FLAT RIVER INDIANS
About 300 or 400 Indians centered at the mouth of the Flat River. Their last chief there was Shogwogenom, a young man. Cobmoosa was a sub-chief, as was also Wobwindego, the father of the chief. Cobmoosa was an old man of most majestic appearance. His manner of walking gave him his name--"The Grand Walk." He had a Mormon supply of wives--no less than six, three of whom were Wobwindego’s daughters. Wobwindego was chief until he gave place to his son Shogwogeno. He had three other sons-Aishkibegosh, Acongo and Wabesis. The last was a son by adoption. His history and fate are elsewhere given.
When the Indians moved to their reservation at Penwater, Cobmoosa at first stayed behind. He could not leave the graves of his forefathers, and the scenes of his early days. To the last he remained an Indian, living in a wigwam,though rich; and dressing and living in Indian style. Though most of the others in some degree adopted the dress and style of the whites, he presisted in his old habits. He said to Mr. Campau: "I am an Indian; and can be nothing else. I wish my people and my children to be civilized. I know your ways are superior to ours, and that my people must adopt them or die. But I cannot change. The young can adopt new ways; the old cannot. I shall soon pass away, living and dying an Indian. You can bend the young tree, but not the old oak." But, bent and broken by age, he did at last go with his people, and died very old at Penwater, in 1872.
Cobmoosa was a man of mark. He was not so amiable or respected as some of the other chiefs; he owed his position among them mostly to his majestic mien and his eloquence. His personal bearing was majestic, and before age had bowed him down he walked the earth as a king. The writer first saw him at the Indian payment, at Grand Rapids in the fall of 1846. He was then tastefully dressed in Indian style, and seemed proud that he was an Indian. But each passing year took away from his kingly bearing, and soon Cobmoosa was but a bowed and shuffling old man, who, when last seen, had so far humbled his Indian pride as to wear a white man’s coat, and he walked the streets of Grand Rapids as an old white man does, whom death has neglected.
The lingering behind of old Cobmoosa gave rise to the following, which was published in one of the Grand Rapids papers:
My step is the tread of a warrior no more;
The days of my pride and my glory are o’er;
No more shall I follow the foeman’s tracxk;
No more shall the war-chief welcome me back;
My bow, my nerves, and my heart are unstrung;
My death-song alone remains to be sung.
The braves of my clan have sunk to their rest;
Their children are gone to the north and the west;
The forests have fallen, the land is sold;
Our birthright is gone for the Christian’s gold,
And manhood has passed from the Indian’s brow,
Since he gave the soil to the white man’s plow.
The lord of the forest is lord no more;
The pride of his manly soul is o’er.
The fields, where he won his youthful fame,
On the track of the foe, or in quest of game,
Are his no more.
UNMANNED HE GOES
To brood over the Indian’s doom and woes;
His doom he sees in the towering halls,
His doom he reads, as the forest falls,
His doom he hears in the Sabbath chime,
His doom he reads in the march of time;
Will it shame thy heart, proud white man, say,
To shed a tear as we pass away?
As for me, I go not where my kindred have gone;
By the grave of my father I’ll linger alone.
The oak may be rent by the lightning of heaven;
The storm-wind may bow it, its stem may be riven;
But with trunk sere and blasted, and shorn of its bays,
Still grasping the earth, it proudly decays.
As a son of the forest I lived in my pride;
As sons of the forest my forefathers died.
‘Till I go to the land where the bright waters shine,
I’ll live by their graves, and their grave shall be mine;
I linger not long, my nerves are unstrung,
My death song is ready, it soon will be sung.
Near Holland was a band of about 300, under Wakazoo, who was recognized as chief by the Indians and by the U.S. government. These Indians made some advances in civilization; used oxen, carts, plows, etc.; learned to use the ax; had a church, made of lumber picked up on the lake shore. To some extent they adopted the dress and customs of the whites; raised corn, potatoes and squashes. A few learned to read. They had some log houses, which they used mostly for storage, generally living in the common Indian wigwams. Isaac Fairbanks, who now is a justice of peace in Holland, was the govern-
ment farmer among them.
Mr. Fairbanks represents the Indians as peaceable, friendly and honest; to the last degree hospitable and courteous to strangers; not only willing to share with others, but to give up all in their generous hospitality. He represents the chief, Wakazoo, as a native nobleman; talented, sagacious and manly. He was morally a good man; generally temperate, but, towards the last, a drinker. Drinking caused his death. He was of medium size, with strongly marked Indian features; of commanding presence; a fine orator, and noble fellow. He was very old.
Maxsauba was also a leader; claimed to be chief; was talented, but not so amiable.
The Indian farms were about three miles southwest from Holland.
In 1848, the Mission was moved to Grand Traverse. A few remained behind. The missionary teacher was Geo. N. Smith, now of Northport, Grand Traverse.
The following is extracted from the writings of Thomas L. McKinney, who, as United States Commissioner, was sent, in conjunction with Gen. Cass, to negotiate a treaty with the Chippawas of Michigan, August, 1826.
It is proper to premise, that the Mrs. Johnson referred to us narrating the legend, was the wife of Mr. Johnson, an Irishman, who, traveling by Lake Superior, became enamored with the daughter of the famous chief, "Wabajick;" afterwards married her, and spent his life educating his family--a family spoken of in the highest terms by all who knew them. Of this Mrs. Johnson, Mr. McKinney speaks in the following terms of high appreciation;
Mrs. Johnson is a genuine Chippewa, without the smallest admixture of white blood. She is tall and large, but uncommonly active and cheerful. She dresses nearly in the custom of her nation. Her hair is black; her eyes are black and expressive, and pretty well marked, according to phrenologists, with the development of language. Her face, taken altogether, denotes a vigorous intellect and great firmness of character; and needs only to be seen, to satisfy a tyro in physiognomy, that she required only the advantages of education and society to have placed her on the level with the most distinguished of her sex. As it is, she is a prodigy. As a wife, she is devoted to her husband; as aa mother, tender and affectionate; as a friend, faithful. She manages her domestic concerns in a way that might afford lessons to the better instructed. They are rarely exceeded anywhere; whilst she vies with her generous husband in his hospitality to strangers. She understands, but will not speak English. As to influence, there is no chief in the Chippewa nation, who exercises it, when it is necessary for her so to do, with equal success. Gen. Cass acknowledges his deep[ obligation to her in 1820, for, at a critical time in the negotiation, when the prospect was that all would fail, interposing her influence, and by her persuasive reasonings with the Indians, saving the treaty. She has never been known, in a single instance, to council her people but in accordance with her convictions of what was best for them, and never in opposition to the government. Her Indian name is "OPshan-guscoday-way-gua."
She was the mother of Mrs. Schoolcraft, and Mrs. Oaks. Her picture, attested by Mrs. T. D. Gilbert, who knew her well, as being life-like and true to the original, is now before the writer. It evidences mental and moral dignity and greatness. But to our Indian story.
She was asked by McKinney to give him some of the traditions of her people, and she, in Chippewa, with great spirit, gave him the following, which was translated by her husband and daughter.
"A man from the North, gray-headed, and leaning on his staff, went roving over all countries and climes. Looking round him one day, after having traveled, without intermission, for four moons, he sought a spot on which to recline and rest himself. He had not been long seated before he saw before him a young man, very beautiful in exterior, with rosy cheeks, sparkling eyes, and his head crowned with flowers, and from between his lips he blew a breath as sweet as the wild mountain rose. Said the old man to him as he leaned upon his staff, his beard reaching low down upon his breast. Let us repose here awhile, and converse a little. But first we will build a fire, and we will bring together much wood, for it will be needed to keep us warm." The fire was made, and each took his seat by it, and began to converse--each telling the other where he came from, and what had befallen him on the way. Presently the young man felt cold. He looked round him to see what had produced the change, and pressed his hands against his cheeks to keep them warm. At this moment the old man spoke, and said: ‘When I wish to cross a river, I blow upon it and make it hard and walk over the surface. I have only to speak and bid the waters be still, and touch them with my finger and they become hard as stone. The tread of my foot makes soft things hard, and my power is boundless.’
"The young man, feeling still colder, and growing tired of the old man’s boasting, and morning being nigh, as seen by the rosy tints in the east. Said ‘Now, my friend, I wish to speak.’ ‘Speak,’ said the old man, ‘My ear, though it be old, is upon, it can hear.’ "I go,’ said the young man, ‘over all the earth, too. I have seen it covered with snow, and the waters I have seen hard; but I have only passed over them and the snow has melted, the mountain rivulets have begun to run, and rivers to move, and the ice to melt. The earth has become green under my tread; the flowers blossomed, the birds were joyful, and all that you have referred to as produced by your power, has vanished.’
"The old man fetched a deep sigh; and shaking his head, said: ‘I know thee--thou art Spring.’ ‘True,’ said the young man. ‘and here behold my head; see it crowned with flowers; and my cheeks, how they bloom. Come, near, and touch me. Thou exclaimed the young man, ‘art Winter. I know thy power is great, but thou darest not come to my country. The beard would fall off, all thy strength would fail, and thou wouldst die.’ The old man felt the truth of the remark, and before the morning was fully come he was seen vanishing away! But each, before they parted, expressed the wish that they might meet again."
"My wife," said Johnson, having told you a Chippewa allegory, I will tell you first a tale of generous heroism, and then one of superstition." So he began:
"The following story I got from Gitche-gansine. Gitche-gansine was a distinguished warrior. After a great battle with the Sioux, a few skulkers took off the bodies of some of the slain, and made soup of them. Gitche-gansine, passing by at the time, they said to him, "Are you brave enough tp partake of our mess, and assist us in eating the bodies of the slain?" ‘No,’ said he, I killed them, but only men base like you, can eat them.’
"Some years afterward, Gitche-gansine fell sick, and, all supposed, died. His wife, contrary to Indian custom, instead of burying him the same day, kept his corpse four days, insisting that he was not dead; but nevertheless, tied the bag to his back, which it is usual to bury with the dead, and in which supplies are put. On the fourth day, she put her hand to his breast and felt it rise; and soon after discovered that he was not dead. Shortly after, Gitche-ganine opened his eys and spoke, saying, O, but I have slept long! I have had a strange dream! It immediately occurred to his wife that she had not, as is the custom of his people, put by his side his kettle and the various other things that are usually put by the side of the deceased, to assist him in getting a support in the land of souls. The thought had but just passed when he continued and said:--"Why did you not place my kettle and bows and arrows beside me? Now I know the reason why I have come back. I have said I have had a strange dream. I was going along the paths the spirits tread, and it was smooth. I saw many people traveling along this path, and of various descriptions, and all carrying burdens of various kinds. I saw many lodges, and in them the drums were beating; and there was dancing in them all; but nobody invited me to join the dance. Every person who spoke to me, asked, ’Where are you going?’ ’Why do you return?’ I also saw much game; many deer and elk, etc., and feeling for my arrows, and finding I had none, I determined on returning. I saw a woman; ’You need not return’ said she; ’here is a kettle; and here,’ said another, ‘ is a gun.’ I took them, but still determined to return, because those were not my own, As I arrived near my own lodge, I found myself on the borders of a fiery plain. I examined it. It was a circle of fire and my own lodge was in the middle of the circle. I asked myself how am I to cross this fire? I resolved to try; when, making a strong exertion, I leaped through the flames and found it was a dream."
FROM MCKINNEY’S LETTERS.
The introductory paragraph is to show the Indian idea of malicious spells. It is to be premised that McKinney had become much interested in an Indian girl, who was blind and paralytic.
"At this moment her mother spoke and said, it was an Indian who had done that. ‘How?’ I asked. ‘He put a spill upon her,’ she answered. "For what?’ She said she did not know. I had the same question put to her father, who had that moment come in. He answered by saying that the Indian wished to marry her, and she did not favor his application; and he supposed it was for that he put the spell upon her. I ask the father, through the interpreter, who made the world? And got for answer the following story:
"It was made by Nanibojou. Nanibojou and two wolves went out hunting. After the first day’s hunt, one of the wolves parted from them, and went to the left, and the other continued Nanibojou, and Nanibojou adopted him for his son. Nanibojou, knowing that there were devils living in the lake he and his son went to war with them, and destroyed all the devils that lived in one lake; then pursued their way hunting; but every deer and wolf they started and gave chase to, would run into another of the lakes. One day the wolf chased a deer. It ran upon the ice in the lake. The wolf pursued it; the ice broke at the moment the wolf had caught the deer, and both fell in. The devils caught both the wolf and the deer, and devoured them. Then Nanibojou went up and down the lake shore, crying; when a loon in the lake heard Nanibojou crying, and called to him to know what he was crying about, Nanibojou answered that he had lost his son in the lake; and the loon replied that the devils had eaten him; and if he wanted to see the devils, he might, by going to a certain place, as the devils would come out there to sun themselves. Nanibojou went according, and saw the devils in the forms of snakes, bears and other things. And when the two head devils got out on the bank, they saw something of uncommon appearance, which they had not seen before, and halting, they sent a very large devil, in the form of a snake, to see what this strange sight was. Nanibojou, seeing the devil coming, assumed the appearance of a stump. The devil, coming up, wrapped himself round it,, and drew upon it with all his strength, and squeezed so hard that Nanibojou was on the point of crying out, when the devil uncoiled himself a little, and then wound round him again, and drew, if possible, harder than he did before. So severe did Nanibojou feel the pressure to be, that he was just about crying out, when the devil relaxed his hold, and returned to his companions, and told them it was nothing but a stump.
Transcriber: Barb Jones
Created: 12 June 2010