Early Fond du Lac

From Walter Van Brunt’s Duluth and St. Louis County, Minnesota Vols. 1 – 3. The American Historical Society. Chicago: 1922. Available at the Duluth Public Library. Image: X-Comm.

The early settlement of Fond du Lac. (Image: Duluth Public Library.)

From the time of Duluth, the explorer, to that when the first white settlers came to the head of Lake Superior in the middle of the nineteenth century, the history of that part of Minnesota now known as St. Louis County resolves itself mainly into a review of fur-trading activities and mission work, and these early activities center in Fond du Lac, which became an important Indian village and fur-trading station.

It is not believed that Duluth established a post at Fond du Lac, and for a century after his coming, probably, the Pigeon River was a more important fur-trading waterway, but as the generations passed the St. Louis River increased in importance and use as a trade route, and Fond du Lac became a busy station for at least one of the great fur-trading companies.

St. Louis River was an important waterway in 1670. The St. Louis River was one of the only two rivers, of those that lead into Lake Superior, that were then considered of sufficient importance to call for special notations on a map. The St. Louis River is referred to as the “R pour aller aux Nadouesn a 60 lieues vers le couchant,” which literally means the “River for to go to the Nadouesn (Sioux) at 60 leagues toward the west.” The Jesuit cartographers must have made other reference to the waterway, for Carey, in his “History of Duluth and Northern Minnesota” (1898) gives the following as the explanatory note as to this marking of the map: “By this river we can go to the nation of the Nadouessiens, sixty leagues westward. They comprise fifteen villages and are very warlike and a terror to the region.” Although Sioux Indians were seen at the mouth of the St. Louis River in 1665, by Father Allouez, Indian history conveys the impression that at that time the waters of the St. Louis were well within the region in which the Ojibways were supreme; and it is supposed that at that time, and for thirty-five years before that year, the Ojibways had a comparatively large village at Fond du Lac.

Fond du Lac: The Proof

Fond du Lac, in its very name and position, seems to be the natural proof that Daniel de Greysolon, Sieur DuLhut, in 1679-80 reached the vicinity of Duluth. Fond du Lac (meaning “bottom of lake” or “end of lake”), furthest point westward on the Great Lakes, would be the point the early explorers would aim to reach. The Hon. Wm. E. McEwen, in a paper regarding Fond du Lac, read in 1915 at a gathering of the Old Settlers of the Head of Lake Superior, said:

Tradition tells us that these early voyageurs entered the natural entry to the Bay of Superior, passed into the Bay of St. Louis, and continued up the St. Louis River until they reached the end of navigation and the foot of the rapids. Hence they called the place Fond du Lac, the extreme end of all the great lakes. In this romantic spot, nestled among the wooded hills, with beautiful islands in the river, a bounteous supply of fish in the river, and the woods teeming with game, they found an Indian village.

First Trading Post at Head of Lake Superior

Unless the Pigeon River can be considered to be at the head of Lake Superior, which is hardly possible, it seems that the first trading post was at Fond du Lac. It is possible that it was at Fond du Lac that Groseilliers and Radisson, in 1660, found “at least 20 cottages full” (of Indians), upon their arrival “at the lake side,” after a journey of many days, “with much paines… and many carriages,” from the region “of the nation of the beefe” (Buffalo, or Prairie, Sioux). And there seems no reason for doubting that it was at Fond du Lac that Duluth met all the tribes, in council, in September of 1679. But it is generally thought that there was no trading post at that point for many years after. However, McEwen asserts that the first trading post at Fond du Lac was established in 1692, saying, in the speech referred to:

There is little doubt that the site (Fond du Lac) was selected for the first permanent trading post in this locality, though some writers have attempted to prove that it was at the entrance to the Nemadji river, within the present city of Superior. The first reliable data is in the records of the Hudson at the head of Lake Superior in 1692. Duluth had gone into the Mission Bay Company, which are very positive in the location of a post and garrisippi valley by way of the Brule River, and thence across the St. Croix. Years afterwards, the route (to the Mississippi) was by Fond du Lac, by canoes up the St. Louis River to near the present site of Cloquet, and by portages to a branch of the Great River. It became a regularly traveled route for the fur traders. The Hudson Bay Company held supremacy until 1787, when, after a stubborn resistance, they were driven from the post by the recently organized Northwest Fur Company, whose headquarters were at Mackinaw.

Fond du Lac in Wisconsin

What is called Fort Cadotte is claimed to have been the Fond du Lac trading post of early times. And that fort undoubtedly was in Wisconsin. It will be referred to later in this chapter.

The Hudson Bay Company

The Hudson Bay Company, as has been stated in Chapter II, was organized in 1670, and was destined to become an immensely powerful organization, in commerce and in empire building. Its original capital was less than $60,000, yet “the company has carried from this country furs that have been sold for $120,000,000.” It had almost regal sway within its sphere of trading, and its operations “were over a territory one-third larger than the whole of Europe, being more than 4,000,000 square miles.” The company may have had an outpost at Fond du Lac in 1692, but it cannot have been a post of much importance, and for very long after that time the principal fur-trading post in the Lake Superior region was at Grand Portage, or on the Pigeon River. Indeed, for more than fifty years after the organization of the Hudson Bay Company, the company’s operations did not extend far inland from Hudson Bay, there being not much difficulty in inducing the Indians to bring their furs to Hudson Bay. Colonel Hiram Hayes, of Superior, wrote regarding the Hudson Bay Company:

The principal company posts were York Factory, on Hudson Bay, and Moose Factory, of James Bay. Two ships from England came each year, arriving August and going out of the Bays in September. The parliament, or council-house, was at Norway House, at the northern end of Lake Winnipeg, and here was the central distributing depot for the whole country.

However, the increasing encroachment by French-Canadian traders, who entered the Hudson Bay sphere of trading by way of Lake Superior and the Pigeon River, undoubtedly spurred the Hudson Bay Company to greater efforts in outlying fields, and to the establishment of posts far from the main bases. One of these outposts may have been at Fond du Lac in the early decades of the eighteenth century, the furs brought to the post being dispatched up the St. Louis River, and perhaps through the Vermilion Lake country, into the waterways that have a northerly course. In that way, Fond du Lac may have been a much more important fur-trading post in 1791 than the list of that year, quoted by Judge Carey, would indicate.

That list would infer that in 1791 the Pigeon River post was the only one of consequence, the “amount of furs at the different points on Lake Superior” at that time being:

  • Keweenaw …………………15 bundles
  • La Pointe ………………..20 bundles
  • Fond du Lac ………………20 bundles
  • Near Grand Portage…………1,400 bundles
  • Alampicon (Nipigon) ……….24 bundles
  • Pic …. ……………..3300 bundles
  • Michipicoton ….. ………..40 bundles

— each bundle, by the way, being valued at £40 sterling.

When the British became supreme, governmentally, in Canada in 1756, there was no reason why the Hudson Bay Company’s convoys of furs gathered in the Northwest and the Lake Superior region might not go down to the sea by way of Lake Superior and the St. Lawrence, instead of by the northern route to Hudson Bay; yet, it seems that they did not; and the immense commerce in furs shipped to Montreal in the latter decades of the eighteenth century was the result of independent and competitive enterprise of Montreal merchants, who seem to have followed the lead set by Duluth, and made Grand Portage and the Pigeon River their centre for Lake Superior trade.

Grand Portage

George Bryce, in his “The Hudson Bay Company,” wrote as follows in this connection:

Grand Portage was, at the time of which we are speaking, a place of vast importance. Here, there were employed as early as 1783, by the several merchants from Montreal, fully 500 men. One-half of these came from Montreal to Grand Portage in canoes of four tons burthen, each manned by from eight to ten canoe men. As these were regarded as having the least romantic portion of the route, meeting no Indians and living on cured rations, they were called “mangeurs de lard,” or pork eaters. The other half of the force journeyed inland from Grand Portage in canoes, each carrying about a ton and a half. Living on game and pemmican, these were a more independent and daring body. They were called “coureurs de bois.”

Another account of the “French rovers,” who went out from Montreal, “and bought skins from traders who had private posts all through this lake country, on in the Saskatchewan” in the latter half of the eighteenth century reads:

Their first path was by way of the Kaninistique River, where Port Arthur now stands. Soon after, the Grand Portage trail was preferred, which was for a hundred years the main traveled road of the Northwest. In the harbor of Grand Portage, at the height of the trade, would often lie a hundred or more long canoes, manned by eight voyageurs each. At the post were as many as a thousand clerks, factors, boatmen and porters, when trade was brisk. Traces of the trail may still be found, a grass-grown road nine miles long, to overcome the falls of Pigeon River, before launching on the journey down Rainy River to Lake of the Woods, and the outlines of some of the long buildings may be picked out by the little ridges they have left. The remnants of the quays at the harbor, where now a lone fisherman is the sole sovereign of the old trail, may still be seen.

The Northwest Company

In 1783, the year so portentous in the history of the United States, the independent merchants of Montreal, the “sundry thrifty French capitalists and enterprising Scotch merchants of Upper Canada,” combined their fur-trading efforts, the consolidation taking the corporate name of the Northwest Fur Company.

To further their trade, and establish the new corporation in as proud prestige as the Hudson Bay Company was held by the Indians, the directors held a conference in the Pigeon River region.

Hayes wrote:

The grand conference of the new company was held at Fort William. Here, in an old wooden building, was the great council hall, as also the banqueting chamber, decorated with Indian arms and accoutrements, and the trophies of the fur trade. Here came the great Montreal nabobs in their rich furs, with their cooks and bakers, bringing delicacies of every kind, and abundance of choice wines for the banqueters. Here came their fur-trading compeers from the woods also. The tables of the great banqueting rooms groaned under the weight of game of all kinds; of venison from the woods and fish from the lakes; of hunters’ delicacies, buffalo tongues and beaver tails. There was no stint of generous wine, for it was a hard-drinking period, a time of bacchanalian songs and brimming bumpers.

While the chiefs thus reveled in the hall, the merriment without was echoed by a mongrel legion of retainers—Canadian voyageurs, half-breed Indians, hunters and vagabond hangers-on, who feasted sumptuously without, on the crumbs that fell from their masters’ tables, and made the welkin ring with old French ditties, mingled with Indian yelps and yellings.

Thus, it seems, the new trading company was established, in good grace, with the Indian tribes of the Northwest; and so it seems that the main commercial activities in the Lake Superior region were far from Fond du Lac, at that time.

McEwen states that: “The Hudson Bay Company held supremacy (at Fond du Lac) until 1787, when, after a stubborn resistance, it was driven from the post by the recently organized Northwest Fur Company.” McEwen further states: “This new company built a large storehouse, which was destroyed about eight years later, and rebuilt by their successors.”

Jean Baptiste Cadotte

Jean Baptiste Cadotte came in 1792, states Pardee, and he is generally considered to have been “the first trader regularly employed in the department of Fond du Lac, under the Northwest Company.” Pardee writes:

He was son of the Cadotte who was partner of Alexander Henry, of Montreal, and his first venture was at La Pointe, where he managed in one winter to spend the forty thousand francs his father left him, such was his free-handed manner. Cadotte, staked afresh by Henry, with a party of about sixty men, set out for the headquarters of the Mississippi, where Dakotas and Chippewas disputed the country. Cadotte and his party came to Fond du Lac, crossed by the old Sandy Lake route, wintered beyond Leech Lake, and came out in the spring, by way of Grand Portage. Cadotte’s wife and baby spent the winter at Fond du Lac, because the inland country was too dangerous for them.

Returning to Grand Portage, they gave such a grand account of the country, notwithstanding they were twice besieged by Dakotas, and twice discovered ambuscades against them, that the Northwest Company made this country the Fond du Lac department, built a fort at Fond du Lac, as headquarters, with strong pickets, of which traces were seen to a late day, and in 1796 built a stockaded post at Sandy Lake and another at Leech Lake. In 1798, Cadotte shifted to Red river. From 1792, till the fur trade petered out, the Fond du Lac department was maintained with resident traders, and the Indians ceased their trading visits to Mackinaw and Montreal.

The French post was on the Wisconsin side of the river, in what is Roy’s addition to Superior. It was established by Cadotte. The fort was surrounded by a cedar palisade, and as late as 1855 the burnt ends of the posts were traced by the early settlers. When the Yankees came, they established their Fond du Lac on the Minnesota side, at the spot which still bears the name.

Fort Cadotte

The various accounts, as to the Northwest Fur Company’s post, at Fond du Lac, seem to agree in most of the essential facts. Dates, however, do not agree. Hayes, for instance, feels sure that Fort Cadotte was not built until 1797. He wrote:

The Fond du Lac department, Lake Superior, of the Northwest Company comprised all the country about the Head of the Lake, the source of the Mississippi, St. Croix, and Chippewa rivers. The depot of the district, says the chronicler, was about two miles within the entry of the St. Louis River.

In another place he says the depot, or collecting point for furs, was built at Fond du Lac, near the entry of the St. Louis River, and this post, or fort, which I will call Fort Cadotte, was surrounded by strong fir or cedar pickets.

The term: “Fond du Lac” meant the “End of the Lake,” and it is the Lake’s end, or Fond du Lac in Wisconsin, that the chronicle relates to. Some of the pickets remained in 1854, when I traveled this way; and I remember them well, burned as they were down to near the face of the ground. If you dig there today, you will doubtless find their charred remnants. The fort was located near where the gas plant now stands, near the end of Winter Street, on Superior Bay. It was built in 1797, as we know from a tragedy which was enacted there in that year of 1797 (the murder of a Frenchman by an Indian at Lac Coutereille, and the trial, sentence and execution of the Indian at Fort Cadotte).

The old warehouses up at Fond du Lac, Minnesota, now or lately standing, are therefore of comparatively modern construction. They are not more than sixty years old and belong to the American Fur Company.

Near what is now the crossing of Winter and Bay streets was old Fort Cadotte, belonging to the eighteenth century, and of much earlier date than the American trading post at Fond du Lac, Minnesota, twenty-five miles further up the St. Louis River, which appertained to the nineteenth century.

Fort Cadotte was fortified in primitive fashion, as may be said of all the trading posts of that time. Description commonly given is about as follows: There was a stout palisade of posts, twenty feet high, sharpened at both ends and driven into the ground. There were thick double-ribbed gates in front and rear, a grim two-storied log tower formed a bastion at one corner, bristling with port holes and cannon. Stores magazines and workshops were ranged inside the enclosure, with an open court in the middle, where the Indians brought their game and peltries. Inside also were the dwellings of heavy timber, mortised—Canadian fashion—and painted white. This much, and probably more, might be said of old Fort Cadotte.

Carey writes at length regarding the murder trail and the execution of the Indian at Fort Cadotte, and he closes his review of the unusual happening thus:

Not many years after this occurrence this trading post was abandoned by the Northwest Fur Company, and its trading post and headquarters at the head of the lake was located at Fond du Lac in Minnesota, about twenty miles above, at the foot of the Fond du Lac portage.

Bitter Rivalry

As the eighteenth century drew to its close, the competition of the rival fur-trading companies was keen, especially in the Grand Portage region. And the two large corporations, the Hudson Bay Company, and the Northwest Fur Company, did not have the field to themselves. There were three or four rival traders along the Pigeon River in 1787, states Carey, and the rivalry between them was keen. Indeed, “it became so bitter that at last it resulted in the murdering of one of the number, a man named Waddon, who was shot within his trading post at Grand Portage.” This was one of the main reasons that brought about a consolidation of traders.

Yet, at the dawn of the nineteenth century there were three companies operating, the third company being known as the Mackinaw Company, states Hayes. It was headed by men who formerly were of the Northwest Company. And eventually this company was absorbed.

Position early in Nineteenth Century

Pardee reviews the position in northern Minnesota in the early decades of the nineteenth century thus:

At the turn of the century, there were three companies in the field. The Hudson Bay Company was pounding along in its ponderous and dignified manner. The Scotch-French combination from Montreal was engaged in competition all along the line from their first point of clashing at Winnipeg all the way up the Saskatchewan and Athabasca regions and as far south as Pembina. And the schism of the Northwest Company, known as the X Y, was cutting in wherever it could. Alexander Mackenzie had quit the Northwest Company and joined the new insurgents. Competition was fierce, and the principal effect was to get the Indians so consistently and persistently drunk that it nearly ruined the fur trade. There were three or four years of scandal and scuffle in the Northwest before the companies were driven into consolidation.

Although the Treaty of 1783 bade the British retire from the States, though the Jay Treaty of 1794 promised that they should quit the territory of the United States since created, the British traders of the Northwest stuck to their posts. No offense was meant. They would have done the same to English orders; they would have shown equal contumacy to any Canadian government. They were a complete and self-sufficient sovereignty, and the king’s writs did not run that far for many years afterward.
They had Detroit, and they had Mackinaw, and they had posts in northern Minnesota which they did not choose to abandon. Mackinaw and Detroit they did give up, but their outposts in the woods were beyond any recognized jurisdiction.

David Thompson in 1798 came this way, through a chain of Northwest Company posts from Pembina to Leech Lake, then to Sandy Lake and Fond du Lac, and if it ever occurred to him that he was in the United States territory it never distressed him.

When Lieutenant Zebulon Pike came up the Mississippi in 1805, the year before Lewis and Clark crossed the continent, he found the British traders in the field. On Lake Pepin he met Murdoch Cameron, who held the Minnesota River as his dukedom. At Prairie du Chien, near La Crosse, he met Fisher Frazer and Woods, free traders who worked in close connection with the Northwest Company. Near the site of St. Paul he fell in with J. B. Faribault, also a French-Canadian trader. By treaty with the Sioux at this time, Pike obtained the military reservation which was the site of Fort Snelling, the first bit of soil in Minnesota that was owned by the United States, out and out.

There he met Robert Dickson (who actually was, in 1812, acting as British Superintendent of Indian Affairs in that region, United States territory), recognized head of the Indian trade in Minnesota, a country as yet nameless and undefined. Dickson was a Scotchman and a zealous adherent of England.

At Leech lake was Hugh McGillis, also of the Northwest Company.

Going still north to Red Cedar Lake, he found Grant, of the Northwest Company, with four Frenchmen and a party of Chippewas, and on the shore of the lake the flag of Great Britain flying over the house. Pike was quite vexed when he saw the flag, but Grant explained that it belonged to the Indians.

Fact is, there was not in all this country one soul that owed, or owned, allegiance to the United States, and only the slenderest allegiance to any other government. This was but just before Lord Selkirk tried to plant a colony on Red River, when fur traders drove out colonists and Hudson Bay vassals captured Northwest forts, and one set of magistrates in Canada defied the warrants of another set showing equal authority. If that was the way they felt about their own government, how much deference were they likely to pay the United States, which hardly commanded at that time the respect of its own people.

So that when John Jacob Astor, who had been in the Montreal fur trade, ventured to establish a post at Fond du Lac in 1809, it was not a success, and in two years it was given up. The Indians, who loved the French and feared the British, did not know the United States. The American Fur Company, which prospered on Puget Sound and made great headway in the Missouri River country, was a rank outsider in this region until after the War of 1812.

It was the fur traders’ disregard of our boundaries, in fact, which was one of the provocative causes of that war. After the War of 1812 American boundaries were better respected. The American Fur Company perked up a bit. Grand Portage, being on the American side, the British companies, by this time all consolidated as the Hudson Bay Company, shifted to Port Arthur, and made their official rendezvous near Winnipeg.

When Major Long came west in 1823, to spot the forty-ninth degree where the boundary line crossed Red River, he found Pembina holding itself just north of the oak post he set up afterwards, with Great Britain on one side and the United States on the other. And the post stayed there until 1872, when a joint commission replaced it by an iron monument.

At the falls on Rainy River, Long found the American Fur Company’s fort on one side and the Hudson Bay Company’s fort right opposite — now Koochiching and Fort Francis.

American Fur Trading Company at Fond du Lac, Minnesota

There seems to be no clear record of the year in which the Northwest Company removed its post from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, to Fond du Lac, Minnesota. McEwen refers to the burning of the storehouse eight years after it was erected, so, if we assume that Cadotte built his post in 1792, the burning would be in 1800, a few years after the dramatic execution of the Indian murderer took place outside its gates. The post was, by most accounts, destroyed by fire; and the new trading post may have been built at the Minnesota Fond du Lac, twenty miles or so distant. McEwen asserted that the post destroyed “was rebuilt by their successors,” although he was firmly convinced that at no time was the trading post at Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. He adds:

They built additional dwellings for their employees and otherwise improved the post. John Jacob Astor, a native of Waldorf, Germany, and who for many years carried on a fur trade with the Indians of the six nations of the state of New York, organized the American Fur Company, and in the year 1809 secured a charter for the same from the New York legislature, with a capital of $1,000, 000. This company purchased the posts and trade of the Northwest Company. Two additional storehouses were erected by the American Fur Company, and their trade considerably extended… There was standing in 1890 the last of these old storage fur houses.

It was in a dilapidated condition, the roof fallen in and rapidly going to decay. In that year it was taken down, and most of the timbers used in the construction of a barn on the estate of the late P. J. Peterson, and quite near where the old building was first built. On one of the timbers can be seen the name “J. J. Astor,” painted in large letters. Curiosity seekers will find this barn on Second Street, a few rods west of Roussain Avenue.

On the other hand, Col. Hiram Hayes, of Superior, held closely to the opinion that the fur-trading post on the St. Louis River was at Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, until comparatively recently. After stating that the Northwest Company and the Mackinaw Company were keenly competing for the Lake Superior fur trade in the first decade of the eighteenth century, and that the American Fur Company bought out the Mackinaw Company in 1811, he asserted that “the old warehouses at Fond du Lac, Minnesota, were put up by the American Fur Company, probably as late as 1820.”

Patrick Conner and Conner’s Point

The Haye’s contention is supported by several records, and there seems little doubt that there was a fur trading post on the Wisconsin side of the St. Louis River, at the head of Lake Superior. W. W. Spalding, while on his way to Ontonagon in 1845 met Patrick Conner some way inland on the Brule River, and referred to him as “Conner after whom the Point at West Superior was named,” giving the further information, regarding Conner, that he “was sixty-four years old and had been in the country forty-three years, in the employ of the American Fur Company.” Conner would naturally have settled near to his place of employment.
Alfred Merritt, in his autobiography, refers to Conner, thus: “This man, Patrick Connor, came out to Hudson Bay from north of Ireland, and entered the employ of the fur company when he was nineteen years old, as a clerk. I remember his telling my brother, Leonidas, and myself in 1856 that he had wintered on Rice’s Point, fifty-four years before that time.” Regarding Conner’s Point, James H. Bardon, of Superior, once wrote: “It is customary to date the permanent settlement of this country from the year 1852, in which George R. Stuntz came to survey for the government the lands on the Wisconsin side.” He added that “Mr. Stuntz found evidences of settlement at the base of Conner’s Point. Several acres had been cleared of timber and the foundation of five or six houses and the walls of a stockade were visible. The locality was known to the Indians, and the few whites in the country, as the ‘Old Fort,’ and was supposed to have been occupied by the Hudson Bay Company.” Stuntz himself stated that within the lines made by the decay of the log houses (within the stockade) he found trees seventy-five years old.

Vincent Roy

Carey, writing of Vincent Roy, who came to Superior in 1853, made reference to the old fort, stating that: “By direct title from the government, Mr. Roy became the owner of the land on which the first fort or trading post, established at the head of the lake was located… It was located near the shore of Superior Bay, in Wisconsin, now included in the City of Superior.” It, therefore, seems evident that there was a trading post near the mouth of the St. Louis River, on the Wisconsin side, though it does not necessarily follow that there was not also a post at the same time on the Minnesota side, at Fond du Lac, twenty miles, or more, higher up the river. It seems feasible to suppose that a competing company would endeavor to intercept the river trade, by establishing its post near the Grand Portage of Fond du Lac. Maybe, Astor had his post at that point during the two years (1809-11) he operated on the river. Carey records that Astor’s company, the American Fur Company, in about the year 1816 “succeeded to all the trading posts and other property of the Northwest Fur Company in United States Territory,” although there is no information by which one might be sure that the Northwest Fur Company had their Fond du Lac department at the mouth of the St. Louis, on the Wisconsin side, until the end. On the contrary, there seems to be no good reason why Astor should have gone to Fond du Lac, Minnesota, if all the Fond du Lac buildings he had bought were at the Wisconsin Fond du Lac. That the Minnesota village was the site of the American Fur Company’s Fond du Lac department in 1826, when Governor Cass came is quite certain. Many records prove that, particularly the federal records. General Cass came to Minnesota and Fond du Lac in 1826 to negotiate a treaty with the Indians, or rather to get the Ojibway nation to ratify the treaty he had negotiated a year earlier at Prairie du Chien. The treaty later became known as “The Treaty of the Fond du Lac,” and was accomplished in the summer of 1826, “amid, the solemn pomp and ceremony of pipe and pow-wow, at the head-waters of Lake Superior, where General Cass and Colonel McKenney, as government commissioners, with a large following, met the Chippewa chiefs and braves at the American Fur Trading Company’s post.”

Colonel McKenney’s Description

From notes written in diary form by Colonel McKenney, a work entitled: “Tour to the Lakes” was published in 1827. It interestingly describes the voyage along the south shore of Lake Superior, from the Sault, but it is only necessary here to refer to two paragraphs of a review of the work later written. These read:

Nearly opposite the mouth of the Brule River the dim outlines of the north shore become visible, and to the tired travelers it seemed that their toils were nearly over; and when, at a distance of ten miles, the long ghostly arm of what is now called Minnesota Point was discernible, stretching out across the bay from shore to shore, a cry of “Le Fond du Lac” went up, and from every heart there breathed a fervent thanksgiving for dangers safely passed and welcome rest at hand.

The I-lead-of-the-Lake, where Duluth now stands, was then a wild and rocky coast where the north shore sweeps in to meet the end of the bay, while the south shore spreads out low and flat. Here the long protecting arm of the “Point” opens for the passage of the St. Louis River, and through that gateway the government canoes and barges pulled a steady course, escorted on all sides by fleets of canoes containing the dusky warriors, all bound in for the great ceremonial. An encampment was located on the inner side of the beach by the riverside, and preparations at once commenced for the final stage of the journey up the St. Louis, twenty-four miles, to the American Fur Company’s establishment, where the speeches were to be made, the treaty dance conducted, the calumets smoked and the grand pow-wow gone through with, in full accordance with the exacting dictates of formal Chippeway etiquette.

Post at Fond du Lac, Minnesota

So that the fur-trading post at Fond du Lac was then situated at a distance of twenty-four miles from the entry of the St. Louis River. How much earlier than this the post was at Fond du Lac in Minnesota the reader must decide for himself from the foregoing, which is all the information the compiler has found on the subject, excepting one statement by Pardee that “Fond du Lac, where the French pitched Fort St. Charles in 1703, as the site of the temporary station of 1692, was an Astor post from the beginning of the century (nineteenth).”

William Morrison, First Agent at Fond du Lac

It is believed that William Morrison was the first agent of the American Fur Company at Fond du Lac. He came into the Lake Superior region in 1802, and representing J. J. Astor, is stated to have been “the first American citizen to extend the line of trading posts from Grand Portage to the Lake of the Woods.” His first trip into Minnesota was in 1802, when he called at Leech Lake, and spent the winter at Crow Wing. The next winter he spent at Rice Lake, and followed the Mississippi through Cass to Elk Lake, afterwards called Itasca, thereby having basis for his claim that he had discovered the source of the Mississippi River almost thirty years before Schoolcraft passed Fond du Lac to trace the great river to its source. Morrison made another trip through the same country eight years later, and in 1811 was at Fond du Lac, on his way back from a winter in the woods.

As the political situation improved, after the War of 1812, John J. Astor again turned his thoughts to the Lake Superior region, and to the development of the fur trade in that region. In 1818, he “sent outfits to cover the whole of the Lake Superior country. William Morrison, Roussain, Cotte, and others, were sent to the posts in the Fond du Lac department, with outfits valued in all at less than $25,000, a very modest sum when one remembers that the La Pointe outfit in a good year had been $40,000,” states Pardee.

Five years later, the company made William Morrison their factor in the Fond du Lac department “on halves, instead of on salary,” and for five years he was “just as much lord of this region as the English had been at Hudson Bay, or Montreal traders at Grand Portage.”

Factor’s Son Murdered

Morrison was succeeded, as factor of the Fond du Lac department, by William A. Aitkin, his co-factor for some years being Francis Roussain. Aitkin was in full charge of the department from 1831-34. Two years later, his son Alfred, a half-breed, was killed at Sandy Lake.

First White Child Born in Northern Minnesota

Francis Roussain married a full-blooded Chippewa squaw, and their son Eustache, born in 1839, was claimed to have been “the first white child born within the limits of Duluth.” He lived at Fond du Lac all his life, seventy-three years, was well-educated, and in later years was an honored member of the Old Settlers’ Association of the Head of Lake Superior.

Reverend Boutwells Coming: First Sermon

Rev. Frederick Ayer was with Aitkin at Sandy Lake in the winter of 1830, and presumably passed up the St. Louis, his visit being for the purpose of completing the preparation of a Chippewa spelling book, to get which printed Aitkin gave him $80. Two years later the Rev. W. H. Boutwell accompanied the Schoolcraft expedition. They were at Fond du Lac in June, 1832, and Mr. Boutwell then took the opportunity of preaching what was in reality the first religious sermon delivered in English at the Head of the Lake. It was on the third Sunday in June and Mr. Boutwell’s diary entry reads:

At 10 o’clock I preached to about forty in English, the first sermon ever preached here; and at 4 p. m. I addressed, through Mr. Johnson, more than twice that number of French half-breeds and Indians, many of the latter of whom for the first time listened to the Word of Life. All listened with attention and interest.

My interpreter sat on my right side, while a chief occupied a seat at my left. Around and below me on the floor sat his men, women and children, in a state of almost nudity, many of whom had not more than a cloth about the loins and a blanket, but some of the children not even a blanket; all with their pipes and tobacco pouches, painted with all the variety of figures that can be imagined.

Fond du Lac Described

Lieutenant Allen, one of Schoolcraft’s party, describes Fond du Lac, at which the Reverend Boutwell “was not a little surprised to find four hundred souls, half-breeds and white men.” Lieutenant Allen wrote of the trading post as follows:

The buildings consist of a dwelling house, three or four stories high, a large house for the accommodation of clerks, and some other buildings, for the… Frenchmen. They are handsomely situated on the bank of the river, and directly in front is an island of about two miles circuit, of very rich soil, and a forest of large elms, where the Indians assembled in their lodges.

The Grand Portage of Fond du Lac

The Schoolcraft party passed up from Fond du Lac, “on the old trail” for Sandy Lake, and were at the portage above Fond du Lac on June 25th. Entry in the diary of Mr. Boutwell reads:

June 25. To begin this portage, which is nine miles, we are obliged to ascend a bluff 60 or 70 feet, in an angle of at least 45 degrees. Up this steep all our baggage must be carried on the heads, or backs, of the men. I say heads, from the fact that a voyageur always rests his portage collar on the head. A portage is always divided off into poses, or resting places, which vary in length according to the quality of the road or path, but average about half a mile. Our supplies of pork and flour are put into a shape convenient for this kind of transportation. A keg of pork, 70 pounds, and a bag of flour 80 pounds, is considered a load, or, in the dialect of the country a piece for a voyageur, both of which he takes on his back at once and ascends this bluff. This is new business for the soldiers, who are obliged to carry their own baggage and provisions.

The first attempt they made to ascend with their keg of pork and bag of flour, almost every one was unsuccessful. It was not merely a matter of amusement to look at the pork-kegs, flour-kegs, knap-sacks, baggage and men which strewed the foot of the ascent, but such as to awaken pity and prompt a helping hand. I undertook to aid one, by steadying the bag of flour upon the keg of pork. But we had not proceeded far when, in spite of me, off came the flour and rolled to the bottom of the bluff. We then both of us undertook to manage the keg, which, not without much difficulty, we succeeded in getting to the top of the bluff: We have made three poses (a mile and a half), and here we are overtaken by night.

Boutwell’s Mountain

Many years afterwards, Capt. Thomas H. Pressnell narrated how he, with two others—George Northup and William H. Smith—set out, “one bright afternoon” in 1868, to climb “Boutwell’s Mountain.” Pressnell said:

I told Will of George and my proposed ascent of what I termed “Boutwell’s Mountain,” and he at once agreed to go with us. So, immediately upon leaving the boat at Fond du Lac, we three started on our journey. We readily found the well-beaten trail which Mr. Boutwell had so faithfully described and wended our way round and to the top of the hill, and to the spot which we concluded must have been Boutwell’s first pose. We then returned and joined the crowd below. While ascending a rather steep pitch, on our way up, George slipped and rolled downhill several feet. Upon getting up he said: “This must be the place where Boutwell’s soldier lost his flour.”

First Christian Wedding at Head of the Lake

Boutwell was again in Minnesota within a year, his intention being to establish a mission to the Indians at Leech Lake. Sandy Lake and Fond du Lac villages were also under his direction for some time, and in the subsequent fifty years, or so, of association with Minnesota and the Presbyterian Church, he proved to be one of the most capable of early missionaries and also was a man of strong, yet noble, character.

Once, when searching for the murderer of Mr. Aitkin’s son at Sandy Lake, he shouldered a gun, and probably could have used it well.

Lake Itasca, the source of the Mississippi River, was so named at his suggestion; he was in Indian mission work until 1847, and became the second pastor appointed to the first regular Presbyterian Church established in Minnesota, that at Stillwater. And when he married Hester Crooks at Fond du Lac in 1834, he became one of the principals in the first Christian wedding solemnized at the Head of the Lake. He had met Hester Crooks at Mackinaw in 1831, where he was learning the Chippewa language, preparatory to entering upon mission work in Minnesota, and where she was being educated. She was the daughter of Ramsay Crooks, an Indian trader and a director of the Northwest Fur Company. Her mother was a half-breed Ojibway.

In 1834, when Boutwell was at Leech Lake, and she was a mission teacher at Yellow Lake, they decided to marry and “they met at the half-way point, Fond du Lac, and there married, and returned to the Leech Lake mission.” Mrs. Boutwell died at Stillwater in 1853, and Mr. Boutwell at his farm near that historic city in the nineties. They had seven children.

Rev. Edmund F. Ely

Almost contemporaneous with the Reverend Boutwell, and deserving of an even more prominent place in Fond du Lac history, was the Rev. Edmund F. Ely, who became to some extent a subordinate of Mr. Boutwell, in mission work among the Indians of northern Minnesota. In reality both were teachers, their missions being actually academic schools, not mission churches.

Mr. Boutwell was at Leech Lake, the largest Indian village, and Mr. Ely divided his time, at the outset, between Sandy Lake and Fond du Lac, but eventually built a permanent station at the latter place. Mr. Ely comes into more prominent record in St. Louis County history because he was associated with the development of the region from 1834 to the fifties, taking part in the platting of townsites on the north shore, when white settlement first began.

Carey wrote of Ely as follows:

Edmund Franklin Ely was born at Wilbraham, Massachusetts, August 3, 1809, and died in Santa Rosa, California, August 29, 1892. Mr. Ely made profession of religion in Rome, N. Y., in 1827. In 1828, he commenced study with a view of the gospel ministry… In 1832, the American Board of Foreign Missions established mission stations on Lake Superior and, having been in want of teachers, Mr. Ely, whose health at that time was poor, accepted an invitation to go to that country as an assistant teacher. He was subsequently appointed teacher and catechist… He left Albany (N. Y.) July 5, 1833 expecting to join other missionaries and teachers at Mackinaw. He arrived after their departure however, but overtook them before they had reached La Pointe. Mr. Ely was assigned to the branch of the mission among the Ojibways of the Upper Mississippi, under the direction of Rev. William T. Boutwell, and proceeded to Sandy Lake, where after a short time he was left by Mr. Boutwell with the joint duties of missionary and teacher resting on him. In the summer of 1834 the school was removed from Sandy Lake to Fond du Lac where a schoolhouse had been built by Mr. Ely. In 1835, a reinforcement of teachers was sent by the mission board. One of them, Miss Catherine Gonlais, soon became the wife of Mr. Ely. Here they labored until May, 1839.

Mrs. Ely also was partly Indian, as were indeed the wives of almost all of the fearless men who went into the wilderness in those times, to spend their years with the uncertain Indians, far beyond the “frontier of civilization.” Carey writes of Mrs. Ely, in another part of his “History of Duluth,” thus:

In 1823, a large mission boarding school was established at Mackinaw, for educating the children of the several Indian tribes, and it was at that school that the wives of some of the early pioneers of Minnesota were educated. The writer was well acquainted with one of the graduates of this school, the wife of Edmund F. Ely. Mrs. Ely was a woman of refined manners, liberally educated, a kind and affectionate wife and mother, and a sociable and good neighbor. She could also be classed as one of the early missionaries, as she assisted her husband in teaching.

Elys Diary

Mr. Ely kept a diary, conscientiously, for the greater part of his life, and his books for the period 1833-1854 were eventually deposited with the Old Settlers’ Association, for entry into their historical records. They cover an important period of St. Louis County, or rather of the county division of Minnesota now known by that name. Mr. Ely’s diary entry of Friday, August 22, 1833, is interesting; it records his first entry into Duluth waters. It reads:

Friday morning (Aug. 23, 1833). Embarked at 2 o’clock, after daybreak (at Brule River). Weather looked very tempestuous; swells began to rise. A heavy fog settled down and obscured everything, except a few rods from us.

After the sun came up the fog dissipated and the sky became clear. Entered the mouth of the St. Louis River at 9 o’clock. N. W. (or W. N. W.) 7 miles to Ossishingaaka (or Opishenquaka). Some think this an arm of the lake (or of Fond du Lac). It is about 1 mile broad. … At Ossishingaaka (or Opishenquaka) course southwest, along the foot of a ridge of mountains which form the north shore of the lake. The bed of the river still remains about a mile in width to the land, but much of this width as we proceeded up was savannas (marshes). Sometimes there were two or three channels and the main channel so serpentine that we lost it and fell into another which brought us into a savanna through which we found a little ditch just large enough to crowd our canoe through. We happened then to come into the main channel again. As we proceeded, the land gradually began to rise. About 20 miles up the ridge of hills rose on the south shore and became quite steep, they on the south shore and the mountains on the north shore enclosing beautiful flats of rich soil, bearing an abundance of wild grass, some of which was cured and stacked. On the north side of this amphitheatre lies the Fort of Fond du Lac, under the mountains, and the principal depot of Mr. Atkins (Aitkins).

Indian’s Drumming

The missionary was immediately introduced to some of the whimsicalities of the Indians, for on that first day at Fond du Lac Mr. Ely noted in his diary that “the Indians are dancing in three or four of the lodges most of the afternoon, and when we retired the air was ringing with the sound of their drums, their songs and their yells.”

An Unusual Sunday

Two days later, Mr. Ely wrote as follows:

Sabbath, August 25th (1833). Could some of my dear friends have been here this morning, they would indeed have felt themselves on heathen ground.

About 9 o’clock the Indians (Leech Lake mostly) came over this side of the river and, having planted an American flag, they began to dance what the traders call a begging dance. They form a circle around the flagstaff. When they place themselves in a sitting posture two or three men with drums of different shapes commence beating and singing their wild savage music, commencing with high sounds and gradually sinking to a very low tone, then starting up again, fall and so on through. They were nearly all entirely naked, except their breechcloths and leggins, faces painted, heads ornamented with eagle quills, painted with vermillion. Some have guns and knives, some sticks.

One, today, had his battle-ax, with the blade painted with vermillion, to signify that the blade had been imbued in the blood of their enemies, the Sioux. They simultaneously jump to their feet and commence dancing, which is simply illustrated by the exercise of jumping the rope, both feet together, rising more than on their toes. The pipe is frequently circulated by the Head-man, at which every one to whom it is offered in the circle must take three whiffs or more. The dancers do not sing, but are almost continually whooping. They first danced for the Opposition and got presents; then they danced before Mr. Cottee’s (assistant to Mr. Aitkin) door, and then came to ours (Mr. Aitkin’s).

We were about commencing a service in English, but deferred it in consequence of the noise under our windows. They danced nearly an hour, got their presents of corn and tobacco and soon dispersed. We then held our meeting. The day was comparatively quiet.

The medicine drums having commenced again this evening… My mind has been shattered today; has not appeared like the Sabbath of our Lord; have indulged in too much worldly conversation.

Lac du Stab

The mission party was at Fond du Lac until September 10, then leaving with Mr. Aitkin for Sandy Lake (Lac du Stab, as Mr. Ely notes it), reaching that point on the nineteenth.

Whiskey, a Demoralizing Influence

It is generally thought the United States Government, as well as the Canadian Government, paid no heed to the practice of the fur traders in distributing much whiskey to the Indians, in exchange for furs. Apparently the United States Government actively discountenanced the practice. Ely notes in his diary:

Thursday, May 1, (1834). Last evening one of the principal soldiers of this band was here (Leech Lake), and is to leave in a few days for the Hudson Bay fort at Rainy Lake, with furs with the hope of purchasing liquor. Although the United States have prohibited the bringing of liquor into their territory by Americans, or other traders, yet the Indians said this morning that they would tell Johnson that if he did not bring liquor in next fall, he would not have many packs, and that they will go to Rainy Lake, where they can get it. If this band should be supplied with it, it would be an awful place; the spirit of war would be kindled with the neighboring tribes, and our hopes of civilizing them fail.

Catholic Church Active

Mr. Ely was of the Presbyterian faith, and the missionaries that succeeded him at Fond du Lac were of the Methodist Church; nevertheless, the power of the Catholic Church was strongly in evidence. There was no priest at Fond du Lac, but Mr. Cottee, the factor, was an active representative of the church, as Mr. Ely quickly found. And from Mr. Ely’s writings it would seem that most of the Indians who had forsaken paganism adhered to the Catholic ceremonies in their religious observances. Whether it was general throughout northern Minnesota, or a condition only to be found at Fond du Lac, where Mr. Cottee conducted services, cannot be certainly stated, but apparently no Protestant effort was determinedly directed to that region prior to the coming of Mr. Ayers in 1830. On his first Sunday, June 8th, his diary entry reads in part:

This morning Mr. Cottee read Catholic prayers, but I was ignorant of it.

Why he did not invite me to be present I do not know… This evening I informed Mr. C. that I intended to sing with those of my scholars and others who had come in (to Fond du Lac). He invited me to his home. When we entered, the room was filled. He said he first would say prayers. Accordingly the Catholic service was read, in which the Indians and children joined. They then spent half-an-hour, or more, in singing Catholic hymns, and then told me there was an opportunity for my children to sing. We accordingly sang several hymns, one or two of which his congregation knew. I was entirely taken by surprise. I occasionally caught his eye piercingly fixed on me. He has acted and looked rather jealous and suspicious. I then asked him if I should join in prayer. To this he made no answer. I called on all to join me, and we knelt down. I concluded in Indian, in which one voice joined me.

Mr. Cottee informs me that he expects a teacher, doubtless a Catholic from the Sault to open a school here. He has been very busily employed during the last fall and winter in instructing the Indians in the Catholic religion… Mr. C. told me that some of the men had cut their hair and broken their drums, thereby renouncing paganism and embracing Catholicism.

The Catholic teacher did not come, but Mr. Cottee held zealously to his weekly services, and the majority of the Indians of the station were Catholics.

Mr. Ely Married

A brief entry records an important happening in the life of Mr. Ely. The entry was: “Sabbath, August 30th (1835). This P. M. was married to Catherine Bissell, of the Mackinaw Mission; ceremonies in church by Bro. Boutwell.”

They were then at La Pointe.

Mission to Be Abandoned

Fourteen days later, an entry reads: “It is decided that Fond du Lac must be abandoned and I remain here (La Pointe), in order that this station may be supplied with an interpreter.” However, they were soon back at Fond du Lac, embarking at La Pointe on October 19th. Mr. and Mrs. Ely were accompanied by Peter Azhamignon, “a native of Fond du Lac, one-fourth white.” Peter was to be attached to the Fond du Lac mission as interpreter. He had been converted at a Methodist mission at Lac Coueterille. He proved a valiant assistant.

A Difficult Mission

Notwithstanding the assistance he had from Mrs. Ely and from Peter Azhamignon, Mr. Ely must often have been perplexed by troubles that came to him. On one occasion, August 7, 1838, he was very sorely tried. He wrote:

August 7th. About 6 o’clock, as we were returning home with a load of hay we saw a group of men and women in front of one of the old houses.

On approaching, we saw them busily engaged in skinning an animal, which I soon recognized as my bull, our only train and an excellent animal, who would weigh, say, about 700 pounds. As I landed and approached the spot where was considerable commotion in the group. Some of the women ran behind the house and showed that they were conscious of wrong. I claimed the animal and told them to desist in their work. They however went on and the animal was ere long carried off piece by piece, skin and, all, even to the entrails. I am informed by his relatives that Akinenze, the deaf man, shot him, that he fired two shots at the animal. Eninabonde and others called here on the subject in the evening. Although they disclaimed any participation, yet they manifested no regard; on the other hand they told me that if I felt sad about it, the best way was to leave the country, that I might not be sad again; that they might do something more; they were bad men and might injure us even in our bodies. I doubt not their stomachs were gratified by a piece of old “Tertion,” as our bull was called. The alleged cause of this act is that I did not do well a job I was requested to do, viz.: make a shelter over the graves of his two children. That is doubtless but an excuse. We are cutting hay, although we are constantly reminded by the Indians that we had better desist, and that pay will be required.

The sequel was written a few months later, when D. P. Bushnell, Agent of Indian Affairs at La Pointe, wrote:

Note: The chiefs from Fond-du-Lac came to me voluntarily today, and stated that they intended to pay Mr. Ely for his ox this year, but most of their money having been taken from them by the traders for debt, they were unable to do so, but that they wished that the price he had set on his ox, $55.00, be retained out of their money for the next year. It will be done accordingly.

Signed, D. P. Bushnell, La Pointe, Oct. 1st, 1838.

Chief Nindipens

A month later, the same Chief Nindipens again comes into the record, the entry reading:

November 9th. Nindipen’s daughter brought me a line as follows: Opining Kinvnditomago, jis gaie kinondotomago. Naboningokuzimin, mondaminoshomiskin. Ninidebbs egoian Mr. Ely. Kitonmkonin Nindipens egoian, which being translated: “Potatoes are asked of you; turnips are also asked of you. Tomorrow we shall raise camp. Feed me. I, Nindipens who am so called, Mr. Ely, salute you. I, Nindipens, who am so called.” This is one of the most important uses which Nindipens makes of the little knowledge of writing which his son Kitob possesses; nor is the begging by letter confined to him; those who are able to write seem to feel that a request in writing would surely be hard (to refuse), and especially I would not disregard such an effort of one of my scholars. I told the bearer of the above letter to call when they were ready to start, and I would give her some potatoes.

Ely’s Dog Killed

Life at Fond du Lac surely was hard for Mr. Ely at times. And apparently, matters went from bad to worse.

He removed from Fond du Lac in April, 1839, but returned for his family later that month, and his diary entry for May 1st, reads:

A week before I arrived at home Bezhikognonebi came in and asked Catherine (Mrs. Ely) for potatoes, which she refused. On going out B. locked the door on her, and hid the key in the entry. She forced back the lock and went to Sagakomin’s lodge and asked Samuel for the key. After much talk he told her where it was. She sent word to him not to come to the house. He however came directly in and rebuked her for saying so much about the affair. She told him she did not want him here and he must go out.

He replied he would stay or go as he pleased. Catherine said: “I shall tell Mr. Ely, and your father.” He replied: “Oh, I am not afraid of them.” Some other conversations ensued. She told him to leave the house. He did go out, and meeting our dog Rover stabbed him in the side. He died immediately.

Catherine, seeing his father afterwards, told him of it. He said he was very sorry, for he had intended to ask us for the dog. The old Bear-skin had helped himself to my canoe, paddle and gun, which he did not seem inclined to return.

An Indiscretion

There is no doubt that life for Mr. Ely at Fond du Lac was made more difficult by the attitude of the American Fur Company’s men toward him. Possibly the fact that he was a Protestant and they mainly Catholics was an explanation, but they made much of an indiscretion he committed, in offering to buy a reindeer skin from an Indian for $4.00, and being in possession of a martin skin. The latter had been given him, and the reindeer skin he could rightly buy, the agreement of the mission board with the fur company, when he first went to Fond du Lac, allowing him to purchase from the Indians any skins he might need for use of himself and family.

Settlement Attacked by Sioux

Still, if he found conditions hard at Fond du Lac, he was destined to find them positively dangerous at Pokegama, as the following diary entry indicates: “May 25th, 1841. Pokegama.While I now write, the noise of battle rages without. Our settlement is attacked by a large body of Sioux. Nearly two hours since the terrible scene commenced.”

Mr. Ely goes on to describe the attack, which fortunately they were able to beat off, owing to their log houses being well fortified.
There was active war at the time between the Ojibway and Sioux tribes, and it was soon thought advisable to put a stout stockade around the village.

Mr. Ely made many more trips to Fond du Lac, and he was in mission work at La Pointe until 1849, when he went to St. Paul, returning to Superior in 1854, as will be narrated later.

Mr. Ely’s Successor at Fond du Lac

After Mr. Ely had left Fond du Lac, for Pokegama, the Methodist mission school was established, George Copway, a Chippewa, married to a white woman, undertaking the work. James Simpson and his wife, who was a sister of Mrs. Copway, also being there in 1841. The mission was continued until 1849, the last of the missionaries being Rev. J. W.Holt.

Fur Trade Dwindles

The American Fur Company gave up its Fond du Lac post in 1847, the Lake Superior department latterly having been at La Pointe, under the direction of Dr. Borup and Chas. H. Oaks, both of whom later removed to St. Paul, and the fur trade, as a noticeable organized business ceased to exist at the head of Lake Superior a decade or so thereafter, although until about 1870 there was heavy traffic going through to St. Paul from the Rainy Lake region, and north of that.

Colonel Carlton

Col. Rueben B. Carlton lived at Fond du Lac before the settlement of the North Shore began, and was eventually one of the townsite proprietors, owning also eighty acres of land adjoining Fond du Lac. There he resided until his death in 1863. He, in reality, was the link between the pre-settlement and settlement eras.

Removal of Indians

With the coming of Stuntz to the Wisconsin side in 1852, and the surveying of land, the town of Superior began to rise. And the Treaty of La Pointe, negotiated in 1854, opened the North Shore to white settlement, and removed the Indians from Fond du Lac, to a reservation now known as Fond du Lac Indian Reservation, much further up the St. Louis. The difference in location is readily seen from entries made in the diary of Rev. James Peet, minister at Superior and Oneota, 1855-1860. He writes: “Wednesday, July 13th (1859). Went to Fond-du-Lac (the old Fur Company and Mission grounds). I stopped at Col. Carlton’s. Some ten or twelve persons there now.”

He was back in Oneota in the afternoon. His trip, six months later, to the “St. Louis River Indian Reservation,” however, was a much more arduous undertaking. He wrote:

Tuesday, December 13th (1859). A little after noon I started with Mr. Ely for the Chippewa Indian Agency, on the St. Louis River Indian Reservation.

Only one settler living in the whole distance. We camped out on the ground (15-17 below zero). Traveled 7 miles.

Wednesday, December 14th. Slept but little, so cold. Our camp was about 7 miles north of Fond-du-Lac and 6 west of Oneota. The distance from Oneota to the Agency by this route is about 20 miles. Slow traveling, with one 3-ox team, through the unbeaten snow, which is about 15 or 16 inches deep. Traveled 5 or 6 miles.

Thursday, December 15th. Slept tolerably well in the night. Started with the team before daylight. Reached the Agency about noon. Stopped at Mr. Wheeler’s, the government blacksmith. Called on Indian chief Nan-gon-up… traveled 6 or 7 miles.

Colonel Carlton had been sent to Fond du Lac in 1849, as Indian farmer and blacksmith. He was succeeded by John S. Watrous, but remained in Fond du Lac, and became the first state legislator from the district. Wheeler was apparently Indian Agent in 1858.

Townsite of Fond du Lac

Fond du Lac townsite was one of the first to be platted on the North Shore. Its incorporators were R. B. Carlton, Alexander Paul, D. George Morrison, J. B. Culver and Francis Roussain. “They were the first trustees under the act of incorporation of the townsite of Fond du Lac in 1857,” states Carey.
The townsite was surveyed in 1856 by Richard Relf, and platted into village lots, the plat being signed by James A. Markland, attorney for the proprietors.

Fond du Lac in 1856

Alfred Merritt states that “at Fond du Lac there were fourteen buildings all told,” in about 1856, when the Merritt family came to Oneota. “A warehouse stood near the river; it was built by John Jacob Astor or the Northwest Fur Company. It was in good shape in 1856 and Captain Peterson used it as a barn for many years. There lived at that time at Fond du Lac: R. B. Carlton and wife, and one son, Webb Carlton… R. B. Carlton was called Colonel Carlton; Mr. Rausau (Roussian) and family; George Wheeler’s family; and Mr. Peterson and family.”