BREAKFAST AT BETTY MORE'S.
THE earth, the trees, and the shrubbery were all too much filled with the heavy rain which had fallen to allow us to think of encamping, so we made arrangements to bestow ourselves in our little saloon for the night. It was rather a difficult matter to light a fire, but among the underbrush, in a wild, undisturbed spot, there will always be found some fragments of dried branches, and tufts of grass which the rain has not reached, and by the assistance of the spunk, or light-wood, with which travellers always go well provided, a comforting fire was at length blazing brightly.
After our chilling, tedious day, it was pleasant to gather round it, to sit on the end of the blazing logs, and watch the Frenchmen preparing our supper -- the kettle, nestling in a little nook of bright glowing coals -- the slices of ham browning and crisping on the forked sticks, or "broches," which the voyageurs dexterously cut, and set around the burning brands -- the savory messes of "pork and onions" hissing in the frying pan, always a tempting regale to the hungry Frenchmen. Truly, it needs a wet chilly journey, taken nearly fasting, as ours had been, to enable one to enjoy to its full extent that social meal -- a supper.
The bright sun, setting amid brilliant masses of clouds, such as are seen only in our western skies, gave promise of a fine day on the morrow, with which comforting assurance we were glad to take our leave of him, and soon after of each other.
We had hardly roused up the following morning, in obedience to the call of the bourgeois, when our eyes were greeted with the sight of an addition to our company -- a tall stalwart, fine-looking, young "mitiff;" or half-breed, accompanied by two or three Indians. Vociferous and joyous were the salutations of the latter to their "father" and their new "mother." They were the first Winnebagoes I had seen, and they were decidedly not the finest specimens of their tribe. The mitiff a scion of the wide-spreading tree of the Grignons, was the bearer of an invitation to us from Judge Law, who, with one or two Green Bay friends, was encamped a few miles above, to come and breakfast with him in his tent. We had not dreamed of finding white neighbors here, but our vicinity could be no secret to them, as long as there was an Indian in the neighborhood. So, delaying only for the soldiers to finish their breakfast, we pushed on for the "Butte des Morts," or, as old Mrs. Arndt always persisted in calling it, Betty More's.
The white tent of the Judge gleamed in the morning sun as we approached the little rising ground on which it stood. The river was filled with canoes paddled principally by squaws. Many Indians were to be seen on the banks, all with their guns and hunting accoutrements, for the air was filled in every direction with flocks of teal, which at this season are most abundant and delicious. The immense fields of wild rice abounding here and in the little lake below, make this vicinity their favorite place of resort in the autumn months. The effect of this nourishing food is, to make the flesh of the birds so fat, so white, and so tender, that a caution is always given to a young sportsman to fire only at such as fly very low, for if shot high in the air they are bruised to pieces, and rendered unfit for eating by their fall to the ground.
We were hemmed in by a little fleet of canoes which surrounded us, the women chattering, laughing, and eagerly putting forward their little wooden bowls of fresh cranberries as an offering of welcome to me.
I amused myself with tossing crackers to them, some of which would reach them, others would fall into the water, and then such a scrambling and shouting! Hands and paddles were in requisition, and loud was the triumph of her who was successful in reaching a floating one.
Among the Indians with whom Shaw-nee-aw-kee was now engaged in shaking hands, and who all seemed old friends, were some fine, straight, well-formed figures, all of them exhibiting frames capable of enduring fatigue and the hardships of their mode of life. One was describing with much gesticulation the abundance of the game in the neighborhood, and he seemed greatly delighted at receiving a quantity of ammunition, with which he instantly departed to make good his boasts in the matter.
After walking a short distance we reached the tent, where I was introduced to Judge Law and a pleasant little gray-haired French gentleman of the name of Porlier. Several voyageurs and half-breeds were near, the former busily at work, the latter lounging for the most part, and going through with what they had to do with a sort of listless indifference.
The contrast between the "all-alive" air of the one class and the apathetic manner of the other, was quite striking.
After a short conversation among the members of the party, breakfast was announced, and we entered the tent and took our seats on the ground around the Indian mat, which supplied the place of a table.
The post of honor, namely, the head of the table, was of course given to me, so that I could not only look around upon the circle of the company, but also enjoy a fine view out of the open door of the tent, and take an observation of all that was going on at the side-table outside. Judge Doty sat opposite me, with his back to the opening of the tent, and the other gentlemen on either hand. We had for our waiter the tall "mitiff" who had been the messenger of the morning. He was still in the same garb -- calico shirt, bright colored scarf around his waist, and on his head a straw hat encircled with a band of black ostrich feathers, the usual dress of his class.
The tin cups which were to hold our coffee were duly set around, then breakfast plates of the same metal, with knives and forks, then followed the viands, among the most conspicuous of which was a large tin pan of boiled ducks.
The Judge, wishing to show, probably, that although we were in the vast wilderness, all fastidious nicety had not been left behind, took up the plate which had been set before him, and seeing something adhering to it which did not exactly please him, handed it over his shoulder to Grignon, requesting him to wipe it carefully. Grignon complied by pulling a black silk barcelona handkerchief out of his bosom, where it had been snugly tucked away to answer any occasion that might present itself, and giving the tin a furious polishing, handed it back again. The Judge looked at it with a smile of approbation, and giving a glance round the table as much as to say, "You see how I choose to have things done," applied himself to his breakfast.
The trail for Fort Winnebago then led from the shore opposite Butte des Morts, through Ma-zhee-gaw-gaw swamp, and past Green Lake, and it was well for the Judge that his horses stood waiting for him to "mount and away" as early as possible after breakfast, or I am afraid the story I should have been tempted to tell, would have made his ride an uncomfortable one throughout the day.
We had hardly finished breakfast when our hunter, who had received the ammunition, returned, bringing with him about fifty fine ducks, which he had shot in little more than an hour. From that time until the close of our journey, our supply of these delicate birds was never wanting.
Mrs. John H. Kenzie, Wau-Bun, the "Early Day" in the Northwest. Chicago : D. B. Cooke & Co., 1857. p. 69-73.
From the Memorial Library Department of Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison.