The early history of Douglas County is a story of the Native American. The first-known inhabitants of Douglas County were Mound Builders, an advanced group of people that mined copper in the Minong Range and at Manitou Falls on the Black River. They pounded this metal into weapons, implements, and ornaments, which were later found buried in mounds with their dead. Their civilization was eventually overrun by other tribes and disappeared as a distinct culture in late prehistoric American times. In 1618, Stephen
Brule, a French voyager for Champlain, coasted along the south shore of Lake Superior and the Ojibwa people.
In 1632, Champlain’s map appeared showing “Lac Superior de Tracy” as Lake Superior and the lower end shore as “Fond du Lac”. Soon after, fur trading companies established settlements, while missionaries came bringing the first touches of civilization. For more than a century, the Hudson Bay Company, the Northwestern Fur Company and the John Jacob Aster Fur Company maintained trading posts with the Native Americans. With the coming of settlement, however, the voyager and fur trader faded into the misty twilight
of a romantic and historic past.
The entire Wisconsin Territory grew with a steady influx of immigrants from England, Scandinavia, Ireland, and Germany. Soon the territory had the population required for statehood. In 1848, Wisconsin became the 30th state to join the Union.
Douglas County lies on one of the major water highways used by early travelers and voyagers of inland America. This water trail, the Bois Brule-St. Croix River Portage Trail, was the most convenient connecting link between Lake Superior and the Mississippi River. The Bois Brule and St. Croix River systems were only separated by a short portage over the Continental Divide near Solon Springs. The northward traveler used this water trail to take him to Lake Superior, while the downstream traveler could use it to
go southwest to the Gulf of Mexico, unhindered by portages, by using the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers.
Spurred by the prospect of lucrative shipping and iron ore industry, businessmen from Chicago and St. Paul laid claim to the Superior site and plans began for the plotting of a great city. Immediately there was eagerness for a railroad from Lake Superior to the Pacific Coast. This was later realized with construction of the Northern Pacific, and the dream of a rail and water highway from coast to coast was born.
In 1889, the booming settlement at the Head of the Lakes would soon be named the county seat for Wisconsin’s 4th largest county. Named for Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, famed opponent of Abraham Lincoln, Douglas County would hold pride in its largest city, Superior, and money was pumped into the city’s shipping and railway industries. That pride continues even today. For more information: http://www.douglashistory.org/.