Kechewaishke

Portrait of Chief Buffalo. Photo Credit: Wisconsin Historical Society Photographic Collection PH4553, Image 3957.

Kechewaishke (1759 – 1855), also known as Chief Buffalo, Peezhickee, and Le Boeuf, led the Lake Superior Ojibwe people of La Pointe, the location of Madeline Island today. Kechewaishke was instrumental to signing treaty agreements between the Wisconsin Ojibwe people and the United States, beginning with the treaty of 1825 and ending with the treaty of 1854. Known for his work to ensure a conservation of lands for Native Americans in Wisconsin, he resisted aggressive land acquisitions by the United States government. Unlike the physically aggressive means of conflict resolution practiced by neighboring Ojibwe tribe leaders, Kechewaishke was unique for his use of non-violent negotiations with other tribes and the United States government. Just as his people valued his impressive oratorical skills, other Ojibwe tribes from La Pointe began to recognize his skill and recruited him to serve as their spokesperson in negotiations with the United States.[1]

A birch bark version of this image was carried by Oshcabawis to Washington in 1849 when the tribe petitioned the U.S. to adjust boundaries of the 1842 LaPointe treaty. It depicted their authority to speak for the Lake Superior bands today called the Lac Courte Oreilles, St. Croix, Fond du Lac, Red Cliff and Bad River Ojibwe. In the decades that followed, it was also used by the Ojibwe to explain the Sandy Lake tragedy of 1850-51. Contemporary elders say that the lines from the hearts and eyes of the Catfish, Man-fish, Bear, and the three Martens to the heart and eye of the Crane signify that all the headmen shared the same views. The last line, going out from the Crane’s eye, indicated that the entire group had authorized Chief Buffalo (Crane Clan) to speak to President Fillmore on their behalf. Wisconsin Historical Society Image ID: 1871

Kechewaishke first served as an authority representing a group of Native American Ojibwe tribes in the Lake Superior region for the treaties of 1837 and 1842. The Native peoples highly regarded Kechewaishke’s input and delayed the proceedings of the treaty of 1837 until he joined them near modern-day Minneapolis several days later.[2] While details about the Treaty of 1842 signing are scarce, Kechewaishke’s position as a figurehead for these tribes is evident in a letter he wrote several months later. In the letter, he described the treaty and his distaste with the strong-arming of the U.S. Government during the proceedings.[3] The treaties suggest that the United States Government intended to gain control of the La Pointe Band region in Northern and Western Wisconsin to access lumber and metal resources.[4]

At 93 years of age, Kechewaishke traveled to Washington D.C. with a group of Wisconsin- and Minnesota-based tribal leaders to discuss ongoing injustices of land and resource control by the U.S. Government with President Millard Filmore.[5] In response, President Filmore rescinded the previous Indian removal order, going against a precedent of Indian relocation from their homelands seen across the United States.

Illustration of the Washington, D.C. Delegation of Indians. Five Indians pose with a man in a beard and suit. From Benjamin Armstrong, “Early Life Among The Indians.” According to his book, Armstrong went to D.C. with two chiefs and five braves. The image may include Chief Buffalo and Chief O-Sho-Ga, however there is no caption information with the engraving to identify the men in the image. Wisconsin Historical Society Image ID: 3351

Kechewaishke’s role as a leader for the Ojibwe people culminated with the La Pointe Treaty of 1854, which solidified his memory in history. In these negotiations, the Native American leaders ceded most of their land on the Wisconsin shores of Lake Superior to the U.S. Government, in return for a guarantee of annual payments, as well as usufructuary rights.[7] These protections allowed for Native peoples to continue using the ceded lands for hunting, fishing, and gathering purposes, regardless of any laws that would restrict United States citizens from doing so.

Indian Cemetery. Burial grounds at La Point. c. 1918. Wisconsin Historical Society Image ID: 36831.

Not long after, Kechewaishke died in 1855 and is buried at La Pointe Indian Cemetery in modern day Madeline Island.

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FOOTNOTES

[1]William W. Warren, in History of the Ojibways, Based upon Traditions and Oral Statements (St. Paul, MN, 1885), p. 48.

[2] Ronald N Satz, “Appendix 1,” in Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, ed. Carl N Haywood, 1st ed., vol. 79 (Madison, WI: Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letter, 1991), pp. 131-133.

[3] Ronald N. Satz, in Chippewa Treaty Rights: the Reserved Rights of Wisconsin’s Chippewa Indians in Historical Perspective (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1997), p. 40.

[4] “Ojibwe Treaty Rights,” Milwaukee Public Museum, accessed February 2, 2021, https://www.mpm.edu/content/wirp/ICW-110.

[5]“Miskwaabekong History,” Welcome to Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, accessed February 2, 2021, https://www.redcliff-nsn.gov/community/heritage_and_culture/miskwaabekong_history.php.

[6] “Be Sheekee, or Buffalo,” U.S. Senate: Be sheekee, or Buffalo, January 12, 2017, https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/art/artifact/Sculpture_21_00002.htm#bio.

[7] Stone, Andrew. “Treaty of La Pointe, 1854.” MNopedia, Minnesota Historical Society. http://www.mnopedia.org/event/treaty-la-pointe-1854 (accessed February 16, 2021).