By Leo

Part 1|Part 2

This is part two of, Bemerkungen über die Bekehrung canadischer zum Christenthum und einige Bekehrungsgeschichten (1859) (Remarks on the Conversion of the Canadian Indians and some Stories of Conversion), by Johann Georg Kohl published in the Augsburg-based, German-language magazine, Das Ausland.  For information on the translation process and significance of this article, see part one.  For Chequamegon History’s concluding analysis, scroll to the bottom of this post.


Das Ausland:  Eine Wochenschrift Fur Kunde des geistigen und sittlichen Lebens der Völker

[The Foreign Lands:  A weekly for scholars of the moral and intellectual lives of foreign nations]

Nr. 3 15 January 1859

Remarks on the conversion of Canadian Indians to Christianity and some conversion stories

By J.G. Kohl


 See Ely, Edmund F. The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 1833-1849.  Ed. Theresa Schenck.  U of Nebraska Press. 2012. for many more stories and anecdotes related to the issues Kohl describes here.

Since pagan marriage ties are usually very loose, and can be dissolved under Indian laws and customs at the slightest opportunity, a baptism of a married man is at the same time a re-marriage and a firm Christian marriage. It is all the more necessary to state something about this, since the Indian nations all permit polygamy. Of course, most men have only one wife because they find it difficult to feed several. If this isn’t the case with a baptized man, he must renounce the majority of his wives. The missionaries leave him the choice.  He can keep the one whom he most loves. Usually, these ungrateful husbands then have the cruelty to leave the loyal old ones. Women who have been with them the longest are told goodbye, and the man settles down with the last and youngest in the bosom of the church.

Even in the language of the Indians, some reforms must be made upon baptism. These are often the hardest changes to perform. The pagan language of the Indians has many peculiarities which cannot be used after baptism, and permitting their use in Christianity would violate the dignity of religion.

baraga   From Dr. Rand Valentine via email:  “Many languages in the world have a special grammatical system called Evidentiality, by which one is essentially required to indicate the source of information that one is reporting. Lots of languages make grammatical distinctions between first hand (visually observed, and in some languages, auditorily heard), hearsay (you heard it from someone else, who might have been a first-hand observer), inference (Joe must be sick, he was not feeling well and didn’t come into work today), common knowledge (everyone knows that frogs can’t fly), etc. The Ojibwe definitely have an evidential system grammatically, so when they talked in the 19th century about things from the Bible, they would say, “the alleged Jesus,” meaning, “I didn’t personally see this, and no one I know did,” etc. This hugely annoyed Baraga, who wanted them to treat the Bible as truth.” (Image:  Baraga, F. A Theoretical and Practical Grammar of the Otchipwe Language.  (1850). pg. 95. 

For example, the language is full of expressions of vagueness and uncertainty. One finds in it expressions and final suffixes that designate the degree of knowledge which the speaker has acquired from a thing or a person. For example, the Indians have heard talk of Moses, the great lawgiver, but rumor has only given them a dark idea of ​​him. They have not seen Moses, himself, and have not yet gotten to know him better through his writings or his particular life story. Since their whole conception of “Moses” still hovers in vague outlines like a cloud, they do not even say Moses, but instead attach a certain syllable to the name in order to indicate in the idea we would express by paraphrasing, as follows: “a certain Moses” or “Moses, of whom people speak of so much.” These final suffixes are highly-varied and express different nuances and levels of acquaintance or of the celebrity of the person. With one final suffix, they can express “the famous and universally-vaunted Moses,” with another, the person of which one just speaks is merely notorious. Again, with another, they can express that they themselves still very much doubt the actual existence of this Moses, where we might say, “the often-mentioned but still very doubtful Moses.”

As long as they are still pagans, Indians never call the saints and holy persons of our religion “Moses” or “Isaiah” or “Mary” or “Christ.” These names are always spoken so that doubt or mere rumor is expressed. Of “Christ,” for example, one would say “a certain Christ,” and they always bring these expressions to Christianity, where they are supposed to believe in the existence of these personalities. I was told that it was very difficult for them to get used to this fixed and definite way of speaking.

All of these external changes are comparatively easy, of course. But while the christianization and remoulding of the inner man may look successful in these conversions, the degree of these successes is always a more-difficult question.

It is a point that is so intimately-connected with so many other great questions about the often-discussed civilizability of the Indian tribes, it could only be adequately illuminated in a great and profound work. Of course, when I share my little experiences about the Indians, I can not engage in the discussion of this great subject; but I would like to say a lot about what I personally saw and heard myself. Many of these experiences may also confirm long-standing remarks.

 As described in the Relations des Jésuites (very similar to the Lettres édifiantes et curieusesClaude Allouez and Jacques Marquette both founded churches on Lake Superior in the 1600s. Both priests died over a century before Frederic Baraga‘s birth in a Slovenian village of the Austrian Empire.

One sad observation that comes to mind when you travel around Lake Superior is that there are so few of missions and churches among the local Indians. It has been more than 200 years since the first Christian missionaries came to this lake.  They announced to the world, in their lettres édifiantes, their beautiful, rapid, and seemingly-great successes among the Indians. 200 years after Charlemagne had defeated the barbarian Saxons and converted them “to prayer,” there were already many flourishing bishoprics, many beautiful churches, and progressive communities in Saxony, fertilized with much martyrdom and heathen blood. Here on Lake Superior, however, one hardly finds any trace of those first chapels and churches which the fathers: Jogues, Raymbaut, Ménard, Allouez, Marquette, and others built here as early as the middle of the 17th century. Their Indian communities have dissolved in the course of time. They were probably restored, but then they are, again, scattered like chaff. Little or nothing of what those men founded held firm root, and nothing has grown.

Nor does it seem that the number of Protestant missions along the lake is any different. Protestant missionary work has only begun here in recent times, but one still encounters many traces of relapses, abandoned attempts, and ruins of redeemed communities.All of the Catholic churches, congregations, and missions that we saw, and which total no more than a dozen, are a completely new work. They are all the products of the devotional efforts of the venerable and noble Father Baraga, an Austrian, who is now elevated to the position of bishop of the tidy new church and bishopric erected around Lake Superior, and who may well be called the new apostle of that lake.

Yes, everywhere the Protestant work seems far-less laid in stone than the works of the Catholics.

  In Greek myth, the Dainaides were punished for killing their husbands and condemned to fill a sieve with water until full for eternity–a task impossible to complete (Painting by John William Waterhouse Wikipedia).

In short, missionary work among the Indians, if followed through the course of the centuries, looks almost like the labors of the Danaides. A lot of water was poured into the sieve, but it kept dribbling out. As in a garden with weeds, they always regained the upper hand without the gardener constantly present to manage and keep watch constantly.

The few successes among the Protestants can be attributed, in part, to the fragmentation of their powers through the disunity of their jealous sects, their lack of sacrificial zeal, and the tendencies of so many missionaries to have less a sense of gaining martyrdom than of gaining a livelihood. It is also very natural that the Protestant conception of Christianity appeals to the Indian less than the Catholic one. But the reason why the Catholics, even with their their vast church, which triumphs in so many wild nations and counts corps of zealous servants, has so often failed in this Indian endeavor and has created so-little independence, must have something to do with the Indians, themselves.

The wild nature-man is in us all.  He lives and works away, even in the most civilized among us. He is a piece of, or rather the basis of, our nature. Civilization is, more or less, just something artificially-constructed and planted. Not only are human civilizations somewhat prone to relapse and recklessness, every individual is as well. Culture requires a constant struggle for renewal and rebirth in all of us. We are often terrified of ourselves as occasionally whole organs and systems of our soul are stunted.  We do not see how recently our nature ossified, how recently we became relaxed, or how each day we either lose our susceptibility or regain it through work and specific attention to becoming cultured. Constantly, we dust ourselves off and pull the forever-proliferating weeds. That, after we leave the schoolmaster, we do not completely degenerate, is less to our individual credit than it is a happy consequence of the fact that everything around us struggles and strives for us. This whole river of influences surrounds us and holds us in suspense like drops of water.

  Here, Kohl is clearly drawing on Jean-Jacques Rousseau and other 18th-Century Enlightenment philosophers. German Enlightment poet, Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805) modified Rosseau’s famous quote, “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” to  “Man is created free, and is free, Though he be born in chains.” (Images: Wikipedia)

How easy barbarism is for all men? Or rather, what magic enchants the wild, free, casual nature of this life? How do they easily renounce the artist’s civilization, seen in the lands of the Indians, throughout the entire period of conflict and contact?

Members of the “most civilized nation in the world,” the Frenchmen, quickly and easily become so fierce that one could scarcely distinguish them from the native savages. And it is not only the gruff French voyageurs who say that they prefer their laborious life to all the pleasures of a comfortable urban existence.

Even British officers, in the wilds of Hudson’s Bay, will tell you that they are very content in their wooden barracks. I spoke to one who seemed to talk dispassionately about his beautiful gardened island of England, which he had recently returned to on a visit. “I no longer have any desire,” he said. With a quick and eager step he rushes back to his Hudson’s Bay and will hardly ever return to Britain.

Likewise, I was told by a Protestant missionary on Lake Superior, who had recently seen Paris, Rome, and the other miraculous cities of the ancient world. He said that life there had disgusted him, and that he had now returned to Lake Superior to finish his career there. Even the Catholic missionaries are so absorbed in their work, the lake and in the Indians, that one should not even ask whether they prefer that semi-wild missionary life or a fat benefice in Lombardy. And yet, these same people later wonder why it is so hard to wean the Indian from his wild life.

“Man is free, but he would be been born in chains.” Beautiful words, they are, in the sense that our Schiller pronounced them; but in many other ways, the dear human child is born in chains and remains unfree. The civilized man is the servant of tradition and is a product of civilization.  The wild forest child is a product of nature, and a slave to its overpowering elemental forces. “The Indians,” as stated by the excellent Heckewelder, “consider the whole living creation as one great society. People are indeed placed at the head of the creatures, but nevertheless exist, in intimate relation, among all the animals down to the toad. Humans are, in their opinion, in only the primus inter pares. All of living nature, in their eyes, is one great whole of which they have not dared to break away. Yes, they even go so far as to include the plants and trees, to a certain extent, in their society. Moreover they do not even exclude animals from the spirit world, their paradise, and they intend for them to go with them after death.”

Kohl is citing the American Moravian Church missionary John Heckewelder, who published works on the spiritual beliefs of the Lenape (Delaware) people.   Chequamegon History does not typically analyze questions of Native spirituality (See: About).  In The Four Hills of Life (2011), by Thomas Peacock and Marlene Wisuri, you can find more on these topics, including discussion of the kinship and spiritual connections between the Ojibwe and Lenape. Image result for the four hills of life(Google Books link: includes libraries it can be found in) 

This is not just a philosophical system or theory, but a life-practice. Not only do they think of themselves as an intimate part of all living nature, but since they do think so, they are so, and because they are so, they think so. So, how can one wonder, and how can one still ask, why it is so difficult to civilize a man for whom the bear is “his brother,” the fox “his cousin,” the wolf his “forefather?” He calls the white stag his “prophet” and fears that the beaver, the rattlesnake, or the bullfrog may be angry with him if he betrays one of his religious secrets to a stranger.

Still more, they do not just see these creatures as relatives. No, they identify with them, too. “I have the soul of a buffalo in me,” they may say. But they are not merely content with that. “I am a buffalo,” or “I am a moose,” is often their decisive statement. They do not joke about this, and this is far more than a mere figure of speech, as can be shown by the thoughtful and foolishly-solemn air with which they bring these matters forward.

We have enough examples among ourselves in long-ago civilized Europe, though more-delicate and less-immediately visible, of these extremely strong bonds struck between nature and the human soul. We have the example of the half-wild gypsy tribe in mind. Cultivation conquers him only when it has completely assimilated and destroyed him. Individuals of this tribe are worked and taught by the culture and the school until the education seems to take hold.  However, upon leaving and starting their employment, the overwhelming impressions of the youth, and the peculiarities of the tribes and the blood take supreme power in the fermentation process, and all these restraints are broken.

Yes, even if we want to refrain from using the example of these half-wild children of India, we need only to look around among our own people, and there is sufficient material for comparison to discover. There we find the son of the Scottish Highlands, whom no one can play the bagpipe around for fear he will forget all strict doctrines and all threats of military discipline,* and be swept away by his irresistible instinct for nature, to rush back to his beggars and his little islands. We continue with the child of the Alpine glaciers, well-educated and intelligent. He has become wealthy through speculation and industry.  Suddenly, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the city, like a tree snatched from its native stand to grow for a time before withering and dying in foreign soil, this seemingly fortunate man is seized with a terrible homesickness after hearing the ghost of a cow’s breath on the wind and he is taken with a mysterious longing pain.

(*The Highland regiments guard with bagpipe music, as we have seen.  D.R.)

If something like this can happen with green wood, how surprising can it be that these people, who for millennia have grown twisted and knotty in the forest, also cannot bend into the yoke? With the above quote I gave from Heckewelder, one could consider the whole question answered and settled, C’est tout dire! one could say. If the Indian thinks of himself as part of a family that includes snakes, fishes, and fir trees, and if this belief is rooted in the whole tribe, is born in the children, and is incorrigibly in the blood, it seems incurable. Civilization seems difficult! Too difficult! –impossible?

I only say; “it seems.” For if psychological questions were all simple, if human nature were not capable of so many contrasts, then one could soon arrive at a simple “yes” or “no.” But this same man, that same “bear’s cousin” who has just quite earnestly assured you that he is descended from the wolf, or that the soul of a buffalo is in him, or that he is a moose, will soon talk to you like a philosopher.  If you lead him to another field, he thinks and opines about the highest matters that you do. He rejects lies and evil with disgust. He recognizes a supreme being. He prays to him. He believes in the immortality of the soul, and in a paradise. He often practices works of unselfish hospitality, love and charity. You believe to recognize a beautiful spirit under the wild mask. You feel very friendly and connected in the soul.  He is already a half Christian. He has only a few quibbles and stumbling blocks. He is like a madman, who has a “fixed idea,” but otherwise speaks like a wise man. You draw new courage and take him to your school, hoping to drive him out of this “obsession,” these “little mosquitoes and pitfalls”. To be completely safe, you take him when he is quite young–from the mother’s breast. You work on him until he grows up. But to your chagrin, even in this child of the mother’s breast, when he has come of age, those pitfalls, those wild elements and juices regain their upper hand, and destroy all your laborious work. With horror, you perceive how your adult pupil begins to suffer, to look melancholy and wistful as he goes out into the great outdoors and returns adorned with wild flowers, as he sits for hours in the garden watching the birds arrive in spring like a kitten that has been innocent up until now, but now that it has become a cat, the innate instincts show. The migratory birds pass above while the captured crane watches from the henhouse and calls to his brothers in the clouds.

One day, you are missing your foster child. He stays out into the evening and all night. Only the next day, he comes back with a concerned expression, and confesses to you that he made a journey in the forest–he could not resist–it’s so beautiful there. Of course, you become angry and admonish him severely.  Your pupil is now closed-off. He loses trust and love for you, the wrathful one. He is now thinking of his complete liberation, and he obtains it on some pretext that you cannot evade–for example, by being reclaimed by his Indian father. He probably takes his right into his own hands, spreads his wings, and transformed back to bird, fish or animal– natura semper recurrit— he flies, floats or runs away from it into his native element and becomes, again, the wild hunter.

If you meet him again later, you will find him wrapped in furs, his face is painted, he is beating the drum, murmuring magic songs, worshiping the “great spirit”, and you do not know him again, since he has forgotten your hymnbook and your catechism, has completely forgotten your writing and computing tablets.

“Something pining”  is left in untranslated English multiple times in the German original text.

It was an English teacher who described to me a case of this kind that had come to him in his practice. I saw, myself, a few parts and pieces of this story, which are often repeated. For example, those suffering, melancholy, thoughtful, and quiet creatures are observed to have something pining in their expression (as the English often express themselves), when Indian captives grow up in the schools of Europeans, or their circumstances force them to live semi-educated among the Europeans.

I vividly recall a visit a friend and I made to an Indian woman in a big city of the American West, and the dim impression that this visit left me. This woman was estranged from the people of her earliest youth and educated in a European institution. She spoke excellent French and conversed with ease about the ordinary occurrences of life. She had been the wife of a French Canadian, who had left her a wealthy widow after his death. She lived in perfectly fortunate circumstances, and was physically well, yet she made me feel that she was a suffering person. She had something very timid in her nature. She spoke very quietly and very slowly. She did not complain, but nevertheless, everything that she said (even when we touched on completely innocuous things, as when she praised the beautiful weather we were enjoying at the time), seemed like a lament. When she talked about her half-grown daughters, the lamentation became clearer. She regretted that her children, who, as half-breeds, could never quite melt into the surrounding world and would never be fully of this world. She nearly had tears in her eyes when she talked about her children.

Those same eyes shone soft and bright as my companion mentioned her old mother, and reminded her that the summer time was already at her door, when she would see her mother out on the prairie. Her mother, an ancient Indian woman of the tribe of Ottowas*, had not decided to move with her daughter to the city, so the good daughter had bought her a piece of prairie, thirty miles from the city, and built her a log cabin. There, the mother lived by some Indian relatives, who had also found each other, and who also partly lived at the expense of the wealthy daughter, throughout the entire year in the Indian way. And in the summer, when her children’s education did not push her to the city, the daughter would go out to the prairie, exchange her pretty townhouse for the Indian bark lodge and turn into a cinderella taking care of the old mother’s domestic affairs.

(*The Ottowas live in the State of Michigan.)

Once we mentioned the mother and the prairies, there was no way around it.  It remained the topic of discussion until the end of the conversation, which, as I mentioned, had felt up until that point like the reading of an elegy.

Western dialects of Ojibwe do not have an “R” sound.  Maanii and Maagid are the way Mary and Margaret are pronounced.

Another time, I received a similar impression during a visit to an institute for the education of Indians on Lake Superior. It was led by a Baptist preacher and his wonderful family. I just started talking to this family when a gentle song, with double-vocals, was heard in the house. “It’s Mani and Magit,” (Maria and Margarethe), I was told, “our two Indian schoolgirls singing their evening duet up in the classroom.”

“Could we not go up to them,” I begged, “and see and hear them from nearby?”

“Oh no, that will not work!” was the answer. “Our girls are as shy as deer. If they knew we were there, they would fall silent at the very least. At the most, we can stand on the stairs.”

The good old preacher and I went to the stairs and listened. The voices were exceedingly delicate and lovely, the notes round and velvety, the intonation extremely accurate, and the sound as of some soft metal. The character of the whole was of a soft, melancholy color.

As my old friend, the preacher, watched me attentively, his face became transfigured into a curious joy, as though he himself were hearing something new. So softly, softly, we crept up the stairs like the beat of a clock until, almost against our will, we stood in the classroom opposite the dark faces of the two girls.

But heavens! What had we done there!?! – Lala la la – like a torn harp string, the sound halted and the girls disappeared like a mist. They had rescued themselves by running into the next room.

“Mani! Magit! You fools! Come back. I have to introduce you to a stranger, a friend of music, who would like to hear you sing!” No answer came, no sound, just deathly silence! I think they had fainted on their sophas. The good daughters of the house went over to console them. After much convincing, they finally brought back the younger, Magit, so that we could give our apology and concern. But the older one, Mani, was unable to move. She could not recover. She disappeared, melted away like the mist, unable to regain her composure and form and did not come down to the tea afterwards, while the younger sister invited herself and later even performed a pretty solo song.

The celebrity surrounding Hanging Cloud, the ogichidaakwe (female warrior),  at the 1855 La Pointe payment, where Kohl was present, may be affecting his view on the participation of girls in warfare.

“Strange,” I thought to myself, “and these are the same bold, wild girls, the cousins of the bears, who, as long as they remain unaffected, they are not afraid to break into the camp of their enemies beside their brothers and lovers, and cut off the scalps from the dead?* Is it that they become twice ashamed and three times shy after having enjoyed the fruit of knowledge?”

(*It is not uncommon for girls to take scalps.)

“Yes,” said one of the daughters of the house, “Mani often makes me very worried. She already has that nature. Her shy manner only increases among men. In the wild she is more than normal. She has such an exaggerated romantic fondness for nature and the forest. She can sit outside for hours and look at the clouds and other things. Then, she’ll come rushing in at once, moved by an almost wild joy, to tell me she just heard the robin singing for the first time this spring, ‘I saw her red plumage shining clearly in the green foliage of the tree!’ But ‘Mani, Mani!’ I reply to her, ‘Calm yourself. It’s only a robin. What’s so special?’ ‘Oh, alas!’ she says, ‘I am so glad, so glad, to have seen the robin.’ Then she sits down at the piano and sings a melancholy song to me.”

This serious melancholy, this something pining, that the Indians adopt when transplanted from their wilderness into the so-called “garden of culture,” never comes out of them again. One notices it in their children and in their children’s children, when they are produced in the midst of whites or after marriage to whites. It stays in the blood and dies only with the blood.

Moreover, this does not only manifest itself in a suffering soul, but it also manifests itself in blood of the body itself, through peculiar diseases and ailments. I have been told many times that the habits and tendencies of civilization are incompatible with the habits and tendencies of the wild state of nature, so that the blood of the whites and the reds is hostile and far too different to amalgamate favorably. Usually, as I have been told, the first mixture still gives a tolerable product, but in the second or third mixture, degeneracy occurs, and the fruits of the tribe sicken. I mean the children become feeble and die prematurely, and in the end the whole mixed race completely loses itself by being unable to reproduce further. “It seems, then,” I replied, “that something quite different from what we see in Europe in mixtures of the related Caucasian tribes. For example, in the case of the English, the mingling of the Britons, the Normans, and the Anglo-Saxons, created such an overwhelmingly good and healthy race.”

“That’s the way it is!” they replied, “Nature, on the one hand, does not want to mix the too-closely related, as is shown in the races of many of your European countries, where through in and in breeding, the cohabitation of the cousins with cousins does not make a strong race. On the other hand, it does not want the distance to be too great. The red and the white race are set too far apart for mixing to complete. It is necessary to have certain contrasts but also certain affinities, and the latter are altogether wanting in this extremity. Therefore, very similar phenomena appears as with other extreme of close kinship: mental retardation, weakness of nerves, scrofulous diseases, and finally, lethargy and idiocy.”

I had several such or similar conversations, before I was able to observe  a few cases and form my own opinion about them.

It is frustrating how few real names Kohl uses for individual people, even when quoting them or describing them in vivid detail.  In Kitchi-Gami, refers to his French-Canadian guide as Du Roy and describes him and his wife in very similar terms to what he uses here.  This could indicate that Jean Picard is a member of the large and widespread Roi/Roy/Roye fur-trade family.  The prominent Roy family of La Pointe was of mixed Ojibwe and French descent, but they had distant relatives throughout the Lake Superior country.  If Jean Picard is a complete pseudonym, then he could be any number of people, but probably not this one:    picardmeme

In the first stage, as it is said, everything seems to be quite beneficial, For example, with my good Canadian, Jean Picard,* he is a Canadian-born thoroughbred Frenchman. His forefathers came from Normandy.  His Canadian ancestor left France as Lieutenant du Roi. He was of an old aristocratic race. Almost all of these Canadian voyageurs on Lake Superior have a head full of aristocratic ancestors, as unpretentious and miserly they must now be obliged to live. Picard’s father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, and so on, were all white, he claims, and his own snow-white complexion and all his being are a sufficient guarantor he is telling the truth.

(*It is a very common name in Canada, and I only use it here because it is convenient to have a name to use, and because his name does not matter. My man had another name.)

Despite his white blood, Picard decided to marry a dark red or brown Indian, and despite his aristocratic pretensions, he lives no better than an Indian.  He has a log cabin in the interior, where he spends the winter hunting for the fur trade, and in summer, he builds a bark tent on the lake and catches fish.  His wife is a genuine thoroughbred Indian; she is fat and round, not pretty, almost feisty, and looks much older than he, who is still in the prime of his manhood. But he is very pleased with her, for she is extremely patient and careful, and will spend the whole day diligently working for him in the hut, whether he is at home or not. She nurtures and educates the children with great care and indulgence, and often mends their constantly-torn clothes, sewing them for a long time, and making them so strong and good that the cloth subsequently holds far better where it has been mended than where it hasn’t been.*  She cooks the fish very well for him, and from the venison he brings, she knows how to prepare a strong, nutritious soup. In addition, she has a great deal of home remedies, herbs, decoctions, and tinctures for illnesses–more than he needs, and many of them are the source of infallible relief and healing. Picard firmly believes in the Indian method of healing, and if his wife can not cure something, he turns even more confidently to an Indian doctor than to a French one.** To be sure, he does away with the hocus-pocus of the drum, the calabash, the breaking of the bones, and the necromancy of the spirits. There are Indian doctors who are sensible enough to rely on the power of their remedies and herbs. His wife is especially clever in curing the little wounds that occur daily in the rough pursuits of the husband. She knows how to treat him, excellently, and has all kinds of soothing ointments.*** In short, Mrs. Picard is a true example of an Indian housewife. And the strangest thing is that the American Indian housewives are almost all such examples. Everyone I saw said something similar to what I just described. They are all well-fed, fat, older, soft-spoken, demure, modest, industrious, busy, loyal to their husbands and patient as lambs. Even those whom I did not get to know had been described to me in this way, which is why it happens that the often impatient Frenchmen so gladly take them for their wives. They always find gentle and submissive companions in them.

(*I found out about this myself, for I once had one of these Indian women mend my skirt. Of course, she spent half a day doing this, and I, sitting next to her, smoked my whole tobacco pouch. But it was also good.  The rock never tore me again in the same place, but it did elsewhere.)

(**I have seen more than one sick French-Canadian fisherman being treated by an Indian. Once I met one who had tried changing to a European doctor. He was not satisfied with him at all, so he sent him away, and returned to his Indian.)

(***How clever are the Indian women are in wound healing? I experienced it once myself. I had a sore foot.  The ankle was cut, and I could not walk. It was an Indian woman, from whom I received my advice. She rubbed the wound with a fat ointment, so daintily and so cautiously, that I immediately felt relief from it. Then, out of the softest reindeer she possessed, she made me a velvet-like covering over the whole foot, especially over the wound. This quickly- improvised moccasin fit so tightly, I was able to easily slide it into my boot and walk as comfortably as if she had given me new skin).

Picard already has a half-dozen children with his wife. To me, the marriages of the French with Indian women always seemed quite blessed. The children are all cheerful, well-educated, and indeed petite! In spite of their Indian way of life, they all suggest something of the father rather than the mother. Though in their dark complexions and raven hair, they clearly show the traces of their mixed descent. The eldest Picard daughter, a girl of fourteen, has grown tall, slim and extremely proportionately built.  Yes, she is gracious and moves in and out of the tent like a nimble little nymph. In her new straw cap, decorated with a red ribbon of silk, her tight flowered calico dress, and silk apron, she looks like a little Parisian middle-class girl. If you could move her directly from her hut on Lake Superior to the boulevards in Paris, so, as long as she did not betray herself of course, no discerning dandy would know that she was not born in Rue Ste. Geneviève or otherwise in the neighborhood, but that her maternal fores had been “cousins of bears.”

“Vous êtes si bonne, Mademoiselle, je vous remercie infiniment, Mademoiselle!” I said to her when, for the first time, I entered her hut and received a boiled piece of fish from her dainty hand for my breakfast. She stared at me with wide and questioning eyes, and then turned to her father to find out what I said, and whether I found something wrong with the fish. It was then that I learned that this grazie did not understand a word of French, and that she only spoke Anishinabemong (in Indian).

Many terms have been used throughout history to call the people born into the mixed Native-European culture of the fur trade:  Wiisakoodewininiwag, Boisbrules, Mix-bloods, Halfbreeds, Half-burnt, Chicot, Metis, Michif, Bungee, etc.  It is interesting how Kohl differentiates, using Metif (the term actually used in that dialect of Canadian French) as a collective term, Metis as specific to French ancestry, and halfbreed as specific to Scots or English ancestry.

Of course, these “Metif ladies” have adopted a great deal of European dress. But because the mother, of course, has never been able to learn French, and because the father speaks Indian with the mother, conserving his French as much as possible for outside commerce, Indian is the language of the house, family, and children. This is what I found in all mixed French-Indian households. The little boys then start to go out and study the father’s French, and probably pick up some English as well, because once they are grown up, these Metif sons all speak French. This is their second native language. Most of the time, they also understand English, by the way. And since they have soaked up Indian with mother’s milk, they usually make the best interpreters between Europeans and Indians. In French or English alike, all the interpreters I met, including those of the American Government, were Metifs. As with the French Metis, the English or Scottish halfbreeds also mostly learn the French language and they speak it here better than most full-blood Anglo-Saxons.

I saw such dainty and pretty girls, like Picard’s daughter, quite often in the huts of the French married to Indians. They were no more like their brown, fat mothers than a duckling is to a hen. And even from their dad, they stood out clearly. The apple seemed to have fallen far away from both tribes. It was like a whole new product. For the Metif sons and young men, I did not notice it that much, but that depends more on their later lifestyle and employment. If this throws him more toward the European side, then the Frenchman starts to show more. But if they are driven back toward the Indians, the Indians seems to get the upper hand. If you watch them closely, both types always shine through.

Once, while I was on one of the elegant steamboats of Lake Huron, a young, elegant, very graceful lady, seemingly composed entirely of milk and rose-color, drew all eyes at the table upon herself and decisively won the beauty contest from all present. A friend told me he wanted to show me her birth mother, and I found an old, well-dressed, good-natured, brown, dark-clothed Indian woman. The daughter seemed to me like Preciosa, adopted by a gypsy mother. I am told that this woman has no less than 12 or 13 such lovely biological children, some of whom are more gifted than the daughter present. All are healthy, prosperous and strong. The wife is married to a very wealthy man–I no longer remember whether Scots or Frenchman.

As with Picard, I found it almost everywhere on the first level. Now I wish to show a case from the second stage where the parents both belong to a mixed race. I have known of several such cases, and if I now recall them all, it seems to me that all the children who have come out of such marriages have consistently had a decidedly-similar family resemblance whether they come from the Sioux, Ojibwe, or Iroquois.

I was visiting a Metif who will not mind if I give him the name Monsieur Favard, because he will never know in his thick woods that I have ever spoken of him anywhere. And since no one but myself knows who I mean when I say “Monsieur Favard,” there is nothing indelicate in it when, for the illumination of this subject, I speak of the domestic affairs, of this fictitious Mr. Favard.

“Favard,” though having sprung from two vivacious nationalities:  the gay French and the childlike Indian, is himself neither sanguine nor childlike in character. On the contrary, I would call his bearing almost self-conscious. He seems to me like a man who has sat down between two chairs. Although he has inherited from his French father decidedly more intelligence than the Indians usually possess, and although he feels spiritually superior to the latter, he is far from entirely possessing the French mentality. A good piece of Indian indifferentism shimmers through. This expresses itself in his facial features, for they still present the bony stiffness of the Indian face, and only occasionally, like a piece of embroidery applied to a larger canvas, he shows the jovial French face more like a cruel twitch around his mouth. He speaks Canadian-French but it is mixed with some Indian expressions, and he often fell into his native tongue. He sometimes told me how much he regretted that I do not speak Indian because he explains things much better in Indian. I have been told that once, during a fairly long period of his life, he had been a hopeless and bottomless drinker, but that he had now been healed of this passion and had made a vow of renunciation. Of course, there is still much to be desired in this last relationship with the French Canadians, but it is generally said, and fairly so, that the Metifs very often degenerate into boundless indulgence, and that even if they have lived an exemplary life for a time, they could never be completely certain that the rampant Indian would not prevail in them and do away will all good intentions.

Favard’s wife, also a Metif, was probably petite and pretty as a girl. She has aged early, though, and now seemed almost more Indian than her husband. Presumably, the worries, hardships, and work of the household, which she has always done alone, have contributed to her condition. For though the family is in good circumstances, they live more or less by Indian. laws and customs, according to which, the woman gets the lion’s share of domestic labor. In her essence and nature, she has much of the something pining which, as I said, is inherent in the Indians themselves when one seeks to inculcate them with civilization. As for the rest, while the father and mother seemed physically strong and healthy, this was by no means the case with the children.

A few children (daughters) have died at a young age. Of the living three, who are almost grown, none are very healthy or strong. Two of them are girls. In general, as in this case, when I met a mixed marriage of Metifs, the female sex predominates. I would like to know if, as I suspect there is a natural law behind it. The children are all stunted, and none are very “smart” as the Americans express it. It is as if there is a hostile decomposition processes in their blood, for they all suffer from the scrofula, and have lean muscles and weak nerves.  The girls are particularly shy and timid. They speak or should I say whimper, in a very squeaky, almost whiny voice. They do not talk much at all and avoided me everywhere. They only laugh at French, and are not much better at Indian. Their mental capacities are very limited. Their ideas, thoughts and manners are reminiscent of the nature of imbeciles. The poor parents, who so much want to make something of them, see with deep sorrow the sad fate of their children. The observation of this case astonished me greatly because I remember experiencing something quite similar in another mixed marriage near the Upper Mississippi.

Unfortunately, my own experiences do not go further, and as I well know, how varied nature, (despite its rules) always works and how many exceptions it makes and allows everywhere, I am far from declaring the characters and cases I described above as typical or generally-valid. It is well-known that there are many Metifs who show a superior and great spirit, and especially when they join the Indians, they become famous and imperious tribal chiefs.  Conversely others, when they turn to the European side, have become very useful, honorable and even distinguished members of civil society. It may also be true that such a deterioration of the race, as I have described it, does not always appear so neatly, or perhaps even at all in the second stage.

But I am certain that all observers in the country are of the opinion that this atrophy will prove decisive over time, and that if the mixed-race wish to mingle with the mixed-race, very soon everything will come to a standstill, and end with infertility, sickness, disease, and death.

“If the half-breeds,” the American observers from different parts of the country told me, “do not return to the white or red stem, then it is over for them.” The two pure and unmixed tribes are their pillars, and their lifebloods have to straighten up and refresh.” It is well known that a very similar phenomenon has been observed in this land in cases of continued mixing between negroes and whites. Here, too, the vitality and fertility soon run out.

As I said, I give here only the contributions of a traveler; and I am well aware of how many interesting questions I leave untouched on this occasion. I have no experience of how the case will turn out if a Metif is married to an Indian or a white man, or if a Metif marries an Indian or a white woman, and whether there are particular psychological and physiological manifestations.

Selkirk’s Settlement, or the Red River Colony, was originally conceptualized in 1811 as a Scottish colony centered on what is now Manitoba, northeastern North Dakota, and northwestern Minnesota.  By the time of the Red River Rebellion (1870), its population was primarily Metis of Ojibwe, Cree, Assiniboine, French and Scottish origins.  Scottish Metis were pejoratively called “Bungees,” from the Ojibwe baangi (a little bit).  Many of the Red River families were related to the mix-blood families of Lake Superior:  Cadotte, Roy, Gurnoe, etc.

How interesting would it be to judge the physiology of the various possible mixtures of the Red with the various European peoples? In this respect, I have only noticed how all people here agree that the marriage of a Highland Scot with an Indian gives the strongest and best Metifs. Nowhere else has this mix been stronger than in the well-known colony founded by Lord Selkirk at Pembina on the Red River.  A formal mixed race of Indians and High Scots has almost formed. All the world seems to have a high regard for the substance of this mixed Scottish tribe. Everyone describes these people as vigorous, enterprising, and warlike. One told me that when a general war with the Sioux threatened: “O ho, just let the Scottish half-breeds of Pembina on them once. They are enough to keep all the Sioux in check and cut the tribe in two. They can bring 5000 men or more to arms. In the tribulations of life on the prairies where they roam and hunt buffalo as well as the Indians, they are well-accustomed to the Sioux. They have more intelligence and discipline than the Sioux, and they also have a great national hatred for them for they have each taken enough scalps off the other.”

Since, in the opinion of many, the Indians have the bony physiognomy of the Mongolian race and come from eastern Asia, and that since then, mass immigration has once-again taken place from eastern Asia.  As the Chinese (who have the high-peaked bones and similar skin color as the Indian) have appeared in California, I was very eager to learn what impression these two related races make of one another. I asked about this to a gentleman from California, who had occupied himself much with the article. His answer was so strange and new to me that I cannot refrain from ending by giving it to the German reader, to whom probably seems so novel, “The Californian Indians,” my acquaintance told me, “seem to have immediately recognized the resemblance between themselves and the Eastern Asians who have appeared among them, for they generally call them: the foreign Indians.”  However, they do not love them, and the Chinese have just as little sympathy for the Indians. Both are startled when they meet each other, like enemy brothers. Never does a Chinese marry an Indian, and no Indian woman ever indulges in a Chinese. The Indians harm the Chinese, they attack, they shoot them down wherever they can, which they do not do with the offspring of the other tribes of which we have in so many varieties in California. Even against the Indians of the South Sea Islands, who also come to us, they have no such antipathy. “I suppose,” my friend added, “old Indian traditions are behind it.”


In the first post in this series, I asked: “So, with most of what we know about Johann Kohl coming from Kitchi-Gami, questions remain.  Do his progressive racial and religious attitudes show up in all his writings from that era?  Was he truly as modern and unbiased in his thinking as we have widely been led to believe?”

So, how does he hold up?

Das Ausland billed itself as, “A weekly for scholars of the moral and intellectual lives of foreign nations.”  From a cursory look at other parts of the journal (from a non-German speaker) it featured articles on Russia, Africa, East Asia, the Middle East, and the South Pacific, as well as on American Indians.  Some of the articles are in support of missionary work, but that doesn’t seem to be the primary driving force behind the journal.  More than anything, it feels like an 1850s version of National Geographic, designed to give information on the foreign and exotic.  The word Ausland, itself would literally translate as “Outlands.” This may hold the key to understanding Kohl’s worldview.     

By 1859, America still had to fight a great Civil War before it could reexamine its national character. European intellectuals, however, were already emerging from the beliefs that characterized the Romantic Period and the Second Great Awakening.  Charles Darwin’s On the Origins of Species saw its first printing that year, and across the continent an emphasis on reason and science would become intellectual main-place again as it had been in 1700s.   

For racists, however, that just meant that they had to use science, rather than the bible, to justify their racism.

Kohl often gets credit for being less racist than his contemporaries, but it may just be that he was just ahead of his time in his style of racism. He was not 150 years ahead of his time, but maybe he was 15 years ahead.  I don’t know if Francis Galton or Herbert Spencer (who twisted Darwin’s theories into ideas of eugenics and social Darwinism) read Das Ausland as they formed the intellectual underpinnings of modern racism over the next few decades, but it’s easy to believe that they did. 

Remember, it was the liberal and educated of their day who gave us Indian boarding schools, colonialism, and eugenics. 

Historians are told to avoid presentism. That is, we should hold people accountable to the standards and ethics of their time and place, not ours.  That is tricky for someone like Kohl, who is lauded for being an especially-modern thinker.

You don’t get to entertain ideas that, “…the blood of the whites and the reds is hostile and far too different to amalgamate favorably” and be considered a modern thinker.  Kohl is gives this as second-hand information and gives disclaimers to the contrary, but he lingers on the subject at length and peppers it with other statements like, “Although he has inherited from his French father decidedly more intelligence than the Indians usually possess…”  Even if Kohl was indeed less racist than his contemporaries, his work here could certainly fuel ideas of biological racism in his own time.

Kohl does not seem especially enlightened with regard to sex.  Looks are clearly his way of defining women.  He lusts after teenagers while deriding their mother’s physical appearance, and generally rates a woman’s competence by the quality of her domestic labor.  In this, he also wasn’t forward-thinking or unusual for his times.

It is also somewhat shocking to the modern reader how Kohl uses convoluted explanations of “natural law” to explain what we in the 21st century would easily ascribe to psychological and family trauma.  Mani’s shyness around men is explained as her need to be in the forest rather than by the simple fact that she had been ripped from her family to live with a strange older clergyman.  Kohl makes no connection between the troubles of the “Favard” children and the depression and  alcoholism of their parents.  Msr. Favard has defective blood even though, as Kohl himself explains, “He seems to me like a man who has sat down between two chairs,” i.e. has been dislocated from the cultures and economies of his own ancestral communities. 

So if Kohl’s worldview and understanding of the differences in people wasn’t especially modern, what is it that does separate Johann Georg Kohl from his contemporaries? Why does his work have such lasting popularity?

He was definitely a thorough and perceptive scholar.  Some of his ideas are odd and outdated, but he never seems overly-wedded to them and always seeks out more information.  His ego doesn’t seem so large that he would ever close himself off. More than that, however, my sense is that he was a kind, trustworthy person who took the time to listen to people.  Let’s go back to line Bieder quoted from Kohl’s Travels in Canada:

“When I was in Europe, and I knew them [Indians] only from books, I must own I considered them rude, cold-blooded, rather uninteresting people, but when I had once shaken hands with them, I felt that they were ‘men and brothers,’ and had a good portion of warm blood and sound understanding, and I could feel as much sympathy for them as for any other human creatures.”

On one hand, this statement is haughty and patronizing.  No modern writer would ever phrase anything this way, and I eagerly await critiques of Kohl from Native feminist authors. On the other hand, though, isn’t this all that really matters when meeting people from unfamiliar cultures:  to listen to them and see their humanity?  Kohl does this, and he does it over and over again in both Kitchi-Gami and Bemerkungen über die Bekehrung canadischer zum Christenthum und einige Bekehrungsgeschichten.  He saw foreigners as fellow human beings: something that was all-too rare in 1855 and remains all-too rare in 2018.  That is why it only took him a few months on Lake Superior to consistently able to earn people’s trust, enter their homes and hear their stories.  He got some good ones.  Lucky for us, he wrote them down. 

Baraga, Frederic, and Albert Lacombe. A Theoretical and Practical Grammar of the Otchipwe Language: for the Use of Missionaries and Other Persons Living among the Indians. Beauchemin & Valois, 1878.
Ely, Edmund Franklin, and Theresa M. Schenck. The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 1833-1849. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 2012. Print.
Kohl, J. G. Kitchi-Gami: Wanderings round Lake Superior. Minneapolis:  Minnesota UP, 1985. Print.
Valentine, J. Rand. “Re: J.G. Kohl on Ojibwe Suffixes and Obstacles to Christian Conversion.” Received by Leon T. Filipczak, Re: J.G. Kohl on Ojibwe Suffixes and Obstacles to Christian Conversion, 10 June 2018.


Part 1|Part 2

By Leo

Part 1|Part 2


Four years ago, while searching for buried treasure in the archives of Google Books, I stumbled on an article, Bemerkungen über die Bekehrung canadischer zum Christenthum und einige Bekehrungsgeschichten (1859) (Remarks on the Conversion of the Canadian Indians and some Stories of Conversion), by Johann Georg Kohl published in the Augsburg-based, German-language magazine, Das Ausland.  Since I neither read nor speak German, to understand the content of the article, I used the laborious process of artificial translation.  This was done by pasting the article, paragraph by paragraph, into Google Translate, reinserting the original punctuation, and then clearing up the grammar.  

At the time, I chose to only translate the first 900 words, or so, of the 14,000-word article and published it here on Chequamegon History as the bulk of the April 2014 post Chief Buffalo’s Death and Conversion: A new perspective.   Recently, a friend of the site asked when the rest of the article would appear online.   I resisted, knowing how much work it would be, and used the excuse that the article was not directly about the Chequamegon area. Apparently, I could not resist the lure of Kohl for very long.


J. G. Kohl (1808-1878) was a German travel writer and pioneering ethnographer, best known in the United States for his 1859 work, Kitchi-Gami:  Life Among the Lake Superior Ojibway, a highly-detailed description of travels to La Pointe, L’Anse, and Garden River/Sault Ste. Marie in the summer of 1855.  Regular readers of Chequamegon History will know excerpts of this work from Maangozid’s Family Tree, Blackbird’s Speech at the 1855 PaymentSteamboats, Celebrities, Soo Shipping, and Superior Speculation, and other posts. 

Kohl’s reputation among scholars of American Indian studies is largely positive.  Considering the sheer level of detail he provides in his observations on Ojibwe life, he is perceived as being rare among 19th-century writers for his comparative lack of prejudice of Indian peoples and practices.  Robert E. Bieder, in his introduction to the 1985 reprint published by the Minnesota Historical Society, outlines this perception.

The ethnology of Kohl was a sharp contrast to that of Schoolcraft.  Kohl seemed to have an empathy for Indian cultures that the American lacked.  As Kohl noted in Travels in Canada, “When I was in Europe, and I knew them [Indians] only from books, I must own I considered them rude, cold-blooded, rather uninteresting people, but when I had once shaken hands with them, I felt that they were ‘men and brothers,’ and had a good portion of warm blood and sound understanding, and I could feel as much sympathy for them as for any other human creatures.  (Bieder in Kohl, xxxi)”

Racist is a term that comes with a lot of baggage, complexity, and controversy in 2018.  As a white man whose primary interest is in collecting old documents, I can quickly get in over my head when it comes to questions of philosophy, sociology, and theories of race.  At a bare minimum, however, my definition of non-racist is one who can acknowledge the humanity of other humans when they look or act differently from oneself.    

The contrast between Kohl’s writing and that of his contemporaries:  Schoolcraft, Ely, Boutwell, etc. is what initially attracted me to Kitchi-Gami.  More than once, I have recommended the book to friends as, “The least-racist 19th-century book about the Chequamegon area.”  The German’s unbiased outsider perspective comes as a breath of fresh air, even in comparison to Ojibwe ethnographers like Warren and Copway who were very much caught up in the politics of their times:  

Kohl’s objective was to produce an ethnological account of a rich and unique culture.  In his preface to the German edition of Kitchi-Gami, Kohl explained, “I only take credit for having endeavored to understand them [Ojibway stories and ways of life] correctly and to present them clearly…(xxxii-xxxiii)”

Kohl is especially given credit for his treatment of Ojibwe religion:

The differences between Kohl and Schoolcraft are quickly evident in a comparison of how each described Ojibway religion.  Schoolcraft saw Ojibway religious practices as the “darkest and gloomiest picture of Indian life”… Kohl, in contrast, was willing to see much of value in Ojibway practices that compared favorably with the teachings of Christianity…

Where Schoolcraft found “a body of subtile [sic–noted by Bieder] superstitions, and widely-spread popular error … ” Kohl found merely another way of approaching the unknown…(xxxi-xxxii)

Bieder was clearly struck, as I was the first time reading Kitchi-Gami, by how modern it seemed to be:

In short, people behaved in different ways not only because of racial variations but also because they lived in different environments.  While several of these assumptions today seem rather commonplace, in the mid-nineteenth century, when many believed race determined a people’s culture and capability, such thinking proved controversial (xxxiv).

Bieder does not completely let Kohl off the hook for his racial attitudes–taking particular issue with the romantic and flowery nature of the prose and his speaking of all Indian nations in general terms–but his final assessment of the author is very positive.  This is the same impression I have heard from several others. 

Kohl also sometimes saw cultural traits in racial terms.  This is not surprising, however, when one considers ethnological assumptions at mid-century, when some German ethnologists like Bastian believed in polygenism and others like Ritter could talk about “passive-indolent” races and “active-energetic” ones.  Yet with this said about Kitchi-Gami, one is struck by Kohl’s rather modern notion of the acculturation process.  In general, Kohl portrayed Ojibway culture with great sensitivity and found among the Ojibway people beauty, honor, and integrity (xxxvi).

So, with most of what we know about Johann Kohl coming from Kitchi-Gami, questions remain.  Do his progressive racial and religious attitudes show up in all his writings from that era?  Was he truly as modern and unbiased in his thinking as we have widely been led to believe?

These were the questions I wrestled with while translating Remarks on the Conversion of the Canadian Indians and some Stories of Conversion.  In many ways, it read like an bonus chapter of Kitchi-Gami (the two texts were published in the same year).  In other ways, the reader will have to decide:   

Das Ausland.

Eine Wochenschrift Fur Kunde des geistigen und sittlichen Lebens der Völker

[The Foreign Lands:  A weekly for scholars of the moral and intellectual lives of foreign nations]

Augsburg.  Nr. 2. 8 January 1859

Remarks on the Conversion of the Canadian Indians and some Stories of Conversion

By J.G. Kohl

A few years ago, when I was at “La Pointe,” one of the so-called “Apostle Islands” in the western corner of the great Lake Superior, an old chief of the local Indians, the Chippeway or Ojibbeway people. His name was “Buffalo,” a man “of nearly a hundred years.” He himself was still a pagan, but many of his children, grandchildren and closest relatives, were already Christians.

Kohl’s thoughts on Chief Buffalo’s conversion were covered by Chequamegon History in this post.

I was told that even the aged old Buffalo himself ébranlé, and that his state of mind was wavering. “He thinks highly of the Christian religion,” they told me, “To him, it’s not right that he and his family be of a different faith. He is afraid that they will be separated in death. He knows he will not be near them, and that not only his body should be brought to another cemetery but also he believes his spirit shall go into another paradise away from his children.”

From page 419 of Kohl’s Reisen im Nordwesten der Vereinigten Staaten (1857):  “The chiefs [at La Pointe] seemed to have assumed a kind of supremacy over the rest of the Lake Chippewas. Here was an old chief, called Buffalo, who made pretensions to master a very wide stretch of land. The small tribe led by him was now called the La Pointe Band by the Americans.”

William W. Warren, in his History of the Ojibway People, argued that the Crane Totem provided the hereditary chiefs, and that the Loons were made chiefs by the French.  See page 51 of the 2009 Second Edition edited by Theresa Schenck.

But Buffalo was the main representative of his people, the living embodiment, so to speak, of the old traditions and stories of his tribe, which once ranged over the whole group of the Apostle Islands and far and wide across the hunting grounds of mainland northern Wisconsin. His ancestors and his family, “the Totem of the Loons” (from the diver)* make claim to be the most distinguished chiefly family of the Ojibwes.  Indeed, they believe that from them and their village, a far-reaching dominion once reached across all the tribes of the Ojibbeway Nation. In a word, a kind of monarchy existed with them at the center.

(*The Loon, or Diver, is a well-known large North American bird).

Old Buffalo, or Le Boeuf, as the French call him, or Pishiki, his Indian name, was like the last reflection of that long-vanished glory.  He was stuck too deep in the old superstition. He was too intertwined with the Medä Order, the Wabanos, and the Jossakids, or priesthood, of his people.  A conversion to Christianity would have destroyed his influence in a still mostly-pagan tribe.  It would have been the equivalent of voluntarily stepping down from the throne. Therefore, in spite of his “doubting” state of mind, he could not decide to accept the act of baptism.

One evening, I visited old Buffalo in his bark lodge and found in him grayed and stooped by the years, but nevertheless still quite a sprightly old man. Who knows what kind of fate he had as an old Indian chief on Lake Superior, passing his whole life near the Sioux, and trading with the North West Company, with the British and later with the Americans. With the Wabanos and Jossakids (priests and sorcerers) he conjured for his people, and communed with the sky, but here, people would call him an “old sinner.”

But still, due to his advanced age I harbored a certain amount of respect for him.  He took me in, so kindly, and never forgot afterwards, promising to remember my visit as if it had been an honor for him. He told me much of the old glory of his tribe, of the origin of his people, and of his religion from the East.  I gave him tobacco, and he, much more generously, gave me a beautiful fife. I later learned from the newspapers that my old host, being ill, departed from this earth soon after my departure from the island. I was seized by a genuine sorrow and grieved for him. Those papers, however, reported a certain cause for consolation, in that Buffalo had said on his deathbed that he desired to be buried in a Christian way.  Therefore, shortly before his death, he received Christianity and the Lord’s Supper from the Catholic missionaries, along with the last rites of the Church, a church funeral, and a burial in the Catholic cemetery, where in addition to those already resting, his family would be buried.

On page 383 of Kitchi-GamiKohl expresses very similar sentiments regarding the late-life conversion of the well-known Garden River chief, Zhingwaakoons (Shingwaukonse) to the Anglican faith.  Image Source:  Wikipedia

The story and end of the old Buffalo are not unique. Rather, it was something rather common for the ancient pagan to proceed only on his deathbed to Christianity, and it starts not only with the elderly adults on their deathbeds, but with their Indian families beginning with their young children. The parents are won over by the children. For the children, while they are young and largely without religion, the betrayal of the old gods and laws is not so great. Therefore, the parents allow it more easily. You yourself are probably already convinced that there is something fairly good behind Christianity, and that your children “could do quite well.” They desire for their children to attain the blessing of the great Christian God and therefore often lead them to the missionaries, though, they themselves may not decide to give up their own ingrained heathen beliefs.  The Christians, therefore, also prefer to first contact the youth, and know well that if they have this first, the parents will follow sooner or later because they will not long endure the idea that they are separated from their children in the faith. Because they believe that baptism is “good medicine” for the children, they bring them very often to the missionaries when they are sick.

I was extremely interested in the stories told me about the conversion of children, and then through them, of parents and grandparents. A Protestant clergyman informed me of one instance, which shows it seems to me, that such a conversion often does not take place without fierce resistance in the minds of the Indian converts and other difficulties. It  follows:

A pagan Indian, a man of good mind, had been several times to mission Baptist Church and was attentive and solemn while in attendance at the service. Finally, one day, he presented himself to the head of the Mission, which was also a school for the education of Indian children. He came accompanied by his two sons, boys from 8 to 10 years old.  He expressed the wish that the eldest should be taken to school and educated in Christianity. He thought it would do his son good. At the same time, he requested that the younger brother stay with him for a while. They were so accustomed to each other that he feared the separation might be too difficult for his eldest. For the time being, however, the younger man did not attend school. He wanted to see how the other would get along. After a little while under this arrangement, the younger was supposed to return to his family in the forest, for the father could not spare both boys for long.

So it happened as desired. The father came to the institution from time to time to see how his son was doing and was pleased with his progress in the arts and sciences. After two years, the education in reading, writing, and arithmetic, etc. was considered complete. The father then brought his second son, and at the same time the third, but again only for the time being “for company” but also to give him a small taste.

Thus, in the end, all three of his sons were brought up in Christianity and in all kinds of useful skills. I was assured that the education had lasted. The three Indian boys had not yet forgotten what they learned in the two years and were until the present still quite literate from their reading, which was eagerly made use of by happy fur traders in a trading post by the lake

But before they became that, and while the youngest of them was still at school, once every autumn, the pagan father came to see the teacher and preacher and told them to say goodbye to him for a while, thinking that his approaching hunts would take him far into the woods on a grand expedition and that he would hardly be able to see them before the spring.

He left, but against all expectations, he was back in the middle of winter, a few weeks after Christmas. He brought with him a great wealth of furs and animal skins, all negotiated and sold at good prices. He came to the preacher and told him that he was right all along.  He walked day by day, week after week, in the woods of the interior chasing and checking his traps, alone. He had the fortunate misfortune to have not have killed anything at all. Perhaps, thoughts of his children were disturbing him. He may have continued to think of them and how much good they learned from the Christians. His sleep would be very restless, and he would not have had a good hunting dream. He would have drummed his medicine bag once again, and sang his Wabano songs alone, but no deer, no beaver, no bear, appeared. One evening, having set up his night fire and tent on the bank of a wild stream, and having been taken again by very gloomy and pessimistic ideas, he suddenly jumped up, dug a deep hole for his otter bag and buried it with all its content and magic. Then, he prayed to the Great Spirit, and promised he would become a Christian. That night, he had nothing but bright dreams in which his sons played the leading role, and the next morning, when he was refreshed, he scarcely went a hundred paces and was met by a big moose that he was soon to kill. Driven by longing, he then started on the way back to the mission. On this way back, he shot one animal after the other, day by day, and arrived there with a rich harvest. He now thought that as soon as he could get his wife to baptize herself, he would also be married to his wife in the Christian way. He arranged a time with the preacher, and with this assurance, he took leave of his Christian friend.

It seemed to this good preacher, though, that it took a while before the man reappeared to fulfill his promise. He inquired  after him here and there, and heard his Indian was still undecided in relation to conversion to Christianity.

“What do I hear?” said the preacher to him when he once met him, “Have you changed your mind, you are not coming to baptism, do not see your sons anymore, what is that?” “Give me some time,” replied the Indian seriously. “My mind is not yet completely calm, and after some time, I want to tell you everything. “The thing was that the Indians had decided for themselves in favor of Christianity, for the Christianity of the Baptists. But upon the discovery of this resolution, external obstacles, trials, and conflicts appeared, as they, more or less, occur in every transition from one religion to another, and they do not fail to appear in the conversions of these forest children.

Many of his pagan relatives had sought his resolve, and this made him fickle.

Rev Abel BinghamThe presence of the Baptists suggests this took place at Garden River, Ontario, (one of Kohl’s stops) where the Anglican church was the dominant Protestant sect, but Baptist Rev. Abel Bingham had a nearby mission.  See Chute, Janet E.  The Legacy of Shinguakonse:  A Century of Native Leadership. U of Toronto Press, 1998.  Image Source:

Another, more-powerful Christian Protestant influence, but a non-Baptist one, also appeared. Enemies of the Baptists had told the Indian that he should become a Christian, and a Protestant, but not a Baptist. They even threatened him with confiscation, exclusion from taking part in tribute, and such things, if he would join that sect. The poor man, whose soul was devoted to the Baptists because of his children, had not been able to find his way through everything.

After four weeks, however, he reappeared to his son’s teacher and said that he was now ready. He said that after arranging all his business, he went again to the forest, “to avoid the voices of men,” and to think and pray there alone to the Great Spirit. He went deeper and deeper into the forest, always praying more and more zealously, and became very firm in his convictions. He came directly from the interior, saw and spoke to no one, brought his wife to the preacher, and now wanted to baptize and marry her.

And so it happened, and nobody had cause to regret it afterwards.  In the end, the “enemies” stopped threatening, and the sons, as I have already mentioned, prospered.

The Ven. Bishop Frederic Baraga is Kohl’s likely informant for this and other stories of Catholic mission work in this article.  (St. Peter Cathedral, Marquette)

Another story of conversion was shared with me by an excellent friend* from the rich treasury of his experiences.  It belongs here as well, and is also characteristic, in many respects, of the local conditions.

(*It was a Catholic missionary.)

An Indian family, consisting of a father, mother and five children, lived far north of Lake Superior on the banks of “Long Lake,” which leads to Hudson’s Bay. They were pagans, like most of the Indian of these lands where a missionary is rarely found.

The oldest of the five children, a boy, fell ill, to the great distress and despair of his parents. The illness reached a dangerous crisis. The terrified parents stayed up all night, with the little boy in feverish dreams, in their lap. Finally, he fell asleep. Gently, he opened his eyes the next morning and said that he felt better and was recovering.

“A splendid dream,” said the boy, “healed him.” “A wind,” he said, “came from the north, going down south to Lake Superior,” and from the wind, a soft voice spoke to him: “The drumming* was not good, and the spells  were not good. They do not help. The Indians should refrain from them. The prayer is far better, and only prayer, alone, can help them and comfort them in misfortune, illness, and suffering.”  He had a deep longing for hearing the kind voice of the Christ, whom the whites worshiped, and he fervently vowed to obey him, and immediately thereafter he slept gently, and now he was healed.

(*As the Indians accompany all their magic songs and religious performances with drums, the drumming here represents the pagan faith.)

The parents attentively listened to the miracle of their son as he went hunting with them. After a short time, they decided they wanted to immediately obey the voice in his dream and all be baptized.  For that purpose, the next spring, they went to Lake Superior, descending southwards in the direction of the dream wind. Over the winter, they collected some provisions, and when spring came, they made their journey of several weeks.

For the further explanation of the matter, I will say as an aside, that Indian parents pay much attention to the dreams of their children, who they love so much, and that in many ways they follow them.  For example, it is not uncommon for a good son to assist his father in a bear hunt “with his dreams.” “Father,” the son speaks one morning to the hunter, who may have been unhappy for a long time on the hunt and brought home nothing, “Father I dreamed of a bear for you this night.” “Tell my child.” “Yes, I have only seen him vaguely in the distance, but there by that lake on the banks of that river he must roam about.”  The father goes to the designated area, searches the whole day at the river or lake mentioned by the son, but finds nothing and comes back tired in the evening, without prey. “Dream again my son,” speaks the father, “Dream better my child.” The good son lies down on his ear and speaks the next morning, “Father I have again dreamed of the bear. Now I have seen him quite clearly. Oh, it is a big and beautiful animal. It is a female, and she has a cub.  Now I know the place where they are. You must search on the southern shore of the lake.” The father gets up again and ransacks the whole south shore of the lake, but in the evening, he comes home again and speaks as before, ”I bring nothing yet my child, although I have seen the footprints of a bear. My son’s dreams are getting better!” In the meantime, the little boy has been fasting, his face is painted a jet-black, and he beats the drum all day and sings all the magic songs he knows. He goes back to sleep. Before the sun comes up, he wakes up and cries out, “Father! Father! The bear! The bear! This time, he came very close to me. I collided with him, head to head, and mouth to muzzle.  Run! If you go around here and there and come to that rock, then you will find the bear and her cub on the corner. They dig their roots.” The little one immediately turns his face black again, beats the drum, refuses his breakfast–as hungry as he may be, and again fasts all day to assist his father from afar

In the meantime, the father goes to the corner of the rock. He finds the bears at the ditch, hunts them, brings both home, and now lets his brave and obedient little dreamer have a wonderful meal, and all the rest of the family too:  neighbors and relatives, and so on–in general, the whole village.

longlacLonglac (Long Lake) appears in the upper-right corner of this 1836 Map of British North America, about 100 miles northeast of Nipigon.

Curious as these things may seem to a European, they are not uncommon in Indian life. At least, I heard of such things all along the way. It will therefore be said, quite understandably and naturally, that our Indians of Long Lake, immediately after the dream of their boy, decided to be baptized and undertook the arduous journey to Lake Superior. They had heard that on the north shore of this lake, at a certain time in spring, a Christian priest was passing to see the sheep of his little flock.

This priest–who was the friend who told me this whole story–sometimes travels in his own canoe and sometimes with a small schooner from the Hudson’s Bay Company. He sails to the north shore of the lake, to those from the northern Indians who descend at appointed dates to the various stations to trade their fur supplies. The merchant ship now carries the missionary, because this is the most certain way to meet with the nomadic Indians, who are otherwise hard to locate.

It annoys me that I did not catch the names of those good Long Lake Indians. “The Long Lake family”–unfortunately, I cannot call them anything else–with their five children had been sitting in their hut of birch bark for five or six weeks, on a promontory overlooking the lake from which they could see far. They did not know the date of arrival of the “Black Robe” of whom they regarded like a savior. Their eagerness to miss nothing had brought them down too early. Their small supplies of dried meat and flour were soon consumed and the fishing at the chosen station was not very productive either.

So when my friend, the good black robe*, finally arrived in his own canoe, he found them all very thin and starving. They had only a handful of flour. The missionary, himself, did not have much and could not help them as abundantly as he might have wished.  Yet the people had endured and held fast to their purpose and were glad the expected messenger of God had arrived. In the midst of mutual their poverty, both parties began to work as far as circumstances permitted. The clergyman prepared his catechumens with instruction and prayer, and then at last performed the holy act of baptism on the recovering boy who had the vision, and then on the whole family, leading seven souls at once into the bosom of the church.

(*”Black Robes” is the name the Indians often give to Catholic missionaries.)

Because his labors soon ordered him to hurry along the shore, where still others longed for his soul’s appetite, he had to leave his new candidates after a short time. But when he said goodbye, he did not forget to give them a piece of paper on which a Christian calendar was printed, and a pin.

This gift is common in Catholic conversions and its meaning and purpose can be said as follows.  The baptized go right back into the woods, in groups of a few families, to hunt and fish all year round for food and to win some furs for the next trading period with the Hudson’s Bay Company. Since it is naturally impossible for them to meet their pastor before the next year, when they return to the Lake, a calendar serves them as a magnet and guidepost through the passage of a year in the Christian version, and a way to set up an ecclesiastical way of life. I own such a curious calendar page or “Book of Days*,” as the Indians call it, and want to describe it.

makadewikonaye: priest “black robe/habit noir” giizisoo-mazina’igan:  a calendar “paper of months”  anishinaabemo:  speak Ojibwe wemitigoozhiimo: speak French zhaaganaashiimo:  speak English (Ojibwe People’s Dictionary)

(*Gijiyado masinai yan, literally, “paper of the days”)

It is, on one hand, a scheme or a brief survey of all the days of the year, with the outline of the months, and with the description of the ordinary and extraordinary festive or high-festive significance of each day. Every Sunday, or as they say here every “day of prayer” (jour de prière) has a cross (a crooked cross). Every typical day of everyday life has a dash. Every high-feast day of the church has two crooked crosses. Every fasting Friday has a zero, every other ordinary fasting day an asterisk, every other strict fasting day two asterisks, etc. On the other side of the paper, these signs and the names of the months are explained in Anishinabemong (Indian), Wemitikoschimong (French), and Jaganaschimong (English).

Of course, for the full use of such a calendar, an Indian should also be able to at least read what is given.  However, during the course of the year, the calendar owner comes in contact with Frenchmen, Englishmen and half-Indians who help him interpret the signs, if he forgot them, from the instructions of the printed reminder.

Partly, however, it helps the Indian to have the same pin that was given to him along with the calendar. With this, the clergyman dabs the day when he had to leave his converts to themselves, and then instructs them in a similar way, to punctuate or stroke each succeeding day, and thus mark through the whole year, from Sunday to Sunday, from feast day to feast day.

Usually, the Indians conscientiously carry out this laborious way of determining the date while in their forests, and find their way to fast at the right time, and pray at the right hour.

But sometimes, it happens that their calendars get out of order. An example was told to me that two days had been lost to an Indian family, and that when they returned to the lake in the spring, it turned out that for the previous six months, they had taken Friday for Sunday and Sunday for Tuesday. Something like this happens to sailors when they arrive at the antipodes after circling the world.

Image result for bruegel look through fingers
As shown here in Bruegel the Elder’s Netherlandish Proverbs (1559) “looking through your fingers” is a proverb in several European languages that is equivalent to the English, “turn a blind eye.”  According to this article from the Catholic News Agency, the Vatican has historically “looked through its fingers” by labeling several semi-aquatic American tetrapods: beaver, muskrat, capybara, iguana, alligator, and puffin as fish for Lenten purposes (Wikipedia).

The Catholic clergy should not be overly strict about observing fasts here. You have to “look through your fingers.” For example, they can not make a crime of it if Indians, during Lent, enjoy various animals instead of only fish, because sometimes they have nothing else, and cannot catch any fish. Our fasting rules are made in cities where the markets offer a wealth of things. Also, our fasting rules are made only in reference to our European animals and food. For some American animals, an appeal had to be made to Rome for an interpretation. And if I am not mistaken, this happened in particular with regard to the frequently-consumed water animal, the beaver, which was then equated by the pope with the fish. The Loon and the Canadian duck were allowed during fast, but not the Canards de France (the common French duck which also occurs in America). Also, one must allow the Indians to check their beaver traps on Sunday because such an omission could bring substantial harm.

In the manner I described, my good Indian family was taught and equipped. They took leave of their stalwart teacher, the Black Robe, and returned to their northern deserts. They roamed the woods, hunting. Through the following year and a second year, they roamed to Hudson’s Bay and on. They were unhappy in the hunt, and had not been able to gain enough furs to make a journey south to Lake Superior rewarding or even possible. They were only able to happily make a return journey after two years, and by the second spring, they were sitting on their promontory again. After waiting for several weeks, their Habit Noir returned to examine them.

Now the missionary wanted them to confess their sins. First they did not understand what that meant, and the father had to explain to them that he wanted to know if they had done any harm in the meantime.They had not seen a priest in all that time. Nonetheless, the calendar, was dotted twice a day for two years of days was completely in line with that of the priest. They had precisely marked every half and every whole fast day and every day of prayer. Even the Ten Commandments, which they had to learn before their baptism, were memorized word for word, and they had taught them to all their children and often repeated them for themselves.

“Did you,” said he, “speak nothing wrong of your neighbor?” “No!” they said, “We have no neighbors. Only a couple of times, in the two years, did hunters come to us who were even poorer and more hungry than we were, and we gave them plenty to eat.”

“Did not you rob or steal something from someone else?” “What?” they said quite indignantly, “that would be most disgusting! Father, how is it possible that you can ask such things to us? Are there any people who could do such things after you gave them teachings and laws, and after they had known Christ? How can you do this to us?”

In short, the Father had to give up his attempt to hold confession, so that he would not discredit himself with his children. He left them quite content, conversing with them on other Christian matters during the following evenings, telling them some new beautiful, unforgettable stories of Christ, the apostles and the prophets, Moses, and Adam, sending them back to the forest with them so that the seeds of divinity might make their way through their simple minds.

   Both Kohl (Kitch-Gami, pg. 420-21) and William Warren (History of the Ojibways 2nd ed. pg. 50) claimed that the Southern Ojibwe also stereotyped the Ojibwe and Cree-speaking peoples north of Lake Superior as mild-mannered and naive.

This remarkable story is by no means isolated. The missionaries, could otherwise still tell some similar ones. Of course, one has to keep in mind, as I do, that these stories play out in the north of the big freshwater sea. There, the Indians are more frank than ever, as frank, true, open, and– “as impartial as children.”

Taken as a whole, it can be said that the farther away they are from the whites, the more indigenous and better all Indians are. Yes, they are more receptive to Christianity and more pious. I have heard it from many Catholic and Protestant missionaries here, as well as from the Mississippi, that they greatly prefer the conversion of a wild and untouched tribe to the further cultivation of a field which is already riddled or “infected” with so-called civilization.  Examples, especially from earlier times, were told of entire Indian tribes that adopted Christianity with eagerness and jubilation, and even more so than the Christian doctrine itself, the Christian legends and stories, especially those of the Old Testament. They were at times so engrossed in these stories that greedy Canadian voyageurs or fur traders charged considerable prices for narrating such a story. For “the story of Adam” they charged a few beaver pelts. If the Indians were charmed by it and demanded more, they took advantage of this excited passion, and “the story of Noah” cost some more beaver-skins or a few gracefully-designed decorated pipes. If the Indians wanted more stories, they would have to give a horse. The story of Joseph’s imprisonment in Egypt cost a horse. It went just the same in the trade with fire water. The inebriated would have to pay for each subsequent glass twice the price of the previous cup.

Indeed, those vile traders even went as far, as I have been told by distinguished men, that at times they made a shameful usury, selling single sayings and words from the Bible. They wrote the name “Noah” or “Adam” or “Mani” (Mary) on a piece of paper and took the furs, while the Indians carried around the paper with the name in an amulet.

But these are probably events of comparatively old age. I have already given an example of how these names and stories then remain as traditions–of course as altered and highly-distorted traditions among the Indians.

From the history of the ancient missions of Canada, it is well-known, that heartfelt and touching desires have sometimes been expressed by Indian tribes to have a missionary among them, and that Indians have undertaken laborious journeys to Montreal and Quebec to invite a Habit noir to lead them into triumph.

Pierre-Jean De Smet - Brady-Handy.jpg A quick glance through online published works of Fr. Pierre De Smet mention the request by the Bitterroot Salish (Flathead) for a Jesuit missionary, but I was unable to locate any mention of the dream of the white stag (Wikipedia).

But even in recent times, there have been isolated instances of this kind, and it is not uncommon for the desire for a clergyman to be instilled into a whole tribe through a dream, as was the case with my just-described Long Lake family. I was told, as a completely new example, the case of the well-known missions donated by the Jesuit father De Smett in the Rocky Mountains and Oregon among the Flatheads. Even when these dreams occur, though, the missions have much to do.

The so-called Flatheads are one of the most well-educated Indian tribes. They are faithful to the whites, and even other Indians praise them as one of the best tribes. Twenty-five years ago, among these Flatheads, there was an old Jossakid*, who in a dream visited a ghost in the form of a white stag who revealed that the Flatheads were to become Christians and to invite a missionary to join them. As the white stag often repeated this admonition, they finally held a council and sent a deputation to travel across the Rocky Mountains, and all the way down the Missouri to St. Louis to request that the authorities inform the Jesuit Collegium. But the deputies did not come down. On the way they endured so much distress, hunger, misery, and bad winter weather, that as a group, they succumbed to their tribulations.

(*Prophet, sorcerer)

After some time, as the white deer continued to admonish, they sent a second deputation over the 2,000-mile road. But even this did not reach the destination. The enemies of the Flatheads, the Blackfeet, took them by surprise and killed them all.

The whole nation of the Flatheads, however, was inspired by such a longing for a Christian missionary that they still had a counsel, and once again, six young people came forward under the guidance of an elder, and again– of such true martyrs one can hardly speak of in Christianity–offered to go down the thorny path to St. Louis out of the desire for these untasted blessings.

This third deputation finally arrived in that city, bringing their yearning, and that famous father, De Smett, decided to go up to them and become their apostle. That they had really arrived, and that “the missionary” in his suit was coming, was hard-baked into this tribe of the mountains, for one night the white stag reappeared to that old Jossakid and told him he was coming for the last time. He would not return because he clearly saw the Habits Noirs on the Missouri and that salvation was close to them.

It is scarcely necessary, however, to remark that such a desire among an Indian people is not merely a pure thirst for the salvation of their souls, and that no other account is added to it. Sometimes, there are a lot of politics and selfish considerations in the game. The Catholic missionaries, especially the French, know how to conform to the customs and habits of the Indians to a high degree. They live entirely among and with them. They walk with them around the prairies. They go with them on the buffalo hunts. They pray with them for rain or sunshine if either is missing. They perform their masses and devotions with them on the prairies, and ask Heaven for auspicious success and a rich harvest before attacking the buffaloes. They mingle in their tribal and family disputes and seek to balance and reconcile them with much care and effort. They have all the women, children, and elders on their side because with the appearance of a missionary in the village, the lot of these classes always improves significantly. By virtue of the institution of the confessional in their church, they conveniently know everything in advance and are in a position to head off impending threats.

missionaries   De Smet seems like most likely suspect as the author of this diary.  His Bitterroot St. Mary’s Mission was initially successful, but the Salish (Flathead) became disillusioned with the Jesuit, in part due to his attempts to convert the Blackfeet.  It’s possible, that De Smet’s contemporary, Baraga, allowed Kohl to view the manuscript diary but did not give permission for Kohl to share it with the public.  Image Source:  National Park Service

Once, I read an excellent unpublished diary of a Catholic missionary of his 10 years of missionary work and deeds among the Indians. It was full of the most admirable traits and was evidence of the dedication and sacrifice of the author to his profession, and full of the strangest and most interesting contributions to the knowledge of the traits of the Indian character. The good father also illustrated the whole thing with cute pictures and depictions of the Mariancapelle he built, the tents the Flatheads built and adorned, with “flower altars” he erected on the prairies, of the masses and blessings which he gave to the tribe when they went out with him to attack the buffaloes, and of his consultations with hostile tribes with whom he smoked the peace-pipe. I have never seen such nice printed matter, and would still share more if I did not consider it inappropriate for a variety of reasons.

How well the Catholic missionaries, through the means of their confessional, had an effect upon the Indians, I was told of many colorful examples by a Protestant gentleman. Once an Indian woman had lost a richly-embroidered and variegated shawl. No one could discover where it had been. Finally, after many years, one day she found to her great joy her precious cloth again in her tent on her bed. Soon afterwards, her neighbor asked her for a silent and secret conversation in which she confessed to being the thief. The beautiful cloth had her eyes so blinded, she wished very much to possess it.  She had stolen it from her at that time, but had never been able to use it for fear of being discovered. She kept it locked in her box and only looked at it at times. Recently, however, she had become ill and had to make such a cumbersome confession to the Catholic priest of all her previous actions that she could no longer conceal the theft. He must have reproached her severely, punished her with a severe penance, and at the same time ordered the cloth to be returned to her neighbor to try to win her forgiveness and otherwise offer her compensation. The Protestant clergyman could hardly have resolved this whole affair so quietly and easily.

Now, if an Indian sees that a neighboring tribe has a beneficial-seeming missionary, under whose mediation things flourish, wandering with his people for weeks in the prairies and praying until the buffalos finally appear, he would like also have something like that. Often, they are even inclined to take away the missionaries from each other, and cases of war for the possession of missionaries have actually occurred.

   As early as the mid 17th century, the term “Praying Indian” was used to describe the Christian Algonquian and Iroquoian inhabitants of the mission towns of New England and New France.
anami’aa– to pray or be a Christian.    nindanami’aa– I pray/am a Christian.     anami’aad-  they pray.   anami’aasiig-  they do not pray.  (Ojibwe People’s Dictionary)

A baptized Indian is usually called by the Canadians un Indian de la prière (a praying Indian). Originally the expression was probably invented by the Indians themselves. The silent reading of the breviary and solitary prayer on the knees, were the first religious acts they observed among their missionaries. The first acts that were required of them when they were converted were the bending of the knee, the folding of the hands, and the worship of God before the cross and before the images of the saints. Therefore they called the Christians “the praying men” (in the Ojibwe, anamiad*) and their religion “the praying” (anamiawin). In contrast to this, the pagans afterward called themselves the “non-praying” (anamiassig).

(*The word comes from nind anamia, “I pray.”)

The French Canadians have faithfully translated and used this saying of the Indians. Of a convert, they say, il s’est mis prière, (he has joined the prayer) and of a pagan, il n’est pas de la prière (he is not yet of the prayers). I have also heard the phrase the praying Indians from the English.

For a long time (probably 150 years), the Indians of these areas saw only one Christian religion. But when the British conquered Canada (in the middle of the last century), they became acquainted with a different kind of Christian with completely different religious customs and ceremonies. They therefore made a distinction between the “French” and the “English” religion. With the first name, they call the Catholics, and with the second, the Protestants.*

(*In Ojibwe, the first is Wemitigodschi-anamiewin, and the second is Jaganashi-anamiewin.)

If an Indian “joins the prayer,” that is to say, is baptized, he is first of all required to renounce all his old pagan superstition. His “medicine bag” and its whole content of magic remedies, amulets, and birchbark scriptures, if not already burned or buried, is destroyed when his decision to become a worshiper is fulfilled.

At times, the clergy have the opportunity to gather up many of these pagan curiosities, but they burn up or eliminate them quickly, often too quickly for the avid ethnographer. I have rarely been able to find any of these things in the places where I visited, not even of the interesting pictures Indians put on birch bark. These should be kept, collected, and donated to science.

  At Garden River, Kohl asked the sons of Zhingwaakoons (above) for their late father’s bark scrolls, only to be told they had been destroyed (Kitchi-Gami, pg 384).

But of course, this is easier said than done. In the first place, the Indians, when they become Christians, quite often give their old bark-books to their pagan friends, as they are eager to trade them or give them away. And then, when a clergyman gets his hands on them, it’s not up to him to collect objects that he considers unholy and evil, and are the very thing he takes away from the Indians. A conscientious clergyman must not subordinate the serious demands of religion to the desires of science, and he is almost forced to burn such things. This is how, at the mercy of those bishops in Mexico, the whole heap of splendid old Aztec writings was burned.

Usually the conversion of an Indian “to prayer” is associated with some changes in his personal appearance. In particular, he must renounce the coloring and painting of his face. This coloring cannot be considered as meaningless a pleasure as the makeup of our ladies. Their wild warriors prefer to paint for their religious ceremonies and magic dances. The colors, therefore, are too reminiscent of paganism, and it is de rigueur that a praying Indian should wash himself, and deliver his “vermillion tin,”  his green, blue, and yellow paint-powder, and his brush and pallet to the priest.

Finally, he has to wear and comb his hair like a Christian. The pagan Indians have their hair arranged differently. Some cut all around except for a tuft or knotted tuft (a scalp lock) in the middle. The local Ojibwes mostly wear two long thick braids like our Croats. The Canadians call these braids cornettes. Our Croats and Slavonians, when they became Christians, were not asked to renounce this ornament. That one requires it of the Indians may have its reason in that those hairstyles are not of so innocent a nature. They were most likely grown to hold the bloody eagle feathers, the scalps of their enemies, and other military badges reminiscent of their unchristian deeds. Therefore, they must be cut off at baptism, as a sign of the renunciation of the pagan warrior craft.*

   Lacelles Wraxall, Kohl’s translator, leaves the French text in Kitchi-Gami untranslated.  I’ll put it here in the sidebar rather than in the main body of the text:  1) They cut the “cornettes,” the two tails they wear to the head, which they call in their language “Otokoschaman.” 2) They are made to give up their Vermilion and all other earth and color. 3) Also savage dances and gambling. 4) Everything that goes into their bags and any other harmful medicine. 5) Finally, they a give up following their leaders in war and for medicine: but not for annuities or for the police.

(*A Canadian, with whom I discussed these things, told in the following unique way of the changes that a pagan must make to his person upon baptism:

1) On leur coupe les “cornettes” les deux queues qu’ils portent à la tête, et qu’ils appellent dans leur language “Otokoschaman.”

2) On les fait renoncer au Vermillon et à toute autre terre et couleur.

3) Aussi a la danse sauvage et aux jeux payens.

4) De méme à tout ce quientre dans leurs sacs et à toute autre médicine, qui fait du tort à leurs semblables.

5) Finalement ils renoncent aussi au commandement de leurs chefs, c’est à dire quant à la guerre et pour la médicine: mais pas pour les annuités et pas pour la police.)

(To be continued)

Remarks on the Conversion of the Canadian Indians and some Stories of Conversion was published in two consecutive issues of Das Ausland.  Each section is about 7000 words.  Read Part 2 for the rest of the article and some final thoughts.

Part 1|Part 2