Notice of the Miscotins and Assigunaigs

Notice of the Miscotins and Assigunaigs, Two Extinct Tribes, Who Preceded the Algonquins in the Occupancy of the Lake Basins.

Among the traditions which float in the minds of the Algonquin tribes who occupy the shores of the upper Lakes, are the names of the two now unknown tribes which are mentioned above. Over these they recite triumphs, in a long continued war. The residence of the Miscotins is identified with vestiges of human labor and residence at several points on the shores of Lakes Huron and Michigan. They are represented as having been driven south into the general area of the present States of Illinois and Wisconsin.

What relates to these allusions, may be stated as follows:

Fishing vessels of the leading maritime nations of Europe, appeared on the banks of Newfoundland in the early part of the 16th century. Denis commanded one of these, in 1506, and Aubert in 1508. Cartier, who coasted along the rugged and barren shores of Newfoundland, the “Heluiland” of the Scandinavians, in 1534, having discovered the gulf and river St. Lawrence, ascended the latter, the following year, to Lake St. Peters, in one of his ships, whence he proceeded, in boats, to the island of Hochelaga, the present site of Montreal. He found a large and populous town of Indians at this place, who, it is perceived from his short vocabulary, were of the Iroquois stock. These were subsequently found to be the ancient tribe known to us as Wyandots, whom the French, as Charlevoix tells us, named Hurons, from the wild manner of dressing their hair. The Indians, probably mistaking a generic for a specific question, and Cartier a specific for a generic reply, supposed they called the country “Canada,” when the word evidently only meant that part of it included in the town. These Indians occupied also the eastern and southern shores of the St. Lawrence, extending westward to Niagara and southeast to Lake Champlain, and were thus in juxtaposition to the other Iroquois Cantons. They were expert canoe-men; they descended the St. Lawrence during the fishing seasons, to the Gulf. In the improved map of the North American Coast, published at Amsterdam in 1654, the country around Lake Champlain is called “Irocosia,” which denoted the exclusiveness of the occupancy of the country east of the St. Lawrence and west of the Sorel, by that people at the date of the Dutch settlements.

On the opposite or north shores of the St. Lawrence the French found a people speaking a different language, who were, however, on terms with the Wyandots, and whom Golden, following the early French authors, represents as excelling the Iroquois in military skill and renown. This northern people traced their origin to the high and mountainous tract of lakes and cliffs which stretches from the sources of the Utawas River quite to the entrance of the Saguenay, at Tadousac. They are referred to by the early French writers as Montagues. They early came to be known, however, in popular language, by the terms Algomeequin 1 and its contraction Algonquin. This term has never been explained. The inflection win, in that language, gives a substantive form to verbs 2 Agomag and Agomeeg 3 are terms denoting along, an, at, shore, agreeably to the position of the speaker, and in this case meant the north shore. The plural inflections ag and eeg, giving the term a personal form, impart a meaning which may be rendered people of the opposite shores. Thus it was only a descriptive term, without denoting nationality.

The Algonquins extended up the Utawas, and from its sources south, west, and north, spreading through the entire area of the Upper Lakes. It is not known when they first reached these lakes. After their defeat in the St. Lawrence valley, by the Iroquois, they abandoned that valley, and joined their kindred west. History finds them, early in the 16th century, seated about the shores of Lakes Huron, Michigan, and Superior. Their traditions state that they had reached these lakes from the east. They were divided into numerous local bands bearing, generally, some local name, but differing in scarcely any appreciable degree (except in those minute tribal peculiarities known only to themselves) in language, looks, manners, or customs. At the earliest dates remembered in their traditions, the Attawas, or Ottawas, occupied the St. Lawrence, and afterwards the chain of the Manatouline islands of Lake Huron. This lake was early called, and is still known to the Algonquins as, Ottawa Lake. The tribe of the Missisagies 4 lived first at the river of that name, on the north shore of that lake, between La Cloche and Point Tessalon. We find them, in 1653, on the shores of Lake Ontario, between Genesee and Niagara Rivers. 4

The Nipercincans, who are deemed the true Algonquins by ancient writers, lived at Lake Nepissing; the Ojibwas on the straits of St. Mary’s and on the shores of Lake Superior.

Ottawa and Chippewa tradition represents these tribes at first as coming into hostile collision, as a nation, with a people who appear to have been their predecessors in the lakes. This collision we first hear of on the inner shores of the island of Portagunasee, 5 and on the narrow peninsula of Point Detour, Lake Huron, the latter being the western cape of the entrance into the straits of St. Mary’s. They fought and defeated them at three several places, and drove them west. To this primitive people, who appeared to rule in the region about Michillimackinac, they gave the name of Mushkodains, or Little Prairie Indians. Chusco, an aged Ottowa of Michillimackinac, invariably used the word in its diminutive and plural forms, namely, Mush-ko-dains-ug; that is to say, People of the Little Prairie. He spoke of them as the people whom the Algonquins drove off, and he invariably referred to them when questioned about ancient bones and caves, in the region of Michillimackinac. They had magicians for their leaders. Their war-captain escaped, the tradition says, under-ground, in the battle at Point Detour. They fled on this occasion up the coast to Michillimackinac, and so, by degrees, into Lake Michigan by its eastern shores, whence their traditions follow them as far south as the Washtenong, called Grand River by the French. These Mushkodains they represent as powerful and subtle, and excelling themselves in arts and necromancy. 6 They deposited the human bones, he said, found in caves at Michillimackinac. They are the authors of the trenches filled with human bones on Menissing or Round Island, in Lake Huron. The Ottawas attribute to them the small mounds and the old garden-beds in Grand River Valley, and at other places, and, in short, they point to them for whatever in the antiquities of the country they cannot explain or account for. Who these Little Prairie, or Fire Indians were, is uncertain. Are we not to regard them as the lost Mascotins of the early French writers? Were they not cotemporary in the Lakes, with the Assigunaigs, or Bone Indians, spoken of by the western and Lake tribes?

No reasonable doubt can exist on this subject. They are names ever in the foreground of Algonquin history, and these people appear to have fought for the possession of the Lake country. By them the ancient ossuaries were probably constructed; and we have considered the facts in vain if they were not the nations who worked the ancient copper-mines on Lake Superior. They appear to have passed south by the present sites of Grand River and Chicago.

The similarity of the ground form of the names for “prairie” and fire may have led to confusion in the minds of writers. Mushcoosi is grass or herbage in general. Ishkoda means fire. The only difference in the root form is that between Ushko and Ishko.

Algonquin tradition, as given by the Ottowa chief, Ke-wa-goosh-kum, in 1821, represents the separation of the Chippewas, Ottawas, and Potawatomies to have taken place in the vicinity of Michillimackinac. Chusco, the jossakeed, who died in 1838, makes the Ottawas, with a very pardonable vanity, to have been the most valiant tribe in the war against the Prairians or Muskoda men. Ishqua-gonabi, chief of the Chippewas on Grand Traverse Bay, and a man knowing traditions, denotes the war against muskoda men or dwellers on Little Prairie or Plains, to have been carried on by the Chippewas and Ottawas, and in this manner he accounts for the fact that villages of Chippewas and Ottawas alternate at this day on the eastern shores of Lake Michigan. 7} Ossigunac, an Ottawa chief of note of Penetauguishine, says that the Ottawas went at first to live among the men called the Potawatomies, about the southern shores or head of Lake Michigan; but the latter used bad medicine, and when complained of for their necromancy, they told the Ottawas they might go back towards the north if they did not like them. 8 They had made a fire for themselves. 9 This is the sum of what I have been able to glean about the predecessors of the Algonquins of the Lakes.Citations:

  1. Are we to understand this phrase as being derived from ice, miquom, or Beaver, Amik?[]
  2. Thus, neme is the infinitive to dance, Neme-win, a dance; Ke-ge-do, to speak; Ke-ge-do-win, a speaker.[]
  3. The germ-word here, which is sometimes goma and sometimes gome, means water, it is the element denoting sea, great lake, bay, arm of the sea, &c., in compounds. Jig and eg are plural inflections animate, and, when thus employed in inanimate nouns, render the subject noble. The grammatical rule, in the Algonquin, is, that all nouns ending in a vowel are rendered plural, in the inanimate, by the letter n, and in the animate, by g.[]
  4. Edifiantes.[][]
  5. Latterly known as Drummond Island.[]
  6. My informer was a jossakeed, and laid much stress on the superiority which the art of necromancy imparted.[]
  7. Travels in the central portions of the Mississippi Valley.[]
  8. MSS. Journal of Notes and Researches at Michillimackinac and Detroit, between the years 1833 and 1838.[]
  9. The word Potawatomies means makers of fire, a symbolic phrase, by which is meant, they who assume separate sovereignty by building a council-fire for themselves. []

Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe. Archives of aboriginal knowledge. Containing all the original paper laid before Congress respecting the history, antiquities, language, ethnology, pictography, rites, superstitions, and mythology, of the Indian tribes of the United States. Philadelphia, J. B. Lippincott & Co. 1860.

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