Oliver Faribault

May 15, 1815 – Oct. 4, 1850
In Prairie des Français (later called Shakopee) 1839-1850
Compiled and Written by David R. Schleper

Oliver Faribault was born at Prairie du Chien, now in Wisconsin, on May 15, 1815.[1] His father was Jean-Baptiste Faribault, a well-known French-Canadian fur trader with the Northwest and American Fur Companies. His mother was Elizabeth Pelagie Kinzie Haines. (Her name is spelled differently in various documents.) Pelagie was the daughter of a French voyageur and Mdewakanton mother, so Oliver was at least ¼ Dakota.

Oliver’s older siblings were Alexander and Lucie-Anne. His younger siblings were David-Frederick (David), Emilie (Emily), Marie-Louise (Mary Louise), Philippe (Philip) and Frederick-Daniel (Daniel). Among them, only Philip didn’t grow up to adulthood.[2]

In 1804-1805, not far upstream on the Rivière Saint-Pierre (Minnesota River) from present day Carver, the Little Rapids trading post was established. It was first operated by Jean-Baptiste Faribault of the Machilimackinac Fur Company and the Northwest Fur Company and visited by fur traders, Dakota Indians, and Christian missionaries over the next 45 years. The early map indicated that this Indian village was associated with Dakota leader Mazomani.[3]

Jean-Baptiste lived among the Wahpeton community for a few months each year with his Dakota wife, Pelagie. The villagers brought their tanned furs, and their maple sugar to the Trading Post. Faribault would give them glass beads, silver ornaments, tin kettles, iron knives, awl tips, axes, hatchets, and hoes for their summer work. Faribault was there for many years, and he probably enjoyed amicable relations with the community. According to Janet D. Spector, “Faribault probably strengthened his connection to Little Rapids by his marriage to Pelagie Hanse, the twenty-two-year-old widow of a former superintendent of Indian affairs and the mixed-heritage daughter of trader Francois Kinzie.”[4] She and Faribault had several children, including Oliver, and through her, Jean-Baptiste would acquire knowledge about Dakota language and culture, further enhancing his role as cultural middleman at Little Rapids. Oliver spent time at Little Rapids trading post learning the procedures of the fur trade.

In 1819, the Faribault family settled on Pike Island near a new fort, Fort Snelling, at the mouth of the Rivière Saint-Pierre. They were invited to do this by Colonel Henry Leavenworth, who knew that Jean-Baptiste understood the Dakota who lived in the area and could help develop the fur trade in Minnesota. The Dakota were also more likely to trust people who were related to members of their tribe. The family built a log house and farmed. Oliver and his siblings also helped their father with his fur trade business.

In 1826, the family moved off the island and built a home on the river bank in what was to become Mendota, Minnesota and traded with the Dakota.

Although Oliver was friends with the Dakota, and was part Dakota, pioneer life on the frontier was dangerous. When he was only 14 years old, Oliver had to defend his father’s life when Jean-Baptiste was attacked by a Dakota:

“On one occasion for a trivial matter an Indian plunged a knife into [Jean-Baptiste] Faribault’s back, but his vigorous constitution and temperate habits carried him through. The Indian, however, was summarily shot by one of Faribault’s son, Oliver, a boy of fourteen.”[5]

Jean-Baptiste also purchased a female slave, even though slavery had been outlawed in the region for well over a decade by the Missouri Compromise of early 1800s. That slave had a child, Joseph Godfrey, who was enslaved, and who ended up in Shakopee, as a slave to Oliver and Wakan Yanke. Joseph Godfrey escaped from the Faribault Trading Post around 1848.[6]

Working for the American Fur Company, Oliver was busy doing almost every job that could be done on the new frontier. He was a trader, a clerk for the Fur Company, and, along with his brothers, earned money as whiskey smugglers in the 1830s. Fur traders could do this well because they always traveled from one place to another.

Oliver married Wakan Yanke, or Harriet Menary, in a civil or Indian ceremony in 1837. Wakan Yanke was a close relative of Chief Ŝakpe II.

Oliver was at Prairie des Français on a semi-permanent basis starting in 1839, as he was appointed government farmer to the Dakota Indians at Tiŋta-otoŋwe, according to Taliaferro Journal, June 11, 1839.[7] This was probably the year that Tiŋta-otoŋwe moved from the north to the south side of the Watpá Mnísota, also called the Rivière Saint-Pierre. His personal history, his occupations as a farmer and trader, and his dwelling location were not part of the history of the Minnesota valley area. According to a report, he had nine oxen, four cows, three horses, one bull, one cart, one wagon, two yokes, and bows, two single plows and two double plows.[8]

According to Rev. Samuel Pond, the assigned farmers for many of the villages were not very good, and were soon replaced. This might be the case for Oliver. “The first farmer for the Shakopee band got along several years without doing anything for the Indians except that now and then he gave a present to the chief. He used their wagons and carts for his own business, and let their cattle starve to death, and some of the other farmers did not do much better.”[9]

By 1842, Oliver was back at Little Prairie.[10]

On Feb. 11, 1844, Oliver married Wakan Yanke at the St. Francois Xavier Sioux Mission, located at Little Prairie on the St. Pierre River.[11]

In 1844 Oliver moved to Prairie des Français with Wakan Yanke, or Woman Who Sits at the High Place.[12] They lived among the large circle of Wakan Yanke’s Dakota relatives. The Faribault trading post and cabin was surrounded by tipi and tipi tanka, or lodges. Oliver and Wakan Yanke had nine children, and in Prairie des Français (Tiŋta-otoŋwe), the four daughters who lived there included Josephine, Pelagie (Eliza), Sarah-Irene, and Henriette Luce (Harriet).[13]

Pelagie Eliza Faribault Manaige remembers her father conducting a trading post for a few years, and building a warehouse in which he stored furs purchased from the Dakotas. She only faintly remembered her father, as he died in the fall of 1850 of quinsy, when Eliza was 4 ½ years old. Eliza remembered the gaudy trinkets that were available to the Dakota Indians.[14]

Faribault had a horse and a cow. The horse and cow lived in a small cow shed just south of the log cabin in Prairie des Français. Father Augustin Ravoux, who for a short time built a chapel near the Springs, refers to borrowing Oliver’s horse. And Rev. Samuel W. Pond once hid his own cow. That caused Faribault’s cow to be killed by a Dakota Indian. Family oral tradition also tells of storing furs in the shed, and of a mixed-blood employee of Faribault’s who guarded the furs kept there.[15]

When Oliver lived in the Faribault Trading Post in 1844, it was in the last decade of the fur trade in the Minnesota Valley before the onslaught of settlers who irrevocably changed the history of the area forever. Rather than being a primitive fur trader in buckskins, beads, and feathers, Oliver was a gentleman who wore silk and sateen sometimes, and a man who provided for his family with the best that was available to him in the 1840s.[16]

Ledgers by Henry Sibley at the Mendota trading headquarters show Oliver’s purchases of food, fabric, clothing, as well as agricultural pursuits, lumber purchases, furnishings for his home, repair done by the fur company’s blacksmith, purchases for his hired men and for Joseph Godfrey, who was enslaved.[17]

Oliver Faribault died Oct. 4, 1850.[18] He contracted quinsy while digging out Faribault Springs. Quinsy is an abscess between the back of the tonsil and the wall of the throat. Quinsy is now rare because most people get effective treatment for tonsillitis early enough to prevent it, but in 1850 quinsy often led to death.

Oliver is buried at Calvary Cemetery, in Faribault, Rice County, Minnesota.[19]

[1] Find A Grave Memorial #49026654 on Oliver Faribault by Cindy K. Coffin, March 2, 2010.

[2] Interview of Patricia Jeanine Menaige Cates by David R. Schleper (2016) in Prior Lake, MN.

[3] Spector, Janet D. (1993). What This Awl Means: Feminist Archaeology at a Wahpeton Dakota Village.  St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press.

[4] Spector, Janet D. (1993). What This Awl Means: Feminist Archaeology at a Wahpeton Dakota Village.  St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press.

[5] Curtiss-Wedge, Franklyn (1910). History of Rice and Steele Counties, Minnesota. Chicago, IL: H.C. Cooper, Jr. & Company, p. 84.

[6] Bachmann, Walt (2013). Northern Slave, Black Dakota: The Life and Times of Joseph Godfrey. Bloomington, MN: Pond-Dakota Press.

[7] Williams, Richard (2000). Oliver Faribault and Early Settlement at Faribault Springs. HSP Journal: The Journal of La Compagnie des Hivernants de la Rivière Saint-Pierre, p. 11.

[8] Williams, Richard (2000). Oliver Faribault and Early Settlement at Faribault Springs. HSP Journal: The Journal of La Compagnie des Hivernants de la Rivière Saint-Pierre, p. 12.

[9] Pond, Samuel William Jr., 1893). Two Volunteer Missionaries Among the Dakotas: Or The Story Of The Labors Of Samuel W. And Gideon H. Pond. Boston: Congregational Sunday-School and Publishing Society.

[10] Williams, Richard (2000). Oliver Faribault and Early Settlement at Faribault Springs. HSP Journal: The Journal of La Compagnie des Hivernants de la Rivière Saint-Pierre, p. 12.

[11] Find A Grave Memorial # 49026654 on Oliver Faribault by Cindy K. Coffin, March 2, 2010.

[12] Hinds, William (1891). A Sketch of Shakopee, Minnesota: Historical and Industrial. Shakopee, MN and Reprinted by the Shakopee Heritage Society, pp. 9-10.

[13] Interview of Patricia Jeanine Menaige Cates by David R. Schleper (2016) in Prior Lake, MN.

[14] Winter, Marian B. (2003). A Visit with a Great-Granddaughter of Oliver Faribault. La Compagnie des Hivernants de la Rivière Saint-Pierre (HSP) Journal. From a working scrapbook 3061B in 1930s, and in the Sibley House Museum and the Minnesota Historical Society collections.

[15] Minnesota History Quarterly, Fall 2015. 64:7

[16] Williams, Richard (2000). An Analysis of the Purchases of Oliver Faribault, 1842-1846. HSP Journal: The Journal of La Compagnie des Hivernants de la Rivière Saint-Pierre, p. 5-8.

[17] Williams, Richard (2000). An Analysis of the Purchases of Oliver Faribault, 1842-1846. HSP Journal: The Journal of La Compagnie des Hivernants de la Rivière Saint-Pierre, p. 5-8.

[18] The Shakopee Argus, Nov. 11, 1880, p. 4, col. 1, obituary.

[19] Find A Grave Memorial # 49026654 on Oliver Faribault by Cindy K. Coffin, March 2, 2010.

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