I have a new novel coming out about a year from now, and the setting may not be entirely familiar to some readers. For that reason, I've embarked upon a series of posts meant to shed light on the history of the fur trade around Lake Superior, and in particular, along the northern Wisconsin (Ouiscansainte) shore and northeastern shore of present-day Minnesota. I hope to give readers an inside look into a rugged world long past--and to also glimpse a beautiful part of the country you can still discover today.
Last month, I wrote about how the Beaver Wars aided in European conquest of North America. Prior to the Beaver Wars, a few Jesuit priests and trappers, as well as some famous explorers like Nicolet, La Salle, and Joliet reached Wisconsin. But long years passed until other white men came to the country. Finally, as those earlier wars died out, Europeans pushed further into the wilderness once again, including the intrepid entrepreneurs Pierre-Esprit Radisson and his brother-in-law Medard Chouart, Sieur des Groseilliers. (You have to wonder about the wives of such explorers. Perhaps they deserve a novel of their own. Hmm...) I digress.
In 1659, upon reaching Lake Superior the first time, Radisson--who had previously travelled all over Europe, including to Italy--remarked, "We embarked ourselves on the delightfullest lake in the world." For such a traveler to call Lake Superior the delightfullest says something about the grandeur of the location.
Although other traders had come into the region, it's been purported that Radisson and Grosseilliers were the first white men to establish themselves for any duration, settling for about a year on Superior's pristine Chequamegon Bay, around which can now be found the towns of Ashland, Washburn, and Bayfield. It's said they built a dwelling here--a wooden cabin and a crude stockade--near where Ashland is today.
I used to live in Ashland. Oh, how I wish I had known the history of the area prior to my living there when I was only nineteen!