Skip to main content

Full text of "The character and influence of the Indian trade in Wisconsin : a study of the trading post as an institution"

See other formats



" The history of commerce is the history of the intercommunica 
tion of peoples." Montesquieu. 





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 


Professor of History, University of Wisconsin 



JVoveinber and December, 1891 








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 






IX. THE Fox WARS 34 












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 
naturally hostile. 

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 
Christendom, 23. 

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 
and comparison. 

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 


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 


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 
was afforded. 


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, 
Pioneers, 230. 

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 


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 


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 
Mobile. 5 

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. 


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 
that territory. 

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. 


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 


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 ; 
Radisson, 173. 

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 


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. 


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. 

4 Ibid. 

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 
Pepin. 4 

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 
Louisiana. 5 

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, 
November, 1887. 

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. 


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. " 


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 
beaver country. 


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, 
II., 802. 

:: 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 [1783] ; 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, 
457, 465. 

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 [1783] 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 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 
Pacific ocean. 

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, 
VI., 65. 

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. 



Not. Pub." 
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, 
pp. 81-82. 

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 
Historical Society. 

-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. 


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 


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 
Historical Society. 

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. 


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 
whiskey increased. 

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." 

RETURN TO the circulation desk of any 

University of California Library 

or to the 

Bldg. 400, Richmond Field Station 
University of California 
Richmond, CA 94804-4698 

.. 2-month loans may be renewed by calling 
6 - m R e t e (510)642-6753 

1-year loans may be recharged by bringing books 

to NRLF 

Renewals and recharges may be made 4 days 
prior to due date 


A jror 

nn.T fl 2 1995 



20,000 (4/94)