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

Chapter XVIII.

The Beginning of Indian of Troubles - Their Wars and the Causes - Extermination of the Red Man - Before the Settlement of the 'New Continent' by the Whites - Spiritualism and "Man-e-to-ca-so-ah-min-e"

Now I will venture some opinions of my own that to me amount to certainties. It is generally believed by thinking people that wars were frequent between rival tribes of Indians before the discovery by Columbus. I cannot dispute it, but knowing so well the causes that have led to wars since 1835, and what I have learned by tradition and experience, I am forced to believe that if any such wars were had they must have been infrequent. I am fully convinced by old Indian tradition that disturbances between tribes before white men were known on the continent only occurred when disputes over territory could not be settled by council. I also believe that previous to 1492 the whole country that is now the United States and territories were completely inhabited by Indians and different tribes had large areas, probably in some cases as large as half a dozen of our present states; that they had boundary lines described by rivers, lakes and mountains, and that each and every boundary was known to all the other tribes. As the pursuit of game was their chief vacation it was necessary that their boundaries should be somewhat extended. Since I have known them they would never settle down in the haunts of the largest game but two or three miles from their choicest hunting grounds, and in some locality where there was plenty of wood and water and on some high and healthy spot. Their care was not to unnecessarily disturb their game, as they desired it to multiply and be food for Indians forever. Now when white men came in the from Europe they must have an abiding place and where could it be except in the dominion of some Indian tribe and as immigration swelled their ranks the Indians must move back. They could not move back far before they began to encroach upon the rights and possession of another tribe, and right here in my opinion the Indians Wars began and the same cause continuing could only produce the same effect and in greater proportion, as the country settled up from east to west. The whole front of a dozen or more tribes were assailed at the same time. Small tribes soon dwindled away or were merged into others and stronger ranks, until only a few tribes remain that have sufficient strength to become adversaries of each other or all combined to make a stand before the white race, which in military circles could be considered more than a mere skirmish. The Sioux and a few tribes west of them are all there are left of the former powerful tribes that have been scarred to the four winds of the earth, and but a very small portion of this extermination has been done by the whites. In fact it can safely be said that the Indians by their interment strife have fought the battles the white men certainly must have fought had the American Indians been all of one blood and one nation at the beginning of America's settlement, and it looks as if it was ordained that they should slaughter each other and thereby make the white man's entry into their country comparatively easy. These wars, stirring up as they did a natural and the greatest characteristic of an Indian, which is revenge, helped along the extermination, which seems to have been and still is the ultimate result awaiting them. The true born Indian care nothing for his life after once being wronged except for the revenge he can get out of it. With no cause for revenge in his heart he is as peaceable and kind as any human being on earth. His word is his bond and he would not break it to save his life. But do him a dishonest act and he will never be your friend nor a friend to your children after you. The Indians are not complaining people; they put up with their lot as it falls to them without a murmur, provided that lot has been cast to them by the will of the Great Spirit or their own conduct. This I know to be the true Indian character. If by an accident caused by his own carelessness or want of prudence he is injured, you can no more get a complaint from him than could from a stone. Even your sympathy he does not want, nor will he receive it except by stolid silence and indifference. He seems imbued with the idea that each person should and must stand or fall upon his own individuality. No company business from him; no putting upon another a duty that belongs to himself; no reaping where he has not sewn, and no getting into the happy hunting ground in the canoe of his neighbor. Honor is his god. But let his discomfiture be brought about by the dishonest treachery of another and the remainder of his life is lived only for revenge. He doesn't want to forget a wrong and will not forget it, but will nourish it and cares not how soon he dies if he can only die in avenging that wrong or attempting to do it. Take this as the standard of Indian character back from time without date, when the first dishonorable act was committed against and Indian tribe, and you can readily see that for at least three hundred year revenge has been their object and their only aim. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth has always been Indian law. It is not recorded that Indians burnt prisoners at the stake until many years after white settlement began and I say it boldly and without fear of a contradiction that they learned of it from the whites. See the battles of Captain Mason with the Pequot in 1637. He burned their villages, their women and children without mercy and as they called it then, "by the will of God." From this and similar instances the Indians learned their lessons and they practiced it until their revengeful hearts were satisfied. Among the Indians before white men had corrupted them there was no vice; they were a strictly moral people and the marriage tie was sacred; quarrels among them were very few but as with all classes of the human race the incorrigible were found. I once knew a case where one Indian filled another with a knife and the family of the murdered man demanded his surrender by the chief, it being quickly done. These people marched him to the spot where he committed the deed and with the same weapon he had used on his victim, he was slain. Do you think the culprit murmured? Not he. Not a word of complaint did he utter nor for an instant shrink from the uplifted blade, but without a quiver and with his own hand held back his blanket to receive the blow, shouting: "How! How!" (Strike) After the affair the two families met and talked the matter over, the pipe of peace was smoked and thereafter no two families in the tribe were better friends. The deal had been an even one and although each family regretted the occurrence, the hatchet was buried. But had not the murderer been given up to them for sacrifice, time immemorial would have found these families at war with each other. In all cases of murder among Indians, the weapon used in the killing, be it club, knife or arrow, is carefully preserved and never used again, and hundreds of years thereafter, barring extermination of the tribe, the weapon can be produced and its story told. The first lesson given the Indians by the white men were intended to impress upon their mind the necessity of giving up their old habits and conforming to those of the whites, and to follow the example of their white brothers. As the Indian's memory is his record the words of the white people were frequently talked over by them and kept fresh in their minds and all examples were carefully watched, because such examples they were expected to follow. Quick to observe they had not long to wait before deception was apparent in the dealings of the white men and as to their action as examples, they could not follow them. The missionaries had no untutored among themselves to deceive, no wives and sisters to degrade by use of firewater, and as a consequence this all fell to the lot of the untutored Indian, and they soon learned that no honor was shown in the example set for them and no honor was expected in return. Thus the very foundation of Indian character was shattered and as they naturally looked to the white people as their superiors, their degeneration began and white people, instead of improving their morality, destroyed it. Missionaries were sent among them to give them instructions as to a future life, which instructions, though they differed with their own, must be followed, because they were told if they did so they would become like white people in many ways; be better feed, be better clothed and in all respect better off. These religious teaching were very hard for them to embrace as theirs had been handed down to them from generation to generation by traditional means. They watched those teachers very closely, and it took not long to discover that the missionaries were but little better than the traders in matters of deal, for they exchanged trinkets and other articles with them for sugar and fur, the same as the traders did and they go no better bargains. But as I am in duty bound in these articles to be truthful, I must say that the Catholic missionaries must not be included with those of other denominations. I am not in the least prejudiced in saying so for the information of truthfulness in their dealings I get from the Indians themselves. But for the missionaries of other denominations I cannot say as much. Of my personal knowledge I know on several occasions where they had received large consignments of clothing from benevolent institutions and societies for free distribution among the sick and needy, which they sold and traded for profit. One incident I will relate which came directly my way, in the winter of 1853, that shows one man least whose heart was true to his teaching. It was a very hared and cold winter and many Indians were poor and destitute, particularly so at Fond du Lac at the head of Lake Superior. By some means Father Baraga, a Catholic priest located at L'Anse Bay, Michigan, a distance by trail from Fond du Lac of about two hundred and fifty miles, heard of great suffering there and that one family in particular, a widow, with her children were all sick. He provided himself with such medicine as could be had and set out on snowshoes to make the journey in the dead of winter, with snow several feet deep. About the 20th of January 1854, I left La Pointe for Ontonagon, Michigan, some ninety miles away in the direction of L'Anse. About half way between La Point and Ontonagon I met Father Baraga on his way to Fond du Lac, as he said to assist the distressed and needy there, and I am quite positive that he would have perished that night but for our meeting. His snowshoes had given out and would have been impossible for him to have proceeded far without them on account of the deep snow. Our party made it comfortable for him that night and one of my men repaired his snowshoes and in the morning returned with him on that perilous journey. Some months after I met him when he told me of his trip and how he had found the family sick and destitute; that he had given the medicine and otherwise provided for them, and when he left them they were doing well and were comfortable. I do not mention this incident for the purpose of drawing a line between any two or more denominations that had missionaries in this country but to state the plain facts for history. Any denomination that secured such a martyr as Father Baraga would be fortunate indeed, for his manly and upright disposition would have prompted him to such acts wherever placed. I have been frequently told by the Indians that such acts of kindness as Father Baraga displayed, but not to such a hazardous degree, were common with the Catholic missionaries. One thing for certain that while there were then to one missionaries here of other denominations not one succeeded in gaining the good will of the Indians or in establishing a congregation amounting to any considerable number, while the Catholics succeeded in establishing a congregation and building a church on Madeline Island, on of the Apostle group, more than two hundred years ago, and that church is still standing a monument to the labors of Father Marquette.

In closing this work I wish to state my belief that spiritualism had its origin with the Indians. They have believed from time without date that certain ones among their number were clothed with the power of conversing with long departed friends, and through this source got information that was of much benefit to them. In fact no war or great undertaking would be begun without first invoking guidance from their deceased friends. This medium, as we call them, is termed by the Chippewa people Man-e-to-ca-so-ah-min-e. When the people wish to certain things this man enters his wigwam alone. This wigwam is built entirely different from any other lodge in the band or tribe. He then prepares himself to ask the questions that his people wish to propound to the spirits. Many writers have confounded this medium with what is known as the "Medicine Man," but this is altogether wrong. The medicine man is a healer of the sick and is also looked upon and considered a very wise man, but is supposed to derive much of his information from the spirits through the efforts and power of this medium. After this medium has entered his wigwam for the purpose of conversing with the departed, many of the band will gather around the lodge to hear the answers which are many times received in two or three distinct voices which seem to come from above, each voice differing from the well known voice of the questioner. I am willing to testify an oath that I have heard these voices a great many times and have come to the conclusion that this medium is actually conversing with the spirits and in reality receives answers or that he is a very powerful ventriloquist, although a ventriloquist, as known to us, is a personage unknown to the Indians, and if any Indians had the power of ventriloquism or ever has had, it is and has been kept by the owners thereof a profound secret, not even coming to the surface in the great secret order and the ventriloquist secret, if such it was, could not be kept by the possessor from the other members of the order without violating their membership oath.

These are fact and I leave those who read this to draw their own conclusions.


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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