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Account of the Highlands Between Lake Superior and the Mississippi

Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians

LAKE KA-GE-NO-GUM-AUG.--At nine in the morning, we embarked on the lake in four canoes, having left the fifth at the other end of the portage for the La Pointe Indians to return. Two of the flotilla of canoes were occupied by the military under Lieut. Clary. After proceeding a little, less than two hours through a very irregular, elongated, and romantic lake, we reached a portage in the direction of the Namakagun, fork of the St. Croix River. Its waters were clear; we observed fish and ducks. This portage is called Mikenok, or the Turtle. It proved to be two hundred and eighty yards to a pond, or small lake, named Turtle Lake. About two hundred yards of this portage lies over a dry pine ridge, the remainder bog. On crossing this little sheet, we encountered another portage of one thousand and seventy-five yards, terminating at a second lake named Clary's Lake. This portage lies over an open pine ridge, from which the timber has been chiefly burned. The shrubs and plants are young bush poplars, whortleberries, shad-bush, brake and sweet fern. Both ends of it are skirted with bog. The highest grounds exhibit boulders. About five o'clock the canoes came up, and we embarked on the lake and crossed it, and, striking the portage path, went four hundred and seventy-five yards to a third lake, called Polyganum, from the abundance of plant. We crossed this and encamped on its border.

This frequent shifting and changing of baggage and canoes exhausted the men, who have not yet recovered from the toils of the long portage. Three of them were disabled from wounds or bruises. Laporte, the eldest man of our party, fell with a heavy load, on the great Wunnegum portage, and drove a small knot into his scalp. The doctor bandaged it, and wondered why he had not fractured his skull. Yet the old man's voyageur pride would not permit him to lie idle. If he died under the carrying-strap, he was determined to die game.

NAMAKAGUN RIVER.--Early on the 27th we were astir, and followed the path 1050 yards, which we made in two pauses to the banks of the Namakagun River, the most southerly fork of the St. Croix. We were now on the waters tributary to the Mississippi, and sat down to our breakfast of fried pork and tea with exultation.

Dead pines cover the ground between Lake Polyganum and the Namakagun. A great fire appears to have raged here formerly, destroying thousands of acres of the most thrifty and tall pines. Nobody can estimate the extent of this destruction. The plain is now grown up with poplar, hazle-bush, scrub-oak, and whortleberry. The river, where the portage strikes it, is about seventy-five feet wide, and shallow, the deepest parts not exceeding eighteen inches. It is bordered on the opposite side with large pines, hardwood, and spruce. Observed amygdaloid under foot among the granite, and sandstone boulders.

About one o'clock the baggage and canoes had all come up, and we embarked on the waters of the Namakagun. Rapids soon obstructed our descent. At these it was necessary for the men to get out and lift the canoes. It was soon necessary for us to get out ourselves and walk in the bed of the stream. It was at last found necessary to throw overboard the kegs of pork, &c., and let them float down. This they would not do without men to guide them and roll them along in bad places. Some of the bags from the canoes were next obliged to be put on men's shoulders to be carried down stream over the worst shallows. After proceeding in this way probably six or seven miles, we encamped at half-past seven o'clock. Mr. Johnston, with his canoe, did not come up. We fired guns to apprize him of our place of encampment, but received no reply. There had been partial showers during the day, and the weather was dark and gloomy. It rained hard during the night. Our canoes were badly injured, the bark peeling off the bows and bottoms. The men had not yet had time to recover from their bruises on the great Wannegum portage. Mr. Clary had shot some ducks and pigeons, on which, at his invitation, we made our evening repast, with coffee, an article which he had among his stores. Some of the men had also caught trout--this fish being abundant here, though it never descends into the Mississippi.

On the next morning I sent a small canoe (Clary's) to aid Johnston. Found him with his canoe broke. Brought down part of his loading, and dispatched the canoe back again. By eleven o'clock the canoe returned on her second trip. Finding the difficulties so great, put six kegs of pork, seven bags of flour, one keg of salt, &c., in depot. One of the greatest embarrassments in passing among such impoverished tribes is the necessity of taking along extra provisions to meet the various bands and to pay for their contingent services.

PUCKWAEWA VILLAGE.---At four o'clock we had got everything down the shallows, mended our canoe, and reached the Pukwaewa--a noted Indian village, where we encamped. The distance is about nine miles from the western terminus of the portage, course W.S.W. We found it completely deserted, according to the custom of the Indians, who after planting their gardens, leave them to go on their summer hunts, eating berries, &c. We found eight large permanent bark lodges, with fields of corn, potatoes, pumpkins, and beans, in fine condition. The lodges were carefully closed, and the grounds and paths around cleanly swept, giving the premises a neat air. The corn fields were partially or lightly fenced. The corn was in tassel. The pumpkins partly grown, the beans fit for boiling. The whole appearance of thrift and industry was pleasing.

I sent two canoes immediately up stream, to bring down the stores put in deposit. I arranged things for taking a canoe elege on the next day, and proceeding rapidly down the river to its junction with the main St. Croix and Yellow River, in order to meet my engagements, made by a runner from La Pointe. I took along Dr. Houghton and Mr. Johnston, leaving the heavy baggage in charge of Mr. Woolsey, with directions to accompany Lieut. Clary across the portage from the Namakagun to Ottowa Lake. It was half-past five on the morning of the 29th, when, bidding adieu to Lieut. Clary and Mr. Woolsey, we embarked.

A NEW SPECIES OF NATIVE FRUIT.--In coming down the Namakagun, we found a species of the currant on its banks--the albinervum. It was fully ripe, and of delicious taste.

Incidents on the Namakagun, its Birds, Plants, &c.--About ten o'clock we entered and passed an expansion, having deserted Indian lodges, and a high wooden cross on the south bank. Hence we called it the Lake of the Cross. It is called Pukwaewa by the Indians. A little below we met the chief Pukquamoo, and his band, returning to the upper village. Held a conference with him on the water on the subject of my mission and movements. He appeared, not only by his village, which we had inspected, but by his words, eminently pacific. On parting he reciprocated my presents by some dried whortleberries. At this conference with the Red-headed Woodpecker chief, I requested him to go up and aid Mr. Woolsey in bringing down the baggage and provisions, and wrote to Mr. Woolsey accordingly.

About four o'clock the chief of this party hailed us from shore, having headed us by taking a short land route from the Lake of the Cross. He sought more perfect information on some points, which was given, and he was requested to attend the general council appointed to be held at Lac Courtorielle (Ottawa Lake). We continued the descent till eight o'clock P.M., having descended about thirty-five miles.

On the 30th we embarked at five in the morning, and reached the contemplated portage to Ottawa Lake at seven. I stopped, and having written notes for Lieut. Clary and Mr. Woolsey, put them in the end of a split pole, according to the Indian method. At ten I landed for breakfast with my canoe badly broken, and the corn, &c., wetted. Detained till twelve. Near night met a band of Chippewas ascending. Got a canoe from them to proceed to Yellow River, and, after dividing the baggage and provisions, put Mr. Johnston with two men in it. This facilitated our descent, as we had found frequent shallows, in consequence of low water, to impede our progress. Yet our estimate for the day's travel is forty miles.

The cicuta is a frequent plant on this river; we found the fox grape this afternoon nearly ripe. Both banks of the river are literally covered with the ripe whortleberry--it is large and delicious. The Indians feast on it. Thousands on thousands of bushels of this fruit could be gathered with little labor. It is seen in the dried state at every lodge. All the careful Indian housewives dry it. It is used as a seasoning to soups.

On the 31st we were on the water at six A.M. Soon passed seven Indians in canoes, to whom a passing salute of a few words and tobacco were given. We landed at ten to breakfast. The current had now augmented so as to be very strong, and permit the full force of the paddles. Stopped a few moments at a Chippewa camp to get out some tobacco, and, leaving Mr. Johnston to make the necessary inquiries and give the necessary information, pushed on. Heard T., our Indian messenger from La Pointe, had accomplished his business and gone back four days ago, Indian conferences now succeeded each other continually, at distances from one to five miles. The bands are now on the move, returning up the river to their spring villages at the Little and Great Rice Places (this is the meaning of Pukwaewau), and the Lake of the Cross. Their first request is tobacco, although they are half starved, and have lived on nothing but whortleberries for weeks. "Suguswau, let us smoke," is the first expression.

The country as we descend assumes more the appearance of upland prairie, from the repeated burnings of the forest. The effect is, nearly all the small trees have been consumed, and grass has taken their place. One result of this is, the deer are drawn up from the more open parts of the Mississippi, to follow the advance of the prairie and open lands towards Lake Superior. The moose is also an inhabitant of the Namakagun. The Chippewas, at a hunting camp we passed yesterday, said they had been on the tracks of a moose, but lost them in high brush. Ducks and pigeons appear common. Among smaller birds are the blackbird, robin, catbird, red-headed woodpecker, kingfisher, kingbird, plover and yellow-hammer.

We frequently passed the figure of a man, drawn on a blazed pine, with horns, giving the idea of an evil spirit. The occiput of the bear, and head bones of other animals killed in the chase, are hung upon poles at the water's side, with some ideographic signs. The antlers of the deer are conspicuous. Other marks of success in hunting are left on trees, so that those Indians who pass and are acquainted with the signs, obtain a species of information. The want of letters is thus, in a manner, supplied by signs and pictographic symbols.

Late in the afternoon we passed the inlet of the Totogun--one of the principal forks of the Namakagun. The name is indicative of its origin. Totosh is the female breast. This term is rendered geographical by exchanging sh for gun. It describes a peculiar kind of soft or dancing bog. Soon after, we broke our canoe--stopped three-fourths of an hour to mend it--reached the forks of the St. Croix directly after, passed down the main channel about nine miles, and encamped a little below Pine River. We built ten fires to keep off the mosquitoes, and put our tent and cooking-fire in the centre. It rained during the night.

The next morning (Aug. 1st) we reached the Yellow River, and found the chiefs Kabamappa, Bwoinace, and their bands awaiting my arrival.

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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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