Sunday, May 10, 2009

UHHC 2009-Final Thoughts, Summary and Thanks VI

Continuing with the Portage & Swamp Trompers:
The pair had originally planned to take three days to make the crossing, but now they had a dilemma: They were drinking far more water than they had anticipated because of the rough going and if they camped out another night they would face Saturday with no water, so they decided to keep going.
They started wading across the big marsh (Portage Lake Swamp) from "island" to "island" (really not very high and not very dry places where at least they didn't sink in very deep), occasionally having to hack their way with their Gerber Brush Thinner. When they reached the higher ground by Harr Road to the south they were having difficulty avoiding posted private land full of tree stands (more banjo music)....Neil's words:" the November firearms season opener, it must be like the Stalingrad sniper  battles in 1942 except the deer aren't shooting back".
From the Harr Road peninsula they headed west and southwest across easier but still wet marsh, on one occasion even able to float the canoe for a while with the pack on board (and even get in themselves to paddle briefly) .At another time they could float the canoe but still had to carry the pack.
When I was working this whole story out from Hugh's journal back in the last century (that sounds weird, but it's true) I figured that the marsh crossing by the Frenchmen when Hugh had gone back to the settlements was made by "hawling" the canoes through the marsh with the gear and trade goods on board. Neil and Brian question whether they could have done it that way, but I contend that the higher water table then before white men's deforestation and agricultural drainage activities would have made it possible. Indeed, I  have noted instances in my 1790 narrative where all-water crossings of the divide were made by pirogue and canoe during flood times. But those crossings were made up near present day Stockbridge.
On the west side of the swamp is the Schumacher Road peninsula with a road, farm and corn fields, obviously private property but not posted on the swamp side. Our trompers were trying to sneak their way across cornfields and a downed fence to get to open water when they heard voices (banjo music). They froze but then they heard more voices (louder banjo music) then a tractor starting up (still louder banjo music) and approaching with two men on board (very loud banjo music). Trapped! ...So our heroes assumed the lost canoeist's defense position (standing by a canoe on dry land playing dumb).
Neil babbled something about historic portages and only wanting to get into the Portage River. The men pointed to Schumacher Road and indicated that as a way to get to the river without further trespassing. I don't know whether or not the farmers* were able to verbalize that but our heroes took the hint and off down the road they went until they could put in the river at the Waterloo-Munith Road bridge.
* Note that I did not use a derogatory term like hillbillies or cornhuskers. (Karen's note, supplemental: Gee, Dad, such restraint.)
I have used both the term "swamp" and the term "marsh" here. The definition of "swamp" is a wetland with trees. That of "marsh" is a wetland with grasses and sedges. Thus the state-designated Portage Lake Swamp is really a marsh. Got it?
I make light of their traumas and have enjoyed turning Neil's comprehensive and very professional report into some sort of semi-humorous TV script, but my admiration for these two guys is boundless. Too bad Verlen couldn't have seen them in action...maybe he did.

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