The word Ottawa is derived from Adawe, a word in the Algonquian language meaning "trader" or "to buy or sell" and in more traditional times throughout the historical period, the Ottawa Indians were noted among their neighbors as intertribal traders. Some of the early French visitors first described the Ottawa as one of the cruelest and most barbarous Indian tribes in Canada, but visitors who came later and actually lived with these people for awhile wrote that they were brave, intelligent, and respected by their allies.
Along with the Potawatomi and Ojibwe, the Ottawa first arrived on the east side of Lake Huron sometime around 1400. While these other tribes continued their westward migration towards Salute Ste. Marie, the Ottawa remained near the mouth of the French River and on the large Islands in Lake Huron. Over the years. the Ottawa lived in many places but always considered Manitoulin Island as their original homeland. This island was on the route between the Great Lakes and the Atlantic coast, and the Ottawa used the birch bark canoes to travel great distances for trade.
The Ottawa were never a large tribe and the Ottawa did usually not live in large villages during the winter. Pressures created by the wars between the Iroquois and the "Huron" (Wyandot) they were forced to move further west, to Green Bay (Wisconsin) by 1651 and then to the south shore of Lake Superior in 1658. They remained there until they returned to Mackinac in 1670. As the French and their allies drove the Iroquois from the Great Lakes during the 1690s, some Ottawa returned to Manitoulin Island where they have remained ever since.
Four divisions of the Ottawa were represented in a a treaty with the French at Montreal in 1700. Within a few years, some of the tribe was living near the lower end of Lake Michigan, from which others spread, the largest portion settling on the east shore of the lake as far south as the St. Joseph River, few locating in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois; other settled on the shores of Lake Huron near the Chippewa and on the shores of Lake Erie near the Wyandot.
By treaty of August 30, 1831, made at Miami Bay on Lake Erie, three bands of Ottawa (Blanchards Fork, Oquanoxa's Village and Roche de Boeuf) Indians dwelling in Ohio along the Maumee river and its tributaries, ceded their lands to the United States and were granted a reservation on the Marais des Cygnes River in whaht is now Franklin County, Kansas. Many resisted and but finally removed by December 1836. Ottawa Kansas rests in almost the center of land given to this group of Ottawas.
Dispirited after their forced removal, nearly half of the tribe died within five years. During this time Reverend Jotham Meeker, well-known Baptist missionary began his life's work among the Ottawa in that region.
The June 24, 1862, treaty provided allotments for those trial members on the Kansas reservation who chose to become citizens of Kansas. For those who did not want to accept these conditions, Chief John Wilson purchased a tribal tract of Quapaw Agency Lands for their resettlement in an area where they could retain their tribal identity and sovereignty. An unusual provision in the treaty set aside an acreage of the tribal domain as a foundation for a school which is now known as Ottawa College.
During the Civil War refugee bands of Quapaw, Seneca
of Sandusky, Shawnee, and Osage were temporarily located on the Ottawa
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