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.



By Leo Filipczak

When we last checked in with Joseph Austrian, or Doodooshaaboo (milk) as he was known in these parts, we saw some interesting stories and insights about La Pointe in 1851.  The later La Pointe stories, however, are where the really good stuff is.

Austrian’s brief stay on the island came at arguably one of the most important periods in our area’s history, spanning from a few months after the Sandy Lake Tragedy, until just after Chief Buffalo’s return from Washington D.C.  Whether young Joseph realized it or not, he recorded some valuable history.  In his memoir, we see information about white settlement and land speculation prior to the Treaty of 1854, as well as corroborating accounts of the La Pointe and Bayfield stories found in the works of Carl Scherzer and Benjamin Armstrong.

Most importantly, there is a dramatic scene of a showdown between the Lake Superior chiefs and Agent John Watrous, one of the architects of the Sandy Lake removal.  In this, we are privileged to read the most direct and succinct condemnation of the government, I’ve ever seen from Chief Buffalo.  It is a statement that probably deserves to be memorialized alongside Flat Mouth’s scathing letter to Governor Ramsey.    

So, without further ado, here is the second and final installment of Joseph Austrian’s memoirs of La Pointe, and fifth of this series.  Enjoy:



Memoirs of Doodooshaboo

… continued from La Pointe 1851-1852 (Part 1).


Scherzer, Noted Traveller Pays Us a Visit.  1851.

Carl Scherzer and his companion Moritz Wagner recorded their travels in Reisen in Nordamerkia in der Jahren 1852 und 1853.  An e-translation of Chapter 21 appeared in English for the first time this fall on the Chequamegon History website.  You can read it here, here, and here.  The second installment records his time with Joseph Austrian.  From Austrian’s account, it appears Wagner did not accompany Scherzer through the Lake Superior country.  (Wikimedia Images)

During this summer a noted Austrian traveler Carl Scherzer arrived one Sept. night.  He had been commissioned by the “Academy of Science” of Vienna (a Government Institution) to make a tour of America to familiarize himself with the country and gather information to write a book for the Academy. This interesting book which he wrote is called “Scherzer’s Reisen.”  Mr. S. sent me a copy of this book which I have in my library.  In this book, mention is made of me and my cordial reception of him and his travelling companion, an Attache of the French Legation of Washington who accompanied him on his trip.  Scherzer was a highly educated gentleman, cultured and charming, tall and of imposing appearance.  Scherzer arrived at La Pointe at midnight coming from Ontonagan 90 miles in a small row boat.  To his dismay, he found that there was not a hotel in the place.  The boatman told him that he thought that one Austrian might give him shelter for the night, so he came to the house and knocked at the door.  Henry Schmitz, my fellow employee, who roomed with me opened the door and called out “Joe step auf freund von below sind da,” whereupon I cordially invited them to enter and made them as comfortable as possible.  They remained with us about three days and profoundly appreciated our hospitality.  Even making mention of it later on in his book.  Once on going to a fishing boat for our supply of fish, Scherzer went with me and begged the privilege of carrying two of the large fine white fish, one suspended from each hand.  He much enjoyed meeting the good Father Skolla, his country-mate, also an Austrian, and from him obtained more valuable and authentic information concerning that part of Lake Superior country that he could have otherwise gained.  From La Point Scherzer planned to go to St. Paul.  There were no railroads here at that time.  There were but two roads leading to St. Paul.  One was simply a footpath of several hundred miles through the woods.  The other led via St. Croix [Brule?] & St. Croix river shortening the foot travel considerably.  Scherzer chose the latter road.  I fitted out for him, at his request, a birch bark canoe and utensils and all necessary for the trip and Scherzer and his companion started on their way to St. Paul.

In Reisen in Nordamerika, Scherzer contradicts Austrian’s statement that the voyageurs who brought the travel writer from Ontanagon also brought him down the Brule and St. Croix.  The men who departed with him from La Pointe are identified only as Souverain, an older man, and Jean-Baptise, a young man.  Souverain Denis is the likely suspect for the captain, and if Austrian is correct here, it appears Jean-Baptise Belanger (Balange) was his partner.

He had engaged one “Balange” their voyageur who had brought them from Ontonoagan and a friend of his to take them through.  They were well acquainted with the route which at times necessitated their carrying the canoes around through the woods across the portage, where the river was inaccessible through rapids, obstacles and otherwise.  Scherzer arrived at St. Paul safely and wrote thanking me for my assistance and requesting me to send him a copy of the wording of a French rowing song (the oarsmen usually sang keeping time with their oars).  I sent it to him and received a letter of thanks from New Orleans whence he had gone from St. Paul by steamer via the Mississippi River.  This song is embodied in his book also.

A Steamer was a rare occurrence at La Point and when one did come, we often got up an Indian war dance or other Indian exhibit for the amusement of its passengers, and which they enjoyed greatly.  In the fall of the year steamers were sometimes driven there by the storms prevailing on the lakes, as the harbor offered the best of shelter.  We kept a good supply of cord wood on the dock which we sold to the steamers when they needed fuel.


Indians Decline to be Removed by Gov.  I attend Grand Council.  1851.

Although the Government had botched the previous year’s removal, leading to hundreds of deaths, John Watrous illegally told the Ojibwe chiefs in 1851 that they would have to remove to Sandy Lake again.  The Lake Superior bands adamantly refused.  Some of the details here, however, suggest that this may actually depict the Buffalo-Watrous showdown, over the same issue, that occurred at La Pointe in the summer of 1852.  Scherzer’s visit, described above, was in 1852, but Austrian (writing over fifty years later) puts it in 1851.  For more on the politics of the years following Sandy Lake, read (Paap, Howard D. Red Cliff, Wisconsin: A History of an Ojibwe Community. St. Cloud, MN: North Star, 2013.), and Bruce White’s section of (McClurken, James M., and Charles E. Cleland. Fish in the Lakes, Wild Rice, and Game in Abundance: Testimony on Behalf of Mille Lacs Ojibwe Hunting and Fishing Rights / James M. McClurken, Compiler ; with Charles E. Cleland … [et Al.]. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State UP, 2000).

During the first summer of my stay at La Point, the Indian Agent, Mr. Watrous was directed by the Secretary of the Indian Dept. at Washington to summon the chiefs of that part of the Chippewa tribe residing in the vicinity of Bad River, Bayfield, & Red River for a council.  The Agent accordingly sent runners around to the chiefs of the different lodges some of which were quite remote, summoning them to meet him on a certain day at La Point.  They came in obedience to the summons many bringing their squaws, papooses and their Indians of their lodges with them.  Near the lake shore the put up their wigwams, which were made of birch bark leaving an opening over hung with a blanket which served as a doorway.  It made an interesting Indian settlement.  The meeting was held on the appointed day, in my brother’s store which was a long wooden structure.  When the meeting opened the chiefs sat on the floor arranged along the left side of the room, with their blankets wrapped around them, and each one smoking a long stemmed pipe, which they make themselves, the sign of peace, many ornamented with paint and feathers.  On the other side of the room was seated the Indian Agent with an interpreter who translated what either had said.

I naturally felt greatly interested in witnessing their proceedings.  The President of the U. S. was known by the Indians as the Great Father and the Agent addressed them telling them what the Great Father wanted of them; namely that they remove from their reservations to interior points in order to make room for while settlers; pointing out to them that the proposed location was more suited for them, there being good fishing and hunting grounds.  The government offered to pay them besides certain annuities, partly in money and partly in Indian goods–such as blankets, cotton, beads, provisions, etc.  The proposition of the Government was met with murmurs of disapproval by the chiefs & Indians present, and Chief Buffalo made a most eloquent and impassioned speech saying,

“Go back to the ‘Great Father’ and tell him to keep the money and his goods.  We do not want them but we wish to be left in peace.  Tell him we will not move from the land that is our own, that we have always been peaceable and were always happy until the white man came among our people and sold ‘Matchie Mushkiki [majimashkiki (bad medicine)]’ (poison-whiskey) to them.“

(The real name of whiskey in Indian is “Ushkota wawa [ishkodewaaboo]” – fire water).

The Indians did remain and to this day are still occupying the same land.  I was present at this meeting and it so impressed me, that although it took place over fifty years ago it is still vivid in my mind.  Later on the Government encouraged the same Indians to engage in farming work on the reservation, and furnishing them with implements and seeds for that purpose, and in the course of a few years they had their own little farms on which they raised potatoes and other vegetables easily cultivated.  Schools also were established by the Government.  One of their large settlements today is on Bad River, and not far from Ashland Wis., known by the name of Odana.


Brother Marx Experience with Indians.  1851 .

Marx Austrian did not immigrate until 1853, or marry his first wife Malea until a year later.  His received a land patent for this claim from the General Land Office in Superior City during 1857.  This would date his pre-emption to the winter of 1855-1856, a few months before Bayfield was established by the Bayfield Land Company, not 1851.
Exciting research is being done on the land speculation and corruption in this area (much of it involving the Austrian brothers), just before and after the Treaty of 1854.  It was Henry M. Rice, richer and more powerful than even Julius Austrian, who eventually cashed in on the plots that became Bayfield.

Our blind brother Marx Austrian with brother Julius’ assistance at that time, preempted 160 acres of land near Bayfield from La Point, complying with preemption laws.  He built a small log house living there with his wife.  One night during their first winter in their new house, there was a knock at the door, and when opened they were confronted by a number of Indians, who were evidently under the influence of liquor and who swinging their tomahawks vigorously, making all sorts of threatening demands.  An old Indian who knew Marx interceded and enabled him and his wife to escape without injury who thoroughly scared fled panic stricken in the dark about two miles at night, over the ice, on the Bay which was covered with a foot of snow to La Point for safety.  The poor woman having the hazardous task of leading her blind husband over this long and difficult road, not to come back again and glad to escape with their lives and thus abandoning their right of preemption.  This place was later on platted and is now known as the Bayfield Addition.


My Experience in Lumbering

Brother Julius had a small saw mill operated by water power about two miles back of Bayfield on Pike’s Creek, near which were Pine lands.  In the winter I was sent with some woodsmen to look after the cutting and hauling of Pine logs for the mill.  These logs were hauled by ox teams to the mill.  In the spring I was again sent there to assist in the sawing of these logs into lumber.  We lived in a little log hut near by.  When the snow melted toward spring time, the creek was high and swollen.  One day the force of the waters burst through the dam, carrying it away and the great volume of water rushing down cut a new channel in the bed of which had become a river, and undermining to foundation of our little log house causing it to topple over into it, also carrying away the logs, many of which floated down into Lake Superior and were lost.

Jewish-immigrant brothers, Julius and Joseph Austrian, were prominent La Pointe residents at this time.

Pg. 218-219 (Armstrong, Benj G., and Thomas P. Wentworth. Early Life among the Indians: Reminiscences from the Life of Benj. G. Armstrong : Treaties of 1835, 1837, 1842 and 1854 : Habits and Customs of the Red Men of the Forest : Incidents, Biographical Sketches, Battles, &c. Ashland, WI: Press of A.W. Bowron, 1892).

In the winter when logging was going on, once I was sent across from La Point with a heavy load of provisions and supplies for the men.  This was loaded on a so called “Canadian flat sleigh.”  The road on the way to the mill led down a very steep high hill which half way down had a sharp bend and at this curve stood a tree.  After having started down the hill, the horse was not strong enough to hold back the load, which got the better of him, and pushed him swiftly down the hill with his hind legs dragging after him wedging him against and partly into the tree with his front legs up in the air.  I could not move the heavily laden sleigh with the horse wedged in so tightly I found it impossible to extricate him, and had to go to the mill for assistance.  The sled had to be unloaded before we could free the horse.  See Armstrong’s book in which mention and illustration is given of this as “Austrian up the tree.”  The book is in my library.


Ferrying Oxen Across the Bay in Row Boat.

My brother Julius had also a large tract of meadow land on Bad River, where he had a number of men employed in making hay, in order to gather this hay for stacking, a span of cattle and a wagon were needed to haul it.  There being no other means of ferrying them across the bay, one of the large Mackinaw boats of about twenty-five feet keel by six feet beam had to be used to get these over to the other side across a distance of about three miles to the mainland from where they could be driven to the meadow.  I was commissioned to attend to this assisted by four competent boatmen, we finally managed with coaxing and skill to get the two big oxen into the boat, standing them crosswise in it.  We tied their horns to the opposite side of the boat.  The width of the boat was not sufficient to allow them to stand in their natural position which made them restless.  The first thing we knew one of the oxen raised his hind leg and stuck it out over the side of the boat into the water, his other leg soon followed and we had aboard an ox half in the boat, with the weight of his body resting on and threatening to capsize the boat.  We quickly cut the rope which held his head and he fell backward overboard floundering in the water.  Little did I think that we would see the ox alive again.  Imagine my surprise on my return to the Island to find he had swam back to shore safe and sound.  When the other ox saw his mate go overboard, he tried to follow and it required much coaxing and extra feeding to restrain him and finally landed him all right on the opposite shore.


Lost in the Woods

Ervin Barnes Leihy was one of first American settlers of this area whose primary employment was not specifically the Indian trade or the missions.

I returned to the Island and the next morning I started for the meadow fields in a birch bark canoe with a Mr. Lehigh who had a little saw mill about five miles up Bad River.  We were obliged to sit in the bottom of the little boat in a most uncomfortable and cramped position, having been warned by the boatman in charge not to move as the least motion is apt to cause the frail craft to capsize.  On arrival at the meadow I found the men busily at work.  They were about to take dinner and I gladly consented to join them, and being hungry relished the spread of fried pork, crackers, and tea.  My companion Mr. Lehigh was bound for his little saw mill up the river where he lived, and I having business to attend to there started with him on a foot trail through the woods.  He loitered on the way picking wild raspberries, just ripe and tempting, but musquitos were thick and vicious and pestered us terribly.  I not being accustomed suffered more than my companion.  Asking him the distance we were still to go, and on his telling me three miles, I became impatient and went ahead alone to get away from the musquitos.  After walking on some time I came to a potato field into which the trail led, but was concealed by the high vines.  Crossing the field I struck a trail on the other side and took for granted it was the one leading to the mill.  On and on I went when it struck me that I had gone further than the three miles, and it dawned on me that I must have taken the wrong path from the potato field and I concluded to turn back and try to reach the meadow.  The sun had gone down, it grew dusk very soon amongst the tall pine and maple trees, in the dense forrest.  It grew so dark that I could not see my trail and became entangled in the underbrush and roots of trees, tripping and falling many times.  I had with me my double barrel shot gun, both barrels being loaded I shot these off to attract Lehigh’s attention. I listened breathlessly for some answer but there was no sign of a human soul and I became thoroughly frightened at the prospect of being lost in the woods but resolved to make the best of it.  I stumbled around and found a log hut near by, which had been put up for temporary use by the Indians in sugar making time.  I had neither matches nor ammunition, by feeling around, I discovered that what had been the doorway was closed up with birch bark. By climbing up I also discovered that the roof had been taken off the hut and I let myself down to see what might be inside.  I found there three rolls of birch bark and a rude bench made of rough poles laid along on one side lengthwise about a foot along the floor, which served as seats for the Indians while boiling the maple sap.  Being tired out I laid down on the rough bench and tried to rest, tying a handkerchief over my face, and with each hand up in the boot sleeves to protect myself from large and ravenous musquitos which tortured me nigh to desperation.  Having no matches with me to kindle a fire or create a smoke I was entirely at their mercy.  Presently I heard a noise on the outside as though of something stealthily climbing over the wall.  The moon was then shining brightly, the sky was clear and on looking up I saw the outlines of a young bear sticking his head over the wall looking down on me.  I sprang up and as I did so the bear jumped back and ran off.  No doubt the odor of the sugar attracted him more than I did.  Under these circumstances rest was out of the question.  I climbed out of the hut and made another attempt to find the lost trail by moonlight, crawling on hands and feet in some places.  In doing so, I placed my gun against a tree and had a hard time to find it again.  I decided there was no use to trip further and climbed back in the hut to stay there till day-light, then with renewed effort after repeated disappointment I finally struck a trail, but at this point I was confused and at a loss to know which direction to take.  I reached a steep hill that I did not remember having passed the day before.  As a last resort I ran up this hill and hallowed & yelled.  An answer came from the valley, from me working there.  Following the sound I reached the meadow.  My face was so swollen from the musquito bites that I was a sight to behold.  After resting and partaking of some food, I again started out for Lehigh’s place one of the me volunteering to show me the way and I arrived there a couple of hours after, and found that it was only one mile from the potato field where I had lost the trail.

For many miles in all other directions in this dense forrest there was not a single habitation nor likelihood of meeting with a soul and here a short time ago a man had been lost and never heard from again.  Hence I was lucky indeed to have found my way out of the woods.  Lehigh cooly informed me that when I saw him that he heard the report of my gun, but had paid no heed to it thinking I would eventually turn up.


Lost on the Ice and Night

Alexis was a common name among the mix-blooded families of La Pointe.  Alexis Carpenter Sr. was probably Julius Austrian’s trusted Frenchman.  This was probably Alexis Carpenter, Sr.

One time during the winter Brother Julius sent me with his trusted Frenchman Alexis, to look up certain Indians who owed him for goods and whom he thought would have considerable fur.  This tramp meant about ten miles each way through the woods on an Indian trail the ground being covered with snow.  Taking our faithful dog, who had been trained to hauling with the little toboggan sled, on which to bring back the fur which he hoped to get in payment for our debt.  We started from La Point, and I met with good success gathering quite a little fur.  On our return we reached the Bay shore late in the evening from where we had four or five miles to cross on the ice in order to reach the Island.  We rested for about an hour at an Indian wigwam and partook of some tea (such as it was) that the Indian squaw made for us and then started on. Alexis, acting as pilot went ahead, followed by the dog & then by me.  It was a clear cold night the moon shown brightly, but about half an hour afterwards snow clouds sprang up shutting out the moonlight, Still we pushed ahead.  Soon however Alexis lost his bearings and was uncertain as to direction, but on we went for several hours without reaching the Island.  Presently we encountered ice roughly broken and piled high by the force of a gale from the open lake, which indicated that we were too near the open water and that we had gone too far around the Island instead of the straight for La Point.  We stumbled along, and after having been out about two hours on the ice, with continued walking we managed to reach the shore and with guidance of Alexis tramped along toward La Point reaching there two hours afterwards almost exhausted by the hardships we had endured.


Trip to Ontonagon in Row Boat for Winter Supplies.  1851

It was in 1851 when brother Julius expected the last boat of the season would touch at La Point which was usually the case and deliver all his supplies but the quantity was not sufficient to induce the Captain to run in there and consequently he skipped La Pointe, thus leaving us short of necessary provisions for the winter, hence it was necessary to procure the same as best we could.  I was commissioned by my brother Julius to undertake the job which I did by manning a mackinaw boat with five voyageurs.  The boat was loaded with as many barrels of fish as we could carry.  We started for Ontonagon about the middle of November, intending to trade the fish for supplies required.  It was cold, the ground frozen and covered with snow. The wind was fair.  We hoisted our two sails and made good time reaching Montreal River late in the evening where we ran in and tied up for the night.  We had no tent with us but found a deserted log house by the river in which we spent the night.  There was a large open fire place, and my man cutting down a dry tree kindled a brisk wood fire in the fire place.  I slipped into a rough bunk in the room wrapped myself in my blankets and tried to sleep, but in vain.  The smoke from the fire was so dense it nearly suffocated me.  My met lighting a few tallow candles amused themselves playing cards until late at night.

The next morning early, we set sail and again had fair wind, reaching Iron River about noon and Ontonagon that night, next day succeeded in exchanging my fish for provisions and the following day started on our return trip to La Point.  We had mostly fair wind and reached there on the third day in good shape.


Another Trip to Ontonagon for Provisions.  1852.

The following year, in 1852, I agains made a similar trip for like reasons but did not have nearly as good luck as on the previous trip.  It was fraught with some danger and combined with a great deal of hardship.  The distance from La Point to Ontonagon is nearly 100 miles, all exposed to the storms of Lake Superior which in the Fall are generally very severe.  On our first day out we encountered a severe snow storm, which compelled us to make a landing near the mouth of Bad River to save the boat, which was threatened to be dashed to pieces on the shore or carried out into the open lake.  So she had to be beached and in order to do this her cargo of fish had all to be thrown overboard when we touched the beach, to lighten her and when this was done she was hauled up on the beach with a block and tackle and fastened to stump of a tree.  The boatmen had to go almost waist deep in the water and roll the heavy barrels up on the beach.  After completing the landing we sought shelter in the nearby woods from the raging storm, we were not equipped for camping, so we took the sail from the boat and stretched it over as far as it would reach for our own protection.  As before the men cut down a dead tree kindled a fire, hanging over it our camp kettle, made tea, tried some pork and this together with some crackers with which we were supplied composed our supper.  To get further away from the wind and snow we had gone further back into the woods to find some protection and there we rolled ourselves in our grey blankets and laid down keeping our faces under the protection of the sail as much as possible.  Being very much exhausted, we fell asleep, in spite of unfavorable conditions.  Toward morning when I awoke I tried to pull my blanket over me a little more but found I could not move it, and discovered that the snow had drifted over us to such an extent that we were fairly buried in it, nothing visible but part of our faces, our breath having kept that free for the time.  After daybreak we again started a fire, and this made things worse as the heat melted the snow on the trees around and water dripped down on our blankets, getting them wet.  We had to hang them near the fire to dry as we collected them later on.  They fairly steamed and we were delayed a whole day in getting arrangements completed to start again on our trip.  Toward morning the wind had subsided considerably, and the snow storm had abated somewhat and again we ventured on our trip.  After going through the same routine of reloading as on our previous occasion.  At 10 A.m. we started on our perilous voyage making good head way, the wind being favorable.  We reached Iron River after midnight.  We detected an Indian wigwam near by, thinking we might be able to get something to eat.  We tied up and investigated.  We peeped into the wigwam and found the same occupied with an Indian family.  The Indian squaw and papooses all tight asleep.  Not wishing to arouse them or to lose further time we moved on stopping early the next morning in a small bay on our route.  Kindling a fire as previously described, preparing a meager breakfast , the best scant supplies would permit.  These boatmen were accustomed to cooking (such as it was) as well as boating it being often a necessity, as they were accustomed to make long coasting trips in the pioneer days of the Lake Superior regions, which was sparsely settled and vessels were very scarce.  Supplies and all merchandise had to be transported all the way from Detroit to Lake Superior on those small Mackinaw boats.  After breakfast we set sail and continued our journey with fair wind enabling us to make good time, but it had grown bitterly cold and as we were but poorly protected for such severe weather.  It cost us untold suffering.

We finally reached Ontonagon River after dark, and to our great consternation found that the river was frozen over about an inch thick with ice.  This was not easy to break through with flimsy craft, but desperation gave strength to our men and they were equal to the situation.  With their heavy oars they pounded and broke the ice managing finally to get inside of the river to the dock of the merchant with whom I expected to do my trading in the town of Ontonagon, which was the Lakeport for the Minnesota and other copper mines in that vicinity, at that time being just developed.  On the following morning I attended to the selling of the load of fish, purchased our supplies and intending to start back for La Point the next morning.


Ordered to go to Eagle River.  1852.

Closely connected by marriage and business, the Bavarian-Jewish families Austrian and Leopold became titans of Great Lakes shipping.

In the meantime the propeller Napoleon arrived from there bringing for me a letter from brother Julius, instructing me if still in Ontonagon to take this steamer for Eagle River and to enter the employ of Mr. Henry Leopold, who had a small store there.  His man had left suddenly and he was anxious for my services.  I started for Eagle River just as I was and not until the following spring did I get my trunk.  I began working for Mr. Leopold as bookkeeper and general clerk, and thus abruptly terminated my business career at La Point.  My boatmen under direction of Mr. Henry Schmitz started without me on their return trip to La Point as planned when between Montreal River and Bad River, they encountered a terrific gale and snow storm.  It was so severe that to remain outside meant to be lost, and as a last resort, they ran their boat through the breakers, trying to beach her.  She was swamped with all the supplies, and tossed up on the beach and had to be abandoned for the time being.  Later on another boat was sent on from La Point to get the damaged cargo.  The Napoleon got abreast of Eagle River, this place being on the open shore of Lake Superior without any protection, it being too rough there for the boat to make a landing, therefore she went on to Eagle Harbor, about nine miles distant, where she could safely land.  On arrival there I put up at Charley King boarding house for the night.

To be continued after La Pointe 1852-1854


Special thanks to Amorin Mello and Joseph Skulan for sharing this document and their important research on the Austrian brothers and their associates with me.  It is to their credit that these stories see the light of day.  This is the end of the La Pointe section, but the original handwritten memoir of Joseph Austrian is held by the Chicago History Museum and contains many interesting stories from the life of this brief resident of La Pointe.

CAUTION: This translation was made using Google Translate by someone who neither speaks nor reads German. It should not be considered accurate by scholarly standards.

Our last excerpt from Wagner and Scherzer’s Reisen in Nordamerika in den Jahren 1852 und 1853.  The Austrian travelers chronicled their time at La Pointe in September 1852.  In this one, we will read of their adventures in my favorite part of the world, the south shore of Lake Superior between La Pointe and the Brule River.  160 years later, residents of Red Cliff, Little Sand Bay, Cornucopia, Bark Point, Herbster, and Port Wing will still recognize many of the natural features described here, and more interesting anecdotes can add to the small amount of written historical documentation of this part of the world.  Enjoy:

Red Sandstone:  South Shore of Lake Superior:  from David Dale Owen’s Report of a Geological Survey of Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota (1852).


From Ontonagon to the mouth of the Bois-brule River–Canoe ride to Magdalen Island–Porcupine Mountains–Camping in the open air–A dangerous canoe landing at night–A hospitable Jewish family–The island of La Pointe–The American Fur Company–The voyageurs or courriers de bois–Old Buffalo, the 90 year-old Chippewa chief–A schoolhouse and an examination–The Austrian Franciscan monk–Sunday mass and reflections on the Catholic missions–Continuing the journey by sail–Nous sommes degrades–A canoeman and apostle of temperance–Fond du lac–Sauvons-nous!

Since the weather was favorable, we decided prospects were right for our trip to the mouth of the Burnt Wood (Bois-brulé) River. We made all the necessary travel arrangements that evening, and even bought supplies of bacon and salted beef for fourteen days of “wild life.” We were also compelled to buy a new birch canoe*, to allow the two Canadians who will conduct us on the waters of the Bois-brulé and La Croix Rivers, through the wilds of Wisconsin to Stillwater, to make the return journey by water instead of through the woods on foot, and we had not been able to arrange for borrowing a boat.

(*These canoes are the only vehicles used by the Indians to navigate the lake. They are either made of a framework of cedar wood and covered with birch bark, with the individual parts made watertight with pitch, or they can also be carved out of a single spruce trunk hollowed to where two or three can sit. The former are preferred for their greater ease and convenience, but the latter are more durable, safer, and less expensive. Our canoe was made of birch bark and measured 18′ in length and 4′ in width. We bought it for 15 dollars, and we were very pleased when we were able to get rid of it at the end of our trip for five dollars).

Monday, September 20th, 53° F. Overcast weather but the lake completely calm, we left accompanied by the pious blessings of the Island’s Franciscan monk.

This time our boat carried a light burden. The captain stayed back out of concern there would be too many hardships and inconveniences. It was very strange to see such an experienced traveler unwisely refuse to carry a proper thick rain coat. With thin boots, a light Carbonari, and a few underwear tied in a small bundle, he took leave of us to shiver in the elements. Addio Capitano!

Our traveling companions were now a young Frenchman and two Canadians, Souverain and Jean Baptiste. The latter two were entrusted with managing the canoe. Souverain, though his thin gray hair, his toothless mouth, and his wrinkled face betrayed the features of advanced age, he was undoubtedly the more able and accomplished of the two voyageurs. Baptiste, however, strong and tireless in his youth, was an excellent complement to the old man.

Indian Sugar Camp (1850) by Seth Eastman, as depicted in Schoolcraft’s Information Respecting the History, Conditions and Prospect of the Indian Tribes of the United States, 1847-1857 (Digitized by Wisconsin Historical Society; Image ID: 9829).

We passed the Apostle Islands, 12 in number, most of which, including “Spook Island” are planted almost exclusively with maple trees (Acer saccharinum), from which the Indians prepare sugar. Every year in March and April, they make deep transverse incisions, from which, like the dripping pitch extracted from pine trees, a fresh green juice flows. Every tree can be tapped 5-6 years, in such a way to be made controllable, before the tree is disabled and is only good for the fire. In La Pointe, about 10 Indian families produce 1000-1500 pounds of sugar every year. In Bad River, there are more than 20 Indian families, who collectively produce 20,000 pounds. A pound of maple sugar is obtained by the traders for one shilling (twelve and one half cents) delivered to the Indians in kind.

Spook Island:  Devil’s Island
Riviere au Sable:  Sand River

We passed several miles of 40-60 foot high red sandstone cliffs, which the lashing tide had formed into the most picturesque architectural forms, among which arch and pillar structures were most prevalent. Several were formed in such a way as to create columned caverns under which a canoe could easily pass. The under-washing of this gigantic mass of rock may explain the gradual extension of the south shore.

Favored by a northwest wind, we had already covered 21 miles in 6 hours, and arrived at Riviere au Sable. We could clearly make out the north shore 50 miles distant, and the mountain chain of the British Territories, whose highest point, according to Dr. Norwood of Cincinnati is 1650 feet.

As with lucky speculators in the trading cities, our canoeists wanted to exploit the favorable wind direction even more. They turned their only protection against the cold, blue and white blankets, into excellent sails. They tied together cloth on one side to secure the oar, while they used green pine branches on the other side to maintain tension against the wind. It always remains dangerous, however, to attach a sail to so volatile a vehicle as a canoe, for a single contrary wind shock can cause the canoe to lose balance and leave the drivers to pay for their daring with terrible flooding.

Bay of Siscawit River:  Siskiwit River (now Cornucopia Beach).

In the evening, just as we were about to pitch our camp at the bay of Siscawit River, we were surprised by a terrible rain that drenched the greater part of our effects and brought great danger to our physical instruments. We were, for a long time, without the benefit of a warm fire, but our perseverance gradually allowed our flickering light to defeat the dampness, and we had flame to cook our modest supper. One often camps at the mouths of these numerous small tributaries of Lake Superior. It has always been this way, and the reason is that during stormy seas on the open water, the bays that surround the mouths of these rivers protect you from the wind and waves.

The small canvas tent, lent to us by the hospitable postmaster in Ontonagon, served us beyond expectation as powerful protection from the cold and wetness. We soon found ourselves under the soaked canvas roof in comfort we hardly thought possible in such harsh camp conditions. We must admit, however, that our foresight in bringing suits made of India rubber to spread on the ground, spared us the rheumatic breaths of the damp earth beneath us.

Tuesday, September 21, 53°F. Persistent rain and completely clouded-over sky with little chance of favorable traveling weather. During the night, the rains became so heavy that they seeped in through the canvas in several areas. Our laundry bags were totally soaked, and there was no opportunity to dry them. When camping like this, one should always keep items requiring special protection in the rear of the tent, and all care should be made to not let them touch the stretched canvas, which once wet will keep everything damp for weeks.

This morning, we had to celebrate wind, that is, a violent northeast wind prevented us from proceeding any further. “Nos sommes dégradés,” the old captain sighed, and told us how he was once stranded by violent storms, and had nothing but a dry biscuit to eat for four days. We held a small war council without a general, but with merely reason to guide us, and decided that due to this delay, we should limit our meals so that we would only enjoy the salted meat every other day. Decreasing to half rations, was necessary, as we were on the treacherous Lake Superior, which as already noted, often makes travel impossible or highly dangerous for weeks on end. Once we reached its desired tributary, the mouth of the Bois-brulé River, we would have no more fear of such a wicked delay from wind and waves.

Around 6 o’clock in the evening, the waves took on a less dangerous character. We quickly pulled down our tent, packed our belongings, and hastily boarded our already-floating boat. In boarding a canoe, caution must always be used to avoid stepping harshly with the whole foot above certain cedar ribs. This can disturb the equilibrium which can have the consequence of losing your effects, or even your life.

After an hour, we had followed a fierce north wind to Pointe aux écorces looking for a refuge. We wandered along the shore until after dark, but the rugged rocky reefs made landing impossible. Finally, we found sandbars, and pitched our tents near a tamarack swamp. Those who travel without a tent can usually find shelter from the rigors of the weather by setting the canoe at the proper angle and finding room underneath it.

Pointe aux ecorces:  Bark Point
Riviere aux Attacas:  Cranberry River (Now Herbster Beach)
Apacha River:  Flagg (Apakwa) River (Now Port Wing).

We camped in a group of pines as tall as the sky. At the foot of these ancient tree trunks, our fire burned like a flaming sacrifice of the ancients. As the two voyageurs fell fast asleep at the entrance of the tent, we continued to feed sticks into the fire so as to not lose its benevolent warmth. Our fire was basically built into the base of a great pine, which gave the whole scene a picturesque backdrop, until the whole thing fell during the night with a heavy crash. This brought us all to our feet, sober and alert. There was no danger, however, as we had put numerous cuts into the tree so that it would fall away from us in the event it gave way.

Wednesday, September 22, 64°F. Northwest wind. The cheerful light of the morning sun woke us weary sleepers early. The seas were pretty rough. Once we had the infamous Point aux écorces at our back, we heard the roar of the busy oncoming waves. The red sandstone remains the predominant formation. The green hills of a moderate height, almost 50′, are embraced by a wide belt of spruce, Scotch Pine, birch, and beech. The more we approach the western end of the lake, Fond du lac, the narrower the space between the southern and northern shores becomes.

At the Riviere aux Attacas, we landed for breakfast. This time, there was bacon, whitefish, tea, butter, and hardtack, all remnants of the past brought from La Pointe. The songs our guides sang to strengthen the heart were far more modest and ethical than the erotic verses of our previous voyageurs who brought us from Ontonagon to La Pointe. The brilliant sunshine gave way to a completely cloudy sky, and a terrible northwest wind blew us into the bay of Apacha River, and there we resignedly made our night camp even though the Bruly River, as the natives call it for short, was only 12 miles away.

In the evening, we unconsciously discovered Souverain’s severe, but honorable, strength of character. We had brought a bottle of franzbranntwein, more for health than to tickle the tongue, and we poured each of our leaders a glass of this invigorating stomach potion. The younger, Baptiste, opened his throat widely and readily, but Souverain steadfastly refused even though he had worked hard all day and had taken little food.

We were curious and asked him about the cause of this refusal. He told us how he was inclined too much toward the spirituous fluids, and that to combat this, as few years ago he joined a temperance society and pledged in writing to abstain for fifty long years from all liquors. Since then, he has had not a drop of wine. His total abstinence went so far that he was not even moved to enjoy a rice broth in which we had mixed a few drops of the franzbranntwein, to give our guides more power.

This incident reminded the Canadians of some humorous anecdotes from living memory. Souverain told of an elder mix-blood who joined him for a limited period of temperance, with the lovely intent of indulging all the more joyously after the “dry” time. Baptiste told of a fisherman in La Pointe, who, since the sale of alcohol is prohibited on the island under penalty of 200 dollars, would get intoxicated almost every day with a bottle of burning hot peppermint water. Since this liquid, when used at low doses, is an excellent and popular remedy for stomach ailments, it was not easy to restrict its sale. Therefore, to save the life of this islander, the magistrate issued a special edict that the sale of peppermint is only allowed in small vials for medicine.

7 o’clock in the evening, 53°F. A gorgeous aurora borealis creates wisps and horizontal streaks of rapidly-changing dreamlike light.

Thursday, September 23, 63°F. We left early, around half past 7 o’clock. The abundant ashes of our extinguished fire, the tree trunk where our kettle hung, and the thin supports, under which our tent assumed its triangular shape, were the only traces left behind as a memorial of our presence.

Galette:  Le Galette (lugalade, “lug”), is known as bannock in Anishinaabe communities with less French influence.

Although a fairly violent south wind blew, he came from the mainland, so the waves on the lake were fairly calm, unlike those of his antagonist the engulfing north wind who yesterday threw the water up on the shore. For breakfast, we had tea, fried bacon, and galette. The latter is a composite made of kneaded flour, water, and compressed yeast dough, that seems extremely difficult to digest. It is usually prepared every morning by a practiced hand, and is gladly enjoyed, even preferred, by the voyageur.

The shotgun of our traveling companions produced a duck that will provide us with an excellent lunch. It is striking how much the forests along the banks are already emptied by Indian rifles. Temporary flocks of ducks and geese, in their autumn migration to a more southerly area, were the only wild species we encountered on our long journey. Likewise, the fishing in this season is extremely sparse, and he who leaves during these journeys to hunt or fish alone, will soon labor hard and bitterly regret his mistake.

Fond du Lac Village, At St. Louis River from David Dale Owen’s Report of a Geological Survey of Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota (1852).

From the Bois Brule River to Fond du Lac, it’s about 21 miles, but to the mission and settlement on the St. Louis River, it’s about 42 miles. We could easily see with the naked eye, the contours of those western hills that mark the limit of this huge navigable water. And so, before we sailed up the Bruly, we paused to behold the joyous satisfaction of reaching the end of this enormous water, now reflecting the sky, on which we had spent 23 busy, enjoyable, and instructive days.

At 11 o’clock in the morning, we finally reached the destination we had anxiously waited for, the Bois-brulé River. Its discharge into Lake Superior was unusually low, but its flow was still very powerful. For our canoemen, it was a matter of routine to skillfully avoid a fatal collision with the bare rocky ridges at the landing.

Our captain had now thrown aside the oars as the long boat poles served better to find the sandy gaps among the rocks. Souverain stood at the upper end of the canoe and directed. He watched with a sharp eye for the moment when the perfect wave would come to our aid and carry us to the landing, and with the signal cry of, “Sauvons-nous!” it came suddenly, and we were borne to shore. We were at the mouth of the Bois-brulé River.

The End, for now…

CAUTION: This translation was made using Google Translate by someone who neither speaks nor reads German. It should not be considered accurate by scholarly standards.

CAUTION:  This translation was made using Google Translate by someone who neither speaks nor reads German.  It should not be considered accurate by scholarly standards.

When we last left Moritz Wagner and Carl Scherzer, the two Austrian adventurers who traveled across Lake Superior in 1852, they had avoided certain death when caught in a storm halfway through the crossing between Bad River and La Pointe.  In this post, we find them on Madeline Island in the wee hours of the morning, looking for a place to stay.

In the three days they spent in La Pointe, they produced a description of the island as colorful as any I’ve come across.  Enjoy: 

A View of La Pointe from Report of a Geological Survey of Wisconsin, Iowas, and Minnesota (1852) by David Dale Owen (Digitized by Google Books)


From Ontonagon to the mouth of the Bois-brule River–Canoe ride to Magdalen Island–Porcupine Mountains–Camping in the open air–A dangerous canoe landing at night–A hospitable Jewish family–The island of La Pointe–The American Fur Company–The voyageurs or courriers de bois–Old Buffalo, the 90 year-old Chippewa chief–A schoolhouse and an examination–The Austrian Franciscan monk–Sunday mass and reflections on the Catholic missions–Continuing the journey by sail–Nous sommes degrades–A canoeman and apostle of temperance–Fond du lac–Sauvons-nous!

It was 1 o’clock in the morning, and the whole settlement was in a deep sleep. We were at a loss as to which door to knock at. Among 200 Indians, only a few white families live there. One of the boatmen gave us a name, with which we found Mr. Austrian (a name meaning Oestreicher) a descendent of the Mosaic.

We knocked confidently by rattling at the window showing the distinguishing hemp of Austrian. We have always had a favorable bias for our Jewish countrymen in this nation. They have brought over so many ancient patriarchal customs of antiquity unadulterated, faithful, and pure in their sympathetic breasts. Here the noble manners of hospitality sweep away the cold breath of selfishness found among the Americans. The Jews are always ready to welcome strangers and donate a warm and magnanimous hand with every occasion.

They opened and the young doorman yelled out to the person in the next room, “Joe, steh auf, Leut from below, sind da!” and because it could not be doubted that we were, “One of our people!” We were then bombarded with all the tastes of the kosher delicatessen: belek, kugel, kindeln, and other tidbits of the Jewish frying pan. We were offered a nice, clean room and did not suspect that the close Yom Kippur (Jewish fast day) should frustrate our feast.

Jewish-immigrant brothers, Julius and Joseph Austrian, were prominent La Pointe residents at this time.

Jewish-immigrant brothers, Julius and Joseph Austrian, were prominent La Pointe residents at this time.  This image depicts an incident from Benjamin Armstrong’s Early Life Among the Indians (Engraving by Marr & Richards Co.).

17 September, early, 61° Fahr. The actual owner of the home was absent. However, his younger brother received us with all the warmth of a Bayreuth Jew. He had only been in the country a short time, and spoke English with a Spanish-sounding accent as he called to us in the room, “Waken sie!” He showed us a pair of Indian snowshoes, and asked, “Haben sie snow shoes noch nie geused?*” He finally told of the fish trade in the same mixed gibberish, “Below werden die Fische umgepakt, inspected, und dann weider vereignepakt again.”

(*German immigrants all have a peculiar manner of acquiring the English language. As they hear a strange new name, they mix it together immediately with the words of their native language, without regard for how the expression works in English. A carpenter told us, “Wenn sie ein loghouse bauen wollen un dasselbe inwendig geplastered und von außen geclapboarded wird, so wird es 700 dollars kosten!”

In Pennsylvania, all counties speak an unintelligible German-English slang. It may be that after a few generations, a whole new language is emerging. So, some German immigrants are a tragic example of how one can forget his native language without having to learn another language as a substitute.)

La Pointe is the largest of several islands known under the collective name of Isles des Apotres. It has an unusual history. One of the earliest points on Lake Superior where men of faith planted the cross of salvation in 1665, it wasn’t until a century later that the progress of civilization began to push the two and four-legged forest dwellers further and further west . For several years it was the home depot (post) of the Fur Trading Company. This trading company was founded in 1808 by John Jacob Astor as the American Fur Trading Company, by an act of law of the State of New York. It granted exclusive right of trade and intercourse with the Indians, and in earlier times, provided an immense source of power and wealth. Currently, the business is divided between a Company of the West and the North West, of which the latter united with the Hudson’s Bay Company* and created unrestricted competition and limited the field of activity. The company of the west, currently under the leadership of J. Chouteau and Company, trades with the Indians of the Missouri and Mississippi. Its headquarters are at the upper Mississippi. The company owns 25 stations (trading posts) employing 200 voyageurs who take care of transporting commodities in the business season and bring the furs to the businesses located in St. Paul, Mendota, and Crow Wing in the Minnesota Territory.

(*[This footnote goes on for several pages on the history and structure of the Hudson Bay Company. As it interrupts the narrative, and can be found in other sources, I’ve omitted it.])

The different Indian tribes will kill the animals of the forest in the course of the year and then gather at certain points for the individual bands. Every year there is a caravan of agents (traders) of the fur company who obtain this rich quantity of valuable animal skins from the ignorant Indians for a lowly price of trade items.

This commercial agent will bring birch canoes full of presents across Lake Superior, and usually in 26 to 30 days will bring back the skins of bears, wolves, silver and other foxes, beavers, raccoon, martens, wolverine, otters, muskrats, weasels, and buffalos. Whether their fate is to be a winter covering for the delicate lady’s hands or the lining of a skirt in the princely salons is yet to be determined.

Next door, in perhaps richer numbers and selection, but certainly of far less value, are items of the clever broker. The eyes glare as he flaunts his manufactures. One sees, woolen blankets, cloth fabrics, firearms, ammunition, tin kettles, earrings, finger rings, brass buttons, breastplates, wampum, chopping knives, birch canoes, and mirrors. There is makeup of red, blue, black, and green color, but all the items together carry only one color, that of speculation and dizzying purpose.

Although the furs are barter items, they have an adopted value determined so that the price of the animal fur always corresponds with a certain number of exchanged wares. But the furs are usually valued very low and in contrast, the reverse items are priced very high. The total traffic area with the Indians in the West should produce 1 million dollars annually. Together, the furs are shipped, via New York, to London which is the main market for the American fur trade.

Since we did not visit these remote areas during the season of barter, we could not bear witness to this certainly most-interesting and instructive spectacle, but we cannot omit some words and impart some pressure as we become aware of the facts which throw a sad light on the business of the whites with the Indians. We believe it is the same, and more truthful, to be told as it is by Schoolcraft, the highly-respected American historian, on his travels among the tribes on Lake Superior.

A shotgun worth 10 guineas was sold by an agent to an Indian chief for 120 pounds of beaver skins, or 480 dollars of value. A caravan of 6 bales of barter commodities was traded for $2000. In Athabasca, 96 sacks of beaver skins weighing 8640 pounds brought back four dollars of value when their real worth was $34,560!

Another scholarly researcher, Coldon,writing in 1741 in the area of the Five Nations, describes how the whites in general and the traders in particular, create debts. The vice of drunkenness among the wild Indians occurs so frequently because the greed of the traders allows them to shrink to the lowest means and intentionally put the foolish aborigines in a state of intoxication causing an even more advantageous position for fraud. This evil passion has wreaked more havoc among the Indians than disease or war. It has destroyed more than instruction in Christianity could ever be capable of building up.

Among the Indian tribes there is a strongly-held opinion that if you murder a fur trader, he will retaliate by intentionally bringing back infected goods.* This belief probably arose from the sensitivity caused by the way the whiteskins associate with the redskins. They treat the actual natives of American soil as their subjects and servants, and consider it their privilege to satisfy their greed and passion and claim material and bodily impunity.**

(*[Here the authors insert an extensive footnote about smallpox infections in the Lake Superior region. As it disrupts the narrative and is information that can be found in Schoolcraft’s Narrative of an Expedition Through the Upper Mississippi River to Itasca Lake, I’ve omitted it here.])

(**Two residents of La Pointe told us how a former agent convinced several Indians and mix-bloods to entrust him with their savings due to them from the sale of the Indian country to the government. He used the advantage of his position to gain their trust and did not issue receipts for the borrowed. He had about $800 from everyone but when it was claimed, the fraudulent agent told them they would have to be content with repayment in commodities, flour, sausage, and potatoes, for which the he charged an exorbitant price. We started this narrative not wanting to believe it, but two good Catholics swore on the host. The agent has since left this island, to general contempt, taking the gold pieces of the Indians with him.)

The Voyageurs (1846) by Charles Deas (Wikimedia Images)

After this discussion of the of the rates of the American Fur Company and its agents, we want to add some details about the men whose labor and time exerted such a great influence on the fate and culture of the Indian tribes. We wish to add a few explanatory words about the sad presence on La Pointe of the voyageurs or courriers du bois.

This peculiar class of people, which is like a vein of metal that suddenly disappears within the bedrock and reappears many hundreds of miles away under the same geological conditions, their light reaches the borders of the eastern Canadas. The British people, with their religion and customs, reappeared on the shores of these northern lakes only in 1808 with the Fur Company. For labor they drew on those who could carry their wares across the lakes and communicate with the Indians.

Many young men of adventurous natures left the old wide streets of Montreal and moved into the trackless primeval forests of the West. Young and strong as laborers, they soon started to adopt the lifestyle and language of the aborigines. They married with the Indians and inhabit small settlements scattered throughout those mighty lands which begin at Mackinow Island and come up the upper lake to the region of Minnesota. They almost all speak the Canadian patois along with the language of the Chippewas, the tribe with which they came into kinship. We found only a few, even among the younger generation, who understood English.

Since then, every day the population of the otherwise deserted shore of Lake Superior increases with the discovery of copper mines. The animals driven away by the whirlwind of civilization toward the west, attract the Indians with their sensitive guns, leaving La Pointe, abandoned by the Company for their headquarters at St. Paul in Minnesota. Most voyageurs left the island, having seen their business in ruins and lacking their former importance. Just a few families remain here, making a meager livelihood of hunting, fishing, and the occasional convoy of a few travelers led by business, science, or love of nature who purchase their limited resources.*

(*Except for us, this year they had only two travelers visit this area for scientific interest. The scarcity of this type of tourist seems to be the reason why the price the voyageurs and their companions ask is high. We paid all our leaders one and one half dollars a day and just as many for the days necessary for their return. The voyageurs are democratic and truly similar to those Alpine villagers who charged the emperor two Louis d’or for a breakfast of two eggs.)

A devout Franciscan friar, the family of a Methodist preacher, a school teacher, and a skilled tradesman, together with some old canoe houses, remains of the once large voyageur legion, make up the small numbers of the white population.

The island is 15 miles long, 5.6 miles wide, and has 30 miles in circumference. The main formation is sandstone and red clay. Vegetation proliferates in spruce, pine, cedar, birch, tamarack (Larix americana), etc. The oval horseshoe shape of the island makes it one of the best ports of the entirety of Lake Superior, and this, despite current unemployment, promises hope for a comfortable future.

Add to that, the infinite abundance of fish on their shores. Delicious, but only edible in the spring, are the Siscawit (Salmo siscowet), and the trout (Salmo amethystus). The whitefish (Coregonus albus) are available in uncommon quantities. The most successful fishmonger here sent during the past years, 300 barrels of various species of fish, each 200 pounds, to the markets of Cleveland and Detroit.

The Siscowet, or Fat Trout, is a subspecies of Lake Trout (Drawn by David Starr Jordan, and Barton Warren Evermann, 1911; Digitized by University of Washington)

At the invitation of the zealous schoolteacher*, we toured the schoolhouse. Here we met Old Buffalo (Chi Waishki or Pezhickee), the 90-year-old hereditary chief of the Chippewa band. He was wrapped in a blue striped shirt and a wool blanket. He carried a royal scepter made from a broken wooden base of a bed as a symbol of his authority. He was looking for some glue to repair a garment for a young Indian. We find it necessary here to mention that of the many Chippewas on this island, very few are full-blood Indians. Having crossed frequently with the European race, and through the efforts of Christian missionaries, they have adopted the habits of civilization. They inhabit the abandoned wooden shacks of the Fur Company, and are even given to industrial employment.

(*Mr. Pulcifer, the schoolmaster is a highly-educated teacher. He gives the Sabbath service in the absence of the Methodist preacher. The Methodist mission on the island of La Pointe was founded in 1831).

The Indian chief, worthy by his age, heredity, and his imposing figure, told us he was born near the island and left the area only once to travel in the matters of his tribe to the Great Father* in Washington. His stay was accompanied by many consoling words but little actual success. Since then, he’s been back to the chase. One winter, he brought in 150 fox skins. Despite this wealth of skins in a game-rich area, he is now poor. Here we have the hereditary Chippewa chief, whose generations (totem) are carved in the ancient birch bark,** giving us profuse thanks for just a modest silver coin and a piece of dry cloth. What time can bring to a ruler!

(*”Great Father” is what the Indians call the President and other agents of the United States government.)

(**Almost all Indian tribes have the custom of preserving their lineage from oblivion by carving characters, that correspond to the names of their tribe, on trees, canoes, weapons and everywhere else.

Strangely, we later learned that the majestic Old Buffalo was violently opposed for years to the education and spiritual progress of the Indians. Probably, it’s because he suspected a better instructed generation would no longer obey. Presently, he tacitly accepts the existence of the school and even visits sometimes, where like ourselves, he has the opportunity to see the gains made in this school with its stubborn, fastidious look of an old German high council.)

Although made of simple planks, the school hall is clean and well-ventilated. The youth, consisting of 25 mix-blooded children, are instructed by the Methodist teachers in reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, and natural history. The teacher takes 6 to 8 children to the teacher’s desk and tells them to read their lessons or recite them from memory. Most often, there are questions which are subjected to discussion, questions that relate to the everyday world. This gives the youth the advantage of preparation for practical life.*

(*One of these practical textbooks is similar to Guide to Knowledge, a popular textbook in England: Conversations on common things by a teacher. Boston, Munroe and Francis. 1849.)

For example, a student may read a sentence in which the word “lead” occurs. This immediately gives rise to an instructive conversation about this noble metal, such as where lead is most found, what it is used for, the compounds in which it is used, etc. The youth, by learning this way about various natural phenomena, learns at the same time to know and admire the sources of a country’s wealth. It is an early and delicate way to teach the students the important parts of the geographical, physical, and political history of the country before their own history.

The front page of the Kladderadatsh, a German-languague satirical newspaper published in Berlin. Despite it’s popularity among the masses in Europe, I’m not sure the kids in La Pointe had subscriptions (Wikimedia Images).

At the conclusion of the lesson, the older children, by their own reflection but encouraged by their teacher, asked us several questions about European life: if many European children went to school, and what they learned there…

It was shamefully difficult answering these simple questions asked by the children.

We told these smart young half-Indians that here in Europe the same God lives and moves as in their hemisphere, and that His sun is the only true light that rises for the peoples of the East. We replied further that children learn a tremendous amount but usually know incredibly little, and finally, that the Berliner Kladderadatsch is the most widely read political journal. This last answer left the little indigene who asked the pointed questions bewildered and seemed to discourage the asking of any further information about Europe. At that point, the school meeting was cancelled to our great relief.

Another no-less worthy host received us with warm greetings of the heart. It was the worthy Franciscan monk, Father Scolla, from Rudolphswerth in Carinthia. We went to deliver the pleasure of a recommendation to our pious countryman. We knocked at the meager gate of the little boarded house that grew out from the rear part of the church. We are now almost ashamed of the worldly manner in which we approached, given the distinguished reception we received at the hands of such a pious priest.

Alternate translation of this passage found in History of the diocese of Sault Ste, Marie and Marquette  (1906) by Antoine Ivan Rezek pg.367 (Digitized by Google Books)

Our traveling way of life often finds us witness to scenes of parting, separation, and reunion, but we have never seen any man become so pale, taken, and overcome with intimate emotion as this Franciscan when he learned through language and handshake that we were compatriots from the Imperial City.

We can reasonably account for this surprise in that almost 20 years had passed since the lone missionary had seen a countryman “of the Imperial City” and had been addressed in his language, and felt the warm shake of an Austrian hand. His whole religious intercourse with the faithful, be it preaching the gospel at the pulpit, forgiving sin in confessional, or donating food for the journey to the deathbed, happens in a foreign tongue, in French and Indian language.

What troubled us most about his monastic life was the poverty and helplessness with which this devout priest remains continually fights to preach the Way. The greater part of his church consists of converted Indians and mix-bloods, who all live in such poor circumstances that there is no thought of support for this priest. The maintenance costs for the church and its priests must therefore be restricted to those means which fall from the general missionary funds of the Catholic Church.

The quota, that makes its way to the Church of Our Lady of La Pointe, is extremely low, and sometimes isn’t received for so many years that one gets the impression that the bishop in Milwaukee has forgotten the lonely forests of Madeline Island, its Lady, and Father Scolla. The pious Franciscan, whose destitution has denied him any assistance in church and house, must therefore do as priests and lay ministers do. He decorates and adorns the high altar, paints the images of saints, rings the bell, and worries about the upkeep of his small house at the same time.

cntd. translation in Rezek pg.368

On the Sunday before we left, we attended the service. The small church was quite filled with Indian women, mix-bloods, and Canadian voyageurs. The women wore long cloth of dark green, blue, and black covering them from hips to head and wrapping them in one whole soft shape. The men were all dressed in European clothing. During the vicarious sacrifice of the mass, four half-Indians in white surplices sang the Latin text shouldering such edification that you would have sworn they understood every word.

The sermon was held in French, the most common language of the island, and it was appropriate for the comprehension of the people in the audience. In the afternoon, the tireless Franciscan monk preaches in Indian for his neophytes, which prevents age from weakening his intellectual ability to learn a foreign tongue.

Much more edification of the faithful would have prevailed if not for the wailing cries of the infants disturbed by the devotion, who were brought along on the backs of the countless “squaws.” But these grumpy little citizens of the world seemed to understand even less than the adult choir of the plot of the Latin score.

Fr. Otto Skolla was from Novo Mesto (Rudolfswert) in today’s Slovenia not far from the Slovenian homeland of his fellow Lake Superior priest, Bishop Frederick Baraga (Rezek pg. 360)

When we speak of the conviction in his calling and pure enthusiasm of the priest’s benediction, of the faithful community dropping to their knees, covering their faces, and reverently making the sign of the cross, we could not help but feel sadness that such a worthy and pious work could not flourish better due to a lack of temporal goods.

What ability to spread blessings the Catholic missionary would have if equipped with the necessary material resources: a teacher for the youth, a doctor for the sick, a support for the poor. How can the Church win over humanity when right now the distressing spectacle is such that the Catholic youth, lacking the funds for a teacher, get no education, and the narrow-minded principles of their spiritual board keep them from getting permission to attend the Methodist school?

If you watch the incredible speed of the other religious sects, such as the Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians, and the extraordinary sums taken in and put out for education and missionary purposes– they have missionaries in all ports in the Union–and how without consideration of their religion, they receive immigrants, comfort the sick, the suffering, and take care of the children, while the Herald of Catholic teaching to foreign lands moves slowly. It may not surprise you, especially here in the United States that foreign religious sects are gaining converts while the ranks of the Catholic Church, despite the massive influx of Catholic populations from Ireland and Germany, not only aren’t increasing, but are actually seeing a decrease in numbers.

The Catholic church on Madeline Island as drawn by Skolla (Rezek pg.361).

CAUTION:  This translation was made using Google Translate by someone who neither speaks nor reads German.  It should not be considered accurate by scholarly standards.


CAUTION:  This translation was made using Google Translate by someone who neither speaks nor reads German.  It should not be considered accurate by scholarly standards.

Deutsch: Der bayrische Reisende, Geograph und ...

Moritz Wagner (1813-1887) (Wikimedia Images)

Americans love travelogues.  From  de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, to Twain’s Roughing It, to Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, a few pages of a well-written travelogue by a random interloper can often help a reader picture a distant society more clearly than volumes of documents produced by actual members of the community.  And while travel writers often misinterpret what they see, their works remain popular long into the future.  When you think about it, this isn’t surprising.  The genre is built on helping unfamiliar readers interpret a place that is different, whether by space or time, from the one they inhabit.  The travel writer explains everything in a nice summary and doesn’t assume the reader knows the subject.

You can imagine, then, my excitement when I accidentally stumbled upon a largely-unknown and untranslated travelogue from 1852 that devotes several pages to to the greater Chequamegon region. 

I was playing around on Google Books looking for variants of Chief Buffalo’s name from sources in the 1850s.  Those of you who read regularly know that the 1850s were a decade of massive change in this area, and the subject of many of my posts.  I was surprised to see one of the results come back in German.  The passage clearly included the words Old Buffalo, Pezhickee, La Pointe, and Chippewa, but otherwise, nothing.  I don’t speak any German, and I couldn’t decipher all the letters of the old German font.   

Karl (Carl) Ritter von Scherzer (1821-1903) (Wikimedia Images)

The book was Reisen in Nordamerika in den Jahren 1852 und 1853 (Travels in North America in the years 1852 and 1853) by the Austrian travel writers Dr. Moritz Wagner and Dr. Carl Scherzer.  These two men traveled throughout the world in the mid 19th-century and became well-known figures in Europe as writers, government officials, and scientists.  In America, however, Reisen in Nordamerika never caught on.  It rests in a handful of libraries, but as far as I can find, it has never been translated into English. 

Chapter 21, From Ontonagon to the Mouth of the Bois-brule River, was the chapter I was most interested in.  Over the course of a couple of weeks, I plugged paragraphs into Google Translate, about 50 pages worth. 

Here is the result (with the caveat that it was e-translated, and I don’t actually know German).  Normally I clog up my posts with analysis, but I prefer to let this one stand on its own.  Enjoy:



From Ontonagon to the mouth of the Bois-brule River–Canoe ride to Magdalen Island–Porcupine Mountains–Camping in the open air–A dangerous canoe landing at night–A hospitable Jewish family–The island of La Pointe–The American Fur Company–The voyageurs or courriers de bois–Old Buffalo, the 90 year-old Chippewa chief–A schoolhouse and an examination–The Austrian Franciscan monk–Sunday mass and reflections on the Catholic missions–Continuing the journey by sail–Nous sommes degrades–A canoeman and apostle of temperance–Fond du lac–Sauvons-nous!

On September 15th, we were under a cloudless sky with the thermometer showing 37°F.  In a birch canoe, we set out for Magdalene Island (La Pointe).  Our intention was to drive up the great Lake Superior to its western end, then up the St. Louis and Savannah Rivers, to Sandy Lake on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River.  Our crew consisted of a young Frenchman of noble birth and education and a captain of the U.S. Navy.  Four French Canadians were the leaders of the canoes.  Their trustworthy, cheerful, sprightly, and fearless natures carried us so bravely against the thundering waves, that they probably could have even rowed us across the river Styx.

Upon embarkation, an argument broke out between passengers and crew over the issue of overloading the boat.  It was only conditioned to hold our many pieces of baggage and the provisions to be acquired along the way.  However, our mercenary pilot produced several bags and packages, for which he could be well paid, by carrying them Madeline Island as freight.

Shortly after our exit, the weather hit us and a strong north wind obliged us to pull to shore and make Irish camp, after we had only covered four English miles to the Attacas (Cranberry) Rive,r one of the numerous mountain streams that pour into Lake Superior.  We brought enough food from Ontonagon to provide for us for approximately 14 days of travel.  The settlers of La Pointe, which is the last point on the lake where whites live, provided for themselves only scanty provisions.  A heavy bag of ship’s biscuit was at the end of one canoe, and a second sack contained tea, sugar, flour, and some rice.  A small basket contained our cooking and dining utensils.

The captain believed that all these supplies would be unecessary because the bush and fishing would provide us with the richest delicacies.  But already in the next lunch hour, when we caught sight of no wild fowl, he said that we must prepare the rice.  It was delicious with sugar.  Dry wood was collected and a merry flickering fire prepared.  An iron kettle hung from birch branches crossed akimbo, and the water soon boiled and evaporated.  The sea air was fresh, and the sun shone brightly.  The noise of the oncoming waves sounded like martial music to the unfinished ear, so we longed for the peaceful quiet lake.  The shore was flat and sandy, but the main attraction of the scenery was in the gigantic forest trees and the richness of their leafy ornaments.

At a quarter to 3 o’clock, we left the bivouac as there was no more wind, and by 3 o’clock, with our camp still visible, the water became weaker and weaker and soon showed tree and cloud upon its smooth surface.  We passed the Porcupine Mountains, a mountain range made of trapp geological formation.  We observed that some years ago, a large number of inexperienced speculators sunk shafts and made a great number of investments in anticipation of a rich copper discovery.  Now everything is destroyed and deserted and only the green arbor vitae remain on the steep trap rocks.

Our night was pretty and serene, so we went uninterrupted until 1 o’clock in the morning.  Our experienced boatmen did not trust the deceptive smoothness of the lake, however, and they uttered repeated fears that storms would interrupt our trip.  It happens quite often that people who travel in late autumn for pleasure or necessity from Ontonagon to Magdalene Island, 70 miles away, are by sea storms prevented from travelling that geographically-small route for  as many as 6 or 8 days.

Used to the life of the Indians in the primeval forests, for whom even in places of civilization prefer the green carpet under the open sky to the soft rug and closed room, the elements could not dampen the emotion of the paddlers of the canoe or force out the pleasure of the chase.*  But for Europeans, all sense of romantic adventure is gone when in such a forest for days without protection from the heavy rain and without shelter from the cold eeriness for his shivering limbs.

(*We were accompanied on our trip throughout the lakes of western Canada by half-Indians who had paternal European blood in their veins.  Yet so often, a situation would allow us to spend a night inside rather than outdoors, but they always asked us to choose to Irish camp outside with the Indians, who lived at the various places.  Although one spoke excellent English, and they were both drawn more to the great American race, they thought, felt, and spoke—Indian!)

It is amazing the carelessness with which the camp is set near the sparks of the crackling fire.  An overwhelming calm is needed to prevent frequent accidents, or even loss of human life, from falling on the brands.  As we were getting ready to continue our journey early in the morning, we found the front part of our tent riddled with a myriad of flickering sparks.

16 September (50° Fahrenheit)*)  Black River, seven miles past Presque Isle.  Gradually the shore area becomes rolling hills around Black River Mountain, which is about 100 feet in height.  Frequently, immense masses of rock protrude along the banks and make a sudden landing impossible.  This difficulty to reach shore, which can stretch for several miles long, is why a competent captain will only risk a daring canoe crossing on a fairly calm lake.

(*We checked the thermometer regularly every morning at 7 o’clock, and when travel conditions allowed it, at noon and evening.)

At Little Girl’s Point, a name linked to a romantic legend, we prepared lunch from the unfinished bread from the day before.  We had rice, tea, and the remains of the bread we brought from a bakery in Ontonagon from our first days.

In the afternoon, we met at a distance a canoe with two Indians and a traveler going in an easterly direction.  We got close enough to ask some short questions in telegraph style.  We asked, “Where do you go?  How is the water in the St. Louis and Savannah River?”

We were answered in the same brevity that they were from Crow Wing going to Ontonagon, and that the rivers were almost dried from a month-long lack of rain.

The last information was of utmost importance to us for it changed, all of a sudden, the fibers of our entire itinerary.  With the state of the rivers, we would have to do most of the 300-mile long route on foot which neither the advanced season of the year, nor the sandy steppes invited.  If we had been able to extend our trip, we could have visited Itasca Lake, the cradle of the Mississippi, where only a few historically-impressive researchers and travelers have passed near:  Pike, Cass, Schoolcraft, Nicollet, and to our knowledge, no Austrian.

However, this was impossible considering our lack of necessary academic preparation and in consideration of the economy of our travel plan.  We do not like the error, we would almost say vice, of so many travelers who rush in hasty discontent, supported by modern transport, through wonderful parts of creation without gaining any knowledge of the land’s physical history and the fate of its inhabitants.*

(*We were told here recently of such a German tourist who traveled through Mexico in only a fortnight– i.e. 6 days from Veracruz to the capital and 6 days back with only two days in the capital!)

While driving, the boatmen sang alternately.  They were, for the most part, frivolous love songs and not of the least philological or ethnographic interest.

After 2 o’clock, we passed the rocks of the Montreal River.  They run for about six miles with a long drag reaching up to an altitude of 100 feet.  There are layers of shale and red sandstone, all of which run east to west.  By weathering, they have obtained such a dyed-painting appearance, that you can see in their marbled colors something resembling a washed-out image.

The Montreal* is a major tributary of Lake Superior.  About 300 steps up from where it empties into the lake, it forms a very pretty waterfall surrounded by an impressive pool.   Rugged cliffs form the 80’ falls over a vertical sandstone layer and form a lovely valley.  The width of the Montreal is 10’, and it also forms the border between the states of Michigan and Wisconsin.

(*Indian:  Ka-wa’-si-gi-nong sepi, the white flowing falls.)

We stayed in this cute little bay for over an hour as our frail canoes had begun to take on a questionable amount of water as the result of some wicked stone wounds.

Up from Montreal River heading towards La Pointe, the earlier red sandstone formation starts again, and the rich shaded hills and rugged cliffs disappear suddenly.  Around 6 o’clock, we rested for half an hour at the mouth of the Bad River of Lake Superior.  We quickly prepared our evening snack as the possibility of reaching Magdalene Island that same night was still in contention.

Across from us, on the western shore of Bad River*, we saw Indians by a warm fire.  One of the boatmen suspected they’d come back from catching fish, and he called in a loud voice across the river asking if they wanted to come over and sell us some.  We took their response, and soon shy Indian women (squaws) appeared.  Lacking a male, they dreaded to get involved in trading with Whites, and did not like the return we offered.

(*On Bad River, a Methodist Mission was founded in 1841.  It consists of the missionary, his wife, and a female teacher.  Their sphere of influence is limited to dispensing divine teaching only to those wandering tribes of Chippewa Indians that come here every year during the season of fishing, to divest the birch tree of its bark, and to build it into a shelter).

A part of our nightly trip was spent fantastically in blissful contemplation of the wonders above us and next to us.  Night sent the cool fragrance of the forest to our lonely rocking boat, and the sky was studded with stars that sparkled through the green branches of the woods.  Soon, luminous insects appeared on the tops of the trees in equally brilliant bouquets.

At 11 o’clock at night, we saw a magnificent aurora borealis, which left such a bright scent upon the dark blue sky.  However, the theater soon changed scene, and a fierce south wind moved in incredibly fast.  What had just been a quietly slumbering lake, as if inhabited by underwater ghosts, struck the alarm and suddenly tumultuous waves approached the boat.  With the faster waves wanting to forestall the slower, a raging tumult arose resembling the dirt thrown up by great wagon wheels.

We were directly in the middle of that powerful watery surface, about one and one half miles from the mainland and from the nearest south bank of the island.  It would have been of no advantage to reverse course as it required no more time to reach the island as to go back.  At the outbreak of this dangerous storm, our boatmen were still determined to reach La Pointe.

But when several times the beating waves began to fill our boat from all sides with water, the situation became much more serious.  As if to increase our misery, at almost the same moment a darkness concealed the sky and gloomy clouds veiled the stars and northern lights, and with them went our cheerful countenance.

Now singing, our boatmen spoke with anxious gestures and an unintelligible patois to our fellow traveler.  The captain said jokingly, that they took counsel to see who should be thrown in the water first should the danger increase.    We replied in a like manner that it was never our desire to be first and that we felt the captain should keep that honor.  Fortunately, all our concern soon ended as we landed at La Pointe (Chegoimegon).

To be continued…

CAUTION:  This translation was made using Google Translate by someone who neither speaks nor reads German.  It should not be considered accurate by scholarly standards.