was about as follows: "My great, great-grandfather was an important chief in his day, and had a band of about 500 people. They lived in one place a long time, and as the game was getting scarce and wood for the fire hard to obtain, it became necessary to select another place to live, and it was their custom to first send a party to look the country over to see if there was any enemy that would be likely to molest them in moving the band. The old chief told his son, who was my great-grandfather, to take for young men and go and explore the country for a place to remove to. After these five scouts had been out many days they found a good place, plenty of wood, plenty of fish and close to a nice river, but before returning they resolved to explore a little further in the woods from the river. They had only traveled a short distance, however, when they saw a house or shanty made of logs and poles, the first they had ever seen. They dropped to the ground and crawled cautiously along, being sure to keep a tree, a rock or a log between themselves and the cabin, and slowly crept along to discover what it possibly could be, expecting any moment to see it take wings and fly away. Presently they saw a man come out of the house with an axe in his hand, who began chopping into a tree, soon felling it to the ground and afterwards cut it into wood for fire. That was something they had never seen before nor had they ever seen an axe. After he had chopped a while a second man with a pale and hairy face came out and began to carry the wood into the cabin. When this was done and the two men had gone back into the house and closed the door the Indians skulked back to a safe distance, then springing to their feet they ran away as fast as they could, and to their people to tell them of their wonderful discovery.
How they had seen a house with two pale-faced Indians with hair all over their faces, and the wonderful instrument they used for making wood for fire. They traveled night and day so as to reach their people as soon as they could. When they had returned the chief notified his headmen the scouting party had returned and to come and hear what they had to say. When they had gathered together the scouts told their wonderful story of what they had seen at the river, which they had selected for their future home. The headmen and their braves held a great war council, but none of them could account for what had been seen by the scouts. The old chief had ever confidence in his son and said: "My son, I want you to take twenty-five of our best and bravest men and go back and find out whether they are enemies or friends, but be sure you do not harm them except it be to save yourselves from being killed or injured." Before allowing the party to depart the old chief call on his men to at once prepare a man-e-to-kos-o-wig-e-wam, or religious wigwam, where the medicine man could talk with the great spirit, to find out if there was any danger ahead. The old man spent the whole night in the wigwam and in the morning reported that the way was clear and no danger to be feared. The party started off and feeling they were safe hurried along to the wonderful sight at the river. Arriving there the young chief pointed to the cabin and party saw it as described to them. They resolved to watch for what might happen. Circling themselves as closely about the house as they could without being observed they waited for developments. They had not waited long when a man came out as before and began chopping wood and another came out and carried it in, all of which they watched with the greatest interest. The men returned to the cabin and the Indians continued to lay low. Soon one of the men came out with a pail in his hand and went to the river, and returned quickly with a pail of water and immediately came with a gun, and placing it to his face fired it and fell a partridge to the ground. The sound of the gun struck terror to their very souls and if they could have done so they would have hidden themselves below the ground. But stand they must, at least until the man should go back into the cabin. The man reloaded his gun and fired again and another partridge fell. The man picked up the birds and went into the shanty carrying the birds in one hand and his gun in the other, closing the door behind him. A signal from the young chief brought the party a safe distance from the cabin where a council was held. Though they were all nearly frightened out of their wits, it would never do to show cowardice by running away, and it was decided that they should walk boldly to the cabin yard and there form a half circle and wait for what might happen. Keeping in mind the old chief's warning to harm no one unless absolutely necessary, they formed their half circle close to the cabin without being observed. Presently a man came out again and found himself standing in the presence of twenty-six full fledge Indians, fully armed and equipped with bows and arrows and spears and was as much frightened as the Indians had been a few moments before, but spoke to them. Presently another man came out and spoke to them and beckoned them to come in to the cabin, but the Indians did not stir or speak until the third man came out, who was old, with white hair and white beard and a red cap on his head and red sash around his waist, which very much attracted the Indians attention, it being so different from any dress they had ever seen that they were completely thunderstruck, but after the old man had spoken to them and showed them signs that they were friends and not enemies, and want them to come into the cabin, they became as tame as pet rabbits. The axe and the gun, together with the gaudy dress of the old man had completely captivated them. Now the traders made them understand that they would exchange with them for their robes and fur clothing, blankets, or trinkets or and axe to chop wood with, or a knife to cut sticks or skin a deer with or a bear, and last of all the gun to shoot with, and after explaining to them as best they cold the wonderful gun and how to load and shoot it, and the uses to which the knife and axe could be put, an exchange of articles took place. The young chief determined to exchange his fur clothing for a gun and ammunition and an axe and a knife, as he thought they would be the most useful to his people. The greatest curiosity was the gun and the next greatest was the axe. Now being provided with a loaded gun and many curiosities and much information, they set out for home with light hearts. They ran like wild cattle, for now they had more wonders to relate and the evidence to show for it they carried with them to their people, and they told their whole story of what they had seen and heard and experienced. The axe was the first to exhibit, and it was a great wonder to all. Then the knife, blankets, articles of clothing and trinkets were exhibited, and last of all was the gun, the greatest wonder of all their lives. The young chief them how the man made it speak to a partridge and the bird dropped dead, and then it spoke again and other dropped dead, and he made it speak to a tree and the tree was full of holes, and "he told me it would speak to a deer and the deer would die, and if we were in battle it would speak to our enemies and they would die." This was too much for all of them to believe at one time, and many had their doubts about the gun doing all of this, and one old warrior, who had been in many battles and carried many scars from the enemy and wild beasts, and who was no longer of any assistance to his people, and who was sitting near, rose to his feet and said: "My friends, I do not think that gun will do what they say it will, and as I am no longer of any use to you, and never can be, I will go and stand on that little knoll and you may let it speak to me and we will see what it will do to me." The old man hobbled out to the knoll and standing erect, said, "Let it speak." The young chief took up the gun and did as the trader had told him. First pull back the hammer, then place the but of the gun to the shoulder, look along the top and point it to the object you wish it to speak to, pull the trigger and it will speak. Sure enough the gun did speak and the old warrior fell dead to the ground." How many times Buffalo told me this story I do not know, but it was many times and said every word of it was true, as handed down in tradition from generation to generation, and as he was the only survivor of his family race he wished me to remember and hand it down. The story continues: "The tribe moved to the new home which the scouts had selected and carrying with them the body of the old warrior, buried it with great honors, placing the battle flag of the tribe at the head of his grave, there to float until the weather should wear it out. The battle flag of the tribe was made of the feathers taken from the wings and tail of eagles closely woven together with sinews of basswood bark; then taking a pole and splitting the end with a flint, put the quill ends in the opening thus made and wrap the pole with the sinews and bark, and as the pole is charred by fine in securing it for this purpose, the flag and staff would stand for many generations. The different bands of the same tribe would designate themselves by attaching to the flag the tail of the wolf, bear, marlin or fox, or a feather of a crane, pelican or other large bird. But in all cases the body of the flag was made purely with eagle feathers, and these were hard to get in those times, when snares and the bow and arrow were all they had to depend upon. The eagle flag being the national one in those days it was always planted in times of peace at the head of the chief wigwam." This end the experience of Buffalo's great-grandfather with the first white man he ever saw, but I shall have occasion to refer to a circumstance which came to may own knowledge that very much confirms the tradition. At or before the conclusion of the payment - which subject I have twice left to tell about something else - the question of hereafter getting their annuities on the several reservations instead of at La Pointe, was brought up and discussed, the Indians claiming it was a hardship for them to come so far to get them, and told the agent that they had agreed to ask for the change and hoped their great father at Washington would grant their request. Col. Manypenny said: "My children, I assure you that as long as I am in office it shall be done, and I will recommend to my successor to do so like-wise, until the treaty shall expire, which will be in 1874, at which time your great father is to call all the chiefs together in open council and there settle for and pay all the past dues and arrearages." This part of the agreement however has never been fulfilled to my certain knowledge. There is now a large sum of money still due the Indians under the treaties of 1837, 1842 and 1854. As I had the occasion and did look over the records in Washington in 1862, I am justified in making this statement. The Indians have very often since that time inquired of me what I had found the records to contain. These talks and inquires continue until the present time and I am asked why it is the great father's words are not true. The older Indians have not forgotten what President Lincoln told the delegation in 1862, and the younger ones know also, which was to "return home and tell your people as soon as the trouble with my white children has been settled I will attend to you and see that every dollar that is your due is paid." I have made several attempts myself to bring this settlement about but have never been able to do so.
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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