Historic Period


By: Caven Clark


pecific accounts of Native Americans or Europeans on Isle Royale are uncommon in the early documentation of the French missionaries, explorers, and traders. We know that the activities of the first French in Lake Superior, the traders Brule in 1622 and Nicolet in 1634, and the Jesuits Raymbault and Jogues in 1641, had little or no immediate consequences for native culture. However, the trends which began in the early and mid- seventeenth century in the Lower Great Lakes became amplified as the incorporation of European material culture and participation in the fur trade spread to the Upper Great Lakes (Stone and Chaput 1978).

The acquisition of European material culture preceded the arrival of the first whites, filtering through a down-the-line exchange network extending from the St. Lawrence River across the Great Lakes to the Mississippi valley. While there is no consensus regarding the extent and magnitude of sociocultural change brought on by con tact and the fur trade, certain fundamental broad-scale shifts in native culture can be traced, including an increase in the incidence of intergroup hostility and a change in the motivation behind it. Low-level endemic warfare reflected the reciprocal animosity among groups and served as a means to acquire personal prestige. Warring factions were often drawn along linguistic boundaries. Blood feuds required exchanges in which redress and compensation were the ultimate goal. But by the mid-1600s violent interactions were directed toward the acquisition of furs, fur bearing territories, and/or an economically strategic position as middlemen between the French and native groups lacking direct access.

By the mid-seventeenth century Neutral and Five Nation Iroquois attacks on the Assisteranon (a generic Huron term for non-Iroquois speakers) in Michigan's Lower Peninsula caused the Sauk, Fox, Kickapoo, Mascouten, Miami, and Potawatomi to move west of Lake Michigan, leaving the land between Lakes Huron and Michigan virtually uninhabited. It was also during this period, between the 1660s and 1690s that the French increased their presence in the Upper Great Lakes with the building of missions, forts, and trading centers. Changing social configurations found the development of multi-ethnic populations around the social and economic nuclei of these French establishments (Mason 1981; Quimby 1966a; Ray 1974).


  1. Clark, Caven P. Archeological Survey and Testing at Isle Royale National Park, 1987-1990 Seasons. Lincoln, Neb: U.S. National Park Service, Midwest Archeological Center, 1995. Print.
  2. Mason, Ronald J. 1981. Great Lakes Archaeology. Academic Press, New York.
  3. Quimby, George I. 1966a. Indian Culture and European Trade Goods: The Archaeology of the Historic Period in the Western Great Lakes Region. The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison.
  4. Ray, Arthur J. 1974. Indians in the Fur Trade. University of Toronto Press, Toronto.
  5. Stone, Lyle M., and Donald Chaput. 1978. History of the Upper Great Lakes Area. In Northeast, edited by Bruce Trigger, pp. 602-609. Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 15, William G. Sturtevant, general editor. Smithsonian Insititution, Washington, D.C.