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Full text of "Reminiscences of Fort Snelling"



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LIBRARY 

OF THE 

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA 

GIKT OF" 

MuV\mJU^ 

Received JftflF* ,1900. 

Accession No . 8 1 5 Q 6 Class No . 





COL. JOHN BLISS, U. S. A. 

In Command at Fort Snelling in 1833. 

(Taken from a portrait painted at about the age ot fifty-five years.) 



REMINISCENCES OF FORT SNELLING. 335 

REMINISCENCES OF FORT SPELLING. 

BY COLONEL JOHN H. BLISS. 4 

After many years of outpost life and terrific hardships, which 
were the military lot in those early days, my mother and 
myself were having a rest with relatives in Meadville, Pennsyl- 
vania; my father, Major John Bliss, being then in command at 
Fort Armstrong, Rock Island. In the early spring of 1832, I 
(then nine years of age) well remember my mother telling me 
one day on my return from school that she had just received a 
letter from father to the effect that he had been ordered to take 
command at Fort Snelling, and would soon be on to take us 
and our household chattels to that immensely distant post. He 
soon followed the letter, and some bustling days were passed 
in preparation; bedding and carpets were stowed away in 
water-tight tierces, and books in shallow boxes, so contrived 
that they could afterward be arranged in library form; these 
were consigned, if I recollect rightly, to McGunnigle & Co., St. 
Louis, and were conveyed by wagon to Pittsburg, Pa., and from 
there by steamboat to St. Louis. 

The first section of the journey was by stage coach to Pitts- 
burg, where we recuperated several days at the hospitable home 
of our old, warm-hearted, Irish friend, John Anderson, who was 
engaged in the foundry business. The next move was to Cin- 
cinnati by steamboat. Here a stop of several days was impera- 
tive for making further purchases of supplies for the wild region 
we were to enter; quantities of hams, dried beef, tongues, rice, 
macaroni, family groceries in general, furniture, crockery, and 
what in these days would be considered a huge supply of wines 
and liquors, were purchased and shipped to St. Louis, and to this 
point was our next journey, of course by steamboat. It was 



Col. John H. Bliss, of Erie, Pa., where he is engaged in manufacturing, is 
a son of Maj. John Bliss, of the United States army, who was in command of 
Fort Snelling from 1833 to 1837. Col. J. H. Bliss visited "Fort Snelling and vi- 
cinity in October, 1893. He was greatly interested in the stupendous changes 
which had taken place during the sixty years since he, as a boy, knew the 
country. At the solicitation of the Minnesota Historical society, he wrote these 
reminiscences. He was spending a winter vacation in Venezuela when the pa- 
per was written. Col. Bliss served w ith honor in the Union army during the 
Civil War. His father served during the War of 1812-13; resigned in 1837, 
and died in 1854. 



336 MINNESOTA HISTORICAL SOCIETY COLLECTIONS. 

then not more than a straggling village. I ain quite sure there 
was not a paved street, and a large proportion of the inhabitants 
were French Canadians. One morning my father took me 
around to see some of his old friends, and among others, intro- 
duced me to Clark, of the famous Lewis and Clark expedition. 
My recollection of him is that of a large-framed, sedate, vener- 
able gentleman, and what greatly excited my open-eyed aston- 
ishment was the fact of his wearing his gray hair in a queue. 
At the hotel, that evening, the expedition was talked over, and 
the death of Lewis was commented upon as a suicide. No men- 
tion whatever of murder was suggested, and it was not until 
many years afterward that I learned this was a mooted question. 
On the voyage from Pittsburg, we one day saw a deer swim- 
ming the Ohio ; and, as there was a good supply of rifles among 
the passengers, he was soon dispatched, and venison added to 
our bill of fare. At St. Louis the last of our necessary pur- 
chases was made, to wit: a nice-looking yellow girl and an un- 
commonly black man. On arriving at our final destination, she 
proved to be a very good servant, but became such an attractive 
belle among the soldiers that before leaving Fort Snelling we 
were obliged to make her a part of the cargo of the Steamer 
'Warrior," and send her to St. Louis for sale. The man, Han- 
nibal by name, was a most excellent and faithful fellow. The 
only difficulty I remember his getting into was brewing spruce 
beer and selling it to the soldiers. Everything in this line was 
among the prerogatives of our sutler, Mr. Myrie, who made com- 
plaint to my father, who admonished Hannibal that this was 
outside the line of his duties. He made promise of amendment, 
but was soon caught at it again, which resulted in his catching 
a good licking and forty-eight hours' confinement in the black 
hole, effecting a thorough reformation. Some five years after- 
ward, when my father resigned his commission, he gave Hanni- 
bal his freedom, and he settled in Newport, Ky., where he be- 
came a preacher, and was quite an oracle among the blacks. 
While T was a student at Cincinnati college, he came to see me 
every week, put my belongings in order, and polished my shoes, 
as it seemed to be the dread of his life that I "should be taken 
for a poor man's son." Poor, faithful old Hannibal ! I have 
often wondered what ultimately became of him. 

While at Cincinnati I had for friends many of those men- 
tioned so charmingly by Mrs. Van Cleve. General O. M. 
Mitchell (who died of yellow fever at Port Koyal) taught me the 



REMINISCENCES OF FORT SNELLING. 337 

higher branches of mathematics and civil engineering. I often 
took tea with Edward Mansfield and his excellent mother. She 
wore a turban, and was altogether of the last century. She 
used to tell me of her dancing a minuet with General Washing- 
ton. I have a lively recollection, too, of the excellence of the 
buckwheat cakes made by her wonderful cook, old Clara. Then 
there was William Lytle, whom I saved from drowning one 
Saturday afternoon when a lot of us went in swimming, and who 
afterwards became General Lytle of the Union army, and was 
killed, I think, at the battle of Stone river. But this is not 
getting very rapidly in the direction of Fort Snelling. 

The next step in our journey was by steamboat to Prairie du 
Chien. I remember stopping at Hannibal, Quincy, Des Moines 
and Galena, all very small places. At the first-named town I 
bought a beautiful pair of young fox squirrels, to the disgust of 
my mother and the thorough, emptying of my pocket. At one 
of the stopping places I was introduced to the old chief Keokuk, 
one of my father's Indian friends. We were detained a day at 
one of the rapids on the Mississippi. The captain of the boat 
.got into an altercation with one of his men, which resulted in 
his being knocked down. He started at once for his cabin, and 
soon emerged with his rifle; but the man, in the meantime, 
prudently went on shore and disappeared. The captain spent 
nearly the whole day looking for him, but without avail, al- 
though he had several friends aiding him, who were as deeply 
interested as though on a bear hunt. While I was wandering 
about I went into a low groggery in search of some apples, and 
there spied the very man they were after; but he had made 
friends with me during the voyage, so I did not report my find. 
Had he been a troublesome, annoying fellow, the result no 
doubt would have been widely different a strong illustration of 
the truth of the old saying, "It is better to have the good will 
of a dog than his ill will." 

Col. Zachary Taylor (afterward president of the United 
States) was then in command at Fort Crawford, Prairie du 
Chien. He and my father were old friends, having been to- 
gether in the Sauk and Fox campaign, and we were received at 
his quarters most hospitably, and made perfectly at home. The 
sobriquet of "rough and ready," according to my recollection, is 
not properly descriptive of the man. Ready for any duty or 
emergency, he certainly was; but I cannot see where the rough 



338 MINNESOTA HISTORICAL SOCIETY COLLECTIONS. 

came in. As a boy, I was very fond of him. He was a large, 
strongly built man, rather quiet and deliberate in movement 
and conversation, and with the same disregard of dress and 
"the pride, pomp and circumstance of glorious war" which was 
so conspicuous in General Grant, and was thoroughly different 
from Scott, who well earned the nickname of "fuss and feath- 
ers." Mrs. Taylor was a most kind and thorough-bred Southern 
lady; the Colonel, as every one knows, being a splendid speci- 
men of the Kentuckian. Two of their children, Bessie and 
Dick, were about my own age, and during the two or three 
weeks of waiting for further transportation to Fort Snelling 
we became excellent friends. Dick afterward spent a year in 
Buffalo when I was a young man there, and we saw a good deal 
of each other, but we never met again. My youngest daughter, 
I may say, renewed the acquaintance in Washington. Poor 
Dick! he was very handsome, well educated, very bright, a fine 
conversationalist and well liked by all. His book, "Destruction 
and Reconstruction," is thoroughly indicative of the man, so 
entirely different from the bitterly vindictive and mendacious 
book of his brother-in-law, Jefferson Davis; no one can read it 
without being impressed by his unending, good-natured buoy- 
ancy, and the fact that he had "charity for all and bore malice 
to none." He even had a good word to say for Ben Butler ; and 
General N. P. Banks was made abundantly aware in the South- 
west that his military talents were of a high order. In fact, 
his book, containing no vile abuse of the North, has been but 
little noticed, and I do not now remember having seen any one 
who ever read it. Two or three years after seeing Dick in 
Buffalo, I was going down the Alabama river, and to my sur- 
prise and delight found among the passengers on the steamer, 
Mrs. Taylor, Bessie and her husband, W. W. S. Bliss. He was 
of the Rhode Island branch of that family, a man of uncommon 
ability, and from the phenomenal perfection and accuracy of 
his recitations at the military academy, won there the name of 
"Perfect Bliss." While we were at Prairie du Chien, Jeff Davis 
was a lieutenant, and violently in love with Colonel Taylor's 
daughter "Knox;" but the Colonel "would none of it" he did 
not like a single bone in his body. 

Due course of time brought the steamboat 'Warrior," with 
Captain Throckmorton, loaded with supplies for Fort Snelling, 
and we then bade a long farewell to our kind friends and civili- 



REMINISCENCES OF FORT SNELLING. 339 

* 

zation, and pushed into the wilderness. I was awfully sorry to 
part -with Dick, and to show the strongest evidence of my re- 
gard, named one of my squirrels after him. According to my 
recollection, Prairie du Chien was then a straggling Canadian 
village, where, outside of the garrison, one heard more French 
than English spoken. Before leaving, all available space in 
the "Warrior" was filled with cord wood, and when that gave 
out we were obliged to lay by and cut fresh supplies, for not a 
house or a white man did we see until our arrival at Fort Snell- 
ing, so the trip of course was a long one. 

At Lake Pepin, on account of a heavy wind, we were obliged 
to tie up for nearly two days in sight of the "Maiden Rock," or 
"Lovers' Leap," as in those days it was unromantically called. 
I shall never forget the clear transparency of the waters, and 
beautiful wild shores of that lovely river, long before its charms 
were ruined and outraged by hard practical civilization. On 
our way we overhauled and took on board a canoe with five 
soldiers, conveying the monthly mail to Fort Snelling, and thus 
saved the boys many a weary pull. A sight never to be for- 
gotten was when on turning a point in the river there suddenly 
appeared, a mile or so before us, the imposing and beautiful 
white walls of Fort Snelling, holding, as though by main force, 
its position on a high precipitous bluff, and proudly floating the 
stripes and stars. It was a fortified oasis of civilization in a 
lovely desert of barbarism. We at once took possession of the 
commandant's quarters, and were soon most comfortably es- 
tablished the young officers frequently supplementing our bill 
of fare with the nicest of young prairie chickens, or grouse, as 
we called them. There were then two well-beaten wagon roads, 
one leading to Lake Calhoun, the other to the Falls of Saint 
Anthony. The latter crossed a little stream, a hundred feet or 
so above the Falls of Minnehaha, but which then knew no other 
name than Little Falls. This was a beautiful spot. There was 
a break-neck path leading to the foot, down which I used to 
scramble and fish for bass in the basin. The Falls of Saint 
Anthony, too, were picturesque; the government had a little 
muley saw-mill there, and a small grist-mill, for grinding corn, 
all, of course, for the use of the garrison ; there, too, was kept our 
supply of beef cattle. All this necessitated the erection of a 
comfortable building, for the sergeant and eight or ten men 
who had charge of things, and this was all there then was of 



340 MINNESOTA HISTORICAL SOCIETY COLLECTIONS. 

the splendid city of Minneapolis. We used occasionally to have 
picnics there, and drove out a few times of a winter night, had 
a hot supper and a whisky punch, and back to the Fort again, 
with the coyotes howling about us, but rarely in sight. In no 
place I have ever seen (and I have been in many) were the 
winter nights so clear and beautiful, and the stars so many and 
so bright as there. Another picnic ground was the vicinity of 
the Lakes of the Isles, Calhoun and Harriet ; the fishing in them 
was excellent. They bear the same names now as they did 
then, so that a statement I saw making the rounds of the papers, 
that the last was named for the first schoolmistress in Minne- 
sota, is sheer nonsense. If Mrs. General Leavenworth's first 
name was Harriet, I am positive it was named for her. An- 
other picnic resort was a cave in the white sandstone near the 
east bank of the river, and, as I recollect it, a little above the 
site of the great city of St. Paul; a little stream of the coldest 
and clearest water issued from it, just the thing for the lemon- 
ade and rum punch which made more agreeable the first civil- 
ized meals taken in the immediate neighborhood of that city. 
I became the happy possessor of an Indian pony, a double-bar- 
reled gun, a canoe and jointed fishing rod, and during my entire 
stay, so long as the weather admitted of it, they were the re- 
cipients of my almost undivided attention. 

That summer, Major Taliaferro, the Indian agent, brought 
his wife, a very handsome woman, to the Fort, and they made 
their home with us until their quarters were prepared. About 
this time the post sutler, Mr. Myrie, married and brought his 
wife there, so the garrison boasted of three ladies. The entire 
country then was prairie, with no timber at all except in the 
immediate vicinity of the lakes and water-courses, so that we 
could drive in wagons in any direction. Going by the road to 
Lake Calhoun, on the left of the junction of the road and lake, 
was quite a large permanent Indian village surrounded by ex- 
tensive corn fields, which from the time the corn was in milk, 
required the undivided attention of the Indian children to drive 
away the flocks of blackbirds, which were in great numbers. I 
remember very well knocking over twenty-five at one shot. 

This village and Saint Anthony and Little Falls were the 
three show places which brought into requisition all the horses 
and wagons belonging to the Fort, whenever the steamboat 
"Warrior" appeared with her hold filled with supplies and her 



REMINISCENCES OF FORT SNELLING. 341 

cabins with, delightful and delighted tourists who were making 
an excursion, considered more wonderful in those days than 
would be a trip to the Hawaiian Islands now. We received the 
mail but once a month, and then through the agency of a cor- 
poral and a few. men, whom we sent the whole distance to 
Prairie du Chien for it; in summer they went in a canoe, in 
winter it was an expedition on foot, and the hardships encoun- 
tered were very great. They had to carry their provisions, 
blankets and the mail, and camp out in the snow every night, 
unless it found them in the neighborhood of an Indian tepee. 
You are sufficiently acquainted with the rigors of your climate 
to know that in winter this was no holiday excursion. I think 
it was the first mail after our arrival that brought word of the 
elopement of Jeff. Davis and "Knox" Taylor. We all felt very 
bad about it, knowing what a blow it would be to the grand 
old colonel. The next mail brought us news of another elope- 
ment from his family of quite a different character; one of his 
female slaves had most mysteriously disappeared, leaving not a 
trace or clue behind. No sooner had my father mentioned it, 
than up I spoke and said, "Why, she is at " (men- 
tioning a place I have since forgotten). 

He fairly turned white, and asked: 

"How do you know that?" 

'Well," said I, "when we were at the Colonel's, she asked me 
one day if I could write. I answered that I could. She then 
asked if I would write a letter to her husband for her, to 
which I at once assented, and wrote down the words as she 
gave them, and among other things, she said she would see him 
next month, by fair means or foul." 

"Why didn't you report it at once ?" asked my father. 

"Well," I replied, "I did not know that she meant that she 
would run away, and if I had, I doubt if it would have been 
just the thing for me to have betrayed her confidence." 

He looked at me very hard, bit his lips, and dropped the sub- 
ject. By the next mail, he was a greatly relieved man, on 
learning that Mrs. Taylor was almost paralyzed one day when 
the girl quietly stepped into the kitchen and set about her 
duties as though nothing had happened; she had performed 
the precise journey that her letter indicated. 

The first discovery of consequence my father made on arriv- 
ing at the Fort, was that in winter the quarters were heated 



342 MINNESOTA HISTORICAL SOCIETY COLLECTIONS. 

(or rather frozen through, and through) by open fireplaces. He 
at once made a requisition for .the proper quantity of old-style 
ten-plate stoves, and the last steamer arriving that fall brought 
them, so the garrison was kept perfectly comfortable, and with 
a greatly reduced consumption of fuel. 1 had my skates with me, 
and even the oldest and most stolid warriors would watch my 
gyrations with unbounded admiration and astonishment. One 
winter day, I noticed in the hospital a bottle of quicksilver, and 
while the steward's attention was drawn elsewhere, I poured 
some in the hollow of my hand, walked out of the fort among 
the Indians, and passed it off as melted lead. I would stir it 
around with my finger, and try to get them to do the same, but 
the evidence of their eyesight was quite sufficient without run- 
ning the chance of burning off the ends of their fingers. I was 
usually present at their councils and consultations, with my 
father, and I presume on account of my mysterious powers I 
was never omitted in the passing of the pipe. I always pulled 
away at it with becoming gravity, and this early introduction 
to the practice is perhaps the reason why I am an inveterate 
smoker. 

The winters were undeniably tedious, but had their uses; we 
had a good library, and I read a great deal, which has stood by 
me well; then there was of course much sociability among the 
officers, and a great deal of playing of cards, dominoes, checkers 
and chess. The soldiers, too, would get up theatrical perform- 
ances every fortnight or so, those taking female parts borrowing 
dresses from the soldiers' wives, and making a generous sacri- 
fice to art of their cherished whiskers and mustaches. 

The following summer the "Warrior" made her usual calls 
with supplies for the Fort, and loads of tourists. These supplies 
were chiefly clothing, salt beef and pork, flour and beans. In a 
large garden back of the fort, the soldiers cultivated all the 
corn, potatoes, turnips, onions, etc., which they required. They 
cut and piled up near the fort all the wood that was consumed, 
and in marshy spots on the prairie secured the hay necessary for 
keeping our live stock through the long winters; these duties, 
together with those more directly in the military line, kept 
them constantly on the go through the short summers. It was 
then popularly supposed that we were too far north, and the 
seasons too short, to make the raising of wheat a success. 
Melons were planted early every spring, but they never ripened. 



REMINISCENCES OF FORT SNELLING. 343 

Every winter an abundant supply of the finest ice was secured 
for summer use. Early that season (1833), the excellent Major 
Looniis and his wife and daughter arrived, having traveled the 
whole way from Prairie du Chien in what was then called a 
mackinaw boat (I think they were sometimes spoken of as 
pirogues). They were like mammoth skiffs, drawing consequently 
but little water, and I believe the stern was sharp, as well as 
the bow, and they were propelled by oars, poles, tow-line, or sail, 
according to the exigencies of the case. I was at the landing 
when they arrived. The family was in a little canvas cabin at 
the stern and they seemed in very good trim, but the six or eight 
soldiers looked as though they had been through a hard cam- 
paign. The Loomis quarters were next to ours, and we saw a 
great deal of them, and became much attached to them. With 
a small command they had been sent to St. Augustine at the 
time Florida was ceded to the United States, and their reminis- 
cences of the Spanish garrison there were very -entertaining. 
Like the rest of us, the Major had his peculiarities, chief among 
which was an engrossing enthusiasm in the cause of religion. 
He had divine services on Sundays (we had no chaplain), and 
the following winter had prayer meetings on week-day evenings, 
and got up a red-hot revival among the soldiers; so much was 
he carried away by his subject, that one day when my father 
was doing his best to make me comprehend the rule of three, 
Major Loomis entered the room. He was evidently ill at ease, 
made a few commonplace remarks, and then blurted out: 
"Major Bliss, I have called to invite you to embrace Christian- 
ity." My father turned to me, saying : "John, leave the room ;" 
which John incontinently did. The interview lasted nearly an 
hour. My father never alluded to it, but when the Major left, I 
noticed that he did not carry the triumphant air of one who 
had been successful in his mission. Among his converts that 
winter were the biggest rascals in the garrison. They made 
long prayers, sang psalms and looked solemn, until the simulta- 
neous arrival of summer and a barrel of surreptitious whisky, 
when they backslid almost to a man. One of his converts never 
recanted; Lieutenant Ogden, an uncommonly nice fellow, who 
afterward married the Major's daughter. During the Mexican 
war, I ran across him at Matamoros. He was very kind to me, 
and procured transportation for me on a government steamer 
to Brazos, Santiago. A few years after that he died of cholera, 
if I mistake not, at some frontier post. 



344 MINNESOTA HISTORICAL SOCIETY COLLECTIONS. 

Religious discipline was not the only kind the Major believed 
in, for keeping it up in the military way, a favorite punishment 
with him was to start a soldier, with a big billet of wood on his 
;houlders, walking in a circle, with a sentinel at hand to see 
'iiat he neither strayed from the track nor lagged on the way; 
on account of which idiosyncrasy he was never known among 
the men by any other name than "Old King." Every officer had 
his nickname, and it almost universally fitted like a glove. 
What they called my father, I do not know, but from his style 
of punishment, and the following little circumstance, it was very 
likely "Black Starvation." In the garrison was a most can- 
tankerous and vicious Irishman, named Kelly, who was com- 
petent for the commission of more wickedness in a month than 
an ordinary rascal could compass in a lifetime; he was the dis- 
gust of the men and the despair of the officers. One morning 
my father was endeavoring to give me some insight into the 
rules of English grammar, when the orderly ushered in a pep- 
pery little corporal, who, without any unnecessary circumlocu- 
tion, stated that Kelly was on his fatigue party ; and that upon 
calling on him to turn out with the other men he had kept his 
seat and pointedly remarked he would "see him damned first." 
"All right," said my father, "leave him alone and go out with 
the rest of your party." The end of the next ten minutes saw 
Mr. Kelly in the black hole, without even the customary bread 
and water, and for twenty-four hours with nothing to chew ex- 
cept "the cud of sweet and bitter fancy." When the sergeant 
of the guard asked him if he would promise to behave himself, 
at once came Kelly's favorite reply, that he would "see him 
damned first." For another twenty-four hours he was cut off 
from the world, when through the grated door the question was 
repeated. The answer this time was no, he had made up his 
mind to starve to death. At the end of the third day, the pris- 
oner's reply to the stereotyped question, and delivered in a 
weakened voice, was no, that it was nearly over now, and he 
might as well die that way as any other. The situation was 
growing awkward, and my father was wondering in what way 
he should report the man's death at Washington, when the 
guard heard a faint call from the subdued and wilted prisoner. 
He begged for God's sake for sun and air and something to eat, 
declaring that he never again would give trouble. It is but 
Mr to add that the promise was faithfully kept, and up to the 
day of his discharge he remained a most exemplary soldier. 



REMINISCENCES OF FORT SNELLING. 345 

About this time, a tattered, wild-looking fellow, calling him- 
self Dixon, arrived at the Fort, having made the entire journey 
from Prairie du Chien on foot and alone. After the lapse of a 
few days he enlisted, and did fairly well for a few months, when 
he turned up missing. Nearly two weeks afterward he was 
brought back by some Indians, who captured him while making 
his way to the prairie, and who received a reward of $20. Dixon 
was court-martialed, sentenced to fifty lashes from the cat, and 
to be drummed out of the Fort. Now in the entire institution 
there were no felines except those known to natural history, 
and the getting of one up required a large amount of discussion 
and experiment. When it was completed, I examined it, and it 
certainly did not appear to be a formidable affair; the handle 
was about eighteen inches long, the nine thongs about the same 
length, of rather fine hard cord, with knots an inch apart. The 
eventful day of punishment came. Dixon was stripped to the 
waist, triced up to the flagstaff, and the drummers took turns 
at delivering the fifty lashes the best they knew how; but the 
fellow never winced nor was the skin once cut through. His 
clothing was restored, and at the word, half a dozen men 
charged upon him with fixed bayonets; they were followed by 
the band playing the rogue's march, and Mr. Dixon soon had all 
the world before him. I followed out to see the finish. When 
the charged bayonets ceased their pointed attentions, Dixon 
stopped, when two or three men brought him a blanket, his few 
belongings, and a small quantity of provisions. He spit from 
his mouth a musket ball, which he had pretty well chewed up 
during the administration of the cat, shouldered his pack, shook 
hands with us all, bade us good-bye, and started off for Prairie 
du Chien as composedly as though going a-fishing. We heard 
he arrived there safely, worked his way to the lead mines, was 
lucky enough to strike a lead which he sold out for $600, and 
then disappeared forever. 

I well remember Mr. George Catlin and his wife, who came up 
that summer and were at our house during their stay. A room 
in the officers' quarters was given him for a studio, and he 
worked away with great industry. They were very pleasant, 
and Mr. Catlin had an exhaustless store of anecdotes and rec- 
ollections of his Indian experiences. He seemed to have been a 
born delineator of Indians, and his aptness at striking off their 
likenesses and attitudes was something wonderful; but all of 



34t> MINNESOTA HISTORICAL SOCIETY COLLECTIONS. 

his portraits of white persons had a certain Indian look about 
them. He once painted one of my father, and all it required 
was a few changes in the way of a blanket and spear and some 
eagle quills, to have it passed off as the portrait of a warrior of 
some unknown tribe, quite ready to try conclusions with, toma- 
hawk and scalping knife. 

In those days the Sioux and Chippeways never had a settled 
peace. In spite of all promises and treaties, they would take 
shots at each other if too tempting an opportunity occurred, 
and one of the great annoyances of the military commandants 
was to keep peace among them and settle their endless differ- 
ences. With so many Indians around us, we were soon familiar 
with, their different dances, feasts and games, and when tourists 
visited us, something of the sort was gotten up for their amuse- 
ment just outside the Fort; but on such occasions the big gate 
was always closed, if they were in large numbers. They were 
unmitigated barbarians. In one of their dances (I forget what 
it was called) a stout stick some six feet long was stuck in the 
ground, a dog was killed, his liver fastened to the top of the 
stick, and cut in slices, but without entirely separating them 
from each other. The Indians would then dance and howl 
around it, and as they became excited, they would, without the 
aid of their hands, bite off slices of the raw and bloody liver, 
chew and swallow them, and then yell and shriek as though 
possessed of the very devil. One day word was brought to the 
Fort that they had burned the mills at the Falls of Saint An- 
thony and murdered the men in charge. A strong force was at 
once dispatched there, and everything about the Fort put in 
defensible shape. When the detachment reached the mills they 
were found uninjured, and the men quietly pursuing their avo- 
cations without the slightest suspicion that they had been toma- 
hawked and scalped. At one time our sentinels contracted a 
bad habit of firing their muskets at night for trivial causes. 
Stringent orders were consequently issued, that for one reason 
only should a sentry's gun be discharged when on duty, and that 
sole reason would be the approach of a body of Indians, evi- 
dently about to make an attack. A fortnight passed quietly, 
when the utter silence of a summer's midnight was shattered to 
pieces by a most terrific discharge of a gun. The entire garri- 
son was up like one man, their anxiety increased by a strong 
glare of light. My father, waiting only for trousers and boots, 



REMINISCENCES OF FORT SNELLINCf. 347 

was out like a cyclone, the men were under arms in a jiffy, and 
on investigation it was found the sentry had simply wished to 
call the attention of the guard to the fact that the bakery chim- 
ney was on fire. The sentence of darkness and a meager diet 
which fell to his lot was a long one, and he emerged into light 
a much thinner and wiser man ; but it was the last of our false 
alarms, and happily we had no real ones. 

I do not remember a single Indian, man or woman, who made 
the slightest attempt at learning our language, so we all picked 
up more or less of theirs. On one occasion, at a council, both 
the official interpreters (Quinn and Campbell, I think, by name) 
were absent, and their place was well filled by one of the sol- 
diers. The last I saw of Campbell was two or three years after 
leaving the Fort. I was a student at Cincinnati college, and 
when crossing one of the principal streets, heard a familiar yell 
with its terminating prolonged low note. Turning my head, I 
recognized Campbell, leading a body of Sioux Indians. We had 
a warm, pleasant greeting. He was on his way to Washington 
with a deputation of Sioux, and was showing them the city; 
their home then being on the "Warrior," I visited her, and for 
the last time in my life saw our old friend, Captain Throckmor- 
ton. 

I think it was during our first summer at the Fort that it 
was visited by Count Portales, a young Swiss some twenty years 
of age, in company with an Englishman named Latrobe, and an 
American named Ewing or something like it. They came in a 
fine birch-bark canoe, with a crew of Canadian voyageurs. My 
father invited them to dinner, and they proved to be uncom- 
monly bright and pleasant men. -The American was very ready 
with his pencil, and gave my mother a good sketch of the Fort. 

It was the first or second autumn after our arrival that I first 
saw Mr. Sibley, who afterward became governor of Minnesota. 
He was then a very young man, but uncommonly large, strong 
and fine looking, with a very pleasant, and frank, but deter- 
mined face. He was in the employ of some fur company, and 
the very man for that hard, wild, venturesome life. He was a 
good chess player, and for that time was a wonder of correct 
and temperate habits, and by my father and the officers gener- 
ally was held in high esteem. 

To the best of my recollection, it was in the spring of 1833 
that two brothers named Pond wandered that way. They said 



348 MINNESOTA HISTORICAL SOCIETY COLLECTIONS. 

they had come to devote themselves to the welfare of the Indi- 
ans, and 1 believe they did this to the full extent and limit of 
their abilities. They were earnest workers, with no nonsense 
about them. My father supplied them, from the saw-mill, with 
the necessary lumber for a neat, comfortable, two-roomed little 
house, and in conjunction with Major Taliaferro, aided them in 
their start at housekeeping on the shore of Lake Calhoun, *a 
short distance from the Indian village. It was probably a year 
after this that another missionary, named Stevens, with his 
wife and a very beautiful daughter, appeared on the scene. 
They have not left a very distinct impression on my mind ; the 
Loomises were more particularly their friends. My recollec- 
tion, too, is very misty as to where they located, but I think it 
was about Lake Harriet. 

While we were at this post, the cholera made its first appear- 
ance in the United States, and progressed in our direction as far 
as Prairie du Chien, where it was quite fatal; a mackinaw boat 
left there for Fort Snelling, and when it arrived it had one case 
on board, but the patient happily recovered. 

The summer of 1833 has one bright spot in memory: the re- 
ceipt from Dick Taylor of a small box of apples, probably the 
first except dried ones ever sent to the Fort This was some- 
what darkened by the untimely death of one of my squirrels; 
the little fellows were not confined, but had the range of the 
whole Fort, and this one on an outside excursion was knocked 
over by a young Indian. The other one then became morose 
and solitary in his ways, left our house, and established himself 
in the commissary store, where he knawed a hole in a barrel of 
flour and set up housekeeping, cutting a carpenter's line into 
bits and making himself a bed in the barrel ; he, too, came to an 
end by incautiously wandering about, when he was picked up 
by an Indian dog. There were two things about those squirrels 
that always puzzled me. I slept in a room without a fire, and 
in winter it was about as cold as out of doors, making a heavy 
pile of blankets on the bed a necessity; the squirrels slept with 
me for warmth, establishing themselves close beside me in the 
centre of the bed, going fast asleep, and not making a motion 
the whole night. Now, what was it that saved them from 
smothering? Again, I would sometimes wake up before it was 
light, and lay staring out the window which faced the east, for 
the approach of day; at the very first suspicion of dawn those 



REMINISCENCES OF FORT SNELLING 349 

squirrels, though apparently sleeping their last sleep, would both 
commence fussing about, and with their funny little barks leave 
the bed. Now, with four or five thicknesses of blankets over 
them, how did they know day was breaking? 

During the fall and winter of 1833, rumors reached the Fort 
that a Canadian (Renville, or some such name) living up what 
was then the St. Peter's river (now the Minnesota) was making 
himself of too much importance among the Indians, that he pre- 
tended to be in correspondence with the president, and would 
read to them long letters purporting to be from him, and was 
collecting large quantities of arms and ammunition; so, on the 
coming of spring, my father sent Captain Vail with a few men 
in a large canoe propelled by oars, to investigate. On their 
way they encountered a young Indian, with a heron or some 
such bird, whose plumes would be just the thing to rejuvenate 
the Captain's dilapidated "chapeau de bras," so he commenced 
negotiations for its purchase; but the young buck declined all 
his overtures, saying it was the first killed that season, and 
must be made a sacrifice to the M&nitou. Vail,, however, in- 
sisted, and finally secured the envied bird. The Indian went on 
to his village and reported the circumstance. The medicine 
men were much disturbed at Vail's action, and said a severe 
misfortune would happen to that expedition before its return. 
The next day a large flock of black ducks came flying along, 
when a soldier named Little, but a very large, powerful man, 
seized a fowling piece by the muzzle and was drawing it from 
a pile of knapsacks, when the hammer caught in a strap and 
the piece was discharged, and his immense arm was literally torn 
to shreds from wrist to elbow. All haste was made to get back 
to the Fort, where the arm was at once amputated, but the 
poor fellow died a few hours after the operation. A subsequent 
expedition to Renville's place demonstrated the falsity of the 
current reports. 

Being so far beyond the frontier, we were free from the 
trouble which in those days often occurred from the friction be- 
tween the civil authorities and the military authorities, acting 
under orders issued from Washington. The case of a Captain 
Jewett (I think that was the name) now occurs to me. Orders 
from Washington were positive, that all stocks of liquors held 
by parties selling the same to the Indians should be destroyed. 
Captain Jewett, hearing of a man engaged in the nefarious 



350 MINNESOTA HISTORICAL SOCIETY COLLECTIONS. 

traffic, knocked his whisky barrels in the head, whereupon 
damages were assessed by a justice of the peace at Prairie du 
Chien, and the unfortunate officer was obliged to pay $600. I 
heard of the occurrence some two years after it happened, and 
up to that time he had not been reimbursed ; perhaps he had no 
political influence, for the army was as much governed by 
favoritism then as now. My father was nothing of a courtier, 
and not accustomed to "crook the pregnant hinges of the knee," 
consequently he was kept on the frontier, engaged in most ardu- 
ous service. After leaving Fort Snelling, he was put on the re- 
cruiting service, and then in midsummer, 1837, he was ordered 
to Florida to fight the Seminoles. He replied that if his orders 
could be held back until fall he would be quite ready to serve; 
but to go to the everglades in the hot season he could only con- 
sider as a sentence of death, and if the order was insisted upon 
he must tender his resignation. The acceptance of his resigna- 
tion came by next mail, and in this summary manner was a vet- 
eran of 1812 set adrift. 

I remember very well the arrival of a party of emigrants from 
Lord Selkirk's settlement on the Red river of the North, whence 
they had been frozen and starved out. They had traveled on 
foot and in wagons, bringing their live stock and other pbsses- 
sions with them, and in the same way were journeying south- 
ward and eastward to a land of civilization. I went to their 
camp, and remember how odd it seemed to hear white people, 
not connected with the Fort, talking English instead of Cana- 
dian French. They were under the leadership of quite an old 
man, who came to our quarters and had a lengthened interview 
with my father, who advised him to locate in Illinois on the 
Mississippi, as in addition to a fine prairie soil he would stand 
the chance of finding a lead mine on the land. "But," inter- 
polated the patriarch, "would not that belong to the king?" 

In the fall of 1834, an English geologist named Featherstone- 
haugh ("Frestonhaw," the English call it,) and an American as- 
sistant, (an exceedingly nice fellow whose name unfortunately I 
cannot recall), in the employ of our government, arrived in a 
beautifully equipped birch-bark canoe, paddled by five Cana- 
dian voyageurs. She was a beauty, carried a quantity of geo- 
logical specimens, a tent, fine camp equipage, plenty of bedding, 
provisions, etc. She was at least thirty-five feet long, and so 
wide that the middle seat gave ample room for three persons 



REMINISCENCES OF FORT SNELLING. 351 

bundled up in winter clothing. After recuperating a few days, 
they proceeded up the St. Peter river, and we did not see them 
again until November, when there was a foot of snow on the 
ground and winter was fairly setting in. 

In the meantime, it was determined in family council that 
I had had quite a sufficient experience of Western life, and Mr. 
Featherstonehaugh, with kind cordiality, accepted the charge 
of escorting me in safety to our Pittsburg friends, the Ander- 
sons; so, one sharp, frosty afternoon, I made my farewells, and 
we dashed gayly off, the Canadians singing at the tops of their 
fine voices. The voyage to Prairie du Chien was accomplished 
without incident, and without seeing a white man or a white 
man's house. The weather was very cold, and though no ice 
was running in the river, the water would freeze in a ring at 
the water line of the paddle handles. The evening was the most 
interesting time for me. As darkness approached, the canoe 
was brought to shore, and without grounding her, everybody 
and everything was gotten out, and the canoe carefully picked 
up and deposited bottom up in a safe place in the snow. The 
ground for a space was cleared and an oil-cloth spread, in front 
of which a rousing fire was built, and at the rear the tent was 
pitched and the bedding of the three passengers duly spread. 
The men made their camp a short distance away. They hung 
a kettle over their fire, and seemed to make a promiscuous 
bouillon of all their food. They had neither oil-cloth nor tent, 
but sat contentedly before the fire, and smoked and chatted 
until well into the night, when they rolled themselves 
up in their blankets and went to sleep in the snow. 
One day I noticed a dead duck in the river. The canoe was 
headed for it, when it was picked up, and duly went into their 
bouillon that night. Mr. Featherstonehaugh mentioned that 
one evening in the summer, one of the men, as he emptied his 
spoon in his mouth, exclaimed in his Canadian patois: "There 
goes the third big blue bottle fly I have found in my soup this 
evening." After hearing this, you will not be surprised to learn 
that we did our own cooking and our mess was entirely dis- 
tinct from theirs. Immediately after sundown we would hear 
the faint howl of a distant wolf. Soon it would be answered by 
one nearer by, in another direction, then others would join in 
the chorus, and when night fell they were close at hand but 
never in sight. In the early morning the canoe would be 



352 MINNESOTA HISTORICAL SOCIETY COLLECTIONS. 

loaded, with, the same motherly care that it was unloaded, being 
kept well afloat during the whole process. Then, after well 
under way, we would see the wolves sneaking about the de- 
serted camp, seeking what they might devour. They were 
very plenty in those days, and in winter they made beaten 
paths under the walls of the fort with their nightly forays, and 
I heard them quarreling and snarling more than once. We 
hunted them occasionally with dogs and guns. They would 
always run if possible, but when cornered would fight desper- 
ately, snapping their jaws together like a steel trap. 

On our way we noticed immense flocks of swans, geese, brant, 
and all varieties of ducks on their southern migration. In those 
early days the water fowls in the fall were in myriads, and I 
never tasted such nice fat ducks as had arrived at perfection 
in the wild rice swamps. Arrived at Prairie du Chien, I went 
direct to Colonel Taylor's, and of course was received with most 
cordial hospitality- How little we imagined that the next day 
would find them in the lowest depths of anguish and sorrow, 
for within twenty-four hours a letter was received informing 
them of the death of their daughter, Mrs. Jeff. Davis. I have 
seen it stated in print that she died within six months after 
marriage, but I know the interval was more than two years. 

The day following, I left the sorrowing family, and our canoe 
voyage was resumed. Our men were fearfully demoralized 
from their short contact with civilization, and with the 
exception of the old steersman, were more or less drunk, with a 
choice exhibit of black eyes and battered faces. It was not 
until we were approaching Galena that they resumed their usual 
rollicking spirits. 

At Galena we found the Hon. Charles Augustus Murray, an 
English nobleman, finishing up a tour of the United States. He, 
Mr. Featherstonehaugh and myself occupied the same room, 
two of us sleeping on the floor. Here Mr. Featherstonehaugh's 
assistant left us. I regret to say that there was much jangling 
and discord between them, and I am forced to believe that Mr. 
Featherstonehaugh was chiefly at fault. He was a large, fine- 
looking and determined man, with many excellent qualities, 
but with an unfortunate disposition to bully and domineer over 
those who were under him. He was admirably calculated to 
get along with the Canadian voyageurs, whom he treated like 
brutes, as they deserved, and they consequently feared and re- 



REMINISCENCES OF FORT SNELLING. 353 

spected him. Here we sold the canoe, paid off the men, and, bv 
a singular chance, went to St. Louis on my old acquaintance 
the "Warrior," Captain Throckmorton. The city was then 
greatly excited over the Texan struggle for independence, and 
young men were daily leaving to aid in fighting the Mexicans. 

From there we traveled by steamer to Pittsburg, much im- 
peded by ice on the way. At that city Mr. Featherstonehaugh 
duly delivered me to my friends, the Andersons, and I regret to 
say that I have never seen him since. While admitting his 
weaknesses and peculiarities, I feel bound to say, that from be- 
ginning to end he did the fair thing by me. The only time he 
gave me a good blowing up was one horribly cold night, when 
we got out of the canoe nearly cramped and chilled to death, 
and I capsized the tea kettle just as it got to the boiling point. 

I must not close without mention of my excellent old friend, 
Dr. Jarvis, the eccentric surgeon at the post. The excursions 
we had together on horseback went into the hundreds, but he 
could never be tempted in my canoe, although he was a splendid 
swimmer and taught me that invaluable accomplishment. He 
was a born caricaturist and very apt with the pencil. 

More than a passing notice should also be made of Major Tali- 
aferro, the Indian agent. He belonged to a class more common 
then than now. He imagined it to be his imperative duty to 
see that every Indian under his charge had the enjoyment of all 
his rights, and never seemed to realize his opportunities for ar- 
ranging with contractors for the supply of inferior goods and 
for dividing the profits. His office was not the reward of doing 
dirty work for his party, for his get-up was so peculiar that he 
was not competent for that occupation. 

This completes the more vivid of my reminiscences of dear 
old Fort Snelling. 

Caracas, Venezuela, S. A., April 23, 1894. 

22 

Since the foregoing article was printed, the following letter 
has been received from Mr. Bliss. 

ERIE, PA., Nov. 13, 1894. 

In the footnote on page 335 of the "Reminiscences, I notice an important error. 
It is stated that I served in the Union Army, but it was my paid substitute who did 
it. While a young man in Buffalo, I was Lieutenant Colonel of the Seventy-fourth 
Uniformed Militia, then the crack regiment of that city, and the title "Colonel" has 
stuck to me with more or less pertinacity ever since. 

I would here mention, so that it may be a matter of record, that on Mr. Feather- 
stonehaugh's expedition, he was accompanied by an assistant of whom he does not 
make the slightest mention in any part of his book. He was a pleasant, energetic and 
educated gentleman, an American, Mather by name. 

JNO. H. BLISS. 



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