By Amorin Mello

Gray Devil schoolmaster

(Lewiston Saturday Journal, April 27, 1895, page 11)

Lysander Cutler is renown for his service as a Union Army commander during the American Civil War.  His other, more obscure, adventures have had long-lasting impacts upon the social fabric in the Penokee Mountains of northwestern Wisconsin because his reign of terror allowed mining companies to dispossess the Penokee Mountains from the Lake Superior Chippewa.  Although his efforts failed to produce any significant minerals, this heritage still thrives in the conflict between GTAC’s proposed mine site and the nearby LCO HELP camp. Today, Bulletproof Securities advertises their eco-terrorism and economic sabotage security services, as seen in the Penokee Mountains on Indian Country TV.
(Lewiston Saturday Journal, April 27, 1895, page 11)

(Lewiston Saturday Journal, April 27, 1895, page 11)

Transcript from the

History of Milwaukee, Wisconsin:

From Prehistoric Times to the Present Date

as published in 1881 by the Milwaukee Genealogical Society:

MAJOR-GENERAL LYSANDER CUTLER was born in Royalston, Worcester County, Mass., February 16, 1807. His father, Tarrant Cutler, was one of the most independent and sturdy farmers of the county, and cultivated, with the help of six boys, as they grew up, one of the largest and most rocky farms in all that stony region of hills that lies at the foot of Mount Monadnock. Here Lysander received his early education. He worked on the farm during the Summers, and attended the district school each Winter till he was 16 years old. At that age he had acquired all that could be gotten from the town schools and all other sources within his reach, and in the opinion of his father was in a dangerous state of forwardness, calculated to unfit him for the high and noble career he had marked out for him — on the farm, and he accordingly determined that his education was complete, and set him down for the coming five years as a steady hand on the farm. The young man broke out in open rebellion against this paternal edict and announced his intention to leave the homestead forever, unless his father would at least assist him to acquire an academic education. After many stormy discussions, the matter was settled by a sort of treaty, whereby, although still under parental rule, he had a roving commission to forage for himself within limits set by his father. Under this arrangement he did very little farm work except in haying, when all the boys were called home to assist. During these five years he managed to clothe himself, learn the clothier’s trade, get a fair academic education, had learnt the art of land surveying, and had acquired a very enviable reputation in the county as a successful schoolmaster, as he had fought into submission several turbulent and unmanageable schools that had heretofore made it a practice to “pitch out” such teachers as were undesirable to them. With such acquisitions, at the age of 21, he emigrated to Maine and settled in the town of Dexter, Penobscot County, in 1828. His worldly goods on his arrival consisted of a silver watch and two dollars in money. He arrived in the Winter, just as the settlement was in an uproar over a rebellion in the school that had thus far proved unmanageable and had resulted in the flogging and summary ejectment of several masters who had attempted to maintain discipline by the ferule and switch, the only means then in vogue. He immediately volunteered to keep the school out for the sum of sixteen dollars per month — no school, no pay. The school committee accepted his proposition. The first day was devoted to an examination on the part of the big boys, as to the qualification of the new master. The examination was searching, and resulted in the thorough flogging of every bully in the school and a quiet orderly session thereafter to the end of the term. Thus early established in favor at the settlement, he began the business of his life. He surveyed the land up and down the stream which flowed from a small lake having an outlet at the village, and discovered the value of the water-power which had hitherto only been roughly put to use to run a saw-mill. In 1834 he entered into a co-partnership with Jonathan Farrar, a wealthy proprietor of the township, and built a woolen mill, then the largest east of Massachusetts, which under his successful management brought him what was then deemed an independent fortune in ten years. In 1843 the mill was burned to the ground, leaving him as poor as when he started. His partner, however, drew upon his private credit and the works were speedily rebuilt and added to from time to time till 1856. At that time the village had grown to a smart manufacturing town numbering 2,000 inhabitants, nearly half of whom were dependent on him for support. The firm owned three woolen factories, a foundry, a grist-mill, a saw-mill, a large store and many tenements. The panic of that year found his business widely extended. The mills stopped, the immense accumulation of their unsold goods were sold, in some instances, at less than half their cost, the property went into other hands and the firm was ruined. Turning his back on the scenes of his active life, he came to Milwaukee in 1856.

Cutler served as a Lieutenant Colonel during the Aroostook “Bloodless” War land dispute in Maine. 

During his New England life he took an active part in the affairs of his State. He was almost uninterruptedly a member of the Board of Selectmen of his town, served in the State Senate one term — 1839-40 — as a Whig. He commanded a regiment of troops on the border, pending the settlement of the northeastern boundary, in 1838-9. He was also active in educational matters. He was for several years one of the Trustees of Westbrook Seminary, and served on the Board of Trustees of Tufis College, during the years when it was struggling into life. He also gave his time and means to the development of the railroad system of the State, and was one of the Board of Directors of the Maine Central (then the Androscoggin and Penobscot Railroad Company) until it was built as far east as Bangor. He was generous to a fault, and for the thirty years he lived in Maine he carried an open hand and purse to all who needed. It was certainly no small thing or such a man at such a time of life to commence anew, in a strange country the strife for business success among the crowds of younger men who were thronging every avenue that opened to even a chance of good fortune.

“…the population of Ashland increased quite rapidly…  Of these a few remained only a short time, coming merely for temporary purposes. 1855 brought a still larger increase of inhabitants, among them M. H. Mandlebaum (now a resident of Hancock, Mich.), Augustus Barber (who was drowned at Montreal River in 1867), Benj. Hoppenyan, Chas. Day, Geo R. Stuntz, George E. Stuntz, Dr. Edwin Ellis, Martin Roehm, Col. Lysander Cutler, J. S. Buck, Ingraham Fletcher, Hon. J. R. Nelson, Hon. D. A. J. Baker, Mrs. Conrad Goeltz, Henry Drixler (father of Mrs. Conrad Goeltz, who died in 1857, his being the first death in town), and Henry Palmer.” ~ Ashland Press, January 4, 1893 (Wisconsin Historical Society)
Dr. James P. Greavesinvestigated animal magnetism and was a bad egg.

He came to Milwaukee in answer to a letter from an old Maine friend, Horatio Hill, then one of the most active business men and public-spirited citizens of Milwaukee. He with Palmer, the Pbrothers Hercules and Talbot Dousman, Dr. Greaves and others had organized the Penokee Mining Company. The company had a sort of undefined and undefinable title to some parts of the celebrated iron deposits in the Penokee Range lying some thirty miles inland from Lake Superior, at the extreme northern point where what is now Bayfield County, juts out into the lake. The title was held by virtue of some Indian script which had been bought from the Sioux Indians, then inhabiting that region, and was by no means a perfect one, except the land was surveyed and occupied by the company and direct warrants thereby secured from the Government Land Office. Most brilliant reports had been made of the extent of the deposits and the purity of the ore. There could be no doubt that the development of these immense mineral resources would bring to the owners untold wealth. Mr. Cutler was appointed the managing agent of this prospective Wisconsin bonanza, at a fair salary, to which was added a liberal amount of the stock of the company. His first task was to perfect the title to the property, and the first step toward it was to take a personal view of the situation and the property. It was a somewhat arduous undertaking, not unfraught with danger. Excepting two or three traders and surveyors, who had stock in the company, the population, which consisted mostly of Indians and half-breeds, viewed this incursion of wealth-hunters from the lower lakes with suspicion and distrust. To add to the difficulties of the situation, other parties owning Sioux script were endeavoring to acquire a title to the mineral range. One man working in the interest of the company the year before, had been discovered, after being missed for some weeks, dead in the forest, near the range. Bruises and other indications of violence on the body gave strong ground for the belief that he had been murdered. Altogether it was a position, the applications for which were not numerous. His first trip was made in the Summer of 1857. He spent several months on the range and at LaPointe, Ashland, Bayfield and on to the Indian Reservation, acquainted himself thoroughly with the status of the company’s claims, and returned to Milwaukee. He had ascertained that the immense value of the claim had not been overestimated, and had made a further discovery, less desirable, that the company had no valid title to it, except they occupied it as actual settlers. It was determined to organize a colony sufficiently large to cover every section of the territory desired, and squat it out a sufficient time to entitle them to settlers’ warrants. The colony consisted of picked men, some from the State of Maine, who entered the employ of the company, and built their cabins as fast as the surveyor’s stakes were driven. The main cabin, which was a depot of supplies, was of importance as it was the center of the town, and as it complied with all the requirements of the law, being organized as a store and a school, it gave the company a claim to a “town plat” of a square mile. Here Colonel Cutler spent two Winters, during which he and his trusty employs endured all the hardships and dangers of a pioneer life. The nearest point where supplies could be obtained was thirty miles distant through a trackless and dense forest. All supplies were packed in on the backs of the squatters or half-breed packers who sometimes in a surly mood would lay down their burdens and return to the settlement. Nothing but the fearless pluck and dauntless courage of Colonel Cutler kept these men in wholesome awe, and insured the safety of the settlers while they remained.

Lysander Cutler's store and school for a town plat. (Paul DeMain © 2013)

Lysander Cutler’s town plat ruins at the “Moore Location” of the Lac Courte Oreilles Harvest Education Learning Project (Paul DeMain © 2013).

(Pioneer History of Milwaukee: 1847 by James Smith Buck)

Lysander Cutler and the Ironton Trail (Pioneer History of Milwaukee: 1847 by James Smith Buck)

The following story is told by James S. Buck, of this city, who was one of the colony, as illustrating his mode of discipline: Late one week it was discovered that there were not sufficient supplies to last over Sunday. Colonel Cutler dispatched one of his men to the lake, with instructions to load two half-breeds and send them forward to camp the next day, he agreeing to meet them at the half-way camp and pay them for their services. They arrived before him, in a surly mood, and without waiting except to get breath took up their loads and trudged back to Bayfield. Soon after Colonel Cutler arrived and having been informed of their return set out after them. He did not overtake them on the road, but entered Bayfield a few minutes behind them, and found them at the store sitting by the fire, with their packs, which they had just thrown off, by their sides. On entering he drew up his rifle and said: “Boys, you can have just half a minute to shoulder those packs and start for the range.” In less time than was allowed they were again on the return tramp, supported in the rear by the Colonel and his rifle. At the half-way camp they begged for rest, but the only reply from their implacable guard was: “March!” with an expletive which showed undoubtedly that he was in earnest. They reached the range late at night. It was the last attempt at breach of contract on the part of the half-breeds while he remained in that region.

Cutler was contracted for carrying the mails in 1858 (United States Congressional serial set, Volume 1013).

Cutler was contracted for carrying the mails in 1858 (United States Congressional serial set, Volume 1013).

In the Winter all the communication with the rest of the world was cut off, except by a weekly mail which was brought through from St. Paul by an Indian mail-carrier. Once during each Winter he made the trip on snow shoes, to St. Paul, a distance of over two hundred miles. The claim was at last secured, and a valid title to the land vested in the company. He left the region, at the end of two years, successful in this mission, and attained, while there, the general respect of all, both white and red, although his pet name among the Indians did not evince a love unmingled with fear; they called him Gray Devil.”  The dull times that followed put a long quietus on Western schemes of speculation, and Colonel Cutler’s company was laid on the shelf with many others of less merit, till more propitious times.

Cutler's contract ceased. (United States Congressional serial set, Issue 1041, Part 2).

Cutler’s contract was not successful for long. (United States Congressional serial set, Issue 1041, Part 2).

In 1859 he engaged in the grains and commission business, in which he continued with indifferent success till the breaking out of the war.

The first gun fired on the flag seemed to rouse the full energies of his naturally pugnacious nature. It seemed as though the burdens of twenty years had fallen from his shoulders, and he showed the war-like enthusiasm of a young man of thirty instead of the more quiet demonstrations of a man who had already done the arduous work of a common lifetime. It was only in deference to the earnest protests of his friends that he did not enlist as a common soldier when the first call was made for ninety-day troops.

(History of Milwaukee)

pg. 787 (History of Milwaukee, Wisconsin)

Colonel Cutler was commissioned as Colonel of the Sixth Wisconsin Regiment June 25, 1861. His regiment left the State July 28, and joined the forces around Washington August 7. August 29 it was attached to King’s Brigade, of which it remained a part during the war and shares in its imperishable renown asThe Iron Brigade.” During its first year of service Colonel Cutler was much of the time in command of the Brigade, and did much in perfecting it in discipline and tactics. His active service in the field commenced with the campaign of 1862. McDowell’s Division, to which the “Iron Brigade” was attached, did not participate in the peninsular battles of the campaign, being held as a reserve force to repel any overland demonstrations on the Capital, similar to that of the year before, which culminated in the first battle of Bull Run. During the earlier months of the campaign Colonel Cutler commanded the Brigade, till the assignment of Brigadier-General John Gibbons, May 2, when he again returned to his regiment. The Brigade was almost constantly on the march from point to point to avert threatened danger or mislead the enemy, till the beginning of August. On the fifth of that month the withdrawal of a part of the rebel forces from McClellan’s front, and a movement up the Shenandoah as well as toward Pope, commenced the active campaign. August 6, Colonel Cutler with his regiment and a New Hampshire regiment of cavalry penetrated into the enemy’s country as far as Frederick’s Hall Station, twenty-three miles from the junction of the Virginia Central with the Richmond & Potomac Railroad, and there tore up the track for a mile in each direction, thus cutting off the rebel communication between Richmond and Gordonsville. They also burned the depot, warehouse and telegraph office and destroyed a large amount of Confederate supplies. The expedition was entirely successful. During three days and one half the regiment had marched ninety miles, and were, when they struck the railroad, thirty miles from any support. It returned without the loss of aman. General Gibbon in his official report commended the regiment and Colonel Cutler as follows: “Colonel Cutler’s part in the expedition was completely successful. I can not refer in too high terms to the conduct of Colonel Cutler; to his energy and good judgment, seconded as he was by his fine regiment, the success of the expedition is entirely due.” On the 19th of August General Pope commenced his retreat. The “Iron Brigade” was for nearly ten days within sight of the enemy as they slowly worked their way up towards Washington, avoiding as much as possible any collision with the troops during its maneuvers to outflank Pope and if possible intercept him in his march to the defense of the threatened Capital. On the twenty-eighth having so far out-maneuvered him as to have separated the divisions of the army too far for support, the division of Longstreet fell upon the “Iron Brigade” which was marching toward Centerville on the Gainesville road. The Federal troops were outnumbered three to one, but they held the enemy in check till night put an end to the carnage which marked it as one of the most severe engagements of the war. How Colonel Cutler and Colonel Hamilton of Milwaukee bore themselves on that bloody field has been detailed in a previous chapter. They were severely wounded. Colonel Cutler had his horse shot under him, and was wounded by a minnie bail which passed entirely through his thigh, His wound was dangerous and kept him from active service till November 5, when he returned to the front and took command of the Brigade which he retained till the twenty-second, when General Sol. Merideth, who had been appointed Brigadier-General, assumed the command and he again returned to his regiment. At the battle of Fredericksburg he again led the “Iron Brigade,” being put in command during the action, after the Brigade had crossed the Rappahannock, and taken position in line of battle. Soon after he was appointed Brigadier-General, to date from November 29, I862, and assigned to the Second Brigade, First Division, First Army Corps. His Brigade with the “Iron Brigade” comprised the division commanded by Wadsworth. The corps was commanded by Major-General Reynolds. He fought through the Chancellorsville campaign, his Brigade covering the retreat after the three days’ slaughter was finished. At Gettysburg his brigade was in the advance, opened the battle and, with the “Iron Brigade,” sustained the brunt of the fighting on the memorable 1st of July 1863. During that day. his old regiment, the Sixth, was attached to his brigade. Major-General Newton, in his report, details the part taken in this action as follows:

General Cutler was in the advance and opened the battle of Gettsyburg. In this severe and obstinate engagement he held the right for four hours, changing front without confusion, three times, under a galling fire, and lost, in killed and wounded, three-fourths of his officers and men, having three of his staff wounded and all the horses killed. When the order was given to retire, he marched the remnant of his brigade off the field in perfect order and checked the advance of Ewell’s corps, which gave the artillery time to retire. In effecting this he lost heavily. His brigade was engaged on the night of the second and the morning of the third in repulsing the assaults of the Rebels on the right of our line.”

During Grant’s campaign of 1864, General Wadsworth was killed in the second day’s battle in the Wilderness. On his death the command of the division devolved on General Cutler, which he held thereafter all through the series of battles that followed, and during the siege of Petersburg, until August 21, when he was wounded in the face while repulsing an assault on the Weldon Railroad. On the 15th of September, wounded and in broken health, from his long and arduous service, he was, at his own request relieved from field duty, and ordered to New York, to take charge of the forwarding of troops from that State. Subsequently he was ordered to the command of the draft camp of rendezvous at Jackson, Mich., where he remained till the close of the Rebellion. He was appointed Brevet Major-General. the commission to date from his last fight on the Weldon Railroad, August 21. 1864, He resigned July 1, 1865,and returned to Milwaukee. With the excitement of active duty gone, his recuperative powers failed to restore his impaired health, and his earthly career ended July 30, 1866. The following orders were issued at Madison on the occasion of his death, by Gov. Fairchild, one of his companions in arms, and by the G.A.R.

State of Wisconsin, Executive Department,
Madison. July 31, 1866.

Executive Order No. 7.
The people of Wisconsin will hear with deep regret the announcement of the death of Brevet Major-General Lysander Cutler. at Milwaukee, on Monday the 30th inst.

General Cutler was among the most efficient and best beloved soldiers from this State. Distinguished for his services, covered with honorable scars, filled with years and glory, he goes to his grave deeply mourned by the entire people of a sorrowing State.

As a testimony of respect, the flag upon the State Capitol will be displayed at half mast, on Tuesday, 31st of July, inst.

By the Governor,
Charles Fairchild, Military Secretary.


Headquarters Post No. 1. G.A.R;
Madison, July 31, 1866.

Special Order No. 1.

It is my painful duty to announce the death of one of Wisconsin’s most devoted and prominent general officers during the late war, Major-General Lysander Cutler, of Milwaukee.

It is ordered that as a mark of respect to the deceased, the members oi’ this post wear the badge of mourning prescribed by army regulations, for the period or ten days from this date.

By command of
Henry Sanford, P.A.


General Cutler was married in 1830, to Catherine W. Bassett. He had five children, two sons and three daughters, all of whom are still living. His widow still survives. In stature he was six feet tall and spare. His eyes were iron gray, deep set. and overhung by heavy eyebrows. He was prematurely gray, and during the later years of life both his hair and beard were white. His indomitable will and strict devotion to duty rendered him stern and uncompromising in his general bearing and appearance; but underneath his rough exterior beat a heart, as tender as a woman’s, that won the lasting love of all who came to know him well. To the toils, dangers and sufferings of his campaigns he never yielded, but on receiving the tidings of the death of his little grandson, who died while he was in the service, he took to his tent and bed, completely bowed and broken by the great grief that had smote his heart.  The child and the grim old warrior now sleep side by side at Forest Home.

By Leo

Deer Hunting by Torchlight in Bark Canoes 1846-1848 by George Catlin (Smithsonian American Art Museum)

Chequamegon History doesn’t usually deal with current events, preferring to stay in the 18th and 19th centuries, but I heard a radio program last week that prompted me to dig out some old sources related to a timely topic:  off-reservation deer hunting at night by the Lake Superior Chippewa bands.

The State of Wisconsin’s January 7th, 2015 decision to appeal a lower-court decision in favor of Chippewa off-reservation night hunting prompted an edition of Wisconsin Public Radio’s Central Time on the topic that aired later that afternoon.  The Ojibwe case in favor of night hunting is briefly, but thoughtfully, presented by the hosts, by Brandon Thoms for the Lac du Flambeau Band and by Richard Monette, Director of the Great Lakes Indian Law Center at UW-Madison.

Though Monette and Thoms touched briefly on the historical and ethical role in Ojibwe communities, the program wasn’t long enough for them to go into much depth.  Since night hunting is something that brings controversy, and with it misinformation, I am hoping these historical documents can help promote three points of understanding among those of us who live in the ceded territory of the 21st century.

1.  Ojibwe hunters used bright light as a means to harvest deer at night long before the creation of the current reservations.

2.  Hunting at night was historically an efficient and effective means of obtaining food.

3.  Controversy over the ethics of “shining” stems more from differences in historical and cultural hunting values than on real environmental values and sustainable practices.  


“Modern” Technology

In Northern Wisconsin, the idea of night-hunting deer is often associated with the term “shining.” Often used pejoratively, the word tends to conjure up the image of hunters shooting deer out the windows of mud-covered trucks equipped with high-powered electrical spotlights.  

Since deer tend to freeze in place when bright light is shone in their eyes, this makes it possible to get close enough to make an accurate shot in darkness.  I’ve heard the argument that “shining” relies on modern technology and therefore isn’t fair to the deer.

However, this argument isn’t true.  North American hunters used bright light as a means to harvest deer long before the invention of electric spotlights.  An 1804 journal entry from the British-Canadian fur-trader George Nelson explains how it worked.  Nelson, a teenager trading on the Chippewa River under Simon Charette for the XY Company, participated in such a hunt with his Ojibwe companions just south of Clam Lake.  This entry appears on page 158-160 of the 2002 Minnesota Historical Press Edition of the Nelson journals, edited by Laura Lynn Peers and Theresa Schenck:

Monday 29th [May 1804] Sorel & I go to get our small canoe that we left above in this small river not being able to bring it down with our fish upon our backs the river being too rapidous.  As soon as we arrived at our camp we set off & encamped at a small portage not very distant.  We had no sooner carried our things across the Portage, then I embarked with the indian to hunt deer to night with a Candle[*].  We ascended the river about 2 leagues further than our encampment where we seen a large Buck which we frightened away by sneezing – :  However at dusk we light our candle & about an hour after hearing something puddling in the water we let ourselves drift ’till within 8 or ten yards when we found it to be several deer, the indian wounded one & the others immediately run off – we debarked & seen much blood having our candle, dispairing however of finding it we reembarked – but misfortunately we upset our canoe just getting in, consequently our candle not being well secured fell over board & a terrible shower of rain falling just at this momment obliged us to shelter ourselves under a large pine (Epinette) ’till next morning when after some search we found the deer dead – We returned to our people [–& then continued our course up this same river]

At the end of this journal, Nelson added the following (in footnote on same pages of the published edition):

*(To Page 29 – May 29th) The indians from about the 15th of May ’till about the 20th of August kill a great number of deer every night by this means, the skins of which they gather & sell or trade them in the fall with the traders – The means they employ are these, they raise about 4 foot long of pine, elm, or any other strong bark which they double in such a manner as to make the lower part serve as a shelf & upon this the Candle rests, while the rest or upper part off the bark serves as a kind of screen behind which they set unperceived; for the candle that is upon the lower part of the shelf does not leave any part of the canoe visable for it is fastened to the bow of the canoe between the first bar & the curve – it is tied fast & high enough to put the Gun under below.  When there is any deer (for they never fail coming every night to the borders of the small lakes & rivers where they eat weeds & remain in the water on account of the muskatas that are no less numerous than troublesome) it is easily known; for indians in General have as sharp an ear as their sight; & can tell where to direct when he hears the least puddling in the water.  The deer whenever they see a light of this kind never stir but keep looking upon it ’till sometimes they are not more than three yards distant when the indian shoots them with shot, but if the least noise be made, by striking upon the canoe or its bars, sneezing, caughing, or even by touching your paddle upon a stone or stick in the bottom of the river they scamper off immediately…

And in a later consolidation of his journals, he added this to the account:

…At another place, a young indian & I went out to hunt deer.  We made a Candle by chewing tallow, of which we had plenty & wrapped over a piece of cotton shirt as a wick, & placed it conveniently in the bow of the Canoe, where a screen had been erected with a piece of Spruce bark so large as to completely cover the indian, yet so as he could see what was going on before.  We saw Several Deer.  At dark, we drifted down -frightened off one party of deer.  We soon found another, who attracted by the Candles, kept staring upon it alone: we drifted slowly only the lad shot one, & off the others ran…

Similar accounts can be found in other sources, and it seems this method of hunting was widespread and the most common way to hunt deer in spring and summer.  The practice almost certainly predates the arrival of whites in the Lake Superior country, and hopefully these journals can put to bed the idea that night-hunting only became possible with the advent of electricity.

The Sport in Shining

Sir Edward Robert Sullivan, 5th Baronet, as depicted by Carlo Pelligrini for Vanity Fair in 1885 (National Portrait Gallery; London)

Some criticism of night hunting comes from the idea that it is too easy, and therefore, not sporting or fair to the deer.  An 1850 account from the St. Croix River near present-day Gordon shows some of this sentiment. Sir Edward Robert Sullivan Bart., an English noble came here during a trip throughout the Americas described in the 1852 work, Rambles and Scrambles in North and South America.  Although it comes two years before Carl Scherzer’s account of La Pointe  (translated into English for the time first here on Chequamegon History) the Brule and the St. Croix, Rambles and Scrambles is not nearly as interesting as the German work.  Sullivan took the same route to Stillwater, and even engaged the same La Pointe voyageur (Souverain Denis) as a guide, but the work is generally disappointing.  Rather than Scherzer’s curiosity and deep ethnographic detail, Sullivan’s text is largely filled with the haughty superiority one might expect from the most stereotypical Victorian gentleman colonialist.    

pg. 76

pg. 77

This account of Ojibwe hunting contrasts humorously with Sullivan’s earlier account from the lakeshore (probably near Sand Bay) of his own attempt at hunting the Northwoods:

pg. 67

pg. 68

The image of the pompous British gentleman hunter walking in panicked circles, is made all the more hilarious by the fact that one of his companions would do the exact same thing the next evening at Iron River.  One imagines the thoughts going through the minds of the Ojibwe-French mix-blood guides as they had to rescue two mighty Zhaaganash sportsmen out of the woods in two days.

And that brings me to my point.  As hard as it may be to admit, much of the prevailing American conservation ethic comes from this British notion of hunting for sport.  This comes from a time in Europe when hunting was forbidden to the common people.  A peasant might be arrested for poaching a deer to feed his family, while the gamekeepers kept the forests preserved so men like Sullivan could bring home trophies.  In such a viewpoint, something like shining might be condemned for being too easy, effective, and unromantic.

On the other hand, the Ojibwe husband and wife on the St. Croix were not looking for a splendid evening of recreation.  They needed venison to feed the village.  It didn’t matter if it was summer and the buck’s antlers weren’t as impressive as they might get in November.  Hunting was necessary work for survival, and it was done using the most efficient and effective means possible.  In describing the Ojibwe idea of the afterlife five years later in 1855, the German ethnographer Johann Kohl writes:

…But, even if we wished to represent the buffalo-covered prairies as a paradise for the hunter, it is still questionable to me whether hunting forms a material feature of the Indian paradise.  To us Europeans hunting is more or less an amusement, but to the Indian it is a toil, and frequently a most fatiguing mode of life.  In many Indian dialects the words “hunter” and “hunting” are synonymous with “work” and “working.”  A good hunter is a clever and industrious workman.  As, then, the idea entertained by most nations of paradise is, that it will be without toil or labour, it is to me more than doubtful whether they regard the chase as an element of their paradisiac existence.  Among the Ojibbeways I never heard that they held such a view.  I once asked a man of their tribe, who was describing paradise to me, and did not at all allude to hunting, “And then you will go every day to hunt and kill a countless number of animals?”  “Oh no!” he replied, dryly, “there is no hunting or labour in paradise (212-13).”

I would argue that most deer hunters in Northern Wisconsin today, both Native and non-Native, derive food, pleasure, and a sense of tradition from hunting.  However, the relative importance of each can vary greatly from hunter to hunter in both communities.  

I know many white hunters who hunt mainly to fill the freezer rather rather than for sport, and with it, there is a certain conservation ethic that has descended from those peasant poachers.  In this viewpoint, you respect and value the lives of animals because they gave their lives to keep you alive, not because you came up with some convoluted “sporting” method of harvesting them.  The ethics that would have you break the law to keep and eat a dying undersized fish aren’t the same ethics of the Teddy Roosevelts and Ernest Hemingways of the world, but they are conservation ethics nonetheless.  

In my mind, these two viewpoints on the role and purpose of hunting are central to the debate over “shining,” and I think examination of history might find Ojibwe and non-Ojibwe residents of the ceded territory having more in common with each other than they do with Scott Walker and his Deer Czar.        

Environmental Impact of Night Hunting

While on the subject of conservation, it is worth looking at whether or not night hunting is bad for the environment.  Let’s put aside for a minute the fact that the off-reservation night harvest would be minuscule compared to the regular Wisconsin deer hunt or the amount of deer who die at night after being inadvertently “shined” on the highways.  And let’s forget for a minute how “divide and conquer” politicians in the eighties used the environment as red herring to turn whites and Indians against each other over the issue of spearfishing or how the walleye populations in the ceded territory are kept up in large part by tribal conservation efforts.  Finally, let’s stop puzzling over how Native people managed to survive on this continent for tens of thousands of years before whites came to teach them how to manage resources.  Yes, let’s forget about those things and go back to the historical record.

If Nelson’s journals show that hunting out of a canoe by torchlight was well established at the outset of the 1800s, and Sullivan’s Rambles and Scrambles, show it being used at mid-century, we can close out the 19th century with an account from Minnesota.  

Reverend Joseph Gillfillan, was a Christian missionary to the Ojibwe people in the areas around Red, Cass, and Leech lakes.  In an 1895 letter to the Minnesota Forestry Department and a subsequent article, The Ojibways in Minnesota, presented in 1896 and published in 1901, we hear a familiar story.

Gillfillan doesn’t describe the Lake Superior Chippewa cessions, specifically, but it shows that Ojibwe hunters continued to night at hunt, by canoe, on off-reservation ceded territory: 

pg. 100

This account, well into the reservation period, is highly critical of Ojibwe hunting techniques. In it, we see parallels to the earlier elite European hunting ethic and today’s concerns over shining.   However, we must remember that the goal of Christian missionaries at that time was not only spreading Christianity but also the assimilation of Native people into white culture.  Gillfillan sees success at hunting as an impediment to the settled agricultural life he desires.  “The Great Spirit always provid[ing] for their wants,” is a direct threat to his mission.  So, rather than admit that maybe the increasing deer population was due to sustainable hunting practices, he tries to come up with outside explanations while condemning the hunt as wasteful.  

Changing the Narrative

In presenting these historical documents, I’m not necessarily trying to convince people to change their views on off-reservation night hunting.  However, I do want people to have their facts straight.  The use of bright lights at the bow of a canoe was a traditional Ojibwe technique for hunting deer long before the land was ceded, and it continues to be to this day.  

In my opinion, whether it is a wooden torch or a battery-powered flashlight shining at the deer is immaterial.   It serves the same ends.  

I don’t expect this to end the conversation on night hunting.  I didn’t bring up the safety argument, which is a key part of the State’s opposition (though the DNR has sanctioned other types of night hunting with firearms).  I will say, however, that despite its widespread use, I haven’t found any examples of the torch technique being dangerous (unless you count George Nelson capsizing his canoe).  I will post one if I come across it.  

So, as the ethics of “shining” continue to be debated, I call on those of both sides of this argument to examine where their personal conservation ethics come from.  Is hunting primarily for sport or food?  How traditional is night hunting, and how sustainable is it?  Finally, how have those in power used similar issues in the past to divide different groups of hunters and fishermen, and what motives do they have for doing so?

Think about it.



While I can’t promise this post will lead to more writing from Leo anytime soon, Chequamegon History will keep producing!  Amorin Mello has agreed to contribute a series of articles related to the original land claims, frauds, and mining operations in the Penokee Mountains.  For a fascinating preview of what’s coming, check out 0:37-1:24 of this video clip from Indian Country Television’s coverage of the recent Penokee conference at Legendary Waters in Red Cliff.  Thank you Amorin for this outstanding research, for the upcoming posts, and for giving Chequamegon History its first mention on TV!  

Gilfillan, Rev. Joseph A. The Ojibways in Minnesota, Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society, Vol. 9 (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1901) 72. 
Kohl, J. G. Kitchi-Gami: Life among the Lake Superior Ojibway. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1985. Print.
Minnesota. Forestry Commissioner. Forestry. Annual Report. N.p.: n.p., 1895. Print.
Nelson, George, Laura L. Peers, and Theresa M. Schenck. My First Years in the Fur Trade: The Journals of 1802-1804. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society, 2002. Print.
Sullivan, Edward Robert. Rambles and Scrambles in North and South America. London: R. Bentley, 1852. Print.