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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 31, 2003 - Issue 88


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Interesting Sidelights on the History of the Early Fur Trade Industry (Part 6)

From The Eau Claire Leader - Sunday August 23, 1925
credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)


(Among those who have been reading with interest the series of weekly articles prepared by William W. Bartlett at the request of the editor on early fur trading history in the Chippewa Valley and published in this paper is W.H. Wheeler of Beloit, Wisconsin, who was acquainted with the Ermatingers, Warrens, Cadottes and others of the early fur traders mentioned in the articles, having lived for years at La Pointe, on Madeline Island, Lake Superior, fur trading posts also frequently mentioned. After reading the articles, which constituted the first definite word Mr. Wheeler had had of the Ermatingers since 1866, Mr. Wheeler wrote Mr. Bartlett in appreciation and the latter promptly requested Mr. Wheeler to write something about the early days at La Pointe and his contact with the early fur traders. This Mr. Wheeler has done. All his correspondence with Mr. Bartlett is herewith given, as well as his reminiscences the letters being self explanatory:)

Mr. Wheeler's First Letter

Mr. William W. Bartlett,
Eau Claire, Wisconsin,

Dear Sir:
Through the kindness of Mr. C.B. Walworth of your city, whom I met at a G.A.R. encampment at Sheboygan last month, I am in receipt of an address which you delivered before the Chippewa Valley Historical Society at Jim Falls. This sketch is of unusual interest to me, as it relates to people with whom my family was intimately acquainted.

We left the Lake Superior Country in 1866 and settled in Beloit. My father, the late Leonard H. Wheeler, went to Madeline Island in 1841 as a missionary of the American Board among the Indians of that region. He remained there until about 1856, then removed to Odanah, where he had previously established a branch station, and where we lived until 1866, establishing an Indian School, which, as well as the mission residences in both places still remain. The school is now carried on by a Catholic organization. All the names of the fur traders you mentioned were familiar to me from my earliest recollections, the Cadottes, Warrens, and Ermatingers. Your sketch is about the only information we have had of the Ermatingers since 1866. A son, William, and a daughter Alice of that family attended school in Odanah and resided in our family home.

Mr. Lyman Warren died in 1847 after which his youngest daughter, Mary, was adopted into our family, living with us many years. After completing her education she taught school at different Indian reservations. She is now living with relatives at White Earth, Minnesota, and is about ninety years old.

We saw James Ermatinger frequently in his travels from his trading post, on the Chippewa River, to Lake Superior. We also saw William Whipple Warren, the author, who called at our home on the Bad River on his last trip east, and it was with great sorrow that my parents heard of his untimely death a short time afterward.

Again expressing my high appreciation of your article and entertaining hope of meeting you in the not distant future,

I remain, yours truly,
W.H. Wheeler.

(NOTE: Mr. Wheeler's letterhead showed him to be a consulting engineer. On recipe of the above-unexpected communication a letter was sent to Mr. Wheeler asking if he would be willing to furnish an article on his recollection of fur trading days to add to those already printed. In response he sent the following letter and article, which have just come to hand:)

Learned to Talk Indian Before English

Beloit, Wisconsin, August 19, 1925,

Mr. William W. Bartlett,
Eau Claire, Wisconsin,

Dear Sir:
I am enclosing herewith a sort of an excuse for a newspaper article, which you are at liberty to edit as you see fit. I am not a natural and am so blind I cannot see my own writing, neither can anyone else, and I have no gift as a writer, and anything that I do in this line is by main strength and awkwardness. You can imagine that there are whole volumes of experiences in between the lines that I have written.

Having learned the Indian language before I did English, I think it affected my ability to write and I envy those that can write right straight along, as smoothly as molasses from the bung. I have photographs and engravings, showing the Old Mission residence at La Pointe, as it stood abandoned just before it was purchased by Mr. E.P. Salmon of our city, also pictures of its present condition fixed up as a summer resort with a double row of balconies around it, also of the Mission residence at Odanah, the church and the boarding school at the same place all built by my father, who conducted quite an extensive Indian School with a four hundred acre farm attached for instruction in agriculture. Within recent years this property has passed into the hands of a Catholic organization, who have enlarged it and are carrying out the original program of my father.

We received a telegram last Sunday morning from Mrs. Frank Warren of Detroit, Minnesota, announcing the death of her aunt, Mary Warren English at White Earth. I immediately telephoned my brother, who has been spending a few days at Odanah, requesting him to go over and attend the funeral, and I am just in receipt of a letter announcing his arrival in Detroit, Minnesota. I'll give you detail as soon as I hear from him. My brother is the Rev. E.P. Wheeler who is devoting a large share of his time, seeking to alleviate the distress of the Indians, particularly on the Bad River Reservation and I think he presence will be a comfort to the sorrowing ones at White Earth.

Again thanking you for your kindness in furnishing me with copies of your historical work, I assure you that I will be glad to be of any further service.

I remain, yours very truly,
W.H. Wheeler.

Mr. Wheeler Reminiscences

Reminiscences supplementing the series of articles by Mr. W.W. Bartlett in the Eau Claire Daily Telegram, dealing largely with the early history of the fur trade in the Chippewa Valley and those most prominently connected with it, especially the history of the Warren and Ermatinger families, by W.H. Wheeler of Beloit, Wisconsin, son of the late Rev. L.H. Wheeler who for 25 years was a missionary among the Ojibway Indians in the Lake Superior country between the years 1841 and 1866, and who was in close personal knowledge of the families and incidents so faithfully and interesting portrayed by Mr. Bartlett.

On Madeline Island

When my parent first arrived at La Pointe on Madeline Island, they found quite a large community composed mostly of the American Fur Company's forces, consisting of the Warren's as managers of a large business establishment, housed in commodious quarters mostly of logs. The French voyagers and their half-breed families living in log houses extending along the shoreline for over a mile, the Indians were occupying wigwams, further back from the Lake and the Mission residences at the south end of the settlement. The Warrens had removed the business from the original Cadotte settlement on the extreme southwest point of the island two miles north, thus leaving the mission residences about halfway between. The language spoken were Indian, French and English and a composite of all three: Indian and French largely predominating. The first reader and spelling book I studied had English on one side and a translation into Indian on the other side, the latter being in the French orthography.

Death of Lyman Warren in 1847

Mr. Lyman Warren died in 1847 and his youngest daughter Mary, then eleven years old was taken into our family almost as an adopted daughter, at the dying wish of her father; her mother having died some time previous. The death of Mr. Warren was a great grief to the Mission Colony and particularly my father between whom and Mr. Warren a very close personal friendship had grown up.  Mr. Warren was the first deacon of the First Mission Church when it was organized in 1833, which was the first Congregational Church in Wisconsin. It might be well to take a glance at the isolation of that day: A primeval forest, literally a howling wilderness, extended to the south a distance of two hundred miles and north to the Hudson Bay and beyond; east and west, from the Mississippi to a point a little north of Detroit Michigan; Mackinac, Sault Ste. Marie, Green Bay, Fort William, and La Pointe on Lake Superior all were fur trading headquarters and the only settlements of any kind. This wilderness was penetrated by the route of least resistance, the waterway, and still involved a great amount of hardship to perform insignificant results. We were shut out from the world six month of the year after the water route was closed by ice and for many years within my recollection, not even the mail came through for six months.

Ermatingers Nearest Neighbor

To the south, our nearest white neighbor was James Ermatinger, who lived on the Chippewa River some 180 miles away. Several members of this family lived at our home some years, attending the school. Alice and William Ermatinger, cousins of Mary Warren, were at Odanah after the Fur Company abandoned La Pointe. The Mission Station and school were removed to Odanah on the Bad River. James Ermatinger was known all through the country as Jim, pronounced 'Jeem' by the Indians. I remember him very well, of medium height, quiet spoken but alert, breaking off from English into French or Indian as the occasion required.

Warren, the Author

William Warren, the author, I recall distinctly as he called on my father at Odanah on his way east to attend to the publication of his book, 'History of the Ojibway Nation' in which my father took a great interest and when a few weeks later the word of his death came through, I recall distinctly the grief of my parents.

Occasional Visitors

George Warren and Elisha Ermatinger visited with us occasionally. Mary Warren remained in our family until her education was completed and thereafter for more than fifty years taught school at various Indian reservations, Odanah, La Pointe, Red Cliff, Red Lake and White Earth. Suring this period she married Mr. English who subsequently passed away and when superannuated, she retired to White Earth with her relatives there. Her death occurred on Saturday August 15, 1925, at White Earth, Minnesota, at the age of 89.

This removes from the earth the last of Lyman Warren's children.

I wish to acknowledge my obligation to Mr. Bartlett through your columns the interesting account he has given of the old friends of my family and also to Mr. Charles Walworth of your city for bringing these historical articles to my notice.
William H. Wheeler.

(NOTE: The Mary Warren English noted above is the Mary Warren mentioned in Mr. Wheeler's first letter. Mr. Wheeler is in error in regard to her being the last of the Lyman Warren family. At the time of the Jim Falls gathering of the Chippewa Valley Historical Society early in the summer, there were three sisters living, two noted in a former article, Mrs. Julia Warren Spears died a few weeks ago, Mrs. Mary Warren English has now passed away, but the third sister, Mrs. Sophia Warren of White Earth, Minnesota is still living.)

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