Between 1670 and the early 1800s the Menominee River Basin was visited by Explorers, missionaries, and fur traders. They passed by on the water route of the Menominee River and Green Bay.
Journals of the seventeenth and early eighteenth-century explorers talk about a small Algonquin tribe in the Menominee River Basin. They were known as “The wild rice people.” The explorers talked about a tribe of 40-80 men living in a village at the mouth of the river. By the early 1800s The Menominee numbered about 500 and lived in numerous villages scattered throughout Wisconsin.
In 1794 on the Wisconsin side of the Menominee the first known white man came to stay in Menominee. Stanlislaus “Louis” Chappieu, Chappu or Chappee (pronounced Shappee). Chappee was a French-Canadian fur trader born in 1766. He traded with the Native Americans for many years. He established a trading post at the site of Marinette, Wisconsin. Eventually he would become an agent for the John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company He operated the Wisconsin location from 1794 and 1824.
There was an abundance of deer, bear, otter, mink, beaver, muskrat, martin and fisher through the area and this post became an important trading point. Chappee had a large number of men that he picked up that were Canadian voyageurs like him. His post was built of logs with palisades made of heavy timbers set in the ground around it. His post at time would have the appearance of a well garrisoned fort.
Other Traders Arrived
As this location became more important to the fur trade other traders arrived. In about 1822 William Farnsworth came to the mouth of the Menominee River. The following year another trader, John Jacobs, moved to the area with his wife, Marie Antoinette Chevalier. Marie was the daughter of Bertrand Chevalier and Lucy. Bertrand was a British trader of French-Canadian ancestry who was part of the early trading post in Green Bay. Lucy was the daughter of a Menominee Chief named Wauba-Shish (Great Marten)
Bertrand Chevalier and John Jacobs became partners in Green Bay and John married Marie. When the fur trading business slumped during the War of 1812, John started a school. After moving to what would become Marinette in 1823 John and William Farnsworth created a partnership. Jacobs would never return from a trip to Canada and Marie married Farnsworth.
Chappee is Forced Out
There are a few stories how Chappee left the Marinette post. The one on the Historical marker says that William Farnsworth and Charles Brush were rival fur traders that pushed him out. That makes sense since we know that at least Farnsworth was a fur trader. But there is another store that was written for the Centennial of Menominee County. In the Centennial History of Menominee County by the Hon. Eleazer Stillman Ingalls, published in 1876, Ingalls stated that Farnsworth and Brush wanted the site for a sawmill. Both versions could be true since the fur trade was winding down, they may have changed focus.
Another story floating around is that Chappee was forcibly ejected by Farnsworth with the help of the Menominee Indians. The story is that Chappee had 3 Menominee braves jailed at Fort Howard after a fight where Chappee’s thumb was bitten off. Farnsworth interceded and was able to obtain their release. The tribe gave Farnsworth a land grant that included Chappee’s trading post as a thank you.
After being ousted in some manner, Chappee crossed the Menominee river into Michigan. There he built a new trading post near the foot of Chappee’s Rapids. The rapids named after Chappee are about five miles up the river from the village of Menominee.
Chappee Rebuilt in Michigan
Just as he did in Wisconsin, Chappee surrounded his new post with palisades. There he remained trading with the Native Americans until he died in either 1854 or 1856. According to Ingalls in the Centennial History of Menominee County – “Chappee took to himself a squaw, with whom he lived, and raised children, as was the custom with the traders in those days, but to whom he was never married.”
There is another story about Chappee’s family that is in the history books. In Letter for George in the August 2, 2016, Menominee Pioneers post David L. tells a little different story. He has Chappee dying on May 6, 1854, which works with the article in the Green Bay Advocate. Chappee’s grave gives his year of death as 1856. This is probably why the historical marker says just 1850s since we do not know for sure.
David also states that Chappe was married to Ke No Ny Ka, a Native American woman. He says they had 5 children. Jacques, Pauline, Lous, John and Therese. Fellow pioneer John Kittson wrote, “He lived a strange life in the bosom of primeval forests and saw strange and startling changes in his time.”
Chappee was buried at his trading post. A monument on his grave site reads: Louis Chappee, 1766-1856 – S. Chaput, a noble Frenchman and soldier, explorer trader and trapper on the Menominee River. He sleeps here among us his red brothers, on the bank of the beautiful Menominee River. By Peter Webber
Death Of an Old Pioneer
From the Green Bay Advocate Vol.8 No. 34 P. 3 Col. 2 dated 6 May 1854 about Chappee’s death.
We take the liberty of taking the following extracts from a letter written by Mr. John O. Kittson communicating the intelligence of the death of one of the oldest inhabitants and traders of this whole region. “I have to inform you of the departure of another of the old pioneers of the west, Mr. Stanislaus Shappee, who died on the 6th of May, 1854, at his residence on the Menominee River, at the advanced age of eighty-eight years and four months. The deceased was well known to all the old settlers of this entire western world. He lived a strange life in the bosom of primeval forests and saw strange and startling changes in his time.
He was a native of the parish of L “Assumption, Canada East, and came to Green Bay when he was only seventeen and consequently has resided here about seventy-one years. During the greatest part of his life, he was in the employ of the American Fur Company as a trader and traveler and had roamed the broad country between the lakes and the Rocky Mountains. He was respected and highly esteemed by all who knew him, and his loss is deeply mourned by all his relatives and friends.”
It is a singular fact, which has often been observed that nearly every one of the hardy hunters and trappers, those adventurous and light-hearted–courrires de bois–who came here at an early day, and finally made it their permanent abode, attained to a hale, hearty healthy, enjoyable, serene old age–some of them standing erect over the weight of more than a hundred years–so favorable to longevity has our climate proved to be.
Chappee-Webber Learning Center
Today the Chappee-Webber Learning Center sits on Chappee’s land. It is operated by the Chappee Rapids Audubon Society and the Menominee County Historical Society. The 11 acres of the land was gifted to Menominee County Historical Society by Peter Webber in 1973. Chappee Rapids is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Statehood Era (1815 – 1860) – Registered in 1971 and erected in 1972 – ID # S343
Located on River Road West of Menominee, Menominee – Lat: 45.15447300/Long: -87.70149700
Stanislaus Chaput, a French-Canadian fur trader sometimes called Louis Chappee, became the first settler at the mouth of the Menominee River in the early 1800s. He fought, along with most of the Green Bay traders, in the British attack on Fort Mackinac during the War of 1812. After the war he traded extensively in the northern Wisconsin region, working for John Lawe, Green Bay fur magnate. Forcibly deposed from his old location in 1824 by rival traders William Farnsworth and Charles Brush, Chaput moved a few miles upstream and built a fortified trading post at the foot of the rapids. Until Chaput’s death in the 1850s the post at the rapids was a center of trade for the surrounding villages of Menominee Indians.