First Comers Were French

The French were the first white men to come into the territory, voyaging westward along the St. Lawrence river and thence along the Great Lakes. In 1679 LaSalle established a trading post at Mackinaw and a fort at the mouth of the St. Joseph river. Within fifty years thereafter---and perhaps in less time---white men surely visited the site of Grand Rapids. But few records of their visits have been preserved.

Trade often precedes the forward march of civilization. Men will risk much for gain, as has been amply proved since the earliest days of the race. In America the traders pushed into the wilderness along with the explorers and the first missionaries, and some of them established permanent posts.

Traders ventured into the rich valley of the Grand river at an early day. Many of these men were French-speaking. In those days the trade in the valley was of some importance. The Indians bartered furs, maple sugar, and berries for dry goods, fancy goods, ammunition and ---- whisky. The furs were sent to Detroit, the berries packed in barrels and shipped to Buffalo. Maple sugar was consigned to commission merchants in Boston and New York. Among the Indians beads and whisky were legal tender.

At the proper season Indians would camp about the huckleberry swamps and cranberry marshes, pick the berries and deliver them at Grand Rapids. Much maple sugar was brought here by water, Grand river being "alive" in the spring with canoes transporting the stirred sugar made by the squaws up and down the valley. The sugar was packed in "mohirks," small baskets or boxes, which held from one to sixty pounds. Some of the mohirks were prettily decorated by the squaws.

Furs were the staple article of trade. They were always in demand and the following prices were generally paid for them: Beaver, $1.25 a pound.; mink, 50 cents to $1; smoke skin (buck skin), $1 each; marten, $1 to 1.25; lynx, $1 to $1.25; muskrat, 5 cents each. Wolf and bear skins had little value in trade. The squaws smoked and prepared the skins for market. They also made the moccasins, another staple article, often spending days in ornamenting with beads a pair that brought only 50 cent to $1.


Transcriber: Ronnie Aungst
 Created: 10 December 1999