In the fall of 1815, I went up the Mississippi with a boat properly manned, on a trading voyage. The Indian traders on the upper Mississippi, purchasing goods at St. Louis, were desirous of making payment by remitting lead from the mines on Fevre river, which they had received in trade from the Indians, and which was of their own smelting and manufacture from the mineral. This promised to open up a new field of trade and commerce; but the process of boating up the Mississippi at this period, was at times quite tedious. The boats were propelled up stream by means of poles and sails, and with favorable wind, 110 miles have been accomplished in a single day. From twelve days to a month were requisite for the voyage from St. Louis to Prairie du Chien, while the descending trip was made in from six to ten days.
I had conversed with Indians at the treaty at Portage des Sioux, and at St. Louis, about trading with them, and asking their permission to build a saw-mill in their country, if I could find a suitable locality, as it was a pine region, and pine lumber was then worth seventy dollars a thousand in St. Louis. I now started to carry out these views. At the place now called Bellevue, in Iowa, about fifteen miles below Galena, and about six below the mouth of Fevre river, I stopped, and found a water-power, which I judged would fully answer my purpose. Here a small stream flowed into the Mississippi, and some thirty or forty rods above its mouth was a fine locality for a mill; and logs could be rafted down the Wisconsin, and other streams upon which the pine grew abundantly, as I had learned from traders and Indians in that quarter. The Indians had previously informed me, that if I should go up for such a purpose, I must obtain written permission of the government. I now had a regular license from Gov. Clark, the superintendent of Indian affairs, to trade with the Indians.
There were a few Indians then encamped at this Bellevue locality, and others collected while I remained, so that in all, there were 300 or 400 warriors, and many more squaws and children, assembled there. I soon discovered but little feeling of friendship on the part of the Indians towards the Americans. I had a talk with them, reminding them of their promises to me, and my wish to trade at that point, and erect a mill there. After I had distributed presents during several days to the amount of $300 in value, and concluding that they had obtained all they could, they said they had been consulting about the matter, and declined to grant my request; that doubtless many whites would be soliciting similar favors and privileges, and one grant of this kind would pave the way for another, and they must firmly deny all; that they must check the advance of the whites, for if one should go into their country, others, like swarms of bees, would follow. They constantly begged for whisky, of which I had none.
I now proceeded on to Prairie du Chien, and there engaged in some little traffic. The place was much scattered, and sparsely settled; there were some fifty or sixty dwelling houses, and all the people could speak the English, French and Indian languages, and all imperfectly. There were perhaps three or four permanent traders located there, and, during the warm season of the year, some fifty or more would resort there, and late in the fall scatter abroad to their several trading stations on the upper Mississippi and its numerous tributaries. This had been the custom for many years. I do not think there was an American resident at Prairie du Chien. The traders were polite and kind, and their hospitality was both general and generous; and while they drank freely, it was regarded as disgraceful to get drunk.
Mr. James Aird, a Scotch trader, had been thirty-seven years in the upper Mississippi country, making Prairie du Chien generally his place of summer resort. Joseph Rolette, Antoine and Michael Brisbois, Francis Boutielle, Jean Baptiste St. Jean, Mons. Tiercourt, Mons. Bennette, Mons. Palen, and many others, were among the traders. All these traders had families, and mostly by Indian wives; but Michael Brisbois had a fine French wife. In Brisbois' family was a beautiful girl named Fisher, whose parents1, early settlers there, were dead; and Joseph Rolette was said to have married this young girl when she was only ten years of age. Rolette was regarded as the largest trader there, and reputed wealthy. The marriages of the traders with squaws was without ceremony, and to last only for a single trading season. The trader would make the engagement with the parents of the young squaw, to whom he would make liberal compensation; and by making a permanent marriage, the trader's business would be increased. When the trader renewed his engagement for his squaw wife for two or three years in succession, he generally then kept her for life.
I remained a few weeks at Prairie du Chien, and then returned without molestation to St. Louis, taking down a few skins and hides, but the trip was unprofitable. I learned, while at Prairie du Chien, that the people there had chiefly depended upon the traders bringing flour and other supplies from Mackinaw, but their remoteness from the older settlements, would now render it necessary to engage in farming, and raise large crops of wheat, and that arrangements were then making for that purpose. I thought it would be a good locality for a grist mill, and promised the people that I would erect one, for which there was sufficient water-power at Fisher's Coulee, four miles above Prairie du Chien. This promise was gratifying to them, as they had no mode of grinding except sometimes to hitch a horse to a sweep, and grind on a small scale with a band and small stone; hence called a band-mill.
About June, 1816, I returned to Prairie du Chien with a large boat, and full load of merchandise and provisions, I then being but a common carrier for others. The post at Rock Island was then occupied, and commanded by Maj. Willoughby Morgan; this post was commenced the previous year. On this visit, I believe, I found a detachment of United States troops arrived at Prairie du Chien shortly before me; perhaps from fifty to 150 in number, but I have forgotten the name of the commanding officer. Their arrival was very unwelcome to the settlement generally. They were occupying and repairing the old fort on the bank of the river, at the upper part of the town.
Having discharged my load, I descended to Fevre river, as I had orders from St. Louis merchants to bring down lead from the traders in payment for goods they had purchased there. Reaching a point then known as Kettle Chief's prairie,2 some little distance below where Cassville now is, perhaps fifteen or eighteen miles, I there met the traders upon whom I had the orders, and some 2000 or 3000 Indians congregated, holding a sort of jubilee just after their corn planting, swigging whisky, and invoking the blessing of the Great Spirit upon their crop. The traders requested me to go down to the mouth of Fevre river, and there await their sending the lead down; they were very anxious that I should take it down to St. Louis for them, and they had it piled up at the very spot where Galena now is. This I refused, as I could not consent to wait so long, and asked to go up with my boat. This request the Indians refused, saying that "the Americans must not see their lead mines," as they were particularly suspicious of Americans, but did not cherish the same feelings towards Frenchmen, with whom they had been so long connected and associated. Speaking, as I did, the French as fluently as I did the English, the traders declared to the Indians that I was a Frenchman, and all my boatmen, which was true, were French voyayeurs; the Indians, with very little persuasion, consented that I might go to their smelting establishments.
About 200 Indians jumped upon my boat, while others followed in canoes, and we pushed on to the spot. There was no Indian town there, but several encampments, and no trading establishment. There were at least twenty furnaces in the immediate neighborhood; and the lead was run into plaques or plats, or flats, of about seventy pounds each. These flats were formed by smelting the mineral in a small walled hole, in which the fuel and mineral were mingled, and the liquid lead run out, in front, into a hole scooped in the earth, so that a bowl shaped mass, of lead was formed therein. The squaws dug the mineral, and carried it in sacks on their heads to the smelting places. I loaded seventy tons of lead in my boat, and still left much at the furnaces. This was the first boat load of lead from Galena. The Indians had often previously taken lead in small quantities in their canoes to Portage des Sioux and St. Louis, for purposes of barter.
In the course of that year, I made two trips in the trade to Prairie du Chien, and also trips in 1817-183 -19 and '20, making altogether nine trips. I am not certain that I took more than one other trip up Fevre river for a load of lead, for the traders, now making all their purchases at St. Louis, would carry down their own lead, and take back a new supply of goods suitable for the Indian trade. After the peace of 1815, and all was settled down again in quiet in the northwest, the channel of the Indian trade was completely changed, from Mackinaw, where it had so long centered, to St. Louis, as it was found far more accessible, and by this time there were several heavy establishments of merchandise selected with special reference to this trade.
In 1818 I built a grist-mill, as I had promised, at Fisher's Coulee, four miles above Prairie du Chien. It had but a single run of stones, and eventually proved a source of expense to me, but a matter of great convenience to the people. Lieut. Col. Talbot Chambers went up to Prairie du Chien in 1817, in my boat, and assumed the command of the garrison. Col. Chambers loved to make a display, was fond of drinking freely, and was naturally tyrannical and over-bearing, and, when intoxicated, was desperate and dangerous. Once, when so inflamed with liquor, he chased a young female into the house of Jacque Menard, with no good motive for doing so, when Menard reproached him; upon which Chambers ordered a file of twenty-five soldiers to tie him up, strip, and give him twenty-five lashes with a cat o' nine tails, well laid on.
While the preparations were making for carrying this inhuman order into effect, a son of Nicholas Boilvin, a bright and handsome youth of some ten years of age, ran up and commenced crying and pleading in behalf of Menard, not wishing to see one of the citizens thus humiliatingly punished in public. After two or three blows were struck, Col. Chambers ordered the drummer to cease. Menard was a clever citizen, cultivated a large farm, and had a worthy family of quarter-bloods. Col. Chambers inflicted corporeal punishment in several instances, and finally, for cutting off both ears of one soldier, and one ear of another, was tried and cashiered, and then descended the Mississippi; went to Mexico, and joined the army there, and had risen to about the rank of colonel in that service, and was in the Mexican army at the surrender of the city of Mexico to Gen. Scott. It was in consequence of Col. Chambers' petty tyrannies, the civil law not being much in force or very effectual, that I abandoned all idea of settling at Prairie du Chien, and all the designs of improvement I had formed, and sold my mill at a sacrifice.
In 1819 I proceeded up Black river to the first fall, about six feet descent, and erected a saw mill on the southeastern bank of the stream. I had barely got it fairly going, when hundreds of Winnebagoes came there, in a starving condition, and importuned me incessantly for everything I had for eating or wearing purposes, and I was thus soon left without supplies, and returned to Prairie du Chien. The next spring I went up there again and found the Indians had burned the mill; I then rafted down a quantity of pine logs I had cut the previous year. These were the first mills erected in western Wisconsin.
I was born in the town of Peru, Clinton Co., NY, Dec. 7th, 1793 --- and as the sequal will show, I have lived in the woods the most of my days. My father was a farmer, to which occupation I was raised until past the age of sixteen years. When I was between two and three years old, my father's house in Peru took fire and almost everything he possessed of a movable character, was consumed. He sold his farm, and about this period removed to the town of Jay, in the adjoining county of Essex, where he owned or obtained land. Here he made improvements, and had good buildings, an orchard, and everything comfortable about him, when, about 1803, he got the Ohio fever. He sold his farm at a great sacrifice; but before he collected the money for it, he met a gentleman who had just returned from Ohio, who stated that though lands were cheap, and they could raise large crops of grain and flocks of cattle with little labor, yet many of the settlers were obliged to go twenty or thirty miles to mill, and there was no market for their fine cattle and rich harvests, and that a farmer with a comfortable home was better off in the cold and unproductive region of northern New York, than in the fertile plains of Ohio without a market. These considerations dissuaded my father from removing to Ohio, and, in March, 1805, he settled in Champlain, Clinton Co., NY, where he purchased a farm, with a log dwelling and forty acres of improvement.
Living thus on the frontiers, and removing from place to place, my educational advantages were very limited. But after moving to Champlain, the nearest school was at the village of Chazy, two and a half miles distant, whither I went pretty regularly for two or three winters. In that day and in a new country, to be able to read, write and cipher as far as the rule of three, was considered sufficient qualifications to teach a common school. I was ambitious to obtain a good education, and relaxed no efforts to be punctual in my attendance, although the distance was great, and traveling through the deep snow was often very laborious. I read with avidity every book that chance threw in my way, or which I could obtain by borrowing in the neighborhood.
In the summer of 1808 I boarded at Champlain village, and attended the school taught by the late Dr. William Beaumont, who was then a student of medicine. Under his tuition I greatly improved myself in grammar, geography, etc., but at that early day I never saw a school atlas. Opportunities for attending better schools increased, and I continued alternately on the farm and at school until I was between sixteen and seventeen years of age, when I engaged in the study of the law. I, however, concluded that, from deficient early education and my native diffidence, I should never make a great lawyer, and my ambition protesting against a second or third rate position, I abandoned the law as I then supposed, forever, and sought and obtained a situation as a merchant's clerk.
The merchant who employed me became the sutler to the Light Artillery regiment, then commanded by Col. Wm. Fenwick, and formed a part of Gen. Izard's army. This force commenced its march from Plattsburgh to the west in August, 1814; and my employer having some business to transact in Plattsburgh, before his departure, sent me to attend to the sutling business, and I continued with the regiment until the campaign on the Niagara was over, and the troops retired into winter-quarters near Buffalo. In November my employer arrived, and taking offense at some of his acts, I demanded a settlement, and left him. I then engaged myself to a man named Fuller, sutler for Maj. Ball's two companies of dragoons, then cantoned near Avon, NY, on the Genesee river, where I remained doing little or nothing during the winter, as the dragoons, for some reason, were not paid off.
In April, 1815, I received a letter from the late Lewis Rouse4 of Green Bay, a townsman of mine, dated at Buffalo, stating that he had obtained the sutling of the consolidated Rifle regiment, and desired my assistance. Having no need of my services, I left Mr. Fuller and repaired to Buffalo, and the stage which conveyed me carried flying colors announcing the news of peace.
Those of the troops enlisted for the war were now discharged, and those enlisted for five years retained; of the latter was the Rifle regiment, then understood to have been ordered to Detroit. As I had conducted Mr. Rouse's business principally, he wished me to go with him, and desiring to see the country, I accepted his invitation. The troops having left Buffalo about the first of June, we sailed from that place on the 15th of that month, in the schooner Lady of the Lake, said to have been the best vessel then on the lakes and arrived at Detroit on or about the 10th of July. Here we found, that the regiment had been ordered to Mackinaw.
Detroit was then an old French village, with the houses mostly covered with bark. Waiting here a few days for a vessel on which to proceed to Mackinaw, we engaged passage about the 15th of July, on a crazy old schooner commanded by Capt. Pearson, bound for Drummond's Island, with pork and hard bread for the British troops then stationed at that place. On board the vessel as a passenger was Ramsey Crooks, since so distinguished among the Rocky Mountain traders, then on his way to Mackinaw, to receive the property of the Southwest Fur Company, which had been recently purchased by John Jacob Astor of New York. We found this old crazy vessel without any convenience of table or provisions. Mr. Crooks had come passenger on her from Buffalo, and the captain had promised him that he would lay in ample supplies at Detroit, but just as we had got under way from the latter port, Mr. Crooks went into the cabin and ascertained that the captain had failed to fulfill his engagement; and immediately he took the skiff, went ashore, and purchased dishes, knives, forks, spoons, and provisions, and we proceeded on our voyage. We were becalmed about ten days on the St. Clair river and flats, during which we went on shore and bought a sheep, which helped along with the rusty pork and hard bread. At that time, I had seen very little hardships, and I suffered much from such fare as hard bread and rusty pork.
We were almost a month from Detroit to Drummond's Island, where we found a trader named LaCroix, with a boat bound to Mackinaw, and with him we engaged our passage. No provisions could be had at Drummond's Island, so we were obliged to depend on the voyageurs' kettle of corn soup, a new kind of fare to me, and, I believe, I ate but a few mouthfulls from Drummonds Island to Mackinaw. We were two days reaching Mackinaw, where we arrived on the morning of the 15th of August. Once there and recruited, we had a new source of anxiety, in daily expecting the arrival of the paymaster, until the close of navigation; and then I had to content myself, as well as I could, until the ensuing spring of 1816. At the request of some of the inhabitants, I concluded to open a school, as it would keep me from idleness; if my scholars did not learn much English, I concluded I should stand a chance of acquiring some French; thus acting out the Yankee character of adapting one's self to circumstances. And thus I spent the winter.
During the winter of 1815-16, Congress passed an act excluding foreigners from participating in the Indian trade within the limits of the United States or its territories. This was then supposed to have been done through the influence of Mr. Astor; and, upon the purchase of the property of the Southwest Company, the American Fur Company re-appeared under the auspices of Mr. Astor, the headquarters of which were in Mackinaw.
Although Congress had passed a law excluding foreigners from the Indian country, it was found that the trade could not be carried on without their aid, as most of the clerk, interpreters and boatmen were foreigners; and, in the summer of 1816, the secretary of the treasury of the United States, issued orders to the Indian agents on this frontier to license foreigners as interpreters and boatmen, on their giving bond with large penalties for their good conduct in the Indian country. Thus the British traders, who wanted to get into the Indian country, had only to employ an American, to whom the goods were invoiced; and the license taken in his name, and the trader went as interpreter until they were beyond the Indian agencies, when the trader assumed the control of his property, and carried on his business as usual.
During the summer of 1816, it was projected to establish a United States fort at Green Bay; and, in July of that year, Col. John Miller, then colonel of the 3d regiment, United States Infantry, was ordered on that service, and soon chartering three vessels, embarked three or four companies of rifle-men and infantry, with some artillery. Among the vessels was the Washington, the largest of the fleet, commanded by Capt. Dobbins, on board of which vessel was the commandant. I had that year engaged myself as a clerk to some traders, to take charge of an outfit or trading establishment near the head of the St. Peters river, and the colonel apprehending difficulty from the Indians in landing at Green Bay, proposed to take the goods of several boats in the vessel, and tow the boats, and use them if necessary, in landing, and then return them to their owners.
Accordingly, Augustin Grignon, myself and a French clerk by the name of Chappin embarked on board the Washington, Mr. Grignon and Chappin acting in some measure as pilots. During the night of the second or third day out from Mackinaw, the two other vessels became separated from the Washington, and arriving in the vicinity of what is now called Washington island and harbor, and learning from Mr. Grignon that there was a good harbor, Col. Miller ordered the Washington to put in there to wait for her consorts. We remained there nearly two days, during which time the officers and passengers rambled over the island, and finally, in honor of our vessel, supposed to be the first one that had entered the harbor, we gave its name to Washington island and harbor, which they have ever since retained. Finding the other vessels had got into Green bay ahead of us, and had found a harbor at Vermillion island and were waiting for us, we proceeded up the bay, and arrived at Green Bay settlement about two days after, when the troops landed without the anticipated opposition from the Indians. This was in the month of July, 1816.
Green Bay was a kind of traders' depot for the trade of that bay, the Fox and upper part of Wisconsin rivers, which were considered dependents of it. There then resided at Green Bay, as a trader, John Lawe, and four or five at the Grignon's. Augustin Grignon resided and traded at the Little Kaukalin. Those traders who pretended to make Green Bay their home, resided generally but a small portion of the year there, as most of them wintered in the Indian country, and generally spent two or three months of the summer at Mackinaw. The traders of Green Bay mostly married, after the Indian manner, women of the Menomonee tribe, there being no white women in the country. I saw at this time but one woman in the settlement that pretended to be white, and she had accidentally been brought there at an early day, but her history, however, I do not now recollect. There were at Green Bay some forty or fifty Canadians of French extraction who pretended to cultivate the soil; but they were generally old, worn out voyageurs or boatmen, who, having become unfit for the hardships of the Indian trade, had taken wives generally of the Menomonee tribe, and settled down on a piece of land. As the land did not cost anything, all they had to do was, to take up a piece not claimed by any other person, and fence and cultivate it. But they had generally been so long in the Indian trade that they had, to a great extent, lost the little knowledge they had acquired of farming in Canada; so that they were poor cultivators of the soil, although they raised considerable wheat, barley, peas, etc. Green Bay was at that time a part of the territory of Indiana, of which the seat of government was at Vincennes, which was also the county town of the county to which Green Bay was attached --- between 400 and 500 miles distant by the tedious and circuitous route of that day.
There was an old Frenchman at Green Bay of the name of Charles Reaume, who could read and write a little, who acted as justice of the peace. He had been commissioned under George III., when Great Britain held jurisdiction over the country and after it was given up to the American government and attached to Indiana, he had been commissioned by Gov. Harrison,5 and being thus doubly armed with commissions, he acted under either as he found most convenient. The laws under which he acted were those of Paris6 and the customs of the Indian traders of Green Bay. He was very arbitrary in his decisions.
The county seat was so distant and difficult of access, that if a person felt himself aggrieved he preferred suffering injustice to going to the expense of an appeal; so that, practically, Reaume's court was the supreme court of the country. He took care not to decide against any of the traders who were able to bear the expense of an appeal; in fact the traders made use of him to hold their men in subjection, but never submitted to him any difficulty between themselves. These were left to the arbitration of other traders. It was said of him, that a bottle of spirits was the best witness that could be introduced into his court, and that after the decision of a case, the losing party producing the above witness, has been granted a new trial or re-hearing, and a reversal of the former decision obtained. For misdemeanor, he sentenced the culprit to labor a certain number of days on his farm or cut and split a certain number of rails for him.
During my stay at Green Bay, waiting the arrival of my employers, one of their engages or boatmen had left their employ and engaged himself to an American concerned in sutling for the troops, and I went to Judge Reaume, stating the case to him, asked him what the law was on that subject, and what could be done. He answered me in his broken English: "I'll---make---de---man---go---back---to---his--duty." "But," I again asked, "what is the law on the subject?" He answered: "de---law---is---I'll---make---de---man---go---back---to---his---duty." I reiterated my inquiry: "Judge Reaume, is there no law on the subject?" He replied with a feeling of conscious dignity: "We---are---accustomed---to---make---de---men---go---back---to---their---bourgeois."
On the 16th of September, 1816, I arrived at Prairie du Chien, a traders' village of between twenty-five and thirty houses, situated on the banks of the Mississippi, on what, in high water, is an island. The houses were built by planting posts upright in the ground, with grooves in them, so that the sides could be filled in with split timber or round poles and then plastered over with clay and whitewashed with a white earth found in the vicinity, and then covered with bark, or clapboards riven from oak. Tradition says the place took its name from an Indian chief of the Fox tribe by the name of Chien or Dog, who had a village somewhere on the prairie near where Fort Crawford now stands. Chien, or Dog, is a favorite name among the Indians of the northwest.
There were then [when Mr. Lockwood arrived there] of the old traders residing at Prairie du Chien, Joseph Rolette, Michael Brisbois, Francis Bouthillier and Jean Baptiste Faribault, all Canadians of French extraction, except Bouthillier, who was from France, and Nicholas Boilvin, who was Indian agent and held the commission of justice of the peace, under the government of Illinois territory, whence he came.
Michael Brisbois informed me that he had resided in Prairie du Chien about thirty years;7 and there was an old Scotchman by the name of James Aird,8 connected with the company by which I was first employed in the Indian trade, who generally wintered among the Sioux Indians, and had been a trader about forty years. There was also another man by the name of Duncan Graham, who had been engaged in the Indian trade about the same length of time, and was captain in the British Indian department during the war, from whom I obtained considerable information of the Indian country, and of the earlier days of Prairie du Chien.
Prairie du Chien was, at this time, an important post for Indian trade, and was considered by the Indians as neutral ground, where different tribes, although at war, might visit in safety; but if hostile, they had to beware of being caught in the neighborhood, going or returning. Yet I never heard of any hostile movement on the prairie, after they had safely arrived.
The factories which John W. Johnson had charge of, were established by an act of Congress previous to the War of 1812, for the humane purpose of preventing the British traders from extortions on the Indians, and of counteracting British influence over them, which they exercised through the traders. But unfortunately they had the contrary effect, and through the bad management of the traders, the government of the United States was made to appear contemptible in the eyes of the Indians. The idea was then prevalent in the United States, that the most sleazy and cheap goods were what the Indians wanted, whereas the blankets furnished by the British traders, although of coarse wool, were thick and substantial, and so were the cloths and calicoes, while those furnished by the Americans were greatly inferior. It was many years before Mr. Astor, with all his wealth and sagacity, could obtain in England suitable blankets and cloths for the Indian trade, and also the proper guns. There was, at that time, an Indian gun manufactured in England, called the Northwest gun, of simple, plain and strong construction, and it was understood that the manufacture of blankets, cloths and guns was so much under the influence of the Northwest Fur Company, that an American could not procure the genuine article, and hence the goods furnished by the factors were all of an inferior article, except tobacco; and the British traders took especial pains when they happened to have a poor article, to call it American. They had been furnished for many years with their tobacco from Albany, an inferior article, made into carrots of from two to three pounds; and when the American tobacco in plugs, and of a tolerable good quality, was introduced among them, they admitted that it was the best.
When I first came to the country, it was the practice of the old traders and interpreters to call any inferior article of goods American, and to speak to the Indians in a contemptuous manner of the Americans and their goods, and the goods which they brought into the country but too generally warranted this reproach. But after Mr. Astor had purchased out the Southwest Company and established the American Fur Company, he succeeded in getting suitable kinds of goods for the Indians, except at first the Northwest Indian gun. He attempted to introduce an imitation of them, manufactured in Holland, but it did not succeed, as the Indians soon detected the difference.
At that time there were generally collected at Prairie du Chien, by the traders and United States factors, about 300 packs of 100 pounds each of furs and peltries, mostly fine furs. Of the different Indian tribes that visited and traded more or less at Prairie du Chien, there were the Menomonees from Green Bay, who frequently wintered on the Mississippi; the Chippewas, who resided on the head waters of the Chippewa and Black rivers; the Foxes, who had a large village where Cassville now stands, called Penah; the Sauks, who resided about Galena and Dubuque; the Winnebagoes, who resided on the Wisconsin river; the Iowas, who then had a village on the upper Iowa river; Wabashaw's band of Sioux, who resided on a beautiful prairie on the Iowa side of the Mississippi, about 120 miles above Prairie du Chien, with occasionally a Kickapoo or Pottawattomie.
The Sauks and Foxes brought from Galena a considerable quantity of lead, moulded in the earth, in bars about two feet long, and from six to eight inches wide, and from two to four inches thick, being something of an oval form, and thickest in the middle, and generally thinning to the edge, and weighing from thirty to forty pounds. It was not an uncommon thing to see a Fox Indian arrive at Prairie du Chien with a hand sled, loaded with twenty or thirty wild turkeys for sale, as they were very plentiful about Cassville, and occasionally there were some killed opposite Prairie du Chien.
I must not omit to mention an early American settler --- Ezekiel Tainter. In 1833 the quarter-master of Fort Crawford advertised in Galena for proposals for a contract to furnish the fort with a year's wood. Mr. Tainter and a man by the name of Reed got the contract, and came to Prairie du Chien and supplied the first contract together, at the end of which Mr. Reed left the country. Mr. Tainter remained and continued for several years to take the wood contract, together with that for supplying the fort with beef; and at this business, which he well understood, in connection with the cultivation of a farm on the bluff where he cut his wood, he made money quite fast, as he was industrious and saving. He sent for his family, whom he had left in the State of New York, and paid off some old scores that he had previously been unable to do, and had some money left, for which he had no immediate use. Notwithstanding he knew nothing about merchandizing, he concluded, as he expressed it, "that the merchants were coining money, and that he would have a hand in it;" and borrowing some means in addition to his own, went to St. Louis and purchased a small stock of goods, which, as might be expected, were not very judiciously selected for the market.
During this time Mr. Tainter's brother, Gorham, arrived by his assistance, whom he took into partnership; but knowing as little about mercantile affairs as his brother, the business was not very well conducted. Both had large families to support, and it appears that they kept no account of expenses, or of what each took from the store. If one wanted an article, the other took something else to balance it. They continued business for about two years, when they took an account of stock, and found a deficiency of about $3000, for which they could not account; and as goods to this amount had been taken from the store without keeping any account of them, it did not at first occur to their minds that their families had consumed them. This satisfied Mr. Tainter that money was not so easily gained by merchandizing as he had supposed, and he returned to farming, and is now a resident and worthy citizen of the county.
Until the year 1824, it was believed that a steamboat could not come up to Prairie du Chien over the Des Moines and Rock river rapids. But, in the spring of that year, David G. Bates, who had for several years been engaged in running keel boats on the upper Mississippi, the water then being in a good stage in the river, brought to Prairie du Chien a very small boat called the Putnam. She was one of the smallest class of boats that run on the Ohio in a low stage of water. Capt. Bates proceeded to Fort Snelling with his boat. In June following, boats of a much larger class came over the rapids and went to Fort Snelling with supplies for the troops. Since then, the river from St. Louis to Fort Snelling has been navigated by steamboats, increasing every year in size and convenience.
During the summer of 1826, I built the first framed house that was erected in Prairie du Chien.9 I sent men to the Black river and got the timber for the frame and the shingles, and had the plank and boards sawed by hand, and brought down to Prairie du Chien. But then I had no carpenter or joiner, there being none here. I went on board of a keel boat that had landed, and inquired if there was a carpenter and joiner on board, on which a ragged, dirty-looking man said that he professed to be one; and, having seen quite as unprepossessing fellows turn out much better than appearances indicated, I agreed with him at $1.50 a day and board.
I built on the site near Fort Crawford, now occupied by what is called the commanding officer's house. My house was of the following description: A cellar-kitchen, 30x26 feet, with frame on it of the same size, two stories high, with a wing 16x20 feet, on the south side, one-story, which I used for a retail store. There was a hall through the south end of the two-story part, the whole length of the house, with stairs from the cellar kitchen up into the hall, and stairs from the hall to the upper story. The north end of the house was divided, the front part, about 14x16 feet, into a parlor, or sitting room; a chimney in the center of the north end, and a bedroom in the back part, about fourteen feet square; a door leading from the hall to the bedroom and one to the sitting room, and a door by the side of the chimney from the bedroom to the sitting room, and a door from the hall into the wing or store.
This house I afterward sold to the government, with the land on which the fort now stands. It was good enough for Gen. Taylor and family when he commanded here; but as soon as Gen. Brooke was in command, he got an appropriation from Congress to repair the house and had it all torn down except a part of the cellar wall, and built the one which is there at present  at a cost of about $7000.
The Chippewa and Dakota (Sioux) tribes have waged war against each other so long that the origin of their hostility is beyond the knowledge of man. Gen. Pike persuaded them to make peace in 1805, but it lasted only till his back was turned. The agents for the Government have brought about several treaties between the tribes, in which forgiveness and friendship, for the future, were solemnly promised. Indian hereditary hate is stronger than Indian faith, and these bargains were always violated as soon as opportunity occurred. Nevertheless, our executive gave orders in 1825 that a general congress of all the belligerent tribes on the frontier should be held at Prairie du Chien. They flocked to the treaty ground from all quarters, to see the sovereignty or majesty, we know not which is the better word, of the United States, ably represented by Govs. Cass and Clark, who acted as commissioners.
The policy of the United States on this occasion was founded on an error. It supposed that the quarrels of the Indians were occasioned by a dispute concerning boundaries of their respective territories. Never was a treaty followed by more unhappy results, at least as far as it concerned the Dakotas. They concurred in the arrangement of their boundaries proposed by the commissioners, as they do in every measure proposed by an American officer, thinking that compulsion would otherwise be used. But they are not satisfied, nor have they reason to be, for their ancient limits were grievously abridged. All the Indians present had, or imagined they had, another cause of complaint. They had been supplied with food, while the congress lasted, by the United States, as was the reasonable practice, for they cannot hunt and make treaties at one and the same time. Dysentery supervened on the change of diet; some died on the ground, and a great many perished on the way from Prairie du Chien to their hunting grounds. Always suspicious of the whites, they supposed that their food had been poisoned; the arguments of their traders could not convince them to the contrary, and hundreds will die in that belief.
Moreover, they did not receive such presents as the British agents had been wont to bestow on them, and they complained that such stinginess was beneath the dignity of a great people, and that it also showed a manifest disregard of their necessities.
They were especially indignant at being stinted in whisky. It behooved the commissioners, indeed, to avoid the appearance of effecting any measures by bribery, but the barbarians did not view the matter in that light. To show them that the liquor was not withheld on account of its value, two barrels were brought upon the ground. Each dusky countenance was instantly illuminated with joy at the agreeable prospect, but they were to learn that there is sometimes a "slip between the cup and the lip." Each lower jaw dropped at least six inches when one of the commissioners staved in the heads of the casks with an ax, and suffered all the coveted liquor to run to waste. "It was a great pity," said old Wakh-pa-koo-tay, speaking of the occurrence, "there was enough wasted to have kept me drunk all the days of my life." Wahk-pa-koo-tay's only feelings were those of grief and astonishment, but most of his fellows thought that this making a promise to the eye in order to break it to the sense, was a grevious insult, and so they continue to regard it to this day.
Everyone knows that, in the western country, French people make maple sugar in the spring. In March, 1827, one Methode chose to set up his sugar camp at the mouth of Yellow river, two [twelve] miles from Prairie du Chien. His wife, one of the most beautiful women we ever saw, accompanied him with her five children. Besides these, the wolves and the trees were his only companions. A week elapsed, and he had not been seen at the Prairie. One of his friends, thinking that he might have been taken ill, and was unable to come for his supplies, resolved to visit his camp.
On reaching the mouth of Yellow river, the man shouted aloud, that Methode or his dog might answer, and thereby indicate in what exact spot in the woods his cabin stood. No answer was returned. After searching upwards of an hour, and calling till he was hoarse, he fell upon a little path which soon brought him to the ruins of a hut that appeared to have been recently burned. All was still as it might have been at the birth of time. Concluding that Methode had burned his camp, and gone higher up the river, the honest Canadian turned homeward. He had not gone ten steps when he saw something that made him quicken his pace. It was the body of Methode's dog. The animal had been shot with half a score of balls, and yet held in his dead jaws a mouthful of scarlet cloth, which, apparently, he had torn from the calf of Indian's leg. The man ran at full speed to the bank of the river, threw himself into his canoe, and paddled with all his might till he was out of gun-shot from the shore.
Having made known what he had seen a party was soon assembled, all good men and true, and well armed. They soon gained the spot, and began to explore the ruins of the hut. The bodies of the whole family were there, and it was evident that accidental fire had not occasioned their death. The were shockingly mangled --- Madame Methode in particular. Her husband's hand grasped a bloody knife, from which it was inferred that he had not fallen unavenged. Yet the stains might have come from his own person.
When the coroner's inquest sat, it appeared that a party of Winnebagoes had been out, notwithstanding the treaty, against the Chippewas, and had returned unsuccessful. Fifteen of them had been seen near the Yellow river two days after Methode's departure from the prairie. It was ascertained that two Winnebagoes had been buried that night. The white party returned to the village; and the next day, an Indian boy of fourteen admitted that he had seen Methode's camp while hunting, and had communicated his discovery to his companions. To make assurance doubly sure, Wa-man-doos-ga-ra-ha, an Indian of very bad reputation, made his appearance in the village in a pair of red leggins, one of which had been torn behind. He came to tell the agent, Mr. Boilvin how much he loved the Americans, and that he strongly suspected the Sacs of the murder that had been committed. He demanded a blanket and a bottle of whisky as a reward for his zealous friendship. Mr. Boilvin caused the friendly Indian to be arrested, and examined him closely. Then the murderer called up his Indian spirit, confessed his guilt, and implicated several others.
A party of militia forthwith started for the nearest Winnebago camp. We are able to state --- and we love to be correct in important particulars, that the captain wore neither plume nor sash, nor anything else that might have made him conspicuous; that the men did not march in the style most approved on Boston common; that they beat no drum before them, and that none of them had ever seen a sham fight. No, each marched "on his own hook," each carried a good rifle or Northwest gun, and each kept his person as much out of sight as possible. The consequence was, that the Indian camp was surprised and completely surrounded, and the savages saw that their best and, indeed, only course, was to surrender quietly. However, the whites found only one of those they sought in camp, and took him away with them. The celebrated chief De-kau-ray followed them.
"Father," said he to Mr. Boilvin, "you know that there are foolish young men among every people. Those who have done this thing were foolish young men, over whom I and the other wise men had no control. Besides, when they went to Yellow river, they had just drank the last of a keg you gave them yourself. It was the whisky, and not they, that killed Methode, and abused his wife. Father, I think you should excuse their folly this time, and they will never do the like again. Father, their families are very poor, and if you will give them clothing and something to eat, you may be sure that they will never kill another white man."
"I shall give them nothing," said the agent, "and will be sure that they will never kill another man; they will assuredly be hanged."
"Your heart is very hard, father," replied De-kau-ray. "Your heart is very hard, but I cannot think that it will be as you say. You know that if you take our young men's lives we cannot prevent others from avenging them. Our warriors have always taken two lives for one. Our Great Father, the President, is not so hard hearted as you are. Our young men have killed a great many of your people, and he has always forgiven them."
At that time Prairie du Chien had no great reason to boast of her administration of justice. A soldier, indeed, had been scourged at the public whipping post; a man of ninety had been fined for lewdness; an Indian had been kicked out of a wheat field, on which he was sampling, and the magistracy prided themselves not a little on these energetic acts of duty. A jail there was, but it was of wood, and stood so far from the village, that a prisoner might carve the logs at noonday without much danger of detection. Scandal says, that the jailor of it used to bolt the door with a boiled carrot. In this stronghold the criminals were put at night --- the place did not own a set of fetters --- and in the morning they were missing. Had they been left to their own devices, there is little doubt that they would have remained to brave their fate, but it is thought that some white man informed them what their exact legal responsibilities were, and advised them to escape.
Col. Willoughby Morgan commanded the military at Prairie du Chien. He immediately caused two Winnebago chiefs to be seized, and informed the tribe that they would not be liberated till the murderers were delivered up. They were soon brought in, and as the civil authority had proved unable to keep them, they were committed to the garrison guard-house. Shortly after the garrison was broken up by order of the secretary of war, and the troops were removed to St. Peters, 200 miles farther up. There was no appearance of the district judge to try the prisoners, and they were therefore transported to St. Peters, there to await his coming.
I was born in Albany Co., NY, and of a good family. My father kept me at school, until I had obtained what was then called a good English education, and it being my parents desire that I should follow a profession, he placed me in the office of a prominent lawyer, in my native town, where I studied law, with the assistance of the lawyer and his large law library. But, after remaining in the lawyer's office about two years, I caught the emigration fever, a disease that prevailed pretty generally at that time, and a company being about to start for Texas, I took advantage of the circumstance to satisfy my desire for travel, and cast my lot with them. Bidding my folks a long farewell --- (long, for I've never seen them since) we departed to seek adventure in the far west. And we got our share, I tell you! This was more than forty years ago, and the country west of the Alleghany mountains was new. Few and far between were the white settlements, while the country was filled with tribes of Indians, who hunted the deer, bear, elk and other game that afforded food or fur.
Our course lead through the State to Buffalo, where we took a boat to Cleveland, thence south through the State of Ohio, to Cincinnati, where we embarked on flat-boats and floated down the Ohio river into the Mississippi, which we went down as far as Natchez. At Natchez we stopped to sell the flat-boats. The inhabitants were French, Spaniards and Creoles. The boats were sold to an old half-breed trader, named Le Blanc, for some horses, a covered wagon and a team of mules. Before leaving Natchez, one of our party was seized with yellow fever and died. After burying our comrade, and completing our outfit, we were ferried over to the west side of the Mississippi into Louisiana, by the old trader, who charged an exhorbitant price for his service --- so much so, that I remember the company went on without paying him.
From Natchez we traveled directly west until we struck the Red river; this we followed up stream as high as where the Fort Towson barracks are, and camped on a branch, on a creek, called Le Bontte Run. Here the emigrants halted for a while to recruit, and hold a consultation for future proceedings, which resulted in a determination to settle on the prairie land near what they called the Cross Timbers, a tract of country watered by numerous streams, well timbered, and with soil of the richest qualities. But the novelty the journey promised at the start had been sobered down to a stern reality during the last six months, and instead of accompanying the party into the then Mexican territory, I remained with a Scotchman, who had taken a Chocktow squaw for a wife, and kept a trading post on the head waters of the Sabine river. With this Scotchman, I stayed during the winter of 1819, and in the spring of 1820 went down to New Orleans, with five voyageurs, to get a keel-boat load of goods for the Scotch trader, who had entrusted me with the business, for he took a liking to me, and knew of no other person in whom he could put as much confidence. The Red river was a narrow, crooked, turbid stream, steep banks on either side, and filled with snags; but the winter rains had swollen it, so we floated down without an accident.
On reaching New Orleans, I had no little trouble with the boatmen, whom I did not know how to manage at that time, though experience afterwards taught me the modus operandi.
It was eight or ten weeks before I had collected all the Indian goods; but what hindered most was the indolence of the French voyageurs, who would go to some of the low dance houses in the town, and spree all night, which made them useless all the next day; so in one or two instances I was obliged to hire Creoles to assist in loading goods that had been brought to the river.
One evening after the boat's load was complete, and the men pretty well over the previous night's frolic, I gave orders to move up stream. But, as for starting to go back, the men wouldn't listen to anything of the kind, as there was to be a grand fandango in town that night, and they had all anticipated going there. They went and I remained on board all night to watch the boat and goods.
Next morning the men came staggering in, and threw themselves down on the rolls of calico and blankets, where they slept until afternoon. About 2 o'clock they had all got up and were preparing some food, when I gave them to understand that we must start at sundown. They gave no answer, and having ate, they went to sleep again.
As the sun was going out of sight, I roused the men, directing them to get out the tow-line, poles, and run up stream. They paid no attention to what I said, but gathered around one of their number, a big half-breed, who insolently told me that it would be impossible for us to ascend Red river, because of high water and the strong current at this season of the year. I knew the fellow was lying, for I had seen the river the last summer, and knew that if we had any trouble it would be from low water. And I was obliged to give the man a severe whaling, tying his hands and feet, and threatening the others with a similar dose, before they would go to their duty. The men worked steadily that night, part of the time towing and poling, and sometimes taking advantage of the eddies in the lee of projecting points. The big half-breed begged to be released the next morning, and made no more trouble during the trip. The boat soon entered Red river, where we found sufficient water to float us, but had to make a number of portages before reaching what is called La Grange, a small French settlement [the French claimed all west of the Mississippi in those days], but the men did not offer to leave at this point, for they paid strict obedience to me since I punished their leader, and were growing more respectful each day as we approached the end of our journey.
We started in June, and had been gone three months, and it being September, I was anxious to get back, for the goods were much needed at the trading post.
On the 23d of September (I kept a journal) we were met about twenty miles below the trader's block-house, by one of his half-breed sons, who had come to take command of the keel-boat and crew, so I might go ahead and give in my report of the trip, before the boatmen had a chance to make any of their usual complaints. This custom was undoubtedly a good one, though I did not take advantage of it to the detriment of the men, but gave a favorable report of everything. When the boat arrived, Monsieur Jones, as the old Scotchman was called, met them as they landed, praised the men for their faithfulness, and paid them what little might be due them, giving to each a trifling present. Now, I had observed while acting as clerk the previous winter, that a few beads, paints or cheap calicoes, would purchase many valuable furs; and after going down with the bales of skins, I had learned, after receiving the cargo of goods, that a considerable sum was placed to my employer's credit, which made the fur trade appear very profitable in my eyes. So I readily agreed to receive what wages were due me in goods, hoping to make a large profit on them. The old Scotchman did not seem over pleased with the goods I had selected by his direction; however, he paid me with some of them. And thus ended my connection with the first and last expedition that I ever accompanied on Red river, or the lower Mississippi, and also the detailed account of it, which is as correct as memory will allow me to relate.
I clerked for the trader during the fall and winter of 1820, but had very few opportunities to sell my goods, for good reasons; first, the goods I had were not suitable; and if they had been, I could not have traded them, for the old Scotchman, who had been an engage in the Hudson Bay Fur Company, was exceedingly grasping, and would not let me buy fur on private account, any where near the trading post. This prompted me to make several excursions among the Shawnee and Osage Indians, from whom I got a few packs of valuable fur. But, though there was an excitement about a trader's life that had a charm for me, yet often, when camped by a sheltered spring, ambition would whisper, "you have another mission to fulfill."
Soon after the grass was well up, in the spring of 1823, I put my trappings on board of an old pack-mule, and straddling a mustang colt, started for Santa Fe along with two fellows who had come up from New Orleans. My companions were agreeable enough, but seemed to have no other motive than to see the country and to enjoy some of the pleasures of hunter life they had "hered tell on."
We traveled to the source of the Red river through the Comanche country, north to the forks of the Canadian river, where we took the old Santa Fe trail, which led us over and through the southern spur of the Rocky mountains, to Santa Fe, where we arrived without any of those thrilling adventures, or Indian fights, that form the burden of many travelers' stories. We had expected to meet Indians, and were prepared for them, but aside from a party of Kioways, with whom I tried to trade, we did not see any.
At Santa Fe I lost sight of my traveling companions among the traders, and soon left the trading post for Taos, where I passed the winter. The houses were all one story high, and built of clay on large gray brick. The people are Spaniards, Mexicans, Indians, a mixed breed and a sprinkling of trappers.
Taos was a lively wintering place, and many were the fandangoes, frolics and fights which came off during the season I stayed there. But, though at an age when a young man is most impulsive, I seldom had a desire to join in the dance, and never had but two personal affrays, which, owing to my superior strength, terminated in my favor.
In May, 1824, I had become perfectly disgusted with Taos and inhabitants, for the latter were a lazy, dirty, ignorant set, and as a whole, possessed less honor than the beggarly Winnebagoes about Prairie du Chien at the present time. Informing the Spaniard of my intention to leave, I went down to Santa Fe. Here I found a company of traders preparing to cross the plains, and soon made the acquaintance of a St. Louis merchant, who engaged me to oversee the loading and unloading of his three wagons, whenever at was necessary to cross a stream, which frequently happened.
The whole caravan of wagons, cattle, oxen, horses, mules left Santa Fe in good condition; but the number that reached the Missouri river was not so large --- the oxen and cattle died from thirst, the horses and mules became exhausted and were left --- and disease did the business for the men in some cases. It was a hard journey, and one that I never cared to repeat; yet, it has always appeared to me, that the barren country, east of the Canadian river, would at some day prove valuable. It is rich in minerals. The ground in some places was covered with pieces of a crusted substance that tasted like saleratus. There were several springs of a volcanic nature.
From the merchant, whose name was Campbell, I learned much of Mexico, its climate, products, people and geography. He had been down the Del Norte and into the interior as far Sonora, where he married the daughter of a Mexican. I took great pleasure in hearing this man talk, and probably I gained more knowledge of Mexico from his conversation, than in any other way.
It was October before we got to St. Louis, which place I saw for the first time, and Campbell having no further need of my services, paid me in hard Mexican dollars, and I left him.
Having now been absent from home about six years, and possessing the means to carry me back, I was tempted to return. But chance threw me into the society of a person named Knox, a mason by trade, who persuaded me to follow the same business. Being naturally of a mechanical turn, I was soon able to earn fair wages. I worked steadily at the mason work and at bricklaying for fifteen months, at the end of which period I was dubbed a mason, and could do a passable job of plastering --- the last accomplishment stood me in pretty well when Fort Crawford was built.
It was in the year 1825 that I had heard of Prairie du Chien, and made up my mind to see the country in that direction. But before proceeding to give you an account of the early history of Wisconsin as far back as the year 1825, let me first tell you what hardy exercise and western life have done for my constitution.
I should have told you, that when a boy, I was uncommonly large for my years; and it was my delight to swim, ride, run, wrestle, fish and hunt, in all which robust and athletic sports, I greatly excelled, and it is possible, that this love of sport, interfered not a little with the course of my studies, for my father sometimes had to reprimand me, and limited my hunting excursions to one day in a week, and that was generally Saturday. So, in consideration of the short allowance that restriction gave me, I frequently extended my hunts to two days, thus including the first day of the week ,and appropriating it to my purpose. I can recollect on one occasion, when about sixteen years of age, I was along with two or three young companions, hunting ducks and other water fowl, on a small branch of the Mohawk river. It was in the spring of the year, and one of the early freshets caused by the melting of the snows on the Catskill mountains, had swollen the creek and overflowed large tracts of low land, thus forming an admirable feeding ground for mallard, widgeon and numerous other wild fowl, that instinct taught to leave the sea coast for these inland marshes, where the food they liked was most plentiful. The ducks flew best in the morning and latter part of the afternoon, and were almost as abundant as they are here on the Mississippi.
What I am now going to relate, happened on our second day out, which perchance was one of those first days of the week. We had hunted with good success the day before, and were determined to have one day more. But the wind had changed, and the weather was raw, and though we waited patiently all the forenoon, the ducks did not come in much, so very few were killed. It was very cold and chilly, but having forgot the tinder-box, (there were no phosphorus matches then) we did not light a fire as we would like to have done. Late in the afternoon, as we were lying in a clump of willows, on a sort of peninsula between the stream and a pond made by the rise, the ducks began to fly over us in clouds and settle down on the pond. This was what we had been waiting for; but while waiting, we had got so benumbed by the cold wind, that it was with difficulty we could load our guns, and after discharging them with indifferent success, I was determined to have a fire, before another duck was shot at. So, directing my companions to collect what dry leaves, twigs and wood they could, I proceeded to ignite it in this manner: Having arranged the leaves and twigs properly I took a piece of gun-wadding, and filling it with powder, laid it among the leaves, upon which a handful of powder was also thrown. After this, I opened the pan of my fowling-piece, percussion caps being unheard of at that time, and putting in a good priming, pulled back the hammer, and placing the gun near the leaves, pulled the trigger. The "flash-in-the-pan," was instantaneously followed by another flash that made me start backward, with haste. My hair and eye-brows were badly burnt, and my right hand was severely scorched.
The fire burned briskly in the willows but I, had enough fire in my hand without wishing for more. As we rode home that evening, few words were spoken, and when the wagon stopped in front of our house, I alighted and went directly to my room. So severe were my burns, that they kept me confined to the house for six long weeks; during this time I was under the care of my mother, God bless her! she is dead now. That kind mother tried to impress upon my mind the duty I owed to my Heavenly Father, she advised me to regard the commandment, "remember the Sabbath," etc., and those early injunctions have never been forgotten though often disregarded. But it was not until the following fall, that I shouldered my gun and commenced to hunt again. Then came back my old roving habit, with it the fondness for manly sports, hunting included.
This early training, together with the almost constant exercise I had experienced, during my wandering mode of life, had toughened my muscles and so completely developed me physically, that I was no mean match for two ordinary men; besides the desire to behold new scenes, had grown stronger than ever.
It was no other than a natural consequence then, that having heard of Prairie du Chien, and the "lead diggings" southeast of it, that I should have a desire to take a trip up the Mississippi river to the mineral region, from where reports came of fortunes being made by prospecting --- these stories formed alluring inducements.
Having some money, and a sound constitution, that five years of border life had made a capable of enduring any degree of hardship and fatigue, I left St. Louis, and started up the river in a little Ohio steamboat --- I believe steamboats commenced running above St. Louis, the same year I left, 1825, --- loaded with army stores for military posts on the upper Mississippi. The boat proceeded up stream till we reached the mouth of the Illinois river, where we met a keelboat coming down on board of which was an express, bound with dispatches for the commanding officer at Jefferson barracks. They brought reports of Indian murders in the north, and the same boat bearing the dispatches had been attacked, and had many ball marks on its sides, also a wounded man on board. The steamboat took the express aboard, and was about to return with him, to St. Louis, so I bid Captain Bates good-bye, and left his boat. I learned now, that the mining region was the scene of the Indian troubles, that the inhabitants were leaving the country through fear, and the greatest misery and confusion prevailed at the "diggings." So instead of continuing up the Mississippi as intended, I joined a party of five Frenchmen, who designed going to Green Bay, and having no definite object in view at the time, I agreed to go with them. We had little knowledge of the route, but one of the Frenchmen had somewhere seen an old outline map, and assured us we could reach the lakes by going up the Illinois river. We had entered the river and gone up a few miles from its mouth, when we were seen by some Indians who made signs for us to approach the shore.
After some hesitation we landed, and, to the disappointment of the Frenchmen, were received in a most friendly way by the Indians, who treated us with roasted ducks and venison. They furnished us a guide for a small reward, and we resumed our course without entertaining any further alarm on account of Indians. The weather was delightful, and we enjoyed ourselves as well as early travelers ever did. The river afforded splendid scenery; at times it flowed through large prairies that formed a boundless area of fertile country, covered with luxuriant grass, and on which we frequently saw deer and elk feeding. Water fowl were abundant, and we could feast on them at every meal; while the river was swarming with excellent fish, that often formed a delicious addition to our other fare. There was no difficulty in killing game along that beautiful stream. Hardly an hour of the day passed but we had opportunities to shoot deer from the canoes, for it was the latter part of June, and in the heat of the mid-day the animals would come down to the river, where in the shade of small groves that lined the banks, they found a cool retreat. One of our party, a diminutive Frenchman, had a long Canadian duck-gun, of which he never ceased boasting, yet seldom confirmed his words by making use of it. The barrel of the gun, independent of the stock, was full five feet in length. I had curiosity to see how it could shoot, and asked the owner to let me try it. He let me have the gun and I loaded it with a heavy charge of powder and seven slugs or pieces of bar lead, and then laid it beside me in readiness for the first good shot.
Many chances offered where it was easy to have killed deer, but no notice was paid to them, and we continued to paddle up the river until near noon, when, just as the canoe passed around a headland, I observed a noble stag, standing knee deep in the water, on a bar, near the outlet of a small stream. He was about 700 feet from the canoe, with his side toward us, when I raised the long gun and fired. The deer dropped without a struggle, and, on hauling him ashore, we found that every slug had struck it. Some had entered his glossy side, one broke a shoulder, another the back-bone. The result of the shot so pleased the little Frenchman, that I really believe money would have been no inducement for him to part with his gun; though I would not have given my short rifle for a dozen such. While engaged in securing the choicest portions of the venison, our Indian guide told us that it was but a short distance to a larger body of water, on the shore of which lived the great chief of his tribe, whose name was Much-ke-tay-ke-nay. This piece of intelligence made us think we were near the large lake, Lake Michigan; but we were disappointed, for late in the afternoon we entered the foot of Lake Peoria, and were met on landing by a number of Indians, from whom we learned that it was more than 200 miles to the nearest trading post on the lake, which was Chicago. We had to remain with this tribe several days, before our guide would leave the encampment; and during which time I saw several Indians of other tribes, one of whom was Black Hawk, who, I afterward found out, was then trying to get these Indians to joint the Winnebagoes against the whites in the northwest. At length the councils were concluded, and our guide signified his willingness to proceed. Under his direction we paddled along until we came to the Des Plaines river, from which we passed into a large slough or lake, that must have led us into a branch of the Chicago river, for we followed a stream that brought us opposite Fort Dearborn.
At this period, Chicago was merely an Indian agency; it contained about fourteen houses, and not more than seventy-five or 100 inhabitants at the most. An agent of the American Fur Company, named Gurdon S. Hubbard, then occupied the fort. The staple business seemed to be carried on by Indians, and runaway soldiers, who hunted ducks and muskrats in the marshes. There was a great deal of low land, and mostly destitute of timber. The principal inhabitants were the agent, Mr. Hubbard, and a Frenchman by the name of Ouilmette,10 and John B. Beaubien. It never occurred to me then, that a large city would be built up there. But great changes have taken place during the last thirty three years. I read that the old log fort, surrounded with its palisades, was torn down two years ago, and that Chicago is now one of the largest cities in the west. Great changes have I seen in my life; I was mail carrier in the northwest before there was a white settlement between Prairie du Chien and Fort Snelling --- a government express, and volunteer during the Sauk war --- from mere love of adventure, have I wandered through the wilderness of the west. I have explored its lakes and rivers in canoes, boats and on rafts, from Red river in the north to Red river in the south, and to New Orleans. I have traversed its woods and prairies, making myself familiar with western scenes, the early settlers, and native Indians.
The Indians you now see about town occasionally, all know me. They seldom come down to the prairie without stopping at my house. It was only three or four weeks ago, that seven Indians came down from Crow Wing. They called on me in the night, and we had a talk together. They said there was no game in the neighborhood of their reservation; that they couldn't work, and so they had come down, and wanted to know how it would do to go and hunt in Iowa, at the head of Cedar river. I told them this universal change, that I have witnessed everywhere, had been going on there also --- that the country was filled with settlers, and deer scarce. The poor fellows looked sorrowful. It was late when they left my house; and though I tried to dissuade them from making the attempt, they resolved to go and see their old hunting grounds on the Wisconsin. Many Indians have left their reserve; and I have no doubt that they find shelter in the islands of the Mississippi, and in the Kickapoo timber.
The poor red man has been robbed, deceived, and driven from his possession. This I have seen; indeed, I have assisted to drive them from their homes. And yet, no person under heaven sympathizes more sincerely with them. They are almost extinct; they are passing from the face of the earth! But I look upon it as a decree of fate. Perhaps there are a few persons more sensible of the beauties of nature than I am, and yet so little loth to see those pristine charms effaced, the better to subserve the advancement of art and civilization.
It is near half a century since I came west, and the changes that have been rapidly affecting everything are too numerous for me to describe. The growth of Chicago is one of those changes. When there in the year 1825, it could boast of an old log fort, and a few cabins. What is it now! You know best, for I haven't been there these last thirty years, but I know its inhabitants are numbered at over 100,000; and where I once paddled in a dug-out, is now erected large blocks of buildings.
But to go on with my story, we departed from Fort Dearborn, in a fishing boat, and proceeded north along the lake shore towards Green Bay. We camped on the beach every night, and finally arrived off Milwaukee bay, which we entered; and went up Milwaukee river about half a mile above the mouth of the Menomonee, and landed on the east side of Milwaukee river, just below Solomon Juneau's trading house. I was not acquainted with Mr. Juneau at this time, though I afterwards became related to him through marriage, and learned his history. Seven years before, he had been in the employ of the Hudson Bay Fur Company, in the capacity of voyageur, and had visited Prairie du Chien, where he found his uncle, my wife's father, who insisted on his leaving the company; to whom he was indebted in the sum of $300, and loaned him the cash to pay the debt; besides furnishing him an outfit, with which he commenced trading with the Menomonee Indians, in the vicinity of Milwaukee.
I have already told how we arrived at Mr. Juneau's trading house, where the city of Milwaukee is built; but I did not describe the city; for it was not in existence then or even thought of, neither have I seen the city since it was built. The log house of Solomon Juneau, standing on a slight elevation back from the river, and a few neighboring cabins, belonging to half breeds and Frenchmen, who had followed his example by marrying Indian women and settling down, then formed the only indications of the present city of Milwaukee. Mr. Juneau was the only merchant Milwaukee could then boast of and, were I so disposed, I could give a correct inventory of his entire stock contained in the old log house near the river, as it was not an immense one by any means, and had been brought down from Green Bay in one Mackinaw boat. He had settled there first, surrounded by Indians, with whom he traded, but soon emigration turned in his direction, and he afterwards found other neighbors, who brought with them the spirit of enterprise and advancement. The few hardy settlers who first erected their cabins near his, found him in a wilderness, the primitive state of which had never yet been disturbed by a white pioneer. South and southwest of Mr. Juneau's house, could be seen extending large marshes, covered with tall swamp grass, rushes and water. The lake was about two miles distant, over the hill to the eastward; and on the west ran the river, beyond which was a wooded ridge that followed the river a distance of three miles up to the rapids, that being as far as I explored the stream. The landscape has probably altered, yet an old settler would recognize my description of Milwaukee's birth place, then in embryo.
I left the neighborhood of Juneau's settlement in the summer of 1827. We engaged a passage on one of Juneau's Mackinaw boats that were about starting for Green Bay, to bring back goods; as help was not over plentiful, he was glad to avail himself of our services down the lake until the boats reached Green Bay, where others were to be engaged in our stead. It was a pleasant morning, when the two boats passed out of Milwaukee river and entered the broad bay. The sun was just rising, and though I was n sailor, yet I was charmed by the beauty of this inland sea. A fresh breeze commenced blowing from the southwest, and taking in all but the steering oar, we rigged the leg-o-mutton sails, and were soon wafted in our swift sailing Mackinaws outside the point. The boats were loaded with blankets, furs, kettles and provisions, and yet their shape was such that they maintained a degree of buoyancy, for which they were highly prized by those who used them. I have used the Mackinaw boat on the Mississippi, and consider its shape (pointed at both ends) admirably suited for the purpose of floating a large burden against strong currents.
We would land on the beach at night, and form our encampment on the white sand, where, gathering around the camp-fire we told our tales of love, hunting and adventure, sung songs, satisfied our appetites, and smoked, or prepared food for the next day. This camping on shore was a pleasant pastime. With no tent save the star-spangled canopy of heaven, we would wrap ourselves in our blankets on a moon light evening, and lying down amid the baggage or on the clean sand, gaze out on the lake, where the white caps sparkled in the moon beams; or looking up at the wood-clad bluffs, whose dark outlines stood in bold relief against the sky, we feasted on the romantic scenery, the mysterious beauty of which inspired the most practical among us with a deep sense of poetic feeling. If I ever felt poetic, it must have been during one of these night bivouacs, when listening to the beating of the waves on the beach, mingled with the melancholy notes of some night bird.
Many exciting incidents occurred during the voyage. One I will give an account of. It was early one morning, shortly after we had left our previous nights' camping place and got about half a mile from land, that we observed a number of wolves on a point and others swimming in the lake. Their howling had attracted our attention, and we were wondering what possessed them, when one of the men remarked, "Perhaps they are after deer." But where were they? This was soon found out, for some distance ahead of us on the right hand side, we discovered a large doe, that the brightness of the morning sun prevented us from seeing before. She was swimming swiftly out to sea, and had evidently seen us, for she was straining every nerve to increase the distance between herself and our boat. Now I had often killed deer in the water, after having put hounds in the mountains to drive them down, but never before had I hunted with wolves. Entering into the spirit of the thing, I examined the priming of my rifle, and took a station in the bow of the boat, as the men began to pull for the poor animal. The billows were running pretty high, but the make of the boats caused them to ride the waves without shipping a spoonful of water.
A Frenchman named Joe King was in the other boat, urging the men to exert themselves to the utmost, that he might obtain the first shot. The two boats were about forty fathoms apart, and the distance between them and the doe, at the start, was equal. As the excitement of the race increased, the howling of the disappointed wolves was lost in loud shouts from the men, who propelled the rival boats through the waves that had increased in size, under the influence of a northeast wind. Gaining at every pull on the struggling animal, we soon came within easy shooting distance. King now got ready to shoot, but I knew the unsteadiness of the boat, together with the excitement, would cause him to miss. Confident of the result, I was perfectly willing he should have the first shot. So, just as both deer and boat rose on the crests of the waves, he brought up his gun and fired. Spang! went the gun, and whiz went the ball, ricochetting over the waters. A clean miss, by thunder! now for my turn; and as the boat glided up to the panting animal, I sent a ball through his brain, to the envy of my rival, the Frenchman, King.
King settled down near Juneau, and became a resident of Milwaukee. He afterward sold some property that he had accumulated there, and removed to Rock river, where his family were living the last I heard from them.
We drew the carcass of the deer into the boat, and as the wind had increased to a gale, we concluded to run the boats on shore, and wait until the wind lulled. By skillful management the boats were made to ride breakers, and reached the beach in safety. The place where they ran the boats ashore, was near the mouth of two rivers, that flowed into the lake through an outlet. Here was a handsome, broad beach of fine white sand, behind which bluffs rose abruptly; and there being an abundance of dry driftwood scattered about, the spot offered a pleasant encampment. Lifting the baggage out of the boat, we conveyed it higher up the beach, and deposited it on the smooth, water-worn pebbles.
The geography of this region being unknown to me, I therefore resolved to take a survey. Asking King and two others to accompany me, we ascended the barren lake bank, carrying our guns with us. Arriving at the brow after a hard pull, we enjoyed an uninterrupted view of the lake. As we looked over the vast expanse of water spread out before us, and strained our eyes along the silent shore, over which hung so much doubt and uncertainty, we felt curious to see more of the country. Continuing our exploration along the southern river, we advanced into a heavily timbered country, principally pine. No timber-stealing lumberman had then rafted on the stream, and we took pleasure in believing that ours was the first party of white men who explored the country. We returned from our excursion into the interior at sunset, in season to join our companions in a feast of roast venison, which made a pleasant change, after living on dried meat and parched Indian corn.
We were up early in the morning, as was our custom. The lake was dark and agitated, the surf was breaking very heavily on the shore, and unwilling to venture out while the lake was so rough, we leisurely prepared and ate our morning meal. The sun had risen by the time we had finished breakfast, and as the wind was going down, preparations were made to start; we were soon embarked and plowing our way toward Green Bay.
Following along the coast we entered a pleasant bay, near the mouth of which were broad bars on which our men caught several trout and white fish. I had never seen these species of the finny tribe before, and the pleasure experienced in devouring the delicious, salmon-like flesh, is needless to describe, for they now form a dish on tables of every class, who esteem them a delicacy.
Our camp was on the northern side of the bay, under the lee of a point. On the bars and in the clear shallow water of the bay, I remarked several large boulders; they were apparently composed of some rock, extraneous to that generally found in their vicinity. A query arose in my mind, where these isolated rocks were formed --- how, and why similar in shape? I was an enquiring mind, yet possessed little knowledge of the geological formation of rocks, except what observation had taught me. The boulders could never have been formed from earth rolling down the bank, mixing with the sand, become hardened by the water, like the round stones that covered the lake shore --- they were of a different texture. It was long after I had traveled on Lake Superior that the mystery was solved. When on that lake, in the neighborhood of the pictured rocks, it occurred to me, that there was a resemblance between detached portions of these rocks and those boulders; and it resolved itself in my mind, that those foreign rocks, found along the shores of Lake Michigan, had their origin here; owing to the action of water, or other natural causes, in early ages --- perhaps at the flood --- they had been rolled to the place where I saw them.
Next morning while the others were loading the boats, I discovered some fine specimens of sulphurated iron ore in the lake bank. Making the men acquainted with my discovery, I got aboard and we soon doubled the point, and passed out into the lake, on our course. At each night's encampment, I was in the habit of examining the bluffs, and as a general thing, found that the iron and copper ore was mineralized by sulphur. If any geological survey has been made of the western shore of the lake, you will find my observations correct, if you consult it.
Indications of the advanced season, were becoming perceptible. Frosts were on the ground each morning and the lake winds were sharper. Wild geese, brant and ducks were winging their way towards the south. These unmistakable signs were not to be disregarded, and we made fewer stoppages and urged the boats on their destination. Coasting along the shore, we passed between the Pottawattomie island and the main land, and pulling into Green bay, took the southeast shore, and went up as far as Sturgeon bay, where we encamped. Left the camp early next morning, and by sailing and rowing we entered Fox river that night, and arrived at Green Bay.
As we came into the village, the inhabitants crowded around us, with evident curiosity. They were a mixed crowd I can tell you; they were Indians and half-breeds, voyageurs, Canadians, French, and to my inexpressable delight, there were also Americans --- Yankees among them! In answer to my inquiry, one of these latter, an American soldier, said there were a number of Yankees in the settlement, that the United States fort there was garrisoned with them. The commanding officer, Gen. Cass, gave us a cordial welcome, and accepting his invitation, I accompanied him to his quarters, and under his hospitable roof I had a night of rest, enjoyment and refreshing sleep, that only a person who has camped out knows how to appreciate.
I had a view of Fort Howard, and Green Bay settlement next morning, by daylight. The fort contained a large garrison of soldiers, mostly rifle companies who had just arrived with Gen. Cass and Col. McKenney.11 Besides the garrison, Green Bay had a population of between 700 and 800 people, consisting of every Nation, from native Indian to the sable son of Africa; and amalgamation was not uncommon either, for all were connected by regular gradation of shades and color; and you might suppose an inhabitant's nationality to a fraction, as half-breed, a two-thirds Fox, etc. Thus you will preceive that society was a little mixed. This frequent inter-marriage had the bad effect to make them indolent, for they evinced neither enterprise nor intelligence. They gained a livelihood like the Indians, by hunting and fishing, or were in the employ of a fur company that monopolized their time, and prevented them from engaging in agricultural pursuits. And had they time and knowledge, their disposition would lead them to prefer a pipe and idleness. So it is to the sturdy enterprise of the white settler alone, that I can attribute the growth and improvement that have made themselves manifest in Wisconsin since 1827, at which time emigration began to pour into the territory.
When at Fort Howard in the year 1827, the Indian affairs had assumed a threatening aspect. Reports of murders and disturbances, had spread through the settlements. Not a straggler arrived but brought an exaggerated account of Indian difficulties. Prairie du Chien, Juneau's settlement, Chicago, Galena and Green Bay, were then the only white settlements in the northwest, and all more or less threatened by Indians, who infested the country surrounding them. I continued to hang around the fort, leading a sort of ranger life --- sometimes accompanying the officers on their hunting tours, but refusing all proposals to enlist.
It was the winter of 1827 that the United States quarter-master, having heard of me through some of the men, with whom I was a favorite, came to me one day, and asked me if I thought I could find the way to Chicago? I told him it wasn't long since I made the trip by the lake. He said he wanted to get a person who was not afraid to carry dispatches to the military post at Fort Dearborn. I said I had heard that the Indians were still unfriendly, but I was ready to make the attempt. He directed me to make all the preparations necessary, and report myself at his quarters, at the earliest moment. I now began to consider the danger to be provided against, which might be classed under three heads: Cold, Indians and hunger. For the first it was only needful to supply one's person with good hunting shirts, flannel and deer-skin leggins, extra moccasins, and a Mackinaw blanket; these, with a resolute spirit, were deemed sufficient protection against the severest weather. And fortunate was he who possessed these. Hunger, except in case of getting lost, was easily avoided by laying in a pouch of parched Indian corn and jerked venison. Against danger from Indians, I depended on the following:
It was necessary at the time of the Winnebago out-break, in 1827, for every man --- and woman too --- to be constantly on their guard against surprise. Much trouble was apprehended from the Indian tribes generally, who were jealous at the encroachment of the emigrants, especially in the region of the lead diggings. The emigrant, settler, hunter and trapper, never parted with their trusty rifle, either night or day. Weapons were an essential part of man's costume --- his daily, yes, his constant companions --- they were in the hands of the traveler, the homes of the hardy squatter, and had there been any sanctuaries in the territory then, I believe they would have been found in the pulpits. The rifle provided food for the hunter. It also executed the arbitrary law of the land --- self defense, and its decrees were final. It was during such a state of affairs, that I had passed my word to carry the mail between Fort Howard at Green Bay, and Fort Dearborn, commanded by Capt. Morgan,12 that stood on a point, now forming a part of the city of Chicago. Although the danger from the Winnebagoes had abated, owing to Black Hawk's failing to entice other tribes into the conspiracy against the whites, and the Indian war of 1827 ended; yet the recent troubles made me rub up my rifle, and prepare everything needful to insure the successful performance of the duty I was about to undertake. Carrying the mail during the depth of winter, a distance of 200 miles, through a trackless wilderness, inhabited by wild beasts and wilder red men, was attended with no small danger. It will not be inappropriate, then, to describe my accoutrements and arms, to be used in case of emergency. My dress was a la hunter, one common to the early period, and best suited to my purpose. A smoke-tanned buck-skin hunting shirt, trimmed leggins of the same material, a wolf-skin chapeau, with the animal's tail still attached, and moccasins of elk hide. I must have had the appearance of a perfect Nimrod. My arms consisted of a heavy mountaineer's rifle that I had bought in St. Louis. It was rather long when I got it --- the stock was bound with iron, and carved on it was a cheek piece and buffalo bull's head, that made it an efficient weapon in the hands of a strong man, even when not loaded. I, however, thought it unhandy, and had the barrel shortened, the cheek piece cut off, and a strap attached to it, so I could sling it over my back. Suspended by a strap from my shoulder, was a large horn, containing two pounds of powder. Buckled around my waist over the hunting shirt, was a belt containing a sheath knife and two pistols, one of which got lost, the other I have now --- attached to the belt also, was a pouch of mink skin, wherein I carried my rifle bullets. The foregoing comprised my arms and accoutrements of offence, if we accept a short handled axe, thrust in the waist-belt.
It had been customary for the carrier who preceeded me, to be attended by a party of individuals, who, for any motives might be induced to go with him. This precedent appeared to me erroneous, and had no effect in shaping my movements, for I had concluded that one person could pass through the country, safer from being interrupted, than a large party; yet, being socially inclined, I chose a companion to go on the tramp with me. He was a Canadian named Boiseley and as he was a comrade with me for many years and figured in many incidents on the Mississippi, I will give a brief description of his person and appearance.
Boiseley was short, thick-set, had long arms with big hands of tremendous grasp attached, and on the whole he was a little giant in strength. His head was small and covered with coarse, black hair, and his eyes were small, black and as piercing as a rattle snake's. There was nothing prepossessing in his person, in fact, many would think him repulsive; yet this was the person I chose to go with me. He had been with me on one or two hunts, and remarking in him a spirit that was capable of enduing much fatigue, a sort of intimacy had sprung up between us, and that prompted me to select him. Having neither parents nor friends --- that I ever heard of --- he readily consented to go anywhere with me. I directed him to exchange his dress --- rags would be the best term --- for a comfortable outfit, obtained at my expense, and had the satisfaction of seeing him transformed into a comparatively respectable looking man. He was accoutered in a style similar to myself. He sported a long Indian gun, and always carried a large knife, pistol and hatchet in his belt, bullet pouch and powder horn hung under his arm. To the horn were tied by sinew thongs several charms, which he believed possessed some mysterious power that preserved him from harm. Aside from this tinge of superstition, I found Boiseley was naturally intelligent and true as steel. During the many long jaunts we had together, there was only one thing about him I could not become reconciled to, and that was this: We would start early in the day, each carrying a pack of equal weight, and after tramping all day he would go to work and make camp, and prepare any game we had shot, without showing any evidence of fatigue; while I, a man of twice his size and apparent physical strength, would be so tired as not to care whether I ate at all.
It was in company with this Boiseley that I presented myself before the quarter-master, and reported ourselves ready for the start. I have not forgotten the expression depicted in the quarter-master's countenance when he saw our slender equipment. It discovered a want of confidence in our ability; but assuring him that two of us could travel as safe as a regiment, and with greater celerity, my logic prevailed, and he confirmed me in Uncle Sam's service. He entrusted me with the --- not mail bag --- but a tin canister or box of a flat shape, covered with untanned deer hide, that contained the dispatches and letters of the inhabitants. Receiving these and my instructions, we departed.
We left Green Bay on foot, carrying our arms, blankets and provisions. We had to pass through a country, as then little known to white men, depending on our compass and the course of the rivers to keep the right direction. Taking an Indian trail that led in a southeasterly direction, we passed through dense pine woods, cedar swamps, now and then a grove of red oak, some of which reared their heads heavenward, and had for ages braved the fury of a thousand storms. Frequently would we disturb a gang of deer that had made their "yard" in the heavily timbered bottoms. And as we continued to plunge deeper and deeper into the primeval forest, and to proceed further on our course, the tracks of the fisher and the mink became more frequent, and occasionally a wild cat would get its quietus in form of a rifle ball. Once, at night fall, we encamped on a branch of what I now know to have been the Centre river. This stream was a live stream, several yards in width, and was not frozen over. It made several beautiful cascades as it flowed over the rocks. Under a projecting bank, Boiseley found the water perfectly alive with trout, and taking from his pack the light camp-kettle, he dipped out a mess of splendid speckled fellows, that relished well after being fried over the campfire. In the evening, after collecting a huge pile of wood, we heaped the snow up to windward, and in the lee of the snow bank scattered some branches, on which we spread our blankets, and laid down with the packs beneath our heads, to listen to a serenade from the wolves. The night was spent in smoking, keeping fire and intervals of sleep.
Leaving the trail at this tributary or branch of Centre river we followed the creek down to the main stream, which ran in a southeast direction, and then taking a southerly course, we traveled a distance of twenty miles, and then struck another river. Following this due east, through a rough, but heavily timbered country, we arrived at the bank of the lake, on the second day after striking the river. It was near sundown when we made our camp near the mouth of this stream; and again within sight of the roaring breakers a load of uncertainty was taken from me, for with such a guide there was no going astray. It was decided that we should keep along the shore, at least where it could be done without diverging from a direct line running north and south; all headlands and points we crossed, instead of going around them. The roughness and difficulty of our track, on account of the icy mountains formed by the industry of the breakers and Jack Frost, made it a "hard road to travel." But trudging along through the snow, climbing over ledges of ice that in some places extended up the bank, and plunging through gullies and ravines, we managed to make good headway. Thus we continued to travel day after day, though not without variety, either of incidents, fair or foul weather, scenery, something was always exciting interest or attention. Oft the winter mornings would appear beautiful and serene, without a cloud to obscure the rising sun. Then as we journeyed we would see flocks of ducks and sea fowl sporting in the lake, amid pieces of ice that sparkled like crystals; and anon a fisher or otter would glide off from the ice-field where it had sought its early meal, to gain a safe retreat in some crevice of the lake bank.
It was the fourteenth day after leaving Green Bay that I arrived at Juneau's settlement on the Milwaukee river, and as I had a message from Charles Larrabee to Mr. Solomon Juneau, I was welcomed by him, and remained two days with him to rest and recruit. I here learned that Joseph King had returned with the goods, but had a hard time getting back, being caught in the equinoxial storm, and encountered rough weather. The Frenchmen he hired at Green Bay, had already taken Menomonee squaws, and were living in their own cabins. Mr. Juneau had two children at the time, was lord paramount of the settlement, and did a good business trading with the Indians. Boiseley and I left his post to prosecute our journey. The river was frozen over, and the ice was near eight inches thick; taking this we pushed off for two or three miles, and moving over the frozen marshes, came on the lake shore, and crossed a wooded point on the south side of the bay; here, finding a trail on the lake bank we followed it three days.
On the third day, as we came out on a prairie, we found ourselves near a number of Indian lodges. We wished to avoid them, but it was too late now, for the watchful curs of the Indians had seen us, and commenced a ferocious barking that soon brought the Indians out in a body. We soon learned these were all Menomonees, who had maintained friendly feelings towards the whites since the massacre of Chicago. There was one old chief in the village who spoke broken English, and could speak French fluently. He had been to Detroit and knew much about the white man. He was the most savage appearing Indian I ever saw; yet, he displayed so much of dignity and decision in his manner, that I retained the impression that he was a noble Indian. He was a powerfully built man, about six feet tall, and well dressed for an Indian. He wore plain moccasins, deer-skin leggins reaching to his thighs, a calico shirt, a beaded cap with three feathers of the gray eagle in it, and a green blanket. There were also three other Indians worthy of notice, but they did not attract my attention by any peculiarity, so I'll not describe them. As a whole these Indians were lazy, and staid in their lodges starving, rather than go out to hunt, though the country was teaming with deer, wild turkeys and elk. Our stay with these Indians was short, inasmuch as they had no provisions; however, they treated us kindly, and directed us to the best route, when we left them. Instead of continuing along the lake, the old chief advised us to go a little west of south until we arrived at the Des Plaines river, then follow that, and we would find plenty of game for food, and friendly Indians who would show us the way to Fort Dearborn.
The land route between Green Bay and Fort Dearborn was only traveled in the winter season, as then the rivers are frozen over, and offer no obstruction to traveling in a direct course. So, following the Indian's directions, we came to as smooth a road as I ever wish to see. It was the frozen surface of the Des Plaines river. This led through wide prairies and some large groves. Grouse were to be seen budding on the trees, and we killed abundance of them as we passed along. The grouse, with now and then a fish caught in the shallow rapids, formed our only food for several days. Until a little northwest of Chicago, we met with few Indians, all as hungry as ourselves. But joining a party of thirty Pottawattamies on their way to the Indian agency, we obtained from them a good meal of jerked venison and parched corn.
One noon we arrived at the southern terminus of our journey, at Fort Dearborn, after being on the way more than a month. It was in January, thirty years ago, and with the exception that the fort was strengthened and garrisoned, there was no sign of improvement having gone on since my former visit. This time I was on business, and I advanced up to the sally port with a sense of my importance, was challenged by the sentry, and an orderly conducted me to the adjutant's office, where I reported myself as the bearer of dispatches for the commanding officer. Capt. Morgan was in the office, and advancing, intimated that he was that person, and took the case of letters, directed me to await his further orders. Getting a pass, I went outside the palisades, to a house built on the half-breed system, partly of logs and partly of boards. This house was kept by a Mr. Miller, who lived in it with his family. Here Boiseley and I put up during the time we were in the settlement.
I received my orders from Morgan about the 23d of January, and prepared to return with other letters. We started up one branch of the Chicago river, and after leaving this we followed the Des Plaines, taking pretty much the same way we had come; meeting with Indians and incidents, all of which were interesting, but only one of which I'll tell you now.
It happened that after sundown one day, as the twilight was coming on, we had arranged our camp for the night in the edge of a grove, and the cheerful camp fire was casting its rays upon the trunks of the neighboring trees, when Boiseley seemed attracted by something to a large oak, that stood in the light of the fire. "What's there, Boiseley?" said I. "Come and see," said he. "Bear sign, by thunder!" I exclaimed, approaching the tree that bore marks of having been frequently climbed by that animal. "He must have been here often, and not long since, either, judging from the recent scratches." "Yes," said Boiseley, "but he has not been here to-day, for the little snow that fell last night is not tracked near the tree." "Well, that's plain, but why does he climb this tree so much?" "To get the honey, of course." "Sure enough." Knowing now that we had found a bee tree, we naturally wanted a taste of its contents. Setting to work with our axes, we commenced hacking around the roots, and the tree being hollow and quite decayed, it soon cracked, tottered, and came down with a crash across our fire. Luckily our guns and packs were leaning against a tree a short distance off, and escaped damage. The tree broke near its top, the smaller part split open by the fall, disclosing a store of honey that was tempting to us two hungry men. We filled the camp kettle with choice pieces of the comb, and as Boiseley was preparing a couple of grouse, (prairie hens) for supper, I "dipped in" to the honey slightly. I have always been blessed with a good appetite, but on that occasion it must have been a little better than usual, for after eating my bird, and discussing a fair ration of dried meat and parched corn, I thought it better to fill the kettle again with honey, by way of dessert. That evening I got honey enough for a life-time. The sweet extract of a thousand prairie flowers passed from sight, but not forever. A strange sensation seized me, and were you ever sea-sick? if you were, it will be useless for me to describe what that feeling was, for you have experienced it. In the morning Boiseley invited me to join him at the honey pot, but I refused; and pursuing our journey, we left the rich treat to the wild animals. And since that memorable night , when we cut down the bee-tree, I have never tasted honey without a feeling of nausea and disgust.
Stopping a short time at the Juneau settlement on our way back, we kept on our course and arrived at Green Bay on the 29th day of February. The quarter-master at Fort Howard expressed himself satisfied with my performance; and he wanted me to make another trip; but as I had seen the country, which was all I cared for, I did not desire to repeat it. Getting my pay from the department, and a liberal donation from the people, a portion of which I gave Boisley, I left Uncle Sam's employ and took up my old profession --- a gentleman of leisure, and continued to practice as such until the spring came, when, with a view to extend the field of my labors, I made ready to bid good bye to Green Bay. I had formed associations and friends among the inhabitants, with whom it was hard to part. The little Frenchman, with whose extraordinarily long gun I shot the buck in the Illinois river, had married and was living in a snug little home of his own, where I was ever a welcome guest. I felt solitary and perhaps gloomy when I turned my back on the settlement, and embarked in the canoe with Boisley, for I was doubtful of bettering my condition by the move. But doubts could not deter me from making the venture, and with determination we plied our paddles and urged the canoe up Fox river.
The route from Fort Howard to Fort Crawford was not an unknown one by any means; yet it was through a wilderness then new, and led through an Indian country, inhabited by a race of men naturally cruel and treacherous, who, the year previous, had begun a war of extermination against the whites. To us the way was unknown, and we entered on it without other guides than a few directions from an old voyaguer in the employ of the American Fur Company, who had made the trip. I shall not speak of the incidents that befell us, nor of our several camping scenes, just now, but suffice it to say, that we continued up Fox river into Lake Winnebago; and carrying our canoe across the narrow portage formed by the ridge that separates the Fox and Wisconsin rivers, we launched it in the latter; and were soon gliding down on its swift current, en route for the Mississippi. Proceeding on our voyage down the Wisconsin, we descried the beauties of a landscape enhanced by the charms of summer verdure. The bluffs that towered up on either side, as they do now, had never reverberated the shrill whistle of the locomotive, neither were the banks sprinkled with promising villages; but nature remained the same as it had for ages and ages. Now and then could be seen the wigwams of the Winnebagoes, but of the habitations of the white man there were none. The pale faces up to this time, had not dared to settle on the hunting grounds of the red men beyond the protecting influence of some fort. The whole splendid country about Madison contained but one white man, and that was Ebenezer Brigham, who had settled at Blue Mounds the year before I came to Prairie du Chien.
It was in the summer of 1828 that the canoe came out at the mouth of the Wisconsin river, and then paddling up the Mississippi for three miles, we arrived at the village of Prairie du Chien, at that time limited to the island over the slough, consisting of the old fort, now gone, and the houses of the people in its neighborhood, some of which are now to be seen. As a correct description of Prairie du Chien, its appearance, its inhabitants, and its position generally, at that time (thirty years ago), would be interesting, I will give it to you; at the same time I will relate all such incidents and anecdotes connected with the country or its principal inhabitants, as they may come to mind.
On my arrival at Prairie du Chien, in June 1828, this was no insignificant point in the northwest. The establishment of a military post here by the French, in an earlier day, which, as a natural consequence, caused a host of traders, camp-followers, army speculators and a mixed class generally to gather around, made it assume a livelier tone than many would imagine. Prairie du Chien was also an important point in consequence of the Indian agency then located here. Gen. Joseph M. Street was appointed Indian agent the same year I came, and he was engaged in several negotiations and treaties with different tribes of Indians, among whom he managed to preserve comparatively friendly relations, inducing them to part with their land to the government, strip after strip, for which he saw them paid off in cash or goods. I will not be certain that he always commanded the confidence of the Indians, but he was impartial in all his dealings with them, saw the conditions of engagements faithfully fulfilled, and made the annual payments promptly at the proper time. It was at these same payments, some of which I attended, that the traders and employes of the fur company reaped rich harvests. There are those here now, who made the bulk of their fortunes, after these payments, in trading with the unsophisticated Indian. This being a point most accessible to a great many tribes, they frequently received their payments here, at headquarters. These payments are great occasions to the Indian, because he would obtain new blankets and money, wherewith to buy guns, ammunition and whisky; to the trader, for he would rake in all that money, giving in exchange a very superior quality of goods, at a very small advance on first cost; and to the government, as it offered a chance for purchasing more territory. An Indian payment was invariably attended with a great jubilee, in most cases got up at the expense of the Indians. At these frolics the Indians generally got "plenty drunk," but the traders got all their money, and the government got their lands. Gambling was a common thing at such times, and the Indian often returned to his village, empty handed, sans land, sans money, sans everything but a deep conviction of having been cheated. Thus it will be plainly seen that the trade carried on between the Indians and whites, was anything but advantageous to the former, while many of the dealings of the government with the Indians, threatened to embroil the frontiers in an Indian war.
Besides the Indian agency, and being a military post, there was located here the headquarters of the American Fur Company. This company was organized by John Jacob Astor, in the year 1809, and if memory serves me right, Joseph Rolette was the principal agent at this place when I arrived in 1828; and H. L. Dousman, who had come on the year previous, was also in the employ of the company. Of Rolette, I could relate a host of anecdotes, but space and other motives forbid. I will state, however, that his influence was considerable, his will arbitrary, and his word law. He held sway over the French inhabitants and voyaguers, which if not really tyrannical was exacting in its requirements. At the fire over the slough, when the company's buildings were burned, a powder magazine, filled with powder, stood in close proximity to the fire. This magazine was in eminent danger from the heat and flying cinders; and to prevent a terrible explosion, it was necessary to remove the powder. Rolette taking in everything at a glance, saw need of immediate action, and thereupon ordered all those in his employ to save the powder. And although it was almost as much as life was worth, they dared not disobey that mandate, and rushing in they seized the powder kegs and carried them through the fire and smoke down to the river. This incident shows his influence over the people, who feared him worse than they did death.
The Mississippi river, when I came here [in June, 1828,] was at a stage of water four and one-half feet higher than it had been known before, or has occurred during any subsequent rise. It was in June, and the site of the village was an island. To this same island, made so by too high water, was then restricted all that bore the name of Prairie du Chien. On the east of the slough, in the year 1828, there were only five houses; the one built by J. H. Lockwood, afterwards occupied by Col. Z. Taylor, north of the present fort; one other where union block now stands; the house of one Larrivier, and two others that I cannot correctly locate.
I have said that all Prairie du Chien was included in what is now termed the main village. But at that time there were many more houses and inhabitants there than at present. It is true that the people were chiefly Canadians, Frenchmen and traders; and their habitations were less prized for architecture than comfort, yet there was much to admire in the neighborly sociality that pervaded the early society.
For some years before 1828-9, little advancement or change had been going on in the appearance of Prairie du Chien: Soon after, the Indian difficulties of 1827 were adjusted, and emigration increased, and settlers began to arrive, bringing with them seeds of progress. From that period the eastern emigrants commenced gathering at this point, the population increased, improvement began and prospered, until we now enjoy the blessings of the electric telegraph, railroads and reliable steam navigation. The arrivals of steamboats at that early day, were like angels' visits, "few and far between." Well do I remember in 1828, when the steamboat Red Rover, commanded by Capt. Harris, arrived at this place. It was like the dawning of a new era, and Capt. Harris is still spared, and now commands a floating palace on the Father of waters.
The principal citizens that resided in the village thirty years ago , were J. Rolette, his wife and family; J. H. Lockwood, merchant trader, and his wife and family; J. Brisbois, family of four sons and two daughters; Hercules L. Dousman; Gen. J. M. Street and family; E. Bailey, who built the old Prairie House; F. Gallanau, F. Chenviet, and Flavin Cherrier, who were wealthy farmers. I may have omitted some others, but the remainder of the people then here, were mostly traders Canadians, in the employ of the fur company, and those who lived on the Indian trade.
It was in 1831, I think, that I was with a few men getting out stone near Barrette's lower ferry. We lived in a cabin on the west shore of Wisconsin river. One evening, after we had gone to bed, two of the men, who had been to town for liquor, came rushing into the cabin and told us to get up, for they said the world was done! We got up, and the awful grandeur of the sight that we witnessed I shall never forget. The air was filled with a meteoric shower of phosphorescent light. It came down in flakes and as thick and fast as hail. It continued for some time presenting a brilliant spectacle, and giving us a pretty good idea of the judgment day. After the first surprise passed, I knew it was some natural phenomena, (although I had never before or since heard it accounted for), but it appeared strange that the fire did not burn. In the morning no trace was left of the previous night's wonder.
When Taintor and Reed came here and took contracts to furnish the fort with wood, which was soon after the close of the Black Hawk War, when they were showing Black Hawk around the country, I moved upon the bluff, and went into the employ of Reed. The wood was furnished at a high price, and the contractors made a good profit from it. I remained on the bluff some time; finally, Reed went away, and I returned to the prairie. Uncle Ezekiel Taintor afterwards commenced to keep a store on the prairie, but the business not suiting him he discontinued it and returned to his farm, where he now lives, a respected and well-to-do citizen of Crawford.
In the year 1834, I think it was, I moved back to the prairie, into the old tavern. That year the small-pox broke out in the village; many citizens were attacked with the disease, and hundreds of the Indians then living in this vicinity died. My oldest son, then nine months old, was seized with disease, and recovered; but a Winnebago, whom we called Boxer, and who acted as my clerk and sold liquor to the Indians, caught the loathsome disease and died. I will relate the manner of his death; for he was a faithful fellow, and though he took in $100 a day sometimes, he never defrauded me of a cent. I was about to move to Bloody Run, and had sent Boxer over to see if the shanty was ready, and he took his canoe and went over. It seems on his way back he felt sick, and drew his canoe up on the point of the island, east of the Run, where the fever came on, and he laid down by the water's edge to drink, and there he died. There I found him as I was going over to the Run. I buried him on the island, and can show you his grave, and say, there lie the bones of an honest Indian. I proceeded to Bloody Run after burying poor Boxer, and was there taken with the small-pox myself. I laid down by a spring and remained there during the attack, four days and four nights, which time was passed in great misery, and seemed an age to me, but after the crisis passed, I was enabled to reach the prairie, where I soon regained my health, and then moved my family to Bloody Run.
In Bloody Run I lived about two years. When we first went over there, the cabin I moved into leaked, and one day I was on the roof fixing it, when I saw a deer coming down the coulee, from the north, directly towards me. I thought it was chased by something, and not being entirely recovered from my sickness, I did not get down to harm it. Soon after the deer passed I was attracted by an exclamation from my son, and looking, I saw a large gray wolf making towards him. I got down quickly and snatching up a gun loaded with small shot, that my wife had been hunting with, I advanced toward the wolf, but it did not retreat until I sent a charge of shot into its face.
Bloody Run was a great hunting ground, and Martin Scott, of whom I know many interesting anecdotes, made it his favorite beat when in pursuit of game. From this circumstance it is said the Run derived its name, but that is an error, for the true origin of Bloody Run is known to some old settlers now alive, and it is as follows:
Bloody Run is so called, from an incident of backwoods' life, which I will relate as it was told me, by a person who was born in these parts, and who is now living in Prairie du Chien. The name applies to a large ravine or valley, on the west side of the Mississippi, in Iowa, opposite Prairie du Chien, and one mile north of McGregor. A stream of pure, cool spring water, clear as a crystal and thickly skirted with a growth of timber, meanders along through the valley over its pebbly bottom towards the Mississippi, into which it flows. This stream winds between high wood-covered bluffs that bound the valley on either side, and at a distance of more than seven miles from its mouth, it furnishes power to run Spalding & Marsh's mill.
In that season of the year when vegetation and verdure are at their height, a picturesque sight is presented to the tourist, as he wends his way along the stream through the valley of Bloody Run. The lover of nature has never imagined a wilder, more beautiful place than was Bloody Run, when I was there in 1834. No wonder that Martin Scott chose this as his favorite hunting-ground. His true sportsman instinct led him to this place, to watch for the red deer as it came down from the bluff at mid-day, to slake its thirst and cool its panting sides in the crystal waters of the run. Here it was his brag gun dealt death among the wood-cock, wood-duck and pheasants, that were very abundant in the valley; and here, too, transpired a scene of bloodshed that gave to this beautiful spot its ominous name.
There is scarcely a stream, point, bluff, wood, coulee or cave in the west, but has attached to it some associations that are alone peculiarly historical; and as I possessed a natural curiosity to learn the derivation of names that to me seemed peculiar, my probings have often brought to light, mines of legendary lore and antique history.
It was years ago, before the English were guided to and captured Prairie du Chien, and before the traitorous guide hid himself in a cave in Mill Coulee; when Prairie du Chien was inhabited by only a few French families and Indian traders, that an event occurred which gave to the coulee, wherein North McGregor is now being built, the name of Bloody Run. A couple of traders lived on the prairie, named Antoine Brisbois and George Fisher, and as was the custom with those extensively engaged in the fur trade, these two traders had their clerks or agents, whom they supplied with goods to dispose of to the Indians. Among other clerks were two who lived with their families in Bloody Run. Their names were Smith Stock and a Mr. King. King's wife was a squaw from the Sauk tribe, while Mr. Stock and wife were English, and both families lived on a little bench or table land, about a mile and a half from the mouth, on the north side of the valley. Their cabin was situated a few rods west of the log house now standing, and I can show you the stones of the old-fashioned fire-place, lying where they fell after the cabin went to decay.
The clerks had sold a quantity of goods to the Indians on credit, who were backward in cancelling the debt. Among other Indians who had got in debt for goods, was a Sauk chief, Gray Eagle.13
The chief had been refused any more credit, and would not pay for what he had really obtained. This dishonesty on the part of the chief made King impatient, and he told his wife that he would go to Gray Eagle's village, and if the chief did not pay, then he would take the chief's horse for the debt. His wife told him it would be dangerous to treat a chief that way, and warned him not to go; but he said he had traded too long with the Indians to be afraid of them, and started to collect the debt.
On his way to the village he met the chief, unarmed, riding on the very horse he had threatened to take. Approaching him, he dragged the chief off, gave him a beating, and got on the horse himself and rode it home, and tied it before the shanty door. When he told his wife what he had done, she said she was afraid the chief would seek revenge, and warned her husband to be cautious. Soon after Mrs. King rushed into the cabin and said that Gray Eagle was near at hand with some of his people. Upon hearing this, King arose to go out to the horse, but he scarcely reached the door before a bullet from Gray Eagle's rifle pierced his brain, and he fell across the thresh-hold a bloody corpse. The Indian took the horse.
Mr. Stock, the remaining trader, persisted in his refusals to give the Indians credit, which so enraged them, that they shot him through the heart. After this last tragedy, the surviving members of those two families removed from the old claim, and for years after, no white man lived in the valley, which, from the murders perpetrated there by the Indians, has ever since been called Bloody Run.
Such is a description and history of the place where I went to live twenty-four years ago; and it remained about the same until within two or three years. I lived there two years and raised two good crops, and spent the pleasantest two years of my life. The Indians were very numerous, their reservations being close by, and they sometimes stole my corn and potatoes, and killed my hogs; but I should have continued there, had the title to the land been good. But an advantageous offer was made to me to go up into Menomonee pineries, and I left Bloody Run.
Within the last twelve months, Bloody Run has undergone a great change. The land titles have been investigated and adjusted; the floating population of the west has began to settle there; mills have been built; dwellings erected, and a railroad is surveyed through the valley, and partly built. A young city is rearing itself in the valley; and will yet surpass its neighbor (McGregor) in population and trade, as it does now in its natural advantages.
It was in 1839, while in the Menomonee pineries, that desirous of returning to Prairie du Chien. I looked around for the means of doing so. I pitched upon a plan that few would think of in this age of progress, when a very few hours suffice to perform the journey, that then occupied as many days. But there were no conveniences of travel on the upper Mississippi then; a passage in a high pressure steam-boat, such as was the Science, could not be counted on with any certainty. I got a large Mackinaw boat, rigged an awning, and placed my family and what few worldly goods I possessed, in it and made the trip from the mills on Menomonee river to the prairie.
We had a pleasant trip, sailing and floating down the river; and were I to give a minute sketch of it, you might think it interesting; but as I am anxious to give an account of things in general, rather than a personal history, I will merely notice one incident of our journey, which occurred before our safe arrival at Prairie du Chien.
Our boat was thirty feet in length, and the awning extended over a space of fifteen feet in the centre, beneath which was placed our goods, provisions and bedding, at the same time affording shelter for my wife and children, from the rain and night damps. In the stern I had reserved a space to work the steering oar, while in the bow was a stove, where my wife cooked our food and such game as I shot. With all the exposure of that trip, I look back at the time thus spent as among the pleasantest of my life.
One day while the boat was floating lazily down with the current, opposite Trempealeau mountain, my attention was called to an animal, pointed out by my wife. It was on a long, narrow bar or point of an island just below us, and appeared to be playing with some object, unconscious of our approach. I was not long in discovering that it was a large panther, and made up my mind to shoot it, for at that time I had never killed one. So, telling my wife to take the oar and direct the boat to a point nearest the beast, I stood in the bow ready to fire as soon as we had approached near enough. The panther kept dragging the object about, unmindful of the boat, until its keel grated on the sand within twenty feet of it. Just as the boat stopped I fired. The bullet pierced its vitals, and after satisfying myself that it was dead, got out to skin it, when I found that one of the panther's paws was firmly locked in the jaws of a large hard-shell turtle. It appeared to me that the panther had been in search of food, and spying the turtle, crept up to it with the intent to catch it, and he did catch it; "he caught a tartar." The turtle got a paw in his mouth, and kept hold so firmly that the panther was unable to extricate it. I am of the opinion that the panther knew he had "put his foot in it," and out of respect to his unfortunate condition, I never boasted the exploit of killing him. The skin of the panther was not worth a sou-markee, but the turtle was a prize I knew how to manage, for I was something of an epicure. The turtle furnished us with many a delicious feast, until we reached the Prairie.
I found on arriving at Prairie du Chien that the speculating mania had come to a crisis, and "hard times" had put a damper on the spirits of the people, as well as put a stop to all enterprises. Real estate was still held at high rates, but it did not change owners as frequently as in 1836. The state of affairs was similar to that of 1858.
In the year 1824, one cow would buy a small farm. As an instance, showing how cheap land could be bought then, I will cite a fact that occurred to me. A certain person owed me a bill of $5 and not having the money, he came to me and offered to deed a piece of property to me to pay the debt. Low as such property was, taxes were very heavy, and so I would not accept the offer. B. W. Brisbois afterwards paid $800 for the lot and now it is not to be had an any price. From 1840 until the commencement of the war with Mexico, nothing to excite interest occurred; unless we remark that the country was rapidly filling up with new comers. In 1846 orders were received to raise a volunteer company of 100 men.
When I left Bloody Run to go up to Lockwood's mill on the Menomonee in 1836 or 1837, great speculative excitement existed. Land companies Nos. 1 and 2 were formed, and great improvements and projects were commenced. At Prairie du Chien and Cassville, towns were laid out, hotels built, and real estate was held at enormous prices. It was designed to make Cassville the capital of the Michigan territory; but men's practice always falls short of their theory. The hard times came on, and the much talked of project was abandoned; land depreciated, and a general stagnation of business ensued. Among the organizations of the times was a wild-cat banking institution, entitled the "Prairie du Chien Ferry Company." This company issued its shin-plasters at Prairie du Chien; some of which I have, and they bear the signatures of G. Washington Pine, president; and H. W. Savage, cashier. This pioneer bank, however, had to succumb to the pressure, and adopted the "suspend payment" system, which suspension has lasted to the present day.
The Rev. Alfred Brunson and quite a number of persons, some now living in Curts' settlement, came here the year I went to the mills on Monomonee river. I went to Lake Pepin with my family in the steamboat Science. At the lake were two trading houses. Immediately upon our arrival at the lake, a fierce battle was fought on its shores, between the Sioux and Chippewas, which resulted in the defeat of the latter. I passed the scene of the fight, and saw the mutilated bodies of the dead Indians. The Chippewa Indians were better warriors than the Sioux, but being poor, their arms are almost valueless, which accounts for their defeat. From the Lake we went up to the Chippewa river in Mackinaw boats. The water of the Chippewa is as red as wine, and a crimson streak may be seen for some distance below its mouth. This color I attribute to deposits of iron ore through which the channel of the river runs. On reaching the mills (there being three of them), I entered upon my duties as lumberman. The mills were situated on the Monomonee river, in a tract of neutral ground between the Chippewa and Sioux Indians. These two tribes were constantly warring against each other, and I had frequent opportunities to see war parties of both tribes. There were some Chippewas living near the mills, who sold game, maple sugar, wild fruits, and like articles to the mill hands.
On one occasion the hands had gone to work, and left their cabin locked up, when a number of Chippewas came in their absence, crept through a window, stole the blankets from the beds, pork from the barrel, filled their blankets with flour, and started away will all their plunder. Fortunately the mill hands discovered their loss early. They pursued the Indians, overtook them, gave them a good whipping, and took away everything that had been stolen. It was with such incidents as these, that we relieved the monotony of life in the pinery.
One day my wife was alone in our cabin, when an old Chippewa, who had often visited us, came in with some maple sugar. My wife took the sugar, and in return gave him some pork and flour, at the same time telling him she thought there were Sioux Indians near, for that day she smelled kinnikinic smoke in the woods. The Chippewa soon left, and it seemed not more than a moment after that the house was filled with a war party of Sioux. The chief asked her if there was any Chippewas there, and she answered that she had not seen any. The Sioux said they had tracked one to the cabin, and taking some of the sugar the Indian had brought, called it "Chippewa's sugar," and said they would eat the sugar and cut the Chippewa's throat when they caught him. The war party ate all the food they could get, and then filed out; but they didn't catch the old Indian, for he managed to escape, and afterwards brought game to our house.
There is something mysterious in the appearance of a war party. I have seen several, and they glided along like a serpent, with noiseless, even motion; and had I not been looking at them I should not have known that they were passing within thirty feet of me. Once a raft broke to pieces, and I went with the men to recover the lumber. While engaged in collecting it, we had to pass over a ridge frequently during the day, and at night when we were going over on our way back to the mills, we heard a laugh close by our side. We looked around for the cause, but not finding it, we were about to move on, when the laugh was repeated, and we were surprised to see what we had taken for a pine stump assume the form of a Chippewa scout. It appears he had been hid there all day watching for Sioux, and we had passed within arms' reach several times without seeing him.
I remained two years in the pineries, and could have made money, had I accepted the offer made me if I would remain longer, but I desired to return to Prairie du Chien.
The year after my coming down from Lockwood's mills, in 1840, an election occurred, and I was solicited to accept the office of constable in and for the county of Crawford and territory of Wisconsin. On the 28th of September, 1840, I was duly elected, and on the 19th day of October, was qualified before C. J. Learned, to perform the duties of the office. The business of constable here eighteen years ago was not very considerable, yet there was a kind of character attached to the office in that day, which made its occupant a person of note and dread in the eyes of the then unsophisticated inhabitants of this vicinity. Well do I remember the first writ I served; the trepidation that took hold of the person against whom it was issued, when I came into his presence. But he has got bravely over that, and is at this time one of the first citizens of Prairie du Chien, under obligation to no man.
Ezekiel Taintor was elected sheriff of Crawford county about 1840; at all events he occupied that office in 1841. This point was then the place for holding all criminal trials for the entire country northwest of it. Some very noted lawyers of those times were located here; among these was T. P. Burnett, a thorough read lawyer, and a gentleman of respectability. His public services will long be remembered by the citizens of Wisconsin. He died in 1846, leaving a vacant seat in the territorial Legislature, and a large circle of friends.
In the year 1841, J. Rolette, the first citizen of Prairie du Chien, died, and was buried in the Catholic grave yard. Four years previous, Michael Brisbois, an old fur trader and citizen, died, and was buried on the summit of a high bluff, in accordance with a request made previous to his death. The bluff is back of the town, and is called Mt. Pleasant, and strangers whose curiosity prompts them with a desire to see all the sights of this beautiful valley, often climb up to the grave, where, reclining beneath the weather-beaten cross, they feast on the magnificent scene that can be had from the bluff, or listen to the story of the old pioneer's request.
At a general election held on the 22d day of September, 1845, I was elected to the offices of coroner and constable for Crawford county. In the first office, the duties that devolved on me were neither few nor pleasant. The holding of inquests on the bodies of persons picked up in the river, and found murdered, were of more frequent occurrence than now. The country being thinly settled, detection was easily avoided, and the penalties of the law hard to enforce; so evil disposed persons, not having the fear of certain punishment before them, perpetrated deeds of violence with perfect impunity. I was once notified that a dead body was lying in the water opposite Pig's Eye slough, and immediately proceeded to the spot, and on taking it out, I recognized it as the body of a negro woman belonging to a certain captain then in Fort Crawford. The body was cruelly cut and bruised; but the person not appearing to recognize it, a verdict of "found dead" was rendered, and I had the corpse buried. Soon after, it came to light that the woman was whipped to death and thrown into the river during the night; but no investigation was made, and the affair blew over.
For a long term of years have I held positions that gave me every opportunity of observing and detecting crime; as a policeman, constable, sheriff and justice of the peace, I was an almost daily witness of rascalities, and could furnish a calendar of crimes perpetrated in the northwest that would startle even those who have lived here a much longer time, but who are not as thoroughly posted in criminal affairs. There is an individual now (1858) living in the town known to be guilty of several murders. Others are aware of this fact.
The subject of education was not an unknown one in Prairie du Chien at that day. Taxes were levied and money appropriated to establish and sustain district schools. In January, 1846, I was appointed collector for district No. 2, of which C. W. Pelton was trustee.
Desirous of visiting Cassville, Prairie du Chien and that part of the territory bordering on the Mississippi, I accepted a cordial invitation from Col. Daniels, of Cassville, to take a seat in his carriage for that place. It was a delightful morning in September, when, with an agreeable party, consisting of the colonel, Mr. Latham, of Mineral Point, and a Mr. Payne, of Boston, we bade adieu to the noble, generous people of Mineral Point, and proceed over a rough, uncultivated, hilly, and tolerably well timbered country, some six or ten miles to a pretty spot called Diamond Grove, near which was the residence of Col. John B. Terry. Here it was proposed to stop, but on approaching the house, it was evident that the family were not at home, and I proposed to pass on, but was overruled by Col. Daniels, who insisted that it was the seat of genuine hospitality, where the latch string was never drawn in; which proved to be the case on that occasion, at least, and the whole party entered the house. And although no member of the family was at home, Col. Daniels, presuming upon his friendship with the proprietor, opened the cupboard, and set out an excellent cold collation, to which was added a bottle of something stronger than milk, on which the party regaled themselves most satisfactorily.
Proceeding across a fine rolling prairie, beautiful as a garden, though almost in a state of nature, with at rare intervals a small agricultural improvement, of a hamlet of miner's huts, we struck the military road which traverses the dividing ridge extending across the territory, the western terminus being at Prairie du Chien, along which we continued through a succession of natural landscapes, the most rich and gorgeous that can be imagined, until we reached the intersection of the Cassville road; near which but a short distance along the last named road, we stopped for the night, at a small log hut, the only building of any description in the vicinity, excepting a small one on a recent improvement, said to have been commenced by Hon. Thomas P. Burnett, near where we diverged from the military road.
We were generously welcomed and as comfortably entertained as the limited means of our kind host and hostess would admit. The ride from this point to Cassville was through a country of extraordinary beauty, with a soil of unrivaled richness and fertility, though with the exception of a very few buildings and improvements, untouched by the hand of man. The people of Cassville, proverbially intelligent, accomplished and enterprising, proud of what they considered the great beauty and immense natural advantages of the location of their town, were all bustle and excitement in view of many grand and important improvements already projected or in progress; first among which was a magnificent hotel, the foundation for which was already being laid. All classes appeared prosperous, happy and contented, looking forward with confidence to a brilliant future for themselves and their favorite town.
After remaining a short time here, I took passage (kindly accompanied by Capt. Estin and Mr. Latham) on board the steamboat Adventurer, a very small dilapidated and filthy boat, (for at that time there were comparatively few steamers of any description plying on the Mississippi, above Dubuque), for Prairie du Chien. This town, located on a beautiful prairie, some four miles above the mouth of the Wisconsin river, would have been fully equal in appearance to any other site on the Mississippi, but for a slough or bayou which ran through it nearly parallel with the river, thus dividing the town, and giving to that portion next to the river, or Old Town, as it was called, the appearance of an island, which was exclusively occupied by the store and warehouse, a large and elegant stone structure, and other buildings of the North American Fur Company, with a few mean huts tenanted by a miserable set of French and Indians. It was here that John Jacob Astor, the New York millionaire, as a member or chief of that mammoth fur company, made, it has been said, a considerable portion of his immense wealth.
On the opposite side of the bayou, or New Town, was Fort Crawford, in which were about 300 United States troops. It occupied a high, airy and commanding position on the prairie, and comprised four substantial stone buildings, each some 200 feet long, forming a hollow square, in the center of which was a spacious parade ground. The officers and ladies of the garrison were exceedingly courteous and agreeable, exerting themselves to render our visit in every respect pleasant and satisfactory. The New Town contained but few dwelling houses, and those of a very ordinary character, the only one of any pretensions, which I recollect, being that occupied by Judge Lockwood.
Returning to Cassville I took passage on board the steamer, Missouri Fulton, and bidding adieu to that delightful territory, in the fond hope of being permitted to visit it again in after years, set out cheerily for my eastern homes at Rock Island, in which stood Fort Armstrong, a handsome and truly formidable fortress. The captain kindly landed to afford the passengers an opportunity of witnessing the formalities of concluding a treaty which was being held between Gov. Dodge, acting for the United States, and the chiefs of the Sauk and Fox Indians, during which the latter ceded to the government their immensely valuable reservation situation on the Iowa river, west of the Mississippi, and nearly opposite to Rock Island, the sum stipulated for the purchase being, as it was then understood, seventy-five cents per acre.14
The acquisition of this domain was considered of great importance to the country; not so much on account of its intrinsic value, as to get rid of those mischievous tribes of Indians, who up to a period very recent, had kept up a continual warfare with their white neighbors, at the instigation of Black Hawk, who strenuously maintained to the last, that they had been unjustly deprived of the lands and homes inherited from their fathers, and which ended only with the capture of that brave old chief, and the consequent termination of war in August, 1832.
Pending the treaty, some 400 of the Sauk and Fox tribes, old and young, male and female, were encamped on the western bank of the river, opposite the island, who, contrary to the supposed proverbial taciturn and stoical disposition of that people, were engaged in all manner of sports, including horse racing and gambling of every description. The men, many of them, were painted after a variety of grotesque fashions, their heads ornamented and decked out in scarlet cloth or flannel, with a profusion of feathers, beads and other finery. They appeared decidedly happy, and at times were boisterous in their mirth. After the passengers returned to the boat, they were visited, among others, by the co-chiefs, Black Hawk and Keokuk, who exhibited evident signs of pleasure and gratification at being introduced to them, particularly the ladies, toward whom they were decidedly gallant. This treaty was considered, and justly too, a highly important one, setling, as it did, forever, the difficulties and misunderstandings which had so long subsisted with those Indians, who were the original owners and occupiers of all that beautiful country on both sides of the river, for a considerable distance above and below Rock Island, and Gov. Dodge was highly complimented for the skillful and successful manner in which he conducted the negotiations for the final result.
Thus have I hastily and imperfectly jotted down the reminiscences of a brief residence in the territory, nearly a quarter of a century ago; and if, among them all, there shall be found a single fact worthy of preservation as connected with its early history, I shall feel amply recompensed for the little time and labor it has cost me in its preparation.
Pottsville, Pa., Nov. 1858.