Early Times at Fort Winnebago.
The subject which I have selected for this paper, is the "Early History of Fort Winnebago and its Surroundings." To give proper understanding of the history, not only of the fort, but of the persons connected with it, it will be necessary to detail my early recollections, from my arrival in what is now the State of Wisconsin. On the 14th day of April, 1828, I landed at Green Bay, then considered a small French settlement. Fort Howard was then situated near where the passenger depot of the C. & N. W. railroad now stands. On the opposite side of the river where the city of Green Bay is located, there was a wilderness. Three miles above on the river, was a small group of houses that could hardly be termed a village, but which was nevertheless called "Shanty Town." Residing there were several American families, among whom were Daniel Whitney, Henry S. Baird, Robt. Irwin, Alex. Irwin, Samuel Irwin, and quite a number of French and half-breeds. The fort contained three companies of U. S. Infantry, and was commanded by then Major, afterwards General Twiggs. The companies were severally commanded by Captain and his brother Major Buell, Captain Spence, and Captain, since General William Harney.
The same season, 1828, the 1st Infantry was ordered to the Portage to build a fort to be called Fort Winnebago. They were relieved at Fort Howard by four companies of the 5th U. S. Infantry under command of Col. William Lawrence. Previous to 1827 (the year of the Winnebago War under Red Bird, a Winnebago chief), the Indians had been in the habit of levying tolls on the goods of the American Fur Company, and others who were
310obliged to unload to cross the portage. At the earnest solicitations of John Jacob Astor, who was then the head of the American Fur Company, the government concluded to erect a fort for their protection.
Major Twiggs then left for the portage, where he erected temporary barracks of tamarack logs in which to winter his command, and detailed a party to go up the Wisconsin, and procure pine timber with which to erect a permanent fort. Another party was detailed to quarry stone at what was called "stone quarry hill." With the first rise of water in the spring of 1829 the timber and logs were floated down to the portage, were hauled by teams to the fort, where all the lumber was sawed by hand with whip-saws, with which to build the entire fort. The brick necessary for the chimneys, fire places, etc., were burned just opposite the narrows on the Wisconsin River, a short distance above here.
Of the officers stationed at Fort Winnebago from 1828 till the 5th of July, 1831, only two survive, to-wit: General Wm. Harney and Lieut. Jeff. Davis. Harney at that time was a captain, and Davis was his subaltern. Both were considered among the best officers in the service. I think it is conceded that for frontier service Captain Harney had no superior anywhere. There was no better disciplinarian, and no more indulgent officer to his men when their behavior was good. It has been said of him, by persons in civil life, that he was cruel to his men; but this was not true. He was, however, a terror to evil doers, whether soldiers or citizens. To give an idea of the man, he was over six feet in height, well proportioned, and exceedingly active and strong. I will relate an anecdote or two, which will give a more correct idea of his character.
Gen. Harney once took offense at an Indian, and determined to cowhide him; but was persuaded to give him "a chance for his life." He had him taken half a mile above the government wash houses on the bank of the river, gave him one hundred yards the start, with the agreement, that if the Indian passed the wash houses before he was caught, he should go free for that time. Pierre Pauquette gave the word, and away they went. Harney gained on him so rapidly that he seemed sure to overtake him.
311There was a spot about two hundred yards from the wash house that only froze over in very cold weather, and opened again during the day. The night before was very cold, and this point had frozen over about half an inch thick. When they reached this point, Harney was just ready to put his hand on him, when the Indian, being quite light, crossed the thin ice safely. Not so, however, with the captain; he carried too many pounds, and down he went. He came to the surface at once, and called to a sentinel to shoot the Indian. The sentinel fired well and the ball struck the ice half a mile from the Indian. All the officers were on the bank witnessing the race, and of course were convulsed with laughter.
On another occasion it was necessary to punish the champion pugilist of the fort, a very large man named Hewitt. The man said to the captain, "If you were an enlisted man, or I was a captain, you could not treat me in that way." Harney took him out behind the barracks, told him to consider himself a captain, and do his best. Hewitt pitched at the captain furiously, when the captain knocked him down. This was repeated about a dozen times, when he said, "Captain, I have been a captain long enough to suit me, I would now like to be reduced to the ranks."
At another time Harney caught a citizen from the lead mines selling whisky to his men. He tied him up to the flag staff, and cowhided him with his own hand.
Neither Harney nor Davis were addicted to those habits that destroyed so many worthy officers, and it in some measure accounts for their being still alive.
In June, 1830, I was appointed sutler at Fort Winnebago, by General Jackson, who was then president. Being under age, I was obliged to farm the privilege out to Oliver Newbury, of Detroit; and as the sutler was required to remain at the post, I was employed by Mr. Newbury as clerk, devoting most of my time to the Indian trade. I arrived at Fort Winnebago on the 21st of July, 1830.
The most interesting event since my advent into Wisconsin was what is known as the "Black Hawk War," the truthful history
312of which has never been published, and I think the causes that led to it, and the incidents connected therewith, are known to very few people now living.
In 1831, in violation of a treaty stipulation, the Sauk and Fox Indians, under Black Hawk and the Prophet, crossed the Mississippi into Illinois. Black Hawk was a Fox Indian, and the Prophet was a Winnebago, who, with a small band, became discontented and left the Winnebagoes and joined the Sauk and Fox tribes, where they had intermarried, and became part of the same tribe. Gen. Atkinson was ordered to remove them. They offered to go back and remain for sixty thousand bushels of corn, and as corn was only five cents a bushel, he gave it to them and they retired.
The following summer, thinking to get sixty thousand bushels of corn quite easily, they again crossed the river, and again Gen. Atkinson was ordered to remove them. Instead of buying corn for them he ordered all the available troops into the field, and the president ordered out the Illinois militia under the command of Gen. Henry and Gen. Alexander, all under the command of Gen. Atkinson. The Indians started up Rock River, pursued by the troops, committing occasional depredations as they went along. After they got into Wisconsin the troops lost track of them, and Gen. Atkinson continued up Rock River to where the village of Fort Atkinson now stands, where he established his headquarters and built a temporary fort.
In the meantime, Black Hawk, learning from the Winnebagoes, who also promised to assist him, that only thirty men remained in Fort Winnebago, determined to bum it and massacre its inmates. They accordingly came and encamped on the Fox River, about four miles above Swan Lake, and about eight miles from the fort. Every possible means that could be devised was adopted to protect the fort, and save the lives of the inhabitants, most of whom were women and children; but after all had been done that was possible, the commanding officer concluded that without reinforcements we would be lost, and determined to send to Gen. Atkinson for troops. I was selected for that duty for several reasons; among which was my thorough acquaintance with the
313country, and another was the probability that the Winnebagoes would not harm me.
Every day some Winnebago would come to me and advise me to go at night and stay in his wigwam, where he said I would be safe. At nine o'clock at night I left the fort, with many a God speed you, armed with a small Ruggles rifle, my dispatches, a tomahawk, and bowie knife. I crossed the Fox River at a shallow point just above where the public stables used to stand, and keeping the Indian trail that led from here to White Crow's village
I slept till 4 o'clock in the afternoon, and then started on my return, following the trail of the mounted militia for twelve miles, when I passed them, and reached the head of a stream that used to be called Rowan's Creek, about twelve miles from the fort shortly after daylight; and fearing to go farther till night, I crawled into some brush and went to sleep.
As soon as it was quite dark, I left my hiding place and returned to the fort as near as possible by the route I left it, arriving between ten and eleven o'clock P. M. I reported that the troops were on the way, and would arrive next morning. We kept close watch all that night, and at 4 o'clock P. M. next day the troops arrived. It may surprise some of my readers, that I should travel so rapidly, and the mounted troops should be so long on the road; but you must recollect the marshes were very wet at that time,
314that the whole country was a wilderness, and that when I jumped into a stream and waded through or walked across the marsh, the troops had to build bridges and causeways.
The war would have been ended within two days if the militia had been in condition to follow the Indians; but the horses needed rest and food, rations had to be issued to the men, and many of them were without a change of under-clothing, and it was absolutely necessary to wait at least one day at the fort.
The second night the horses took fright (probably at some Winnebago Indians), and there was a regular stampede. Probably some of my readers may not thoroughly comprehend a stampede; and it may be proper to describe it, if possible, though only an eye witness can properly appreciate how terrible it is. Some horse, or may be a few horses get frightened and start to run; the entire drove may see nothing to alarm them, but presuming there is danger, they fall into line, and once fairly under way nothing can stop them.
Those in front cannot stop without being run over, and those in the rear run to keep up. On this occasion several hundred horses started with a noise like thunder, running so close together that when one is so unfortunate as to face a tree he was either killed or so badly injured as to be unable to proceed, and was run over by the whole drove; so if a horse was unable to keep up he was knocked down and killed; between the bank of the Wisconsin and the point of land between there and the fort, thirty-seven horses were found dead. They took the trail they came on, and ran to the prairie, a distance of about sixteen miles, over sixty horses were killed, and it was late next day before those recovered were brought back.
This of course occasioned another delay, and it was not till the fifth day, that they left the fort in pursuit of the Indians.
The enemy, in the meantime, went to the Four Lakes where, as I learned later, they were advised to cross the Wisconsin and the Mississippi as soon as possible. A few reliable Winnebagoes under Peter Pauquette and myself were secured for scouts. We had no difficulty in following their trail, and gained upon them rapidly, overtaking them on the bank of the Wisconsin about twenty-five miles below, where the battle of Wisconsin was fought. That battle made many heroes, and so it should.
About one hundred and twenty half-starved Indians defended the pass against nearly three thousand whites, while the remainder of the Indians in plain sight were crossing the Wisconsin with the women and children, and as soon as these were safe, the Indians broke and ran. Then came the struggle for scalps. Every man who could run started down the hill at his top speed, my Indian scouts and myself far ahead of the militia, and I was about thirty feet ahead of them all. Just as I commenced raising the hill on the other side of the valley, Pauquette passed me on horseback; and as he went by I caught his horse by the tail and held on till we reached the top of the hill, where we found four dead Indians; Pauquette took one scalp, I took one, and the Indian scouts took the other two. The Indians lost four
The Indians traveled as rapidly as possible to the Mississippi near the mouth of the Bad Axe River. I went home. Shortly after Capt. Alexander Johnson was ordered to take command of the regular troops, and endeavor to intercept the Indians, and prevent their crossing the Mississippi. A steamboat was sent up the river from Fort Crawford, commanded by Jeff. Davis. He drove the Indians back, and they were all killed or taken prisoners, except Black Hawk and the Prophet and their families, who crossed the river before the steamboat arrived.
Gen. Winfield Scott offered a reward of $2,000 for the capture of Black Hawk and the Prophet, which was earned by a Winnebago called Little Thunder.
I now come to that part of my recollections in which the people of Portage and the Fort Winnebago region, feel the greatest interest, and have the most curiosity. I allude to my acquaintance with Peter Pauquette. His strength was so immeasurable, and his exploits so astonishing, that while relating what I have seen I shall tell only the exact truth, I will promise not to be offended if some of my readers should be a little skeptical.
Peter Pauquette was born in the year 1800 of a French father and a Winnebago mother; the latter was buried nearly in front of the old agency house opposite the fort. He was thirty years old when I first knew him, and was the very best specimen of a man I ever saw. He was six feet two inches in height, and weighed two hundred and forty pounds — hardly ever varying a single pound. He was a very handsome man, hospitable, generous and kind, and I think I never saw a better natured man.
I had heard much of his strength before I left Green Bay, and of course, was anxious to see him perform some of the wonderful
317feats of strength of which I had heard. From my first acquaintance with him to the day of his death, I was his most intimate friend, and consequently had a better opportunity to know him than any other person. I will now endeavor to give an idea of his strength and activity, which to me seemed almost superhuman. He often told me that all persons seemed alike to him. When I was nineteen or twenty years old, my business kept me constantly in training, and though I weighed less than one hundred and fifty pounds, my muscles were like iron; notwithstanding he often said it was no more trouble to take me across his lap than a child one year old, and so it seemed to me. I was told that on one occasion when he was making the portage with a heavy boat, one of his oxen gave out, and he took the yoke off, and carried the end against an ox all the way over. I did not see this, but I asked him if it was so, and he replied it was.
I once saw him take hold of the staple to a pile driver weighing 2,650 lbs., and lift it apparently without any exertion, and swing it back and forth a minute of time. I have several times seen him get under a common sized horse, put his arms round the hind legs, his back under the horse's stomach and lift the horse clean off the ground. A great many other things I have seen him do which would tire the reader's patience were I to relate them. It can readily be imagined, however, that scarcely anything could be impossible to such a man.
He was employed by the American Fur Company up to the day of his death. For the last four years of his life he had a bookkeeper, but previous to that time (not being able to read or write), he gave credit to hundreds of Indians, relying entirely on his memory, and their honesty. Those who have been acquainted with the Indian character only since their association with the whites has degraded them, will be amused to hear of the honesty of the Indians; and I desire to do them the justice to say, that while they saw no impropriety in stealing from another and a hostile tribe, I never knew them to steal from a trader, or to refuse to pay what they owed him, till whisky was introduced among them by the worst class of whites. The women were especially honest and virtuous. Their marriage amounted
318to the purchase of the daughter from the father, whether by an Indian or a white man; when as soon as the trade was made, the girl considered herself the wife of the purchaser, and accompanied him home often (when purchased by a white man who could not speak the Indian language), very reluctantly, and in tears; still the right of the father was never resisted.
But to continue as to Pauquette. In the last of September, 1836, the War Department (then having the Indian Bureau) directed Gov. Dodge to assemble the Winnebagoes, at Fort Winnebago, and if possible treat with them for all the lands they owned east of the Mississippi; and he called to his assistance all the half-blood Winnebagoes he could get. The council lasted several weeks, during which time every possible effort was made to induce them to sell; but there seemed to be an under-current somewhere to prevent it, and the governor failed. This he attributed to the influence of Pauquette and myself, and I think we never denied it. In the governor's next official report, he recommended that no license be granted to one Satterlee Clark to trade with the Winnebagoes, for the reason that his influence with the Indians was so great that he prevented them from doing what the government desired, and caused them to do what the government did not desire to be done; and that he further induced them to give large sums of money out of their annuity to himself and friends. Pauquette would undoubtedly have been included with me in this report, but for his death.
This council closed on the 17th day of October, 1836, and the next day Pauquette came to my store to rejoice over our victory. On this occasion he drank too much wine, and became just enough intoxicated to be impatient of contradiction. In this condition he started home on foot, and when within about one quarter of a mile of the ferry, opposite his house, he found an Indian and his wife sitting by a little fire in the bushes. The Indian was Mahzahmahneekah, or Iron Walker, who was also drunk. What there occurred, is only known as related by the squaw that night. She said Pauquette kicked the fire apart, the Indian arose up and said something that offended Pauquette, who slapped the Indian's face, knocking him down. The Indian
319got up, saying, "You knocked me down; but I got up. I will knock you down, and you will never get up. I will go for my gun." Pauquette only laughed, and sat down. The Indian returned, when Pauquette stood up, pulled open his coat, placed his hand on his breast and said, "Strike and see a brave man die." The Indian fired, killing him instantly, the ball severing one of the main arteries leading from the heart. No man in Wisconsin could have died who was so much regretted. His death can safely be attributed to intoxication, though it was the first time I ever knew or heard of his being in that condition.
Mahzahmahneekah was tried, convicted and sentenced to be hung; but the judgment was reversed by the supreme court, and he never was punished. He is long since dead.
There has been some doubt as to where Mr. Pauquette was buried, and I will state what I know of his burial. In the first instance, while he did not claim to belong to any religious denomination, his wife being a Catholic, he built a small church near the center of what is now Portage City. At his death I assisted to bury his remains under the floor of this church. Subsequently the church was burned; and still later while I was living at
320Green Lake, I received a summons to come up and point out the grave, some of his friends being desirous to remove his body. I came up and found the locality without any difficulty; but never heard whether he was removed, or, if so, where. At that time Portage City had been surveyed, and his grave was in the middle of a street.
The old man Crélie was an important element in the early history of this locality, and I cannot well avoid giving him a passing notice. Mr. Crélie was the father-in-law of Pauquette, and was sixty years of age when I came to Fort Winnebago in 1830, so that when he was on exhibition at the several Soldiers' Home Fairs in 1863, he was ninety-three years old. This corresponds with the opinion of Mr. Beouchard, a Frenchman who came to Wisconsin much earlier than I did, as given in his letter to the Milwaukee Sentinel, while the old man was being exhibited as one hundred and forty. In 1832, during the Black Hawk War, he was bearer of dispatches, much too fatiguing a duty for a man more than sixty-two years of age.
Not long after the death of Mr. Pauquette, a detachment of recruits arrived at Fort Winnebago, among whom was a man named Carpenter, who was discharged because he was unable to pass the surgeon for muster. He had a wife, and determined to remain in the country. He accordingly located upon the bank of the Wisconsin River, and kept a tavern for the accommodation of lumbermen. It may safely be said of him, that he was the first white civilian of Portage City, if his house was in the city limits.
Then followed Andrew Dunn, Hugh McFarlane, Richard F. Veeder, and others, and I think in the order I have named them.
Capt. Gideon Lowe left the army in 1839, and settled on the Portage, where he kept a public house a number of years. He died long ago.
John T. de la Ronde, who died recently in the town of Caledonia, came to Wisconsin about the year 1834, instead of 1828, as is stated in an obituary I read recently. It was the custom of the American Fur Co., to enlist Canadians for a term of years and bring them into the Northwest to be used as voyageurs and
321packers. De la Ronde was so enlisted, and was assigned to work for Pauquette.
Shortly after his arrival, he married the daughter of Whitehead Dekauray, who had once been a sort of morganatic wife of an officer of the army,
I must say something of Count Haraszthy and his family. In about 1842 or 1843, I am not certain which, Count Agostin Haraszthy came to Wisconsin, bought some property at Sauk City on the Wisconsin, and settled there with his family. He was a nobleman in every sense, and he and his wife were among the most refined people I ever knew; and both were exceedingly good looking.
I saw them frequently both at home and at Madison. At the latter place they had a large number of friends and acquaintances, by whom they were much respected. Early in the spring, of 1849 he joined a party that left Madison to go overland to California. Among those who went out with him was the Hon. Thos. W. Sutherland, who had formerly been United States district attorney of the Territory. Haraszthy was quite successful in raising grapes, and in the manufacture of wine and distilled spirits. Within two or three years last past, I read in some paper a thrilling account of his death. It seemed he had procured the exclusive privilege of manufacturing distilled spirits in Central America; that he went with a small party in search of a good locality for raising grapes and establishing a distillery; that the party came to a bayou filled with crocodiles over which there was a small foot bridge. Haraszthy being in the advance attempted to cross the bridge, which gave way precipitating him into the water, and before he could be recovered by his friends, a large crocodile caught him by the middle and carried him off, while a large number followed. His fate can well be imagined.
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In vol. vii. Wis. Hist. Colls., are two accounts of Pauquette's death — one by John T. de la Ronde and the other by Hon. Henry Merrell. Col. Ebenezer Childs, in a letter to his wife written at Belmont. Nov. 1, 1830, speaking of his journey there, states: "At Pauquette's farm, I got the news of poor Pauquette's death, and was never more astonished in my life."
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