A final trap from Stuart for the Ojibway

Like journalists, it is a historian’s job to remain neutral and write based only on the facts presented, found, or revealed without adding a slant one way or another. In writing on emotional issues, remaining neutral can sometimes be difficult. In history, a topic can be so one-sided, the reader might think the historian is indeed biased, even though no bias exists.

That is the case with the treaties between the Unites States government and the Native Americans of Lake Superior and northern Wisconsin.

Just one example of this one-sidedness can be seen in the 1828 treaty in the lead district of southwest Wisconsin Territory, which would have a direct impact on the Lake Superior copper region not quite 20 years later.

In the early 19th century, lead is what attracted Whites to southwest Wisconsin region which was, at the time, the lands of the Dakota-related tribe of Hoocaogra, or Hocak Peoples. The Whites called them Winnebagos. In spite of the region being outside the western boundary of the U.S., thousands of Whites settled illegally on Hocak lands with intent to get rich mining for lead.

In fact, there were 10,000 Whites living on Hocak land, including a slave-owning militia general named Henry Dodge, who would soon become the territorial governor. He had openly proclaimed that the United States Army did not have the power to compel him to leave Hocak land, where he was amassing a fortune mining.

Another pioneer was Henry Gratiot, father of Charles Gratiot. Henry, like Dodge, was illegally mining, although he was friendly with the Hocak. Still, he betrayed them by allowing the Army to build a fort on lands he claimed his own, but actually belonged to the Hocak. Eventually, the Hocak rebelled against the Whites, which is all the government wanted to happen. With the end of the rebellion came treaty time.

Gratiot and Dodge both became treaty commissioners for the government, and in an 1828 treaty, the Hocak lost their lands, and were soon removed to what are now Kansas and Iowa. The firms and people who had been mining throughout the Hocak region were informed they were now on United States mineral lands, and were required to secure permits for the lands they were on, and to pay a percentage of the lead they produced to the government. Miners and mine owners refused, and things escalated until they got downright ugly. The mineral land agents called in the Army to break things up, restore order and bring the miners into line. It was all very unpleasant business, and it would later frighten a newly-arrived agent to the Fever River region, General Walter Cunningham who was appointed to the Wisconsin lead district formerly owned by the Hocak.

When, in 1842, Cunningham was ordered by the War Department to the south shore of Lake Superior to erect a mineral land agency there, it was the series of events that had happened in Wisconsin that prompted him to stop in Detroit and inform General Hugh Brady that he, Cunningham, was granted authority to request troops from Brady’s department should he need them.

The treaty of Fond du Lac, which we talked about last week, which was negotiated by Dodge, stripped the Ojibway of northern Wisconsin Upper Michigan of the timber rights to the lands they owned, though the treaty specified only pine trees. The same treaty also stripped the Santee Lakota of their lead lands and timber rights, and saw them removed west of the Mississippi River.

Officials of the American Fur Company (AFC) received the timber rights, along with $160,000 collected for fraudulently claims against the Ojibway and the Lakota, by traders of the company.

In October 1842, the government called for another treaty with the Ojibway of Upper Michigan and those remaining in Wisconsin. The Ojibway of the Mississippi were also called.

The commissioner appointed to represent the government in this treaty was a former agent of the American Fur Company under Ramsey Crooks named Robert Stuart. Stuart was appointed as treaty commissioner even though Alfred Brunson was the subagent of the La Pointe subagency, where the treaty would be conducted.

Stuart was brutal and ruthless, promising the Ojibway one thing, while he wrote something else down on paper. That charge would be made by attendees of the treaty who were forced to sign it, others who were there who refused, and even Whites who witnessed the treaty negotiations.

Many of the Whites in attendance at the negotiations would later become very influential in the development of the Lake Superior copper district, including Cyrus Mendenhall. Mendenhall was a co-founder and the president of the Cleveland and North Western Lake Company, which owned the schooner “Algonquin.”

The treaty of La Pointe would prove more devastating to the Upper Michigan Ojibway than the 1836 treaty had been. The treaty began problems between the clans of Ojibway living in Upper Michigan and those of northern Wisconsin. It would also develop major problems between the Ojibway and the Whites, many which exist to this day.

That wasn’t Stuart’s problem. His problem was how to get the chiefs to sign the treaty so that the AFC could again profit from the Ojibway like they did in 1836. It was truly a dark time for the Ojibway of Lake Superior.

When we sit down to coffee next Saturday, we’ll start to discuss the details of the treaty of La Pointe and who lost and who profited.

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