« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
tion had failed in its testimony. This distinction, which is marked with much of the certainty of heraldic bearings in the feudal system, was seen to mark the arms, the lodge, and the trophies of the chief and warrior. It was likewise employed to give identity to the clan of which he was a member, on his ad-je-da-teg or grave-post. This record went but little farther ; a few strokes or geometric devices were drawn on these simple monuments, to denote the number of men he had slain in battle.
It has not been suspected in any notices to which I have had access, that there was a pictorial alphabet, or a series of homophonous figures, in which, by the juxtaposition of symbols representing acts, as well as objects of action, and by the introduction of simple adjunct signs, a series of disjunctive, yet generally connected ideas, were denoted; or that the most prominent incidents of life and death could be recorded so as to be transmitted from one generation to another, as long at least as the monument and the people endured. Above all, it was not anticipated that there should have been found, as will be observed in the subsequent details, a system of
symbolic notation for the songs and incantations of the Indian metas and priests, making an appeal to the memory for the preservation of language.
Persons familiar with the state of the western tribes of this continent, particularly in the higher northern latitudes, have long been aware that the songs of the Indian priesthood, and wabenoes, were sung from a kind of pictorial notation, made on bark. It is a fact which has often come to the observation of military officers performing duties on those frontiers, and of persons exercising occasional duties in civil life, who have passed through their territories. But there is no class of persons to whom the fact of such notations being made, is so well known, as the class of Indian traders and interpreters who visit or reside a part of the season at the Indian villages. I have never conversed with any of this latter class of persons to whom the fact of such inscriptions, made in various ways, was not so familiar as in their view to excite no surprise or even demand remark
My attention was first called to the subject in 1820. In the summer of that year I was on an exploring journey through the lake country. At the mouth of the small river Huron, on the banks of Lake Superior, there was an Indian grave fenced around with saplings, and protected with much care. At its head stood a post, or tabular stick, upon which was drawn the figure of the animal which was the symbol of the clan to which the deceased chief belonged. Strokes of red paint were added to denote, either the number of war parties in which he had been engaged, or the number of sealps which he had actually taken from the enemy. The interpreter who accompanied us, and who was himself tinctured with Indian blood, gave the latter, as the true import of these marks.
On quitting the river St. Louis, which flows into the head of the lake at the Fond du Lac, to cross the summit dividing its waters from those of
the Mississippi, the way led through heavy and dense woods and swamps, and the weather proved dark and rainy, so that, for a couple of days to gether, we had scarcely a glimpse of the sun.
The party consisted of sixteen persons, with two Indian guides ; but the latter, with all their adroitness in threading the maze, were completely at fault for nearly an entire day. At night we lay down on ground elevated but a few inches above the level of the swamp. The next morning as we prepared to leave the camp, a small sheet of birch bark containing devices was observed elevated on the top of a sapling, some 8 or 10 feet high. One end of this pole was thrust firmly into the ground leaning in the direction we were to go. On going up to this object, it was found, with the aid of the interpreter, to be a symbolic record of the circumstances of our crossing this summit, and of the night's encampment at this spot. Each person was appropriately depicted, distinguishing the soldiers from the officer in command, and the latter from the scavans of the party. The Indians themselves were depicted without hats, this being, as we noticed, the general symbol for a white man or European. The entire record, of which a figure is annexed, accurately symbolized the circumstances, and they were so clearly drawn, according to their conventional rules, that thu intelligence would be communicated thereby to any of their people who might chance to travel or wander this way. This was the object of the inscription.
rank No. 2 denotes the person who officiated in quality of Secretary. He is represented holding a book. No. 3 denotes the geologist and mineralogist of the party. He is drawn with a hammer. Nos. 4 and 5 are attachés ; No. 6, the interpreter.
The group of figures marked 9 represents eight infantry soldiers, each of whom, as shown in group No. 10, was armed with a musket. No. 15 denotes that they had a separate fire, and constituted a separate mess. Figures 7 and 8 are the two Chippewa guides, the principal of whom, called Chamees, or the Pouncing-hawk, led the way over this dreary summit. These are the only human figures on this unique bark letter, who are drawn without a hat. This was the characteristic seized on, by them, and generally employed by the tribes, to distinguish the Red from the white race. Figures 11 and 12 represent a prairie hen, and a green tortoise, which constituted the sum of the preceding day's chase, and were eaten at the encampment. The inclination of the pole, was designed to show the course pursued from that particular spot : there were three hacks in it, below the scroll of bark, to indicate the estimated length of this part of the journey, computing from water to water, that is to say, from the head of the portage Aux Couteaux on the St. Louis river, to the open shores of Sandy lake, the Ka-ma-ton-go-gom-ag of the Odjibwas.
The story was thus briefly and simply told ; and this memorial was set up by the guides, to advertise any of their countrymen, who might chance to wander in that direction, of the adventure-for it was evident, both from this token, and from the dubiousness which had marked the prior day's wanderings, that they regarded the passage in this light, and were willing to take some credit for the successful execution of it.
Before we had penetrated quite to this summit, we came to another evidence of their skill in this species of knowledge, consisting of one of those contrivances which they denominate Man-i-to-wa-teg, or Manito Poles. On reaching this our guides shouted, whether from a superstitious impulse, or the joy of having found a spot they certainly could recognize, we could not tell. We judged the latter. It consisted of eight poles, of equal length, shaved smooth and round, painted with yellow ochre, and set so as to enclose a square area. It appeared to have been one of those rude temples, or places of incantation or worship, known to the metas, or priests, where certain rites and ceremonies are performed. But it was not an ordinary medicine lodge. There had been far more care in its construction.
On reaching the village of Sandy lake, on the upper Mississippi, the figures of animals, birds, and other devices were found, on the rude coffins, or wrappings of their dead, which were scaffolded around the precincts of the fort, and upon the open shores of the lake. Similar devices were also observed, here, as at other points in this region, upon their
arms, war-clubs, canoes, and other pieces of moveable property, as well
grave posts. In the descent of the Mississippi, we observed such devices painted on a rock, below and ar the mouth of Elk river, and at a rocky island in the river, at the Little Falls. In the course of our descent to the Falls at St. Anthony, we observed another bark letter, as the party now began to call these inscriptions, suspended on a high pole, on an elevated bank of the river, on its west shore. At this spot, where we encamped for the night, and which is just opposite a point of highly crystalized hornblende rock, called the Peace Rock, rising up through the prairie, there were left standing the poles or skeletons of a great number of Sioux lodges. It is near and a little west of the territorial boundary of the Sioux nation; and on inspecting this scroll of bark, we found it had reference to a negociation for bringing about a permanent peace between the Sioux and Chippe
A large party of the former, from St. Peter's, headed by their chief, had proceeded thus far, in the hope of meeting the Chippewa hunters, on their summer hunt. They had been countenanced, or directed in this step, by Col. Leavenworth, the commanding oficer of the new post, just then about to be erected. The inscription, which was read off at once, by the Chippewa Chief Babesacundabee, who was with us, told all this; it gave
the name of the Chief who had led the party, and the number of his followers, and gave that chief the first assurance he had, that his mission for the same purpose, would be favourably received.
After our arrival at St. Anthony's Falls, it was found that this system of picture writing was as familiar to the Dacotah, as we had found it among the Algonquin race. At Prairie du Chien, and at Green Bay, the same evidences were observed among the Monomonees, and the Win. nebagoes, at Chicago among the Pottowottomies, and at Michilimakinac, among the Chippewas and Ottawas who resort, in such numbers, to that Island. While at the latter place, on my return, I went to visit the grave of a noted chief of the Monomonee tribe, who had been known by his French name of Toma, i. e. Thomas. He had been buried on the bill west of the village; and on looking at his Ad-je-da-tig or grave post, it bore a pictorial inscription, commemorating some of the prominent achievements of his life.
These hints served to direct my attention to the subject when I returned to the country in 1822. The figures of a deer, a bear, a turtle, and a crane, according to this system, stand respectively for the names of men, and preserve the language very well, by yielding to the person conversant with it, the corresponding words, of Addick, Muckwa, Mickenock, and Adjeejauk. Marks, circles, or dots, of various kinds, may symbolize the number of warlike deeds. Adjunct devices may typify or explain adjunct acts. If the system went no farther, the record would yield a kind of information both gratifying and useful to one of his countrymen who had
no letters and was expert in the use of symbols; and the interpretation of it, would be easy and precise in proportion as the signs were general, conventional, and well understood. There was abundant evidence in my first year's observation, to denote that this mode of communication was in vogue, and well understood by the northern tribes ; but it hardly seemed susceptible of a farther or extended use. It was not till I had made a personal acquaintance with one of their Medas-a man of much intelligence, and well versed in their customs, religion, and history, that a more enlarged application of it appeared to be practicable. I observed in the hands of this man a tabular piece of wood, covered over on both sides, with a series of devices cut between parallel lines, which he referred to, as if they were the notes of his medicine and mystical songs. I heard him sing these songs, and observed that their succession was fixed and uniform. By cultivating his acquaintance, and by suitable attention and presents, such as the occasion rendered proper, he consented to explain the meaning of each figure, the object symbolized, and the words attached to each symbol. By this revelation, which was made with closed doors, I became a member or initiate of the Medicine Society, and also of the Wabeno Society. Care was taken to write each sentence of the songs and chants in the Indian language, with its appropriate devices, and to subjoin a literal translation in English. When this had been done, and the system considered, it was very clear that the devices were mnemonicthat any person could sing from these devices, very accurately, what he had previously committed to memory, and that the system revealed a curious scherne of symbolic notation.
All the figures thus employed, as the initiatory points of study, related exclusively to either the medicine dance, or the wabeno dance; and each section of figures, related exclusively to one or the other. There was no intermixture or commingling of characters, although the class of subjects were sometimes common to each. It was perceived, subsequently, that this classification of symbols extended to the songs devoted to war, to hunting, and to other specific topics. The entire inscriptive system, reaching from its first rudimental characters, in the ad-je-da-tig, or grave board, to the extended roll of bark covered with the incriptions of their magicians and prophets, derived a new interest from this feature. It was easy to perceive that much comparative precision was imparted to interpretations in the hands of the initiated, which before, or to others, had very liile. An interest was thus cast over it distinct from its novelty. And in truth, the entire pictorial system was thus invested with the character of a subject of acurate investigation, which promised both interest and instruction.
It has been thought that a simple statement of these circumstances, would best answer the end in view, and might well occupy the place of a more formal or profound introduction. In bringing forward the elements