Mention is made in the chapter on the military occupation of the county, of evictions having frequently been made, by the commanders of Fort Crawford, of settlers on the "prairie." This caused the people to appeal to the United States government for protection in the possession of their property. Congress passed an act for their relief, under which the secretary of Michigan territory, the register and receiver of the Detroit land office, were commissioned to examine and report upon the matter. The provision of the Jay treaty of 1796, by which the inhabitants of Prairie du Chien were received into citizenship and guaranteed protection in the possession of their lands and other property, was made the basis of the settlement, and the commissioners were empowered to confirm the claims to all farm and village lots that had been continuously occupied since the treaty went into operation. Isaac Lee was sent from Detroit to collect testimony during the summer of 1820. In addition to the claims continually occupied since 1796, a number which at that time were occupied as a village common, but were subsiquently appropriated by individuals, were reported favorably. The evicted persons were restored to their rights. This settlement was confirmed by Congress, and the people of the Prairie who had hitherto been compelled to rest content with mere occupation, were guaranteed a reliable title. Some effort was made by United States officers to interrupt the confirmation in a few instances by representing that claimants had taken up arms for Great Britain during the War of 1812, and thereby incurred the penalty of treason. Delay was thus occasioned in some instances, but the government wisely concluded to overlook the offense, inasmuch as they had been made citizens without their own volition, and had been drawn into the hostile attitude without choice of their own, through the peculiar circumstances of their situation, and all the claims were eventually settled without discrimination upon that point. The village of Prairie du Chien also entered a claim to an additional tract extending to the Kickapoo river, based on the Sinclair purchase and a subsequent ratification by the Fox Indians at Cahokia, but the United States refused to recognize the validity of the purchase by Sinclair, as the territory was beyond the jurisdiction of the British crown at the time, and denied this additional claim.
"At the session of Congress of 1819-20," says Mr. Lockwood, "an act was passed to take testimony relative to the private land claims at Sault St. Marys, Mackinaw, Green Bay and Prairie du Chien, that were reserved to subjects of the British government under Jay's treaty; and in the fall of 1820, commissioners were dispatched to the different places to take testimony. A Mr. Lee came to Prairie du Chien. The most of those claims at Prairie du Chien were found to come under Jay's treaty, but there were several that wanted a year or more of coming under it. These facts being reported to Congress, they at a subsequent session passed an act giving to every settler who was in possession of land at the date of the declaration of war in 1812 against Great Britain, and who had continued to submit to the laws of the United States, the lands he claimed.
"It is a matter of history, that the British took Mackinaw and subjected its dependences to their government, including all the aforenamed places, and the most part of these claimants were ignorant Canadians and supposed themselves British subjects, not aware that if they did not within a year choose, as stipulated in the treaty, to continue British subjects, they became American citizens; and when the British government took military possession of the country during the War of 1812-15, the military officers in command considered them as British subjects, and ordered them to do military duty as militia. They were a conquered people, and feeling that they owed no allegiance to the United States, took up arms in obedience to the orders of the British officers. There were some among them intelligent enough to know their position, but had they claimed to be American citizens and refused to take up arms, surrounded as they were by hostile Indians, they would not have been safe; especially as the British officers did not believe in a British subject expatriating himself, and of course there was no law of the United States in the conquered country to submit to. Notwithstanding all these circumstances being known to the officers of the army stationed at Sault St. Marys under Maj. Cutler, they got up a remonstrance to the government, representing these people as traitors; in consequence of which the patents were delayed, to the great annoyance and sometimes to the great injury of the claimants."
Territory of Michigan, }_ District of Detroit. }
We, William Woodbridge, Secretary of the Territory of Michigan, Peter Audrain, Register, and Jonathan Kearsley, Receiver of the Land Office of the Land District of Detroit, do, and each of us doth solemnly swear, that we will impartially exercise and discharge the duties imposed upon us by an act of Congress, entitled "An act regulating the grants of land in the Territory of Michigan," passed the 3d day of March, 1807; and also "An act to revive the powers of the commissioners for ascertaining and deciding on claims to land in the District of Detroit, and for settling the claims to land at Green Bay and Prairie des Chiens, in the Territory of Michigan," passed the 11th day of May, 1820. So help us God.
William Woodbridge, Peter Audrain, J Kearsley.
Territory of Michigan, } -> to-wit: County of Wayne}
Personally appeared before me, John McDonell, one of the Associate Justices of the Court of the county of Wayne, and Territory aforesaid, William Woodbridge, Peter Audrain, and Jonathan Kearsley, Esquires, who took and subscribed the foregoing oath in my presence.
Given under my hand, at the city of Detroit, the 8th of August, 1820.
John McDonell, Associate Justice of the Court of the County of Wayne, Territory of Mich.
Territory of Michigan,} >- to-wit: District of Detroit }
I, Henry B Brevoort, Register of the Land Office for the District of Detroit, do solemnly swear that I will impartially exercise and discharge the duties imposed on me by an act of Congress entitled "An act regulating the grants of land in the Territory of Michigan," passed on the 3d day of March, 1807; and also "An act to revive the powers of the commissioners for ascertaining and deciding on claims to land in the District of Detroit, and for settling the claims to land at Green Bay and Prairie des Chiens, in the Territory of Michigan," passed the 11th day of May, 1820. So help me God.
Henry B Brevoort, Register.
Territory of Michigan, } Land District of Detroit.}
Personally appeared before me, this 14th day of May, AD 1821  the above-named Henry B Brevoort, Esquire, Register of the Land District of Detroit, who took and subscribed the above written affidavit in my presence.
Given under my hand the day and year above written.
George McDougall, Justice of the Peace, County of Wayne, M T
The following are the instructions to the Agent appointed to receive claims and take evidence concerning land claims at Green Bay and Prairie des Chiens.
Territory of Michigan, } Land District of Detroit,} August 8th, 1821 [1820.]Sir:---You are hereby notified of your appointment (with the approbation of the Secretary of the Treasury), and in conformity with the provisions of the act entitled "An act to revive the powers of the Commissioners for ascertaining and deciding on claims to land in the District of Detroit, and for settling the claims to land at Green Bay and Prairie des Chiens, in the Territory of Michigan," passed the 11th of May, 1820, as agent for the purpose of ascertaining the titles and claims to land at the settlements of Green Bay and Prairie des Chiens.
The Secretary of the Treasury has given general directions that you proceed, with as little delay as possible, taking the various laws which relate to your duties as your guide in the execution of the trust reposed.
The evidence of titles and claims which it is presumed you will receive, are such as are founded upon legal grant made or authorized prior to the treaty of Paris (Feb. 10, 1763), by the French government, or subsequent to that period and prior to the treaty of peace between the United States and Great Britain (Sept. 3, 1783), or such as may be deducible from some act of Congress.
The whole system heretofore applicable to the Land District of Detroit, is presumed to have been reinstated in its full extent, except so far as controlled by the late law, and made specially applicable to the settlements of Green Bay and Prairie des Chiens. You will therefore not fail to notice that occupancy and possession of tracts within either of those settlements, between the 1st day of July, 1796, and the 3d day of March, 1807, by the present claimants, or those under whom they may successively make claim, are, by the act of the 3d of March, 1807, recognized as conferring just claims for confirmation. And you will also see, by reference to the 4th section of the act of the 25th of April, 1808, that so much of the act of March 3d, 1807, as limited the claim to one tract, is repealed.
These references are given you that your records may not be needlessly burdened: it is nevertheless believed that you cannot of right refuse to receive and record any evidence of title, of whatsoever nature that may be offered, for the law clearly contemplates that the power of rejecting, as well as confirming all claims, resides in the first instance, in the commissioners, and not in the agent.
It is presumed to be the intention of the law that all the evidence of title and claims shall be recorded in the English language; yet, it is recommended in all cases of doubtful or technical expressions, that you preserve the original expression used; also, in all cases where it is desired by the claimants, that you record also true copies of entire documents in their original language. After being recorded with every proof of authentication which is offered, it is considered, that the claimants will be entitled to receive again of you their deeds or other documents. The originals, it is believed, are not required to be brought here, unless by the consent and desire of the claimants.
A doubt occurs how far it may be competent for you to administer oaths; that power is not expressly given you by law; it is there given only to those who have the right to examine and decide. Such implied powers only can be supposed to have been given you as are really necessary to enable you conveniently to receive the notices and record the evidences of the titles and claims adduced. The commissioners do not deem it necessary, at this time, to express an opinion on that point, as they are advised that you will receive commissions as justice of the peace for each of the two counties of Crawford and Brown, before your departure, in virtue of which, under the territorial laws, you will be qualified to administer all necessary oaths; and take all proper affidavits.
As it is feared (from the characteristic want of caution of the Canadian French, as it regards the presentation of their title deeds) that most of their claims will be attempted to be supported by proving continued possession, this proof will, of course, consist principally of affidavits to be taken at the time of preferring their claims, it is specially recommended to you that you attend whenever practicable, personally, to the taking of such affidavits; that you have special regard to the prevention of all attempts at deception; and that you certify them in both your capacities of agent and justice of the peace. This form of authentication must remove all doubt as to your competency to administer oaths and will be particularly convenient also, as it will enable you to draw the affidavits in the English language.
It is not practicable for the commissioners to prescribe the period of time which, by your notices, you will assign at Green Bay and Prairie des Chiens, respectively, for receiving the evidences of claims and titles, The law requires reasonable notice; what may be deemed reasonable notice must depend upon the number of claimants, and the remoteness of relative situations. You must judge of it.
Though the settlement of Green Bay is spoken of by Charlevoix as early as 1720, yet it is believed the whole number of claimants there cannot exceed 150. The settlement of Prairie des Chiens is supposed to have been some thirty years later, though the number of claimants is believed to be considerably greater; but in respect to both, it is said the settlements are quite compact. All the traditionary or other information which can be procured by you concerning the origin and history of these settlements, would be very desirable, and may be of much use in the ultimate investigation of their land claims.
It is expected that from the time of your arrival at Green Bay, and entering upon the duties devolving upon you, you will keep accurate minutes of all your official proceedings.
William Woodbridge, Sec'y of Mich., Peter Audrain, Register, J Kearsley, Receiver, Commissioners.
To Isaac Lee, Esq., Agent.
Territory of Michigan, } Land District of Detroit. }
I, Isaac Lee, of the said Territory, having been appointed agent for the purpose of ascertaining the titles and claims to land at the settlements of Green Bay and Prairie des Chiens, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully and impartially discharge the duties imposed upon me by the act entitled "An act to revive the powers of the commissioners for ascertaining and deciding on claims to land in the District of Detroit, and for settling the claims to land at Green Bay and Prairie des Chiens, in the Territory of Michigan," according to the best of my ability and understanding. So help me God. Isaac Lee.
Sworn to and subscribed before us, this 8th day of August, 1820.
William Woodbridge, Sec'y of Mich., Peter Audrain, Register, J Kearsley, Receiver, Commissioners.
To the Commissioners of the Land District of Detroit:
Gentlemen: --- On my arrival at Green Bay, on the 24th of August, AD 1820, I found that the principal land claimants were absent. I gave personal notice at every house of my arrival and business, and embraced the first opportunity of a passage to Prairie des Chiens, stating to the inhabitants of Green bay that I should return and attend to their land claims in October.
On my arrival at Prairie des Chiens, October 2, . I gave personal notice at each house of my arrival and business there, and immediately commenced to take testimony, which I completed, and took my departure for Green Bay, October 24th, at which place I arrived November 16th, and found myself obliged to remain there during the winter season. The principal part of my report is contained in the records already before you.
As to the traditionary account of the first settlement of that country, and the purchase of the lands from the natives, I refer you to the depositions before you, and [to] a letter from Matthew Irwin, Esq., factor at Green Bay, to Gov. Cass. I was requested by the inhabitants of both Green Bay and Prairie des Chiens, to represent to you the situation of those whose claims would not come within the present law, with a request that you would officially represent to the general government, their situation and endeavor to procure the passage of a law more favorable than the existing law; as they find it difficult to prove a continual occupation for twenty-five years. The records before you contain an account of every kind of claim that came to my knowledge in the country.
With respect, yours, etc., Isaac Lee, Agent.
|The heirs of James Aird||Farm Lot No.||1|
|Charles Menard, for Mariame Labuche Menard his wife||do||2|
|Joseph Rolette, in behalf of Jean F Rolette||do||3|
|The heirs of Felix Mercier||do||5|
|Jean Fisher Rolette||do||6|
|The heirs of Claude Gagnier||do||13|
|The heir of James Aird||do||15|
|Jean Baptiste Albert||do||17|
|The heirs of John Campbell||do||20|
|Antoine Lachapelle, for his wife Pelise Lachapelle||do||25|
|The heirs of James Aird||Farm Lot No.||18|
|The heirs of Pierre Jaudron||do||23|
|Jean Marie Quere||do||32|
|Strange Poze [Powers]||do||35|
|Francois Lapointe, Sr||do||36|
|Francois Lapointe, Jr||do||37|
|Michael Brisbois||Village Lot No.||1|
|Jean Baptiste Coran||do||7|
|Jean F Rolette||do||8|
|American Fur Company||do||14|
|The heirs of James Aird||do||18|
|James McFarlane||Village Lot No.||22|
|John W Johnson||do||35|
|Michael Brisbois||Village Lot No.||1|
|Strange Poze [or Powers]||do||14|
|Jean Marie Quere||do||16|
|Jean Marie Cardinal||Village Lot No.||8|
Territory of Michigan, } > ss. County of Crawford, }
Be it remembered, that on this day personally appeared before me, Isaac Lee, a justice of the peace in and for said county, and agent duly appointed to ascertain the title to lands at Green Bay and Prairie des Chiens, Dennis Courtois, of said county, who, after being sworn according to law, deposeth and saith that he is fifty-two years old; that he has been a resident of Prairie des Chiens twenty-nine years; that, according to the best information he ahs been able to obtain from the tradition of the inhabitants of Prairie des Chiens, the old French fort was burned during the second year of the Revolutionary War; that he has no knowledge of any building or fence being erected on the same ground since that time, but that the land between the said fort and the hills or bluffs was occupied before and since the time that deponent arrived in this country; that Prairie du Chien has been formerly occupied much in the manner of an Indian village, the lands being alternately in common, and improved in detached parts as each should please, and this by the common consent of the villagers, since deponent's arrival in the country; that he (deponent) has been uniformly told by the old French inhabitants of the prairie, that it was bought and paid for by the French many years ago; that he has never heard any Indian make claim to said lands.
Sworn [to] and subscribed before me, this 21st of October, AD 1820.
Isaac Lee, JPCC and Agent.
Territory of Michigan, } > ss. County of Crawford. }
Be it remembered, that on this day personally appeared before me, Isaac Lee, a justice of the peace in and for said county, and agent duly appointed to ascertain the title to lands at Green Bay and Prairie des Chiens, Michael Brisbois, of said county, who, after being sworn according to law, deposeth and saith that he, this deponent, is sixty years of age; that he has been thirty-nine years in this country; that from the best information he has been able to obtain, and from his own knowledge, Prairie du Chien, extending from the mouth of the river Ouisconsin [Wisconsin] to the upper part of the prairie, has been occupied and cultivated in small improvements, in virtue of sundry claims of French people, both before and since deponent's arrival in the country; that he (deponent) has never heard of any Indian claim to said tract, except that, about eighteen years ago, the French people became somewhat apprehensive as to their title which fact being made known to the Indians, one of the first chiefs of the Fox Nation, named Nanpouis ratified at Cahokia, near St. Louis, an ancient sale of said prairie to the French; that in the year seventeen hundred and eighty-one Gov. Sinclair bought the island of Michillimackinac, Green Bay and Prairie du Chien; that this deponent saw the papers relating to said purchase executed and folded up, to be sent to Montreal or Quebec; deponent was informed on his first arrival at this place, that it derived its name from a large family called Des Cheins, who formerly resided here; that the same family, or their descendants, were at the time of deponent's arrival, and were called "Des Chiens." M. Brisbois.
Sworn [to] and subscribed before me, this 21st day of October, AD 1820.
Isaac Lee, JPCC and Agent.
Territory of Michigan, } > ss. County of Crawford, }
Be it remembered, that on this day personally appeared before me, Isaac Lee, a justice of the peace in and for said county, and agent duly appointed to ascertain the title to lands at Green Bay and Prairie des Chiens, Pierre La Pointe, of said county, who, after being sworn according to law, deposeth and saith that he is seventy years of age; that he has been forty-four years in this country, of which period he has resided thirty-eight years at Prairie des Chiens; that, in the year seventeen hundred and eighty-one, this deponent was at Michilimacknac, and acted in the capacity of interpreter at the treaty held by Gov. Sinclair with the Indians, for the purchase of the islands of Michillimackinac, Green Bay and Prairie des Chiens; that during the time deponent has resided at the prairie he has never known the Indians to make claim to said tract of land as their property; that deponent was present at Prairie des Chiens and saw the goods delivered to the Indians in payment for the said prairie, by Bazil Giard, Pierre Antaya and Augustin Angi, according to the stipulations of the treaty with Gov. Sinclair, above-mentioned.
Pierre La Pointe, his X mark.
Sworn [to] and subscribed before me, this 23d day of October, AD 1820.
Isaac Lee, JPCC and Agent.
Territory of Michigan, to-wit:
I, Isaac Lee, agent appointed to receive claims to land at the settlements of Green Bay and Prairie des Chiens, and to take down and receive testimony concerning them, do certify that the whole extent of the prairie on which is situated the village of Prairie des Chiens, excepting so much of it as is fenced, and in the exclusive possession of individuals, is claimed by the villagers and inhabitants of that settlement as a common appurtenent to the village, and that many objections were urged against some of the claims preferred, lest they should ultimately be found to encroach upon that common.
I further certify that no testimony was tendered to me to establish the said claim, as all the inhabitants residing there felt equal interest in establishing the claim, and might not, therefore, be considered competent witnesses; but that, as an individual, and in my official capacity, I made diligent inquiry in relation to this matter, especially among the oldest and most intelligent of the inhabitants; the result of which was, the most entire conviction in my own mind that, in truth, from the earliest periods in the history of this settlement, all that part of the said prairie not enclosed and in the exclusive occupancy of individuals, was, and continually has been, and is used as a common appurtenent to said village and settlement, in which all the inhabitants are acknowledged to have an equal interest.
I further certify that among the most aged of the inhabitants of the prairie, none could be found who could recollect, or who had any knowledge of the first establishment of the French there, nor could any satisfactory account be obtained by any traditions among them touching this point. The remains of what is commonly called the Old French fort are yet very distinguishable. Though capacious and apparently strong, it was probably calculated for defense against musketry and small arms only. None can recollect the time of the erection of this fort --- it was far beyond the memory of the oldest; nor can the time of its erection be determined by any evidence to be obtained. Some difference of opinion seems to exist there as to the question whether it was originally built by the French or by the Spanish government. It is evidently very ancient.
Isaac Lee, Agent.
The American Fur Company laid claim to a tract upon the "prairie," which is thus described by the agent, Isaac Lee:
Entry of land made this tenth day of October, one thousand eight hundred and twenty, by John Jacob Astor, Ramsay Crooks and Robert Stewart, merchants, known by the firm [name] of "The American Fur Company," which is described as follows, viz., it being village lot number fourteen, bounded in front by Water street, on the east by the lower marais, on the north by lot numbered thirteen, claimed by Nicholas Boilvin, on the south by lot number fifteen, claimed by Michael Brisbois, and is ten rods in width and about one hundred and fifty rods in depth.
Michael Brisbois, being duly sworn deposeth and saith that the above described tract or lot of land was occupied thirty-one years ago by John Stork, who sold to Andre Todd, who sold to John Campbell, who sold to Lewis Crawford, who sold to the Michillimackinac Company, who sold to the Southwest Company, and is now claimed by the American Fur Company, that the occupation has been kept up by the aforesaid individuals and companies for the said period of thirty-one years, or until it was taken possession of by John W Johnson.
Dennis Courtois being duly sworn deposeth and saith that the aforesaid tract of land was occupied in the year one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three, by John Stork, who sold said possession to Andre Todd, who sold to John Campbell, who sold to Lewis Crawford, who sold to the Michillimackinac Company, who sold to the Southwest Company, and is now claimed by the American Fur Company; and that said claim has been occupied by the above named individuals and companies from one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three to one thousand eight hundred and sixteen, when it was taken possession of by John W Johnson.
John W Johnson, United States' factor at Prairie des Chiens, enters, on behalf of the United States, a protest against the granting of a final certificate, by the commissioners to the American Fur Company on their claim to a certain lot of land situated in the village of Prairie des Chiens, numbered by Judge [Isaac] Lee, the United States agent, lot No. 14, and bounded in front by Water street, in the rear by the marais, on the south by a lot claimed by Michael Brisbois, said lot being ten rods in front by about 150 in depth; and on the behalf of the United States, and for the information of the said commissioners, he further states that, on the 26th day of May, one thousand eight hundred and sixteen, he, the said Johnson, arrived at Prairie des Chiens; and, on the twenty-seventh day of said month, entered into an agreement with Francois Bouthellier, agent for the Southwest Fur Company to rent the building belonging to said company and erected on said lot, as Indian factor, on behalf of the United States; that, on the twenty-first day of June following, and shortly after the departure of the said Bouthellier from the Prairie, Brigadier General [T A] Smith informed the said Johnson that he should no longer pay rent to the said Southwest Company for the said buildings, as he said he felt authorized in taking possession of the said buildings for the use of the United States; in consequence of which the said Johnson, as factor aforesaid, ceased to pay rent from that time, and still continues in the occupancy of the said buildings as public property; and the said Johnson further states that he has since erected other buildings and made various repairs and improvements on said lot at the expense of the United States and under the sanction of the United States Superintendent of Indian trade; the items of which said buildings, repairs and improvements, will probably amount to about three thousand dollars as will appear from the schedule hereto annexed, or as will more accurately appear by reference to the accounts rendered by said Johnson, in the office of the said Superintendent of Indian trade, at Georgetown, District of Columbia.
John W Johnson, US Factor.
The following were the documents which accompanied the foregoing protest:
Agreed with Francois Bouthellier to rent the houses which he occupies, the property of the Southwest Company, from this day until the last day of August next, unless he thinks proper to leave them before that time, at the rate of twenty-seven dollars per month; provided, nevertheless, that John W Johnson, United States factor, should refuse to leave the said house after giving him fifteen days notice, from the thirty-first day of July next, to pay the sum of three hundred dollars damages, if he refuses to deliver the premises without proceeding to law; in case that the said houses should be sold at Michillimackinac to be delivered before the end of August.
Made between both parties, duplicate, bona fide, at Prairie des Chiens, the twenty-seventh day of May, one thousand eight hundred and sixteen.
John W Johnson, F Bouthellier. Witness: Robert B Belt
I, John W Johnson, US factor, of lawful age, do testify and say that, on the twenty-sixth day of May, in the year one thousand eight hundred and sixteen, I arrived at Prairie des Chiens, in the Territory of Michigan, and, on the twenty-seventh of said month, entered into an agreement with Francois Bouthellier, agent for the Southwest Fur Company, to rent the buildings belonging to said company at said Prairie des Chiens. On the twenty-first day of June following, Brigadier General Thomas A Smith called on me shortly after the departure of said Bouthellier, and informed me that I would no longer pay rent, as he felt himself warranted in taking possession of said buildings for the United States. I accordingly, from that time, stopped paying rent, and have occupied, and still continue to occupy said premises as public property. I have also erected additional buildings, and made various improvements on them, at the expense of the United States and under the sanction of the Superintendent of the Indian trade.
John W Johnson, US Factor.
Sworn [to] and subscribed before me, this twenty-first day of October, 1820.
Isaac Lee, JPCC and agent.
Franklin, M T, Sept. 2, 1819.
Sir: --- I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of the twenty-first of July and the several enclosures. The buildings at Prairie des Chiens, for which a man by the name of Astor claims rent, was occupied by the factor, in conformity with my instructions while in command of the ninth military department. These instructions were given after my having ascertained from the intruders at that place that the only claim they had to the soil was the permission of the Indians to reside there for the purposes of trade. These persons having in violation of the laws taken possession of public lands were subject to fine and imprisonment. I would have destroyed the settlement, and delivered the male part of the inhabitants to the civil authority to be prosecuted for the intrusion, but for the impression that they could be made useful in provisioning a post so remote. The officer left in command was authorized to carry this view of the subject into effect whenever he should deem it expedient.(1)
Indian Office Georgetown, } Feb. 27, 1823. }
Sir: Mr. John W Johnson, the late factor at Prairie du Chien, has informed me that, when he established the factory at that place, he rented from one of the settlers a house for the accommodation of the factory until he could put up buildings for the purpose; that in the meantime, Gen. Smith having taken the command at that place, considered himself authorized by his instructions to dispossess some of the settlers, and, among others, the person from whom he rented, and put him in possession of the property as public property, with directions not to pay rent. In consequence of this Mr. Johnson proceeded to put up buildings for factory, which it appears from the last returns are estimated at upwards of $6000. In 1820, the American Fur Company (Mr. Astor) presented a claim to the commissioners sitting at Detroit for this property. The commissioners made a partial decision, referring the final decision to the government. On this decision, the American Fur Company brought suit against Mr. Johnson for all the back rents, amounting to several thousand dollars. The court at Detroit has continued the suit, until a final decision on the claim is made by competent authority.
Observing that an act has lately passed for the adjustment of the land claims in the territory of Michigan, I have deemed it proper to make this communication, in order that you may give such instructions to the persons authorized to carry the law into effect as you m(a)y think necessary to protect the interest of the United States in this property. I am not advised of the nature of the decision of the commissioners at Detroit on this particular claim. I called at the land office, but was informed that the report of the commissioners had been sent to the Senate. It is presumed that the property will be protected by the provision in the third section of the late act. With very great respect, your most obedient servant, George Graham, Agent.
To Hon. William H Crawford, Esq., Secretary of the Treasury.
Report concerning land titles at Prairie des Chiens, in the county of Crawford and territory of Michigan:
Few difficulties have been met with by the commissioners in their investigations of these titles; they are not individually intricate. The determination of a few principles of general applicability has furnished a rule by which they have all been decided; for they rest upon long continued possession.
Notwithstanding the high antiquity which may be claimed for the settlement of Prairie des Chiens, and the very considerable numbers of which it has so long consisted, no one perfect title, founded upon French or British grant legally authenticated, has been successfully made out; comparatively but few deeds of any sort have been exhibited to us. To an American, unacquainted with the astonishing carelessness of the Canadians in respect to whatsoever concerns their land titles, this fact must seem unaccountable. It nevertheless accords with whatever is known in this regard of the French population throughout this country.
It became manifest, therefore, immediately after the commissioners were possessed of the report of the agent, that whatever claim the people of Prairie des Chiens might have for a confirmation of their land titles, must be founded upon proof of continued possession since 1796 --- a basis sufficiently broad to have comprehended perhaps all their claims, but for the changes which have occurred within a few years among them, and the interruptions and occasional evictions from their possessions consequent upon the establishment there, since the late war, of bodies of American troops.
Such interruptions and evictions, though frequent since the period last referred to, seem never, among the French population, to have excited a spirit of resistance, but to have been submitted to in silence. Since their ancestors were cut off by the treaty which gave the Canadas to the English, from all intercourse with their parent country, the people, both at Green Bay and Prairie des Chiens, have been left, until within a few years, quite isolated --- almost without any government but their own. And although the present population of these settlements are natives of the countries which they inhabit, and consequently are by birth citizens of the United States, yet, until within a few years, they had apparently, as little connection with its government as their ancestors had with that of the British. Ignorance of their civil rights, carelessness of their land titles, docility, habitual hospitality, cheerful submission to the requirements of any government which may be set over them, are their universal characteristics. With those who know them, their quiet surrender of their fields and houses upon the demand of those who come ostensibly clothed with authority, would constitute no evidence of the illegality of their titles, or of the weakness of their claims.
A few additional remarks, in conclusion, might seem sufficient to satisfy the requisition of the law, and to explain adequately the grounds of the decisions the commissioners have made. A circumstance has occurred, however, which seems to call for a more detailed exposition of their views. After [the] agent [Isaac Lee] had returned from Green Bay and Prairie des Chiens, and when it seemed too late to obtain rebutting or further testimony, a caveat was filed with the commissioners, at the instance of the superintendent of Indian trade, by John W Johnson, Esq., Indian factor, against the claim to village lot No. 14, preferred by the American Fur Company. The principles upon which that caveat is founded, and by which it is endeavored to be supported, apply with equal force to all the other land claims at Prairie des Chiens. The objections against the claim, and the documents adduced in its support, consist in this: that the settlement at Prairie des Chiens is of recent origin; that its residents have intruded upon the public land in violation of the laws of the United States, and that, in truth, the Indian title to the country in question has not been extinguished; objections which, if sustained in one case, must conclude all cases there. Upon a critical examination of this matter, so unexpectedly and so recently presented to them, the commissioners have not been able to discover anything in the protest of the United States' Indian factor, in the documents he has adduced, nor in his own fair and candid statement, which could sanction a doubt as to the propriety of confirming the claim set up by the American Fur Company.
It appears to have been in the spring of 1673, that Pierre [Pere] Marquette and Mons. [Louis] Joliet took their departure from the French establishment at Green bay, on a voyage of discovery up the Fox river and down the Ouisconsin [Wisconsin], to the Mississippi. This channel of communication between the great lakes and the Mississippi, from about that period, had attracted a considerable portion of public attention. The French voyagers continued afterwards generally to take that route; their Indian traders most usually did, and it is the same channel through which [Jonathan] Carver also penetrated into the Mississippi country, in 1766.
Although the commissioners have not, on this head, been able in so short a time to procure that ample and certain information which is desirable, yet it is believed that not very many years after its first discovery, in 1673, by the French, a permanent establishment was made by them at Prairie des Chiens. Vestiges of an old and strong French fort are still discernable there, although it is stated to have been destroyed so early as in the first years of the Revolutionary War.
When, in 1805, the late Gen. Pike was on his voyage up the Mississippi, he computed the fixed white population of the place, in the absence of the traders and those connected with them, at 370, and the total number of them at from 500 to 600. Mr. Schoolcraft, in 1820, estimates the population at 500. No evidence can be obtained from the traditionary history of the country, that, at any one period, that settlement has received, by emigration, any sudden and large augmentation in the number of its inhabitants. It has never been characteristic of the French Canadian settlements to increase rapidly; and it is considered a fair inference, from all that can be learned on the subject, that, for a long and an indefinite time, its numbers have been considerable, and increasing at a tardy pace. This consideration is supposed to be eminently corroborative of the position the commissioners have assumed of the antiquity of this settlement.
With what propriety the inhabitants of Prairie des Chiens, who were born there, and whose ancestors have for more than a century resided there, may be said to have "taken possession of the public lands in violation of the laws;" --- how they may be said to be "intruders" who, and whose ancestors, through so many political changes, have, with the assent, expressed or implied, of each successive sovereignty, continued to inhabit the country which gave them birth, it is hard to imagine.
It has been urged against them that their only right in the soil which they occupy consists in the permission accorded them by the Indians to remain there. Surrounded, as that settlement always has been, by numerous hordes of ferocious savages, quite well disposed at all times to cause their power to be felt, it may perhaps be emphatically said (especially since the power of the French government here was overthrown) that its inhabitants have occupied their lands "by permission of the Indians." Left with none to defend them, they must have accomodated themselves to their humors: it has from necessity resulted that they have been compelled to submit to their commands and however reluctantly to subserve perhaps often their vindictive views. But it is not considered that anything in their history, in such respects, detracts from the force of their present claims.
The commissioners have not had access to any public archives by which to ascertain with positive certainty, whether either the French or English government ever effected a formal extinguishment of Indian title at the mouth of the Ouisconsin [Wisconsin]; yet the same observation, with the same truth may be made in relation to the land now covered by the city of Detroit. It is believed that the French government particularly, was not accustomed to hold formal treaties for such purposes with the Indians. And when lands have been anciently procured from them, either in virtue of the assumed right of conquest or by purchase, evidence of such acquisition is rather to be sought for in the traditionary history of the country, or in the casual and scanty relations of travelers, than among collections of State papers. Tradition does recognize the fact of the extinguishment of the Indian title at Prairie des Chiens by the old French government before its surrender to the English. And by the same species of testimony, more positive because more recent, it is established also that in the year 1781, Patrick Sinclair, Lieut. Gov., in the province of Upper Canada, while the English government obtained over this country, made a formal purchase from the Indians of the lands comprehending the settlement of Prairie des Chiens. In Pike's Journal, allusion is made to the last mentioned purchase. [Pike's Journal, Appendix to Part I, Page 47]. The agent [Isaac Lee] also took down some testimony concerning the same facts, which may be found in the subjoined abstracts.
Whatever purchases may thus have been made by the French or British authorities, [they] have since been sanctioned by the treaty of St. Louis, holden on the 3d of June, 1816 [between the United States and that portion of the Winnebagoes residing on the Wisconsin river]; and by another treaty (see acts of the 2d session of the 14th Congress pp. 307-309), concluded also at St. Louis, on the 24th of August of the same year. It is provided (Art. 2) that the United States relinquish to the tribes with whom that treaty was holden a certain tract of country lying north of a west line from the south bend of Lake Michigan, "excepting out of said relinquishment a tract three leagues square at the mouth of the Ouisconsin [Wisconsin], including both banks," etc.; thus giving additional sanction to the allegation of a previous acquisition of the country comprehending the Prairie des Chiens settlement. For it will not escape observation, upon a reference to the treaty of the 3d of November, 1804 (US Laws, Vol. 1 pp. 428), that the last mentioned treaty does not contain a cession of the tract thus excepted by the United States from their relinquishment. The real object of the clause alluded to in the treaty of the 3d of November, it is apprehended, was to enable the United States, in its election, to erect a fort on the west bank of the Mississippi, where the Indian title had not yet been extinguished, and where a more eligible site, it was supposed, could be selected.
If further evidence were necessary on this head, it might be found perhaps in the provisions of the 4th article of the treaty of Greenville. The settlement of Prairie des Chiens lies "east" of the Mississippi: it is "west" from Detroit. It was certainly "in the possession of the French people," who, or whose children still inhabit it. It is believed to be comprehended within both the words and the spirit of the provisions of the 3d and 4th articles of that treaty.
After all, it is not deemed important (except so far as it may seem to strengthen the equity of the claimants), to establish the proposition of an early extinguishment of the Indian title. There can be no doubt but that the Indian title is now extinguished. It would be hardly admissable to suppose that the American government have been themselves guilty of an act of oppressive usurpation and violence; and yet, it cannot otherwise be if the Indian title be not extinguished --- for they have erected forts and established garrisons there [at Prairie des Chiens]. It would equally violate every principle of decorum for the commissioners to suppose that they had no power, and that the people of Prairie des Chiens had no right in relation to this matter, when the law of May 11, 1820, under which they act, expressly extends to that people all the benefits and all the rights which, in virtue of former acts of Congress, the people residing within the Detroit land district heretofore possessed in relation to their land titles; and also imperatively requires of the commissioners that they give effect to that act.
The act of the 3d of March, 1807, vested in those for whose benefit it was passed, a right to be confirmed in their claims upon the exhibition of proof of continued possession from July 1, 1796, to March 3, 1807, inclusive. The extension to the people of Green Bay and Prairie des Chiens of the provisions of that act, it is presumed, conferred upon them upon the exhibition of like proof, a like right. Proof of this tenor has been adduced by John Jacob Astor, Ramsey Crooks and Robert Stewart, co-partners under the firm [name] of "The American Fur Company," formerly styled "The Southwest Company," as well as by others whose claims they have confirmed; and the commissioners have not felt themselves justified in adopting any course of reasoning which would frustrate the object of the law from which they derive all the power they have possessed.
A majority of the commissioners have felt obliged, nevertheless, to withhold from many of the claims the sanction of their confirmation; not because those claims were less equitable, but because the proof adduced of occupancy, possession and improvement did not reach far enough back; they considered that the possession, etc., contemplated by the law, was an individual and exclusive possession from July, 1796, to March, 1807. The fact in relation to the claims not confirmed seems to have been that the lands so claimed had been immemorially occupied by the villagers in common, or as a common; and that they had not been individually and exclusively appropriated until after July, 1796.
As no dissent on the part of the villagers was at any time expressed or rather as none was proved, or attempted to be proved, one of the commissioners was willing to deduce from circumstances appearing, a presumption of assent, equivalent to a formal conveyance. Upon such hypothesis, the present claimants combining their own exclusive possession with the antecedent occupancy of the villagers in common, under whom they might be considered to claim, would be respectively entitled, under the law, to confirmations; but a majority of the commissioners believing that such construction was at least obnoxious to much doubt felt obliged reluctantly to reject it, and, without further difference of opinion, they all resolved to present with these cases to the revising power, their respectful and most earnest petition in behalf of the unsuccessful claimants, that their claims may be confirmed. Although some of these claimants have been in the exclusive occupancy of their possessions but for a very short space of time, yet their claims are considered not the less meritorious; for those who have thus remained in possession for the shortest period would seem to have been removed from their former and older possessions, because those possessions were deemed necessary for the convenience of the troops by whose permission they have located themselves on the tracts now claimed.
All of which is respectfully submitted,
William Woodbridge, Secretary of Michigan. Henry B Brevoort, Register Land Office, Detroit. J Kearsley, Receiver Land Office, Detroit.
In the "Field Notes, etc., of the survey of private land claims at Prairie du Chien; the whole made in July and August, 1828, by Lucius Lyon, deputy surveyor," there is a record of the survey of the following claims:
|Heirs of James Aird||Claim No.||1|
|Phelix Mercer [or Mercier]||do||5|
|Jean Fisher [Rolette]||do||6|
|Magdaline Gouthrie [Madeline Gouthier or Magdaline Gauthier]||do||7|
|Heirs of Claude Gagnier||do||13|
[Francois Cheuneviene, or Chenneviere,
as written by Isaac Lee]
|Heirs of James Aird||do||15|
[Augustus Hebert, as written by Isaac Lee]
|John Baptiste Ouilmeete
[Jean Bt. Albert, as written by Isaac Lee]
|Heirs of James Aird*||do||18|
|Heirs of John Campbell||do||20|
|Heirs of Pierre Jandron
[or Jaudron, claimed in 1820, by Augustus Hebert,]*
|Andree Bazin [Andrew Basin, as written by Isaac Lee]||do||29|
|Jean M Querie [Jean Marie Quere, as written by Lee]*||do||32|
|Strange Powers [Poze]*||do||35|
|Francois Lapointe, Sr.*||do||36|
|Francois Lapointe, Jr.*||do||37|
|Joicham Lamierre [Joseph Lemrie as written by Lee]+||do||42|
|Heirs of Claude Gagnier*||do||70|
|Michael Brisbois||Lot No.||1|
|Andrew Bazin||Lot No.||13|
|Jean M Querie||do||16|
|Nicholas Boilvin||Lot No.||13|
|American Fur Company||do||14|
|Heirs of James Aird||do||18|
"The ground where all the Main Village lots up to No. 13 were situated, is now, and has been for several years, occupied for military purposes. Other lots situated in the lower part of the village, were designated by the commanding officer, and taken possession of by the inhabitants, in lieu of the lots thus occupied, but these lots have not been confirmed." [The sufferers by this were Michael Brisbois, Nicholas Boilvin, La Frombois, John Babtiste Coron, Jean Fisher Rolette and Wilfred Owens].