Monday, June 7, 2010

Poygan Paygrounds: Scene of a Sad Chapter in Menominee History

By the time the Menominee Indians gave up large pieces of land, they had already lost most of their members to warfare and diseases. In 1836 the Wisconsin Territory came into being, and in order to get ready for a large influx of white settlers, the Treaty of Cedars was made.

Although Chief Oshkosh made it clear that Governor Henry Dodge had dealt with his people fairly, Charles Velte, author of Historic Lake Poygan (self-published in 1976) asserts "the Indians would have been better off if they had turned their lands over to the government free [of charge]"(page 62). What could be more insensitive than to make such an assertion?

If you read further, some of the accounts of the annual payments made on the south shore of Lake Poygan make Velte's unfortunate statement comprehensible.

Unfortunately, Velte doesn't cite all of his sources so I cannot do so either:

The Treaty of 1836 drew to these annual payments adventurous crowds of all classes of society then on the frontier.... The traders in this area came for the collection of their just accounts for the credits to the Indians during the year. Then there was the peddler and vendor of flash jewelry, beads and colored scarfs who came to attract the Indian to their wares. then the gambler, the sport, and the hanger-on of the frontier to play his game, and all of them came to get their fair share of the money of the Indian, and they all met with fair success. the agent of the United States was usually guarded by a company of soldiers who made some show of protecting the Indians. Temporary eating houses and boarding places were improvised and the scene was one of exciting life; the forest was alive with the hum of these activities (quoted in Velte, page 62).

A history of Winnebago County written by a man named Harney in 1880 is also quoted on pages 62-63:

...the Indians were met by the Government agents, whose duty it was to deal out a small quantity of rusty pork, a few pounds of damaged tobacco, with blankets and some money. A company of soldiers were generally on duty to guard these
treasures from the avarice and cupidity of the hundreds of white men who congregated here as promptly as the natives themselves. White and half breed traders...would invariably manage to be on the ground at pay day. Merchants from all parts of the country, from Green Bay, Appleton, Oshkosh, Milwaukee, Prairie du Chein, Chicago, Detroit, and elsewhere....

Velte also quotes from the journal of an Englishman who visted the Wisconsin Territory in 1841. A Merry Briton in Pioneer Wisconsin was published in 1842 and that book includes a description of the payment procedure as quoted on page 65 of Velte's book:

The moment the last dollar was paid, down went the American flag and the agent and his men rushed to their boats and sheared off from the scene of action. Then the whiskey seller took the field.