An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
April 5, 2003 - Issue 84
White Boy Grew Up Among
FROM: The Milwaukee Journal - February 8, 1931
credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)
to Wisconsin from the Civil War
is the final installment of his boyhood told by William H. Wheeler, retired
businessman of Beloit, whose youth was spent among the Chippewa Indians
of Northern Wisconsin, where his parents were missionaries. Mr. Wheeler
in previous installments has told of the arrival of his parents at La
Pointe, and of his boyhood, which differed but little from that of the
Indian youths with whom he played.
we lived at Madeline Island and Odanah a good many prominent Americans
came to visit especially at the time of the Indian payments. The first
payment at Odanah was in 1855."
a young professor who was a Yale graduate came to take some part in the
payment. He was Professor Joseph Emerson, who taught Greek at Beloit.
He urged father to send us there to enter the Beloit academy."
April 1864, when I was just turned 17, President Lincoln sent out a call
for 100-day troops to take over the military duties in southern cities
so that the seasoned troops might be released to take part in Grant's
enlisted in the 40th Wisconsin, a regiment composed of college boys, and
Bishop Samuel D. Fallows was our Lieutenant Colonel. Senator John C. Spooner
was a private. We were sent to Memphis where we took over one half of
the picket line, the other half being held by the 39th Wisconsin a similar
regiment. I came out of the army in October 1864."
Beloit contingent of 60 travelers from Madison to Beloit, crowded the
caboose of an accommodation train. I was happy at the thought of getting
back home. Not many days now and I would be in the pine-scented woods
of Odanah. Mother and father and the children would be there."
was stuffy in the caboose, so some of us went out on the platform. We
were laughing and joking, a bunch of boys glad to be through with war."
is a heavy downgrade between Clinton and Beloit and as we came through
a rock gorge, a cinder from a shower of wood sparks hit me squarely in
my good eye. The other had not been of much use since it had been straightened
as a child. This one bad eye had something to do with getting me the name
'Bastian.' It appeared that some Frenchman called Bastian who was quite
a character around Lake Superior, owned a bad eye."
pain in the eye which the wood spark struck was intense. I found myself
Beloit I had medical attention and waited around until I could manage
to make my way home to Odanah."
a trip that was! I first went to Green Bay over the Northern Railroad.
There I boarded a boat to Escanaba. Then came a trip by rail 65 miles
across the Upper Peninsula to a point 13 miles this side of Marquette,
Michigan, as far as the railroad had been completed. A stage took me to
I boarded one of Mark Hanna's boats that landed me at Ontonagon. Then
came a voyage on a sailing vessel, brining me to Bayfield, where I climbed
into a bateau with Baptiste DeNumone, one of my old French Canadian friends.
Now, I was getting home."
camped that night at the mouth of the Bad River. I slept in my army blankets.
The next morning we hat to break our way through the ice. When we came
to a familiar trail leading off through the woods, I told Baptiste to
put me off."
my pack on my back I arrived at the Indian school to be greeted as one
from the dead. I had been gone from home more than a year."
1866 father moved to Beloit and the windmill that had contrived for the
Indians back at Odanah, now named the Eclipse, supported us. Father died
in 1872. In 1893 the Fairbanks-Morse people bought our rights and business."
have done a good many things since. After the sale of the Eclipse, we
organized 'W.H. Wheeler & Company, a firm of consulting and construction
engineers, which built many water systems and promoted municipal ownership
of many public utilities. Through our efforts a number of industries were
located in Beloit and elsewhere. An illustration of the effects of our
efforts is the manufacturing suburb of South Beloit, Illinois. A cornfield
in 1902, it is now a city of 2,300 with 16 active industries, all up to
date civic improvements and advantages."
the years devoted to business do not stand out as do the early ones spent
on the reservation. Each season brings up special memories of the woods."
now I am sure that the young Chippewas will be making the flutes - it
is the young man in love who fashions a flute."
takes a number of small cedar staves and fastens them together with sturgeon
glue. He cuts openings and makes a small reed? the flute is finished.
Its voice shall tell the girl of his dreams, the story of his love. He
steals close to her lodge, puts the flute to his lips and its voice tells
of love and spring, of mating birds, and of the soft winds that will come
soon bringing little flowers under the pine trees."
"From the forest comes her answer in a minor key."
is three quarters of a century since I have heard the Ojibway love song
on an Indian flute in earliest spring."
musicians try to play it, but they miss the poignant transportation from
major to minor that has in it the bittersweet of life, the tenderness
and the cruelty."
"I married a Beloit girl, the daughter of Professor S. Lathrop, first head of the Chemistry Department of Beloit College. We have always made our home in Beloit."
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