Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Chief Keesh-ke-mun leads Ojibway Nation

One of the most notable of Izzy Navarre’s grandparents was Chief Keesh-ke-mun, called by the French "La Pierre a’ affiler" or "Sharpened Stone." He was the celebrated chief of the Lac du Flambeau band of Ojibwe Indians (also known as Ojibwa, Ojibway, Chippewa or Chippeway). He was Izzy’s 4th great-grandfather.


In 1671 the French held a great convocation of tribes at Sault Ste. Marie and tradition has it that Ke-che-ne-zuh-yauh (Keesh-ke-mum’s grandfather), the head of their family, was recognized as principal chief over the Ojibway tribe. A gold medal shaped like a heart was placed on the breast of Ke-che-ne-zuh-yauh, and by this mark of honor he was recognized as the chief of the Lake Superior Ojibways. On his death this gold medal was buried with him, through the notion that he should appear in the land of the spirits with the same honors which had attended him on earth. His grave was located on the shores of Shag-a-waum-ik-ong Bay. In 1850 it was carefully searched for by some of his descendants to recover the medal, but the grave was found to have been swept away by high water.


In the early 1700′s the Ojibways took possession of the head-waters of the Wisconsin River after extensive battles with their hated enemies, the Dakotas. The pioneer chieftain of this extensive district of country, was named Sha-da-wish (Bad Pelican), Keesh-ke-mun’s father. The French early designated that portion of the tribe who occupied the head-waters of the Wisconsin, as the Lac du Flambeau band since they located their central village or summer residence at the lake known by this name. The Ojibways term it Wauswag-im-ing (Lake of Torches), from the custom of spearing fish by torch-light, early practiced by the hunters of their tribe who first took possession of it.  Before eventually permanently locating their village at this lake, the Ojibways, under their leader, Sha-da-wish, made protracted stands at Trout Lake and Turtle Portage, and it was not till the times of his successor and son, Keesh-ke-mun, that this band proceeded as far west as Lac du Flambeau about 1745. The area has remained a permanent Ojibwe (Chippewa) settlement ever since.

The Crane Clan

The Ojibwe people were divided into a number of odoodeman (clans; singular: doodem) named primarily for animals and birds totems (pronounced doodem). The five original totems were Wawaazisii (Bullhead), Baswenaazhi ("Echo-maker", i.e., Crane), Aan’aawenh (Pintail Duck), Nooke ("Tender", i.e., Bear) and Moozwaanowe ("Little" Moose-tail). The Crane totem was the most vocal among the Ojibwe, and the Bear was the largest — so large, in fact, that it was sub-divided into body parts such as the head, the ribs and the feet. Chief Keesh-ke-mun was a member of the Crane clan.

A respected leader

The dignity and influence of the Cranes had been upheld by Keesh-ke-mun. He was first mentioned by the old men and traders of the tribe as having attained a prominent position as chief.  From Lac du Flambeau he ruled over that division of his tribe who occupied the midland country, between Lake Superior, southwest to the Mississippi.  Under him was a chief of the warriors, whose business it was to carry out, by force, if necessary, the wishes of his chief.  Next in rank to the war-chief was the pipe bearer, or Osh-ka-ba-wis, who officiated in all public councils, making known the wishes of his chief, and distributing amongst his fellows, the presents which the traders occasionally gave to the chief to maintain his goodwill.
Keesh-ke-mun was not only chief by hereditary descent, but he made himself truly such, through the wisdom and firmness of his conduct, both to his people and the whites.  During his lifetime, he possessed an unbounded influence over the division of his tribe with whom he resided, and generally over the Lake Superior bands and villages.

Keesh-ke-mun at Mackinac Island

In 1763, at the end of the French and Indian War, the British had control of Fort Michilimackinac on what is now Mackinac Island, Michigan.  For many long years the Ojibwe had been faithful traders with the French.  Deprived of their usual resident traders and supplies a great number of them congregated on the island.  The British took this occasion to convince the Indians to join in arms with them.  Their efforts failed as they were greatly influenced by their chief, Keesh-ke-mun.  When the British discovered it was the chief’s council that was thwarting their attempts, they summoned Keesh-ke-mun to their council room. The chief obeyed the summons, accompanied by a numerous guard of his warriors.
The British officers, in full uniform, were all collected in the council room, when the Ojibwe chieftain and his train entered and silently took the seats allotted to them.  Mr. Askin, a British agent, opened the council by stating to the chief that his British father had sent for him, understanding that his councils with his red brethren had shut their ears against his words, and cooled their hearts towards him. "Your British father wishes to know who you are, that you should do these things – that you should dare to measure yourself against him." After an interval of silence, during which the chieftain quietly smoked his pipe, he at last arose, and shaking hands with the British commandant, he answered as follows:
Englishman! You ask me who I am. If you wish to know, you must seek me in the clouds. I am a bird who rises from the earth, and flies far up, into the skies, out of human sight; but though not visible to the eye, my voice is heard from afar, and resounds over the earth!
Englishman! you wish to know who I am. You have never sought me, or you should have found and known me. Others have sought and found me. The old French sought and found me. He placed his heart within my breast. He told me that every morning I should look to the east and I would behold his fire, like the sun reflecting its rays towards me, to warm me and my children. He told me that if troubles assailed me, to arise in the skies and cry to him, and he would hear my voice. He told me that his fire would last forever, to warm me and my children.
Englishman! you, Englishman, you have put out the fire of my French father. I became cold and needy, and you sought me not. Others have sought me. Yes, the Long Knife has found me. He has placed his heart on my breast. It has entered there, and there it will remain!
Keesh-ke-mun here pulled out from his decorated tobacco pouch, an American George Washington medal, which had been given him by a former commandant of Fort Howard, and placing it around his neck, it lay on his breast, as he quietly returned to his seat.
Somewhat excited at the chief’s attitude, the British officer replied to him:
You say true. I have put out the fire of the French men; and in like manner am I now putting out the fire of the Long Knife. With that medal on your breast, you are my enemy. You must give it up to me, that I may throw it away, and in its stead I shall give you the heart of your great British father, and you must stand and fight by his side.
Keesh-ke-mun, without arising from his seat, answered:
Englishman! the heart of the Long Knife, which he placed on my breast, has entered my bosom. You cannot take it from me without taking my life.
The officer, exasperated at the unflinching firmness of the chieftain, now exclaimed, in anger, addressing the interpreter:
Tell him, sir, that he must give up his medal, or I shall detain him a prisoner within the walls of this fort.
This threat, being duly interpreted to him, the chief grasped his medal in his hand, and once more arising from his seat, he addressed the excited officer, himself not showing the least marks of emotion:
Englishman! I shall not give up this medal of my own will. If you wish to take it from me, you are stronger than I am. But I tell you, it is but a mere bauble. It is only an emblem of the heart which beats in my bosom; to cut out which you must first kill me! Englishman! you say that you will keep me a prisoner in this your strong house. You are stronger than I am. You can do as you say. But remember that the voice of the Crane echoes afar off, and when he summons his children together, they number like the pebbles on the Great Lake shore!
After a short consultation between the officers and Mr. Askin, the commandant again addressed the chief:
Your words are big, but I fear them not. If you refuse to give up the medal of the Long Knives, you are my enemy, and you know I do not allow my enemies to live.
The chief answered:
Englishman! you are stronger than I am. If you consider me an enemy because I cherish the heart which has been placed on my bosom, you may do so. If you wish to take my life, you can take it. I came into your strong house because you sent for me. You sent for me wishing to set me on to my father the Long Knife, as a hunter sets his dogs on a deer. I cannot do as you wish. I cannot strike my own father. He, the Long Knife, has not yet told us to fight for him. Had he done so, you Englishmen would not now be in this strong house. The Long Knife counsels us to remain quiet. In this do we know that he is our own father, and that he has confidence in the strength of his single arm
After some further consultation among the officers, who could not help admiring his great firmness, the chief was dismissed. The next morning the chief was again called to council and presented with a large pile of goods and tobacco.  Keesh-ke-mun was told that he would not be harmed and that he should return to his village. But first, he was warned that if he joined with the Americans "we shall sweep your villages from the earth, as fire eats up the dry grass on the prairie." Keesh-ke-mun, without answering a word, accepted the presents and returned to his village.

Simon Chaurette

Leading fur traders often married the daughters of Ojibwe leaders. In marrying a chief’s daughter, a trader gained a powerful ally among his Indian customers. Since the authority of an Indian leader was in part the result of extended kin ties, the trader may have formed ties with a large number of people. Thus, through marriage, the trader gained an alliance with a man of demonstrated ability to influence his fellows. The father-in-law could become, in a sense, an economic agent for the trader, useful in persuading the people to be friends and clients.
Simon Chaurette, Izzy’s 3rd great-grandfather, was a head trader for the Northwest, XY and American Fur Companies, mostly at Lac du Flambeau, between 1795 and the early 1820s.  He married Marguerite, a daughter of Keesh-ke-mun.  As for Marguerite, little has been written about her.  Mostly she is identified in trade documents by the name of her husband or father.  However, American Fur Company documents show that a woman named Keenistinoquay (or Cree Woman), identified as Chaurette’s wife, was so important to the company’s operation at Lac du Flambeau that she was employed as a trader there during 1819-21, receiving an average of more than $200 per year, around half of her husband’s yearly salary.

Further reading

If you are interested in the Ojibwe Nation you may find these sources useful.
  • History of the Ojibway Nation, which is found in Vol. V of the Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society 


  1. Thank for this interesting history of this line. It looks as though Izzy was a cousin of mine as I am descended from Chief Keesh-ke-mun's daughter Suzanne Kinicoua Kinikwe who married French trader Antoine Sond dit Martin.

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  3. How on this Earth did you make the connection between Kinicona who was my 4th great-grandmother & her father Keeshkimun? That's quite incredible and I thank you deeply for it. My 3rd great-grandparents were Francis Truckey & Catherine Martin. She was the daughter of Antoine & Kinicona.
    Thanks, Bernie Schraw ......great-grandson of George Jacob Truckey & Philomen Cusson from the town of Garden,Michigan in Delta county.

  4. This a really great read. I am also a Descendant of Keesh Ke Mun by way of his Daughter Ester, she married Michel Cadotte Jr.

  5. Good stuff. I too am a descendant of Simon Chaurette and Marguerite. is there a list of hereditary chiefs descended from Keeshkemon and Mon-so-bo-dough? Who was Manidoons (moni-doons) and Aamoons?

    1. I'm afraid this article sums up what I know of Keeshkemon. I've not had the time to research his descendants any further than my dad's line.

  6. Really great stuff….sign me up as well. Susanne Kinikwe was my fourth great grandmother and therefore Keeshkemun was my fifth great grandfather.working on this for 35 years and just recently documented/verified the connection.Waited until it was correct before I dared to use it in my family tree

  7. Roger Navarre is the man, I thank him for the exhaustive work he's done on his father's lineage, from the bottom of my heart. May you live long and prosper!

  8. This is very interesting as my husband is descended from Antoine Martin and Susanne. Thank you for sharing this!