In a well-researched volume, Timothy Cochrane brings to life the hardships and heartbreaks of the Anishinaabeg and their new neighbors from the American Fur Company as they navigate the changing landscape of the fur trade in Grand Marais from 1823-1825.
I was intrigued by his characterization of George Bonga, one of the two brothers who helped establish the American Fur Company post in Grand Marais, a man who defied racial categories, half Anishinaabeg and half black, first a clerk and then a trader, a skilled woodsman and Anishinaabemowin-English interpreter, and Bela Chapman’s (the first American Fur Company clerk at Grand Marais) “go-to guy.” Bungo was renowned for his strength, consider this passage: “He loaded himself, at the foot of the Porcupine Mountain, at the mouth of the Montreal River, with a pack of goods, and then bags of bullets, till the whole load amounted to eight hundred and twenty pounds, and carried them one thousand paces up the side of the mountain, and won a bet.”
One would hope so.
Cochrane doesn’t put a shine on life in Grand Marais. The Anishinaabeg were often starving by the end of the hard winters, and the traders were living on leeks alone, while John Astor, the founder of AFC became one of the wealthiest men in America partly by shifting the risk to the individual trader rather than assuming it himself.
I would recommend Timothy Cochraine’s Gichi Bitobig, Grand Marais, to readers interested in early American history, Anisinaabeg culture, the fur trade, and Grand Marais.