Early Life Among the Indians
The American Fur Company - An Indian Law - Making a Choice of a Wife - An Indian Maidens Way - Indian Courtship and Marriage - The Treachery of the Sioux - The Massacre of the Chippewas by the Sioux
Until 1842 about all the white people living in this section of the country were Canadian voyagers and adventurers, mostly connect with the American Fur Company. This company consisted of John Jacob Aster, Ramsey Crooks, Doctor Borup and David Oakes. The universal custom here before 1842 was that all white men who came among the Indians to trade were compelled to take an Indian wives. This custom was encouraged by the Indians for two reasons. Wars had depleted the male portion of the tribes, and as the female portion greatly predominated, the Indians were desirous of providing as many of this surplus with homes as they could. In the second place the American Fur Company had almost complete control of the Indian trade and were not giving them fair bargains in the estimation of the Indians, and they were anxious to have individual traders come among them, and by getting them into a relationship by marriage they thought they thought they would secure fair dealing in future. How well the Indians' ideas were confirmed in the practice may be judged by what followed. The American Fur Company lost their hold upon the business through this agency (La Pointe) and removed their company in 1847 to the Mississippi River. As soon as they were established there they caused the agitation, which resulted in the order for the Indians to remove from this country to the Mississippi. This order did not come until 1849 and was countermanded by President Filmore in 1852, on my visit to Washington with the Indian delegation in 1852. The plan that the Indians used to get these white son-in-laws was this: when a man came among them to establish himself in the trading business they would at first have nothing to do with him, except in a very small way, and thus gain time to try his honesty and to make inquires about his general character. If satisfied on these points the chiefs would together take their marriageable girls to his trading house and he was given his choice of the lot. They would sometimes take as many as a dozen girls at one time for the trader to choose from. If the choice was made the balance of the group returned and no hard feelings were ever engendered by the choice. If the trader refused or neglected to make a choice the first visit they would return again in the same manner a few days later, then if no choice were made they would come only once more. In the meantime they would not trade with him a single cents worth, nor would they trade with him unless he took one of their women for his wife. If he had three times failed to choose a wife, and afterwards repented because he had no trade, he became a suitor and often had much difficulty in securing one. One time when girls were brought to a trader to select a wife from, I saw a trait in human nature whereby a person, by a certain boldness or assurance in their disposition can gain advantages over others without creating any enmity on the part of those over whom the advantage is gained, nicely exemplified. The chiefs had assembled with a dozen eligible maidens before the trading house, but before the trader had made any sign or shown any disposition to make a choice, one of the girls darted into the cabin and began arranging the furniture, sweeping out the place and making herself perfectly at home. The balance of the party looked on with astonishment, and still their wonder was mingled with a sort of admiration for the bravery and assurance the girl displayed. The chiefs and other maidens returned to their homes without a word and waited to see what turn the affair would take. The trader at first seemed bewildered. The audacity of the girl as he at first thought was inexcusable. Still he could not help by admire the manner in which she had installed herself as mistress of his household and the more he thought the matter over the more he admired her style. The match was consummated and the brave little woman ruled the roost. In Indian marriages the proceedings differ from those of any other nationality. A young man believing he can maintain a family will pick out, usually from an adjoining band, a maiden that suits his fancy. He speaks no word to the maiden but takes himself to the forest to capture and kill an animal which is recognize as the symbol of love. This differs from time to time and in different places and depends largely upon the kind of game most numerous in the locality, but it is generally a moose, a deer, a bear or a caribou. Having secured one he proceeds to the wigwam of his girl. Leaving it outside he enters the wigwam, saying nothing, but lights his pipe and makes himself at home. Should there be more than one girl in the lodge, he has a sign by which his choice is made known. If the girl does not like his appearance she remains where she is, but if he is agreeable to her fancy she takes and knife and proceeds to skin the animal and take charge of the meat, after which her suitor takes his leave. The parents of the girl, being advised of what is going on by the presence of meat not of their killing, commence systematic proceedings to ascertain the young man's habits, his ability as a hunter, warrior, etc., and if satisfied with them they proceed to the young man's parents, who are now for the first time made aware of the youth's aspirations and they in turn make inquiry as to the character, etc., of their prospective daughter-in-law. If all is satisfactory the young man is given permission by the girl's parents to visit her, but all she and he may say must be said in the common wigwam and before all who happen to be present. If they become satisfied with each other and he has been able to convince her parents that he is an expert at hunting and fishing and is considered a good warrior, and is able to comfortably support a home, the chiefs of the two bands are notified and a wedding is arranged, with the two chiefs as headmen, and it is always the most elaborate of any doings of the tribe.
Before concluding this chapter I wish to relate a piece treachery on the part of the Sioux Indians towards their Chippewa brothers, which well shows the deceptive character of the Sioux. I think it was in 1844 that the Sioux sent messengers to the Chippewas inviting them to a peace council, to be held in the Sioux west of the Mississippi. As was the custom they brought tobacco to present the party who were to smoke with them in case the invitation was accepted, but in case the proposition to consider is not entertained the tobacco is not received. In this case they accepted the tobacco and smoked with their visitors. The messenger stated their proposition to the Chippewas by saying: "All the trouble between us in the past has grown out of a difference of opinion as to our respective territory, and now, as we can see the white people will soon be the owners over all of this country and we will have nothing to fight over, therefore let us meet as brothers and friends and smoke the pipe of peace and bury the war club and scalping knife forever. Our chiefs request you to meet our people just west of Sauk Rapids, near the Mississippi River. As your country is better to hunt in during the winter on account of your forests and ours better in the summer on account of our prairies, we will try and agree that we may hunt here in winter and you hunt there in summer, and we are instructed to say to you that we will allow you one moon to consider the matter and at the expiration of that time or before you can send a messenger to us with your decision." This arrangement was agree to. The Chippewas held councils from time to time and finally agreed that they would meet the Sioux as proposed. A messenger was sent to notify them of their decision. The Chippewa messenger was told upon arrival there that they would be ready to meet them after ten days, and that the first hunt would be in the Sioux country for buffalo. In accordance with this arrangement, to hunt first in the Sioux territory, the delegation to the peace council was made up of from fifty to sixty of the choicest hunters and braves among the Chippewas, and with two or three chiefs they met the Sioux at the appointed time and were received with every mark of attention and utmost cordiality. All joined in a feast and dance that lasted two nights and a day, when it was proposed that the Chippewas return to their country and get more hunters with the understanding that they were to be back in five days, when the march to the hunting grounds would be commenced. As a mark of friendship and good faith towards each other exchanges were made of clothing, pipes, locks of hair and other things, cementing the good faith of the truce that had been concluded and the next morning the Chippewas started for home, highly pleased with the settlement of all former troubles and happy in the belief that thereafter nothing but peace and good will would enter the tribes. But alas for the Chippewas the battle of two years before at the Brule had not been forgotten by the Sioux, and never having been able to best the Chippewas in an open fight; that had drawn them into a trap to get a revenge that they could not otherwise obtain, for the Chippewas had only proceeded about four miles when they were surprised by a large body of Sioux in ambush, volley after volley of rifle shots poured in on them. Before they could recover themselves for resistance the major portion of them lay dead upon the trail. The few who escaped returned to their homes but the fire of hatred kindled in the hearts of the Chippewas by that act of treachery on the part of the Sioux will never be quenched, and it would be quite as easy to mix oil and water as to patch up any kind of truce between them. This was the first and only time the Sioux ever got the best of the Chippewas in combat. The Sioux call it revenge but the Chippewa cannot see it in that light.
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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