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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


April 20, 2002 - Issue 59


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Pictographic Petition to the President
from historical and statistical information respecting the history, condition, and prospects of the Indian tribes of the United States

by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft 1851
credits: Our Friend, Timm Severud (Ondamitag) sent this to us. Thanks Timm

In the month of January, 1849, a delegation of eleven Chippewas, from Lake Superior, presented themselves at Washington, who, amid other matters not well digested in their minds, asked the government for a retrocession of some portion of the lands which the nation had formerly ceded to the United States, at a treaty concluded at La Pointe, in Lake Superior, in 1842. They were headed by Oshcabawiss, a chief from a part of the forest-country, called by them Monomonecau, on the headwaters of the River Wisconsin. Some minor chiefs accompanied them, together with a Sioux and two bois brules, or half-breeds, from the Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. The principal of the latter was a person called Martell, who appeared to be the master-spirit and prime mover of the visit, and of the motions of the entire party. His motives in originating and conducting the party were questioned in letters and verbal representations from persons on the frontiers. He was freely pronounced an adventurer, and a person who had other objects to fulfil, of higher interest to himself than the advancement of the civilization and industry of the Indians. Yet these were the ostensible objects put forward, though it was known that he had exhibited the Indians in various parts of the Union for gain, and had set out with the purpose of carrying them, for the same object, to England. However this may be, much interest in, and sympathy for them, was excited. Officially, indeed, their object was blocked up. The party was not accredited by their local agent. They brought no letter from the acting Superintendent of Indian Affairs on that frontier. The journey had not been authorized in any manner by the department. It was, in fine, wholly voluntary, and the expenses of it had been defrayed, as already indicated, chiefly from contributions made by citizens on the way, and from the avails of their exhibitions in the towns through which they passed; in which, arrayed in their national costume, they exhibited their peculiar dances, and native implements of war and music. What was wanting, in addition to these sources, had been supplied by borrowing from individuals.

Martell, who acted as their conductor and interpreter, brought private letters from several persons to members of Congress and others, which procured respect. After a visit, protracted through seven or eight weeks, an act was passed by Congress to defray the expenses of the party, including the repayment of the sums borrowed of citizens, and sufficient to carry them back, with every requisite comfort, to their homes in the north-west. While in Washington, the presence of the party at private houses, at levees, and places of public resort, and at the halls of Congress, attracted much interest; and this was not a little heightened by their aptness in the native ceremonies, dancing, and their orderly conduct and easy manners, united to the attraction of their neat and well-preserved costume, which helped forward the object of their mission.

The visit, although it has been stated, from respectable sources, to have had its origin wholly in private motives, in the carrying out of which the natives were made to play the part of mere subordinates, was concluded in a manner which reflects the highest credit on the liberal feelings and sentiments of Congress. The plan of retrocession of territory, on which some of the natives expressed a wish to settle and adopt the modes of civilized life, appeared to want the sanction of the several states in which the lands asked for lie. No action upon it could therefore be well had, until the legislatures of these states could be consulted.

But if there were doubts as to the authority or approval of the visit on the part of either the Chippewas or frontier officers of the government, these very doubts led the party, under the promptings of their leader, to resort to the native pictorial art, which furnishes the subject of this notice. Picture writing, in some of its shades, has long been noticed as existing among the western Indians. By it not only exploits in war and hunting are known to be recorded, but such devices are not unfrequently seen drawn on the smooth and often inaccessible faces of rocks, on which they are frequently observed to be painted, and sometimes fretted in. A still more common exhibition of the mode is observed in the Indian adjedatig, or grave-post; and it constitutes a species of notation for their meda and hunting songs.

In the instance now before us, it is resorted to, to give authority to delegates visiting the seat of government. These primitive letters of credence were designed to supply an obvious want on the presentation of the delegation at Washington. Their leader was too shrewd not to know that letters of this kind would be required in order to enable him to stand, with authority, before the chief of the Indian Bureau, the Secretary of War, and the President.

The following are exact transcripts of the rolls on a reduced scale ... The material is the smooth inner coats of the bark of the betula papyracea, or white birch of northern latitudes. To facilitate description, each of the pictographs, or traced-sheets, and each of the figures of the several inscriptions, has been numbered. The names of the persons, whose totemic bearings are alone introduced into these transcripts, have been written down from the lips of the interpreter. In this way, and from a comparison of the scrolls with other data possessed on the same branch, the whole story has been secured. The chiefs and warriors of the five several villages who united in the objects of the visit--for there were some temporary and other objects, besides the one above named, which are not necessary to be mentioned, were represented alone by the symbols, or figures of animals which typify their clans, or totems. Their names were written down from the lips of their interpreter.

It will be seen, that by far the greatest number of the totems or clans here named, are represented by well-known species of quadrupeds, birds, or fishes, of the latitudes in which the Chippewas now live. The totemic devices would, therefore, appear to be indigenous and local, and to have little claim to antiquity. A few of them are mythological, which will be pointed out as we proceed.

Pictograph A

The description of Pictograph A, Plate 60, is as follows:--This is the leading inscription, and symbolizes the petition to the President.

No. 1 It commences with the totem of the chief, called Oshcabawis, who headed the party, who is seen to be of the Ad-ji-jauk, or Crane clan. To the eye of the bird standing for this chief, the eyes of each of the other totemic animals are directed as denoted by lines, to symbolize union of views. The heart of each animal is also connected by lines with the heart of the Crane chief, to denote unity of feeling and purpose. If these symbols are successful, they denote that the whole forty-four persons both see and feel alike--THAT THEY ARE ONE.
No. 2 Is a warrior, called Wai-mit-tig-oazh, of the totem of the Marten. The name signifies literally, He of the Wooden Vessel, which is the common designation of a Frenchman, and is supposed to have reference to the first appearance of a ship in the waters of the St. Lawrence.
No. 3 O-ge-ma-gee-zhig, is also a warrior of the Marten clan. The name means literally, Sky-Chief.
No. 4 Represents a third warrior of the Marten clan. The name of Muk-o-mis-ud-ains, is a species of small land tortoise.
No. 5 O-mush-kose, or the Little Elk, of the Bear totem.
No. 6 Penai-see, or the Little Bird of the totem of the Ne-ban-a-baig, or Man-fish. This clan represents a myth of the Chippewas, who believe in the existence of a class of animals in the Upper Lakes, called Ne-ban-a-baig, partaking of the double natures of a man and a fish--a notion which, except as to the sex, has its analogies in the superstitions of the nations of western Europe, respecting a mermaid.
No. 7 Na-wa-je-wun, or the Strong Stream, is a warrior of the O-was-se-wug, or Catfish totem.

Beside the union of eye to eye, and heart to heart, above depicted, Osh-ca-ba-wis, as represented by his totem of the Crane, has a line drawn from his eye forward, to denote the course of his journey, and another line drawn backward to the series of small rice lakes, No. 8, the grant of which constitutes the object of the journey.

The long parallel lines, No. 10, represent Lake Superior, and the small parallel lines, No. 9, a path leading from some central point on its southern shores to the villages and interior lakes, No. 8, at which place the Indians propose, if this plan be sanctioned, to commence cultivation and the arts of civilized life.

The entire object is thus symbolized in a manner, which is very clear to the tribes, and to all who have studied the simple elements of this mode of communicating ideas.

Pictograph B
Pictograph B, Plate 61, is interpreted thus:--This is a symbolic representation of the concurrence
of certain of the Chippewas of Trout Lake, on the sources of Chippewa River, Wisconsin, in the object.
Number 1 represents the Chief Kenisteno, or the Cree, of the totem of the brant.
Number 2 O-tuk-um-i-pe-nai-see is his son.
Number 3 Pa-na-shee is a warrior of the totem or clan of the Long-tailed Bear. This is a mythological creation of the Chippewas, by whom it is believed that such an animal has a subterranean existence; that he is sometimes seen above ground; and that his tail, the peculiar feature in which he differs from the northern black bear, is formed of copper, or some bright metal.
Number 4 This is a warrior of the Catfish totem, of the particular species denoted Ma-no-maig. The name is Wa-gi-má-we-gwun, meaning, He of the chief-feather.
Number 5 Ok-wa-gon, or the neck, a warrior of the Sturgeon totem.
Number 6 O-je-tshaug, a warrior of the totem of the species of spring duck called Ah-ah-wai by the natives, which is believed to be identical with the garrulous coast duck called Oldwives by sailors.
Numbers 7, 8, 9 Warriors of the clan of the fabulous Long-tailed Bear, who are named, in their order, Wa-gi-ma-wash, or would-be-chief, Ka-be-tau-wash, or Mover-in-a-circle, and Sha-tai-mo, or Pelican's excrement.
Number 10 Ka-we-tau-be-tung, of the totem of the Awasees, or Catfish.
Number 11 O-ta-gau-me, or the Fox Indian, of the Bear totem; and Ah-ah-wai, or the first spring duck of the Loon totem,--all warriors.
Pictograph C
Pictograph C, Plate 62. By this scroll
Number 1 The chief Kun-de-kund of the Eagle totem of the river Ontonagon, of Lake Superior, and certain individuals of his band, are represented as uniting in the object of the visit of Oshcabawis. He is depicted by the figure of an eagle. The two small lines ascending from the head of the bird denote authority or power generally. The human arm extended from the breast of the bird, with the open hand, are symbolic of friendship. By the light lines connecting the eye of each person with the chief, and that of the chief with the President, (Number 8,) unity of views or purpose, the same as in Pictograph A, is symbolized.
Numbers 2, 3, 4, and 5 Are warriors of his own totem and kindred. Their names, in their order, are On-gwai-sug, Was-sa-ge-zhig, or The Sky that lightens, Kwe-we-ziash-ish, or the Bad-boy, and Gitch-ee-ma-tau-gum-ee, or the great sounding water.
Number 6 Na-boab-ains, or Little Soup, is a warrior of his band of the Catfish totem.
Number 7 Repeated, represents dwelling-houses, and this device is employed to denote that the persons, beneath whose symbolic totem it is respectively drawn, are inclined to live in houses and become civilized, in other words, to abandon the chase.
Number 8 Depicts the President of the United States standing in his official residence at Washington. The open hand extended is employed as a symbol of friendship, corresponding exactly, in this respect, with the same feature in Number 1.
Number 9 The chief whose name is withheld at the left hand of the inferior figures of the scroll, is represented, by the rays on his head, as, apparently, possessing a higher power than Number 1, but is still concurring, by the eye-line, with Kundekund in the purport of Pictograph A.
Pictograph D
Pictograph D, Plate 62. In this scroll figure
Number 1 Represents the chief Ka-kaik-o-gwun-na-osh, or a pigeon-haw-in-flight, of the river Wisconsin, of the totem of the Long-tailed Bear. The other figures of the scroll stand for nine of his followers, who are each represented by his appropriate totem.
Number 2 Is the symbol of Na-wa-kum-ig, or He-that-can-mystically-pass-down-in-the-earth.
Number 6, 7 and 8 Men-on-ik-wud-oans, Sha-won-e-pe-nai-see, the southern bird, and Mich-e-mok-in-ug-o, Going tortoise, are all warriors of the totem of the mystical Long-tailed Bear.
Number 3 and 9 Denote Chi-a-ge-bo and Ka-gá-ge-sheeb, a cormorant, two warriors of the bear totem.
Number 4 Muk-kud-dai-o-kun-zhe, or black hoof, is a warrior of the brant clan.
Number 5 and 10 Mikinok, a turtle, and Na-tou-we-ge-zhig, the Ear of Day, are warriors of the marten clan.

It will be seen, in a view of the several devices, that the greatest stress appears to be laid throughout upon the totem of the individuals, while there is no device or sign to denote their personal names. The totem is employed as the evidence of the identity of the family and of the clan. This disclosure is in accordance with all that has been observed of the history, organization, and polity of the Chippewa, and of the Algonquin tribes generally. The totem is in fact a device, corresponding to the heraldic bearings of civilized nations, which each person is authorized to bear, as the evidence of his family identity. The very etymology of the word, which is a derivative from Do daim, a town or village, or original family residence, denotes this. It is remarkable, also that while the Indians of this large group of North America, withhold their true personal names, on inquiry, preferring to be called by various sobriquets, which are often the familiar lodge-terms of infancy, and never introduce them into their drawings and picture-writing, they are prompt to give their totems to all inquirers, and never seem to be at a moment's loss in remembering them. It is equally noticeable, that they trace blood-kindred and consanguinities to the remotest ties; often using the nearer for the remoter affinities, as brother and sister for brother-in-law and sister-in-law, &c.; and that where there is a lapse of memory or tradition, the totem is confidently appealed to, as the test of blood affinity, however remote. It is a consequence of the importance attached to this ancient family tie, that no person is permitted to change or alter his totem, and that such change is absolutely unknown among them.

These scrolls were handed in, and deposited among the statistical and historical archives and collections of the bureau. By closely inspecting them, they are seen to denote the concurrence of but thirty-three Chippewa warriors, out of the entire Chippewa nation, besides the eleven persons present. Each family and its location, is accurately depicted by symbols. Unity is shown by eye-lines, and by heart-lines. Friendship by an open hand. Civilization by a dwelling house. Each person bears his peculiar totemic mark. The devices are drawn, or cut, on the smooth inner surface of the sheets of bark. It will thus have been observed, that the Indian pictorial system is susceptible of considerable certainty of information. By a mixture of the pure representative and symbolical mode, these scrolls are made to denote accurately the number of the villages uniting in the object of Martell's party, together with the number of persons of each totemic class, who gave in their assent to the plan. They also designate, by geographical delineations, the position of each village, and the general position of the country, which they ask to be retroceded. It is this trait of the existence among the Chippewas and Algonquins generally, of a pictorial art, or rude method of bark, tree, or rock-writing, which commends the circumstances of the visit to a degree of notice beyond any that it might, perhaps, otherwise merit. It recalls strongly to mind the early attainments of eastern nations in a similar rude mode of expressing ideas by symbolic marks and symbols, prior to the remote eras of the introduction of the cuneiform, and long prior to the true hieroglyphic system of the Euphrates and the Nile. In fact, every trait of this kind may be considered as furnishing additional lights to aid us in considering the question of the origin, condition, capacities and character of hunter nations, of whose ancient history we are still quite in the dark.

Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe. Historical and statistical information respecting the history, condition, and prospects of the Indian tribes of the United States. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo, 1851 -1857. 1:414-421
From the Archives of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin: Rare E 77 S381

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