RETURN JOURNEY CONTINUED.
THE third day of our journey rose brilliantly clear, like the two preceding ones, and we shaped our course more to the north than we had hitherto done, in the direction of Big-foot lake, now known by the somewhat hackneyed appellation, Lake of Geneva.
Our journey this day was without mishaps or disasters of any kind. The air was balmy, the foliage of the forests fresh and fragrant, the little brooks clear and sparkling -- everything in nature spoke the praises of the beneficent Creator.
It is in scenes like this, far removed from the bustle, the strife, and the sin of civilized life, that we most fully realize the presence of the great Author of the Universe. Here can the mind most fully adore his majesty and goodness, for here only is the command obeyed, "Let all the earth keep silence before Him!"
It cannot escape observation that the deepest and most solemn devotion is in the hearts of those who, shut out from the worship of God in temples made with hands, are led to commune with him amid the boundless magnificence that his own power has framed.
This day was not wholly without incident. As we stopped for our noontide refreshment, and dismounting threw ourselves on the fresh herbage just at the verge of a pleasant thicket, we were startled by a tender bleating near us, and breaking its way through the low branches, there came upon us a sweet little dappled fawn, evidently in search of its mother. It did not seem in the least frightened at the sight of us. As poor Selkirk might have parodied,
It was so unacquainted with man,
Its tameness was charming to us.
But the vociferous delight of the children soon drove it bounding again into the woods, and all hopes of catching it for a pet were at once at an end.
We had travelled well this day, and were beginning to feel somewhat fatigued when, just before sunset, we came upon a ridge, overlooking one of the loveliest little dells imaginable. It was an oak opening, and browsing under the shade of the tall trees which were scattered around, were the cattle and horses of the soldiers who had got thus far on their journey. Two or three white tents were pitched in the bottom of the valley, beside a clear stream. The camp-fires were already lighted, and the men, singly or in groups, were dispersed at their various preparations for their own comfort, or that of their animals.
Lieut. Foster came forward with great delight to welcome our arrival, and accepted without hesitation an invitation to join our mess again, as long as we should be together.
We soon found a pleasant encamping-ground, far enough removed from the other party to secure us against all inconvenience, and our supper having received the addition of a kettle of fine fresh milk, kindly brought us by Mrs. Gardner, the hospital matron, who with her little covered cart formed no unimportant feature in the military group, we partook of our evening meal with much hilarity and enjoyment.
If people are ever companionable, it is when thrown together under circumstances like the present. There has always been sufficient incident through the day to furnish a theme for discourse, and subject of merriment, as long as the company feel disposed for conversation, Which is, truth to tell, not an unconscionable length of time after their supper is over.
The poor Lieutenant looked grave enough when we sat out in advance of him the next morning. None of his party were acquainted with the road, but after giving him directions both general and particular, Mr. Kinzie promised to blaze a tree, or set up a chip for a guide, at every place which appeared unusually doubtful.
We now found ourselves in a much more diversified country than any we had hitherto travelled. Gently swelling hills, and lovely valleys, and bright sparkling streams were the features of the landscape. But there was little animate life. Now and then, a shout from the leader of the party, (for, according to custom, we travelled Indian file), would call our attention to a herd of deer "loping," as the westerners say, through the forest; or, an additional spur would be given to the horses on the appearance of some small dark object, far distant on the trail before us. But the game invariably contrived to disappear before we could reach it, and it was out of the question to leave the beaten track for a regular hunt.
Soon after mid-day, we descended a long, sloping knoll, and by a sudden turn came full in view of the beautiful sheet of water denominated Gros-pied by the French, Maunk-suck by the natives, and by ourselves Big-foot, from the chief, whose village overlooked its waters. Bold, swelling bills jutted forward into the clear blue expanse, or retreated slightly to afford a green, level nook, as a resting-place for the foot of man. On the nearer shore stretched a bright, gravelly beach, through which coursed here and there a pure, sparkling rivulet to join the larger sheet of water.
On a rising ground, at the foot of one of the bold bluffs in the middle distance, a collection of neat wigwams formed, with their surrounding gardens, no unpleasant feature in the picture.
A shout of delight burst involuntarily from the whole party, as this charming landscape met our view. "It was like the Hudson, only less bold -- no, it was like the lake of the Forest Cantons, in the picture of the Chapel of William Tell! What could be imagined more enchanting? Oh! if our friends at the east could but enjoy it with us!"
We paused long to admire, and then spurred on, skirting the head of the lake, and were soon ascending the broad platform, on which stood the village of Maunk-suck, or Big-foot.
The inhabitants, who had witnessed our approach from a distance, were all assembled in front of their wigwams to greet us, if friends -- if otherwise, whatever the occasion should demand. It was the first time such a spectacle had ever presented itself to their wondering eyes. Their salutations were not less cordial than we expected. "Shaw-nee-aw-kee" and his mother, who was known throughout the tribe by the touching appelation "Our friend's wife," were welcomed most kindly, and an animated conversation commenced, which I could understand only so far as it was conveyed by gestures -- so I amused myself by taking a minute survey of all that met my view.
The chief was a large, raw-boned, ugly Indian, with a countenance bloated by intemperance, and with a sinister, unpleasant expression. He had a gay-colored handkerchief upon his head, and was otherwise attired in his best, in compliment to the strangers.
It was to this chief that Chambly, or as he is now called Shaw-bee-nay, Billy Caldwell and Robinson were despatched, during the Winnebago war, in 1827, to use their earnest endeavors to prevent him and his band from joining the hostile Indians. With some difficulty they succeeded, and were thus the means, doubtless, of saving the lives of all the settlers who lived exposed upon the frontier.
Among the various groups of his people, there was none attracted my attention so forcibly as a young man of handsome face, and a figure that was striking, even where all were fine and symmetrical. He too had a gay handkerchief on his head, a shirt of the brightest lemon-colored calico, an abundance of silver ornaments, and, what gave his dress a most fanciful appearance, one leggin of blue, and the other of bright scarlet. I was not ignorant that this peculiar feature in his toilette indicated a heart suffering from the tender passion. The flute, which he carried in his hand, added confirmation to the fact, while the joyous, animated expression of his countenance showed with equal plainness that he was not a despairing lover.
I could have imagined him to have recently returned from the chase, laden with booty, with which he had, as is the custom, entered the lodge of the fair one, and throwing his burden at the feet of her parents, with an indifferent, superb sort of air, as much as to say, "Here is some meat -- it is a mere trifle, but it will show you what you might expect with me for a son-in-law." I could not doubt that the damsel had stepped forward and gathered it up, in token that she accepted the offering, and the donor along with it. There was nothing in the appearance or manner of any of the maidens by whom we were surrounded, to denote which was the happy fair, neither, although I peered anxiously into all their countenances, could I there detect any blush of consciousness, so I was obliged to content myself with selecting the youngest and prettiest of the group, and go on weaving my romance to my own satisfaction.
The village stood encircled by an amphitheatre of hills, so precipitous, and with gorges so steep and narrow, that it seemed almost impossible to scale them, even on horseback -- how then could we hope to accomplish the ascent of the four-wheeled carriage? This was the point now under discussion between my husband and the Pottowattamies. There was no choice but to make the effort selecting the pass that the inhabitants pointed out as the most practicable. Petaille went first, and I followed on my favorite Jerry. It was such a scramble as is not often taken. Almost perpendicularly, through what seemed the dry bed of a torrent, now filled with loose stones, and scarcely affording one secure foothold from the bottom to the summit! I clung fast to the mane, literally at times clasping Jerry around his neck, and amid the encouraging shouts and cheers of those below, we at length arrived safely, though nearly breathless on the pinnacle, and sat looking down, to view the success of the next party.
The horses had been taken from the carriage, and the luggage it contained placed upon the shoulders of some of the young Indians, to be toted up the steep. Ropes were now attached to its sides, and a regular bevy of our red friends, headed by our two Frenchmen, placed to man them. Two or three more took their places in the rear, to hold the vehicle and keep it from slipping backwards -- then the labour cormmencd. Such a pulling! such a shouting! such a clapping of hands by the spectators of both sexes! such a stentorian word of command or encouragement from the bourgeois! Now and then there would be a sligh [sic] halt, a wavering, as if carriage and men were about to tumble backwards into the plain below -- but no -- they recovered themselves, and after incredible efforts they too, safely gained the table land above. In process of time all were landed there, and having remunerated our friends to their satisfaction, the goods and chattels were collected, the wagon repacked, and we set off for our encampment at Turtle Creek.
The exertions and excitement of our laborious ascent, together with the increasing heat of the sun, made this afternoon's ride more uncomfortable than anything we had previously felt. We were truly rejoiced when the "whoop" of our guide, and the sight of a few scattered lodges, gave notice that we had reached our encamping ground. We chose a beautiful sequestered spot, by the side of a clear, sparkling stream, and having dismounted, and seen that our homes were made comfortable, my husband, after giving his directions to his men, led me to a retired spot where I could lay aside my hat and mask, and bathe my flushed face and aching head in the cool, refreshing waters. Never had I felt anything so grateful, so delicious. I sat down, and leaned my head against one of the tall, overshadowing trees, and was almost dreaming, when summoned to partake of our evening meal.
The Indians had brought us, as a present, some fine brook trout, which our Frenchmen had prepared in the most tempting fashion, and before the bright moon rose and we were ready for our rest, all headache and fatigue had alike disappeared.
One of the most charming features of this mode of travelling is the joyous, vocal life of the forest at early dawn, when all the feathered tribe come forth to pay their cheerful salutations to the opening day.
The rapid, chattering flourish of the bob-o'-link, the soft whistle of the thrush, the tender coo of the wood-dove, the deep warbling bass of the grouse, the drumming of the partridge, the melodious trill of the lark, the gay carol of the robin, the friendly, familiar call of the duck and the teal, resound from tree and knoll, and lowland, prompting the expressive exclamation of the simple half-breed,
"Voila la forêt qui parle!"*
It seems as if man must involuntarily raise his voice, to take part in the general chorus -- the matin song of praise.
Birds and flowers, and the soft balmy airs of mornning! [sic] Must it not have been in a scene like this that Milton poured out his beautiful hymn of adoration,
"These are thy glorious works, Parent of Good."
This day we were journeying in hopes to reach, at an early hour, that broad expanse of the Rock River which here forms the Kosh-ko-nong. The appellation of this water, rendered doubly affecting by the subsequent fate of its people, imports "the lake we live on."
Our road for the early part of the day led through forests so thick and tangled, that Grignon and Lecuyer were often obliged to go in advance as pioneers with their axes, to cut away the obstructing shrubs and branches. It was slow work, and at times quite discouraging, but we were through with it, at last, and then we came into a country of altogether a different description. Low prairies, intersected with deep, narrow streams like canals, the passage of which, either by horses or carriage, was often a matter of delay and even difficulty.
Several times in the course of the forenoon the horses were to be taken from the carriage and the latter pulled and pushed across the deep narrow channels as best it might.
The wooded banks of the Kosh-ko-nong were never welcomed with greater delight than by us, when they at length broke upon our sight. A ride of five or six miles through the beautiful oak openings, brought us to Man-eater's village, a collection of neat bark wigwarns, with extensive fields on each side of corn, beans, and squashes, recently planted, but already giving promise of a fine crop. In front was the broad blue lake, the shores of which, to the south, were open and marshy, but near the village, and stretching far away to the north, were bordered by fine lofty trees. The village was built but a short distance below the point where the Rock River opens into the lake, and during a conversation between our party and the Indians at the village, an arrangement was made with them to take us across at a spot about half a mile above.
After a short halt, we again took up our line of march through the woods, along the bank of the river.
A number of the Winnebagoes (for we had been among our own people since leaving Gros-pied Lake), set out for the appointed place by water, paddling their canoes, of which they had selected the largest and strongest.
Arrived at the spot indicated, we dismounted, and the men commenced the task of unsaddling and unloading. We were soon placed in the canoes, and paddled across to the opposite bank. Next, the horses were swum across -- after them was to come the carriage. Two long wooden canoes were securely lashed together side by side, and being of sufficient width to admit of the carriage standing within them, the passage was commenced. Again and again the tottering barks would sway from side to side, and a cry or a shout would arise from our party on shore, as the whole mass seemed about to plunge sideways into the water, but it would presently recover itself, and at length, after various deviations from the perpendicular, it reached the shore in safety.
We now hoped that our troubles were at an end, and that we had nothing to do but to mount and trot on as fast as possible to Fort Winnebago. But no. Half a mile further on was a formidable swamp, of no great width it is true, but with a depth of from two to three feet of mud and water. It was a question whether, with the carriage, we could get through it at all. Several of the Indians accompanied us to this place, partly to give us their aid and counsel and partly to enjoy the fun of the spectacle.
On reaching the swamp, we were disposed to laugh at the formidable representations which had been made to us. We saw only a strip of what seemed rather low land, covered with tall, dry rushes.
It is true the ground looked a little wet, but there seemed nothing to justify all the apprehensions that had been excited. Great was my surprise, then, to see my husband, who had been a few minutes absent, return to our circle attired in his duck trousers, and without shoes or stockings.
"What are you going to do?" inquired I.
"Carry you through the swamp on my shoulders. Come Petaille, you are the strongest -- you are to carry Madame Kinzie, and To-shun-nuck there, (pointing to a tall stout Winnebago), he will take Madame Helm."
"Wait a moment," said I, and seating myself on the grass, I deliberately took off my own boots and stockings.
"What is that for?" they all asked.
"Because I do not wish to ride with wet feet all the rest of the day."
"No danger of that," said they and no one followed my example.
By the time they were in the midst of the swamp, however, they found my precaution was by no means useless. The water through which our bearers had to pass was of such a depth that no efforts of the ladies were sufficient to keep their feet above the surface: and I had the satisfaction of feeling that my burden upon my husband's shoulders was much less, from my being able to keep my first position instead of changing constantly to avoid a contact with the water.
The laugh was quite on my side when I resumed my equipment and mounted, dry-shod, into my saddle.
It will be perceived that journeying in the woods is, in some degree, a deranger of ceremony and formality; that it necessarily restricts us somewhat in our conventionalities. The only remedy is, to make ourselves amends by a double share when we return to the civilized walks of life.
By dint of much pulling, shouting, encouraging and threatening, the horses at length dragged the carriage through the difficult pass, and our red friends were left to return to their village, with, doubtless, a very exaggerated and amusing account of all that they had seen and assisted in.
We had not forgotten our promise to Lieut. Foster to put up a "guide-board" of some sort, for his accommodation in following us. We had therefore, upon several occasions, carried with us from the woods a few pieces, of three or four feet in length, which we had planted at certain points, with a transverse stick through a cleft in the top, thus marking the direction he and his party were to take.
We therefore felt sure that, although a few days later, he would probably find our trail, and avail himself of the same assistance as we had, in getting though the difficulties of the way.
Our encamping ground, this night, was to be not far distant from the Four Lakes. We were greatly fatigued with the heat and exercise of the day, and most anxiously did we look out for the clumps of willows and alders, which were to mark the spot where water would be found. We felt hardly equal to pushing on quite to the bank of the nearest lake. Indeed, it would have taken us too much off our direct course.
When we, at a late hour, came upon a spot fit for our purpose, we exchanged mutual congratulations that this was to be our last night upon the road. The next day we should be at Winnebago!
Our journey had been most delightful -- a continued scene of exhilaration and enjoyment; for the various mishaps, although for the moment they had perplexed, had, in the end, but added to our amusement. Still, with the inconstancy of human nature, we were pleased to exchange its excitement for the quiet repose of home.
Our next morning's ride was of a more tranquil character than any that had preceded it; for at an early hour we entered upon what was known as the "Twenty-mile Prairie," although it is, in fact, said to be no more than sixteen or eighteen miles. I can only observe, that if this is the case, the miles are wonderfully long on the prairies. Our passage over this was, except the absence of the sand, like crossing the desert. Mile after mile of unbroken expanse -- not a tree -- not a living object except ourselves.
The sun, as if to make himself amends for his two months' seclusion, shone forth with redoubled brilliancy. There is no such thing as carrying an umbrella on horseback, though those in the wagon were able to avail themselves of such a shelter.
Our mother's energies had sustained her in the saddle until this day, but she was now fairly obliged to give in, and yield her place on little Brunet to Sister Margaret.
Thus we went on, one little knoll rising beyond another, from the summit of each of which, in succession, we hoped to descry the distant woods, which were to us as the promised land.
"Take courage," were the cheering words, often repeated, "very soon you will begin to see the timber."
Another hour would pass heavily by.
"Now, when we reach the rising ground just ahead, look sharp."
We looked sharp -- nothing but the same unvarying landscape.
There were not even streams to allay the feverish thirst occasioned by fatigue and impatience.
At length a whoop from Shaw-me-aw-kee broke the silence in which we were pursuing our way.
"Le voila!" ("There it is!")
Our less practised eye could not at first discern the faint blue strip edging the horizon, but it grew and grew upon our vision, and all fatigue and discomfort proportionably disappeared.
We were in fine spirits by the time we reached "Hastings' Woods," a noble forest, watered by a clear, sparkling stream.
Grateful as was the refreshment of the green foilage and the cooling waters, we did not allow ourselves to forget that the day was wearing on, and that we must, if possible, complete our journey before sunset, so we soon braced up our minds to continue our route, although we would gladly have lingered another hour.
The marsh of Duck Creek was, thanks to the heat of the past week, in a very different state from what it had been a few months previous, when I had been so unfortunately submerged in its icy waters.
We passed it without difficulty, and soon found ourselves upon the banks of the creek.
The stream, at this point, was supposed to be always fordable; and even were it not so, that to the majority of our party would have been a matter of little moment. To the ladies, however, the subject seemed to demand consideration.
"This water looks very deep -- are you sure we can cross it on horseback?"
"Oh, yes! Petaille, go before and let us see how the water is."
Petaille obeyed. He was mounted on a horse like a giraffe, and, extending his feet horizontally, he certainly managed to pass through the stream without much of a wetting.
It seemed certain that the water would come into the wagon, but that was of the less consequence, as in case of the worst, the passengers could mount upon the seats. My home, Jerry, was above the medium height, so that I soon passed over, with no inconvenience but that of being obliged to disengage my feet from the stirrups, and tuck them up snugly against the mane of the horse.
Sister Margaret was still upon Brunet. She was advised to change him for one of the taller horses, but while the matter was under debate, it was settled by the perverse little wretch taking to the water most uncermoniously, in obedience to the example of the other animals.
He was soon beyond his depth, and we were at once alarmed and diverted at seeing his rider, with surprising adroitness, draw herself from the stirrups, and perch herself upon the top of the saddle, where she held her position, and navigated her little refractory steed safely to land.
This was the last of our adventures. A pleasant ride of four miles brought us to the Fort, just as the sun was throwing his last beams over the glowing landscape; and on reaching the ferry, we were at once conducted, by the friends who were awaiting us, to the hospitable roof of Major Twiggs.
* How the woods talk!
Mrs. John H. Kenzie, Wau-Bun, the "Early Day" in the Northwest. Chicago : D. B. Cooke & Co., 1857. p. 315-333.
From the Memorial Library Department of Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison.