The Smoky Mountain Massacre

by Peter Chaurette

Peter Chaurette's Stone

Rice Lake and the village sites, prehistoric and historic along its border, constitute one of the most interesting regions in this vicinity. Messrs. G. H. Reynolds and H. C. Fish, former residents of Marshfield, in 1906 followed the old Indian trails and described many village sites and mound groups for the Wisconsin Archaeological Society. Mr. Peter Hoffman, who formerly owned a farm on Rice Lake, gathered an interesting collection of prehistoric Indian stone artifacts here. This collection may still be in existence in Marshfield, where Mr. Hoffman located after selling his farm to Mr. G. H. Reynolds. Rice Lake before it was drained formed a large bayou of the Little Eau Pleine. It was filled with clear water fed by springs. Wild rice was very abundant along its shores. Fish and fowl were plentiful. Around the lake was a heavily timbered country chosen by the Indians as their camping and battle grounds. This extinct lake is situated in the southwest portion of Green Valley Township.

The following interesting article was taken from a newspaper clipping. The writer thus far has been unable to ascertain the name of the paper.

(14) "Smoky Hill rises up to the southwest of the lake and from the bank overlooking the lake and from the mounds and other evidences, was the Chicago of the Wisconsin River valley. The Indian tradition tells us that after many wars the place became haunted and on certain times of the year a great smoke would rise from the tree tops, but nothing ever burned. It was for this reason that it derived its name. When Chief John Young and his tribe rendezvoused near Rozellville, he often related the story of Smoky Hill as told him by his forefathers. It was no doubt a superstition but it is said that the Indians would never trespass there, believing in their untutored minds that it was possessed by the spirit of a murdered chieftain, whose anger even after death manifested itself in clouds of smoke as a warning to keep away.

It was left to Peter Chaurette to hand down an event of importance which took place on this hill. Peter Chaurette died June 29, 1884, at the age of 74, and lies out in the Rozellville cemetery, forgotten except when brought to the minds of our old timers. He was a one-armed half-breed who had lost that member, Mr. Rozell says, in a hunting trip. Mr. Chaurette was educated in Montreal. His father was a French soldier and knew of the battle on Smoky Hill, and this was handed on down to his son and thence to many of the older settlers.

"In spring, 28 years before our Declaration of Independence was signed, the Chippewa left their camping grounds on Smoky Hill and went down the river for sugaring or to take their furs to some trading post. It was not long before runners came up with the main body of the Chippewa and told them the Winnebago had taken possession of their village on Smoky Hill. From the natural position of the hill with its surrounding swamps and impregnable forest, the Chippewa knew that they could not take it without aid. A messenger was sent to Green Bay asking for ten soldiers to drive the hated Winnebago, or as the French called them, the "Puants" or Stinkards, from this region teeming with game of the forest and lake and rich in fields of rice. The French sent them ten or twelve soldiers, each armed with a gun, and the fort also sent a few guns for the Indians. They had for additional equipment two two-inch field pieces. During the fall the warrior crowd started from the falls where Wausau is located, and paddling speedily down the Wisconsin River the band turned into the Big Eau Pleine River. The trip up the river was swift and secret. When they reached what was later Weeks Mill in Section 13, Township 26, Range 5 East, they were one and one-fourth miles from the Little Eau Pleine. They portaged across this place and landed three miles below the place of conflict. One battery went down the river to cut off any bands of Winnebago who might be waiting in ambush for the Chippewa. The other battery quickly, in the night, steered for the hill of smoke. They reached the place and found it strongly guarded.

With their superstitious fear of fighting in the dark, they lay low until the birds whispered to them of an approaching day. The Winnebago were on guard and at once the tragedy of the hill was on, 300 Chippewa with their 10 or 12 Frenchmen matched against 300 Winnebago. It was no easy matter for the Chippewa to skulk through the surrounding swamps, nor for the French to get near the defending force on the slope. With the better arms of the French, for a time the Winnebago were driven slowly back, and many a redskin fell toward the French as the little two-inch spurted out its fire and smoke. But the powder soon gave out and the battle raged with a listless fire of guns, the bow and arrow, the spear, and the tomahawk. All that day the fighting was kept up with varying success until at last by the superior cunning of the French and Chippewa the Winnebago fell back and fled east through forest and swamp, and gathered their forces together some seven miles down the river near Section 33, Township 26, Range 6. Here to their fearful surprise they met the first battery. The last stand was made as a wolf fights for life. The desperation of the conquered can no longer be measured by muscle, but with the thought of what capture meant to them-torture over fires-they sprang to the center of death. Flight had weakened them, their arrows were almost gone. With a short struggle all was over. The Chippewa again went back to the spot surrounded by all that was beautiful; the French to their trapping and to the fort, telling of this occurrence as one of the many tragedies that made life for them one long source of interest. We do not know how long the Chippewa remained here, but today the Indians of all tribes look upon this hill with superstition and grunt a few inarticulate words about a Big One that dwells there." 

Commentary. "Smoky Hill" — the authors add the following:

Smoky Hill Mounds. There formerly was a group of conical and oblong shaped mounds on this hill. The conical or circular mounds were from forty to sixty feet in diameter. There were formerly large tree stumps on some of these mounds. Messrs. G. H. Reynolds and H. C. Fish explored several of these mounds. In one, two skeletons were found, one of which was in a flexed or sitting posture facing east. Charcoal, ashes, and a few potsherds were also found. In another mound only a skeleton was found. This former island, "Smoky Hill," is 68 acres in extent. Mr. Charles Brinkman, who has lived on the hill for over 20 years, stated to the writer that formerly the Indians would occasionally come to the hill to trap. However, they would not remain on the island after dark, but row across to the north bank of Rice Lake and camp there over night. The superstitious fear of encountering the "White Deer" and "Hairy Man or Monster" Hoboglins that haunt the hill caused them to make their departure before darkness set in.

"the southwest of the lake" — what today is called "Smoky Hill" is barey a rise in ground located to the northeast of Rice Lake, T26N R5E Section 28, NW¼ (44.708845, -89.923474). However, just to the southwest of the lake is a heavily forested hill of some height, located in T26N R5E Section 32, NE¼ (44.694052, -89.934632). See the 1881 plat map as well. The original plat map shows the area at the base of the hill (not there identified) in Section 32 to be extensive marshlands, and what was called "Rice Lake" is represented as an unnamed marsh.

George O. Jones  
Chief John Young  

"Chief John Young" — a chief among the Potawatomi. "According to the description of many people, who knew him well, he must have been a man of refinement and considerable education. He could read and write well and according to Mr. Jacob Frieders, living at the former location of "Indian Farm," could talk some German. He was the leader and best known Indian in this vicinity, and with the possible exception of Chief Kee-ah probably had more influence and authority than any other Indian. A daughter and other relatives of John Young are still living at the Potawatomi village at McCord, Wis. There are several granddaughters in Wood County. Mrs. James White Pigeon and Mrs. Ed Wilson both being daughters of Mrs. Ketch-ka-me, of McCord, daughter of John Young. They reflect in a general way the qualities of their ancestor. According to Albert Thunder, John Young was born in Illinois. When nine years old his parents moved to Wisconsin. First they settled on the East Fork of Black River, near New Dam; from there they moved to Powers Bluff (Skunk Hill), and later to the villages on the Little and Big Eau Pleine. John Young was almost 70 years old when the Indians left the Big Eau Pleine. He is buried at McCord."1 

"Rozellville"Rozellville is located at coordinates 44°44′36″N 90°01′28″W.

"Chaurette" — see his memorial at Find a Grave.2

"28 years before" — this would be the year 1748, in the 18ᵀᴴ year of the reign of Louis XV (15 February 1710 – 10 May 1774).

Notes to the Commentary

1 History of Wood County, Wisconsin, compiled by George O. Jones, Norman S. McVean and others (Minneapolis-Winona, Minnesota: H. C. Cooper, Jr. & Co., 1923) 9-10.
2 Find a Grave, database and images (accessed 9 September 2020), memorial page for Peter Chaurette (1810–29 Jul 1884), Find a Grave Memorial no. 89515328, citing Saint Andrews Cemetery, Rozellville, Marathon County, Wisconsin, USA ; Maintained by Kathleen Englebretson (contributor 47705227) .


History of Wood County, Wisconsin, compiled by George O. Jones, Norman S. McVean and others (Minneapolis-Winona, Minnesota: H. C. Cooper, Jr. & Co., 1923) CHAPTER II, 14-15.