Of Basil Giard there is but little to record. He did not figure in public affairs. He had a Spanish claim of three miles square allowed him by the United States, where McGregor, Iowa, is situated. He was a Canadian trader. He died in Prairie du Chien in 1819, at about seventy years of age. He left quite a family by a Sac woman. Some of his grand-children are yet living in the county.
Pierre Antaya was, as already mentioned, a native of Canada. He was a farmer. His wife had some Fox Indian blood in her veins. They raised a large family, mostly girls. Antaya died soon after the peace of 1815, between the United States and Great Britain.
Augustin Ange first came west as a voyageur but in time became a trader. He finally went among the Sioux of the Prairie, on the Missouri, to trade. He attended the Indian treaty at Prairie du Chien, in 1825, but returned after the treaty to his home on the upper Missouri, where he subsequently died, and where he left a family.
Michael Brisbois was born at Maska, below Montreal, in 1760. His grandfather emigrated from Normandy. His parents were Joseph and Marguerite Brisbois. In 1775, Michael was a student in a college at Quebec. In 1779 he was in Mackinaw. He reached the "Prairie des Chiens" in 1781, probably very soon after the arrival of Giard, Antaya and Ange.
About the year 1785, Brisbois married a fair and handsome Winnebago woman. By this marriage he had three children --- one was a daughter, Angellic; the others were boys, Michael and Antoine. On the 8th of August 1796, he was again married, this time at Mackinaw, to Domitelle Gautier de Verville, generally called Madelaine, daughter of Charles Gautier de Verville. Her mother, wife of De Verville, was, before her marriage, Madelaine Chevalier. The result of the marriage of Michael Brisbois to Domitelle Gautier de Verville, was a family of ten children; one of whom --- B. W. Brisbois --- is still a resident of Crawford county. The father died, in 1837 and is buried on the bluff overlooking the prairie.
Pierre LaPointe, as we have seen, came to the "Prairie des Chiens" in 1782. He, too, was a native of Canada. He was well educated and well informed. He was one of the best of Indian interpreters, and his services were much in quest by the traders. In 1817 he was in the employ of Joseph Brisbois, at Bad Ax. He died three or four years later, a little past seventy years of age. His wife was a sister of the Sioux chief, Wabashaw. They raised a family. La Pointe was a sensible, good man, and servic(e)able to the prisoner settlement in Crawford county and to the Indians.
Of those who followed the five Canadians just mentioned, within a few years, and settled at the Prairie, there were: Jean Marie Cardinal, Claude Gagnier, Antoine Brisbois, Marie Souligne, Dennis Courtois, Pierre Lariviere, Jean Marie Courville, Joseph Rolette, Patage Lapierre, Nicholas Colas, Pierre Lafleur, Francois LaRoche, Francois Bellard, John Campbell, Jean Marie Guere, Nicholas Boilvin, Antoine Sicoer, Francois Bouthellier, Augustus Mason, Joseph Laplante, Francois Lavigne, Peter Antega, Augustin Herbert, Benjamin Cadotte, Francois Vertefeuille, James Frazier, Pierre Jaudron, John Simpson, M. St. Coudone, Henry Monroe Fisher, Francois Provost, Robert Dixon, Joseph Senie, Joseph Crele, John Stork, Andre Todd, Michael La Bothe, Jean Baptiste Faribault, Francois Rocker, Jean Baptiste Barthelette, James Vernier, Charles Lapointe, Francois Lapointe, and a brother of the two last named; also, one Michael Lapointe.
Of others who settled at the Prairie before the year 1820, there were Julian Lariviere, Andrew Basin, Strange Powers, (whose name was frequently written 'Poze,') Bartolome Montplaisier, Joseph Lemrie, Benjamin Roy, Francis Dease, Oliver Cherrier, Augustin Roe, Duncan Campbell, Pierre Lessard, Thomas McNair, Etiene Dionne, John W. Johnson, Theodore Lupin, Charles Menard, Felix Mercier, Francois Cheuneviene, John Baptiste Albert, Adam Wilmot, John L. Finly, Charles Duquette, La Fombois, John Baptiste Caron, Lewis Crawford, Robert B. Belt, Alexander Dumont, Joseph Rivard, Nicholas Brisbois, Wilfred Owens, Jean F. Rolette, Marshall Mann, James McFarlane, Antoine LaChapelle, Francois Galorneau, James H. Lockwood, Theodore Lupin, Michael Perillard; M. du Choquette, Peter Barrette, Sr.
There is an unsolved problem concerning the first advent of settlers to the "Prairie des Chiens" --- a question which has not been settled. In 1781, Patrick Sinclair, lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada, held a treaty at Mackinaw with the Fox Indians, when the "prairie" was purchased of that tribe --- but for whom, is the question? At that time, the English government had jurisdiction (and exercised it) over this whole region. Was the purchase on behalf of that government, simply to extinguish the Indian title, so that settlers could have an assurance of being undisturbed? or, did Sinclair purchase the "prairie" for himself? If neither, was it bought directly for Bazil Giard, Pierre Antaya and Augustin Ange? or, were these latter only the agents for other settlers? A satisfactory answer, however, at this late date, would not be of any particular value; as all the old settlers, finally, after the United States came into possession of the country, who had titles confirmed to them, by the general government, had the confirmation based wholly upon occupation.
It is a matter of some consequence to know just where, on the "prairie," the early settlers were located. As to this, there is no uncertainty. Their location was made on the Mississippi shore, about midway of the prairie, some distance above the site of what had formerly been an Indian village. Here a slough, which they designated the "Marias de St. Feriole," runs up from the river, and being generally filled with water, separates from the principal prairie a strip of lower ground nearly half a mile wide, and something more than a mile in length. Upon this tract, fronting the Mississippi, and upon the opposite border of the slough, these settlers erected their houses in separate groups, designated collectively as the village of "Prairie des Chiens," that upon the main land being long distinguished by the name of "St. Feriole." It is said that the ground at first occupied temporarily was a little distance below; but the locality in question was settled upon as early as 1785. These occupants consisted of traders and voyagers who engaged almost exclusively in traffic with the Indians. They usually passed the winter months at the Indian villages, and during the summer transported their collection of furs to Mackinaw, returning with their canoes laden with goods for the next season's trade, and a supply of provisions. In the winter the village was half deserted, while in the summer its numbers were swelled not only by the return of its own people, but also by traders from other quarters, and by throngs of Indian visitors. The inhabitants placed little or no value upon the soil, except as a location for their village, conveniently situated for the purposes of their favorite employment; yet they found leisure to cultivate small portions of the prairie in a rude way, and occasionally a voyageur, wearied with his roving life, or unable longer to endure its hardships, settled down and devoted himself exclusively to farming.
The first location upon the "prairie" beyond the environs of the village was made at its upper extremity in 1788, by Jean Marie Cardinal, a hunter and trapper, who died not long afterward, and Nicholas Colas succeeded to his possessions by marrying his widow. She lived to old age, and died at the village in 1827. Tradition ascribes her the distinction of having been the first white woman in the settlement. From a statement of hers, it is probable that she came to the prairie with her husband during the course of a great flood in the Mississippi. Pierre Antaya made the second location of the description in question in 1790; Joseph Crele the third, in 1791; and Claude Gagnier the fourth, 1792 --- all upon the upper portion of the prairie. Dennis Courtois came to the village in 1791, and located upon the prairie two years later.
So much currency has been given to traditions concerning a very early date at which, it is alleged, Prairie du Chien (and therefore, Crawford county,) was first settled, that it is here necessary to state, in substance, what these traditions are, and then give them their refutation. In this connection, it is proper to consider the following from the pen of the late Alfred Brunson:
"The first regular settlement at Prairie du Chien, other than traders, as well as I can ascertain, was commenced by a man of the name of Cardinal, who came to the country as a hunter and trapper, which must have been between 1720 and 1730. He came from Canada, with his wife, who, as far as I can learn, was the first white woman upon this prairie. He probably came with the troops who came to Green Bay in 1726, and hearing from the traders of the rich hunting grounds on the Mississippi, tried his fortune in this direction. On his first visit he ascended the river as far as Cannon river, just above where Red Wing now stands, but preferring this point to any other he saw, took up his residence here, and is said to have made the first farm upon Prairie du Chien.
"His wife, who outlived him, and it is said a dozen other men to whom she was married, one after the other, died here in 1827, computed from the best data that could be obtained, to be 130 years of age. B. W. Brisbois, Esq., who was born and raised on this prairie, heard her say that when she came to the place first, the waters were so high that they came up from the Wisconsin, next to the bluffs where the ground is some feet lower than the rest of the plain, in their bark canoe. He also heard her say that when she first came to this country, the buffalo were so thick and in such droves as to impede their progress sometimes, when they had to wait for them to cross the river before the canoe could pass in safety."
But the writer just quoted, in saying that Cardinal "must have come to the country between 1720 and 1730," bases it wholly upon the supposed fact that the flood mentioned by Mrs. Cardinal was that of 1727, he not knowing that a similar flood occurred in the Mississippi in 1785. Besides, it is shown elsewhere in this history that the "prairie" was visited in 1766 and in 1780, and that there were no white settlers upon it at either of those dates.
Arthur St. Clair, then governor of the northwest territory, made a report of official proceedings in Illinois county from March 5, to June 11, 1790, in which he says:
"There is another communication between Canada and the Mississippi by the Wisconsin river, a little above the mouth of which is Prairie du Chien. At that place there was a considerable town, while the country was in the hands of the French. It has gone to ruin; but by that communication the British carry on all the trade of the upper part of the Mississippi, and at the Prairie du Chien, they assemble twice in every year in great numbers, frequently, I have been informed, to the amount of 500 or 600 persons. It would certainly be for the National honor that an establishment that would command that communication was made; but the great distance, and the difficulties that might attend the supporting it, will probably prevent it at present."
St. Clair had only hearsay evidence that there was, on the "prairie, a considerable town while the country was in the hands of the French." And that the report he was in possession of as to the place was entirely unreliable is shown by his next sentence: "It [Prairie du Chien] has gone to ruin."
Much has also been said about early French traders having their homes upon the "prairie" at a time long anterior to its actual settlement; especially has it been claimed that there was a trader located here soon after Joliet's discovery in 1671, of the upper Mississippi. Concerning this trader and Joliet's discovery, Rev. Alfred Brunson, in the publication already quoted from in this chapter, says:
"The third place visited and settled by white men, in what is now Wisconsin, is Prairie du Chien. But at what time the first visit or permanent settlement was made, is in the dark, and rather uncertain. Marquette and Joliet descended the Wisconsin river into the Mississippi, June 17, 1673. But as they sailed down the river, and this prairie lying above the junction, and being entirely hid from view at the mouth of the Wisconsin by the timber on the bottoms. I think it extremely doubtful whether they ascended the Mississippi to this point, and such a landing not being mentioned by them, it is not probable that they did so.
"Furthermore, as this prairie was then claimed by the Sioux, whose villages were over 100 miles above, there could have been no Indians at the place, unless by accident, to call their attention to it.
"In 1680, seven years later, Hennepin ascended the Mississippi, a prisoner to the Sioux. He could hardly have passed this beautiful place without noticing and stopping at it; nor is it at all probable that his captors, who were the owners of the soil, would have passed it unnoticed. But as he makes no mention of it, it is not probable that any trader or Indian village occupied the place at that date. But as he was released from captivity the next year, 1681, through the interposition of a trader, and returned to Quebec by the way of the Wisconsin river, it is probable that the trader lived at Prairie du Chien. I should infer, from the circumstances, that the trader could not have been there when Hennepin ascended the river, or he would have procured his release at that time, and sent him home. This was probably the beginning of the fur trade at this place, that is in 1681, which grew to the magnitude in which Carver found it in 1766, eighty-five years afterwards. But who this trader was is unknown. This is to be regretted, as his name might be honored by being attached to some building or public work, if it were known. As it is, Hennepin should not be forgotten, as he probably was the first white man, except the trader in question, who ever saw this place."
The trader mentioned by Mr. Brunson is now known to have been Duluth, who never resided on the "prairie," but who, having heard that some white men had been captured, started to their rescue from a point many miles north of the present location of Prairie du Chien. As is shown in another chapter, when Carver visited the "Prairie des Chiens" in 1766, it was simply and purely an Indian village. Whatever then there was of the fur trade here in 1766, was with Indians who were visited for the purposes of trade by the fur trader.
A very general way of expressing the antiquity of the settlement upon the "prairie" prevalent to this day is to say that it is as "old as Philadelphia." This "ball was set in motion" by Charles J. Latrobe, an English traveler, who was in Prairie du Chien in 1833, where, he says, he found but few Indians and these Menomonees; and then adds"
"The old French settlement of Prairie du Chien, founded the same year as the city of Philadelphia, and occupying as much ground as the penitentiary of that flourishing place, lies on the margin of the river, and consists of a few old, gray trading and dwelling houses with nothing either in architecture or position to merit further notice. It seems doomed to remain under the same spell as others of a like origin."
The report of the commissioners, Nov. 9, 1821, made to Congress (or to the Secretary of the Treasury of the United States), which in another chapter is given entire, says, concerning the early settlement at "Prairie des Chiens:"
"It has never been characteristic of the French Canadian settlements to increase rapidly; and it is considered a fair inference from all that can be learned on the subject that, for a long and indefinite time, its numbers have been considerable and increasing only at a tardy pace. This consideration is supposed to be eminently corroborative of the position the commissioners have assumed, of the antiquity of the settlement [of Prairie des Chiens].
"With what propriety the inhabitants of Prairie des Chiens, who were born there, and whose ancestors have for more than a century resided there, may be said to have taken possession of the public lands in violation of the laws, how they may be said to be intruders, who, and whose ancestors, through so many political changes, have, with the assent, express or implied, of each successive sovereignty, continued to inhabit the country which gave them birth, it is hard to imagine."
This, as already indicated, was written in November, 1821; and, if the statements contained therein are facts, then the first settlement upon the "prairie" ante-dates the year 1721. But let us examine the sources of their information as to the ancestors of the people living at "Prairie des Chiens" in 1821, having resided there "for more than a century," and see, too, how many of those were residents in 1821 "were born there." The testimony of every person living on the "prairie," of any standing, was taken in 1820, to aid in establishing the antiquity of the settlement there, to the end that their land claims might be confirmed. The substance of this evidence has been published; and we look in vain for any statement indicating the residence here of any one of those testifying, or of any of their ancestors, before the year 1781. And the only one who gave testimony (and a large number were sworn) tending in the least to establish a settlement on the "prairie" before that date was Michael Brisbois. The following is his deposition in full:
"Territory of Michigan ) > ss. County of Crawford. )
"Be it remembered that on this day personally appeared before me, Isaac Lee, a justice of the peace in and for said county, and agent duly appointed to ascertain the title to lands at Green Bay and Prairie des Chiens, Michael Brisbois, of said county, who, after being sworn according to law, deposeth and saith that he, this deponent, is sixty years of age; that he has been thirty-nine years in this country; that, from the best information he has been able to obtain, and from his own knowledge, Prairie du Chien, extending from the mouth of the river Wisconsin to the upper part of the prairie, has been occupied and cultivated in small improvements, in virtue of sundry claims of French people, both before and since deponent's arrival in the country; that he (deponent) has never heard of any Indian claim to said tract except that about eighteen years ago the French people became somewhat apprehensive as to their title, which fact being made known to the Indians, one of the first chiefs of the Fox Nation, named Nanpouis, ratified at Cahokia, near St. Louis, an ancient sale of said prairie to the French; that, in the year seventeen hundred and eighty-one, Gov. Sinclair bought the islands of Michillimackinac, Green Bay and Prairie du Chien; that this deponent saw the papers relating to said purchase executed and folded up, to be sent to Montreal or Quebec; deponent was informed on his first arrival at this place, that it derived its name from a large family called Des Chiens, who formerly resided here; that the same family or their descendants were here at the time of deponent's arrival, and were called 'Des Chiens.'
It will be observed that the date of Brisbois' arrival "in this country" was 1781; and that the "prairie" had been occupied and cultivated in small improvements in virtue of sundry claims of French people, both before and since" his arrival; and that the chief of the Fox Nation ratified an ancient sale of said prairie to the French, in 1802. In order to fully understand how these things could all be and yet the first settlement of the "prairie" date no farther back than 1781, it is necessary to introduce in this connection another deposition:
"Territory of Michigan, ) > ss. County of Crawford, )
"Be it remembered, that on this day, personally appeared before me, Isaac Lee, a justice of the peace in and for said county, and agent duly appointed to ascertain the title of lands at Green Bay and Prairie des Chiens, Pierre Lapointe, of said county, who, after being sworn according to law, deposeth and saith that he is seventy years of age; that he has been forty-four years in this country, of which period he has resided thirty-eight years at Prairie des Chiens; that in the year seventeen hundred-and eighty-one, this deponent was at Michillimackinac, and acted in the capacity of interpreter at the treaty held by Gov. Sinclair with the Indians, for the purchase of the islands of Michillimackinac, Green Bay and Prairie des Chiens; that, during the time deponent has resided at the prairie he has never known the Indians to make claim to said tract of land as their property, that deponent was present at Prairie des Chiens and saw the goods delivered to the Indians in payment for the said prairie by Basil Giard, Pierre Antaya, and Augustin Ange, according to the stipulations of the treaty with Gov. Sinclair above mentioned.
"Sworn and subscribed before me this 23d day of October, A. D. 1820.
Lapointe, it will be noticed, says nothing about Brisbois having been present at the "prairie" when the goods were delivered to the Indians in payment for it; but he does mention who were present. And we know that Messrs. Giard, Antaya and Ange, not only come in the early part of 1781, but came to remain. The probability is, then, that they at once commenced improvements, and upon the arrival of Mr. Brisbois from Mackinaw in the fall of the same year, he found the "prairie" already occupied by these three men; so that it was true that it had been "occupied and cultivated in small improvements, in virtue of sundry claims of French people, both before and after "his arrival there," as set forth in his deposition. As to the ratification of a sale to the French, by a Fox chief in 1802, of the "prairie," it is very evident that the sale referred to is the one made by that tribe to the French settlers in 1781, at Mackinaw, at the instigation of Gov. Sinclair.
Enough has already been said to show that the early settlers of Crawford county were all confined to the "Prairie des Chiens;" and that a very large proportion of them were Canadian French. These inhabitants were nearly all unmarried men when they established themselves here. They adopted the customs of their Indian neighbors to some extent, and very generally formed temporary domestic alliances with females of that race. During early days an Indian mistress was installed in nearly every cabin. One after another, however, as they found opportunity to procure wives of their own race from distant places, these dusky sweethearts were discarded. These families of the mixed blood for a while greatly outnumbered the white, and traces of Indian lineage are still not infrequently met with among the descendants of these people. The settlement received considerable acceleration to its growth from this cause, and drew accessions to its numbers gradually from other French Canadian colonies. In the course of fifteen or twenty years it grew to the extent of thirty or forty houses, sheltering a population of 300 or 400. In 1805 there were sixteen houses in the principal village, half as many more at St. Feriole, and several scattered about the prairie, thirty-seven in all. The French settlement made little if any further growth of progress. In 1817 the number of houses was not more than thirty-eight. In 1820, the place is described as containing, in all, about eighty buildings, including those of the garrison, being mostly shabby constructions of logs and bark and surrounded by picket yards. The traders were generally men of considerable wealth, for it required means to carry on their business, provide stocks of goods and provisions for long periods, and transport them hundreds of miles by oarsmen kept constantly employed for that purpose. Many of them were gentlemen. The voyageurs constituted a very different class; they were generally very poor, and dependent on their small wages, which barely sufficed to supply them with the simplest necessaries of life. Although there was no administration of law, the will of their employers, enforced by possession of their subsistence, was very nearly absolute over them, and the distinctions of master and servant were strongly marked. The houses of the wealthy, though constructed of logs, sometimes clapboarded, yet rude and unattractive in external appearance, were comfortably, neatly and even elegantly furnished. Those of the poorer class were very inferior structures, often without floors, and with straw for a covering, while their furniture consisted of a few rude kitchen utensils, benches and other domestic requirements, equally meager. Such a state of affairs could only exist in a primitive community, far removed from the rest of the civilized world.
A sort of middle class eventually sprung up in the small farmers scattered about the prairie, who were somewhat less dependent upon the will and caprice of the aristocratic traders. They were enabled to live better than the voyageurs and employes of the latter, whose diet consisted chiefly of corn soup; but they were necessarily content with wooden carts, plows, and other implements, to which the team was attached by raw-hide thongs. Coffee mills were at first used for grinding. These were superseded by mills turned by hand power, the burrs being cut from native granite bowlders. Amid these conditions, apparently favorable to the development of lawlessness and violence, these people, surrounded by savage life, were remarkably characterized by docility, habitual hospitality, and a disposition submissive to any authority assumed over them. Violent crimes were extremely rare, even when the village was the scene of drinking and carousing throngs. Upon their wintering grounds, the traders practiced many devices to overreach one another, which would generally be stigmatized as dishonorable; but on their return to the village, met and settled all difficulties over a glass of wine. Beyond these tricks of trade, they generally manifested a commendable spirit of honor, and when their word was pledged it might be safely relied on. Morality, indeed, as usually understood, was at a very low ebb, but this was largely due to necessary relations with the savages. They were destitute of schools or spiritual teachers. Their amusements were limited to rude dances, foot and horse racing, and other similar sports, copiously enlivened by the free use of intoxicating liquors. Yet instances are not wanting to show a delicate appreciation of the higher sentiments that adorn humanity. Upon one occasion, a mother whose dying babe had never received the ordinance of baptism, there being no priest within reach, in her distress sent for a justice of the peace, and with swelling heart besought his ministration. With tearful eyes he read the baptismal service and christened the babe. The mother's gratitude touched his heart ever after with a feeling of awe whenever the event recurred to his memory.
Maj. Pike who was on the "prairie" in 1805, as elsewhere explained, says:
"The present village of the Prairie des Chiens, was first settled in the year 1783, and the first white settlers were Mr. Giard, Mr. Antaya, and Mr. Dubuque. 1 The old village is about a mile below the present one, and has existed during the time the French were possessed of the country. It derives its name from a family of Reynards who formerly lived there, distinguished by the appellation of Dogs. The present village was settled under the English government, and the ground was purchased from the Reynard [Fox] Indians.
"The village of the Prairie des Chiens is situated about one league above the mouth of the Ouisconsin [Wisconsin] river. On the east bank of the river there is a small pond or marsh which runs parallel to the river in the rear of the town, which, in front of the marsh, consists of eighteen dwelling houses, in two streets; sixteen in Front street, and two in First street. In the rear of the pond are eight dwelling houses; part of the houses are framed, and in place of weather-boarding, there are small logs let into mortises made in the uprights joined close, daubed on the outside with clay, and handsomely whitewashed within. The inside furniture of their houses is decent, and indeed, in those of the most wealthy displays a degree of elegance and taste.
"There are eight houses scattered round the country, at the distance of one, two, three and five miles; also, on the west side of the Mississippi, three houses, situated on a small stream called the Giards river, making, in the village and vicinity, thirty-seven houses, which it will not be too much to calculate at ten persons each, the population would be 370 souls; but this calculation will not answer for the spring or autumn, as there are then, at least 500 or 600 white persons. This is owing to the concourse of traders and their engagees from Michillimackinac and other parts, who make this their last stage, previous to their lauching into the savage wilderness. They again meet here in the spring, on their return from their wintering grounds accompanied by 300 or 400 Indians, when they hold a fair; the one disposes of remnants of goods, and the others reserved peltries. It is astonishing there are not more murders and affrays at this place, as there meets such an heterogeneous mass to trade; the use of spirituous liquors being in no manner restricted; but since the American government has become known, such accidents are much less frequent than formerly. The prairie on which the village is situated is bounded in the rear by high bald hills. It is from one mile to three quarters of a mile from the river, and extends about eight miles from the Mississippi, to where it strikes the Ouisconsin [Wisconsin] at the Petit Gris; which bears from the village southeast by east.
"If the marsh before spoken of was drained (which might be easily done), I am of the opinion it would render the situation of the prairie healthy, which now subjects its inhabitants to intermitting fevers in the spring and autumn.
"There are a few gentleman residing at the Prairie des Chiens, and many others claiming that appellation; but the rivalship of the Indian trade, occasions them to be guilty of acts at their wintering grounds, which they would blush to be thought guilty of in the civilized world. They possess the spirit of generosity and hospitality in an eminent degree; but this is the leading feature in the character of frontier inhabitants."
Charles Brisbois, son of Michael Brisbois, was born in 1798. After the peace of 1815, he engaged in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company, and returned home in 1843, after twenty-eight years' absence. He was a lieutenant in Capt. Wiram Knowlton's company, raised in the Mexican War to occupy Fort Crawford, at Prairie du Chien, while the regulars had gone to the front for service during that war; and was engaged in the removal of Indians to the west, and died of fever in the old garrison at Prairie du Chien, in 1848.
Michael Brisbois, Sr., was arrested after the war, charged with treasonable practices during the British occupation, in 1814-15, and sent to St. Louis for trial. Col. Thomas H. Benton defended him, and he was acquitted. He really took no active part in behalf of the British, simply furnishing supplies, as he had to the Americans, as a mode of livelihood. He died at Prairie du Chien, in June, 1837, at the age of seventy-seven years, greatly respected. He was six feet in height and quite stout in form. His widow survived him several years.
His oldest son, Michael Brisbois, Jr., was born, doubtless, at Prairie du Chien, about 1790. He was a lieutenant in the British Indian service, and served under Col. McKay in the affairs at Prairie du Chien, in 1814, accompanying the American prisoners as far as Rock Island, whence they proceeded by themselves to St. Louis; and he also served under Lieut. Graham in repelling the Americans at Rock River Rapids. He was unusually fine in his appearance as a man, as his Winnebago mother was as a woman; and acquired a very extensive knowledge of Indian languages, which induced Gov. William Clark, of St. Louis, superintendent of western Indian affairs, to obtain his services as Indian interpreter. About 1820 he was out deer hunting near St. Louis, and was shot by some unknown person, thus ending his days in the prime of life. He had married a daughter of Pierre Antaya, one of the early Prairie du Chien pioneers, and had a daughter. He was a man of remarkable agility; could easily jump over an ordinary tent, six feet in height. He spoke with ease and fluency all the Algonquin languages, and was very active with the Indians during the British possession of Prairie du Chien in 1814.
Pierre La Pointe's wife was a sister of the great Sioux chief, Wau-pa-sha; they raised a family. Their daughter, Mrs. Antoine La Chapelle, whom La Pointe taught to read and write, was the mother of Theophilus La Chapelle, who, in 1841-2, represented Crawford county in the Legislative Assembly, and in 1842-4, in the Legislative Council, and now, quite aged, is in the Insane Asylum at Mendota. B. W. Brisbois' wife was a daughter of Mrs. Antoine La Chapelle. La Pointe was a very sensible, good man, and greatly serviceable to the pioneer settlement, as well as to the Indians.
Joseph Crele, who died in Caledonia, Wis., Jan. 27, 1866, was about ninety-four years old when he passed away, and not of that fabulous age as reported --- so several old people at Prairie du Chien, who had long known him, agree. Mr. Brisbois has no knowledge of Crele's father having resided at Prairie du Chien. Crele was accustomed to fibbing and exagerating his age. Once M. Brisbois, Sr., accused him of it, when he confessed his frailty in that direction, with tears. He appears to have settled at Prairie du Chien in 1791, when he must have been quite a young man.
James Aird, a Scotchman and Indian trader, was another early Prairie du Chien pioneer. He emigrated from Mackinaw. He had many trading operations with Joseph Rolette. He died not very long prior to 1820 --- supposed from a beard of the wild rice getting in his throat. His death occurred in a building located where the Sherman House now is. He had no family. He was over six feet in height, and was greatly respected. Mr. Brisbois has no knowledge of Aird's brother, George, mentioned in Capt. Anderson's narrative as among the traders, about 1810. He probably died not very long thereafter. The names of neither of the brothers appear among the volunteers against Prairie du Chien, in 1814.
Of the capture of Prairie du Chien by the British, in 1814, Mr. Brisbois, though only eight years old at the time, has a very vivid recollection of that notable event, and its attendant circumstances. He can, however, give no particulars of the Indian leaders. It must have been at Kickapoo river, now Wauzeka, which was the locality of a former Fox village, twenty-one miles from Prairie du Chien, that Augustin Grignon and Michael Brisbois, Jr., with a Sioux and Winnebago Indian, left the main British force under Col. McKay, and went to Prairie du Chien to procure some person to take back to the colonel, from whom he could gain intelligence. Arriving in the night, they took Antoine Brisbois, residing three miles above the town, and brought him to the Ferry Place, on the Wisconsin, then called Petit Gris, some five or six miles from Prairie du Chien, where they left their canoe, and there awaited the arrival of Col. McKay. While yet in Prairie du Chien, young M. Brisbois, Jr., ventured to his father's residence, Michael Brisbois, Sr., and mounted a fence near by, to get as good a view as he could of one of the American gun-boats. Those on the boat, noticing his too inquisitive observations, fired a rifle shot at him, the ball passing between his legs and lodging in his father's house. This was not far from the American Fort, and near the present Dousman residence.
Mr. Brisbois thinks Joseph Rolette was quite active during these operations. He was stationed on "the Point," some two-thirds of a mile above the fort, and was fired on by the Americans under Lieut. Perkins, from the fort on the mound. Thinks Capt. Yeizer, who commanded the gun-boats, was cowardly; he cut the cables and left; otherwise the British could have been repulsed; and being thus left without the aid of the gun-boats, Lieut. Perkins was compelled to surrender his fort to the British forces. Most of the citizens, Mr. Brisbois thinks, joined the British. Of the American cannon balls found in recent years, Horace Beach, of Prairie du Chien, has one, and the late Mrs. Dousman had two --- fired from a three-pounder, and lodged in a ridge nearly a mile from the fort, up the river, near where Rolette's party were stationed. Yeizer had several cannon on the gun-boats, and was said to have had 250 men; while the British had only one small cannon. Although there was much firing on both sides prior to the surrender, yet the actual damage was slight, the British and Indians suffering no loss. Capt. Rolette was sent with dispatches to Mackinaw; and when his boat hove in sight of that island garrison, large numbers thronged the shore, anxious to obtain the earliest tidings from Prairie du Chien. "Capt. Rolette, what's the news?" "A great battle --- a sanguinary contest," responded the heroic Rolette, with an air of great solemnity and importance. "How many were killed?" "None." "How many wounded?" "None." "What a bloody contest!" vociferously shouted the crowd, as they escorted the hero from the boat to the garrison.
While the British held Prairie du Chien, Antoine Dubois and one Champignier were sent several miles into the woods, to procure a supply of meat for the garrison, as related by Capt. Anderson. They were both shot by a treacherous Sioux, at one discharge, killing Champignier outright and mortally wounding Dubois. The latter made a trail of gun-powder, some five feet from the dead body of his companion, completely encompassing it, well knowing it would prove a protection against wolves; and then made his way, as best he could, to Prairie du Chien. This murderous attack on the two unsuspecting Frenchmen occurred in Giard's Coulee, some five or six miles west of the Mississippi. When a party repaired to the spot from Prairie du Chien, some thirty persons in all, including several youths not over fourteen years of age, they found Champigniers's body untouched by the wolves, thought the tracks of these animals were plenty outside of the powder lines, but none within.
Two Sioux chiefs were apprehended, and confined in the fort as hostages until the culprit should be found; he was soon brought in, when the chiefs were released. The condemned Sioux was shot by six men, selected for the purpose, all firing a platoon together, just a little south of Dousman's mound, at the streets where Mr. Dousman commenced a pond. Mr. Brisbois witnessed this execution, as did indeed the whole garrison, the inhabitants of the village, and such Indians as were present. The doomed Sioux had no sympathizers. The wounded man, Dubois, lived some three days. Rolette's first wife was a sister to this unfortunate man; and, it may be added, Dubois's wife was a sister of the famous Sioux chief, Wau-pa-sha. LaPointe, as already stated, had also married a sister of this noted warrior.
When it was known that peace had been made between the United States and Great Britain, the British evacuated Prairie du Chien. In the succeeding night there was a meteoric shower, and the same night the fort burned down causing its total destruction. It was quite generally supposed that it was set on fire by some of the British party, though some pretended it was caused by some stray meteor from the heavens.
Francis Michael Dease, an old trader, is remembered by Mr. Brisbois. He was rather above the common size, with dark hair, and was fond of children. Capt. Dease shared in the capture of Prairie du Chien in 1814. He appears at this period to have filled the double position of sub-Indian agent under Col. Dickson, and captain of the militia of Prairie du Chien. His life was mostly devoted to the Indian trade, and he was engaged in both the North West Fur Company, and the Hudson's Bay Company service. He was never married, and died on Red River, now Manitoba, Aug. 15, 1865, at the age of seventy-nine years.
Of Col. Robert Dickson, the British leader of the Sioux, Winnebagoes and Menomonees, Mr. Brisbois has a good remembrance. He had a red head and a red face. When at Prairie du Chien, he always stopped with Mr. Brisbois, Sr., he would bring newspapers with him, and was a great reader.
Though he knew Capt. Duncan Graham, Mr. Brisbois can give no particulars of his career. He was a small sized man, quite unassuming, upright in his intercourse with his fellow-men and highly respected.
He was the father-in-law of Alexander Faribault, lately deceased, who was the founder of the flourishing town that bears his name. Capt. Graham was an officer in the British Indian department, and was present in command of a part of Dakota or Sioux warriors, composing a portion of the force that was defeated by Col. Croghan, at Lower Sandusky, in 1813. He became a citizen of the United States subsequent to the war, and traded with the Sioux Indians for many years; he died in 1844, or 1845, at Wabasha, where he had been living with his son-in-law, Joseph Buisson. He must have been seventy-five years old or more at the time of his demise; and for several years previously had passed his leisure days in going from one part of this wild region to another, being a man of remarkable physical vigor, although of slight build.
The crop of 1819 having failed in Lord Selkirk's colony on Red river; Duncan Graham, with one Laidlaw, was employed in the spring of 1820 to conduct three boats from Prairie du Chien, laden with 200 bushels of wheat, 100 bushels of oats and thirty bushels of peas, to Pembina. This timely supply cost Lord Selkirk about $6000.
Capt. Graham was a native of the Highlands of Scotland, descending from a good family. He appears to have shared with Robert Dickson and the Indians in the campaign of 1813 on the Maumee, and at Fort Stevenson, and the next year at Prairie du Chien, and the Rock River Rapids. He married a half-breed Dakota woman --- a descendant of Penechon, a noted Sioux chief, said to have been the son of a white trader of that name, who lived on the eastern shore of Lake Pepin --- and as the Indians used to relate, the first white man ever seen by their ancestors. Capt. Graham had one son. Alexander, and four daughters, the latter marrying respectively: Alexander Faribault, James Wells, Joseph Buisson and Oliver Cratt. For his war services, Capt. Graham was granted lands in Canada, which from litigation never realized him anything. He is said to have been the first white man who penetrated so far in the northwest as the Devil's Lake, in Dakota, an island in which was named after him.
At a very early period, one Grant was said to have penetrated the country on what is now Grant river, discovered lead there, mined some of it and buried the mineral. He went away, and never returned for it. As late as 1827, Joseph Brisbois, B. W. Brisbois and Julian Larriviere went in quest of the hidden mineral searching all along to the head of the river, but found none. B. W. Brisbois used to hear his father speak of Grant. Mr. Brisbois has n further traditions of him. Grant river took its name from him, and his early lead discovery there, and Grant county took its name from the river.
Wau-pa-sha, the distinguished Sioux chief, derived his name in part from wau-pa, leaf, called The Leaf, or Red Leaf. The French called him La Feuille, The Leaf --- sometimes The Falling Leaf. His village was at the present locality of Winona. He was a full blooded Sioux, rather small in size, with a Roman nose, and Caucasian countenance. Once when cutting a willow, his knife caught, and accidentally destroyed one of his eyes, and he ever after wore a black handkerchief over that half of his face. He died of small-pox, at Prairie du Chien, in the fall of 1835.
One of the Car-imau-nee family of Winnebagoes was known as Tete de Chien, or Dog's Head. He lived in 1827, at English Prairie, now Muscoda. He was a prominent man, of considerable good sense and very honest. The Indians cultivated some fields there, and lived there as one of their changeable localities. Lawence Rolette, a brother of Joseph Rolette, had a trading establishment at that locality.
Pierre Pauquette related to Mr. Brisbois this incident: Once Gov. Doty was traveling with an Indian, and pointing to Fox river, asked its native name. Supposing the governor meant the element, and not its particular geographical name, the Indian responded "Nee-nah," water. Doty not doubting that he had now learned its aboriginal name, endeavored to have it restored, but did not succeed to any great extent. Pauquette cited this as a case in point, showing how geographical blunders sometimes occur.
Baribault, was the name of an old Canadian French trader, who had his trading post on what is now known as Baraboo river, and which stream took its name from him. As Mr. Brisbois, Sr., knew him well, and often spoke of him, he must have traded there the latter part of the last century, or early in this. Mr. Brisbois does not know what became of him, or anything further of his history.
Judge James Duane Doty became a resident of Prairie du Chien in the fall of 1823, but removed to Green Bay the following year. Hercules L. Dousman came in 1826, in the employ of the American Fur Company. Joseph M. Street came to the place as United States Indian agent, in 1828, and remained until some years after the Black Hawk War, when he was transferred elsewhere. In 1830, Thomas P. Burnett came to Prairie du Chien as sub-Indian agent, and removed into Grant county, seven years after. I. P. Perrit Gentil became a resident in 1832. J. T. Mills came to the prairie in 1834, as a tutor in the families of Col. Zachary Taylor and Joseph M. Street. Some men who were stationed here in the military service of the United States, made selections of eligible locations within a short distance of the prairie, to which they returned after their term of service had expired; among whom may be mentioned Edward Hughes, John McClure, J. P. Hall and Daniel Frost.
In 1835, after the removal of Gen. Joseph M. Street, Indian agent, to Rock Island, and the Rev. David Lowry to his Indian school, there were but four American families (strictly such) remaining in Crawford county outside of Fort Crawford; and these four --- all on the prairie --- were those of J. H. Lockwood, Samuel Gilbert, Ezekiel Tainter and John Miller. There was one Irish family and three or four discharged soldiers, who had concluded to make the Prairie their home. All the remainder in the county were of French and mixed blood. There were, in all, about 500 souls, not including those in Fort Crawford.
In 1836, John H. Folsom came to the Prairie, and remained here until December, 1839, when he removed to what is now the town of Eastman. He remained there until May, 1840, when he returned to Prairie du Chien, where he has ever since resided. Rev. Alfred Brunson reached Prairie du Chien, July 16, 1836. There also, this year, came E. W. Pelton, William and James Fisher, Milo Richards and John Thomas.
In the fall of 1836, the total population outside of Fort Crawford, was 537 in the county, including one slave. The names of the heads of families, and the number in each family, were as follows: 1836 Census
Town of Prairie du Chien: Edward Hughes, John McClure, Felicite Duseaum, Flavian Cherrier, Louis Stram and wife.
City of Prairie du Chien: Mrs. Peter Grimmard, John H. Folsom, Charles Menard, O. B. Thomas, Oliver Cherrier, Mrs. Julian Lariviere, B. W. Brisbois, Mrs. Laramie, Joseph Duneau and Louisa Dechamp.
Town of Eastman: Nicholas Chenevert, Comb Cherrier, Mrs. Comb Cherrier, James Fisher and William Fisher.
Town of Bridgeport: Theresa Barrette.
Of these, four were born in Crawford county: Theresa Barrette in 1805; Louisa Dechamp and Mrs. Julian Larivere in 1807; and B. W. Brisbois in 1808.
In 1837 the following persons became settlers in the county: Alexander McGregor, Seth Hill, S. A. Clark, George W. Pine, Messrs. Smith and Merrick, Thomas Bugbee, Dr. B. C. Miller, Levi R. Marsh, D. Hopkins, H. W. Savage and Thomas A. Savage. Following these during the next two years were: William Wright, W. H. C. Folsom, Elisha Warner, William Kurts, Jackson Foster, Mr. Revel, Christopher Bowen, Joseph Curley, Mr. Tyler, Richard Lane, James Foster and others.
The character of the pioneers of Crawford county was a compound of civilization and primitive simplicity, exhibiting the polite and lively characteristics of the French, and the thoughtlessness and improvidence of the aborigines. Possessing the virtues of hospitality, and the warmth of heart unknown to residents of cities, untrameled by the etiquette and conventional rules of modern "high life," they were ever ready to receive and entertain their friends, and more intent upon the enjoyment of the present than to lay up store, or make provision, for the future. With few wants, and contented and happy hearts, they found enjoyment in the merry dance, the sleigh-ride, and the exciting horse-race, and, doubtless, experienced more true happiness and contentment than the plodding, calculating, and money seeking people of the present day. This was the character of the settlers who occupied this country before the arrival of the Yankees; a class now entirely extinct, or lost sight of by the present population; but it is one which unites the present with the past, and for whom the old settlers entertain feelings of veneration and respect.
H. S. Baird says: --- "During the early years of my residence here at Green Bay, the social circle, although limited, was by no means insignificant. It was composed of the families of the garrison and the Americans, and several of the old settlers. If it was small, it was also united by the ties of friendship and good feeling. Free from the formalities and customs which are observed by the elite of the present day, we met to enjoy ourselves, more like members of one family than as strangers. The young people of that period (and all felt young then) would assemble on a few hours' notice at the house of a neighbor, without form or ceremony. Young ladies were then expected to appear at an early hour in the evening, and not at the usual hour of retiring to rest; nor were they required to appear in court or fancy dresses. The merry dance followed, and all enjoyed themselves until the early hours in the morning. One custom prevailed universally among all classes, even extending to the Indians; that of devoting the holidays to festivity and amusement, but especially that of 'calling' on New Year's Day. This custom was confined to no class in particular. All observed it; and many met on that day, who did not again meet until the succeeding year. All then shook hands, and exchanged mutual good wishes. All old animosities were forgotten, all differences settled, and universal peace established.
"During the winter season, Green Bay was entirely insulated. Cut off from communication with all other parts of the civilized world, her inhabitants were left to their own resources for nearly half a year. The mails were few and far between. Sometimes but once a month, never more than twice, did we receive them; so that the news when received here was no longer news. The mails were carried on a man's shoulders from Chicago to Green Bay, through the wilderness, a distance of about 250 miles, and could not contain a very great quantity of interesting reading matter. Under such circumstances, it became necessary that we should devise some means to enliven our time, and we did so accordingly; and I look back upon those years as among the most agreeable of my life. The country at that early day was destitute of roads or places of public entertainment. Nothing but the path, or 'Indian trail' traversed the wide expanse of forest and prairie from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi; and the travel by land was performed on foot or on horseback.
"But there was then another mode of locomotion, very generally adopted by those who took long journeys, now become obsolete, and which would be laughed at by the present fast-going generation; that of the Indian or bark canoe. The canoe was used in all cases where comfort and expedition were desired. These may appear strange words, when you reflect that the traveler sat cooped up all day in a space about four feet square, and at night encamped on the bank of the stream, cooked his own supper, and slept upon the ground, with no covering but a tent and blanket, or, oftentimes, nothing but the wide canopy of heaven, having, after a day of toil and labor by his crew, accomplished a journey of thirty or forty miles. But these journeys were not destitute of interest. The voyageur was enlivened by the merry song of his light-hearted and ever happy Canadian crew, his eye delighted by the constant varying scenery of the country through which he passed, at liberty to select a spot for his encampment, and to stop when fatigued with the day's travel, and, above all, free from care, and from the fearful apprehensions of all modern travelers on railroads and steamboats; that of being blown up, burned or drowned.
"I can better illustrate this early mode of travel by giving an account of a party of pleasure undertaken and accomplished by myself. In May, 1830, being obliged to go on the annual circuit to Prairie du Chien, to attend court, I concluded to make it a matter of pleasure, as well as business. I accordingly obtained a good-sized and substantial northwest bark canoe (about five fathoms, or thirty feet, in length, and five feet wide in the center), a good tent, or 'marquee,' together with mattresses, blankets, bedding, mess basket, and all things required as an outfit on such expeditions. The party consisted of my wife, self, two small children, two young ladies as companions, and a servant girl; my crew, of four Canadians (experienced men, and good singers) and two Menomonee Indians as bow and steersmen. The canoe was propelled both by oars and paddles. We ascended the Fox river to Fort Winnebago, and descended the Wisconsin to the Mississippi, and thence up the latter, four miles, to Prairie du Chien.
"The voyage occupied eight or nine days in going, and about the same length of time in returning, during which the ladies camped out every night save two. They did all the cooking and household work. The former was no small item; for with appetites sharpened by pure air and exercise, and with abundance of fresh venison, with fowl and fish to satisfy them, the quantity of viands consumed by the party would have astonished modern epicures, and, perhaps, shocked the delicate tastes of city belles. We frequently encamped early in the afternoon, at some spot which attracted our attention from its natural beauty or romantic appearance, and strolled along the bank of the stream, plucking beautiful wild flowers, which abounded; or, clambering up some high bluff or commanding headland, obtained a view of the surrounding country, and traced the meandering stream through its high banks, far in the distance. It was in the merry month of May, when the forest was clothed in its deepest verdure, the hills and prairies redolent with flowers, and the woods tenanted by melodious songsters. It was truly a trip of pleasure and enjoyment. Many trips for pleasure have been undertaken, where parties may have experienced the refinements and accomodations, and enjoyed the luxuries to be found in the present day in old and long settled countries; but I believe few, if any, realize more true delight and satisfaction than did this party of pleasure in a bark canoe."
As time passed along, many changes took place. Other men and their families came in, and became a part and parcel of the community, introducing new ideas, and bringing with them the customs and habits of the places from which they removed. The title acquired by the government, by treaties with the Indians, and these lands being surveyed and brought into market, and offered at a mere nominal price, increased the number of settlers from the eastern and other States. By energy and perseverance, they surmounted all obstacles, and by their courage and firmness; and to them is owing the development of the country, the opening the way for the introduction of civilization, education, and the arts and sciences; and to them should be awarded the merit of having largely contributed, by their talents and labor, to the formation and organization of the territory, now State of Wisconsin. Not many years ago, the whole State of Wisconsin, except Green Bay and Prairie du Chien, was a wilderness, with here and there a settler, and those in the lead-region in the southwestern part. It seems almost incredible to think, or in any way realize what has since taken place, as it seems almost like enchantment.
But the delights of pioneer life carried with them many difficulties and hardships. C. M. Baker, in his address at the old settlers' meeting of Walworth county, in 1869, says:
"I have spoken of the men who first settled old Walworth; but what, old comrades in this life-battle in the wilderness that was, what of our companions, the women?
"Most of them had been delicately reared, and were accustomed to the luxuries and refinements of cultivated society; and most, or all, had good homes, with the necessaries and conveniences of life in abundance, and were surrounded by kind friends and dear relatives. To these they had been bred; to all these they were strongly attached. But these ties were sundered, these homes were left behind, when, after the last trunk was packed, and the last farewell was sadly uttered, they set their faces westward for a new life and a new home, they knew not whither; but they knew it must be among strangers. They shared with us the toils of the journey, the weary miles of sunshine and storm, as we journeyed on and onward. The partook with us of the coarse fare and rude accommodations of the wagon and wayside, the canal-boat and the steamer, the log-tavern, and the bivouac under the open heavens, all this they encountered without murmuring, and cheerfully.
"And when, late in autumn or early spring, it may be, in the cold storm, or driving mists and chilly winds that cut to the bone, they took their departure from Chicago or Milwaukee, the last outposts of civilization over those low, lonely prairies which surrounded the one, or through the gloomy forests which enveloped the other, over dismal roads beset with ruts or stumps, without sign of cultivation or human habitation, then it was that the hour of bitter trial came to their hearts; then it was, that, amid their loneliness and utter heart-desolation, the dear homes and kindred they had left, rose up before them, and, through their tears, they looked down upon the little ones who clung to them. But not a murmur, not a word of regret or repining, escaped them. The feelings, too deep for utterance, which swelled within them, were smothered in their bosoms. When we, at last (some later, some earlier), had found a place where to make a home in these pleasant groves and prairies, pleasant to us men; for here there were herds of bounding deer, and flocks of wild fowl, the wolf and the sand-hill crane, and game, large and small, to give us sport. The lakes and streams abounded in fish, and we could take them at our will. The country was all open, and free to roam over as one great park. There was excitement for us in all this, suited to our rougher natures and coarser tastes. We could roam and fish or hunt as we pleased, amid the freshness and beauties of nature.
"But how was it for our wives? From all these bright, and, to us, fascinating scenes and pastimes, they were excluded. The were shut up with the children in log-cabins, when they were fortunate enough to get them, rude huts, without floors often, and, not unfrequently, without doors or windows, while the cold, bleak winds of March and December whistled through them. Frequently they were covered with shakes fastened on with poles, between which the stars at night looked down upon the faithful mother and her sleeping infants. Here, in one small room, filled, perhaps, with smoke; without furniture, except a little of the rudest kind, rough slab stools, an equally rough table, and a bedstead, if any, made of poles fastened into the house; without kitchen-utensils, save, perchance, a kettle, a skillet, and a frying-pan; destitute of crockery, and with a little tinware, they were called upon to do, unaided, the duties of a housewife. With these conveniences and these surroundings, they took upon them for weeks and months, and even for years, the burden of their households in a continued struggle with hinderances and perplexities. These were the heroic women to whom our hearts did homage; and I should fail in my duty at this time, if, in the roll-call of worthy and honorable names, they should not be remembered."
The experience of the settler in Walworth county, however, was no worse, and in some respects better than those who lived farther in the interior of the State. Many of these pioneers have passed away; some are still living, and are enjoying, in the evening of their days, wealth, and the comforts obtained by honorable toil and industry. Their conduct and action as public servants will bear the scrutiny of posterity, and they will lose nothing in comparison with legislators or rulers of the few past years. May those who succeed them in either capacity follow their example, and prove as true to the interests of the State, as did the old settlers in their time! and may the present and future Legislatures, by their acts, retrieve the character and credit of the country from the odium brought upon it by reckless and inconsiderate Legislation!
In 1820, an expedition of three Mackinaw boats, with six men each, was fitted out for the Selkirk settlement on the Red river of the north. The boats were loaded with wheat, oats and peas, and started April 15th from the "prairie." The following year, Lord Selkirk purchased cattle at the "prairie" and had them sent to the colony under the guidance of J. B. Loyer, a noted pilot of the place. In 1823, the Virginia steamboat, the first one to reach Crawford county, landed at Prairie du Chien. In 1826, occurred the highest flood in the Mississippi that had then been seen since the year 1785. The river rose twenty-six feet inundating the site of the old village. The cholera in 1832 reached the county and about 100 soldiers died in two weeks in the garrison at Prairie du Chien. In 1833, smallpox broke out, but did not extend greatly among the white inhabitants, although it made serious ravages among the Indians. In 1836, in Crawford county (confined of course to the "prairie") speculation ran wild --- as in many other places in the west."
"There were but few Americans in this settlement," says Alfred Brunson, "previous to the occupancy of the fort by the United States army in 1816. In 1805, Lieut. Pike found a few Americans here; but the most of the traders and settlers were Canadian French. When I moved my family to this place in 1836, there were but three or four American families in the place, out of the garrison and the Indian department. At that time the Indian title had not been extinguished to any portion of the country north of the Wisconsin, except to this prairie, as above stated by common consent.
"In 1830, or thereabout, Judge J. H. Lockwood, under a license from the war department and by consent of the Sioux, to whom he paid an annual ground rent, built a saw-mill on the Red Cedar branch of the Chippewa, at which establishment some gardening, but no farming was done. In 1838, after the treaties with the Indians of 1837 had been ratified, one company ascended the St. Croix to the Falls; another to the Falls of Chippewa; and in 1839, another company went to the Falls of Black river --- all of them to build and run saw-mills. But each became the nucleus of more extended settlements, which have been extending themselves wider and wider, until they settled a part of Minnesota, which has been taken from us; and the counties of Lapointe, St. Croix, Chippewa, La Crosse and Bad Ax, which have been organized from the western portion; and the counties of Richland, Sauk and Adams, from the eastern portion of what was originally Crawford county, leaving the present county to contain 558 square miles; and, in 1850, 2399 inhabitants."
We hold in remembrance the pioneers of the country and cherish their memories for the indomitable courage they manifested, and for the trials they endured. Generally speaking, it would be invidious to single out a few of these worthies as entitled to particular mention, where all filled their spheres with so much credit. However, circumstances have conspired to make historical characters of a few in so marked a manner that a more than passing notice of them is demanded of the historian.
Hercules L. Dousman departed this life at Prairie du Chien in the State of Wisconsin on the 12th day of September, 1868. The announcement of the event, the intelligence which was soon spread far and wide, that death had suddenly stricken a man so long and favorably known, throughout the west, was productive of more sad emotions in the entire State in which he was an honored citizen, than are usually manifested in a single community, when it is made known that one of its most prominent members has been unexpectedly called away. Indeed so identified with the territorial and State history of Wisconsin and Minnesota had my lamented friend become, that his name was a familiar word in almost every household, as that of a kind-hearted, high-minded man, and public spirited citizen.
Col. Dousman was born in the Island of Michillimackinac, or Mackinac as it is now called, in the year 1800. He was the son of Michael and Catharine Dousman, long and highly esteemed residents of the island, the soil of which now covers their remains. He was sent to Elizabethtown, N. J., for a high school education, where he remained until he had attained the age of eighteen years, when he removed to New York and engaged himself as a clerk to a Mr. Robinson, a dry goods merchant in the city.
His services in that capacity continued for two years and he then returned to the home of his parents in Mackinac. He was soon thereafter employed as a clerk by the American Fur Company, under the management of John Jacob Astor, Mackinac being the principal western depot of that association.
In 1826 he was dispatched to Prairie du Chien, as the confidential agent of the company, to take charge of the business at that important entrepot of the fur trade. Here the great natural abilities of Col. Dousman, combined with the thorough commercial education he had received, displayed themselves in the broad and almost limitless sphere to which he had been assigned. The late Joseph Rolette Sr., was his ostensible superior, inasmuch as he held the position of partner with the American Fur Company, but in reality the commanding talents of Col. Dousman soon placed him in actual control of the business of the company in this region. In fact the entire country north and west of Prairie du Chien, to the British boundary (except the Mississippi valley above the falls of St. Anthony, and the upper St. Croix and its branches), with its numerous trading stations, and fur traders and other employes, was tributary to that post until the year 1834, when a new and different organization was effected.
It required a man of sound and cultivated judgment, and of great executive ability to systematize operations in so extensive a district, embracing many thousands of Indian hunters belonging to distinct and separate tribes, wild and savage in disposition, and even more addicted to inter-tribal war than to the chase. Among these discordant and belligerent bands, were stationed at intervals more or less regular the fur traders and voyageurs of the great company, entrusted with merchandise amounting in the aggregate to many hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. None but those familiar with the ramifications and intricacies of the trade with wild Indians in early days, can rightly estimate the business tact and energy requisite to bring order out of confusion, and to reduce to a proper working system the operations of traffic in so wide a field. No higher tribute can be paid to the surpassing abilities of Col. Dousman as a business man, than the bare mention of the fact that he was successful in his efforts to effect an organization almost perfect in all its parts.
My personal acquaintance with the subject of this memoir dates back to the year 1829. I was then a mere boy employed as a clerk by the American Fur Company at their central agency at Mackinac. Col. Dousman and others in charge of important districts were required to report in person during the summer of each year at that point, whither they went in charge of the Mackinac boats that contained the furs and skins collected during the previous year. I became quite intimate with him, although he was by many years my senior, and at each of his annual visits he depicted the beauties of the wild western land in such glowing colors, and the abundance and variety of game animals and birds it contained; that my youthful imagination was captivated, and my love of adventure aroused, so that in 1834, at his earnest solicitation, I formed with him and the late Joseph Rolette Sr., a co-partnership with the American Fur Company of New York, which passed in that year under the direction of Ramsey, as president.
By the terms of the agreement, Messrs. Rolette & Dousman were to continue in charge of the station at Prairie du Chien and conduct the trade with whites and Indians in the region more immediately contiguous, and tributary to that post, while I was to be placed in control of all that country above Lake Pepin to the head waters of the streams emptying into the Missouri, and north of the British line, with my headquarters at St. Peters, now Mendota. Col. Dousman was therefore under providence chiefly instrumental in linking my destinies with the soil, which has since become the territory and State of Minnesota. I am thankful for the recollection that from our first acquaintance to the day of his death, our warm friendship was mutual and undiminished, and that the harmony existing between us was never in a single instance marred by any serious controversy.
A biography of Col. Dousman commencing with his advent to the upper Mississippi, would not fall far short of Wisconsin and Minnesota. Although there was probably no office in the gift of the people of the State to which he could not have successfully aspired, he made it a rule of his life to accept no public position. Nevertheless, so widely and so favorably was he known, that his advice with reference to the management of Indian affairs in the northwest was eagerly sought by high dignitaries of the general government, and if that advice had been always followed, many grave errors might been avoided. During his connection with the American Fur Company, of New York, and subsequently as a partner with myself, with the extensive firm of Pierce, Chateau & Co., of St. Louis, to whom the interests of the former corporation in this region were transferred in 1843. Col. Dousman was brought into close relations with the Winnebagoes, Menomonees, some of the lower bands of Sioux, and a portion of the Chippewas, and his influence, especially over the first named bands, was almost without limit.
The Winnebagoes were regarded as among the most turbulent and dangerous of the wild, western savages, and nothing but the benign rule, under which they were brought by my deceased friend, prevented outbreaks of violence which would necessarily have resulted in great destruction of life and property among the white settlers. His tact, sagacity, and consummate knowledge of Indian character were displayed on many critical occasions, when a collision seemed inevitable, and the services he thus rendered in the cause of peace, were the subject of public recognition by government officers, both civil and military. Gen. Alex. MaComb, formerly in chief command of the United States army, held him in high estimation, as did Gen. Brooke, who, in after years commanded the department of the Upper Mississippi, with his headquarters at Prairie du Chien, and their policy in the management of the Indian tribes of the northwest was that recommended ordinarily by Col. Dousman. The attempts of the government to negotiate treaties with the Winnebagoes were often frustrated by the jealous suspicions of their chiefs and head men, and their great reluctance to sell their land, and it was almost impossible to succeed in that direction, without first securing the consent and influence of the individual who was the trusted friend and counsellor of these wild bands. They had unbounded faith in the honesty of Col. Dousman, and they looked to him for protection from the rapacity of unprincipled agents, and of the swarm of white cormorants who were ever on the alert to deprive the ignorant savages of the pittance to which they were entitled from the United States government.
Hon. Simon Cameron, then United States senator from Pennsylvania, was a member of a commission many years since to make payments under treaty stipulations to the Winnebagoes and their mixed bloods; and having received material assistance from the subject of this memoir, he took occasion to state subsequently on the floor of the Senate, that in all his long experience, a more truthful, energetic, fearless man he had never met, than Hercules Dousman, and that his talent, if possible, exceeded his virtues. Seldom indeed, if ever, has it fallen to the lot of a man in private station to wield an influence so extensive, and at the same time so beneficent. The primitive people among whom he so long resided, were accustomed to depend upon him for advice and assistance when trouble overtook them. He acted as peacemaker in their disputes, often-times preventing litigation by his wise counsels, and he was withal ever ready to minister to the wants of the poor and the distressed without distinction of race.
Although not a politician in the ordinary acceptation of the term, Col. Dousman was in sentiment a conservative democrat; but he was independent enough to condemn whatever he deemed wrong in the acts of his own party; and with equal candor he never withheld his tribute of praise from political opponents, when, in his judgment, the line of policy pursued by them was in accordance with the public welfare. So prominent was this trait in his character, and so convinced were the people at large of his unswerving integrity, that if he had assented to the solicitations of his friends to become a candidate for high public position, he would unquestionably have received the votes of very many who differed from him in politics.
When the War of the Great Rebellion burst upon the country, the personal influence and the purse of Col. Dousman were cast into the scale in support of the Lincoln administration; and few private citizens accomplished more than himself in arousing the people of his section to the emergency of the peril, and in equipping regiments for the field. He frequently expressed to me his earnest conviction that it was the duty of every man in the community to devote his means and his energies to maintain intact the integrity of the Federal Union.
Col. Dousman was a firm friend of his own territory and State. Intimately acquainted as he was with the topography of the county and its vast capacity for production, he advocated its claims to consideration and predicted the brilliant future of Minnesota with all the enthusiasm of an old settler. Next to his own State, to which he was ever loyal, his affections were bestowed upon the younger sister of Wisconsin, and his memory merits a warm place in the hearts of the people of Minnesota for the anxiety he manifested, and the efforts he made to advance their material interests. Northwestern Wisconsin has also good cause to cherish him in grateful remembrance. For many years an owner of steamers on the Upper Mississippi, he accomplished much in directing immigration and business to her ports; and but for his unremitting exertions and the liberal outlay from his own resources in aid of the enterprise, the railway from Milwaukee to Prairie du Chien, that great thoroughfare of travel and transportation, would long have remained unconstructed.
The strict business habits of the deceased, and the many opportunities afforded in a new and rapidly growing region for judicious investments, enabled him to amass an ample fortune.
While he was always liberal in his contributions to religious and charitable objects, and noted for his hospitality, Col. Dousman was by no means given to extravagance, nor did he encourage it in those within the sphere of his influence. Many men are yet living who are indebted for their prosperity to the pecuniary aid and wise direction they received from him in time of need.
In 1844, Col. Dousman was united in marriage to the widow of his former partner in business, Joseph Rolette, Sr., who died some years previously. The issue of the union was a son, now twenty-three years of age, who bears the name and is possessed of many of the characteristics of the father. The estimable widow resides with her son in a new and splendid residence erected upon the site of the old homestead at Prairie du Chien.
Mr. President, I am well aware that I have very imperfectly discharged the duty devolved upon me by the society, of preparing a suitable memoir of my cherished friend. I might have entered into much greater detail, but in so doing I would have been compelled to transcend the limits allotted ordinarily to an obituary of any man however distinguished. On the other hand I could not have said less without doing violence to my feelings. I cannot but recall to mind with the keenest regret that the friend of my early and riper years, my associate in business for nearly a quarter of a century, who directed my steps for the first time to what is now Minnesota, and to whom I was fervently attached, has been gathered to his father's. He left behind no enemies to exult in his sudden departure from the earth, but many dear relatives and warm friends to lament the loss of one whose place can never be filled in their affections. All that was mortal of the imposing form and presence of the departed now lies mouldering in the cemetery he himself had donated to the Catholic Church in Prairie du Chien, and the magnificent marble monument erected by loving hands to commemorate his virtues will have become dim and tarnished by time, long ere the remembrance of his noble example shall cease to exercise an influence on the community of which he was an honored member.
"Alas for them but not for thee, They cannot choose but weep the more, Deep for the dead their grief must be Who ne'er gave cause to mourn before."
Alfred Brunson was born in Danbury, Fairfield county, State of Connecticut, Feb. 9, 1793. His education was such as could be obtained in the common schools of those times. In 1800 his father moved to Sing Sing, N. Y., on the Hudson river, where he was drowned in 1806, when his mother moved back to Danbury with seven children, of whom Alfred was the eldest, then thirteen years of age. He was then placed under the care of his uncle to learn the shoe-making trade, w(h)ere he remained for five years. He had a taste for reading, and an ambition to pursue some higher calling than his trade. Reading and hearing of Roger Sherman, the celebrated statesman, who was of the same trade, he felt an ambition to follow his steps, and leave the world the better for having lived in it. To accomplish this object, like Arndt, he planned to study and practice law, and if a war occurred, which the signs of the times strongly indicated, to share in its dangers, and, if possible, in its glories. In the fall of 1808, having a disagreement with his uncle, he started for Ohio, where he had another uncle. He remained a while at Carlisle, Penn., and finding himself not perfect as a workman, received instructions until he became very thorough in his trade. He had been religiously inclined from the time of his father's death; and now, being in a Methodist family, he attended church with them, and was thoroughly awakened, and on Feb. 3, 1809, was converted to God. Soon after this, he felt called of God to preach, and joining that church, abandoned his former plans, and devoted his time in preparing for the ministry. In the fall of 1809 he returned to Connecticut. He stopped at Bridgeport, and informed his mother and uncle of his whereabouts, and paid the latter for the balance of his time, and continued to live here, where the way opened up for him to commence public religious services as he was licensed to exhort. In 1811 he married, and opened a shop for business; but the War of 1812 so interfered, that he re-moved to Ohio, to work on a farm. Realizing his insecurity on the frontier, he entered the army under Gen. Harrison, in 1813, for a year. He was at the taking of Malden and the re-taking of Detroit. At the expiration of his term of service, he returned home, and in 1815 was licensed to preach. In 1818 he formed a new circuit in Huron Co., Ohio, where in six months, he established twenty-four appointments, and gathered up 150 members. His next circuit was in the northwest part of Pennsylvania; was 400 miles round, having forty-four appointments to fill in four weeks. He had a colleague, and they had 300 conversions as the fruit of their labor. In 1820 he joined the Ohio Annual Conference. The Pittsburg (Penn.) Conference was organized in 1825; with which he was connected. He traveled extensively through this region of country, preaching with great success, and literally "contending for the faith that was once delivered unto the saints." In the meantime, he formed a knowledge of jurisprudence necessary to a wise administration of discipline, and for four years read law, not anticipating admission to the bar. In 1831 the Meadville College was offered for the patronage of the Conference to which he belonged. The offer was accepted; and he was appointed on that district, in order that his valuable services might be given for the benefit of the institution. In 1835 he learned of the sad conditions of the Indians on the Upper Mississippi, and determined to press his way toward these and other poor sufferers. He entered Wisconsin on the 25th of October of the same year. He was then presiding elder of a district extending from Rock Island to the head of the Mississippi, including the Indian Mission. He concluded, in looking for a place to locate his family, that, as Prairie du Chien seemed to be the outpost of civilization, it would not be wise to go beyond. He could not find a suitable house to rent; and material for building and labor costing such an enormous sum, he wrote home to his wife, who contracted for a boat, and material prepared and ready to be put together, to be moved with the family. He reached home the following February, to find that his faithful wife had made all necessary preparations. During this journey home, he encountered some serious difficulties in fording streams, and among wolves, but was providentially preserved from the violence of either. In June, 1836, he put the material for the house into the boat, with two families beside his own; descended French creek and the Alleghany river to Pittsburg. There he tied to a steamboat, and was towed to St. Louis. Then he tied to another steamer, and was towed to Prairie du Chien, 1950 miles by water from Meadville. He reached his destination July 16, 1836. Owing to the pressing wants of the district, the house was not erected until the next spring. He was the first Methodist preacher who ever set foot on the soil north of the Wisconsin river. In 1839 he was compelled to resign his ministerial labors because of ill health. Being now without income he accepted several offices of low grade, and, being desirous to attend to matters in court he was admitted to the bar on the ground of his former law reading, and practiced for ten years. In 1840 he was elected to the territorial Legislature. In 1842 he was appointed Indian agent at La Pointe in Lake Superior. In 1846 his wife, two daughters, and son-in-law died. In 1850 he was a candidate for the circuit judgeship, but was defeated. He returned to the ministry, and was appointed at Mineral Point. In 1853 he was made presiding elder of Prairie du Chien district, which included an extensive territory. Under his administration, it was made to flourish and bear precious fruit, and, at the close of his term of service, was divided into two districts. In 1862 he was made chaplain in the army; went as far as Kentucky, where he was taken ill, and was compelled to resign his position. In 1867, having partially recovered, he was made effective in the ministry, and was made presiding elder of a district, but was subsequently twice re-appointed to other districts. At the close of his four years' service he was compelled to retire on account of ill health.
During his ministry, he was sixteen years a presiding elder, and a delegate to the General Conference four times; he wrote much for both religious and secular journals; and assisted in building about thirty churches. He died in Prairie du Chien, Aug. 3, 1882.
Emma Brunson was born in Fairfield, near Bridgeport, Conn., Jan. 21, 1791. Her maiden name was Burr. She was distant relative of Aaron Burr. She was married to Alfred Brunson in August, 1811, and emigrated with her husband to Trumbull Co., Ohio, in 1818. Her husband becoming a Methodist minister in 1813, she was made subject to frequent removals, and shared with him the toils and the privations of his life. During her married life, she resided in Painsville, Youngstown and Hubbard, in Ohio; Detroit, in Michigan; Alleghany City and Meadeville, Penn., and Prairie du Chien, Wis. In 1836 she removed to the last named place. She died in that village in 1846, at the age of fifty-five. She was the mother of eight children, all of whom attained their majority. Mrs. Brunson was an intelligent, motherly woman, one who sympatized deeply with the afflicted. She often invited to her house young men who were sick, and away from their own home and nursed them with a mother's care. By her affectionate kindness and attention, she obtained the cognomen of "Mother Brunson." She was universally respected and beloved by all who were acquainted with her. One of her daughters, the wife of the late Thomas P. Burnett, died the same day that her husband died, and three weeks after her mother's death.