THE CHARACTER AND INFLUENCE OF THE
INDIAN TRADE IN WISCONSIN
" The history of commerce is the history of the intercommunica
tion of peoples." Montesquieu.
JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY STUDIES
HISTORICAL AND POLITICAL SCIENCE
HERBERT B. ADAMS, Editor
History is past Politics and Politics present History. Freeman
The Character and Influence of the
Indian Trade in Wisconsin
A Study of the Trading Post as an Institution
BY FREDERICK J. TURNER, PH. IX
Professor of History, University of Wisconsin
THE JOHNS HOPKINS PRESS
JVoveinber and December, 1891
COPYRIGHT, 1891, BY N. MURRAY.
ISAAC FRIEDENWALD CO., PRINTERS,
TABLE OF CONTENTS.
I. INTRODUCTION 7
II. PRIMITIVE INTER-TRIBAL TRADE K>
III. PLACE OF THE INDIAN TRADE IN THE SETTLEMENT OF
1. Early Trade along the Atlantic Coast 11
2. In New England 12
3. In the Middle Region 13
4. In the South 10
5. In the Far West 18
IV. THE RIVER AND LAKE SYSTEMS OF THE NORTHWEST 19
V. WISCONSIN INDIANS 22
VI. PERIODS OF THE WISCONSIN INDIAN TRADE 25
VII. FRENCH EXPLORATION IN WISCONSIN 26
VIII. FRENCH POSTS IN WISCONSIN 33
IX. THE Fox WARS 34
X. FRENCH SETTLEMENT IN WISCONSIN 38
XI. THE TRADERS STRUGGLE TO RETAIN THEIR TRADE 40
XII. THE ENGLISH AND THE NORTHWEST. INFLUENCE OF THE
INDIAN TRADE ON DIPLOMACY 42
XIII. THE NORTHWEST COMPANY 51
XIV. AMERICAN INFLUENCES 51
XV. GOVERNMENT TRADING HOUSES 58
XVI. WISCONSIN TRADE IN 1820. . "61
XVII. EFFECTS or THE TRADING POST 07
THE CHARACTER AND INFLUENCE OF THE
INDIAN TRADE IN WISCONSIN.
The trading post is an old and influential institution.
Established in the midst of an undeveloped society by a
more advanced people, it is a center not only of new economic
influences, but also of all the transforming forces that accom
pany the intercourse of a higher with a lower civilization.
The Phoenicians developed the institution into a great
historic agency. Closely associated with piracy at first, their
commerce gradually freed itself from this and spread
throughout the Mediterranean lands. A passage in the
Odyssey (Book XV.) enables us to trace the genesis of the
Phoenician trading post :
" Thither came the Phoenicians, mariners renowned, greedy
merchant-men with countless trinkets in a black ship
They abode among us a whole year, and got together much
wealth in their hollow ship. And when their hollow ship
was now laden to depart, they sent a messenger There
1 In this paper I have rewritten and enlarged an address before the
State Historical Society of Wisconsin on the Character and Influence of
the Fur Trade in Wisconsin, published in the Proceedings of the Thirty-
sixth Annual Meeting, 1889. I am under obligations to Mr. Reuben Gr.
Thwaites, Secretary of this society, for his generous assistance in pro
curing material for my work, and to Professor Charles H. Haskins, my
colleague, who kindly read both manuscript and proof and made helpful
suggestions. The reader will notice that throughout the paper I have
used the word Northwest in a limited sense as referring to the region
included between the Great Lakes and the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.
8 The Indian Trade in Wisconsin. [548
caine a man versed in craft to my father s house with a golden
chain strung here and therewith amber beads. .Now, the
maidens in the hall and my lady mother were handling the
chain and gazing on it and offering him their price."
It would appear that the traders at first sailed from port
to port, bartering as they went. After a time they stayed at
certain profitable places a twelvemonth, still trading from
their ships. Then came the fixed factory, and about it grew
the trading colony. 1 The Phoenician trading post wove
together the fabric of oriental civilization, brought arts and
the alphabet to Greece, brought the elements of civilization
to northern Africa, and disseminated eastern culture through
the Mediterranean system of lands. It blended races and
customs, developed commercial confidence, fostered the
custom of depending on outside nations for certain supplies,
and afforded a means of peaceful intercourse between societies
Carthaginian, Greek, Etruscan and Roman trading posts
continued the process. By traffic *in amber, tin, furs, etc.,
with the tribes of the north of Europe, a continental com
merce was developed. The routes of this trade have been
ascertained. 2 For over a thousand years before the migra
tion of the peoples Mediterranean commerce had flowed
along the interlacing river valleys of Europe, and trading
posts had been established. Museums show how important
an effect was produced upon the economic life of northern
Europe by this intercourse. It is a significant fact that the
routes of the migration of the peoples were to a considerable
extent the routes of Roman trade, and it is well worth
inquiry whether this commerce did not leave more traces
1 On the trading colony, see Roscher und Jannasch, Colonien, p. 12.
2 Consult: Miillenhoff, Altertumskunde I., 212; Schrader, Prehistoric
Antiquities of the Aryan Peoples, New York, 1890, pp. 348 ff.; Pliny,
Naturalis Historia, xxvii., 11; Montelius, Civilization of Sweden in
Heathen Times, 98-99 ; Du Chaillu, Viking Age ; and the citations in
Dawkins, Early Man in Britain, 466-7; Keary, Vikings in Western
549] Introduction. 9
upon Teutonic society than we have heretofore considered,
and whether one cause of the migrations of the peoples has
not been neglected. 1
That stage in the development of society when a primitive
people comes into contact with a more advanced people
deserves more study than has been given to it. As a factor
in breaking the "cake of custom" the meeting of two such
societies is of great importance ; and if, with Starcke, 2 we
trace the origin of the family to economic considerations, and,
with Schrader, 3 the institution of guest friendship to the same
source, we may certainly expect to find important influences
upon primitive society arising from commerce with a higher
people. The extent to which such commerce has affected all
peoples is remarkable. One may study the process from the
days of Phoenicia to the days of England in Africa, 4 but no
where is the material more abundant than in the history of the
relations of the Europeans and the American Indians. The
Phoenician factory, it is true, fostered the development of the
Mediterranean civilization, while in America the trading post
exploited the natives. The explanation of this difference is
to be sought partly in race differences, partly in the greater
gulf that separated the civilization of the European from the
civilization of the American Indian as compared with that
which parted the early Greeks and the Phoenicians. But
the study of the destructive effect of the trading post is
valuable as well as the study of its elevating influences; in
both cases the effects are important and worth investigation
1 In illustration it may be noted that the early Scandinavian power in
Russia seized upon the trade route by the Dnieper and the Duna. Keary,
Vikings, 173. See also^os^, pp. 36, 38.
2 Starcke, Primitive Family.
3 Schrader, 1. c.; see also Ihring, in Deutsche Rundschau, III., 357,
420 ; Kulischer, Der Handel auf primitiven Kulturstufen, in ZeitscJirift
fur Volkerpsychologie und Sprachwissenschaft, X., 378. Vide post, p. 10.
4 W. Bosworth Smith, in a suggestive article in the Nineteenth Century,
December, 1887, shows the influence of the Mohammedan trade in Africa.
10 The Indian Trade in Wisconsin. [550
PRIMITIVE INTER-TRIBAL TRADE.
Long before the advent of the white trader, inter-tribal
commercial intercourse existed. Mr. Charles Rau 1 and Sir
Daniel Wilson 2 have shown that inter-tribal trade and divi
sion of labor were common among the mound-builders and
in the stone age generally. In historic times there is ample
evidence of inter -tribal trade. Were positive evidence lack
ing, Indian institutions would disclose the fact. Differences
in language were obviated by the sign language, 8 a fixed
system of communication, intelligible to all the western
tribes at least. The peace pipe, 4 or calumet, was used for
settling disputes, strengthening alliances, and speaking to
strangers a sanctity attached to it. Warnpum belts served
in New England and the middle region as money and as
symbols in the ratification of treaties. 5 The Chippeways had
an institution called by a term signifying " to enter one
another s lodges," 6 whereby a truce was made between them
and the Sioux at the winter hunting season. During these
seasons of peace it was not uncommon for a member of one
tribe to adopt a member of another as his brother, a tie
which was respected even after the expiration of the truce.
The analogy of this custom to the classical "guest-friend
ship " needs no comment ; and the economic cause of the
institution is worth remark, as one of the means by which
the rigor of primitive inter-tribal hostility was mitigated.
But it is not necessary to depend upon indirect evidence.
The earliest travellers testify to the existence of a wide inter
tribal commerce. The historians of De Soto s expedition
1 Smithsonian Report, 1872.
-Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, 1889, VII., 59. See
also Thruston, Antiquities of Tennessee, 79 iL
3 Mallery, in Bureau of Ethnology, I., 324; Clark, Indian Sign Lan
4 Shea, Discovery of the Mississippi, 34. Catilinite pipes were widely
used, even along the Atlantic slope, Thruston, 80-81.
5 Weeden, Economic and Social History of New England, I., ch. ii.
6 Minnesota Historical Collections, V., 267.
551] Early Trade along the Atlantic Coast. 11
mention Indian merchants who sold salt to the inland tribes.
"In 1565 and for some years previous bison skins were
brought by the Indians down the Potomac, and thence
carried along-shore in canoes to the French about the Gulf
of St. Lawrence. During two years six thousand skins were
thus obtained. 71 An Algonquin brought to Champlain at
Quebec a piece of copper a foot long, which he said came
from a tributary of the Great Lakes. 3 Champlain also
reports that among the Canadian Indians village councils
were held to determine what number of men might go to
trade with other tribes in the summer. 3 Morton in 1632
describes similar inter-tribal trade in New England, and
adds that certain utensils are " but in certain parts of the
country made, where the severall trades are appropriated to
the inhabitants of those parts onely." Marquette relates
that the Illinois bought firearms of the Indians who traded
directly with the French, and that they went to the south
and west to carry off slaves, which they sold at a high price
to other nations. 5 It was on the foundation, therefore, of an
extensive inter-tribal trade that the white man built up the
forest commerce. 6
EARLY TRADE ALONG THE ATLANTIC COAST.
The chroniclers of the earliest voyages to the Atlantic
coast abound in references to this traffic. First of Euro
peans to purchase native furs in America appear to have
been the Norsemen who settled Vinland. In the saga of
Eric the Red 7 we find this interesting account : " Thereupon
1 Parkraan, Pioneers of France in the New World, 230, citing: Menendez.
2 Neill, in Narrative and Critical History of America, IV., 164.
3 Charaplain s Voyages (Prince Society), III., 183.
4 Morton, New English Canaan (Prince Society), 159.
5 Shea, Discovery and Exploration of the Mississippi Valley, 32.
6 For additional evidence see Radisson, Voyages (Prince Society), 91,
173; Massachusetts Historical Collections, I., 151 ; Smithsonian Contri
butions, XVI., 30 ; Jesuit Relations, 1671,41 ; Thruston, Antiquities, etc.,
79-82; Carr, Mounds of the Mississippi Valley, 25, 27 ; andpostpp. 26-7, 36.
7 Reeves, Finding of Wineland the Good, 47.
12 The Indian Trade in Wisconsin. [552
Karlsefhi and his people displayed their shields, and when
they came together they began to barter with each other.
Especially did the strangers wish to buy red cloth, for
which they offered in exchange peltries and quite grey skins.
They also desired to buy swords and spears, but Karlsefni
and Snorri forbade this. In exchange for perfect unsullied
skins the Skrellings would take red stuff a span in length,
which they would bind around their heads. So their trade
went on for a time, until Karlsefni and his people began to
grow short of cloth, when they divided it into such narrow
pieces that it was not more than a finger s breadth wide, but
the Skrellings still continued to give just as much for this as
before, or more."
The account of Verrazano s voyage 1 mentions his Indian
trade. Captain John Smith, exploring New England in
1614, brought back a cargo of fish and 11,000 beaver skins. 2
These examples could be multiplied ; in short, a way was
prepared for colonization by the creation of a demand for
European goods, and thus the opportunity for a lodgement
NEW ENGLAND INDIAN TKADE.
The Indian trade has a place in the early history of the
New England colonies. The Plymouth settlers u found
divers corn fields and little running brooks, a place ....
fit for situation," 3 and settled down cuckoo-like in Indian
clearings. Mr. Weeden has shown that the Indian trade
furnished a currency (wampum) to New England, and that
it afforded the beginnings of her commerce. In September
of their first year the Plymouth men sent out a shallop to
trade with the Indians, and when a ship arrived from
England in 1621 they speedily loaded her with a return
1 N. Y. Hist. Colls., L, 54-55, 59.
-Smith, Generall Historic (Richmond, 1819), I., 87-8, 182, 199;
Strachey s Travaile into Virginia, 157 (llakluyt Soc. VI.) ; Parkman,
n Bradford, Plymouth Plantation.
553] Indian Trade in the Middle Colonies. 13
cargo of beaver and lumber. 1 By frequent legislation the
colonies regulated and fostered the trader Bradford reports
that in a single year twenty hhd. of furs were shipped from
Plymouth, and that between 1631 and 1636 their shipments
amounted to 12,150 li. beaver and 1156 li. otter. 3 Morton in
his New English Canaan alleges that a servant of his was
" thought to have a thousand pounds in ready gold gotten by
the beaver when he died." In the pursuit of this trade
men passed continually farther into the wilderness, and their
trading posts " generally became the pioneers of new settle
ments." 5 For example, the posts of Oldham, a Puritan
trader, led the way for the settlements on the Connecticut
river, (i and in their early days these towns were partly sus
tained by the Indian trade. 7
Not only did the New England traders expel the Dutch
from this valley ; they contended with them on the Hudson. 8
INDIAN TRADE IN THE MIDDLE COLONIES.
Morton, in the work already referred to, protested against
allowing " the Great Lake of the Erocoise " (Champlain) to
the Dutch, saying that it is excellent for the fur trade, and
that the Dutch have gained by beaver 20,000 pounds a
year. Exaggerated though the statement is, it is true that
the energies of the Dutch were devoted to this trade, rather
than to agricultural settlement. As in the case of New
1 Bradford, 104.
- E. g., Plymouth Records, I., 50, 54, 62, 119 ; II., 10 ; Massachusetts
Colonial Records, L, 55, 81, 96, 100, 322 ; II., 86, 138 ; III., 424 ; V.,
180; Hazard, Historical Collections, II., 19 (the Commissioners of the
United Colonies propose giving the monopoly of the fur trade to a corpora
tion). On public truck-houses, vide post, p. 58.
3 Bradford, 108, gives the proceeds of the sale of these furs.
4 Force, Collections, Vol. I., No. 5, p. 53.
5 Weeden, I., 132, 160-1.
6 Winthrop, History of New England, I., Ill, 131.
1 Connecticut Colonial Records, 1637, pp. 11, 18.
8 Weeden, L, 126.
14 The Indian Trade in Wisconsin. [554
France the settlers dispersed themselves in the Indian trade ;
so general did this become that laws had to be passed to
compel the raising of crops. 1 New York City (New Amster
dam) was founded and for a time sustained by the fur trade.
In their search for peltries the Dutch were drawn up the
Hudson,, up the Connecticut, and down the Delaware, where
they had Swedes for their rivals. By way of the Hudson
the Dutch traders had access to Lake Champlain, and to the
Mohawk, the headwaters of which connected through the
lakes of western New York with Lake Ontario. This
region, which was supplied by the trading post of Orange
(Albany), was the seat of the Iroquois confederacy. The
results of the trade upon Indian society became apparent in
a short time in the most decisive way. Furnished with arms
by the Dutch, the Iroquois turned upon the neighboring
Indians, whom the French had at first refrained from supply
ing with guns. 2 In 1649 they completely ruined the Hurons/
a part of whom fled to the woods of northern Wisconsin.
In the years immediately following, the Neutral Nation and
the Eries Ml under their power; they overawed the New
England Indians and the Southern tribes, and their hunting
and war parties visited Illinois and drove Indians of those
plains into Wisconsin. Thus by priority in securing fire
arms, as well as by their remarkable civil organization, 4 the
Iroquois secured possession of the St. Lawrence and Lakes
Ontario and Erie. The French had accepted the alliance of
the Algonquins and the Hurons, as the Dutch, and afterward
the English, had that of the Iroquois ; so these victories of
the Iroquois cut the French off from the entrance to the
Great Lakes by way of the upper St. Lawrence. As early
as 1629 the Dutch trade was estimated at 50,000 guilders
1 New York Colonial Documents, I., 181, 389, 7.
"Ibid. 182; Collection de manuscrits relatifs a la Nouvelle-France, 1.,
254; Radisson, 93.
3 Parkraan, Jesuits in North America ; Radisson ; Margry, Decouvertes
et Etablissernens, etc., IV., 586-593 ; Tailhan, Nicholas Perrot.
4 Morgan, League of the Iroquois.
555] Indian Trade in the Middle Colonies. 15
per annum, and the Delaware trade alone produced 10,000
skins yearly in 1663. 1 The English succeeded to this trade,
and under Governor Dongan they made particular efforts to
extend their operations to the Northwest, using the Iroquois
as middlemen. Although the French were in possession of
the trade with the Algonquins of the Northwest, the English
had an economic advantage in competing for this trade in
the fact that Albany traders, whose situation enabled them
to import their goods more easily than Montreal traders
could, and who were burdened with fewer governmental
restrictions, were able to pay fifty per cent more for beaver
and give better goods. French traders frequently received
their supplies from Albany, a practice against which the
English authorities legislated in 1720; and the coureurs de
bois smuggled their furs to the same place. As early as
1666 Talon proposed that the king of France should pur
chase New York, " whereby he would have two entrances to
Canada and by which he would give to the French all the
peltries of the north, of which the English share the profit
by the communication which they have with the Iroquois
by Manhattan and Orange." 3 It is a characteristic of the
fur trade that it continually recedes from the original center,
and so it happened that the English traders before long
attempted to work their way into the Illinois country. The
wars between the French and English and Iroquois must be
read in the light of this fact. At the outbreak of the last
1 N. Y. Col. Docs., IX., 403-9 ; V., 687, 726 ; Histoire et Commerce des
Colonies Angloises, 154.
3 N. Y. Col. Docs., III., 471, 474 ; IX., 298, 319.
3 Ibid. IX., 57. The same proposal was made in 1681 by Du Chesneau,
ibid. IX., 165.
4 Parkraan s works; N. Y. Col. Docs., IX., 165; Shea s Charlevoix,
IV., 16: "The English, indeed, as already remarked, from that time
shared with the French in the fur trade ; and this was the chief motive
of their fomenting war between us and the Iroquois, inasmuch as they
could get no good furs, which come from the northern districts, except by
means of these Indians, who could scarcely effect a reconciliation with us
without precluding them from this precious mine."
16 The Indian Trade in Wisconsin. [556
French and Indian war, however, it was rather Pennsylvania
and Virginia traders who visited the Ohio Valley. It is
said that some three hundred of them came over the moun
tains yearly, following the Susquehanna and the Juniata and
the headwaters of the Potomac to the tributaries of the Ohio,
and visiting with their pack-horses the Indian villages along
the valley. The center of the English trade was Pickawil-
lani on the Great Miami. In 1749 Celoron de Bienville,
who had been sent out to vindicate French authority in the
valley, reported that each village along the Ohio and its
branches " has one or more English traders, and each of these
has hired men to carry his furs." 1
INDIAN TRADE IN THE SOUTHERN COLONIES.
The Indian trade of the Virginians was not limited to
the Ohio country. As in the case of Massachusetts Bay, the
trade had been provided for before the colony left England, 2
and in times of need it had preserved the infant settlement.
Bacon s rebellion was in part due to the opposition to the
governor s trading relations with the savages. After a time
the nearer Indians were exploited, and as early as the close
of the seventeenth century Virginia traders sought the
Indians west of the Alleghanies. 8 The Cherokees lived
among the mountains, " where the present states of Tennes
see, Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas join one another." 4
To the west, on the Mississippi, were the Chickasaws, south
of whom lived the Choctaws, while to the south of the
Cherokees were the Creeks. The Catawbas had their
villages on the border of North and South Carolina, about
the headwaters of the Santee river. Shawnese Indians
had formerly lived on the Cumberland river, and French
traders had been among them, as well as along the Missis-
1 Parkman, Montcalm and Wolfe, I., 50.
2 Charter of 1606.
3 Ramsay, Tennessee, 63.
4 On the Southwestern. Indians see Adair, American Indians.
557] Indian Trade in the Southern Colonies. 17
sippi; 3 but by the time of the English traders, Tennessee and
Kentucky were for the most part uninhabited. The Vir
ginia traders reached the Catawbas, and for a time the
Cherokees, by a trading route through the southwest of the
colony to the Santee. By 1712 this trade was a well-estab
lished one, a and caravans of one hundred pack-horses passed
along the trail. 3
The Carolinas had early been interested in the fur trade.
In 1663 the Lords Proprietors proposed to pay the gover
nor s salary from the proceeds of the traffic. Charleston
traders were the rivals of the Virginians in the southwest.
They passed even to the Choctaws and Chickasaws, crossing
the rivers by portable boats of skin, and sometimes taking
up a permanent abode among the Indians. Virginia and
Carolina traders were not on good terms with each other,
and Governor Spottswood frequently made complaints of the
actions of the Carolinians. His expedition across the moun
tains in 1716, if his statement is to be trusted, opened a new
way to the transmontane Indians, and soon afterwards a
trading company was formed under his patronage to avail
themselves of this new route. 4 It passed across the Blue
Ridge into the Shenandoah valley, and down the old Indian
trail to the Cherokees, who lived along the upper Tennessee.
Below the bend at the Muscle Shoals the Virginians met the
competition of the French traders from New Orleans and
The settlement of Augusta, Georgia, was another important
trading post. Here in 1740 was an English garrison of
fifteen or twenty soldiers, and a little band of traders, who
annually took about five hundred pack-horses into the
Indian country. In the spring the furs were floated down
1 Ramsay, 75.
2 Spotts\vood s Letters, Virginia Hist. Colls., N. S., L, 67.
3 Byrd Manuscripts, I., 180. The reader will find a convenient map
for the southern region in Roosevelt, Winning of the West, I.
4 Spottswood s Letters, I., 40 ; II., 149, 150.
5 Ramsay, 64. Note the bearing of this route on the Holston settlement.
18 The Indian Trade in Wisconsin. [558
the river in large boats. 1 The Spaniards and the French
also visited the Indians, and the rivalry over this trade was
an important factor in causing diplomatic embroilment. 2
The occupation of the back-lands of the South affords a
prototype of the process by which the plains of the far West
were settled, and also furnishes an exemplification of all the
stages of economic development existing contemporaneously.
After a time the traders were accompanied to the Indian
grounds by hunters, and sometimes the two callings were
combined. 8 When Boone entered Kentucky he went with
an Indian trader whose posts were on the Red river in
Kentucky. 4 After the game decreased the hunter s clearing
was occupied by the cattle-raiser, and his home, as settlement
grew, became the property of the cultivator of the soil; 5 the
manufacturing era belongs to our own time.
In the South, the Middle Colonies and New England the
trade opened the water-courses, the trading post grew into
the palisaded town, and rival nations sought to possess the
trade for themselves. Throughout the colonial frontier the
effects, as well as the methods, of Indian traffic were strik
ingly alike. The trader was the pathfinder for civilization.
Nor was the process limited to the east of the Mississippi.
The expeditions of Verenderye led to the discovery of the
Rocky Mountains. 6 French traders passed up the Missouri ;
and when the Lewis and Clarke expedition ascended that
river and crossed the continent, it went with traders and
voyageurs as guides and interpreters. Indeed, Jefferson first
conceived the idea of such an expedition 7 from contact with
Ledyard, who was organizing a fur trading company in
Georgia Historical Collections, I., 180 ; II., 123-7.
Spottswood, II., 331, for example.
3 Ramsay, 65.
4 Boone, Life and Adventures.
5 Observations on the North American Land Co., pp. xv., 144, London,
6 Margry, VI.
7 Allen, Lewis and Clarke Expedition, I., ix. ; vide post, pp. 70-71.
559] Northwestern River Systems. 19
France, and it was proposed to Congress as a means of
fostering our western Indian trade. 1 The first immigrant
train to California was incited by the representations of an
Indian trader who had visited the region, and it was guided
by trappers. 2
St. Louis was the center of the fur trade of the far West,
and Senator Benton was intimate with leading traders like
Chouteau. 3 He urged the occupation of the Oregon country,
where in 1810 an establishment had for a time been made by
the celebrated John Jacob Astor; and he fostered legislation
opening the road to the southwestern Mexican settlements
long in use by the traders. The expedition of his son-in-law
Fremont was made with French voyageurs, and guided to
the passes by traders who had used them before. 4 Benton
was also one of the stoutest of the early advocates of a Pacific
But the Northwest 5 was particularly the home of the fur
trade, and having seen that this traffic was not an isolated or
unimportant matter, we may now proceed to study it in
detail with Wisconsin as the field of investigation.
NORTHWESTERN RIVER SYSTEMS IN THEIR RELATION TO
THE FUR TRADE.
The importance of physical conditions is nowhere more
manifest than in the exploration of the Northwest, and we
cannot properly appreciate Wisconsin s relation to the his
tory of the time without first considering her situation as
regards the lake and river systems of North America.
1 Vide post, p. 71.
2 Century Magazine, XLI., 759.
3 Jessie Benton Fremont in Century Magazine, XLI., 766-7.
4 Century Magazine, XLI., p. 759 ; vide post, p. 74.
6 Parkman s works, particularly Old Regime, make any discussion of
the importance of the fur trade to Canada proper unnecessary. La
Hontan says : " For you must know that Canada subsists only upon the
trade of skins or furs, three-fourths of which come from the people that
live around the Great Lakes." La Hoiitan, I., 53, London, 1703.
20 The Indian Trade in Wisconsin. [560
When the Breton sailors, steering their fishing smacks
almost in the wake of Cabot, began to fish in the St. Law
rence gulf, and to traffic with the natives of the mainland
for peltries, the problem of how the interior of North America
was to be explored was solved. The water-system composed
of the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes is the key to the
continent. The early explorations in a wilderness must be
by water-courses they are nature s highways. The St. Law
rence leads to the Great Lakes; the headwaters of the
tributaries of these lakes lie so near the headwaters of the
rivers that join the Mississippi that canoes can be portaged
from the one to the other. The Mississippi affords passage
to the Gulf of Mexico ; or by the Missouri to the passes of
the Rocky Mountains, where rise the headwaters of the
Columbia, which brings the voyageur to the Pacific. But if
the explorer follows Lake Superior to the present boundary
line between Minnesota and Canada, and takes the chain of
lakes and rivers extending from Pigeon river to Rainy lake
and Lake of the Woods, he will be led to the Winnipeg river
and to the lake of the same name. From this, by streams and
portages, he may reach Hudson bay ; or he may go by way
of Elk river and Lake Athabasca to Slave river and Slave
lake, which will take him to Mackenzie river and to the
Arctic sea. But Lake Winnipeg also receives the waters of
the Saskatchewan .river, from which one may pass to the
highlands near the Pacific where rise the northern branches
of the Columbia. And from the lakes of Canada there tire
still other routes to the Oregon country. l At a later day
these two routes to the Columbia became an important
factor in bringing British and Americans into conflict over
In these water-systems Wisconsin was the link that joined
the Great Lakes and the Mississippi ; and along her northern
shore the first explorers passed to the Pigeon river, or, as it
was called later, the Grand Portage route, along the bound-
1 N"arr. and Grit. Hist. Amer., VIII., 10-11.
561] Northwestern River Systems. 21
ary line between Minnesota and Canada into the heart of
It was possible to reach the Mississippi from the Great
Lakes by the following principal routes : 1
1. By the Miami (Maumee) river from the west end of
Lake Erie to the Wabash, thence to the Ohio and the
2. By the St. Joseph s river to the Wabash, thence to the
3. By the St. Joseph s river to the Kankakee, and thence
to the Illinois and the Mississippi.
4. By the Chicago river to the Illinois.
5. By Green bay, Fox river, and the Wisconsin river.
6. By the Bois Brule river to the St. Croix river.
Of these routes, the first two were not at first available,
owing to the hostility of the Iroquois.
Of all the colonies that fell to the English, as we have
seen, New York alone had a water-system that favored com
munication with the interior, tapping the St. Lawrence and
opening a way to Lake Ontario. Prevented by the Iroquois
friends of the Dutch and English from reaching the North
west by way of the lower lakes, the French ascended the
Ottawa, reached Lake Nipissing, and passed by way of
Georgian Bay to the islands of Lake Huron. As late as the
nineteenth century this was the common route of the fur
trade, for it was more certain for the birch canoes than the
tempestuous route of the lakes. At the Huron islands two
ways opened before their canoes. The straits of Michilli-
mackinac 2 permitted them to enter Lake Michigan, and from
this led the two routes to the Mississippi : one by way of
Green bay and the Fox and Wisconsin, and the other by
way of the lake to the Chicago river. But if the trader
chose to go from the Huron islands through Sault Ste. Marie
! Narr. and Grit. Hist. Amer., IV., 224, n. 1 ; Margry, V. See also
Parkrnan, Montcalm and Wolfe, I., map and pp. 38-9, 128.
22 The Indian Trade in Wisconsin. [562
into Lake Superior, the necessities of his frail craft required
him to hug the shore, and the rumors of copper minevS
induced the first traders to take the south shore, and here
the lakes of northern Wisconsin and Minnesota afford con
necting links between the streams that seek Lake Superior
and those that seek the Mississippi, 1 a fact which made
northern Wisconsin more important in this epoch than the
southern portion of the state.
We are now able to see how the river-courses of the North
west permitted a complete exploration of the country, and
that in these courses Wisconsin held a commanding situation. 2
But these rivers not only permitted exploration ; they also
furnished a motive to exploration by the fact that their valleys
teemed with fur-bearing animals. This is the main fact in
connection with Northwestern exploration. The hope of a
route to China was always influential, as was also the search
for mines, but the practical inducements were the profitable
trade with the Indians for beaver and buffaloes and the wild
life that accompanied it. So powerful was the combined
influence of these far-stretching rivers, and the " hardy,
adventurous, lawless, fascinating fur trade/ 7 that the scanty
population of Canada was irresistibly drawn from agricul
tural settlements into the interminable recesses of the conti
nent ; and herein is a leading explanation of the lack of
permanent French influence in America.
"All that relates to the Indian tribes of Wisconsin," says
Dr. Shea, " their antiquities, their ethnology, their history,
is deeply interesting from the fact that it is the area of the
See Doty s enumeration, Wis. Hist. Colls., VII., 202.
2 Jes. Rels., 1672, p. 37; La Hontan, I., 105 (1703).
3 On these early locations, consult the authorities cited by Shea in Wis.
Hist. Colls., III., 125 et seq., and by Brunson in his criticism on Shea,
ibid. IV., 223. See also Butterfield s Discovery of the Northwest in 1634,
and Mag. West. Hist., V., 468, 630; and Minn. Hist. Colls., V.
563] Wisconsin Indians.
first meeting of the Algic and Dakota tribes. Here clans
of both these wide-spread families met and mingled at a
very early period ; here they first met in battle and mutually
checked each other s advance." The Winnebagoes attracted
the attention of the French even before they were visited.
They were located about Green bay. Their later location at
the entrance of Lake Winnebago was unoccupied, at least in the
time of Allouez, because of the hostility of the Sioux. Early
authorities represented them as numbering about one hundred
warriors. 1 The Pottawattomies we find in 1641 at Sault Ste.
Marie, 2 whither they had just fled from their enemies. Their
proper home was probably about the southeastern shore and
islands of Green bay, where as early as 1670 they were again
located. Of their numbers in Wisconsin at this time we can
say but little. Allouez, at Chequamegon bay, was visited by
300 of their warriors, and he mentions some of their Green
bay villages, one of which had 300 souls. 3 The Menomonees
were found chiefly on the river that bears their name, and the
western tributaries of Green bay seem to have been their
territory. On the estimates of early authorities we may say
that they had about 100 warriors. 4 The Sauks and Foxes
were closely allied tribes. The Sauks were found by Allouez 5
four leagues up the Fox from its mouth, and the Foxes at a
place reached by a four days ascent of the Wolf river from
its mouth. Later we find them at the confluence of the Wolf
and the Fox. According to their early visitors these two
early estimates were as follows: 1640, "Great numbers"
(Margry, I., 48); 1718, 80 to 100 warriors (N. Y. Col. Docs., IX., 889);
1728, 60 or 80 warriors (Margry, VI., 553); 1736, 90 warriors (Chau-
rignerie, cited in Schoolcraft s Indian Tribes, III., 282); 1761, 150 warriors
(Gorrell, Wis. Hist. Colls., I., 32).
8 Margry, I., 46.
3 Jes. Eels., 1667, 1670.
4 1718, estimated at 80 to 100 warriors (N. Y. Col. Docs., IX., 889);
1762, estimated at 150 warriors (Gorrell, Wis. Hist. Colls., I., 32).
sjes. Rels., 1670.
6 French leagues.
24 The Indian Trade in Wisconsin. [564
tribes must have had something over 1000 warriors. 1 The
Miamis and Mascoutins were located about a league from the
Fox river, probably within the limits of what is now Green
Lake county, 2 and four leagues away were their friends the
Kickapoos. In 1670 the Miamis and Mascoutins were esti
mated at 800 warriors, and this may have included the
Kickapoos. The Sioux held possession of the Upper Mis
sissippi, and in Wisconsin hunted on its northeastern tribu
taries. Their villages were in later times all on the west of
the Mississippi, and of their early numbers no estimate can
be given. The Chippeways were along the southern shore
of Lake Superior. Their numbers also are in doubt, but
were very considerable. 8 In northwestern Wisconsin, with
Chequamegon bay as their rendezvous, were the Ottawas
and Hurons, 4 who had fled here to escape the Iroquois. In
1670 they were back again to their homes at Mackinaw and
the Huron islands. But in 1666, as Allouez tells us, they
were situated at the bottom of this beautiful bay, planting
their Indian corn and leading a stationary life. " They are
there," he says, "to the number of eight hundred men
bearing arms, but collected from seven different nations who
dwell in peace with each other thus mingled together." 5 And
the Jesuit Relations of 1670 add that the Illinois "come here
from time to time in great numbers as merchants to procure
hatchets, cooking utensils, guns, and other things of which
they stand in need." Here, too, came Pottawattomies, as we
have seen, and Sauks.
1 1670, Foxes estimated at 400 warriors (Jes. Rels., 1670); 1667, Foxes,
1000 warriors (Jes. Rels., 1667); 1695, Foxes and Mascoutins, 1200 war
riors (N. Y. Col. Docs., IX., 633); 1718, Sauks 100 or 120, Foxes 500
warriors (2 Penn. Archives, VI., 54); 1728, Foxes, 200 warriors (Margry,
V.); 1762, Sauks and Foxes, 700 warriors (Gorrell, Wis. Hist. Colls., I.,
32). This, it must be observed, was after the Fox wars.
-Jes. Rels., 1670 ; Butterfield s Discovery of the Northwest.
"In 1820 those in Wisconsin numbered about 600 hunters.
4 On these Indians consult, besides authorities already cited, Shea s Dis
covery, etc. Ix. ; Jes. Rels. ; Narr. and Crit. Hist, of Amer., IV., 168-
170, 175 ; Radisson s Voyages ; Margry, IV., 580-598.
! Jes. Rels., 1666-7.
565] Periods of the Wisconsin Indian Trade. 25
At the mouth of Fox river 1 we find another mixed village
of Pottawattomies, Sauks, Foxes, and Winnebagoes, and at
a later period Milwaukee was the site of a similar hetero
geneous community. Leaving out the Hurons, the tribes of
Wisconsin were, with two exceptions, of the Algic stock.
The exceptions are the Winnebagoes and the Sioux, who
belong to the Dakota family. Of these Wisconsin tribes it
is probable that the Sauks and Foxes, the Pottawattomies,
the Hurons and Ottawas and the Mascoutins, and Miamis
and Kickapoos, were driven into Wisconsin by the attacks
of eastern enemies. The Iroquois even made incursions as
far as the home of the Mascoutins on Fox river. On the
other side of the state were the Sioux, " the Iroquois of the
West," as the missionaries call them, who had once claimed
all the region, and whose invasions, Allouez says, rendered
Lake Winnebago uninhabited. There was therefore a pres
sure on both sides of Wisconsin which tended to mass
together the divergent tribes. And the Green bay and Fox
and Wisconsin route was the line of least resistance, as well
as a region abounding in wild rice, fish and game, for these
early fugitives. In this movement we have two facts that
are not devoid of significance in institutional history : first,
the welding together of separate tribes, as the Sauks and
Foxes, and the Miamis, Mascoutins and Kickapoos ; and
second, a commingling of detached families from various
tribes at peculiarly favorable localities.
PERIODS OF THE WISCONSIN INDIAN TRADE.
The Indian trade was almost the sole interest in Wisconsin
during the two centuries that elapsed from the visit of Nicolet
in 1634 to about 1834, when lead-mining had superseded it
in the southwest and land offices were opened at Green Bay
and Mineral Point ; when the port of Milwaukee received an
influx of settlers to the lands made known by the so-called
Jes. Rels., 1670.
26 The Indian Trade in Wisconsin. [566
Black Hawk war ; and when Astor retired from the American
Fur Company. These two centuries may be divided into
three periods of the trade: 1. French, from 1634 to 1763;
2. English, from 1763 to 1816; 3. American, from 1816 to
FRENCH EXPLORATION IN WISCONSIN.
Sagard, 1 whose work was published in 1636, tells us that
the Hurons, who traded with the French, visited the Winne-
bagoes and the Fire Nation (Mascoutins), 2 bartering goods
for peltries. Champlain, the famous fur-trader, who repre
sented the Company of the Hundred Associates, 3 formed by
Richelieu to monopolize the fur trade of New France and
govern the country, sent an agent named Jean Nicolet, in
1634, 4 to Green bay and Fox river to make a peace between
the Hurons and the Winnebagoes in the interests of inter
tribal commerce. The importance of this phase of the trade
as late as 1681 may be inferred from these words of Du Ches-
neau, speaking of the Ottawas, and including under the term
the Petun Hurons and the Chippeways also : " Through
them we obtain beaver, and although they, for the most part,
do not hunt, and have but a small portion of peltry in their
country, they go in search of it to the most distant places,
and exchange for it our merchandise which they procure at
Montreal." Among the tribes enumerated as dealing with
the Ottawas are the Sioux, Sauks, Pottawattomies, Winne
bagoes, Menomonees and Mascoutins all Wisconsin Indians
at this time. He adds : " Some of these tribes occasionally
come down to Montreal, but usually they do not do so in very
great numbers because they are too far distant, are not expert
at managing canoes, and because the other Indians intimidate
Ulistoire du Canada, 193-4 (edition of 1866).
"Diiblon, Jesuit Relations, 1671.
3 See Parkman, Pioneers, 4 29 ff. (1890).
4 Mar^ry, I., 50. The date rests on inference; see Bibliography of
Nicolet in Wis. Hist. Colls., XL, and cf. Hebberd, Wisconsin under
French Dominion, 14.
567] French Exploration in Wisconsin. 27
them, in order to be the carriers of their merchandise and to
profit thereby." 1
It was the aim of the authorities to attract the Indians to
Montreal, or to develop the inter-tribal communication, and
thus to centralize the trade and prevent the dissipation of the
energies of the colony ; but the temptations of the free forest
traffic were too strong. In a memoir of 1697, Aubert de la
Chesnaye says :
" At first, the French went only among the Hurons, and
since then to Missilimakinak, where they sold their goods to
the savages of the places, who in turn went to exchange them
with other savages in the depths of the woods, lands and
rivers. But at present the French, having licenses, in order
to secure greater profit surreptitiously, pass all the Ottawas
and savages of Missilimakinak in order to go themselves to
seek the most distant tribes, which is very displeasing to the
former. It is they, also, who have made excellent discoveries;
and four or five hundred young men, the best men of Canada,
are engaged in this business. . . . They have given us
knowledge of many names of savages that we did not know ;
and four or five hundred leagues more remote are others who
are unknown to us. 772
Two of the most noteworthy of these coureurs de bois, or
wood-rangers, were Radisson and Groseilliers. 3 In 1660
they returned to Montreal with 300 Algonquins and sixty
canoes laden with furs, after a voyage in which they visited,
among other tribes, the Pottawattomies, Mascoutins, Sioux,
and Hurons, in Wisconsin. From the Hurons they learned
of the Mississippi, and probably visited the river. They soon
returned from Montreal to the northern Wisconsin region.
In the course of their wanderings they had a post at Chequa-
N. Y. Col. Docs., IX., 160.
2 Margry, VI., 3 ; Coll. de Manuscrits, I., 255, where the date is wrongly
given as 1676. The italics are ours.
3 Radisson, Voyages (Prince Soc. Pubs.) ; Margry, I., 53-55, 83 ; Jes.
Rels., 1600; Wis. Hist. Colls., X., XI; Narrative and Critical Hist.
Amer., IV., 168-173.
28 The Indian Trade in Wisconsin. [568
megon bay, and they ascended the Pigeon river, thus open
ing the Grand Portage route to the heart of Canada. Among
their exploits they induced England to enter the Hudson
Bay trade, and gave the impetus that led to the organization
of the Hudson Bay Company. The reports which these
traders brought back had a most important effect in fostering
exploration in the Northwest, and led to the visit of Menard,
who was succeeded by Allouez, the pioneers of the Jesuits in
Wisconsin. 1 Radisson gives us a good account of the early
Wisconsin trade. Of his visit to the Ottawas he says :
" We weare wellcomed & made of saying that we weare the
Gods and devils of the earth ; that we should fournish them,
& that they would bring us to their enemy to destroy them.
We tould them [we] were very well content. We persuaded
them first to come peaceably, not to distroy them presently,
and if they would not condescend then would wee throw away
the hatchett and make use of our thunders. We sent ambas
sadors to them w th guifts. That nation called Pontonate-
mick 2 w th out more adoe comes and meets us with the rest,
and peace was concluded." "The savages/ 7 he writes,
" love knives better than we serve God, which should make
us blush for shame." In another place, " We went away free
from any burden whilst those poore miserable thought them
selves happy to carry our Equipage for the hope that they had
that we should give them a brasse ring, or an awle, or an
needle." 8 We find them using this influence in various places
to make peace between hostile tribes, whom they threatened
with punishment. This early commerce was carried on under
the fiction of an exchange of presents. For example, Radis
son says : "We gave them severall gifts and received many.
They bestowed upon us above 300 robs of castors out of wch
we brought not five to the ffrench being far in the country." 1
Of. Radisson, 173-5, arid Jes. Rels., 16(30, pp. 12, 30 ; 1663, pp. 17 if.
2 Pottawattomies in the region of Green Bay.
3 Wis. Mist. Colls., XL, 67-8.
4 Ibid. XL, 90.
569] French Exploration in Wisconsin. 29
Among the articles used by Radisson in this trade were
kettles, hatchets, knives, graters, awls, needles, tin looking-
glasses, little bells, ivory combs, vermilion, sword blades,
necklaces and bracelets. The sale of guns and blankets was
at this time exceptional, nor does it appear that Radisson
carried brandy in this voyage. 1
More and more the young men of Canada continued to
visit the savages at their villages. By 1660 the coureurs de
bois formed a distinct class, 2 who, despite the laws against it,
pushed from Michillimackinac into the wilderness. Wis
consin was a favorite resort of these adventurers. By the
time of the arrival of the Jesuits they had made them
selves entirely at home upon our lakes. They had preceded
Allouez at Chequamegon bay, and when he established his
mission at Green bay he came at the invitation of the Pot-
tawattomies, who wished him to "mollify some young French
men who were among them for the purpose of trading and
who threatened and ill-treated them." 3 He found fur
traders before him on the Fox and the Wolf. Bancroft s
assertion 4 that "religious enthusiasm took possession of the
wilderness on the upper lakes and explored the Mississippi,"
is misleading. It is not true that "not a cape was turned,
nor a mission founded, nor a river entered, nor a settlement
begun, but a Jesuit led the way." In fact the Jesuits fol
lowed the traders; 5 their missions were on the sites of
trading posts, and they themselves often traded. 6
When St. Lusson, with the coureur de bois, Nicholas
Perrot, took official possession of the Northwest for France
1 Radisson, 200, 217, 219.
2 Suite, in Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Science, Arts and
Letters, V., 141 ; N. Y. Col. Docs., IX., 153, 140, 152 ; Margry, VI., 3 ;
Parkman, Old Regime, 310-315.
8 Of. Jes. Rels., 1670, p. 92.
4 History of United States, II., 138 (1884).
* Harrisse, Notes sur la Nouvelle France, 174-181.
8 Parkman, Old Regime, 328 ff., and La Salle, 98 ; Margry, II., 251 ;
30 The Indian Trade in Wisconsin. [570
at the Sault Ste. Marie in 1671, the cost of the expedition
was defrayed by trade in beaver. 1 Joliet, who, accompa
nied by Marquette, descended the Mississippi by the Fox
and Wisconsin route in 1673, was an experienced fur trader.
While Du Lhut, chief of the coureurs de boiSj was trading
on Lake Superior, La Salle, 2 the greatest of these merchants,
was preparing his far-reaching scheme for colonizing the
Indians in the Illinois region under the direction of the
French, so that they might act as a check on the inroads of
the Iroquois, and aid in his plan of securing an exit for the
furs of the Northwest, particularly buffalo hides, by way of
the Mississippi and the Gulf. La Salle s "Griffen," the
earliest ship to sail the Great Lakes, was built for this trade,
and received her only cargo at Green Bay. Accault, one of
La Salle s traders, with Hennepin, met Du Lhut on the
upper Mississippi, which he had reached by way of the Bois
Briile" and St. Croix, in 1680. Du Lhut s trade awakened
the jealousy of La Salle, who writes in 1682: "If they go
by way of the Ouisconsing, where for the present the chase
of the buffalo is carried on and where I have commenced an
establishment, they will ruin the trade on which alone I rely,
on account of the great number of buffalo which are taken
there every year, almost beyond belief."* Speaking of the
Jesuits at Green Bay, he declares that they " have in truth
the key to the beaver country, where a brother blacksmith
that they have and two companions convert more iron into
beaver than the fathers convert savages into Christians." ^
Perrot says that the beaver north of the mouth of the Wis
consin were better than those of the Illinois country, and the
chase was carried on in this region for a longer period; 5 and
we know from Dablon that the Wisconsin savages were
*See Talon s report quoted in Narr. and Grit. Hist. Araer., IV., 175.
2 Margry abounds in evidences of La Salle s commercial activity, as does
Parkman s La Salle. See also Dunn, Indiana, 20-1.
3 Margry, II., 254.
4 Marsry, II., 251.
Tailhau s Perrot, 57.
571] French Exploration in Wisconsin. 31
not compelled to separate by families during the hunting
season, as was common among other tribes, because the game
here was so abundant. 1 Aside from its importance as a key
to the Northwestern trade, Wisconsin seems to have been a
rich field of traffic itself.
With such extensive operations as the foregoing in the
region reached by Wisconsin rivers, it is obvious that
the government could not keep the coureurs de bois from
the woods. Even governors like Frontenac connived at the
traffic and shared its profits. In 1681 the government
decided to issue annual licenses, 2 and messengers were dis
patched to announce amnesty to the coureurs de bois about
Green Bay and the south shore of Lake Superior. 3
We may now oifer some conclusions upon the connection
of the fur trade with French explorations :
1. The explorations were generally induced and almost
always rendered profitable by the fur trade. In addition to
what has been presented on this point, note the following :
In 1669, Patoulet writes to Colbert concerning La Salle s
voyage to explore a passage to Japan : " The enterprise is
difficult and dangerous, but the good thing about it is that
the King will be at no expense for this pretended discovery." 4
The king s instructions to Governor De la Barre in 1682
say that, " Several inhabitants of Canada, excited by the
hope of the profit to be realized from the trade with the
Indians for furs, have undertaken at various periods dis
coveries in the countries of the Nadoussioux, the river
Mississipy, and other parts of America." 3
2. The early traders were regarded as quasi-supernatural
Jes. Rels., 1670.
2 La Hontan, I., 53 ; N. Y. Col. Docs., IX., 159 ; Parkman, Old Regime,
3 Margry, VI., 45.
4 Margry, I., 81.
5 N. Y. Col. Docs., IX., 187. On the cost of such expeditions, see docu
ments in Margry, I., 293-296 ; VI., 503-507. On the profits of the trade,
see La Salle in 2 Penna. Archives, VI., 18-19.
32 The Indian Trade in Wisconsin. [572
beings by the Indians. 1 They alone could supply the coveted
iron implements, the trinkets that tickled the savage s fancy,
the " fire-water/ 7 and the guns that gave such increased
power over game and the enemy. In the course of a few
years the Wisconsin savages passed from the use of the
implements of the stone age to the use of such an important
product of the iron age as firearms. They passed also from
the economic stage in which their hunting was for food and
clothing simply, to that stage in which their hunting was made
systematic and stimulated by the European demand for furs.
The trade tended to perpetuate the hunter stage by making
it profitable, and it tended to reduce the Indian to economic
dependence 2 upon the Europeans, for while he learned to use
the white man s gun he did not learn to make it or even to
mend it. In this transition stage from their primitive con
dition the influence of the trader over the Indians was
all-powerful. The pre-eminence of the individual Indian
who owned a gun made all the warriors of the tribe eager
to possess like power. The tribe thus armed placed their
enemies at such a disadvantage that they too must have like
weapons or lose their homes. 3 No wonder that La Salle
was able to say : " The savages take better care of us French
than of their own children. From us only can they get guns
and goods." 4 This was the power that France used to sup
port her in the struggle with England for the Northwest.
3. The trader used his influence to promote peace between
the Northwestern Indians. 5
1 See Radisson, ante, p. 28.
2 Vide post, p. 62.
3 Vide ante, p. 14; Radisson, 154; Minn. Hist. Colls., V., 427. Com
pare the effects of the introduction of bronze weapons into Europe.
4 Margry, II., 284. On the power possessed by the French through this
trade consult also D Iberville s plan for locating Wisconsin Indians on
the Illinois by changing their trading posts; see Margry, IV., 586-598.
5 Wis. Hist. Colls., XL, 67-8, 90 ; Narr. and Grit. Hist. Amer.JV., 182 ;
Perrot, 327 ; Margry, VI., 507-509, 653-4.
573] French Posts in Wisconsin. 33
FRENCH POSTS IN WISCONSIN.
In the governorship of Dongan of New York, as has been
noted, the English were endeavoring to secure the trade of
the Northwest. As early as 1685, English traders had
reached Michillimackinac, the depot of supplies for the
coureur de bois, where they were cordially received by the
Indians, owing to their cheaper goods. 1 At the same time
the English on Hudson Bay were drawing trade to their
posts in that region. The French were thoroughly alarmed.
They saw the necessity of holding the Indians by trading
posts in their midst, lest they should go to the English, for
as Begon declared, the savages "always take the part of
those with whom they trade." It is at this time that
the French occupation of the Northwest begins to assume
a new phase. Stockaded trading posts were established at
such key-points as a strait, a portage, a river-mouth, or
an important lake, where also were Indian villages. In
1685 the celebrated Nicholas Perrot was given command of
Green Bay and its dependencies. 3 He had trading posts near
Trempealeau and at Fort St. Antoine on the Wisconsin side
of Lake Pepin where he traded with the Sioux, and for a
time he had a post and worked the lead-mines above the Des
Moines river. Both these and Fort St. Nicholas at the
mouth of the Wisconsin 4 were dependencies of Green Bay.
Du Lhut probably established Fort St. Croix at the portage
between the Bois Brule river and the St. Croix. 5 In 1695
Le Sueur built a fort on the largest island above Lake Pepin,
and he also asked the command of the post of Chequamegon. 6
These official posts were supported by the profits of Indian
J N. Y. Col. Docs., IX., 296, 308 ; IV., 735.
2 Quoted in Sheldon, Early History of Michigan, 310.
3 Tailhan s Perrot, 156.
4 Wis. Hist. Colls., X., 54, 300-302, 307, 321.
ft Narr. and Grit. Hist. Arner., IV., 186.
"Margry, VI., 60. Near Ashland, Wis.
34 The Indian Trade in Wisconsin. [574
commerce, 1 and were designed to keep the northwestern tribes
at peace, and to prevent the English and Iroquois influence
from getting the fur trade.
THE Fox WARS.
In 1683 Perrot had collected Wisconsin Indians for an
attack on the Iroquois, and again in 1686 he led them against
the same enemy. But the efforts of the Iroquois and the
English to enter the region with their cheaper and better
goods, and the natural tendency of savages to plunder when
assured of supplies from other sources, now overcame the
control which the French had exercised. The Sauks and
Foxes, the Mascoutins, Kickapoos and Miamis, as has been
described, held the Fox and Wisconsin route to the West,
the natural and easy highway to the Mississippi, as La
Hontan calls it. 2 Green Bay commanded this route, as La
Pointe de Chagouamigon 8 commanded the Lake Superior
route to the Bois Brule and the St. Croix. One of Perrot s
main objects was to supply the Sioux on the other side of
the Mississippi, and these were the routes to them. To the
Illinois region, also, the Fox route was the natural one. The
Indians of this waterway therefore held the key to the French
position, and might attempt to prevent the passage of French
goods and support English influence and trade, or they might
try to monopolize the intermediate trade themselves, or they
might try to combine both policies.
As early as 1687 the Foxes, Mascoutins and Kickapoos,
Consult French MSS., 3d series, VI., Parl. Library, Ottawa, cited in
Minn. Hist. Colls., V., 422 ; Id., V., 425. In 1731 M. La Ronde, having
constructed at his own expense a bark of forty tons on Lake Superior,
received the post of La Pointe de Chagouamigon as a gratuity to defray
his expenses. See also the story of Verenderye s posts, in Parkman s
article in Atlantic Monthly, June, 1887, and Margry, VI. See also 2
Penna. Archives, VI., 18; La Hontan, I., 53; N. Y. Col. Docs., IX.,
159 ; Tailhan, Perrot, 302.
"La Hontan, I., 105.
3 Near Ashland, Wis.
575] The Fox Wars. 35
animated apparently by hostility to the trade carried on by
Perrot with the Sioux, their enemy at that time, threatened
to pillage the post at Green Bay. 1 The closing of the Ottawa
to the northern fur trade by the Iroquois for three years, a
blow which nearly ruined Canada in the days of Frontenac,
as Parkman has described, 2 not only kept vast stores of furs
from coming down from Michillimackinac ; it must, also,
have kept goods from reaching the northwestern Indians. In
1692 the Mascoutins, who attributed the death of some of their
men to Perrot, plundered his goods, and the Foxes soon
entered into negotiation with the Iroquois. :? Frontenac
expressed great apprehension lest with their allies on the
Fox and Wisconsin route they should remove eastward and
come into connection with the Iroquois and the English, a
grave danger to New France. 4 Nor was this apprehension
without reason. 5 Even such docile allies as the Ottawas and
Pottawattomies threatened to leave the French if goods were
not sent to them wherewith to oppose their enemies. " They
have powder and iron," complained an Ottawa deputy ; " how
can we sustain ourselves? Have compassion, then, on us,
and consider that it is no easy matter to kill men with
clubs." f By the end of the seventeenth century the dis-
aifected Indians closed the Fox and Wisconsin route against
French trade. 7 In 1699 an order was issued recalling the
French from the Northwest, it being the design to concen
trate French power at the nearer posts. 8 Detroit was
founded in 1701 as a place to which to attract the north
western trade and intercept the English. In 1702 the priest
at St. Joseph reported that the English were sending presents
Tailhan, Perrot, 139, 302.
2 Frontenae, 315-316. Cf. Perrot, 302.
3 Perrot, 331 ; N. Y. Col. Docs., IX., 633.
5 N. Y. Col. Docs., IV., 732-7.
6 N.Y. Col. Docs., IX., 673.
7 Shea, Early Voyages, 49.
8 Kingsford, Canada, II., 394; N. Y. Col. Docs., IX., 635.
36 The Indian Trade in Wisconsin. [576
to the Miamis about that post and desiring to form an estab
lishment in their country. 1 At the same date we find
D Iberville, of Louisiana, proposing a scheme for drawing
the Miamis, Mascoutins and Kickapoos from the Wisconsin
streams to the Illinois, by changing their trading posts from
Green Bay to the latter region, and drawing the Illinois by
trading posts to the lower Ohio. 2 It was shortly after this
that the Miamis and Kickapoos passed south under either
the French or English influence, 3 and the hostility of the
Foxes became more pronounced. A part of the scheme of La
Motte Cadillac at Detroit was to colonize Indians about that
post, 4 and in 1712 Foxes, Sauks, Mascoutins, Kickapoos,
Pottawattomies, Hurons, Ottawas, Illinois, Menomonees and
others were gathered there under the influence of trade. But
soon, whether by design of the French and their allies or
otherwise, hostilities broke out against the Foxes and their
allies. The animus of the combat appears in the cries of the
Foxes as they raised red blankets for flags and shouted " We
have no father but the English ! " while the allies of the
French replied, "The English are cowards; they destroy the
Indians with brandy and are enemies of the true God ! " The
Foxes were defeated with great slaughter and driven back to
Wisconsin. 5 From this time until 1734 the French waged
war against the Foxes with but short intermissions. The
Foxes allied themselves with the Iroquois and the Sioux, and
acted as middlemen between the latter and the traders, refusing
passage to goods on the ground that it would damage their own
trade to allow this. 6 They fostered hostilities between their
old foes the Chippeways and their new allies the Sioux, and
thus they cut off English intercourse with the latter by way
Margry, V., 219.
* Ibid. IV. ,597.
3 Wis. Hist. Colls., TIL, 149; Smith, Wisconsin, II., 315.
4 Coll. deManus., III., 622.
5 See Hebberd s account, Wisconsin under French Dominion ; Coll. de
Mamis., I., 623; Smith, Wisconsin, II., 315.
Margry, VI., 543.
577] The Fox Wars. 37
of the north. This trade between the Chippeways and the
Sioux was important to the French, and commandants were
repeatedly sent to La Pointe de Chagouamigon and the upper
Mississippi to make peace between the two tribes. 1 While
the wars were in progress the English took pains to enforce
their laws against furnishing Indian goods to French
traders. The English had for a time permitted this, and
their own Indian trade had suffered because the French were
able to make use of the cheap English goods. By their
change in policy the English now brought home to the sav
ages the fact that French goods were dearer. 2 Moreover,
English traders were sent to Niagara to deal directly with
" the far Indians/ 7 and the Foxes visited the English and
Iroquois, and secured a promise that they might take up their
abode with the latter and form an additional member of the
confederacy in case of need. 3 As a counter policy the French
attempted to exterminate the Foxes, and detached the Sioux
from their alliance with the Foxes by establishing Fort
Beauharnois, a trading post on the Minnesota side of Lake
The results of these wars were as follows :
1. They spread the feeling of defection among the North
western Indians, who could no longer be restrained, as at first,
by the threat of cutting off their trade, there being now rivals
in the shape of the English, and the French traders from
2. They caused a readjustment of the Indian map of
Wisconsin. The Mascoutins and the Pottawattomies had
1 Tailhan, Perrot, passim ; N. Y. Col. Docs., IX., 570, 619, 621 ; Mar-
gry, VI., 507-509, 553, 653-4; Minn. Hist. Colls., V., 422, 425; Wis.
Hist. Colls., III., 154.
2 N. Y. Col. Docs., V., 726 ff.
3 Ibid. IV., 732, 735, 796-7; V., 687, 911.
4 Margry, VI., 553, 563, 575-580; Neill in Mag. Western History,
5 Perrot, 148 ; Parkman, Montcalra and Wolfe, I., 42; Hebberd, Wis
consin under French Dominion, chapters on the Fox wars.
38 The Indian Trade in Wisconsin. [578
already moved southward to the Illinois country. Now the
Foxes, driven from their river, passed first to Prairie du
Chien and then down the Mississippi. The Sauks went at
first to the Wisconsin, near Sauk Prairie, and then joined the
Foxes. The Winnebagoes gradually extended themselves
along the Fox and Wisconsin. The Chippeways, 1 freed from
their fear of the Foxes, to whom the Wolf and the Wisconsin
had given access to the northern portion of the state, now
passed south to Lac du Flambeau, 2 to the headwaters of the
Wisconsin, and to Lac Court Oreilles. 3
3. The closing of the Fox and Wisconsin route fostered
that movement of trade and exploration which at this time
began to turn to the far Northwest along the Pigeon river
route into central British America, in search of the Sea of
the West, 4 whereby the Rocky Mountains were discovered ;
and it may have aided in turning settlement into the Illinois
4. These wars were a part of a connected series, including
the Iroquois wars, the Fox wars, the attack of the Wisconsin
trader, Charles de Langlade, upon the center of English
trade at Pickawillany/ Ohio, and the French and Indian war
that followed. All were successive stages of the struggle
against English trade in the French possessions.
FRENCH SETTLEMENT IN WISCONSIN.
Settlement was not the object of the French in the North
west. The authorities saw as clearly as do we that the field
was too vast for the resources of the colony, and they desired
to hold the region as a source of peltries, and contract their
settlements. The only towns worthy of the name in the
Northwest were Detroit and the settlements in Indiana and
1 Minn. Hist. Colls., V., 190-1.
- Oneida county.
3 Sawyer county.
4 Margry, VI.
Parkman, Montcalrn and Wolfe, I., 84, and citations ; vide post, p. 41 .
579] French Settlement in Wisconsin. 39
Illinois, all of which depended largely on the fur trade. 1 But
in spite of the government the traffic also produced the begin
nings of settlement in Wisconsin. About the middle of the
century, Augustin de Langlade had made Green Bay his
trading post. After Pontiac s war, 2 Charles de Langlade 5
made the place his permanent residence, and a little settle
ment grew up. At Prairie du Chien French traders annu
ally met the Indians, and at this time there may have been
a stockaded trading post there, but it was not a permanent
settlement until the close of the Revolutionary war. Chequa-
megon bay was deserted 4 at the outbreak of the French war.
There may have been a regular trading post at Milwaukee
in this period, but the first trader recorded is not until 1762. 5
Doubtless wintering posts existed at other points in Wis
The characteristic feature of French occupancy of the
Northwest was the trading post, and in illustration of it, and
of the centralized administration of the French, the following
account of De liepentigny s fort at Sault Ste. Marie (Mich
igan) is given in the words of Governor La Jonquiere to the
minister for the colonies in 1751 : 6
" fie arrived too late last year at the Sault Ste. Marie to
fortify himself well ; however, he secured himself in a sort of
fort large enough to receive the traders of Missilimakinac
.... He employed his hired men during the whole winter
in cutting 1100 pickets of fifteen feet for his fort, with the
doublings, and the timber necessary for the construction of
three houses, one of them thirty feet long by twenty wide,
and two others twenty-five feet long and the same width as the
1 Fergus, Historical Series, No. 12 ; Breese, Early History of Illinois ;
Dunn, Indiana; Hubbard, Memorials of a Half Century ; Monette, His
tory of the Valley of the Mississippi, I., ch. iv.
2 Henry, Travels, ch. x.
3 See Memoir in Wis. Hist. Colls., VII. ; III., 224 ; VII., 127, 152, 166.
4 Henry, Travels.
s Wis. Hist. Colls., I., 35.
( Minn. Hist. Colls., V., 435-6.
40 The Indian Trade in Wisconsin. [580
first. His fort is entirely furnished with the exception of a
redoubt of oak, which he is to have made twelve feet square,
and which shall reach the same distance above the gate of
the fort. His fort is 110 feet square.
"As for the cultivation of the lands, the Sieur de Repen-
tigny has a bull, two bullocks, three cows, two heifers, one
horse and a mare from Missilimakinac He has en
gaged a Frenchman who married at Sault Ste. Marie an
Indian woman to take a farm; they have cleared it and
sowed it, and without a frost they will gather 30 to 35 sacks
of corn. The said Sieur de Repentigny so much feels it his
duty to devote himself to the cultivation of these lands that
he has already entered into a bargain for two slaves 1 whom he
will employ to take care of the corn 2 that he will gather upon
these lands. "
THE TRADERS STRUGGLE TO RETAIN THEIR TRADE.
While they had been securing the trade of the far North
west and the Illinois country, the French had allowed the
English to gain the trade of the upper Ohio, 3 and were now
brought face to face with the danger of losing the entire
Northwest, and thus the connection of Canada and Louisiana.
The commandants of the western posts were financially as
well as patriotically interested. In 1754, Green Bay, then
garrisoned by an officer, a sergeant and four soldiers, re
quired for the Indian trade of its department thirteen canoes
of goods annually, costing about 7000 livres each, making a
Indians. Compare Wis. Hist. Colls., III., 256; VII., 158, 117, 179.
2 The French minister for the colonies expressing approval of this post,
writes in 1752 : "As it can hardly be expected that any other grain than
corn will grow there, it is necessary at least for a while to stick to it, and
not to persevere stubbornly in trying to raise wheat." On this Dr. E. D.
Neill comments : " Millions of bushels of wheat from the region west and
north of Lake Superior pass every year .... through the ship canal at
Sault Ste. Marie." The corn was for supplying the voyageurs.
3 Margry, VI.,758.
581] The Traders Struggle to retain their Trade. 41
total of nearly $18, 000. * Bougainville asserts that Marin,
the commandant of the department of the Bay, was associated
in trade with the governor and intendant, and that his part
netted him annually 15,000 francs.
When it became necessary for the French to open hostili
ties with the English traders in the Ohio country, it was the
Wisconsin trader, Charles de Langlade, with his Chippeway
Indians, who in 1752 fell upon the English trading post at
Pickawillany and destroyed the center of English trade in
the Ohio region. 3 The leaders in the opening of the war that
ensued were Northwestern traders. St. Pierre, who com
manded at Fort Le Boeuf when Washington appeared with
his demands from the Governor of Virginia that the French
should evacuate the Ohio country, had formerly been the
trader in command at Lake Pepin on the upper Mississippi: 1
Coulon de Villiers, who captured Washington at Fort
Necessity, was the son of the former commandant at Green
Bay. 4 Beaujeau, who led the French troops to the defeat
of Braddcck, had been an officer in the Fox wars. 5 It
was Charles de Langlade who commanded the Indians and
was chiefly responsible for the success of the ambuscade. 6
Wisconsin Indians, representing almost all the tribes, took
part with the French in the war. 7 Traders passed to and
from their business to the battlefields of the East. For
example, De Repentigny, whose post at Sault Ste. Marie has
been described, was at Michillimackinacin January, 1755, took
part in the battle of Lake George in the fall of that year,
Canadian Archives, 1886, clxxii.
2 Parkman, Montcalm and Wolfe, I., 84.
3 Minn. Hist. Colls., V., 433. Washington was guided to the fort along
an old trading route by traders ; the trail was improved by the Ohio Com
pany, and was used by Braddock in his march (Sparks, Washington s
Works, II., 302).
4 Wis. Hist. Colls., V., 117.
5 Ibid., 115.
6 Parkman, Montcalm and Wolfe, II., 425-6. He was promineutif
engaged in other battles ; see Wis. Hist. Colls., VII., 123-187.
7 Wis. Hist. Colls., V., 117,
42 The, Indian Trade in Wisconsin. [582
formed a partnership to continue the trade with a trader of
Michillimackinac in 1756, was at that place in 1758, and in
1759 fought with Montcalm on the heights of Abraham. 1 It
was not without a struggle that the traders yielded their
THE ENGLISH AND THE NOKTHWEST. INFLUENCE OF THE
INDIAN TRADE ON DIPLOMACY.
In the meantime what was the attitude of the English
toward the Northwest? In 1720 Governor Spotswood of
Virginia wrote r "The danger which threatens these, his
Maj ty s Plantations, from this new Settlement is also very
considerable, for by the communication which the French
may maintain between Canada and Mississippi by the con-
veniency of the Lakes, they do in a manner surround all the
British Plantations. They have it in their power by these
Lakes and the many Rivers running into them and into the
Mississippi to engross all the Trade of the Indian Nations
w ch are now supplied from hence."
Cadwallader Golden, Surveyor-General of New York, says
in 1724: "New France (as the French now claim) extends
from the mouth of the Mississippi to the mouth of the River
St. Lawrence, by which the French plainly shew their inten
tion of enclosing the British Settlements and cutting us off
from all Commerce with the numerous Nations of Indians
that are everywhere settled over the vast continent of North
America." 3 As time passed, as population increased, and as
the reports of the traders extolled the fertility of the country,
both the English and the French, but particularly the Ameri
cans, began to consider it from the standpoint of coloniza-
1 Neill, in Mag. West. Hist., VII., 17, and Minn. Hist. Colls., V., 434-
436. For other examples see Wis. Hist. Colls., V., 113-118 ; Minn. Hist.
Colls., V., 430-1.
2 Va. Hist. Colls., N. S., II., 329.
3 N. Y. Col. Docs., V., 726.
583] The English and the Northwest. 43
tion as well as from that of the fur trade. 1 The Ohio
Company had both settlement and the fur trade in mind, 2
and the French Governor, Galissoniere, at the same period
urged that France ought to plant a colony in the Ohio region. 3
After the conquest of New France by England there was still
the question whether she should keep Canada and the North
west. 4 Franklin, urging her to do so, offered as one argu
ment the value of the fur trade, intrinsically and as a means
of holding the Indians in check. Discussing the question
whether the interior regions of America would ever be
accessible to English settlement and so to English manufac
tures, he pointed out the vastness of our river and lake
system, and the fact that Indian trade already permeated the
interior. In interesting comparison he called their attention
to the fact that English commerce reached along river sys
tems into the remote parts of Europe, and that in ancient times
the Levant had carried on a trade with the distant interior. 5
That the value of the fur trade was an important element
in inducing the English to retain Canada is shown by the fact
that Great Britain no sooner came into the possession of the
country than she availed herself of the fields for which she
had so long intrigued. Among the western posts she occu
pied Green Bay, and with the garrison came traders; 6 but
the fort was abandoned on the outbreak of Pontiac s war. 7
This war was due to the revolt of the Indians of the North
west against the transfer of authority, and was fostered by
1 Indian relations had a noteworthy influence upon colonial union ;
see Lucas, Appendiculae Historicae, 161, and Frothing ham, Rise of the
Republic, ch. iv.
2 Parkman, Montcalm and Wolfe, I., 59 ; Sparks, Washington s Works,
:: Parkman, Montcalm and Wolfe, I., 21.
*lbid. II., 403.
3 Bigelow, Franklin s Works, III., 43, 83, 98-100.
6 Wis. Hist. Colls., L, 26-38.
7 Parkman, Pontiac, I., 185. Consult N. Y. Col. Docs., VI., 635, 690,
788, 872, 974.
44 The Indian Trade in Wisconsin. [584
the French traders. 1 It concerned Wisconsin but slightly,
and at its close we find Green Bay a little trading community
along the Fox, where a few families lived comfortably 3 under
the quasi-patriarchal rule of Langlade." In 1765 trade was
re-established at Chequamegon Bay by an English trader
named Henry, and here he found the Chippeways dressed in
deerskins, the wars having deprived them of a trader. 4
As early as 1766 some Scotch merchants more extensively
reopened the fur trade, using Michillimackinac as the basis of
their operations and employing French voyageurs. 5 By the
proclamation of the King in 1763 the Northwest was left
without political organization, it being reserved as crown
lands and exempt from purchase or settlement, the design
being to give up to the Indian trade all the lands " westward
of the sources of the rivers which fall into the sea from the
West and Northwest as aforesaid." In a report of the Lords
Commissioners for Trade and Plantations in 1772 we find
the attitude of the English government clearly set forth in
these words : 6
" The great object of colonization upon the continent of
North America has been to improve and extend the com
merce and manufactures of this kingdom ... It does
appear to us that the extension of the fur trade depends
entirely upon the Indians being undisturbed in the posses
sion of their hunting grounds, and that all colonization does
in its naturejandjmust in its consequence operate to the preju-
dice of that branch of commerce . . . Let the savages enjoy
their deserts in quiet. Were they driven from their forests
the peltry trade would decrease."
In a word, the English government attempted to adopt the
Wis. Hist. Colls., I., 26.
2 Carver, Travels.
3 Porlier Papers, Wis. Fur Trade MSS., in possession of Wis. Hist.
Soc.; also Wis. Hist. Colls., III., 200-201.
4 IIenry, Travels.
5 Canadian Archives, 1888, p. 61 ff.
Sparks, Franklin s Works, IV., 303-323.
585] The English and the Northwest. 45
western policy of the French. From one point of view it
was a successful policy. The French traders took service
under the English, and in the Revolutionary war Charles de
Langlade led the Wisconsin Indians to the aid of Hamilton
against George Rogers Clark, 1 as he had before against the
British, and in the War of 1812 the British trader Robert
Dickson repeated this movement. 2 As in the days of Begon,
"the savages took the part of those with whom they traded."
The secret proposition of Vergennes, in the negotiations pre
ceding the treaty of 1 783, to limit the United States by the Alle-
ghanies and to give the Northwest to England, while reserving
the rest of the region between the mountains and the Missis
sippi as Indian territory under Spanish protection, 3 would have
given the fur trade to these nations. 4 In the extensive discus
sions over the diplomacy whereby the Northwest was included
within the limits of the United States, it has been asserted that
we won our case by the chartered claims of the colonies and
by George Rogers Clark s conquest of the Illinois country.
It appears, however, that in fact Franklin, who had been
a prominent member and champion of the Ohio Company,
and who knew the West from personal acquaintance, had
persuaded Shelburne to cede it to us as a part of a liberal
peace that should effect a reconciliation between the two coun
tries. Shelburne himself looked upon the region from the
point of view of the fur trade simply, and was more willing
to make this concession than he was some others. In the
discussion over the treaty in Parliament in 1783, the North
western boundary was treated almost solely from the point
of view of the fur trade and of the desertion of the
Indians. The question was one of profit and loss in this
Wis. Hist. Colls., XL
3 Jay, Address before the N. Y. Hist. Soc. on the Treaty Negotiations
of 1782-3, appendix ; map in Narr. and Grit. Hist. Amer., VII., 148.
4 But Vergennes had a just appreciation of the value of the region for
settlement as well. He recognized and feared the American capacity for
46 The Indian Trade in Wisconsin. [586
traffic. One member attacked Shelburne on the ground that,
"not thinking the naked independence a sufficient proof
of his liberality to the United States, he had clothed it with
the warm covering of our fur trade." Shelburne defended
his cession " on the fair rule of the value of the district
ceded/ 71 and comparing exports and imports and the cost of
administration, he concluded that the fur trade of the North
west was not of sufficient value to warrant continuing the
war. The most valuable trade, he argued, was north of the
line, and the treaty merely applied sound economic princi
ples and gave America " a share in the trade." The reten
tion of her Northwestern posts by Great Britain at the close
of the war, in contravention of the treaty, has an obvious
relation to the fur trade. In his negotiations with Hammond,
the British ambassador in 1791, Secretary of State Jefferson
said : " By these proceedings we have been intercepted
entirely from the commerce of furs with the Indian nations
to the northward a commerce which had ever been of great
importance to the United States, not only for its intrinsic
value, but as it was the means of cherishing peace with these
Indians, and of superseding the necessity of that expensive
warfare which w r e have been obliged to carry on with them
during the time that these posts have been in other hands."-
In discussing the evacuation of the posts in 1794 Jay was
met by a demand that complete freedom of the Northwestern
Indian trade should be granted to British subjects. It was
furthermore proposed by Lord Grenville 3 that, " Whereas it
is now understood that the river Mississippi would at no
point thereof be intersected by such westward line as is
described in the said treaty  ; and whereas it was
stipulated in the said treaty that the navigation of the
Mississippi should be free to both parties " one of two new
1 Hansard, XXIII. , 377-8, 381-3, 389, 398-9, 405, 409-10, 423, 450,
2 American State Papers, Foreign Relations, I., 190.
3 Ibid. 487.
587] The English and the Northwest. 47
propositions should be accepted regarding the northwestern
boundary. The maps in American State Papers, Foreign
Relations, I., 492, show that both these proposals extended
Great Britain s territory so as to embrace the Grand Portage
and the lake region of northern Minnesota, one of the best
of the Northwest Company s fur-trading regions south of the
line, and in connection by the Red river with the Cana
dian river systems. 1 They were rejected by Jay. Secretary
Randolph urged him to hasten the removal of the British,
stating that the delay asked for, to allow the traders to
collect their Indian debts, etc., would have a bad effect upon
the Indians, and protesting that free communication for the
British would strike deep into our Indian trader The
definitive treaty included the following provisions : :i The
posts were to be evacuated before June 1, 1796. " All
settlers and traders, within the precincts or jurisdiction of
the said posts, shall continue to enjoy, unmolested, all their
property of every kind, and shall be protected therein.
They shall be at full liberty to remain there, or to remove
with all or any part of their effects ; and it shall also be free
to them to sell their lands, houses, or effects, or to retain the
property thereof, at their discretion ; such of them as shall
continue to reside within the said boundary lines shall not be
compelled to become citizens of the United States, or to take
any oath of allegiance to the government thereof; but they
shall be at full liberty to do so if they think proper, and they
shall make and declare their election within one year after
the evacuation aforesaid. And all persons who shall con
tinue there after the expiration of the said year without
1 As early as 1794 the company had established a stockaded fort at
Sandy lake. After Jay s treaty conceding freedom of entry, the company
dotted this region with posts and raised the British flag over them. In
1805 the center of trade was changed from Grand Portage to Fort
William Henry, on the Canada side. Neill, Minnesota, 239 (4th edn.).
Bancroft, Northwest Coast, I., 560. Vide ante, p. 20, and post, p. 55.
8 Amer. State Papers, For. Rels., I., p. 509.
3 Treaties and Conventions, etc., 1776-1887, p. 380.
48 The Indian Trade in Wisconsin. [588
having declared their intention of remaining subjects of his
British Majesty shall be considered as having elected to
become citizens of the United States. 77 " It is agreed that it
shall at all times be free to His Majesty s subjects, and to
the Indians dwelling on either side of the said boundary
line, freely to pass and repass by land or inland navigation
into the respective territories and countries of the two
parties on the continent of America (the country within the
limits of the Hudson s Bay Company only excepted), and to
navigate all the lakes, rivers and waters thereof, and freely
to carry on trade and commerce with each other."
In his elaborate defence of Jay s treaty, Alexander Hamil
ton paid much attention to the question of the fur trade.
Defending Jay for permitting so long a delay in evacuation
and for granting right of entry into our fields, he minimized
the value of the trade. So far from being worth $800,000
annually, he asserted the trade within our limits would not
be worth $100,000, seven-eighths of the traffic being north
of the line. This estimate of the value of the northwestern
trade was too low. In the course of his paper he made this
observation r 1
" In proportion as the article is viewed on an enlarged
plan and permanent scale, its importance to us magnifies.
Who can say how far British colonization may spread south
ward and down the west side of the Mississippi, northward
and westward into the vast interior regions towards the
Pacific ocean ? .... In this large view of the subject, the
fur trade, which has made a very prominent figure in the
discussion, becomes a point scarcely visible. Objects of
great variety and magnitude start up in perspective, eclipsing
the little atoms of the day, and promising to grow and
mature with time."
Such was not the attitude of Great Britain. To her the
Northwest was desirable on account of its Indian commerce.
By a statement of the Province of Upper Canada, sent with
1 Lodge, Hamilton s Works, IV., 514.
589] The English and the Northwest. 49
the approbation of Lieutenant-General Hunter to the Duke
of Kent, Commander-in-Chief of British North America, in
the year 1800, we are enabled to see the situation through
Canadian eyes : l
" The Indians, who had loudly and Justly complained of
a treaty  in which they were sacrificed by a cession of
their country contrary to repeated promises, were with diffi
culty appeased, however finding the Posts retained and some
Assurances given they ceased to murmur and resolved to
defend their country extending from the Ohio Northward to
the Great Lakes and westward to the Mississippi, an immense
tract, in which they found the deer, the bear, the wild wolf,
game of all sorts in profusion. They employed the Tomahawk
and Scalping Knife against such deluded settlers who on the
faith of the treaty to which they did not consent, ventured
to cross the Ohio, secretly encouraged by the Agents of Gov
ernment, supplied with Arms, Ammunition, and provisions
they maintained an obstinate & destructive war against the
States, cut off two Corps sent against them The
American Government, discouraged by these disasters were
desirous of peace on any terms, their deputies were sent to
Detroit, they offered to confine their Pretensions within cer
tain limits far South of the Lakes, if this offer had been
accepted the Indian Country would have been for ages an
impassible Barrier between us. twas unfortunately perhaps
wantonly rejected, and the war continued."
Acting under the privileges accorded to them by Jay s
treaty, the British traders were in almost as complete posses
sion of Wisconsin until after the war of 1812 as if Great
Britain still owned it. When the war broke out the keys
of the region, Detroit and Michillimackinac, fell into the
British hands. Green Bay and Prairie du Chien were
settlements of French-British traders and voyageurs. Their
leader was Robert Dickson, who had traded at the latter
settlement. Writing in 1814 from his camp at Winnebago
Michigan Pioneer Colls., XV., 8 ; cf. 10, 12, 23, and XVI., 67.
50 The Indian Trade in Wisconsin. [590
Lake, he says : " I think that Bony [Bonaparte] must be
knocked up as all Europe are now in Arms. The crisis
is not far off when I trust in God that the Tyrant will
be humbled, & the Scoundrel American Democrats be
obliged to go down on their knees to Britain." 1 Under
him most of the Wisconsin traders of importance re
ceived British commissions. In the spring of 1814 the
Americans took Prairie du Chien, at the mouth of the Wis
consin river, whereupon Col. M Douall, the British com
mandant at Michillimackinac, wrote to General Drummond : 2
. . . " I saw at once the imperious necessity which existed of
endeavoring by every means to dislodge the American Genl
from his new conquest, and make him relinquish the immense
tract of country he had seized upon in consequence & which
brought him into the very heart of that occupied by our
friendly Indians, There was no alternative it must either be
done or there was an end to our connection with the Indians
for if allowed to settle themselves by dint of threats bribes
& sowing divisions among them, tribe after tribe would be
gained over or subdued, & thus would be destroyed the only
barrier which protects the great trading establishments of the
North West and the Hudson s Bay Companys. Nothing
could then prevent the enemy from gaining the source of the
Mississippi, gradually extending themselves by the Red river
to Lake Wirmipic, from whense the descent of Nelsons river
to York Fort would in time be easy."
The British traders, voyageurs and Indians 3 dislodged the
Americans, and at the close of the war England was practi
cally in possession of the Indian country of the Northwest.
In the negotiations at Ghent the British commissioners
asserted the sovereignty of the Indians over their lands, and
their independence in relation to the United States, and
1 Wis. Fur Trade MSS., 1814 (State Hist. Soc.).
2 Wis. Hist. Colls., XL, 260. Mich. Pioneer Colls., XVI. . 103-104.
2 Wis. Hist. Colls., XL, 255. Cf. Mich. Pioneer Colls., XVI., 67.
Rolette, one of the Prairie du Chien traders, was tried by the British
for treason to Great Britain.
591] The Northwest Company. 51
demanded that a barrier of Indian territory should be estab
lished between the two countries, free to the traffic of both
nations but not open to purchase by either. 1 The line of the
Grenville treaty was suggested as a basis for determining
this Indian region. The proposition would have removed
from the sovereignty of the United States the territory of the
Northwest with the exception of about two-thirds of Ohio, 2
and given it over to the British fur traders. The Americans
declined to grant the terms, and the United States was finally
left in possession of the Northwest.
THE NORTHWEST COMPANY.
The most striking feature of the English period was the
Northwest Company. 8 From a study of it one may learn the
character of the English occupation of the Northwest. 4 It
was formed in 1783 and fully organized in 1787, with the
design of contesting the field with the Hudson Bay Company.
Goods were brought from England to Montreal, the head
quarters of the company, and thence from the four emporiums,
Detroit, Mackinaw, Sault Ste. Marie, and Grand Portage,
they were scattered through the great Northwest, even to the
Toward the end of the eighteenth century ships 5 began to
take part in this commerce ; a portion of the goods was sent
1 Araer. State Papers, For. Rels., III., 705.
2 Amer. State Papers, Ind. Affs., I., 562. See map in Collet s Travels,
3 On this company see Mackenzie, Voyages; Bancroft, Northwest
Coast, L, 378-616, and citations; Hunt s Merch. Mag., III., 185; Irving,
Astoria; Ross, The Fur Hunters of the Far West; Harmon, Journal ;
Report on the Canadian Archives, 1881, p. 61 et seq. This fur-trading
life still goes on in the more remote regions of British America. See
Robinson, Great Fur Land, ch. xv.
4 Wis. Hist. Colls., XI., 123-5.
5 Mackenzie, Voyages, xxxix. Harmon, Journal, 36. In the fall of
1784, Haldimand granted permission to the Northwest Company to build
a small vessel at Detroit, to be employed next year on Lake Superior.
Calendar of Canadian Archives, 1888, p. 72.
52 The Indian Trade in Wisconsin. [592
from Montreal in boats to Kingston, thence in vessels to
Niagara, thence overland to Lake Erie, to be reshipped in
vessels to Mackinaw and to Sault Ste. Marie, where another
transfer was made to a Lake Superior vessel. These ships
were of about ninety-five tons burden and made four or five
trips a season. But in the year 1800 the primitive mode of
trade was not materially changed. From the traffic along
the main artery of commerce between Grand Portage and
Montreal may be learned the kind of trade that flowed along
such branches as that between the island of Mackinaw and
the Wisconsin posts. The visitor at La Chine rapids, near
Montreal, might have seen a squadron of Northwestern trad
ing canoes leaving for the Grand Portage, at the west of
Lake Superior. 1
The boatmen, or "engage s," having spent their season s
gains in carousal, packed their blanket capotes and were
ready for the wilderness again. They made a picturesque
crew in their gaudy turbans, or hats adorned with plumes
and tinsel, their brilliant handkerchiefs tied sailor-fashion
about swarthy necks, their calico shirts, and their flaming
worsted belts, which served to hold the knife and the tobacco
pouch. Rough trousers, leggings, and cowhide shoes or
gaily-worked moccasins completed the costume. The trad
ing birch canoe measured forty feet in length, with a depth
of three and a width of five. It floated four tons of freight,
and yet could be carried by four men over difficult portages.
Its crew of eight men was engaged at a salary 2 of from five to
1 Besides the authorities cited above, see "Anderson s Narrative," in
Wis. Hist. Colls., IX., 137-206.
2 An estimate of the cost of an expedition in 1717 is given in Margry,
VI. , 506. At that time the wages of a good voyageur for a year amounted
to about $50. Provisions for the two months trip from Montreal to
Mackinaw cost about $1.00 per month per man. Indian corn for a year
cost $16 ; lard, $10 ; eau de vie, $1.30 ; tobacco, 25 cents. It cost, there
fore, less than $80 to support a voyageur for one year s trip into the woods.
Gov. Ninian Edwards, writing at the time of the American Fur Company
(post, p. 57), says: "The whole expense of transporting eight thousand
weight of goods from Montreal to the Mississippi, wintering with the
593] The Northwest Company. 53
eight hundred livres, about $100 to $160 per annum, each,
with a yearly outfit of coarse clothing and a daily food allow
ance of a quart of hulled corn, or peas, seasoned with two
ounces of tallow.
The experienced voyageurs who spent the winters in the
woods were called hivernans, or winterers, or sometimes
homines du nord; while the inexperienced, those who simply
made the trip from Montreal to the outlying depots and
return, were contemptuously dubbed mangeurs de lard, 1
Indians, and returning with a load of furs and peltries in the succeeding
season, including the cost of provisions and portages and the hire of five
engages for the whole time does not exceed five hundred and twenty-five
dollars, much of which is usually paid to those engages when in the Indian
country, in goods at an exorbitant price." American State Papers,
This distinction goes back at least to 1681 (N. Y. Col. Docs., IX.,
152). Often the engagement was for five years, and the voyageur might
be transferred from one master to another, at the master s will.
The following is a translation of a typical printed engagement, one
of scores in the possession of the Wisconsin Historical Society, the written
portions in brackets:
" Before a Notary residing at the post of Michilimakinac, Undersigned ;
Was Present [Joseph Lamarqueritte] who has voluntarily engaged and
doth bind himself by these Presents to M[onsieur Louis Grignion] here
present and accepting, at [his] first requisition to set off from this Post [in
the capacity of Winterer] in one of [his] Canoes or Bateaux to make the
Voyage [going as well as returning] and to winter for [two years at the
" And to have due and fitting care on the route and while at the said
[place] of the Merchandise, Provisions, Peltries, Utensils and of every
thing necessary for the Voyage ; to serve, obey and execute faithfully all
that the said Sieur [Bourgeois] or any other person representing him to
whom he may transport the present Engagement, commands him law
fully and honestly ; to do [his] profit, to avoid anything to his damage,
and to inform him of it if it come to his knowledge, and generally to do
all that a good [Winterer] ought and is obliged to do ; without power to
make any particular trade, to absent himself, or to quit the said service,
under pain of these Ordinances, and of loss of wages. This engagement
is therefore made, for the sum of [Eight Hundred] livres or shillings,
ancient currency of Quebec, that he promises [and] binds himself to
deliver and pay to the said [Winterer one month] after his return to this
Post, and at his departure [an Equipment each year of 2 Shirts, 1 Blanket
54 The Indian Trade in, Wisconsin. [594
"pork-eaters," because their pampered appetites demanded
peas and pork rather than hulled corn and tallow. Two of
the crew, one at the bow and the other at the stern, being
especially skilled in the craft of handling the paddle in the
rapids, received higher wages than the rest. Into the canoe
was first placed the heavy freight, shot, axes, powder ; next
the dry goods, and, crowning all, filling the canoe to over
flowing, came the provisions pork, peas or corn, and sea
biscuits, sewed in canvas sacks.
The lading completed, the voyageur hung his votive offer
ings in the chapel of Sajnt Anne, patron saint of voyageur s,
the paddles struck the waters of the St. Lawrence, and the
fleet of canoes glided away on its six weeks journey to Grand
Portage. There was the Ottawa to be ascended, the rapids
to be run, the portages where the canoe must be emptied and
where each voyageur must bear his two packs of ninety
pounds apiece, and there were the decharges, where the canoe
was merely lightened and where the voyageurs, now on the
land, now into the rushing waters, dragged it forward till
the rapids were passed. There was no stopping to dry, but
on, until the time for the hasty meal, or the evening camp-
fire underneath the pines. Every two miles there was a stop
for a three minutes smoke, or " pipe/ and when a portage
was made it was reckoned in " pauses," by which is meant
of 3 point, 1 Carot of Tobacco, 1 Cloth Blanket, I Leather Shirt, 1 Pair
of Leather Breeches, 5 Pairs of Leather Shoes, and Six Pounds of Soap.]
" For thus, etc., promising, etc., binding, etc., renouncing, etc.
" Done and passed at the said [Michilimackinac] in the year eighteen
hundred [Seven] the [twenty-fourth] of [July before] twelve o clock ; &
have signed with the exception of the said [Winterer] who, having
declared himself unable to do so, has made his ordinary mark after the
engagement was read to him.
"JOSEPH X LAMARQUERITTE. [SEAL]
" SAM L . ABBOTT, Louis GBIGNON. [SEAL]
Endorsed" Engagement of Joseph Larnarqueritte toXiouis Grignon."
595] The Northwest Company. 55
the number of times the men must stop to rest. Whenever
a burial cross appeared, or a stream was left or entered, the
voyageurs removed their hats, and made the sign of the cross
while one of their number said a short prayer; and again the
paddles beat time to some rollicking song. 1
Dans mon chemin, j ai rencontre
Trois cavalieres, bien montees ;
L on, Ion, laridon daine,
Lon, ton, laridon dai.
Trois cavalieres, bien montees,
L un a cheval, et 1 autre a pied ;
L on, Ion, laridon daine,
Lon, ton, laridon dai.
Arrived at Sault Ste. Marie, the fleet was often doubled
by newcomers, so that sometimes sixty canoes swept their
way along the north shore, the paddles marking sixty strokes
a minute, while the rocks gave back the echoes of Canadian
songs rolling out from five hundred lusty throats. And so
they drew up at Grand Portage, near the present northeast
boundary of Minnesota, now a sleepy, squalid little village,
but then the general rendezvous where sometimes over a
thousand men met ; for, at this time, the company had fifty
clerks, seventy interpreters, eighteen hundred and twenty
canoe-men, and thirty-five guides. It sent annually to
Montreal 106,000 beaver-skins, to say nothing of other pel
tries. When the proprietors from Montreal met the pro
prietors from the northern posts, and with their clerks
gathered at the banquet in their large log hall to the number
of a hundred, the walls hung with spoils of the chase, the
rough tables furnished with abundance of venison, fish,
bread, salt pork, butter, peas, corn, potatoes, tea, milk, wine
and eau de vie, while, outside, the motley crowd of engages
feasted on hulled corn and melted fat was it not a truly
^or Canadian boat-songs see Hunt s Merch. Mag., III., 189; Mrs.
Kinzie, Wau Bun ; Bela Hubbard, Memorials of a Half-Century ; Rob
inson, Great Fur Land.
56 The Indian Trade in Wisconsin. [596
baronial scene ? Clerks and engages of this company, or its
rival, the Hudson Bay Company, might winter one season in
Wisconsin and the next in the remote north. For example,
Amable Grignon, a Green Bay trader, wintered in 1818 at
Lac qui Parle in Minnesota, the next year at Lake Atha
basca, and the third in the hyperborean regions of Great
Slave Lake. In his engagement he figures as Amable Grig
non, of the Parish of Green Bay, Upper Canada, and he
receives $400 " and found in tobacco and shoes and two
doges," besides " the usual equipment given to clerks." He
afterwards returned to a post on the Wisconsin river. The
attitude of Wisconsin traders toward the Canadian authorities
and the Northwestern wilds is clearly shown in this docu
ment, which brings into a line Upper Canada, " the parish
of Green Bay," and the Hudson Bay Company s territories
about Great Slave Lake ! l
How widespread and how strong was the influence of these
traders upon the savages may be easily imagined, and this
commercial control was strengthened by the annual presents
made to the Indians by the British at their posts. At a time
when our relations with Great Britain were growing strained,
such a power in the Northw r est was a serious menace. 2 In
1809 John Jacob Astor secured a charter from the State of
New York, incorporating the American Fur Company. He
proposed to consolidate the fur trade of the United States,
plant an establishment in the contested Oregon territory, and
link it with Michillimackinac (Mackinaw island) by way
of the Missouri through a series of trading posts. In 1810
two expeditions of his Pacific Fur Company set out for the
Columbia, the one around Cape Horn and the other by way
1 Wis. Fur Trade MSS. ( Wis. Hist. Soc.). Published in Proceedings of
the Thirty-Sixth Annual Meeting of the State Hist. Soc. of Wis. 1889,
2 See Mich. Pioneer Colls., XV., XVI., 67, 74. The government con
sulted the Northwest Company, who made particular efforts to "prevent
the Americans from ever alienating the minds of the Indians." To this
end they drew up memoirs regarding the proper frontiers.
597] American Influences. 57
of Green bay and the Missouri. In 1811 he bought a half
interest in the Mackinaw Company, a rival of the Northwest
Company and the one that had especial power in Wisconsin
and Minnesota, and this new organization he called the
Southwest Company. But the war of 1812 came; Astoria,
the Pacific post, fell into the hands of the Northwest Com
pany, while the Southwest Company s trade was ruined.
Although the Green Bay court of justice, such as it was,
had been administered under American commissions since
1803, when Reaurne dispensed a rude equity under a com
mission of Justice of the Peace from Governor Harrison, 1
neither Green Bay nor the rest of Wisconsin had any proper
appreciation of its American connections until the close of
this war. But now occurred these significant events :
1. A stores company was reorganized as the American Fur
Company, with headquarters at Mackinaw island. 2
2. The United States enacted in 1816 that neither foreign
fur traders, nor capital for that trade, should be admitted to
this country. 3 This was designed to terminate English
influence among the tribes, and it fostered Astor s company.
The law was so interpreted as not to exclude British (that is
generally, French) interpreters and boatmen, who were essen
tial to the company ; but this interpretation enabled British
subjects to evade the law and trade on their own account
by having their invoices made out to some Yankee clerk,
w r hile they accompanied the clerk in the guise of inter-
1 Reaume s petition in Wis. Fur Trade MSS. in possession of Wisconsin
-On this company consult Irving, Astoria; Bancroft, Northwest
Coast, L, ch. xvi. ; II., chs. vii-x ; Mag. Amer. Hist. XIII. , 269 ; Fran-
chere, Narrative ; Ross, Adventures of the First Settlers on the Oregon,
or Columbia River (1849) ; Wis. Fur Trade MSS. (State Hist. Soc.).
3 U. S. Statutes at Large, III., 332. Cf. laws in 1802 and 1822.
58 The Indian Trade in Wisconsin. [598
preters. 1 In this way a number of Yankees came to the
3. In the year 1816 United States garrisons were sent to
Green Bay and Prairie du Chien. 2
4. In 1814 the United States provided for locating govern
ment trading posts at these two places.
GOVERNMENT TRADING HOUSES.
The system of public trading houses goes back to colonial
days. At first in Plymouth and Jamestown all industry was
controlled by the commonwealth, and in Massachusetts Bay
the stock company had reserved the trade in furs for them
selves before leaving England. 3 The trade was frequently
farmed out, but public "truck houses "were established by
the latter colony as early as 1694-5. 4 Franklin, in his pub
lic dealings with the Ohio Indians, saw the importance of
regulation of the trade, and in 1753 he wrote asking James
Bowdoin of Massachusetts to procure him a copy of the
truckhouse law of that colony, saying that if it had proved
to work well he thought of proposing it for Pennsylvania.
The reply of Bowdoin showed that Massachusetts furnished
goods to the Indians at wholesale prices and so drove out
the French and the private traders. In 1757 Virginia
J Wis. Hist. Colls., I., 103; Minn. Hist. Colls., V., 9. The Warren
brothers, who came to Wisconsin in 1818, were descendants of the Pil
grims and related to Joseph Warren who fell at Bunker Hill ; they
came from Berkshire, Mass., and marrying the half-breed daughters of
Michael Cadotte, of La Pointe, succeeded to his trade.
2 See the objections of British traders, Mich. Pioneer Colls., XVI., 76 ff.
The Northwest Company tried to induce the British government to
construe the treaty so as to prevent the United States from erecting the
forts, urging that a fort .it Prairie du Chien would " deprive the Indians
of their rights and privileges ", guaranteed by the treaty.
s Mass. Coll. Recs., I., 55 ; III., 424.
4 Acts and Resolves of the Prov. of Mass. Bay, I., 172.
5 Bigelow, Franklin s Works, II., 316, 221. A plan for public trading
houses came before the British ministry while Franklin was in England,
and was commented upon by him for their benefit.
599] Government Trading Houses. 59
adopted the system for a time, 1 and in 1776 the Continental
Congress accepted a plan presented by a committee of which
Franklin was a member, 2 whereby .140,000 sterling was
expended at the charge of the United Colonies for Indian
goods to be sold at moderate prices by factors of the con
gressional commissioners. 3 The bearing of this act upon
the governmental powers of the Congress is worth noting.
In his messages of 1791 and 1792 President Washington
urged the need of promoting and regulating commerce with
the Indians, and in 1793 he advocated government trading
houses. Pickering, of Massachusetts, who was his Secretary
of War with the management of Indian affairs, may have
strengthened Washington in this design, for he was much in
terested in Indian improvement, but Washington s own expe
rience had shown him the desirability of some such plan, and
he had written to this effect as early as 1783. 4 The objects
of Congressional policy in dealing with the Indians were
stated by speakers in 1794 as follows : 5 1. Protection of the
frontiersmen from the Indians, by means of the army. 2.
Protection of the Indians from the frontiersmen, by laws
regulating settlement. 3. Detachment of the Indians from
foreign influence, by trading houses where goods could
be got cheaply. In .1795 a small appropriation was made
for trying the experiment of public trading houses, 6 and in
1796, the same year that the British evacuated the posts, the
law which established the system was passed. 7 It was to be
temporary, but by re-enactments with alterations it was pro
longed until 1822, new posts being added from time to time.
In substance the laws provided a certain capital for the
Indian trade, the goods to be sold by salaried United States
, Statutes, VII., 116.
2 Journals of Congress, 1775, pp. 162, 168, 247.
z lUd., 1776, p. 41.
4 Ford s Washington s Writings, X.. 309.
Annals of Cong., IV., 1373 ; cf. ibid., V., 231.
6 Amer. State Papers, Ind. Affs., I., 583.
7 Annals of Cong., VI., 2889.
60 The Indian Trade in Wisconsin. [600
factors, at posts in the Indian country, at such rates as would
protect the savage from the extortions of the individual trader,
whose actions sometimes provoked hostilities, and would
supplant British influence over the Indian. At the same
time it was required that the capital stock should not be
diminished. In the course of the debate over the law in
1796 considerable laissez faire sentiment was called out against
the government s becoming a trader, notwithstanding that
the purpose of the bill was benevolence and political advan
tage rather than financial gain. 1 President Jefferson and
Secretary Calhoun were friends of the system. 2 It was a
failure, however, and under the attacks of Senator Benton,
the Indian agents and the American Fur Company, it was
brought to an end in 1822. The causes of its failure were
chiefly these : : The private trader went to the hunting grounds
of the savages, while the government s posts were fixed.
The private traders gave credit to the Indians, which the
government did not. 4 The private trader understood the
Indians, was related to them by marriage, and was energetic
and not over-scrupulous. The government trader was a
salaried agent not trained to the work. The private trader
sold whiskey and the government did not. The British
trader s goods were better than those of the government.
The best business principles were not always followed by the
superintendent. The system was far from effecting its object,
for the Northwestern Indians had been accustomed to receive
presents from the British authorities, and had small respect
for a government that traded. Upon Wisconsin trade from
1814 to 1822 its influence was slight.
Annals of Congress, V., 230 ff., 283 ; Abridgment of Debates, VII.,
2 Amer. State Papers, Ind. Affs., I., 684 ; II., 181.
3 Amer. State Papers, VI., Lid. Affs., II., 203 ; Ind. Treaties, 399 etseq.-,
Wis. Hist. Colls., VII., 269; Washington Gazette, 1821, 1822, articles
by Ramsay Crooks under signature " Backwoodsman." and speech of
Tracy in House of Representatives, February 23, 1821 ; Benton, Thirty
Years View ; id., Abr. Deb., VII., 1780.
4 To understand the importance of these two points see post, pp. 62-5.
601] Wisconsin Trade in 1820. 61
WISCONSIN TRADE IN 1820. 1
The goods used in the Indian trade remained much the
same from the first, in all sections of the country. 2 They
were chiefly blankets, coarse cloths, cheap jewelry and trinkets
(including strings of wampum), fancy goods (like ribbons,
shawls, etc.), kettles, knives, hatchets, guns, powder, tobacco,
and intoxicating liquor. 3 These goods, shipped from Macki
naw, at first came by canoes or bateaux, 4 and in the later
period by vessel, to a leading post, were there redivided 5
and sent to the various trading posts. The Indians, return
ing from the hunting grounds to their villages in the spring, 6
1 In an address before the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, on the
Character and Influence of the Fur Trade in Wisconsin (Proceedings,
1889, pp. 86-98), I have given details as to Wisconsin settlements, posts,
routes of trade, and Indian location and population in 1820.
2 Wis. Hist. Colls., XL, 377. Compare the articles used by Radisson,
ante, p. 29. For La Salle s estimate of amount and kind of goods needed
for a post, and the profits thereon, see Penna. Archives, 2d series, VL,
18-19. Brandy was an important item, one beaver selling for a pint.
For goods and cost in 1728 see a bill quoted by E. D. Neill, on p. 20,
Mag. West. Hist., Nov., 1887. Cf. 4 Mass. Hist. Colls., III., 344 ; Byrd
Manuscripts, L, 180 ff. ; Minn. Hist. Colls., II., 46 ; Senate Doc. No. 90,
22d Cong., IstSess., II., 42 jff.
3 Wis. Pur Trade MSS. Cf . Wis. Hist. Colls. , XL , 377, and Amer. State
Papers, Ind. Affs. , II. , 360. The amount of liquor taken to the woods was
very great. The French Jesuits had protested against its use in vain
(Parkrnan s Old Regime) ; the United States prohibited it to no purpose.
It was an indispensable part of a trader s outfit. Robert Stuart, agent of
the American Fur Company at Mackinaw, once wrote to John Lawe, one
of the leading traders at Green Bay, that the 56 bbls. of whiskey which
he sends is " enough to last two years, and half drown all the Indians he
deals with." See also Wis. Hist. Colls., VII., 282 ; McKenney sTour to
the Lakes, 169, 299-301 ; McKenney s Memoirs, L, 19-21. An old trader
assured me that it was the custom to give five or six gallons of " grog "
one-fourth water to the hunter when he paid his credits ; he thought
that only about one-eighth or one-ninth part of the whole sales was in
4 A light boat sometimes called a " Mackinaw boat, "about 32 feet long,
by 6 to 15 feet wide amidships, and sharp at the ends.
5 See Wis. Hist. Colls., II., 108.
6 Minn. Hist. Colls., V., 263.
62 The Indian Trade in Wisconsin. [602
set the squaws to making maple sugar, 1 planting corn, water
melons, potatoes, squashes, etc., and a little hunting was
carried on. The summer was given over to enjoyment, and
in the early period to wars. In the autumn they collected their
wild rice, or their corn, and again were ready to start for the
hunting grounds, sometimes 300 miles distant. At this
juncture the trader, licensed by an Indian agent, arrived upon
the scene with his goods, without which no family could sub
sist, much less collect any quantity of furs. 2 These were
bought on credit by the hunter, since he could not go on the
hunt for the furs, whereby he paid for his supplies, without
having goods and ammunition advanced for the purpose.
This system of credits, 3 dating back to the French period, had
become systematized so that books were kept, with each
Indian s account. The amount to which the hunter was
trusted was between $40 and $50, at cost prices, upon which
the trader expected a gain of about 1 00 per cent, so that the
average annual value of furs brought in by each hunter to
pay his credits should have been between $80 and $100. 4 The
SeeWis. Hist. Colls., VII., 220, 286; III., 235; McKenney s Tour,
194; Schoolcraft, Ind. Tribes, II., 55. Sometimes a family made 1500
Ibs. in a season.
2 Lewis Cass in Senate Docs., No. 90, 22d Cong., 1st Sess., II., 1.
3 See D Iberville s plans for relocating Indian tribes by denying them
credit at certain posts, Margry, IV., 597. The system was used by
the Dutch, and the Puritans also; see Weeden, Economic and Social
Hist. New Eng., I., 98. In 1765, after the French and Indian war, the
Chippeways of Chequamegon Bay told Henry, a British trader, that
unless he advanced them goods on credit, " their wives and children would
perish ; for that there were neither ammunition nor clothing left among
them." He distributed goods worth 3000 beaver skins. Henry, Travels,
195-6. Cf. Neill, Minnesota, 225-6 ; N. Y. Col. Docs., VII., 543 ; Amer.
State Papers, Ind. Affs., II., 64, 66, 329, 333-5 ; North American Review,
Jan., 1826, p. 110.
4 Biddle, an Indian agent, testified in 1822 that while the cost of trans
porting 100 wt. from New York to Green Bay did not exceed five dollars,
which would produce a charge of less than 10 percent on the original cost,
the United States factor charged 50 per cent additional. The United States
603] Wisconsin Trade in 1820. 63
amount of the credit varied with the reputation of the hunter
for honesty and ability in the chiise. 1 Sometimes he was
trusted to the amount of three hundred dollars. If one-half
the credits were paid in the spring the trader thought that
he had done a fair business. The importance of this credit
system can hardly be overestimated in considering the influ
ence of the fur trade upon the Indians of Wisconsin, and
especially in rendering them dependent upon the earlier settle
ments of the State.
The system left the Indians at the mercy of the trader
when one nation monopolized the field, and it compelled them
to espouse the cause of one or other when two nations
contended for supremacy over their territory. At the same
time it rendered the trade peculiarly adapted to monopoly,
for when rivals competed, the trade was demoralized, and the
Indian frequently sold to a new trader the furs which he had
pledged in advance for the goods of another. When the
American Fur Company gained control, they systematized
matters so that there was no competition between their own
agents, and private dealers cut into their trade bat little for
some years. The unit of trade was at first the beaver skin,
capital stock was diminished by this trade, however. The private dealers
charged much more. Schoolcraft in 1831 estimated that $48.34 in goods
and provisions at cost prices was the average annual supp]yof each hunter,
or $6.90 to each soul. The substantial accuracy of this is sustained by my
data. See Sen. Doc., No. 90, 22d Cong., 1st Sess., II., 45 ; State Papers,
No. 7, 18th Cong., 1st Sess., I. ; State Papers, No. 54, 18th Cong., 2d
Sess., 111. ; Schoolcraft s Indian Tribes, III., 599 ; Invoice Book, Amer.
Fur Co., for 1820, 1821 ; Wis. Fur Trade MSS. in possession of Wisconsin
1 The following is a typical account, taken from the books of Jacques
Porlier, of Green Bay, for the year 1823 : The Indian Michel bought on
credit in the fall: $16 worth of cloth ; a trap, $1.00; two and a half
yards of cotton, $3.12 ; three measures of powder, $1.50 ; lead, $1.00 ; a
bottle of whiskey, 50 cents, and some other articles, such as a gun worm,
making in all a bill of about $25. This he paid in full by bringing in
eighty-five muskrats, worth nearly $20 ; a fox, $1.00, and a mocock of
maple sugar, worth $4.00.
64 The Indian Trade in Wisconsin. [604
or, as the pound of beaver skin came to be called, the " plus." 1
The beaver skin was estimated at a pound and a half, though
it sometimes weighed two, in which case an allowance was made.
Wampum was used for ornament and in treaty-making, but
not as currency. Other furs or Indian commodities, like
maple sugar and wild rice, were bought in terms of beaver.
As this animal grew scarcer the unit changed to money.
By 1820, when few beaver were marketed in Wisconsin, the
term plus stood for one dollar. 2 The muskrat skin was also
used as the unit in the later days of the trade. 3 In the
southern colonies the pound of deer skin had answered the
purpose of a unit. 4
The goods being trusted to the Indians, the bands sepa
rated for the hunting grounds. Among the Chippeways, at
least, each family or group had a particular stream or region
where it exclusively hunted and trapped. 5 Not only were
the hunting grounds thus parcelled out ; certain Indians were
apportioned to certain traders, 6 so that the industrial activities
1 A. J. Vieau, who traded in the thirties, gave me this information.
2 For the value of the beaver at different periods and places consult
indexes, under beaver, " in N. Y. Col. Docs . ; Bancroft, Northwest Coast ;
Weeden, Economic and Social Hist. New Eng. ; and see Morgan, Amer
ican Beaver, 243-4; Henry, Travels, 192; 2 Penna. Archives, VI., 18 ;
Servent, in Paris Ex. Univ. 1867, Rapports, VI., 117, 123 ; Proc.
Wis. State Hist. Soc., 1889, p. 86.
3 Minn. Hist. Colls. II., 46, gives the following table for 1836 :
St. Louis Prices. Minn. Price. Nett Gain.
Three pt. blanket = $3 25 60 rat skins at 20 cents == $12 00 $8 75
1 1 A yds. Stroud = 2 37 60 rat skins at 20 cents = 12 00 9 63
1 N. W. gun = 6 50 100 rat skins at 20 cents = 20 00 13 50
1 Ib. lead =06 2 rat skins at 20 cents = 40 34
1 Ib. powder = 28 10 rat skins at 20 cents = 2 00 1 72
1 tin kettle = 2 50 60 rat skins at 20 cents = 12 00 9 50
1 knife =20 4 rat skins at 20 cents = 80 60
1 Ib. tobacco =12 8 rat skins at 20 cents = 1 60 1 38
1 looking glass = 04 4 rat skins at 20 cents = 80 76
\ 1 A yd. scarlet cloth = 3 00 60 rat skins at 20 cents = 12 00 9 00
See also the table of prices in Senate Docs., No. 90, 22d Cong., 1st Sess.,
II., 42 et scq.
4 Douglass, Summary, I., 176.
5 Morgan, American Beaver, 243.
6 Proc. Wis. Hist. Soc., 1889, pp. 92-98.
605] Wisconsin Trade in 1820. (35
of Wisconsin at this date were remarkably systematic and
uniform. Sometimes the trader followed the Indians to their
hunting grounds. From time to time he sent his engages
(hired men), commonly five or six in number, to the various
places where the hunting bands were to be found, to collect
furs on the debts and to sell goods to those who had not
received too large credits, and to the customers of rival
traders; this was called "running a deouine." The main
wintering post had lesser ones, called "jack-knife posts," -
depending on it, where goods were left and the furs gathered
in going to and from the main post. By these methods
Wisconsin was thoroughly visited by the traders before the
" pioneers " arrived/
The kind and amount of furs brought in may be judged
by the fact that in 1836, long after the best days of the trade,
a single Green Bay firm, Porlier and Grignon, shipped to the
American Fur Company about 3600 deer skins, 6000 musk-
rats, 150 bears, 850 raccoons, besides beavers, otters, fishers,
martens, lynxes, foxes, wolves, badgers, skunks, etc., amount
ing to over $6000.
None of these traders became wealthy ; Astor s company
absorbed the profits. It required its clerks, or factors, to
pay an advance of 81 J per cent on the sterling cost of the
blankets, strouds, and other English goods, in order to cover
the cost of importation and the expense of transportation
from New York to Mackinaw. Articles purchased in New
York were charged with 15 J- per cent advance for trans
portation, and each class of purchasers was charged with
33 j- per cent advance as profit 011 the aggregate amount. 4
1 Araer. State Papers, Ind. Afs., II.,
2 Wis. Hist. Colls., XI., 220, 223.
3 The centers of Wisconsin trade were Green Bay, Prairie du Chien,
and La Pointe (on Madelaine island, Chequamegon bay). Lesser points
of distribution were Milwaukee and Portage. From these places, by
means of the interlacing rivers and the numerous lakes of northern
Wisconsin, the whole region was visited by birch canoes or Mackinaw
4 Schoolcraft in Senate Doc. No. 90, 22d Cong., 1st Sess., II., 43.
66 The Indian Trade in Wisconsin. [606
I estimate, from the data given in the sources cited on
page 63, note, that in 1820 between $60,000 and $75,000
worth of goods was brought annually to Wisconsin for the
Indian trade. An average outfit for a single clerk at a main
post was between $1500 and $2000, and for the dependent
posts between $100 and $500. There were probably not over
2000 Indian hunters in the State, and the total Indian popu
lation did not much exceed 10,000. Comparing this number
with the early estimates for the same tribes, we find that, if the
former are trustworthy, by 1820 the Indian tribes that re
mained in Wisconsin had increased their numbers. But the
material is too unsatisfactory to afford any valuable conclusion.
After the sale of their lands and the receipt of money
annuities, a change came over the Indian trade. The
monopoly held by Astor was broken into, and as competition
increased, the sales of whiskey were larger, and for money,
which the savage could now pay. When the Indians went
to Montreal in the days of the French, they confessed that
they could not return with supplies because they wasted
their furs upon brandy. The same process now went on at
their doors. The traders were not dependent upon the
Indian s success in hunting alone ; they had his annuities to
count on, and so did not exert their previous influence in
favor of steady hunting. Moreover, the game was now
exploited to a considerable degree, so that Wisconsin was no
longer the hunter s paradise that it had been in the days of
Dablon and La Salle. The long-settled economic life of the
Indian being revolutionized, his business honesty declined,
and credits were more frequently lost. The annuities fell
into the traders 7 hands for debts and whiskey. " There is no
less than near $420,000 of claims against the Winnebagoes,"
writes a Green Bay trader at Prairie du Chien, in 1838, " so
that if they are all just, the dividend will be but very small
for each claimant, as there is only $150,000 to pay that." 1
1 Lawe to Vieau, in Wis. Fur Trade MSS. See also U. S. Indian
Treaties, and Wis. Hist. Colls., V., 236.
607] Effects of the Trading Post. 67
By this time the influence of the fur trader had so devel
oped raining in the region of Dubuque, Iowa, Galena, 111.,
and southwestern Wisconsin, as to cause an influx of Ameri
can miners, and here began a new element of progress for
Wisconsin. The knowledge of these mines was possessed by
the early French explorers, and as the use of firearms spread
they were worked more and more by Indians, under the
stimulus of the trader. In 1810 Nicholas Boilvin, United
States Indian agent at Prairie du Chien, reported that the
Indians about the lead mines had mostly abandoned the
chase and turned their attention to the manufacture of lead,
which they sold to fur traders. In 1825 there were at least
100 white miners in the entire lead region, 1 and by 1829 they
numbered in the thousands.
Black Hawk s war came in 1832, and agricultural settle
ment sought the southwestern part of the State after that
campaign. The traders opened country stores, and their
establishments were nuclei of settlement. 2 In Wisconsin
the Indian trading post was a thing of the past.
The birch canoe and the pack-horse had had their day in
western New York and about Montreal. In Wisconsin the
age of the voyageur continued nearly through the first third of
this century. It went on in the Far Northwest in substantially
the same fashion that has been here described, until quite
recently ; and in the great North Land tributary to Hudson
Bay the chanson of the voyageur may still be heard, and the
dog-sledge laden with furs jingles across the snowy plains
from distant post to distant post.
EFFECTS OF THE TRADING POST.
We are now in a position to offer some conclusions as to
the influence of the Indian trading post.
1 House Ex. Docs., 19th Cong., 2<1 Sess., II., No. 7.
2 For example see the Vieau Narrative in Wis. Hist. Colls., XL, and
the Wis. Fur Trade MSS.
3 Butler, Wild North Land ; Robinson, Great Fur Land, ch. xv.
68 The Indian Trade in Wisconsin. [608
I. Upon the savage it had worked a transformation. It
found him without iron, hunting merely for food and
raiment. It put into his hands iron and guns, and
made him a hunter for furs with which to purchase
the goods of civilization. Thus it tended to perpetuate the
hunter stage ; but it must also be noted that for a time
it seemed likely to develop a class of merchants who should
act as intermediaries solely. The inter-tribal trade between
Montreal and the Northwest, and between Albany and the
Illinois and Ohio country, appears to have been commerce in
the proper sense of the term 1 (Kauf zmu Verkauf). The
trading post left the unarmed tribes at the mercy of those
that had bought firearms, and this caused a relocation of
the Indian tribes and an urgent demand for the trader by
the remote and unvisited Indians. It made the Indian
dependent on the white man s supplies. The stage of civili
zation that could make a gun and gunpowder was too far
above the bow and arrow stage to be reached by the Indian.
Instead of elevating him the trade exploited him. But at the
same time, when one nation did not monopolize the trade, or
when it failed to regulate its own traders, the trading post
gave to the Indians the means of resistance to agricultural
settlement. The American settlers fought for their farms
in Kentucky and Tennessee at a serious disadvantage,
because for over half a century the Creeks and Cherokees
had received arms and ammunition from the trading posts
of the French, the Spanish and the English. In Wis
consin the settlers came after the Indian had become
thoroughly dependent on the American traders, and so
late that no resistance was made. The trading post
gradually exploited the Indian s hunting ground. By inter
marriages with the French traders the purity of the stock
1 Notwithstanding Kulischer s assertion that there is no room for this
in primitive society. Vide Der Handel auf den primitiven Culturstufen.
in Zeitschrift fur Volkerpsychologie und Spracliwissenscliaft, X., No. 4.
p. 378. Compare instances of inter-tribal trade given ante, pp. 11, 26.
609] Efects of the Trading Post. 69
was destroyed and a mixed race produced. 1 The trader
broke down the old totemic divisions, and appointed chiefs
regardless of the Indian social organization, to foster his
trade. Indians and traders alike testify that this destruction
of Indian institutions was responsible for much of the diffi
culty in treating with them, the tribe being without a recog
nized head.~ The sale of their lands, made less valuable by
the extinction of game, gave them anew medium of exchange,
at the same time that, under the rivalry of trade, the sale of
II. Upon the white man the effect of the Indian trading-
post was also very considerable. The Indian trade gave both
English and French a footing in America. But for the
Indian supplies some of the most important settlements
would have perished. 3 It invited to exploration : the
dream of a water route to India and of mines was
always present in the more extensive expeditions, but
the effective practical inducement to opening the water
systems of the interior, and the thing that made exploration
possible, was the fur trade. As has been shown, the Indian
eagerly invited the trader. Up to a certain point also the
trade fostered the advance of settlements. As long as they
were in extension of trade with the Indians they were
welcomed. The trading posts were the pioneers of many
settlements along the entire colonial frontier. In Wis
consin the sites of our principal cities are the sites of old
trading posts, and these earliest fur-trading settlements
furnished supplies to the farming, mining and lumbering
pioneers. They were centers about which settlement collected
after the exploitation of the Indian. Although the efforts of
1 On the "metis," bois-brules, or half-breeds, consult Smithsonian
Reports, 1879, p. 309, and Robinson, Great Fur Land, ch. iii.
Minn. Hist. Colls., V., 135 ; Biddle to Atkinson, 1819, in Ind. Pam
phlets, Vol. I., No. 15 (Wis. Hist. Soc. Library).
3 Parkman, Pioneers of France, 230; Carr, Mounds of the Mississippi,
p. 8, n, 8 ; Smith s Generall Historie, I., 88, 90, 155 (Richmond, 1819).
70 The Indian Trade in Wisconsin. [610
the Indians and of the great trading companies, whose profits
depended upon keeping the primitive wilderness, were to
obstruct agricultural settlement, as the history of the North
west and of British America shows, nevertheless reports
brought back by the individual trader guided the steps of the
agricultural pioneer. The trader was the farmer s pathfinder
into some of the richest regions of the continent. Both
favorably and unfavorably the influence of the Indian trade
on settlement was very great.
The trading post was the strategic point in the rivalry of
France and England for the Northwest. The American
colonists came to know that the land was worth more than
the beaver that built in the streams, but the mother country
fought for the Northwest as the field of Indian trade in all
the wars from 1689 to 1812. The management of the Indian
trade led the government under the lead of Franklin and
Washington into trading on its own account, a unique feature
of its policy. It was even proposed by the Indian Superin
tendent at one time that the government should manufacture
the goods for this trade. In providing a new field for the
individual trader, whom he expected the government trading
houses to dispossess, Jefferson proposed the Lewis and Clarke
expedition, which crossed the continent by way of the Missouri
and the Columbia, as the British trader, Mackenzie, had
before crossed it by way of Canadian rivers. The genesis
of this expedition illustrates at once the comprehensive
western schemes of Jefferson, and the importance of the part
played by the fur trade in opening the West. In 1786, while
the Annapolis convention was discussing the navigation of
the Potomac, Jefferson wrote to Washington from Paris
inquiring about the best place for a canal between the Ohio
and the Great Lakes. 1 This was in promotion of the project
of Ledyard, a Connecticut man, who was then in Paris
endeavoring to interest the wealthiest house there in the fur
trade of the Far West. Jefferson took so great an interest in
Jefferson, Works, II., 60, 250, 370.
611] Effects of the Trading Post. 71
the plan that he secured from the house a promise that if
they undertook the scheme the depot of supply should be at
Alexandria, on the Potomac river, which would be in con
nection with the Ohio, if the canal schemes of the time were
carried out. After the failure of the negotiations of Ledyard,
Jefferson proposed to him to cross Russia to Kamschatka,
take ship to Nootka Sound, and thence return to the United
States by way of the Missouri. 1 Ledyard was detained in
Russia by the authorities in spite of Jefferson s good offices,
and the scheme fell through. But Jefferson himself asserts
that this suggested the idea of the Lewis and Clarke expedi
tion, which he proposed to Congress as a means of fostering
our Indian trade." Bearing in mind his instructions to this
party, that they should see whether the Oregon furs might
not be shipped down the Missouri instead of passing around
Cape Horn, and the relation of his early canal schemes to
this design, we see that he had conceived the project of a
transcontinental fur trade which should center in Virginia.
Astor s subsequent attempt to push through a similar plan
resulted in the foundation of his short-lived post of Astoria
at the mouth of the Columbia. This occupation greatly aided
our claim to the Oregon country as against the British
traders, who had reached the region by way of the northern
arm of the Columbia.
In Wisconsin, at least, the traders posts, placed at the
carrying places around falls and rapids, pointed out the water
powers of the State. The portages between rivers became
canals, or called out canal schemes that influenced the early
development of the State. When Washington, at the close of
his military service, inspected the Mohawk valley and the
portages between the headwaters of the Potomac and the Ohio,
as the channels " of conveyance of the extensive and valuable
1 Allen s Lewis and Clarke Expedition, p. ix (edition of 1814. The
introduction is by Jefferson).
2 Jefferson s messages of January 18, 1803, and February 19, 1806. See
Amer. State Papers, Ind. Affs., I., 684.
72 The Indian Trade in Wisconsin. [612
trade of a rising empire/ 7 x he stood between two eras the
era with which he was personally familiar, when these routes
had been followed by the trader with the savage tribes, 2 and
the era which he foresaw, when American settlement passed
along the same ways to the fertile West and called into being
the great trunk-lines of the present day. a The trails became
the early roads. An old Indian trader relates that " the path
between Green Bay and Milwaukee was originally an Indian
trail, and very crooked, but the whites would straighten it by
cutting across lots each winter with their jumpers, wearing
bare streaks through the thin covering, to be followed in the
summer by foot and horseback travel along the shortened
path." 4 The process was typical of a greater one. AlongN
the lines that nature had drawn the Indians traded and
warred; along their trails and in their birch canoes the
trader passed, bringing a new and a transforming life. These
slender lines of eastern influence stretched throughout all our
vast and intricate water-system, even to the Gulf of Mexico,
the Pacific, and the Arctic seas, and these lines were in turn
followed by agricultural and by manufacturing civilization.
In a speech upon the Pacific Railway delivered in the
United States Senate in 1850, Senator Benton used these
words : " There is an idea become current of late . . . that
none but a man of science, bred in a school, can lay off a
1 See Adams, Maryland s Influence upon Land Cessions to U. S., J. H.
U. Studies, 3d Series, No. I., pp. 80-82.
9 Ibid. Vide ante, p. 41.
3 Narr. and Grit. Hist. Amer., VIII., 10. Compare Adams, as above.
At Jefferson s desire, in January and February of 1788, Washington wrote
various letters inquiring as to the feasibility of a canal between Luke Erie
and the Ohio, " whereby the fur and peltry of the upper country can
be transported"; saying: Could a channel once be opened to convey
the fur and peltry from the Lakes into the eastern country, its advantage*
would be so obvious as to induce an opinion that it would in a short time
become the channel of conveyance for much the greater part of the com
modities brought from thence." Sparks, Washington s Works, IX., 303,
4 Wis. Hist. Colls., XL, 230.
613] Effects of the Trading Pod. 73
road. That is a mistake. There is a class of topographical
engineers older than the schools, and more unerring than the
mathematics. They are the wild animals buffalo, elk, deer,
antelope, bears, which traverse the forest, not by compass,
but by an instinct which leads them always the right way
to the lowest passes in the mountains, the shallowest fords
in the rivers, the richest pastures in the forest, the best salt
springs, and the shortest practicable routes between remote
points. They travel thousands of miles, have their annual
migrations backwards and forwards, and never miss the best
and shortest route. These are the first engineers to lay out
a road in a new country; the Indians follow them, and hence
a buffalo-road becomes a war-path. The first white hunters
follow the same trails in pursuing their game ; and after that
the buffalo-road becomes the wagon-road of the white man,
and finally the macadamized or railroad of the scientific man.
It all resolves itself into the same thing into the same
buffalo-road ; and thence the buffalo becomes the first and
safest engineer. Thus it has been here in the countries
which we inhabit and the history of which is so familiar.
The present national road from Cumberland over the Alle-
ghanies was the military road of General Braddock ; which
had been the buffalo-path of the wild animals. So of the
two roads from western Virginia to Kentucky one through
the gap in the Cumberland mountains, the other down the
valley of the Kenhawa. They were both the war-path of the
Indians and the travelling route of the buffalo, and their first
white acquaintances the early hunters. Buffaloes made them
in going from the salt springs on the Holston to the rich
pastures and salt springs of Kentucky ; Indians followed
them first, white hunters afterwards and that is the way
Kentucky was discovered. In more than a hundred years
no nearer or better routes have been found ; and science now
makes her improved roads exactly where the buffalo s foot
first marked the way and the hunter s foot afterwards fol
lowed him. So all over Kentucky and the West ; and so in the
Rockv Mountains. The famous South Pass was no scientific
74 The Indian Trade in Wisconsin. [614
discovery. Some people think Fremont discovered it. It
had been discovered forty years before long before he was
born. He only described it and confirmed what the hunters
and traders had reported and what they showed him. It
was discovered, or rather first seen by white people, in 1808,
two years after the return of Lewis and Clark, and by the first
company of hunters and traders that went out after their
report laid open the prospect of the fur trade in the Rocky
"An enterprising Spaniard of St. Louis, Manuel Lisa,
sent out the party ; an acquaintance and old friend of the
Senator from Wisconsin who sits on my left [General Henry
Dodge] led the party his name Andrew Henry. He was
the first man that saw that pass; and he found it in the
prosecution of his business, that of a hunter and trader,
and by following the game and the road which they had
made. And that is the way all passes are found. But these
traders do not write books and make maps, but they enable
other people to do it." l
Benton errs in thinking that the hunter was the pioneer in
Kentucky. As I have shown, the trader opened the way.
But Benton is at least valid authority upon the Great West,
and his fundamental thesis has much truth in it. A con
tinuously higher life flowed into the old channels, knitting the
United States together into a complex organism. It is a
process not limited to America. In every country the ex
ploitation of the wild beasts/ and of the raw products gener-
1 Cong. Ttec., XXIII., 57. 1 found this interesting confirmation of my
views after this paper was written. Compare JIarper s Magazine, Sept.
1890, p. 565.
2 The traffic in furs in the Middle Ages was enormous, says Fried-
lander, Sittengeschichte, III., 62. Numerous cities in England and on
the Continent, whose names are derived from the word " beaver" and
whose seals bear the beaver, testify to the former importance in Europe
of this animal ; see Canadian Journal, 1859, 359. See Du Chaillu,
Viking Age, 209-10; Marco Polo, bk. iv., ch. xxi. Wattenbach, in
Historische Zeitschrift, IX., 391, shows that German traders were known
in the lands about the Baltic at least as early as the knights.
615] Effects of the Trading Post. 75
ally, causes the entry of the disintegrating and transforming
influences of a higher civilization. a The history of com
merce is the history of the intercommunication of peoples."
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