History of the Butterfly, Part 83: Caleb and Mr. Q.

In 1829, Caleb Atwater was commissioned by the United States government to negotiate and attempt to purchase various mineral-bearing lands in the upper Mississippi region.  He published an account of his journeys in 1831.

Quasquawma (the name just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?  The name means “jumping fish”) was one of the Meskawki—a.k.a. “the united Sac and Fox tribes” (which never was) who signed the treaty of 1804 of St Louis, that sold most of Illinois to the U.S. Government for a thousand dollars a year.  Quasquewma’s village was on the west side of the Mississippi, where the town of Montrose, Iowa now stands. 

Here is Atwater’s account:

“In company with Mr. Johnson, formerly an Indian trader under the old factory system, I visited Quasquawma’s village of Fox Indians.  This town was exactly opposite our island, on the west bank of the river, & consists of perhaps, forty or fifty persons.  Landing from our canoe, we went to Quasquawma’s wigwam, and found him and several of his wives and children at home.  These Indians had joined the United States, during the late war.  The wigwam, we visited, was a fair sample of all we saw afterwards, in the Indian country, and was covered with white elm bark, fastened on the out side of upright posts fixed in the ground, by ropes made of barks, passed through the covering and tied on the inside, around the posts.

I should suppose, that this dwelling, was forty feet long, and twenty wide—that six feet on each of the sides, within doors, was occupied by the place where the family slept.  Their beds consisted of a platform, raised four feet high from the earth, resting on poles, tied at that height to posts standing upright on the ground opposite each other, and touching the roof.  On these poles so fastened to the posts were laid barks of trees, and upon these barks, were laid blankets and the skins of deer, bears, bisons, &c.  These were the beds.  Between these beds was an open space, perhaps six or eight feet in width, running the whole length of the wigwam.  In this space fires were kindled in cold and wet weather, and here, at such times, the cooking was carried on, and the family warmed themselves, eat their food, &c.  There was no chimney, and the smoke either passed through the roof, or out at the doors, at the ends of the wigwam.  On all the waters of the Upper Mississippi, no better dwelling is to be found, among the Indians.—Quasquawma was reposing himself on his bed of state when we went into his palace, and the only person at work was one of his wives at the door, dressing a deer skin.  He appeared to be about 65 years of age, perhaps he was even older.

He appeared very friendly to Mr. Johnson, whom he will knew; and we held a long and interesting talk with him.  We told him all our business, asked his advice and aid, which he cheerfully promised and he was of great use to us, from that time forward, until the treaties were concluded.  His son-in-law, one of the principal civil chiefs of the Foxes was not at home then, and we did not see him until we arrived at Rock Island.

Quasquawma showed us where he had cut on a bark, a representation of a steam boat, with every thing belonging to it.  This bark formed a part of his dwelling, and was cut on the inner side.  It appears, that he had made three attempts before he succeeded to his wished.  He finally succeeded so perfectly, that the cannon was going off, a dog was represented as sitting down near an officer of our army, with his chapeau de bras on, he epauletts were on his shoulders, and several privates were seen standing on the boat.  Nothing could be more natural than this representation, of which he evidently felt quite proud.  We praised it greatly, which did not displease him.  A few small patches of corn were growing near by, but poorly fenced and badly tilled, among which, the weeds were standing between the hills of corn.”

Atwater, 1831.

About the roused bear

Nature photographer from central Iowa.
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