Chippewa Indian Chiefs and Leaders


A Chippewa chief, also known as Byianswa, son of Biauswah, a leading man of the Loon gens which resided on the south shore of Lake Superior, 40 miles west of La Pointe, northwest Wisconsin. He was taken prisoner by the Fox Indians when a boy, but was saved from torture and death by his father, who became a voluntary substitute. After the death of his father he moved with his people to Fond du Lac. Being made chief he led the warriors of various bands in an expedition against the Sioux of Sandy lake and succeeded in driving the latter from their village, and later the Sioux were forced to abandon their villages on Cass and Winnipeg lakes and their stronghold on Leech lake, whence they moved westward to the headwaters of Minnesota River. The Chippewa under Biauswah were those who settled in the country of the upper Mississippi about 1768 1. The date of his death is not recorded, but it probably occurred not long after the date named.


Broken Tooth

The son of Biauswah and chief of the Sandy Lake Chippewa, also referred to as Kadewabedas and Catawatabeta (strictly Ma‛kadēwâbidis, from ma‛kadē ‘black’, wábidis ‘tooth’), and by the French Brèchedent. He is spoken of as a little boy in 1763, and is mentioned in 1805 by Lieut. Zebulon M. Pike, who bestowed on him a medal and a flag, and according to whom his band at that time numbered but 45 men. Broken Tooth was one of the signers of the treaty of Prairie du Chien, Aug. 19, 1825; his death occurred in 1828. His daughter was the wife of Ermatinger, a British trader.


George Copway

Copway, George (Kagĭgegabo, he who stands forever. W. J.). A young Chippewa chief, born near the mouth of Trent River, Ontario, in the fall of 1818. His parents were Chippewa, and his father, until his conversion, was a medicine-man. George was educated in Illinois, and after acquiring considerable knowledge in English books returned to his people as a Wesleyan missionary. For many years he was connected with the press of New York City and lectured extensively in Europe and the United States, but he is noted chiefly as one of the few Indian authors. Among his published writings are:

  1. The Life, History, and Travels of Kah-ge-ga-gah-bowh (George Copway), Albany, 1847, and Philadelphia, 1847;
  2. The Life, Letters, and Speeches of Kah-ge-ga-gah-bowh, New York, 1850;
  3. The Traditional History and Characteristic Sketches of the Ojibway Nation, London and Dublin, 1850, and Boston, 1851;
  4. Recollections of a Forest Life, London, Edinburgh, and Dublin, 1851, and London, 1855;
  5. Indian Life and Indian History, Boston, 1858;
  6. The Ojibway Conquest, a Tale of the Northwest, New York, 1850;
  7. Organization of a New Indian Territory East of the Missouri River, New York, 1850;
  8. Running Sketches of Men and Places in England, France, Germany, Belgium and Scotland, New York, 1851.

Copway also wrote a hymn in the Chippewa language (London, 1851) and cooperated with the Rev. Sherman Hall in the translation of the Gospel of St Luke (Boston, 1837) and the Acts of the Apostles (Boston, 1838). He died at Pontiac, Michigan, about 1863.


Curly Head

Curly Head (Babisĭgandĭbe). A chief of the Mississippi (or Sandy lake) Chippewa, born about the middle of the 18th century, on the south shore of Lake Superior. He removed to the upper Mississippi about 1800 with a number of the Crane (Businausee) gens, of which he was a member, and settled near the site of the present, Crow Wing, Minnesota. Here his band was augmented by the bravest warriors and hardiest hunters of the eastern Chippewa until it became a bulwark against the Sioux raiders who hitherto had harried the Chippewa as far as the shores of Lake Michigan. The white traders lavished gifts upon him, which he freely shared with his followers. His lodge was always well supplied with meat, and the hungry were welcomed. The peace and friendship that generally prevailed between the white pioneers and the Chippewa were due chiefly to Curly Head’s restraining influence. He was visited in 1805 by Lieut. Z. M. Pike, who passed the winter in his neighborhood. He died while returning from the conference, known as the treaty of Prairie du Chien, held Aug. 19, 1825, in which his name appears as “Babaseekeendase, Curling Hair.” According to Warren 2 he was both civil and war chief of his people.



Enmegahbowh ( The one who stands before his people.) An Indian preacher. He was an Ottawa by birth, but was adopted while young by the Chippewa and was converted to the Methodist faith in Canada, educated at the Methodist mission school at Jacksonville, Illinois, and ordained as a preacher with the name of the Rev. John Johnson. In 1839 he accompanied Elder T. B. Kavanaugh to the upper Mississippi, where he was a missionary among the Chippewa for 5 years, when the Methodist church withdrew from that field. In 1852, at Johnson’s solicitation, the Episcopal church sent a minister into this section, and a mission and school were established at Gull lake, Minnesota, in which he served as assistant and interpreter. In 1858 Johnson was admitted by Bishop Kemper to the first order of the Episcopal ministry at Faribault, and in 1859 was left in charge of the mission at Gull Lake, where he continued until the Sioux outbreak of 1862, when he alone of the Episcopal missionaries remained in the field. In 1869 the Gull Lake Mission was removed to the reservation at White Earth, whither Johnson followed and was given charge, bringing into the church a number of his tribesmen and erecting a chapel and parsonage. Here the Rev. Joseph A. Gilfillan, who was assigned to White Earth as an Episcopal missionary in 1873, with Johnson’s aid established a school for the training of Indian clergy, and in a few years 9 Chippewa were ordained to the ministry. Johnson was living in 1898, at which time he was spoken as the “aged Indian pastor and co-worker of Bishop Whipple.”



Eshkebugecoshe (‘Flat-mouth , Wide-mouth’). A chief of the Pillager Chippewa; born in 1774, died about 1860. He belonged to the Awausee gens. In his youth Eshkebugecoshe engaged in distant expeditions, lived among the Cree and Assiniboin, and visited in war or peace the tribes of the upper Missouri, spending some time among the Hidatsa. His father, Yellow-hair (Wasonaunequa), was not a chief by descent, but gained ascendency over the Pillagers through his knowledge of medicine, and it is said that whoever incurred his hatred died mysteriously. The son was different, enjoying the respect of whites as well as Indians throughout his long life. He was much impressed by the prophecies of Tenskwatawa, and through his influence poisoning ceased among the Pillagers, as among other Chippewa. In the later contests with the Sioux for the head waters of the Mississippi he bore a valiant part. Although his band at Leech Lake, Minnesota, was decimated in the exterminating war, it continued to grow through accessions of the bravest spirits of the eastern villages. When a political agent sought to enlist the Pillagers in the British interest at the beginning of the war of 1812, Flat-mouth returned the proffered wampum belts, saying that he would as soon invite white men to aid him in his wars as take part in a quarrel between the whites.



Hole-in-the-day (Bagwŭnagijĭk, ‘hole, opening, rift in the sky’. W. J.). A Chippewa chief, a member of the warlike Noka (Bear) clan. He succeeded Curly-head as war chief in 1825. He had already been recognized as a chief by the Government for his bravery and fidelity to the Americans in the war of 1812. His whole subsequent life was spent in fighting the Sioux, and he ended the struggle that had lasted for centuries over the possession of the fisheries and hunting grounds of the Lake Superior region by definitively driving the hereditary enemy across the Mississippi. Had not the Government intervened to compel the warring tribes to accept a line of demarcation, he threatened to plant his village on Minnesota River and pursue the Sioux into the western plains. At Prairie du Chien he acknowledged the ancient possession by the Sioux of the territory from the Mississippi to Green bay and the head of Lake Superior, but claimed it for the Chippewa by right of conquest. The Chippewa had the advantage of the earlier possession of firearms, but in the later feuds which Hole-in-the-day carried on the two peoples were equally armed. George Copway, who valued the friendship of Hole-in-the-day and once ran 270 miles in 4 days to apprise him of a Sioux raid, relates how he almost converted the old chief, who promised to embrace Christianity and advise his people to do so “after one I more battle with the Sioux.” He was succeeded as head chief of the Chippewa on his death in 1846 by his son, who bore his father s name and who carried on in Minnesota the ancient feud with the Dakota tribes. At the time of the Sioux rising in 1862 he was accused of planning a similar revolt. The second Hole-in-the-day was murdered by men of his own tribe at Crow Wing, Minn., June 27, 1868.



Nanawonggabe. The principal chief, about the middle of the 19th century, of the Chippewa of Lake Superior. He was born about 1800, and was noted chiefly as an orator, and as the father of Ahshahwaygeeshegoqua (‘The Hanging Cloud’), the so-called “Chippewa Princess”, who was renowned as a warrior and as the only female among the Chippewa allowed to participate in the war ceremonies and dances, and to wear the plumes of the warriors. Nanawonggabe is described as having been of less than medium height and size, and as having intelligent features.

Consult further:

  1. Morse in Wisconsin Historical Society Collections, III, 338, 1857.



Shingabawassin (Shingábewasin, ‘reclining human figure of stone.’ – W. J.). A Chippewa chief of the Crane gens, born about 1763, and prominent during the first quarter of the 19th century. He was the eldest son of Maidosagee, the son of Gitcheojeedebun. His residence, during most of his years at least, was on the banks of St Mary’s River, Michigan, at the outlet of Lake Superior. His life, so far as known, was characterized by but few marked incidents, though largely spent in behalf of the welfare of his people. During his younger days he took an active part in the war expeditions of his band, especially those against the Sioux, but after assuming the responsibilities of his official life he became a strong advocate of peace. At the councils convened for the purpose of entering into treaties, especially those at Prairie du Chien in 1825, Fond du Lac in 1826, and Butte des Mortes in 1827, he was the leading speaker and usually the most important person among the Indian delegates.

He seems to have risen, to a large extent, above the primitive beliefs of his people, and even went so far in one of the councils as to advise making known to the whites the situation of the great copper deposits, although these were regarded by the Indians as sacred. A favorite scheme which he advanced and vigorously advocated, but without effect, was to have the United States set apart a special reservation for the half-breeds. In addition to the treaties mentioned Shingabawassin signed the treaty of Sault Ste Marie, June 11, 1820. He died between 1828 and 1837, and was succeeded as chief of the Crane gens by his son Kabay Noden.

Consult further:

  1. Schoolcraft, Personal Memoirs, 1851.
  2. McKenney and Hall, Indian Tribes, I, 1854.
  3. Warren, Hist. Ojebway, 1885.



Sassaba. A minor Chippewa chief of the Crane gens, who first appears in history as a member of Tecumseh’s forces at the battle of the Thames, Canada, Oct. 5, 1813, in which his brother, to whom he seems to have been greatly attached, was killed while fighting by his side. This incident embittered Sassaba against the Americans during the remainder of his life. When Lewis Cass visited Sault Ste Marie, Michigan, in 1820, to negotiate a treaty with the Chippewa for purchasing a small tract of land, Sassaba, who was one of the chiefs assembled on this occasion, not only manifested his bitter animosity toward the United States authorities, but displayed his eccentric character as well. During the council he hoisted the British flag over his tent, which was torn down by Gen. Cass in person. On this occasion he was thus dressed: “Beginning at the top an eagle’s feather, bear’s grease, vermilion and indigo, a red British military coat with two enormous epaulets, a large British silver medal, breech-clout, leggings, and moccasins.” He arose in council and remarked gruffly that the Chippewa did not wish to sell their land; and refusing the pipe, kicked over the presents that had been placed before him, and rushed from the tent under its side. He refused to sign the treaty 3.

On Sept. 25, 1822, Sassaba and his wife and child were drowned at Sault Ste Marie. He had been drinking heavily at Point aux Pins, 6 miles above the rapids, and was intoxicated during the trip. According to Schoolcraft 4 he would often walk through the village where he resided, divested of every particle of clothing except a large gray wolf’s skin, which he had drawn over his body in such manner as to let the tail dangle behind. From this habit the name Myeengun (‘wolf’) was sometimes applied to him. He was also known as The Count.Citations:

  1. Minn. Hist. Coll., v, 222, 1885[]
  2. Hist. Ojibway, 47, 1885[]
  3. Wis. Hist. Soc. Coll, V, 414-15, 1868[]
  4. Pers. Mem., 119, 1851[]


Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

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