John R. Carey’s “Duluth’s History to 1870” Part 1

When we take into account, in this rapidly advancing age, the many years, and I may say centuries, since the vast wealth and resources afforded to man by the great Lake Superior and the country surrounding it became known, their settlement and development seem surprisingly slow.

While trading posts, missionary stations, and other small settlements had been made within the boundaries of northeastern Minnesota at different dates, from the first advent of the white man in 1659, yet the first effort as to settlement of any part of that region, by the building of towns and cities, was not made until about the year 1854; after a lapse of nearly two hundred y ears, since the visit of the intrepid explorers, Groseilliers and Radisson, who are said to have been the first white men to visit Minnesota.

Daniel Greysolon Du Lhut
Next in line of those early worthies, we have that noble and intrepid soldier and leader, Daniel Greyselon Du Lhut, a native of France and a prominent and influential man. That name (Du Luth, as it is better spelled in English) is destined to exist as long as the city which bears it as its name shall continue as the great commercial gateway of Minnesota and the Northwest.

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 in New France, which had already been opened by Groseilliers and others in the preceding twenty years, but which for a time had been interrupted. Du Luth, being a prominent man and an officer of the governor’s guards, was chosen as leader of the expedition. An ordinance or law promulgated by the governor of Canada then existed against trading with the Sioux; “the king’s subjects were forbidden to go into the remote forests there to trade with the Indians.” This ordinance was issued, doubtless, for the reason of the dangers to which the traders ad missionaries would be exposed in consequence of the bloody strife that existed between some bands of the Sioux and the Ojibways of the country bordering the lake. However, the temptation was so great to procure the furs, notwithstanding the law and the hostility of the Indians, that the governor-general who was probably an interested party in the scheme winked at the contraband trade. It is probable, also, that among the Indians there was some hostility to the trade, for it is related that Randin visited the extremity of Lake Superior and distributed presents to them in the name of Frontenac, the governor, to secure their favor and to open a way for Du Luth and his party to trade with them.

Du Luth started on his mission with a party of seventeen Frenchmen and three Indians, on the 1st of September, 1678. In the spring of 1679, after wintering with his party in the woods about nine miles from the Sault Ste. Marie, he wrote to Frontenac that he would remain in the Sioux country until further orders, and that, when peace was concluded, he would set up the king’s arms, lest the English and other Europeans who settled toward California should take possession of the country.

There has been so much written relating to Du Luth that I will forbear giving an extended account of his life and services. Suffice it to say that he was a leader of men, a man of unblemished moral character and undaunted courage, a hater of the whisky traffic among the Indians, a resolute and true soldier, and a fearless supporter and vindicator of law and order.

It is believed by many that Du Luth established the first trading post at the head of Lake Superior, but the writer can find no definite record of the fact. There can be no doubt but that he visited and traded with the Indians at Fond du Lac and that he also traveled over the canoe route and portages between Fond du Lac and Sandy Lake.

Fond du Lac
Jean Baptiste Cadotte, a man of influence and possessed of a liberal education, in the year 1792 was employed by the Northwest Fur Company, and was in charge of the Fond du Lac post.

The country tributary to this post comprised the sources of the Mississippi, St. Croix and Chippewa Rivers. The depot or post was then located about three miles above the entry of the St. Louis River, on the Wisconsin shore of Superior Bay, where that part of the present city of Superior known as Roy’s Addition is situated. This post or fort was a collecting point. It was surrounded with strong cedar pickets driven into the ground, the burnt ends of many of which remained projecting from the earth in 1855, and were many times seen by the writer. The Fond du Lac of those early times was known, in translation to English, as the head of the Lake.

Several of the buildings of the Fond du Lac trading post, as it was later occupied by the American Fur Company, on the northern side of the St. Louis River, in Minnesota, were yet in existence and in a good state of preservation in 1855, and for many years thereafter.

In 1854 and 1855, when the great rush came for the control or a share in the site of the future great city at the head of the lake, Fond du Lac was the only place having a name as a town or village. It was looked upon by the early pioneers of St. Paul as a place of much importance, as the lake port for Minnesota.

Our old pioneer, Gen. William G. Le Due, now of Hastings, Minn., in his “Minnesota Year Book for 1851,” published at St. Paul, thus mentions it: “Fond du Lac is a very old settlement on the St. Louis River, twenty-two miles from its entrance into Lake Superior. Fond du Lac is destined to be a place of great importance, its situation making it the lake port of Minnesota. Steamboats and vessels find no difficulty in ascending the St. Louis to Fond du Lac.” The general’s prophecy is now verified, as it is a part of the city of Duluth.

Treaties With The Ojibways
On the 5th day of August, 1826, Gov. Lewis Cass and T. L. McKinney, commissioners appointed by the United States government, met with the Ojibway Indians at Fond du Lac, Minn., and concluded the first formal treaty with these Indians. It is related that a few days earlier, on the 28th of July, 1826, the commissioners approached this trading post in their barges, with flying colors and music, and then, for the first time, the Ojibways of that region heard the tune “Hail, Columbia.” The principal effect of that treaty was to give the United States the right to explore for and carry away any metals or minerals that might be found along the country bordering the lake.

In August, 1847, by a treaty concluded at Fond du Lac, by J. A. Verplanck and Henry M. Rice, as the commissioners on the part of the United States, all of the land west and southwest from the head of the lake was ceded to the United States. And in September, 1854, by the treaty made at La Pointe, Wis., the remainder of the country along the north shore of the lake and the northern boundary of the state was ceded.

Counties of Northeastern Minnesota
Here I desire to refer to some legislation in the early days of the territory of Minnesota, relating to the formation of counties in the northern part of our state. Itasca County, established by an act of the first territorial legislature, approved October 27, 1849, embraced that part of Minnesota bordering on Lake Superior and reaching west to the upper Mississippi River and the Lake of the Woods. It was quite large enough for a good-sized state. From this area were subsequently carved out three whole counties, St. Louis, Lake and Cook, and parts of Aitkin and Beltrami, leaving the county of Itasca yet large enough to make several fair-sized counties.

St. Louis County was established by acts of the territorial legislature which were approved March 3, 1855, and March 1, 1856. It takes its name from the St. Louis River, the largest entering Lake Superior, which flows through this county. It had a population of only 406 in the year 1860, and 4,561 in 1870; but in 1895. According to the state census, its population was 78,575. This county comprises an area of 6,611.75 square miles, being the largest one of the eighty-two counties of this state.

An earlier county that had included this area, named Superior County, established by the territorial legislature on February 20, 1855, was imperfectly defined. Its name was changed to St. Louis by the acts of 1855 and 1856.

Road From The St. Croix Valley To Lake Superior
On October 20, 1849, the territorial legislature memorialized Congress for the construction of a road from Point Douglas, at the mouth of the St. Croix, by way of Cottage Grove, Stillwater, and Marine Mills, passing near the falls of the St. Croix, and crossing Snake River near Pokegama Lake, and thence continuing on the most practicable route to the falls of the St. Louis River. On November 1, 1849, the territorial legislature memorialized Congress, “That the convenience and interest of the people of the territory would clearly justify the establishment of a mail route from the falls of St. Croix by way of Pokegama to Fond du Lac, the head of Lake Superior.” The memorial further represented that the distance from the falls of the St. Croix to Fond du Lac was but a little more than a hundred miles, that the country was being rapidly settled along the first half of the route, and that a large settlement already existed at Fond du Lac, where the inhabitants were destitute of mail facilities.

In 1854, through the efforts of our delegate in Congress, Hon. Henry M. Rice, an appropriation of money was obtained from Congress for constructing the proposed road, and the mail route was also established. Unfortunately, however, the point designated in the memorials as the northern end of both the road and mail route was cheated out of any direct benefit, because when opened and used they ended eight or ten miles from Fond du Lac. the intended terminus of both. The people interested in Superior City, Wis. (then to be the great city of destiny at the head of Lake Superior), concluded that it was the Fond du Lac mentioned in the memorials. It may be that they were then debating upon the propriety of naming the embryo city Fond du Lac as a compliment to the old trading post which fifty years before had been removed from Wisconsin to the head of navigation on the St. Louis River, where it became Fond du Lac, Minnesota. However this was the Superior people, who were at this time largely made up of St. Paul hustlers, decided that they would not lose the terminus of this road and mail route; so in January, 1854, they organized a force of choppers and set them at work in cutting out a winter road on the proposed line from Superior to what was then known as Chase’s camp, on the St. Croix River, a distance of about fifty or sixty miles. This road was then blazoned on maps as the “Military Road” from Point Douglas to Superior. At the session of Congress in that year an appropriation of $20, 000 was granted for opening this road, and subsequently other appropriations were granted by Congress for completing it. Through the controlling influence at Washington and St. Paul of those interested in Superior, that town maintained its supremacy as the coming great city for about twelve years, until, in 1866, Minnesota woke up to her great interest at the head of Lake Superior and active steps were taken for the construction of the Lake Superior & Mississippi railroad to Duluth.

Click on “2” for the rest of the story….


  • Woodbridge, Dwight and John Pardee, eds. History of Duluth and St. Louis County Past and Present Vols. 1 – 2. C. F. Cooper & Company, Chicago: 1922.
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