Historical Society hosts fur trader
May 27 presentation highlights early Rhinelander history
BY EILEEN PERSIKE
The Rhinelander Historical Society is bringing to life a history of the region that is often overlooked. Two-hundred years before loggers set up camp in the Northwoods, fur traders made a living up and down area rivers, such as the Wisconsin and Pelican, trading for furs with Native Americans.
That livelihood will be on display May 27 at the Historical Society Museum at 9 S. Pelham St., with a presentation of a fur trader and voyageur canoe.
“Jerry Disterhaft, of Fox of the River Voyageur Canoe, assumes the persona of Jean Paul Pauquette,” said Historical Society Vice President Bill Vancos. “He talks about his experience of traveling throughout Wisconsin in the 1600s and 1700s trading for furs that will ultimately end up in Europe.”
Disterhaft will have a 28-foot canoe along with furs for attendees to touch and hats to try on, plus games that used to be played for entertainment during the very long trips. Vancos said the best way to describe the voyageur canoe and its crew is to relate it to modern-day semi trucks on the highway.
“In the early days, the voyageur canoe was the vehicle used to transport goods using the river system,” said Vancos. “Fur traders used them to carry goods to trade with the Native Americans. They mostly traded metal objects like pots and pans, knives and hatchets and in return they received fur pelts that the Native Americans had trapped.”
Traders were often hired by wealthy European businessmen who financed the trips. After traveling for what could be a year collecting furs, the canoes would weigh around 4,000 pounds and carry a street value in Europe at that time, of up to $100,000.
There is no admission fee to attend the presentations, which will take place from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. in the backyard of the museum, at 9 S. Pelham St., downtown. The Historical Society is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and board members have a goal of raising $25,000 to preserve and restore the facilities and the grounds of the museum.
The museum opens for the season Memorial Day weekend, and will be open to the public Tuesdays and Thursdays through the summer. For more information, call 715-369-3833.