Strieter Autobiography: Adventures on the Water
August 25, 2015 Leave a comment
In this section Strieter tells the story of how the lumber for the mission house in Shebeyang (or Shebahyonk) was obtained. See here, here, here, and here. The Historic Site marker at the Indian Mission today simply sums up all the history below with one sentence: “In 1849, Rev. Mr. Auch ferried lumber from Lower Saginaw to Shebahyonk on Wild Fowl Bay, seven miles north of Sebewaing.” But I imagine a capable tour guide could keep an entire audience staring in wonder just at the siding of the Mission for upwards of five minutes, if he or she were able simply to retell the story below.
In the spring a mission house was to be built in Shebeyang, for which we needed boards. My brother-in-law [Missionary Auch] and I took our seats in the mission boat, which was 20 feet long with one mast and a sail. We had no wind and had to “pole” the boat, that is, propel it with poles. Toward evening we came to a small little stream, navigated into it, made a tent, brought our blankets and our trunk inside, made ourselves a fire, and cooked tea and eggs. We had bread too. We ate and went to sleep.
During the night the wind came from the other side and drove the water from the little stream out into the bay, and our boat sat there on the sand. We packed everything back in and now worked at getting our boat into the water. We had to go into the water. Boots and stockings came off and now, with our poles stuck in under the boat, we lifted up and pushed them against the side, until the thing was floating. We got in and put our stockings and boots on – people wore boots back then – and off like the wind we went. But the wind was too “close”; we could not reach the lighthouse at the mouth of the Saginaw River.32 We navigate to shore and I say, “I am getting the fever!” That doesn’t help any; I start yawning and getting the chills. We stand there for a while, but night is approaching; we have to get going. We push our boat back until we reach the river. Then Auch took a rope, went up on shore and pulled the thing, and I was supposed to keep it away from shore with a pole. But I wanted to sleep after I got the chills, for it was the dumb ague. Bump, my boat strikes against shore. I wake up and push it back off. The wind is making little ripples, and I think, “That is a turned down bed. You should just go crawl into it.” Bump, my boat strikes against shore again, and I push it off again.
Finally there is a little house on the prairie in the distance. My brother-in-law says, “Those are Frenchmen. Let’s go and find out if they’ll put us up for the night.” We go over; the house is locked. A little ways away is another house; we see light there. Off we go over there. There we find two women, the mother from the first house and her daughter in the second house. Their husbands were out fishing. There were two beautiful children in the cradle, one with the head at one end, the other with the head at the other. One belonged to the mother and the other to the daughter. Auch asked if we could stay overnight. They said sure. Pretty soon the mother takes off with her baby, and the daughter plunders her bed to make one for us on the floor. I slept gloriously. In the morning the woman bakes buckwheat cakes and roasts salt pork and fish. O how great it tasted – better than on the ocean. Auch asks what we owe her, but she doesn’t want anything. I say, “Give her a half-dollar.” He took out his money-bag and gave her a brand new half-dollar. Then she laughed anyhow, and was very pleased as she examined the half-dollar in her hand.
We returned to the boat and were off. We went to the sawmill and my brother-in-law bought wood. But we have to go to Upper Saginaw, because everything else could only be bought there. There I develop my fever again. My brother-in-law brings me to the inn. A fat woman takes me up to a bed. Every moment she comes and wakes me up in English: “You musn’t sleep!” At any rate, we got back up to Lower Saginaw and stayed overnight with a Frenchman. There we had boiled potatoes [Pellkartoffeln], salt pork, and fish.
We now loaded our boat full of lumber, so that it was only a handlength above the water, and we made our way to the bay. A strong wind was blowing, but since we were near the mouth of the river, the wind was too “close” to us and we had to drop the sail and grab for the poles. We work tremendously hard; the waves are always throwing us back against the right shore. Finally we are around the corner.33 In front of us a sailing ship lay at anchor. It had a large float of boards hanging at the side, which were to be loaded in once the water had quieted. We tied our boat to the float and then had a look at the bay. The water was very turbulent, the waves were running high, and there were whitecaps everywhere. The captain appeared on his ship and shouted to us that we should go back into the river. He said the water was much too high for our boat and he could not hold us; his anchor had enough weight to hold already.
My brother-in-law says, “John, what should we do?”
I say, “Not go back; we don’t want to go through all that work again.”
He says, “If you’re up for it, let’s keep going.” He reefs the sail in until it’s a piece as large as a tablecloth. I untie the rope, and he hoists the sail. Whoosh, we whizzed on past the ship out into the open, stormy bay.
At first I felt strange though. When the boat was at the top of a high wave, I would think, “Now it’s going to rush down into the trough and right down to the ground.” But look, just like that it was back at the top of another wave. My brother-in-law began to sing. Then I relaxed and thought, “If you are singing, there must not be anything to worry about.” But the boat traveled so horribly that it tilted way to the front, as if it were going to stand up on its head, and the water was constantly washing in at the front, so that I had to bail water almost continuously. In two hours we were at the mouth of the Sebewaing River, so we had done about thirty miles in two hours.
32 That is, the wind was blowing from the direction they wanted to go.
33 At the mouth of the Saginaw River, there is a projection of land along the eastern bank.
[Read the next part here.]