Caught In Time Northwoods Wisconsin Memories and Gifts
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Michel Cadotte Buried on Madeline Island,
Picturesque Figure in Early Fur Trade
You will find his grave in an abandoned Indian Cemetery alongside the winding road, which leads from the present village of La Pointe to the Old Fort or Old Mission Settlement. The little cemetery is terribly neglected, for the immediate kin of those whose bodies lie there have passed to the common fate and there are no loving hands to quell the weeds and rank grass which grow abundantly over the abiding places of the dead. Many of the Indian graves are covered with the little houses characteristic of Indian custom. These have fallen in to disuse and neglect, the shingles are rotting and blowing away and he little holes through which offerings of food were once passed to the spirits of departed braves are no longer used.
About the middle of the eighteenth century
there became prominent among the many French and English fur
traders operating throughout the Northwest one Jean Baptiste
Cadotte, a son of the above-mentioned Cadeau and father of Michel
Cadotte. As a young man he penetrated the most remove villages
of the Ojibway in the territory around Lake Superior and became
very popular with all the Indians with whom he came in contact
while acting in his capacity of fur trader. His influence among
the Indians was great and served him in good stead in many crises.
It is said that when French dominion ceased throughout the Northwest
Jean Baptiste Cadotte tried to leave the region but the love
of the Indians for him and his children was so great that they
threatened to force to make him stay. There is a fairly well
substantiated tradition that the chiefs of the Ojibway tribe
granted the site of the present day Sault Ste. Marie to J. B.
Cadotte and his descendants as a mark of their gratitude for
his labors in their behalf. Alexander Henry is said to have had
the grand of land after his death it was brought into the Lake
Superior region by an unknown person who made a number of inquires
concerning the Cadotte family, and then returned to Montreal.
Since that time it has not been heard of. Jean Baptiste Cadotte
and is referred to by Alexander Henry, the noted English trader,
as the last governor of the French Fort at Sault Ste. Marie.
On October 28, 1756, in the Catholic Church
at Michilimakinac, Jean Baptiste Corbine was married to an Ojibway
woman of the great Awause clan referred to in the marriage documents
as a neophyte named Marianne, the daughter of a Nipissing, and
in another old French document as Athanasi, Anastasia and Catherine.
This woman was of remarkable strong character and possessed an
unusual energy, helping her husband in his fur trading to the
extent of making canoe trips of hundreds miles with the voyageurs
and coureurs de bois to far flung fur outposts. She once dramatically
saved the life of Alexander Henry, who was at one time a partner
of Jean Baptiste Cadotte and spent the winter of 1765/66 with
him on the main land opposite Madeline Island, about where Bayfield,
Wisconsin now stands.
Anastasia Cadotte bore two sons, Jean Baptiste,
Jr. and Michel, the last named of whom inherited to the greatest
extent the admirable qualities of both mother and father. Michel
Cadotte was born July 22, 1764, at Sault Ste. Marie. The early
days of his childhood were spent in and around the little trading
post where he learned his lessons, which would serve him so well
in the eventful years, which followed. As a youth he was sent
to Montreal, where he received a liberal education, and on his
return, he entered the fur trade as an assistant to his father.
Far horizons held an untold lure for young
Michel Cadotte and as early as 17984, when he was but 20 years
old, he was wintering among his Indian half brothers at the head
of the Chippewa River. At that early date he had already established
a trading post on the Namakagon River, a tributary of the St.
Croix, and was doing extensive trading with the tribes along
the upper Mississippi. The date of his location on Madeline Island
is uncertain, some saying 1792, others 1800, but it may be stated
with a fair degree of certainty that he settle permanently on
that picturesque and historic piece of terra firma during the
last decade of the 18th century. White Crane, the noted Ojibway
chief, was at that time the village chief of La Pointe and Michel
Cadotte wooed and won his beautiful daughter. Equaysayway was
her native name but when she married Cadotte and entered the
church she was given the name of Madeline. Her name has been
perpetuated in the name of the island on which she lived and
died, which, up to the middle of 19th century, had been known
by a variety of titles ranging from Moningwunakauning to just
plain Michel's. This marriage was a singular stroke of good fortune
for Michel Cadotte. The Cranes were the aristocracy of the Ojibway
tribe, equivalent to the 'old 400' of New York. They claimed
that their ancestors were the first to pitch their wigwams and
light their fires on Chequamegon Point when the tribe migrated
from the Sault three hundred years before. Although the marriage
was undoubtedly a love match it did much to further the ambitions
of Cadotte and put him in a strong position with the people among
whom he was to spend his life.
In May 1796, the advantages of a quiet old
age became apparent to Jean Baptiste Cadotte, the elder, and
he turned over his extensive fur trade to his two sons, Michel
and Jean Baptiste, Jr., with the provision that they care for
him in his declining years. He died seven years later in 1803.
By the beginning of the 19th century Michel
Cadotte had established a thriving fur trade post on Madeline
Island near the site of the old French Fort, which had been abandoned
in 1756 and had virtually become a feudal baron over the entire
surrounding region. A trading post at Lac Courte Oreilles and
other less important stations scattered throughout northern Wisconsin
and the Michigan peninsula were operated by him and reaped annually
an enormous harvest of furs. He did a business of $40,000 annually
at a time when raw furs were ridiculously plentiful and cheap.
Such a trade now would run into hundreds of thousands of dollars
yearly. For a quarter of a century he carried on this traffic
of furs, sometimes as a free trader, sometimes as a representative
of those great fur companies, which were making fortunes by duel
exploitation of the fauna of the region and the vanity of fashionable
men and women. His influence among the Indians increased with
the passing of years until he became almost a demi-god among
them, a final court of appeal for setting of quarrels, a true
friend in any case of need. "Kechemeshane," Great Michel,
he was called by the children of the wilderness, and also 'Kind
Hearted Michel Cadotte.' When the noted Shawnee prophet agitated
the Indians throughout the northwest with his promise of coming
power an incident occurred which aptly illustrated the respect
in which Cadotte was held by his Indians. The propaganda of the
Shawnee prophet had spread afar and some of his medicine bags
had come to the Chequamegon. A party of 150 canoes was made up
and, bringing a dead child with them for the 'prophet' to resuscitate,
they started for Detroit. At the Pictured Rocks of Lake Superior
they were met by Great Michel, who, on learning of their errand,
advised them to return to La Pointe. Just the wish of one man
against the already partly enacted will of several hundred Ojibways
but it was enough. They turned their canoes towards the setting
sun and forgot the glowing promise of the Shawnee prophet. Such
was the influence of Kechemeshane.
Although to the casual observer Michel Cadotte
may seem noting more than the picturesque fur trader, typical
of his time, he was, in reality, much more than that. There was
in him something of the spirit of the true pioneer, the vision
of an empire builder. When he settled on Madeline Island shortly
before the end of the 18th century he chose as a location for
his home and trading post a site on the southwest corner of the
island near the old site of the old French military post. Here
he built his home and fur depot and around them grew up a little
settlement which slowly gravitated northward along the curving,
sandy beach and finally resulted I the present village of La
Pointe. Michel Cadotte had in him that inherent love of the land,
which is the unmistakable characteristic of the real pioneer.
Out of the virgin wilderness around his frontier home he began
to carve a farm and raise an annual crop of vegetables and grains,
which were most used I the rough fare of the time. >From the
Sault he brought cows and horse and began to raise livestock.
When McKenney visited the island in 1826 he found Cadotte had
tow comfortable log houses lathed and plastered, twenty acres
of land under intensive cultivation and considerable livestock.
Michel Cadotte and his Ojibway princess wife brought into the world a large family and raised it well. The sons were sent to Montreal and there were well educated as their father had been before them. The daughters were kept at home and instructed in the art of being good wives. In 1818 there came into the Lake Superior country two youthful adventurers from New York. They were the Warren brothers, Lyman Marquis and Truman Abraham, direct descendants of Richard Warren who arrived at Plymouth in 1620 via the Mayflower. They entered the employee of Cadotte and soon rose high in his favor. They were wed to Cadotte's daughters in 1821, Lyman marrying Mary and Truman taking to wife Charlotte. Thus were united in one strain the blue blood of the Mayflower, the royal blood of the Ojibways and the virile, red blood of a gallant French adventurer. In 1823 the Warren brothers took over the extensive fur trade of Cadotte and the old veteran retired.