Canku Ota Logo

Canku Ota

Canku Ota Logo

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


January 10 , 2004 - Issue 86


pictograph divider



From The Green Bay Gazette - June 16, 1928
credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)

102 year old Menomonee Indian and Veteran of the Civil War was photographed at the home of George DeLorme of Duck Creek, where he went in search of Mrs. DeLorme's father, Joseph Greenwood, with whom he served in the Union Army. He was in route from his home in Shawano to the Reunion of the 14th Wisconsin Infantry in Fond du Lac next Monday. He is the oldest veteran in the State as far as known. He is holding the Meerschaum pipe, dated 1814, which is one of his prized possessions.

Indian, 102 Years Old, to Attend Reunion of Civil War Regiment

Life is just one round of social events for Alexander Besaw of Shawano. Having just finished his 102nd birthday party, he now is going to Fond du Lac for the annual reunion of the 14th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, with which he served during the Civil War. At this reunion, which opens Monday, he will be the oldest member present, and one of the spryest.

One would never guess that Besaw was 102 years old last month. He talks clearly, with a slight French accent, and makes his way without difficulty, depending only slightly upon the cane, which he carries. His sight is good, although his hearing is impaired. He says he is 102 years old and claims that his Civil War records bear out his assertion.

Born at West De Pere
"Lots of folks say 'He is not that old.'" He declared vehemently. "How can they tell? What do they know about how old I am?"

Besaw was born in West De Pere on the banks of the Fox River, 102 years ago, and lived in that location until 22 years ago, when he moved to Shawano. He tells interestingly of early personages and incidents in this locality.

The first white man he ever saw, he declares, was Cornell Dixon, who operated a sawmill on East River to turn out the timbers for the De Pere dam, but when the dam was in place it was insufficiently weighted, and following a northeast wind one night, the unfinished portion was carried upstream nearly to Little Rapids, where it broke up. "And when the timbers floated back down stream, we got our share," he confessed with a grin.

He was about 12 at this time and had never owned a pair of trousers, he said, only jeans. His mother, using a needle larger than a lead pencil and tread made from vine fibers, finally turned him out a pair of trousers, but neglected to tell him how to put them on. He finally solved the riddle by typing their corners to an angle in the rail fence, climbing the fence, and jumping into them.

"I'm a man now," he thought, and announced his intentions of seeking work. He went to Mr. Reid, superintendent of the sawmill, and asked, "Do you need any more men for the drive?" referring to the drive of logs. The superintendent looked him over gravely, and announced he would try him out.

Valley was Haunted
"He gave me a peavey made of six-inch maple, with an iron a foot long on the end," the old man relates. "I could not carry it, so I dragged it along by the small end. Then we came to a stump along side the log chute."

"You stay here he told me, and when a log comes a past, give it a shove with the peavey. I waited and then the log came, I dropped the peavey onto it, the point held fast so I could not get it out, and away went the log, peavey and all."

"You are no good for the drive, Mr. Reid told me, 'Go and help the cook.'"

Soon young Besaw had saved enough money to buy a white linen suit for 1.50, and decided to go to a dance in Fort Howard. The trousers were too long and the coat too big, but he turned the trouser cuffs up, and tucked his coat in, and decided he was quiet a well-dressed young man.

The trip to Green Bay (Fort Howard) necessitated a walk through the Ashwaubenon Creek and Valley, near where Hockers' Brickyard is now located, a locality commonly credited with being haunted. Besaw decided not to go through alone, but to wait for some other party. So he crawled into some bushes and waited.

Soon two Frenchmen came along singing. Then one called to the other, "If you see a ghost yell; and if I see one I will yell." Thinking to get bast under this protection. Besaw fell into step behind them. Then the nearest Frenchman turned around and saw the white-clad figure.

Frenchman See Ghost
"Oh Lord, there is one now. Run!" he screamed, and he and his companion took to their heels. Besaw unaware that he was he 'ghost,' also fled, and being young soon winded the Frenchmen, the weaker of whom collapsed on the ground, praying for deliverance from the specter. So weak and terrified was he that the combined effort of his companion and Besaw were required to get him to the settlement, and the well-dressed young man did not go to the dance.

Four times the young Indian accompanied Dixon to Chicago with the mail. At Fond du Lac, there was a single settler; on the site of what is now Milwaukee, Solomon Juneau had his shack of popple poles. On one trip, near where Racine stands now, Dixon was trapped by a falling tree, and Besaw had to ride to the nearest settlement help. He knew only his own tongue but by a dint of energetic chopping motions, he convinced them that they should bring axes and follow him. Dixon was free and unhurt.

The route led through Sheboygan, which, pronounced in Indian, sounds like Chetaucon. At Sheboygan Falls, Besaw declares, he saw from 10,000 to 15,000 Indians housed in gathered there to spear the fish as their ascent of the river was blocked by the falls.

In those days, he said one could 'walk on money,' but he had no place to spend it, and nothing to spend it for. At one time, food was so scarce that tea was $8 a pound and a 50 pound sack of flour brought $29. The only thing cheap was whiskey. It sold for 15 cent a gallon, and any store, which did not provide a barrel of it with a dipper, for the refreshment of customers, was boycotted for its failure to show this courtesy to patrons.

Hale and Spry
When the war broke out, Besaw joined Company F of the 14th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, sometimes called the 'Indian Company,' although its roster included a large portion of whites. He served throughout the war and was wounded four times. At Gettysburg, a ball pierced his stomach and lodged in his backbone.

One of his prized possessions is a meerschaum pipe bearing the date 1814. He originally bought it for $7, he said, but later the shopkeeper sought to buy it back, claiming he had not known its real value. Besaw finally consented to relinquish the pipe upon return of his $7 and 36 pounds of tobacco 'to boot.' He later regained possession of it when the merchant retired from business at Antigo.

pictograph divider

Home PageFront PageArchivesOur AwardsAbout Us

Kid's PageColoring BookCool LinksGuest BookEmail Us


pictograph divider

  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.

Canku Ota Logo   Canku Ota Logo

The "Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America" web site and its design is the

Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 of Paul C. Barry.

All Rights Reserved.

Site Meter
Thank You

Valid HTML 4.01!