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Among The Indians

From the Winona County section of the 1884 book

As the war between the colonies became more desperate, the French officers of experince and distinction were called from the West to aid the Eastern struggle. Lagardeur de St. Pierre in 1755 fell in the battle upon Lake Champlain, and Marin, Langlade, and others from the West, distinguished themselves as heroes. After the fall of Quebec the Indians of the Northwest readily transferred their allegiance to the British. In 1761 the English took possession of Green Bay, and trade was once more opened with the Indians. A French trader named Penneshaw was sent by the English into the country to the Dah-ko-tahs, and in March, 1763, twelve Dahkotah warriors arrived at Green Bay, and offered the English the friendship of their nation. They told the English commandant that if any Indians obstructed the passage of traders to their country, to send them a belt of Wampum as a sign, and "they would come and cut them off, as all Indians were their slaves or dogs." After this talk they produced a letter from Penneshaw, explaining the object of their visit.

In June Penneshaw himself arrived with most welcome news from the land of the Dah-ko-tahs, bringing with him for the commander of the post a pipe of peace, and a request that English traders be sent to trade with the Sioux of the Mississippi.

A tradition still exists among the Sioux that the elder Wah-pa-sha, or, as we might say, Wah-pa-sha the First, was one of the twelve Da-ko-tahs who visited Green Bay. Notwithstanding the English had conquered all the vast territory between the lakes and the Mississippi, and had the proffered friendship of the Sioux to strengthen their influence with all the other Indian tribes, the lines of trade between the territory of Louisiana and the newly acquired territory of the English were not closely drawn, and French influence was sufficiently potent to send most of the furs and peltries to their post at New Orleans. The cause of Indian preference for the French may be found in the latter's gaiety of character, and their ability to conform to the circumstances that may surround them. The Canadian voyageurs and woodmen displayed a fondness for high colored sashes and moccasins that was pleasing to the barbaric tastes of the Indian women, and many of them joining their fortunes and their honors with those of the French, raised children that were taught to reverence and obey them.

In addition to the influences extended by these ties of blood, the kindness and devotion to their religious faith exhibited by the Catholic missionaries won upon the imaginations of the Indians, and many were won over to a profession of their faith. The tribes which came under their influences looked upon the priests as veritable messengers from God, and called them the "good spirits," believing that they were the mediums only of "good spirits."

All Indians are spiritists, believing implicitly that the spirits of departed human beings take an interest in mundane affairs.

The English, in contrast with French management, had a bluff and arbitrary way of dealing, that, however successful it may have been with eastern tribes, was for a time very distasteful to the Sioux. However, the English learned something in due time by contact with these India s, and from French politeness; but some years were required before their success with the Sioux was established.

For some years the trade seems to have been abandoned west of Mackanaw (sic), to the French. In the year 1766 Jonathan Carver, a native of Connecticut, visited the upper Mississippi, and his reports concerning the beauty, fertility and resources of Minnesota aroused some attention to the value of these new possessions.

Carver was a man of keen observation and discernment, and some of his predictions regarding the "new northwest," though scoffed at by some at that time, proved almost prophetic. Carver died in England in 1780. After his death, a claim was set up to a large tract of land said to have been given him by the Sioux, and since known as the "Carver tract."

The claim was investigated after the territory came into the possession of the United States, but it was found to be untenable.

Carver found the Sioux and Chippewas at war when he arrived among them, and was told that "war had existed among them for forty years." Chippewa and Sioux tradition both make the time much longer. It was supposed by the English that the policy of the French traders fostered war between the Sioux and Chippewa nations. Whether this be true or not, it is certain that French influence continued paramount in the county for some years, but as the French that remained after the transfer of the country to the English were inferior in intelligence to those in authority while the French held possession, we are principally dependant upon Indian and mixed blood tradition for what occurred in this vast territory until after the revolution.

Tradition tells us that an Englishman, located near the mouth of the Min-ne-so-ta river, was killed while smoking his pipe, by an Indian named Ix-ka-ta-pe. He was of the M'de-wa-kan-ton-wan band of Dah-ko-tahs.

As a result of this unprovoked murder, no other trader would visit this band, which had already been divided by dissensions, and been driven by the Chippewas from territory formerly occupied east of the Mississippi.

In earlier times this decision of the traders would have been disregarded, but then it was of vital importance to their well-being if not their existence; for they had learned to depend upon guns instead of bows and arrows, and therefore suffered for want of ammunition and other supplies, and were at the mercy of their well-armed enemies. After a grand council it was determined to give up the murderer to English justice.

Accordingly a large party of Sioux, with their wives and the murderer, started for Quebec. In order to avoid their enemies the Chippewas, they took the usual canoe route by the Wisconsin and Fox rivers to Green Bay. While on this journey, the ridicule of other tribes and their own dissensions caused a desertion of over half of their number, and upon their arrival at Green Bay, but six, of whom some were women, persevered in their intention to go on. When about to start, the murderer also disappeared ingloriously. The leader of the little band of six, then called Wa-pa "The Lear," told his followers that he himself would go as an offering to the British commander, and if required, would give up his life that his people might not be destroyed. On arriving at Quebec, his motive and heroism were both appreciated by the English governor, and the chief was sent back to his prairie home, loaded with abundant supplies of the coveted ammunition and Indian trinkets; and as evidence of his gratitude demanded a British flag to wave over his territory. A gaudy uniform, which included a red cap, common enough in early days, was also given "The Leaf," or as Grignon calls him, the "Fallen Leaf," and as he represented the Dah-ko-tas as a nation of seven principal bands, he was given seven medals for the respective bands, the one for himself being hung by a tassel cord upon his neck by the English commander at Quebec in person. This noble band of Spartan Sioux wintered in Canada and had small-pox, though in a mild form, and when the navigation of the great lakes was fully opened in the spring they safely returned to their tribe.

Before reaching their village, which had been again divided during their absence, they dressed themselves in their finest apparel, and marching in Indian file at the head of his devoted companions, the chief entered his village with red cap and flag conspicuously displayed.

The chief was hailed, after Indian custom as Wah-pa-ha-sha, or "Red Cap," which, by abbreviation soon became Wa-pa-sha.

Wapasha's successful return and denunciation of the cowardly desertion by his comrades, created another division, which was made permanent by his leaving "Red Wing's" band and removing to the present site of Minnesota City, known to the Wah-pa-sha band as O-ton-we, "the village," probably because of its having been a very ancient dwelling and burial place of Indians.

There, at Gilmore and Burn's valleys, they had their cornfields and summer residences. The band also had a village near Trempealeau mountain and at Root river. At times, when not occupied with field work, they assembled upon the site of Winona (know as Keoxa) and La Crosse, held their sun and other religious dances, played their games of "La Crosse," or wept over the remains of their dead. Nostrils and sight both reminded them of this sacred duty, as the dead of their band were placed upon scaffolds, and left to fester and bleach in the open air until whitened by time. The bones and burial garments were buried in some secluded spot, or placed under stones in some ancient ossuary. This custom was soon abandoned, and in later years their dead were at once buried. Wa-pa-sha was very proud of his success with the English, and during one of his visits to Mackanaw, stipulated that when visiting English forts, the British commanders should salute him and his staff with solid shot, aimed a little high.

For much of the foregoing tradition, and very much more of like character, the writer is indebted to Thomas Le Blanc, born in 1824, son of Louis Provosal, or Louis Provencalle, an old French trader, whose post was at or near the site of Pennesha's, on the Minnesota river, at Traverse des Sioux, and where, for a time, in ancient days, some of Wa-pa-sha's people were encamped. Thomas was related to Wah-pa-sha, to the Grignons and to Faribault, and was well versed in Indian and French traditions. He spoke French, English and Dah-ko-tah about equally well, and during the four months employed by the writer he was found singularly intelligent and truthful.

The first Wah-pah-sha was grandfather to the one removed from his Winona village by treaty in 1851-3. His memory is still held in great reverence by his descendants and the whole Sioux nation. His deeds of prowess and of benevolence are still preserved in traditions and songs that are sung by medicine-men or priests to the young of the tribe; and even the Winnebago members of the Wah-pa-sha family have learned to sing them.

As a specimen of these rude verses, compelled into rhyme, the following song is given:


Wah-pa-sha! good and great brave,
You rode into battle, made enemies slaves;
Your war-chief was strong in spirit and frame,
And many the scalps he hung on his chain.

Your "Red Cap" was known in the East and the West;
You honored the English, and hoped to be blessed;
You clothed your red children in scarlet and blue;
You ever were kind, devoted and true.

The skins of your Te-pee were brought from the plains;
Your moccasins dressed with Chippewa* brains,
Your war-whoop saluted by British real** shot,
Gave peacefullest token they harmed you not.

Then rest thee, brave chieftain, our night has come on,
The light has departed from all thou hadst won;
Thy people lie scattered on hillside and plain;
Thy corn-fields, thy prairie, we cannot regain.

* The brains of animals are used in dressing deer skins.
** A stipulation at Mackinaw required a salute to Wah-pa-sha of solid shot when he visited that fort.

Notwithstanding the esteem in which his memory is now held, during his lifetime Wah-pa-sha became the subject of dissensions in his tribe, and leaving the cares of chieftainship principally to his sone, he roamed at will with a small band of devoted followers of his own tribe, and a few Win-ne-bagoes, one of whom had married his sister Winona, and whose daughter Winona, called the sister of the last Wah-pa-sha (though but a cousin), played so important a part in the removal of the Winnebagoes in 1848. Old Wah-pa-sha finally died at a favorite winter encampment on Root river, and was taken to Prairie du Chien for burial. When news reached the Mississippi, in 1780, that Col. George R. Clark, of Virginia, was in possession of Illinois, and was likely to take possession of Prairie du Chien, a lieutenant of militia, twenty Canadians and thirty-six Fox and Dah-ko-tah Indians were sent with nine bark canoes to secure the furs collected at that post. Wah-pa-sha was in command of the Indians.

The canoes were filled with the best furs, and sent by Capt. Langlade, who had charge of them, out of dander from capture, and a few days afterward the Americans arrived with the intention of attacking the post. During this year, also, a squaw discovered a lead mine near the present site of Dubuque. During 1783-4 the Northwestern Company was organized, but some of the members becoming dissatisfied, an opposition company was formed by Alexander McKenzie and others. After a sharp rivalry for some time the two companies were consolidated.

In 1798 there was a reorganization of the company, new partners admitted, and the shares increased. The new management was throughly systematized, and their operations made very profitable.

In about the year 1785 Julien Dubuque, who had settled at "La Prairie dy Chien," and has heard of the discovery by a Fox squaw of a lead vein on the west side of the Mississippi, obtained permission at a council to work these mines, and he established himself upon the site of the city that bears his name.

Dubuque was the confrere of De Marin, Provosal, Poquette and others who have prominently figured in the fur trade of that period. The principal traders, however, were Dickson, Frazer, Renville and Grignon. James Portier, an educated French Canadian, was acting as clerk for Grignon, on the St. Croix, at the time, together with the pompous and eccentric Judge Reaume, afterward so noted at Green Bay.

Portier, while with Dickson at Sauk Rapids, gave Pike useful information during his visit to the upper Mississippi in 1805, and afterward, moving to Green Bay, acted as chief-justice of Brown county for sixteen years. The treaty of 1783 failed to restore good feeling between England and the United States, as the British posts were not at once surrendered, and this fact served to keep the Indians hostile.

The English pretended not to have authority to give up posts on Indian territory. This excuse was set up in the interest of the English fur traders, but it was finally agreed by the treaty effected by Mr. Jay that Great Britain should withdraw her troops by June 1, 1796, from all posts within the boundaries assigned by the treaty, and that British settlers and traders might remain for one year with all their former privileges, without becoming citizens of the United States. The Northwest Company seized upon this opportunity to establish posts all over Minnesota. They paid no duties, raised the British flag in many instances over their posts, and gave chiefs medals with English ensignia (sic) upon them. By these means they impressed the savages with the idea that their power still remained supreme, and this impression was a fruitful source of annoyance, and even danger, to Americans, for years afterward. In May, 1800, the Northwestern territory was divided.

In December, 1803, the province of Louisiana was officially delivered by the French to the United States government, and in March, 1804, Capt. Stoddard, U.S.A., as agent of the French government, received from the Spanish authorities in St. Louis actual possession of this important territory, transferring it very soon thereafter to the United States.

It was now deemed expedient that this valuable territory, so recently purchased, should be fully explored, and the Indians be made to acknowledge the full sovereignty of the Federal government. Upper Louisiana, including a large part of Minnesota, was organized immediately after the transfer, and on January 11, 1805, Michigan territory was also organized. Gen. Wilkinson, place in command at St. Louis, finding that the laws of his government were still unrecognized by the English traders in the new territory, in 1805 sent Lieut. Zebulon M. Pike to expel the traders and bring some of the prominent Indian chiefs to St. Louis. Pike was courteously received and hospitably entertained by the wily Scotch and English traders of that period, but they secretly resolved to disregard and circumvent the policy of the United States government in its proposed management of the Indians.

Pike visited the different tribes along the Mississippi as far up as Sandy and Leech lakes, and made a treaty with the Dah-ko-tahs for sites for forts at the mouth of the St. Croix and Minnesota rivers.

Wintering in the country of the Chippewas, he was enabled to induce them and the Sioux to smoke the pipe of peace, and in the early springtime started with representatives of both nations for St. Louis to conclude articles of friendship and commerce intended for the benefit of these hostile races.

Upon the "Aile Rouge," or "Red Wing," hearing of a secret attempt to shoot Lieut. Pike by a young Sioux, he spoke with vehemence against the character of some encamped at the mouth of the Minnesota river, and offered to bring the would-be assassin to Pike for punishment. [pike found at the Red Wing village an old chief known as Roman Nose, and who had been the second chief of his tribe, desirous of giving himself up for some instrumentality in the death of a trader. The Indian name of the chief was not given, but it was said he had been deposed in consequence of the murder of the trader. Pike thought it impolitic to tell the penitent chief that the matter was beyond his jurisdiction.

On his way down the river Pike speaks of Winona prairie by its French name of "Aile" or "Wing" prairie, and of Wah-pa-sha's encampment below La Crosse, probably at [the] mouth of Root river. He also gives Wah-pa-sha his French name of La Feuille, "The Leaf." La Crosse he calls De Cross, but when speaking of the game played at Prairie du Chien by Sioux, Fox and Winnebago contestants. He calls that "a great game of the cross," showing clearly that he did not know the French origin of the name. While at Prairie du Chien, Wah-pa-sha sent for Lieut. Pike, "and had a long and interesting conversation with him, in which he spoke of the general jealousy of his nation toward their chiefs," and wished the "Nez Corbeau," as the French called the "Roman Nose," reinstated in his rank as "the man of most sense in his nation." This conversation shows another noble trait in the character of Wah-pa-sha.

Before leaving Prairie du Chien for St. Louis, Pike established regulations for the government of the Indian trade, bu this disappearance from "La Prairie' was the signal for Cameron, Rolette, Dickson and their subordinates to disregard them. Cameron and Dickson were both bold Scotch traders, who seem to have disregarded all regulations and laws, except those of hospitality and humanity. Cameron died in 1811, and was buried on the Minnesota river. Dickson lived to take an active part in the war of 1812, and have few but his ill deeds spoken of in history.