Who named La Cote Ste. Marie?
From research shown in this series of posts, we know the village name of St. Marie was adopted in 1851 and St. Marie Township was carved out of Pleasant Valley Township in 1853, so the biggest mystery, in my opinion, remains who named La Cote Ste. Marie?
Shaw, in his 1855 Narrative, and some early area histories said Father Marquette referenced La Cote Ste. Marie after blessing a nearby spring en route to the Mississippi River in 1673, but there is no mention of St. Marie in Marquette’s journal or map. The claim is undeniably false.
Shaw also told a writer from the Evening Wisconsin newspaper of Milwaukee in August 1868 that a group of Jesuits named it after finding the spring after traveling days without fresh water: “He relates as the origin of the name of that town, that in 1780 a party of Jesuits sailing up the Fox, having drank river water for several days, landed at this point, where they found on the west side of the river, a beautiful spring. Whereupon the priest blessed the spot and gave it the name of Saint Marie.”
No fresh water for days? The story sounds fishy.
Two Catholic historians indicated in the 1890s that a Jesuit historian named Charlevoix who visited Wisconsin in 1721 popularized the La Cote Ste. Marie name. The Charlevoix explanation seems feasible, but I have been unable to find any reference to St. Marie or Marquette’s fountain in the journals I’ve found online describing Charlevoix’s time in Wisconsin.
Here’s another explanation that rings true, in my opinion.
It comes from a letter to The Weekly Wisconsin newspaper in Milwaukee in May 1858, is signed “K” and encourages people to include not only a community name but also county when sending letters or packages here to avoid confusion with St. Mary in Lafayette County or Lake Mariah in Dodge County: “This place now called St. Mary is situated on the Upper Fox, about midway between Fort Winnebago and Lake Winnebago, and is designated on Lapham’s map of Wisconsin as ‘Shaw’s Landing.’ Our post office is called La Cote St. Marie (St. Mary’s Bank), the original name given to this point by the French Catholic missionaries some sixty years ago (1790s). Dry banks being very scarce on this river, the good Fathers on encamping here, named the spot after their most venerated saint, and so dated a dispatch which they sent to Canada, and which is still preserved.”
It seems similar to Shaw’s tale, but I’m intrigued mostly because it includes at least a hint of documentation being preserved.
More research is warranted!