One-hundred and fifty years ago, when Pierre Eau Claire first stumbled into what we now call the Chippewa Valley, finding tall trees and clear rivers, I wonder if he had any idea of the history he was about to set in motion. Probably not. By all accounts, Pierre was a simple Frenchman, and possessed neither the intuition nor the psychic abilities nor some kind of mechanical device allowing him to see into the future. He was but a humble fur trapper who’d gotten extremely lost and needed a place to camp before the dark of night closed around him. He found such a place in the armpit of two waterways flowing into one. As he fell asleep, he thought, “This might be a place to call home.”
And he never left. Because Pierre died that night.
Legend says a dead pine tree fell onto his little campsite. But fear not, for unlike Pierre, local history was not squashed that night. Attracted by the activity of coyotes, another French northwoods adventurer stumbled into the valley and came across Pierre’s remains. And that adventure’s name was Jacques Eau Claire (no relation).
You see, Jacques also thought this valley would make a good home. So what did he do? He took that legendary killer pine tree and made a home. A log home.
Jacques was made of smarter stuff, and throughout his entire life, not one single tree fell upon him. This is ironic given Jacques’s contributions to local history, which I am about to explain.
You see, Jacques also thought this valley would make a good home. So what did he do? He took that legendary killer pine tree and made a home. A log home. And after awhile, Jacques realized that if you could somehow tip over a lot of pine trees, you’d basically have a lot of wood. And you can do things with that wood. And people would pay for it. And thus, the world’s first logging industry was born.
Soon the valley was filled with lumber mills, sweaty lumberjacks, and stumps as far as the eye could see. Business was booming, and it boomed for many decades. A town sprang up in the watery armpit where Pierre’s fatal campsite once stood, and Jacques was its mayor. To honor his forerunner’s sacrifice, Jacques named the town “Eau Claire.” And that’s how our city got its name.
Jacques lived many years, toppling trees, cutting them up, and making enough money to choke a mythical blue ox. Unfortunately, we don’t know how Jacques’s story ends. Legend has it he was strolling atop what we now called “Mount Simon” when a massive eagle swooped from the clouds, snatched Jacques up with her mighty talons, and bore him over the horizon, beyond the knowledge of even the most tenacious historians.
All we know for sure is that an obscure Eau Claire town law dictated that whomsoever dispatched the current town leader would become the new leader. And so that eagle – or “Old Abe” as she was called – became mayor. Her time on the mayor’s perch was chaotic, bloody, and short, for another French adventurer arrived in town a few months later only to kill Old Abe in a freak musket accident.
The next day, that man died of the vapors.
But into the resulting power vacuum stepped a fourth French adventurer named Renee Eau Claire (no relation). He seized control of the town and diversified the area’s economic prospects by using the valley’s abundant treeless land to grow food in tidy rows. And thus, the world’s first agricultural industry was born.
Renee was later decapitated in a freak butter churn mishap. Democracy was all the rage back then, and so the townsfolk decided to elect a new leader through a cutting edge process known as “voting.” And that new leader’s name was Ely Phillips. Sadly, he was not French.
Ely looked yonder across the valley’s farmland and was struck by a vision: Cows.
Ely’s brother had recently discovered you can get milk from cows, and this milk could be made into just about anything, including what we now call “cheese.” Lured by the sultry siren’s song of the Holstein’s elixir, Ely imported herds of milk-filled cows, and thus, the world’s first dairy industry was born.
Locals later learned that cows also have meat inside them, and so beef became a popular local delicacy. A tavern downtown started serving leftover beef bits on a bun, and thus, the world’s first Ray’s Hot Beef was born. And that’s pretty much the history of our town, Eau Claire.
Now, some will claim people lived in this region long before the age of French adventurers. And to that I say, “Someone should probably look into it.”