The Tavern Visit

by Harry Ellsworth Cole

"Most early taverns in the Northwest territory were erected of logs and located near Indian villages, far from white neighbors. When Ebenezer Brigham established himself in 1828 at Blue Mounds, and Wallace Rowan soon after built his rude hut on the western shore of Lake Mendota, the two doughty adventurers were so far on the frontier they did not know at what moment the redmen might appear in full war panoply of paint and feathers, brandishing scalping knives. In fact, these two lowly meccas of entertainment were in the very midst of exciting scenes of Indian hostilities a few years later, during the crisis of the Black Hawk War. Naturally, too, these first tavern folk had strange and oft times thrilling experiences with smaller groups of the aborigines. Frequently the tribesmen were their first visitors and came freely thereafter, so that occupants of taverns were of necessity brought into close relationship with them.

Brigham, a bachelor, was imposed upon unwittingly by two Indians during his proprietorship of his famous pioneer hostelry. He was born at Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, in 1789; came to Saint Louis while it was yet but a straggling French settlement; reached Galena where there was only a single cabin; and after a short sojourn in Springfield, Illinois, came in 1827 to the lead mining region of Wisconsin in the southern portion of the state. The next year he built a cabin at Blue Mounds; and was there during the excitement of the Black Hawk War and for a number of years after. Inevitably he had much experience with Indians. The following is but one of several recorded episodes in which redmen figured."

Snakeskin (left) and Walking Turtle (right) both by J. O. Lewis,
Painted at the Treaty of Prairie du Chien, 1825

Caramaunee, an old Winnebago head chief, accompanied by a second Indian, Chief Snake, had made a journey to Washington to consider matters of interest between the tribe and the Great Father. During their stay in the East, they had learned not a little English and also some of the etiquette practiced by white people. When ready to depart from the national capital, they were provided with new blankets, an abundance of trinkets, money to pay for transportation home, and likewise an order from the War Department at Washington to the commanding officer at Fort Dearborn, Chicago, for two horses to carry them to their native haunts in what afterward became the state of Wisconsin.

Filled with pride and loaded with new possessions, never were happier Indians than the two chiefs as they proudly rode away from Chicago. The inflation of their vanity had not abated when they reached the log tavern on the sunny slope of Blue Mounds; and Caramaunee, knowing Brigham, it was decided that here was a splendid opportunity to display some of the politeness and shrewdness which they had learned from the pale-faces.

They galloped up to the tavern, when the boniface was thus accosted: "How! How! Brigham!" Swinging from his saddle, the chief presented his companion: "Brigham, Mr. Snake; Mr. Snake, Brigham." Pointing first to the tavern, the chief said: "Brigham, dinner." Next he pointed to the stable, "Brigham, horses, corn. Big man, me."

There being no domestic help within many miles, Brigham did his own cooking and other work about the tavern. In order to please his important guests, he summoned one of his workmen to assist in preparing a meal for the hungry Indians. From the rapidity with which the food disappeared, it was considered doubtful by the landlord and assistant whether the red travelers had partaken of refreshment since they left the fort at Chicago, a distance of almost two hundred miles.

Having satisfied their appetites, the Indians arose from the table and Caramaunee called out: "Brigham, horses." The animals were brought from the stable and two chiefs mounted forthwith, Caramaunee shouting: "Brigham, good-bye," as they departed at full speed.

Brigham was buncoed. All he could say was that having gone to so much trouble, they might have paid him for the meal, especially as the chief had made a display of a quantity of silver coin furnished by the government to defray expenses on the homeward journey.1

A Trader and His Customer

Ebenezer Brigham

Commentary. "Ebenezer Brigham" — a western pioneer from an old Puritan Massachusetts family,2 an acquaintance said of him, "He was a pure type of western pioneer manhood, modest, quiet, unassuming, and never given to boasting."3 Leaving Illinois, which he considered unhealthy,4 he was already in middle age when he traveled north from St. Louis prospecting for "Mineral" as it was call. He came to what is now Blue Mounds, Wisconsin, and there discovered a lead lode of some significance which became known as "the Brigham lead."5 The word soon spread.

The discovery of lead in the upper Mississippi, in the region of which Galena is now the heart, created an excitement among the settlers of the Mississippi valley, farther down, and produced a rush for the new mining district quite parallel to the California excitement of 1849. The last was more widely spread, but in intensity and wild excitement among those whom it reached, in those days before railroads and telegraphs, the lead fever in 1827 and 1828 was equal to the gold fever twenty one years later.6

In 1826, Brigham had became the first settler of Dane county, and founder of the town of Blue Mounds. Originally, the hills after which the town was named were called the "Smoky Mountains," a translation of the Hocąk Xe-šoc-ra (Jipson). The only road from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi passed through the Smoky Mountains and was an important stage line. The stage driver, known as "the Elder," wielded a silver handled whip, and stopped at what was called "the Brigham Place" to unload his passengers for the night.7 Blue Mounds Fort stood near his property. Brigham was newly commissioned Colonel, and began the construction of the fort on May 10, 1832, completing it in two weeks.8 During the Black Hawk War, one of his employees was killed by the Sauks, and another barely made it back to the fort.9 During the time when the local populous was invested in the fort, the Hocągara appeared with the two Hall girls, Sylvia and Rachael, whom they had rescued (by purchase) from the Sauks.10 After his brief military career, Brigham experienced a political ascendancy. As a member of the Whig party,11 he was a state representative from 1836 to at least 1848, and was an important proponent of making Madison the capital of the new state of Wisconsin.12 This is perhaps not a surprising position for him to take, since he was the first white man to have camped on the site (1828), having heard of it from the Indians.13

In his account book of 1831-1833, Brigham compiled a list of Hocąk words, for which see The Hocąk Lexicon (> Bibliography > [bg]).

"Wallace Rowan" — originally from Indiana, he was the first settler in Columbia County, Wisconsin. A history of that county contains an entertaining sketch:

Rowan's house was a double-log affair, built both for trading with the Indians and for accommodating travelers. He was a man of medium height, rather thin and dark; was sociable and talkative, and took great pains to make all who stopped with him as comfortable as possible. Adjoining his tavern he cultivated a tract of land to corn, potatoes, oats and vegetables; thus providing refreshment for man and beast.

Mrs. Rowan appears to have been an energetic, if somewhat unpolished woman; but she was a good housekeeper, and that was what the situation and the weary travelers called for. She was a stalwart champion of Indiana, as those found who sometimes twitted her on the name of her native state, so suggestive of savagery to the rough jokers. One of the most persistent repeatedly asked her to what tribe she belonged, and got his answer: "Gol dern it, I don't belong to no tribe: I'm from Indianer!"14

"Caramaunee" — for Keramąnįga, "Walking Turtle." This name is rendered in a bewildering variety of ways: Karimine, Karrymaunee, Carrymaunee, Cari-maunee, Carimimie, Caramaunee, Calimine, Carramana, Kay-rah-mau-nee, Kerry-man-nee, and Kariminee.15 He was also known as Nąga, "Wood" or "Tree." The name Nąga is his clan name (Thunderbird Clan), and refers to the Thunders' habit of striking trees. Powell has this to say about him,

There lived for many years a very aged Winnebago chief, called Caramaunee, at a little village composed of only three or four bark lodges belonging to himself and his sons-in-law, located about two miles east of what is since called Waukau.16 East of Fox River, about two miles above Omro, is Delhi. Some two miles back [south] east of Delhi was Waukau, on the old Fort Winnebago trail from Green Bay to the Fox-Wisconsin portage. About two miles east [south] of Waukau, on the west bank of [the outlet of] Rush or Mud Lake, near the centre of the stream, was Caramaunee's village. He was a. large, square-shouldered, stout man, not very tall, but with a powerful frame and long face. While his people were generally regarded as unreliable and thievish, Caramaunee bore a most excellent character, was liked by all traders, and was friendly to the whites. "When I saw him last, about 1830, he seemed nearly a hundred years of age. He said he was out with Colonel Dickson in the War of 1812, went with the Menominee to Sandusky, and was at Mackinac when Major Holmes was shot by L'Espagnol."17

Grignon referred to him as "a very worthy man."18 He fought with Tecumseh and was at his side when he was killed in 1813.19 Keramąnįga was the father-in-law of Spoon Decorah, the first cousin once removed of Wakąhaga. During the year in which these events took place (1828), Keramąnįga moved his people to a site on the Baraboo River, where became known as "the Counselor of the Baraboo."20 He died in Dexterville, Iowa.21

"Chief Snake" — sometimes called "Snake" (Waką), but only in abbreviation for "Snakeskin" (Wakąhaga), a name connected to the rattlesnake skin turban that he usually wore. Thus, he has also been called "Yellow Snake" (Wakązika) the Hocąk name for rattlesnakes. He was also said to have been called "Washington De Kaury," no doubt in honor of his visit there.22 Waukon Decorah (ca. 1775-1869), as he was commonly called, was of French descent, the grandson of the French military officer and trader, Sabrevoir de Carrie, and the only known female chief of the Hocągara, Glory of the Morning (Hąboguwįga). His father was "Buzzard" Decorah (Cap’osgaga). The towns of Waukon and Decorah, Iowa, are named for him.

"Washington" — this occurred in 1828, which is therefore the year in which the events of this story transpired.23

The Characters of "The Beaux' Stratagem"

"boniface" — an innkeeper, so called after the portly Will Boniface, a character in the Restoration comedy, "The Beaux' Stratagem" (1707). The play was written by the Irish playwright George Farquhar (1677/8-1707). H. Macaulay Fitzgibbon, in his preface to the 1898 edition of the play says, "The sly, rascally landlord, Boniface (who has given his name to the class), is said to have been drawn from life, and his portrait, we are told, was still to be seen at Lichfield in 1775."24

"how how" — for the standard Hocąk greeting, hąho.

"buncoed" — this is unlikely. It is more probable that having had all their needs taken care of in connection with their trip, they had expected to be treated in like fashion in their own land. It was not customary for a guest to pay a host, nor would they have expected Brigham to pay them were he to receive their hospitality. On the other hand, having dealt with traders and tavern owners in the past, they may well have known better, but felt that their status entitled them to such considerations as they took. The account of Brigham is perhaps colored by his dislike of Indians generally.25

Links: Blue Mounds.

Stories: mentioning the Decorah family: Origin of the Decorahs, The Glory of the Morning, The Origin of Big Canoe's Name, How Little Priest went out as a Soldier, The Hocągara Contest the Giants; mentioning traders: Mijistéga’s Powwow Magic and How He Won the Trader's Store, Migistéga’s Magic, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, Turtle and the Merchant, Brawl in Omro, How Jarrot Got His Name, The Chief Who Shot His Own Daughter, Origin of the Hocąk Name for "Chicago"; mentioning silver: Silver Mound Cave, The Spanish Fight, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, Soft Shelled Turtle Gets Married, see also Chief's Medallion; mentioning Blue Mounds: Blue Mounds.

Themes: some Hocąks trick white people: The Shrewd Winnebagoes of Dixon's Crossing.


1 Harry Ellsworth Cole, Stagecoach and Tavern Tales of the Old Northwest (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1997 [1930]) 99-101.

2 Thomas Brigham (1603 [in England] - 8 Dec., 1653) and Mercy Hurd (d. 23 Dec, 1693) > Thomas Brigham (ca. 1640 - 25 Nov., 1716) and Mary Rice > David Brigham (12 April, 1678 - 26 June, 1750) and Mary Leonard (d. 1 Dec, 1741) > Silas Brigham (9 Aug., 1710 - 11 March, 1791) and Tabitha Prescott > David Brigham (4 April, 1745 - 27 Sept., 1824) and Martha Chamberlain (1758 - 9 Aug., 1807) > Ebenezer Brigham (28 April, 1789 - 14 Sept., 1861). W. I. Tyler Brigham, The History of the Brigham Family: A Record of Several Thousand Descendants of Thomas Brigham the Emigrant, 1603-1653 (New York: The Grafton Press, 1907) 30 (#1), 64 (#3), 86 (#9), 105 (#37), 149 (#97), 150 (#X).

3 H. A. Tenney, "Madison," in William J. Park, Madison, Dane County and Surrounding Towns: being a History and Guide (Madison: William J. Park & Co., 1877) 539-562 [540].

4 "In this country, life is at least fifty per cent. below par in the months of August and September. I have often thought that I run as great a risk every season which I spend here, as I would in an ordinary battle. I really believe it seldom happens that a greater proportion of an army fall victims to the sword, during a campaign, than there was, of the inhabitants of Illinois, falling victims to a disease during a season that I have been here." Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, Personal Memoirs of a Residence of Thirty Years with the Indian Tribes on the American Frontiers; with Brief Notices of Passing Events, Facts, and Opinions, A.D. 1812 to A.D. 1842 (Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo & Co., 1851) 183.

5 John C. Ward and Ira Isham, "Blue Mounds," in Madison, Dane County and Surrounding Towns, 236-243 [236].

6 Ward and Isham, "Blue Mounds," in Madison, Dane County and Surrounding Towns, 241, from the memoirs of J. R. Brigham, the nephew of Ebenezer Brigham.

7 memoirs of J. R. Brigham in Ward and Isham, "Blue Mounds," in Madison, Dane County and Surrounding Towns, 240-241.

8 Robert A. Birmingham, "Uncovering the Story of Fort Blue Mounds," Wisconsin Magazine of History, 86, #4 (Spring, 2003) 47-57.

9 Ward and Isham, "Blue Mounds," in Madison, Dane County and Surrounding Towns, 236-237.

10 memoirs of J. R. Brigham in Ward and Isham, "Blue Mounds," in Madison, Dane County and Surrounding Towns, 243. For the Hall girls, see Charles Martin Scanlan, Indian Creek Massacre and Captivity of the Hall Girls: Complete History of the Massacre of Sixteen Whites on Indian Creek, near Ottawa, Ill., and Sylvia Hall and Rachel Hall as Captives in Illinois and Wisconsin during the Black Hawk War, 1832. 2d ed. (Milwaukee: Reic Publishing Company, 1915).

11 H. A. Tenney, "Madison," in Madison, Dane County and Surrounding Towns, 548.

12 memoirs of J. R. Brigham in Ward and Isham, "Blue Mounds," in Madison, Dane County and Surrounding Towns, 242.

13 H. A. Tenney, "Madison," in Madison, Dane County and Surrounding Towns, 540.

14 (Anonymous), A History of Columbia County Wisconsin A Narrative Account of Its Historical Progress, Its People, and Its Principal Interests (Chicago: Western Historical Company, 1880) 1: 82-83.

15 Publius V. Lawson, "The Winnebago Tribe," Wisconsin Archeologist, 6, #3 (July, 1907) 78-162 [151].

16 a note (by Draper ?), states, "Captain Powell suggests that this may be a slight change or corruption for Nahkaw." William Powell, "William Powell's Recollections, In an Interview with Lyman C. Draper," Proceedings of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin for 1912, 3-178 [151-152].

17 Powell, "William Powell's Recollections," 151-152.

18 Augustin Grignon, "Seventy-two Years' Recollections of Wisconsin," Wisconsin Historical Collections, 3 (1857) 197-295 [287].

19 Lawson, "The Winnebago Tribe," 151.

20 John T. de la Ronde, "Personal Narrative," Wisconsin Historical Collections, 7 (1876) 345-365 [350].

21 Lawson, "The Winnebago Tribe," 152.

22 [William J. Parks ?], "A History of Madison," in Madison, Dane County and Surrounding Towns, 9-200 [41].

23 Edwin C. Bailey, Past and Present of Winneshiek County, Iowa: A Record of Settlement, Organization, Progress and Achievement. 2 vols. (Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1913) 1: 25.

24 "The Beaux-Strategem, A Comedy written by George Farquhar," edited with a Preface and Notes by H. Macaulay Fitzgibbon (London: J. M. Dent, 1898) ix.

25 "Mr Brigham spoke of the Indians in the same manner that our ancestors do. He made use of very positive language. He gave them no quarter. And I have never seen any person yet who had been intimate with the Indians personally who had any sort of respect for them." (By "positive" is meant something like "unequivocal"). Christopher Columbus Baldwin, "Diary of Christopher Columbus Baldwin: Librarian of the American Antiquarian Society, 1829-1835," Transactions and Collections of the American Antiquarian Society, 8 (1901) 278, entry of Thursday, Feb. 27, 1834.