This article was written by Stew Thornley
A pitcher for one game in the major leagues, appearing under the name Chief Chouneau, William “Nitchie” Cadreau was a member of the Fond du Lac Band of the Lake Superior Ojibwe in northeastern Minnesota. Cadreau grew up on the Fond du Lac Reservation, to the west of Cloquet, Minnesota, approximately 20 miles west-southwest of Duluth. The reservation was established in 1854 by a treaty between the Lake Superior Chippewa and the United States government.
Baseball records show Cadreau’s birth date as September 2, 1889 in Cloquet, Minnesota. His death certificate lists his birth date as September 2, 1888, and his birthplace as Knife Falls Township, which is now part of Cloquet. The death certificate identifies his parents as Antoine Cadreau and Louise Nahgahub. Cadreau was a descendent (probably the grandson) of Chief Joseph Naganub (Sits Ahead), one of the last of the Ojibwe chiefs in that territory. Sits Ahead had become the foremost spokesman for the Lake Superior bands of Ojibwe, representing his people in numerous treaty negotiations in Washington, D. C., including the 1866 Treaty of Bois Forte that ceded iron lands, encompassing the Vermilion and Mesabi ranges in northeastern Minnesota, to the United States.
Beyond his ancestry, little is known about Cadreau’s life on Fond du Lac Reservation. Some information comes from two men with the Fond du Lac Tribal and Community Center-LeRoy DeFoe, the band’s cultural resources specialist, and Russ DuFault, its multi-media assistant. Neither had a great deal of first-hand knowledge of Cadreau although they were able to provide insights into the setting of Cadreau’s youth. In addition, DuFault had been in the hospital at the same time as Cadreau, shortly before the latter’s death.
DuFault was 11 years old in 1946 when he was in the old government hospital, also known as the old Indian hospital, on the reservation, and recalled “Nitchie” as being “well known in the hospital. During the time that I remember, the nurses used to come in the morning and ask him [Cadreau] how he was doing. He always said the same thing: ‘I’m in the pink.’ I just took it that he was feeling good. I didn’t pay a lot of attention to what was going on [with Cadreau] because I spent a lot of time outside.”
Asked about Cadreau’s appearance and health, DuFault said, “As far as I remember he didn’t really make any kind of commotion about anything I could remember. He was just there, laying [sic] in bed like the other guys who were in there.” DuFault never talked to Cadreau directly but was aware of him. As far as Cadreau’s baseball career, DuFault said, “I heard that he did play, but I really wasn’t in to the subject very far.”
DeFoe recalled that there had been a lot of Indian baseball teams on the reservation. Near the Holy Family Cemeteries, where Cadreau is buried, is a small baseball diamond that DeFoe says has been used for baseball for 50 to 80 years and that Cadreau probably had pitched on that diamond. “That generation there seemed like there was a lot of them, good baseball players from up here,” said DeFoe.
Besides baseball, log rolling was a major activity on the reservation during Cadreau’s time. “You gotta understand this river [St. Louis River] here,” DeFoe said. “At one time it was the White Pine capital of the world. That river used to be full of logs all the way up almost to Brookston, which is about 10 miles straight up north from here. That whole area was full of log jams, and a lot of these Indian people used to work for the lumber companies as, what do they call those guys who used to fix those log jams, tear them apart.”
“You could go down there and meet guys running all over out there with picks and running on the logs, sending them up the chutes on conveyors that would go up into the mills,” DuFault added. “A matter of fact, there are still pools of dead heads in the river right now with the ends sticking up. You have to kind of watch when you go up there so you don’t run into them with boats. They used to have special guys-dead-head picking skulls, I guess they called them. They’d tow them up the river so far by power boat, and they’d leave them up there and then guys would migrate down the river again, picking up dead heads. Then they’d bring them over, let them dry out, cut them up. That had a saw mill up there by the double islands just north of town.”
Skilled at working on the logs, the Indians had logrolling competitions. DeFoe said, “My great-grandfather-his name was Joe Medweiosh-we used to live up by near the church. Right behind his house, it was kind of like a swamp, but he went out and dug himself a practice pool so he could practice his log rolling.”
Much about Cadreau’s life remains a mystery, including his full baseball career, and how he came about the name Chouneau (Chief, of course, was usually attached to Native American players in the early part of the 20th century).
Marc Okkonen, a member of the Society for American Baseball Research who researches players who had brief major league careers, says he found a player named Chouteau (a possible misspelling of Chouneau) with two Michigan teams-Grand Rapids in 1911 and Muskogee in 1916. Okkonen adds, “After originally looking for Chouneau on the reserve lists I went back and found him under Cadreau for Vancouver (Class B Northwestern League) in October 1913 and under Spokane (Class B Northwestern League) in October 1912.” He also says that Cadreau played for the famed Cherokee travel team of Kingsville, Ontario, but he doesn’t know which years.
Cadreau’s obituary, in the September 20, 1946 Cloquet Pine Knot says that he “made an outstanding name for himself as a member of organized baseball at Vancouver, Spokane, and Portland and finally as the property of the Chicago White Sox baseball team. About 1910, Cadreau sought an opportunity to play with the Cloquet baseball team. The local manager felt that he did not have the necessary qualifications as a pitcher. That year he left Cloquet for the Iron Range [probably the Mesabi Iron Range, about 50 miles north of Cloquet], played there a short time, moved into North Dakota, pitched at Minot, N. D., then moved on to Ashland, Wis., where he made such an outstanding showing that he was brought into Chicago by the Chicago American league baseball team. He pitched one of the closing games against Detroit and seemed to have assured himself a place in the Chicago team. The next year he disappeared and later turned up in the Western Canada league.”
Regarding his one appearance in the major leagues, an item in the Cloquet Pine Knot of Saturday, October 8, 1910, noted, “Will Cadreau, former pitcher of the Ashland baseball team now wears the uniform of the Chicago White Sox. Cadreau left Ashland last Monday for Chicago, accompanied by J. B. Carlin, who acted as agent for Charles Comiskey, owner of the White Sox. Cadreau has without doubt one of the best records as a strikeout pitcher in the northwest. In the last three games he pitched for Ashland he struck out nearly 50 men, and in one game struck out 17 and walked no one. This is the game that attracted the attention of the big leaguers, and he was accordingly signed.”
Cadreau’s lone game came on Sunday, October 9, 1910, as he started for the White Sox against the Detroit Tigers, the final game of the season for both teams.
Cadreau held the Tigers scoreless through the first five innings. “Chief Bill looked the part of a promising pitcher, after he has acquired the beef and experience necessary to enable him to go the route,” wrote I. E. Sanborn in the Chicago Daily Tribune. “For five innings he had speed and curves enough to stall off the past champions successfully, allowing them only three hits in that time. Once a three base hit put a Tiger on third base with nobody out and the little chief did not appear to mind that any more than nothing at all, minus six. He disposed of the next three batsman without letting in the runs. His control was perfect and he never was in the hole to the batsman.”
However, another three-base hit, by Sam Crawford, led to a rally that put Detroit into the lead and knocked Cadreau out of the game. With Chicago holding a 1-0 lead in the top of the sixth, Crawford tripled off Cadreau and scored on a single by Jay Kirke. Tom Jones followed with a single, and George Mullin doubled to score Kirke. Manager Hugh Duffy then called for Frank Lange to relieve Cadreau. Cadreau was charged with the loss as the Tigers won the game, 2-1. Cadreau did not walk a batter and struck out one. (Ty Cobb did not play for Detroit, having already left the team. In Cleveland, Napoleon Lajoie recorded eight hits in a doubleheader against St. Louis to apparently take the league’s batting-average title from Cobb. However, the batting race of 1910 remains shrouded in controversy because of how Lajoie got his hits-seven were bunts-and later record keeping errors that were discovered.)
Cadreau’s post-baseball life, like that of his youth, is marked by a scarcity of information. His grave marker notes military service as a private during World War I. Cadreau died September 17, 1946 (although in some baseball record books, Cadreau’s death date has been listed as September 17, 1948). His death certificate lists his occupation as laborer, his marital status as divorced (with Eliza Neveaux Couture as his wife), and his cause of death as “Cirrhosis of the liver due to tertiary syphilis.”
A version of this biography appeared in the book Minnesotans in Baseball, edited by Stew Thornley (Nodin, 2009).
Interview with LeRoy DeFoe, Cultural Resources Specialist, and Russell DuFault, Multi-Media Assistant, Fond du Lac Reservation, Fond du Lac Band, Lake Superior Chippewa, Thursday, June 13, 2002
E-mail correspondence with Marc Okkonen, May 10, 2002
“A Famous Chief,” The Mail and Empire (Toronto), October 17, 1895
“Cadreau Making Good: Indian from Local Reservation Joins the Chicago White Sox as Pitcher. Will Have Try-out Tomorrow,” Cloquet Pine Knot, Saturday, October 8, 1910, p. 1
“Final Act of Sox Story of Defeat: Redskin in Spotlight” by I. E. Sanborn, Chicago Daily Tribune, Monday, October 10, 1910, p. 21
“Nitchie’ Cadreau, Pitcher, Dies,” Cloquet Pine Knot, Friday September 20, 1946
An Annotated Listing of Ojibwa Chiefs, 1690-1890, compiled by John A. Ilko, Troy, NY: The Whitson Publishing Company, 1995
Ojibway Chiefs: Portraits of Anishinaabe Leadership by Mark Diedrich, Rochester, MN: Coyote Books, 1999.