back to home
(voyage icon)1835

A Canoe Voyage up the Minnay Sotor

by George William Featherstonhaugh   1835


I roused my men before 5 A.M., and striking the camp, proceeded onwards. In every direction the country was covered with long wild grass; the buffalo, that formerly used to keep it down, having been driven to the other side of the Mississippi. This state of things will not last long, for the American population will soon drive the Indians after the buffalo, and the cultivated grasses will take the place of the wild ones. The scythe of what is called "civilization" is in motion, and everything will fall before it. Ere long the poor Indian will have to bid a final adieu to those plains over which he has so long wandered, and to seek and obtain a better subsistence on the other side of the Mississippi, than the hips and haws he finds in his native but unproductive wilderness. How long the white man will leave him in peace there, is an affair of the future: at present the race is advancing with a giant's pace, eradicating everything in its progress, first the buffalo and next the Indians; substituting for the unpretending barbarity of nature, the artificial government of meum and tuum, with the improvements in fraud and vice that are attendant upon those reasoning powers which make him so superior to the naked savage. Alas! if men are to be held accountable for the use they sometimes make of their reason, the Indian, with his tomahawk and scalps, need not envy the final judgment to be passed on his invader, who, planting himself here as his friend, has ended by exterminating him.

At 6 A.M. we passed some high sand-hills, called by Carver "small mountains."* This traveller, who passed through this country in 1776 in this direction, gives but a very meagre description of it thus far; and being one of the earliest European travellers in these parts of North America after the peace of 1763, I provided myself with a copy of his work, and took it in the canoe with me. Slight as his notices are, they are sufficient to convince me that he has been here. About half-past seven we passed the west fork of Fox River, said to be ten miles from the American post of Fort Winnebago. The stream had now diminished to about twenty yards in breadth. From this point we had frequently to struggle through the wild rice, which had all but choaked up the channel in various places; often paddling through the straw as if we were going through an inundated wheat-field. About eight I landed at a sand-hill, about eighty feet high, along which some boulders of primary rocks and limestone were lying. ...

Here we breakfasted, and starting again about 9 A.M., got so entangled in the rice stalks, and canes ten feet high, that we could see nothing around us whatever. The channel was altogether obliterated, and the water became very shallow. Paddling became out of the question, and we all took to warping the canoe through, by hauling upon the tall stalks, upon a course by compass for Fort Winnebago. My fear was that we should work the canoe into an immense rice field, like that of the Lake Apachquay, and be very much embarrassed to extricate ourselves. Certainly, if night had overtaken us in this situation, we should have had to pass it in the canoe: but after two hours' hard work we got into clear water, and soon after 11 A.M. had the great satisfaction of seeing the American flag waving in a strong northwest breeze from Fort Winnebago. We now paddled away for the post, and reaching it soon after noon, I landed and presented myself at the quarters of Major Grant, the commandant, a very gentlemanly person, who received me with the kind hospitality with which American officers always receive travellers. This gentleman had been a long time on duty in the north-west country. The dinner went off very pleasantly; and when it was over, Dr. Foote, the very intelligent surgeon of the garrison, was kind enough to walk with me to some of the sand-hills I had seen in the morning. It was so long since I had seen any rocks in place, that I was rather at a loss about the geology of the country, and was exceedingly anxious to find out whereabouts I was. We had a very agreeable walk, during which we sprung several very large grouse (Tetrao cupido). These birds seem to flourish on this high dry land, for Fort Winnebago is most conveniently situated upon the dividing summit that separates the Atlantic streams from those that flow into the Gulf of Mexico; one of the first flowing at the foot of the fort, and the Wisconsin being distant only half an hour's walk. ...

Ft Winnebago

... Fort Winnebago, which, like all the American frontier posts, is an exceedingly neat place, is built upon an elevated piece of land, with Fox River and the rice-marshes connected with it in front. To the south-west there is a range of hills, called Bonibou, which form an agreeable object. The fort is inclosed with a square picket, and contains two block-houses. At the period when this part of the Indian country was first occupied by American troops, the post was no doubt no more than adequate for defence against the Indians; but now that they are reduced to a state of insignificance, it would seem unnecessary to maintain a garrison here much longer. There is a military road, not yet completed, which passes near to the post, leading from Green Bay to Prairie du Chien: it is a wide path cut out of the forest, with the stumps of the trees razed close to the ground; and the streams are traversed by good bridges, this branch of the military service of the United States being always well performed.

Having got a comfortable night's rest in the fort, I rose at 5 A.M., and taking my towels, &c., went down to the river to wash myself, and see what my men were doing. They were all comfortably asleep under the canoe, except one man, who slept in the tent to take care of the butin. At seven I was called to breakfast with Major Clarke, and afterwards went to Dr. Foote's quarters, who presented me with a very large conch-shell (Cassis c.), taken by him from a very ancient and lofty mound, resembling those at St. Louis and on the Muskingum. These last appear to be the oldest monuments of this kind in the country, and have been attributed by some persons to a race of Indians that preceded the present red men: this shell, therefore, which I believe is not found at any point nearer than the Mexican side of the Gulf, would seem to indicate the country from whence the race came that constructed the mound.

* Carver's Travels, p. 41.   London, 1778.