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Wisconsin Indian Lore
A 1924 Tretise on Northern Wisconsin's Native Americans

Into the region which is the special scope of this volume the Chippewa tribe began moving in the latter part of the seventeenth century. The territory in the neighborhood of Tomahawk Lake and River was occupied by a band of about 200, whose head chief in the late eighteenth century was Osh-ka-ba-wis. This meant the Messenger or Pipe Bearer, and he was next in rank to the head chief of the Lac du Flambeau Band, whose name was Keesh-ke-mun, or Sharpened Stone. The latter was one of the greatest of the Chippewa chiefs. In some way he had acquired a medal bearing the likeness of George Washington, and he refused to join the British in the War of 1912. The Chippewa Indians sold all their lands by the treaty of 1842, but continued to occupy this region for some time thereafter.

A retrospect of Indian life, as it existed along the Wisconsin River, particularly in  the  vicinity  of  Merrill,  70  years  ago,  may  be  gained  through  an  interesting resume given before his death by the late William Averill, one of the earliest white settlers of Merrill, and preserved by Dr. A. R. Wittman of that city, who has done some interesting and valuable research work along these lines. An article prepared from the data thus gained appears in the issue of the Merrill Daily Herald of Jan. - 22, 1921, and is here reproduced verbatim.

“According to Mr. Averill, as long ago as 1850 there was an Indian village site on both sides of West Main street along the Wisconsin River. On the Sixth Ward side of the river were 40 wigwams of Chippewa Indians and a burial ground near by. A temporary camping site was at the Big Eddy east of Merrill and a spring and summer site was on the fiats on the north bank of the Wisconsin River opposite John Ament’s. A few Indians were buried at Big Eddy and over 100 near Ament’s on both sides of the Wisconsin river. Other village sites and burial grounds in the country were at the north of Skanawan Creek just north of Gilbert in the town of Bradley, a temporary camping site on the north bank of Rice Lake near Heafford Junction, another in the vicinity of Spirit Lake. At Skanawan Creek the Milwaukee railroad built through the Indian burial grounds where about 100 Indians had been buried during a succession of years. At Heafford Junction there were seven mounds in a row, all circular, on the north side of the mouth of Little Rice. The mounds were intact ten years ago but they cannot be located now, and it is probable that they have been submerged by the large reservoir created by the dam on Tomahawk River. One mound opposite John Dereg’s tavern at Heafford Junction and others in the near vicinity indicate that the vicinity of Tomahawk was also a popular camping site for the Chippewas.

“Mr. Averill said that the Indians remained here except in winter when they camped along Black River and the Mississippi, following the deer that worked down in that direction where there was less snow to hinder their movements. Deer were less plentiful in Lincoln County and other northern counties in winter than now, as the cutting of timber has generally forced them into a smaller area in northern Wisconsin. A wonderful sight witnessed by Mr. Averill was the birch bark canoes moving south in fall with their Indian occupants. As many as 300 were observed in a single day.

“A settlement of Pottawatomies came off the Cherokee reservation in Oklahoma about 1885 and settled on what is now Hancock Lake and then split up. Part of them went to Star Lake. All left the Rice Lake region and a large number went to Willow River in Oneida county in about 1910.

“Indian family feuds existed in the ‘50’s between a family known as Turtles and a family called Bagoons, in which three members of the two families were killed. Fifteen years later a finale to the feud was enacted when Indian Jack, one of the Bagoons, was killed while digging potatoes for O. B. Smith by a squaw named Jimanan and who belonged to the Turtles. Indian Jack claimed to have discovered a silver mine in Michigan, northeast of Lake Veaux Desert, and had a chunk of silver weighing 15 pounds. The squaw made love In him and stabbed him with a knife to avenge the killing of her brother by one of the Bagoons 15 years before. Mr. Averill not only saw the dead Indian but also the chunk of silver which the Indian found. In those days no attention was paid by the government to Indian crimes and Indians were left to settle their own disputes. Big John, brother of Chief Minocqua, after whom Minocqua is named, and John’s brother­-in-law, fought a duel with knives just north of Wausau in about the year 1872. The Indians had received their allotment from the government and in the duel, Big John was killed and the killer was not molested.

Among the sports witnessed by Mr. Averill and Dan Chandler, as well as others, was a dance with knives in which two armed Indians would take hands and dance and dodge, chanting a song. At a certain word in the song they would strike at each other, endeavoring to see how near their blades could come to their partner’s body without causing a wound. When the dance and the sparring would become too fierce other Indians would part the contestants and frequently these other Indians would include the squaws of the contestants. Under the influence of liquor there usually would be a lively scrap.

“When an Indian became sick so that there was danger of death, he would be laid on smooth ground. Indians armed with large clubs and their squaws aimed with tin pans, bells and cans would stamp the ground and circle around the prostrate Indian. The men would strike the ground with clubs and yell while the squaws rattled their bells and pans in an attempt to drive away the evil spirits who were,supposed to have taken possession of the sick Indian. Mr. Averill saw this performance many times.

“On the west side of the Wisconsin River, near the mouth of Newwood, was a flat where the Hudson Bay Company had a trading post. The site of the trading post was still visible in January, 1917, when Mr. Averill gave Dr. Wittman the descriptive story of the early Indian days near Merrill and Tomahawk. Martin Lynch and Bill Cross worked for the Hudson Bay Company, taking their furs by canoe to La Pointe on Lake Superior, by way of Tomahawk river, then by por­tage to Flambeau waters to the Manitowish, ascending this stream about 15 miles and then portaging to several lakes, then into Bad River and following this stream to Lake Superior.’’

Mrs. E. A. B. Kollock, who was mistress of the Jenny Hotel, said that after some disturbances between the whites and the redskins at Merrill, there was considerable fear among the village folk that the Indians would take revenge on white families. It was at the time that the Indians were to get their allotment at the federal office at Wausau and the hotel and store keepers of Merrill went to Wausau to get their money from Indians owing them. While on Jackson street between First and Second streets, Mr. Kollock and a white friend passed an Indian. The latter slapped Kollock. The friend handed Kollock a revolver, but the latter refrained from using it. The friend seemed surprised that he should submit to such treatment, but after leaving the Indian Kollock whispered to his friend that he had a wife in the village of Jenny. It was for her protection that he did not kill the Indian. Mrs. Kollock was later warned by her husband not to allow Indians into her hotel home while Mr. Kollock was not there to protect her. Jimanan came to the door. She beckoned to come in through the little glass opening, but Mrs. Kollock shook her head in the negative. Jimanan persisted. Finally she offered Mrs. Kollock the rabbit that she carried. As this was of no avail, she swore and ranted. Mrs. Kollock then opened the door and told her to go. Jimanan became desperate and with a. sharp cut in the air severed the rabbit’s head from its body. Mrs. Kollok then told her if she did not march away her head wold go off  like the rabbits. Jimanan went. A fearless demeanor on the part of the whites was often affective in preventing trouble. The whites had to look sharply after their portable property, however, or it would disappear.

A Jewish dealer in furs was a Mr. Kuhn. He would buy as much as $3,000 worth of furs from the Indians. He would pile the furs up into a bed-like pile and would sleep on them in the sitting room of the hotel. He would never leave them, as he well knew that if he did the Indians would steal them back, as they did with anything they sold if they had the opportunity.

Mrs. Louis Bouchier, who came to Merrill in 1872 and for three years was at the Jenny Hotel, said that the Indians probably called oftener at the hotels than anywhere else, principally because it was there they received the largest and most regular handouts. “Hai Pongonai,” was their announcement that they were hungry. “Scutiwabu” was the name for whiskey but Mrs. Bouchier could not recall ever having seen an Indian drunk. The Indians lived west of the Prairie in wigwams built of upright sticks set in the ground and birch bark around these. 

A small fire on the inside and a hole at the top to allow the smoke to pass out gave added comfort. But the women of Jenny made little effort to see the wigwams west of the Prairie, as they disliked the old-time Indian because of his inaptitude for work and his uncleanliness. The Indians of today have improved according to Mrs. Bouchier, but Bates and Big Pete of the olden days frequently made them­ selves useful. Partridges were plentiful in those days in the vicinity of the Prairie River and it was also a common practice of the Indians to pick raspberries and blackberries west of the Prairie River. These were brought to Merrill in birch bark boxes and in pails. The Indians made bead wrork, pocket books, moccasins and other articles which they offered for sale to the whites. They were usually glad to get flour and salt pork. It was not unusual for the Indians to trade sur­plus pike from the big catch for salt fish, which they appeared to like for variety’s sake, and venison was often exchanged by them for salt pork. Fresh meats in those days were luxuries for the whites and were brought here twice a week from Wausau. Partridges and venison furnished by the Indians were therefore very much wel­comed. The Indians seldom asked for vegetables, which they probably got at the Indian farms west of Jenny. They frequently wore earrings and in many instances had their faces painted. They never carried their bows and arrows when they came to the settlers’ homes.

“Mrs. Bouchier’s first and second husbands were pioneers of the pineries. Mr. Bouchier (2nd) came to Mosinee in 1855 from Canada. He said that the northern woods at that time were full of Chippewas, who had no ponies. They travelled in bark canoes and their canoe trips were always down river. They never travelled upstream owning to the fact that the short, light bark canoe is difficult to man against a current as compared with a dugout or log canoe. The Indians from the northern lakes made an annual trip to Mosinee and there relinquished their canoes and crossed by trail to Black River. Some continued their trip however by canoe to Wisconsin Rapids. The canoes were made of birch bark and glued together with pitch, which made them water proof. They carried their wigwam in the canoes. The Indians at the end of their river trips had no more use for their canoes, which were then frequently sold as low as two dollars. Returning from the Black River where they spent the winter hunting deer and fishing, they pro­ceeded slowly back to the north, hunting and fishing on the trip and camping at many intervals. The trip frequently took two months or half the summer. For the next trip south new canoes were made. But the Indians in the vicinity of Merrill were not addicted to travelling. They were in fact settlers.

Dr. A. R. Wittman, of Merrill, has an exceptionally fine collection of Indian relics, including mote than 65 copper implements. The entire collection numbers about 1500 articles and includes stone tobacco pipes, scrapers, game balls, an excel­lent spade, a roller pestle, several stone bullets found at Winchester, Wis., and many other stone articles. A Utecht trade axe included in this collection was found with a bear trap in a grave at Big Eddy and was made in Holland. Another interesting specimen included in the collection is a halbert found on Grand Avenue, Merrill, by Joe Budreau; this article is believed to have been left by Father Mar­quette or one of the other early explorers who passed down the Wisconsin River. The real prize of Dr. Wittman’s collection however, is a chipped flint dagger, 10½ inches long, which many critics have pronounced to be the finest in existence. The owner of the collection has carried out a unique and artistic idea in the arrange­ment of the small stone articles, such as knives, spears, beads, etc., by forming them into silhouettes pertaining to Indian life. One such silhouette portrays a squaw and chief, Cora Little Bear “Oklahoma” and Chief Minocquip respectively. In 1923 representatives of the Wisconsin Archeological Society who were making a survey along the Wisconsin River Valley found three large groups of Indian mounds in northern Lincoln County, near Bradford and Heafford Junction, and some were also found in the town of Cassian, Oneida County.
Jones, George O., Norman S. McVean, and others, comp. History of Lincoln, Oneida and Vilas Counties Wisconsin Minneapolis, MN: H. C. Cooper, Jr. & Co., 1924. Transcribed by Jack L. Winegar

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