Probing the Past
Festschrift in Honor of Leo Schelbert
The varied essays included in this book reflect the range of themes former students, who now are scholars in their own right, have been pursuing. The topics of three essays center on North American Indians facing white intruders, another on émigré Hungarians living in Scotland, and one (contributed to this volume by a most esteemed colleague with whom Leo Schelbert shared many a student) on striking women straw workers in Tuscany. Another essay concerns matters relating to those grappling with mental health issues, while others deal with African newcomers in Chicago, Jewish immigrants to America who first worked as peddlers, contemporary Polish American politics in Chicago, and also with a nineteenth-century Swiss American theologian. Two of the last three essays honor Leo Schelbert’s work as a colleague and historian apart from the university setting, whereas the final one honors Leo Schelbert as a teacher as well as the Department of History at UIC in which its Swiss-born member worked from 1971 to 2003.
Table Of Contents
- About the author
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- Part One: Essays
- Reinterpreting Historical Evidence: The Existence of Numerous Menominee Villages at the Time of Earliest European Contact
- Finding a New Home: Hungarian Emigrés in Scotland
- African Newcomers in Chicago: The Struggle for Permanence Versus the Desire to Return
- Wandering Jews: Peddlers, Immigrants, and the Discovery of “New Worlds”
- The Gaelic American and the Shaping of Irish-American Opinion, 1903–1914
- Justice in Mental Health: A Better Foundation for the Expansion of Peer Support
- Pioneers and Native Peoples: The Discrepancy between Historical Scholarship and Its Popular Presentation in the United States and Switzerland
- “Pane e Lavoro”: Agrarian Strikes of Women Straw Workers in Tuscan Contado, 1896–1897
- Losing Clout: Nancy Kaszak Versus Rahm Emanuel and the Decline of Polish American Politics in Chicago
- Philip Schaff, Marginal Men and Academic Freedom
- Different but Equally Ingenious: Benjamin Lee Whorf (1897–1941), a Pioneer in Understanding the Equivalence of the Western and the North American Indian Mind
- Part Two: Assessments
- History Seen Through Multiple Lenses: Leo Schelbert and the Swiss American Historical Society
- The Battle against Forgetting
- A Scholar’s Journey to the Open: An Appreciation
- Curriculum Vitae and Publications of Leo Schelbert
- Index of Personal Names
- Index of Ethnic and National Names
- Index of Geographic Names
This Festschrift acknowledges the scholarly work of Leo Schelbert and his mentorship of graduate students in the Department of History at the University of Illinois at Chicago where for 33 years he taught American history. Professor Schelbert has specialized in the story of European migrations and especially of immigration to the United States. His courses offered not only pertinent data, but they also raised theoretical issues to which historical work is tied inescapably.
The varied essays included in this book reflect the range of themes former students, who now are scholars in their own right, have been pursuing. The topics of three essays center on North American Indians facing white intruders, another on émigré Hungarians living in Scotland, and one on striking women straw workers in Tuscany—contributed to this volume by a most esteemed colleague with whom Leo Schelbert shared many a student. Another essay concerns matters relating to those grappling with mental health issues, while others deal with African newcomers in Chicago, Jewish immigrants to America who first worked as peddlers, contemporary Polish American politics in Chicago, and also with a nineteenth century Swiss American theologian. To highlight Schelbert’s orientation as a historian, one of his recent unpublished essays concludes the first section. Two of the last three entries honor Leo Schelbert’s work as a colleague and historian apart from the university setting, whereas the final one honors Leo Schelbert as a teacher and also the Department of History at UIC in which its Swiss-born member worked from 1971 to 2003 and who continues his scholarly pursuits.
I am grateful to Virginia Schelbert for her assistance in gathering the contracts and compiling the List of Contributors page and to Bill Everham for his year-long editorial and technical help. ← ix | 1 →
Reinterpreting Historical Evidence: The Existence of Numerous Menominee Villages at the Time of Earliest European Contact1
In the field of American Indian history, we scholars too often uncritically rely on previous scholarly analysis of documents to help form the basis of our assumptions. This is especially true when the data does not appear to be central to our argument. We therefore perpetuate and strengthen misinterpretations, albeit unintentionally. So it happened in the case of the Menominee Indian nation of Wisconsin that one otherwise thorough scholar misread French documentation of Menominee demography. His incorrect reporting influenced scholars’ and the reading public’s understanding of the tribe’s demographic history which continued to be repeated erroneously for several decades. Menominee people knew the more accurate version, however, and that is reflected in the historical record as well.
Inaccurate scholarship gains a life of its own. Simply because it is written, many readers accept it. The modern ramifications for this are far-reaching and even can become part of the legal system. Although Menominee territorial claims have been clearly established and long-accepted—an 1853 Senate report showed the tribe originally to have American legal claims to more than ← 3 | 4 → eight million acres of land, in itself probably an underestimate2—arguments like the one discussed here can undermine a tribe’s proper claims. This has impacted Menominee treaty claims and, more recently, the tribe’s attempts to establish a casino in Kenosha, Wisconsin, a portion of the tribe’s territorial usage area. The constantly evolving federal policy in relation to Indian land and resources provides another reason to constantly reassess the state of scholarship.3
Much of our understanding of the boundaries of traditional tribal territories is based on what are referred to as the “Royce maps.” Charles Royce created the Royce maps for his Indian Land Cessions in the United States published in 1899.4 These were based on treaty documentation and have been extensively used in claims cases including those before the Indian Claims Commission. They are viewed as the authoritative source on the extent of tribal lands at the time of treaty negotiations, and this often becomes a definition of the extent of traditional tribal territory. Despite their reputation, the maps present two problems related to understanding the historical extent of tribal territories.
First, the treaties were made at a moment frozen in time in relative terms. They did not recognize the historic changes that occurred in centuries previous to their negotiation (which was not their intent anyway). Thus when tribal land bases and usage occurred prior to the nineteenth century, they were not accounted for. As the historian Christian McMillen observed in his groundbreaking work on the development of the Indian claims process, the legal system adopted a methodology that oversimplified and distorted the history of tribal land usage. The law developed this way in part because in the 1940s and 1950s with the establishment of the Indian Claims Commission, it was very unusual for the government even to recognize that Indians used the land unless they were sedentary farmers. The extent of Indian use ← 4 | 5 → of lands they did not live on after treaty-making largely was ignored in this legal context.5
The second problem of the Royce maps is related to the first. The maps generally define each piece of land as belonging to a single tribe or a group of tribes involved in the treaty that defined the land base since it was the policy of the United States’ policy not to purchase land more than once. If land ownership was disputed, this meant that whoever ceded the land first was compensated and, therefore, the land also was defined exclusively as theirs. This system did not recognize multiple use of land if all parties did not participate fully in the treaty process.
In fact, the legal system adopted a fiction of “exclusive occupancy” of the land that fails to comport with reality. As a result of this, McMillen observes, “In the early years of land claims this meant that the fluidity of the native past had to be denied, modified, glossed over, or simply never found by scholars searching for stability. The complexity of the past conflicted with the simplifications required by property law…. Because boundary lines did not exist in the fashion required by western notions of property, conflicting claims to common territory, for example, have caused the courts and native people significant problems.”6
Menominee country extends far beyond the current reservation land and even beyond the lands that the tribe ceded during its nineteenth century treaties. This is true to the north, to the west, and to the south of the Royce-defined Menominee territory and includes lands that even historians of the tribe have at times failed to recognize. The shrinkage of Menominee territory has two basic foundations, one in the treaty-making era that informed the creation of the Royce maps, and the other in the misinterpretation of historical sources by the tribe’s best known ethnographer of the early twentieth century, Felix Keesing (1902–1961).
The conventional scholarly version of Menominee demography following Keesing claims the Menominee was a nation in ruins by the time of permanent French arrival in their country in the latter half of the seventeenth century. In this view, the Menominee consisted of a tiny population settled in one village at the mouth of what we now call the Menominee River on the border of Wisconsin and Michigan’s upper peninsula. Menominee people knowledgeable about the tribe’s history, however, long maintained that the ← 5 | 6 → tribe lived in several villages at the time. A careful reading of the same French documentation used by Keesing supports the Menominee view.
Keesing, an anthropologist who studied the Menominee in the 1930s and in 1939 published what was long considered the best overall history of the tribe,7 argued that by 1667 when French trader and diplomat Nicolas Perrot (c.1644–1717) visited the Menominee, the tribe was “a mere remnant, decimated by war and probably occupying only one village this at the mouth of the Menominee River.” He held that by 1760, the tribe split into two and after 1780, divided into numerous other bands, each living in separate villages.8
Population decline indeed must have been serious for the Menominee in the wake of the European diseases which swept through their country. Unfortunately, written records do not indicate specific epidemics affecting Menominee country until 1757, when more than 300 Menominee warriors died of smallpox contracted while fighting in the French and Indian War against the British.9 This is only three years before Keesing suggests the tribe had grown enough to begin expanding. Nonetheless, Menominees travelled to Montreal to trade and came into regular contact with tribes and Frenchmen from the east, so they would have been affected by the various epidemics that ravaged the Great Lakes region beginning as early as the 1630s. Despite this, the tribe maintained several villages in its traditional homeland. Menominee territory extended from the Wisconsin-Michigan border in the north, southward ← 6 | 7 → through Milwaukee to what is now the Illinois-Iowa border and westward into present-day Minnesota. The core of this territory spread north, west and south of the current location of the city of Green Bay.
According to the Menominee Historic Preservation Department, “For untold centuries the Menominee people occupied a vast territory of what is now Wisconsin, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Minnesota, and the northern portion of Illinois, including Chicago.” Menominee oral tradition claims that the tribe originated in two sites: at the mouth of the Menominee River and at Lake Winnebago. The Bear, Eagle, Moose, Crane and Wolf clans originated there “and from these clans came sub-groupings.” Two thunderbirds formed the Big Thunder Clan on the shores of Lake Winnebago. The thunder people later visited the Bear village to exchange foods, and the tribe was founded.10
Alanson Skinner (1885–1925), an ethnologist working among the Menominee in the early twentieth century, used oral history to list 17 bands based on their original location. Keesing agreed that the tribe had several original locations, implying that all villages but one were destroyed or abandoned before the arrival of the Europeans. Besides the oldest band and starting from the mouth of the Menominee river, Skinner counted three bands as “original” or “ancient,” one as probably original, three as old but not original and the rest as recent. He assumed that after the arrival of the whites, these groups fragmented and were replaced by bands identified by the leaders with whom they were associated. The “original” bands all lived on rivers which fed into Green Bay. These included the Pike Place people at the Oconto River’s mouth, the Peshtigo River people and the Great Sand Bar people who lived at the Big Suamico River. The Sturgeon Bay band Skinner lists as “likely an original group.” Offshoots or more recent groups included those that lived south of the present city of Green Bay, those that lived on inland lakes and rivers and some attracted to white trading centers.11 ← 7 | 8 →
Interestingly, Skinner’s work was largely confined to the northern reaches of Menominee country probably because he worked primarily with the Menominee cultural broker John Satterlee (c.1852–1940) as a consultant. Satterlee, in fact, served as consultant, or “informant” in the language of the times, to numerous scholars who visited the Menominee in the early twentieth century. Satterlee was born in the North “on an island in the river between the two cities, Menominee, Michigan and Marinette, Wisconsin.”12 As a result, Skinner was well-versed in the lore and tradition of the northern bands of the Menominee including those tribal members who stayed in the Menominee-Marinette region rather than moving to the reservation in the 1850s.13 He was not as familiar with those in similar conditions in southern Menominee country.
The tribe’s story of origin also suggests the existence of several Menominee bands which predated the fur trade and were located in several villages along Green Bay and south of the present-day city of Green Bay. Each band had its own fishing, hunting and maple sugar grounds, moving seasonally from one to another. Early nineteenth century oral history, recorded in both Menominee and English, also shows that the Menominee tribe did not consist of a single band on the Menominee River. Ethnographer Edwin James (1797–1861) wrote that the Menominee referred to themselves saying “‘long ago/(had) many/towns/the men (Menominee)’.” “Long ago” implies a reference far in the past, long predating the beginning of the 1800s. In this telling, Menominee country included the Little Kakalin falls at the Fox River, south of Green Bay, for example.14
Perrot himself failed to mention the Menominee in his work which is still available to us, but Claude Charles Le Roy, Sieur de Bacqueville de la Potherie, writing in the early eighteenth century, is widely accepted as basing his work on Perrot’s lost writings, so his views are accepted as a mouthpiece for Perrot’s.15 ← 8 | 9 →
Based on Perrot, La Potherie claimed that the Menominee numbered less than 40 and subsisted on the sturgeon “in their river.” He referred to the village on the Menominee River; the number may have included only men. But he also described a village at the entrance to Green Bay composed of Menominee, Potawatomi, Sauk and others. According to La Potherie, “When first known to the whites,” the Menominee lived on the Menominee River and the Bay de Noque.16 The latter lies along the shoreline north of the Menominee River and the opening from Green Bay into Lake Michigan as a sort of northern extension of the bay. Even La Potherie presents evidence contrary to the historians’ assertions, including his own, that upon Perrot’s arrival, the Menominee lived in only one village.
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- Publication date
- 2015 (June)
- Swiss Migration Migrationsforschung Immigration North American Decline Fremdenfeindlichkeit Emigration
- New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 234 pp., num. ill.