WINNEBAGO LAKE -- MISS FOUR-LEGS.
OUR encampment this night was the most charming that can be imagined. Owing to the heavy service the men had gone through, in the earlier part of the day, we took but a short stage for the afternoon, and having pulled some seven or eight miles to a spot a short distance below the "little Butte," we drew in at a beautiful opening among the trees.
The soldiers now made a regular business of encamping by cutting down a large tree for their fire, and applying themselves to the preparing of a sufficient quantity of food for their next day's journey, a long stretch, namely, of twenty-one miles across Winnebago Lake. Our Frenchmen did the same. The fire caught in the light dry grass by which we were surrounded, and soon all was blaze and crackle.
Fortunately the wind was sufficient to take the flames all in one direction, and besides, there was not enough fuel to have made them a subject of any alarm. We hopped upon the fallen logs, and dignified the little circumscribed affair with the name of "a prairie on fire." The most serious inconvenience was its having consumed all the dry grass, some armfuls of which, spread under the bearskin in my tent, I had found, the night before, a great improvement to my place of repose.
Our supper was truly delightful, at the pleasant sunset hour, under the tall trees beside the waters that ran murmuring by; and when the bright, broad moon arose, and shed her flood of light over the scene, so wild yet so beautiful in its vast solitude, I felt that I might well be an object of envy to the friends I had left behind.
But all things have an end, and so must at last my enthusiasm for the beauties around me, and, albeit unwillingly, I closed my tent, and took my place within, so near the fall of canvas that I might raise it occasionally and peep forth upon the night.
In time all was quiet. The men had become silent, and appeared to have retired to rest, and we were just sinking to our slumbers, when a heavy tread and presently a bluff voice were heard outside.
"Mr. Kinzie -- Mr. Kinzie!"
"Who is there? What is it?"
"I'm Christman; didn't you mean, sir, that the men should have any liquor to-night?"
"Of course I did. Has not Kilgour given out your rations?"
"No! he says you did not say anything particular about it, and he was not coming to ask you if you forgot it; but I thought I wouldn't be bashful -- I'd just come and ask."
"That is right. Tell Kilgour I should like to have him serve out a ration apiece."
"Thank you, sir," in a most cheerful tone; "I'll tell him."
Christman was getting to be quite a character with us. A row of a few miles, on the following morning, brought us to Four-Legs' village, 1 at the entrance to Winnebago Lake, a picturesque cluster of Indian huts, spread around on a pretty green glade, and shaded by fine lofty trees.
We were now fairly in the Winnebago country, and I soon learned that the odd-sounding name of the place was derived from the principal chief of the nation, whose residence it was. The inhabitants were absent, having, in all probability, departed to their wintering grounds. We here took leave of our friend Wish-tay-yun, at the borders of whose country we had now arrived.
"Bon-jour, Chon!" (John) "bon-jour, maman." A hearty shake of the hand completed his adieu, as we pushed off into the lake, and left him smoking his kin-nee-kin-nick, 2 and waiting until the spirit should move him to take up his long Indian trot towards his home in the Menomonee country.
With him our sunshine seemed to have departed. The skies, hitherto so bright and serene, became overcast, and instead of the charming voyage we had anticipated over the silver waters of the lake, we were obliged to keep ourselves housed under our canvas shelter, only peeping out now and then, to catch a glimpse of the surrounding prospect through the pouring rain.
It was what might have been expected on an autumnal day, but we were unreasonable enough to find it tedious; so, to beguile the time and lessen my disappointment, my husband related to me some incidents of his early history, apropos to the subject of "Four-Legs."
While he was living at Prairie du Chien, in the employ of the American Fur Company, the chiefs and other Indians, from the Upper Mississippi, used frequently to come to the place to sell their furs and peltries, and to purchase merchandise, ammunition trinkets, &c.
As is usual with all who are not yet acclimated, he was seized with chills and fever. One day, while suffering with an unusually severe access of the latter, a chief of the Four-Legs family, a brother to the one before-mentioned, came in to the Company's warehouse to trade. There is no ceremony or restraint among the Indians, so hearing that Shaw-nee-aw-kee was sick, Four-Legs instantly made his way to him, to offer his sympathy and prescribe the proper remedies.
Every one who has suffered from ague and the intense fever that succeeds it, knows how insupportable is the protracted conversation of an inconsiderate person, and will readily believe that the longer Four-Legs continued his pratings the higher mounted the fever of the patient, and the more intolerable became the pain of head, back, and limbs.
At length the old man arrived at the climax of what he had to say. "It was not good for a young man, suffering with sickness, and away from his family, to be without a home and a wife. He had a nice daughter at home, handsome and healthy, a capital nurse, the best hand in all the tribe at trapping beaver and musk-rats. He was coming down again in the spring, and he would bring her with him, and Shaw-nee-aw-kee should see that he had told no falsehood about her. Should he go now, and bring his daughter the next time he came?"
Stunned with his importunate babble, and anxious only for rest and quiet, poor Shaw-nee-aw-kee eagerly assented, and the chief took his departure.
So nearly had his disorder been aggravated to delirium, that the young man forgot entirely, for a time, the interview and the proposal which had been made him. But it was recalled to his memory some months after, when Four-Legs made his appearance, bringing with him a squaw of mature age, and a very Hecate for ugliness. She carried on her shoulders an immense pack of furs, which, approaching with her awkward criss-cross gait, she threw at his feet, thus marking, by an Indian custom, her sense of the relation that existed between them.
The conversation with her father now flashed across his mind, and he began to be sensible that he had got into a position that it would require some skill to extricate himself from.
He bade one of the young clerks take up the pack and carry it into the magazine where the furs were stored, then he coolly went on talking with the chief about indifferent matters.
Miss Four-legs sat awhile with a sulky, discontented air, at length she broke out,
"Humph! he seems to take no more notice of me than if I was nobody! "
He again turned to the clerk -- "Give her a calico shirt and half a dozen bread tickets."
This did not dissipate the gloom on her countenance. Finding that he must commence the subject, the father says,
"Well, I have brought you my daughter, according to our agreement. How do you like her?"
"Ah! yes, she is a very nice young woman, and would make a first-rate wife, I have no doubt. But do you know a very strange thing has happened since you were here? Our father, Govenor Cass,3 has sent for me to come to Detroit; that he may send me among the Wyandots and other nations to learn their customs and manners. Now if I go, as I shall be obliged to do, I shall be absent two or three years -- perhaps four. What then? Why, the people will say, Shaw-nee-aw-kee has married Four-Legs' daughter, and then has hated her and run away from her, and so everybody will laugh at her, and she will be ashamed. It will be better to take some good, valuable presents, blankets, guns, &c., and to marry her to one of her own people, who will always stay by her and take care of her."
The old man was shrewd enough to see that it was wisest to make the best bargain he could. I have no doubt it cost a round sum to settle the matter to the satisfaction of the injured damsel, though I have never been able to ascertain how much. This, I know, that the young gentleman took care not to make his next bargain while in a fit of the ague. The lady up on the Mississippi is called, in derision, by his name to this day.
About midway of the lake we passed Garlic Island -- a lovely spot, deserving of a more attractive name. It belonged, together with the village on the opposite shore to "Wild Cat," a fat, jolly, good-natured fellow, by no means the formidable animal his name would imply.
He and his band were absent, like their neighbors of Four-Legs village, so there was nothing to vary the monotony of our sail. It was too wet to sing, and the men, although wrapped in their overcoats, looked like drowned chickens. They were obliged to ply their oars with unusual vigor to keep themselves warm and comfortable, and thus probably felt less than we, the dullness and listlessness of the cold, rainy, October day.
Towards evening the sun shone forth. We had passed into the Fox River, and were just entering that beautiful little expanse known as Butte des Morts Lake, at the further extremity of which we were to encamp for the night.
The water along its shores was green with the fields of wild rice, the gathering of which, just at this season, is an important occupation of the Indian women. They push their canoes into the thick masses of the rice, bend it forward over the side with their paddles, and then beat the ripe husks off the stalks into a cloth spread in the canoe. After this, it is rubbed to separate the grain from the husk, and fanned in the open air. It is then put in their cordage bags and packed away for winter use. The grain is longer and more slender than the Carolina rice -- it is of a greenish, olive color, and, although it forms a pleasant article of food, it is far from being particularly nutritive. The Indians are fond of it in the form of soup, with the addition of birds or venison.
1 The site of the town of Nee-nab
2 The bark of the red willow, scraped fine, which is preferred by the Indians to tobacco.
3 General Cass was then Governor of Michigan, and Superintendent of the North-western Indians.
Mrs. John H. Kenzie, Wau-Bun, the "Early Day" in the Northwest. Chicago : D. B. Cooke & Co., 1857. p. 60-67.
From the Memorial Library Department of Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison.