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Historic Diaries: James Doty, 1820

July 16, 1820: Council with the Sandy Lake Ojibwe

Editor's Note:

At the council with local elders, Cass explained that because the U.S. had won the recent war with England, the Ojibwe needed to recognize the authority of Washington rather than Montreal. It was greeted with the following reply by one of the Ojibwe leaders, as recorded by Schoolcraft:

"Father, -- We are glad you have come among us, to see how we live, and what kind of a country we inhabit, and to tell these things to our Great Father, the President.


"Father, you see us here, -- we are poor, -- we want every thing, -- we have neither knives or blankets, -- guns or powder, -- lead or cloth, -- kettles or tomahawks, -- tobacco or whiskey. -- We hope you will give us these things.


"Father, we are glad that the President has thought proper to send you among us, -- we are glad to see his flag wave upon this lake, -- we are his children, -- he is our Father, -- we smoke the same pipe, -- we take hold of the same tomahawk, -- we are inseparable friends. It shall never be said that the Chippeways are ungrateful. Father, depend upon this, and take this pipe of peace as a pledge of our sincerity.


"Father, we are of the race of strong men, -- of good warriors, and good hunters, but we cannot always kill game, or catch fish. -- We can live a great while upon a little, but we cannot live upon nothing.


"Father, our wild rice is all eaten up, -- the buffaloes live in the land of our enemies, the Sioux, -- we are hungry, and naked, -- we are dry and needy. -- We hope you will relieve us.


"Father the President of the United States is a very great man, even like a lofty pine upon the mountain's top. -- You are also a great man, -- and the Americans are a great people. Can it be possible they will allow us to suffer!"


Cass proposed to negotiate a peace between the Ojibwe and the Sioux, which they welcomed. They agreed to send some of their elders "as embassadors to accompany us to the Falls of St. Anthony, on our return from the sources of the Mississippi."

Location: modern Big Sandy Lake Reservoir, Aitkin Co. Minn.


View Doty's handwritten manuscript of this page

View page in the 1895 printed edition


View this page in Schoolcraft's 1821 Narrative

Spent in reading and walking. Found several old curious works in the small library kept at this Est[ablishment].


These young gent[lemen], have had no communication with the civilized world for more than a year, and the narration of the events which have occurred during this period, while it pleased, seemed to astonish them. I very much doubt whether the desire to accumulate wealth could ever so strongly predominate in me as to induce me to forsake the pleasures, the comforts, and elegancies of civilized life for a residence in this dreary wilderness where men generally suffer their passions to go at large so totally unrestrained that they fall far below the savages with whom they associate.


There are certainly few situations which fortune could compel me to endure, more dreadful than this. Starvation has few horrors which are not at some season or other felt in a greater or less degree by the resident here. Even at this season these people are living on dried buffalo meat and Labrador tea without bread or vegetables. They have a few potatoes growing which if the soil were not very rich would not yield a bushel to the acre. And even of these the Indians take much the larger share…


The timber is chiefly white and yellow pine, interspersed in the vallies with a little maple, oak and ash. The Mississippi runs within 1/2 a mile of the lake. This morning the Gov. with some of the party & 3 canoes left here for the sources of the Mississippi. The difficulty of navigation precluded the residue from accompanying him. During his absence I occupied myself in surveying the lake and acquiring information relative to the country.

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