CHAPTER IX. THE COUREURS-DE-BOIS
Among the leaders of the coureurs-de-bois several names stand out prominently. Francois Dauphine de la Foret, Nicholas Perrot, and Henri de Tonty, the lieutenants of La Salle, Alphonse de Tonty, Antoine de La Mothe-Cadillac, Greysolon Du Lhut and his brother Greysolon de la Tourette, Pierre Esprit Radisson and Medard Chouart de Groseilliers, Olivier Morel de la Durantaye, Jean-Paul Le Gardeur de Repentigny, Louis de la Porte de Louvigny, Louis and Juchereau Joliet, Pierre LeSueur, Boucher de la Perriere, Jean Pere, Pierre Jobin, Denis Masse, Nicholas d'Ailleboust de Mantet, Francois Perthuis, Etienne Brule, Charles Juchereau de St. Denis, Pierre Moreau dit La Toupine, Jean Nicolet - these are only the few who connected themselves with some striking event which has transmitted their names to posterity. Many of them have left their imprint upon the geographical nomenclature of the Middle West. Hundreds of others, the rank and file of this picturesque array, gained no place upon the written records, since they took part in no striking achievement worthy of mention in the dispatches and memoirs of their day. The coureur-de-bois was rarely a chronicler. If the Jesuits did not deign to pillory him in theirRelations, or if the royal officials did not single him out for praise in the memorials which they sent home to France each year, the coureur-de-bois might spend his whole active life in the forest without transmitting his name or fame to a future generation. And that is what most of them did. A few of the voyageurs found that one trip to the wilds was enough and never took to the trade permanently. But the great majority, once the virus of the free life had entered their veins, could not forsake the wild woods to the end of their days. The dangers of the life were great, and the mortality among the traders was high.Coureurs de risques they ought to have been called, as La Hontan remarks. But taken as a whole they were a vigorous, adventurous, strong-limbed set of men. It was a genuine compliment that they paid to the wilderness when they chose to spend year after year in its embrace.
In their methods of trading the coureurs-de-bois were unlike anything that the world had ever known before. The Hanseatic merchants of earlier fur-trading days in Northern Europe had established their forts or factories at Novgorod, at Bergen, and elsewhere, great entrepots stored with merchandise for the neighboring territories. The traders lived within, and the natives came to the posts to barter their furs or other raw materials. The merchants of the East India Company had established their posts in the Orient and traded with the natives on the same basis. But the Norman voyageurs of the New World did things quite differently. They established fortified posts throughout the regions west of the Lakes, it is true, but they did not make them storehouses, nor did they bring to them any considerable stock of merchandise. The posts were for use as the headquarters of the coureurs-de-bois, and usually sheltered a small garrison of soldiers during the winter months; they likewise served as places of defense in the event of attack and of rendezvous when a trading expedition to Montreal was being organized. It was not the policy of the French authorities, nor was it the plan of the coureurs-de-bois, that any considerable amount of trading should take place at these western stockades. They were only the outposts intended to keep the trade running in its proper channels. In a word, it was the aim of the French to bring the trade to the colony, not to send the colony overland to the savages. That is the way Father Carheil phrased it, and he was quite right.
[Footnote 1: Carheil to Champigny (August 30, 1702), in R.G. Thwaites, Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, lxv., 219.]