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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 2)

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

Our friends were surprised when they heard we were moving to the woods. They would ask where we were going, and I would only say, "My husband is going to make a homestead out to Pike Lake."

I did not tell anyone what his intention was in moving out in the woods. It bothered me a little to know how we were going to make a living out there. We did not have much money hardly enough to buy supplies for the winter. We had a good team of horses, a cow, and chickens, and everything necessary for hunting and fishing - guns, traps, nets and hooks. And we had schoolbooks for the boys. My husband told me that I would have to teach the boys to read and wite and that he would teach them some himself when he was home.

In 1879 on September the fifteenth we moved. Our team was overloaded. Only the little ones could ride. I had to walk behind the wagon, but we went very slow. We went only seven miles the first day. The second day we went thirteen miles. On the third day about three o'clock we saw the north end of Pike Lake. I went down to the lake with my three oldest boys. We found a boat and went scouting two miles southwest to the other end of the lake and came to the old bear trap trail. Mr. Morrison went on with the team. We followed the trail a short distance and soon came to the place where my husband was waiting for us with the team. My feet were quite sore, but I did not mind that, I was quite happy walking with my three little boys. They were just as happy as they could be.

"Well, wife, how do you like the lakes and the country? It's only a mile and a half to Bosquet's place at Spider Lake. I told him we would be there and to have plenty of ducks on hand for us to eat. I brought quite a lot of tobacco for him."

When we got in sight of Bosquet's place we could see his wife cooking outdoors. There was a great pot full wild ducks and other things. They had a shanty to live in and around the place was a little garden. Bosquet said we could live there together that winter.

My husband made an addition to the shanty. He built our part of it four feet under the ground so it would be warmer in the winter. Before my husband finished the addition to the shanty a big snowstorm came about the fifteenth of October. This one storm nearly spoiled the hunting that fall. So much snow fell at one time that it was difficult to hunt deer. Then the weather became warm again and most of the snow melted. This made it possible for John to make a trip to Ashland for a load of grub, because we were sure we did not have enough provisions for the winter. When he returned he commenced to hunt. That fall he killed only five deer and a big bear, which weighed four hundred pounds.

That winter was a hard winter. The snow was very deep and soft, and it was very cold, almost too cold to do anything. My husband feared that we would have to go without bread before spring, because he might not be able to get through to Ashland.

On January first Bosquet and his wife left on snowshoes for Ashland. They had no more grub for the winter. They went away with the intention of returning in three weeks because they knew we were short of food, but they did not come back in that time. My husband and our oldest boy got ready to go to Ashland.

"I see my mistake now wife, bringing you and the children here. It is my fault. I know you were unwilling to come here. It looks to me that I have betrayed myself when I made up my mind to come here. There is no one man can do all that needs to be done to bring my family safe through the winter. We are almost out of food and almost out of hay for the horses. You have enough grub to last two weeks. With the help of God we will be back by then."

I did not know what to say to my husband. He is middling strong and quite a resolute man, but when he explained our situation and felt unable to endure what he had to do, it made me quiver. I made up my mind that if they were not back by the time our provisions were consumed I would first kill the chickens to keep my children from starving.

One morning they started, and I was left alone with my six little boys. I had enough to do to take care of them. After they were all to bed it was quite late. I would stay up until it was very late at night. I could not sleep much, thinking about the great task my husband and boy had to do. I not only thought about the great task my husband and boy had to do. I not only thought about them, I prayed many times. I also remembered stories my mother used to tell us about the hard winters and scarcity of food when she was a child. When I thought about those hard times my grandmother had, I wondered what would happen to my children and me should my husband and boy fail to get through to Ashland.

On the fifth day in the evening I saw somebody coming across the ice on the lake.

"Two men!" said one of the boys. "It is Uncle Bosquet and Shang Wash, the young Indian."

They said they had met my husband and boy ten miles this side of Ashland and had camped together that night.

"John was quite happy when I told him he would strike a good road a little way from where we were," Bosquet said. Oh how glad we were to hear about my husband and boy! Bosquet and Shang Wash stayed overnight with us. It was getting hard for Bosquet in Ashland. They had come back to get some deerskins to trade.

On the tenth day I began to look for them. It was enough to almost blind me. I watched for them until it was so dark I could not see. The children went to sleep. I went to bed but I could not sleep. On the eleventh day I commenced to look for them again. We had only enough grub for two more meals, small ones at that. About four o'clock I thought I saw somebody on the hill across the lake. It looked very small but turned out to be somebody with a pack. The boys ran to meet him. It was Johnny coming alone with a pack.

"Pa went back about four miles to get his other pack," he said. "He will be here tonight."

Johnny's pack weighed about forty pounds. It held flour, sugar, fresh pork, tea and coffee. How nice it was to see! Late in the evening my husband came with a sack of flour on his back. He had hired a team in Ashland and had brought the load ten miles. That was as far as they could go. Somehow they had to haul it twenty-five miles to Spider Lake.

The next day they led one of the ponies on the snowshoe trail for about a mile and came back. It was very hard for him, but my husband thought he could get through to the load of supplies by driving him very slow. He set to work making a flat sled for the pony to pull. They thought they could make the trip in six days. They started the next morning. My husband succeeded in getting through to the place where they left the load. They returned in six days with about five hundred pounds of grub and feed. They made three trips with the pony to get the whole load.

The winter of 1879-1880 was the hardest I have ever experienced. We were never out of food anytime, but it was a close call. After they broke the trail to Spring Lake from here, they caught plenty of brook trout, which was as good as money. My husband had a friend in Ashland who would take all the fish he had. He would sell them to certain parties in Chicago. If any people were glad because in was spring, we were some of them.

In the spring of 1880, on April the fourth, I became the mother of a little girl. Mrs. Bosquet was to have been with me, but she had to go away before the time came and my husband had to stay at home with me. I was up the first week doing some work, and in ten days I was doing my work the same as ever.

That summer a large fishing party from St. Louis stayed at Pike Lake, and my husband and boy got good wages from them. When the party went home my husband set to work building a house for us. In a month he made a pretty good log house that was comfortable to live in. It was now a year since we had left Ashland.

"I will not hunt the silver vein this fall," my husband said. "I am going to hunt deer. I will try to kill many, so that if we have another sever winter we will have plenty of meat and be able to tan deerskins all winter."

Bosquet and his wife had lived at Spider Lake for nineteen years before we came to stay with them. She told us they passed several winters there without seeing anyone. They had no children. She would be alone while her man would be hunting and trapping, but she said she never got lonesome. When her husband went to town to trade, sometimes he would be gone fifteen days or longer. He would get to drinking whiskey and would be in no hurry to go back home. Often when he was gone she would stay on a small island in Pike Lake. She had a canoe and could catch any fish she might need. On her waist she always carried a big knife and a little hatchet.

She was more afraid of white men than wild animals. There were number of pine hunters in the woods. They would like to see people, but she didn't want to see them. She understood some English but would never let on that she did. Acting this way she could try to find out what kind they were. She was not afraid of men of good character, but she could not always tell. Sometimes she was taken by surprise when she was alone in the shanty, and would feel trapped.

Only one time was I scared by a white man. He came to the house one afternoon. He came to the house one afternoon. He commenced to talk to me. I pretended to understand some of the things he said and bowed my head to him, but I understood all that he said. I was cooking my dinner and offered him something to eat. He shook his head. I ate my dinner. Finally he asked me if he could sleep overnight. That made me very mad. I pointed at the door and made a motion for him to get out. He did not leave. I took the butcher knife and said I would kill him. He left quickly and when he got outdoors he ran like everything. This is the closest I came to fighting a white man. I did not think there was much white man about him. My husband found out who he was a St. Louis fellow. They said he was one of the best lawyers in St. Louis. Perhaps he knew the law well, but he was apt to violate the law like the rest of the people.

Bosquet and his wife first came to Spider Lake when he was carrying the mail in the wintertime. Bosquet was a very strong and powerful man and a great traveller. He had one arm off halfway to his elbow. When he was a young man he had an accident in the woods. He fell over a log, and his gun went off and shot his hand. He had to walk four days to get to a doctor, who had to cut it off. He could pack well without one hand and part of his arm. He was known to carry one hundred pounds of flour thirty miles in one day. When he carried the mail he would pack thirty pound, which was nothing to him.

Mrs. Bosquet was a great worker. She was not idle unless she was sick. She would tan deerskins and make them into moccasins, mittens, and other things to sell. When Bosquet was carrying the mail quite often she would take thirty pounds eighteen miles and back in one day. She was born and raised among the Indians on the St. Croix River. She was a full-grown woman when she met Bosquet. She married him and was then baptized when she was quite old. She had some of the old Indian ways about her. She showed them but never talked about them unless she was asked; still she like religion quite well. Bosquet himself had some of the Indians' superstitious ways. He was brought up Catholic, but lived so long among the Indians he almost became one.

Bosquet had worked a long time for the American Fur Company, just as my father had, and my husband's father. The company headquarters was at La Pointe, but they would send men and goods a great way off to the north and the west. They had to have the best men in the country to endure what they did. They had to depend on the Indians for their meat, wild rice, and other food. If there was a severe winter and deep snow, whey and the Indians would likely go hungry before spring. In a severe winter the deer and other game seem to gather in thick timber far away from where the Indians are accustomed to hunt. And fish would be hard to catch because they would go into deep water where it was warmer. The men who worked for the American Fur Company had a large experience of these difficulties.

These men married who would travel with their husbands. They had great endurance and would pack almost as much as the men. Mrs. Bosquet used to travel with her husband. She would travel right along with him with a pack almost as heavy as his. When Bosquet traveled west he went onto the Sioux hunting grounds. His wife went with him two winters way out there. She was very afraid. She was a full-blooded Chippewa. If the Sioux found out she was there, they would kill her. When she got home safely to La Pointe she told me she thought she was in another world. She would not go again. To her, life at Spider Lake was almost paradise, when she thought about her fearful experiences out west. There were not Sioux to fear, but white men.

By fall my husband had made enough money to buy the provisions we would need for the winter. Then he and our oldest boy hunted steadily during the time the deer are very good. My husband often killed four deer in one day. Our oldest son became as good a hunter as his father. The older boys drove the pony to gather the killed deer and bring them home. We sold the meat we did not need, and we gave away a good deal of it. There was always somebody around to take what we had to give away.

When the snow got to deep for hunting, my husband began tanning deerskins to have them ready to sell. We both took time to teach our boys how to read. We had some friends who would send us books. I would say it is hard for me to write a history of my forest life in English. My husband and I would talk to one another in Chippewa, but to our children we spoke in English as much as we could. My husband had a chance to go to school to learn to read and write. He can write in English and in Chippewa if necessary, and he can also talk French when it comes to that. He was brought up a Catholic. He was taught in the catechism all about the commandments of God, the commandments of the Church, and the rules and regulations of the Church. I was brought up in the Presbyterian doctrine. Neither of us forgot our training.

We had a sad experience after we had been living in the woods nearly three years. One afternoon I was outdoors washing. I had just let a kettle of boiling water down on the ground and went to get my tub. Our youngest boy, Eddie, ran against the kettle and upset the whole of it right on his little body. He lived a week and died. Johnny had gone to Bayfield to get a load of grub and returned the day Eddie died. The horse was very tired. My husband, Johnny and Mrs. Bosquet's nephew got ready to take the little dead body to the burying ground n Bayfield. I could not go with them because we only had one horse. I was left at home with my little boys and girl. Before they left my husband pryed to God with his heart full of sorrow, I know.

In the cool of the evening they stared. They traveled all-night and part of the next day with the dead boy. About two o'clock the next afternoon they arrived at the church in Bayfield. In the evening the little corpse was buried in the churchyard by the priest and the St. Joseph Society, which my husband belonged to at that time. After this was done they came right back. My husband knew I was alone with the children. Oh, how lonesome I would have been if I had not had my boys and little girt to look at. I could not sleep at night. Daytime was not quite so bad for me. Late at night on the third day they returned home.

This was in 1882 about the middle of August. After that my husband would not leave me alone long. He and the boys worked on the place clearing land. For a long time my smallest boys would play close to me. They seemed to know I was troubled in the mind. They were all good boys, mind me well.

Two months after my little boy died I was very sorrowful, I could hardly rest in the night. It was not so bad during the day when my family was around me. Many times I prayed to God for comfort, to be relieved of my sorrow. Of course it would not do for me to show only sorrow to my husband and children. When I refresh my mind on this sad experience, my English language cannot explain my feeling when I think of the pain my little boy must have had from the hot water spilled on his body.

That fall some of our Indian friends camped nearby to hunt, which made it pleasant for us because we could talk with them and also trade with them. The women tanned deerskins for us. Sometimes the men would come to our house in the evening and talk about the day's hunting. Knowing we had lost a little boy they often came to us. One evening my husband was asked if he used the same hunting trails since our boy died. I heard one of them say, "That is why he is so sorrowful."

The next day one of the women came to our house. "Will you ask your husband to have new hunting routes? One of our men will change the trail for him. You will see that he will be relieved of much of his sorrow, and you too. Will you ask him tonight when he comes home? If he comes to the conclusion to make new trails, ask him to come to our camp tonight."

He returned home late in the evening. After supper I told him what the Indian woman had said. "I understand why she was sent here," he said. "I shall go there now and return thanks for their offer. You know, wife, our little boy had a good burial by the St. Joseph Society, which is a great satisfaction to me. I do not even take their hunting medicine when they offer it to me."

The Indians stayed until the snow was quite deep and then returned to Odanah.

The winter of 1882-1883 was quite severe. Along about the middle of February we realized our supplies would not last to spring. My husband planned a trip to Ashland to trade the moccasins and mittens Mrs. Bosquet and I had made from the deerskins tanned by my husband and the Indian women. My husband said that they would try to be back in seven days with a load of provisions. I had enough of everything for that time except sugar. They started on the twentieth of February. The snow was very deep and there was not a track to be seen. There were seven of them on snowshoes: my husband and our oldest boys, Mr. Bosquet, and two nephews of Mrs. Bosquet. The horse with the load followed behind them.

I did not plan to start looking for them before the seventh day. A few days after they were gone our dog started barking. He ran out on the ice in the middle of the lake and barked towards the north. He sat there barking until dark. This was strange because the dog never acted that way before. I let the dog in the house awhile. After supper I let him out again to see what he would do. He looked northward but did not bark anymore. But two days later he started barking again in the afternoon. About three o'clock I saw two men coming across the ice towards the house. I went back in the house, and when they came near I could see they were white men. My biggest by, George stayed outdoors to speak to them.

"Is your father in?" one of them asked.

"Father is coming this evening. We are looking for him," Georgie said.

"Can your mother talk English?" the man asked.

By this time I was outside to speak to them. "Won't you come in and sit down?"

"I know Mr. Morrison," one of the men said. "We came to see if we could get some meat. Are you Mrs. Morrison?"

"Yes, sir," said I. "I expect my husband will come this evening. This is the seventh day."

They spoke to one another.

"We had better go back and come to see him tomorrow. We are hunting pinelands. It is month since we left Ashland, and we have run out of grub. We have got plenty of money. Tell your husband we will give big prices for anything we can get here. When your husband gets back tell him we will make this our trading place for the balance of the winter."

"My husband has gone for a load of supplies. Most like he will spare you some. If they aren't here tonight I am quite sure they will be here tomorrow."

They went back to their camp, which they said was four miles away. My husband returned that evening. How glad we all were! He brought about five hundred pounds of provisions, all that the horse could haul. The next day the pine hunters came back and my husband sold them some provisions.

"In a few days I'm going to get another load," he said, "so we will have plenty of grub for the next few months and also sell some to the pine hunters."

The same morning he left again for Ashland, two other men came to the house, a white man and an Indian. They were from the survey party that was locating the line for the Northern Pacific Railroad from the west to Ashland. The party was short of food, and the men had come six miles to our place to see if they could by some from us. The survey party had Indians for packers, but because the snow was so deep and the distance so great they packers couldn't keep the party supplied. The man said the party had no meat or flour but they had plenty of dried fruit.

I let them have fifty pounds of flour and a whole deer. The white man took the flour and the Indian carried the deer, which weighted one hundred and fifty pounds and was frozen at that. The white man said he was the strongest Indian he had in the crew. Then they packed their loads on snowshoes six miles over the hills back to their camp.

In the fall of 1883 I took a notion to go see my old acquaintances in Ashland. When we first came to Spider Lake I said that I would ride on the cars when I visited friends in Ashland, but it was too long to wait. I had never ridden on a train. I told my husband I would like to go. He said, "You had better wait until next fall. Then you can ride on the cars."

I decided to go anyway. About the twentieth of September ten of us started afoot for Ashland. I of course packed my little girl. We took the old Indian trial to Fish Creek near Ashland. It took us two days to walk to Ashland. I stayed a week with my friends and then a group of nine of us started back. We did not return the same way we came. We were told that the railroad was graded from Ashland for ten miles and that we would find it good walking and the distance not quite so far.

We found this was so, but there were many men working on the road. I did not like to see so many men looking at us.
I heard one of them say, "There is a white woman among those Indians." Some of them spoke to me and asked my name. "I am Mrs. Morrison," I answered.

"Where do you live?"

"At Spider Lake, sir."

The next day when we were within six mile of home we came upon a great crowd of men working on the road. We stopped. Bosquet went to the headman and asked him if we could eat dinner there by paying him for it, to save us from cooking.

"Yes," he said, "you can eat dinner with us." The headman waited on us himself.

He found out that I could talk English. He said, "I heard your husband is a great deer hunter. I wish you would ask him to come here and hunt for me. I have one hundred and fifty men working here. I will buy all the meat and potatoes you have to sell, and I will give you good prices."

We have some potatoes to sell. How much will you give for a bushel of potatoes, so I can tell my husband when I get home? We live about six miles from here."

We got home that afternoon. I enjoyed the trip quite well, but I was glad when I got home to my husband. He had been out hunting and had killed a nice deer for us. The next day he went to trade with the headman. He sold him potatoes and agreed to hunt deer for him. My husband sold many deer to the railroad contractor that fall, and we were able to by all the provisions we needed for the winter. About the first of December in 1884 the train was running through from Duluth to Ashland. My husband went by train to Superior to buy our supplies for the winter. This was a new experience to get grub so easily. From the railroad to our place it was a three-mile haul for the horse.

In the spring of 1885 my husband ordered some chairs for our house. We had been using benches. We went down to pack up the chairs. They had not yet made the road for the wagon to go through. During the summer my husband and boys made the road from our place to the railroad. Now there is a town on the Iron River. It has over one thousand inhabitants and two big schoolhouses where our two youngest children went to school. After the railroad was completed we did not see many Indians come through. Most of them went by rail.

In the fall of 1895 we moved from Spider Lake to Odanah, the Indian village on the Bad River Reservation, where I am now living. A person would naturally think that it would be pleasant to live with my people here, but when I first came here I kept thinking of my old homestead at Spider Lake and the wild game we use to have there. Still in all, when I see my husband and boys are happy, I am quite satisfied to be here with some of my old acquaintances.

Thirty years ago, about two out of every ten Indians could speak English. Now three fourths of them can speak English, but when I see their complexions I feel like using my native language to talk to them. They are pretty well civilized, but there are some who still follow the medicine dance, the pen names, and other habits.

The Indians in this vicinity are selling the timber off their allotments. This enables them to live in good houses. Not one family lives in a wigwam anymore. There is a big sawmill here where they can buy lumber. Some have large gardens and sell vegetables to the whites. They hunt in the fall and gather wild rice, and it is a great place for hunting ducks in the spring and the fall.

I have nothing more to write. I might say I have consumed the history of my life. Well, I believe this is the end of my story.

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