The History of the Butterfly, Part 124: Poweshiek meets John Ross

In the November 25, 1837 Niles National Register, a speech made by John Ross to some of the Seminoles is reprinted.  In it, he mentions that he has recently met with the chiefs of several northern tribes, and that the group included Black Hawk.  None of the other chiefs are mentioned by name.

I don’t know of any other mention of the meeting and I suspect no other information exists about it.  Nevertheless, I think this meeting was one of the most significant events in the life of Poweshiek.  I think that Poweshiek was an attentive and capable student of John Ross, even if they met only briefly.

John Ross was the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.  He was fighting the cruel infrastructure of Indian Removal.  Unlike others on the same mission, Ross understood the system and used it.  He petitioned Congress and used the court system—even the Supreme Court.  He got away from the two other choices, violence or negotiations with the “Great Father.”

Did John Ross lay the foundation that allowed Poweshiek to understand the way things work?

In the 1850s the Meskwaki decided to purchase land and settle back in Iowa.  They got some local citizens to sign a petition to allow them to stay and they went through the State Legislature to change the laws to allow them to own land.  Those tactics seem a little like the tactics John Ross was using.

Part of the strategy of the federal government with the Indian treaty negotiations was to send them on tours of the large eastern cities.  This would impress upon them how powerful the United States was, so that fighting would be a less desirable option.

The group of Sac and Fox were especially well received in Boston.  They gave speeches to huge crowds.  Many of those speeches were written down.  The meeting with John Ross probably occurred about two weeks before this speech that Poweshiek gave while in Boston:

“You have heard what my chiefs have to say.  They are much gratified with their visit to this town.  They were invited to the council house of my brother on Saturday, and today they are brought to this council hall.  They are much pleased with these attentions, and will not forget them.  Though I am not now able to reward you for these kindnesses, I hope the Great Spirit will reward you for them.  This is the place where our tribe once lived.  I have often heard my father and grandfather say that they once lived by the sea-coast where the white man first came.  I wish I had a book, and could read in it all these things.  I have been told that that is the way you get all your knowledge.  As far as I can understand the language of the white people, it appears to me that the Americans have reached a high stand among the white people—that very few could overpower them.  It is the same with regard to us—though I say it.  Where I live I am looked up to by others, and they all respect me.  I am very happy that two great men like you and I should meet and shake hands together.”


About the roused bear

Nature photographer from central Iowa.
This entry was posted in American Indians, Meskwaki, Poweshiek, The History of the Butterfly and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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