Legend of the Montreal River

March 5, 2016

By Amorin Mello & Leo Filipczak

This is a reproduction of “Legend of the Montreal River” by George Francis Thomas from his book: Legends of the Land of Lakes, Or History, Traditions and Mysteries, Gleaned from Years of Experience Among the Pioneers, Voyageurs and Indians: With Descriptive Accounts of the Many Natural Curiosities Met with from Lake Huron to the Columbia River. And the Meaning and Derivation of Names of Rivers, Lakes, Towns, Etc., of the Northwest, 1884, pages 70-73.  

"The American Fur Company warehouse, also called Old Treaty Hall. In 1832 the fur company moved its Bayfield post to the Island (Madeline Island), and on the council ground adjoining the building the Chippewa signed the Treaty of 1854 that established their reservations. At some point in its history the bulding came into the hands of George Francis Thomas, who in turn presented it to the DAR, but it was destroyed by fires shortly thereafter." ~ Wisconsin Historical Society

Old Treaty Hall, La Pointe, Madeline Island, cirica 1922.
“At some point in its history the building came into the hands of George Francis Thomas, who in turn presented it to the
[Daughters of the American Revolution], but it was destroyed by fires shortly thereafter.”
~ Wisconsin Historical Society
——-
George Francis Thomas married Sarah E. Bell at La Pointe in 1882. Sarah was the daughter of Judge John William Bell of La Pointe and Maraget Brebant of the Sandy Lake Band of Chippewa Indians.  Thomas inherited Treaty Hall at La Pointe from the Bell family after his in-laws and wife died. Thomas also inherited many legends from his marriage at La Pointe.

Legends of the Land of Lakes

Legend of the Montreal River.

Details of settlements on the La Pointe Reservation from Charles Whittlesey's 1860 Geological Map of the Penokie Range.

Detail of OdanahIronton, and Leihy‘s settlements on the La Pointe Reservation from Charles Whittlesey‘s 1860 Geological Map of the Penokie Range from Geology of Wisconsin, Volume III, plate XX-214.  Ironton is located near the mouth of the Montreal River.

Long ago, perhaps fifty years, before a single house or wigwam stood where the city of Ashland now spreads its mammoth protecting wings, there was an Indian settlement on Bad River and another near the beautiful falls on the Montreal. A short distance above its mouth and within sight of the lake, the red sandstone rocks rise boldly to the height of eighty feet, forming a ledge over which the entire volume of water is precipitated into a deep, circular basin or amphitheater, presenting a scene novel and strikingly beautiful. About three miles up the stream is another similar fall, very beautiful, but not so interesting as the first.

Superior Falls at the mouth of the Montreal River, as featured in the stereograph "View on Montreal River" by Whitney & Zimmerman from St. Paul, circa 1870. ~ Wikimedia Commons~ Wikimedia Commons

Superior Falls at the mouth of the Montreal River; featured in the stereograph titled “View on Montreal River” by Whitney & Zimmerman from St. Paul, circa 1870.
~ Wikimedia Commons

Mouth of the Montreal Rivercirca August 1661:
“Skirting the southern shore of the lake, past the now famous Pictured Rocks,
[Pierre d’Esprit, Sieur Radisson, and his sister’s husband, Medard Chouart, Sieur de Groseilliers] carried across Keweenaw Point, visited a band of [Cree] Indians not far from the mouth of Montreal River, now the far western boundary between Upper Michigan and Wisconsin, and, portaging across the base of the Chequamegon Island of to-day, – then united to the mainland,- entered beautiful Chequamegon Bay.”
~ The Story of Chequamegon Bay by Reuben Gold Thwaites.

Below this lovely waterfall and near the shore of the lake, once dwelt the chief a Chippewa band, and near his wigwam were clustered a number of his warriors. Their time was passed in the chase and in fishing; the squaws made mats, canoes, and in the spring time maple sugar; and all were happy and prosperous. In this quiet, peaceful circle was enacted the only real love tragedy recorded during many years upon these shores; and this was caused by the cruel inconstancy of a white man, who had won the heart of an innocent child of nature only to break it, and leave her to mourn and die, as many a fairer, but no less pure maiden had been left before.

1688 Jean Baptiste Louis Franquelin map of New France ~ Library of Congress

Detail of the Rivière du Montreal (Montreal River) from the Carte de l’Amerique Septentrionnale by Jean Baptiste Louis Franquelin, 1688.
~ Library of Congress

It seems that the simple girl had been won by the gew-gaws and glitter – so attractive to the forest maiden – brought here by a young American for trade. At first she only sought his wares, of which, owing to her standing in the tribe as the chief’s daughter, she was enabled to purchase a full share. Decked out in all the latest finery of civilization, she, woman-like no doubt, began to exhibit her new acquisitions in a spirit of rivalry, which, of course, soon begat jealousy in the hearts of her female companions. At this point Cupid came to the front; for if there is one thing more than another which a woman delights in, it is to monopolize the attention of the beau of society. In this particular society, for such really exists among the children of the forest, in a manner at least, the young trader reigned supreme. He was sought by all the beauties of the camp, and had no rival; for be it known that the old beaux and stand-bys are always laid on the shelf when a dashing cavalier from civilization appears – especially when he is an American, and of course rich – for all Americans are either rich or worthless in the eyes of the natives. This bold, bad man was the favored one, no Frenchman or half-caste Indian stood the least show, and ere the joyful days of spring time had gone, two hearts beat as one. The chief’s daughter and the young American were to be married, the gossips said. Time passed and the white man went below to buy goods. He returned, and went once more after many happy hours and days had rolled by; but the maid now began to get impatient. She dreamed that the white man loved another, which may have been true, for he never returned again. At their last parting she bade him farewell, never intimating her suspicions until his canoe was launched upon the waters, and as he paddled away her song of reproach, full of melody and pathos greeted his most unwilling ears. The notes, clear and sweet, floated out over the rising billows, until the truant lover was far beyond. Her words in part were these:

“That water on whose bosom bright,
With joy I’ve seen your bark appear;
You cross no longer with delight,
Nor I with joy, your greeting hear.

False words are thine; tho’ now you sigh
I know your grief is not sincere;
‘Tis well our dreaded parting’s nigh;
I bid farewell to pleasure dear.

When o’er the waters wide and deep,
Far, thine Ojibway maid shall be,
New loves will make you please to weep,
Nor e’er again remember me.”

With this the fairest of all the tribe, the beloved child of a kind father, confiding and loving, thoughtless and innocent, the merry chirping bird of the forest, and the forsaken fawn, left to die of a wounded heart, wandered far away and was lost in the impenetrable pine forest.

Ironton townsite claim at Saxon Harbor with trails to Odanah and the Penoka Iron Range. (Detail from Wisconsin Public Land Survey Records during November of 1861)

Detail of the Chippewa village (Ironton), at Saxon Harbor, near the mouth of the Montreal River and Superior Falls; with footpaths leading East towards Odanah, and South into the Penokee Mountains …

Springdale townsite (John Sidebotham's Claim), the Ironton Trail, and the Iron Range at The Gorge of Tyler's Fork River. (Detail of Albert Stuntz's 1857 PLSS survey map)

… leading to the Wisconsin & Lake Superior Mining & Smelting Company‘s town-site Springdale at The Gorge on Tyler Forks River.
~ Wisconsin Public Land Survey Records

“This description will, I think, give your readers a very good understanding of the condition as well as the true inwardness of the affairs of the Wisconsin & Lake Superior Mining and Smelting Co., in the month of June, 1857.”
[…]
“Rome was not built in a day, but most of these cabins were.  I built four myself near the Gorge [on Tyler Forks River], in a day, with the assistance of two halfbreeds, but was not able to find them a week afterwards.  This is not only a mystery but a conundrum.  I think some traveling showman must have stolen them; but although they were non est we could swear that we had built them, and did.
~ Penokee Survey Incidents: IV

Years afterwards, about 1857, there was considerable excitement in these regions on account of copper discoveries in the range near where it crosses Bad River. Buildings were erected on the banks of Tyler’s Fork, and near the falls, the remains of which are visible at the present day. Mines were opened with fair prospects, but there was no use to try to stem the tide, the current was too strong, transportation was too primitive, and the mines were abandoned. Not, however, until a strange discovery had been made. One day while engaged in exploring below the falls, a workman noticed in a pool what he at first took for a water-soaked section of a log. It was covered by some two feet of water and on closer contact was found to be a solid rock, but in form and size of a human being; in fact it was a petrified Indian woman. How it came there is a mystery. Only a few ever knew of the discovery, for it was kept a secret until it was carried away and sold to a New York Museum. Those who saw the petrified body and knew the story of the chief’s daughter failed not to connect here the two mysteries of the pine forest.

Bad River1 receives its waters partially from a marsh just south of the Penokee range, and besides being dark in color, it possesses some peculiar qualities which may have caused the petrifaction of the body of the young girl after she had drowned herself, as she most likely did.

1 The Chippewa name for Bad River is Mus-ke-ze-bing, meaning river from the marsh. Because the water was discolored the white men thought the Indian name meant dirty or impure water.

The Ice Lady at the Gorge on the Tyler Forks River. ~ Michael Matusewic.

Wabigance below the Gorge on the Tyler Forks River.
~ Photograph by M. Matusewic © December 2013.
Reproduced with permission.

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