The History of Forts Folle Avoine
This Forts Folle Avoine historical video was designed and created by Audrey K. Mulliner
Forts Folle Avoine Historical Park is located near Danbury, Wisconsin on 80 wooded acres along the Yellow River. The park is a living history site with fur trade posts reconstructed at the actual site known to be active from 1802 to 1805. The park, a National Register of Historic Places site, is operated by the Burnett County Historical Society with support from its membership and Burnett County.
The Forts Folle Avoine site is significant and unique for several reasons:
Written records from 1802-1805 show that two trading companies built nearly side-by-side trading posts near the Yellow River in the area known as “le pays du folle avoine” (land of wild oats / wild rice) in what is now Burnett County, WI. North West Company built three buildings surrounded by a stockade or “Fort” which became know as “Forts Folle Avoine”. XY Company built their solitary building just 95 feet south of North West’s Fort. This is the only place on the North American continent where competing fur trading companies were close neighbors. These two trading posts were only used during the winters of 1802-03, 1803-04, and 1804-05.
Throughout the winter, the traders bartered with the Ojibwe for furs, primarily beaver, which was prized in European markets. When spring arrived, the canoes were loaded with furs for the journey to Grand Portage on Lake Superior's north shore. Traders came to Grand Portage from hundreds of miles in every direction eagerly anticipating the summer rendezvous (an event that Forts Folle Avoine recreates annually.) At Rendezvous friends reunited, business flourished, and all enjoyed good times. Those furs from along the Yellow River then were carried on to Montreal and eventually to Europe.
After Rendezvous, the traders returned to Forts Folle Avoine carrying winter provisions along with goods to be traded with the local Ojibwe who had befriended the fur traders, assisting in fur procurement as well as sharing their time-proven skills and knowledge. Detailed journals of traders George Nelson and Michel Curot along with other records show these trading posts were active in 1803 and 1804. At the end of the 1805 trading season, the fur traders once again loaded their canoes, pushed off into the Yellow River – and never returned.
At an unknown time, the structures burned. How it happened and what the reaction was at the time, no one knows, but for current historians, it was a blessing. Rotting logs leave no remains; burnt wood does.
For some 165 years the site of the fur trade posts remained hidden with only the journals of Curot and Nelson giving real clues about the site. A Wisconsin-Platteville State University professor, Harris Palmer, began studying the fur trade information trying to determine the location along the Yellow River. Local resident Lafayette Connor (whose ancestor John Connor was part of the XY Company) and his son, Gene Connor, joined Harris and Frances Palmer. For ten days, they searched the woods following geographic landmarks from Curot’s 1803-1804 journal. Another local resident, Lester Hammersberg, directed the searchers to a pile of rocks on the east side of the river – a significant clue in this otherwise sandy region! A test "dig" was completed and, after those many years, the elusive fur trade site was found!
"We were lucky we got here when we did," Harris Palmer said, for the land was being platted for building lots. The land was purchased by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, enabling the historic fur post site to be preserved. To further protect the site, Harris Palmer filed papers to place the North West Company and XY Company Trading Post Site on the National Register of Historic Places.
Charred remains enabled searchers to accurately detect the exact location of those wintering fur trade posts. During the 1970s and early 1980s, archaeologists from the Wisconsin State Historical Society studied and excavated the site, retrieving an astounding array of thousands of artifacts including, trade beads, axes, gun parts, and clay smoking pipes. In 1980, the Wisconsin State Historical Society discontinued funding the excavation and the Burnett County Historical Society assumed responsibility for the site.
In the 1980s, 180 years after the fur trading posts had been abandoned, the Burnett County Historical Society, with financial help from a Wisconsin Economic Development Grant, worked on reconstructing exact replicas of the buildings and stockade and the new “Forts Folle Avoine” was born. The 80 acre Forts Folle Avoine Historical Park, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, opened to the public in 1989.