Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Legend of Chief Wabasis' Lost Treasure - 123

John Wabasis saw and heard many different points of views of how to deal with incoming settlers and he probably heard Noonday (Naoqua Keshuck) say, "I am an Indian; nevertheless, I think of God and of religion, and had we a preacher amongs us, perhaps I could become good." He was speaking of the days he was a murderous Indian during the War of 1812 and shortly after that conflict he became a converted Protestant believer. Fifteen years later (1827) it was Noonday who under constant urging invited McCoy to build the first Protestant mission at the rapids between the Mound Builders. It had taken McCoy since 1821 to win the minds of the Ottawas to let him build north of the Grand River. This was Indian land not the government.

So it was that in 1827 the Baptist mission was built encompassing several log houses on 160 acres, some with glass windows and plank floors built by carpenters using farm and agricultural tools, who also built fenced pastures for 55 head of cattle supplied by the government. Another missionary named Leonard Slater was to attend to the Indians spiritual needs and oversee the mission in the wilderness.

For the Indians to receive any benefits from the mission all they had to do was profess Christian beliefs, attend chapel on a regular basis and get dunked (baptized) in a pond of water, the same ceremony the Catholics introduced in the mid 1600's when the Jesuits arrived. Many baptisms took place, but in many respects they didn't serve the purpose, because the baptismal services were held in English which many Indians couldn't understand. Nearly all the Indians living within the Great Lakes theatre spoke Algonquin languages. Canadian Fur traders who spoke Algonquin could travel at leisure for a thousand miles never fearing the Indians. To non-speaking English language Indians the baptismal services was a mute point. They couldn't understand a thing that McCoy and Slater said and when the Indians did show up for Protestant church services they found them to be lifeless, boring and tiresome.

When McCoy first encountered the Ottawa Indians living north of the Grand River he called them wild savages and he didn't appreciate the Ottawas religious ceremonies that involved dancing, singing and feasting. McCoy and Slater frowned upon this behavior; called them savage like acts. Because of this many Indians refused to accept the Protestant Christian teachings and they equally didn't like how Slater distributed government supplied goods and services. The Ottawas felt rejected and preserved their own concepts of religion and incorporated Catholic forms. Indian tribes living north of the Grand River beyond Ada held many Catholics - Roman Catholics who rejected McCoy and Slaters religion.

While Baptist missionaries did their best to uplift, protect, and educate the Indians, the Indians encountered many other white men coming into the river valley who were lax in their morals and left behind many half-breed Indians by inter-mingled blood marriages. Many were called "traders" and "Voyageurs", but both dishonored the Indian tribes with their stealing and killing for greed.

From 1827-1833 the religious battles raged between the Catholics and Baptists and their was much friction within the tribes and people. The sounds of war drums grew louder and settlers south of the Grand River got nervous. The Indians were being squeezed from all sides. The Indians were feeling oppression and they vehemently opposed Noonday and his dictatorial Protestant religion. Those who felt McCoy and Slater's anger returned to their Catholic ways of life of dancing, singing and feasting in honor of the Great Spirit.

An so it was in 1833, that Father Frederic Baraga invited some French speaking inhabitants in the Grand River valley to build a Catholic mission south of the Baptist mission in an Ottawas village. Religious tensions in the area mushroomed when the tribe was surrounded on the east and south by an influx of settlers eager to buy more Indian land. The new settlers cut the Indian forests for building steamboats, woodburning boilers to produce steam and timbers for building log homes. The settlers shot Indian game for food and the sounds of big guns chased their game away and when game got scarce they began robbing Christian and non-Christian Indians of their own personal possessions. The Indians felt threatened.

When the 1833 Dexter party arrived in Grand Rapids they brought in much sickness. Small pox epidemics were breaking out and death was everywhere. Sickness in nearly every tribe and many tribes panicked and left for other places, but the plague of sickeness was carried with them and small pox spread far and wide and the devestasting effects of it affected all colors of skin. Thousands of Indians were dying.

This preach the Ten Commandments from the Bible, but steal and kill was very unsettling to the Indians. They were beginning to distrust all white men and their treaties and religions were taking a beating, too. The Indians no longer had to buy firewater, it was given free to them and each night the drum beating got louder and angry voices could be heard as the drunken Indians shamefully and verbally attacked the integrity of Chief Kewaycooshcum who signed the Treaty of 1821 deeding all lands south of the Grand River to the US government. Fact is, the Potawatomies of southern Michigan signed thirty treaties between 1816-1833.

Father Baraga began ministering to the Ottawas in the Village of Kewaycooshcum in 1835, he saw the rising religious tensions between the chiefs, warriors and other tribal members and that all this infighting was weakening the bonds of traditional Ottawas to the point where they could no longer deal with the economic problems as a united force. The sons of chiefs didn't agree with tribal leaders. They opposed another treaty. The religious strife and alcohol dependencies of the Grand River valley Indians was so great, the Ottawa society almost exploded to war when Indian like Max Sauba started thumping his chest and tried to get the chiefs to halt negotiations with the US government. The drum beating was unnerving incoming settlers and word had gotten back to the President that not all was going according to plan so U.S. Army detachments were dispatched into the wilds of Michigan hauling cannons.

McCoy was quick to blame the traders, voyageurs and frontier ruffians for squelching his efforts to civilize and Christianize the Grand River valley Indians. In fact, in a letter to Congress and the President before 1833 that the only way now to save the Indians was to take them away from the evil men by forced removal if need be to government reservations west of the Mississippi River and that is exactly what happened to all those Potawotomies who signed the Treaty of 1821 and they were gone before 1835, but the Ottawas who remained scattered into the northern tribes or remained on the land until it was purchased by settlers. They weren't going to leave the land of their ancestors until they were forced out by provisions in the Treaty of 1836.

In the early 1830's, the entire Great Lakes regions had a total Indian population of roughly 72,000 with an additional 12,000 living in Canada. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 shifted Indian management from military to civilian administration, which formulated the new Indian reserve policies. It was also the first year when the government began to see a rapid decline in the fur trade east of the Mississippi. It was going to be inevitable that someday soon Indian wars might break out so it was important for Congress to put forth a way to maintain peace.

The government was actively engaged in relying heavily on Protestant missionaries to convert the wild savage like Indians to Christianity in the Great Lakes and upper Mississippi regions. What the government didn't have control over was the fact that the Protestant missionaries were calling the Catholic Indians "pagans" and this classification infuriated the Indians. Had the Protestant missionaries not so harshly criticized the devout Catholic Indians there would have not been such a revival in the Catholic faith among them and incoming settlers in Michigan or Canada. Technically the government messed where they didn't belong. They had involved themselves in a secular (Protestant) religious preoccupation of Native Americans - a 'father knows best' campaign. Today the government would call it a "sting" operation.

Funded by the government, the missionaries used the Holy Bible, and its teachings of the Ten Commandments, to show the Indians that they could live in harmony with the incoming Christian settlers. What the missionaries and government liasons forgot about were the filthy, rotten traders and no good half-breeds that infiltrated the Indian villages to stir up trouble.

All the best plans began to unravel when the incoming settlers brought with them diseases that the Indians had no immunity for or started stealing and killing to strip the Indians of their heritage and land. It is then so many Indians began questioning the dictatorial motives of Protestant missionaries. God and the Ten Commandments were drilled into their psyche, given food, goods, services and annuity payments. Some Indians purchased land from the US government, the same as settlers, and now they were being robbed, beaten, killed and thrown off their own deeded lands and American laws were found to be worthless and they soon learned that Americans, those in Washington and everywhere "speak with forked tongue - snakes and serpents to beware."

John Wabasis had deeded lands at Wabasis Lake and elsewhere. Next time I'll tell you what happend from about 1834-1848 so you can see what was different between the Treaty of 1821 and Treaty of 1836. How did Wabasis acquire his wealth?

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