Early Life Among the Indians
Copyright 1891 B.G. Armstrong & T.P. Wentworth, Ashland, WI.
1892 Press of A.W. Bowron, Ashland, Wis.

Chapter VIII.

The Influence of Whiskey - Its Degrading Effects - Official Injustice - The Climax of the Traders Stay Among the Indians - What Followed Their Departure - Agents and Their Methods of Conducting Payments - The Place Where the First White Man's Cabin Was Seen

I wish now to go back to the subject relating to the difference in the Indians' condition before and after the white man's appearance among them, for it is a subject that I am sure will be eagerly sought for and studied before many years have passed, and that when it has been studied and fairly understood, the feeling that is now a general one among the people - which is if the Indians have been ill-used it is nothing more than they deserved, will be removed, and the blame for all the troubles made by the Indians placed where it properly belongs; the unbiased judgment of the future will be that the Indians were found good and were made bad by white people, and that the conditions of things has not been one whit improved by white associates, but, on the contrary, has been degraded. Before their forced association with white people the standard of their morality, for generations at least, and by tradition, had been most perfect and complete, as to the female portion of their tribes, but now it is assailed. The deadly firewater (whiskey) was brought among them and virtue fell. Fathers and brothers saw that the example of the white people was far from the teaching of the missionaries, far from the truth and the pretensions of the traders and far from justice and right, if their early teaching had been correct. Thus the naturally quiet and peaceable mind of the Indian men were disturbed and they were further agitated by the upbraidings of their wives and families for having sold their lands and encouraging white people to come among them. Soon they realized the error they had made, and with them, as with all people, the feeling created by having made a bad bargain, would not easily down. Promises of better times, or better clothing and better fed were not fulfilled. Annuity payments were delayed or missed altogether, and the father who heretofore had been a ceaseless toiler for his home and his family had become indolent, selfish and morose, and the few families who by reason of their connection with the traders though their daughters were better clothed from the trader's goods or better fed from his larder, become the objects of envy of those less fortunate. From bad to worse matters went until the once peaceable and industrious race of a few years before had developed into an indolent, vicious and beggarly mob. But this was not all that was in store for them. When a trader had finished his stay among them, which he was sure to do when his trading from any cause became unprofitable or his riches sufficient we would abandon his Indian wife and children and leave them for the Indians for support. I have known several instances where and Indian girl was the second time abandoned by these inhuman wretches and left to the care of her relatives, with additions to her first family. There is now scarcely a day that I do not meet and have occasion to converse with some of these same children, in many cases where their fathers are or have been prominent men, wealthy and respected. When I see a son or daughter of wealthy and respectable men, living as they do with the Indians, the finger of scorn pointed at them, with no one to care for them on account of their Indian blood, or to protect them for their father's sake, it is far from a pleasant sight for me, and I feel called upon to relate at least one incident which happened by recently and in which one of this daughters, now a woman of perhaps thirty-five or thirty-six years of age, and the child of a man once a member of the cabinet of our country, was a central figure. She had once been married to a respectable half-breed, who died shortly after their marriage, leaving her in poor circumstances. A certain class of hoodlum white men - whose presence has ever been a curse to the Indian - gained entrance to her home against her wishes, and with whiskey and unbecoming conduct caused reports to be circulated which ended in her being arrested for keeping a house of bad repute, all because her Indian blood made impossible for her to be unheard or considered by her white neighbors. She was placed in jail and remained there for thirty days without trial. About the time of her arrest or a short time previous, there had been several white women arrested in the city for the same offense, but they were prosecuted under city ordinance, making the offense a finable or jailable one, while the charges in her case was brought under state statutes, which made to offense punishable in the state prison. There were then a fair number of half-caste people in the community who could read fairly well. They saw the discrimination and had seen it before, and they believed the disposition of the officers was not to give them fair play, and from the fact that I had been identified with the Indian for fifty-four years and from the further fact that I spoke their language, it was natural for them to come to me to be informed in this as well as other matters, and they asked me why this discrimination existed. Knowing they were aware of its existence, I told them the truth: "It is because you are Indians." In the case of the young woman I went to the judge and district attorney and pleaded for her. I told them I knew the woman well and had since her birth, and also knew her father; that he had many times sent me presents through me and kept it up until he died, but at his death as far as I knew, he had made no provision for his daughter of the forest. I told them I did not think she should have any greater punishment than the others, who had been arrested and prosecuted for a like offense, and thought the punishment she had already received was sufficient, and that she had no money and no one to defend her. I asked that she be allowed to go upon her promise to sin no more, and when the prosecuting witness refused to testify against her if her punishment was to be greater than her white sisters' had been, the judge and district attorney agreed to and did release her on her promise never again to give them occasion to arrest her. The result is the woman is now living on the reservation and as far as I know has never given cause for another arrest. I have done all I could in the past to keep the Indians quiet, peaceable and satisfied, hoping that the government would someday take hold of the matter and right their wrongs, and wish to say without any desire to flatter myself in anyway, that I have in the past had the good fortune to keep in check the number of uprisings among the Indians, which, without the counsel I gave them, would have resulted in butchery. I always gave them counsel when they were in the proper mood and sober of senses, and never when they were excited or intoxicated. I never sold an Indian a drop of liquor or helped them in any way procure it. I always dealt fairly with them and gave them as good bargains as I would a white man. From my earliest recollection I have been more or less among the Indians, in fact the principle part of my life has been spent among them, first the Cherokees, Choctaws, and Creek nations in Tennessee and Georgia, and at the age of ten years I spoke the Cherokee language better than English. Leaving that part of the country at ten years of age, I never saw much more of those tribes. When fifteen I came north and have been with the Sac and Foxes - Black Hawk's people - the Sioux, Winnebagos, Potawatomies, Ottawas, Menominies and Chippewas, but since 1840 with the Chippewas most all the time, and have been brought up, as might be said, with their habits and customs. I readily learned the Chippewa tongue by being familiar with the language and signs of other tribes with whom I early associated and within two years I had their language almost perfect and from my earliest contact with Indians I learned that the best to adopt was truthfulness and fair dealings, a "do as you would be done by" policy, as it was true and only one that found favor with them. I never promised an Indian anything until I was positive I could fulfill it. In this way I soon had their confidence and friendship, and I must say I have every found them the truest of friends and the most implacable enemies. A once prominent citizen of Ashland and a resident of Bayfield at a time when a plan was being matured by which a number of white men, through a deal they were contemplating with the Indians, could make a quantity of money, and after I had been informed of the plan and offered an interest in it, which I refused because I thought it was an unfair deal for the Indians, mad a remark after I left the room, which was: "I believe Armstrong would steal from a white man to give to an Indian." Afterward in conversation with this gentleman, I told him that his words had been given to me by one of the party and that I took no offense at the remark, but in very forcible language told him I would under no circumstances "steal from an Indian to give to a white man." The Indians are a very quick-sighted people and have a memory that is tradition for its volume and they are not long in discovering that they were being unfairly treated by the traders and others, and they reasoned in this way: these men are now our relatives by marriage to our sisters and we must make the best of it for the sake of this relationship. Under this way of looking at things matters continued for a number of years, as was borne by the Indians as the best way of getting along. But the climax came when the traders quit the country and left their families to the Indians' care. This led to family troubles. The abandoned woman would go back to her family, where there were probably several children and dependent persons to support and only one or two men to hunt for their living. The addition to the perhaps already heavy burden was hard to bear. The white race was cursed; family talks resulted in aggravating troubles that were already heavy enough. Division of sentiment in many cases led to bitter quarrels and bloodshed, and in some cases separation between man and wife, a thing unheard of until recent years. The abandoned women have, in many cases, lived to see their former husbands married to white women, too proud even to speak to their wife or child of a few years before. I do not wish to reflect on any one or more persons to whom this may be personal but give it for history only. I give no man credit for marrying an Indian woman and claim that once he has married her he puts himself on a level with her and really is no better than she and certainly the children are of his blood and he should at least see that they are cared for and educate them instead of leaving them to grow up in ignorance with a race he had voluntarily left as unfit for his association. Go upon the reservations and one can see that of those people there now not one forth remain that have no white blood in their veins, and two thirds of this amalgamation is traceable to those persons who located themselves among the Indians for the purpose of trading exclusively, Indian agents and government employees. It always seemed to the Indians that the disposition of the traders was purely selfish and now they know that their only object in coming among them was to profit by and through their unskillfulness, and never had any intention of dealing fairly and being honorable with them, myself also included with the victims, for certainly I have been wronged and swindled by this same class of men, who betrayed me after my confidence was gained.

I wish now to say something of the conduct of the Indian Agents and the manner in which they have dealt with the Indians and to state fact that have come under my personal observation, and I wish to say in beginning this subject that but one agent, whose distribution I attended dealt fairly with and used no deception in his transactions with the Indians, and that was Agent Hayes, who was appoint by Present Tyler. When he arrived with the annuities and after they had been placed in the warehouse, he sent for the chiefs and asked them to take their interpreter and the way bills and go through the warehouse and satisfy themselves that all packages called for by the bill were there all there, and all boxes, barrels, bales and bundles were checked before they were opened. A few packages where short and Mr. Hayes told the chiefs that when he came next time they should be added to their goods for another year. The packages were opened and the Indians were satisfied that all was there before anything further was done. The Indians were then enrolled and the good were divided among them. First goods were put in packages dividing them equally - the packages for families and packages for single persons were all put up and labeled with the name of the owner. Then the Indians were notified that the annuities were ready to be distributed, and would be on a certain day. One man at a time was let into the payment house, and he came as his name was called by the interpreter. When he entered he was asked to touch that pen and his goods and money were given to him. This payment was conducted without a jar or any trouble and after the distribution was completed the chiefs were sent for and all the boxes, burlaps, and even the cordage was given to them, and quite a handful of money which was left over, for where even change could not be made in all cases was given to the chiefs also, and they were told to divide it as they saw fit. The acts of Mr. Hayes all through the distribution were praiseworthy. He would explain, through the interpreter, the amount that was due, and count the Indian's money before him. The custom practice before Mr. Hayes and after him was to allow the traders places by the pay table, especially the American Fur Company, with an open sack in which to take the money claimed to be due them from the Indians and as soon as an Indian had touched the pen the bill against this Indian was handed to the agent and the money poured into the trader's sack, the bill was generally enough to cover the Indian's dues. But at this payment the scheme did not work, the agent told the traders beforehand that he was not there to pay traders, but to pay Indians, and if they had bills to collect they must do so outside the payment house door, as he would not be a party to a division of the Indians' money. He also had the interpreter explain to the Indians that the great father had sent him to pay them and that he hoped if he owed these traders any honest debts they would pay them, but he should not allow the traders to impose upon them and take money that was not their due. Had the manner of doing business that was adopted by Mr. Hayes been commenced and carried out in making payments a great deal of trouble would have been avoided and the strongest point of Indian objection to the traders would not have existed. But Mr. Hayes never came back to make another payment and the old ways were again adopted. His way of doing business did not suit the traders and charges were preferred against him, one of which he drank too much. The charges were made so strong, whether truthfully or not the public can conjecture, that he was removed from the position and Dr. Livermore appointed in his place, who seemed to satisfy the American Fur Company much better, although the Indians were much displeased. Following Livermore came John S. Waters, of whom I have spoken previously, then H.C. Gilbert was appointed and still not improvement. The next to follow was Silas Drew of Indiana, the L.E. Webb of La Crosse; after him Asaph Whittlesey, who took charge of the office for a few months but was not confirmed by the Senate. Col. John H. Knight superceded him but his appointment was not confirmed and he too served only a few months. After him came Major Clark of the army; then Dr. Mahan, and it was during his administration that the treaty of 1854 expired and since that time I do not care to say what agents have or have not done, as it is of recent date and within the reach of any who care to look it up.

I will now refer to the Modoc troubles a little, as I had a friend, Col. Ben. Green, a cousin of mine, there at the time, who sent me full particulars of the affair, diagrams of the county and other matter pertaining thereto. I do not care to enter into details as to the orders of General Canby to the Modocs as they are already in history, but will say that he was informed beforehand that if the orders were issued were attempted to be carried out without first giving the Indians a chance to be heard, there would be serious trouble, as the Indians had good reason for not wishing to remove to the reservation which had been set apart for them. It seems Canby did not take kindly to this advice but took steps to carry out the orders he had issued, and the Indians, who knew of his coming with troop to eject them, ambushed the troops, General Canby being killed and the Lava Bed campaign began. The death of General Canby as now in history may differ from this as to the place and the manner in which he was killed, but I got this account from a disinterested eyewitness. I have no doubt, but that the Indians in that campaign were mislead by Capt. Jack and others for the notoriety and gain there was in it, they not thinking or perhaps not carrying for the consequences such an affair might produce. As a rule but one side of Indian War get to the public and that is the side that comes from and through the parties most interested, and this accounts for the deep seated hatred which everywhere exists for the red man, but it is my fixed opinion that before many years have passed a great change in public opinion will take place; the Indians will be created with having had an abundance of honor in their primitive days and heap of abuse sine. I will now give space to a clipping from 'Minneapolis Journal' of February 4, 1891, entitled "Some Indian History: "I see the people are making a great fuss over General Miles," said a prominent Dakota man to a Journal reporter recently, "Then he returned to the World's Fair City, the bands greeted him playing "See the Conquering Hero Comes"; he banquettted and nearly all the prominent citizens made speeches lauding his masterly conduct of the Indian campaign. It is possible there is something of a political nature in all this buncombe, but it is to be hoped that the country will not be deceived with regards to the recent Indian uprising. General Miles is praised for his sagacity in averting of the bloodiest Indian wars ever known to the history of this country. This statement is absurd and a calm and impartial investigation of the facts will prove assertion. Without entering into the fact that the government has shamefully treated the Sioux Indians and that they were half starved and illy-clothed, the fact remains that there was no uprising whatever. The "ghost-dance", so-called, was nothing more than a half crazy religious excitement, and had the Indian Bureau placed a brave and competent man in charge of the Pine Ridge Agency, there would have been no need of calling out the military whatsoever. Even after Gen. Miles' army arrived there, if we may take the word of the most noted Indian scouts, notably that of Maj. J.M. Burke, who is a sort of a white chief among the Ogalla Sioux, the trouble might have been averted. Burke says emphatically that Col. Cody (Buffalo Bill) could easily have succeeded in inducing Sitting Bull to go with him peacefully and that had he been allowed to carry out this program there would have been no Wounded Knee fight and no bloodshed. You must have noticed that General Miles or the Indian Department gave strict orders against allowing the chiefs who went to Washington to talk to anybody. Inasmuch, however, as they have gone to the capitol to hold powwow with the government, I do not care to talk about the matter or to have my name mentioned but if you want to hear other side of the story you should interview some person who is connected with the Indians who knows their grievances. Hunt up Gus Beaulieu, of your own state. He had charge of all the treaties here and has represented the Chippewas in their land deals. He may have an interesting story to tell you." Gus Beaulieu, who is a resident of St. Paul and who is widely known among all the Indian tribes of the northwest, when found said: "The whole truth of this sad business will come out some day and when it does some of the events that preceded the Custer massacre and led up to that butchery will startle the country. I think it was in April 1876 and something like two months previous to the annihilation of Custer's command, that Miles and his soldiers rushed in one day upon an Indian village in Montana and killed every man woman and child in it. Bucks, squaws, and papooses were shot down without mercy. There were between 200 and 300 Indians killed. The village was far from the railroads and the telegraph, and information of the horrible affair did not reach the government and the people until after Custer massacre, and then, of course, the public mind was so occupied with that butchery that no attention was paid to the previous massacre of the Indians. When the Sioux met Custer they expected no quarter and gave none. Even had the whole truth about the outrage committed by Miles and his soldiers been known at the time no action would have been taken, such was the excitement and prejudice against the red men. Here in Minnesota when the Mille Lac Reservation was opened to settlement, Indian Commissioner Marty, Rice and Whiting made a treaty with the Chippewas in which each Indian was promised land in severalty. Bishop Marty, one of the commissioners, gave me the treaty to interpret. I then told the Indians that in my opinion they were transferring all their rights to these lands. Bishop Marty and Commissioners Rice and Whiting were asked to hold up their hands and swear that if the Indians filed on these lands for homesteads their rights would be observed the same as white men. This the commissioners swore to. Afterwards white men filed on the lands the had been taken by members of the Chippewa tribe and when the matter was referred to the Secretary of the Interior that officials decided that the Indians had no rights whatsoever.

"Why is it that you or some person for the Indians have not made complaints to the President?"

"That is precisely what is now being arranged for. The Indians through the entire northwest have agreed to send representatives to some point not as yet designated, to collect the data and fact regarding Miles' outrage in Montana, the starvation at Pine Ridge, Cheyenne and Rose Bud Agencies, and the failure of the government everywhere to keep treaties. This council will be held as soon as practicable and certain chiefs will be designated to go on to Washington to present all the facts, their wrongs and grievances, and more especially to expose the whole truth in regard to the outrage committed before the Custer massacre."

After this interview with Beaulieu I goat a letter from him in relation to other matters as well as this interview and he says he was misquoted as far as to the name of the commanding officer at the massacre in Montana. He said his was hearsay to a great extent, and that the officer commanding at the massacre of the Indians was General Baker. When the Modoc hostilities began I saw the opportunity for which I has long been watching, of taking a band of Indians east to show them the great white nation and what civilization really was, and at the same time engaged in a paying pursuit. Under an assumed name, to cover the nationality of the Indians I had with me, which I represented as Modoc, I made the trip. I collected a party of six of the most intelligent of any Indian people in this section, five of them young and active men and one and old and experience chief. We left Lake Superior in the early part of November, 1874, and went on foot to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, there took the train for Boston, only stopping one day at Niagara Falls, showing them the sights. The old chief had been there before however when he was a boy. While in Boston I had and offer from a theatrical manager of $5,000 for a three month's engagement at a theatre there, but as that would have prevented me from showing my people what I set out to show them, I declined and took a train to Manchester, New Hampshire, intending to go as far east possible and then work my way west, stopping at all the principle cities. When we arrived in Manchester I met the manager of a large show named E.S. Washburn, whose show was named "Washburn's Last Sensation," and was constantly traveling over the eastern states and was then going through Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York and Pennsylvania. I thought this the best opportunity of showing my people the great wonders of the east and at the same time keeping up expenses and accepted the offer from him. The combination then consisted of forty-four persons and we traveled with him for eight months. I showed the Indians all the manufactories possible and with them examined all objects of interest that came our way. Whenever we stopped over night and especially over Sunday we were visited by a great number of people and the conversation naturally turned upon the subject of the Modoc War. I avoided it as much as possible to assign reasons or the probable cause of the uprising, more especially because I found a great prejudice existed everywhere in the east and against the Modoc people and against all Indians in general, and it would not be policy for to speak in their favor, or even to infer that they possibly might have in the right in that uprising. At one meeting where a goodly number of people were gathered, a gentleman whom his companions called 'Captain,' related to me briefly his experience in an overland trip to California. Before making his start he said he was particular to provide himself with a particular rifle, as it was possible he might want to practice his marksmanship on Indians before he got through. On a certain morning while on his journey, somewhere in Utah, himself and one other started ahead of the caravan to look for antelope or other game, and after traveling a few miles he espied a squaw with a back-load of wood, which she laid down, as he supposed to rest and sat upon it. Thinking this was a good opportunity to try his marksmanship, he leveled his trusty rifle and fired. The girl dropped from the pile of wood and he remarked to his companion that he posterity would never scalp white people. An old gentleman in the party then asked: "Captain, did they follow you, or what happened next?" The Captain answered: "No, they did not follow us and we saw no more of them," but, said he, "I heard, after getting to California, that the caravan that was following in our wake and a few days in our rear, were attacked near that place and the whole party slain," and then he added: "Gentlemen, you see what a savage nature and brutal instinct those Indians had, to surround that caravan and kill the party." I could hold myself no longer, whether it was policy or not, and said, "Suppose a band of Indians were passing through your country here and one of them should deliberately and without cause shoot one of the women in your neighborhood, is there a man in this house or in this city that would not jump for his gun to avenge that murder?" Turning to the Captain, I said: "Your language shows, whether your story be true or not, that your natural disposition is to commit such an atrocity as you have mentioned, whenever an opportunity should present itself, and you can resent these words of mine or not as you please." But he did not resent it and I stated then that this very act of this self-confessed murderer, and similar acts of others had always been, and still were the cause of all the troubles with Indian tribes. Here is a fair example of many others where the real murderer escaped, but the consequences of his act was visited in a ten-fold manner upon the heads of innocent and defenseless parties. This dastardly and unprovoked assault upon an innocent and harmless woman had cause a wail o woe to go up from many a broken home, and the Indian must bear the stigma of a people, when by right it belongs at this man's door. There was considerable agitation in the meeting at my remarks but it broke up without any open rupture. One more incident that occurred upon this trip, which is in connection with a tradition given in a former chapter, I wish to mention. We stopped one Sunday in Springfield Mass., and I took the Indians out for an airing, as we usually took tramps on Sundays. We went six or eight miles up the Chicopee River to Chicopee Falls, where the old chief fell behind the party and when I first noticed him he was intently surveying the surrounding country. I asked him at what he was looking and he replied: "I have many times heard Buffalo tell you of the experience his great-grandfather had with the first white man he ever saw, and I believe from the description that this is about the place. If I could get over to the other side I could satisfy myself in an hour or two." We crossed over and the old man made a thorough survey of the whole locality and when he returned, said to me: "This is the place." He told me that he had found signs of a burying ground and that here had someday been a hard battle fought there, either between whites and Indians or between two tribes of Indians, and was quite sure from the signs that one of the burying grounds was that of the Algonquin tribe, but could find no monument to indicate any particular persons that were buried their. After we had returned home the talk for the next six months was concerning the sights they had seen in the east and one incident connected with these talks, was when the old chief was asked how may white people he saw on the trip. After a short hesitation replied: "Go down along this fence to that tree," pointing it out, "then to such another point; thence to such a rock and back here," - I judged there was six acres in the tract, -- "and then count the blades of grass that are growing there and that number of will give you some idea of the number of white people I saw."


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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