Turn of the Century Visitors to Chippewa City*

The following was published in the Sept. 2003 Cook County Historical Society publication, The Overlook, sent to all members. Excerpts are taken from the Diary of Catherine Kirby Jones, owned by the Society. For further information as to membership email history@boreal.org.

By Staci L. Drouillard

Katherine Kirby Jones
Katherine Kirby Jones
(photographer unknown)

The diary of Mrs. Catherine Kirby Jones provides unique insight into every-day life at the turn of the century here on the north shore. Mrs. Jones arrived in Grand Marais in November, 1898 with her husband Dr. Henry Jones and her son, Kirby who had been hired to teach. The doctor had retired from his practice in their East Chatham, NY home. During the first two years of her four year stay Catherine faithfully kept a diary, now owned by the Cook County Historical Society. Kirby, the youngest of her two sons, was an outstanding photographer. Both were frequent visitors to Chippewa City; first as observers, later as friends.

The first month of Mrs. Jones' stay was spent "settling" into the Jones family house, and adjusting to her new community. She talks about entertaining visitors regularly, including the Mayhew's and the Johnson's, two of the first pioneer families to settle in the area. Based on her daily entries, Mrs. Jones is concerned with the day's weather, her son Kirby's activities, her husband's (Dr. Henry Jones) comings-and-goings as well as recording tidbits of local news such as the steamer Dixon's weekly cargo and her discovery that some of the local children "have seen a horse for the first time." Her first mention of Chippewa City was recorded on December 2, one month after her arrival:

"Friday December 2. Kirby still not well and did not teach today. Went to Chippewa City to see a sick Indian, Leonce Caribou. Also some children at Frank LeSages ."

She then reports that her husband made two follow up visits to see "Mr. Caribou" that week. On Thursday, December 7th and 9th, she wrote:

"Dixon came in for the last time and went out giving us a goodbye whistle as she passed out of the harbor. Leonce Caribou died this morning."

"December 9. Weather cold but clear. They made the coffin for Mr. Caribou down at a little carpenter's shop, covered it with black and a long cross on it of wood and drew it by here on a sled. His funeral is to be tomorrow at the little Catholic Church at Chippewa City."

Life had its pleasures also: "Saturday March 11, 1899. In the evening the Cook County Social Club gave an entertainment at the courthouse. Dr. made the opening address and Kirby with the leading part in the drama. For dinner we gave them venison croquettes with cranberry sauce, creamed potatoes, hot biscuits, and suet pudding. Coffee."

Two days later, however: "Monday March 13. Snowed some. Ice again forming in the bay. Indian dogs got our box of meat and carried off a ham."

As Mrs. Jones becomes more comfortable in her new surroundings, and as the spring weather improves, the family's trips to Chippewa City increased. With each visit, Mrs. Jones and Kirby begin to learn more about their Ojibwe neighbors. Armed with a glass-plate camera, Kirby Jones begins to record what Mrs. Jones refers to as the Indians and their surroundings.

"Saturday April 8th. Bright all day. We all went to 'Chippewa' with Dr. Mayhew. While the doctors called on the sick, Kirby and I amused ourselves taking pictures of the Indians and their surroundings. One of the chief and his mother. She was making baskets. Two of a baby in a tikanoggan and several others, and one of the rig we went in."

Four days later Mrs. Jones describes one of the Chippewa City residents in even more detail. It is the first time she provides a detailed description of what have previously been she and her son's anonymous subjects.

Cognoshwa
Cognoshwa, the "pagan" Indian
talked about by Catherine Kirby Jones
(photographer Kirby Jones, her son)

"Wednesday 12 April. An old Indian (a pagan) Cognoshwa or Longbody called on us. His hair is long and black and he is a pure type of Indian. He lost his wife and buried her near their wigwam and for a year or more he spent the greater portion of his time by her grave communing with her spirit. He is a favorite among the whites and they all help him. We gave him a pair of glasses and he was greatly delighted that he could see pictures. Then he asked for a needle and thread and showed he could thread it now--but could not before. He can't speak English so had to make us understand by motions. Mail came at 6pm. Thirty hours late. They came with horse and sleigh from Two Harbors to Beaver Bay on the ice with a ton and a half load. The rest of the way in a boat. Joe Beargrease was in to see if Kirby had a picture of their dog team."

Soon, Cognoshwa became a regular visitor at the Jones home.

"Friday (May) 26. Cloudy. Rained some all day. Cognoshwa called. I gave him lunch as usual. They tell me the Indians will take advantage and come too often but they haven't yet. I nearly always feed them and our coffers still hold out."

"Monday (June) 19. Cognoshawa called and I gave him lunch. Susanna came with two of her grandchildren. I bought two baskets from her--a good sized one and a small round one with birchbark worked in with porcupine quills."

"Thursday 29. Dozens of Indians are waiting here to receive government supplies from the boat."

"Saturday July 1st. The government sent supplies for the Indians and they have been going by all day each family with a new broom, a hammer, axe, rake, pan and nails, teapot and flour. Most of the men used their hats to take home the nails and went bareheaded."

By the summer of 1899, Mrs. Jones and Cognoshwa had become friends.

"Saturday July 15, 1899. Mr. Cognoshawa gave me a bead bag."

"Sunday (July) 30th. Very pleasant. Dr. and I went out for a walk in the afternoon. Called at the five wigwams. Went to Cognoshwa's wife's grave."

Cognoshwa's gift of a bead bag is a traditional gesture of reciprocity. This tradition is important to Ojibwe culture, and teaches us to always give something in return, regardless of what you have to give. Mrs. Jones visit to Cognoshwa's wife's grave is also indicative of the growing kindness and respect between the two.

It is not clear what the five wigwams might be in reference to, Durfee's early drawing show several wigwams in the area of the harbor. Many Chippewa City families, however, lived in traditional housing. Also interesting is Mrs. Jones description of Payment Day; the day that U.S. government annuities were distributed to Ojibwe people as part of the Treaty of 1854.

The Dr and Mrs. Jones remained in the area for a few more years. Kirby continued to be involved in Grand Marais, and later in Duluth. With the help of Mrs. Jones writing and her son's photographs, we are able to learn how the people and cultures saw each other, in that time and in this place, over 100 years ago.

 

 


* Chippewa City is a native American village 1 mile east of Grand Marais. It is believed it was established during the building of the first light house in Grand Marais, c1882, when there were employment opportunities. The forest fires of the early 1900s, especially 1910, destroyed much of the village. Once home to as many as 200 individuals, only the church, St. Francis Xavier's, remains. The crew of the gunship Gopher, sent to Grand Marais to fight the fires, saved the church. On the National Registry of Historic Places, the church is owned by the Cook County Historical Society, and open for limited hours during the summer months.

 

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