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

Thursday, June 21, 2012

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.

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