Newsletter Celebrating Native America
20, 2002 - Issue 59
Petition to the President
from historical and statistical information respecting
the history, condition, and prospects of the Indian tribes of the
by Henry Rowe
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
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
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
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.
The description of Pictograph A, Plate 60, is as follows:--This
is the leading inscription, and symbolizes the petition to
|| 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.
||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.
||O-ge-ma-gee-zhig, is also a warrior of the Marten clan.
The name means literally, Sky-Chief.
||Represents a third warrior of the Marten clan. The name
of Muk-o-mis-ud-ains, is a species of small land tortoise.
||O-mush-kose, or the Little Elk, of the Bear totem.
||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.
||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
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, 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.
||represents the Chief Kenisteno, or the Cree,
of the totem of the brant.
||O-tuk-um-i-pe-nai-see is his son.
||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
||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.
|| Ok-wa-gon, or the neck, a warrior of the Sturgeon
|| 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
|| Ka-we-tau-be-tung, of the totem of the Awasees,
|| 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
|Pictograph C, Plate 62. By this scroll
||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.
||Na-boab-ains, or Little Soup, is a warrior of his band
of the Catfish totem.
||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.
||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.
||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, Plate 62. In this scroll figure
|| 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.
|| 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.
|| 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
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