This is a complicated story, with two main parts.
The first part goes something like this: From around 1864 to 1870, Marguerite Baldwin and other members of the Bleau dit Rossignal family, along with more than 700 other "half-breeds" of Pembina and the Red River Valley, became minor bit players in a scam cooked up by unscrupulous Indian agents, land speculators, and wealthy Saint Paul bankers, brokers, and financiers to defraud the federal government. At the center of the controversy was the government's issuing of "half-breed scrip" in compliance with a treaty with the Chippewa Indians of Lake Superior and the Mississippi, concluded at La Pointe, Wisconsin, on September 30, 1854. Thanks to the unvarnished greed of Indian agents, bankers, and other Euro-Americans, this whole La Pointe Treaty "half-breed scrip" affair ended up stinking of corruption and scandal. (Portion of title page of the report of the congressional commission on Half-Breed Scrip, 1874; excerpts reproduced below; many thanks to Ruthanne Fresonke for pointing us to this source and for her comments on previous drafts of this essay, and to www.ojibwe.info for putting a copy of this 1874 text on the Web)
Then, in 1873-1874, the Bleau dit Rossignal siblings had a second encounter with half-breed scrip -- this one entirely legitimate and legal. This is the second part of the story. The government issued this second batch of half-breed scrip to the Bleau dit Rossignal siblings in compliance with the Pembina Treaty of 1863-64 -- scrip to which they were legally entitled.
"Half-breed scrip" was a peculiar legal creation that basically represented title to land. Such land scrip wasn't supposed to be bought or sold, but in the first case (from the 1854 La Pointe Treaty), that's exactly what ended up happening. The whole La Pointe scrip scam represents one more chapter in the long, complex, sordid history of the US government's fraud, corruption, and deceit in its dealings with Indian peoples.
The second batch of scrip (from the 1863-64 Pembina Treaty) represents something else -- mainly the legal savvy of the Bleau dit Rossignals in getting what was coming to them.
Taken as a whole, this half-breed scrip episode reveals not only the corruption of the federal government and the avarice of white speculators and bankers, but the resourcefulness, resilience, and savvy of those whose lands the US government had stolen, including the Bleau dit Rossignals.
We begin with the first batch of half-breed scrip -- the scrip scam -- from the La Pointe Treaty of 1854.
In 1854, the US government signed a treaty with the Chippewa (Ojibwe) of Lake Superior and the Mississippi in which the latter relinquished tens of thousands of acres to the US government. One of the treaty's provisions called for the US government to issue land "scrip" to Lake Superior Chippewa "mixed-bloods" or "half-breeds."
The basic purpose of the scrip, in the eyes of the federal government, was to "Christianize" and "civilize" the "half-breeds" and turn them into yeoman farmers, each the owner of a separate plot of land. This was in keeping with the agrarian vision of Thomas Jefferson -- "Jeffersonian Democracy" -- which envisaged a "nation of farmers" as the cornerstone of an agrarian democracy. (This was in contrast to Alexander Hamilton -- "Hamiltonian Democracy" -- which envisioned a far different, more urban future for the young Republic).
Federal policymakers basically devised "half-breed scrip" as a kind of carrot, as a way to entice those of mixed Indian-European ancestry to abandon their "backward" Indian ways and adopt the ways of the superior "white civilization." The other form of compensation for the millions of acres of land stolen in various treaties, in addition to "half-breed scrip," were "annuities" -- annual payments to various specified tribes and bands.
A secondary purpose of "half-breed scrip" was to turn the public lands acquired through Indian treaties into private property that could be bought and sold on the marketplace. This privatization of public lands was a top priority of the national government -- for one thing it brought in huge revenues via land sales and taxes. It took place in a wide variety of ways, including the Homestead Act of 1862. Overall, "half-breed scrip" was a small but nonetheless important part of the privatization of Minnesota public lands, even while its primary purpose was to "civilize" the "half-breeds." (Sources: John G. Rice article cited in the Conclusion, below, and a huge literature on this whole business of "civilization" versus "barbarism.")
Yet another purpose, and effect, of "half-breed scrip" were to create the legal fiction that "half-breeds" were different from "full-blooded" Indians, and thus divide Indian peoples amongst themselves. Those who refused to "civilize" would get annuity payments. Those who agreed to "civilize" would get "half-breed scrip." The interests of the two groups would diverge, and the power of each thus wane. Eventually both would disappear.
The culmination of all these strategies came in 1887 with the Dawes Severalty Act, an aggressive federal law intended to break up and privatize collectively-owned Indian lands -- a "mighty pulverizing engine to break up the tribal mass," in the words of President Theodore Roosevelt (cited in Gary B. Nash, et al., The American People, NY: HarperCollins, 1994, p. 581).
The government-appointed committee investigating the Chippewa scrip scam of the 1860s, however, ignored these larger purposes, focusing instead on the details of the scandal itself, beginning with the treaty's provision for the issuance of "half-breed scrip":
(Excerpt from Half-Breed Scrip, Chippewas of Lake Superior (1874), p. 4)
"Half-breed scrip" was a document that typically took the following form:
(Excerpt from Half-Breed Scrip, 1874, p. 7)
In May 1863 -- nine years after the La Pointe Treaty, one year after the Great Sioux Indian Uprising, at the height of the Civil War, and in the same year as the Pembina Treaty (see below) -- the government relaxed its definition of who was eligible to receive scrip from the 1854 La Pointe Treaty. Residency requirements were loosened to include just about any Chippewa "half-breed." Around the same time, thanks to the willingness of prominent St Paul bankers and brokerage houses to flout the law, "half-breed scrip" itself became a marketable commodity, bought and sold like anything else in the marketplace, despite explicit prohibitions against buying and selling it.
In other words, the floodgates were opened after 1863, and especially after 1867, when the federal government jettisoned its residency requirement, and all "half-breed" Chippewas from the Upper Midwest became eligible for Lake Superior Chippewa scrip. The height of the scandal was in the immediate postwar years (1865-1870), when the nation's attention was riveted on Reconstruction in the South and stitching the Union back together again after the horrors of the Civil War. Indian treaties in Minnesota were small potatoes, and Congress paid little attention until the early 1870, when the scandal had gotten out of hand. In other words, the illegal scrip scheme unfolded for six or seven years before it was stopped around 1871.
Margaret and her family were affiliated with the Pembina Chippewa bands of the Red River Valley -- a region some 300 miles west of Lake Superior, and members of bands not covered by the 1854 La Pointe Treaty. As we've seen, in the 1870s Margaret lived in Anoka and Hennepin Counties (Centerville and then Minneapolis). On both residency and tribal affiliation requirements, she and other Bleau dit Rossignal family members were ineligible to receive La Pointe Treaty half-breed scrip, at least by the original terms of the treaty. After the federal government changed the rules in 1863 they became eligible, white land speculators stepped in, and the whole process became mired in fraud and corruption. (Photo: Margaret Baldwin, or Kas-kas-ka-na-gee, circa 1862; courtesy of Jeane Morneau DeCoursey)
The scheme itself was the brainchild of several ambitious and unscrupulous men and institutions -- including Indian agents (especially one Agent Webb), land speculators (especially Isaac Van Ettan of St Paul); notary public H. J. Donaldson (Donaldson's Department Store was huge in the Twin Cities when I was a kid -- is this where the Donaldson's got some of their money?); one Norman W. Kittson; and some of the "principal banks of Saint Paul," which very tactfully go unnamed in the report (even though by rights they should have been the primary targets of the investigation).
Over 700 Pembina Ojibwe "half-breeds," including at least nine or ten members of the Bleau dit Rossignal family, participated in the scheme. Most all of the profits went to Webb, Van Ettan, Donaldson, Kittson, and other white men, and to the banks and brokerage houses, while most "half-breeds" ended up with nothing.
How did the scam work? Here are some of the juiciest excerpts from the 1874 report:
(Excerpt from Half-Breed Scrip, 1874, p. 14)
(Excerpt from Half-Breed Scrip, 1874, p. 15)
In their final report, the commissioners recommended abolishing the practice of issuing "half-breed scrip" altogether in subsequent treaties with Indians,
No less revealing than the details of how the scam worked is the information the commission gathered on various individuals in the course of its investigation. The Bleau dit Rossignals rarely appeared in official documents, so by our reckoning any extant document that sheds light on their lives and relationships to each other constitutes a valuable source.
We have identified ten or eleven people whose mention in the final investigative report of 1874 proves useful in our efforts to understand more about the Bleau dit Rossignal, Bottineau, and Baldwin families. Let's begin by listing these people and the pages on which they're mentioned:
What did the commission say about them? The following table (Table 2) reproduces the complete text of each of these references.
Let's organize this data a different way: by the date of each transaction or event, beginning with the earliest. Let's also briefly note the results of each event; and while we're at it, let's spell people's names correctly:
Several intriguing patterns emerge from these data. Let's explore these for each individual, beginning with the matriarch of this family,
Very probably Marguerite Bourdon Bleau dit Rossignal, born around 1805 and the mother of Margaret Baldwin (Kas-kas-ka-na-gee) all the rest of the Bleau dit Rossignal siblings. The surnames "Blow" and "Rosegnole" together in the same reference (p. 113) would seem to prove her identity. Information provided by Pierre Bottineau indicated that by 1871 she had lived for the past four or so years with her husband Jean-Baptiste Bleau (John B. Blow) in Holy Cross, Clay County, MN (at the southern reaches of the Red River of the North, in the same county as Moorhead, MN). This does not accord with data in the 1870 census, which show her living with her son, Aiken, near Sauk Rapids in Benton County, MN.
Perhaps Pierre Bottineau got his information wrong. Her (first) husband, Antoine Bleau dit Rossignal, was not listed here (the Antoine that is listed was her son, b. 1827). Or, perhaps people moved around a lot more than we'd realized.
Or, perhaps Pierre Bottineau feigned ignorance ("a mixed-blood, but don't know of what bands") because she was part of his extended family. Pierre Bottineau knew most everyone -- including the Bleau dit Rossignals, because his brother Basil had married one. Surely he knew that Margaret Bourdon Bleau dit Rossignal was Pembina Ojibwe and not Lake Superior Ojibwe. Maybe he lied so she would get to keep her scrip and her land. Maybe he considered it "bad medicine" to squeal to the authorities about members of his extended family.
So it's unclear exactly what was going on here. Another point of confusion is the identity of "John B. Blow." If he were Margaret's second husband, why did he carry her surname? When, exactly, did she stop being married to Antoine? When did she marry Jean-Baptiste? Was Jean-Baptiste the brother of her late husband Antoine? The data pose many puzzles.
What about her land transactions? It appears that she did receive scrip, and early, at Civil War's end in May 1865. Evidently she kept it, sold it, or otherwise profited from it. In other words, she apparently succeeded.
Our Marguerite Bleau dit Rossignal Bottineau Baldwin (b. 1823), or Kas-kas-ka-na-gee, wife of Bailey T. Baldwin. The information gathered by the commissioners in summer 1871 had her living in Little Canada (which is pretty close to Centerville, Anoka County, her residence in the 1870 census); about 48 years of age (putting her year of birth at 1823, which jibes exactly with what we know); married on Sept 30, 1854 (three years off); and originally from the Red River area and connected with the Pembina Chippewas (which also accords with what we know). (Photo: Kas-kas-ka-na-gee in 1862, courtesy of Jeane Morneau DeCoursey)
What about her land transactions? She evidently succeeded, too, along with her mother. In fact she was the first family member to become involved in the scheme, in November 1864. This was during the Civil War. By this time, Bailey had been home -- bedridden, injured, and blind -- for almost two full years. Those two years trying to run the farm in Anoka County while also tending to her disabled husband and caring for her three small children (Lucy, William, & Mary) probably got her fertile mind racing on how to earn some extra income. It seems likely that she was the first to hear about the scheme, and was a kind of trailblazer for the rest of the family.
The report says she received $40 for her participation in the scam. If she actually did get the money, there's little doubt it came in handy, what with Bailey's incapacity and all the mouths she had to feed, including our great-grandmother Jennie Lang (age 15 in 1871).
Margaret Baldwin also has the most curious of data associated with her name: in May 1869 she had scrip patented in Stockton, California! (To "patent" the scrip was to secure title to the lands it described.) California?? Was this a very clever scheme layered atop the garden-variety "half-breed scrip" scam? It is true that lands patented in other states occasionally appear in these listings, though it is not known why.
In any event, the evidence here strongly suggests that Margaret Baldwin was the family pioneer in the effort to acquire La Pointe Treaty "half-breed scrip," and that she was unusually canny and shrewd in dealing with federal government agencies with regard to scrip.
Antoine Blow (Antoine Rasignole)
Very probably Antoine Bleau dit Rossignal (b. 1827), younger brother of Margaret Baldwin, father of Charlotte Blue and the other Blue siblings. Says he was 46 years old (in 1871), meaning he was born around 1825, two years earlier than other evidence indicates, but close enough.
Antoine apparently had mixed success with half-breed scrip. From the listings above we see the following sequence of events: (1) May 1865: issued scrip for 80 acres, presumably from the La Pointe Treaty. (2) Jan 1869: makes a scrip application, presumably for the Pembina Treaty of 1863; ends up rejected. (3) Aug 1869: scrip patented in St Cloud MN, presumably from the La Pointe Treaty. From this it looks like ended up gaining title to 80 acres under the La Pointe Treaty (1854), but had a second application under the Pembina Treaty (1863-64) rejected precisely because of the scrip he had received under the La Pointe Treaty.
Charles Mijigisi Bottineau, son of Marguerite Bleau dit Rossignal and her first husband Basil Bottineau. The report has him living in Hennepin County, MN in 1871, and "about 30 years of age," putting his birth around the year 1841 (Debra McCann's website says 1838, which accords with other evidence). Apparently had his scrip application rejected (why else would he appear here?), but it doesn't explicitly say so.
John B. Blow
Jean-Baptiste Bleau dit Rossignal. Reference on p. 113 ("Holy Cross, Clay County, Minnesota. The husband of Margaret known by the name of Rasignol. Over 40 years of age and a mixed-blood of the Pembina band; has resided at Holy Cross, Minnesota, for 4 years past.") This suggests that there were two Jean-Baptiste Bleaus: the one named here, over 40 and the husband of Margaret Bourdon Bleau dit Rossignal; and the other, 40 years old and Margaret's son. Apparently he was issued scrip under the 1854 La Pointe Treaty, but then was rejected in his application for scrip under the 1863-64 Pembina Treaty.
John Bte. Blow
Jean-Baptiste Bleau dit Rossignal. "40 years old," resident of Georgetown, MN, and evidently the brother of Antoine Rosignole (p. 176). Who is this guy? Is he yet another Bleau dit Rossignal sibling? Never heard of him! Maybe he's the same person as the "John B. Blow," above (pp. 113, 237, 248), but we doubt it. The data suggest these were two different people. Maybe this was actually Antoine and he lied about his name. In either case, in 1871 this "John Bte. Blow" had his application under the Pembina Treaty rejected, though he apparently did receive scrip under the La Pointe Treaty.
Jeandron Bleau dit Rossignal. Proof that this guy existed and was one of the Bleau dit Rossignal brothers. Report says he was 40 years old (in 1871), making his birth year around 1831, which fits perfectly into the big gap in the Bleau dit Rossignal siblings. Remember that "Jeandron Rossignal" was identified in the Pembina Annuity Rolls, listed in 1868 as belonging to "Way ke ge ke zhick's band"? This is the same guy. Came into the scam late in the game, and had his application rejected, the same as his brothers Etienne, Felix, and Louis, below.
Etienne Bleau dit Rossignal, or Stephen Blue. Report says he was 25 years old (in 1871), meaning he was born in 1846, which fits perfectly with the other stuff we know about him (collected here).
Felix Bleau dit Rossignal. Our Felix, brother of Aiken, Etienne, and the other Bleau dit Rossignal siblings. Says he was 24 years old (in 1871), meaning he was born in 1847, which is almost exactly right (1850 census says he was born in 1848). Living in Rice Lake with brother Louis / Aiken. But which Rice Lake? There's at least a dozen of them scattered across Minnesota. Anyway it's definitely our Felix.
Louis Bleau dit Rossignal. This has got to be Nellie's second husband. Says he was 22 years old (in 1871), meaning he was born in 1849, which is probably a bit early, but close enough. Also says he was residing in Rice Lake, MN, along with his brother Felix. Besides which, his older brother Etienne is also listed here, demonstrating that Etienne and Louis were two different people. ♫ Yahoo! ♫
Minneapolis lawyer; used as an informant by the commission. He obviously knew a lot of people, and was held in very high regard by the commissioners, as they trusted his word and knowledge about people in dozens of individual cases.
So that's mainly what we learn about the Bleau dit Rossignals' involvement in the La Point Treaty half-breed scrip scam of the late 1860s. But that's only half the story.
Legit Scrip and the Bleau dit Rossignals
The second half of the story has to do with scrip to which the Bleau dit Rossignal siblings were legally entitled as legitimate "half-breeds" covered in the Pembina & Red Lake Treaties of 1863-64. From the Pembina Treaty Margaret Baldwin and her siblings received at least five allotments of scrip from the federal government in 1873-74. Again, this was scrip to which they were legally entitled by law.
The following table summarizes the allotments of Pembina "half-breed scrip" that the Bleau dit Rossignal siblings received in 1873-74:
From this evidence it appears that Margaret Rossignal legitimately received 480 acres worth of "half-breed scrip" from the Pembina Treaty. Add to this the 80 acres she evidently received in the scrip scam, and she appears to have gotten 560 acres worth of scrip altogether.
The other very useful bit of data here concerns Louis Rasignole, whom we are 99% certain is our Louis Bleau, Nellie's husband from the early 1870s until his tragic death on December 26, 1874. We see him listed twice in these documents, both times as "Louis." This is the latest reference we have for him before his death.
Let's now turn to the documents.
We begin with (1) the documentary evidence on the illegal "half-breed scrip" scam. Then we turn to (2) evidence showing the Bleau dit Rossignals' legal acquisition of scrip from the Pembina Treaty.
1. Selected Portions of the 1874 Half-Breed Scrip Commission Report
The first 20 pages of this report provide a good summary of how the scandal unfolded (from www.ojibwe.info/scrip/LakeSuperior/).
2. The Bleau dit Rossignals' Legitimate Receipt of Half-Breed Scrip from the 1863-64 Pembina & Red Lake Treaties
The Pembina & Red Lake Treaty of 1863-64 applied to the Bleau dit Rossignal siblings, who were considered "half-breeds" who legitimately qualified for scrip under the terms of the treaty. In March 1873, Felix, Louis, Margaret, and Etienne Rasignole each received 160 acres in scrip. Their scrip numbers were sequential: Felix (143), Louis (144), Margaret (145), Etienne (146).
We don't yet know whether this receipt of scrip translated into actual ownership of land. Perhaps in some cases it did. Bailey T. Baldwin was a shrewd salesman and trader, as was his wife Margaret. Bailey once listed his occupation as "real estate," while Margaret had been dealing with scrip for at least a decade (since her application of 1864, above). Maybe Louis or Felix sold their scrip for cash, but Etienne and Margaret might well have turned it into actual real estate.
In this section we include: (A). The full text of the Red Lake & Pembina Treaty of 1863-64, accompanied by a narrative by Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey describing the negotiations leading to the treaty. (B). Summaries of records from the National Archives on these scrip transactions, published online at www.maquah.net. (C). Digital copies of the original scrip records from this treaty, from the same source.
Documents Relating to the 1863-64 Pembina Treaty
In the box below are reproduced three documents relating to this 1863 Pembina Treaty: (1) the text of the 1863 treaty, (2) the text of the 1864 amendment to the treaty, and (3) a narrative description of the treaty-making process by Alexander Ramsey, the U.S. government's chief negotiator with the Pembina Chippewa and twice governor of Minnesota (First Territorial Governor, June 1849-May 1853, and second State Governor, January 1860-July 1863).
Digital Images of Original Records of Pembina Treaty Half-Breed Scrip Issued to the Bleau dit Rossignals in 1873
This is not the place to launch a polemic against the avarice, corruption, deceit, and wickedness of white people or the British, Canadian, and US governments in their dealings with Indian peoples since the first English colonists landing in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607. Nor is this the place to recount the long, tragic history of the state-sanctioned murder, theft, and outrage that marks the US and Canadian governments' dealings with the indigenous peoples of North America. Others have told that story much more effectively, and in much greater detail, than we could here.
This does, however, seem an appropriate venue for a few remarks on the curious phenomenon known as "half-breed scrip." The term itself, it seems to us (to Mike, anyway), is inherently insulting, demeaning, and dehumanizing, carrying with it the implicit assumption that human beings come in different "breeds," like dogs or rabbits, and that "mixtures" of "Indians" and "whites" produced a kind of "mongrel race" of "half-breeds" or "mixed-bloods" that ought to have been, and were, ranked according to their inherent worth and value. We know the ranking: "white" people on top, and people of color beneath. The ranking, ultimately, was about power, who had it, and who didn't. The very concept of the "half-breed" is profoundly racist and loathsome, as is the term itself. That is why we always use "scare quotes" around it -- to mark it as inherently problematic.
The legal device of "half-breed scrip" was conceived mainly as a way to "Christianize" and "civilize" the "mixed-bloods" who (in the eyes of policymakers) too often preferred the "primitive" ways of the Indians. A secondary purpose was to turn public lands into private lands. Indian peoples owned land collectively, with no concept of private ownership of land. Fulfilling the Jeffersonian ideal of an agrarian empire required turning that collectively-owned land into private property. The government's reasoning went something like: "Divvy up a small fraction of the land we just conquered from the Indians among individual half-breeds. Either they'll become civilized Christian farmers and forget about their Indian ancestry, or, they'll be too poor or ignorant to make use of it and will sell it to white settlers. Either way Indians are weakened and white civilization strengthened." Simple. And deadly effective.
"Half-breed scrip" was also conceived a way to drive a wedge between different groups of Indians. This too is an old story: divide and rule -- a strategy used by governments and the powerful since the dawn of humanity. Many people of mixed ancestry, including many Métis, self-identified as Ojibwe (and Dakota). They lived, spoke, ate, bore children, played games, and buried their dead in ways indistinguishable from the Native peoples amongst whom they dwelt. Many others who did not self-identify as "Indian" were among Indian peoples' most important and valuable allies. By giving preferential treatment to "half-breeds," and by creating the legal fiction that such a category of people existed to begin with, the federal government worked to divide Indian peoples amongst themselves. Simple. And deadly effective.
Here we enter
the murky and contentious terrain
of what constitutes
"legitimate" Native American Indian identity. A useful reminder of
the fallacy of using the criteria of "blood" or "race" to determine
"legitimate" Indian ancestry is offered by the scholar Ward Churchill,
who reminds us not only of the fallacy of the concept of "race," but
also that many of the most implacable opponents of Euro-American
land-grabs have been "mixed-bloods" (such as John Ross of the Cherokee; Quannah [Parker] among the Quahadi Comanches; George Bent
of the Cheyennes, and dozens of others). For ease of reference we
include his article, "The Crucible of American Indian Identity"
(originally published in Z magazine) in the following box
(thanks to Ruthanne Fresonke for
pointing us to this article):
In short, to distinguish between peoples based on "bloodlines" or "race" is to embrace the pernicious fallacy that such a thing as "race" exists to begin with, and thus to internalize the oppressive worldview of the oppressor.
How much land in Minnesota was actually privatized via the device of "half-breed scrip"? In fact very little. Altogether, "half-breed scrip" was responsible for less than one percent (0.8%) of the public lands in Minnesota that ended up in the hands of private individuals and the state government. Of far greater importance were federal government grants to the state (33.5%), to the railroads (21%), to white settlers via the Homestead Act of 1862 (23%), and other such grants. From this larger perspective, "half-breed scrip" was of marginal importance in the privatization of Minnesota's public lands. Its main purpose, as we've seen, was to "Christianize" and "civilize." Another was to divide Indians amongst themselves -- to prise "half-breeds" away from "pure-bloods" and to help both groups forget about what they once had in common. (Source: Table 1, "Alienation of the Public Domain in Minnesota," in John G. Rice, "The Effect of Land Alienation on Settlement," Annals of the Association of American Geographers, vol. 68, no. 1 (March 1978), pp. 61-72; available online at www.jstor.org)
Getting back to the Bleau dit Rossignals, one of the main things we learn from all this is that Margaret, Antoine, and other members of her family were not unsophisticated backcountry hicks. They were smarty, savvy, resourceful, and persistent in dealing with the authorities, including one of the most byzantine and red-tape-ensnared branches of the federal government -- the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Margaret Baldwin in particular seems to have figured out just how to work the system, for maximum benefit and with minimal cost to herself. Altogether she seems to have received upwards of 560 acres of half-breed scrip, most of which seems to have been translated into actual real estate. Margaret Baldwin, it seems clear, was one smart cookie.
An important element of her shrewdness, we suspect, was her plenitude of names. Official documents show that legally she was known as Margaret Rasignole, Margaret Blue, Margaret Bottineau, Margaret Baldwin, and Margaret Blow. In other words, she had at least five legal surnames. She also spelled her first name differently: Margaret, Marguerite, Margarette. She had something like 15 or 20 distinct legal names, or more! The same is true of her brother Aiken, who used something like 13 or 15 different legal names over the course of his long life (see solving the mystery of ekan blow).
Anglo-American law and legal culture, like modernity itself, tends strongly toward standardization. Nuts, bolts, railroad tracks, computer operating systems -- and, people's names. Standardize, standardize, standardize -- the mantra of modernity. People in the modern world are supposed to be identified by a single, unique legal name, spelled the same way every time.
Ojibwe and Métis cultures were very different. In this oral, non-literate culture, names were far more fluid and rarely unique. For every 100 people, 50 shared a dozen given French names. Names changed to mark different stages of life. Spellings and pronunciations varied. Margaret, Aiken, and their siblings grew up in an oral culture, a world of fluid and diverse naming patterns and shifting and multiple names. Partly this was a result of non-literacy, partly the result of cultural traditions and practices of naming. But whatever its origins, Margaret Baldwin's many legal names, like her brother Aiken's, represented the opposite of what Anglo lawyers and the US government required: a unique legal name.
In other words, we are suggesting the possibility that Margaret, Aiken, and others might have used Ojibwe and Métis naming traditions to their material advantage. Evidently they went by different names, identifying themselves in different ways in different documents. Why? Perhaps out of habit or thoughtlessness. Or, perhaps so they wouldn't be easily recognized, could make multiple applications, and thus take advantage of a weakness in the system.
In short, it is possible that the Bleau dit Rossignals used their many names as a kind of weapon -- a "weapon of the weak," in historian James Scott's memorable phrase. Using several legal names that scarcely resembled each other might have been their way of fighting back, of refusing to give the government what it wanted, of deploying their culture's shifting and complex naming patterns in order to exploit an opportunity -- as a kind of rearguard action against the US government's theft of her people's lands. Using different names in different legal documents would be an effective way to muddy the waters and confuse things: What administrator would suppose that "Marguerite Rasignole" was the same person as "Margaret Baldwin"? Or "Ekan Blow" was the same person as "Ecan Ressenblue"? It is possible, in short, that the Bleau dit Rossignals, like other members of their community, used different legal names as a way to befuddle the legal system -- to acquire as much "half-breed scrip" as possible, and then, to get it patented and transformed into something tangible, something more than a piece of paper with her name written on it. Real estate. Cash. Something. That's our notion, anyway.
But however one interprets this multiplicity of names, one thing seems clear: Kas-kas-ka-na-gee Margaret Bleau dit Rossignal Bottineau Baldwin was far and away the most successful of all the Bleau dit Rossignal siblings in acquiring and cashing-in on "half-breed scrip."
And cashing in on "half-breed scrip" was, we suspect, a pretty big deal. Among the Bleau dit Rossignals, and up to the year 1871, it appears to have happened only four times, in at least ten attempts. Only three actual patents (titles) to land were issued, while Margaret reportedly got $40 from Van Etten. None of this, of course, represented any kind of compensation for the vast land-grabs of the treaties. No one in the Bleau dit Rossignal family got rich from their participation in the La Pointe scrip scam. Doubtless none were stupid enough to think they could have. The most that most scrip applicants hoped for, we'd guess, was a little bit of something. And most never received even that.
The other main thing we learn from all this is that Aiken and Louis were two different people. This Louis Rasignole is definitely the future husband of our great-great-grandmother Nellie Kinsman Lang Blow. They probably married right around this time. Perhaps the events were related. Perhaps, failing to receive his scrip (and in light of the streams of white settlers pouring into the Red River Valley after Canadian Confederation in 1867 and the Riel Rebellion of 1869-70), he moved to Minneapolis the next year and met Nellie. There's still a lot more to puzzle out.
And that, comrades, is a brief introduction to the business of the "half-breed scrip" and the Bleau dit Rossignal family in the 1860s and 1870s! Any questions? We hope so, because we have a ton, and we'd love to hear yours. What mainly seems clear is that the story has only begun to be told.