FOUR - LEGS, THE DANDY.
THE companies of the first regiment which had hiterto been stationed at Fort Winnebago, had received orders to move on to the Mississippi as soon as relieved by a portion of the fifth, now at Fort Howard.
As many of the officers of the latter regiment were married, we had reason to expect that all the quarters at the post would be put in requisition. For this reason, although strongly pressed by Major Twiggs to take up our residence again in the Fort, until he should go on furlough, we thought it best to establish ourselves at once at "the Agency."
It seemed laughable to give so grand a name to so very insignificant a concern. We had been promised, by the heads of department at Washington, a comfortable dwelling so soon as there should be an appropriation by Congress sufficient to cover any extra expense in the Indian Department. It was evident that Congress had a great spite at us, for it had delayed for two sessions attending to our accommodation. There was nothing to be done, therefore, but to make ourselves comfortable with the best means in our power.
Major Twiggs had given Mr. Kinzie the old log barracks, which had been built for the officers and soldiers on the first establishment of the post, two years previous, and his Frenchmen had removed and put them up again upon the little hill opposite the Fort. To these some additions were now made in the shape of dairy, stables, smoke-house, etc., constructed of the tamarack logs brought from the neighboring swamp. The whole presented a very rough and primitive appearance.
The main building consisted of a succession of four rooms, no two of which communicated with each other, but each opened by a door into the outward air. A small window cut through the logs in front and rear, gave light to the apartment. An immense clay chimney for every two rooms, occupied one side of each, and the ceiling overhead was composed of a few rough boards laid upon the transverse logs that supported the roof.
It was surprising how soon a comfortable, homelike air was given to the old dilapidated rooms, by a few Indian mats spread upon the floor, the piano and other furniture ranged in their appropriate places, and even a few pictures hung against the logs. The latter, alas! had soon to be displaced, for with the first heavy shower the rain found entrance through sundry crevices, and we saw ourselves obliged to put aside, carefully, everything that could be injured by the moisture.
We made light of these evils, however -- packed away our carpets and superfluous furniture upon the boards above, which we dignified with the name of attic, and contentedly resolved to await the time when Government should condescend to remember us. The greatest inconvenience I experienced, was from the necessity of wearing my straw bonnet throughout the day, as I journeyed from bedroom to parlor, and from parlor to kitchen. I became so accustomed to it, that I even sometimes forgot to remove it when I sat down to table, or to my quiet occupations with my mother and sister.
Permission was however, in time, received to build a house for the blacksmith -- that is, the person kept in pay by the Government at this station to mend the guns, traps, &c. of the Indians.
It happened most fortunately for us that Monsieur Isidore Morrin was a bachelor, and quite satisfied to continue boarding with his friend Louis Frum, dit Manaigre, so that when the new house was fairly commenced, we planned it and hurried it forward entirely on our own account.
It was not very magnificent, it is true, consisting of but a parlor and two bedrooms on the ground-floor, and two low chambers under the roof, with a kitchen in the rear; but compared with the rambling old stable-like building we now inhabited, it seemed quite a palace.
Before it was completed, Mr. Kinzie was notified that the money for the annual Indian payment was awaiting his arrival in Detroit to take charge of it, and superintend its transportation to the Portage, and he was obliged to set off at once to fulfil this part of his duty.
The workmen who had been brought from the Mississippi to erect the main building, were fully competent to carry on their work without an overseer, but the kitchen was to be the task of the Frenchmen, and the question was, how could it be executed in the absence of the bourgeois?
"You will have to content yourselves in the old quarters until my return," said my husband, "and then we will soon have things in order." It was to be a long and tedious journey, for the operations of government were not carried on by railroad and telegraph in those days.
After his departure I said to the men, "Come, you have all your logs cut and hauled -- the squaws have brought the bark for the roof -- what is to prevent our finishing the house and getting all moved and settled to surprise Monsieur John on his return?"
"Ah! to be sure, Madame John," said Plante, who was always the spokesman, "provided the one who plants a green bough on the chimney-top is to have a treat!"
"Certainly. All hands fall to work, and see who will win the treat."
Upon the strength of such an inducement to the one who should put the finishing stroke to the building, Plante, Pillon and Manaigre, whom the waggish Plante persisted in calling "mon nègre," whenever he felt himself out of the reach of the other's arm, all went vigorously to work.
Building a log-house is a somewhat curious process. First, as will be conceived, the logs are laid one upon another and jointed at the corners, until the walls have reached the required height. The chimney is formed by four poles of the proper length, interlaced with a wicker-work of small branches. A hole or pit is dug, near at hand, and with a mixture of clay and water, a sort of mortar is formed. Large wisps of hay are filled with this thick substance, and fashioned with the hands into what are technically called "clay cats," and then are filled in among the frame-work of the chimney until not a chink is left. The whole is then covered with a smooth coating of the wet clay, which is denom-inated, "plastering."
Between the logs which compose the walls of the building, small bits of wood are driven, quite near together; this is called "chinking," and after it is done, clay cats are introduced, and smoothed over with the plaster. When all is dry, both walls and chimney are whitewashed, and present a comfortable and tidy appearance.
The roof is formed by laying upon the transverse logs, thick sheets of bark, and around the chimney, for greater security against the rain, we took care to have placed a few layers of the palisades that had been left, when Mr. Peach, an odd little itinerant genius, had fenced in our garden, the pride and wonder of the surrounding settlement and wigwams.
While all these matters were in progress, we received frequent visits from our Indian friends. First and formost among them was "the young Dandy," Four-Legs.
One fine morning he made his appearance aecompanied by two squaws, whom he introduced as his wives. He could speak a little Chippewa, and by this means he and our mother contrived to keep up something of a conversation. He was dressed in all his finery, brooches, wampum, fan, looking-glass and all. The paint upon his face and chest showed that he had devoted no small time to the labors of his toilet.
He took a chair, as he had seen done at Washington, and made signs to his women to sit down upon the floor.
The custom of taking two wives is not very general among the Indians. They seem to have the sagacity to perceive that the fewer they have to manage, the more complete is the peace and quiet of the wigwam.
Nevertheless, it sometimes happens that a husband takes a foolish fancy for a second squaw, and in that case lie uses all his cunning and eloquence to reconcile the first to receiving a new inmate in the lodge. Of course it is a matter that must be managed adroitly, in order that harmony may be preserved.
"My dear, your health is not very good, it is time you should have some rest. You have worked very hard, and it grieves me that you should have to labor any longer. Let me get you some nice young squaw to wait upon you, that you may live at ease all the rest of your life."
The first wife consents -- indeed, she has no option. If she is of a jealous, vindictive disposition, what a life the new corner leads! The old one maintains all her rights of dowager and duenna, and the husband's tenderness is hardly a compensation for all the evils the young rival is made to suffer.
It was on Sunday morning that this visit of the Dandy was made to us. We were all seated quietly, engaged in reading. Four-Legs inquired of my mother, why we were so occupied, and why everything around us was so still.
My mother explained to him our observance of the day of rest, -- that we devoted it to worshipping and serving the Great Spirit, as he had commanded in his Holy Word.
Four-Legs gave a nod of approbation. That was very right, he said -- he was glad to see us doing our duty -- he was very religious himself, and he liked to see others so. He always took care that his squaws attended to their duty, not reading perhaps, but such as the Great Spirit liked, and such as he thought proper and becoming.
He seemed to have no fancy for listening to any explanation of our points of difference. The impression among the Winnebagoes "that if the Great Spirit had wished them different from what they are, he would have made them so," seems too strong to yield to either argument or persuasion.
Sometimes those who are desirous of appearing somewhat civilized will listen quietly to all that is advanced on the subject of Christianity, and coolly saying, "Yes, we believe that, too," will change the conversation to other subjects.
As a general thing, they do not appear to perceive that there is anything to be gained, by adopting the religion and the customs of the whites. "Look at them," they say, "always toiling and striving -- always wearing a brow of care -- shut up in houses -- afraid of the wind and the rain -- suffering when they are deprived of the comforts of life! We, on the contrary, live a life, of freedom and happiness. We hunt and fish, and pass our time pleasantly in the open woods and prairies. If we are hungry, we take some game; or, if we do not find that, we can go without. If our enemies trouble us, we can kill them, and there is no more said about it. What should we gain by changing ourselves into white men ?" *
I have never heard that Christian missionaries, with all their efforts to convert them, have made much progress in enlightening their minds upon the doctrines of the Gospel. Mr. Mazzuchelli, a Roman Catholic priest, accompanied by Miss Elizabeth Grignon as interpreter, made a missionary visit to the Portage during our residence there, and, after some instruction to them, about forty consented to be baptized. Christian names were given to them with which they seemed much pleased; and not less so, with the little plated crucifixes which each received, and which the women wore about their necks. These they seemed to regard with a devotional feeling; but I was not sufficiently acquainted with their language to gather from them whether they understood the doctrine the symbol was designed to convey. Certain it is, they expressed no wish to learn our language, in order that they might gain a fuller knowledge of the Saviour, nor any solicitude to be taught more about him than they had received during the missionary's short visit.
One woman, to whom the name of Charlotte had been given, signified a desire to learn the domestic ways of the whites, and asked of me as a favor through Madame Paquette that she might be permitted to come on "washing-day," and learn of my servants our way of managing the business. A tub was given her, and my woman instructed her, by signs and example, how she was to manage. As I was not a little curious to observe how things went on, I proceeded after a time to the kitchen where they all were. Charlotte was at her tub, scouring and rubbing with all her might at her little crucifix. Two other squaws sat upon the floor near her, watching the operation.
"That is the work she has been at for the last half hour," said Josette, in a tone of great impatience. "She'll never learn to wash."
Charlotte, however, soon fell diligently to work, and really seemed as if she would tear her arms off, with her violent exertions.
After a time, supposing that she must feel a good deal fatigued and exhausted with unaccustomed labor, I did what it was at that day very much the fashion to do, -- what, at home, I had always seen done on washing-day, -- what, in short, I imagine was then a general custom among housekeepers. I went to the dining-room closet, intending to give Charlotte a glass of wine or brandy and water. My "cupboard" proved to be in the state of the luckless "Mother Hubbard's -- nothing of the kind could I find but a bottle of orange shrub.
Of this I poured out a wine-glass full, and, carrying it out, offered it to the woman. She took it with an expression of great pleasure; but, in carrying it to her lips, she stopped short, and exclaiming "Whiskee!" immediately returned it to me. I would still have pressed it upon her; for, in my inexperience, I really believed it was a cordial she needed; but, pointing to her crucifix, she shook her head and returned to her work.
I received this as a lesson more powerful than twenty sermons. It was the first time in my life that I had ever seen spirituous liquors rejected upon a religious principle, and it made an impression upon me that I never forgot.
*It will be remembered that these were the arguments used a quarter of a century ago, when the Indians possessed most of the broad lands on the Upper Mississippi and its tributaries.
Mrs. John H. Kenzie, Wau-Bun, the "Early Day" in the Northwest. Chicago : D. B. Cooke & Co., 1857. p. 334-344.
From the Memorial Library Department of Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison.