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"History of Eau Claire County Wisconsin, 1914, Past and Present"

Chapter  5 - The Red Man

by Miss A. E. Kidder


(-As transcribed from pages 23 - 25)

Ethnologists are slowly agreeing that the North American Indian existed on this continent before 1000 A. D., that he is of Asiatic origin and that all the families found here are inter-related and originally came from one source. Historical evidences are multiplying as to the truth of these assertions. In 1615, Champlain, visiting the Huron tribe of the St. Lawrence valley, drew a map of the country which they said lay to the west of their land. They told him of a lake called Kitchi Gummi, which he named Grand Lac. This lake was visited by Allouez in 1666 and called Lake Tracy. Hennepin saw it in 1680 and called it Lake Conde. Schoolcraft was upon its waters in 1819 and left it with the title Lake Algona. It is now known as Lake Superior; and Champlain's rough map is one of the first evidences given to white men, not only of its existence, but of the great stretch of land south and west of its shores, known now as the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The French explorers touched the northern belt of what is now called the Northwest many decades before others of their kind penetrated the land since divided into Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska. Marquette and Joliet did not ascend the Mississippi to the mouth of the Illinois until 1673. It was 1679 before Fort Crevecoeur was built on the Illinois river. The ancient white villages of Kaskaskia, Cahoki and Prairie du Rocher were not set on the banks of the Mississippi until after 1683. But it is due to the honor of France that during the years of the seventeenth century, when England was content to upbuild her colonies on the Atlantic coast, when Spain, by moral law, was being eliminated from the northern half of the western continent, the fleur de lis should be implanted in what is now the center of western thought, western activity and agricultural development of the United States of America. Two separate movements of Gallic explorers-one along the shore lines of Lake Superior and westward to the Mississippi; the other via Lake Michigan to what has since become the Fox, Rock and Wisconsin rivers-confronted at the outset a remarkable group of Indian families. The dominion of these families extended from the Platte and Missouri rivers on the west to Lake Superior and Lake Michigan on the east; from the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi, on the south, to the Lake of the Woods and what is now the Canadian border, on the north. Within this area, which amounted to nearly 480,000 square miles, or one-ninth of the total area of the United States, to the time of the late Spanish-American War, were living about 500,000 red men. The census taker was unknown and the figures can only be estimated from ancient memoranda and the traditions of the Indians themselves. But today, so swift are the mutations of Time, in this same area there are living, sinew of a great commonwealth, 12,000,000 white men and women and their children, while of the Indians, lords of the land 250 years ago, but 48,800 are now to be found there. Three great Indian families occupied this Northwestern prairie and timber land when the French first came. The most important of these, so far as history is concerned, was the Siouan, or Sioux, composed of twelve tribes. Second in importance was the family of the Algonquins, composed of eleven tribes. The third, and the one to be first extinguished in the wars waged between the trio, was the Iroquois, who occupied the Great Lakes. All history, as to the relation between the white men and the Northwestern Indians during the seventeenth century, bears evidence that they acted with much fairness toward each other. It was not until after the advent of the English, who disputed the right to the territory with the French, and then the incoming of the Americans, who drove out French, English and Indians, that the record of savage warfare begins - stained with powder and blood from the knife of massacre. It is useless to say which was wrong. Since the formation of the United States Government, the American people have paid to the Indians an average of $1,000,000 per year for the land taken. The Indian, in his turn, when treated with the same honesty, the same decency, that characterizes the ordinary relations of two white citizens, responded with a loyalty equal to that of his white brother. Each race, as temptation came, was treacherous, bloodthirsty, cruel. Each paid the penalty for its wrongdoing. But that the earliest settlers recognized the Indian as an equal is evidenced by the first treaty ever made with a tribe (the Delawares) in which they were conceded to be citizens entitled to representation in Congress, Unfortunately, this good intent never passed in effect beyond the writing in the treaty. The land was fair to look upon when Joliet, Marquette and Hennepin came with the sign of the cross to make converts of the aboriginals. But the narratives of the explorers into the Northwest between 1600 and 1700 contained no reference to the marvelous bread-giving capacity of the land they found, no hint that a granary of the world had been found-only descriptions of half-explored waterways, plentiful game, unfound gold and silver and diamond mines. They were eager to take possession for the honor of France and for the financial gain that might come to them. Little did they know of greater blessing in the earth than that found in silver and gold, of the rich quality of soil which would produce luxuriant vegetation, of the water power and the pine forests that would draw hither the might and the money of the east for its development.

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