How Big Fox Saved Godin

by John T. de la Ronde


(352) On the 22d of December, [1832,] Abraham Godin was brought to our post by a Winnebago Indian named Big Fox. Godin was one of the hired men I had engaged in Montreal for the American Fur Company. He had run away, near the mouth of the Wisconsin, from Mr. Rouseaux, the clerk of the company. He was lost twenty-two days. He said that he intended to go to St. Louis. He had with him his gun, and some bags containing his clothes, and a blanket. When he first missed his road, he lived well for a time; but after his ammunition became exhausted he began to suffer from starvation. He lived upon birds some time; and some (353) days he had nothing whatever. He came to a lake and found dead fish; and soon reached another lake where the city of Madison now stands. From there, he walked two days without food; and then, fortunately, he found the carcass of a deer that the wolves had left, from which he got a supply, such as it was, that lasted him for two days. He then came across an Indian trail, which he followed, without knowing where it would lead him. Godin at length took his course through the woods. Reaching a little creek, he followed it. It was now three days since he had eaten anything; the bottoms of his feet were covered with blisters. He came to a deserted Indian camp where there was an old lodge made of grass and branches, and slept there. The next morning it was impossible for him to walk, his feet were so swelled and blistered, and he was well-nigh starved. He dragged himself out, picked up some branches to cover his body, and commended himself to the mercy of God, and laid down to die. Sleep overcame his exhausted nature, nor did he know how long he remained in that condition.

When he awoke, he saw an old Indian that was administering to him refreshment with a wooden spoon. The Indian was Big Fox, who remained faithfully with him for two days, permitting him to eat only a little at a time, but very often of venison. He made some medicine for his feet, then left him, showing him where there was some venison. When Godin saw the Indian going off he felt very bad, thinking he was about to abandon him to his fate; but he came back, bringing a horse for him to ride, and conveyed him to his lodge on Fox Lake — and from this Indian the lake took its name. As soon as Godin's feet got well. Big Fox brought him to us at Portage. Godin had given all the property he had to the Indian; but Big Fox returned to him all his clothes, retaining the blanket and gun for his trouble. When the Indian brought him to us, I did not know him at all; his long hair and beard added not a little to his haggard appearance. He asked me if I was willing to receive him to finish his time, according to agreement; which I did, and he never again undertook to run away.


Commentary. "John T. de la Ronde" — "was one of the noted characters in the early annals of Columbia county and of Wisconsin. He was a son of Louis Denys, Chevalier De La Ronde, a native of Detroit, a grandson of Francis Paul De La Ronde, a French officer in Canada, and a great-grandson of Louis Denys De La Ronde, an early commandant at Chegoimegon, on Lake Superior. John T De La Ronde was born at Bordeaux, France, February 25, 1802, received a superior education in the College of Montreal, Canada, and read medicine for a time, but soon became a clerk in the employ of the Northwest Company and later was with the Hudson Bay Company when the two were merged. In 1828 he came to enjoy the hunting at 'The Portage' in Wisconsin, now the city of Portage, arriving here in May of that year. There were, at that time here, a trading post of the American Fur Company, in which resided Peter Pauquette and his family, and a few other whites. Mr. De La Ronde was here but a short period at this time, returning to Canada late in the season. In 1832 he became a clerk for the American Fur Company and during the spring of that year returned to 'The Portage.' While here he took part in the expedition against the Indians which culminated in the battle at Rock river. For a number of years he engaged in visiting various localities contiguous to 'The Portage,' buying fur, settling disputes and acting as interpreter. In 1834 he established a trading post at the head of the Lemonweir, and in 1837 accompanied a select band of Indians as interpreter to go to Washington to arrange with the Government for the remainder of their lands lying east of the Mississippi river. About this time he had a trading post at To-kau-nee's village, where Mauston now stands, but, much of the game having vanished with the coming of the whites, Mr. De La Ronde opened a farm in what is now the town of Caledonia in 1838, this being the third farm put under cultivation in the township. In 1840 he was one of the interpreters employed in the removal of the Indians, and four years later his services were required in the search for the recalcitrant Indian Chief Dandy. A volume could be written on the experiences and exploits of this pioneer in this locality, but the limits necessarily assigned to this review preclude the saying of more than that his life was one of ceaseless activity, crowded with ventures and adventures which required the highest order of physical courage and which often placed his life in jeopardy."1

The American Fur Co. in Fond du Lac by J. O. Lewis

"the American Fur Company" — the story of this company is essentially that of its founder, John Jacob Astor, who at one time was the richest man in the world. He was born in Germany, and joined his brother in London to pursue their musical instrument business there, but set out in 1784 to seek his fortune in the newly independent United States. There he set up fur trading enterprises, operating out of Montreal and New York. By 1808, when his new American Fur Co. was chartered in New York City, he had already achieve considerable wealth. He had great difficulty competing against the British Companies operating out of Canada, but with the favorable peace terms that ended the War of 1812, his competitors were excluded by law from the newly opened frontier areas in the American west. He built America's first monopoly, and had the good sense to bail out of the company at a time, in the later 30's and early 40's, when Europe's passions for fur gave way to a new love for oriental silk. By the 1850's, the company had become extinct, but due to astute real estate investments, Aster himself became richer than he had ever been.2

"a wooden spoon" — a Hočąk spoon, carved entirely from wood, is shown above.

Portage, Wisconsin

"Portage" — now the city of Portage, Wisconsin. To the Hočągara it was Wawá’ą, essentially of the same meaning. (Kinzie, Jipson, Miner) With respect to Europeans, the place was first used as a portage by the explorers Marquette and Joliet on June 14, 1673. To the French, it became known simply as le portage. A trading post was set up in 1792, after which a thriving business was conducted porting boats of any size over the mud flats using teams of oxen. In 1824, the American Fur Company hired the Hočąk translator, Pierre Pauquette, who was fluent in Hočąk, French, and English, to run its operations there. On the Fox River side of the portage, the government built Fort Winnebago in 1828.3


Notes to the Commentary

1 James Edwin Jones, A History of Columbia County, Wisconsin, 2 vols. (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1914) 2:641.
2 Hiram Martin Chittenden, The American Fur Trade of the Far West: A History of the Pioneer Trading Posts and Early Fur Companies of the Missouri Valley and the Rocky Mountains and the Overland Commerce with Santa Fe, 3 vols. (New York: F. P. Harper, 1901) Vol. 1, Ch. 8, et passim.
3 from the official City of Portage website (> History), viewed 7/27/09.


Source

John T. de la Ronde, "Personal Narrative," Wisconsin Historical Collections, 3 (1857): 345-365 [352-353] = History of Columbia County, Wisconsin (Chicago: Western Historical Company, 1880) 399.