Rouge Conifer Riviere

(How the Red Cedar River Got It's Name)

Written and donated by Timm Severud


As a young man I often wondered how the place names in the area came about.  I would look around for Red Cedar trees and could find none.  I could find a few White Cedars, but I had to head towards the St. Croix River area to find Red Cedar trees.  I figured they had all been logged off.  I figured wrong.

When Henry Rowe Schoolcraft came down the Red Cedar River during the summer of 1831, he told me why the river has the name, and it appears that Jean Baptiste Perrault told him the story.

During the winter of 1830 & 31 J.B. Perrault and his wife (an Ojibwa woman) lived in the basement of Elmwood, Schoolcraft's home in Sault Ste. Marie.  Perrault was an amazing man from the age of 16 to 22 he attended the College of Quebec. In 1780 he decided to leave Quebec and become a Coureur des Bois (Runner of the Woods) or what we call a Voyageur.  He spent the next 30 years in the Pays den Haut (Up Country) what the French of that era called this area.

We are lucky that an educated man spent his time in the area and that Schoolcraft convinced him to teach him French that winter and in the process he told Schoolcraft his life story, full of all the adventures and the opinions of his age.  Schoolcraft convinced him to write down his life story that winter. Unfortunately the book has never been translated totally into English.

During the same winter Schoolcraft planned his one trip through our area. Schoolcraft also asked J.B. to make him a map, which today is in the Library of Congress.  The one striking thing about the map is that in one area the detail is far greater than in any other and that is coming down the Red Cedar River.

On August 7, 1831, Schoolcraft passed through what we call Red Cedar Lake (near Mikana, Wisconsin) and in his memoirs he wrote: 'Red Cedar Lake. A short outlet conducted us into Red Cedar Lake, a handsome body of water which we were an hour in passing through, say four or five miles.  The men raised their songs', which had not been heard for some time.  It presents some islands, which add to its picturesqueness.  Formerly there stood a single red cedar on one of these, which gave the name to the lake, but no other tree of this species is known in the region.'

On the map the Perrault drew is a drawing of an island in the middle of this lake.  The island is the shape of Happy Days Island and there is a dot near the southern end of the island, about where the Stout Lodge is today.  The map has two colors of ink on it, one in French and the other in English.  The dot is in the French ink.

From other sources (Ira O. Isham among them) I know that when the Red Cedar stump was still there Ojibwa would stop there and place tobacco offerings at this stump.  Some think there was a great battle here; others figure there is a Wenabozhoo story attached to the place. It is probably a bit of both.

I have a feeling that when J. B. Perrault's entire memoir has been translated, I just might find a little more of this story.  Those that have used Jean Baptiste Perrault's memoir have been able to read French and used what they wanted, but none of them knew the area like we do.  In the Michigan Historical Society is a treasure yet to be totally gleaned. - TLS