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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


April 5, 2003 - Issue 84


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Lived Long in Fear of Savage Indians
Woman Almost Centenarian Visiting Here, Describes Massacre in Pioneer Days

From: The Chippewa Falls Independent - August 9, 1914 (Originally Published in Dunn County News)
credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)

"Fear does not kill. If it did I would have been dead long ago." With half a chuckle and half a shutter Mrs. Orlea Vance-Wood, 95 years old, thus characterized her experiences in the Indian-infested country about the upper Hay River of sixty odd years ago.

Mrs. Vance-Wood, now a resident of Tomahawk, Wisconsin, is visiting her niece, Mrs. Peter Perrault, at 702 North Main Street. She is a remarkable woman. Though less than half a decade separates her from the century mark, her mind is good both as to recent events and affairs long ago and she is still an exceptional conversationalist.

Saw Indian Troubles
With a representative of The News, Mrs. Vance-Wood went over the trying times she suffered during the years, which followed her arrival in Dunn County with her husband and four children after a rough and hazardous trip from Montreal. There were many trials and hardships. Arriving with only the clothes they wore, their trunks having been stolen on the boat on which they came up the Great Lakes; locating in the heart of the wilderness twenty-five miles north of Menomonie and essaying the task of hewing a farm from the primeval forest, their lot was not an easy one. But the one big fact that stands out in greatest relief in her mind is the presence of the Indians and her constant dread of them.

"My husband, Peter Vance, brought us here in response to the call of his brother, Levi Vance, who had a trading post on the Hay River," She said. "We had been told that money grew on bushes in this country, but I want to tell you that we had no fun until after the Chippewa had left."

Witnessed Sioux Massacre
Although the Chippewa were supposed to be a friendly tribe and were so in a measure when compared with their traditional enemies, the Sioux, they were guilty of many murders. These were committed near enough to the Vance home in the woods to fill her with alarm for her own safety and that of her children, for the Indians were frequent visitors.

When the Sioux came that way, however, the horror multiplied. Mrs. Vance-Wood herself was a witness to a partial massacre, which occurred before her house, only a fence separating her dooryard from the fighting.

"It was in sugar time," she said, "and eight Chippewa had come to make sugar near our place. They were attacked suddenly by seventy-five Sioux, who had been hiding a little way off and, when the Chippewa appeared, jumped out and surprised them. The massacre was a terrible thing to see. Four Chippewas were killed and four escaped. One tried to jump our fence and was brained in the act. The Sioux put the scalps of the dead on sticks and danced around them. One Sioux was killed by a Chippewa. The bodies were left by the Sioux and were buried by my husband and another man.

After the Chippewa
"This was the only fight I saw, but I heard of many others. There was no telling when the Indians would appear and commit murder. Once a year before the fight, I have described, a Chippewa squaw who did work for my sister-in-law saw Sioux coming and hid in a feather bed. The Sioux went through the house and tried to find her, but went away after failing to do so. There were fifty of them and they were in search of Chippewas."

"The Sioux had a savage way of fighting and would cut up the bodies of the victims. After scalping them they would cut the heads off and pry open the mouth with sticks as is often done with pigs."

"Four white men whose names I do not know came into our neighborhood hunting for land and were killed by the Chippewas who took their money and buried them. The Indians made no secret of what they had done and told Mr. Vance about it."

Burned Family in Home
"A family north of Prairie Farm was all sick with smallpox. The Chippewas were afraid of taking the disease and burned the family in their home."

"Another time the Chippewa became angered by a man named Oakum because he had sold liquor to his squaw and made them drunk. They cut his head off and left it with his body on his bed. Another man was in the same house and ran, but the Indians told him they did not want him. They were only mad at Oakum."

"Fear wouldn't kill anybody or I would have been dead long ago. I was always afraid of the Indians. They would come and strip the table in our house while I was there alone. They would watch my husband go to his work and then they would come in and take all the food. They could ask me to cook them more. Once I remember cooking, I don't know how many, dripping pans of biscuits for a large party of them. Some of the biscuits were doughy, but they ate them anyway."

Born in Montreal
Going back to the beginning, Mrs. Vance-Wood's maiden name was Orlea Lamoreau, and she was born March 20, 1819, at Montreal. As already stated her husband was urged to go to the Hay River by his brother, who wanted company and help at his trading post. Just how long ago it was that they started for Wisconsin wild she does not recall, but it must have been considerably more than sixty years ago.

With her husband and four children they came by boat to Chicago, they voyage being such as to greatly affright her, the aged lady says. Before reaching Chicago, their trunk containing their belongs was stolen. Levi Vance met them there and they proceeded to Galena, Illinois, the old lead mining point, and after stopping there three days they came by boat from Prairie du Chien up the Mississippi and Chippewa, finishing their trip by wagon and passing trough Menomonie.

Three Houses Here
Mrs. Vance-Wood says that at the time there were but three houses here, those occupied by the Wilson, Tainter and Bullard families. In that case their arrival must date back much more than three score years reckoned by the old lady.

After locating on their land more than 25 miles north of this place they set assiduously about preparing their farm, on which Paul, their youngest child, still lives. Eight children were born to Mr. & Mrs. Peter Vance at Vanceberg. They remained there more than thirty years, and several of their children were married before she left. Mr. Vance died there 36 or 38 years ago, after which the widow ran the farm with the aid of her sons Peter and David. Thirty-two years ago the widow left for Minneapolis to make her home with a daughter.

"I gave Paul, my youngest child, the farm," said she. "It was all I had, but I am glad I gave it to him. He was a boy and he deserved it." She says that recently her son has refused $10,000 for the property, which consists of three forties.

While residing in Minneapolis, Mrs. Vance was married in this city too, after living in Minneapolis seven years, Peter Wood, who has subsequently died. She then moved to Tomahawk, and for twenty-five years she has lived there with another daughter, Mrs. Alice Hickey.

Is Wonderfully Preserved
Mrs. Vance-Wood is wonderfully preserved, physically as well as mentally. She delights to talk over the old days and her face lights up with animation and her eye sparkles with new life as she relates the stories connected with them. She has a good memory for faces and since coming here a week ago has inquired earnestly for a little girl who used to come to see her when she visited here years ago. She has been enjoying her visit greatly and has been interested in those who have called. Last Saturday she was visited by her son Paul and his wife, a daughter Mrs. Robert Hickey, and Swen Anderson of the town of Sheridan, who drove to the city by auto. On Sunday a daughter, Mrs. Alice Valin, came from Minneapolis to see her and Tuesday she greeted Mr. & Mrs. Will Borasau and Miss Belle Borasau of Vance.

Rallies from Sickness
As illustrating the wonderful vitality of Mrs. Vance-Wood a trip made by her while in her eighties to Canada, may be cited. Still more indicative of her strong hold on life was a severe sickness last winter from which she twice rallied, though her condition was so serious that her niece, Mrs. Perrault, was, was twice sent for.

Mrs. Vance-Wood enjoys life and the company of her friends. The shadow are falling very slowly and gently about her, and all her friends acknowledge that she has won the peace and comfort and sustain her in her declining years, which to her are as one long, delightful summer twilight.

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