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Fort Snelling Minnesota

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Memories of Fort Snelling and Other Parts of the West

Written by Charlotte Ouisconsin Van Cleve in 1888, author recalls childhood memories of life at Fort Snelling. She married Horatio Phillips Van Cleve, who served in the Union Army with the Second Minnesota Infantry, and she tells of her life as they traveled to assignments at St. Louis, Cincinnati, Kentucky and Nashville.

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daughters, and Mrs. Clark, with her baby boy--were seated on the turf enjoying the novelty and beauty of the scene, when some Indian women, attracted by the unusual sight, drew timidly near and gazed in wonder at what they saw. One of the officers, Major Marston, the wag of the party, learning that one of them was the head chief's wife, desired to show her some distinguishing mark of respect, and, leading her into the group of ladies, said, with due ceremony. "This is the Queen, ladies; make room for the Queen;" but as this specimen of royalty was almost too highly perfumed with a mingled odor of fish and mush-rat to suit the cultivated taste of her entertainers, they did not hail her advent with any marked enthusiasm.

When all was in order, Colonel Leavenworth stepped forth, and, through an interpreter, formally requested of the Chief permission to pass peaceably through their country. The Chief, a very handsome young brave, advanced, and, with his right arm uncovered, said, with most expressive gestures: "My brother, do you see the calm, blue sky above us? Do you see the lake that lies so peacefully at our feet? So calm, so peaceful are our hearts towards you. Pass on!" With this full permission so gracefully bestowed, after resting and refreshing themselves among their newly-made friends, the troops left among them a  liberal supply of beads and trinkets and passed on to that point on the river, least distant from the Ouisconsin, where they made a portage, transporting their boats and supplies, by the aid of Indians hired for the purpose, a distance of a mile and a half. This was a tedious process, but was at last successfully accomplished, and the boats were again afloat on the stream, called by the Indians the "Nee-na-hoo-na-nink-a," (beautiful little river), and by the whites "Ouisconsin," the French orthography for what we now write "Wisconsin." The place of transit from one river to the other was known for years as the Portage. At the point where the troops made preparations for crossing it was afterwards built Fort Winnebago, and directly opposite the fort, on a pretty knoll, stood for many years the Indian agency occupied for a long time by John Kinzie, agent, afterwards better known as one of the first owners of Chicago, and Mrs. Kinzie's "Waubun," or early day, gives a very pleasant and reliable account of that locality and the surrounding country. The point on the Wisconsin where the re-embarkation of the troops took place has grown into Portage City.

In spite of heavy rains and other discouraging circumstances, the tedious descent of the Ouisconsin was at length successfully accomplished, and at its mouth stood old Fort Crawford and a settlement of French and half-breeds called "Prairie du Chien." This fort was simply a rude barracks, and far from comfortable. The two months'  journey from Buffalo had been very trying, serious obstacles and hindrances had been encountered and barely overcome, but instead of reaching their final destination in June, as they confidently expected to do, the troops arrived at Fort Crawford on the morning of the first day of July, worn out and exhausted. It was therefore determined to remain at this point some weeks for rest and renewal of strength, before making the final plunge into the unknown wilderness, into the very midst of savages, who might resist their progress and cause them much trouble.

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