WE followed the old squaw to her lodge, which was at no great distance in the woods. I had never before been in an Indian lodge, although I had occasionally peeped into one of the many, clustered round the house of the interpreter at the Portage on my visits to his wife.
This one was very nicely arranged. Four sticks of wood placed to form a square in the centre, answered the purpose of a hearth, within which the fire was built, the smoke escaping through an opening in the top. The mats of which the lodge was constructed were very neat and new, and against the sides, depending from the poles or frame-work, hung various bags of Indian manufacture, containing their dried food and other household treasures. Sundry ladies, small kettles, and wooden bowls also hung from the cross-poles, and dangling from the centre, by an iron chain, was a large kettle, in which some dark, suspicious-looking substance was seething over the scanty fire. On the floor of the lodge, between the fire and the outer wall, were spread mats, upon which my husband invited me to be seated and make myself comfortable.
The first demand of an Indian on meeting a white man is for bread, of which they are exceedingly fond, and I knew enough of the Pottowattamie language to comprehend the timid "pe-qua-zhe-qun choh-kay-go" (I have no bread), with which the squaw commenced our conversation after my husband had left the lodge.
I shook my head, and endeavored to convey to her that, so far from being able to give, I had had no breakfast myself. She understood me, and instantly produced a bowl, into which she ladled a quantity of Indian potatoes from the kettle over the fire, and set them before me. I was too hungry to be fastidious, and owing partly, no doubt, to the sharpness of my appetite, I really found them delicious.
Two little girls, inmates of the lodge, sat gazing at me with evident admiration and astonishment, which was increased when I took my little prayer-book from my pocket and began to read. They had, undoubtedly, never seen a book before, and I was amused at the care with which they looked away from me, while they questioned their mother about my strange employment and listened to her replies.
While thus occupied, I was startled by a sudden sound of "hogh!" and the mat which hung over the entrance of the lodge was raised, and an Indian entered with that graceful bound which is peculiar to themselves. It was the master of the lodge, who had been out to shoot ducks, and was just returned. He was a tall, finely-formed man, with a cheerful, open countenance, and he listened to what his wife in a quiet tone related to him, while he divested himself of his accoutrements in the most unembarrassed, well-bred manner imaginable.
Soon my husband joined us. He had been engaged in attending to the comfort of his horses, and assisting his men in making their fire, and pitching their tent, which the rising storm made a matter of some difficulty.
From the Indian he learned that we were in what was called "the Big Woods, "1 or "Pichés Grove," from a Frenchman of that name living not far from the spot -- that the river we had crossed was the Fox River -- that he could guide us to Pichés, from which the road was perfectly plain, or even into Chicago if we preferred -- but that we had better remain encamped for that day, as there was a storm coming on, and in the mean time he would go and shoot some ducks for our dinner and supper. He was accordingly furnished with powder and shot, and set off again for game without delay.
I had put into my pocket, on leaving home, a roll of scarlet ribbon, in case a stout string should be wanted, and I now drew it forth, and with the knife which hung around my neck I cut off a couple of yards for each of the little girls. They received it with great delight, and their mother, dividing each portion into two, tied a piece to each of the little clubs into which their hair was knotted on the temples. They laughed, and exclaimed "Saum!" as they gazed at each other, and their mother joined in their mirth, although, as I thought, a little unwilling to display her maternal exultation before a stranger.
The tent being all in order, my husband came for me, and we took leave of our friends in the wigwam with grateful hearts.
The storm was raging without. The trees were bending and cracking around us, and the air was completely filled with the wild-fowl screaming and quacking as they made their way southward before the blast. Our tent was among the trees not far from the river. My husband took me to the bank to look for a moment at what we had escaped. The wind was sweeping down from the north in a perfect hurricane. The water was filled with masses of snow and ice, dancing along upon the torrent, over which were hurrying thousands of wild-fowl, making the woods resound to their deafening clamor.
Had we been one hour later, we could not possibly have crossed the stream, and there seems to have been nothing for us but to have remained and starved in the wilderness. Could we be sufficiently grateful to that kind Providence that had brought us safely through such dangers?
The men had cut down an immense tree, and built a fire against it, but the wind shifted so continually that every five minutes the tent would become completely filled with smoke, so that I was driven into the open air for breath. Then I would seat myself on one end of the huge log, as near the fire as possible, for it was dismally cold, but the wind seemed actuated by a kind of caprice, for in whatever direction I took my seat, just that way came the smoke and hot ashes, puffing in my face until I was nearly blinded. Neither veil nor silk handkerchief afforded an effectual protection, and I was glad when the arrival of our huntsmen, with a quantity of ducks, gave me an opportunity of diverting my thoughts from my own sufferings, by aiding the men to pick them and get them ready for our meal.
We borrowed a kettle from our Indian friends. It was not remarkably clean; but we heated a little water in it, and prairie-hay'd it out, before consigning our birds to it, and with a bowl of Indian potatoes, a present from our kind neighbors, we soon had an excellent soup.
What with the cold, the smoke, and the driving ashes and cinders, this was the most uncomfortable afternoon I had yet passed, and I was glad when night came, and I could creep into the tent and cover myself up in the blankets, out of the way of all three of these evils.
The storm raged with tenfold violence during the night. We were continually startled by the crashing of the falling trees around us, and who could tell but that the next would be upon us? Spite of our fatigue, we passed an almost sleepless night. When we arose in the morning, we were made fully alive to the perils by which we had been surrounded. At least fifty trees, the giants of the forest, lay prostrate within view of the tent.
When we had taken our scanty breakfast, and were mounted and ready for departure, it was with difficulty we could thread our way, so completely was it obstructed by the fallen trunks.
Our Indian guide had joined us at an early hour, and after conducting us carefully out of the wood, and pointing out to us numerous bee-trees,2 for which he said that grove was famous, he set off at a long trot, and about nine o'clock brought us to Pichés, a log-cabin on a rising ground, looking off over the broad prairie to the east. We had hoped to get some refreshment here, Piché being an old acquaintance of some of the party; but alas! the master was from home.
We found his cabin occupied by Indians and travellers -- the latter few, the former numerous.
There was no temptation to a halt, except that of warming ourselves at a bright fire that was burning in the clay chimney. A man in Quaker costume stepped forward to answer our inquiries, and offered to become our escort to Chicago, to which place he was bound -- so we dismissed our Indian friend, with a satisfactory remuneration for all the trouble he had so kindly taken for us.
A long reach of prairie extended from Piché's to the Du Page, between the two forks of which, Mr. Dogherty, our new acquaintance, told us we should find the dwelling of a Mr. Hawley, who would give us a comfortable dinner.
The weather was intensely cold. The wind, sweeping over the wide prairie with nothing to break its force, chilled our very hearts. I beat my feet against the saddle to restore the circulation, when they became be-numbed with the cold, until they became so bruised I could beat them no longer. Not a house or wigwam, not even a clump of trees as a shelter, offered itself for many a weary mile. At length we reached the west fork of the Du Page. It was frozen, but not sufficiently so to bear the horses. Our only resource was to cut a way for them through the ice. It was a work of time, for the ice had frozen to several inches in thickness, during the last bitter night. Plante went first with an axe, and cut as far as he could reach, then mounted one of the hardy little ponies, and with some difficulty broke the ice before him, until he had opened a passage to the opposite shore.
How the poor animals shivered as they were reined in among the floating ice! And we, who sat waiting in the piercing wind, were not much better. Probably Brunêt was of the same opinion; for with his usual perversity, he plunged in immediately after Plante, and stood shaking and quaking behind him, every now and then looking around him, as much as to say, "I've got ahead of you, this time!" We were all across at last, and spurred on our horses, until we reached Hawley's3 -- a large, commodious dwelling, near the east fork of the river.
The good woman welcomed us kindly, and soon made us warm and comfortable. We felt as if we were in a civilized land once more. She proceeded immediately to prepare dinner for us; and we watched her with eager eyes, as she took down a huge ham from the rafters, out of which she cut innumerable slices, then broke any quantity of fine fresh eggs into a pan, in readiness for frying -- then mixed a johnny-cake, and placed it against a board in front of the fire to bake. It seemed to me that even with the aid of this fine bright fire, the dinner took an unconscionable time to cook; but cooked it was, at last, and truly might the good woman stare at the travellers' appetites we had brought with us. She did not know what short commons we had been on for the last two days.
We found, upon inquiry, that we could, by pushing on, reach Lawton's, on the Aux Plaines, that night -- we should then be within twelve miles of Chicago. Of course we made no unnecessary delay, but set off as soon after dinner as possible.
The crossing of the east fork of the Du Page was more perilous than the former one had been. The ice had become broken, either by the force of the current or by some equestrians having preceded us and cut through it, so that when we reached the bank, the ice was floating down in large cakes. The horses had to make a rapid dart through the water, which was so high, and rushing in such a torrent, that if I had not been mounted on Jerry, the tallest horse in the cavalcade, I must have got a terrible splashing. As it was, I was well frightened, and grasped both bridle and mane with the utmost tenacity. After this we travelled on as rapidly as possible, in order to reach our place of destination before dark.
Mr. Dogherty, a tall, bolt upright man, half Quaker, half Methodist, did his best to entertain me, by giving me a thorough schedule of his religious opinions, with the reasons from Scripture upon which they were based. He was a good deal of a perfectionist, and evidently looked upon himself with no small satisfaction, as a living illustration of his favorite doectrine.
"St. John says," this was the style of his discourse, "St. John says, 'He that is born of God, doth not commit sin.' Now, if I am born of God, I do not commit sin."
I was too cold and too weary to argue the point, so I let him have it all his own way. I believe he must have thought me rather a dull companion; but at least, he gave me the credit of being a good listener.
It was almost dark when we reached Lawton's. The Aux Plaines4 was frozen, and the house was on the other side. By loud shouting, we brought out a man from the building, and he succeeded in cutting the ice, and bringing a canoe over to us; but not until it had become difficult to distinguish objects in the darkness.
A very comfortable house was Lawton's, after we did reach it -- carpeted, and with a warm stove -- in fact, quite in civilized style. Mr. Weeks, the man who brought us across, was the major-domo, during the temporary absence of Mr. Lawton.
Mrs. Lawton was a young woman, and not ill-looking. She complained bitterly of the lone1iness of her condition, and having been "brought out there into the woods; which was a thing she had not expected, when she came from the East." We did not ask her with what expectations she had come to a wild, unsettled country; but we tried to comfort her with the assurance that things would grow better in a few years. She said, "she did not mean to wait for that. She should go back to her family in the East, if Mr. Lawton did not invite some of her young friends to come and stay with her, and make it agreeable."
We could hardly realize, on rising the following morning, that only twelve miles of prairie intervened between us and Chicago le Desiré as I could not but name it.
We could look across the extended plain, and on its farthest verge were visible two tall trees, which my husband pointed out to me as the planting of his own hand, when a boy. Already they had become so lofty as to serve as landmarks, and they were constantly in view as we travelled the beaten road. I was continually repeating to myself, "There live the friends I am so longing to see! There will terminate all our trials and hardships!"
A Mr. Wentworth joined us on the road, and of him we inquired after the welfare of the family, from whom we had, for a long time, received no intelligence. When we reached Chicago, he took us to a little tavern at the forks of the river. This portion of the place was then called Wolf Point, from its haying been the residence of an Indian named "Moaway," or "the Wolf."
"Dear me," said the old landlady, at the little tavern, "what dreadful cold weather you must have had to travel in! Why, two days ago the river was all open here, and now it's frozen hard enough for folks to cross a-horseback!"
Notwithstanding this assurance, my husband did not like to venture, so he determined to leave his horses and proceed on foot, to the residence of his mother and sister, a distance of about half a mile.
We sat out on our walk, which was first across the ice, then down the northern bank of the river. As we approached the house we were espied by Genevieve, a half-breed servant of the family. She did not wait to salute us, but flew into the house crying,
"Oh! Madame Kinzie, who do you think has come? Monsieur John and Madame John, all the way from Fort Winnebago on foot!"
Soon we were in the arms of our dear, kind friends. A messenger was dispatched to "the garrison" for the remaining members of the family, and for that day at least, I was the wonder and admiration of the whole circle, "for the dangers I had seen."
1 Probably at what is now Oswego. The name of a portion of the wood is since corrupted into Specie's Grove.
2 The honey-bee is not known in the perfectly wild countries of North America. It is ever the pioneer of civilization, and the Indians call it "the white man's bird."
3 It was near this spot that the brother of Mr. Hawley, a Methodist preacher, was killed by the Sauks, in 1832, after having been tortured by them with the most wanton barbarity.
4 Rivière Aux Flames was the original French designation, flow changed to Desplaines, pronounced as in English.
Mrs. John H. Kenzie, Wau-Bun, the "Early Day" in the Northwest. Chicago : D. B. Cooke & Co., 1857. p. 171-182.
From the Memorial Library Department of Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison.