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Green Bay History
Indian Portrait
Indian Portrait

Gathering Wild Rice
Gathering Wild Rice
Indian Village
Indian Village

In the 1600’s, the area’s inhabitants were the Winnebago’s, a Sioux-speaking tribe. Besides hunting and fishing, the Winnebago’s cultivated corn, beans, squash, and tobacco. Wild rice, a dietary staple, grew in abundance in the river and its tributaries, and was gathered along with nuts, berries and edible roots of the woods.

The tribe had roles clearly delineated according to sex. The men hunted, fished and fashioned the stone or wood tools needed for the hunt, and made canoes. The women cleaned and cooked the kill, prepared the hides and furs for use as clothing and shelter, wove twine for fishnets, tended the garden, and gathered the rice. Women were active in tribal policies and voted at all councils. Their status in the tribal structure was high, and no tribal action was possible without the approval of their majority.

Artists Conception of Samuel de Champlain
Artist conception of Samuel de Champlain

European Visitors

Samuel de Champlain, explorer and founder-governor of 17th century New France in Quebéc, heard the name and rumors of a strange race that called themselves “People of the Sea”. This held mystery and the promise of untold wealth with its fertile soil and virgin forests teeming with fur-bearing animals. It was told that this “People of the Sea” traded with people living still further west and who reached them by crossing a vast extent of water in large canoes made of wood, not bark, and who because of their lack of beards, their shaved heads and costumes, etc., seemed to greatly resemble the Tartars or the Chinese. Actually, these people were the Sioux and the “People of the Sea” were the Winnebago’s.

Champlain believed that by pushing westward, he would find a shorter route to China. He figured it would be sufficient to penetrate two or three hundred leagues (A measurement of length, which consist of three geographical miles) inland, in order to find, if not the Pacific Ocean, at least a bay or some great river leading there. He chose Jean Nicolet to explore and find the treasures he envisioned. And thus it was that the first European to visit this area was Jean Nicolet de Belleborne, son of a Normandy mail carrier, in 1634, just 14 years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.

Nicolet's Route from Quebéc
Route of Jean Nicolet de Belleborne

Jean Nicolet was intelligent, courageous and endowed with a talent for Indian diplomacy. Early in July of 1634 the young Frenchman and his entourage of seven Hurons embarked from Quebéc in canoes. They arrived at the area of Red Banks in late summer or early fall. As he cruised the western shore of the bay the Indians call La Baie des Puants – the Bay of Stinking Waters, Nicolet learned the exotic people he sought were only a few hours away. Preparing for his moment of discovery, he donned a flowing damask robe embroidered in flowers and birds – garb befitting what he expected would be an appearance before the mandarins of the East.

Artists Conception of Nicolet Landing At Red Banks
Artist conception of Nicolet landing

The Puant people watched his approach from the eastern shore, high on the wooded slopes of Red Banks, north of present Green Bay. Nicolet stepped ashore, raised his arms and discharged two pistols into the air. The History of Northern Wisconsin describes the event as such:

The squaws and children fled, screaming that it was a manito, or spirit, armed with thunder and lightning, but the chiefs and warriors regaled him with so bountiful a hospitality that one hundred and twenty beaver were devoured at a single feast.

Jean Nicolet
Statue of Jean Nicolet at Red Banks

1730 map
1730 map of area
click for larger size

Nicolet spent the winter exploring the waterway beyond la Baie and forming alliances important to commerce. In spite of the realization Green Bay was not the Orient, the rich resources of the land prompted Nicolet to claim the area for the King of France and named it La Baie Verte (the Green Bay) because of the greenish waters.
After a year in the wilderness, Nicolet returned to Quebéc in 1635. A few months after Nicolet’s return, Samuel de Champlain died and with him the passion for exploration and discovery.

No extended stays were made at la Baie Verte until Pere Claude Allouez established St Francis Xavier mission at Rapids Des Peres (rapids of the father) in 1671, which is today the City of De Pere, about 5 miles south of Green Bay. A priceless relic of the area is an ostensorium given to the mission by trader Nicolas Perrot who represented the French at La Baie until 1689. His post was on the Fox River (named for the Fox Indians of the area) some distance from its mouth on the bay. Green Bay is often called “The Gateway to the Great Waterway” because of the fur trade route Perrot and other established down the Fox River to the Wisconsin River and then down the Mississippi River.

Exhausted by Indian and European wars, the French made no attempt to populate the area before they were driven out by the English in 1763. The French and Indian War, 1754-1760, was actually a war between the French and Indians against the British. They were fighting for control to establish fur trading posts in the vast territory between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River, from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, know as Ohio Country.

Charles de Langlade Marker
Charles de Langlade Marker
Click for larger view

Charles de Langlade, called the “Father of Wisconsin”, was a half-French Ottawa chief who along with his father Augustine de Langlade established the first permanent settlement here. They established a trading post on the Fox River in 1764. The Grignon’s, Porlier’s, and Lawe’s who followed brought Canadian-French culture with them and colorful “Jack-knife” Judge Reaume dispensed British justice to the area.

Charles de Langlade Charles de Langlade Medal - 1933
Courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society
Pontiac Uprising
Pontiac Uprising

Fort Howard
Artist drawing of Fort Howard

In 1717 the French rebuilt the French Fort la Baye, a frontier outpost and trading post built by Nicolas Perrot in 1684, naming it Fort St. Francois (also spelled St Friancis). It was destroyed by Indians in 1728 and was not rebuilt for five years. It was abandoned in 1760.

In 1761 it became British Fort Edward Augustus but was abandoned during the Pontiac Uprising (1763-1766).

After the Revolutionary War the Americans built Fort Howard in 1816 on the same site. Some of these buildings have been preserved and moved to Heritage Hill, a Wisconsin State Museum.


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