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Powell, Patricia (ed.) / Wisconsin Academy review: Wisconsin Indians
Volume 28, Number 2 (March 1982)

Counsell, Duaine
Parsons' Indian trading post,   pp. 34-35

Page 34

By Duaine Counsell
  The early history of the American
Midwest is the story of trade between the
European and the Indian. Already in
1535 Jacques Cartier, a French navigator
searching for the Northwest Passage, dis-
covered instead the St. Lawrence River
and the great profit to be made from the
exchange of knives and metal pots for
American fur. Samuel de Champlain in
1603, unwilling to await Indian hunters
straggling in from the frontier, created
the ingenious institution of the voyageur,
who traveled deep into the heartland to
seek out the valuable fur. By 1650 the
French were established in the Great
Lakes. So began a tradition wherein
flourished the great Hudson's Bay Com-
pany and the North West Company: the
romance of the Scottish Nor' Westers and
the hommes du Nord. Relations between
the Indians and the European trader were
ever cordial, and, unlike the mercantilism
familiar to the shopper at chain stores,
these commercial relations were con-
ducted on a basis of mutual trust and even
affection. Little known except to aficion-
ados of native crafts and to the native
Americans themselves is that the ancient
tradition of Indian trader continues to-
day, not only in the Canadian wilderness
and on the remote reservations of the
American Southwest, but even in Wis-
consin, even in the Wisconsin Dells.
There Parsons' Trading Post continues to
function as a center of exchange for man-
ufactured goods and native crafts and
skins in a fashion like the posts of olden
days.                         -editor
Parsons' Indian Trading Post, a South-
west pueblo from the outside, a glimpse
of American Indian life inside, is located
on seven acres of white and Norway pine-
laced land along Lake Delton in Wiscon-
sin Dells. The trading post was built over
sixty years ago by Glenn Parsons and
Kenneth Counsell and for years has
served the Woodland Indians of the area.
For thirty years the Indians held their
tribal dances in the natural amphitheatre
on the lake, and they bought supplies and
sold their crafts at the trading post.
  An 1850 log cabin stands behind the
trading post on the land that at one time
housed as many as sixty-four families of
Indians in wigwams, tipis, or log cabins.
The trading post served as a general store,
supplying them with food, clothing, craft
materials, water, and providing a safety
deposit area and a place to sell their fin-
ished baskets, beadwork, and buckskin
  Many of the items seen in the trading
post today were also available sixty years
ago, such as Pendleton blankets and
shawls, Hudson Bay blankets, hand-tanned
buckskin dresses or shirts, porcupine hair
roaches, bustles, beaded moccasins, as
well as jewelry, pottery, Navajo rugs, and
other American Indian hand-crafted
  For many years Indians and whites
gathered each June for the Lac-Del-Ton
Indian Festival for three days of dancing,
visiting, and camping on the old cere-
monial grounds. Renowned participants
were John Winneshiek and family, Harry
Funmaker and family, Ed Cloud and
family, John Lotter, Earl Past and family,
Ben Bearskin and family, Jim Smith and
family, Chief Evergreen Tree plus
hundreds of others.
  Today, Parsons' Indian Trading Post
continues to be a hub of Indian trade and
has grown into the largest trading post
and museum in the Midwest. Tourists
from across the country browse in the
museum to learn more about past and
present life of the American Indian.
  The museum, painted on the outside
with old ledger drawings, has an atmos-
phere reminiscent of the late 1800s and
early 1900s. Hanging from the beams
across the top of the museum can be
found beaded and quilled articles of
clothing. One such shirt belonged to Cur-
ley, who served as a scout for General
   The wall displays are set up to instruct
the person who is truly interested in the
American Indian. The first display case
demonstrates the uses the Indian made
of the buffalo and deer: bladder bags,
woven hair ropes, stone weapons wrapped
with rawhide, and arrows are reminders
of the true genius of the Indian. The sec-
ond case gives a pictorial image of the
tribal locations in the United States and
the types of housing used by each: the
wigwam, tipi, mud house. The third dis-
play area illustrates the Plains Indians'
uses of the porcupine: moccasins, pipe
stems, breast plates, tipi bags made with
porcupine hair and quills. Three other
cases of Plains Indian material include
beaded gun cases, hide scrapers, solid
beaded-yoke dresses, leggins, high boots,
and early cloth dresses decorated with
buffalo teeth and cowrie shells. Several
of these pipe bags belonged to famous
Indian chiefs.
  Four other display areas feature the
clothing, weapons, household utensils,
and religious articles of the Woodland
tribes-the Chippewa, Winnebago, Po-
towatomi, and Menominee. A fine display
of contemporary crafts, consisting of bas-
kets by Margaret Decorah, beadwork by
Gladys Cloud, and miniature baskets by
Lucinda Tudahl, gives evidence of the
high-quality work being carried on today.
Contemporary silver work by Ken Fun-
maker and Julius and Bob Caesar dem-
onstrates another traditional craft; yarn-
woven belts and garters by Germaine
Green and Maurine Stacy are examples
of woodland weaving today. Beaded har-
ness dance sets by Alvina Decorah, Gladys
Cloud, and others attract attention with
their intricate designs.
  Mississippi culture bowls and pots, over
600 years old, tell a fantastic story of
early man's use of clay. Many early bas-
kets show how different tribes used the
materials available in their parts of the
country. The Winnebago, for example,
use black ash in most of their basketry,
while the Chippewa make birchbark bas-
  The Indian trading post, today as 100
years ago, provides Indian craftsmen with
raw materials and an outlet for their art-
istry. For the non-Indian world, the trad-
ing post offers a glimpse of another cul-
ture and an opportunity to collect a
special kind of American art.
34/Wisconsin Academy Review/March 1982

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