This 1829 treaty with the Winnebagos awarded two sections of land to Pierre Paquette, and one each to his children, Therese and Moses. Their names appear in Article V of the treaty. The land awarded to Moses, who was only one year old at the time, was Section 27 of the Town of Springfield which included our future farm.
From 1829 to 1851, Moses Paquette was the first non-native owner of our farm. Moses died in 1896, so he had died long before I was born, but I created the following letter, as though Moses were responding to a letter of introduction, loaded with questions, that I might have sent to him.
Thank you for thinking of me. I’m so glad you found my name in the land abstract to your farm.
Yes, I was the first to own your farm, though the Winnebagos and their ancestors had occupied your place for probably a thousand years before me. When I received your land, I was only a year old, so I didn’t know what a treasure I had until years later. I am one-quarter Winnebago. My father, Pierre Paquette, was a “half-breed,” as he was called then, half French Canadian, half Winnebago.
I never lived the life of an Indian. My father was born and raised in St. Louis. Though illiterate, he became fluent in English, French, and Winnebago, which made him valuable as an interpreter for the government. In 1818, when he was 22, he and his new wife, my mother, Therese Josephine Crely, moved to Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, where he began work for the American Fur Company as an agent. Indians trapped muskrats, beavers, raccoons, foxes, and other furry animals, then my father would pay them for their pelts with supplies. Most hides were shipped to Europe to make felt for clothes.
(Click on images to enlarge.)
My father later moved to Portage, where the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers almost meet. Being close to water there made it easier for Indians to bring their pelts to him. His new territory included the Four Lakes region of Madison, which he came to know well. He loved Fourth Lake, or Mendota as you call it now, for its deep blue clear waters, abundant trout, muskie, and other fish, and lots of animals for trapping. Winnebago villages dotted its shore. From there, Indians would travel to surrounding lands like your farm to set up deerskin wigwams to hunt in the fall through winter. Women would collect walnuts, hickory nuts, acorns, blackberries, and elderberries. In spring the Indians planted corn, pumpkins, squash, and beans. Sometimes they would set fire to the lands to keep the spaces open for hunting and farming.
My father secured your property for me during an 1829 treaty in Prairie du Chien. The federal government wanted to force the Winnebagos west across the Mississippi River so white farmers and lead miners could settle southwestern Wisconsin. He was the interpreter for the treaty. For his payment, the government “reserved” or set aside sections of former Winnebago land. He received two sections, while my three-year-old sister Therese and I each received one in Town 8 North, Range 8 East, which became the Town of Springfield. Mine was Section 27, where you live.
(Click on images to enlarge.)
My father served as a scout for the military in the Black Hawk War. If you had looked south from the hills of your farm during the early morning of July 21, 1832, you would have seen him, six-foot-two, 240 pounds, and strong as an ox. He was guiding about 750 militiamen pursuing 1,000 Sauk and Fox Indians, many of them women, children, and elderly. They had been running from their Iowa reservations since April, hoping to return to their old grounds in Illinois and Wisconsin. By July they were starving and just hoping to get back across the Mississippi with their lives.
On the night of July 20, the Indians camped at Pheasant Branch three miles from your farm. The troops camped on Third Lake, now called Monona, only hours behind. When the chase began the next morning, Indians followed Pheasant Branch Creek to the northwest, passing within a mile of your farm. Their trail was easy to follow. In their panic they shed pots and pans to lighten their loads. By 5 p.m. troops caught them at Wisconsin Heights near Sauk City. One soldier and about 80 Indians died there. My father returned home to Portage after the battle. Ten days later, at Bad Axe, troops killed all but 50 of the Indians as they tried to cross the Mississippi. That was a terrible, unnecessary massacre.
In 1836, when I was eight, a Winnebago man murdered my father in Portage. During probate we lost much of father’s land, at least a dozen sections. We managed to keep our place in Portage. After my mother remarried, my sister and I were assigned a guardian, Hercules Dousman, a wealthy Prairie du Chien fur trader.
In 1838 Dousman sent us to the Presbyterian Indian Mission in Iowa for education. Most of its 40 students were tinctured with Winnebago blood. The Brunson sisters taught us English, reading, writing, arithmetic, and agriculture. Girls also learned carding, spinning, weaving, and sewing. Rev. David Lowrey, the superintendent, would preach to us. We were good Presbyterians as long as we remained at the mission but I think most of us relapsed into our ancient heathenism as soon as we left. In 1845 my new guardian, Henry Rice, sent me to Presbyterian University in Tennessee. I hated it. I was sick half the time. By 1847 I was back in Prairie du Chien, where I served as a clerk in Mr. Rice’s general Indian supply store, but I found it too confining.
In 1848 Mr. Rice employed me to help remove the Winnebagos from Wisconsin after many had returned from Iowa and Minnesota. I traveled alone on horseback to the Indian camps around La Crosse. They roved about following game and pitched their wigwams wherever night overtook them. I asked them to come to La Crosse for removal to Minnesota. I told them it would be better to go of their own accord than have the military take them. They generally came peaceably but the removal proved unnecessary and involved useless hardships because most just came back again to Wisconsin. After their return I set up as a trader among them. I put up a shanty for my central warehouse. When the Indian camps moved too far away, I would shift my base to be closer to them. I returned to Portage in 1852 to farm. In 1859 I married Madeleine, widow of Gabriel Brisbois, who had two children, a son and a daughter. We had six more children of our own, five sons and a daughter.
The government got so tired of removing the Winnebagos that in 1875 it decided to let families stay if they agreed to take a 40-acre homestead, build a house on it, and improve the land. In 1881 the government wanted to know how many were living in Wisconsin so it ordered a census. I helped with the counting. Working at stations from La Crosse to Madison, I sent out runners and invited Indians in. The census was a failure because we counted only 800 and we knew there were more. So we had another census in 1883. This time Indians were promised a payment for each person, but the family head had to bring in all members to prove their existence. We got a more accurate count this time, almost 1,400, if I recall. After the census, I was hired to be permanent government interpreter for the Wisconsin Winnebagos, so I moved my family to a farm on Squaw Creek in Jackson County near Black River Falls, the area where most of them were living.
I became fond of the Winnebagos. They were very companionable. Each January groups would celebrate the winter hunt. Feasts started at twilight and continued all night with eating, dancing, singing, storytelling, and gambling. Gambling was their commonest vice. Two groups of players would squat down while facing each other, with four moccasins set on the ground between them. Ten twigs served as counters. The leader of one side would take a small bead in his right hand and slide his hand under each moccasin, pretending to leave the bead under each but only leaving it under one. The leader of the other side had to guess which moccasin covered the bead. He used a stick to remove the three moccasins he thought did not cover the bead. If right, he won four twigs for his team. If wrong, the opposing team earned four. When the 10 twigs were gone, the team with the most twigs won that game. Teams played five games. Winners got prizes of goods or money.
Family was important to the Winnebagos. There were no formal marriage ceremonies. If a man wanted to marry, he or his family presented gifts to the family of the woman. If accepted, they were married. Most marriages lasted a lifetime. If family members were injured, tribal doctors, usually elderly medicine men, dressed their wounds with herb poultices. To treat sicknesses, doctors rubbed on herb and root concoctions. If treatments didn’t work, fees were returned.
I sold my title to your farm in 1851 before I moved to Portage. The buyer was Cyrus Woodman, a land speculator working in Mineral Point. Your land and all the land in and around Madison was sacred ground to the Winnebagos, or the Ho-Chunk as you call them now. I certainly feel blessed to have owned a piece of it.
I died at home on Oct. 24, 1896, of paralysis at the age of 67 years, seven months, and 20 days. I had had a stroke, which left me disabled for the last two years of my life. I was a government interpreter until my illness. I am buried in Riverside Cemetery in Black River Falls, so I have my own sacred ground now. I would cherish a visit.
Yours truly, Moses Paquette
Author's notes: Much of this post is based on an extensive interview with Moses by Reuben Gold Thwaites in 1887, the year that Thwaites became secretary of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin.
I upload posts as I complete them, so one written about a recent event may precede posts about earlier events. The introduction to each post shows where it fits into the history. For an introduction to my memoir, visit Whole Hearted - A Farm Love Story.
This blog is a book in the making. If you're a new visitor, read Whole Hearted - A Farm Love Story. You can also find a copy in Prologue.