An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
April 19, 2003 - Issue 85
Michel Cadotte Buried on Madeline Island, Picturesque Figure in Early Fur Trade
By Charles M. Sheridan - The Washburn Times - August 27, 1927
submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)
will find his grave in an abandoned Indian Cemetery alongside the winding
road, which leads from the present village of La Pointe to the Old Fort
or Old Mission Settlement. The little cemetery is terribly neglected,
for the immediate kin of those whose bodies lie there have passed to the
common fate and there are no loving hands to quell the weeds and rank
grass which grow abundantly over the abiding places of the dead. Many
of the Indian graves are covered with the little houses characteristic
of Indian custom. These have fallen in to disuse and neglect, the shingles
are rotting and blowing away and he little holes through which offerings
of food were once passed to the spirits of departed braves are no longer
grave of 'Great Michel' Cadotte is no exception to the general rule, for
while many of his descendants in the second and third generation live
in the surrounding region few of them know or are interested in the fact
that this great man was their forefather. Rank weeds and thickly matted
grass cover the grave, and the headstone, although still white and clean
and full of noble simplicity, symbolic of the spirit it commemorates,
leans forward a bit over the grave as if bearing with weariness the weight
of the passing years. And many who pass on the dusty road outside the
fence, and serious for a moment, pause to look in the neglected graves,
few realize that they are treading near hallowed earth, beneath which
lies the dust of a truly great man, northern Wisconsin's real first pioneer,
an unsung hero of her younger days.
the 14th of June 1671, there was a great celebration in the little settlement
of Sault Ste. Marie, then the most far-flung outpost of France's colonial
possessions in the New World. Simon Francois Daumont, the Sieur de St.
Lusson has come from the glittering court of Versailles into the very
heart of the pathless wilderness of North America to take possession of
the Northwest in the name of His Sovereign Majesty, the King of France.
It was a magnificent gesture, done with much pomp and ceremony, but that
was all. To those hardy spirits who had preceded St. Lusson and to the
many who followed in his train; to that gay and gallant company of voyageurs,
coureurs de bois and intrepid fur traders who carried on an adventurous
commerce with the savage inhabitants of a new world and wrote into the
history of the North American continent its most romantic chapter; to
them was left the actual work of taking possession. Among the many care
free adventurers and soldiers of fortune who came in the train of St.
Lusson and stayed to cast their lot in the wilderness there was but one
story is concerned, a man named Cadeau. He became an itinerant fur trader,
was married, and perpetuated his name, which became Cadotte in the next
the middle of the eighteenth century there became prominent among the
many French and English fur traders operating throughout the Northwest
one Jean Baptiste Cadotte, a son of the above-mentioned Cadeau and father
of Michel Cadotte. As a young man he penetrated the most remove villages
of the Ojibway in the territory around Lake Superior and became very popular
with all the Indians with whom he came in contact while acting in his
capacity of fur trader. His influence among the Indians was great and
served him in good stead in many crises. It is said that when French dominion
ceased throughout the Northwest Jean Baptiste Cadotte tried to leave the
region but the love of the Indians for him and his children was so great
that they threatened to force to make him stay. There is a fairly
well substantiated tradition that the chiefs of the Ojibway tribe granted
the site of the present day Sault Ste. Marie to J. B. Cadotte and his
descendants as a mark of their gratitude for his labors in their behalf.
Alexander Henry is said to have had the grand of land after his death
it was brought into the Lake Superior region by an unknown person who
made a number of inquires concerning the Cadotte family, and then returned
to Montreal. Since that time it has not been heard of. Jean Baptiste Cadotte
and is referred to by Alexander Henry, the noted English trader, as the
last governor of the French Fort at Sault Ste. Marie.
October 28, 1756, in the Catholic Church at Michilimakinac, Jean Baptiste
Corbine was married to an Ojibway woman of the great Awause clan referred
to in the marriage documents as a neophyte named Marianne, the daughter
of a Nipissing, and in another old French document as Athanasi, Anastasia
and Catherine. This woman was of remarkable strong character and possessed
an unusual energy, helping her husband in his fur trading to the extent
of making canoe trips of hundreds miles with the voyageurs and coureurs
de bois to far flung fur outposts. She once dramatically saved the life
of Alexander Henry, who was at one time a partner of Jean Baptiste Cadotte
and spent the winter of 1765/66 with him on the main land opposite Madeline
Island, about where Bayfield, Wisconsin now stands.
Cadotte bore two sons, Jean Baptiste, Jr. and Michel, the last named of
whom inherited to the greatest extent the admirable qualities of both
mother and father. Michel Cadotte was born July 22, 1764, at Sault Ste.
Marie. The early days of his childhood were spent in and around the little
trading post where he learned his lessons, which would serve him so well
in the eventful years, which followed. As a youth he was sent to Montreal,
where he received a liberal education, and on his return, he entered the
fur trade as an assistant to his father.
horizons held an untold lure for young Michel Cadotte and as early as
17984, when he was but 20 years old, he was wintering among his Indian
half brothers at the head of the Chippewa River. At that early date he
had already established a trading post on the Namakagon River, a tributary
of the St. Croix, and was doing extensive trading with the tribes along
the upper Mississippi. The date of his location on Madeline Island is
uncertain, some saying 1792, others 1800, but it may be stated with a
fair degree of certainty that he settle permanently on that picturesque
and historic piece of terra firma during the last decade of the 18th century.
White Crane, the noted Ojibway chief, was at that time the village chief
of La Pointe and Michel Cadotte wooed and won his beautiful daughter.
Equaysayway was her native name but when she married Cadotte and entered
the church she was given the name of Madeline. Her name has been perpetuated
in the name of the island on which she lived and died, which, up to the
middle of 19th century, had been known by a variety of titles ranging
from Moningwunakauning to just plain Michel's. This marriage was a singular
stroke of good fortune for Michel Cadotte. The Cranes were the aristocracy
of the Ojibway tribe, equivalent to the 'old 400' of New York. They claimed
that their ancestors were the first to pitch their wigwams and light their
fires on Chequamegon Point when the tribe migrated from the Sault three
hundred years before. Although the marriage was undoubtedly a love match
it did much to further the ambitions of Cadotte and put him in a strong
position with the people among whom he was to spend his life.
May 1796, the advantages of a quiet old age became apparent to Jean Baptiste
Cadotte, the elder, and he turned over his extensive fur trade to his
two sons, Michel and Jean Baptiste, Jr., with the provision that they
care for him in his declining years. He died seven years later in 1803.
the beginning of the 19th century Michel Cadotte had established a thriving
fur trade post on Madeline Island near the site of the old French Fort,
which had been abandoned in 1756 and had virtually become a feudal baron
over the entire surrounding region. A trading post at Lac Courte Oreilles
and other less important stations scattered throughout northern Wisconsin
and the Michigan peninsula were operated by him and reaped annually an
enormous harvest of furs. He did a business of $40,000 annually at a time
when raw furs were ridiculously plentiful and cheap. Such a trade now
would run into hundreds of thousands of dollars yearly. For a quarter
of a century he carried on this traffic of furs, sometimes as a free trader,
sometimes as a representative of those great fur companies, which were
making fortunes by duel exploitation of the fauna of the region and the
vanity of fashionable men and women. His influence among the Indians increased
with the passing of years until he became almost a demi-god among them,
a final court of appeal for setting of quarrels, a true friend in any
case of need. "Kechemeshane," Great Michel, he was called by
the children of the wilderness, and also 'Kind Hearted Michel Cadotte.'
When the noted Shawnee prophet agitated the Indians throughout the northwest
with his promise of coming power an incident occurred which aptly illustrated
the respect in which Cadotte was held by his Indians. The propaganda of
the Shawnee prophet had spread afar and some of his medicine bags had
come to the Chequamegon. A party of 150 canoes was made up and, bringing
a dead child with them for the 'prophet' to resuscitate, they started
for Detroit. At the Pictured Rocks of Lake Superior they were met by Great
Michel, who, on learning of their errand, advised them to return to La
Pointe. Just the wish of one man against the already partly enacted will
of several hundred Ojibways but it was enough. They turned their canoes
towards the setting sun and forgot the glowing promise of the Shawnee
prophet. Such was the influence of Kechemeshane.
to the casual observer Michel Cadotte may seem noting more than the picturesque
fur trader, typical of his time, he was, in reality, much more than that.
There was in him something of the spirit of the true pioneer, the vision
of an empire builder. When he settled on Madeline Island shortly before
the end of the 18th century he chose as a location for his home and trading
post a site on the southwest corner of the island near the old site of
the old French military post. Here he built his home and fur depot and
around them grew up a little settlement which slowly gravitated northward
along the curving, sandy beach and finally resulted I the present village
of La Pointe. Michel Cadotte had in him that inherent love of the land,
which is the unmistakable characteristic of the real pioneer. Out of the
virgin wilderness around his frontier home he began to carve a farm and
raise an annual crop of vegetables and grains, which were most used I
the rough fare of the time. From the Sault he brought cows and horse and
began to raise livestock. When McKenney visited the island in 1826 he
found Cadotte had tow comfortable log houses lathed and plastered, twenty
acres of land under intensive cultivation and considerable livestock.
Cadotte and his Ojibway princess wife brought into the world a large family
and raised it well. The sons were sent to Montreal and there were well
educated as their father had been before them. The daughters were kept
at home and instructed in the art of being good wives. In 1818 there came
into the Lake Superior country two youthful adventurers from New York.
They were the Warren brothers, Lyman Marquis and Truman Abraham, direct
descendants of Richard Warren who arrived at Plymouth in 1620 via the
Mayflower. They entered the employee of Cadotte and soon rose high in
his favor. They were wed to Cadotte's daughters in 1821, Lyman marrying
Mary and Truman taking to wife Charlotte. Thus were united in one strain
the blue blood of the Mayflower, the royal blood of the Ojibways and the
virile, red blood of a gallant French adventurer. In 1823 the Warren brothers
took over the extensive fur trade of Cadotte and the old veteran retired.
Michel Cadotte died at La Pointe on July 8, 1837, when he was almost 73 years of age. He died in poverty and that, perhaps, better than anything else, shows the type of man he was. At one time very wealthy, he had no realization of the value of money, no respect for it except as a medium by which might be procured those things, which he, or his friends, or his relatives desired. He accumulated wealth and squandered it; lived highly, spent freely and died poor.
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