PREPARATIONS FOR A JOURNEY.
EARLY in January the snow fell in great abundance. We had an unusual quantity at the Portage, but in "the diggings," as the lead-mining country was called, it was of an unheard-of depth -- five or six feet upon a level.
An express had been dispatehed to Chicago by the officers to take our letters, and bring back the mail from that place. A tough, hardy soldier, named Sulky, acted as messenger, and he had hitherto made light of his burden or the length of the way, notwithstanding that his task was performed on foot with his pack upon his shoulders. But now Sulky had been absent some weeks, and we had given him up entirely, persuaded that he must have perished with cold and starvation.
At length he appeared, nearly blind from travelling in the snow. He had lain by three weeks in an Indian lodge, the snow being too deep to permit him to jour ney. The account he gave put an end to the hopes I had begun to entertain of being able to visit our friends at Chicago in the course of this winter.
We had, before the last heavy fall of snow, been forming plans to that effect. Captain Haney had kindly commenced preparing some trains, or boxes placed on sledges, which it was thought would, when lined with buffalo skins, furnish a very comfortable kind of vehicle for the journey; and I was still inclined to think a good, deep bed of snow over the whole country no great obstacle to a sleigh-ride. The whole matter was, however, cut short by the commanding officer, who from the first had violently opposed the scheme, declaring that he would order the sentinels to fire on us if we attempted to leave the fort. So, finding the majority against us, we were obliged to yield.
The arrival of sweet, lovely, little Lizzie Twiggs, before January was quite past, was an event that shed light and joy in at least two dwellings. It seemed as if she belonged to all of us, and as she increased in size and beauty, it was hard to say who, among us all, was most proud of her. If we had ever felt any languid hours before, we could have none now -- she was the pet, the darling, the joint-property of both households.
Whatever regret I might have had previous to this event, at the idea of leaving my friend for the three weeks to which we proposed to limit our visit to Chicago, I felt now that she would scarcely miss me, and that we might hold ourselves in readiness to take advantage of the first improvement in the weather, to put this favorite project in execution.
During the latter part of February the cold became less severe. The snows melted away, and by the beginning of March the weather was so warm and genial, that we were quite confident of being able to make the journey on horseback without any serious difficulty.
Our plans once settled upon, the first thing to be provided was warm and comfortable apparel. A riding-habit of stout broadcloth was pronounced indispensable to my equipment. But of such an article I was destitute. Nothing among my wedding travelling gear seemed in any way to offer a substitute. What was to be done? The requisite material was to be found in abundance at the sutler's store (the shantee as it was technically termed), but how to get it manufactured into a suitable garment was the question.
The regimental tailor was summoned. He was cook to one of the companies, and there were at first some doubts whether he could be permitted to forsake the spit for the needle, during the time I should require his services. All his tailoring-work had, heretofore, been done at odd times on a bench in the company kitehen, and thither he now proposed to carry the riding-habit. I suggested that, in order to superintend the work, I should thus be driven to take up my abode for the time being in the barracks, which would be a decided inconvenience.
To remedy the difficulty, he was finally so happy as to find a soldier in "Company D," who consented to officiate in his place as cook until his term of service to me should expire.
Behold, then, a little, solemn-looking man in his stocking feet, seated cross-legged on an Indian mat by my parlor window. He had made all his arrangements himself, and I deemed it wisest not to interfere with him. The cutting-out was the most difficult part, and as he had never made a lady's riding-habit, that task fell to my share. I was as great a novice as himself; and I must admit that this, my first effort, was open to criticism. But the little tailor was of a different opinion. He was in an ecstasy with our joint performance.
"Upon my word, madam," he would exclaim, surveying it with admiring eyes, "we shall have a very respectable garment!" I do not know how many times he repeated this during the three days that the work was in progress.
I believe he had not perfect confidence in the culinary powers of his comrade of "Company D," for regularly a half-hour before beat of drum, his work was folded and laid aside, his snips gathered up, and all things being restored to order, he would slip out, resume his shoes, which, Turk-like, he had left outside the door, and speed over to the barrack-kitchen to see how matters were going on.
In the meantime, great preparations were making below, under the supervision of our tidy, active, little French servant, Mrs. Pillon, the wife of one of the engagés, by whom the irregular and unimanageable Louisa had been replaced.
Biscuits were baked, a ham, some tongues, and sundry pieces of salt-pork were boiled, coffee roasted and ground, sugar cracked, isinglass cut in pieces of the size requisite for a pot of coffee. For the reception of all these different articles cotton bags of different sizes had been previously prepared. Large sacks of skin, called by the Canadians porches, were also provided to hold the more bulky provisions, for our journey was to be a long one.
The distance from Fort Winnebago to Chicago was not very formidable, it is true, if the direct route were taken, but that we knew to be impossible at this season of the year. The route by Kosh-ko-nong was out of the question; all the Indians being absent from their villages in the winter, and the ice being now gone, we could have no means of crossing the Rock River at that place.
There remained therefore no alternative but to proceed south to Dixon, or, as it was then called, Ogie's Ferry, the only certain means of crossing this broad and rapid stream. This route being so much out of our direct course that we could not hope to accomplish it in less than six days, it was necessary to prepare accordingly.
While the wardrobe and provisions were thus in preparation, arrangements were also to be made as to our retinue and mode of conveyance.
Mr. Kinzie decided to take with him but two men: Plante and Pierre Roy. The former to act as guide, on the assurance that he knew every mile of the way, from the Portage to Ogie's Ferry, and from Ogie's Ferry to Chicago.
The claims of the different saddle-horses were discussed, and the most eligible one selected for my use. We hesitated for a time between "Le Gris" and "Souris," two much-vaunted animals, belonging to Paquette, the interpreter. At length being determined, like most of my sex, by a regard for exterior, I chose "Le Gris" and "Souris" was assigned to young Roy; my own little stumpy pony, "Brunêt," being pronounced just the thing for a pack-saddle. My husband rode his own bay horse "Tom," while Plante, the gayest and proudest of the party, bestrode a fine, large animal called "Jerry," which had lately been purchased for my use, and thus was our cortège complete.
Mrs. John H. Kenzie, Wau-Bun, the "Early Day" in the Northwest. Chicago : D. B. Cooke & Co., 1857. p. 123-128.
From the Memorial Library Department of Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison.