In the words of Marian Russell...
Mother had remarried when I was but three years old and the memory of my step-father's kindness colors many of my childhood memories. He was a tall man, an Irishman with a red face and broad shoulders. I do not know why I was not taught to call him "father." To me he was always Mr. Mahoney. He carried himself with an erect military bearing and seemed to know all there was to know about Indians. The tales he told! He had an eager boyish laugh and the fine even white teeth that gleamed when he laughed. I remember that he would play the banjo and sing Irish ballads with a good strong voice with a rollicking note in it.
I remember sitting on the floor holding Mr. Mahoney's new boots in my lap. My feet, shod in black sandals, were stretched out before me. Somewhere I had seen a picture of a mouse running out of a hole in the toe of a boot. So with mother's forbidden scissors I cut a small hole in the toe of Mr. Mahoney's new boot. Outraged, mother quickly lifted her hand against me. Mr. Mahoney took me from her. He laughed and held my face hard against his own. To my very angry mother he said, "Of boots there are many, but I have only one dear little daughter." I loved Mr. Mahoney.
In 1849, Mr. Mahoney was appointed custodian of Fort Snelling and Prairie du Chien, military outposts on the upper Mississippi. Garrisons of soldiers were stationed there to guard against Indian outbreaks. Mr. Mahoney was an experienced scout and knew of their ways.
We packed our belongings and took passage on a funny little stern-wheeler that churned up the muddy waters, leaving a foamy, ivory colored trail in its wake. It was a bit like a sawmill in full operation moving off up the river. Then, too, there was the charm and a mystery about the river. We were enroute to a new home in the great north-west. Everything along the Father of Waters was different from our life in St. Louis.
We passed many islands and wondered how the pilot of the threshing little stern-wheeler found his way through them. In places there were so many islands that we had the illusion that we were sailing through a series of many little lakes.
Sometimes we passed under angry red bluffs that frowned down at us. One such tall prominence was named "The Maiden's Leap," and mother told us the story of the Native girl who had thrown herself from the precipice when her lover had proved unfaithful.
In later years I was to learn the full legend. A hundred years before, a Sioux girl names Winona, of the tribe of Wapasha, fell in love with a young Indian hunter. Her love was returned but her parents wanted her to marry another warrior who had distinguished himself in battle against the Chippewas.
When the fateful day came that Winona was to be married to the man of her parent's choice, she ascended to the summit of the high red bluff and, in a clear ringing voice, upbraided her father for being cruel to her lover and driving home alone into the forest. She then lifted her hands to the sky above her and began singing a plaintive song to her lover. When the song was finished she threw herself into the river.
Standing that day on the deck of the little stern-wheeler I saw in imagination the slender Winona hurtling down into the water. I leaned far over trying to see the bottom, but the water was yellow and muddy. Poor little Winona!
At last we anchored beneath a high cut bank. On the top stood Fort Snelling. There was a tall round tower in the center of the parade ground and from it a sentry on duty scanned the countryside.
Once the Sioux came scampering to the gates of the fort for protection. Hard on their heels were the screaming Chippewas. In an instant all became bustle and confusion. A detachment of soldiers marched out between the warring factions. The Chippewas muttered and grumbled. The Sioux brought out a big peace pipe. There was some smoking and grunting. At last the laughing soldiers trooped back into the fort and the Natives returned to their camp across the river. The "battle" was over.
As I write I again experience the thrill that was mine when we moved away from Fort Snelling. Orders had come from headquarters that both Fort Snelling and Prairie du Chien were to be abandoned. All day long troops had been leaving. The blooded horses from the military stables had been loaded on a stern-wheeler.
In our quarters, trunks bags and boxes stood open for mother was packing. She sorted, packed and eliminated. This article or that one she would tuck into a box or bag, while another she would toss upon a refuse heap in the corner. Here was a game of leave and take that delighted my soul beyond measure. Into the kitchen I marched, gathered up my rag doll and my little tin dipper. The dipper I put into an open box, the rag doll I threw into a tub of water. My little rag doll that had slept with me all the time we lived at Fort Snelling! She eddied around a bit, gazing at me all the while with soulful, shoe-button eyes. Filled with compunction and sorrow, I backed slowly from the room, watching spell-bound the little painted face on the water.
I stood with Mr. Mahoney on the big front steps of the fort. Across the river the Sioux were getting ready to leave; their teepees were coming down. The Chippewas had already gone. I saw Mr. Mahoney fit the key in the lock of the fort. That key must have been a foot long and folded in the middle like a jack-knife. When the door was locked he picked me up and set me on his shoulder. I felt the cool, sweet wind on my face and from my high vantage point I looked up at the great round tower. For the first time no sentry stood there.
Thus Fort Snelling, Prairie du Chien and the first chapter of my life closed together.
From the notes... Fort Snelling, first called Fort Anthony, was established in 1819 at the mouth of the Minnesota River - south of present Minneapolis and across the river from St. Paul - by Colonel Henry Leavenworth. A post was established at the old French trading post of Prairie du Chien (Wisconsin) in 1816. Both military posts played colorful roles in the history of the upper Mississippi Valley during the first half of the 19th century.
A Nine-patch block would have been among the first blocks that a young girl like Marian would have pieced. But in such a short time of her childhood she had experienced so much... from the loss of her father to their move from Saint Louis to Fort Snelling with Mr. Mahoney and the closing of the two military posts.
A simple 9-patch block didn't feel sufficient to capture her story, so the Double-Nine block represents this portion of her life. Imagine this block as the river and the islands the riverboat made its way past...
NOTE: It was brought to my attention that the pattern cutting directions had an error. The single 1-7/8" square needs to be cut from the light (NOT the dark). I have made the correction on the pattern. Be certain that you make the change or that your pattern is noted as revised.
River boat dinner cruises were popular in the 80s and 90s. We enjoyed several while we were living in Illinois. The Port Edward's Sunset Cruise was always a fun night out on the Fox River both before babies and after (with out) our babies. A time to get away and sip on a glass of wine.
When my parents would visit from Colorado, they would often travel via Amtrak. Rather than pick them up or drop them off in downtown Chicago, we would drive to Joliet. It took about the same amount of time to get there but without all the traffic! Joliet had river boat casinos and we enjoyed a few "cruises" and dinner. To call them cruises was really quite silly since they boats simply went up and down the Fox River for a short distance.
My sister-in-law and brother-in-law enjoyed a river cruise in Europe a few years ago... quite different from the river boats I have been on.
Have you been on a river boat?
Leave a comment... you know I love to hear from all of you.
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