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

Chapter IX.

The Mound Builders and the Ground House People - The Origins of the Chippewas - Early Missionaries - Early Associations and Incidents - Watermelons - An Indian Execution - Blackhawks' Capture

Among the most interesting matters to which I have listened while with the Indians is their tradition and belief regarding the earliest inhabitants that lived in this country, the trend of which is that two distinct races of people were upon the earth before the Indians were - The Mound Builders and the Ground House People, though many of the most intelligent believe that the two races were on the earth at the same time. Their opinion and belief, however, is founded upon tradition, and what they what they can see on the face of the earth. The mounds that are familiar to many of us, are supposed by most people to be of many years standing. The Indians have no tradition concerning their origin and are as much in the dark as we are as to whom or by what race they were built. I am aware that this does not agree with many eminent historians and there are many educated people who have made deep researches, who believe they were of Indian construction, but I have talked scores of times with old Indians upon this pint and am satisfied that they knew nothing of them, nor have they any tradition that the people who did build them were like themselves in any particular, but believe whoever they were that they were destroyed by a pestilence. Nor have they any idea of the origin but do believe that it has been many thousand years since their race began.

The race or tribe from which Buffalo descended were the Algonquins. He had tradition covering that point. The first mention I can find of this tribe in history is in 1615, on the River St. Lawrence, and no Indian could ever tell me anything of tradition that I could make out to be farther back than that date. A few years subsequent to this I find them at Sault Ste. Marie and Father Marquette with them as a missionary, and at this time they are mentioned as the Northern Algonquins, from which I infer that more of the same tribe were found south. In 1641, according to "Sadlier," We find the Jesuits among the Chippewas at Sault Ste. Marie, Fathers Ryambault and Joques in charge, and in this account he says: "Father Ryambault was well versed in the Algonquin customs and language and Father Joques was an adept in the Huron tongue. It was at this time that the Jesuits that the far famed Sioux dwelt only eighteen days further west - warlike tribes with fixed abodes - cultivators of maize and tobacco and of an unknown race and language." Again Sadlier says: "On the death of Father Joques the war broke out anew, the fierce Iroquois desolated the lands of the Huron drove the Northern Algonquin from the shores of the lake and slew the French and their allies under the wall of Quebec," and again he says: "in 1656 a projected mission to Michigan was frustrated through the cruelty of some pagan Iroquois. Thither, however, in 1660, at the entreaty of the Algonquins, was sent Father Menard, a survivor of the Huron Mission, and the companion of Joques and Breboruf and four years after Father Allouez found the mission at the further extremity of Lake Superior, and in 1668 Father Allouez with Fathers Marquette and Dablon founded the mission at St. Mary, the oldest European settlement within the present limits of the state of Michigan." These are the last accounts I find of the Algonquins from whom Buffalo descended and it must have been about this time that the Algonquins were merged into and became a part of the Chippewa people - almost 230 years ago. As to the tradition of the Indians in regard to the Mound Builders I quote from Gerard Fowke: "The chroniclers of DeSoto's Expedition mentioned many villages of Schellakees (Cherokees) in which the houses stand on the mounds erected by those people and describe the methods of their formation. The French accounts of the Natchez Indians tells us that the king's house stood on a high mound with the dwelling of the chiefs on smaller mounds about it - when a king died this successor did not occupy the house of the deceased but a new was erected on which he fixed his abode." It is conceded by a majority of students that many, if not most of the earthworks of western New York and adjacent portions of Pennsylvania were built by the Iroquois and allied tribes. Even Squire admitted this towards the last. At the foot of Torch Lake near Traverse Bay, Michigan, are two mounds which an old Indian told me were erected, one by the Chippewas and the other by the Sioux over their respective warriors slain in a fight near there, about a century back. Near the north line of Ogemaw County, in the same state, are some small mounds built over their dead by the Indians, who lived there until a few years since. Some lumbermen opened one of them open one of them some years ago and taking two skeletons ran a pole through the chest of each, to, to which they fastened the bones and then tied them to a tree with a piece of bread between the teeth of one and an old pipe in the fleshless jaws of the other. The Indians soon discovered what had been done and hunted several days for the despoilers of their kinsmen's graves, swearing to take their lives if they should find them. A few other mounds in this section of the country are said to have been put up by the Sioux and the Chippewas and one, at least, by the Iroquois. Great stress is laid on the fact that in the same mound may be found "mica from North Carolina, copper from Lake Superior, shell from the Gulf of Mexico and obsidian from the Rocky Mountains," and this is supposed to indicate, in some undefined manner, superior powers and intelligence. Cameron says the Chippewas informed him they formerly carried copper to the south and east to exchange for such small articles as other Indians had in those directions for barter, going sometimes as far as the coast of Virginia. On inquiring of them whether the old Chippewas, that is those of previous generations, had worked the ancient mines, he was told they had mot. That the mines were there before the Chippewas came into the country and latter obtained their supplies by gathering up fragments where they could find them, or by chopping off pieces with their hatchets from nuggets or boulders that were to be found in various places. Here the writer of this work will give a few points in his experience in Wisconsin in quite an early day. I came to Jefferson County, Wisconsin in June 1847, with my father's family from Madison County, New York, had a lad of seven years of age, and well I remember the Indians of that time in that part of the country. The tribe was Potawatomies, and the name of their chief was Ke-was-kum. They were peaceable and friendly and lived at this time on the eastern shore of Lake Koshkonong. Within three days after our settlement on the farm four Indians came to the house, and seeing some bread that mother had just taken from the oven, gave father signs that they wanted some. He gave them a loaf. The next morning before the sun was up, the family was awaken by a rapping on the window - all were frightened and the first thing we thought of was bad Indians. Father went out and found two Indians with a pickerel on a pole between them on their shoulders, the tail of which touched the ground. They soon made father understand that the fish was in payment for the bread he had given them the day before, and their manners showed they were thankful besides. On another occasion a few years later, a few came to our house one day in autumn, and my brother and self gave them some watermelon to eat. They saw the patch from which we got them; that it was large and that there were plenty of melons there, and made father understand that they wanted more, to which he assented, and they soon went away. The next day about noon Ke-wash-kum and about 40 of his people, men, women and children, with twenty ponies, came down the land and made known their errand. They wanted melons. Father motioned them ahead and the patch was soon covered with Indians and with sacks to carry on their ponies like saddlebags, made of rushes woven with together with bark, they were soon well supplied, having as many melons as their sacks would hold, and they had not forgotten to bring saddle bags for each pony. The patch was stripped, but their joy over their good luck was very much appreciated by us children, and ten times more than the melons worth. They were the happiest forty people I ever saw at one time. It was only a few days after our arrival on the farm that I heard a man say to my father, "You ought to have been here about a month earlier. We had and Indian execution down to the river."

He then went on to tell how it was done and what it was for. It seems that one Indian had killed another by shooting him from the opposite side of the river. Court martial was held and the culprit sentenced, on "the eye for an eye" plan. He was sent to the spot where his victim had stood, and at a signal from the chief, the executioner, who was a brother of the deceased, raised his rifle and at the same time, said the realtor, the Indian to be shot held open his blanket and like a martyr, stood and took the shot that quickly sent him to the happy hunting grounds. I have many times been upon these banks, which are about one-half a mile above where the Rock River enters Lake Koshkonong. The right bank of the river is the identical place where General Atkinson cornered Blackhawk in the campaign against him and from where he escaped I the night, not until he had reached the point of his capture near Prairie du Chien. This is Blackhawk Island, so-called, although not an island, but peninsula between the river and set back of the lake on the west called "Stinker Bay." On both sides of Lake Koshkonong are many mounds built in different shapes - two I remember, one shaped like a turtle and one representing a man lying on the ground with his arms out stretched. These two mounds are on the east shore of the lake and the highest portion of them not more than five feet above the level of the ground around them. The Indians made this made this lake their spring and autumn home for a number of years after I knew the place coming regularly in the fall to gather wild rice which abounded there. I have seen them often gathering this rice which they do in a canoe, on squaw paddling the boat and the squaw in the bow bends over the plants and with a stick whips out the kernels into the canoe. Many have tried time and again to get from the Indians some knowledge by tradition of the mounds surrounding this lake, but as far as I ever heard in the twelve years I lived there it never could be done. They claimed to know nothing about them. I used to think they did and would not reveal it, but in the late years I have come to the conclusion that like ourselves, they found them when they came and know no more of their origins than we do. On the banks of this lake in 1847 and until the plow had obliterated were plainly to be seen the cornrows and hills of the aborigines. The Indians of whom I speak did not till the soil. They lived on lived on meat, wild rice and fish. I have picked many arrowheads on my father's farm at and near a little lake there was upon it and the surroundings in that part of the country plainly show that for many years it had been the home of a prehistoric race." As there has been much history written in regards to mounds having been built by ancient Indians and some by more modern tribes, I wish to add the knowledge I have gained by association with the Chippewa tribe, and to say that during my long experience with them I have become satisfied that neither the present Chippewas nor their predecessors as far back as their tradition goes, knew anything whatever of their origin or how they came to exist. I know their mode of burial for many years back and if it had changed from any other mode for a number of generations, I should have found it out. They have always claimed simply to know nothing about them. I have met many people who think the Indians know all about them, but by reason of their great love for their dead, and fearing the graves would be desecrated if they should divulge the secret, they will not tell, and some claim or effect to believe that the secrets of the mounds are religious and therefore sacred.


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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