FLEEING FROM THE INDIANS.
THE danger now appeared to have become so imminent that my husband determined to send his family to Fort Howard, a point which was believed to be far out of the range of the enemy. It was in vain that I pleaded to be permitted to remain -- he was firm.
"I must not leave my post," said he, "while there is any danger. My departure would perhaps be the signal for an immediate alliance of the Winnebagoes with the Sauks. I am certain that as long as I am here, my presence will act as a restraint upon them. You wish to remain and share my dangers! Your doing so would expose us both to certain destruction in case of attack. By the aid of my friends in both tribes, I could hope to preserve my own life if I were alone, but surrounded by my family, that would be impossible -- we should all fall victims together. My duty plainly is to send you to a place of safety.
An opportunity for doing this soon occurred. Paquette, the interpreter, who was likewise an agent of the American Fur Company, had occasion to send a boat load of furs to Green Bay, on their way to Mackinac. Mr. Kinzie having seen it as comfortably fitted up as an open boat of that description could be, with a tent-cloth fastened on a framework of hoop-poles over the centre, and lined with a dark-green blanket; and having placed on board an abundant store of provisions and other comforts, he committed us to the joint care of my brother Arthur and his faithful blacksmith, Mâtâ.
This latter was a tall, gaunt Frenchman, with a freckled face, a profusion of crisp, sandy hair, and an inveterate propensity to speak English. His knowledge of the language was somewhat limited, and he burlesqued it by adding an s to almost every word, and giving out each phrase with a jerk.
"Davids,' he was wont to say to the little yellow fiddler, after an evening's frolic at the the Interpreter's, "Davids, clear away the tables and the glasses, and play fishes hornspikes."1 But he was a kind, affectionate creature, and his devotion to "Monsieur Johns" and "Madame Johns" knew no bounds.
Besides these two protectors, three trusty Indians, the chief of whom was called Old Smoker, were engaged to escort our party. The crew of the boat consisted entirely of French engagés in the service of the Fur Company. They were six gay-hearted, merry fellows, lightening their labor with their pipe and their songs, in which they always esteemed it a great compliment to be joined by any gentleman or lady who listened to them -- but our hearts, alas! were now too heavy to participate in their enjoyment.
The Fourth of July, the day on which we left our home, was a gloomy one indeed to those who departed, and to the one left behind. Who knew if we should ever meet again? The experience which some of the circle had had in Indian warfare, was such as to justify the saddest forebodings. There was not even the consolation of a certainty that this step would secure our safety. The Sauks might, possibly, be on the other side of us, and the route we were taking might, perhaps, though not probably, carry us into their very midst. It was no wonder then that our leave-taking was a solemn one -- a parting which all felt might be for this world.
Not all, however, for the gay, cheerful Frenchmen laughed and sung and cracked their jokes, and "assured Monsieur John that they would take Madame John and Madame Alum safe to "the bay," spite of Sauks or wind or weather."
Thus we sat out on our journey. For many miles the fort was in sight, as the course of the river alternately approached and receded from its walls, and it was not until nearly mid-day that we caught the last glimpse of our home.
At the noon-tide meal, or "pipe," as it is called by the voyageurs, an alarming discovery was made -- no bread had been put on board for the crew! How this oversight had occurred, no one could tell. One was certain that a large quantity had been brought from the garrison bakery for their use that very morning -- another had even seen the sacks of loaves standing in Paquette's kitchen. Be that as it may, here we were many miles on our journey, and with no provisions for the six Frenchmen, except some salted pork, a few beans, and some onions. A consultation was held in this emergency. Should they return to the Portage for supplies? The same danger that made their departure necessary, still existed, and the utmost dispatch had been enjoined upon them. We found upon examination that the store of bread and crackers with which our party had been provided, was far beyond what we could possibly require, and we thought it would be sufficient to allow of rations to the Frenchmen until we should reach Powell's, at the Butte des Morts, the day but one following, where we should undoubtedly be able to procure a fresh supply.
This decided on, we proceeded on our journey, always in profound silence, for a song or a loud laugh was now strictly prohibited until we should have passed the utmost limits of country where the enemy might possibly be. We had been warned beforehand that a certain point, where the low marshy meadows, through which the river had hitherto run rises into a more firm and elevated country, was the border of the Menomonee territory, and the spot where the Sauks, if they had fled north of the Wisconsin towards the Chippewa country, would be most likely to be encountered.
As we received intimation on the forenoon of the second day that we were drawing near this spot, I must confess that "we held our breath for awe."
The three Winnebagoes were in the bow of the boat. Old Smoker, the chief, squatted upon his feet on the bench of the foremost rowers. We looked at him. He was gazing intently in the direction of the wooded point we were approaching. Our eyes followed his, and we saw three Indians step forward and stand upon the bank. We said in a low voice to each other, "if they are Sauks, we are lost, for the whole body must be in that thicket." The boat continued to approach -- not a word was spoken -- the dip of the paddle, and perhaps the beating hearts of some, were the only sounds that broke the stillness. Again we looked at the chief. His nostrils were dilated -- his eyes almost glaring.
Suddenly, with a bound, he sprung to his feet and uttered his long shrill whoop.
"Hoh! hoh! hoh! neetchee (friend) Mah-no-mo-nee!"
All was now joy and gladness. Every one was forward to shake hands with the strangers as soon as we could reach them, A token of our satisfaction that they were Menomonees and not Sauks, of the latter of whom, by the way, they would give us no intelligence.
By noon of that day, we considered ourselves to be out of the region of danger. Still caution was deemed necessary, and when at the mid-day pipe the boat was pushed ashore under a beautiful overhanging bank, crowned with a thick wood, the usual vigilance was somewhat relaxed, and the young people, under the escort of Arthur and Mâtâ were permitted to roam about a little, in the vicinity of the boat.
They soon came back with the report that the woods were "alive with pigeons," -- they could almost knock them down with sticks, and earnestly did they plead to be allowed to shoot at least enough for supper. But no -- the enemy might be nearer than we imagined, the firing of a gun would betray our whereabouts -- it was most prudent to give no notice to friend or foe. So, very reluctantly, they were compelled to return to the boat without their game.
The next morning brought us to Powell's, at the Butte des Morts. Sad were the faces of the poor Frenchmen at learning that not a loaf of bread was to be had. Our own store, too, was, by this time, quite exhausted. The only substitute we could obtain, was a bag of dark-looking, bitter flour. With this provision for our whole party, we we [sic] forced to be contented, and we left the Hillock of the Dead feeling that it had been indeed the grave of our hopes.
By dint of good rowing, our crew soon brought us to the spot where the river enters that beautiful sheet of water, Winnebago Lake. Though there was but little wind when we reached the lake, the Frenchmen hoisted their sail, in hopes to save themselves the labour of rowing across; but in vain did they whistle, with all the force of their lungs -- in vain did they supplicate La Vierge, with a comical mixture of fun and reverence. As a last resource, it was at length suggested by some one that their only chance lay in propitiating the goddess of the winds with an offering of some cast-off garment.
Application was made all round by Guardapie, the chief spokesman of the crew. Alas! not one of the poor voyageurs could boast a spare article. A few old rags were at length rummaged out of the little receptacle of food, clothing, and dirt, in the bow of the boat, and cast into the waves. For a moment all flattered themselves that the experiment had been successful -- the sail fluttered, swelled a little, and then flapped idly down against the mast. The party were in despair, until, after a whispered consultation together, Julian and Edwin stepped forward as messengers of mercy. In a trice they divested themselves of jacket and vest and made a proffer of their next garment to aid in raising the wind.
At first there seemed a doubt in the minds of the boatmen whether they ought to accept so magnificent an offer, but finding, on giving them a preparatory shake, that the value of the contribution was less than they had imagined, they, with many shouts, and much laughter, consigned them to the waves. To the great delight and astonishment of the boys, a breeze at this moment sprung up, which carried the little vessel beautifully over the waters for about half the distance to Garlic Island. By this time the charm was exhausted, nor was it found possible to renew it by a repetition of similar offerings. All expedients were tried without success, and, with sundry rather disrespectful reflections upon the lady whose aid they had invoked, the Frenchmen were compelled to betake themselves to their oars, until they reached the island.
Two or three canoes of Winnebagoes had arrived at the same moment and their owners immediately stepped forward with an offering of some sturgeon which they had caught in the lake. As this promised to be an agreeable variety to the noon-tide meal, (at least for the Frenchmen,) it was decided to stop and kindle a fire for the purpose of cooking it. We took advantage of this interval, to recommend to the boys a stroll to the opposite side of the island, where the clear, shallow water and pebbly beach offered temptation to a refreshing bath. While they availed themselves of this, under the supervision of Harry, the black boy, we amused ourselves with gathering the fine red raspberries with which the island abounded.
Our enjoyment was cut short, however, by discovering that the whole place, vines, shrubs, and even, apparently, the earth itself, was infested with myriads of the wood-tick, a little insect, that, having fastened to the skin, penetrates into the very flesh, causing a swelling and irritation exceedingly painful, and even dangerous. The alarm was sounded to bring the boys back in all haste, to the open and more frequented part of the island. But we soon found we had not left our tormentors behind. Throughout the day, we continued to be sensible of their proximity. From the effects of their attacks we were not relieved for several succeeding days; those which had succeeded in burying themselves in the flesh, having to be removed with the point of a penknife, or a large needle. After partaking of our dinner, we stepped on board our boat, and the wind having risen, we were carried by the breeze to the opposite verge of the lake, and into the entrance of the river, or, as it was called, the Winnebago rapids.
On the point of land to the right stood a collection of neat bark wigwams -- this was Four-Legs' village.
It was an exciting and somewhat hazardous passage down the rapids and over the Grande Chûte, a fall of several feet; but it was safely passed, and at the approach of evening the boat reached the settlement of the Wau-bee-na-kees at the head of the Little Chûte. These are the Stockbridge or Brothertown Indians, the remains of the old Mohicans, who had, a few years before, emigrated from Oneida County in the State of New York, to a tract granted them by the United States, on the fertile banks of the Fox River. They had already cleared extensive openings in the forest, and built some substantial and comfortable houses near the banks of the river, which were here quite high, and covered for the most part with gigantic trees.
It was determined to ask hospitality of these people, to the extent of borrowing a corner of their fire to boil our tea kettle, and bake the short-cake which had been now, for nearly two days, our substitute for bread. Its manufacture had been a subject of much merriment. The ingredients, consisting of Powell's black flour, some salt and a little butter, were mixed in the tin box which had held our meat. This was then reversed, and having been properly cleansed, supplied the place of a dough-board. The vinegar bottle served the office of rolling-pin, and a shallow tin dish, set upon the coals at our previous encamping places, had formed the appliance for baking. The Wan-bee-na-kees were so good as to lend us an iron bake-kettle, and superintend the cooking of our cake after Harry had carried it up to their dwelling.
So kind and hospitable did they show themselves, that the crew of the boat took the resolution of asking a lodging on shore, by way of relief, after their crowded quarters in the boat for the last three nights. Arthur and Mâtâ soon adopted the same idea, and we were invited to follow their example, with the assurance that the houses were extremely neat and orderly.
We preferred, however, as it was a fine night, and all things were so comfortably arranged in the centre of the boat, to remain on board, keeping Edwin and Josette with us.
The boat was tightly moored, for the Little Chûte was just below, and if our craft should work loose in the rapid current, and drift down over the falls, it would be a very serious matter. As an additional precaution, one man was left on board to keep all things safe and in order, and these arrangements having been made, the others ascended the bank, and took up their night's lodgings in the Wau-bee-na-kee cabins.
It was a beautiful, calm, moonlight night, the air just sufficiently warm to be agreeable, while the gentle murmur of the rapids and of the fall at no great distance, soon lulled our party to repose. How long we had slumbered we knew not, when we were aroused by a rushing wind. It bent the poles supporting the awning, snapped them, and another gust succeeding, tent and blanket were carried away on the blast down the stream. The moonlight was gone, but a flash of lightning showed them sailing away like a spectre in the distance.
The storm increased in violence. The rain began to pour in torrents, and the thunder and lightning to succeed each other in fearful rapidity. My sister sprang to waken the Frenchman. "Get up Vitelle, quick," cried she, in French, "run up the bank for Mâtâ and Mr. Arthur -- tell them to come and get us instantly."
The man made her no reply, but fell upon his knees, invoking the Virgin most vociferously.
"Do not wait for the Virgin, but go as quickly as possible. Do you not see we shall all be killed?"
"Oh! not for the world, Madame, not for the world," said Vitelle, burying his head in a pack of furs, "would I go up that bank in this storm." And here he began crying most lustily to all the saints in the calendar.
It was indeed awful. The roaring of the thunder and the flashing of the lightning around us, were like the continued discharge of a park of artillery. I had with difficulty drawn forth my cloak, and enveloped myself and Josette -- sister Margaret had done the same with Edwin. "Oh! Madame," said the poor little girl, her teeth chattering with cold and fright, "won't we be drowned?"
"Very well," said my sister to the Frenchman, "you see that Madame John is at the last agony -- if you will not go for help I must, and Monsieur John must know that you left his wife to perish."
This was too much for Vitelle. "If I must, I must," said he, and with a desperate bound he leapt on shore and sped up the hill with might and main.
In a few minutes, though it seemed ages to us, a whole posse came flying down the hill. The incessant lightning made all things appear as in the glare of day. Mâtâ's hair fairly stood on end, and his eyes rolled with ghastly astonishment af the spectacle.
"Oh! my God, Madame Johns! what would Monsieur Johns say, to see you nows?" exclaimed he, as he seized me in his arms and bore me up the hill. Arthur followed with sister Margaret, and two others with Edwin and Josette. Nobody carried Vitelle, for he had taken care not to risk his precious life by venturing again to the boat.
On arriving at the cabin where Arthur and Mâtâ had been lodged, a fire was, with some difficulty, kindled, and our trunks having been brought up from the boat, we were at length able to exchange our drenched garments, and those of the children, for others more comfortable, after which we laid ourselves upon the clean, but homely bed, and slept until daylight.
As it was necessary to ascertain what degree of damage the cargo of furs had sustained, an early start was proposed. Apparently, the inhabitants of the cottages had become weary in well doing, for they declined preparing breakfast for us, although we assured them they should be well compensated for their trouble. We, consequently, saw ourselves compelled to depart with very slender prospects of a morning meal.
When we reached the boat, what a scene presented itself! Bed-clothes, cloaks, trunks, mess-basket, packs of furs, all bearing the marks of a complete deluge!
The boat ankle-deep in water -- literally no place on board where we could either stand or sit. After some baling out, and an attempt at disposing some of the packs of furs, which had suffered least from the flood, so as to form a sort of divan in the centre of the boat, nothing better seemed to offer than to reembark, and endure what "could not be cured."
Our position was not an enviable one. Wherever a foot or hand was placed, the water gushed up, with a bubbling sound, and, oh! the state of the bandboxes and work-baskets! Breakfast there was none, for on examining the mess-basket everything it contained was found mingled in one undistinguishable mass. Tea, pepper, salt, short-cake, all floating together -- it was a hopeless case.
But this was not the worst. As the fervid July sun rose higher in the heavens, the steam which exhaled from every object on board was nearly suffocating. The boat was old -- the packs of skins were old -- their vicinity in a dry day had been anything but agreeable -- now, it was intolerable. There was no retreating from it, however, so we encouraged the children to arm themselves with patience, for the short time that yet remained of our voyage.
Seated on our odoriferous couch, beneath the shade of a single umbrella, to protect our whole party from the scorching sun, we glided wearily down the stream, through that long, tedious day. As we passed successively the Kakalin, the Rapids, Dickinson's, the Agency, with what longing eyes did we gaze at human habitations, where others were enjoying the shelter of a roof, and the comforts of food, and how eagerly did we count the hours which must elapse before we could reach Fort Howard.
There were no songs from the poor Frenchmen this day. Music and fasting do not go well together. At length we stopped at Shantee-town, where the boat was to be unloaded. All hands fell to work to transfer the cargo to the warehouse of the Fur Company, which stood near the landing. It was not a long operation, for all worked heartily. This being accomplished, the voyageurs, one and all, prepared to take their leave. In vain Mâtâ stormed and raved, in vain Arthur remonstrated.
"No," they said, "they had brought the boat and cargo to the warehouse -- that was all of their job," and they turned to go.
"Guardapie," said I, "do you intend to leave us here?"
"Bien, Madame! it is the place we always stop at."
"Does Monsieur John pay you for bringing his family down?"
"Oh, yes; Monsieur John has given us an order on the sutler, at the fort down below."
"To be paid when you deliver us safe at the fort down below. It seems I shall be there before you, and I shall arrange that matter. Monsieur John never dreamed that this would be your conduct."
The Frenchmen consulted together, and the result was that Guardapie and two others jumped into the boat, took their oars, and rather sulkily rowed us the remaining two miles to Fort Howard.
Mrs. John H. Kenzie, Wau-Bun, the "Early Day" in the Northwest. Chicago : D. B. Cooke & Co., 1857. p. 415-430.
From the Memorial Library Department of Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison.