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Histories:  Trempealeau Co. Historical Accounts:

"History of Trempealeau County Wisconsin, 1917":

Chapter 1

Sub-chapter - The Red Men and the Fur Trade


The French Fur Trade

-As transcribed from pages 12 - 14

Along with the shifting of tribal homes grew up changes in the method of handling the fur trade. The Indian hunters no longer made yearly pilgrimages to Montreal to exchange their gathered peltry for the white man's goods. Instead the white men came to them offering their wares, and with tribal consent built in their country at convenient places little log forts, where an officer and a few soldiers kept order over the motley crowd of traders and coureurs des bois that enriched themselves by the wilderness traffic. Most of the traders were licensed by the government and subjected to strict rules for the conduct of their trade. The illegal trader, however, flourished and followed his Indian customers into the depths of the forest, beyond the reach of the orders and regulations enforced by the commandants at the wayside posts. These unlicensed traders carried to the red man the alcoholic liquors the white man had taught him to love; and in disregard of the regulations of the French government, the Indian grew more and more debauched and degraded by his association with the whites. Radisson, who had explored the western forests for the French, deserted to the English government, and in 1670 aided in forming the Hudson's Bay Company, that greatest of all fur-trade monopolies, which, after nearly 250 years, is still the greatest fur company in the world.

Its traders early penetrated to the north shore of Lake Superior and drew away many Indians who had previously contributed to the wealth of Canada. The English also attempted to secure the northwest fur trade by the route of the Great Lakes. Utilizing the Iroquois as middlemen, the tribes of Wisconsin were tempted to carry their wares to white men who paid a larger price for furs and gave better goods in return than those of the French merchants.

Thus through illegal traders and foreign rivals the French fur trade was by the close of the seventeenth century, so demoralized that the Canadian authorities, spurred thereto by the missionaries, determined upon drastic measures. All licenses for traders were revoked, and in 1696 a decree went forth that all the Northwest posts should be evacuated and that missionaries should be the only white men allowed in the Ottawa Country. It was thought that the old custom of yearly caravans would be revived, thus governmental control could he exercised over the trade and the aborigines protected. These measures were only partially successful. Coureurs de bois refused to obey the summons to return to New France and shamelessly brought in English goods; soldiers deserted from the garrisons before evacuation, married among the indian tribes and introduced the white man's arts. Albany and Hudson Bay traders vigorously pressed their advantage, and the Canadian authorities feared that the whole of the Northwest trade would slip from their control.

This danger of disintegration was checked by two events that occurred in the first year of the eighteenth century, by which the French recovered their morale and resumed operations in the Northwest. The first of these was the founding of Detroit, a post whose position barred the English from the upper lakes. The second was the peace with the Iroquois, which was signed at Montreal after a great ceremony, and an exchange of prisoners among all the warring tribes. The license for the fur trade was then restored, the coureur des bois called in by proclaiming pardons for past offenses, and the policy of control by posts and garrisons was re-established throughout the Northwest.

The establishment of Detroit caused new changes in the Indian geography of Wisconsin. The Miami and Mascouten entirely withdrew from the state and moved eastward toward the new post. The Potawatomi progressed southward around the bend of Lake Michigan, while the Winnebago filled in the vacant territory near Lake Winnebago and along the Rock River Valley. In 1706 a large portion of the Fox and Sauk tribes deserted Wisconsin and settled in the vicinity of Detroit, whither the Ottawa and Huron from the neighborhood of Mackinac had preceded them. This new accumulation of savage peoples did not long dwell in harmony. In 1712 a fierce intertribal quarrel broke out in which the commandant of Detroit took sides against the Wisconsin tribesmen. Many of the Sauk, Foxes and Kickapoo were slain, the remainder fled back to their former homes in Wisconsin, where the remnant of these tribes waged barbaric warfares against the French for over thirty years. This hostility closed the Fox-Wisconsin waterway to French traders, rendered their lives insecure on all the western pathways and greatly diminished French influence in the far Northwest.

In the course of these Fox wars the first military invasion of Wisconsin occurred when, in 1716, Sieur Louvigny led a considerable army of Canadian soldiers, accompanied by a miscellaneous host of traders, voyageurs and Indians through Green Bay to the Fox fort at Little Butte des Morts. The Foxes withstood for a time a considerable siege, which ended in a compromise with the invading forces. The succeeding year a French post was built on the site of Fort Howard, that was maintained until the fall of the French sovereignty in the New World. In 1718, in order to develop the copper mines that were thought to exist on the shores of Lake Superior, an official post was built at Chequamegon. From 1727 to 1750, in order to exploit the fur trade among the Sioux French, posts were erected upon the Upper Mississippi. Chequamegon and the Mississippi posts were abandoned during the French and Indian war. In 1743 a French post was erected on the Mississippi near the lead mines, where a beginning was made in developing this industry. Thus the French found copper, lead and furs in Wisconsin, the most valuable of which was peltry.

After the Fox wars were over the fur trade grew with startling rapidity, and the only rivals to the Canadian traders were the French merchants from Louisiana, whose northern boundary lay between the Rock and Wisconsin rivers. In 1752 the Green Bay post was leased to a relative of the reigning governor, who exploited it so dishonestly that the Marquis of Montcalm declared, "Never have theft and license gone so far." The yearly harvest of Wisconsin furs amounted to 500 to 600 packs valued at a quarter of a million dollars.

Peculation and dishonesty led to the downfall of New France. Unprotected by rapacious officials, the lilies of France fell before the cross of St. George and St. Andrew, and the British replaced the French not only on the St. Lawrence, but along the Great Lakes and in the eastern part of the Mississippi Valley.




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