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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


February 22, 2002 - Issue 81


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C.H. Cooke's Diary of a Trip Up the Chippewa River in 1868; Indians Wary in Trading

From: Eau Claire Telegram December 16, 1917
(Third of Four Installments)
Note - This is the third installment of diary kept by C. Cooke, now of Mondovi, when, he Professor Shadrach A. Hall, and George Sutherland made a canoe trip up the Chippewa River in the spring 1868.

It was Sunday morning, and lovely as the first morning when everything was new, the topmost branches in the lordly pines were singing their hymns to Diana and her train, as they gently swayed in the passing breeze. There was something in it, as the professor well said, to chime with the spirit of the day. To tell the whole truth, every truth every day, in such a place is Thanksgiving Day to me. They are all divine.

The professor is a stickler for puritan observance of the day and insisted that we remain in camp until the morrow. A little bit against his wishes George and I visited some Indians camped on the shore and were visited by them in return. We found they had a lot of maple sugar and on telling them of our goods they wanted to see them before making a trade, so this morning, Monday, they came over, bringing two squaws with them and some fancy birch work and baskets of sugar to exchange for traps and calico.

They were a rather difficult crowd to deal with, very suspicious. I could not blame them. They have gradually been crowded back from one reservation to another, promised that each move would be their last, until they have come to have no faith in the white race. What a strange mixture of right and wrong there is in the Christian Age after all. In every one of their dark faces there was a look of resentment. They seldom smile. It's a strange policy for a so-called Christian nation, this doing as we are doing. We make a great ado over the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount, and yet in despoiling the Indian of his home we violate the principles of both. It's a great problem after all. The Indian's habits are so unlike ours, they cannot mix with us, nor can we mix with them. The only thing to do, it would seem, if we are to occupy this continent, is to drive them into the sea or blend the two races by intermarriage.

Pass Deserted Indian Village
I was awakened this morning by the rattle of tin plates. The professor was up and had breakfast about ready. We bade farewell about 6:00 a.m. to our pretty island, not without something of regret, and turned the bow of our little brave craft against the current. Like yesterday, the day is bright and so warm we had to pull off our coats. The shores today are uneven, in places quite flat: in other places rolling. The current has slackened a good deal most of the way. Passed the Thornapple River, noted for its beautiful pine, just before noon. There was a furious rush of logs coming out, which nearly swamped our boat in attempting to cross the river. We passed several deserted Indian villages. Killed a partridge that was sitting on one of the wigwams.

The boys are itching to see me get a fall in the river. The professor has been in twice, attempting to ride logs, and Sutherland once. They are rascally enough, as I believe, to use a bit of force, if it could be done in a roundabout way.

Sandhill CranesSandhill Cranes
More water foul are seen today a number of Sandhill cranes, flying quite low and sailing, as if preparing to light not far from the river, passed almost within range. They put me on shore and I took the course of the cranes nearly a half-mile, but saw nothing of them. I came to a small tamarack swamp in the middle, which I have no doubt the cranes had sighted and were aiming for when we saw them. Cranes never light in timber and I suspect the timber came to near this swampy opening to suit their particular liking.

About four in the afternoon we reached Grand Rapids and made a portage of a half-mile, which took us two hours. We decided not to camp again; it was so near dark, and pitched our tent for the night under some of the tallest pines without a limb nearer than fifty feet of the ground.

Feeling of Pioneers
All afternoon the walls of deep green pines crowding close to the river gives one a feeling of being a discoverer or a pioneer. For ages, no doubt, this silent dark river, fringed by these eternal pines, has run on "unresting, unhasting, and unspent." There is something glorious in the loneliness of this forest solitude. On my asking George to recalls something from the poets appropriate to the scene, he, at once started on the lines famous in Childe Harold:

"There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
"There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
"I love not man the less but nature more,
"From these our interviews, in which I steal,
"To mingle with the universe and feel,
"What I can ne'er express yet cannot conceal."

The professor dropped his stick from poking the fire and clapped his hands, in which I joined, as did George some moments later, after getting the professor's opinion that it would be in perfect good taste for him to do so.

Curiously enough, a lot of crows overheard, winging their silent way across the river, observing us and startled, no doubt, by our clapping, set up a chorus of cawing, protest or approval, we were uncertain which.

Bird Life
The passing of the crows suggests another topic closely allied to the woods, that is, the birds. We had before noted their scarcity and talked about it and wondered why. Some of us were sufficiently learned on the subject to explain why these dense forest, seemingly the ideal home for the bird race, gave so little sign or sound of their presence. When we left Eau Claire, the blue bird, the robin and the black birds were seen everywhere. We have not seen a robin, or a blue bird since leaving, and only a few black birds. Partridges were not so plentiful as we had been told. This, we explained to we explained to our keeping always near the river.

We kept up a blazing fire of pine knots, the refuse of the forest for ages, so the professor assured us, and after a lot of chat of sense and nonsense until 10 o'clock turned in for the night. Some loons in a lake nearby kept up their cry in accents so human in tone for an hour as to murder sleep.

Spares Cranes
I was awakened this morning by someone pinching me to get up and build the fire and to hear the strange cry of Sandhill Cranes back on the lone lake whence came the cry of loons during the night. I jumped up and lit out with my gun, leaving the fire for them to make, against their protests. I found a lake not more than a hundred rods back from the river: in extent about 40 acres. There was quite a margin of untimbered shore, low and boggy. Sure enough there were five Sandhill Cranes stalking about straight as soldiers on dress parade. The fifth one stood and walked somewhat apart from the other four. I conceived the situation to be like this: the four cranes were two pairs; two married couples. The lone one when the left the Gulf of Mexico might have started, doubtlessly did start, with a mate, which had fallen victim to some ruthless hunter, even like myself, on their way to so far away nesting place in the north. These noble birds had seen me even before I saw them and as they are wont to do when danger threatens, were marching back and forth, and counseling each other in the guttural of the crane language. My resolution to kill one of them utterly failed me when like a flash my memory went back to childhood when I had tame Sandhill Cranes for my companions in the wilds of Buffalo County. They were my constant companions, quite as tall as I, always ready to go fishing with me, and if a hawk threatened the chickens they were the first to see him and their shrill guttural cries were sure to scare him away. They would accompany me with apparent delight for mile to the head of the valley after the cows at night. They did not fancy the idea of driving the cows home. So, as soon as it was apparent that the homeward trip had begun, they would put their heads together and jabber a bit in Sandhill, then as a final note of leave taking, the would emit a loud cry, spreading their wings at the same time and running for two or three rods to begin their flight. Their flight would revolve like a spiral until they reached the some four hundred feet above the valley, which also cleared the top of the highest hill, when they would make a bee line shot for the farm. There they would circle in a spiral, uttering their peculiar cry, until mother or father hearing them would come out and call them by name which was, "Come Sandy," and ceasing their cry at once they would slowly circle to the ground, lighting if they could at the very feet of any member of the family in sight.

Had the five cranes taken wing from the opposite shore and come over and alighted near me, I am not sure at that I should have harmed them. I am sure they would have been perfectly safe. I was a moment absorbed in boyhood days and in pleasing memories of my crane companions.

Happily the five cranes did not share my feeling and in less time than I am this reminiscent story they had take flight at their most fearsome enemy and after repeated cries of alarm they spread their great wings and wearily rising above the pines took a northward course, guided by instinct, or by God, or whatever you will.

I ate the remains of the breakfast while I recited that which I had seen and recalled my boyhood. Both George and the professor merely smiled. If I had not told them of my pet cranes and my boyhood, I am sure they would have made light of my skill as a hunter coming home without any game.

Pine ForestUnbroken Wall of Pines
Breakfast over and all afloat; terrible was the water that awaited us. The entire day was one scramble after another, over successive rapids. In many places we could not paddle, and to save lugging our equipment and our boat we towed it. We narrowly escaped many upsets, but at each extreme fortune came to our rescue. The look of the country on either shore as seen from our bark canoe offer little change from the unbroken wall of eternal pines and a steadily narrowing channel of the Chippewa River between.

A sprinkling of elm and maple mark some interruption to the pine the current of the river is getting stronger again and rather to our hindrance. Despite currents and any element of discouragement our seal showed no abatement. Every day is still divine. I had some fear that the captain, that is the professor, might flinch when put to the test of rugged camp, but he meets every test without a whimper. George, of course, like myself, has the elasticity of youth, always ready for any fate. Water is water, but water with a stiff current and water without current are vastly different things. The rapids we met and over came today are known as the "Nine Mile Rapid." It was an incessant pull that took both muscle and patience. One blunder we made that cost us a lot of time and work was, in dodging into a friendly slough to escape meeting a swift current, only to find after paddling for an hour or so that its' head was full of logs.

A lot of ducks were seen overhead, but no chance to get any. Most of them were teal and they flew high. We took this as a sign that lakes were scarce in this neighborhood of the river. The Indians had told us we would see few ducks save in the vicinity of lakes. The water in the river is receding, showing that the snow had all melted and unless we soon had rains the log drives would soon be tied up.

Indians' Sugar Camp
Another night and another camp in the brooding forest; at the first sign of day I crawled out of the blankets and started in the direction of a bunch of maples when I heard the peculiar cry of the gray squirrel and his answering mate. I saw no squirrels, but found the maples and the remains of a sugar camp, not long vacated as it looked, by the Indians. There was a pile sugar troughs and an ash heap and other traces of human presence. When I got back to camp empty handed to find breakfast ready and partly eaten, they joked at me for my want of skill.

We had a late start this morning, held back by the appearance of a coming storm. The current was again strong and our progress slow. The rapids continued with us. The water is some three feet above the usual stage. About noon in trying to make the ascent of the rapid water about four feet deep, our boat suddenly shot cross ways of the river, and almost upsetting the whole business. The boat careened so far that my revolver, shot pouch, powder, coat and some traps were spilled in the water. I regained my coat, which contained my purse, but the rest of the stuff amounting to some $15 was lost.

Group of men in stream with logs.Logs Threatened Wreck
Taking the other side of the river in the hope of paddling through without making a portage, we met with a greater rebuff. In an effort to make a portage over some logs that jammed together in an eddy we had nearly succeeded when the logs, half an acre in extent, began to move down stream towards the rapids all in a body. We finally got everything in our boat and cleared the floating mass, and thankful we were to our stars that our boat, contents and ourselves included had escaped a general wreck. If the look ahead doesn't brighten, that is, if game doesn't become more plentiful and the river less rapid, I shall favor a return move. The fact is Lac Courte Oreilles looks farther away that it did a week ago; I suspect our zeal is a bit on the wane. The plain truth is there is a whole lot of difference between grim facts and what one may easily imagine the facts to be.

We went into camp early on what seemed a shore frequented by the Indians. Hardwood timber seemed to predominate and the chipper of squirrels promised some shooting. George mended leaks in our boat and the professor made camping provisions for the night and I struck out for game.

I bagged two partridges and a squirrel and after riddling a porcupine with shot returned to camp.

The storm so threatening in the morning had cleared away. The sunset was a golden promise of a fine tomorrow. A skinning our squirrel and birds and salting them for breakfast and finishing our rather frugal meal of bread and maple syrup we gathered about our camp fire and listened to the professor tell a lot about the stars, the motion of planets, etc., the subject drifted as if by mutual agreement onto the subject of the morrow's movements.

After a rather protracted discussion it was agreed that we would remain in camp were we were another day and night, and then if the spirit persisted that our movement be forward and onward we should continue towards the head of the river. In this frame of mind we "doused the glom" and rolled in.

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