( I first published this story a few days ago asking readers of the Toledo Gazette to help me find out whatever happened to Lillian Poupard ,one of Toledo’s last hardy fisherwomen living on tiny Indian or Odeon Island just off the northern most tip of Point Place. A 1934 News Bee article about Lillian prompted me to ask more questions about this interesting woman and her husband Bill Poupard who lived a very quiet and happy life on this small island eeking out a meager living from the fishing trade. I am pleased to report that Barb Burgess of Wooster, a local history buff and researcher was able to find the information I was looking for. Sadly though, that new information informs us that Lil and Bill Poupard’s life together after the News Bee story appeared was short-lived. Lillian died a few years later, on September 28th of 1937 of cancer, at the age of 42. As the article states, she was of German descent and had been born Lillian Reusher, to her parents Herman and Sophia (Reichter), both born in Germany. Lillian Poupard is buried at Forest Cemetery in Toledo. And, as I was to disover, Bill’s life also tragically ended a few years after his beloved Lil. She and Bill apparenty had no children. Thanks to Barb Burgess and others who worked to find the information help fill in the blanks on this story. We are still trying to disocver more the couple and more about Bill and Lillian’s early lives in the area.)
A story that caught my attention while I was researching my book, Day by Day in Toledo, was that of Lil Poupard, a woman that the Toledo News Bee dubbed the “Mistress of Odeon Island”. In an 80 year old article from August of 1934, the News Bee featured Lil and her husband Bill Poupard who were two hardy souls that lived on this little spit of an island just off Point Place and made their living catching and selling fish. They resided there on the tiny island, not just in the balmy and gentle days of summer, but throughout the year, even in the “bleak” days of winter, living in a small wooden structure, a shanty they called home. They were the sole inhabitants along with Bill Poupard’s brother Fred who is said to also have lived on island.
The story piqued my interest on a number of levels, first I was curious as to the whereabouts of Odeon Island. You won’t see it on a map today, but what you will find are Indian and Gard islands, just off the northern most tip of the Point Place peninsula at the mouth of the Ottawa River. I am told by area historian Buzz Achinger of the Lost Peninsula that Odeon Island was the first name for what is now Indian Island.
” It is a distinct island of its own. It is less popular than Gard and the other surrounding islands because it can be treacherous around its shores. There are shallows that can trap boaters in the summer and springs & soft spots that cause havoc for snowmobiles and ATVs when the area is ice-covered in Winter. It is a natural island, not man-made like a few other island nearby.” Buzz also tells me that not much is there these days and that he doubted if the old wooden structures of the Poupard’s remained.
I have placed an historic USGS map to show you the relative placement of the island just off the mouth of the Ottawa River.
The other question raised in this faded old story was about Lil Poupard herself. Described as being an attractive, good natured, blond-haired woman in her early 40’s, she was of German descent and had been living on the island for the past 20 years as a “fisherwoman” with her husband Bill, and was the last of the area women who made their living as “fishwives”. Virginia Nelson, the author of the News Bee story writes;
” She is the last of a hardy and picturesque line. Years ago when fishing was really good around the Point, there were a number of women who earned their living this way. But fishing has fallen off a great deal in the last two or three years. For one reason or another the women have given it up. But to Lil Poupard, life according to any other design would be unthinkable. She is known in the parlance of the fisherfolk as a fishwife but there is nothing of the screaming harridan about her that is usually associated with the word.”
Nelson goes on to tell us that Lil defies the stereotype, and while she does wear hip boots while working side by side with the “men”, when she is not working, she wears nice dresses and keeps her hair washed and styled as she and Bill live a quiet, simple and contented life on their private island. Even in the wintertime, Lil Poupard tells Nelson, “ People think the winters out here would be bad but we don’t mind them. We bring out plenty of coal and groceries and we have a radio. We along fine. There seems to be a lot of trouble in the world but it doesn’t seem to bother us out here.”
Nelson continues to paint that picture of the Poupard’s little paradise on Maumee Bay, by writing of how their humble home is set in a grove of tall trees and Bill often plays long lazy ballads on his mouth organ out in the yard with an assortment of cats and dogs and other animals running around. Says Lil of this spartan lifestyle,
” I wouldn’t trade this life for all the card parties and picture shows there are.”
But eventually something did change for the Poupard’s. Just when and how, I have been unable to discover, and perhaps you or someone you know can shed some needed light on this story’s dark evolution. What I have been able to determine from Blade and News Bee articles is that sometime between 1934, when the News Bee feature appeared and the Spring of 1939, Bill Poupard would find another woman to share his life with on the island, a much younger woman than Lil. And whatever plans they had for matrimony were cut short But by tragedy. According to a newspaper article, the body of 21-year-old Jean Brown was found in the waters of Maumee Bay near Odeon Island by two duck hunters. the article says she had been missing for several days when her body was found. The news story also states that the body of 46-year old William Poupard was found nearby by relatives of his who had been searching for him. Poupard was described as the caretaker of Odeon Island. The story says that the Poupard and Brown were on their way to mainland from Odeon Island when their duckboat overturned.
(See new information at beginning of the post)
I suppose, we could leave the story there. But my curiosity always trumps indifference. I really wanted to know what happened to Lillian Poupard, what was her maiden name, her real background and the remaining chapters of her life story? So far, my efforts have hit the proverbial brick wall. Lil’s story seems to have left no footprint, at least not a digital footprint, that can be followed. Searches of obituary indices and ancestory, newspaper databases have offered not a trace. So far. I did have a bit more success in finding some information about William Poupard, including his date of birth, June 11, 1895 and that he was born in Toledo and registered for the World War I draft in 1916. He was listed as a fisherman at that time. Beyond that, not much else except for some listings in the Toledo city directories along with other Poupards, also listed as fishermen living in the 3500 block of North Erie Street. It must be noted however that the Poupard name was and is not a rare name in both Lucas County and Monroe County over the years, and there were a number of Poupard men with the first name of William.
Not sure if it is relevant, but some research of census records does indicate that two brother, by the name of William and Fred Poupard, born around 1895 were residents of the Miami Children’s Home about 1903. And both boys listed their parents as having been born in France. Could this be the William and Fred Poupard who once lived on Odeon island, with Lil Poupard in 1934? Maybe so, maybe not.
If you know, or know someone who knows more about the “Mistress of Odeon Island”, and the Poupards, I’d like to share that story with the Toledo Gazette readers. For Lillian Poupard, according to the 1934 News Bee story appeared to be good person, a gentle soul, and someone whose life was probably much larger than an obscure article in a faded newspaper. Someone worth knowing.