Indian genealogy infatuates Hawyward man
familiar names of Corbine, Tainter, Gordon, Radisson, Cadotte, Baptiste and
Isham roll off the lips of historians discussing early Wisconsin.
While their contributions were recorded with their names, the acts of many earlier residents -- Native Americans -- and their names probably are lost for all time.
Among Lake Superior bands of Chippewa Indians, names were a part of religion and rarely revealed, much less recorded. Their original names remain unraveled in mysteries.
Names are now blurred
many Chippewas can reflect their family history for generation, names are
blurred. Many Native Americans know their relatives only by names given by
Eldon Marple of rural Hayward devotes many hours to genealogy of northern Wisconsin Indians, specializing in mixed marriages between Chippewas and non-Indians.
Marple, 71, has indexed over 2,300 Indian names. He makes them available as a resource to the community, Indian descendants and heirs, tribal and government officials.
Marple was nine years old when his family moved to the spot where he now lives. His parents left a farm in Missouri to come to northern Wisconsin
At age 15, as a 6' 3", 140 pound farm boy, Marple went to work as a pulp cutter for Bekkadahl Lumber Co., operating in Sawyer County.
great grandmother, Elizabeth Johnson, was part Indian and the wife of Sir
William Johnson, an Indian agent for the British during the French and Indian
"I suppose my interest in Indians was there because of that fact, plus my father had black hair and black eyes and looked Indian to some extent," Marple said.
Has spent 'way too much time'
director of the Northwest District of the Wisconsin Genealogical Society, said
he "suddenly started" recording Indian genealogy about 18 years ago, "and
I've spent way too much time at it."
Last fall, Marple's records were threatened by fire at his house east of Hayward. Marple himself directed firemen's attempts to save most of the valuable historical records in his collection.
Though Marple's house was gutted by the fire, many of the records suffered surprisingly little damage. however, he did lose some pictures and negatives of historical value.
Not only does Marple record Indian genealogy, he has acted as a sort of one-man Sawyer County Historical Society.
his writings are published in "The Visitor," a local brochure distributed mainly to tourists. And he has extensive documents dealing with early roads and trails in northern Wisconsin, as well as other parts of the country.
Indexed some 20,000 Marples
his own family, Marple has indexed some 20,000 Marples in the U.S. Many were
form settlements near Marple's home state of Virginia.
Until the 1830's, Marple reports, the Bureau of Indian Affairs did not register Indians other than chiefs and high-ranking ones, or government employees.
"In practically no place in the United States, though, did the census enter Indians as people with names," Marple said.
"I have a son-in-law who is part Cherokee," Marple said. "His great grandfather is listed as Horatio Westerfield, and his grandmother is listed as 'Indian-female.' That was typical."
Marple's index includes many Native Americans with descendants in the Lac Courte Orielles band of Chippewas.
Data from various sources
index was formed from incidental and detailed information on census rolls,
history books, tribal records, newspapers and private correspondence.
"I make a card on everybody I find, where they are or were, where they're referred to and what about," Marple said.
Relatively little has been written about the Chippewa culture. One source recognized as reliable is Sister M. Inez Hilger's book, "Chippewa Child Life and Its Cultural Background."" It provides some insight to how Chippewas went about naming children.
The book is based on interviews between 1932-40 with 96 Chippewas on nine reservations in the Lake Superior region.
Heavy use of surnames
a Chippewa had no family name, he might have several surnames," Sister
Hilger wrote. "Shortly after birth he was given his Indian name."
It had significant spiritual value, and its origin lay in a dream, she said.
"If he was a crying child or an ailing one, he might be given several additional names. Pet names were given to most small children, and as they grew older they received a nickname. These were usually humorous.
Some given agency names
Indians who did not attend school recalled being given "agency names."
Sister Hilger recorded one account by an early 20th century priest that Chippewas took names "from things of earth and air."
"The man shoots an arrow into the air and notices what is found near the place at which it lands. If this be an animal, insect, stone, grass, tree or something else, his child would be named after it.
"Some have the habit of simply looking into the air and taking a name from wind, weather, clouds, thunder, lightning or whatever appeals to carry their father's name. No one may ever change the name."
Those interviewed by Sister Hilger, however, would not verify the priest's account, and some said they never heard of such an occurrence.
She noted that another 20th century author said: "One of the things about the Ojibways (Chippewas) that seems strange to us is the mystical importance attached to a name, and the concealment of names. No Ojibway man or woman will tell his name, unless he has become very much Americanized."
If a name had to be given, say to be put in some document, and the man is asked his name, he will not give it; but after a long period of hesitation and embarrassment, he will indicate some other man who will tell his name, the author said.
Like releasing secret
man, finally, after prolonged consideration, mentions it (the name), and when it
comes out, a sensation lies over the assembly as if some great secret had been
"Often I have asked a man his wife's name, and after a long hesitation he would confess that he had never heard it. On questioning, he would admit he had been married to her 15 or 20 years.
"This secrecy is about their Ojibway name; about their English name, if they have any, they have no such feeling."
According to Sister Hilger, parents selected their child's name and the namesake was an old person who had been in continuous good health.
Many trappers, traders, explorers and soldiers who came to northern Wisconsin took Indian wives. Many settled along the Chippewa River north of Eau Claire, and in the Lac Courte Orielles lakes areas where trading posts operated along heavily travelled trails.
Would disregard name
an Indian would take a white wife, and in most instances would discard his
Indian name for a "proper" non-Indian name, Marple said.
While it's possible to trace ancestry of non-Indians, "When you come into Indian ancestry, you just can't go back," he said.
"It wasn't customary for Indians to record names. Whites started that. If the Indians didn't have an English or American name, they were given one," he said.
Some whites hide ancestry
whites now will try to hide their Indian ancestry," Marple said. He has
confronted some with the information.
"I will look them right in the eyes and say, well, I'll show you that you do (have Indian heritage)," he said.
"And they will say, "Well, maybe my people were French Canadian or something like that. And they still look puzzled."
"The world has beat a path to my door for what I've gathered and learned," he said.
-- Dave Carlson
Extracted from the Eau
Claire Leader Telegram
Special Publication, Our Story 'The Chippewa Valley and Beyond', published 1976
Used with permission.