1836: Spring and the Change
of the Guard
THE INDIANS AWAITED the first sighting of a crow in spring to let them know that they had survived another hunger season. The winter that seemed it would never end finally broke on March 24. The household awoke to gentle sunshine. “The genial rays of the sun smile for once upon us this morning,” Taliaferro remarked.1 His journal records a “day so fine inhabitants and military are like bees and ants busy flying about and others sunning and thawing out after a long and tedious winter.” The fort’s massive walls released their captives to walk out and view again the prairie’s broad horizon. “Many straggling Indians also to be seen who are smiling at the prospect of spring and the appearance of wild geese and ducks.”2 The days grew perceptibly longer, quickening the pace of life and bringing the pleasure of renewed sensation.
There had been cracks on the ice for days, but the river ice finally broke on April 11. Within two days, although the snow was still deep, Mr. Baker, the independent trader, left for St. Louis. He floated down the melting river, seeking goods for the Indian trade and carrying his neighbors’ mail and special orders. (Sibley as company manager didn’t need to make the icy trip; he simply waited at his trading house for his partners to send him the goods he ordered.) Lt. Ogden and his bride left next in a Mackinac boat with a crew of nine boatmen, their first trip out since they had married a year before. The Ogdens’ departure made Harriet’s master a little resentful.3 He grumbled about the stingy furlough policy of the Indian agency that kept him in place on the frontier.
April is the cruelest month on the North American plains, at the 45th parallel. Mid-April, several more inches of snow fell. But just the taste of spring renewed outdoor activity. People of all the various prairie communities left the dark interiors of their winter shelters, seeking excuses simply to spend time outdoors. The tempo of life and the rate of social exchange increased with the temperature and the hours of daylight. The Reverend Stevens called at the agency for the horses that had been kept there over the winter, and Mr. Pond came in for the ploughs.4