by Metcalfe Beck
Some Sketches For the Indianian
Early Times - Dave Burelle - Monoquet the Indian Chief.
"The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yes, all which it inherit, shall dissolve:
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind."
The changes and mutations of time, have ever been in the past, and are like to be in the future, a fit theme for human reflection. To muse on things of "early days" could be possible only to the old, if the pen of the chronicler, brought them not down to later times; and in every country, there are some spots above others, which by history or tradition, inspire us with thoughts on past events. And now, if the reader has leisure, and will start (at the south end of the lake in Kosciusko county, Indiana, whence the Tippecanoe takes its start and name) and go with me about four miles southwest, down the river, on the north bank of the stream, we shall find the village of Monoquet.
Here let us pause and take our reckoning, for this is historic ground, which, in time past, has been a Centre for human nature, where tragedy, comedy, and farce, have in turn been played by fugitive actors, who have left the stage and gone forever. I have said thus much to gain attention, and to fix the mind on the exact ground, which, from "early days" has been a point of interest in this county.
The present Monoquet, as you now see it, is one thing; but the village of 1835 and '36, was quite another thing, and peopled by a different race of men. At this time the river had no bridge; its banks had been gashed by no mill-race, and the clear bright stream ran on its course; its gentle flow unchecked by any dam. Here was Monoquet village; its inhabitants were Pottowatomies, and their chief was Monoquet, from whom the village had its name. Just west of where the Leesburg road now crosses the river, stood the old village, and its eastern edge was about twenty yards west of the springs, which rise by the side of the road. These springs in latter times, made many new acquaintances among the whites, being introduced by James Hawk, whose grocert was manner, and infinite politeness, made it the wayfarer's pleasure to give him a call.
The village contained about fifteen bark-covered wigwams, which were scattered over two or three acres of land on the north bank of the river, the long way of the village being east and west. There were no regular streets, and the wigwams were set at random, like the forest-trees among which they were placed. My first call at the village was with Dave Burelle, a notable of those days, and who (to me at least) was a person of more than common interest; in fact he was to me a school-master, who taught me a useful vocabulary of Indian words, to assist me in my dealings with the tribe. I will sketch him, and give some of his points: He was a clean-limbed, active man, about thirty-three years of age, stood five foot nine inches high, dressed and painted like an Indian, and lived and moved with them, as one of the tribe. He spoke French and Indian readily, and enough English to make him a useful interpreter between the Indians and whites. I think he was a Frenchman, but he acted the Indian so well, that it was entirely at his convenience, whether he would be French or Indian. When with the Indians, he was one of them; but when with the whites, and wanting to buy whiskey, he was always a Frenchman; like the Apostle, he could be "all things unto all men." His attainments forced my regard, and when occasion gave him scope for his three languages, his ready use of them won my admiration. Most men of talent have their oddities, and so also had the friend whom I admired. David was a discreet drinker of whisky, and a good judge of its quality, and it was worth the price of his first dram, to observe how wisely and carefully he would proceed to take it. In those days the kind of whisky in common use was Smith's rectified, made in Piqua, Ohio, and brought here by way of Ft. Wayne.
Ilustrious Smith, of wide-renown.
Whose name prevails in ev'ry town.
I make mention of the kind of whiskey, because some who read this, may have quaffed it in days gone by and will yet remember its peculiar and thrilling qualities. David had exalted to the dignity of a fine art, the taking of his first dram, and I have seen few, if any, who would show so much form and circumstance in taking a drink. First, he wanted to be certain that it was whiskey; and of this, his keen scent would soon assure him; then, in his left hand holding a glass, he would pour into it about two fluid ounces, (his quantity had to be exact) and if he had doubts, he tipp'd his glass to one side, to be certain that he was right. Then he was not in haste to sip; but still holding his glass to view, would spin out pleasure by hope; heighten it by imagination, and then drink. I have been thus careful and exact in telling how David used to take his first dram, because the first drink is of vast importance, and has been the turning point in many a man's life; and right here, I will tell young men of a better way than David's, and that is, to "omit the first drink entirely." It has been already said, that he was wise in language, and discreet in drinking; but he gave proof anew, that "riches are not to the wise," for there were times when his ready money would not reach far beyond the first drink, and his raiment was so scant, as to remind us of the "first Adam in the garden."
The attention of the whites had been fixed on Monoquet, even while it was in possession of the Indians, and soon after they had quit, it passed into the hands of men, who with choice words, and strong reasons, could impart to others a bright prospect of its future greatness. It was in those fancy colored years between 1836 and '40, when hope prevailed over reason, and speculation over both, that Monoquet put on some of its phases, to which the mind may now revert with lively interest. Imagination pictured mills and warehouses, instead of the wigwams, and a great and busy mart, which would make absurd the puny efforts of rival points, and neighboring places. Tippecanoe in those days had become a name famous; now this point was on Tippecanoe river, and some bright genius of the time, proposed for the future metropolis, the name of Tippecanoe City. It was a bold conceit and happy thought, eminently fit, and loudly applauded, but never acted upon; and, like many a great idea, it perished for want of use. The hamlet did not grow to need a pompous title, but modestly, and perhaps wisely, adhered to its Indian name. As years sped on, they brought their changes; slow ;but steady nature gained on art; the trees grew faster than houses, and the busy and dusty mart of painted hopes, stood forth at length in drowsy rest, and sylvan shade. It was at one time a place of respectable trade, as compared with Leesburg, Oswego, and Warsaw. Many men of note and mark, have lived in Monoquet, who, from its "classic shades" have in due time come forth to shed their lustre on the varied walks of life, in the world outside.
In my boyhood days, I took delight in American History; and had read of Philip and Powhatan, Logan and Tecumseh. Chivalry and untaught eloquence were given as a part of the red-man's nature; and I had conceived in fancy, that a real Indian chief, wherever found, must be indeed one of nature's nobility. I was in this frame of mind, when here in his own village, I first saw Monoquet. He was a thin, spare man, about fifty years of age, stood five feet seven inches high in his moccasins, his forehead was high and rather square, his eyes small and bright, his nose (something uncommon for an Indian) was aquiline, his voice was tenor, clear and sharp. He touched his forehead with the index finger of his right hand, and thus addressed me: "Nin Mon-o-quet," then brought the hand down with a clap on his right thigh and said, "cheep:" the Indians could pronounce no word which ended with the sound of the letter "f". It was a warm and sunny day in the fall of 1835; his dress was a ruffled shirt of blue calico, reaching midway down his thigh, and his feet were clad in moccasins. Our talk had to be brief, and, if possible, to the point, for I knew but seven or eight words of Indian, and he not more than that number in English; we soon said all we could, then shook hands and parted; each made a bow to the other, and said ba-sho-nick, which, in English, meant good bye. I will here confess, that the real chief just seen, did not rise in my mind to equal the ideal ones of whom I had read.
Great men seem to be less as they come to be better known, and Monoquet reminded me of this truth, when I saw him again in his village in the spring of 1836. This was on the occasion of what the Indians phrased a "big drunk," and was based on a supply of whisky brought from Ft. Wayne. It was about 11 o'clock in the forenoon, and from appearances, the night before had been spent in revels; the knives and guns had been hidden away by two squaws who remained sober, and, with their exception, the "drunk," like the deluge, was over all. The turbulent stage had passed off, and the "drunk" had declined to the dreary and doleful. The men were seated on the ground by ones, twos, and threes, at the roots of trees, and in maudlin stupor were either gazing blankly on space, or in quiet frenzy, with drooped heads, were feebly chanting the death songs and orgies which distinguish the race. Monoquet, himself, seemed in feeble health, having a bad cough; but, making him allowance for that, he was nearly as drunk as any of his tribe. My veneration for greatness was nearly ruined by his example. He wore on his shoulders a blanket that had once been white, but which by constant smoke, and frequent scorches, was now a tan-color; his eyes were red and swollen, his voice faint and husky, and as he stood unsteady, and not quite upright before me, I thought if his description were then written according to his looks, (and forgetting his title) he would have to be set down as a little, old, dirty, drunken Indian. I soon took my way homeward, and did not see him again while he lived. The carousal ended in a day afterward, and in two or three days after that, he died. The prime cause of his death, was, most likely, a disease of the lungs, made suddenly fatal by the excesses already stated. The Indians suspected him of being poisoned, and a young and handsome squaw from Michigan, then on a visit, was charged with the crime. She was barbarously killed by some young Indian fiends, who first stabbed her in the neck with knives, and then shot her. Murder, in those "early days" of simple-mindedness, was considered an outrage, (even if done among the Indians, and by one to another) and the public mind was keenly shocked at the sad fate of the young and innocent squaw. But 'twas past; the sacrifice of her young life could not recall the "fleeting breath" of him for whom she had been slain; he was mortal, and had no reprieve from the sentence of nature.
Half a mile south of his village, and about forty rods north-west of the present dwelling of H. P. Kelly, there was a deep shade, and a secluded spot in the woods, and thither from his wigwam, the Indians took their dead chief, and performed his funeral rites after the manner of their tribe. In a crib, or pen, (about six feet long, four feet wide, and four feet high, carried up square, built of round logs the size of large rails, top covered over by same, the long way of the pen north and south), they placed his remains. He was fixed in sitting posture, with his blanket over his shoulders, his face toward the south, and was held in position by two poles across the crib inside, one of which under the chin, held up his head, and one lower down, kept up his hands, and in this attitude I saw him when he had been about a month there. I was in the woods, alone with the dead, and in deep thought; I looked at the ghastly form, which grinned me a mute and horrid lesson, on the vile conclusions of human life!
Strange it seems! how soon the wildest theme grows tame, and loses force by common use. When a few wet and dry days had passed over his crib, the interest and novelty of his last home subsided, and gave their place to new events; as the way thither was not pleasant, nor his place cheerful, it was soon neglected, and in a little time was almost forgotten. "Thus wags the world."
Since those "early days," both men and things have vastly changed. The spring and summer zephyrs breathe gently, and the fall and winter winds blow fiercely, over the places which once knew Monoquet; but the vanish'd years have left no trace, to mark the spot, where last I saw, in grim repose, the silent chief.
Northern Indianian, March 6, 1873, page 1, col. 6, 7, 8.
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