A letter written in 1898 from Little Shell to J.B. Bottineau expressing the need for the Band Council to travel to Washington, DC, to push their claims for assistance in the face of ongoing starvation and the unequal distribution of funds and rations to the band.
Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians of North Dakota, Belcourt, N. Dak., January 26, 1898.
From the Chief and all the Councilmen to John Bte. Botttneau, at Washington, D. C.:
The Chief Little Shell here speaks: We are tired, fatigue, since so long waiting for the settlement of our claim. Even though we are so fatigue we keep strong, firm, to stay by you and your efforts in our cause; we are always ready to go or do as you say, to hell pushing our case.
In regard to the affairs and doings of the three commissioners – the Ten-Cent Treaty commissioners – we are very much troubled in here about it; but I repeat to you here again I did say while in Washington to the House Committee of Indian Affairs, that I would never sign their affairs, the ten-cent treaty. I am all the same yet and now.
My greatest fatigue is to see my people so poor and going so hungry. In regard to our proposed amendment to secure fifteen thousand dollars for relief pending the settlement of our claim, I would like to see all the members of our tribe (the Turtle Mountain) get some of it equally, and not like they have done with the appropriation of 1895, and give it only to those favored ones which were put on the list (rolls) by the commissioners. Have this appropriation so arranged to protect us all equally.
In regard to the conditions of our affairs, we have asked your uncle Charles for your attention to get some means from the Government which will help us to go to Washington. It will give you more force to push our case through, even if you have to do so yourself as you have done, to bring our delegation to Washington. The last time we were there in May and June, 1896. It is the greatest hope and desire of the chief and all the councilmen of the tribe, because we know we could help you and help our cause greatly, and we would accomplish something; and it is important we should go now because our pecuniary condition and the necessity demands it, and we know we could accomplish something for the benefit of the tribe through our friends in Congress, with the help of our present Commissioner of Indian Affairs, who, you say, is the true friend of the Indians. We wish to see him and talk to him ourselves now, and we ask you to help us in some way which will give us means to bring us to Washington as soon as possible.
The chief, Little Shell, and all the councilmen send you their best respects.
Little Shell, Chief (his x mark).
Sasswain, Henri Poitra (his x mark).
Gourneau, Baptiste Champagne (his x mark).
Bayriss, Cuthbert Grant (his X mark).
John B. Reno, Secretary of the Council and of the Turtle Mountain Indians
Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians to Court of Claims, House and Senate Reports: Reports on Public Bill, March 24, 1898, Committee on Indian Affairs. US House of Representatives
Two years after the battle at the Little Big Horn, and his subsequent escape to Canada, Father Jean Baptiste Marie Genin reported in May 1878, that Sitting Bull appeared to be strengthening himself militarily so that he could come back to his homelands in the United States without fear.
Colonel MacLeod, the Fort Walsh commander at Cypress Hills, Saskatchewan, hired a Metis man named LaRiviere to keep him informed of all the movements of the Lakotas and their possible build-up. LaRiviere reported that Sitting Bull had 80 lodges at Pinto Horse Butte, 200 lodges on Frenchman's Creek, 250 lodges roaming about, and an additional 50 lodges of Lakota moving towards Sitting Bull’s camp. In addition, there were 80 lodges of Santee at Wood Mountain, and a large group of Cree and Assiniboine under Chief Big Bear (about 300 lodges) were camped near the mouth of the Red Deer River. Rumors had it that Sitting Bull had seven tribes in his camp, and that some small groups of Assiniboin and Yanktonai from the US were coming to join him.
Despite the worries of this build up, MacLeod didn’t believe the movements of the Lakota and others were threatening. He reported this to US authorities. Even if he wasn’t an immediate threat, intelligence reported that Sitting Bull was nonetheless trying to gain support from anyone who would lend it.
It was known that he had sent emissaries with tobacco to the Sissetons at Lake Traverse, asking them to join his cause. He even sent tobacco to the Ojibwe camps at White Earth and Pembina. His message was carried by a Cree to Pembina, and then by a Pembina man to White Earth. His message reported read as follows:
“Chippewas of White Earth and all the Chippewas of Minnesota: I send... tobacco for you and the Half-breeds to smoke, to tell you to look at me. I ask you not to help the whites by acting as scouts against my people. I do not wish to war against the whites, but they are after me and my people to destroy us. But when they attack us we must fight in self-defense. Look at the whites and see what they have done. They have robbed us of our lands. If you are treated as we are, fight. Do as we do. Our lands will then be regained.
I now have six tribes ready to join me, and I have notified the Indians and Half-breeds of the Plains to keep away from the directions we are to travel when we go to war.”
All of the Ojibwe bands refused to help, with the exception of Little Shell and his warriors, who indeed went north to Wood Mountain against the protest of Chief White Cloud and others.
R. W. Scott to MacLeod, January 23, 1878, MacLeod to Scott, January 29 and July 9, 1878, GGO, PAC; (Bull's letter copied in) Charles A. Ruffee to E. A. Hayt, July 16 and August 3, 1878, NARG 75, Letters Received, Chippewa Agency, roll 166; Turner, NWMP, 1:400.
If You Do Not Help Us, We Will Die in Our Poverty. Flat Mouth (II), Little Rock (Asinewub), and White Cloud, 1877
Each summer from 1873 through 1877, a disastrous cloud of locusts invaded the Minnesota farm country, devouring almost everything green in sight. By the winter of 1876-77 the situation was drastically affecting the Ojibwe reservations in northern Minnesota. Various chiefs began to write to their foremost influential friend, Bishop Henry Whipple, for assistance. Flat Mouth II wrote from Leech Lake on January 13, 1877:
My people are starving and freezing, and no work is being done for us. We received at our annual payment a very few goods, and our children are consequently suffering. Within the last two or three years the administration of our affairs have been such as to show no improvement, and we appear in a worse condition than formerly. We desire you to write to Washington to explain our situation and to control our affairs.
A month later Whipple received a letter from Little Rock on the Red Lake reserve:
Our friend, we met in council today--[and] thought of you in our necessities. You are our friend and you are one whom we know would help us. You know very well our poverty. We have never had any help since we went to see our Great Father at Washington and we would like very much to go and see him once more before our annuities expire, and thought only of you who would help us to go on, and we wish to borrow money from you out of monies due us from the government next fall, or sooner, if we get help from our Great Father.... We wish to bear our own expenses. If you can help us in this matter, it will show us that you are our friend.... if you do not help us, we will die in our poverty. You know we cannot follow any religion naked. We must have help from our Great Father.
Then, in May 1877, Whipple heard from White Cloud at the White Earth reserve:
When you were here last summer, you saw the grasshoppers, and now their children are among us, threatening to destroy everything again this year as they did last. The last time I saw you, you said you would come here soon and see us again. I looked and watched for you, but you came not. I afterwards heard that the Great Father had sent you to see the Sioux and heard of the success of your work among them. I would like to have you write and advise me in my new mode of life. Maybe you may not think me worthy, but I shall deem it my duty to advise my people.
Sources: Flat Mouth to Whipple, Jan. 13, 1877, Red Lake chiefs to Whipple, Feb. 13, 1877, and White Cloud to Whipple, May 18, 1877, Whipple Papers. One result of the complaints was that the White Earth agent, Lewis Stowe was replaced by the old trader and mail route operator, Charles A. Ruffee. White Cloud's activities in getting Stowe replaced caused missionary J. A. Gilfillan to give him a poor historical reputation. See Frederick W. Hodge, ed. Handbook of American Indians, Part 2 (Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1979), 885.
In 1948, the Turtle Mountain Chippewa tribal council traveled to Washington, D.C. to express the dire conditions of the reservation and the problems facing the people there. Before the Congressional hearing, Representative William Frederick Lemke (August 13, 1878 – May 30, 1950), of North Dakota, took a moment to speak on behalf of the tribe...
Going back to my early childhood when these Chippewa Indians used to have these two-wheel carts and the pony hitched to them and they went out and collected buffalo bones. They used to pass over the only usable bridge over the creek near our home and they used to have trains 2 miles long all loaded with buffalo bones headed for Devil's Lake.
Later on as we developed they used to come and help us harvest the crops. They brought their whole families, their children and everything to the farm. They lived in tents even when there was snow on the ground. We used to run the threshing machines late into the year.
And then one winter I remember, somebody came into our home at night. It was 40 degrees below zero outside. The next morning, we found Indians in our home. One of them was none other than Little Shell, your former chief. Some of the pullman cars are named after him now on the Great Northern. When we got up they were cooking their food, their bacon, and they told us that they were on their way to see the Great White Father on foot as they had to walk to Devils Lake where they took the train to Washington, D.C.
My father asked Chief Little Shell what he wanted to see the Great White Father about, and he replied, "Get paid for the land he took away from us."
My father then asked, "Where is this land he took away from you?” “Well,” he said, “the land you are living on used to belong to us, and the Great White Father took it away, and we want to be paid for it.”
I do not believe he was ever paid for it. Now, these Indians are here now because they are in a desperate situation. The Red Cross has been taking care of them. Think of it. Government wards are being taken care of by the Red Cross while we are sending millions and billions of dollars abroad. It seems to be inconsistent. These Indians are here this morning to give us their viewpoint as to what should be done. I think the Chippewa Indians are in the worse condition of any of them because they have just about 40 acres of ground to an individual, or family, I forget which.
Mar. 16, 1948, House Subcommittee on Indian Affairs; Committee on Public Lands. House.
The story has it that fifty Ojibwe men from one of the bands in Wisconsin went to the first World War, and forty-nine returned home afterward. So happy were the people at the return of these forty-nine that they created a dance in their honor and called it the Forty-nine. The dance is thus strictly a modem one, the most recent of all Anishinaabe dances.
The following is a rich and vivid description of the clothing and bearing of a Metis man encountered on the Plains of North Dakota in 1864.
The [man] who took our mail this morning was of middle age, and of excellent quiet manners. He spoke good French, and was most animated and even eloquent in his description of the scenery of the Coteau du Missouri. He wore a felt hat; a dark blue coat, with a hood; drab leggings fringed with scarlet and black cloth, with beadwork and gilt buttons on the outside; and moccasins embroidered with stained porcupine quills. To this, add a crimson sash around his waist; cross-belts (for his shot-pouch and powder-horn) covered with beautiful work in colored beads; a knife sheath and shot-pouch similarly ornamented; a powder-horn with bright colored tassels and brass nails; and a hunting knife and rifle. He rode a well-trained hunting Rob Roy pony, and had a buckskin saddle, or pad, with elegant designs in colored beads; also, a blue broadcloth saddle cover with red fringes, and decorated in the same way as the saddle.
They [the Metis] are dashing buffalo hunters…much feared from their courage and skill with the rifle, and as horsemen. They have a great deal the same appearance and character of the Indian. They live mainly by the chase, and in the intervals amuse themselves by horse-racing, playing on the violin, dancing, singing, etc. They are a gay, light-hearted race, and are generally reliable, hard-working, enduring, and faithful employees.
Expedition of Captain Fisk to the Rocky Mountains. Letter from the secretary of war, in answer to a resolution of the House of February 26, by Fisk, James L. [from old catalog]; United States. War Dept; United States. 38th Cong., 1st sess., 1863-1864. House.