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2nd Book Excerpt: Michel Cadotte and the Fur Trade in the Chippewa Headwaters

The following is the second of several book excerpts the LCO News will feature from local author, John Dettloff. The excerpts will be from his  new book.

Detloff has lived on the Chippewa Flowage, near New Post, for over 50 years.  His family has had a small resort just east of New Post for 56 seasons and for 40 years he has been writing historical articles about the flowage, tribal history (especially Old Post), old guides, old resorts, and fishing.

His new book called Whispers of the Past, A History of the Chippewa Flowage, released on November 1st, gives a comprehensive history of the flowage going back to the fur trade era. 

According to Detloff, the book profiles in great detail the people of the "Chippewa Basin" (the area that became flooded by the flowage) and talks about the 300 plus people who were affected by and displaced by the flowage.  There were probably 250 plus tribal members and nearly 100 non-tribal members that were affected. 

Michel Cadotte’s Northwest Company Trading Post about 1800, Jean Baptiste Corbine, clerk.

From the Book:

     With the threat of the Dakota eliminated in the Chippewa Basin region by the dawn of the 19th century, the primary concern of the Ojibwe in their Lac Courte Oreilles and Pahquahwong villages became one of survival. Michel Cadotte continued serving as the benefactor of the Ojibwe people by efficiently running his complex trade network so as to keep his extended family supplied. In 1798, after having successfully opened up the fur trade in the Chippewa River region while operating as an independent trader, Michel joined forces with the North West Fur Company. Being an independent trader had required Cadotte to live a nomadic lifestyle along with his Ojibwe hunting and trapping parties by wintering wherever the game and beaver could be found.            

     However, his way of life would soon be changing because he and his Ojibwe wife had established a permanent trading post and home at La Pointe on Madeline Island at about the same time. Cadotte also built a trading post at the Lac Courte Oreilles village around 1797, putting a man named John Corbine in charge of it around 1800. In 1802, Cadotte signed a three-year contract with the North West Company, which gave him a virtual monopoly to trade at the Chequamegon Bay, St. Croix River, and Chippewa River districts…. which naturally included the villages of Lac Courte Oreilles and Pahquahwong.  

     Like any small, tight knit town or village, it is often the people that give that community its identity, personality, and character, and in the case of the village of Pahquahwong this seemed to be especially true. However, unbeknownst to Pahquahwong's residents at the time, by 1800, this community would end up having only a 123-year life expectancy, an end date you might say. For in the year of 1923, this community would come to be extinguished by a flood, literally being covered up by the “tides of progress” that were ushered in by the demands of modern times.

     Although the fur trade was still going strong in 1805, it was an industry that would be facing major challenges during the next twenty-five years. That year, a new group of Montreal fur traders formed the Michilimackinac Company, later merging with the North West Company in 1807. That consolidation took control of the southern shore of Lake Superior and the Chippewa district away from the North West Company, of whom Michel Cadotte had been contracted with. However, because they assumed his contract in the process, Cadotte was able to keep his territory in the Chippewa District.

     Another event which came to a head in 1808 that threatened both the fur trade system and balance of peace in the country, was the rise of Tecumseh and his younger brother Tenskwatawa, who came to be known as the Shawnee Prophet. Tecumseh and his brother attempted to instigate a nationwide revolt of united tribes to war against the whites. Their manipulation of using native issues and Tenskwatawa’s (false) claims about his mystical powers incited tribes from all over the country to join them at a huge encampment known as Prophetstown (southwest of where Detroit is today located) and prepare to go to war.

     When word reached the Ojibwe settlement on Madeline Island, it convinced one hundred and fifty canoe loads of Ojibwe braves to depart from Chequamegon Bay – heading east across Lake Superior – to join forces with Tecumseh at his encampment. The Ojibwe even had with them the body of a dead child from Lac Courte Oreilles, hoping that Tenskwatawa could somehow bring him back from the dead.

     Michel Cadotte, who happened to be paddling home with his company of traders from Sault Ste. Marie at the same time – heading west on the big lake – met his fellow Ojibwe compatriots on the water. After some discussion warning them about the disastrous consequences of starvation and deprivation the other tribes who had joined Tecumseh were subjected to, Cadotte had convinced the Ojibwe to abandon their support for Tecumseh and the false Indian prophet and return home. Had this chance meeting on the big lake not occurred, it would have likely spelled disaster for many Ojibwe men.

The Fur trade served as North America’s primary industry from the mid-1600s until around 1850, making many individuals wealthy in the process. John Jacob Astor became known as America’s first millionaire as a result of his fur trading enterprises.

     John Jacob Astor, who had made a fortune during the previous ten years by buying furs from the North West Company and selling them in the East, formed his own company (the American Fur Company) in 1808. Three years later, he partnered with the Michilimackinac Company and formed the South West Company, agreeing to operate only in the United States. Meanwhile, the prestigious Hudson Bay Company had been gradually putting the squeeze on their competitor, the North West Company, finally taking control of it in 1821. Following the War of 1812, the resulting anti-British sentiment helped facilitate Astor’s hidden agenda of lobbying Congress to make it illegal for non-US citizens to operate in the fur trade in the United States after 1816. This gave Astor a virtual monopoly on all fur trade in the country through the mid-1830s.

     In order to remain in the fur trade, Michel Cadotte, who was technically still an alien, became a citizen by paying the five-dollar fee and began working for Astor’s American Fur Company. Time was running out for fur industry however, because by the 1830s in northern Wisconsin, beaver populations in the prime rivers and streams had become depleted and trapping was no longer a lucrative enterprise in the region. Cadotte retired from the fur trade around 1823 and died in 1837 on Madeline Island.


Author's note: John Dettloff's step-daughter, Natalie Stone Jackson, is a direct descendant of John Baptist Cadotte Sr.

(To order a copy of John Dettloff's new book, send a check or money order for $29.95, plus $5 shipping and 5 1/2% sales tax, made out to Trails End Publishing and send it to: Trails End Publishing, 7431 N Flowage Rd., Couderay, Wi 54828.)


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