Friday, October 08, 2010

Caribou Tales: Dennis Boucher

Let me introduce you to someone from my hometown area - eastern Kittson County to be more exact, an area known as Caribou.

His name is Dennis Boucher1, and he grew up in Caribou.

Dennis and I found one another through this website. For the past eight months, he and I have been corresponding via email, with Dennis sharing many stories of his family and area local history of which his family has been a part of. Much of it is unknown outside his family, and I am thrilled that he has been willing to share it with me.

I asked Dennis if it would be alright to share it with others here, and he said yes with some stipulations, which I will abide by for privacy reasons. Thus, I will be sharing a lot of his stories here over the next several weeks.

To start with, I will share a bit about who Dennis is. I think it would work best to let Dennis himself explain that in his own words. He has an interesting writing style, which I have edited a bit to make it easier to read, but basically it is as he wrote it...
You asked that I write about Caribou history. I am not a scholar and am doing this 100% from my memory. If I were able to transcribe my brain, my main topic of historical interest it would be headed, "The life And Times of John C Boucher: The Fur, the Civil, and Indian Wars." It is my hope that this seemingly rambling letter has enough subject matter to promote further study and/or verification. As it covers a lot of events and dates kinda rolled together it might be a little hard to follow. As ole JC was born in St. Vincent to Susan Boucher in 1838 and had a lot of siblings (unknown names) and was in Civil War (his father was at the Battle of Seven Oaks) and was a member of Red Bear's band of Pembina Ojibwe, there is a lot to tell.
His father-in-law Joseph Montreille signed the Old Crossing Treaty in 1863, provisions of the treaty gave Half Breeds scrip for homesteads. JC selected 160 acres at Caribou in about 1867, and in 1872 it was 'proved' and he got homestead deed. I think this was part of a backup plan, as Caribou had a lot of wildlife and such and Roseau River ran through his property. The Roseau Bog was loaded with muscrat and mink, berries and nuts grew everywhere. He had a stage and mail line at Pembina (Huron City) US census shows he could read and write English an also recieved $12 a month pension for loss of leg shot off in Civil War. As Pembina was almost all French-speaking Half breeds then, where did he learn English? Most Halfbreeds sold their script and with all the natives departed for greener pastures, the last of the big herds of buffalo were shot down around 1860. Then the prairie grass grew like crazy, and wildfires killed everything for a hundred miles. Soon the fish were netted out to near extinction and soon there was nothing to eat. They were easy prey for old Abe Lincoln. As Governor Ramsey said in treaty negotiations, "If you don't sign treaty, your people will starve..." They starved anyways. My grandfather Jack was born in 1882 - that year 165 of his relatives starved to death. The governor said it was too cold and snow-bound to deliver. Later an agent said the real reason was the price of beef had went from 2.8 to 3.4 cents a pound, so for less than 1 cent hundreds of people were starving. By 1884 there were only 212 Pembina Ojibwe left, and they had to sign McCumber agreements to survive. Their descendents are at Turtle Mountain (mostly...)
And that, dear readers, is Dennis Boucher's family's oral history in a nutshell, as they remember what happened to them, their family, and their community due to our government's shameful dealing with them. These were the aboriginal peoples that lived in the area I grew up in. My ancestors stepped onto their land, after it had been cleared by our federal government. And what is so ironic is, some of my ancestors were Irish, and had been cleared from their land by the British.

The wheel goes round and round...


1 - Dennis now lives not far from where I do. Like me, Dennis went away and lived many other places, then returned to the area. We haven't met up in real life yet, but I hope to in the not-to-distant future...