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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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Old Abe 'The War Eagle' -- Bartletts additions (Part 1)

From the book: 'History, Traditions and Adventures in the Chippewa Valley' (1929)
By William W. Bartlett
(Chapter 8 - pages 225-231)
credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)

Old Abe 'The War Eagle'
From a photograph loaned the author by Thomas Hill, one of the Eagle Bearers.

Not all who have heard of this famous bird are aware of the fact that it was captured in the Chippewa Valley and was taken out and carried through the war by Company C of the 8th Wisconsin Infantry. No extended history will be attempted here but extracts will be given from early day documents and records bearing on the subject.

The most authentic history of Old Abe ever written was prepared and published by Reverend J.O. Barrett of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, in 1865. At that time the eagle, after three years of being on the march and battle fields, had been brought safely back, been presented to the state and was being carefully cared for in the capitol at Madison. Nearly every person connected or familiar with its history was still living and reliable information could be obtained. A number of editions of the Barrett book were printed, but copies are now rare. A few years ago the writer of this article, as secretary of the library board at Eau Claire, helped to secure for the library a copy of the fifth edition, printed in 1876. It is a small book, but really valuable. Mr. Barrett went at his task in a thorough and systematic manner. He wished especially to learn by whom, where and how the eagle was captured, also to secure a picture of its captor. To this end he enlisted the assistance of prominent fur traders and other pioneers of the upper Chippewa waters. Here is an extract from one letter:

Ah-ge-mah-we-ge-zhig (Chief Sky) Captor of 'Old Abe'
From a Photograph loaned the author by Thomas Hill.

February 13, 1865
J.O. Barrett, Esq.
Dear Sir:

I learned from Daniel McCann that the Indians who had brought the eagle to him in the summer of 1861 were of the Flambeau tribe and that the captor was a son of Ah-Monse, chief of the tribe. I proceeded to obtain the corroborative evidence of this and found through Jean Brunet, James Ermatinger, Charles Corbine, and others, all old residents of the Upper Chippewa and Flambeau Rivers, besides the testimony of different Indians, that McCann's statement was correct. All accounts agree that the name of the captor is A-ge-mah-we-ge-zhig, or Chief Sky. I have made arrangements as you suggested bringing the young Indians to Eau Claire as soon as possible. He is now with his band hunting between the headwaters of the Yellow and Flambeau Rivers and is shortly expected at Brunet Falls on the Chippewa.

Yours truly,
Theodore Coleman
(Note: This Mr. Coleman is still living (1929), in California)

Old Abe and Group, Taken Soon after the Fall of Vicksburg
From a photograph loaned the author by Mrs. David Drummond, a daughter of Myron Briggs, who was color bearer for over three years and is shown in middle of picture holding the flagstaff.

On his arrival at Brunet Falls the young Indian was told about the 'white man at Eau Claire' who wished to talk to him about 'the eagle he had caught a few years before.' He hesitated, fearing it might be a trick, and appealed to his father, old Chief Ah-Monse. After considerable deliberation, and assurance of Brunet and others that they had nothing to fear, the old chief decided to go the next day to Chippewa Falls and consult the pioneer lumberman H.S. Allen.  It was also arranged that the son who had the eagle, with another son, should follow two days later.

At Chippewa Falls the old chief and his sons, also Elijah Ermatinger, who was to act as interpreter, were met by J.O. Barrett and Theodore Coleman and from there they all proceeded to Eau Claire, twelve miles below.

Photographs of the Indian were taken by the photographer Devoe and never did mortal appear more proud than did this young Indian, attired in his regalia as chief. The Eau Claire Free Press of that date makes mention of the visit. A-ge-mah-we-ge-zhig related his eagle adventure in a very intelligent manner, so simple and candid as to assure everyone present of its truthfulness. He said the eagles' nest was found in the spring of the year, soon after the time of making maple sugar, in a tall pine. The tree was cut down and the nest, 'as big as a bushel basket,' and made of 'sticks, turf and weeds,' was preserved. There were two young eagles in the nest but one was so badly injured in the felling of the tree that it died. After being kept several weeks at the Indian village, the young eagle was taken down river and sold, for a bushel of corn, to Daniel McCann, who had a farm and stopping place on the Chippewa River a short distance above Jim Falls.

(Note: A woodsman cousin of the writer said he saw the young eagle at McCann's place, tied to a barrel in the door yard.)

Assistance was given Reverend J.O. Barrett by his brother, W.W. Barrett, as witness the following:
My Dear Brother:

Today I saw Israel Gould, the Indian interpreter who rendered you such valuable assistance on your Flambeau expedition. He is an intelligent old Scotchman and has lived with the Chippewa Indians 15 years.

At my request he drew a map of the Flambeau River and lakes and it agrees perfectly with the drawing made by Ah-monse and his son. I believe you can rely on it as being correct. The Flambeau River is a wide crooked stream; the largest tributary of the Chippewa and its general course is southwest. Upon its North Fork are the rapids at which the young Indian said he caught the eagle. It is about 125 miles from Eau Claire and 70 miles from the mouth of the Flambeau River, and it is three miles up from the rapids to Asken Lake or Little Flambeau, which is three miles long, six miles from there to the main Flambeau Lake or 'Ah-monse Lake,' as it is also called, a stream connecting the two. From Mr. Gould's description and sketch map the eagle must have been caught in or near Township 40 North Range 1 East.

Your Brother,
W.W. Barrett.
(Note: William Whipple Warren, who was an authority on the Chippewa language and history, mentions the old chief, father of the captor of the eagle, but gives the name as Ah-mous instead of Ah-monse and states that the name means Little Bee. Warren is probably right.)

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