St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Small Pox among the St Croix Chippewa

Portaging canoes is the subject this painting by Thorsen Lindberg, on display in Milwaukee Public Library.
In 1854, a smallpox epidemic was killing the Chippewa along the St Croix River north of St. Croix Falls and a project to vaccinate them was underway. 
Excerpt from the April 20th 1854 St Paul Democrat Newspaper, a report by Dr. T. T. Mann, who was appointed by the Superintendent of Indian Affairs, to visit and vaccinate the Chippewa Indians on the St. Croix.   The area covered is likely the St. Croix Valley north of St. Croix Falls including Polk and Burnett Counties.

On the morning of the 25th March, J. H Day, M. D., with Paul Beaulieu, Government interpreter, left St. Paul in a two-horse conveyance, provisioned with an outfit for a long, hard service. On the morning of the 27th, they were compelled, from the flooded and broken state of the country, to abandon the team, and take into service two 'Coureurs des Bois' to assist in carrying their cooking utensils, bedding and provisions, and continued their journey on foot.

Some distance from the Falls of St. Croix, the party fell in with and vaccinated a small band of 21 Indians. These poor creatures were in a state of painful apprehension from the approach of small-pox; had sad stories to relate of the terrible effects of the scourge that had visited their people further up the country, and were very profuse in expressions of gratitude for the aid and security thus unexpectedly conferred upon hem by the Superintendent.

 Guided by reports as to the present most probable habitat of other bands, our party, after great difficulty and danger, on account of floating ice, crossed the river, and soon fell in with the mail carrier from La Pointe, who had traversed a real part of the Indian country. From him they lad the gratification to learn that the La Pointe county funds had been used in procuring the Indians in that vicinity vaccination, and carrying into effect such other sanitary measures as became necessary to arrest the pestilence. Out of his little isolated community twenty-seven perished, and the remainder are represented to be in a very destitute, enfeebled and needy condition. 

Again, the party fell in with a Mr. Ryan, who had witnessed to some extent the ravages of the disease. He says the encampments are all broken up and deserted; the bands, scattered in detached families, crept away in the most secluded, least frequented, and least accessible nooks of the forest. The Indian has become so frantic from dread of the contagion, that so soon as the malady makes its appearance in a lodge, the loomed victim is instantly abandoned to his fate, he terror-stricken families making the most precipitate flight, without waiting to identify the disease, frequently throwing away their blankets, and refusing to touch, or take with them anything belonging to the camp.

The sick were left alone in the wilderness, in the terrible conflict for life. The husband abandoned his wife, the mother her helpless offspring, the son his aged parents, regardless in the superstitious fear that fell upon them, of all the promptings of natural affection, and the obligations of duty in their wild disorderly retreat.

On the 30th, our party operated upon forty-five, and the next morning, a few others receiving the grateful intelligence of relief at hand, followed and were vaccinated. The mortality in this vicinity had been very great. Some distance further, toward evening, our party saw near a lumbering camp, a squalid old woman, who had crept from the thicket, as if in the last extreme, to seek assistance from any whiles that might be passing. She was the wretched remnant and only survivor of a large family. Crouched upon her haunches, by the smouldering embers of a deserted camp fire, covered with rags, her face hideously marked, her disordered hair hanging in knotted ropes about her shoulders, she sat motionless, steadfastly gazing upon the vacancy before her. Her family all lay dead, most of them yet upon the surface. She had hidden beneath dried leaves and grass, corpse after corpse, till her strength failed, from disease, want of sustenance and assistance, and she could bury no more. Even the stimulus of hope had died out. Abandoned by all her relatives, connexions and friends, she was left alone in the dreary solitude of the forest with no companion but death.

All that humanity could dictate, and sympathizing hearts prompt to arouse her to a sense of her existence, and call off her mind from its sad broodings over the picture about her, was done, but to no purpose. She looked at no one—not the movement of an eye, the motion of a muscle, nor change of position indicated a consciousness of the approach of strangers. The last tie that bound her to life had broken, her heart crushed, and she sat an almost inanimate monument of despair.

Continuing onward, whenever squads of Indians were met, they at once would eagerly inquire four party were fleeing from the small-pox, and when told the object of their visit, were not less gratified than surprised at the concern manifest' d for their sufferings by the Superintendent, recounting other acts of his kindness and thoughtfulness in supplying them with goods in their extreme destitution, and sending back a profusion f really sincere acknowledgments for the same.

The party now set off for Yellow Lake, where they expected to gain definite intelligence of other Indians from a half-breed there residing.  Here were a few, who were immediately operated upon, and by this time our travellers were so crippled by walking through marshes, copse, and streams, lat their sufferings were almost intolerable. They now learned the fate of the Puck-wa-wan band. At the breaking out of the disease, this band numbered fifty-four souls, all of whom perished but one.  At Clear Lake, a short distance further, out of two lodges thirteen died. Again the voyageurs push forward, and at night, Dr. Day writes of this tramp, ' I was so exhausted wading through mud, brush-wood, and clambering over fallen timber, that I felt it impossible to take another step, and that a man must be animated by a spirit or something nobler than a love of money to be enabled to relish such a trip.'

Learn that Indians are 30 miles up Tamarac. Snow falls eight inches—travel all day, Found encampments, and preparations for sugar making—all deserted. Still continue forward in pursuit. Mr. Beaulieu thinks they are not far distant. Dr. Day remains in camp, while Mr. B. travels on all night, overtakes and vaccinates forty-eight.

Having now, with almost incredible hardships and severe exposure, explored all the country within the prescribed limits of the instructions, operating upon all Indians discovered, and sending virus to many bands arid families beyond said limits, our party gladly turned their faces homeward, which trip was less painful than the outward, by being able to purchase a canoe high up the St. Croix, in which they reached the stage route.

In justice to the chief Nah-ga-nub, I should add, in his own language, his compliments lo the Governor: ' He wishes me to express his sincere thanks to his Great Father, for the interest he has manifested in our behalf. I am anxious to take him by the hand and shake it heartily.'  He goes on to say, and wishes it related, 'that the course of the present Superintendent gives him a superior claim to their gratitude and affections over all his predecessors. They can almost forget the wrongs inflicted by fraudulent devices of crafty persons, in their regard for the present Executive, and the confidence his benevolent measures inspire.'