A VISIT TO GREEN BAY -- MAU-ZHEE-GAW-GAW SWAMP.
THE payment over, and the Indians dispersed, we prepared ourselves to settle down quietly in our little home. But now, a new source of disturbance arose.
My husband's accounts of disbursements as Agent of the Winnebagoes, which he had forwarded to the Department at Washington, had failed to reach there, of which he received due notice -- that is to say, such a notice as could reach us by the circuitous and uncertain mode of conveyance by which intercourse with the eastern world was then kept up. If the vouchers for the former expenditures, together with the recent payment of $15,000, annuity money, should not be forthcoming, it might place him in a very awkward position so he decided to go at once to Washington, and be the bearer himself of his duplicate accounts.
"Should you like to go and see your father and mother," said he to me, one morning, "and show them how the west agrees with you?"
It was a most joyful suggestion after a year's separation, and in a few days all things were in readiness for our departure.
There was visiting us, at that time, Miss Brush, of Detroit, who had come from Green Bay with Mr. and Mrs. Whitney and Miss Frances Henshaw, on an excursion to the Mississippi. Our little india-rubber house had contrived to expand itself for the accommodation of the whole party during the very pleasant visit they made us.
The arrival of two young ladies, was, as may be imagined, quite a godsend to the unmarried lieutenants, and when, tired of the journey, or intimidated by the snow which fell eight inches on the 4th of October, Miss Brush determined to give up the remainder of her excursion, and accept our pressing invitation to remain with us, until the return of her friends, we were looked upon as public benefactors. She was now to accompany us to Green Bay, and possibly to Detroit.
Our voyage down the river was without incident, and we reached Green Bay just as all the place was astir in the expectation of the arrival of one of Mr. Newbery's schooners. This important event was the subject of interest to the whole community, from Fort Howard to "Dickenson's." To some its arrival would bring friends, to some supplies -- to the ladies, the fashions, to the gentlemen, the news, for it was the happy bearer of the mails, not for that place alone, but for all the "upper country."
In a few days the vessel arrived. She brought a mail for Fort Winnebago, which in the winter season only was carried by land to that place, via Niles' Settlement and Chicago.
In virtue of his office as Post Master, my husband opened the mail-bag, and took possession of his own letters. One informed him of the satisfactory appearance of the missing accounts, but oh! sad disappointment, another brought the news that my parents had gone to Kentucky for the winter -- not to any city or accessible place, but up "the Sandy," and over among the mountains of Virginia, hunting up old land claims belonging to my grandfather's estate.
It was vain to hope to follow them. We might hardly expect to find them during the short period we could be absent from home -- not even were we to receive the lucid directions once given my father by an old settler during his explorations through that wild region.
"You must go up Tug," said the man, "and down Troublesome, and fall over on to Kingdom-come." 1
We did not thing it advisable to undertake such an expedition, so we made up our minds to retrace our steps to Fort Winnebago.
No boats were in readiness to ascend the river. Hamilton Arndt promised to have one in preparation at once, but time passed by, and no boat was made ready.
It was now the beginning of November. We were passing our time very pleasantly with the Irwins and Whitney, and at the residence of Colonel Stambaugh, the Indian agent, but still this delay was inconvenient and vexatious.
I suggested undertaking the journey on horseback. "No, indeed," was the answer I invariably received. "No mortal woman has ever gone that road, unless it was on foot, nor ever could."
"But suppose we set out in the boat and get frozen in on the way. We can neither pass the winter there, nor possibly find our way to a human habitation. We have had one similar experience already. Is it not better to take it for granted that I can do what you and others of your sex have done?"
Dr. Finley, the post-surgeon at Fort Howard, on hearing the matter debated, offered me immediately his favorite horse Charlie. "He was very surefooted," the Doctor alleged, "and capital in a marsh or trouble-some stream."
By land, then, it was decided to go, and as soon as our old Mee-no-mo-nee friend, "Wish-tay-yun," who was as good a guide by land as by water, could be summoned, we set off leaving our trunks to be forwarded by Hamilton Arndt, whenever it should please him to carry out his intention of sending up his boat.
We waited until a late hour on the morning of our departure for our fellow-travellers, Mr. Wing, of Monroe,2 and Dr. Philleo, of Galena; but finding they did not join us, we resolved to lose no time, confident that we should all meet at the Kakalin in the course of the evening.
After crossing the river at what is now Despere, and entering the wild, unsettled country on the west of the river, we found a succession of wooded hills, separated by ravines so narrow and steep that it seemed impossible that any animals but mules or goats could make their way among them.
Wish-tay-yun took the lead. The horse he rode was accustomed to the country, and well trained to this style of road. As for Charlie, he was perfectly admirable. When he came to a precipitous descent, he would set forward his fore-feet, and slide down on his haunches in the most scientific manner, while my only mode of preserving my balance was to hold fast by the bridle, and lay myself almost flat upon his back. Then our position suddenly changed, and we were scaling the opposite bank, at the imminent risk of falling backward into the ravine below.
It was amusing to see Wish-tay-yun, as he scrambled on ahead, now and then turning partly round to see how I fared. And when, panting and laughing, I at length reached the summit, he would throw up his hands, and shout with the utmost glee, "Mamma Manitou!" (My mother is a spirit).
Our old acquaintances, the Grignons, seemed much surprised that I should have ventured on such a journey. They had never taken it, although they had lived so long at the Ka-kalin, but then there was no reason why they should have done so. They could always command a canoe or a boat when they wished to visit "the bay."
As we had anticipated, our gentlemen joined us at supper. "They had delayed to take dinner with Col. Stanbaugh -- had had a delightful gallop up from the bay -- had seen no ravines, nor anything but fine smooth roads -- might have been asleep, but if so, were not conscious of it." This was the account they gave of themselves, to our no small amusement.
From the Ka-kalin to the Butte des Morts, where now lived a man named Knaggs, was our next day's stage. The country was rough and wild, much like that we had passed through the spring before, in going from Hamilton's diggings to Kellogg's Grove, but we were fortunate in having Wish-tay-yun, rather than Mr H., for our guide, so that we could make our way with some degree of moderation.
We had travelled but forty miles when we reached Knaggs', yet I was both cold and fatigued, so that the sight of the cosy little room in which we found Mrs. Knaggs, and the bright fire, were most cheering objects; and as we had only broken our fast since morning, with a few crackers we carried in our pockets, I must own we did ample justice to her nice coffee and cakes, not to mention venison-steaks and bear's meat, the latter of which I had never before tasted, and which, truth to tell, I never wished to taste again.
Our supper over, we looked about for a place of repose. The room in which we had taken our meal was of small dimensions, just sufficient to accommodate a bed, a table placed against the wall, and the few chairs on which we sat. There was no room for any kind of a "shake down."
"Where can you put us for the night?" inquired my husband of Mr. Knaggs, when he made his appearance.
"Why, there is no place that I know of, unless you can camp down in the old building outside."
We went to look at it. It consisted of one room, bare and dirty. A huge chimney, in which a few brands were burning, occupied nearly one side of the apartment. Against another was built a rickety sort of bunk. This was the only vestige of furniture to be seen. The floor was thickly covered with mud and dirt, in the midst of which, near the fire, was seated an old Indian with a pan of boiled corn on his lap, which he was scooping up with both hands, and devouring with the utmost voracity.
We soon discovered that he was blind. On hearing footsteps and voices, he instinctively gathered his dish of food close to him, and began some morose grumblings; but when he was told that it was "Shaw-nee-aw-kee" who was addressing him, his features relaxed into a more agreeable expression, and he even held forth his dish and invited us to share its contents.
"But are we to stay here?" I asked. "Can we not sleep out of doors?"
"We have no tent," replied my husband, "and the weather is too cold to risk the exposure without one."
"I could sit in a chair all night, by the fire."
"Then you would not be able to ride to Bellefontaine to-morrow."
There was no alternative. The only thing Mr. Knaggs could furnish in the shape of bedding was a small bear-skin. The bunk was a trifle less filthy than the floor, so upon its boards we spread first the skin, then our saddle-blankets, and with a pair of saddle-bags for a bolster, I wrapped myself in my cloak, and resigned myself to my distasteful accommodations.
The change of position from that I had occupied through the day probably brought some rest, but sleep I could not. Even on a softer and more agreeable couch, the snoring of the old Indian and two or three companions who had joined him, and his frequent querulous exclamations as he felt himself encroached upon in the darkness, would have effectually banished slumber from my eyes.
It was a relief to rise and prepare for the journey of the day. Where our fellow-travellers had bestowed themselves I knew not, but they evidently had fared no better than we. They were in fine spirits, however, and we cheerfully took our breakfast and were ferried over the river to continue on the trail from that point to Bellefontaine, twelve miles from Fort Winnebago.
The great "bug-bear" of this road, Mau-zhee-gaw-gaw Swamp, was the next thing to be encountered. We reached it about nine o'clock. It spread before us a vast expanse of morass, about half a mile in width, and of length interminable, partly covered with water, with black knobs rising here and there above the surface, to afford a precarious foothold for the animals in crossing it. Where the water was not, there lay in place of it, a bed of black oozy mud, which threatened to give way under the foot, and let it, at each step, sink into an unknown depth.
This we were now to traverse. All three of the gentlemen went in advance of me, each hoping, as he said, to select the surest and firmest path for me to follow. One and another would call, "Here, madam, come this way !" "This is the best path, wifie -- follow me," but often Charlie knew better than either, and selected a path according to his own judgment, which proved the best of the whole.
Once he went picking his way so slowly and cautiously, now pausing on one little hillock, now on another, and anon turning aside to avoid a patch of mud that seemed more than usually suspicious, that all the company had got some little distance ahead of me. On raising my eyes, which had been kept pretty closely on my horse's footsteps, I saw my husband on foot, striving to lead his horse by the bridle from a difficult position into which he had got, Mr. Wing and his great white floundering animal, lying sideways in the mud, the rider using all his efforts to extricate himself from the stirrups, and Dr. Philleo standing at a little distance from his steed, who was doing his best to rise up from a deep bog into which he had pitched himself. It was a formidable sight! They all called out with one accord,
"Oh! do not come this way!"
"Indeed," cried I," I have no thought of it. Charlie and I know better" -- and trusting to the sagacious creature, he picked his way carefully along, and carried me safely past the dismounted company. I could not refrain from a little triumphant flourish with my whip, as I looked back upon them, and watched their progress to their saddles once more.
Three hours had we been thus unpleasantly engaged and yet we were not over the "Slough of Despond." At length we drew near its farthest verge. Here ran a deep stream of some five or six feet in width. The gentlemen, as they reached it, dismounted, and began debating what was to be done.
"Jump off, jump off, Madam," cried Mr. Wing, and "Jump off, jump off," echoed Dr. Philleo -- we are just consulting how we are to get you across."
"What do you think about it?" asked my husband. "Charlie will show you," replied I. "Come, Charlie" and as I raised his bridle quickly, with a pat on his neck and an encouraging chirp, he bounded over the stream as lightly as a deer, and landed me safe on terra firma.
Poor Mr. Wing had fared the worst of the company; the clumsy animal he rode seeming to be of opinion when he got into a difficulty that he had nothing to do but to lie down and resign himself to his fate; while his rider not being particularly light and agile, was generally undermost, and half imbedded in the mire before he had quite made up his mind as to his course of action.
It was therefore a wise movement in him, when he reached the little stream, to plunge into it, and wade across, thus washing out, as much as possible, the traces of the morning's adventures, from himself and his steed, and the other gentlemen, having no alternative, concluded to follow his example.
We did not halt long on the rising ground beyond the morass, for we had a long stretch before us to Bellefontaine, forty-five miles, and those none of the shortest.
Our horses travelled admirably the whole afternoon, Charlie keeping a canter all the way, but it was now growing dark, and there were no signs of the landmarks which were to indicate our near approach to the desired haven.
"Can we not stop and rest us for a few moments under one of the trees?" inquired I, for I was almost exhausted with fatigue, and to add to our discomfort, a cold, November rain was pouring upon us.
"If it were possible, we would," was the reply, "but see how dark it is growing. If we should lose our way, it would be worse than being wet and tired."
So we kept on. Just at dark we crossed a clear stream. "That," said my husband, "is, I think, two miles from Bellefontaine. Cheer up -- we shall soon be there." Quite encouraged we pursued our way more cheerfully. . Mile after mile we passed, but still no light gleamed friendly through the trees.
"We have certainly travelled more than six miles now," said I.
"Yes -- that could not have been the two mile creek." It was eight o'clock when we reached Bellefontaine. We were ushered into a large room made cheerful by a huge blazing fire. Mr. Wing and Dr. Philleo had arrived before us, and there were other travellers, on their way from the Mississippi. I was received with great kindness and volubility, by the immense hostess, "la grosse Americaine," as she was called, and she soon installed me in the arm-chair, in the warmest corner, and in due time set an excellent supper before us.
But her hospitality did not extend to giving up her only bed for my accommodation. She spread all the things she could muster on the hard floor before the fire, and did what she could to make me comfortable; then, observing my husband's solicitude lest I might feel ill from the effects of the fatigue and rain, she remarked in tones of admiring sympathy, "How kind your companion is to you!" An expression which, as it was then new to us, amused us not a little.
Our travelling companions started early in the morning for the fort, which was but twelve miles distant, and they were so kind as to take charge of a note to our friends at home, requesting them to send Plante with the carriage to take us the rest of the distance.
We reached there in safety, and thus ended the first journey by land that any white woman had made from Green Bay to Fort Winnebago.
1 Three streams or water-courses of that region.
2 At that time a delegate to Congress from the Territory.
Mrs. John H. Kenzie, Wau-Bun, the "Early Day" in the Northwest. Chicago : D. B. Cooke & Co., 1857. p. 387-399.
From the Memorial Library Department of Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison.