By Amorin Mello

The Ashland press 1877

Originally published in the August 11th, 1877, issue of The Ashland Press. Transcribed with permission from Ashland Narratives by K. Wallin and published in 2013 by Straddle Creek Co.

… continued from Number V.



Number VI

Edwin Ellis, M.D.
photograph from Magazine of Western History: Volume IX, No.1, page 20.

My Dear Press: – The history of the first attempt at dock building was told in a former chapter, and also the sudden disappearance of the dock one night in April, 1855.

The early settlers did not, upon their first arrival here, have any fair appreciation of the difficulties in the way of constructing docks, which should be able to resist the several forces to which they would be exposed, and which would certainly tend to their overthrow.  They had not had, as this generation has, the advantage of years of observation of the force of ice as affected by winds, as floating in great fields and driven by wind and tide, nor of the great force arising from expansion.  We now understand better what is the strength of these destructive forces.  Some of us watched them with intense and eager anxiety for years; for no commercial town could be here built up without docks.

It may not be uninteresting to consider in a few words, the varying modes in which the heavy accumulation of ice, during our long winters, is got rid of in the spring, and navigation opened.

Some seasons the water in the bay seems to stand at the same level, not moving by winds or tides for many days in succession.  The ice melts away under the rays of the sun and by the warmth of the south wind.  It is a slow but gentle process.  Any dock is safe in such a season. At other times there are sudden and great changes in the elevation of the surface of the ice or water, either from the force of wind on the open water in the outside lake, or from barometric pressure, or both combined, a great influx of water is driven under the ice into the bay.  At that juncture the ice having been melted away near the shore all around the bay, the whole mass is lifted up several inches and held us on the top of a great wave.  But the reflux of the water must soon occur – when this great field of ice moves down upon a heavy grade.  Its speed will often be accelerated by a strong southwest wind.  The force thus generated is well-nigh irresistible unless there be such a conformation of the shore as shall save the dock from its full effect, and such, fortunately, is the case with our shore.

Another force, also operating with great power and effect upon the first docks built here and from which they suffered severely, was the expansive power of ice, resulting from changes of temperature.  The water in early winter freezes with level surface and is fast to both shores.  But as the cold becomes more intense and the ice thickens, it also sensibly expands, and crowds with great power upon the shore.  It is easy to perceive that docks fully exposed to this force would need to be very firmly bolted together, and covered with heavy loads, or they must be pushed over.  Our docks were thus in the more exposed cribs, broken, and afterwards easily carried away by floating ice and waves.  Our first docks having been carried away; though somewhat alarmed, we did not at once give up.

Martin Beaser

Martin Beaser
portrait from Magazine of Western History: Volume IX, No.1, page 24.

In December 1855, two docks were commenced, one called the Bay City Dock, near the sash factory – and the other at the foot of Main Street in Beaser’s Division of Ashland, in front of the present residence of James A. Wilson.  This last was built by Mr. Beaser.  His plan was to build cribs with flattened timber, fitted closely together so as to hold the clay with which they were filled as ballast, instead of rock, for rock could only be obtained at great cost.  We had no steam tugs then, with which to tow scows, as at present.  The cribs were carried out some five or six hundred feet and filled with clay.  Stringers connected the cribs, over which poles were laid as a roadway.

The Bay City Dock was also built out into deep water with an L running east.  The cribs near the shore were filled with rocks, but for want of time the outer cribs and the L were not filled before the spring break up.  The cribs were, however, constructed with stringers and covered, and some two hundred cords of cord wood were piled upon the dock to prevent the moving of the cribs.

The ice in the bay had not moved, but was melted away and broken up for a few hundred feet from the shore.  There was a great influx of water from the Lake, raising the whole body of the ice.  In a short time there was a greater reflux of the water, and the vast field of ice was seen to be in motion.  All eyes were watching the docks, nor was it needed to watch long.  Mr. Beaser’s was the first to give way.  The cribs did not seem to offer any resistance to the moving mass.  The most of them were carried away in less time than it takes to describe it.  Only a few cribs near the shore escaped.

Nor was the attack on Bay City Dock long delayed; steadily onward came the mass.  And the outer portion was soon in ruins, and the great pile of wood was floating upon the water.  The cribs forming the approach for about three hundred feet, being filled with rock were not carried away.  Thus in one hour were swept away the labors of many months, and several thousand dollars.  The sight was discouraging to men who had come here to make their homes, and whose all was involved in the ruins.  The elements seemed in league against us.  The next day the steamer Superior arrived and effected a landing upon the broken timbers of our dock.  Capt. Jones was in command of her, who, together with his boat were soon to go down in death beneath the waters of the Great Lake.


1860 photograph of the steamer Lady Elgin from the Chicago History Museum and digitized by

During the summer and fall of 1856 the Bay City Dock was repaired and extended further into the bay, and the cribs filled with rocks, and the steamer Lady Elgin made several landings alongside.  But during the winter of 1856 and ’57 the expansive power of the ice, showing against the cribs pushed off the timbers at the water line of several of the outer cribs, which, at the opening of navigation in 1857, were carried away, leaving only sunken cribs.  The dock was never rebuilt, as the financial storm of 1857 began already to lower upon us.  The sunken cribs still remain, as has been proved by the exploration of Capts. Patrick and Davidson, in command of the tugs Eva Wadsworth and Agate.

The experience of the “new Ashland” have demonstrated that pile docks can be built so as successfully to resist all the opposing forces to which they are exposed.  The result of all our experience seems to show that the best dock which can be built is the pile dock filled in between piles with logs or slabs, or what would be better to drive piles close together, capping them and filling in with rocks which will, beyond doubt, be done so soon as our Penoka iron mountains shall be worked.  The time when, must depend upon an improved demand for iron.

To be continued in Number VII

Collected & edited by Amorin Mello

Chippewa Treaty (blue) and Sioux Script (red) treaty land allotments in the Penokee Mountains located along mineral deposits near Mellen, Wisconsin.



[LaPointe County Register of Deeds: Volume 2 Deeds Page 419]


This John W. Bell seems to be either La Pointe County Judge John William Bell, Sr., or his 19-year-old Chippewa son John William Bell, Jr.  Both were neighbors of Julius Austrian in La Pointe.

Julius Austrian had better success entering lands with Chippewa Certificates along the iron range for the Leopold & Austrian family’s La Pointe Iron Company than here along the copper range.

Be it known to all men that I Julius Austrian of Lapointe County State of Wisconsin am held and firmly Bound unto Julius [Bernault?], Peter King, Abraham Comartin, John W Bell & Henry Merryweather and to Each of them Separately in the Sum of One thousand Dollars for which payment will and truly to be made I bind my self my heirs executors and administrators firmly by these presents.

No land claims could be entered here until six years later in 1864, after the U.S. General Land Office finished the original PLSS land survey here in 1863.

The condition of the above obligations are such that whereas the above mentioned Julius [Bernault?], Peter King, Abraham Comartin, John W Bell & Henry Merryweather having Squatted and improved the following mentioned Lands in Lapointe County with the intent of Claiming the Same as a Town Site namely the East half of Section No Seventeen (17) of Township number Forty five (45) of Range no two (2) and have agreed with the said Julius Austrian that he may enter the above described lands by Chippewa Script or otherwise at his option.

The “East half of Section No Seventeen (17) …” is where the Bad River and Tyler Forks River join spectacularly at what is now Brownstone Falls in Copper Falls State Park.

Now if the said Julius Austrian shall with due diligence enter the same as provided and obtain a Patent or Patents as Early as possible from the United States, and within 10 Days from the time he may procure and obtain said Patent or Patents for the above mentioned lands whether in his name or in the names of other parties, make execute & deliver or cause so to be done, to each of the above mentioned parties a Good & Sufficient Deed of warrantee clear of all incumbrances of an undivided Four ninetieths part of the whole mentioned East half of said Section no 17 as above specified. Then this obligation to be null & voice, otherwise to Remain in full force and virtue.

Given under my hand and seal at Lapointe this 30th day of April 1858.

Julius Austrian {Seal}

In presence of

Henry Smitz
M H Mandelbaum

State of Wisconsin } S.S.
County of Lapointe }

Personally came before the undersigned a Notary Public in & For the County of Lapointe the within named Julius Austrian to me well known who acknowledged that he did execute sign & seal the within Bond as his free Act and Deed.

{Seal} M H Mandelbaum
Notary Public



[Ashland County Register of Deeds: Volume 1 Deeds Pages 264-268]


{$180.00 Stamp Int Revenue U.S.}

This Indenture made the twenty fifth day of May in the year one thousand eight hundred and sixty four Between Louis Stein of the City and State of New York individually, Margaret Dupuis by Loius Stein her attorney, Charlotte Mercier by Louis Stein her attorney, Hypolite Auger by Louis Stein her attorney, Julia Renville by Louis Stein her attorney and Louise Moreau by Louis Stein her attorney, parties of the first part, and the Ashland Copper Mining Company, a Corporation created under and by virtue of the laws of the State of Wisconsin, party of the second part.

Chippewa Certificate No. 228 for John B. Corbin of Lac Courte Oreilles and his wife Madeline.

Whereas the north half of the North East quarter of Section Seventeen (17) in Township number Forty five (45) of Range Two (2) west in the District of Lands subject to Sale at Bayfield Wisconsin containing eighty acres according to the Government Survey was located on the 14th day of October 1863 with Chippewa Half Breed Scrip No 228 by John B Corbin,

Chippewa Certificate No. 209 for John Baptiste Denomie of Odanah.

and also the South Half of the North East Quarter of of Section Seventeen (17) Township Forty Five (45) Range Two (2) in the District of Lands subject to Sale at Bayfield Wisconsin containing eighty acres according to Government Survey was located on the 28th day of September 1863 with Chippewa Scrip Number 209 by John P Hamlin attorney for John Baptiste Denomie,

Chippewa Certificate No. 161 for John Hoskins of Odanah and his wife Margaret.

and also the North East half of South East quarter of Section Seventeen (17) Township Forty five (45) Range two (2) West in the District of Lands subject to Sale at Bayfield Wisconsin containing eighty acres according to the Government Survey was located October 14th 1863 with Chippewa Half Breed Scrip No 161 issued to John Haskins by John P Hamlin attorney,

Sioux Script No. 212B for Margaret Dupuis.

and also the North East Quarter of South West quarter of Section Seventeen (27) Township Forty Five (45) Range Two (2) west in the District of lands subject to sale at Bayfield Wisconsin containing Forty acres according to the Government Survey was located October 20th 1863 with Sioux Scrip No 212 B by Louis Stein attorney for Margaret Dupuis,

Sioux Script No. 102B for Charlotte Mercier.

And also the North West Quarter of South West quarter of Section Seventeen (17) Township number Forty five North of Range Two (2) West in the District of Lands subject to Sale at Bayfield Wisconsin containing Forty acres according to the Government Survey was located on November 25th 1863 with Sioux Half Breed Scrip No 102 B by Louis Stein attorney for Charlotte Mercier,

Sioux Script No. 487E for Hypolite Auger.

And also the South East Quarter of Section Eighteen (18) Township Forty five (45) North of Range Two (2) West in the District of Lands subject to Sale at Bayfield Wisconsin containing one hundred and sixty acres according to the Government Survey, was located on the 25th day of November 1863 with Sioux Half Breed Scrip No 487 C by Louis Stein attorney for Hypolite Auger,

Sioux Script No. 212C for Margaret Dupuis.

And also the South half of South West Quarter of Section Seventeen (17) Township Forty five (45) Range Two (2) in the District of Lands subject to Sale at Bayfield Wisconsin containing eighty acres according to the Government Survey was located October 18th 1863 with Sioux Half Breed Scrip No 212 Letter C by Louis Stein attorney for Margaret Dupuis,

Chippewa Certificate No. 158 for John Baptiste Crane.

And also the North half of the North West quarter of Section Twenty (20) Township Forty five (45) North of Range 2 west in the District of lands subject to Sale at Bayfield Wisconsin containing eighty acres according to the Government Survey was located September 10th 1863 with Chippewa Half Breed Scrip No 158 by Julius Austrian attorney,

Chippewa Certificate No. 281 for Michael Lambert.

And also the South Half of South East Quarter of Section Seventeen (17) Township Forty five (45) Range Two (2) West in the District of Lands subject to Sale at Bayfield Wisconsin containing eighty acres according to the Government Survey was located on the 14th day of October 1863 with Chippewa Half Breed Scrip No 281 issued to Michael Lambert by John P Hamlin attorney,

Sioux Script No. 29 for Julia Renville.

And also the North East quarter of Section nineteen (19) Township No Forty five (45) Range Two (2) West in the District of Lands subject to Sale at Bayfield Wisconsin containing one hundred and Sixty acres according to the Government Survey was located on the 19th day of October 1863 with Sioux Half Breed Scrip No 29 by Louis Stein attorney for Julia Renville,

Sioux Script No. 17E for Louise Moreau.

And also the North half of South East quarter and East Half of the South West quarter of Section Number nineteen (19) Township No Forty five (45) Range Two (2) West in the District of Lands subject to Sale at Bayfield Wisconsin containing One hundred and Sixty acres according to the Government Survey was located on the 19th day of October 1963 with Sioux Half Breed Scrip No 17 C by Louis Stein attorney for Louise Moreau.

Chippewa and Sioux treaty land allotments in and contiguous to Copper Falls State Park.  There are more Chippewa allotments here than those claimed by Ashland Copper Mining Company.  Others went to Robert Morrin, Joseph Roy, Francis S. Gurnoe, John Chapman, Francis Fournier, Rosalie Trocquer, John Baptiste Visneau, Henry Davenport, Edward Ashman, Henry Graham, Mary Graham, Joseph Blanchard, and Reuben Chapman.

And whereas said North Half of North East Quarter of Section Seventeen (17) in Township No Forty five (45) of Range Two west was conveyed by John B Corbin and Wife to John P Hamlin by Deed dated October 17th 1863, and Recorded in the Office of Register of Deeds of Ashland County Wisconsin in Book of Deeds Vol 1 pages 218 & 219 October 18, 1863 and was further conveyed by said John P Hamlin to Louis Stein by Deed dated October 31st 1863, and Recorded in said Registers office in Book of Deeds Vol 1 Page 225 November 9th 1863,

John Baptiste Denomie of Odanah.
~ Noble Lives of a Noble Race, A Series of Reproductions by the Pupils of Saint Mary’s, Odanah, Wisconsin, 1909, page 213-217.

And whereas said South Half of the North east quarter of Section Seventeen (17) Township Forty five (45) Range Two (2) has been conveyed by the said John Baptiste Denomie to Louis Stein by Deed dated May 25th 1864,

and said North East Half of South East Quarter of Section Seventeen (17) Township Forty five (45) Range Two(2) west has been conveyed by said John Haskins to said Louis Stein by Deed dated May 25th 1864,

and said South East Quarter of Section Eighteen (18) Township Forty five (45) North of range two (2) west has been conveyed by Hypolite Auger to said Louis Stein by Deed Dated January 1, 1862 and recorded in said Office of Register of Deeds in Vol 1 of Deeds page 227 January 23 1864,

The Ashland Copper Mine was mapped by Irving in 1873 for the Geology of Wisconsin: Volume III.  This was located at what is now the main picnic area on Michael Lambert’s Chippewa Allotment in Copper Falls State Park.

and said South Half of South East quarter of Section Seventeen (17) Township Forty five (45) Range two (2) West has been conveyed by the said Michael Lambert to the said Louis Stein by Deed dated May 25th 1864,

and the said Louis Stein has also acquired the title of the said North Half of the North West quarter of Section twenty (20) Township Forty five (45) North of Range two (2) West from the said Julius Austrian.

And whereas the said parties of the first part to these presents have sold and agreed to convey to the said party of the second part to these presents a tract of land situated in the County of Ashland in the State of Wisconsin which includes the whole or parts of the several tracts pieces and parcels of land herein before described which said tract of land so sold and agreed to be conveyed to the said party of the second part is hereinafter particularly described.

Now Therefore this Indenture Witnesseth that the said parties of the first part for and in consideration of Twenty thousand shares of the Capital Stocks of the said party of the second part of the value of five dollars for each Share, which have been issued or transferred and assigned to them the said parties of the first part or as they have appointed and directed, the receipt of which is hereby acknowledged, have granted, bargained, sold, released, conveyed, and confirmed and by these presents do grant, bargain, sell, release, convey and confirm unto the said party of the second part its successors and assigns forever

All that certain tract and parcel of Land situate, lying and being in the County of Ashland in the State of Wisconsin, known bounded and described as follows to wit;

Beginning at a point in the center of Bad River in Township Number Forty five (45) North Range Number Two (2) West of the Fourth Meridian where said river crosses the northerly boundary of Section number Seventeen (17) in the North East quarter, thence running west eight hundred (800) feet more or less to the North West corner of said North East quarter Section; thence South twenty six hundred and forty (2640) feet to the center of Section number Seventeen (17); thence West Five thousand two hundred and eighty feet (5280) to the center of Section number eighteen (18); thence South Five thousand two hundred and eighty (5280) feet to the center of Section number nineteen (18); thence west thirteen hundred and twenty (1320) feet; thence South twenty six hundred and forty (2640) feet; thence East thirteen hundred and twenty (1320) feet; thence North twenty three hundred and ninety (2390) feet more or less to the center of said Bad River and thence North Easterly along the center of said Bad River as it runs to the place of beginning, containing six hundred and fifty three acres (653) more or less and being portions of Section numbers seventeen (17), eighteen (18), nineteen (19) and twenty (20) in the aforesaid Township.

To have and to hold the above described and hereby granted premises and every part and parcel thereof together with all and singular the tenements hereditaments and appurtenances thereunto belonging or in anywise appertaining unto the said party of the second part its successors and assigns to its and their own purpose, use, benefit and behoof forever. And the said parties of the first part severally for himself and herself and not the one for the other, and for his and her heirs executors and administrators do hereby covenant promise and agree to and with the said party of the second part, its successors and assigns to make, execute, sign, seal, acknowledge and deliver at the Cost and expense of the said party of the second part its successors and assigns all such other and further Deeds, grants, conveyances and instruments in writing as the said party of the second part its successors and assigns or its or their Counsel learned in the law shall at any times advise, devise or require for the [more?] effectually conveying to and vesting in the said party of the second part its successors and assigns the fee simple of the above described and hereby granted, promised and every part thereof with the appurteances. And the said Margaret DuPuis, Charlotte Mercier, Hypolite Auger, Julia Renville and Louise Moreau severally and not the one for the other and each of them only in respect to so much of the hereby conveyed premises as is located by or for him or her as herein before stated and set forth and is hereby conveyed by him or her or intended so to be for himself and herself, his and her heirs, executors and administrators covenant and agree to and with the said party of the second part its successors and assigns in the manner and form following that is to say That he or she at the time of the ensealing and delivery of these presents is the true, lawful and rightful owner of the said hereby conveyed premises, and has therein a good sure, perfect and indefeasible estate in fee simple; and that he and she has full right, power and authority to grant, bargain, sell, remise, release, convey and confirm the said premises unto the said party of the second part its successors and assigns in manner and form aforesaid and that the said party of the second part its successors and assigns shall quietly enjoy and possess the said premises and that he and she will Warrant and Defend the title to the same against all lawful claims.

In Witness Whereof the said parties of the first part have hereunto set their hands and Seals they day and year first above written

Louis Stein {S.S.}
Margaret Dupuis by Louis Stein atty {S.S.}
Charlotte Mercier by Louis Stein atty {S.S.}
Hypolite Auger by Louis Stein attorney {S.S.}
Julia Renville by Louis Stein Attorney {S.S.}
Louis Moreau by Louis Stein attorney {S.S.}

Sealed and delivered in Presence

A H Wallis
Andrew Clerk

State of New York } S.S.
County of New York }

Be it Remembered that on this seventh day of June in the year eighteen hundred and sixty four before the subscriber a Commissioner in and for the said State, appointed by the Governor of the State of Wisconsin to take acknowledgment and proof of the execution of Deeds, or other conveyances or leases and of any contract, letter of attorney or other writing under seal or not administer oaths and take and certify depositions to be used or recorded in the said State of Wisconsin appeared Louis Stein whom I know to be the person described in and who executed the foregoing instrument and acknowledged that he executed the same in his own behalf as his own act and deed and also acknowledged that he executed the same as the act and deed of Margaret Dupuis, Charlotte Mercier, Hypolite Auger, Julia Renville & Louise Moreau therein descried by virtue of a Power of Attorney severally executed by them authorizing the same, and which Power of Attorney have been duly exhibited to me by the said Louis Stein.

Given under my hand and Official Seal

{Seal} Charles E Jenkins Commissioner for the State of Wisconsin, residing in the city of New York.

Collected and edited by Amorin Mello



Indian Agency’s Instructions to
Henry C. Gilbert and David B. Herriman
for the 1854 Treaty at La Pointe

from Office of Indian Affairs federal archives



Department of the Interior
Office Indian Affairs
August 11, 1854

After the 1854 Treaty was signed at La Pointe on September 30, 1854, Congress enacted An act to provide for the extinguishment of the title of the Chippewa Indians to the Lands owned and claimed by them in the Territory of Minnesota, and State of Wisconsin, and for their Domestication and Civilization on December 19, 1854. Shortly afterwards, on January 10, 1855, the 1854 Treaty of La Pointe was ratified by Congress.

Indian Agent
Henry C. Gilbert
~ Branch County Photographs

Gilbert, Henry C.
Indian Agent
Detroit, Michigan


The Bill to provide for the Extinguishment of the title of the Chippewas to the lands owned and claimed by them in Wisconsin and Minnesota, which passed the House early in the Sessions, failed in the Senate.

In view however of the importance of extinguishing the Indian title to portions of the Chippewa Country, it is deemed proper to confide to you certain conditional instructions, to the end that if in your judgement it be practicable to conclude a treaty at the period when you assemble the Indians to pay them their annuities this fall, that object may be accomplished.

You will therefore consider yourself in conjunction with Major Herriman as the Officers of the Indian Department designated to make a treaty with the Chippewa Indians of Lake Superior and the Mississippi.

A great number of traders and claim agents were also present as well as some of the persons from St. Paul’s who I had reason to believe attended for the purpose of preventing if possible the consummation of the treaty. The utmost precautions were taken by me to prevent a knowledge of the fact that negotiations were to take place from being public. The Messenger sent by me to Mr Herriman was not only trust worthy but was himself totally ignorant of the purport of the dispatches to Major Herriman. Information however of the fact was communicated from some source and the persons present in consequence greatly embarrassed our proceedings.
~ Indian Agent Gilbert’s Explanation after the 1854 Treaty

When you arrive at La Pointe, if you are satisfied that you can send a runner over to the Mississippi & have Major Herriman come over immediately, with the principal Chief and three or four of the Headmen of each of the bands who receive pay at the Agency, and who reside on or near the Mississippi, or between that stream & the Lake, you will do so.  The design is that the principal Chief and Head Men to the number stated of all the bands, other than those to be paid by you, be present on the Occasion.  The latter will of course be represented.

I am informed that that the Mississippi Indians can be brought over in the way I suggest, as soon as you can assemble yours.  If you are satisfied of this fact you are authorized to send over the runner, but it is not my wish that any attempt be made, and a failure follow.

If delegates from all the bands can be assembled and negotiations had with them, you are authorized to offer the Chippewas the sum of $500,000 for all the country they now own or claim in the territory of Minnesota, the state of Wisconsin or elsewhere excepting and reserving for the future home of said Indians a quantity of land equal to 743,000 acres which may be selected in one body or in two or three locations, as the Indians may desire, and if the reservations be selected in more than one locality, the quantity of land fixed upon, as the Maximum amount of the reserve must be divided between the different locations of the Indians according to the population of the bands who may elect to inhabit such reservation or reservations.  If the Indians could all be placed on one reserve, so that an Agent could always have a perfect Oversight over them it would be much better for their future interests; but if this cannot be effected, the several sub-reserves should be located in such proximity to each other, as to enable the Agent to exercise a watchful care over the Indians.

The future home or reserves should not be in the avenues by which the white population will approach the ceded country, or embrace any of the mineral lands which are now becoming desirable.

Stay tuned for more documents about the 1847 Treaty at Fond du Lac to be published on Chequamegon History.

I send herewith a copy of the instructions of the Secretary of War of the date of 4th of June 1847, when a former Commission attempted to treat with these Indians, but failed.  According to the Estimates of this Office, the Chippewas own about 10,743,000 Acres of land, the greater part of which is of no value to them, and never will be.  Some portions of it will be valuable to the White population.

Nevertheless, the condition of Affairs with the Chippewas is such that it is the duty of the Government to Offer them an Opportunity to dispose of their tenure to their Country, and in lieu thereof, to give them a small tract as a permanent home, with such means of support & neutral & moral improvement, as may be of great advantage to them.

A little over 25 years after their council meeting with Lewis & Clark, the Otoe & Missouria agreed to their first official cession of land to the United States in 1830. Additional cessions followed in 1833, 1836, and 1854.”
~The Otoe-Missouria Tribe

I transmit herewith a copy of the bill alluded to and also a copy of a recent treaty with the Ottoe & Missouri Indians, remarking that if a provision is inserted for allowing individual reservations within the general reservations that Eighty Acres to the family, as provided in the bill is deemed ample.  These documents may be useful as affording you indications of the views of the Department and of such provisions as it may be desirable to have incorporated in a treaty.

In view of the fact that it is necessary to enter upon this business without permitting those adverse influences, which are always at work to thwart the purposes, and objects of the Government, in its efforts to treat with the Indians, you will not divulge the nature of your instructions, or indeed say any thing about them to any person.

Julius Austrian was a signer of the 1847 Treaty at Fond du Lac.  In 1853 Austrian acquired ownership of La Pointe and applied for a passport through personal introductions from Acting Commissioner of Indian Affairs Charles E. Mix.  The Leopold and Austrian family was operating their family business at the former American Fur Company property in La Pointe during the 1854 Treaty.  Leopold and Austrian went on to acquire lands allotted by the 1854 Treaty to Mixed Blood families and capitalize on them as the La Pointe Iron Company.

Julius Austrian
~ Madeline Island Museum

When you get to La Point, if you conclude to send for Maj. Herriman, and the principal Men of his bands, you can do so, leaving the impression on those who may be privy to it, that their presence is necessary, in order that a better understanding may exist as to a proper disposition of the present annuities between the Lake bands and those on the Mississippi.

Mr. Austrian who resides at La Point, and who was here last winter, tendered his services to the Office in collecting Indians etc. etc. at any time, and he is recommended to me as a faithful man.  He would perhaps be a faithful man to whom to confide the message to Major Herriman.

I have caused a remittance, to be made to you, by requisition of this date for the sum of $1900 as follows:

Provisions for Indians  $1500
Presents for 100           $300
Contingencies               $100

which will be applicable to this object, but to be used only in case negotiations are had with the Chippewas.  Except so far as the provisions & expenses of a runner may be necessary.

As far as these amounts are expended, to be accounted for under the proper heads of account.

George Washington Manypenny

Very Respect’y Your Ob’t Servant

Geo. W. Manypenny


N.B. I learn that a boat leaves the Sault of St Marie on the 21st instant for Lapoint.  If so you should avail yourself of the opportunity to go forward.  The enclosed communication to Maj Herriman, you will forward to him by the runner, if you determine to send one, and be satisfied that the expedition will be successful before you send it states the whole matter to Major H.  From the instructions to the Commissioners of June 4th 1847, and the Ottoe & Missouri treaty, you will form an idea of the necessary stipulations for the payment of the purchase money, the amount of it that should be invested etc. and the necessary provisions for Stock, Agricultural Implements etc. etc. in place of money.  A map showing the country of the Chippewas is also herewith.

Geo. W. Manypenny




Department of the Interior
Office Indian Affairs
August 12th, 1854

Gilbert, H. C.
Indian Agent
Detroit, Michigan


Referring to my letter of instruction to you of the 11th instant, I have to remark that should you succeed in having the proposed negotiations with the Chippewas, and a treaty be made, you will provide to pay the $500,000 as follows:

1854 Treaty with the Otoe & Missouria

One hundred thousand dollars to be invested at five percent interest, which interest shall be expended annually under the President’s direction for purposes of Education, and the moral improvement of the Indians.  The residue to be paid say in twenty annual installments of twenty thousand dollars each without interest, or these deferred payments may be extended over twenty five or thirty years, all of them however to be subject to the President’s discretion, as in Article 4 of the Ottoe & Missouri treaty.

If necessary to accomplish the object, although $500,000 is deemed the value of the Chippewa tenure to the land, you may go as high as $600,000 payments as above.

Should a treaty be made, it is submitted whether the new locations reserved & to the Indians, may not be of such a character as to render some of the smiths, farmers etc. stipulated for under former treaties of no use, and if so, that provisions be inserted cancelling such of these provisions, under former treaties, as can be dispensed with, and providing that a sum equal to the amount, now paid annually for such, may be appropriated for the unexpired term of former treaty stipulations to be expended by the President, for the use of the Indians, as other funds are provided to be expended.

Very Respectfully
Your Ob’t Servant

Geo. W. Manypenny




Department of the Interior
Office Indian Affairs
August 14, 1854

Gilbert, H. C.
Indian Agent
Detroit, Michigan


“We found the points most strenuously insisted upon by them were first the privilege of remaining in the country where they reside and next the appropriation of land for their future homes. Without yielding these points, it was idle for us to talk about a treaty. We therefore agreed to the selection of lands for them in territory heretofore ceded.”
~ Indian Agent Gilbert’s Explanation after the 1854 Treaty

Referring to my letters of instruction of the 11th & 12th instant, both of which were prepared in great haste, I am inclined to the opinion that a state of things may exist that you might feel embarrassed at the suggestions that if the land reserved by the Indians was located in more than one tract the several sub-reserves should be in such close proximity as to enable the agent to have a constant oversight over all the Indians.  It may however occur that there may be partialities and predilections among the different bands for different and widely separated districts, and that these partialities cannot be overcome.  I am clearly of the opinion that all the land reserved should be in one body and every reasonable effort should be employed to impress the Indians with this view; and if it fail the fewest sub-reserves that can be got along with should be allowed and if possible they should be in the same region of Country; but if the Indians have the predilections alluded to, and they cannot be changed in their views, you will accede to their wishes to a reasonable extent in this particular.  And if it should so happen that they select locations widely distant from each other so that it would be more for their interests that one portion might be under one Agent and another under another, it would be well perhaps to adjust all matters between the bands thus located, naming all of them by bands which select a reservation.  Setting apart according to the population their portion of such reserved land, and providing to pay them by the same rule, their proportion of the purchase money at their reserve, and so with the bands on each of the reserves.  And indeed a clause might be inserted, adjusting and dividing by population to the Indians of each reserve the annuities to become due under former treaties, whether of money or in kind so that no difficulties could hereafter arise provided one part should be in one agency and others in another.

Several members of the Indian Committee of the Senate having expressed a wish that a clause or article of the following import should be inserted in all treaties hereafter made.  You will please put it in the treaty which I hope you may be able to enter into with the Chippewas.  It is thus:

Article 9 of the 1854 Treaty:
“The United States agree that an examination shall be made, and all sums that may be found equitably due to the Indians, for arrearages of annuity or other thing, under the provisions of former treaties, shall be paid as the chiefs may direct.”

And; It is agreed between the United States and the said Chippewa Indians, that should it at any time hereafter be considered necessary, and for the benefit of said Indians, it shall be discretionary with the President by & with the advise and consent of the Senate to change the annuities herein provided for or any part thereof into a fund establishing farms among and for them.

Very Respectfully
Your Ob’t Servant

Geo. W. Manypenny


By Leo

167 years ago, to the day, the Austrian travel writer Carl Scherzer reached Stillwater in the Minnesota Territory after a week of traveling down the length of the St. Croix River in a birch bark canoe piloted by Souverain Denis and Jean Baptiste (Belanger?), two La Pointe-based voyageurs.  His account follows.

Previous installments in this series, covering Scherzer’s journey from Ontonagon to the head of the Brule River via La Pointe can be found here.  These posts include information on the translation process from the original German, as well as some analysis of Scherzer’s ethnocentrism in his dealings with the Ojibwe and other groups of people.


On the La Croix River to Stillwater

Tuesday, September 28, 33 F. Cheerful, sunny but cold weather. The distance from the Bois-Brule portage to St. Croix Lake is two miles.

Since there is no connection between the Bois-Brule river and the lake, our boat and all the luggage had to be carried to the next point of embarkation. Since we could not remove such a large amount of luggage at once, it ended up taking several hours. The voyageurs had to travel back along the path three times before our last piece of baggage was brought to the other end of the portage.

The path to La Croix Lake leads through spruce forests with young birch and oak* along the fairly high ridges. All around, the horizon is obscured by these thickly wooded hills. There are several small lakes between the portage and St. Croix Lake, but they are of no importance for fishing or navigation.

190px-maitohorsma_28epilobium_angustifolium29Fireweed:  Epilobium angustifolium (Wikimedia)

(*Here, as in the west of Canada, we have generally come to the opinion that oak vegetation is always the natural successor of broken spruce, fir, or pine. In places where the trees are burnt, it is well known that Epilobium angustifolium is their stereotypical successor, sometimes growing from the tree before it has a chance to cool. (Agassiz, Lake Superior, 1851. p.50.))

While the Voyageurs carried the luggage and canoe to the lake, and prepared everything for embarkation, we engaged in the preparation of our meal at the western end of the Portage, barely 300 paces from the lakeshore. Fried bacon, tea, and ship’s biscuit were the simple ingredients that made it up. Benefiting from the rays of a mild September sun, we consumed our hearty meal on a natural green carpet.  Many a gourmand of the French cuisine, whose taste buds neither véry nor chevet could satisfy, would have been envious.

The La Croix Lake, on which we embarked, now had a breadth of 800 feet and a length of 6 miles. This is the beginning of the La Croix River or Grande Riviere, which has its origin in a swamp on the right bank of the lake, starting in a pond-like pool. Its shores are slate, and for the most part, it is overgrown with poplars, ash, oak, elm, pine, cedar, and thuja, with an undergrowth of oak and birch.

After expanding for almost 6 miles, the lake takes on the more modest, typical shape of a river, flowing around numerous bends. It doubles along the voyage, for about 250 English miles, until at Stillwater it becomes a second lake, extending 25 Miles in length and 3/4 miles in width, finally pouring into the Mississippi at Point Douglas.

At this point, both banks of the St. Croix are well within Wisconsin.  It begins to form the border with Minnesota a few miles upstream from the mouth of the Yellow River, near Danbury.

On both shores, the trees, weighed down with leaves, extend down to the reflection of the lake, turning it a dark blackish-green color, so that no surface of the valley can be discriminated.  As on the Ontonagon River, trees and water gently blur into each other. At the end of this rich lake is a small island covered in deciduous lush. The eastern (left) bank forms the border between the states of Wisconsin and Minesota.

At a quarter past three, we reached the lower end of the lake, now narrowing, to form the La Croix River. In the numerous rice fields, on both shores, we encountered whole flocks of migrating ducks, assumed to be beginning their autumn journey to the mild west. However, they did not fry for us. With the many difficulties in navigating this river through the masses of rolling stone just under the surface of the deceptively dark water, the voyageurs were too preoccupied skilfully guiding the boat through the stone clockwork, to even give attention to the flocks of ducks floating like buoys among the rice fields.

The tourist who wants to benefit from the hunt is not allowed to also designate a destination. He must be content, at times, to cover less than a mile per day. If you wish to move on quickly, your shotgun will bring little duck. In any case, even despite the greatest of care, the difficulty of navigating the ship through the dangerously low water will lead to accidents, which often delay the journey for hours. We could hardly have sailed a mile down the river before we came up on a rugged rock. The canoe crashed and filled with water so quickly that we were forced to seek asylum for the night as quickly as possible, to resurrect the vehicle with waterproof black pitch for its leaks.

The ax echoed through the woods and soon delivered a rich contingent of spruce and cedar logs, so recently brightly green, and now so dead behind us. The elevated place where we pitched our tent was a small, rather dry, spot on the western bank of the river. However, we were surrounded by numerous reedy marshes, exhaling a ghastly atmosphere of cold fever over us. We were saved by the hard edge of the recent frost tempered the foul breath somewhat. At the same time, a mighty fire purified the surrounding air, and the beneficial warmth spread through our limbs.

See previous post.

As Souverain attempted to mend the barge, he remarked that we had been too generous in disposing of our pitch to the Indian postmaster, and that if we were to repeat accidents like the present one, we might soon find the lack of resin regrettable. From this event, the well-intentioned money-maker might learn at once: “Never give anything to your neighbor, even if it is an Indian postmaster;” but in similar tribulations, we confidently expect equal service from our neighbors.

See this post for an 1844 account of the numerous uses for birch bark.

Willing to serve, in the multiple duties that we had to do this evening, we used closely curled birch bark as a torch, and found it far more expansive and attractive than the dim light spilling from many a German student’s ceiling upon Virgil’s Aeneid or Cicero’s Respublica.

Wednesday, September 29th, 62F. Glorious sunrise. The rocks, covered with only a thin surface of water, continue to be the annoyance and concern of our boatmen, who fear the canoes will be snatched upon the sharp reefs at the slightest inattention.

If you look at these countless turrets, of all shapes and sizes, hidden by the deceptively dark color of the water, causing the ship to be in trouble every minute, you almost start to believe that each teasing stone is the avenging spirit of an Indian driven by competition with the whites out of his native wilderness. The shores remain flat, and the vegetation forming the rich forests is coniferous and deciduous in a pleasing mixture.

Towards noon, when the rocks in the river became less numerous and threatening for a stretch, and the river increased remarkably in breadth, we exchanged our hand poles for oars. Suddenly, a soaring southeast wind arose and the water moved as if in flood.* Although we were driving downstream, it whipped against our canoe, and significantly affected the speed of our oar-assisted gliding.

(*The voyageurs call the white foaming waves that form on the surface of the water in strong winds “white caps” and always know, depending on whether the wind is coming from the land or the lake at their formation, whether they make it dangerous or not for the ship.)

On a small hill, under two lonely spruce trees, we had lunch. For a time the shores were prickly, and paddy fields and young, high-stemmed cedars and thujas were the only vegetation in the surrounding landscape. In the afternoon, however, the character of the character changed completely. The river now runs through wide, neat avenues, and the brightly colored leaves of the numerous trees of the shore bathe in its dark flood.

At a distance of 200′ we noticed a broad stone jutting out of the water, decorated with several rough strokes of red color. The voyageurs told us that the Indians sometimes paint a stone, sprinkle it with tobacco, and dance and sing under it, so that the great spirit (Manitou) may send them good hunting, rich fishing, and a bountiful rice harvest.

It is obvious that the Indian pagan, like many a selfish Christian, seeks to combine a practical motivation with his devotion. It seems his crude idea of a higher being is preoccupied with the strength of sighs, the length of the prayers and the number of the sufferers, instead of the world being governed by eternal, iron laws!

We did not see a similar painted stone on the whole journey, and in spite of our most zealous inquiries, we have not been able to find any more authentic details about this type of Indian sacrificial service.

The failed removals of 1850 and 1851, also known as the Sandy Lake Tragedy, were devastating for all the Lake Superior Ojibwe, but the tragedy lingered especially long for the St. Croix bands. Many families missed additional payments, a smallpox outbreak struck in the winter of 1853, and the 1854 Treaty failed to create a reservation at Pokegama.  The people described here are likely the remnants of Gaa-bimaabi’s (Kapamappa) band, whose village was near modern-day Gordon.

In the afternoon, we passed eight birchbark wigwams, inhabited by about twenty Indians and their families, who were busy with the rice harvest. They had a miserable appearance overall. Their bodies were covered only with ratty wool blankets and short leggings resembling a swimsuit. Two male Indians, their faces blackened with coal and lead, wore short red pants and green coats, and smoked from a long pipe made of red stone. A female was smeared red. She wore a bizarre, makeshift suit and had a kind of shield on her chest.

The more remote and ignorant the Indians are, the more they stick to their vain, colorful adornments, and thereby have the most peculiar notions of beauty and taste. Whatever they beg or catch, they then hang on their brown bodies, and will often decorate themselves with exotic feathers even more than our pretentious poets.

For example, the number of eagle feathers an Indian may carry in his hair depends on the number of enemies he has already killed. But for many a redskin, in deceitful vanity, he might wear such bloody heroes’ jewelery, when his fists were only active in knocking the ripe rice grains over the covering of his birch canoe, which doubles as a seed basket.

Scherzer’s description of the midewiwin or Grand Medicine is reminiscent of similar derogatory language used by missionaries Edmund F. Ely and William T. Boutwell in their writings.

Souverain thought, in judging by the appearance of the Indians we passed, that they had recently celebrated la grande medecine, a feast that they usually hold in the event of illness.

The Indians consider every disease to be an evil spirit, put into the patient by a powerful magician at the instigation of some vindictive enemy. They seek the aid of another magician (conjurer, medecine-man), who by means of singing, drumming, and carousing and through the use of certain herbs, cast it out again.

This medecine-man or conjurer exerts an unrestricted influence over the gullible minds of the Indians. He is not only a helper in matters of the body, he is the oracle and counselor in all cases of life, always eager to draw the utmost profit from the superstition and suffering of his fellow-men. It is the “medecine-man” who makes the determination of the various tribes in relation to war or peace, and who reveals the best hunting and fishing grounds to unconditionally trusting questioners. He is also the one who gives every child, usually by the color of his hair, the name of an animal or plant, and receives a gift for it. Judging by the names of the various Chippewa Indians with whom we met, it does not seem much thought is given to the choice of names, as the following list shows: Little Wolf, Black Bird, Big Tortoise, Yellow Beaver, Black Cloud, Cooking Pot, etc.

Several of the individuals mentioned here were chiefs or headmen of the La Pointe Band.  One wonders if they would have agreed with Scherzer that their names were meaningless.

As soon as a medecine-man is asked for advice, he dresses in the strangest, most comical way. This is how we viewed such a conjuror who dressed himself in the skin of a bear, with the head serving as a mask, stumbling with the monstrous claws on his wrists and ankles. The skin was also decorated with all sorts of frogs, bats, and snakes, so well prepared that their lifelike appearance produced awe in both young and old.

In his left hand, he held a ghastly rattle whose clatter, according to tradition and superstition, is one of the most powerful sounds that can move an Indian heart. He swung a magical spear with his right hand, hopping, dancing, yelling, and howling as if he himself were possessed by a bad spirit. 

It is characteristic of these magicians, though great deceivers, that to a certain degree, they believe in their ceremonies and their healing power, as many modern plagiarists lie lastly to the truth and wisdom of their own selves. And while it is an imperfect method to determine where credulity ceases and fraud begins, it remains certain that these Indian doctors treat their own sick children in the same way.

Tobacco plays a major role in these incantations, and its syrup is a major ingredient in the most important and crucial ceremony.

If the patient recovers, it is, of course, a triumph of his magician over the presumed enemy. The deceiving victor, who pretends to have sucked the pain out of the sore spot, then draws out some strange object: a thorn, a stone, a fishbone, a bird’s claw, a serpent’s tooth, or a piece of wire from his mouth, which, as is self-evident, had surely been conjured into the wound of the patient by a bad spirit. Then, the deceiver, depending on his mood, will banish the evil spirit from inside his patient to the sea or to a distant mountain.

If, on the other hand, the patient dies, the spirit-conjuror attributes his death solely to being bested by his opponent’s greater magic power.*

[*First Establishment of Christianity in Ruperts Island by the Church Missionary Society.  New York, 1852. — Indian tribes in Guiana by Rd. W. H. Brett. 1852.]

Although the friends and family members of the patient actively participate in all these ceremonies, their highest degree of participation comes with the feast, which always forms a major component. As with most major festivals, we do not know whether it is out of taste, or in symbolic intent,* but a dog is also slaughtered here. We saw, on a grassy portion of La Pointe Island, among the traces of broken-down Indian tents, the skeleton of a dog that had been eaten last fall on a similar occasion by wandering redskins and their entrenched swindler. Even in its skeletal form, the mark of faithful loyalty, so universal in the race of dogs, could be verified. 

[*See Cadwallader Coldon, History of the five Indian nations of Canada.  London 1747. P. 7.]

Around 3 o’clock we came upon rapids again, and slid down their 2’ height. It is a peculiarly strange feeling to be surrounded by jagged rocks, floating in the midst of small waterfalls, while guided by the steady hand of a river-trained voyageur, to scoot over these rocky ridges of water in swaying comfort.

At times, the canoeists had to climb into the river to clear out the most intrusive and barbarous stones. Once, as we were going down a rapids, it happened that Baptiste’s pole broke in two as he was about to cut past a boulder, and the boat was forcibly thrown to the bank. Besides the loss of the ship’s pole, we suffered no damage. However, the circumstances could not have been more favorable to overthrowing the canoe, tossing our effects into the water, and mortally wounding ourselves upon the masses of sharp rock surrounding us.

Here again, we saw quite clearly how much man is allowed to attempt and endure before he breaks his neck and legs, if only he does not otherwise engage in politics. For in the light and fragile birch bark we have gone through innumerable hazards and innumerable dangers and emerged unscathed, while many of our friends in their cozy, humble rooms were ruined by a piece of paper! – That’s why we prefer the coarse birch bark to the smooth paper and parchment …

Cases have occurred, albeit very rarely, where voyageurs have accidentally crashed from ignorance or carelessness while sliding down the rapids. Such points usually carry the name of the failed boatman.

The St. Croix country was well-known as an area of both peaceful and violent interaction between the Ojibwe and Dakota.  The battleground could be the site of Waabojiig’s decisive over the Meskwaki (Fox) and Dakota in the late 18th-century victory.  However, the text would suggest the battle on the grounds of Scherzer’s camp was earlier and farther upstream.   

5 o’clock in the afternoon. We encamped on a beautiful wide plateau close to the western shore of the La Croix river, with spruces, cedars, and oaks forming a background. The eastern shore is flat but densely covered with hardwood. The area in which we bivouacked is called Campement de bataille as a result of a battle which was said to have taken place there between Sioux and Chippewa Indians over a hundred years ago. Its historians were the half-decayed skulls, which according to Souverain, were found in this area in earlier times in such large numbers that can only be compared with the number of the boulders in the river.

A mild evening and clear blue sky gave our bivouac a very homey atmosphere. Imagine a tent made of white, strong canvas, supported by two tree trunks bent vertically into the ground, connected to a third lying across as a roof support, similar (only more peaceful and natural) to those tents seen all over Germany in recent years, until it was overpowered. Next to the entrance, an iron kettle hangs in a tumultuous bustle over the flickering fire. The two voyageurs in their blue blankets, stretched out on the ground with heads tucked on arms and caressed by the heat of the flame, enjoyed a hard-earned rest. The young Frenchman and the scribe of these pages, sat on a buffalo-skin under the light canvas cover, and sketched out the day’s events, with our colorful possessions scattered around, partly drying in the vicinity of the glaze, partly sheltered from the weather, and at some distance the “Bearer of All,” the brown birch-canoe, sat brutally mauled and mended on all sides, every scar a triumphant sign of its struggle with the stone army.

Thursday, September 30, 59 F. On the morning of our tri,p we had to pass several rapids, a miles long and and 1 ½’ in height. The extremely low water level makes navigation even more difficult and dangerous, because when the river is high, the boat glides amicably and safely over many of the stones, which in the current low flowage, are only softly washed over, with their pointed shapes harassing from all sides. This circumstance compels the skippers to often leap into the river, thereby easing the weight on the canoe as they waded through the crevices as best as they could.

As often as the natural conditions of the shores allowed, we left the canoe and took the most difficult parts on foot. So, we made several portages again today.

We walked for a long time through this green labyrinth, over sticks and shrubs, pondering the cause of the elegiac impression these wildernesses, for all their sublimity and natural splendor, had on us. These lonely, gloomy forests without song and scent* may well serve a modern Timon as the desired asylum for his soul searching, but for the philanthropist, who for weeks remains in this solitude, his feelings are powerfully drawn back to those flourishing feats of human activity, where the farmer reaps the blessings of his industriousness, where gentler herds graze on rich, fat pastures, where the sun bends over happy cottages, the cozy ringing of the village bell proclaims the peace of the evening, and healthy, red-cheeked strumpets make the hearts of young boys beat louder!

[*Agassiz, Lake superior. 1850.  Wagner, Nordamerika, II.]

At about 12 o’clock, we stopped at the end of rapids on the east bank, and enjoyed tea, butter, ship’s biscuit! The more we were subjected to the climatic vicissitudes of our journey, the more we learned to appreciate the excellent qualities of green tea as both  a quenching drink and a warming agent. Three times a day, we took hot tea. It was almost the only liquid we would consume for weeks, when the fresh water, especially near marshes, seemed to be badly influenced by the suspended vegetable matter. After all the exertion, fatigue and cold, it was always the tea that produced the rejuvenating effect on the health and had a pleasantly stimulating effect on the nerves.

bannock_1995-07-01Scherzer’s preference of hard tack over la galette (lugalade, “lug,” bannock) is puzzling to say the least (Wikimedia).

Next to tea is rice and Indian corn (maize), which, due to their rich nutrients and the small amount of space they take up, are especially useful for a long life in the forest. Roasted and finely grated, corn, mixed with sugar and water, also makes a delicious drink. Ship’s biscuit has also done us excellent service. On the other hand, we have not been able to make friends with Galette, a type of bread cake made of flour, baked in a pan by the fire, and when fresh it is enjoyed and piled into the stomach in a highly indigestible manner.*

375px-gail_bordenThe eccentric preserved food enthusiast Gail Borden had a hit with condensed milk.  Meatbiscuit never took off (Wikimedia).

[*The inventor of “Meatbiscuit,” Gail Borden of New York, was so interested in hearing about our intended trip to Central America, he sent us a box to try his new method of preparation, yet we left the same untouched, even in more serious times earlier in the trip. This meatbiscuit, as we have been informed in the printed communication, is so rich in nutrients that one tablespoon of this powdered substance, boiled in water, should be perfectly adequate for a meal.]

In the afternoon, the river increased noticeably in width, and extends to 300′. The landscape now alternates with cypress bouquets looking as if in a park, with small prairies where the Indians gather hay for the winter, and with wild elms and oak forests. Over and over, though, the landscape bears the stamp of seriousness and loneliness: all members of a green society of ennui!

See the first post in the Reisen of Nordamerika for a similar description of voyageur humor in trying circumstances.

The frightening rapids continue. Storms and rain join in, and significantly hinder our progress. Like scars, traces of unlucky Indian canoes past remain on some of the rocks. Souverain, wanting to propel the canoe with all his strength, in spite of the growing difficulty, bounced off the smooth stone a few times with the pole, and found himself up to his middle in the cold water. But such incidents never upset the good old man. He laughed and joked the most, where the danger seemed most serious and his situation the most uncomfortable.

The Kettle Rapids, which we passed in the evening are 9 miles long. After six o’clock, under heavy downpour, we debarked a mile from the Yellow River near a lovely sycamore forest.

1280px-2014-11-02_12_00_54_american_sycamore_during_autumn_at_the_ewing_presbyterian_church_cemetery_in_ewing2c_new_jerseyAmerican Sycamore or Plane Tree:  Platanus occidentalis.

For dinner, bacon and tea. The bottle of French brandywine had already been emptied, and the sugar had run out too, so we had to drink our tea without anything to sweeten it. As the ground was very damp, we collected the broad, dry leaves from the sycamores whose mighty branches arched over our heads, and we created a lush green covering, which greatly protected us from the damp ground.

Friday, October 1, 70° F. At about eight o’clock we crossed the Yellow River to the eastern shore, which, like most of the small rivers which flow into La Croix, has its source only a few miles inland in a small lake.

We now drove through broad, pretty channels, adorned on either side with mighty conifers, whose foliage was complemented with fall ornaments in all the nuances of color in a painter’s palette. Orange-yellow sycamores, silver poplars with greyish-red leaves, dark sumac shrubs, golden elm and white birch trees formed the background. Spruce, fir and cedar, with their unaltered green complexion, grew  close to the shore. The harsh autumn wind blew through the pale young ones at the water’s edge, sending a shiver through the limbs.

Fall in these forests does not have the withering and dying appearance of the European autumn. The abundance and variety of tree species, with their wonderful foliage, in a season, characterized by weeks of serene weather, appears as nature putting on her makeup again. The trees, in their autumnal decoration, smile like children putting on new clothes.

In the afternoon, we passed six Indian tents pitched on the western shore. The men all seemed to be on the hunt because only women and children thrust their heads out of their miserable wigwams in curious apprehension. It was the barking of a few watchful dogs that betrayed the approach of our unfamiliar apparition.

All the characters we saw had a wild, naked, pathetic appearance. On a square stretched between two tents, a tuft of brown human hair, tied with a red ribbon, hung down vertically between a pair of pyramid-crossed poles. It seemed to be the scalp of a Sioux victim recently hunted down by the Chippewas.  These Indian tribes are not hostile to whites, but are biased by an indescribable mistrust.

At 1 o’clock, we passed the Snake River (Kinabic) on the western side.  It originates near Sandy Lake in Minesota, and flows here into the St. Croix River.

Riviere du bois blanc:  Wood River

An hour later, we passed the Riviere du bois blanc, which flows in from the eastern bank, and pitched our tent near it for the night. Unless special accidents occur, tomorrow we intend to reach the first settlement of whites, the falls of St. Croix.  This is probably the last night we will bivouac outdoors.

Jean Baptiste,” cried our old canotier, after the camp had been prepared and he’d taken a good piece of chique (chewing tobacco), “Il faut nous preparer pour demain!” With this, everything was then sewn, repaired, washed, and shaved, as if it were for court or a chamber ball, but yet it was only a dark little hamlet we hoped to reach after twelve days of canoeing through the wilds of Wisconsin and Iowa.

If this post is evidence, Fr. Otto Skolla at La Pointe was not as well-liked as his countryman and predecessor Frederick Baraga.

Saturday, October 2, 72° F. As we set off on the journey, a strong southwest wind rose and rain dripped from the trees. The superstitious Canadian captains had placed much of their hopes for favorable travel on the influence of their priest’s prayers at La Pointe.  As the heavens grew darker and worse for us every day, the prayers of the Franciscan friar, and notions he had forgotten us, frequently came up.

Our companion, a Catholic from southern France, likewise had a high opinion of the power of his own and bizarre prayers, and it was therefore impossible for us to express our feelings and views, or offer many remarks about the true meaning of prayer and its total ineffectiveness to sway the course of the eternal laws of nature.

The shores are quite flat again, but richly wooded with sycamores, elms and oaks, whose hearty abundance of leaves, shine as the rays of the autumn sun gleam through the branches in a splendid golden color.

Riviere du lac des cedres rouges:  Red Cedar River  Riviere du soleil levant:  Sunrise River

At 12 o’clock, we passed the Rivière du lac des cèdres rouges, which originates ten miles west of the La Croix River in two large lakes.  At one o’clock, we reached the mouth of the Riviere du soleil levant, also entering from the west shore of the La Croix.

The cheerful name of the Sunrise River derives from a most fierce battle, which took place a few years ago on its banks, when the Chippewa’s met their mortal enemies, the Sioux at sunrise. Perhaps the sun should have set rather than witness such an awful battle between human brothers.

All these tributaries are rich in precious wood species, and their connection to the “Father of the Waters” via the La Croix River  will increase their importance for the timber trade of Upper Mississippi with every passing year. Already, every winter their forests are home to a quite peculiar, floating population of the so-called Lumbermen.

Ceded land could be preempted, but could not be purchased from the federal government until it was surveyed.  See Amorin’s posts on surveys.

The greater part of the country we are traveling in is still the property of the Congress. For a century, the Government has not found it necessary to pass a law forbidding the cutting of these forests by speculators. Perhaps later settlers will only benefit if some stretches of land have already been cleared of lush forest and made easier for plowing. Likewise, such clearings appear to be of great advantage in climatic and health terms, by drying, warming, and rendering the land less polluted.

The manner in which this difficult but profitable business of the timber trade is conducted goes  as follows: a speculator hires ten to twenty strong workers for the winter, buys six yoke of draft oxen, thirteen barrels of flour, ten barrels of salted meat, and a barrel of whiskey.  All together, this assemblage, known as a team, moves to the wooded forests of the La Croix River. There are then some huts pitched, provisions stored and work begins.

Such a team (train) of 15 to 20 workers usually cuts 3300 spruce logs in the course of one winter. Each of these colossal tree trunks, 60 to 80′ long, is again cut into 3 parts (logs), 16 to 20′ in length. In the winter of 1851, three teams felled three million feet of spruce trees. Each of the hired woodworkers receives 26 dollars a month along with food. The supervisor (teamdriver or teamster) is paid up to 45 dollars a month.

In the course of the last year, 25 to 30 teams moved to the forests of the La Croix, and their five-to-six months of work brought 21,000,000 feet of spruce logs into the market, which, at a thousand feet to four dollars, equates to a value of $ 84,000.*

[*The traffic on all the upper rivers (Mississippi and tributaries) is on average 35 million feet of floatwood, which, marked up at St. Louis, makes a value of half a million dollars. According to a precise calculation, more than 5,000 acres of land have to be stripped each year to deliver the amount of lumber that comes out of the state of Wisconsin alone each year. See D.D. Owen’s, Geological Reconnaissance of Wisconsin. 1848 p. 71.]

In spring, these floatwoods swim with the increasing flow on the colossal waterway extending from the La Croix River to the Gulf of Mexico, sometimes singly, sometimes partly connected, to St. Louis, where in raw condition they are priced at 9 dollars per 1000 feet.

However, many are caught on the way by their own devices and prepared in various sawmills along the banks of the La Croix and Mississippi in the form of slats, moldings, shingles and staves (coopers-stuff) for a variety of construction purposes.*

[*In this footnote, Scherzer inserts a long table of lumber statistics at St. Louis.  I have chosen not to translate it. ~LF]

In finished condition, 1000 feet of spruce wood in St. Louis comes to 12 dollars, that is to say, threefold what they are worth at the mouth of the La Croix River. Often 15,000,000 wooden blocks from the upper Mississippi swim down to St. Louis at the same time.  It is easy to imagine what torture these wooden travelers are for the pilot, who is in a hurry from St. Paul down to the “Capital of the West.”

But these logs, which only bother navigation in the spring, must not be confused with the famous snags, those uprooted, washed-away trees that sometimes pile up in the middle of the riverbed. With their sharp branches, they are the sworn enemies of the flatboats of the Mississippi throughout the year.

At about 2 o’clock, we stopped on the western bank of La Croix near a forest cabin for a light lunch. The rain, which was now pouring down, did not even allow the benefit of a warming fire. We sent Souverain, as a scout, into the lonely dwelling, but he found such an inhospitable reception from the old matron and a scrawny barking hound, that we preferred to camp outside in spite of the storm. Then, as if the clouds had more compassion for us than the people, we soon saw bright sunbeams, and were able to make fire and boil tea.

Eventually, several people, men and children, appeared, but they all remained, as if awestruck, under the eaves of their cabin, and watched our elaborate cooking preparations from a distance. They were the first white settlers we had seen after several weeks of voyage, and therefore we were doubly sorry to find them so inhospitable. From their language and way of life, the grumpy settlers seemed to be Irish.

It is our peculiar observation that immigrants who leave their fatherland for whatever reason, in order to establish a new livelihood in quiet forest solitude far from all society, are always unsociable and averse to human needs. It seems as if, in having left the world, they have paid back their debts and obligations, and may resign themselves to all their pleasures and bounties, and no longer care to know any duty of hospitality.

At 6 o’clock in the evening, when it was already dark, we finally arrived at the last rapids of the La Croix River requiring portage. If the river is high, you can make the trip across these rapids to the village of St. Croix, two miles away, but with the river lower, the canoe heavily laden, and the night already falling, it was better to continue the journey on foot to St. Croix, or to camp the night outdoors on damp earth on the barren shore.

We moved to the dark but refreshing forest path and set off with our traveling companion. The two voyageurs, with canoes and effects, stayed behind with instructions to meet us again in the village the next morning.

When we left the river and met the fissured, miry, forest road, the landscape had already assumed a hilly character, which we saw more clearly at the top of the falls. The banks rise up to 150′ in height and were richly overgrown with ash trees, oaks, poplars, and prairie. The river itself had again expanded enormously and assumed a linear regular course. It took us almost an hour to get to the village along the muddy, deep-set forest track.

St. Croix has 600 inhabitants, whose main sources of livelihood are the several large sawmills, which are active almost all year round. One may get a sense of this activity from the fact that two thirds of the La Croix spruce logs, about 7 million feet annually, are processed in these sawmills for industry and commerce.

W.S. Hungerford was one of the earliest lumber speculators on the St. Croix.  See Folsom’s Fifty Years in the North West.

Since there is no inn in the village, we had to rely on the hospitality of a sawmill owner, Mr. Hungerford, and not surprisingly, a man who only works with logs and boards all year fulfills the duty of innkeeper poorly. Although inhabiting a splendid, spacious house, he directed us to the sleeping quarters (boarding-house) of his workers, which we had to share with a number of strangers.

The poor, musty air that prevailed in the room, the broad spiderwebs that hung like a festoon from one end of the room to the other, and the dirty linen set on the floor for us to cover our mattresses, soon left us longing for our camp in the airy tent, and regretting that we did not choose to camp with our fellow travelers in the forest.

We do not mean to say that we feel an aversion to living with workers. On the contrary, we lived for a considerable time in Germany, France and England among the working classes, and drew more entertainment and knowledge from them, than we did from the stiff-lipped “haute volée” of the aristocratic circles.

Rather, we cherish the most sincere respect and sympathy for those whose hard business industry alone make it possible for the man of science to indulge in nobler, more serious research; but it remains a most-embarrassing moment, after weeks of forest bivouac, to spend the first night in a narrow room with people whom one has never seen before, all coming late into the night, and with boots and spurs on their lumbering bodies unable to avoid missing our bed or avoid pulling off our thin blanket.

Sunday, October 3, 50° F. The hilly landscape rises on both sides of the river up to 200’ feet high. The rapids, whose hydropower sets the wheels of the two sawmills in motion, are about 100′ wide, and have a fall of 15′ over 2 miles. In the village itself, they barely reach the height of 5 or 6 feet.

Trap, Dalles of the St. Croix Owen pg. 142

Trap, Dalles of the St. Croix  (Reports of David Dale Owen)

Everywhere, the sandstone of the river-bank makes room for trap rock, which, along with scattered copper-pieces, made the inhabitants assume that rich mineral-bearing sites were to be found there. Mr. Hungerford, too, probably more for speculation than out of true conviction, propagated this speculation, and it would not surprise us to read about the “Hungerford diggings” soon, even if it were only as a bait for the Sawmill owner to sell his numerous plots of land more easily and more expensively to simple-minded emigrant ninnies.*

[*S. Owens Reports, 1839. Pag. 66.]

We took breakfast at the common table with the workers of the sawmill, of whom more than fifty were suddenly rushing to the door, and hastily sat down at the long table, when, according to American custom, a bell vigorously rung by a woman announced the readiness of breakfast, or rather gave the sign to start the fork fight.

Vaccinium corymbosum is rare in Minnesota and Wisconsin.  It seems likely Scherzer means V. macrocarpon, the cranberry. On Nicollet’s map, the Cranberry River in Bayfield County is Riviere des attacas.  Attacas is not the Ojibwe word for cranberry.  (mashkiikiimin is).  The Dakota word is potpaka.

During the whole meal, which lasted no more than ten minutes at most, there was complete silence except for the clatter of the eating utensils. The workers of the sawmill were tall, hardened figures, with intelligent faces and a decent manner. They get better food than any working class of Europe. For breakfast, fish, cold beef, fried bacon, potatoes, tea, coffee, milk and canned fruits (attacas*) were served. Similar rich, courtly meals are repeated for lunch and dinner. The wages are 30-40 dollars per month.

[*Vaccinium corymbosum grows here wild, as in all of Minesota, and with sugar, makes excellent preserves.]

We would have liked to have known more of the circumstances of St. Croix and its future, but the unkindness and inhospitable behavior of the landlord prevented us from doing so.

Within five years, a railway is to run from Chicago to St. Croix and thence to Fond du Lac, and the railway and waterway are to be so closely connected that for travelers to the states west of the Mississippi, it will be is the quickest, least expensive, and most pleasant route to Lake Superior. A small, state-of-the-art steamer, capable of carrying no more than 20 passengers, runs between here and Stillwater, a thriving town thirty miles below the falls on the western shore of St. Croix Lake. It carries provisions for the woodworkers and residents of St. Croix. His expenses amount to 6 dollars per trip.

We did not make use of this modern mode of transport, however, and preferred to continue our journey in birch-bark with our two Canadian voyageurs, who have led us so bravely and relentlessly through the wilderness of the Lake Superior for weeks.

Above the St. Croix Falls rugged, black trap masses, 3-400′ high, come to the fore.  Suddenly, they give the area such a wild romantic character, one is involuntarily reminded of certain rocky parts of Saxon Switzerland or Muggendorf. Pine trees and firs are the only sparse inhabitants of these rugged masses of rock, which, however, disappear a mile’s drive downstream and make way for the usual sandstone formations and hardwood vegetation.

330px-kossuth1848The Revolutions of 1848 loom large over the Reisen, and Scherzer seems to have been supportive of them.  However, the Viennese traveler seems less enthused than the American public for nationalist movements in the Austrian Empire, like those of the Hungarian leader Lajos (Louis) Kossuth (wikimedia).

Since it was Sunday, there was a lot of life in the village and on the river. A small pirogue painted white, with the black inscription L. Kossuth, rowed by two workers, scurried past us with lightning speed. It was rapidly disappearing from our eyes, much like the enthusiasm and sympathy of the Americans for the Hungarian agitator whose name she wore.

But at the very least, it is interesting proof of how powerfully the flame of enthusiasm–before which only the ashes of disappointment are left–must have flared in all directions, when the reputation of the Hungarian ex-governor spread from the penitents of Pannonia to penetrate the lonely primeval forests of America, and his name still graces individual inscriptions, half joyful, half elegiac, on ships, shops and taverns in memory of a freedom-loving man!

schanzelThe Schanzel was a marketplace on the Vienna riverfront.

We also encountered several rafts heavily laden with sawn wood, driving down the river.  They were similar to those numerous flat vessels coming out of the bustling Bavarian country, laden with wood, stones and fruits, descending the Danube to the celebrated Viennese Schanzel.

Soon, after leaving St. Croix, there appears on both sides alluvial land, which stretches along the banks and, often completely separates from them.  It is richly overgrown with willows and reeds. This is the first sign that one is approaching the Mississippi and its alluvial formation. The shores, which are more obscure from both sides, retain their sandstone character and their former rich vegetation of oaks, birches, elms, poplars, and spruces, which sometimes close form a background decoration of a lovely hills.

The river, at a breadth of 300′, often stretches for miles in a perfectly straight course, and its forests are interrupted for the whole stretch from St. Croix to Stillwater (30 miles) only by a few clearings, on which are eight sawmills and the associated settler shacks.

At 5 o’clock, just as the sun was hiding behind the hills, we landed in Stillwater, at the top of La Croix Lake. The hills, thus far wooded, are now gradually replaced by sandy bluffs. The vegetation is dwarfed and less drained.  Stillwater itself is terraced on a lush green ridge, like a last glimpse of flourishing nature amid the ever present sandstone.

Stillwater, in the state of Minesota, is a small village of 150 houses, founded only in 1846, with 1200 inhabitants, 3 Protestant and 1 Catholic churches, 4 doctors, 1 school and 2 taverns. Its main source of income is the timber trade with the Upper Missisippi. There was also a lot of tourism, and the two inns were crowded with guests.

Since Stillwater is the only place within many miles, where there are doctors and druggists, and at the same time a fairly healthy climate prevails. All types of fever, chest and lung patients from the various environments seek asylum here for their sufferings. It creates a society, which one encounters in the inns and on the streets, a very eerie, hospital-like appearance, and reminds one of those innumerable curiosities of Germany, created by unscrupulous physicians, who for their own medical glory, bring together their incurable patients and do nothing for them.

Only with difficulty, did we succeed in finding a place in the Eaglehouse for our numerous effects. Our guide, so in need of rest, was put off until the night when, at nightfall, the crowded assembly in the smoke-filled inn (parlor) would leave and make room for a bed of straw.

For the time being we leaned into a free corner, and tried to make friends with the colorful company with which we likely had to spend the next night. What a strange assemblage of costumes, figures and faces to observe!

CalabraserA Calabraser (Calabrian) hat.

Raw, weathered figures in red and blue jackets with wild, comical beards and tangled drooping hair sat silently around a glowing iron stove, with their black and white Calabrians carelessly pressed into the face, and their feet laid over each other, or pressed against the wall.

Most of them seemed absorbed in a prolific speculation, and moved, as if ill-tempered by the long absence of a suggestive idea. The thick tobacco ball moved back and forth between the cheeks, like the Austrian soldier running down the lanes, biting a bullet in his mouth to soothe his excitement. Sometimes, one would go out to the tavern (bar-room), choke down a glass of whiskey or portwine, and then return to his former silent position by the stove.

How unusual this gathering must have seemed to us, compared with a cheerful Sunday circle of German peasants in a village pub, where the glasses sound, fiddle stirs, and song and dance create pleasure and joy.

The silent, gloomy tone and rude manners that made the atmosphere in the dining-room at Stillwater so heavy and oppressive, are by no means a mere accidental phenomenon. They are a feature of the whole American peasantry of the West, and with certain modifications are typical of the American character in general. The American, is not, as we sometimes hold him up to be, the ideal of amiability, but as we generally meet him in public transport, he is a frosty, unmanly and, to put it simply, a boring figure. He has a myriad of small bad habits that often make his company unsettling.

But in order to judge a nation justly, one must not regard it according to the more or less pleasant qualities of the individual. One must regard them in their totality as a people: in their political and social development. There are nations where the individuals seem to be very amiable and easy-going, but as a nation they are immature, weak-minded, cowardly, and blasé, e.g. the French, the Spaniards, the Italians, and the Poles.

On the other hand, we find peoples, who as individuals, come across as odd, unsociable, dry, and selfish, while as a nation they are free-spirited, enthusiastic about progress, self-confident. Among these are the Americans.

And that is why every friend of progress and humanity will pay the deepest respect and warmest appreciation, to the American people, with their great patriotism, with their noble national pride, their practical execution of equality of religion and their restless struggles for independence. —- But, now we return to the bitterly dull inn of Stillwater.

After eleven o’clock at night, when the meditating assembly still did not want to disperse (which, incidentally, seems to prove that in America too, the good get-rich-quick ideas cause lengthy headaches). Drowsily cowering in the corner, we were finally approached by the host who offered us a place to sleep in a room on the upper floor.

Along with our traveling companion, we were pleasantly surprised by the elegant furnishing of this room, so pleasingly contrasting with the room below.  We immediately took possession of the mattresses and spread them out over the whole width of the room in the name of “our sleepy majesties.” It is a pleasant feeling, indeed, after weeks of uncomfortable, hard camp in the damp forest, to be able to spread one’s tired dull limbs carelessly and unobtrusively on a soft, broad sleeping surface.

Unfortunately, we were soon informed that several other guests would share this improvised camp with us, and in less than a quarter of an hour there were already five guests, stripped bare of heavy boots, with all the dirt and sweat of the day beside us on the ground. So, there were seven people in total. To add to the eeriness of that night, at the other end of the room, on a divan, lay a sick man, whose haggard lungs breathed with all the effort of one who had spent hours running.

At about 1 o’clock, the host shone in the doorway with a lantern, and shouted in that frightened voice with which it is customary to proclaim a conflagration: “Steamboat! Steamboat!” There was, however, no fire, but only steam, which brought us into a state of alarm, the steam of a boat which was just arriving with passengers from St. Paul, only to drive off at once to Galena. Since none of the seven sleepers present appeared to be on their journey, our room soon became completely dark again.

All at once, a passenger who had likely just arrived by steamboat from St. Paul, rushed into the room, disrobed and, without much asking, lay in the middle of us. Now it had grown so tight in that room that had once been so comfortable, it was almost impossible to move without hitting a part of a neighbor’s body. There could be no question of a refreshing sleep. It was a a trying stretch, yearning for the dawn.

Monday, October 4, 7 o’clock, 57° F. From Stillwater to St. Paul, 18 miles to the west, a comfortable carriage travels daily. Before boarding this wagon to continue our journey to the capital of Minesota, also the largest city in the Territory, where we hoped to recover in a comfortable hotel, we still had to arrange two matters. We had to get rid of the canoes and useless utensils, and finally to say goodbye to our two faithful canoemen with a well-deserved reward for their services.

The former was quicker and easier than the latter. We gave away all the small items that were useful to us in our forest bivouacs and sold the birch bark for a third of the purchase price. It was tougher for us to split from the brave voyageurs with whom we had been in such intimate conversation for weeks.

Mais c’est trop! C’est trop!:  But it’s too much!  Too much!

Since we had been on the road far longer than we expected, owing to the bad weather, their wages were a rather considerable sum, which took them by surprise. The old man smiled and did not want to believe his eyes when he saw the many golden one-dollar pieces falling into his hand. “Mais c’est trop! C’est trop!” he shouted continually, until the whole sum was paid out, and then, without counting them, he shoved the pieces of gold joyfully into his trouser pocket.

We shook hands with both of them, drove on to St. Paul, and our thoughts were soon busy with a hundred new, interesting objects. But old steadfast Souverain, this staid, strict-minded character, who could neither read nor write, will always be a pleasant picture in our memory whenever we encounter in the social life of modern world those whose wisdom and deeds fail to match their education.



By Leo


The Austrian writer, adventurer, and academic, Karl Ritter von Scherzer traveled the United States along with Moritz Wagner in 1852 and 1853.  Their original German-language publication of Reisen in Nordamerika is free online through Google Books (image: wikimedia commons).

Chapter 21 of Wagner and Scherzer’s Reisen in Nordamerika in den Jahren 1852 und 1853 appeared on Chequamegon History in three posts in 2013.  Chapter 22 continues the story, as Carl Scherzer describes his trip up the full length of the Brule River in September 1852, riding in a birchbark canoe guided by two La Pointe voyageurs:  Souverain Denis and Jean Baptiste Belanger.

Chapter 22 lacks the variety and historical significance of chapter 21 (Ontonagon to the Mouth of the Bois-Brule), but even in Google-based translation, it maintains much of Scherzer’s beautiful (often comical) prose, that should be appreciated by readers with a fondness for canoeing.  It also includes the lyrics of an authentic voyageur song that does not appear to be published anywhere else on the web.

Themes in this chapter also continue ideas explored in other Chequamegon History posts.  If you wish to read more about the absolute misery encountered by inexperienced canoeists on the Brule, be sure to read the account of Lt. James Allen who accompanied Henry Schoolcraft to Lake Itasca in 1832.  If reading Chapter 22 makes you think that mid 19th-century European travel writers superficially appreciated Ojibwe culture more than American writers, but that their romanticism contained the seeds of dangerously-racist ideas, be sure to check out J. G. Kohl’s Remarks on the Conversion of the Canadian Indians, another Google-aided German translation first published in English right here on Chequamegon History.       



A Canoe Ride through the Wisconsin Wilderness

The Rivière du Bois Brülé or Burnt Wood River (Indian: Wisakoda) has a rocky riverbed and runs east-southeast. Its serpentine curves are navigable close to 100 miles, nearly from the source to the mouth by canoes. It has 240 rapids, varying in length, alternating with smooth surface for a length of eighty miles. Most of the rapids have a one-foot, but many an eight to ten-foot slope. Four of them are so dangerous, they require portage, that is, they must be bypassed, and the boat and baggage are carried past the most dangerous points on land.

The width of the river changes tremendously. At its mouth, it is probably ninety feet wide, then sometimes narrows down to a few feet, and then expands just as quickly to the dimension of a considerable waterway. Its total slope from its source to its mouth in Lake Superior is about 600 feet. We therefore had the doubly-difficult task of overcoming river and the slope.

We took our frugal lunch of bacon and tea on a small mound of sand. We looked back and saw, probably for the last time in our eyes, but lasting forever in our memories, Lake Superior.

Amorin Mello has covered both postal irregularities and early surveys of northern Wisconsin, here on Chequamegon History.

It should be noted that such letters are not uncommon in this great primeval forest, where bald towering tree trunks are more reliable postmen than the whims of hunting Indians, ignorant of their duties.  Suddenly, Baptiste cried out, “Une lettre! Une lettre!” Mounted on a high pole, a letter hung wrapped in birch bark. It was addressed to a “Surveyor in the wilds of Lake Superior”–truly, an extended address! The letter was accompanied by a slip of paper, also in English, in which the readers, insofar as it did not concern them, were requested to leave it undamaged in its eye-catching position.

In winter, when Lake Superior is often unnavigable for months, the postal connection with La Pointe is an arduous forest path taking nine days to reach St. Croix Falls. Since it sometimes happens that the frivolous mix-bloods, growing weary of their postal duties hang their letters on the next branch and happily return to their favorite activity: hunting the wild forest thickets. The pack sits on the tree until a more-conscientious wanderer happens upon it. Thus, it takes three months to travel a road that would be covered in as many days in civilized area with modern transportation.

Birches (betula papyracea), elms, poplars, ash trees (fraxinus sambucifolia), and oak trees make up the bulk of these primeval forests. However, spruce, pine (pinus resinosa), firs, (abies balsamea and alba), cedars and juniper trees appear in such a pleasant mixture that their dark green forms a magnificent base note for the deciduous wood, as it bleaches golden in the autumn.

Within a half hour, the clear light-green water, 6 feet deep at the entrance, dropped to half a foot. From this, one may get a sense of the lightness of our birch-barked vehicle. In spite of the people, travel utensils, and provisions, probably amounting to 800 pounds of load, it glided gently, without even brushing the shallow riverbed.

The further we went up the river, the more virgin and primeval the forest, and the wilder and wilder the little waterway became. At places, tree trunks had fallen across the river and completely blocked our way. We had to take up the handy carpenter’s ax to cut a passage through. Under such navigational conditions, the oars lay quietly against the walls of the canoe, and long, hand-hewn poles were our only means of locomotion.

A heavy rain left us short on time to look for a bivouac. We spent the night in the woods under old spruce trees. Their trunks were more than 120 feet in height. Every night, we tied the thermometer to a tree branch out of the wind, and then recorded our observations in the morning. That was the only time we were able to maintain a regular hour of observation.

Friday, September 24, 53°F. Yesterday’s heavy rain has stopped, and as far as you can tell from under our green jungle canopy, the sky is quite clear and cloudless.

We continued the journey at 8 o’clock. At points, wind-broken spruce and beech hung from both sides, their still-green jewelry forming arcs of triumph across the river.

The splendorous color of the forests is enhanced by the mighty brush of autumn. You can already notice the work of this brilliant painter on the foliage of the oaks and elms. Only the stiff firs and ancient spruces, seen against the sky, allow the autumn storms to rush past without changing their defiant green.

We had a short portage to make, and a part of the provisions and effects had to be carried over the rapids. Landed at 12 o’clock for lunch. Our canoe was already severely damaged by the low water level and numerous rocky cliffs, and it began to fill with water. Now, all our luggage had to be brought to the shore and the empty boat had to be turned over to wrap the leaky areas watertight again.

For the whole afternoon’s journey, the same wild character of nature prevailed. Trees on opposite banks bent in pyramids and wrapped around each other at the summit. Sturdy roots of ash, elms, oaks having lost their balance, hung like an arched bridge over the surface of the water. All around, the eye sees the rugged beauty of the forest. Little has changed in nature or navigation in the two hundred years since the first missionary in a birch canoe passed through this wilderness.

At points, the thicket clears, the land becomes flatter, the river broadens, small lush archipelagoes rise, and the scenery gains the prestige of a modern park. In such areas, the wild rice (Zizania aquatica) comes into view. Along with hunting and fishing, it constitutes a staple food of the Indians. A marsh plant, it usually grows only in lowlands (sloughs), which are 8 to 10 inches under water for most of the year.

Oumalouminee:  while manoomin (wild rice) is at the root of it, the Ojibwe-Algonquian word Omanoominii (Oumalouminee on early French maps) actually means “Wild Rice People” (i.e. the Menominee Nation or the St. Croix (Folle Avoine) Ojibwe.  

The harvest happens in the autumn, in a simple and effortless way. The Indians drive their slender canoes through the reeds into the middle of the rice fields. They bend the ears from both sides over the boat, and then beat out the fruit with fists and sticks, where it falls to the floor of the canoe. Most of the time, they roast the rice (Oumalouminee) and enjoy it boiled in water. Sometimes, however, when this seems too much trouble for them, the humble forest-dwellers are content to chew the raw fruit like kinikinik or smoking tobacco as a noonday meal.

When we asked Souverain how far we still had to go to the next portage, he replied that it might still be a distance of two pipes (deux pipes), by which he meant to say that we would arrive after the time in which one is able to smoke two pipes.

The black rocky bottom of the river makes the water so dark, it becomes very difficult to distinguish the sharp slightly-covered, rocks from the water, and so our boat received more than one jolt and leak. At half past four, we had to make a second portage of half a mile in length. Both the boat and the baggage had to be carried through the forest. We camped at the other end of the trail at the edge of a northern beech forest. Evening, 7 o’clock 48° F.

Saturday, 25th of September, 40° F. Heavily clouded horizon, windless, rainy. Our matches got wet and prevented us from starting a fire. Finally, a flint was found in a tin, but the gathered wood was green and wet, and took a long time to burn. After 7 o’clock, we set out. Exclusively hardwood vegetation, now, namely ash, elm, silver poplar and birch, which would seem to indicate a milder climate.

The remnants of Indian night camps are noticed at many points in the forest: the charred fire, the fresh tree-branches placed in the ground where the kettle hung above the flame, the dry wooden skeletons that were once wigwams.

Several jumbles of tree branches had to be chopped in half this morning with the ax in order to make a passage for us. Only half an hour after our departure from bivouac, we arrived at the third portage. Under heavy rain, we carried the effects through the forest on a trail that only occasionally hinted at ancient, long-weathered tracks. This time, the canoe could be pulled over the rapids, but only through a heroic decision of the two leaders to wade alongside it in the frosty, cold river. At 8:30, this painstaking portage was over, and the journey across the less-dangerous rapids continued in the canoe.

Souverain Denis (Danie), a celebrated voyageur of La Pointe was around 67 years old in 1852, when Scherzer hired him to lead the voyage from La Pointe to Stillwater in the Minnesota Territory.

In the afternoon, more coniferous trees appeared, especially on the right bank. The rapids often continued for miles, and Souverain, the admiral of our birch-barked frigate, to whom was entrusted our destiny, had more than a hard row to hoe. Twice, shying away from the effort of cutting, we boldly passed over mighty tree trunks fallen into the river. Several times, our barge slid so narrowly under tree trunks hanging over the water there was scarcely enough space left us, lying with our backs against the bottom, to squeeze under with our slender canoe.

Despite the reappearance of softwood vegetation, the area visibly takes on a different character as it gradually changes from the hilly landscape of Lake Superior to the flat prairie ground of the West. The trees in the forest become less dense, while willows, cypresses, larches, and Thuja occidentalis are more frequently seen. On the banks, young saplings proudly take the place of the noble-stemmed spruce.

Based on our experiences so far, we would not recommend that future travelers rely too much on hunting and fishing while traveling through these wilderness areas. The almost incessant rapids give the river a current far too strong for it to be a popular habitat for fish, and the game is usually scanty along the shore. In addition, the gun often suffers much from the water, which the powerful sweep of the poles and paddles sends over the side of the canoe. Due to this moisture, which is almost unavoidable in such a small space, even the best-measured shots often fail.

Once, it was inspiring to see the keen-eyed Souverain pick out a water snipe among the bushes. Not knowing its mortal danger, it promenaded itself carelessly in search of food. We approached quietly with the boat, drawing near to fell the victim with the shotgun, and Souverain shot his enemy-snipe-weapon. The shot failed. A second and third had the same fate. The charges had been dampened by prolonged rain.

1._wilson27s_snipe._gallinago_wilsoni_bon._2._american_woodcock._philohela_minor_gray_lccn2017660746(wikimedia) Wasserschnepfe is a generic German term for several species in the family Scolopacidae (snipes and sandpipers). Wilson’s Snipe (left) or the American Woodcock (right) are likely candidates for the suicidal Brule bird.  Hypochondria was used as a synonym for depression in the 19th century–see the opening paragraph of Moby Dick for an example.

Quite remarkably, the poor animal had still not left its dangerous post, as if it were overpowered by melancholy, and would receive the mortal shot as a blessing. The fourth charge finally did its duty. The snipe staggered and fell dead in a nearby bush. She was haggard and skinny, and seemed to have truly suffered from hypochondria. In the evening, we shot a duck. General joy was had over their fatigue, and we lustily enjoyed a good evening meal.

In the final hours of the journey, the river assumes a regular, almost canal-like course, which for some miles continued in a straight line. The rapids become rarer, but the river is densely covered with rock, which hides itself under the smooth barren surface of the water. Surprised by nightfall, and in the deceitful twilight not daring to go further among the aforementioned jagged rocks, we bivouacked close to the shore in a flat, swampy area.

As a rule, since we were on the Bois-Brülé river, we drove for ten hours a day, from 7 o’clock in the morning until 5 o’clock in the evening, unless rain or canoe repairs prevented us. Every morning, before we left, we prepared our breakfast, and made a very short stop at lunchtime. We pitched our tent only at the resting hour of the evening, when possible on a hill in an area where the presence of numerous dry logs could suffice for preparing a comfortable night fire.

Only a few years removed from the Great Famine, Wagner and Scherzer visited America during a period of massive Irish immigration, which they discuss elsewhere in their travelogue.

After the two voyageurs had cut down and brought in 12 to 18 pieces of spruce or birch trunks in the forest, they usually left it to us to keep the fire at proper heat. No sooner had our evening meal been consumed, which, like the selection at the court of an Irish emigrant’s table–one day bacon and tea, and the next day tea and bacon–the two voyageurs, fatigued by the hard work of the day, would fall asleep. Our traveling companion, wrapped in a thick buffalo robe, found no more attraction in this body-strengthening pleasure. So we were faced with a choice, stoke or freeze.

Every night, we would get up four or five times to set new tree trunks on the dying glow. And when the fire flared up again, we’d sit a while and watch the joyous flaming wave, and think of our friends across the ocean. And as this new flame intensified, new glowing thoughts and feelings rose in us again and again, for the fire possesses the same miraculous power as the sea or the blue sky. One can gaze into it for hours and yet cannot get enough of it. One laughs and cries, becomes sad then cheerful again. – The logs that we burned last night, certainly amounted to half a cord of wood!

Sunday, September 25, 5:30, snowfall. A good fire in front of our tent makes it easier for us to bear the cold and the bad weather. All night long, we heard the cries of many flocks of ducks moving cheerfully off to the west. In the forest, now, one hears only the lonely lamentations of a woodpecker, his flight inhibited and decrepit, he could not follow the young flyers and is left behind. The snowfall prevents the boat from popping up, and we are forced to wait for better weather in this swampy, frosty wilderness.

7 o’clock, 35° F. A shot was fired nearby. It was probably the hunting rifle of wandering Indians.

Around 9:30, a canoe came up with an Indian and his squaw (Indian woman). It was the postman of La Pointe who had picked up the letters in St Croix and was on the way home. As soon as he saw our camp, he stopped, got out, and he and his wife warmed themselves by our brightly-lit fire.

The postman of La Pointe described here does not seem to be John Morrison, the mail carrier listed in the 1850 censusBoozhoo:  hello! greetings! (Ojibwe People’s Dictionary)

He was a poor, one-eyed devil. In his little boat he brought wild rice (folle avoine) tucked under animal skins, which he wished to exchange for resin to repair his damaged canoe. The shot we heard a few hours earlier fell from his shotgun, but the duck he aimed never did. The postman did not seem to be in a hurry. He talked to the voyageurs for more than an hour, then said good-bye and Boshu* to the fire’s warmth and to us.

[*Boshu, also bojoo or bojo, is undoubtedly a corruption of the French “Bon jour,” which is used by all Indian tribes on this side of the Mississippi for all kinds of greetings in the widest sense of the word. In general, the Chippewa language is teeming with English expressions, for which they have no name in their own language. The same is the case with the Indians of British Guiana, who have included many Spanish words in their language: cabarita, billy goat (Indian: cabaritü), sapatu, shoe (Indian zapato), aracabusca, firearm (Indian: arcabug). It deserves great attention at a time when we seem more inclined than ever to draw conclusions about the descent of peoples from certain similarities in languages. Comp. Dr. W. H. Brett, Dr. Thomas Jung, etc.]

11 o’clock in the morning. After the snow stopped, we quickly patched some areas on the boat, damaged by the sharp rocks. After a short snack of bacon and salt meat, we proceeded further up the river. We intended to continue, without further delay in a southwesterly direction, until dawn, hoping to escape this frighteningly-cold region.

The scenery and nature remained the same as yesterday. Hardwood, among which the American elm (ulmus americana) prevails. With its imposing height and rich crown of leaves, it is a major ornament of the American forests. With the shallow shores, rice marshes and trees hanging over the river under the weight of their leaves, our canoe laboriously sighs under its oppressive cargo. The rapids start again. The river is about 40 feet wide.

About 2:30, we passed through ten minutes of rapids, whose completion required the full effort of our two canotiers. In addition to the countless rocks, we passed through the lowest water levels, over uprooted trees that had fallen into the river. Our journey now resembled the pushing of a cart than it did the light gliding of a birch canoe. It was a fight with the water and nature. We were in danger of wounds to our heads and eyes, passing close under the wild bushy oaks and spruces that jutted into the water.

The landscape afforded variety of rich, picturesque views. Every bend, every new opening, showed the visitor a new image. At times, the river extended to the breadth of a lake, and cedars, cypresses, thujas, and all the green foliage of the swamp vegetation becomes visible. Where the rapids stop, the mirror-clear, calm water comes alive with trout and swimming birds. All at once, however, the picture will close, and the two shores form an incessantly-bright green alley, through which the smooth river stretches like a long white vein of silver.

Bakinawaan:  win over/ beat in a contest or game (Ojibwe People’s Dictionary)

By evening, our little boat was suffering greatly from the incoming cold. At sunset, we camped on the so-called Victory Grounds (pakui-aouon). It is a cleared piece of forest, about 40 feet above the river, that forms a kind of plateau, upon which bloody battles must have taken place in former centuries between the Sioux and Chippewas.

The Revolutions of 1848 were critical in the early development of Czech nationalism in the Austrian Empire.   Being from Vienna, Scherzer may have been acutely sensitive to dissatisfaction in nearby Prague.

The cause of the hatred between these two tribes of Indians remains an object of research. However, one only needs to mention the name one tribe, to a person of the other in order to provoke his rage. Against this, even the hatred of the Czechs, who in the blessed year of Revolution wished to devour all of Germany, pales in comparison. For as often as the Sioux come into contact with Chippewa Indians, they will certainly commit a murder, because according to their legal concepts, it is their duty to scalp as many Chippewas as possible.

Scherzer wrote Joseph Austrian at La Pointe for the lyrics of the Chanson canadienne, and while the Reisen does not identify the family of Jean Baptiste (the most common men’s name at La Pointe), Joseph Austrian’s memoirs suggest the singer was “one Balange,” presumably Jean Baptiste Belanger.

In the evening, when the tent is pitched, the night’s wood is felled and carried in from the forest, the fire is lighted and a small meal is prepared and consumed, the four of us would sit still for a while around the warming fire. We would listen to the voyageurs tell us about their experiences and destinies, and about the savagery of the whites and the gentleness of the Indians. Sometimes, they also sing songs that have strangely found their way from the home of the troubadours to these soundless primeval forests of the north*. Here we repeat one that Jean Baptiste sang out this evening with much emotion, as he lay carelessly, disregarding the flickers of the burning fire:

Chanson canadienne
(Canadien song)

Buvons tous le verre à la main,
Buvons du vin ensemble;
Quand on boit du vin sans dessein,
Le meilleur n’en vaut guère.
Pour moi je trouve le vin bon,
Quand j’en bois avec ma Lison.

(Let’s drink down the glasses, in our hands,
Let’s drink wine together;
When you drink wine without purpose,
Even the best is not worth it.
For me, I find the wine tastes good,
When I drink with my Lison.)

Depuis longtemps que je vous dis:
Belle Iris je vous aime,
Je vous aime si tendrement,
Soyez moi donc fidèle,
Car vous auriez en peu de temps,
Un amant qui vous aime.

(For a long time I have been telling you:
Beautiful Iris I love you,
I love you so dearly,
Be faithful to me,
For in a short time you will have,
A lover who loves you.)

Belle Iris, de tous vos amants
Faites une différence,
Je ne suis pas le plus charmant
Mais je suis le plus tendre.
Si j’étais seul auprès de vous,
Je passerais les moments les plus doux.

(Beautiful Iris, of all your lovers
Make a difference,
I am not the most charming
But I am the most tender.
If I were alone with you,
I would have the sweetest moments.)

Allons donc nous y promener,
Sous ces sombres feuillages,
Nous entendrons le rossignol chanter
Qui dit dans son langage,
Dans son joli chant d’oiseau,
Adieu amants volages.

(Let’s go for a walk,
Under the dark foliage,
We will hear the nightingale
Who sings in his language,
In his pretty bird song,
Farewell lovers.)

“Ah! rendez-moi mon coeur,
Maman me le demande.”
“”Il est à vous, si vous, pouvez le reprendre.
Il est confondu dans le mien,
Je ne saurais lequel est le tien.””

(“Ah! Give me back my heart,
Mother asks me.”
“It’s yours, if you can, take it back.
It is mixed up with mine,
I will not know which is yours.”)

[*It is a common observation that the painted native forest dwellers of America are not as eloquent as their much-simpler dressed German counterparts. Although we passed through the forests of Wisconsin, Missouri, and Ohio in all seasons, we never heard as beautiful and funny singing as in the German hall. It is as if nature wanted to compensate the German forest singer for his lack of splendor through the richer gift of song. Comp. Franz v. Neuwied and Agassiz, Lake superior etc., p. 68 u. 382, respectively.]

Monday, September 27th, 35°F. Sky is completely changed, haunting cold. The snow began to fall so thickly, we had to stop again, after a short time, to build an invigorating fire in a cedar forest amidst swamp and morass. But when the flame began to grow, its warmth reached the snowy branches of the cedar trees. The snow turned to water and fell upon us as heavy rain. We were all thoroughly soaked, and the fingers of the two canoe handlers were so frozen by the biting snow they could not paddle the ship. So we sought, as well as it was possible under such unfavorable weather conditions, to warm ourselves, and finally resumed our journey at noon under snow, rain, and a sharp north wind.

12 o’clock, 42°F. Soon after our embarkation, we had to make a small portage, and happily bypassed La Clef de Brülé, a number of rapids, which in their dangerous places are called by the voyageurs “The Key to the River”.

Cedarwood now grows almost exclusively on both banks, down to the river’s edge. They sometimes seem so harshly thrown over one another that the canoe can pass through only with difficulty.

american_medicinal_plants_28plate_16529_28602544095329american_medicinal_plants_28plate_16629_28602599656029“Cedar,” used generically on today’s Brule River could only mean the Whitecedar or Arbor Vitae Thuja occidentalis (top).  Curiously, however, Scherzer specifically distinguishes Thuja from Juniperus virginiana or redcedar (bottom) and describes the latter as more common, even though J. virginiana is not found this far north.

2:30 48°F. The snowflakes have changed to raindrops with the increasing temperature. Gradually, the rain stopped, and there was overcast, but rain-free weather. We now reached the Campement des Cedres, the only place up to the source of the river, where one still finds enough wood to prepare a night fire as all tree species except cedars (juniperus virginiana) are now becoming sparse along the shores. The discomfort of travel is now joined by a feeling of an unshakeable cold.

We therefore resolved to reach the navigable end of the Bois Brülé river that evening, and our captains endeavored to reach it before nightfall.

The rapids had now stopped, but another no-less uncomfortable and dangerous guest turned against us. The bushes of alders (alnus incana), willows, berberis, etc. grew on both banks. In their undisturbed growth, they had become so impenetrable that at the first sight of these thousands of closely intertwined branches, we often thought it impossible to break through with a canoe. The river was completely invisible in these thick, shady hangings, and hoe, pole, and fists had to be activated to fight all these natural hindrances.

Sometimes, we could only pass through horizontally, with our heads back to the bottom of the canoe. Closing our eyes to the relentless branches, we completely abandoned ourselves to the care of the brave Souverain. His face and hands scratched by the tiny branches, he undauntedly strove forward with unspeakable effort. Only a few times, when these forest barricades grew too overpowering, we heard a half-desperate, “mais c’est impossible!”

In September of 1852, it was still an open question of whether the Ojibwe would be removed west from Wisconsin.  The disastrous Sandy Lake Removal of two years earlier was partially prompted by trading interests wishing to focus westward.

This wild overgrowth of the two banks, which gave our boat journey more of a character of first voyage of discovery than that of following a well-trodden path, can only be explained by the circumstance that the river is only seldom traveled up to its source. Earlier, when La Pointe was the Fur Company’s trading post, several hundred canoes loaded with commodities traveled this route every year, and from there they crossed to the various trading places of Upper Mississippi. But since Indians, forest animals and fur traders have moved westward, the cheerful waters of the Bois Brülé often trickle by, through entire seasons, without being cut by the keel of a boat, and the lush vegetation of its shores is free to reach across and embrace in wild passion.

In this case, the “grand portage” or “great carrying place” referred to is the Brule-St. Croix portage, separating the waters of Lake Superior from the waters of the Mississippi.

Around 5 o’clock, we found the water of the river so low in several places that we decided to give some relief to the canoe by continuing the rest of the journey to the source of the river on foot. We walked back a mile and a half along a forest path, under the most unfavorable conditions. Our bodies wrapped from head to toe in India rubber, we sat with our travel companions against the moving forest, while the two voyageurs with canoe and effects followed the course of the river to meet us again at the grand portage.

Hardly could a hike offer more variety. Without the slightest indication of the path to be taken by the usual old footprints and tree cuts, we fought thorn bushes through deep snow, then passed through wild grain as tall as man, swiftly mowing it under our boots. In the hurry to disembark, we left our compass in the boat, so we could only guess what direction we should start navigating to find the so-called “Great Carrying Place.”

We wandered the wilderness, sweaty and fatigued, unable to move with any speed. The night was already falling, and as our innumerable “hallos,” went unanswered by our captain, we fell silent in the solitude of the forest, coming to terms with the idea of spending the night in these cold, fever-inducing swamps. All of the sudden, the voices of the voyageurs resounded like a hallelujah. We had to be very close to them, so we gained fresh courage against the complaints of pressing each step forcibly through dense undergrowth of thorny shrubs.

Drenched and chilled, we finally reached the Portage on a hill above some young cedars, and found the Voyageurs already occupied with the clearing and patching of the canoe. Unlike ourselves, our travel companion and the two Canadians had no rain-resistant rubber outfits, and were even more exposed to the cold, wet weather. For a time, the shivering appearance of our companion made us fear for his health.

In addition, we soon learned of a new misfortune. The snow cover and lack of wood in the vicinity prevented us from pitching our tent preparing a good fire as fast as our condition might desire. Besides, all our packs had gotten wet, and the provisions were in a poor state of edibility.

Our first concern, when we finally succeeded in pitching the tent and building a fire, was to dry our underwear and garments. All around us, hanging from tree branches and ropes were scattered cloths, spread out and drained of color. In our haste to remove the uncomfortable liquid from our needed garments through the warming power of the flame, we brought them into too-close contact with the wildly-flickering fire. Regrettably, they were soon covered in traces of scorch marks.

Nothing in our preceding traveling conditions had so deeply embittered us or made us as morose as these recent events. It is true that none of us complained, but each man stood in perfect silence before the burning logs, and regrettably stared at whatever soaked garment he was holding in his outstretched arms before the drying glow. Our medicines in vulgar condition, and our books, writings, documents, and physical instruments, all partially corrupted or totally broken, there was not a single piece of our effects which did not bear some lasting trace of damage.

The only consolation was that the snowstorm ended, and the overcast sky dissipated into a bright, starry, moonlit night, which made the prospect of a more favorable morning and forgetting the troubles of today, less and less difficult to fathom.

A short distance from the Portage is the inconspicuous source of the Bois-Brule River, in the marshes all around.* Only a single small stream pours into it during its long, winding course to Lake Superior. The Campement du Portage, where the travelers usually camp, is situated on a small hill, adorned with a serene cedar and spruce approach. While it may present a charming bivouac during a pleasant, warmer season. The eerie conditions under which we spent the night on the cold, damp ground could not possibly give us an idea of their summer loveliness.

[*The water of the Bois-brule River is about 12-14° Fahrenheit cooler than that of the La Croix River, for which may be explained by its forest-shaded banks being almost inaccessible to sunbeams, as well as its proximity to Lake Superior.]

In winter, when the river freezes along its entire length, it must be a marvelous sight: the wild rapids suddenly frozen by the harsh power of frost, and transformed into the strangest shapes and ice formations.



By Leo

In April, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case Department of Commerce v. New York and could render a decision any day on whether or not the 2020 federal census should include a question asking about citizenship status.  In January, a Federal District Court in New York ruled that commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, violated the law by pushing for that question.

Those in agreement with the District ruling suggest that the Trump administration wants to add the question as a way of discouraging immigrants from participating in the census, thereby diminishing the political power of immigrant communities.  This, they say, would violate the Constitution on the grounds that the census must be an “actual enumeration” of all persons within the United States, not only citizens.

Proponents of the citizenship question counter that citizenship status is a perfectly natural question to ask in the census, that any government would want to know how many citizens it has, and that several past iterations of the 10-year count have included similar questions.

It remains to be seen how the Supreme Court will rule, but chances are it will not be the last time an issue of race, identity, or citizenship pops up in the politics of the census.  From its creation by the Constitution as a way to apportion seats in congress according to populations of the states, the count has always begged tricky questions that essentially boil down to:

Who is a real American?  Who isn’t?  Who is a citizen?  Who is three-fifths of a human being?  Who might not be human at all?  What does it mean to be White?  To be Colored? To be civilized?  How do you classify the myriad of human backgrounds, cultures and stories into finite, discrete “races?”

The Civil War and Fourteenth Amendment helped shed light on some of these questions, but it would be a mistake to think that they belong to the past.  The NPR podcast Codeswitch has done an excellent series on census, and this episode from last August gives a broad overview of the history.

Here at Chequamegon History, though, we aren’t in the business broad overviews.  We are going to drill down right into the data.  We’ll comb through the 1850 federal census for La Pointe County and compare it with the 1860 data for La Pointe and Ashland Counties. Just for fun, we’ll compare both with the 1855 Wisconsin State Census for La Pointe County, then double back to the 1840 federal census for western St. Croix County.  Ultimately, the hope is to help reveal how the population of the Chequamegon region viewed itself, and ultimately how that differed from mainstream America’s view.  With luck, that will give us a framework for more stories like Amorin’s recent post on the killing of Louis Gurnoe.


Daniel Harris JohnsonJudge Daniel Harris Johnson of Prairie du Chien had no apparent connection to Lake Superior when he was appointed to travel northward to conduct the census for La Pointe County in 1850.  The event made an impression on him. It gets a mention in his short memorial biography in the 1902 Proceedings of the State Bar Association.

Two years after statehood, Lake Superior’s connection to the rest of Wisconsin was hardly existent.  This was long before Highways 51 and 53 were built, and commerce still flowed west to east.  Any communication to or from Madison was likely to first go through Michigan via Mackinaw and Sault Ste. Marie, or through Minnesota Territory via St. Paul, Stillwater, and Sandy Lake.  La Pointe County had been created in 1845, and when official business had to happen, a motley assortment of local residents who could read and write English:  Charles Oakes, John W. Bell, Antoine Gordon, Alexis Carpentier, Julius Austrian, Leonard Wheeler, etc. would meet to conduct the business.

It is unclear how much notice the majority Ojibwe and French-patois speaking population took of this or of the census generally.  To them, the familiar institutions of American power, the Fur Company and the Indian Agency, were falling apart at La Pointe and reorganizing in St. Paul with dire consequences for the people of Chequamegon.  When Johnson arrived in September, the Ojibwe people of Wisconsin had already been ordered to remove to Sandy Lake in Minnesota Territory for their promised annual payments for the sale of their land.  That fall, the government would completely botch the payment, and by February, hundreds of people in the Lake Superior Bands would be dead from starvation and disease.

So, Daniel Johnson probably found a great deal of distraction and anxiety among the people he was charged to count.  Indians, thought of by the United States as uncivilized federal wards and citizens of their own nations, were typically not enumerated.  However, as I wrote about in my last post, race and identity were complicated at La Pointe, and the American citizens of the Chequamegon region also had plenty to lose from the removal.

Madison, for its part, largely ignored this remote, northern constituency and praised the efforts to remove the Ojibwe from the state.  It isn’t clear how much Johnson was paying attention to these larger politics, however.  He had his own concerns:


House Documents, Volume 119, Part 1.  U.S. Government Printing Office, 1859.  Google Books.

So, in “that thinly settled and half civilized region,” Johnson only found a population of about 500, “exclusive of Indians.”  He didn’t think 500 was a lot, but by some counts, that number would have seemed very high.  Take the word of a European visitor to La Pointe:

Among 200 Indians, only a few white families live there. One of the boatmen gave us a name, with which we found Mr. Austrian.                           

~Carl Scherzer, 1852

And, from this Mr. Austrian, himself:

There were only about 6 white American inhabitants on the Island, about 50 Canadian Frenchmen who were married to squaws, and a number of full blooded Indians, among whom was chief Buffalo who was a descendant of chiefs & who was a good Indian and favorably regarded by the people.

~Joseph Austrian, Brother of Julius and La Pointe resident 1851-52

Who lived around La Pointe in 1850?

In her biography, William W. Warren:  the Life, Letters, and Times of an Ojibwe LeaderTheresa Schenck describes the short life of an ambitious young man from La Pointe.  William Whipple Warren (1825-1853) grew up on the Island speaking Ojibwe as his first language.  His father was a Yankee fur trader from New York.  His mother was a daughter of Michel and Madeline Cadotte.  In his famous History of the Ojibways Warren describes the Ojibwe as people with whom he readily claims kinship, but he doesn’t write as if he is an Ojibwe person himself.  However, he helped interpret the Treaty of 1847 which had definitively made him an Indian in the eyes of the United States (a fact he was willing to use for economic gain).  Still, a few years later, when he became a legislator in Minnesota Territory he dismissed challenges to his claims of whiteness.

If he were alive today, Warren might get a chuckle out of this line from the South African comedian Trevor Noah.

People mocked me. Gave me names like mixed breed, half caste — I hate that term ‘half’. Why half? Why not double? Or twice as nice, I don’t know.

— Trevor Noah

William Warren did not see himself as quite the walking contradiction we might see him as today.  He was a product of the time and place he came from:  La Pointe.  By 1850, he had left that place, but his sister and a few hundred of his cousins still lived there. Many of them were counted in the census.

What is Metis?

Half-breeds, Mixed-bloods, Frenchmen, Wiisakodewininiwag, Mitif, Creoles, Metis, Canadiens, Bois Brules, Chicots, French-of-the-country, etc.–at times it seems each of these means the same thing. At other times each has a specific meaning. Each is ambiguous in its own way.  In 1850, roughly half the families in the Chequamegon area fit into this hard-to-define category.



Kohl, J. G. Kitchi-Gami: Wanderings around Lake Superior. London: Chapman and Hall, 1860.  pg. 260-61.
“Where do I stay?  I cannot tell you.  I am a voyageur–I am a Chicot, sir.  I stay everywhere.  My grandfather was a voyageur; he died on voyage.  My father was a voyageur; he died on voyage.    I will also die on voyage and another Chicot will take my place.” ~Unnamed voyageur qtd. in Kohl
We were accompanied on our trip throughout the lakes of western Canada by half-Indians who had paternal European blood in their veins.  Yet so often, a situation would allow us to spend a night inside rather than outdoors, but they always asked us to choose to Irish camp outside with the Indians, who lived at the various places.  Although one spoke excellent English, and they were drawn more to the great American race, they thought, felt, and spoke—Indian!  ~Carl Scherzer






In describing William Warren’s people, Dr. Schenck writes,

Although the most common term for people of mixed Indian and European ancestry in the nineteenth century was “half-breed,” the term “mixed blood” was also used.  I have chosen to use the latter term, which is considered less offensive, although biologically inaccurate, today.  The term “métis” was not in usage at the time, except to refer to a specific group of people of mixed ancestry in the British territories to the north.  “Wissakodewinini,” the word used by the Ojibwe, meant “burned forest men,” or bois brulés in French, so called because half-breeds were like the wood of a burned forest, which is often burned on one side, and light on the other (pg. xv).

Schenck is correct in pointing out that mixed-blood was far more commonly used in 19th-century sources than Metis (though the latter term did exist).  She is also correct in saying that the term is more associated with Canada and the Red River Country.  There is an additional problem with Metis, in that 21st-century members of the Wannabe Tribe have latched onto the term and use it, incorrectly, to refer to anyone with partial Native ancestry but with no affiliation to a specific Indian community.

That said, I am going to use Metis for two reasons.  The first is that although blood (i.e. genetic ancestry) seemed to be ubiquitous topic of conversation in these communities, I don’t think “blood” is what necessarily what defined them.  The “pure-blooded French Voyageur” described above by Kohl clearly saw himself as part of Metis, rather than “blanc” society.  There were also people of fully-Ojibwe ancestry who were associated more with Metis society than with traditional Ojibwe society (see my post from April).  As such, I find Metis the more versatile and accurate term, given that it means “mixed,” which can be just as applicable to a culture and lifestyle as it is to a genetic lineage.


One time Canadian pariah turned national hero, Louis Riel and his followers had cousins at La Pointe (Photo:  Wikipedia)

The second reason I prefer Metis is precisely because of the way it’s used in Manitoba.  Analogous to the mestizo nations of Latin America, Metis is not a way of describing any person with Native and white ancestry.  The Metis consider themselves a creole-indigenous nation unto themselves, with a unique culture and history.  This history, already two centuries old by 1850, represents more than simply a borrowed blend of two other histories.  Finally, the fur-trade families of Red River came from Sault Ste. Marie, Mackinac, Grand Portage, and La Pointe. There were plenty of Cadottes, Defaults, Roys, Gurnoes, and Gauthiers among them.  There was even a Riel family at La Pointe.  They were the same nation    

Metis and Ojibwe Identity in the American Era

When the 1847 Treaty of Fond du Lac “stipulated that the half or mixed bloods of the Chippewas residing with them shall be considered Chippewa Indians, and shall, as such, be allowed to participate in all annuities which shall hereafter be paid…” in many ways, it contradicted two centuries of tradition.  Metis identity, in part, was dependent on not being Indian.  They were a minority culture within a larger traditional Anishinaabe society.  This isn’t to say that Metis people were necessarily ashamed of their Native ancestors–expressions of pride are much easier to find than expressions shame–they were just a distinct people. This was supposedly based in religion and language, but I would argue it came mostly from paternal lineage (originating from highly-patriarchal French and Ojibwe societies) and with the nature of men’s work.  For women, the distinction between Ojibwe and Metis was less stark.

The imposition of American hegemony over the Chequamegon region was gradual.  With few exceptions, the Americans who came into the region from 1820 to 1850 were adult men.  If new settlers wanted families, they followed the lead of American and British traders and married Metis and Ojibwe women. 

Still, American society on the whole did not have a lot of room for the racial ambiguity present in Mexico or even Canada.  A person was “white” or “colored.”  Race mixing was seen as a problem that affected particular individuals.  It was certainly not the basis for an entire nation.  In this binary, if Metis people weren’t going to be Indian, they had to be white.

The story of the Metis and American citizenship is complicated and well-studied.  There is risk of overgeneralizing, but let’s suffice to say that in relation to the United States government, Metis people did feel largely entitled to the privileges of citizenship (synonymous with whiteness until 1865), as well as to the privileges of Ojibwe citizenship.  There wasn’t necessarily a contradiction.

Whatever qualms white America might have had if they’d known about it, Metis people voted in American elections, held offices, and were counted by the census.

Ojibwe “Full-bloods” and the United States Census

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which
may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.     

~Excerpt from Article I Section II, U. S. Constitution

As I argued in the April post, our modern conception of “full-blood” and “mixed-blood” has been shaped by the “scientific” racism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  The distinction, while very real in a cultural sense, was not well-grounded in biology.

The relationship of Indians (i.e. full-bloods or those living a traditional lifestyle) to American society and citizenship was possibly more contradictory then that of the Metis.  In one sense, America saw Indians as foreigners on their own continent:  either as enemies to be exterminated, or as domestic-dependent ward nations to be “protected.”  The constitutional language about the census calls for slaves to be counted as three-fifths of a person.  It says Indians shouldn’t be counted at all.

In another sense, however, the path to personhood in America was somewhat clearer for Indians than it was for African Americans.  Many New England liberals saw exodus to Liberia as the only viable future for free blacks. These same voices felt that Indians could be made white if only they were separated from their religions, cultures, and tribal identities.  In 1834, to avoid a second removal, the Brothertown Indians of Wisconsin petitioned congress for citizenship and the termination of collective title to their tribal lands.  In 1839, their request was granted.  In the eyes of the law, they had effectively become white.  Other communities would follow suit.  However, most Native people did not gain any form of American citizenship until 1924.

How did that play out for the Ojibwe people of Chequamegon, and how did it impact the 1850 census?  Well, it’s complicated.

Race, the Census, and Classifying Households 

The enumeration forms Daniel H. Johnson carried to La Pointe had more rows and columns than ever.  The Seventh Census was the first to count everyone in the household by name (previous versions only listed the Head of Household with tally marks).  It was also the first census to have a box for “color.”  Johnson’s choices for color were “white,” “black,” and “mulatto,” forcing him to make some decisions.

He seems to have tried to follow the Indians not taxed clause strictly.  40-50% of households in the region were headed by a full-blood Ojibwe person, possibly only two of them were enumerated.  You won’t find Chief Buffalo, Makadebinesi (Blackbird), Oshkinaawe, Omizhinaawe, Edawegiizhig, and their immediate families in the 1850 census.  Jechiikwii’o (often called Little Buffalo) is not in the document, even though he was an early Catholic convert, dressed in “white” clothing, and counted more Metis Ojibwe among his followers than full-bloods.  However, his son, Antoine Buffalo Sr. (Antoine Jachequaon) is counted.  Antoine, along with George Day, were counted as white heads of household by the census, though it is unclear if they had any European ancestry (Sources conflict.  If anyone has genealogical information for the Buffalo and Day families, feel free to comment on the post).  A handful of individuals called full-bloods in other sources, were listed as white.  This includes 90-year old Madeline Cadotte, Marie Bosquet, and possibly the Wind sisters (presumably descendants of Noodin, one of the St. Croix chiefs who became Catholic and relocated to La Pointe around this time).  They were married to Metis men or lived in Metis households.  All Metis were listed as white.

Johnson did invent new category for five other Ojibwe people:  “Civilized Indian,” which he seemed to use arbitrarily.  Though also living in Metis households, Mary Ann Cadotte, Osquequa Baszina, Marcheoniquidoque, Charlotte Houle, and Charles Loonsfoot apparently couldn’t be marked white the way Madeline Cadotte was.  These extra notations by Johnson and other enumeration marshals across the country are why the Seventh Federal Census is sometimes referred to as the first to count Native Americans.        

Enumerated Population by Race_ (1850 Census La Pointe and Bad River).svg

So, out of 470 individuals enumerated at La Pointe and Bad River (I’ve excluded Fond du Lac from my study) Johnson listed 465 (99%) as white.  By no definition, contemporary or modern, was the Chequamegon area 99% white in 1850.  The vast majority of names on the lines had Ojibwe ancestry, and as Chippewas of Lake Superior, were receiving annuities from the treaties.

There were a few white American settlers.  The Halls had been at La Pointe for twenty years.  The Wheelers were well-established at Odanah.  Junius and Jane Welton had arrived by then.  George Nettleton was there, living with a fellow Ohioan James Cadwell.  The infamous Indian agent, John Watrous, was there preparing the disastrous Sandy Lake removal.  Less easy to describe as American settlers, but clearly of European origins, Fr. Otto Skolla was the Catholic priest, and Julius Austrian was the richest man it town.

There were also a handful of American bachelors who had drifted into the region and married Metis women.  These first-wave settlers included government workers like William VanTassel, entrepreneurs like Peter VanderVenter, adventurers with an early connection to the region like Bob Boyd and John Bell, and homesteaders like Ervin Leihy.

For several reasons, Metis genealogy can be very difficult.  For those interested in tracing their La Pointe ancestors to Quebec or anywhere else, Theresa Schenck’s All Our Relations:  Chippewa Mixed Bloods and the Treaty of 1837 is an absolutely essential resource.

It is unclear how many of French-surnamed heads of household were Chicots (of mixed ancestry) and how many were Canadiens (of fully-French ancestry).  My sense is that it is about half and half.  Some of this can be inferred from birthplace (though a birthplace of Canada could indicate across the river at Sault Ste. Marie as easily it could a farm in the St. Lawrence Valley).  Intense genealogical study of each family might provide some clarifications, but I am going to follow Kohl’s voyageurs and not worry too much about it.  Whether it was important or not to Jean Baptiste Denomie and Alexis Carpentier that they had no apparent Indian ancestry and that they had come from “the true homeland” of Quebec, for all intents and purposes they had spent their whole adult lives in “the Upper Country,” and their families were “of the Country.”  They were Catholic and spoke a form of French that wasn’t taught in the universities.  American society would not see them as white in the way it saw someone like Sherman Hall as white.

So, by my reckoning, 435 of the 470 people counted at La Pointe  (92.5%) were Metis, full-blood Ojibwe living in Metis households, or Canadians in Metis families.  Adding the five “Civilized Indians” and the six Americans married into Metis families, the number rises to 95%.  I am trying to track down accurate data on the of Indians not taxed (i.e. non-enumerated full-bloods) living at or near La Pointe/Bad River at this time.  My best estimates would put it roughly the same as the number of Metis.  So, when Johnson describes a land with a language and culture foreign to English-speaking Americans, he’s right.

Birthplace, Age, and Gender

Ethnic composition is not the only data worth looking at if we want to know what this area was like 169 years ago.  The numbers both challenge and confirm assumptions of how things worked.

Let’s take mobility for example:

Reported Birthplace_ (1850 Census La Pointe and Bad River).svg

The young voyageur quoted by Kohl may have felt like he didn’t have a home other than en voyage, but 86% of respondents reported being born in Wisconsin.  Except for ten missionary children, all of these were Metis or “Civilized Indian.”  Wisconsin could theoretically mean Lac du Flambeau, Rice Lake, or even Green Bay, this but this number still seemed high to me.  I’m guessing more than 14% of 21st-century Chequamegon residents were born outside the state, and 19th-century records are all about commerce, long-distance travel, and new arrivals in new lands.  We have to remember that most of those records are coming from that 14%.

In September of 1850 the federal government was telling the Ojibwe of Wisconsin they needed to leave Wisconsin forever.  How the Metis fit into the story of the Sandy Lake Tragedy has always been somewhat fuzzy, but this data would indicate that for a clear majority, it meant a serious uprooting.

For those born outside Wisconsin, more than two-thirds reported being born in Michigan, Canada, or Minnesota Territory.  These are overwhelmingly Metis or in the case of Anglo-Canadians like Robert Morrin, heads of Metis households from areas with a fur-trade tradition.  Only eighteen individuals reported being born in the eastern United States.  Only three reported Europe.

I had more questions than assumptions about the gender and age breakdown of the population.  Would there be more women than men because of the dangerous jobs done by men or would mortality from childbirth balance that out?  Or maybe widows wouldn’t be counted if they returned to the wigwams of their mothers?  How would newcomers skew the age and gender demographics of the area?

Let’s take a look:

AG1 Total Enumerated Age Gender

A quick glance at Figure AG 1 shows that the population skewed male 248-222 and skewed very young (61% under 20 years old).  On the eve of Sandy Lake, the natural increase in the population seemed to be booming.

Wisconsin-Born_ (1850 Census La Pointe and Bad River) by Age and Gender.svg

The hypotheses that women had higher mortality rates and were more likely to be undercounted looked good until we limit the data to the Wisconsin-born population.  In Figure AG 2, we see that the male majority disappears entirely.  The youthful trend, indicating large families and a growing population, continues with 66% of the Wisconsin-born population being under 20.

Non-Wisconsin-Born_ (1850 Census La Pointe and Bad River) by Age and Gender.svg

The male skew of the total population was entirely due to those born outside Wisconsin.  This is not surprising given how much we’ve emphasized the number of men who came into the Lake Superior country to marry local women.

A look at the oldest residents in chart AG 2 and AG 3 hints at another story.  Madeline Cadotte is the only Wisconsin-born person over seventy to be counted.  The oldest men all came from Michigan and Canada.  Why?  My hypothesis is that between the fall of New France in 1759 and the establishment of Michel Cadotte’s post sometime around 1800, there wasn’t a large population or a very active fur trade around La Pointe proper.  That meant Cadotte’s widow and other full bloods were the oldest locally-born residents in 1850.  Their Metis contemporaries didn’t come over from the Soo or down from Grand Portage until 1810 or later.


Before the treaties, the economy of this area was built on two industries:  foraging and trade.  Life for Ojibwe people revolved around the seasonal harvest of fish, wild rice, game, maple sugar, light agriculture, and other forms of gathering food directly from the land.  Trade did not start with the French, and even after the arrival of European goods into the region, the primary purpose of trade seemed to be for cementing alliances and for the acquisition of luxury goods and sacred objects.  Richard White, Theresa Schenck, and Howard Paap have all challenged the myth of Ojibwe “dependence” on European goods for basic survival, and I find their arguments persuasive.

Trade, though, was the most important industry for Metis men and La Pointe was a center of this activity.  The mid-19th century saw a steep decline in trade, however, to be replaced by a toxic cycle of debts, land sales, and annuity payments.  The effects of this change on the Metis economy and society seem largely understudied.  The fur trade though, was on its last legs. Again, the Austrian travel writer Carl Scherzer, who visited La Pointe in 1852:

After this discussion of the of the rates of the American Fur Company and its agents, we want to add some details about the men whose labor and time exerted such a great influence on the fate and culture of the Indian tribes. We wish to add a few explanatory words about the sad presence on La Pointe of the voyageurs or courriers du bois.

This peculiar class of people, which is like a vein of metal that suddenly disappears within the bedrock and reappears many hundreds of miles away under the same geological conditions, their light reaches the borders of the eastern Canadas. The British people, with their religion and customs, reappeared on the shores of these northern lakes only in 1808 with the Fur Company. For labor they drew on those who could carry their wares across the lakes and communicate with the Indians.

Many young men of adventurous natures left the old wide streets of Montreal and moved into the trackless primeval forests of the West. Young and strong as laborers, they soon started to adopt the lifestyle and language of the aborigines. They married with the Indians and inhabit small settlements scattered throughout those mighty lands which begin at Mackinow Island and come up the upper lake to the region of Minnesota. They almost all speak the Canadian patois along with the language of the Chippewas, the tribe with which they came into kinship. We found only a few, even among the younger generation, who understood English.

Since then, every day the population of the otherwise deserted shore of Lake Superior increases with the discovery of copper mines. The animals driven away by the whirlwind of civilization toward the west, attract the Indians with their sensitive guns, leaving La Pointe, abandoned by the Company for their headquarters at St. Paul in Minnesota. Most voyageurs left the island, having seen their business in ruins and lacking their former importance. Just a few families remain here, making a meager livelihood of hunting, fishing, and the occasional convoy of a few travelers led by business, science, or love of nature who purchase their limited resources.

From Scherzer’s description, two things are clear.  It’s pretty clear from the flowery language of the Viennese visitor.Washington Irving and other Romantic-Era authors had already made the Voyageur into the stock stereotypical character we all know today. Th only change, though, is these days voyageurs are often depicted as representatives of white culture, but that’s a post for another time.

The second item, more pertinent to this post, is that a lot of voyageurs were out of work.  This is especially relevant when we look at our census data.  Daniel Johnson recorded the occupations of all males fifteen or over:

Occupations (1850 Census La Pointe and Bad River) 135 men, 15 years or older, listed with occupations.svg

A full 55% of enumerated men fifteen and older still identified themselves as voyageurs in 1850.  This included teenagers as well as senior citizens.  All were from Metis households, though aside from farmer, all of the other occupation categories in Figure O 1 included Metis people.

Mean Household Size by Occupation_ (1850 Census La Pointe and Bad River) .svg

A look at household sizes did not show voyageurs having to support significantly larger or smaller families when compared to the other occupation categories.

The other piece of economic data collected was value of real estate.  Here we see some interesting themes:


If real estate is a good proxy for wealth in a farming community, it is an imperfect one in the Chequamegon area of 1850.  If a voyageur had no home but the river and portage, then we might not expect him to put his coin into land and buildings.  A teacher or Indian agent might draw a consistent salary but then live in supplied housing before moving on.  With that caveat, let’s dig into the data.

Excluding the single farmer, men in the merchant/trader group controlled the most wealth in real estate, with Julius Austrian controlling as much as the other merchants combined.  Behind them were carpenters and men with specific trades like cooper or shoemaker.  Those who reported their occupation generally as “laborer” were not far behind the tradesmen.  I suspect their real estate holdings may be larger and less varied than expected because of the number of sons and close relatives of Michel Cadotte Sr. who identified themselves as laborers.  Government and mission employees held relatively little real estate, but the institutions they represented certainly weren’t lacking in land or power.  Voyageurs come in seventh, just behind widows and ahead of fishermen of which there were only four in each category.

It is interesting, though, that the second and third richest men (by real estate) were both voyageurs, and voyageur shows a much wider range of households than some of the other categories:  laborers in particular.  With the number of teenagers calling themselves voyageurs, I suspect that the job still had more social prestige attached to it, in 1850, than say farmer or carpenter.

With hindsight we know that after 1854, voyageurs would be encouraged to take up farming and commercial fishing.  It is striking, however, how small these industries were in 1850.  Despite the American Fur Company’s efforts to push its Metis employees into commercial fishing in the 1830s, and knowing how many of the family names in Figure O 3 are associated with the industry, commercial fishing seemed neither popular nor lucrative in 1850.  I do suspect, however, that the line between commercial and subsistence fishing was less defined in those days and that fishing in general was seen as falling back on the Indian gathering lifestyle.  It wouldn’t be surprised if all these families were fishing alongside their Ojibwe relatives but didn’t really see fishing (or sugaring, etc.) as an occupation in the American sense.

Finally, it could not have escaped the voyageurs notice that while they were struggling, their former employers and their employers educated sons were doing pretty well.   They also would have noticed that it was less and less from furs. Lump annuity payments for Ojibwe land sales brought large amounts of cash into the economy one day a year.  It must have felt like piranhas with blood in the water.  Alongside their full-blood cousins, Metis Ojibwe received these payments after 1847, but they had more of a history with money and capitalism. Whether to identify with the piranha or the prey would have depended on all sorts of decisions, opportunities and circumstances.

Education and Literacy

The census also collected data on education and literacy, asking whether children had attended school within the year, and whether adults over twenty could read and write.  The history of white education efforts in this area are fairly well documented.  The local schools in 1850 were run by the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions (A.B.C.F.M.) at the La Pointe and Odanah missions, and an entire generation had come of age at La Pointe in the years since Rev. Sherman Hall first taught out of Lyman Warren’s storehouse in 1831.  These Protestant ministers and teachers railed against the papists and heathens in their writings, but most of their students were Catholic or traditional Ojibwe in religion.  Interestingly, much of the instruction was done in the Ojibwe language.  Unfortunately, however, the census does not indicate the language an individual is literate in.  I highly recommend The Ojibwe Journals of Edmund F. Ely, 1833-1849 if you are interested in these topics.

To start with, though, let’s look at how many people were going to school:

Number of Pupils by Age_ (1850 Census La Pointe and Bad River).svg

Thirty-nine students had gone to school in the previous year.  There is a lot of sample-size noise in the data, but it seems like ages 7-11 (what we would call the upper-elementary years) were the prime years to attend school.

Reported School Attendance for Children Ages 5-16_ (1850 Census La Pointe and Bad River).svg

Overall, most children had not attended school within the year.  Attendance rates were slightly higher for boys than for girls.  White children, all from two missionary families, had a 100% attendance rate compared to 24% for the Metis and “Civilized Indian” children.

We should remember, however, that not attending school within the year is not the same as having never attended school.  Twelve-year-old Eliza Morrin (later Morrison) is among the number that didn’t attend school, but she was educated enough to write her memoirs in English, which was her second language. They were published in 2002 as A Little History of My Forest Life, a fascinating account of Metis life in the decades following 1854.

Eliza’s parents were among the La Pointe adults who could read and write.  Her aunt, uncle, and adult cousins in the neighboring Bosquet (Buskey) house were not.  Overall, just over half of adults over 20 were illiterate without a significant gender imbalance.  Splitting by birthplace, however, shows the literacy rate for Wisconsin-born (i.e. Metis and “Civilized Indian”) was only 30%, down from the overall male literacy rate of 48%.  For Wisconsin-born women, the drop is only three points, from 47% to 44%.  This suggests Metis women were learning to read while their husbands and brothers (perhaps en voyage) were not.

Literacy Rate for Adults over 20 (1850 Census La Pointe and Bad River) by Gender and Birthplace_.svg

And this is exactly what the data say when we split by occupation.  The literacy rate for voyageurs was only 13%.  This beats fisherman–all four were illiterate–but lagged far behind all other types of work.

Literacy Rate for Adults over 20 (1850 Census La Pointe and Bad River) by Occupation_.svg

If education was going to be a factor in the economic mobility of unemployed voyageurs, the trends weren’t looking good.

Odds and Ends

Two marriages were reported as occurring in the year previous to the census:  Peter and Caroline Vanderventer and Pierre and Marguerite Robideaux (ak.a. Peter and Margaret Rabideaux).   Though married, however, Caroline was not living with her husband, a 32-year old grocer from New York.  She (along with their infant daughter) was still in the home of her parents Benjamin and Margaret Moreau (Morrow).  The Vanderventers eventually built a home together and went on to have several more children. It appears their grandson George Vanderventer married Julia Rabideaux, the granddaughter of Peter and Margaret.

I say appears in the case of George and Julia, because Metis genealogy can be tricky.  It requires lots of double and triple checking.  Here’s what I came across when I once tried to find an unidentified voyageur known only as Baptiste:

Voyageurs by Given Name (1850 Census La Pointe and Bad River)

Sometimes it feels like for every Souverain Denis or Argapit Archambeau, there are at least 15 Jean-Baptiste Cadottes, 12 Charles Bresettes, 10 Francois Belangers and 8 Joseph DeFoes.  Those old Canadian names had a way of persisting through the generations.  If you were a voyageur at La Pointe in 1850, there was nearly a 30% chance your name was Jean-Baptiste. To your friends you might be John-Baptist, Shabadis, John, JB, or Battisens, and you might be called something else entirely when the census taker came around.

The final column on Daniel Johnson’s census asked whether the enumerated person was “deaf and dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, pauper, or convict.”  20 year-old Isabella Tremble, living in the household of Charles Oakes, received the unfortunate designation of idiotic.  26-year-old Francois DeCouteau did not have a mark in that column, but had “Invalid” entered in for his occupation.    It’s fair to say we’ve made some progress in the treatment of people with disabilities.

Final Thoughts

I am not usually a numbers person when it comes to history.  I’ll always prefer a good narrative story, to charts, tables, and cold numbers.  Sometimes, though, the numbers help tell the story.  They can help us understand why when Louis Gurnoe was killed, no one was held accountable.  At the very least, they can help show us that the society he lived in was under significant stress, that the once-prestigious occupation of his forefathers would no longer sustain a family, and that the new American power structure didn’t really understand or care who his people were.

Ultimately, the census is about America describes itself.  From the very beginning, it’s never been entirely clear if in E. pluribus unum we should emphasize the pluribus or the unum.  We struggled with that in 1850, and we still struggle today.  To follow the Department of Commerce v. New York citizenship case, I recommend Scotusblog.  For more census posts about this area in the 19th century, keep following Chequamegon History.

Sources, Data, and Further Reading
  • Paap, Howard D. Red Cliff, Wisconsin a History of an Ojibwe Community ; Volume 1 The Earliest Years: the Origin to 1854. North Star Press of St. Cloud, Inc., 1854.
  • Satz, Ronald N. Chippewa Treaty Rights: the Reserved Rights of Wisconsin’s Chippewa Indians in Historical Perspective. University of Wisconsin Press, 1997.
  • Original Census Act of May 23, 1850 (includes form and instructions for marshals). (PDF)
  • Compiled data spreadsheets (Google Drive Folder) I’ll make these a lot more user friendly in future census posts.  By the time it occurred to me that I should include my tables in this post, most of them were already done in tally marks on scrap paper.
  • Finally, these are the original pages, scanned from microfilm by  I included the image for Fond du Lac (presumably those living on the Wisconsin side of the St. Louis River) even though I did not include it in any of the data above.



By Amorin Mello

Originally published in the March 23, 1878, issue of The Ashland Press. Transcribed with permission from Ashland Narratives by K. Wallin and published in 2013 by Straddle Creek Co.

… continued from Number V.

Early Recollections of Ashland: Number VI

by Asaph Whittlesey

During 1856 the steamers Lady Elgin, Illinois, and Superior landed freight and passengers upon a steamboat dock constructed at Bay City, now Ellis division of Ashland.

1860 photograph of the sidewheel steamer Lady Elgin.

Ashland’s first saloon was opened by James Whitney in June 1856, and during the same month the first store was opened by Martin Beaser, on the corner of block one hundred and one.

The patent to Ashland, issued by the United States, bears the date June 23rd, 1862.

Land patent for the town site of Ashland issued by President Abraham Lincoln on June 23rd, 1862 to Schuyler Goff:
“The contract between the three was, that Mr. Whittlesey and Mr. Kilborn were to receive each an eighth interest in the land, while the residue was to go to Mr. Beaser. The patent for the land was issued to Schuyler Goff, as county Judge of La Pointe county, Wisconsin, who was the trustee for the three men, under the law then governing the location of town sites.”
~ Biographic sketch of Martin Beaser


In reporting upon this subject it is very possible that our town authorities of the present day may be put somewhat to the blush by the manner in which these and other like improvements were made.  And I will guarantee the re-election of any Town Board, or other town officer who will carry out the program of former days for the opening of roads, which was simply this:

Whenever a road was needed such men as Edwin Elllis, Martin Beaser, George Kilbourn and myself, (I came near overlooking the latter,) and others who mainly volunteered their work, shouldered their axes and served in person until roads contemplated were completed.  There was also this peculiarity attached to this class of individuals; they did not hang about the steps of the town house the balance of the year for the purpose of getting bills audited for work done upon the highways.  It was in this manner that the road leading to Odanah and also that leading south to White River Falls were first opened.  Even Indians partook of the same spirit in volunteering their labor, as Aid-de-camp to their Great Leader, Rev. L. H. Wheeler.

I have no doubt Dr. Ellis still bears in mind how the woods at Bear Trap were made to echo the yells of the Indians as they collided with the party from Ashland on the very day agreed upon, and I think I may safely say that the citizens of Odanah and of Ashland looked upon the opening of this road as a momentous event, and one which cemented us together even more firmly as friends and neighbors, though I have no doubt many of my readers will stand ready to declare that the foot race existed not very far back.

Detail of trail from Ashland to Bad River on Barbers’ survey during the Summer of 1855.

We wore good countenances, slept well nights, and paid one hundred cents on the dollar of our obligations.  We were not ashamed to eat salt pork (those of us who could get it,) while our faithful wives vied with each other in the different styles of cooking this staple article of diet.

Next to this comes the everlasting pancake, without which neither town site nor pre-emptions could be legally established.

Not everyone working on this railroad was able to leave in peace.
“From March to November 15, 1872, over 200 buildings had been erected in Ashland and from a thousand to thirteen hundred men were in the railroad camps engaged in the tremendous task of clearing a track through the forest, and building a railroad. The nation had begun to feel the financial trouble that became the Bank Panic of 1873. Suddenly, one December morning, 1872, Capt. Rich received word to shut down all work on the line, pay off and discharge all the men and transport them and all others who desired to leave, out of the country.”
~ History of the Soo Line by James Lyden, chapter 9.
“On January 1, 1873, Sheriff Nelson Boutin, Capt. R.D. Pike and a party of seventy-five chosen men went over to Ashland as a company to quell the railroad rioters. After stopping there ten days they returned. Having had this little of military life, they conceived the idea of forming a new military company and joining the State militia.”
~ History of Northern Wisconsin by the Western Historical Company, 1881, page 82.

On the second day of June, 1877, I had the honor of driving the last spike, which took place at Chippewa Station, amid the shoutings of a large assemblage of people, including laborers upon the road, and in a few moments thereafter the first train from Milwaukee passed over the road on its way to Ashland, amid great rejoicing and demonstrations of joy over the victory won.  At Ashland also the excitement became intense and though it was late on a Saturday evening on which our train reached the town, the illumination of the place brought to our view a field of faces, crazy with excitement over the event they were celebration.  As for myself, I confess I felt very much like saying, “Now let thy servant depart in peace.”  No longer were we to be informed of what was to be done, but we now knew it to be actually accomplished, and the Wisconsin Central Railroad remained a standing monument to the good name of Gardner Colby, Charles L. Colby and E. B. Phillips, all other efforts being secondary to that of these individuals.  I have in my possession a map of this section of country, published by Charles C. Tucker in 1858, on which he laid down an imaginary line of railroad as being likely to be constructed from Madison via Portage and Stevens Point to Ashland, and strange to say it lays down the precise route of the Wisconsin Central Railroad, the very first to be constructed.

Having received by our last mail an important official statement from the Railroad Commissioner for the State of Wisconsin, I will insert the same here rather than to fail to have it published:

He says “the number of miles of railroad now constructed within the State of Wisconsin is two thousand six hundred and fifty-nine and 6-100, while there are seventy-one thousand seven hundred and fifty-nine miles of railroad now operated within the United States, with a capital and debt amounting to four billion six hundred and fifty-eight million two hundred and eight thousand six hundred and thirty dollars.”


In furnishing these I desire specially to acknowledge the obligation I am under to Mrs. James Wilson, for granting me access to early records of the place kept by Martin Beaser, Esq., though I find some discrepancies between his record and my own, which I think can be explained by the fact that he did not commence his record until some years after the first settlement of the place, and made it from memory along.  For instance he says “the town site of Ashland was located by Martin Beaser, Asaph Whittlesey and George Kilbourn in August, 1854,” whereas Mr. Kilbourn and myself commenced the settlement of the town site July 5th, while Mr. Beaser first visited the place in August when he became an owner therein, the town site being from this time forward owned three fourths by Martin Beaser and one eighth each Kilbourn and Whittlesey.

Again Mr. Beaser’s record states that “the first house was built by Asaph Whittlesey in October, 1854, and was twenty by thirty feet square,” while the fact is I had erected two cabins upon the town site previous to the erection of this one and had lived in them.

Following cabin built by Kilbourn and Whittlesey, foundation laid July 5th, 1854, was twelve by fourteen feet square and was erected on lot number two in block one hundred and five.  The foundation to the second cabin built was laid by Kilbourn and Whittlesey Sept. 9th 1854.  This cabin was thirteen by fifteen feet square and was erected on lot five of block six.  The outline of this building may still be traced. – The third house erected was that erected by Asaph Whittlesey on lot six in block six and was twenty by thirty feet square and this building constituted the residence of the Whittlesey family until the fall of 1857 when I removed to what is known as the Tompkins house on lots five and six in block three.  I have in my possession very correct sketches of the first three cabins built, which I hope eventually to have lithographed for preservation.  The fourth house was erected by Conrad Goeltz.  The fifth house by Martin Beaser.  The sixth house by Myron Tompkins.  The seventh house by Lawrence Farley.  The eighth house by Charles Malmet.  The ninth house by Anthony Fisher.  The tenth house by Frederick Bauman.  Beyond this I am unable to give the order in which buildings were erected.

Conrad and Adam Goeltz first arrived at Ashland in March, 1855, and were employed by me in chopping and delivering cord wood upon the bay shore.  As we were without a team we improvised one by harnessing these two Dutchmen and myself in the form of a spike team to a large sized hand-sled with which we banked twenty cords of wood per day.

P.S. – Adam had it twenty-two cords per day, but I think we had better throw off the two cords and try to save our reputation for veracity.

The first chickens brought into town were those brought by A. Whittlesey from Ohio in 1854.

John Beck butchered the first hogs in town, though he left a few which he did not butcher.

Martin Beaser brought the first yoke of oxen, and in 1855 raised about two hundred bushels of potatoes upon the town site.  On the third of December, 1855, the schooner Algonquin landed at Ashland two hundred and twenty-five barrels of freight, seventy-five thousand feet of lumber and a yoke of oxen.

Ashland Bay froze over Dec. 7th, 1855.  The two first steamboat docks were built during the winter of 1855-6, one by Martin Beaser at the foot of Main Street and one by the Bay City Company.  These were carried away by the ice May 1st, 1856.

To be continued in Number VII


By Amorin Mello

The following is a set of three articles collected and edited from the Superior Chronicle newspaper, followed by my personal thoughts on this matter :



Superior Chronicle newspaper July 7th, 1855, page 2.

Lake News.

These were exiting times for American settlers on Lake Superior as the Soo Locks had just opened one month earlier in June of 1855.

We find in the Lake Superior Journal the following paragraphs of lake news:

The brig Columbia, which carried the first cargo of ore through the Sault Ste. Marie Canal.”
~ The Honorable Peter White, by Ralph D. Williams, 1907, Chapter XIV.

Johnson & Tisdale, of Cleveland, have just built a small side-wheel steamer, for J. H. Garrett, of Ontonagon, and intended to be used on that river as a passenger boat, and also for towing between the mouth of the river and the mines. Her dimensions are : length of keel, 85 feet; beam, 14 feet; depth of hold, 2 feet. She has two engines, and will draw about fifteen inches water.

The Garrison stable at the Sault Ste. Marie, containing two horses was set on fire on the morning of the 29th ult., and, with its contents, totally consumed.

The Canal Company showed their patriotism on the Fourth of July, by exploding about one hundred and fifty barrels of damaged powder.

The brig Columbia carried the first full cargo shipment of iron ore down the Soo Locks one month later in August 1855.

The first locomotive for the Iron Mountain Railroad, from Lake Superior to the Iron Mountains, left Buffalo on Tuesday by the brig Columbia, for Marquette.



Superior Chronicle newspaper, October 23rd, 1855, page 2.

Man Shot.

George Riley Stuntz
Deputy U.S. Surveyor, and Chequamegon Bay land and minerals speculator.

On Tuesday night last an affray occurred on Minnesota Point, which resulted in the shooting of a sailor, attached to the brig Columbia. The vessel was lying at the wharf of Messrs. Stuntz & Co., and the crew, under the influence of liquor, went on shore for the purpose of having a frolic; in the course of their spree they came across some Indians, encamped on the Point, and one of the men soon provoked a quarrel with an Indian. The Indian was being beaten severely, when the captain coming up, interfered, whereupon he was attached by the man. The captain, being small in statue, and unable otherwise to defend himself, drew a pistol and fired at his assailant, the ball entering his side. The wounded man was brought to town, his wound dressed, and is now said to be doing well, the ball not having penetrated to any serious depth.



Superior Chronicle newspaper, November 6th, 1855, page 2.

Death of Louis Gurnoe — Inquest by a Coronors’ Jury — Verdict, etc.

There were more than one Chippewa mixed-blood named Louis Gurnoe.

Captain Justus O. Wells
J. Baker was counted as a “Colored”
man living alone in Superior City during the 1855 Wisconsin Census.  No further sources about J. Baker could be found.
Alcohol was prohibited on Minnesota Point and the Minnesota Arrowhead region by Article 7 of the 1854 Treaty at La Pointe.  This prohibition is not recognized anywhere in this article written one year after the Treaty.

Several weeks ago we gave an account of the shooting of a half-breed named Louis Gurnoe by Captain Wells, of the brig Columbia. The affray occurred on Minnesota Point, opposite Superior. It appears that Gurnoe was a man of very intemperate habits, and several nights previous to his difficulty with the captain, was engaged in a row at a low groggery on First street, kept by a negro named Baker. A dance was being held at that place, and Gurnoe, under the influence of liquor, challenged those present to a fight; he was then set upon, knocked down, and kicked and beaten in a cruel manner. The injuries he sustained, aided by excessive dissipation, ensued his death, just as the vessel was leaving our port. At La Pointe, a coronor’s inquest was held on the body, and the verdict rendered was that death was caused by bruises received at Baker’s house. We hope this matter will be brought before the grand jury at the next sitting of our circuit court, and while we may not expect to see the murderers brought to justice, we hope, at least, that sufficient cause may be shown why this miserable den should be removed. It has been tolerated too long already, and for the good order and character of our town, if for no other consideration, some effect should be made to put a stop to the disgraceful proceedings there enacted.

We publish the entire testimony elicited at the inquest, verdict of the jury, and an affidavit made by Gurnoe previous to his death, exhonorating Captain Wells from all blame whatsoever.

Joseph Stone, one of the hands on board, being duly sworn said:

That on Tuesday evening last, the brig Columbia, Captain Justus Wells, from St. Clair, was opposite Superior; there was a noise between [Sandy?] and deceased, Louis Gurnoe; Louis wanted to fight; captain wished him to stop; deceased knocked captain down; Louis then challenged captain to fight; he then got hold of the captain by the hair of the head; captain told him several times to let go; captain said if he did not let go he would shoot him; told him five or six times to let him go; he did not let go; the first thing I heard was the report of a pistol; [Sandy?], captain, and myself carried him to a tent; I stopped there till four o’clock; captain directly sent two men away to get a physician; deceased was in liquor at the time; he had been very quarrelsome; he shipped at Saut Ste. Marie this trip; he had been bruised on the face the Saturday previous; on the Monday previous when leaving Superior wharf he was so intoxicated that he fell off the provision chest; he was sick coming up; he was unable to do duty after Saturday.

Simeon Nelsonn being duly sworn said:

Simeon Nelsonn could not be identified. His version of the story is different than what was published in the earlier article from October 23rd.
Between this “little Irishman” and Patrick Sullivan at the 1855 La Pointe Annuity Payments, it is evident that the Irish were treated as a minority group by the average settlers and and tourists on Lake Superior during 1855.

We went on shore at Superior, on Saturday evening last; at Baker’s there was a dance; the dance went on nicely till about twelve o’clock; Louis said something to the effect that no one in the room was able to fight him; with that a little Irishman took it up; I went in and hauled Louis back; some one took me off from him, shoved me on one side and commenced at Louis; knocked him down with his fist, and several men piled on him; they then commenced kicking him in the side, breast, and once or twice in the face; after a while they were parted; then Louis commenced drinking again – had been drinking during the evening. After having got all pacified we went on board about two o’clock in the morning; he went to sleep; when he woke he swore he would have a row with somebody before he left the place; on going on shore he commenced drinking; we unloaded the vessel on Monday and Tuesday, and on that afternoon we went over to Minnesota Point; in the evening all went ashore to have some sport; Louis said, before he went ashore, he was bound to have a row with the captain; after going on shore, everything went on well till about two o’clock in the morning. (Wednesday;) I was lying in the lodge; Louis came in and commenced at me; I told him that I did not want any fuss with him and that everything he said I was bound to knock under to save a row; at that the captain heard the words from Louis and came out from another lodge; as Louis was going to come in at me, the captain grabbed him by the shoulders, hauled him back, and said to him, “Louis we did not come here for a row, we came to have sport;” Louis turned on him, and knocked him down; they were then parted; the captain balloed “enough;” Louis was going at him again; the captain stepped back, pulled out a revolver, and said, “If you don’t leave me alone I will shoot you;” Louis opened his breast to him, and said, “Here’s a clean breast shoot;” captain stepped back, and Louis went at him again; caught the captain by the hair of the head; captain told him if he did not let go he would shoot him; we tried to part them again; couldn’t part them; captain wanted to let go, but Louis wouldn’t; captain again said “If you do not let go I will shoot you;” as Louis was drawing back his foot to kick the captain in the face, he being down about knee high, the captain again repeated his caution, gave him one minute to let go, and then shot him; Louis then let go; says he, “I’m dead’ I’m dead.” – Captain said “I thought it would turn out that way – I told you I would shoot but you would not mind me;” captain said “If there is anything I can do I will do it;” the captain, Joseph Stone and myself, carried him into the lodge; the other two boys that were with him commenced dressing his wounds; captain sent John Scott and myself aboard the vessel after the boat to go for a physician; we went aboard and got the boat; got the second mate and Benj. Rassau to go for the doctor; went to Superior; couldn’t find a physician; captain, second mate, Joseph Chapman, a Frenchman living on the point, and myself, got the deceased into the boat and brought him aboard; before we got him aboard a physician came; about eight o’clock in the morning I saw deceased lying in the cabin; said he felt better; about four o’clock p.m. we endeavored to put him into one of the berths; he seemed to be in convulsions; on Wednesday night he got out of his berth, went on deck, and walked fore and aft; Thursday morning he left the cabin and sat on the rail aft; I said “Louis, you will be falling overboard;” he said “there is no fear of that;” he then left the rail; I was standing at the helm; he came up; looked me very hard in the face; I said, “what is the matter?” he gave no answer, but went directly into the boat; deceased had been very quarrelsome all the way up; he remained in the boat about three minutes; he was sitting in the boat with his arm on the taffrail; I took him to be asleep, and tried to wake up; I lifted his arm up, and eased him down into the boat to keep him from falling overboard, and went down after a lantern, (about five o’clock a.m.;) before I had time to time to come with a lantern, some one hard me talking to him and was there before me with one; the captain was also there; I looked at him, and said he was dead; then we took him out of the boat, and laid him forward of the cabin, and put a mattress under him; he was warm at the time, and we thought he might recover; one of the passengers then said life was not gone but he was dying; deceased frequently complained of his bruises received on Saturday night.

James Chapman
~ Madeline Island Museum

James Chapman, being duly sworn, said:

More details on James Chapman later.

The quarrel commenced about a squaw; in other respect; he corroborated the testimony of the previous witness.

Daniel Weihl, a passenger, being duly sworn, said:

I saw the doctor probe the wound, and he followed the rib, one or one and a half inches; I turned away as he found the ball; I do not think the wound was sufficient to cause his death; no inflamation existed; deceased went forward so many times that I concluded he had the diarrhea.

A. W. [Groveract?], being sworn, said:

I told the captain not to use the weapon there; after the shot, saw the deceased standing by a tree; he vomited blood; had not seen deceased vomit blood previous to the shot; he bled very near a pint; the blood from the bruise on his face might have got into his mouth and he threw it up.

John [Babner?], being sworn, said:

I corroborate the testimony given by Mr. Nelsonn.

Mr. Hancock, (a passenger,) being sworn, said:

I corroborate the testimony given by Mr. Nelsonn.

Calvin Ripley, being sworn, said:

Captain Calvin Ripley (“Old Rip”) began shipping copper ore on Lake Superior in 1845.  Ripley’s Rock in Marquette harbor is named in honor of his ship encountering it during a September 1848 storm.

Deceased had been sick about six weeks previous to his shipping, and was sick again when about two days out; was drunk every night, while at Superior, that I saw him; kept the forecastle a day after the fight at Superior; doctor said the wound would not injure him at all – that deceased was worse off in other respects; doctor said it was better for deceased to be on shore; he might suffer from the bruises; deceased wished to come on board and go down.

E. M. Raymond, being duly sworn, said:

I saw the doctor drawing the ball out, and left; saw nothing out of the way till last evening; noticed that deceased thrashed about the chains, and made unnecessary noise; I think deceased was not in his right mind last evening.

Daniel Weihl, being recalled, said:

The wound did not cause mortification; the worst bruise is the one at the rim of the belly; have seen a person kicked in the same place vomit about a quart of blood.

J. E. Rogers, (passenger,) being sworn, said:

That he observed that that deceased, during the time he lay in the cabin, hawked and spit, and about one-third of it appeared to be blood and the rest yellowish matter.

At the conclusion of the testimony, the following verdict was rendered by the jury:

La Pointe County Judge John William Bell Sr. also presided over the 1856 Inquest on the Body of Jerry Sullivan.

An inquisition taken on board the brig Columbia, Captain Justus Wells, in the port of La Pointe, on the 18th day of October, 1855, before John W. Bell, one of the justices of the peace for La Pointe county, Wisconsin, upon the view of the body of Louis Gurnoe, there dead, by the jurors whose names are hereunto subscribed, who being duly sworn to inquire on behalf of the people of this State, where, in what manner, and by what means the said Louis Gurnoe came to his death, upon their oaths do say:

That the deceased came to his death in consequence of bruises received at Superior, at Baker’s residence, from the hands of individuals to the jury unknown, but with whom he was engaged in a fight;

That he was at the same time, and had been, suffering from the effects of continued hard drinking, following sickness, from which he had only partially recovered previous to shipping;

That we acquit Captain Wells of all guilt as to the shot fired by him, and that we do not deem it as a mortal wound, or one that accelerated the death of the deceased.

In witness whereof, the said Justice of the peace and the jurors of this inquest have hereunto set their hands the day and year aforesaid.

JOHN W. BELL Justice of Peace,
S. S. VAUGHN, Foreman,

Copy of a settlement made at Minnesota Point for assault and battery:

Minnesota Territory, Superior county,
Dock at Minnesota Point,
October 17, 1855.

Know all men by these presents, That whereas the brig Columbia, of one hundred and seventy-six tons, commanded by Capt. Justus Wells, from St. Clair, Michigan, District of Detroit, laying at Minnesota Point now and for a few days previous, and among other hands on board said brig was one Louis Gurnoe, a half-breed, and this man was in a state of intoxication, and was making a quarrel with other parties; and whereas, the said captain interfered for the purpose of introducing peace measures, and the said Gurnoe opposed the said captain, and they came to blows and a clinch; and whereas Gurnoe held the said captain firm by the hair of the head, and the said captain requested the said Gurnoe to let go of him, and he would not, and the said captain shot the said Gurnoe in the skin of the side to get clear of him, which would was only a flesh wound, entering the skin against the rib and running along under the skin outside of the rib; and the said captain sent a boat to Superior City for a doctor, and he came and dressed the said wound, and said captain paid said doctor five dollars for his fee for crossing St. Louis river from Wisconsin; and the said Louis Gurnoe having [diver?] other fights, was badly bruised before this; and whereas the said captain has made arrangements in Superior City for the taking care of said Gurnoe to the amount of twenty-five dollars, which we receive of the said Captain Justus Wells, and discharge him of all expense whatever that may arise in an action of assault and battery or any other action for the said causes as the said Gurnoe has received a full compensation for all injuries by the said captain on the ground that the said captain seems not to have done anything more than to defend him or his own personal safety, and what he gives is of good heart and a charitable act received by me.

This settlement is to be construed no further than the said parties have a right by law to settle actions and causes of action. In this settlement the said captain does not mean to have it understood that he acknowledged that he has done anything or [ac?] whereby he may be liable to the law, but for the purpose to buy his peace and a general good will to the said Gurnoe.


LOUIS (his X mark) GURNOE,

In presence of JOSEPH GURNOE,



Amorin’s Commentary

Hi, Amorin here again.  I don’t always add commentary to my reproductions of Chequamegon History, but when I do… it is because I am still trying to understand the rest of the story.

First and foremost, the death of Louis Gurnoe was horrific.  It is unfortunate that these articles disrespected him and served him no justice.  The October article doesn’t even mention his name.  The only real biographical information gleaned from the November article about Louis Gurnoe is that he was a Chippewa mixed-blood who came aboard the brig Columbia at Sault Ste. Marie.  Apparently, his death was far more newsworthy than his life to Americans.  

The language stereotyping Louis as a drunk Indian is disgraceful, and makes me question whether the references to the negro and little Irishman were perjury.  To be clear, yes, I do believe this entire inquest was a fraud.  One red flag, for example, is that the doctor was never identified by any of the witnesses for verification.

Besides dishonoring Louis’ life, it seems that the sole purpose of the Verdict in the November article was to acquit George Riley Stuntz and Captain Justus O. Wells of any guilt with the incident as reported in the October article.  The Judge and Jury of the mystery Louis were all white Euroamerican settlers of La Pointe that were very involved with Lake Superior Chippewa mixed-bloods by marriage and/or business, yet there does not seem to be any amount of empathy expressed by them for Louis Gurnoe.

Although these articles dishonored Louis (and failed to identify exactly which Louis Gurnoe he was) they revealed just enough information to hint at what his life may have been like before boarding the brig Columbia at Sault Ste. Marie in 1855.  The Gurnoe/Garneau/Gournon/Gornow/Gaunaux/etc. families of Chippewa mixed-bloods (a.k.a. Metis) were very active in the cosmopolitan politics of Lake Superior throughout the mid-1800’s.  There is more than one Louis Gurnoe this could have been, so unfortunately the Louis Gurnoe that boarded the brig in 1855  may only be known as a mystery to Chequamegon History.  

Consider, for example, the Louis Genereaux [Gurnoe] that authored an August 29, 1855 letter to Indian Affairs Commissioner George W. Manypenny via the Mackinac Indian Agency on behalf of Saginaw Chippewa/Odawa Tribe trying to locate their reservation lands in lower Michigan.  While it may have been possible for someone to travel from lower Michigan to western Lake Superior within this time frame, there doesn’t seem to be any compelling correlation suggesting that this Louis Genereaux would be the same Louis Gurnoe from the brig Columbia.

Another example Louis Gurnoe that we may consider is the one featured in the bottom right of the following photograph from 1855 at Sault Ste. Marie;

the elder Louis Gurnoe.  

1855 photograph from the Soo Evening newspaper labeled “Five of the Earliest Indian Inhabitants of St. Mary’s Falls” [Sault Ste. Marie] and identified from left to right:
1) Louis Cadotte; 2) John Bouche; 3) Obogan; 4) O’Shawn; 
5) [Louis] Gurnoe.
Read by Richard Garneau (Gurnoe) for other possible identities of the first four men in this photograph.

We can reasonably eliminate the elder Louis Gurnoe as a possibility because of his age at the time (born 1790) and later death record (1863).  It appears that the elder Louis Gurnoe had more than one wife over time, and that some of his children relocated from the Bay Mills area of Lake Superior to the La Pointe area during the mid-1800’s.  A July 5, 1890 article about the elder Louis Gurnoe in the The Democrat newspaper of Sault Ste. Marie reveals that he had at least one son named Louis, while other records in Richard Garneau’s research seem to suggest more than one son named Louis.

It is possible that the Louis Gurnoe from these articles was one of this elder Louis Gurnoe’s sons.  Louis Gurnoe’s Settlement at the end of the November article was signed by another son, who is featured in the bottom center of the following photograph:

the Indian Agency interpreter Joseph D. Gurnoe.

Top: Frank Roy, Vincent Roy, E. Roussin, Old Frank D.o., Bottom: Peter Roy, Jos. Gourneau [Joseph Gurnoe], D. Geo. Morrison. The photo is labelled “Chippewa Treaty in Washington” and dated 1845 by the St. Louis Hist. Lib and Douglas County Museum, but also dated 1855 by the Northeast Minnesota Historical Center. It was probably taken during the Bois Forte Treaty of 1866, which was these men acted as conductors and interpreters in Washington, D.C.  Photograph digitized by Mary E. Carlson for her book The Sawmill Community at Roy’s Point.

I cannot begin to imagine what it may have been like for Joseph to be a witness to the last hours and words of his suffering relative (especially if the inquest into his death was a fraud).  And I may never solve the mystery of exactly which Louis Gurnoe died in 1855.  On the other hand, I will speculate that this Louis Gurnoe’s life may have been similar to his relative Joseph’s life up to this point. 

Superior Chronicle newspaper November 4, 1856

I will share details about Joseph D. Gurnoe’s life, and his professional relationship  to James Chapman, but these details will have to wait to be published in another post in the future.  This concludes my thoughts for this post.

Until next time,

After Missing Treasure

April 10, 2019

By Amorin Mello



The New York Times

June 15, 1897



James Arthur Looking for $35,000 Buried in Wisconsin at the Outbreak of the War.


Net Assets of a Wisconsin Bank Closed When Arthur Enlisted in the Army – Put Away by His Partner, Ell Pingers.

SUPERIOR, Wis., June 14. – James Arthur, a veteran of the civil war, now a resident of Buffalo, N. Y., arrived in Superior a few days ago to make inquiries concerning a transaction dating back nearly forty years, and to complete arrangements for starting on a mission in quest of a treasure supposed to be sunk in the bowels of the earth at a point not far from the town of La Pointe, in Ashland County, Wis.

La Pointe Beaver Dollar
Northern Outfit, American Fur Company
~ Wisconsin Academy of Science, Arts, & Letters, Volume 54, page 159.

According to Mr. Arthur’s story, a bag containing $35,000 in gold was buried in the ground by Ell Pingers in 1861, and has never been discovered, though several expeditions have gone in search of it. It is a strange story, but it is not fiction, unless several old timers with records for veracity have combined to deceive the world, and unless State records lie and other documents fail to prove genuine. The money was certainly placed in a hole in the ground by Ell Pingers in the year 1861, and it probably was never taken away, for the man who did the planting was killed during the war, and no other person knew where the hiding place was. A paper has come to light recently which furnishes a clue to the location of the treasure, and Mr. Arthur expects to be richer by $35,000 within a fortnight.

Superior Chronicle – November 4, 1856
“INDIAN PAYMENT. – Mr. Jos. Gurnoe, last week, distributed among the Chippewa Indians of this vicinity their annuities.  An unlimited number of silver half dollars are now in circulation, and all are enjoying the benefits of Uncle Sam’s liberality.”

In the year 1856, when wildcat money flooded the State of Wisconsin, and when the country was on the verge of a financial and political crisis, James Arthur and Ell Pingers, two young men who had been supplied by their respective fathers with a good start in life, immigrated from New York to La Pointe and established a bank, which not only issued notes of its own, but made a specialty of discounting the issue of other banks throughout the State. They pulled through the panic of 1857, and the bank was counted among those that redeemed its currency at face value. When war became imminent between the North and South the young men decided to close out their banking business and return to the East to engage in something more lucrative. In 1861, however, before the bank closed, James Arthur made a trip to Milwaukee, and there became fired with a desire to serve his country as a soldier. He sent a letter to Pingers at La Pointe asking him to close out the business as soon as possible and leave for the East with all the funds. He also gave Pinger the number of his regiment and full directions as to where letters should be sent. Then he marched to the front with a Wisconsin regiment.

Facsimile of a $50 coin found at La Pointe.
~ Joel Allen Barber Papers, Summer of 1858

Six months after joining the army Arthur received his first and only communication from Pingers. It was a short note, dated from Milwaukee three months prior, and had been forwarded from post to post until it finally reached him at St. Louis. This note is now in the possession of Mr. Arthur, and was shown by him on his arrival here several days ago. It reads as follows:

“Milwaukee, June 8, ’61 – 4 P.M.
“Friend Jim: Got your letter all right. Have closed up bank and sold everything for cash. I realized in all $37,000, and take $2,000 of that with me, but not caring to take a large sum through such a wild country I buried it in a safe place and will advise later concerning exact spot. I am off for bloody war myself. Yours,

Julius Austrian operated a bank at La Pointe circa 1855.

In 1863 Arthur went on a furlough to visit his mother and sisters in New York City, and while there learned that Pingers had been killed at the battle of Richmond, Ky., on Aug. 30, 1862. The papers and numerous personal effects of the dead soldier had been shipped to his mother from Milwaukee previous to his enlistment in the army, but a thorough search failed to disclose any information concerning the location of the hidden treasure. So the furloughed soldier returned to the scenes of war without hope of ever being able to recover the snug little fortune stored away somewhere in Wisconsin soil.

The war over Mr. Arthur returned to New York, and in 1866 he made a trip to La Pointe in company with two friends for the purpose of hunting up the hidden gold. The mission was a fruitless one, but it had the effect of exciting the La Pointe community, and for years after that the natives dug holes in all directions from the old bank, but as far as known the treasure was never unearthed.

In 1867 Arthur’s mother died, leaving him a small fortune, and the following year he married the sister of the dead soldier, Ell Pingers. Through this marriage all the personal effects of Pingers came into Arthur’s possession, and he made many searches through the papers for a clue to the whereabouts of the missing $35,000, but without result. Ten years after his marriage he made another trip to the scene of his old banking operations, and five years after that he sent a trustworthy employee to look for the hidden gold, but no gold was to be found, and finally all hope of ever recovering the treasure was abandoned.

Hermit Island is believed by some to contain several other long-lost treasures:
– 1861 Wilson the Hermit
– 1760’s British Military Payroll
– Stereotypical Pirate Stories
Did Pingers bury their treasure here as well?

About three weeks ago, while turning the pages of an old book which had once been the property of Ell Pingers, a small piece of note paper was found by Mrs. Arthur which contained a memorandum written by the dead soldier and which gave the missing information for which search had been made for years. This note, Mr. Arthur claims, will no doubt lead to the discovery of the treasure in time, but the references it makes to roads, trees, and other landmarks have long since been removed by the hand of progress or obliterated by time, and the undertaking will therefore be attended by more or less of the difficulties before experienced. The old gentleman is confident that, with the information obtained from old acquaintances here and the assistance expected from old residenters at La Pointe, he will be able to unearth the long-buried treasure. He declares his intention of donating one-half of the $35,000 to the veteran soldiers of the Union Army and turning the remainder over to his wife to do as she pleases with.

By Amorin Mello

… continued from Number IV.



Number V

Mr. Dear Press: – As has been already stated, the land on which Ashland now stands, had not, at the time of its first settlement, in 1854, been surveyed.  The town lines had only been laying off the country into blocks six miles square.

Detail from Sketch of the Public Surveys in Wisconsin and Territory of Minnesota by the Surveyor General’s Office, Dubuque, Oct. 21, 1854 as presented in Senate Executive Document No. 1, 34th Congress, 1st Session.
~ Wisconsin Historical Society

When the settlers made their claims, as most of us did, near the town lines, we were able, by the use of pocket compasses approximately to fix the boundaries of our claims.  But no title could be obtained, nor even any safe foundation for a title laid, until the lands should be subdivided into sections, and the returns of that survey made to the Surveyor General’s Office, and by that officer platted or mapped, and then plats and notes sent to the General Land Office at Washington, and from there transmitted to the Local Land office.  At that date the local office was at the town of Hudson, on Lake St. Croix, two hundred miles away.  But early in 1855 an office was established at Superior, at the west end of the Lake, – and though this was nearly a hundred miles from Ashland, – with no roads, compelling settlers in summer to cost in open boats, and winter to walk this distance.  Still it was a very great favor to settlers here, and greatly lessened their hardships, and facilitated the acquisition of their lands.

Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota, then were embraced in one Surveyor’s District, with the office at Dubuque, Iowa.  It was the duty of the Surveyor General to provide for the details of the Government Surveys in his district, as fast as the settlement of the country might require.  Gen’l Warner Lewis was then Surveyor General of this District.

Detail of Ashland City, LaPointe County, from the Barber Brother’s survey during the Joel Allen Barber Papers: Summer of 1855.

These memoirs are classic examples of Edwin Ellis, M.D. writing in the third person when crediting himself for achievements during Ashland’s early days.

No steps having been taken or any order given for the survey of the shore of Chequamegon Bay, in June 1855, Dr. Ellis left in an open boat for Superior, then on foot through the wilderness to St. Paul, following not far from the route over which many years later was constructed the Lake Superior & Mississippi R.R., – then by boat down the river to Dubuque.  The situation of our affairs and the people of an early settlement here induced Gen. Lewis to order an immediate subdivision of Towns 47 and 48, North of Range 4 and 5 West, both sides of our bay, and all the lands on which squatters had settled.

Early in September of that year, (1855), Augustus H. Barber began the survey, and pushed the work rapidly, so that he had completed 47 and 48 of Range 4 in October, and the returns had been made and plats prepared and forwarded to the local land office by the first of December.

Joel Allen Barber Papers:
Spring of 1856

Last known letter from Augustus

“There is a conspiracy, or combination of old preemptors here who have no right to make claims.  Their object is to secure each member a claim on the North shore, and to drive off and keep off by knives and pistols any who may wish to make legal preemptions on the lands they choose to appropriate to themselves.
There may be some fighting up here this season and there is certain to be considerable laming before the business is settled.  Let ‘em rip.
“I can send half a dozen to Jehanum in about as many seconds, but don’t want to do it & will avoid trouble if possible but butcher knife companies must not meddle with any claim when I have made one.

The Pre-emptors now, for the first time, could file claims to their lands and receive assurance that they were likely to be the owners of their homes.

During December many pre-emption claims were filed, and during the closing days of the year and in the first days of 1856, quite a number proved up those claims and received duplicates, upon which patents were afterwards issued.  These were the earliest titles to the present site of Ashland.  Unlike many towns in the West at that period our site was not cursed with complicating claims, and it is cause for congratulations that Ashland property has no cloud upon its title and that every buyer may, with little trouble, assure himself of this fact.  The title to a portion of the site of Superior was bitterly contested involving years of delay and thousands of dollars of cost and much acrimony of feeling; and it is possible that this may have had its influence in carrying the railroad to Duluth rather than to Superior.  Quarrels over title are a curse to any town, especially a new one.

“IN MEMORY OF AUGUSTUS H. BARBER of Cambridge, Vt. U.S. Deputy Surveyor who was drowned in Montreal River
Apr. 22. A.D. 1856
Aged 24 yrs. & 8 ms.”

Of Augustus Barber the early Surveyor of this vicinity, who is unknown to a larger part of this generation, a few words ought to be said:

He was a native of Vermont of an excellent family.  At this time he was about 22 years of age, well educated, gentle as a Lady, refined and easy in his manners and very amiable in his temper.  Like many other young men from the east, of active and enterprising habits, he had come into this outer verge of civilization to make this his home and to grow up with its institutions.  He was the nephew of Hon. J. Allen Barber, of Lancaster, in this State, who once represented his District in Congress.  He continued in the surveys of this part of the Lake until in the summer or fall of 1856, when he, with others, conceived of the idea of founding a city at the mouth of the Montreal River – the dividing line between Wisconsin and Michigan about thirty miles east of Ashland.

The iron range approaches nearer the Lake at that point than it does at Ashland.  And though the country is much rougher and more difficult for construction of roads than between Ashland and the Range, yet the shorter route, it was argued, would more than compensate for the heavier grades. – The town was laid out and platted by Mr. Barber.

Joel Allen Barber Papers:
Spring of 1857

“This has been a sorgawful day to me, feeling more impressed with the awful calamity that befel over dear lamented Augustus and all our family in his loss One year ago to day.”
It must remain a sealed book to us, how Augustus was hurried out of the woods, and why it was so ordained if there, was any ordination about it, till we meet him in another world, which I devoutly hope we may do though I am sorry to say more hoping than expecting.

The Montreal, not far from its mouth, leaps down a perpendicular descent of nearly a hundred feet presenting a wild and picturesque view.  Being an enthusiastic lover of the beautiful of nature and desiring to reach a position underneath the falls, Mr. Barber in a canoe with two companions, approaching too close, were drawn in by the eddying whirlpool, the canoe was capsized, and before help could reach him he and one of his boatmen were drowned.  His body was recovered and was buried on a sand hillock near the mouth of the same river in whose waters he met his death.  Ironton has long been deserted, and Barber’s grave with its marble headstone, is the sole make of that civilization, which twenty years ago there essayed to lay the foundation of a mart of commerce.

They Called Him “Gray Devil”:
Summer of 1857

“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.

The surf of the waves of the lake in summer and fierce driving snow storms in winter, with solitude presiding over the grand orchestra, are perpetually chanting his mournful requiem, while a fond father and mother on the slopes of the distant Green Mountains are mourning bitterly the early death of their first born son.

To be continued in Number VI