Explorers | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

European Explorers in Wisconsin

Explorers | Wisconsin Historical Society

The first European explorers to reach Wisconsin arrived in the 17th century from New France (Canada). Most were interpreters acting on behalf of Samuel de Champlain, the founder of New France.

First European in Wisconsin

The first explorer to reach Wisconsin was probably interpreter Etienne Brule. In 1622 or 1623, he traveled around Lake Superior at Champlain's request. Champlain's 1632 map of New France, which was printed before the better-known explorer Jean Nicolet reached Wisconsin, contains many details that probably came from Brule.

Because no account of Brule's trip was written down until after his death, Jean Nicolet has traditionally been called the first European explorer in Wisconsin. Most historians accept that Nicolet landed at Red Banks, just north of the modern-day University of Wisconsin-Green Bay campus, in 1634. The evidence about his landfall is vague, however, and other historians argue that he actually landed on the south shore of Lake Superior. Nicolet met Ho-Chunk Indians who feasted him for several weeks with beaver.

Other Early Explorers

Other important early explorers who left eyewitness accounts were fur traders Pierre Esprit Radisson and Medard Chouart, Sieur des Groseilliers, who visited Wisconsin in 1654-56 and 1659-1660; Jesuit missionaries Fr. Rene Menard (1661) and Jean Claude Allouez (1665-1670); traders Nicolas Perrot (1665-1670) and Daniel Greysolon, Sieur Duluth (1678-1680); Fr. Jacques Marquette, who crossed the state in 1673 with Louis Joliet en route to the Mississippi; Recollect Fr. Louis Hennepin (1679-1680); and Robert Rene Cavelier, Sieur de LaSalle, who skirted the Lake Michigan shore of Wisconsin between 1679 and 1682.

Subsequent Explorers

The mosti important later explorers who described Wisconsin in the 18th and 19th centuries were French priest Pierre Charlevoix (1721); English military officer Jonathan Carver (1766-1767); American officer Zebulon Pike (1805-1806); and Michigan Territory governor Lewis Cass (1820).

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