George Copway.

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

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'' On that day when our heroes lay low — lay low —
On that day when our heroes lay low,
I fought by their side, and thought ere I died,
Just vengeance to take on the foe — the foe —
Just vengeance to take op the foe.

" On that day when our chieftains lay dead — lay dead —

On that day when our chieftains lay dead,

I fought hand to hand, at the head of my band,

And JLcre, on my breast, have I bled — have I bled —

And here, on my breast, have I bled.

" Our chiefs shall return no more — no more —

Our chiefs shall return no more —

And their brothers in war who can't show scar for scar,

Like women their fates shall deplore — shall deplore —

Like women, their fates shall deplore.

'Five winters in hunting we'll spend— we'll spend —
Five winters in hunting we'll spend —
Then our youths grown to men, to the war lead again,
And our days like our fathers', we'll end — we'll end —
And our days like our fathers', we'll end."


Our people believed much in omens. The barking
of foxes and of wolves, the bleating of the deer, the
screeching of owls, bad luck in hunting, the flight of
uncommon kinds of birds, the moaning noise of a par-


tridge, the noise of a chuck chack ske sey* were omi-
nous of ill ; the two last were certain omens of death.
But the sailing of an eagle to and fro, and the noise of
a raven, were omens of good.

Dreams, too, were much relied on by our nation.
They thought the spirits revealed to them what they
were to do, and what they should be, viz. good hun-
ters, warriors, and medicine men. I would fast some-
times two, and sometimes even four days. When
fasting, we were to leave the wigwam early in the
morning, and travel all day from one place to another,
in search of the favor of the gods. I was taught to be-
lieve that the gods would communicate with me, in the
shape of birds, amimals, etc., etc. When I fell asleep
in the woods, and dreamed some strange dream, I felt
confident that it was from the spirits. I will now relate
what I dreamed when I was but twelve years old, and
also my father's interpretation of my dream.

Myself and others were sleeping far from the wig-
wam, near a large pine. T saw, in my dream, a person
coming from the east ; he approached, walking on the
air : he looked down upon me, and said, " Is this

^'To this bird I have given its Indian name, because I have
not been able to discover it among the collection of the various
birds in the books and in the museums. It is about the size of
the smaller kind of parrot. The color of its feathers is like
those of a jay, having short wings small and broad peak, with
an upper and lower row of teeth, like a human being. In this
last respect, it is difierent from any other bird. It takes its
name from the sound it utters, viz. chuck^ chuck. I hope that the
celebrated ornithologist Audabon, to whom I intend to present
a copy of ray work, will throw some light upon this subject.


■where you are?" I said "yes." *' Do you see this
pine ?" *' Yes, I see it." " It is a great and high
tree." I observed that the tree was lofty, reaching
towards the heavens. Its branches extended overland
and water, and its roots w^ere very deep. " Look on it
while I sing, yes, gaze upon the tree." He sang, and
pointed to the tree ; it commenced waving its top ; the
earth about its roots was heaved up, and the waters
roared and tossed from one side of their beds to the
other. As soon as he stopped singing, and let fall his
hands, every thing became perfectly still and quiet.
"Now," said he, "sing the words which I have sung."
I commenced as follows :—

" It is I who travel in the winds,
It is I who whisper in the breeze,

I shake the trees.

I shake the earth,
I trouble the waters on every land."

While singing, I heard the winds whistle, saw the
tree waving its top, the earth heaving, heard the waters
roaring, because they were all troubled and agitated.
Then said he, "I am from the rising of the sun, I will
come and see you again. You will not see me often :
but you will hear me speak." Thus spoke the spirit,
and then turned away towards the road from which he
had come. I told my father of my dream, and after
hearing all, he said, "My son, the god of tJic winds is
kind to you: the aged tree, I hope, may indicate long
life ; the wind may indicate that you will travel much ;
the water which you saw, and the winds, will carry
your canoe safely through the waves."


I relied much on my dream, for then I knew no
better. But, however, little reliance can be placed in
dreams, yet may not the Great Spirit take this method,
sometimes, to bring about some good result ?

There was no such thing known among our people
as swearing, or profaning the name of the Great Spirit
in vain. The whites first taught them to swear, I
often swore, w^hen I knew not w^hat I said. I have
seen some white faces with black hearts, wdio took delight
in teaching them to profane the name of God.
merciless, heartless, and wicked white men, may a
merciful God forgive you your enormous turpitude and
recklessness !

There was a custom among us, before Christianity
visited us, that when the Ojebwas intended to take a
general whiskey " spree," several young men were ap-
pointed by the head chief to collect all the fire arms,
knives, w^ar-clubs and other weapons, and keep them
in a secret place, till the Indians had completed their
frolic. This w'as done to prevent them from murdering
each other when intoxicated. By this means many
lives have been saved ; although many have been
killed during their drunken fights. They would walk
very far for a dram of liquor. T once heard of an indi-
vidual, whom I had seen many times, who would travel
all day for a single drink of fire-water. When he arrived
at the trading post, he obtained and guzzled down
a cup full of whiskey. When the poison had operated,
he said, that he felt as if his head was going down his

throat; and added, " W' hah ! I wish my neck was a



mile long, so that 1 might feel and hear the whiskey
running all the way down !"

A certain Indian once teased a Mrs. F. for whiskey,
which he said was to cure his " big toe^^ that had been
badly bruised the preceding night. Mrs. F. said, *' 1
am afraid you will drink it." He declared he would
not drink it; and after much pleading, she handed him
some ; he took it, and looking first at his toe, and then
at the liquor, alternately, all of a sudden he slipped the
whiskey down his gullet, at the same time exclaiming,
as he pointed to his toe, " There, whiskey, go down to
my poor big toe."

One of our people, who had much resolution, and
"was determined to seek religion, when he heard that
the Methodist Indians were not to drink any more fire-
water, remarked as follows : —

" Well, if that is the case, Vll go to-night, and bid
my old friend whiskey a final farewell.^'* He went, and
drank and caroused wiih rum-companions all night.
On the following day, about noon, he came staggering
towards his wigwam, singing out to all whom he met,
" Me s;oes to Methodist ; me no drink little more ; me am
Methodist.'^ He was true to his word, for he drank no
more, and the Lord blessed him in the forgiveness of
all his sins. For eighteen years he was a consistent
Christian, and died last June, with the brightest hopes
of immortal bliss. Oh ! the heights and depths of the
goodness and mercy of God !

In view of these things, I have often exclaimed from
the bottom of ray heart, in the .language of " The


Indian's Regret," and which is the language of all, who
have been brought from darkness, to the marvelous
light of the gospel : —

" O had our Indian fathers known

What Prophets told of Christ and heaven !

For them, we drop a tear and mourn,
But weep for joy, our sins forgiven.'


The traditions handed down from father to son, were
held very sacred ; one half of these are not known by
the white people, howev^er far their researches may have
extended. There is an unwillingness, on the part of the
Indians to communicate many of their traditions. The
only way to come at these is, to educate the Indians, so
that they may be able to write out what they have heard,
or may hear; and publish it. Should I be spared till
next summer, I design to visit my people in the far
west, and abide with them long enough to learn the rest
of their traditions, w^ith an account of their migration to
this country. My own belief is, that they came to this
country, and fought with the original inhabitants ; and
having overpowered them, became the owners of the
soil. I will not now give my reasons for this belief, as
I expect a< some future day to collect all the necessary
information for this purpose, from histories and disco-
veries, corroborated by these traditions. My readers
will then be able to judge whether we are to be identi'


fied with the dispersed and *' lost tribes of Israel." Can
it be possible, that, had we sprung from any of the
Hebrew tribes, we should be so completely ignorant of
a INIessiah, a Sabbath, or a single vestige of the Leviti-
cal Law ? But enough of this for the present.

As far as I am able to learn, our nation has never
been conquered ; and have maintained their ground
wherever they have conquered. The Saxe tribe have
tried their ingenuity, power and bravery, to drive them
from the south shore of Lake Superior. The Hurons
mustered their warriors against the aggressions made by
the Ojebwa nation. Their war-canoes were once direct-
ed against the Ojebwa nation, but they were obhged to
turn back, and flee for protection, to the Shawnee na-
tion. The sound of the war whoop which once rang all
around the shores of Lake Huron, receded, and died
away on the waters of Sandusky. The arms that once
wielded the war-club, were strewed about their grounds,
on account of broken treaties made in former days, and
massacres at the mouth of French river. The Iraquois,
who struck terror wherever their mere names were men-
tioned, also tried to check our progress, after we had
conquered the Hurons. Their war whoops resounded
over the dismal regions of the conquered land ; but they
too shared the same fate. They went as spies as far as
La Pointe, on the south shore of Lake Superior; but
not with their armies any farther than Ke-wa-o-non, in
the copper regions. Here they were massacred by hun-
dreds, and fell in their canoes at one of the narrow
passes, on their way to the Portage, about fourteen miles
from the Bay of Aunce. After these fruitless attempts


to drive the Ojebwas from their land, they fought many
battles with them in the regions now called Canada
West ; but in these they suffered much, and were de-
feated. It was then, probably, that the Hurons and
Iraquois leagued together, hoping by their combined
forces to conquer us. This accounts for the confederacy
that existed when the whites came among them.

The migration of the Ojebwas has been traced from
the upper part of Lake Superior, and even several hun-
dred miles above its head, along the shore of Lake Su-
perior, down to Lake Huron, St. Clair, the foot of Lake
Michigan, north of Lakes Erie and Ontario, and some
distance down the St. Lawrence.

They now inhabit a portion of land extending about
two thousand miles east and west, and from two hun-
dred and fifty to three hundred miles from north to south.
They have in each village, a chief who governs them,
besides a great number of war chiefs. Each village has
a council of its own, made up of the different tribes,. A
tribe is a band of Indians whose sign or mark is the
same ; for example, such as wear the sign of the crane,
recognize each other as relatives ; and although each
village may be composed of different tribes, yet they
must be of the same nation.

Councils of peace must be held by two nations. These
councils are held in high esteem. When two nations
are at war, if either sues for peace, they hand to each
other some token, such as a belt of wampum (or beads,)
or a calumet (a long pipe.)

There was once a general council held, between the
Hurons and the Ojebwas ; it was conducted in the fol-


lowing manner : — They came together near Sault St^.
Marie, and agreed upon a peace for five years. After
the pipe of peace was prepared, the Ojebwaand Huron
w^arriors arranged themselves in two lines, on each side
of their chiefs, and said that they must ascertain whether
the Great Spirit would approve of their proceedings.
Two from each nation were chosen ; the Hurons held
the pipe filled with tobacco, the Ojebwas, the steel,
flint, and spunk. The steel was then struck against the
flint, and if, on the first stroke, the spunk was ignited,
so as to fire the tobacco, and thus enable the warrior to
draw in, and to emit, a volume of smoke, then the evi-
dence was complete that the Great Spirit approved of
their plans and proceedings ; and the whole assembly
now would set up the most tremendous shout of joy.
The two nations were successful in this. The shout
was given, peace was secured, and these two powerful
nations separated for their own homes. For three years
no dark cloud hung over the two nations.

The OJebw^as began to trade with the whites at
Quebec. It usually required all the summer to journey
from the shore of Lake Superior to that place and back
again. These were tedious and perilous journeys ; but
they were determined to obtain '^ the snake which spit
fire, smoke and death ;" this was their description of a
gun to their brethren.

It w^as during these journeys that forty of them were
massacred by the Hurons, at the mouth of French
River, without the least provocation ; plunder alone
was their object. This, in connection with similar acts,


Cceasioned that war which resulted in their complete
extermination from Canada by our nation.

The future state of the Ojebwas, was in the Far
West. They described that state or country, as being
full of game, and with trees loaded with fruit of every

When an Indian warrior died on the field of battle,
his soul, it was said, took its immediate flight to this
paradise. The souls of those, however, who died in
other circumstances, it was believed, departed from the
grave, and journeyed in the ordinary way, although
unseen by mortals, to this same land.

There was a difficult bridge near this land, over
which the soul was to cross. A warrior, hunter, oi
medicine man, would have no difficulty in crossing this
bridge. Under this bridge was a rapid stream, and he
who was not a good warrior, hunter or medicine man,
would either fall into the water, or lose his way, after
having crossed, in some barren country, where there
was no game, or fruit, although there might be, occa-
sionally, a deer, or the like. O how barren ! How
dismal ! A place where distress, want, and despair
would continue ! On the other hand, the favored
warrior entered the fields of paradise, amidst the shouts
and welcome of his fellow warriors, who had preceded
him to this land of plenty. The deer, the moose, the
elk, and all kinds of animals, fruits, flowers, and the
singing of birds fill and charm the land. While the
ever rolling valleys are visited with delightful and re-
freshing winds. To kill, eat, and shoot, are their only
employments. No sickness, no fatigue, no death, will



ever visit them. The valleys and the mountains are to
be clothed with evergreens. No winter to chill the
earth. A carnal heaven indeed ! A sensual paradise !
Oh! the credulous and misguided Indian.

*' Lo ! the poor Indian whose untutored mind,
Sees God in clouds, or hears him in the wind;
Whose soul proud science never taught to stray
Beyond the solar walk or milky way.
Yet simple nature to his hopes has given,
Beyond the cloud top'd hill, a humble heaven,
Some safer world in depths of woods embrace,
Some distant Island in the watery waste.
Where slaves once more their native land behold.
Nor fiends torment, nor Christian thirsts for gold."


My father often spoke of that country, while I was
young. He informed me, that if I should become
a great warrior, a hunter, or a medicine man, I would
have no difficulty in reaching that happy spot. Little
then did he know of a heaven revealed in the gospel.
That heaven, where angels and pure spirits dwell, ana
where we shall see the blessed Jesus as he is, and,
what is still a greater honor, be like him.

•• for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Rcdeemer'8 praise !

The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of his grace !

" ^y gracious Master, and my God,

Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad

The honors of thy Name.

"Jesus! the Name that charms our fears.
Thai bids our sorrows cease ;

iTis music in the sinner's ears,
'Tie life, and health, and peace."

♦' Oh uh pa-gish ke che ingo' dwok,

Neej uh ne she nah baig,
Che nuh nuh guh mo tuh wah wod

Ning e zha Mun e-doom.

" Ning e che Noo sa weej e shin,
Che ween duh mah ga yon,

O mah a ne gook kuh me gog
A zhe wa be ze yun.

" Jesus ! kah be 'non duh we 'nung
Kah gah see beeng wa 'nung ;

Ka gait 'che me no ne kah zo,
Kah noo je mo e nung."


When our warriors were dying, they told their chil-
dren that they would soon reach the happy country.
Their eyeballs, rolling in death, w^ere turned towards
the setting sun. white man ! why did you not tell
us before, that there was a better heaven than that
of the Indian's ? Did not the blessed Saviour command,
"Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel
to every creature ?" Reader, almost by the door of
youi churches, my forefathers perished for the lack of
the bread of life, while you have reached out your
arms, and extended your means for the relief of those
in distant lands! O what a thought! Thousands
have already perished, and thousands more will yet
perish, unless converted to God. The thought of jjemA-
ing! how insufferable ! how intolerable !

" O mercy, mercy, look down from above ;
Great Creator, on us, thy sad children, with love ;
When beneath to their darkness the wicked are tiriven,
May our justified souls find a welcome in heaven."


Rice Lake, that beautiful lake, extends about twen-
ty-five miles, and is from two to three miles in breadth,
running from northeast to southwest. It contains about
twenty islands. Large quantities of wild rice abound
in almost every part of the lake ; it resembles fields of
wheat. As ducks of all kinds resort here in great
abundance, to feed upon the rice, consequently, there


is much good game in the fall of the year. They fly in
large flocks, and often appear like clouds. Some of the
.slands just referred to, are beautiful; for example,
Sugar Island^ with its beautiful edge of evergreens neai
the water ; Spoke Island, a place of fashionable summer
resort. One of the largest of these islands, contains
about three hundred acres.

In 1818, our people surrendered to the British
government a large part of their territory, for the sum of
^750 ; reserving, as they had good reason to believe,
all the islands. As they could neither read nor w^ite,
they were ignorant of the fact that these islands w^ere
included in the sale. They were repeatedly told by
those who purchased for the government, that the islands
were not included in the articles of agreement. But
since that time, some of us have learned to read, and to
our utter astonishment, and to the everlasting disgrace
of that pseudo Christian nation, we find that we have
been most grossly abused, deceived, and cheated.
Appeals have been frequently made, but all in vain.

Rice Lake contains quantities of the finest fish. In
the summer, great numbers of boats may be seen trowe-
ling for mascalownge, a species of pike, some of w^hich
weigh about thirty pounds. Bass, eels, etc. are also
found in this lake. Since locks have been made on the
canal down to Crooke's rapids, much fur can be pro-
cured all around the lake, especially micskrats — Shah-
won-dase O dah me koo mun.

This is the spot on which I roamed during my early
days. Often have I gone with my birch bark canoe
from island to island, in quest of ducks and fish. The
nlain on the south shore, is called Whortleberry Plain.


A Steamboat runs from Gore's Landing to Peterboro
once a day.

The village of the Ojebwas is on the north ; the land
gradually slopes towards the water. Its farms, church,
school house, and council house can be seen at a con-
siderable distance. It was here where the Rev. James
Evans, whose obituary was noticed in the following
manner in the " Albany Evening Journal," December
22, 1846, first taught an Indian school.

" Suddenly, on the 23d of November, at Keelby,
England, Rev. James Evans, for many years a Wes-
ley an missionary in Canada, and the territory of the Hud-
son Bay Company. On Sunday, the 22d, he preached
twice, and on Monday evening 23d, spoke at a mission-
ary meeting, with great fervency. He had complained
of a slight indisposition, previous to the meeting ; but
after he had finished his address, he said that ' his in-
disposition had been completely removed.' Soon after
his head fell back, and life w^as gone."

He was a missionary in every sense of the word.
From Rice Lake, he went to Lake Superior, and after-
wards to the Hudson Bay Territory, where he labored
with much success. His precious life was spent in re-
scuing the Ojebwa nation from misery and degradation.
Fatigue and hunger were often his companions ; bu^
the power of living faith was that on which his soul
feasted. O thou man of God, enviable are thy labors,
thy rest, and thy glory ! I, myself, still hold in sweet
remembrance the sacred truths which thou didst teach
me, even the commands of the Most High! Memory^
Hke an angel, will still hover over the sacred spot, where
first you taught me the letters of the alphabet.


There are numerous lakes near Rice Lake ; about
some of which the Ojebwas reside ; particularly Mud,
Schoogaug and Balsam Lakes. The country, in this
vicinity, is rapidly increasing in population ; the whites
are continually settling among us. The deer was plenty
d few years ago, but now only a few can be found. The
Ojebwas are, at present, employed in farming instead of
hunting ; many of them have good and well cultivated
farms. They not only raise grain enough for their own
use, but often sell much to the whites.

The Canadian Commissioners on Indian affairs, in
their report to Parliament in 1845, remarked in relation
to the Rice Lake Indians, as follows : "These Indians
are Methodists, and have either a resident missionary,
or have been regularly visited by the missionary belong-
mg to the Alnwick settlement. They have a school,
and a school-master is supported by the Methodist Mis-
sionary Society."


The missionaries hrst visited us on the island called
Be-quah-qua-yojigj in 1827, under the following circum-
stances. My father and I went to Port Hope, to see
our principal trader, John D. Smith, in order to obtain
goods and whiskey, about twelve miles from Rice Lake.
After my father had obtained the goods, he asked for
whiskey. Mr. Smith said, "John, do you know that
whiskey will yet kill you, if you do not stop drinking?


Why, all the Indians at Credit River, and at Grape Is-
land, have abandoned drinking, and are now Metho
dists. I cannot give you any whiskey."

" Ta/i 3/Gc/i/ (an exclamation of surprise, )i7 cannot be, 1
must have whiskey to carry home ; my people expect
it," said my father. He wished to buy a barrel, but
only obtained, after much pleading, about five gallons.
My father promised to drink no more when the mission-
aries should have come to Rice Lake. We reached
home the same day about one o'clock, and the Indians
were awaiting our arrival, that they might have some
fire-water. They assembled themselves together and
began to drink and to smoke. Many of them were sit-
ting on the grass when the whiskey began to steal away
their brains. One of our number suddenly ran in the
crowd, and .said, " the black coats (missionaries) are
coming, and are on the other side of the point." Each
looked at the other with perfect astonishment. My father
said to our informer, "invite them to come over to us ;"
and to the one who was dealing out whiskey, " cover

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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 3 of 15)