Resisting Removal: Julius Austrian
In the years after the Sandy Lake Tragedy of 1850, Julius Austrian became one of the most prominent and influential residents of La Pointe on Madeline Island. Austrian, whose name was originally Oesterreicher, was a Bavarian Jew born in Germany in 1821. In 1844, he immigrated to America, to join his brother-in-law Lewis Leopold in business at Mackinac. A few years later, he moved to La Pointe where he operated a fur trading post and general store. Austrian also became engaged in the fish business, furnishing nets and salt and barrels to the fishermen.
While living at La Pointe, Austrian quickly earned a reputation for honesty and generosity. He was also known for his large and colorful garden which was described as being laid out most tastily with a large variety of fruit trees, apples, plums, cherries, as well as large quantities of currants and strawberries. His store and warehouse quickly became the center of La Pointe business dealings including an important 1851 council between the Ojibwe chiefs and elders and the Indian agent John Watrous.
Austrian took advantage of his success and in 1853, he bought up all land and property on Madeline Island that was previously owned by the American Fur Company. Then, in 1854, he was the unnamed and de facto host of the 1854 treaty. A year later, he officially hosted the 1855 payment at La Pointe. In 1856, Austrian helped name and plat the town of Bayfield, Wisconsin, just across the bay from La Pointe. By 1860, Austrian owned 4,000 acres on Madeline Island and he operated a cooperage which annually turned out 600 barrels of fish and he owned the island’s inn.
But, in obtaining land and wealth, Julius Austrian has been accused of fraudulent dealings. In particular, in his role as Postmaster of La Pointe he was said to obtain signatures illegally “by which he accomplished his selfish ends.” Also, as stated by the historical blog Chequamegon History, “Julius Austrian succeeded in securing several thousand acres of Chippewa Mixed-Blood Allotments along the Penokee Iron Range, for his benefit, not the Tribe’s.” Ultimately, whether through proper channels or fraudulent dealings, Austrian was a powerful landowner at La Pointe who made a name for himself through numerous ventures and carried great influence at a time of change and controversy.
Learn more about Julius Austrian and his families relationship to the Chequamegon region.
Amorin Mello, “Austrian Papers,” Chequamegon History (blog), Accessed June 28, 2018, https://chequamegonhistory.wordpress.com/austrian-papers/.
—————, “Penokee Mixed-Blood Allotments Shakedown Scam of 1858,” Chequamegon History (blog), Published April 21, 2018, https://chequamegonhistory.wordpress.com/tag/julius-austrian/.
John O. Holzhueter, Madeline Island and the Chequamegon Region, (Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 1974).
“Jewish Museum of the American West, Julius Austrian, Early Jewish Pioneer Merchant of Northern Minnesota & Wisconsin,” Jewish Museum of the American West, Published February 8, 2016, http://www.jmaw.org/austrian-jewish-minnesota/.