Vol. 1 No. 46
Wednesday January 28, 1829
Pg. 1 Col. 1b
From the National Intelligencer
Gentlemen: Before proceeding with the recital of the remaining incident connected with the valedictory interview of the Winnebago warriors with their great Father, the President, it is proper to mention some circumstances which lent to the meeting quite another than a mere complimentary character.
In the country of these savages is a tract rich in minerals, which has long tempted the cupidity of our advanced settlers in that region, and which is familiarly known as the Led Mine District. Adventurers from among the whites are frequently exploring that territory and have already extracted considerable quantities of the ore. Such acquisitions hold out the lure to fresh enterprises, though at considerable personal risk. For the native proprietors, claiming the soil as their's de jure, and being sensitively alive to everything that looks like an invasion of their territorial immunities-though they can make no use in their crude state of the treasures embosomed in that portion of their lands-have little disposition that they should pass into the undisputed and permanent possession of white emigrants. They first warned these away-then menaced them; but the latter persisted in their designs, and laughed at remonstrances and threats, till a bolder stand was assumed by certain of the indignant tribe, and some blood was spilt as a natural consequence.
Though the General Government had previously lent no direct countenance to the intrusions of our people on the Winnebago lands, yet, the murder of any citizen was an offence that could not be overlooked, as thereby the lives of our entire population scattered in that quarter would be jeoparded (sic). A formal demand was accordingly made of those who had perpetrated the violence; and the three principals were arrested and conducted to Prairie du Chien. One has since died there; the others are still detained in close custody by our authorities on that station.
This step was little likely to be brooked by the more fiery spirits among the Winnebagoes. War was the cry; but to divert this, a proposal was made that a deputation of their Chiefs should visit Washington to seek a pardon for those of their Countrymen confined as above and to arrange the difficulties growing out of the frequent trespasses by our citizens upon the Lead Mine District. This project which originated with the Whites had for its true object the impressing these people with an idea of the overwhelming superiority of the States of this Republic, in the event of their still inclining to try the tug of war.*
It was understood that, at the present meeting, a request would be made by the savage deputation for the release and restoration of their captive brethren at Prairie du Chien, and it was a matter of interest to observe how that request should be preferred. When the old Chief, whose speech was given in a former communication, had resumed his seat, the orator of the tribe was put forth in the midst.
As he rose, he threw aside his blanket, stood before the assembly, from the waist up in puris naturalibus. His moccasins and dark cloth hose were somewhat fancifully trimmed. A strip of leather on either leg connected the later with the compact covering which encircled his loins; and this was confined about his middle, by a slender thong running through several perforated and quantity of ornamented bones which served well the purpose of loops. Just above the elbow of his right arm was tied a truss of long coarse hair, which once belonged to the flowing mane of some generous steed. A part of this hung loose an half yard or more; and ashe moved his hand in gesticulation it was flourished wit whimsical effect. In the athletic form-the broad heaving chest-the bald and not undignified attitudes- the firm-set features-the keen penetrating eyes-the impassioned action of this Son of the Forest, there was much that forcibly impressed and riveted attention.
He commenced his address by saying, that, though not a chief by hereditary right, he enjoyed the privileges of one by virtue of his permanent office of public orator; a fact not a little interesting as marking the importance attached to the art of speaking in the estimation of such a barbarous people. He then dilated in a strain of rude but manly compliment, well fitted to bespeak favor to the cause he was to advocate; but on the cause itself he disdained to expend many words. His intercession on that point was couched in the concluding paragraph of the harangue:-
"Father, my heart is heavy. Indulge me with a request. When I and your Red Children go from you, permit us to bear paper from your hands, that shall give light to the poor Winnebagoes imprisoned at Prairie du Chien."
I know not how the form of this appeal struck the sensibilities of others; but to me, the simple metaphorical turn of the latter expression particularly, appeared exquisitely touching and beautiful.
The speaker paused. As there had been none of the obsequious tones of the suppliant in his language, so there was nothing offensively bold, impetuous, or arrogant in his manner of address. Calm and collected he stood, awaiting the President's replication.
Before delivering this, Mr. Adams saw fit to summon two of the chiefs to receive, in company with the orator, the sentence about to be pronounced. The ole warrior that had opened the conferences, and a second stern-visaged chief, whose massive form was scared by wounds obtained in many a desperate fight, ranged themselves accordingly on either side of the speaker, expecting in mute dignity, the issue of the appeal.
I see them now-those proud Chiefs-nobles of nature, bearing on their brow conscious independence, and the stamp of innate loftiness of spirit-as first, erect, fearless, they confronted the Federal Head of this powerful Republic, and fixed their piercing glance upon his tranquil countenance a glance that seemed to probe and explore the very thoughts of his breast. The vision will live in unfaded freshness in my memory; and the deep emotions with which, at the time of their presentation, I surveyed these strikingly impressive figures, will not fail to be called up at each successive reminiscence.
The introduction of the President's reply could hardly have prepared them for its sequel. He observed that a power had been indeed vested with him by the People of these States to remit at discretion the punishment of death, in the instance of those whose lives were forfeited to the violated laws of the land; but it was a power which he had never exercised in behalf of any offenders among his brethren, the Whites; that, moreover, there was a law which especially, prescribed the last penalty to be inflicted on a crime like that with which the prisoners at Prairie du Chien stood charged-a law ordained by the Great Spirit, whom the Winnebagoes, no less than the white people recognized-a law which enacted "whose shedeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed:" "But," added the President, after an emphatic pause, "to manifest the conciliatory disposition wherewith my bosom is filled, and to prove the sincerity of my pacific professions communicated this day, I will grant to your tribe a favor withheld from individuals of my own nation; and happy I am by the terms of this instrument in complying with the request you have urged."
The document containing the authority, in form, for the discharge of their convict brethren, was then made over to the chiefs. Their aim was hereby answered; but another, and an important one, in the estimation of the President, remained on his part, to be achieved.
He availeth himself of the occasion to represent to them the expediency of ceding to our citizens, in full fee, the district wherein the troubles had originated; that, whereas the tract was of little value to the Winnebagoes, it would prove of emanate utility in the hands of our People; that, in the event of its surrender, a reasonable indemnity should be allowed the former, to be determined in amicable conference on some future occasion; that, thereby, all pretext for fresh feuds and difficulties would be effectually prevented, and the friendship now mutually pledged be lastingly sealed and cemented.
The Chiefs retired in silence to the circle of their associates. It was doubtful, a while, in what light they regarded the proposal. They could not, indeed, but be sensible, that to refuse it altogether would seem uncourteous; and they were sufficiently wary to know the consequences of such a declaration might prove very impolic(sic). At length a grave chief, the Nestor of the savage group-the same who, in person, seized and delivered up Red Bird to the authorities at Prairie du Chien-rose, and said: That by immemorial usage among the Winnebagoes, no portion of their lands could be alienated without the consent of all their warriors obtained in solemn council; but that, in consideration of the spirit of indulgence shown by their Great Father on the present occasion, the Deputation promised to employ their influence with their brethren, on their return, to induce a release to the white settlers of a small portion of the territory in a conveyance. The hope nevertheless, he expressed, that nothing more would be solicited of the Winnebagoes, as, the felt themselves bound to hold in perpetuity the soil which the Great Spirit had giver them. He ended by saying, with impressive solemnity,
"Father, if you sent commissioners to treat with us, let them be good men; if agents to dwell among us, let them be honest men,- & do not try to convert us to the habits of your children, or to make us like Indians of Green Bay. We wish to live as we have lived, and to follow and abide by the customs of our forefathers."
A second calmut(sic) was then produced-a more showy one than the former-which was smoked as before, and given, on the close of the ceremony in custody to the Chief Magistrate.- The distribution of presents followed.
Among these were large silver medallions, ornamented on the side with a faithful likeness of the President, together with his name and the date of inauguration; and display on the reverse, the emblems of hands joined in friendship, and the pipe and tomahawk crossed, coupled with the motto "Peace and Friendship." They were neatly tied with green riband drawn through rings, and the President in person put them about the necks of the savages in order. Next each of them received a beautiful rifle; then a cutlass, or a brave of pistols, at option with sundry accompaniments, such as bullet molds and other useful instruments, with all which they appeared well pleased. The locks and general finish of their fire arms, their sight-to determine if it were true-and the temper of their sword blades, they examined with care; and it was a curious spectacle to witness in such an apartment these destructive weapons, bristling as in a fight, and tossed from hand to hand by men of such powerful frame, with the lightness and sport of children's gee-gaws.
Refreshments were once more circulated, and the barbarians took their leave-but alas, for them not so rich as they came. In the promise uttered by one of their number in a single breath, they had forfeited "the pound of flesh," and it will be unyieldingly exacted of them.
More land! Yes Winnebago, the heel of the foot of the white man is already upon hour soil, and ere long the whole will be pressed down and made to cover it.
It is right doubtless; for it is permitted of Heaven. The decree of extermination has gone forth against the entire Aboriginal race that yet haunt our forests and wilds as surely, as irreversibly as ever against the Canaanites of old. And their destruction lingers not. "As the wing of the whirlwind swift," it hastens to overtake them. Civilization must displace barbarism. The fierce hunter is compelled to give away to the patient husbandman and skillful artisan; and the wide-stretched solitudes which now yield precarious supplies of subsistence in recompense of his adventurous toils, will sooner or later be parceled into busy towns, and smiling villages, and teeming fields, and farms and gardens and orchards.
On, on the tide of our country's population rolls and sweeps. It pours steadily forward, and will not stop short of the Pacific Year by year our military pests are thrown deeper into the wilderness; but they cannot overtake the pioneers in the march of civilized emigration. Whilst I write, a new Territory by official recognition is coming into the pale of the Union: and another winter, the Delegate of Huron, in addition of these of Arkansas and Michigan, will doubtless be seen seated in the great Legislative Councils of the nation. Within the space of a few brief years at the utmost, our flag will fly over a fortress at the mouth of the Oregon; and the enterprising sons of the East-a second official Gentleman will have trod smooth the path from sea to sea.
Does the anticipated triumph of the arts of peace, principles of civilization, the benign influence of the wise laws, enlightened government, and sound religion, over ignorance and barbarism and debasing superstition, awaken within us a throb of honest exultation? Let us drop a tear over the fate of the unfortunate beings whose complete excision from the face of the earth such a triumph almost necessarily implies. Untutored they may be--wild, vindictive, and untractable-- instruments of cruelty may be in their habitations; and the beams of divine truth fall upon their souls, the darkness might comprehend it not. Yet they are not without redeeming and manly virtues. Brave they confessedly are--of unrivalled fortitude in endurances of evil--hospitable often to the stranger cast among them--ever faithful to the word they plight--in their natural state, patient of toil, temperate and continent. As they melt then gradually away from before our eyes, and relinquish to our quiet occupancy the fair and broad domain which God and nature originally gave them, let us accord to them our sympathy for their stern lot, and yield the tribute of respect and applause to such magnanimous qualities whether of instinct or of habit as they conspicuously possess and heroically exercise.
A Looker on in Washington.
*This is the account which I have received:
_______Si quid novisti rectius istis, Candidus imperti; si non, his utere mecum.