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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 17, 2003 - Issue 87


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The 1796 Murder of a Coureur du Bois at Lake Chetac

From the book 'History, Traditions and Adventures in the Chippewa Valley'
By William W. Bartlett
(Chapter 1 - The Sioux-Chippewa Feud - pages 39-41)
credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)

It was while Michel Cadotte had charge of the northern Wisconsin department, that an occurrence happened, which may be considered as an item in the history of the Ojibways, and which fully demonstrates the strong influence, which the traders of the northwest had already obtained over their minds and conduct, and also the fearlessness with which the pioneer, whom we have made the subject of this chapter executed justice in the very midst of thousands of wild and warlike Ojibway.

A Canadian 'coureur du bois' employed at the Lac Courte Oreilles post, which was under the immediate charge of a clerk named Mons. Coutouse was murdered by an Indian on Lake Chetac during the winter. This was a crime for which the Ojibways had seldom committed, and Michel Cadotte, knowing fully the character of the Indians with whom he was dealing, at once became satisfied that a prompt and severe example was necessary, in order that such a deed might not again be committed, and that the Ojibways might learn the proper respect for the lives of white men. He took the matter especially in hand, and immediately sent a messenger to Lac Courte Oreilles to inform the Indians that the murder must be brought to Fond du Lac (Lake Superior) and delivered into his hands, and should they refuse to comply with his demand, he notified them that no more traders should go among them, and their supply of tobacco, guns, ammunition and clothing should be entirely stopped.

The war chief of Lac Courte Oreilles, named Ke-dug-a-be-shew, or 'Speckled Lynx', a man of great influence amongst his people, and a firm friend to the white man, seized the offender, and in the spring of the year, when the inland traders returned to the depot at Fond du Lac (Lake Superior) with their collection of furs, he went with them, and was delivered into the hands of Michel Cadotte. The rumor of this event had spread to the different villages of the Ojibways, and an unusual large number of the tribe had collected with the return of their different traders, around the post at Fond du Lac, induced mostly from curiosity to witness the punishment, which the whites would inflict on, one who had spilt their blood.

When all his clerks and men had arrived from their different wintering posts Michel Cadotte formed his principle clerks into a council, or jury, to try the Indian murderer. His guilt was fully proven, and the sentence, which was passed on him was, that he should suffer death in the same manner as he had inflicted death on his victim - with the stab of a knife. Mons. Coutouse, whose, 'coureur du bois' had been killed, requested to be the executioner of this sentence.

The relatives of the Indian assembled in council, after having been informed of the fate, which their brother was condemned to suffer. They sent for Michel Cadotte and his principle clerks, and solemnly offered, according to their custom, to buy the life of the culprit with packs of beaver skins. Cadotte himself, who is said to have naturally possessed a kind and charitable heart, became softened by their touching appeals, and expressed a disposition to accept their proposition, but the clerks and especially the 'coureur du bois' whose comrade had been killed, were so excited and determined on vengeance, that the offer of the Indians was rejected.

On the morrow after the trial the execution took place. Michel Cadotte led the condemned man from the room where he had been confined, and leading him out into the open air, he pointed to the sun, and gave him the first intimidation of his approaching death, by bidding him to look well at that bright luminary, for it was the last time he should behold it, for the man whom he had murdered was calling him to the land of spirits. He then delivered him to the hands of his clerks; the gate was thrown open, and the prisoner was led outside the post, into the presence of a vast concourse of his people who had assembled to see his punishment. The fetters were knocked from his wrists, and at a given signal, Coutouse, the executioner, who stood by with his right arm bared to the elbow, and holding an Indian scalping knife, suddenly stabbed him in the back. As he quickly withdrew the knife, a stream of blood spurted up and bespattered the gateway, and the Indian yelling his last war-whoop, leaped forward, but as he started to run, a clerk named Landre again buried a dirk in his side. The Indian, though fearful and mortally wounded, ran with surprising swiftness to the waterside, and for a few rods continued his course along the sandy beach, when he suddenly leaped up, staggered and fell. Two women, each holding a child in her arms, the Indian wives of John Baptiste and Michel Cadotte, who had often pleaded in vain to their husbands for his life, were the first who approached the dying Indian, and amidst the deep silence of the stricken spectators, these compassionate women bent over him, and with weeping eyes, watched his last feeble death struggle. The wife of Michel, who is still living (1852) at an advanced age, often speaks of this occurrence in her early life, and never without a voice trembling with the deepest emotion.

(Note (Bartlett): This wife of Michel Cadotte, the Warren hereby mentions, was his maternal grandmother and the one who at her husband's trading post, at the Falls of the Chippewa, gave birth to a son in 1791.)

The traders, being uncertain how the Indians would regard this summary mode of punishment, and possessing at the time the double advantage of concentrated numbers and security within the walls of the stockade post, determined to try their temper to the utmost, before they again scattered throughout their country in small parties, where, if disposed to retaliate, the Indians could easily cut them off in detail.

Michel Cadotte was himself so closely related to the tribe, and knew the strength of his influence so well, that he felt, no apprehension of these special consequences; but, to satisfy his men, as well as to discover if the near relatives of the executed Indian indulged revengeful feelings, he presented a quantity of 'eau de vie' to the Indians, knowing that in their intoxication they would reveal any hard feelings or vengeful purposes for the late act, should the actually indulge them.

The Indian camp was that night drowned in a drunken revel, but not a word of displeasure or hatred did they utter against the traders, and their future conduct proved that it was a salutary and good example

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