Last month, I teased the introduction of Chequamegon History Collections, a new way of presenting large groupings of primary-source transcriptions without the formatting and analysis of blog posts…just the pure, unfiltered original material! This is a project that has been in the works for a couple years, now, and coincides with the rollout of the Chequamegon History Source Archive.

The first collection currently contains 56 documents (a number that will grow as more are found) and is centered around the delegation of Lake Superior Ojibwe leaders that travelled from La Pointe to Washington D. C. in the winter of 1848-49. They were led by Gezhiiyaash (Swift Flyer) of Lac Vieux Desert and Oshkaabewis (Messenger) of Rice Lake (Oneida Co.), and represented the council of chiefs who met at La Pointe late in the summer of 1848. Their stated goal was to petition the President and Congress to allow the bands in Wisconsin and Michigan to stay in the ceded territory. However, powerful opponents (with vested interests) would attack the delegation’s purpose from the outset.

Because it failed to stop the Sandy Lake removal, and is overshadowed by the 1852 (Chief Buffalo) Washington Delegation, the 1849 effort is largely unknown. Some readers may only know of it through the widely circulated pictographic petitions that accompanied the chiefs.

We have covered certain aspects of it here on the blog.

The documents include this previously published material, as well as additional newspaper articles from the time period and a whole series of letters and petitions (graciously shared by Dr. Theresa Schenck) from the Office of Indian Affairs records in the National Archives. The casual reader will find the documents undaunting as far as primary sources go, and see they paint a compelling, colorful narrative full of heroism, tragedy and comedy with a central unresolved mystery surrounding the motives of a mercurial figure by the name of John Baptiste Martell.

The documents will be of interest to scholars of the removal period, who will find some of the clearest evidence that the Lake Superior chiefs not only had a consensus policy in 1848, but that it would be articulated directly to the United States Government, only to be tragically ignored. The sources are also remarkable for their detailed descriptions of Ojibwe diplomacy and material culture. In addition to the pictographs, the reader will find explanations of the usage of wampum, bark canoes, and sacred scrolls. Finally, the documents are fascinating for the volume of material that appears in the translated words of the chiefs themselves. They forcefully defend their sovereignty, articulate their grievances, and explain how removal would disrupt their patterns of life–all in clear, powerful terms.

Chequamegon History Collections: 1849 Ojibwe Delegation to President Polk is available at this link.