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Histories:  Trempealeau Co. Historical Accounts:

"History of Trempealeau County Wisconsin, 1917":

Chapter 10:

Recollections of Antoine Grignon1

-As transcribed from pages 129 - 136

(Eben D. Pierce, Wis. Hist. Soc. Proceedings, 1913, 110 - 136)

I was born at old Fort Crawford, Prairie du Chien, January 9, 1828.2  My father, Amable Grignon, who was of French and Winnebago descent, was born at Portage, Wisconsin;3 my mother, Archange La Bathe, was born at Prairie du Chien, of a French father and Sioux mother, being a cousin of Wabashaw, the Sioux chief whose village was located on the site of Winona, Minnesota.4  She was a sister of Francois La Bathe, the noted trader, long a trusted employee of the American Fur Company.5  Amable Grignon acted as interpreter for the Federal Government on various occasions, and was stationed for a number of years at Fort Crawford as interpreter for its commandant, Colonel Zachary Taylor.6

There were three children in the family, Paul, Archange, and myself, and although our parents had but a limited education, they determined to give their children the best opportunities within their reach.  So I was taken to Col. Zachary Taylor, who permitted me to attend the school conducted in the garrison, thus laying the foundation for an education.

I next went for two terms to a private school conducted by a Mr. Cady [Cadle],7 then John Haney became my teacher.  There were no public schools in that day at Prairie du Chien, and the parents of the pupils in the private schools paid the teacher a certain amount each month for their instruction.  I remember, too, my French teacher, a Mr. Gibault, who also taught English, and a lady by the name of Mrs. Crosby, who held school in her home.

When I was a little past twelve years of age I went to school to Rev. Joseph Cretin, a Catholic clergyman, who afterwards became bishop in St. Paul.8  By the time I was fifteen years of age I had a fair education in the common branches of English9 and was ready to go out into the world better equipped than most French Canadian boys of my time.

When I was fifteen years old I went to work for the American Fur Company under a sub-agent named Alexis P. Bailly, of Wabasha, Minnesota.10  I was sent out to Turkey River, Iowa.  We went by wagon, fifty miles southwest of Prairie du Chien, where a store building was erected and trade opened among the Winnebago.  A few months later I came back to Prairie du Chien, and went by the steamboat "Otter" up the Mississippi to Trempealeau, which was then known as Reed's Landing or Reed's Town.  James Reed had married my widowed mother and I visited her at his home, a large log house near the river.11

There were but a few families in Reed's Town.  John B. Doville12 and family were living there.  He had been conducting a wood yard over on the island opposite Trempealeau for a few years, having been sent in 1838 by Francois La Bathe to occupy the island and furnish cord-wood for the steamboats passing up and down the river.  Joseph Reed, a French Canadian, accompanied him. 

The real object in holding the island the island was to secure the fur trade, and to keep Wabashaw's band of Sioux from giving their trade to rival companies.

Doville was quite an agriculturist; he cultivated the land formerly broken by Louis Stram at the Swiss mission,13 and also broke up more on the flat near where the city park is now located.  He sowed oats, wheat, flaxseed, potatoes, and beans.  He has the honor, I think, of being the first farmer in Trempealeau County.  Stram broke the first land, but did not sow any seed except for garden purposes.

Alexander Chenevert14 was living upon the site that afterwards became the old Grant place.  Farther up the river near Fred Ford's present residence, lived the Bunnells - Willard and Lafayette.  Willard lived here until 1848, when he moved across into Minnesota.  Lafayette Bunnell had moved to Minnesota a couple of years before his brother Willard.15  There was another Frenchman here at that time by the name of Michael Goulet, who chopped wood for Reed, and worked at odd jobs whenever opportunity offered.  He did not remain long, a few years perhaps, and then went farther north.16

I worked for Mr. Reed, who was farmer for Wabashaw's band of Sioux at Winona, and as he could get home only occasionally I helped look after his stock, and built some pole fences for him in the fall of 1843, on what afterwards became the Van Engen farm.  This was the first fence built in the county.  Reed had considerable stock, several head of cattle, a bunch of ponies, and some blooded horses.  They grazed on the hills, and out on Trempealeau Prairie, and required little attention summer or winter, although we always put up some wild hay for them in case deep snow should make the grazing difficult.  Cattle suffered more during the deep snow than the horses, who could more easily paw the snow away.

In 1844 a Frenchman, Assalin, came to Reed's Town.  He was a carpenter by trade, and manufactured for Mr. Reed the first wagon in the county, that is, he made the woodwork, but the iron had to be shipped up from Prairie du Chien.  Besides carpenter work and wagon-making Assalin manufactured sleds and French trains.

In speaking of these early French settlers I must not forget to mention Peter Rousseau, who helped Reed build his house.  Rousseau was an expert with a broad-ax, and hewed the logs for Reed's house.  This had two stories, and was large and roomy, and served well its purpose as an old-fashion backwoods inn.

Reed kept a bar, and I have often seen travelers sleeping on the floor rolled up in their blankets.  Beds were a luxury seldom indulged in at that period.  Around the old-fashioned fireplace in Reed's inn was often gathered a strange and varied company - traders, surveyors, trappers, and hunters, and a few blanketed Indians.  As they sat smoking by the blazing fire in the evening, you might have heard stories of adventure that would thrill the heart of the dullest listener.

About the same year, 1844, there came to Trempealeau (Reed's Town) a Frenchman by the name of Antoine La Terreur, who was a cabinet-maker.  He manufactured chairs, bureaus, chests, and other furniture, and was the first in our county to do work of that kind.  Some of the chairs he manufactured are still, or were a few years ago, in the possession of La Vigne in Cedar Valley, Minnesota.

In 1845, Michel Bebault came here and hired out as a wood-chopper over on the island at the steamboat wood yard.  He was about the best wood-chopper I ever saw at work. Three years later Leander Bebault and John La Vigne17 came with their families to settle in Trempealeau.  La Vigne bought a little piece of land up in the tamarack, but had not lived there long when he decided to move across the river into Minnesota, where he settled in Cedar Valley.

Joseph Reed became a mail-carrier, and I think it worth while to relate some of the hardships he underwent in performing his duty.  His route lay along the Mississippi from Prairie du Chien to Wabashaw's village at Winona.  At the latter place he met the mail-carrier from Fort Snelling, near St. Paul, and after exchanging mails the two returned to their respective starting points.  The trip was made by canoe in summer, and by French train on the river ice in winter, and by pony with saddle-bags at times when neither canoe nor French train could be used.

One year, in the latter part of winter, early in March, I think, Joseph Reed started from Prairie du Chien with the government mail bound for Winona.  When he arrived the carrier from St. Paul was not there.  It was mild weather, so Reed concluded to proceed on his journey until he met his partner from up river.  By the time he reached Holmes' Landing,18 the weather had grown considerably warmer, and the ice showed signs of breaking up.  Still he pushed on, and urging his pony over the ice, sped away towards the north.  On nearing Minneiska19 he heard the ice begin to give way - groan, crack, and move; looking about he saw that an island in the river offered his only place of escape from drowning, as the ice was fast breaking up.  He made his way thither, and arriving in safety started to explore his new quarters.  He had gone but a short distance when he ran across the St. Paul mail-carrier, who had likewise made the island in safety.  By this time the ice in the river was moving fast, and before another day had nearly cleared.  So there they were with little provision, shut off from mainland by a wide channel.

After their provisions gave out, they subsisted on rose-apples; they halloed in vain for help, but it was a sparsely-settled region at that time and no one heard them.  After living on the island nearly two weeks, they were rescued by a party of Sioux who were coming down the river in canoes.  The Sioux took the two mail-carriers into their canoes and left them at Holmes' Landing, where after two weeks of recuperation they resumed their routes.  They were weak, emaciated, and nearly starved to death.

I remained in Trempealeau until the year before the Mexican War broke out, when I returned to Prairie du Chien and went to work in a blacksmith shop.  When war with Mexico was declared, I enlisted in Governor Dodge's regiment of hoe guards, serving therein for a year.  We did not go out of the State, but were held in readiness in case we should be needed.20  While in service at Prairie du Chien during the winter of 1846-47, a report came to our commander that the Indians were massacring the whites in the locality where Vernon County now is.  We were ordered out and with great difficulty marched up through the deep snow to the supposed scene of murder.  When we arrived we found the report was false; the whites had not been disturbed in the least, and no Indians had been seen in that region for a number of weeks.  So we returned ingloriously to our quarters at Prairie du Chien.

After getting my discharge I went to work as clerk for the American Fur Company in their store at Prairie du Chien under B. N. Brisbois.21  I remained in their employ until June, 1849, when I decided to go north and took the steamboat, "Lady Franklin," for St. Paul.

I soon secured employment at Fort Snelling, helping to get up hay for the cavalry stationed there at the time.  I drove team and helped stack for a few weeks, when a man from St. Paul came and asked if I would run a boarding-house and bar for him at that place.  I complied with his request, and worked for him for two months; at the end of this time I went down the river in one of A. P. Bailly's boats as far as Wabasha, where I went to work for Bailly.  he was postmaster, and I carried the mail to and from the boats and also worked in the store as clerk.  While there I was appointed deputy sheriff, and served papers on a man who was accused of stealing goods from my employer.  I had a search warrant and went and looked over the man's house, but found none of the stolen goods in his possession.

In the winter of 1849 Bailly fixed me up a big load of goods on a French train, with a pony to haul it down the river; I took my departure for the site of Fountain City, where there was a large camp of Sioux.  I traded among them until the spring of 1850, when I loaded my goods in a canoe and made my way down the river and through the sloughs to the present site of Marshland, where there was also a Sioux camp.  I sold my pony and train to the Indians and bought a canoe of them, and traded with them for a number of weeks.  They had been trapping up Trempealeau River, and had a fine lot of beaver, otter, marten, mink, and muskrat pelts.  I had for my store a Sioux hut made out of buffalo hides - as comfortable as one could wish.  After the spring hunting and trapping was over I returned to Wabasha, but not until I had an opportunity of attending a medicine dance at Minneowah, not far above the present town of Homer, Minnesota.

In the early fifties I assisted H. M. Rice22, S. B. Lowry and David Olmsted23 in removing two bands of Winnebagoes from a point near Sugar Loaf, Winona, and a point on French Island, a few miles above La Crosse, to the Long Prairie reservation24 in central Minnesota.  A few months later I secured employment with the Hudson Bay Co. at Long Prairie.

In 1854, I returned to Trempealeau and remained at home with my family until 1856.  In the latter year Nathan Myrick, the pioneer settler of La Crosse,25 wrote me a letter asking me to take charge as interpreter of his store at Blue Earth, Minnesota.  Accordingly I went to Blue Earth and began work for Myrick.  The Winnebago had meanwhile been removed from Long Prairie to the Blue Earth agency,26 and Myrick opened a store at the latter place secure their trade. Myrick told me to trust all Indians that were honest, but to look out for the rascals, and said, "You have traded with them a long time and know them well and so you know the goods ones from the bad ones."  I trusted them to the amount of over $3,000, and when they received their government annuity I got all the money they owed me, or very nearly all; I think I lost less than ten dollars in dealing with them. 

I remained at Blue Earth until winter and then returned home to Trempealeau.  I did not like the Prairie country and I wanted to be with my family, although Myrick offered to fix up a place where my family could stay at Blue Earth.

In 1850, I married Mary Christine de La Ronde, a girl from Portage, Wisconsin.27  Fourteen children were born to us, six of whom are still living, three boys and three girls.28  The girls when they were young ladies were noted in this part of the country for their singing; one of them became a school teacher and was very successful in her work.

In 1881, Major Halleck came from Washington, D. C., to enumerate the Winnebago, and wrote for me to assist him in the work.29  We went to Eland Junction and enumerated Big Black Hawk's band,30 and then proceeded to Black River Falls; after completing the work there, we went to Portage and Kilbourn, and wherever we could locate a camp of this tribe.  Next spring I went with Major Halleck to Stevens Point to make a payment to the Indians and was with him a year, and whenever a payment was made I helped to locate and get the names of the Indians on the pay-roll.  I also helped survey the land above Black River Falls, and assisted in locating the Indians on their homesteads.  I have acted as interpreter on various occasions for the Federal Government, and on matters of business have helped the Indians whenever I could.  I have lived here most of the time since I quit work for Myrick, and have always made my home in Trempealeau, being away only on business for short intervals.  I live in the same house that I bought in 1857.

I would like to say a word about James Reed.  he was a remarkable man for his time, when just such a man was needed.  I first saw Reed in Prairie du Chien when I was a boy and he was keeping tavern there.  He was not a tall man, medium in height but thick-set, with a deep chest.  He had bluish-gray eyes and a sandy or florid complexion.  He was a good shot, one of the best I ever saw, and the Indians far and wide were aware of his skill with the rifle.  I have seen him kill eleven prairie chicken in twelve shots, in the trees on the island across from Trempealeau.  He was several rods away from the game when he shot.  I have also seen him shoot the head from a partridge at a good distance.

One day a merchant from Rock Island, Illinois, who had advanced supplies to some lumbermen at Black River Falls, called at Reed's inn and asked the ways to the Falls.  Reed inquired if the man intended to go alone, and he answered he did.  "You will find it difficult to make your way," replied the old hunter, "there are no roads and the trails are unmarked and hard to find unless you are acquainted with the country."  The man said he had a compass and thought he could find his way all right.  he remained all night, and in the morning Reed and I accompanied him on ponies to Beaver Creek, and saw him safely across the stream before we took our departure for home.  One afternoon a week later the man came crawling into Reed's inn almost exhausted.  He had lost his way and wandered about in the neighborhood of Decorah's Peak for a number of days, subsisting on roots and berries.  He was scratched about the face and hands, his clothing was in shreds, and when he reached Trempealeau Prairie, he was so exhausted that he had to crawl for three or four miles on his hands and knees.  He remained at Reed's cabin about two weeks and then went home without attempting to visit the lumbermen at Black River Falls.

Reed could speak several Indian dialects and was as well acquainted with Indian character as any man I ever knew.  He was of a kind disposition and generally used mild measures in his dealings with the Indians; but when diplomacy failed, he was a different man and his temper once aroused, he feared nothing, and could bring his rifle into play as handily as any backwoodsman I ever saw.  He was noted for his fearlessness as well as for his expert marksmanship.


Resources for the above information:

1 - This aged pioneer died at Trempealeau, July 24, 1913.  He was one of the few survivors of the fur-trading regime in Wisconsin, and his recollections were secured by his fellow townsman, Dr. Eben D. Pierce.  The transcriber writes, "I have written most of this narrative just as Grignon told it to me.  In some places I have not used his exact words, but have tried to convey his meaning in language of my own construction."  The interview was written in the shape it is here presented in December, 1912, and January, 1913. - ED.

2 - The record of Antoine's baptism is preserved in the Prairie du Chien Register. he was, in fact, born Jan. 9, 1829, and baptized Jan. 17 by father F. V. Badin.  His godfather was Francois La Bathe, represented in his absence by Denys Cherrier, and his godmother was Virginie Fisher.  A copy of the Register, the original of which is in Montreal, is in the Wisconsin Historical Library. - ED.

3 - For a brief sketch of this person, see Wis. Hist. Colls., xx, p. 157, note 21.  Antoine, in an interview in 1909 with Charles E. Brown, of the Society's staff, stated that in 1825 or 1826 his father had a trading post on the site of the present Dakota, Minn. - ED.

4 - For this chief, see Wis. Hist. Colls, xvii, p. 323, note 1; also Id., xx passim. - ED.

5 - See note on this trader in Wis. Hist. Soc. Proceedings, 1906, p. 252. - ED.

6 - Col. Zachary Taylor came to Prairie du Chien in 1829 as commandant of Fort Crawford; the same year he determined to remove the fort to higher ground, and began the new fort, finished in 1831.  He continued in command until 1836. - ED.

7 - Rev. Richard Cadle had been in charge from 18327 to 1836 of an Episcopal mission school at Green Bay (see Wis. Hist. Colls., xiv, passim).  the latter year he resigned, and was soon after appointed chaplain at Fort Crawford, where he remained until 1841.  He was probably the teacher to whom the writer refers. - ED.

8 - Joseph Cretin was born in 1800 in France, came to America as a missionary priest, being stationed in 1839 at Dubuque.  There in 1844 he began a school for Winnebago children, which was next year discontinued by the governor of Iowa.  Grignon does not say the school he attended was at Prairie du Chien, and it is possible he went to the mission school at Dubuque.  Cretin continued at that place until the see of St. Paul (Minn.) was erected (1850), whose first bishop he became, dying there Feb. 22, 1857. - ED.

9 - Grignon told C. E. Brown in the interview referred to, ante, note 3, that he attended for a time the mission school at yellow River, Iowa, of which Rev. David Lowry had charge.  For an account of this school, see Wis. Hist. Colls., xii, p. 405. - ED.

10 - For a sketch of this trader, whose name was frequently anglicized into Bailey, see Id., xx, p. 197, note 55. - ED.

11 - See an account of the founding of Trempealeau in Wis. Hist. Soc. Proceedings, 1906, pp. 246-255. - ED.

12 - John Doville (spoken of as James Douville in Id., p. 252) was a son-in-law of James Reed, and the first permanent settler of Trempealeau.  His companion, Joseph (also called Antoine) Reed, was a French Canadian, not related to James Reed. - ED.

13 - For an account of this mission, see Wis. Hist. Colls., x, pp. 367, 506, 507; Proceedings, 1906, pp. 251, 252.

14 - According to the Prairie du Chien Register, Alexander Chenever, son of Francois Chenever and Marie Louis Giard, was born at that place Jan. 10, 1827, and baptized Aug. 16 of the same year.  He married a daughter of James Reed. - ED.

15 - Willard B. Bunnell was born in 1814 at Homer, N. Y.  He ran away and sailed upon the Great Lakes as pilot until 1832, when he settled at Detroit and there married, in 1837, Matilda Nesnoyer.  Having entered the fur trade, he spent the winter of 1841-42 at the site of Escanaba, Mich.; then removed West, arriving in Trempealeau, July, 1842.  In 1848 he made arrangements to remove to the Minnesota side of the river, where he occupied in 1849, by permission of the chief, Wabashaw, the site of the village of Homer.  There he died in 1861.  His brother, Lafayette Houghton, was born in 1824, removed to Detroit in 1832, and accompanied his brother to Wisconsin in 1841-42.  He enlisted in the Mexican War, sought for gold in California, and after studying medicine, enlisted as surgeon of the 36th Wisconsin Infantry, and in 1865 served in the same capacity in the 1st Minnesota Battalion.  He was the historian of Winona, Minn., where he died in 1903. - ED.

16 - For an account of Goulet and his tragic death, see L. H. Bunnell, Winona and Its Environs (Winona, Minn., 1897), p. 210. - ED.

17 - Jean Baptiste Lavigne was an early settler of Green Bay, see Wis., Hist. Colls., xx, p. 159, note 22.  Probably the Trempealeau settler was his son.  Louis Bibeau (Bebault) was an early Illinois trader, possibly the progenitor of these pioneers of Trempealeau. - ED.

18 - Holmes's Landing was near the site of the present Fountain City, Buffalo County, and was settled in 1839 by Thomas A. Holmes, previously of Milwaukee and Rock County.  It was a well-known port of call on the upper Mississippi. - ED.

19 - Minneiska is on the Minnesota side, in the southeastern angle of Wabasha County. - ED.

20 - Grignon later drew a pension as a Mexican War veteran. - ED.

21 - See the "Recollections" of this pioneer in Wis. Hist. Colls. ix, pp.282-302. - ED.

22 - H. M. Rice (1816-94) came from Vermont to Minnesota in 1839, where he engaged in the fur trade.  In 1853-57 he was territorial delegate, and later first senator from the new state (1858-63). - ED.

23 - Syvanus B. Lowry and David Olmstead were both American Indian traders.  The former had a post near the present Brockway, Minn.; was adjutant-general of the territory in 1853; laid out the town of St. Cloud, and died there in 1861. Olmstead (1822-61) came from Vermont to establish a trading post at Long Prairie; was president of the first territorial legislature, and first mayor of St. Paul. - ED.

24 - The Long Prairie agency seems to have been near the present town of that name in Todd County, Minnesota. - ED.

25 - Nathan Myrick (1822 - 1903), founder of La Crosse, came there in 1841 from Westport, N. Y.  In 1848 he sold out his landed interests and removed to St. Paul, but continued to trade at several places on the Mississippi.  He celebrate his golden wedding, 1893, in St. Paul, and died there ten years later. - ED.

26 - In 1855, the Winnebagos sold their Long Prairie reservation to the government, and were assigned to one in Blue Earth County, Minnesota, which they retained until removed (1863) to a reservation in Nebraska. - ED.

27 - Four her father, see Wis. Hist. Colls., vii, pp. 345-365; his obituary is in Id., ix, p. 431.  According to an article in the Trempealeau Herald, Dec. 17, 1909, Mary Christin de La Ronde Grignon was born at Portage, Christmas day, 1835, married at Long Prairie, Feb. 4, 1851, and died at Trempealeau, Dec. 8, 1909.  She was at the time of her death one of the oldest settlers of the town. - ED.

28 - The newspaper article mentioned in the preceding note gives the names of these children as follows:  Ralph J. Grignon, of St. Paul; Alexander Grignon, of Oshkosh; Guy A. Grignon, of Glen Flora, Wis.; Mrs. Mary Jebb, of Paynesville, Minn.; Mrs. Camilla Dederich, of Sandusky, Wis.; Mrs. Nettie Coyle, of Trempealeau. - ED.

29 - Jan. 18, 1881, Congress passed an "Act for the relief of the Wisconsin Winnebago," one of the provisions of which was that a complete census of the members of that tribe, scattered throughout the northern woods, should be taken, and their share of the Winnebago trust funds allotted to them; also that they should have titles to their lands assigned them in perpetuity.  Maj. Walter F. Halleck, a retired army officer, was appointed special agent to take this census.  Transcripts of several letters from Alleck to Grignon, showing appreciation of the latter's services, are in the Society's Library. - ED.

30 - For an account of this chief, see Wis. Hist. Colls., xii, p. 430. - ED.





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