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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


June 14, 2003 - Issue 89


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Interesting Sidelights on the History of the Early Fur Trade Industry (Part 7)

From The Eau Claire Leader - Sunday August 30, 1925
credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)


Among the many fur trade letters in the possession of Miss Anna Ermatinger two were found written in the Chippewa Language. The earlier one written in 1859 was a beautiful specimen of script. The second letter, written in 1883 was brief, was more ordinary in appearance and was written with lead pencil. Thinking they might prove of interest effort was made to have them translated but this was no easy task. After some correspondence and inquiry was sent to the Chippewa Agency at Cass Lake, Minnesota. The inquiry was turned over to an employee, who very courteously offered to translate the letters if sent; his official designation was Chief of Police, but his principle duty was to act as interpreter for the Indians who did not speak English. He said he was a Carlisle graduate. The letters were sent to him and the translations have just been received, thanks to the kindness of Benjamin Caswell, the interpreter referred to.

Mr. Caswell's letter and the translation are given below. A few words of introduction may be in order. The Warrens and Ermatingers were Protestants. The two brothers Lyman and Truman Warren married daughters of mixed French and Chippewa blood, of Michel Cadotte and his Ojibway wife. The marriage ceremony in both cases was performed by Protestant clergymen, and at least as far as the Lyman Warren family is concerned the children grew up and continued in the Protestant faith. After Truman died his widow married James Ermatinger, also a Protestant. The older of the Ermatinger family attended the Protestant Mission School. It will be recalled that Mr. Wheeler states that William and Alice attended his father's school and lived with the family.

The earlier of the two letters on translation proves to be from a Catholic priest to Mrs. Ermatinger, after this son William had grown to manhood and married. This letter gives an insight into the racial and religious family conditions, which probably were not all that uncommon in these days.

Interpreter's Letter

Case Lake, Minnesota, August 20, 1925,

Mr. William W. Bartlett,
431 Lake Street,
Eau Claire, Wisconsin,

Dear Sir:
Please find enclosed herewith your two letters in the Chippewa language with their translation by me.

I have been unusually busy so that I was unable to put enough time upon the letters to complete the translation of the two letters to do them justice and to myself. Hoping the work will be satisfactory. I am yours cordially, Benjamin Caswell.

Priest's Letter

La Pointe, Wisconsin, February 1, 1859,

To Mrs. Ermatinger, from me, the priest, my child whom I love:

It is my wish that I may be able to call on and to see you and others on my way. I will be very delighted to see you and others. But I may not be able to leave because I am so fully occupied at this station; that I am all alone; and still the further reason that if I should roam frequently about the country, the serenity of our community may not be undisturbed.

At this very moment, I have something that I want to tell you. It is about your son, William and the woman with whom he cohabits there at Bad River, Wisconsin. They are in grave danger of losing their faith. It is true, however that Archange (William's wife) has come spasmodically to the confessional. They are being led astray by people of the other faith with whom they are quite intimate by their own choice. This is the reason why I have great misgivings about William. Therefore, I wish you would use your influence towards making them live in your community in the future.

"If Archange had had the association with good Christian people and had avoided the people of the other faith. I am fearful about their souls. I wish to help them save their souls that will be my one thought to which my labors shall ever be directed to attain that end. I am, however, handicapped at the present time, because I cannot be at Bad River at all times so that I could look after them. This is why I wish that Archange could have the counsel of her mother-in-law and William of his own mother. Such arrangement would be very nice and lovely; they would then be guided by you. This would be better than to allow themselves to be tempted by association with people of the other faith.

Some time last summer, Bishop Baraga gave them permission to receive the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. To date, they have not approached me to be married, although I notified Archange of the permission for the purpose that she in turn notifies William. For this reason, I am unable to understand why they have not come. By moral suasion, you might, induce them to make your community their own. It is probable that you might see a priest who can bless them. Try to lead them to that.

INTERESTING SIDELIGHTS - If they will not heed your counsel in the matter, you shall have to let them live as they have lived. I wish some priest would pray for them so that they may be able to atone for all they evil they have displayed. This is all I have to say to you. Take no offense at all at what I have to say to you. I am compelled to write to you as I have because of my love for them. They are destitute of grace that is why I write to you on their behalf.

I heard one of your nephews is sick. I wish you could see him; it would please me ever so much. I wish he could see a different priest, it might eventuate of his receiving absolution from a strange priest so that his death might be peaceful. I shall remember you and others in my prayers. Let us love our Father, who is in heaven; let us faithfully serve Him; He is all merciful; let us love Him truly for he exceedingly loves us. He wants us at all time to attain the abode in heaven. Let us help Him with all our might. Let us pray often in order that we may disable the devil. Let us run away from everything that is evil as far as we are able. We should at the least avoid the mortal sins so that we may not endanger ourselves; that we may not destroy ourselves and lose the chance of seeing our great good Father. He wants us very much to be saved.

I greet all of you,
I am the Priest.

N.B. If anything does not sound right from your point, you must write to me.

If I have anything that which you and others may ask of me, I will send it to you by public courtesy.

It is probable that you hid (mislaid) the letters I sent to you last fall. I made a slight mistake in one therein. It is about the dates of the fasting. You are to make the corrections. The changes to be made are in the month of September. Put the dates as of the 21st, 23rd, and the 24th, then it will be correct.

Do not expect in me that I would grant reluctantly any request you might make of me just because such a request is a gratuity and repealed often. I am not concerned in the least about the things of this world. I am just satisfied if have something to eat and to wear, etc. If I have little or nothing, I am that much more free in the mind to do and independent work.

Therefore, do not hesitate for any reason at any time to make a request (for aid) of me. That is all.

Second Letter

October 26, 1883.

This was the date I wrote this letter.

My Friend:

I am writing you a few words to let you know how we are getting along. We, both my wife and myself have been indisposed quite frequently. At the present time, we are somewhat in better health.

I heard recently that you, too, were seriously ill. Please let me hear from you about the present state of your health. My friend, I am sojourning here at the parting-of-the-way-by-canoe. The sickness, spinal affliction, I had last winter bothers me again. There is so much I could relate to you were I to see you in person. My friend, this is all I say to you. Please write to your friend (me), who loves you and begs you to favor him with a letter. B.B.

(NOTE: This second letter is of more ordinary type. The noticeable feature of it is the language especially that part where he states "parting-of-the-way-by-canoe.")

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