Wyandotte Treachery!

February 10, 2010

First, congratulations to the New Orléans Saints for winning the Super Bowl! It not only lifted and renewed the city’s spirits but inspired the nation.

Last week we left Jean Leblanc trying to make peace by talking to the French. But Commandant de Bourmont refused to parlay and instead made the threatening gesture of puting swords on the end their poles. This cause great mistrust of the French among the Ottawa.

So the Ottawa went to the Wyandotte thinking they were their allies. Quarante Sols gave them a belt that signified that they were allies with the nations around them including the Ottawa, Chippewa, Mississauga and Potawatomi. They told Jean Leblanc they would share the French words with them on the Ottawa’s feast day and so they would not fear meeting in their lodges they would meet in a clearing where they would plant a French flag.

The next day the Wyandotte planted a French flag in open grassland just as they said they would. The French came and spread out large blankets on the ground near the flag and put large quantities of grain on them. The Wyandotte women did the same. But the Ottawa were very distrustful so the sent out scouts to survey the sounding area. They reported back that they had seen trails leading to the deep woods that encircled the open grassland.

The following day was their feast day. The Ottawa suspected a trap so they remained in their fort. The Miami and Wyandotte had some of their warriors hidden in the glades around the clearing but most of them were hidden in the deep woods surrounding the Ottawa fort. They had two bands. One came along the water and destroyed their canoes thinking it would prevent their escape. Then both rushed the fort to massacre all the women and children. They assumed the Ottawa had gone to meet at the clearing.

The Ottawa opened fire from their fort surprising the enemy. The Ottawa only lost one young man but the Miami and Wyandotte lost many. They retreated but returned that night. On their way they met Katalibou and his brother. They killed and scalped them. 

The next day the Wyandotte joined the Miami outside the Ottawa fort. Cletart, Quarante Sols’ brother, called out insults calling the Ottawa warriors women and saying that Onontio, the French Governor had long ago abandoned them. This riled the young Ottawa warriors and they rushed out of their fort to attack them. The Wyandotte held their ground but the Miami fled even though they had 400 men under arms. The next day they returned and attacked the Ottawa fort again but it was of little consequence. Before they left they shot a prisoner who was an ally of the Ottawa.

The same day some of the Ottawa’s young men along with two Mississauga returned to de troit from fighting the Flathead. The Wyandotte captured and bound them. They took the Ottawa warriors to the French fort but kept the two Mississauga men at the Wyandotte fort where they later released them.

The Miami released one of the young men with a message. The Miami did not wish to kill the other prisoners but wanted the Ottawa  to cover the Miami dead with presents thereby ending the hostilities. This was according to native custom.

The Ottawa collected all that they had to secure the release of the prisoners. They offered two packs of beaver pelts, ten pieces of porcelain beads, twenty kettles and various other small gifts. They took them unarmed to the appointed place in front of the French gates where Quarante Sols offered Jean Leblanc his hand. Just as he took it a shot rang out from the French fort and grazed Jean Leblanc’s shoulder. The Miami shot seven more killing two. The Ottawa fled with the Wyandotte and Miami in hot pursuit. The Ottawa warriors who had stayed at their fort rushed out to help their fleeing brothers.

During one of the Miami sorties they captured a young Ottawa woman and whisked her off to the French fort. Some of the Ottawa pursued them but arrived at the French fort only to hear the young woman’s screams as the Miami burned her alive! They spent the rest of the day fighting.

In fact all this fighting went on for almost two months. The Ottawa tired and were short of ball and shot so they chose Onabemamtou, one of their chiefs, to approach the Miami. He had danced the calumet peace dance with them in earlier times. He was successful a brokering a peace with them and reported back that they had laid all the blame at the feet of the Wyandotte and the French. They agreed to withdraw to their homeland on the St. Joseph and the Ottawa withdrew to Michillimakinac.

Cadillac returned to Fort Ponchartrain livid. He was upset with de Bourmont for not taking charge in the beginning. He chastised him for taking sides and not threatening each with the power of the French Governor. Now it was up to him to restore things and secure restitution for the killing of one of his soldiers and the Grey Robe.

NEXT WEEK: Reparation Granted

And The Winner Is…

January 27, 2010

Fort du Detroit 1763

Last week we left Cadillac struggling with various opponents to his dream of monopolizing the fur trade at de troit. Fathers Carheil and Marest were doing their best to keep their First Nation charges at Michillimakinac. The Jesuits had also established a mission at the St. Joseph to destroy de troit, or so he thought. Now even more problems appear.

Governor de Callieres died and his replacement was Philippe de Rigault, Marquis de Vaudreuil. He was visited in Montreal by a delegation of Ottawa representing about 80 people left at Michilimakinac. They told him that they wished to die in their villages and refused to move to de troit.  

Vaudreuil  had also received word that the Miami and Wyandotte that had moved to de troit had met in council with the Seneca Iroquois about safe passage through their territory. They wished to explore trade with the British at Albany. Quarante Sols, the Wyandotte chief of de troit confirmed this and Vaudreuil forbade it.  The Company of the Colony was also complaining loudly about the cost of establishing the new post.

All this led de Vaudreuil to send a report to France. Count Ponchartrain, Minister in charge of the Colony, was informed that he and Indendant Beauharnois had decided to send Father Marest back to his mission because the Ottawa and Wyandotte there refused to move. He also stated that if trade between their First Nation allies and the British was ever established it would be because of de troit. It was burdensome to the Colony as well because of the exorbitant costs of enticing the First Nations to give up their villages and move to lands around Fort Ponchartrain. He advised that de troit be abandoned.

Cadillac fought back. He appealed in a letter directly to the King. The job of getting all the nations around to move to de troit was all but complete. He reported that there had been to date 2,000 First Nations people living around the new fort. They had 400 men under arms, ample protection from attack by the Iroquois. These 2,000 souls included a village of mixed Saulteux and Mississauga Ojibwa, all the Wyandotte except 30 who remained a Michillimakinac, a Miami village of about 30 families, and all the Ottawa except the 80 that remained at Michillimakinac. There were also some Nipissing that joined the Ottawa and a village of Delaware Loup. Trade was being done and at no cost to France’s treasury.

Cadillac also informed the King of the bickering that was going on in the far country of the Colony. The Sioux had attacked and killed some Miami and it had escalated to a war between the Sioux and eight of France’s First Nation allies. Cadillac took credit for brokering a peace but implored the King to augment the new fort with French regulars and settlers, not abandoned it. He said the reason the peace was so hard to keep was because of the lack of a French presence in the far country. Cadillac won out. The newly established Fort Ponchartrain would not only survive but would be expanded.

Cadillac was an imposing presence, well liked by the First Nations and could manage the affairs of the new post quite well. However, the one area he had problems with was trade. The Miami and the Wyandotte did secure safe passage to Albany. So did the Saulteux and Mississauga Ojibwa.  At the same time the Great Peace Treaty was being negociated in Montreal a number of Ojibwa chiefs travelled to Albany with some French fur traders to explore the idea of trade with the British.

Towasquaye a Wyandotte trader visited Albany a couple of years later and found he was treated well. He returned with a delegation sent by the chiefs of de troit to visit the governor Lord Cornbury. Tehonwahonkarachqua, a Miami and son-in-law of Michipichy the principle Wyandotte sachem and Rughkiwahaddi a Wyandotte spoke for their chiefs. They found not only were they well received but the goods were cheaper and of better quality than French goods. 

This would lead to competition driving the price of European goods down to the benefit of the First Nations, but that would be in the future. Monopolizing trade would not be the only problem the French would have to deal with. Much larger problems loomed on the horizon!

NEXT WEEK: Trouble in Paridise…1706.

More Intrigues at Detroit

January 20, 2010

Hi everyone! Another week gone by with some major things happening in the world. A major earthquake in Haiti which is a catastrophe the likes of which we have not seen. They need so much help and I urge everyone to give to a registered charity. Also a big election in Massachusetts yesterday that’s going to bring big changes in U.S. politics.

Now to get back to the story of the founding of Detroit not only was Cadillac having trouble with the Jesuits discouraging the First Nations from settling around the new Fort Ponchartrain but the various indigenous peoples were reluctant themselves. The Miami and Potawatomi were settled along the St. Joseph River in southwestern Michigan.  A group of about 30 Wyandotte families were living near them.

Michipichy, called by the French Quarante-Sous, was the head chief of the Wyandotte at the St. Joseph. The governor asked him in Montreal to go back to the St. Joseph and bring his people who were there to de troit, which he did. He also obtained a promise from the Miami that were there that they would also move to de troit after they collected the bones of their dead and set them in order.

Cadillac claimed they would all be there if the missionaries had not dissuaded them. They encouraged them to settle at the St. Joseph because they had a small mission already there and they wanted to expand it. He also claimed that the real reason they wanted to do this was to make de troit fail because he had brought a Grey Robe or Recollect priest there. The Augustinian Recollects and Jesuits were competing missionaries.

Another strange thing had happened. The governor, de Callieres, had told the head chief of the Miami in Montreal to settle on the St. Joseph after instructing Cadillac invite all the First Nations to settle at  de troit. This only served to confuse the Miami as well as the Wyandotte. So Michipichy went to Michillimakinac to see Sastaresty the head chief there. They were under they impression that the governor did not want them to go to Detroit. They decided to sent their elders to Montreal to see the governor to settle the dispute and to do whatever de Callieres wanted.

All this confusion made its way back to France even all the way to the King. Louis XIV sent a letter back to the Canadian officials detailing his wishes. His Majesty reported that on the one hand Sieur de la Mothe Cadillac is adamant that de troit will produce all the effects expected of it.

On the other hand others have reported that the land there is no good and will not produce the food required to support the population expected there. There is only the poor fishing available and the hunting grounds are 30 to 40 leagues away. There is also the fear of attack by the Iroquois and because the colony lacked the means to defend the newly established fort the result would be that war would recommence. Also, the Company of the Colony were reporting that the cost of establishing this new venture was so exorbitant that it was impossible to sustain. It seems Cadillac had a host of opponents all with their own agendas. 

So the King ordered through Governor de Callieres and Intendant Beauharnais that Cadillac and the most important of the French settlers at de troit meet and discuss the pros and cons of establishing the new settlement and outline them in a document. Also, all present at the deliberations were to sign the document. His Majesty would then be able to make an informed decision whether to continue augmenting that post, or to leave it as a trading post only or to abandon it altogether.

NEXT WEEK: And the Winner Is…

Ojibwa Systems and Beliefs

December 9, 2009

The Snowshoe Dance by George Catlin, 1835.


Greetings once again. I spent this a.m. fixing my crashed satellite system. Now that I’m online once again we can continue with the social aspects of the Ojibwa people.  

Our traditional political system was extremely flat or another way to describe it is it had very little hierarchy. Each village had a council made up of elders. This council held the only coercive power in the community. Certain elders were asked by the council to serve by sitting on the council as a member. Of course these would be people who showed they learned and used the wisdom earned by a lifetime of experiences. Not a bad idea to marry political power to the wisdom of the community.  

There were two kinds of chiefs, a war chief and a civil chief. They were asked to serve by the council. These chiefs had charismatic power only. If a war chief wanted to raise a war party then he had to convince the warriors of his village to follow him into battle using his charisma. The civil chief was chosen to serve because he displayed good negotiating skills and was a good orator. However, he only had the power to commit to what the council had already instructed him to do. It was the council that made the important decisions for the village. Each village was autonomous making decisions based on what they thought was best for the village so there was in effect no central government. There was an alliance called the Three Fires Confederacy which was mainly a military alliance between the Ojibwa, Ottawa and Potawatomi nations. However, they held no power over individual villages.  

If there was no central government what held the nation together? Two things, a common language and family. The family was the most important social structure in the nation. Each family had a family mark called a odem or totem. They were usually animals, birds, fish, amphibians or reptiles but sometimes they were other objects. For example my totem is oak. The rules for the family structure were fairly simple. No two people with the same family mark could get married. This of course was designed to prevent intermarriage. There were no distant relatives. Everyone with the same totem was considered a close relative such as brother, sister, aunt or uncle. Even if a stranger having the same totem passed through the village from a distant part of the territory and he was by western standards a third cousin once removed, he could not marry one with the same family mark. The family of the village was also expected to treat him with the respect due to a visiting brother. They were to provide him with shelter, food and gifts even though they may not know him. It was this understanding of closeness that was the glue that held the Ojibwa nation together.  

The traditional Ojibwa person did not have a personal relationship with God. He was called the Great Mystery and remained transcendental and mysterious. The Ojibwa’s worldview was very spiritual. It was one filled with spirit beings called muneedoog or manitous. These manitous interacted with the people. Some of these spirits were helpers and some were mischievous and a few were evil. They had humanlike qualities in that they could change depending on the circumstances.  

Our understanding of the cosmos was that life was an illusion, a sort of imitation of the real world which was the spiritual realm. There were certain portals to the real world through which messages or directions could be transferred. Seers used chants and ceremonies such as the shaking tent ceremony to communicate with the manitous. Healers also used drumming, chanting to get direction from their spirit guides on how to release the spiritual power contained in certain herbs and medicines. The most important portal for the common person were dreams. This is why dreams were held in such high regard and used extensively to guide each on their journey through life.  

Shaking Tent Ceremony


When an individual died the cross over into the real world was not instantaneous. It was a journey. The body would be placed in the grave facing west. That is the direction which we believed the afterlife existed. All that person’s utensils were placed with them as they would need them on their four-day journey. A small bark house about two feet high was built over the grave. It had a small door on the west end to allow the person’s soul to escape when they started on their spirit journey. When they reached their final destination they would be in a place of bliss and happiness enjoying the company of loved ones that had made the journey before them.  

I’ve just touched on the culture and traditions of the Ojibwa in order to give you a flavor of their practices and lifestyle. For a much fuller description see my book Ways of Our Grandfathers. When reading about the history of a people I believe some knowledge of the culture helps to understand why they did the things they did.    

NEXT WEEK: The First Ojibwa/French Military Alliance

Lifestyle and Worldview of the Ojibwa

December 2, 2009

Well, another week has just flown by. Thanksgiving has come and gone and now we’re looking at Christmas. Happy holidays everyone! I’m going to continue for this week and next describing the Ojibwa’s lifestyle and traditions then we’ll get back to the history of the Great Lakes region. 

The Ojibwa had larger territories than the Iroquoian speaking peoples. This was due to different lifestyles. Ojibwa villages were smaller and more temporary. Each territory had one or more main villages consisting of family lodges called wigwams. These villages had from a few hundred to 1,000 inhabitants. There were no palisades and the villages were often moved to different locations but in the same general area. 

Ojibwa Lodge by Paul Kane 1846


Village members would congregate at the villages in the summer months. Summer was a time of rest and relaxation. Time was spent tending small gardens, gathering fruits and berries as they ripened and trading with our allies. It was a time for festivals called gatherings or powwows. Many would come from other territories to participate in the drumming, dancing, singing and feasting. There was great competition in the games played with much wagering on the athletes. Each evening the village storyteller would mesmerize both children and adults alike with his repertoire of traditional stories told around a huge community fire. 

Lacrosse Game by George Catlin c 1800's


When the leaves began to turn color we would strike the main village and break up into small groups of two or three families. Each would head out to the winter hunting camps which were located throughout our territory. We would spend the winter there, hunting and trapping. The men would do the hunting and manage the trapping lines and the women and children would dry the meat and stretch the skins. The long winter nights were spent in our lodges repeating traditional stories around a small campfire. 

In mid February we would leave the hunting camps and gather in larger groups of five or six families at the sugar bushes. For two or three weeks while the sap rose in the maple trees we would produce our sugar products. The men would tend the lines and the women and children would run the sugar lodges. This was a long lodge 30 or 40 feet long by 12 or 15 feet wide. Three or four very hot fires were continually tended boiling down the sap to syrup. If the weather was conducive the boiling was done outside the lodge. It took 30 to 40 gallons of sap to get one gallon of syrup. In March when the sap stopped running utensils were stored in small tepees to be used again the following year. 

Ojibwa Sugar Camp c 1850


Carrying our meat and sugar products with us each group would move on to the fishing camps. These camps were made up of much larger groups and were often located at the mouths of rivers and streams or at rapids where the fishing was good. The spring runs produced the huge quantities of fish that were caught in our nets or weirs. Whitefish was a staple of the Ojibwa diet and there were huge runs on the St. Mary’s, St. Clair and Niagara Rivers. Ojibwa men would go out into the rapids in canoes, float downstream and while standing scoop large quantities of fish into the canoes with a long poles that had nets attached to the ends of them. Needless to say we had an uncanny sense of balance and were excellent canoeists. The men did the fishing and the women and children dried or powdered the fish. When the fish runs over we all moved back to the main village for another summer of leisure. Such was the lifestyle of the Ojibwa. It was a good life and we were a happy and contented people.  

Fishing in the St. Mary's River c 1900

New Policies,New Allies

November 25, 2009

Hi everyone!

First let me apologize for the map enlarging instructions I gave in my last post. It worked perfectly when I previewed my post but after I published it that function was lost. Sorry.

You will recall in my last post the remnants of the Huron, Tobacco Nation and Neutrals joined and fled north to Michilimackinac and became known as the Wyandotte. France changed their governor and the Church changed its bishop. These two new administrators of New France also changed the policy of “no guns to the Indians”. Still enemies with the Iroquois they needed to find new allies and trading partners. They looked northward to the Ojibwa.

The Ojibwa held the richest trapping grounds on the continent. We were also the largest military power on the continent. The French established a trading post at Michilimackinac. The Church established their main mission on the St. Mary’s River near present-day Sault Ste. Marie.

Now for a change of pace. This week and maybe the next two I want to describe the culture and some of the traditions held by France’s native allies. More of how we lived than what we did. The Ojibwa were Algonquian-speaking people and we had a far different lifestyle than the Iroquoian-speaking people we have been learning about.

“Iroquoian Longhouse”

The Iroquoian-speaking people were agrarian people. They produced excess farm products particularly squash, beans and corn. Their towns were considerable in size with one to two thousand or more people living there. They constructed double palisades around the town. Inside the palisades they constructed long houses about 100 feet long and 30 feet high. On the insides they sectioned off double bunks where a whole families would sleep in each of the sections. Communal fires were placed every 30 feet or so for cooking.

Iroquian LonghouseCutaway view of Iroquoian Longhouse

Outside the palisades they farmed large tracts of land. They understood the principle of crop rotation but practiced it differently than Europeans. Their towns were not as permanent as those build by the Europeans so they rotated the entire town approximately every ten years. They would move to a previously used site, build a whole new town and let the fields at the old site go fallow. They usually had two or three town sites they would rotate.

This agrarian lifestyle made the Huron good candidates as trading partners for the Algonquin speaking peoples. The Ojibwa and Ottawa were hunters and fishers and their lifestyle produced an excess of meat and fish products.

The economic system of the native peoples was totally unlike the economic system of Europe. For example, in Europe if there was a nation of fishers on the coast and a nation of farmers on a plain they would trade by bargaining. One may offer a bushel of wheat for three barrels of fish. The other would counter offer a barrel of fish for a bushel of wheat. They may come to an agreement of two barrels of fish for a bushel of wheat. Or they may not be able to come to an agreement. If they could not they would let the excess produce rot.

Not so with the aboriginals of North America. They had no monetary system and their worldview would not allow them to waste their extra produce. The Europeans’ Judeo-Christian teachings said that humanity was God’s crowning achievement and they were to dominate and subdue the world. The product of their work was theirs to do with as they wished. 

On the other hand native peoples saw humanity at the bottom of a hierarchy the weakest of God’s creatures. Naked and vulnerable our teachings said that the Great Mystery asked mother earth to sustain us. That included the animals, fish and birds giving up their lives for our sustenance. They agreed so everything that we had including life itself was a gift from the Creator. It would be an affront to mother earth who sustained us and to the Master of Life who ordained it so to let the Great Spirit’s gifts go to waste.

There was no haggling over excesses. We would give to each other freely. If one suffered a drought and crops failed the other trading partner would give up all their excess meat and fish knowing that what goes around comes around. The Ojibwa word for this type of trading was “daawed”. Here is a hint. This word is going to come up much later so this type of trade is important to remember.

NEXT WEEK: Lifestyle and Worldview of the Ojibwa.

About the Author

October 15, 2009

My name is David D Plain and I’m an historian/author and I’ve published two books. One is a history book on the Chippewas of Sarnia, Ontario, Canada called The Plains of Aamjiwnaang – Our History and the other is Ways of Our Grandfathers – Our Traditions. They were both published in 2007 by Trafford Publishing and both cover the early contact period with Europeans c 1600-1850. I am a graduate of Tyndale Seminary, Toronto, Canada with a focus on Church History. The books were launched in 2008 at the Lambton County Library auditorium. Since the launch The Plains of Aamjiwnaang won a Golden Scribe Award for best non-fiction . Both books have been reviewed by The Diocesan Times, Halifax, Canada. Here is an excerpt: 

They speak about territory we know about, and might have lived in or visited (the area straddling both sides of the St. Clair River, extending into both present-day Michigan and Ontario). But they do it from a very different perspective than most of us comprehend. In fact we might say that these books are sorts of historical travel guides, telling the story of a place of which many of both its current inhabitants are unaware. David Plain writes not so much to make a point as to revive a long memory, and offer the unique perspective that comes with such an exercise. http://www.nspeidiocese.ca/times/2009/DT%20MAR%2009%20Web.pdf The review can be found on page 7.