Bulletin Board
 
Little Shell Tribe Contacts
Home News Council Committee Recognition Legal History Genealogy Pictures Resources Culture Our Community

Little Shell Tribe History



Waiting For A Day That Never Comes

By Verne Dusenberry

(footnotes are at the end)

In the tiny gold-mining town of Zortman, Montana, lives a quiet, scholarly, greying man. He is Joseph Dussome, president of the Landless Indians of Montana. For nearly half a century, he has been collecting data and as- assembling material pertinent to the bands of "wandering Cree and Chippewa" that have too often, during the past 70 years, plagued the conscience of Montanans and North Dakotans. Now, in his old age, Dussome sits in his small, neatly-kept home and pores over his collection of evidence. He has documents, he has a vast file of letters, he has his memories. He knows better than any other person -for he is one of them-who these people are who now reside in the State of Montana and who number, conservatively, at least 4,000 displaced, disenchanted individuals. While these people insist upon being called Chippewa, perhaps to escape the scorn with which reservation Indians refer to them as "Cree," or as "bon jo11rs," or "bon hommes from Lake La Biche," Dussome can point out to an interested visitor that these people are part of the Metis, descendants of the Red River Hunters who lived not only in Canada, but also across the border in what is now Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Montana.

To understand the Indians in Montana who are unaffiliated with any established reservations, it is necessary to go back to the early French colonization of North America. For it is from these early explorers that one finds the progenitors of the landless Indians. Even the surnames are the same, since the French encouraged their men to marry Indian women. These mixed-blood descendants, at first concentrated along the Great Lakes, scattered throughout the North western states and Canada, but maintained their greatest numbers along the Red River of the North which has its source in North Dakota and Minnesota, forming the boundary between much of those states, but which flows north into Lake Winnipeg and ulti- mately into Hudson's Bay. And so it is that these people living in Montana today, whose ancestry was predominantly a non- native tribe-Chippewa, trace their ancestry back to the Red River settlements, especially to those on the American side of the now established forty-ninth parallel

The tragic story of the dispossessed Metis of Montana that forms the international boundary between Canada and the United States. These people, now known generally as “The Landless Indians," have had various names-half-breeds, bois-brule, and Metis. The frontier English and the Americans referred to them chiefly as "half-breeds," while the French occasionally designated them "bois-brule" (burnt wood) from the translation of the Chippewa appellation for them, Wisahkotewan Niniwak, meaning "men partly burned." This name had been given them by the Chippewa because of the color of their skin-dark, but not quite as dark as that of the pure In- dian. More frequently, however, the early French referred to them as the Metis, a French adjective meaning cross-bred.

Perhaps the word Metis is the best for them, for their degree of Indian blood was seldom fixed at exactly one-half. The child of an Indian mother and a French father would be a half-blood, but when that offspring reached maturity, he might marry either a full blood Indian or a full- blood Caucasian. Thus as the years went by, and intermarrying continued, the individual could possibly become almost pure Indian or pure white. So, too, did the blood become mixed between Indians of various tribes. For while in Canada, it was the Cree, with whom the Frenchman usually married. In the United States it was the Chippewa. Thus there emerged, along the Red River particularly, a group of people who were neither Indian nor white; neither Chippewa nor Cree nor French but a mixture of all three. They represented, as Joseph Kinsey Howard pointed out[l], the emergence of a new race indigenous to this continent.

"Too bad the Indians are not the lineal : and direct descendants of Methuselah and inherit his longevity, coupled with the patience of Job, that they might live to see some of the just obligations, established by precedent and treaty stipulation, fulfilled by the government."

-Written by John W. Cramsie, V. ~.Indian Agent for the Turtle Mountain Indians, in 1886.

And in this emergence as a new people, they adapted various traits from their French fathers and their Indian mothers. For their livelihood they depended primarily upon the buffalo, as did their Indian forebears. But unlike their Indian grandparents, the hunt stemmed from the Red River settlements, where they re- turned each fall with pemmican (for which they became famous) , to be sold or traded to the Hudson's Bay Company for other food items to be consumed during the winter months. Their transportation was not confined to the horse alone, as was the Indian's, for their distinguishing characteristic was the Half- Breed Cart, a unique invention of their own, made entirely of wood. Its wheels, oftentimes six feet in diameter, had very broad tires; while a small body rested on the axle and shafts. Each cart, drawn by a single pony, could carry from 600 to 800 pounds. Since no grease was used on the axle, the noise made by these carts was almost insufferable. Almost every Northern Plains historical writer has at.- tempted to describe the horrible screeching that a train of such carts made; but probably none has been presented more graphically than did Joseph Kinsey Howard when he said, "it was as if a thousand finger nails were drawn across a thousand panes of glass." Later, when metal was used in their construction and the wheels could be greased, the Metis generally called their vehicles Red River Carts. In either case, however, the cart served a dual purpose. In the long winters, a man would lift the body easily from the wheels, hitch a horse to it, and have a carriole or sleigh.

The housing of the Metis was copied directly from their fathers. In the settlements, they lived in one-story houses, often gaudily painted. While on the plains hunting, they used tents. Frequently, however, their hunts took them far to the west, particularly along the Milk River in Montana, and since the distance was too great for them to return to the Red River but occasionally, the Metis built frontier cabins, generally of cottonwood there. They plastered the interior with clay mixed with buffalo hair, and, in one end of the building, they always built a fire place, likewise cemented with clay. Scraped skins of buffalo calves, carefully worked until they were translucent covered the windows. Floors were left bare. Just as their Indian antecedents placed their tepees in a circle, so did the Metis build cabins, but in the center of the en- closure they built a large structure with puncheon floors.

These larger buildings were primarily used for dancing, since the Metis had inherited the Indian's love of the dance. But, instead of using the dance as a medium of religious expression, the Metis danced for sheer pleasure. Nor was the music that of the primitive drum; rather, it was the fiddle, sometimes a genuine one but more frequently one made from a hollow piece of wood with cat-gut strings attached. The tunes were generally adaptations of old French folk songs while the dance itself was a lively number which in time became known as the "Red River jig."[2] The dress of the Metis, too, was a blend of both Indian and French. The men usually wore an overcoat with a hood made from a blanket and adorned with brass buttons, scallops, fringes, and beads. Known as a capote, it combined the warmth of the heavy, all-wool blanket with the tailored quality of a coat. (Its present counterpart, but generally shorter in length, is the parka.) In warmer weather, the men wore fringed jackets made from buckskin but always they had leggings. These again were made from a blanket and were fringed with a seam of bead work embroidered along the out- side.[3] The women wore black dresses, simply made. During their girlhood they had gaily-colored shawls; in adult life the shawl was always black.

From the influence of their French fathers, the Metis devoutly followed the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. So devoted to their Church were they that as a matter of general practice they seldom embarked upon a hunt without having a priest accompany them. When they stayed away from the settlements over a long period of time, they observed Sunday with recitations of the rosary and with prayers. Wandering Jesuit and Oblate missionaries looked for them on the plains, and when finding them conducted open-air services, baptized infants, and blessed marriages. In fact, the Church adopted the policy of recognizing marriages as being legitimate when they were contracted away from the settlements, providing such marriages were later blessed by the priests. One of the best sources about the Metis may be found in the parish registers of the early missions in Montana, where, as early as the 1850's, Jesuit priests such as Fathers DeSmet, Croke, Imoda, and Hoeken recorded baptisms, marriages and deaths of the Metis. [4]

The Metis also developed a language of their own-a composite of Indian tongues, usually Cree and Chippewa, and French. Often a few English words were added. Yet, while most of them understood English, few of them ever used it. The French they spoke was an obsolete form drawn primarily from the patois of Normandy and Picardy [5]. A Frenchman usually could understand them; but the Metis, in turn, had difficulty understanding correct French. So it was with Indian languages such as the Cree. Mrs. Dussome, for example, nurtured on the Metis tongue, understands only isolated words of Cree as spoken on Rocky Boy's reservation today.

Their political structure was a blend, again, of Indian and French. Strictly democratic, like the Indian, restraint seemed needed principally when the Metis were on the hunt. Then, the entire group was under the control of the soldier society, known among themselves as Les Soldats, who executed the orders of the chief. Both the chief and the members of the soldier society were elected by the people themselves. Punishments, such as banishment from the hunt or the payment of fines, resulted if individuals refused to obey orders. Generally, the chief was known as governor J a title they borrowed from the French. Jean Baptiste Wilkie was an outstanding governor of the early- day Metis.6

--while the geographical heart of this new race seems to have been along the Red River near present-day Winnipeg, Canada, and Pembina, North Dakota, not all of them, by any manner of means, lived in Canada. True, the majority of the French-Cree descendants lived there. On the American side of the line a goodly number also lived-those who were related a little closer to the Chippewa. Their center was Pembina, established as a trading center in 1780, a factor which gives it the distinction of being the oldest settlement in the Northwest. Pembina exists now, a drab, tiny village at that spot on the map where North Dakota and Minnesota come together at the Canadian border. With Pembina as their headquarters, the southern Metis enjoyed, particularly, the hunting resources of the Turtle Mountains, some one hundred miles to the west, in mid-North Dakota, just south of the Canadian line. For their long-range hunting activities, however, they moved constantly westward in their pursuit of the buffal0--along the Missouri River and its tributaries, particularly to the Milk, but often west and south again to the valleys of the Teton, the Dearborn, the Sun, and the Marias Rivers. In 1842, Alexander Ross, when he accompanied the hunters, tells of being at the mouth of the Yellow- stone. In his record,7 Ross mentions the names of several Metis who were on the party-Wilkie, Valle, Courchene, and Parisien - all names familiar among these people in Montana today.

Individual members penetrated the now- Montana region, too, often serving as guides for the fur traders. One of them, Jacob Berger (often spelled Bergier or Bercier and always pronounced so by the Metis today) was in the employ of the American Fur Company in 1830. It was he whom Kenneth McKenzie, then in charge of Fort Union, sent into the Black- feet country to induce the hostile tribe to trade with the American Fur Company. So successful was Berger (for he induced a number of the Blackfeet to accompany him to Fort Union) that the following year, McKenzie sent one of his most trust- worthy men, James Kipp, to the Black- feet country. Kipp established Fort Piegan at the mouth of the Marias River, near present-day Lorna, Montana, to tap the rich resources of the Blackfeet trade. The largest and most influential fort operated. on the Upper Missouri by the American Fur Company, Fort Union, was constructed by Metis laborers [8]. Louis Revis, sometimes spelled Revais or Rivets, Augustin "Frenchy" Hamell, and Pierre Cadotte are other Metis names significant in the opening of the fur trade in what is now Montana.

But it was not only with the fur trade that the Metis came into Montana. As the years passed, more and more carts filled with Red River hunters came into the territory and settled in the regions where buffalo were always plentiful. In making this move, the Metis followed somewhat the pattern of their Indian heritage, a nomadic tendency to follow the source of their food. Unlike the Indian, they built cabins and stayed, sometimes for several years. Then, group by group, they returned to relatives and friends in the Pembina region, where after a succession of years of residence, they moved again to 1\IIontana. Thus it was that during the decades of the 1850'5, 1860's, and 1870'5, the creaking carts groaned their way back and forth between the little settlement of Pembina and the unspoiled valleys of Montana.

From old parish registers one learns the names of some Metis who were in Montana during this early period. Many of them remained along the Milk River; others went farther west. Along the tributaries of the Marias River, especially near Dupuyer Creek, the records reveal the names of Guardipee, Morrin, Lespera, Larion, and Trembles. Somewhat south- ward, near present Choteau, the Champaignes, Vivies, Ducharmes, Cardinals, and Moriceaus camped, while in the Sullivan Valley near St. Peter's Mission and not far from the Dearborn River, Gabriel Azure, Modeste Gladeau, and members of the LaSerte and Cadotte families lived. When one of Montana's earliest cattle- men, R. S. Ford, established his holdings in 1872 on the upper reaches of the Sun River, near present Augusta, he employed Metis families that included such names as Sangrey, Jarvais, Landre, LaRance, Swan, Nomee, and Paul.[9]

Perhaps one of the best known settlements (for it became more permanent than did the others who so frequently left their cabins and returned to the Red River) is the one at present Lewistown in central Montana. A group of Metis left the Pembina district in 1870 and headed westward with one particular destination in mind save that of trailing the buffalo. One of the members of the group de- scribed facets of that expedition well when she wrote, shortly before her death in Lewistown in 1943, the following account: [10]

While we roamed the prairies of western Minnesota and the Dakotas, we were always in the same company of people of part Indian blood, and travelled in many groups. We left Walhalla, North Dakota, in 1870 shortly after we were married, and set out travelling all over the Dakotas, just camping here and there without thought of settling permanently at any place, just following the buffalo trails. You might think we lived the life of the real Indians, but one thing we had always-with us which- they did not-religion. Every night we had prayer meeting and just before a buffalo hunt we would see our men on bended knee in prayer. Our men did all the hunting, and we women did all the tanning of the buffalo hides, jerky meat making, pemmican and moccasins. For other supplies, we generally had some trader with us like Francis Janeaux who always had a supply of tea, sugar, tobacco and so on.

Leisurely, the party made its way across North Dakota and followed the Milk River westward into Montana. For nearly seven years the group camped at the big bend of the Milk, northeast of present Malta.

1n 1877, they were living at Chinook when Joseph surrendered his army at the Bear Paw battlefield south of that city. They assisted some Nez Perce stragglers who had eluded capture and were making their way to Canada. Along the Milk River the men hunted, but game became increasingly scarce until suddenly, in the spring of 1879, it seemed to have disappeared completely. Pierre Berger, leader of the group, called the members around him to discuss the situation. He recalled that previously a Cree Indian had told him of a spot across the Missouri River where small game and wild birds were abundant and where the grass grew high. The land sounded promising, so in May, 1879, twenty-five families left the familiar Milk River area in their squeaking carts and started for' this new region. As it was necessary for them to go by way of Fort Benton, and then eastward until they came to the Judith Mountains, it took most of the summer for the group to make the journey.

Here at their destination, the Judith Basin looked fertile and inviting. Berger decided that this area would provide an excellent home site. The twenty -five families built cabins and hurriedly made preparations for the approaching winter. True to the description given by the Cree, game was plentiful. So, during the decade of the 1880's (and at a time when the Metis who remained behind in their accustomed haunts around the Turtle Mountains were starving) the Spring Creek colony flourished. Soon Janeaux established a trading post for them; in time other establishments sprang up, and a colorful Montana frontier village, destined later to become Lewistown, was born. [11] Early Metis occupancy is reflected in the names of two Lewistown streets, Morasse and Ouellette A venues, while Janeaux Street bears the name of their trader .

In 1869, while Montana Territory was being colonized by Red River hunters- at least on a temporary basis - an historical incident occurred that left its mark upon the landless Indians of Montana. It has been a prime cause of confusion about them ever since. When the Hudson's Bay Company relinquished its charter to Rupert's Land, (which comprised all of the prairie provinces of Canada as well as the Northwest territories) and the Dominion of Canada was formed, the Metis in the Red River settlements became dissatisfied. Finally, in 1869, they established a provisional government, a land they called Assiniboia-now Manitoba. Louis Riel, that remarkable Metis, was their leader. When the British success- fully overcame the Metis government, Riel and many of his mixed-blood followers went to the United States. Riel himself eventually came to Montana Territory becoming a naturalized citizen of the United States, at Helena, in 1883.[12] A few years later, the Metis who in the meantime had moved into Saskatchewan, became dis- satisfied with the land policy of the newly- formed province and again revolted against the Canadian government. Louis Riel was called upon to return to Canada and lead them.

Their military leader, Gabriel Dumont, came from Saskatchewan to St. Peter's Mission, near Cascade, Montana, to convince Riel that he should leave his teaching at the mission and re- turn to Canada to head the revolt. The year was 1885. When the British army crushed this second rebellion, more Metis than ever came to the United States, particularly to Montana Territory. Riel, how-ever, was captured by the British, tried for treason, and "Subsequently hanged in Regina. Gabriel Dumont lived for many years in the Lewistown area, particularly near Grass Range where he brought several boys orphaned by the Rebellion to his childless home, but later he returned to Canada, where he died.

No one knows the exact number of the Canadian Metis who came to the United States following the two uprisings. They were of C1'('e extraction but reared in a cultural pattern much like the Chippewa Metis who had lived south of the Interna- tional border for centuries. Their loyalties were with the Cree who had joined them in the 1885 rebellion. (Some of these Cree came to Montana, were granted poli1.ical amnesty, and ultimately were placed on Rocky Boy's reservation.) [13] These Canadian Metis, however , have been the cloud that has obscured the American Metis ever since, for it has been easy to dismiss any mixed-blood Indian, especially one with a French name, as being Canadian. Thus the fiction grew until all Metis were lumped together as Canadian Cree. True, the groups have intermarried, but available evidence indicates that the majority of the landless Indians of Montana today are from the Pembina region-an area which has be- longed to the United States since 1818. Hence it is that one must go to Pembina to establish the actual citizenship of the American Metis.

The United States Census of 1850 for' the Pembina district, Minnesota Territory, gives the names, ages, sexes, occupations, and birthplaces of the 1,116 residents to the area. [14] Reading the list today one recognizes the names of Montana citizenry. Only a random sampling of names indicate their familiarity-Azure, Batock, Beautinau, Belgarde, Bellgard, Berger , Bushman, Cadotte, Caplette, Cardinal, Collins, Delorme, Demon, Falcon, Filcon, Fion, Gardipin, Gingrais, Gladau, Grandbois, Houl, Jerome, LaPierre, Laframbois, Landrie, Landy, LaRock, LaRocque, Laurente, Laverdue, Lonais, Monisette, Montoir, Montreau, Morin, Morrin, Nedeau, Papin, Pappin, Paranteau, Parente, Parisen, Pel- tier, Plouffe, St. Pierre, Trotter, Trottier, V alier, Valle, Vandall, Vivian, Wells, Wilkie.

Along with the Metis in the Pembina area, there lived a small group of Chippewa - probably the farthermost western Chippewa group. Many of them had probably intermarried with the Cree; some of them had French grandparents in their ancestry, while most of them had definite relatives among the American Metis. Like all the other Chippewa, they had at some time or other occupied regions on both sides of the International Boundary .This small band, however, claimed for their area the land lying north of Devil's Lake in North Dakota, a region that included the Turtle Mountains . Their recognized chief and spokesman had been named Little Shell for three generations-grand- father, father and son. When the time came for the American Metis to face the reality that they were Indians, because of the growing demands of the white settlers, it was Little Shell's band to whom they went. By proximity and by marriage they were closely related. Further- more, since the United States Government consistently recognized the Chippewa as an American tribe and effected treaties with them, the Metis felt that since they, too, were now considered Indians, their rights were as significant as were those of their maternal ancestors.

The United States Government designated this small Chippewa group in North Dakota as the "Pembina band." The first treaty with them occurred in 1863 when Alexander Ramsey went to Red Lake, in northern Minnesota, to meet a large delegation in that area. Representatives from the Pembina band and Metis were present, also, and while a right of way was ceded through their territory, Ramsey wrote that "The Pembina Band, who subsist by buffalo hunting, also retain for themselves a tract of country claimed by them, embracing some of the favorite pastures of that animal north and northwest of Devil's Lake. [15] They were, moreover, to receive an annuity of $20,000 per annum for twenty years, with one-fourth of it to be applied to agricultural and other beneficial purposes.

During the next twenty years, irritations mounted. The Pembina band of Chippewa seemed too far away to receive much supervision from the U. S. Indian agents. The Metis straggled away into Montana, again, to follow the buffalo or to find other subsistence as best they could. When, in the early 1880's, the buffalo disappeared, the Pembina band of Chippewa and their mixed-blood relatives began to press strongly their claims upon Washington. Despite the warning of the then Commissioner of Indian Affairs, H. Price, who maintained that the group had as good a title to their land ::IS had any Indians in North America, the government, on October 4, 1882, officially opened nine million acres- the land claimed by the Pembina band- to white settlement. At the same time, two townships, in the south-eastern part of the Turtle Mountains, were retained and by an executive order became a permanent reservation. Two years later, John W. Cramsie, Indian agent at Devil's Lake Agency, wrote the Commissioner and told him that 31 Chippewas and 1,200 mixed bloods were living on the new1y-created reservation. Prophetically, he added: [16]

If poverty and ignorance in abject form is to be found in this world, I know of no better place to seek it than among the half breeds of the Turtle Mountains. With but few exceptions, the half breeds have lived on the buffalo all their lives, and now that their means of subsistence have all disappeared, I cannot tell how they are to make a living without assistance. Fifty thousand dollars worth of stock and farming implements would hardly supply their wants, and without it they will starve or be compelled to steal. Un- less generous aid and instruction are furnished these people, the near future will see our jails and penitentiaries filled to overflowing with their prolific rising generation.

Despite their increasingly destitute condition, the Chippewa and the Metis remained relatively quiet during these years. A sub-agent, E. W. Brenner, reported in 1883, that they did not wish to do any- thing to endanger their friendship with the government while their affairs were pending. "A great danger," he wrote, "is from the mixed bloods living away from the reservation. Many are entitled by blood to the same treatment as those residing here, and in many cases have even better claims than many of the residents. [17] The question, however, of who was an Indian, especially a Turtle Mountain Indian -as the group was beginning to be known-was becoming more acute. It's the same question that has plagued the Metis continually-and unfortunately, still does.

Finally, on August 19, 1890, Congress authorized the President to appoint a com- mission of three persons to negotiate with these Indians for cessation and relinquishment of whatever right or interest they might have to their claim, and for their removal to a settlement upon lands to be selected subject to the approval of Congress. The Commission was charged also to determine the number of Chippewa and the number of mixed bloods that were entitled to the consideration of the government.

But the Commission did not come to the Turtle Mountains at once. The then current chief, Little Shell, like his half- breed relatives, had been forced to wander westward in order to find, subsistence. From Wolf Point, Montana, on August' 28, 1891, Little Shell wrote to the. Commissioner of Indian Affairs arid proposed an agreement whereby he would vacate the Turtle Mountain area in exchange for a reservation on the north side of the Missouri River above the mouth of the Milk. Since the Turtle Mountain lands seemed much more valuable to the white men, Little Shell believed that a cash settlement should be made to his people in addition to their securing a strip of land lying adjacent to the Fort Peck reservation. Commissioner Morgan disposed of the request with the statement that the land desired was part of the public domain and thus could not be given to Little Shell. Morgan did believe, how- ever, that there was sufficient land on the Fort Peck reservation for the Little Shell group to live if they so desired. [18]

Perhaps in anticipation of the day that the Commission would arrive, the United States Indian Agent, John Waugh, ap- pointed a committee of thirty-two men made up of sixteen full-blood Chippewa and sixteen Metis to represent the interest of their people in any transaction with the government in the adjustment of their claims. This committee was appointed in August, 1891 , over a year and a half after the establishment of the Commission by Congress. Coincidentally, Waugh picked the committee during the same month that Little Shell and his party were on the Fort Peck reservation. To many of the Chippewa group, as well as to a goodly number of the Metis, the selection of a committee at this particular time indicated that Agent Waugh wanted a hand-picked group with whom he could work without interference. Furthermore, Waugh selected five members from his committee of thirty-two to go over the list of eligible names, both Chippewa and Metis, and to delete those families or individuals who were not entitled to par- ticipate. As a result, 112 families, comprising 525 individuals were immediately stricken from the rolls. [19]

Finally, in September, 1892, the Com- mission arrived. It was composed of three members, headed by P. J. McCumber. The Commission met in session at the Turtle Mountain Indian Agency beginning September 21 and called for the standing committee's report. (This would be the report of the thirty-two men selected the year previously.) Since this report concerned itself primarily with eligible per- sons, Chief Little Shell and his assistant, Red Thunder, protested forcefully against the dropping of the names of many individuals. Little Shell first spoke to the Commission and pled for the consideration of people who had moved away, particularly for those who had gone to Montana because of dire need for food. Red Thunder succinctly summed up the situation by saying: "When you (the white man) first put your foot upon this land of ours, you found no one but the red man and the Indian woman, by whom you have begotten a large family". Pointing to the Metis present, he added, "These are the children and descendants of that woman; they must be recognized as members of this tribe."[20] Firmly, the Commission Chairman told Little Shell that only the committee appointed by Agent Waugh would be heard, but that once the rolls were established, Little Shell might receive a copy of it. In disgust, Little Shell replied that his group would leave and that he would place his authority in the hands of his attorney, John Bottineau, a member of the tribe and a Metis.

On September 24, the Commission finished hearing the report of the committee and then published the roll of eligible members, Instead of giving a copy to Bottineau, the roll was posted on the doors of the church. When Bottineau saw it; he was astounded at the number of people who had been dropped from the accepted group; and more flabbergasted, yet, when he received the following letter: [21]

U. S. Indian Service Turtle Mountain Agency October 15, 1892

John B. Bottineau, Esq. Belcourt, North Dakota

Sir: As per the enclosed you will observe that all persons except those mentioned in said notice are directed to withdraw from the limits of the reservation. I am instructed by the commission that in the matter of treaty for which a meeting has been called that they are instructed to deal directly with the people and will not recognize an attorney. Trusting that you will govern yourself in accordance with the directions of said notice,

I remain,

Yours truly, John Waugh, u. S. Indian Agent, Per E. W. Brenner, Farmer in Charge.

In 1896 Congress with bureaucratic zeal, ordered all Cree Indians be taken from. Montana soil and shipped to their reservation. This was part of the cruel process photographed on Front Street in Havre, near the present Rocky Boy Reservation.

The enclosure received by Bottineau was the same one that went to all Metis whose names were not on the rolls:

To Whom It May Concern: Notice is hereby given to all parties who are not residents of the Turtle Mountain Reservation, or enrolled as members of the Turtle Mountain Band and accepted by the Commission now present as entitled to participate in any proceedings with the said Commissioners having in view the making of arrangements for a treaty, are hereblJ directed to withdraw from within the limits of the Turtle Mountain Reservation at once or be arrested.

John Waugh, u. S. Indian Agent, Per E. W. Brenner,

Farmer in Charge.

The Commission continued its deliberation with the committee and on October 22 announced its agreement. The Turtle Mountain band of Chippewa, including the Metis who were considered eligible members, agreed to withdraw all claim to the 9,500,000 acre tract of land in the region, except the two townships previously established as a reservation in 1882. For their withdrawal, the government promised to pay the tribe $1,000,000. (Here is the basis for the description of the treaty that is so often given by the Metis of Montana when they mention the incident. The term, "ten-cent treaty," refers to the government's action in taking 9,500,000 acres of land for the sum of $1.000.000. )

Little Shell was aghast. By this wilful action his people's sole remaining re- source was given away for a paltry sum. Moreover, he saw no logic, equity or reason in the arbitrary determination of per- sons "chosen" as constituted members of the Turtle Mountain band; for eligible members often had full brothers or sisters denied membership. Furthermore, he was incensed with what he thought to be the general high-handed tactics of the Commission. Immediately he announced repudiation of the treaty and called his council, La Loge de Soldat, together. On October 24, Chief Little Shell mailed a protest to Washington listing grievances. He reviewed carefully the regular method by which the Chippewa reached an agreement through its Council, to which neither the Appointment nor the action of this committee conformed. He protested against the manner in which his attorney had been ordered off the reservation. And finally, he made specific charges against the Commission, the committee of thirty- two, and the Indian Agent, accusing all of coercion. [22]

There is no evidence to indicate that Little Shell's protest was ever considered. A few weeks later, December 3, 1892, the Secretary of the Interior transmitted the agreement, as concluded by the Commission, to President Harrison, who in turn sent it to Congress for ratification.

Then came long years of waiting. Congress failed to ratify the treaty. The years that followed were marked by un- rest and acrimony, both by Indians and whites. At least one committee of white citizenry appealed to Congress to settle the issue. More Indians had to move west- ward to try to find a livelihood in a land that was fast becoming settled; and even the Government Indian agents were discouraged, frustrated and outraged by the long delay. Finally, on January 26, 1898, Chief Little Shell wrote to his attorney, John Bottineau, who was then in Wash-ington trying to secure some kind of settlement, an impassioned letter: [23]

Belcourt, N. D. January 26, 1898

The chief, Little Shell here speaks:

We are tired, fatigue since so long waiting for the settlement of our claims. Even though we are fatigue, we keep strong-firm-to stay by you and your efforts in our cause ...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 ...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 hungry.

Little Shell, Chief (his x mark)

Sasswein, Henri Poitrat (his x mark)

Gaurin, Baptiste Champagne (his x mark)

Bay-riss, Cuthbert Grant (his x mark)

Written by John B. Reno, Secretary of the Council

The years passed. More Metis moved west. Others came back to the Turtle Mountains to see what had happened during their absence. Despairingly a sympathetic agent, F.0. Getchell, wrote to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs describing the reservation and its people: [24]

Such is the place and such are nearly 2,000 of the people who are besieged in their mountain fastnesses by the peaceful army of the plow that has settled their erstwhile hunting grounds. Here they are held in worse than bondage while they are waiting, waiting, waiting for a settlement with the Government for the lands so settled by the plowman, waiting for a day that never comes, while their chances in the land that was their own is fading, fading away from them. God pity their patient waiting and appoint that it may not have been in vain.

At 1ong last, on April 21, 1904, nearly twelve years after the McCumber Commission presented its report, Congress ratified the so-called treaty. In the final ratification, provision was made that all members of the Turtle Mountain band who were unable to secure land upon the reservation could take homesteads upon any vacant land in the public domain without charge and would still retain their rights to tribal funds, annuities, or other property held by the Turtle Mountain group, provided that such right of alternate selection of homesteads should not be alienated. [25]

But this ratification did not even end the litigation, for on January 19, 1905, the Assistant U. S. Attorney General held that the document signed by the Indians did not give a general release of their claim to the lands in North Dakota; and that ratification could not be complete until such release was obtained. Word was sent to the agreeable Indians, who called a meeting on February 15, 1905, and executed the necessary release. Little Shell and his followers refused to sign.

Now that the final legal entanglements seemed cleared, it appeared that some kind of settlement could be affected. But again, such was not the case. Once more the spectre of the rolls confronted the Indian agents. One agent, Charles L. Davis, writing his report to the U. S. Indian Commissioner for the year 1906, mentioned the trouble by saying that he was attempting to follow the report of the 1892 Commission and that he was adding only those names who had been born to families listed on the original report. He also mentioned that he tried to eliminate such members who "seemed to have discontinued or forfeited their tribal rights by long abandonment."[26] Francis E. Leupp, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, listed the criteria in his report for 1906 by which Indians should be judged, and singled out, as well, those to whom no grants could be given. Those individuals, then, who should be excluded-aside from death- were to include: [27]

1. Applicants coming from Canada after the date of the McCumber treaty.

2. Persons receiving land script or other benefits as Canadian Indians.

3. Applicants not living on the nine-million acre tract at the time of the McCumber treaty unless they can show they were born and raised there and were absent temporarily.

4. Those who may have been living on that tract at the time of the McCumber treaty and who have since permanently removed therefrom are debarred.

How, the Metis wondered, as they heard of the last provision, could they have existed during those fourteen years that had elapsed between the time of the Mc- Cumber treaty and its final execution ?

One of the provisions of the treaty was that Indians unable to secure land on the reservation could file for homesteads on the public domain. During the year 1906, a total of 549 members of the Turtle Mountain band filed on public land. The land office at Devil's Lake, North Dakota, recorded 10 such filings; the one at Minot, 390; the one at Great Falls, 142, and the one at Lewistown, 7. But, in his report for the following year, 1907, Commissioner Leupp stated that there were at least 1,370 Indians for whom no pro- vision had been made and that these included principally the wives and children of the reservation allot tees. "If these Indians are to secure lands it must be from the public domain in North Dakota and Montana," he wrote. "But protests have been made against their taking so much of the public domain in these states, be- cause the lands will remain untaxable as long as they are held in trust by the government."28

So the government concluded its responsibilities toward the Pembina band of Chippewa-fu1l bloods and Metis. What happened then, to the Metis who straggled back to Montana?

The wild game was largely gone; their cabins burned; barbed wire greeted them at every turn, for their timing coincided with the homestead boom that had struck the high plains that once had been their home. A few, like Joseph Dussome, tried to homestead but encountered difficulties -were they or were they not Turtle Mountain Indians and hence qualified to take land on the public domain without payment of fees? Some of them intermarried with enrolled Indians on established reservations where their children at least would have the benefits accorded to them by the government. But most of them were forced to sink deeper and deeper on the social scale. Always confronted by the stigma of being Canadian Cree, these early pioneers of Montana-these Azures, LaPierres, Collins, LaFrambois, Poitras, and all the rest-sought work where they could find it. Many of them congregated on a hill near the fast-growing city of Great Falls-later to be called Hill 57- while others went to the areas they knew and loved the best-Choteau, Augusta, Dupuyer, and the Milk River towns of Havre, Chinook, Malta, and Glasgow.

And here their descendants live today, scorned by both the white and the enrolled lndian populations. All the assistance their forebears gave to the fur traders and to the early stockmen is forgotten. All of their struggle to receive recognition as American citizens after their exclusion from the rolls at the time of the McCumber treaty is unknown. All that is remembered is the erroneous impression that they are Canadian Cree and therefore displaced persons, landless and unwanted.

* * * *

Joseph Dussome still sits in his cabin with his good wife and goes over his papers. He remembers the things that have happened to him-the false hope that has so often been engendered. He remembers the first organization that he effected, "The Abandoned Band of Chippewa Indians," in 1927, which seven years later he had incorporated under the name of "The Landless Indians of Montana." Without rancor, he recalls seeing a group of younger and more aggressive men split from his organization to incorporate one of their own, "The Montana Landless Indians."

He particularly remembers the hope of the 1930 depression years, for then the government promised to buy 37 0000 acres of land lying near Box Elder for the Landless Indians of Montana. The government fulfilled its contract, but the jurisdiction of the land was placed under Rocky Boy's agency, with the Cree inhabitants of that reservation making the decision as to who should be adopted. As he views the adoption, the Canadian Cree -those who came to Montana after the Riel Rebellion-were the adoptees so another dream vanished. The American Metis still wandered.

Dussome recalls, too, the purchase by the government of a forty-acre tract of land near Great Falls in the 1930's. Here was to be a chance for the Indians of Hill 57, the landless ones from the Turtle Mountains, to live in less squalid conditions and to have subsistence garden plots. Too vivid in Dussome's memory is the opposition from Great Falls' residents to the occupancy of the site by the Indians, so the opportunity passed. And then there was the government Resettlement Plan that was almost accomplished, early in the 1940's. In Phillips county, where the Farm Security Administration did remarkable things for white farmers, the plan developed whereby all of the Ben Phillips' pioneer land holdings were to be purchased by the government for the Landless Indians. On this land, experienced Indian farmers would have separate units; inexperienced ones would work cooperatively. But the war came, and the idea became a forgotten one. But hope, even now, is not entirely dead. Joe Dussome still believes that the federal government will eventually pro- vide a rehabilitation program for his people; that the Indian claim to the hunting rights of the Turtle Mountain area will some day be recognized as being as significant as those cultivated rights of the white man; that eventually right will triumph and some of the inequities of the past will be rectified. The trucks from the mines roar by his cabin by day. At night wind blows down from the little canyon past his door. Joseph Dussome sits in his cabin at Zortman and waits, perhaps for a day that never comes.

The cruel aftermath of so many years of mishandling the Metis problem, manifests itself in a shocking" manner at HilI 57 at Great Falls, as evidenced these two photographs.

[1] Joseph Kil1sey Howard's remarkable book. Strange Empire, William Morrow & Co. N. Y. 1952. A professor at Montana State College, Mr. Dusenberry has gained an enviable reputation for a series of significant sociological-historical monographs for this magazine of which this brilliant piece is the latest.

[2] For much "f this information, I am indebted to Mrs. Joseph Dussome, Zortman, Montana, for personal interview.

[3] For an excellent early description of the Metis see "The French Half Breeds of the Northwest," by V. Havard, M.D. Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution for the Year 1879. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880)- 309-327.

[4] Here are sample entries : "1855. The 23 Oct. of, the undersigned travelling missionary of Oregon during a trip to Ft. Benton in Nebraska Territory baptized the following half breeds whose parents are chiefly Canadians attached to the trading post. Rev. James Croke, S. J. Sueqnet Antoine, age 1 year, son of Charles Sueqnet and Mary of the Bloods. The sponsor was Antoine Burdon.
Moran Charles, 1 year old, born to Charles Moran and a Blood woman. The Godfather was Simon Copineau."
"April 25, 1860, I, Adrian Hoecken, S. J. baptized : Champagne Teresa Marie, daughter of Baptiste
Champagne, Metis, and Pauline Agkippian. Born in the month of September, 1859.
Lespera Margaret, daughter to Joseph L'espera, a Metis de la Rivere Rouge, and Siwaka. Born 20 January, 1860. The sponsor was Cadotte."
"Die 25 March 1879, Ego C. Imoda, S. J., in Missione St. Petri coram hibito consensum pervebade praesenti solemniter matrimonio conjunsci Francis- cum Xaverium LaPierre filiam Antonii et Caterntie LaPierre--et Mariam Rosam Swan. filialil Jacobi sr. et Maria Swan. Tests fuerunt l'.rallcl:s LaPierre et Paulus Nomee."
"The 25 of March, 1879, I. C. Imoda, S. J. in the Mission of St. Peter, having been presented with their mutual consent, solemnized the marriage joining Francois Xavier LaPierre, son of Antoine and Catherine LaPierre, and Mary Rose Swan, daughter of James, Sr., and Marie Swan. The witnesses were Frank LaPierre and Paul Nomee."
For this information I gratefully acknowledge the assistance given me by one of my students, Joseph D. Marion, Jr., whose acquaintanceship with the Metis and their problems is unequalled by any other person in Montana.

[5] Harvard, op. cit. 325

[6] Personal interview, John Barrows, Zortman, Montana, 4-14-57.

[7] Alexander Ross. “The Red River Settlement" (London: Smith, Edler and Co., 1856. Reprinted, Minneapolis, Ross and Haines, Inc.1957.)

[8] J.M. Hamilton, From Wilderness to Statehood, (Portland: Binfords & Mort, 1957) 83.

[9] Joseph Marino gave me these family names from his note concerning' the movement of the early-day Metis.

[10] Obituary of Clemence Gourneau Berger, Lewistown Democrat-News December 31; 1943.

[11] Personal Interview, Mrs. Elizabeth Swan, a granddaughter of Pierre Berger and a resident of Lewistown 9-18-56

[12] For the complete and beautifully written story of the Metis in Canada and of the Riel uprisings, see J. K. I Howard's “Strange Empire”, op. cit.

[13] An account of the trouble the Cree had in securing Rocky Boy's reservation appears in “The Rocky Boy Indians" by Verne Dusenberry, Montana Magazine of History, Winter, 1954.

[14]Collections of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. (Bismarck: Tribune State Printers and Binders. 1906) 1.384-405.

[15] Senate Documents 154. 55th Congress, 2d Session. 11.

[16] Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs" 1884, 34-35.

[17] Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for 1888, 41.

[18]Senate Document 154, op. cit. 20.

[19]Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for 1892, 353.

[20] Senate Document 444. 56th Congress. 1st Session. 33-36.

[21] Ibid., 41

[22] Ibid. 31-36.

[23] Senate Document 154, op. cit. 26.

[24] Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for 1903, 22R-229.

[25] 33 Stat. L. 58th Congress, 2d Session, Chapter 1402, 1904. 194

[26] Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for 1906, 281.

[27] Ibid., 154-155.

[28] Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for 1907. 60-63




Bulletin Board
 
Web www.littleshelltribe.com
Little Shell Tribe Contacts
Home News Council Committee Recognition Legal History Genealogy Pictures Resources Culture Our Community

NEWSLETTER SUBSCRIPTION:
The Little Shell Tribe Newsletter is FREE to all Enrolled Tribal Members. It is published 12 months a year and is supported by particle funding by the Little Shell Tobacco Abuse Prevention Program. To place your name on the list for the newsletter, Click Here to get the Address/phone number to request your name and address be placed on the newsletter subscription list. The Contact is Toni Jo Atchison, Tobacco Abuse Prevention Specialist

Toni Jo Atchison, Little Shell Tobacco Abuse Prevention Specialist Announces Tribal Newsletter is FREE to Tribal Members

By the LittleShellTribe.com Webmaster:

Toni Jo Atchison, Little Shell Tribal Tobacco Abuse Prevention Specialist has announced that the Tribal newsletter is FREE to all Enrolled Tribal Members. Previously, a subscription of $10 was required for the newsletter and was published quartely. The subscription cost covered monies that funded the creation, mailing of the newsletter, along with helping with office expenses. Now, with funding provided in part under a contract with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, Montana Tobacco Use Prevention Program, and the Little Shell Tobacco Abuse Prevention Program, the Newsletter will be published 12 months a year. To place your name on the List for the newsletter (if you do not currently receive it), contact Toni Jo at the main office or write a letter requesting your name to be placed on it. Tribal and Non-Tribal members are still welcome and are encourgaged to send donations to the Office to help with tribal expenses.

To view the Little Shell Tribal Tobacco Prevention Program, Click Here

===============================================================
REQUEST FOR DONATIONS FOR OPERATION FUNDS TO
KEEP OUR OFFICES OPEN


In order for the tribal government to operate and represent the members of the Little Shell Tribe through the Federal Recoginition process and enrollment, there is an immediate need for operating funds for office rent, clerical supplies, mailing, telephone services, and copier payments. Any size donation will help our tribe keep the doors open. Many thanks to the people who have contributed to the LST

Webmaster Note: This website and domain is not paid for by any funds sent to the LST. I pay for this out of my own pocket and have donated it's pages to the cause of the Little Shell Tribal members.

================================================================



This Website and Domain is owned and operated by Little Shell Tribal members, It is not operated or controlled by the Government of the Little Shell Tribe. All Rights Reserved. This website is updated and operated by me, Robert Dean Rudeseal. I am an enrolled member of the Little Shell Tribe of Montana and a direct descendant of Pierre Berger and Judith Wilkie who brought the Little Shell Tribe permanently to Montana.

All items on this website are posted in accordance to the Fair Use Laws of the United States of America. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works