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Account of the Highlands Between Lake Superior and the Mississippi

Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians

Lake shores--Sub-Indian agency--Indian transactions--Old fort, site of a tragedy--Maskigo River; its rapids and character--Great Wunnegum Portage--Botany--Length of the Mauvais--Indian carriers--Lake Kagenogumaug--Portage lakes--Namakagun River, its character, rapids, pine lands, &c.--Pukwaewa village--A new species of native fruit--Incidents on the Namakagun; its birds, plants, &c.

1831. LAKE SHORES.--I had a final conference with the Indians of the Ontanagon on the morning of the 14th July, and at its conclusion distributed presents to all. I sent Germain with a canoe and men for St. Mary's with dispatches, and embarked for La Pointe at half past eight, A.M. After keeping the lake for two hours, we were compelled by adverse winds to put ashore near Iron River; we were detained here the rest of the day. After botanizing at this spot, Dr. Houghton remarks, that since arriving at the Ontanagon, he finds plants which belong to a more southerly climate.

The next morning (15th) we embarked at three o'clock and went on finely--stopped for breakfast at Carp River, under the Porcupine Mountains--the Pesabic of the Indians. On coming out into the lake again the wind was fair, and increased to blow freshly. We went on to Montreal River, where it became a side wind, and prevented our keeping the lake. I took this occasion to walk inland eleven pauses on the old portage path to Fountain Hill, for the purpose of enjoying the fine view of the lake, which is presented from that elevation. The rocks are pudding-stone and sandstone, and belong to the Porcupine Mountain development.

Returned from this excursion at seven o'clock--took a cup of tea, and finding the wind abated, re-embarked. By ten o'clock at night we reached and entered the Mauvaise or Maskigo River, where we found Lieut. Clary encamped. After drying our clothes, we went on to La Pointe, which we reached at one o'clock in the morning (16th), and immediately went to Mr. Johnston's buildings.

SUB-AGENCY.--Mr. George Johnston was appointed Sub-agent of Indian Affairs at this point in 1826, after the visit of that year of Gen. Cass and Col. McKenney to this remote section of the country. It has proved a useful office for acquiring information of the state and views of the interior Indians, and as supervising the Indian trade. We were made very comfortable in his quarters.

INDIAN TRANSACTIONS.--Pezhike, with the secondary chief, Tagwaugig and his band, visited me. Conferred with them on the state of the Indians on the St. Croix and Chippewa Rivers at Lac Courtorielle, &c., the best route for entering the region intermediate between Lake Superior and the Mississippi.

Pezhike thought my canoes too large to, pass the small bends on the route of the Lac du Flambeau: he said the waters of the Broule, or Misakoda River, were too low at this time to ascend that stream. He said that Mozojeed, the chief of Lac Courtorielle, had been here awaiting me, but, concluding I would not come, had returned. His return had been hastened by a report that the Sioux had formed a league with the Winnebagoes and Menomonies to attack his village.

Pezhike gave in his population at eighty souls, of which number eighteen were men, twenty-six women, and the remainder children. He made a speech responding to the sentiments uttered by me, and promising the aid of his band in the pacification of the country. As an evidence of his sincerity he presented a peace-pipe. I concluded the interview by distributing presents of ammunition and iron works to each man, agreeably to his count. I then sent Indian runners with messages to Bwoinace at Yellow River, on the St. Croix, to be forwarded by hand to Chacopee, on Snake River, to meet me at Yellow River in twelve days. Sent a message to the same chief, to be forwarded to Mozojeed at Lac Courtorielle, to meet me at that place with his band on the 1st August, and another message to be forwarded by him to Lac du Flambeau, at the head of the Chippewa River, with directions for the Indians to meet me at their principal village, as soon after the 1st August as I can get there, of which they will be the best judges. I determined to enter the country myself, by the Mauvais or Maskigo River, notwithstanding the numerous rafts of trees that embarrass the navigation--the water being abundant.

OLD FORT, SITE OF A TRAGEDY.--The military barge, Lieut. Clary, started for the Maskigo, with a fair wind, on the 18th. A soldier had previously deserted. I sent to the chief, Pezhike, to dispatch his young men to catch him, and they immediately went. After setting out, the wind was found too strong to resist with paddies, and I turned into the sheltered bay of the old French fort. The site and ground lines are only left.

It was a square with bastions. The site is overgrown with red haw and sumac. The site of a blacksmith shop was also pointed out. This is an evidence of early French and Missionary enterprise, and dates about 1660. There is a tale of a tragedy connected with a female, at its abandonment. The guns, it is said, were thrown in the bay. The wind having abated, we again put out at eight o'clock in the evening, and went safely into the Maskigo and encamped.

MASKIGO RIVER.--We began the ascent of this stream on the 19th, at half-past four A.M.; landed at seven for breakfast, at the old Indian gardens; at eight went on; at ten reached the first portage, passed it in an hour; went on till one o'clock; afterwards passed two other portages of about three hundred yards each; and went on to the great raft of flood wood, being the fourth portage, where we encamped at three o'clock, at its head. Mosquitoes very annoying. Estimate our distance at thirty miles.

On the next morning (20th) we embarked in good deep water at eight o'clock. We reached rapids at eleven o'clock. Passed a portage of two pauses, and took dinner at the terminus. Sandstone forms the bed of the river at the rapids here. It inclined E.S.E. about 75 deg.. A continual rapid, called the Galley, being over a brown sandstone rock, succeeds, in which rapids follow rapids at short intervals. We encamped at the Raft rapids. The men toiled like dogs, but willingly and without grumbling. Next day (21st) we were early on the water, and passed the crossing of the Indian portage path from St. Charles Bay, at La Pointe, to the Falls of St. Anthony. We followed a wide bend of the river, around the four pause portage. This was a continued rapid. The men toiled incessantly, being constantly in the water. The bark of the canoes became so saturated with water that they were limber, and bent under the weight of carrying them on the portages. We encamped, very much tired, but the men soon rallied, and never complained. It was admirable to see such fidelity and buoyancy of character.

We were now daily toiling up the ascent of the summit which separates the basin of Lake Superior from the valley of the upper Mississippi. The exertion was incredible. I expected every day some of the men to give out, but their pride to conquer hardships was, with them, the point of honor. They gloried in feats under which ordinary men would have fainted. To carry a horse load over a portage path which a horse could not walk, is an exploit which none but a Canadian voyageur would sigh for the accomplishment of.

On the 22d, we came to a short portage, after going about six miles, during a violent rain storm. Then three portages of short extent, say fifty to three hundred yards each, in quick succession. After the last, some comparatively slight rapids. Finally, smooth water and a sylvan country, level and grassy. We were evidently near the summit. Soon came to the forks, and took the left hand. Came afterwards to three branches, and took the south. Followed a distance through alder bushes bending from each side; this required skill in dodging, for the bushes were covered with caterpillars. We formed an encampment on this narrow stream by cutting away bushes, and beating down high grass and nettles. Here was good soil capable of profitable agriculture.

GREAT WUNNEGUM PORTAGE.--The next morning we resumed the ascent of this branch at six o'clock, and reached the beginning of the Gitchy Wun-ne-gum portage at nine o'clock A.M. This was the last great struggle in the ascent. We spent about three hours in drying baggage, corn, tents, beds, &c. Then went on four pauses over the portage and encamped in sight of a pond. The next day we accomplished ten pauses, a hard day's work. We encamped near a boulder of granite of the drift stratum, which contained brilliant plates of mica. Water scarce and bad. Our tea was made of a brown pondy liquid, which looked like water in a tanner's vat.

We passed, and stopped to examine, Indian symbols on the blazed side of a tree, which told a story to our auxiliary Indians of a moose having been killed; by certain men, whose family name, or mark, was denoted, &c. We had previously passed several of these hunting inscriptions in our ascent of the Mauvais, and one in particular at the eastern end of the four pause portage. We were astonished to perceive that these figures were read as easy as perfect gazettes by our Indian guides.

We were also pleased, notwithstanding the severe labor of the apecun, to observe the three auxiliary Chippewas, with us, playing in the evening at the game of the bowl, an amusement in which some of the men participated.

On the 25th we went three pauses to breakfast, in a hollow or ravine, and pushing on, crossed the last ridge, and at one o'clock reached the foot of Lake Ka-ge-no-gum-aug, a beautiful and elongated sheet of water, which is the source of this branch of the Maskigo River. Thus a point was gained. An hour after, the baggage arrived, and by six o'clock in the evening, the canoes all arrived. This lake is about nine miles long.

BOTANY.--In the ascent of this stream, Dr. Houghton has collected about two hundred plants. The forest trees are elm, pine, spruce, maple, ironwood, linden, cherry, oak, and beach. Leatherwood is a shrub common on the portage.

The length of this river, from the mouth of the river to the point at which we left it, we compute at one hundred and four miles.

The three young Indians, sent from La Pointe, by Pezhike, to help us on the portages, having faithfully attended us all the way, were dismissed to go back, at seven o'clock this morning--after being abundantly and satisfactorily paid for their services in ammunition and provisions. On parting, they expressed a design of visiting at the agency, next spring.

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Personal Memoirs of a Residence of Thirty Years with the Indian Tribes on the American Frontiers, 1851

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