Visit to the President
The Adams Sentinel (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania)
Washington, November 29, 1828 — "It is Saturday. The Delegation of Winebago Indians, now in the City under the direction of Gov. Cass, today had an official interview with the President. Their appearance as they came up the pavement was singular as can be imagined. They were painted, hideously beautiful, and looked as fine, and as ugly as it is possible for well formed men to look. One chief had his face divided by paint into four parts, the prevailing taste being to render themselves as terrifically imposing as possible. They were received in the western parlour, the President taking each by the hand. After passing him they seated themselves, some on the floor, and some of the damask silk chairs. An Indian with no other clothing than his leggings, breech-clout and blanket, sitting on elegant stuffed chairs, lined with crimson damask silk, presented an extraordinary contrast. I had heard it remarked that Indians show no signs of wonder or curiosity. It was not so with these. They gazed around them with apparent interest, surprise and pleasure; and seemed specially attracted by an elegant glass chandelier.
There was one squaw in the company who ten years ago, I imagine was handsome. She was painted, having on each cheek, a spot large as a small pancake of fiery red. Like our belles, she thought rosy cheeks an ornament, and instead of a little rouge had used a great deal of red ochre. She sat on a silken seat or stool near the piano. A little child ran up to her which had come in with some of the company. The female, the maternal, I had almost said the angelic expression of her eye and whole countenance, the cold and rigid features softening into tenderness, and relaxing into love, said that woman is the same in natural feeling, whether in the refined circles of civilization, or in the barbarous regions of Lake Huron.
Cake and wine were handed round. The squaw modestly declined to take either, probably thinking it improper, as the females do not, ordinarily, at such times, receive presents. But a gentleman who stood near, kindly and politely took a glass from the waiter, and presented it, which she drank with apparent relish. He then took and gave her a fine piece of frosted cake, which she received with easy grace. Then commenced the speeches of the Chiefs, to the President. First, an old chief, much painted, his hair stuck full of feathers, addressed him. His manner was vehement - his utterance rapid - his gestures seemed appropriate to the expression of strong feelings. The language was much less guttural than I had expected, and sounded not unpleasantly to my ear. After speaking a minute or two, the interpreter would translate. After him came the Orator of the nation. He was not painted. No ornament was in his hair, but his head was bound round with a black handkerchief. As he rose to approach the President, he threw back his blanket and stood up naked except a girdle round the waist of elk's bones, which supported his breech-clout - this thighs being bare and his legs covered with leggings. The spectacle was, certainly, most extraordinary. But as he spoke, the absence of dress, and the peculiar figure exhibited, lost all interest, and you thought only of the orator. He was eloquent; and when he appealed to Heaven; when he invoked pardon for the Winebago youths condemned to die, he was impressively affecting. The replies of Mr. Adams were appropriate and dignified. He consented to pardon.
"The young men," he told them, "should, at their earnest solicitation, and as a proof of our wish to do a favor to their nation, expecting it to be a pledge of peace, be restored to their friends."
When this part was interpreted to them they all raised a shout of joy, which was quite affecting. It is to be observed that while their orators spoke, if anything important or pleasing was said, a cry of approbation was raised.
The Pipe of Peace was smoked, first by the Chief, then by the President, and then by all round the room. Having heard much of these scenes, and never witnessed one before, it was to me an exhibition of great interest.
After two hours occupied in the talks, presents of medals, rifles, pistols and swords were given them, much to their delight.
I was particularly struck with one remark. The orator observed to the President that He and They acknowledged but one master, that was the Great Spirit - meaning to show their feeling of independence. They also expressed their wish to remain as they were - and not be like New York Indians; that is, half civilized.
Commentary. "squaw" — the only woman known to have taken this trip was the daughter of White Crow. Most of the passage about her is likely made up as is the reference to Lake Huron. Most of the tribe lived in the general vicinity of Lake Michigan, and White Crow's band lived on Rock River in Illinois. Kellogg says, "White Crow was accompanied by his young daughter, eighteen years old and said to be beautiful. She married, soon after her return, another member of the party, Yellow Thunder. She was always called the Washington Woman by her people and Mrs. Kinzie describes the airs she assumed. 'She had a pleasant, old-acquaintance sort of air in greeting me, as much as to say, «You and I have seen the world».'"1
"an old chief" — this was Nąga, "Wood," a well known figure in his time.2
|Nąga Presenting a Pipe
to President Adams
Orator of the Nation
"the Orator of the nation" — this was Hųwąnįka, "Little Elk."3
Notes to the Commentary
1 A thorough description of this trip of the Hočąk delegation to Washington in 1828 is given in Louise Phelps Kellogg, "The Winnebago Visit to Washington in 1828," Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, 29 (1935): 349-350. Juliette Augusta McGill Kinzie, Wau-Bun, The "Early Day" in the North-west (Chicago & New York: Rand, McNally & Company, 1901 ) 75-77.
2 347-354 [348, 353].
3 Kellogg, "The Winnebago Visit to Washington in 1828," 353.
The Adams Sentinel (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) December 17, 1828.