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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


January 25, 2003 - Issue 79


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Dairy of Chippewa River Trip in 1868 Describes Abode of Jean Brunet, Picturesque Figure of the Early Days

From: Eau Claire Telegram August 18, 1917 (From the Sunday Leader)
(In Four Installments)
Note - The Leader has obtained from C.H. Cooke of Mondovi, a pioneer farmer of the Chippewa Valley, a diary of a canoe trip up the Chippewa River in the spring of 1868 in company with Captain Shadrach A. Hall, principle of the old Wesleyan Seminary, which stood on the site now occupied by the Eau Claire High School, and George Sutherland, brother of A.J. Sutherland of this city. The first part of the diary, here presented, narrates a visit to the home of Jean Brunet, pioneer fur trader and probably the most picturesque character among a hardy group of men who were the leaders in this region when the white man first became an important element in its population. The diary presents the only pen picture of Brunet and his family known to exist. The Leader will publish extracts dealing with such interesting bits of Chippewa Valley history as the feuds between the pioneer lumbering interests. George Sutherland, who now resides at Grand Island, Nebraska, is president emeritus of Grand Island College. Captain Hall died several years ago.

Photo 1: A famous logjam on the Chippewa River is fifteen miles long,with logs piled thirty feet high (1899).
Photo 2: Brunet Island State Park. This picture was taken from the peninsula near Cornell Millyard Park. There are people fishing off the point.


Record of Canoe Journey of C.H. Cooke of Mondovi, Captain S.A. Hall, Head of the Old Wesleyan Seminary, and George Sutherland Presents Interesting Picture of the Quaint Frenchman Who Lived the Life of an Indian and Figured in a Sioux-Chippewa Peace Council.

The day and the hour came at last when our daydreams of a canoe voyage up the Chippewa were to begin. There were three of us, Professor Hall, chief instructor of the Wesleyan Seminary, West Eau Claire, and two of his hopeful pupils, George Sutherland, always at he head of his class, and the writer hereof, more often near the foot of his class.

Being around 20, just the age, so the sages tell us, of expectancy and hope, George and I had long been impatient for the ending of our winter term, which closed April 18, 1868.

It had been agreed that we should start immediately on the close of the school term. Fore more than a month George and I had planned and counseled about the coming trip. We had divided the time between our daily lessons and stories of adventures among the Indians and a lot of things possible and impossible that boys naturally might imagine in the dark, unexplored forests of the upper Chippewa.

Captain Hall (he had been a Captain in the Civil War) at first declined to accompany us. He finally yielded and on this morning, April 20, we set out by livery for Jim Falls, where we were to buy a bark canoe of the Indians for our journey.

We pitched our tent near the river a half a mile above the Falls, near a camp of Indians. It was soon learned that we were in the market for a canoe and several Indians and half-breeds came at once and invited us to look at their canoes. Their prices ranged from five dollars to fifteen dollars. We purchased one finally at eight dollars.

The sky looked so threatening we pitched our tent under the sheltering boughs of a monarch pine. We were told by the Indians that the chief of their tribe had camped there and the very poles about which we spread our tent had been placed there by his squaws. This fact furnished George with a text, which he dwelt upon for some time after we had rolled up in our blankets under our miserable tent that barely covered us. George by instinct and education had decided leaning to matters of history related to the races.

Buy Indian Canoe
April 21 - We were awake early to see the professor down near the shore patching our canoe, which he found to leak in spots. The professor claimed his rest had been broken by the roar of tumbling waters and logs at the falls, which the upriver wind brought fitfully to our ears. Daniel Shaw's driving crew, as we heard, had loosened several log rolls the evening before, which went pouring over the falls during the night.

The dark, winding, silent river was slowly rising from recently melted snow, and the thousands of logs in endless procession went streaming by.

Busy Dodging Logs
A famous logjam on the Chippewa River is fifteen miles long,with logs piled thirty feet high.Embarked at last in our frail craft we eagerly dipped our paddles and the upriver trip had really begun. To miss the oncoming logs our dexterity in handling our craft was tried to the utmost. We had to hug first one shore and then the other, and to do our best we had many collisions resulting in scars and holes in our brave little craft. Several times we had to land and pull our boat well on shore to escape the onrush of logs.

During the day we passed a driving crew who hailed us for news about Beef Slough matters. We paddled up to a big log to hand a burly fellow an Eau Claire paper. He thanked us and warned us that we had taken a bad time for such a trip and being 'tenderfeet" we had better watch out. A number of them called to know if we had any whiskey and to show their scorn of danger performed a lot of antics on the whirling logs.

The snaky river, winding in and out of the great silent forest, with branches drooping into the water, and the never ending stream of logs coming from nowhere and silently pursuing their way like things of life, made a picture strange and phantom like.

We were getting pretty tired about noon and observing a smoke in a little bay free from logs, we paddled in and made a landing for our lunch and an hours rest.

Our suspicions that the place had been occupied by Indians proved correct. Burning brands showed that they had but recently vacated the place, and some hoops for stretching skins, also bones of animals were in evidence. We were rather sorry that the occupants, the Ojibways, as George persists in calling the Chippewas, had not been there. We had, in preparing the trip, purchased a medley of notions supposed to be in demand among the Indians, with which to trade for furs and maple sugar or any odd bric-a-brac of Indian make. We had a lot of fancy calicoes, beads by the thousands and several dozen steel traps, purchased solely and in cold blood for barter and trade with the untutored children of the forest. And particularly our mouths just fairly watered for some maple sugar, which we heard was in abundance on the upper Chippewa.

After a frugal lunch of bologna sausage and crackers, Captain Hall ordered all aboard and we slowly pushed on.
My reputation as being a pretty good shot, largely based on what I had said of myself, secured for me the post of steersman, or pilot, as they call it on shipboard. My gun was always handy and I was supposed to be on the alert for muskrats or careless ducks flying within reach.

Log Drivers Abusive
Towards evening we passed another crew of log drivers. Their query several times repeated was, where were we going. I replied we were going up river in the interests of Beef Slough. We knew very well there was a bitter war on between the mill men of the Chippewa and the Mississippi mill men who controlled Beef Slough. The replies we got from the Chippewa boys would not have made good reading for a Sunday school class. Some of their stuff did not sit all together well with me, and despite the protests of the professor, I tried to hand it back as good as they sent. I was a Buffalo County boy, and Beef Slough being a Buffalo County institution, and not being imbued to excess with the spirit that turns both cheeks to an affront. I did, I confess, try to reply in kind.

The last man on the afternoon drive had told us that we could make Brunet Falls by night, that it was only a few miles, and shortly after we could hear the far away fall of tumbling water. It was a glad sound, as we fancied it was to begin in some way the romance of our canoe trip. There was a wailing in the pine tops of a coming storm, when at dusk we pulled our leaky canoe up on the bank in sight of Brunet's great log house, and prepared for the night's encampment.

Brunet's Cabin
Brunet Island State ParkApril 22 - Our suspicions last night of a coming storm bore winter fruit. About midnight the snow came down in merciless fury. Our test, open on the windward end made us an easy mark and the morning found us buried under four inches of the "beautiful." The river had risen during the night and our canoe, being high and dry on the shore the night before, was ready to float off. Scattered flakes were still falling and while we were discussing the plan of remaining or pulling out, a bateau of log drivers passing hailed us and told us that the river above the falls was chucked full of Beef Slough logs and were already choking the rocky pass at the falls. We decided to await events.

We began to take an interest in the big roomy cabin of father Brunet. A great column of blue smoke pouring from the roof and our own imaginations, combined with our dreary situation, decided us to cultivate an acquaintance with the old pioneer of the Chippewa. We might find it convenient to secure quarters for the night. So while George busied himself mending holes in the canoe, and as hunter, I started out in quest of game, the professor sallied forth on the more delicate task of treating with old 'Bruney," as the lumberjacks called him, and his half-breed daughters for a place to sleep for the night.

About noon I found myself some two miles down river, wet to the skin from melting and falling snow, two squirrels and a partridge in my belt. Here I met two Indians, who in answer to my inquiries told me that a half-breed on the other side of the river had some maple sugar for sale and that he lived with an Indian woman for a housekeeper in an old logging camp.

An Indian Promise
For a mink trap, two of which I had fastened to my belt and a handful of beads they took me across the river in their canoe and some forty rods from the shore brought me to a shanty. I asked the Indians to wait, which they promised to do, till I got some sugar, when they were to paddle me back. On my return the Indians and canoe were gone. Returning again to the Indian shanty, I told my plight to the woman, she being alone with a little girl. She led me a little way to a little cove a few steps further up the river, where her canoe was tied and without a word indicated by a nod of the head that I should seat myself: then getting in the canoe herself and kneeling down she dipped her paddle and managing her craft in dodging the logs with an ease that was indeed surprising, we were soon across. I handed her a string of beads, which she accepted without a sign of emotion, such is the face the white person usually displays on like occasions.

When I reached camp I found George preparing dinner of coffee, potatoes baked in ashes and rabbit steak. The professor had returned from his mission to the Frenchman's cabin and they were drying his trousers by the fire having got a bit of a dunking in crossing a slough on some logs.

Welcomed by Brunet
The old gentleman and his three half-breed daughters made us welcome to their immense log dwelling and after finishing dinner we packed our camping outfit and paddled our little craft into a little inlet just below the house. We were assigned to beds in one corner of this long famous hostelry. Brunet Falls, or Brunet's camp, had been a household name for years among the lumbermen. It was a good day's drive with a loaded team from Chippewa Falls, and in the winter months supply teams for the up river camps always made Brunet's camp for the night if they could.

Here, as they well knew, awaited the great warm room heated by two big stoves, a box of tobacco and pipes for each comer, grates to dry their socks and wet packs and for the inner man, steaming plates of the best woods fare, served by Mrs. Brunet and her three rather pretty, dark skinned daughters. We handed over our partridge and squirrels to our host, after dressing them, and they were given to us for breakfast.

After supper we pulled our chairs together (and it so happened we were the only strangers there) and engaged this delightful old gentleman in the story of his life. In the meantime the women had cleared the table and after some preparation for the morning meal quietly withdrew, rather to our disappointment, to an adjoining room or cabin, their own exclusive apartment, as it appeared.

Everything seemed to chime in with the strange, wild life of the old Frenchman and his story. The great rude camp with its puncheon floor. Its walls frescoed with deer horns and guns and skins of the chase, the odor of bygone smokers, lumbermen and hunters permeating the air, the darkening wall of the surrounding forest, all carried us back in pleasing fancy to our own half Indian life in Wisconsin, where our playthings were Indian bows and playfellows were Indian boys.

Loved Squaw and Children
The professor sat in stolid silence with his arms folded, with no visible sign of emotion, while George, with his eyes never leaving the old man's face, gave plain proof that he was entranced with the Frenchman's story. The old man's story gave ample proof that he was true to his Indian wife, because he loved her and his half Indian children. At least that was the meaning of his story and we believed it.

He said much about the policy of the government as being unjust o the Indian race. He spoke with much feeling, as though he too shared in the sense of injustice, which the Ojibways, as he called the Chippewas, had suffered.

It was nearly twelve o'clock when the old gentleman, after going to his wife's apartment as if to get advice about disposing us for the night, came back and pointing to the beds where we were to sleep bade us good night. There were curtains about our beds, the dining room, living room and sleeping room being the same.

Moving about in moccasin feet to get the breakfast we did not hear our stealthy housekeepers until the old gentleman awakened us and told us it was six o'clock. When I said "Good Morning" to the dusky maiden who handed me my coffee, she faintly smiled but said nothing. The breakfast was good. The professor was the loudest of all in praise of the fried potato, which he declared the best he ever ate.

Followed Indian Pipe Custom
At the end of the meal Brunet filled three pipes and again passed them to us as he had the night before. It really hurt the dear old man that we again refused to smoke with him. We came to understand after a while that for visitors among Indians to join in smoking meant good will and friendship, and the old man had lived so long among the red men that he was one with them in this feeling.

The old man's daughters, brownies of the pine forest, as the professor styled them, exchanged amused smiles at their father's apparent annoyance at our continued refusal to smoke.

We sat with the old man and listened to something of the story of his life, while he smoked his morning pipe. The professor had gone up to look at the Falls, as he was somewhat insistent that we renew our journey as soon as possible. The snow was nearly gone and, although the rush of logs continued, we agreed that we would attempt the portage of the falls after dinner.

To Wisconsin in 1820
George and I listen for an hour after breakfast quiet at ease to hear the story of the old Frenchman's life continue.
Jean Brunet, or "Bruney" as the lumberjacks call him, is 80 years old. He came to Wisconsin in 1820 and his life for most of the time since has passed with on the Chippewa and its tributaries. He came from France as a boy to Green Bay and from there as a laborer he shipped with a company of fur traders down the Wisconsin River, thence up the Chippewa to Lac Courte Oreilles. Here he left his French companions and began the life of a fur trader on his own account. He drifted among the lakes of the upper Chippewa for some years making money out of furs, some years nothing. He became acquainted with his first wife, an Ojibway girl, at Red Cedar Lake, and there he married her. He lived with her two years, when she died, leaving an infant daughter. This child survived the mother but two months. The three daughters of his present great log home are the only children of himself and his second wife.

An Indian Peace Meeting
Brunet was present at the last treaty conference of the troublesome Sioux and Chippewa on the Chippewa River just above Jim Falls, some ten miles above Chippewa Falls.

He had much to say of the fine ponies and the feathers tied to their manes and tails, how the faces of the Sioux and their thighs and arms were streaked with red and black paint. The Chippewas had stacked their arms in a bunch of pines near the river as proof of their good faith, while the Sioux party in the like manner had tied their guns to their ponies backs.

The talk about the terms of peace continued all afternoon and until the fires were lighted at night. Then the peace pipes were filled by a lot of the Indian boys, lighted and passed around. Each smoker after a whiff or two passed the pipe to his next neighbor and then followed a feast of stewed venison and rabbits, prepared by the squaws.

About ten o'clock that night the Sioux at a signal from their chief gathered themselves up from the ground where many of them were sprawled about as if asleep, with their ponies tethered to them with grass ropes, mounted their ponies and rode to their camp near Jim Falls. The next morning they came back and after another powwow, lasting until near noon, they gathered in a circle and buried some knives and some hatchets in token of peace and friendship between the Chippewas and Sioux tribes. Then came another feast and more smoking of the pipe of peace, then after shaking hands all around they mounted their ponies and rode away toward their encampment on the west bank of the Mississippi River. There was a vast encampment of Sioux there at this time awaiting the result of this conference.

Mississippi Boundary
The Chippewa and Sioux were two powerful tribes and for years were engaged in frequent intermittent warfare. The boundary line of the hunting territory for half a century had been the Wisconsin and Mississippi River. The Sioux especially were trespassers on the east bank of the Mississippi.

Conflicts between these tribes as a result often ensued. Hence the Chippewas, less prone to war and weaker in resources, made no resistance to the coming of the whites, as their presence secured them from the incursions of the war-like Sioux.

We had on our bed a buffalo robe which Brunet said he had bought off the Sioux some twenty years before, during one of their periodic trips to Wabasha prairie, which was one of their favorite camping places on the west side of the Mississippi at the mouth of the Chippewa River. He had so much praise to give the Sioux. He said they were very smart at horseback riding. Dwelling as they did on the prairies of the west, much of their lives were spent on the backs of their tough little ponies. They guided their ponies with ropes of grass tied about their necks. The Chippewa Indians, he said, were less used to horses and the Sioux for this reason whenever they had a council always tried to show their better skill in horsemanship.

We almost hated to part with this curiously interesting old Frenchman and his half-breed daughters, so kind they had been, and I am sure that inwardly each of us, anyway George and I, resolved that we somehow would come again.

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