Sturgeon Bay seems to have been a center for human intercourse long before white men came here and began to do business. The remains of several Indian villages have been discovered in or near Sturgeon Bay, which show that it had a large population hundreds of years ago. One of these villages was located on the property of the “Cove” summer resort about 300 feet south of the boat landing. Another was across the bay at Circle Ridge on Block 5. A great many fine relics have been unearthed here. Another village site has been found on Block 3 of Wagener’s second addition to Sturgeon Bay, just north of the city. Two large village sites are also found at Little Harbor.
The Indians presumably found this a convenient place of habitation because of its proximity to the waters of both Lake Michigan and Green Bay. When the first settler came, they found a well-trodden path leading from the head of Sturgeon Bay to Lake Michigan, just north of the present canal, over which the Indians had portaged their canoes for centuries.
One of the first white men known to have visited Sturgeon Bay was the great missionary and explorer, Father James Marquette. On the 25th of October, 1674, a solitary canoe left the majestic waters of the Fox River at a point then known as St. Francis Xavier Mission, at the head of Green Bay. A black-gown with two companions manned the canoe. This priest was Father Marquette, on his last visit to the Illinois Indians, a visit from which he never returned. On the 27th of October, he landed at a point where there was an Indian village (probably Circle Ridge) and remained there three days, instructing and ministering to the Indians. Proceeding on their journey, they carried their canoes across the portage to Lake Michigan, surveying, as it were, the ship canal of two centuries later.
As far back as records go, Sturgeon Bay has gone by the name it still bears. The first to mention the name is Father Allouez, the first missionary of the West. Late in October 1676, he set out from his mission at De Pere to visit the Illinois Indians. Cold weather overtook him, and he was obliged to winter with some Potawatomi Indians, who lived on or near Sturgeon Bay. March 29, 1677, he embarked in a canoe, assisted by two men, on Lake Michigan. This he reached by way of the Sturgeon Bay portage (La Portage des Esturgeons), where now is the canal.
This portage was also much used by early French, English, and American fur traders in conveying their supplies from Green Bay to Milwaukee and intermediate points. It is probably that some of them also used Sturgeon Bay as a temporary trading post. In a letter dated May 18, 1825, H. B. McGulpin, a fur trader, mentions Sturgeon Bay in a way which suggests that it may have been one of his regular stations. After him, a young trader by the name of Joshua Johnson Boyd made periodical visits there, on which occasions the Indians used to gather to barter and celebrate. He was the son of Colonel Boyd, U.S. Indian Agent at Green Bay. Colonel Boyd was a very capable and distinguished gentleman who had been prominently employed by the government abroad and was a brother-in-law of President John Quincy Adam. In 1832, his son Joshua was killed at Sturgeon Bay by an Indian for refusing him credit.
(From History of Door County, Wisconsin/The County Beautiful—Volume I, by Hjalmar R. Holand, originally published in 1917, re-published in 1993 by Wm Caxton Ltd, 12037 Hwy 42, Ellison Bay, WI, 54210; 920.854.2955.)
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