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(pioneer icon) 1924



THE payment was now over, and the Indians had dispersed and gone to their wintering grounds. The traders too, had departed, laden with a good share of the silver, in exchange for which each family had provided itself; as far as possible, with clothing, guns, traps, ammunition, and the other necessaries for their winter use. The Indians are good at a bargain. They are not easily overreached. On the contrary, they understand at once when a charge is exorbitant; and a trader who tries his shrewdness upon them is sure to receive an expressive sobriquet, which ever after clings to him.

For instance, M. Rolette was called by them "Ah-kay-zaup-ee-tah," five more -- because, as they said, let them offer what number of skins they might, in bartering for an article, his terms were invariably "five more."

Upon one occasion a lady remarked to him, "Oh, M. Rolette, I would not be engaged in the Indian trade; it seems to me a system of cheating the poor Indians."

"Let me tell you, madame," replied he with great naiveté, "it is not so easy a thing to cheat the Indians as you imagine. I have tried it these twenty years, and have never succeeded."

We were now settled down to a quiet, domestic life. The military system under which everything was conducted -- the bugle-call, followed by the music of a very good band, at "réveille;" the light, animated strains for "sick-call," and soon after for "breakfast;" the longer ceremony of guard-mounting; the "Old English Roast-beef;" to announce the dinner hour; the sweet, plaintive strains of "Lochaber no more," followed most incongruously by "the Little Cock-Sparrow," at "retreat;" and finally, the long, rolling tattoo, late in the evening, made pleasant divisions of our time, which, by the aid of books, music, and drawing, in addition to household occupations, seemed to fly more swiftly than ever before. It was on Sunday that I most missed my eastern home. I had planned beforehand what we should do on the first recurrence of this sacred day, under our own roof. "We shall have, at least," said I to myself; "the Sabbath's quiet and repose; and I can, among other things, benefit poor Louisa by giving her some additional lessons of a serious character."

So, while she was removing the breakfast things, I said to her,

"Now, Louisa, get your work all finished, and everything put neatly aside, and then come here to me again."

"Yes, ma'am."

We sat down to our books, and read and waited; we waited and read another hour -- no Louisa.

There was music and the sound of voices on the parade in front of our windows, but that did not disturb us -- it was what we were daily accustomed to.

I must go at length, and see what could be keeping my damsel so. I descended to the kitchen. The breakfast things stood upon the table -- the kettles and spider upon the hearth -- the fire was out -- the kitchen empty.

Passing back into the hall, which extended the whole length of the house, and opened in front upon the parade, I perceived a group collected in the area, of all shades and colors, and in the midst, one round, woolly head which I could not mistake, bobbing up and down, now on this side, now on that, while peals of laughter were issuing from the whole group.

"Louisa," I called, "come here; what are you doing there?"

"Looking at inspection."

"But why are not your breakfast things washed, and your kitchen swept? Did I not tell you I wished you to come up and learn your lessons?"

"Yes, ma'am; but I had to see inspection first. Everybody looks at 'inspection' on Sunday."

I found it was in vain to expect to do more for Louisa than give her an afternoon's lesson, and with that I was obliged to content myself.

I felt that it would be very pleasant, and perhaps profitable, for all the inmates of the garrison to assemble on this day; one of our number might be found who would read a portion of the church-service, and a sermon from one of our different selections.

I approached the subject cautiously, with an inquiry to this effect:

"Are there none among the officers who are religiously disposed?"

"Oh, yes," replied the one whom I addressed, "there is S----; when he is half-tipsy, he takes his Bible and "Newton's Works," and goes to bed and cries over them; he thinks in this way he is excessively pious."

S---- was among the officers who had never called upon us; it was fair to infer that if his religious principles did not correct his own evil habits, they would not aid much in improving others; therefore, it seemed useless to call in his co-operation in any scheme for a better observance of the Lord's Day.

We had to content ourselves with writing to our friends at the east to interest themselves in getting a missionary sent to us, who should officiate as chaplain in the garrison, a plan that seemed to find favor with the officers. The hope of any united religious services was, for the present, laid aside.

The post-surgeon having obtained a furlough, his place was supplied by Dr. Newhall, of Galena, and thus, by the addition of his gentle, quiet wife, our circle of ladies was now enlarged to three. Here we were, in a wilderness, but yet how contented and happy!

A gloom was soon to replace this envied tranquillity in our home. A Frenchman, named Letendre, one day suddenly presented himself. He had come from Chicago, with the distressing intelligence of the extreme, indeed hopeless illness of our dear relative, Dr. Wolcott. My husband immediately commenced his preparations for instant departure. I begged to be permitted to accompany him, but the rapidity with which he proposed to journey obliged him to refuse my entreaties. In a few hours his provisions, horses, and all other things necessary for the journey were in readiness, and he set off with Petaille Grignon, his usual attendant on such expeditions, leaving Letendre to follow as soon as recruited from his fatigue.

Sad and dreary were the hours of his absence, notwithstanding the kind efforts of our friends to cheer me. In a few days I received the news of the fatal termination of Dr. W.'s illness, brought by another messenger. That noble heart, so full of warm and kindly affections had ceased to beat, and sad and desolate, indeed, were those who had so loved and honored him.

As soon as he could possibly leave his family, my husband returned, and it was fortunate that he had delayed no longer, for the winter now began to set in, and with severity.

Our quarters were spacious, but having been constructed of the green trees of the forest, cut down and sawed into boards by the hands of the soldiers, they were considerably given to shrinking and warping, thus leaving many a yawning crevice. Stuffing the cracks with cotton batting, and pasting strips of paper over them, formed the employment of many a leisure hour.

Then the chimneys, spite of all the currents of air, which might have been expected to create a draught, had a sad habit of smoking. To remedy this, a couple of gun-barrels had been sawed off and inserted in the hearth, one on each side of the fire place, in the hope that the air from the room below might help to carry the smoke into its proper place, the chimney.

The next morning after this had been done, Louisa was washing the hearth.

"Pray, ma'am," said she, "what are these things put in here for?"

I explained their use.

"Oh, I am so glad it is only that. Uncle Ephraim (Major Twiggs' servant) said they were to be filled with powder and fired off Christmas Day, and he was terribly afraid they would blow the house up, and we in it."

Ephraim, who was a most faithfhl and valuable servant, often amused himself with playing upon the credulity of the younger portions of the colored fraternity.

"Is it true," asked Louisa, one day, "that Pillon and Plante were once prairie-wolves?"

"Prairie-wolves! what an idea! Why do you ask such a foolish question?"

"Because uncle Ephraim says they, and all the Frenchmen about here, were once prairie-wolves, and that, living so near the white people, they grow, after a time, to be like them, and learn to talk and dress like them. And then, when they get to be old, they turn back into prairie-wolves again, and that all the wolves that the officers bait with their dogs used to be Frenchmen, once."

After a time, however, I ceased to straighten out these stories of uncle Ephraim, for I was gradually arriving at the conviction that my little colored damsel was by no means so simple and unsophisticated as she would have me believe, and that I was, after all, the one who was imposed upon.

The snow this winter was prodigious, and the cold intense. The water would freeze in our parlors at a very short distance from the fire, for, although the "fatigue parties" kept the hall filled with wood, almost up to the ceiling, that did not counterbalance the inconvenience of having the wide doors thrown open to the outer air for a great portion of the day, to allow of their bringing it in. We Northerners should have had wood-houses specially for the purpose, and not only have kept our great hall-doors closed, but have likewise protected them with a "hurricane house." But the Florida frontier was not a station for our southern bachelors to have acquired the knowledge that would have been available when the thermometer was twenty-five degrees below zero -- at a point that brandy congealed in the sideboard.

The arrival of Christmas and New Year's brought us our Indian friends again. They had learned something of the observation of these holidays from their French neighbors, and I had been forewarned that I should see the squaws kissing every white man they met. Although not crediting this to its full extent, I could readily believe that they would each expect a present, as a "compliment of the season," so I duly prepared myself with a supply of beads, ribbons, combs, and other trinkets. Knowing them to be fond of dainties, I had also a quantity of crullers and doughnuts made ready the day before, as a treat to them.

To my great surprise and annoyance, only a moderate share of the cakes, the frying of which had been entrusted to Louisa, were brought up to be placed in the "Davis."

"Where are the rest of the cakes, Louisa?"

"That great fellow, Hancock, came in with the fatigue party to fill the water-barrels, and while I had just stepped into the store-room to get some more flour, he carried off all I had got cooked."

And Louisa made a face and whined, as if she had not herself treated every soldier who had set his foot in the premises.

At an early hour the next morning I had quite a levee of the Ho-tshung-rah matrons. They seated themselves in a circle on the floor, and I was sorry to observe that the application of a little soap and water to their blankets had formed no part of their holiday preparations. There being no one to interpret, I thought I would begin the conversation in away intelligible to themselves, so I brought out of the sideboard a china dish, filled with the nice brown crullers, over which I had grated, according to custom, a goodly quantity of white sugar. I handed it to the first of the circle. She took the dish from my hand, and deliberately pouring all the cakes into the corner of her blanket, returned it to me empty. "She must be a most voracious person," thought I, "but I will manage better the next time." I refilled the dish, and approached the next one, taking care to keep a fast hold of it as I offered the contents, of which I supposed she would modestly take one. Not so, however. She scooped out the whole with her two hands, and, like the former, bestowed them in her blanket. My sense of politeness revolted at handing them out one by one, as we do to children, so I sat down to deliberate what was to be done, for evidently the supply would not long answer such an ample demand, and there would be more visitors anon.

While I was thus perplexed those who had received the cakes commenced a distribution, and the whole number was equitably divided among the company. But I observed they did not eat them. They passed their fingers over the grated sugar, looked in each other's faces, and muttered in low tones -- there was evidently something they did not understand. Presently one more adventurous than the rest wet her fingers, and taking up a few grains of the sugar put it cautiously to her mouth.

"Tah-nee-zhoo-rah!" (Sugar!) was her delighted exclamation, and they all broke out into a hearty laugh; it is needless to say that the cakes disappeared with all the celerity they deemed compatible with good-breeding. Never having seen any sugar but the brown or yellow maple, they had supposed the white substance to be salt, and for that reason had hesitated to taste it.

Their visit was prolonged until Shaw-nee-aw-kee made his appearance, and then, having been made happy by their various gifts, they all took their departure.

About this time, Mr. Kinzie received a letter from Col. Richard M. Johnson, of Kentucky. This gentleman had interested himself greatly in a school established in that State, for the education of Indian youths and children. The purport of his letter was to request the Agent to use every endeavor to induce the Winnebagoes not only to send their children to this institution for their education, but also (what was still more important) to set apart a portion of their annuity money, to assist in sustaining it.

There happened to be, at this holiday season, a number of the chiefs in the neighborhood of the Portage, and a messenger was sent to convene them all at the house of Paquette, the interpreter, that their "father" might hold a talk with them.

On the day appointed they all assembled. The subject matter of the letter was laid before them, and all the advantages of civilization and education duly set forth -- the benefits which would arise to their nation, if even a small portion of the younger members could be well-taught by the whites, and then return to their tribe, to instruct them in the learning, the arts, manufactures, and habits of civilized life. To each paragraph, as it was uttered to them, they gave a unanimous "Humph!" (Good.)

When their "father's" address was ended, Day-kau-ray, the oldest and most venerable among the chiefs, rose and spoke as follows:--

"Father, -- The Great Spirit made the white man and the Indian. He did not make them alike. He gave the white man a heart to love peace, and the arts of a quiet life. He taught him to live in towns, to build houses, to make books, to learn all things that would make him happy and prosperous in the way of life appointed him. To the red man the Great Spirit gave a different character. He gave him a love of the woods, of a free life, of hunting and fishing, of making war with his enemies and taking scalps. The white man does not live like the Indian -- it is not his nature. Neither does the Indian love to live like the white man -- the Great Spirit did not make him so.

"Father, -- We do not wish to do anything contrary to the will of the Great Spirit. If he had made us with white skins, and characters like the white men, then we would send our children to this school to be taught like the white children.

"Father -- We think that if the Great Spirit had wished us to be like the whites, he would have made us so. As he has not seen fit to do so, we believe he would be displeased with us, to try and make ourselves different from what he thought good.

"Father, -- I have nothing more to say. This is what we think. If we change our minds, we will let you know."

It will be seen from these remarks of Day-kau-ray, that the Indians entertain a conviction that the Great Spirit himself teaches the white man the arts and sciences, and since he has given the red man no instruction in these branches, it would be unbecoming in him to attempt to acquire them in an irregular manner.

With little incidents of this kind, and with an occasional dinner or tea-party to the young officers, sometimes given at the Major's quarters, sometimes at our own, our course of life passed pleasantly on. At times I would amuse myself by making "something very nice" in the form of a fruit cake or pie, to send to the quarters of the young officers as a present, it being supposed that possibly, without a lady to preside over their mess, it might be sometimes deficient in these delicacies. Mrs. Twiggs was so fortunate as to have well-trained servants to do for her that which, thanks to my little dark handmaid, always fell to my share.

One day I had made some mince pies, which the major and my husband greatly approved, and I thought I would send one to each of the young officers.

It happened that my husband, that day, in returning from superintending his men on the other side of the river, had occasion to call on some errand at Captain Harney's quarters.

Dinner had just been placed upon the table, and the Captain insisted on his visitors sitting down and partaking with him, and another gentleman who was present. The pork and beans were pronounced excellent, and being removed there followed a mince pie.

The Captain cut it, and helped his guests, then taking a piece himself; he commenced tasting it. Pushing back his plate with an exclamation and a sudden jerk, he called to his servant, a little thick-set mulatto who waited - "David, you yellow rascal, how dare you put such a pie on my table?" And turning to the company apologetically, he said -

"If there is anything on earth David does understand, it is how to make a mince pie, and here he has filled this with brandy, so we cannot eat a morsel of it!"

"Please, sir," said David, modestly, "I did not make the pie -- it is one Mrs. Kinzie sent as a present."

The poor Captain was now in a predicament He raved at himself; at the same time conjuring my husband most earnestly not to tell me what a mistake he had made -- an injunction that was lost sight of as soon as he returned to his home. As for the unlucky Captain, he did not venture to call on me again until he felt sure I had forgotten the circumstance.

Mrs. John H. Kenzie, Wau-Bun, the "Early Day" in the Northwest. Chicago : D. B. Cooke & Co., 1857. p. 109-122.
From the Memorial Library Department of Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison.