Visit From a Hungry Man

by Charles Bent


Charles Bent

(304) "The Winnebago Indians still lingered around their old hunting grounds, and it was both natural and desirable on the part of new-comers to obtain all the information possible of their habits and characteristics, and the advice was not to feed them. After a few days domicil Mr. Odell was obliged to seek some supplies, which would require the absence of the entire day, leaving Mrs. Odell at home alone; and soon after his departure an Indian stealthily opened the door, glided to the fire, and silently surveyed the premises. Seeing a strange squaw he inquired, "Where Moconder?" (medicine man). "Puckagee to O-hi-o," replied Mrs. Odell. He then asked for food, which she would not understand until he had made the demand a third time, accompanied by a dramatic flourish of his tomahawk, which brought to her recollection enough of the Indian dialect as to hurriedly furnish him food to his satisfaction. Having used Winnebago dialect in her first answer, he knew her to be no uneducated squaw. These Indians often visited their old homes in after years, and, being treated with kindness, property was more safe while surrounded by them than it is now with our doted civilization."1


 
  Whiteside County, Frontispiece
  A Plat Map of Fenton Township

Commentary. "old hunting grounds" — Odell's property (Section 36) is only 2 miles to the west of Prophetstown, where the "Winnebago Prophet" once lived.

"Mr. Odell" — Bent gives this sketch of Odell: "J. Danforth Odell was born in Petersburgh, Rensselaer county, New York, June 9, 1815, and came to Whiteside county in 1839, arriving the day before the last, or September election for the location of the county-seat. He was married to Miss Elsie Ann Peters in North Adams, Massachusetts, June 10, 1839. They have had two children, both of whom died in childhood. When Mr. Odell first came to Whiteside he purchased a claim, with a cabin and some small improvements, of Dr. William Price, situated in the southeast corner of what is now Fcnton township, known as the Lyman Bennett claim, and took possession in the December following. ... Mr. Odell continued to cultivate the rich soil of the Rock river bottom for thirteen years, when he moved to Lyndon, where he clerked in the general merchandise store of Marcus Sperry for about two years, and until Mr. Sperry's death, when he entered into partnership with F. K. Powell and W. W. Gilbert, under the firm name of J. D. Odell & Co., which continued for nearly two years. Lyndon at that time sold more goods than any other town in the county, and one of the partners of the firm, who furnished no part of the capital, drew at the rate of $150 per month as his share of the profits. The firm was mutually dissolved while in the height of prosperity, and at a great sacrifice, as was then supposed. But Mr. Odell has often said afterwards it was the most fortunate move of his life, financially, as the firm was then indebted to New York and Chicago parties to the amount of nearly $12,000, and the firm were enabled to close up their liabilities about the time of the great financial crisis of 1857-'58. Mr. Odell afterwards engaged in the grocery trade in Lyndon for about two years, and in March, 1863, came to Morrison, where he has resided fourteen years, retired from active business life, having seen enough, as he alleges, of the hardships of the frontier to pass the balance of his days in quiet retirement. Mr. Odell was the first Town Clerk of Fenton township, and has been for several years, and is at present. Treasurer of Mt. Pleasant township. He has considerable literary taste and ability, which he has used to good advantage as newspaper correspondent. He was for some time correspondent of the Whiteside Sentinel, writing under the nom de plume of "Tim Downes," and has contributed various articles at other times." Odell's property, in accord with this description, would be in Section 36.

"Moconder" — for mąką́nįra, "the medicine man."

"Puckagee" — the nearest Hočąk expression that could fit this context is pa-xjį, which would mean, "very far." However, near Fox Lake is a place known as "Puckagee Springs." It may be an Algonquian word, but nothing resembling it could be found in Ojibwe or Sauk dictiionaries.


Stories: See "Visitors" for a similar history in which a visit from the Hočągara causes alarm when in fact they prove more virtuous than white people.


Notes

1 Whiteside County, Illinois, from Its First Settlement to the Present Time; with Numerous Biographical and Family Sketches, ed. Charles Bent (Morrison, Ill.: L.P. Allen, 1877) 304.