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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


April 19, 2003 - Issue 85


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Michel Cadotte Buried on Madeline Island, Picturesque Figure in Early Fur Trade

By Charles M. Sheridan - The Washburn Times - August 27, 1927

credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)
photo - Graveyard Madeline Island.  Note the covered graves with spirit houses.  This practice would later be adopted by early pioneers.  The use of the cross in Lake Superior was not allowed until after 1835 as it held very bad connotations to the Ojibwa. 


Graveyard Madeline Island.  Note the covered graves with spirit houses.  This practice would later be adopted by early pioneers.  The use of the cross in Lake Superior was not allowed until after 1835 as it held very bad connotations to the Ojibwa.  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.

The grave of 'Great Michel' Cadotte is no exception to the general rule, for while many of his descendants in the second and third generation live in the surrounding region few of them know or are interested in the fact that this great man was their forefather. Rank weeds and thickly matted grass cover the grave, and the headstone, although still white and clean and full of noble simplicity, symbolic of the spirit it commemorates, leans forward a bit over the grave as if bearing with weariness the weight of the passing years. And many who pass on the dusty road outside the fence, and serious for a moment, pause to look in the neglected graves, few realize that they are treading near hallowed earth, beneath which lies the dust of a truly great man, northern Wisconsin's real first pioneer, an unsung hero of her younger days.

On the 14th of June 1671, there was a great celebration in the little settlement of Sault Ste. Marie, then the most far-flung outpost of France's colonial possessions in the New World. Simon Francois Daumont, the Sieur de St. Lusson has come from the glittering court of Versailles into the very heart of the pathless wilderness of North America to take possession of the Northwest in the name of His Sovereign Majesty, the King of France. It was a magnificent gesture, done with much pomp and ceremony, but that was all. To those hardy spirits who had preceded St. Lusson and to the many who followed in his train; to that gay and gallant company of voyageurs, coureurs de bois and intrepid fur traders who carried on an adventurous commerce with the savage inhabitants of a new world and wrote into the history of the North American continent its most romantic chapter; to them was left the actual work of taking possession. Among the many care free adventurers and soldiers of fortune who came in the train of St. Lusson and stayed to cast their lot in the wilderness there was but one story is concerned, a man named Cadeau. He became an itinerant fur trader, was married, and perpetuated his name, which became Cadotte in the next generation.

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.

Michel Cadotte died at La Pointe on July 8, 1837, when he was almost 73 years of age. He died in poverty and that, perhaps, better than anything else, shows the type of man he was. At one time very wealthy, he had no realization of the value of money, no respect for it except as a medium by which might be procured those things, which he, or his friends, or his relatives desired. He accumulated wealth and squandered it; lived highly, spent freely and died poor.

Madeline Island, WI Map

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