Early History of Fond du Lac

The wilderness known as Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, was pure and undisturbed for centuries. Although a permanent white settlement began in 1836, the original inhabitants of Fond du Lac area were the native Indians.

Approximately 15,000 years ago, the first tribe of Indians lived in Wisconsin. These aboriginal people were known as the Mound Builders.

The Mound Builder's legacy is the effigy mounds they built. Mounds were in the shape of animals, birds, and reptiles, on round and oval shapes. The burial mounds date back to 500 B.C.

The height of the effigy mound building was about 700 A.D. and after. Platform mounds were rectangular with a flat surface on top. These were used as a base for important public buildings, such as temples and homes of Chieftains. Early French explorers witnessed the use of the mounds during the Indian religious ceremonies and burial of their dead. The burial mounds had many wooden chambers in which a body was placed, and the chamber was then covered with dirt.

Nobody really knows what happened to the mound builders because they mysteriously vanished from the area. Many anthropologists and archeologists believe that they evolved into the other Indians of the area, such as the Winnebagos, and Algonquians.

The Indian's name for Lake Winnebago is Okawaniu. That translates into "End of Lake." It is really a corruption of the name Winnebegoug, which it was sometimes called.

The Winnebago Indians were the major tribe to occupy the Fond du Lac area. They controlled all of the streams and rivers flowing into the lake. Their homes were domed shaped wigwams, made from basswood saplings, and covered with woven mats. They were approximately thirty feet long and twenty feet across.

The Winnebago Indians were the ones that welcomed Colwert and Fanna (Kendall) Pier on their arrival to the Fond du Lac House in 1836. They lined the banks of the Fond du Lac River.

The area was first explored about 1618, when Jean Nicolet and Samuel de Champlain were on an expedition to explore the upper Great Lakes. It was early explorers such as these, and French voyageurs (fur trappers) that named the area Fond du Lac, which is French for "bottom or far end of the lake."

The French took hold of the area and it seems that no records exist for about a 20-year period. Control of the area was transferred from the French to the English. The first recorded person to reside in the Fond du Lac area who was not an Indian was a French trader named Laurent Ducharme, who came here in 1785. He found that a cabin was already here. He remained in the area from 1785 to 1787.

In 1787, a man named "ACE" or Mr. Jacob Franks came to the area with his wife and children and nephew, John Lawes. He traded with the Indians, some of whom were friendly, but a few were hostile to the white man. Mr. Franks was lured away from the post and was murdered by the Indians. Mrs. Franks, with her children, fled the post, and found refuge with a tribe of friendly Indians. The trading post was again abandoned. No one knows what happened to Mrs. Franks, although some think that the Indians took her by canoe, to nearby Oshkosh.

About 1790 a man named Chavodrevil, who was half French and half Canadian Indian, along with two clerks, occupied the post for an undetermined amount of time. These men were also at the mercy of the Winnebago Indians and were massacred and the post again left empty. After 1800 the original post was totally abandoned, in almost total ruin. In 1801 Augustine Grignon and Michael Brisbois, built a new post near the same site, along the Fond du Lac River. They ran a thriving business with the Indians along the rivers and the lakeshore.

In 1832, James Duane Doty appealed to the Congress in Washington, DC to build a road between Fort Howard and Prairie du Chien via Fort Winnebago and Fond du Lac, Wis. Later in that year he was summoned to Washington, DC where he was appointed to be in charge of the construction of such a road. The Fifth Infantry Regiment at Fort Howard was the actual backbone that built the road from Fort Howard to Fort Winnebago.

The road was quickly and crudely built. At best the trees were marked along the way through the dense forests, and many were cleared away to make a wider path. Ditches were cut and filled with brushes and branches. The road, on open plains, was marked by two oxen-plowed furrows on each side of the road.

On May 28, 1836, Colwert Pier had left Green Bay by horseback along the Military Road to prepare the "Fond du Lac House" for the coming of his wife. Mrs. Pier took a safer route, for there were rumors of an Indian war about to break out. She followed Mr. Pier, by Durham boat on Lake Winnebago. It had many stops along the way before it finally reached the site of the Fond du Lac House. The boat was captained by Samuel Irwin.

On June 6, 1836, Mrs. Pier arrived at the outlet of the Fond du Lac River on Lake Winnebago. The boat traveled down stream and was met by hundreds of Indians lining the banks of the river. Mrs. Fanna (Kendall) Pier was greeted by her husband, Capt. Samuel Irwin wrote these words about the Piers: "I bade goodbye to Mrs. Pier with feelings not unmixed with sorrow. She endeared herself to all of us by her uniform kindness. She assisted us in our cooking, and cheering us by her looks and words through all the trying scenes of the nine days we were on the voyage. When we left her on the bank of the Fond du Lac River, a lone region surrounded by hundreds of Indians, with no one but her husband to protect her, we all felt sad."

Another writer also had this to say, "She once told me that when Capt. Irwin's boat was out of sight, she and her husband were left alone-feeling they constituted the only civilized inhabitants of the entire region, she sat down upon the ground and cried a considerable time, then wiping away her tears, she resolutely got up and walked into the house where her home was to be, and took a calm view of the surroundings..."

The Fond du Lac House consisted of two cabins united; there was a hall between the dining room and sitting room, and a kitchen in the rear of the cabin. The floor was dirt, but before Mrs. Fanna Pier arrived, her husband replaced it with a wood floor and had put two windows and a door in the cabin.

Within half a day an Indian squaw appeared at the house. Through sign language, Mrs. Pier understood that the woman wanted to trade some feathers for some flour, and she did so. Within a half-hour the house was filled with squaws wanting to trade feathers for pork and flour. All the Piers had was one barrel of pork and 2 barrels of flour. By the end of the day, Mrs. Pier had enough feathers to make two rather large feather beds. They remained the only white settlers from June 6, 1836 until Mar. 11, 1837. On horseback from Green Bay, Wis. arrived his brother Edward Pier and his wife Harriet (Kendall) Pier, sister to Mrs. Colwert Pier, and their two daughters, the youngest only about 4 weeks old. Slowly and unevenly, people trickled into the area.

On February 18, 1838 the first mail was brought to the Fond du Lac House by a French-Indian half-breed named Willi William LaLone, who walked from Green Bay. The mail would arrive regularly, every week, by foot.

On March 1, 1838 tragedy had struck the small settlement with the passing of Mrs. Fanna (Kendall) Pier. Her funeral was held on March 3, 1838.

In May of 1838, Gustav DeNeveu arrived with his wife Madame Harriet (Dousman) DeNeveu. At this time there were only five homes, or cabins in the entire county; the home of Colwert Pier, Edward Pier, Luke Laborde and Mason C. Darling. DeNeveu's was the fifth to be raised.

On June 14, 1838 Dr. Mason C. Darling and his family arrived in the area. He brought about 15 people with him from the Sheboygan area.

On Sept. 10, 1838, a public meeting was held for all citizens of the Fond du Lac area. They wanted to organize the area as a county, but there were less than one hundred inhabitants in the area. On Sept. 26, 1838 the first marriage took place in Fond du Lac County between Miss Harriet Pier, daughter of Calvin and Esther (Everrts) Pier and Mr. Alonzo Raymond. The Justice of the Peace, Mr. John A. Bannister, performed the marriage at the Fond du Lac House.

With a plank road finished between Sheboygan and Fond du Lac in 1837-38, many more people began to come to the area. By winter of 1839, a road linked Waupun and Fond du Lac and on to Madison.

The First Federal Population Census of Fond du Lac County was taken by John Bannister on July 1, 1840. At this time, there were exactly 139 persons spread out among the county.

The area began to take the shape of a small village as more and more people came to settle in the area. In 1843 the first Gristmill was built near the river, to help refine the numerous grains that were being grown in the county.

In March of 1843 the people of Fond du Lac wanted to form their own County. This would be the third attempt to try and do so. An act was brought before the Legislators and on Jan. 22, 1844 the act passed and Fond du Lac, after the first Monday of March, would become a full-fledged County of the Wisconsin territory.

In 1847 the population of the Village of Fond du Lac was 519 persons and that year became an incorporated village. The first village President was Dr. Mason C. Darling.

When the federal census was taken in 1850, only three years after it became a village, there were over 1940 persons in the city. That was an increase of 1,321 in a matter of only three years, and on March 19, 1852, the city was incorporated as a full-fledged city with over 2,000 persons living in the city.