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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 17, 2003 - Issue 87


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A Little History of My Forest Life - Part 1

by Eliza Morrison (1837-1920)
credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)

I take pen in hand to write you a little history of my life. I am glad to write it for you. I am a poor hand for that, but I will try my best. I don't know much about the Indians myself, only what my mother used to tell me. She of course learned about them from her mother. My husband knows more about the Indians for he was among them so long. He lived with them for six years before we were married, that is the Chippewas.

My grandmother was a pure Chippewa. She was brought up at Lake St. Croix, at the headwaters of the St. Croix River. They hardly ever went down the river because the Sioux were nearby. The Chippewas were at war with them. The St. Croix River was well supplied with game, fish, ducks, and rice, and they fought for that country. The Chippewas became enraged against the Sioux and drove them away to the southwest. After they drove the Sioux away they lived better and safer.

Some white men used to come up the Mississippi and the St. Croix to trade with the Indians. By that time my grandmother was full-grown and she married one of these men. He was a Frenchman. He died long before middle age and left my grandmother with two girls and a boy.

My grandmother did not stay long at the St. Croix because the Sioux were hard against the Chippewas. A great many came from the west and the Chippewas had to keep back. My grandmother was afraid. She did not want her children to be killed. She took a canoe and with her little children started up the St. Croix. To get something to eat her only hope was to meet other Indians. For three days she had nothing to eat. In the morning of the fourth day she saw a canoe. It turned out to be one of the meanest Indians in the tribe, and he would not give her anything to eat, even though he had plenty of meat and rice.

"Keep on to the mouth of the river. You will find one of your uncles there," was all he said to her.

When it was nearly night she came to a camp at the mouth of the Brule. She remained with her uncle and aunt for fourteen days.
She told them, "I am on the way to Sault St. Marie. I do not want my children killed by the Sioux."

Her uncle said, "If you are going there you must start pretty soon. You can see the leaves are getting yellow. We have plenty of rice to give you, and I will hunt meat for you to dry and take with you."

From the mouth of the Brule to the lower end of Lake Superior it always takes twelve days when men are running the canoes. She made up her mind to make the journey in a month's time. She started in her canoe to coast the great body of water. She struck good weather and made the trip in twenty-one days.

They lived among the Chippewas at Sault St. Marie for a long time. My mother and her brother and her sister got no education. They could not talk any English or French. My grandmother told them never to marry a full-blooded Indian because they were too white. Both of the girls had plenty of chances to get married to Indians, but they promised their mother they would not.

My mother and her sister both married white men at Sault St. Marie. After awhile my mother's man wanted to go back to Canada, but she would not leave her mother and go with him. She told him to go alone and come back again. She waited three years for him, but he never came back.

A large number of people left for La Point in eight big boats called bateaux. Her brother went with them. Each boat had seven men and carried a great load. They had to go in to a river or some harbor at night. Three days after they left, my grandmother, my mother, and her brother's wife, along with four children, started to coast the great lake for three hundred and eighty miles to La Pointe. The three strong women paddled the canoe at a good speed. In five days time they got to Portage Lake, where they caught up with the others. They all got to La Pointe all right.

My mother lived there several years before she married my father. My father's name is Robert Morrin. He came from Scotland to Canada when he was a boy, to Montreal, where he must have met some of the American Fur Company men and hired out to where they traded with the Indians, where he must have first seen my mother. My Mother's name is Frances Morrin. She was converted by the Baptists at Sault St. Marie, and when she came to La Pointe she joined the Presbyterian Church. I have one half brother and two half sisters. In the second marriage of my mother there were three of us, one man older than me, and one younger than me. My brothers' names are Joseph, William, and Robert. My sisters' names are Angelic and Hannah.

I was born on La Pointe Island, which is now called Madeline Island, one of the Apostle Islands. It is one of the oldest settled places on Lake Superior. I was born in 1837, on November third and was raided on the island. As I remember, there used to be thirty-seven houses on the flat, all of them made of round logs and roofed with cedar bark.

My uncle built a house alongside of ours. For a period of thirty years he was one of those who traded with the Chippewas off to the north and west. They used to get goods from the Company and go out and establish their posts during the winter. They would be gone eight months from home each year and would return quite late in the spring. They used dogs, when they had them. My uncle told me that the Indians would not sell dogs, but they would hire them out to those who were trading with the Indians. The dogs were very large. I used to see some of them brought in. They were yellow, with long hair and looked like wolves.

When I was a girl the Chippewas used to come to La Pointe to be paid off by the government. To my knowledge the largest payment made was eighteen dollars a head. Thousands of Indians came to the island at one time for pay. I used to be very afraid of them. Our folks used to keep us from school while payments were made.

I went to school at the Presbyterian mission, and also my sisters and brothers. It is still standing today. I did not go to school long, only long enough to learn to read and write. Then I went with my brother-in-law to Fond du Lac, which is now Cloquet, Minnesota, where he was preaching. He was a Methodist minister. I was contented for a little while, but I got lonesome and they had to bring me home, and then I was very happy. Soon after that my other sister got married and I had to stay home to do the work, because my mother became sickly.

I lived with my mother until I was twenty-seven, when she died, on August eighteenth, 1865. While I was living at home with my father, I heard of a young man coming to Bayfield, which is three mile across the North Channel. Often I went across the channel to Bayfield to go to church. I asked my pa if I could go to Bayfield that afternoon.

"Yes," he said, "but be careful in that big boat."

I had my sister's little girl with me, who was not big enough to row. I rowed very hard for fear the wind might rise before I got over. I got over safely and went to my brother's house, where I always stayed in Bayfield. That afternoon some of my brother's sisters-in-law came to his house. I found out through them where Mr. John Morrison was. They were camping in a tent up on the big hill where the spring is. That afternoon I went down to the store after something. There I saw John Morrison and shook hands with him. The next day was Sunday. In the afternoon us girls went up to the camp, stayed awhile, and we all went back to my brother's place.

In the evening John Morrison came to see me. We had a long talk in my brother's house. It was quite hard for me to talk English because I was not very much used to it. I told him that if he was going to talk much more to use our native language, that is, the Chippewa language. He told me he was going to the north shore of Lake Superior, way out to Mica Bay Mountain, to hunt and trap to make money.

"I will be gone about three years, and maybe never come back again."

I kept quiet while he was telling me what he was going to do.

"Three of us," he said, "are going there."

I had no idea he would be my husband in five days from that time.

"We are three, in partners," he said. "For my part I would rather have one partner."

"Not to go trapping!"

"Oh, no," he said, "I mean I'd like to find a girl for a wife."

"Well, can you find one?"

"Yes, I have found you. Will you have me?"

"I don't know what you mean," I said.

"I mean, will you marry me?"

"You mean when you come back from Mica Bay Mountain?"

"I mean just what I say. If you like me well enough to have me, we will get married before I go."

"You mean we have time to get married, but if we get married you will not go to Mica Bay Mountain. First you must go home with me to my father's old place. I've got our boat here. You come in the morning and go over with me."

"When we get over there, will you tell your father why I came with you?"


He came quite early the next morning. I began to think he meant business. I told my brother that I was leaving and that John Morrison was going home with me to see pa. He rowed across the channel is a short time. I steered. I made a beeline for home. My sister's little girl was with me all the time. When we got to our landing place, my father came to meet us. He shook hands with the young man.

"I was very glad when I saw somebody with you. Come in the house and rest."

John Morrison said to me, "Now we've got to talk English."

He talked with my father while I was working in the kitchen. The next morning after breakfast I told my father the intention of the young man.

"Well, my girl," he said, "if you have found somebody you like well enough to marry, all right, you are old enough. You can get married as soon as you wish. I know the young man is well thought of by the whites.

John was outside while I was talking with my father. When he came in I told him that I had done my part. "Now you ask my father and it will be all right. He is out in the barn husking corn."

John went out and commenced to husk corn. He husked corn two days before he dared to tell pa what his intention was. At last he got brave and asked him. The old man told him he could have me. "This is the first time she's found a young man that she likes well enough to marry. You can get married just as soon as you want to make this your home."

We got ready. We were married by the justice of the peace in the town of Bayfield at my brother William's home. My husband and I were not brought up on the same religion. He was Catholic and I was a Methodist. After we were married we had a little party that same afternoon. We invited quite a number of our white friends and our Indian friends.

The first winter we were married we stayed with my father at the old home. I had hard work to keep my husband at home. There was no work to speak of where we were living. He would fish and trap rabbits. That was not quite satisfactory for him. He wanted to go into country where he could trap fur. We lived near town, but I knew if he would go away that is would make it unpleasant for pa and me.

We passed the winter quite comfortably. On February twenty-fifth we were prepared to move to our sugarbush. I could see that my husband was happier now, and when I saw him happy everything was all right with me. We had everything we needed for the time we were to be there. Everything was high priced. Flour was sixteen dollars a barrel and everything else in proportion.

We had to go over the ice nine miles from La Pointe before reaching the Kakagon River, the river which goes through the Bad River Flats and leads to the Gardens, which is now called Odanah. We stopped overnight at friends there in the Indian village. The next day we moved to the sugarbush. In starting for our camp we were hardly ever alone. Five or six families would go together. We always had a horse or an ox, sometimes two oxen, a few other families had ponies, but most of them used dogs, from two to six dogs, quite well trained. The people were not Indians. There were a good many different kinds of white men.

We did not stay together. Every family had a sugarbush of its own, perhaps one half mile apart all over the Bad River Flats. We had everything ready by the first run of sap. We used the old Indian way of tapping the maple trees. This was very hard work. The snow was three feet deep and we had to use snowshoes the whole time.

In three day's time we tapped nine hundred buckets. The fourth day we began to gather sap and collected ten barrels. The fifth day about the same amount, and so forth for 3 weeks, with hardly any rest night or day. We did not have any time to grain the sugar. When the sap stopped running we had five barrels to attend to - to cook it so as to grain it, and pack it into bark buckets. Then bad weather set in which gave us time to grain our sugar. Two more days' run came after the bad weather. Only two of us made that into two flour barrels full of wax cakes. We made about one thousand pounds of sugar worth twelve cents a pound.

My husband rented a farm nine miles from the town of Bayfield, right on the St. Paul Road. He had a contract to get out shingle bolts that winter with the ox team he had It was a dreary winter. The snow was three and a half feet deep. My husband had to quite working because the snow was so deep. Men who had teams from St. Paul had trouble getting back. The townspeople of Bayfield had to help them get through. Many teams used to come from St. Paul and traded for fish to take back with them. Fish was mainly our money at that time. Very little lumbering was done then.

My husband loved to hunt. He was a deer hunter since he was a boy. He told me that not every man in the tribe was a good hunter. About five men out of ten are skillful hunters and good marksmen. Two families camped close to our rented farm. He became a good friend to my husband and often came to our house in the evening and talked about hunting trips. My husband would ask him about the silver vein, which had been found by the Indians southwest of Pike Lake a long time ago.

"I can never rest," my husband said, "unless I try to find the silver vein."

He had begun talking about the silver when we were first married. I like the woods and wild game to live on, but I didn't want to live so far away in the woods. I prevented him from moving for about fourteen years.

In the spring of 1868 my husband set to work clearing land. The farm we rented was the next biggest in Bayfield County. It could produce forty tons of hay as well as other crops. It all had to be harvested by hand. In the fall it had to be pressed with a homemade press. This took two men one month, and then it was hauled to market. When everything was done, quite late in the fall, we concluded that we would stay on the farm no longer.

That winter my husband got another contract in town to get out oak logs. So we moved to Bayfield. While we were living there my father became sick. My husband brought him over to live with us. He was sick for four months and he died in our hands on April 29th, 1869.

The old home was left for me. We lived there nine years Most of the people had moved away from the little old town. It was almost vacated during those nine years. I might say that we were living almost in the pure native quietness of the world. Our house stood about ten rods from the shore. On the nice sandy beach we could see the steamboats and small boat pass. My relatives in Bayfield would come over to visit us, and we would visit them from time to time. Our Indian friends would stop by when they came to Bayfield to trade, or sometimes camp near us. In the summertime friends would come and we would go out on the island and pick berries. These excursions were always very pleasant.

During the years we lived at the old home I could not go where I had mind to. The children were small, and I had to stay home to take care of them. My husband worked the little farm we had, and when he was through haying he would go fishing. My husband used to say, "There are two things I like in the line of work, one is hunting, and the other fishing." Fishing was quite hard work. A good many times my husband and his man got caught in a gale five miles out, and they would have to depend on their skill and the firmness of their rig to get back ashore.

We had a failure of crops in 1876 and again in 1877. This was pretty hard on us. When we would visit our friends in Bayfield they would ask, "Have you Old La Pointers come over here to stay? Is the soil playing out for you over there?"

My husband fished under the ice all winter. Fishing also was not as good as it used to be. We kept three big dogs to haul my husband's fishing rig. The dogs were able to haul the weight of seven hundred pounds. By fishing and a little farming we made our living, but both were failing.

We decided to make maple sugar for a change. We had not gone to the sugarbush for many years since we moved to La Pointe, because I could not get my husband interested in going. We made sugar out at the end of the island, twelve miles across the ice from our home.

On the twentieth of March, early in the morning, we started. The snow was two feet deep on the ice, and it was so hard we could walk on top of it. Our dogs had a full load to haul, five of our boys and all our bedding. Only Johnny was able to walk the distance. My husband's sister and I had to haul a sleigh full of supplies. We went three miles before the sun came up. It was a nice bright morning and we could see clearly the point we were making for.

By three o'clock we got to our sugarbush, but we had to climb the very steep hill up to our camp. I am told this is the highest place on the island. We could see a great ways off. We could see the Porcupine Mountains. On bright mornings we could plainly see the north shore, which is supposed to be a distance of seventy miles. Our camp was made mostly of lumber. For the roof we had sheets of birch bark sewed together. In a few days we got a little sap. It was a great novelty for our boys to have sugar and syrup to eat on their bread.

About the first of April my husband had to go to town for an election, and at the same time to get more grub. Johnny was old enough to haul dry wood to mix with the green. While he was gone we had one good day for sap, which made us women hustle to gather it all. Most people who read papers and books know how the Indians make sugar and the materials they use for making it. There are two things they cannot get along without: kettles to boil the sap in, and an ax. It seems there are all sorts of ways to do things, but only one right way. To know how is something, and to do what a person knows is something. When my husband returned I had all the kettles hung to boil sap. From the first of April until the fifteenth we worked quite hard. By then the snow was all gone and it was easier for us. When I think about this business of making sugar now, I think there is some peculiar charm in it.

About the fifteenth of April the ice on the lake began to crack and break into pieces. With the current and a strong southwest wind the ice will drift into the main body of the lake. It takes but a short time for this to happen when the weather is warm. But if a strong northeast wind should blow long enough, the ice will be driven in and cause a great blockage among the islands and the great bay of Duluth. Two springs I have seen this happen. I cannot think of all I have seen, but I was requested by a friend who lives a far distance from here to write a little history of my forest life, and this is one of the greatest sights I have ever seen.

In 1878 my husband became quite disheartened. While he and another man were fishing the weather became very cold. It was making ice. They had set out all their nets and could not get to them. They lost them all. This was the winding up of my husband's fishing on Lake Superior. The failure of crops along with losing his fishing outfit discouraged him. "We've got to move away from here," he would say.

"Everything is going bad for us here." Once in awhile he would mention Pike Lake, what deer country it was, and the silver vein.

"If I don't find the silver vein, I know we can live out there. I am able to do anything that needs to be done in a country home. There is going to be a railroad out there next summer, so we can ride in to Ashland to trade and get what we need. I will be exploring most of the time, and hunting and trapping."

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