PRESETTLEMENT TIMES, Indians and Fur Traders
EXCERPT From "Alma On The Mississippi"
Chapter 1, Pages 2-3
“The presence of earthen mounds and the appearance of ceramics at a number of prehistoric habitation sites indicate that a major occupation of our area by an ancient people occurred during Middle to Late Woodland times (100 BC-1634 AD). Around 1000 AD the mound builder’s culture began to fade, although mounds are known to have been built after this period. The inhabitants of our region after 1000 AD are thought to have been descendants of the mound builders, and possibly of Siouan stock. In historic times, Indians of both the Siouan and Algonquian language families were found here. From the Algonquian group were the Anishinabe, which in their tongue means “the People” or “the Human Beings”. These people were also known as the Ojibway of the Chippewa. Their population numbered about 25,000 around 1000 AD and they occupied much of northern Wisconsin down to the Chippewa River valley. From the Siouan family were the Dakota, which means “the People” or “the Allies”, and the Winnebago. The Dakota were also called by Europeans the Sioux, a French Canadian abbreviation of Nadowessioux. This word came from the Ojibway term Nadowessi which means “little snake” or “enemies” which was what the Ojibway called the Dakota. After the 17th century, the Dakota primarily occupied lands east of the Mississippi, north into the Chippewa Valley, and south to the area that the Winnebagoes occupied around the Trempealeau and Black Rivers.
“Winnebago traditions speak of the southern shore of Wisconsin’s Green Bay as their original habitat, and it was here that Nicolett found them in 1634. Over the next 100 years they moved their villages west along the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers to the Mississippi. Their name is of Algonquian origin and is translated variously as “the fine-voiced ones’ or “big fish people”.
“Although the Ojibway, the Dakota, and the Winnebagoes each maintained their own separate cultural traditions, they all shared a similar lifestyle. Their existence was based primarily on hunting, fishing, and gathering. Where possible they also did a small amount of gardening, clearing land by the slash and burn method, and raising corn, beans, squash, and some tobacco. They gathered wild fruits such as blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, chokecherries, gooseberries, and plums, as well as wild rice, edible roots and nuts. They also hunted for mammals such as deer and elk, and waterfowl. Land travel was by foot and they left behind them discernible trails along the bluffs and river. Their other prominent form of transportation was the birch bark canoe with which they navigated the many streams of our region. After contact with Europeans, horses were acquired and used to a certain extent in this region also.
“In 1689 French explorer Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle, sent two of his men, Antoine du Auguel and Michel Accault on an expedition up the Mississippi River from his location on the Illinois River. Father Louis Hennepin, a missionary, accompanied them serving as historian. Most likely these three men were the first white men to see the future site of Alma, although it is thought that another explorer, Daniel Greysolon, Sier Du Luth, may have been in this area shortly before that time. The next group of whites to follow were the fur traders. Since this region was under the rule of France at that time, most of the fur traders were either French or of French-Canadian descent. These fur traders identified closely with the Indian people since by necessity they shared a similar lifestyle, and they often married native women. Such was the case of Augustine Rocque who operated a trading post at the mouth of the Chippewa (present day Reads Landing) and his son Augustine Jr who established a post at Beef Slough. Augustine Jr was the great grandfather of area residents Albert and John Ebersold.
“It was with the traders that native people in this region had their most consistent dealings. Unfortunately this relationship thoroughly disrupted their cultural traditions. Up until this time the Indians were completely self-sufficient. But through contact with traders they entered into a new economic system, exchanging the skins of beaver, muskrat, otter, raccoon, mink, and deer for various supplies and goods including firearms. The Ojibway, being located further to the east, engaged in this trade before the Dakota and thereby obtained firearms at an earlier date. The westward migration of white settlers seeking to homestead land forced native people from their lands. Thus the Iroquois were pushed into territory formerly controlled by the Ojibway who in turn used their newly-acquired guns to drive the Dakota across the Mississippi River and further into what is now the state of South Dakota. However, a branch of the Dakota nation remained on the western bank of the Mississippi. They were the Santee Dakota, a loose federation of the Mdewakantonwan, Wahpekute, Sisseton and Wahpeton bands. Of these, the 1837 treatyestablished several villages which extended along the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers from the present day Twin Cities metropolitan area south to Winona.
“In 1837 the Dakotas signed a treaty with the US Government relinquishing all claims on land east of the Mississippi River, including our area. Two years later this new federally-owned territory attracted pioneers such as Thomas Holmes who settled at what is today Fountain City. From this time on very few violent confrontations between whites and Indians were recorded here. Long after the settlement of Twelve Mile Bluff the Mdewakantonwans continued to hunt, trap, and gather wild foods on nearby river islands. However, it was with the Winnebagoes that local settlers had the most contact. They were often camped on the islands and townspeople were invited there to attend their dances. Occasionally they would camp on the present site of 333 South Main (now the Cottage at Blue Door Inn) when they came to Alma to trade their furs at the mercantile stores operated by the Tritsch family or Charles Schaettle.”
1837 LAND CESSION TREATY
JOSEPH & AUGUSTIN ROCQUE, TRAPPERS
Trempealeau to Wabasha to Reads Landing to Beef Slough
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