Reprinted from Our County Our Story by Malcolm Rosholt, 1959, pages 83-85.
The French were probably first among European man to view the depth of the pine forest and to taste of the spring-fed streams of Portage County. In the century that followed the discovery of the Mississippi River by Marquette and Joliet in 1673, it is quite possible that French fur traders and missionaries followed the Indian portage from the Wolf River across the southern townships of the county to the Yellow Banks at Plover. Or, they could have gone from Green Bay southwest on the Fox, down to the portage between the Fox and Wisconsin near modern Portage city and from there on foot or horseback north along the left bank of the Wisconsin. Perhaps this was the route followed in 1790 by Louis DuBay, father of John DuBay, when he reputedly journeyed from Green Bay to the modern township of Dewey.
Some 40 years later John Baptiste DuBay, son of Louis DuBay, came to Fort Winnebago (Portage city) probably with the intention of journeying north from this point to visit the spot his father may have suggested to him as a place to establish a trading post.
A number of French-Canadians were also attracted to the county after it was opened up to settlement along the Wisconsin River in 1836. The history of the area was not new to the French by any means and they were no doubt in close touch with developments in Wisconsin before and after it gained statehood. When the log jobbers moved in and the sawmills were established on the rivers and streams of the county between 1837 and 1857, many of the employees both in the woods and in the mills were French-Canadians. While some were transient workers, moving north with the receding timber belt, others remained in the county and became farmers and tradesmen, and because they were among the first, were able to select choice lands on the prairie in south Stockton and northern Buena Vista. The 1876 plat includes such names as Doville, Packard, Bussard, Bourcier (originally Busha, today Boursier), Pollit, and two Precourt families, as well as a De Clark, probably of Belgian ancestry. However, the first Belgians in the county to apply for citizenship at Plover in 1853 were Hypolete and Alexander Jack, who settled for a time in Sharon. Charles Van Hecke, also born in Belgium, applied for naturalization at Plover in June 1855.
While the early French explorers left little material improvement in Wisconsin, they left a legacy of travel and high adventure. A lasting reminder of their association with the early history of the state are the descriptive names of rivers, lakes and places, many of which were given the French translation of Indian names. In Portage County the Little Eau Claire and Little Eau Pleine are reminders of the French heritage. And when Hathaway surveyed the Indian strip in 1839-40 he came upon a clearing about four miles north of modern Stevens Point on the left bank of the river in Sec 10 called Presque Prairie) meaning, in French, a meadow or grassland on a peninsula.
In addition to the French-Canadian communities, a small settlement of French-speaking Americans developed in Linwood, mostly along the river road between the ferry point in Sec 23 and Conant Rapids. These would include, among others, the families of Puariea, Couture, Chepreau, Fountain, Trudell, and Shaurette. Mrs. Malvina Trudell, nee Puariea, of Stevens Point, recalls, as a girl, that her mother usually addressed her in French, but she replied in English. Most of the original French families in Linwood conversed in French, she said.
A third generation farmer of French descent is Martin Steffanus, whose grandfather, William, settled on land north of modern Ellis in the mid-1850s. William was born in Etting, Lorraine, and served seven years in the 7th Regiment of Artillery as 1st cannonier, and later married Melanie Paupaun. While the couple spoke French between themselves, William was also conversant in German.
Two other pioneer families from France were John Nicholas Dehlinger, who settled in Stevens Point, and applied for naturalization at Plover on Aug. 11, 1866; and Michael Milius, who made his first application in Milwaukee County in 1852 and later settled in the township of Almond. However, both families allegedly spoke German which suggests that they too originated in Lorraine. Two families of French descent who settled in the old town of Eau Pleine were Peter LeMeux and Joseph Paupon (or Paupaun), both listed in the 1863 tax roll.