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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Looking Down on the Competition

According to local legend, fur trader Michel Brisbois (1759-1837) had himself interred high on a bluff over Prairie du Chien so he could look down on his rivals forever.

A Fierce Competition

Brisbois was a fur trader who arrived in Wisconsin in 1781 and thumbed his nose at the rich and powerful for the next four decades. He undercut more prosperous traders and never missed a chance at a profit, even selling supplies to both sides during War of 1812 (he was later accused of treason but acquitted).

For much of his career, Brisbois went head-to-head with well-connected, affluent merchants such as Joseph Rolette and Hercules Dousman. The competition was unbridled and extended far beyond the marketplace. For example, in 1818 Rolette wooed and married Jane Fisher, a foster daughter whom Brisbois had raised in his home.

The Last Laugh

Michel Brisbois continued to disregard convention for the rest of his career. As he approached death, tradition says, Brisbois bought a hilltop parcel overlooking Prairie du Chien so that his rivals would know he was looking down on them from the grave. He was buried high on that bluff in 1837.

Brisbois' adopted daughter Jane Fisher may have had the last laugh. About the time that Brisbois died, she separated from Joseph Rolette, insisting he build her this house as part of their separation agreement.

Shortly afterwards Rolette was ruined by John Jacob Astor, and he died in poverty in 1842. Jane Fisher promptly married Brisbois' other rival, Hercules Dousman, and became mistress of the finest fur trade mansion in the west, Villa Louis. Both houses belong to the Wisconsin Historical Society and are open to the public today, with Michel Brisbois looking down on them from his final resting place high above.

:: Posted in Strange Deaths on March 28, 2013
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