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interests. ''Loyal to both races, his career was an
honorable one," says Mr. Doane Robinson, the his-
torian of South Dakota. He describes Charles S.
Picotte (S. Dak. I., p, 113, n. 3), as a well educated,
influential mixed-blood, "the best and most favorably
known on the Dakota frontier, ' ' and an especially use-
ful citizen in the organization of the Territory.

On the other hand, the Indians were not unmind-
ful of their debt to him. By the express stipulation
of their headmen the treaty included a clause by which
"on account of the valuable services and liberality to
the Yanktons" there was granted to Picotte one sec-
tion of land ; the old metis guide. Zephyr Rencontre,
also receiving a gift of land. On Picotte 's reserva-
tion now stands the city of Yankton, of which young
capital he was ' ' a leading and public-spirited citizen.
With his partner, Moses K. Armstrong, he built the
[ 136 ]

French Indians in the Settlement of the West

first Territorial Capitol, still acting on many im-
portant occasions as guide and interpreter, and coun-
cillor between the French (who to a considerable ex-
tent settled Dakota Territory) and the Indians. ''Too
generous to succeed in business, ' ' says his biographer,
''Picotte eventually lost his Yankton property." He
died a few years ago, among his people on the Yank-
ton Reservation.

The widow of Charles Picotte married a French-
man (possibly a metis) by the name of Galpin, and
is remembered as having rescued many whites at the
time of an Indian raid. One of Picotte 's grand-
daughters is now teaching in Bismark, Minn., and
has been of assistance to the artist, Edwin Willard
Deming, well known for his paintings of Indian sub-
jects, by lending him photographs.

Father De Smet, who was agent of the Dakota
Superintendency in 1867, had for interpreters, and
descants upon their "amazing influence," the son of
that ''old Zephyr Eencontre" whom we saw receiving
a reservation with Charles Picotte, and Joseph
Picotte, one of the large family of which Charles was
the most prominent member.

The importance of French mixed-bloods as a
means of civilizing the Indians appears to have been
recognized in the early land policy of our govern-
ment. It was not many years after the war of 1812
that Congress enacted a measure providing that such
mixed-bloods as so chose might renounce their in-
terest in tribal lands and receive a patent for a sec-
tion, to be chosen by themselves or their guardians.

Our Debt to the Red Man

Not a large proportion at that time accepted the offer.
Still, the method was not abandoned. President
Monroe's Treaty of Chicago (1821) explicitly recog-
nized as Indians, and as we have seen allotted land, — ■
among a large number of others — to such well known
and well educated French mixed-bloods as Charles
and Medard Beaubien, sons of Jean Baptiste Beau-
bien of Chicago and Man-a-be-no-quan. A few Eng-
lish names appear — the well known Burnetts, for
example, but the great majority are French.

The name Knaggs, which appears in this treaty,
sounds anything but French, and it was in fact
brought to this country by a Dutch-Englishman who
was among the early settlers of Detroit. His chil-
dren and children's children, however, for the most
part married into the French families who were con-
spicuous in the early history of that city, and the
family became to all intents and purposes French.
Nearly a hundred years after Detroit became an
American city, during the awful scourge of cholera
that nearly devastated it in 1834, "the beautiful
Knaggs girls," then far more French than English,
earned for themselves a noble name by standing by
Father Kundig as nurses, saving many a life. Though
the recently published history of the Knaggs family
("The Knaggs family of Detroit," by Clarence W.
Burton, Robert Ross, Publisher, Detroit), makes no
mention of any Indian alliance, we know from other
sources that there were very close relations between
this family and the Indians of the region. Whitmore


French Indians in the Settlement of the West

Knaggs, son of the original settler, George, was an
adopted Ottawa; the tribe gave him land on the
Maumee near the present site of Toledo, and some
of his descendants live there still.

This "Whitmore Knaggs, the "Brother Knaggs"
of the Ottawas, who was Indian agent for the British
government in 1781, and had interpreted for Sir Wil-
liam Johnson and for Bradstreet in 1759, received
lands with his son under the treaty of 1821, with,
among others, Charles and Medard Beaubieii of Chi-
cago. The younger Knaggs, William by name, be-
came a leading merchant in Toledo, was elected chief
by the Ottawas, and had much to do with the peace
of the region. A cousin of his, another grandson of
the original settler, married a Huron-Potawatomie,
and his son received land under the treaty of 1826.
All these Knaggses were well educated and spoke
French fluently.

Though few of the French of Detroit took Indian
wives, yet not only these members of the Knaggs
family, but the Frenchman who was undoubtedly
descended from that Robert Navarre who was one of
the first settlers of Detroit, and who traced his de-
scent from Anthony of Bourbon, father of Henry IV
(of Navarre), King of France, must also be counted
as an exception. In 1737 we find Potawatomies deed-
ing their village (within the limits of Detroit) to
''Robische" Navarre, the name evidently being an
Indian corruption of Robert. By a treaty of 1833
the children of Pierre Navarre, the well known scout,
who in 1821 had been trading at St. Joseph's and in

Our Deht to the Red Man

the region around Kankaki, were awarded lands as

The Navarre family, whether of pure French or
of mixed lineage, was intensely loyal. Thirty -six of
the name served in the war of 1812, and two sons of
Pierre were in the regular army of the United States
in 1874. This Pierre was General Harrison's scout
in the Ohio Valley campaign, and ''was among those
who killed Tecumseh," says the authority already
quoted. The family seems always to have been in
kindly relations with the Indians. In 1833 General
Cass paid to J. M. Navarre of Detroit $20 ''for board-
ing ten Wyandot (Huron) chiefs while on a visit to

Mixed-bloods of this character were quite awake
to the advantage of having land of their own. We
find thirty-eight Sauk and Fox metis claiming htnd
under the treaty of Washington (1825), and thirty-
one at another time ; among them Maurice Blondeau,
a w<'ll known name, with fourteen others whose claim
to French blood was considered doubtful. The Miami
metis on the Wabash also secured lands. Among
these were the Godefroys, descendants of two Gode-
froi children, sons probably of the well born Godefroi
de Linctot of Quebec, later a trader of considerable
importance at Prairie du Chien, who during Clarke's
campaign espoused the American cause and led a
company of four hundred metis to his aid. His
sons, having been captured during the disturbances
of the time, were adopted into tlie Miami tribe, and
Gabriel, whom in 1818 we find sub-agent at Peoria,

French Indians in the Settlement of the West

had become a hereditary chief of the tribe, his son
Pierre succeeding him in the office. These two metis
are named among ''the last of the barons" by Mr.
R. R. Elliot in the passage already quoted. Mr. H. H.
Hurlbut in ''Ohio Antiquities" writes of Col. Gabriel
Godefroi, "in 1881 an aged but vigorous French gen-
tleman," who was Indian agent and interpreter in
President Monroe's treaty with Ottawa, Chippewa
and Potawatomie Indians in 1821. Many Godefrois
appear in Tanguay's monumental "Dictionary,"
though without mention of the two captive children.
The name is now spelled Godfrey in Indiana.

Among other metis who received lands under
these treaties, George Cicotte received three and a
half sections, a certain Lassade two, Maw-ta-no, the
daughter of Joseph La Framboise, son of Shaw-we-
no-qua-qua, received a section. This was in accord-
ance with an intelligent and well matured policy, ably
stated by Governor Lewis Cass in a letter to the Hon.
James Buchanan, Secretary of War (1826 A. S. P.
Ind. Aff. 2. 632) : "It is our firm conviction that
upon the immediate fate of these persons (the French
mixed-bloods of the Lake Superior region) depends
the issue of all the experiments upon this subject
(the moral elevation of the Indian) which we are
making in this quarter;" and again (Ibid., p. 683),
"This principle, of making grants to half-breeds, is
fully realized in all the treaties recently formed in
this quarter," citing those of 1817, 1818, 1819, 1824.
Treaties recognizing the importance of stimulating
the metis to exertion by giving them land are fre-

Our Debt to the Eed Man

quent. The Chippewas especially were to receive each
640 acres on islands in or on the shore of St. Mary's

It is easy to see that such liberality, unless care-
fully supervised, might lead to abuses. Many are the
cases of unprincipled Americans marrying women
thus endowed and defrauding them of their lands.
It is therefore not surprising to find in the report
of the Census of 1900 the opinion of the Assistant
Attorney General that the child of an Indian mother
follows the status of the father, the Indian wife and
children of a white man not being entitled to an
allotment. The question had not been decided till
1896, and was not retroactive, but for the purposes
of this study the matter is not of importance, as there
has been no new French blood as late as this.

Notwithstanding some abuses, the influence of
the French mixed-bloods in promoting the civiliza-
tion of the Indians is still recognized. An illustrious
instance, though it carries us far into the past, is
found in Joseph Renville, the son of a French fur
trader of much reputation and a Sioux woman of
the Kaposia band. He was born at Kaposia, near
what afterward became St. Paul, Minn., in 1779, was
educated by a Roman Catholic priest in Canada, and
came into prominence as a guide to Zebulon M. Pike
in 1797. In the war of 1812 he served the British
as interpreter of the Sioux with the rank of Captain :
the good conduct of the Indians at Fort Meigs and
Fort Stevenson was largely due to his authority. At
the close of the war he resigned his commission and

French Indians in the Settlement of the West

gave up his half pay to become an American citizen,
and with Faribault and Son organized the Columbia
Fur Company, of which he was the soul. When in
1918 Lieut. Snelling began to build the "massive
stone fort" at the junction of the Minnesota and Mis-
sissippi Rivers (then called Fort St. Anthony), he
summoned Renville to act as interpreter for the ex-
pedition to explore the Minnesota River and the Red
River of the north. Later, Renville established an
independent business at Lac Qui Parle. While there
he met the famous missionary, Rev. T. S. William-
son, M.D., whose son, the Rev. John P. Williamson,
thus tells the story:

"Seventy-eight years ago, in October, 1835, I
was born in a little cabin belonging to Joseph Ren-
ville, a Sioux and French mixed-blood and a Roman
Catholic. The use of the cabin was given to my
father, who was a Presbyterian missionary, on con-
dition that he would keep a school which Renville's
children could attend, with others, promising that his
famih^ would attend the religious services of my
father. The promise was fulfilled. And within two
years he had united in the organization of a Presby-
terian Church, two hundred miles west of any church
organization in the United States, in which he be-
came a ruling elder. His family almost became the
corner stone of the Presbyterian Mission among the
Dakota (Sioux) Indians.''

^ That all Indians when sympathetically approached — the word
"sympathetically" may be emphasized — are capable of appre-
hending the truths of the Christian religion appears to be evi-
dent when Dr. Williamson is able to count among the fruits of
a long life of devotion to the Indian peoples of the Northwest
"the gathering of 36 Presbyterian churches still in existence
among them (1914)."

[ 143 ]

Our Debt to the Red Man

''Joseph Renville was the first to sow wheat on
the high plains of the upper Mississippi, and the first
to go into cattle and sheep raising on a large scale.
His hospitality was proverbial," writes Dr. William
son.^ It may be added that his example and per-
suasion induced many Dakotas to become farmers.
Joseph's son Joseph was with Nicollet as interpreter,
and the year after (1837) he was sent by the Govern-
ment with Fremont to examine western lands.

Though the Indian agent had for more than one
generation an unsavory name, yet every evidence goes
to show that those among them who had Indian blood
were and still are a power for good among those en-
trusted to their care.

French names which occur all through our early
State papers as Indian agents or other government
employees in the then recently acquired west are al-
most invariably those of French mixed-bloods already
resident in the region. They were doubtless appointed
(the office not being of a character to attract the
politician) partly because these men were more at
leisure than the American pioneer, chiefly because
they understood the native language of the region,
but with little thought of what was in fact their really
important qualification, familiarity and sympathy
with the Indian character and standards. Many of
them bore names that will take a place in history
when the part in our history taken by this mixed race
comes to be recognized.

Michel Brisebois, agent at the metis town, Prairie

3 Letter to the Author. This distinguished Missionary died while
these pages were going through the press, in his eighty-hrst year.


French Indians in the Settlement op the West

du Chien, Charles Jouett on Rock River, Blondeau,
the agent of the Sauks, who in 1818 was agent at
Peoria, the city which came into existence after the
tragic destruction of Mailletstown,* are a few of
many instances of valuable servants of the interests
at once of the native people and of the new govern-
ment. The sub-agent under Blondeau was Gabriel
Godfrey, whom we have already met (Supra, p. 140).
In 1804-5 Auguste Brisebois, whose relative Michel
was an important resident of Prairie du Chien, was
in charge of the post at Portage la Prairie in the Red
River country. Such well known names as Langlois,
Dorain, De Lorme, Duford, continually recur in this
service. In 1869 Charles La Follette was Indian
agent at Grande Ronde agency, Oregon, "where the
Indians are happily advancing in civilization,"
wrote the Indian Commissioner.

4 Supra, p. 82.


French Indians as Farmers

WE have seen the French-Indian interpreter
and trader Michel Cadotte and the Grig-
non brothers, celebrated in trade, retiring
to farms in late middle life as the ideal mode of exist-
ence. We have seen Joseph Renville becoming the
father of the great wheat industry of our north-
western uplands. It is generally assumed that the
Indian does not take kindly to farming, though we
have found agricultural Indians^ on the site of Mil-
waukee before the arrival of the white man, and his-
tory reminds us of our forgotten debt to the agricul-
tural Indians of New England and Virginia, who not
only saved our forefathers from starvation, but in-
ducted them into the mysteries of growing corn and
tobacco. The reasons for the Indian's antipathy to
this mode of life at the present time, so far as anti-
pathy exists, are not far to seek, but whatever may
be said as to the willingness of Indians to cultivate
their lands, provided they are given half a chance of
success, it is evident that on the whole the metis are
better farmers than the full-bloods, or than mixed-
bloods of other races." The Menominees, of whom

1 Such from the earliest time were the Aricara, often of late called,

from the name of their reservation, Fort Berthold Indians. They
had early spring rites in which the corn had a prominent place,
an ear of corn being used as a symbol and called "mother".

2 A writer in "The Red Man" (Dec. 1914) opines that as a farmer

he is equal to the white man, if not better. As a cattle raiser ho
should be eminently useful.


French Indians as Farmers

Commissioner Oooley reported in 1865 that they have
'^generally been at peace with the whites," and are
"an industrious people, notwithstanding their reputa-
tion of being generally indolent," had largely inter-
mingled with the French in early days. No doubt
the French peasant ancestry of many of the metis has
served them in good stead in this respect, as French
mixed-bloods, when not distinctly called to other
avocations, appear to have done well in agriculture.
The Choctaws, pre-eminently the agriculturalists
among the southern tribes, married much among
the French.

So long ago as 1869 the Indian agent reported
that the Cherokees (who have much French blood)
asked permission to build railroads across their lands
as the only means of keeping possession of them.
"They have the money, they say, and it is their only
hope." The Government, however, did not permit.

Prairie du Chien, which as we have seen was
originally an Indian, and afterward a metis town
(Supra, p. 117), at least as early as 1784 sold corn to
Canadian traders. In 1812 it disposed annually of
about eighty thousand pounds of flour and great
quantities of corn meal to traders and Indians. "The
people would raise more," reported the French sub-
agent, Nicolas Boilvin, "if there were a suitable de-
mand." It may be worth while to inquire how far
the absence of a market accounts today for the
lethargy of Indian farmers on remote reservations.

Agent Isaac T. Gibson, reporting for the Osages
in Indian Territory in 1874, said that all the metis


Our Debt to the Red Man

families had improved farms. As early as 1849 the
agent, Father Belcourt, reported of the Turtle Moun-
tain Chippewas tliat the full-bloods were satisfied with
the reservation, but the mixed-bloods wanted land
in severalty ; that they had taken such and made many
improvements, besides building houses. The report
of these Turtle Mountain Chippewas in 1897 showed
that the 1,200 metis on the Reservation were cultivat-
ing 3,3921/2 acres and . 500 of them outside of the
Reservation 1,750^/2 acres; the full-bloods were cul-
tivating 37 acres.

In 1875 Lieutenant-Governor Atclieson reported
that the Chippewa Indians and metis had broken land
for cultivation and had cultivated it at White Earth
and White Oak Point, Minn., manifesting ''surpris-
ing energy and aptitude for such unwonted effort."
Today, after forty years, these energetic farmers are
contending with the United States Government for
the right to the land that they have been cultivating
for more than a generation.

A generation ago Judge Flandreau wrote of the
metis Vital Guerin and B. Garrow (probably Gar-
reau) as ''two good quiet farmers." The Rev. J. P.
Williamson gives as the result of a long experience
his conviction that "the French mixed-bloods as a
class are more industrious than any other class of
mixed-bloods, ' ' and sends a long list of metis in Mon-
tana, North and South Dakota and Nebraska who
"have made exemplary success as farmers." The
late Rev. J. A. Gilfillan, for many years a Protestant
[ 148 ]

French Indians as Farmers

Episcopal missionary, to whom my debt is great/ in
reply to my question as to successful metis farmers,
wrote: "Alexander Beaulieu and many others, too
numerous to mention, on the White Earth Reserva-
tion and in Becker, Norman and Mahnomen counties,
Minnesota. ' '

These mixed-blood agriculturists have lost none
of that stamina which James Buchanan, Secretary of
War, recognized when he said of the mixed-bloods
scattered through the Lake Superior region (nearly,
if not quite, all of French descent) ''They form no
inconsiderable proportion of the physical force of the
country, and the moral force which they could exert
is still stronger."

With all these facts before it, until very lately
our government has been as little moved by them as
in 1849, when Captain Pope regretfully reported that
"the great body of Pembina half-breeds (French)
still live in lodges, from the uncertain tenure by
which they hold their lands and the entire want of
protection and encouragement exhibited by our Gov-
ernment." "It is folly," wrote to President Benja-
min Harrison in 1893 the special Commissioners sent
to look into the condition of certain Indians, deprecat-

3 To this devoted missionary, to whose long life of service the Ojib-
ways are deeply indebted, as the Sioux to the missionaries Wil-
liamson, father and son. Prof. Moorehead pays tribute (op. cit.
p. 48f). Unhappily for the tribe, his missions were discontinued
by the United States Government, and the buildings, for erect-
ing which he had provided the funds, were taken over by it,
at far less than their actual value (ib.). (N. B. There is a picture
of these buildings in op. cit. p. 48). After some correspond-
ence I met this devoted man the year before his death, living in
a small apartment in New York, cheerful and brave, his whole
heart absorbed in the welfare of the people to whom he was no
longer permitted to minister.


Our Debt to the Red Man

iiig the removal of a band of Chippewas, "to expect
these Indians to make a living where white men who
have fuU}^ and fairly tried have failed." (Senate
Doc. 444, p. 22). The time would seem to be a late
one for such a discovery, but in 1893 these special
Commissioners were a voice crying in the wilderness.

It is not to be denied that the Government has
made many attempts to teach the Indians to farm.
So long ago as 1805 an agent was sent to teach agri-
culture to the Sauks, the agent being the metis, Pierre
Chouteau, descendant of the well-known French fam-
ily of the name whose history is an integral part of
that of the city of St. Louis. It is probably a descend-
ant of this agent, the French mixed-blood Forest
Chouteau, who is now a prosperous business man of
Kaw City, Oklahoma.

All down through the years scattered notices in
the reports of Indian Commissioners have shown that
Indians of French ancestry have been recognized as
the more progressive element. From one Report, for
instance, w^e learn that nearly all of this class have
good houses and are self-supporting; from another
that they are an uplifting influence, living on separate
farms and building houses, but sorely hampered by
the refusal of countj^ authorities to recognize them
as citizens and entitled to any rights as such. We
learn that among the Flatheads in 1899 many metis
were becoming well-to-do ("and full-bloods also mak-
ing some headway," adds the agent), but that some
of the metis who were taxed paid under protest : "As
nearly half the people on the reservation are half-

French Indians as Farmers

breeds (metis) taxation is an important matter. If
they are taxable (they say) the country should give
them schools and build and maintain roads and
bridges on the Reservation." From the same au-
thority (Am. St. Pap., Indian Affairs), we learn that
in 1870 the French mixed-bloods among the Yankton
Sioux (the majority of the whole), whether Chris-
tion or semi-pagan, were all strictly temperate. In
1884 this class in Oklahoma (then Indian Territory)
had good farms and were ' ' pushing hard on the white
man's road." Among the Osages in 1884 the full-
bloods were fast passing away, but the mixed-bloods
(in this tribe, largely French), were steadily increas-
ing and apparently becoming more ready to adopt
civilized ways and accept education.

' ' The Omahas and Winnebagoes in Nebraska have
been remarkably successful as farmers," writes the
Rev. J. A. Shine of Plattsmouth, Neb. ; while Potawa-
tomies in Kansas and several tribes in Minnesota, Wis-
consin and Michigan, with great numbers of the Sioux
in South Dakota have proved their ability as tillers
of the soil. The tribes here mentioned largely inter-
mingled with the French in early days; but we
have seen that many Indian tribes were distinctly

"Twenty-five years ago," says Mr. Alanson
Skinner, "the Indian farmers on the Sisseton Reserva-
tion had the same start as the neighboring whites;
now they have better houses, barns and stock, with
trees and gardens up to date. In some cases they
teach the whites how to farm. Their Government


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Online LibraryLouise Seymour HoughtonOur debt to the red man; the French-Indians in the development of the United States → online text (page 10 of 14)