|Mention of Pilons in early XIXth century Wisconsin|
|Extracts from Juliette A. Kinzieís
book ìWAU-BUN, The Early Days in the Northwest.î Rand, McNally and Company,
Chicago and New York, 1901.
(to learn more about Juliette A. Kinzie, click here)
In the mean time, great preparations were making below, under the supervision of our tidy, active little French servant, Mrs. Pillon, the wife of one of the engagés, by whom the irregular and unmanageable Louisa had been replaced.
Biscuits were baked, a ham, some tongues, and sundry pieces of salt pork were boiled, coffee roasted and ground, sugar cracked, isinglass cut in pieces of the size requisite for a pot of coffee. For the reception of all these different articles cotton bags of different sizes had been previously prepared. Large sacks of skin, called by the Canadians porches, were also provided to hold the more bulky provisions, for our journey was to be a long one.
Our party was augmented by an escort of all the young officers, who
politely insisted on accompanying us as far as Duck Creek, four miles distant.
Indeed, there were some who would gladly have prosecuted the whole journey
with us, and escaped the monotony of their solitary, un-eventful like.
In our rear followed an ox-cart, on which was perched a canoe, destined
to transport us over the creek, and also an extensive marsh beyond it,
which was invariably, at this season, overflowed with water to a considerable
depth. We had much amusement in watching the progress of this vehicle
as it bumped and thumped over the road, unconscious hitherto of the dignity
of a wheeled carriage.
Our little, shock-headed, sunburnt, thick-lipped Canadian (who happened most miraculously to be the husband of my pretty servant, Mrs. Pillon) shouted vociferously as the animals lagged in their pace, or jolted against a stump, "Marchez, don-g", "regardez," "prenez garde", to our infinite diversion. I was in high spirits, foreseeing no hardships or dangers, but rather imagining myself embarked on a pleasure excursion across the prairies. It had not even suggested itself to me that a straw bonnet and kid gloves were no suitable equipment for such an expedition. Never having travelled at so inclement a season, I was heedlessly ignorant of the mode of preparing against it, and had resisted or laughed at my husband's suggestions to provide myself with blanket socks, and a woolen capuchon for my head and shoulders. And now, although the wind occasionally lifted my head-gear with a rude puff, and my hands ere long became swollen and stiffered with the cold, I persuaded myself that these were trifling evils, to which I should soon get accustomed. I was too well pleased with the novelty of my outfit, with my hunting-knife in a gay scabbard hanging from my neck, and my tin cup at my saddle-bow, to regard minor inconveniences.
My husband, who was just preparing to spring into the canoe when the dogs thus unceremoniously took precedence of him, was at my side in a moment, and seizing me by the collar of my cloak, begged me not to be frightened. I was not, in the least, and only laughed as he raised and placed me again upon the bank.
The unfortunate saddle and little trunk were then rescued, but not until
they had received a pretty thorough wetting. Our merriment was still
further increased by the sight of the maladroit Pillon, who was attempting
to ride my spirited Jerry across the marsh. He was clinging to the
neck of the animal, with a countenance distorted with terror, as he shouted
forth all manner of French objurgations. Jerry pranced and curveted,
and finally shot forward his rider, or rather his burden, headforemost,
a distance of several feet into the water.
A general outcry of mirth saluted the unfortunate Frenchman, which was redoubled as he raised himself puffing and snorthing from his watery bed and waddled back to his starting-place, the horse, meanwhile, very sensibly making his way to join his companions, who ahd already reached the farther bank.
Of the Canadian voyageurs or engagés, a race that has now so nearly passed away, some notice may very properly here be given.
They were unlike any other class of men. Like the poety, they seemed born to their vocation. Sturdy, enduring, ingenious, and light-hearted, they possessed a spirit capable of adapting itself to any emergency. No difficulties baffled, no hardships discouraged them; while their affectionate nature led them to form attachments of the warmest character to their "bourgeois", or master, as well as to the native inhabitants, among whom their engagements carried them.
Montreal, or, according to their own pronunciation, Marialle, was their depôt. It was at that place that the agents commissioned to make up the quota for the different companies and traders found the material for their selections.
The terms of engagement were usually from four to six hundred livres (ancient Quebec currency) per annum as wages, with rations of one quart of lyed corn, and two ounces of tallow per diem, or "its equivalent in whatever sort of food is to be found in the Indian country". Instances have been known of their submitting cheerfully to fare upon fresh fish and maple-suger for a whole winter, when cut off from other supplies.
It was a common saying, "Keep an engagé to his corn and tallow,
he will serve you well - give him pork and bread, and he soon gets beyond
your management." They regard the terms of their engagement as binding
to the letter. An old trader, M. Berthelet, engaged a crew
at Montreal. The terms of agreement were, that they should eat when their bourgeois did, and what he did. It was a piece of fun on the part of the old gentleman, but the simple Canadians believed it to be a signal instance of good luck that had provided them such luxurious prospects. The bourgeois stuffed his pockets with crackers, and, when sure of being quite unobserved, would slily eat one. Pipe after pipe passed - the men grew hungry, but, observing that there were no preparations of a meal for the bourgeois, they bore their fast without complaining.
At length the matter became too serious - they could stand it no longer. In their distress they begged off from the bargain, and gladly compounded to take the customary rations, instead of the dainty fare they had been promising themselves with their master.
On arriving at Mackinac, which was the entrepôt of the fur trade, a small proportion of the voyageur's wages was advanced to him, to furnish his winter's outfit, his pipes and tobacco, his needles and thread, some pieces of bright-coloured ribbons, and red and yellow gartering (quality binding), with which to purchase their little necessaries from the Indians. To these, if his destination were Lake Superior, or a post far to the north where such articles could not be readily obtained, were added one or two smoked deer-skins for moccasins.
Thus equipped, he entered upon his three years' service, to toil by
day, and laugh, joke, sing, and tell stories when the evening hour brought
rest and liberty.
There is an aristocracy in the voyageur service which is quite amusing. The engagement is usually made for three years. The engagé of the first year, who is called a "mangeur-de-lard", or pork-eater, is looked down upon with the most sovereign contempt by an "hivernant", or one who had already passed a winter in the country. He will not only not associate with him, but if invited by him to join him in a friendly glass, he will make some excuse for declining. The most inveterate drunkard, while tortured by a longing to partake his favorite indulgence, will yet never suffer himself to be enticed into an infringement of this custom.
After the first winter, the mangeur-de-lard rises from his freshman class, and takes his place where he can in turn lord it over all new-comers.
Another peculiarity of the voyageurs is their fancy for transforming
the names of their boureois into something funny, which resembles it is
sound. Thus, Kinzie would
be called by one"Quinze nez" (fifteen noses), by another "Singé"(monkeyfied). Mr. Kercheval was denominated Mons. Court-cheval (short horse), the Judge of Probate, "le Juge Trop-bête"( too foolish) etc. The following is an instance in point.
Mr. Shaw, one of the agents of the Northwest Fur Company, had passed many years on the frontier, and was by the voyageurs called Monsieur Le Chat (Mr. Cat). On quitting the Indian country he married a Canadian lady and became the father of several children. Some years after his return to Canada, his old foreman, named Louis la Liberté, went to Montreal to spend the winter. He had heard of his old bourgeois' marriage, and was anxious to see him.
Mr. Shaw was walking in the Champ de Mars with a couple of officers,
when La Liberté espied him. He immediately ran up, and, seizing
him by both hands, accosted him,--
"Ah! mon cher Monsieur le Chat; comment vous portez-vous?" (My dear Mr. Cat, how do you do?)
"Très bien, Louizon."
"Et comment se porte Madame la Chatte?" (How is the mother cat?)
"Bien, bien, Louizon; elle est très bien" (She is very well)
"Et tous les petits Chatons?" (And all the kittens?)
This was too much for Mr. Shaw. He answered shortly that the kittens were all well, and turned away with his military friends, leaving poor Louizon quite astonished at the abruptness of his departure.
Upon the strength of such an inducement to the one who should put the finishing troke to the building, Plante, Pillon, and Manaigre, whom the waggish Plante persisted in calling "mon nègre", whenever he felt himself out of the reach of the other's arm, all went vigorously to work.
Building a log house is a somewhat curious process. First, as will be conceived, the logs are laid one upon another and jointed at the corners, until the walls have reached the required height. The chimney is formed by four poles of the proper length, interlaced with a wickerwork of small branches. A hole or pit is dug, near at hand, and, with a mixture of clay and water, a sort of mortar is formed. Large wisps of hay are filled with this thick substance, and fashioned with the hands into what are technically called "clay cats," and these are filled in among the framework of the chimney until not a chink is left. The whole is then covered with a smooth coating of the wet clay, which is denominated "plastering".
Between the logs which compose the walls of the building, small bits of wood are driven, quite near together; this is called "chinking", and after it is done, clay cats are introduced, and smoothed over with the plaster. When all is dry, both walls and chimney are whitewashed, and present a comfortable and tidy appearance.
The roof is formed by laying upon the transverse logs thick sheets of
bark. Around the chimney, for greater security against the rain,
we took care to have placed a few layers of the palisades that had been
left when Mr. Peach, an odd little itinerant genius, had fenced in our
garden, the pride and wonder of the surrounding settlement and wigwams.