The Wisconsin Frontier
From French coureurs de bois coursing through its waterways in the 17th century, To the lumberjacks who rode logs down those same rivers in the late 19th century, Wisconsin’s frontier era saw thousands arriving from Europe and other areas seeking wealth and opportunity. Indians mixed with these newcomers, sometimes helping and sometimes challenging them, often benefiting from their guns, pots, blankets, and other trade items.
France, Britain, And The United States fought to control the Upper Lakes, For besides its natural riches, Wisconsin lay astride the major water route linking the St. Lawrence And The Gulf of Mexico. The British were long reluctant to give up this region they lost through war and diplomacy, but eventually the victorious Americans arriving in the early 19th Century transformed the region seeking lead, cropland, wild game, and timber.
As population grew the Indians realized that incoming groups wanted land as well as furs, and a series of struggles erupted that eventually left Chippewas, Menominees, And The “New York Indians” with reservations while the Winnebagoes and Potawatomis obtained smaller holdings; but many of them, As well as members of such tribes as the Foxes and Sacs, moved beyond the Mississippi under government treaties.
The settlers’ frontier produced a state with enormous ethnic variety, but one whose rambunctiousness worried distant governmental and religious authorities, who soon dispatched officials and missionaries to guide the new settlements.
By 1900 an era was rapidly passing, leaving Wisconsin’s peoples with traditions of optimism and self-government—but confronting them also with tangled cutover lands and game scarcities that were a legacy of the settlers’ belief in the inexhaustible resources of the frontier.
A History of the Trans-Appalachian Frontier—Walter Nugent and Malcolm Rohrbough, general editors
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