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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


February 8, 2003 - Issue 80


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Chief Sky, Now Blind and Helpless, Tells Story of "Old Abe," War Eagle

From: Eau Claire Leader - March 17, 1914

credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)
Photo 1: Chief Sky; Photo 2: Old Abe


Cheif SkyLac du Flambeau, Wis. - Blind, helpless and tortured by rheumatism, a wrinkled and picturesque old Indian who helped to make civil history is rounding out his four score years, awaiting the call of the Great Spirit, in this little Chippewa village in northern Wisconsin.

He is 'Old Jackson."

Chief Sky was the title by which he was known by his red-skinned brethren in the old days long gone by; but now it is "Old Jackson" that is the name applied by those who speak of him.

And it was Chief Sky - this same "Old Jackson" who captured perhaps one of the most famous birds in the history of the United States - Old Abe of Company C of the Eighth Wisconsin Infantry.

It is not much to say that no more famous bird ever lived than Old Abe, the Great War Eagle of Wisconsin. His name is familiar to armies; his adventures have found their way into song and story; and his tragic ending has touched the heart of every war veteran who has heard of him, or who perhaps, fought beneath this battle cry.

It was way back in 1861, during the sugar making days, that Old Abe was captured on the Flambeau River, near the line between the Ashland and Price counties; and Chief Sky, little realizing then that he was to bring in hand a fluffy emblem of liberty that, later, would hover and swoop over the battlefields of the Civil War still tells the story of that epoch-making day when the eagle was taken by him.

"It was long ago," the old man said recently, in telling his story, "I was the son of a chief, Thunder-of-Bees with my father, and he was the chief the Flambeau tribe of Chippewas. My mother I never knew; she died while I was a papoose."

"It was shortly before the big battle, when the soldiers marched away, sugar making time had come, and the big snow had gone, and our Band was happy at work and play. One day, while hunting, I noticed in the top of a tall pine tree, a great nest of mud and sticks. I knew it to be the home of an eagle. I watched it for hours. The old birds circled and swooped about their nest, time and again, so I knew there were young ones there."

"I tried several times to climb the aerie. The work was hard, and the parent birds fought stubbornly. Even I, most agile of the Flambeau, could not reach the top of the giant tree. Still, I wanted the little ones. I had a steel axe, which I had traded from the white men, and this I took. Then I cut down the tree. It was hard work. For half a day I hewed and chopped; other young braves laughed at me; my father was not pleased; but I persisted and at last it fell with a crash like thunder."

"Then came the fight. The parents swept down, trying to beat me off with their sharp talons, I fought them until they flew away. Then I gathered in my prize. There had been two young birds in the nest. One was killed by the fall. The other still an eaglet, I took to my tepee, where it was fed by the squaws and papooses with bits of meats and scraps from the camp kettle."

"Three or four weeks I kept the little eagle; but when the full moon came and the weather grew warm, Thunder-of-Bees led his men down the Flambeau River to trade with the white men. Maple sugar, furs and moccasins formed our stores. I took my eaglet with me. Down there I met a man. His name was Daniel McCann and he lived at Eagle Point. He offered me a bushel of corn for my bird and I took the offer-why should I not? The eagle was no larger than a chicken, and a bushel of corn was a bushel of corn. He took it away. That was the last I ever saw of it."

Old Abe"But I have heard since," Old Jackson went on filling his red clay pipe and lighting it thoughtfully, "I have heard that McCann gave the bird to soldiers and that it was in the big fight with them. But of this I do not know."

Until blindness overtook him "Old Jackson" was a speaker in the councils of his people. He still retains the characteristics of his youth, and although touched by contact with the white men, glories in the stories of long ago, when he was a young brave; and tells to every newcomer the story of his capture of the famous war eagle of the Eighth Wisconsin.

But despite his pride in his achievement, his story ends with the sale of the bird to McCann. Further the old chief claims, he knows not; and of the deeds of the famous bird itself and the honors that came to it in the hell of shot and shell, he has nothing to relate.

And still, the story of Old Abe is known to every old resident of Wisconsin, and particularly to the boys of '61 who marched and fought when the battle cry of the eagle spurred them on.

McCann kept the eagle until he made a trip to Chippewa Falls, when he endeavored to sell it to a company recruiting the First Wisconsin battery. This he failed to do, and a little later, when he visited Eau Claire, he offered the bird, now nearly full grown, to the Eau Claire Badgers, subsequently known as Company C, still later called the Eagle Regiment. The bird was finally purchased by a Mr. Mills who bought it for $5 and presented it to Captain John E. Perkins, who gave it to his company.

It was the bird's nature to become greatly excited in the turmoil of battle and to quiet when it was over, his actions serving as a natural barometer for his followers. The approach of the enemy always was announced by him with a note of alarm, but not until before Corinth, October 3, 1862 (Battle of Shiloh), did he gain recognition from the enemy.

"That bird must be captured or killed at all hazards," General Price of the Confederate ranks said, "I would rather get that eagle than capture a whole brigade or a dozen battle flags."

Lac du Flambeau, WI Map
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