MAJOR and Mrs. Twiggs, and a few of the younger officers (for nearly all of the older ones were absent), with our brother Robert, or, as he is called throughout all the Indian tribes "Bob," gave us a cordial welcome, how cordial those alone can know who have come, like us, to a remote, isolated home in the wilderness. The Major insisted on our taking possession at once of vacant quarters in the fort, instead of at "the Agency," as had been proposed.
"No -- we must be under the same roof with them. Mrs. Twiggs had been without a companion of her own sex for more than four months, and would certainly not hear of a separation now. But we must be their guests until the arrival of the boats containing our furniture," which, under the care of our old acquaintance, Hamilton Arndt, was making its way slowly up from Green Bay.
A dinner had been prepared for us. This is one of the advantages of the zig-zag approach by the Fox River -- travellers never take their friends by surprise -- and when the whole circle sat down to the hospitable board, we were indeed a merry company.
After dinner Mrs. Twiggs showed me the quarters assigned to us, on the opposite side of the spacious hall. They consisted of two large rooms on each of the three floors or stories of the building. On the ground floor the front room was vacant. The one in the rear was to be the sleeping apartment, as was evident from a huge, unwieldy bedstead, of proportions amply sufficient to have accommodated Og, the King of Bashan, with Mrs. Og and the children into the bargain. We could not repress our laughter, but the bedstead was nothing to another structure which occupied a second corner of the apartment.
This edifice had been built under the immediate superintendence of one of our young lieutenants, and it was plain to be seen that upon it both he and the soldiers who fabricated it had exhausted all their architectural skill. The timbers of which it was composed had been grooved and carved; the pillars that supported the front swelled in and out in a most fanciful manner; the doors were not only panelled, but radiated in a way to excite the admiration of all unsophisticated eyes. A similar piece of workmanship had been erected in each set of quarters to supply the deficiency of closets, an inconvenience which had never occurred, until too late, to the bachelors who planned them. The three apartments of which each structure was composed, were unquestionably designed for clothes-press, store-room, and china-closet; such, at least, were the uses to which Mrs. Twiggs had appropriated the one assigned to her. There was this slight difficulty, that in the latter the shelves were too close to admit of setting in even a gravy-boat, but they made up in number what was wanting in space. We christened the whole affair, in honor of its projector, a "Davis;" thus placing the first laurel on the brow of one who was afterwards to signalize himself at Buena Vista, and in the Cabinet of his country.
The bold promontory on which Fort Winnebago was built looked down upon the extended prairie and the Fox River on one side, and on the other stretched away into the thickly wooded ridge that led off to Belle Fontaine and Lake Puckaway.
In front lay an extent of meadow, across which was the Portage road, of about two miles in length, leading between the Fox and the Wisconsin rivers. Teams of oxen and a driver were kept at the Agency by the Government, to transport the canoes of the Indians across this place, which at many seasons was wet, miry, and almost impassable.
The woods were now brilliant with the many tints of autumn, and the scene around was further enlivened by groups of Indians, in all directions, and their lodges, which were scattered here and there, in the vicinity of the Agency buildings. On the low grounds might be seen the white tents of the traders, already prepared to furnish winter supplies to the Indians, in exchange for the annuity money they were about to receive.
A great concourse had been for many days assembling in anticipation of the payment, which was expected to take place as soon as Shaw-nee-aw-kee should arrive with the silver.
Preparatory to this event, the great chief of the nation, Four-Legs, whose village we had passed at the entrance to Winnebago Lake, had thought proper to take a little carouse, as is too apt to be the custom when the savages come into the neighborhood of a sutler's establishment. In the present instance, the facilities for a season of intoxication had been augmented by the presence on the ground of some traders, too regardless of the very stringent laws prohibiting the sale of liquor to the Indians.
Poor Four-Legs could not stand this full tide of prosperity. Unchecked by the presence of his "father," the agent, he carried his indulgence to such excess that he fell a victim in the course of a few days. His funeral had been celebrated with unusual pomp the day before our arrival, and great was my disappointment at finding myself too late to witness all the ceremonies.
His body, according to their custom, having been wrapped in a blanket, and placed in a rude coffin, along with his guns, tomahawk, pipes, and a quantity of tobacco, had been carried to the most elevated point of the hill opposite the fort, followed by an immense procession of his people, whooping, beating their drums, howling, and making altogether what is emphatically termed a "pow-wow."
After the interment of the body a stake was planted at its head, on which was painted in vermilion a series of hieroglyphics, descriptive of the great deeds and events of his life. The whole was then surrounded with pickets of the trunks of the tamarack trees, and hither the friends would come for many successive days to renew the expression of their grief; and to throw over the grave tobacco and other offerings to the Great Spirit.
It was a consolation to find that, although delayed, we were yet in time to furnish a quantity of white cotton for a flag to wave over the grave, and also to pay a considerable bill at the sutler's, for the different articles that had been found necessary for the funeral parade -- it being a duty expected of their father to bury the dead suitably.
The funeral observances in honor of the chief had not yet ceased. Throughout the day, and all that night, the sound of instruments, mingled with doleful lamentations, and with the discordant whoops and yells of those in a partial state of intoxication, filled the air, and disturbed our repose. To these were added occasionally the plaintive sounds of the Indian flute, upon which the young savage plays when he is in love. Grief and whiskey had made their hearts tender, and the woods resounded to their melancholy strains.
Early the following morning, before I left my room, I was startled by the sounds of lamentation and woe proceeding from the adjoining apartment. On entering it, I found several squaws seated on the floor, with downcast looks expressive of condolence and sympathy, while in their midst sat a little ugly woman, in tattered garments, with blackened face and dishevelled hair, sobbing and wailing bitterly.
Not doubting they were the family of the deceased chief; I was quite troubled at my inability to express, otherwise than by gestures, my participation in their sorrows.
Unacquainted as I was with their customs, I took it for granted from their wretched appearance that poverty and destitution formed one of the sources of their affliction. One of the party, at least, seemed in the very depths of misery. "Can it be possible," said I to myself "that this poor creature has only these scanty rags to cover her?"
Stepping back to my own room, I brought out a pretty calico wrapper, which I presented to the little dirty, blackened object. She took it, and commenced a fresh series of sobbing and sighing. I made signs to her to put it on, opening it and explaining to her how it was to be worn, and recommending to her, by gestures, to lose no time in making herself more comfortable.
At this, the other women burst into a laugh.
"Very mal-à-propos," thought I, "and somewhat unfeeling." At that moment my husband entering, explained to me that the chief mourner was Madame Four-Legs, the widow; that she had undoubtedly a comfortable wardrobe at home, but that it was part of the etiquette of mourning to go for a season with neglected persons and blackened faces. All this was told me in the intervals of shaking hands, and offering and receiving condolences in the most uncouth, guttural language I had ever heard. Their "father" at length dismissed them, with a promise of some presents to help dry up their tears. It must not be inferred that the grief of the poor little widow was not sincere. On the contrary, she was greatly attached to her husband, and had had great influence not only with him but with the nation at large. She was a Fox woman, and spoke the Chippewa, which is the court language among all the tribes, so that she was often called upon to act as interpreter, and had, in fact, been in the habit of accompanying her husband, and assisting him by her counsels upon all occasions. She was a person of great shrewdness and judgment, and as I afterwards experienced, of strong and tenacious affections.
After breakfast I received a visit from the principal chiefs, who had put on their best of apparel and paint, to receive their new "mother."
There was Naw-kaw, or Kar-ray-mau-nee, "the Walking Rain," now the principal chief of the nation, a stalwart Indian, with a broad, pleasant countenance, the great peculiarity of which was an immense under lip, hanging nearly to his chin. There was the old Day-kau-ray, the most noble, dignified, and venerable of his own, or indeed of any other, tribe. His fine Roman countenance, rendered still more striking by his bald head, with one solitary tuft of long silvery hair neatly tied and falling back on his shoulders; his perfectly neat, appropriate dress, almost without ornament and his courteous demeanor, never laid aside, under any circumstances, all combined to give him the highest place in the consideration of all who knew him. It will hereafter be seen that his traits of character were not less grand and striking, than were his personal appearance and deportment.
There was Black-Wolf, whose lowering, surly face was well described by his name. The fierce expression of his countenance was greatly heightened by the masses of heavy black hair hanging round it, quite contrary to the usual fashion among the Winnebagoes. They, for the most part, remove a portion of their hair, the remainder of which is drawn to the back of the head, clubbed and ornamented with beads, ribbons, cock's feathers, or, if they are so entitled, an eagle's feather for every scalp taken from an enemy.
There was Talk-English, a remarkably handsome, powerful young Indian, who received his name in the following manner. He was one of a party of sixteen Winnebagoes, who had, by invitation accompanied their Agent and Major Forsyth (or the Chippewa as he was called), on a visit to the President at Washington, the year previous.
On the journey, the question naturally addressed to them by people not familiar with Western Indians was,
"Do you talk English?"
The young fellow being very observant, came to his "father." "What do they mean by this? Everybody says to me, talk English!"
The Agent interpreted the words to him. "Ah, very well."
The next place they arrived at was Lockport, in the State of New York. Jumping off the canal-boat upon the lock, he ran up to the first man he met, and thrusting forward his face cried out, "Talk Eengeesh?"
"Yes," said the man; "do you talk English?"
From that time forward, he always bore the name of Talk-English, and was registered on the pay-rolls by a title of which he was not a little proud.
Hoo-wau-nee-kah, "the Little Elk," was another of the distinguished men of the tribe. He had likewise been at Washington. Henry Clay, when he visited them, after looking carefully at the countenances and bearing of all the members of the deputation, had indicated him as the one possessing the greatest talent; and he was greatly pleased when informed that he was the principal orator of the nation, and decidedly superior in abilities to any other individual of the tribe.
Wild-Cat, our Indian Falstaff, in all save the cowardice and falsehood, I have already mentioned.
Then there was Kau-ray-kaw-saw-kaw, "the White Crow," or Rock River Indian, who afterwards distinguished himself as the friend of the whites during the Sauk war. He was called by the French "le Borgne," from having lost an eye; and the black silk handkerchief; which he wore drooping over the left side of his face to disguise the blemish, taken with his native costume, gave him a very singular appearance.
There was a nephew of the defunct chief Four-Legs, to whom was with justice given, by both whites and Indians, the appellation of "the Dandy." When out of mourning his dress was of the most studied and fanciful character. A shirt (when he condescended to wear any) of the brightest colors, ornamented with innumerable rows of silver brooches, set thickly together; never less than two pairs of silver arm-bands; leggings and moccasins of the most elaborate embroidery in ribbons and porcupine quills; everything that he could devise in the shape of ornament hanging to his club of hair behind; a feather fan in one hand, and a mirror in the other, in which he contemplated himself every five minutes; these, with the variety and brilliancy of the colors upon his face, the suitable choice and application of which occupied no small portion of the hours allotted to his toilet; such made up the equipment of young Four-Legs.
This devotion to dress and appearance seemed not altogether out of place in a youthful dandy, but we had likewise an old one of the same stamp. Pawnee Blanc, or the White Pawnee, if possible, surpassed his younger competitor in attention to his personal attractions.
Upon the present occasion he appeared in all his finery, and went through the customary salutations with an air of solemn dignity, then entered, as did the others, into the parlor (for I had received them in the hall), where they all seated themselves upon the floor. Fortunately, the room was now bare of furniture, but "alas!" thought I, "for my pretty carpet, if this is to be the way they pay their respects to me!" I watched the falling of the ashes from their long pipes, and the other inconveniences of the use of tobacco, or "kin-ni-kin-nick," with absolute dismay.
The visit of the chiefs was succeeded by one from the interpreter and his wife, with all the Canadian and half-breed women, whose husbands found employment at the Agency, or at the American Fur Company's establishment.
By this time my piano had been taken from its case and set up in our quarters. To our great joy, we found it entirely uninjured. Thanks to the skill of Nunns and Clark, not a note was out of tune,
The women, to whom it was an entire novelty, were loud in their exclamations of wonder and delight.
"Eh-h-h! regardez donc! Quelles inventions! Quelles merveilles!" *
One, observing the play of my fingers reflected in the nameboard, called in great exultation to her companions. She had discovered, as she thought, the hidden machinery by which the sounds were produced, and was not a little mortified when she was undeceived.
* Only look! what inventions! what wonders!
Mrs. John H. Kenzie, Wau-Bun, the "Early Day" in the Northwest. Chicago : D. B. Cooke & Co., 1857. p. 82-93.
From the Memorial Library Department of Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison.