A MISSIONARY AMONG THE INDIANS
REMINISCENCE OF REV. M. HICKEY AS A MINISTER & MISSIONARY
OF THE MICHIGAN ANNUAL CONFERENCE OF THE
METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH
FROM THE MICHIGAN PIONEER & HISTORICAL SOCIETY
VOL 6, 1922
[spelling is as per article]
By previous appointment, in the month of June, in the year 1847, Rev. A. M. Fitch, Presiding Elder of the Marshall district, and Rev. George Bradley, Presiding Elder of Grand River district, and myself, all of us members of the Michigan Annual Conference of the M. E. Church, with John Kahbeeje and Samuel Kirkland, interpreters (both Indians), we met at Grand Rapids for a tour to the “clay Banks” on Lake Michigan, to visit Pasha-se-gah’s Indian band, to offer to them the Gospel, and counsel them to let us establish a Mission School among them. My interpreter and myself left our horses in pasture with a Methodist farmer a few miles from Grand Rapids till we should return.
Rev. A. M. Fitch, aided by the Christian ladies of the Grand Rapids Methodist Episcopal church, especially Mrs. Atwater, fitted us out with a chest of provisions for the trip, consisting of boiled ham, baked fowls, bread, butter, cheese, pickles, cake, tea, coffee, preserves, and such delicacies as those ladies were competent to prepare for a week’s trip on the frontier. We took the little steamboat for Grand Haven at nine o’clock A. M. The scenery down the Grand River was very fine. We saw ever and anon one or two Indian tents on the banks of the river as we passed along. When we got near Grand Haven the river was crooked, and the country very marshy. The town of Grand Haven was composed of only a few wooden buildings, and the soil seemed to be mainly sawdust and sand. We stopped there for the night.
Next morning after some delay, we procured a sail and row-boat (small one at that), and started for the “Clay Banks,” forty miles down the Lake Michigan shore, towards Mackinaw. With oars and sails we coasted along against head winds as best we could, to the mouth of Muskegon river. Our boat was too small for us, and we concluded to cross over Muskegon lake, a distance of five miles, to a Mt. Latterett’s, an Indian trader (a Frenchman who had been married to an Indian woman, and raised a family of half-breed children). He had been located on Muskegon Lake for many years. Mr. Fitch, Bradley, and myself rowed our boat across the lake to see if we could get a better boat _ a Mackinaw boat _ of Mt. Latterett. We left our interpreters at the ferryboat-house, a small frame house with a family living in it, who kept a ferryboat to carry parties across the Muskegon river as they might come along. Mr. Latterett gave us the loan of his boat; or I think we were to pay him two dollars for its use to the “Clay Banks” and back. Here comes in a little episode in my own history, very fresh, every time memory runs over the reminiscences of this trip, viz.: The boat of Mr. Latterett was lying half a mile beyond his house, on the beach of the lake, half or two-thirds full of water _ kept in this way to preserve it, when not in use, as no boat-houses, along this coast at least, were then in use. Mr. Fitch proposed to start back at once across Muskegon lake in the boat we came over in. He could row it back alone, and Mr. Bradley and myself go up and bail out Mr. Latterett’s boat and follow on after him. He said he would have the teakettle boiled and supper ready by the time Mr. Bradley and I arrived back at the ferry-house where we left the interpreters. We agreed. Mr. Fitch pushed off and rowed back. He had not gone far when a fresh head wind met him. Mr. Bradley and I baled out our boat and pulled away with our oars for the ferry-house across the Muskegon lake, but we had not pulled far before we overtook Mt. Fitch, and he requested us to take his boat in tow. We did, but the wind blowing very fresh, this did not work well, and as Mr. Fitch had the sick headache he could not row much. We now had about three miles further to row to reach the ferry-house, and Mr. Fitch proposed to take my place and he and Mr. Bradley would pull ahead with the Mackinaw boat, and let me take his boat and come on as best I could.
On account of Mr. Fitch’s sick headache I consented, and we changed places at the expense of my blistered hands, and a steady, hard pull at the oars, with a head wind for two and a half hours, to gain three miles. But I was young and strong, and pulling off my coat I “rowed for dear life.” When I was within half a mile of shore I hoped the Indian interpreters would take the other boat and come out and help me; but they sat on the shore and waited my arrival, Indian like. We stopped here for the night; we could not sleep much on account of the mosquitoes. Early next morning we pulled from Muskegon lake into Lake Michigan, bought a long piece of marline of a vessel, and John Kahbeeje, one of our interpreters, and myself went ashore, and with his marlin attached to the Mackinaw boat, with Messrs, Fitch and Bradley and the other interpreter, a student from Albion seminary, who was a cripple in one leg, and had to use crutches, who was good ro row, but could not help tow.
Kahbeeje and I pulled along, wading sometimes in the water along the beach, with a head wind against us. We run into the mouth of White river, went ashore, built a fire, made coffee, and took our breakfast; after which we started on for “the Clay Banks,” which we reached about one o’clock, P. M. We found the Indians at home, with both their chiefs. The chief greeted us, and called his men together. We furnished the tobacco for the first talk, or council. The Indians, in Michigan at least, so far as my knowledge of their habits and customs extended, always expect when visited by the white men on public or religious matters, the white men calling the council will produce the tobacco for the smoke of the pipe of friendship and peace, and I have visited the Pottawattomies, Ottawas, and Ojibwas, or Chippewas.
Mr. Fitch and Bradley opened to them the object of our visit, viz.: “we had come among them prompted by the Great Good Spirit to do them good; that many of their red brothers over on the other side of the State, on the Flint, Shiawasse, Tittabawasse, and Saginaw rivers, and on the Saginaw bay, and also their Pottawattomie brothers in the interior of the State near Battle Creek, had left off their old pagan ways, had gone to farming, had taken the white man’s schools, and to teach them the Christian religion, which we believed would be better for them to believe and embrace, both for this life and the next; that we were acting in conjunction with the best wishes of their Great Father at Washington, the President of the United States, and we desired them to council over our proposition, and give us an answer.”
They boiled for us some very fine, fresh whitefish for our dinner. They then requested us to retire for an hour or two, down on the beach of the lake and they would council together, and when they got ready they would call us in and give us an answer to our proposals.
We retired and after about two hours they sent for us to come in and they would give us an answer. We all entered the chief’s wigwam, viz, Fitch, Bradley, myself, Kahbeeje, and Kirkland (the interpreters). After we were seated a few moments, the chief, a youngerly man, perhaps forty-five years old, arose, shook hands with us all personally, after the old Indian custom, and made a smooth speech declining to take the white man’s school, or religion, or mode of farming, preferring to live as their fathers had, by hunting and fishing, for the present at least. He further said they had sought to live on friendly and neighborly terms in the past with their white friends, and should seek to do so in the future, and sat down. This was the first chief; Pah-sha-se-gah was his Indian name, which interpreted, means “the sun shines through a hole in the sky.”
After the close of the first chief’s speech, the second chief, an old man very fleshy and corpulent, his age I think was 90 or 95 years, made a very scathing speech in which the whole band of Indians present seemed to heartily join or unite. His speech, as nearly as I can recollect, was as follows:
“My white brothers, you say the Great Good Spirit has sent you here to talk to us, and to persuade us to take the white man’s religion, and the white man’s school for our children, and to live as the white man doses, by ploughing and farming. Now I don’t believe you at all, because I am an older man than either of you _ pointing to us. And I know just as much about the Great Good Spirit as you do, especially about his will concerning the Indians. You say the Great Spirit sent you here to visit us, and to ask us to leave off our ways and the ways of our grandfathers, and take the white man’s ways, religion, and school for our children. Now my reasons for not believing that the Great Good Spirit sent you is this, I have lived a great many years in this country or land, from the head of this Lake Michigan, round to Mackinaw and Detroit to the mouth of the Detroit river, then straight across the country to Chicago, or where Chicago now is. I have traveled over this land a great many times. When I was a small boy I went with my father, in a canoe, along the shore of this Lake Michigan round to Mackinaw, to Saginaw, to Port Sarnia, down the river to Detroit, then on down the river to Lake Erie, along that lake to the River of Thundering Waters__Niagara. And everywhere I went there were plenty of Indian villages, with plenty of Indians, and Indian corn fields, and Indian burying grounds with large and small Indian graves. The Indian canoes were almost the only boats on all these lakes and rivers. The woods were full of wild game for us. Our people were then very numerous all over the country, and it was our country, and we were happy. We visited, hunted, and had our great festivals. When I was a boy only once a great while did we see any pale faced people, and they were French people, but you white men came and bought our lands for a very small price, and when we could not agree with you, you fight us, and we fight you, and sometimes both white man and Indian get killed, and you come on more and more from toward the rising sun; you are so many. Then when you could not kill us all off with gun and powder, then you make peace with us, and you want more land, and you get more, and you pay us very little for it. Then you build fences across our trails, you plow up our corn fields and grave yards. You have had no respect nor care for our dead! Then your fur-traders and others came among us, and brought the “fire-water,” or whiskey, and bought our furs with it, made us drunk and foolish, and we died with this treatment or yours. And you have crowded what a few of us that are left out of the woods right here on this bank, and are just ready by your coming settlements of white people to crowd us into this lake. And now you come to us, when there are only a handful left, and say to us, that the Great Good Spirit has sent you to us to persuade us to “take the white man’s religion, his ways, and his schools for our children.” Now I have no faith in you; I don’t believe he sent you, for if he wanted us Indians to take you white religion, why did he not send your fathers before you to persuade us, when we were a strong and great people filling all this land with our villages, and our hunting grounds with our camping tents, and all these lakes and rivers with our canoes, and not wait till we are almost all gone? The smoke from our wigwams is almost gone out and we are now weak, and you want us to change our religion. No; we shall live and die as our fathers did. We have no ill feelings toward you, but we don’t believe you, and shall not take your school or religion.”
When the old chief had finished his speech, in which all of his band heartily agreed with him, we concluded that we could do nothing more with them, at present at least. This was Friday afternoon, the sun only half an hour high, and we desired to get back to Grand Haven the next morning in time to take the steamer for Grand Rapids, so we could be at the Rapids over the Sabbath. The question with us was, how it could be done? And in open council we asked the Indians. The chiefs said four of their men could tow us there _ forty or fifty miles _ by sunrise next morning, if we could make a bargain with them. After a few moments’ consulting, four strong Indians said they could and would do it for ten dollars. We had most of our chest of provisions and plenty of tobacco, and we agreed to pay them ten dollars and let them have all the food they wanted to eat during the night and all the tobacco they could smoke during the trip.
We got aboard our boat. Mr. Bradley was to steer the boat. Mr. Fitch was sick with headache, and he took the blankets and camped on the bottom of the boat. Our interpreter did the visiting with the Indians. Two of the four Indians came aboard with us. The other two with a marline fixed a rope harness over their shoulders and fastened the other end to our boat. I, with a long pole, stood in the bow of the boat to take our soundings, as pilot, and thus arranged we started for Grand Haven. Every two miles the two Indians towing along on the beach would call out, and wade out and come aboard, and the other two who had been riding would leap out and put on the harness and tow us along. They did not stop for rivulets, creeds, or rivers, but would wade right through. I as pilot, with my sounding pole, gave orders to the steers-man to lay out from the shore when I found the water too shallow. Ever and anon we would interrogate the Indians how far we had come, and whether they would reach Grand Haven by sunrise tomorrow, and invariably they would reply, “We Shall!” Thus from sundown to sunrise we rode in our boat, and just as the sun was rising we reached and entered the mouth of Grand river at Grand Haven. We paid the four Indians the ten dollars for their night’s work, and we went aboard the steamboat for Grand Rapids. We spend the Sabbath at the Rapids. The population then, I think, was about seven thousand. Grand Rapids in those days was one of the centers where the Indian agent paid the Indians their annuities.
Mr. Fitch and Bradley on Monday left for their homes; also the interpreter, Samuel Kirkland, left for Albion school. The other interpreter and myself on Monday took our horses, some provisions in our saddle bags, some corn in bags for our horses, and started north, to visit a band of Indians on Muskegon river, forty miles from Grand Rapids. The first twenty miles was through new settlements. The last twenty miles we rode without seeing a house. Just as the sun was setting we struck the table lands on the Muskegon at Mr. Brook’s saw-mills.
I found Mr. Brooks very much of a gentleman. He invited us to stop with him for the night, which we did. His mill was running. He showed me his boom full of the finest lot of pine logs I ever saw before or since. At his place the town of Newaygo has since sprung up, and I think is the county seat of that county. He was a New England man. This was a very wild and new locality. The band of Indians we came to see were located five miles below, in a bend of the Muskegon river. Before retiring for the night we had worship. Mr. Brook’s antecedents were Congregationalist, and while we knelt in prayer he rose and stood during worship. It was stated to me that this prayer was probably the first audible prayer by any Protestant in this locality.
Next morning I and my interpreter rode down along this river on the Indian trail to the Indian village. We found it quite difficult to descend the hill in the narrow trail to the flats where the Indian village was, as the rains had washed the dirt out of the trail, and left it with plenty of rolling cobble stones. My interpreter had a large, gentle horse; I had a very spirited French horse, which was more difficult to manage. Once down on the flats, there was no way out only by this narrow and deep trail, as the village was in the shape of an ox-bow; the Muskegon river forming the bow, and the high hill down which we came, the only way of egress with horse. It was nearly noon when we reached the chief’s wigwam; he and his Indians were strangers to us. After the usual salutations, the chief invited us to stop with them till the next day. We accepted the invitation.
There was a good feed of wild grass for our horses. Here my interpreter being an old gentleman, and shrewd withal, played in cool Indian style, one of the cutest jokes on me, and one of the severest on my fine French horse, which I thought would cost the life of my horse, and leave me to get home on foot, or by public conveyance, at least from Grand Rapids, forty-five miles away. The only place our horses could escape from the river bottom during the night was by the narrow trail we came down. We proposed to put some poles and brush across this and spancel the fore legs of our horses, and thereby keep them safely from running off during the night. The chief furnished us both with spanceling ropes, i.e. ropes made of bark. My interpreter and I led our horse to where there was good feed. I had not owned this high-spirited French horse long and he had never been spanceled. My interpreter handed me one of the spanceling ropes, and said, “Mr. Hickey, you spancel your horse first,” and he kept hold of his horse’s halter and let him eat around. I was somewhat verdant and did not suspect any mischief. I had often spanceled Indian ponies, but had never spanceled my own horse. I proceeded and tied the spanceling rope strong, and then pulled off his halter. My horse evidently had never been spanceled before. He started to move off as though his legs had not been tied; but at once found he could not. This enraged and frightened him, so that for near one-half hour he was up and down, trembling, sweating, foaming, and bounding, tearing the earth and grass for rods around, and my interpreter ever and anon saying, “Don’t be scared, Mr. Hickey; your horse will ‘get used to it after a little.” My horse became so frightened and fatigued that finally he allowed me to come near him. The foam and sweat was running off him as rain. After a little he quieted down, but for days he showed the results of that strain and scare. Now comes in the joke of my cool interpreter. I said, “Br. Rah-bee-je, now spancel your horse.” he replied, with a peculiar twinkle in his cool eye, “Why, there is no need of spanceling my horse at all; yours can not get away and my horse way off here, won’t go off alone and leave yours. They now are both safe for the night.” And they were.
We found this band of Indians under the influence of the Roman Catholic religion. They were hospitable, and were content, and we did not seek to unsettle them. Next morning we left this band of Indians and started for Wah-be-ga-kake’s band, on the Maple river, in Clinton county. We rode back through Grand Rapids per the mouth of Flat river, Ionia village across North Plains per the mouth of Fish Creek, on the Indian trail, up on the Maple River crossing or fording the same at Maple Rapids, to “Benedict Plains.” This Benedict settlement was about three miles from the Indian Village, of which Wah-be-ga-kake was chief. I had visited this band once or twice before. We stopped with a white family by the name of Ladd, with whom we left our horses. This kind family urged me to preach in their house that night after I got back from visiting the Indians, though they were not professed Christian people. Mr. Ladd proposed to stop his plow (as he was ploughing out his corn), and send his boy on horseback for miles around, and invite the people in the new settlement to come out and hear me preach. He said, “You will have a good congregation; my family are not church members, yet we would like to hear a sermon.” I said “very well; you have been hospitable to us and I will come to-night and preach here in your log house;” and he started his boy off, and he rode and left word for miles around, so that some people came eleven miles that afternoon, for the meeting that night. After my day’s work over at the Indian village, I returned and found the log house crowded with people. I preached a plain, practical, gospel sermon. The congregation were hungry for the word, and appeared to enjoy the sermon well.
I proposed after the sermon, that they sing some familiar hymns, and then have a conference meeting, which they did, and in the wilderness I found the Great Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, had sheep from different folds: Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, and Congregational; and among the number who spoke was a lady, who had, with her husband and children, come seven miles with an ox team to that meeting. She said in her remarks she held her membership in a Baptist church in Oakland County, Mich.; that when a girl, she knew the young missionary that had preached to them to-night; that when he was a small child she had cared for him; that she lived a number of years in his father’s family, in Wayne county, New York; that her name then was Harriet Kelley, now it is changed. Her testimony was very effecting to all present; to none more so than to myself. The people seemed unwilling after the meeting closed at 11 P.M., to start away, and they staid and visited until two in the morning.
Now, as to my visit with my interpreter at Wah-be-ga-kake’s band: Three miles from Mr. Ladd’s, unbeknown to myself, or to the interpreter, or to any of the white people in that locality, an Indian was to be tried in an Indian court, or council, for murder, on this day. This band of Indians had from forty to fifty families that belonged to it. As I and the interpreter entered the village all was very quiet. We went directly to the chief’s house. It was a large block, or log house, with door and windows. My interpreter knocked, and the door was opened. We entered, and at once walked across the floor to the opposite side, and as we approached the chief every man, woman, and child laid down spoon, knife, or dish, and looked sullen at us. My interpreter being a man of years, and also of extended experience, took things as cool as was the reception to us, which, I assure you, was cool enough to produce a chill over a timid person. The chief spoke coldly and with chieftain dignity, as he shook hands with my interpreter. “An-go-bi-yang?” which interpreted is, Where did you come from? My interpreter said: “No-d-ge,” interpreted means, From every place but this. The chief further said: “Wah-gah-nan-dush?” Interpreted, “What do you want?” We said: “We want nothing; only we have come to you and your people, as we are traveling through roads and Indian trails, and visiting different bands of Indians, we have come to see you and your people.” The reason of this coolness and sharp interrogations from the chief was, he feared we had come as spies on the trial of this Indian murderer, who was to be tried in their Indian court in this village that afternoon for murdering a few months before on of the chiefs. The facts of the murder are these: The chief who was murdered and a number of Indians had been down to Ionia village hanging around the town in a drunken condition for two or three days, and they all left for home but this chief and this young man who murdered him. They stayed a number of hours after the others left. They finally started on the trail leading by the mouth of Fish creek. They traveled till dark, but quite drunk. Finally they concluded to lay out all night in the woods. They snuggled down on the ground together, with but one blanket between them, and fell asleep. Both got chilly and cold. The chief pulled the blanket all off the young Indian, who growled and pulled it back in part over him. Cold and chilly they snuggled up closer together again, and fell off into a drunken sleep. After a while the young man awoke and the chief had all the blanket wrapped around him, and persisted in keeping it. There had been an old family feud, which had produced two or three murders in years past, and the young man said: “I guess you want to die:” took out his hunting knife from its case, and cooly placed the point over the chief’s heart, and plunged it into the chief, and there and then killed him. (I understood that the white people arrested him, and had him in jail at DeWitt in Clinton county for a number of weeks, but could not get any evidence against him, and let him go.)
I now give you unwritten law, as I learned it while five years among them as missionary _ told my by chiefs and interpreters. When murder is committed among them in times of peace, the murderer, as soon as he has committed the deed, flees at once to the chief and band of Indians that is nearest kinsman to himself, and stays there with that chief until that chief secures a chief’s count or council for the trial of the murderer. In the meantime the murderer must not go away from that chief’s wigwam until the court meets, unless the chief goes with him.
The chief to whom this murderer fled lived fifty or sixty miles northeast of the place where the murder was committed, at the village of “Shin-gwah-koos-king,” alias, “The village of little pine trees,” located on the Pine river, thirty-five miles from Saginaw (where St. Louis, Gratiot county, now is). The name of the old chief who lived at this Indian village was “Pa-mah-se-gah,” alias, “The sun shines among the clouds.” To him this murderer fled. He was a chief of much dignity and influence among the chiefs of the Saginaw and Grand river Indians, and was blood relation to this murderer. He took a deep interest in securing the council or court for the trial of this criminal, and the feasts attending such court, which I will here explain. The place where the court is to be held is the Indian village nearest the place where the murder was committed. This village was on the Maple river two or three miles above Maple Rapids. The parties composing such a court or council are: 1st. The family of the murdered man; 2nd. All his relatives and his wife’s relatives; 3rd. The Indian chiefs who are related to both parties; 4th. The murderer himself; 5th. The medicine man, or the Great Spirit’s Mediator, who acts officially; 1st. As a friend of the murdered; 2nd. As the friend of both parties; 3rd. As the agent who presents the gifts to the bereaved family; 4th. Who particularly reveals what the mind of the Great Good Spirit is in settling the question whether the murderer’s life is to be spared, or whether he is in open court to be tomahawked. There are also three speakers on each side to conduct the arguments. The chief, who is the nearest kinsman to the murderer, calls the court in conjunction with the medicine man and fixes the time of holding it. The court or council is held in a new wigwam, built of poles and covered with bark, for that especial occasion, in which no one has ever slept, eaten, or lived. The wigwam on this occasion was built down in the cornfield, with capacity to hold one hundred and fifty or two hundred persons. When the time is fixed for holding the court, secret notices are sent to all the relatives and friend on both sides, who at once begin to make preparations for the feast which are to occur in the forenoon in the village where the court is held. The things prepared and brought by the friends are dried berries, meats, maple sugar, flour, etc. it is really two feasts, the chiefs and relatives of the murdered man meet at one wigwam and eat together, and the medicine man, chiefs and relatives of the murderer meet with him at another wigwam and feast or eat together. This party have prepared the brought the presents to buy of the life of the murderer, which are to be given by the medicine man, during the trial in open council, to the family of the murdered chief.
I will here say, I have met many missionaries, Indian traders, and others, who had been at many gatherings of Indians, but I never yet conversed with a white man who had been present at an Indian court for the trail of a murderer; and what I here write is what I heard, saw, and had explained to me by my interpreter and the chiefs who were here present at this trial. After the feasts are over, then the plaintiff, i.e. the family, chiefs, and relatives of the murdered man, march slowly, in single file, to the new wigwam (and as it is all closed up with bark except the west end, and that is also except a wide doorway for entrance) and they enter as though they are going to a funeral; all parties dressed in their regalia _ blankets, leggins, moccasins, tastily worked with beads and colored porcupine quills, silver bands on their arms, colored turbans on their heads, with various feathers of wild birds in their hair. The blankets of the Indians were white, red, and blue. Their shirts were mostly turkey-red calico. The women had broadcloth blankets, many of them blue, and skirts of the same material. On entering the court wigwam, the most distant relative walked in first _ walked along on the north side to the east end and half way across the wigwam, and sat down on the ground with his back against the wigwam, and thus were this party all seated. The wife and children of the murdered chief sat next to the door. The eldest son, a lag sixteen years old, sat first at the entrance. Wah-be-ga-kake, the chief of this village, was a relative of this party, and by his urbanity I and my interpreter were invited to witness the council.
The ranking chief of the other party was Pa-sha-se-ga. They came down the hill, and with a slow, firm step made a semicircle in front of the tent, and entered very quietly, and cooly shook hands with each of the other party, and saying in a low, subdued tone of voice, Bushoo, i.e. How do you do? And were seated on the ground on the opposite side of the wigwam. The murderer was a very sullen, morose, forlorn picture of human depravity. He followed the medicine man, and they were the last to enter the court. The criminal’s face was blackened with charcoal to show his sorrow, with his blanket and leggings torn full of holes to excite the sympathy of his opponents. The medicine man took his seat in the center of the wigwam, with the criminal on one side of him, and the presents or gifts on the other, to be given at the proper time to the bereaved family. In front of the wigwam were gathered one hundred of more Indians who had come to witness the trial. They formed a semicircle, and were mostly seated on the ground, so they could all look in the wide door of the wigwam. All were quiet as the chamber of death. Perhaps five minutes elapsed after all were seated, in silent reflection before any action occurred. Then one of the speakers on the side for the criminal arose and opened the case, by stating the facts of the murder, and making a full confession of the crime, as follows: “My brothers, we are met here in this new wigwam to sit in council on this great trouble that is in all our hearts. This foolish young man killed one night down near the mouth of Fish creek, in the woods by the side of the trail, your second chief, who was a strong-minded, good man. When we his relatives heard this bad news we all felt very sorry in our hearts, and we do to-day; and we are met here now to show you our sorrow, and to try and buy of you the life of this foolish young man that killed your chief. That chief was a good counselor, a good hunter, and we feel sorrow deep down in our hearts, on account of this trouble.” This speech was short. The speaker, as he closed, had the endorsement of all on his side of the case by the Indian assent __Ah! The medicine man now arose and carried across the wigwam some new Indian Mackinaw blankets, and laid them down in front of the bereaved family, which consisted of the widow, one son 16 years old, and four smaller children. The family sat perfectly still and kept cool. I think there were two blankets apiece for each member of the family. The medicine man returned to his seat. Following this act an Indian speaker arose and spoke on the other side of the case, setting forth in his remarks the excellent characteristics of the murdered chief. “He was a good hunter, and provided food for his own family; he was a good husband and father, and as such always cared for his own wigwam. Now, he being dead, this boy 16 years old has to hunt and get food for his mother and these other children alone; and his place in the Indian council is vacant; and this makes us all feel very sorrowful; (pointing over to the family) our brother is not there; his body is in the che-ba-wah-ge-mugh (i.e. in the grave yard), and his spirit has gone to the great hunting grounds beyond the setting sun; and we all mourn. These presents you bring his family do not bring back our brother.” At the conclusion of this speech all the relatives of the bereaved family responded and endorsed the speaker by the Indian “Ah!”
Then followed another speaker from the side of the criminal, who was very eloquent in his address. He said: “My brothers, you are like the eagle who from the top of the tall tree over the ledge of rocks on the bank of the lake, with his sharp eagle eye, sees way down on the bank of the lake a small living animal; quick as he sees the animal he wants it for food, and suddenly from his high peak, darts as an arrow shot from the bow, and before the animal can hide, or get away, the eagle takes it up in one of his claws, and with ease flies up, up, up, towards the sun. the little animal struggles and struggles to get away, but the eagle continues to fly upward. The eagle now has a great white heart of pity, or compassion, and he looks as he flies more slowly, down at this poor little animal struggling to get away, and thinks that it wants to live. Then the eagle in his great white heart says, “I will let you live;” and immediately turns its flight slowly and gently downward with his extended wings on the air, to the place from where he took the animal up and lets it go, saying to the animal, “this world is large enough for us both to live in.” So you, my brothers, like the eagle, you have this man in your power, and you have a great white heart, and you can live and let this young man live, too. As that little animal in the eagle’s claw, as the eagle flew up towards the sun, felt dizzy, so does this young man feel dizzy in this council and in your power, and you can lower him down easy to the place among you where he was before he killed our brother, and I hope you will do it and let him live.” All on his side responded Ah! And the speaker sat down.
The medicine man took some pieces of blue broadcloth and walked across the court and laid them on the pile of blankets, for the widow and children. Another speaker spoke especially in behalf of the children of the murdered chief with much pathos, and was endorsed by the AH!! From his side of the council.
The third speaker for the criminal made a very strong plea for pity and forgiveness to be bestowed on the prisoner, on the ground that all the criminal’s relatives had joined in purchasing these presents and bringing them into this council for the medicine man to present to this bereaved family, and buy off the life of this foolish young man. Now, if we did not forgive him, and want you to forgive him and let him live, we should not have bought these gifts, and brought them here; but this shows to you our sorrow for the death of the chief, and our love for the life of this our brother who killed him, and we want you to forgive this bad deed of this young man.
This speech brought out th unanimous vote of all on his side, expressed by the same “Ah.” The speaker sat down amidst deep, suppressed thoughts on the part of the whole council, though there was no demonstration of emotion by any one. The medicine man arose and took more presents of broadcloths, wampum, beads, and tobacco, and cooly carried them over and laid them with the other gifts. This last speech produced profound respect for the speaker upon the whole court, and especially upon the witnesses outside of the wigwam. The speaker seemed to have electrical eloquence for the occasion; and while he was speaking I felt my hair rise on my head, his voice was so full of native pathos. And the effect was such that, before the sixth and last speaker commenced, there was a silent pause for five or eight minutes. The sixth speaker addressed the council from the side of the bereaved family. He was the finest looking Indian of the six speakers, and made the most eloquent speech in the trial. He said: “Brothers, the great good spirit created us all to be brothers and to live in peace, and always to be friends and not enemies; and when we do differently it always brings trouble. Now this trouble that has brought us together from our different villages which are along the rivers, even over as far as the Saginaw river, and taken our time getting ready to come to this council, and the time we are here holding this court, and the time it will take us to go home, is all because this young man killed our brother and chief. Look at this family __this woman and children. Husband dead; father in the grave. This young son has now to use the gun to get meat for his mother and brothers and sister, and we, his relatives, have deep sorrow in our hearts. When we visit his wigwam it is lonesome because he is not there, and every fall when our Great Father at Washington send us presents and money at the Indian payments, his wigwam will then be lonesome, and his name on the paper or pay roll will not be there, but ‘dead’ will be written opposit his name, all because this young man killed him that night when they were sleeping together in the woods with only one blanket. This sorrow we all feel will go with us when we travel on the trail with our ponies, when we are alone hunting in the woods. Whenever we think of our dead brother, or of this young man, we will find this deep sorrow in our hearts. These blankets, broadcloths, wampum, and all these presents to buy off the life of this young man, do not give back to us the life of our chief; and if he was living he could hunt and trap, and get furs and buy these things that you bring to this council to buy off the life of this murderer. If the chief was living his family could have his company, his care, and his life to defend them. We all feel this deep sorrow in our hearts, and we shall never see him again in our councils on this earth, nor until we go to the Great Spirit’s hunting grounds beyond the setting sun.” as this speaker closed, all on his side of the court responded “Ah!”
The prisoner remained silent and motionless during these speeches, except his breathing. He never looked up at all, but kept his seat near the mediator, in the center of the council. Now the medicine man arose deliberately, and took other presents, such as wampum, beads, tobacco, and a jug of “firewater,” or whisky, and carried them over and laid them in front of the widow and children with the other presents, and with becoming official dignity, returned to his seat beside the criminal.
All eyes now in the court, and of those standing outside, were turned towards this medicine man, who deliberately prepared and did his official part in the trial, which seemed to be the HINGE on which the results of the trial hung. He took from his fawn-skin tobacco pouch a plug of Cavendish tobacco, and with his knife from his belt cut off small pieces of tobacco and filed his large red-stone Mississippi pipe, and attached the long, artistically curved stem to the bowl of the red council pipe. He took a flint and a piece of punk and steel from his pouch, with which to strike fire to light the pipe. Now being ready, he rose very deliberately and addressed the court as follows: “Brothers, we have met here before the Great Spirit, who sees us all, who knows why we are met, who sees right down into our hearts, who knows what your tongues have talked, and what your hearts have thought, and he knows what these presents are that I have carried over and given to this family, to make peace for this trouble, and let this young man that has brought this trouble in our wigwams and hearts live, then I will have to strike this flint once only, with this steel, to light this pipe of peace; but if some of you have kept back in your hearts, thoughts and feelings contrary to peace, as you on both sides have talked, then I will have to strike this flint more than once to bring the fire to light this pipe of peace;” and they all on both sides of the court, responded “Ah!” This is the first time they all in the council said Ah together.
A pause for a minute and every eye in the council, and of the witnesses outside, was turned upon the Mus-kah-ke-ne-ne-ne,” or the medicine man, or mediator, and now, for the first time since the council commenced, the murderer lifted his eyes from the ground and fixed them on the right arm of the medicine man, as he deliberately lifted it up at full length for the blow. Now, as with electric might fell the steel click against the flint, tightly grasped in the left hand of the medicine man, the punk closely held contiguous to the flint. All eyes are now on the punk, __ a second more, and the murderer’s eyes fell to the ground again. The next moment smoke from the ignited punk rises, and with the burning punk the pipe of peace is lighted. The medicine man takes a few whiffs from the pipe, and then quietly walks across the tent and brings it down and presents it to the son of the murdered chief. Once, but he took it not; twice, in due deliberate form was the pipe offered him, but not a motion or muscle does he move. A third time it is presented, and when the medicine man was about to take it away from him, his mother quietly touches his arm, and with a look of earnestness, prompted him to smoke. He took the pipe and gave one whiff, and returned it. The widow next was presented with the pipe. Up to this stage in the proceedings no emotions have been exhibited by any one on either side. All the proceedings have been conducted with the most profound propriety; but now, as this widow takes hold of that pipe and takes but one whiff of smoke, she gives vent to the pent up feelings of a broken, grieficken spirit in a wail of sorrow, as mother and widow, while tears gush down her cheeks as evidence of her deep loneliness and mourning for her murdered husband; at the same time, by this act of smoking, she said to one and all present, I forgive this murderer.
The medicine man goes from one to one, and each take a whiff. There are sitting two young men midway around the circle of the court, who are cousins to the murdered chief. They had intimated that they could not forgive the criminal. The unwritten law on that point, as told me by their senior chief, is “if any relative of the murdered chief cannot forgive the murderer, then in open council, in the presence of all parties, when the pipe of peace is presented, the relative who cannot smoke the pipe, may rise up, and in the presence of all, kill the murdered with his tomahawk.” Now, when the medicine man stood in front of these two cousins, and presented the pipe to the first one, there evidently was much suppressed anxiety among the chiefs and friends on the side of the murderer, as this young man sat cooly, when the pipe was presented to him once, twice, and even thrice. The medicine man evidently took in the whole situation, for he presented the pipe now more deliberately to this young Indian, than he had to any one in the court. This Indian showed he was in a profound study; what should he do; take the pipe and forgive, or rise now with tomahawk and kill the murderer? The third time the pipe is presented, and when lifted up and away from him just the length of his arm, he reached and took it, and took one whiff of smoke; his brother by his side did the same, and the deep, silent suspense was over. The pipe then was presented to each one in the court, except the murderer, and all smoked but him; he was not allowed. The court is now closed; one by one the chiefs and friends of the murderer arose and shook hands with the other side, and went out as they came in, and the trial is over.
The widow and her children took the presents and packed them up and all prepared to return to their homes. A little scene now followed, which was related to my interpreter by the chief Pa-sha-se-ga, before we left the village, i.e. after the council closed. All the Indians went up on the hill and gathered about the trader’s home (Mr. Aikin’s), when the young man, the murderer, called the chief Pa-sha-se-ga, one side from the rest of the Indians, and said to him, “Now the office of this chief I killed is vacant, and you and the other chiefs, before you part and go to your homes, I wish you would hold a council and give to me his office as chief.” The old chief answered this presumptuous murderer as follows: “You must behave yourself. This is the second time we have been called together on your account, to make peace among ourselves. The first time was when you struck one of our Indians with an ax, and you intended to kill him, but only cut off the top of his shoulder. Now, we shall never give you any office, and we shall never call another council, or court, to save your life. Now you must be a quiet, peaceable Indian, and cause us no more trouble.” This request of this pardoned criminal, to be elected chief in the place of the chief he had killed, revealed the low estimate of human life and the ambitious pride of his depraved heart; but the prompt rebuke and stern admonition of chief Pa-she-se-ga to this impudent murderer, made him pledge “that he would behave himself in the future and cause no more trouble to the chiefs or bands of Indians of his blood or kindred. The chief said: “Very well; here then let this matter of your wanting office rest.”
Thus ended the most thrilling criminal court trial I ever witnessed. I and my interpreter shook hands with the chiefs and head men and left for Meshimnekahwing. I did not preach to them at this time, for they were most of them anxious to leave for their homes.
Detroit, June 5, 1882
of transcription by Barbara Lesser, graphics and html
by Donna Hoff-Grambau
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