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"History of Eau Claire County Wisconsin, 1914, Past and Present"


Chapter 11 - Eau Claire County in the Civil War

by W. W. Bartlett


Part 2

(-as transcribed from pages 67 - 77)

OLD ABE, THE WAR EAGLE

Some remarks in regard to the eagle taken out by the Perkin's company may not be out of place at this time.  By far the best history of this bird ever written is that of Rev. J. O. Barrett, a Universalist clergyman of Eau Claire.  The first edition of his book appeared in 1865, and a number of other editions since.  As evidence of the painstaking care exercised by Rev. Barrett in the preparation of his narrative I give below several extracts from his book:  

                              Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, February 13, 1865
J. O. Barrett, Esq.
    Dear Sir:  Having been engaged for a short time in the collection of information relative to the capture and early ownership of the eagle of the Eighth Wisconsin Regiment, whose history you intend to publish, I take pleasure in submitting a few facts in regard to the progress made. Ascertaining, first, that the eagle had been sold to Mr. Daniel McCann, of the town of Eagle Point, in this county by some Indians, you wished me to discover, if possible, who those Indians were, and to secure their presence at Eau Claire at an early day.  I learned from Mr. McCann that the Indians who had brought the eagle to him in the summer of 1861 were of the Lake Flambeau tribe, and that the owner was a son of Ah-monse, chief of that tribe or band, of the Chippewa Indians.  I proceeded to obtain corroborative evidence of this account, and found, through the evidence of Mr. John Brunet, Mr. James Ermatinger, Mr. Charles Corbine and others -- all old residents of the upper Chippewa and Flambeau rivers -- besides the testimony of different Indians who were acquainted with the facts of the capture of the eagle, that it was correct.  All accounts agree that the name of the captor of the bird is A-ge-mah-we-ge-zhig, or Chief Sky, one of the five sons of the said Ah-monse.  Having satisfied myself by such evidence, and by other inquiries made in every direction, that there could be no mistake in the  identity of the captor of the eagle,  I have made arrangements,  according  to your directions,  to bring the said A-ge-mah-we-ge-zhig to Eau Claire as soon as possible.  He is now with his band, hunting between the head waters of the Yellow and Flambeau rivers, and is shortly expected at Brunet's Falls, on the Chippewa.
    Wishing you full success in the publication of your work, I remain, with much respect, Yours truly, 
          Theodore Coleman.


    Ascertaining that A-ge-mah-we-ge-zhig, with other hunters, would soon arrive at Brunet's Falls on their way up the river, Mr. Coleman engaged Mr. Brunet to detain him there until a concerted movement.  At length they came, the Indian with them, to whom was communicated the wishes of the "whiteman at Eau Claire," who desired to talk with him "about the eagle he caught a few years ago."  He hesitated, apprehensive of a trick, for all white men had not been true to their red brethren. Finally he appealed to his father.  It was a grave question indeed; they were all afraid of being arrested for capturing an eagle!  After a long counsel together the old chief resolved to go to Chippewa Falls without further waiting, requiring his boys to follow the next day, and appear in proper costume, should he find it safe.  Arriving there he had an interview with H. S. Allen, Esq., a pioneer resident, who, being a friend of the Indians, persuaded him to venture.  Meeting his boys, as before arranged, he selected two of them, A-ge-mah-we-ge-zhig and A-zha-wash-co-ge-zhig, and with Messrs. Coleman and Barrett and Elijah Ermatinger for interpreter, rode to Eau Claire, the 19th of February 1865, welcomed with a cordiality that at once inspired mutual confidence.  The native nobility of these sons of the northern forests created quite a sensation.  A-ge-mah-we-ge-zhig related his eagle adventures in a very intelligent manner, so simple and candid as to assure every one present of their truthfulness.  His father, who is much beloved as chief of the tribe, was particularly loquacious and is properly named Ah-monse, the "Thunder of Bees."  He had much to say about his "Great Father Lincoln," whom he has visited several times at Washington in the interest of his tribe, averring that Mr. Lincoln gave him plenty of money, and to his children much land, and let him see a battlefield."  Photographs of these "red brothers" were taken by A. J. Devor, of Eau Claire, and never did mortal appear more proud than the eagle captor when attiring himself in regal costume for his carte de visite.  A full-blooded Indian of consequence -- then about twenty-five years old -- belonging to the royal family of the Flambeaux, it is glory enough for him to be known among his fellows as the captor of the American eagle of the Eighth Wisconsin regiment of volunteers.

    The following letter, with a map, gives an accurate description of the infant home of the Eagle:

                                                          Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin
                                                          February 25, 1865

    My Dear Brother: -- According to your request, I will give you what information I have obtained of the Chippewa country, and especially of the home of your Pet Eagle.  Inclosed I send you a map of this country, being a perfect copy from J. I. Lloyd's New Map of the United States, with a slight change in the location of the Flambeau Lakes and tributaries, which are copied from a drawing made for me by Ah-monse and the Eagle Indian.  I can find no maps representing the United States' surveys of these lakes.  Today I saw Israel Gould, the Indian Interpreter, who rendered you so valuable assistance last summer on your Indian expedition.  At my request he drew a map of the Flambeau and its lakes, and it agreed precisely with the drawing made by Ah-monse and his son.  Mr. Gould is an intelligent Scotchman, and has lived with the Chippewa Indians for fifteen years.  He has a good knowledge of Indian character and probably is one of the best of Indian interpreters.  At one time he lived one year at Flambeau Lake, or Ah-monse's Lake, as it is most generally called, trading with Ah-monse and his tribe, and, consequently, he is well acquainted with their country.  I have much confidence in his account of the location of these lakes; and as all the other Indian traders and trappers, and Ah-monse, and the Eagle Indian do agree with him, I believe you can rely upon my map as being correct.  I will give his description of this country:
    The whole Chippewa country is well watered with innumerable streams, swamps, lakes and rivers; its surface varies in hills and bluffs, prairies, oak openings and meadows, and is covered, for the most part, with every variety of hardwood, Norway and white pine.
    The soil in many places is good, while many of the hills and bluffs are rocky, and in its northern portions are to be found iron, copper and other minerals.  It is inhabited by the various tribes of the Chippewa Indians, and abounds in wild beasts, fish and birds.  The Flambeau is a wide, crooked stream, the longest tributary of the Chippewa, and its general course is southwest.  Upon its north fork are the "rapids," at which place the Eagle Indian said he caught the eagle.  It is about 125 miles from Eau Claire, 70 miles from the mouth of the Flambeau River, and 80 or 90 miles from Lake Superior.  It is three miles from here to Little Flambeau, or Asken Lake, which is three miles long; six miles further north is Flambeau, or Ah-monse's Lake -- a stream uniting the two.  This is the largest of the Flambeau lakes, being three miles wide and six long.  It is a beautiful stream of clear, pure water, where are found fish of many varieties.  The meaning of its Indian name is "Fire-Hunting Lake."  Near its northern shore is a fine island, where Ah-monse frequently lives.  On its eastern shore is a pretty sloping hill, nearly forty feet high, covered with maples.  Here, overlooking the lake, the Indians, a few years ago, had their villages, which are now located on the north and northwest shores, where they had cleared their land, leaving now and then a shade tree, giving the country a beautiful appearance.  The soil is good, and here they raise their corn and potatoes.  Farther to the north is Rice Lake, the Chain of Lakes, the Big Portage and the Montreal River.  A few years ago this was the route of the Indian traders, going from Lake Superior to Eau Claire. The country near the lakes, for two miles east and west of the river, and about four miles in all directions from the lakes, is low prairie land, covered with hardwoods, with here and there a lonesome pine; while beyond, in all directions, the country is uneven and hilly, and wooded with the dark pine.  In this sequestered country, Ah-monse and his tribe have lived for many years subsisting upon their corn and potatoes, rice and sugar, fish and game.  The Flambeau tribe is the most enterprising and intelligent of the Chippewas.  Their warriors number from 140 to 150 men, and they kill more game than any other tribe.  Here are found the deer and elk, the mink and marten, the bear and otter, and also the fish hawk, the owl, the eagle and other birds.
    Mr. Gould says the region of the Flambeau Lakes is an eagle country, he having seen more there than in any other, and has there found many eagles' nests, containing from two to four young birds.  Having seen the War Eagle at different times, he is satisfied it is a bald eagle, and this is the opinion of A-ge-mah-we-ge-zhig.  Mr. Gould also says Asken Lake is situated about five miles east of the fourth principal meridian, which line is well defined upon the river bank; and, if he is correct, and I rely upon his statement, then the Eagle must have been caught in Chippewa county, in or near township forty, north of range one, east of the fourth principal meridian, nearly four miles from its eastern boundary.
    Trusting my map and letter may aid you in obtaining a better idea of the home of the Eagle,
    I remain, your brother for Freedom and Union,

     W. W. Barrett.

    By examining the map, the reader will notice the location of the birthplace of the eagle that is now so famous in the world.  His captor said the nest was found on a pine tree, about three miles from the mouth of the Flambeau, near some rapids in a curve of the river; that, at the proper time, just after sugar-making, at the Bend, he and another Indian cut the tree down, and amid the menaces of the parent birds, caught two young eaglets, of a grayish-brown color, about the size of prairie hens, one of which died of the effects of an injury; that he preserved the old nest -- "big as a washtub -- made of sticks, turf and weeds" -- and nursed his Me-kee-zeen-ee (little eagle) in it, as a plaything for the papooses at the Indian village; that, a few weeks after, while en route for Chippewa Falls and Eau Claire with their furs, moccasins and baskets, he sold his eagle to Daniel McCann for a bushel of corn.
    This statement of "Chief Sky" -- quite a significant name -- agrees with that of Mr. McCann, who subsequently tried to sell the bird to a company then just forming at the Falls for the First Wisconsin battery, but, failing, carried it to Eau Claire, some time in August, 1861, and offered it to a company organizing for the Eighth Wisconsin infantry. It was then about two months old.
    McCann carried the eagle to Chippewa Falls and attempted to sell him to a company just recruiting there for the First Wisconsin battery. Failing in this, he proceeded a little later to Eau Claire and offered the bird, now nearly full-grown and handsome, but spiteful as a scorpion, to the Eau Claire "Badgers," that subsequently became Company C, of the Eighth or Eagle regiment.
    Captain John E. Perkins hesitated at first about accepting such a strange volunteer, but finally agreed to take him to the front.
    It was mainly through the sagacity and foresight of R. F. Wilson, an influential resident, who argued "nothing could be better chosen, not even the flag itself, to ensure fame and success," they looked upon it in a favorable light, and after a surgeonlike examination of the eyes, claws, beak, wings and plumage, concluded by a jocose vote to accept "the new recruit from Chippewa."  A little flurry ensued about contributions, when S. M. Jeffers, a civilian, purchased the bird for two dollars and a half, and presented it to the company.
    In due time the eagle was sworn into the United States service by putting around his neck red, which and blue ribbons, and on his breast a rosette of the same colors.
    James McGinnis craved the privilege of superintending the eagle, to which all tacitly assented.
    In a few days he produced quite a respectable perch and two patriotic ladies made some little flags to be carried on each side of him, when on the march; and gay and imposing indeed did he appear as he rode in imperial state beneath those miniature "stars and stripes" through the principal streets of Eau Claire, inspired by martial music and cheered by the enthusiastic people.

 "OLD ABE'S" BATTLES

Fredericktown, MO  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  21 October 1861
New Madrid and Island "10"  . . . . . . . . . . . .  March & April 1862
Point Pleasant, MO   . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  20 March 1862
Farmington, Miss.  . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . .   9 May 1862
Corinth, Miss. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   28 May 1862
Iuka, Miss. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  12 September 1862
Burnsville, Miss.  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  13 September 1862
Iuka, Miss.   . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  16 - 18 September 1862
Corinth, Miss. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . .   3 - 4 October 1862
Tallehatchie, Miss. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   2 December 1862
Mississippi Springs, Miss. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 May 1863
Jackson, Miss  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 May 1863
Assault on Vicksburg, Miss. . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . .   22 May 1863
Mechanicsburg, Miss. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .    4 June 1863
Richmond, La. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  15 June 1863
Vicksburg, Miss. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   24 June 1863
Surrender of Vicksburg  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  4 July 1863
Brownsville, Miss.  . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . 14 October 1863
Fort Scurry, La. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . . . .  13 March 1864
Fort De Russey, La. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 March 1864
Henderson's Hill, La. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . .  21 March 1864
Grand Ecore, La.  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . .  2 April 1864
Pleasant Hill, La. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . .  8 - 9 April 1864
Natchitoches, La. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   20 April 1864
Kane River, La. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . . . .  22 April 1864
Clouterville and Crane Hill, La. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  23 April 1864
Bayou Rapids, La. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  2 May 1864
Bayou La Monre, La. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . .  3 May 1864
Bayou Roberts, La. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . .  4 - 6 May 1864
Moore's Plantation, La. . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . .   8 - 12 May 1864
Mansura, La. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . . . .  16 May 1864
Maysville, La.  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . . .  17 May 1864
Calhoun's Plantation, La. . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . . 18 May 1864
Bayou De Glaise, La. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 May 1864
Lake Chicot, Ark. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . .   6 June 1864
Hurricane Creek, Miss. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . .  13 August 1864

Two battles were fought by the regiment while the eagle and veterans were home on furlough -- Carmargo Crossroads, Miss., July 13, and Tupelo, Miss., July 14 and 15.

WAR BEARERS OF THE EAGLE

  1.  James McGinnis, of Eau Claire, from Sept. 1, 1861, to May 30, 1862.
  2.  Thomas J. Hill, Eau Claire, from May 30, 1862, to Aug. 18, 1862.
  3.  David McLain, of Menomonie, from August, 1862, to October, 1862.
  4.  Edward Hummaston, of Eau Claire, from October, 1862 to September, 1863.
  5.  John Buckhardt, of Eau Claire, from September, 1863, to September, 1864.
  6.  John T. Hill, of Ashland, during the journey home, from Memphis to Madison, in September, 1864.


"ABE'S" PEACE ATTENDANTS

  1.  John McFarland, state armorer.
  2.  Angus R. McDonald, Eleventh Wisconsin infantry.
  3.  John G. Stock, Fourth Wisconsin cavalry.
  4.  E. G. Linderman, Fifth Wisconsin volunteer infantry.
  5.  William J. Jones, Sixteenth Wisconsin volunteer infantry.
  6.  George W. Baker, Nineteenth Wisconsin volunteer infantry.
  7.  I. E. Troan, civilian.
  8.  John F. Hill, Eighth Wisconsin volunteer infantry.
  9.  Peter B. Field, civilian.
10.  Mark Smith, Seventh Wisconsin volunteer infantry.

11.  George Gillies, Second Wisconsin volunteer infantry.


    At the close of his war career "Old Abe" was presented by the company to the state and a place was provided for him at the state capitol at Madison, where he was viewed by thousands.  He was also taken to various parts of the United States, being in great demand all over. He attended national conventions, was taken to the great centennial at Philadelphia and other noted gatherings, where he was the center of attraction.  Space forbids a more detailed history of incidents and anecdotes concerning this famous war bird.
    He was adored by the members of the Eagle company and the Eagle regiment and on the field of battle he was always able to locate his regiment and company.  The war anecdotes alone in which this bird figured would fill a book.  He also attended the regimental reunions.
    Toward evening of a cold day in the winter of 1881 a fire started mysteriously in a quantity of paints and oils stored in the basement of the capitol, near Old Abe's large cage.  The blaze created an enormous volume of black and offensive smoke, which at once filled the cage to suffocation.
    Abe, understanding full well the nature of what was going on around him, sent forth such a scream as had never before been heard in that building.  Attendants and watchmen rushed below to learn the cause of the startling outcry, and before attacking the flames, opened the door of the perch-room.  The eagle, with another piecing screech, swept swiftly out and away from the smudge.
    He seemed to be either frightened or injured by the smoke, for his breast heaved, his heart labored heavily and his plumage was disheveled.  Nor was he ever well thereafter.  He ate sparingly or not at all; his eyes lost their wonderful luster; he sat around in a half-comatose condition for a few days, and on March 26, 1881, with a slight tremor and few feeble flaps of his wings, expired in the arms of his stout keeper, George Gillies.
    George said that Abe seemed to know he was about to die, for when he asked solicitously, "Must we lose you, Abe?" the old bird raised up his head and looked wistfully into the keeper's face and then sunk back into his arms and passed away.  Around him were numbers of one-legged and one-armed veterans whose sad faces showed that they had lost a beloved comrade.
    At first the general desire among the soldiers was to have Abe buried in the beautiful Forest Hill cemetery, where rest two hundred Union and one hundred and fifty Confederate dead, with appropriate military ceremonies and under a handsome monument.
    The suggestion that the taxidermist's art would preserve him to the sight for an indefinite period dispelled those notions, and he was turned over to Major C. G. Mayers, who, after preserving and stuffing the warrior-bird, fixed him firmly to a neat perch as he stood for years in the war museum of the capital.
    His mounted body was destroyed in a second capital fire some years later.
    Thomas Randall, in his "History of the Chippewa Valley,' credits the pioneer lumberman, Stephen S. McCann, as being the man who purchased the eagle from its Indian captor, and this error has been quite generally copied.  From extracts given from Rev. Barrett's book it will be seen that it is Daniel McCann to whom this honor belongs.  A cousin of mine who visited the Daniel McCann farm in Chippewa county shortly before the eagle was brought to Eau Claire saw it tied to a barrel in the door-yard.  Little did he realize how great the fame of this bird was to become.  I am furnishing you a picture of Old Abe, the war eagle, also a picture of its Indian captor, also an extract from the old Free Press confirming the circumstance connected with the taking of the young chief's picture.

DISTINGUISHED VISITORS

(Eau Claire Free Press, Feb. 23, 1865)

    Last Sunday about noon, three Indians of the Flambeau tribe came into town, taking up their temporary abode at the residence of Rev. J. O. Barrett.  Through the courtesy of Theodore Coleman, editor of the Chippewa Falls Union, Mr. Barrett got track of these dusky fellows far up in the "big woods," and on the day they touched the nearest point on the Chippewa river, he had them engaged to visit him at the earliest possible date for the purpose of getting information relative to the eagle of the Eighth Wisconsin, which was captured by one of them in the spring of 1861.
    These visitors were none other than part of the royal family. Ah-monse (the Bee), chief of the tribe, and two of his sons, Ogema-wee-gee-zhick (Chief of the Sky) and Shaw-wau-ko-gee-zhick (Blue Sky).  Ah-monse, the oldest chief of the Chippewa tribe, is a deliberate old man, prudent in his plans and courteous in bearing.  The same may be said of the others.  He has three other sons, Wau-saa-naa-go-nee-bee (Light), Pee-zhee-kanze and E-squaa-bit (Outside of the Others). Ah-monse stated that many years ago, before white man settled here, he was in a battle with the Sioux, on the west side, near the village of West Eau Claire and that he there killed "one Indian."  Of this he spoke with animated pride.  Ogema-wee-gee-zhick is the Indian who captured the eagle, and from him Mr. Barrett obtained all the information he desired, which is peculiarly interesting.  In due time it will appear in his history of the celebrated bird.  He seems to be conscious of his importance, and no doubt will be recognized as such by his tribe, as well as by the pale faces who have an affection for the American eagle. Arrangements could not be consistently made with these Indians to remain until Monday, so their likenesses were taken on the Sabbath, that of the Eagle Indian intended for a steel engraving for the history.  They can be seen at the Devoe's photograph rooms and are very finely executed."

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