The Aboriginee

The Indians

In 1824, the three leading trading posts on Lake Michigan, in Wisconsin, were Milwaukee, Sheboygan and Manitowoc, and practically all the larger towns were once the sites of Indian villages, showing that to the sagacity and foresight of the aborigines, rather than the judgment and discrimination of the whites, are we indebted for the beautiful and eligible location of the towns throughout the state. According to Morgan L. Martin, delegate to congress from Wisconsin territory in 1828, "the whole region extending from the entrance of Green Bay as far as Milwaukee, was occupied by Pottawattomies and Ottawas. Their principal villages were at Manitowoc, Pigeon and Sheboygan rivers. There were no villages north of Kewaunee, only temporary lodges as far as the islands." He, however, had not visited the region until 1833. In that year Alexis Clermont carried the mail on foot from Fort Howard (Green Bay) to Chicago. Only twice did he see the lake between Green Bay and Milwaukee. He found large villages of Indians near Manitowoc and Sheboygan, but not many at Milwaukee. There were none between the last mentioned place and Chicago. An Oneida Indian usually accompanied him and it took one month to make the trip and return.

Josiah A. Noonan traveled from Milwaukee to Green Bay in 1837, accompanied by a mail carrier, a half breed named Powell. At Sheboygan the only house was a hotel, erected by the company owning the village plat.

As a rule the Indians lived in villages and their tepees, or wigwams were made of bark and poles. One of their largest settlements in the county was on both sides of the Sheboygan river, below the Ashby place, comprising about 500 men, women and children. A large encampment was situated near the village of Cascade, another not far away to the south, and on to the west of Cascade. There was also an Indian village in the town of Russell and at Sheboygan, and at all these places the red man had tilled patches of ground, where they cultivated com and potatoes. Their habits, while in the villages were fixed. Their manner of burying the dead, their marriages, feasts, dress, and so forth, was according to a system followed without swerving from the beaten path.

Legend of the Name Sheboygan

Luther Witt, with his young bride, Betsey Thompson, arrived in Sheboygan county and located on a farm site about two miles south of Cascade, in 1845, and is authority for the following interesting details relating to the Indians of this section of the country. At the time of his settlement in the county there were living in the present town of Lyndon about two hundred Indians, young and old, and each family cultivated about an acre of corn. In preparing the land for tilling, the small timber was cleared from the ground and the larger trees were girdled. In making ready the ground for planting grain, holes were dug about eighteen inches in diameter and six inches deep, but not in a straight line. All this work was done by the squaws, never the "buck."

The method of the squaw in planting was most primitive. Sitting by the hole, the seed was dropped and covered with the hand. Before doing this, however, she would fill the hole with the soil to about two inches of the top. After one hole had been planted and without rising to her feet, she would hitch her body to the next hole. Mr. Witt has told of more than one instance in which he endeavored to teach the squaws the methods of the whites in planting corn, but they would have none of it and went on in their own way. Strange to say, they kept the cultivated ground free of weeds and hoed the corn carefully and well.

It was the custom of these aborigines always to have a powwow and dance before the planting season, upon which occasions much "fire water" was disposed of, resulting in a wild and drunken orgie. This practice was repeated when the corn was in the milk or ready for "roasting ears." These orgies and dances would continue for several days, and their fighting and yelling made both day and night a pandemonium. Two braves, Queeve and Tomo, belonged to this band, and each of them had lost part of his nose in one of these rows.

The ripened corn was husked and dried on a rack, placed before or over a slow fire, until dry. It would then be placed in sacks, made by the squaws out of basswood bark, and "cached" in sandpits covered with bark to keep out the rain. This was the uniform method throughout the county for storing corn by the Indians.

In the spring the Indians made considerable maple sugar, of which they were very fond. The trees were tapped with an ax and the sap was gathered in birch-bark buckets. This was also the work of the squaws, as was in fact everything else, with the exception of hunting and fishing. "little thunder" thrown into the river.

Little Thunder Thrown Into the River

Wentworth Barber was a native of Vermont and immigrated to Sheboygan county in 1841. On the 8th of November of that year he located in Lyndon town and worked for the old Indian fur trader and pioneer settler, William Farnsworth. On one occasion, when he had charge of the "flats," a party of Indians pitched their tepees close by and were ordered by Mr. Barber to decamp. This they refused to do, so he took each one of them bodily and threw him into the river. A short time thereafter, a sturdy "buck," Little Thunder, smarting under his previous humiliation, filled up on whiskey and threatened to kill the settler, approaching him with fire in his eye and murder in his heart. Barber, however, was not dismayed, for at this crisis he had in his hand an ox goad about four feet in length, on the end of which was a sharp spike. With this he jabbed the Indian's hand. This took all the fight out of Little Thunder, who was led away by his squaws. The end of Mr. Barber's troubles with Indians ceased there and then.

Waubaca's Laugh of Derision

Among the uncertainties of travel in the pioneer days was that of finding a fording place at the larger streams. An incident occurred in this relation when, in 1844, the Harmons and Parrishes left their comfortable homes in the state of New York and braved the dangers of this wild western country. This little colony of twenty-three souls had reached Milwaukee without mishap and upon arriving at the embryo city later made famous by a certain brew of beer, loaded their goods on wagons drawn by oxen and started for the wilderness of Sheboygan county. Upon reaching the Milwaukee river they found that stream greatly swollen and their dilemma was of no inconsiderable proportions. How to cross without ferry or boat was a serious problem. The old Indian, Waubaca, lived close by and when he and his warriors realized the predicament of the immigrants they gave vent to a loud yell of derision. But Waubaca was prevailed upon to lend his canoes and with the sturdy New England grit that was theirs these brave hearts breasted the raging torf&ii: of-) the Milwaukee, paddling their wives and children across the stream. They tlieh -compelled the oxen to swim over to the other side, and then by ropes drew the wagons heavily loaded with pork, flour and other provisions across* the stream without loss or mishap. This feat, so successfully accomplished, excited the wonder and admiration of the Indians over the daring and genius of the white man.

The Floor Covered with Indians

"Deacon" Dye was early on the ground at the time of the first settlement of the county, coming in 1836 and first locating at Sheboygan. Three years later he moved to Lima town, putting up a log cabin in the primeval forest alongside an Indian trail. With the red man he had many experiences. He would often go with a party of them hunting "bee trees" and when one was found he would be the wielder of the ax in cutting it down.

The red man scorned work of every description. Through his Indian friends his table was bountifully supplied with honey. Sometimes the Indians were troublesome, by reason of having taken too much liquor, and would often go to the Dye cabin, there to spend the night, lying so thickly on the floor that in the morning Mr. Dye could hardly get to the fireplace.

Sad Fate of Mrs. Asenath Briggs

A tragedy, full details of which have never been gathered, occurred in the latter part of April, 1846, and cast a gloom over the spirits of every settler then living in the county and in Manitowoc and Calumet counties as well.

It was on the 27th of April, 1846, that Asenath Briggs, wife of J. W. Briggs, left her home for the cabin of her distant neighbor. Nelson Bradford, for the purpose of securing some meal and milk. The Bradford's lived about one-half mile from the Briggs home and the only way of reaching their cabin was through the unbroken forest. When Mrs. Briggs did not return to her home before nightfall, her invalid husband and son became alarmed and, arousing the neighbors, a thorough search was made without finding her and further effort in that direction was abandoned. The mystery of the woman's disappearance was the wonder of the settlement for many months, but was finally cleared up in a measure, when a party of Indians informed the missing woman's friends that they had discovered her remains near the Sheboygan river, in Manitowoc county.

At once Cyrus Johnson, Rensselaer Thorpe, E. F. Wright and Avery Childs started in search of the body and, from the description of the locality and directions given by the Indians, they had but little trouble in locating it. The members of this expedition had no hesitancy in determining the nature of Mrs. Briggs' death. They at once ascribed it to murder and laid the crime at the door of a treacherous Indian, or Indians. The skull was lying several feet from the body, which had been laid upon the victim's shawl and covered with her clothes by those who found the ghastly remains of this pioneer wife and mother. Strange to relate, however, the remains were not removed for burial until in the fall, and no reason can be given, or ever has been given, for this seeming lack of the humanities and decency.

Indians Steal a Barrel of Whiskey

The liberty has been taken of reproducing here an article appearing in the Atlas of Sheboygan County, published by the Joems Brothers in 1902, the details for which were furnished by David Giddings:

It was on the 2Sth day of June, 1835, between sundown and dark, that I first saw the Sheboygan river and its surroundings. I had come from Milwaukee on foot in company with a young man from Vermont. We came on the beach of the lake, and when we arrived in sight of the river the mouth or outlet was full of young Indians swimming. The river was running at that time near the north bank and the outlet in a northerly direction and the point on the south side extended much farther than now, even beyond the present harbor piers, with a wide sandy beach on the lake side and a narrow grassy plat extending some way up on the south side of the river.

On looking up the river we saw on this plat a little 8x10 shanty, about which was a collection of Indians, apparently drunk. We went to the shanty door and looking in saw on a bench the barrel from which the Indians were filling their cups. Behind the barrel sat a man whom we asked why he let them draw the whiskey as they pleased, and he said he could not prevent it, said his name was Harrison, that he came there two weeks before to make a claim on the south side of the river, that he brought with him two barrels of whiskey to trade with the Indians, that he had commenced drawing from one barrel but that the Indians were too much for him. They took possession of the barrel and soon made an end of the whiskey. To save the other barrel, he had in the night rolled it back into the bushes and buried it. But the morning we came, they found it and compelled him to dig it up and let them have it. They commenced to drink and many of them were soon drunk. Every chance he got when they were out, he would run to the river, get a pail of water and pour into the barrel. In that way they were not so drunkas in the morning before we came. We had been there but a short time when two men came down from the mill with a raft of lumber. We asked them to set us over to the north side of the river, which they did, and told us there was a good trail on that side leading to the mill.

At that time there was a row of bark wigwams, some twelve or fifteen in number, extending from the mouth up to the high ground or present level of the streets. In and around these houses was a multitude of squaws, children and dogs. The trail ran along in front of the wigwams, and as we passed, we were surrounded by their yelping curs, who seemed determined to prevent our passing, but the squaws finally quieted them and we got safely by. We found no difficulty in following the trail up to the mill, two miles or more up the river, where we had a good night's rest. The mill had just been finished and they were sawing and rafting lumber, but I think they had not sent any away.

Indian John - By J. L. Sexton

In the winter of 1851-2, there occasionally came into our cabin in the woods, an Indian whom we knew by the name of "John." He appeared honest and well disposed and could talk some understandable English. He seemed much better than the proverbial good Indian, which is a dead one. If he came in at meal time, we were glad to share our repast with him, which he much appreciated.

One day he saw a nice little hand sled which I had constructed a few days previously. He said: "Give me sled, me take um two, three days, then bring um back. Me got bee tree, me draw honey to Greenbush, sell um, get money." I said, "You may take it." He then saw a two quart tin pail and said: "Give me pail, too, bring back sled, bring back pail." I said, "Take the pail," and away he went with them. In due time he came with sled and in the pail a generous present of honey.

At that time, he and several other Indians had a camp on the north bank of the Sheboygan river, not far from the bridge that spans it near the schoolhouse in District No. 5, in the town of Rhine. One Sunday, a fine spring morning in the month of May, 1852, when vegetation was waking up from the long winter rest and the trees were showing bud and leaf and bloom and the flowers beneath were lifting up their bright faces to the morning sun, I said to my wife: "Let us take a little stroll through the woods and note the lay of the land, view the trees, admire the flowers and maybe come across our neighbor's oxen and cow that have strayed away from their owner into the big unfenced pasture." "That will be very pleasant," she said. So we started, but not intending to go far, nor be absent only a short time we left the latch string on the outside of the door as callers at that time were quite infrequent. We found the air of the woods so balmy and invigorating and the scenery so enchanting that time passed away almost unheeded and we rambled farther and were gone longer than we first intended, so that it was near the noonday hour when we returned to our abode. Then we saw the latch string had been pulled when we were gone.

On going inside we saw a man's cap lying on a wash stand near the door. I said, "This is Indian John's cap. He has been here for something and left his cap as a pledge." I soon discovered that a hand saw was missing from its peg on which it had hung behind the door. I said, "Maybe the sick Indian is dead and John wanted the saw to use in making a coffin. I will go down to the camp and see."

On my arrival there I found my surmise was correct. At the same time, Isaac Clark of the town of Greenbush, father of Otis Clark of the Dillingham Manufacturing Company, Sheboygan, came there also. We volunteered to assist the Indians in their last sad service to their deceased friend. With my saw and a hammer and a few nails, we constructed a coffin or box, from a long pine board and the sides of an old dug out canoe, as suitable and sensible for its use and purpose as the most costly and elaborate casket that was ever buried in the ground.

The hair being combed nicely and the body covered with a calico shirt and with deer skin moccasins, finely embroidered with small fancy colored beads, on his feet, we laid him on some soft material into his narrow resting place. A small quantity of tobacco was placed in either hand and his fingers closed down over some provisions placed by his side. Then we closed up his humble home. Four crotchet stakes, a few feet in length and sharpened at one end were driven into the ground. Two poles were laid parallel to each other a few feet apart from one crotch to another and the coffin was elevated up onto them. A small camp fire was then made and the Indians sat in a circle around it, each eating a portion of food while another portion was being consumed on the fire. So they were eating a last supper with their deceased friend. The widowed squaw did not sit with the others, but sat apart from them and ate her meal in sad, sorrowful, silent bereavement.

The Indian Scare

An event occurred in September, 1862, that still remains in the memory of those now living who happened to be residents of the county at that time, and it stands out prominently among the incidents that go to make up the community's history, from the fact that at the time the rumor was most prevalent and credence placed in its authenticity the fears and trembling of the settlers were real and, until the hoax was exploded, their condition was (to them) most perilous.

It was on the third day of the month above mentioned that mounted messengers reported the Indians on the warpath and that towns and villages in their course were being sacked and burned and the settlers given over to the tomahawk and scalping knife. This whole northern country was thrown into a state of alarm and excitement; men, women and children left their homes on the farms and huddled in the villages, the stronger hearts fortifying themselves against attack with shotgun and rifle, pitchforks, scythes and other weapons of defense that came to hand. At Sheboygan the drawbridge was removed, and there as elsewhere in the county, every precaution was taken to guard against a surprise. The utmost fear was on every side and a number of days passed in the anguish that only uncertainty can entail. However, the dreaded day never came, but how the false alarm got its being never was discovered. Mrs. H. N. Smith wrote of this episode in a facetious manner and her article is reproduced for the benefit of the present generation:

This notable event in our history has been considered of sufficient importance to make a chapter by itself. It was a lovely day in September, 1862; the sun shone through the Indian summer haze which veiled yet enhanced the splendors of the autumnal forests. Everything was peaceful, calm as the *bridal day of earth and sky, when a 'solitary horseman' rode rapidly into town. His horse was flecked with foam ; he had traveled fast and far, and had 'stayed not for bush and stopped not for stone.' His eye was wild, his face was pale; terror was enthroned upon his whole person. In short, he was almost 'scart to death.' In a dreadful whisper he announced the blood-freezing fact that Manitowoc, Two Rivers, Chilton, Franklin, etc. had all been burned and sacked, and all the inhabitants murdered by a band of blood thirsty Indians; that they wereadvancing rapidly 'over field and fell.' and we of Plymouth would in all human probability soon share the same fate. These tidings, though sufficiently fearful, did not at once gain credence among the more reasonable, but it was not long before the report of the first horseman was confirmed by another, whose story was still more exciting.

The afternoon sun was already far in the west, when the very air seemed to tremble with the quaking panic. As twilight approached there was a rush of hundreds of wagons. In some mysterious manner the news had spread like 'fire in Chicago.' Every wagon, carriage, buggy or buckboard came laden with men, women, children, babies, crockery chums, feather beds, brooms, mops, pails, provisions, tubs, grain, clothing, looking glasses, band boxes, bundles, furniture, anything and everything likely to become handy in an emergency. For some reason it was considered the only safe plan to congregate in town leaving the farm houses to be plundered and burned by the ruthless savages.

The men were armed with scythes, sickles, butcher knives, corn cutters, screw drivers, and every species of firearms possible to be procured. On they came, load after load, till not only the taverns, but the private houses and even the little depot, swarmed with unexpected guests who had not 'stood upon the order of their coming, but were attired in 'every day clothes.' Meantime, there was a hush of expectancy. What must be done? Measures must be taken at once to defend ourselves against the oncoming hordes who, like the Goths and Vandals, were coming from the north to destroy and burn - at first 1,500 strong, then 15,000, then 150,000. At one time it was declared that they were only four miles north.

By this time it was dark; a mournful wind rustled the dry leaves, and a sad faced moon looked out from the dim atmosphere. The imagination pictured in every whisper of the wind the rush of the savage foe; and the trembling light of the Aurora Borealis was easily made to simulate the flames of burning villages. A council of war was held ; it was discovered that although there were several rifles, guns, pistols, etc, that would go off when properly loaded (at one end or the other), there was not an ounce of powder in the town, except three pounds, the property of Delos Gates, which Mrs. Gates secured in her apron and would not part with for love or money. In this emergency Hon. R. H. Hotchkiss offered to brave all danger and go to Sheboygan for powder.

Meantime, the crowd increased in the streets, anxiety and fear depicted on every countenance. It was suggested by one that as nobody claimed to have seen the Indians, it would be advisable to ascertain the truth of the exciting rumors, that as soon as possible the crowd might disperse and seek rest and refreshment. H. N. Smith, John Carrol and a stranger, whose name we have forgotten, volunteered to go north, in the direction whence the latest news had come. A pair of fast horses, with a light wagon, soon took the party far on their way. Plenty of people flying before a fancied foe; but no Indians.

At Sinz's tavern, town of Rhine, they found hundreds of women and children, with three or four men. At Flagg's tavern, twelve miles north of Plymouth, two hundred men had assembled. The party was under the leadership of Hon. Julius Wolff, who, armed cap-a-pie, with the uniform of Prussia, a la Kaiser Wilhelm, with gun, sword, bayonet, pistols, was an object well calculated not only to strike terror to the savage heart, but also to restore confidence to the most timid - and to cure dyspepsia in its worst form. The scene here was ludicrously solemn but with a throb of awful expectancy in the air. Everybody was silent and not a drop of beer could be obtained. Upon inquiry, nobody could say that he had actually seen an Indian, or even heard one; but somebody else had not only seen the 'varmints' but had witnessed the burning of villages and the massacre of hundreds of white men. When this person was interviewed, he also referred to another, and so on ad infinitum. So at midnight the scouting party returned, tired, but tranquil, satisfied that there was not a red skin enemy between Plymouth and Lake Superior.

Meantime, the multitude, weary with excitement, bivouacked here and there, as beds, lounges and floors were obtainable. Gradually, as the night waned and morning began to break, sleep settled upon all and nary an Indian appeared, even in dreams. At one o'clock A. M. we went home from watching by a sick child. All was still save the chirping crickets and the water falling over the mill dam.

After the excitement was over, the absurdities of the occasion were freely talked over. Men who went flying through the country without hats, on unsaddled horses, screaming at every farm house that the Indians were coming, were ready to laugh at their own ungrounded fears, or to declare that they *were not frightened a bit.

One family in town had a child dangerously sick of diphtheria, whom they wrapped in blankets and carried to a neighbor's house. The excitement and extra warmth of coverings produced a change and the patient rapidly recovered. One man took the pork out of his barrels and buried it in the cellar. An acquaintance of ours, who had a cask of excellent currant wine, called in his neighbors as they were passing, and drank it, determined that the savages should not get drunk through any fault of his. Another family scattered their furniture over a 'ten acre lot,' hoping thereby to save some, at least. Another put their valuables in a well. One lady ran all the way to town, three miles, with a pumpkin pie in her hand. One good friend of ours turned her pigs into her garden, because the corn and vegetables would benefit her no longer and the pigs might enjoy one good meal before the Indians came. The scene was indescribably queer and probably will never be reproduced, so long as the world stands.

But this was not all; the same scene varied by circumstances, was enacted over a great portion of the state. The panic wave, starting in Manitowoc county from some trivial circumstance - we know not what - gathered strength as it traveled, rolling like a tide through Sheboygan, Ozaukee and Milwaukee counties. A gentleman returning from the latter city with a horse and buggy met the crest of the advancing breaker - people running, people on horseback, riding in all manner of vehicles, with but one word out of their pale lips - Indians! Houses were deserted with the fires burning and the dinner smoking on the table. The sick were snatched from their beds and many a scene of suffering aggravated by the terror to a fearful tragedy.

In Sheboygan, as the panic stricken people came rushing in, as they supposed with the Indians at their heels, the city sachems took up the draw bridge at the river, thus rendering escape impossible.

From Milwaukee, the Governor, who was in the city, sent out a company of the Twenty-sixth Regiment then in camp, which got as far as Cedarburg, but returned to Milwaukee without having seen any Indians.

Such is a bit of the history of the Indian panic - as baseless and senseless, yet as complete a scare as the world ever witnessed. It is estimated that at least 40,000 persons left their homes in these counties on that day. These facts may seem overdrawn to any but those who witnessed this strange and inexplicable event. The only foundation for the panic, of which we are aware, was the fact that at this time the public mind was excited by the Indian atrocities at New Ulm and Mankato, and prepared to imagine the probability of such scenes here, without stopping to consider their utter impossibility. Beside, at this time, as we too well remember, there was the realty of the great calamity, when men's hearts were failing them for fear.


Information gathered and adapted from History of Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, Past and Present
Carl Zillier, Editor
Pubished by The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1912, Chicago, IL

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