VOYAGE UP FOX RIVER.
IT had been arranged that Judge Doty should accompany us in our boat as far as the Butte des Morts, at which place his attendant would be waiting with horses to convey him to Mineral Point, where he was to hold court.
It was a bright and beautiful morning when we left his pleasant home, to commence our journey up the Fox River. Capt. Harney was proposing to remain a few days longer at "the Bay," but he called to escort us to the boat, and instal us in all its comforts.
As he helped me along over the ploughed ground and other inequalities in our way to the river-bank, where the boat lay, he told me how impatiently Mrs. Twiggs, the wife of the commanding officer, who, since the past spring had been the only white lady at Fort Winnebago, was now expecting a companion and friend. We had met in New York, shortly after her marriage, and were, therefore, not quite unacquainted. I, for my part, felt sure that when there were two of us -- when my piano was safely there -- when the Post Library which we had purchased should be unpacked -- when all should be fairly arranged and settled, we should be, although far away in the wilderness, the happiest little circle imaginable. All my anticipations were of the most sanguine and cheerful character.
It was a moderate-sized Mackinac boat, with a crew of soldiers, and our own three voyageurs in addition, that lay waiting for us -- a dark-looking structure of some thirty feet in length. Placed in the centre was a framework of slight posts, supporting a roof of canvas, with curtains of the same, which might be let down at the sides and ends, after the manner of a country stage-coach, or rolled up to admit the light and air.
In the midst of this little cabin or saloon was placed the box containing my piano, and on it a mattress which was to furnish us a divan through the day and a place of repose at night, should the weather at any time prove too wet or unpleasant for encamping. The boxes of silver were stowed next. Our mess-basket was in a convenient vicinity, and we had purchased a couple of large square covered baskets of the Waubanakees, or New York Indians, to hold our various necessary articles of outward apparel and bedding, and at the same time to answer as very convenient little work or dinner tables.
As a true daughter of New England, it is to be taken for granted I had not forgotten to supply myself with knitting-work and embroidery. Books and pencils were a matter of course.
The greater part of our furniture, together with the various articles for housekeeping with which we had supplied ourselves in New York and Detroit, were to follow in another boat, under the charge of people whose business it professed to be to take cargoes safely up the rapids, and on to Fort Winnebago. This was an enterprise requiring some three weeks of time and a great amount of labor, so that the owners of the goods transported might think themselves happy to receive them at last, in a wet, broken, and dilapidated condition. It was for this reason that we took our choicest possessions with us, even at the risk of being a little crowded.
Until now I had never seen a gentleman attired in a colored shirt, a spotless white collar and bosom being one of those "notions" that "Boston," and consequently New England "folks," entertained of the becoming in a gentleman's toilette. Mrs. Cass had laughingly forewarned me, that not only calico shirts, but patchwork pillow-cases were an indispensable part of a travelling equipment; and, thanks to the taste and skill of some tidy little Frenchwoman, I found our divan pillows all accommodated in the brightest and most variegated garb.
The Judge and my husband were gay with the deepest of blue and pink. Each was prepared, besides, with a bright red cap (a bonnet rouge, or tuque, as the voyageurs call it), which, out of respect for the lady, was to be donned only when a hearty dinner, a dull book, or the want of exercise made an afternoon nap indispensable.
The Judge was an admirable travelling companion. He had lived many years in the country, had been with General Cass on his expedition to the head waters of the Mississippi, and had a vast fund of anecdote regarding early times, customs, and inhabitants.
Some instances of the mode of administering justice in those days, I happen to recall.
There was an old Frenchman at "the Bay," named Réaume, excessively ignorant and grasping, although otherwise tolerably good-natured. This man was appointed justice of the peace. Two men once appeared before him, the one as plaintiff the other as defendant. The justice listened patiently to the complaint of the one, and the defence of the other; then rising, with dignity, he pronounced his decision:
"You are both wrong. You, Bois-vert," to the plaintiff, "you bring me one load of hay; and you, Crèly," to the defendant, "you bring me one load of wood; and now the matter is settled." It does not appear that any exceptions were taken to this verdict.
This anecdote led to another, the scene of which was Prairie du Chien, on the Mississippi.
There was a Frenchman, a justice of the peace, who was universally known by the name "Col. Boilvin." His office was just without the walls of the fort, and it was much the fashion among the officers to lounge in there of a morning, to find sport for an idle hour, and to take a glass of brandy-and-water with the old gentleman, which he called "taking a little quelque-chose."
A soldier, named Fry, had been accused of stealing and killing a calf belonging to M. Rolette, and the constable, a bricklayer of the name of Bell, had been dispatched to arrest the culprit and bring him to trial.
While the gentlemen were making their customary morning visit to the justice, a noise was heard in the entry, and a knock at the door.
"Come in," cried the old gentleman, rising and walking toward the door.
Bell. Here sir, I have brought Fry to you, as you ordered.
Justice. Fry, you great rascal! What for you kill M. Rolette's calf?
Fry. I did not kill M. Rolette's calf.
Justice (shaking his fist). You lie, you great rascal! Bell, take him to jail. Come gentlemen, come, let us take a leettle quelque-chose.
The Canadian boatmen always sing while rowing, or paddling, and nothing encourages them so much as to hear the "bourgeois" 1 take the lead in the music. If the passengers, more especially those of the fair sex, join in the refrain, the compliment is all the greater.
Their songs are of a light cheerful character, generally embodying some little satire or witticism, calculated to produce a spirited, sometimes an uproarious chorus.
The song and refrain are carried on somewhat in the following style:
BOURGEOIS. Par derriere chéz ma tante,
CHORUS. Par derriere chéz ma tante,
BOURGEOIS. Il-y-a un coq qui chante,
CHORUS. Des pommes, des poires, des raves, des choux,
BOURGEOIS. Il-y-a un coq qui chante,
CHORUS. Il-y-a un coq qui chante, &c.
BOURGEOIS. Demande une femme à prendre
CHORUS. Des pommes, des poires, &c.
BOURGEOIS. Demande une femme à prendre,
And thus it continues until the advice is given successively.
And by the time all the different qualifications are rehearsed and objected to, lengthened out by the interminable repetition of the chorus, the shout of the bourgeois is heard --
"Whoop la! à terre, à terre -- pour la pipe!".
It is an invariable custom for the voyageurs to stop every five or six miles to rest and smoke, so that it was formerly the way of measuring distances -- "so many pipes," instead of "so many miles."
The Canadian melodies are sometimes very beautiful and a more exhilarating mode of travel can hardly be imagined than a voyage over these waters, amid all the wild magnificence of nature, with the measured strokes of the oar keeping time to the strains of "Le Rosier Blanc," "En roulant ma Boule," or "Leve ton pied, ma jolie Bergere."
The climax of fun seemed to be in a comic piece, which, however oft-repeated, appeared never to grow stale. It was somewhat after this fashion:
BOURGEOIS. Michaud est monté dans un prunier,
CHORUS. Michaud a tombé?
BOURGEOIS. Ou est-ce qu-il est?
CHORUS. Il est en bas.
BOURGEOIS. Oh! reveille, reveille, reveille,
It was always a point of etiquette to look astonished at the luck of Michaud in remaining in the tree, spite of the breaking of the branch, and the joke had to be repeated through all the varieties of fruit-trees that Michaud might be supposed able to climb.
By evening of the first day we arrived at the Kakalin, where another branch of the Grignon family resided. We were very pleasantly entertained, although in my anxiety to begin my forest life, I would fain have had the tent pitched on the bank of the river, and have laid aside, at once, the indulgences of civilization. This, however, would have been a slight, perhaps an affront, so we did much better, and partook of the good cheer that was offered us in the shape of hot venison steaks and crêpes, and that excellent cup of coffee which none can prepare like a Frenchwoman, and which is so refreshing after a day in the open air.
The Kakalin is a rapid of the Fox River, sufficiently important to make the portage of the heavy lading of a boat necessary; the boat itself being poled or dragged up with cords against the current. It is one of a series of rapids and chûtes, or falls, which occur between this point and Lake Winnebago, twenty miles above.
The next morning, after breakfast, we took leave of our hosts, and prepared to pursue our journey. The bourgeois, from an early hour, had been occupied in superintending his men in getting the boat and its loading over the Kakalin. As the late rains had made the paths through the woods and along the banks of the river somewhat muddy and uncomfortable for walking, I was put into an ox-cart, to be jolted over the unequal road; saluting, impartially, all the stumps and stones that lay in our way, the only means of avoiding which seemed to be, when the little, thick-headed Frenchman our conductor, bethought him of suddenly guiding his cattle into a projecting tree or thorn-bush, to the great detriment, not only of my straw-bonnet, but of my very eyes.
But we got through at last, and arriving at the head of the rapids, I found the boat lying there, all in readiness for our re-embarking.
Our Monomonee guide, Wish-tay-yun, a fine, stalwart Indian, with an open, good-humored, one might almost say roguish countenance, came forward to be presented to me.
"Bon-jour, bon-jour, maman," was his laughing salutation. Again I was surprised, not as before at the French, for to that I had become accustomed, but at the respectable title he was pleased to bestow upon me.
"Yes," said my husband, "you must make up your mind to receive a very numerous and well-grown family, consisting of all the Winnebagoes, Pottowattamies, Chippewas, and Ottawas, together with such Sioux, Sacs, and Foxes, and Iowas, as have any point to gain in applying to me. By the first named tribe, in virtue of my office, and by the others as a matter of courtesy, I am always addressed as "father" -- you, of course, will be their "mother."
Wish-tay-yun and I were soon good friends, my husband interpreting to me the Chippewa language in which he spoke. We were impatient to be off; the morning being already far advanced, and all things being in readiness, the word was given.
"Pousse au large, mes gens!" (Push out, my men).
At this moment a boat was seen leaving the opposite bank of the river and making towards us. It contained white men, and they showed by signs that they wished to detain us until they came up. They drew near, and we found them to be Mr. Marsh, a missionary among the Wau-ba-na-kees, or the New York Indians, lately brought into this country, and the Rev. Eleazar Williams, 3 who was at that time living among his red brethren on the left bank of the Fox River.
To persons so situated, even more emphatically than to those of "the settlements," the arrival of visitors from the "east countrie" was a godsend indeed. We had to give all the news of various kinds that we had brought -- political, ecclesiastical, and social -- as well as a tolerably detailed account of what we proposed to do, or rather what we hoped to be able to do, among our native children at "the Portage."
I was obliged, for my part, to confess that, being almost entirely a stranger to the Indian character and habits, I was going among them with no settled plans of any kind -- general good-will, and a hope of making them my friends, being the only principles I could lay claim to at present. I must leave it for time and a better acquaintance to show me in what way the principle could be carried out for their greatest good.
Mr. Williams was a dark-complexioned, good-looking man. Having always heard him spoken of, by his relations in Connecticut, as "our Indian cousin," it never occurred to me to doubt his belonging to that race, although I now think that if I had met him elsewhere, I should have taken him for a Spaniard or a Mexican. His complexion had decidedly more of the olive than the copper hue, and his countenance was grave, almost melancholy. He was very silent during this interview, asking few questions, and offering no observations except in reply to some question addressed to him.
It was a hard pull for the men up the rapids. Wish-tay-yun, whose clear, sonorous voice was the bugle of the party, shouted and whooped -- each one answered with a chorus, and a still more vigorous effort. By-and-by the boat would become firmly set between two huge stones -- "Whoop la! whoop! whoop!"
Another pull, and another, straining every nerve -- in vain.
"She will not budge!"
"Men, overboard!" and instantly every rower is over the side and into the water.
By pulling, pushing, and tugging, the boat is at length released from her position, and the men walk along beside her, helping and guiding her, until they reach a space of comparatively smooth water, when they again take their seats and their oars.
It will be readily imagined that there were few songs this day, but very frequent pipes, to refresh the poor fellows after such an arduous service.
It was altogether a new spectacle to me. In fact, I had hardly ever before been called upon to witness severe bodily exertion, and my sympathies and sensibilities were, for this reason, the more enlisted on the occasion. It seemed a sufficient hardship to have to labor in this violent manner; but to walk in cold water up to their waists, and then to sit down in their soaking garments without going near a fire! Poor men! this was too much to be borne! What then was my consternation to see my husband, who, shortly after our noontide meal, had surprised me by making his appearance in a pair of duck trowsers and light jacket, at the first cry of "fast, again!" spring over into the water with the men, and "bear a hand" throughout the remainder of the day.
When he returned on board, it was to take the oar of a poor, delicate-looking boy, one of the company of soldiers, who from the first had suffered with bleeding at the nose on every unusual exertion. I was not surprised, on inquiring, to find that this lad was a recruit just entered the service. He passed by the name of Gridley, but that was undoubtedly an assumed name. He had the appearance of having been delicately nurtured, and had probably enlisted without at all appreciating the hardships and discomforts of a soldier's life. This is evident from the dissatisfaction he always continned to feel, until at length he deserted from his post. This was some months subsequent to the time of which I am writing. He was once retaken, and kept for a time in confinement, but immediately on his release deserted again, and his remains were found the following spring, not many miles from the fort. He had died, either of cold or starvation. This is a sad interlude -- we will return to our boating.
With all our tugging and toiling we had accomplished but thirteen miles since leaving the Kakalin, and it was already late when we arrived in view of the "Grande Chûte," near which we were to encamp.
We had passed the "Little Chûte" (the spot where the town of Appleton now stands) without any farther observation than that it required a vast deal of extra exertion to buffet with the rushing stream, and come off, as we did, victorious.
The brilliant light of the setting sun was resting on the high wooded banks through which broke the beautiful, foaming, dashing waters of the Chûte. The boat was speedily turned toward a little headland projecting from the right bank, which had the advantage of a long strip of level ground, sufficiently spacious to afford a good encamping ground. I jumped ashore before the boat was fairly pulled up by the men, and with the Judge's help made my way as rapidly as possible to a point lower down the river, from which, he said, the best view of the Chûte could be obtained. I was anxious to make a sketch before the daylight quite faded away.
The left bank of the river was to the west, and over a portion less elevated than the rest the sun's parting rays fell upon the boat, the men with their red caps and belts, and the two tents already pitched. The smoke now beginning to ascend from the evening fires, the high wooded bank beyond, up which the steep portage path could just be discerned, and more remote still, the long stretch of waterfall now darkening in the shadow of the overhanging forests, formed a lovely landscape, to which the pencil of an artist could alone do justice.
This was my first encampment, and I was quite enchanted with the novelty of everything about me.
The fires had been made of small saplings and underbrush, hastily collected, the mildness of the weather rendering anything beyond what sufficed for the purposes of cooking and drying the men's clothes, superfluous. The soldiers' tent was pitched at some distance from our own, but not too far for us to hear distinctly their laughter and apparent enjoyment, after the fatigues of the day.
Under the careful superintendence of Corporal Kilgour, however, their hilarity never passed the bounds of respectful propriety, and, by the time we had eaten our suppers, cooked in the open air with the simple apparatus of a tea-kettle and frying-pan, we were, one and all, ready to retire to our rest.
The first sound that saluted our ears in the early dawn of the following morning, was the far-reaching call of the bourgeois:
"How! how! how!" uttered at the very top of his voice.
All start at that summons, and the men are soon turning out of their tents, or rousing from their slumbers beside the fire, and preparing for the duties of the day.
The fire is replenished, the kettles set on to boil, the mess-baskets opened, and a portion of their contents brought forth to be made ready for breakfast. One Frenchman spreads our mat within the tent, whence the bedding has all been carefully removed and packed up for stowing in the boat. The tin cups and plates are placed around on the new-fashioned table cloth. The heavy dews make it a little too damp for us to breakfast in the open air, otherwise our preparations would be made outside, upon the green grass. In an incredibly short time our smoking coffee and broiled ham are placed before us, to which are added, from time to time, slices of toast brought hot and fresh from the glowing coals.
There is, after all, no breakfast like a breakfast in the woods, with a well-trained Frenchman for master of ceremonies.
It was a hard day's work to which the men now applied themselves, that of dragging the heavy boat up the Chûte. It had been thought safest to leave the piano in its place on board, but the rest of the lading had to be carried up the steep bank, and along its summit, a distance of some hundreds of rods, to the smooth water beyond, where all the difficulties of our navigation terminated.
The Judge kindly took charge of me, while "the bourgeois" superintended this important business, and with reading, sketching, and strolling about, the morning glided away. Twelve o'clock came, and still the preparations for starting were not yet completed.
In my rambles about to seek out some of the finest of the wild flowers for a bouquet, before my husband's return, I came upon the camp fire of the soldiers. A tall, red-faced, light-haired young man in fatigue dress was attending a kettle of soup, the savoury steams of which were very attractive.
Seeing that I was observing his occupation, he politely laded out a tin cup full of the liquid and offered it to me.
I declined it, saying we should have our dinner immediately.
"They left me here to get their dinner," said he, apparently not displeased to have some one to talk to; "and I thought I might as well make some soup. Down on the German Flats, where I come from, they always like soup."
"Ah! you are from the German Flats -- then your name must be Bellinger or Weber."
"No it isn't -- it's Christman."
"Well, Christman, how do you like the service?"
"Very well. I was only recruited last summer. I used to ride horse on the Canawl, and as I can blow a horn first-rate, I expect I will soon be able to play on a bugle, and then, when I get to be musician, you know, I shall have extra pay."
I did not know it, but I expressed due pleasure at the information, and wishing Christman all manner of success in his dreams of ambition, or rather I should say, of avarice, for the hopes of "extra pay" evidently preponderated over those of fame, I returned to my own quarters.
My husband, with his French tastes, was inclined to be somewhat disappointed when I told him of this little incident, and my refusal of Christman's soup; but we were soon gratified by seeing his tall, awkward form bearing a kettle of the composition, which he set down before the two gentlemen, by whom, to his infinite satisfaction, it was pronounced excellent.
Every thing being at length in readiness, the tents were struck and carried around the Portage, and my husband, the Judge, and I followed at our leisure.
The woods were brilliant with wild flowers, although it was so late in the season that the glory of the summer was well nigh past. But the lupin, the moss-pink, and the yellow wallflower, with all the varieties of the helianthus, the astor, and the solidago, spread their gay charms around. The gentlemen gathered clusters of the bitter-sweet (celastrus scandens) from the overhanging boughs to make a wreath for my hat, as we trod the tangled pathway, which, like that of Christabelle, was
"Now in glimmer and now in gloom,"
through the alternations of open glade and shady thicket. Soon, like the same lovely heroine,
"We reached the place -- right glad we were,"
and without further delay, we were again on board our little boat and skimming over the now placid waters.
1 Master -- or to use the emphatic Yankee term -- boss.
2 Michaud climbed into a plum-tree, to gather plums. The branch broke. Michaud fell! Where is he? He is down on the ground. No, he is up in the tree.
3 The supposed Dauphin of France.
Mrs. John H. Kenzie, Wau-Bun, the "Early Day" in the Northwest. Chicago : D. B. Cooke & Co., 1857. p. 42-59.
From the Memorial Library Department of Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison.