One hundred and fifty years ago, when Pierre Eau Claire first fell in what we now call the Chippewa Valley, finding tall trees and clear rivers, I wonder if he had any idea of the story 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 any kind of mechanical device allowing him to see into the future. He was just a humble fur trapper who had gotten extremely lost and needed a place to camp before the darkness of the night closed in on him. He found such a place under the armpit of two streams flowing into one. As he fell asleep, he thought, “Maybe this is home.”
And he never left. Because Peter died that night.
Legend says that a dead pine tree fell on his little campsite. But fear not, because unlike Pierre, local history was not crushed that night. Lured by the coyote activity, another French adventurer from the northern woods stumbled into the valley and came upon Pierre’s remains. And the name of this adventure 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 this legendary killer pine and made a home for himself. A log house.
Jacques was made of smarter stuff, and throughout his life not a single tree fell on him. It’s ironic given Jacques’ contributions to local history, which I’m about to explain.
You see, Jacques also thought this valley would make a good home. So what did he do? He took this legendary killer pine and made a home for himself. A log house. And after a while, Jacques realized that if you could somehow tip many of pine trees, you would essentially have a lot of wood. And you can to do things with this wood. And people would pay for it. And so, the world’s first forest industry was born.
Soon the valley was filled with sawmills, sweaty loggers and stumps as far as the eye could see. Business was booming, and it boomed for many decades. A town has sprung up in the armpit of water where Pierre’s fatal campsite once stood, and Jacques was its mayor. To honor the sacrifice of its precursor, Jacques named the city “Eau Claire”. And that’s how our city got its name.
Jacques lived for many years, knocking down trees, chopping them down, and earning enough money to choke a mythical blue ox. Unfortunately, we don’t know how Jacques’ story ends. Legend has it that he was walking on top of what we now call “Mount Simon” when a massive eagle came out of the clouds, grabbed Jacques with its mighty talons, and carried him off to the horizon, over- beyond the knowledge of even the most tenacious historians.
All we know for certain is that an obscure law in the town of Eau Claire stated that whoever sent the current town leader would become the new leader. And so this eagle – or “Old Abe” as he was called – became mayor. His time on the mayor’s perch was chaotic, bloody, and short, as another French adventurer arrived in town months later to kill old Abe in a freak musket crash.
The next day, this man died of vapours.
But in the resulting power vacuum was a fourth French adventurer named Renée Eau Claire (unrelated). He took control of the city and diversified the economic prospects of the region by using the abundant treeless land in the valley to grow food in neat rows. And so, the world’s first agricultural industry was born.
Renee was then decapitated in a butter churn accident. Democracy was all the rage at the time, and so the townspeople decided to elect a new leader through a cutting-edge process called “voting.” And the name of this new leader was Ely Phillips. Unfortunately, he was not French.
Ely looked out across the farmland of the valley and was struck by a vision: cows.
Ely’s brother had recently discovered that cow’s milk could be obtained and that this milk could be made into just about anything, including what we now call “cheese”. Lured by the sultry siren song of Holstein’s elixir, Ely imported herds of cows full of milk, and thus, the world’s first dairy industry was born.
Locals later learned that cows also contained meat, so beef became a popular local delicacy. A downtown tavern began serving leftover beef on a bun, and thus, the world’s first Ray’s Hot Beef was born. And that’s pretty much the story of our city, Eau Claire.
Now, some will say that people lived in this area long before the age of French adventurers. And to that, I say, “Someone should probably look into it.”