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Historic Diaries: Marsh, 1834

Sick in a Maze of Swamps

Editor's Note:

This brief entry implies more than it says.

Marsh and his Stockbridge companions were then entering the upper reaches of the Fox River where it twists and turns among the reeds and rushes in a maze of fetid swamp water and muddy banks. Peter Pond, a semi-literate English trader who ventured through it in the 1770s, described the upper Fox this way (Wis. Hist. Coll. 18:332-333):

"The next morning we proseaded up the river, which was verey sarpentine inded, til we cam to a shallo lake whare you could sea water but just in the canoe track. The wilde oates [wild rice] ware so thick that the Indans could scarse git one of thare small canoes into it to geather it, and the wild ducks when thay ris made a nois like thunder. ... The water was two deap to wade and ye bottom soft the rode so narrow that it toock the most of ye next day to get about three miles with our large cannoes the track was so narrow... the next day we proseaded up the river, which was slack water but verey sarpentine we have to go two miles without geating fiftey yards ahead, so winding the water up to the caring plase [Portage] is verey gental but verey sarpentine; in maney parts, in going three miles you due not advans one."

This was a difficult place to navigate while one of the party was sick on a hot summer's day, and they wisely laid up for a bit until everyone felt up to the task.

Disease was commonplace on the Wisconsin frontier, in both white and Native American communities. Without modern medical facilities or even such basic knowledge as that germs cause sickness and cleanliness might prevent it, travelers and settlers were often struck down by forces beyond their control or understanding.

With no antiseptic measures and few if any medical professionals available, disease swept through communities like wildfire. At Fort Crawford in the summer of 1830, 154 of the 199 troops came down with malaria. Cholera was a far more dreaded disease that spread with frightening speed and exacted a far higher death toll than dysentery, measles, flu, or malaria.

17th, Tues [June 17, 1834]

Benj. Farmer more unwell than usual and we could not start so soon on that account, it being between 10 & 11 before we left.

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