Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan – The Coming Of The Indians

In this history of Sault Sainte-Marie it is the intention to lay the foundations by relating the traditions of its first Indian inhabitants.

That at least one other race overran this country before the advent of Ah-anish in-ab-ug,* there can be no doubt.

From time to time there have been unearthed the copper tools of a nation antedating the Indian occupation, tools whose exquisite temper has long puzzled the scientific world. Nor are these the only evidence of this mysterious race’s being. Throughout many parts of the United States, beginning with Southern Michigan, are pointed out to wondering tourists pre-Indian fortifications which exhibit a high degree of intelligence and some engineering skill. These temperers of copper and builders of mounds were a people of whom we know little but may conjecture much. Whether on their journey of conquest from the West to the Atlantic seaboard, the Red Men met and annihilated them, or whether they had disappeared before the arrival of these warriors, may never be absolutely known. No Indian record makes mention of them, neither song nor story hints at their existence, unless we see in the legends of supernatural visitants, preserved in Aboriginal folklore, traces of their influence in America’s pre-historic past.

Certain, however, it is that the Indian, rude in habit, simple in life, and having little inventive genius, save in the matter of torturing his victims, is not connected with the works which are discovered and which point to a definite stage in the progress of a nation toward civilization.

The Sault Sainte-Marie Indians are of the Algonquin stock, that most numerous confederacy of Red Men, whose bands and tribes the earlier traditions find spread along the shores of the great Atlantic, over Newfoundland and Labrador, across the Valley of the Ohio, and west and north to the Rockies and Hudson’s Bay.

From whence they sprang, they do not know.

For them the almost certain theory that their original home was Asia, has no reality but in the poetic language of their Me-da-we-win, or Medicine Rite, at the word of Kitchi-Manido they ” became.”

Like all other nations their story finds its beginning in the stream of legend and tradition, whose weird narration by the old men at the campfire held spell bound in the early days the listening braves and maidens.

For three hundred years has the white man known of their existence around about St. Mary’s Rapid, but many generations further into the obscure past are we carried by their statement.

The legends tell how once the Red Man lived by a great ocean to the East, in evidence of which a sea-shell is carried by their priests as a relic and a proof.

There, in their prosperity, so the story goes, wickedness overcame them and Kitchi-Manido,* opening the doors of Heaven, drowned the earth and washed away their dwellings.

But the Indians had a friend, one who altho the servant of the Manido, was still powerful in his councils. He was Man-ab-o-sho, the uncle of the Algonquins, who interceding on their behalf, filled the Great Spirit with compassion, and thus were the people saved.

For many seasons they continued to sojourn by the Eastern Sea till their good fortune once more proving a rock of stumbling Kitchi-Manido sent amongst them a plague which laid low manybraves.

Again did Man-ab-o-sho plead on their behalf and once more was the pestilence stayed, and that its horrors might not overwhelm them in the future, there was given to the nation a mystic rite, a panacea for all ills. This rite was known as the Me-da-we Rite, and around it were woven their history and religion.

And now began a migration.

Westward poured the multitudes, fighting step by step the Naud-o-ways, as they termed the Iroquois, who were ever their inveterate foes.

At many places did they stop for a time to light their camp-fires and watch the fading of successive seasons, yet each step taken led them farther from their ancestral home and claimed them more thoroughly as children of the wilderness.

How many years or generations were spent in this pilgrimage, they do not know, but finally they were brought to a halt at the ninth place of sojourn, Sault Sainte-Marie, where the resistance of the fierce Dakotas from the Western stretches was first encountered and the attacks of the Iroquois redoubled.

They could press no further westward for the time and back they refused to go, and no doubt realizing the splendid situation of their camp for purposes of attack and defence as well as the magnificent supply of food in the abundant fish of the rapids, they pitched their wigwams and settled down, and Sault Sainte-Marie became their home.

But Sault Sainte-Marie was not always the name of this locality.

Gazing upon the tumbling waters, which are here forced through the narrow straits over a shallow bed of stone, their dashing spray shimmering in the sunlight, with here and there the ragged surface of a threatening rock exposed to view above the turmoil, the braves, gathered on the shore, murmured to each other, ” Baw-a-teeg,” and from this, so far as is known, was derived the first name of the site of the future town.

The generation who lived and died at Baw-a-ting spent their time in hunting, feasting and fighting.

When the leaf had fallen and the sky grew grey and heavy, and the months of winter wrapped the land in white enshrouding stillness, would the different families travel away to their independent hunting grounds, where otter and red deer, moose and caribou were hunted down and compelled to learn the message of death conveyed by the unerring, flint-tipped arrow.

Even Muk-wah, the bear, at times deified by the pursuer, was stirred out of his slumber to become the prey of the hunter.

When food was in abundance there was no stint. These children of nature know no foresight. To eat, drink and be merry while the store lasted was the highest good of existance.

But when the game disappeared and days of searching failed to discover its haunt, then silently and despairingly would A h-an-ish-in-ab-ug return to his lodge from the hunting, and sitting down by his slowly dying fire would give himself to despair. The day would pass and the fire die out and the coming of the next day’s sun found him a frozen corpse.

In the Spring, those who survived the rigour of Peboon,t returned to Bow -a-ting by hundreds and having seen their krall-shaped wigwams pitched by their squaws, joined in the orgies and dances decked out in their most gaudy garb. Feasts and pow-wows lasted many days. If one took sick, the Midi, or Priest, came with his hollow tube and rattle and drew the malady from the patient’s chest in the shape of bits of bone which were supposed to travel through the tube and were then taken from the lips of the Doctor.

So great was the confidence of all in these Medicine men that few failed to recover—unless the sickness were serious.

Jessakids, or Jugglers, entertained the delighted groups, dancing uninjured in the blazing camp fire and by wonderful feats of magic, such as causing wooden buttons to move towards them as they lay on the ground and making dolls to perform weird motions, after they had been properly adjusted to the satisfaction of the wizards. To add to the effect of their marvellous acts they always performed in the deepening twilight.

In this holiday season was the Sacred Lodge erected, and on payment of many deer by aspiring braves, the Manido was consulted by the Priests as to the aspirants’ fitness for membership.

If the offerings promised to be large, Manido was never known to withold a favourable verdict. If, however, the gifts were few or unimportant the spirit demurred until the price was forthcoming, when the candidate for initiation was pronounced a most promising and acceptable person.

But life at Bawating was not all spent thus.. Apart from family and tribal feuds—never of a lasting nature—were the wars against the N audo-ways and Dacotas, and the feasting being concluded, war paint would be donned, arrows examined and slings and stone-headed bludgeons tested. Scalps and eagle feathers would be produced on all sides to adorn the persons of those who had taken life in battle. The war song would be sung and the dance wax fast and terrible, the Midi priest would invoke the aid of the Great Spirit, then the warriors falling into a snake-like line whose thin length stretched its sinuous course along the river shore, would glide silently away and melt into the forest in the direction of the enemy.

Into the gloom, after the host, went the squaws who, gathering up the rich trappings which had been discarded by their lords in the umbrageous shade returned to camp to await their coming, while the braves, half naked, pursued their way.

Of the horrors of those wars much has been written. The midnight surprise, the devilish war-yelps, the crushing of skulls, the tearing of scalps from struggling victims were the common .features. To relate the incidents of one such fight is to picture the dreadful details of all for the terror, the fury, the despair and fiendish torture were ever the same.

In spite of the statement of Schoolcraft to the contrary, such an authority as Warren—himself a learned Ojibway—traces the derivation of the tribal name to the mode of treating captives taken in battle.

Unlike the Iroquois, this branch of the Algonquins were quiet and deliberate in their method of torture.

Great fires were built on their return to camp, and when the red hot coals were sufficiently deep the prisoners were bound on spits and roasted before the slow fire till the hours of exquisite agony would be ended by the coming of merciful death and the lifeless forms were puckered up by the untold suffering they had endured.

From this terrible treatment of victims did the tribe receive its name, which is simply a compounding of the two words ” Ojib” and ” ub-way,” to roast till puckered up.

To spare a prisoner or to allow him to escape,. unless he were adopted as a member of the tribe; was thought by the Indians to be displeasing to the War God.

Father Belcourt who ministered among them for many years inclined to the same belief. Warren, however, is supposed to have been more familiar with the Ojibway language than any other authority. From a similar custom did the tribe of the Sioux take their name of “Ab-boin-ug.”

In early days, so the tradition runs, a party of Iroquois was surprised by the Ojibways and four of the number having been dispatched in the fight which ensued, the remaining two were led back to the camp and condemned to be burnt.

But an aged warrior, being filled with pity, pleaded successfully for the life of one of the prisoners. A council was held and declared in the captive’s favour. He was released and fled back to his own people But that night did the Manido appear to another of the warriors and upbraided the tribe with its tenderness, and as a proof of his wrath the place of execution was riven by lightning, and the brave who had interceded was slain by the storm. The escaped prisoner the next summer found a grave in the Algonquin country.

From early times was the tribe about St. Mary known as the “Ojibway” tribe, for owing to the repeated onslaught of their enemies on either side, the nation had now broken up into divisions, one going to the south, following the line of least resistance, while the other, leaving the vicinity, returned eastward, threading the forests and rivers lying to the north of what is now Old Ontario and settling along the shore of the Ottawa.

To the division which travelled south (because they were unlikely to be molested), was entrusted the keeping of the sacred fire, for when the fires in the lodges of a tribe died out, a journey must needs be taken to the nearest encampment to restore by borrowing that which had failed.

And the division entrusted with this office was called Pot-ta-wat-tam-ie, or ” those who kept the fire.” Generations passed before the other wanderers received a distinctive tribal title. When the coming of the trader opened up new possibilities and this division became a community of middlemen between the whites on the one hand and their red brethern on the other, the name given them was ” Ot-taw-ay,’* which meant in the tongue of the Indian ” a trader.”

The Ojibways, after the departure of the other two divisions, remained at Baw-a-ting for a time, but gradually the determined onslaughts of the Iroquois forced them back.

They finally took refuge at La Pointe in Lake Superior where they remained about Ito years. There they rekindled the sacred fire and established again the Me-daw-we-win rites.

But the devotion of the tribe to superstition allowed the priests and jessakids to obtain so great a power over the members that ere long a reign of terror was established. Mysterious deaths occurred and the bodies of the victims, spirited away after burial in the dark hours of the night, were feasted upon by their murderers.

Mothers who offended the jessakids bewailed the sudden death of their little children. Husbands saw their new-made wives languish before their eyes. No brave dared refuse the most startling demands of these wizards for fear that the pallid visitor would stop and knock for admission at his wigwam.

Manidos roamed about the borders of the settlement when darkness fell and in the form of bear or other monster terrified the people beyond endurance till one man blessed with more courage than the rest, having suffered too mnch at the hands of the tormentors, knelt in ambush near the burial place of his wife just dead and with determined aim pierced an uncanny creature which had wandered too near.

The coming of day break revealed a priest missing and a search and the discovery of the creature shot revealed the missing priest cold and lifeless wrapped in a Muck-wa * robe.

But even this did not break the power of the priests.

Nightly were the souls of the murdered ones, the Che-bi-ug, heard as they roamed the village with sobbing and cries of horror until unable to stand it longer the tribe fled t precipitously back to the old station, Baw-a-ting, whose waters they hoped the spirits might not be able to cross.

L.A. Pointe has ever since been regarded as a place of terror.

The island, for such it is, soon surrendered itself .to the wilderness, and almost all traces of former occupation by the Ojibways, was obliterated.

Not all these priests or medicine men, however, were evil men, for the story has come down to us of one whose name was venerated by the people of his tribe,

Ma-se-wa-pe-ga was the prophet’s name and to him was vouchsafed a vision. Ere the tribe had left La Pointe the old man dreamed a dream.

In his dream he saw most wondrous beings like men, yet not like men, for they were not red but white and clad in strange garments and wearing coverings on their heads. As he watched them, fearful of the import of their coming, they left their canoes and came towards him with smiling faces and outstretched hands, significant of their peaceful intentions Before they could speak the astonished priest awoke, and summoning the chief men to a feast, he related his story and informing them that the spirits he had seen came, from the direction of the rising sun, announced his determination to discover them.

In vain did they try to disuade him from the perilous journey which must need be made through the Naud-o-way land. Firm in his belief, he began his preparations which consumed a whole year. He built a strong canoe of birch bark and cedar wood, he hunted and cured plenty of meat for provision, and in the spring when the ice had left the streams, he bade his people farewell and started on his travels.

Eastward, over lake and river, he and his spouse took this lonely way.

Undiscovered, he stole through the country of the Iroquois, and at length (where the river became wide like a lake) he observed for the first time a hut made of logs. He noticed that the stumps of large trees about the cabin had been cut with an instrument sharper than the rude stone axe of his fathers, but no spirit was to be seen. Continuing his journey he reached a second clearing from the habitations of which curled. the smoke of the hospitable settlers’ fires.

All that had happened in his dream now came true. He was welcomed most heartily and invited to enter the houses and enjoy good cheer.

Before returning Ma-se-wa-pe-ga was gladdened with presents of a hatchet of steel, a knife, some beads and a small strip of scarlet cloth, which, carefully depositing in his medicine bag, he brought safely home to his people. Again, the priest assembled the chiefs to council, and displaying to their wondering eyes the sacred articles he had procured, announced the fulfillment of his vision.

The following spring a large number of his people followed him to the abode of the supposed white spirits, and hence sprang, at a date unknown, the Ojibway acquaintance with the white man.

With these early Indians there was no written language in the ordinary acceptation of the term. The members of the Me-da-we-win lodge alone perserved picture-records of the history and tradition of the tribe. These records were done on birch bark, sometimes many feet in length, and during the migrations of the people they were buried in secret places known only to the initiated.

Once in every seven years at least were they exhumed and examined, and those which showed any signs of decay were copied exactly and the duplicates were buried in their stead. The priests then divided amongst their members the original bark records, and the pieces thus distributed were kept and regarded not only as sacred but as having certain curative powers when used in the hands of their possessors.

To become a priest of the Midi rite required much preparation, and the origin of that rite with the manner of conferring the four degrees was outlined in hieroglyphics as were their legends for the guidance of the masters who performed the ceremony.

When the tribe broke up-in haste at La Pointe and fled back again to Baw-a-ting some of these records were destroyed, but among the copies then made by the departing priests was one which has come down to us through successive generations, the last repositor being the son of Me-toshikosh, one of the Mississippi band. A copy of it is here submitted and represents Kitchi-Manido summoning the subordinate spirits to conference and their subsequent bestowal upon the Red Men of the four degrees of the secret rite.