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Odd Wisconsin Archive

A Croak of Bull


"If any man wants to know what frogs can accomplish in the matter of making a noise, let him take a summer trip to Green Bay," wrote Alfred Cope (1806-1875) when visiting that city in 1849. To be completely honest, we must admit to a personal fascination with frogs that goes back decades and might lead us to see merits in them which others overlook. But few readers could ignore the eloquence with which Cope described Wisconsin's most conspicuous herps.

Wisconsin's Vocal Frogs

"In point of voice, they are well entitled to the appellation of bull frogs. Every evening they seem to assemble in mass meetings at several localities along the river shores, as if some weighty matter relative to Frogdom was to be discussed.

"Two or three — perhaps of the older and more experienced ones — were usually heard for some minutes haranguing, as it were, the green-headed multitude which listened in profound silence till some lucky hit or uncommon burst of eloquence, or one can't tell what, suddenly inflamed the enthusiasm of the living mass, when such an uproarious expression of fellow feeling would break forth as might amply satisfy any stump orator — biped or quadruped — that he had fairly won the hearts and suffrages of his dear auditors. The vociferations would soon subside and the solitary voice again be heard for a short time, again to be drowned in a universal bellowing.

"These performances were mostly continued about the length of time commonly allotted to town meetings, when, an adjournment taking place, the multitude would peaceably retire to their slumbers, no more to be heard till the pursuits of the succeeding day being ended, the several assemblies again convened."

Cope's Account of the 1849 Menominee Annuity Payment

Cope was in a party sent by President Zachary Taylor to oversee the 1849 annuity payment to the Menominee, to make sure they were not cheated by agents or traders, and to encourage them to move west of the Mississippi. When the U.S. negotiator raised this last idea, Menominee elders were heard to remark among themselves, "Why don't he go himself and live in such a fine country..."

Cope's journal of the trip, which contains vivid personal accounts of Menominee leaders Oshkosh (1795-1858) and Souligny (1785-1864), Brotherton leader Alonzo Dick (who represented Calumet Co. in the 1849 state legislature), Stockbridge elder John W. Quinney (1797-1855), and the great imposter Eleazar Williams (1787-1858), is available in the online edition of the Wisconsin Magazine of History (click the thumbnails to view each installment).

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:: Posted in Animals on June 21, 2012
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