Odawa People

From Project Seven Years War
Jump to navigationJump to search

Hierarchical Path: Seven Years War (Main Page) >> Armies >> Native American Peoples >> Odawa People

Origin and History

The Odawa (aka Odowa or Ottawa, meaning “Traders”) people are an Algonquian-speaking group of Native Americans. In the early 1600s, they were approx. 8,000 and inhabited the Manitoulin Island, the Bruce Peninsula of the north and east shores of Georgian Bay, Odawa bands included the Kiskakon, Sinago, Sable and Nassauakueton. They were traditional allies of the Ojibwe (Chippewa) People and Potawatomi People, with whom they probably shared common ancestry. They were also allied with the Wendat (Huron) People, trading skins and furs with them in exchange for vegetable produce.

The Odawa first encountered the French (Samuel de Champlain) in 1615 near the mouth of the French River. The following year Champlain visited one of their villages west of the Petun (Tobacco Huron) (see Wyandot) in the vicinity of the Bruce Peninsula.

By 1634 the Odawa were acting as middlemen between the Wendat and nations further to the west in the fur trade with the French.

After the defeat of the Wendat at the hands of the Iroquois Confederacy, in 1649, the Odawa people reportedly had four villages around the Straits of Mackinac, others had fled with the Wendat and other Algonquins to Green Bay. Some lived at least temporarily on Thunder and Saginaw Bays. They assumed the role of middlemen in the fur trade with the French.

In 1655 a Odawa-Wyandot contingent from the Green Bay area arrived in Montréal and Trois-Rivières in canoes laden with furs, which they exchanged for French products.

In 1658, a small band of Odawa migrated west, settling on an island in Lake Pepin, near the Mississippi River. Here they unwisely attacked the Dakota and as a result retreated via Black River to Chequamegon Bay in what is now northern Wisconsin in 1660. Another band was living to the east of these at Keweenaw Bay.

In 1670 and 1671 bands of Odawa people moved back to Manitoulin Island as a result of war with the Dakota and peace with the Iroquois Confederacy. Some Sinago Odawa moved to Green Bay for a few years and the Kiskakon band took up abode at Sault Sainte Marie.

In the winter of 1671 several murders took place in the Odawa-Wyandot community of Chequamegon involving the Odawa, Wyandot and Dakota. Fearing retaliation by the Dakota and having received word of a peace settlement with the Iroquois these Odawa with the Wyandot decided to return to Michilimackinac, arriving on March 16. The Odawa settled at Ekaeontoton on Lake Huron. The Jesuits counted 60 Odawa and 380 Wyandot. In 1676 the Kiskakons moved to the Saint-Ignace mission. In less than 10 years there were 1,500 Odawa and 500 Wyandot. By 1695 parts of the Sinago, Sable and Nassauakueton bands had also settled there.

Odawa Territory - Copyright: Kronoskaf

In 1701, some Odawa bands were persuaded to move from Michilimackinac to near the newly established Fort Détroit, where the French had established a trading post, joining Wyandot, Potawatomi and Ojibwe communities. By that time, their territory extended into present-day Ohio, along the Maumee, the Auglaize, and the Blanchard rivers. By 1712 Odawas were also settled at Saginaw Bay.

In 1712, during Queen Anne’s War, they temporarily returned to Manatoulin after defeating the Fox (Meskwaki) and their allies, fighting on the side of the British, near Détroit; and the Mascoutens in south-west present-day Michigan.

By 1730, some Odawas had settled at Saint-Jospeh to the south-east of Lake Michigan. By 1738 relations had become strained with the Wyandot at Détroit.

In 1740 those bands at Michilimackinac moved, to the concern of the French, to Grand Traverse Bay and in 1742 to Waganawkezee (L’Arbre Croche), north of Little Traverse Bay, within their wintering territory. Some bands moved as far south as the Grand River on the east side of Lake Michigan. The Beaver Islands were settled in 1751. The Odawa stated the soil were exhausted around Michilimackinac. Nonetheless, they did not want to break their links with the French but also, as supplies from them were unreliable an alternative was needed, they maintained contact with British traders. At Détroit the Odawa there traded openly with the British.

In 1744, during King George’s War (1744-1748), Kinousaki, a Détroit Odawa leader, raised 35 warriors to scare off a British patrol in the Ohio valley. In 1745, 60 Odawa and Ojibwe warriors from Michilimackinac headed for Montréal to support the French while several Détroit Odawa set out to attack South Carolina.

However, at Détroit in 1747 some Odawa, whose relationships with the French became increasingly strained and disrupted, were sympathetic to a Wyandot plan to rid the Lakes of the French. A party of Odawa killed three Frenchmen near the Saginaw River. However, the plan came to nothing when revealed to the French commander at Détroit. In July, at Michilimackinac young warriors hurled insults at the French and killed all the cattle and horses. This crisis was ended when pro-French Anishinaabeg (Odawa, Potawatomi, Ojibwe) arrived at the fort blaming the Wyandot for the troubles.

In 1749 and 1750 large numbers of Odawa, Ojibwe and Wyandot went to Oswego to trade their furs with the British. There was increasing numbers of British traders from Pennsylvania in the Ohio country. The biggest threat to French claims over the pays d’en haut was from a coalition of disaffected Miami People, led by Memeskia, who established Pickawillany on the Great Miami River and created alliances with British traders. By the end of 1751 there were rumours of an attack by the Illinois, Wea, Piankashaw, Miami, Lenape, Shawnee and Ohio Iroquois being planned at Pickawillany. The Odawa moved cautiously going to Pickawillany to seek a peaceful solution. Memeskia insulted them and dared them and the French to attack him.

n June 1752, 240 Odawa and other Anishinaabe warriors took part in the expedition of 23 year old Sieur Charles-Michel de Langlade - whose mother was a Catholic Nassauakueton Odawa and himself married to an Odawa woman - against the Miami settlement at Pickawillany (present-day Piqua, Ohio),. On June 23 they successfully attacked the settlement and stockade when most of the Miami warriors were away., The only casualties were 7 dead: a blacksmith, 1 Ohio Iroquois, 1 Shawnee and 3 Miami. The women and children were captured and offered in exchange for the traders. Three of the British were sent out but the Odawa/Anishinaabe managed to seize Memeskia in the exchange. He and the blacksmith were killed, scalped, their hearts ripped out and eaten before the stockade, taking their spiritual power for their people. The women and children were freed. British traders fled the region in droves.

The measured attack on Pickawillany would set in motion events that would lead to war, strengthening pro-French sentiments. The British did nothing to avenge the attack and showed they wanted land but were not offering any protection to their Native American allies.

By late 1753 the Odawa had taken up the hatchet against the British and there were reports of war parties on colonial borders. George Washington came across 7 scalped settlers on the Kanawha River and was informed by Native American guides that it was Odawa.

In July and August 1754, the Odawa at Michilimackinac brought together some 1,200 delegates from Anishinaabe nations, their kin amongst the Mississauga and Algonquin peoples, also the Wyandot, Menominee and Winnebago, and from old rivals and nations further west, the Fox (Meskwaki), Mascoutens, Kickapoo, Wea, Dakota, Pawnee and Assiniboine. The French sent 200 Troupes de la Marine and many more militia to demonstrate how serious they were about fighting the British. They discussed amongst themselves but also held talks with the French. After 12 days the Anishinaabeg declared that they were going to war, leading to the formal start of war between the French and British.

Role during the War


On July 9, 1755, many Odawa warriors from Michilimackinac were among the 637 Native American warriors that took part in the Ambush on the Monongahela, where they attacked along the flanks of the British column winning the day.


Nonetheless, in 1756 at a conference in Montréal, the Governor Vaudreuil wanted the Anishinaabe to attack the Six Nations Iroquois. They, including Odawa from Waganawkezee, insisted that the quarrel was between the French and British. They did not want a renewal of inter-tribal conflict. To reinforce this message an Odawa leader sang a war song calling to the others, ‘Father, we are famished, give us fresh meat; we wish to eat the English.’

On September 4, 30 Odawa warriors escorted the Marquis de Montcalm on his way to Fort Saint-Jean. On September 6, at Fort Carillon, he gave an ox to assembled Odawa, Ojibwe and Canadian Iroquois for a feast. More Odawas arrived on September 11. On September 21 a council was held with the Odawa and Ojibwe, the former having taken 4 prisoners, wished to return home which they did in the evening.

On September 11, 1756, a party of 300 Native American warriors (Iroquois of Canada, Ojibwe and Odawas) arrived at Carillon to take part in operations on Lake Champlain. On September 16, some of these warriors took part in an expedition in the direction of Fort Edward and Fort William Henry.

Through the winter of 1756-1757 the Odawa-French leader Charles de Langlade and many Odawas overwintered at Fort Carillon.


On January 21, 1757, Odawa warriors with Langlade, took part in a skirmish near Fort Carillon against a party Rogers' Rangers, where nearly half of the rangers were killed.

In late April, several Odawa and Potawatomi warriors went south to strike in the area of Fort William Henry.

In early June, the French received word that 400 Odawa would be arriving at Montréal to join the French expedition against Fort William Henry. On arrival they paid their compliments to Montcalm, impressed by the taking Fort Oswego the previous year. On June 15, 50 more Odawa arrived.

On June 10, Langlade with 90 Odawas and other Native Americans including at least one woman, supported by 7 French regular volunteers ambushed a wood cutting party of 15 guarded by 15 Connecticut Provincials near Fort Edward. Shooting from cover the Native Americans forced the British party to flee back to Fort Edward losing 5 dead and 4 captured. In turn Langlade’s party was later attacked by up to 90 Connecticut Provincials from the fort whilst making a litter for the single wounded Indian. They dispersed, dragging the wounded man and abandoning their canoes, retreated by foot to Fort Carillon arriving on June 12.

At the end of June, Langlade and the Odawas were out again with 25 |Kahnawake Mohawk and 8 Canadiens. On the moonlit night of July 1, they were going up Wood Creek where it led out of South Bay when Captain Israel Putnam and Connecticut Provincials prematurely ambushed them. A Canadien cadet was killed and several Native Americans wounded. A few canoes capsized in panic. Langlade ordered his men to the opposite, east bank, receiving two more volleys before getting there. Once there they returned fire and Langlade realising, they were outnumbered. decided to outflank them, sending one party upriver and another downriver. Putnam sending patrols of 12 men mirrored this movement. Several attempts were made to cross the creek. Then at dawn Langlade despatched a third party ‘considerably’ down river which the Connecticut detachment only noticed when they threatened to cut off Putnam’s rear. Low on ammunition, Putnam ordered a retreat back to Fort Edward but was in turn ambushed by other Connecticut Provincials. His wounded, left behind, were killed by the Odawa.

Before Montcalm arrived at Fort Carillon, on July 18, Joseph Marin de la Malgue, an officer of the Compagnie Franches de la Marine, went out on a raid with 380 men, including 300 Native Americans, mostly Odawa with a few Ojibwe and Canadian Iroquois, the rest being Troupes de la Marine and Canadiens. Arriving at South Bay set up camp in the ruins of Fort Anne. On July 19, a small scouting party of 8 came upon 30 Rogers' Rangers and provincials, who fled back to Fort Edward. After sending 100 men back to Carillon, and after the Odawa paused to invocate, Marin advanced to Fort Edward, ordering half his men to a hilltop and the other to a swamp. Woodcutters escorted by 80 provincials were ambushed and fled back to fort. A relief force of Massachusetts Provincials from the fort, followed by Rogers’ Rangers from Rogers Island, forced the Odawa into a fighting withdrawal to prevent being overwhelmed. Marin lost one Troupe de la Marine officer, whilst the provincials had upward of 15 killed, missing and captured.

On the morning of July 21, the Odawa came to Montcalm asking for ‘two sets of equipment’ which they wished to make spiritual offering. One had dreamt Lake Saint-Sacrement (Lake George) was covered with the British. Colonel John Parker and the New Jersey ‘Blue’ had been sent out by Colonel Monroe commanding at Fort William Henry to scout Fort Carillon. They were discovered and Odawa warriors forming the majority of Langlade’s force, of 400 Anishinaabe and 50 French soldiers and militia sent out to intercept them. Two canoe loads of Odawa scouting catching sight of the provincials were fired upon by the provincials killing one and wounding another Odawa war chief. This result in several Odawa going home to grieve. The following day July 23, they successfully ambushed the New Jersey ‘Blues’ in 20 whale boats at Sabbath Day Point on Lac Saint- Sacrement. The New Jersey Provincials lost 280 men as casualties or captured out of total of 359 men. One warrior was slightly wounded.

On July 26, the Odawa leader Pennahouel spoke in council with General Montcalm at Sabbath Day Point on the eve of the siege of Fort William Henry. Louis Antoine de Bougainville, Montcalm’s aide-de-camp, explained that he was, ‘... celebrated for his spirit, his wisdom, and his conversations with M. de Glassionière.’ His speech stated, ‘Behold a circle is drawn around you by the great Onontio which none of us can leave. So long as we remain within its embrace the Master of Life will be our guide, will inspire us as to what we shall do and will favour our enterprises.’ He went on to harangue his warriors to accept the challenge. Bougainville commented retrospectively that the Odawa of Michilimackinac spent the majority of their time ‘singing, dancing, drinking and eating’ on the campaign.

On July 28, Bougainville listed 337 Odawa warriors from seven distinct bands under war captains: La Fourche; Brisset; Pennahouel; Le Poisson Blanc; Huharnois; Le Vieux Bouchard; Makiouita; Agoda; Le Fils d’Aukameny; Ouennago; Oenaoué; and Sagné the chief of the Saginaws of Akouoi. They formed part of Langlade’s Brigade.

On July 29, having achieved victory at Sabbath Day Point, some 200 Mississauga and Odawa warriors left the French camp near Carillon and went home.

The following night an officious French officer came upon a handful of Odawas engaged in prayer and invocation. Concerned that they might alert a passing British boat he attempted to restrain them. The Odawa replied that the ‘Manitou’ would prevent their words from reaching the enemy and the officer left them in peace.

The Siege of Fort William Henry started on August 4 and lasted until August 9, during which time Native Americans were deployed as an observation screen in woods around the perimeter of the cleared land. A few Odawa were involved in the mainly Abenaki attack on the defeated British column on August 10. They took at least one prisoner.

During that campaign, Odawa warriors contracted smallpox and brought back the disease to their villages that winter. The ensuing smallpox epidemic forced many Native American peoples out of the war.


In May 1758, Bougainville commented that the ‘Odawa have evil designs... What is the cause of it? The great loss they have suffered from the smallpox, the bad medicine the French have thrown to them, the greed of the commanders of the posts and their ignorance of Indian customs?’... the English have sent a wampum belt to all the nations, and make the finest of offers.’

On July 1 at a Fort Carillon, Montcalm in a council with a dozen Odawa, who wanted to return to Montréal and thence to Michilimackinac, persuaded them stay by presenting them with breechclouts, mitasses [leggings], shirts and guns. They promised to form a war party and stay until other Native Americans come.

On July 8, the British attack on Fort Carillon was repulsed by the French. On July 12 Odawas, and other Native Americans, who had arrived, stated that they regret missing the battle.

At the beginning of September, some Odawa warriors joined the reinforcements sent to the defence of Fort Duquesne.


On June 18, 1759 a party of Odawa warriors arrived at Québec to take part in the defence of the town. They were soon followed by 230 Odawa warriors on June 29. On July 9, a skirmish occurred near the fall of Montmorency, where Dank's Rangers were attacked and defeated by a party of Canadians and Odawa warriors who were in turn repulsed by the grenadiers of the 28th Foot. In this affair, Dank lost 13 killed and 7 wounded, the 60th Royal American lost 14 killed and several wounded. The Canadiens lost 4 killed and 1 wounded, the Odawas 3 killed and 4 wounded.


In the first week of November 1760, knowing of the capitulation of Montréal, a party of 30 Détroit Odawa boldly confronted Rogers' Rangers at Ashtabula Creek on the south shore of Lake Erie.

The Odawa welcomed the British waving a St George’s Cross flag and firing a salute. For five days they camped together. The Scots-Irish trader and Deputy Indian Agent George Croghan informed the Odawa that the French had become British subjects. He gave a belt of wampum to the Odawa promising ‘free trade’ and the ‘peaceable possession of their hunting Country’. The Odawa leader responded asking the British to ‘transact the Business of [his] tribe’ through two of his companions and to supply the needs of the women and children. Nonetheless, he asked the departing French commandant not to abandon them, and save them from ‘the treachery of the English’.

The Odawa were amongst those who met the British at Détroit in early December again asking for flourishing trade and inexpensive prices. The Odawa gave them a chance to prove themselves.


In 1761, Captain Henry Balfour and 200 soldiers arrived at Michilimackinac from Détroit. Before he arrived Odawa and Ojibwe were already on the verge of plundering British traders who had preceded him. Balfour ignored protocol and made a speech instead of holding a council. He offered wampum to console for Anishinaabeg losses during the war but also demanded the release of prisoners. He offered an alliance but also threatened if they did not comply. The Odawa and Ojibwe were not impressed and avoided making any formal commitment to the British. The Odawa speaker, Quinonchaming, stated that they had no authority to speak for their people and did not accept the wampum belt.

In September, Sir Jeffrey Amherst was appointed Governor General of British North America and authorised to carry out 'Indian Policy'. which included reducing the costs of trade goods and the ceasing of giving presents, a cultural act of goodwill. There was already lack of trade goods in the Lakes and Ohio country and this policy angered Native Americans, going against the agreed treaty. Amherst also withheld the sale of gunpowder and lead, where families depended on hunting and pelts for trading, and banned the sale of alcohol.

In September, Sir William Johnson, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Northern District, arrived in Détroit to ratify the peace between the western nations and the British. He recognises a Odawa confederacy which in reality was only those villages around Détroit. At the time the Anishinaabe and Ohio nations were disunited on how to deal with the British.

In the fall, Odawas witnessed a soldier at Détroit being given 100 lashes. Such raised questions of what the British intrusion portended.


In 1762, Major Henry Gladwin arrived to take command of Détroit. He shared Amherst’s negative views; he refused to give presents and would not have the fort’s smith repair guns. He had infuriated Native Americans calling them ‘Hogs and other names, and telling them to get along.’ The Odawa expected the commander at Détroit to retain the ceremonial pipes they sent as reminders of their relationship. When they asked Gladwin if they might see their pipes, he replied he knew nothing about them. This was the second occasion since 1760 that British officers had misplaced important Odawa calumets.

If the British did not act like ritual fathers or brothers then they were potential enemies. Famine and epidemic, rife at the time, coupled with British trade policy, created the Anishinaabe image of the British as enemies, a malevolent people bound neither by kinship not ritual obligations. War belts were being distributed including from Détroit.

The same year, a Lenape prophet named Neolin expounded a message of transformation, to return to their ancestral ways and to give up European goods. His teachings spread throughout the Ohio nations and influenced the Odawa leader Obwandiyag (Pontiac) who made the message specifically anti-British and greatly tempered Neolin’s rejection of European ways.

In October George Croghan received reports of French emissaries in native dress attending a secret council at the Odawa village near Détroit, and meetting with the leaders and war captains of the Odawa, Potawatomi, Wyandot and Ojibwe. The Odawa rather than the Wyandot had taken precedence at Détroit. Messengers were sent out to other nations but the Odawa kept the Six Nations Iroquois in the dark. In the late winter preparations for war began.


In the May of 1763, Obwandiyag besieged Détroit to start the war to expel the British intruders.


Odawa Warrior circa 1757 - Source: Painting by T. Jefferys, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1615, when Champlain first met Odawa warriors, he described them as follows:

“Their arms consisted only of a bow and arrows, a buckler of boiled leather and the club. They wore no breech clouts, their bodies were tattooed in many fashions and designs, their faces painted and their noses pierced.”

The accompanying illustration depicts an Odawa Warrior, in 1757. He is dressed for an occasion and has small dyed feathers (although the use of blue is dubious) inserted into his scalplock. It appears that the helix of his ears has been broken and are wrapped and tied up to his scalplock. His face and body are tattooed, and the latter painted with red stripes. He wears garters without leggings and decorated front seam moccasins. Around the neck he wears necklaces of glass beads and or wampum, from one hangs a ‘medal’ pendant. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

At the time of writing there is no specific written description of Odawa dress known to the author, although they were present in gatherings observed by recorders. They are likely to have followed the general Anishinaabe fashion of the region. Bougainville stated in June 1757 that he saw, ‘... no difference in their dress, ornaments, dances and songs of these different nations. They are naked save for a breechclout, and painted black, red, blue, etc. Their heads are shaved and feather ornament them. In their lengthened ear [lobes] are rings of brass wire. They have beaver skins for covering, and carry lances, arrows and quivers made of buffalo skin.’ However, he was able to distinguish between the music of the Odawa and the Winnebago (a Siouan speaking nation from the western Great Lakes).


The French soldier J. C. B. observed Odawa delegates amongst many other nations representatives at a council at Michilimackinac in 1753. He described: ‘Generally speaking, [they] do not keep any hair on their bodies.... keep it only on the back of the head. There it is cut short, leaving one of two long strands, dyed black [?], which they braid and let hang to their shoulders. There is none on the rest of the body, for they are careful to pluck it. Some even pull out [their] eyelashes and eyebrows, as well as any down the body.’

In 1763 John Rutherford, captured at the siege of Détroit by the Odawa, recalled that his captor’s father, ‘... shaved my head, leaving only a small tuft of hair upon the crown and two small locks, which he plaited with silver broaches interwoven, making them hang over my face, which was painted with a variety of colours.’

In June 1763 Watawam, a Odawa leader, rescued Alexander Henry from the Ojibwe. Whilst being adopted, he recorded: ‘My hair was cut off, and my head shaved, with the exception of a spot on the crown, about twice the diameter of a crown piece.’


It is likely that feathers and other items were worn in the scalplock according to the man’s spiritual experiences. Alexander Henry wrote that on his head he had ‘a large bunch of feathers.’

A circular roach of red dyed deer hair and porcupine guard secured with a bone spreader may have been worn. It is fixed to the head by passing a scalp braid through the spreader and secured with a wooden pin to the head. Mounted in on the spreader was a bone or wood socket into which a single eagle feather was fixed so that it could revolve with the wearer’s movement.

Headbands decorated with quillwork with upright feathers were likely to have been worn by some men for special occasions. Turbans of otter fur may also have been worn at such times.

The Odawa had also adopted the gustoweh, possibly from the Wyandot. Gustoweh were built on a framework of ash splints, like those used in basketry. On splint circles the head whilst two more cross over it and at the point where they cross are decorated with bunches of split wild turkey, hawk and other feathers and ribbons.

Tattoo and Paint

Tattooing of the face and body was practiced as an alternative to painting. Tattoos in the form of some animal, such as an eagle, a snake or other figure were ingrained with powdered charcoal. Linear patterns were also used extensively. The French soldier J.C. B. stated that: ‘Many... are accustomed to tattoo the whole body.’ He goes on to state: ‘He dips the points [of the needles] in the colour desired, which is prepared from alder charcoal or gunpowder; from red earth or vermillion; or blue, green and the like; all bright colours.’

Bougainville writing in 1756 observed: ‘We marched through the woods in several files, the Indians almost naked, all in black and red war paint.’ John Rutherford was captured by the Odawa at the siege of Détroit in 1763 described them, ‘... they were naked and painted black and red.’

J. C. B. observed that: ‘Others are satisfied with painting the face and body in different colours, first rubbing themselves with bear grease, and then daubing on black, red blue and green’ and ‘They painted themselves red and black, then sang the war song’ and ‘They do this by dipping their fingers in the colour with which they want to paint their faces in every direction, forming stripes across and down the face.’

In 1763 Alexander Henry stated that his face, ‘... was painted with three or four different colours; some parts of it red, and others black.’

Ears and Nose

J. C. B. stated that: ‘Most of the Indians split the ends of the ears from top to bottom, without cutting the edge which holds them together. They bend a long flat lead strip through and around the length of the slit. The weight of the lead naturally stretches the flesh. When healed, the remove the lead and substitute brass wire twisted like a corkscrew, and bent into a half circle as large as the opening. The amount sometimes to five or six inches. When the man walks, this flaps and looks like a pump going up and down. Often the weight of this pulls the upper part of the ear loose, and when this happens, they let it dangle... But whether left hanging or not, the savages tie the two ears together behind the head when they go to war or go hunting, so they will not be hinder in running. It is only when they dress up that they let their ears hang. Then they put feathers and pieces of fur dyed various colours into the wire. This makes a plume on each side of the head.’

Ornaments, Necklaces and Neck Pouches

Broaches of silver, replacing those of copper or brass, became increasingly abundant through the 18th century in adorning clothing and available at Détroit and Michilimackinac. There were several designs of broach. The simplest and most numerous was a ring across which a tongue extended like a buckle. This is affixed to cloth by pinching the material up so that the tongue penetrates it twice and when drawn back holds it firmly in place. Smaller ones can often line the edges of breechclouts, etc. whilst those of larger diameter decorated the upper body of shirts. Another very common broach fixed in the same manner is a circular ornate disc perforated with punched out or embossed regular patterns which can have embossed or crenulated edges sometimes known as a round buckle.

Necklaces of wampum, imitation wampum or glass beads were likely to have been worn. Pendants could have consisted of large shells or silverwork such as French coins with the king’s head, cross of Lorraine or a crucifix. In the French and Indian War period, Pierre Pouchot stated that men, ‘… wear around the neck, a collar pendent like our order of knighthood [probably referring to the gorget worn by army officers at that period].

John Rutherford described in 1763 that: ‘When evening came I lay down as usual upon my bearskin, putting off all my ornaments, wampum, silver bracelets, collars, etc.’

A tobacco pouch could also have been worn around the neck and in which was kept a man’s personal pipe. The tobacco pouch made of the skins of animals with the hairy side turned outwards. Slit pouches of animal skins were also worn over the belt. John Rutherford noted that: ‘When they are all dead, they scalped them and took the skin off their arms to make tobacco pouches... leaving the first joints of the fingers by ways of tassels.’

‘The Indians are fond of wearing rings upon all their fingers.’

Breechclout and Apron

Bougainville writing of Michilimackinac men in June 1757 commented that: ‘They go naked except for a breechclout. Their bearing is noble and proud.’

J.C.B. recorded that ‘The loincloth is made of deerskin or cloth obtained from Europeans. It is a quarter or third cloth that the men wind between their legs. The piece of cloth is held in place around the hips with a cord. The two ends of the loincloth are folded over in front and in the back, with the end in front longer than the one in the back.’

In 1763 John Rutherford described the breechclout he was given by his captor’s father as, ‘... a piece of blue cloth about a yard and half long and a foot broad which they pass through betwixt their legs bringing each end under a belt which is round in the middle for that purpose.’


Odawa men wore half leggings which were fitted tightly to the leg with double flaps or wings hanging feely down the outside. Some had a single flap at the back with the front stitched on the inside forming the outer seam of the legging. Each flap was decorated with ribbon, edge beading, moose hair embroidery, broaches and braid. Obviously, these were for best wear and that on the trail plain half or full leggings of blue or red cloth, or buckskin would be worn. Alexander Henry was given leggings of scarlet cloth in 1763, which was the ‘favourite fashion’.

J.C.B stated that leggings of ‘deer or elk skin’ were worn but were not trimmed. He also described leggings of cloth, ‘... of two half ells of cloth (a French ell is 54”), or one ell of milton cut in two parts, one for each leg, and sewed down the leg as wide as the calf, so that the leg can enter. Outside the seam a piece four or five inches wide is left which flaps freely along the leg; or the lower end may be tucked into the shoe and fastened at the top by a garter above the calf. When it is wished to make this kind of stocking ornamental it is trimmed with ribbon sewed together or in points on the edge of the flapping outside strip. To ornament this the savages often add porcupine quills fashioned in various colours, as well as animal fur dyed red. They also fasten little bells sold to them by Europeans.’


Pierre Pouchot observed that, generically, ‘... they wear garters of beads [probably loomed wampum in geometric patterns of white and dark blue black], or porcupine quills [in red, black, blue, yellow and white], bordered four fingers wide, which are tied on the legs.’ Garters were also made of woven woollen fibres typically dyed red with white bead patterns incorporated into the weave. J.C. B. noted that garters could also be timed with little bells, ‘... or with small pieces of copper three or four lignes in length, made like the ends of shoelaces but widened to a cornet shape [cones]. They are attached so closely that they touch and make a sound that can be heard from afar when the man or woman is wearing them in motion.’


Moccasins were made of smoked moose or buckskin with a puckered centre seam along the instep. They had cuffs split at the back (women’s moccasins were made with a single cuff around the ankle). A two-piece moccasin style with a separate vamp, may also have been worn. They are fastened under the cuff and tied at the instep with a thong. During the winter moccasins are made larger so that they could be lined with rabbit skin, moose hair and or old blanket and the cuffs wrapped up around the ankles. Snow shoes were worn during the winter.

J.C.B described moccasins being, ‘... gathered at the toe and are sewn above and behind with a raised flap on either side. This is turned down over the cord below the ankle which ties on the shoes. Often these folded edges, as well as the front and back of the shoes, are decorated with ribbon or dyed porcupine quills of various colours, with red predominating. Sometimes, they add some glass beads and tiny copper bells, which are either round or long and trumpet shaped.’


A European shirt, cut in contemporary European fashion, obtained from French traders and increasingly from itinerant English sources from the 1740s, was also popular and could be daubed with grease and paint to waterproof it over the shoulders. Alexander Henry stated: ‘A shirt was provided for me, painted with vermillion, mixed with grease.’

At Détroit clothing (probably including cloth too) formed 75.58% of all trader’s expenditure between 1715 and 1760. Shirts were usually of linen or muslin usually in white or plain colours. Some of the most requested fabrics included cotton, chintz and calico in bright prints. Shirts could also have front and cuff ruffles.

Odawa Family in 1759 - Source: Painting by George Townshend, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Blankets and Coats

Alexander Henry wrote that: ‘Over all, I was to wear a scarlet blanket or mantle...’ Trade blankets, usually of blue or red woollen cloth, and skin robes were worn for warmth. At the time French blankets were considered of better quality than those supplied by the British. In the winter of 1747 Pennsylvania government sent matchcoats, strouds, blankets, powder and lead to keep certain Indian ‘friends’.

During the 18th century European dress continued to be sought by some principal men as a symbol of their role amongst their people, particularly when dealing with Europeans who would have recognised the status of the wearer by his dress. Hats and coats (but not breeches) of European origin and of higher quality marked men as diplomatic mediators. For the Odawa these were likely to have been obtained from the French at Détroit and Michilimackinac These are likely to have been in a military style in blue, red or yellow unlined woollen fabric, about 40” long and laced with fine brass wire.


Pierre Pouchot described generically the equipment carried by Native American men. ‘The men wear a belt about six inches wide, made of wool of different colour, which the Indian women make very neatly, of flaming designs. They hung to this belt their mirrors and their tobacco pouch, which is the skin of an otter, beaver, cat or bird taken off whole and tanned, into which they put their pipe tobacco and steel. They have also a pocket hanging like a wallet, for carrying their balls and lead for hunting or war. They have an ox horn with a shoulder strap for carrying powder. Their knife is hung in a sheaf from the neck, and falls upon the breast. They also have a crooked knife or a curved sword, and they make great use of this.’

By the beginning of the 18th century the standard trade musket that armed the Odawa was manufactured in France at the Tulle arsenal. The .62 calibre ‘fusil de chasse’ or hunting musket has a 44-inch octagon-to-round barrel and the lock plate is marked with the name of the arsenal spelt as TVLLE. After 1745 the ‘V’ changed to a ‘U’. Characteristically the stock had a drooped ‘cow’s foot’ butt. From the 1740’s the Odawa were also obtaining their firearms from Euro-American traders based in Pennsylvania. These trade guns were short, light flintlock muskets of .66 or smaller calibre, called fusils, fuzee or fuke and were approximately similar to the later ‘Northwest gun’.

A powder horn and a shot pouch would have been worn over the shoulder and high up under the arm to minimise them flapping about whilst moving. Shot pouches were often made of woven fibre with white bead patterns woven into the threads; bags of deerskin with sewn wampum panels with small white geometric patterns on a dark blue-black field or of black dyed skin with quillwork and white bead edging with a fringe of metal cones filled with red dyed deer hair. The panel of these bags could be decorated with quilled geometric designs and with images of thunderbirds or underwater panthers. Straps were of woven fibre or loomed imitation or real wampum. A knife was carried in a sheaf, often decorated with geometric quillwork, hung around the neck.

In 1757 the Odawa were recorded using bow and arrows as a supplementary weapon, for example, not wishing to reload muskets the Odawa rear guard kept their pursuers at bay following their successful attack outside Fort Edward.

A tomahawk or warclub was carried stuffed through a belt or sash at the back or on the hip. Woven woollen sashes were wrapped twice around the waist with the fringe hanging down before. Pouchot describes, ‘The men wear a belt about six inches wide, made of wool of different colours, which the Indian women make very neatly, with flaming designs. They hung to this belt their mirrors and their tobacco pouch, which is the skin of an otter beaver, cat or bird, taken off whole and tanned, into which they put their pipe tobacco and steel. They have also a pocket like a wallet, for carrying their balls and lead for hunting and war. They carry their mirror and tomahawk upon their hips.’


Bearor, Bob, Leading by Example: Partisan Fighters & Leaders of New France 1660-1760, Westminster: Heritage Books Inc., 2002, pp. 70-76.

Bearor, Bob, Leading by Example: Partisan Fighters & Leaders of New France 1660-1760, Volume Three, Westminster: Heritage Books Inc., 2007, pp. 161-173.

Crouch, Christian Ayne, Nobility Lost: French & Canadian Martial Cultures, Indians & The End of New France, New York: Cornell University Press, 2014, pp. 42-46, 104.

Dowd, Gregory Evans, War Under Heaven: Pontiac, The Indian Nations & The British Empire, Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2002, 55-59,

Feest, Johanna E. and Christian F. Feest, Ottowa: in Trigger, Bruce G. and Sturtevant, W. C. (eds), Handbook of the North American Indians, Volume 15, Northeast, Washington: Smithsonian Institute, 1978, pp. 772-786.

Hamilton, Edward (trans. and ed.) Adventures in the Wilderness: The American Journals of Louis Antoine de Bougainville, 1756-1760, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1990,

Hartman, Sheryl, Indian Clothing of the Great Lakes: 1740-1840, Ogden: Eagle’s View Publishing Company, 1988, pp.63-103.

Hughes, Ben, The Siege of Fort William Henry: A Year on the Northeastern Frontier, Yardley: Westholme Publishing, LLC, 2014.

McDonnell, Michael A, Masters of Empire; Great Lakes Indians and the Making of America, New York: Hill and Wang, 2015.

Pouchot, Pierre, Memoir Upon The Late War In North America, Between The French And English, 1755-60. Volume II, Alpha Editions, 2021, pp. 49, 189-191.

Qualfe. Milton Milo [ed.], The Siege of Detroit in 1763: the Journal of Pontiac’s Conspiracy and John Rutherford’s Narrative of Captivity, Barakaldo Books, 2020.

Qualfe. Milton Milo [ed.], Alexander Henry’s Travels and Adventures in the Years 1760 – 1776, Chicago: R & R Donnelley & Sons Company, 1921, pp 113.


Larry Burrows for a major overhaul of the entire article