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Turner, Frederick Jackson / The Character and Influence of the Indian Trade in Wisconsin


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_

November and December, 1891




1. Early Trade along the Atlantic Coast 11
2. In New England 12
3. In the Middle Region 18
4. In the South 16
5. In the Far West 18



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 accompany 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
came a man versed in craft to my father's house with a golden chain
strung here and there with 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.[2] 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 commerce was developed. The routes of
this trade have been ascertained.[3] For over a thousand years before
the migration 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 upon Teutonic
society than we have heretofore considered, and whether one cause of the
migrations of the peoples has not been neglected.[4]

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,[5] we trace the origin of the family to economic
considerations, and, with Schrader,[6] 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,[7] but nowhere 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.


[Footnote 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 G. Thwaites, Secretary of this society, for his generous
assistance in procuring 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.]

[Footnote 2: On the trading colony, see Roscher und Jannasch, Colonien,
p. 12.]

[Footnote 3: Consult: Müllenhoff, 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.]

[Footnote 4: 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 _post_, pp. 36, 38.]

[Footnote 5: Starcke, Primitive Family.]

[Footnote 6: Schrader, l.c.; see also Ihring, in _Deutsche Rundschau_,
III., 357, 420; Kulischer, Der Handel auf primitiven Kulturstufen, in
_Zeitschrift für Völkerpsychologie und Sprachwissenschaft_, X., 378.
_Vide post_, p. 10.]

[Footnote 7: W. Bosworth Smith, in a suggestive article in the
_Nineteenth Century_, December, 1887, shows the influence of the
Mohammedan trade in Africa.]


Long before the advent of the white trader, inter-tribal commercial
intercourse existed. Mr. Charles Rau[8] and Sir Daniel Wilson[9] have
shown that inter-tribal trade and division 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
lacking, Indian institutions would disclose the fact. Differences in
language were obviated by the sign language,[10] a fixed system of
communication, intelligible to all the western tribes at least. The
peace pipe,[11] or calumet, was used for settling disputes,
strengthening alliances, and speaking to strangers--a sanctity attached
to it. Wampum belts served in New England and the middle region as money
and as symbols in the ratification of treaties.[12] The Chippeways had
an institution called by a term signifying "to enter one another's
lodges,"[13] 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-friendship" 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 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."[14] 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.[15] 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.[16] 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."[17] 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.[18] It was on the
foundation, therefore, of an extensive inter-tribal trade that the white
man built up the forest commerce.[19]


[Footnote 8: Smithsonian Report, 1872.]

[Footnote 9: Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, 1889, VII.,
59. See also Thruston, Antiquities of Tennessee, 79 ff.]

[Footnote 10: Mallery, in Bureau of Ethnology, I., 324; Clark, Indian
Sign Language.]

[Footnote 11: Shea, Discovery of the Mississippi, 34. Catilinite pipes
were widely used, even along the Atlantic slope, Thruston, 80-81.]

[Footnote 12: Weeden, Economic and Social History of New England, I.,
ch. ii.]

[Footnote 13: Minnesota Historical Collections, V., 267.]

[Footnote 14: Parkman, Pioneers of France in the New World, 230, citing

[Footnote 15: Neill, in Narrative and Critical History of America, IV.,

[Footnote 16: Champlain's Voyages (Prince Society), III., 183.]

[Footnote 17: Morton, New English Canaan (Prince Society), 159.]

[Footnote 18: Shea, Discovery and Exploration of the Mississippi Valley,

[Footnote 19: For additional evidence see Radisson, Voyages (Prince
Society), 91, 173; Massachusetts Historical Collections, I., 151;
Smithsonian Contributions, XVI., 30; Jesuit Relations, 1671, 41;
Thruston, Antiquities, etc., 79-82; Carr, Mounds of the Mississippi
Valley, 25, 27; and _post_ pp. 26-7, 36.]


The chroniclers of the earliest voyages to the Atlantic coast abound in
references to this traffic. First of Europeans to purchase native furs
in America appear to have been the Norsemen who settled Vinland. In the
saga of Eric the Red[20] we find this interesting account: "Thereupon
Karlsefni 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."[21]

The account of Verrazano's voyage mentions his Indian trade. Captain
John Smith, exploring New England in 1614, brought back a cargo of fish
and 11,000 beaver skins.[22] 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


[Footnote 20: Reeves, Finding of Wineland the Good, 47.]

[Footnote 21: N.Y. Hist. Colls., I., 54-55, 59.]

[Footnote 22: Smith, Generall Historie (Richmond, 1819), I., 87-8, 182,
199; Strachey's Travaile into Virginia, 157 (Hakluyt Soc. VI.); Parkman,
Pioneers, 230.]


The Indian trade has a place in the early history of the New England
colonies. The Plymouth settlers "found divers corn fields and little
running brooks, a place ... fit for situation,"[23] 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 cargo of beaver and lumber.[24] By frequent legislation the
colonies regulated and fostered the trade.[25] 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.[26] 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."[27] In the pursuit of this
trade men passed continually farther into the wilderness, and their
trading posts "generally became the pioneers of new settlements."[28]
For example, the posts of Oldham, a Puritan trader, led the way for the
settlements on the Connecticut river,[29] and in their early days these
towns were partly sustained by the Indian trade.[30]

Not only did the New England traders expel the Dutch from this valley;
they contended with them on the Hudson.[31]


[Footnote 23: Bradford, Plymouth Plantation.]

[Footnote 24: Bradford, 104.]

[Footnote 25: _E.g._, Plymouth Records, I., 50, 54, 62, 119; II., 10;
Massachusetts Colonial Records, I., 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 corporation). On public truck-houses, _vide post_, p.

[Footnote 26: Bradford, 108, gives the proceeds of the sale of these

[Footnote 27: Force, Collections, Vol. I., No. 5, p. 53.]

[Footnote 28: Weeden, I., 132, 160-1.]

[Footnote 29: Winthrop, History of New England, I., 111, 131.]

[Footnote 30: Connecticut Colonial Records, 1637, pp. 11, 18.]

[Footnote 31: Weeden, I., 126.]


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 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.[32] New York
City (New Amsterdam) 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 supplying with guns.[33] In
1649 they completely ruined the Hurons,[34] a part of whom fled to the
woods of northern Wisconsin. In the years immediately following, the
Neutral Nation and the Eries fell 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 firearms, as well as by their
remarkable civil organization,[35] 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 per annum, and the Delaware trade alone
produced 10,000 skins yearly in 1663.[36] 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.[37] As early as 1666 Talon
proposed that the king of France should purchase 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."[38] 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.[39] The wars between the French and English and
Iroquois must be read in the light of this fact. At the outbreak of the
last 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 mountains 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
Pickawillani 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."[40]


[Footnote 32: New York Colonial Documents, I., 181, 389, §7.]

[Footnote 33: _Ibid._ 182; Collection de manuscrits relatifs à la
Nouvelle-France, I., 254; Radisson, 93.]

[Footnote 34: Parkman, Jesuits in North America; Radisson; Margry,
Découvertes et Établissemens, etc., IV., 586-598; Tailhan, Nicholas

[Footnote 35: Morgan, League of the Iroquois.]

[Footnote 36: N.Y. Col. Docs., IX., 408-9; V., 687, 726; Histoire et
Commerce des Colonies Angloises, 154.]

[Footnote 37: N.Y. Col. Docs., III., 471, 474; IX., 298, 319.]

[Footnote 38: _Ibid._ IX., 57. The same proposal was made in 1681 by Du
Chesneau, _ibid._ IX., 165.]

[Footnote 39: Parkman'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

[Footnote 40: Parkman, Montcalm and Wolfe, I., 50.]


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,[41] 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.[42] The Cherokees lived among the mountains,
"where the present states of Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, and the
Carolinas join one another."[43] 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
Mississippi;[44] but by the time of the English traders, Tennessee and
Kentucky were for the most part uninhabited. The Virginia 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-established one,[45] and caravans of one hundred pack-horses
passed along the trail.[46]

The Carolinas had early been interested in the fur trade. In 1663 the
Lords Proprietors proposed to pay the governor'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 mountains 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.[47] 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.[48]

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 the river in large boats.[49] The Spaniards and the French also
visited the Indians, and the rivalry over this trade was an important
factor in causing diplomatic embroilment.[50]

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.[51] When Boone entered Kentucky he went with an Indian trader
whose posts were on the Red river in Kentucky.[52] 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_;[53] 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 strikingly 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.[54] 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[55] from
contact with Ledyard, who was organizing a fur trading company in
France, and it was proposed to Congress as a means of fostering our
western Indian trade.[56] 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.[57]

St. Louis was the center of the fur trade of the far West, and Senator
Benton was intimate with leading traders like Chouteau.[58] 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 Frémont was
made with French voyageurs, and guided to the passes by traders who had
used them before.[59] Benton was also one of the stoutest of the early
advocates of a Pacific railway.

But the Northwest[60] 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


[Footnote 41: Charter of 1606.]

[Footnote 42: Ramsay, Tennessee, 63.]

[Footnote 43: On the Southwestern Indians see Adair, American Indians.]

[Footnote 44: Ramsay, 75.]

[Footnote 45: Spottswood's Letters, Virginia Hist. Colls., N.S., I.,

[Footnote 46: Byrd Manuscripts, I., 180. The reader will find a
convenient map for the southern region in Roosevelt, Winning of the
West, I.]

[Footnote 47: Spottswood's Letters, I., 40; II., 149, 150.]

[Footnote 48: Ramsay, 64. Note the bearing of this route on the Holston

[Footnote 49: Georgia Historical Collections, I., 180; II., 123-7.]

[Footnote 50: Spottswood. II., 331, for example.]

[Footnote 51: Ramsay, 65.]

[Footnote 52: Boone, Life and Adventures.]

[Footnote 53: Observations on the North American Land Co., pp. xv., 144,
London, 1796.]

[Footnote 54: Margry, VI.]

[Footnote 55: Allen, Lewis and Clarke Expedition, I., ix.; _vide post_,
pp. 70-71.]

[Footnote 56: _Vide post_, p. 71.]

[Footnote 57: _Century Magazine_, XLI., 759.]

[Footnote 58: Jessie Benton Frémont in _Century Magazine_, XLI., 766-7.]

[Footnote 59: _Century Magazine_, XLI., p. 759; _vide post_, p. 74.]

[Footnote 60: Parkman's works, particularly Old Régime, 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 Hontan, I., 53, London,


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 history of the time without first
considering her situation as regards the lake and river systems of North

When the Breton sailors, steering their fishing smacks almost in the
wake of Cabot, began to fish in the St. Lawrence 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. Lawrence 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 are still other routes to the Oregon country.[61]
At a later day these two routes to the Columbia became an important
factor in bringing British and Americans into conflict over that

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 boundary line between Minnesota and
Canada into the heart of Canada.

It was possible to reach the Mississippi from the Great Lakes by the
following principal routes:[62]

1. By the Miami (Maumee) river from the west end of Lake Erie to the
Wabash, thence to the Ohio and the Mississippi.

2. By the St. Joseph's river to the Wabash, thence to the Ohio.

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 Brulé 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 communication 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
Northwest 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 Michillimackinac[63]
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 into Lake
Superior, the necessities of his frail craft required him to hug the
shore, and the rumors of copper mines induced the first traders to take
the south shore, and here the lakes of northern Wisconsin and Minnesota
afford connecting links between the streams that seek Lake Superior and
those that seek the Mississippi,[64] a fact which made northern
Wisconsin more important in this epoch than the southern portion of the

We are now able to see how the river-courses of the Northwest permitted
a complete exploration of the country, and that in these courses
Wisconsin held a commanding situation,[65] 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," that the
scanty population of Canada was irresistibly drawn from agricultural
settlements into the interminable recesses of the continent; and herein
is a leading explanation of the lack of permanent French influence in


[Footnote 61: Narr. and Crit. Hist. Amer., VIII., 10-11.]

[Footnote 62: Narr. and Crit. Hist. Amer., IV., 224, n. 1; Margry, V.
See also Parkman, Montcalm and Wolfe, I., map and pp. 38-9, 128.]

[Footnote 63: Mackinaw.]

[Footnote 64: See Doty's enumeration, Wis. Hist. Colls., VII., 202.]

[Footnote 65: Jes. Rels., 1672, p. 37; La Hontan, I., 105 (1703).]


"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 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.[67] The Pottawattomies we
find in 1641 at Sault Ste. Marie,[68] 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.[69] 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.[70] The Sauks and Foxes were closely
allied tribes. The Sauks were found by Allouez[71] four leagues[72] 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 tribes must have had something over 1000 warriors.[73] The
Miamis and Mascoutins were located about a league from the Fox river,
probably within the limits of what is now Green Lake county,[74] and
four leagues away were their friends the Kickapoos. In 1670 the Miamis
and Mascoutins were estimated at 800 warriors, and this may have
included the Kickapoos. The Sioux held possession of the Upper
Mississippi, and in Wisconsin hunted on its northeastern tributaries.
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.[75] In northwestern Wisconsin, with
Chequamegon bay as their rendezvous, were the Ottawas and Hurons,[76]
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."[77] 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.

At the mouth of Fox river[78] we find another mixed village of
Pottawattomies, Sauks, Foxes, and Winnebagoes, and at a later period
Milwaukee was the site of a similar heterogeneous 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
pressure 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


[Footnote 66: On these early locations, consult the authorities cited by
Shea in Wis. Hist. Colls., III., 125 _et seq._, and by Branson 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.]

[Footnote 67: Some 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
(Chaurignerie, cited in Schoolcraft's Indian Tribes, III., 282); 1761,
150 warriors (Gorrell, Wis.

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