A Pioneer History of Becker County

Chapter XI.


Ojibwa, the original name of the Chippewas, means puckered up, or to roast until drawn up (See Warrren's History of the Ojibwa Nation.)

I am free to admit, that I take a different view of the Indian question, and that my feelings and sympathies run in a different channel from that of many of the American people.

Sixty years of my life I have passed among or in close proximity to different tribes, and have traveled or lived among more than twenty different nations of Indians, speaking as many different tongues.

When a child in my mother's arms, we were both saved from a watery grave by a squaw, belonging to the Alleghany tribe of the Seneca Nation, who forced her way in a canoe, through a raging flood and rescued us from a block of ice that was hurrying at us at a rapid rate, down the swiftly flowing waters of the Alleghany River.

It is true that I have been twice held up by the Sioux Indians, who each time considered all white men as trespassers on their lands, and I was once robbed by the Bannocks, but they were then at war with the United States, and only two months before nearly three hundred of their warriors had been slain by our soldiers in a single battle.

l have lived for more than thirty-six years as a near neighbor to the Chippewa Indians here in Becker County, and feeling myself duly qualified to render an impartial opinion in their case, I pronounce them, with the exception perhaps of the Flatheads and Pend' Oreilles in Montana, to be the most honest, peaceable and trustworthy nation of Indians in the United States. Of course there have been criminals among them, like Bach-i-na-na, Bo-anece and Bobolink, who have been guilty of the crime of murder, but during the brief history of our county, twice as many murders have been committed by white men.

During my ten years' experience in logging on the Otter Tail River, I have had many losses from theft by white men, but never lost the value of a penny through an Indian.

Bishop Whipple once told of making a trip many years ago with a party of Indians, and one morning, as they were about to start out on a hunt, the bishop asked the chief what he had better do with his watch and pocketbook, as he did not like to carry them around through the brush and swamps, and he was afraid they would be stolen if he left them in camp. The chief replied, "hang them up on a tree, they will be safe; there is not a white man within fifty miles of here."

Ever since the discovery of America there has been a class of white men on the frontiers, who have considered the Indians as legitimate victims of plunder and rapine, and in some sections, and at different periods of our country's history it has been the height of ambition with some of this class of bravados to kill one or more Indians. Adam Poe, notorious as the slayer of Big Foot, a Wyandot chief, near the Ohio River, in West Virginia something like 100 years ago, once remarked that "he had killed 'bars' and 'painters' (bears and panthers) to his heart's content, but that there was no game like Injuns."

To the credit of the people of Becker County, however, the Indians here have received far better treatment than in many other localities.

W. W. Warren, the historian of the Chippewa Nation, himself one-fourth of Chippewa blood, in the preface to his interesting work makes the following touching arid eloquent plea in behalf of his kindred race:

The red race of North America is fast disappearing before the onward, irresistless tread of the Anglo-Saxon. Once the vast tract of country, lying between the Atlantic seaboard and the Mississippi, where a century since roamed numerous tribes of the wild sons of nature, but a few, a very few, now exist. Their former dominions are now covered with the teeming towns and villages of the "pale face," and millions of happy free men enjoy the former homes of these unhappy and fated people.

The few tribes and remnants of tribes, who still exist on our Western frontier, truly deserve the sympathy and attention of the American people. We owe it to them as a duty, for we are now the possessors of their former inheritance, and the bones of their ancestors are sprinkled through the soil on which are now erected our happy homesteads.

The red man has no powerful friends, such as the enslaved negro once could boast, to represent his miserable, sorrowing condition, his many wrongs, his wants and wishes. In fact, so feebly is the voice of philanthrophy raised in his favor, that his very existence appears to be hardly known to some of the American people, or his character and condition has been so misrepresented, that it has 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.

Much has been written concerning the red race, by travelers, missionaries and by some eminent authors; but the information respecting them which has thus far been collected, has been superficial and inaccurate.

It is true that the Indians are possessed of traits of character and an individuality peculiarly their own, and in most cases a white man who expects to deal with them by following the business rules and principles of the white men, will at first become puzzled and disappointed, but after a better acquaintance, and gaining their confidence will find his business with them very much simplified and more satisfactory. The following extract from the report of Indian Commissioner Leupp, for 1905, touching these peculiar characteristics of the Indian are well worthy of record.

I copy the following article from the White Earth Tomahawk. Of this report the editor says: "All those who may read the following extracts from the report of Commissioner Leupp, cannot help but admit that he has a sincere regard for the Indians. Notwithstanding that he may have overdrawn their virtues, there it not an Indian in America who should not feel grateful for the Commissioner's report as a whole."

The Commissioner says:

The commonest mistake made by the white wellwishers in dealing with the Indian is the assumption that he is simply a white man with a red skin. The next commonest is the assumption that because he is a non-Caucasian he is to be classed indiscriminately with other non-Caucasians, like the negro, for instance. The truth is that the Indian has as distinct an individuality as any type of men who ever lived, and he will never be judged aright till we learn to measure him by his own standards, as we whites would wish to be measured if some more powerful race were to usurp dominion over us.

Suppose, a few centuries ago, an absolutely alien people like the Chinese had invaded our shores and driven the white colonists before them to districts more and more isolated, destroyed the industries on which they had always subsisted, and crowned all by disarming them and penning them on various tracts of land where they could be fed and clothed and cared for at no cost to themselves, to what condition would the white American of today have been reduced? In spite of their rigorous ancestry they would surely have lapsed into barbarism and become pauperized. No race on earth could overcome, with forces evolved from within themselves, the effect of such treatment. That our red brethren have not been wholly ruined by it, is the best proof we could ask for the sturdy traits of character inherent in them. But though not ruined, they have suffered serious deterioration, and the chief problem now before us is to prevent its going any further. To that end we must reckon with several facts.

First, little can be done to change the Indian who has already passed middle life. By virtue of that very quality of steadfastness which we admire in him, when well applied, he is likely to remain an Indian of the old school to the last. With the younger adults we can do something here and there, where we find one who is not too conservative; but our main hope lies with the youthful generation, who are still measurably plastic.

The thoughtless make sport of the Indian's love of personal adornment, forgetting that nature has given him an artistic instinct of which this is merely the natural expression. What harm does it do him that he likes a red kerchief around his neck, or feels a thrill of pride in the silver buckle on his belt? Does not the banker in the midst of civilization wear a scarf pin and a watch chain, and fasten his linen cuffs with links of gold? The highest of us is none the worse for the love of what is bright and pleasant to the eye. Our duty is plainly not to strangle the Indian's artistic craving, but to direct it into a channel where its satisfaction will bear the best fruit for himself and the world.

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