History of the Ojibway Nation/Chapter 1

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History of the Ojibways, based upon Traditions and Oral Statements by William W. Warren
Chapter I



General account of the present local position and numbers of the Ojibways, and their connection with other tribes.

Divisions among the aboriginal inhabitants of North America—The Algic family of tribes—Their geographical position at the time of the discovery—Their gradual disappearance, and remarks on their present fate—Ojibways form the most numerous tribe of the Algics—The names, with their significations, of the principal tribes of this family—Causes of the difference in their several idioms—The importance of the Totemic division among the Algics—Origin of the name Ojibway—Present geographical position of the Ojibways—Their numbers and principal villages—Subdivisions of the tribe—Nature and products of their country—Present mode of livelihood.

Before entering into the details of their past history, it is necessary that the writer should give a brief account of the present position and numbers of the Ojibways, and the connection existing between them and other tribes of the American Indians residing in their vicinity, within the limits of the United States, Canada, and the British possessions.

Reliable and learned authors who have made the aboriginal race of America an object of deep study and research, have arrived at the conclusion, that the numerous tribes into which they are divided, belong not to the same primitive family or generic stock, but are to be ranged under several well-defined heads or types. The well-marked and total difference found existing between their several languages, has been the principal and guiding rule under which they have been ethnologically divided, one type or family from another.

The principal and most numerous of these several primitive stocks, comprising a large group of still existing tribes, have been euphoniously named by Henry R. Schoolcraft, with the generic term of Algic, derived from the word Algonquin, a name given by the early French discoverers to a tribe of this family living on the St. Lawrence River, near Quebec, whose descendants are now residing, partially civilized, at the Lake of the Two Mountains, in Canada.

Judging from their oral traditions, and the specimens of their different languages which have been made public by various writers, travellers, and missionaries, nearly every tribe originally first discovered by the Europeans residing on the shores of the Atlantic, from the Gulf of St. Lawrence, south to the mouth of the James River in Virginia, and the different tribes occupying the vast area lying west and northwest of this eastern boundary to the banks of the Mississippi, from the mouth of the Ohio to Hudson Bay, belong to the Algic family. In this general area the Six Nations of New York, the Wyandots, and formerly the Winnebagoes, who, however, now reside west of the Mississippi, are the principal exceptions.

The red men who first greeted our Pilgrim Fathers on the rock-bound coast of Plymouth, and who are so vitally connected with their early history, were Algics. The people who treated with the good William Penn for the site of the present great city of Philadelphia, and who named him "me guon," meaning in the Ojibway language "a pen" or feather, were of the Algic stock.

The tribes over whom Pow-hat-tan (signifying "a dream") ruled as chief, and who are honored in the name of Po-ca-hon-tas (names so closely connected with that of Capt. John Smith, and the early Virginia colonists), belonged to this wide-spread family, whose former possessions are now covered with the towns and teeming cities of millions of happy freemen. But they—where are they? Almost forgotten even in name: whole tribes have become extinct, and passed away forever—none are left but a few remnants who are lingering out a miserable existence on our far western frontiers, pressed back—moved by the so-called humane policy of our great and enlightened government—where, far away from a Christian and conscientious community, they can be made the easier victims of the unprincipled money-getter, the whiskey dealer, and the licentious dregs of civilized white men who have ever been first on our frontiers, and who are ever busy demoralizing the simple Indian, hovering around them like buzzards and crows around the remains of a deer's carcass, whom the wolves have chased, killed, gorged upon, and left.

This is a strong picture, but it is nevertheless a true one. A vast responsibility rests on the American people, for if their attention is not soon turned forcibly toward the fate of his fast disappearing red brother, and the American statesmen do not soon make a vast change for the better in their present Indian policy, our nation will make itself liable, at some future day, to hear the voice of the Great Creator demanding "Cain, where is Abel, thy brother? What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground." . . .

The Ojibways form one of the principal branches of the Algic stock, and they are a well-marked type, and at present the most numerous section or tribe of this grand division of the aboriginal inhabitants of North America.

Next to them in numbers and importance, rank the tribes of the O-dah-waug[1] (which name means trading people), best known as (Ottaways), Po-da-waud-um-eeg[2] (Pottawatomies) (those who keep the fire), Waub-un-uk-eeg (Delawares) (Eastern earth dwellers), Shaw-un-oag[3] (Shawnees) (Southerners), O-saug-eeg (Saukies[4]) (those who live at the entry), O-dish-quag-um-eeg (Algonquins proper), (Last water people), O-mun-o-min-eeg[5] (Minominies) (Wild rice people), O-dug-am-eeg[6] (Foxes), (those who live on the opposite side), O-maum-eeg[7] (Miamies or Maumies), (People who live on the peninsula).

Ke-nis-te-noag (Crees).

Omush-ke-goag (Musk-e-goes), (Swamp people).

These names are given in plural as pronounced by the Ojibways; annexed are their different significations.

The names of many lesser tribes, but who are now almost extinct, could be added to the catalogue. It has been assumed, however, that enough have been named to show the importance of the Algic family or group of tribes. It is supposed, through a similarity of language with the Ojibways, lately discovered, that the numerous and powerful tribe of the Blackfeet, occupying the northwestern prairies at the eastern base of the Rocky Mountains, above the head of the Missouri, also form a branch of this family.

The Ojibways term them Pe-gan-o, and know the Missouri River by the same name.

The difference between all these kindred tribes consists mostly in their speaking different dialects or idioms of the same generic language; between some of the tribes the difference lies mostly in the pronunciation, and between none of them is the difference of speech so wide, but a direct and certain analogy and affinity can be readily traced to connect them.

These variances occurring in the grammatical principles and pronunciation of their cognate dialects, has doubtless been caused by the different tribes occupying positions isolated from one another throughout the vast area of country over which they have been spread, in many instances separated by long distances, and communication being cut off by intervening hostile tribes.

The writer asserts positively, and it is believed the fact will surprise many who have made these Indians an object of inquiry and research, that the separation of the Algics into all these different and distinct tribes, is but a secondary division, which can be reached and accounted for, in their oral traditions: a division which has been caused by domestic quarrels, wide separations, and non-intercourse for generations together, brought about through various causes.

The first and principal division, and certainly the most ancient, is that of blood and kindred, embodied and rigidly enforced in the system which we shall denominate Totemic. The Algics as a body are divided into several grand families or clans, each of which is known and perpetuated by a symbol of some bird, animal, fish, or reptile which they denominate the Totem or Do-daim (as the Ojibways pronounce it) and which is equivalent, in some respects, to the coat of arms of the European nobility. The Totem descends invariably in the male line, and inter-marriages never take place between persons of the same symbol or family, even, should they belong to different and distinct tribes, as they consider one another related by the closest ties of blood and call one another by the nearest terms of consanguinity.

Under the head of "The Totemic System" this peculiar and important division of the Algics will be more fully explained and illustrated. It is mentioned here only to show the close ties which exist between the Ojibway and the other tribes, who belong with them to the same generic stock.

We have in the preceding remarks briefly explained the general connection which the Ojibways bear with other tribes, and indicated the grand section of which they form a principal part or branch. We will now more particularly treat of them, as a separate tribe, and state their present geographical position, numerical force, and intertribal divisions.

A few remarks will not be inappropriate respecting the definition of their tribal name.

Mr. Henry R. Schoolcraft, the learned author on Indians, who has written much concerning this tribe, says in one of his works: "They call themselves Od-jib-wag, which is the plural of Od-jib-wa—a term which appears to denote a peculiarity in their voice or manner of utterance." In another place he intimates that the word is derived from "bwa" denoting voice. From this, the writer, through his knowledge of the language, is constrained to differ, though acknowledging that so far as the mere word may be regarded, Mr. Schoolcraft has given what, in a measure, may be considered a natural definition; it is, however, improbable, for the reason that there is not the slightest perceivable pucker or "drawing up," in their manner of utterance, as the word O-jib would indicate. The word ojib or Ojibwa, means literally "puckered, or drawn up." The answer of their old men when questioned respecting the derivation of their tribal name, is generally evasive; when hard pressed, and surmises given them to go by, they assent in the conclusion that the name is derived from a peculiarity in the make or fashion of their moccasin, which has a puckered seam lengthways over the foot, and which is termed amongst themselves, and in other tribes, the O-jib-wa moccasin.

There is, however, another definition which the writer is disposed to consider the true one, and which has been corroborated to him by several of their most reliable old men.

The word is composed of O-jib, "pucker up," and ub-way, "to roast," and it means, "To roast till puckered up."

It is well authenticated by their traditions, and by the writings of their early white discoverers, that before they became acquainted with, and made use of the fire arm and other European deadly weapons of war, instead of their primitive bow and arrow and war-club, their wars with other tribes were less deadly, and they were more accustomed to secure captives, whom under the uncontrolled feeling incited by aggravated wrong, and revenge for similar injuries, they tortured by fire in various ways.

The name of Ab-boin-ug (roasters), which the Ojibways have given to the Dahcotas or Sioux, originated in their roasting their captives, and it is as likely that the word Ojibwa (to roast till puckered up), originated in the same manner. They have a tradition which will be given under the head of their wars with the Foxes, which is told by their old men as giving the origin of the practice of torturing by fire, and which will fully illustrate the meaning of their tribal name. The writer is even of the opinion that the name is derived from a circumstance which forms part of the tradition.[8]

The name does not date far back. As a race or distinct people they denominate themselves A-wish-in-aub-ay.

The name of the tribe has been most commonly spelt, Chippeway, and is thus laid down in our different treaties with them, and officially used by our Government.

Mr. Schoolcraft presents it as Od-jib-wa, which is nearer the name as pronounced by themselves. The writer, however, makes use of O-jib-way as being simpler spelled, and embodying the truest pronunciation; where it is ended with wa, as in Schoolcraft's spelling, the reader would naturally mispronounce it in the plural, which by adding the s, would spell was, whereas by ending the word with y preserves its true pronunciation both in singular and plural. These are slight reasons for the slight variance, but as the writer has made it a rigid rule to present all his Indian words and names as they themselves pronounce them, he will be obliged often to differ from many long received O-jib-way terms, which have, from time to time, been presented by standard writers and travellers.

The O-jib-ways are scattered over, and occupy a large extent of country comprising all that portion of the State of Michigan lying north of Green Bay and west of the Straits of Michilimackinac, bordering on Lake Superior, the northern half of Wisconsin and the northeastern half of Minnesota Territory. Besides this they occupy the country lying from the Lake of the Woods, over the entire north coast of Lake Superior, to the falls of St. Mary's and extending even east of this point into Upper Canada. They literally girdle the great "Father of Lakes," and the largest body of fresh water in the world may emphatically be called their own, Ke-che-gum-me, or "Great Water."

They occupy, through conquest in war against the Dahcotas, all those numerous lakes from which the Mississippi and the Red River of the North derive their sources.

They number, scattered in different bands and villages over this wide domain, about fifteen thousand souls; including many of their people interspersed amongst other tribes, and being isolated from the main body, on the Missouri, in Canada and northward amongst the Crees and Assineboins, the tribe would probably number full twenty thousand souls.

Of this number, about nine thousand live within the limits of the United States, locally divided as follows:—

In Michigan, at their village of Bow-e-ting (Sault Ste Marie), We-qua-dong (Ance-ke-we-naw), and Ga-ta-ge-te-gaun-ing (Vieux Desert), they number about one thousand.

In the State of Wisconsin, residing at La Pointe, and on the Wisconsin, Chippeway, and St. Croix Rivers, and their tributary streams and lakes, they number three thousand.

In the territory of Minnesota, residing at Fond du Lac, at Mille Lac, Gull Lake, Sandy Lake, Rabbit Lake, Leech, Ottertail, Red, Cass, Winnepeg, and Rainy Lake and Portage, they count full five thousand souls.

The tribe is subdivided into several sections, each of which of which is known by a name derived from some particular vocation, or peculiar mode of procuring food, or other characteristic.

Thus, those of the tribe who live on the immediate shores of Lake Superior are known by the name of Ke-che-gum-me-win-in-e-wug (Men of the Great Water). Those residing in the midland country, between Lake Superior and the Mississippi, are named Be-ton-uk-eeng-ain-ub-e-jig (Those who sit on the borders).

With these, are incorporated the Mun-o-min-ik-a-sheenh-ug (Rice makers), who live on the Rice lakes of the St. Croix River; also the Wah-suah-gun-e-win-in-e-wug (Men of the torches), who live on the Head lakes of the Wisconsin, and the Ottawa lake men, who occupy the headwaters of Chippeway River.

The bands residing immediately on the banks of the Mississippi are named Ke-che-se-be-win-in-e-wug (Great river men); those residing in Leech and Ottertail lakes, are known as Muk-me-dua-win-in-e-wug (Pillagers). A large body living on the north coast of Lake Superior, are named Sug-waun-dug-ah-win-in-e-wug (Men of the thick fir woods). The French have denominated them "Bois forts" (hardwoods).

These are the principal divisions of the Ojibway tribe, and there are some marked and peculiar differences existing between them, which enable one who is well acquainted with them, to tell readily to which division each man in the tribe belongs. The language is the same with all of them.

These several general divisions are again subdivided into smaller bands, having their villages on the bank of some beautiful lake or river, from which, again, as bands, they derive names.[9]

It is unnecessary, however, to enter into minute details, as the only object of this chapter is to give the reader a general knowledge of the people whose history we propose to present in the following chapters.

The O-jib-ways reside almost exclusively in a wooded country; their lands are covered with deep and interminable forests, abounding in beautiful lakes and murmuring streams, whose banks are edged with trees of the sweet maple, the useful birch, the tall pine, fir balsam, cedar, spruce, tamarac, poplar, oak, ash, elm, basswood, and all the plants indigenous to the climate in which they reside.

Their country is so interspersed with watercourses, that they travel about, up and down streams, from lake to lake, and along the shores of Lake Superior, in their light and ingeniously made birch-bark canoes. From the bark of this useful tree, and rushes, are made the light covering of their simple wigwams.

The bands who live on the extreme western borders of their country, reside on the borders of the vast western prairies, into which they have gradually driven the fierce Dahcotas. The Red Lake and Pembina bands, and also the Pillagers, hunt buffalo and other game on the prairies west of the Red River: thus, as it were, standing one foot on the deep eastern forests, and the other on the broad western prairies.

The O-jib-ways, with the exception of a few Lake Superior and Canada bands, live still in their primitive hunter state.

They have ceded to the United States and Great Britain large and valuable portions of their country, comprising most of the copper regions on Lake Superior and the vast Pineries in Wisconsin. From the scanty proceeds of these sales, with the fur of the marten, bear, otter, mink, lynx, coon, fisher, and muskrat, which are yet to be found in their forests, they manage to continue to live in the ways of their forefathers, though but poorly and scantily.

They procure food principally by fishing, also by gathering wild rice, hunting deer, and, in some bands, partially by agriculture.

  1. The Outouacs originally lived in the valley of Ottawa River, Canada, and the furs at first received by the French at Quebec and Montreal, came through them.

    Duchesneau, Intendant of Canada, in one of his dispatches to France wrote: "The Outawas Indians who are divided into several tribes, and are nearest to us, are those of the greatest use, because through them we obtain beaver; and although they do not hunt generally, and have but a small portion of peltry in this country, they go in search of it to the most distant places, and exchange it for our merchandise."—N. Y. Col. Docs. ix. 160.—E. D. N.
  2. The Pouteouatami, contracted by the French traders Poux, fled from the Iroquois, and the trader Nicolet, in the fall of 1634 or winter of 1635, found them in the vicinity of Green Bay, Wisconsin. After the French settled at Detroit, a portion of the tribe followed, while another band settled at St. Joseph, Michigan, and some stragglers near the present city of Milwaukee, Wis. In 1701, Ounanguissé, the Chief of the tribe, visited Montreal. In 1804, Thomas G. Anderson traded with the Pottawatomies of Milwaukee. The tribe was represented when the treaty was made in 1787, at Fort Harmer on the Muskingum, Ohio, by Governor Arthur St. Clair. By a treaty with them in October, 1852, the land around Chicago was ceded to the United States. In 1846 the different bands agreed to remove to a reservation in Kansas. In 1883 a remnant of 100 were living in Calhoun County, Michigan, but the tribe to the number of 410 persons were in the reservation in Jackson County, Kansas, while 280 wanderers were reported in Wisconsin, and 500 citizen Pottawatomies in the Indian Territory.—E. D. N.
  3. The Shawnees, or Chaouanou of the French. Father Gravier in 1700 descended the Mississippi, and in the account of this voyage writes of the Chaouanoua living on a tributary of the Ohio which comes from the south-southwest, now known as the Tennessee. They now live on a reservation west of the Missouri and south of the Kansas Rivers. In 1883 they were estimated at 720 persons.—E. D. N.
  4. The Sakis or Ousakis were found by the French near Green Bay, and spoke a difficult Algonquin dialect. The Jesuit Relation of 1666-7 speaks of them in these words: "As for the Ousaki, they may be called savage above all others; there are great numbers of them, but wandering in the forests without any permanent dwelling places."

    The Outagomies, Renards or Foxes, driven by the Iroquois westward, and settled southwest of Green Bay, and were the allies of the Sakis. They gave the name to Fox River in Wisconsin, and for years were hostile to the French. By a treaty in 1804, the Sacs and Foxes ceded to the United States lands on both sides of the Mississippi. During the war of 1812, the Chief of the Sacs and Foxes, Black Hawk, assisted the British. In 1832 this Chief refused to comply with treaty stipulations and leave his village near Rock Island, Illinois, and after some hostilities delivered himself to the Winnebagoes at La Crosse, and they brought him to the United States authorities. After this in Sept. 21, 1832, the confederate tribes of Sacs and Foxes ceded all the eastern part of the State of Iowa. By a treaty of 1842, they agreed to remove to reservations on the Osage and Great Nemaha Rivers. For thirty years nearly all the Fox tribe have lived in Tama County, Iowa, and in 1883, 368 was the estimated population. In the Indian Territory a census of mixed Sacs and Foxes was made in 1883, and 437 was the number.—E. D. N.
  5. The Menominies called by the French Maloumines, Maroumines, and Folles Avoines were found by the first explorers near Green Bay. In 1831 they ceded to the United States the lands between Green Bay, Lake Winnebago, and Milwaukee River. In 1848 they ceded their remalning lands in Wisconsin, and accepted a reservation above Crow Wing River In Minnesota. Upon examination they were not pleased, and gave it back, the United States giving them, from their old lands in Wisconsin, in 1854, a reservation of 432 square miles. Their number in 1883 was 1392.— E. D. N.
  6. See note 3 on preceding page.
  7. The Miamis, called by the French Oumamis, Oumamik, Miamioueck and Oumiamis, the prefix Ou being equivalent to the definite article in English, were composed of several bands. D'Iberville in 1701 mentions that they were 500 families in number. They belonged to the Illinois confederacy. In 1705 some of them were dwelling at St. Joseph and Detroit, Michigan. In 1751 they were on the Wabash. Selling their lands to the United States, with the exception of a few on Eel River, Indiana, the Miamis went to a reservation on the Osage River. They have dwindled down to 61 persons who live in the Indian Territory.—E. D. N.
  8. For other views as to the meaning of Ojibway, see another article in this volume.
  9. For a late census of the Ojibways, see the article in this volume, "History of the Ojibways based upon official and other records."