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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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The Dead Lake Sioux Band - Mrs. Jennie Fleming's Story

From the book 'History, Traditions and Adventures in the Chippewa Valley'
By William W. Bartlett
(Chapter 1 - The Sioux-Chippewa Feud - pages 59-61)
(The following reminiscences were secured from an old lady still living (in 1929) at Arkansas, Wisconsin.)
credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)

Mrs. Jennie McCourtie Fleming

My father, Jake McCourtie, moved up on the Chippewa River from Savannah, Illinois, in the fall of 1854. In addition to my father and mother there were five of us children, three boys and two girls. I was one of the girls and was three years of age at the time. Our conveyances were a horse and buggy and an oxen team with covered wagon. At what is now the city of Eau Claire there was a small sawmill owned by Reed & Gage and at Eau Galle, another owned by Carson & Rand. We crossed the Eau Galle River near the mill.

It was father's intention to go on to Reed's Landing and engage in the mercantile business there. When he reached the lower end of Dead Lake Prairie he found a Mr. Grant Smith and family there, the only white family in the region. Father continued on about three miles to the upper end of the prairie. Finding no road farther, only an Indian trail, he stopped there. Two white men from the East were hunting and trapping there, and near the shore of the lake had built a cabin, covered on the outside with the skins of the animals they had killed. Small were the accommodations they invited my father and our family to share it with them and soon after left for the East, turning the cabin over to us.

We stayed on there and the next spring father had his household goods brought up from Savannah in a keelboat. Two years later he started a store at Dead Lake and his stock of supplies was brought up in the same way. A man by the name of Wash Sawyer, also from Savannah, made the staved shingles for the store, and also for a dwelling house several years later. I well remember seeing Sawyer make the shingles, shaving them with a drawshave. Another man by the name of Henry Barber boarded at the McCourtie home while he was putting in his crops and building a shack to live in. On the completion of the shack he went east to his old home in New York and came back with a bride.

By this time another child had been born, my sister Elvira, now Mrs. Martin of Arkansas. She was the first white child born on the Dead Lake Prairie. Father was the second white settler there; Grant Stevens, already mentioned being the first.

Until the completion of the house, our large family, with the addition of two hired men, ten in all, lived in the small hunter's shack. At night the beds were made on the floor, and in the morning the bedding was rolled up and put away for the day. In spite of the crowded condition, my mother kept everything scrupulously clean.

The shack had been built close to the lake, and all the children, except the youngest, were entirely at home in the water, swimming, diving or paddling a canoe.

For some years after father's arrival at Dead Lake there was a band of about five hundred Sioux Indians living on the other end of the lake, who came across in their canoes, to hunt the game, which was plentiful back among the hills on our side of the lake. Unlike the Chippewas and some other tribes who used birchbark canoes, those made by the Sioux were hallowed out of a single log and were called 'dug outs.' After the Sioux hunter had killed their game they would go home and the squaws would come over and bring it in. The Sioux children would come over and they were our principle playmates in those days.

At one time a young Sioux Indian, about twenty-two years of age, was very sick, and father went across the lake every day to take him some dainties to eat, and once he took him some comfortable bedding. He was so grateful that the tears rolled down his cheeks. His relatives, to show their gratitude, presented father and mother each with a pair of finely beaded moccasins. The disease had taken such hold of the young Indian that he died the following winter. His body was taken on a hand sled to Wabasha, near where the principle band of the Sioux was located. They went on the ice, all of the band from Dead Lake following on foot. Such a wail they made! I shall never forget the terror of it.

Father's business consisted of the sale of general merchandise suited to that region and also dealing in furs brought from the Indians. Some came from as far away as Eau Claire to trade. The Indians were a rough and quarrelsome lot but father had no trouble with them. In common with all trading places in those days, whiskey was one of the articles sold. The Indians were very fond of firewater, but knowing their failing, before beginning to drink they would have to turn all their guns and other weapons over to father to keep until they got sobered up after their spree.

The chief, Saubermausher, by name, was a tall, heavyset man with a big mouth and thick lips. I remember just how he looked, as I turned the grindstone many times for the old chief to sharpen his tomahawk. He would take me by the arm and lead me out to the grindstone. I would sometimes get very tired but did not dare to stop until the grinding was done. He could see that I was tired and would only laugh at me.

One-day father had an experience that gave him a great scare. All the Indians, several hundred of them, came to the store, picked out a large dry goods box and set it in the open some distance from the building. They then carried father out and set him on the box, after which all the male Indians formed a circle around him. The chief then filled a long stemmed pipe, lighted it, took a few puffs, passed it on to the next until all had smoked, after which they passed it to father, and the pipe was later presented to him. The ceremony was to show their friendliness to father but the peace pipe ceremony was something new to him. The Indians only wished to show their good will.

War parties from the band would frequently go off to attack their old enemies the Chippewa. Most of the fighting occurred up the Chippewa River, but there were also encounters at Wabasha and below on the Mississippi. If the war party won a victory, they would come back yelling and waving the scalp taken, and with the finger nails of the slain Chippewas stung as a necklace around their necks. If, on the other hand the Sioux were beaten, they would come in so quietly that one would not know they arrived.

Gradually more white settlers came in and many of these did not like our Sioux neighbors. One morning the Sioux found tacked up on a tree a rude picture of an Indian with two bullet holes through the body. This was accepted by the Sioux as a forcible reminder that they were not wanted, and very soon the entire band left Dead Lake.

Chief Saubermausher disappeared from the Chippewa and Mississippi region and for some time we did not know what had become of him. We later heard that he and many of his Band had taken part in the New Ulm Massacre that the old Chief was hung and a number of his following either hanged or shot by the militia.

In addition to the head chief there was in the Dead Lake Band an under or sub-chief known and Indian John. He was a much more pleasing character than the head chief, Saubermausher. When the band left Dead Lake, Indian John went to Maiden Rock on Lake Pepin, where he lived to over the age of 100.

It was his custom every year, riding his spotted pony, to visit the old Sioux-Chippewa battlegrounds on the Chippewa River. When I was about thirty years of age, and married, Indian Joe called at my home on Dead Lake on his way to Chippewa Falls. He knew me immediately and placed his hand on my head. (My hair was red, a novelty to Indians.) He then pointed across the lake to the site of their old camp.

Father's store building burned many years ago but the old residence building is still standing and is now occupied by Frank Latow.

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