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(voyage icon)1835

Wild Ricing

Having made about twelve miles, we stopped to breakfast, and were under way again before ten. Our course to Fort Winnebago was S. S. W., but the river twisted about so that we were often going N. N. E. At 11 A.M. there were no longer any banks to the channel, and we appeared to be going through an ancient lake grown up with reeds and zizania. About 2 P.M. we had struggled through all this tall grass, and got to a lake called Apachquay, or "Lake of Rushes." Three Winnebagoes here came to us with a deer they had killed and a wild duck, but they refused to part with the whole deer; they would let us have a part of it when we got across the lake, they said; so we crossed it upon a south-west course, by compass, to an Indian trader's by the name of Gleeson. We never saw the hunters again, however. This Gleeson had a Winnebago wife, who had borne him several little urchins, that were running about like wild animals. Her husband was from home, and whilst the men were cooking their dinner I entered into conversation with his wife, who was very civil, and spoke English tolerably well. This was a good opportunity of enriching my vocabulary, and I availed myself of it. I also read over to her the words and phrases I had already collected, and she gave me the correct pronunciation, which I noted down with care, as I always did when I had good authority. Their national name, she said, was Howchungera, the middle syllable having a strong nasal accent and being long, and the e penultimate being very short. A great many of their words have this nasal ng, as whungera, a man; and the termination era is very common to their nouns. The distance from this house across the country to Fort Winnebago was only twenty-five miles, whilst by water I was informed it was about sixty, owing to the serpentine course of the channel.

I left Gleeson's at half-past three P. M., and took to the lake again. Here we were obliged to paddle through an immense long field of zizania growing in the water. At half-past five we landed for the evening, and were obliged to encamp in the long grass, there being nothing else near us. I had a glorious scene here at sunset, that luminary lighting up with his parting beams several thousand acres of zizania, extending at least five miles in one direction and two miles in the other; the heads of the plant all waving gently about, as we sometimes see those of an extensive wheat-field do. When the grain parts from the head easily, the Indians enter amongst the plants with their canoes, and bending down the culminating part into them, thrash it out into the bottom as well as they can, until they have got as much as they can carry away. This must be a remarkable locality for the purpose. The grain was now generally formed, though not mature; the wild ducks concealed amongst the plants were quacking loudly, the red-winged blackbirds were issuing from them in clouds, and the night hawks (Caprimulus) were wheeling about and screaming in every direction. Take it altogether, it was one of the most rare and pleasing scenes I ever witnessed.

We had a heavy rain in the night, but when I rose in the morning, at 5 A.M., my Canadians, who had been muffled up in their blankets and exposed to the weather for several hours, were laughing and jabbering as if nothing had happened. They were good-tempered fellows, always gay, and only required gentle management and to be kept from temptation. They were very much pleased that their bourgeois spoke their language and condescended to sing with them, having usually been in the service of traders, whose only object was to make the most they could out of their labour. Leaving the bivouac about 6 A.M., we soon got into the river again, which was about fifty yards wide; but the rain recommenced with so much force, that we were soon completely wet through; we therefore stopped at some sandy ground about eight feet above the river, and having with some difficulty got up a fire, boiled our kettle and set the frying-pan a-going, with the rain pouring down upon us.

In very long and heavy rains it is sometimes found difficult to make a fire at all, especially one sufficiently brisk to boil a pot; but these men proceeded with great address to accomplish their purpose, and I never knew them fail to succeed. If the rain came down ever so hard, they dispersed in the woods to find broken branches and logs of fallen trees hid beneath others, and which were sufficiently dry to burn. Of these they always were sure to find a sufficient quantity to set the fire a-going. Meanwhile one of them carefully examined the decayed trees, should none of the fallen stuff appear dry enough for the purpose, and from the side opposite to the storm generally extracted a sufficient quantity of dry woolly decayed fibre, and making a little nest of it under his hat, took out his flint and struck it until a spark was produced: this he permitted to spread awhile in the dry fibre, and then depositing it in a larger nest of the same material, gently blew it into a flame, feeding it with the driest branches until the fire became so strong as to dry all the other matter that was heaped upon it, and thus a roaring fire was made despite of the torrent of rain that fell. I have often admired their ingenuity and perseverance in accomplishing this in the midst of a heavy storm of wind and rain.

This was one of those occasions when they got up an exceedingly fine fire in the midst of a deluge of rain pouring down upon us, and around which we all ate our breakfasts standing. As soon as we felt refreshed we started again. At half-past ten we reached a small lake, called Lac le Boeuf, about 500 yards broad, with pretty sloping banks, adorned with graceful trees. I observed some more boulders on the east side. The heavy rain prevented my stopping to look at some Indian mounds on each side of the lake, at the head of which was an eminence, called by my men Fort Ganville, probably the post of some old French trader. ...

...The river became so winding, sometimes going N. W., sometimes E. S. E., and indeed upon every point of the compass, that we as often had the sun on our right as on our left. ... Having made by computation thirty miles, and feeling a little incommoded from sitting so many hours in wet clothes, I landed at a very nice spot, had a good fire built close to my tent, made a complete change of everything, and shaved for the first time since I left Navarino, now the sixth day. It was a fine evening, and there being nothing to prevent it, the frying-pan did its duty in a most satisfactory manner, and having made a comfortable repast, I lay down to sleep on a bed made of the straw of the zizania.