An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
May 3, 2003 - Issue 86
Place of Lac du Flambeau in Early Wisconsin History
(Compiled from the Wisconsin Historical Collection by Earle S. Holman, secretary of the Langlade Historical Society, and published in the Antigo Journal September 2, 1931)
credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)
Green Bay and Chequamegon Bay region have long been associated in popular knowledge with the earliest white settlement in Wisconsin, due to the attention they have received from the writers for the magazines and newspapers, and from organizations interested in marketing of historical site and the commemoration of historic events. But at Lac du Flambeau, inland northern Wisconsin also had a community, which in relations to the fur trade of more than a century ago has historic and romantic interest not inferior to its splendid natural attractions.
The name Lac du Flambeau is associated with a collection of lakes on the reservation to which they gave their name. The lakes abounded in fish, which the Chippewa Indians used to take by torchlight, hence Lac du Flambeau, the French for Torch Lake.
The first trading post at Lac du Flambeau of which we have record appears to have been established by Michel Cadotte. He located about 1792 at La Pointe village, Madeline Island, whence he frequently went to winter at Lac du Flambeau and Lac Courte Oreilles, where he had posts. Cadotte was agent for the Northwest, and later for the American Fur Company.
For most of our information concerning Lac du Flambeau we are dependant on the Journal of Malhiot.
The journal published in the Wisconsin Historical Collections, recounts the experiences of the succeeding winter. In 1807 he resigned. He married an Indian woman on August 8, 1800, at the fort at the mouth of the Winnipeg River. On leaving the interior he left her with her own people but took with him his half-breed son, Francois Xavier Ignace. Settling at Contreceacouer he educated his son and lived there until his death in 1840. He was known to his relatives and fiends as Erambert.
He was a cousin of Jaques Porlier of Green Bay, great-grandfather of Mrs. Gust. Kawalski of Antigo, and a short time after his return from the Northwest he lived with the latter's maiden sisters at Vercheres. He is frequently mentioned in family letters.
Doty, in a letter to Governor Cass, described the route as from the mouth of the Montreal River to Turtle Lake, 'From where there is a portage one-fourth of a mile to a small pond, thence up the outlet of a small lake one-fourth of a mile, from which a portage of three miles is made to the Old Plantation River. This is descended eighteen miles to the entrance of the Flambeau River, which rises in the lake of the same name, and is twenty four miles long."
In Malhiot's day a comparatively small, insignificant village of Chippewa dwelt at the mouth of the Ontonagon River, and was closely connected with the Lac du Flambeau Band, so that the trade was usually conducted from that point.
The fur traders called the Indians who used wild rice Folles Avoine (Wild Oats) Sauteurs, and the territory between the St. Croix and the Lac du Flambeau was known as the Folles Avoine District.
"Two young men from the Pelican Lakes were sent here by La Chouette, arrived here this morning. I got 110 muskrats and two beaver skins from them. I am sending him George Yarns, his father-in-law, to get the key he has belonging to me and to take him ammunition and a few goods he asks for the purpose of trading on commission with the savages of the Pelican Lakes."
Chrysostom Verwyst, O.S.F., writing of "Historic Sites on Chequamegon Bay," mentions Boyd's Creek and states that a man named Boyd once resided there, married to an Indians woman. He was shot in a quarrel with another man. One of his sons lived at Flambeau Farm, and two of his granddaughters at Lac du Flambeau.
Other journals than that of Malhiot bear reference s to Lac du Flambeau. Michael Curot's journal, 1803-4, written from the Yellow River trading post speaks of the arrival of La Pierre a Filer and Le Plot at Sayer's fort and demanding rum. They were celebrated chiefs of the Lac du Flambeau Band connected with this company.
Grignon, in a letter to Robert Dickson written May 29, 1815, at La Baye
(Green Bay) said:
Malhiot tells of giving Les Grande Orellie seven chopines of mixed rum for nothing, "because every spring he gives quantities of fish for our people when the come from the interior."
This practice was a common one, for there has been preserved a long list of Indians who have received goods for 'nothing'. Included in these names are those of La Cramalliere, La Chouette, Le Petit Forgeron, Le Petit Racine, Le Outarde, Le Chef des Oisasur, Le Tete Grise, La Loche, La Cornerlie, Le Grand Loutre, Le Petite Tonner, L'epaule de Canard, L'egle Barcelaux.
Paul Bourdinion of Montreal was engaged as boatman, on July 11, 1817, for three years, In view of the wages paid Beudrin it is strange to find that Bourdinion was to receive only $700 for three years.
Even in this remote wilderness employment was insecure, for another entry contained the memoranda "Discharged" after a note that James Cook of Montreal was engaged as a clerk at Lac du Flambeau. March 20, 1818, at $150.
Evidently other white men than French were in northern Wisconsin early in the nineteenth century, for the roster lists Tunis Hagerman, engaged as fisherman May 1818, at Lac du Flambeau for $150. Apparently it was his duty to keep the trading post stocked with fish.
There were Indians on the payroll, too, for we find the name of Kieneigwin Macken engaged August 1818 as boatman for one year at $300. He could not have given satisfaction, for 'discharged' is written after the entry.
Of indubitable Teutonic origin is the name of Joseph Neumanville, hired at Mackinac for Lac du Flambeau serves as clerk on August 7, 1818. Other names in the roster of employees are those of Edward St. Arno and Leon St. Germaine, both boatmen. The last entry is dated July 7, 1819.
A letter to John Asken Jr., to John Asken, Strabane, dated St. Joseph, August 8, 1811, says 'Johnny has made his agreement with Mr. Lewis Crawford and is to winter at Lac du Flambeau, Superior.'
Crawford was a member of the Northwest Company.
Lyman Warren was made a partner in the lake traffic by the American Fur Company and in 1824 established at La Pointe as the company's agent at Lac du Flambeau, Lac Corte Oreilles and St. Croix departments, an arrangement which continued for some fourteen years.
Oakes told Kemper that in the winter of 1832-33 several lodges of Chippewa had gone after buffalo were starved to death, including about sixty persons. The Sioux had driven away the animals and the Chippewa perished before they could return.
A statement of goods sent to the Wisconsin River in charge of Jean Baptiste Basinet and J.Q. Racicot and made out by Malhiot includes items such as chief's coats and shirts, hats, plums for hats, black silk handkerchiefs, white porcelain beads, knives, steels for striking fire, 'wormers' for cleaning guns, horn combs, wire for snares, packs of cards, needles, silver jewelry, powder, tomahawks, spear heads, brass and tin kettles.
Outward invoices of the American Fur Company show one to John Hogle and others for trade at Lac du Flambeau and its dependencies dated at Michilimackinac July 21, 1821.
One to Truman A. Warren for the trade of Lac du Flambeau and its dependencies dated July 15, 1822, at Mackinac.
up to 1820
Later, in a bill for organizing "Chippewa" Territory (drawn in 1824) and the first bill to establish a government west of Lake Michigan, Doty notes among the places inhabited the permanent trading establishment at Lac du Flambeau. He also makes further reference to this place in a communication to James Strong, chairman of the committee on territories, dated December 25, 1827.
Always a Holiday
Sometimes there were quarrels with Indians resulting in bloody fighting that verged on warfare or massacre.
"We had quarrels all day with the savages of Lac du Flambeau; spears, knives, hatchets, etc., wear all brought into play. They mad a breach in the fort, broke one of the doors, and had it not been for the aid of Epaule de Richard and two or three young me who were quite sober at the time, there would certainly have been bloodshed and somebody even killed on one side or the other. After a two hour quarrel we succeeded in getting those wild beasts out of the fort."
Next day Malhiot writes how the saves of Lac du Flambeau finished their noise only at 9 o'clock the night before, and to sign the treaty of peace he gave them a "keg of 4 pots and a brasse of tobacco."
The village of Lac du Flambeau appears to have been attached at this time to the rival XY Company, while Malhiot, for the Northwest Company, relied upon the trade of the outlying villages.
"Our people form Lac du Flambeau, Tremble, Martineau and Le Beau, arrived here at 6 o'clock last evening with their baggage; decided to go on to Mr. Cadotte at La Pointe if they had not found another clerk to replace Charles Gauthier. They are thin and emaciated like real skeletons. They say are more ill-treated than ever by Gauthier; that half the time they had nothing to eat, while he never passed a day without a good meal; that he is resolved to go and work for the XY if he is replaced by another; further he has sworn to kill Racicot for having written against him, and that there would be murder before he left Lac du Flambeau; that he is resolved to pull up all the clearings, that is to say the potatoes and the corn he has planted or caused to have planted; finally, that he is like a wild beast, and not a day passes without his swearing, storming and inveighing against those who wintered with him last year."
Possibly Gauthier was not as black as he was painted in this indictment, and we would prefer to believe him better than this picture, since he has living descendants on the reservation.
The foregoing doesn't exhaust the available information concerning Lac du Flambeau. It is confined, as stated, to what was found in scattered and fragmentary form in the 'Collections.' The hope is expressed that other investigators will reveal more.
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