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Full text of "Autobiography and reminiscences of Philander Prescott"

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Accession No. 8 / S 6 • Class No, 



REMINISCENCES OF PHILANDER PRESCOTT. 475 

'^ - AUTOBIOGKAPHY AND REMINISCENCES OF ■' 
PHILANDER PRESCOTT. 

I was born on Sept. 17, 1801, in Phelpstown, Ontario county^ 
New York. My father was a physician and a pioneer in the 
first settlement of the more central part of the state. He mar- 
ried a Miss Lucy Reed, and settled in Phelpstown, and lived for 
several years by his profession, but was attacked with di^opsy 
in the abdomen, and after a lingering illness, he died, and left a 
family, rather poor. Soon after his death, I went to live with an 
uncle by the name of Reed. He worked me nearly to deaths 
and I left him in the fall of 1818, and went to live with my 
eldest brother. My mother had married a second time, and died 
of consumption that fall. I was then an orphan, and what to 
do for a living was a serious question. There were two sisters 
younger than myself, and two brothers older. One of these was 
at Detroit, a clerk in a sutler's store, for the troops stationed at 
the above-named post. He wrote to me in the winter of 1819 
to come out to see him, and he would try to give me some kind 
of employment, that I might in time make a living. So in the 
spring, in April, I got ready, and started, but it was much 
against the wishes of my relatives, for they said they never ex- 
pected to see me again, and one of my uncles was so much op- 
posed to my coming West that he would not loan me money 
enough to pay my expenses to Detroit. But this did not deter 
me from my object, and I started with only a few dollars — 
enough to take me to Buffalo by my walking the whole distance. 
1 got to Buffalo the fourth day, and found that the lake was 
not clear of ice, and that the great steamboat "Walk-in-the- 
Water" would not sail for a week. I went to the landlord of the 
Black Rock house, and told him my circumstances, and asked 
him to board me for a week for my work, until the boat should 
leave for Detroit. Buffalo still showed the devastations of the 
war, and but a small portion of the city had been rebuilt. 

On the 1st day of May the steamer Walk-in-the-Water was 
ready and I went on board. Four yoke of oxen and the 
strength of the engine took us over the rapids at the foot of 
the lake. We had not been long out before we came to ice, and 
found that it was very strong and dangerous to run against 



476 MINNESOTA HISTORICAL SOCIETY COLLECTIONS. 

with a full head of steam, and we worked along slowly. By 
morning we had got past all the ice, and went on well. The 
second night out one passenger fell overboard, owing to the 
carelessness of the sailors in not fastening one piece of the rail- 
ing that was used for a gangway. 

We reached Detroit without any further accident, and I 
found my brother making preparations to go still farther west 
The troops had been ordered to the Mississippi to build forts 
and occupy that country, and my brother was to go along as 
clerk for the troops. He told me that I would have to wait 
until Mr. Devotion, the owner, went to New ^ork and got a 
supply of goods, and came back, before I could go, and I must 
try and accompany him through the journey. I passed the sum- 
mer with my books, and kept the store in order, until Mr. 
Devotion returned, when we started for the Mississippi. 

Mr. Devotion chartered an old sloop, and we sailed in Oc- 
tober, and reached Green Bay in the same month. In passing 
Mackinac we went ashore and took a look at the old fortifica- 
tions that had once been surrendered to the British. In sailing 
along one day by Washington's Harbor, we struck some rocks, 
but went over them without injuring the sloop. There was a 
fort at the mouth of Fox river, which commanded the entrance. 
The town of Green Bay comprised three houses and an Indian 
agency. We had to wait two weeks here for a boat, as aU the 
boats had been taken off by the traders, and it was late in the 
fall when we embarked from this point. Mr. Devotion started 
me ahead with an old boat, and only four men to ascend the 
Fox river, which was nothing but rapids for about twenty miles, 
and we made slow progress, and were finally frozen up at a lake 
called Rush lake. Here we built a house to store our goods in 
and waited for sleighs to come for us from Prairie du Chien. 
During the time we were waiting for the sledges, or "trains," as 
they were called, I went to the portage of the Wisconsin, two 
long days' walk from where we were frozen up. The first night I 
stopped on Fox river at an old trader's by the name of Grignow. 
I found him living in one of the Indian lodges. He said he had 
arrived late in the fall, and had no time for building, except a 
storehouse and a house for his men, and he was living in a 
lodge with his family, with a young Menomonee woman for a 
wife. I found his tribe had furnished about all the women for 
the traders' wives, for they are generally good-looking, alid their 



EEMINISCENCES OF PHILANDER PEESCOTT. 477 

first cMldren were as white as many of tlie white children. The 
old man said he had been a long time in the trade, and probably 
would stay there as long as he lived, as it suited him, and he did 
not care about seeking any other livelihood. My guide and I 
started the next morning and went to the portage that day, but 
It was a very hard day's work. My object in going to that place 
was to examine some goods that had been left there in the fall 
and reported to be wet. I found another class of people here, 
the Winnebagoes, an ugly race of people. They had always 
been abusive to the white people, but there were but 
a few of them about, and they did not molest me. I opened tke 
goods and found all in good order, and returned back to our 
camp and waited for the trains. In about two weeks more 
they came, and we made preparations for our departure. I 
had to go alone again, for there were not trains enough to take 
all, so Mr. Devotion remained, and I went ahead and remained 
a few days at Prairie du Chien, to get more transportation to 
take a supply up to Fort Snelling. 

After getting our complement of teams and Frenchmen to 
drive them, we started from the town that was older than Phil- 
adelphia, and there were only about 250 inhabitants in the 
place — that is of the French, who w^ere the first settlers. The 
government had what they called a factor^^ to furnish goods to 
Indians at cost, for the traders sold their goods so high that the 
Indians suffered a great deal from want, and the government 
proposed this plan for their relief. This made the traders 
angry, and they retaliated by underselling the government, and 
made them lose money, and the government abandoned the 
traffic. 

It has neA^er been determined whether Prairie du Chien 
was named after "dog" or "oak." Both are so much alike in 
French that no one knows which it took its origin from. 

I arrived at a place called Mud Hen pond, between the head 
of Lake Pepin and St. Croix. It was very cold weather, and 
we concluded to lay over one day and let the horses rest, as we 
had good comfortable rooms at Mr. Faribault's, the trader for 
the American Fur company. The second day, in the afternoon, 
a large band of Sioux Indians arrived at the trader's, and we 
were obliged to leave for fear of our goods being stolen from the 
sleighs. We had not gone far before one of the teams broke 
through the ice, and some of the goods had to lay in the water 



478 MINNESOTA HISTORICAL SOCIETY COLLECTIONS. 

^11 niglit,and it was with much difficulty that we saved the horse. 
It was so very cold that we could with difficulty do anything. 
We got a rope about the neck of the horse, and all hands took 
hold and choked him out. This was easily done, for the 
moment we commenced pulling, the horse commenced strug- 
gling, and floated on the water, after which it was but little 
work to haul him up on the solid ice, and by whipping and 
running him around we got him limbered up, and kept him from 
freezing until we got a fire built, when we camped 
for the night. Our next place or point for stopping was 
Oliver's Grove, a place where a keel boat was frozen in, loaded 
with provisions for the troops. Lieut. Oliver was here with a 
few soldiers guarding the provisions, while other parties were 
hauling them away. Oliver's Grove is now called Hastings. 

We arrived safe at the cantonment at the mouth of the 
St. Peter's river. I found my brother well, and full of work, 
as he was alone and had four companies to wait upon; but the 
troops were in a very unhealthy state, with the scurvy. Some 
fifty or sixty had died, and some ten men died after I arrived, 
but the groceries that I took up and a quantity of spruce that 
Dr. Purcell had sent to the St. Croix for, gave them relief. Col. 
Leavenworth, commanding officer, Maj. Hamilton, Maj. 
Larrabee, Maj. Yose, Capt. Gwinn, Capt. I*erry, Capt. Gooding, 
Capt. Pelham, Lieut. McCabal, engineer of building; Lieut. 
Camp, quartermaster; Lieut. Green, Adjut. Lieut. Oliver, Lieut. 
McCartney, Lieut. Wilkins, Capt. or Maj. Foster, are all that I 
can recollect of the officers who first came to build the fort at 
the mouth of the St. Peter's river. 

In the summer of 1820 there was not much done towards 
the building of the fort. The physician and commanding officer 
thought the location an unhealthful one, and moved all the 
troops over to some springs called "Camp Coldwater," nearly 
a mile above the present fort, on the Mississippi river. I think 
the name Mississippi was taken from the Menomonee dialect, 
and should be spelled Miscessepe, /the big river." A few sol- 
diers were employed hewing timber for the fort, and a site was 
selected by the commanding officer on the first rise, about 300 
jards west of the present fort, and some timber was hauled to 
the spot. As the fort was to be built of hewed logs, it required 
•a large quantity of timber, and a saw mill was wanted, as it 
would require a large amount of boards for so large a fort. An 



REMINISCENCES OF PHILANDER PRESCOTT. 479 

examination of the Little Falls (Minnehaha) was made, and it 
was thought there was not water enough for a mill, as the 
water was very low in the summer of 1820, and St. Anthony was 
selected. An officer and some men had been sent up Rum river 
to examine the pine and see if it could be got to the river by 
hand. The party returned and made a favorable report, and 
in the winter a party was sent out to cut pine logs, and to raft 
them down in the spring, and they brought down about 2,000 
logs by hand. Some ten or fifteen men would haul on a sled 
one log from one-fourth to one-half a mile, and lay it upon the 
bank of Rum river, and in the spring they were rolled into the 
river and floated down to the mouth and then made into small 
rafts and floated to the present landing above the bridge. 

In the summer or fall, I think. Col. Leavenworth was ordered 
to the Missouri. The plans for the fort had been prepared by 
the above-named officer, but were somewhat altered by Col. 
Snelling, the officer succeeding, and the location was moved from 
the point that Col. Leavenworth selected to the present loca- 
tion, and the saw mill was commenced in the fall and winter of 
1820-21 and finished in 1822, and a large quantity of lumber was 
made for the whole fort, and all the furniture and outbuildings, 
and aU the logs were brought to the mill or the landing by hand, 
and hauled from the landing to the mill, and from the mill to 
the fort by teams. An officer by the name of Lieut. Croozer 
lived and had charge of the mill party. Supplies for- the fort 
were all brought up in keel boats from St. Louis. It generally 
took from fifty to sixty days to come from St. Louis to Fort 
Snelling. The first steamboat that came to the Fort was a 
stern-wheeled boat from Cincinnati with the contract for sup- 
plies for the troops in June, 1823, — the name of the boat I have 
forgotten. There were no settlements on the Mississippi except 
Prairie du Chien and Rock Island, and the troops passed the 
summer at Camp Coldwater, and in the fall moved back again 
to the old cantonment and passed the winter, and got out tim- 
ber for the soldiers' barracks, and before the autumn of 1823 
nearly all the soldiers had been got into quarters, and consider- 
able work had been done on the officers' quarters. The Indians 
were all peaceable,and all things progressed peaceably,and with 
all the speed that was possible for soldiers (for there is no hur- 
rying of soldiers — they go just so fast, and out of that pace you 
cannot drive them). 



480 MINNESOTA HISTORICAL SOCIETY COLLECTIONS. 

In the fall of 1823 Mr. Devotion gave up the sutlership, owing 
to the small percentage that the government allowed the sutlers 
to trade upon. Twenty-five per cent was all that the govern- 
ment allowed them to charge, including the transportation and 
wastage, so Mr. Devotion would not furnish goods at tho«e 
rates, and abandoned the business. 

The paymaster had taken government drafts and sold 
them to the Missouri and Illinois banks, and brought their pa- 
per and paid the troops off with paper, there then being no law 
to the contrary. The sutler, Mr. Devotion, had to take such 
money as the soldiers had to give him, and he collected about 
seventy or eighty thousand dollars, and we went to St. Louis 
and found the banks all broken and closed. Mr. Devotion could 
do nothing to help himself, and it is supposed that the pay- 
master made a handsome profit out of the operation. 

On our way down the river we found no settlements until we 
got to Hannibal, where there were two or three log houses, and 
below that place we would see now and then a house along the 
river. At Galena there were only two or three little log cabins^ 
whose occupants were engaged in trading lead to the Indians. 
St. Louis was but a small town, and I do not recollect seeing 
more than one church, and that was Eoman Catholic. There 
was a small market, two or three mills, one bakery, and about 
half a dozen steamboats, which supplied the place with all the 
goods that were wanted for the trade. Alton and Quincy had 
then only four or five houses each. I stayed through the winter, 
and in the spring Mr. Devotion obtained for me a lot of Indian 
goods on credit, and I took the little boat and started back ta 
Fort Snelling to trade with the Sioux Indians. When I re- 
turned to Fort Snelling the officers had all got into quarters. 
I was fifty-five days going from St. Louis to the Fort. 

I passed the winter trading with the Indians. In the fall 
my brother came up to pass the winter with me. A Mr. Baker 
came up with me to teach school at the Fort, and a Mr. Whitney 
came from Green Bay with some goods. 

The Indians had been A^ery quiet all this time, except on the 
Missouri, where they had killed a white man, and Col. Snelling 
had been ordered to demand the murderer. The Sioux brought 
in two Indians to leave as hostages until they could get the 
murderer. They were put in prison, and when they wanted to 
go out the sentinel would accompany them, and bring them 



REMINISCENCES OF PHILANDEK PRE8C0TT. 481 

back again. After the lapse of- a month, one morning early 
they wanted to go out, and the sentinel took his musket and 
went with them. When they had gone a short distance from 
the fort they started to run away from the sentinel. The man 
tired at them, but missed. The whole garrison was soon out, 
but the Indians were too swift for them and got clear. The 
Colonel then sent the Indians word that if they did not bring in 
the murderer, he would take some of their principal men and 
hang them; this set them to work, and they brought in the 
offender. Quite a number of Indians came in with the pris- 
oner. They had a British flag and a large medal. Col. Snelling 
had a fire built and burned the flag before the Indians and cut 
the medal off the neck of the Indian murderer, who wore it, 
and locked him up, and sent the Indians off home again. At 
the first opportunity the prisoner was sent below for trial, and 
that was the last which was ever heard of him; for, although 
he was cleared by the court for want of evidence, he never 
reaehed home again. 

After my winter trade was over, my brother went to St. 
Louis and paid up our debt with the furs I had received in 
trading, and tried to get more goods, but the companies had all 
joined together, and made a monopoly of the whole trade, and 
would not furnish any goods to any person to trade with on his 
individual account. This caused an opposition company to 
organize, called the Columbia Fur Company, which my brother 
and I joined. During the previous autumn, while I was living 
at Lands End, I was married to my present wife. The custom 
of getting wives amongst the Sioux is by purchase, and it 
frequently happens that there is not much love in the case, and 
sometimes the woman never expects to marry the man that she 
is sometimes compelled to marry. Therefore, suicide is not an 
uncommon thing among the women, as was the case on Lake 
Pepin at Maiden Kock. I also know of several cases of suicide 
by hanging. Two young girls hung themselves within one 
week, in Little Crow's band, because they did not love the men 
that their parents had selected as husbands for them. Another 
went over the falls because her husband had slighted her and 
married another, and in his presence, with her boy in the bow of 
the canoe, and painted and decorated in the finest of the Indian 
style, she paddled over the Falls of St. Anthony. During that 

—29 



482 MINNESOTA HISTORICAL SOCIETY COLLECTIONS. 

year (1824) many of the Indians died of starvation and cold. 
They had been out west of Lake Traverse on the Cheyenne 
river in search of buffalo, but were not successful, and the snow 
fell very deep and they could not follow the game, and they 
turned back, hoping to reach their old villages, where they had 
some corn cached in holes in the ground. They had eaten all 
of their dogs and horses, and had become so weak they could 
with difficulty walk. Another blinding storm of wind came on, 
and they could not see where to go, and there was no timber or 
wood with which to make a fire, and none but the strongest 
survived the storm. 

The lands around the Fort, except the military reservation, 
belonged to the Indians, and the country could not be settled, 
and here a few of us lived about thirty years, seeing very little 
change in the position of affairs from Galena to this place. 
Galena sprung up as soon as the lead trade was opened up. 

The following spring the Indian agent. Major S. Taliaferro 
tried to induce the Indians to engage in farming at Lake Cal- 
houn, and wanted me to go out with my old father-in-law and 
another chief, Mock-pu-we-chas-tah. My father-in-la.w was the 
first one that would venture out. His name was Kee-e-he-ie, 
'^e that flies." The agent sent a soldier and a team of two 
yokes of cattle, and we two plowed about a month, but there 
were but few Indians that would venture out the first year, as 
they were afraid of the Chippewa s. The next year quite a num- 
ber came out, and we had more applicants than we could sup- 
ply places for, and some went to work with their hoes and dug 
small patches of ground to commence with. The first year we 
cut a large quantity of tamarack logs, with which to rebuild the 
•council house that had been burnt at Fort Snelling. 

THE INDIANS. 

Wabasha * is at the present time (1861) the first and oldest 
€hief of the Sioux nation. Many years ago he went to Montreal 
(the French word for the name of the Great Mountain or the 
Heal or Koyal Mountain which is in the vicinity of the city of 
that name). Some five or six Sioux accompanied Wabasha on 



* Wa-pa-ba-sa, according to the Dakota lexicon ; but spelled as abore lor 
the English pronunciation, Waubashaw. 



REMINISCENCES OF PHILANDER PRESCOTT. 483 

his visit to see the English, and from what I can learn from the 
Sioux it was about 1780, — some twenty-five years before Lieut. 
Zebulon M. Pike explored the Mississippi river. The Sioux 
say that up to this period they had no chiefs among them. 
Wabasha said the English received him very coolly at first. He 
said that he filled his pipe for all the assemblage to smoke — a 
pipe prepared for that purpose, with a large flat stem painted 
blue, an emblem of peace with them. This he presented to the 
governor. The governor said he could not smoke out of a bloody 
pipe, and took the pipe and handed it to another man standing 
by, supposed to be an officer, and told him to strike Wabasha 
three blows with the flat side of the pipe. Wabasha did not 
know how to interpret this treatment, and stood waiting a 
moment, when the governor said : "I do not supi)ose you under- 
stand the meaning of this, but I will explain it to you, — ^you 
have killed three of my people, traders, up in your country, and 
this is to show you that I am not pleased at your murdering 
the white people ; and those blows are to remain there until you 
do something to wipe them off, and w^hen that is done I will 
smoke with you." Wabasha promised fidelity to the English, 
and said he would try to give up the murderers, and the gov- 
ernor gave him some flags and medals, and asked how many 
fires, or tribes, they had in the whole nation. Wabasha said 
there were seven, and accordingly he received seven large 
medals and flags, viz.: Medawakantons, Wahpetons, Wahpa- 
cootas, Sissetons, Yanktons, Tetons, and the seventh we have 
never been able to ascertain. Some say that the Yanktons 
were called two flres or two tribes, and some say the Sissetons 
had a division or two tribes, but we have no authority for any 
of these surmises, and I think it was some other tribe living 
near the Sioux, who may have been at peace with the Sioux, 
probably the Menomonees or WinnebaG:oes which Wabasha 
took into his count of seven fires, for in all of their councils they 
speak of seven fires or seven tribes, confederated in one nation, 
to occupy and protect from invasion a certain district of coun- 
try for hunting purposes. Wabasha came back and distrib- 
uted his flags and medals, and from that day their chiefs were 
recognized by all the governments. 

Nothing has ever been found that gives any knowledge of 
the Indian race, from whence they came, or how they became 
possessed of the country they now occcupy. Tradition does not 



484 MINNESOTA HISTORICAL SOCIETY COLLECTIONS. 

take us far back, and figures they have none, but their customs 
and habits are more to be relied upon than anything else we 
have. To give some idea of the character they sustain to other 
nations is the nearest that we can come to establishing a rela- 
tionship. Their manners and customs are very similar to those 
of the old world, and by wars they have been forced from one 
country to another, until they have populated the whole of 
America. Their manners and customs are very similar to 
those of the peoples we read of in sacred history. Their feasts, 
for instance, of the first fruits of the farm, or of game killed, 
show this. The first must be cooked and many persons in- 
vited to partake of the food, and their gods invoked to continue 
to give them success in war, and the departed spirits are to 
have a share in the ceremony — they must be appealed to, and 
their guidance invoked, because the Indians think their de- 
parted relatives have much to do with the welfare of the living 
on earth. The following is a common form used by the In- 
dians as a petition to the spirits of the departed : 

"My father (or mother, uncle, cousin), you have gone to the 
spirit land — ^you can look on us but we cannot see you, only in 
our dreams. You have power over the minds of men, and you 
have power over the hunts and the farm, and even our lives de- 
pend much upon the pleasure of thy will to either give bless- 
ings or to withhold them, and I have prepared the feast for you, 
hoping that you will be pleased with it, as our first fruits of the 
field (or the hunt), which we offer in accordance with the custom 
and usages of old." 

In this feast God is not named, nor even thought of, but the 
Indians are more punctual in their idolatrous worship than the 
Christian people in their worship, for there is hardly anything 
the Indians do without some kind of worship, either in 
feasts or sacrifice. In traveling, hunting, war, and in what- 
ever they do, when they have time, they commence with an 
offering of some kind. 

The following are the principal gods that the Sioux Indians 
worship : 

The first or most prominent is Tokenshe, the large granite 
boulder, and Wakaukah, the earth; Tokonshe, grandfather; 
Wakankah, old woman, are names of gods they worship, and 
who are often appealed to for relief and success. All .kinds of 
animals and fish are supposed to be possessed of power to mi- 



EEMINISOENOES OF PHILANDER PRESCOTT. 485 

grate from their own bodies to those of human beings, and cause 
disease, and the conjurors use all the powers of jugglery to 
cast out the intruder. The shape of the supposed destroyer of 
the peace and health of the person suffering is cut out of a 
piece of birch bark and put into a litle dish of painted w^ater 
outside the door of his lodge, and the doctor, who is inside, 
singing and gesticulating and making hideous noises, finally 
emerges from the lodge where the patient is, and there are two 
or three men standing ready, who, at a certain signal, shoot 
into the dish with powder and wad only, and blow the image, 
or piece of bark, into small pieces, and the dish containing the 
image is frequently shattered. This is supposed either to kill 
the intruder or frighten him from the body of the patient, and 
his recovery is looked for immediately after the operation. 
After the guns are discharged the doctor falls upon what is 
left of the fragments with violent contortions and all imaginable 
noises, and a woman sometimes stands on the doctor's back dur- 
ing this operation, after which she takes him by the hair of the 
head and leads him back, he on all fours, to the place where 
the patient is, where he sings for a brief time and rattles his 
gourd, sucks the parts where the most pain is, and the cere- 
mony is ended. All kinds of animals are brought into this 
kind of jugglery, and are shot by the doctors as a cure for dis- 
ease. 

Their preparations for war are very carefully planned. The 
war party is gotten up by one who thinks himself capable of 
leading a party successfully to get scalps and not lose any. If 
a Sioux loses a child, by what means it makes no difference, 
the father must appease the departed spirit, for if any of the 
rest of the family, or a relative, should be taken sick after the 
death of the child, the parents are accused of negligence and de- 
lay in fulfilling the law of offerings and sacrifices, which is as 
follows: After a death the nearest relatives must either go to 
war or get up a great medicine dance ; and as the latter is very 
expensive, many of the young men prefer going to war, but 
either is considered sufficient to keep the spirit of the departed 
at rest and satisfied with the living relatives. Every night 
for about a week before starting the head of the w^ar party be- 
gins to sing and to commune with the war gods, and dream, 
and his imagination is so worked up by constant jugglery that 
he dreams many things about their war excursions, which he 



486 MINNESOTA HISTOKICAL SOCIETY COLLECTIONS. 

relates to the party that are to go With him. The earth, and 
the rocks or boulders are gods that are most generally appealed 
to for guidance and success in their excursion for scalps, and 
these gods are prayed to constantly on their route to direct 
them where the enemy are few in number and most easily ap- 
proached. They also ask their gods to turn the minds of their 
adversaries from thoughts of an enemy approaching them. 
After the war party gets into the country where the Chippe- 
was hunt, the head man orders all shooting to stop, and if one 
of the party should shoot any game, or fire his gun, the rest of 
the party would take him and cut his blanket in pieces, and de- 
stroy his gun as a punishment for breaking the rules of war 
parties. These marauding parties are too successful, for gen- 
erally they get a scalp and return home satisfied. The head 
man pretends that he can call to himself the sun spirit, who 
will tell him where and how many there are to be killed on 
that trip, and if any are to be injured of his party he will be in- 
formed of it by the devoted spirit that he appeals to. In order 
to bring the spirit to him, he makes a little lodge near their 
camp at night, and digs a shallow hole in the ground, and puts 
in it a small quantity of water, reddened with paint, and sits 
down by it and commences singing, and at the same time 
places in the hole a little of his food, thus inviting the spirit to 
his war feast. Then he sings and rattles his gourd and makes 
all kinds of hideous noises (it is astonishing how they make 
them). After awhile the war man becomes silent, and he is 
then supposed to be in communication with the gods. After a 
while he gives one rap with his gourd, which counts one scalp 
for his war party. As many blows as, he strikes, so many 
scalps they are to get, as his god has brought them to his sight. 
In the spirit he sees his enemies, and gives them a blow with 
his gourd, in the water, where he pretends to see them, and 
says that the blow will give them success, and kill the ene- 
mies' spirits, and they will all disappear. But if he gives a 
blow with a groan, it implies that some one will be wounded or 
killed, which sets the whole party to wailing for a few mo- 
ments. When all is hushed and they start off, one man goes 
ahead as a spy with the war pipe, and returns to the party 
every half-day, or sooner if he discerns anything, and gives a 
minute account of all that he has seen or heard while he has 
been absent, and so they prowl about until they find an enemy, 
or their provisions give out, and they return home. 



REMINISCENCES OF PHILANDER PRESCOTT. 487 

The scalp dance is performed by the women mostly dancing, 
and the men sing and drum for the women and young girls to 
dance. 

Death is looked upon with a singular or fanciful idea. The 
Sioux say that death comes in the shape of a curious looking 
being, something in the shape of a human being, with 
a curious head, and very corpulent, and comes from 
the east, although they say they do not see the visitor, death, 
with the naked eye — they see him in their dreams. 

Snakes are held in reverence by the Indians, and they rarely 
kill any, no matter how venomous. They light a pipe and 
smoke, and tell the snake to go in peace and not bite the In- 
dians, as the Indians would not hurt him, but smoke the pipe 
of peace with him. 

Wabasha, first chief of the Indians, was looked upon as a 
good man, and was chief of a large band until smallpox got 
amongst them and killed nearly one-half. Then the cholera 
wrought great destruction of life in the band, and remittent 
feA^er killed quite a number one year when we had a very dry 
summer, and the rivers, lakes and pools of water became very 
stagnant. Their remedy was to plunge into the water in the 
height of the fever, which either killed or cured very soon, for a 
good many recovered. I know that of those who plunged in 
the water some died. The band is now much reduced, and is 
about the smallest of all the bands of the Sioux. The Sioux 
'are confederated because they can all speak one language, but 
each village lives and acts independent of any other party, and 
every man is his own master, and a king at home in his own 
lodge. He has no taxes to pay, no public buildings or high- 
ways to make, no schools to support, and nothing before him 
but the chase and the protection of his family from enemies. 
One would suppose them to be happy under such conditions, 
and no doubt they are at times, for they are greatly amused 
over the most trifling jokes, and go to great excess in sports. 
In like manner they are terribly depressed when anything of a 
serious nature happens to them, either in private or community 
affairs, and the greatest lamentation is made. 

It would appear that the Indians do not retain great events 
in their memories for a great length of time, therefore they 
have no tradition of their origin, nor how they became pos- 
sessed of this country, nor have they any knowledge of past 



4:88 MINNESOTA HISTORICAL SOCIETY COLLECTIONS. 

wars with other tribes. The oldest battle that they have any 
knowledge of took place when the Chippewas came down in 
force and attacked a camp of Sioux where the city of Prescott 
now stands. There were some fourteen or eighteen lodges of 
Sioux camped there, and there were about a thousand Chippe- 
was. They attacked the Sioux in the night, and soon the men 
were nearly all killed. The women ran to their canoes, that 
were a few steps off, and pushed out into the stream, but in 
their fright forgot their paddles. At that point there is a 
large eddy, and the women in the canoes were carried round 
and round by the current. The Chippewas came to the beach 
and took hold of the canoes and pulled them ashore, and butch- 
ered the women and children at their leisure. A few men had 
fled up along the lake shore, and got into a little cove in the 
rocks. The Chippewas discovered them and attacked them, 
but here the Chippewas lost several of their men, for they could 
not get at the Sioux, only as they faced them right in front of 
the little cove, and the Sioux had the advantage of the shelter 
afforded by the rocks. When the Chippewas made an assault 
they would leave one or two of their number for one Sioux, but 
as they greatly outnumbered the Sioux they at length 
overcame them, and there was only one Sioux left. He made 
a dash for the water, and dived beneath the surface and stayed 
under as long as he could. At first the Chippewas did not see 
him, supposing he must have come to the shore, and they were 
engaged in taking care of the dead and wounded, but the sec- 
ond time he came to the surface of the water the Chippewas 
discovered him, and the Sioux saw the balls fly about his head 
like hail, but none touched him. He then took courage and 
dived again, and called upon the otter, and prayed to it as a 
god to give him power to dive and swim like an otter, that he 
might live to tell the tale of the fate of his comrades, as he was 
the only one left; and the prayer was heard, and he dived to 
the bottom of the lake, and found it very deep and cold. When 
he rose to the top of the water the Chippewas would fire their 
guns and the balls would make the water fly so as to dazzle his 
sight for some time, and he said that in eight times diving he 
got across the lake, but how he escaped is a wonder to relate. 
When he reached the opposite side of the lake, which is about 
one mile wide, he was so much exhausted that he could not get 



REMINISCENCES OF PHILANDER PRE8COTT. 489 

out of the water, and lay for some time in the water with his 
head on a rock to rest a little time, after which he crawled out 
and sat upon a rock on the shore, and gave a whoop of joy at 
his marvelous escape. The Chippewas, when they saw what a 
wonderful feat he had performed, returned the compliment 
with another loud whoop. This battle took place about 150 
years ago, and is the oldest that they have any tradition of. 
They speak of having occupied the country as far west as Leach 
lake, and of going to war over to Lake Superior, Green Bay, 
and even to St. Louis, and a little above the mouth of the Mis- 
souri is a place called "Portage de Sioux," where they used to 
take their canoes across by land from one river to another, but 
when or about what time they have no tradition. 

The Catfish bar in Lake St. Croix furnishes another tra- 
ditional story, but we have nothing that will give us any idea 
of the time when it occurred. A war party of Sioux went to 
war upon the St. Croix river, and were gone a long time, but 
had no success, and one of their number became sick when 
they reached the St. Croix on their return journey, and the 
others went on and left the sick man to perish, but there hap- 
pened to be one of the party who was one of the sick man's 
comrades or companions. When he saw that the whole party 
were on their journey he said: "I am not going to leave my 
friend here to perish alone;" and he remained with the sick 
man while the rest of the party went on. Becoming almost 
starved, they found it necessary to get to the village where 
they could obtain provisions. The well man walked up and 
down the lake shore hoping to find a dead fish or to shoot a live 
one with an arrow. At last he came across a pike or pickerel, 
and killed it with his bow and arrow and roasted it, and asked 
his comrade to eat a piece of the fish, but the sick man refused, 
saying that when he joined the Big Medicine, that kind of fish 
was to be eaten upon no occasion whatever, for if he did eat 
anything that was forbidden by the Big Medicine, some great 
calamity would befall him. The^e marks, or reserves, or pro- 
hibitions, of eating certain parts or pieces of fowls or animals 
is a totum or mark of the order of that clan or family, and all 
Indians of that mark work together in all their jugglery and 
medicine operations, and I suppose an Indian would starve to 
death before he would break the rule or law. His comrade 



>^ OF TO?? ^CK^ 



490 MINNESOTA HISTORICAL SOCIETY COLLECTIONS. 

urged him to eat, but he would not. This made his friend feel 
very bad^to sit and see his friend starving to death. Finally 
the sick man said he would eat to ease the mind of his friend, 
and run the risk of what might be the result of breaking over 
their medicine rule, and asked his comrade if he could carry 
water all night in a litle dish that held only three or four 
spoonfuls. "Yes, I can do anything for you," his comrade said, 
and so the sick man took some of the fish and ate (this was in 
the evening), and after a short time began to get thirsty, and 
asked his comrade to bring water, so the young man took the 
little dish and brought some water, and in a little while he 
wanted more, and the young man went again, and the sick man 
kept asking for water, and his friend kept going with his little 
dish, and worked nearly all night in that way, but finally be- 
came exhausted and laid down and went to sleep. The sick 
man kept calling for water for some time, but no one came, 
and with much exertion he crawled down to the lake and com- 
menced drinking, and after a while he found that he was turn- 
ing into a fish, and the more he drank the faster he became a 
fish, and at last he became wholly a fish, and rolled into the 
lake. When the other Indian awoke he found that his com- 
rade had become a large fish, and was lying across the lake on 
what is now called Catfish bar, and he felt very much grieved 
to think that his sick friend should become a fish because 
of his failure to watch him and carry water for him. He fol- 
lowed in the tracks of the war party, crying, and finally reached 
his village and told his comrade's wife what had happened, 
and she took a canoe and some friends and went to the place 
and found the great fish as stated, and they made great lamen- 
tation, and scattered red feathers upon the water, and prayed 
the gods of the water to let the big fish sink so that the canoes 
could pass; and so the big fish sank, but left a portion of the 
bar there. The bar extends almost across the lake yet, and 
this is all that was done in favor of the Indians, merely to let 
them have room enough to pass in the lake. This was all done 
for revenge upon the man for breaking the laws and rules of 
the Medicine party. 

We can obtain nothing from the Indians concerning ancient 
history, and nothing reliable about the creation or the flood. 
The Indians are entirely ignorant, and all their ideas are of a 



JEIEMINISCENCES OF PHILANDER PBESCOTT. 491 

fanciful character. They believe in a great spirit of some kind, 
but have no idea of his power, nor his will and disposition 
toward the human race, and all their prayers, which are many, 
are made to the land, stone animals, and fowls of the air and 
water, and many creeping things; and like all native tribes 
each thinks itself wiser and better than the others, and in their 
great councils I have heard them acknowledge before a white 
and Indian assembly that they thought the whites excelled 
them in a few things, but the moment they assembled by them- 
selves they would say the whites were the greatest fools they 
ever saw, and particularly when standing straight up in battle 
to be shot at. 

PHILANDER PRESCOTT. 
Minnehaha, Minnesota, Feb. 18, 1861. 



Note.— Mr. Prescott was killed Aug. 18, 1862, in Sloux outbreak. 



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