Fifty-Four Years’ Recollections of Men and Events in Wisconsin.

by General Albert G. Ellis

Gen. Albert Gallatin Ellis

(210) In the month of June, 1821, I left Oneida county, N. Y., destined for Michigan and Green Bay — in the then little known, and far off, Northwest. I was in company Eleazar Williams, since of Dauphin notoriety, and some half dozen Oneida Indians, on their way to the country west of Lake Michigan, to treat with the Western tribes for a cession of lands, for a new home for themselves, and such of the Oneida tribe as should join with them. ...

(214) The Indian delegates, with Mr. Williams and Mr. Trowbridge, continued on to the [Green] Bay, where, after much delay and opposition from interested parties, they succeeded in negotiating with the Winnebagoes and Menomonees, for a small cession just above the Grand Kaukalin. ...

(223) The first business of Williams and the delegates, after housing themselves and the goods, was, to assemble the Indians—the Menomonees and Winnebagoes, and in compliance with stipulations of their treaty made the year before, pay them $1500 in goods. In less than a week both tribes, to the number of three or four thousand, were assembled, and camped along the river bank. A day being appointed, and the American and French citizens, with the officers of the garrison, notified the grand council; the New York delegates, the Menomonees and Winnebagoes, were gathered in front of the old Agency house; the spectacle was quite imposing. Solomon U. Hendricks, chief of the Stockbridges, or, as he styled them, the Mohickanucks, a man of education, and of more than common ability, made the opening speech. He addressed the Menomonees and Winnebagoes as his grand children—told them that the few goods before them were presented not so much in fulfillment of their treaty stipulation, as a testimonial of their love and affection for their grand children The Menomonees and Winnebagoes made suitable replies, acknowledging the relationship, by calling the New York Indians "grandfather." The goods, consisting (224) of blankets, calicoes, blue cloths, guns, powder, lead and shot, barrels of pork and flour, with a liberal supply of tobacco, were carefully divided in two equal piles, and presented to the two tribes. The treaties were produced, the proper receipts drawn on them, when the chiefs of each tribe signed, and the officers of the army, citizens, agents, and interpreters witnessing. Nor a drop of liquor was seen; and the remaining part of the day was devoted to feasting. 

On re-assembling the parties the next day, when the deputies of New York Indians made an effort to procure an extension of the session, the Winnebagoes were ready instantly with a reply, declining most positively to grant it. They were already being crowded; white people below Chicago were beginning to pass northward. The Menomonees' answer was scarcely more encouraging; they could not sell any more.

The Winnebagoes were preparing to leave for their fall hunts; but before starting, they would treat their grandfathers to a dance. The whole tribe assembled in front of the house in a large circle, the dancers, and drummer—the master of ceremonies—in the center; first they gave the pipe dance, an amusing affair, a single one dancing at a time, the trick of which seemed to bo to keep time [with] the drum, and especially to suspend action instantaneously with the cessation of the instrument—the dancer to remain in the exact attitude in which the cessation of the drum caught him: frequently the attitude was ridiculous in the extreme; and the maintaining it for a moment, till the drum commenced again, formed an exciting tableau. Next followed the begging dance, preceded by a speech of the drummer, setting forth the extreme want of of some of their very old, poor people, and asking charity in their behalf.

The whole concluded with the war dance, a sight to test the nerves of the stoutest heart. The Winnebagoes at that time, fifty-four years ago [1821], were in all their perfection of savage wildness: two thousand of them, men and women, old and young, were massed in a circle, standing fifty deep; the whites, army officers, in the inner ring, and the warrior dancers, drummer, and singers in the center. Twenty of their most stalwart young warriors took their places with not a thread of clothing save the breech-cloth: but all painted in most gorgeous colors, and especially the faces, with circles of black, white, red, green and blue, around the eyes, giving the countenances (225) expressions indescribably fierce and hideous, all armed with tomahawks, knives, and spears. At first the dance was slow, to measured time of the drum and song; for there were a hundred singers, with the voice of the drummer, both male and female the latter prevailing above the former. Soon they began to wax warm, the countenances assumed unearthly expressions of fierceness; their tread shook the solid earth, and their yells at the end of each cadence, rent the very heavens. None could endure the scene unmoved—unappalled. This tribe at that period, with their stalwart men, Amazonian women, and independent mein, athletic figures, and defiant bearing, can hardly be recognized as the same race, in the degraded Oneidas, who are now seen in our streets, whose abject mien, attenuated, shrunken forms, half-starved, naked, destitute, miserable, mendicants, half civilized though they be, furnish a painful commentary on our Indian civilization. 

When the dances were concluded, a shaking of hands, with a grand "bosho," all round, the Winnebagoes prepared to leave the ground; and in an hour, there was not a sign of one to be seen. The Menomonees lingered; they felt more kindly disposed toward their grandfathers; negotiations were soon renewed, resulting finally in a further treaty, granting the New York Indians a right in common with them, to all their country without reserve; the which treaty, though no doubt made in good faith, became subsequently the source of almost endless trouble, terminating at last in confining the New York Indians to two small reserves; one for the Stockbridges, Munsees [Delaware] and Brothertowns, on the east shore of Lake Winnebago, of some eight by twelve miles; and the other twelve miles square on Duck Creek, for the Oneidas; and from this last, the whites are just now moving heaven and earth to dislodge the Indians.

The negotiations concluded, and the Menomonees having retired, the New York Indians began to lookout for winter quarters.

Commentary. "Gen. Albert Gallatin Ellis" — the editor, Reuben G. Thwaites, gives a short biography of the General:

(207) William H. Ellis at an early period migrated from Scotland to Boston, where he married; his son of the the same name, settled at Dedham, Mass., where his second son, Eleazar, was born April twenty-fifth, 1766 who married, first Sophorine Colleague, who soon dying, he was then united in marriage with Candace Bernard, at Hartland, Connecticut. Alcazar Ellis and wife first settled at Keene, New Hampshire: and a few years later at Whitestown. and then at Verona, in Oneida County, New York; and he was occupied for several years in teaching. He at length engaged in Verona, in farming, clearing up in part a wild, rough, heavily timbered tract of eighty acres. Here Albert G. Ellis, the subject of this notice, was born, August twenty- fourth, 1800, and was reared on the farm till his fifteenth year, when his father died, leaving the youthful son, mother, and a young daughter, in very slender circumstances. Mrs. Ellis disposed of her little property, and removed to a brother's, in Litchfield, in Herkimer county.

In the Spring of 1816, young Ellis, thrown upon the world with scarcely any education, experience or money, started for the village Herkimer, where he soon entered the printing office of the Herkimer American, to serve an apprenticeship for several years. "William L. Stone, and Thurlow Weed had but recently served in the same office. Besides learning young Ellis the trade, including book work, his employer was to board him, and allow him fifty dollars a year for clothing; this latter allowance, however, was soon compounded, by permitting him, in lieu thereof, to enjoy the proceeds of whatever job work might offer itself every Saturday afternoon, which proved very much to his advantage, frequently realizing three or four dollars on such allotted afternoons, besides imparting an early self-reliance, and stimulating a taste for success in business. He was thus enabled, young as he was, to spare small sums every successive week for his mother, and sister, of  which they stood in great need.

(208) Gen. Ellis attributes to the thoughtfulness of David Holt, then a prominent citizen of Herkimer, who induced him to attend church regularly on the Sabbath, the avoidance of evil associates, by which many young men are step by step, led on to ruin. Mr. Holt, it may be added, resided awhile in Madison, and died at .Janesville, Wisconsin, January eighth 1853, at the age of seventy-three years.

At Herkimer, young Ellis became intimately acquainted with Francis E. Spinner, since so well known as Treasurer of the United States, who, though two years his junior, was quite a superior scholar. The contrast, exhibiting the result of mental culture, and the want of it on the part of the young printer, was mortifying to him, and proved a powerful incentive to him to make the best of his limited opportunities for intellectual culture.

When the term of his apprenticeship terminated, Mr. Ellis repaired to his native town of Verona, where was a small grammar school, taught by Thomas Taylor Loomis, which he entered, spending six months in close application, mastering Murray's grammar and Daboll's arithmetic. He now yielded to solicitations from Rev. Alcazar Williams—since famous for his claim to the Dauphinship—to join him at the Oneida Castle as a teacher to the Oneida Indians, holding out many flattering promises, among the rest, lessons in the Latin and French languages. Thus he engaged November, 1819, in giving instructions to the young Oneidas in English branches by day, and in singing almost every night. But instead of Mr. Williams giving him the promised lessons in Latin and French, he insisted on Mr. Ellis teaching him the English, of which he was greatly deficient. Mr. Williams, however, pressed his instructions in the Mohawk language upon Mr. Ellis; but, as the sceptic proved, he had a personal end to subserve in the matter. He was frequently absent at Albany, and New York, that year, and needed Mr. Ellis to read the church prayers and homilies, in the Mohawk language, to his people on Sundays during his absence.

Thus for nearly three years he continued in the employ of Mr. Williams, with few or no opportunities for private study. In May, 1822, he was appointed, by the Domestic and Foreign Mission Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church, catechist and lay reader to the Oneidas at Green Bay, accompanying Williams there, which position he held for nearly five years.

In 1827, Governor Cass made Mr. Ellis Inspector of Provisions for the District of Green Bay. He was appointed a Deputy Surveyor of Government lands, by the Surveyor-General, Edward Tiflin, in July, 1828; executing several surveys under his directions. In the fall of 1830, he was chosen secretary, and to construct a map for a delegation of the Menomonee Indians visiting Washington, under charge of their Indian Agent, Col. S. C. Stambaugh, spending the ensuing winter at the Federal City. He was appointed, in August, 1832, a commissioner to survey and establish a boundary line between the Menomonee and New York Indians; and, in 1833. he was designated by the Surveyor-General, to survey a large district of public land near Green Bay, which, by renewed appointments in 1834 and 1835, was extended to neighboring districts.

In 1836, Mr. Ellis was elected a member from Brown County to the Legislative Assembly of the Territory; and after serving one year, resigned: and was, in 1837, appointed by President Van Buren Surveyor-General of Wisconsin and Iowa, which position he filled till 1811, when he resigned. He again served in the Territorial (209) Legislature in 1842 and 1843; and was soon after appointed Sub-Indian Agent for the District of Green Bay, serving in that capacity till 1848, when he resigned. In 1853 he was appointed Receiver of the Land Office at Stevens Point, and re-appointed in 1858, filling the position till 1862. He for five terms served as Mayor of Stevens Point, when he declined any longer to fill that position of honor and trust. The Green Bay Intelligencer, the pioneer newspaper of Wisconsin, was started at the close of 1833, which he ably edited and conducted for a considerable period and he subsequently established The Pinery at Stevens’ Point. His contributions to the volumes of Collections of our Historical Society have proved of great value and interest.

General Ellis has lived an active and useful life, rendering good service to his fellow men, and setting a worthy example to all classes of society. In his green old age, he has the good wishes and benedictions of all who know him.

"Dauphin" — this was Eleazer Williams, who was born on the Caughnawaga reserve among the St. Régis Indians, to which band his mother belonged. In 1800 he was sent to Massachusetts to be educated, and worked for the Americans during the War of 1812. After settling with a band of the St. Régis Indians at Green Bay, he married a Menominee woman, Madeleine Jourdain (1823). Beginning in 1839, he promulgated the crackpot idea that he was the "Lost Dauphin," and therefore heir to the French throne. This was thoroughly refuted not too long before his death.1

Charles C. Trowbridge     The Charles Trowbridge House

"Trowbridge" — this is Charles C. Trowbridge, who was born on December 29, 1800 in Albany, New York. His father was a Revolutionary War veteran having fought at the battles of Lexington and Saratoga. When he was 13 years old, he took an apprenticeship with a merchant in Oswego, New York. In 1819, he moved west to Detroit where he became Deputy United States Marshal and deputy Clerk of the Court. In 1820, he joined the Cass expedition to explore the Northwest Territory to the headwaters of the Mississippi. Afterwards, Gen. Cass took him on as a private secretary. In 1821, he helped to negotiate a treaty with the government and the Hocąk and Menominee tribes, and having already a knowledge of Cherokee, he was appointed interpreter. He was also made secretary of the Board of Regents of the nascent University of Michigan. From 1823-1825, he worked on the languages and customs of the tribes of the Northwest Territory. He resigned to accept a position with the Bank of Michigan. In 1826 he married Catherine Sibley and the couple settled down in what is now known as the "Charles Trowbridge House," which has become the oldest surviving home in Detroit. In 1831, he declined to follow Cass to Washington, but two years later was elected Alderman in Detroit, then briefly served as mayor during the cholera epidemic of 1834. In 1837, he was the Whig candidate in an unsuccessful run for the governorship of Michigan. From 1844-1853, he was president of the Michigan State Bank, and later president of the Detroit and Milwaukee Railway Company. He died in Detroit on April 3, 1883.2

"Solomon U. Hendricks" — he was the son of Captain Hendrick Aupaumut, Chief of the Stockbridge or Mohekunucks [Mohicans], who were residing with the Oneida in New York along with the Brothertown Indians.

About the year 1817, a young leader, chief of the Mo-he-kun-nucks, Solomon U. Hendrick, a man of much more than ordinary energy and talent among the Indians, succeeded to the head of affairs. He regarded the languishing condition of his people as a reproach to the former name and glory of the old Mo-he-kun-nucks, and used all his eloquence to persuade the young men to arouse, and make at least one effort to retrieve their name and character. He argued, with equal force and sound reason, that their then paralyzed condition was owing to their confinement to a small space of ground, and being surrounded and preyed upon, by the white inhabitants, from whose pernicious contact and example, especially with regard to drunkenness, they were sustaining a loss of all moral and physical energy and action; and urged, that their only hope for the future lay in emigration westward, and the securing, of such an extent of country, as would enable them to form new settlements, at such distance from the whites, as to escape from grog-shops and whiskey.3

This plan was soon supported by the War Department, who sent Dr. Morse to explore the possibility of such a move. After an initial aborted attempt, in 1821, the Hocągara and Menominee tribes agreed to a cession of land which neither tribe consider to be of much value as a hunting ground. Chief Hendrick nevertheless signed on. The New York Indians then settled in the Green Bay area. Solomon Hendricks died in 1826.4

"bosho" — strictly speaking, this is Potawatomi for "greetings"; but the lingua franca of this time and place was Ojibwe, where the term bōzhō also means "greetings." It is possible that bosho, therefore, is a corrupted rendering of the Ojibwe.

Notes to the Commentary

1 Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Volume VIII (1851-1860), s. nom., "Williams, Éléazar."
2James V. Cambell, "Biographical Sketch of Charles C. Trowbridge," Pioneer Collections: Report of the Pioneer Society of the State of Michigan (1907) 478 - 491.
3 General Albert G. Ellis, "Advent of the New York Indians into Wisconsin," Wisconsin Historical Collections, II (1903 [1856]): 415-449 [416].
4 Ellis, "Advent of the New York Indians into Wisconsin," 426, 433.


General Albert G. Ellis, "Fifty-Four Years’ Recollections of Men and Events in Wisconsin," Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. VII (1876): 207-268.