Join us in Red Cliff Wednesday evening for a presentation on the Joseph Austrian memoirs!

By Amorin Mello

The Ashland press 1877

Originally published in the August 11th, 1877, issue of The Ashland Press. Transcribed with permission from Ashland Narratives by K. Wallin and published in 2013 by Straddle Creek Co.

… continued from Number V.



Number VI

Edwin Ellis, M.D.
photograph from Magazine of Western History: Volume IX, No.1, page 20.

My Dear Press: – The history of the first attempt at dock building was told in a former chapter, and also the sudden disappearance of the dock one night in April, 1855.

The early settlers did not, upon their first arrival here, have any fair appreciation of the difficulties in the way of constructing docks, which should be able to resist the several forces to which they would be exposed, and which would certainly tend to their overthrow.  They had not had, as this generation has, the advantage of years of observation of the force of ice as affected by winds, as floating in great fields and driven by wind and tide, nor of the great force arising from expansion.  We now understand better what is the strength of these destructive forces.  Some of us watched them with intense and eager anxiety for years; for no commercial town could be here built up without docks.

It may not be uninteresting to consider in a few words, the varying modes in which the heavy accumulation of ice, during our long winters, is got rid of in the spring, and navigation opened.

Some seasons the water in the bay seems to stand at the same level, not moving by winds or tides for many days in succession.  The ice melts away under the rays of the sun and by the warmth of the south wind.  It is a slow but gentle process.  Any dock is safe in such a season. At other times there are sudden and great changes in the elevation of the surface of the ice or water, either from the force of wind on the open water in the outside lake, or from barometric pressure, or both combined, a great influx of water is driven under the ice into the bay.  At that juncture the ice having been melted away near the shore all around the bay, the whole mass is lifted up several inches and held us on the top of a great wave.  But the reflux of the water must soon occur – when this great field of ice moves down upon a heavy grade.  Its speed will often be accelerated by a strong southwest wind.  The force thus generated is well-nigh irresistible unless there be such a conformation of the shore as shall save the dock from its full effect, and such, fortunately, is the case with our shore.

Another force, also operating with great power and effect upon the first docks built here and from which they suffered severely, was the expansive power of ice, resulting from changes of temperature.  The water in early winter freezes with level surface and is fast to both shores.  But as the cold becomes more intense and the ice thickens, it also sensibly expands, and crowds with great power upon the shore.  It is easy to perceive that docks fully exposed to this force would need to be very firmly bolted together, and covered with heavy loads, or they must be pushed over.  Our docks were thus in the more exposed cribs, broken, and afterwards easily carried away by floating ice and waves.  Our first docks having been carried away; though somewhat alarmed, we did not at once give up.

Martin Beaser

Martin Beaser
portrait from Magazine of Western History: Volume IX, No.1, page 24.

In December 1855, two docks were commenced, one called the Bay City Dock, near the sash factory – and the other at the foot of Main Street in Beaser’s Division of Ashland, in front of the present residence of James A. Wilson.  This last was built by Mr. Beaser.  His plan was to build cribs with flattened timber, fitted closely together so as to hold the clay with which they were filled as ballast, instead of rock, for rock could only be obtained at great cost.  We had no steam tugs then, with which to tow scows, as at present.  The cribs were carried out some five or six hundred feet and filled with clay.  Stringers connected the cribs, over which poles were laid as a roadway.

The Bay City Dock was also built out into deep water with an L running east.  The cribs near the shore were filled with rocks, but for want of time the outer cribs and the L were not filled before the spring break up.  The cribs were, however, constructed with stringers and covered, and some two hundred cords of cord wood were piled upon the dock to prevent the moving of the cribs.

The ice in the bay had not moved, but was melted away and broken up for a few hundred feet from the shore.  There was a great influx of water from the Lake, raising the whole body of the ice.  In a short time there was a greater reflux of the water, and the vast field of ice was seen to be in motion.  All eyes were watching the docks, nor was it needed to watch long.  Mr. Beaser’s was the first to give way.  The cribs did not seem to offer any resistance to the moving mass.  The most of them were carried away in less time than it takes to describe it.  Only a few cribs near the shore escaped.

Nor was the attack on Bay City Dock long delayed; steadily onward came the mass.  And the outer portion was soon in ruins, and the great pile of wood was floating upon the water.  The cribs forming the approach for about three hundred feet, being filled with rock were not carried away.  Thus in one hour were swept away the labors of many months, and several thousand dollars.  The sight was discouraging to men who had come here to make their homes, and whose all was involved in the ruins.  The elements seemed in league against us.  The next day the steamer Superior arrived and effected a landing upon the broken timbers of our dock.  Capt. Jones was in command of her, who, together with his boat were soon to go down in death beneath the waters of the Great Lake.


1860 photograph of the steamer Lady Elgin from the Chicago History Museum and digitized by

During the summer and fall of 1856 the Bay City Dock was repaired and extended further into the bay, and the cribs filled with rocks, and the steamer Lady Elgin made several landings alongside.  But during the winter of 1856 and ’57 the expansive power of the ice, showing against the cribs pushed off the timbers at the water line of several of the outer cribs, which, at the opening of navigation in 1857, were carried away, leaving only sunken cribs.  The dock was never rebuilt, as the financial storm of 1857 began already to lower upon us.  The sunken cribs still remain, as has been proved by the exploration of Capts. Patrick and Davidson, in command of the tugs Eva Wadsworth and Agate.

The experience of the “new Ashland” have demonstrated that pile docks can be built so as successfully to resist all the opposing forces to which they are exposed.  The result of all our experience seems to show that the best dock which can be built is the pile dock filled in between piles with logs or slabs, or what would be better to drive piles close together, capping them and filling in with rocks which will, beyond doubt, be done so soon as our Penoka iron mountains shall be worked.  The time when, must depend upon an improved demand for iron.

To be continued in Number VII

Collected & edited by Amorin Mello

Chippewa Treaty (blue) and Sioux Script (red) treaty land allotments in the Penokee Mountains located along mineral deposits near Mellen, Wisconsin.



[LaPointe County Register of Deeds: Volume 2 Deeds Page 419]


This John W. Bell seems to be either La Pointe County Judge John William Bell, Sr., or his 19-year-old Chippewa son John William Bell, Jr.  Both were neighbors of Julius Austrian in La Pointe.

Julius Austrian had better success entering lands with Chippewa Certificates along the iron range for the Leopold & Austrian family’s La Pointe Iron Company than here along the copper range.

Be it known to all men that I Julius Austrian of Lapointe County State of Wisconsin am held and firmly Bound unto Julius [Bernault?], Peter King, Abraham Comartin, John W Bell & Henry Merryweather and to Each of them Separately in the Sum of One thousand Dollars for which payment will and truly to be made I bind my self my heirs executors and administrators firmly by these presents.

No land claims could be entered here until six years later in 1864, after the U.S. General Land Office finished the original PLSS land survey here in 1863.

The condition of the above obligations are such that whereas the above mentioned Julius [Bernault?], Peter King, Abraham Comartin, John W Bell & Henry Merryweather having Squatted and improved the following mentioned Lands in Lapointe County with the intent of Claiming the Same as a Town Site namely the East half of Section No Seventeen (17) of Township number Forty five (45) of Range no two (2) and have agreed with the said Julius Austrian that he may enter the above described lands by Chippewa Script or otherwise at his option.

The “East half of Section No Seventeen (17) …” is where the Bad River and Tyler Forks River join spectacularly at what is now Brownstone Falls in Copper Falls State Park.

Now if the said Julius Austrian shall with due diligence enter the same as provided and obtain a Patent or Patents as Early as possible from the United States, and within 10 Days from the time he may procure and obtain said Patent or Patents for the above mentioned lands whether in his name or in the names of other parties, make execute & deliver or cause so to be done, to each of the above mentioned parties a Good & Sufficient Deed of warrantee clear of all incumbrances of an undivided Four ninetieths part of the whole mentioned East half of said Section no 17 as above specified. Then this obligation to be null & voice, otherwise to Remain in full force and virtue.

Given under my hand and seal at Lapointe this 30th day of April 1858.

Julius Austrian {Seal}

In presence of

Henry Smitz
M H Mandelbaum

State of Wisconsin } S.S.
County of Lapointe }

Personally came before the undersigned a Notary Public in & For the County of Lapointe the within named Julius Austrian to me well known who acknowledged that he did execute sign & seal the within Bond as his free Act and Deed.

{Seal} M H Mandelbaum
Notary Public



[Ashland County Register of Deeds: Volume 1 Deeds Pages 264-268]


{$180.00 Stamp Int Revenue U.S.}

This Indenture made the twenty fifth day of May in the year one thousand eight hundred and sixty four Between Louis Stein of the City and State of New York individually, Margaret Dupuis by Loius Stein her attorney, Charlotte Mercier by Louis Stein her attorney, Hypolite Auger by Louis Stein her attorney, Julia Renville by Louis Stein her attorney and Louise Moreau by Louis Stein her attorney, parties of the first part, and the Ashland Copper Mining Company, a Corporation created under and by virtue of the laws of the State of Wisconsin, party of the second part.

Chippewa Certificate No. 228 for John B. Corbin of Lac Courte Oreilles and his wife Madeline.

Whereas the north half of the North East quarter of Section Seventeen (17) in Township number Forty five (45) of Range Two (2) west in the District of Lands subject to Sale at Bayfield Wisconsin containing eighty acres according to the Government Survey was located on the 14th day of October 1863 with Chippewa Half Breed Scrip No 228 by John B Corbin,

Chippewa Certificate No. 209 for John Baptiste Denomie of Odanah.

and also the South Half of the North East Quarter of of Section Seventeen (17) Township Forty Five (45) Range Two (2) in the District of Lands subject to Sale at Bayfield Wisconsin containing eighty acres according to Government Survey was located on the 28th day of September 1863 with Chippewa Scrip Number 209 by John P Hamlin attorney for John Baptiste Denomie,

Chippewa Certificate No. 161 for John Hoskins of Odanah and his wife Margaret.

and also the North East half of South East quarter of Section Seventeen (17) Township Forty five (45) Range two (2) West in the District of Lands subject to Sale at Bayfield Wisconsin containing eighty acres according to the Government Survey was located October 14th 1863 with Chippewa Half Breed Scrip No 161 issued to John Haskins by John P Hamlin attorney,

Sioux Script No. 212B for Margaret Dupuis.

and also the North East Quarter of South West quarter of Section Seventeen (27) Township Forty Five (45) Range Two (2) west in the District of lands subject to sale at Bayfield Wisconsin containing Forty acres according to the Government Survey was located October 20th 1863 with Sioux Scrip No 212 B by Louis Stein attorney for Margaret Dupuis,

Sioux Script No. 102B for Charlotte Mercier.

And also the North West Quarter of South West quarter of Section Seventeen (17) Township number Forty five North of Range Two (2) West in the District of Lands subject to Sale at Bayfield Wisconsin containing Forty acres according to the Government Survey was located on November 25th 1863 with Sioux Half Breed Scrip No 102 B by Louis Stein attorney for Charlotte Mercier,

Sioux Script No. 487E for Hypolite Auger.

And also the South East Quarter of Section Eighteen (18) Township Forty five (45) North of Range Two (2) West in the District of Lands subject to Sale at Bayfield Wisconsin containing one hundred and sixty acres according to the Government Survey, was located on the 25th day of November 1863 with Sioux Half Breed Scrip No 487 C by Louis Stein attorney for Hypolite Auger,

Sioux Script No. 212C for Margaret Dupuis.

And also the South half of South West Quarter of Section Seventeen (17) Township Forty five (45) Range Two (2) in the District of Lands subject to Sale at Bayfield Wisconsin containing eighty acres according to the Government Survey was located October 18th 1863 with Sioux Half Breed Scrip No 212 Letter C by Louis Stein attorney for Margaret Dupuis,

Chippewa Certificate No. 158 for John Baptiste Crane.

And also the North half of the North West quarter of Section Twenty (20) Township Forty five (45) North of Range 2 west in the District of lands subject to Sale at Bayfield Wisconsin containing eighty acres according to the Government Survey was located September 10th 1863 with Chippewa Half Breed Scrip No 158 by Julius Austrian attorney,

Chippewa Certificate No. 281 for Michael Lambert.

And also the South Half of South East Quarter of Section Seventeen (17) Township Forty five (45) Range Two (2) West in the District of Lands subject to Sale at Bayfield Wisconsin containing eighty acres according to the Government Survey was located on the 14th day of October 1863 with Chippewa Half Breed Scrip No 281 issued to Michael Lambert by John P Hamlin attorney,

Sioux Script No. 29 for Julia Renville.

And also the North East quarter of Section nineteen (19) Township No Forty five (45) Range Two (2) West in the District of Lands subject to Sale at Bayfield Wisconsin containing one hundred and Sixty acres according to the Government Survey was located on the 19th day of October 1863 with Sioux Half Breed Scrip No 29 by Louis Stein attorney for Julia Renville,

Sioux Script No. 17E for Louise Moreau.

And also the North half of South East quarter and East Half of the South West quarter of Section Number nineteen (19) Township No Forty five (45) Range Two (2) West in the District of Lands subject to Sale at Bayfield Wisconsin containing One hundred and Sixty acres according to the Government Survey was located on the 19th day of October 1963 with Sioux Half Breed Scrip No 17 C by Louis Stein attorney for Louise Moreau.

Chippewa and Sioux treaty land allotments in and contiguous to Copper Falls State Park.  There are more Chippewa allotments here than those claimed by Ashland Copper Mining Company.  Others went to Robert Morrin, Joseph Roy, Francis S. Gurnoe, John Chapman, Francis Fournier, Rosalie Trocquer, John Baptiste Visneau, Henry Davenport, Edward Ashman, Henry Graham, Mary Graham, Joseph Blanchard, and Reuben Chapman.

And whereas said North Half of North East Quarter of Section Seventeen (17) in Township No Forty five (45) of Range Two west was conveyed by John B Corbin and Wife to John P Hamlin by Deed dated October 17th 1863, and Recorded in the Office of Register of Deeds of Ashland County Wisconsin in Book of Deeds Vol 1 pages 218 & 219 October 18, 1863 and was further conveyed by said John P Hamlin to Louis Stein by Deed dated October 31st 1863, and Recorded in said Registers office in Book of Deeds Vol 1 Page 225 November 9th 1863,

John Baptiste Denomie of Odanah.
~ Noble Lives of a Noble Race, A Series of Reproductions by the Pupils of Saint Mary’s, Odanah, Wisconsin, 1909, page 213-217.

And whereas said South Half of the North east quarter of Section Seventeen (17) Township Forty five (45) Range Two (2) has been conveyed by the said John Baptiste Denomie to Louis Stein by Deed dated May 25th 1864,

and said North East Half of South East Quarter of Section Seventeen (17) Township Forty five (45) Range Two(2) west has been conveyed by said John Haskins to said Louis Stein by Deed dated May 25th 1864,

and said South East Quarter of Section Eighteen (18) Township Forty five (45) North of range two (2) west has been conveyed by Hypolite Auger to said Louis Stein by Deed Dated January 1, 1862 and recorded in said Office of Register of Deeds in Vol 1 of Deeds page 227 January 23 1864,

The Ashland Copper Mine was mapped by Irving in 1873 for the Geology of Wisconsin: Volume III.  This was located at what is now the main picnic area on Michael Lambert’s Chippewa Allotment in Copper Falls State Park.

and said South Half of South East quarter of Section Seventeen (17) Township Forty five (45) Range two (2) West has been conveyed by the said Michael Lambert to the said Louis Stein by Deed dated May 25th 1864,

and the said Louis Stein has also acquired the title of the said North Half of the North West quarter of Section twenty (20) Township Forty five (45) North of Range two (2) West from the said Julius Austrian.

And whereas the said parties of the first part to these presents have sold and agreed to convey to the said party of the second part to these presents a tract of land situated in the County of Ashland in the State of Wisconsin which includes the whole or parts of the several tracts pieces and parcels of land herein before described which said tract of land so sold and agreed to be conveyed to the said party of the second part is hereinafter particularly described.

Now Therefore this Indenture Witnesseth that the said parties of the first part for and in consideration of Twenty thousand shares of the Capital Stocks of the said party of the second part of the value of five dollars for each Share, which have been issued or transferred and assigned to them the said parties of the first part or as they have appointed and directed, the receipt of which is hereby acknowledged, have granted, bargained, sold, released, conveyed, and confirmed and by these presents do grant, bargain, sell, release, convey and confirm unto the said party of the second part its successors and assigns forever

All that certain tract and parcel of Land situate, lying and being in the County of Ashland in the State of Wisconsin, known bounded and described as follows to wit;

Beginning at a point in the center of Bad River in Township Number Forty five (45) North Range Number Two (2) West of the Fourth Meridian where said river crosses the northerly boundary of Section number Seventeen (17) in the North East quarter, thence running west eight hundred (800) feet more or less to the North West corner of said North East quarter Section; thence South twenty six hundred and forty (2640) feet to the center of Section number Seventeen (17); thence West Five thousand two hundred and eighty feet (5280) to the center of Section number eighteen (18); thence South Five thousand two hundred and eighty (5280) feet to the center of Section number nineteen (18); thence west thirteen hundred and twenty (1320) feet; thence South twenty six hundred and forty (2640) feet; thence East thirteen hundred and twenty (1320) feet; thence North twenty three hundred and ninety (2390) feet more or less to the center of said Bad River and thence North Easterly along the center of said Bad River as it runs to the place of beginning, containing six hundred and fifty three acres (653) more or less and being portions of Section numbers seventeen (17), eighteen (18), nineteen (19) and twenty (20) in the aforesaid Township.

To have and to hold the above described and hereby granted premises and every part and parcel thereof together with all and singular the tenements hereditaments and appurtenances thereunto belonging or in anywise appertaining unto the said party of the second part its successors and assigns to its and their own purpose, use, benefit and behoof forever. And the said parties of the first part severally for himself and herself and not the one for the other, and for his and her heirs executors and administrators do hereby covenant promise and agree to and with the said party of the second part, its successors and assigns to make, execute, sign, seal, acknowledge and deliver at the Cost and expense of the said party of the second part its successors and assigns all such other and further Deeds, grants, conveyances and instruments in writing as the said party of the second part its successors and assigns or its or their Counsel learned in the law shall at any times advise, devise or require for the [more?] effectually conveying to and vesting in the said party of the second part its successors and assigns the fee simple of the above described and hereby granted, promised and every part thereof with the appurteances. And the said Margaret DuPuis, Charlotte Mercier, Hypolite Auger, Julia Renville and Louise Moreau severally and not the one for the other and each of them only in respect to so much of the hereby conveyed premises as is located by or for him or her as herein before stated and set forth and is hereby conveyed by him or her or intended so to be for himself and herself, his and her heirs, executors and administrators covenant and agree to and with the said party of the second part its successors and assigns in the manner and form following that is to say That he or she at the time of the ensealing and delivery of these presents is the true, lawful and rightful owner of the said hereby conveyed premises, and has therein a good sure, perfect and indefeasible estate in fee simple; and that he and she has full right, power and authority to grant, bargain, sell, remise, release, convey and confirm the said premises unto the said party of the second part its successors and assigns in manner and form aforesaid and that the said party of the second part its successors and assigns shall quietly enjoy and possess the said premises and that he and she will Warrant and Defend the title to the same against all lawful claims.

In Witness Whereof the said parties of the first part have hereunto set their hands and Seals they day and year first above written

Louis Stein {S.S.}
Margaret Dupuis by Louis Stein atty {S.S.}
Charlotte Mercier by Louis Stein atty {S.S.}
Hypolite Auger by Louis Stein attorney {S.S.}
Julia Renville by Louis Stein Attorney {S.S.}
Louis Moreau by Louis Stein attorney {S.S.}

Sealed and delivered in Presence

A H Wallis
Andrew Clerk

State of New York } S.S.
County of New York }

Be it Remembered that on this seventh day of June in the year eighteen hundred and sixty four before the subscriber a Commissioner in and for the said State, appointed by the Governor of the State of Wisconsin to take acknowledgment and proof of the execution of Deeds, or other conveyances or leases and of any contract, letter of attorney or other writing under seal or not administer oaths and take and certify depositions to be used or recorded in the said State of Wisconsin appeared Louis Stein whom I know to be the person described in and who executed the foregoing instrument and acknowledged that he executed the same in his own behalf as his own act and deed and also acknowledged that he executed the same as the act and deed of Margaret Dupuis, Charlotte Mercier, Hypolite Auger, Julia Renville & Louise Moreau therein descried by virtue of a Power of Attorney severally executed by them authorizing the same, and which Power of Attorney have been duly exhibited to me by the said Louis Stein.

Given under my hand and Official Seal

{Seal} Charles E Jenkins Commissioner for the State of Wisconsin, residing in the city of New York.

We do not feel disposed to go away into a strange & unknown country, we desire to remain where our ancestors lay & where their remains are to be seen.

By Leo

Aamoons or Little Bee, chief at Lac du Flambeau c. 1862 (MN Historical Society)

Poking through old archives, sometimes you find the best things where you wouldn’t expect to. The National Archives have been slowly digitizing its Bureau of Indian Affairs microfilms, and for several months, I have been slogging through the thousands of images from the La Pointe Agency. For a change of pace, a few days ago, I checked out the documents on the Sault Ste. Marie Agency films and got my hands on a good one.

In September of 1847, Aamoons (Little Bee) and some headmen of what had been White Crow’s (Waabishkaagaagi) Lac du Flambeau were facing a serious dilemma. They were on their way home from the annuity payment at La Pointe where the main topic of conversation would certainly have been controversy surrounding the recent treaty at Fond du Lac. Several chiefs refused to sign, and the American Fur Company’ Northern Outfit opposed it due to a controversial provision that would have established a second Ojibwe sub agency on the Mississippi River. They saw this provision as a scheme by Missisippi traders to effect the removal west of all bands east of the Mississippi. Aamoons, himself, did not initially sign the document, but his mark can be found on the back of an envelope sent from La Pointe to Washington.

Our old friend George Johnston was returning to his Sault Ste. Marie home from the annuity payments when the Lac du Flambeau men summoned him to the Turtle Portage, near today’s Mercer, Wisconsin. They presented him a map and made speeches suggesting removal would be in direct violation of promises made at the Treaty of La Pointe (1842).

Johnston did not have a position with the American Government at this time, and his trading interests in western Lake Superior were modest. However, he was well known in the country. His grandfather, Waabojiig (White Fisher), was a legendary war chief at Chequamegon, and his parents formed a powerful fur trade couple at the turn of the 19th century. In the 1820s, George served as the first Indian Office sub-agent at La Pointe under his brother-in-law Henry Rowe Schoolcraft. During this time, he developed connections with Ojibwe leaders throughout the Lake Superior country, many of whom he was related to by blood or marriage.

George Johnston of Sault Ste. Marie, fur trader, interpreter, Indian Agent, general hustler and rabble rouser, and son of Ozhaawashkodewekwe of Chequamegon (University of Michigan).

By 1847, Schoolcraft had remarried and left for Washington after the death of his first wife (George’s sister Jane). However, the two men continued to correspond and supply direct intelligence to each other regarding Ojibwe politics. Local Indian Agents attempted to control all communication moving to and from Washington, so in Johnston they likely saw a chance to subvert this system and press their case directly.

The document that emerged from this 174 year old meeting is notable for a few reasons. It further bolsters the argument that the Ojibwe did not view their land cessions in the 1837 and 1842 treaties as requiring them to leave their villages in the east. That point that has been argued for years, but here we have a document where the chiefs speak of specific promises. It also reinforces the notion that the various political factions among the Lake Superior chiefs were coalescing around a policy of promoting reservations as an alternative to removal. This seems obvious now, but reservations were a novel concept in the 1840s, and certainly the United States ceding land back to Indian nations east of the Mississippi would have been unheard of. Knowing this was part of the discussion in 1847 makes the Sandy Lake Tragedy, three years later, all the more tragic. The chiefs had the solution all along, and had the Government just listened to the Ojibwe, hundreds of lives would have been spared.

Finally, the document, especially the map, should be of interest to the modern Lac du Flambeau Band as it appears its reservation should be much larger, encompassing the historical villages at Turtle Portage and Trout Lake as well as Aamoons’ village at Lac du Flambeau proper. The borders also seem to approach, but not include the villages at Vieux Desert and Pelican Lake, which will be interesting to the modern Sokaogon and Lac Vieux Desert Bands.

Saut Ste. Marie

Augt 28th 1848.

Dear sir,

On reaching the turtle portage during the past fall; I was addressed by the Indians inhabiting, the Lac du Flambeau country and they presented me with a map of that region, also a petition addressed to you which I will herein insert, they were under an impression that you could do much in their behalf.  The object of delineating a map is to show to the department, the tract of country they reserved for themselves, at the treaty of 1842, concluded by Robert Stuart at Lapointe during that period, and which now appears to be included in that treaty, without any reserve to the Indians of that region, and who expressly stated through me that they were willing to sell their mineral lands, but would retain the tract of country delineated on the map;  This forms an important grievance in that region.  I designed to have forwarded to you during the past winter their map & petition, but having mislaid it, I did not find it till this day, in an accidental manner, and I now feel that I am bound in duty to forward it to you.

The petition of the Chiefs Ahmonce, Padwaywayashe, Oshkanzhenemais & Say Jeanemay.

My Father (addressing Mr. Schoolcraft.)

Padwaywayashe rose and said, It is not I that will now speak on this occasion, it is these three old men before you, they are related to our ancestors, that man (pointing to Say Jeanemay will be their spokesman,

Sayjeanemay rose and said,

My Father, (addressing himself to Mr. Schoolcraft.)

Padwaywayahshe who has just now ceased speaking is the son of the late Kakabishin an ancient Chief who was lost many years ago in lower Wisconsain, and the white people have not as yet found him, and his Father was one of the first who received the Americans when they landed on the Island of Mackinac.  Kishkeman and Kahkahbeshine are the two first chiefs that shook hands with the Americans, The Indian agent then told them that he had arrived and had come to be a friend to them, they who were living in the high mountains, and he saw that they were poor and he was come to rekindle their fire, and the American Indian Agent then gave Kish Keman a large flag and a large silver medal, and said to him, you will never meet with a bad day, the sky will always be bright before you.

My Father.

Our old chief the white crow died last dall, he went to the treaty held at St. Peters, and reached that point when the treaty was almost concluded, and he heard very little of it, and it was not him who sold our lands, it was an Indian living beyond the pillager band of Indians.  We feel much grieved at heart, we are now living without a head, and had we reached St. Peters in time, the person who sold our lands would not have been permitted to do so, we should have made provision for ourselves and for our children, We do not now see the bright sky you spoke of to us, we see the return of the bad day I was in the habit of seeing before you came to renew my fire, and now it is again almost extinguished.  

My Father; 

We feel very much grieved; had my chief been present I should not have parted with my lands, and we find that the commissioner who treated with us, (meaning Mr. R. Stuart) has taken advantage of our ignorance, and bought our lands at his own price, and we did not sell the tract delineated on our map.

My Father;

We do not feel disposed to go away into a strange & unknown country, we desire to remain where our ancestors lay & where their remains are to be seen.  We now shake hands with you hope that you will answer us soon.

Turtle portage 11th Sep; 1847.

In presence of}

Geo. Johnston.

Ahmonce his X mark

Padwaywayahshe his X mark

Oshkanzhenemay his X mark

Sayjeaneamy his X mark 


Henry R. Schoolcraft Esq.


N.B. All the country lying within the dotted lines embraces the country, the Chief Monsobodoe & others reserved at the Lapointe treaty and which now is embraced in the Treaty articles, and could not be misunderstood by Mr. Stuart and as I have already remarked forms an important grievance.  All of which is respectfully submitted by


Your obt Servant

Geo. Johnston.

Henry R. Schoolcraft Esq.


Respectfully referred from my files to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs


14th Feb 1849

Robert Stuart, an American Fur Company official, was the treaty commissioner in 1842. He notoriously strong-armed the negotiations and alledgedly made several promises that never materialized. Johnston seemed to have his own personal grievance with Stuart as the debt terms of favored the Fur Company over older “British” traders like the Johnstons (Wikimedia).

Ahmonce (Aamoons), is found in many documents from the 1850s and 60s as the successor chief to the band once guided by his father Waabishkaagaagi (White Crow), uncle Moozobodo (Moose Muzzle), and grandfather Giishkiman (Sharpened Stone). The latter two are spelled Monsobodoe and Kishkeman in this document. Gaakaabishiinh (Kahkabeshine) “Screech Owl,” is probably the “old La Chouette” recorded in Malhiot’s Lac du Flambeau journal in the winter of 1804-05.

“The Americans when they landed on the Island of Mackinac” refers to the surrender of the British garrison at the end of the War of 1812, which is often referenced as the start of American assertions of sovereignty over the Ojibwe country. Despite Sayjeanemay’s lofty friendship rhetoric, it should be noted that many Ojibwe warriors fought with the British against the United States and political relations with the British crown and Ojibwe bands on the American side would continue for the next forty years.

The speaker who dominated the 1837 negotiations, and earned the scorn of the Lake Superior Bands, was Maajigaabaw or “La Trappe.” He, Flat Mouth, and Hole-in-the-Day, chiefs of the Mississippi and Pillager Bands in what is now Minnesota, were more inclined to sell the Wisconsin and Chippewa River basins than the bands who called that land home. This created a major rift between the Lake Superior and Mississippi Ojibwe.

Pa-dua-wa-aush (Padwaywayahshe) is listed under Aamoons’ band in the 1850 annuity roll. Say Jeanemay appears to be an English phonetic rendering of the Ojibwe pronunciation of the French name St. Germaine. A man named “St. Germaine” with no first name given appears in the same roll in Aamoons’ band. The St. Germaines were a mix-blood family with a long history in the Flambeau Country, but this man appears to be too old to be a child of Leon St. Germaine and Margaret Cadotte. From the text it appears this St. Germaine’s family affiliated with Ojibwe culture, in contrast to the Johnstons, another mix-blood family, who affiliated much more strongly with their father’s Anglo-Irish elite background. So far, I have not been able to find another mention of Oshkanzhenemay.

Moozobodo was not present at the Treaty of La Pointe (1842) as he died in 1831. Johnston may be confusing him with his brother Waabishkaagaagi

The timing of Schoolcraft’s submission of this document to the Indian Department is curious. In February 1849, a delegation of chiefs, mostly from villages near Lac du Flambeau was in Washington D.C. to petition President Polk for reservations. Schoolcraft worked to undermine this delegation. Had he instead promoted the cause of reservations over removal, one wonders if he could have intervened to prevent the Sandy Lake debacle.

Map of Lac du Flambeau Reservation as understood by Ojibwe at Treaty of La Pointe 1842. Apparently drawn from memory 11 September 1847 by Lac du Flambeau chiefs, copied and presumably labelled by George Johnston. Microfilm slide made available online by National Archives Image 340.

Chiefs’ map simplified by L. Filipczak, 2021, aided by Gidakiimanaan Anishinaabe Atlas (GLIFWC; 2007), Joseph Nicollet’s 1843 map of the Hydrographical Basin of the Upper Mississippi River and Nicollet’s manuscript map of the same era. The map is clearly bounded to the west by the Great Divide between the Lake Superior and Flambeau/Mantowish basins, extending east as far as Lac Vieux Desert. It includes the upper Elk River but extends only as far south as Elk (Omashkooz “Maskose”) Lake. Most of the Tomahawk (Petit Wisconsin/Giiwewiidoon “Kewey Keweto”) River is included, but the mouth is not. Conversely, in the east, the mouth of Pelican (Zhedeg “Chetec”) River is part of the reservation, but the upper reaches, and Pelican Lake itself are not.
Alleged reservation boundaries roughly superimposed over Nicollet’s 1843 map, which distorts scale but includes some of the same names as the chiefs’ 1847 map.

Alleged reservation boundaries agreed to in 1842 roughly superimposed over modern map. The Treaty of La Pointe (1854) called for three townships for the Lac du Flambeau Band–the white square on this map showing the modern reservation. Had the 1842 boundaries held, the reservation would have been much larger and included several popular resort communities.

Last month, I teased the introduction of Chequamegon History Collections, a new way of presenting large groupings of primary-source transcriptions without the formatting and analysis of blog posts…just the pure, unfiltered original material! This is a project that has been in the works for a couple years, now, and coincides with the rollout of the Chequamegon History Source Archive.

The first collection currently contains 56 documents (a number that will grow as more are found) and is centered around the delegation of Lake Superior Ojibwe leaders that travelled from La Pointe to Washington D. C. in the winter of 1848-49. They were led by Gezhiiyaash (Swift Flyer) of Lac Vieux Desert and Oshkaabewis (Messenger) of Rice Lake (Oneida Co.), and represented the council of chiefs who met at La Pointe late in the summer of 1848. Their stated goal was to petition the President and Congress to allow the bands in Wisconsin and Michigan to stay in the ceded territory. However, powerful opponents (with vested interests) would attack the delegation’s purpose from the outset.

Because it failed to stop the Sandy Lake removal, and is overshadowed by the 1852 (Chief Buffalo) Washington Delegation, the 1849 effort is largely unknown. Some readers may only know of it through the widely circulated pictographic petitions that accompanied the chiefs.

We have covered certain aspects of it here on the blog.

The documents include this previously published material, as well as additional newspaper articles from the time period and a whole series of letters and petitions (graciously shared by Dr. Theresa Schenck) from the Office of Indian Affairs records in the National Archives. The casual reader will find the documents undaunting as far as primary sources go, and see they paint a compelling, colorful narrative full of heroism, tragedy and comedy with a central unresolved mystery surrounding the motives of a mercurial figure by the name of John Baptiste Martell.

The documents will be of interest to scholars of the removal period, who will find some of the clearest evidence that the Lake Superior chiefs not only had a consensus policy in 1848, but that it would be articulated directly to the United States Government, only to be tragically ignored. The sources are also remarkable for their detailed descriptions of Ojibwe diplomacy and material culture. In addition to the pictographs, the reader will find explanations of the usage of wampum, bark canoes, and sacred scrolls. Finally, the documents are fascinating for the volume of material that appears in the translated words of the chiefs themselves. They forcefully defend their sovereignty, articulate their grievances, and explain how removal would disrupt their patterns of life–all in clear, powerful terms.

Chequamegon History Collections: 1849 Ojibwe Delegation to President Polk is available at this link.

By Leo

When I started Chequamegon History in March 2013, I had the ambitious goal of adding one new post every week. It wasn’t long before one a month was more realistic, and lately the pace has been closer to one per year. I could blame life for getting in the way, but life always gets in the way.

The truth is, my interest in primary research and sharing underutilized documents is stronger than ever, but the analysis and writing required in finishing a blog post has become tedious. Therefore, to reinvigorate my contributions to the site, I’ve decided to take some new directions:

Chequamegon History Source Archive

The first new project is the Chequamegon History Source Archive (CHSA). The purpose of this page is simply to archive transcriptions of primary sources and index them in a way that they can be easily searched. The CHSA can be accessed through the main Chequamegon History website here:

At this point, the CHSA is hosted on Google Sites, rather than WordPress, so it will take you to an external site.

I encourage readers to play around with the filter and search functions to see what’s on there. As of October 1, 2020, there were seventy-one documents in the archive, but this number should increase dramatically in the coming month as I will be adding transcriptions, some of which have never appeared on Chequamegon History.

I expect the Source Archive to be of interest to academics and readers who want original source material without the analysis. For more casual readers, who like more context and narrative, these changes and adding a second website might seem unnecessary and cumbersome. Fret not! One goal of the CHSA is to eventually support increased public presentation of Chequamegon History material.

Chequamegon History Collections

For those who like extended reading, we are excited to announce the launch of Chequamegon History Collections. These free documents, ranging from pamphlet to book length, bring together primary document transcriptions around a single topic.

Look out in the coming weeks for preview posts of the two such collections already available on the CHSA: 1849 Ojibwe Delegation to President Polk (56 documents) and 1847 Treaty (62 documents).

The goal is to eventually issue more of these free collections, and if the coronavirus ever lets us, to do an associated lecture series.

Occasional Blog Posts

With all the changes, however, I won’t lose sight of the usefulness of the blog format for certain topics. These will probably be less archival in nature, and tend more toward posts relating to current events (e.g. 19th-Century Deer in the Headlights or Black Lives, White Supremacy, and Confederate Tributes: Chequamegon Connections) or highlight documents that already have a complete narrative and only need a few pictures and annotations to be accessible to most readers (e.g. Ishkigamizigedaa! Bad River Sugar Camps 1844 or Reisen in Nordamerika). Hopefully, they will come more frequently, but I’m not promising anything.

Stay healthy and send feedback,


Collected and edited by Amorin Mello



Indian Agency’s Instructions to
Henry C. Gilbert and David B. Herriman
for the 1854 Treaty at La Pointe

from Office of Indian Affairs federal archives



Department of the Interior
Office Indian Affairs
August 11, 1854

After the 1854 Treaty was signed at La Pointe on September 30, 1854, Congress enacted An act to provide for the extinguishment of the title of the Chippewa Indians to the Lands owned and claimed by them in the Territory of Minnesota, and State of Wisconsin, and for their Domestication and Civilization on December 19, 1854. Shortly afterwards, on January 10, 1855, the 1854 Treaty of La Pointe was ratified by Congress.

Indian Agent
Henry C. Gilbert
~ Branch County Photographs

Gilbert, Henry C.
Indian Agent
Detroit, Michigan


The Bill to provide for the Extinguishment of the title of the Chippewas to the lands owned and claimed by them in Wisconsin and Minnesota, which passed the House early in the Sessions, failed in the Senate.

In view however of the importance of extinguishing the Indian title to portions of the Chippewa Country, it is deemed proper to confide to you certain conditional instructions, to the end that if in your judgement it be practicable to conclude a treaty at the period when you assemble the Indians to pay them their annuities this fall, that object may be accomplished.

You will therefore consider yourself in conjunction with Major Herriman as the Officers of the Indian Department designated to make a treaty with the Chippewa Indians of Lake Superior and the Mississippi.

A great number of traders and claim agents were also present as well as some of the persons from St. Paul’s who I had reason to believe attended for the purpose of preventing if possible the consummation of the treaty. The utmost precautions were taken by me to prevent a knowledge of the fact that negotiations were to take place from being public. The Messenger sent by me to Mr Herriman was not only trust worthy but was himself totally ignorant of the purport of the dispatches to Major Herriman. Information however of the fact was communicated from some source and the persons present in consequence greatly embarrassed our proceedings.
~ Indian Agent Gilbert’s Explanation after the 1854 Treaty

When you arrive at La Pointe, if you are satisfied that you can send a runner over to the Mississippi & have Major Herriman come over immediately, with the principal Chief and three or four of the Headmen of each of the bands who receive pay at the Agency, and who reside on or near the Mississippi, or between that stream & the Lake, you will do so.  The design is that the principal Chief and Head Men to the number stated of all the bands, other than those to be paid by you, be present on the Occasion.  The latter will of course be represented.

I am informed that that the Mississippi Indians can be brought over in the way I suggest, as soon as you can assemble yours.  If you are satisfied of this fact you are authorized to send over the runner, but it is not my wish that any attempt be made, and a failure follow.

If delegates from all the bands can be assembled and negotiations had with them, you are authorized to offer the Chippewas the sum of $500,000 for all the country they now own or claim in the territory of Minnesota, the state of Wisconsin or elsewhere excepting and reserving for the future home of said Indians a quantity of land equal to 743,000 acres which may be selected in one body or in two or three locations, as the Indians may desire, and if the reservations be selected in more than one locality, the quantity of land fixed upon, as the Maximum amount of the reserve must be divided between the different locations of the Indians according to the population of the bands who may elect to inhabit such reservation or reservations.  If the Indians could all be placed on one reserve, so that an Agent could always have a perfect Oversight over them it would be much better for their future interests; but if this cannot be effected, the several sub-reserves should be located in such proximity to each other, as to enable the Agent to exercise a watchful care over the Indians.

The future home or reserves should not be in the avenues by which the white population will approach the ceded country, or embrace any of the mineral lands which are now becoming desirable.

Stay tuned for more documents about the 1847 Treaty at Fond du Lac to be published on Chequamegon History.

I send herewith a copy of the instructions of the Secretary of War of the date of 4th of June 1847, when a former Commission attempted to treat with these Indians, but failed.  According to the Estimates of this Office, the Chippewas own about 10,743,000 Acres of land, the greater part of which is of no value to them, and never will be.  Some portions of it will be valuable to the White population.

Nevertheless, the condition of Affairs with the Chippewas is such that it is the duty of the Government to Offer them an Opportunity to dispose of their tenure to their Country, and in lieu thereof, to give them a small tract as a permanent home, with such means of support & neutral & moral improvement, as may be of great advantage to them.

A little over 25 years after their council meeting with Lewis & Clark, the Otoe & Missouria agreed to their first official cession of land to the United States in 1830. Additional cessions followed in 1833, 1836, and 1854.”
~The Otoe-Missouria Tribe

I transmit herewith a copy of the bill alluded to and also a copy of a recent treaty with the Ottoe & Missouri Indians, remarking that if a provision is inserted for allowing individual reservations within the general reservations that Eighty Acres to the family, as provided in the bill is deemed ample.  These documents may be useful as affording you indications of the views of the Department and of such provisions as it may be desirable to have incorporated in a treaty.

In view of the fact that it is necessary to enter upon this business without permitting those adverse influences, which are always at work to thwart the purposes, and objects of the Government, in its efforts to treat with the Indians, you will not divulge the nature of your instructions, or indeed say any thing about them to any person.

Julius Austrian was a signer of the 1847 Treaty at Fond du Lac.  In 1853 Austrian acquired ownership of La Pointe and applied for a passport through personal introductions from Acting Commissioner of Indian Affairs Charles E. Mix.  The Leopold and Austrian family was operating their family business at the former American Fur Company property in La Pointe during the 1854 Treaty.  Leopold and Austrian went on to acquire lands allotted by the 1854 Treaty to Mixed Blood families and capitalize on them as the La Pointe Iron Company.

Julius Austrian
~ Madeline Island Museum

When you get to La Point, if you conclude to send for Maj. Herriman, and the principal Men of his bands, you can do so, leaving the impression on those who may be privy to it, that their presence is necessary, in order that a better understanding may exist as to a proper disposition of the present annuities between the Lake bands and those on the Mississippi.

Mr. Austrian who resides at La Point, and who was here last winter, tendered his services to the Office in collecting Indians etc. etc. at any time, and he is recommended to me as a faithful man.  He would perhaps be a faithful man to whom to confide the message to Major Herriman.

I have caused a remittance, to be made to you, by requisition of this date for the sum of $1900 as follows:

Provisions for Indians  $1500
Presents for 100           $300
Contingencies               $100

which will be applicable to this object, but to be used only in case negotiations are had with the Chippewas.  Except so far as the provisions & expenses of a runner may be necessary.

As far as these amounts are expended, to be accounted for under the proper heads of account.

George Washington Manypenny

Very Respect’y Your Ob’t Servant

Geo. W. Manypenny


N.B. I learn that a boat leaves the Sault of St Marie on the 21st instant for Lapoint.  If so you should avail yourself of the opportunity to go forward.  The enclosed communication to Maj Herriman, you will forward to him by the runner, if you determine to send one, and be satisfied that the expedition will be successful before you send it states the whole matter to Major H.  From the instructions to the Commissioners of June 4th 1847, and the Ottoe & Missouri treaty, you will form an idea of the necessary stipulations for the payment of the purchase money, the amount of it that should be invested etc. and the necessary provisions for Stock, Agricultural Implements etc. etc. in place of money.  A map showing the country of the Chippewas is also herewith.

Geo. W. Manypenny




Department of the Interior
Office Indian Affairs
August 12th, 1854

Gilbert, H. C.
Indian Agent
Detroit, Michigan


Referring to my letter of instruction to you of the 11th instant, I have to remark that should you succeed in having the proposed negotiations with the Chippewas, and a treaty be made, you will provide to pay the $500,000 as follows:

1854 Treaty with the Otoe & Missouria

One hundred thousand dollars to be invested at five percent interest, which interest shall be expended annually under the President’s direction for purposes of Education, and the moral improvement of the Indians.  The residue to be paid say in twenty annual installments of twenty thousand dollars each without interest, or these deferred payments may be extended over twenty five or thirty years, all of them however to be subject to the President’s discretion, as in Article 4 of the Ottoe & Missouri treaty.

If necessary to accomplish the object, although $500,000 is deemed the value of the Chippewa tenure to the land, you may go as high as $600,000 payments as above.

Should a treaty be made, it is submitted whether the new locations reserved & to the Indians, may not be of such a character as to render some of the smiths, farmers etc. stipulated for under former treaties of no use, and if so, that provisions be inserted cancelling such of these provisions, under former treaties, as can be dispensed with, and providing that a sum equal to the amount, now paid annually for such, may be appropriated for the unexpired term of former treaty stipulations to be expended by the President, for the use of the Indians, as other funds are provided to be expended.

Very Respectfully
Your Ob’t Servant

Geo. W. Manypenny




Department of the Interior
Office Indian Affairs
August 14, 1854

Gilbert, H. C.
Indian Agent
Detroit, Michigan


“We found the points most strenuously insisted upon by them were first the privilege of remaining in the country where they reside and next the appropriation of land for their future homes. Without yielding these points, it was idle for us to talk about a treaty. We therefore agreed to the selection of lands for them in territory heretofore ceded.”
~ Indian Agent Gilbert’s Explanation after the 1854 Treaty

Referring to my letters of instruction of the 11th & 12th instant, both of which were prepared in great haste, I am inclined to the opinion that a state of things may exist that you might feel embarrassed at the suggestions that if the land reserved by the Indians was located in more than one tract the several sub-reserves should be in such close proximity as to enable the agent to have a constant oversight over all the Indians.  It may however occur that there may be partialities and predilections among the different bands for different and widely separated districts, and that these partialities cannot be overcome.  I am clearly of the opinion that all the land reserved should be in one body and every reasonable effort should be employed to impress the Indians with this view; and if it fail the fewest sub-reserves that can be got along with should be allowed and if possible they should be in the same region of Country; but if the Indians have the predilections alluded to, and they cannot be changed in their views, you will accede to their wishes to a reasonable extent in this particular.  And if it should so happen that they select locations widely distant from each other so that it would be more for their interests that one portion might be under one Agent and another under another, it would be well perhaps to adjust all matters between the bands thus located, naming all of them by bands which select a reservation.  Setting apart according to the population their portion of such reserved land, and providing to pay them by the same rule, their proportion of the purchase money at their reserve, and so with the bands on each of the reserves.  And indeed a clause might be inserted, adjusting and dividing by population to the Indians of each reserve the annuities to become due under former treaties, whether of money or in kind so that no difficulties could hereafter arise provided one part should be in one agency and others in another.

Several members of the Indian Committee of the Senate having expressed a wish that a clause or article of the following import should be inserted in all treaties hereafter made.  You will please put it in the treaty which I hope you may be able to enter into with the Chippewas.  It is thus:

Article 9 of the 1854 Treaty:
“The United States agree that an examination shall be made, and all sums that may be found equitably due to the Indians, for arrearages of annuity or other thing, under the provisions of former treaties, shall be paid as the chiefs may direct.”

And; It is agreed between the United States and the said Chippewa Indians, that should it at any time hereafter be considered necessary, and for the benefit of said Indians, it shall be discretionary with the President by & with the advise and consent of the Senate to change the annuities herein provided for or any part thereof into a fund establishing farms among and for them.

Very Respectfully
Your Ob’t Servant

Geo. W. Manypenny



By Leo

Promoting justice has never been the explicit goal of Chequamegon History.  However, it would be historically irresponsible not to acknowledge that the stories we tell are stories of dispossession, colonialism, and white supremacy.  As our country is in a moment of reckoning its racist history, we have been reflecting on how our work relates to the current national discussion, and have come up with a few connections.

Ideas of white supremacy, in relation to European-Ojibwe interactions, were ubiquitous in the early written history of Chequamegon.  However, like white identity itself, supremacy was complicated and differed in significant ways from the way it works in today’s racial America.  If you are interested in this large and complex topic, I tackled small parts of it in three recent posts:  Race, Identity, and Citizenship in the U.S. Census… in 1850, 1823andMe™: Perceptions of Race in Pre-Civil War Chequamegon Society, and Kohl, J. G. “Remarks on the Conversion of the Canadian Indians and some Stories of Conversion”  .  My co-blogger Amorin Mello, has also recovered stories from the 1850s of individual racism of a more modern flavor. They deserve particular attention:  1855 Inquest on the Body of Louis Gurnoe and They Called Him “Gray Devil.”

This post will zero in on a few anecdotes of Chequamegon History dealing with Black lives, slavery, abolition, and the legacy of the Civil War era.  None is a full historical treatment, but we hope this post will inspire you to investigate further:


George Bonga (Wikimedia)

The Bonga Family

Pierre Bonga was a child when he arrived, with his parents, at Mackinac in 1782.  Growing up on the island, it was probably inevitable that he would grow up to enter the fur trade and work for the North West Company, and the American Fur Company.  It was a typical story.  What was not typical of the Bongas in Anishinaabe Country, was that they were African and had come into the region enslaved to a British officer.  Pierre’s parents, Jean and Marie-Jeanne Bonga obtained their freedom in 1787 and became prominent residents of Mackinac.

Pierre went west to Lake Superior, and had a career in the fur trade until his death in 1831.  He was known in Ojibwe as Makadewiiyas (Black Meat, a term that when generally applied to Black people has stirred some recent controversy) and married into Ojibwe society, living mostly around Fond du Lac.  I can’t say for certain if Pierre was the first person of African descent to visit western Lake Superior, but he was the first to settle and leave a lasting legacy.


Stephen Bonga (WHS)

His children, George, Stephen, Margaret, and Jack, grew up in the Ojibwe mix-blood culture, and figure into many stories of 19th-century Lake Superior.  George and Stephen were sent east to be educated, and their skills with English made them highly desirable to the United States Government as interpreters and guides.  Their African ancestry was noted by outsiders, but within Lake Superior society, they were seen as members of a prominent mix-blood family.

However, the American racial system would inevitably crash up against the Bongas.  In January 1856, a hearing was held in the Minnesota Territorial Legislature regarding the legislative vote from Superior County.  While it appeared Marcus W. McCracken had the most votes, the seat was awarded to John Ludden on the grounds that several of the votes had been fraudulently cast.  Mostly, the voters were accused of being Wisconsin residents and therefore ineligible to vote in Minnesota, but Jack Bonga’s vote was rejected for another reason:


This testimony, from Douglas County Sheriff Asa Parker, was not only inaccurate, it was dangerous. There were dire consequences to being labelled a runaway in the era of the Fugitive Slave Act.  Fortunately, the record was set straight:


Having the “habits of the white man” and being “regarded as a Half-Breed” apparently did not give Jack the right to vote in Minnesota Territory, however.  These words appear in the committee’s decision:


With the end of the fur trade, and the influx of American settlers in the mid 19th-century, the children of Pierre Bonga settled into new careers.  George Bonga kept a lodge at Leech Lake.  Stephen settled in Superior, where he would glibly nod to the bygone racial order of his youth and inform newcomers that the Bongas were the first “white” family to the live in that city.  Bonga (Bunga, Bungo, Bongo) descendants live throughout Ojibwe country, in both Minnesota and Wisconsin.  A story on the Bonga legacy was reported by Robin Washington of the Duluth News Tribune in 2009.

Ne na baim

I do not, Ne na baim, own a slave, and I never again expect to be a slave-holder, though it is a high moral vocation to civilize and christianize the heathen, brought to our very doors in the South by the providence of God;–still, in the deepest recesses of my conscience, from the study of the Bible, and my own experiences among Africans all my life, I am so satisfied that slavery is the school God has established for the conversion of barbarous nations, that were I an absolute Queen of these United States, my first missionary enterprise would be to send to Africa, to bring its heathen as slaves to this Christian land, and keep them in bondage until compulsory labor had tamed their beastliness, and civilization and Christianity had prepared them to return as missionaries of progress to their benighted black brethren.

~Mary Howard Schoolcraft, The Black Gauntlet


Mary Howard Schoolcraft (Find a Grave)

An Ojibwe word opens the text of a grotesque novel, The Black Gauntlet: A Tale of Plantation Life in South Carolina. Published in 1860, the book is a prime example of an “anti-Tom,” a genre of southern literature that flourished just prior to the Civil War.  Anti-Toms expounded the virtues of slavery in reaction to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s popular abolitionist work, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  Still, how did Ojibwemowin get in such a book?

Ne na baim (ninaabem in the modern spelling) means “my husband,”  and the author of The Black Gauntlet was none other than Mrs. Henry Rowe Schoolcraft.

Wait, wait, you might say. “Isn’t Mrs. Henry Schoolcraft”  Obabaamwewe-giizhigokwe (Jane Johnston), the sister of George Johnston, and daughter of the early 19th-century Sault Ste. Marie power couple of John Johnston and Ozhaawashkodewekwe?”  Readers might recognize that Mrs. Schoolcraft, granddaughter of the famous Chequamegon war chief Waabojiig, among the faces in the Chequamegon History title banner.  She is recognized as one of the earliest authors American Indian literature.


Obabaamwewe-giizhigokwe or Jane Johnston Schoolcraft (Wikimedia)

By the 1850s, Henry, her husband, became something of an American celebrity for his numerous works on native culture and history.  Much of the content of these works came from Jane and her mother. This included the Ojibwe traditional stories that were co-opted by Longfellow for the Song of Hiawatha.

However, Jane did not live to see all of that.  She died in 1842, leaving two teenage children.  Henry moved to Washington D.C. and remarried to Mary Howard.  From an elite South Carolina family, the second Mrs. Schoolcraft was a fierce defender of slavery.  While she was okay with using an Ojibwe term of endearment for her husband, she had no love for his Ojibwe children.  Janee and John Schoolcraft would become estranged from their father as Henry’s views drifted towards those of his second wife.

Over time, Anti-Tom novels like The Black Gauntlet have faded into obscurity.  However, an argument can be made that their skewed, romanticized view of the planter class and downplaying of the cruelty of slavery influenced later works of profound cultural impact such as Gone With the Wind.  The full text of The Black Gauntlet is available online, but it’s a pretty dull read.  Instead, I would recommend checking out the works of a certain Obabaamwewe-giizhigokwe, granddaughter of Waabojiig of Chequamegon.

Early Lake Superior Abolitionists

One might ask why Mary Schoolcraft felt it so necessary to couch her defense of slavery in such religious, virtuous terms.  To understand this, we need to take a minute to understand her enemy:  the Abolitionists.

Anti-slavery efforts, mainly in Black communities, had been around since colonial times, but the movement we typically associate with the term “abolitionism” dates to Boston in the early 1830s, with a small group of white radical religious zealots.  For all their passion, the abolitionist message did not reach very far in these early years, even in the northern states.  Surprisingly, though, it could be heard on Lake Superior, more than a thousand miles from Boston, New York, or any slave state (hundreds of miles from any free state, for that matter).

Fell into conversation with Mr. Scott on the subject of slavery, the rights of man, sin of withholding education from him, be he black or white–expansion of mind on earth, in heaven–led us to personal religion.  

Edmund F. Ely, April 4, 1836, Fond du Lac (Lake Superior) Mission

In 21st-Century America, Conservatives report much higher rates of church attendance, and atheism and agnosticism are often associated with the political left.  However, much of what we think of as American liberal and social reformist thought has its roots in the Second Great Awakening, a groundswell of Christian zeal in the early 19th-century.  In the northeast young men and women rejected the teachings of their Calvinist Puritan ancestors that only a small preordained Elect would find salvation while the majority of humanity would be cast into the pit of fire.  They found an an echo of the Declaration of Independence and latched onto the idea that all were born equal before God.  This radical notion of equality, and the accompanying passion to improve the lives of the less-fortunate, would lead to movements for Abolitionism, Women’s Suffrage, Temperance, prison and asylum reform.


E. F. Ely (Duluth Public Library)

While his friends stayed in the northeast and dabbled in those movements, Edmund Ely signed up to work for the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions in 1833.  After all, what could be more kind and noble than saving another human’s immortal soul?  Rather than send him to China or the South Pacific, however, the Board sent him to that most foreign of places, Lake Superior, to convert the Ojibwe to Protestantism.

The ABCFM missionaries labored in this region for more than three decades, and failed spectacularly in their quest for converts, the number of which could be counted on your fingers.  Local Ojibwe people, it seems, did not particularly care for having their religion condemned as devil worship.  And while they sometimes sought out the missionaries for Western thoughts on literacy, science, and medicine, the notion that “civilization” required changing one’s name, clothes, and way of life did not seem to hold much appeal.  I highly recommend reading Ely’s journals for a window on this conflict.

That isn’t to say the missionaries had no impact on history.  They did, and it was decidedly mixed.  Their eastern connections allowed them to influence American policy toward the Ojibwe, their efforts laid the groundwork for future assimilation efforts like Indian boarding schools favored by the next generation of benevolent “Friends of the Indian.”  Finally, as a vanguard for American settlement, they were a sort of 19th-century version of first wave gentrifiers.

On an individual level, the missionaries also have a mixed legacy.  Rev. William T. Boutwell of Leech Lake left his mission for more lucrative work as an Indian trader and helped facilitate the Sandy Lake Tragedy.  Rev. Sherman Hall of La Pointe tried to stay out of politics and failed his Ojibwe neighbors, while the Rev. Leonard Wheeler of Odanah took a principled stand against removal, and continued to advocate for his Ojibwe neighbors into the 1860s. Along the way, he earned unexpected friends among the Bad River leadership.

Ely followed Boutwell and washed out of missionary life, but stayed in the Lake Superior region long enough to become something of a pariah in both the Native and non-Native communities around Fond du Lac, Duluth, and Superior.  He was one of the primary opponents of McCracken’s election in the McCracken-Ludden affair mentioned above, and despite his professed abolitionist sentiments, he does not appear to have made any defense of Jack Bonga’s right to vote.

The national discourse of the moment includes discussion on the nature of allyship.  How can those with privilege best help those without?  How do you keep the voices of well-meaning allies from drowning out or distorting the wishes of those in need of justice?  (As a white man writing these words, believe me, the irony is not lost.)

Well-meaning do-gooders, prone to getting in the way, failing to listen to the real needs of the community, or worse:  promoting policies that harm the communities they are intended to help have long histories in African-American and American Indian communities.  White northerners need to acknowledge this and do more than smugly take glee in the destruction of symbols of the Old South.  We need to consider the legacy of northern liberalism and whether it has always served good ends.  We also need to realize the “Old South” is closer to home than we think.

Rice’s Confederate Cronies

A few years ago, residents of Minneapolis were surprised to find out their beloved Lake Calhoun was named after arguably the foremost political and intellectual advocate of slavery in American history.  This led (with significant resistance) to bringing back the original Dakota name of the lake, Bde Maka Ska.  For those who wondered how Calhoun’s name got on the lake to begin with, they may have learned that John C. Calhoun was Secretary of War during the establishment of Fort Snelling.  However, they may not have realized this wasn’t an anomaly.

We northerners sometimes forget that while slavery was primarily a southern institution, its impacts on the politics and economics of the north were tremendous. Many of the political elites of the northwestern frontier, (what would become Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota) were especially sympathetic to southern interests.  This started with the Jacksonian Lewis Cass, who led the first major American incursion into Lake Superior. It continued through to George W. Jones, the pro-slavery Iowa governor and senator who played a key role in the 1849 Ojibwe delegation to Washington.

This coziness between southern and western Democrats continued right up to the eve of the Civil War.  In 2014, while writing the post Steamboats, Celebrities, Soo Shipping, and Superior Speculation, I stumbled across this photo:

Promoters & Proprietors of Old Superior:  (Clockwise from upper left)  U.S. Senator W[illiam]. A. Richardson, Sen. R[obert] M. T. Hunter, Sen. Jesse Bright, Sen. John C. Breckinridge, Benjamin Brunson, Col. John W. Fourney, Henry M. Rice (Flower, Frank A.  Report of the City Statistician [1890]  Digitized by Google Books) 

It was not surprising at all to see Henry Mower Rice, among the original “Promoters and Proprietors” of Superior.  After all, Rice seems to have had his fingers in just about every major political and economic enterprise in the Upper Mississippi and western Lake Superior country from 1847 to the 1860s.  (Several CH posts have covered Rice’s career.)

It did come as a bit of a shock to see some of the other faces in the array.  Robert M. T. Hunter of Virginia, and John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky would both go on to serve in Jefferson Davis’ cabinet.  Breckinridge was also the 14th vice president of the United States, under Buchanan. Senator Jesse Bright of Ohio, also in the picture would go on to be one of the most notorious Copperheads (Northern Confederate sympathizers).

In the Steamboats post, we showed how Rice brought these well-known pro-slavery Democrats to La Pointe in 1855 to encourage them to speculate in real estate and to lobby for a federally funded military road and greater development of the region.  We also covered how Breckinridge may have tried to buy Basswood Island before the Great Lakes real estate collapse in 1857. It is notable that the well-known abolitionist senator, Charles Sumner, visited the same summer, in a visit seemingly unconnected with Rice. Infamously, Sumner would go on to beaten near death by South Carolina Senator Preston Brooks on the floor of the United States Senate.

The Superior Chronicle, a brand-new newspaper in 1855, covered these dignitary visits in detail alongside editorials pushing for a military road, Rice’s pet project, from Superior to Stillwater.   The Chronicle, itself also seems to have been backed by Rice.  However, while the paper espoused the popular sovereignty views of the northern Democrat Stephen Douglas, Rice would go on to support Breckinridge in the election of 1860.  Abraham Lincoln defeated both Breckinridge and Douglas, prompting the southern states to secede, something Rice was supportive of until 1861, before switching his allegiance to the North and preserving the Union.

“Panic of 1862”

New readers of Chequamegon History might be surprised at how Rice could get away with playing both sides, but hose who have researched his career, will know that it fits his character to a T.  From the Ho-Chunk removals to the Treaty of 1847 to the Sandy Lake Tragedy, we see him operating behind the scenes like a mob boss, always appearing to have clean hands, while profiting from the tragedy of others and switching sides as the political winds shifted direction.  This is evident in his actions during the Civil War.

Many readers will be aware of the U.S. Dakota War of 1862, often called the Minnesota Sioux Uprising, and how it ended with the executions of 38 Dakota people in Mankato, the largest mass execution in American history. (The Mankato hangings are one of the reasons why some are currently calling for the removal of Abraham Lincoln statues). Fewer readers, however, will be aware of the ripple effects in Ojibwe country:


Benjamin Armstrong recalls the Panic of 1862 on page 62 of his memoir, Early Life Among the Indians. Other, more-detailed, sources say the person killed in Superior was a white teenager shot in a “friendly fire” incident.

It is true that white settlements across northern Wisconsin and Minnesota were panicked that summer.  It is also true that the Ojibwe had the same grievances as the Dakota–namely that the cash-strapped wartime government chose to pay treaty annuities in paper money rather than in gold.  However, aside from some rumblings in the Crow Wing country by Young Hole in the Day, the Ojibwe leadership was against a violent uprising.  That did not stop whites in Superior from forming a vigilante group.

In at least one quarter, the dispatch of troops to Bayfield was condemned as unnecessarily adding gasoline to the fire.  The Reverend Leonard Wheeler of Odanah spoke out against the diversion of Union troops from the war front. He saw the motives behind the move for what they really were, a scheme by Henry Rice to get his military road.

Who to remember and who to honor?

There is no question that Henry Rice left a profound impact on history and we see his name attached to tributes, statues and place names across Minnesota and Wisconsin.  I certainly do not think his legacy should be ignored, and I would encourage the reader to look deeper into his career.  You may come to the conclusion, particularly after looking into his machinations during the tragic Ho-Chunk and Ojibwe removals that he, along with Alexander Ramsey, is someone who should be remembered but not necessarily honored with statues.  In that vein, I have two places to start.


Should a statue of The Artist replace H. M. Rice in the National Statuary Hall?  (Images:  Wikimedia)

If you live in Minnesota, write to your state legislators and ask them to revive HF3979, a 2016 bill introduced by Joe Atkins.  The bill died in committee but it would have replaced the Rice statue in the U. S. Capitol with one of Minneapolis’ favorite son:  Prince.

Closer to home, let’s have a discussion about Rice Avenue in Bayfield.  Opponents of changing the name will have a number of arguments against it, namely that Rice is arguably the founder of the city.  To that I would argue that he was merely richer and better-connected, so he got the jump on the other land speculators in the region.  He did not live in Bayfield, but he reaped its profits and wasn’t above provoking racial tensions in the name of greed.

So, I humbly submit for the consideration of the citizens of Bayfield, “Artishon Avenue.”

Frank Artishon was a local boy, the son of Joseph Artishon (Dejadon, Atichout, etc.) and Naawajiwanokwe (“Current Woman,” also called Adishonikwe “Artishon Woman”).  While Rice diverted troops from the front, Frank joined several other young Ojibwe men from the Lake Superior country to go fight for the abolition of slavery.

Artishon was killed on one of the final and most consequential days of the Civil War: the Breakthrough at Petersburg. After a 292-day siege, the Union troops finally got through the Confederate fortifications and put Lee on the run. He would surrender to Grant a week later, effectively ending the war.

Let’s remember Rice, but let’s honor someone more deserving.

By Leo

167 years ago, to the day, the Austrian travel writer Carl Scherzer reached Stillwater in the Minnesota Territory after a week of traveling down the length of the St. Croix River in a birch bark canoe piloted by Souverain Denis and Jean Baptiste (Belanger?), two La Pointe-based voyageurs.  His account follows.

Previous installments in this series, covering Scherzer’s journey from Ontonagon to the head of the Brule River via La Pointe can be found here.  These posts include information on the translation process from the original German, as well as some analysis of Scherzer’s ethnocentrism in his dealings with the Ojibwe and other groups of people.


On the La Croix River to Stillwater

Tuesday, September 28, 33 F. Cheerful, sunny but cold weather. The distance from the Bois-Brule portage to St. Croix Lake is two miles.

Since there is no connection between the Bois-Brule river and the lake, our boat and all the luggage had to be carried to the next point of embarkation. Since we could not remove such a large amount of luggage at once, it ended up taking several hours. The voyageurs had to travel back along the path three times before our last piece of baggage was brought to the other end of the portage.

The path to La Croix Lake leads through spruce forests with young birch and oak* along the fairly high ridges. All around, the horizon is obscured by these thickly wooded hills. There are several small lakes between the portage and St. Croix Lake, but they are of no importance for fishing or navigation.

190px-maitohorsma_28epilobium_angustifolium29Fireweed:  Epilobium angustifolium (Wikimedia)

(*Here, as in the west of Canada, we have generally come to the opinion that oak vegetation is always the natural successor of broken spruce, fir, or pine. In places where the trees are burnt, it is well known that Epilobium angustifolium is their stereotypical successor, sometimes growing from the tree before it has a chance to cool. (Agassiz, Lake Superior, 1851. p.50.))

While the Voyageurs carried the luggage and canoe to the lake, and prepared everything for embarkation, we engaged in the preparation of our meal at the western end of the Portage, barely 300 paces from the lakeshore. Fried bacon, tea, and ship’s biscuit were the simple ingredients that made it up. Benefiting from the rays of a mild September sun, we consumed our hearty meal on a natural green carpet.  Many a gourmand of the French cuisine, whose taste buds neither véry nor chevet could satisfy, would have been envious.

The La Croix Lake, on which we embarked, now had a breadth of 800 feet and a length of 6 miles. This is the beginning of the La Croix River or Grande Riviere, which has its origin in a swamp on the right bank of the lake, starting in a pond-like pool. Its shores are slate, and for the most part, it is overgrown with poplars, ash, oak, elm, pine, cedar, and thuja, with an undergrowth of oak and birch.

After expanding for almost 6 miles, the lake takes on the more modest, typical shape of a river, flowing around numerous bends. It doubles along the voyage, for about 250 English miles, until at Stillwater it becomes a second lake, extending 25 Miles in length and 3/4 miles in width, finally pouring into the Mississippi at Point Douglas.

At this point, both banks of the St. Croix are well within Wisconsin.  It begins to form the border with Minnesota a few miles upstream from the mouth of the Yellow River, near Danbury.

On both shores, the trees, weighed down with leaves, extend down to the reflection of the lake, turning it a dark blackish-green color, so that no surface of the valley can be discriminated.  As on the Ontonagon River, trees and water gently blur into each other. At the end of this rich lake is a small island covered in deciduous lush. The eastern (left) bank forms the border between the states of Wisconsin and Minesota.

At a quarter past three, we reached the lower end of the lake, now narrowing, to form the La Croix River. In the numerous rice fields, on both shores, we encountered whole flocks of migrating ducks, assumed to be beginning their autumn journey to the mild west. However, they did not fry for us. With the many difficulties in navigating this river through the masses of rolling stone just under the surface of the deceptively dark water, the voyageurs were too preoccupied skilfully guiding the boat through the stone clockwork, to even give attention to the flocks of ducks floating like buoys among the rice fields.

The tourist who wants to benefit from the hunt is not allowed to also designate a destination. He must be content, at times, to cover less than a mile per day. If you wish to move on quickly, your shotgun will bring little duck. In any case, even despite the greatest of care, the difficulty of navigating the ship through the dangerously low water will lead to accidents, which often delay the journey for hours. We could hardly have sailed a mile down the river before we came up on a rugged rock. The canoe crashed and filled with water so quickly that we were forced to seek asylum for the night as quickly as possible, to resurrect the vehicle with waterproof black pitch for its leaks.

The ax echoed through the woods and soon delivered a rich contingent of spruce and cedar logs, so recently brightly green, and now so dead behind us. The elevated place where we pitched our tent was a small, rather dry, spot on the western bank of the river. However, we were surrounded by numerous reedy marshes, exhaling a ghastly atmosphere of cold fever over us. We were saved by the hard edge of the recent frost tempered the foul breath somewhat. At the same time, a mighty fire purified the surrounding air, and the beneficial warmth spread through our limbs.

See previous post.

As Souverain attempted to mend the barge, he remarked that we had been too generous in disposing of our pitch to the Indian postmaster, and that if we were to repeat accidents like the present one, we might soon find the lack of resin regrettable. From this event, the well-intentioned money-maker might learn at once: “Never give anything to your neighbor, even if it is an Indian postmaster;” but in similar tribulations, we confidently expect equal service from our neighbors.

See this post for an 1844 account of the numerous uses for birch bark.

Willing to serve, in the multiple duties that we had to do this evening, we used closely curled birch bark as a torch, and found it far more expansive and attractive than the dim light spilling from many a German student’s ceiling upon Virgil’s Aeneid or Cicero’s Respublica.

Wednesday, September 29th, 62F. Glorious sunrise. The rocks, covered with only a thin surface of water, continue to be the annoyance and concern of our boatmen, who fear the canoes will be snatched upon the sharp reefs at the slightest inattention.

If you look at these countless turrets, of all shapes and sizes, hidden by the deceptively dark color of the water, causing the ship to be in trouble every minute, you almost start to believe that each teasing stone is the avenging spirit of an Indian driven by competition with the whites out of his native wilderness. The shores remain flat, and the vegetation forming the rich forests is coniferous and deciduous in a pleasing mixture.

Towards noon, when the rocks in the river became less numerous and threatening for a stretch, and the river increased remarkably in breadth, we exchanged our hand poles for oars. Suddenly, a soaring southeast wind arose and the water moved as if in flood.* Although we were driving downstream, it whipped against our canoe, and significantly affected the speed of our oar-assisted gliding.

(*The voyageurs call the white foaming waves that form on the surface of the water in strong winds “white caps” and always know, depending on whether the wind is coming from the land or the lake at their formation, whether they make it dangerous or not for the ship.)

On a small hill, under two lonely spruce trees, we had lunch. For a time the shores were prickly, and paddy fields and young, high-stemmed cedars and thujas were the only vegetation in the surrounding landscape. In the afternoon, however, the character of the character changed completely. The river now runs through wide, neat avenues, and the brightly colored leaves of the numerous trees of the shore bathe in its dark flood.

At a distance of 200′ we noticed a broad stone jutting out of the water, decorated with several rough strokes of red color. The voyageurs told us that the Indians sometimes paint a stone, sprinkle it with tobacco, and dance and sing under it, so that the great spirit (Manitou) may send them good hunting, rich fishing, and a bountiful rice harvest.

It is obvious that the Indian pagan, like many a selfish Christian, seeks to combine a practical motivation with his devotion. It seems his crude idea of a higher being is preoccupied with the strength of sighs, the length of the prayers and the number of the sufferers, instead of the world being governed by eternal, iron laws!

We did not see a similar painted stone on the whole journey, and in spite of our most zealous inquiries, we have not been able to find any more authentic details about this type of Indian sacrificial service.

The failed removals of 1850 and 1851, also known as the Sandy Lake Tragedy, were devastating for all the Lake Superior Ojibwe, but the tragedy lingered especially long for the St. Croix bands. Many families missed additional payments, a smallpox outbreak struck in the winter of 1853, and the 1854 Treaty failed to create a reservation at Pokegama.  The people described here are likely the remnants of Gaa-bimaabi’s (Kapamappa) band, whose village was near modern-day Gordon.

In the afternoon, we passed eight birchbark wigwams, inhabited by about twenty Indians and their families, who were busy with the rice harvest. They had a miserable appearance overall. Their bodies were covered only with ratty wool blankets and short leggings resembling a swimsuit. Two male Indians, their faces blackened with coal and lead, wore short red pants and green coats, and smoked from a long pipe made of red stone. A female was smeared red. She wore a bizarre, makeshift suit and had a kind of shield on her chest.

The more remote and ignorant the Indians are, the more they stick to their vain, colorful adornments, and thereby have the most peculiar notions of beauty and taste. Whatever they beg or catch, they then hang on their brown bodies, and will often decorate themselves with exotic feathers even more than our pretentious poets.

For example, the number of eagle feathers an Indian may carry in his hair depends on the number of enemies he has already killed. But for many a redskin, in deceitful vanity, he might wear such bloody heroes’ jewelery, when his fists were only active in knocking the ripe rice grains over the covering of his birch canoe, which doubles as a seed basket.

Scherzer’s description of the midewiwin or Grand Medicine is reminiscent of similar derogatory language used by missionaries Edmund F. Ely and William T. Boutwell in their writings.

Souverain thought, in judging by the appearance of the Indians we passed, that they had recently celebrated la grande medecine, a feast that they usually hold in the event of illness.

The Indians consider every disease to be an evil spirit, put into the patient by a powerful magician at the instigation of some vindictive enemy. They seek the aid of another magician (conjurer, medecine-man), who by means of singing, drumming, and carousing and through the use of certain herbs, cast it out again.

This medecine-man or conjurer exerts an unrestricted influence over the gullible minds of the Indians. He is not only a helper in matters of the body, he is the oracle and counselor in all cases of life, always eager to draw the utmost profit from the superstition and suffering of his fellow-men. It is the “medecine-man” who makes the determination of the various tribes in relation to war or peace, and who reveals the best hunting and fishing grounds to unconditionally trusting questioners. He is also the one who gives every child, usually by the color of his hair, the name of an animal or plant, and receives a gift for it. Judging by the names of the various Chippewa Indians with whom we met, it does not seem much thought is given to the choice of names, as the following list shows: Little Wolf, Black Bird, Big Tortoise, Yellow Beaver, Black Cloud, Cooking Pot, etc.

Several of the individuals mentioned here were chiefs or headmen of the La Pointe Band.  One wonders if they would have agreed with Scherzer that their names were meaningless.

As soon as a medecine-man is asked for advice, he dresses in the strangest, most comical way. This is how we viewed such a conjuror who dressed himself in the skin of a bear, with the head serving as a mask, stumbling with the monstrous claws on his wrists and ankles. The skin was also decorated with all sorts of frogs, bats, and snakes, so well prepared that their lifelike appearance produced awe in both young and old.

In his left hand, he held a ghastly rattle whose clatter, according to tradition and superstition, is one of the most powerful sounds that can move an Indian heart. He swung a magical spear with his right hand, hopping, dancing, yelling, and howling as if he himself were possessed by a bad spirit. 

It is characteristic of these magicians, though great deceivers, that to a certain degree, they believe in their ceremonies and their healing power, as many modern plagiarists lie lastly to the truth and wisdom of their own selves. And while it is an imperfect method to determine where credulity ceases and fraud begins, it remains certain that these Indian doctors treat their own sick children in the same way.

Tobacco plays a major role in these incantations, and its syrup is a major ingredient in the most important and crucial ceremony.

If the patient recovers, it is, of course, a triumph of his magician over the presumed enemy. The deceiving victor, who pretends to have sucked the pain out of the sore spot, then draws out some strange object: a thorn, a stone, a fishbone, a bird’s claw, a serpent’s tooth, or a piece of wire from his mouth, which, as is self-evident, had surely been conjured into the wound of the patient by a bad spirit. Then, the deceiver, depending on his mood, will banish the evil spirit from inside his patient to the sea or to a distant mountain.

If, on the other hand, the patient dies, the spirit-conjuror attributes his death solely to being bested by his opponent’s greater magic power.*

[*First Establishment of Christianity in Ruperts Island by the Church Missionary Society.  New York, 1852. — Indian tribes in Guiana by Rd. W. H. Brett. 1852.]

Although the friends and family members of the patient actively participate in all these ceremonies, their highest degree of participation comes with the feast, which always forms a major component. As with most major festivals, we do not know whether it is out of taste, or in symbolic intent,* but a dog is also slaughtered here. We saw, on a grassy portion of La Pointe Island, among the traces of broken-down Indian tents, the skeleton of a dog that had been eaten last fall on a similar occasion by wandering redskins and their entrenched swindler. Even in its skeletal form, the mark of faithful loyalty, so universal in the race of dogs, could be verified. 

[*See Cadwallader Coldon, History of the five Indian nations of Canada.  London 1747. P. 7.]

Around 3 o’clock we came upon rapids again, and slid down their 2’ height. It is a peculiarly strange feeling to be surrounded by jagged rocks, floating in the midst of small waterfalls, while guided by the steady hand of a river-trained voyageur, to scoot over these rocky ridges of water in swaying comfort.

At times, the canoeists had to climb into the river to clear out the most intrusive and barbarous stones. Once, as we were going down a rapids, it happened that Baptiste’s pole broke in two as he was about to cut past a boulder, and the boat was forcibly thrown to the bank. Besides the loss of the ship’s pole, we suffered no damage. However, the circumstances could not have been more favorable to overthrowing the canoe, tossing our effects into the water, and mortally wounding ourselves upon the masses of sharp rock surrounding us.

Here again, we saw quite clearly how much man is allowed to attempt and endure before he breaks his neck and legs, if only he does not otherwise engage in politics. For in the light and fragile birch bark we have gone through innumerable hazards and innumerable dangers and emerged unscathed, while many of our friends in their cozy, humble rooms were ruined by a piece of paper! – That’s why we prefer the coarse birch bark to the smooth paper and parchment …

Cases have occurred, albeit very rarely, where voyageurs have accidentally crashed from ignorance or carelessness while sliding down the rapids. Such points usually carry the name of the failed boatman.

The St. Croix country was well-known as an area of both peaceful and violent interaction between the Ojibwe and Dakota.  The battleground could be the site of Waabojiig’s decisive over the Meskwaki (Fox) and Dakota in the late 18th-century victory.  However, the text would suggest the battle on the grounds of Scherzer’s camp was earlier and farther upstream.   

5 o’clock in the afternoon. We encamped on a beautiful wide plateau close to the western shore of the La Croix river, with spruces, cedars, and oaks forming a background. The eastern shore is flat but densely covered with hardwood. The area in which we bivouacked is called Campement de bataille as a result of a battle which was said to have taken place there between Sioux and Chippewa Indians over a hundred years ago. Its historians were the half-decayed skulls, which according to Souverain, were found in this area in earlier times in such large numbers that can only be compared with the number of the boulders in the river.

A mild evening and clear blue sky gave our bivouac a very homey atmosphere. Imagine a tent made of white, strong canvas, supported by two tree trunks bent vertically into the ground, connected to a third lying across as a roof support, similar (only more peaceful and natural) to those tents seen all over Germany in recent years, until it was overpowered. Next to the entrance, an iron kettle hangs in a tumultuous bustle over the flickering fire. The two voyageurs in their blue blankets, stretched out on the ground with heads tucked on arms and caressed by the heat of the flame, enjoyed a hard-earned rest. The young Frenchman and the scribe of these pages, sat on a buffalo-skin under the light canvas cover, and sketched out the day’s events, with our colorful possessions scattered around, partly drying in the vicinity of the glaze, partly sheltered from the weather, and at some distance the “Bearer of All,” the brown birch-canoe, sat brutally mauled and mended on all sides, every scar a triumphant sign of its struggle with the stone army.

Thursday, September 30, 59 F. On the morning of our tri,p we had to pass several rapids, a miles long and and 1 ½’ in height. The extremely low water level makes navigation even more difficult and dangerous, because when the river is high, the boat glides amicably and safely over many of the stones, which in the current low flowage, are only softly washed over, with their pointed shapes harassing from all sides. This circumstance compels the skippers to often leap into the river, thereby easing the weight on the canoe as they waded through the crevices as best as they could.

As often as the natural conditions of the shores allowed, we left the canoe and took the most difficult parts on foot. So, we made several portages again today.

We walked for a long time through this green labyrinth, over sticks and shrubs, pondering the cause of the elegiac impression these wildernesses, for all their sublimity and natural splendor, had on us. These lonely, gloomy forests without song and scent* may well serve a modern Timon as the desired asylum for his soul searching, but for the philanthropist, who for weeks remains in this solitude, his feelings are powerfully drawn back to those flourishing feats of human activity, where the farmer reaps the blessings of his industriousness, where gentler herds graze on rich, fat pastures, where the sun bends over happy cottages, the cozy ringing of the village bell proclaims the peace of the evening, and healthy, red-cheeked strumpets make the hearts of young boys beat louder!

[*Agassiz, Lake superior. 1850.  Wagner, Nordamerika, II.]

At about 12 o’clock, we stopped at the end of rapids on the east bank, and enjoyed tea, butter, ship’s biscuit! The more we were subjected to the climatic vicissitudes of our journey, the more we learned to appreciate the excellent qualities of green tea as both  a quenching drink and a warming agent. Three times a day, we took hot tea. It was almost the only liquid we would consume for weeks, when the fresh water, especially near marshes, seemed to be badly influenced by the suspended vegetable matter. After all the exertion, fatigue and cold, it was always the tea that produced the rejuvenating effect on the health and had a pleasantly stimulating effect on the nerves.

bannock_1995-07-01Scherzer’s preference of hard tack over la galette (lugalade, “lug,” bannock) is puzzling to say the least (Wikimedia).

Next to tea is rice and Indian corn (maize), which, due to their rich nutrients and the small amount of space they take up, are especially useful for a long life in the forest. Roasted and finely grated, corn, mixed with sugar and water, also makes a delicious drink. Ship’s biscuit has also done us excellent service. On the other hand, we have not been able to make friends with Galette, a type of bread cake made of flour, baked in a pan by the fire, and when fresh it is enjoyed and piled into the stomach in a highly indigestible manner.*

375px-gail_bordenThe eccentric preserved food enthusiast Gail Borden had a hit with condensed milk.  Meatbiscuit never took off (Wikimedia).

[*The inventor of “Meatbiscuit,” Gail Borden of New York, was so interested in hearing about our intended trip to Central America, he sent us a box to try his new method of preparation, yet we left the same untouched, even in more serious times earlier in the trip. This meatbiscuit, as we have been informed in the printed communication, is so rich in nutrients that one tablespoon of this powdered substance, boiled in water, should be perfectly adequate for a meal.]

In the afternoon, the river increased noticeably in width, and extends to 300′. The landscape now alternates with cypress bouquets looking as if in a park, with small prairies where the Indians gather hay for the winter, and with wild elms and oak forests. Over and over, though, the landscape bears the stamp of seriousness and loneliness: all members of a green society of ennui!

See the first post in the Reisen of Nordamerika for a similar description of voyageur humor in trying circumstances.

The frightening rapids continue. Storms and rain join in, and significantly hinder our progress. Like scars, traces of unlucky Indian canoes past remain on some of the rocks. Souverain, wanting to propel the canoe with all his strength, in spite of the growing difficulty, bounced off the smooth stone a few times with the pole, and found himself up to his middle in the cold water. But such incidents never upset the good old man. He laughed and joked the most, where the danger seemed most serious and his situation the most uncomfortable.

The Kettle Rapids, which we passed in the evening are 9 miles long. After six o’clock, under heavy downpour, we debarked a mile from the Yellow River near a lovely sycamore forest.

1280px-2014-11-02_12_00_54_american_sycamore_during_autumn_at_the_ewing_presbyterian_church_cemetery_in_ewing2c_new_jerseyAmerican Sycamore or Plane Tree:  Platanus occidentalis.

For dinner, bacon and tea. The bottle of French brandywine had already been emptied, and the sugar had run out too, so we had to drink our tea without anything to sweeten it. As the ground was very damp, we collected the broad, dry leaves from the sycamores whose mighty branches arched over our heads, and we created a lush green covering, which greatly protected us from the damp ground.

Friday, October 1, 70° F. At about eight o’clock we crossed the Yellow River to the eastern shore, which, like most of the small rivers which flow into La Croix, has its source only a few miles inland in a small lake.

We now drove through broad, pretty channels, adorned on either side with mighty conifers, whose foliage was complemented with fall ornaments in all the nuances of color in a painter’s palette. Orange-yellow sycamores, silver poplars with greyish-red leaves, dark sumac shrubs, golden elm and white birch trees formed the background. Spruce, fir and cedar, with their unaltered green complexion, grew  close to the shore. The harsh autumn wind blew through the pale young ones at the water’s edge, sending a shiver through the limbs.

Fall in these forests does not have the withering and dying appearance of the European autumn. The abundance and variety of tree species, with their wonderful foliage, in a season, characterized by weeks of serene weather, appears as nature putting on her makeup again. The trees, in their autumnal decoration, smile like children putting on new clothes.

In the afternoon, we passed six Indian tents pitched on the western shore. The men all seemed to be on the hunt because only women and children thrust their heads out of their miserable wigwams in curious apprehension. It was the barking of a few watchful dogs that betrayed the approach of our unfamiliar apparition.

All the characters we saw had a wild, naked, pathetic appearance. On a square stretched between two tents, a tuft of brown human hair, tied with a red ribbon, hung down vertically between a pair of pyramid-crossed poles. It seemed to be the scalp of a Sioux victim recently hunted down by the Chippewas.  These Indian tribes are not hostile to whites, but are biased by an indescribable mistrust.

At 1 o’clock, we passed the Snake River (Kinabic) on the western side.  It originates near Sandy Lake in Minesota, and flows here into the St. Croix River.

Riviere du bois blanc:  Wood River

An hour later, we passed the Riviere du bois blanc, which flows in from the eastern bank, and pitched our tent near it for the night. Unless special accidents occur, tomorrow we intend to reach the first settlement of whites, the falls of St. Croix.  This is probably the last night we will bivouac outdoors.

Jean Baptiste,” cried our old canotier, after the camp had been prepared and he’d taken a good piece of chique (chewing tobacco), “Il faut nous preparer pour demain!” With this, everything was then sewn, repaired, washed, and shaved, as if it were for court or a chamber ball, but yet it was only a dark little hamlet we hoped to reach after twelve days of canoeing through the wilds of Wisconsin and Iowa.

If this post is evidence, Fr. Otto Skolla at La Pointe was not as well-liked as his countryman and predecessor Frederick Baraga.

Saturday, October 2, 72° F. As we set off on the journey, a strong southwest wind rose and rain dripped from the trees. The superstitious Canadian captains had placed much of their hopes for favorable travel on the influence of their priest’s prayers at La Pointe.  As the heavens grew darker and worse for us every day, the prayers of the Franciscan friar, and notions he had forgotten us, frequently came up.

Our companion, a Catholic from southern France, likewise had a high opinion of the power of his own and bizarre prayers, and it was therefore impossible for us to express our feelings and views, or offer many remarks about the true meaning of prayer and its total ineffectiveness to sway the course of the eternal laws of nature.

The shores are quite flat again, but richly wooded with sycamores, elms and oaks, whose hearty abundance of leaves, shine as the rays of the autumn sun gleam through the branches in a splendid golden color.

Riviere du lac des cedres rouges:  Red Cedar River  Riviere du soleil levant:  Sunrise River

At 12 o’clock, we passed the Rivière du lac des cèdres rouges, which originates ten miles west of the La Croix River in two large lakes.  At one o’clock, we reached the mouth of the Riviere du soleil levant, also entering from the west shore of the La Croix.

The cheerful name of the Sunrise River derives from a most fierce battle, which took place a few years ago on its banks, when the Chippewa’s met their mortal enemies, the Sioux at sunrise. Perhaps the sun should have set rather than witness such an awful battle between human brothers.

All these tributaries are rich in precious wood species, and their connection to the “Father of the Waters” via the La Croix River  will increase their importance for the timber trade of Upper Mississippi with every passing year. Already, every winter their forests are home to a quite peculiar, floating population of the so-called Lumbermen.

Ceded land could be preempted, but could not be purchased from the federal government until it was surveyed.  See Amorin’s posts on surveys.

The greater part of the country we are traveling in is still the property of the Congress. For a century, the Government has not found it necessary to pass a law forbidding the cutting of these forests by speculators. Perhaps later settlers will only benefit if some stretches of land have already been cleared of lush forest and made easier for plowing. Likewise, such clearings appear to be of great advantage in climatic and health terms, by drying, warming, and rendering the land less polluted.

The manner in which this difficult but profitable business of the timber trade is conducted goes  as follows: a speculator hires ten to twenty strong workers for the winter, buys six yoke of draft oxen, thirteen barrels of flour, ten barrels of salted meat, and a barrel of whiskey.  All together, this assemblage, known as a team, moves to the wooded forests of the La Croix River. There are then some huts pitched, provisions stored and work begins.

Such a team (train) of 15 to 20 workers usually cuts 3300 spruce logs in the course of one winter. Each of these colossal tree trunks, 60 to 80′ long, is again cut into 3 parts (logs), 16 to 20′ in length. In the winter of 1851, three teams felled three million feet of spruce trees. Each of the hired woodworkers receives 26 dollars a month along with food. The supervisor (teamdriver or teamster) is paid up to 45 dollars a month.

In the course of the last year, 25 to 30 teams moved to the forests of the La Croix, and their five-to-six months of work brought 21,000,000 feet of spruce logs into the market, which, at a thousand feet to four dollars, equates to a value of $ 84,000.*

[*The traffic on all the upper rivers (Mississippi and tributaries) is on average 35 million feet of floatwood, which, marked up at St. Louis, makes a value of half a million dollars. According to a precise calculation, more than 5,000 acres of land have to be stripped each year to deliver the amount of lumber that comes out of the state of Wisconsin alone each year. See D.D. Owen’s, Geological Reconnaissance of Wisconsin. 1848 p. 71.]

In spring, these floatwoods swim with the increasing flow on the colossal waterway extending from the La Croix River to the Gulf of Mexico, sometimes singly, sometimes partly connected, to St. Louis, where in raw condition they are priced at 9 dollars per 1000 feet.

However, many are caught on the way by their own devices and prepared in various sawmills along the banks of the La Croix and Mississippi in the form of slats, moldings, shingles and staves (coopers-stuff) for a variety of construction purposes.*

[*In this footnote, Scherzer inserts a long table of lumber statistics at St. Louis.  I have chosen not to translate it. ~LF]

In finished condition, 1000 feet of spruce wood in St. Louis comes to 12 dollars, that is to say, threefold what they are worth at the mouth of the La Croix River. Often 15,000,000 wooden blocks from the upper Mississippi swim down to St. Louis at the same time.  It is easy to imagine what torture these wooden travelers are for the pilot, who is in a hurry from St. Paul down to the “Capital of the West.”

But these logs, which only bother navigation in the spring, must not be confused with the famous snags, those uprooted, washed-away trees that sometimes pile up in the middle of the riverbed. With their sharp branches, they are the sworn enemies of the flatboats of the Mississippi throughout the year.

At about 2 o’clock, we stopped on the western bank of La Croix near a forest cabin for a light lunch. The rain, which was now pouring down, did not even allow the benefit of a warming fire. We sent Souverain, as a scout, into the lonely dwelling, but he found such an inhospitable reception from the old matron and a scrawny barking hound, that we preferred to camp outside in spite of the storm. Then, as if the clouds had more compassion for us than the people, we soon saw bright sunbeams, and were able to make fire and boil tea.

Eventually, several people, men and children, appeared, but they all remained, as if awestruck, under the eaves of their cabin, and watched our elaborate cooking preparations from a distance. They were the first white settlers we had seen after several weeks of voyage, and therefore we were doubly sorry to find them so inhospitable. From their language and way of life, the grumpy settlers seemed to be Irish.

It is our peculiar observation that immigrants who leave their fatherland for whatever reason, in order to establish a new livelihood in quiet forest solitude far from all society, are always unsociable and averse to human needs. It seems as if, in having left the world, they have paid back their debts and obligations, and may resign themselves to all their pleasures and bounties, and no longer care to know any duty of hospitality.

At 6 o’clock in the evening, when it was already dark, we finally arrived at the last rapids of the La Croix River requiring portage. If the river is high, you can make the trip across these rapids to the village of St. Croix, two miles away, but with the river lower, the canoe heavily laden, and the night already falling, it was better to continue the journey on foot to St. Croix, or to camp the night outdoors on damp earth on the barren shore.

We moved to the dark but refreshing forest path and set off with our traveling companion. The two voyageurs, with canoes and effects, stayed behind with instructions to meet us again in the village the next morning.

When we left the river and met the fissured, miry, forest road, the landscape had already assumed a hilly character, which we saw more clearly at the top of the falls. The banks rise up to 150′ in height and were richly overgrown with ash trees, oaks, poplars, and prairie. The river itself had again expanded enormously and assumed a linear regular course. It took us almost an hour to get to the village along the muddy, deep-set forest track.

St. Croix has 600 inhabitants, whose main sources of livelihood are the several large sawmills, which are active almost all year round. One may get a sense of this activity from the fact that two thirds of the La Croix spruce logs, about 7 million feet annually, are processed in these sawmills for industry and commerce.

W.S. Hungerford was one of the earliest lumber speculators on the St. Croix.  See Folsom’s Fifty Years in the North West.

Since there is no inn in the village, we had to rely on the hospitality of a sawmill owner, Mr. Hungerford, and not surprisingly, a man who only works with logs and boards all year fulfills the duty of innkeeper poorly. Although inhabiting a splendid, spacious house, he directed us to the sleeping quarters (boarding-house) of his workers, which we had to share with a number of strangers.

The poor, musty air that prevailed in the room, the broad spiderwebs that hung like a festoon from one end of the room to the other, and the dirty linen set on the floor for us to cover our mattresses, soon left us longing for our camp in the airy tent, and regretting that we did not choose to camp with our fellow travelers in the forest.

We do not mean to say that we feel an aversion to living with workers. On the contrary, we lived for a considerable time in Germany, France and England among the working classes, and drew more entertainment and knowledge from them, than we did from the stiff-lipped “haute volée” of the aristocratic circles.

Rather, we cherish the most sincere respect and sympathy for those whose hard business industry alone make it possible for the man of science to indulge in nobler, more serious research; but it remains a most-embarrassing moment, after weeks of forest bivouac, to spend the first night in a narrow room with people whom one has never seen before, all coming late into the night, and with boots and spurs on their lumbering bodies unable to avoid missing our bed or avoid pulling off our thin blanket.

Sunday, October 3, 50° F. The hilly landscape rises on both sides of the river up to 200’ feet high. The rapids, whose hydropower sets the wheels of the two sawmills in motion, are about 100′ wide, and have a fall of 15′ over 2 miles. In the village itself, they barely reach the height of 5 or 6 feet.

Trap, Dalles of the St. Croix Owen pg. 142

Trap, Dalles of the St. Croix  (Reports of David Dale Owen)

Everywhere, the sandstone of the river-bank makes room for trap rock, which, along with scattered copper-pieces, made the inhabitants assume that rich mineral-bearing sites were to be found there. Mr. Hungerford, too, probably more for speculation than out of true conviction, propagated this speculation, and it would not surprise us to read about the “Hungerford diggings” soon, even if it were only as a bait for the Sawmill owner to sell his numerous plots of land more easily and more expensively to simple-minded emigrant ninnies.*

[*S. Owens Reports, 1839. Pag. 66.]

We took breakfast at the common table with the workers of the sawmill, of whom more than fifty were suddenly rushing to the door, and hastily sat down at the long table, when, according to American custom, a bell vigorously rung by a woman announced the readiness of breakfast, or rather gave the sign to start the fork fight.

Vaccinium corymbosum is rare in Minnesota and Wisconsin.  It seems likely Scherzer means V. macrocarpon, the cranberry. On Nicollet’s map, the Cranberry River in Bayfield County is Riviere des attacas.  Attacas is not the Ojibwe word for cranberry.  (mashkiikiimin is).  The Dakota word is potpaka.

During the whole meal, which lasted no more than ten minutes at most, there was complete silence except for the clatter of the eating utensils. The workers of the sawmill were tall, hardened figures, with intelligent faces and a decent manner. They get better food than any working class of Europe. For breakfast, fish, cold beef, fried bacon, potatoes, tea, coffee, milk and canned fruits (attacas*) were served. Similar rich, courtly meals are repeated for lunch and dinner. The wages are 30-40 dollars per month.

[*Vaccinium corymbosum grows here wild, as in all of Minesota, and with sugar, makes excellent preserves.]

We would have liked to have known more of the circumstances of St. Croix and its future, but the unkindness and inhospitable behavior of the landlord prevented us from doing so.

Within five years, a railway is to run from Chicago to St. Croix and thence to Fond du Lac, and the railway and waterway are to be so closely connected that for travelers to the states west of the Mississippi, it will be is the quickest, least expensive, and most pleasant route to Lake Superior. A small, state-of-the-art steamer, capable of carrying no more than 20 passengers, runs between here and Stillwater, a thriving town thirty miles below the falls on the western shore of St. Croix Lake. It carries provisions for the woodworkers and residents of St. Croix. His expenses amount to 6 dollars per trip.

We did not make use of this modern mode of transport, however, and preferred to continue our journey in birch-bark with our two Canadian voyageurs, who have led us so bravely and relentlessly through the wilderness of the Lake Superior for weeks.

Above the St. Croix Falls rugged, black trap masses, 3-400′ high, come to the fore.  Suddenly, they give the area such a wild romantic character, one is involuntarily reminded of certain rocky parts of Saxon Switzerland or Muggendorf. Pine trees and firs are the only sparse inhabitants of these rugged masses of rock, which, however, disappear a mile’s drive downstream and make way for the usual sandstone formations and hardwood vegetation.

330px-kossuth1848The Revolutions of 1848 loom large over the Reisen, and Scherzer seems to have been supportive of them.  However, the Viennese traveler seems less enthused than the American public for nationalist movements in the Austrian Empire, like those of the Hungarian leader Lajos (Louis) Kossuth (wikimedia).

Since it was Sunday, there was a lot of life in the village and on the river. A small pirogue painted white, with the black inscription L. Kossuth, rowed by two workers, scurried past us with lightning speed. It was rapidly disappearing from our eyes, much like the enthusiasm and sympathy of the Americans for the Hungarian agitator whose name she wore.

But at the very least, it is interesting proof of how powerfully the flame of enthusiasm–before which only the ashes of disappointment are left–must have flared in all directions, when the reputation of the Hungarian ex-governor spread from the penitents of Pannonia to penetrate the lonely primeval forests of America, and his name still graces individual inscriptions, half joyful, half elegiac, on ships, shops and taverns in memory of a freedom-loving man!

schanzelThe Schanzel was a marketplace on the Vienna riverfront.

We also encountered several rafts heavily laden with sawn wood, driving down the river.  They were similar to those numerous flat vessels coming out of the bustling Bavarian country, laden with wood, stones and fruits, descending the Danube to the celebrated Viennese Schanzel.

Soon, after leaving St. Croix, there appears on both sides alluvial land, which stretches along the banks and, often completely separates from them.  It is richly overgrown with willows and reeds. This is the first sign that one is approaching the Mississippi and its alluvial formation. The shores, which are more obscure from both sides, retain their sandstone character and their former rich vegetation of oaks, birches, elms, poplars, and spruces, which sometimes close form a background decoration of a lovely hills.

The river, at a breadth of 300′, often stretches for miles in a perfectly straight course, and its forests are interrupted for the whole stretch from St. Croix to Stillwater (30 miles) only by a few clearings, on which are eight sawmills and the associated settler shacks.

At 5 o’clock, just as the sun was hiding behind the hills, we landed in Stillwater, at the top of La Croix Lake. The hills, thus far wooded, are now gradually replaced by sandy bluffs. The vegetation is dwarfed and less drained.  Stillwater itself is terraced on a lush green ridge, like a last glimpse of flourishing nature amid the ever present sandstone.

Stillwater, in the state of Minesota, is a small village of 150 houses, founded only in 1846, with 1200 inhabitants, 3 Protestant and 1 Catholic churches, 4 doctors, 1 school and 2 taverns. Its main source of income is the timber trade with the Upper Missisippi. There was also a lot of tourism, and the two inns were crowded with guests.

Since Stillwater is the only place within many miles, where there are doctors and druggists, and at the same time a fairly healthy climate prevails. All types of fever, chest and lung patients from the various environments seek asylum here for their sufferings. It creates a society, which one encounters in the inns and on the streets, a very eerie, hospital-like appearance, and reminds one of those innumerable curiosities of Germany, created by unscrupulous physicians, who for their own medical glory, bring together their incurable patients and do nothing for them.

Only with difficulty, did we succeed in finding a place in the Eaglehouse for our numerous effects. Our guide, so in need of rest, was put off until the night when, at nightfall, the crowded assembly in the smoke-filled inn (parlor) would leave and make room for a bed of straw.

For the time being we leaned into a free corner, and tried to make friends with the colorful company with which we likely had to spend the next night. What a strange assemblage of costumes, figures and faces to observe!

CalabraserA Calabraser (Calabrian) hat.

Raw, weathered figures in red and blue jackets with wild, comical beards and tangled drooping hair sat silently around a glowing iron stove, with their black and white Calabrians carelessly pressed into the face, and their feet laid over each other, or pressed against the wall.

Most of them seemed absorbed in a prolific speculation, and moved, as if ill-tempered by the long absence of a suggestive idea. The thick tobacco ball moved back and forth between the cheeks, like the Austrian soldier running down the lanes, biting a bullet in his mouth to soothe his excitement. Sometimes, one would go out to the tavern (bar-room), choke down a glass of whiskey or portwine, and then return to his former silent position by the stove.

How unusual this gathering must have seemed to us, compared with a cheerful Sunday circle of German peasants in a village pub, where the glasses sound, fiddle stirs, and song and dance create pleasure and joy.

The silent, gloomy tone and rude manners that made the atmosphere in the dining-room at Stillwater so heavy and oppressive, are by no means a mere accidental phenomenon. They are a feature of the whole American peasantry of the West, and with certain modifications are typical of the American character in general. The American, is not, as we sometimes hold him up to be, the ideal of amiability, but as we generally meet him in public transport, he is a frosty, unmanly and, to put it simply, a boring figure. He has a myriad of small bad habits that often make his company unsettling.

But in order to judge a nation justly, one must not regard it according to the more or less pleasant qualities of the individual. One must regard them in their totality as a people: in their political and social development. There are nations where the individuals seem to be very amiable and easy-going, but as a nation they are immature, weak-minded, cowardly, and blasé, e.g. the French, the Spaniards, the Italians, and the Poles.

On the other hand, we find peoples, who as individuals, come across as odd, unsociable, dry, and selfish, while as a nation they are free-spirited, enthusiastic about progress, self-confident. Among these are the Americans.

And that is why every friend of progress and humanity will pay the deepest respect and warmest appreciation, to the American people, with their great patriotism, with their noble national pride, their practical execution of equality of religion and their restless struggles for independence. —- But, now we return to the bitterly dull inn of Stillwater.

After eleven o’clock at night, when the meditating assembly still did not want to disperse (which, incidentally, seems to prove that in America too, the good get-rich-quick ideas cause lengthy headaches). Drowsily cowering in the corner, we were finally approached by the host who offered us a place to sleep in a room on the upper floor.

Along with our traveling companion, we were pleasantly surprised by the elegant furnishing of this room, so pleasingly contrasting with the room below.  We immediately took possession of the mattresses and spread them out over the whole width of the room in the name of “our sleepy majesties.” It is a pleasant feeling, indeed, after weeks of uncomfortable, hard camp in the damp forest, to be able to spread one’s tired dull limbs carelessly and unobtrusively on a soft, broad sleeping surface.

Unfortunately, we were soon informed that several other guests would share this improvised camp with us, and in less than a quarter of an hour there were already five guests, stripped bare of heavy boots, with all the dirt and sweat of the day beside us on the ground. So, there were seven people in total. To add to the eeriness of that night, at the other end of the room, on a divan, lay a sick man, whose haggard lungs breathed with all the effort of one who had spent hours running.

At about 1 o’clock, the host shone in the doorway with a lantern, and shouted in that frightened voice with which it is customary to proclaim a conflagration: “Steamboat! Steamboat!” There was, however, no fire, but only steam, which brought us into a state of alarm, the steam of a boat which was just arriving with passengers from St. Paul, only to drive off at once to Galena. Since none of the seven sleepers present appeared to be on their journey, our room soon became completely dark again.

All at once, a passenger who had likely just arrived by steamboat from St. Paul, rushed into the room, disrobed and, without much asking, lay in the middle of us. Now it had grown so tight in that room that had once been so comfortable, it was almost impossible to move without hitting a part of a neighbor’s body. There could be no question of a refreshing sleep. It was a a trying stretch, yearning for the dawn.

Monday, October 4, 7 o’clock, 57° F. From Stillwater to St. Paul, 18 miles to the west, a comfortable carriage travels daily. Before boarding this wagon to continue our journey to the capital of Minesota, also the largest city in the Territory, where we hoped to recover in a comfortable hotel, we still had to arrange two matters. We had to get rid of the canoes and useless utensils, and finally to say goodbye to our two faithful canoemen with a well-deserved reward for their services.

The former was quicker and easier than the latter. We gave away all the small items that were useful to us in our forest bivouacs and sold the birch bark for a third of the purchase price. It was tougher for us to split from the brave voyageurs with whom we had been in such intimate conversation for weeks.

Mais c’est trop! C’est trop!:  But it’s too much!  Too much!

Since we had been on the road far longer than we expected, owing to the bad weather, their wages were a rather considerable sum, which took them by surprise. The old man smiled and did not want to believe his eyes when he saw the many golden one-dollar pieces falling into his hand. “Mais c’est trop! C’est trop!” he shouted continually, until the whole sum was paid out, and then, without counting them, he shoved the pieces of gold joyfully into his trouser pocket.

We shook hands with both of them, drove on to St. Paul, and our thoughts were soon busy with a hundred new, interesting objects. But old steadfast Souverain, this staid, strict-minded character, who could neither read nor write, will always be a pleasant picture in our memory whenever we encounter in the social life of modern world those whose wisdom and deeds fail to match their education.



By Leo


The Austrian writer, adventurer, and academic, Karl Ritter von Scherzer traveled the United States along with Moritz Wagner in 1852 and 1853.  Their original German-language publication of Reisen in Nordamerika is free online through Google Books (image: wikimedia commons).

Chapter 21 of Wagner and Scherzer’s Reisen in Nordamerika in den Jahren 1852 und 1853 appeared on Chequamegon History in three posts in 2013.  Chapter 22 continues the story, as Carl Scherzer describes his trip up the full length of the Brule River in September 1852, riding in a birchbark canoe guided by two La Pointe voyageurs:  Souverain Denis and Jean Baptiste Belanger.

Chapter 22 lacks the variety and historical significance of chapter 21 (Ontonagon to the Mouth of the Bois-Brule), but even in Google-based translation, it maintains much of Scherzer’s beautiful (often comical) prose, that should be appreciated by readers with a fondness for canoeing.  It also includes the lyrics of an authentic voyageur song that does not appear to be published anywhere else on the web.

Themes in this chapter also continue ideas explored in other Chequamegon History posts.  If you wish to read more about the absolute misery encountered by inexperienced canoeists on the Brule, be sure to read the account of Lt. James Allen who accompanied Henry Schoolcraft to Lake Itasca in 1832.  If reading Chapter 22 makes you think that mid 19th-century European travel writers superficially appreciated Ojibwe culture more than American writers, but that their romanticism contained the seeds of dangerously-racist ideas, be sure to check out J. G. Kohl’s Remarks on the Conversion of the Canadian Indians, another Google-aided German translation first published in English right here on Chequamegon History.       



A Canoe Ride through the Wisconsin Wilderness

The Rivière du Bois Brülé or Burnt Wood River (Indian: Wisakoda) has a rocky riverbed and runs east-southeast. Its serpentine curves are navigable close to 100 miles, nearly from the source to the mouth by canoes. It has 240 rapids, varying in length, alternating with smooth surface for a length of eighty miles. Most of the rapids have a one-foot, but many an eight to ten-foot slope. Four of them are so dangerous, they require portage, that is, they must be bypassed, and the boat and baggage are carried past the most dangerous points on land.

The width of the river changes tremendously. At its mouth, it is probably ninety feet wide, then sometimes narrows down to a few feet, and then expands just as quickly to the dimension of a considerable waterway. Its total slope from its source to its mouth in Lake Superior is about 600 feet. We therefore had the doubly-difficult task of overcoming river and the slope.

We took our frugal lunch of bacon and tea on a small mound of sand. We looked back and saw, probably for the last time in our eyes, but lasting forever in our memories, Lake Superior.

Amorin Mello has covered both postal irregularities and early surveys of northern Wisconsin, here on Chequamegon History.

It should be noted that such letters are not uncommon in this great primeval forest, where bald towering tree trunks are more reliable postmen than the whims of hunting Indians, ignorant of their duties.  Suddenly, Baptiste cried out, “Une lettre! Une lettre!” Mounted on a high pole, a letter hung wrapped in birch bark. It was addressed to a “Surveyor in the wilds of Lake Superior”–truly, an extended address! The letter was accompanied by a slip of paper, also in English, in which the readers, insofar as it did not concern them, were requested to leave it undamaged in its eye-catching position.

In winter, when Lake Superior is often unnavigable for months, the postal connection with La Pointe is an arduous forest path taking nine days to reach St. Croix Falls. Since it sometimes happens that the frivolous mix-bloods, growing weary of their postal duties hang their letters on the next branch and happily return to their favorite activity: hunting the wild forest thickets. The pack sits on the tree until a more-conscientious wanderer happens upon it. Thus, it takes three months to travel a road that would be covered in as many days in civilized area with modern transportation.

Birches (betula papyracea), elms, poplars, ash trees (fraxinus sambucifolia), and oak trees make up the bulk of these primeval forests. However, spruce, pine (pinus resinosa), firs, (abies balsamea and alba), cedars and juniper trees appear in such a pleasant mixture that their dark green forms a magnificent base note for the deciduous wood, as it bleaches golden in the autumn.

Within a half hour, the clear light-green water, 6 feet deep at the entrance, dropped to half a foot. From this, one may get a sense of the lightness of our birch-barked vehicle. In spite of the people, travel utensils, and provisions, probably amounting to 800 pounds of load, it glided gently, without even brushing the shallow riverbed.

The further we went up the river, the more virgin and primeval the forest, and the wilder and wilder the little waterway became. At places, tree trunks had fallen across the river and completely blocked our way. We had to take up the handy carpenter’s ax to cut a passage through. Under such navigational conditions, the oars lay quietly against the walls of the canoe, and long, hand-hewn poles were our only means of locomotion.

A heavy rain left us short on time to look for a bivouac. We spent the night in the woods under old spruce trees. Their trunks were more than 120 feet in height. Every night, we tied the thermometer to a tree branch out of the wind, and then recorded our observations in the morning. That was the only time we were able to maintain a regular hour of observation.

Friday, September 24, 53°F. Yesterday’s heavy rain has stopped, and as far as you can tell from under our green jungle canopy, the sky is quite clear and cloudless.

We continued the journey at 8 o’clock. At points, wind-broken spruce and beech hung from both sides, their still-green jewelry forming arcs of triumph across the river.

The splendorous color of the forests is enhanced by the mighty brush of autumn. You can already notice the work of this brilliant painter on the foliage of the oaks and elms. Only the stiff firs and ancient spruces, seen against the sky, allow the autumn storms to rush past without changing their defiant green.

We had a short portage to make, and a part of the provisions and effects had to be carried over the rapids. Landed at 12 o’clock for lunch. Our canoe was already severely damaged by the low water level and numerous rocky cliffs, and it began to fill with water. Now, all our luggage had to be brought to the shore and the empty boat had to be turned over to wrap the leaky areas watertight again.

For the whole afternoon’s journey, the same wild character of nature prevailed. Trees on opposite banks bent in pyramids and wrapped around each other at the summit. Sturdy roots of ash, elms, oaks having lost their balance, hung like an arched bridge over the surface of the water. All around, the eye sees the rugged beauty of the forest. Little has changed in nature or navigation in the two hundred years since the first missionary in a birch canoe passed through this wilderness.

At points, the thicket clears, the land becomes flatter, the river broadens, small lush archipelagoes rise, and the scenery gains the prestige of a modern park. In such areas, the wild rice (Zizania aquatica) comes into view. Along with hunting and fishing, it constitutes a staple food of the Indians. A marsh plant, it usually grows only in lowlands (sloughs), which are 8 to 10 inches under water for most of the year.

Oumalouminee:  while manoomin (wild rice) is at the root of it, the Ojibwe-Algonquian word Omanoominii (Oumalouminee on early French maps) actually means “Wild Rice People” (i.e. the Menominee Nation or the St. Croix (Folle Avoine) Ojibwe.  

The harvest happens in the autumn, in a simple and effortless way. The Indians drive their slender canoes through the reeds into the middle of the rice fields. They bend the ears from both sides over the boat, and then beat out the fruit with fists and sticks, where it falls to the floor of the canoe. Most of the time, they roast the rice (Oumalouminee) and enjoy it boiled in water. Sometimes, however, when this seems too much trouble for them, the humble forest-dwellers are content to chew the raw fruit like kinikinik or smoking tobacco as a noonday meal.

When we asked Souverain how far we still had to go to the next portage, he replied that it might still be a distance of two pipes (deux pipes), by which he meant to say that we would arrive after the time in which one is able to smoke two pipes.

The black rocky bottom of the river makes the water so dark, it becomes very difficult to distinguish the sharp slightly-covered, rocks from the water, and so our boat received more than one jolt and leak. At half past four, we had to make a second portage of half a mile in length. Both the boat and the baggage had to be carried through the forest. We camped at the other end of the trail at the edge of a northern beech forest. Evening, 7 o’clock 48° F.

Saturday, 25th of September, 40° F. Heavily clouded horizon, windless, rainy. Our matches got wet and prevented us from starting a fire. Finally, a flint was found in a tin, but the gathered wood was green and wet, and took a long time to burn. After 7 o’clock, we set out. Exclusively hardwood vegetation, now, namely ash, elm, silver poplar and birch, which would seem to indicate a milder climate.

The remnants of Indian night camps are noticed at many points in the forest: the charred fire, the fresh tree-branches placed in the ground where the kettle hung above the flame, the dry wooden skeletons that were once wigwams.

Several jumbles of tree branches had to be chopped in half this morning with the ax in order to make a passage for us. Only half an hour after our departure from bivouac, we arrived at the third portage. Under heavy rain, we carried the effects through the forest on a trail that only occasionally hinted at ancient, long-weathered tracks. This time, the canoe could be pulled over the rapids, but only through a heroic decision of the two leaders to wade alongside it in the frosty, cold river. At 8:30, this painstaking portage was over, and the journey across the less-dangerous rapids continued in the canoe.

Souverain Denis (Danie), a celebrated voyageur of La Pointe was around 67 years old in 1852, when Scherzer hired him to lead the voyage from La Pointe to Stillwater in the Minnesota Territory.

In the afternoon, more coniferous trees appeared, especially on the right bank. The rapids often continued for miles, and Souverain, the admiral of our birch-barked frigate, to whom was entrusted our destiny, had more than a hard row to hoe. Twice, shying away from the effort of cutting, we boldly passed over mighty tree trunks fallen into the river. Several times, our barge slid so narrowly under tree trunks hanging over the water there was scarcely enough space left us, lying with our backs against the bottom, to squeeze under with our slender canoe.

Despite the reappearance of softwood vegetation, the area visibly takes on a different character as it gradually changes from the hilly landscape of Lake Superior to the flat prairie ground of the West. The trees in the forest become less dense, while willows, cypresses, larches, and Thuja occidentalis are more frequently seen. On the banks, young saplings proudly take the place of the noble-stemmed spruce.

Based on our experiences so far, we would not recommend that future travelers rely too much on hunting and fishing while traveling through these wilderness areas. The almost incessant rapids give the river a current far too strong for it to be a popular habitat for fish, and the game is usually scanty along the shore. In addition, the gun often suffers much from the water, which the powerful sweep of the poles and paddles sends over the side of the canoe. Due to this moisture, which is almost unavoidable in such a small space, even the best-measured shots often fail.

Once, it was inspiring to see the keen-eyed Souverain pick out a water snipe among the bushes. Not knowing its mortal danger, it promenaded itself carelessly in search of food. We approached quietly with the boat, drawing near to fell the victim with the shotgun, and Souverain shot his enemy-snipe-weapon. The shot failed. A second and third had the same fate. The charges had been dampened by prolonged rain.

1._wilson27s_snipe._gallinago_wilsoni_bon._2._american_woodcock._philohela_minor_gray_lccn2017660746(wikimedia) Wasserschnepfe is a generic German term for several species in the family Scolopacidae (snipes and sandpipers). Wilson’s Snipe (left) or the American Woodcock (right) are likely candidates for the suicidal Brule bird.  Hypochondria was used as a synonym for depression in the 19th century–see the opening paragraph of Moby Dick for an example.

Quite remarkably, the poor animal had still not left its dangerous post, as if it were overpowered by melancholy, and would receive the mortal shot as a blessing. The fourth charge finally did its duty. The snipe staggered and fell dead in a nearby bush. She was haggard and skinny, and seemed to have truly suffered from hypochondria. In the evening, we shot a duck. General joy was had over their fatigue, and we lustily enjoyed a good evening meal.

In the final hours of the journey, the river assumes a regular, almost canal-like course, which for some miles continued in a straight line. The rapids become rarer, but the river is densely covered with rock, which hides itself under the smooth barren surface of the water. Surprised by nightfall, and in the deceitful twilight not daring to go further among the aforementioned jagged rocks, we bivouacked close to the shore in a flat, swampy area.

As a rule, since we were on the Bois-Brülé river, we drove for ten hours a day, from 7 o’clock in the morning until 5 o’clock in the evening, unless rain or canoe repairs prevented us. Every morning, before we left, we prepared our breakfast, and made a very short stop at lunchtime. We pitched our tent only at the resting hour of the evening, when possible on a hill in an area where the presence of numerous dry logs could suffice for preparing a comfortable night fire.

Only a few years removed from the Great Famine, Wagner and Scherzer visited America during a period of massive Irish immigration, which they discuss elsewhere in their travelogue.

After the two voyageurs had cut down and brought in 12 to 18 pieces of spruce or birch trunks in the forest, they usually left it to us to keep the fire at proper heat. No sooner had our evening meal been consumed, which, like the selection at the court of an Irish emigrant’s table–one day bacon and tea, and the next day tea and bacon–the two voyageurs, fatigued by the hard work of the day, would fall asleep. Our traveling companion, wrapped in a thick buffalo robe, found no more attraction in this body-strengthening pleasure. So we were faced with a choice, stoke or freeze.

Every night, we would get up four or five times to set new tree trunks on the dying glow. And when the fire flared up again, we’d sit a while and watch the joyous flaming wave, and think of our friends across the ocean. And as this new flame intensified, new glowing thoughts and feelings rose in us again and again, for the fire possesses the same miraculous power as the sea or the blue sky. One can gaze into it for hours and yet cannot get enough of it. One laughs and cries, becomes sad then cheerful again. – The logs that we burned last night, certainly amounted to half a cord of wood!

Sunday, September 25, 5:30, snowfall. A good fire in front of our tent makes it easier for us to bear the cold and the bad weather. All night long, we heard the cries of many flocks of ducks moving cheerfully off to the west. In the forest, now, one hears only the lonely lamentations of a woodpecker, his flight inhibited and decrepit, he could not follow the young flyers and is left behind. The snowfall prevents the boat from popping up, and we are forced to wait for better weather in this swampy, frosty wilderness.

7 o’clock, 35° F. A shot was fired nearby. It was probably the hunting rifle of wandering Indians.

Around 9:30, a canoe came up with an Indian and his squaw (Indian woman). It was the postman of La Pointe who had picked up the letters in St Croix and was on the way home. As soon as he saw our camp, he stopped, got out, and he and his wife warmed themselves by our brightly-lit fire.

The postman of La Pointe described here does not seem to be John Morrison, the mail carrier listed in the 1850 censusBoozhoo:  hello! greetings! (Ojibwe People’s Dictionary)

He was a poor, one-eyed devil. In his little boat he brought wild rice (folle avoine) tucked under animal skins, which he wished to exchange for resin to repair his damaged canoe. The shot we heard a few hours earlier fell from his shotgun, but the duck he aimed never did. The postman did not seem to be in a hurry. He talked to the voyageurs for more than an hour, then said good-bye and Boshu* to the fire’s warmth and to us.

[*Boshu, also bojoo or bojo, is undoubtedly a corruption of the French “Bon jour,” which is used by all Indian tribes on this side of the Mississippi for all kinds of greetings in the widest sense of the word. In general, the Chippewa language is teeming with English expressions, for which they have no name in their own language. The same is the case with the Indians of British Guiana, who have included many Spanish words in their language: cabarita, billy goat (Indian: cabaritü), sapatu, shoe (Indian zapato), aracabusca, firearm (Indian: arcabug). It deserves great attention at a time when we seem more inclined than ever to draw conclusions about the descent of peoples from certain similarities in languages. Comp. Dr. W. H. Brett, Dr. Thomas Jung, etc.]

11 o’clock in the morning. After the snow stopped, we quickly patched some areas on the boat, damaged by the sharp rocks. After a short snack of bacon and salt meat, we proceeded further up the river. We intended to continue, without further delay in a southwesterly direction, until dawn, hoping to escape this frighteningly-cold region.

The scenery and nature remained the same as yesterday. Hardwood, among which the American elm (ulmus americana) prevails. With its imposing height and rich crown of leaves, it is a major ornament of the American forests. With the shallow shores, rice marshes and trees hanging over the river under the weight of their leaves, our canoe laboriously sighs under its oppressive cargo. The rapids start again. The river is about 40 feet wide.

About 2:30, we passed through ten minutes of rapids, whose completion required the full effort of our two canotiers. In addition to the countless rocks, we passed through the lowest water levels, over uprooted trees that had fallen into the river. Our journey now resembled the pushing of a cart than it did the light gliding of a birch canoe. It was a fight with the water and nature. We were in danger of wounds to our heads and eyes, passing close under the wild bushy oaks and spruces that jutted into the water.

The landscape afforded variety of rich, picturesque views. Every bend, every new opening, showed the visitor a new image. At times, the river extended to the breadth of a lake, and cedars, cypresses, thujas, and all the green foliage of the swamp vegetation becomes visible. Where the rapids stop, the mirror-clear, calm water comes alive with trout and swimming birds. All at once, however, the picture will close, and the two shores form an incessantly-bright green alley, through which the smooth river stretches like a long white vein of silver.

Bakinawaan:  win over/ beat in a contest or game (Ojibwe People’s Dictionary)

By evening, our little boat was suffering greatly from the incoming cold. At sunset, we camped on the so-called Victory Grounds (pakui-aouon). It is a cleared piece of forest, about 40 feet above the river, that forms a kind of plateau, upon which bloody battles must have taken place in former centuries between the Sioux and Chippewas.

The Revolutions of 1848 were critical in the early development of Czech nationalism in the Austrian Empire.   Being from Vienna, Scherzer may have been acutely sensitive to dissatisfaction in nearby Prague.

The cause of the hatred between these two tribes of Indians remains an object of research. However, one only needs to mention the name one tribe, to a person of the other in order to provoke his rage. Against this, even the hatred of the Czechs, who in the blessed year of Revolution wished to devour all of Germany, pales in comparison. For as often as the Sioux come into contact with Chippewa Indians, they will certainly commit a murder, because according to their legal concepts, it is their duty to scalp as many Chippewas as possible.

Scherzer wrote Joseph Austrian at La Pointe for the lyrics of the Chanson canadienne, and while the Reisen does not identify the family of Jean Baptiste (the most common men’s name at La Pointe), Joseph Austrian’s memoirs suggest the singer was “one Balange,” presumably Jean Baptiste Belanger.

In the evening, when the tent is pitched, the night’s wood is felled and carried in from the forest, the fire is lighted and a small meal is prepared and consumed, the four of us would sit still for a while around the warming fire. We would listen to the voyageurs tell us about their experiences and destinies, and about the savagery of the whites and the gentleness of the Indians. Sometimes, they also sing songs that have strangely found their way from the home of the troubadours to these soundless primeval forests of the north*. Here we repeat one that Jean Baptiste sang out this evening with much emotion, as he lay carelessly, disregarding the flickers of the burning fire:

Chanson canadienne
(Canadien song)

Buvons tous le verre à la main,
Buvons du vin ensemble;
Quand on boit du vin sans dessein,
Le meilleur n’en vaut guère.
Pour moi je trouve le vin bon,
Quand j’en bois avec ma Lison.

(Let’s drink down the glasses, in our hands,
Let’s drink wine together;
When you drink wine without purpose,
Even the best is not worth it.
For me, I find the wine tastes good,
When I drink with my Lison.)

Depuis longtemps que je vous dis:
Belle Iris je vous aime,
Je vous aime si tendrement,
Soyez moi donc fidèle,
Car vous auriez en peu de temps,
Un amant qui vous aime.

(For a long time I have been telling you:
Beautiful Iris I love you,
I love you so dearly,
Be faithful to me,
For in a short time you will have,
A lover who loves you.)

Belle Iris, de tous vos amants
Faites une différence,
Je ne suis pas le plus charmant
Mais je suis le plus tendre.
Si j’étais seul auprès de vous,
Je passerais les moments les plus doux.

(Beautiful Iris, of all your lovers
Make a difference,
I am not the most charming
But I am the most tender.
If I were alone with you,
I would have the sweetest moments.)

Allons donc nous y promener,
Sous ces sombres feuillages,
Nous entendrons le rossignol chanter
Qui dit dans son langage,
Dans son joli chant d’oiseau,
Adieu amants volages.

(Let’s go for a walk,
Under the dark foliage,
We will hear the nightingale
Who sings in his language,
In his pretty bird song,
Farewell lovers.)

“Ah! rendez-moi mon coeur,
Maman me le demande.”
“”Il est à vous, si vous, pouvez le reprendre.
Il est confondu dans le mien,
Je ne saurais lequel est le tien.””

(“Ah! Give me back my heart,
Mother asks me.”
“It’s yours, if you can, take it back.
It is mixed up with mine,
I will not know which is yours.”)

[*It is a common observation that the painted native forest dwellers of America are not as eloquent as their much-simpler dressed German counterparts. Although we passed through the forests of Wisconsin, Missouri, and Ohio in all seasons, we never heard as beautiful and funny singing as in the German hall. It is as if nature wanted to compensate the German forest singer for his lack of splendor through the richer gift of song. Comp. Franz v. Neuwied and Agassiz, Lake superior etc., p. 68 u. 382, respectively.]

Monday, September 27th, 35°F. Sky is completely changed, haunting cold. The snow began to fall so thickly, we had to stop again, after a short time, to build an invigorating fire in a cedar forest amidst swamp and morass. But when the flame began to grow, its warmth reached the snowy branches of the cedar trees. The snow turned to water and fell upon us as heavy rain. We were all thoroughly soaked, and the fingers of the two canoe handlers were so frozen by the biting snow they could not paddle the ship. So we sought, as well as it was possible under such unfavorable weather conditions, to warm ourselves, and finally resumed our journey at noon under snow, rain, and a sharp north wind.

12 o’clock, 42°F. Soon after our embarkation, we had to make a small portage, and happily bypassed La Clef de Brülé, a number of rapids, which in their dangerous places are called by the voyageurs “The Key to the River”.

Cedarwood now grows almost exclusively on both banks, down to the river’s edge. They sometimes seem so harshly thrown over one another that the canoe can pass through only with difficulty.

american_medicinal_plants_28plate_16529_28602544095329american_medicinal_plants_28plate_16629_28602599656029“Cedar,” used generically on today’s Brule River could only mean the Whitecedar or Arbor Vitae Thuja occidentalis (top).  Curiously, however, Scherzer specifically distinguishes Thuja from Juniperus virginiana or redcedar (bottom) and describes the latter as more common, even though J. virginiana is not found this far north.

2:30 48°F. The snowflakes have changed to raindrops with the increasing temperature. Gradually, the rain stopped, and there was overcast, but rain-free weather. We now reached the Campement des Cedres, the only place up to the source of the river, where one still finds enough wood to prepare a night fire as all tree species except cedars (juniperus virginiana) are now becoming sparse along the shores. The discomfort of travel is now joined by a feeling of an unshakeable cold.

We therefore resolved to reach the navigable end of the Bois Brülé river that evening, and our captains endeavored to reach it before nightfall.

The rapids had now stopped, but another no-less uncomfortable and dangerous guest turned against us. The bushes of alders (alnus incana), willows, berberis, etc. grew on both banks. In their undisturbed growth, they had become so impenetrable that at the first sight of these thousands of closely intertwined branches, we often thought it impossible to break through with a canoe. The river was completely invisible in these thick, shady hangings, and hoe, pole, and fists had to be activated to fight all these natural hindrances.

Sometimes, we could only pass through horizontally, with our heads back to the bottom of the canoe. Closing our eyes to the relentless branches, we completely abandoned ourselves to the care of the brave Souverain. His face and hands scratched by the tiny branches, he undauntedly strove forward with unspeakable effort. Only a few times, when these forest barricades grew too overpowering, we heard a half-desperate, “mais c’est impossible!”

In September of 1852, it was still an open question of whether the Ojibwe would be removed west from Wisconsin.  The disastrous Sandy Lake Removal of two years earlier was partially prompted by trading interests wishing to focus westward.

This wild overgrowth of the two banks, which gave our boat journey more of a character of first voyage of discovery than that of following a well-trodden path, can only be explained by the circumstance that the river is only seldom traveled up to its source. Earlier, when La Pointe was the Fur Company’s trading post, several hundred canoes loaded with commodities traveled this route every year, and from there they crossed to the various trading places of Upper Mississippi. But since Indians, forest animals and fur traders have moved westward, the cheerful waters of the Bois Brülé often trickle by, through entire seasons, without being cut by the keel of a boat, and the lush vegetation of its shores is free to reach across and embrace in wild passion.

In this case, the “grand portage” or “great carrying place” referred to is the Brule-St. Croix portage, separating the waters of Lake Superior from the waters of the Mississippi.

Around 5 o’clock, we found the water of the river so low in several places that we decided to give some relief to the canoe by continuing the rest of the journey to the source of the river on foot. We walked back a mile and a half along a forest path, under the most unfavorable conditions. Our bodies wrapped from head to toe in India rubber, we sat with our travel companions against the moving forest, while the two voyageurs with canoe and effects followed the course of the river to meet us again at the grand portage.

Hardly could a hike offer more variety. Without the slightest indication of the path to be taken by the usual old footprints and tree cuts, we fought thorn bushes through deep snow, then passed through wild grain as tall as man, swiftly mowing it under our boots. In the hurry to disembark, we left our compass in the boat, so we could only guess what direction we should start navigating to find the so-called “Great Carrying Place.”

We wandered the wilderness, sweaty and fatigued, unable to move with any speed. The night was already falling, and as our innumerable “hallos,” went unanswered by our captain, we fell silent in the solitude of the forest, coming to terms with the idea of spending the night in these cold, fever-inducing swamps. All of the sudden, the voices of the voyageurs resounded like a hallelujah. We had to be very close to them, so we gained fresh courage against the complaints of pressing each step forcibly through dense undergrowth of thorny shrubs.

Drenched and chilled, we finally reached the Portage on a hill above some young cedars, and found the Voyageurs already occupied with the clearing and patching of the canoe. Unlike ourselves, our travel companion and the two Canadians had no rain-resistant rubber outfits, and were even more exposed to the cold, wet weather. For a time, the shivering appearance of our companion made us fear for his health.

In addition, we soon learned of a new misfortune. The snow cover and lack of wood in the vicinity prevented us from pitching our tent preparing a good fire as fast as our condition might desire. Besides, all our packs had gotten wet, and the provisions were in a poor state of edibility.

Our first concern, when we finally succeeded in pitching the tent and building a fire, was to dry our underwear and garments. All around us, hanging from tree branches and ropes were scattered cloths, spread out and drained of color. In our haste to remove the uncomfortable liquid from our needed garments through the warming power of the flame, we brought them into too-close contact with the wildly-flickering fire. Regrettably, they were soon covered in traces of scorch marks.

Nothing in our preceding traveling conditions had so deeply embittered us or made us as morose as these recent events. It is true that none of us complained, but each man stood in perfect silence before the burning logs, and regrettably stared at whatever soaked garment he was holding in his outstretched arms before the drying glow. Our medicines in vulgar condition, and our books, writings, documents, and physical instruments, all partially corrupted or totally broken, there was not a single piece of our effects which did not bear some lasting trace of damage.

The only consolation was that the snowstorm ended, and the overcast sky dissipated into a bright, starry, moonlit night, which made the prospect of a more favorable morning and forgetting the troubles of today, less and less difficult to fathom.

A short distance from the Portage is the inconspicuous source of the Bois-Brule River, in the marshes all around.* Only a single small stream pours into it during its long, winding course to Lake Superior. The Campement du Portage, where the travelers usually camp, is situated on a small hill, adorned with a serene cedar and spruce approach. While it may present a charming bivouac during a pleasant, warmer season. The eerie conditions under which we spent the night on the cold, damp ground could not possibly give us an idea of their summer loveliness.

[*The water of the Bois-brule River is about 12-14° Fahrenheit cooler than that of the La Croix River, for which may be explained by its forest-shaded banks being almost inaccessible to sunbeams, as well as its proximity to Lake Superior.]

In winter, when the river freezes along its entire length, it must be a marvelous sight: the wild rapids suddenly frozen by the harsh power of frost, and transformed into the strangest shapes and ice formations.