Explorations begun by Joliet were continued. La Salle, in 1679, with Father Louis Hennepin, coasted along the western shore of Lake Michigan, landing frequently. The return of Henri de Tonty, one of La Salle's party down the same coast to Green Bay from Illinois, followed in 1680. The same year Father Hennepin, from the Upper Mississippi, whither he had gone from the Illinois, made his way across what is now Wisconsin, by the Wisconsin and Fox rivers, to Green Bay. He was accompanied by Daniel Graysolon Du Lhut (synonymous with Duluth) who on his way down the "great river" from Lake Superior had met Hennepin.
"As we went up the river Wisconsin," says the latter, "we found it was as large as that of the Illinois, which is navigable for large vessels above a hundred leagues. We could not sufficiently admire the extent of those vast countries, and the charming lands through which we passed, which lie untilled. The cruel wars which these nations have one with another are the cause that they have not people enough to cultivate them. And the more bloody wars which have raged so long in all parts of Europe, have hindered the sending Christian colonies to settle them. However, I must needs say that the poorer sort of our countrymen would do well to think of it and go and plant themselves in this fine country, where, for a little pains in cultivating the earth, they would live happier and subsist much better than they do here."
Following the voyage of Hennepin was the one of the Le Sueur, in 1683, from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi, ascending that river to the Sioux country in the region about St. Anthony, and his subsequent establishment, said to have been in 1693, at La Pointe, in the present Ashland county, Wisconsin. He was, at least, "a voyageur stationed at Chegoimegon" during that year. He continued to trade with the Sioux at intervals to the year 1702.
Nicholas Perrot, who, as the agent of St. Lusson, had collected the Green Bay tribes in 1671, to assemble at the congress held at the Sault Ste. Marie, again made his appearance in the Winnebago country, this time in the year 1684. He was commissioned by the government of New France to manage the fur trade from Green Bay westward. "I was sent to his bay," he writes, "charged with the commission to have chief command there, and to the most distant countries on the side of the west." He passed the winter of 1685 and 1686 post erected by him on the east side of the Mississippi, at the foot of Lake Pepin, this being the first post on the Upper Mississippi.
Thence he proceeded overland to Green Bay. Meanwhile, he had been ordered by Denouville, the new governor, who did not approve of such distant enterprises, to return with all the Frenchmen in this region, which order he now obeyed. In 1687 he was again at Green Bay, being engaged to bring the Indians inhabiting its shores to the assistance of Denouville against the Iroquois. In 1690 Perrot set out from Montreal with presents and messages to the Indians of the upper country, for the purpose of thwarting the English, who had opened negotiations with several nations. Two years subsequent he was sent to Green Bay, chiefly to guard against and frustrate the English overtures to the Miamis and their allies, and in August, 1693, he conducted ten or twelve chiefs of the different tribes to Montreal. He visited the Miamis again in 1697, by whom he was captured. He was, however, set at liberty through the intercession of the Foxes.
The voyage of St. Cosme, in 1699, when he and his companions frequently landed on the west coast of Lake Michigan, was followed by that of Le Sueur up the Mississippi in 1700. But far more important was that of Father Charlevoix in 1721 to the waters of Green Bay from Mackinaw, because of his valuable record of what he saw in that part of the country. Other explorations followed, notably that of Father Guignas, in 1727, and of the Sieur de Laperrier, in the same year, so that, by the end of the first hundred years after the discovery of Wisconsin by Nicolet, considerable knowledge of its territory was brought home to the civilized world.
Fur traders, or at least their employees, were the first explorers, after Nicolet, of Wisconsin. They presented the Jesuit missionaries. These traders sent from the St. Lawrence, hatchets, knives, blankets and other articles coveted by the savage, to exchange with him for furs. Their employees, the voyageurs, made their journeys into the far off region in birch bark canoes, of the lightest possible construction, for they had frequently to be carried by hand around rapids, and from one stream to another along carrying places, called portages. They usually made up their outfit at Quebec or Montreal, and ascending the Ottawa during the summer and subsequently that river and the lower lakes, proceeded to the various tribes inhabiting the region of the upper lakes, either wintering at Indian villages or at stations which had been established by them in their neighborhood. With their peltries, gathered during the winter and early spring they returned usually the next summer ; but sometimes they were required to make longer voyages. The fur traders were, as a class, men of some wealth, of respectable families and of considerable intelligence, and were possessed of enterprising and adventurous habits. They found the fur trade more profitable, or more congenial to their dispositions than agricultural pursuits. Their meniials, the voyageurs, penetrated the fastnesses of the western wilderness with a perseverance and courage almost without a parallel in the history of explorations of savage countries. Indeed, they out-savaged the savage in that respect.
The French government early manifested a disposition to extend her dominions in America. At the very commencement of the seventeenth century he had colonized Acadia. In 1608 Quebec was founded. In 1663 New France (Canada) was made a royal colony. The reports circulated in France of the advantages of the fur trade were such as to induce many of the nobility and gentry to invest their fortunes in the new world. With this patronage and the constantly increasing number of colonists, New France grew rapidly in commerce, the most lucrative branch of which was dealing in furs.
The voyageurs were the usual agents employed by the French government to extend and uphold its dominion in the northwest. This traffic in furs maintained with the Indians constituted the only value of this region in the eyes of Frenchmen, so long as France continued her dominion over it. The regular fur trader was licensed by the government, this license generally stipulating the territory in which they were permitted to operate.
It was drawn in the nature of a colonial commission, conferring upon the licensed trader the authority of a military officer over the voyageurs in his employ. It also made him a commercial agent of the government among the Indians. He was frequently employed as special agent of the colony to make treaties. Sometimes he was required to lead his voyageurs upon war expeditions in return for his fur trading privileges. His employees, therefore, were always around, equipped and familiarized with military duties, partly from necessity of defending themselves from attacks of hostile Indians, and partly to be enabled to carry out any requisition made by the government. The dominion of France over the western country was thus made self sustaining. But the government found some trouble in controlling the traffic in furs. There grew up an illicit trade, maintained by couriers de bois, in contradistinction to the regular traders, the voyageurs. They followed the Indians in their wanderings and sometimes became as barbarous as the red men. A few years of forest life seemed to wean them from all thought or desire for civilization. They spread over the northwest, the outlaws of the forest. Although rendering essential aid at times to the government, the king of France, in 1699, launched a royal declaration against them. When French domination ceased in the northwest there was an essential change in the fur trade.
The military occupation of the country of the upper lakes by the French - including, of course, what is now Wisconsin - was, after all, only a nominal possession, intended as a protection to the fur trade. Posts, which were mere stockades without cannon, built by fur traders and held by them in the name of the king, though at their own expense, were erected on the waters of the Mississippi, at least at two points within what are now the boundaries of the state: one upon the north side of Lake Pepin, another on an eastern tributary of the Mississippi, some distance inland. No post was established at or in the vicinity of the mouth of the Wisconsin river, prior to English domination, as has been supposed. There was a stockade at La Pointe, in 1726, but how long it was occupied, is not now known.
On the west side of Fox river, not far above the mouth of that stream, there was erected somewhere between 1718 and 1721, a post having a commandant. It was afterward destroyed, then rebuilt, but deserted by the French before the occupation of the vicinity by the British. It was the only fort regularly occupied by French soldiers within what is now Wisconsin. It was called Fort St. Francis, and was in 1721 under the authority of Captain de Montigny. In 1726 it was commanded by Sieur Ameritan, and in 1754 by Sieur Marin, soon after which it was abandoned.
During the continuance of French supremacy in the northwest there were no permanent civilized settlements in Wisconsin. There was no immigration hither for the purpose of tilling the soil, or engaging in the other useful vocations of life. The posts of fur traders and the few log huts erected in their vicinity were only temporary residences. The white population was "like driftwood from the current of a stream, only to be swept away again upon the next eddy."
The Fox Indians are supposed to have migrated from the banks of the river St. Lawrence, at a remote period, being driven west, and settling upon the waters of Saginaw, Michigan. Thence they were forced by the Iroquois to Green Bay, but were compelled to move subsequently to Fox River. The persecutions of the Five Nations continuing, they retreated to Wolf river, where, in 1670, they were visited by Father Allouez. The next year they stood aloof from the congress held by Daumont de St. Lusson, at the Sault. French fur traders had, thus early, aroused their animosity by their ill treatment, and when, subsequently the nation returned to the Fox river, they held this thoroughfare securely against the voyageurs from Green Bay to the Mississippi; not, however, until at the summons of De la Barre, in 1684, they had sent warriors against the Iroquois, and not until they had taken part on the side of the French in Denouville's more serious campaign. As early as 1693, several fur traders had been plundered by them, while on their way to the Sioux, the Foxes alleging that they were carrying arms to their ancient enemies. Their hostility continuing, the Fox river was completely blockaded.
Early in the spring of 1712, a number of Foxes and Mascoutins encamped close to the fort at Detroit. This post was commanded by M. Dubuisson. His garrison numbered only thirty French soldiers. The Foxes and their allies, the Mascoutins, soon became insolent, calling themselves the owners of all the country. It seems to have been a plan laid by them to burn the fort, but their purpose was communicated to the commandant by a friendly Fox. An express was immediately sent to the hunting grounds of the Ottawas and Hurons by Dubuisson for aid. The Chippewas and another tribe, upon the other side of the lake, were invited to join with him in defending his post. The commandant took such measures of defense as his limited force would permit. On the 13th of May he was reinforced by seven or eight Frenchmen. Happily other aid arrived - quite a number of Indians from various nations around, who, joining the Hurons, entered the fort to assist in defending it. This brought matters to a crisis, and firing commenced between the besiegers and the besieged.
With undaunted courage, Dubuisson for nineteen days continued to defend his post. The assailants were finally obliged to retreat, their provisions becoming exhausted. Some of the Frenchmen, with the Indians, soon started in pursuit, overtaking the enemy near Lake St. Clair, where they had erected entrenchments. They held their position four days, fighting with much courage, when they were forced to surrender, receiving no quarter from the victors. All were killed except the women and children, whose lives were spared, and one hundred men who had been tied, but escaped. There were a few Sacs engaged in this attack on the fort, but more, perhaps, were fighting upon the other side.
The Foxes were incensed rather than weakened by the severe loss they sustained near Detroit; and, their hostility continuing, not only against the French but the Indian tribes in alliance with them, caused a proposition to be brought forward by the Marquis de Vaudreuil to commence a war of extermination against the Foxes. To this most of the friendly nations readily assented. A party of French troops was raised and put under the command of De Louvigny, a lieutenant, who left Quebec in March, 1716, returning to that place in October of the same year. He ascended to Detroit in canoes with all possible dispatch. There he received reinforcements and thence urged his way to Mackinaw, where "his presence inspired in all the Frenchmen and Indians a confidence which was a presage of victory." With a respectable force - said to have been eight hundred strong - De Louvigny entered Green Bay and ascended Fox river, to what point is now uncertain, when he encountered the enemy in a palisade fort.
William R. Smith, in his History of Wisconsin, says: "The Foxes had selected a stronghold on the Fox river, now known as the 'Butte des Morts,' or 'Hill of the Dead,'" but he does not designate the exact locality. Says the commander:
"After three days of open trenches, sustained by a continuous fire of fusiliers, with two pieces of cannon and a grenade mortar, they were reduced to ask for peace, notwithstanding they had five hundred warriors in the fort, who fired briskly, and more than three thousand women ; they also expected shortly a reinforcement of three hundred men. But the promptitude with which the officers who were in this action pushed forward the trenches that I had opened only seventy yards from their fort, made the enemy fear, the third night, that they would be taken. As I was only twenty-four yards from their fort, my design was to reach their triple oak stakes by a ditch of a foot and a half in the rear. Perceiving very well that my balls had not the effect I anticipated, I decided to take the place at the first onset, and to explode two mines under their curtains. The boxes being properly placed for the purpose, I did not listen to the enemy's first proposition; but they, having made a second one, I submitted it to my allies, who consented to it on the following conditions: That the Foxes and their allies would make peace with all the Indians who are submissive to the king, and with whom the French are engaged in trade and commerce ; and that they would return to me all the French prisoners that they have, and those captured during the war from all our allies (this was complied with immediately); that they would take slaves from distant nations and deliver them to our allies to replace their dead; that they would hunt to pay the expenses of the war ; and, as a surety of their keeping their word, that they should deliver me six chiefs, or the children of chiefs, to take with me to M. La Marquis de Vaudreuil as hostages, until the entire execution of our treaty, which they did, and I took them with me to Quebec. Besides I have reunited the other nations at variance among themselves, and have left that country enjoying universal peace."
But the Foxes proved irreconcilable. War was renewed at Detroit in 1721; and in 1728, another expedition was organized, "to go and destroy" that nation. It was commanded by Marchand de Lignery, who had, two years before, held a council at Green Bay with the Foxes, Sacs and Winnebagoes, when these tribes promised to maintain peace. But the Foxes paid no regard to their plighted faith and continued their hostility; and joined with them were the Sacs and Winnebagoes. De Lignery left Montreal in June, 1728, proceeding by way of the Ottawa river and Lake Huron to Mackinaw, thence to Green Bay, upon the northern shore of which the Menominees, who had also made common cause with the Foxes, were attacked and defeated. This was on the 15th of August. On the evening of the 17th the mouth of the Fox river was reached, when it became evident that the savages had knowledge of the expedition. It had been the intention of De Lignery to attack a Sac village just above Fort St. Francis - the French post, where he wished to surprise the enemy who were staying with their allies, the Sacs. He arrived at the French fort at midnight and immediately sent word to the commandant of his presence and asked for information as to whether the Foxes were still in the Sac village. The reply was that they ought to be found there; but, upon moving forward, De Lignery discovered that both Sacs and Foxes had all escaped except four, who were captured and soon put to death by the Indians accompanying the expedition.
On the 24th of August, the army, consisting of not less than four hundred French, and seven hundred and fifty Indians, consisting of Hurons, Iroquois, Ottawas and others, reached a Winnebago village on Fox river, which was deserted and which, with the crops in the vicinity, was destroyed by the invaders. Thence they proceeded to the home of the Foxes farther up that stream. Four of their villages were found but all were deserted. They secured four prisoners - two squaws and a girl who were reduced to slavery, and an old man, who was "burned to death at a slow fire."
After destroying the villages and fields of the Foxes, the army returned, having, in reality, accomplished little, save the destruction of the crops and empty huts of the enemy. "After this expedition," says its historian, Emanuel Crespel, "if such a useless march deserves that name, we prepared to return to Montreal'. On their return, the French post near the mouth of the Fox river was destroyed, because, being so near the enemy, it would not afford a secure retreat to the French, who must be left as a garrison. When the army arrived at Mackinaw, the commander gave permission to every one to go where he pleased."
Another expedition against the Foxes, led by Neyon de Villiers in September, 1730, was more successful. His forces, including Indians, numbered not less than twelve hundred. It resulted in the almost total defeat of the Foxes. Two hundred of their warriors were "killed on the spot, or burned, after having been taken as slaves, and six hundred women and children were absolutely destroyed." Such only are the facts known of this successful enterprise of the French and their allies. But the Foxes were not humbled. They drew the Sacs into a firmer alliance and soon became so troublesome that another expedition was planned against them - this time under the command of Captain de Nayelle. Preparations began near the close of 1734, and it was carried on the following year with sixty soldiers and probably a number of Indian allies. The Foxes were attacked in their own country, where they had suffered defeat at the hands of De Villiers. This was the last enterprise of the French against that troublesome nation. Many places have been designated upon Fox river as the points of conflict in these expeditions, but all such designations are traditionary; nothing is known with certainty concerning them.
In 1736 the Sacs and Foxes were "connected with the government of Canada," nevertheless they were far from being friendly to the French. However, in 1754, they arrayed themselves with the French against the English, and so continued until the close of the contest so diastrous to France in America.
Information gathered and adapted from History of Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, Past and Present
Carl Zillier, Editor
Pubished by The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1912, Chicago, IL