George Copway.

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

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ways or Mohawks, from Bay Quinty ; they were seven
of them, tall fellows. We shook hands with them :
they received us kindly. My father had determined to
take all they had, if we should overtake them. After
they gave us a good dinner of boiled beaver, my father
stepped across the fire and ripped open two packs of
beaver furs, that were just by him. He said to them
" We have only one custom among us, and that is well
known to all ; this river, and all that is in it are mine :
I have come up the river behind you, and you appear
to have killed all before you. This is mine, and this is
mine," he said, as he touched with the handle of his


tomahawk each of the packs of beaver, otter, and musk-
'"at skins. I expected every moment to see my father
kiaocked down with a tomahawk, but none dared touch
him ; he counted the skins and then threw them across
the fire-place to us. After this was done, the same
thing took place with the guns ; only one was left them
to use on their way home. He talked to them by
signs, and bade them, as the sailors say, " weigh anchor
and soon be under way ;" they left, and we took pos-
session of the temporary wigwam they had built. We
never saw them afterwards on our hunting grounds,
though some of them have been there since.

My father was ever kind and affectionate to me, par-
ticularly after the death of my brother, which was occa-
sioned by the going off of a gun, the load passing
through the arm, and so fractured it that it soon mortified
and caused his death. He believed in persuasion ; I
know not that he ever used harsh means, but would
talk to me for hours together. As soon as it was dark
he would call me to his side and begin to talk, and tell
me that the Great Spirit would bless me with a long life
if I should love my friends, and particularly the aged
He would always take me w^ith him when going any
where near, and I learned his movements, for I watched
him going through the woods. Often would he tell me
that when I should be a man that I must do so, and so,
and do as he did, while fording the rivers, shooting the
deer, trapping the beaver, etc., etc. I always imitated
him while I was a hunter.

My mother was also kind and aflfectionate ; she seem-
ed to be happy when she saw us enjoying ourselves by


her; often she would not eat much for days together ;
she would leave all for us! She was an industriou-s
■woman ; in the spring she made more sugar than any
one else ; she was never idle while the season for ga-
thering wild rice lasted.

I was taught early to hunt the deer. It was a part of
our father's duty to teach us how to handle the gun as
well as the bow and arrow. I was early reminded to
hunt for myself; a thirst to excel in hunting began to
increase ; no pains were spared, no fatigue was too
great, and at all seasons I found something to stimulate
me to exertion, that I might become a good hunter.
For years I followed my father, observed how hfe. ap-
proached the deer, the manner of getting it upoWhis
shoulders to carry it home. The appearance of^the
sky, the sound of the distant water-falls in the morning,
the appearance of the clouds and the winds, were to
be noticed. The step, and the gesture, in travelling in
search of the deer, were to be observed. '

Many a lecture I received when the deer lay bleeding
at the feet of my father ; he would give me an account
of the nobleness of the hunter's deeds, and said that I
should never be in want whenever there was any game,
and that many a poor aged man could be assisted by
me. '' If you reverence the aged, many will he glad to
hear of your 7iame,'^ were the words of my father.
*' 'J'he poor man will say to his children, ' my children,
let us go to him, for he is a great hunter, and is kind to
the poor, he will not turn us away empty.' The Great
Spirit, who has given the aged a long life, will bless
you. You must never laugh at any suffering object, for


yru know not how soon you may be in the same conoi-
tjon : never kill any game needlessly." Such was his
lartguage when we were alone in the woods. Ah!
they were lessons directed from heaven.

In the spring but few deer were killed, because they
were not in good order, the venison being poor, and the
skin so thin, that it was no object to kill them. To
hunt deer in the summer was my great delight, which I
did in the following manner : — During the day I looked
for their tracks, as they came on the shore of the lake or
river during the night ; they came there to feed. If
they came on the bank of the river, I lighted pitch pine,
and the current of the river took the canoe along the
shore. My lantern was so constructed that the light
could not fall on one spot, but sweep along the shore.
The deer could see the light, but were not alarmed by
it, and continued feeding on the weeds. In this way,
I have approached so close that I could have reached
them with my paddle. In this manner our forefathers
shot them, not with a gun, as I did, but with the bow
and arrow. Bows were made strong enough, so that
the arrows might pierce through them.

Another mode of hunting on the lakes, preferred by
some, is shooting without a light. Many were so expert,
and possessed such an accuracy in hearing, that they
could shoot successfully in the dark, with no other guide
than the noise of the deer in the water ; the position of
the deer being well known, in this way, the darkest
night. I will here relate an occurrence which took place
in 1834. My father and I were hunting on the river

Trent, in the night ; after we had shot two deer, and



vvhile returning homewards, we heard the noise of
a deer's footsteps. The night was dark as pitch.
We approached the deer. I asked my father at what
part of the animal I should aim. He repUed, " at the
head or neck." I poised my gun and fired ; hearing
no noise, I conckided that my game was sure. I
lighted some pitch pine and walked towards the spot
from which the noise had come. The deer lay dead
and bleeding. On examination I found that 1 had shot
it just below the ear. In the fall of the year, also, I
was accustomed to hunt ; the meat was very fine, and
the skins, (from which our moccasons were made,)
were much thicker at this season. Those that co-uld
track the deer on fallen leaves and shoot one each day,
were considered first rate hunters. The fall is the best
time to determine the skill of the huntsman.

Of all animals the bear is the most dangerous to -hunt,
I had heard so many stories about its cunning that I
dreaded to meet one. One day a party of us were
going out to hunt the bear, just below Crooke's rapids.
After we had made a temporary place to stay for several
days, we marched in file ; after a while we halted, each
took a different direction. My father said, *' my son
you had better loiter behind the rest. Do not go far,
for you may lose yourself." We parted — I took my
course, and the rest theirs. I trembled for fear I
should see what I was hunting for ! I went only where
I least expected to see a bear, and every noise I heard
in the woods, I thought must be one. As I stood on
an old mossy log, there was such a crack on the side
of the hill that my heart leaped within me. As I turned


and looked, there was a large bear running towards
me ! I hid myself behind a tree ; but on he came ; I
watched him ; he came like a hogshead rolling down
hill ; there were no signs of stopping ; when a few feet
from me, I jumped aside, and cried Yah! (an excla-
mation of fear.) I fired my gun without taking sight;
in turning suddenly to avoid me, he threw up the earth
and leaves ; for an instant I was led to believe that the
bear was upon me. I dropped my gun and fell back-
wards, while the bear lay sprawling just by me. Having
recovered, I took up my gun and went a few feet from
where 1 fell, and loaded my gun in a hurry. I then
sought for a long pole, and with it, I poked it on its
side, to see if it was really dead. It did not move, it
was dead ; but even then I had not courage to go and
touch it with my hands. When all was over, and I had
told my father I had killed a bear, I felt as though my
little leggings could hardly contain me. In examining
it, I found the ball had gone through its heart.

Bear meet is like pork. It can be kept a long time
when cured. For some weeks together this was the
only kind of'food we used to eat.

The oil of the bear is used for various purposes.
One use is, to prevent the falling out of the hair. The
apothecaries buy it from the Indians for about five
dollars a gallon.

The skins of bears are what our forefathers wore,
before the white people came amongst us, as blankets ,
but now land-sharkSf called traders, buy them from the
Indians for a mere trifle. •

I loved to hunt the bear, the beaver, and the deei


but now, the occupation has no charms for me. I will
now take the goose quil, for my bow, and its point for
my arrow. If perchance I may yet speak, when my
poor aching head lies low in the grave ; when the hand
that wrote these recollections shall have crumbled into
dust; then these pages will not have been written in

" O ! Land of rest for thee I sigh —

When will the season come,
When I shall lay my armor by,

And dwell in peace at home."

The beaver was hunted in the spring and fall. They
were either trapped or shot. Among all the animals
that live in the water, the beaver is of the kindest dis-
position, when tamed ; it is a very cleanly animal ;
sits on its broad tail on the ground while feeding ; feeds
all night, and sleeps most of the day. The beaver
skin was once worth from eight to ten dollars apiece,
or four dollars per pound.

The otter, too, is much valued. The whites buy the
skins, and make caps of them. They are mostly caught
in traps. In the fall and spring they are al\vays on the

The otter is a greedy animal ; it can be tamed, but
when hungry becomes cross, and often bites. If it be
a half a mile off, it will scent any food preparing in the

When about five years old, I commenced shooting
birds, with a small bow and arrow. I have shot many
a bird, but am no more a marksman. I used to feel
proud when I used to carry home my own game. The


first thing that any of the hunters shot, was cooked by
the grand-father and grand-mother, and there was great
rejoicing, to inspire the youthful hunter with fresh ardor.
Day after day I searched for the grey squirrel, the wood-
pecker, the snipe, and the snow bird, for this was all
my employment.

The gun was another instrument put into my hands,
which I was taught to use both carefully and skilfully.
Seldom do accidents occur from the use of fire arms
among our people. I delighted in running after the
deer, in order to head and shoot them. It was a well
known fact that I ranked high among the hunters. I
remember the first deer I ever shot, it was about one
mile north of the village of Keene. The Indians, as
has just been said, once had a custom, which is now
done away, of making a great feast of the first deer that
a young hunter caught: the young hunter, however,
was not to partake of any of it, but wait upon the others.
All the satisfaction he could realize, was to thump his
heels on the ground, while he- and others were singing
the following hunter's song :

" Ah yah ba wah, ne gah me koo nah vah !
Ah yah wa seeh, ne gah me koo nah nah."*

The fattest of the bucks I'll take,
The choicest of all animals I'll take

In the days of our ignorance we used to dance around
the fire. I shudder when I think of those days of our
darkness. I thought the Spirit would be kind to me if

*These lines are sung over and over again, for about half an



I danced before the old men ; and day after day, or
night after night, I have been employed with others in
this way. I thank God that those days will never


The Ojebwas, as well as many others, acknowledged
that there was but one Great Spirit, who made the
world ; thoy gave him the name of good or benevolent ;
kesha is benevolent, monedoo is spirit ; Ke-sha^mon-e-
doo. They supposed he lived in the heavens; but the
most of the time he was in the Sun. They said it was
from him they received all that was good through life,
and that he seldom needs the offering of his Red chil-
dren, for he was seldom angry.

They also said he could hear all his children, and see
them. He was the author of all things that they saw,
and made the other spirits that were acknowledged by
the Ojebwas. It w^as said that these other spirits took
special care of the various departments of nature.
The god of the hunter was one who presided over the
animals; the god of war was one who controlled the
destinies of men ; the god of medicine was one who
presided over the herbs of the earth. The fishes had
theirs, and there was another over the moon and stars !

"Millions of spiritual creatures walk the earth
Unseen, both when we sleep and when we wake."

There was one unappeasable spirit, calkd Bad Spirit,


Mah-je-mah-ne-doo. He, it was thought, lived under
the earth ; and to him was attributed all that was not
good, bad luck, sickness, even death. To him they
offered sacrifices more than to any other spirit, things
most dear to them. There were three things that were
generally offered to the Bad Spirit, viz. a dog, whiskey
and tobacco, a fit ofTering, with the exception of the poor
dog. The poor dog was painted red on its paws, with
a large stone and five plugs of tobacco tied about its
neck; it. was then sunk in the water; jsdiile the beating
of the drum took place upon the shore, and words were
chanted to the Bad Spirit.

The whiskey was thus offered to the Bad Spirit : —
When the Indians were seated around the wigwam, or
on the grass, and the person who deals out the whiskey
had given all the Indians a dram, then the devil was to
have his share ; it was poured on the ground, and if it
went down quickly, it was thought he accepted the

Fire water was sometimes poured out near the head
of the graves of the deceased, that their spirits might
drink with their former friends. I have often seen them
sit around the grave, and, as they drank, make mention
of the name of their dead, and pour some whiskey on
the ground

Our religion consisted in observing certain ceremonies
every spring. Most of the Ojebwas around us used to
come and worship the Great Spirit with us at Rice Lake.
At this festival a great many of the youth w^ere initiated
into the medical mysteries of the nation. We were
taught the virtues of herbs, and the various kinds of


minerals used in our medicine. I will here describe the
Me-tae-\ve-gah-mig or Grand Medicine Lodge. It was
a wigwam 150 feet lono^ and 15 feet wide. The clan
of medicine men and women alone were allowed to be
inside, at each silting, with their medicine badge, on
each side of the wigwam. Then there w^ere four old
men who took the lead in singing, and beating the drum,
as they stood near the centre. Before them were a com-
pany who were to take degrees. There were four grades
in the institution; ^nd, as I have thought, somewhat simi-
lar to the Masonic institution.

After the singing commenced, the whole company
arose and danced, as they moved from one end of the
wigwam to the other. As they go round, one-half of
them cast their heads down upon their bosoms, as if af-
fected by the medicine, which was kept in small skins,
and which they pretended to thrust at each other ; this
was done to deceive the ignorant. These forms were
continued several days. The party to be made medi-
cine nien and women, looked on in the mean time, to
see what they would have to do themselves. Then
they are taken to another place with our medicine men,
and are taught the science of medicine. After receiving
instructions, another day was allotted to give them in-
struction on morality. They were advised on various
subjects. All were to keep silence, and endeavor to
retain what they were taught. I will here give some
of the sayings of our medicine men :

" If you are a good hunter, warrior, and a medicine
man, when you die, you will have no difficulty in getting
to the far west in the spirit land."


" Listen to the words of your parents, never be impa-
tient, then the Great Spirit will give you a long life."

" Never pass by any indigent person without giving
him something to eat. Owh wah-yah-bak-mek ke-gah-
shah-wa-ne-mig — the spirit that sees you will bless you."

" If you see an orphan in want, help him ; for you will
be rewarded by his friends here, or thanked by his parents
in the land of spirits."

" If you own a good hunting dog, give it to the first
poor^man who really needs it."

" When you kill a deer, or bear, never appropriate it
to yourself alone, if others are in want; never withhold
from them what the Great Spirit has blessed you with."

" When you eat, share with the poor children who
are near you, for when you are old they will administer
to your wants."

'' Never use improper medicine to the injury of
another, lest you yourself leceive the same treatment."

" When an opportunity offers, call the aged together,
and provide for them venison properly cooked, and give
them a hearty welcome ; then the gods that have favor-
ed them will be your friends."

These are a few specimens of the advice given by our
fathers, and by adhering to their counsels the lives,
peace, and happiness of the Indian race were secured ;
for then there was no whiskey among them. ! that
accursed thing. 0! why did the white man give it to
ray poor fathers ? None but fiends in human shape could
have introduced it among us.

I recollect the day when my people in Canada were
both numerous and happy ; and since then, to my sor-

34 THE LIFE 01

row, they have faded away like frost before the heat of
the sun! Where are now that once numerous and
happy people ? The voice of but few is heard.

When I think of them, I feel pained to know that
many have fallen a prey to its soul and body-destroy-
ing influence. I could adopt the language of the poet:

I will go to my tent and lie down in despair,

I will paint me with black, and sever my hair,

I will sit on the shore where the hurricane blows,

And relate to the God of the tempest my woes ;

For my kindred are gone to the mounds of the dead,

But they died not of hunger nor wasting decay,

For the drink of the white man hath swept them away. '

The Ojebwa nation, that unconquered nation, ha.>
fallen a prey to the withering influence of intemperance.
Their buoyant spirits could once mount the air as on the
wings of a bird. Now they have no spirits. They are
hedged in, bound, and maltreated, by both the Ameri-
can and British governments. They have no other
hope, than that at some day they will be relieved from
their privations and trials by death. The fire-water has
rolled towards them like the waves of the sea. Alas !
alas! my poor people! The tribe became dissipated,
and consequently improvident, and often suffered in-

It was in visiting the interior that we always sufferec-
most. I will here narrate a single circumstance which
will convey a correct idea of the sufferings to which the
Indians were often exposed. To collect furs of different
kinds for the traders, we had to travel far into the woods
and remain there the whole winter. Once we left Rice


Lake in the fall, and ascended the Aver in canoes, above
Bellmont Lake. There were hve families about to
hunt wiih my father, on his grounds. The winter be-
gar. to set in, and the river having frozen over, we left
the canoes, the dried venison, the beaver^ and some flour
and pork ; and w^hen we had gone farther north, say about
sixty miles from the whites, for the purpose of hunting,
the snow fell for five days in succession to such a depth
that it was impossible to shoot or trap anything. Our
provisions were exhausted, and we had no means to
procure any more. Here we were. The snow about
five feet deep ; our wigwam buried ; the branches of the
trees falling around us, and cracking from the weight
of the snow.

Our mother boiled birch bark for my sister and my-
self, that we might not starve. On the seventh day
some of them were so weak that they could not raise
themselves, and others could not stand alone. The^
could only crawl in and out of the wigwam. We
parched beaver skins and old moccasons for food. On
the ninth day none of the men w^ere able to go abroad,
except my father and uncle. On the tenth day, still
being without food, those only who were able to w^alk
about the wigwam were my father, my grand-mother,
my sister, and myself. how distressing to see the
starving Indians lying about the wigwam with hungry
and eager looks ; the children would cry for something
to eat. My poor mother would heave bitte'r sighs of
despair, the tears falling from her cheeks profusely as
she kissed us. Wood, though plenty, could not be ob-
tained, on account of the feebleness of our limbs.


My father, at times, would draw near the fire, and
reheane some prayer to the gods. It appeared to him
that there v/as no way of escape ; the men, women
and children dying ; some of them w^ere speechless.
The wigwam was cold and dark, and covered with
snow. On the eleventh day, just before daylight, my
father fell into a sleep ; he soon awoke and said to me,
" My son, the Great Spirit is about to bless us ; this
night in my dream I saw a person coming from the east,
walking on the tops of the trees. He told me that we
should obtain two beavers this morning about nine
o'clock. Put on your moccasons and go along with me
to the river, and we will hunt the beaver, perhaps for
the last tim.e." I saw that his countenance beamed
with delight; he was full of confidence. I put on my
moccasons and carried my snow shoes, staggering
along behind him, about half a mile. Having made a
fire near the river, where there was an air hole, through
which the beaver had come up during the night, ray fa-
ther tied a gun to a stump, with the muzzle towards the
air hole ; he also tied a string to the trigger, and said
"should ^ou see the beaver rise, pull the string and
you will kill it.'' I stood by the fire with the string in
my hand, I soon heard a noise occasioned by the blow
of his toraakaw^k ; he had killed a beaver, and he
brought it to me. As he laid it down, he said " then
the Great Spirit will not let us die here ;" adding, as
before, "if you see the beaver rise, pull the string."
He left me, I soon saw the nose of one ; but I did not
shoot. Presently another came up ; I pulled the trig-


ger, and off the gun went. I could not see for some^
time for the smoke. My father ran towards me, took
the two beavers and laid them side by side ; then
pointing to the sun, said, "Do you see the sun? The
Great Spirit informed me that we should kill these two
about this time this morning. We will yet see our re-
.atives at Rice Lake ; now let us go home and see if
they are still alive." We hastened home, and arrived
just in time to save them from death. Since which, we
visited the same spot, the year after the missionaries
came among us. My father, with feelings of gratitude,
knelt down on the spot where we had nearly perished
Glory to God ! But what have I done for him since ?
Comparatively nothing. We were just at death's door,
when Christianity rescued us. I have heard of many,
who have perished in this way, far in the woods. In
my travels to the west, I have met many whose families
had perished, and v;ho had themselves merely escaped
starvation. May God forgive me, for my ingratitude
and indolence in his blessed cause!

I will here introduce a favorite war song of the Ojeb-
wa nation. It was accompanied by dancing, and an
occasional war-whoop. At the end of each stanza, a
warrior rehearsed some former victories, which inspired
them with ardor for war. Unchristianized Indians are
often like greedy lions after their prey ; yes, at limes,
they are indeed cruel and blood thirsty. I have met
with warriors, who, when they had killed their enemies,
cut open their breasts, took out their hearts, and drank
their blood ; and all this was out of mere revenge. But
to the War Song, which was first translated for Col



McKinney, "Me Indian's friend, ^^ on the shore of Lake

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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 2 of 15)