Early Jesuit Missions

The pipe of peace which Nicolet smoked with the western tribes was not productive of immediate good returns. The death of Champlain and the change in purposes and ambitions among the Canadian settlers, produced in the east an almost total forgetfulness of the upper lake country. For at least two decades of years after the discovery of Wisconsin by Nicolet, very dim and shadowy is its history. Here and there references to Green Bay and the Indians inhabiting its shores, are made by Jesuit missionaries in their "Relations." The "Relations" were the records kept by the priests of their experiences in their arduous calling.

Jesuit Priest and Solider meet Indians

For many years, beginning in 1632, the Superior of the Jesuit Mission in Canada - then New France - sent every summer to Paris his reports, which embodied or were accompanied by those of his subordinates. For forty years these reports were annually published in Paris, and were known as the "Jesuit Relations." Those which are of interest to the student of Wisconsin history begin with the year 1639-40 and extend to 1672. Says one of these records of date 1648: "This Superior Lake extends to the northwest, that is to say, between the west and the north. A peninsula, or strip of land quite small, separates the Superior Lake from another third lake, called by us the Lake of the Puants (Green Bay) which also discharges itself into our fresh water sea, through a mouth which is on the other side of the peninsula, about ten leagues more to the west than the Sault. This third lake extends between the west and the southwest, more toward the west, and is almost equal in size to our fresh water sea. On its shores dwell a different people, of an unknown language, that is to say, a language that is neither Algonquin nor Huron. These people (the Winnebagoes) are called the Puants, not on account of any unpleasant odor that is peculiar to them, but because they say they came from the shores of the sea far distant toward the west, the waters of which, being salt, they call themselves "the people of the Stinking Water".

Another account written in 1654, after giving the arrival at Montreal of a fleet of canoes loaded with furs, belonging to friendly Indians, who came from the upper country a distance of four hundred leagues, speaks of a part of these Indians being the Tobacco nations of the Hurons, and a portion Ottawas, and adds: "These tribes have abandoned their ancient country and have retired toward the more distant nation in the vicinity of the Great Lake, whom we call Puants, in consequence of their having dwelt near the sea, which is salt, and which our savages call "stinking water" .

The Hurons had been entirely overthrown by the Iroquois in 1649 - 1650, and had abandoned their country. A division of this nation, called the Tobacco Indians, with such other Hurons as had taken refuge with them, settled on Mackinac Island, where they were joined by a branch of the Ottawas, nicknamed by the French, Cheveuxrilkves, or Standing Hair; hence this statement in the "Relations" that these nations had "retired toward the more distant" Winnebagoes.

Again, in the same year, this is recorded: "In the islands of the lake of the people of the sea, whom some persons wrongly call the 'Puants,' there are many tribes whose language closely resembles the Algonquins".

In 1656, one of the Jesuits writes: "Our attention has been directed toward a number of nations in the neighborhood of the 'Nation of the Sea,' whom some persons have called the 'Puants,' in consequence of their having formerly dwelt on the shores of the sea, which they call 'Winipeg,' that is to say, 'stinking water". Then follows an enumeration of the villages of Illinois and Sioux Indians, and of two other nations, the "Ponarak" and "Kiristinous'. Such are the meager records of Wisconsin after its visitation by Nicolet, down to the year 1658.

In August, 1656, a band of the Ottawas, or other Algonquins, numbering three hundred, and in fifty birch bark canoes, appeared upon the St. Lawrence. These savages demanded commerce with the French, and missionaries for the boundless west. This was the beginning of the commerce of the northwest. But for the greed of the fur trader and the zeal of the Jesuit, the story of Nicolet would soon have passed from the minds of the Frenchmen inhabiting the St. Lawrence; and the discovery of Wisconsin, like the discovery of the Mississippi by De Soto, would soon have faded from the memory of man.

But a missionary, whose name is not yet appended to the "Relations," and it is, consequently, uncertain who the reverend father was, took from the lips of an Indian captive, named Asatanik, and a man of considerable importance an account of his having in the month of June, 1658, set out from Green Bay for the north, passing the rest of the summer and the following winter near Lake Superior - so called because of its being above Lake Huron. This Indian informed the Jesuit of the havoc and desolation of the Iroquois war in the west; how it had reduced the Algonquin nations about Lake Superior and Green Bay. The same missionary saw at Quebec two Frenchmen, who had just arrived from the upper countries with three hundred Algonquins in sixty canoes, laden with peltries. These fur traders had passed the winter of 1659 on the shores of Lake Superior, during which time they made several trips among the surrounding tribes. In their wanderings they probably visited some of the northern parts of what is now Wisconsin.

They saw, at six days' journey beyond the lake toward the southwest, a tribe composed of the remainder of Hurons of the Tobacco nation, compelled by the Iroquois to abandon Mackinac, and to bury themselves thus deep in the forests, that they might not be bound by their enemies. The two traders told the tales they had heard of the ferocious Sioux, and of a great river upon which they dwelt - the "great water" of Nicolet's guides.

Thus a knowledge of the Mississippi began to dawn again upon the civilized world. It may be well to remember in this connection that the fur traders came to what is now Wisconsin in advance generally of the missionaries. They led the way for the Jesuit fathers; but as trade was their object, and they left no record of their visits, only vague knowledge is had of what they really saw or did. But slight mention is made of them in the "Relations," where, as much as possible, their presence and doings are kept in the background.

The narratives of the Indian captive and of the two Frenchmen were not lost upon the zealous Jesuits, for, two years later, Rene Menard attempted to plant a mission on the southern shore of Lake Superior but perished in the forest by starvation or the tomahawk. Thoroughly inured to Indian life, with many a dialect of Huron and Algonquin at his command, this missionary, in endeavoring to establish the Cross so far to the westward, went, with eight Frenchmen and a number of Ottawas, starting from Three Rivers, Canada, August 28, 1660. He made his way to "a large bay" upon the southern shore of the lake, in all probability, what is now known as Keweenaw, Michigan. Here, however, he met with little success in founding a mission. He subsequently determined to visit some Hurons, who were then located upon, or near, the Noquet Islands in the mouth of Green Bay, and who had sent to implore the missionary to come amongst them, as they had long been destitute of a pastor, and many of them were fast relapsing into pagan habits.

It should be remembered that the Hurons proper, and their allies and kindred of the Tobacco nation, had, many years before, while living near the Georgian Bay of Lake Huron, Canada, received the Jesuit missionaries at their villages, and numbers had professed Christianity. Three of Menard's companions were sent to explore the way. Descending the Menominee river, they finally reached the Huron village, where they found a few wretched Indians - mere living skeletons. On their way they encountered great hardships, owing to the rapid current of the stream, its portages and precipices.

Convinced of the impossibility of Menard's reaching the Hurons, or remaining with them, if he did, they returned, encountering still greater difficulties in ascending the river. These Frenchmen were, doubtless, in their perilous journey, many times upon what is now territory of Wisconsin - the Menominee forming the northeastern boundary of the state. On their arrival at the lake they implored the aged missionary not to attempt a journey evidently beyond his strength. But to their remonstrance he interposed, "I must go if it cost me my life." He set out with one Frenchman and some Hurons. His seventeen other companions returned to the St. Lawrence. Menard was soon left by the Hurons, and was afterward lost from his companion, who sought for him, but in vain. It seems that while his attendant was employed in transporting a canoe, Father Menard accidentally became separated from him. This was probably at the first rapids in the Menominee river as we ascend that stream. It is possible, therefore, that the father may have perished upon what is now the soil of Wisconsin. This was about the 10th of August, 1661.

With him perished the first mission - if, indeed, it can be called one - upon the shores of Lake Superior. His faithful companion, Donne John Guerin, reached the Huron village in safety. There was not at that time, another missionary station nearer than Montreal. But the failure of this first attempt did not discourage the Jesuits or quench their enthusiasm. But who was the man to cope with the thousand difficulties surrounding the establishment of a mission so far in western wilds?

With better hopes, undismayed by the sad fate of Menard, indifferent to hunger, nakedness and cold; to the wreck of their ships of bark; and to fatigue and privations by night and by day - in August, 1665, Father Qaude Allouez embarked on a mission, by way of the Ottawa, to the far west. Early in September he reached the rapids through which the waters of Lake Superior rush to Lake Huron, and admired the beautiful river, with its woody isles and inviting bays. On the 2nd of that month he entered the Great Lake, which the savages reverence as a divinity, and of which the entrance presents a spectacle of magnificence rarely excelled in the rugged scenery of the north. He passed the lofty ridge of naked sand which stretches along the shore its drifting heaps of barrenness; he urged his canoe by the cliffs of pictorial sandstone, which for twelve miles rise three hundred feet in height, fretted by the chafing waves into arches and bastions, caverns and towering walls, heaps of prostrate ruins, and erect columns crowned with fantastic entablatures.

Landing on the south shore, he said mass, thus consecrating the forests which he claimed for a Christian king. Sailing beyond the bay of St. Theresa (so named by Menard, now Keweenaw Bay), and having vainly sought for a mass of fine copper, of which he had heard rumors (this being the first known of that metal by the whites), on the 1st day of October he arrived at the great village of the Chippewas, on the west shore of the bay of Chagouamigong, or Chegoimegon (now Chequamegon or Ashland bay, in Ashland and Bayfield counties). It was at a moment when the young warriors were bent on a strife with the warlike Sioux. A grand council of ten or twelve neighboring nations was held, to wrest the hatchet from the hands of the rash braves; and Allouez was admitted to an audience before the vast assembly. In the name of Louis XIV, and his viceroy, he commanded peace, and offered commerce and an alliance against the Iroquois; the soldiers of France would smooth the path between the Chippewas and Quebec; would brush the pirate canoes from the rivers; would leave to the Five Nations no choice between tranquility and destruction.

On the shores of the bay, to which the abundant fisheries attracted crowds, a chapel soon rose, and the Mission of the Holy Spirit was founded. As this chapel was the first house erected by civilized man upon territory now constituting the state of Wisconsin, some interest is attached to the place where it was built. The exact spot is not known. The fact that it was not on the Madaline, one of the Apostle islands, tradition and the tenor of the "Relations" seem conclusively to establish. It was probably built upon section 22, in township fifty, of range four west, of the government survey, at a place now known as Pike's Bay, in Bayfield county, on the main land west of La Pointe.

Pike's Bay

The claim is also made that the site is the section south of the one here named - 27, but the spot is merely a matter of speculation. He afterward removed near the present site of the last mentioned place on Madaline Island, where a second chapel was raised. To the new chapel in the forest admiring throngs, who had never seen a European, came to gaze on the white man, and on the pictures which he displayed of the realms of hell and of the last judgment; there a choir of Chippewas was taught to chant the pater noster and the Ave Marie.

During his sojourn here he lighted the torch of faith for more than twenty different nations. The dwellers round the Sault, a band of the Chippewas, pitched their tents near his cabin for a month, and received his instructions. The scattered Hurons and Ottawas that roamed the deserts north of Lake Superior, appealed to his compassion and, before his return, secured his presence among themselves. From Lake Michigan came the Pottawattomies, and these worshipers of the sun invited him to their homes. The Sacs and Foxes traveled on foot from their country, which abounded in deer, heaver and buffalo. The Illinois, a hospitable race, unaccustomed to canoes, having no weapon but the bow and arrow, came to rehearse their sorrows.

Their ancient glory and their numbers had been diminished by the Sioux on one side and by the Iroquois, armed with muskets, on the other. Curiosity was aroused by their tale of the noble river (the Mississippi) on which they dwelt, and which flowed toward the south. They had no forests but instead, vast prairies, where herds of deer and buffalo and other animals grazed on the tall grasses. They explained also the wonders of the peace pipe and declared it their custom to welcome the friendly stranger with shouts of joy. "Their country," said Allouez, "is the best field for the gospel. Had I had leisure I would have gone to their dwellings to see with my own eyes all the good that was told of them."

Then, too, at the very extremity of the lake, the missionary met the wild, impassive Sioux, who dwelt to the west of Lake Superior, in a land of prairies, with wild rice for food, and skins of beasts, instead of bark, for roofs to their cabins, on the banks of the great river, of which Allouez reported the name to be "Messipi." After two years of labor, Allouez, having founded the missions of the Ottawas and Chippewas, and revived those of the Hurons and Nipissings, returned to Quebec, to lay before his superior a full account of the west and of his doings there ; and then, two days later, set out again for Chegoimegon, having with him a companion, Father Louis Nicholas. They reached the mission in safety. Nicholas soon left but his place was afterward supplied in the person of Father James Marquette, who left Quebec in April, 1668, for the upper country, stopping with his superior, Father Qaudius Coblon, at Sault Ste. Marie. Here a station was begun at the foot of the rapids, on the southern side, by them called the Mission of St. Mary. From this Marquette made his way to the Mission of the Holy Spirit at Chegoimegon, which he reached in September, 1669, and found there five villages of Indians - four Algonquin and one Huron.

Allouez, in the meantime, planned a new mission on the waters of the lake, of the Puants; that is, among the tribes inhabiting the country of Green Bay and vicinity. However, before following the missionary to this interesting field of labor, let us return to the Mission of the Holy Spirit, where was left Father James Marquette. This missionary, anxious to extend the faith, had sent an interpreter to the Sioux, bearing a present to the tribe to obtain protection and safe conduct for the European heralds of the Cross. Afterward the Ottawas and Hurons of Chegoimegon provoked a war with the Sioux which compelled the tribes first mentioned to flee the country. The Sioux, however, returned the missionary his pictures and other presents before they declared war. The Ottawas fled to the Great Manitoulin Island. The Hurons remained for a time with Marquette, but finally embarked on Lake Superior, and, descending the rapids, doubled the cape, and landed at Mackinaw, where they had dwelt some years previous. Marquette followed these tribes in 1671, raising a new chapel on the main land, on the north shore of the straits, opposite the island of Mackinaw, calling his mission St. Ignatius. The chapel at Chegoimegon was, of course, deserted. It was the end, for one hundred and seventy years, of a mission upon that bay.

On the 3rd of November, 1669, two canoes set out from the Mission of Sault Ste. Marie for Green Bay. They contained some Pottawattomies, returning to their homes, and were accompanied by Father Claude Allouez. They had requested him to visit their country for the purpose of restraining some traders who had ill treated them there. He was very willing to undertake the journey, as it was taking him to the field he had chosen for the founding of his new mission. A month was consumed in the passage. November clouds hung heavily overhead and broke in storms that came near drowning the party in the lake. Floating pieces of ice opposed their progress.

On the 25th they reached a cabin of the Pottawattomies, where they were supplied with a limited amount of beech nuts. Two days later they visited some lodges of the Menominees. These Indians they found pressed with hunger, and being themselves at the end of their provisions, they pushed forward. Eight leagues from the river of the Menominees they arrived at the village, which was the home of the companions of Allouez. This was on the 2d of December, the eve of St. Francis Xavier. This saint, Allouez chose as the patron of his mission, giving it his name. He found here eight Frenchmen, whom he assembled to join with him in thanksgiving for his preservation in his perilous journey from the Sault. The village was the winter quarters of about six hundred Pottawattomies, Winnebagoes, and Sacs and Foxes. Allouez passed the chief part of the winter, giving religious instruction. Thus was founded by him the Mission of St. Francis Xavier, the second mission within the present bounds of Wisconsin.

In February, 1670, he crossed the bay upon the ice to a Pottawattomie village of about three hundred people, where he labored for a few days. He was able to visit only one or two of the smaller villages. With the thaws of March the Indians began to disperse for better means of subsistence. The ice broke up on the 12th of April. By the 6th Allouez had reached the entrance to Fox river, at the head of Green Bay. Passing a village of the Sacs, a place now known as Depere, Brown county, he afterward reached the mouth of Wolf river, up which stream he turned his canoe, to a large village of the Foxes, probably within the present county of Outagamie. Here the missionary founded another mission, which he called St. Mark, the third one in Wisconsin.

Allouez afterward ascended Fox river, of Green Bay, to the homes of the Miamis and Mascoutins, returning subsequently to the place where he had passed the winter. Thence he proceeded to the Menominees; also to the Winnebagoes upon the opposite side of the bay; and to the Pottawattomies. On the 20th of May, 1670, he started on his return to Sault Ste. Marie. In September he again visited Green Bay, accompanied by the superior of the Ottawa missions, Claude Dablon.

At the previous winter quarters of Allouez, they quieted a disturbance between the Indians and some fur traders. "We found affairs," says Dablon, "in a pretty bad posture, and the minds of the savages much soured against the French, who were trading; ill treating them in deed and words, pillaging and carrying away their merchandise in spite of them, and conducting themselves toward them with insupportable insolence and indignities". The soldiers in particular were complained of, for thus early bid the arms of France been carried to the waters of Green Bay. The missionaries held here a council with the congregated tribes, where, as they harangued their unbred audience their gravity was often put to a sore test; for a band of warriors, anxious to do them honor, walked incessantly up and down, aping the movements of the soldiers on guard before the governor's tent at Montreal. "We could hardly keep from laughing", writes Dablon, "though we were discoursing on very important subjects, namely: the mysteries of our religion, and the things necessary to escaping eternal fire."

The fathers were delighted with the country, which Dablon calls an earthly paradise; but he adds that the way to it is as hard as the path to heaven. From here they proceeded up Fox river to the towns of the Mascoutins, and the Miamis, which they reached on the 15th of September. In passing the lower rapids of that stream, they observed a stone image that the savages honored, "never failing in passing to make some sacrifice of tobacco, or arrows, or paintings, or other things, to thank him that, by his assistance, they had, in ascending the river, avoided the dangers of the waterfalls which are in this stream; or else, if they had to descend, to pray him to aid them in this perilous navigation." These missionaries caused this idol, as they termed it, "to be lifted up by the strength of arm and cast into the depths of the river to appear no more" to the idolatrous people.

Crossing Winnebago lake, the two priests followed the river to the village of the two tribes. This village was enclosed with palisades. The missionaries, who had brought a highly colored picture of the Last Judgment, called the Indians together in council and displayed it before them, while Allouez, who spoke Algonquin, harangued them on hell, demons and eternal flames. They listened with open ears, beset him night and day with questions, and invited him and his companions to unceasing feasts. Dablon returned to the Sault, and Allouez, during the winter made his way to his mission of St. Mark, though not without danger, as the Foxes were in extreme ill humor. They were incensed against the French by the wrong usage which some of their tribes had lately met with on a trading visit to Montreal.

In the summer of 1671, Father Louis Andre was sent to the Green Bay region as a co-worker. The Sac village, at the lower falls of the Fox river, was observed to be a great resort for all the surrounding tribes, whose numbers were estimated at 15,000. They were drawn here for the purpose of traffic, also by the abundance of water fowl, and by its somewhat remarkable fishery, prepared by means of stakes set in the water across the river.

The fish in ascending congregated at this barrier, where they were taken in great numbers by means of dip nets. Here, at what is now the village of Depere, was located the central station of St. Francis Xavier, which mission included all the bay tribes. A rude chapel, the first upon these waters, was erected, the third one within the present limits of the state. It has been frequently published that the Mission of St. Francis Xavier was founded at Depere in 1669. This, however, is a misapprehension, as, until 1671, the mission was a roving one, though confined to the bay tribes.

Allouez, leaving his companion in charge, employed himself among the Foxes and Miamis. He continued his missionary work, extending his labors to other tribes, until 1676, when, on the 6th of April, he was joined by Father Anthony Siloy. In October following he succeeded Marquette in the Illinois mission. About 1679 Siloy was recalled and his place filled by Father Peter A. Bormeault. Allouez, driven from the Illinois, soon after returned to the Mascoutins and Miamis, but went again to the Illinois in 1684, where he probably remained some time. He was there in 1687 and died about the year 1689.

Andre worked with zeal in the mission of St. Francis Xavier. His rude chapel was hung with pictures calculated to strike the imaginations of the savages with powerful force. One represented the twelve apostles; another showed Jesus dying on the cross, while a third portrayed the general judgment. At the top of this last one parents could not help but observe the contrast between the places occupied by the baptized children and the one where Satan endured horrible torments.

During Andre's temporary absence, his chapel was burned, with all his household goods and winter's provisions, by savages opposed to his labors. He reared a cabin upon the ruins of the former one, and continued to teach the gospel to the benighted heathen. His dwelling was next burned but he built another on the Menominee, which shared the same fate. Still he kept on with his labors, Having in his canoe, and going from place to place among the six tribes of his mission.

In 1676, Father Charles Abanel, superior of the Ottawa mission, was stationed at what is now Depere, where a new and better chapel was built, partly by the aid of fur traders. But the prosperous days for the mission were well nigh ended. In 1680 Father John Enjalran was alone at this mission. At this date the Winnebagoes were hostile to the efforts of the missionary: Enjalran was recalled in 1687. Upon his departure his house and chapel were burned. He returned no further than Mackinaw and the mission of St. Francis Xavier was ended.


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

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