The French Fur Trade

For two hundred years, Wisconsin life was dominated by the beaver. From 1650 to 1850 the economy revolved around beavers in the way that today's revolves around oil. Before the French arrived, Wisconsin's most valuable animals were the white-tailed deer, catfish, wild turkey, and freshwater mussels, which supported human communities for twelve thousand years. But after 1650 beaver was king.

The reason was simple. In 1650 no European went to work in an office or a factory. A few worked in shops, but most spent all day outdoors, farming or transporting farm goods, in good weather or bad, sun or rain,... more...

Original Documents and Other Primary Sources

Link to article: A trader relates his family history and personal adventures, 1745-1857.A trader relates his family history and personal adventures, 1745-1857.
Link to article: An Indian woman founds the town of MarinetteAn Indian woman founds the town of Marinette
Link to article: Wisconsin Indians Resist French DominationWisconsin Indians Resist French Domination
Link to article: The founding of Portage, by Frederick Jackson Turner (1883)The founding of Portage, by Frederick Jackson Turner (1883)
Link to article: The founding of Fort Winnebago and the career of trader Pierre PaquetteThe founding of Fort Winnebago and the career of trader Pierre Paquette
Link to article: A Boy's-Eye View of the Fur TradeA Boy's-Eye View of the Fur Trade
Link to article: Indian Versions of Some Early Wisconsin EventsIndian Versions of Some Early Wisconsin Events
Link to article: An 1818 War Department report describes early U.S. fur trade policies.An 1818 War Department report describes early U.S. fur trade policies.
Link to article: Memories of Milwaukee's first familyMemories of Milwaukee's first family
Link to book: The history and traditions of the Chippewa ValleyThe history and traditions of the Chippewa Valley
Link to book: A Scottish trader visits the Ojibwe in 1765, after the French depart.A Scottish trader visits the Ojibwe in 1765, after the French depart.
Link to book: A French priest writes home in 1721 about Indians, beavers, and fur.A French priest writes home in 1721 about Indians, beavers, and fur.
Link to book: A local historian chats about Prairie du Chien (vol. 2)A local historian chats about Prairie du Chien (vol. 2)
Link to book: A French soldier describes how the fur trade worked in 1685.A French soldier describes how the fur trade worked in 1685.
Link to book: Sex, drinking, and moral corruption on the Wisconsin frontier in 1702.Sex, drinking, and moral corruption on the Wisconsin frontier in 1702.
Link to book: A local historian chats about Prairie du Chien (vol. 1)A local historian chats about Prairie du Chien (vol. 1)
Link to book: Fr. Baraga's 1853 Ojibwe DictionaryFr. Baraga's 1853 Ojibwe Dictionary
Link to book: Folklore and folktales collected by Charles E. BrownFolklore and folktales collected by Charles E. Brown
Link to images: Prairie du Chien merchant and judge James H. Lockwood, 1856.Prairie du Chien merchant and judge James H. Lockwood, 1856.
Link to images: A photograph of Augustin Grignon near the end of his life.A photograph of Augustin Grignon near the end of his life.
Link to manuscript: Correspondence of a fur trade family in northern Wisconsin, 1826-1851Correspondence of a fur trade family in northern Wisconsin, 1826-1851
Link to map: A popular French map of the Great Lakes in 1757.A popular French map of the Great Lakes in 1757.
Link to map: French settlers' land holdings at Green Bay in 1820.French settlers' land holdings at Green Bay in 1820.
Join Now.