Following a telephone enquiry regarding a possible visit by Chief Maungwudaus to Shakespeare’s Birthplace during the 1840s, it was revealed, by a member of staff, that he and four members of his troupe from the Chippewa tribe had signed the Visitors’ Book in February 1848. They were, at this time (1845-1848), touring Britain and the continent putting on shows and exhibitions sponsored by George Catlin (1796-1872), an artist and entrepreneur. Catlin had made five trips to the western United States to document and paint portraits of the North American peoples and their way of life. He created an ‘Indian Gallery’ which he brought to London to be exhibited at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly,
Maungwudaus, meaning “the great hero” or “courageous”, also known as George Henry, was born circa 1811 at 40 Mile Creek on the North West shore of Lake Ontario. He was one of eight children born to Sarah Henry and Chief Mesquacosy. Sarah was the first Mississauga woman to be baptised a Methodist. George Henry received his education at Methodist mission schools and seemed destined to take up a role in the church as a translator and interpreter. He served at several missions during the 1830s, including Munceytown where his wife Anna gave birth to his second son Abraham, baptised in 1831. He later became the government interpreter at the St Clair mission, but resigned his post in 1840, finding Methodism too controlling an influence on the natives. In 1844 he formed a First Nations dance troupe which included members of his own family and several Walpole Island Ojibwa. The troupe performed through North East America before travelling to London in 1845 where, according to the London Times, he was feted by the ‘upper crust’, taking tea with Sir Augustus d’Este (cousin of Queen Victoria), visiting the mansion of the Duke of Wellington, and taking a tour of the Cathedral at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Later that year the troupe entertained royalty in Paris, where King Louis Philipe I presented Maungwudaus with a gold medal, and other members of the troupe received medals in silver. From France, the troupe travelled to Belgium, where several members contracted small pox. Vaccination, at the behest of the Society of Friends, protected Maungwudaus, his family, and the one Ojibwa who had accepted inoculation.
The depleted troupe returned to England touring provincial towns. From Liverpool, they crossed to Dublin, then returned to England via Scotland. Sadly, three of his children died during this tour: two in Glasgow and one in Edinburgh. In November 1847, the Leeds Intelligence reported the death of Uh-wus-sig-gee-zhig-goo-kway, wife of Maungwudaus at Newark, Norfolk, aged 41 years. They had recently been performing in Leeds.
After his return from Europe where the troupe had not thrived ("‘They had pined for their wigwam homes and native woods and had found the mode of livng & diet preyed upon their health"), Maungwudaus married Taundoqua, a part French Anishinabe woman in 1851. She toured with him and his sons giving lectures on Ojibwa manners and customs. By 1860, he re-invented himself as Dr. Maungwudaus, informing his clients of his credentials as an herbalist ("descended through an unbroken lineage of Great Medicine Men of the Chippewa nation"). He appeared for his consultations dressed in Indian costume, ornamented with porcupine quills, beads and a necklace of Grizzly Bear’s claws. He had, in fact, as a boy, been taught by his father about roots and barks which would heal the sick.
The last newspaper reference to Maungwudaus at Carthage in the Black River Valley was in the Carthage Republican in 1877 reporting his participation, in full Indian costume, in a canoe race in which he came second.
During his later years, he wrote many pamphlets about his experiences in Europe and his observations of the different nationalities he encountered. Not all of them were flattering.
Last year, I visited an exhibition of George Catlin’s American Indian Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery, London. This was the first time that the fifty portraits had been seen together outside America since they returned there in the 1850s.