The Chief Who Shot His Own Daughter

by Levi S. Backus

The following is an obscure little book housed in the Library of Congress, dating from 1840, just eight years after the treaty by which the Hočągara were dispossessed of their lands in Wisconsin.




  Reference to the figures:
  1. The white men who have been trading at the four lakes, quarrelled.
  2. The white man killed his comrade.
  3. They will use deception and blind our eyes.
4. His wife has concealed him.
5. The long knives (or white men) will take revenge upon the Indians & strike us, to the earth.

6. On the sixth day of the moon or July 2d., at ten o'clock, this murder was done.

     "Explanation of the above cut, See page 7."

Translated by L. S. BACKUS,






     (2) The principal events herein recorded are true.
     The murder is yet remembered by many persons. One of the actors was put upon his trial for the murder of his partner at Prairie du Chien and was acquitted.
     The violent, and we might almost say, insane attachment, which the Indian Woman has for the white man who has honored her with the title of wife, is neither new, nor, is it unnatural as may be seen by the sequel.


     (3) It may not occur to the reader at the first glance the important interest of this manuscript to the public — even the small portion which we have transcribed. To the linguist it offers a wide field of speculation.
     The efforts of the mind to communicate important events to distant friends is here developed. It shows how the savage when driven by necessity, can perpetuate a record of his actions, or those of his enemies in characteristic emblems. To the antiquarian, even this small scrap must prove a source of gratification. In this he will see the hieroglyphics of the Egyptians; he will assimilate the wood engraving of the Chinese to the etching on the tree. The imagination will be carried back to the time when the nations of this country recorded the deeds of their chiefs and warriors in a symbolical language.
     A written language is one of the first signs of the progress of a nation to civilization; and when a people are retrograding to barbarity, it is their learning which first suffers revolutions — obscurity and final extinction.
     We are informed that several specimens of pictorial language are found with the Western Indians, and that the declaration of war between the United States and Great Britain in 1812, was etched on trees in such characters that the Indians from Lake Erie to the Falls of St. Anthony, not only knew the belligerent attitude of the two nations; but a faithful record of the causes which were supposed to lead to the rupture, was communicated therewith. Those records were placed in the principal places and resorts where the Indians were known to congregate; thus the portage of the Wisconsin where this scrap we publish was taken, is a point eminently qualified for the deposit of important information — at that place, the Fox river (4) approaches within less than a mile of the Wisconsin, and both diverging in different directions — one discharging its waters into the Gulf of Mexico, via the Mississippi, and the other into the St. Lawrence by the lakes. It was a thoroughfare in which the nations were expected to pass daily going in every direction. How important was it then that each member of the tribe should be informed of the danger and the attendant circumstances which encompassed them! Had they no knowledge of symbolic communication, necessity would drive them into some similar measure.
     To the admirers of romantic incidents, this story exemplifies what has often been asserted, that "truth is stranger than fiction;" and it may bring to view in faint outlines the peculiar characteristics of singular beings which pioneer the "great west." The traders and trappers are men of no ordinary capacity — generally they compose a body of desperate characters, who have left the boon of civilization either to escape the penalty of the laws, or find the field of enterprise too circumscribed for their ambition. Some, too, are inveigled into the " Indian country" by the hopes of an enjoyment of independent indolence, which they soon find is imaginary — as the most tyrannical of masters they carry with them — their stomachs! Those persons find when it is too late, that more industry must be exerted to live in that primitive state, than in civilized society, and they turn out a set of misanthropic desperadoes, seeking by every means to cheat the natives or such unsophisticated white men as come within their reach to assist them in dragging out a miserable existence. Those men, generally, demean themselves below the savages, and live near them, or become a kind of supernumerary interpreters — carriers, or servants to the trading establishments.
     It is the Indian trader that is the lion of the forest. Among his semi-barbarian confederates and savage customers, he is looked up to as the dispenser of justice — the provider of their necessaries; and as the Indians have now become degraded — an indispensable personage amongst them. — Without him they could neither feed nor clothe (5) themselves; and his profits are proportioned to the confidence which the natives place in him; consequently, there is nothing to fear but competition from the white man.
     As the profits are enormous, both on the goods which they sell, and the furs which they receive in payment, they afford a considerable credit to those Indians with whom they place confidence, and endure much inconvenience, not only from the isolated condition which they are placed, but the vexatious community, that forms their customers must be endured with a patience and forbearance, which would become a martyr. Consequently, a long acquaintance is of great importance to know where confidence may be placed, and on whom his rigid authority and discipline is to be exerted.
     The first object which a trader has in view and one indispensable, is to conciliate, and if possible, to get the friendship of the chief men or leaders of the tribe. That act is paramount to the payments of custom-house duties, which, if neglected, he might, when he least expected it, find his goods all confiscated.
     The next object with the politic Indian trader is a wife from among the most powerful of the Indian people. He gets by her influence in the tribe, and the most firm attachment known to the human breast.
     The wife of an Indian is a slave under the most tyrannical of masters. When the Indian woman has the fortune to put herself under the protection of a white man, she feels her emancipation in every form. She witnesses the degradation of her kindred; and her own exalted happiness. That those Indian women should prove true to the white man is no more than would be expected — that springs from one of the noblest virtues implanted in the human breast — gratitude.
     Hence, Indian traders have found their interest prompted them to marry a woman as nearly connected with the chiefs or influential men as possible; and when they wished messages communicated to any of the different posts or stations if it was of great importance, they invariably dispatched their wives on the mission — which they (6) successfully execute, or perish in the attempt. Thus a trader would despatch as a messenger from Mackinaw to Prairie du Chien — to St. Peters, or even the head water of the Missouri or Columbia rivers — a lone Indian woman who had to pass among strange tribes — known enemies and invidious rival traders — desolate countries and wild beasts, such as very few white men would dare encounter and they have been known to return after years' captivity among enemies, without once betraying their trust.

     The following cut is a facsimile of an etching on the bark of a tree, situated at the portage of the Wisconsin near where Fort Winnebago now stands. It was in a conspicuous place, and duplicates were afterwards found in several places throughout the Winnebago nation.
     The incidents to which this disclosure relates, were disclosed to the author of this article by a person who was present during the interview of the father with his daughter, when he demanded either she should discover where her husband was CONCEALED, or suffer DEATH!

     TRANSLATOR'S NOTE. — (7) From the above translation we find the facts bear us out fully in the interpretation made above. The question may be asked how we arrive at the deductions urged as an explanation of the hieroglyphics?
     The exact time is designated by a stake stuck in the ground, as represented at the bottom of the plate, that "POINTS DIRECTLY" to THE PLACE THE SUN WAS in the heavens which gives the time of day, viz.: 10 o'clock, when the murder was perpetrated.
     On that inclined stake is the figure of the moon with the marks which give her age. That definitely gives a date to the transaction viz.: July 2d.
     At the top of the cut a house with four lakes are shown which gives the location; consequently, the names of the occupants and the particular form of the hut shows it to belong to the whites.
     The next figure as we proceed downward is the HAT and SWORD, which readily conveys the idea that white men are in deadly strife and one has the victory.
     The hand and the eye. By this figure we learn most forcibly that an attempt was made at deception, which supposition is fully warranted by subsequent disclosures.
     The next figure is the woman hiding the hat, which in the simple language of the natives showed by her flowing hair that she was a wife and her posture over the hat showed she was concealing her husband.
     The next and last figure is the sword over the bow. By that we learn that the Indians are about to be exterminated by the whites, as the bow represents the natives, and the sword the long knives or whites.

     This cut or figure which we have transcribed, and offered the above as a translation, was prominently etched on the smoothed surface of a small tree, near the Indian trail which the Indians were daily in the habit of passing.
     At a short distance from this primitive telegraph, a fire was kindled in an old tree for an index or a beacon to attract the attention of the passing native.
     The intense interest which this document excited, can (8) only be imagined by those acquainted with the condition of the Indians. They knew how this would affect them as a nation: they knew the people which surrounded them and the object that would induce the whites to impute any crime to them for the purpose of exciting a spirit of revenge for the pretext of wresting from the rightful owners of the soil — a possession which was so much coveted, yet had never been peaceably obtained.
     All that section of country bordering on the Wisconsin and extending from the Mississippi to the great lakes, had belonged to the Winnebagoes, and held peaceably by them until within a few years previous to this occurrence, when the whites had discovered that this section of country contained the most valuable lead mines in the world, and were using every means to dispossess them.
     The whites were composed of squatters, and men of desperate character. What cared they for honor or integrity? They belonged to no country! Many of them if caught within the pale of the laws, would suffer its penalties. What were the rights of the Indians to them? Their object was money! The surest and readiest method of obtaining their wishes was to create as much excitement as possible; and could they confirm the story, (which had already gained considerable credence,) THAT THE INDIANS HAD KILLED BOTH OF THE TRADERS AT THE FOUR LAKES; THE WHOLE AMERICAN people would have asserted the quarrel and speedily revenge the outrage by a war which would end in a treaty and a concession of the land which these vagabond squatters were so anxious to obtain possession.
     Those that knew the truth, and were aware that one of the traders had murdered his partner, could gain nothing by circulating the report; while if the guilt could be placed on the Indians; it would add another item to the long account, and furnish additional proof why the natives should be dispossessed.
     The effect of this information upon the Indians, was to create the greatest consternation. They had come in possession of the truth, and not only knew who was the (9) murderer, but the disastrous effects, which the slander would have, if suffered to be affixed on the nation. Although they might affirm their innocence; yet it would not be noticed. The dead body of one of the traders was to be found in his cabin which was surrounded by Indians; many of whom were in the daily habit of visiting the premises of the deceased and the story would soon gain credence, and their guilt fully established, when left to be judged by those who wished it might be so. Notwithstanding one alternative, and one only remained to be tried to convince the whites of their innocence, viz.: to produce the murderer, and prove him guilty who they knew was the partner of the deceased; and as he had taken refuge in their nation, it was of vital importance that the fugitive should be taken, and their innocence established.
     Those simple sons of the forest knew the important bearing which the slander imputed to them would have on their destiny — and trembled for the result. The vindictive character of the whites and their superior facilities in executing their designs; yet they felt disposed to make every effort to place the guilt where it properly belonged viz.: upon PETER MCNALLY, who had murdered his friend and partner, James Bawmen.
     Yet one great obstacle remained:
     The whites would not believe but a double murder had been committed, and McNally equally a victim with his partner, until his body was produced either dead or alive.
     In the present condition this could not be easily effected. McNally had married and otherwise connected himself with the principal chiefs of the Winnebago tribe. He had secured the friendship of numberless persons belonging to the nation, which he now looked upon as his protectors: — and, above all, he was SECRETED WITH HIS WIFE AND PLACED, With such confidants as SHE KNEW would not betray the trust imposed in them,
     In this condition what was to be done?
     A powerful nation encircled them who were brooding over an awful tragedy which they were willing to believe was committed by the Indians; and there was no other (10) resort but to produce the real murderer to show their innocence. As they dreaded immediate vengeance, and to put all their countrymen in possession of the facts, not only was it important to place them on the defence, but to bring the felon forward and place in its true light the nature of the transaction in the eyes of their vindictive neighbors; and thus render their innocence manifest.
     Hence, the cause why they should have attempted the rude telegraph we have copied which was calculated to transmit the important information throughout the nation, and awaken them, to a sense of their danger.
     This " manuscript" document was otherwise important as an advertisement or WARRANT to cause the arrest of the homicide; and had the fugitive no friends amongst the Indians, they would have immediately surrendered him to justice, and exculpated themselves from suspicions, and thus explained the mystery.
     The Indians had learned before the danger of harboring felons; and this man knew their character too well to trust himself in their power but for one which he knew could neither be intimidated by fear, or purchased by wealth to betray him.


     Upon the banks of the Wisconsin there was a small group of Indians, consisting of an aged man who wore the habiliments of a chief; two young Indians, an old squaw, and a young Indian woman, dressed, in the fashion of the whites, who bore in her arms a child which appeared near the age of one year. The features of the child betrayed a mixture of the European with the aboriginal blood; and it seemed to exhibit a cheerfulness entirely at variance with the other part of the group, who showed a gloomy cast of features, uncommon, even to native Americans. It was readily discovered that some unpleasant ceremony was about to take place.
     The old man motioned to the young woman to come near him, who advanced within a few yards — when a rifle was produced and thoroughly examined the formalities (11) of cleansing the gun and adjusting the flint was performed, when a charge of powder and ball was placed in it, while the greatest care was taken to show the woman that these preparations were perfect and properly arranged.
     While these death-like indications were in progress, the stern eye and rigid features of the father, (for such the chief proved to be) appeared resolved upon some desperate act which called the attention of all the attendants except the woman and child: the former stood before him with a countenance resigned: she fixed her eye upon the child, and totally disdained to bestow the least notice on the preparations of the rifle, although it was readily discovered that it was to intimidate her that so much ceremony was observed in charging the piece.
     After a few moments spent in silent contemplation of the woman, the chief advanced and motioned to take the child, when she bestowed a single kiss upon its forehead, and advanced to a small bush near by, placed it upon the ground, and plucked some branches which grew near — collected a few flowers and such trifles as could readily be obtained, placed them in the hands of the child, resumed her place before her father, to all appearance, the least affected of the party. The rifle was at this juncture, resting against a tree; but when the woman had disposed of the child, the father took it in his hands, assured himself that it was in good condition: he gave it to one of the attendants, who immediately pointed it towards the woman's breast, only a few yards distant; and the sudden click of the lock gave notice of the last act of preparation for the discharge of the gun.
     Few ears can immovably receive the sharp sound which is made by fire-arms in the preparatory snap of the lock when the range of its barrel is brought to bear upon the body; but this woman heeded it not, although not a person present but shuddered in expectation of the report and the writhing victim: yet this woman showed no outward signs that these preparations implicated her existence, although, she knew the knell for her earthly departure had sounded; and, in all probability, an instant more and her (12) fate would be irrevocably sealed. Yet she heeded not all this: her eyes were bent upon the child, showing with maternal glances, a recognition of its innocent amusement and her scorn for their preparations.
     At length, the old chief finding the young woman could not be intimidated by the rifle being presented to her breast, he took it from the young Indian, and, advancing with a stern countenance, he addressed her in language, as follows: —
     "My daughter, I have now come to the determination, that only on one condition will you ever move from this place alive! However unpleasant it may be, I feel duty calls upon me to seek your life, unless you point to me the place where McNally, your husband, is concealed! He is a murderer! He has arisen upon his brother — and taken his life! and not content with slaying his comrade, he deceives his countrymen, and throws the disgrace upon the innocent Indians; and while our friends are hunted in the prairies like the deer, as the assassin of Bamer, you have concealed him — you connived at his crime, and are equally or more guilty, as you see by that infamous deception no quarter is shown our people by the merciless intruders upon the lands of the red men; but they rejoice at a pretext to kill and destroy the friendless Indians that they may occupy the lands, and drive us from the face of the earth.
     "My child, it grieves me, but I am under the stern necessity of requiring this sacrifice. You must comply. You must show the lurking-place of your husband, or your life must pay the forfeit. Our people demand it, and justly too, that you shall show where the murderer is concealed.
     "What have the white men done since their first landing in this happy country? What has become of the towns and villages of the red men who once lived here? Where are the nations that once inhabited this country? Who has been the enemy of the red men, and have come here and robbed us of our lands — made wars upon us, even to extermination: and brought vices which were unknown to us before? Sought by dissensions to divide and destroy us, who had never known or injured them — and are not yet (13) contented but commit crimes among themselves; and strive with a fiendish cunning to throw the disgrace upon us that they may have some pretext for continuing their murders and robberies upon us. What chance have we for justice? Under what disadvantages do we not labor. If an Indian kills or robs a white man, in a few days the story is printed in thousands of places, and is known to all their people: — revenge is in their power, and none durst raise an arm to avert their dreaded resistance; but if the poor Indian is killed, would they believe or render justice to his friends or relatives? Would they give up the murderer to be dealt with according to the usages of our nation? No! They would insult the emissaries of justice with,
     "Go away, you are an Indian!"
     "My daughter the wrongs which we sustain from the whites are many. They force us from our hunting grounds, from our mines, our corn fields, and our fisheries. Is that done because they have none? Have they not possession of all the country from the sea to the Mississippi? and yet they wish for more — and they want all — that the Indians may have none. They have succeeded in debasing us below the brutes of the forest, and now they wish to exterminate us. They are not satisfied with the effect of the vices which are introduced amongst us — that mode of destruction is too tardy — wars, famine and persecution must be added, and those destroyers of your people, your friends and relatives you strive to befriend and exculpate from crimes which, you know they are guilty of committing.
     Your husband brought whiskey in our nation — when the Indian drank of it he became addicted to its use, and then became a vagabond on the earth; yet you wish to preserve his life, that he may bring more misery upon our nation.
     "Why do you wish to conceal the man that would murder his partner? Are you not in danger of falling beneath his vengeance? The man that would kill his friend and partner, only waits for an opportunity to destroy his wife. Such persons have no love nor affection for their kindred — even the meanest reptile that crawls upon the earth, has more fellow-feeling — for they burrow together in harmony. (14) If you have no regard for yourself, you owe some respect to our nation: and, so long as he is concealed amongst us, the whites will ascribe the murder of both to the Indians — and will they be idle? Will they not take vengeance on every one they can find? How many have already fallen before their hunters, we know not. The time is precious: we know not what plans they are forming to destroy us yet, by disclosing where he is, we shall avert the calamity. By concealing him, you show contempt for your nation and relatives; as the white men will believe we have murdered both the traders, and will punish the innocent for protecting the guilty.
     "I seek not your life; — our people do not demand it but, with justice, they ask you to deliver them from the ignominy and danger which the enraged whites will visit upon them; if you persist in concealing the murderer.
     "My daughter, there is no alternative: our chiefs in council demand the murderer, not your life but your father thinks if you prefer the society of a villain to your kindred, you are unworthy of his protection.
     "Therefore prepare and decide immediately; and do not delay until too late, as you may rely upon the truth of our assertions."
     The old chief called upon her in the most affectionate terms to comply, and surrender her husband; but she rejected with scorn all such overtures. Stepping out before them, she spoke in real native eloquence, to the following effect.
     "My father, even the hunted deer will spurn the pursuer of her fawn! She presents her impotent brow to the hunter in protection of her offspring; but me, your child, you would deprive of life — and for what? Is it for any crime of my own? Is it for want of affection for you? Or am I unkind to our people? No! It is for nothing I have done! But you wish me to commit a crime the most revolting! You wish me to debase and render myself unworthy of life — to purchase a few years of miserable existence! I scorn such unworthy artifices! I would hate myself and be hated by our people! My life has ever been at your disposal; but you approach not my husband so long as I have (15) the power to conceal him! This is the proudest hour of my existence; and happy am I, that fortune has placed me in a situation to render assistance and protection to one that I am bound by so many ties to love, honor and cherish.
     You may say my husband has faults — it is not for his wife to see them. I am his partner, and, as such, am bound to conceal his imperfections as my own; and I feel honored that I can, in this manner, testify my regard for him, and show the confidence placed in me, is merited.
     If he has committed the crimes you speak of, there is a power above which can find and punish him. When God seeks the guilty, he does not place a deadly weapon to the breast of a woman, and say, "Go find me a man, for I would kill him!"
     If you seek the life of my husband, do not ask me to partake with you in the crime. Let those whom he has injured, seek redress. I have received nought but kindness from him, and why should I seek his destruction? But, supposing he had ever used me unkindly — now is the time it should be forgotten.
     No human being is perfect — God alone is faultless! Neither you nor the enemies of my husband know the causes which led him to the act you impute to him. God knows, and vengeance is his; and we should be content for him to do justice, without usurping his authority.
     You tell me of the degradation of our people — wherein is my husband in fault for that?
     You impute, as a crime to him, that the whites have wronged us. Were we never wronged by any but the whites? Have no other nations made war upon us; destroyed our cornfields; our fisheries, and our hunting? and have we not done the same? Have not the Winnebagoes oppressed the Sacs and Foxes, the Ottawas, or any nation whom we thought our inferiors.
     How often has my father gone to the wars for the purpose of exterminating some neighboring people! as well may you consider that a fault of mine. I am as much accountable for those depredations, as my husband is for those of the whites.
     (16) If the white men have wronged us, those who have done the injustice, are to blame for the offence. If our nation has become degraded, it is the fault of our people. Delivering my husband into hands of those who will take his life, will neither redress the wrongs which the Indians have suffered from the whites, nor retrieve our condition.
     The man whom I have selected for my partner and protector, is dearer than life. You may execute vengeance on me, for I shall not reveal the place of his concealment. Had I a thousand lives to sacrifice, they would be cheerfully given rather than betray him.
     I fear death less than dishonor.
     The time may come, when you, while passing my grave, will remember the great crime you are about to commit.
     As I ask no mercy for myself, let me ask one favor. It is all I ask, and I shall die contented. You are welcome to my life, if you will spare that child! I beseech you by all the affections you have ever borne towards me — by the dying breath of its mother to protect that child! I implore you by the affinity which it bears to you, and the innocent smiles with which it regards you, to remember the offspring of your daughter. I have nothing more to say. My life is at your disposal."
     By a sign from the old chief, the young Indian took up the rifle and presented the muzzle to her breast, while she, turning towards him, opened the bosom of her dress, when one more appeal was made; but she persisted in her former determination.
     The old chief becoming fully satisfied that she would not disclose the hiding-place of her husband, was too true to his promise — he gave the word — the short sharp report of the rifle — she fell and expired without a groan — a martyr of constancy to a MURDERER.
     Notwithstanding the solicitude of the Indian woman to conceal her husband, he was afterwards taken by the Indians, and surrendered to the whites for trial — but acquitted, probably, for the want of proper management in obtaining competent witnesses.




Translated by L. S. BACKUS,




     (1) The principal events herein recorded are true.
     The murder is yet remembered by many persons. One of the actors was put upon his trial for the murder of his partner at Prairie du Chien and was acquitted.
     The violent, and we might almost say, insane attachment, which the Indian Woman has for the white man who has honored her with the title of wife, is neither new, nor, is it unnatural as may be seen by the sequel.






     (2) In the first part we informed the reader, we should publish an engraving of the original documents which form these disclosures, and after this lapse of time we have redeemed the pledge.
It may not occur to the reader at the first glance the important interest of this manuscript to the public — even the small portion which we have transcribed. To the linguist it offers a wide field of speculation.

[From this point on, the Introduction of the "Part Second" is identical to that of the "Part First" given above. It will therefore be omitted here.]


Indian Manuscript

1, 2


1. On the sixth day of the moon or July 2d.
2. At ten o'clock.
3. The white men who have been trading at the Four Lakes, quarrelled.
4. The white man killed his brother.
5. The white man will use deception and blind our eyes.
6. His wife has concealed him.
7. The white men are executing vengeance upon us, and mean to exterminate us from the land — or strike the Indians to the earth.

Everything that follows in "Part Second" is a mere duplication of "Part First," and is therefore omitted here.1

Commentary. "Levi S. Backus" — Levi Strong Backus (June 23, 1803 - March 17, 1869) was born in Hebron, Connecticut the eldest son of Jebez Backus (1777-1855), a tanner and saddle maker in Bolton, Connecticut, who married Octa[via] Strong (1783-1816) in 1801. He was named for his grandfather, Levi Strong (1762-1823). He was apparently born deaf, likely a genetic defect, since his sister Lucy Ann who died at five months of age in 1808, was also deaf.2 He attended the Hartford Academy for the Deaf in Hartford, Connecticut, and after graduation, became a teacher in the Central Asylum School for the Deaf and Dumb (est. 1823) in the hamlet of Buel, just outside the village of Canajoharie, New York.3 He married one of his former students, Anna Raymond Ormsby,4 in the same year that the village of Canajoharie was incorporated (1829). The village "is situated at the confluence of Bowman's creek with the Mohawk and on the Erie canal 55 miles from Albany. It consists of about 100 houses, a Lutheran church, and an academy."5 The school itself closed in 1836, and Levi Backus saw that his 33 students were transferred to the Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb in New York City.6 That winter Backus organized a newspaper devoted to the deaf community called the Radii (later the The Canajoharie Radii and Taxpayer's Journal). A catalogue of newspapers published in 1884 has this entry: "1837. — The Radii, at Canajoharie, by Levi S. Backus a deaf mute. In 1840 removed to Fort Plain, and in 1856 to Madison county. Subsequently returned to Canajoharie. Still published."7 Backus applied to get the Radii distributed free of cost to the members of the deaf community throughout New York state.8 In 1844 he was able to use the state subsidy to mail the Radii to deaf people across the state.9 The original Canajoharie site of the paper fell victim to the fire of 1840, the same year that saw the publication of the present book.10 Backus was the first person in America to insert pictures of the hand signs for the deaf in a newspaper's masthead.

Because of his association with deafness, Backus was particularly interested in non-verbal communication by means of signs. In later years he became a book publisher for other authors, printing a book on grammar (1858) and another of poetry (1861). He died in Montgomery, New York, in 1869, survived by his widow.

"they will use deception and blind our eyes" — it might seem more probable to suppose that what was is being expressed here was, "he is being hidden from view." However, this is not likely correct, since the hand extends from the sleeve of a white man's coat. Nevertheless, the hand also represents the power of agency, and thus may indicate the perpetrator. The eye can indicate knowledge: "the white perpetrator is known."

"long knives" — the Hočągara use the term "big knives" (mąhįxetera) rather than "long knives" (mąhįserečįra), the standard expression among other tribes.

"on the sixth day of the moon or July 2d" — the moon that falls at this time is the Waxojrawira (Corn Tasseling Month). The astronomy program, "Starry Night," shows that July 2, 1824 fell on the sixth day of the moon, but this is rather too early to be the subject of a book in 1840. Earlier concomitants predate the War of 1812 and therefore do not match the settlement context. Closer to 1840, the date July 2, 1835 is also the sixth day of the moon. The Hočągara had signed a treaty in 1832 ceding their lands, but the legitimacy of this treaty was never recognized by the bulk of the tribe, who continued living where they had always been. The treaty was reaffirmed in 1837, the year after a serious smallpox plague. By the time that the present book was published (1840), the Hočągara were being removed by force, and therefore had become a topic of national interest. So the date of July 2, 1835 occurred after the time when the whites claimed official title to the Hočąk lands, and shortly before the plague and subsequent reaffirmation of the cession. This was clearly a time of great anxiety and pressure on the Hočągara, where any conflict with the white power structure could erupt into a national catastrophe.

"pictorial language" — now called "pictographs," and most famously exampled among the teepee paintings and "winter counts" of the plains Indians.11 This is the only known specimen of a pictographic story thus far documented among the Hočągara.

Portage, Wisconsin

"the portage of the Wisconsin" — now the city of Portage, Wisconsin. To the Hočągara it was Wawá’ą, essentially of the same meaning. (Kinzie, Jipson, Miner) The place was first used as a portage by the explorers Marquette and Joliet on June 14, 1673. To the French, it became known simply as le portage. A trading post was set up in 1792, after which a thriving business was conducted porting boats of any size over the mud flats using teams of oxen. In 1824, the American Fur Company hired Pierre Pauquette, a member of the Hočąk nation, to run its operations there. He was fluent in Hočąk, French, and English. (For Pauquette [Paquette, Poquette, Boquette], see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.) On the Fox River side of the portage, the government built Fort Winnebago in 1828.12

"slave" — this is a false impression derived from the fact that the women did almost all of the manual labor, the most difficult of which was probably packing wood. However, women were rarely subject to abuse, since they were protected by their brothers, who acted as a check upon the husband. Among the Hočągara and other tribes, the bonds between the brothers and their sister's offspring were stronger than that which bound the father to them.

"emancipation" — it is not clear just how emancipated white women felt in the 1830's. There were plenty of cases of white women who were taken into Indian societies, sometimes by force, who showed no inclination to return when the opportunity presented itself. The native wives of white men who lived among the Indians were not likely to change their behavior, and not a few white men found Indian wives appealing precisely because they did so much more manual labor, thus "emancipating" the man.

"gratitude" — in the present story, mere gratitude would hardly seem to explain loyalty to the point of death. This is better explained by love, a conspicuous concept in Hočąk thought.

"dispatched their wives" — it is not clear what the evidence for this is, and it is less clear whether such a practice obtained among the various Indian tribes.

"the sword over the bow" — what is missed in this interpretation is that the bow faces away from the sword, indicating that the Big Knives will stab them in the back, that is, they can be expected to proceed by subterfuge, and be the aggressors without any provocation on the part of the Hočągara.

"Bamer" — this name is at variance with the name "Bawmen" given on page 9. It is conceivably a typographical error.

"a vagabond on the earth" — cf. Genesis 4:14, "I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth, and it will happen that anyone who finds me will kill me." This is what Cain says of God's judgement upon him for slaying his brother Abel, an interesting context for what was being done to the Indians during the time at which this story was written; and more particularly, it is reflective of the filicide that is about to occur in the story.

"the meanest reptile that crawls upon the earth" — this phrase was taken from the writings of Dr. Cogan in his debate with Bishop Wilberforce.13 It occurs in the context of "the moral history of man in his pursuits, powers, and motives of action; and the means of obtaining permanent wellbeing and happiness."14 But more to the point of our present story, the exact point of the debate is the doctrine of human "depravity," as Dr. Cogan put it,

to prove the truth and importance of the christian religion, and then to enforce the necessity of submitting reason and judgment to whatever may be taught in the sacred writings concerning this and every other point in dispute. In consequence of this mode, you would urge upon him the following contrarieties; "the justice and goodness of the Supreme Being; the natural depravity of man — but that this natural depravity shall never be admitted as an excuse for sin; and that neither our sins, nor the dreadful consequences of them, are to be chargeable upon God." You strenuously inculcate "that this corruption and weakness will not be admitted as lowering the demands of divine justice, and in some degree palliating our transgressions of the law of God." And thus is the skeptic completely refuted.15

So in considering the depravity of murder in the context of our present story, this phrase came to Backus' mind. It is not a translation from Hočąk, where there is no word for "reptile" proper, the Hočąk being wakiri, which is best translated by the Biblical expression, "creeping thing." The whole of this debate was republished in New York state by the Utica Evangelical Magazine,16 and may have come to Backus' attention through this medium, as well as a text book on instructing children in the sciences, where the phrase is also repeated.17 More striking is the fact that this popular phrase was used by John Ross himself in connection with the removal of the Creek nation in correspondence with the United Foreign Missionary Society: "The trust which you have reposed in me has been sacredly maintained and shall ever be preserved. A traitor in all nations is looked upon in the darkest colour and is more despicable than the meanest reptile that crawls upon the earth."18 This source not only links the phrase to Indian removal, but to treason.

"to love, honor and cherish" — this is also Christian in inspiration, and specifically the vows of matrimony. In the Common Book of Prayer, the vow of the bride reads, "... to love, cherish, and to obey ..." Contemporary wedding vows use the expression, "to love, honor, and cherish," just as we have in Backus' phrase, but this version did not come into any service until 1892 (to my knowledge), where it occurs in an optional prayer. The introduction of "honor" into the expression may find its inspiration in the Fifth Commandment of the Old Testament, "Honor your father and mother." (Exodus, 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16) The anachronistic matching of Backus' phrase with the later revised wedding vows may be sheer coincidence, or a case of parallel evolution from a common source of inspiration.

"God" — this is oddly monotheistic, unless we are to believe that the murderer, her husband, has taken the trouble to convert her to Christianity. Substituting "Earthmaker" for "God" leads to making Earthmaker into a far less otiose god than he is held to be.

"God alone is faultless" — Jerome, Against Jovinianus, II.35.

"vengeance is his" — the other remarks in this paragraph, but this especially, is purely Christian, and even among them is not observed in practice.

"exterminating" — it is very clear that genocide is strongly condemned by tradition among the Hočągara. This is yet another insinuation of white concepts and values into a speech in order to elaborate its basic contents.

"had I a thousand lives to sacrifice, they would be cheerfully given" — the words put into the mouth of the chief's daughter are clearly based on the last words (September 22, 1776) of Nathan Hale: "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country," which were themselves a paraphrase of line from the play Cato by Joseph Addison (1672 - 1719),

How beautiful is death, when earn'd by virtue!
Who would not be that youth? What pity is it
That we can die but once to serve our country.19

Clearly Backus, who was born but 28 years after this event, was aware of such connections himself. The line given the chief's daughter is a blend of Hale's elaboration of Addison and another of the playwrights lines:

Better to die ten thousand thousand deaths,
Than wound my honour.20

Most of the speeches in the story of the chief and his daughter are elaborations from the imagination of white people based upon what must have been a short reprise, rather than a translation, of what had been said at the time.

"I fear death less than dishonor" — a variant on the traditional Latin saying, Potius mori quam foedari, conventionally translated, "Death before dishonor." Furthermore, this line too seems to have been inspired in part by the line quoted from Addison above. This is yet another reflection of how this story has been "spun" to appeal to contemporary white romanticism.

"spare that child" — there is nothing in the logic of the situation that would suggest that the child is under threat unless he is viewed as condemnable because he is part white. That could not be, since many of the Hočągara are partly French. So this suggestion is probably a case of projection, the imputation of white racist ideas to the Indians. The other possibility is that the child will be used to exact the confession from the mother, but this does not seem to have been considered or in any way made explicit in the story; the concern of the mother is not, in any case, for the child's present safety, but for his future well being.

"the young Indian" — it is taboo for a Peace Chief to kill anyone. Therefore, it is necessary that another do so in his stead.

Comparative Material. One of the more striking stories from the pseudo-history of Rome is related by Titus Livy. This is the story of how the two sons of Lucius Junius Brutus, the founder of the Roman Republic, were executed at the command of their own father. It too involves foreign intrigue, betrayal, and inscriptions. The Tarquins were a royal family of Etruria who ruled over Latin Rome. They were overthrown in a revolt led by Brutus, but counter-revolutionaries plotted to restore the foreign hegemony.

"III. Meanwhile the ambassadors were busily employed in schemes of another nature: whilst they openly demanded the effects, they were secretly forming a plan for recovering the throne, and addressing themselves to the young nobles, seemingly on the business which they were supposed to have in charge, they made trial of their dispositions. To those who lent an ear to their suggestions, they delivered letters from the Tarquinii, and concerted measures with them for receiving those princes privately into the city by night.

IV. The business was first intrusted to the brothers of the name of Vitellii, and those of the name of Aquillii; a sister of the Vitellii had been married to the consul Brutus, and there were two sons born of that marriage, now grown up, Titus and Tiberius: these were led in, by their uncles, to take part in the design; and several others of the young nobility were drawn into the conspiracy, whose names, at this distance of time, are unknown. In the meanwhile, the opinion of those, who advised the giving up of the property, having prevailed in the senate, this afforded the ambassadors a pretext for remaining in the city, because they had been allowed time by the consuls to procure carriages for the conveyance of the effects of the princes; all which time they spent in consultations with the conspirators, and had, by pressing instances, prevailed upon them to send letters for the Tarquinii; for 'without these, how could they be so fully assured, as an affair of that high importance required, that the report of the ambassadors was not groundless?' These letters, given as a pledge of their sincerity, proved the means of detecting the plot: for the day before that on which they were to return to the Tarquinii, the ambassadors happening to sup with the Vitellii, and the conspirators having here in private had much conversation, as was natural, on the subject of their new enterprise, their discourse was overheard by one of the slaves who had, before this, discovered that such a design was in agitation, but waited for this opportunity, until the letters should be given to the ambassadors; because these, being seized, would furnish full proof of the transaction. As soon as he found that they were delivered, he made a discovery of the affair to the consuls. The consuls, setting out from home directly, and apprehending the ambassadors and conspirators in the fact, effectually crushed the affair without any tumult; taking particular care, with regard to the letters, that they should not escape them. They instantly threw the traitors into chains, but hesitated for some time with regard to proceeding against the ambassadors; and though, by their behaviour, they had deserved to be treated as enemies, yet regard to the law of nations prevailed.

Jacques-Louis David, "The Lictors Returning to Brutus the Bodies of His Sons," 1789

V. With respect to the effects of the princes, which they had before ordered to be restored, the business was now laid before the senate for re-consideration; and they, actuated entirely by resentment, decreed, that they should not be restored, but converted to the use of the state. They were, therefore, given up to the commons as plunder, with the intent, that these, after such an act of violence against the princes, as the seizing of their effects, might for ever lose all hope of reconciliation with them. The land of the Tarquinii, which lay between the city and the Tiber, being consecrated to the god of war, has, from that time, been called the Field of Mars. ... After the people had made plunder of the effects of the princes, the traitors were condemned and executed. And the execution was the more remarkable on this account, that his office of consul imposed on a father the severe duty of inflicting punishment on his own sons; and that he, who ought not to have been present as a spectator, was yet the very person whom fortune pitched on to exact the penalty of their offence. The youths, all of the first distinction, stood tied to stakes, but the sons of the consul entirely engaged the eyes of the spectators, as if the others were persons unknown; and people felt compassion, not only for their punishment, but even for the crime by which they had brought it on themselves: to think that they could, during that year particularly, have been induced to entertain a design of betraying their country, just delivered from tyranny, their father its deliverer, the consulship, which had commenced in the Junian family, the patricians, commons, in a word, whatever Rome held in highest veneration, into the hands of one who was formerly a tyrannical king, now an enraged exile. The consuls mounted their throne, and the lictors were sent to inflict the punishment: after stripping the criminals naked, they beat them with rods, and beheaded them; whilst, through the whole process of the affair, the looks and countenance of Brutus afforded an extraordinary spectacle, the feelings of the father often struggling with the character of the magistrate enforcing the execution of the laws. Justice done to the offenders, in order to exhibit a striking example for the prevention of crimes, in their treatment of the several parties, they gave, as a reward to the discoverer of the treason, a sum of money out of the treasury, his freedom, and the rights of a citizen.21

Like the chief in our story, Brutus is the leader of his people. Foreigners in both cases endanger the independence of the nation, and the salvation of the nation depends upon discovering what has been concealed by the offspring of the leader. The offspring are aiding and abetting the enemy, and for this treason they are put to death by their own father. For the daughter of the chief, her treason is loyalty to her husband, a foreigner, who is the subject of the concealment; in the case of the sons of Brutus, their treason is loyalty to their old king, a foreigner, whose ambassador's letters they concealed. It is of further interest that the man to whom the victims of execution are loyal has been implicated in a crime resulting in death. In an episode prior to this, Livy tells the story of Lucretia, who commits suicide because she has been raped by Tarquinius, the very man whose plot the sons of Brutus are trying to aid and conceal.22 This does not quite make Tarquinius a murderer, but it is close enough to be worthy of note.

Is the story of the chief's daughter made up? If so, it would implicate Backus in fraud, since he vigorously asserts the truth of the story and the authenticity of the pictographs which he is especially keen to investigate. It is unfortunate that nothing is said on the sources who reported the story. It is clear that it was given originally in the barest outlines, then elaborated in a highly literary way by Backus, to fill in the want of precise dialogue. It is completely plausible, however, that a Hočąk chief could shoot his own daughter to preserve the life of his nation. A Hočąk chief, when wars go wrong and peace must be sought at all cost, strips himself down and paints himself entire blue, then runs to the enemy village as a kind of human sacrifice. If they receive him in peace, then hostilities are terminated; but, as is the more likely, they treat him as a war captive, they will slowly burn him alive. Thus, every Hočąk chief must be prepared to sacrifice his own life in the most painful way for the good of the nation, and it can be but a small step more to sacrifice anyone else to the same end. The particular appeal of this story is that it shows that the celebrated virtue of Brutus and Rome, in fact a fictional history, was a living fact among the Hočągara. That Roman virtue could be found in wild America was a revelation that would seize the mind of that romantic age.

Comparative Pictography. The veracity of this story rests to a significant extent upon the authenticity of the pictographs associated with it. Most of the samples of pictography had been collected after the Civil War from the plains tribes, so there is both a small temporal difference and the cultural difference between the Hočąk example and those that are more familiar to us. The examples used here are mainly from Tompkins, and represent a standard used throughout most of the plains.23

The depiction of the Four Lakes locale in Wisconsin is done in a stylistic manner similar to that of the plains Indians. A comparison can be seen below, the plains pictograph being show on the left.

However, in the Hočąk pictograph, the lakes are shown more in the form of a cluster, when in fact they are almost in perfect alignment. The idea (unless the pictographs are made up), is merely to indicate a place name "Four Lakes." The house makes it clear that it is a white settlement to which the pictographs refer. In the examples below from the Winter count of the Brulé Lakota, the entries for 1816 and 1817 show a tendency towards standardization of the depiction of the white man's house, but the entry for 1818 is simply a drawing of a wooden house with windows and chimney, rather more like the Hočąk rendering, except that oddly enough, the Hočąk shows the house as viewed from an oblique angle, a technique not seen elsewhere.

The last house in the Brulé group is further disambiguated (as if it needed to be) by showing a white man standing next to it (out of proportion) who is identifiable by his distinctive head gear. In the standardized pictograph at the top, the white man is identified by his unique hat, which at that time was a Stetson. In the 1830's white men tended to wear the stove pipe design in head wear, which the Hočąk version uses as a synecdoche for Big Knives. The approach is the same in both cases. The use of the sword to represent both "Big Knife (white man)" and "lethal aggression" doesn't seem to have a parallel in the plains pictography. The next set of pictographs in the sequence, the eye and the hand, is also without parallel, but that has been discussed above. The motif of concealment is repeated in the next set of pictographs, which show a woman arched over a hat. This would seem to be unique to the situation, but it does have a conventionalized pictographic counterpart in the plains culture.


The plains pictograph on the right expresses the idea of Hidden, and is made of a stylized arch covering a highly conventionalized representation of a person. This is in perfect conformity with the more realist rendering of the Hočąk pictograph, which uses essentially the same scheme, that of an arch over a conventional pictograph representing a (white) person, in this case a synecdoche in the form of a hat. As among the Hočąk, the plains Indians also emphasize female dress to denote women, but in a more standardized and simplified way. Generally, the plains pictography that has come down to us, when compared to its Hočąk counterpart, is more stylized, conventional, and simplified. These are features of a system that is more along the road to actual writing.

The next pictograph shows a sword above a downward facing bow, which expresses conflict between the Big Knives and the Hočągara. As suggested above, we may also see the element of "back stabbing" as we still call it.

The first two pictographs are from the plains culture, and are used to express the idea of War. In the first we see that the bow is armed with an arrow, and in the second, we see what amounts to an exchange of arrows, which expresses combat. In the Hočąk pictograph, we have an uncharged bow, and no indication of a mutual exchange of fire, a concatenation of symbols suggesting that those represented by the bow as their war weapon are not prepared for action, and not on a proper war footing, whereas their Big Knife opponents have marshalled behind them. The asymmetry of the situation is thus made apparent.

In the final set of pictographs, we have a markings made on a stick to indicate the date at which the events took place.

Crescent Moon with Parallel Line Marks
Sun with Parallel
Line Marks
Various Depictions
of the Moon

The published drawing is rather indistinct in its depiction of these marks, but we are told that the symbol of the moon, which is clearly seen in the crescent in the center of the stick, is flanked by six striations indicating the days of that moon. We see a similar convention employed in plains pictography, with an image of the sun flanked by two linear marks indicating the number of days. The mode of representing the moon is also similar, being rendered most frequently in its crescent stage, where its lunar identity is most apparent.


The Hočągara have the inscribed stick angled to point toward the position of the sun at the time of day at which chronicled events took place. In Hočąk the time is actually indicated by the physical object carrying the pictographs. The viewer is looking to the north with the east at his right, and the angle of the stick, which Westerners would describe from the opposite frame of reference as "2 o'clock," is actually pointing to the position of the sun at ca. 10 o'clock. The plains pictographs adopt the latter frame of reference, viewing the position of the sun looking south, so that the sunrise is to the left, and the sunset to the right. However, the idea remains constant: it is the position of the sun in the celestial vault that is indicated. Furthermore, the sun, conventionally depicted as a circle with rays, is here indicated with a straight line, which certainly suggests a stick, as in the Hočąk case. Thus the plains pictographs in this case may betray their origins in a system like that of the Hočągara. That a stick should carry the markings of time is not unique to this pictographic "clock hand." The Hočągara used to try to keep track of the months by designating someone to be a time-keeper. His instrument was a carefully fashioned piece of wood now termed a "calendar stick,"24 a kind of record keeping device akin to "message sticks" found in other tribes,25 and even among the Australian Aborigines.26 Similar calendar sticks, although more like the plains "winter count," are also known from the Lakota27 and the Pima.28

The Calendar Stick of Čiząhaka

Čiząhaka's inscribed on his calendar stick pictures of the moon followed by lines resembling those of a ruler that mark off the days of each moon, very much like that of our pictographic stick. Such a device was made necessary by controversies that arose concerning what named moon was in the sky. For us, the source of this controversy is plain to see: there are not twelve moons in a year, but an additional moon about every two and a half years. That means that in five years, the lunar calendar of 12 moons is two months short. This would soon make itself obvious. This might be of marginal importance were it not for the need to plant maize within a fairly constrained span of time. Failure to do so affects the output of food. It is helpful that certain moons are tied to events determined by solar temporal processes. When the days shorten to a particular length, the change is registered on the brains of the elk, the males of which then begin to "whistle" their mating calls.29 The moon that is in the sky at this time is the Elk Whistling Moon (Hųwąžugwira). The calendar can be adjusted against this absolute solar year date, but since it occurs after harvest time, it is not much help in realigning the planting moons that have gotten out of phase. Indeed, in the end, keeping time on a stick is of no use either, since it suffers from the same defect, the assumption that their are but twelve moons in a solar year.

Links: Earthmaker (God), Moon, The Wazija.

Stories: about the (post-Columbian) history of the Hočągara: The Cosmic Ages of the Hočągara, The Hočągara Migrate South, The Annihilation of the Hočągara I, Annihilation of the Hočągara II, First Contact, Origin of the Decorah Family, The Glory of the Morning, The First Fox and Sauk War, The Fox-Hočąk War, The Masaxe War, The Shawnee Prophet and His Ascension, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara, Great Walker's Medicine, Great Walker's Warpath, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, Little Priest's Game, The Spanish Fight, The Man who Fought against Forty, The Origin of Big Canoe's Name, They Owe a Bullet, Origin of the Name "Milwaukee," A Waterspirit Blesses Mąnį́xete’ų́ga, Origin of the Hočąk Name for "Chicago"; mentioning traders: Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, Migistéga’s Magic, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, Turtle and the Merchant, How Jarrot Got His Name, The Tavern Visit, Origin of the Hočąk Name for "Chicago"; mentioning the Big Knives (white Americans): The Shawnee Prophet and His Ascension, The Shawnee Prophet — What He Told the Hočągara, Little Priest's Game, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, A Prophecy, The First Fox and Sauk War, The Cosmic Ages of the Hočągara, Turtle and the Merchant, The Hočągara Migrate South, Neenah, Run for Your Life, The Glory of the Morning, First Contact, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, Migistéga’s Magic, Yellow Thunder and the Lore of Lost Canyon; mentioning the Fox (Mesquaki): The First Fox and Sauk War, The Fox-Hočąk War, The Masaxe War, The Mesquaki Magician, The Annihilation of the Hočągara I (v. 2), Annihilation of the Hočągara II, Little Priest's Game, Gatschet's Hočank hit’e (Extracts ...), Introduction; mentioning the Sauk (Sac, Sagi): The First Fox and Sauk War, Mijistéga and the Sauks, The Annihilation of the Hočągara I (v. 2), Annihilation of the Hočągara II, The Blessing of Kerexųsaka, Big Eagle Cave Mystery, Little Priest's Game, Gatschet's Hočank hit’e (St. Peet ...), A Peyote Story, Introduction; set around the Four Lakes (Te Jopera): The Spirit of Maple Bluff, The Masaxe War, Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, The Sky Man; mentioning Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin (Niučjeja): How Jarrot Got His Name, Oto Origins, Run for Your Life, Yellow Thunder and the Lore of Lost Canyon, Gottschall: Debate and Discussion; set on the Wisconsin River (Nįkúse Xonúnįgra): Turtle and the Merchant, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Chief of the Heroka, The Lame Friend, The King Bird, The Green Waterspirit of the Wisconsin Dells, The Sioux Warparty & the Waterspirit of Green Lake (v. 1), Gatschet's Hočank hit’e; set on the Fox River: The Foolish Hunter, The First Fox and Sauk War, Winneconnee Origin Myth, Neenah.

Themes: an Indian woman marries a white man (fur trader): The Glory of the Morning, Origin of the Decorah Family, Migistéga’s Magic; someone is rejected by at least one member of his family: Sun and the Big Eater, The Big Eater, The King Bird, Grandfather's Two Families, Kaǧiga and Lone Man, Moiety Origin Myth; someone kills his own kinsman: The Chief of the Heroka (wife), The Red Man (wife), Worúxega (wife), The Man Whose Wife was Captured (v. 2) (wife), Bluehorn's Nephews (mother), The Green Man (mother), Waruǧápara (mother), Partridge's Older Brother (sister), The Woman who Loved Her Half-Brother (sister), The Were-Grizzly (sister), Crane and His Brothers (brothers), White Wolf (brother), The Diving Contest (brother), The Twins Get into Hot Water (grandfather), The Birth of the Twins (daughter-in-law), The Woman's Scalp Medicine Bundle (daughter-in-law), Snowshoe Strings (father-in-law).


1 Levi S. Backus, Important Indian Manuscripts (Canajoharie, N.Y.: Printed and Sold by the Author, 1840).

2 Benjamin Woodbridge Dwight, The History of the Descendants of Elder John Strong, of Northampton, Mass. (Albany: Joel Munsell, 1871) 41. The Records of the Church in Bolton, Conn., New England Historical & Genealogical Register, 54 (1898) 80-85.

3 Ira H. Derby, The History of the First School for Deaf-Mutes of America: How They are Educated, and How the Alphabets are Invented, and Introduced into Use (published by the author, 1885 [1880]) 29. Kelly Yacobucci Farquhar, Montgomery County (Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia Publishing, 2004) 38; The Historical Marker in Buel reads, "The Central Asylum School for the Deaf and Dumb offered educational and occupational instruction in the hamlet of Buel, in the Town of Canajoharie from 1823 to 1836. Students from across New York State attended this school in an early period when the deaf population was considered to be unproductive in society." Capital District Library Council (Albany, N.Y.).

4 Dwight, The History of the Descendants of Elder John Strong, 41.

5 John Warner Barber and Henry Howe, Historical Collections of the State of New York: Containing a General Collection of the Most Interesting Facts, Traditions, Biographical Sketches, Anecdotes, &c. Relating to Its History and Antiquities, with Geographical Descriptions of Every Township in the State (New York: S. Tuttle, 1842) 274. Albert S. Chambers (?), History of Montgomery and Fulton Counties, N.Y.: with Illustrations Descriptive of Scenery, Private Residences, Public Buildings, Fine Blocks, and Important Manufactories, from Original Sketches by Artists of the Highest Ability: and Portraits of Old Pioneers and Prominent Residents (New York: F.W. Beers & Co., 1878) 100.

6 Dwight, The History of the Descendants of Elder John Strong, 41.

7 Simon Newton Dexter North, History and Present Condition of the Newspaper and Periodical Press of the United States: with a Catalogue of the Publications of the Census Year (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1884) 397.

8 "Report of the Select Committee on Petition of Levi S. Backus," Documents of the State of New York, 1838, #263; 1839, #160.

9 John Tabak, Significant Gestures: A History of American Sign Language (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006) 76.

10 Chambers (?), History of Montgomery and Fulton Counties, N.Y., 100.

11 Col. Garrick Mallery, Pictographs of the North American Indians. Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 4 (1886); Col. Garrick Mallery, Picture-writing of the American Indians, 2 vols. (New York: Courier Dover Publications, 1972 [1884]); William Tomkins, Universal Indian Sign Languageof the Plains Indians of North America, 5th ed. (San Diego: published by the author, ca. 1931); David Finster, "The Hardin Winter Count," Museum News, 29, ##3-4 (March-April, 1968): 1-59; Red Horse Owner's Winter Count: The Oglala Sioux, 1786-1968, ed. Joseph S. Karol (Martin, South Dakota: the Booth Publishing Co., 1969).

12 from the official City of Portage website (> History), viewed 7/27/09.

13 Jared Sparks, Collection of Essays and Tracts in Theology, from Various Authors, with Biographical and Critical Notices (Boston: Oliver Everett, 1824) 3:251.

14 Sparks, Collection of Essays and Tracts in Theology, 3:197.

15 Sparks, Collection of Essays and Tracts in Theology, 3:250.

16 Utica Evangelical Magazine, 2, #10 (Aug. 9, 1828) 73 seq., the quote occurs on p. 74.

17 Charles Mayo, Lessons on Shells, as Given to Children between the Ages of Eight and Ten, in a Pestalozzian School, at Cheam, Surrey, 2d ed. (London: R.B. Seeley & W. Burnside, 1838 [1832]) 109. The school of Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746 - 1827) attempted to actualize the educational theory of Rousseau, and emphasized a humane education based more upon observation than upon "verbosity." This kind of education would naturally have appealed to Backus, whose task was to teach deaf children, for whom verbosity was impossible in any case.

18 "Colonization of the Indians," in The United Foreign Missionary Society, The American Missionary Register, for the Year 1825 (New York: J and J Harper, 1825) 6:73-86 [85]. The correspondence by Ross is signed, "NEW TOWN, Oct. 21st, 1823."

19 Joseph Addison, Cato (A Tragedy in Five Acts), Act IV, Scene IV. This was a line oft quoted by the Whigs during the Revolution. The play was a personal favorite of George Washington, who caused it to be enacted at Valley Forge.

20 Addison, Cato, Act I, Scene IV.

21 Titus Livy, ab urbe condita 2.4-5. The History of Rome by Titus Livius, tr. George Baker, 6 vols. (New York: Peter A. Mesier, et al., 1823) 1:69-71.

22 Titus Livy, ab urbe condita 1.58.

23 all the black and white line drawings, unless otherwise indicated, come from Tomkins, Universal Indian Sign Language.

24 Robert H. Merrill, "The Calendar Stick of Tshi-zun-hau-kau," Cranbrook Institute of Science, Bulletin 24 (Oct., 1945): 1-11. "The most significant of the North American Indian calendar sticks is a rare, early nineteenth century wooden year-stick that notated the days and phases of the lunar month. [It is] exceedingly close to Upper Paleolithic lunar notations in appearance and concept ..." Alexander Marshak, The Roots of Civilization: The Cognitive Beginnings of Man's First Art, Symbol and Notation (Mount Kisco, N.Y: Moyer Bell, 1991) 140 nt 14.

25 James Mooney, "Calendar History of the Kiowa Indians," Seventeenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1895-1896, Part I (Washington, D. C.: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1898) 142-143; Marshak, The Roots of Civilization, 139-140.

26 George Horne and George Poddy Aiston, Savage Life in Central Australia (London: Macmillan, 1924) 22-24; Charles P. Mountford, Art, Myth and Symbolism, Records of the American-Australian Expedition to Arnhem Land (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1956) 1:466; Xavier Herbert, Capricornia (London: Rich and Cowan, 1939); Donald F. Thomson, "The Seasonal Factor in Human Culture," Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, n.s., 5, Part 2 (1939): 209, 211; Ronald M. Berndt, "A Wonguri-Mandzikai Song Cycle of the Moon-Bone," Oceania, 19 (Sept., 1948) 16-50; Marshak, The Roots of Civilization, 136-139.

27 The Sixth Grandfather, Black Elk's Teachings Given to John G. Neihardt, ed. Raymond J. DeMallie (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984) 303, 308 nt 4; Mallery, Picture-writing of the American Indians, 291.

28 Marshak, The Roots of Civilization, 139-140.

29 The change in the span of daylight stimulates the production of testosterone in males, which sets into motion the whole panoply of rutting behavior. Elk of North America, Ecology and Management, compiled and edited by Jack Ward Thomas and Dale E. Toweill (Harrisburg: Stackpole Books, 1982) 137; D. R. Flook, "Causes and Implications of an Observed Sex Differential in the Survival of Wapiti," Canadian Wildlife Service Bulletin, Report Series 11 (Ottawa: Canadian Wildlife Service, 1970) 1-59.