To the Editor:
For years there has been much speculation about who occupied the wintering post on the Snake River. Some historians wrote that Thomas Conner lived there and some archaeologists tried to prove a theory that John Sayer Sr., a Northwest Company director lived there. But there has not been much real historical research done to prove either way.
According to the Irish genealogist in Dublin, Ireland Thomas Patrick Conner was born in Sligo County, Ireland. He emigrated to Montreal, Quebec, Canada in 1804.
According to the license in the Montreal Courthouse in 1804 signed by Benjamin Frobisher, he worked for the XY Company. It said he was to go to Grand Portage and do what the director said and he would be paid 300 shillings a year plus clothing and arms.
The XY little fort was north of the Grand Portage creek, and it was built on a beach on Grand Portage Bay. My husband and I found it in 1975 in an archaeological dig for the National Park Service. Mr. Conner went there and collected trade goods and was sent to the XY post at the Yellow River/Lake in Wisconsin to train carrying 90 pounds on his back over portages according to an article published in the “Collections of the Wisconsin State Historical Society.” The Minnesota Historical Society published his diary of 1804 at the wintering post on the Snake River.
In January of 1805 the XY Company and the Northwest Company merged as the Northwest Company at Grand Portage.
In 1811 the Northwest Company became the Southwest Company with owners in Montreal and New York State. In 1816 the Southwest Company went out of business.
In New York State, John Jacob Astor and Ramsey Crooks then organized the American Fur Company. Thomas Conner and Patrick Conner, his eldest son, educated by Reverend Boutwell at the Indian school at Cross Lake to read, write and count in English to be clerks at the wintering post on the Snake River for the Northern Department of the American Fur Company. Records in the New York Historical Society in New York City in Ramsey Crooks Papers, Northern Department. Patrick Conner’s schooling at the Cross Lake School is in the records of the ABCFM papers at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul, Minnesota. So are the Sunday sermons in the wintering post on the Snake River by Reverend Boutwell.
Thomas Conner made a visit to Bishop Baraga in northern Michigan in the Upper Peninsula. The Bishop told Conner to take his children out of the Protestant school and not have Boutwell preach in his post on Sunday. He also told Conner to go to a Roman Catholic church and marry his Indian wife. He was also told to have his children baptized in the Roman Catholic Church. So Thomas Conner took his family to L’Anse, Michigan Ottawa Mission to get married and baptize his seven “Metis” children. Records are in the Mackinac Island Church.
Thomas Conner appears in the 1840 Census of Wisconsin Territory with eight dependents at the wintering post on the Snake River.
In 1842 the United States signed a treaty with the Lake Superior Chippewas buying the land for logging and farming on the Snake River. Reverend Boutwell and the United States Army removed the Conner family from the Snake River post in 1842 according to the Report of the Secretary of War in 1842-44 in published reports in libraries.
The Conner family moved to Duluth, Minnesota in 1842. Conners Point was named after the family. Conner’s “Metis” children were placed on the Bad River Indian Reservation in Wisconsin. The grandchildren live there today. Patrick Conner is buried there. His written papers are in the B.I.A office in Ashland, Wisconsin. Thomas Conner had a child by a Chippewa woman according to the published records of the church in Baypoint, Wisconsin. According to the grandchildren on the Bad River Reservation I visited in the 1970’s, Thomas Conner is buried in the Chippewa cemetery on Madeline Island, Wisconsin.