OUTOUTAGAN (Outoutaga, Otoutagon, Ottoutagan; better known as Jean Le Blanc or Jean Le Bland because of the whiteness of his mother’s skin), an important chief of the Ottawas du Sable, and son of the chief Le Talon; figured prominently in the Ottawa-Miami feud at Detroit in 1706; fl. 1698–1712.
Imperial expansion by the French into the west victimized the Ottawas, their oldest ally among the tribes of that area. These were a mercantile people whose trade route between the upper lakes and Montreal ran along the river which still bears their name. They had replaced the Hurons as the leading Indian middlemen in the western fur trade and, by the end of the 17th century, they were being replaced by French traders in the west. Outoutagan endeavoured to preserve the alliance that his father, the chief Le Talon, had made with the French, while still protecting the trade interests of the Ottawas.
Outoutagan’s great loyalty to the French is evident in his reaction to the post and new settlement at Detroit. The development of Detroit by Cadillac [Laumet] as the central entrepôt of the western fur trade undermined the older post of Michilimackinac, around which most of the Ottawas lived; it reduced their role as middlemen and it bypassed their trade route to Montreal. Yet in 1701 Outoutagan promised Callière that, in compliance with the governor’s request, he would move with his people to Detroit. The promise was fulfilled after 1702 by the majority of the Ottawas, despite some apprehension about the transfer.
In early June of 1706, mutual distrust between the Ottawas and the Miamis at Detroit exploded in the Le Pesant affair. According to his brother Miscouaky, Outoutagan had opposed Le Pesant’s attack on the Miamis. He shared no responsibility for the death of Constantin Delhalle, the missionary whom he had released from his captors, saying “my father, go to the fort and tell the French not to fire at us and that we wish them no harm.” The friar, however, was shot dead by a vengeful Ottawa as he approached the fort. It was Outoutagan who entered the fort under a flag of truce in a vain effort to restore peace. A month or two later, he was drawn to a sham peace conference where he was shot and wounded just as he accepted the hand of Michipichy* or Quarante Sols, the Huron chief.
At a later conference at Montreal on 18 June 1707, Outoutagan offered his own body to Governor Rigaud de Vaudreuil to appease his anger over the murder of the missionary and the soldier by the Ottawas. The governor refused his submission and the offer of two Ottawas as slaves. Instead, he demanded the head of Le Pesant, who was blamed for the entire affair. Vaudreuil believed that Outoutagan was the sole Ottawa capable of overthrowing the paramount chief, a fellow Ottawa du Sable. Outoutagan would consent only to a repudiation of Le Pesant’s leadership. He was then told to go to Detroit via the Iroquois lands to offer Cadillac the two slaves and to let him determine the form of further reparation.
At Detroit, Cadillac demanded the unconditional surrender of Le Pesant and Outoutagan protested “he is my brother, my own brother.” The Ottawas were stricken with famine and they desperately needed a reopening of trade to obtain food supplies. A resumption of the war would have been as distasteful to them as to the French. Before presenting Cadillac’s demand to the Ottawa council at Michilimackinac, Outoutagan waited until their assembled allies had departed so that they might not protest. The council decided that Le Pesant would be put to death if he refused to go to Detroit, and Kinongé and other Ottawas helped the French to apprehend him. He was given to Cadillac as a slave with the plea of his people that his life be spared.
In spite of Le Pesant’s subsequent escape from Fort Pontchartrain the Ottawas had been humiliated to preserve the French alliance system in the west and none of their grievances against the Miamis had been answered. Nevertheless they did gain two advantages from reconciliation with their allies. Trade was resumed and the Iroquois, who were anxious to destroy the Ottawas, were deprived of an opportunity to intervene between the western tribes. With peace restored, some Ottawas returned to Detroit. In 1712, Father Joseph-Jacques Marest reported that continued insecurity had led most of these, including Outoutagan’s wife, to come back to Michilimackinac. Outoutagan remained at Detroit.
Two apocryphal tales about Outoutagan’s quick tongue survive. Clairambault d’Aigremont reported that the chief had once told Buade* de Frontenac that he was “a good-for-nothing weakling since he needed a horse to carry him.” In another encounter with the governor recorded by Charlevoix*, Frontenac asked Outoutagan, “a bad Christian and a great drunkard,” what he thought liquor was made of. The Ottawa is said to have replied that “it was an extract of tongues and hearts, for when I have had a drink, I fear nothing and I speak like an angel.” This last anecdote is probably a fabrication. At the 1701 peace conference at Montreal, Outoutagan opposed liquor sales to the young Indians visiting the town and he begged in vain for an end to the traffic in alcohol with Indian allies of the French. “It is a drink that ruins our minds,” he said.
Outoutagan’s importance in French Indian policy is suggested by the differing accounts of his character. Cadillac portrayed the chief as a treacherous hypocrite and described his wife, Mme Techenet [Elizabeth Couc*], as a bigamous slut who was pro-English to boot. Part of this hostility may have been engendered by the testimony of Outoutagan’s sister about the misdeeds of Cadillac and Étienne Volant de Radisson at Detroit. On the other hand, Vaudreuil spoke of “the submissive and apparently sincere manner in which Outoutagan has always spoken to me, together with the blind obedience he has shown to my orders and in doing my will.”
Perhaps the best assessment was made by Charlevoix, who wrote: “this Indian possessed much talent, and though strongly attached to the French nation, he saw more clearly than desirable . . . where many things had to be passed over and much left to circumstances.” Outoutagan could do little, however, to arrest the decline in Ottawa trading fortunes, and his devotion to the French produced no compensation. He did not succeed to Le Pesant’s authority and it is evident that by 1712 he commanded few followers.
[Manuscript references are legion, but the most important are AN, Col., C11A, 19, p.82; 24, pp.27–30; 28, p.144; 29, pp.26–101; 30, pp.82–88; 33, pp.71–79 (copies in PAC); also 39, ff.44, 50v, 52v. “Correspondance de Vaudreuil,” APQ Rapport, 1938–39, 10–179; 1939–40, 355–463; 1942–43, 399–443; 1946–47, 371–460; 1947–48, 137–339. Charlevoix, Histoire, II, 276 and passim; III, 306 and passim; History (Shea), V, 144 and passim. La Poterie, Histoire (1722), IV, 258 and passim. Michigan Pioneer Coll., XXXIII, 328–29, 333 and passim. Fragmentary excerpts from series C11A are also to be found in NYCD (O’Callaghan and Fernow), IX, and Wis. State Hist. Soc. Coll., XVI, but the excerpts in these volumes are much less useful and less complete than those in the Michigan Pioneer Collections and the APQ Rapports. p.n.m.]