AGATHE -- TOMAH.
AGATHE was the daughter of an Indian who was distinguished by the name of Rascal Day-kau-ray. Whether he merited the appellation must be determined hereafter. He was brother to the grand old chief of that name, but as unlike him as it is possible for those of the same blood to be.
The Day-kau-rays were a very handsome family, and this daughter was remarkable for her fine personal appearance. A tall, well-developed form, a round sweet face, and that peculiarly soft, melodious voice which belongs to the women of her people, would have attracted the attention of a stranger, while the pensive expression of her countenance irresistibly drew the hearts of all towards her, and prompted the wish to know more of her history. As I received it from her friend, Mrs. Paquette, it was indeed a touching one.
A young officer at the fort had seen her and had set, I will not say his heart -- it may be doubted if he had one -- but his mind upon her. He applied to Paquette to negotiate what he called a marriage with her. I am sorry to say that Paquette was induced to enter into this scheme. He knew full well the sin of making false representations to the family of Agathe, and he knew the misery he was about to bring upon her.
The poor girl was betrothed to a young man of her own people, and, as is generally the case, the attachment on both sides was very strong. Among these simple people, who have few subjects of thought or speculation beyond the interests of their daily life, their affections and their animosities form the warp and woof of their character. All their feelings are intense, from being concentrated on so few objects. Family relations, particularly with the women, engross the whole amount of their sensibilities.
The marriage connection is a sacred and indissoluble tie. I have read, in a recent report to the Historical Society of Wisconsin, that, in former times, a temporary marriage between a white man and a Menomonee woman was no uncommon occurrence, and that such an arrangement brought no scandal. I am afraid that if such cases were investigated, a good deal of deceit and misrepresentation would be found to have been added to the other sins of the transaction; and that the woman would be found to have been a victim, instead of a willing participant, in such a connexion.
At all events, no system of this kind exists among the Winnebagoes. The strictest sense of female propriety is a distinguishing trait among them. A woman who transgresses it, is said to have "forgotten herself" and is sure to be cast off and "forgotten" by her friends.
The marriage proposed between the young officer and the daughter of Day-kau-ray, was understood as intended to be true and lasting. The father would not have exposed himself to the contempt of his whole nation by selling his daughter to become the mistress of any man. The Day-kau-rays, as I have elsewhere said, were not a little proud of a remote cross of French blood which mingled with the aboriginal stream in their veins, and probably in acceding to the proposed connection, the father of Agathe was as much influenced by what he considered the honor to be derived, as by the amount of valuable presents which accompanied the overtures made to him.
Be that as it may, the poor girl was torn from her lover, and transferred from her father's lodge to the quarters of the young officer.
There were no ladies in the garrison at that time. Had there been, such a step would hardly have been ventured. Far away in the wilderness, shut out from the salutary influences of religious and social cultivation, what wonder that the moral sense sometimes becomes blinded, and that the choice is made, "Evil, be thou my good!"
The first step in wrong was followed by one still more aggravated in cruelty. The young officer left the post, as he said, on furlough, but he never returned. The news came that he was married, and when he again joined his regiment it was at another post.
There was a natural feeling in the strength of the "woe pronounced against him" by more tongues than one. "He will never," said my informant, "dare show himself in this country again! Not an Indian who knows the Day-kau-rays but would take his life if he should meet him!"
Every tie was broken for poor Agathe but that which bound her to her infant. She never returned to her father's lodge, for she felt that, being deserted, she was dishonored. Her sole ambition seemed to be to bring up her child like those of the whites. She attired it in the costume of the French children, with a dress of bright calico, and a cap of the same, trimmed with narrow black lace. It was a fine child, and the only time I ever saw a smile cross her face, was when it was commended and caressed by some member of our family.
Even this, her only source of happiness, poor Agathe was called upon to resign. During our absence at Green Bay, while the Sauks were in the neighborhood, the child was taken violently ill. The house at Paquette's, which was the mother's home, was thronged with Indians, and of course there was much noise and disturbance. A place was prepared for her under our roof, where she could be more quiet, and receive the attendance of the post physician. It was all in vain -- nothing could save the little creature's life. The bitter agony of the mother, as she hung over the only treasure she possessed on earth, was described to me as truly heart-rending. When compelled to part with it, it seemed almost more than nature could bear. There were friends, not of her own nation or color, who strove to comfort her. Did the father ever send a thought or an inquiry after the fate of his child, or of the young being whose life he had rendered dark and desolate? We will hope that he did -- that he repented and asked pardon from above for the evil he had wrought.
Agathe had been baptized by M. Mazzuchelli. Perhaps she may have acquired some religious knowledge which could bring her consolation in her sorrows, and compensate her for the hopes and joys so early blasted.
She came, some months after the death of her child, in company with several of the half-breed women of the neighborhood, to pay me a visit of respect and congratulation. When she looked at her "little brother," as he was called, and took his soft tiny hand within her own, the tears stood in her eyes, and she spoke some little words of tenderness, which showed that her heart was full. I could scarcely refrain from mingling my tears with hers, as I thought on all the sorrow and desolation that one man's selfishness had occasioned.
Early in February, 1833, my husband and Lieut. Hunter, in company with one or two others, sat off on a journey to Chicago. That place had become so much of a town, (it contained perhaps fifty inhabitants), that it was necessary for the proprietors of "Kinzie's Addition" to lay out lots and open streets through their property. All this was accomplished during the present visit.
While they were upon the ground with a surveyor, the attention of my husband was drawn towards a very bright-looking boy in Indian costume, who went hopping along by the side of the assistant who carried the chain, mimicking him as in the course of his operations he cried, "stick!" "stuck!" He inquired who the lad was, and to his surprise learned that he was the brother of the old family servants, Victoire, Geneveive and Baptiste. Tomah, for that was his name, had never been arrayed in civilized costume; he was in blanket and leggins, and had always lived in a wigwam. My husband inquired if he would like to go to Fort Winnebago with him, and learn to be a white boy. The idea pleased him much, and his mother having given her sanction to the arrangement, he was packed in a wagon, with the two gentlemen and their travelling gear, and they set forth on their return journey.
Tomah had been equipped in jacket and pants, with the other articles of apparel necessary to his new sphere and character. They were near the Aux Plains, and approaching the residence of Glode (Claude) Laframboise, where Tomah knew he should meet acquaintances. He asked leave to get out of the wagon and walk a little way. When they next saw him, he was in full Pottowattamic costume, and although it was bitter winter weather, he had put on his uncomfortable native garb rather than show himself to his old friends in a state of transformation.
On his arrival at Fort Winnebago, our first care was to furnish him with a complete wardrobe, which, having been placed in a box in his sleeping apartment, was put under his charge. Words cannot express his delight as the valuable possessions were confided to him. Every spare moment was devoted to their contemplation. Now and then Tomah would be missing. He was invariably found seated by the side of his little trunk, folding and refolding his clothes, laying them now lengthwise, now crosswise, the happiest of mortals.
The next step was, to teach him to be useful. Such little offices were assigned to him at first as might be supposed not altogether new to him, but we soon observed that when there was anything in the shape of work, Tomah slipt off to bed, even if it were before he had taken his supper. Some fish were given him one evening to scale; it was just at dark; but Tom, according to custom, retired at once to bed.
The cook came to inquire what was to be done. I was under the necessity of calling in my husband's aid as interpreter. He sent for Tomah. When he came into the parlor, Mr. Kinzie said to him in Pottowattamic: --
"There are some fish, Tomah, in the kitchen, and we want you to scale them."
"Now?" exclaimed Tom, with an expression of amazement, "it is very late."
A young lady, Miss Rolette, who was visiting us, and who understood the language, could not refrain from bursting into a laugh at the simplicity with which the words were uttered, and we joined her for sympathy, at which Tom looked a little indignant, but when he understood that it was the white custom to scale the fish at night, and put salt and pepper on them, he was soon reconciled to do his duty in the matter.
His next office was to lay the table. There was a best service of china, which was to be used when we had company, and a best set of teaspoons, which I kept in the drawer of a bureau in my own room above stairs. I was in the habit of keeping this drawer locked, and putting the key under a small clock on the mantel-piece. The first time that I had shown Tomah how to arrange matters for visiters, I had brought the silver and put it on the table myself.
Soon after, we were to have company to tea again and I explained to Tomah that the best china must be used. What was my surprise, on going through the dining-room a short time after, to see not only the new china, but the "company silver" also on the table. I requested my mother to inquire into the matter.
Tomah said, very coolly, "He got the silver where it was kept."
"Did he find the drawer open ?" "No -- he opened it with a key." "Was the key in the drawer?"
"No -- it was under that thing on the shelf."
"How did he know it was kept there."
This was what Mr. Tomah declined telling. We could never ascertain whether he had watched my movements at any time. No one had ever seen him in that part of the house, and yet there could scarcely an article be mentioned of which Tomah did not know the whereabout. If any one was puzzled to find a thing it was always,
"Ask Tomah -- he will tell you." And so in fact he did. He was a subject of much amusement to the young officers. We were to have "a party" one evening -- all the families and young officers at the fort. To make Tomah's appearance as professional as possible, we had made him a white apron with long sleeves to put on while he was helping Mary and Josette to carry round tea -- for I must acknoWledge that Tomah's clothes were not kept in as nice order out of the trunk as in it.
Tom was delighted with his new costume, as well as with the new employment. He acquitted himself to perfection, for he had never any difficulty in imitating what he saw another do. After tea we had some music. As I was standing by the piano at which one of the ladies was seated, Lt. Vancleve said to me in a low tone,
"Look behind you a moment."
I turned. There sat Tom between two of the company, as stately as possible, with his white apron smoothed down, and his hands clasped before him, listening to the music, and on the best possible terms with himself and all around him. Julian and Edwin were hardly able to restrain their merriment, but they were afraid to do or say anything that would cause him to move before the company had had a full enjoyment of the scene. It was voted unanimously that Tomali should be permitted to remain and enjoy the pleasures of society for one evening -- but, with characteristic restlessness, he got tired as soon as the music was over, and unceremoniously took his leave of the company.
Mrs. John H. Kenzie, Wau-Bun, the "Early Day" in the Northwest. Chicago : D. B. Cooke & Co., 1857. p. 471-480.
From the Memorial Library Department of Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison.