Kechewaishke was born at La Pointe, Wisconsin, in 1759 and distinguished himself in his early years as a powerful war chief. In 1842, Chief Buffalo orchestrated a brilliant victory against the Sioux at the Brule River. Far outnumbered, on the night before the battle he ordered fires built along the river to trick the Sioux into thinking his numbers were greater than they were. Later, he became a powerful orator and a skillful negotiator. In 1854, he insisted that U.S. negotiators state explicitly in the treaty that the Anishinabe retained their hunting, fishing, and gathering rights to the land they were giving up.
Chief Buffalo is best known for his highly successful 1852 journey to Washington, D.C., and meeting with the president, in which the removal order relocating the Anishinabe to Sandy Lake, Minnesota, was reversed. Along with O-sho-ga and interpreter Benjamin Armstrong (his nephew by marriage and adopted son), Chief Buffalo walked and traveled by canoe, steamboat, and train to Washington, where his efforts to meet with Luke Lea, the commissioner of Indian Affairs, were rebuffed. Lea told Armstrong to take the Anishinabe with him on the next train and that he did not want to hear from him again.
Chief Buffalo's delegation attracted a lot of attention in Washington. The members were invited to the homes of prominent individuals and besieged by dozens of people who gathered outside their hotel, forcing them to occasionally slip away through a back door. While in the dining room one day, the delegation was approached by several Whig Party officials. The Whigs arranged an audience with their president, Fillmore, who smoked a peace pipe with the old chief. Chief Buffalo told Fillmore about the disastrous annuity payment at Sandy Lake two years earlier, when U.S. officials had tried to lure the Anishinabe into permanently relocating to Minnesota. About 400 Anishinabe had died from disease, starvation, or cold while trying to collect their treaty payments. Chief Buffalo told the president that the Anishinabe were more resolved than ever not to relocate. He said there was universal disappointment over the failure of the U.S. government to live up to promises made in the Treaty with the Chippewa (January 14, 1837) and the Treaty of La Pointe (1842). Chief Buffalo told the president that he was particularly concerned that he might not be able to control the young warriors of his tribe. Two days later, Fillmore rescinded the removal order and ordered that the annuity payments be distributed from La Pointe as before.
The historic meeting also set up the Treaty with the Chippewa the third and final land cession treaty, in which Anishinabe reservations in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin were established. Chief Buffalo insisted that the Anishinabe bands not give up the last of their lands without receiving an assignment of land as a new home. The chief added that he wanted annuities to be paid to his people at LaPointe instead of at Sandy Lake. The old LaPointe chief demanded that the government's interpreter be replaced with one of his own people, because he did not want any trickery as in the past.
Chief Buffalo's health began to fail. He was too sick to attend the council meetings that took place during the 1855 annuity distribution. On September 7, 1855, two days after being baptized a Catholic, Chief Buffalo died. He was buried in the Catholic cemetery at LaPointe on Madeline Island. However, according to some oral accounts, his remains were moved to an undisclosed location on the mainland.
Patricia A. Loew
Armstrong, Benjamin. Early Life Among the Indians. Ashland, WI: Press of A. W. Bowron, 1892; Loew, Patty. Indian Nations of Wisconsin: Histories of Endurance and Renewal. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2001; Satz, Ronald N. Chippewa Treaty Rights: The Reserved Rights of Wisconsin's Chippewa Indians in Historical Perspective. Madison: Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters, 1991.