In pursuit of a route to the Orient, Jean Nicolet arrived at Red Banks, near modern-day Green Bay, Wisconsin. He and other French explorers had learnt from native connections that the people who resided along these coastlines were known as Ho-Chunk, which some French mistook for "People of the Sea."
Nicolet spent several months with these Indians, learning their languages and customs. When he returned to France in 1679, he reported that the Great Lakes contained many large rivers that flowed into the Atlantic Ocean. He also described several trees that grew in Canada that were used for timber and food.
About a decade later, another Frenchman, Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, accompanied by an Indian guide, made his way through present-day Michigan and Ohio.
He was the first European to discover what would become Wisconsin in 1634. Nicolet ascended the Fox River with several Ho-Chunk guides, portaged to the Wisconsin, and went down it until it began to broaden. When he reached the present site of Milwaukee, he decided this was the route to the Pacific Ocean. Returning home via Lake Michigan, he reported his findings to the French court.
After the death of Jean Nicolet in 1642, no one else visited Wisconsin for three decades. In 1685, Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, Sieur de La Salle, set out to explore the American west coast. On July 10th, he landed on the current site of Chicago, Illinois and spent the next few months exploring the area around the Great Lakes. In September of that year, he returned to France where he reported his discoveries. He had been unable to reach the Pacific Ocean but he had seen much of western America including large areas that are now part of Illinois and Indiana. In addition, he had collected plants and animals for sale as commodities in Europe. This inspired other explorers to come to America after him.
In 1763, the British government granted a patent to Joseph Bouchette for lands between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. The following year, Francois Marie Picoté came to what is now Wisconsin and explored some of the regions east of the Mississippi River.
Jean Nicolet (Nicollet), Sieur de Belleborne (c. 1598–October 1642) was a French coureur des bois most known for exploring Lake Michigan, Mackinac Island, Green Bay, and becoming the first European to set foot in what is now Wisconsin.
He made his first trip into what are now the states of Michigan and Wisconsin in 1634. He returned home after only being in those areas for a few months because he felt it was not safe to stay too long since they were inhabited by fierce warriors. In 1635, he led an expedition into what is now Illinois with eight other men. They met with success and brought back news that the Indian tribe there called the Peoria had never been attacked by any other tribe. In April 1636, Nicolet returned home again but this time he stayed for three years because he heard that there was great profit to be made in the area. During his third trip into what are now the states of Michigan and Wisconsin, he discovered Green Bay on his journey up the Fox River looking for a way to reach the Mississippi River. When he reached the end of the bay, he found two small islands that were covered in trees so he named them Île du Loup (Island of the Wolf) and Île de la Biche (Island of the Doe).