The Discovery Of Wisconsin

WisconsinGenealogy Note: The following description of the discovery of Wisconsin has been transcribed from a 19th Century manuscript. As such it comes with a White-centric view of Native Americans. I have taken pains to replace all instances of calling the Indians, savages, with the term Indians. I have, however, left the insinuations in place where the author calls them perfidious, lying, etc. as that is simply his opinion. I am certain they felt the same about the Europeans they had to deal with. Any act of atrocity has been left within the article. Atrocities were committed by both sides!

The history of the Chippewa Valley is virtually the history of the state of Wisconsin, that is, from the time of its discovery to its settlement in the present century, and may be divided into five epochs—its occupation by the French (by whom it was discovered), the brief period of British rule, its pre-territorial existence, its life as a territory, and, finally, its career as a state.

Existence of the St. Lawrence River Revealed

Up to the beginning of the seventeenth century the existence of that part of the United States which is now known as Wisconsin was unknown to the nations of Europe of that period. The discoveries of Columbus, in 1492; John Cabot, in 1497; his son, Sebastian Cabot, in 1498; Gaspar Cortoreal, in 1500, and John Verrazzano, the Florentine navigator, along the Atlantic coast of North America, did not extend beyond the island of Newfoundland. On April 20, 1534, Jacques Cartier, a French navigator, sailed from his native place, St. Malo, in France, under orders from the French admiral, for this island, on an exploring expedition. On reaching his destination he at once began to carry out his instructions. In the following August he discovered the river afterward named the St. Lawrence. Following its channel, he soon sighted land on either side. France was filled with wonder at the success of the expedition. The enthusiasm of the French people was aroused. A new enterprise was promulgated. Several members of the nobility volunteered for the cruise. The vessels sailed on May 19, 1535. Arriving within sight of Newfoundland, they were carried by an adverse wind into the gulf to the west of it on St. Lawrence’s Lay, August 10, and gave it that name, and the river discovered the previous year also received the same title. Ascending this noble stream, the island, since called Orleans, just northeast of Quebec, was reached. Here the vessels came to anchor. The river was ascended, and an Indian village was found on an island called Hochelaga, now the site of the city of Montreal. Possession was taken of the country in the name of the French king, Francis I. This ceremony was repeated in the following spring.

Cartier and Samuel de Champlain

On July 15, 1536, Cartier dropped anchor at St. Malo. A third voyage was made by him in 1541, quitting his native land on May 23. He was, on this occasion, under the supervision of John Francis de la Roque, Lord of Roberval, who had been appointed by Francis I. viceroy of the newly discovered country. The motive of this enterprise was declared to be the settlement of this region, and the conversion of the Indians to Christianity, with additional explorations. Cartier was the first to reach the St. Lawrence. A fort was erected near the site of the present city of Quebec. Neither seeing nor receiving any communication from the viceroy, Cartier set sail for France in the following spring. Roberval arrived at his destination in the summer of the same year. After wintering in the St. Lawrence he abandoned the enterprise and resigned his vice-royalty. In 1598 the Marquis de la Roche, a French Catholic, undertook the colonization of New France, but the expedition proved a miserable failure. Another similar effort was made in 1599, by a merchant of St. Malo, named Pontgravé, and a Captain Chauvin. These adventurers engaged to establish a colony of 500 persons in consideration of receiving a grant of the monopoly of the fur trade from Henry IV., the then king of France. Arriving at the St. Lawrence, they erected a cluster of wooden huts and store-houses at Tadoussac, near the mouth of the Saguenay. Chauvin made two more voyages to this trading post. He died during the last one, and his scheme came to a sudden end.

In 1603 a number of French merchants formed themselves into a company, and Samuel de Champlain was dispatched, with a small band of adventurers, to make a preliminary survey of the St. Lawrence. They reached Hochelaga in safety. Vain efforts were made by Champlain to pass up the rapids of the river, but he gleaned from the natives some account of the lakes and country beyond. Having accomplished his mission, he returned to France. At the expiration of five years he made another trip across the Atlantic, as the leader of an expedition to establish a colony and make explorations. The fleet left France on April 13, 1608, and arrived at the mouth of the Saguenay in the following June. A settlement was begun on the banks of the St. Lawrence, on the site of the present market-place of Quebec. At this time the Huron Indians, who dwelt on the shores of the lake which now bears their name, and the Algonquins,whose homes were on the banks of the Ottawa and St. Lawrence rivers, were at war with the Iroquois, or Five Nations, whose habitations were within the present state of New York. Champlain, in order to place himself on friendly terms with the two former tribes, joined a party of them in an expedition against their enemies, and gained a complete victory over them. He at once received an invitation from the Hurons and the Algonquins to visit their homes. Returning to France, he again visited the St. Lawrence in 1610, this time to explore Hudson’s bay, investigate the copper mines on the shores of the lakes, of which he had been informed by the Indians, and discover the western sea, by which, it was fully believed, China could be reached. The execution of the intention was ultimately postponed, and he once more returned to France.

The restless voyager was back again on May 13, 1611, to secure the fur trade to his employes. A post was built, on the site of the city of Montreal, which he named Place Royale, and shortly afterward France saw him again. Early in the spring of 1613 he passed up the St. Lawrence to the Ottawa, and visited the country of the Algonquins of Isle des Allamettes, but becoming disgusted with his surroundings he set sail for his native country. In May, 1615, he was back on the St. Lawrence. The Hurons and Algonquins assembled at Place Royale to transact their annual barter with the French fur traders, and urged Champlain to unite with them against their foes, the Iroquois, which he consented to do. While absent at Quebec, the Indians became impatient and returned to their homes. Father Joseph le Caron, a Récollet, and twelve armed Frenchmen, went with them, starting on July 1, 1615. Champlain, with two Frenchmen and ten Indians, followed them nine days afterward, to the head of the eastern shore of what is now Georgian Bay. He spent the following winter there with the Hurons, and returned to Quebec on July 11, 1616, preceded by Father le Caron. This post contained from fifty to sixty persons, fur traders and friars. Two Huguenots, William and Emery de Caen, had, in the summer of 1622, become possessed of the monopoly of the old company of St. Malo and Rouen, in its trade with the Indians. The Recollets had, prior to 1625, established five missions extending from Acadia (Newfoundland) to Lake Huron. In this year three Jesuits, one of whom was John de Brebeuf, landed in the colony and commenced the work of the Society of Jesus.

The Company of One Hundred Associates

The monopoly vested in the de Caens was annulled by Cardinal Richelieu, and the Company of Canada organized in 1628, with this unscrupulous priest at its head. The city of Quebec, and all of New France called Canada, were granted to its members—one hundred in number. Champlain was one of them. The country was described so vaguely that it could be construed to include Florida and extend from Newfoundland to the Pacific ocean. They were given the perpetual monopoly of the trade in skins and furs; and of other articles for fifteen years, and no duty was to be levied on merchandise imported into France from Canada for that length of time. They were subjected, however, to religious responsibilities. Roman Catholics only could be taken by them to the colony, and there was a stringent condition that they should keep all the trading stations furnished liberally with missionaries— three priests in each settlement.

England was, at this time, at war with France, and the former determined, if possible, to seize the possessions of the latter in North America. With this end in view David Kirk was dispatched with a squadron to Canada to capture the settlements there. The fleet reached the harbor of Tadoussac before the vessels of the Company of Canada. Kirk demanded the surrender of Quebec, but Champlain made a show of defense, and, acting upon the principle that discretion is the better part of valor, the English commander refrained from making the attack. All the vessels sent out by the company were either taken or sunk, and the next year Quebec surrendered. England thus established her first supremacy on the St. Lawrence, which lasted from July, 1629, to July, 1632. Champlain was conveyed to England with other French prisoners, but a treaty of peace had been entered into by the two nations, and Canada was restored to France. Emery de Caen reached Quebec on July 5, 1632, and reasserted the supremacy of his country. The Jesuits were to have exclusive control of the missions, and two of them—Paul le Jeune and Aune de la None —accompanied de Caen across the Atlantic to assist in carrying out this stipulation. Champlain, commissioned anew by Richelieu, resumed command at Quebec on May 23, 1633. The Jesuit father, John de Brebeuf, returned with him. The Récollets had been practically driven from the country.

Jean Nicolet, the Discoverer of Wisconsin

In 1618 Jean Nicolet arrived at Place Royale from France. He was born at Cherbourg, in Normandy, and his father, Thomas Nicolet, was a mail carrier from that city to Paris. The name of his mother was Marguerite de la Mer. The son bore an exemplary character, was full of religious enthusiasm, with an excellent temper and a splendid memory. Acting under the directions of Champlain he spent two years among the Algonquins of Isle des Allumettes, on the Ottawa river, in order to acquire a knowledge of their language and customs, participating with them in their dangers, hardships and privations. He afterward sojourned with the Nipissings until 1633, and was regarded as one of them. Their habitations were on and around the shores of the lake of that name. It was about this time that he was recalled to Quebec, by Champlain, as governor of Canada, and employed as commissary and Indian interpreter to the Hundred Associates, and made that settlement his place of residence. Ultimately he was selected by Champlain to make a journey to the Winnebagoes, the main object of which was to solve the problem of a near route to China. This was in the middle of the summer of 1634, for he started on his errand in the first week of July, in company with Fathers Brebeuf, Daniel and Devost, Jesuit priests, who were on their way to the Huron country to re-establish the mission commenced, but afterward abandoned by the Rdicollets. On his way he stopped at Three Rivers to assist in building a fort there.

At last he was fairly on his way to visit the Wisconsin tribes. Seven Hurons accompanied him, and thus in a birch-bark canoe was the first white man to pass along the northern shore of Lake Huron, and at Sault Ste. Marie to set foot on land which now forms part of the state of Michigan, and to discover the lake of that name. Making his way up Green bay, he arrived at the mouth of the Menominee river, now one of the boundary lines between Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. On his route thus far he met several Indian tribes, and at this point the Menomonees. Proceeding on his journey, he soon reached the country of the Winnebagoes, his destination. He was in the state of Wisconsin, its discoverer and the first white man there. He was expected by the natives, as one of the Hurons had been sent forward to announce his coming on a mission of peace. Several young men were dispatched to meet him. He appeared before them in a robe of state, adorned with figures of flowers and birds. Approaching the village, he advanced to meet the expectant crowd, with a pistol in each hand, and fired one after the other. The squaws and children fled in dismay, yelling that it was a “ monito ” or spirit armed with thunder and lightning. The astonished men styled him “ Thunder Beaver.” His arrival was reported through the country, and 4,000 warriors belonging to different tribes assembled in council and each chief gave a banquet. Speeches were made, and Nicolet explained the advantages to be derived by trading with the colony at Quebec. After a brief rest he ascended the Fox river and reached Lake Winnebago. Passing around it he found and entered the mouth of the Fox river, where today is the city of Oshkosh. After following its course for six days he arrived at the village of the Mascoutins, or Fire Nation, which was, in all probability, in that part of the state now known as Green Lake county, and close to the present city of Berlin.

Nicolet then journeyed in a southerly direction, but how far south is not known, still he went far enough to visit the Illinois nation, probably to some point in the southern part of this state. In doing this he was obliged to make portages around the falls of Des Peres, the two Kakalins, Grand Chute and Winnebago rapids, the locations of the present cities of De Pere, Kaukauna, Appleton and Neenah. He then returned to the Winnebagoes, and later on visited the Pottawattamies, who were stationed upon the islands at the mouth of Green bay, and upon the main land to the south along the western shore of Lake Michigan. Starting on his return trip in the spring of 1635, by way of Mackinaw and along the southern shore of the Great Manitou island, he stopped at the latter place, to smoke the pipe of peace with a band of Ottawas there, and reached Quebec in July of that year. Shortly afterward he was assigned by Champlain to the post at Three Rivers as commissary and interpreter. Champlain died December 25, 1635, and with him vanished the spirit of progress in the colony.

His successor was Marc Antoine de Bras-de-fer de Chasteaufort, and he was followed by Charles Huault de Mantagny,who arrived at Quebec in 1636. Nicolet married here, October 7, 1637, Marguerite Couillard, a godchild of Champlain, and a daughter of Guillaume Couillard and Guillemette Hubert. Nicolet resided at Three Rivers until the beginning of October, 1642, when he was summoned to Quebec and appointed general commissary of the Hundred Associates, in the place of his brother-in-law, M. Olivier le Tardiff, who departed on the seventh of that month for France. Nicolet was not long to enjoy his new position, for he met his death by drowning, the result of a shipwreck on the St. Lawrence on the twenty-seventh of the same month. Thus perished the dauntless, half-savage adventurer who had taken the preliminary step in the European domination of Wisconsin.

The next white men to visit the northwest were Isaac Jogues and Charles Raymbault. These Jesuit missionaries received an invitation, in the autumn of 1641, to visit the Indians occupying “the country around a rapid in the midst of a channel by which Lake Superior empties into Lake Huron.” They addressed 2,000 Chippewas and other Algonquins. Jogues was captured by the Iroquois on his return to the St. Lawrence and Raymbault died October 22, 1642. The various settlements attempted in Canada by the T rench under Richelieu’s guidance had produced but small results, and it was in the following year that the government, on his suggestion, contemplated sending out all women of bad character to increase the population of the colony. A similar project was under consideration in 1657.

Nothing further seems to have been done in the way of exploring the Wisconsin country until 1654, when two fur traders joined a band of Ottawas, and made a western voyage of 500 leagues. They returned in two years accompanied by fifty canoes and 250 men. The traders visited Green bay, and passed the winter of 1659 on the shores of Lake Superior. In the month of June, 1658, Pierre d’Esprit, Sieur Radisson and his sister’s husband, Medard Chouart, Sieur de Groseilliers, went on a voyage up the Ottawa river. The former had had considerable experience in this direction, having been captured by a band of marauding Iroquois and adopted into the Mohawk tribe, from which he managed to escape. The two adventurers remained for some time in the villages of the Hurons, on one of the Manitoulin islands, and visited the Ottawas on the Great Manitoulin . During the winter they were in the Pottawattamie country, near the mouth of Green bay. When the spring was sufficiently advanced, they followed the course of Nicolet up the 1 ox river and visited the Mascoutins. There is sufficient evidence in Radisson’s memoirs to show that in these wanderings the travelers went as far west as the Mississippi, for he makes reference incidentally to the “great river.” If this conclusion is the correct one, then they preceded the discovery claimed for La Salle by eleven years, and that of Joliet and Marquette by fourteen years. Radisson and Groseilliers returned by way of Green bay and the Straits of Mackinac to Sault Ste. Marie, and, after cruising along the southeastern shore of Lake Superior, arrived at Three Rivers in the beginning of June, 1660.

In the autumn of 1661 Père René Mesnard, the aged Jesuit missionary, was selected by the bishop of Quebec to visit Lake Superior and Green bay. He started with Radisson and Groseilliers and six other French traders and several small bands of homeward-bound Hurons and Ottawas. The white men were the first of their race to see the Pictured Rocks. On arriving at Keweenaw bay, Radisson and Groseilliers continued their journey to the west, while the other Frenchmen and Mesnard remained, the latter until the following June, when he departed for the Huron villages on the upper waters of the Black and Chippewa rivers. It is a vexata qucestio as to the course pursued by Mesnard in reaching the Black river. If by way of the Menominee river, Green bay, the Fox and Wisconsin rivers and the Mississippi, which was the easier one in those days, as the entire distance is by water, then Mesnard and his servant, Jean Guérin, were upon the upper Mississippi two years after Radisson and Groseilliers, and twelve before Joliet. While portaging round some rapids in the Black river, on August 7, Mesnard is supposed to have lost his way, and was never seen again. He must have either died from exposure or been killed by Indians.

Crossing the great Keweenaw point, Radisson and Groseilliers reached the village of Christinos, a short distance north of the Montreal river, ultimately arriving at Chequamegon, or Ashland bay, just as winter was setting in. There they built a small log hut, or what they termed a “ fort,” and stored their goods. They then proceeded to the principal Huron village, near the sources of the Chippewa river, and there passed the winter of 1661-62. Early in the spring they visited the Buffalo band of the Sioux, in search of provisions, afterward returning to Chequamegon bay,when a “ fort ” was erected on Oak point. They then went as far northwest as the Christino villages on Lake Assiniboine, but returned to Three Rivers in 1662.

In August, 1665, Père Claude Allouez, another Jesuit priest, was appointed to the Ottawa mission, made vacant by the death of Père Mesnard. The former reached the Falls of St. Mary in September, and thence went to the great village of the Chippewas, at Chequamegon. Here a grand inter-tribal council was held. There were present the Pottawattamies from Lake Michigan, the Sacs and Foxes from the west, the Hurons from the south of Lake Superior, the Sioux from the head waters of the Mississippi, as well, also, as the Illinois. The object of the gathering was to decide upon a scalping expedition against the Sioux. The mission was also a trading post, and here Allouez remained alone for four years, building for himself a rude chapel of bark. In 1669 Nicholas Perrot was dispatched to the west, as the agent of the Intendant Talon, to prepare a congress of the Indian nations at St. Mary’s, and visited the Pottawattamies at Green bay for this purpose. In the same year Allouez made an excursion there, and up the Fox river to the home of the Mascoutins. Having been joined, in the autumn of 1670, by Father Claudius Dablon, who had been newly appointed Jesuit superior of the upper country, and Father James Marquette, the latter to relieve Father Allouez, they visited Green bay, and established, on the south side of the Fox river, about six miles from its mouth, now the site of the city of De Pere, the mission of St. Francis Xavier. This was the second Jesuit institution within what is now Wisconsin.

The tribes represented here were the Winnebagoes, owners of the soil, the Pottawattamies, from the shore of Lake Michigan, and the Sacs and Foxes,who were virtually masters of the highway to the Mississippi. The mission of St. Mark was established among the Foxes by Father Allouez in April, 1670. It was near Lake Shewano, subsequently the principal seat of the Chippewa nation. During the summer he journeyed to the Sault to meet his superior, Dablon, and they went together to St. Francis Xavier in September. At this time the Ottawas and Hurons at La Pointe had tantalized the western Sioux into hostilities. The Hurons were driven eastward along the southern shore of the lake, while the Ottawas returned to their homes in the Manitoulin islands. Marquette went with the Hurons to the straits of Mackinac and founded the mission of St. Ignace. Dablon and Allouez engaged in an expedition up the Fox river, in order that the Jesuits might keep control of this route, and visited the Foxes and Mascoutins. Dablon went down to Quebec later in the year to take charge as superior of Canada.

The great congress of the nations was held at St. Mary’s in May, 1671. France was represented by the Sieur Saint Lusson, deputy of Intendant Talon. Nicholas Perrot, a coureur de bois, was his interpreter. The cross was raised, and by its side a column was planted and marked with the lilies of the Bourbons. The formal announcement was then made to the representatives of the tribes then present that Saint Lusson had taken possession of the northwest in the name of the French king, Louis XIV., and that the tribes were under his protection. The witnesses to this proclamation were the Jesuits Dablon, Allouez, André and Druilletes, and Perrot, Louis Joliet, and several other coureurs de bois. The cross was borne by Allouez and Dablon through eastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois, among the Mascoutins and the Ivickapoos on the Milwaukee river, and the Foxes on the stream that bears their name, and which, in their language, was Wau-ke-sha. Dablon appointed Henri Nouvel as his successor in the Sault district, and he sent Louis André, in 1671, to Green bay, to assist Allouez in his work among the natives at St. Francis Xavier and St. Mark. While André took charge of these missions, Allouez wandered among the Foxes, the Mascoutins, the Kickapoos, the Illinois, the Miamis and the Weas. He thus became the first itinerant preacher in Wisconsin. A chapel of reeds was constructed by him at the Mascoutin village, and named the mission of St. James. Planting a tall cross there on Assumption day, 1672, he preached to the representatives of five different tribes.

The Mississippi Explored by Joliet and Marquette

On Saint Lusson’s return from St. Mary’s to Quebec, Joliet accompanied him, and became acquainted with Count de Frontenac, the newly appointed governor of the colony. Joliet was at once engaged to explore the Fox, Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers, and learn whether the last named waterway emptied itself into the South sea (the Gulf of California), as alleged by the Indians. Proceeding on his journey, he met Father Marquette at the Straits of Mackinac, and they started together from St. Ignace on May 17, 1673, with five voyageurs, or boatmen, to propel their canoes. The Mascoutin village, on the upper Fox river, was reached on June 7. Three days later, on the tenth, they embarked on the Wisconsin, then called the Mascoutin, and on the seventeenth were afloat on the “ Father of Waters.” They descended this mighty stream until they reached the mouth of the Arkansas, and visited the Indian village of Arkansea. Starting on their return journey on July 17, they ascended the Illinois, and making a portage to the Chicago river, descended it to Lake Michigan. Before the end of September they were safely landed in Green bay.

Joliet proceeded to Montreal to report the result of the expedition, and when he reached the foot of La Chine rapids he lost the box containing the notes of his journey. Marquette was forced to remain at the St. Francis Xavier mission through severe illness, and, during the early fall, compiled his report of the enterprise, which was taken to Three Rivers by a party of Ottawa Indians and delivered to his Jesuit superior. Marquette did not recover from his sickness until late in the summer of 1674. In the following October he received instructions to establish a mission at Kaskaskia, among the Illinois Indians. In the prosecution of the work before him he reached the mouth of the Chicago river on December 4,1674, and was forced to remain there through the winter, arriving at the Illinois river in the spring. The hand of death, was, however, upon him. He knew it, and endeavored to reach Mackinaw, resolved to die, if possible, among his religious brethren. He started on his journey too late, breathing his last on the way on May 18, 1675.

La Salle and Father Hennepin

The applications of Robert Cavelier, better known to history as La Salle, for permission to explore the Mississippi country at his own cost, which would be recouped to him out of the profits to be made in trading with the Indians, were granted in May, 1678, backed, as they had been by Governor Frontenac. Daniel Grayson de Lhut also obtained the necessary authority, in the summer of 1679, to barter with the Sioux in the Mille Lac region of Minnesota. In doing so he is credited with having reached Sandy lake, of the upper Mississippi. If so, he was the first white man after Radisson upon the head waters of that giant stream. The first sail-boat on the great lakes above Niagara falls was La Salle’s small vessel, the “ Griffin.” She reached Green bay in the same summer of 1679, with La Salle on board, and, clearing with a load of peltries was never seen again. La Salle proceeded southward, along the Wisconsin shore, with fourteen men, including Father Louis Hennepin, a Franciscan friar, and two coureurs de bois, Michael Accau and Antoine Auguel. After suffering severely from storms they reached a bay, which was probably that of Milwaukee river. On landing they found themselves among the Fox Indians. Remaining with them for a brief period, the explorers proceeded to the mouth of St. Joseph’s river,where La Salle erected a fort and then continued his expedition, which ended in the occupation, for the first time, by white men, of the Illinois country, at Fort Crevecoeur.

Discovery of the Chippewa River

Father Hennepin, with the two coureurs de bois, on February 28, 1680, set out to explore the upper Mississippi, by direction of La Salle. They, with Accau as their leader, left the mouth of the Illinois on March 12, and ascended the Mississippi. After passing the mouth of the Wisconsin, and just before reaching Lake Pepin, they were, on April 12, made prisoners by the Sioux. They were taken in canoes as far as the present site of St. Paul, and then across the country to the Sioux villages near Lake Buade, now called Mille Lacs. After remaining prisoners there for nearly two months, the Indians set out in a body on a buffalo hunt, taking their captives with them. They descended Rum river, and, on arriving at its mouth, the three Frenchmen were liberated and furnished with a small canoe, an earthen pot, a gun, a knife and a robe of beaver skin. Thus equipped they began their journey and soon beheld, for the first time, the falls of St. Anthony. They then descended the Mississippi as far as the mouth of the Chippewa, and, being in danger of starvation, they ascended that stream—the first white men upon it—and joined a large body of Sioux hunters.

Shortly afterward they met the fur trader, Du Lhut, with four well-armed Frenchmen. When Hennepin met his old friend, the latter had been about two years in the wilderness. He had left Quebec in September, 1678, and in the following year had sojourned at several of the Sioux villages. In June, 1680, he, with the four Frenchmen and an Indian guide, set out from the head of Lake Superior and reached the Mississippi river by the route of the Brulé and St. Croix rivers.

Hennepin, Accau and Auguel returned with Du Lhut and his companions to Mille Lacs. The Indians had become more friendly, owing to the influence that Du Lhut had over them, and when, in the autumn, the travelers proposed to return home, no opposition was made to their departure. They set out together—eight white men in all—well equipped for supplying themselves with game. Descending the Rum river, they portaged around the falls of St. Anthony, which Hennepin so named, there and then, went down the stream to the Wisconsin, paddled up that river and floated down the Fox, and finally reached, after various adventures, the Jesuit mission at Green bay. Hennepin returned soon afterward to Europe and died in obscurity.

In 1685 Nicholas Perrot was appointed “Commandant of the West,” by Da la Barre, who had succeeded Frontenac as governor of New France. Perrot proceeded to Green bay and found Father John Enjalran at St. Francis Xavier mission, the only priest then west of Lake Michigan. After the lapse -of three years he was retired, and the place was vacant for about twenty-five years. While Perrot was at this point, he learned for the first time, from some Indians he met there, of the existence of the Hudson Bay company in the far north, which had been established on information given to Charles II. of England, by Radisson and Groseilliers, who were then in the service of the company. Perrot’s headquarters, during the winter of 1685-86, were on the east bank of the Mississippi, about a mile above where the village of Trempealeau is now. They consisted of a rude stockade. What were supposed to be the remains of it were unearthed between three and four years ago by a party of Wisconsin and Minnesota antiquarians. A more substantial stockade, called Fort St. Antoine, was erected by Perrot in the spring of 1686, on the eastern shore of Lake Pepin, near where the village of Pepin is now located. Several other forts were built by him along the Mississippi during the time he continued “Commandant of the West,” which was until about 1689. One of them was Fort St. Nicholas, close to where Prairie du Chien is now. It was at this fort that he took formal possession, in the name of Louis XIV., of the country drained by the rivers St. Croix, St. Peter, the Upper Mississippi and the basin of the Mille Lacs.

Extermination of the Fox Indians

Pierre Le Sueur, a fur trader of some note, was sent by the governor of New France, in 1693, to keep open the route to the Mississippi, by way of the Bois Brule and St. Croix rivers. This step was rendered necessary in consequence of the Foxes having become so hostile to the French that it was no longer safe to travel through their country. Le Sueur built a stockade at La Pointe, the site of the old mission on Chequamegon bay, and another on an island in the Mississippi, below the mouth of the St. Croix, and not far from the now town of Red Wing, Minn. He was in France in 1697, and secured the requisite authority to work certain mines, which he claimed to have discovered at the source of the Mississippi. He returned from France two years later with thirty experienced miners, among them his friend and companion, Penicaut. It was he who reported that they found lead mines where Dubuque and Galena now stand, and at a place which became known afterward as “Snake Diggings,” near where the village of Potosi is built. Le Sueur erected a stockade on Blue river, Minnesota, and spent the winter of 1700 there. He was very successful as a fur trader, but his mining operations resulted in nothing being realized by them.

As the business of the fur traders increased, the dangers accompanying the prosecution of it multiplied to such an extent as to make it an avocation specially hazardous. To add to the ordinary hardships and privations that must be endured, with the chances of forest fires, and accidents, both by land and water, there was the murderous treachery of the natives. The profits of the trade were enormous, but the risk to life and limb more than balanced it. Some of the routes from Canada to the Mississippi were impracticable by reason of the cupidity and animosity of the Indians, the worst of whom appear to have been the Foxes. In the winter of 1706-7 Captain Marin was dispatched by the Quebec government to punish this tribe. He, with his army of soldiers, coureurs de bois and mètis, came upon them by surprise at Winnebago rapids, where the city of Neenah is located, and slaughtered hundreds of them.

A subsequent attack was made by Captain Marin on these Indians in the summer. Approaching their village in boats laden with soldiers hidden beneath sheets of oil cloth, as though they were goods, the unsuspecting Foxes, to the number of about 1,500, were on the bank of the river, waiting to levy the usual tax on what they supposed was merchandise. Suddenly, on a given signal, the disguise was thrown aside, and every man, with his loaded gun to his shoulder, fired into the mob of Indians. It is said that on that day not less than 1,000 Foxes paid the penalty of their treachery and bloodthirsty propensities. By way of revenge they united with the Mascoutins, and, in 1712, made an attack on Detroit, but the attempt was a futile one, and they were vanquished, after a desperate fight, near Lake St. Clair. Their depredations throughout their own country increased to such an alarming extent that the French traders abandoned the greater part of the region now included in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Great Britain Acquires the French Provinces in North America

By the treaty of Utrecht, in 1713, certain cessions of territory in America were to be made to Great Britain by France. This was the beginning of the end whereby the latter lost all her territory in this country. It was only two years earlier, in 1711, that the government of Louisiana, comprising all the “ Illinois country,” was placed in the hands of a governor-general, Dirau d’ Artaguette, whose headquarters were on the site of the present city of Mobile, where a new fort was erected. “ Louisiana ” was at this time construed by France to include not only the whole valley of the Mississippi and all its tributaries, but to extend north to the great lakes and the waters of Hudson’s bay. All of the present state of Wisconsin was, of course, included in it.

The failure of the Foxes at Detroit only added fresh and implacable inspiration to the native spirit of hate and revenge, which prompted them to resort to another locality for its gratification. They collected their dispersed bands on the Fox river, where they robbed and butchered every traveler who went that way. The Sauks were their old and natural allies, and the Sioux were induced to openly join them, while many of the Iroquois were associated with them clandestinely. Indeed, the danger of a general confederation of the Indians against the French colonists appeared imminent. So much was this the case that the governor of Canada proposed a union of the friendly tribes with the French in a war of extermination against the common enemy, to which they readily agreed. A party of French was raised, and the command of the expedition intrusted to Captain De Louvigny, the king’s lieutenant at Quebec. The band left there on March 14, 1716, and was joined on its route by a great many Indians, until it numbered about 800. On meeting with the enemy, at Little Butte des Morts, about thirty-seven miles above Green bay, a conflict ensued which lasted three days, when the Indians were forced to sue for peace, which was granted to them on certain conditions, which they accepted. During the following twelve years all the peaceable efforts of the conquerors to restrain the hostile conduct of the Foxes were of no avail. They were as lawless as ever.

A council was held at Green Bay on June 7, 1726, with the Foxes, Sauks and Winnebagoes by Sieur Marchand De Lignery, in the presence of Messieurs D’Amariton and Cligancourt, and the Rev. Father Chardon, when the chiefs of the three nations pledged their word that they would maintain peace. These perfidious and lying Indians utterly ignored their promises, and continued to plunder and murder as before. It had to be stopped. On June 5, 1728, the governor of Canada sent a force of 400 troops and twice as many Indians, chiefly Iroquois, Hurons, Nipissings and Ottawas, under the command of Capt. De Lignery, with special instructions to destroy the Fox nations. Among his lieutenants was Charles Michel de Langlade. The belligerents arrived at the mouth of Fox river on the night of August 17, but the enemy had vanished. Every wigwam and cornfield in sight from Green Bay to the portage was destroyed.

There were two or three subsequent expeditions against them. The enemy located on the northern bank of the Wisconsin river, about twenty miles above its mouth, probably not far from the present village of Wauzeka. The Sieur Perriere Marin was determined that they should not remain where they could still obstruct the great water highway between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi, so, collecting a band of French and Indians together, a winter expedition was made against the foe. They were taken completely by surprise, and twenty warriors were killed and all the others taken prisoners, with the women and children. They were given their freedom, however, upon the express condition that they retire beyond the Mississippi. The date of their final expulsion from Wisconsin is involved in some obscurity, but circumstances tend to fix the date of that event as 1746. For more than thirty years these hostilities had been kept up by the Foxes and their allies with more or less continuity and with a determination and animosity rarely, if ever, equaled. Some years later the Sacs and Foxes united and formed the nation known as the Sac and Fox Indians.

A military station was established by the French at Green Bay between 1718 and 1721. It was named Fort St. Francis, in commemoration of the mission originally founded there. In July of the last named year M. de Martigny took command of it. Father Charlevoix, the historian and traveler, accompanied him from Mackinaw. The Sieur de la Terriere stopped there in 1727, on his way to Lake Pepin, where he erected an enclosed trading post. Some authorities claim that it was a fort. It was destroyed by a flood in the next year, and there was nothing left there in 1766 but the remnants of a ruin. The fort at Green Bay was razed in 1728 to prevent its being taken by the Foxes. In 1780, however, a stockade was erected on the west side of the Fox river, where Fort Howard subsequently stood. This point became notorious as a French recruiting post during the long war between France and Great Britain, where Capts. Langlade, Marin, Gautier and others collected the natives and made incursions with them on the western borders of Pennsylvania that were horrible in their brutality.

In January, 1755, Major-General Braddock was sent with a body of English troops to the succor of the colonists in Virginia. He marched against Fort Duquesne, on the Ohio, then held by the French, who had erected it to prevent the English colonists from crossing the Alleghanies. Colonel, afterward Gen. George Washington, was with him. In a valley, between two woods, within ten miles of the fort, he fell into an ambuscade of Indians led by Langlade. The terrible scalping knife left few to tell the tale of this reverse. Braddock was mortally wounded while lighting with desperate courage. Washington was the only officer who escaped. The English, however, retrieved themselves at Quebec, on September 12, 1759, for not only were Montcalm and Langlade, with their Indian friends, defeated, but France lost the whole of her North American possessions to the conquerors.

Shortly after the evacuation of Canada by the French, Maj. Robert Rogers received orders to take possession forthwith of the posts of Detroit, Mackinaw, Sault Ste. Marie, Green Bay and St. Josephs, now the city of South Bend, Ind. Winter had set in by the time he reached Detroit, November 25, 1760. Nothing more could be done until the following year. The abandoned French post at Green Bay was taken possession of on October 12, 1761, by Captain Balfour of the Eightieth and Lieut. James Gorrell of the Sixtieth regiments. The place was in a state of decay, and a few Menomonee Indians were living in their wigwams a short distance away. The post was named Fort Edward Augustus, and Lieutenant Gorrell was left in charge with less than twenty soldiers.

A new era in the history of the northwest began with the year 1763. By the treaty of Paris, the preliminaries of which were signed at Fontainebleau on November 3, 1762, and the definite treaty at Paris on February 10, 1763, Great Britain acquired the whole of the French provinces in North America. By a secret treaty, however, made on the same day, France ceded to Spain all Louisiana west of the Mississippi and the island of Orleans. As was naturally to be expected the English soldiers were looked upon as enemies by the Indians, and they were strongly encouraged in this belief by the French. Among many of the tribes a strong affection existed for the people with whom they had been associated for so many years. It was made the more enduring by the ties of nature which existed between them through the union of the sexes.

A spirit of opposition to the new order of things was engendered in the minds of these ignorant people, and it speedily developed into a determination to drive the English from the country. Pontiac, chief of the Ottawas, was the prime mover in the plot. The Pontiac war, as it is called, was the result. His scheme was to unite the various tribes in one great confederacy, and by a simultaneous movement massacre the English garrisons, take possession of their posts, and so secure the return of the French. In order to its accomplishment a grand council was held of the chiefs of the western tribes and the details of the monstrous conspiracy arranged. Fort Mackinaw was attacked on June 4, and the garrison slaughtered, except Captain Etherington, Lieutenant Leslie, and eleven other Englishmen. They were saved by some friendly Ottawas and taken in canoes to L’Arbre Croche. The men at Fort Edward Augustus must be secured from death if possible. Etherington dispatched a message by an Ottawa Indian to Lieutenant Gorrell to evacuate the station. He was obeyed, and the lives of the small command were preserved. The troops arrived at Montreal in the middle of August. By the end of the previous month eight posts had been captured. Not a British soldier was left in the region of the lakes except the garrison at Detroit.

The British flag was not again hoisted over a Wisconsin fort until after the declaration of war against Great Britain in 1812. Pontiac undertook the capture of Detroit in person, with a force of 820 braves. The town was garrisoned by 130 men, including eight officers. Major Gladwyn was the commandant. Pontiac failed to gain possession of the post by stratagem, his plans having been communicated to Gladwyn by a squaw. The post was then besieged. This state of things continued for about a year. The garrison was reduced to the greatest distress for want of food. General Bradstreet fortunately came to their relief in June, 1764, with a force of 3,000 men. The besiegers laid down their arms. Pontiac was killed in 1767 by a Peoria Indian.

With the departure of Gorrell, Fort Edward Augustus became a French fur trading village. Captain Langlade, who had some years before been appointed by Governor Vandreuil of New France, superintendent of Indians, and militia captain for the district of Green Bay, was continued by the British government in those positions, notwithstanding the fact that he had fought against it in the war just ended. His father, Augustin de Langlade, an extensive fur trader, had owned a stockade at Green Bay since the middle of the century. They moved their families and established their permanent residence there, thus becoming the first white settlers in Wisconsin. Some authorities credit the son with being instrumental in saving Etherington’s life at Mackinaw, while the historian, Parkman, alleges that Langlade watched, with stolid indifference, the atrocities that were committed by the Indians on that occasion. He continued to hold his positions as superintendent and militia captain after the close of the Revolutionary war. The British government granted him an annuity for life of $800 as half-pay and as a reward for his services. He died in January, 1808, at the age of seventy-five years, and was buried in the same grave with his father in the cemetery at Green Bay.

Jonathan Carver resolved, in 1766, to explore the northwest with the object of reaching the Pacific ocean by way of the Upper Mississippi. He was born in Connecticut in 1732, entered the British army as ensign, and rose to the rank of captain. He was brave, energetic and enterprising, and, above and beyond all, a man of strict integrity. He started from Boston in June, 1766, and proceeded, by way of Albany and Niagara, to Mackinaw, and then to Green Bay, where he arrived on September 18, with a small company of French and half-breed voyageurs. Ascending the Fox river, he came to an island on which was the great town of the Winnebagoes, now known as Doty’s Island. The ruling chief of this tribe was, at that time, a woman—a widow. Her husband, a Frenchman named De Kaury, was mortally wounded at Quebec, and died at Montreal. Her descendants, the De Kaurys, long figured as distinguished chiefs of her tribe. Continuing his journey, Carver, with his party, arrived at the great town of the Saukies, now known as Prairie du Sac on the Wisconsin river. At the mouth of this stream was another large town, now Prairie du Chien. It was named after a village chief named Le Chien. The first white person known to have settled there was a French soldier called Cardinell, who arrived in 1726. It was the great mart where furs and peltries were annually brought toward the end of May from all parts of the valley of the Mississippi.

Late in the fall Carver, with one voyageur and a Mohawk Indian, continued on his course toward the Falls of St. Anthony. He passed Mount Trempealeau, and arrived at Lake Pepin on November 1, where he remained for the winter. In the following spring he ascended the Mississippi and reached the falls. Not far from where the city of St. Paul now is he discovered a sandstone cave, which was used as a council chamber by some of the neighboring Indian bands. He claims to have attended some of these councils, and was successful in negotiating a peace between the Naudowisses, as he calls the Sioux, and the Chippewas. At a grand council held May 1, 1767, he was, in recognition of his services, trade the recipient, so it has been asserted, by two of the chiefs of the Naudowisses, of a large tract of land lying in Wisconsin and Minnesota, which is described substantially as follows: Beginning at St. Anthony’s falls, running along the east bank of the Mississippi, near to where the Chippewa river joins it; thence eastward five days’ travel, thence north six days’ travel, thence west to the Mississippi, on a direct straight line, and down that stream to the falls. This territory embraces the whole of the counties of Pepin, Pierce, St. Croix, Polk, Barron, Dunn, Eau Claire, Clark, Chippewa, Washburn, Burnett, Sawyer, Price and Taylor, with parts of Buffalo, Trempealeau, Jackson, Wood, Marathon, Lincoln, Oneida and Ashland, and a part of Minnesota.

In the summer of 1767 Carver proceeded to the source of the Mississippi and spent his second winter with the Cree Indians, to the west of Hudson’s bay, returning early in the following year to Lake Pepin. After visiting Prairie du Chien he ascended the Chippewa river. It was so muddy, owing to recent rains, that the French boatmen could not drink it, but when they reached the Eau Claire river they sang out “Eau claire”—clear water— and that is how the river is said to have derived its name. He went on to Lake Superior, and thence, ultimately, to London, where he published an account of his travels. He died in 1780, and in 1806 his legal heirs, the Rev. Dr. Peters and a physician named Lettsom, presented a petition to congress for the recognition of their title to the land described in the deed of gift to their ancestor. It was referred to a committee of the senate, but no report, so far as known, was ever made upon it. The alleged right on the property was subsequently conveyed to others in consideration of $250,000, and the Mississippi Land company was organized in 1822, in New York, to obtain from congress the necessary authority to obtain and hold possession of it. On January 23, 1823, Mr. Yan Dyke, from the committee on public lands, submitted to the senate a report upon a similar petition to the one previously mentioned, which concluded with a resolution that the prayer of the petitioners ought not to be granted. A like application was made to the next congress. The report upon it of Mr. Campbell, of Ohio, from the committee on private land claims, dated January 28, 1825, contains an exhaustive review of all the questions involved, and demonstrates, conclusively, that the pretended claim had no foundation in fact.

The war of the Revolution was inaugurated by the battle of Lexington on April 19, 1775. Up to that time little or no progress had been made in settling Wisconsin. If there was any growth in the population it was confined to the French settlers, Indians and half-breeds. They were located at three places—Green Bay, Prairie du Chien and La Pointe. With the war came a demand for recruits. The services of Captain Langlade were called into requisition in this behalf. He, in October, 1777, started Captain Gautier on a recruiting expedition through the country. In the following June he handed over to Langlade, as superintendent of the district, 210 Fox, Sac, Sioux and Winnebago braves, pledged to fight on the side of the mother country. They were sent on to Detroit.

Evacuation of the Northwest by the British

The news came, in 1780, that Spain had declared war against Great Britain, and with it a notification from General Haldimand, governor of Canada, that a British fleet and army were to attack New Orleans and other Spanish points. An expedition was to be formed and proceed southward by the Mississippi river to co-operate with them. About 750 whites, half-breeds and Indians were gathered together at Prairie du Chien and moved down the river for St. Louis. The enterprise utterly miscarried, and was a disgrace to the organizers of it. A few outlying cabins at St. Louis were raided, and some of the occupants shot and scalped by the Indians. Fear then took possession of them and they decamped, some to Chicago and others back to Prairie du Chien. The Revolutionary war closed with 1782 and the whole United States, including the entire northwest, became free from British rule, the great lakes being recognized as the international boundary. The British posts were not surrendered to the United States authorities for more than ten years after the treaty of peace of 1783, owing to disputes arising as to whether or not certain stipulations therein had been fulfilled. A mass of the points in question were, however, disposed of by Jay’s treaty of 1794, but two more years elapsed before the posts in the northwest were evacuated by the British and delivered up to the Americans under the provisions contained in that treaty.

The ordinance for the government of the territory of the United States northwest of the river Ohio, adopted by the Continental congress July 13, 1787, was the primal step which opened up the way to the marvelous development of the states since formed out of the “ Northwest Territory.” A division of this tract of country took place on May 7, 1800, when the new territory of Indiana was formed. It included what are now the states of Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, east of the Mississippi. Gen. William Henry Harrison was appointed governor of it in 1801. Another division occurred in 1809, when Wisconsin became a part of the territory of Illinois. From this time that part of it which is now Wisconsin began to fill up with settlers. It is true, they were mostly fur traders, but this occupation began to be conducted in something like a systematic manner. Americans and Englishmen became gradually engaged in it, companies were formed and numerous trading posts established. A settled population began to grow around at least some of them.

A slight check was put to further progress toward civilization by the war of 1812 and the partial occupation of Wisconsin by the British, although they took formal possession of it, but the hostilities lasted less than two years. The fur trade continued to increase and reached its zenith in about 1820. The American Fur company did an immense business. It was organized by John Jacob Astor in 1816. Its principal stations were at Prairie du Chien and Mackinaw island. The chief post in the Chippewa Valley was on the shore of Lac du Flambeau, with sub-stations at Lake Chetec, Bice lake, Tomahawk lake, Lac Court Oreilles and other points. Since that time there has been nothing to mar the steady development of the resources of the country except occasional trouble with the Indians, which may be said to have been brought to an end with the close of the Black Hawk war. It had, at least, one beneficial result, the publication to the world of the existence of an immense tract of country to be peopled. The opening up of the lead mines in southwestern Wisconsin had caused a large influx of settlers, many of whom devoted themselves to agricultural pursuits. The general movement of pioneers from the east to Ohio and Illinois had been going on for some years, and was now extending to Wisconsin. Another event that tended to its advancement was its becoming an independent territory.

Wisconsin Becomes a State

Illinois became a state in 1818, and Wisconsin then formed part of Michigan territory. It so continued until April 20,1836,when the bill was approved creating Wisconsin territory. It included the tract of country from the Illinois line to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and extended from Lake Michigan to the Missouri and the White Earth rivers. Out of the section west of the Mississippi was created, by congress, in 1838, the territory of Iowa, and, in 1848, that portion of Wisconsin lying west and northwest of the St. Croix river was given to Minnesota to assist in making that state of fair proportions. It was first proposed by Judge James Duane Doty to name the new territory “ Chippewau,” then “ Wiskonsin,” subsequently “ Huron,” and, finally, “ Wisconsin.” This name is derived from the principal river, “ Wees-kon-san,” signifying, in the Indian language, “ The Gathering of the Waters.”

Henry Dodge was appointed, by President Jackson, the first territorial governor, and the first legislature was convened at Belmont, now in Lafayette county. There were thirteen members in the upper house, or council, and twenty-six in the house of representatives. Henry S. Baird, of Green Bay, was president of the former, and Peter H. Engle, of Dubuque, speaker of the latter. The most interesting contest of the session was as to the location of the capital. Some of the places named existed only on paper, but Madison, through the exertions of Judge Doty, was the spot selected, “ spot,” because at that time it was a virgin forest on a narrow strip of land between what are now known as Third and Fourth lakes. The location bill, which w T as passed late in November, provided that until the capitol to be built was finished the legislature should convene at Burlington, now in the state of Iowa. The second session of the first legislative assembly was held there, opening on November 6, 1837, and the first session of the second legislative assembly at Madison commenced November 26, 1838. The question of Wisconsin becoming a state began to be agitated in 1845, but it was not until May 29, 1848, that the congressional act admitting it to the Union was approved. Nelson Dewey was elected the first governor.

Source: Historical and biographical album of the Chippewa Valley, Wisconsin, including ancestral records, biographies, and portraits. Edited by George Forrester. Chicago IL: A. Warner, Publisher, 1891-2.

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