Pages 146-157 From the book
"History of Wabasha County" Published in 1884
Concerning Wabasha and Winona Counties in Minnesota
The first white men to establish themselves among these Indians were the fur traders and voyageurs ~ the early pioneers of commerce. Of the hardy adventurers who in generations past engaged in commercial pursuits in this vicinity nothing is now known.
The earliest of these traffickers, who had a fixed place of business in this county, of which there is even a traditional record, was Francois La Bathe. His business location was in the northern part of the county, on the Mississippi. The date of his establishment of a trading station in this vicinity is not now definitely known. He had trading posts in other localities along the river at the same time ~ one at Bad Axe, below La Crosse. His more permanent stations were usually under the charge of partners and assistants or clerks. Mr. O. M. Lord informed the writer that Hon. N. W. Kittson, of St. Paul, was in the employ of La Bathe & Co. for a year or two, in 1840, or about that time, and had charge of a trading station above the Rolling Stone. The location of the station was described by Mr. Kittson as being above Minnesota City, at the foot of the bluff, where the slough leaves the mainland (Haddock's slough). The land in this vicinity is now owned by D. L. Barley, who has occupied it about thirty years. Mr. Barley says he has never seen any indications that would lead him to think the locality had ever been occupied for any purpose prior to his taking possession of it. Others say La Bathe's trading post was above that place. Near where the river leaves the mainland, about four miles below the mouth of the White Water, there is a bluff and a location that resemble the description given to Mr. Lord. At that place the early settlers of 1852 found the ruins of a large cabin. The writer saw it frequently in 1854. There was a huge stone fireplace and chimney then standing entire, in a tolerable state of preservation, but the logs were a mass of ruins, and bushes were growing up among the logs where the house once stood.
It is said that La Bathe spent the most of his life with the Dakotah Indians; that though of French descent he was in some way related to them either by birth or marriage, or perhaps both. His influence with the Indians was an advantage to him in his commercial transactions. He was intimately connected in business affairs with prominent traders. His history is unknown in this vicinity. La Bathe went with the Sioux to their reservation on the head-waters of the Minnesota river, where he was killed by the savages with whom he had spent his life. He was among the first victims at the outbreak of the Sioux massacre in 1862.
Although there were quite a number of traders who lived on the Wisconsin side of the river, at La Crosse and at what is now Trempealeau and Fountain City, who traded with the Sioux on the west side of the river, there are but two or three others of this class to mention who were established in business and had a residence in Winona county. First among these were Willard B. Bunnell and Nathan Brown, both of whom came into the Territory of Minnesota after it was organized.
"Bill" Bunnell had been for five or six years prior to his coming here living on the east side of the Mississippi, at La Crosse and at what is now Trempealeau village, but the most of the time in what was called the Trempealeau country, hunting, trapping and trading with the Indians. His Indian trade was principally with the Winnebagoes who were living in that vicinity and in the Black River country. He had, before coming to the Mississippi river, been a trader in the vicinity of Green Bay, with the Menomines and Chippewas. From his fluency in speaking the language of the Chippewas the Sioux for some time after his arrival in this vicinity were jealous and suspicious of him as a friend of their hereditary enemies. He was unable to secure their confidence until he had learned their language and proved himself to be a "professional" hunter and their friend. He joined them in their hunting excursions, and for the time adopted their style of "undress," ~ a breech-clout, buckskin leggings and moccasins. In this rig, with his rifle or fowling-piece and blanket, he spent weeks with them on Root river and its tributaries. He was the first white resident of this locality to explore the country back of the bluffs.
Willard Bradly Bunnell located as a licensed trader with the Sioux of Wabasha's band, August 20, 1849. His house was on the bank of the river, in what is now the village of Homer. It was built of hewed logs, and had a shingled roof ~ the first shingled roof ever put on any structure in this part of Minnesota. This was the first permanent improvement made in the settlement of the county. To this place Bunnell brought his family. It was the home of an estimable wife and their three children. It was here that the first white child was born. Frances Matilda Bunnell was born February 20, 1850. She was the first white native resident of this part of the territory.
Mrs. Bunnell was the first white woman that came into this part of the Territory of Minnesota to live ~ the first to make her home within the boundaries of Winona county. She was a model representative of a frontier woman. Although remarkably domestic in her habits, and observant of matters connected with her household duties, which make home desirable, she was able to paddle her own canoe, and was a sure shot with either the rifle or fowling-piece. While in general appearance and manners ladylike and modestly feminine, she had remarkable courage and self-possession, and was decisive to act in cases of emergency, when danger threatened herself or family ~ qualifications that were respected by her dusky neighbors, the friends of the trader. Possessing good mental abilities, her experience in frontier life and intuitive knowledge of Indian character gave her an influence over the wild customers who visited their trading-post, that was as much a matter of surprise to herself as to others. The Indians respected and feared her although only a "woman."
Mrs. Bunnell was of French descent. Besides speaking French, she was able to converse fluently with the Chippewas, Winnebagoes and Sioux, and had some knowledge of other dialects. She was brought up to the Catholic faith, but in the latter part of her life she professed the Protestant religion, and became a member of the Methodist church. Mrs. Bunnell died in April, 1867, at about the age of forty-five. Some of her children are yet residents of this state.
The house, a story and a-half building, built by "Will" Bunnell in 1849, is still standing in the upper part of the village of Homer, at what was once called Bunnell's Landing. The building and grounds are now the property of Dr. L. H. Bunnell, a younger brother of the trader. The house has been moved a little back from where it was originally built, and, to keep pace with the times, this relic of the first settlers' early home has been somewhat modernized by a covering of clapboards and painted. It is still a comfortable dwelling, and is occupied by Dr. Bunnell as his residence and permanent home.
Willard B. Bunnell took an active interest in the early settlement of this county, and was connected with many of the incidents of pioneer life which will be noticed in the progress of events. He died in August, 1861, at about the age of forty-seven. His death was caused by consumption.
Nathan Brown came into the territory as a trader September 29, 1849. His location was on the river below Bunnell's, in what is now the southern part of the county. Mr. Brown was then a young man without a family. His cabin in which he made his home was a one-story log building, 12 X 16. His storehouse, 12 X 16, was a story and a-half, of hewed logs. These buildings were covered with shingled roofs and substantially made.
Although Mr. Brown was a trader with the Indians, he did not hold his position through a license from government. He made a sort of miniature treaty with Wabasha and his braves, and purchased from them the privilege of occupying as much of the locality as he chose to carry on his business. For this permit he paid them $50 ~ making payment in flour and pork from his store. Mr. Brown states that "during the early days of his residence there, while engaged in trade with the Winnebagoes and Sioux, he never locked his cabin door, not even when absent from home, and never lost anything by theft, through either Indians or white people."
Mr. Brown and Mr. Bunnell, as the last of the Indian traders, appear to constitute a connecting link between the past and present condition of this part of the country. Both settled here while the land was held by the Sioux. Both were residents of Winona county after its organization.
Following in the order of pioneer life, the missionaries have been among the first to venture into countries inhabited by the savages, and the first to attempt to improve thei4r condition. Their zealous efforts entitle them to be called the pioneers of civilization. Foremost among these have been the missionaries connected with the Catholic church.
In the earliest explorations of this part of the country, the traders were accompanied by the priests. The early French traders and voyageurs were of that religious belief, and their descendants, for all of them intermarried with the Indians, were taught the same faith. These missionaries were the first to visit the Dakotas ~ the first to visit the west side of the Mississippi river.
From the days of the Rev. Louis Hennepin to more modern times they held a strong influence over the traders and voyageurs, and their descendants, and perhaps, to a limited extent, succeeded inn influencing the savage natives by their teachings.
The first catholic missionaries of more modern times, of whom there is even traditionary knowledge in this section of country, were at the half-breed village where now stands the city of Wabasha. There the first church in southern Minnesota was built in 1845. With the exception of the very Rev. A. Ravoux, the names of these missionaries are unknown.
The first attempt to establish a Protestant missionary station in this vicinity, of which there is any record, was in 1836. Rev. Daniel Gavan, a Frenchman, sent out as a missionary by the Evangelical Society of Lansanne, Switzerland, established a mission for the benefit of the Sioux of Wabasha's band. At that time the Sioux held possession of the east side of the river. Mr. Gavan located on the Wisconsin side, and built his cabin near Trempealeau mountain. He remained here until the fall of 1838, when he visited the missions on the Minnesota river, at Lac qui Parle, for the purpose of learning the Sioux language from the missionaries, who were then translating the Scriptures into that tongue. While thus engaged he became acquainted with and afterward married Miss Lucy C. Stevens, who had been a teacher in a mission school at Lake Harriet, near Fort Snelling. Miss Stevens was a niece of Rev. J. D. Stevens, a missionary. Mr. Gavan, after his marriage, removed to Red Wing, where he remained until 1845.
In 1838 the Rev. Jedediah D. Stevens came into this vicinity in the double capacity of missionary or teacher, and "Indian Farmer." Mr. Stevens was one of the earliest Protestant missionaries to visit the Dakotas on this side of the river. In the spring of 1835 he with his family came to Ft. Snelling, and shortly afterward removed from there to Lake Harriet, as missionary to "Cloud Man's" band of Sioux, where he remained until the fall of 1838, when he was appointed "Indian Farmer" to the Sioux of Wabasha's band, at Wabasha prairie. Maj. Tallisferro, the Indian agent for the Sioux, aided some of the early missionaries by such appointments, with the design to benefit the savages by thus providing them with means of civilization.
Late in the fall of 1838 Mr. Stevens moved his familyh to his appointed field of labor, but was not favorably received by the Indians. He, however, located himself on the Wisconsin side of the river on the island, about opposite where Laird, Norton & Co's saw-mills now stand, where he built a comfortable log cabin for his family, and a stable for the team of horses he brought with him. He there passed the winter with his wife and children and a young girl, an assistant and companion of Mrs. Stevens. Mr. G. W. Clark says the ruins of this cabin were to be seen when he came here in 1851. Expecting to get his winter supply of provisions from down the river before the close of navigation, he brought only a small supply with him, and was seriously disappointed to learn that no supplies could be procured from that source. He was compelled to go to Prairie Du Chine for the provisions he had ordered. This trip, over one hundred miles distant, he made with his team on the ice, leaving his family alone. It was during this winter that Mr. Gavin, who had been living near Trempealeau, was visiting the missions on the Minnesota river.
Neither Mr. Stevens nor his family were in any way molested or disturbed by the Sioux during the winter, but he failed to secure the confidence or friendship of Wabasha or his people, although he was able to converse with them in their own tongue. They were dissatisfied with his appointment as "Indian Farmer," and from the time of his arrival had refused to recognize him as a government agent, or in his capacity as a teacher. In the spring, when he began to make preparations to build on the prairie, their dissatisfaction began to assume a threatening form of opposition. His perseverance excited their hostilities to the extent that he was ordered to keep on the east side of the river, where he was then living, and not attempt to locate on their lands. Deeming it unsafe to remain with his family, against the opposition exhibited, Mr. Stevens resigned his position and left the locality. He went down the river and found more civilized society.
The young girl (now Mrs. Griggs) who lived with Mrs. Stevens on the island during that winter, resides near Minneapolis.
This appointment of Mr. Stevens to the position of Indian farmer at Wabasha Prairie was the first special appointment made for the Sioux in this locality. It was made in accordance with the terms of the treaty in 1837, by which they sold their lands on the east side of the Mississippi, with all of their island in the river. This treaty was not ratified by government until the following year, 1838, only a short time before Mr. Stevens was assigned to the locality.
Although the Sioux continued to occupy the islands and lands on the east side of the river in common with others, during their stay in this vicinity, they never assumed jurisdiction over them.
The Sioux were jealous of the rapid advances of the white people, and firmly opposed any measures which gave them privileges on their lands. The trader was to them a necessity. The Catholic missionaries had for generations been mysteriously associated with the presence of the trader and tolerated. But the missionary Indian farmer they were not prepared to receive ~ they were indifferent as to what Mr. Stevens knew about farming or schools. It was supposed by some that the Indians were influenced in this matter by the traders and half-breeds, with a design to drive Mr. Stevens off and make a vacancy in the position. This may have been the case; but it was evident that Wabasha did not favor measures that tended to civilization. Afterward, when the treaty was made for the sale of their lands, in 1851, he opposed the sale until the treaty was ready for signature, and then acquiesced only because he feared the treaty would be made without his touch of the pen. He was opposed to the terms of the treaty, and in a speech in opposition to it, he said to the commissioners in council: "You have requested us to sign this paper, and you have told these people standing around that it is for their benefit; but I am of a different opinion. In the treaty I have heard read you have mentioned farmers and schools, physicians, traders and half-breeds. To all these I am opposed. You see these chiefs sitting around. They and others who are dead went to Washington and made a treaty (in 1837), in which the same things were said; but we have not been benefitted by them, and I want them struck out of this one. We want nothing but cash turned over to us for our lands."
At about the time that Mr. Stevens was appointed Indian farmer, a government blacksmith was also assigned to this band. His name, the place where located, or the length of time he was here, is somewhat uncertain. It is said by some that he was located near La Bathe's trading station. Of this nothing reliable is learned. About the same time a blacksmith was assigned to the half-breeds. Oliver Cratt, from Fort Snelling, was appointed to that position, and he located himself at the half-breed settlement, now Wabasha. Whether he also supplied Wabasha's band is not known.
Dr. Bunnell, of this county, says that he learned from some old Indians, Sioux and Winnebagoes, and from descendants of half-breed natives of this vicinity, that the first blacksmith appointed to Wabasha's band was a half-breed Sioux. That he located himself on the very site where W. B. Bunnell afterward settled, and which is now the property of Dr. Bunnell. He says that in cultivating his garden, in that locality, he has found cinders and scraps of iron that would confirm the statement. The tradition of the Indians is that the half-breed blacksmith did not stay but a short time on the west side of the river. To avoid threatened danger to himself he moved his blacksmith-shop onto an island opposite Homer. In this way he held for awhile his position of an employee under government.
The doctor also states that after W. B. Bunnell was located at this trading station, he found on the island an old anvil and evidence that a blacksmith had occupied the locality. The island was given the name of "Blacksmith Island" by the trader, and it is yet known by that name.
The Sioux of the "lower bands" along the river were all opposed to the payment of teachers or for the establishment of schools, etc., from their annuities. No schools were ever established with Wabasha's band. It was not until several years after the treaty of 1837 that the consent of any of this division was obtained. Little Crow, of the Kaposia band, was the first to ask for a school, in 1846. The mission schools were previous to this, and until after the treaty of 1851, supported at the expense of missionary societies.
In 1842 James Reed was appointed Indian farmer to Wabasha's band, and held this position under government for three years afterward. He built a log storehouse on Wabasha prairie, which he used as his headquarters when engaged in his official duties. This building stood about where S. C. White's store now stands, on the corner of Second and Center streets, in the city of Winona.
The lands cultivated by the Sioux, under the management and instruction of Mr. Reed, were in the mouth of what is now called Gilmore valley, the bottom lands in front of the residence of C. C. Beck. Prior to this the same locality had been used by generations of Sioux squaws for cultivation after their primitive manner. This was the favorite planting grounds of Wabasha's village, although other localities were also used for purposes of cultivation. The mouth of Burns valley was another favorite locality and the special home of the chief Wabasha and his family relatives. The main village of this band was on the slough at the upper end of the prairie, near where the railroad machine-shops are now located.
James Reed was a native of Kentucky. When a young man he enlisted as a soldier and was stationed at Fort Crawford, Prairie du Chine. After his discharge he adopted the life of a hunter and trapper, and spent the greater part of his life among the Indians along the upper Mississippi. As was common among men of his class, he took a wife or two among the people with whom he was living. His last wife, to whom he was married in 1840, or about that time, in Prairie du Chine, was a half-breed Sioux, a cousin of the chief Wabasha, and said to be a sister of Francois la Bathe, the trader of whom mention has been made.
The section of country fixed upon by James Reed as his favorite locality was the Trempealeau country, where he was successful in raising stock on the free ranges of government lands. He made it his home at what is now the village of Trempealeau. It was here he was living when he was appointed Indian farmer for the benefit of the Sioux on Wabasha prairie. He did not change his residence while holding this official position.
Mr. Reed lived in the Trempealeau country until his death, which occurred but a few years ago at what is called the "Little Tamerack," in the Trempealeau valley.
How much the Indians were benefitted by the instructions of an inexperienced agriculturist it is now difficult to determine. The first settlers on Wabasha prairie found some parts of broken plows among the ruins of the old storehouse used by Mr. Reed. An old breaking plow was found and taken possession of by some of the settlers at Minnesota city. This was claimed and carried away by some of the squaws in 1852.
It is questionable whether the people of this band were benefitted by agents of government or missionaries while they remained in this section of country. There is no evidence to show a single instance where a missionary was every permitted by Wabasha to locate within what are now the boundaries of this county.
The Catholic missionaries were the religious instructors of the half-breeds. To what extent they had influence with this band is now unknown. From several graves disclosed by the caving of the bank of the river, in the lower part of the city of Winona, a number of large silver crosses and other Catholic emblems were taken by some boys fishing in the vicinity. One of these crosses was purchased by W. H. St. John, a jeweler in Winona, who exhibits it in his store as a relic of the past. The graves were evidently those of females.
In the summer of 1848, the Winnebago Indians were removed from the reservation in the northeastern part of Iowa, which they had occupied for a limited time, to a reservation established for them by government on Long Prairie, on the east side of the Mississippi, about forty miles back from the river, and about one hundred and forty miles above St. Paul.
They were opposed to the arrangements, and objected to their removal to the locality selected for their future home. Military aid was required to induce them to move. After considerable delay a part of them were persuaded to start up the Mississippi in their canoes, under charge of H. M. Rice, accompanied by a company of volunteers from Crawford county, Wis., in boats. The other portion was induced to start by land, with their ponies, under the care of Indian agent Fletcher, with a company of dragoons from Fort Atkinson, and a train of baggage wagons. By agreements these two parties were to meet at Wabasha Prairie.
The party by eater reached the prairie and landed near where Mrs. Keyes now lives, where they camped. The land party came into this part of the country by following up what is now called Money Creek valley, and arrived at the prairie by following the Indian trail on the divide between the Burns and Gilmore valleys. This trail led down a steep ravine back of where George W. Clark now lives. It was here necessary to let the baggage wagons down with ropes attached to the trees on the east side of the ravine. This trail over the ridge was afterward known to the early settlers as the "Government Trail."
When the Winnebagoes reached Wabasha Prairie they revolted, and decidedly refused to go farther. With the exception of one small band, who remained on the bank of the river, they all went round the lake to the mouth of Burns valley, where they camped with Wabasha's band, which had collected there, and with whom they were on friendly terms.
Finding it necessary to have more aid, reinforcements were sent for. While the government officials were waiting for help from Fort Snelling, the Winnebagoes negotiated with Wabasha for the purchase of the prairie, and expressed a determination to remain here. Wabasha and his braves joined in with them ~ took an active interest in their proceedings, and encouraged them in their revolt against the authority of Indian agent J. E. Fletcher and his assistants.
A steamboat brought down from the fort a company of soldiers and two pieces of artillery, which were landed at the camp on the lower part of the prairie.
A council with the Indians was agreed upon, the day appointed, and the place selected. The location was above the camp and back from the river. To guard against a surprise the officers in charge made their strongest preparation for defense, in case an attack should be made. The teamsters and every available man of the party was armed and detailed for active duty. On the day fixed all of the warriors of the combines tribes of Winnebagoes and Sioux, many of them mounted on their ponies, marched around the head of the lake from Burns valley and moved down the prairie. When about half a mile from the council grounds, where the Indian agent awaited them surrounded by his forces, a detachment rode forward as if to reconnoiter. The whole body of Indians then moved down as if at a charge, and began the wildest display of their capacity to represent demons, on foot and on horseback. Their manoeuvers might indicate a peaceful display or represent a threatened assault. It was supposed at the time that an attack was designed by the wild devils.
One of the land escort, McKinney, pointed out the locations and described the incidents to the writer, and said that he certainly expected to lose his scalp that day. As he watched their wild evolutions, circling on every side, charging with fierce yells and firing of guns, his scalp seemed to fairly start from his head. His fear of attack was, however, second to his astonishment and admiration of the extraordinary and unexpected display.
The council was held without any attending difficulty, but the agents failed to secure the consent of the Indians to move on up the river. After a delay here of about a month the Winnebagoes consented to go to Long Prairie. Many of them, however, went back to Iowa, or crossed the river to their old homes in Wisconsin.
Wabasha was arrested and taken up to Fort Snelling for the part he had taken in the affair. The sale of Wabasha Prairie to the Winnebagoes was never consummated, or agreed to by the Sioux. The negotiations for it were simply "talks" to delay any movements. The Winnebagoes were then desirous of going to the Missouri river country, instead of up the Mississippi.