On the 28th of June, 1827, two Winnebago Indians, Red Bird and We-Kaw and three of their companions, entered the house of Rigeste Gagnier, about two miles from Prairie du Chien, where they remained several hours. At last, when Mr. Gagnier least expected it, Red Bird leveled his gun and shot him dead on his hearthstone. A person in the building by the name of Lipcap, who was a hired man, was slain at the same time by We-Kaw. Madame Gagnier turned to fly with her infant of eighteen months. As she was about to leap through the window, the child was torn from her arms by We-Kaw, stabbed, scalped and thrown violently on the floor as dead. The murderer then attacked the woman, but gave way when she snatched up a gun that was leaning against the wall, and presented it to his breast. She then effected her escape. Her eldest son, a lad of ten years, also shunned the murderers, and they both arrived in the village at the same time. The alarm was soon given; but, when the avengers of blood arrived at Gagnier's house, they found in it nothing living but his mangled infant. It was carried to the village, and, incredible as it may seem, it recovered.
Red Bird and his companions immediately proceeded from the scene of their crime to the rendezvous of their band. During their absence, thirty-seven of the warriors who acknowledged the authority of Red Bird, had assembled with their wives and children, near the mouth of the Bad Ax river, in what is now Vernon county. They received the murderers with joy and loud approbations of their exploit. A keg of liquor which they had secured was set abroach, and the Indians began to drink and as their spirits rose, to boast of what they had already done and intended to do. They continued their revel for two days, but on the third the source of their excitement gave out --- their liquor was gone. They were, at about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, dissipating the last fumes of their excitement in the scalp-dance, when they descried one of the keel-boats, which had a few days before passed up the river with provisions for the troops at Fort Snelling, on her return, in charge of Mr. Lindsay. Forthwith a proposal to take her and massacre the crew was made and carried by acclamation. They counted on doing this without risk, for they had examined her on her way up and supposed there were no arms on board. But in this they were mistaken as the sequal shows.
There were indications of hostilities on the part of the Sioux on the upper Mississippi, and the boats when they left Fort Snelling had been supplied with arms. In descending the river they expected an attack at Wabashaw, where the Sioux were dancing the war dance, and hailed their approach with insults and menaces, but did not offer to attack the boats, or obstruct their passage. The whites now supposed the danger over, and, a strong wind at that moment beginning to blow up stream, the boats parted company. So strong was the wind that all the force of the sweeps could scarcely stem it; and by the time the foremost boat was near the encampment, at the mouth of the Bad Ax, the crew were very willing to stop and rest. One or two Frenchmen, or half-breeds, who were on board observed hostile appearances on shore, and advised the rest to keep the middle of the stream with the boat, but their counsel was disregarded. They urged the boat directly toward the camp with all the force of the sweeps. There were sixteen men on deck.
The men were rallying their French companions on their apprehensions, as the boat approached the shore; but when within thirty yards of the bank, suddenly the trees and rocks rang with blood-chilling, ear-piercing tones of the war-whoop, and a volley of rifle balls rained upon the deck. Happily, the Winnebagoes had not yet recovered from the effects of their debauch, and their arms were not steady. One man only fell. He was a little negro named Peter. His leg was dreadfully shattered and he afterward died of the wound. A second volley soon came from the shore; but, as the men were lying at the bottom of the boat, they all escaped but one, who was shot through the heart. Encouraged by the non-resistance, the Winnebagoes rushed to their canoes with intent to board. The boatmen having recovered from their first panic, seized their guns and the savages were received with a severe discharge. In one canoe two savages were killed with the same bullet and several wounded. The attack was continued until night, when one of the party named Mandeville, who had assumed command, sprang into the water, followed by four others, who succeeded in setting the boat afloat, and then went down the stream.
Thirty-seven Indians were engaged in this attack, which may be called the first "Battle of Bad Ax;" the second being fought just below this point, five years after, between the Americans and Indians of another tribe, of which an account will be given in another chapter. Of the Winnebagoes seven were killed and fourteen wounded. They managed to put 693 shots into and through the boat. Two of the crew were killed outright, and four wounded --- two mortally. The presence of mind of Mandeville undoubtedly saved the rest, as well as the boat. Mr. Lindsay's boat, the rear one, did not reach the mouth of the Bad Ax until midnight. The Indians opened fire upon her, which was promptly returned. Owing to the darkness no injury was done to the boat, and she passed safely on. Considering the few that were engaged in the attack on the first boat and in its defense, the contest was indeed a spirited and sanguinary one.
Great was the alarm at Prairie du Chien when the boats arrived there. The people left their houses and farms and crowded into the dilapidated fort. An express was immediately sent to Galena, and another to Fort Snelling, for assistance. A company of upwards of a hundred volunteers soon arrived from Galena, and the minds of the inhabitants were quieted. In a few days four imperfect companies arrived from Fort Snelling. The consternation of the people of the lead mines was great, and in all the frontier settlements. This portion of the country then contained, as is supposed, about 5000 inhabitants --- that is south of the Wisconsin river and at Prairie du Chien, and extending into Illinois. A great many of these fled from their homes.
On the 1st of September, 1827, Maj. William Whistler, with government troops arrived at the portage (now Portage, Columbia Co., Wis.), and while there an express arrived from Gen. H Atkinson, announcing his approach, and directing him to halt and fortify himself and wait his arrival. The object of the joint expedition of Gen. Atkinson from Jefferson barracks below St. Louis, and of Maj. Whistler from Fort Howard, at Green Bay, was to capture those who had committed the murders at Prairie du Chien, and put a stop to any further aggression. And this march of the two into the Winnebago country from opposite directions was well calculated to over-awe the disaffected among the Winnebagoes. These Indians were soon advised that the security of their people lay in the surrender of the murderers of the Gagnier family. Accordingly, Red Bird and We-Kaw were surrendered up to Maj. Whistler, at the portage and the Winnebago war was ended. The two Indians were taken to Prairie du Chien for safekeeping, to await their trial in the regular courts of justice for murder.
The next spring (1828), Red Bird, We-Kaw and another Winnebago prisoner were tried at Prairie du Chien, before Judge James Duane Doty, who went from Green Bay there for that purpose. They were found guilty and sentenced to death. Red Bird died in prison. A deputation of the tribe went to Washington to solicit from the President of the United States, John Quincy Adams, a pardon for the others. President Adams granted it on the implied condition that the tribe would cede the lands then the possession of the miners, in the lead region, to the General Government. The Winnebagoes agreed to this. Madame Gagnier was compensated for the loss of her husband and the mutilation of her infant. At the treaty with the Winnebagoes held at Prairie du Chien in 1829, provision was made for two sections of land to her and her two children. The United States agreed to pay her the sum of $50 per annum for fifteen years to be deducted from the annuity of the Winnebagoes.
In closing this account of the "Winnebago War" we give an ancedote, which places the Winnebago character in an amiable light. The militia of Prairie du Chien, immediately after the affair of the boats at the mouth of the Bad Ax river, seized an old Winnebago chief named De-kau-ray and four other Indians. The chief was informed that if Red Bird was not given up within a certain time he and the others were to die in his place. This De-kau-ray steadfastly believed. A messenger, a young Indian, was sent to inform the tribe of the state of affairs, and several days had elapsed and no information was received of the murderers. The dreadful day was near at hand, and De-kau-ray, being in bad health, asked permission of the officer to go to the river and indulge in his long-accustomed habit of bathing in order to improve his physical condition, upon which Col. Snelling told him that if he would promise on the honor of a chief that he would not leave town, he might have his liberty and enjoy all his privileges until the day appointed for his execution. Accordingly, he first gave his hand to the colonel, thanking him for his friendly offer, then raised both hands aloft, and, in the most solemn adjuration, promised that he would not leave the bounds prescribed, and said if he had a hundred lives he would sooner lose them all than forfeit his word. He was then set at liberty. He was advised to flee to the wilderness and make his escape. "Do you think," said he, "I prize life above honor?" He then complacently remained until nine days of the ten which he had to live had passed, and still nothing was heard of the murderers or of their being apprehended. No alteration could be seen in the countenance of the chief. It so happened that on that day Gen. Atkinson arrived with his troops from Jefferson barracks, and the order for the execution was countermanded and the Indians permitted to return to their homes.
No tribe considers revenge a more sacred duty than the Winnebagoes. It was their ancient custom to take five lives for one, and it is notorious on the frontiers, that no blood of theirs has been shed, even in modern days, that has not been fully avenged. They used, too, to wear some part of the body of a slain enemy about them as a testimonial of prowess. We well remember a grim Winnebago, who was wont to present himself before the whites, who passed the portage of the Fox and Wisconsin rivers, with a human hand hanging on his breast. He had taken it from a Yankee soldier at Tippecanoe.
It was not difficult to stir up such a people to hostility, and, moreover, circumstances favored the design of the Dakotas. There is, or was, a village of Winnebagoes on the Black river, not far from the Dakota town of which Wa-ba-shaw is chief. The two tribes are descended from the same stock, as their languages abundantly prove, and the claims of common origin have been strengthened by frequent intermarriages. Now, it happened, that at the time when Too-pun-kah Zeze was put to death at Fort Snelling, the Red Bird was absent from his Winnebago village, on an expedition against the Chippewas. He returned unsuccessful, and, consequently, sullen and malcontent. Till this time, he had been noted among his tribe for his friendly disposition towards the "men with hats," as the Indians call the whites, and among the traders, for his scrupulous honesty. However, this man, from whom no white person beyond the frontier would have anticipated injury, was easily induced to commit a bloody and unprovoked outrage.
Certain Dakota ambassadors arrived at the Red Bird's village, with a lie in their mouths. "You have become a by-word of reproach among us," said they; "you have just given the Chippewas reason to laugh at you, and the Big Knives also laugh at you. Lo! While they were among you they dared not offend you, but now they have caused Wa-man-goos-ga-ra-ha, and his companion to be put to death, and they have cut their bodies into pieces not bigger than the spots in a bead garter." The tale was believed, and a cry for vengeance arose throughout the village. It was decided that something must be done, and the Dakota envoys promised to lend a helping hand.
A few days before, two keel-boats had ascended the river, laden with provisions for the troops at Fort Snelling. They passed the mouth of Black river with a full sheet, so that a few Winnebagoes, who were there encamped, had some difficulty in reaching them with their canoes. They might have taken both boats, for there were but three fire-locks on board; nevertheless they offered no injury. They sold fish and venison to the boatmen, on amicable terms, and suffered them to pursue their journey unmolested. We mention this trifling circumstance, merely because it was afterwards reported in the St. Louis papers, that the crews of these boats had abused these Winnebagoes shamefully, which assuredly was not the case. 1 The wind died away before the boats reached the village of Wa-ba-shaw, 2 which is situated on the west bank of the Mississippi, twelve or fifteen miles above the mouth of the Black river. Here the Dakotas peremptorily commanded them to put ashore, which they did. No reason was assigned for the order. Upwards of 500 warriors immediately crowded on board. A passenger, who was well acquainted with the Dakotas, observed that they brought no women with them as usual; that they were painted black, which signifies either grief or hostility; that they refused to shake hands with the boatmen, and that their speech was brief and sullen. He instantly communicated his observation to Mr. Lindsay, who commanded the boats, and advised him to push on, before the savages should have discovered that the party were wholly unarmed. Lindsay, a bold-hearted Kentuckian, assumed the tone of command, and peremptorily ordered the Dakotas ashore. They, probably, thought that big words would be seconded with hard blows, and complied. The boats pushed on, several Indians pursued them along the shore for several miles, with speech of taunt and defiance, but they offered no further molestation.
The Dakota villages 3 higher up showed much ill-will, but no disposition, or rather no courage, to attack. Altogether appearances were so threatening, that on his arrival at Fort Snelling, Mr. Lindsay communicated what he had seen to the commanding officer, and asked that his crew should be furnished with arms and ammunition. The request was granted; his thirty-two men were provided with thirty-two muskets, and a barrel of ball-cartridges. Thus secured against attack, the boats commenced the descent of the river.
In the meanwhile, the Red Bird had cogitated upon what he had heard, every tittle of which he believed, and had come to the conclusion that the honor of his race required the blood of two Americans at least. He, therefore, got into his canoe with Wekaw, or the Sun, and two others, and paddled to Prairie du Chien. When he got there he waited upon Mr. Boilvin, in the most friendly manner, and begged to be regarded as one of the staunchest friends of the Americans. The venerable agent admitted his claims, but absolutely refused to give him any whisky. The Winnebago chief then applied to a trader in the town, who, relying on his general good character, did not hesitate to furnish him with an eight gallon keg of spirits, the value of which was to be paid in furs in the succeeding autumn.
There was an old colored woman in the village, whose five sons had never heard that they were inferior beings, either from the Indians or the Canadian French. Therefore, having never considered themselves degraded, they were not degraded; on the contrary, they ranked with the most respectable inhabitants of the place. We knew them well. One of them was the village blacksmith; the others were substantial farmers. Their father was a Frenchman, and their name was Gagnier.
One of these men owned a farm three miles from Prairie du Chien, where he lived with his wife, who was a white woman, two children and a hired man named Lipcap. Thither the Red Bird repaired with his three companions, sure of a fair reception, for Registre Gagnier had always been noted for his humanity to the poor, especially the Indians.
Registre Gagnier invited his savage visitors to enter, hung the kettle over the fire, gave them to eat and smoked the pipe of peace with them. The Red Bird was the last man on earth whom he would have feared; for they were well acquainted with each other and had reciprocated good offices. The Indians remained several hours under Gagnier's hospitable roof. At last, when the farmer least expected it, the Winnebago chief leveled his gun and shot him down dead on his hearth-stone. Lipcap was slain at the same instant by Wekaw. Madame Gagnier turned to fly with her infant of eighteen months. As she was about to leap through the window, the child was torn from her arms by Wekaw, stabbed, scalped and thrown violently on the floor as dead. The murderer then attacked the woman; but gave way when she snatched up a gun that was leaning against the wall and presented it to his breast. She then effected her escape. Her eldest son, a lad of ten years, also shunned the murderers, and they both arrived in the village at about the same time. The alarm was soon given; but when the avengers of blood arrived at poor Registre Gagnier's house, they found in it nothing living but his mangled infant. It was carried to the village, and, strange as it may seem, recovered. 4
The Red Bird and his companions immediately proceeded from the scene of their crime to the rendezvous of their band. During their absence, thirty-seven of the warriors, who acknowledged the authority of Red Bird, had assembled, with their wives and children, near the mouth of Bad Ax river. They received the murderers with exceeding great joy, and loud approbation of their exploit. The keg of liquor was immediately set abroach, the red men began to drink, and, as their spirits rose, to boast of what they had already done, and intended to do. Two days did they continue to revel; and on the third, the source of their excitement gave out. They were, at about 4 in the afternoon, dissipating the last fumes of their excitement in the scalp dance, when they descried one of the keel-boats before mentioned, approaching. Forthwith a proposal to take her, and massacre the crew, was made and carried by acclamation. They counted upon doing this without risk; for they had examined her on the way up, and supposed that there were no arms on board.
Mr. Lindsay's boats had descended the river together as far as the village of Wa-ba-shaw, where they expected an attack. The Dakotas on shore were dancing the war-dance, and hailed their approach with insults and menaces; but did not, nevertheless, offer to obstruct their passage. The whites now supposed the danger over, and a strong wind at that moment beginning to blow up stream, the boats parted company. That which sat deepest in the water had the advantage of the under current, and, of course, gained several miles in advance of the other.
So strong was the wind, that all the force of sweeps could scarcely stem it, and, by the time the foremost boat was near the encampment, at mouth of the Bad Ax, the crew were very willing to stop and rest. One or two Frenchmen, or half breeds, who were on board, observed hostile appearances on shore, and advised the rest to keep the middle of the stream; but their counsel was disregarded. Most of the crew were Americans, who, as usual with our countrymen, combined a profound ignorance of Indian character with a thorough contempt for Indian prowess. They urged the boat directly toward the camp, with all the force of the sweeps. There were sixteen men on deck. It may be well to observe here, that this, like all keel-boats used in the Mississippi valley, was built almost exactly on the model of the Erie and Middlesex canal boats.
The men were rallying their French companions on their apprehensions, and the boat 5 was within thirty yards of the shore, when suddenly the trees and rocks rang with the blood-chilling, ear-piercing tones of the warwhoop, and a volley of rifle balls rained upon the deck. Happily, the Winnebagoes had not yet recovered from the effects of their debauch, and their arms were not steady. One man only fell by their fire. He was a little negro named Peter. His leg was dreadfully shattered, and he afterwards died of the wound. Then Peter began to curse and swear, d------g his fellows for leaving him to be shot at like a Christmas turkey; but finding that his reproaches had no effect, he also managed to drag himself below. All this passed in as little time as it will take to read this paragraph.
Presently a voice hailed the boat in the Sac tongue demanding to know if the crew were English? A half-breed Sac, named Beauchamp, answered in the affirmative. "Then," said the querist, "come on shore, and we will do you no harm, for we are your brethren, the Sacs." "Dog," retorted Beauchamp, "no Sac would attack us thus cowardly. If you want us on shore, you must come and fetch us."
With that, a second volley came from the shore; but as the men were now lying prone in the bottom of the boat, below the water line, they all escaped but one. One man, an American named Stewart, fell. He had risen to return the first fire, and the muzzle of his musket protruding through a loop-hole, showed some Winnebago where to aim. The bullet struck him under the left arm, and passed directly through his heart. He fell dead, with his finger on the trigger of his undischarged gun. It was a hot day, and before the fight was over, the scent of the gunpowder could not overpower the stench of the red puddle around him.
The Winnebagoes encouraged by the non-residence, now rushed to their canoes, with intent to board. One venerable old man endeavored to dissuade them. He laid hold on one of the canoes, and would, perhaps, have succeeded in retaining it; but in the heat of his argument, a ball from the boat hit him in the middle finger of the peace-making hand. Very naturally enraged at such unkind treatment from his friends, he loosed the canoe, hurried to his wigwam for his gun, and took an active part in the remainder of the action. In the meanwhile, the white men had recovered from their first panic, and seized their arms. The boarders were received with a very severe discharge. In one canoe, two savages were killed with the same bullet. Their dying struggles upset the canoe, and the rest were obliged to swim on shore, where it was sometime before they could restore their arms to fighting order. Several more were wounded, and those who remained unhurt, put back, satisfied that a storm was not the best mode of attack.
Two, however, persevered. They were together in one canoe, and approached the boat astern, where there were no holes through which the whites could fire upon them. They soon leaped on board. One seized the long steering oar, or rudder. The other jumped upon deck, where he halted, and discharged five muskets, which had been left there by the crew, fled below through the deck into the bottom of the boat. In this manner he wounded one man very severely. After this exploit, he hurried to the bow, where he seized a long pole, and with the assistance of the steersman, succeeded in grounding the boat on a sand-bar, and fixing her fast under the fire of his people. The two Winnebago boatmen then began to load and fire, to the no small annoyance of the crew. He at the stern was soon dispatched. One of the whites observed his position through a crack, and gave him a mortal wound through the boards. Still, he struggled to get overboard, probably to save his scalp. But his struggles were feeble, and a second bullet terminated them before he could effect his object. After the fight was over, the man who slew him took his scalp.
The bow of the boat was open, and the warrior there still kept his station, out of sight, excepting when he stooped to fire, which he did five times. His third shot broke the arm, and passed through the lungs, of the brave Beauchamp. At this sight, one or two began to speak of surrender. "No, friends," cried the dying man; "you will not save your lives so. Fight to the last; for they will show no mercy. If they get the better of you, for God's sake throw me overboard. Do not let them get my hair." He continued to exhort them to resistance long as his breath lasted, and died with the words "fight on," on his lips. Before this time, however, his slayer had also taken his leave of life. A sailor, named Jack Mandeville, shot him through the head, and he fell overboard, carrying his gun with him.
From that moment Mandeville assumed the command of the boat. A few had resolved to take the skiff, and leave the rest to their fate. They had already cast off the rope. Jack interposed, declaring that he would shoot the first man, and bayonet the second, who would persevere. They submitted. Two more had hidden themselves in the bow of the boat, out of sight, but not out of danger. After a while the old tar missed them, sought them, and compelled them by threats of instant death, enforced by pricks of his bayonet, to leave their hiding place, and take share in the business in hand. Afterwards they fought like bull dogs. It was well for them that Mandeville acted as he did; for they had scarcely risen when a score of bullets, at least, passed through the place where they had been lying.
After the two or three first volleys the fire had slackened, but it was not, therefore, the less dangerous. The Indians had the advantage of superior numbers, and could shift their positions at pleasure. The whites were compelled to lie in the bottom of the boat, below the water mark, for its sides were without bulwarks. Every bullet passed through and through. It was only at intervals, and very warily, that they could rise to fire; for the flash of every gun showed the position of the marksman, and was instantly followed by the reports of two or three Indian rifles. On the other hand they were not seen, and being thinly scattered over a large boat, the Winnebagoes could but guess their positions. The fire, was therefore, slow; for none on either side cared to waste ammunition. Thus, for upwards of three hours, the boatman lay in blood and bilge-water, deprived of the free use of their limbs, and wholly unable to extricate themselves.
At last, as the night fell, Mandeville came to the conclusion that darkness would render the guns of his own party wholly useless, while it would not render the aim of the Winnebagoes a jot less certain. He, therefore, as soon as it was dark, stoutly called for assistance, and sprang into the water. Four more followed him. The balls rained around them, passing through their clothes; but they persisted, and the boat was soon afloat. Seeing their prey escaping, the Winnebagoes raised a yell of mingled rage and despair, and gave the whites a farewell volley. It was returned, with three hearty cheers, and ere a gun could be re-loaded, the boat had floated out of shooting distance.
For half the night, a wailing voice, apparently that of an old man, was heard, following the boat, at a safe distance, however. It was conjectured that it was the father of him whose body the boat was bearing away. Subsequently inquiry proved this supposition to be correct.
Thirty-seven Indians were engaged in this battle, seven of whom were killed, and fourteen were wounded. They managed to put 693 balls into and through the boat. Two of the crew were killed outright, two mortally, and two slightly wounded. Jack Mandeville's courage and presence of mind undoubtedly saved the rest, as well as the boat; but we have never heard that he was rewarded in any way or shape.
Mr. Lindsay's boat, the rear one, reached the mouth of the Bad Ax about midnight. The Indians opened a fire upon her, which was promptly returned. There was a light on board, at which the first gun was probably aimed, for that ball only hit the boat. All the rest passed over harmless in the darkness. 6
Great was the alarm at Prairie du Chien when the boats arrived there. The people left their houses and farms, and crowded into the dilapidated fort. Nevertheless, they showed much spirit, and speedily established a very effective discipline. An express was immediately sent to Galena, and another to Fort Snelling, for assistance. A company of upwards of 100 volunteers soon arrived from Galena, and the minds of the inhabitants were quieted.
In a few days, four imperfect companies of the 5th Infantry arrived from Fort Snelling. The commanding officer ordered a march on the Red Bird's village; but as the volunteers refused to obey, and determined to return home, he was obliged to countermand it.
The consternation of the people of the lead mines was great. Full half of them fled from the country. Shortly after, however, when Gen. Atkinson arrived with a full regiment, a considerable body of volunteers joined him from Galena, and accompanied him to the portage of Wisconsin, to fight with or receive the submission of the Winnebagoes.
The Red Bird there appeared, in all the paraphernalia of an Indian chief and warrior, and surrendered himself to justice, together with his companions in the murder of Gagnier, and one of his band, who had taken an active part in the attack on the boats. They were incarcerated at Prairie du Chien. A dreadful epidemic broke out there about this time, and he died in prison. He knew that his death was certain, and did not shrink from it.
In the course of a year, the people of the lead mines increased in number and in strength and encroached upon the Winnebago lands. The Winnebagoes complained in vain. The next spring, the murderers of Methode, and the other Indian prisoners, were tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. A deputation of the tribe went to Washington to solicit their pardon. President Adams granted it, on the implied condition that the tribe would cede the lands then in possession of the miners. The Winnebagoes have kept their word --- the land has been ceded, and Madame Gagnier has been compensated for the loss of her husband, and the mutilation of her infant. We believe that she received, after waiting two years, the magnificent sum of $2000. 7
We will close this true account of life beyond the frontier, with an anecdote which places the Winnebago character in a more amible light than anything already related. The militia of Prairie du Chien, immediately after the affair of the boats, seized the old chief De Kau-ray --- the same who has already been mentioned. He was told that if the Red-Bird should not be given up within a certain time, he was to die in his stead. This he steadfastly believed. Finding that confinement injured his health, he requested to be permitted to range the country on his parole. The demand was granted. He was bidden to go wither he pleased during the day, but at sunset he was required to return to the fort on pain of being considered an old woman. He observed the condition religiously. At the first tap of the retreat, De Kau-ray was sure to present himself at the gate; and this he continued to do till Gen. Atkinson set him at liberty.
The following incident, found in the Western Courier, published at Ravenna, Ohio, Feb. 26, 1830, was read by the secretary at a meeting of the Wisconsin Historical Society, in December, 1862:
"There is no class of human beings on earth who hold a pledge more sacred and binding, than do the North American Indians. An instance of this was witnessed during the Winnebago war of 1827, in the person of De Kau-ray, a celebrated chief of that Nation, who, with four other Indians of his tribe, was taken prisoner at Prairie du Chien. Col. Snelling, of the 5th regiment of Infantry, who then commanded that garrison, dispatched a young Indian into the Nation, with orders to inform the other chiefs of De Kau-ray's band, that unless those Indians who were the perpetrators of the horrid murders of some of our citizens, were brought to the fort and given up within ten days, De Kau-ray and the other four Indians, who were retained as hostages, would be shot at the end of that time. The awful sentence was pronounced in the presence of De Kau-ray, who, though proclaiming his own innocence of the outrages which had been committed by others of his Nation, declared that he feared not death, though it would be attended with serious consequences, inasmuch as he had two affectionate wives, and a large family of small children, who were entirely dependent on him for their support; but, if necessary, he was willing to die for the honor of his Nation.
"The young Indian had been gone several days, and no intelligence was yet received from the murderers. The dreadful day being near at hand, and De Kau-ray being in a bad state of health, asked permission of the colonel to go to the river to indulge in his long-accustomed habit of bathing in order to improve his health. Upon which, Col. Snelling told him if he would promise, on the honor of a chief, that he would not leave the town, he might have his liberty and enjoy all his privileges, until the day of the appointed execution. Accordingly, he first gave his hand to the colonel, thanking him for his friendly offer, then raised both his hands aloft, and in the most solemn adjuration, promised that the would not leave the bounds prescribed, and said if he had a hundred lives he would sooner lose them all than forfeit his word, or deduct from his proud Nation one particle of its boasted honor. He was then set at liberty. He was advised to flee to the wilderness and make his escape. "But no," said he, "do you think I prize life above honor? or, that I would betray a confidence reposed in me, for the sake of saving my life?" He then complacently remained until nine days of the ten which he had to live had elapsed, and nothing heard from the Nation with regard to the apprehension of the murderers, his immediate death became apparent; but no alteration could be seen in the countenance of the chief. It so happened that on that day Gen. Atkinson arrived with his troops from Jefferson barracks, and the order for the execution was countermanded, and the Indians permitted to repair to their homes."
In a speech, Gen. Lewis Cass, at Burlington, Iowa, in June, 1855, made the following reference to the Winnebago outbreak in 1827:
"Twenty-eight years have elapsed," said the venerable statesman, "since I passed along the borders of this beautiful State. 'Time and chance happen to all men,' says the writer of old; and time and chance have happened to me, since I first became identified with the west. In 1827 I heard that the Winnebagoes had assumed an attitude of hostility toward the whites, and that great fear and anxiety prevailed among the border settlers of the northwestern frontier. I went to Green Bay, where I took a canoe with twelve voyagers and went up the Fox river and passed over the portage into the Wisconsin. We went down the Wisconsin until we met an ascending boat in the charge of Ramsay Crooks, who was long a resident of the northwest. Here we ascertained that the Winnebagoes had assumed a hostile attitude, and that the settlers of Prairie du Chien were apprehensive of being suddenly attacked and massacred. After descending about seventy miles further, we came in sight of the Winnebago camp. It was situated upon a high prairie, not far from the river, and as he approached the shore he saw the women and children running across the prairie, in an opposite direction, which he knew to be a bad sign. After reaching the shore he went up to the camp. At first the Indians were sullen, particularly the young men. He talked with them awhile, and they finally consented to smoke the calumet. He afterwards learned that one of the young Indians cocked his gun, and was about to shoot him, when he was forcibly prevented by an old man, who struck down his arm. He passed down to Prairie du Chien, where he found the inhabitants in the greatest state of alarm. After organizing the militia, he had to continue his voyage to St. Louis. He stopped at Galena. There were then no white inhabitants on either bank of the Mississippi, north of the Missouri line. Arrived at St. Louis, after organizing a force under Gen. Clark and Gen. Atkinson, he ascended the Illinois in his canoe, and passed into Lake Michigan without getting out of it. The water had filled the swamps at the head of Chicago river, which enabled the voyageurs to navigate his canoe through without serious difficulty. Where Chicago now is he found two families, one of which was that of his old friend Kinzie. This was the first and last time he had been at Burlington. New countries have their disadvantages of which those who come at a later day know little. Forty years ago flour sold at $2 a barrel, and there were hundreds of acres of corn in the west that were not harvested. The means of transportation were too expensive to allow of their being carried to market."
Galena, Aug. 26, 1827.---Capt. Henry, the chairman of the committee of safety, will wait on you at Prairie du Chien, before your departure from that place. Capt. Henry is an intelligent gentleman, who understands well the situation of the country. The letter accompanying Gov. Cass' communication to you has excited in some measure the people in this part of the country. As the principal part of the efficient force is preparing to accompany you on your expedition up the Ouisconsin, it might have a good effect to send a small regular force to this part of the country, and in our absence they might render protection to this region.
I feel the importance of your having as many mounted men as the country can afford, to aid in punishing those insolent Winnebagoes who are wishing to unite, it would seem, in common all the disaffected Indians on our borders. From information received last night, some straggling Indians have been seen on our frontier.
Your friend and obedient servant,
To Gen. H. Atkinson, Prairie du Chien.
There has repeatedly, during the past dozen or fifteen years, appeared in the papers an article purporting to be An Indian's Race for Life. It stated, that soon after the Winnebago difficulties in 1827, that a Sioux Indian killed a Winnebago Indian while out hunting near the mouth of Root river; that the Winnebagoes were indignant at the act, and 2000 of them assembled at Prairie du Chien, and demanded of Col. Taylor, commanding there, the procurement and surrender of the murderer. An officer was sent to the Sioux, and demanded the murderer, who was given up; and finally was surrendered to the Winnebagoes, on condition that he should have a chance for his life --- giving him ten paces, to run at a given signal, and twelve Winnebagoes to pursue, each armed only with a tomahawk and scalping knife --- but he out-ran them all, and saved his life.
H L Dousman and B W Brisbois, have always declared that no such incident ever occurred there, and that there is "not one word of truth in the statement." This note is appended here that future historians of our State may understand that it is only a myth or fanciful story.
In the year 1822 considerable excitement was created in relation to the lead mines near Galena, and a number of persons went there from Sangamon county, among whom was Col. Ebenezer Brigham, now of Blue Mounds, Dane Co., Wis. In 1826 the excitement and interest relative to the lead mine country became considerably increased, and in 1827, it became intense, equalling almost anything pertaining to the California gold fever. People from almost all portions of the Union inconsiderately rushed to the mining region.
With Col. William S Hamilton, James D Brents and two others, I arrived at Galena on the 4th of July, 1827, and on the same day arrived also a boat from St. Peter's, which had been attacked by the Indians a short distance above Prairie du Chien, bringing on board one man killed and two men wounded. In the encounter with the Indians they killed two of them.
Upon the reception of the alarming intelligence of the attack on this boat and also upon some of the inhabitants near Prairie du Chien and the reports being spread over the country, a scene of the most alarming and disorderly confusion ensued --- alarm and consternation were depicted in every countenance --- thousands flocking to Galena for safety, when in fact it was the most exposed and unsafe place in the whole country. All were without arms, order or control. The roads were lined in all directions with frantic and fleeing men, women and children, expecting every moment to be overtaken, tomahawked and scalped by the Indians. It was said, and I presume with truth, that the encampment of fugitives at the head of Apple river on the first night of the alarm was four miles in extent and numbered 3000 persons.
In this state of alarm, confusion and disorder it was extremely difficult to do anything; almost every man's object was to leave the country, if possible. At length a company of riflemen was raised at Galena, upon the requisition of Gov. Cass of Michigan, who arrived there on the second day after the alarm. This company was commanded by Abner Fields, of Vandalia, Ill., as captain and one Smith and William S Hamilton as lieutenants, and was immediately put in motion for Prairie du Chien, by embarking on board the keel-boat Maid of Fevre river. On our way up the river, I acted as sergeant of the company, and we made several reconnoitering expeditions into the woods near the river, where Indian encampments were indicated by the rising of smoke. In these reconnoissances we run the hazard of some danger, but fortunately all the Indians that we met were friendly disposed, and did not in the least sympathize with those who had made hostile demonstrations.
When we arrived at Prairie du Chien we took possession of the barracks, under the prior orders of Gov. Cass, and remained there for several days until we gave way to Col. Snelling's troops who arrived from Fort Snelling. While we remained there, a most serious difficulty occurred between Col. Snelling, of the regular army, and Capt. Fields and Lieut. Smith of our volunteers, which eventuated in Lieut. Smith sending Col. Snelling a challenge and Capt. Fields insisted upon doing so likewise, but Col. Hamilton and I at length dissuaded him from it. Col. Snelling declined accepting Lieut. Smith's challenge, and immediately sent a corporal with a file of men to arrest Mr. Scott, the bearer of Smith's communication. The volunteers refused to surrender Scott into the hands of the guard, but Col. Hamilton wrote a note to Col. Snelling stating, in effect, that Scott should immediately appear before him. Accordingly Col. Hamilton and I conducted Mr. Scott into the presence of Col. Snelling, who interrogated him as to his knowledge of the contents of Lieut. Smith's communication; and upon Mr. Scott's assuring the colonel that he was entirely ignorant of the subject-matter, he was dismissed.
Col. Snelling then addressed the volunteers in a pacific and conciliatory manner, which seemed to dispose of the matter amicably; but the colonel, nevertheless, refused to furnish us with any means of support or any mode of conveyance back to Galena --- as the boat in which we came, returned there immediately after our arrival. But for the noble generosity of Mr. Lockwood, who kindly furnished us with a boat and provisions, we would have been compelled to have made our way back to Galena on foot, or as best we could, without provisions. During our entire stay at the garrison, we received the kindest treatment and most liberal hospitality at the hands of Mr. Lockwood. At the time of our arrival at Prairie du Chien, the citizens had in their custody as hostages for the good conduct of their Nation, three Indians, one of whom was the well-known chief De-Kau-ray. He disclaimed on the part of his Nation as a whole, any intention to engage in hostilities with the whites; he was, however, retained some time as a hostage, before being released.
During our absence, another volunteer company was raised, commanded by Gen. Dodge, who was constantly in the field with his mounted force, keeping in check the approach of the enemy. During his rangings, he took young Win-ne-shiek, son of the chief Win-ne-shiek, who was detained as a hostage for some time. No farther disturbances of a serious character took place that season; and in the succeeding autumn, Gens. Atkinson and Dodge held a council or treaty with the Winnebagoes. After this we had no more Indian troubles till 1832.
In the winter of 1825-26, the wise men at Washington took it into their heads to remove the troops from Fort Crawford to Fort Snelling, and abandon the former. This measure was then supposed to have been brought about on the representation of Col. Snelling of Fort Snelling, who disliked Prairie du Chien for difficulties he had with some of the principal inhabitants. During the winter there were confined in the guard-house at Fort Crawford two Winnebago Indians, for some of their supposed dishonest acts; but what they were charged with, I do not now recollect. At that time, as already mentioned, our mails from St. Louis, the east and south, came via Springfield to Galena, and the postmaster at Prairie du Chien sent to Galena for the mails of that place and Fort Snelling. An order would frequently arrive by steamboat countermanding a previous order for the abandonment of the fort, before the arrival of first order by mail, and this matter continued during the summer of 1826, and until October, when a positive order arrived, directing the commandant of Fort Crawford to abandon the fort, and proceed with the troops to Fort Snelling; and if he could not procure transportation, to leave the provisions, ammunition and fort in charge of some citizen.
But a few days previous to this order, there had been an alarming report circulated, that the Winnebagoes were going to attack Fort Crawford, and the commandant set to work repairing the old fort, and making additional defenses. During this time the positive order arrived, and the precipitancy with which the fort was abandoned during the alarm was communicated to the Indians through the half-breeds residing at or visiting the place, which naturally caused the Winnebagoes to believe that the troops had fled through fear of them. The commandant took with him to Fort Snelling the two Winnebagoes confined in Fort Crawford, leaving behind some provisions, and all the damaged arms, with a brass swivel and a few wall pieces, in charge of John Marsh, the then sub-agent at this place.
The Winnebagoes, in the fall of 1826, obtained from the traders their usual credit for goods, and went to their hunting grounds; but early in the winter a report became current among the traders that the Winnebagoes had heard a rumor that the Americans and English were going to war in the spring; and hence they were holding councils to decide upon the course they should adopt, hunting barely enough to obtain what they wanted to subsist upon in the meantime.
Mr. Brisbois said to me several times during the winter, that he feared some outrages from the Winnebagoes in the spring, as from all he could gather they were bent on war, which I ought to have believed, as Mr. Brisbois had been among them engaged in trade over forty years. But I thought it impossible that the Winnebagoes, surrounded, as they were by Americans, and troops in the country, should for a moment seriously entertain such an idea. I supposed it a false alarm, and gave myself very little uneasiness about it; but in the spring, when they returned from their hunts, I found that they paid much worse than usual, although they were not celebrated for much punctuality or honesty in paying their debts. It was a general custom with the traders, when an Indian paid his debts in the spring pretty well, on his leaving, to let him have a little ammunition, either as a present or on credit. A Winnebago by the name of Wah-wah-peck-ah, had taken a credit from me, and paid me but a small part of it in the spring; and when I reproached him, he was disposed to be impudent about it; and when his party were about going, he applied to me as usual for ammunition for the summer, and insisted upon having some, but I told him if he had behaved well, and paid me his credit better, that I would have given him some, but that he had behaved so bad that I would not give him any, and he went away in a surly mood.
A man by the name of Methode, I think, a half-breed of some of the tribes of the north, had arrived here, sometime in the summer of 1826, with his wife, and, I think, five children; and, sometime in March of 1827, he went with his family, up the Yellow or Painted Rock creek, about twelve miles above the Prairie, on the Iowa side of the Mississippi river, to make sugar. The sugar season being over, and he not returning, and hearing nothing from him, a party of his friends went to look for him, and found his camp consumed, and himself, wife and children burned nearly to cinders, and she at the time enciente. They were so crisped and cindered that it was impossible to determine whether they had been murdered and then burned, or whether their camp had accidentally caught on fire and consumed them. It was generally believed that the Winnebagoes had murdered and burnt them, and Red Bird was suspected to have been concerned in it; but I am more inclined to think, that if murdered by Indians, it was done by some Fox war party searching for Sioux.
In the spring of this year, 1827, while a Chippewa chief called Hole-in-the-day, with a part of his band, visited Fort Snelling on business with the government, and while under the guns of the fort, a Sioux warrior shot one of the Chippewas. The Sioux was arrested by the troops, and confined in the guard-house. The Chippewas requested Col. Snelling to deliver the Sioux to them, to be dealt with after their manner; to which he agreed, provided they would give him a chance to run for his life. To this they acceded. The Sioux was sent outside of the fort, where the Chippewas were armed with tomahawks and war clubs. He was to be allowed a fair start, and at a signal started, and one of the swiftest of the Chippewas armed with a club and tomahawk after him, to overtake and kill him if he could, which he soon effected, as the Sioux did not run fast, and when overtaken made no resistance. The Winnebagoes hearing a rumor of this, got the news among them that the two Winnebagoes confined there (for the murder of Methode and family) had been executed.
During the spring of 1827, the reports about the Winnebagoes bore rather a threatening aspect; but, as I said before, situated as they were I did not believe they would commit any depredations. Under this belief, and having urgent business in New York to purchase my goods, I started for that city on the 25th of June; it then took about six months to go and return. Mine was the only purely American family at the prairie, after the garrison left. There was Thomas McNair, who had married a French girl of the prairie, and John Marsh, the sub-Indian agent, who had no family, and there were besides three or four Americans who had been discharged from the army. Without apprehension of danger from the Indians, I left my family, which consisted of Mrs. Lockwood, and her brother, a young man of between sixteen and seventeen years of age, who was clerk in charge of the store, and a servant girl belonging to one of the tribes of New York civilized Indians settled near Green Bay.
I started to go by way of Green bay and the lakes for New York, in a boat up the Wisconsin, and down the Fox river to Green Bay; thence in a vessel to Buffalo, and down the canal to Albany, and thence by steamboat to New York city. About 4 o'clock in the afternoon of the first day's journey up the Wisconsin, I came to an island where were sitting three Winnebagoes smoking, the oldest called Wah-wah-peck-ah, who had a credit of me the fall previous and had paid but little of it in the spring; the other two were young men not known to me by name. They had some venison hanging on a pole, and we stopped to purchase it. As I stepped on shore I discovered an appearance of cold reserve unusual in Indians in such meetings, and as I went up to them I said, 'bon jour' the usual French salutation, which they generally understood; but Wah-wah-peck-ah said that he would not say 'bon jour' to me. Upon which I took hold of his hand and shook it, asking him why he would not say, bon jour to me? He inquired what the news was. I told him I had no news. He told me that the Winnebagoes confined at Fort Snelling had been killed. I assured him that it was not true, that I had seen a person lately from that fort, who told me of the death of the Sioux, but that the Winnebagoes were alive. He then gave me to understand that if such was the case, it was well; but if the Winnebagoes were killed, they would avenge it. I succeeded in purchasing the venison, giving them some powder in exchange, and as I was about to step on board of my boat, Wah-wah-peck-ah wanted some whisky, knowing that we always carried some for our men.
I directed one of the men to give them each a drink, which Wah-wah-peck-ah refused, and taking up his cup that he had by him, he showed by signs that he wanted it filled; and believing that the Indians were seeking some pretense for a quarrel as an excuse for doing mischief, I thought it most prudent under the circumstances to comply.
There were among the boats' crew some old voyageurs, well acquainted with Indian manners and customs, who, from the conduct of these Indians, became alarmed. We, however, embarked, watching the Indians, each of whom stood on the bank with his gun in his hand. As it was late in the day, we proceeded a few miles up the river and encamped for the night. As soon as the boat left the island, the three Indians each got into his hunting canoe, and the two young Indians came up on either side opposite the bow of the boat, and continued thus up the river until we encamped while Wah-wah-peck-ah kept four or five rods behind the boat. They encamped with us, and commenced running and playing with the men on the sand beach; and after a little the young Indians proposed to go hunting deer by candlelight, and asked me to give them some candles to hunt with, which I did, with some ammunition, and they promised to return with venison in the morning. After they had gone, Wah-wah-peck-ah proposed also to go hunting, and begged some candles and ammunition, but remained in camp over night. Morning came, but the young Indians did not return, and I saw no more of them. In the morning, after Wah-wah-peck-ah had begged something more, he started, pretending to go down the river, and went as we supposed; but about an hour afterward, as we were passing on the right of the upper end of the island on which we had encamped, I saw Wah-wah-peck-ah coming up on the left. He looked very surly, and we exchanged no words, but we were all satisfied that he was seeking some good opportunity to shoot me, and from the singular conduct of the Indians, I and my men were considerably alarmed. But about 9 o'clock in the morning, meeting a band of Indians from the portage of Wisconsin, who appeared to be glad to see me, and said they were going to Prairie du Chien, my fears with those of the men were somewhat allayed. I wrote with my pencil a hasty line to my wife, which the Indians promised to deliver, but they never did, as they did not go there.
This day, the 26th of June, we proceeded up the Wisconsin without seeing any Indians until we came near Prairie du Baie, when an Indian, alone in a hunting canoe, came out of some nook and approached us. He was sullen, and we could get no talk out of him. We landed on Prairie du Baie, and he stopped also; and a few moments thereafter, a canoe of Menomonees arrived from Prairie du Chien, bringing a brief note from John Marsh, saying the Winnebagoes had murdered a man of mixed French and negro blood, named Rijeste Gagnier, and Solomon Lipcap, and for me, for God's sake, to return. I immediately got into the canoe with the Menomonees, and directed my men to proceed to the portage, and if I did not overtake them to go on to Green Bay. I proceeded down the river with the Menomonees, and when we had descended to the neighborhood where we had fallen in with the Indians the day before, we met Wah-wah-peck-ah coming up in his hunting canoe alone, having with him his two guns. He inquired if I was going to the Prairie. I told him I was. He then told me that the whiskey at the Prairie was shut up, but did not tell me of the murders, and asked me that should he come to the Prairie whether I would let him have some whisky? I told him I certainly would if he brought some furs, not wishing then to make any explanation, or to enter into any argument with him.
About this time, we heard back of an island, and on the southern shore of the Wisconsin, the Winnebagoes singing their war songs and dancing, with which I was familiar; and so well satisfied was I that Wah-wah-peck-ah was only seeking a favorable opportunity to shoot me, that If I had had a gun where he met us, I believe that I should have shot him. After talking with him the Menomonees moved down the river, and arrived at the mouth of the Wisconsin about dark without seeing any more Winnebagoes. It was so dark that the Menomonees thought that we had better stop until morning, and we accordingly crawled into the bushes without a fire and fought mosquitoes all night, and the next morning, the 27th, proceeded to the Prairie. I went to my house and found it vacant, and went to the old village where I found my family and most of the inhabitants of the Prairie, assembled at the house of Jean Brunet, who kept a tavern. Mr. Brunet had a quantity of square timber about him, and the people proposed building breast-works with it.
I learned on my arrival at the Prairie that on the preceding day, the 26th, Red Bird, (who, when dressed, always wore a red coat and called himself English), went to my house with two other Indians, and entering the cellar kitchen, loaded their guns in the presence of the servant girl, and went up through the hall into Mrs. Lockwood's bed-room where she was sitting alone. The moment the Indians entered her room she believed they came to kill her, and immediately passed into and through the parlor, and crossed the hall into the store of her brother, where she found Duncan Graham, who had been in the country about forty years as a trader, and was known by all the Indians as an Englishman. He had been a captain in the British Indian department during the War of 1812, and a part of the time was commandant at Prairie du Chien. The Indians followed Mrs. Lockwood into the store, and Mr. Graham by some means induced them to leave the house.
They then proceeded to McNair's Coulee, about two miles from the village, at the lower end of Prairie du Chien, where lived Rijeste Gagnier; his wife was a mixed blood of French and Sioux extraction, with two children; and living with him was an old discharged American soldier by the name of Solomon Lipcap. The Winnebagoes commenced a quarrel with Gagnier, and finally shot him, I believe, in the house. Lipcap, at work hoeing in the garden near the house, they also shot. During the confusion, Mrs. Gagnier seized a gun, got out at the back window with her boy about three years old on her back, and proceeded to the village with the startling news. The cowardly Indians followed her a part of the way, but dared not attack her. On her arrival at the village a party went to the scene of murder, and found and brought away the dead, and the daughter of Mr. Gagnier, about one year old, whom the mother in her fright had forgotten. The Indians had scalped her and inflicted a severe wound in her neck, and left her for dead, and had thrown her under the bed, but she was found to be still alive. She got well, and arriving at womanhood got married, and has raised a family of children; she is yet alive and her eldest daughter was but recently married.
The people had decided not to occupy the old fort, as a report had been circulated that the Indians had said that they intended to burn it if the inhabitants should take refuge there. During the day of the 27th, the people occupied themselves in making some breast-works of the timber about Mr. Brunet's tavern getting the swivel and wall pieces from the fort, and the condemned muskets and repairing them, and concluded they would defend themselves, each commanding, none obeying, but every one giving his opinion freely.
About sunset one of the two keel-boats arrived that had a few days previously gone to Fort Snelling with supplies for the garrison, having on board a dead Indian, two dead men of the crew and four wounded. The dead and wounded of the crew were inhabitants of Prairie du Chien who had shipped on the up-bound trip. They reported that they had been attacked the evening before, about sunset, by the Winnebago 8 Indians, near the mouth of Bad Ax river, and the boat received about 500 shots, judging from the marks on its bow and sides. The Indians were mostly on an island on the west of the channel, near to which the boat had to pass, and the wind blowing strong from the east, drifted the boat towards the shore, where the Indians were, as the steering oar had been abandoned by the steersman. During this time, two of the Indians succeeded in getting on board of the boat. One of them mounted the roof, and fired in from the fore part; but he was soon shot and fell off into the river. The other Indian took the steering oar and endeavored to steer the boat to the island. He was also shot and brought down in the boat where he fell. During all this time the Indians kept up a hot fire. The boat was fast drifting towards a sand bar near the shore, and they would all have been murdered had it not been for the brave, resolute conduct of an old soldier on board, called Saucy Jack (his surname I do not remember), who, during the hottest of the fire, jumped over at the bow and pushed the boat off, and where he must have stood the boat was literally covered with ball marks, so that his escape seemed a miracle. They also reported that early the day before the attack, they were lashed to the other boat drifting, and that they had grounded on a sand bar and separated, since which time they had not seen or heard anything of the other boat, and thought probably that it had fallen into the hands of the Indians.
This created an additional alarm among the inhabitants. The same evening my boat returned, the men becoming too much alarmed to proceed. That night sentinels were posted by the inhabitants within the breast-works, who saw, in imagination, a great many Indians prowling about in the darkness; and in the morning there was a great variety of opinion as to what was best to be done for the safety of the place, and appearances betokened a great deal of uneasiness in the minds of all classes.
On the morning of the 28th I slept rather late, owing to the fatigue of the preceding day. My brother-in-law awakened me, and told me the people had got into some difficulty, and that they wished me to come out and see if I could not settle it. I went out on the gallery, and inquired what the difficulty was; and heard the various plans and projects of defense proposed by different persons. Some objected to staying in the village and protecting the property of the villagers while theirs, outside the village, was equally exposed to the pillage of the Indians. Others were for remaining and fortifying where they were, and others still urged the repairing of the old fort. As the eminence on which my house stood overlooked the most of the prairie, some were for concentrating our people there and fortifying it. After hearing these different projects, I addressed them something as follows: "As to your fortifying my house, you can do so, if it is thought best, but I do not wish you to go there to protect it; I have abandoned it, and if the Indians burn it, so be it; but there is one thing, if we intend to protect ourselves from the Indians, we must keep together, and some one must command."
Some one then nominated me as commander, but I said: "No, I would not attempt to command you, but here is Thomas McNair, who holds from the governor a commission of captain over the militia of this place and has a right to command; if you will agree to obey him implicitly, I will set the example of obedience to his orders, and will, in that case, furnish you with powder and lead as long as you want to shoot (I being the only person having those articles in the place), but unless you agree to obey McNair, I will put my family and goods into my boats and go down the river, as I will not risk myself with a mob under no control." Upon this they agreed to acknowledge Mr. McNair as commander, and I was satisfied that he would take advice upon all measures undertaken. Joseph Brisbois was lieutenant, and Jean Brunet was ensign, both duly commissioned by the governor. Capt. McNair ordered a move of all the families, goods, with the old guns, to the fort, and it was near sunset before we had all got moved there.
About that time we discovered the skiff of the other keel-boat coming around a point of an island near Yellow river, about three miles distant; but we could not discover whether they were white men or Indians in the canoe, and of course it created an alarm, but in a few moments thereafter, the keel-boat hove in sight and the alarm ceased. It soon arrived, reporting that they had received a few shots in passing the places where the other boat had been attacked, but had received no injury. On this boat Joseph Snelling, son of Col. Snelling, returned to Prairie du Chien. Joseph Snelling and myself acted as supernumeraries under Capt. McNair. The government of Fort Crawford was conducted by a council of the captain and those who acted under him. It was immediately resolved to repair the old fort as well as possible for defense, and the fort and block-house were put in as good order as circumstances and materials would admit. Dirt was thrown up two or three feet high around the bottom logs of the fort, which were rotten and dry, and would easily ignite. Joseph Snelling was put in command of one of the block-houses, and Jean Brunet of the other, with a few picked men in each, who were trained to the use of the swivel and wall pieces that were found and mounted there-in; and a number of barrels were placed around the quarters filled with water, with orders, in case of an attack, to cover the roof of the building with blankets, etc., and to keep them wet. All the blacksmiths were put in requisition to repair the condemned muskets found in the fort, and, mustering our force, we found of men and women about ninety that could handle a musket in case of an attack.
The next day after taking possession of the fort, J B Loyer, an old voyageur, was engaged to cross the Mississippi and go back through the country, now the State of Iowa, to inform Col. Snelling, commanding Fort Snelling, of our situation. For this service Loyer was promised fifty dollars, and furnished with a horse to ride and provisions, and Duncan Graham was engaged to accompany him, for which he was to receive twenty dollars, provisions and a horse to ride; and for these payments, I became personally responsible.
Gov. Cass, who had come to Butte des Morts, on the Fox river, to hold a treaty with the Winnebagoes, learned from rumer that there was dissatisfaction among them, and starting in his canoe, arrived at Prairie du Chien on the morning of the 4th of July. He ordered the company of militia into the service of the United States, and appointed me quarter-master and commissary, with the request that I would use my own funds for the supply of the department, and that he would see it refunded; and, furthermore, assumed the debt for ammunition and provisions already advanced, and also the expenses of the express to Fort Snelling, and directed me to issue to the troops a keel-boat load of flour, that I previously receipted for to one of the agents of the contractors for Fort Snelling, who feared to go farther with it.
After these arrangements had been made, Gov. Cass proceeded in his canoe to Galena, and raised a volunteer company under the late Col. Abner Fields as captain, and assigned him to the command of Fort Crawford. Lieut. Martin Thomas, of the United States ordnance department, and then stationed at the arsenal near St. Louis, who happened to be at Galena, came up and mustered the two companies of the militia into the service of the United States; and contracted with Phineas Black, of the village of Louisiana, in Missouri, whom he found at Galena, for a quantity of pork which was sent up by the boat that brought the volunteer company. Gov. Cass proceeded from Galena to St. Louis to confer with Gen. Atkinson, then in command of Jefferson barracks and of the western military department. This resulted in Gen. Atkinson's moving up the Mississippi with the disposable force under command at Jefferson barracks. During this time Col. Snelling came down the Mississippi with two companies of the 5th regiment of United States Infantry, and assumed the command of Fort Crawford, and soon after discharged the Galena volunteer company, as they could not well be brought under military discipline. But the Prairie du Chien company was retained in service until some time in the month of August, for which service, through the fault of some one, they never received any pay.
During this time Gen. Atkinson arrived with the troops from Jefferson barracks, having on his way up dispatched a volunteer force under Gen. Dodge from Galena, to proceed by land to the portage of Wisconsin. When Gen. Atkinson, with great difficulty, owing to the low state of the water in the Wisconsin, arrived at the portage, he met old grey-headed Day-Kau-Ray, with his band, who, finding himself surrounded by the volunteers in the rear, and Gen. Atkinson's force of regulars in front, and a company of volunteers from Green Bay, concluded to disclaim any unfriendly feelings towards the United States, and disavowed any connection with the murders on the Mississippi. Gen. Atkinson, on these assurances of Day-Kau-Ray, returned, but ordered the occupation of Fort Crawford by two companies of troops. Notwithstanding these murders of our citizens and movements of troops, the wise men at Washington, with about as much judgment as they generally decide upon Indian affairs, decided that this was not an Indian war.
After the people had taken possession of the fort, and before the arrival of Gen. Cass, Indians were seen in the village, and a guard was sent out to take them and bring them to the fort. They made no resistance, but surrendered themselves and were brought to the guard house. One proved to be the famous Red Bird, who headed the party that murdered Gagnier and Lipcap; another was Wah-wah-peck-ah, the Indian I had met up the Wisconsin river, and whose conduct had so much alarmed me and my men; the other was a young Indian whose name I do not recollect. There being no charge of crime against Wah-wah-peck-ah and the young Indian, after the United States troops were stationed at Fort Crawford, they were discharged; and Red Bird was retained in the guard-house, where he died before he was tried for the murder of Gagnier and Lipcap.
On the 1st of September, 1827, Maj. William Whistler, with government troops, arrived at the portage; and, while there, an express arrived from Gen. Atkinson, announcing his approach, and directing him to halt and fortify himself, and await his arrival. The object of the joint expedition of Gen. Atkinson from Jefferson barracks, below St. Louis, and of Maj. Whistler, from Fort Howard, at Green Bay, was to capture those who had committed the murders at Prairie du Chien, and put a stop to any further aggression. The Winnebagoes were advised that the security of their people lay in the surrender of the murderers of the Gagnier family. While Maj. Whistler was at the portage, he received a call in a mysterious way. An Indian came to his tent and informed him that, at about 3 o'clock the next day, "they will come in." In reply to the question, "who will come in?" he said, "Red Bird and We-Kau." After making this answer he retired by the way he came. At 3 o'clock the same day, another Indian came and took position in nearly the same place and in the same way, when to like questions he gave like answers; and at sundown a third came, confirming what the two had said, adding, that he had, to secure that object, given to the families of the murderers nearly all his property.
There was something heroic in this voluntary surrender. The giving away of property to the families of the guilty parties had nothing to do with their determination to devote themselves for the good of their people, but only to reconcile those who were about to be bereaved to the dreadful expedient. The heroism of the purpose is seen in the fact that the murders committed at Prairie du Chien were not wanton, but in retaliation for wrongs committed on this people by the whites. The parties murdered at the prairie were doubtless innocent of the wrongs and outrages of which the Indians complained; but the law of Indian retaliation does not require that he alone who commits a wrong shall suffer for it. One scalp is held due for another, no matter whose head is taken, provided it be torn from the crown of the family, or people who may have made a resort to this law a necessity.
About noon of the day following there were seen descending the mound on the portage a body of Indians. Some were mounted and some were on foot. By the aid of a glass the Americans could discern the direction to be towards their position. They bore no arms, and no one was at a loss to understand that the promise made by the three Indians was about to be fulfilled. In the course of half an hour they had aproached within a short distance of the crossing of Fox river, when on a sudden singing was heard. Those who were familiar with the air said, "It is a death song." When still nearer some present who knew him said, "It is Red Bird singing his death song." The moment a halt was made, preparatory to crossing over, two scalp yells were heard. The Menomonees and other Indians who had accompanied the troops were lying carelessly about the ground, regardless of what was going on; but when the "scalp yells" were uttered, they sprang to their feet as one man, seized their rifles, and were ready for battle. They were at no loss to know what these yells were: but they had not heard with sufficient accuracy to decide whether they indicated scalps to be taken or given, but doubtless inferred the first.
Barges were sent across to receive and an escort of military to accompany them within the lines. The white flag which had been seen in the distance was borne by Red Bird.
And now the advance of the Indians had reached half up the ascent of the bluff on which was the encampment. In the lead was Car-i-mi-nie, a distinguished chief. Arriving on the level upon which was the encampment of the Americans, order being called, Car-i-mi-nie spoke, saying, "They are here. Like braves they have come in; treat them as braves; do not put them in irons." This address was made to Col. McKenney. The latter told him he was not the big captain. His talk must be made to Maj. Whistler, who would do what was right. Mr. Marsh, the sub-agent, being there, an advance was made to him, and a hope expressed that the prisoners might be turned over to him.
The military had been previously drawn out in line. The Menomonee and Wabauckie (Oneida) Indians were in groups upon their haunches, on the left flank. On the right was the band of music, a little in advance of the line. In front of the center, about ten paces distant, were the murderers. On their right and left were those who had accompanied them, forming a semi-circle; the magnificent Red Bird and the miserable looking We-Kau, a little in advance of the center. All eyes were fixed on Red Bird. In height he was about six feet, straight, but without restraint. His proportions were those of most exact symmetry; and these embraced the entire man from his head to his feet.
He and We-Kau were told to sit down. At this moment the band struck up Pleyel's hymn. Everything was still. Red Bird turned his eyes toward the band. The music having ceased, he took up his pouch, and taking from it kinnikinnic and tobacco, cut the latter in the palm of his hand, after the Indian fashion, then rubbing the two together, filled the bowl of his calumet, struck fire on a bit of punk with his flint and steel, lighted and smoked it. All sat except the speaker. The substance of what they said was as follows:
They were required to bring in the murderers. They had no power over any except two; the third had gone away; and these had voluntarily agreed to come in and give themselves up. As their friends they had come with them. They hoped their white brother would agree to accept the horses, of which there were perhaps twenty; the meaning of which was, to take them in commutation for the lives of their two friends. They asked kind treatment for them, and earnestly besought that they might not be put in irons, and concluded by asking for a little tobacco and something to eat.
They were answered and told in substance that they had done well thus to come in. By having done so they had turned away our guns and saved their people. They were admonished against placing themselves in a like situation in the future, and advised, when they were aggrieved, not to resort to violence, but to go to their agent, who would inform the Great Father of their complaints, and he would redress their grievances; that their friends should be treated kindly, and tried by the same laws, by which their Great Father's white children were tried; that for the present Red Bird and We-Kau should not be put in irons; that they should all have something to eat and tobacco to smoke.
Having heard this, Red Bird stood up; the commanding officer, Maj. Whistler, a few paces in front of the center of the line facing him. After a moment's pause and a quick survey of the troops, he spoke, saying: "I am ready." Then advancing a step or two, he paused saying, "I do not wish to be put in irons; let me be free. I have given away my life; it is gone" (stooping and taking some dust between his thumb and finger and blowing it away), "like that," eyeing the dust as it fell and vanished from his sight, adding, "I would not take it back, it is gone." Having thus spoken, he threw his hands behind him and marched up to Maj. Whistler, breast to breast. A platoon was wheeled backward from the center of the line, when, the major stepping aside, Red Bird and We-Kau marched through the line, in charge of a file of men, to a tent provided for them in the rear, where a guard was set over them. The comrades of the two captives then left the ground by the way they had come, taking with them our advice and a supply of meat, flour and tobacco.
We-Kau, the miserable looking being, the accomplice of Red Bird, was in all things the opposite of that unfortunate brave. Never were two persons so totally unlike. The one seemed a prince, and as if born to command and worthy to be obeyed; the other as if he had been born to be hanged; meager, cold, dirty in his person and dress, crooked in form like the starved wolf; gaunt, hungry, and blood-thirsty; his entire appearance indicating the presence of a spirit wary, cruel and treacherous. The prisoners were committed into safe keeping at Prairie du Chien to wait their trial in the regular courts of justice for murder.
John Quincy Adams, President of the United States of America.
To all who shall see these presents, Greeting:
Whereas, at a court of Oyer and Terminer, held at the village of Prairie du Chien, in the month of September, A. D. 1828. Wa-ni-ga, otherwise called the Sun, and Chick-hong-sic, otherwise called Little Beuffe, were convicted of the offense of murder in the second degree, and the said Chick-hong-sic, otherwise called Little Beuffe, was also convicted of another offense of murder in the second degree; And, whereas, also it appears satisfactorily to me that the clemency of the executive may be extended to the said convicts without injury to the public;
Now, therefore, I, John Quincy Adams, President of the United States of America, in consideration of the promises, divers other good and sufficient causes one hereunto moving, have granted and do hereby grant to the said Wa-ni-ga, otherwise called the Sun, and to the said Chick-hong-sic, otherwise called Little Beuffe, my full and free pardon for the offenses aforesaid.
In testimony whereof I have hereunto subscribed my name, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed to these presents. Given at the city of Washington this third day of November, A. D., 1828 and of the Independence of the United States the fifty-third.
By the President; J. Q. Adams.H. Clay, Secretary of State.9
My father was born in St. Louis; he came to Prairie du Chien about the time of the last war with England.
My mother Theresa Chalefau, was born in Prairie du Chien; her father came to Prairie du Chien from Canada, before the last war with England.
I was born in this place (now called Frenchtown) Aug. 15, 1826. The following spring my father moved his family to a house on what is now known as the Ackerly place, a short distance below the limits of "Lower Town." The house had only one room. It was there that the murder of father and Lipcap, and the terrible mutilation of myself occurred.
I will tell the story as learned from my mother. June 10, 1827, my father visited the village of Prairie du Chien; the afternoon of that day mother noticed there were skulking Indians on the bluff east of the house, partially concealed, but being accustomed to seeing Indians almost daily, was not alarmed. Father did not return home until about noon of the next day, (June 11). He was accompanied by his half brother, Paschal Menoir, after dinner the family consisting of father, mother, Lipcap (an old man living with us), my brother Frank, three years old, myself, nearly ten months old, and Paschal Menoir (visitor), were having an after dinner chat. Young Menoir was sitting in the open window on the west side of the house, facing the door. My father was sitting on a trunk against the wall, to the right of the window, and also facing the door. My mother had returned to the work of the day, family washing. My brother Frank was amusing himself. Lipcap had gone to his work in the corn patch not very far from the house. I had creeped to my father's feet and lifted myself by his clothing, and was standing with my hands on his knees. At this moment four Indians, who had reached the door unnoticed, entered the room. Mother placed four chairs, and bade them be seated; they complied, the table being as left. Mother asked them to have dinner; they replied: "We are not hungry, but thirsty." She satisfied their wants, and watching them closely, she said to father in French: "These Indians mean to do us some harm." Father made no reply. My father's gun was hanging in fastenings to a joist directly over ____h; three of the Indians had guns in their hands, the fourth, a chief, whose Indian name signified "Little Sun," was seated the nearest to my father, with his side toward him. This Indian had, unknown to the family, a shorter gun concealed under his blanket, and it was held in such a position as to bring my father in range. One of the other Indians left his chair, and took down my father's gun. Father instantly rose, seized and wrenched the gun from him, and stood it by the trunk, then both were seated again. My father spoke to mother, saying: "Come take this little girl." At this moment, at a signal from one of the other Indians, "Little Sun: fired his concealed gun, the bullet entering the right breast of my father, who had not changed his position. At almost the same instant another Indian shot his gun at Paschal Menoir, who was still sitting in the window, but missed him. Young Menoir, with great presence of mind, fell backward, through the window. He was undoubtedly supposed by the Indians to have been killed, and was not immediately looked after. He made his escape into the timber, which stood close up to that side of the house.
The house was filled with powder smoke; my little brother was crying and calling for mother. Mother picked him up and ran out of the house. The Indians had preceded her, and leaped over the fence near the house. Mother, with Frank, made her way over the fence, and dropped directly in front of one of the Indians, who was crouching, unnoticed by her, on that side. Dropping the child, she seized his gun, and with unnatural strength, wrenched it away from him, and instantly cocked it, with the intention of killing him; some irresistible impulse compelled her at the moment of firing, to give an upward inclination, sufficient to carry the bullet over the Indian's head. She threw the gun after the Indians, who had started to kill Lipcap. My mother then returned to the house. I had creeped under the bed. The house was partially cleared from smoke. Father was not dead, but could not speak or move, but made motions with his eyes, which she clearly understood as saying: "Make your escape." She then ran out, and through a picket fence, which divided their grounds from those of a man named Joseph Lambeire, who was eating his dinner in his cabin, which he occupied alone. He had heard the shots fired, but did not know their meaning.
My mother who had not been to Prairie du Chien since they moved to the place, did not even know the way. She hurriedly told him what had occurred, and asked him to help her escape. Lambeire whose horse was tied to a fence near by, told her to bring the horse. She did so, when he mounted and rode cowardly and rapidly away, without a word to her, who then returned to the house. Father, who stilled lived, again with expressive look, plainly signaled "get away." Mother then with my little brother, made her way into the timber close to the house, into which Menoir had escaped. (All this occurred in a little time). While doing this, she discovered that Lipcap was being chased by the Indians, and making his way toward her, shouting, "wait for me." In her flight, she noticed a large soft maple tree, which had been blown down, and that the place where it had stood, was surrounded by a dense new growth of brush. She crept into this, and into the cavity made by uprooting the tree, placed Frank, and crouching low over him, remained almost breathless, until within twelve feet of her hiding place, the Indians overtook Lipcap and killed him with their knives, mutilating him and taking his scalp. My mother was not discovered.
The Indians then returned to the house, Paschal Menoir, who from his place of concealment, had kept a close watch, noticing this, took the opportunity to make his way to the village. He reached exhausted, the house of Julian Lariviere; he there found Frank Dechuquette, who mounted his horse and alarmed the people, who turned out to the rescue "en masse."
My mother in the meantime, alive to the necessity of making her escape, had left her hiding place, and unnoticed by the Indians, found fathers horse, and with Frank had mounted, and was searching for the road to the village, when she saw the people coming to the relief. The Indians after killing Lipcap, made their last return to the house. I had creeped from under the bed, to the door. Of the brutal treatment of myself, "Little Sun," in his testimony given at the trial of himself and the chief, "Red Bird," for these murders said, "that he first gave the child a kick on the left hip, and then with his gun barrel in his hands, struck her with the breech of the gun on the right shoulder, and with his knife struck her across the back of the neck, intending to behead her, and carry the head away with him," at this moment the other Indians outside of the house shouted, that "people are coming." He said, "I then took her scalp and with it part of the skull," he then scalped my father, down whose dying face, he said the tears were flowing, at witnessing the horrid butchery of myself.
When the people from the village reached the house, my father was dead. The Indians were gone. I was lying in a pool of my own blood, and supposed to be dead. Julian, son of Julian Lariviere, wrapped me in his handkerchief, and carried me to his fathers house, where some hours later, when being washed preparatory to burial, I was first discovered to be alive, and by careful nursing and tender care, under kind Providence, was restored to health.
The motives which actuated the Indians to commit these terrible murders, are not fully understood. The family believed that an indignity received by "Little Sun," at the hands of Rigiste Gagnier, was the immediate cause. The facts on which this belief is based, are told by Mrs. Cherrier, as follows: "In those years whenever a Catholic priest would visit Prairie du Chien, to celebrate mass, a procession would be formed by all of our Catholic people, and would march in line to the house devoted to the services of the day. Upon one of these occasions, among the lookers on was the Winnebago chief, "Little Sun" intentionally or otherwise. He was in the line of march, and as the head of the procession reached him, refused to move. Some confusion ensued. My father leaving his place in the line, advanced to the front, and seizing the chief, threw him one side with such force as caused him to fall to the ground. Arising with a murderous look and tone, "Little Sun" said, "you have thrown me down, but when I throw you down, you will never get up again."
My husband's name was Moreaux. He died in 1855. By that marriage, we had ten children, seven of whom are now living. I was married to Mr. Cherrier, March 1, 1862. We have had three children --- Magdalene, born Dec. 6, 1863; Felix, born Oct. 7, 1865; and Louisa, born Feb. 29, 1868. The last named died in infancy.
My mother married again in 1831. Her second husband's name was St. Germain. They had two children --- David and Hattie. My mother died in 1836 with the small-pox. My step-father died in January, 1882. Pascal Menoir died in Prairie du Chien, in 1882.