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Historic Events on the Shores of Lake Superior
Exploration and the Fur Trade
Etienne Brule

Lake Superior is the biggest of all Great Lakes in the entire North and South America.  Because of the vastness of land of the lake, it is difficult to trace the pre-contact history of Lake Superior. There is a handful of information about its history and even rarer archaeological sites. Only three prehistoric sites existed along this Great Lake. The early history of the lake is only based on what is known from regions of Canada and Wisconsin.

 

Historic Events Along Lake Superior’s Shores

Most people can agree on several historic events along the shorelines of Lake Superior.

Around 8000 B.C. a time where the Wisconsin glaciers melted, Archaic Indian people settled in the shorelines of this Great Lake. The next known settlers arrived about 500 B.C. and trading goods and metal wares in other parts of the country. Archaeologists found mysterious circular stone structures known as “Pukaskwa pits” along the eastern shores of Lake Superior. These unique stone features are believed to build by the native people around 1100 and 1600.

The Ojibwe tribe inhabited Lake Superior region for more than 500 years and soon after followed by Dakota, Fox, Menominee, Nipigon, Noquet and Gros Ventres.  They all referred to Lake Superior as Ojibwe Gichigami meaning “the Ojibwe’s Great Sea”.

 

Exploration and Fur Trade

During the boom of the fur trade worldwide, French explorers traverse Lake Superior for the first time in the mid-1600s. The first European to set eyes on Lake Superior is no other than Etienne Brule in 1620. The arrival of French explorers in Lake Superior marks the landing of the Mayflower at Plymouth on that same year.

Soon after the French established their fur posts in Grand Portage and in Duluth which became a major trading center.  The French were also liable in mapping the Midwest. When they reached the northern part of the Mississippi River, they claimed the area as a territory for King Louis the XIV.

 

Etienne Brule

Brule was an indentured sailor, and wilderness guide to the Great Lakes and Georgian Bay. He was an astute interpreter and mineral finder. Some believed he may have traveled as far as the west region of Isle Royale.

Even as an explorer the life of Etienne Brule remains a mystery. He was born in 1591 in Champigny-sur-Marne near Paris. Many believed he was on onboard the Samuel de Champlain in 1608 that traveled to Quebec and was the first foreigner to see and give an oral description of Ottawa Valley, Georgian Bay, Pennsylvania and the other four of the Great Lakes.

He was a scout, pathfinder who eventually becomes an interpreter or truchemnet between the French and the Amerindian allies. Brule also played an essential role in scouting ahead of the journeys of Samuel de Champlain, Gabriel Sagard, Jean Nicolet, Nicolas Perrot and other Europeans who traversed the Great Lakes.

Unfortunately, he left no written records of his explorations. He was known only to the writings of Samuel de Champlain, Gabriel Sagard, and Jean de Brébeuf.  Nevertheless, Brule becomes a mineral finder, language instructor, and adopted a member of the Huron Bear clan before he was murder in his late 30s.

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