An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
May 17, 2003 - Issue 87
A Little History of My Forest Life - Part 1
by Eliza Morrison (1837-1920)
credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)
take pen in hand to write you a little history of my life. I am glad to
write it for you. I am a poor hand for that, but I will try my best. I
don't know much about the Indians myself, only what my mother used to
tell me. She of course learned about them from her mother. My husband
knows more about the Indians for he was among them so long. He lived with
them for six years before we were married, that is the Chippewas.
grandmother was a pure Chippewa. She was brought up at Lake St. Croix,
at the headwaters of the St. Croix River. They hardly ever went down the
river because the Sioux were nearby. The Chippewas were at war with them.
The St. Croix River was well supplied with game, fish, ducks, and rice,
and they fought for that country. The Chippewas became enraged against
the Sioux and drove them away to the southwest. After they drove the Sioux
away they lived better and safer.
white men used to come up the Mississippi and the St. Croix to trade with
the Indians. By that time my grandmother was full-grown and she married
one of these men. He was a Frenchman. He died long before middle age and
left my grandmother with two girls and a boy.
My grandmother did not stay long at the St. Croix because the Sioux were hard against the Chippewas. A great many came from the west and the Chippewas had to keep back. My grandmother was afraid. She did not want her children to be killed. She took a canoe and with her little children started up the St. Croix. To get something to eat her only hope was to meet other Indians. For three days she had nothing to eat. In the morning of the fourth day she saw a canoe. It turned out to be one of the meanest Indians in the tribe, and he would not give her anything to eat, even though he had plenty of meat and rice.
on to the mouth of the river. You will find one of your uncles there,"
was all he said to her.
it was nearly night she came to a camp at the mouth of the Brule. She
remained with her uncle and aunt for fourteen days.
uncle said, "If you are going there you must start pretty soon. You
can see the leaves are getting yellow. We have plenty of rice to give
you, and I will hunt meat for you to dry and take with you."
the mouth of the Brule to the lower end of Lake Superior it always takes
twelve days when men are running the canoes. She made up her mind to make
the journey in a month's time. She started in her canoe to coast the great
body of water. She struck good weather and made the trip in twenty-one
lived among the Chippewas at Sault St. Marie for a long time. My mother
and her brother and her sister got no education. They could not talk any
English or French. My grandmother told them never to marry a full-blooded
Indian because they were too white. Both of the girls had plenty of chances
to get married to Indians, but they promised their mother they would not.
mother and her sister both married white men at Sault St. Marie. After
awhile my mother's man wanted to go back to Canada, but she would not
leave her mother and go with him. She told him to go alone and come back
again. She waited three years for him, but he never came back.
large number of people left for La Point in eight big boats called bateaux.
Her brother went with them. Each boat had seven men and carried a great
load. They had to go in to a river or some harbor at night. Three days
after they left, my grandmother, my mother, and her brother's wife, along
with four children, started to coast the great lake for three hundred
and eighty miles to La Pointe. The three strong women paddled the canoe
at a good speed. In five days time they got to Portage Lake, where they
caught up with the others. They all got to La Pointe all right.
mother lived there several years before she married my father. My father's
name is Robert Morrin. He came from Scotland to Canada when he was a boy,
to Montreal, where he must have met some of the American Fur Company men
and hired out to where they traded with the Indians, where he must have
first seen my mother. My Mother's name is Frances Morrin. She was converted
by the Baptists at Sault St. Marie, and when she came to La Pointe she
joined the Presbyterian Church. I have one half brother and two half sisters.
In the second marriage of my mother there were three of us, one man older
than me, and one younger than me. My brothers' names are Joseph, William,
and Robert. My sisters' names are Angelic and Hannah.
was born on La Pointe Island, which is now called Madeline Island, one
of the Apostle Islands. It is one of the oldest settled places on Lake
Superior. I was born in 1837, on November third and was raided on the
island. As I remember, there used to be thirty-seven houses on the flat,
all of them made of round logs and roofed with cedar bark.
uncle built a house alongside of ours. For a period of thirty years he
was one of those who traded with the Chippewas off to the north and west.
They used to get goods from the Company and go out and establish their
posts during the winter. They would be gone eight months from home each
year and would return quite late in the spring. They used dogs, when they
had them. My uncle told me that the Indians would not sell dogs, but they
would hire them out to those who were trading with the Indians. The dogs
were very large. I used to see some of them brought in. They were yellow,
with long hair and looked like wolves.
I was a girl the Chippewas used to come to La Pointe to be paid off by
the government. To my knowledge the largest payment made was eighteen
dollars a head. Thousands of Indians came to the island at one time for
pay. I used to be very afraid of them. Our folks used to keep us from
school while payments were made.
went to school at the Presbyterian mission, and also my sisters and brothers.
It is still standing today. I did not go to school long, only long enough
to learn to read and write. Then I went with my brother-in-law to Fond
du Lac, which is now Cloquet, Minnesota, where he was preaching. He was
a Methodist minister. I was contented for a little while, but I got lonesome
and they had to bring me home, and then I was very happy. Soon after that
my other sister got married and I had to stay home to do the work, because
my mother became sickly.
lived with my mother until I was twenty-seven, when she died, on August
eighteenth, 1865. While I was living at home with my father, I heard of
a young man coming to Bayfield, which is three mile across the North Channel.
Often I went across the channel to Bayfield to go to church. I asked my
pa if I could go to Bayfield that afternoon.
he said, "but be careful in that big boat."
had my sister's little girl with me, who was not big enough to row. I
rowed very hard for fear the wind might rise before I got over. I got
over safely and went to my brother's house, where I always stayed in Bayfield.
That afternoon some of my brother's sisters-in-law came to his house.
I found out through them where Mr. John Morrison was. They were camping
in a tent up on the big hill where the spring is. That afternoon I went
down to the store after something. There I saw John Morrison and shook
hands with him. The next day was Sunday. In the afternoon us girls went
up to the camp, stayed awhile, and we all went back to my brother's place.
the evening John Morrison came to see me. We had a long talk in my brother's
house. It was quite hard for me to talk English because I was not very
much used to it. I told him that if he was going to talk much more to
use our native language, that is, the Chippewa language. He told me he
was going to the north shore of Lake Superior, way out to Mica Bay Mountain,
to hunt and trap to make money.
will be gone about three years, and maybe never come back again."
kept quiet while he was telling me what he was going to do.
of us," he said, "are going there."
had no idea he would be my husband in five days from that time.
are three, in partners," he said. "For my part I would rather
have one partner."
to go trapping!"
no," he said, "I mean I'd like to find a girl for a wife."
can you find one?"
I have found you. Will you have me?"
don't know what you mean," I said.
mean, will you marry me?"
mean when you come back from Mica Bay Mountain?"
mean just what I say. If you like me well enough to have me, we will get
married before I go."
mean we have time to get married, but if we get married you will not go
to Mica Bay Mountain. First you must go home with me to my father's old
place. I've got our boat here. You come in the morning and go over with
we get over there, will you tell your father why I came with you?"
came quite early the next morning. I began to think he meant business.
I told my brother that I was leaving and that John Morrison was going
home with me to see pa. He rowed across the channel is a short time. I
steered. I made a beeline for home. My sister's little girl was with me
all the time. When we got to our landing place, my father came to meet
us. He shook hands with the young man.
was very glad when I saw somebody with you. Come in the house and rest."
Morrison said to me, "Now we've got to talk English."
talked with my father while I was working in the kitchen. The next morning
after breakfast I told my father the intention of the young man.
my girl," he said, "if you have found somebody you like well
enough to marry, all right, you are old enough. You can get married as
soon as you wish. I know the young man is well thought of by the whites.
was outside while I was talking with my father. When he came in I told
him that I had done my part. "Now you ask my father and it will be
all right. He is out in the barn husking corn."
went out and commenced to husk corn. He husked corn two days before he
dared to tell pa what his intention was. At last he got brave and asked
him. The old man told him he could have me. "This is the first time
she's found a young man that she likes well enough to marry. You can get
married just as soon as you want to make this your home."
got ready. We were married by the justice of the peace in the town of
Bayfield at my brother William's home. My husband and I were not brought
up on the same religion. He was Catholic and I was a Methodist. After
we were married we had a little party that same afternoon. We invited
quite a number of our white friends and our Indian friends.
first winter we were married we stayed with my father at the old home.
I had hard work to keep my husband at home. There was no work to speak
of where we were living. He would fish and trap rabbits. That was not
quite satisfactory for him. He wanted to go into country where he could
trap fur. We lived near town, but I knew if he would go away that is would
make it unpleasant for pa and me.
passed the winter quite comfortably. On February twenty-fifth we were
prepared to move to our sugarbush. I could see that my husband was happier
now, and when I saw him happy everything was all right with me. We had
everything we needed for the time we were to be there. Everything was
high priced. Flour was sixteen dollars a barrel and everything else in
had to go over the ice nine miles from La Pointe before reaching the Kakagon
River, the river which goes through the Bad River Flats and leads to the
Gardens, which is now called Odanah. We stopped overnight at friends there
in the Indian village. The next day we moved to the sugarbush. In starting
for our camp we were hardly ever alone. Five or six families would go
together. We always had a horse or an ox, sometimes two oxen, a few other
families had ponies, but most of them used dogs, from two to six dogs,
quite well trained. The people were not Indians. There were a good many
different kinds of white men.
did not stay together. Every family had a sugarbush of its own, perhaps
one half mile apart all over the Bad River Flats. We had everything ready
by the first run of sap. We used the old Indian way of tapping the maple
trees. This was very hard work. The snow was three feet deep and we had
to use snowshoes the whole time.
three day's time we tapped nine hundred buckets. The fourth day we began
to gather sap and collected ten barrels. The fifth day about the same
amount, and so forth for 3 weeks, with hardly any rest night or day. We
did not have any time to grain the sugar. When the sap stopped running
we had five barrels to attend to - to cook it so as to grain it, and pack
it into bark buckets. Then bad weather set in which gave us time to grain
our sugar. Two more days' run came after the bad weather. Only two of
us made that into two flour barrels full of wax cakes. We made about one
thousand pounds of sugar worth twelve cents a pound.
husband rented a farm nine miles from the town of Bayfield, right on the
St. Paul Road. He had a contract to get out shingle bolts that winter
with the ox team he had It was a dreary winter. The snow was three and
a half feet deep. My husband had to quite working because the snow was
so deep. Men who had teams from St. Paul had trouble getting back. The
townspeople of Bayfield had to help them get through. Many teams used
to come from St. Paul and traded for fish to take back with them. Fish
was mainly our money at that time. Very little lumbering was done then.
husband loved to hunt. He was a deer hunter since he was a boy. He told
me that not every man in the tribe was a good hunter. About five men out
of ten are skillful hunters and good marksmen. Two families camped close
to our rented farm. He became a good friend to my husband and often came
to our house in the evening and talked about hunting trips. My husband
would ask him about the silver vein, which had been found by the Indians
southwest of Pike Lake a long time ago.
can never rest," my husband said, "unless I try to find the
had begun talking about the silver when we were first married. I like
the woods and wild game to live on, but I didn't want to live so far away
in the woods. I prevented him from moving for about fourteen years.
the spring of 1868 my husband set to work clearing land. The farm we rented
was the next biggest in Bayfield County. It could produce forty tons of
hay as well as other crops. It all had to be harvested by hand. In the
fall it had to be pressed with a homemade press. This took two men one
month, and then it was hauled to market. When everything was done, quite
late in the fall, we concluded that we would stay on the farm no longer.
winter my husband got another contract in town to get out oak logs. So
we moved to Bayfield. While we were living there my father became sick.
My husband brought him over to live with us. He was sick for four months
and he died in our hands on April 29th, 1869.
old home was left for me. We lived there nine years Most of the people
had moved away from the little old town. It was almost vacated during
those nine years. I might say that we were living almost in the pure native
quietness of the world. Our house stood about ten rods from the shore.
On the nice sandy beach we could see the steamboats and small boat pass.
My relatives in Bayfield would come over to visit us, and we would visit
them from time to time. Our Indian friends would stop by when they came
to Bayfield to trade, or sometimes camp near us. In the summertime friends
would come and we would go out on the island and pick berries. These excursions
were always very pleasant.
the years we lived at the old home I could not go where I had mind to.
The children were small, and I had to stay home to take care of them.
My husband worked the little farm we had, and when he was through haying
he would go fishing. My husband used to say, "There are two things
I like in the line of work, one is hunting, and the other fishing."
Fishing was quite hard work. A good many times my husband and his man
got caught in a gale five miles out, and they would have to depend on
their skill and the firmness of their rig to get back ashore.
had a failure of crops in 1876 and again in 1877. This was pretty hard
on us. When we would visit our friends in Bayfield they would ask, "Have
you Old La Pointers come over here to stay? Is the soil playing out for
you over there?"
husband fished under the ice all winter. Fishing also was not as good
as it used to be. We kept three big dogs to haul my husband's fishing
rig. The dogs were able to haul the weight of seven hundred pounds. By
fishing and a little farming we made our living, but both were failing.
decided to make maple sugar for a change. We had not gone to the sugarbush
for many years since we moved to La Pointe, because I could not get my
husband interested in going. We made sugar out at the end of the island,
twelve miles across the ice from our home.
the twentieth of March, early in the morning, we started. The snow was
two feet deep on the ice, and it was so hard we could walk on top of it.
Our dogs had a full load to haul, five of our boys and all our bedding.
Only Johnny was able to walk the distance. My husband's sister and I had
to haul a sleigh full of supplies. We went three miles before the sun
came up. It was a nice bright morning and we could see clearly the point
we were making for.
three o'clock we got to our sugarbush, but we had to climb the very steep
hill up to our camp. I am told this is the highest place on the island.
We could see a great ways off. We could see the Porcupine Mountains. On
bright mornings we could plainly see the north shore, which is supposed
to be a distance of seventy miles. Our camp was made mostly of lumber.
For the roof we had sheets of birch bark sewed together. In a few days
we got a little sap. It was a great novelty for our boys to have sugar
and syrup to eat on their bread.
the first of April my husband had to go to town for an election, and at
the same time to get more grub. Johnny was old enough to haul dry wood
to mix with the green. While he was gone we had one good day for sap,
which made us women hustle to gather it all. Most people who read papers
and books know how the Indians make sugar and the materials they use for
making it. There are two things they cannot get along without: kettles
to boil the sap in, and an ax. It seems there are all sorts of ways to
do things, but only one right way. To know how is something, and to do
what a person knows is something. When my husband returned I had all the
kettles hung to boil sap. From the first of April until the fifteenth
we worked quite hard. By then the snow was all gone and it was easier
for us. When I think about this business of making sugar now, I think
there is some peculiar charm in it.
the fifteenth of April the ice on the lake began to crack and break into
pieces. With the current and a strong southwest wind the ice will drift
into the main body of the lake. It takes but a short time for this to
happen when the weather is warm. But if a strong northeast wind should
blow long enough, the ice will be driven in and cause a great blockage
among the islands and the great bay of Duluth. Two springs I have seen
this happen. I cannot think of all I have seen, but I was requested by
a friend who lives a far distance from here to write a little history
of my forest life, and this is one of the greatest sights I have ever
In 1878 my husband became quite disheartened. While he and another man were fishing the weather became very cold. It was making ice. They had set out all their nets and could not get to them. They lost them all. This was the winding up of my husband's fishing on Lake Superior. The failure of crops along with losing his fishing outfit discouraged him. "We've got to move away from here," he would say.
is going bad for us here." Once in awhile he would mention Pike Lake,
what deer country it was, and the silver vein.
"If I don't find the silver vein, I know we can live out there. I am able to do anything that needs to be done in a country home. There is going to be a railroad out there next summer, so we can ride in to Ashland to trade and get what we need. I will be exploring most of the time, and hunting and trapping."
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