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Descent of Fox River

Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians

Descent of Fox River--Blackbirds--Menomonies--Rice fields--Starving Indians--Thunder storm--Dream--An Indian struck dead with lightning--Green Bay--Death of Colonel Haines--Incidents of the journey from Green Bay to Michilimackinack--Reminiscences of my early life and travels--Choiswa--Further reminiscences of my early life--Ruins of the first mission of Father Marquette--Reach Michilimackinack.

1825. August 26th. A PORTAGE of about one mile and a quarter was before us.

At day-break two ox carts, which I had ordered in the evening, came, and took our baggage across to the banks of Fox River. The canoes were carried over by the different crews. On reaching the banks of the Fox River, I concluded to stay for the purpose of breakfasting. I added to my stock of eatables, a bag of potatoes, and some butter and milk, purchased from a Frenchman, who resided here. It was about nine o'clock A.M. when we embarked on the Fox, and we began its descent with feelings not widely different from those of a boy who has carried his sled, in winter, up the steep side of a hill, that he may enjoy the pleasure of riding down. The Fox River is serpentine, almost without a parallel; it winds about like a string that doubles and redoubles, and its channel is choked with fields of wild rice; from which rose, continually, immense flocks of blackbirds. They reminded me very forcibly of the poet's line--

            "The birds of heaven shall vindicate their grain."

Mr. Holliday the elder and his son made several unsuccessful shots at them. I did not regret their ill success, and was pleased to hear them singing--

            "As sweetly and gayly as ever before."

We met several canoes of Menomonies. We stopped for dinner near a lodge of them, who were in a starving condition. I distributed bread and corn among them. They presented me a couple of dishes of a species of berry, which they call Neekimen-een, or Brant-berry. It is a black, tasteless berry, a little larger than the whortleberry. We encamped at the head of Pukwa Lake.

27th. A very severe shower of rain fell about three o'clock A.M.; it detained us in our camp until five, when we embarked. Why should I relate to you our dull progress through fields of rice--through intricate channels, and amidst myriads of ducks and wild water fowl. This day has been hot, beyond any experience on the journey. I sank back in my canoe, in a state of apathy and lassitude, partly from the heat, and partly from indisposition. My thoughts were employed upon home. A thousand phantoms passed through my head. I tried to imagine how you were employed at this moment, whether busy, or sick in your own room. It would require a volume to trace my wandering thoughts. Let it suffice that another day is nearly gone, and it has lessened the distance which separated us, about seventy miles.

28th. I encamped, last night, near a large village of Winnebagoes and Menomonies. They complained to me of want of food and ammunition. I distributed among them a quantity of powder, ball, and shot, and some bread, hard biscuit, pork, and tobacco. Never were people more grateful, and never, I believe, was a more appropriate distribution made. I had purchased these articles for the Chippewa Nation, to be used on my contemplated voyage home, from the Prairie, through Chippewa River and Lake Superior, before the design of going that way was relinquished. The fact was, I could get no men to go that way, so alarmed were they by the recent murder of Finley and his party.

About two o'clock A.M. I was awoke by a very heavy storm of rain and wind, attended with loud peals of thunder. The violence of the wind blew down my tent, and my blankets, &c. received some damage. After this mishap the wind abated, and having got my tent re-arranged, I again went to sleep. I dreamt of attending the funeral of an esteemed friend, who was buried with honors, attended to the grave by a large train. I have no recollection of the name of this friend, nor whether male or female. I afterwards visited the house of this person, and the room in which he (or she) died. I closed the door with dread and sorrow, afflicted by the views of the couch where one so much esteemed had expired. The mansion was large, and elegantly furnished. I lost my way in it, and rung a large bell that hung in the hall. At this, many persons, male and female, came quickly into the hall from folding doors, as if, I thought, they had been summoned to dinner. As you have sometimes inclined to believe in these fantastic operations of the human mind, when asleep, I record them for your amusement, or reflection. Was this an allegory of the destructive effects of the storm, mixed with my banquet to my Indian friends, the Menomonies and Winnebagoes?

After descending the river more than twenty miles we landed at la Butte des Morts to cook breakfast. Immediately on landing my attention was attracted by a small white flag hanging from a high pole. I went to It and found a recent Indian grave, very neatly and carefully covered with boards. The Indian had been struck dead by lightning a few days previous. Is this the interpretation of my dream, or must I follow my fears to St. Mary's, to witness some of our family suffering on the bed of sickness. God, in his mercy, forbid!

This day was comparatively cool. On the previous days it was my custom to sit in my shirt and sleeves. To-day, I kept on my surtout all day, and my cloak over it until twelve. Such sudden changes in the temperature of the seasons are the reproach of our climate. My health has been better than for a few days back, owing, I believe, solely to my abstinence both yesterday and the day before. How much illness would be prevented by a proper attention to regimen. It is now eight o'clock in the evening, I am sitting in my tent with a candle standing on a rush mat, and my black trunk for a writing desk. I am interrupted by the news that my supper is ready to be brought in. How happy I should be if you could participate in my frugal meal. In the language of Burns--

            "Adieu a heart-warm fond adieu."

29th. I encamped last night, at the foot of the Winnebago Rapids, one mile below Winnebago Lake. I found the rapids of Fox River, which begin here, more difficult to pass than on our ascent, the water being much lower. We were necessarily detained many hours, and most of the men compelled to walk. About six o'clock, P.M. we reached the upper part of the settlement of Green Bay. I stopped a few moments at Judge Doty's, and also a little below at Major Brevoort's, the Indian agent of the post. We then proceeded to the lower settlements, and encamped near the fort at Arndt's. Dr. Wheaton met me on the beach, with several others. I supped and lodged at Arndt's, having declined Dr. Wheaton's polite invitation to sup, and take a bed with him. At tea I saw Mrs. Cotton, whom you will recollect as Miss Arndt, and was introduced to her husband, Lieutenant Cotton, U.S.A. I was also introduced to the Rev. Mr. Nash, a clergyman of the Protestant Episcopal order, on missionary duty here. I went to my room, as soon as I could disentangle myself from these greetings, with a bundle of papers, to read up the news, and was truly pained to hear of the death of my early friend Colonel Charles G. Haines of New York, an account of which, with the funeral honors paid to him, I read in the papers.

30th. The repair of my canoe, and the purchase of provisions to recruit my supplies, consumed the morning, until twelve o'clock, when I embarked, and called at the fort to pay my respects to Dr. Wheaton. I found the dinner-table set. He insisted on my stopping with Mr. H. to dinner, which, being an old friend and as one of my men had absconded, and I was, therefore, delayed, I assented to. The doctor and family evinced the greatest cordiality, and he sent down to my canoe, after dinner, a quantity of melons, some cabbages, and a bag of new potatoes. Before I could obtain another man and set out again, it was three o'clock. I was obliged to forego the return of some visits. We continued our voyage down the bay about 40 miles, and encamped at 8 o'clock, having run down with a fair wind.

31st. Soon after quitting our camp this morning, a heavy wind arose. It was partly fair, so as to permit our hoisting sail for a few hours, but then shifted ahead, and drove us ashore. We landed on a small island called Vermilion, off the south cape of Sturgeon Bay. Here we remained all the remainder of the day and night. While there detained I read "China, its Arts, Manufactures, &c.," a work translated from the French, and giving a lively, and apparently correct account of that singular people.

About two o'clock, P.M., we cut some of the water and musk-melons presented by Dr. Wharton, and found them delicious. About 6 o'clock, P.M., my cook informed me that he had prepared a supper, agreeably to my directions, and we found his skill in this way by no means despicable. Such are the trifles which must fill up my journal, for did I only write what was fit for grave divines, or the scrutinizing eye of philosophy to read, I fear I should have but a few meagre sheets to present you on my return, and perhaps not a single syllable witty or wise.

Sept. 1st. The wind abated during the night, and we were early on the waters, and went on until eleven o'clock, when we landed for breakfast. At twelve o'clock we went forward again, with a fair wind. I read another volume of "China." "The Chinese ladies," says the author, "live very retired, wholly engaged in their household affairs, and how to please their husbands. They are not, however, confined quite so closely as is commonly supposed. The females visit entirely amongst each other. There is no society or circles in China to which the women are admitted. Marriages are a mere matter of convenience, or, to speak with greater propriety, a kind of bargain settled between the parents and relatives."

We came on very well, and encamped at the Little Detroit, or strait, so called, in the Grand Traverse. This traverse separates Green Bay from Lake Michigan. It is computed to be twenty miles over. A cluster of islands enables canoes to pass. There are some hieroglyphics on the rocks.

2d. We embarked at three o'clock, A.M., and went on very well, until ten, when we stopped on one of the islands for breakfast, having nearly completed the traverse. In the meantime the wind arose in our favor, and we went on along the north shore of Lake Michigan gayly. We passed the mouth of the Manistee River, which interlocks with the Tacquimenon of Lake Superior, where some of our St. Mary's Chippewas make their gardens. An aft wind and light spirits are inseparable, whether a man be in a frigate or a canoe. There is something in the air exhilarating. I have been passing in retrospect, the various journeys I have made, but during none has my anxieties to return been so great as this. What a wonderful destiny it is that makes one man a traveler and another a poet, a mathematician, &c. We appear to be guided by some innate principle which has a predominating force. No man was more unlikely to be a traveler than myself. I always thought myself to be domestic in my feelings, habits, and inclinations, and even in very early youth, proposed to live a life of domestic felicity. I thought such a life inseparable from the married state, and resolved, therefore, to get married, as soon as prudence and inclination would permit. Notwithstanding this way of thinking my life has been a series of active employment and arduous journeyings. I may say my travels began even in childhood, for when only six or seven years old, I recollect to have wandered off a long distance into the pine plains of my native town, to view Honicroisa Hill, a noted object in that part of the country, to the great alarm of all the family, who sent out to search for me. My next journey was in my eleventh year, when I accompanied my father, in his chaise, he dressed out in his regimentals, to attend a general court-martial at Saratoga. I had not then read any history of our Revolution, but had heard its battles and hardships, told over by my father, which created a deep interest, and among the events was Burgoyne's surrender. My mind was filled with the subject as we proceeded on our way, and I expected to see a field covered with skulls, and guns, and broken swords.

In my fifteenth year I accompanied my father, in his chaise, up the Valley of the Mohawk to Utica. This gave me some idea of the western country, and the rapid improvements going on there. I returned with some more knowledge of the world, and with my mind filled with enthusiastic notions of new settlements and fortunes made in the woods. I was highly pleased with the frank and hospitable manners of the west. The next spring I was sent by a manufacturing company to Philadelphia, as an agent to procure and select on the banks of the Delaware, between Bristol and Bordentown, a cargo of crucible clay. This journey and its incidents opened a new field to me, and greatly increased my knowledge of the world; of the vastness of commerce; and of the multifarious occupations of men. I acquitted myself well of my agency, having made a good selection of my cargo. I was a judge of the mineralogical properties of the article, but a novice in almost everything else. I supposed the world honest, and every man disposed to act properly and to do right. I now first witnessed a theatre. It was at New York. When the tragedy was over, seeing many go out, I also took a check and went home, to be laughed at by the captain of the sloop, with whom I was a passenger. At Philadelphia I fell into the hands of a professed sharper; He was a gentleman in dress, manners, and conversation. He showed me the city, and was very useful in directing my inquiries. But he borrowed of me thirty dollars one day, to pay an unexpected demand, as he said, and that was the last I ever saw of my money. The lesson was not, however, lost upon me. I have never since lent a stranger or casual acquaintance money.

3d. I was compelled to break off my notes yesterday suddenly. A storm came on which drove us forward with great swiftness, and put us in some peril. We made the land about three o'clock, after much exertion and very considerable wetting. After the storm had passed over, a calm succeeded, when we again put out, and kept the lake till eight o'clock. We had a very bad encampment--loose rough stones to lie on, and scarcely wood enough to make a fire. To finish our misery, it soon began to rain, but ceased before ten. At four o'clock this morning we arose, the weather being quite cold. At an early hour, after getting afloat, we reached and passed a noted landing for canoes and boats, called Choishwa (Smooth-rock.) This shelter, is formed by a ledge of rock running into the lake. On the inner, or perpendicular face, hundreds of names are cut or scratched upon the rock. This cacoethes scribendi is the pest of every local curiosity or public watering-place. Even here, in the wilderness, it is developed.

            Wise men ne'er cut their names on doors or rock-heads,
            But leave the task to scribblers and to blockheads;
            Pert, trifling folks, who, bent on being witty,
            Scrawl on each post some fag-end of a ditty,
            Spinning, with spider's web, their shallow brains,
            O'er wainscots, borrowed books, or window panes.

At one o'clock the wind became decidedly fair, and the men, relieved from their paddles, are nearly all asleep, in the bottom of the canoe. While the wind drives us forward beautifully I embrace the time to resume my narrative of early journeyings, dropt yesterday.

In the year 1808, my father removed from Albany to Oneida County. I remained at the old homestead in Guilderland, in charge of his affairs, until the following year, when I also came to the west. The next spring I was offered handsome inducements to go to the Genesee country, by a manufacturing company, who contemplated the saving of a heavy land transportation from Albany on the article of window-glass, if the rude materials employed in it could be found in that area of country. I visited it with that view; found its native resources ample, and was still more delighted with the flourishing appearance of this part of the Western country than I had been with Utica and its environs. Auburn, Geneva, Canandaigua, and other incipient towns, seemed to me the germs of a land "flowing with milk and honey."

In 1811, I went on a second trip to Philadelphia, and executed the object of it with a success equal to my initial visit. On this trip I had letters to some gentlemen at Philadelphia, who received me in a most clever spirit, and I visited the Academy of Arts, Peale's Museum, the Water Works, Navy Yard, &c. I here received my first definite ideas of painting and sculpture. I returned with new stores of information and new ideas of the world, but I had lost little or nothing of my primitive simplicity of feeling or rustic notions of human perfection. And, as I began to see something of the iniquities of men, I clung more firmly to my native opinions.

My personal knowledge of my native State, and of the States of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, was now superior to that of most men with whom I was in the habit of conversing, and I subsequently made several little journeys and excursions that furthered me in the knowledge.

As yet, I knew nothing by personal observation of New England. In the early part of 1813, having completed my nineteenth year, I went to Middlebury, in Vermont, on the banks of Otter Creek, where, I understand, my great-grandfather, who was an Englishman, to have died. Soon after I accompanied Mr. Ep. Jones, a man of decided enterprise, but some eccentricities of character, on an extensive tour through the New England States. We set out from Lake Dunmore, in Salisbury, in a chaise, and proceeding over the Green Mountains across the State of Vermont, to Bellows' Falls, on the Connecticut River, there struck the State of New Hampshire, and went across it, and a part of Massachusetts, to Boston. Thence, after a few days' stop, we continued our route to Hartford, the seat of government of Connecticut, and thence south to the valley of the Hudson at Rhinebeck. Here we crossed the Hudson to Kingston (the Esopus of Indian days), and proceeded inland, somewhat circuitously, to the Catskill Mountains; after visiting which, we returned to the river, came up its valley to Albany, and returned, by way of Salem, to Salisbury. All this was done with one horse, a compact small-boned animal, who was a good oats-eater, and of whom we took the very best care. I made this distich on him:--

            Feed me well with oats and hay,
            And I'll carry you forty miles a-day.

This long and circuitous tour gave me a general idea of this portion of the Union, and enabled me to institute many comparisons between the manners and customs and advantages of New York and New England.

I am again compelled to lay my pencil aside by the quantity of water thrown into the canoe by the paddles of the men, who have been roused up by the increasing waves.

4th. We went on under a press of sail last evening until eight o'clock, when we encamped in a wide sandy bay in the Straits of Michigan, having come a computed distance of 80 miles. On looking about, we found in the sand the stumps of cedar pickets, forming an antique enclosure, which, I judged, must have been the first site of the Mission of St. Ignace, founded by Pierre Marquette, upwards of a hundred and eighty years ago. Not a lisp of such a ruin had been heard by me previously. French and Indian tradition says nothing of it. The inference is, however, inevitable. Point St. Ignace draws its name from it. It was afterwards removed and fixed at the blunt peninsula, or headland, which the Indians call Peekwutino, the old Mackinac of the French.

Leaving this spot at an early hour, we went to Point St. Ignace to breakfast, and made the traverse to the Island of Michilimackinac by eleven o'clock. We were greeted by a number of persons on the beach; among them was Mr. Agnew, of the Sault, who reported friends all well. This was a great relief to my mind, as I had been for a number of days under the impression that some one near and dear to me was ill. It was Sunday morning; many of the inhabitants were at church, and appearances indicated more respect for the day than I recollect to have noticed before. The good effect of the mission established in the island, under the auspices of the Rev. Mr. Ferry, are clearly visible. Mr. Robert Stuart invited me to take a room at the company's house, which I declined, but dined and supped there.

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

Thirty Years with the Indians


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