OUR arrival at Green Bay was at an unfortunate moment. It was the time of a treaty between the United States Government and the Menomonees and Wan-ba-na-kees. Consequently, not only the commissioners of the treaty, with their clerks and officials, but traders, claimants, travellers, and idlers innumerable were upon the ground. Most of these were congregated in the only hotel the place afforded. This was a tolerably-sized house near the river-side, and as we entered the long dining-room, cold and dripping from the open boat, we were infinitely amused at the motley assemblage it contained. Various groups were seated around. New comers, like ourselves, stood here and there, for there were not seats enough to accommodate all who sought entertainment. Judge Arndt, the landlord, sat calm and indifferent, his hands in his pockets, exhibiting all the phlegm of a Pennsylvania Dutchman.
His fat, notable spouse was trotting round, now stopping to scold about some one who, "burn his skin!" had fallen short in his duty, now laughing good humoredly until her sides shook, at some witticism addressed to her.
She welcomed us very cordially, but to our inquiry, "Can you accommodate us?" her reply was, "Not I. I have got twice as many people now as I know what to do with. I have had to turn my own family out of their quarters, what with the commissioners and the lot of folks that has come in upon us."
"What are we to do then? It is too late and stormy to go up to Shanty-town to seek for lodgings."
"Well, sit you down and take your supper, and we will see what we can do."
And she actually did contrive to find a little nook, in which we were glad to take refuge from the multitudes around us.
A slight board partition separated us from the apartment occupied by General Root, of New York, one of the commissioners of the treaty. The steamer in which we came had brought the mail, at that day a rare blessing to the distant settlements. The opening and reading of all the dispatches, which the General received about bed-time, had, of course, to be gone through with, before he could retire to rest. His eyes being weak, his secretaries were employed to read the communications. He was a little deaf withal, and through the slight division between the two apartments the contents of the letters, and his comments upon them, were unpleasantly audible, as he continually admonished his secretary to raise his voice.
"What is that, Walter? Read that over again."
In vain we coughed and hemmed, and knocked over sundry pieces of furniture. They were too deeply interested to hear aught that passed around them, and if we had been politicians we should have had all the secrets of the working-men's party at our disposal, out of which to have made capital.
The next morning it was still rain! rain! nothing but rain! In spite of it, however, the gentlemen would take a small boat to row to the steamer, to bring up the luggage, not the least important part of that which appertained to us, being sundry boxes of silver for paying the annuities to the Winnebagoes at the Portage.
I went out with some others of the company upon the piazza, to witness their departure. A gentleman pointed out to me Fort Howard, on a projecting point of the opposite shore, about three-quarters of a mile distant -- the old barracks, the picketed inclosure, the walls, all looking quaint, and, considering their modern erection, really ancient and venerable. Presently we turned our attention to the boat, which had by this time gained the middle of the river. One of the passengers was standing up in the stern, apparently giving some directions.
"That is rather a venturesome fellow," remarked one; "if he is not careful he will lose his balance." And at this moment we saw him actually perform a summerset backward, and disappear in the water.
"Oh!" cried I, "he will be drowned!"
The gentlemen laughed. "No, there he is; they are helping him in again."
The course of the boat was immediately changed, and the party returned to the shore. It was not until one disembarked and came dripping and laughing towards me, that I recognized him as my own peculiar property. He was pleased to treat the matter as a joke, but I thought it rather a sad beginning of western experience.
He suffered himself to be persuaded to intrust the care of his effects to his friends, and having changed his dress, prepared to remain quietly with me, when just at this moment a vehicle drove up to the door, and we recognized the pleasant, familiar face of our old friend, Judge Doty.
He had received the news of our arrival, and had come to take us at once to his hospitable mansion. We were only too happy to gather together our bags and travelling baskets, and accompany him without farther ceremony.
Our drive took us first along the edge of Navarino, next through Shanty-town (the latter a far more appropriate name than the former), amid mud and mire, over bad roads, and up and down hilly, break-neck places, until we reached the little brick dwelling of our friends. Mrs. Doty received us with such true, sisterly kindness, and everything seemed so full of welcome, that we soon felt ourselves at home.
We found that, expecting our arrival, invitations had already been prepared to assemble the whole circle of Green Bay society to meet us at an evening party -- this, in a new country, being the established mode of doing honor to guests or strangers.
We learned, upon inquiry, that Captain Harney, who had kindly offered to come with a boat and crew of soldiers from Fort Winnebago, to convey us to that place, our destined home, had not yet arrived; we therefore felt at liberty to make arrangements for a few days of social enjoyment at "the Bay."
It was pleasant to people, secluded in such a degree from the world at large, to hear all the news we had brought -- all the particulars of life and manners -- the thousand little items that the newspapers of that day did not dream of furnishing -- the fashions, and that general gossip, in short, which a lady is erroneously supposed more au fait of; than a gentleman.
I well remember that, in giving and receiving information, the day passed in a pretty uninterrupted stream of communication. All the party except myself had made the journey, or rather voyage, up the the Fox River and down the Wisconsin to the Mississippi.
There were plenty of anecdotes of a certain trip performed by them in company, along with a French trader and his two sisters, now making their début as western travellers. The manner in which Mademoiselle Julie would borrow, without leave, a fine damask napkin or two, to wipe out the ducks in preparation for cooking -- the difficulty of persuading either of the sisters of the propriety of washing and rinsing their table apparatus nicely, before packing it away in the mess-basket, the consequence of which was, that another nice napkin must be stealthily whisked out, to wipe the dishes when the hour for meals arrived -- the fun of the young gentleman in hunting up his stray articles, thus misappropriated, from the nooks and corners of the boat, tying them with a cord, and hanging them over the stern, to make their way down the Wisconsin to Prairie du Chien.
Then there was a capital story of M. Rolette himself. At one point on the route (I think in crossing Winnebago Lake), the travellers met one of the Company's boats on its way to Green Bay for supplies. M. H. was one of the agents of the Company, and the people in the boat were his employees. Of course, after an absence of some weeks from home, the meeting on these lonely waters and the exchanging of news was an occasion of great excitement.
The boats were stopped -- earnest greetings interchanged -- question followed question.
"Eh! Bien -- have they finished the new house?"
"Et la cheminée, fume-t-elle?" (Does the chimney smoke?)
"And the harvest -- how is that?"
"Very fine, indeed."
"Is the mill at work?"
"Yes, plenty of water."
"How is Whip?" (his favorite horse.)
"Oh! Whip is first-rate."
Everything, in short, about the store, the farm, the business of various descriptions being satisfactorily gone over, there was no occasion for farther delay. It was time to proceed.
"Eh! bien - adieu! bon voyage!"
"Arrachez -- mes gens!" (Go ahead, men!)
Then suddenly -- "Arrêtez -- arrêtez!" -- (Stop, stop!)
"Comment se portent Madame Rolette et les enfants?" (How are Mrs. Rolette and the children?)
This day, with its excitement, was at length over, and we retired to our rest, thankful that we had not General Root and his secretary close to our bed's head, with their budget of political news.
My slumbers were not destined, however, to be quite undisturbed. I was awakened, at the first slight peep of dawn by a sound from an apartment beneath our own -- a plaintive, monotonous chant, rising and then falling in a sort of mournful cadence. It seemed to me a wail of something unearthly -- so wild -- so strange -- so unaccountable. In terror I awoke my husband, who reassured me by telling me it was the morning salutation of the Indians to the opening day.
Some Menomonees had been kindly given shelter for the night in the kitchen below, and having fulfilled their unvarying custom of chanting their morning hymn, they now ceased, and again composed themselves to sleep. But not so their auditor. There was to me something inexpressibly beautiful in this morning song of praise from the untaught sons of the forest. What a lesson did it preach to the civilized, Christianized world, too many of whom lie down and rise up without an aspiration of thanksgiving to their Almighty Preserver -- without even a remembrance of His care, who gives his angels charge concerning them! Never has the impression of that simple act of worship faded from my mind. I have loved to think that, with some, these strains might be the outporing of a devotion as pure as that of the Christian when he utters the inspiring words of the sainted Ken --
"Awake, my soul! and with the sun, " &c.
Among the visitors who called to offer me a welcome to the West, were Mr. and Miss Cadle, who were earnestly engaged in the first steps of their afterwards flourishing enterprise for the education of Indian and half-breed children. The school-houses and chapel were not yet erected, but we visited their proposed site, and listened with great interest to bright anticipations of the future good that was to be accomplished -- the success that was to crown their efforts for taming the heathen, and teaching them the knowledge of their Saviour, and the blessings of civilized life. The sequel has shown how little the zeal of the few can accomplish, when opposed to the cupidity of the many.
Our evening party went off as parties do elsewhere. The most interesting feature to me, because the most novel, was the conversation of some young ladies to whom I was introduced, natives of Green Bay, or its vicinity. Their mother was a Me-no-mo-nee, but their father was a Frenchman, a descendant of a settler some generations back, and who, there is reason to believe, was a branch of the same family of Grignon to which the daughter of Madame de Sevigné belonged. At least, it is said there are in the possession of the family many old papers and records which would give that impression, although the orthography of the name has become slightly changed. Be that as it may, the Miss Grignons were strikingly dignified, well-bred young ladies, and there was a charm about their soft voices, and original, unsophisticated remarks, very attractive to a stranger.
They opened to me, however, a new field of apprehension; for, on my expressing my great impatience to see my new home, they exclaimed, with a look of wonder,
"Vous n'avez donc pas peur des serpens?"
"Snakes! was it possible there were snakes at Fort Winnebago?"
"At the Portage! Oh! yes -- one can never walk out for them -- rattle-snakes, copper-heads -- all sorts!"
I am not naturally timid, but I must confess that the idea of the serpens sonnettes and the siffleurs was not quite a subject of indifference.
There was one among these young ladies whose tall, graceful figure, rich, blooming complexion, and dark, glancing eye, would have distinguished her in any drawing-room -- and another, whose gentle sweetness and cultivated taste made it a matter of universal regret that she was afterwards led to adopt the seclusion of a convent.
Captain Harney and his boat arrived in due time, and active preparations for the comfort of our journey commenced under the kind supervision of Mrs. Doty. The mess-basket was stowed with good things of every description -- ham and tongue -- biscuit and plum-cake -- not to mention the substantials of crackers, bread, and boiled pork, the latter of which, however, a lady was supposed to be too fastidious to think of touching, even if starving in the woods.
We had engaged three Canadian voyageurs to take charge of our tent, mess-basket, and matters and things in general. Their business it was to be, to cut the wood for our fires, prepare our meals, and give a helping hand to whatever was going forward. A messenger had also been sent to the Kakalin, or rapids, twenty-one miles above, to notify Wish-tay-yun (the blacksmith), the most accomplished guide through the difficult passes of the river, to be in readiness for our service on a specified day.
In the meantime, we had leisure for one more party, and it was to be a "real western hop." Every body will remember that dance at Mrs. Baird's. All the people, young and old, that would be gathered throughout, or, as it was the fashion to express it, on Green Bay, were assembled. The young officers were up from Fort Howard, looking so smart in their uniforms. Treasures of finery, long uncalled forth, were now brought to light. Everybody was bound to do honor to the strangers by appearing in their very best. It was to be an entertainment unequalled by any given before. All the house was put in requisition for the occasion. Desks and seats were unceremoniously dismissed from Mr. B.'s office, which formed one wing, to afford more space for the dancers. Not only the front portion of the dwelling, but even the kitchen was made fit for the reception of company, in case any primitive visitor, as was sometimes the case, should prefer sitting down quietly there and smoking his cigar. I do not know that this was actually done, but it was an emergency that, in those days, had always to be provided for.
Nothing could exceed the mirth and hilarity of the company. No restraint, but of good manners -- no excess of conventionalities -- genuine, hearty good-humor and enjoyment, such as pleasant, hospitable people, with just enough of the French element to add zest to anything like amusement, could furnish, to make the entertainment agreeable. In a country so new, and where, in a social gathering the number of the company was, in a slight degree more important than the quality, the circle was not always, strictly speaking, select. For instance, the connexions of each family must be invited, even if there was something "a little peculiar" in their appearance, manners, or perhaps vocation, which might make their presence not quite desirable.
I was aware of this, and was therefore more amused than surprised when a clumsy little man, with a broad, red, laughing face, waddled across the room to where I had taken my seat after a dance, and thus addressed me:
"Miss K--, nobody hain't never introduced you to me, but I've seen you a good many times, and I know your husband very well, so I thought I might just as well come and speak to you -- my name is A-----dt."
"Ah! Mr. A----- , good evening. I hope you are enjoying yourself. How is your sister?"
"Oh! she is a great deal worse -- her cold has got into her eye, and it is all shot up."
Then turning full upon a lady * who sat near, radiant with youth and beauty, sparkling with wit and genuine humor:
"Oh! Mrs. Beall," he began, "what a beautiful gown you have got on, and how handsome you do look! I declare you're the prettiest woman in the room, and dance the handsomest."
"Indeed, Mr. A-----," replied she, suppressing her love of fun and assuming a demure look, "I am afraid you flatter me."
"No, I don't -- I'm in earnest. I've just come to ask you to dance."
Such was the penalty of being too charming. Poor A----- , in a cotillion, was not the least enlivening part of this evening's entertainment.
* A niece of James Fennimore Cooper.
Mrs. John H. Kenzie, Wau-Bun, the "Early Day" in the Northwest. Chicago : D. B. Cooke & Co., 1857. p. 29-41.
From the Memorial Library Department of Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison.