With the idea of returning to Wisconsin I made plans for my movements. I purchased a good outfit of steel traps of several kinds and sizes, thirty or forty in all, made me a pine chest, with a false bottom to separate the traps from my clothing when it was packed in traveling order, the clothes at the top. My former experience had taught me not to expect to get work there during winter, but I was pretty sure something could be earned by trapping and hunting at this season, and in summer I was pretty sure of something to do. I had about forty dollars to travel on this time, and quite a stock of experience. The second parting from home was not so hard as the first one. I went to Huron, took the steamer to Chicago, then a small, cheaply built town, with rough sidewalks and terribly muddy streets, and the people seemed pretty rough, for sailors and lake captains were numerous, and knock downs quite frequent. The country for a long way west of town seemed a low, wet marsh or prairie.
Finding a man going west with a wagon and two horses without a load, I hired him to take me and my baggage to my friend Nelson Cornish, at Round Prairie. They were glad to see me, and as I had not yet got strong from my fever, they persuaded me to stay a while with them and take some medicine, for he was a sort of a doctor. I think he must have given me a dose of calomel, for I had a terribly sore mouth and could not eat any for two or three weeks. As soon as I was able to travel I had myself and chest taken to the stage station on the line for the lake to Mineral Point. I think this place was called Geneva. On the stage I got along pretty fast, and part of the time on a new road. The first place of note was Madison the capital of the territory, situated on a block of land nearly surrounded by four lakes, all plainly seen from the big house. Further on at the Blue Mounds I left the stage, putting my chest in the landlord’s keeping till I should come or send for it.
I walked about ten miles to the house of a friend named A. Bennett, who was a hunter and lived on the bank of the Picatonica River with his wife and two children. I had to take many a rest on the way, for I was very weak.
Resting the first few days, Mrs. Bennett’s father, Mr. J.P. Dilly, took us out about six miles and left us to hunt and camp for a few days. We were quite successful, and killed five nice, fat deer, which we dressed and took to Mineral Point, selling them rapidly to the Cornish miners for twenty-five cents a quarter for the meat. We followed this business till about January first, when the game began to get poor, when we hung up our guns for a while. I had a little money left yet. The only money in circulation was American silver and British sovereigns. They would not sell lead ore for paper money nor on credit. During the spring I used my traps successfully, so that I saved something over board and expenses.
In summer I worked in the mines with Edwin Buck of Bucksport, Maine, but only found lead ore enough to pay our expenses in getting it. Next winter I chopped wood for thirty-five cents per cord and boarded myself. This was poor business; poorer than hunting. In summer I found work at various things, but in the fall Mr. Buck and myself concluded that as we were both hunters and trappers, we would go northward toward Lake Superior on a hunting expedition, and, perhaps remain all winter. We replenished our outfit, and engaged Mr. Bennett to take us well up into the north country. We crossed the Wisconsin River near Muscoda, went then to Prairie du Chien, where we found a large stone fur trading house, owned by Mr. Brisbois, a Frenchman, from whom we obtained some information of the country further on. He assured us there was no danger from the Indians if we let them alone and treated them fairly.
We bought fifty pounds of flour for each of us, and then started up the divide between the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers. On one side flowed the Bad River, and on the other the Kickapoo. We traveled on this divide about three days, when Mr. Bennett became afraid to go any further, as he had to return alone and the Indians might capture him before he could get back to the settlement. We camped early one night and went out hunting to get some game for him. I killed a large, black bear and Mr. Bennett took what he wanted of it, including the skin, and started back next morning.
We now cachéd our things in various places, scattering them well. Some went in hollow logs, and some under heaps of brush or other places, where the Indians could not find them. We then built a small cabin about six by eight feet in size and four feet high, in shape like a A. We were not thoroughly pleased with this location and started out to explore the country to the north of us, for we had an idea that it would be better hunting there.
The first day we started north we killed a bear, and filled our stomachs with the fat, sweet meat. The next night we killed another bear after a little struggling. The dog made him climb a tree and we shot at him; he would fall to the ground as if dead, but would be on his feet again in an instant, when, after the dog had fastened to his ham, he would climb the tree again. In the third trial he lay in the fork and had a good chance to look square at his tormentor. I shot him in the head, and as he lay perfectly still, Buck said:–“Now you have done it–we can’t get him.” But in a moment he began to struggle, and soon came down, lifeless.
Here we camped on the edge of the pine forest, ate all the fat bear meat we could, and in the morning took separate routes, agreeing to meet again a mile or so farther up a small brook. I soon saw a small bear walking on a log and shot him dead. His mate got away, but I set my dog on him and he soon had to climb a tree. When I came up to where the dog was barking I saw Mr. Bear and fired a ball in him that brought him down. Just then I heard Mr. Buck shoot close by, and I went to him and found he had killed another and larger bear. We stayed here another night, dressed our game and sunk the meat in the brook and fastened it down, thinking we might want to get some of it another time.
We were so well pleased with this hunting ground that we took the bear skins and went back to camp. When we got there our clothes were pretty well saturated with bear’s oil, and we jokingly said it must have soaked through our bodies, we had eaten so much bear meat. I began to feel quite sick, and had a bad headache. I felt as if something must be done, but we had no medicine. Mr. Buck went down by the creek and dug some roots he called Indian Physic, then steeped them until the infusion seemed as black as molasses, and, when cool told me to take a swallow every fifteen minutes for an hour, then half as much for another hour as long as I could keep it down. I followed directions and vomited freely and for a long time, but felt better afterward, and soon got well. It reminded me some of the feelings I had when I was seasick on Lake Michigan.
It may be interesting to describe how we were dressed to enter on this winter campaign. We wore moccasins of our own make. I had a buckskin jumper, and leggins that came up to my hips. On my head a drab hat that fitted close and had a rim about two inches wide. In fair weather I went bare-headed, Indian fashion. I carried a tomahawk which I had made. The blade was two inches wide and three inches long–the poll two inches long and about as large round as a dime; handle eighteen or twenty inches long with a knob on the end so it would not easily slip from the hand. Oiled patches for our rifle balls on a string, a firing wire, a charger to measure the powder, and a small piece of leather with four nipples on it for caps–all on my breast, so that I could load very rapidly. My bed was a comfort I made myself, a little larger than usual. I lay down on one side of the bed and with my gun close to me, turned the blanket over me. When out of camp I never left my gun out of my reach. We had to be real Indians in custom and actions in order to be considered their equals. We got our food in the same way they did, and so they had nothing to ask us for. They considered themselves the real kings of the forest.
We now determined to move camp, which proved quite a job as we had to pack everything on our backs; which we did for ten or fifteen miles to the bank of a small stream where there were three pine trees, the only ones to be found in many miles. We made us a canoe of one of them. While we were making the canoe three Indians came along, and after they had eaten some of our good venison, they left us. These were the first we had seen, and we began to be more cautious and keep everything well hid away from camp and make them think we were as poor as they were, so they might not be tempted to molest us.
We soon had the canoe done and loaded, and embarked on the brook down stream. We found it rather difficult work, but the stream grew larger and we got along very well. We came to one place where otter signs seemed fresh, and stopped to set a trap for them. Our dog sat on the bank and watched the operation, and when we started on we could not get him to ride or follow. Soon we heard him cry and went back to find he had the trap on his fore foot. To get it off we had to put a forked stick over his neck and hold him down, he was so excited over his mishap. When he was released he left at full speed and was never seen by us after.
When we got well into the pine woods we camped and cached our traps and provisions on an island, and made our camp further down the stream and some little distance from the shore. We soon found this was very near a logging camp, and as no one had been living there for a year, we moved camp down there and occupied one of the empty cabins. We began to set dead-fall traps in long lines in many different directions, blazing the trees so we could find them if the snow came on. West of this about ten miles, where we had killed some deer earlier, we made a A-shaped cabin and made dead falls many miles around to catch fishes, foxes, mink and raccoons. We made weekly journeys to the places and generally staid about two nights.
One day when going over my trap lines I came to a trap which I had set where I had killed a deer, and saw by the snow that an eagle had been caught in the trap and had broken the chain and gone away. I followed on the trail he made and soon found him. He tried to fly but the trap was too heavy, and he could only go slowly and a little way. I fired and put a ball in him and he fell and rolled under a large log on the hillside. As I took the trap off I saw an Indian coming down the hill and brought my gun to bear on him. He stopped suddenly and made signs not to shoot, and I let him come up. He made signs that he wanted the feathers of the bird which I told him to take, and then he wanted to know where we slept. I pointed out the way and made him go ahead of me there, for I did not want him behind me. At camp he made signs for something to eat, but when I showed him meat he shook his head. However he took a leg of deer and started on, I following at a good distance till satisfied that he would not come back.
We had not taken pains to keep track of the day of the week or month; the rising and setting of the sun and the changes of the moon were all the almanacs we had. Then snow came about a foot deep, and some days were so cold we could not leave our camp fire at all. As no Indians appeared we were quite successful and kept our bundle of furs in a hollow standing tree some distance from camp, and when we went that way we never stopped or left any sign that we had a deposit there.
Some time after it was all frozen up solid, some men with two yoke of oxen came up to cut and put logs in the river to raft down when the ice went out. With them came a shingle weaver, with a pony and a small sled, and some Indians also. We now had to take up all of our steel traps, and rob all our dead-falls and quit business generally–even then they got some of our traps before we could get them gathered in. We were now comparatively idle.
Until these loggers came we did not know exactly where we were situated, but they told us we were on the Lemonai river, a branch of the Wisconsin, and that we could get out by going west till we found the Mississippi river and then home. We hired the shengle man with his pony to take us to Black River, farther north which we reached in three days, and found a saw mill there in charge of a keeper. Up the river farther we found another mill looked after by Sam Ferguson. Both mills were frozen up. The Indians had been here all winter. They come from Lake Superior when the swamps froze up there, to hunt deer, till the weather gets warm, then they returned to the Lake to fish.
Of course the presence of the Indians made game scarce, but the mill men told us if we would go up farther into the marten country they thought we would do well. We therefore made us a hand sled, put some provisions and traps on board, and started up the river on the ice. As we went the snow grew deeper and we had to cut hemlock boughs for a bed on top of the snow. It took about a half a cord of wood to last us all night, and it was a trouble to cut holes in the ice to water, for it was more than two feet thick. Our fire kindled on the snow, would be two or three feet below on the ground, by morning. This country was heavily timbered with cedar, or spruce and apparently very level.
One day we saw two otters coming toward us on the ice. We shot one, but as the other gun missed fire, the other one escaped, for I could not overtake it in the woods. We kept on up the river till we began to hear the Indians’ guns, and then we camped and did not fire a gun for two days, for we were afraid we might be discovered and robbed, and we knew we could not stay long after our grub was gone. All the game we could catch was the marten or sable, which the Indians called Waubusash. The males were snuff color and the female much darker. Mink were scarce, and the beaver, living in the river bank, could not be got at till the ice went out in the spring.
We now began to make marten traps or dead-falls, and set them for this small game. There were many cedar and tamarack swamps, indeed that was the principal feature, but there were some ridges a little higher where some small pines and beech grew. Now our camp was one place where there was no large timber caused by the stream being dammed by the beaver. Here were some of the real Russian Balsam trees, the most beautiful in shape I had ever seen. They were very dark green, the boughs very thick, and the tree in shape like an inverted top. Our lines of trips led for miles in every direction marked by blazed trees. We made a trap of two poles, and chips which we split from the trees. These were set in the snow and covered with brush, We sometimes found a porcupine in the top of a pine tree. The only signs of his presence were the chips he made in gnawing the bark for food. They never came down to the ground as we saw. They were about all the game that was good to eat. I would kill one, skin it and drag the carcass after me all day as I set traps, cutting off bits for bait, and cooking the rest for ourselves to eat. We tried to eat the marten but it was pretty musky and it was only by putting on plenty of salt and pepper that we managed to eat them. We were really forced to do it if we remained here. We secured a good many of these little fellows which have about the the best fur that is found in America.
We were here about three weeks, and our provisions giving out and the ice becoming tender in the swamp were two pretty strong reasons for our getting out, so we shouldered our packs of fur and our guns and, getting our course from a pocket-compass, we started out. As we pushed on we came to some old windfalls that were troublesome to get through. The dense timber seemed to be six feet deep, and we would sometimes climb over and sometimes crawl under, the fallen trees were so thickly mixed and tangled.
Mr. Buck got so completely tired that he threw away his traps. We reached our starting place at O’Neil’s saw-mill after many days of the hardest work, and nearly starved, for we had seen no game on our trip. We found our traps and furs all safe here and as this stream was one of the tributaries of the Mississippi, we decided to make us a boat and float down toward that noted stream. We secured four good boards and built the boat in which we started down the river setting traps and moving at our leisure. We found plenty of fine ducks, two bee trees, and caught some cat-fish with a hook and line we got at the mill. We also caught some otter, and, on a little branch of the river killed two bears, the skin of one of them weighing five pounds. We met a keel boat being poled up the river, and with the last cent of money we possessed bought a little flour of them.
About the first of May we reached Prairie du Chien. Here we were met with some surprise, for Mr. Brisbois said he had heard we were killed or lost. He showed us through his warehouses and pointed out to us the many bales of different kinds of furs he had on hand. He told us we were the best fur handlers he had seen, and paid us two hundred dollars in American gold for what we had. We then stored our traps in the garret of one of his warehouses, which was of stone, two stories and an attic, as we thought of making another trip to this country if all went well.
We now entered our skiff again and went on down the great river till we came to a place nearly opposite Mineral Point, when we gave our boat to a poor settler, and with guns and bundles on our backs took a straight shoot for home on foot. The second day about dark we came in the edge of the town and were seen by a lot of boys who eyed us closely and with much curiosity, for we were dressed in our trapping suits. They followed us, and as we went along the crowd increased so that when we got to Crum. Lloyd’s tavern the door was full of boys’ heads looking at us as if we were a circus. Here we were heartily welcomed, and every body was glad to see us, as they were about to start a company to go in search of their reported murdered friends. It seems a missionary got lost on his way to Prairie La Crosse and had come across our deserted cabin, and when he came in he reported us as no doubt murdered.
I invested all of my hundred dollars in buying eighty acres of good Government land. This was the first $100 I ever had and I felt very proud to be a land owner. I felt a little more like a man now than I had ever felt before, for the money was hard earned and all mine.