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Historic Diaries: Marsh, 1834

An Interview with Two Chiefs

Editor's Note:

Early in 1820, Connecticut geographer Jedediah Morse (1761-1826), who had already been asked by two missionary societies to investigate conditions among American Indians, secured funding from the U.S. Secretary of War to visit and observe various tribes on the border. Morse not only traveled as far west as modern-day Detroit and Green Bay but also sent a list of questions to missionaries, army officers, traders, government agents, and other people with personal connections in Indian communities. Morse folded all this together in a report to the Secretary of War submitted in November 1821.


Marston was following Morse's script closely and attempting to comply with his request as he asked these stilted questions of the two chiefs. The original manuscript is presented in our American Journeys collection.

[July 11. This is the last significant gap in the Marsh diary. We’ve inserted the transcript of a short conversation from the Draper Manuscripts between Wapello, the most important Fox chief, Mas-Co, a Sauk chief, and Morrill Martson, U.S. Indian agent, conducted in 1820. Marston had invited the two chiefs to answer some questions sent to him by their Great Father in Washington:]


They replied, that they were willing & ready to communicate all the information in their power to give relative to their two nations; but I soon found that when the questions were put to them they became suspicious & unwilling to answer them, & that many of their answers were evasive & foreign to the questions. Such information, however, that I was able to obtain, by putting your questions to them follows:


Question to Mas-co, a Sauk chief. What is the name of your nation?
Answer. Since we can remember we have never had any other name than Saukie or Saukieuck.


Question to Masco. What its original name?
Answer. Since the Great Spirit made us we have had that name & no other.


Question to Masco. What the names by which it has been known among Europeans? Answer. The French called us by that name; they were the first white people we had ever seen; since, the white people call us Sauks.


Question to Wah-bal-lo, the principal chief of the Fox nation. What is the name of your nation?
Answer. Mus-quak-kie or Mus-quak-kie-uck.


Question to Wah-bal-lo. What its original name?
Answer- Since the Great Spirit made us we have had that name & no other.


Question to Wah-bal-lo. What the names by which it has been known among Europeans? Answer - The French called us Renards & since, the white people have called us Foxes.


Question. Are any portion of your tribes scattered in other parts?
Answer. Yes.


Question: Where?
Answer. There are some of our people on the Missouri, some near Fort Edwards & some among the Pottawattamies.


Question. To what nations are you related by language?
Answer. The Sauk, Fox & Kickapoo nations are related by language.


Question. Manners and customs?
Answer. The Sauk, Fox and Kickapoos manners & customs are alike except those who have had intercourse with the whites...


Question. Where is the great council fire for all the tribes connected with your own tribes?
Answer. We have no particular place, when we have any business to transact it is done at some one of our villages.

Question. - Do you believe that the soul lives after the body is dead? Answer. How should we know? None of our people who have died, have ever returned to inform us.

No other questions were put to the chiefs as they appeared to be determined to give no further information...

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