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Metea, A Potawatomi Chief
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The strongly marked features of this individual are indicative of his decisive character, and the original cast of his mind. Metea was distinguished as an orator and as a warrior. He was a Pottawatimie of unbounded influence in his tribe, and was esteemed by all who knew him as a man of commanding talents. He resided on the little St. Joseph’s river, about twelve miles from Fort Wayne, in Indiana.
We know little of Metea previous to the unfortunate war between Great Britain and the United States, which commenced in 1812, when his name was prominently connected with one of the most tragic scenes of that conflict. The employment of savages, in the hostilities against our frontier settlements, led to many outrages, but to none more afflicting than the massacre at Chicago. At this solitary spot, far in the wilderness, and entirely detached from any of the populous parts of our country, a small fort had been established, and a few families, supported chiefly by the Indian trade, formed a little village in its vicinity. Captain Heald, the commander, having received orders from General Hull to abandon the post, and retire to Detroit, left the property which could not be moved under charge of a few friendly Indians, and marched out with the garrison, consisting of about fifty regulars. In his train were some females and children, belonging to the garrison, and several families of the village, who were unwilling to remain at this solitary and exposed point, after the withdrawal of the military They had scarcely left their fortress when a band of Indians, who had been watching the motions of this ill-fated party, rushed upon them and commenced the work of extermination. Twenty-five of the regulars, and nearly all of the defenseless persons under their charge, were slain. A few of the soldiers were made prisoners, and a few escaped by means of some of those miraculous chances so common in border warfare. Captain Heald and his wife, who accompanied him, were both wounded. We have seen an accomplished lady, at that time, though married, in the prime of her youth, who was a participator in the horrors of that dreadful scene. She concealed herself for a time by plunging into the lake, on whose borders the bloody tragedy was acted, and at last escaped by placing herself under the protection of a young Indian, whom she knew, and who with some difficulty extricated her from the scene of slaughter, arid conducted her, after many days of perilous and toilsome wandering in the wilderness, in safety to Detroit. Metea was a conspicuous leader in this affair.
When General Harrison inarched to Fort Wayne, in the autumn of 1812, for the purpose of raising the siege of that post, Metea led a party of his tribe to meet and obstruct the advance of the American army. Having posted his men advantageously in a swamp, five miles east of the fort, through which the army of Harrison must pass, he advanced some distance in front of them for the purpose of reconnoitering, and concealed himself behind a tree. General Harrison, who was well skilled in the stratagems of Indian war fare, had thrown his scouts out in front and on the flanks of his line of march; and as one of these was silently picking his way through the bushes, the right arm of Metea, exposed from behind the trunk of a large tree, caught his eye. To throw his rifle to his shoulder, to aim with unerring precision at the only part of his enemy which was visible, and to fire, required but an instant; and the Pottawatimie chief, with his arm broken, retreated, closely pursued, to his men, who, being discovered, raised their ambuscade and retired. When narrating this anecdote afterwards to the gentleman from whom we received it, Metea remarked that he found great difficulty in escaping his pursuers, and saving his gun. He was asked why he did not throw away his gun. to which he replied, “I would rather have lost my life. Had I returned from the battle without my gun, I should have been disgraced; but if I had fallen with my face towards the enemy, my young men would have said that Metea died like a brave.”
Metea was a prominent speaker at the council held at Chicago, in 1821, and afterwards at the treaty of the Wabash, in 1826, and on both occasions gave decisive evidence of talent as a debater. Our informant, who was for many years a member of Congress, and who saw this individual on these and various other public occasions, remarked that he had heard many bursts of eloquence from him, such as were seldom exceeded by any public speaker.
There is an interesting account of this chief in the Narrative of Long’s Second Expedition, performed in 1823, from which we ex tract the following paragraphs, descriptive of an interview with him at Fort Wayne, where the party halted to collect information in regard to the Pottawatimie.
“In order to afford the party an opportunity of obtaining the best information, General Tipton sent for one of the principal chiefs in that vicinity, with whom they conversed two days. The name of this man was Metea, which signifies, in the Pottawatimie language, Kiss me. He was represented to us as being the greatest chief of the nation; we had, however, an opportunity of ascertaining after wards that he was not the principal chief, but that he had, by his talents as a warrior, and his eloquence as an orator, obtained considerable influence in the councils of his nation. He may be considered as a partisan, who, by his military achievements, has se cured to himself the command of an independent tribe. He resides on the St. Joseph, about nine miles from Fort Wayne, at an Indian village called Muskwawasepeotan, The town of the old red wood creek. Being a chief of distinction, he came accompanied by his brother, as his rank required that he should be assisted by some one to light his pipe, and perform such other duties as always devolve upon attendants. Metea appears to be a man of about forty or forty-five years of age. He is a full-blooded Pottawatimie; his stature is about six feet; he has a forbidding aspect, by no means deficient in dignity. His features are strongly marked, and expressive of a haughty and tyrannical disposition; his complexion is dark. Like most of the Pottawatimie whom we met with, he is characterized by a low aquiline and well shaped nose. His eyes are small, elongated, and black; they are not set widely apart. His forehead is low and receding; the facial angle amounts to about eighty. His hair is black, and indicates a slight tendency to curl. His cheek bones are remarkably high and prominent, even for those of an Indian; they are not, however, angular, but present very distinctly the rounded appearance which distinguishes the aboriginal American from the Asiatic. His mouth is large, the upper lip prominent. There is something unpleasant in his looks, owing to his opening one of his eyes wider than the other, and to a scar which he has upon the wing of his nostril. On first inspection his countenance would be considered as expressive of defiance and impetuous daring, but upon closer scrutiny it is found rather to announce obstinate constancy of purpose and sullen fortitude. We behold in him all the characteristics of the Indian warrior to’ perfection. If ever an expression of pity or of the kinder affections belonged to his countenance, it has been driven away by the scenes of bloodshed and cruelty through which he has passed. His dress was old and somewhat dirty, but appeared to have been arranged upon his person with no small degree of care. It consisted of leather leggings, buttoned on the outside, a breechcloth of blue broadcloth, and a short checquered shirt over it; the whole was covered with a blanket, which was secured round his waist by a belt, and hung not ungracefully from his shoulders, generally concealing his right arm, which is rendered useless and somewhat withered from a wound received during the late war, when he attacked, with a small party of Indians, the force that was advancing to the relief of Fort Wayne. His face was carefully painted with vermilion round his left eye. Four feathers, colored with out taste, hung behind, secured to a string which was tied to a lock of his hair. In our second interview with him, he wore a red and white feather in his head, that was covered with other ornaments equally deficient in taste. Mr. Seymour took a likeness of him, which was considered a very striking one by all who knew Metea.” ” The chief was accompanied by his brother, who is much younger, and resembles him, but whose features indicate a more amiable and interesting disposition. We observed that during the interview the latter treated Metea with much respect, always pre paring and lighting his pipe, and never interfering in the conversation unless when addressed by the chief. On entering the room where the gentlemen of the party were, Metea shook hands with the agent, but took no notice of the rest of the company, until General Tipton had explained to him, through his interpreter, the nature of the expedition, the object of his Great Father, the President, in sending it among the Indians, and the information which would be expected from him. He informed him likewise that his time and trouble would be suitably rewarded. The chief then arose from his seat, shook hands with all who were present, told them that he would very willingly reply to all their questions, but that, accord ing to usage, he was bound to repeat to his nation all the questions that should be asked and the replies that he would make; that there were certain points, however, on which he could give no information without having first obtained the formal consent of his community; that on these subjects he would remain silent, while to all others he would reply with cheerfulness; and that after they should have concluded their inquiries, he would likewise ask them some questions upon points which he thought concerned his nation, and to which he trusted they would in like manner reply. He then resumed his seat, and answered with much intelligence, and with a remark able degree of patience, all the questions that were asked of him.”
This minute narrative is not only graphic in relation to the appearance and deportment of Metea, but is highly descriptive of the decorum, the caution, and the gravity of the Indian character.
After the war Metea was in the habit of visiting Maiden annually to receive pay, as he expressed it, for his arm, from his British father. It is probable that he received presents whenever he visited the British posts.
In the latter part of his life Metea became a warm advocate for educating the youth of his tribe; and in 1827, having collected a number of boys, he took them to the agent at Fort Wayne, who sent them to the Choctaw academy in Kentucky.
General Tipton, formerly an agent in the Indian Department, and now a Senator in Congress, to whom we are indebted for the greater part of this sketch, describes Metea as possessing many noble traits of character. He was ambitious and fond of power, but he was brave and generous, giving freely to his friends, and never betraying the littleness of any selfish propensity. He devoted much of his time, and all his care, to the interests of his nation, and was an able and faithful chieftain. With all these good qualities he was the victim of that fatal passion for ardent spirits which has brought such swift destruction upon his race. The last council he attended was at Fort Wayne, in 1827, when several days were spent in a difficult negotiation, during which he attracted attention by the dignity and propriety of his bearing. When the business was concluded he remarked that he must have a frolic, and the agent permitted him to receive a small bottle of spirits; by some secret means he procured more, and unhappily became intoxicated. In a state of frenzy he roamed through the village, demanding liquor; and at last is supposed to have taken a bottle of aqua fortis from the window of a shop, and swallowed the contents, which, in about half an hour, caused his death.
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The History of the Indian Tribes of North America, with Biographical Sketches and Anecdotes of the Principal Chiefs, Embellished with one Hundred Portraits, from the Indian Gallery in the Department of War, at Washington, 1872
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