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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America

March 22, 2003 - Issue 83

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The Queen of Pocagemah


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.
Dictated to and written by Thomas P. Wentworth, Ashland, Wisconsin
1892, Press of A.W. Bowron, Ashland, Wis.

credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)

Chapter 7 - The Queen of Pocagemah

In the winter of 1846 I was trading at a place between the Snake River and Pocagemah Lake in Minnesota, and on the bank of the Snake River near its entry into Cross Lake, I built my trading house. The name of the lake was derived from the name the Indians gave it, which was Pem-ma-che-go-ming, and means to cross or go through. In the Potawatomie language the word would be Kosh-ko-ming, a name they gave to a lake through which the Rock River runs in Jefferson County, Wisconsin.

After the treaty of 1837 lumbermen were in the habit of cutting choice pine timber wherever it was handy to get a market, without owning the land or getting permission to cut the timber. In other words they were stealing it from the government.

The Snake River was the outlet for much of this timber, or so much of it as was cut as far up as Knife Lake, on the Knife River, Rice and Tamarack Rivers, and Colonel Sims, of New Orleans, Louisiana, was the man whom the government sent to look after the trespassing.

He had been in the Mexican War and had lost one arm. He arrived at my trading post in the spring of 1847. After informing me of his mission he asked to make his home with me for a while, as it was central in the country in which he wished to make his investigations and would also like to have my assistance in locating points where trespassing had been done.

I took the colonel in and made him as comfortable as circumstances would permit. I found him a pleasant companion. He would relate his adventures in Mexico, in turn, for which I would recite matters about this country that were interesting to him.

As he was an army officer I told him of the Indian soldiers, how they had their war dances, drills and parades, as well as white soldiers. This interested him very much and he was quite anxious to witness one of them where he could see a genuine medicine dance and feast and listen to the speeches of the braves, telling of their miraculous adventures and many hair-breath escapes.

At this time there live a missionary near Pocagemah Lake by the name of Boutwell, which lake was about four miles from my place by trail. Boutwell's wife was a half-caste Chippewa and a daughter of a member of the American Fur Co. She had been east and was educated and spoke both languages quite fluently.

There also lived on the bank of this lake an Indian chieftain by the name of Bic-a-jek, who had a band numbering about 150 souls. His own family consisted of a wife, one son and a daughter. This daughter had lived close to the mission some time and became a favorite of Mrs. Boutwell on account of her naturally good manners and her Indian beauty. She had, with the assistance of Mrs. Boutwell, taken up the white women's mode of dress and was as neat and tasty as could be. She was the idol of the old chief and her brother, and for my part I must say she was the prettiest Indian maiden I ever met. She was pretty in feature, and in manners she was feminine to a degree not often overmatched by her white sisters.

Mrs. Boutwell often told her she was pronounced handsome and that she must set her cap for a white husband.

These teachings had their effect and caused her to appear at her best on all occasions, and especially when white people were present, consequently she became faultless in her attire.

The Colonel was telling me one day of the beautiful Creole women in New Orleans, and I told him there was an Indian beauty in the neighborhood, who, in features and form, could not be beaten in the whole south.

Just the it happened that the chief and his wife and daughter were in sight coming to my place to trade.

I told the Colonel that they were coming and he rushed for his uniform, which he always did when parties came, to whom he wished to show his rank. When the chief and party arrived at the post he was at his best in military attire and awaited an introduction, which I interpreted between them.

The chief said he was glad to meet a white officer, as he was an officer among soldiers himself.

The Colonel related his experience in war, the hard times he had seen, and how he had lost an arm in the bargain, to which the old chief replied: "He who strikes must expect to get struck," which was equivalent to saying, in the Indian understanding, "That's all right, don't grumble."

The Colonel, turning to me said: "Your description of the daughter is correct. She is as pretty as a pink." He told me to cut her off a couple of calico dresses and to give the chief some tobacco also on his account, and urged me to arrange with the chief to have us present at their next war or medicine dance, and to tell the chief that he should be much pleased to see it, and perhaps he could give them some pointers in military matters that they would like to know.

I interpreted the request to the chief, who said he was not then prepared for such an entertainment, but would have one as soon as the necessary arrangements could be made. I knew what that meant, for they never have one of these dances until a surplus of meat ahead to last from two to six days, so they can be spared from the chase, and these councils always last white the stock of meat holds out.

It was only a few days after that I heard that the hunters had been very successful, having killed a couple of bear and several deer, and knew the council would soon be called.

The Colonel was in high glee.

The next morning, and but a little after sunrise, I saw two Indians hurrying up the river in a canoe, and guessed they were messengers to invite us to the feast. I told the colonel of their coming and he was soon inside his uniform, and with the eagles upon his shoulders, he looked the veteran he really was.

Along came the braves, and taking positions on either side of the doorway, said the chief had sent them to invite us to a drill and feast, and pointing to the sky where the sun would be at about ten o'clock, said that was the time for us to be there.

One of them told me that the chief's daughter had told them to bring some salt and pepper for the meats of the visitors, which I gave them with a plug of tobacco to be smoked at the dance, and they hurried away.

The Colonel was delighted, and said he could tell by the warlike looks of the chief and the beauty of the daughter that we would have a good time.

When we arrived at the Indian camp we were met at the shore by about twenty braves in war paint, clubs and knives in hand and scalp locks up, all ready to commence their drills and exercises. The war-whoop was given and a circle formed with the chief and drummer-boy inside, the chief acting the part of drum major and drillmaster. The dancing began; 'round and 'round went the circle, the chief going through the manual of the arms and being imitated by all the braves in the circle.

This opened the Colonel's eyes as he saw the braves were no novices in handling the club and knife. The changing of club to knife hand and vice versa was gone through with for quite a time and was most beautifully done, when one luckless brave made a mistake.

At a signal from the chief the drum was sounded and everything was stopped, when the unlucky man was taken aside by the chief and drilled in an awkward squad of one until he became perfect, when the dance went on by giving the emergency war whoop.

It was continued some time longer when speeches by the braves were in order, telling of their experiences since the last council, with varying effects.

The feast came next in order, but first I will tell you how a war whoop is given.

There are two kinds, the general and the emergency whoop. The first is given by a yell loud and long enough to allow the maker to slap his hand over his mouth three times, and then repeat and once again, which agrees with the white man's three cheers. The emergency one is given in the same way but only one is given in the same way but only one yell and signifies that there is no time to lose, but hasten quickly, and corresponds with the long roll in white military service.

Dinner was now cooked and ready, the chief's daughter being the leader in that department.

She brought and spread upon the ground in the long wigwam, which had been prepared for the occasion, new rugs and mats made of rushes woven together with bark. She placed the nicest one where she intended her white visitors to be seated.

She appeared more neat than ever; with a nice fitting dress and sailor collar of white with beads in braids in great profusion about her neck and of many colors, her collar lapping at the throat in an artistic manner and fastened with the claw of an eagle; her fine black hair braided and coiled at the back of her head in the finest style, her beau catcher locks at the temple in shape, she was a perfect picture of health and beauty combined, and she was the chief waiter at the table on the ground.

She first brought to each a piece of roasted meat that had been done at the fire on a stick. It was served on a plate made in tray shape of birch bark. This comprised the first course.

The Colonel having but one arm, I had provided myself with a sharpened stick to use as a fork in cutting his meat with my pocket knife, which I did after excusing myself to the chief and his daughter for this lack of etttiquette at an Indian dinner, where knives and forks, cups and saucers are considered unnecessary.

The Colonel spoke in the highest terms of the cut of meat and the good taste in which it had been served and inquired of me what kind of game it was, but could not tell him as I only knew of their killing bear and deer.

This course being over the daughter proceeded to take the orders for the next, inquiring of each their preference for boiled or roasted meat. The Colonel ordered both kinds, remarking that the bear meat was a choice meat to him, but venison rather beat them all.

During this course the colonel said that it was nice, but could not compare it favorable with the first dish, and said he must have the hide of that animal to take home with him to show to his people and tell them that it was from that animal that he had feasted at an Indian dinner, upon the choicest morsel he had ever eaten, not excepting that prepared by the French cooks of New Orleans. Taking from his pocket a five dollar gold coin wished me to tell the daughter it was for that particular skin.

The old chief smiled at the sight of the "shiner," and more so as it was aimed at the hand of his idolized daughter, though he knew not for what it was being given, for I had not yet told him.

The daughter was not at first inclined to take the gold, fearing it might be a breach of good behavior, but I assured her it was all right, and the coin was dropped into the hand of the dusky maiden, who, by the way, the Colonel had named "Queen of Pocagemah."

The meal having been finished and the braves were preparing to continue their dancing and festivities, the Colonel requested that I call the maiden and go with them to see the skin of the animal that he might give orders to have it properly tanned and ready for him when he should start for home.

I called the girl and we proceeded to the place where the hides were kept.

The Queen of Pocagemah pointed it out, and there, stretched between to poles, and hung the hide of a very large black dog.

At the sight of it the Colonel's anger got the best of him, notwithstanding the presence of his charmer, and he arraigned me before the bar of his judgment in terms much more forcible than complimentary, and had he been provided with a gun he would no doubt have slain me, so great was his anger. But with only one arm he was convinced that he would be obliged to wait till another time to get even with me.

The Indians became alarmed, thinking the man was crazy, as they knew not a word he was saying, and it was some time before I could get in a word of explanation. I quieted the Indians' fears by telling them it was a way he had, but that it was nothing against their treatment of him.

But nothing would do the Colonel but to take our canoe and go home.

On the way he became cooler and finally declared he had made an unnecessary show himself, without a cause, and after my explanation that I knew nothing of what kind of meat we were eating, and that it was no joke played by me, he became perfectly cool, and after a week or so sent for the hide, which had been neatly tanned, and took it home with him, as he said, a reminder of the war dance and his display of foolish anger.

He returned to New Orleans after a few weeks and I heard from him several times in relations to trespassing matters, and in all his communications would mention the medicine dance, and was particular to enquire after the health of his "Queen of Pocagemah."

About this time Mrs. Boutwell left Pocagemah and joined a mission up the Mississippi, but the chief's daughter continued her pursuit of a white husband, in which she was successful before the summer had passed.

In August 1847, a man by the name of John Drake came to Pocagemah. He was a fine looking man and although his business was a whiskey peddler, he won the smiles of Colonel Sim's queen and married her.

He started a whiskey shop near Knife Lake where he traded in steel traps and trinkets with the Indians.

A man named Henry Rusk, who could talk some Chippewa, went into partnership with him so they would be able to trade. Quarrels and fights became frequent at their place and one or two shooting affairs.

When Chief Bi-a-jek heard how matters were going at Drake's place, took his wife and went there to make them a visit.

As is the Indian custom in such cases they took along their wigwam and pitched a short distance from Drake's house. They then went and called on the daughter and invited her to call upon them at their lodge.

At this he objected and said she should never put foot in their wigwam. He also said, through Rusk, that if the chief was not away from there before morning he would shoot him, for he did not propose to have any interference in his family affairs.

The girl was offended at this remark and watching an opportunity, she stole away and went to the lodge of her parents.

Drake soon discovered her absence and found out where she had gone and became so angry that he took his rifle and fired a shot through the wigwam.

It was now dark and Rusk prevailed upon Drake to desist as he had threatened to kill the whole family. Rusk now had the gun and told Drake if he would be quiet and stay in the house he would go to the wigwam and fix up matters with the chief.

When the shot was fired by Drake the three occupants of the lodge had skulked away to the brush and the chief had taken a position behind a tree with his rifle to defend himself from any further attack, and as Rusk came out of the door gun in hand, so that Drake could not use it during his absence, the chief espied him by the light of the house and believing it to be Drake he fired at him, inflicting a mortal wound.

As Drake now saw trouble ahead he quietly slipped away from the house, leaving everything behind him and reached my place just at daylight. He told me what had happened and wanted me to go and see to Rusk. I did so, taking with me three men.

We found him just breathing his last.

Drake took to the woods and I heard from him a month or so afterwards at Wood Lake here he had a quarrel over some steel traps. He afterwards went to a wigwam of the party with whom he had the quarrel, and not finding them drove the family from it and set it on fire.

The Indian coming from the woods just then, where he had been hunting, saw what Drake had done, hunted him up and shot him.

A sort of investigation was had over the affair, which resulted in the sending to the authorities at St. Croix Falls a report of justifiable homicide, but nothing more was done about it.

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