Thanks for Asking | April 19, 2012

our local Jack-of-all-Facts tells you how it is

Frank Smoot |

Savvy readers often send additions and corrections. In my last column (March 8) I’d answered a question from Karl Markgraf about O’Neill Creek cemetery near Eagle Point. After the issue came out, V1 reader Duane Popple reminded me that Daniel and Margaretta McCann are buried there. (He also gave me some cool insider info about the Popple family. Several Popples lie in the cemetery, including Samuel, first white settler of Owen and namesake of the Popple River in Clark County.)

Surely, you’d think I’d have mentioned Dan McCann. The McCanns are rock stars of Chippewa Valley history: for their part in the Old Abe story, but for much more than that, too.

During sugar-making time in 1861, Ahgamahwegezhig, or “Chief Sky,” captured Old Abe on the Flambeau River, near the line between Ashland and Price counties. Ahgamahwegezhig was the son of Ah-mous (“Thunder of Bees”), who held first rank in the councils among the Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe. As he passed near Eagle Point on a trading mission, Ahgamahwegezhig traded the young bird to Daniel McCann.

The way the story’s usually told, Ahgamahwegezhig traded him to McCann for a bushel of corn. Well, first, Old Abe was a female eagle, so it would be “traded her.” Second, based on family writings, several McCann descendants have told me Old Abe was traded for corn liquor. This is also what the Eighth Wisconsin, Company C, re-enactors believe, and in my experience, re-enactors are great researchers. Trading for liquor makes for a much more complicated story, of course, but the bushel story always seemed odd to me, and likely sanitized for our modern sensibilities.

Dan’s bride Margaretta, who was at least half Assiniboine (a Siouan/First Nations people), had a sister named Mary. Mary married George Washington Randall. Theirs was said to be the first white Christian wedding held in Eau Claire. George Randall is the namesake of Mt. Washington, a little inside joke on his middle name. You might know that George’s brothers Simon and Tom also have Eau Claire Mounts named after them.

Daniel’s younger brother Arthur was one of the founders of Dunnville, the first county seat of Dunn County and the childhood home of Caddie Woodlawn. Arthur was shot at his Dunnville tavern, one of the first Chippewa Valley murders after white settlement. Arthur had married Rosalie DeMarie, daughter of Louis and Angeline DeMarie. Louis was almost surely the first white person to build near the confluence of the Eau Claire and Chippewa Rivers, definitely on the west side, maybe somewhere near what’s now the Court ‘n House.

I try not to be sexist: I would call Angeline one of the first two white people to build there, except that she wasn’t; she was metis, of mixed French and Ojibwe heritage. She was also the first and only physician in the Chippewa Valley for many years, after she and Louis made their more permanent home in newly born Chippewa Falls.

Rosalie’s sister Mary DeMarie married Hiram S. Allen, who almost anyone would call the founder of Chippewa Falls.

Daniel’s younger brother Stephen, along with his partner Jeremiah Thomas, built the first lumber mill in what would become Eau Claire, about where the drive-up U.S. Bank sits on Farwell, across Eau Claire Street from the L.E. Phillips Public Library. Dan, Arthur, and Stephen all partnered with Jeremiah Thomas to build another mill north of Eau Claire, then called Blue Mills and now called the Village of Lake Hallie.

Got a local question? Send it (17 S. Barstow St.) or email it ( and Frank will answer it!  Frank has lived in Eau Claire for most of the past 43 years. He is an editor and researcher at the Chippewa Valley Museum, which is open all year just beyond the Paul Bunyan Camp Museum in beautiful Carson Park. You should go there.