Louis Roubideau and the Sioux
by Hugh M. Lewis
The story of the Indian Robidoux did not start or end with Indian Joe. The larger story has been obfuscated and mostly ignored in most historical accounts of the Robidoux family. To date, Indian genealogies have been mostly excluded from known genealogical reconstructions of the lineage. They are, without a doubt, the better half of the family, if only because their stories are perhaps more interesting in the continuance of a long standing family and ethnocultural tradition of Indian trade.
Creole culture as it developed in the trans-Mississippi and later trans-Missouri West from a very early date permitted nuptial affiliations with almost every tribe of Indian that it came into contact with. The pattern of the sojourning French male engaging regularly in marriage relations with Indian women from various tribes, left a large progeny of "metis" offspring who had French fathers and Indian mothers. From these affiliations were not only numerous "half-breed" offspring, but the emergence of an entire metis' ethnocultural orientation that was distinct, varied, and relatively rich in its cultural amalgamation of French Catholic and Indian ways.
There was a very basic direction in this ethnocultural development. For the most part, the fathers were Frenchmen--trappers and traders, and the mothers were "squaw-wives." Relatively few white French women took Indian husbands, though there are cases of creole women marrying metis.
French fathers and Indian mothers was a relationship which set up an important dynamic of the metis ethnocultural orientation, for it entailed that the most basic aspects of primary socialization would have been primarily native--the mother tongue or base of the patois spoken in such instances would be the native American dialect, patterns of child rearing, discipline, nurturance, and interpersonal bonding would also have greatly reflected the native ethnocultural orientation of the mother--basic tastes and preferences would reflect this. At the same time, the French father was more or less a secondary role model--his influence in the household situation would largely depend on the affective bonding, his stability and relative presence in the children's lives. Most likely, the larger socio-cultural context of the community would also have been primarily Native American--at a basic level, there would appear relatively few discrepancies between this context and the home.
It is interesting that the offspring of these cross-cultural marriages created a unique ethnocultural orientation that had as its structural basis the perpetuation of the Indian trade, even after the Indians were "internally colonized" onto ever shrinking reservations in the North American hinterlands, and even after the principle basis of the fur-trade had long since disappeared with the beaver and the buffalo. This metis ethnocultural orientation had its place intermediate between white and Indian worlds--its function was often to intermediate potentially conflictual relationships between these two worlds. Thus, halfbreed sons of fur-traders frequently are found translating at important treaty agreements, and in the role of the "culture broker" in the promotion of the rights and identity of the Indians.
It is apparent that within the bounds set down for this metis ethnoculture, that metis offspring to some extent married with other metis offspring. The extent of intra-amalgamative development of this metis ethnocultural orientation is unknown, as the boundaries are fuzzy on both the white and the Indian sides--there were tendencies for Indian Robidoux offspring also to marry purely Indian offspring, and later, a reverse tendency for Indian Robidoux descendants to marry "off" the reservation into white social contexts which appear to have been proximate to the reservations.
At the same time, there is clearly evident the development of an inter-reservational network of Robidouxs and other metis who married across tribal boundaries and frequently relocated between reservation contexts. These patterns appear sometimes to cross boundaries that were traditional conflictual, or very distant in cultural time and geographical space.
Furthermore, this evidence of intermarriage pattern between reservation contexts also suggests the emergence within an inter-reservational context of a trading and rendezvous complex which served to tie together tribes in ways which were previous unknown except through long-distance trade networks, and which appear to have been the precursors of the more contemporary pan-Indian pow-wow complex which has been elaborated today. It appears that the Indian Robidoux, and other metis' families, may have played a critical role in the organization and elaboration of this later day Indian trade and pow-wow reservation rendezvous complex.
To some as yet unknown extent, Indian Robidoux of one reservation and tribe may have formed partnerships or network relations with other Indian Robidoux or other metis from other tribal reservations, and these common bonds of interest and metis ethnocultural background may have effective transcended the mutual differences of tribal affiliation, language and allegiance, to the point that this form of trans-reservation networking opened up opportunities for the development of the inter-reservational system.
The inter-reservational system which developed served several purposes in the enhancement of life on the reservations for the Indians, which were in lieu of more advantageous relations with white society. The form of internal colonization which the reservation represented created a fundamental social and structural boundary of segregation and acculturation between a dominant white world and a marginalized, minority Indian world, which was in many ways basically destructive of Native American culture. It left few opportunities within which Indians might promote their culture, or their families, in a many which would be both healthy and prosperous. In this general circumstance, an ad hoc and largely informal system of exchange, intermarriage, and ritual symbolic elaboration developed which to some extent compensated and rehabilitated the sense of cultural loss suffered by most native Americans on the reservation.
Rendezvous were integral to this system. Ethnohistorical and archaeological evidence suggests that the French and Ashley did not invent the Rendezvous, but these were a part of a long existing long-distance trade network that had been elaborated by different Indian tribes across North America. The development of the fur trade and Indian trade coincided, and pivoted upon the elaboration of the rendezvous as the principle market context for trade and exchange, as well as for the elaboration of ritualized celebrations which frequently took the character of nativistic revitalization movements. The classical Rendezvous' of the Ashley-Bridger era of the Fur trade were nothing more than the Mountain-man's adaptation of the much older pattern elaborated between Coureurs du Bois and numerous tribes of Native Americans. Native Americans were by numbers and interest the principle participants and players of these rendezvous. Though the classic mountain-man rendezvous came to an end in 1840, the Native Americans, metis and Indian traders did not cease in the annual celebration, as this was integral in their interests and acculturative relationships with the larger world. They depended upon and valued this rendezvous system, not only as a source of exchange, but as a socio-ritual mechanism for the symbolic repair of an otherwise violated cultural world view and system of relation in a changing world. Once traditional patterns of raiding, horse stealing and warfare that were part of the primitive economics of the horse-buffalo context on the plains and central regions of the United States and Canada, were no longer possible on Reservations, the violence these patterns entailed were internalized within the reservations.
First hand evidence indicates clearly that rendezvousing was perpetuated primarily between different Indian groups, metis' offspring like the Indian Robidoux, and to some extent white Indian traders, through the decades all the way into the modern era of the pan-Indian powwow complex. An alternative of this was the annual allotments by the Indian agents which became also the occasion for the settlement of debts at both individual and tribal levels, drunken rivalry, and fairly rapid exchange by adept and greedy Indian traders. It is not known to what extent these episodes of distribution and allotment within the old system of Indian affairs may not have become a substitute for or the context for the elaboration and subsequent development of the inter-reservational rendezvous complex. Evidence suggests that there was not a little graft on the part of the Indian agents in their dealings with Indian traders to their own mutual advantage and to the dispossession of the naive Native Americans of their small wealth.
Even more interesting though is the pivotal role played by the metis in the elaboration of the Indian trade, and in the continuance of patterns of trading and freighting established in the early fur trade era, within the inter-reservational framework and within the framework of the emergence of an informal "pan-Indian" minority identity. The metis came to elaborate thus a form of exchange and production which was a primary mechanism in the adaptation of the reservation Indian to the larger world. That the metis may have taken advantage of this and prospered from it in an asymmetrical relationship vis-a-vis their poorer pure-blooded Indian cousins is only one aspect of this pattern, for the role played by the metis Indian trader was not always a negative one--to some extent it was valued by the Indians, and helped, as mentioned before, to mediate and ameliorate the relationship between white and Indian worlds.
There are several Indian Robidoux branches--there is a Sioux branch, an Otto-Missouri and Ioway Branch, and a Ponca-Pawnee branch. It is believed at this point that the progenitors of these branches are separate individuals--the Sioux branch were probably the offspring of Francois Robidoux's sons. The Otto-Missouri and Ioway Branches were at least the descendants of both Joseph IV and Indian Joe, and possibly also of Michel Robidoux. It is possible that the Pawnee-Ponca branch were the descendants of Michel Robidoux, who was known to have had long term and intimate contact with this group of Indians. At the same time, there appears in the genealogical records evidence of a Ute Branch of Robidouxs, which most probably were the descendants of Antoine or Louis Robidoux. There is also a Chippewayan branch, but it is evident that the progenitors of this branch were probably not the six brothers, but distant cousins of these who were involved in the fur trade nexus of Lake Superior in conjunction with the American Fur Company post at La Pointe. It would not be surprising if other branches of the Indian Robidoux did not turn up as well.
There are two main branches of Sioux Indian Robidoux, and these branches reflect the bifurcation of the Sioux peoples between the Northern and Southern tribes, which southern tribes, like the Yankton and Yanktonai, cousins of the Northern tribes, were originally south and east of the Missouri River until their subsequent relocation under government treaties. To an unknown extent, the Brule Sioux Robidoux's and the Yankton Sioux Robidoux's may have actually intermarried, both near the top of the genealogical tree, and further down in some of the sub-branches.
Numerous emigrant accounts from 1848 to 1851 leave unquestionable evidence of the fact that at Robidoux Pass at Scott's Bluffs, resided a Blacksmith by the name of Robidoux with at least one, and possibly more than one, Indian wife and children. Almost no accounts leave a reference to the Blacksmith's first name. It is clear that this Blacksmith was probably the same one who was mentioned in Francis Parkman's book as being at Fort Laramie in 1846.
It is probable that between the years 1837 and 1845, one "Joseph" Robidoux had made his way to Ft. Laramie where he was installed under the various factors there, possibly Sublette, and later, Beauvais and Papin, as the blacksmith of the post, in the employ of the American Fur Company. There is a reference to a "Robidoux" blacksmith in the famous Francis Parkman account of the Oregon trail, one that has for the most part been overlooked by historians.
I caught my horse, and to my vexation found that he had lost a shoe and broken his hoof against the rocks. Horses are shod at Fort Laramie at the moderate rate of three dollars a foot; so I tied Hendrick to a beam in the corral, and summoned Roubidou, the blacksmith. Roubidou, with the hoof between his knees, was at work with hammer and file, and I was inspecting the process, when a strange voice addressed me.
"Two more gone under! Well, there's more of us left yet. Here's Gringras and me off to the mountains to-morrow. Our turn will come next, I suppose. It's a hard life, anyhow!" (Parkman, 87)
This reference is dated in about July of 1846, so it is unlikely that it would be the same Joseph as we find living with the Ioways and going between Kansas and St. Joseph in about the same time period, as so clearly shown in the Benjamin Harding Letters and by the deed recorded in St. Louis signed by Joseph E. Robidoux dated June 1846.
Early Fort Laramie became a focal point of the Sioux tribes of the plains. Actually, Fort Laramie was part of a larger nexus of a trade network in Sioux country which incorporated Fort Pierre and down to the mouth of the Platte River. Within this nexus, tribes gathered seasonally about the Forts and trading posts. These two forts were the centers of this trade, serving both as trading posts themselves and as supply depots and shipping centers for the satellite system of smaller posts that were established throughout the countryside.
A way of life was elaborated very early on, even before the building of the first fort at Laramie, which involved close relations between the host Sioux tribes and the trappers and traders. It appears that one or more of the Robidoux brothers were a part of this early complex, and that their offspring also became incorporated into this and married Indian wives and raised families on the plains. At first, the way of life centered around the peltries and hides brought in from trapping expeditions. By the mid-1840's this trapping gave way to a preoccupation with the hunting of bison herds and the shipment of vast quantities of buffalo robes back east. At about the same time, a new kind of commerce emerged on the plains, and this was in servicing, equipping and guiding exploring and hunting parties, and later Western-bound emigrant parties who traversed the region. As towns and cities emerged in the Western states, the same avenues became the lines of communication and transportation in the westbound shipment of goods, cattle, horses, and in the relaying of mail and gold back and forth. Up until the advent of the railroads across the plains, large freight caravans of conestoga wagons hauled goods, empty crates and mound-loads of buffalo hides across the plains. Stage coaches carrying male, people and money also plied the same trails.
The metis of the plains adapted to and gained an advantage in these developments. They made their living ferrying, freighting and as postmen. They developed large horse and cattle ranches, raising plains ponies and mules which were sold to replace worn-out livestock from the immense travels across the rough plains and mountains. At the same time, these same families sold a range of merchandise and goods to their Indian cousins and relatives--things which included whiskey and fire-arms, as well as domestic goods usually oriented toward the women folk--sewing and cooking. It is likely also that they kept up small farm stead's and kitchen gardens which supplied them with a variety of produce--chickens and eggs, corn, beans, pumpkins, even small fields of grain and hay.
Fort Laramie was the next major point of interest after Scott's Bluffs along the emigrant trails. It was at the headwaters of the North Fork of the Platte, and the point furthest in this direction by which flat-bottomed boats could be taken in high-waters. It was also at the nexus of several trails leading west, south and northeast, and thus became a principle rendezvous point in the larger fur trade nexus that incorporated not only the Snake River region, the Black Hills, the Wind Rivers, but also a line of forts connecting the eastern side of the Rockies, and principle point of entry through Horse Creek, North Park and into the Southwestern Fur trade zone and the Old Spanish trail system.
Chief Bull Bear accepted an invitation to trade at Fort Laramie sometime in the mid 1830's, from one John Sybille who was sent into the Black Hills to recruit the Sioux for their trade. Bull Bear moved over a hundred lodges of his people into proximity of the fort. Other Sioux soon joined them, as well as their allies the Cheyenne and the Arapaho. It was common strategy for the Fur Company to recruit outfits of traders and to send them out in late fall to locate and winter close to Sioux encampments. "These crews either constructed wintering houses (or occupied those remaining from the previous years) or took up residence in the lodge of a prominent warrior in the Sioux village where trade was being brought." (Anderson, 1973: 235) On Oct. 30, 1906, Magloire A. Mosseau, who came to Sioux country in 1850, made the following account to Judge Eli S. Ricker:
The trading season began about September when the men went out in twos to open bargainings with the natives. Two started out alone into the interior to some camp, there being five or six horses and a mule in charge of each man, the whole going in single file, the mule leading and the man walking behind. Each man had his particular mule for this service...On the going trips the animals' burdens were goods for traffic with the Indians. They consisted mostly of beads and vermillion which were in high demand, blankets, shirts, calicos, muslins, hatchets, axes, knives, firearms, gun powder, lead molded into bullets, traps, and a great variety of goods suitable for their use.
As soon as one of the two men who had gone out could be loaded he started back to the trading post; then the other would pack his burden-bearers and start in, and the two generally met midway; and thus they passed and repassed the entire season of trade.
Each post kept a stock of horses and mules for the purpose of this style of trade. Buffalo hide boats were also constructed and used for the transportation downstream of the hides. It was only by the mid 1840's that carts and ox-drawn wagons became used for the trade. Typically, the traders would hire local warriors to defend and protect the trading post and the lives and wares of the traders. Warriors were honored by this job. Typically too, liquor was used in exchange
Getting the Indians intoxicated allowed the traders to get more hides, as the Indian's demand for alcohol would increase, but this was an inherently risky business, and often had disastrous and violent reactions from the Indians who, in anger over the unevenness of the exchange and desire for more alcohol, would confiscate the traders wares, liquor and frequently kill the trader.
In this framework, marriage by a trader to a Sioux wife was an important part of securing the allegiance and protection of the tribe for the trade:
First (for why should the romantic be ignored in favor of only economic or political considerations) was the natural human attraction between male and female, particularly when the former was often destined to spend a year or more in the remote Indian country away from the charms and attractions of women of his own race. Union with a native woman also assured the fur trader, whether he be the bourgeois, clerk, or common employee, of many of the personal comforts that might be otherwise lacking in the traders' society. Sioux wives would cook, sew, tan robes, and erect teepee shelters on trading ventures away from the main posts. Personal safety was also a consideration in arranging a trader's marriage into the tribe. In the often turbulent atmosphere of winter trading ventures, more than once, as Sage points out, the trader's life was saved through the intervention of his Indian woman.
While in the lower levels of the trading hierarchy a union with a Sioux wife held out advantages of a purely personal nature, it was a matter of necessity for the local bourgeois and his chief clerks and traders and produced definite economic and political advantages. There was some social significance as well, although mostly from the Indian standpoint. It was a great honor to a Sioux family to have one of their daughters married to a prominent man in the trade. For the trader this was sometimes a mixed blessing, for along with a wife he also acquired her host of relatives who expected to share in both their white in-law's hospitality and supply of trade goods. However, these minor annoyances could be endured in return for the guaranteed trade that marriage arrangements produced and for the influence it provided the trader within the often complex intertribal Sioux political rivalries. (241-2)
It is largely from the accounts of the explorers, huntsmen and emigrants, that we see a very clear picture of the way of life as it was elaborated there. Usually encampments of neighboring Indian bands are mentioned. Indians were found within the compound as well as without, and there appears to have been a relatively small permanent garrison of a handful of families, the factors, assistant factors, sutlers, blacksmith, and barrel-makers, as well as a larger more transient contingent of regular traders, trappers, freighters and soldiers, as well as distant Indian relations and their blood-brothers.
Mathew Page, in company with the Stewart Expedition, visited Fort Laramie in July of 1843, and left the following telegraphic reporter's account with an eye to essential detail and daily events:
Diary: July 5, 1843
Wednesday, July 5th. All bright in the morning--Started early, and encamped upon Laramee's Fork, opposite Richard's fort in the afternoon. 18 miles. Rode on in advance, and visited Fort Laramee, a large square structure of mud, strongly knitted with good timber--painted palisades around the parapets--towers--large cavayard--comfortable dwellings--like old low Spanish structures in New Orleans--Dimensions 150 by 125 feet--about 7 years old.
The graveyard--"Maurin, le 24 Juin 1837"--Killed by the accidental discharge of a gun in a cart--"David Crow" killed by the bursting of a cannon--"Milton Sublette" rude pine cross, prostrate & broken--Indian bodies raised on platforms and bound up in robes--graves torn open--bones scattered by the Crows, deadly foes to the Scioux. The grave yard a few hundred yards from the fort--red men and white reposing, as it were, in each other's arms! 104 Crows came to the fort, which was immediately closed and barred against them. One climbed a broken place in the wall, with the assistance of a long pole, but was immediately seized and tossed back into the prairie. Only a few were admitted into the fort at a time, and the entrance guarded with cocked rifles--blacksmith shop, carpenter-shop, fine cattle and horses--squaws and children. 15 men--25 souls in all--comfort of eating at a table, sleeping under a roof-bread and butter--milk & tea--politeness of Mr Bourdeau in place of Mr. Papin. Fury of the musquitos--the New Orleans article nothing to them! Arrival at La Ramee!
Typical is the account left by Joel Palmer dated 1845:
June 24. Since the 20th we have traveled about sixty-two miles, and are now at Fort Laramie; making our whole travel from Independence about six hundred and thirty miles. On the 22d we passed over Scott's Bluffs, where we found a good spring and abundance of wood and grass....
June 25. Our camp is stationary to-day; part of the emigrants are shoing their horses and oxen; others are trading at the fort and with the Indians. Flour, sugar, coffee, tea, tobacco, powder and lead, sell readily, at high prices. In the afternoon we gave the Indians a feast, and held a long talk with them. Each family, as they could best spare it, contributed a portion of bread, meat, coffee, or sugar, which being cooked, a table was set by spreading buffalo skins upon the ground, and arranging the provisions upon them. Around this attractive board, the Indian chiefs and their principal men seated themselves, occupying one fourth of the circle; the remainder of the male Indians made out the semi-circle; the rest of the circle was completed by the whites. Two stout young warriors were now designated as waiters, and all the preparations being completed, the Indian chiefs and principal men shook hands, and at a signal the white chief performed the same ceremony, commencing with the principal chief, and saluting him and those of his followers who composed the first division of the circle; the others being considered inferiors were not thus noticed.
The talk preceded the dinner. A trader acted as interpreter. The chief informed us, that "a long while ago some white chiefs passed up the Missouri, through his country, saying they were the red man's friends, and that as the red man found them, so would he find all the other pale faces. This country belongs to the red man, but his white brethern travels through, shooting the game and scaring it away. Thus the Indian loses all that he depends upon to support his wives and children. The children of the red man cry for food, but there is no food. But on the other hand, the Indian profits by the trade with the white man. He was glad to see us and meet us as friends. It was the custom when the pale faces passed through his country, to make presents to the Indians of powder, lead, &c. His tribe was very numerous, but the most of the people had gone to the mountains to hunt. Before the white man came, the game was tame, and easily caught, with the bow and arrow. Now the white man have frightened it, and the red man must go to the mountains. the red man needed long guns." This, with much more of the like, made up the talk of the chief, when a reply from our side was expected.
As it devolved on me to play the part of the white chief, I told my red brethern, that we were journeying to the great waters of the west. Our great father owned a large country there, and we were going to settle upon it. For this purpose we brought with us our wives and little ones. We were compelled to pass through the red man's country, but we traveled as friends, and not as enemies. As friends we feasted them, shook them by the hand, and smoked with them the pipe of peace. They must know that we came among them as friends, for we brought with us our wives and children. The red man does not take his squaws into battle; neither does the pale face. but friendly as we felt, we were ready for enemies; and if molested, we should punish the offenders. Some of us expected to return. Our fathers, our brothers and our children were coming behind us, and we hoped the red man would treat them kindly. We did not expect to meet so many of them; we were glad to see them, and to hear that they were the white man's friends. We met peacefully--so let us part. We had set them a feast, and were glad to hold a talk with them; but we were not traders, and had no powder or ball to give them. We were going to plough and to plant the ground, and had nothing more than we needed for ourselves. We told them to eat what was before them, and be satisfied; and that we had nothing more to say.
The two Indian servants began their services by placing a tin cup before each of the guests, always waiting first upon the chiefs; they then distributed the bread and cakes, until each person had as much as it was supposed he would eat; the remainder being delivered to two squaws, who in like manner served the squaws and children. The waiters then distributed the meat and coffee. All was order. No one touched the food before him until all were served, when at a signal from the chief the eating began. Having filled themselves, the Indians retired, taking with them all that they were unable to eat.
This is a branch of the Sioux nation, and those living in this region number near fifteen hundred lodges. They are a healthy, athletic, good-looking set of men, and have according to the Indian code, a respectable sense of honor, but will steal when the can do so without fear of detection. On this occasion, however, we missed nothing but a frying pan, which a squaw slipped under her blanket, and made off with. As it was a trifling loss, we made no complaint to the chief.
Here are two forts. Fort Laramie, situated upon the west side of Laramie's fork, two miles from the Platte river, belongs to the North American Fur Company. The fort is built of adobes. the walls are about two feet thick, and twelve or fourteen feet high, the tops being picketed or spiked. Posts are planted in this walls and support the timber of the roof. They are then covered with mud. In the centre is an open square, perhaps twenty-five yards each way, along the sides of which are ranged the dwellings, store rooms, smith shop, carpenter's shop, offices, &c, all fronting upon the inner area. There are two principal entrances; one at the north and the other at the south. On the eastern side is an additional wall, connected at its extremities with the first, enclosing ground for stables and carrell. This enclosure has a gateway upon its south side, and a passage into the square of the principal enclosure. At a short distance from the fort is a field of about four acres, in which, by way of experiment, corn is planted; but from its present appearance it will probably prove a failure. Fort John stands about a mile below Fort Laramie, and is built of the same material as the latter, but is not so extensive. Its present occupants are a company from St. Louis.(Joel Palmer, Journal of Travels Over the Rocky Mountains., 1845)
Another account of about the same time, was left by Philip St. George Cooke, who visited the fort as a captain of Dragoons:
June 15th, (1845)--Near Fort Laramie.--Ten miles over desolate hill and plain brought us yesterday to the Fort, on the west side, and a mile above, the mouth of the pretty little river of the same name; the water is clear and rapid: the Platte,--here, about one hundred yards wide,--is not much larger, and more resembles it, than itself as found below. Fort Platte, belonging to a rival company, stands near the confluence.
I came on in advance, and spent an hour at Fort Laramie; it is about two hundred feet square, with high walls of adobes, made of the clay and sand soil, just as it is found; the dwellings line the wall,--which is a part of them,--and have flat adobe roofs, and wooden galleries. The Fort swarmed with women and children, whose language--like their complexions--is various and mixed,--Indian, French, English, and Spanish; they live nearly exclusively on dried buffalo meat, for which the hunters go at least fifty miles; but they have domestic cattle.
Here, barbarism and a traditional or half civilization meet on neutral ground; but as a struggle, it is certain that the former has the best of it; although it has the disadvantage of being represented chiefly by females--both softening and impressible: but their credentials are ill-looks, dirty, and revoltingly coarse habits, &c &c.; while the male representatives of civilization have the orthodox, although questionable aids of alcohol and gunpowder, avarice, lying, and lust.
The struggle is at close quarters; civilization, furnishing house and clothing; barbarism, children and fleas.
About a month later, Fort Laramie was visited by another noteworthy person, James Clyman, who also left an interesting description of the post:
Thursday the 1st of August Dry cler warm day cool Beautifully fine nights with Scarcely any dew or moisture to dampen a blanket of those that sleep out in the open air Soil a fine whiteish clay mixed with sand usually verry fine but sometimes moderately coarse about 4 oclock in the afternnon we hove in sight of the white Battlments of Fort Larrime and Fort Platte whose white walls surrounded by a few Sioux Indian Lodges shewed us that Human life was not extinct this being the first we have seen since we left the Kaws the various Emigrants Excepted crossed the Larrime river a clear fine Streean about 80 yards wide only about half of the channel filled with water 2 feet deep Several persons getting scant of Flour Some to be had here (at) Superfine at 40 dollars a barrel Spannish at 30
2nd Clear cool nights & mornings verry warm days Remained in camp to day trading and waiting for Blacksmith and other repairs went down to the fort after writeing to my Friend Starr of the Milwaukie Sentinell and found no prospect of his receiving my communication verry soon but I left the letter hoping that he m (a)y recieve it Soon I tried to trade some but found even the products of the country verry high I purchased a dressed dear skin for 2.50 cents and returned to camp satisfied that money was allmost useless while all kinds of grocerys & Liquors were exorbitantly high for instance sugar 1.50 cents per pint or cupfull and other things in proportion flour Superfine 1.000 dollars per pint or 40 dollars per Barrel Spanish 30 no dried Buffaloe meat could be had at any price so our stores of provision did not increase. (James Clyman, Journal of a Mountain Man, 1984: 98-9)
Francis Parkman, recounted in his famous book The Oregon Trail, recounted his first visit to Fort Laramie in about May or June of 1846:
Looking back, after the expiration of a year, upon Fort laramie and its inmates, they seem less like a reality than like some fanciful picture of the olden time; so different was the scene from any which this tamer side of the world can present. Tall Indians, enveloped in their white buffalo-robes, were striding across the area or reclining at full length on the low roofs of the buildings which enclosed it. Numerous squaws, gayly bedizened, sat grouped in front of the rooms they occupied; their mongrel offspring, restless and vociferous, rambled in every direction through the fort; and the trappers, traders and engage's of the establishment were busy at their labor or their amusements.
We were met at the gate, but by no means cordially welcomed. Indeed, we seemed objects of some distrust and suspicion, until Henry Chatillon explained that we were not traders, and we, in confirmation, handed to the bourgeois a letter of introduction from his principals. He took it, turned it upside down, and tried hard to read it; but his literary attainments not being adequate to the task, he applied for relief to a clerk, a sleek, smiling Frenchman, named Monthalon. The letter read, Bordeau (the bourgeois) seemed gradually to awaken to a sense of what was expected of him. though not deficient in hospitable intentions, he was wholly unaccustomed to act as master of ceremonies. Discarding all formalities of reception, he did not honor us with a single word, but walked swiftly across the area, while we followed in some admiration to a railing and a flight of steps opposite the entrance. He signed to us that we had better fasten our horses to the railing; then he walked up the steps, tramped along a rude balcony, and kicking open a door, displayed a large room, rather more elaborately furnished than a barn. For furniture it had a rough bedstead, but no bed; two chairs, a tin pail to hold water, and a board to cut tobacco upon. A brass crucifix hung on the wall, and close at hand a recent scalp, with hair full a yard long, was suspended from a nail. I shall again have occasion to mention this dismal trophy, its history being connected with that of our subsequent proceedings.
The apartment, the best in Ft. Laramie, was that usually occupied by the legitimate bourgeois, Papin, in whose absence the command devolved upon Bordeaux. The latter, a stout, bluff little fellow, much inflated by a sense of his new authority, began to roar for buffalo-robes. These being brought and spread upon the floor, formed our beds; much better ones than we had of late been accustomed to. Our arrangements made, we stepped out to the balcony to take a more leisurely survey of the long looked-for haven at which we had arrived at last. Beneath us was the square area surrounded by little rooms, or rather cells, which opened upon it. These were devoted to various purposes, but served chiefly for the accommodation of the men employed at the fort, or of the equally numerous squaws whom they were allowed to maintain in it. Opposite to us rose the blockhouse above the gateway; it was adorned with the figure of a horse at full speed, daubed upon the boards with red paint, and exhibiting a degree of skill which might rival that displayed by the Indians in executing similar designs on their robes and lodges. A busy scene was enacting in the area. the wagons of Vaskiss, an old trader, were bout to set out for a remote post in the mountains, and the Canadians were going through their preparations with all possible bustle, while here and there an Indian stood looking on with imperturbable gravity.
Fort Laramie is one of the posts established by the "American Fur Company," which well-nigh monopolizes the Indian trade of this region. Here its officials rule with an absolute sway; the arm of the United States has little force; for when we were there, the extreme outposts of her troops were about seven hundred miles to the eastward. The little fort is built of bricks dried in the sun, and externally is of an oblong form, with bastions of clay, in the form of ordinary blockhouses, at two of the corners. The walls are about fifteen feet high, and surmounted by a slender palisade. The roofs of the apartments within, which are built close against the walls, serve the purpose of a banquette. Within, the fort is divided by a partition; on one side is the square area, surrounded by the store-rooms, offices and apartments of the inmates; on the other is the corral, a narrow place, encompassed by the high, clay walls, where at night, or in presence of dangerous Indians, the horses and mules of the fort are crowded for safe keeping. The main entrance has two gates, with an arched passage intervening. A little square window, high above the ground, opens laterally from an adjoining chamber into this passage; so that when the inner gate is closed and barred, a person without may still hold communication with those within, through this narrow aperture. This obviates the necessity of admitting suspicious Indians, for purposes of trading, into the body of the fort; for when danger is apprehended, the inner gate is shut fast, and all traffic is carried on by means of the window. This precaution, though necessary at some of the Company's posts, is seldom resorted to at Fort Laramie; where, though men are frequently killed in the neighborhood, no apprehensions are felt of any general designs of hostility from the Indians. (82-3)
James Bordeaux was a colorful Indian trader whose name and whose family has been remembered in connection with Fort Laramie, and whose family was closely associated with the resident Robidoux family in the same area, as well as with the resident Beauvais family. To some extent, the descendants of these families intermarried between each other.
Usually presiding over this rough-and-ready crew was James Bordeau, a shrewd Gaul with an exceptional eye for business. Born in 1812, he had spent all his adult life as a trader in the Indian country, had married a Brulé wife and was on the closest terms with the Platte River Sioux. In appearance he was short and stocky, with a round face and a dark moustache. He generally wore a regular suit and vest, rather than the leather costume of the mountain man, but as a concession to western informality the suit usually was unpressed, with noticeable bags at the knees.
Though possessed of a native Gallic civility, Bordeau had been raised in the uncultivated West....
But Bordeau could be articulate on occasion. Holding what one observer called an "inflated" sense of authority, he could bellow across the courtyard in tones that commanded obedience. Nor was he deficient in executive talents. In a country without law, he could sense danger in an instant and act as quickly. But his courage was diluted by a healthy sense of prudence. Once, in a quarrel, he and another Frenchman fell upon each other in the open yard of Fort William. Thrown down, Bordeau was saved by his brother-in-law, an old Brulé, who pulled off his opponent. In the next instant the two combatants raced to their quarters for their rifles. Bordeau peered from his doorway while the other advanced across the court.
"Come out and fight," challenged his assailant. But Bordeau did not move.
"Go upon the prairie," called his brother-in-law, "and fight it out in the white man's manner."
Even Bordeau's wife shamed him. "You are a dog and an old woman," she cried.
His opponent stood in the middle of the yard flinging insults at him and finally left the fort in disgust.
But Bordeau was long on strategy. Once he determined to teach a lesson to an old employee named Pierre, whose duties included the selection of buffalo steaks for the meals. Bordeau considered it wasteful to lavish the best cuts on the regular engages, but it was apparent that Pierre was treating himself and his messmates very favorably. Bordeau did not want to appear so miserly as to correct Pierre outright. Hiding himself behind a partition next to the store room, however, he was able to observe Pierre's movements through a hole in the wall. And, when the old man came in and held the lantern to a pile of meat, he was startled by a ghostly voice from the dark:
"Pierre! Pierre! Let that fat meat alone! Take nothing but the lean!"
Terrified, the old man dropped the lamp and burst through the door. "The devil is in the storeroom!" he shrieked.
Catching his foot on the threshold, he fell and knocked himself unconscious. Some of the others came running and were starting to enter the storeroom to confront the devel with an improvised crucifix when Bordeau sheepishly appeared in the doorway. In front of his engages, he had to restore Pierre's composure by confessing the whole affair. (30-32)
James Bordeaux was the son of one Paul, who in company with his brother Felix, came to North America via New Orleans and founded a large plantation at St. Louis, Missouri. Paul Bordeaux remarried after Jame's mother died, and the conflict between his stepmother led James to engage with a party of fur trappers bound for Fort Union. James was engaged to carry mail overland between Fort Union and Fort Pierre, a dangerous journey which took them directly through the Black Hills, the heartland of the hostile Indians. James took a position with the American Fur Company at Fort Pierre, and married a Rhee wife. James, his wife, and two children, later came to the Platte river region, and his wife, unhappy amongst the Sioux, returned to her people. James remarried Marie, daughter of the Brule Sioux war Chief Swift Bear.
James Bordeaux had established two trading posts, known as "road ranches." These were satellite trading posts along the important trail between the major posts of Fort Laramie and Fort Pierre, which was in operation until about 1850. These smaller outposts were part of a tributary trading system along the White River which accessed different bands of Indians of the region.
It was not until the mid-1820s, however, that the trade had firmly established itself with permanent posts on the upper Missouri, including the important location at the mouth of Bad River where Fort Tecumseh, and later Fort Pierre, were situated. A decade later the trade was also operating at the other end of Sioux country, at Fort Laramie on the North Platte River. Woven between these two terminals was a network of small posts or trading houses, connected by a regular system of pony trails and later crude roads usable by carts and ox-drawn wagons. (Harry Anderson, 1973: 234)
In late 1846, Bordeaux established the site at Bordeaux Creek near what is now Chadron, Nebraska, along what was known as the Fort Laramie-Fort Pierre trail. The other trading post was established nine miles below Fort Laramie on the Platte, at what was known as Bordeaux Bend, near the site of the famous Grattan massacre.
Bordeaux was well respected and trusted by the Sioux. A chief came to him in the hopes of preventing the ensuing massacre, but they arrived too late. The Sioux war party then came to his trading post, and he wisely opened his doors to them and allowed them to help themselves to all that they had on his shelves. Thus satisfied, they did not bother to attack Fort Laramie.
In 1867, Bordeaux established another trading post along the crossroads of a road and telegraph line between Fort Russell and Fort Laramie, and a branch road from Chugwater, to take advantage of the ensuring traffic along this route. This became known as Bordeaux Cut-off, and was on the route to the newly established Fort Fetterman. "Bordeaux's squat-roofed trading house located on this ranch was the beginning of Bordeaux, Wyoming, which later boasted of a hotel, a store, and a post office. It was not only a military sub-station but later a favorite stopping place along the Cheyenne-Deadwood Trail." (Trenholm, The Bordeaux Story: Annals of Wyoming, 123)
The Crows attacked his road-ranch near Chadron, at Bordeaux Creek, a small branch of the White River, in 1849, in running off about eighty-odd head of horses and mules, and his family only narrowly escaping. The ranch was burned to the ground. A nearby war party of Brule Sioux, Bordeau's in-laws, took off in pursuit of the Crow raiding party. The Crow party split up, part leading off the horses, the others finding refuge on Crow Butte. The Crows defended themselves on the Butte by rolling boulders down on the sieging Sioux. At night the Crows escaped down the side of the butte by lowering themselves down with rawhide. This attack convinced Pierre Chouteau Junior not to relocate Fort Laramie to the White River.
Apparently, the Bordeaux creek post was rebuilt, and was continued in operation until 1872, when it was bought out by one Francis Boucher who began supplying modern firearms to the Sioux Indians. It was finally abandoned in 1876. It was the longest run trading house in the area and "long been a perfect example of the small 'wintering house' in the robe trade."
The robe trade in the Black Hills area assumed a new aspect after the sale of Fort Laramie in 1849 and of Fort Pierre in 1855. The Fort Pierre-Fort Laramie trail was abandoned in favor of the Oregon Trail route, and the robe trade passed into the hands of independent operators like Bordeaux, John Richard, Joseph Bissonette, and Giminien Beauvais. Of these men, Bordeaux was the most prominent and his posts on the North Platte below Fort Laramie and on Bordeaux Creek near the White River were the centers of his continued activity with the Indians. (Charles Hanson, Nebraska History Quarterly, : 139)
The Bordeaux Road Ranch at Bordeaux Creek was excavated in 1957, locating the walls and floor of the site, and finding such manuports as an old bottle, a butcher knife blade, numerous colored seed beads, gunflints, iron hooks, window glass fragments, and nails. The site was reconstructed, work being begun in 1956 and completed by 1960.
Another time, a Sioux war party drove off Bordeaux's cattle, nearly 500 head, at his road-ranch near Fort Laramie, thus ending his trading operations. The government refused to compensate him for his losses, so he relocated to a final trading post site on the Missouri River in Charles Mix county, which he operated until 1878, when the Sioux were finally relocated to the Rosebud Agency, and which year he died, his remains being buried at the agency.
All of James and Marie's children were born in Wyoming, the two oldest in the late '30's at Fort Laramie. They were Lema (Mrs. Lamoureaux) and Antoine. The younger children, Louis, John, Susan (Mrs. Isaac Bettelyoun), Alexander and William were born at Bordeaux Bend. Lema and Antoine attended school in St. Louis, their father taking them to and from in a covered wagon. He would go cross country alone. "When he first tried this," his grandson recounts, "he was warned by friends that he would never return alive, but he only laughed and said he could get along with any of the plains Indians. He was afraid of them. He was a man that took some awful chances."
Mr. Bordeaux tells an incident to prove this. "Grandad had quite an experience one time when he was bringing Antoine home. He was traveling across Kansas when a party of nearly 500 Comanches charged from over the horizon. Antoine was a very sick boy. He lay, wrapped in blankets, on the floor in or near the front of the wagon. When Grandad told the Indians he had a sick boy, they moved to the opposite side of the wagon as the wind was blowing from the direction of the boy. The Indians took them into camp and set up a lodge for them. They stayed until Antoine was able to travel. the Comanches were real good to them during their stay." (124-5)
The history of Bordeaux trading posts yields credence to the belief that the resident Robidoux family, contemporaneous neighbors of the Bordeaux, operated a series of road-ranches in the Vicinity of Scott's bluff, with several sites both within the bluffs, and several both to the north-west, near Horse-Creek crossing, and also to the south along the Platte River near Chimney Rock, as noted in 1860 by the traveler Sir. Richard Burton:
After a frugal dinner of bisquit and cheese we remounted and pursued our way through airy fire, which presently changed from our usual pest--a light dust-laden breeze--into a Punjaubian dust-storm, up the valley of the Platte. We passed a ranch called "'Robidoux' Fort," from the well-known Indian trader of that name; it is now occupied by a Canadian or a French Creole who, as usual with his race in these regions, has taken to himself a wife in the shape of a Sioux squaw, and has garnished his quiver with a multitude of whitey-reds. The driver pointed out the grave of a New Yorker who had vainly visited the prairies in search of a cure for consumption. As we advanced the storm increased to a tornado of north wind, blinding our cattle till it drove them off the road. The gale howled through the pass with all the violence of a khamsin, and it was followed by lightning and a few heavy drops of rain. The threatening weather caused a large party of emigrants to "fort themselves" in a corral near the base of Scott's Bluffs. (75-6)
The best account of the Robidoux posts at Scott's Bluffs was given not by the many emigrants who only stayed a short time, and were, all of them, outsiders to the local society and way of life, but by Susan Bettelyoun, who was a half-breed daughter of Bordeau from Fort Laramie. Her testimonies given in her old age in the 1920s, provided a vivid and invaluable description of the French creole culture then in existence, something of the early history of these people in the area, and some vital clues about the mysterious Robidoux's at Scott's Bluff.
She describes the early trappers and traders, her father included, who came to the area around Fort Laramie in about 1833. The land was bountiful and seemingly inexhaustible, and the "Indians found a profitable trade. They were anxious to be at peace with the traders. If Napoleon had not bartered off the Louisiana district, there would have been a different history, and if the French had known of the hidden gold, perhaps they would have hesitated to sell their possessions for the paltry sum which was received in exchange. My father's diary said the French people had been trading up and down the Mississippi and the Missouri for over half a century." She describes the involvement of these French Fur traders at Fort Laramie during the late 1830's and 1840's. The introduction to her text describes differences which marked the French from the Spanish and English:
On the contrary, the indelible stamp of the French explorers, traders, trappers and missionaries will always be with us. The traders and trappers generally married into the Indian tribes and fathered a numerous off-spring, while the missionaries baptized into the Christian faith, large numbers of Indians, all of whom were given Christian names. The names of the early forts were all French. Family names of French origin are too numerous to count. Thousands of Sioux Indians bear French names of their ancestors, the early traders and trappers, or bear as family names the French baptismal names of early converts. (1)
Many Frenchmen sent their creole children to missionary schools. Apparently two daughters by an unknown Robidoux were sent to a school by Reverend Hamilton on the Nemaha reservation in Kansas, one that Benjamin Harding appears to have been associated with, and as remarked upon by Robert Robe who met in 1851 at Scott's Bluffs, as he passed "Robedory trading house." Father deSmet set up a school run by the Sisters and Fathers of the Sacred Heart, at Marysville, Kansas, to which many half-breed children were sent to spend their youths. Michel Robidoux's daughter apparently worked here, and there M. Robidoux left his enigmatic inscription on a stone by a stream bed. According to Bettelyoun:
The place overlooked the Missouri River on a rising knoll. Even in those early days my father said the orchards were wonderful. Every kind of fruit trees planted seemed to take root, grow and flourish. Fruit was shipped all up and down the river from this mission. Fruit was dried, sacked and sold. Vegetables also found their way to many different markets. This mission was first founded as an orphan asylum. Hundreds of the children of the fur buyers born of Indian mothers were brought here to be cared for by these sisters of the Sacred Heart. These children were brought up with piety and deepest religious training, instructed in the work of agriculture, horticulture and all the trades of masonry, carpentry and all branches of labor that would be useful knowledge to them after leaving school. In the domestic arts taught to the girls there was nothing neglected. The girls were taught plain and fancy cooking, preserving and canning, sewing, plain and embroidery, housekeeping and the painting of pictures on canvas tapestry and textiles. Most of the mixed blood children taken to Marysville never knew any other home but the mission, although born of poor and humble parents. At Marysville they received the highest instructions that the whole world could give. From Belgium, Germany and France came the highest class of intellectual men and women, who renounced all worldy desires, to serve God and humanity, gave their lives to look after these poor little lives, to take the place of father and mother in a world of strife. Words are too meager and inadequate to describe what Father deSmet and these Sisters of Mercy have done. The good that was done and begun there, where it was needed the most for humanity, was surely heaven sent. (2-3)
She describes early Fort Laramie and the different family relations there, especially her cousin, one christened John Baptiste Bordeau, who was a half-breed of her uncle and a Sioux woman. Her uncle returned to St. Louis, and put his son in the Marysville school, where he was raised and learned to be a musician. He fought in the war in the Union army, and afterwards was stationed at Fort Laramie, where he again met his uncle and family. He married a half-breed girl and had a boy and two girls. "He was crossing the river near Yankton when he fell in an air hole and drowned."
She describes also one "Joseph Silko Rubideaux":
Joseph Silko Rubideaux was another interesting character in the early days. He built the first log houses at St. Joseph, Mo. He married to a Yanktony Sioux woman. He had two sons from the widow of John Baptiste Bordeau. After coming up northwest to Wyoming, he ran a blacksmith shop on the Oregon Trail on a branch of Horse Creek. His place was a little southwest of Scotts Bluff. It was near the creek with quite a good deal of timber. His two sons have many descendants on the Rosebud Reservation. In the olden days there were many Rubideaus in St. Louis and Kansas City where the original families came from.
Joseph Silko Rubideau lived on Horse Creek for twenty years, and died there. He was still living there yet in 1849. Fort Mitchel (1864) had not been built yet when he died.
Though it would appear that there were several discrepancies with this story, it seems that there was one French trader, remembered by Bettelyoun and the other Sioux as "Joseph Silko" who had come to Fort Laramie at a fairly early time, in the late 1830's or early 1840's, and was later found at the Robidoux post at Horse creek, and who died there, apparently "kicked in the head by a fractious mule", in the early 1860's. His widow, who left two sons, then remarried to Jean Baptiste, who must have been somewhat younger, by which she and several more children before he was tragically drown on the Platte River. I suspect that the name of this individual was probably Sellico, one of Francis sons, and that he probably ran a trading/blacksmithing operation like his brother Antoine, who apparently died an unknown death before Francis estate settlement in 1858.
Mattes describes this reference as Joseph E., but it is possible from her testimony that the name Joseph had become attached to "Silko" by the association with St. Joseph, etc. Her next reference to the Robidoux post was in 1848, when an epidemic of cholera hit the region:
My mother locked up the place and went with all the children and her household of relatives that were staying with her while father was gone, and went to Rubideau's place on Horse Creek. He had a blacksmith shop right on the Oregon Trail.
Rubideau was pretty well to do. He had five o six hired white men. Some of these looked after his stock. Some of them helped in the shop. Some Indians rode up from the Platte river, which was four or five miles west of the Rubideau ranch and told us the Indians were traveling and breaking up camp. Every where that there were some of the dead laid near the Platte River who had been dressed and painted. Among the dead lying on the ground, there were some living ones who had the disease and were deserted and left with the dead. So far the disease had not reached Rubideau's ranch. It was noon and while the men were eating dinner they heard an Indian singing a death song.
A rider came to the door and said, "Be on the lookout. This man coming, singing, is White Roundhead. He is coming armed to kill every white man that he sees." My uncle, Swift Bear, took his gun and stepped out side, firing above the man who was coming along the edge of the creek bank. Everyone once in a while, White Roundhead was doubled up with the cramps. He kept on coming with his gun in his hand and bow and arrows strapped to his back, although he was warned not to come any further. By this time the white men were out with their guns and as he did not heed the warning, he was shot as he stopped with a cramp again. he tumbled out of sight over the bank. Men took spades and caved the bank over him so the disease would not spread. White Roundhead had lost his whole camp of four or five tents. Blaming the white people for bringing such a scourge into the country, he was out for revenge. Wherever there was a healthy camp, no visitors were allowed. Any one coming to the camp sick was shot right on the spot. Mothers deserted their babies, when they got it, in several cases.
During a few days my father returned from St. Louis in a light buggy. He found my mother, the children and all her relatives at Rubideau's place. he brought a gallon of Medicine, a prescription put up for him by a physician. My brother Louis, who was then ten months old, had the cholera, so the medicine came just in time. A few teaspoonfuls of the medicine cured him...(13-14)
It is apparent that the date 1848 may have been confused with 1858-9, as Susan Bettelyoun was not born until 1859. On the other hand, a Cholera scourge was known to have wiped out emigrants and Indians alike in 1849, and she may have been recounting her families stories of an earlier period. It is apparent that James Bordeau was active in the area of Bordeau Bend, below Fort Laramie, where almost all of his children were born, until about the late 1850's, when his cattle were stolen by Sioux, and he appears to have relocated to the Bordeaux Creek area.
According to the Editor of these transcripts, "When the tides of humankind started on the Oregon trail in the early forties, Roubideaux remembered his old trade as a blacksmith, at Fort Laramie, served travelers by fixing their wagons and shoeing horses, mules and oxen. By the Spring of 1848 he had accumulated enough to lay in a supply of trader's goods and removed to Scott's Bluff Hills, built a small trading station near the springs at the head of a canyon and put in a blacksmith shop. John Evans Brown mentions him as "Robidere" and says "it was at that well known spring in Scotts Bluffs. (Brown was a forty-niner) Later he moved farther from the hills apparently to avoid danger from Arapahoe raids." (91) In Brown's memoirs of 1849, he wrote "By the spring at Scotts Bluff there is a store and blacksmith shop, kept by 'Rubedue' a trader, who has resided among the Sioux Indians for 13 years." If this account is correct, then it seems probable that this "Joseph Silko" had come via Fort Laramie in about 1836, about the time of the fort's construction and acquisition by the American Fur Company. He(or they) intermarried with the Sioux Indians, and settle down as a blacksmith. Further in the same footnote, the editor wrote "On June 10, 1849, Joseph Heckney wrote in his journal, that near a spring of cold water there is a trading post. A man keeps it, who has lived there for 15 years."
In contradiction to the statement here made, that Roubideaux died at Horse Creek, the affirmation is made in Merrill Matte's series of articles that "some years later Roubideaux returned to St. Genevieve (near St. Louis) with abundant means to put in the rest of his life without fear of poverty."
Again, the question must be asked, which Robidoux could this have been? In another section, Bettelyoun describes the families of the French squawmen and ex-fur traders as having settled down on the Laramie plains to engage in horse and cattle ranching.
Others of the old trappers, who had been with father, one by one got married and left to start homes of their own....and many others settle down on ranches and succeeded a great deal better than trapping, which was a dangerous life at the best. These men's Indian wives, who were patient, kind and true, made good homes for hem and there was very few cases of desertion among them. Most of these men, though rough in their way, were kind and loved their children. Some of them, at great sacrifices, sent their children away to school to be educated. Their descendants are numerous on every reservation.
She later describes these families upon their journey to the Missouri River in 1865, escorted by the army, which was attacked at Horse Creek:
There were about fifteen of these half-breed families. Besides the wagons, they each had a herd of horses. Each had a different breed of horses they were specializing in. Iyoitte had a beautiful stallion. It was a pinto with dark blue spots all over. One might compare him to a spotted lion. Thee were many half breed boys on horse back, driving the horses and extra cattle. My father had a nice bunch of milch cows in the herd. The Indians had many extra horses too, being driven in among the herd. The whole herd amounted to about a thousand horses and five hundred cattle. Following all of these came the two thousand Indians, mostly mixed remnants of the Ogallalas and Brules, who were called the agency Indians, by the wild bands living up in northern Wyoming and Montana.
She describes the attack by the Indians, and then their relief by the troops from Fort Mitchell. "An escort was made up and they were all taken to Omaha, except Mrs. Rubideaux, who was a widow at the time. She did not have to go, because she told the soldiers she was Bovey's (Beauvais) wife and they believed her." (257)
Because this event occurred in 1865, it is impossible that the Robidoux who had died by being kicked by a mule was Sellico, because Sellico's name appears as the head of household on the petition to the U. S. government in 1867. This suggests that the man who had died, and who had left the widow Robidoux mentioned in 1865, must most likely have been Antoine Robidoux, the other son of Francis and probably the brother of Sellico.
It is at this juncture, that the first description of Louis Robidoux, one of the sons of the Blacksmith Joseph Sellico Robidoux, is first mentioned by Mr. Alexander Bordeaux Jr. the grandson of James Bordeaux:
Two companies of Nebraska troops were sent to help move the 200 lodges of Sioux. Fifteen lodges, apparently sensing the situation, had already moved elsewhere when the soldiers arrived. The troops, accompanied by forty civilians, began the march with the 185 lodges. The Indians seemed docile and easily managed until they reached Horse Creek, where they staged a rebellion apparently by prearranged plan. After a brisk encounter, they scattered in all directions.
Mr. Bordeaux gives his version of this event. "My father and Antoine and some of the older children used to tell of the time when they were young and the army was moving some Brule Sioux from the Fort Laramie region. They used Grandad's teams, wagons, and equipment to help move supplies along with the troops. The Indians became suspicious, and one morning (May 16, 1865) they killed one of the two officers in charge. This took place near the mouth of Horse Creek in Nebraska.
"The Indians forced the troops to withdraw from the creek so that their women and children could escape across the river. A running fight took place, and my grandfather and the children had to flee with the troops in their covered wagon. My dad used to say that the children were curious to see what was going on. Each time they would look out the back end of the wagon, the men inside would jerk them down. but they kept trying anyway.
"During the flight, my dad said that a man named Louis Robidoux was the driver of an ox team that couldn't move fast enough to suit him, so he jumped off and started running on foot. Again Grandad and his family escaped death, but some of the people were killed on both sides."
After the battle, the Sioux escaped with their families across the Platte River. Reinforced with troops who were building a telegraph line nearby, Capt. John Wilcox, who took over after Captain Fouts was killed by the Indians fought off the Indians and recovered the mutilated bodies of Fouts and other slain soldiers.
The troopers returned to the wagons in a fury over the day's debacle. Mrs. Fouts and her family were beside themselves with grief. All the dead had been terribly mutilated, and the whole command had been humiliated by a clever enemy. Into the body of the lame Indian the returning soldiers poured a fusillade of shots. Then in their wrath they cast eyes on the traders, many of them half-breeds and all of them allied to the Indians by marriage. There was a strong suspicion that the half-breeds and interpreters had known of the plot.
"The squaw men are as bad as the Indians," Captain Wilcox was heard to tell the soldiers, "and they ought to be killed."
Fearing for their lives, the trading men came to George Beauvais and asked him to intercede with Wilcox. A veteran companion of the Fort Laramie officers, Beauvais went to Wilcox and cooled his anger.
But Mrs. Fouts and her two daughters, screaming in anguish over their loss, were not placated. Among the party were several full-blooded Sioux--mostly the wives or relatives of traders. Mrs. Fouts pleaded with the soldiers to kill them all in revenge for her husband's death.
One of the Indians was an old brave named Green Plum, who had with him his four little grandchildren. Taking them all by the hand, he stepped through the crowd of hostile soldiers and presented himself in front of Mrs. Fouts. "I am a full-blooded Sioux," he declared. "I am alone in this world with these little orphans, who have neither father nor mother. If it is your wish to see us killed, now is your chance."
The distraught Mrs. Fouts relented; instead she begged the soldiers not to kill the Indians, and their lives were spared.
In the afternoon the bedraggled troopers and civilians--defeated and disconsolate--marched on for Fort Mitchell. The liberated Sioux moved north of the Platte in the direction of the White River, exultant over their deliverance...(183-4)
Susan Bettelyoun then describes their stay at Fort Mitchel:
Although the winter of 1865 and 66 was filled with tragedies, all was not gloom and despair. There was a dance every week at the fort. The soldiers would all chip in to a pot to pay some fiddlers. There were many of them among the half breeds and soldiers. Almost every Frenchman could play a fiddle, some were real artists. These people seem to be born for music and gaiety. It is life with them, and they were never so happy as when music was in the air and a crowd of people were moving to its rhythm. There were quite a number of half-breed girls, young ladies, all dressed up in bright calico, with ribbons in their hair and waists, who could fly around in a quadrille as well as anybody, stepping to the music in their moccassined feet. There were many little girls, my size, myself included, who were right in the swing, especially when they passed around the stock candy and ginger snaps. We were just as happy and enjoyed it just as much as though we were dancing in marble halls, with brilliantly lighted chandeliers. We loved the mellow candle rays. At times some of the emigrant women and men would join in the dance. I have heard many different calls from all the different states. They all had different calls for the same type of dances. Many times some of the older men were called out to center to step off a jig to fast music, and they sure could do it to perfection.
Bettelyoun describes the deaths of many half-breed children in fights and gun-fights, and of the suicide of a young girl who was scolded by her mother after a dance with a soldier at one of these early square dances. Life was difficult for these half-breeds. They were neither fully identified with either the whites or the more ethnocentric Sioux, whom often committed acts of aggression upon them, even though it appears that the mix-bloods would refrain from perpetrating violence on the Indians. It is evident that they had formed, among a small network of ranching/trading half-breed families, a kind of ethnocultural creole microcosm that combined elements of both white and Indian cultures.
A very important document was a petition to the U. S. Congress by the heads of households of the North Platte River valley area, signed at Fort Laramie and dated November 16th, 1867. It reads:
To the Congress of the United States & to the Hon. Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Washington D. C.
The undersigned petitioners respectfully represent that they are residents of Dakota Territory in the vicinity of Fort Laramie and are each and all heads or members of Indian families, that they have resided in the said Country many years, and came to it originally under the auspices of the old Northwestern Fur Company and for many years depended solely upon said Company for support, that after this Company ceased to do business they, the undersigned, obtained their subsistence by accommodating the Overland trail to the mining regions West, That said families and their half-breed children now number on the Platte and Missouri Rivers more than Two thousand (2000) souls, That the construction of the Rail Road across the Plains has so changed business and travel that all ostensible means of support along the North Platte are destroyed, that they are anxious to locate with their families upon some good agricultural land in the Indian Country and commence farming, and that their settlement in any country would draw about them their Indian Relatives & friends and would aid much in locating & civilizing the Indians. They therefore respectfully petition that a tract of country be set apart to be occupied by themselves, their Indian relatives & friends exclusively & forever located on the Missouri & White Earth Rivers described as follows Viz: Commencing in the middle of the main channel thereof to the junction of the North & South Forks of said River thence due South to the Northern line of the State of Nebraska thence along said line to the Missouri River thence up said Missouri River along the line of low water mark to the place of beginning. And that provision be made by law for them to enter said land or such portions of the same as they may desire in severalty for themselves and their heirs forever And that each of said petitioners and said half-breeds be allowed to enter three hundred and twenty acres of the same for a permanent home for themselves and their heirs. All rights vested under Indian treaties heretofore made in said country may be reserved and your petitioners will ever pray.
Fort Laramie, D. T.
November 16" 1867
This petition bears the names of about 161, including G. P. Beauvais, James Bordeau, Charles Lajeunesse, Andrew Dripps and James Robinson. It was also, most notably, bears the name of one Selicour Robidoux. By this time, Antoine Robidoux's name no longer appears, suggesting that perhaps he was the blacksmith killed by a mule's kick to the head prior to this date. Selicour Robidoux may not have actually signed this document, as it was all written in the same hand, but it does provide evidence of his presence in this region at the time.
Of about 161 names, about 90 appear to be French in origin (56 %) while 71 (44%) appear to be Anglo-Saxon. If it is estimated that there was about 150 households encompassed within this sphere, and the half-breed population was about 2000, then average household size would be on the order of 12 or 13 persons per household. If nothing else, the average household size must have been fairly large--approximating family size of French families in Quebec. This also suggests that the rate of infant mortality in this area at this time was probably also fairly high--perhaps on the order of 25 or 30 percent. It appears also that many of the creole residents were actually of Canadian origin, having come down onto the Plains as early fur-traders with the Northwestern Company, and these traders became meshed with those traders from the American fur company.
In addition to Beauvais this document also bore the signatures of James Bordeaux, Sefroy Iott, and Joseph Bissonette. Twenty more names followed, but thee did not appear to be actual signatures. Attached also were several additional sheets containing well over a hundred names (all in the same handwriting) of whites and mixed bloods among the Sioux on the Platte and Missouri Rivers. These supplementary sheets were obviously an attempt to provide an indication of the number of the mixed-blooded families involved, since some of the individuals named were known to have been deceased.
In 1868, the Fort Laramie Treaty, largely taking its cue from the foregoing petition, was signed which created the Great Sioux Reservation and "firmly established the agency system with rations, annuities, agents, and all the other trappings as an integral part of Sioux life, but it also gave the squawmen and their offspring the basis for the legal status as tribal members they now enjoy." (Anderson, 1973: 245) The motivating factor behind this treaty was to solve the hostilities which were increasing, and to remove the Sioux from the pathway of the Union Pacific Railroad that was being planned. It was hoped that the Sioux bands would follow and gravitate about the Metis families who could be more easily induced to resettle at the newly created agencies. The Sioux were thus removed to the Missouri.
George Beauvais, mentioned in reference to the battle of Horse Creek above, was also affiliated with the Robidoux family in this region, and it is through the Beauvais that more light might be shed on the Robidoux's of the Platte. According to Cecil Kingery, who sent a letter to the Superintendant of Scotts Bluff National Monument in 1949 and was a descendant of both the Beauvais and the Robidoux's, brothers Francois, Michel and Pierre-Isadore Robidoux operated a road ranch near Julesburg, in the Northeastern corner of Colorado. Julesburg, was a small township that formed at the end of the Western Pacific Railroad line in 1867, and was at the crossing of a southern branch of the Overland trail at the confluence of Lodge Pole Creek with the South Platte River, just up river from the South Platte River Crossing at Beauvais' trading post--the site of what was known as the California Crossing. At this crossing, the Overland trail split into two branches--the right hand branch leading due north to Ash Hollow, and then along the South Bank of the North Platte, while the left hand branch continued down the South Bank of the South Platte, crossing at the Robidoux Ranch site near Julesberg, and following Lodge-Pole Creek just below Fort Sedgewick, from which it cross Lodge Pole Creek and head northwest until rejoining the right branch near Chimney Rock. This alternate branch of the trail was opened in 1857 when Lieutenant Bryon of the U. S. topographical engineers explored up the creek. Until 1861, most of the Overland traffic and freight still used the Old California Crossing at the Beauvais Ranch.
Andrew Carpenter wrote a letter published in the Omaha World Herald on July 13, 1930 entitled "The Oregon Trail"
"Rock Springs, Wyo. July 9. To the Editor of the World Herald.
The Oregon Trail was on the South side of the Platte River from North Platte to Old Julesburg, then it kept on the south side of Pole Creek until it reached about four miles east of Sidney, then it went Northwest and crossed Punkin Creek on the east side of Court Hourse rock, then North to the North Platte River and kept on the south side of the river until it reached Fort Laramie.
Even the Mormons went that way to Salt Lake, but in 1854 and 1855 a few crossed the South Platte about three miles east of where the city of Big Springs is now then went on the North side of that river until they made a junction at Fort Laramie, but after a few trains went that way they found the said so bad that hundreds of horses died, as the roads were so bad, and in 1856 no Mormons went that way but kept on the Old Oregon Trail.
A big camping ground was just South of Lodge Pole station on the Union Pacific railroad and it was between two creeks. One was known as Pole "Lodge Pole" Creek and the other was a large spring and a man named Coulter had a small ranch there. The ranch was about three fourths of a mile south of the depot and the trail was over 400 feet wide and was on the south side of the Spring.
The ranch four miles east of Sidney was run by a Frenchman named Louie, who run a very rough joint, and it is claimed that there were many people killed there.
I worked mule skinning for a man named George Jackson who hired me in Nebraska City, and made two trips to Montana with him, then during the building of the Union Pacific railroad I drove team for Jim Holiday, who was working for the government, and then got a job with the government at Fort Sedgwick driving mules, and came to Sidney station on the Union Pacific where two troops of United States cavalry were stationed on a high hill, which was called Fort Lookout, for you could see up and down the Pole "Lodge Pole" Creek valley for miles. this was in 1867 or the spring of 1868.
According to Kingery, Pierre Isadore also had 'several families among the Sioux and other tribes."
According to Kingery, though Michel, Francois and Pierre Isadore all had an interest at the Scott's Bluff site, they were not the progenitors of the line there. "It seems possible to me that the Indian genealogy is correct in Sellico, and that he was a son of Joseph E. who died in 1888." According to Kingery, their own branch of the Robidoux family had no connection to the Indian Robidoux at Scott's Bluff.
I have heard of the trading post at Scotts Bluff but my grandmother always said they were no relation to their Robidoux (Possibly because of the Indian connections.) It seems that in the later 80's or early 90's a boy claiming to be a descendant of the Scotts Bluff Robidoux was in their vicinity as a jockey racing horses, and he came to my grandmother claiming to also be a relative to the St. Joseph Robidoux, but afterwards my grandmother disclaiming any relationship. They called this Boy Pete Robidoux.
It is evident that the Robidoux brothers Francois, Michel and Pierre Isidore, and their children, all had an active interest in the Region of the south bank of the North Platte, along the routes of the Overland Trail, as far as St. Joseph.
The Beauvais had come from Kaskaskia. G. P. Beauvais was born in 1815, and married one Mary Louise Montardy in 1832.
He entered the Indian fur trade in the later 30's and in the early 40's establishing trading posts on the South Platte and Republican Rivers in Nebraska, wherever the business seemed most profitable. He operated one post nears Julesburg, Colorado, (Old California Crossing, 3 miles West of the present town of Brule, Neb.) Also one in the Northern part of the Hitchcock County, Nebraska, and one a short distance Southwest of the present town of North Platte, Neb. and one for a short time near the present town of Kearney, Neb.
Family tradition has it that in order to carry on a successful Indian trade it was necessary to have or support a family taken from each tribe in which they did business with and at one time it is said he was keeping as high as 17 Indian families.
The following stories have been handed down through the family.
A young Indian around 18 years old and one of the men on the Wagon train Stoping over for provisions got into an argument over something or other and proceeded to fight it out during which fight the white man was killed. Mr. Beauvais took custody of the Indian and in a short time Chief Spotted tail came to the post and requested he take charge of the Indian for punishment for the crime which he had committed. He was tied to a post before witnesses at Old California Crossing and they proceeded to whip him until no life was longer left in the body.
Another story is that G. P. Beauvais took his son Edward C. Beauvais to Spotted tails camp who was chief of the Brule Sioux tribe so that he might better learn th customs of the Indians the better to fit him for the Indian trade. Spotted tail insisted they stay for dinner which they did and while they were talking the squaws prepared the meal which was before them. They all partook of the food and G. P. asked his son how he liked the meal which he informed him he never tasted anything better. Before they had finished their meal one of the squaws took a sharp stick and sticking same hard into the kettle pulled out a dog, it is said that while he was skinned his tail, head and legs were still intact so such an extent there could be no doubt about what it was.
Mr. Beauvais had in his employ several Frenchmen, who made regular trips with mules from St. Joseph, Mo. to his trading post. That on one of these trips, hostile Indians attacked the wagon train and burned all the wagons, taking around 100 mules and horses as well as all the supplies, as a small boy I remember well the family talking of this and of how the Government would not pay the loss for which they held government insurance. For some reason G. P.. Beauvais apparently never tired very hard to collect this insurance...
G. P. Beauvais died in 1878 in St. Louis. His son, Edward Beauvais, married the grand-daughter of Pierre Isidore Robidoux, Mary Julia Robidoux, who was born in 1844, the daughter of Franklin Robidoux and Mary Bailey--whose marriage was the first wedding solemnized in St. Joseph in 1843. Edward and Mary Julia resided at the Beauvais ranch at the California Crossing. It is evident that the family of Beauvais and Robidoux were allied in marriage as well as in trade upon the plains of Nebraska. Sylvanie Robidoux, a daughter of Joseph IV, married one Francis August Beauvais, either a brother or a cousin of G. P. Beauvais. The following account was taken from Morton's History of Nebraska, Vol. 2: page 584:
Geminian Pierre (James Peter) Beauvais, commonly known as Jim Beauvais was a pioneer Indian trader on the Nebraska plains. He was born in Ste Genevieve, Mo. on December 6, 1815. He was graduated from the Jesuit college and studied theology with the intention of enter in the priesthood, but left college and engaged in teaching school. He married one of his pupils, Marie Louise Montardie. His wife died two years later, leaving one sone, Edward Colliste Beauvais. Mr. Beauvais then entered the employ of the American Fur Co. to trade with the Indians. In 1849 he located at the Old California Crossing on the South Platte, where he built up an immense trade with the native red men. The Indians would never molest him or any of his property on his own premises, but his wagon trains were never safe when on the road. There is now (1906) pending in the Court of claims at Washington a claim filed by G. P. Beauvais, amounting to $40,000. for loss of property caused by Indian depredations. He always had trains of wagons on the road, 15 or 20 at a time, each capable of hauling 3000 or 4000 pounds, and drawn by 10 or 15 yoke of oxen. His freighting operations were principally from St. Joseph, Mo., and Atchison, Kan. and he employed from 30 to 40 men. He would load his trains at the river with provisions, blankets and other goods for the Indian trade, and on the return trip they would be loaded with buffalo robes and other furs. At time he would have on hand 40,000 or 50,000 robes which he had bought from the Indians at a cost of $1.00 or $2.00 each. These were sold in New York City from $10.000 to $15.000 each. Mr. Beauvais also had a large trading post at Ft. Laramie called the Lone Star Ranch. The one on the South Platte at the California Crossing was called the Star Ranch; his son Edward C. Beauvais, always managed the latter. Sometime in the 50ties he married Miss Adrain Lee, by whom he had five children, three of whom are living in St. Louis. Mrs. Placide M. Tinsley, Frederick J. Beauvais and Reno B. Beauvais. Edward Colliste Beauvais, born April 1, 1837, was educated at the Christian Brothers academy in St. Louis, and migrated west in 1858 to take charge of his father's ranch at the old California crossing. He was married in 1862 to Mary J. Robideaux, a granddaughter of Joseph Robideaux the founder of St. Joseph Mo. In 1872 he moved to Stockville, Frontier County, Neb. and engaged in cattle raising. He died there in 1901, leaving a widow and six children, Edward C. Beauvais, Jr., train dispatcher, Cripple Creek Colorado, Stella Louise, Now Mrs.. J. A. Williams, Stockville, Neb. Mrs Marie Kingery, Phillipsburg, Kans. Mrs. Helen Hanson, Stockville, Neb., Bertha Now Mrs. Oscar Craig, Stockville, Nebr. and Josephine Beauvais, Phillipsburg, Kan. The widow, Mrs. Mary J. Beauvais, now resides in Stockville, Nebr.
This ranch was the oldest and best known of the ranches on the South Platte, and was the principle point of crossing on the Overland trail:
The immense travel to Denver and other points in Colorado, as well as the vast immigration that had set in for the great Northwest, was the opportunity for this pioneer trader of the South Platte to amass a considerable fortune. His building as originally put up was a square, hewn-log structure, but in the early '60's it had been considerably enlarged, to meet the increasing demands of his trade. In it was a large stock of buffalo robes, elk and antelope skins, furs and such other goods as he could get by trading coffee, sugar, blankets, tobacco, beads, trinkets, etc., with the various tribes of Indians that roamed up and down the Platte and occupied the gulches and canons some distance away from the river. His was one of the most prominent trading posts in the Platte Valley, and in it he kept one of the best stocks to be found along the overland route. He was well equipped for trading with the Indians, as well as for supplying the needs of parties on the plains. (Overland State to California: Root & Connelley: 262)
While it is apparent that the Beauvais-Robidoux line is not directly connected to the Indian Robidouxs of Scott's Bluffs, it does demonstrate clearly the Robidoux's nexus of involvement in this region at a fairly early date. It is apparent that Francois Robidoux was probably the progenitor of the Sioux Robidoux who were found at Scott's Bluffs, and that Sellico was his son, whose exact date of birth is unknown, but was presumably sometime after 1867.
The relocation of the Sioux to the Missouri area under the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 proved to be a failure for everyone except the many half-breed families who benefited from it by their receiving bounty-land, annuities, live-stock.
Aside from the benefits provided by the treaty--rations, annuities, and services in quantity far exceeding anything previously experienced--there were additional economic advantages for the enterprising individual.
Opportunities for economic betterment were greatly increased through the operation of the agency itself, where the positions of interpreter, farmer, butcher, machinist, and laborer were frequently filled from within the ranks of the incorporated whites or mixed bloods. Rations had to be transported regularly from Whetstone Agency to Spotted Tail's large camp at the forks of the White River every five to seven days. Trading stores--there were at least two of them at Whetstone, one run by the Bordeaux and the other by John W. Smith--also provided an opportunity for employment. While most of the whites and mixed bloods lived either at the agency in a village-like cluster of log cabins or in teepees at the Sioux camps, Jim Bordeaux with some of his old associates moved off the reservation to the east bank of the Missouri and established another large store and road ranch with both Indians and white travelers for customers. (Anderson, 1973: 253)
Louis Robidoux, the son of Sellico, and grandson of Francois, is mentioned again later in connection with his involvement on the Rosebud agency, which was established in 1878 to induce the settlement of Spotted Tails camp. Spotted Tail's Brule Sioux were relocated to six different agencies over a period of 10 years. Metis, like the Robidoux's, who were want to build log cabins, had to pick up the pieces and rebuild every couple of years. Spotted Tail had refused to locate his band nearer to the Whetstone Agency in 1869-70, because of the disruptive and destructive effects of alcohol obtained across the Missouri River at Harney City.
Nelson, in his book Fifty Years on the Trail, boasts openly and in great detail of the chaos and bloodshed that he and his associates created among the Indians in 1869 and 1870. The techniques were little changed from the old fur trade days. If the reservation Indians had fewer robes and skins to barter, they possessed a greater supply of rations, white man's clothing, and other annuity goods for which there was a ready market among the nearby pioneer white settlers in eastern Dakota and northern Nebraska. As Nelson remarked at one point, "Indians will sell anything for Whiskey." Nelson was a typical example of the less desirable element among the squawmen and half-breeds, which has helped to give the entire class a poor reputation at the expense of their more numerous brethren who were reasonably hard working and industrious and possessed some interest in supporting and educating their Indian families. (Anderson, 254-5)
The Metis affiliated with Spotted Tails camp, including the Sioux Robidoux, came through this period of continual relocation with mixed blessings, as it in part enabled them to secure handsome transportation contracts with the government "and even when these were obtained by nonagency residents, much of the work was often subcontracted to those local whites and mixed bloods who possessed wagons and teams." (Anderson, 255) But the government was often very slow to pay these lucrative contracts.
Whites at the agency consistently bid on and received contracts for such basic services as supplying hay, wood, and charcoal; and herding and butchering cattle. Small freighting enterprises were another source of steady business activity, although in time of Indian troubles, this sometimes proved a risky activity. In September 1876 Peter Decory, an old fur trader with a Brule family, lost thirteen of his mules to an Indian raiding party while freighting supplies for the military at Camp Sheridan. He filed affidavits stating that he had recently purchased the animals at a cost of almost twenty-five hundred dollars, which is in itself a sign of affluence. There also seems to have been a small, but steady, continuation of the Indian trade in addition to the operations of the licensed agency traders who were usually outside parties with Washington influence. On one occasion, John H. Pratt, the trader, complained to the commissioner of Indian Affairs that two Frenchmen married into the tribe, Frank Boucher and Joseph Bissonette, were doing business in the Brule camps without a license, apparently with enough success to cause Pratt to complain about their activities. (265)
A common pattern of the early reservation period of the 1870's and 1880's was frequently abrasive relations between the Indian traders, their half-breed children, and the Indian agents. The incidents demonstrated a fundamental lack of mutual trust between the half-breeds, many who themselves were prone to drunkenness and to be swayed by the interests of outsiders, and the agents who frequently put their own self-interest before the interests of either the half-breeds or the Indians. It also arose from the fact that, without Indian police, the agent could not enforce his authority among the Indians. The Military was ever reluctant to intervene in the internal affairs of the reservation. An obnoxious element of the half-breed population were prone to gambling, drinking and to scheming, but affidavits for their eviction from the reservation led them to protest violation of their treaty rights. Crimes on the reservation, even murders, could not be adequately tried by the military or by the civilian courts, as neither claimed the Indian reservations to be within their jurisdiction.
An understanding of these difficulties between agent and the squawman-mixed-blooded element during the 1870's and 1880's is frequently made difficult by two widely held, but misleading, characterizations of the antagonists. First, it's believed that the whites and mixed bloods were all lazy and shiftless, interested primarily in exploiting their relationship with the Indians and creating difficulty for local authorities just for the pleasure of devilment; and second, all Indian agents are believed to have been basically dishonest, concerned only in lining their own pockets at the expense of the Indians and the federal treasury, and that they performed their duties as local representatives of an often talked about, but infrequently identified, "Indian Ring." Of course neither picture is accurate, but there were just enough crooked agents and trouble-making squawmen to obscure the issue.
Numerous significant changes affected the Brule Sioux for a decade after their relocation onto the Rosebud in 1878--largely the consequence of the relative peace and stability the community enjoyed there until the land agreement of 1889. It came at the end of the Sioux Indian wars of 1876-1877.
The whites and mixed bloods were now able to select places of residence with some degree of certainty that they would not have to pack up and move to a new location in a year or two. Stock raising had its beginning in this era, as did limited agricultural enterprises. Freighting continued to bring money into the pockets of those owning wagons and teams, as all supplies were shipped overland to the agency from Rosebud Landing on the Missouri. (266)
At the same time, according to Anderson, many mixed bloods lost their privileged positions as middlemen in the opening of the reservation to a larger economic system--outsiders, under the umbrella of political connections, secured lucrative contracts and positions in the servicing of the reservation that was previously the exclusive domain of the metis. The cessation of the traditional warfare pattern led to an internalization of violence on the reservation, which pattern often targeted the white and half-breed residents. The Rosebud reservation still lacked any kind of effective judicial system, largely due to the indecisiveness of the Indian agent and the lack of agreement among the chiefs.
If the mixed bloods were regarded as inferior in social and political standing at the agency in the late 1870's, this attitude underwent a marked change by the end of the next decade. The mixed bloods began to acquire additional influence in the affairs of the tribe at the expense of both the full bloods and their fur trade fathers. The several attempts that were made during the 1880's to open the Great Sioux Reservation to settlement were generally received with sympathy by the younger whites and mixed bloods among the tribe. Although they could not tolerate some of the near thievery that was proposed by the government commission of 1884, these groups did actively support passage of the 1889 land agreement when it finally provided the Sioux with a fair price for the lands to be ceded. (267)
This land agreement led to a schism of the Rosebud community between the "nonprogressive" older chiefs and their pure-blood contingents, and the younger leaders and half-bloods. The bill granted 320 acres per member of the reservation, with smaller amounts for children. Change had beset the community, and its pace had usurped the traditional authority of the tribal elders.
This open rebellion by the younger whites and mixed bloods against the authority of the chiefs would not have been successful, or even tolerated, a decade before; but under the encouragement of General George Crook, a member of the commission, the opposition of the older element was overcome and the land agreement approved by 98 percent of the Brules eligible to vote on the matter. Although it is difficult to follow the trend down to the present day, this seems to have been the beginning of the development of the mixed-blood population as a major influence in the political life of the Rosebud Sioux. (Anderson, 269)
According to Anderson, the incorporated metis community on the Rosebud became a "progressive" force of mediating and promoting change upon the reservation--often through personal motivations and private interests--"where they saw these negotiations as a means for self-improvement as well as an inevitable encroachment of the whites upon the Sioux way of life that could not be successfully resisted." (269) The Meti's repeatedly seized the initiative in the development of their interests and those of the community--they did not accept the syndrome of government dependency that the reservation system created. Though there were elements among the metis who frequently violated laws in gambling, selling liquor and firearms, and in promotion of their own interests against reservation policies, these were always a minority. The metis community provided leadership for the other Indians--their pure-blood Sioux relatives frequently emulated them.
It was the example of this class, far more than government policy or limited educational instruction, that taught the Indians how to carry on such essential aspects of white civilization as working for a living through freighting, farming, and stock raising; living in houses; the use of eating and cooking utensils, tools, and equipment; and the value of even a limited amount of schooling for the children. (ibid., 269)
It was through education that the metis men could serve the valuable function of interpreter, mediator and culture-broker in the potentially conflictual and asymmetrical relations between the Government and the Indians, and more generally, between the dominant and often exploitative white world, and the enclosed, colonized Indian reservation. "Young men, such as Louis Bordeaux, Charley Tackett, or Louis Robideaux on the Rosebud, for whom the Sioux language was their mother tongue and who benefited from the efforts of their fathers to give them the advantages of some formal schooling, finally made it possible for the Indians to know accurately and in detail what was going to happen to them under government policy changes, and for the agent to communicate intelligently on the attitudes of his Indians to the commissioner in Washington." (ibid. 270)
It is apparent that Louis Roubideaux became the most conspicuous of the Sioux Roubideaux during this period, as he is the most mentioned. He ran a small trading post from his log cabin which he must have built upon the Rosebud in the late 1870's after his first arrival there. It is largely through the photographs of John Anderson, published in the collection The Sioux of the Rosebud: A History in Pictures, that we know so well Louis Roubideaux. Analysis of the internal evidence of the photographs as published in this work reveal the presence of Louis in the background of many pictures, previously unidentified before.
He is found in the photograph on page 77 which shows him in a white hand and vest translating for Chief White Bear urging his people to accept the Land agreement offered by the U.S. Government. It is apparent that Louis Roubideaux played a central role in getting the Chiefs and people to accept the land agreement. The Crook Treaty Council, held a year later, on May 4, 1889, was held directly in front of the Louis Roubideaux cabin, as shown in the pictures on pages 78-9. The area his temporarily fenced off and surrounded by Indians with their many wagons, a conspicuous feature in many of the photographs.
His cabin was located directly above Rosebud creek, next door to the clapboard William Courts home with a white picket fence and the trading store later owned by Charles Jordan, and directly across from the old church where a hospital was later built. Across Rosebud Creek, the freight road to Valentine led up over the hills. The front of his house appears again on page 80, as the scene for the council held in 1892 to sell Tripp and Gregory counties for homestead development. His house was the scene of many Indian celebrations in subsequent photos. His important in affairs on the reservation his shown by his presence in most of the photos dealing with delegations of government representatives, as for instance the photo on page 89 showing him in the buggy along side the Indian Commissioner D. M. Browning in 1894.
His house appears in a photo on page 112, showing two small tipis in front and six Indian woman and two children in front. Jerked meet is hanging on a line along the side of the house. Internal evidence, such as the number of logs, the design of the roof, the placement and style of windows and doors, suggests strongly that this was his log cabin as it was first built, and probably before subsequent building occurred on neighboring homes. Subsequent photos show that Louis Roubideaux afterward renovated this house by reroofing it, and by putting a porch with awning on the front, and by the addition of another pot-bellied stove in the larger of the two rooms. He may also have built a small store--room or trading store off to the other side of the house, also equipped with a stove. A wagon with a barrel is parked in front of the house. Women appear to be cooking and tending to hides or sewing in the foreground. This log-cabin style home is different from the subsequent clap-board and milled lumber houses built nearby, suggesting that it was one of the original buildings of the area, built of timber that was taken from the immediate vicinity of Rosebud creek when it was first settled. When he settled at Rosebud, Louis soon became the captain of the Indian police which was originally formed sometime after 1878:
The Indian police force at Rosebud was authorized in 1878. The men preserved order, arrested offenders, guarded the issuing of rations, protected government property, and returned truant children to school. They escorted the annuity payments from the railroad at Valentine to the agency, frequently as an honor guard to welcome important visitors to the reservation.
Louis Roubideaux, the official United States interpreter, was at one time captain of the Indian police. Unable to teach the men to drill, he finally strode out in front of them and commanded, "Do just as I do." He had a habit of licking his prominent red mustache, and when he did so, the Indians obeyed him to a man, sticking out their tongues and licking their imaginary mustaches. It made him furious. (81)
Policemen earned 10 to 15 dollars a month, and were given uniforms, extra food rations, and a log house. Later, it is apparent, that William Courtis built his home next to Louis, and then the larger house became the central trading post for the Charles Jordan's second trading post, after his first one burned down in 1892. Charles Jordan, cousin of George A. Custer, was the licensed Indian trader for the Rosebud when John Anderson came to work for him in 1891. Jordan married an Oglala woman and had a family at the post. John Anderson had a small clapboard house built next to Jordan's Trading post soon after his arrival in 1892. The interior of the Jordan trading post is shown on page 119, plate 81, during a blizzard. The large stove in the center is probably typical of the stoves used in most of the buildings.
This second post proximate to the Louis Roubideaux cabin was later enlarged with a two story brick edifice to the front of the original structure in the late 1890's, as shown in plate 82 on page 122. The interior is shown again on the following plate 83, vastly expanded in size and volume of merchandise from the small one room store in the previous photo. Improvements to the area around Louis Roubideaux's little cabin appear to have been continuous throughout the 1890's and 1900's. By the time of the photo in plate 84, page 124, dated 1912 the store has a little one storey brick side edition. Trees have grown large in Anderson's front yard. It looks almost like a small town.
Buffalo Bill Cody contracted Charles Jordan in about 1890 to recruit local Indians for his famous "Wild West Show," and by 1895, "Jordan was taking his own Indian shows on the road. The photo in plate 92, dated 1890, showing the troupe of Indians preparing for their departure to the East for the show, with tipi poles and canvas strapped to them in the fore-ground, was taken in front of the Anderson home, proximate to the Louis Roubideaux cabin. Plate 96 shows the photo of the Indians which Charles Jordan selected for the Zoological Garden Exposition in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1897, in front of his store.
The position of the Roubideaux cabin appears to have been a little off center to the stockade of the Rosebud agency, at several hundred yards distance. Domestic issue was given out at the front of this stockade, as shown by the photo on page 113. "The domestic issue consisted of such staples as salt bacon, green coffee, sugar, navy beans, rice, hardtack, flour, baking powder, and yellow laundry soap." (113).
Louis Roubideaux appears with a full head of light, strait hair and a mustache, with his hat off, in a picture in plate 97, pages 142-3, at a flag-raising ceremony for the Rosebud day school. He apparently acted as the interpreter of this occasion, and his children may well have been among the group of kids on the right side of the photo.
Louis Roubideaux's cabin appears to have been the site for the Omaha Dance, or Grass Dance celebrations on June 2nd, 1889 in plates 114 to 120, from pages 167 to 173. The corner of the cabin with its awning is shown in the side of the photos on pages 167 and 168. Louis Roubideaux may well be the individual seated in the foreground with his back to the camera, wearing a white hand and an overcoat--though it is impossible to be sure. American flags are conspicuous in the dances. The hills in the background reveal the same landscape as on previous photographs in plates 45-6 which show his cabin.
"In the Omaha Dance, or Grass Dance, a bunch of grass representing the scalps taken was sometimes fastened to the belt. When the Sioux learned this dance from the Omahas, they were unaware of the significance of the bunch of grass and called it the Grass Dance rather than the Scalp Dance." In a scalp dance, celebration was held by the returning war party to entreat or appease the gods after a successful raid. The dancers all danced in their own way, describing their actions in the battle. This was also called the War Dance.
The Squaw dance photographed on June 2nd, 1889 (plates 111-2, pages 164-5) are taken directly in front of the Roubideaux cabin, with the one on page 165 possibly even taken from the roof of their cabin. The previous picture on page 164 appears to have been taken in the direction from the front of the cabin towards the hills, and away from the direction of Rosebud Creek. Louis Roubideaux may well be the man in the white hat and dark vest in the bottom right hand corner of this picture, probably walking in front of his cabin during the performance of the dance. That this may have been taken with a wide angle lens from the roof of his cabin is shown by the edge of the roof in the very right hand corner of the picture
Louis Roubideaux appears again in the foreground of the plate 110, page 162-3, sitting facing one quarter profile to the camera. He is dressed in a dark vest, with a long sleeve calico shirt and a hat with a band. Next to him is a young Indian girl, possibly one of his daughters, and two other white girls.
He also appears in plate 129 on page 186, on the far right, translating for chiefs Bear Head, Two Strike, Scoop, Stranger Horse, He Dog and Swift Bear. "Dr. Hardin remarks in his dairy, 'Roubideau would be interpreter for God or the Greater Father at Judgment." They are standing in front of the brush arbor and the flagpole, revealing this to have probably been a part of the Sioux Fall celebration. Louis Roubideaux is holding a long thin stick in his hand, and is wearing a dark shirt with a light vest and a tan or brown hat. The vest is very decorated with what appear to be needlework. On the other hand, this may be the July 4th Celebration held in 1897, as Louis Roubideaux appears in plate 133, page 192, dressed in exactly the same clothes, with stripped grey slacks and a fancy vest of animal hide with embroidered or painted decorations. Though he is standing with his back to the camera, it is most likely him because he is holding the same long stick in his hand as appears in the previous mentioned plate. The grass arbor again appears in the background. He is standing amidst a group of squatting Indians while a white man is reading the declaration of Independence.
The roof of his house appears again in the right edge of the following plate on page 193, showing the gathering for the Fourth of July parade, 1897 in front of his cabin. Numerous horse drawn wagons are parked in front. The picket fence of the Courtis house on the right shows the angle from which it was taken, and reveals the hills in the opposite direction of the Creek behind the Roubideaux Cabin. People are standing on the roof of his house, and the two flags seen in the dance celebrations are flying in the front foreground of his cabin.
Louis Roubideau may well be the man astride the horse in the vanguard of the Fourth of July Parade in 1897 (plate 135, page 194). He is the sixth man from the right of the photo, and appears dressed in the same garb as in the previous pictures. The procession of the parade are shown in the following plates 136 through 141. Plates 140-1 show a mock Indian attack on the stockade, which took place in front of the Roubideaux cabin. The photos in plate 143 (page 201) showing drummers and dancers in about 1900, is probably in front of the Roubideaux Cabin, as suggested by the hill line in the background. Some of the children lined in front in costume appear to have light hair.
Katie Roubideaux, Louis's daughter, is shown in a portrait picture in 1898 in a beaded dress with quill work, leggings and moccasins. She is standing on a saddle blanket, on top of a buffalo robe, in front of a hide tipi. She is holding a faceless Indian doll also dressed in a fancy costume. She is given as eight years old in this picture. Later she married Blue Thunder, and was still living at the time the Anderson's book was published.
A list taken in 1886-7 of the Rosebud, in relation to the distribution of supplies, one that was signed by Louis Roubideau's as an interpreter, gives a profile of the Roubideaux who were present on the Reservation at that time. Though the ink looks like it ran with water damage, the names of several Roubideaux can be clearly read--these appear to be heads of household. No age or date is given. There occur the names of Charles Roubideau, Conrad Roubideau, and Mary Roubideau, who were presumably the siblings and possibly the mother of Louis Roubideau. The names of the allotments of bounty land can be found for Charles Roubideau and Mary Roubideau on the map of Indian allotments on the Rosebud of 1903.
Louis Roubideau signed an affidavit to this list on the 3rd day of May, 1888, attesting to the signature given above, and giving a bit of the biographical history of his role as interpreter on the Rosebud:
I do solemnly swear that I explained the ? the foregoing affidavit to the Indians inscribed from In ? and that they fully understood the same before signing, and that I witnessed all the distrib. of supplies made by U. S. Indian Agent L. F. Spencer during the 4th Quarter 1886 and 1st and 2nd Qtr's. 1887 and that the same were made to the heads of families and based upon the number of persons represented on the ticket held by each head of a family.
That I have been Interpreter or Acting Interpreter at this Agency for about ten years, and that during late years and prior to and since Agent L. F. Spencer assumed charge, supplies have always been issued to the heads of families, while only the Chiefs and his men signed the receipt ?
(signed) Louis Roubideaux
Watchman Acting Interpreter
Sworn and subscribed before me this 3rd day of May 18888
W. ? ? U. S. Commissioner.
It can be assumed that these were the children who were born at Scott's Bluff in the late 1840's and early 1850's. Louis Roubideau is genealogical files as having been born in 1852. Which is after the baptismal date of Sept. 1851 given by Father Pierre Jean deSmet who visited "Fort Robidoux" on his return from the Horse Creek Treaty council. During the 1840's, several Roubideaux descendants visited Scott's Bluff national monument and were separately interviewed by Merril Mattes. Two of these informants claimed that their grandfather's name was one Sylvestre Robidoux, and two others identified the patriarch as one Joseph.
According to John's basic story, Grandfather "Roubideaux" was born at St. Joseph, and left there while quite young and drifted to the Platte Valley region. He got a job herding Indian ponies for a chief of the Brule band of Sioux and married an Otoe girl who had been captured somewhere in Kansas. After serving with the emigrants as a guide, he set up a shop at the strategic pass at Scotts Bluff, as we have seen. His wife's relatives located close by, as was the custom. There were three children--Louise, who died in infancy, Louis (1850-c. 1930), and Charles (1854-1930). Louis and Charles each had large families, "Roubideaux" now being a common name in the Pine Ridge country. John, Delphine and Joseph Earl are children of Charles. Louis and Charles were baptized by Father De Smet, according to family tradition, thus verifying the historic account of 1851. What happened to grandfather? The story is that one day he was found dead in his shop, having been kicked in the stomach by a mule which was getting shod. This happened "around 1860." The assumption has always been that he yet lies buried in Robidoux Pass, though no gave has been identified.
Delphine subsequently identified the grandmother as Mary Eagle Bull. She understood that the grandfather was killed about 1859. Joseph Earl averred that he arrived at the pass in the 1840's, and confirmed the manner of his death, "when Father Charles was about six years old." However, he did not understand that Mary Eagle Bull was an Otoe. When married she was a widow of a warrior named Eagle bull, one of big Mouth's band, the same Big Mouth who was killed by Spotted Tail in order to become chief of the Brules. Concerning Grandfather "Sylvestre," whose nickname was "Slick," he never heard of him being associated with Fort Laramie. (However, Father Charles, a witness at the Battle of Horse Creek in 1865, was for many years a scout at Fort laramie, and was the interpreter present at the time Crazy Horse was bayoneted to death at Fort Robinson. He also put in time as a blacksmith.) Horse trading was the prime business conducted by "Sylvestre" in later years. Young Richard, representing the third generation removed from Robidoux Pass, largely confirmed the outlines of the story. (Mattes, 1949: 135-6)
A very conjectural and sketchy genealogical reconstruction of the known Sioux Roubideaux descendants is provided in the diagram below. It must be remembered that there were more descendants than are provided here, and that this genealogical reconstruction carries the Robidoux lineage through to the 10 generation, from which there have been at least two or more successive generations which have not be documented.
Louis Roubideaux's name appears as an interpreter and witness on a report in 1891. It reads:
State of South Dakota
County of ?
Henry Pratt, being duly sworn according to law, deposes and says:
That he is employed as a scout at Fort Niobara Neb. and stationed at rosebud Agency, So. Dak. That on or about the 29th of January, 1891, he went from the Agency to the Post to report that he remained at Fort Niobara about one week. That one day during that time when going from Valentine Neb. to Fort Nio.?, he being alone, he found a half gallon jug of whiskey, about 1 1/4 mile from the post, lying in the road. That he took the jug of whiskey to the post and while there James ?, Morris Walker and himself drank about half of the contents, and put the balance in a round quart bottle and brought with him en route home at Bear ? on the Rosebud Reservation, said bottle.
On arriving at the house of S. ? Kimball on said reservation, he met an Indian known as Spaniard who was working there and who asked him who ? who alleged he stole his whiskey.
That, at that time he had drank about half the contents of the bottle himself, and gave the bottle, with the balance of the whiskey contained therein to Spaniard, after which Spaniard and himself each took a drink out of it, and Spaniard kept the bottle with the rest of the ?, That he proceeded to the place of ? ? who he ? That after leaving Spaniard he had no liquor of any kind with him, nor any jug. that he gave no liquor to any one except the persons heretofore named.
Sworn to and subscribed before me, this 29th day of February, 1891.
Questioned and witnessed by
J. George Wright, US. Indian Agent
Louis Robideau, clerk,? Interpreter.
Little else is known about the Robidoux's of the Rosebud or Pine Ridge agencies. Personal informants told me that they attended school with some of these descendants, and that there was still a basic division between the metis and the "pure bloods." This informant also mentioned that she new of one Roubideaux family who had a ranch just off the reservation.
Evidence suggests that the role played by Louis Roubideaux on the reservation was important to the adaptation of the Sioux of the Rosebud to a new way of life. That the Sioux Roubideaus's continued to play such a role through the generations is evidenced by the fact that at the time of the publication of Anderson's The Sioux of the Rosebud, Antoine Roubedeaux was acting as the secretary of the Reservation. His wife, Clara Courtis Roubideaux, was listed in the South Dakota Historical Quarterly as a Pioneer daughter of the state during the 80'th anniversary of the state in 1969. One Sylvester Roubideaux would later be a fancy dancing champion during the 1960's in the Pow Wows, and another Ramon Roubideaux served as the principal lawyer defending the Sioux who were at the second standoff with the Federal agents at Wounded Knee.
Blanket Copyright, Hugh M. Lewis, © 2005. Use of this text governed by fair use policy--permission to make copies of this text is granted for purposes of research and non-profit instruction only.
Last Updated: 09/16/06