SURRENDER OF WINNEBAGO PRISONERS.
THE war was now considered at an end. The news of the battle of the Bad Axe, where the regulars, the militia, and the Steamboat Warrior combined, had made a final end of the remaining handful of Sauks, had reached us and restored tranquillity to the hearts and homes of the frontier settlers.
It may seem wonderful that an enemy, so few in number, and so insignificant in resources, could have created such a panic, and required so vast an amount of opposing force to subdue them. The difficulty had been simply in never knowing where to find them, either to attack or guard against them. Probably at the outset every military man thought and felt like the noble old veteran General Brady, "Give me two Infantry companies mounted," said he, "and I will engage to whip the Sauks out of the country in one week!"
True, but to whip the enemy, you must first meet him; and in order to pursue effectually, and catch the Indians, a peculiar training is necessary -- a training which, at that day, but few, even of the frontier militia, could boast.
In some portions of this campaign there was another difficulty. The want of concert between the two branches of the service. The regular troops looked with some contempt upon the unprofessional movements of the militia -- the militia railed at the dilatory and useless formalities of the regulars. Each avowed the conviction that matters could be much better conducted without the other, and the militia being prompt to act, sometimes took matters into their own hands, and brought on defeat and disgrace, as in the affair of "Stillman's Run."
The feeling of contempt which some of the army officers entertained for the militia, extended itself to their subordinates and dependants. After the visit of the Ranger officers to Fort Winnebago, before the battle of the Wisconsin, the officer of the mess where they had been entertained, called up his servant one day to inquire into the Sutler's accounts. He was the same little "Yellow David" who had formerly appertained to Captain Harney.
"David," said the young gentleman, "I see three bottles of cologne-water charged in the month's account of the mess at the Sutler's. What does that mean?"
"If you please, Lieutenant," said David respectfully "it was to sweeten up the dining-room and quarters, after them milish officers were here visiting."
Black-Hawk and a few of his warriors had escaped to the north, where they were shortly after captured by the One-eyed Day-kay-ray and his party, and brought prisoners to General Street at Prairie du Chien. The women and children of the band had been put in canoes and sent down the Mississippi, in hopes of being permitted to cross and reach the rest of their tribe.
The canoes had been tied together, and many of them had been upset, and the children drowned, their mothers being too weak and exhausted to rescue them. The survivors were taken prisoners, and starving and miserable, they were brought to Prairie du Chien. Our mother was at the fort at the time of their arrival. She described their condition as wretched and reduced, beyond anything she had ever witnessed. One woman who spoke a little Chippewa gave her an account of the sufferings and hardships they had endured -- it was truly appalling.
After having eaten such of the horses as could be spared they had subsisted on acorns, elm-bark, or even grass. Many had died of starvation, and their bodies had been found lying in their trail by the pursuing whites. This poor woman had lost her husband in battle, and all her children by the upsetting of the canoe in which they were, and her only wish now was, to go and join them. Poor Indians! who can wonder that they do not love the whites?
But a very short time had we been quietly at home, when a summons came to my husband to collect the principal chiefs of the Winnebagoes and meet Gen. Scott and Gov. Reynolds at Rock Island, where it was proposed to hold a treaty for the purchase of all the lands east and south of the Wisconsin. Messengers were accordingly sent to collect them, and, accompanied by as many as chose to report themselves, he set off on his journey.
He had been gone about two weeks, and I was beginning to count the days which must elapse before I could reasonably expect his return, when, one afternoon, I went over to pay a visit to my sister at the fort. As I passed into the large hall that ran through the quarters, Lieut. Lacy came suddenly in, from the opposite direction, and almost without stopping, cried,
"Bad news, madam! Have you heard it?"
"No. What is it?"
"The cholera has broken out at Rock Island, and they are dying by five hundred a day. Dr. Finley has just arrived with the news." So saying, he vanished without stopping to answer a question.
The cholera at Rock Island, and my husband there! I flew to the other door of the hall, which looked out upon the parade ground. A sentinel was walking near. "Soldier," cried I, "will you run to the young officers' quarters and ask Dr. Finley to come here for a moment?"
The man shook his head -- he was not allowed to leave his post.
Presently, Mrs. Lacy's servant girl appeared from a door under the steps. She was a worthless creature, but where help was so scarce, ladies could not afford to keep a scrupulous tariff of moral qualification.
"Oh! Catherine," said I, "will you run over and ask Dr. Finley to come here a moment? I must hear what news he has brought from Rock Island." She put on a modest look and said,
"I do not like to go to the young officers' quarters." I was indignant at her hypocrisy, but I was also wild with impatience, when to my great joy Dr. Finley made his appearance.
"Where is my husband?" cried I.
"On his way home, madam, safe and sound. He will probably be here to-morrow." He then gave me an account of the ravages the cholera was making among the troops, which were indeed severe, although less so than rumor had at first proclaimed.
Notwithstanding the Doctors assurance of his safety, my husband was seized with cholera on his journey. By the kind care of Paquette and the plentiful use of chicken-broth which the poor woman at whose cabin he stopped administered to him, he soon recovered, and reached his home in safety, having taken Prairie du Chien in his route and brought his mother with him again to her home.
The Indians had consented to the sale of their beautiful domain. Indeed, there is no alternative in such cases. If they persist in retaining them, and become surrounded and hemmed in by the white settlers, their situation is more deplorable than if they surrendered their homes altogether. This they are aware of and therefore, as a general thing, they give up their lands at the proposal of Government, and only take care to make the best bargain they can for themselves. In this instance, they were to receive as an equivalent a tract of land1 extending to the interior of Iowa, and an additional sum of ten thousand dollars annually.
One of the stipulations of the treaty was, the surrender by the Winnebagoes of certain individuals of their tribe accused of having participated with the Sauks in some of the murders on the frontier, in order that they might be tried by our laws, and acquitted or punished as the case might be.
Wau-kaun-kau (the little Snake) voluntarily gave himself as a hostage until the delivery of the suspected persons. He was accordingly received by the Agent, and marched over and placed in confinement at the fort, until the other seven accused should appear to redeem him.
It was a work of some little time on the part of the nation to persuade these individuals to place themselves in the hands of the whites, that they might receive justice according to the laws of the latter. The trial of Red Bird, and his languishing death in prison, were still fresh in their memories, and it needed a good deal of resolution, as well as a strong conviction of conscious innocence, to brace them up to such a step.
It had to be brought about by arguments and persuasions, for the nation would never have resorted to force to compel the fulfilment of their stipulation.
In the mean time a solemn talk was held with the principal chiefs assembled at the Agency. A great part of the nation were in the immediate neighborhood, in obedience to a notice sent by Governor Porter, who, in virtue of his office of Governor of Michigan Territory, was also Superintendent of the North West Division of the Indians. Instead of calling upon the Agent to take charge of the annuity money, as had heretofore been the custom, he had announced his intention of bringing it himself to Fort Winnebago, and being present at the payment. The time appointed had now arrived, and with it, the main body of the Winnebagoes.
Such of the Indians as had not attended the treaty at Rock Island, and been instrumental in the cession of their country, were loud in their condemnation of the step, and their lamentations over it. Foremost among these was Wild-Cat, the Falstaff of Garlic Island and its vicinity. It was little wonder that he should shed bitter tears, as he did, over the loss of his beautiful home on the blue waters of Winnebago Lake.
"If he had not been accidentally stopped," he said, "on his way to the treaty, and detained until it was too late, he would never, never have permitted the bargain."
His "father," who knew that a desperate frolic into which Wild-Cat had been enticed by the way was the cause of his failing to accompany his countrymen to Rock Island, replied gravely,
"That he had heard of the chief's misfortune on this occasion. How that, in ascending the Fox River, a couple of kegs of whiskey had come floating down the stream, which, running foul of his canoe with great force, had injured it to such a degree that he had been obliged to stop several days at the Mee-kan, to repair damages."
The shouts of laughter which greeted this explanation were so contagious that poor Wild-Cat himself was compelled to join in it, and treat his misfortune as a joke.
The suspected Indians, having engaged the services of Judge Doty in their defence on their future trial, notice was at length given, that on a certain day they would be brought to the Portage and surrendered to their "father," to be by him transferred to the keeping of the military officer appointed to receive them.
It was joyful news to poor Wau-kaun-kaw, that the day of his release was at hand. Every time that we had been within the walls of the fort, we had been saluted by a call from him, as he kept his station at the guard-room window:
"Do you hear anything of those Indians? When are they coming, that I may be let out?"
We had endeavored to lighten his confinement by seeing that he was well supplied with food, and his "father" and Paquette had paid him occasional visits but notwithstanding this, and the kindness he had received at the fort, his confinement was inexpressibly irksome.
On the morning of a bright autumnal day, notice was given that the Chiefs of the Nation would present themselves at the Agency to deliver the suspected persons as prisoners to the Americans.
At the hour of ten o'clock, as we looked out over the Portage road, we could descry a moving concourse of people, in which brilliant color, glittering arms, and, as they. approached still nearer certain white objects of unusual appearance could be distinguished.
General Dodge, Major Plympton, and one or two other officers took their seats with Mr. Kinzie on the platform in front of the door to receive them, while we stationed ourselves at the window where we could both see and hear.
The procession wound up the hill, and then came marching slowly toward us. It was a grand and solemn sight. First came some of the principal chiefs in their most brilliant array. Next, the prisoners all habited in white cotton, in token of their innocence, with girdles round their waists. The music of the drum and the Shee-shee-qua accompanied their death-song, which they were chaunting. They wore no paint, no ornaments -- their countenances were grave and thoughtful. It might well be a serious moment to them, for they knew but little of the custom of the whites, and that little was not such as to inspire cheerfulness. Only their "father's" assurance that they should receive "strict justice," would probably have induced them to comply with the engagements of the nation in this manner.
The remainder of the procession was made up of a long train of Winnebagoes, all decked out in their holiday garb.
The chiefs approached and shook hands with the gentlemen who stood ready to receive their greeting. Then the prisoners came forward, and went through the same salutation with the officers. When they offered their hands to their "father," he declined.
"No," said he, "You have come here accused of great crime -- of having assisted in taking the lives of some of the defenceless settlers. When you have been tried by the laws of the land, and been proved innocent, then, your 'father' will give you his hand."
They looked still more serious at this address, as if they thought it indicated that their father, too, believed them guilty, and stepping back a little, they seated themselves, without speaking, in a row upon the ground facing their "father" and the officers. The other Indians all took seats in a circle around them, except the one-eyed chief, Kau-ray-kau-say-kah, or the White Crow, who had been deputed to deliver the prisoners to the Agent.
He made a speech in which he set forth that, "although asserting their innocence of the charges preferred against them, his countrymen were quite willing to be tried by the laws of white men. He hoped they would not be detained long, but that the matter would be investigated soon, and that they would come out of it clear and white.
In reply he was assured that all things would be conducted fairly and impartially, the same as if the accused were white men, and the hope was added that they would be found to have been good and true citizens, and peaceful children of their Great Father, the President.
When this was over, White Crow requested permission to transfer the medal he had received from the President, as a mark of friendship, to his son, who stood beside him, and who had been chosen by the nation to fill his place as chief, an office he was desirous of resigning. The speeches made upon this occasion, as interpreted by Paquette, the modest demeanor of the young man, and the dignified yet feeling manner of the father throughout, made the whole ceremony highly impressive, and when the latter took the medal from his neck and hung it around that of his son, addressing him a few appropriate words, I think no one could have witnessed the scene unmoved.
I had watched the countenances of the prisoners as they sat on the ground before me, while all these ceremonies were going forward. With one exception they were open, calm, and expressive of conscious innocence. Of that one I could not but admit there might be reasonable doubts. One was remarkably fine-looking -- another was a boy of certainly not more than than seventeen, and during the transfer of the medal he looked from one to the other, and listened to what was uttered by the speakers with an air and expression of even child-like interest and satisfaction.
Our hearts felt sad for them as, the ceremonies finished, they were conducted by a file of soldiers and committed to the dungeon of the guard-house, until such time as they should be summoned to attend the Court appointed to try their cause.
1 A belt of land termed the Neutral Ground of the different opposing Nations.
Mrs. John H. Kenzie, Wau-Bun, the "Early Day" in the Northwest. Chicago : D. B. Cooke & Co., 1857. p. 448-459.
From the Memorial Library Department of Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison.