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Exploration of the Red Cedar or Follavoine Valley of the Chippewa River

Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians

Betula Lake--Larch Lake--A war party surprised--Indian manners--Rice Lake--Indian council--Red Cedar Lake--Speeches of Wabezhais and Neenaba--Equal division of goods--Orifice for treading out rice--A live beaver--Notices of natural history--Value of the Follavoine Valley--A medal of the third President--War dance--Ornithology--A prairie country, fertile and abounding in game--Saw mills--Chippewa River--Snake--La Garde Mountain--Descent of the Mississippi--Sioux village--General impression of the Mississippi--Arrival at Prairie du Chien.

1831. BETULA LAKE. LARCH LAKE.--The 7th of August, which dawned upon us in Lake Chetac, proved foggy and cool. The thermometer at 4, 7 and 8 A.M., stood respectively at 50 deg., 52 deg. and 56 deg.. We found the outlet very shallow, so much so, that the canoes could with difficulty be got out while we walked. It led us by a short portage into a small lake called Betula, or Birch Lake, a sylvan little body of water having three islands, which we were just twenty-five minutes in crossing by free strokes of the paddles. Its outlet was still too shallow for any other purpose than to enable the men to lead down the empty canoes. We made a portage of twelve hundred and ninety-five yards into another lake, called Larch or Sapin Lake--which is about double the size of the former lake. We were half an hour in crossing it with an animated and free stroke of the paddle--the men's spirits rising as they find themselves getting out of these harassing defiles and portages.

A WAR PARTY SURPRISED.--We took breakfast on the beach while the canoes were for the last time being led down the outlet. We had nearly finished it on the last morsel of the fawn, and were glancing all the while over the placid and bright expanse, with its dark foliage, when suddenly a small Indian canoe, very light, and successively seven others, with a warrior in the bow and stern of each, glided from a side channel, being the outlet into its other extremity. As soon as our position was revealed, they stopped in utter amazement, and lighting their pipes began to smoke; and we, nearly as much amazed, immediately put up our flag, and Lt. Clary paraded his men. We were more than two to one on the basis of a fight. A few moments revealed our respective relations. It was the Lac Courtorielle detachment of the Rice Lake war party, and gave us the first intimation of its return. It was now evident that the man on the Little Chippewa from whom we purchased the fawn was but an advanced member of the same party. As soon as they perceived our national character, they fired a salute and cautiously advanced. It proved to be the brother of Mozojeed and two of his sons, with thirteen other warriors, on their return. Each had a gun, a shot-bag and powder horn, a scalping knife and a war club, and was painted with vermilion lines on the face. The men were nearly naked, having little but the auzeaun and moccasons and the leather baldric that confines the knife and necessary warlike appendages and their head gear. They had absolutely no baggage in the canoe. When the warrior leaped out, it was seen to be a mere elongated and ribbed dish of the white birch bark, and a man with one hand could easily lift it. Such a display of the Indian manners and customs on a war party, it is not one in a thousand even of those on the frontiers is ever so fortunate as to see.

They still landed under some trepidation, but I took each personally by the hand as they came up to my flag, and the ceremony was united in by Lieut. Clary, and continued by them until every gentleman of my party had been taken by the hand. The Indians understood this ceremony as a committal of friendship. I directed tobacco to be distributed to them, and immediately gathered them in council. They stated that the war party had encountered signs of Sioux outnumbering them on the lower part of the Chippewa River, and footsteps of strange persons coming. This inroad of an apparently new combination against them had alarmed the moose, which had fled before them; and that six of the party had been sent in advance while the main body lay back to await the news. From whatever cause the party had retreated, it was evidently broken up for the season; and, the object of my official visit and advice accomplished, I turned this to advantage in the interview, and left them, I trust, better prepared to understand their true duties and policy hereafter, and we crossed the lake with spirits more elevated.

RED CEDAR LAKE.--A short outlet conducted us into Red Cedar Lake, a handsome body of water which we were an hour in passing through, say four or five miles. The men raised their songs, which had not been heard for some time. It presents some islands, which add to its picturesqueness. Formerly there stood a single red cedar on one of these, which gave the name to the lake, but no other tree of this species is known in the region. Half a mile south of its banks the Indians procure a kind of red pipe stone, similar to that brought from the Coteau des Prairies, but of a duller red color. We met four Indians in a canoe in passing it, who saluted us. The outlet is filled with long flowing grass and aquatic plants. Two Indian women in a canoe who were met here guided us down its somewhat intricate channel. We observed the spiralis or eel weed and the rattlesnake leaf (scrofula weed or goodyeara) ashore. The tulip tree and butternut were noticed along the banks.

INDIAN MANNERS.---In passing down the outlet of the Red Cedar Lake we, soon after leaving our guides, met three canoes at short distances apart, two of which had a little boy in each end, and the third an old woman and child. We next met a Chippewa with his wife and child on the banks. They had landed from a canoe, evidently in fear, but, learning our character, embarked and followed us to Rice Lake. The woman had her hair hanging loose about her head, and not clubbed up in the usual fashion. I asked, and understood in reply, that this was a fashion peculiar to a band of Chippewas who live north of Rice Lake. On coming into Rice Lake we found the whole area of it, except a channel, covered with wild rice not yet ripe. We here met a number of boys and girls in a canoe, who, on seeing us, put ashore and fled in the utmost trepidation into the tall grasses and hid themselves.

RICE LAKE, or MONOMINEKANING.--As we came in sight of the village, every canoe was put in the best trim for display. The flags were hoisted; the military canoes paid all possible devotion to Mars. There were five canoes. I led the advance, the men striking up one of their liveliest songs--which by the way was some rural ditty of love and adventure of the age of Louis XIV.--and we landed in front of the village with a flourish of air (purely a matter of ceremony) as if the Grand Mogul were coming, and they would be swallowed up. I immediately sent to the chiefs, to point out the best place for encamping, which they did.

COUNCIL AT RICE LAKE.--As soon as my tent was pitched, Neenaba, Wabezhais, and their followers, to the number of twenty-two persons, visited me, were received with a shake of the hand and a "bon-jour," and presented with tobacco. Notice was immediately given that I would meet them in council at the firing of signal guns by the military. They attended accordingly. This council was preliminary, as I intended to halt here for a couple of days, in order to put new bottoms to my canoes. I wished, also, some geographical and other information from them, prior to my final council. Neenaba agreed to draw a map of the lower part of the river, &c., denoting the lines drawn by the treaty of Prairie du Chien, and the sites of the saw-mills erected, without leave, by squatters.

NATIVE SPEECHES.--Next day (8th) the final council was held, at the usual signal. Wabezhais and Neenaba were the principal speakers. They both disclaimed setting themselves up against the authority or wishes of the United States. They knew the lines, and meant to keep them. But they were on the frontiers. The Sioux came out against them. They came up the river. They had last year killed a man and his two sons in a canoe, on the opposite banks of Rice Lake, where they lay concealed. Left to protect themselves, they had no choice. They must strike, or die. Their fathers had left them councils, which, although young and foolish, they must respect. They did not disregard the voice of the President. They were glad to listen to it. They were pleased that he had honored them with this visit, and this advice. This is the substance of both speeches.

Neenaba complained that the lumbermen had built mills on their land, and cut pine logs, without right. That the Indians got nothing but civil treatment, when they went to the mills, and tobacco. This young chief appears to have drawn a temporary notoriety upon himself by his position in the late war party, which is, to some extent, fallacious. His modesty is, however, a recommendation. I proposed to have invested him with a second class medal and flag; but he brought them to me again, laying them down, and saying that he perceived that it would produce dissatisfaction and discord in his tribe; and that they were not necessary to insure his good influence and friendship for the United States. On consultation with the band, these marks of authority were finally awarded to WABEZHAIS. Presents, including the last of my dry goods, were then distributed. Among them, was a small piece of fine scarlet cloth, but too little to make a present to each. The divider of the goods, which were given in camp, who was Indian, when he came to this tore it into small strips, so as to make a head-band or baldric for each. The utmost exactness of division was observed in everything.

ORIFICES FOR TREADING OUT RICE.--I saw artificial orifices in the ground near our encampment. On inquiry, I learned that these were used for treading out the wild rice. A skin is put in these holes which are filled with ears. A man then treads out the grain. This appears to be the only part of rice making that is performed by the men. The women gather, dry, and winnow it.

A LIVE BEAVER.--The Indians brought into camp one morning, while I was at Rice Lake, a young beaver; an animal more completely amphibious, it would be difficult to find. The head and front part of the body resemble the muskrat. The fore legs are short, and have five toes. The hind legs are long, stout, and web-footed. The spine projects back in a thick mass, and terminates in a spatula-shaped tail, naked and scale-form. The animal is young, and was taken about ten days ago. Previously to being brought in, it had been taken out in a canoe into the lake, and immersed. It appeared to be cold, and shivered slightly. Its hair was saturated with water, and it made use of its fore paws in attempts to express the water, sometimes like a cat, and at others, like a squirrel. It sat up, like the latter, on its hind legs, and ate bread in the manner of a squirrel. In this position it gave some idea of the kangaroo. Its color was a black body, brownish on the cheeks and under the body. The eye small and not very brilliant. Its cry is not unlike that of a young child. The owner said, it would eat rice and fish. It was perfectly tamed in this short time, and would run to its owner.

NOTICES OF NATURAL HISTORY.--I took out of the bed of the river, in the descent below Red Cedar Lake, a greenish substance attached to stone, having an animal organization resembling the sponge. In our descent, the men caught, and killed with their poles, a proteus. The wild rice, which fills this part of the river, is monoecious. The river abounds in muscles, among which the species of unios is common, but not of large size, so far as we observed. The forest growth improves about this point, and denotes a better soil and climate. Pine species are still present, but have become more mixed with hard wood, and what the French canoe-men denominate "Bois Franc."

VALUE OF THE FOLLEAVOINE FORK.--The name by which this tributary of the Chippewa is called, on the Lake Superior side, namely, Red Cedar, is quite inappropriate. Above Rice Lake it is characterized by the wild rice plant, and the name of Folleavoine, which we found in use on the Mississippi border, better expresses its character. The lower part of the stream appears to be not only more plenteous in the class of resources on which an Indian population rely, but far better adapted to the purposes of agriculture, grazing, and hydraulics.

MEDAL OF THE THIRD PRESIDENT.--During the assemblages at Rice Lake, I observed a lad called Ogeima Geezhick, or Chief Day, having a Jefferson medal around his neck. I called him and his father, and, while inquiring its history, put a new ribbon to it. It was probably given by the late Col. Bolvin, Indian agent at Prairie du Chien, to the chief called Peesh-a-Peevely, of Ottawa Lake. The latter died at his village, an old man, last winter. He gave it to a young man who was killed by the Sioux. His brother having a boy named after him, namely, Ogeima Geezhick, gave it to him.

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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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