George Copway.

Life, letters and speeches of Kah-ge-ga-gah-bowh, or, G. Copway, chief Ojibway nation .. online

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Online LibraryGeorge CopwayLife, letters and speeches of Kah-ge-ga-gah-bowh, or, G. Copway, chief Ojibway nation .. → online text (page 1 of 15)
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a. C OP WAY,


A Missionary for many years in the North-West; now the projector of the
Concentration .of the North-Western Indian Tribes, for the Better Promotion
of thair Physical Improvement.







By Traiiofer
AU'i 14 1917

Entered aeeoidinfli to Act of Congreee, on the 9tb day of December, 1946,

Id the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the Northern Diatrict of the State
of New York.















Preface, 7

A Word to the Reader, 9

CHAP. I. Early life; Woods; Gods; Ojebwa Nation, &c. . 11
II. Customs; Father and Mother ; Religion of Ojebwas 21

III. Spirits; Ojebwa Worship; Description, etc. . . 30

IV. Omens ; Dreams ; Anecdote ; Devil's Spittle, . . 38
V. Traditions; Indians and Jews; Migration; Councils 4S

VI. Description of Rice Lake; Rice ; Fish; Village, etc. 49

VII. Missionaries' first visit; Conversion; Camp meeting 52

VIII. My Mother's conversion and happy death; Grief . 58

IX. My Conversion ; Beauty of Nature ; Lake Superior 62

X. Kewawenon Mission; Work Spread ; Old Anna . 67

XI. Travels to La Pointe; Ottawa Lake; Battle Grounds 76

XII. Sent to School, 111., two years; New- York; Boston 83

XIII. Return to Canada; Revivals; Christmas: New-Year 96

XIV. Wisconsin; Mississippi; Sufferings 116

XV. Travels to Canada; Presbyterian Missionaries, Tri-
als ; Paid by Government ; Journey to Toronto 125

XVI. General Council; Speeches; Order; Documents, etc.;
Manual Labor School ; Plan, or Remedy for the
preservation of the different tribes .... 132
XVII. Geographical Sketch of the Ojebwa Nation ; Mis-
sions; Presbyterians; Methodists; Baptists;
Appeal to Christians in America 142

1. Chippewas on the River Thames 145

2. Chippewas at Amherstburg 145

3. Chippewas of St. Clair , .146

4. Chippewas at Walpole Island * . 147

5. Chippewas of the River Credit ...... 147

6. Chippewas of Alnwick 148

7. Chippewas at Rice Lake 149

8. Chippewas at Mud Lake 149

9. Chippewas at Balsam Lake , . 150

10. Chippewas of Rama 150

11. Chippewas of Beausoliel Island, Matchadisk Bay,

Lake Huron 151

12. Chippewas of Snake Island, Lake Simcoe . . . 151

13. Chippewas of Saugeeng (Lake Huron) .... 152

14. Chippewas of Big Bay, in Owen's Sound, Lake

Huron . . . . < 152

15. Chippewas and others, in the Township of Bedford 153


In presenting my life to the public, I do so with the
greatest diffidence, and at the earnest solicitation of
numerous friends. I am an Indian, and am well aware
of the difficulties I have to encounter to win the favora-
ble notice of the white man. Yet one great object
prompts me to persevere, and that is, that I may, in
connection with my life, present the present state and
prospects of my poor countrymen— feeling that the
friends of humanity may still labor and r^'.^ect their
benevolence to those who were once the lords of the land
on which the white man lives — and assist in rescuing
them from an untimely and unchristian grave.

I have noticed some of our prominent chiefs now
living ; the missionaries laboring amongst my people j
the extent of the missionary field 5 and an appeal to all
who feel interested in the welfare of the Indian race.

If ever I see the day when my people shall become
happy and prosperous, I shall then feel great and lasting
pleasure, which will more than repay me for the pain,
both of body and mind, which I have endured for the
last twelve years. My motto is — *' My poor People.'''*

In all my crooked paths, I have endeavored to mean


well. I thank my friends for'their kind gifts and wishes
Yet still as much, and more, remains to be accomplished.
Pray for us — that religion and science may lead us on
to intelligence and virtue ; that we may imitate the
good white man, who, like the eagle, builds its nest on
the top of some high rock — science; that we may edu-
cate our children, and turn their minds to God. Help
us, help us to live — and teach us to die a Christian's
death, that our spirits may mingle with the blessed



It would be presumptuous in one, who has but recently-
been brought out of a wild and savage state ; and who
has since received but three years' schooling, to under-
take, without any assistance, to publish to the world a
work of any kind. It is but a few years since I began
to speak the English language. An unexpected oppor-
tunity occurred of submitting my manuscript to a friend,
who has kindly corrected all serious grammatical errors,
leaving the unimportant ones wholly untouched, that
my own style may be exhibited as truly as possible.
The public and myself are indebted to him for his
kind aid, and he has my most sincere thanks. The
language, (except in a few short sentences,) the plan,
and the arrangement are all my o\vn; and I am
wholly responsible for all the statements, and the
remaining defects. My work is now accomplished ;
and I am too well aware of the many fauhs which are
still to be found therein. Little could I imagine, that I
should have to contend with so many obstacles. All
along, have I felt my great deficiency ; and my inade-
quacy for such an undertaking. I would fain hope,
however, that the kind Reader will throw the mantle of
cb:ri*vover errors of every kind. I am a stranp-er in n


strange laud ! And often, when the sun is sinking in
the wtistern sky, I think of my former home ; my heart
yearns for the loved of other days, and tears flow 'ike
the summer rain. How the heart of the wanderer and
pilgrim, after long years of absence, beats, and his eyes
fill, as he catches a glance at the hills of his nativity,
and reflects upon the time when he pressed the lips of
a mother, or sister, now cold in death. Should I live,
this painful pleasure will yet be mine. " Blessed he the
Lord J who hath helped me hit her to. ^^



JuLy 1847.



The Christian will no doubt feel for ray poor people,
when he hears the story of one brought from that
unfortunate race called the Indians. The lover of
humanity will be glad to see that that once powerful
race can be made to enjoy the blessings of life.

What was once impossible — or rather thought to be —
IS made possible through my experience. I have made
many close observations of men, and things around me;
but, I regret to say, that I do not think I have made as
good use of ray opportunities as I raight have done.
It will be seen that I know but little — yet how pre-
cious that little! — I would rather lose my right hand
than be deprived of it.

I loved the woods, and the chase. I had the nature
for it, and gloried in nothing else. The mind for letters
was in me, but was asleep, till the dawn of Christianity
arose, and awoke the slumbers of the soul into energy
and action.

You will see that I served the imaginary gods of my
poor blind father. I was out early and late in quest of
the favors of the Mon-e-doos (spirits,) who, it was said,
were numerous — who filled the air ! At early dawn I


watched the rlshig of the palace of the Great Spirit —
the sun — who, it was said, made the world !

Early as I can recollect, I was taught that it was the
gift of the many spirits to be a good hunter and warrior ;
and much of my time I devoted in search of their
favors. On the mountain top, or along the valley, or
the water brook, I searched for some kind intimation
from the spirits w^ho made their residence in the noise
of the waterfalls.

I dreaded to hear the voice of the angry spirit in the
gathering clouds. I looked with anxiety to catch a
glimpse of the wings of the Great Spirit, who shrouded
himself in rolling w^hite and dark clouds — w^ho, with his
wings, fanned the earth, and laid low the tall pines and
hemlock in his course — who rode in whirlwinds and
tornadoes, and plucked the trees from their woven
roots — who chased other gods from his course — who
drove the Bad Spirit from the surface of the earth, down
to the dark caverns of the deep. Yet he w^as a kind
spirit. My father taught me to call that spirit Ke-sha-
mon-e-doo — Benevolent spirit — for his ancestors taught
him no other name to give to that spirit who made the
earth, with all its variety and smiling beauty. His
benevolence I saw in the running of the streams, for
the animals to quench their thirst and the fishes to live ;
the fruit of the earth teemed w-herever I looked. Every
thing I saw smilingly said Ke-sha-mon-e-doo nin-ge-oo-
she-ig — the Benevolent spirit made me.

Where is he ? My father pointed to the sun. What
is his will concerning me, and the rest of the Indian
race ? This was a question that I found no one could


answer, until a beam from heaven shone on my pathway,
'irhich was very dark, when first I saw that there was a
tive heaven — not in the far-setting sun, where the Indian
anticipated a rest, a home for his spirit — but in the
bosom of the Highest.

I view" my Hfe Uke the mariner on the wide ocean,
without a compass, in the dark night, as he watches the
heavens for the north star, which his eye having
discovered, he makes his way amidst surging seas, and
tossed by angry billows into the very jaws of death, till
he arrives safely anchored at port. I have been tossed
with hope and fear in this life ; no star-light shone on
my way, until the men of God pointed me to a Star in
the East, as it rose with all its splendor and glory. P
was the Star of Bethlehem. I could now say in the
language of the poet —

** Once on the raging seas I rode,

The storm was loud, the night was dark;

The ocean yawned, and rudely blowed

The wind that tossed my foundering bark."

Yes, I hope to sing some day in the realms of bliss—

" It was my guide, my light, my all !

It bade my dark foreboding cease ;
And through the storm and danger's thrall,

It led me to the port of peace."

I have not the happiness of being able to refer to
written records in narrating the history of my fore-
fathers ; but I can reveal to the world what has long
been laid up in my memory; so that when "I go the
way of all the earth," the crooked and singular paths
which T have made in the world, may not only be a


warning to others, but may inspire them with a trust iii
God. And not only a warning and a trust, but also
th?t the w^orld may learn that there once lived such a
man as Kah-ge-ga-gah-bowh, when they read his griefs
and his joys.

My parents were of the Ojebwa nation, who lived o
the lake back of Cobourg, on the shores of Lake Onta
Canada West. The lake was called Rice Lake, where
there was a quantity of wild rice, and much game of
different kinds, before the whites cleared away the
woods, where the deer and the bear then resorted.

My father and mother were taught the religion of their
nation. My father became a medicine man in the early
part of his life, and always had by him the implements
or war, which generally distinguish our head men.
He was a good hunter as any in the tribe. Very few
brought more furs than he did in the spring. Every
spring they returned from their hunting grounds. The
Ojebwas each claimed, and claim to this day, hunting
grounds, rivers, lakes, and whole districts of country.
No one hunted on each other's ground. My father had
the northern fork of the river Trent, above Bellmont

My great-grandfather was the first who ventured to
settle at Rice Lake, after the Ojebwa nation defeated
the Hurons, who once inhabited all the lakes in West-
ern Canada, and who had a large village just on the top
of the hill of the Anderson farm, (which was afterwards
occupied by the Ojebwas,) and which furnished a
magnificent view of the lakes and surrounding coun-
try. He was of the Crane tribe, i. e. had a crane for


totem — coat of arms — which now forms the totem of the
villagers, excepting those who have since come amongst
us from other villages by intermarriage, for there was a
law that no one was to marry one of the same totem, for
all considered each other as being related. He must
have been a daring adventurer — a warrior — for no one
would have ventured to go and settle down on the land
from which they had just driven the Hurons, whom the
Ojebwas conquered and reduced, unless he was a great
hero. It is said that he lived about the islands of Rice
Lake, secreting himself from the enemy for several years,
until some others came and joined him, when they
formed a settlement on one of the islands^ He must
have been a great hunter, for this was one of the princi-
pal inducements that made him venture there, for there
must have been abundance of game of every kind
The Ojebwas are called, here and all around, Massis-
suagays, because they came from Me-sey Sah-gieng, at
the head of Lake Huron, as you go up to SaultSt. Marie

Here he lived in jeopardy — with his life in his hand —
enduring the unpleasant idea that he lived in the land
of bones — amidst the glooin^ which shrouded the once
happy and populous village of the Hurons ; here their
bones lay broad-cast around his wigwam ; where,
among these woods once rang the war cry of the Hu-
rons, echoing along the valley of the river Trent, but
whose sinewed arms now laid low, with their badges
and arms of war, in one common grave, near the resi-
dence of Peter Anderson, Esq. Their graves, forming
a hillock, are now all that remain of this once powerful


nation. Their bones, gun barrels, tomahawks, war
spears, large scalping knives, are yet to be found there.
This must have taken place soon after the formation of
the settlement in Quebec.

The Crane tribe became the sole proprietors of this
part of the Ojebwa land ; the descendants of this tribe
will continue to wear the distinguishing sign ; except
in a few instances, the chiefs are of this tribe.

My grandfather lived here about this time, and held
some friendly intercourse with the whites. IMy father
here learned the manners, customs, and worship of the
nation. He, and others, became acquainted with the
early settlers, and have ever been friendly with the
w^hites. And I know the day when he used to shake
'he hand of the white man, and, very friendly^ the
white man w^ould say, " take some whiskey y When
he saw any hungering for venison, he gave them to eat ;
and some, in return for his* kindness, have repaid him
after they became good and great farmers.

My mother was of the Eagle tribe ; she was a sensi-
ble woman ; she was as good a hunter as any of the In-
dians ; she could shoot the deer, and the ducks flying,
as well as they. Nature had done a great deal for her,
for she was active ; and she was much more cleanly
than the majority of our women in those days. She
lived to see the day when most of her children were
given up to the Lord in Christian baptism ; while she
experienced a change of heart, and the fulness of God
in man, for she lived daily in the enjoyment of God's
favors. I will speak more of her at a proper time, re-
specting her life and happy death.


My father still lives ; he is from sixty-five to seventy
years old, and is one of the chiefs of Rice Lake Indian
Village. He used to love fire-water before he was con-
verted to God, but now lives in the enjoyment of reli-
gion, and he is happy without the devil's spittal — whis'
key. If Christianity had not come, and the grace of
God had not taken possession of his heart, his head
would soon have been laid low beneath the fallen leaves
of the forest, and I, left, in my youthful days, an orphan.
But to God be all the praise for his timely deUverance.

The reader will see that I cannot boast of an exalted
parentage, nor trace the past history to some renowned
warrior in days of yore ; but let the above suffice. My
fathers were those who endured much ; who first took
possession of the conquered lands of the Hurons.

1 was born mnature'^s wide domam ! The trees were
all that sheltered my infant limbs — the blue heavens all
that covered me. I am one of Nature's children ; 1
have always admired her ; she shall be my glory ; her
features — her robes, and the wreath about her brow —
the seasons — her stately oaks, and the evergreen — her
hair — ringlets over the earth, all contribute to my endur-
ing love of her ; and wherever I see her, emotions of
pleasure roll in my breast, and swell and burst like
waves on the shores of the ocean, in prayer and praise
to Him who has placed me in her hand. It is thought
great to be born in palaces, surrounded with wealth
— but to be born in nature's wide domain is greater

I was born sometime in the fall of 1818, near the mouth
of the river Trent, called in our language, Sah-ge-dah-we-


ge-wah-noong, while my father and mother were attend-
ing the annual distribution of the presents from the govern-
ment to the Indians. I was the third of our family ; a
brother and sister being older, both of whom died. My
brother died without the knowledge of the Saviour, but
my sister experienced the power of the loving grace of
God. One brother, and two step-brothers, are still

I remember the tall trees, and the dark woods — the
swamp just by, where the little wren sang so melodiously
after the going down of the sun in the west— the current
of the broad river Trent — the skipping of the fish, and
the noise of the rapids a litde above. It was here I first
saw the light ; a litde fallen down shelter, made of ever-
greens, and a few dead embers, the remains of the last
fire that shed its genial warmth around, were all that
marked the spot. When I last visited it, nothing but
fur poles stuck in the ground, and they were leaning on
account of decay. Is this dear spot, made green by the
tears of memory, any less enticing and hallowed than
the palaces where princes are born ? I would much
more glory in this birth-place, with the broad canopy of
heaven above me, and the giant arms of the forest trees
for my shelter, than to be born in palaces of marble,
stud ed with pillars of gold! Nature will be nature
stil\ while palaces shall decay and fall in ruhis. Yes,
Niagara will be Niagara a thousand years hence ! the
rainbow, a wreath over her brow, shall continue as long
as the sun, and the flowing of the river ! While the
work of art, however impregnable, shall in atoms fall.

Our wigwam we always carried with us wherever we


went. It was made in the following manner : Poles
were cut about fifteen feet long ; three with crotches at
the end, which were stuck in the ground some distance
apart, the upper ends meeting, and fastened with bark;
and then other poles were cut in circular form and bound
round the first, and then covered w^ith plaited reeds, or
sewed birch bark, leaving an opening on top for the
smoke to escape. The skins of animals formed a cover-
ing for a gap, which answered for a door. The family
all seated tailor-fashion on mats. In the fall and win-
ter they were generally made more secure, for the pur-
pose of keeping out the rain and cold. The covering
of our wigwam was always carried by my mother, when-
ever we went through the woods. In the summer it
was easier and pleasanter to move about from place to
place, than in the winter. In the summer we had birch
bark canoes, and with these we travelled very rapidly
and easily. In the winter every thing was carried upon
the back. I have known some Indians to carry a whole
deer — not a small one, but a buck. If an Indian could
lift up his pack off the ground by means of his arms, it
was a good load, not too light nor too heavy. I once
carried one hundred and ninety-six weight of flour,
twelve pounds of shot, five pounds of coffee, and some
sugar, about a quarter of a mile, without resting — the
flour was in two bags. It felt very heavy. This was
since I travelled with the missionaries, in going over
one of the portages in the west.

Our summer houses were made like those in gardens
among the whites, except that the skeleton is covered
with bark.


The hunting grounds of the Indians were secured by
right, a law and custom among themselves. No one
was allowed to hunt on another's land, without invita-
tion or permission. If any person was found trespassing
on the ground of another, all his things were taken from
him, except a handful of shot, powder sufficient to serve
him in going straight home, a gun, a tomahawk, and a
knife ; all the fur, and other things, were taken from
him. If he were found a second time trespassing, all
his things w^ere taken away from him, except food suf-
ficient to subsist on while going home. And should he
still come a third time to trespass on the same, or
another man's hunting grounds, his nation, or tribe, are
then informed of it, who take up his case. If still he
disobey, he is banished from his tribe.

My father's hunting ground was at the head of Crow
River, a branch of the River Trent, north of the Prince
Edward District, Canada West. There are two bra_^nches
to this river — one belongs to Georsje Poudash, one of
the principal chiefs of our nation ; the other to my father;
and the Crow River belongs to another chief by the
name of John Crow. During the last war the Indians
did not hunt or fish much for nearly six years, and at
the end of that time there were large quantities of bea-
ver, otter, minks, lynx, fishes, &c.

These hunting grounds abound with rivers and lakes ;
the face of the country is swampy and rocky ; the deer
and the bear abound in these woods ; part of the sur-
rendered territory is included in it. In the year 1818,
1,800,000 acres of it were surrendered to the British
government. For how much, do you ask ? For


i^2,960 per annum! What a great sun for British
generosity !

Much of the back country still remains unsold, and I
hope the scales will be removed from the eyes of my
poor countrymen, that they may see the robberies pt?r-
petrated upon them, before they surrender another foot
of territory.

From these lakes and rivers come the best furs that
are caught in Western Canada. Buyers of fur get large
quantities from here. They are then shipped to New
York city, or to England. Whenever fruit is plenty,
bears are also plenty, and there is much bear hunting.
Before the whites came amongst us, the skins of these
animals served for clothing ; they are now sold from
three to eight dollars apiece.

My father generally took one or two families with
him when he went to hunt ; all were to hunt, and place
their gains into one common stock till spring, (for they
were often out all winter,) when a division took place.


In the fall w^e gathered the wdld rice, and in the
winter we were in the interior. Some winters w^e
suffered most severely, on account of the depth of snow,
and the cold ; our wigwams were often buried in snow.
We not only suffered from the snow and the cold, but
from hunger. Our party would be unable to hunt, and
being far from the white settlements, w'e were often in


want of food. I will narrate a circumstance, of our
sutTerings, when I come to speak of the actual condi-
tion of our people, before Christianity was introduced
among us, which, when I think of it, I cannot but bless
God for his preserving kindness to us, in sparing us to
hear his blessed word.

Soon after being Christianized, my father and another
Indian, by the name of Big John, and myself, went
out hunting ; my father left his family near the mission
station, living in the wigwam. While we were out on
the hunting grounds, we found out that some Indians
had gone before us on the route up the river, and every
day we gained upon them : their tracks were fresh.
The river and the lakes were frozen, and we had to
walk on the ice. For some days together we did not
fire a gun, for fear they would hear it and go from us,
where we could not find them. At length we found
them by the banks of the river, they were Nah-doo-

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Online LibraryGeorge CopwayLife, letters and speeches of Kah-ge-ga-gah-bowh, or, G. Copway, chief Ojibway nation .. → online text (page 1 of 15)