Rasdall's Fight

by a Pioneer

At that time [October 1832], about five hundred [Hocąk] Indians were encamped between where the Capitol now stands and the shore of Lake Monona. These Indians came here for the purpose of traffic with a French trader, who had his goods in a temporary Indian-built hut. The name of this trader was Louis Armel [Oliver Emell].

(382) Rasdall at one time kept a trading store on the east side of King and Webster streets, in Madison, and on one occasion a young Indian entered his store and attacked him with an open knife. Rasdall was unarmed, but, after guarding the blows, was finally able to wrench the knife from the hands of the Indian, and, though wounded across the back of his fingers, pursued him out into the street, where he caught and threw him down and then struck at him with the knife while he held him down with one hand. The knife each time struck a heavy buckskin belt the Indian wore, and thus failed to injure him. The father of the young man, coming up at the time, rushed up to Rasdall and besought him to spare the life of his son and take his, as he was an old man and had few moons to live. The appeal touched the heart of Rasdall, and, though naturally rash and vindictive, he allowed the young man to get up and go off with his father without further molestation. 

Commentary. "encamped" — the old village site, if this is correct, would be located at 43.072770, -89.381328.

"Louis Armel" — Oliver Armel, in some sources called "Louis," was the grandfather of both the noted artist Angel DeCora (Elizabeth LaMere > Catherine Armel > Oliver Armel), and Radin's interpreter and scholar in his own right, Oliver LaMere (Frank LaMere > Catherine Armel > Oliver Armel).

"Rasdall" — Butterfield gives a summary of his life: "Abel Rasdall was a native of Kentucky, born August 15, 1805, in Barron County, son of Robert and Elizabeth Rasdall. He was raised a farmer. When a young man, he went to Missouri and engaged in lead mining, and in 1828 went to Galena and assisted awhile the late James Morrison in his mining operations at Porter's Grove, about nine miles west of Blue Mounds, and soon engaged in the business of an Indian trader, locating his cabin on the eastern shore of Lake Kegonsa, about a half-mile south of its outlet. He married a Winnebago woman by whom he had three children. She was a real help-meet to him in the Indian trade, but, accompanying him to Fort Winnebago at some Indian payment there, she sickened and died of small-pox, Rasdall alone attending her and burying her remains. He had been vaccinated when young, and did not take the disease. He subsequently married another Winnebago woman; they had no issue, and when her people migrated west, she concluded to go with them — so Rasdall and his Indian wife cut a blanket in two, each taking a part, the Indian mode of divorce. In his trading with the Indians, Rasdall did not, by any means, confine himself to his trading establishment, but would pack several ponies with goods, and would take a tour among the Indian camps and settlements, and dicker off his goods for skins and furs. He obtained his goods at Galena, where he disposed of his furs and peltry. Not only ponies were used for packing and transporting goods, but Indians also. In 1846, he was married to Mary Ann Pitcher, in Madison, by whom he had three sons. Mr. Rasdall died at his home at Token Creek, Dane Co., Wis., June 6, 1857, at the age of nearly 52 years. He will long be remembered as an early settler of the County, his trading adventures around the Four Lakes having commenced as early as 1831."1

"King and Webster Streets" — the east side of this intersection is now occupied by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 43.074760, -89.380047.

Notes to the Commentary

1 C. W. Butterfield, History of Dane County, Wisconsin, 378.


Consul Willshire Butterfield (1824-1899), History of Dane County, Wisconsin ... preceded by a history of Wisconsin, statistics of the state, and an abstract of its laws and constitution and of the Constitution of the United States (Chicago: Western Historical Company, 1880) 382.