"[History is] a cyclic poem written by time upon the memories of man." -Percy Bysshe Shelley

Thursday, June 21, 2012

visit the past

Intrigued by the idea of what it might have been like to live at the time of Malhiot and others? Check out impressive Fort William in Thunder Bay, Ontario, where the original North West Company trading post has been recreated and is alive with reenactors and historically accurate surroundings!

Malhiot's arrival in Lac du Flambeau

Ever wonder what it might be like to travel to our area 200+ years ago? Read on for Francois Victor Malhiot's account of his journey to Lac du Flambeau in July 1804.

Quetico Superior route, passing a waterfall, Frances Anne Hopkins
Hopkins painted herself into some of her pieces -- see her in the middle wearing a blue hat
Keep in mind that just getting to La Pointe was a journey in itself, requiring Malhiot to traverse Lake Superior. He started out from Kaministiquia, now known as Fort William, in present-day Ontario. It took him 11 days to reach La Pointe on Madeline Island, and several more to reach the mouth of the Bad River, where he begins the following journal entry:
27th Friday. Our people from Lac du Flambeau, Tremble Martineau, and Le Beau, arrived here at six o’clock yesterday evening with their baggage, decided to go on to Mr Cadotte at la Pointe if they had not found another clerk to replace Gauthier.

They are thin and emaciated like real skeletons. They say they were more ill-treated than ever by Gauthier; that half the time they had nothing to eat, while he is resolved to go and work for the XY if he is replaced by another; further, that he has sworn to kill Raciot for having written against him, and that there would be murder before he left Lac du Flambeau; that he is resolved to pull up all the clearings, that is to say the potatoes and corn he had planted or caused to be planted; finally, that he is like a wild beast, and not a day passes without his swearing, storming, and inveighing against those who wintered with him last year. He has got only three packs of furs at the most, besides one he traded for his own goods.

I will not undertake the portage today because these men from the interior aska day’s rest. How weak they are!! I gave each of them a drink of shrub, two double handfuls of flour, and two pounds of pork and they began to eat with such avidity that I was twice obliged to take the dish away from them, and, notwithstanding this, I feared for a long while that injurious consequences would result; fortunately they all escaped with slight twinges of colic.

28th Saturday. I started this morning from Lake Superior with seven of my men to proceed at once to Lac du Flambeau. I took with me a bale of merchandize, a roll of tobacco, 20 pounds of shot, 20 pounds of bullets, three quarters of a sack of corn, a barrel of rum double strength, and all my baggage. Today we did forty pauses. I left the remainder of my things under the care and charge of Racicot. Durocher, who has been poisoned with poison-ivy, is also with him; otherwise he would have come with me with a load. My toothache is beginning again as bad as ever. I gave my people a small drink of shrub.

29th Sunday. Today we did only 20 pauses because I suffered too much from my toothache last night, and had to get my head sweated this morning which soothed the pain a little. It is now 4 o’clock in the afternoon and we are camping because several of the men are complaining greatly of pains in their legs and it is necessary to spare them. My toothache is a little better than it was in the morning. I feel weak at times, owing to my being unable to take any food. I gave my men a drink of shrub.

31st Tuesday. We started at seven o’clock this morning and at last, at one o’clock in the afternoon, we reached the end of the Portage; the people were somewhat tired, and Bourbon had severe pains in his legs. I sent them at once to get the canoes that were cached, to have them gummed, and I made them make paddles so as to be able to start tomorrow morning.
August 2nd Thursday. I started at 4 o’clock this morning and arrived here at Fort du Flambeau at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. I found Gauthier quite disconcerted, trembling, and not knowing what to say. I read him the letter from Mr William McGillivray which frightened him still more and made him shed tears. I gave him all the messages from Mr McGillivray and Mr Sayer, remonstrated with him in every way, after which he admitted his errors.

Malhiot's journal is sourced from Digital Time Travelers.

a glimpse into Manitowish Waters during the fur trade

Most of us are familiar with the Voyageurs, those intrepid French and French Canadians who traversed most of North America by canoes that they carried on their shoulders over long-distance portages. From the late 1600s to the 1800s, the "fur trade" boomed in North America and depended on these hardy men to see it through.
Shooting the Rapids, Frances Anne Hopkins
A Voyageur canoe in action!
Wisconsin, ribboned by rivers and fronting Lake Superior, formed an important part of the route. Place names reflect their presence -- Jacques Marquette being the most famous for having founded Sault Ste. Marie in Michigan/Ontario. On the Bayfield Peninsula's Madeline Island (so named by the French), the town La Pointe was the main route by which the Voyageurs accessed the interior of northern Wisconsin, taking "la Mauvaise riviere" (the Bad River) down to none other than Lac du Flambeau. Seen from this perspective, it is perhaps no surprise that the resort area of Manitowish Waters/Spider Lake once belonged to the Lac du Flambeau township.

In the winter of 1804-05, Francois Victor Malhiot was sent to Lac du Flambeau to investigate the complaints of the local clerk, Charles Gauthier.

Malhiot's journal survives. Complete with references to "the Savages" and unending complaint of toothache (we must remind ourselves that 19th century dental care left something to be desired), it is a fascinating document reflecting the concerns of the time. Read the complete document at Digital Time Traveler, or peruse some excerpts below and to follow.

A little background on Malhiot, from the footnotes:

Francois Victor Malhiot was a French-Canadian of good family, the "son of a respectable gentleman, rich in sentiment and honor." Two of his brothers were known in the service of their country-Lieut.-Col. Pierre Ignace Malhiot, who entered the army and served in Canada, and Hon. Xavier Malhiot, representative in the Canadian parliament, who died at Boucherville in 1855. Francois was born in 1776, being scarcely fifteen years of age when he became an articled clerk to the North West Company. At the time of Malhiot apprenticeship, the young clerks were required to serve five years for their expenses and £100. Since Malhiot speaks of thirteen years of traveling and eleven years of wintering, it is possible that he spent two years in coming to the upper country for the summers only, serving in the Montreal house during the winters. It is probable that his experiences were in many ways comparable to those of Gurdon Hubbard of Chicago, who has described in his Autobiography the life of a fur-trade apprentice some twenty-five years later (1818-23).

In 1796, Malhiot received his appointment to the upper Red River department, where apparently he remained for eight years, and where in 1799 his annual salary was £240. His was the department of Assiniboine River, which unites with Red River of the North at Winnipeg; and Malhiot was under John MacDonnell, wintering partner of the North West Company (1796-1815). The principal fort was on River Quappelle, with several subsidiary posts. See MacDonnells journal in Masson, Bourgeois, i, pp. 267-295.

At the summer meeting of the partners in 1804, it was decided to promote Malhiot and send him to take charge of a post to the south of Lake Superior [Lac du Flambeau], where complaints of the clerk in charge, Charles Gauthier, seemed of sufficient importance to make some change necessary. Malhiots experiences during the succeeding winter are here related by himself. He repaired and rebuilt the post, and his reports were sufficiently promising to cause his return to the same place for the next year, and apparently for the succeeding one.

In 1807, having become tired of the fur-trade, Malhiot determined to retire, and resigned his position with the company. During his residence in the interior he had, in the fashion of the country, married an Indian woman. This occurred August 8, 1800, at the fort at the mouth of Winnipeg River. See Daniel W. Harmon, Journal of Vayages and Travels (Andover, 1820), p. 49. "This evening," he says, "Mons. Mayotte [Malhiot] took a woman of this country for a wife, or rather concubine." Upon leaving the interior, Malhiot left his Indian wife with her own people, but took with him his half-breed son, Francois Xavier Ignace (named apparently for himself and his own two brothers). Settling at Contrevcoeur he educated his son, and lived there until his death in 1840.

Malhiot was familiarly known to his relatives and intimates as Erambert. He was a cousin of Jacques Porlier of Green Bay, and for a short tie after his return from the Northwest, lived with the latters maiden sisters at Verche`res. He is frequently mentioned in the family letters, and several letters from him to Portlier are in the Wisconsin Historical Library; i.e., Wisconsin MSS., 3B28, 4B52, 13B42, 2C57, 90. ED.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Remembering when... Manitowish Waters was in its infancy

More memories of Manitowish Waters in the old days abound, as cataloged by Jean Rein in a July 10, 1998 Lakeland Times article, excerpted below. Inspired by an evening presentation that Ruth Dickerson Gardner gave at the Koller Library, Rein delves into the history of our area.
In 1889 [Ruth] Gardner's great-grandparents Susanne and Henry Levi LaPorte arrived as loggers, settling in Manitowish, near what is now Murray's Landing on the Turtle [Flambeau] Flowage. ...

More important than knowing the chronology of events, Gardner believes, is understanding what life was like during these eras, and feeling the adventurous spirit that brought these people to a rugged wilderness where they worked extremely hard for many years to achieve their dreams. [...]

Thursday, June 14, 2012


Excerpted from "History..." by Michael J. Dunn, III, in an old chamber of commerce booklet. Though  not especially politically correct, this article does contain a few interesting tidbits in "poetical" style -- read on!

The Native Americans apparently visited a site on Manitowish Lake, location unspecified: "The Indians had an age-old gathering place on the eastern shore of Manitowish Lake. Here they met to trade, to distribute funds from Federal paymasters, to bury their dead."

Dunn turns more reliably to "white man history":

The story of early Manitowish Waters rings with the names of colorful settlers and personalities. Abe LaFave, who settled in 1888 and became the predecessor of the resort trade that is now the lifeblood of our community; long gone is the island lodge he built on Island Lake as the first tourist accommodation in the area, but on the shores of that same lake his family today continues the tradition of resort keeping he originated. Dan Devine, who raised a family on Clear Lake, whence he paddled each summer on a month-long canoe journey to Madeline Island in Lake Superior to sell his furs. Peter Vance, a timber cruiser who came here in the 1880s and lies now in our cemetery, his grave marked by a stone recording his hundred years and his pioneer status. Stephan Stewart, once a Yankee soldier in the Civil War, who ... surveyed for a timber company dam[.]

Thursday, June 7, 2012

come on by

Swing by the library to view the coat Carl Christensen wore when he was shot by Baby Face Nelson, on display in our foyer!

Carl Christensen was the Manitowish Waters (then Spider Lake) town constable in 1934, when the FBI tracked down John Dillinger and his gang at Little Bohemia. Carl took place in the resulting shoot-out, having been asked to accompany several FBI officers to the scene. They had just driven up in their car when Baby Face Nelson, driving out, shot and killed one officer, wounding Carl and the other. Carl was subsequently hospitalized for his eight bullet wounds and received federal funding to cover his medical bills.

It is perhaps no surprise that Carl's scrapbook, in our possession, contains the grim images showing Dillinger's and Nelson's bodies in the mortuary after they were later tracked down by the FBI (and successfully killed). Though I must confess my initial distaste at these photos, it struck me that Carl had a simple reason to want them in his scrapbook. The men who had threatened his life -- who could so easily have killed him -- were now dead. They could never trouble him again. There must have been a reassuring finality in such images.

Such things serve as a reminder that the "Dillinger days" are not fiction. Real people lived in those times: experienced real fear: died real deaths. When we visit Little Bohemia to see the scene of this shoot-out, we must remember this, and though we all enjoy the exciting nature of the stories told, it must be said that not one of us would have wanted to be there on the night of April 22, 1934.