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Chief Chabowaywa

Shab-wa-way was born about the year 1770, which date is fixed by Indian and pioneer tradition, as all agree that he was over one hundred years of age at the time of his death, which occurred in the year 1872, in his long cabin, which stood on the present grounds of Les Cheneaux club on Marquette Island. From credible tradition it is believed that his ancestors lived upon that island at the time of his birth and for several preceding generations.

There is conflict of authority as to whether he was by birth an Ojibway or an Ottawa. "Besh-a-min-ik-we" (the aged woman of Hessel, known by local residents as "Mrs. Shabway," and widow of his son) says he was Ottawa by birth, while Schoolcraft in his "Thirty Years among the Indian Tribes," page 459, calls him a Chippewa as do some of the local living Indians who knew him.

Like the names of many Indians, his is variously spelled, (1) in the treaty of 1839 "Chbowaywa," (2) by Schoolcraft "Shabowawa," (3) in U.S. Patent "Shab-wa-way" (4) by locla white residents "Shabway" and (5) by and Indian linguist as "Shab-we-we." Two definitions of his name have been given us by Indian linguists of ability - "Echo from a distance," and "A penetrating sound, e. g. that would go through a wall or the earth."

Tradition seems to indicate that he became a chief by heredity, but at what date is uncertain, as is also the extent of his domains and the number of his people. He certainly was a chief in authority, not only at Les Cheneaux, and Les Cheneaux Islands, but, as the Indian treaties with our government and Indian tradition seem to show, of all the mainland lying between the Saint Mary's and Pine Rivers, a distance of some thirty and extending as far north as the Monoskong.

Shab-wa-way not only extended marked hospitality to the early voyageurs and white pioneers, who, it is said, were ever welcome at his little log cabin, but there is more than one man now living who can truly testify to the fact that he was a god entertainer, not only in cheerfully furnishing food and shelter to the belated storm-bound wayfarer, but in showing his most excellent skill as an Indian story-teller, in which, it is said, upon good authority, he was in his day and generation, very proficient.

Shabwaway's participation in the treaty of March 28th, 1836, at Washington, D.C., and his efforts there for his people, indicate a man of force and character.


Pay-baw-me-say or "Be-be-mis-se" (Flying Bird), son of Shwbwaway, was later known and called by his father's name, with the addition or rather prefix of the plain Anglo-Saxon name of "john," and his name so appears in the United States patent andin a deed given by him. His surviving spouse and other Indians say that at the time of his father's deah the became by heredity, chief of the depleted band of Chippewas and Ottawas then remining here. Considerng the small number of the band, said to be all told about two hundred, considering also, that the occaisions and emergencies requireing the use of hte high prerogatives of an Indian cheiftain did not then exist, and that by the treaty of 1855 tribal relations had been abolished for nearly twenty years, this distinction was certainly an empty honor. Pay-baw-me-say also lived and died in the same log cabin, his death occuring about the year 1882.

"Mrs. Shabway" or "Besh-a-min-ik-we" - The aged woman of Hessel

The daughter-in-law of Chief Shabwaway, called by her white neighbors "Mrs. Shabway" on account of that relationship (widow of Pay-baw-me-say), whose correct Indian name is "Besh-a-min-ik-we," although sometimes written "Pay-she-min-e-qua" must be given more than passing notice, as for twenty years, she has been a very important personage in the annals of Les Cheneaux. Summer residents and tourists have, on account of her marriage into the former reigning family of these parts, and also on account of her supposed extreme old age, given her and her history unusual attention.

She was living in the Indian settlement at Hessel and in those days was very active in summer time, weaving Indian rugs and mats that were in great demand by her customers among the summer residents, with whom she could and did drive good bargains, thus sustaing the tribal reputation as a trader.

Bibliography: Grover, Frank R., A Brief Early Hosty of the Les Cheneaux Islands, Bowman Publishing, Evanston, IL, 1911