Chief Wave Tries to Take the Whiskey

by Willard Barrows


Willard Barrows

(139) An Indian trader haid come to the same place where we had made our depot, late in the fall, and, among other things, he, as usual, brought whiskey. He had built himself a small trading-house near to us. This served to gather about him large number of Indians, and though he managed to deal out his poison with some degree of caution, as a thing forbidden by the government, yet at times a few drunken Indians would be found about the camp. On such occasions I never allowed them in my camp.

"On my return from the Missouri River trip I found the trading-house closed, the Indians drunk, the barrel of whiskey, all that was left of the trader's stock, moved up to my camp, and the clerk there in attendance on it. The trader himself had gone to Dubuque for goods, and left his clerk, a cowardly and effeminate fellow, in charge. The Indians demanded liquor, and to prevent their getting it, he had rolled the barrel to my premises, and left it with my tent-keeper.

"It was late in the night when I arrived, and being indignant that it had been placed in my depot, I ordered it out, and it was set outside. But it was too late in the stage of affairs to quell the disturbance. The Indians were already maddened by the beginnings of intoxication, and no persuasion or refusal of the trader's clerk could quiet their demands. I had peremptorily forbidden the sale of any more to them, and the clerk, now finding the trading-house too warm a place for him, closed the doors and took refuge in my tent.

(140) "The Indians had threatened to scalp him if he dad not produce the liquor, and followed him to my quarters. Here they found the barrel of whiskey outside the door. I spoke to them with firmness, refused, them any more. A portion of them, Chas-chunka [Big Wave], and some of his braves, had come inside, and sat in silence around my fire. Some of the chiefs, who knew me well, had come to me in behalf of the whole, pleading for more whiskey. I firmly refused. Being weary from the long and hard march of the day, I lay down for some rest, ordering my men to keep their arms in readiness, while I placed the heavy hickory fire-poker near me. The Indians were without arms, having deposited them, as usual, with their knives and tomahawks, on the top of the trading-house, and the most of them were too drunk to get them again readily, even if the sober ones would let them. As I lay on my lounge, a large crowd was outside, and ten or fifteen inside.

"An old squaw, in order to bring me to terms, had commenced pounding on the head of the whiskey barrel, as it stood near my camp. Big Wave came to me in great pretended alarm, and told me that unless I permitted them to have whiskey, he feared they would break in the head of the barrel, and then all would be drunk, and great trouble would follow. I told him that if he allowed that liquor to be broken open I would kill every Indian within my reach. In the mean time tile old squaw kept up her drumming, and as the chief himself disappeared from the door-way, the head of the cask went in!

"In a moment I sprang from my bed, caught my (141) walnut poker, a stick five feet long, and cried out to my men, in the Indian language, to kill all in the cabin first. With one stroke I split the table to pieces with a great noise, it being made of the lids of a dry good box, and continued striking right and left, whooping loud and sharp to my men to kill the chiefs first. The cabin was soon emptied of Indians, and, with those outside, they all took to their heels like a herd of deer. I had the barrel of whiskey moved inside again, the door barricaded, and quiet restored. Of course no Indian was hurt by us, as my men were under secret instructions to injure no one. The next morning a few came back, and were shown a large place in the snow where the whiskey was deposited, with the barrel bottom up over it. The liquor was confiscated and gone, only an odor remaining in the snow.1


Commentary. "Indians" — the people in the immediate vicinity were the Hočągara, but also in the neighborhood were the Sauk and Fox tribes. By this time, alcohol had nearly completely destroyed their culture.

"the Missouri river trip" — this was Barrow's expedition from 1841-1843 to explore and map the territory in Iowa known as the "Neutral Grounds," then occupied by the Hočąk tribe.2

"Chas-chunka [Big Wave]" — in the orthography used here, this is Čaščąga. To get "Big Wave" from this, one would suppose it to be analysed as Čaš-čąk-ka, where čąk means something like "big," as in Ho-čąk, "Big Voice." However, the word for wave is čaščą, with -ga appended to indicate a personal name. The name, therefore, is simply "Wave." This is ordinarily a clan name given not long after birth in the Waterspirit Clan, as one might expect. Wave, as it happens, was appointed chief by the government (q.v.), which ignored the usual requirement that the chief be drawn from the Thunderbird Clan.


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Stories: mentioning Chief Wave (Čaščąga): Chief Wave Bars Explorers, Chief Wave and the Big Drunk; occurring in Iowa: Chief Wave Bars Explorers, The Duel, Chief Wave and the Big Drunk; mentioning whiskey (fire water): Little Fox and the Ghost, Rich Man, Boy, and Horse, Turtle and the Merchant, Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, Chief Wave and the Big Drunk.


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Notes

1 Willard Barrows, The General ; or, Twelve Nights in the Hunters' Camp: a Narrative of Real Life (Boston, Mass.: Lee and Shepard, 1869) 139-141.

2 Franc B. Wilkie, Davenport, Past and Present; Including the Early History (Davenport: Luse, Lane & Co., 1858) 187.