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The Wisconsin History Spot: The early history of Duck Creek

By Melinda Anne Roberts
Hobby historian and “Little Wisconsin” author

Editor’s note: History is all around us. Over the centuries, important people in our backyard visited significant places in pursuit of noble endeavors. Most of these people are now forgotten, and most of these places glanced over with nary a thought. The Wisconsin History Spot is a monthly column that will shine a light on these people and places and the impact they made on the area.

HOWARD – With all the roundabouts, overpasses and heavy traffic, it may be difficult to imagine the Duck Creek area was once heavily wooded and home to a Menominee camp.

As Europeans arrived the landscape evolved, from a French fur trading post in the woods, to sawmills, a dozen lumber camps, two substantial brick manufacturers and two sizeable stone quarries. Finally the logged-over acreage was converted to agriculture.

Home to the Menominee

Duck Creek flows from the southwestern end of Green Bay, the largest freshwater estuary in the world. Here were encamped a small band of Menominee.

Frenchman Joseph Roy (Roi/Rioux) established a fur-trading post at the village in the 1770s. Made of logs, the post was about 35-feet long by 20-feet wide, with limestone fireplaces on either end.

The interior included “a living area… a business section (and) steep stairs leading to a spacious sleeping loft.”

Here Roy lived with his Menominee wife, their five children and an engagé, an indentured servant expected to “handle all transportation aspects of frontier river and lake travel” related to the fur trade.

In those days Green Bay and Duck Creek abounded with wild rice, which attracted immense flocks of ducks in the fall.

The Menominee called the river Pa Sa Cue, or Duck River, and identified themselves as the Duck Creek Band; the

French called it Rivière aux Canards, also Duck River, as late as the 1870s.

In those days the Memominee traveled Duck Creek by canoe, some kept at the east end of present-day Glendale Avenue to ferry travelers across the river and also to access the waters of Green Bay.

French fur traders commonly married Menominee women, their mixed-blood descendants known as Créoles.

This thriving French-Creole settlement at Duck Creek included Grignon, Brunette, Vieau, Rioux, and Jourdain surnames – their second and third generation descendants intimately associated with the settlement of the Green Bay area.

A fort under three flags

French fort St. Francis was built on the west bank of the Fox River in the early 1700s near present-day Titletown Brewery.

The British rebuilt the fort in 1761 as Ford Edward Agustus.

The French-Creole were loathe to welcome the British and “did all in their power to harry and torment the plucky young commander,” one Ensign James Gorrell, a native of Maryland.

The humble, forthright Gorrell eventually earned the respect of the Indians and established a good trading relationship with them, causing further consternations for the French. The British finally abandoned the fort in 1763.

The War of 1812 brought “keen suffering” to the area, with enormous losses of crops and cattle.

Captain Bulger of the Royal Newfoundland regiment recorded on Nov. 13, 1814, “A vast concourse were assembled… men, women and children, naked and in a state of starvation.”

U.S. troops established Fort Howard in 1816. An 1829 manuscript map shows the western edge of Fort Howard property abutting the east bank of Duck Creek.

The fort was named in memory of U.S. Army Brigadier General Benjamin Howard (1760-1814) of Kentucky who served in the U.S. Congress, was appointed by President James Madison as the Missouri Territory’s first governor.

He was described as a “gallant officer” in command of the western territory Eighth Military Department during the War of 1812.

He died from illness after a battle with the Sac and Fox in Illinois where he fought alongside Nathan Boone, Daniel Boone’s youngest son.

Thirty years later, when the Town of Howard was organized, it, too, was named for Benjamin Howard.

Suddenly the area’s resources were in great demand – the soldiers needed meat, fish, garden produce, lumber for buildings and boats, and firewood.

The Americans were particularly enamored of the savory wild rice and sweet maple syrup, a Menominee delicacy.

In Menominee tradition, maple syrup was originally granulated and easy to access.

A tribal hero named Manabush worried that obtaining that much sweetness with so little effort would make the Menominee lazy, so he turned the granules into liquid, creating a tedious tapping and boiling process involving hot stones, birchbark containers and heating and reheating until the syrup crystallized.

Judge Jacques François Porlier and Jean Baptiste Grignon established a maple-sugar camp at Duck Creek, where St. John the Baptist Catholic Church is located today.

A sucrèrie festival with music and dancing was held each March when the camp opened where 10,000 gallons of maple sap tapped from 850 trees was boiled down to produce about 850 pounds of maple syrup and sugar.

The appointment of an Indian agent

In addition to American Fort Howard, Alexander J. Dallas, acting Secretary of War, recommended to President Madison that an Indian agency “be established without delay” in Green Bay “as the menaces of the Indians… require immediate attention.”

The agent would receive a salary of $1,000, paid quarterly, with an allowance of “six rations per diem.”

The Menominee were the most numerous. In addition to their villages near the French settlement, the tribe occupied lands along the bay shore as far north as the Menominee River.

The American presence would bring radical changes to the Menominee and French-Creole communities at Duck Creek.

This article is the first part of a series. For more information about the history of Duck Creek and Howard, visit the Howard-Suamico Historical Society website at hshistoricalsociety.org/.

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