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The Centennial
Oconto County

Published in 1876
Oconto County Reporter


As the city of Oconto is to celebrate our hundredth National Anniversary, her committee of arrangements have decided, that, in accordance with the President¹s Proclamation, a sketch of the history of this County and of the City should be prepared. Their choice of a person to execute this task has fallen upon me; while gratified, I cannot but be conscious that I am poorly qualified for the work before me, and it is undertaken with reluctance.

As will appear upon reflection very much of the history of a region as new as this must be derived from the recollections of "Old Settlers" and from data in their possession. It is believed that many interesting facts worthy of record might be collected by patient and systematic inquiry, but in the time at my disposal I can do little more than gather and present such data as I can collect in a single and brief interview with such of the old residents as I can conveniently reach. --Author

Chapter I Oconto County at present embraces an area of about 5,400 square miles in the North Eastern part of Wisconsin. It is traversed by many streams and several rivers, which pour their waters into Green Bay. These streams and the forests which they meander, were once the favorite fishing grounds of the Indian. Later, the large bodice of pine drew the lumberman hither, and he has been followed by the farmer.

It is the office of the present sketch to trace briefly the changes wrought by these agencies and note the steps in our progress.

It is but little more than half a century since this was the Indians home. He proudly called these forests nd rivers his own, and the hunting grounds of his fathers.--Here his old men and chiefs spoke wisely in council; his warriors were fierce and deadly in war, and his young men skillful in the hunt. Where are now our towns, stood their villages. In the bark canoe they rode the lake wave, light as ducks, they ascended or shot down the foaming and tumbling rapids; now balanced with one foot on each of its sides gliding easily, with eye intent, and ready arm he watches amid the rushing waters for the sturgeon, the most powerful, and to him the best among fishes.

We see him with sure eye tracing his game; we hear his short grave sentences in council; we see the young men flee; and bounding in their favorite game of ball; we hear the plaintive notes of the Indian flute in the lazy summer air. Their anchored canoes dot the still river when the sun is low in the sets, with each its silent fisherman. These and a hundred other pictures of the Indian in his better and happier days, rise before the mind.

The writer well remembers some of them who were well known and favorites for some years after he came West. One whose name as well as I can write it, was GRIS-DAU, who was physically the finest specimen of manhood I ever saw, he realized the best picture of the Indian.

Shortly after HALL & JEROME purchased the Menominee property from FARNSWORTH and BRUSH, the Indians incited by those who then wished to drive away the new comers, were encroaching and troublesome. At last, one evening they seemed bent upon mischief. They were making considerable noise in front of the old house, when Judge JEROME asked Abel TOURTILLOTT if he would not speak to them and send them away. Accordingly Abel spoke to them, but without much success. He padded to the kitchen at the rear of the house to shut the doors, here he found GRIS-DAU. Abel was more direct than polite to an Indian and ordered, and then helped GRIS-DAU to the door. As they passed the door the Indian caught him by the legs and nearly or quite twitched him from his feet, Abel then at his best, and considered a match for any, recovered himself and being skilled in the "manly art of self-defense" he undertook to wear out the Indian, who seemed to have been unarmed and who knew little of fighting. Abel could easily strike his opponent, who indeed did not shun his blows, and could as easily ward the blows intended for himself. Abel has told me himself, and I have the same thing from a woman who saw part of the fray; he would strike the Indian with all his strength again and again, with purpose to take his wind away or "double him up" and as often would GRIS-DAU bound up, again to the attack, apparently without the least hurt and with a quick "how-how" was ready again. This continued until Abel had an ear cut open and other cuts and bruises received he hardly knew how or from "whom". There were many other Indians around by this time and Abel called "Welch." (Welch was the foreman and a large powerful man.) Then KESHENA, a young chief of the band, repeated the call in a mocking falsetto voice, "Welch!" And as often as the call was repeated, so was the mocking imitation.--Those knowing the Indians and their ways, will understand how "taunting" was this imitation.

Welch did not come, but by this time Dr. HALL and Judge JEROME had roused up the men who had gone to bed and shortly Jerry REYAN, a long six footer, with a rafting pole for a weapon, and others of the crew close after him soon relieved Abel and dispersed the Indians. It is said that Jerry had been on a bit of a spree the day before and awaked suddenly out of sound sleep, was not entirely correct in all he did. Making a dash at his pantaloons he captured one leg fairly, the other eluded him--no matter, he was in a hurry, and he and his pike-pole rushed to the rescue and the mocking calls for "Welsh" were suddenly suspended.

Those who saw GRIS-DAU in the Indian game of ball, could not forget how, with skill which seemed like sleight of hand, he caught the ball (they used a light stick about three and a half feet long, the outer end bent in a circle about five inches in diameter, whence hung a small net in which the ball was caught and held) and constantly whirling it, he ran fleeter than any other, bounding over every obstacle, without touching it, and in spite of every effort to hinder him, almost invariably carrying the ball to the goal.

One evening in early winter the writer saw GRIS-DAU and his younger brother came to the opposite bank of the Menominee River. I was at Grand Rapids, the river is here wide and rapid, though shallow. It was then full of floating ice. They wished to cross and here was no canoe or boat.--Without hesitation they plunged into the ice cold river to ford it. All who saw thought he must perish; he carried a deer he had killed and very soon had to help and support his brother whose endurance, though great, in no way equaled his own. Safely he forded the wide icy stream, avoiding the heavier pieces of ice, carrying his load and at last supporting his brother, and came out without a shiver and proudly ignoring the fact that he had done more than an ordinary feat. The brother was exhausted, chilled and almost helpless for a short time. There were men at the camp where this occurred, and who saw it, who know what hardship was, but none said he had seen feats like this.

GRIS-DAU has passed away. KESHENA who helped to call Welch, is still living, and is, I believe, a chief of one of the bands of the Menominee¹s on the Reservation which bears his name.

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