COMMENCEMENT OF SAUK WAR.
LATE in the autumn, after our return, my husband took his mother to Prairie du Chien for the benefit of medical advice from Dr. Beaumont of the U. S. Army. The journey was made in a large open boat down the Wisconsin river, and it was proposed to take this opportunity to bring back a good supply of corn for the winter's use of both men and cattle.
The ice formed in the river, however, so early, that after starting with his load, he was obliged to return with it to the Prairie, and wait until the thick winter's ice enabled him to make a second journey, and bring it up in sleighs -- with so great an expense of time, labor, and exposure, were the necessaries of life conveyed from one point to another, through that wild and desolate region!
The arrival of my brother Arthur from Kentucky, by way of the Mississippi, in the latter part of April, brought us the uncomfortable intelligence of new troubles with the Sauks and Foxes. Black Hawk had, with the flower of his nation, recrossed the Mississippi, once more to take possession of their old homes and cornfields.1
It was not long before our own Indians came flocking in, to confirm the tidings, and to assure us of their intention to remain faithful friends to the Americans. We soon heard of the arrival of the Illinois Rangers in the Rock River country, also of the progress of the regular force under Gen. Atkinson, in pursuit of the hostile Indians, who, by the reports, were always able to elude their vigilance. It not being their custom to stop and give battle, the Sauks soon scattered themselves through the country, trusting to some lucky accident (and they arrived, alas! only too often), to enable them to fall upon their enemies unexpectedly.
The experience of the pursuing army was, for the most part, to make their way, by toilsome and fatiguing marches to the spot where they imagined the Sauks would be waiting to receive them, and then to discover that the rogues had scampered off to quite a different part of the country.
Wherever these latter went, their course was marked by the most atrocious barbarities, though the worst had not, at this time, reached our ears. We were only assured that they were down in the neighborhood of the Rock river, and Kishwaukee, and that they lost no opportunity of falling upon the defenceless inhabitants, and cruelly murdering them.
As soon as it became certain that the Sauks and Foxes would not pursue the same course they had on the previous year, that is, retreat peaceably across the Mississippi, Mr. Kinzie resolved to hold a council with all the principal chiefs of the Winnebagoes, who were accessible at this time. He knew that the Sauks would use every effort to induce their neighbors to join them, and that there existed in the breasts of too many of the young savages a desire to distinguish themselves by "taking some white scalps." They did not love the Americans -- why should they? By them they had been gradually dispossessed of the broad and beautiful domains of their forefathers, and hunted from place to place, and the only equivalent they had received in exchange had been a few thousands annually in silver and presents, together with the pernicious example, the debasing influence, and the positive ill-treatment of too many of the new settlers upon their lands.
With all these facts in view, therefore, their "father" felt that the utmost watchfulness was necessary, and that the strongest arguments must be brought forward, to preserve the young men of the Winnebagoes in their allegiance to the Americans. Of the older members he felt quite sure. About fifty lodges had come at the commencement of the disturbances, and encamped around our dwelling, saying, that if the Sauks attacked us, it must be after killing them; and, knowing them well, we had perfect confidence in their assurances.
But their vicinity, while it gave us a feeling of protection, likewise furnished us with a channel of the most exciting and agitating daily communications. As the theatre of operations approached nearer and nearer, intelligence was brought from one of their runners -- now, that "Captain Harney's head had been recognized in the Sauk camp, where it had been brought the day previous," next, that "the Sauks were carrying Lieut. Beall's head on a pole in front of them as they marched to meet the whites." Sometimes it was a story which we afterwards found to be true, as that of the murder of their agent, Mr. St. Vrain, at Kellogg's Grove, by the Sauks themselves, who ought to have protected him.
It was after the news of this last occurrence, that the appointed council with the Winnebagoes was to be held at the Four Lakes, thirty-five miles distant from Fort Winnebago.
In vain we pleaded and remonstrated against such an exposure. "It was his duty to assemble and talk to them," my husband said, "and he must run the risk, if there were any. He had perfect confidence in the Winnebagoes. The enemy, by all he could learn, were now far distant from the Four Lakes -- probably at Kosh-ko-nong. He would set off early in the morning with Paquette, hold his council, and return to us the same evening."
It were useless to attempt to describe our feelings during that long and dreary day. When night arrived the cry of a drunken Indian, or even the barking of a dog, would fill our hearts with terror.
As we sat, at a late hour, at the open window, listening to every sound, with what joy did we at length distinguish the tramp of horses -- we knew it to be Griffin and Jerry ascending the bill, and a cheerful shout soon announced that all was well. They had ridden seventy miles that day, besides holding a long "talk" with the Indians.
The Winnebagoes in council had promised to use their utmost endeavors to preserve peace and good order among their young men. They informed their father that the bands on the Rock river, with the exception of Win-no-sheek's were all determined to remain friendly, and keep aloof from the Sauks. To that end, they were all abandoning their villages and corn-fields, and moving north, that their Great Father, the President, might not feel dissatisfied with them. With regard to Win-no-sheek and his people, they professed themselves unable to answer.
Time went on, and brought with it stories of fresh outrages. Among these were the murders of Auberry, Green, and Force, at Blue Mound, and the attack on Apple Fort. The tidings of the latter were brought by old Crély, the father of Mrs. Paquette, who rode express from Galena, and who averred that he once passed a bush behind which the Sauks were hiding, but that his horse smelt the sweet-scented grass with which they always adorn their persons when on a war-party, and set out on such a gallop that he never stopped until he arrived at the Portage.
Another bearer of news was a young gentleman named Follett, whose eyes had become so protruded, and set, from keeping an anxious lookout for the enemy, that it was many days after his arrival at a place of safety, before they resumed their accustomed limits and expression.
Among other rumors which at this time reached us, was one that an attack upon the fort was in contemplation among the Sauks. That this was certainly in no state of defence, the Indians very well knew. All the effective men had been withdrawn, upon a requisition from General Atkinson, to join him at his newly-built fort at Kosh-ko-nong.
Fort Winnebago was not picketed in -- there were no defences to the barracks or officers' quarters, except slight panelled doors and Venetian blinds -- nothing that would long resist the blows of clubs or hatchets. There was no artillery, and the Commissary's store was without the bounds of the fort, under the hill.
Mr. Kinzie had, from the first, called the attention of the officers to the insecurity of their position, in case of danger, but he generally received a scoffing answer.
"Never fear," they would say -- " the Sauks are not coming here to attack us."
One afternoon we had gone over on a visit to some friends in the garrison, and several officers being present, the conversation, as usual, turned upon the present position of affairs.
"Do you not think it wiser," inquired I, of a blustering young officer, "to be prepared against possible danger?"
"Not against these fellows," replied he, contemptuously -- "I do not think I would even take the trouble to fasten the blinds to my quarters."
" At least," said I," if you some night find a tomahawk raised to cleave your skull, you will have the consolation of remembering that you have not been one of those foolish fellows who keep on the safe side."
He seemed a little nettled at this, and still more so when sister Margaret observed:
"For my part, I am of Governor Cass' opinion. He was at Chicago during the Winnebago war. We were all preparing to move into the fort on the first alarm. Some were for being brave and delaying, like our friends here. 'Come, come,' said the Governor, 'hurry into the fort as fast as possible -- there is no merit in being brave with the Indians. It is the height of folly to stay and meet danger which you may by prudence avoid."'
In a few days our friends waked up to the conviction that something must be done at once. The first step was to forbid any Winnebago coming within the garrison, lest they should find out what they had known as well as ourselves for three months past -- namely, the feebleness of the means of resistance. The next was to send "fatigue-parties" into the woods, under the protection of a guard, to cut pickets for enclosing the garrison.
There was every reason to believe that the enemy were not very far distant, and that their object in coming north was to break away into the Chippewa country, where they would find a place of security among their friends and allies. The story that our Indian runners brought in most frequently was, that the Sauks were determined to fall upon the whites at the Portage and Fort, and massacre all, except the families of the Agent and Interpreter.
Plante and Pillon with their families had departed at the first word of danger. There only remained with us Manaigre, whose wife was a half-Winnebago, Isidore Morrin, and the blacksmiths from Sugar Creek, Mâyâ, and Turcotte.
At night we were all regularly armed and our posts assigned us. After every means had been taken to make the house secure, the orders were given. Sister Margaret and I, in case of attack, were to mount with the children to the rooms above, while my husband and his men were to make good their defence as long as possible against the enemy. Since I had shown my sportsmanship by bringing down accidentally a blackbird on the wing, I felt as if I could do some execution with my little pistols, which were regularly placed beside my pillow at night, and I was fully resolved to use them, if necessity required it, and I do not remember to have had the slightest compunction at the idea of taking the lives of two Sauks, as I had no doubt I should do, and this explains to me what I had before often wondered at, the indifference of the soldier on the field of battle to the destruction of human life. Had I been called upon, however, to use my weapons effectually,I should no doubt have looked back upon it with horror.
Surrounded as we were by Indian lodges, which seldom became perfectly quiet, and excited as our nerves had become by all that we were daily in the habit of hearing, we seldom slept very soundly. One night, after we had as much as possible composed ourselves, we were startled at a late hour by a tap upon the window at the head of our bed, and a call of "Chon! Chon!"2 (John! John!)
"Tshah-ko-zhah?" (What is it?)
It was Hoo-wau-ne-kah, the little Elk. He spoke rapidly, and in a tone of great agitation. I could not understand him, and I lay trembling, and dreading to hear his errand interpreted. Now and then I could distinguish the words Sau-kee (Sauks) and Shoonk-hat-tay-rah (horse), and they were not very reassuring.
The subject I soon learned was this: A fresh trail had been observed near the Petit Rocher, on the Wisconsin, and the people at the villages on the Barribault were in a state of great alarm, fearing it might be the Sauks. There was the appearance of a hundred or more horses having passed by this trail. Hoo-wau-ne-kah had been dispatched at once to tell their father, and to ask his advice.
After listening to all he had to communicate, his father told him the trail was undoubtedly that of General Henry's troops, who were said to have come North, looking for the enemy. That as the marks of the horses' hoofs showed them, by this report, to have been shod, that was sufficient proof that it was not the trail of the Sauks. He thought that the people at the villages need not feel any uneasiness.
"Very well, father," replied Hoo-wau-ne-kah, "I will go back and tell my people what you say. They will believe you, for you always tell them the truth. You are not like us Indians, who sometimes deceive each other." So saying, he returned to his friends, much comforted.
The completion of the picketing and other defences, together with the arrival of a detachment of troops from Fort Howard under Lieut. Hunter, at our fort now seemed to render the latter the place of greatest safety. We therefore regularly, every evening before dusk, took up our line of march for the opposite side of the river, and repaired to quarters that had been assigned us within the garrison, leaving our own house and chattels to the care of the Frenchmen and our friends, the Winnebagoes.
It was on one of these days that we were sitting at the windows which loooked [sic] out on the Portage -- indeed, we seldom sat anywhere else, our almost constant occupation being to look abroad and see what was coming next -- when a loud, long, shrill whoop from a distance gave notice of something to be heard. "The news -- halboo! what could it portend? What were we about to hear?" By gazing intently towards the farthest extremity of the road, we could perceive a moving body of horsemen, which, as they approached, we saw to be Indians. They were in full costume. Scarlet streamers fluttered at the ends of their lances -- their arms glittered in the sun. Presently, as they drew nearer, their paint, and feathers and brooches became visible. There were fifty or more warriors. What could it denote? They passed the road which turns to the fort, and rode directly up the hill leading to the Agency. Shaw-nee-au-kee was absent. The Interpreter had been sent for on the first distant appearance of the strangers, but had not yet arrived. The party having ascended the hill, halted near the blacksmiths shop, but did not dismount.
Our hearts trembled -- it must surely be the enemy. At this moment my husband appeared in the direction of the Interpreter's house. We called to entreat him to stop, but he walked along towards the new comers.
To our infinite joy we saw the Chief of the party dismount, and all the others following his example, and approaching to shake hands.
A space was soon cleared around the leader and my husband, when the former commenced an oration, flourishing his sword and using much violent gesticulation. It was the first time I had seen an Indian armed with that weapon, and I dreaded to perceive it in such hands. Sometimes he appeared as if he were about to take off the head of his auditor at a blow, and our hearts sank as we remembered the stratagems at Mackinac and Detroit in former days. At length the speech was concluded, another shaking of hands took place, and we saw my husband leading the way to his storehouse, from which some of his men presently brought tobacco and pipes, and laid them at the feet of the Chief.
Our suspense was soon relieved by being informed that the strangers were Man-Eater, the principal Chief of the Rock River Indians, who had come with his band to "hold a talk," and bring information.
These Indians were under the special care of Mr. Henry Gratiot, and his efforts had been most judicious and unremitting in preserving the good feeling of this, the most dangerous portion of the Winnebagoes.
The intelligence that Man-Eater, who was a most noble Indian in appearance and character, brought us, confirmed that already received, namely, that the Sauks were gradually drawing north, towards the Portage, although he evidently did not know exactly their whereabouts.
There was, soon after their departure, an arrival of another party of Winnebagoes, and they requested permission to dance for their father.
The compliment having been accepted, they assembled, as usual, on the esplanade in front of the house. My sister, the children and myself, stationed ourselves at the open windows, according to custom, and my husband sat on the broad step before the door, which opened from the outer air directly into the parlor where we were.
The performance commenced, and as they proceeded, following each other round and round in the progress of the dance, my sister, Mrs. Helm, remarked to me, "Look at that small dark Indian, with the green boughs on his person -- that is a Sauk! They always mark themselves in this manner with white clay, and ornament themselves with leaves when they dance!" In truth, I had never seen this costume among our own Indians, and as I gazed at this one, with a green chaplet round his head and his legs, and even his gun wreathed in the same manner, while his body displayed no paint except the white transverse streaks with which it was covered, I saw that he was, indeed, a stranger. Without owing anything to the exaggeration of fear his countenance was truly ferocious. He held his gun in his hand, and every time the course of the dance brought him directly in front of where we sat, he would turn his gaze full upon us, and club his weapon before him with what we interpreted into an air of defiance. We sat as still as death, for we knew it would not be wise to exhibit any appearance of fear, but my sister remarked in a low tone, "I have always thought that I was to lose my life by the hands of the Indians -- this is the third Indian war I have gone through, and now, I suppose, it will be the last."
It was the only time I ever saw her lose her self-possession. She was always remarkably calm and resolute, but now I could see that she trembled. Still we sat there -- there was a sort of fascination as our imaginations became more and more excited. Presently, some rain-drops began to fall. The Indians continued their dance for a few minutes longer, then, with whoopings and shoutings, they rushed simultaneously towards the house. We fled into my apartment and closed the door, which my sister at first held fast, but presently came and seated herself by me on the bed, for she saw that I could not compose myself. Of all forms of death that by the hands of savages, is the most difficult to face calmly, and I fully believed that our hour was come.
There was no interruption to the dance, which the Indians carried on in the parlor, leaping and yelling as if they would bring down the roof over our heads. In vain we tried to persuade my husband and the children through, a crevice of the door, to come and join us. The latter, feeling no danger, were too much delighted with the exhibition to leave it, and the former only came for a moment to reassure me, and then judged it wisest to return, and manifest his satisfaction at the compliment by his presence. He made light of our fears, and would not admit that the object of our suspicions was in fact a Sauk, but only some young Winnebago, who had, as is sometimes the custom, imitated them in costume and appearance.
It may have been "good fun" to him to return to his village and tell how he frightened "the white squaws." Such a trick would not be unnatural in a white youth, and perhaps, since human nature is everywhere the same, it might not be out of the way in an Indian.
1 See Appendix.
2 The Indians who had "been at Washington," were very fond of calling their father thus. Black Wolf's son would go farther and vociferate " K'hizzie," to show his familiarity.
Mrs. John H. Kenzie, Wau-Bun, the "Early Day" in the Northwest. Chicago : D. B. Cooke & Co., 1857. p. 400-414.
From the Memorial Library Department of Special Collections, University of Wisconsin-Madison.