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"ONE TOWNSHIP'S YESTERDAYS"
By Edwin Corwin
XIII. THE GAY VOYAGEUR
"Alouette, gentille Alouette, Alouette, jete plumerai."
...Old French-Canadian Song BY THE WATERWAYS, the voyageur came singing into the wilderness. From far-off Canada came the boatman, threading the streams of Indiana. Skillfully managing the shallow-draft bateau of those ear13 days, he brought explorer, missionary, and trader into a country rich in resources. He, the expert navigator, conqueror of rivers, hastened the opening of a vast western domain to the civilization of the white race.
The streams echoed to the gay songs of the French-Canadians.. Paddles dipped and flashed, as strong, lithe bodies bent and pulled in unison, keeping time with the lilt of rollicking voices in a picturesque patois.
Perhaps they sang Alouette as they ascended the Tippecanoe, where two centuries later the Woodcrafters of the Culver summer camp lustily sing the same rhythmic air as they sway to the paddles and speed their canoes down the river.
The French were popular among the Indians. "There seems to be something wild and roving in the French character, which gives them greater sympathy with savage races," says W. L. Grant. So the great fur trading companies called a large number of them to the service. They were Indispensable in navigating the streams, in running the rapids, and many were the deaths of those gay and cheerful toilers. Numbers of explorers used them. Explorer Mackenzie said that they "are so expert that few accidents happen." They knew the land, conditions of climate, and were versed in wood-lore. They were intrepid helpers, and very reliable. But they gained little in the way of wealth. That was the harvest of those who hired them.
"These Canadian voyageurs," said Hugh Gray, in 1809, "are hardy, strong fellows: they have been known to carry at once five packages, weighing about eighty pounds each over a portage of nine miles." In any case, most of them rendered important services.
So came by the waterways into this region an outstanding figure in the white man's pageant, the voyageur. And so passed, no doubt by the waterways also, as he had come, the voyageur, never to be seen again in this part of the country.
|XIV. THE TRADER SEEKS PELTS|
For Exchange: Overstuffed furniture, bed, dresser, sewing machine, bric-a-brac, washer, etc., for good second-hand- usable car. Sacrifice. Going out of town. XYZ, Citizen... Modern Classified Ad.
RESOURCES BEYOND THE WILDEST IMAGINATION lay west of the Alleghanies. The white man dreamed of them. Those of the race who were of bold spirit, those who were footloose and free, from will and choice or from force of circum- stance and urge of law, set forth to seek that of which they had dreamed, or perhaps bad heard rumors and tales.
There were more El Dorados than one. And one of them was built of the outer covering of wild animals.
The adventurous spirits, though many profited little, discovered wealth in the wilderness. Many remained to hunt and trap, many to barter and trade.
In the pelts of beasts was found great riches. And an age came, in the lands west of the Alleghanies, when fur was king.
In this obscure land dwelt not only several tribes of Indians, but also countless four-legged creatures, some of the smallest of which were the most sought after; the marten, the mink, the otter .... Here also dwelt, like the muskrat, in the little rivers, the streams, and the lakes, an animal known as the beaver, that was to become the emblem of success in the fur business. The beaver became king of the pelt donors. Before they got the last of him, he was to be found plying his timbering, dam and house building trade in the Maxinkuckee region. He was among the Very earliest settlers of the township. Barring the mastodon, the 'possum perhaps, and a few such ancients, he may have been the first. Like the rest of them, he left few traces. His houses and dams have long since been destroyed or fallen to decay.
It has been said: "For a century and a half fur was king." A long reign'. A rather hectic one, filled with human deeds of daring, adventure and romance!
Saw Beaver Dams.
An early settler told of seeing large trees growing on what was said to be a beaver dam. The beaver was once here, but he has been gone so long that all traces of his clever works must have been obliterated. McDonald tells of a pioneer who settled in a very early day on Aubeenaubee's prairie, a short distance southwest of Lake Maxinkuckee, and quotes him as saying:
"When we came to this country we settled on the prairie. There were the remains of beaver dams from a hundred yards to almost a mile long, and one over that length at Beaver lake. There were also round holes in the prairie covered with grass, that the Indians said were once buffalo wallows. Deep paths were worn in the solid prairies; the Indians said they were made by the tramp of the buffalo."
There were fur traders all through this region at the time of the early settlements. The traders visited the various settlements periodically and paid good prices for all kinds of hides. A traveler, writing in 1829, tells of an establishment maintained by the American Fur Company in northern Indiana to carry on trade with the Indians. It was located on the southern bend of the St. Joseph, "twenty miles below the mouth of the Elk-heart." Its situation was on a high, dry plain, affording a very handsome and extensive site for a village, according to the writer, and "through +.his place, the road, as lately laid off from Lake Michigan to Indianapolis, passes, affording it the advantage of a road south to the Wabash; as well as the river northwest to the lake, at all times navigable."
Trading in furs was, in fact; the principal industry of this northern Indiana region in pioneer days. It was a thriving business long before the first settlers came to Union Township, Referring to the fur trade in the early part of the 13th Century, it has been said that "a string of fur stations owned by John Jacob Astor then stretched through northern Indiana to the extreme northern tip of what is now Michigan. The fur business of that period was a thriving and profitable one. One shipment early in 1804 consisted of more than 18,000 skins valued at approximately $100,000, which included fox, wildcat, bear, raccoon, beaver and opossum. These skins were shipped to New York and eventually to Europe, which at that time was an excellent market for furs from the new continent."
Several early travelers commented regarding the fur trade in this region. "When the French possessed Canada and Louisiana," said one, "their traders constantly passed by Chicago into Illinois and by the Maumee into the Wabash, in their voyages." Another reported: "Carts are usually employed in transporting boats and merchandise from the Miami to the Wabash river,"
"The country on the Wabash," according to another traveler, "was early visited by French traders, or hunters from Canada."
Trade became very brisk. It was reported in 1778: "The annual amount of Skins and Furs, obtained at Ouiatanon is about 8000 1." Explaining the popularity of the French as barterers, a traveler wrote: "The Indians are said to be partial to the French traders, thinking them fairer (in their dealings, not their complexion) than the English or Americans."
The fur trader has vanished. like the beaver from this region. Other kinds of traders and barterers followed. The swapping of horses flourished hereabouts until the motor craze gained momentum early in the 20th Century Since then, occasional barters of this kind have been reported, but they are becoming few and far between. Today's trader, instead of presenting trinkets and gewgaws to red men in exchange for pelts, is more inclined to ridding his conscience and personal tax account of busted buggy cushions, decrepit talking machines, lame whatnots, mortgaged premises, and kindred belongings, and assuming in trade the care and responsibilities of a conglomeration of metal on four wheels, and with an anemic wheeze in its one lung.
A far cry indeed from the romance of the fur trade to the rattle of a gas-buggy! But the transition has been spelled in a magic word, which is PROGRESS.
|XV. THE TRAVELER LOOKS AROUND|
"As he had travail'd to some new-found land."
... Doctor Merrie Man, 1609
THE TRAVELER, CAME to look around a bit, prying into things here and there, prowling about, a rather odd visitor to the; wilderness in most cases. He desired to see what this strange country was like. Mostly he came seeking information, and if possible the facts. He was in quest of the truth maybe. And sometimes he found what he sought. Sometimes he saw clearly, and sometimes he saw through prejudiced eyes. But what he saw was, in most instances, unusual to him, and interesting, to say the least.
During the first half century following the Revolutionary War many travelers came from Europe to visit the New Republic and to explore the frontiers of America. The interior was of interest to Americans also, for during the early decades of the 19th Century a goodly number of travelers from the Atlantic Coast states journeyed to Indiana to learn of the possibilities in the newer regions.
Prominent among the American travelers who visited this part of the world in the early days were Hutchins, the first civil geographer of the United States and the originator of the land platting system; Imlay, a captain in the American army during the Revolution; Thomas, agriculturist; Brown, publisher; Cutler, soldier and topographer; Darby, surveyor; Dana, guide; Pelham and Teas, scholars; Mason, soldier and doctor; Coffin, banker; Flint and Reed, missionaries; and Atwater, "Ohio's first historian."
The Europeans who came to this region as travelers were chiefly English, among whom were Ashe, explorer; Melish, merchant; Bradbury, botanist; Birkbeck, Quaker farmer; Forster, another Quaker; Blaney, gentleman; Faux, farmer; Hebert, sociologist; and Cobbett, the famous soldier-sociologist. Also came Warden, French-Irish author, and Mackenzie, Scotch journalist and historian. The French travelers included Volney and Duclos. Prominent also among the foreign travelers who visited Indiana were Duke Bernhard of SaxeWeimer, and Postel, an Austrian writer.
George Imlay appointed commissioner for laying out lands in the "Back Settlements." In 1793 he published "A Topographical Description of the Western Territory of North America." In it he tells of what was seen "on our line of march," (of course he was a soldier). The distance traveled between certain points, located not far from our township area, was increased by the "traverses we were obliged to make to avoid impassable morasses." He said that "in several places, the prospect was only bounded by the natural horizon, the uniformity of which was here and there broken by the distant looming of a grove on the edge of the plane, which strongly resembled the projecting points of a coach clothed with wood, and seen by mariners at a distance from the shore." At another time, he said, "The numerous breaks, and intermixture of woodland and plains, give the whole an air of the most perfect taste."
Judging from the descriptions those early travelers gave, one would say, if one were a habitant of the period, that they "were getting pretty close to home." The quaint descriptions tallied quite precisely, so far as one can surmise, considering the scenery that is left. The resemblance checks even today in some odd spots `round about.
Samuel R. Brown's description of the aspect of the country also tallies. He evidently knows whereof he speaks, and indicates that this part of the country had been roughly surveyed and mapped by white men prior to 1817. He says: "The northern half of the state is a country of lakes 38 of which, from two to ten miles in length, are delineated on the latest maps; but the actual number probably exceeds one hundred-many of these, however, are mere ponds, less than one mile in length. Some have TWO DISTINCT OUTLETS; one running into the northern lakes; the other into the Mississippi."
"The several expeditions against the Indians, during the late war," says Brown, "enabled many of our officers to become extensively acquainted with the geography of the Indiana and Michigan territories." One officer, who had opportunities of seeing and exploring the country between the Wabash and Lake Michigan, described it as a land "admirably calculated for the convenience of inland navigation. The sources of the rivers are invariably in swamps or lakes, and the country around them perfectly level. A trifling expence would open a navigable communication between Eel river, and a branch of the Little St. Joseph's; the two St. Joseph's.; the Raisin of lake Erie, and the Lenoir (Black river) of lake 'Michigan. Small lakes are discovered in every part of this extensive and romantic country. We found them covered with ducks, and other water fowls. For the diversion of fishing, we had no leisure; consequently, I am not able to inform you whether they abound with fish, but presume they do, as many of their outlets empty into the tributaries of the great lakes."
Thomas Scattergood Teas came afoot to Indiana on two different occasions and by different routes, from Philadelphia. He knocked about in the wilderness around Fort Wayne in the year 1821. He visited some of the settlers, and found their life tough and uninviting. He came across some comfortable cabins in clearings, however, including some of "six acres in very fine looking corn." One man had "deadened about 30 acres more." Teas enjoyed a typical early settler's meal, though it was "served up in a curious style." He found the drinking water not so good. The settlers suffered much from fevers and agues.
The travelers had many fascinating things to tell about after visiting this country. But to retell their stories would require a book in itself, and we must hasten on with our own story.