FORT HOWARD -- OUR RETURN HOME.
WE soon learned that a great panic prevailed at Green Bay on account of the Sauks. The people seemed to have possessed themselves with the idea that the enemy would visit this place on their way to Canada to put themselves under the protection of the British Government. How they were to get there from this point -- whether they were to stop and fabricate themselves bark canoes for the purpose, or whether they were to charter one of Mr. Newberry's schooners for the trip, the good people did not seem fully to have made up their minds. One thing is certain, a portion of the citizens were nearly frightened to death, and were fully convinced that there was no safety for them, but within the walls of the old dilapidated fort, from which nearly all the troops had been withdrawn and sent to Fort Winnebago, some time previous.
Their fears were greatly aggravated by a report, brought by some traveller, that he had slept at night on the very spot where the Sauks breakfasted the next morning. Now, as the Sauks were known to be reduced to very short commons, there was every reason to suppose that if the man had waited half an hour longer, they would have eaten him; so he was considered to have made a wonderful escape.
Our immediate friends and acquaintances were far from joining in these fears. The utter improbability of such a movement was obvious to all who considered the nature of the country to be traversed, and the efficient and numerous body of whites by whom they must be opposed on their entrance into that neighborhood. There were some, however, who could not be persuaded that there was even any security but in flight, and eagerly was the arrival of the "Mariner" looked for, as the anxiety grew more and more intense.
The "Mariner" appeared at last. It was early in the morning. In one hour from that time, the fearful news she brought had spread the whole length of "the bay." The cholera was in this country! It was in Detroit -- it was among the troops who were on their way to the seat of war! Whole companies had died of it in the river St. Clair, and the survivors had been put on shore at Fort Gratiot, to save their lives as best they might! We were shut in between the savage foe on one hand and the pestilence on the other!
To those who had friends "at the East," the news was most appalling. It seemed to unman every one who heard it. A relative, an officer who had exhibited the most distinguished courage in the battle-field, and also in some private enterprises demanding unequalled courage and daring, was the first to bring us the news. When he had communicated it, he laid his head against the window sill and wept like a child.
Those who wished to rejoin friends near and dear, left "the bay" in the "Mariner;" all others considered their present home the safest, and so it proved, for the dreadful scourge did not visit Green Bay that season.
The weather was intensely hot, and the musquitoes so thick that we did not pretend to walk on the parade after sunset, unless armed with two fans, or green branches to keep constantly in motion, in order to disperse them. This, by the way, was the surest method of attracting them. We had somehow forgotten the apathetic indifference which had often excited our wonder in old Smoker, when we had observed him calmly sitting and allowing his naked arms and person to become literally gray with the tormenting insects. Then he would quietly wipe off a handful, the blood following the movement of the hand over his skin, and stoically wait for an occasion to repeat the movement. It is said that the musquito, if undisturbed until he has taken his fill, leaves a much less inflamed bite than if brushed away in the midst of his feast.
By day, the air was at this season filled with what is called the Green Bay fly, a species of dragon-fly, with which the outer walls of the houses are at times so covered that their color is hardly distinguishable. Their existence is very ephemeral, scarcely lasting more than a day. Their dead bodies are seen adhering to the walls and windows within, and they fall without in such numbers that after a high wind has gathered them into rows along the sides of the quarters, one may walk through them and toss them up with their feet like the dry leaves in autumn.
As we walked across the parade, our attention was sometimes called to a tapping upon the bars of the dungeon in which a criminal was confined -- it was the murderer of Lieutenant Foster.
It may be remembered that this amiable young officer had been our travelling companion in our journey from Chicago the preceding year. Some months after his arrival at Fort Howard, he had occasion to order a soldier of his company, named Doyle, into confinement for intoxication. The man, a few days afterward, prevailed on the Sergeant of the Guard to escort him to Lieutenant Foster's quarters on the plea that he wished to speak to him. He ascended the stairs to the young officer's room, while the sergeant and another soldier remained at the foot, near the door.
Doyle entered, and addressing Lieutenant Foster, said, "Will you please tell me, Lieutenant, what I am confined for?"
"No, sir," replied the officer, "you know your offence well enough; return to your place of confinement."
The man ran down stairs, wrenched the gun from the sergeant's hand, and rushing back, discharged it at the heart of Lieutenant Foster.
He turned to go to his inner apartment, but exclaiming, "Ah! me," he fell dead before the entrance.
Doyle, having been tried by a civil court, was now under sentence, awaiting his execution. He was a hardened villain, never exhibiting the slightest compunction for his crime.
The commanding officer, Major Clark, sent to him one day to inquire if he wanted anything for his comfort.
"If the Major pleased," he replied, "he should like to have a light and a copy of Byron's Works."
Some fears were entertained that he would contrive to make way with himself before the day of execution, and to guard against it, he was deprived of everything that could furnish him a weapon. His food was served to him in a wooden bowl, lest a bit of broken crockery might be used as a means of self-destruction.
One morning he sent a little package to the commanding officer as a present. It contained a strong rope, fabricated from strips of his blanket, that he had carefully separated, and with a large stout spike at the end of it. The message accompanying it was: "He wished Major Clark to see that if he chose to put an end to himself, he could find means to do it in spite of him."
And this hardened frame of mind continued to the last. When he was led out for execution, in passing beyond the gate, he observed a quantity of lumber recently collected for the construction of a new Company's store.
"Ah! Captain, what are you going to build here?" inquired he of Captain Scott, who attended him.
"Doyle," replied his Captain, "you have but a few moments to live -- you had better employ your thoughts about something else."
"It is for that very reason, Captain," said he, "that I am enquiring -- as my time is short, I wish to gain all the information I can while it lasts."
We were not suffered to remain long in suspense in regard to the friends we had left behind. In less than two weeks Old Smoker again made his appearance. He was the bearer of letters from my husband, informing me that Gen. Dodge was then with him at Fort Winnebago -- that Generals Henry and Alexander were likewise at the fort, and that as soon as they had recruited their men and horses, which were pretty well worn out with scouring the country after Black Hawk, they would march again in pursuit of him towards the head waters of the Rock river, where they had every reason, from information lately brought in by the Winnebagoes, to believe he would be found.
As he charged us to lay aside all uneasiness on his account, and moreover held forth the hope of soon coming or sending for us, our minds became more tranquil.
Not long after this, I was told one morning, that "a lady" wished to see me at the front door. I obeyed the summons, and, to my surprise, was greeted by my friend, Madame Fourlegs. After much demonstration of joy at seeing me, such as putting her two hands together over her forehead, and then parting them in a waving kind of gesture -- laughing and patting me on my arms, she drew from her bosom a letter from my husband, of which she was the bearer, to this effect -- "Generals Dodge and Henry left here a few days since, accompanied by Paquette; they met the Sauks near the Wisconsin, on the 21st. A battle ensued in which upwards of fifty of the enemy were killed -- our loss was one killed, and eight wounded. The citizens are well pleased that all this has been accomplished without any aid from Old White Beaver.1 The war must be near its close, for the militia and regulars together will soon finish the remaining handful of fugitives."
The arrival of Lieut. Hunter, who had obtained leave of absence in order to escort us, soon put all things in train for our return to Fort Winnebago. No Mackinac boat was to be had, but in lieu of it a Durham boat was procured. This is of a description longer and shallower than the other, with no convenience for rigging up an awning, or shelter of any kind over the centre; but its size was better fitted to accommodate our party, which consisted of Mr. and Mrs. H., the wife of another officer now stationed at Fort Winnebago, and our cousin, Miss Forsyth, in addition to our own immediate family. We made up our minds, as will be supposed, to pretty close quarters.
Our crew was composed partly of Frenchmen, and partly of soldiers, and all things being in readiness, we sat off one fine, bright morning, in the latter part of July.
Our second day's alternate rowing and poling brought us to the Grande Chûte early in the afternoon.
Here, it is the custom to disembark at the foot of the rapids, and, ascending the high bank, walk around the fall, while the men pull the boat up, through the foaming waters.
Most of our party had already stepped on shore, when a sudden thought seized one of the ladies and myself.
"Let us stay in the boat," said we, "and be pulled up the Chûte." The rest of the company went on, while we sat and watched with great interest the preparations the men were making. They were soon overboard in the water, and attaching a strong rope to the bow of the boat, all lent their aid in pulling as they marched slowly along with their heavy load. The cargo, consisting only of our trunks and stores, which were of no very considerable weight, had not been removed.
We went on, now and then getting a tremendous bump against a hidden rock, and frequently splashed by a shower of foam as the waves roared and boiled around us.
The men kept as closely as possible to the high, precipitous bank, where the water was smoothest. At the head of the cordel was a merry simpleton of a Frenchman, who was constantly turning to grin with delight at our evident enjoyment and excitement.
We were indeed in high glee. "Is not this charming?" cried one -- "I only wish -- "
The wish, whatever it was, was cut short by a shout and a crash. "Have a care, Robineau! Mind where you are taking the boat!" was the cry, but it came too late. More occupied with the ladies than with his duty, the leader had guided us into the midst of a sharp, projecting tree that hung from the bank. The first tug ripped out the side of the boat, which immediately began to fill with water.
My companion and I jumped upon the nearest rocks that showed their heads above the foam. Our screams and the shouts of the men brought Lieut. Hunter and some Indians, who were above on the bank, dashing down to our rescue. They carried us in their arms to land, while the men worked lustily at fishing up the contents of the boat, now thoroughly saturated with water.
We scrambled up the high bank, in a miserable plight, to join in the general lamentation over the probable consequences of the accident.
"Oh! my husband's new uniform!," cried one, and
"Oh! the miniatures in the bottom of my trunk!" sighed another -- while, "Oh! the silk dresses, and the ribbons, and the finery," formed the general chorus.
No one thought of the provisions, although we had observed in our progress to shore, the barrel of bread and the tub of ice, which Lieut. Hunter had providently brought for our refreshment, sailing away on the dancing waves. Among the boxes brought to land, and "toted" up the steep bank, was one containing some loaves of sugar and packages of tea, which I had bought for our winter's supply, from the sutler at the post. The young Indian, who was the bearer of it, set it upon the ground, and soon called my attention to a thick, white stream that was oozing from the corners. I made signs for him to taste it. He dipped his finger in it, and exclaimed with delight to his companions, when he perceived what it was. I then pointed to his hatchet, and motioned him to open the box. He did not require a second invitation -- it was soon hacked to pieces.
Then, as I beckoned up all the rest of the youngsters who were looking on, full of wonder, such a scrambling and shouting with delight succeeded as put us all, particularly the boys, into fits of laughter. Bowls dippers, hands, everything that could contain even the smallest quantity were put in requisition. The squaws were most active. Those who could do no better, took the stoutest fragments of the blue paper in which the sugar had been enveloped, and in a trice, nothing remained but the wet, yellow bundles of tea, and the fragments of the splintered box which had contained it.
By this time, fires had been made, and the articles from the trunks were soon seen covering every shrub and bush in the vicinity. Fortunately, that containing the "new uniform," had been piled high above the others, in the centre of the boat, and had received but little damage, but sad was the condition of the wardrobes in general.
Not a white article was to be seen. All was mottled, blue-green, red, and black, intermingling in streaks, and dripping from ends and corners.
To add to the trouble, the rain began to fall, as rain is apt to do, in a wild, unsheltered country, and soon the half-dried garments had to be gathered out of the smoke, and huddled away in a most discouraging condition.
The tent was pitched, wet as it was, and the blankets, wrung out of the water, and partially dried, were spread upon the ground for our accommodation at night.
A Hamburgh cheese which had been a part of my stores, was voted to me for a pillow, and, after a supper, the best part of which, was a portion of one of the wet loaves which had remained in a barrel too tightly wedged to drift away, we betook ourselves to our repose.
The next morning rose hot and sultry. The musquitoes, which the rain had kept at bay through the night, now began to make themselves amends, and to torment us unmercifully.
After our most uncomfortable and unpalatable breakfast, the first question for consideration was, what we were to do with ourselves. Our boat lay submerged at the foot of the hill, halfway up the rapids. The nearest habitation among the Wabeenakees was some miles distant, and this there was no means of reaching, but by an Indian canoe, if some of our present friends and neighbors would be so obliging as to bring one for our use. Even then it was doubtful if boats could be found sufficient to convey all our numerous party back to Green Bay.
In the midst of these consultations a whoop was heard from beyond the hill, which here sloped away to the north, at the head of the rapids.
"There is John! that is certainly his voice!" cried more than one of the company.
It was, indeed, my husband, and in a moment he was amongst us. Never was arrival more opportune, more evidently providential.
Not having learned our plans, for the unsettled state of the country had prevented our sending him word, he had come provided with a boat, to take us to Fort Winnebago.
Our drying operations, which we had recommenced this morning, were soon cut short. Everything was shuffled away in the most expeditious manner possible, and in an incredibly short time we were transferred to the other boat, which lay quietly above the Chûte, and were pulling away towards Winnebago Lake.
We had resolved to go only so far as the vicinity of the lake, where the breeze would render the musquitoes less intolerable, and then to stop and make one more attempt at drying our clothing. Accordingly, when we reached a beautiful high bank near the Little Butte, we stopped for that purpose again, unpacked our trunks, and soon every bush and twig was fluttering with the spoils of the cruel waves.
Hardly had we thus disposed of the last rag, or ribbon when the tramp of horses was heard, followed by loud shouts and cheers ringing through the forest.
A company of about twenty-five horsemen, with banners flying, veils fluttering from their hats, and arms glittering in the sun, rode into our midst, and amid greetings and roars of laughter, inquired into the nature and reasons of our singular state of confusion.
They were Colonel Stambough and Alexander Irwin of Green Bay, with a company of young volunteers, and followed by a whooping band of Menomonees, all bound for the seat of war. We comforted them with the assurance that the victories were by this time all won, and the scalps taken; but, expressing the hope that there were yet a few laurels to be earned, they bade us adieu, and rapidly pursued their march.
We crossed Lake Winnebago by the clear beautiful light of a summer moon. The soft air was just enough to swell the sail, and thus save the men their labor at the oar.
The witchery of the hour was not, however, sufficient to induce us to forego our repose after the heat and annoyances of the day -- we therefore disposed ourselves betimes to be packed away in the centre of the boat. How it was accomplished, no one of the numerous company could tell. If any accident had occurred to disturb our arrangement, I am sure it would have been a Chinese puzzle to put us back again in our places. The men on the outside had much the best of it, and we rather envied those who were off watch their ability to snore and change as the humor took them.
We reached Powell's just in time to have gone ashore and prepare our breakfast, had we had wherewithal to prepare it. We had hoped to be able to procure some supplies here, for hitherto we had been living on the remains of my husband's ample stock. That was now so nearly exhausted that when we found the mess-basket could not be replenished at this place, we began to talk of putting ourselves on allowance.
The wet bread, of which there had remained an ample store had, as may be readily imagined, soon fermented under the influence of a July sun. The tea too, notwithstanding our careful efforts at drying it on newspapers and pieces of board, ere long became musty and unfit for use. There was, literally, nothing left, except the sotted meat, and a few crackers, hardly sufficient for the present day.
The men were therefore urged to make all the speed possible, that we might reach Gleason's at Lake Puckaway in good season on the following day.
At evening, when we stopped to take our tea at a beautiful little opening among the trees, we found our old enemies, the musquitoes worse than ever. It was necessary to put on our cloaks and gloves, and tie our veils close around our throats, only venturing to introduce a cracker or a cup of tea under this protection in the most stealthy manner.
The men rowed well, and brought us to Gleason's about eleven o'clock the next day. We were greeted with the most enthusiastic demonstrations by my old friend La Grosse Americaine who had removed here from Bellefontaine.
"Oh! Mrs. Armstrong," cried we, "get us some breakfast -- we are famishing."
At that instant who should appear but our faithful Mâtâ driving the little old calash in which we were in the habit of making our little excursions in the neighborhood of the fort. He had ridden over, hoping to meet us, in the idea that some of us would prefer this method of reaching our home.
With provident thoughtfulness he had brought tea, roasted coffee, fresh butter, eggs, etc., lest we should be short of such luxuries in that advanced stage of our journey.
His "Good morning, Madame Johns! How do you dos?" was a pleasant and welcome sound.
We could not wait for our breakfast, but gathered round La Grosse Americaine like a parcel of children while she cut and spread slices of bread and butter for us.
After our regular meal was finished it was decided that sister Margaret should take Josette, and return with Mâtâ to open the house and make it ready for our reception. It had been the head-quarters of militia, Indians, and stragglers of various descriptions during our absence, and we could easily imagine that a little "misrule and unreason" might have had sway for that period.
We had yet seventy-two miles, by the devious winding course of the river, over first the beautiful waters of Lac de Boeuf, and then through the low marshy lands that spread away to the Portage. An attempt was made on the part of one of the gentlemen to create a little excitement among the ladies as we approached the spot where it had been supposed the Sauks might pass on their way to the Chippewa country.
"Who knows," said he gravely, "but they may be lurking in this neighborhood -- yet if so, we shall probably have some signal -- we must be on the alert!" Some of the ladies began to turn pale and look about them. After an interval of perfect silence, a low prolonged whistle was heard. There was so much agitation, and actual terror, that the mischievous author of the trick was obliged to confess at once, and receive a hearty scolding for the pain he had caused.
Just before sunset of the second day from Gleason's we reached our home. Every thing was radiant with neatness and good order. With the efficient aid of our good Manaigre and his wife the house had been white-washed from the roof to the door sill -- a thorough scrubbing and cleansing effected -- the carpets unpacked and spread upon the floors, the furniture arranged, and though last not least, a noble supper smoked upon the board by the time we had made, once more, a civilized toilette.
Many of our friends from the fort were there to greet us, and a more happy or thankful party has seldom been assembled.
1 General Atkinson.
Mrs. John H. Kenzie, Wau-Bun, the "Early Day" in the Northwest. Chicago : D. B. Cooke & Co., 1857. p. 431-447.
From the Memorial Library Department of Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison.