May 23, 1833
At 7:30 Early in the morning, violent wind, darkly overcast sky. Last evening between nine and ten o’clock, the wind [became] a storm accompanied by heavy thunder. During the night, [the] rain and storm blew down one of our smokestacks, the repair of which now detained us. The Assiniboine had moved forward this morning and lay at the foot of [the] Bijou Hill[s]. During the night the Yellow Stone [could not] be brought to a safe bank; it still lay near the sandbar in the middle of the river. At 7:30, 64°F [17.8°C]. We have long been in the territory of the Dacota nation but, as we have noticed during the past several days, have had the misfortune of finding few bison this summer, and hence few Sioux either, in the vicinity of the river.
In the meantime we discussed at length this interesting people, and two interesting examples were related to me regarding the chiefs’ power and love of justice, as well as their high regard for courage and determination. During the hunting season, the Sioux and Ojibwes met from time to time at one and the same place on St. Peter’s [Minnesota] River, and although they are enemies and kill each other wherever they meet, there exists a kind of convention according to which they then smoke their pipes together in peace. This had been the case [in the incident now related], and the Ojibwes had left the Sioux and returned to their camps. When everything was quiet, a young Sioux who could not suppress his natural hatred stealthily made his way to the huts of the Ojibwes and shot one of them to death, scalped him, and came dancing home with the scalp. When the chief of the Sioux learned this, he summoned ten or fifteen of his young warriors the next day and ordered one of them to go and shoot the wrongdoer, even though he was from [their] own nation. This was done; the young man was killed at the fire in his own hut by two bullets. On the following day the chief invited the Ojibwes and told them that, although [the two tribes] were always at war with each other, they must not believe that the Sioux did not know how to uphold their treaties [or] that their word was not sacred, and [he] handed over the body of the Sioux, which they took along and were completely satisfied. It is well known that the Indians always exact vengeance. If one of them is killed, the relatives, or often the whole tribe, endeavor to take revenge in the same manner, and this often is done in a very cold-blooded and calculated way; some Indians willingly surrender to the avenging arm.
Another similar story reveals the Indians’ esteem for acts of bravery and determination as well as the good result of resolute behavior on the part of whites. Fort Snelling, where Colonel Snelling and a few companies of the regular army were stationed, is located on the St. Peter’s [Minnesota] River. A small area of [— —] acres had been purchased for this fort from the Sioux nation. Here, in the vicinity of the fort, the hostile nations of the Sioux and Ojibwes, as mentioned above, sometimes met in peace and smoked and ate together. One evening they had separated, when four Ojibwe Indians were shot by a like number of Sioux. Colonel Snelling judged this violation of the neutral area from the correct point of view. He invited the Sioux chiefs to visit him, had them taken prisoner, and demanded that they surrender the four murderers before he would release them.[Page 2:86]The murderers were surrendered, and the chiefs were set free. [Next] Snelling invited the Ojibwes and, as he handed the murderers over to them, demanded that they shoot them on the spot. The large crowd of Sioux and Ojibwes who were present awaited the coming events with tense expectation. No Ojibwe was willing to volunteer to exact this revenge; finally a small young Indian stepped forward and shot the four Sioux one after the other. The dead were handed over to their enemies, who threw them into the river, but the Sioux fished them out farther downstream and buried them.M70The Sioux have the custom of placing their dead on a tall scaffold; after the body has completely decomposed, they bury the bones. Those killed in battle or in some other way are not treated in this manner but are immediately buried on the spot. Because of this action, the Sioux were very angry with Snelling and wanted to storm the fort, but things remained calm. The Indians could not but respect this strong show of resolve. Since then, this area has never again been violated by the Indians, and the Sioux displayed their high esteem for the resolute Ojibwe (who had exposed himself to the gravest danger) by shaking hands with him.
The Assiniboine, which is secured to the right bank closely opposite us, is much better situated today than we are; its crew and passengers are able to go ashore when they want to, whereas we sit stranded in the middle of the river and are captives who cannot leave the ship. At ten o’clock the smokestack had been repaired and the engine was started, but at first one did not notice any significant change in our situation. The wind was howling and blowing very violently. At 11:30 we finally departed; we had passed the sandbar with difficulty but soon stopped at the bank again to load the wood that had been cut during the forenoon. It was very warm on land wherever there was shelter from the wind. There was a beautiful forest of old, shady trees, which stood somewhat isolated; tall grass and various kinds of climbing plants; grapevines with bulging flower buds; [and] a multitude of birds, including several we had not seen before. But time was too short; after twenty minutes the ship’s bell called us back.
At twelve o’clock, [— —] °F. A dirty, dried-up creek cut through the forest and prevented us from pressing ahead. The boards, which we had to cross to go aboard, had sunk down, and we waded through the water. Behind us the Bijou Hills gradually disappeared, but above the promontories we still saw those singular elevations. Before us we had an extensive view: the wide circle of the hills with their extremely regular black stripe in the middle. To the right along the bank, cottonwood forest; to the left, green prairie hills.
Mr. Bean's' groom, Seroux, was put ashore to fetch his riding horses. He was carrying his saddle and gun and, with some food, had to go far back again. Like all the men in this remote wilderness, he looked like a wild man, with his bare neck, an old hat, and a rough coat. He was tanned and had a long beard, Indian shoes and leather leggins, a leather belt, a broad knife, and over his shoulders a powder horn and a shot bag. This is how most of these engagés look; they often wear coats that are made from woolen blankets.
At twelve o’clock noon, [— —] °F. The wind subsided somewhat after noon, and with an overcast sky, it was very warm. On the left bank there were now deep ravines between the hills, ascending high toward the hills; in them there were some nice thickets and birds. Because we are amidst them, black domes [seem to] rise above some of these ravines like cones. If one sees them from a distance, [however,] one observes that they are in the black middle stratum of the hills. In the willows to the left along the bank, we saw three small, young wild geese that were running as though racing with us.
We had scarcely gone a few miles before we were again aground. The boat was sent out to take soundings; it found a channel, and we sailed along rather close to the right bank. Here there are dry, rather barren hills close to the bank; before them, a border of cottonwoods and underbrush of buffalo berry. Then follow steep, yellowish bluffs [and], between them, steep ravines every 60 to 80 paces, with thickets in them. Before us lay a green island with cottonwoods and willows; beyond it, the distant amphitheater of the hill chains with their black medial stratum. To our left there was also an island with woods, but such large sandbars extended into the river that our hopes [of an easy passage] vanished.
The boats were sent out, for the Assiniboine was close behind us, but they returned with an unfavorable report. Therefore, both steamboats were anchored near the island, and we immediately visited the dense forest (about which, more tomorrow). Bodmer shot down a large-headed mouse from a tree and found the first blooming rose. When I returned to [the] ship, someone had found a live prairie dog (Arctomys ludoviciana Ord.) several miles from here. This little animal was very pretty; [it] usually sat like a squirrel on all fours with its head [held] rather high, and [it] was not at all timid. The evening [was] pleasant but cool; we listened in vain for the call of the whippoorwill. The crew was playing on the sandbar.