Ke-che-wau-ish-ash was an most celebrated Ojibway warrior in the Modern Times. His story as reported to William Warren appears below. It is the story of the last significant Ojibway battles with the Dakota and his death.
From Lee Salzman, History of the First Nations
"The Ojibwe were the largest and most powerful Great Lakes tribe; perhaps the most powerful east of the Mississippi; and quite possibly the most powerful in North America. The Lakota (Sioux) and Apache have gotten better press, but it was the Ojibwe who defeated the Iroquois and forced the Sioux to leave Minnesota. Very few Americans realize that the Ojibwe were a major power. Their location was well north of the main flow of settlement, and their victories over native enemies have never received proper credit. A variety of names (Ojibwe, Chippewa, Bungee, Mississauga, and Saulteaux) and division of their population between Canada and United States has masked their true size. In addition, the Ojibwe never fought with Americans after 1815. Even before this, their participation in wars between Britain and France or fighting Americans in the Ohio Valley was fairly limited. Considering the prowess of Ojibwe warriors, this was probably just as well for the Americans. However, this does not mean they have been ignored by government. As the Chippewa, they signed more treaties with the United States than any other tribe fifty-one! North of the border, the Ojibwe have "touched the pen" more than thirty times with the French, British, and Canadians."
HISTORY OF THE OJIBWAY PEOPLE, William W. Warren, Written in 1852
1885 CHAPTER XIX.
Progress of the Ojibways on the Upper Mississippi.
In order to retaliate on the Dakotas the invasion which they had made on the Upper Mississippi, which resulted in the battle of Crow Wing, and the capturing of their women at Sandy take, the Ojibways, early the following spring, collected a war party nearly two hundred strong who, embarking in their birch canoes, raddled down the current of the Mississippi into the country of their enemies. They discovered no signs of the Dakotas in the course of their journey as far down as the mouth of Crow River, within thirty miles of St. Anthony Falls. Here they left their canoes, anti proceeding across the country to the Minnesota River, they discovered a village of their enemies situated a short distance from its confluence with the Mississippi. The attack on this village, though severely contested by the Dakotas, was perfectly successful, and the war party returned borne with a large number of scalps. The inciddents of this fight were told to me by Waub-o-jeeg (White Fisher), a present living sub-chief of the Mississippi Ojibways, whose grandfather No-ka acted as one of the leaders of this party but as his accounts are somewhat obscure and much mixed with the unnatural, I refrain from giving the details.
This incursion to the Dakota country is, however, notable from the fact, that it is the first visit of the kind which the Ojibways of this section tell of their ancestors having made to the Minnesota River. When the warriors left their homes in the north, it was early spring, and the leaves had not yet budded. On arriving at the Minnesota River, however, they were surprised to find spring far advanced, and the leaves on the trees which shaded its waters, in full bloom. From this circumstance they gave it the name of Osh-ke-bug-e-sebe, denoting "New' Leaf River," which name it has retained among the Ojibways to tbe present day.
A few years after the incursion of No-ka to the Minnesota River, the Ojibways again collected a war party of one hundred and twenty men, and under the leadership of Ke-che-wau-ishe-ashe (Great Marten) a noted warrior, who acted as the war chief of Bi-aus-wah, they embarked in their canoes, and floated down the Mississippi, which they had now learned to make their chief and favorite war course. On their way down die river, the leader every morning deputed a canoe of scouts to proceed some distance in advance of the main body, to search for signs of the enemy, and runners were sent ahead by land, to follow down each bank of the river, to prevent a surprise of the party from an ambuscade of the enemy. Guarded in this manner from any sudden surprise, the Ojibway warriors quietly floated down with the current of the great river On this occasion they had reached a point a short distance above the mouth of Elk River, when the scouts in the foremost canoe, as they were silently paddling down, hugging the eastern bank of the Mississippi, immediately below an extensive bottom of forest trees, heard loud talking and laughing in the Dakota language, on the bank just above them. Instantly they turned the bow of their canoe up stream, and swiftly stealing along close to the bank they escaped undiscovered, behind the point of the heavy wooded bottom, we have mentioned. Here they met the main party of their fellows, whose canoes nearly covered the broad bosom of the river for half a mile. The scouts threw up the water with their paddles as a signal for them to make for the eastern bank, and this signal being made from canoe to canoe, the warriors soon leaped ashore and pulling their canoes upon the grassy bank, they waited but to rub on their faces and bodies the war paints, ornament their heads with eagle plumes, and secure ~ their bodies the pe-na-se-wi-ame, or war medicine sack, they rushed on without order through the wooded bottom, and as they emerged one after another on tile open prairie, they saw a long line of Dakota warriors, about equal in numbers to themselves, walking leisurely along, following the war path against their villages.
They were out of bullet range from the edge of the wood, but the Ojibway warriors rushed out on the open prairie towards them, as if to a feast, and "first come was to be best served." Their war whoop was bravely answered back by the Dakotas who now, for the first time, perceived them, and bullet was returned for bullet. The warriors of both parties leaped continually from side to side, to prevent their enemies from taking a sure aim; and as they stood confronting one another for a few moments on the open prairie, exchanging quick successive volleys, their bodies in continual motion, the plumes on their heads waving to and fro, and uttering their fierce, quick, sharp battle cry, they must have presented a singular and wild appearance. For a short time only, the Dakotas stood the eager onset of the Ojibways. For, seeing warrior after warrior emerging in quick succession from the wood, in a line of half a mile, they began to think that the enemy many times outnumbered them, and under this impression, dropping their blankets and other incumbrances, they turned and fled down the prairie towards the month Elk River. As they ran, they would occasionally turn and fire back at their pursuers. And in this manner, a running fight was kept up for about three miles, when the Dakotas met a large party of their fellows who had come across from the Minnesota River to join them in their excursion against the Qjibways. With this addition, they outnumbered the Ojibways more than double, and the chase was now turned the other way.
The Ojibways, hard pressed by the fresh reinforcements of their enemy, ran up and along the banks of Elk River, till, becoming wearied by their long run, they made a firm stand in a grove of oak trees, which skirt a small prairie near the banks of Elk River. Here the fight was sustained for a long time, the Ojibways firing from the shelter of the oak trees, and the Dakotas digging holes in the ground on the open prairie, and thus gradually approaching the covert of their enemies. The Ojibways, however, manfully stood their ground1 and the Dakotas after losing many lives in the attempt to dislodge them, resorted to a new and singular expedient A strong south wind was blowing, and being the spring of the year, before the green grass bad grown to any length, the prairie was still covered with a thick coating of the last year's dry grass. To this the Dakotas set fire~ and it blowing immediate]y against the Ojibways, the raging flames very soon caused them to leave their covert, and seek for safety in flight. It required the utmost endeavors of their best runners to keep ahead of the flames, and those who had been wounded during the course of the previous conflict, were soon caught and devoured by the raging element.
The Ojibways fled panting for breath, in the dense smoke of the burning prairie, towards the Mississippi, and jumping into its waters, they eventually took refuge on an island. It is said that the froth hung in wide flakes from the lips of the tired warriors as they reached this, their last covert. The Dakotas followed them closely in the wake of the murderous fire which they bad ]it, but they dare not attack them on the island, where they had sought refuge, and from this point, after one of the most terrible combats which is told of thorn in their traditions, both parties returned to their respective villages.
The Ojibways acknowledge to have lost eight of their warriors at the hands of the Dakotas, and three caught arid consumed by the flames. They claim having made a much greater havoc in the ranks of their enemies, especially during the time they fought from the secure shelter of the oak grove. And as the Dakotas have always acknowledged them as being the better shots during battle, it is not at all unlikely that they suffered a severe loss in killed and wounded on this occasion.
On the following year it happened that the Ojibways, to the number of sixty, again proceeded down the Mississippi on a war party, and on the very spot where the preceding year they had accidentally met the Dakotas, they again met them in greater force than ever. From all accounts which I have gathered, the enemy, on this occasion, numbered full four hundred warriors, but the hardy Ojibways, again under the guidance of their brave war-chief, Big Marten, although they first discovered the enemy, refused to retreat, and the camps remained in sight of each other's fires during the first night of their meeting. The Ojibways, however, prepared for the coming battle. They dug holes two or three feet deep in the ground, large enough to hold one and two men, from which they intended to withstand the attack which the Dakotas, through their great superiority of numbers, were expected to make on the following day.
Early the ensuing morning the enemy possessed themselves of a wood which lay within bullet range of the Oji~ way defenses, and the fight actively commenced. Each party fighting from behind secure shelters, the battle was kept up the whole day without much loss to either side. It was only on occasions when an enemy was seen to fall, that the bravest warriors would rush from their coverts, to secure the scalp, and the opposite party as eager to prevent their man from being thus mutilated, would rally about his body, and the conflict between the bravest warriors would be, for a few moments, band to hand, and deadly.
On an occasion of this nature, the Ojibways, towards evening, lost their brave leader, the " Big Marten," who was foremost in every charge, and fighting but little from behind a covert, he had been, during the day, the most prominent mark of the Dakota bullets. At night the enemy retreated, but camped again within sight of the Ojibways, who, discouraged at the loss of their brave war-chief, made a silent retreat during the darkness of the night, and returned to their village at Sandy Lake.
From the circumstance of two battles having been fought in such quick succession on the point of land between the Elk and Mississippi Rivers, this spot has been named by the Ojibways, Me-gaud-e-win-ing, or "Battle Ground."
Ke-che-waub-ish-ash, who fell lamented by his tribe at the last of these two fights, belonged, as his name denotes, to the Clan of the Marten. He was a contemporary of Bi-aus-wah, and the right-hand man of this noted chief. He was the war-chief of the Upper Mississippi, and tradition says, that his arm, above all others, conduced to drive the Dakotas from the country covered by the sources of the great river. While Bi-aus-wah acted as the civil and peace chief; Ke-che-wau-ish-ash influenced the warriors, and when the war was raging between his people and the Dakotas, into his hands its direct management was entrusted. He figured in every important engagement which we have mentioned as taking place between the Sandy Lake Ojibways and their enemies. He was noted for great hardihood and bravery, and he fell at the last, deeply lamented by his people, at Elk River fight, covered with wounds received in a hundred fights He is one the few whose name will long be remembered in Ojibway tradition.