« PreviousContinue »
LEGENDARY LORE-SCHOOLCRAFT AND His INDIAN WIFE-IRISH-INDIAN
ROMANCE-THE RED MAN'S FAIRIES AND BROWNIES-SUPERSTITIONS OF EARLY SETTLERS-WORSHIP OF THE GREAT SPIRIT-TRADITION OF THE SACRED FIRE-FADING OF THE MICHIGAN POTTAWATAMIES— VISIT TO CHIEF CHENAGAR-DRIVING THE MIAMIS-LAST BATTLE AT TIPPE
Enveloped in the clouds of deepest mystery, as the origin of the North American Indians must always remain, there is, nevertheless, a never-tiring interest in the paths that are open for research and inquiry in this direction. Of their own records there are none; destitute of methods of inscription upon any durable material, utterly ignorant of the art of writing, they possess few, if any, landmarks or memorials of the past. With them memory has no such resting places, yet their knowledge is by no means confined to the narrow limits of individual experiences. A knowledge of their own remote origin, of their men of renown in the shadowy past, of their many and devious migrations, of their tribal offshoots and divisions into bands in former generations, has been found to be surprisingly well diffused among the tribes.
Gleaned along the pathways of centuries, this information was gathered up and transmitted solely by means of oral tradition. Legendary lore was taught to groups of listening youths by the aged, while gathered around the lodge fire. It figured in their religious rites and ceremonies, and at stated intervals it provided the inspiration for eloquent appeals to the budding warriors. It is to be supposed that as they assembled under the wide branching primeval forest trees, all the young braves, the chiefs, and the sages gathered from this steady light of tradition their systems of social and conventional life.
The power of memory thus cultivated and strengthened by habit became wonderfully acute and tenacious; it was doubtless realized that in this lay their only hope of perpetuating the tribal laws for regulating and guarding personal as well as community rights and franchises, and the very existence of the race itself.
SCHOOLCRAFT AND HIS INDIAN WIFE
The Indians delighted in story-telling according to Mrs. Schoolcraft, who left a rich store of the material which she had gathered from her people, both before and after her romantic marriage with that accomplished scholar, Henry R. Schoolcraft, to whom the world is more indebted than to any other, for a true and faithful history of the aborigines of the northwest, and their life in a region which was so long a sealed book to the white man. His opportunities for prosecuting his studies in a field so perfectly congenial were unlimited, and the intelligent use he made of them has resulted in a fund of information and knowledge of a subject of which otherwise the world would have been deprived. In the writing of his studies of the Indian language and history, he received most valuable aid from his wife, who was the granddaughter of that illustrious and powerful Ojibway chief, Wa-ba-goeig (White Fisher). Her Indian name was 0-sha-gus-co-dayway-gua (The Woman of the White Mountain), and her father was John Johnston, one of the first English speaking residents of Sault Ste. Marie.
There is a pretty little romance connected with the union of this great chief's daughter to the bright, intrepid Irishman. Johnston was a native of Antrim county, Ireland, and came to Canada in 1792. His mother was a sister of Bishop Sauvin of Dromore and of the Attorney General of Ireland. Johnston, instead of remaining in Canada, concluded to visit the Soo, and did so a little later, for the purpose of establishing a trading post, finally selecting La Pointe at the head of St. Mary's river, as the most eligible site. Not long after his arrival in this region, he became enamored of the dusky maiden, the bright and beautiful Ojibway princess, and straightway determined to make her his wife; but like many another determination in affairs of this nature, while the proposition was looked upon with favor by the girl herself, the paternal consent was lacking. When Johnston laid the matter before White Fisher, that prudent old chief advised the ardent young lover and wooer of his daughter to wait a while, to visit his native land and to first seek a wife among his own people before deciding to take an Ojibway. Undismayed, but realizing that multiplied protests would be useless at that time, the young man reluctantly assented to this, with the strong conviction, no doubt, that he would find no maiden of the Emerald Isle the peer of the St. Mary's princess, and even if he should, there was the likelihood of her declining to share his fortunes in the wilds of North America.
Johnston made his trip to Ireland, visited England, and after a few weeks sold his estate at Craig and returned to La Pointe. Whether he made any strenuous effort to find a lass to return with him is not stated. Perhaps the chief, White Fisher, was expecting to see a pale-face bride, the wish being father to the thought, and it can be easily imagined that the trepidation of the dusky maiden was duly excited by the possibility of her place in the gallant Irishman's heart should have been usurped by a blue-eyed Antrim county beauty. The impetuous lover lost no time in allaying these fears by renewing his suit and his proposals. Without further objections on the part of White Fisher, the marriage took place. Jane was the name given to the first offspring of this marriage, a child who developed into a woman of great beauty, of bright intellect, and charming manner, and it was she who became the wife of Henry R. Schoolcraft.
THE RED MAN'S FAIRIES AND BROWNIES
Mrs. Schoolcraft was a woman of vivid fancy, who readily responded to the influence of mental and social culture, and found in them the means of perpetuating the legends of her people, and giving form to the Indian Paw-puck-e-wis, or fairy, which is scarcely less interesting thar his prototype across the water. The Paw-puck-e-wis of the Indians “delighted to sport upon the headlands and cliffs in the moonlight, and to toss balls of silver into the still waters of the lake.. White men called them meteors or shooting-stars, but the Paw-puck-e-wis knew better and laughed at the bewildered beholders.'_“In the woods" continues Mrs. Schoolcraft, “they returned the call of the hunter, laughed when he laughed and repeated the shouts from hill to hill until the woods seemed alive with humans. At times they would huddle themselves together in the hollow of some great cave in the rocks and as a war party marched by in paint and feathers, loudly echoed their whispers, so that the whole party fled in dismay and terror." One can easily recognize in this the Echo and the Pan of the old mythologies.
Long before the appearance of the white man on this side of the water, the forests, the lakes, and the streams were peopled with the creation of a fancy as wild, as picturesque, and not less grotesque than that of the elfin of the Germans, or the brownies and fairies of Scotland; but differing from the artificialty of the fairies which must be referred to the remnants of old Saxon traditions, household and fire-side spirits, transformed and changed by the grotesque and wayward fancy of the northern mind. The Puk-wud-jees of the Indians, fresh, primitive and exulting have more analogy with Pan and frolicsome fauns and satyrs.
SUPERSTITIONS OF EARLY SETTLERS
There can be little doubt that the early settlers on the New England coast, ancestors, many of them, of those sturdy pioneers of the River Raisin valley, were inoculated with a species of half-religious, halfsuperstitious belief which cropped out in the superstition of witchcraft, showing its most revolting aspect, and permitting deeds from which true, enlightened minds should have shrunk in horror. It is to be deplored that the blind superstition of those unhappy days in the New England colonies excited its baneful influence to the exclusion of a regard for the faith of the Indian, not as a subject for curious and interesting research, but as a part of a diabolical device to be rooted out and destroyed. As a consequence, too few of their beautiful and poetic traditions have come down to us, though the careful observer will not fail to detect many vestiges in the history of later times.
WORSHIP OF THE GREAT SPIRIT
The full blooded Indian of the pioneer days was probably descended from the original inhabitants of this continent, or, in other words, from the survivors of that people, who on being driven from their fair possessions, retired to the wilderness and reared their children under the saddening influence of their unquenchable griefs, bequeathing them only the habits and customs of the wild, cloud-roofed homes of their exile-a sullen silence and a rude moral code, leaving them in ignorance of the arts and sciences which may have marked the long ago period of their prosperity. In the contemplation of this phase of a subject which has for most persons a fascination that cannot be easily shaken off, is it not more agreeable and perhaps as satisfying, after all, to allow one's fancy wide range in its pursuit through the purple haze of mystery,—the ever delighting charms of poesy and legend-rather than to enter upon a futile, wearying search for the far-away realities?
We have nothing in the red-man's devotion to an overruling spirit more impressive than the sacrificial rites of the "Sacred Fire,' more interesting, as a suggestion of a descent from the fruitful Persian stock. It is perhaps not surprising that the element of fire should be
selected as the object of worship by nations whose leaning towards the semi-religious or supernatural, required something tangible and visible for their support. To them this mysterious agent was sufficiently powerful in its effect and striking in its operation to appear as an emanation from the deity:
It is not known positively, that this custom of keeping alive the sacred fire existed among other tribes than the Ojibways, the Ottawas, the Shawnees and the Natchez, but it is settled as certain, that these tribes practised and believed in the rites as fire-worshippers, and that evidences have been discovered in the past that the region which we inhabit about the Great Lakes was the scene of the perpetual fire kindled upon the rude altars of stone and, without relying too implicitly upon the tales related of the tribes by the earliest French settlers and missionaries and Coureur des Bois, it is not difficult to believe from current accounts that they were firm and conscientious believers in the efficacy of an eternal fire.
TRADITION OF THE SACRED FIRE
The tradition which has become more or less familiar is as follows: “Many of thousands of winters ago, all the inhabitants of the earth with the exception of a single family, were destroyed by floods, and darkness and lack of food. This one family managed to keep up a great wood fire for warmth and for preparing food, and so survived for a considerable time. But in consequence of the continued cold and darkness, even this last remnant of human existence was about to perish. In this emergency, a young girl of the family, suddenly inspired by the idea that she might save her race by an act of self-sacrifice, threw herself upon the fire which served the despairing sufferers for light and heat. The body was speedily reduced to ashes; but the next moment she arose in the eastern sky apparently unharmed and surrounded with halos of surpassing glory. The darkness began to disappear before this new luminary, the earth began to assume its original aspect and the family was saved.
This wonderful girl became the chief of the tribe and it was decreed that the nearest female relative should be her successor. The worship of the sun which she had rivalled at her resurrection, was established at once, and in addition to this a fire to be called the 'Living Sacrifice of the Sacred Fire' was kept perpetually burning, and it was the belief of the survivors that so long as this fire blazed upon their altars they should be peaceful and happy. On the spot where the self-sacrificed maiden was re-incarnated when the fire from heaven descended and enveloped her body in glory, they built their mound to indicate that their wanderings were at an end. It was upon this, when the 'festival of the forests' was held, that the priestess of the sun showed herself to the people, arrayed in robes of white and girdled with a gem sparkling belt about her waist. She assisted in the greeting of her ancestor (the sun) and as he ascended into the eastern sky, his first rays fell upon the figure of the sacred princess, which circumstance was hailed by the worshippers as a recognition of sympathy and an acknowledged relationship between the real sun and his queenly representative."
This astonishing legend is that which remains the most clearly, in the superstitions, which pass for religious beliefs in the tribes which we have named. The Chippewa tribes inhabited the region around Lake Superior, and here died in great poverty an object of charity, some years ago, their last hereditary chief, Kaw-baw-gum. Offshoots from this tribe found their way southward to the River Raisin, and here finding the climate agreeable, game, fish and furs in abundance, they stayed, making friends with the Pottawatamies and Shawnees and Ottawas, preserved a general attitude of amity; and it was perhaps these who introduced the religious rite of the Sacred Fire in these regions. Whether this was continued as zealously as was the case with the parent stock, or not, does not appear, but the discovery of stone altars and mounds in the known vicinity of their villages seem to prove that the Sacred Fire was here an established institution, for an unknown period, finally disappearing before the advance of white men into their domain.
FADING OF THE MICHIGAN POTTAWATAMIES
The poorest land in southern Michigan is a strip occupied by the remnant of the tribe of Pottawatamie Indians whose diminishing numbers are struggling against even this small modicum of civilization. This tract of land is inhabited by probably two hundred and fifty persons, and lies just beyond and contiguous to the richest farming and fruit lands in the state, offering the most striking contrast to the lands of the red man, where fertile fields and large and thriving orchards lie beside land only half reclaimed from a state of nature. This pitiful remnant of a once powerful tribe--powerful enough to drive the warlike Illinois before them to “Starved Rock” where they camped stoically about its base and calmly waited until the last of their enemy's warriors had perished. These are the Pottawatamies which swarmed the southeastern portion of Michigan and which the early French pioneers found in possession of the valley of the Rivière aux Raisins, who were the staunch followers of Tecumseh and who proved to be the only really friendly tribe that hov. ered around the settlements. They were troublesome, but not terrible; they were thieves, but not cold blooded murderers. Now they are a poor, miserable, shiftless and broken people. They are fairly good Indians now, as Indians go, by force of circumstances. They till their farms just as much as they must as an alternative from starvation; they wear the clothes of civilization, drink fire water as of yore, cling to their old language and confess their sins to the good father, for the Pottawatamies have been good Catholics since Père Marquette established a mission among them at Green Bay and, withal, have a sociable habit of not understanding English when it suits them.
VISIT TO CHIEF CHENAGAR.
A visitor to one of the chiefs but a few years ago gives me a description of this visit:
'Recently I drove out to the house of Chief Chenagar, to find no one at home but the chief's squaw, a big, dark, full-breed Indian woman, who smiled until her high cheek bones met her eyebrows, to the obliteration of her little black beads of eyes. 66 Where is the chief ?' I asked. 'Her gone.
There her tracks,' pointing to some big holes in the ground that disappeared in a straight line across the field. But that was all the information I got regarding his destination.
"«'When will he be back?'
“But she held the door open and smiled, and I walked in. The house was as clean as a Yankee's, with bare floors scrubbed to a snowy whiteness. The walls were adorned with Catholic images and pictures. The