Thursday, March 25, 2010

Old Abe, the Eagle

Hi everyone! Today I have a very special Centennial History post for you! I spoke to Stacey Swigart, Curator of Collections at Please Touch Museum, who told me about "Old Abe" the Eagle. Read on for the exciting story!

Ahgamahwegezig (also known as "Chief Sky") was a Chippewa Indian who captured a female bald eagle on the Flambeau River in Wisconsin in the mid-nineteenth century. According to stories, Chief Sky sold the eagle to a man for a bushel of corn. There are different accounts, but at some point, someone sold the eagle to a Company "C" of the Eight Wisconsin military unit ready to head out on campaign in 1861 for a few dollars during the Civil War. The men named the eagle "Old Abe" after the president, Abraham Lincoln.

Official Centennial portrait of "Old Abe" the War Eagle (Courtesy Robby Cohen Collection)

The troop carried "Old Abe" on a perch at the end of a staff next to their colors. The "Eagle Regiment," as they were soon nicknamed, took the eagle through 36 battles with them. During the battles, she would spread her wings and "scream." Some accounts say she was wounded twice, but she survived the war until she was “mustered” out with her troop in 1864.

Following the war, she was gifted to the State of Wisconsin, where she traveled to conventions, military reunions and special events. A booklet about her illustrious history raised $16,000 for sick and wounded soldiers.

She came to the 1876 Centennial Exhibition (for which Memorial Hall, Please Touch Museum's current home was built) and was on display in Agricultural Hall. She drew big crowds at the Fair, especially during feeding time where her caretakers gave her live chickens. One visitor is said to have gotten to close and ended up with a scratched cheek!

"Old Abe" died March 26, 1881 from smoke inhalation when a fire broke out in the basement of the Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin. She was later mounted and continued to be on display in the Capitol of Wisconsin until she was destroyed by fire in 1904.

Reverse of the official photograph of "Old Abe." The former owner of this photograph glued a newspaper clipping reporting the death of the eagle from 1881. (Courtesy Robby Cohen Collection)\

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