Daniel Greysolon Sieur du Lhut

Clarence Rosencranz’s depiction of Daniel Greysolon Sieur du Lhut landing at Onigamiinsing (“Little Portage”) on Minnesota Point in 1679, which originally hung on the Greysolon Tea Rooms of Duluth’s Glass Block Store. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

Duluth Learns of Hennepin’s Capture

At this point, Duluth found a small company of Sioux, there being about eight tepees, or lodges. These Indians, through his interpreter, conveyed to Duluth the startling information that a priest, Father Louis Hennepin, and two other Frenchmen had been robbed and carried off as captives by a band of their own tribe. Duluth’s thoughts probably went back to France, and the battle of Senef; in any case, a chivalrous Frenchman would not hesitate. He went to the rescue of his countrymen.

And the incident is well told by Schaefer, who wrote as follows: The information was correct. Hennepin and his two companions, Michael Accault and Anthony Auguelle, were taken by a band of Sioux on the 11th of April, while they were coming up the Mississippi, from the Illinois.

They were carried to the village of the savages, near Mille Lacs, and in July went up with the hunting parties of their captors. When Duluth reached the Mississippi, Hennepin and one of his companions were down along the river with a party of Sioux, some eighty miles below the St. Croix, i. e., some distance north from the Wisconsin River. Without hesitation, he resolved to go to the rescue of his countrymen. He left his merchandise and two of his companions in the encampment of the Sioux, took with him the other two, his Indian interpreter, and a Sioux as a guide. For two days and two nights he rowed down the river until, on the morning of the third day, at 10 o’clock, he found Father Hennepin, with 1,000 or 1,100 souls. It was the 25th of July. The treatment accorded Hennepin made Duluth very angry, and he made no secret of his feelings. He informed the savages that Hennepin was his brother, and consequently took him into his own canoe, in order to save him from further molestation. Then all started on the return journey to the Sioux villages, near Mille Lacs. In all likelihood, they went up the Mississippi as far as the St. Croix, or the encampment of the eight Sioux cabins, where Duluth had left two of his men and his goods, and from there went overland directly to their destination.

They arrived at the villages of the Issati on August 14, 1680, and as was expected the white men were soon invited to an Indian feast. Duluth, however, was little inclined to live on terms of friendship with those that had so grossly insulted his countrymen. Eight days after his arrival, he held a council with the chiefs of the Sioux tribe, and upbraided them for having illtreated Father Hennepin and the other two Frenchmen, for having robbed and imprisoned them, and for having stolen even the sacerdotal vestments of the priest. In proof of his indignation, he returned two peace pipes, telling them that he would not take calumets from people who, after having received his presents and lived for a year with the French, would rob them at the first opportunity. All those present tried to exonerate themselves, but Duluth was little satisfied with their excuses. He insisted that Father Hennepin should come with him to the country of the Fox Indians, and thus express his resentment by leaving the Sioux. The explorer was of the opinion that the prestige of the French would suffer in a newly discovered country, unless the insult were wiped out by some counter-demonstration.

Duluth, undoubtedly, was very much perturbed, more so than perhaps others in like circumstances would be. He did not make allowance for the irresponsibility of the average Indian, and of the minor chieftains, who in the main followed their own inclinations without hindrance. Duluth’s own words were:

I caused a council to be convened, exposing the ill treatment which they had been guilty of, both to the reverend father and to the other two Frenchmen who were with them, having robbed them and carried them off as slaves, and even taken the priestly vestments of the said reverend father. I had two calumets, which they had danced to, returned to them, telling them that I did not take calumets from people who after they had seen me and received my peace presents, and had been for a year always with Frenchmen, robbed them when they went to visit them.

Each one in the council endeavored to throw the blame from himself, but their excuses did not prevent my telling the Reverend Father Louis that he would have to come with me toward the Outagamys, as he did, showing him that it would be to strike a blow at the French nation in a new discovery, to suffer an insult of this nature without manifesting resentment.

Affront to France Changes Duluth’s Plans

The grave affront to the sovereignty of France Duluth imagined had been shown by the ill treatment of Hennepin and his comrades caused him to cast aside all his plans for exploration of the Mississippi. Glorious as were the thoughts of achieving the discovery of the route to the Indies, they could not in Duluth’s opinion be so dazzling as to bedim his recognition of the grave insult the Sioux nation had committed toward France. Loyalty to self, or in another word, selfishness, was not as strong in Duluth as patriotism. He was a son of France first and foremost, and when the national honor was attacked, personal interests were secondary. Duluth made preparations to at once return rather than push farther into the unknown west, as he might well have been sorely tempted to do, had he been a man of less scrupulous honor and of more mercenary spirit. For three Frenchmen he had sent “exploring” had, some time earlier, returned and assured him that the “great salt water” was only about a twenty days’ journey away, according to the Indians, and had shown him salt taken from the said “great salt water” (which was, in all probability, the Utah sheet, Salt Lake). Duluth, by the Hennepin incident, demonstrated that he was more honorable and courageous than he was discreet; and a further indiscretion, which he might, one would think, have checked, almost brought total disaster to the expedition before it had passed beyond the region of the Sioux.

A Perilous Situation

Duluth and his countrymen, including the three he had rescued, departed from the country of the Izatys towards the end of September, 1680, in two canoes. Hugo narrates that: As Duluth’s party was passing the Sault de St. Antoine de Padue, or Falls of St. Anthony, after leaving the Indian villages at Mille Lacs, one of the canoe men espied a finely decorated garment hung up by an Indian in the early part of July, as a votive offering to the Spirit of the Cataract. This attracted the cupidity of the voyageur, and he took it for his own use. Duluth was incensed at this violation of the sanctity of the tribute, but the religious intolerance which brooks no superstition but his own, and the coarser fibre of the thief, prevailed over the remonstrances of Duluth, and the garment was carried off. The news carried quite rapidly, however, and the Indians from whose camps they had come soon became aware of the desecration. A council was convened and the matter discussed until the situation grew serious for the Frenchmen, when their friend Ouasicoude stopped the debate by braining the principal advocate of the plan to kill them. Still, the Duluth party were followed and were caught up with at the mouth of the river Wisconsin, which they were about to ascend. One hundred and forty canoes of indignant Indians against two canoes of Frenchmen. The crisis had arrived, and the dangerous situation brought about by the indiscretion of the priest and the theft of the voyageur would have been serious, if not fatal, had not Duluth’s old friend, Ouasicoude, still proved staunch and loyal to the white men. The Indians were placated and they passed on as a war party against their oldtime enemies, the Fox tribe.

Duluth did not even return to Lake Superior, where, maybe, he had left some of his party. Possibly he had closed his Lake Superior business before turning into the Brule River in June, 1680, bent on what might have proved an expedition of long duration. It is known that he had earlier in that year organized and dispatched to Montreal at least one convoy of fur-laden canoes, which achievement he might have considered the successful termination of his Lake Superior expedition. At all events, from Mille Lacs, in September of that year, his route lay down the Rum River to the Mississippi, and to the mouth of the Wisconsin, into which they turned, passing upstream along the canoe route to Green Bay, where they rested for a few days. Continuing the voyage, they proceeded along Green Bay and Lake Michigan, passing through the straits of Mackinac to Mackinac Island, where a Jesuit mission then was. There they had intended to winter, but before spring had come Duluth, “being disturbed by the suspicions and stories of the Jesuits,” decided to continue his journey. He and his comrades left the Jesuit mission on March 29, 1681, before the ice had all broken. They were forced at times to drag their canoes over the ice, but eventually they reached Montreal.

Hennepin’s Story

The uneasiness Duluth had felt at the Jesuit mission on Mackinac Island probably had its source in the machinations of two interests antagonistic to him in the colonial government.

The church and the intendant were against him, mainly because he was Frontenac’s man. There had always been friction between Governor Frontenac and the intendant. Frontenac was a strong governor, and did not take kindly to the king’s plan to transfer much of the vice-regal authority to the intendants. Far removed from interference by the king, Frontenac exercised much of the old-time power of the governors of French provinces, and curbed the authority of the intendant as well as the temporal aims of the church whenever opportunity offered; and the supporters of Frontenac would therefore be expected to come under the ban of these two opposing governmental parties—the stronger the support, the more bitter the enmity. Therefore, it may be understood why Duluth, who, it was thought, was sent on the western expedition as the representative of Governor Frontenac, incurred the animosity of the Jesuit heads, who exercised an insidious influence, and of the intendant. The matter will be referred to later in this chapter, but that undermining current perhaps was the main influence that brought Hennepin’s story, and that of La Salle, into conflict with Duluth’s word. Schaefer wrote, on this point: From certain passages in his works we gather that Hennepin ignored completely the part played by Duluth in the liberation of himself and his companions from the captivity of the Sioux. Their meeting was purely accidental; if Hennepin went to the villages of the Sioux with Duluth and his men, it was merely to accommodate them, because he was conversant to some extent with the language of the savages, and he hoped to do some spiritual good to his countrymen, who had not been to the sacraments for two years; when they left the Sioux country, it was done at the common suggestion of all, and with the free consent of the savage chief. La Salle goes further, and directly denies any liberation from captivity. He claims that Hennepin and his companions were never the prisoners of the Sioux, that they could move about freely, that they received the best of food when the Indians had any, that they were robbed of their goods owing only to the jealousy of the red men, and that Duluth only accelerated the moment of their departure from the Sioux, and of their return to Eastern Canada. In this manner, Duluth would be deprived of the merit and glory resulting from the service rendered to Hennepin and the other two Frenchmen. And still, according to all evidences, there seems to be no doubt that the account of Duluth represents the real truth in the matter. His very specific report has all the appearances of veracity; and there is no reason for suspecting him of boasting of something for which there was no foundation. His rescue of Hennepin is attested also by a note attached to a contemporary map of the Jesuit father Raffeix, who says: “Mr. Du Lude, who first was among the Sioux, or Madouesiou, in 1678, and who was near the source of the Mississippi, and who then came to rescue Father Louis (Hennepin) who had been taken prisoner among the Sioux.” Hennepin does not contradict the assertion of Duluth; in fact he acknowledges some advantages gained by the coming of the explorer. We may well pardon him for his sin of omission, because an avowal of the claims of Duluth would have shown him in the part of the weaker vessel. As to La Salle, he conflicts not only with Duluth, but with Hennepin as well. There can be no doubt as to the fact that Hennepin and his two companions were made prisoners by the Sioux; Hennepin’s own narrative proclaims it in unmistakable terms. There we read, likewise, of the sufferings and humiliations to which the French travelers were subjected; the little food which they received was given grudgingly; and often they were kept in suspense between life and death. If Hennepin and Auguelle were permitted to go down to the Wisconsin River at the time of the great hunt, it was only because the third man, Michael Accault agreed to remain with the Sioux; and then the other two were well watched, for every now and then a party of warriors surprised them on their journey down the river, as if to prevent any escape.

Charges Against Duluth

It was not long after his return to Montreal, in the spring or early summer of 1681, that Duluth became aware of some of the charges made against him during his absence in the West. Schaefer writes: While Duluth was thus spending all his energy in behalf of the colony, an official of the government, the Intendant Duchesnau, made very serious charges against him. In a report written on November 10, 1679, and addressed to the Minister of the Navy, the Marquis de Seignelay, the Intendant accused Duluth of being the chief of a band of “coureurs de bois,” or bushrangers, of carrying on an illicit traffic with the Indians in the West, of trading with the English in the South or in the American colonies, and of having a secret understanding with the governor, the Count de Frontenac. Similar statements were made by La Salle, in the letter of August 22, 1682. …The charges were serious. To be classed among the “coureurs de bois,” to be their chief, was the same as to be declared an outlaw. In fact the “coureurs de bois” were abhorred by all that was official in the colony of New France; they roamed all around the wilds and the woods of the West, traded with the Indians without authorization, and ever risked to stir up the native tribes against the peaceful inhabitants of Canada. A royal order of the year of 1676 forbade all the French subjects to betake themselves to the depths of the woods and trade there with the natives; hence a license was required from the governor before anyone could leave the habitations of Lower Canada.

These accusations are no doubt grossly exaggerated. It is true that Duluth left for the West without the permission of the governor, and hence was technically at fault; he made preparation for this offense by notifying the governor afterwards, and by the work of exceeding carefulness which he accomplished. But it was certainly unjust to place him, on that account, among the “coureurs de bois,” because they acted against the orders of the government only to satisfy their instincts of adventure and personal gain. It is quite possible that Duluth carried on some trade with the savages on his expeditions; that was done practically by everybody in Canada whenever the opportunity offered itself. But the profit cannot have been large, because he had to spend much in gifts; and he was so far from having enriched himself that often he borrowed money from his uncle to further his enterprises. His labors in the West turned chiefly to the advantage of the colony, because in consequence of the pacts of friendship the Indians carried their peltries less to Hudson Bay and the English, and more to the French habitations, as mentioned in a report written shortly after his return. That he acted with the understanding or at least the connivance of the governor is altogether likely, as will appear subsequently. But there is absolutely no foundation for the assertion that he traded with the English; the available evidence is all to the contrary.

Carey, when writing his “History of Duluth” (the city) in 1898 apparently had records before him which pointed to the connivance of the governor in Duluth’s trading plans, for Carey wrote: Some prominent merchants of Quebec and Montreal, with the support of the governor of Canada, formed a company in 1678, and organized an expedition for the purpose of continuing the trade among the Indians. … Duluth, having been a prominent man and an officer of the governor’s guards, was chosen as leader of the expedition. … The King’s subjects were forbidden to go into the remote forests there to trade with the Indians. … However the temptation was so great to procure the furs notwithstanding the law … that the governor-general, who was probably (on the quiet) an interested party in the scheme, winked at the contraband trade … It is related that one “Randin” visited the extremity of Lake Superior, and distributed presents to the Indians in the name of Governor Frontenac, to procure their favor, and to open a way for Duluth and his party to trade with them.

Duluth started on his mission … on the 1st of September, 1678.

In the spring of 1679, after wintering with his party in the woods about nine miles from Sault Ste. Marie, he wrote to Gov. Frontenac that he would remain in the Sioux country until further orders, and when peace was concluded he would set up the King’s arms, lest the English and other Europeans that settled toward California would take possession of the country.

Thus, it is clear that Duluth was actuated, in the main, by patriotic motives, fur trading being, with him, secondary to the desire to uphold and expand the sovereignty of France in the New World; and it may be supposed that when he reached home, and sought to defend himself against the grave charges preferred, he had in his inmost conscience no sense of guilt, or of the commission of even one unworthy or dishonorable act. Nevertheless, he was arrested and cast into prison. Schaefer writes: When Duluth arrived at home, he tried to plead his cause with the intendant, but to no purpose; Duchesnau would not give him a hearing. By the older of the governor he was arrested and put into the prison of the Chauteau St. Louis, at Quebec. In all likelihood this was only a device to keep him out of the clutches of Duchesnau, because while technically a prisoner he had at all times a seat and cover at the governor’s table. Very likely, he was freed altogether, when an amnesty was granted by the King to all of his subjects who had acted against the order of 1676; the King’s favor became known three months after his return.

The complaints lodged against Duluth evidently carried weight with the government of France; a royal order, issued on May 10, 1682, forbade all further expeditions to the West, with the exception of that of La Salle. And thus Duluth thought the time had come to defend his conduct before the highest authority.

Duluth Vindicated

Duluth well appreciated that the royal order was directed against himself, in particular, and that he had incurred the king’s displeasure. He therefore decided to return to France to plead his cause in person. Schaefer writes: During the summer of 1682, he (Duluth) made a journey to France, and laid his case before the Marquis de Seignelay. In a long memorial he gave an account of what he had done during his three years’ journey in the West, and what he thought of the charges made against him. He maintained that the royal order of 1676 forbade the wanderings through the woods for the purpose of trade with the Indians, and not for the purpose of exploration and discovery; that he never traded with the Indians so much that even he refused their presents; and that he could not be styled the chief of the “coureurs de bois,” because he never had more than eight men with him. His defense was so successful that he was able to return to Canada during the same year, 1682.

For the remainder of his long and useful life, Duluth was almost constantly and officially in the service of New France.

Duluth Again on Lake Superior

Duluth longed to again take up his work in the West. Especially he desired to continue his explorations in the country of the Sioux, and to the west of them, so as to make possible the discovery of the western sea. He asked for permission to establish a post among them, with the hope of securing their assistance in the execution of his design. His petition was laid before the home government, but nothing came of it, and thus he labored and toiled in other fields.

Having succeeded in winning the confidence of the new governor, La Barre, he set out again for the West towards the end of the year 1682, shortly after his return from France. Early in the year 1683, he erected a post on the shores of Lake Nepigon, calling it Fort La Tourette, after his brother, who afterwards was in command of it.

Fort Duluth

In 1685 he built another fort, close to the northern shore of Lake Superior, and about three miles further up than the present Fort William. It was known as Fort Kaministoquia, also as Fort Duluth. Duluth’s intention was to attract the Indians of the north and west to these forts, make them trade with the French, and in that way take them away from all intercourse with the English, at Hudson Bay.

In Command at Michilimakinac

During the years 1683-84, Duluth was at Michilimakinac, in temporary command of the post at that place. It appears that he was sent there by the governor, as an advance agent, to prepare the post for occupancy by a garrison of thirty men.

At Detroit

On several occasions his talent and energy found useful employment against the Iroquois, the savage enemies of the French in the East. In 1686 he received orders from Governor Denonville to erect a post at Detroit, on the straits between Lakes Huron and Erie, so as to bar the route to the west to the Iroquois, and to intercept the English, who were trying by this way to join their colony in the East with their settlement at Hudson Bay. He succeeded fully in this enterprise during the two years that his post existed.

Participated in Many Expeditions

In 1685 Duluth took part in an expedition against the Iroquois organized by De la Barre, and in 1687 in another brought about by Denonville; and if both proved to be unsuccessful, it was not so much the fault of Duluth and the others with him, but rather owing to the incompetency of the two governors, the controllers of the campaigns. In 1689 Duluth was again at Michilimakinac, and from there returned to the East some time in the autumn. He was among those brave Frenchmen who dealt the first blow of revenge on the Iroquois who, on August 4, 1689, surprised the small settlement of Lachine, near Montreal, massacred every white inhabitant, with all the exquisite tortures of savage cruelty, and threatened Montreal itself. It was early in December when Duluth and his companions were entering the Lake of Two Mountains at the mouth of the Ottawa River. The Iroquois were lying in wait, manned four canoes and dispatched them against the voyageurs.

But the French proved to be the masters of the Iroquois this time.

Three of the boats of the savages were overturned; the occupants were pushed into the waters of the lake, and all were killed by fierce strokes of the paddles, with the exception of three, who were bound, and drawn into the canoes of the victors. Only one boat of the Iroquois escaped. The French continued their journey unmolested down to Montreal, where they were received amid the rejoicings of the panic-stricken population. The three prisoners were burned alive forthwith.

Retirement and Death

For several years Duluth remained in Montreal, apparently inactive, owing to incessant attacks of the gout, of which he was a life-long victim. In the summer of 1695 he took part in Frontenac’s expedition against the Iroquois, and went as far as Fort Frontenac (Kingston), to the command of which he was appointed. He remained there for several years, and in February, 1697, received a promotion to a captaincy of a regiment left vacant by the death of a certain Chevalier de Crisaffy. In 1700 he was in charge of Fort Rolland at Lachine, then again in Detroit, where he was succeeded in 1707 by his cousin, De Tonti. For the remainder of his life, Duluth lived in retirement in Montreal, where he died during the night of February 25-26, 1710. During the few years of retirement he had lived in a leased room on the ground floor of the house on the site of No. 60 St. Paul Street, the house of Charles Delaunay, a master tanner. He had not the company of any of his relatives, but his valet, La Roche, remained with him until the end.

He was buried in the graveyard of the Church of the Recollets, which, until 1866, stood at the corner of Montreal’s Notre Dame and St. Helen streets.

Duluth’s Character

Hugo, in the “History of St. Louis County” (Cooper, 1910), interprets very truly the character of Daniel de Gresolon, Sieur Duluth, and Schaefer writes as follows regarding the strong and noble characteristics of the man whose name for all time will be associated with that of the City of Duluth: Duluth was well above the ordinary explorer, and deserved well of Canada. We have seen above what must be held of the accusations against him by the Intendant Duchesnau and La Salle. Apart from these two men, all other contemporary writers speak well of him. Parkman, in his work on La Salle, has gathered a few of the flattering testimonies rendered in his behalf.

De Vaudreuil, in his report on the death of Duluth, adds: “He was a very honest man.” La Hontain says of him that he was a man of much merit and ability; the Recollet Father Le Clercq tells us that he was a man of talent and experience, who opened a way to the missionaries among different nations; and finally Charlevoix calls him “one of the bravest officers the King has ever had in the colony.” As a matter of fact, he rendered great services to Canada; and although at times he was technically at fault, still, in his enterprises, he was generally actuated by a motive of patriotic sentiment and duty. He extended the sovereignty of his king to new countries and amid unknown tribes; he built posts and forts, so as to draw the natives to the French; he fought the Iroquois and the English, so as to insure the supremacy of France in the new world; and he gave a new impetus to the fur trade among his countrymen, by the very fact of drawing the Indians of the West and of the North away from Hudson Bay. He was none the less interested in the welfare of the natives among whom he had cast his lot. From his long sojourn among them he noticed the great evils resulting from the use of intoxicating liquors and advised strongly against the sale thereof to them. “I have seen,” he says, “that the trade in eau de vie (brandy) produced great disorders, the father killing the son, and the son throwing the mother into the fire; and I maintain that, morally speaking, it is impossible to export brandy to the woods and distant missions for danger of its producing misery.” His disinterestedness was beyond the average of the voyageurs of the time.

Duluth, the man, holds an honorable place in the history of the City of Duluth, and of Minnesota, just as the City of Duluth will ever figure conspicuously in the annals of the State of Minnesota. Both man and city have earned such place, and it was a happy thought that brought the honored name to the mind of a certain pioneer at the head of Lake Superior a century and a half later, when the few first white settlers sought for an appropriate name for the embryo city they had just platted.

Song of the Sieur Du Lhut

Duluth’s personality was very happily put into verse some years ago, and while the poem has no historical value, it might gracefully close this chapter, which is one of the most romantic in the history of Minnesota and the City of Duluth.

The poem, which is based on Parkman’s sketch of the intrepid explorer and soldier, was written by Chester Firkins, and published in Munsey’s Magazine, August 1906. He has reference, presumably, to Duluth’s journey to France, and the king’s court at Versailles, in 1682, to see the Marquis de Seignelay, the minister of the navy, and the writer well depicts the fondness Duluth had for the rugged grandeur of the north shore and the wild beauty of the banks of the St. Louis.

“Versailles and Minnesota—Song of the Sieur Du Lhut”
Not in tears, my siren treasure,
Trip we love’s last minuet;
Well we knew ’twas but a measure‚
I, who dream the West World’s glory,
You, the glory of Versailles—
We have lived our happy story;
Above the music of the dance,
Athwart the palace window’s glow,
I hear the cry of purer France;
I see red camp-fires in the snow.
This is not home—my hearth and hall
Shift through an untracked forest-way,
Somewhere ‘twixt Mississippi’s fall
And four log walls by Thunder Bay.
Tonight, mayhap, on Pepin’s breast,
My periled fellows hush the oar,
Past the wild, gallant foe, who rest,
Past war-boats lined along the shore.
Mayhap, far north, the trail-ax cleaves
On paths the plunging deer has torn,
Where, in the world-roof’s flooded eaves,
The River of the World is born!
No stolen prize of galleon gold,
No wealth of mountain mines I bring;
Only a wilderness of cold,
Only an empire for my king.
Ah, fair one, could I paint for you
My lakes beyond the inland seas,
Where moaning forests break the blue
As ocean breaks the Cyclades!
Ho! my comrades, priest and rover!
Trimmed, my ship rides in the bay.
Ho! my exile days are over! Now-away!
Pray, no tears, my pretty treasure;
Come, ’tis love’s last minuet.
Step we but one merry measure—

Read more of this story: 1 2