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“And the Rest All French”

The rolling hills around Nadeau, Michigan, were densely wooded and surrounded by thick swamps when Oliver Perras and his wife, Victorine, arrived in 1880.

“Nadeau was a heavy hardwood forest when he first moved there. They blazed their own trails and later made roads,” wrote the Escanaba Daily Press in 1948, paying tribute to an early Nadeau pioneer.

In 1848, surveyors began to map the land that would become Nadeau Township. The Menominee Indian people had lost claim to it through various treaties, leaving thousands of acres of land open for logging, mining and farming. You can find the early survey maps and notes at, a one-stop shop for Michigan historical records maintained by the Michigan History Center. Below you can see a 1853 surveyor's map of most of Nadeau Township (37 North 26 West).

As he surveyed the land near what would become the Village of Nadeau, James H. Mullett noted: “Land, except swamp, gently rolling, first rate.” Nearby, Mullett also found second- and third-rate sandy and gravelly soils, and many acres of swamps. "Note (Township 35 North, 28 West): The level and swampy character of this line makes it difficult to determine where the swamp begins or ends."

The rolling hills were covered with hardwoods, including 14-inch diameter sugar maples, 10-inch birch, and stands of elm, ash and poplar. In the swampy lowlands he recorded softwoods, including 20-24 inch hemlocks, 18-inch firs, 16-inch cedars and tamaracks. He found a few large pines, but the great pine forests that attracted logging companies were mostly further to the north and west.

Reaching these lands was not easy. No roads or railroads yet connected that part of Michigan to the outside world. The first road from the city of Menominee to Escanaba wasn't built until 1864, but it followed the shore of Lake Michigan and didn't pierce the county's interior.

That would soon change.

C&NW Railroad Changes Everything

In 1869, the Michigan Legislature granted right-of-way for the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad to be built in Menominee County, “from the shore of Green Bay to the iron mines and marble quarries in town 39 north of range 29 west” — where the town of Quinnisec is today. By 1872, the railroad had connected Marinette to Escanaba, building the first bridge across the Menominee River and taking a path through the county's interior to a point 42 miles north (now the village of Powers), and then east to Escanaba.

After years of delays, workers finally completed the railroad extension from “Powers Station” to Quinnesec in 1879, reaching the mines in the Menominee Iron Range. Hundreds of men worked to complete the railroad, living in temporary camps along the route and frequenting the new saloons and establishments built in Powers.

Portion of a map showing the location of the Chicago & Northwestern Railway in Wisconsin and Michigan in 1869. With no railroad north of Green Bay or south of Escanaba, the only means of means of moving freight or people were ferries. (Public domain, retrieved from the Library of Congress at

Even after the railroad came through, the land was still wild and supplies were scarce. Anything the workers and their families couldn’t glean from the heavily forested or newly cleared land had to be purchased from a company store or ordered by mail.

Many goods arrived via the C&NW Railroad. Some 1879 correspondence from Postmaster William Findeisen in nearby Hermansville to Mr. C.J.L. Meyer of the Wisconsin Land & Lumber Co. in Fond du Lac, WI, describes the difficulties:

“Four of the 5 barrels of beef received on the 18th were spoiled; had to throw it away. One thing I forgot, we ought to have more beans right away. One bag will not last the camp and boarding house three days.”
“Wish you would order from Beals Tooney & Company one case of buckled shoes, assorted sizes 7 to 9. Also one barrel of pickles. We sell a great many to the families.”
“The last of the hay we got is the worst lot we ever received. Half of it is not fit to feed; it is musty, dirty and rotten. Some of it must have been pressed when very wet, as it is still damp. The barn men have to sort it all and some of the stock will not eat and it will have to be used for bedding. I only hope we will be able to raise all the hay we feed this year, as none of the hay shipped here is first class.”
“We opened the barrel of beef that came yesterday. The top was fair but when we got to the middle it smelt so strong that it could not be used. I opened the other one and found it totally spoilt. Either Hunter packs old beef or the railroad leaves it in the heat too long.”

It makes you wonder when someone finally decided to ship cattle to the Northwoods and hire a farmer to supply beef for the camps and boarding houses.

By 1880, three or four C&NW trains were leaving and arriving in Green Bay daily to transport new workers, businessmen and freight north, and bring lumber and iron ore south. The Chicago and Northwestern Railroad provided easy access to previously landlocked areas of Menominee County, enabling the rapid growth of towns that came to be Stephenson, Daggett, Bagley, Carney, Nadeau and Hermansville.

Bruno "Barney" Nadeau Comes North

The earliest white visitors to Menominee County in the 1600s and 1700s were French-speaking fur traders (voyageurs), who established business relationships with the native villages along the Menominee River. The Treaty of Paris in 1763 ceded French lands in the Midwest to the British.

English speakers soon arrived. By the mid-1800s, most of the local capitalists in Menominee were of English or Irish origin. Some of the prominent mill owners and landowners in mid-19th century Menominee-Marinette included Jesse Spaulding, Daniel Wells, Nelson Ludington, Isaac Stephenson, Fred Carney, William E. Bagley, and Charles B. Ingalls.

At least one entrepreneur, though, was Franco-American. In 1873, Barney Nadeau leased the First National Hotel in Marinette, Wis., across the river from Menominee, and hired George C. Lyon as clerk. “Both gentlemen are well known on the river, and that the First National will be a first class House is a foregone conclusion,” reported the Marinette and Peshtigo Eagle in July 1873.

“Bruno Nadeau” was born in New Brunswick, Canada, in 1826. As a young man, Barney moved to Wisconsin, settling in Green Bay and later Marinette. He volunteered for the Union Army in the Civil War, serving under General Ulysses S. Grant.

After returning to Marinette, he saw an opportunity. In 1872, Nadeau's sons won a contract to supply railroad ties for the Marinette-to-Escanaba extension of the C&NW railroad.

"Taking up a homestead claim in 1874, he erected a house for himself and family in the wilderness, and began the clearing of a farm," wrote Alvah Littlefield Sawyer in a 1911 history of the Upper Peninsula.

Many French families soon followed.

Town(ship) of Nadeau

Town of Nadeau. A new town has been organized in Menominee Co., Mich., from the north part of the town of Stephenson, and the first election was held on Monday of last week,” reported the Green Bay Advocate in May 1881. “The tract is nine miles square and contains about 75 families, which is a large increase since last Fall. Five of these families are American, two German, a few Swedes and the rest all French, or of French extraction.”

The newspaper went on to describe the principal settlement in the town (township), also called Nadeau.

“Here are located a battery of 10 charcoal kilns, belonging to the Fox River Iron Furnace Co., West Depere. The Nadeau Brothers have charge of purchasing the wood for these kilns and have secured about 4,000 cords since the 1st of April. A very large quantity of ties, posts and telegraph poles are also piled here, estimated at from 35,000 to 40,000 pieces now on hand. The Nadeau brothers have a general store and Mr. B. Nadeau is postmaster.”

Barney Nadeau was elected the town’s first Supervisor and Justice of the Peace. As the family's business enterprise grew, his three oldest sons — David, Louis and Barney Jr. — became prominent local merchants.

"His sons, under the firm name of Nadeau Brothers have succeeded to the business, which is quite diversified and comprises the running of two farms in one of which there is one hundred acres cleared and in the other, three hundred acres and on which they raise registered Jersey and Polled Durham cattle. They continue to operate the mill and cut about three million feet of mixed lumber and three million cedar shingles per year, besides dealing in other forest products. They also have a large well stocked general store."

-- Alvah Littlefield Sawyer, 1911

A 400-acre farm was huge in those days, when all of the labor came from horses and farmhands. Barney Nadeau's former farm is still operating in Nadeau today, and has been owned for three generations by the Linder family.

Vive L'influence Française

Franco-American residents in Nadeau Township’s 1884 state census included Felix St. Don, a coal burner in the charcoal kilns; Joseph Pelland, who owned a hotel; and Pierre Haupt and 81-year-old Eugene Lacourt, who together ran a beer saloon. Elison Caron was the village blacksmith.

French surnames in the Village of Nadeau and surrounding farms in 1884 included Forgette, Dupont, LaMarche, Paquette, Jean, Morreau, Juneau, Rousseau, Lebault, Auguste, and Gautier. Many of these names — or variations of them — will be familiar to Nadeau residents today.

Nadeau Township then had a population of 889 people, with more than 50 percent foreign born and 700 with foreign-born parents. Not all were French. Some were Swedes, Norwegians, Russians and Germans.

One Francophone immigrant was Oliver Perras. Born about 1850 in Quebec as "Olivier" Perras, he told the Escanaba Daily Press he first came to the United States at age 11 to pick blueberries in Anthony, NY. Oliver returned to Quebec and married Victorine Menard on Thanksgiving Day in 1870. Eight years later, they moved to Marquette County, Mich., where Oliver worked in the iron mines. In 1880, they arrived in Nadeau to clear some land and start a farm.

I don't know how Oliver learned of this growing village with French-speaking residents. Word of mouth must have made it known that Franco-American families could own their own land or work in the lumber-related industries. The 1884 Michigan census finds Oliver and Victorine farming in Nadeau Township with Cordelia, 9; Elmina, 6; and Dennis, a 5-month-old infant. They would eventually have 12 children.

With so many French speakers who were recent immigrants, I imagine French was frequently spoken in the homes and businesses in those days.

David Nadeau: “Bonjour, Madame Perras. Comment puis-je vous aider?”
“Good morning, Mrs. Perras. How may I help you?”
Victorine Perras: “Bonjour, Monsieur Nadeau. Je voudrais acheter de la farine et du sucre. Et Cordelia a besoin de nouvelle bottes.”
“Good morning, Mr. Nadeau. I would like to buy some flour and sugar. And Cordelia needs some new boots.”

Interestingly, the 1884 census lists Oliver and Victorine's surname as “Perry.” Did the census taker make a mistake or was Oliver intending to Anglicize our family’s French surname? In a community of mostly French speakers, what advantage would Oliver have to alter his last name?

In later records, sometimes Oliver’s surname is listed as “Perra” -- keeping with the French pronunciation, which leaves the “s” silent. By the time of his death in 1948, Oliver had switched back to Perras.

(The surname isn't the only oddity about Oliver's past. In 1947 and 1948, the Escanaba Daily Press wrote exciting stories about Oliver turning 100 and 101. But all census records I've found, even dating back to his boyhood days in Canada, indicate he was born in 1950.)

A Glimpse of Nadeau in 1912

By 1912, French names remained prominent in the Village of Nadeau. Barney Nadeau, Joe Nadeau, David Nadeau, August Jean, J. St. Aubin, and O. Perras owned some of the largest plots of land in the village, as shown in the map below from a 1912 plat book. Other Franco-American names include Bernier, Piche, Matheys, Corron, Boucher, Mattard, Poquette, Caron and Michau.

Image: Geo. A. Ogle & Co. Public domain, digitized by the University of Michigan, courtesy of

In the early 1900s, Oliver and Victorine Perras were operating a hotel and livery along the railroad tracks near the town hall. You can also see the Nadeau Brothers’ saw mill, August Jean’s planing mill, a creamery, St. Bruno’s Church, and the post office. The village school stands just west of the church.

Oliver was a first cousin to my great-grandfather, Hubert Perras, who arrived in 1899. We’ll get to know Hubert and his wife, Minnie, in future blog posts.

But Wait... There's More

If you’re interested in the early days of Nadeau, the Menominee County Journal has published several historic Nadeau photographs and on its Facebook page.

The Journal also has a weekly feature that looks back in its files to the county's early history, and Nadeau is mentioned from time to time. Unfortunately, the paper's historic editions aren't yet digitized.

As the photo captions note, both Nadeau mills were later destroyed by fire. I’ll explore Nadeau’s tragic fire history next time in the Leaves of Menominee blog.

Do you have any early photos or stories of Nadeau you’d like to share? Send them to me at Together, we can create a more complete record of those early days in northern Menominee County.



1884 Michigan State Census, Menominee County, Nadeau Township. Image file located at:

Chicago & Northwestern Railway. Land Department, and Chicago And North Western Railway Company. Map showing the location of the Chicago & Northwestern Railway with its branches & connections through Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan. [Chicago, 1869] Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>.

Cummings, William J., Menominee County History -- Spalding Township -- Powers -- Early Newspaper Accounts, Accessed from Dickinson County Library at:

Detroit Free Press, (Detroit, Michigan), Bills Passed, 27 January 1869, p. 4, via

Escanaba Daily Press, (Escanaba, Michigan), Hardy Pioneer of Nadeau Says Hard Work is Way to Long Life, 1 October, 1948, Escanaba, Mich., via

Green Bay Weekly Gazette, (Green Bay, Wis.), Marinette News, 26 Jul 1873, (Green Bay, Wisconsin), via

Green Bay Advocate, (Green Bay, Wis.), Town of Nadeau, 19 May 1881, (Green Bay, Wisconsin), via

Ingalls, Eleazer S., Centennial history of Menominee County, Herald Power Presses, Menominee, Mich., 1876. Accessed at:;view=fulltext

IXL Historical Society, Once Upon a Time, May 1987, Hermansville, Michigan.

Ogle, Geo. A., & Co. Standard Atlas of Menominee County, Michigan: Including a Plat Book of the Villages, Cities And Townships of the County...patrons Directory, Reference Directory And Departments Devoted to General Information. Chicago: Geo. A. Ogle, 1912. Public domain, digitized by the University of Michigan, accessed via

Menominee County Journal historic photographs via Facebook:

Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Interior Lines - Volume 1640 - Survey notes for Nadeau Township, Menominee County, 1848-1852. Accessed at:

Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Surveyor General's Office, 37N 26W, Survey Map of Nadeau Township, Menominee County, 10 October 1853. Accessed at

Sawyer, Alvah L. (Alvah Littlefield), A history of the northern peninsula of Michigan and its people;. [Vol. 2], Chicago,: The Lewis publishing company, 1911. Accessed at;rgn=full+text;size=100;view=image;q1=Nadeau

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Nov 22, 2020

Dear Readers,

A few corrections & clarifications since I posted this:

  1. By 1911-12, when the plat map of Nadeau village was drawn, Barney Nadeau Sr. had passed away. The Barney Nadeau properties on the map are clearly labeled as owned by his son, "Barney Nadeau Jr."

  2. I use the word "Quebec" to describe where Bruno Nadeau and Olivier Perras were born, but in much of the 1800s Quebec was known as "Lower Canada" or "Canada East." Similarly, the land we now know as Menominee County was in Nouvelle (New) France until 1783, when it joined the United States as part of the Northwest Territory. Here's a map from 1730, with Michigan and Wisconsin shown as part of Nouvelle France.'Isle.jpg


Nov 22, 2020

Dear Patrick,

Thank you for your very kind and encouraging words. During the pandemic, I've done quite a bit of historical and genealogical research and am eager to start sharing it via this blog. I'm so pleased that it sparks interest outside my family and a few people with roots in Menominee County.

I certainly agree that the story of Franco-Americans in the Midwest needs greater exposure.

All the best,



Nov 22, 2020

Dear Jodi, if I may, This is a terrific, eye-opening read. I study Franco-Americans in the northeastern states and opportunities to learn about French Canadians (or even Acadians) in the Midwest and West are few. The connection between the two migration streams is seldom made. I appreciate that you are bringing perspective on French-heritage peoples in those regions. Congratulations on this interesting and elegant blog. I look forward to reading many more of your pieces. Very best, Patrick Lacroix

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