WILLLAM S. HAMILTON - KELLOGG'S GROVE.
THE next morning, after a cheerful breakfast, at which we were joined by the Rev. Mr. Kent, of Galena, we prepared for our journey. I had reconciled my husband to continuing our route towards Chicago, by assuring him that I felt as fresh and bright as when I first set out from home.
There seemed some apprehension, however, that we might have difficulty in "striking the trail" to Hamilton's diggings, our next point of destination.
The directions we received were certainly obscure. We were to pursue a given trail for a certain number of miles, when we should come to a crossing into which we were to turn, taking an easterly direction -- after a time, this would bring us to a deep trail leading straight to "Hamilton's." In this open country there are no landmarks. One elevation is so exactly like another, that if you lose your trail there is almost as little hope of regaining it as of finding a pathway in the midst of the ocean.1
The trail, it must be remembered, is not a broad highway, but a narrow path, deeply indented by the hoofs of the horses on which the Indians travel in single file. So deeply is it sunk in the sod which covers the prairies, that it is difficult, sometimes, to distinguish it at a distance of a few rods.
It was new ground to Mr. Kinzie, whose journeys from the Portage to Chicago had hitherto been made in the direct route by Kosh-ko-nong. He therefore obliged Mr. Morrison to repeat the directions again and again, though Plante, our guide, swaggered and talked big, averring that "he knew every hill and stream, and point of woods from that spot to Chicago."
We had not proceeded many miles on our journey, however, before we discovered that Monsieur Plante was profoundly ignorant of the country, so that Mr. Kinzie was obliged to take the lead himself; and make his way as he was best able, according to the directions he had received. Nothing, however, like the "cross trails" we had been promised met our view, and the path on which we had set out diverged so much from what we knew to be the right direction, that we were at length compelled to abandon it altogether.
We travelled the live-long day, barely making a halt at noon to bait our horses, and refresh ourselves with a luncheon. The ride was as gloomy and desolate as could well be imagined. A rolling prairie, unvaried by forest or stream -- hillock rising after hillock, at every ascent of which we vainly hoped to see a distant fringe of "timber." But the same cheerless, unbounded prospect everywhere met the eye, diversified only here and there by the oblong openings, like gigantic graves, which marked an unsuccessful search for indications of a lead mine.
So great was our anxiety to recover our trail, for the weather was growing more cold, and the wind more sharp and piercing, that we were not tempted to turn from our course even by the appearance, more than once, of a gaunt prairie-wolf; peering over the nearest rising-ground, and seeming to dare us to an encounter. The Frenchmen, it is true, would instinctively give a shout and spur on their horses, while the hounds, Kelda and Cora would rush to the chase, but the "bourgeois" soon called them back, with a warning that we must attend strictly to the prosecution of our journey.
Just before sunset we crossed, with some difficulty, a muddy stream, which was bordered by a scanty belt of trees, making a tolerable encamping-ground; and of this we gladly availed ourselves, although we knew not whether it was near or remote from the place we were in search of.
We had ridden at least fifty miles since leaving "Morrison's," yet I was sensible of very little fatigue; but there was a vague feeling of discomfort at the idea of being lost in this wild, cold region, altogether different from anything I had ever before experienced. The encouraging tones of my husband's voice, however, "Cheer up, wifie -- we will find the trail to-morrow," served to dissipate all uneasiness.
The exertions of the men soon made our "camp" comfortable, notwithstanding the difficulty of driving the tent-pins into the frozen ground, and the want of trees sufficiently large to make a rousing fire. The place was a stony side-hill as it would be called in New England, where such things abound; but we were not disposed to be fastidious so we ate our salt ham and toasted our bread, and lent a pleased ear to the chatter of our Frenchmen, who could not sufficiently admire the heroism of "Madame John," amid the vicissitudes that befel her.
The wind, which at bed-time was sufficiently high to be uncomfortable, increased during the night It snowed heavily, and we were every moment in dread that the tent would be carried away; but the matter was settled in the midst by the snapping of the poles, and the falling of the whole, with its superincumbent weight of snow, in a mass upon us.
Mr. Kinzie roused up his men, and at their head he sallied into the neighboring wood to cut a new set of poles, leaving me to bear the burden of the whole upon my shoulders, my only safety from the storm being to keep snugly housed beneath the canvas.
With some difficulty a sort of support was at length adjusted for the tent covering, which answered our purpose tolerably well until the break of day, when our damp and miserable condition made us very glad to rise and hang round the fire until breakfast was dispatched, and the horses once more saddled for our journey.
The prospect was not an encouraging one. Around us was an unbroken sheet of snow. We had no compass, and the air was so obscured by the driving sleet, that it was often impossible to tell in which direction the sun was. I tied my husband's silk pocket handkerchief over my veil, to protect my face from the wind and icy particles with which the air was filled, and which cut like a razor; but although shielded in every way that circumstances rendered possible, I suffered intensely from the cold.
We pursued our way, mile after mile, entering every point of woods, in hopes of meeting with, at least, some Indian wigwam at which we could gain intelligence. Every spot was solitary and deserted, not even the trace of a recent fire, to cheer us with the hope of human beings within miles of us. Suddenly, a shout from the foremost of the party made each heart bound with joy.
"Une cloture! une cloture!" -- (a fence, a fence).
It was almost like life to the dead.
We spurred on, and indeed perceived a few straggling rails crowning a rising ground at no great distance.
Never did music sound so sweet as the crowing of a cock which at this moment saluted our ears.
Following the course of the inclosure down the opposite slope, we came upon a group of log-cabins, low, shabby, and unpromising in their appearance, but a most welcome shelter from the pelting storm.
"Whose cabins are these?" asked Mr. Kinzie, of a man who was cutting wood at the door of one.
"Hamilton's," was the reply; and he stepped forward at once to assist us to alight, hospitality being a matter of course in these wild regions.
We were shown into the most comfortable-looking of the buildings. A large fire was burning in the clay chimney, and the room was of a genial warmth, notwithstanding the apertures, many inches in width, beside the doors and windows. A woman in a tidy calico dress, and shabby black silk cap, trimmed with still shabbier lace, rose from her seat beside a sort of bread-trough, which fulfilled the office of cradle to a fine, fat baby. She made room for us at the fire, but was either too timid or too ignorant to relieve me of my wrappings and defences, now heavy with the snow.
I soon contrived, with my husband's aid, to disembarrass myself of them; and having seen me comfortably disposcd of; and in a fair way to be thawed after my freezing ride, he left me to see after his men and horses.
He was a long time absent, and I expected he would return, accompanied by our host; but when he reappeared, it was to tell me, laughing, that Mr. Hamilton hesitated to present himself before me, being unwilling that one who had been acquainted with some of his family at the east, should see him in his present mode of life. However, this feeling apparently wore off, for before dinner he came in and was introduced to me, and was as agreeable and polite as the son of Alexander Hamilton would naturally be.
The housekeeper, who was the wife of one of the miners, prepared us a plain, comfortable dinner, and a table as long as the dimensions of the cabin would admit was set out, the end nearest the fire being covered with somewhat nicer furniture and more delicate fare than the remaining portion.
The blowing of a horn was the signal for the entrance of ten or twelve miners, who took their places below us at the table. They were the roughest-looking set of men I ever beheld, and their language was as uncouth as their persons. They wore hunting-shirts, trowsers, and moccasins of deerskin, the former being ornamented at the seams with a fringe of the same, while a colored belt around the waist, in which was stuck a large hunting-knife, gave each the appearance of a brigand.
Mr. Hamilton, although so much their superior, was addressed by them uniformly as "Uncle Billy;" and I could not but fancy there was something desperate about them, that it was necessary to propitiate by this familiarity. This feeling was further confirmed by the remarks of one of the company who lingered behind, after the rest of the gang had taken their departure. He had learned that we came from Fort Winnebago, and having informed us that "he was a discharged soldier, and would like to make some inquiries about his old station and comrades," he unceremoniously seated himself and commenced questioning us.
The bitterness with which he spoke of his former officers made me quite sure he was a deserter, and I rather thought he had made his escape from the service in consequence of some punishment. His countenance was fairly distorted as he spoke of Captain H., to whose company he had belonged. "There is a man in the mines," said he, "who has been in his hands, and if he ever gets a chance to come within shot of him, I guess the Captain will remember it. He knows well enough he darsn't set his foot in the diggings. And there's T. is not much better. Everybody thought it a great pity that fellow's gun snapped when he so nearly had him at Green Bay."
Having delivered himself of these sentiments, he marched out, to my great relief.
Mr. Hamilton passed most of the afternoon with us; for the storm raged so without that to proceed on our journey was out of the question. He gave us many pleasant anecdotes and reminiscences of his early life in New York, and of his adventures since he had come to the western wilderness. When obliged to leave us for a while, he furnished us with some books to entertain us, the most interesting of which was the biography of his father.
Could this illustrious man have foreseen in what a scene -- the dwelling of his son -- this book was to be one day perused, what would have been his sensations?
The most amusing part of our experience was yet to come. I had been speculating, as evening approached, on our prospects for the night's accommodation. As our pale, melancholy-looking landlady and her fat baby were evidently the only specimens of the feminine gender about the establishment, it was hardly reasonable to suppose that any of the other cabins contained wherewithal to furnish us a comfortable lodging, and the one in which we were offered nothing of the sort to view, but two beds, uncurtained, extended against the farther wall. My doubts were after a time resolved, by observing the hostess stretch a cord between the two, on which she hung some petticoats and extra garments, by way of a partition, after which she invited us to occupy one of them.
My only preparation was, to wrap my cloak around me and lie down with my face to the wall; but the good people were less ceremonious, for at the distance of scarcely two feet, we could not be mistaken in the sound of their garments being, not "laid aside," but whipped over the partition wall between us.
Our waking thoughts, however, were only those of thankfulness for so comfortable a lodging after the trials and fatigues we had undergone; and even these were of short duration, for our eyes were soon closed in slumber.
The next day's sun rose clear and bright. Refreshed and invigorated, we looked forward with pleasure to a recommencement of our journey, confident of meeting no more mishaps by the way. Mr. Hamilton kindly offered to accompany us to his next neighbor's, the trifling distance of twenty-five miles. From Kellogg's to Ogie's Ferry, on the Rock River, the road being much travelled, we should be in no danger, Mr. H. said, of again losing our way.
The miner who owned the wife and baby, and who, consequently, was somewhat more humanized than his comrades, in taking leave of us "wished us well out of the country, and that we might never have occasion to return to it!"
"I pity a body," said he, "when I see them making such an awful mistake as to come out this way, for comfort never touched this western country."
We found Mr. Hamilton as agreeable a companion as on the preceding day, but a most desperate rider. He galloped on at such a rate that had I not exchanged my pony for the fine, noble Jerry, I should have been in danger of being left behind.
Well mounted as we all were, he sometimes nearly distanced us. We were now among the branches of the Pickatonick, and the country had lost its prairie character, and become more rough and broken. We went dashing on, sometimes down ravines, sometimes through narrow passes, where, as I followed, I left fragments of my veil upon the projecting and interwoven branches. Once my hat became entangled, and had not my husband sprung to my rescue, I must have shared the fate of Absalom, Jerry's ambition to keep his place in the race making it probable he would do as did the mule who was under the unfortunate prince.
There was no halting upon the route, and as we kept the same pace until three o'clock in the afternoon, it was beyond a question that when we reached "Kellogg's," we had travelled at least thirty miles. One of my greatest annoyances during the ride had been the behavior of the little beast Brunêt. He had been hitherto used as a saddle-horse, and had been accustomed to a station in the file near the guide or leader. He did not relish being put in the background as a pack-horse, and accordingly, whenever we approached a stream, where the file broke up to permit each horseman to choose his own place of fording, it was invariably the case that just as I was reining Jerry into the water, Brunêt would come rushing past and throw himself into our very footsteps. Plunging, snorting, and splashing me with water, and sometimes even startling Jerry into a leap aside, he more than once brought me into imminent danger of being tossed into the stream. It was in vain that, after one or two such adventures, I learned to hold back and give the vexatious little animal the precedence. His passion seemed to be to go into the water precisely at the moment Jerry did, and I was obliged at last to make a bargain with young Roy to dismount and hold him at every stream until I had got safely across.
"Kellogg's"2 was a comfortable mansion, just within the verge of a pleasant "grove of timber," as a small forest is called by western travellers. We found Mrs. Kellogg a very respectable-looking matron, who soon informed us she was from the city of New York. She appeared proud and delighted to entertain Mr. Hamilton, for whose family, she took occasion to tell us, she had, in former days, been in the habit of doing needlework.
The worthy woman provided us an excellent dinner, and afterwards installed me in a rocking-chair beside a large fire, with the "Life of Mrs. Fletcher" to entertain me, while the gentlemen explored the premises, visited Mr. Kellogg's "stock," and took a careful look at their own.
We had intended to go to Dixon's the same afternoon, but the snow beginning again to fall, obliged us to content ourselves where we were.
In the meantime, finding we were journeying to Chicago, Mr. Kellogg came to the determination to accompany us, having, as he said, some business to accomplish at that place, so Mrs. Kellogg busied herself in preparing him to set off with us the following morning. I pleaded hard to remain yet another day, as the following was Sunday, on which I objected to travel; but in view of the necessities of the case, the uncertainty of the weather, and the importance of getting as quickly as possible through this wild country, my objections were overruled, and I could only obtain a delay in starting until so late in the afternoon, as would give us just time to ride the sixteen miles to "Dixon's" before sunset.
No great time was required for Mr. Kellogg's preparations. He would take, he said, only two days' provisions, for at his brother-in-law Dixon's we should get our supper and breakfast, and the route from there to Chicago could, he well knew, be accomplished in a day and a half.
Although, according to this calculation, we had sufficient remaining of our stores to carry us to the end of our journey, yet Mr. Kinzie took the precaution of begging Mrs. Kellogg to bake us another bag of biscuits, in case of accidents, and he likewise suggested to Mr. K. the prudence of furnishing himself with something more than his limited allowance; but the good man objected that he was unwilling to burden his horse more than was absolutely necessary, seeing that, at this season of the year, we were obliged to carry fodder for the animals, in addition to the rest of their load. It will be seen that we had reason to rejoice in our own foresight.
My experience of the previous night had rendered me somewhat less fastidious than when I commenced my journey, so that, when introduced to our sleeping apartment, which I found we were to share with six men, travellers like ourselves, my only feeling was one of thankfulness that each bed was furnished with a full suit of blue checked curtains, which formed a very tolerable substitute for a dressing-room.
1 I speak, it will be understood, of things as they existed a quarter of a century ago.
2 It was at this spot that the unfortunate St. Vrain lost his life, during the Sauk war, in 1832.
Mrs. John H. Kenzie, Wau-Bun, the "Early Day" in the Northwest. Chicago : D. B. Cooke & Co., 1857. p. 142-155.
From the Memorial Library Department of Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison.