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The Coming of the Mississaga

Retribution, though long delayed, overtook the Iroquois at last. The avengers of the Huron nation were the Mississaga, an Algonquin tribe from near Sault Ste Marie, who trace their lineage back to the Shawnees of Kentucky. Early in the 18th century, hunting parties of the Mississaga started drifting down over central and western Ontario. Here they were set upon and massacred by the Iroquois. The outcome was a Mississaga council of war in 1740 and the launching of a great punitive expedition against the enemy. The story of that grand foray, as handed down in Mississaga tradition, makes stirring reading. The conflict opened with the annihilation of a Mohawk force on the "Island of Skulls" in Georgian Bay. In Victoria County the Iroquois resistance stiffened, and eight swift, bloody battles had to be won before the Mississaga could slash their way through to the east. Near Coboconk, on Lots 18 and 19, Gull River Range, one may still see the pits from which beleaguered Mohawks fought to the death. Another party was wiped out on a small island off Indian Point, Balsam Lake, and just west of the modern steamboat channel. A band of Iroquois were ambushed in the valley of Goose Lake, north of Cambray and slaughtered there. Other parties clashed at Sturgeon Point and Ball Point, and some, who retreated up the Scugog past Lindsay made their last stand at Caesarea, on the east shore of Scugog Lake, and at Washburn's Island. At the latter place, the warriors fought in the shallows up to their waists in water, and for long years afterwards the waves kept washing human bones up on the beach. Still another party was cut down on Lot 28, Concession 7, Verulam, about five miles north-northwest of Bobcaygeon. Then the exultant Mississaga swarmed eastward down the Trent system.

But the warlike Iroquois were not yet wholly discomfited. They borough, and then fell back on their Rice Lake encampments. Here, from the mouth of the Otonabee six miles east to Roach's Point, ensued one of the bitterest and most sanguinary struggles in the history of Indian warfare. It was no surprise attack but a pitched battle fought by checked the Mississaga rush for a moment at Cemetery Point, Peterland and by water and contested every foot of the way with amazing ferocity and determination. Over a thousand Iroquois had died fighting, before their party broke and fled. There was a brief rally at Cameron's Point, near the foot of the lake ,but the struggle was really over, and the Mohawks were soon in full retreat towards Lake Ontario, with the Mississaga in pursuit. Nor was this the end of this stirring campaign; for the Mississaga expedition actually crossed into New York State, besieged the Iroquois in their villages there, and enforced a treaty by which the Mississaga were admitted as an additional tribe in the Iroquois Confederacy.

The Days of Mississaga Settlement

A general migration from their northern home into the land thus 132 cleared of Mohawks, was the immediate result of this season of Mississaga warfare. From 1746 to 1750 they fought with the Iroquois against the French, but suffered reverses and withdrew from the Confederacy. However, they continued to occupy Southern Ontario. Victoria County, for the first time in 150 years, was again, dotted with villages, though not as thickly as in Huron times.

Fifteen of these Mississaga villages in or adjacent to the County have been listed as follows:
(1). West half lots 8 and 9, Concession 6, Ops, near Stony Creek (or East Cross Creek). Owner, Mr. Carlin.
(2). Lot 10, Con. 3, Ops, at the mouth of West Cross Creek. Owner, Jas. Roach.
(3). On the shore of Scugog Lake, just south of Port Perry.
(4). On Lot 5, Con. 11, Verulam, Mr. M. Killaby, owner. This is a sandy site about fifty rods from Pigeon Lake.
(5). At Pleasant Point, Sturgeon Lake.
(6). On the site of the Presbyterian manse, Cambray village.
(7). On the west part of Lot 26, Con. 4, Fenelon, Mr. Archibald McArthur, owner. This village was on a terrace touching the shore of South Bay, Balsam Lake.
(8). Lot 29, Con. 3, Fenelon, on east shore of Long Point, just across South Bay from the previous site. Owner, Mr. F. Staples.
(9). Lot 21, Con. 9, Eldon, Donald Fraser, owner.
(10). Southeast corner, Indian Point, Balsam Lake. Owner, Mr. J. H. Carnegie.
(11). Lots 19 and 20, Gull River Range, Bexley, near Coboconk. Owner, Mr. J. Moore.
(12). Lot 24, Con. 2, Somerville, J. Ead, owner.
(13). East half Lot 1, Con. 8, Laxton, Wm. Campbell, owner. This is on a flat on the south shore of Deer Lake.
(14). Lot 12, Con. 7, Laxton. David Hilton, owner.
(15). Lot 18, Con. 4, Carden, J. Chrysler, owner. This is on the east side of Lower Mud Lake.

The Mississaga were a tall race, characterized by fine' physique and a heavy, prominent nose. They probably equaled the Iroquois in bravery and strength but lacked their solidity of character and capacity for organization. Their prowess in war needs no vindication, but they never established a strong, concentrated civilization after the manner of the Iroquois and the Huron. They depended far more on hunting and fishing than on agriculture, and so lived in small, scattered groups throughout their domain. Their homes were not the rectangular bark lodges of Iroquoian peoples, but round wigwams built by planting poles in a circle, tying their tops together, and fastening birch bark or grass mats around the outside as walls.

From this period dates a "deer fence," which was found, in pioneer days, running east from Goose Lake, near Cambray, to Sturgeon Lake, five miles away. This fence was made by felling trees in a long row and piling brush along them. Gaps were left at intervals, and here hunters would take their places while beaters drove the deer along the fence. The frightened animals would pass through the gaps and there be shot down at a point blank range that made arrows fatal.

From this era, too, dates the legend of Manita. In the version told me by Johnston Paudash, son of the Mississaga Chief at the Nanabazhoo Reserve, Rice Lake, Manita or Nomena ("light of love") was the daughter of a great Mississaga chief who lived at Pleasant Point, Sturgeon Lake. Ogemah, an Iroquois chief, paddled alone from his own country to ask for her in marriage, but was murdered by a jealous Mississaga brave. About 1886 a poem on this theme was published in Lindsay by the late Mr. William McDonnell. This poem is a pretty little idyll, but as a portrayal of Indian psychology it is hopelessly sentimental and therefore unbelievable. It also substitutes Huron for Mississaga, Sturgeon Point for Pleasant Point and brings Ogemah on the stage by way of Lindsay, the wrong direction entirely.

Mr. Paudash also assured me that the war paint used by Indians was for the purpose of camouflage in the forest. This device would therefore antedate the Great War by several centuries. The Indians also had ,a system of signaling with the arms, much like the "semaphore" system, but each position of the arms represented a syllable and not a letter. They also signaled by passing a deerskin in front of a fire light in a fashion that foreshadowed the heliograph.

The Surrender of the Soil

In 1763, by the Peace of Paris, France relinquished to England all claim on Canada. In the same year, the English issued a proclamation conceding to the Indians the right of occupancy upon their old hunting grounds and their claim to compensation for its surrender.

In accordance with this policy, the English government treated for and obtained in 1784 a formal cession of the tier of townships now fronting on Lake Ontario from Toronto east to Trenton. This satisfied the land hunger of Anglo-Saxon, colonists for more than three decades, but its area was not permanently adequate. At last, on November 5, 1818, the chiefs of the six Mississaga tribes, Buckquaquet of the Eagles, Pishikinse of the Reindeers, Paudash of the Cranes, Cahgahkishinse of the Pike, Cahgagewin of the Snakes, and Pininse of the White Oaks, were summoned to Port Hope. There they sold to the Crown a great block of land comprising the modern counties of Peterborough and Victoria, and twenty-eight adjoining townships or parts of townships in Hastings, Northumberland, Durham, Ontario, Muskoka and Haliburton.

For this tract, comprising well over two million acres, the purchase price was set at 740 in goods to be delivered yearly forever to the Mississaga tribes of the district. After this contract had been signed, however, the Deputy Superintendent General of Indian Affairs added a strange postscript announcing that the government proposed to issue only ten dollars in goods annually to each man, woman and child alive at the time of the sale. This payment would cease with their death; and individuals born after November 5, 1818, would receive nothing. Thus, by a stroke of chicanery, fifty-seven Ontario townships passed to the white man for a brief dole of merchandise. (See "Indian Treaties and Surrenders," Vol. I, page 49, published by the King's Printer, Ottawa.)

The history of the Mississaga since contact with the white man has been a slow tragedy. Originally numbering several thousands, they were so debauched by the white man's whiskey and so ravaged by the white man's diseases that only a few hundred were left by the second quarter of last century. They presented a constant problem to the government, for their unprofitable occupation of good land aroused much covetousness, while their frank and trustful natures made them an easy prey to a swarm of swindlers. Certain small reservations of land were at last bought or set aside for them by the Crown. Here they still live. They have adopted the Christian religion and a measure of Anglo-Saxon civilization, but their old traditions and instincts die hard. In 1911, the Mississaga totaled 831, and were located in reserves on Rice Lake, Mud Lake, Scugog Lake and the Credit River. Victoria County, once part of their wild domain, has passed almost completely into other hands.

Annals of the Red Man

Victoria County

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