Monday, August 24, 2009

Historical Essay Spotlight: Bouvettes

This historical essay, one of many written by hundreds of Red River Valley students, is about a local area family many of us know first-hand, knowing their descendants to this day. It is one of the more informative essays, with many trivia about the family it is specifically about, as well as general history of the native peoples, which I fine incredibly fascinating. There is much, much more to the cultures, traditions, and tribal knowledge of the aboriginals of our area than most of us can imagine; the family that this essay is about, was part of that knowledge in their intersection with the natives through marriage and friendship...

The Bouvette Family & Their History As Members Of The Red River Valleyby Mary Ann Bernath

The nineteenth century found the Red River Valley much different from what it is today. There was no civilization with the exception of Fort Snelling, Fort Abercrombie, Fort Totten, Sauk Center, St. Cloud, and Fort Pembina. It was to these wilderness areas that men came, looking for newer and richer lands to make their homes on. There were no roads to follow, only the trails made by the Red River ox carts. The Red River Valley was the home of the Sioux and Chippewa Indians, vast herds of buffalo, and many other types of wild game.

Because there was so much wild game in the Red River Valley, many fur trading companies were established in the area. It was due to the formation of one of these companies in this area that brought one of the present families of the Red River Valley into the area; namely, the Bouvette's.

The Bouvette family first came from France. Francois Bouvette and his wife came from France to Quebec, Canada in the early 19th century. Their oldest son, who was also named Francois, was the Bouvette who was to bring this family into the Red River Valley. Francois married Mary Goudrie in Quebec and they moved to St. Boniface in the early 1840's. They lived there for a time and had three children. Francois (Frank) born in 1846, Nora, and Caroline. It was during the years that they lived here that Francois bought some land in Winnipeg on which he established a wharf. The land he acquired consisted of all of Portage Avenue, and all of what is known as Armstrong Point. It was called Bouvette's Landing. One time, when he was taking a barge loaded with cans containing nitro glycerine to his landing the authorities wouldn't let him land. Francois had considerable trouble finding a spot at which the explosive material could be landed. The nitro was to be used in the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railroad. The nitro glycerine had been transported by Red River carts to the headwaters of the Red River. After the spring freshet was over and the water had subsided somewhat, the barge was cut loose and was permitted to float to Winnipeg. When Francois was finally able to land his barge, he sold the big logs that made up the frame work of the barge for $1.00 per foot and these logs were used to build foundations for houses.The Bouvette's moved from St. Boniface to St. Cloud in what is now Minnesota in the late 1850's. It was here that Francois obtained a job working for Norman Kittson's Northwest Fur Company [post]. Francois was a captain in Kittson's Red River Ox Cart Train and he made frequent trips to Fort Snelling, Fort Abercrombie, Fort Totten, St. Peter (St. Paul), Fort Pembina, and Fort Gary in Winnipeg. While living here, the Bouvette's had two more children. Elizabeth, and Joseph who was born in 1866.

In 1869, Francois decided to move his family back to St. Boniface where he could still continue his ox cart driving and yet be nearer his wharf. On the trip back at approximately a point between Pembina and the Canadian border, the ox cart and wagon train in which they were traveling was attacked by Louis Riel of Canada. Riel who was quite an outlaw during this time and he preyed upon settlers, killing them and stealing their cattle. It was a serious offense to steal cattle in those days because they were so scarce and milk was hard to find. Riel stopped this group and held them prisoners in a log building which is presently erected in the Emerson, Manitoba Park. When Riel found out that a company of soldiers were on their way to free these people, he left and escaped into Canada. Francois, after being released by the Pembina soldiers, decided he didn't want to run into Riel and his gang again. To prevent this, he took his family back to Fort Pembina and they settled there.

Two children were born to the Bouvette family while they lived in Pembina. They were Albert and Emma. As a young boy, Joseph had an important job. Every day he took fresh bread out to the soldiers at Fort Pembina. He traveled in a sleigh pulled by a big Saint Bernard dog. Each morning, as soon as the bread came out of the ovens, Joseph was seated in the bottom of a sleigh and the bread was piled around him. Then, over top of all the bread and Joseph, a large buffalo hide was put down. Even it is was storming, Joseph would take bread out to the fort because the dog knew every inch of the way.

Joseph was raised with Indians as his neighbors and he learned both the Chippewa and Sioux languages from the children. Because of his relationship as a playmate of the Indians, he learned many of their customs. One of these customs was the way in which the squaws diapered their babies. First, the Squaws would soft tan a deer skin until it was as soft as chamois. They would then cut this skin into the proper dimensions and line it with cat tail down which they had harvested in the fall. This material was very absorbent and they placed a layer of several inches in the skin diaper and then wrapped the child in it. To clean it, they only had to shake the down out of the skin and replace it with fresh cut cat tail down. Inventiveness was a trait which the Indians put to good use. For a powder, they ground up rotten bark from decayed trees. They ground it until it was the consistency of face powder and this was used as powder to dress an infant when changing its diaper. The late Dr. A. W. Shaleen, doctor in Hallock, Minnesota and friend of the Bouvette family, upon hearing this story said the rotten bark contained a high percentage of penicillin, and since that drug is a mold, it must have contained great healing qualities and prevented the babies from getting rashes.

Mr. Joseph Bouvette attended the first public school in the state of North Dakota. One of his classmates at that school, located in Pembina, was the late Governor Welford of North Dakota.

In those early days of setting up restrictions between Canada and the United States, customs officials were Presidential appointees.

Joseph served as Inspector of Customs under the administration of Benjamin Harrison during the years 1889-1893. After the administration changed, he was discharged from his job and he then had to find another job. Joseph then moved to Hallock, Minnesota where he bought out the Kittson County Enterprise from Ed Love in 1893. Mr. Bouvette then became its editor and went to work trying to make a real success as previous owners hadn't been able to. Joseph was well qualified to operate a newspaper because as a young man he had worked for Mr. Wardwell who published the Pembina Pioneer Express. He had learned printing and how to run presses there.

Mr. Bouvette was married to Ellen Chevins in 1895. She was born in Landon, Ontario, Canada in 1873 and had moved to Emerson, Manitoba when only three years old. It was here that she met Joseph Bouvette. They had four children, one a son who died in infancy, followed by Clifford, Mildred, and Calvin.

Albert Bouvette, Joseph's younger brother, was an excellent speed skater and had raced Norval Baptie for the championship of the world. Albert, his brother Joseph, and Norval had all skated together as boys and all of them were accomplished skaters. Albert was defeated by Norval Baptie in the championship race when Baptie came in ahead of him with a lead of a few inches.

Clifford, son of Joseph, was very interested in his father's work as a boy. He learned to set type by hand when he was only 10 years old. By the time he was 14 years old, he could operate the press himself.

In 1943, the publishers of the Enterprise put out a 50th anniversary edition. It was a large paper containing many historical points of interest about people, towns, churches, and places of business. It took a lot of work to compile a paper like this and the editor was one of the best qualified to do it. Skilled in the art of drawing, Joseph Bouvette took over the responsibility of drawing the cover and many of the Fort Pembina and Pembina town sketches.

Mr. Bouvette edited the paper for a total of 52 years until his death in 1945 at which time his son Clifford became its editor. Calvin and Clifford both own half interests in the paper and while Clifford is the Editor, Calvin is the papers Business Manager. Clifford has been associated with the KITTSON COUNTY ENTERPRISE for 61 years now.

Clifford was a State Legislator in the year 1937. He only served one term because he was needed at home.

The Bouvette family was one of the first pioneer families to come into the Fort Pembina area. They have contributed to the growth and development of that area in such a way that they will always be remembered.


Bouvette, Clifford. Interview on January 31, 1968
Bouvette, Clifford. Information by letter correspondence on Feb. 6, 1968
Bouvette, Clifford. Interview on February 13, 1968
Mortenson, Mildred. Information by letter correspondence, Feb. 29, 1968.