Wabishkeepenas, Chippewa

Wabishkeepenas A Chippeway
A Chippeway

This portrait is not embraced in the gallery at Washington, but, being authentic, is added to our collection, in consideration of the interesting illustration which it affords of a remarkable, though not unusual, feature in the Indian character.

During the visit of Governor Cass and Colonel McKenney, at Fond du Lac Superior, in 1826, they met with this individual, who was pining in wretchedness and despondency under the influence of a superstition, which had rendered him an object of contempt in the eyes of his tribe. “An Indian opened the door of my room to day,” says Colonel McKenney, in his journal, “and came in, under circumstances so peculiar, with a countenance so pensive, and a manner so flurried, as to lead me to call the interpreter. Before the interpreter came in, he went out with a quick but feeble step, looking as if he had been deserted by every friend he ever had. I directed the interpreter to follow him, and ascertain what he wanted, and the cause of his distressed appearance. I could not get the countenance of this Indian out of my mind, nor his impoverished and forlorn looks.”

It seems that, in 1820, when Governor Cass and Mr. Schoolcraft made a tour of the tipper lakes, they were desirous of visiting the celebrated copper rock, a mass of pure copper of several tons weight, which was said to exist in that region, but found some difficulty in procuring a guide, in consequence of the unwillingness of the Indians to conduct strangers to a spot which they considered sacred. The copper rock was one of their manitos it was a spirit, a holy thing, or a something which, in some way, controlled their destiny for their superstitions are so indistinct that it is, in most cases, impossible to understand or describe them. The White Pigeon was prevailed upon to become their guide, but lost his way, to the great disappointment of the travelers, who were anxious to inspect a natural curiosity, the character of which was supposed to have been mistaken, if, indeed, its existence was not wholly fabulous. How it happened that an Indian of that region failed to find a spot so well known to his tribe, is not explained. The way might have been difficult, or the guide confused by the consciousness that he had undertaken an office that his people disapproved. The band, however, attributed his failure to the agency of the manito, who, according to their belief, guards the rock, and who, to protect it from the profanation of the white man’s presence, had interposed and shut the path. Under the impression that he had offended the Great Spirit, he was cast off by the tribe, but would probably have soon been restored to favor, had not further indications of the displeasure of the Deity rendered too certain that the crime of this unhappy man was one of the deepest dye. A series of bad luck attended his labors in the chase. The game of the forest avoided him; his weapons failed to perform their fatal office; and the conviction became settled that he was a doomed man. Deserted by his tribe, and satisfied in his own mind that his good spirit had forsaken him, he wandered about the forest a disconsolate wretch, deriving a miserable subsistence from the roots and wild fruit of that sterile region. Bereft of his usual activity and courage, destitute of confidence and self-respect, he seemed to have scarcely retained the desire or ability to provide himself with food from day to day.

The American Commissioners, on hearing the story of the White Pigeon’s fault and misfortunes, became interested in his fate. They determined to restore him to the standing from which he had fallen, and, having loaded him with presents, convinced both himself and his tribe that his offense was forgiven him, and his luck changed Governor Cass afterwards procured a better guide, and succeeded in finding the copper rock, which is really a curiosity, as will be seen on reference to our life of Shingaba W’Ossin.

Another incident, which occurred at Fond du Lac, may be mentioned, as exemplifying the superstitions of this race. An Indian, having killed a moose deer, brought it to the trading post for sale. It was remarkably large, and Mr. Morrison, one of the agents, was desirous to preserve the skin as a specimen. For this purpose, a frame was prepared, and the skin, properly stuffed, was stretched and supported so as to represent the living deer in a standing posture. About this time, the Indians were unsuccessful in taking moose, but were wholly ignorant of the cause of their ill fortune, until one of them, happening to visit the post, espied the stuffed deer, and reported what he had seen to his companions. The band agreed at once that their want of success was attributable to the indignity which had been offered to the deceased deer, whose spirit had evinced its displeasure by prevailing on its living kindred not to be taken by men who would impiously stuff their hides. Their first business was to appease the anger of this sensitive spirit. They assembled at the post, and with respectful gravity marched into the presence of the stuffed moose. They seated themselves around it, lighted their pipes, and began to smoke. The spirit of the deer was addressed by an orator, who assured it that the tribe was innocent of the liberty which had been taken with its carcass, and begged forgiveness. In token of their sincerity, the pipes were placed in the deer’s mouth, that it might smoke too; and they separated at last, satisfied that they had done all that a reasonable spirit of a moose deer could ask, and fully assured that spirit was appeased. But they were not willing that the exhibition should be continued. Mr. Morrison, to pacify them, took down the effigy, and when they saw the horns un-shipped, the straw with drawn, the frame broken, and the hide hung on a peg, as hides are wont to be hung, they were satisfied that all was right.

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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