History of the Ojibway Nation/Preface
HISTORY OF THE OJIBWAYS,
TRADITIONS AND ORAL STATEMENTS.
WILLIAM W. WARREN.
The red race of North America is fast disappearing before the onward resistless tread of the Anglo-Saxon. Once the vast tract of country lying between the Atlantic sea-board and the broad Mississippi, where a century since roamed numerous tribes of the wild sons of Nature, but a few—a very few, remnants now exist. Their former domains are now covered with the teeming towns and villages of the "pale face" and millions of happy free-men now enjoy the former home of these unhappy and fated people.
The few tribes and remnants of tribes who still exist on our western frontiers, truly deserve the sympathy and attention of the American people. We owe it to them as a duty, for are we not now the possessors of their former inheritance? Are not the bones of their ancestors sprinkled through the soil on which are now erected our happy homesteads? The red man has no powerful friends (such as the enslaved negro can boast), to rightly represent his miserable, sorrowing condition, his many wrongs, his wants and wishes. In fact, so feebly is the voice of philanthropy raised in his favor, that his existence appears to be hardly known to a large portion of the American people, or his condition and character has been so misrepresented that it has failed to secure the sympathy and help which he really deserves. We do not fully understand the nature and character of the Red Race. The Anglo-Americans have pressed on them so unmercifully—their intercourse with them has been of such a nature, that they have failed to secure their love and confidence.
The heart of the red man has been shut against his white brother. We know him only by his exterior. We have judged of his manners and customs, and of his religious rights and beliefs, only from what we have seen. It remains yet for us to learn how these peculiar rites and beliefs originated, and to fathom the motives and true character of these anomalous people.
Much has been written concerning the red race by missionaries, travellers and some eminent authors; but the information respecting them which has thus far been collected, is mainly superficial. It has been obtained mostly by transient sojourners among the various tribes, who not having a full knowledge of their character and language, have obtained information through mere temporary observation—through the medium of careless and imperfect interpreters, or have taken the accounts of unreliable persons.
Notwithstanding all that has been written respecting these people since their discovery, yet the field for research, to a person who understands the subject, is still vast and almost limitless. And under the present condition of the red race, there is no time to lose. Whole tribes are daily disappearing, or are being so changed in character through a close contact with an evil white population, that their history will forever be a blank. There are but a few tribes residing west of the Mississippi and over its headwaters, who are comparatively still living in their primitive state—cherishing the beliefs, rites, customs, and traditions of their forefathers.
Among these may be mentioned the Ojibway, who are at the present day, the most numerous and important tribe of the formerly wide extended Algic family of tribes. They occupy the area of Lake Superior and the sources of the Mississippi, and as a general fact, they still live in the ways of their ancestors. Even among these, a change is so rapidly taking place, caused by a close contact with the white race, that ten years hence it will be too late to save the traditions of their forefathers from total oblivion. And even now, it is with great difficulty that genuine information can be obtained of them. Their aged men are fast falling into their graves, and they carry with them the records of the past history of their people; they are the initiators of the grand rite of religious belief which they believe the Great Spirit has granted to his red children to secure them long life on earth, and life hereafter; and in the bosoms of these old men are locked up the original causes and secrets of this, their most ancient belief.
The writer of the following pages was born, and has passed his lifetime, among the Ojibways of Lake Superior and the Upper Mississippi. His ancestors on the maternal side, have been in close connection with this tribe for the past one hundred and fifty years. Speaking their language perfectly, and connected with them through the strong ties of blood, he has ever felt a deep interest in their welfare and fate, and has deemed it a duty to save their traditions from oblivion, and to collect every fact concerning them, which the advantages he possesses have enabled him to procure.
The following pages are the result of a portion of his researches; the information and facts contained therein have been obtained during the course of several years of inquiry, and great care has been taken that nothing but the truth and actual fact should be presented to the reader.
In this volume, the writer has confined himself altogether to history; giving an account of the principal events which have occurred to the Ojibways within the past five centuries, as obtained from the lips of their old men and chiefs who are the repositories of the traditions of the tribe.
Through the somewhat uncertain manner in which the Indians count time, the dates of events which have occurred to them since their discovery, may differ slightly from those which have been given us by the early Jesuits and travellers, and endorsed by present standard historians as authentic.
Through the difficulty of obtaining the writings of the early travellers, in the wild country where the writer compiled this work, he has not had the advantage of rectifying any discrepancies in time or date which may occur in the oral information of the Indians, and the more authentic records of the whites.
The following work may not claim to be well and elaborately written, as it cannot be expected that a person who has passed most of his life among the wild Indians, even beyond what may be termed the frontiers of civilization, can wield the pen of an Irving or a Schoolcraft. But the work does claim to be one of truth, and the first work written from purely Indian sources, which has probably ever been presented to the public. Should the notice taken of it, by such as feel an interest in the welfare of the red race, warrant a continuation of his labors in this broad field of inquiry, the writer presents this volume as the first of a series.
He proposes in another work to present the customs, beliefs, and rites of the Ojibways as they are, and to give the secret motives and causes thereof, also giving a complete exposition of their grand religious rite, accompanied with the ancient and sacred hieroglyphics pertaining thereto, with their interpretation, specimens of their religious idiom, their common language, their songs. Also their creed of spiritualism or communion with spirits, and jugglery which they have practised for ages, and which resembles in many respects the creed and doctrines of the clairvoyants and spiritualists who are making such a stir in the midst of our most enlightened and civilized communities. Those who take an interest in the Indian, and are trying to study out his origin, will find much in these expositions which may tend to elucidate the grand mystery of their past.
Succeeding this, the writer proposes, if his precarious health holds out, and life is spared to him, to present a collection of their mythological traditions, on many of which their peculiar beliefs are founded. This may be termed the "Indian Bible." The history of their eccentric grand incarnation—the great uncle of the red man—whom they term Man-abo-sho, would fill a volume of itself, which would give a more complete insight into their real character, their mode of thought and expression, than any book which can be written concerning them.
A biography of their principal chiefs, and most noted warriors, would also form an interesting work.
The writer possesses not only the will, but every advantage requisite to procure information for the completion of this series of works. But whether he can devote his time and attention to the subject fully, depends on the help and encouragement he may receive from the public, and from those who may feel an anxiety to snatch from oblivion what may be yet learned of the fast disappearing red race.
- Written in 1852, before the emancipation of negroes in the Southern States of the Republic.—E. D. N.