BUTTE DES MORTS -- LAKE PUCKAWAY.
THE Butte des Morts, or Hillock of the Dead, was the scene long since.1 of a most sanguinary battle between the French and the Mis-qua-kees, or Foxes. So great was the carnage in this engagement, that the memory of it has been perpetuated by the gloomy appellation given to the mound where the dead were buried. The Foxes up to this time had inhabited the shores of the river to which they had given their name, but being completely overwhelmed and beaten in this conflict, they retired to the neighborhood of the Mississippi, and sought an asylum among their allies, the Saukies, or as they are now called, the Sauks, with whom they became gradually incorporated, until the combined tribes came to be known, as at present, by the name of "Sauks and Foxes."
Among the French inhabitants of the upper country, each tribe of Indians has a particular appellation, descriptive of some peculiarity of either their habits or their personal appearance. Thus the Chippewas from their agility are denominated "Sauteurs" or Jumpers; the Ottawas, the "Courtes-oreilles" or Short-ears. The Meenomonees, from the wild rice so abundant in their country, are called the "Folles Avoines" -- the Winnebagoes from their custom of wearing the fur of a polecat on their legs when equipped for war, are termed "les Puans" -- the Pottowattamies, from their uncleanly habits, "les Poux" -- the Foxes, are "les Renards" &c., &c.
Hence you will never hear a French or half-breed resident of the country mention an Indian in any other style. "Such a person is a 'Court-oreille.'" "Is that woman a 'Winnebago?'" "No, she is a 'Folle Avoine.'" In this manner a stranger is somewhat puzzled at first to classify the acquaintances he forms.
All the native friends with whom we were here surrounded were "les Puans," or to use their own euphonious application, the "Ho-tshung-rahs."
Having with great regret said adieu to our friend Judge Doty, whose society had contributed so much to the pleasure of our trip, and whose example moreover, had given us a valuable lesson to take things as we find them; we bade good-bye at an early hour after breakfast to our kind hosts, and set forward on our journey.
From Butte des Morts to the Portage, the distance by land is about seventy miles; by water, it is not less than a hundred and thirty, so serpentine is the course of the river through the low swampy prairies which stretch over a great portion of this part of the country.
About six miles above the Butte, a tolerably broad stream called Wolf River joins the Fox, and as it is much the more direct and promising of the two, strangers have sometimes mistaken it for the main stream, and journeyed up it a considerable distance before discovering to their great chagrin that they must retrace their steps.
Beyond this place, the river begins to play its pranks with the compass. As I was always looking out for pretty scenery to sketch, I was at one spot much attracted by a picturesque group on a bank quite close to the stream. There were broad overhanging trees, and two or three wigwams nestled under their shade. Bright-looking little children, quite unencumbered with clothing, were sporting about, and their two mothers were sitting on the ground, engaged in the manufacture of a mat for their lodge. It was a pretty scene, and I commenced a sketch. As usual, the whole party on the bank set up a shout when they recognized Shaw-nee-aw-kee -- "Ee-awn-chee-wee-rah, Hee-nee-kar-ray-kay-noo." 2 It was an occasion on which they became demonstrative. After a little time we proceeded, and I went on to complete my drawing. The sun kept coming more and more into the wrong place. He had been just behind me, presently he was on my left hand, now he was straight a-head. I moved from time to time; at length the sun was decidedly on my right hand. What could be the matter? I looked up. "Oh, here is a pretty scene, I must have this too! But how surprisingly like the one I have just finished, only in a different direction." Again we were greeted with shouts and laughter; it was the same spot which we had passed not an hour before, and having taken a circuit of nearly four miles, we had returned to find that we had made an actual progress of only the width of the bank on which the trees and wigwams stood. Decidedly not very encouraging to an impatient traveller.
We reached Lake Puck-a-way late in the evening of our second day from Butte des Morts. Here lived a white man named Gleason, the same of whom, owing to his vast powers of exaggeration, poor Hooe was fond of uttering his little pun, "All is not gold that Gleasons." We did not seek shelter at his house, for late as the season was, we found the shore so infested with musquitoes that we were glad to choose a spot as far as possible from the bank, and make ourselves comfortable in our boat.
This lake has its name from the long flags or rushes which are found in its waters in great abundance, and of which the squaws manufacture the coarse matting used in covering their wigwams. Their mode of fabricating this is very primitive and simple. Seated on the ground, with the rushes laid side by side, and fastened at each extremity, they pass their shuttle, a long flat needle made of bone, to which is attached a piece of cordage, formed of the bark of a tree, through each rush, thus confining it very closely, and making a fine substantial mat. These mats are seldom more than five or six feet in length, as a greater size would be inconvenient in adjusting and preparing their lodges.
It is a species of labor usually assigned to the elder women of the family. When they become broken down and worn out with exposure and hardship, so that they cannot cut down trees, hoe corn, or carry heavy burdens, they are set to weaving mats, taking care of the children, and disciplining the dogs, with which every Indian lodge abounds.
Lac de Buf or Buffalo Lake, into which our course next brought us, is a lovely sheet of water. In some places its banks are exceedingly picturesque, with beautiful headlands jutting out into the clear depths, where they and the magnificent groups of trees which crown them lie reflected as in a mirror. Now and then we would catch a glimpse of deer darting across the glades, which at intervals opened through the woodlands, or a pair of sand-hill cranes would rise, slowly flapping their wings, and seek a place of more undisturbed repose. The flocks of teal now skimming the surface of the water, now rising higher towards the shelter of the forests, tempted our sportsman sorely; but as there was little prospect of finding his game when it was brought down, he did not give way to the wanton pleasure of shooting merely to destroy life.
In quitting this charming lake; and again entering the narrow, tortuous course of the river, we bade adieu to everything like scenery, until we should reach our journey's end.
We had now seventy miles to pass through a country perfectly monotonous and uninteresting, the distastefulness of which was aggravated by the knowledge that we could, had we been provided with horses or a carriage of any kind, have crossed over to the Portage from Gleason's, through a pleasant country, in little more than three hours. Even our great resource, the cheering, animating songs of our voyageurs were out of the question; for the river, though deep, is so narrow that, in many places, there is no room for the regular play of the oars; and the voices of Frenchmen can never "keep tune" unless their oars can "keep time." Lapierre, one of our men, did his best with a paddle, or, as he called it, the "little row," but it was to no purpose -- it would not go. Besides this, the wild rice abounds to that extent in many places, that it almost completely obstructs the progress of even a moderate-sized boat, so that a passage through its tangled masses is with difficulty forced by the oars. Tedious and monotonous as was the whole course of the two following days, the climax of impatience and discouragement was only reached when we arrived in sight of the white walls of Fort Winnebago, looking down from a rising ground upon the vast expanse of low land through which the river winds.
The Indians have a tradition that a vast serpent once lived in the waters of the Mississippi, and that taking a break to visit the Great Lakes, he left his trail through the prairies, which, collecting the waters from the meadows and the rains of heaven as they fell, at length became the Fox River.
The little lakes along its course were probably the spots where he flourished about in his uneasy slumbers at night. He must have played all the antics of a kitten in the neighborhood of the Portage. When the Fort was first pointed out to me, I exclaimed with delight, "Oh, we shall be there in half an hour!"
"Not quite so soon," said my husband, smiling. "Wait and see." We sat and watched. We seemed approaching the very spot where we were to disembark. We could distinguish the officers and a lady on the bank waiting to receive us. Now we are turning our backs on them, and shooting out into the prairie again. Anon we approach another bank, on which is a range of comfortable-looking log-houses. "That's the Agency," -- the largest house belongs to Paquette, the interpreter, and the others are the dwellings of our Frenchmen. The little building, just at the foot of the hill, is the blacksmith's shop, kept there by the Government, that the Indians may have their guns and traps mended free of expense."
"But are we going to stop there?"
"No; do you not see we are going back to the fort?"
And, to be sure, our course was now turned, and we were setting in our first direction. In this manner, after tacking to the right and left, and putting backwards and forwards during the greater part of two hours, we at length reached the little landing, on which the assembled party stood ready to greet us.
1 In the year 1714.
2 Father! How do you do?
Mrs. John H. Kenzie, Wau-Bun, the "Early Day" in the Northwest. Chicago : D. B. Cooke & Co., 1857. p. 74-81.
From the Memorial Library Department of Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison.