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This is the first specimen we have presented of a small though very interesting tribe. The Menominie, or Folles Avoines, inhabit the country between the lakes and the Mississippi river, their principal residence being west of Lake Michigan, whence they stray into the country of the Winnebago, who are their friends. Their language is peculiar and difficult to be learned by white men. Charlevoix says they were not numerous in his time, and they are now reduced to a few thousand souls. The early writers all speak of them in favorable terms, not only as ” very fine men, the best shaped of all Canada,” but as possessing an agreeable personal appearance, indicative of more neatness, and of a greater taste for ornament than that of any other of our north-western Indians. But they are now greatly degenerated, as we have remarked in our historical introduction, in consequence of their intercourse with the whites, and their fatal propensity for ardent spirits.
They are of a lighter complexion than the Indians around them, from whom also they differ in being less fierce and warlike. Though brave, they are peaceable, subsisting chiefly on the wild rice or false oats, from which they derive their French designation, and avoiding, either from indolence or a dislike of war, the quarrels in which their neighbors are continually engaged. The women are patient, obedient, and laborious, and when introduced into the families of the traders residing in the wilderness, are preferred as domestics to those of the other Indian tribes.
We know little of the history of this people. The whites as well as the Indians respect them for their inoffensive habits, but all admit that, when engaged in war, they have always borne themselves with exemplary courage. However their pride may be subdued by circumstances, it is not less than that of the kindred tribes of their race; and evinces itself in the same contempt of danger which marks the conduct of all the aborigines. It is the singular boast of this tribe, that no other nation holds a Menominie as a slave or prisoner. Their invariable rule has been to prefer death to captivity, and when accidentally taken alive, to provoke their captors by the grossest insults to dispatch them on the spot.
Markomete, if still alive, is upwards of seventy years of age. His name, which signifies “Bear’s Oil,” may not seem, to our ears, to be appropriate or in good taste; but as the fat of the bear is esteemed a great delicacy among the Indians, when used as food, besides being valuable for other purposes, the designation may be as honor able in their estimation as to us are those of Caesar or Napoleon. He has been well known as a warrior of excellent repute, a successful hunter, and a man of fair character. He was one of a deputation of his people who visited Washington a few years ago, and though not a chief, was a person of influence.