Kanapima, An Ottawa Chief

Kanapima, An Ottawa Chief
One who is talked of or Augustin Hamelin, Jr

This is an admirable likeness, by Otis, of the ruling chief of the Ottawa, a tribe which was formerly numerous and powerful, but is now dwindled to a comparatively small number. They once occupied, as hunting-grounds, the finest lands of Ohio, and are mentioned by the early writers, as among the most warlike of the nations with whom the Europeans held intercourse, in the first settlement of the country. With the common fate of their race, they were driven from their former haunts to the sterile and in clement shores of Lake Superior, where a portion of them now derive a precarious subsistence by fishing and hunting, while the remainder have emigrated to the far west.

On of the most celebrated of all the northern Indians was Pontiac, the head chief of this tribe, whose daring exploits, and able opposition against the early British settlements on the lakes, are too well known to require repetition in this place. He lived on the south bank of the river St. Clair, above Detroit. His son Tisson, with a part of the tribe, lived on the lands at the junction of the Maumee with Lake Erie, since, and perhaps before, the revolutionary war. Tisson led his people in an expedition against the post of Vincennes, about the time of the first settlement of Kentucky. The Indians were defeated; and the chief, with a number of his warriors, were taken prisoners, and sentenced or threatened to be shot, according to the usages of retaliation too often practiced at that period. Tisson was rescued by a stratagem put in operation by a Frenchman named Navarre, and, after being concealed by the latter for some time, was enabled to make his escape. For this service, the Ottawa granted to the Navarre family eight hundred acres of choice land at the mouth of the Maumee river, on which they now live. We are indebted for these, and some other particulars, to the politeness of a friend, who received them from Pierre Navarre, grandson of the man who rescued Tisson.

Waskonoket, A cloud far off, the only surviving son of Tisson; was dwelling on the reserve land of his tribe, on Maumee bay, at the mouth of the river of that name, a few years ago. His mother was a French half-breed, and he exhibited in his countenance and complexion strong indications of the European blood which ran in his veins. He was five feet nine inches in height, erect, and well made for action or fatigue, with a round body, and full chest. His forehead was large, and inclining backward, his nose straight, but rather broad, his eyes a dark gray, and his lips prominent. He was affable, courteous, and hospitable in his intercourse with the whites, but dignified, firm, and somewhat reserved in his manners towards his own people, by whom he was much beloved, and over whom he maintained a strict rule. When the government purchased the lands of this band of the Ottawa, with a view to their removal to the west, he received twenty-five hundred dollars for his proportion, after which he became profuse in his expenditures. He had two wives, who lived together in perfect harmony. Our intelligent correspondent adds, “He, and this branch of the tribe, have moved over the Mississippi, to the lands appropriated for them by the government. When about leaving his inheritance, he appeared sometimes thoughtful, but neither expressed hope, nor joy, nor. regret. Near the time of his departure, I observed him stand ing in the principal street of the town we had laid out on a part of their council-ground and burial-place, with his arms folded on his breast, looking on the land, the river, and the bay, with that deep composure of features which the Indian, so commonly preserves, but which is so difficult to describe, for the closest observer could not discover in his countenance the indication of a single passion that moved in his breast.”

The larger portion of the Ottawa dwell in the province of Upper Canada. At the commencement of the war between the United States and Great Britain, the Canadian Ottawa joined the British, and were received into service, and they required the bands residing within the American boundaries to repair to the same standard. The latter gave an evasive answer; and shortly after sent a message to General Hull, offering to fight under his command, if he would engage to protect them from the Canadian tribes. The General, in pursuance of the humane policy adopted by the American government, informed them that he did not require their assistance, and advised them to remain peaceably at home, without embroiling themselves in a war in which they had no interest. But neutrality is by no means a condition suited to the Indian taste; and the Canadian tribes, on the defeat of General Hull, compelled their American friends to join them. They were, however, not very active; they had no chief of any energy to lead them, and little relish for the British service. Tisson died by poison, administered by some of his tribe, in the gratification of revenge or jealousy, and was buried on the east bank of the Maumee, in sight of the present town of Manhattan, in Ohio.

The subject of this sketch, Kanapima, or One who is talked of, is the chief of another branch of the Ottawa, who are settled at L’Arbre Croche, in Michigan, about forty miles south of Michilimackinac. He is otherwise called Augustin Hamelin, Jr. He was born at the place of his present residence, on the 12th of July, 1813. In 1829, he was sent to Cincinnati, in company with a younger brother, named Maccoda Binnasee, The Blackbird, to be educated at the Catholic seminary at that place. They remained here three years, not making any remarkable progress, that we can learn, but still receiving instruction with a degree of profit which encouraged the benevolent persons who had undertaken their education, to persevere in their generous design. Kanapima was said to be the more sprightly of the two, but the brother was probably the better scholar. They both exhibited much restless ness under the confinement of the school, and a decided fondness for athletic exercises. They loved the open air; when the sun shone they could scarcely be restrained from wandering off to the romantic hills which surround this beautiful city; and when it rained, however hard, they delighted to throw off their upper garments, and expose themselves to the falling showers.

It has been a favorite project with the Roman Catholic Missionaries, to rear up a native priesthood among the American Indians, and they have taken great pains to induce some of their converts to be educated for the holy office. It seems strange that so rational a project, and one which would appear to promise the most beneficent results, should have entirely failed, especially when under taken by a church of such ample means, and persevering spirit yet it is a fact, that not a single individual of this race in North America, among the many who have been educated, and the still larger number who have been converted to Christianity, has ever become a minister of the gospel.

Kanapima and his brother were of the number upon whom this experiment was tried, and they were accordingly sent to Rome in 1832, to prosecute their studies in the Propaganda Fide. After remaining there about two years, Maccoda Binnasee died, and Kanapima immediately afterwards returned to this country, became the chief of his tribe, and resumed the costume and habits of his people. His manners have much of the ease and polish of civil life; but his feelings, his affections, and his opinions have resumed their native channels. In the latter part of 1835, he conducted a party of his tribe to Washington city, and was one of those who were specially appointed by the Ottawa to make a treaty.

The affecting circumstance of the death of the young Ottawa student at Rome, has been commemorated in the following beautiful lines by the Rev. Edward Purcell, of Cincinnati.

On the Death of Maccoda Binnasee, at Rome

The morning breaks. See how the glorious sun,
Slow wheeling from the sea, new lustre sheds
O’er the soft climes of Italy! The flower
That kept its perfume through the dewy night,
Now breathes it forth again. Hill, vale, and grove,
Clad in rich verdure, bloom, and from the rock
The joyful waters leap. Oh! meet it is
That thou, Imperial Rome, should lift thy head,
Decked with the triple crown, when cloudless skies
And lands, rejoicing in the summer sun, Rich blessings yield.

But there is grief to-day:
A voice is heard within thy marble walls,
A voice lamenting for the youthful dead;
For o’er the relics of her forest boy
The “Mother of dead Empires” weeps. And lo!
Clad in white robes, the long procession moves;
Youths throng around the bier, and high in front,
Star of our hopes! the glorious cross is reared,
Triumphant sign! The low sweet voice of prayer,
Flowing spontaneous from the spirit’s depths,
Pours its rich tones, and now the requiem swells,
Now dies upon the ear.

But there is one
Who stands beside the grave, and, though no tear
Dims his dark eye, yet does his spirit weep.
With beating heart he gazes on the spot
Where his young comrade shall for ever rest;
For they together left their forest home,
Led on by him, who to their fathers preached
Glad tidings of great joy, the holy man,
Who sleeps beneath the soil his labors blessed.
How must the spirit mourn, the bosom heave,
Of that lone Indian boy! No tongue can speak
The accents of his tribe, and, as he bends,
In melancholy mood, above the dead,
Imagination clothes his tearful thoughts
In rude but plaintive cadences:

“Soft be my brother’s sleep!
At Nature’s call the cypress here shall wave,
The wailing winds lament above the grave
The dewy night shall weep.

“And he thou lea vest forlorn,
Oh ‘ he shall come to shade thy bed with moss,
To plant, what thou didst love, the mystic cross,
To hope, to pray, to mourn.

“No marble here shall rise;
But o’er thy grave I’ll teach the forest tree
To lift its glorious head, and point to thee,
Rejoicing in the skies:

“And when it feels the breeze,
I’ll think thy spirit wakes the gentle sound;
Such was our father’s thought, when all around
Shook the old forest leaves.

“Dost thou forget the hour
When first we heard the Christian’s hope revealed,
When fearless warriors felt their bosoms yield
Beneath Almighty power?

“Then truths came o’er us fast
Whilst on the mound the Missionary stood,
And through the list’ning silence of the wood
His words, like spirits, passed.

“And oh! hadst thou been spared,
We too had gone to bless the fatherland,
To spread rich stores around, and, hand in hand,
Each holy labor shared.

“But here thy relics lie,
Where Nature’s flowers shall bloom o’er Nature’s child,
Where ruins stretch, and classic art has piled
Her monuments on high.

“Sleep on, sleep peaceful here;
The traveler from thy native land will claim this spot,
And give to thee, what kingly tombs have not,
The tribute of a tear!”

Biography, Ottawa,

McKenny, Thomas & Hall, James & Todd, Hatherly & Todd, Joseph. History of the Indian tribes of North America: with biographical sketches and anecdotes of the principal chiefs. Embellished with one hundred portraits from the Indian Gallery in the War Department at Washington. Philadelphia: D. Rice & Co. 1872.

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