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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Shooting the Rapids Astride $9,000

John Lawe (1780-1846) was one of the first English-speaking residents of Green Bay, arriving in 1797 to trade for furs. He grew to be one of the village's most respected and affluent residents, building this house (luxurious in its day) and holding various public offices.

None of that kept him from bold or impetutous action. This newspaper story recounts how in 1845 he commanded his employees to paddle at night from Lake Poygan, through Oshkosh to Appleton, and then shoot miles of rapids in the dark in order to get his profits home safe to Green Bay -- he sitting on the chest full of silver the whole way. The author doesn't state where he learned about this bizarre feat, but perhaps it is recorded among the letters and other documents in Lawe's papers in the Wisconsin Historical Society Library-Archives.

The article also demonstrates how the fur trade kept Indians in perpetual debt to white traders, so that when the U.S. government made its annual treaty payments to the tribes, most of the cash immediately passed from Native American hands into white ones. In 1838, a new French immigrant left this account of a typical treaty payment.

For more on Indian-white relations in the fur trade era, including the inter-marriage of fur trade and Indian families, see this excellent article by Prof. Jacqueline Peterson from Voyageur magazine.

:: Posted in Bizarre Events on May 7, 2009

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