Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Life in Kickapoo Center at the Turn of the Century

Everything happens at once.

I spend my days in splendid isolation. The Pooch and I enjoy each others wordless communication. I vent my urge to communicate in the early morning, writing about Kickapoogians. That is the term used in an 1896 book about the area by Gertrude Frazier and Rose B. Poff. About Kickapoo Center they write:

"This locality is among the earliest settled in the Valley.Among the first settlers were Robt. Wilson and family.At that time, Kickapoo Center gave great promise of being the metropolis of this region, but other places outdistanced it.At present there is little but a post office, a church, and a school to mark the spot."

They also write;

"The earliest white inhabitants were trappers and hunters and the men who carried on lumbering...the first company of trappers was composed of twelve Germans who came from New York. They crossed the Wisconsin River at Wright's Ferry and went to Coon Prairie. Here the party broke up and went to different parts of the Kickapoo Valley. This party of men were a rough set and it is said they added the making of counterfeit money to their avocation of trapping...A little later another lawless company of men had their headquarters on what is now the Olson farm near Viola. A doctor by the name of Hill owned the place and kept a station for a band of horse thieves who were thought to operate in Illinois...The trappers emigrated to pastures new,and the citizens assisted the officers of the law to capture the horse thieves. In 1864 they were sentenced to three years in the penitentiary; but the names Kickapoo and Kickapoogian have for over thirty years been associated in the minds of some narrow-minded people with horse thieves."

My neighbor raises horses. He's not a horse thief. I'm taking an old aluminum, 12 cup coffee maker and a discolored, yellow juicer,hardly ever used, from the kitchen to the soap studio in the garage. I'm startled when I see him standing at the back door. "What are you up to now?" I ask. Before he can answer, I see the tractor parked on the town road that is our driveway. On a platform attached to the rear of the Massey-Ferguson is another of my Crow Magnums. "Just a moment. I'll get my coat."

"Where did you find him? I owe you double big time now. You must have eyes like a hawk." I throw a barrage of verbiage at him for lack of anybody to talk to. He tells me about a pile of logs-my woodpile- that this crow was resting on. The flood washed away a neatly piled stack of silver maple logs 20 feet long on the northeast fence line. The crow is obscured by weeds. I've walked past it frequently on my walk with the Pooch in the afternoon.

I get my portable driver and unscrew the crow from the heavy log base. "I'll deal with that later," I tell Ron referring to the silver maple log. Then the phone rings. It's Thelma in Arizona. " Hello, Thelma," I answer. " I add, "It's Robert in Wisconsin." I'd just talked to them at Thanksgiving. I suspect she misdialed. She's the wife of the 86 year old Santero and friend in Arizona. "Oh hello, Robert.I was calling my sister. How are you?" "Just fine Thelma. It's cold here. Must be in the twenties. And we've got snow," I say. Then the phone beeps. One is a low tone indicationg call waiting. Another is a high tone-the battery is low. "Thelma, I have to go. There's another call coming in." I hear her say good-bye and by the time I press the green call icon, the line is dead. The screen tells me I have a message. "Probably, my wife keeping track of me," I say to Ron. He murmurs assent and tells me of the woodpile. The silver maple mixes in well with the black locust in the wood furnace.

I let the fire die down in the early evening. The wall thermostat climbs up toward 76. If it gets too warm-sometimes upwards of 78/80- it'll be hard to sleep. You can't turn down a wood fire. is another country aphorism. Ron offers to haul the wood out of the swamp land, now frozen. I ask him to put it by the pile of black locust logs on the south fence line. One of my daily tasks is to split firewood and pile it in the old Sears wheelbarrow. "I'll give you some black locust in return," I offer. It's after four. The Pooch is sniffing around the tractor.

It's time for our afternoon walk. The sun has gone below the western horizon. Freymiller's hill blocks the light. There's a glow from the west. Pooch and I walk down the lane to the river. He climbs a few trees showing off his climbing ability. He'll hug the trunk of the tree until I get near and drop to the snow covered marsh grass. Then he'll beat it like a paper-devil down a beaver trail into a grove of Willow across the road. I follow him. As is usually the case, the line of fur on his back is a raised charcoal gray ridge. His tail is straight up, almost black. He's happy to be out hunting.

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