Paragon of the Mountain Man
by Hugh M. Lewis
Michel was born on Aug. 8 , 1798, the youngest son of Joseph II. Leroy Hafen suggests that the plain near the trading post at the Blacksnake hills, below Blacksnake Creek, known as St. Michael's Prairie, possibly named for him. This Prairie and cliffs of yellow clay were noted in the Lewis and Clark Journals on July 7, 1804.
In the morning of July 7, the rapidity of the water obliged us to draw the boat along with ropes. At six and three-quarter miles, we came to a sandbar, at the point opposite a fine rich prairie on the north, called St. Michael's. The prairies of this neighborhood have the appearance of distinct farms, divided by narrow strips of woodland, which follow the borders of the small runs leading to the river. Above this, about a mile, is a cliff of yellow clay on the North (East).
Minutes of the St. Joseph Historical Society indicate that the distance traveled by the expedition between the 4th and the 7th, estimated at 28 and three-quarters of mile, is almost the precise distance between the mouth of Independence creek, where Lewis and Clarke had camped the night of the fourth, and St. Joseph. "We also believe it was named for the patron saint of Michel Robidoux, the younger brother of Joseph Robidoux..." (Minutes of the St. Joseph Historical Society, 1956: 5)
In a brief article on Michel Robidoux by Bartlett Boder, Michel was six at the time when Lewis and Clark passed Saint Michael's prairie, and Joseph would have been 21 years old.
"It is possible that Joseph and his brothers Francois and Isadore brought the little fellow Michel along with them from the home of their father Joseph Robidoux the elder in St. Louis on one or more of their trading expeditions. In time he became a great fur trader himself and made many trips to Fort Laramee, Wyoming, founded in 1821, where the Indians of that region along the Platte river brought their pelts." (Boder, 1956:5)
Perhaps he had played in this fields as a child, as he would have been only six-years-old when Lewis and Clark happened by the post. Not much is known of his early life, but there is little doubt that he had grown up and, like his older brothers, been socialized into the intricacies of the fur and Indian trades.
The first reference to Michel is in 1824-5, in a letter of Joseph III to Peirre Chouteau, dated March 15, 1825, in which he remarks upon Michel's recent return with 30 packs of beaver pelts, which were, presumably, according to Dale Morgan, "returns of a first or second outfit to Santa Fe". This indicates that Michel had been one of the first trapping parties to successfully penetrate and return from the Southwest via the Santa Fe trail.
Meanwhile, in Santa Fe were his brothers Antoine, Francis, Louis and Pierre Isadore. Francois wrote a letter about this time to Joseph informing him of the beaver to be had in that region. Michel would have been 26- years-old, but he probably already had an intimate acquaintance with the fur trade and Indian trade east of the Rockies.
It is apparent at this time that some of the Robidou brothers had been leading expeditions between Fort Atkinson and Santa Fe in the years 1824-6. It appears that he was back in St. Louis, Mo. during the summer and fall of 1825. He married Suzanne Vaudry, the sister of Angelique Vaudry, the second wife of Joseph Robidou, in St. Louis on June 22, 1825. William Clark, then superintendent of Indian Affairs in St. Louis, had issued permits on June 29, 1825 to Michel, Isidore and Antoine Rubidoux to trade in Indian country. (Hafen, Vol. VII:184).
Later that same year, on October 18, 1825, Clark issued Michel Robidoux a one year license to trade "at the mouth of Kanzas River, Grand Loup and Republic Panca Villages, and Bellevue". (Hafen, Vol. VIII: 300). His stated capital was $2,450.26. He must have soon afterward left for Santa Fe. His travel there is unstated, though he appears as a foreigner without a passport in the later part of 1825 or ealy 1826.
He traveled to Taos in late 1825 or early 1826. In December of 1825 and Spring of 1826, at 28 years of age, he was apparently leading a trapping expedition of "thirty or more" trappers in affiliation with Sylvester Pratt to the southwest along the Gila river, reaching as far as present day Phoenix, Arizona, and was among the first North Americans to glimpse and navigate the Grand Canyon since Cardenas in 1540.
This trapping expedition is contemporaneous with the Ewing Young expedition in the same region, and has been identified through scholarship (Bancroft, Hill, Hafen) with the journal of the even younger James Ohio Pattie. Though the Pattie journals gives no names, the presumption is made that Michel was the "French Captain" of the company whom Pattie encountered while working at the mine his father had leased from a Spaniard. Pattie joined this trapping expedition, supposedly in search of adventure.
Pattie and his father Sylvester had just contracted to work mines from a Mexican proprietor who was afraid of Indian trouble. Michels trapping party of 12 men came through the mines about mid-December, and James, thirsting for adventure, went against his father's wishes and joined this expedition. On Jan. 2, 1827, they traveled down a river, finding fresh signs of Indians. By the 16th they came upon a party of about 20 Indians that had robbed the Patties of their horses and goods the previous year. Pattie negotiated for the return of some of his property, and compensation was granted by the chief. The Chief warned them of four tribes of dangerous Indians ahead. They traveled on, and by the 25th came to an Indian village along the bank of a river, that was by a Spanish fort. Most of the Indians spoke Spanish. They were a sedentary band, and seemed agreeable. On the 28th they arrived at the Papawar viallage:
....the inhabitants of which came running to meet us, with their faces painted, and their bows and arrows in their hands. We were alarmed at these hostile appearances, and halted. We told them that we were friends, at which they threw down their arms, laughing the while, and showing by their counte-nances that they were aware that they were frightened. We entered the village, and the French began to manifest their uncontrollable curiousity, by strolling
about in every directions. I noted several crowds of Indians, collected in gangs, and talking earnestly. I called the leader of my French companions, and informed him that I did not like these movements of the Indians, and was fearful that they were laying a plan to cut us all up. He laughed at my fears, telling me I was a
coward. I replied, that I did not think that to be cautious, and on our guard, was to show cowardice, and that I still thought it best for us to start off. At this he became angry, and told me that I might go when I pleased, and that he would go when he was ready.
James and a French companion whom he had known in Missouri, decided to quite the main body of trappers and moved to encamp about a quarter of a mile outside of the village. Towards evening the French captain came out with a band of Indian warriors. "This confirmed me in my conviction that they intended
us no good. Expressing my apprehensions to my French companion, he observed
in his peculiar style of English, that the captain was too proud and headstrong,
to allow him to receive instruction from any one, for that he thought nobody
knew anything but himself." Pattie and his companion encamped that night at this spot, leaving their horses saddled with the express intention of stalking away under cover of darkness. The French captain encamped about a hundred yards away, accompanied by a band of about 100 armed Indians. The Indians helped the French to unpack, scatter their horses and stack their arms. Pattie observes "As I saw this, I told the captain that it seemed to me no mark of their being unfriendly, for them to retain their own arms, and persuade us to putting ours out of our power, and that one, who had known Indians, ought to be better acquainted with their character, than to encamp with them, without his men having their own arms in their hand. On this he flew into a most violent passion, calling me, with a curse added to the epithet, a coward, wishing to God that he had never taken me with him, to dishearten his men and render them insubordinate." Pattie gave it back to Michel, and returned to his own camp. The Chief came to invite them to supper, but Pattie refused. The chief told him that they had bad hearts. Then the chief wanted to let some of his warriors share blankets with them in their camp. "While roundly rating us to the French captain, he gave as a reason why we ought not to sleep by ourselves, that we were in
danger of being killed in the night by another tribe of Indians, with whom he was at war."
We packed our mules so as to leave none of our effects behind, and kept awake. We remained thus, until near midnight, when we heard a fierce whistle, which we instantly understood to be the signal for an attack on the French camp. But a moment ensued, before we heard the clashing of war clubs, followed by the shriks and heavy groans of the dying French, mingled with the louder and more horrible yells of these treacherous and blood thirsty savages. A moment afterwards, we heard a party of them making towards us. To convince them that they should not butcher us in our defenceless sleep, we fired upon them. This caused them to retreat.
Pattie and his unnamed companion then mounted their horses and fled into the darkness as fast as they could. "We heard a single gun dischared in the Indian camp, which we supposed the act of an Indian, who had killed the owner." They fled to a high mountain, reaching it by day break and making their way up a creek. They kept look out but saw no approach of hostile Indians. They both ascended a high point and "I plainly perceived something black approaching us. Having watched it for some time, I thought it a bear. At length it reached a tree on the plain, and ascended it. We were then convinced, that it was no Indian, but a bear searching food. We could see the smokes arising from the Indian town, and had no doubt, that the savages were dancing at the moment around the scalps of the unfortunate Frenchmen, who had fallen the victims of their indolence and rash confidence in these faithless people. All anger for their abuse of me for my timely advice was swallowed up in pity for their fate. But yesterday these people were the merriest of the merry. What were they now?
In a moment we saw buttons glitter on this object from the reflected glare of the sun's rays. We were undeceived in regard to our bear, and now supposed
it an Indian, decorated with the coat of the unfortunate Frenchmen. We concluded to allow him to approach close enough to satisfy our doubts, before we fired on him. We lay still, until he came within fair rifle distance, when to our astonishment, we discovered it to be the French captain!
Nearly dead from thirst and fatigue, they lifted Michel up and brought him to their camp. He was lacerated on the head and face with many deep and swollen wounds, and he had a fever. They fed and doctored his wounds. "So great was his change in a few hours, that he was able to move off with us in that evening. In his present miserable and forlorn condition, I exercised too much humanity and forebearance to think of adverting to our quarrel of the preceding evening." (ibid: 134)
Probably estimating my forebearance aright, he himself led to the subject. He observed in a tone apparently of deep compunction, that if he had had the good sens and good temper to have listened to my apprehensions and cautions, both he and his people might have been now gaily riding over the prairies. Oppressed with mixed feelings, I hardly knew what reply to make, and only remarked, that it was too late to lament over what was unchangeable, and that
the will of God had been done. After a silence of some time, he resumed the conversation, and related all the particulars of the terrible disastr, that had come to his knowledge. His own escape he owed to retaining a pocket pistol, when the rest of their arms were stacked. This he fired at an Indian approaching him, who fell, and thus enabled him to fly; not, however, until he had received a number of severe wounds from their clubs. I had not the heart to hear him relate what become of the rest of his comrads. I could easily divine that the treacherous savages had murdered every one. (ib id, 134-5)
Toward sunset they could make out three camp fires. James and his companion reconnoitred the camp, leaving the horses with Michel. They came within fifty yards of two guards with the horses, and could spy no one else. They were ready to fire on them at the same time, when they heard one of them call in English to go wake their relief. They ran towards them, who were ready to fire, when they shouted "a friend, a friend". There was great surprise and joy on both sides. The company was aroused, and the story of the massacre was told. "...They expressed the hearty sorrow of good and true men, and joined us in purposes of vengeance against the Indians." This apparently was the Ewing Young trapping party. They were now 32 in number. They fired off 12 guns and Michel knew instantly the circumstances and brought the horses in.
At dawn, they formed a marching company, with twenty men in front, and twelve men behind, the pack horses. They encamped in the evening within five miles of the Indian village. In the morning of the 31st of January, 1826, 26 men of the party started to attack the village. They found a ravine close the village which allowed them to sneak up to within a hundred yards unnoticed. They took their time and made their preparations to fire. "Two of our men were then ordered to show themselves at the top of the bank. They were immediately discovered by the Indians, who considered them, I imagined, a couple of the Frenchmen that they had failed to kill."
They raised the yell, and ran towards the two persons, who instantly dropped down under the bank. There must have been at least 200 in pursuit. They were in a moment close on the bank. In order to prevent the escape of the two men , they spread into a kind of circle to surround them. This brought the whole body abreast of us. We allowed them to approach within twenty yards, when we gave them our fire. They commenced a precipitate retreat, we loading and firing as fast as was in our power. they made no pause in their village, but ran off, men, women and children, twoards a mountain distant 700 yards from their village. In less than ten minutes, the village was so completely evacuated, that not a human being was to be found, save one poor old blind and deaf Indian, who sat eating his mush as unconcernedly as if all had been tranquil in the fillage. We did not molest him.
We appropriated to our own use whatever we found int he village that we judged would be of any service to us. We then set fire to their wigwams and returned to our camp. They were paid a bloody price for their treachery, for 110 of them were slain. At twelve we returned to the village in a body, and retook all the horses of the Frenchmen, that they had killed. We then undertook the sad duty of burying the remains of the unfortunate Frenchmen. A sight more horrible to behold, I have never seen. They were literally cut in pices, and fragments of their bodies scattered in every direction, round which the monsters had danced, and yelled. (ibid.: 138-9)
This incident occured somewhere just outside of present day Phoenix, Arizona. Apparently, the Pima-Papago Indians never forgot this incident, and never molested another group. It can be presumed that Michel accompanied this party for the remainder of its journey. They turned north up the Colorado River, ran into another band of hostile Indians. Having killed their chief who had speared a horse, they were tracked by the Indians for several days, eventually losing two men to a small group. These they tracked down and killed, hanging in trees as a warning to the others. They came upon the snow-clad lower Reaches of the Grand Canyon, and apparently traversed it. A march more gloomy and heart-wearing, to people hungry, poorly clad and mourning the loss of their companions, cannot be imagined. ..April 10th, we arrived where the river emerges from these horrid mountains, which so cage it up, as to deprive all human beings the ability to descend its banks, and make use of its waters. No mortal has the power of describing the pleasure I felt, when I could once more reach the banks of the river.
On the eleventh of April they met a band of wandering Shoshonees armed with muskets. They fired upon them and the men fled leaving the women and children. The women told the trappers that they had recently destroyed a company of French hunters on the headwaters of the Platte. They found six scalps. "We had killed eight of their men, and we mortified the women excessively, by compelling them to exchange the scalps of the unfortunate Frenchmen for those of their own people" (152). They passed up the San Juan river and by the 23rd of April reached the chief village of the Navajos. The Navajos, at war with the Shoshonis, helped them with horses and an escort of warriors. They passed through the Rockies, course unknown and untraceable. They came near Long's peak and descended the south Fork of the Platte, arriving at the plain of the Platte on the 16th. They reached the Big horn, a fork of the Yellowstone, and entered the country of the Flatheads, toward the Yellowstone, by the 3rd of June. They reached the Yellowstone by the 11th, ascending it to "Clarkes fork" of the Columbia, ascending this to the headwaters of the Platte, then striking out for the Arkansas, reaching it by July 1st. On the 5th they met a party of Black Foot Indians. A firefight for 20 minutes and at 50 yards ensued. The Black Feet lost 16, and the trappers four. They struck for the Rio Del Norte, and descended it until they met a band of Navajos who accompanied them back to their chief village. They arriv ed back in Santa Fe' on the first of August, only to have all their furs confiscated by the Governor, "on the prestext that we had trapped without a license from him."
It is apparent that young Michel, leading his first trapping expedition, learned a great many things. Initially intent on befriending and appeasing the local Indians, whose manners and customs were probably quite different than those he had been used to East of the Rockies, his desire for positive intercourse and friendship probably blinded him to the situation and need for greater caution.
Governor Antonio Narbonna issued on Aug. 29, 1826 passports to four American trading parties, among which was Michel and Sylvester Pratte with over thirty men, in order to trap the Gila river in Sonora. In 1826, "Ceran and Julian St. Vrain and Miguel (Michel) Robidoux had led an expedition of thirty trappers from Taos to the Gila River in the far Southwest, where ten of the party were killed by Indians." (Parkhill, 56-7)
Michel was apparently a part of a small party of 16, of whom some noteworthy Mountain men--Ceran St. Vrain, Bill Williams, Ewing Young, Milton Sublette and Pegleg Smith and LeDuc in August 1826 back to the Gila River via the copper mines of Southern New Mexico. They defeated Indians who had attacked them at the mouth of the Salt River, but lost their traps and returned to New Mexico to reorganize, setting out again for the Gila and Colorado Rivers, retuning in the Spring of 1827 to have their furs confiscated again by Mexican Officials. Sublette was shot in the leg by an Apache arrow, and the "trappers prepared a feast for a band of twenty Apaches and murdered them while they were eating it." (Hafen, 175)
Taking Robidoux and Pattie, the party trapped down the Gila to its mouth, then moved up the Colorado. When some Mojave Indians came into camp and sawmany red circles leaning against the trees--beaver skins on their stretching frames--one of the chiefs claimed the beaver as his own and demanded a horse in payment. Being refused, he shot an arrow into a tree to indicate his displeasure. Young shot a bullet into the arrow. This did not discourage the Indians, who contnued to harrass the trappers so insistently that Youngpushed on up the Colorado. Once free of the Mojaves, he bagan trapping, following the river far to the north. He crossed the Continental Divide near Long's Peak and descended to the South Platte. Turning northwest to the Laramie River, he continued to the North Platte and ascended as far as the Sweetwater before turning south. Reaching the Little Snake River, he followed it to the Yampa, rode upstream over a hundred fifty miles, through its beautiful valley, crossed the height of land to the Colorado, ascended the Eagle River to its source in the high Rockies, and crossed the Continental Divide to the headwaters of the Arkansas. For almost a year he had trapped and explored the streams and trails, losing five men to the Indians but none to the mountains. His pack animals carried about $20,000 worth of furs when he reached Santa Fe in June 1827.(Guild & Carter: 32-3)
Young was jailed and his furs were confiscated. Damaged by rain, the furs were sold for only a fraction of their original worth. The story elaborated by Pattie has been controversial--there is a lack of correspondence of dates and accounts by other trappers, apparently of the same incidents. Bancroft brought Pattie's character under scrutiny, calling him self-conceited and probably prone to exaggeration of his own exploits. Albert Shroeder wrote that the Robidoux massacre took place near Avondale, Arizona, and that Pattie retreated to the Sierra Estrella. According to Kroeber, the Robidoux Massacre was by the Apaches, though most scholars concur that it was the Pima-papago or the Pima-Maricopa Indians.
According to the account by George Yount, there party, after having an altercation with the Apache, entered the Pima country and trapped along the Gila River.
Suddenly we were notified to confine our operations within certain districts. We were forbidden to trap certain localities of the rivers. The Indians became captious and expressed uneasiness when they found us exploring certain regions. By this arrangement we were left to the discovery of the cause why they had restricted us in trapping on the rivers. On the second day a party encamped on the spot where Kubidouv's party of sixteen men had been attacked by the united warriors of the Pimos and the Maracopas. This murder had been committed within the last three weeks. (Memoirs)
And the savages were inclined to great caution, lest the outrage should be discovered--Eight of the dead were found unburied, their bodies much disfigured, and rent by birds and beasts of prey. The property of the party thus cut to pieces, was ound on the field of slaughter, and their traps were still set in the River--The party which first discovered this field of death, when alone, waited two days, tillothers came up, having first decently buried the mangled bodies of the dead--At length all of Yount's and youngs parties were in, and the property found on andabout the field of slaughter secured and properly disposed of among the whole--The savages, were doubtless novices in the work of murdering white men--There is no doubt that this was the first bloody deed of the kind of which the Pimos and Maricopas had ever been guilty--Hence they had fled the field of slaughter with great precipitation when the deed was done, none waiting to even gather up the spoils...
It was now a period of intense solicitude at the camp--not that they apprehended any danger of a repetition of this deed of blood--On the contrary, the Indians had most cause for apprehensions of this kind--the party was too formidable for all the combined army of both nations--Young andYount could carry into the field thirty two men, each armed with Rifle, Shotgun and Pistol--and they were marksmen--They would never lose a shot...
"The Indians, upon the discovery of what they had done, decided to murder the trappers lest vengeance be bestowed upon them by the trappers for the killing of Robadoux and his party. Preparations were hastily made" "the warhoop rang from front to rear, and the hills re-echoed it a hundred times. As the sound passed from mountain to mountain, they imagined that the spirits of their brave ancestors, proud of the prowess of their sons, were shouting them on to successful war.
"....The hills literally swarmed with the painted and distored visages....The little band of thirty-two, each having taken a tree, quietly awaited the onset---Onward they came, and still onward--an array innumerable with drawn bow and herculean club and spear--In profound silence stood the trappers, until one by the name of Smith, having discovered a tall, athletic, Indian brave, a powerful savage, more bold and eager than his fellows, far in advance to lead the onset, marked him for his victim--Suddenly the sharp crack of Smith's Rifle was the signal for his fellows--the lofty savage fell--and regardless of danger, Smith darted forward....and secured his scalp--Holding it up at arm's length, he bade defiance of the tawny legion. They recoiled--but shots followed in...rapid succesion, and every shot laid prostrate....a warrior....The savages retreated slowly....The carnage was very great.. (32-3)
"Not one of our trappers received a wound, and the savages were not allowed to bear off their dead...
"The battle field was thickly strewed with dead and dying. No quarters were allowed....The savages retreated several miles.....
"Early on the following day, came in a delegation to sue for peace....They were completely humbled--They stood up before Yount and Young like heartbroken moarners--The chiefs fell upon their faces, as these two victorious might men stood in their buckskin aparel leaning on their rifles, their thirty buckskn men forming a single line behind them...
"They listned to the terms of peace with profound attention. The principal term, and that on which Yount insisted, was they they and their children....should never again molset a pale brother of the Rising Sun--To this they assented....and they have kept their word.
"At a subsequent visit, it greatly interested Yount and his fellow trappers to hear them admit that the slaughter of Rubidoux's party was wonton and unprovoked...." (33)
It is apparent that Patties party, including Robidoux, separated from the Yount expedition fairly early on, returning to Santa Fe by a different, and roundabout route via the Mohave villages. The Pattie party was involved in another massacre by Indians, in which three trappers were lost, including E. Burr, reportedly the Frenchman who was with Pattie at the first massacre. Tom "Peg-leg" Smith was apparently a part of the Yount-Young party that chastized the Indians for the Robidoux massacre, according to Yount, although Smith did not describe the details. "The cock-and-bull tale that Smith tells here may in some vague way refer to the chastisement of the Indians after the Young party came on the scene.
It is unknown what became of Michel after this expedition. It is probable that he rejoined his brothers and their enterprise and some juncture. Louis Robidoux joined a party traveling from Santa Fe to Missouri in the Spring of 1827. Michel may have been among them. Louis began the return trip to Santa Fe by late July. The Patties set out together on another trapping expedition the following year, in 1827, following the Colorado and making their way to California.
It appears that Michel was back in the Missouri region by 1829, as he was granted that year a license to trade in company of Baptiste Roy with the Otoes and the Pawnees. Roy was later to be a competitor of Joseph III at the Blacksnake Hills. It is known that Michel Robidoux had had long term affiliation with the tribes of Eastern Kansas, particularly the Pawnee, is indicated by the trading license granted to him in Oct. of 1825 by William Clark. That Michel was affiliated with these tribes during this period of time is indicated too by the involvement of both Andrew Drips and Lucien Fontenelle at the Pawnee villages in 1825, these being the same men with whom Michel was later in league within in the trapping expedition in 1830, as well as Alexander LaForce Papin who was employed by Pratte and company, the same outfit who had employed Michel. It was Papin and Fontenelle who were involved in the prevention of the Morning Star Sacrifice at the Skidi Pawnee village in the Spring of 1827 ("The Skidi Pawnee Morning Star Sacrifice of 1827", Melburn D. Thurman, Nebraska History; Vol 51: No. 3: Fall, 1970: pages 269-280). Joseph Robidoux had received licenses to trade with these Indians in the vicinity of Fort Atkinson in 1827.
On June 29th, 1829, William Clark granted permission "to pass through the Indian country to the Republic of New Mexico to: Michel Robiodux, Isadore Robidore, Antoine Roubidoux" (From Huntington Library, R I 83)
In early 1830, Michel is apparently trapping with Dripps and Fontenelle in the rendezvous region, co-leading a group of 45 fur traders, in competition with the Rocky Mountain Fur Company during which the party split up, he leading one of the groups. This has usually been attributed by earlier historians to a generic Joseph, and Hafen and Mattes modified this view, attributing it to Joseph Jr., or old Indian Joe. There is a discrepancy of dates, as a deed originally dated on the 25th of September, 1830, bears Michel's name and was recorded in St. Louis. This deed has the six brothers names on it, and reads as follows:
To all whom these presents shall come. Joseph Robidoux, Francois robidoux, Isidor Robidoux, Antoine Robidoux, Louis Robidoux, Michal Robiodux and Isidore Boyer and Pelagia, his wife, of the County of St. Louis and Stateof Missouri, sendeth greeting. Know ye that the said Joseph Robidoux, Francois Robidoux, Isidore Robidoux, Antoine robiodux, Louis Robidoux and Isidore Boyer and pelagia his wife, for and in consideration of the sum of six hundred dollars to them in hand paid by Joseph C. Laveille and George Morton at and before the ensealing and delivey here of, the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged, have remised, released and forever quit claimed, and by these presents do remise, releast and forever quit claim unto the said Joseph C. Laveille and George Morton of the City of St. Louis and County aforesaid and to their heirs and assigns forever, all the estate, right title, interest claim and demand whatsover of them the said Joseph, Francois, Isidore, Antoine, Louis, Michel and Isidore Boyer and Pelagie his wife of in to or to all that certain lot, piece or parcel of ground situated, lying and being in the said City of St. Louis, and containing one hundred and twenty fee french measure froting Eastwardly on second street or Church street and runing westwardly one hundred and fifty feet like measure bounded as follows, to with, on the East by said second street, which separates it from the lots of Antoine Chenii and said Laveille and Morton, on the north by the lots of the Dumon heirs, on the West by the log of the Alvarez's and on the South by the Market stree, which separates the piece from the Roman Catholic ground, being the South East Corner of Block No. (60) sixty on the plat of the said City of St. Louis, and being the ssame lot piece or parcel of ground (477) which the said Joseph C. Laveilleand George Mortaon purchased from Taylor, Jerry and Fanny his wife by deed bearing date first day of July in the year Eighteen hundred and twenty-three, as will, more fully and at large appear, reference being had to the record of said deed in the Recorder's office of said County of St. Louis book II page (338) Page three hundred and thirty-Eight. To have and to hold the said lot, piece and parcel of ground and premises above, mentioned together with all and singular the privileges and appurtenances to the same belonging or in any wise appertaining unto them the said Joseph C. Laveille and George Morton, their heirs and assigns to their only proper use benefit and behoof of them the same Joseph C. Laveille and GeorgeMorton, their heirs and assigns forever, sot hat the said Louis, Joseph, francois, Isidore, Antoine, Michel Robidoux and Isidor Boyer and Pelagie his wife, nor neither of them, nor their heirs nor any other person or persons whatsoever at any time hereafter claim, challenge or demand any estate right title or interest of in or to the said lot piece or parcel of ground and premises or any part or parcel thereof, but from all and every action or actions, estate, right title, interest claim and demand office and to the said premises or any part thereof, they and every of them shall be forever barred by these presents In witness whereof the parties of these presents have hereunto set their hands and seals this twenty fifth day of September in the year of our Lord One thousand Eight hundred and thirty.
Test. as to Joseph Robidoux, Id Robidoux, F Robidoux & Pelagie Boyer signatures and Michel Robidoux and Isidore Boyer
It is apparent that not all the brothers were a part of this deed--not all of them could have been there or else no Robidoux would have been on the trail. The witnessing of this deed, dated October 16th, 1830 lists only the presence of Joseph, Isidore, Francois and Pelagie Boyer.
Michel Robidoux's name is witnessed on this deed on the date of 17th of August, 1831, the day following it is also witnessed by Isidore Boyer, suggesting that Boyer also was sojourning with Michel in the mountains. This document proves that Michel returned from the mountains to St. Louis by this time. It also dates the presence of Antoine Robidoux, whose presence was witnessed on the deed on November 28, 1831. The only name not witnessed on this deed of land transaction is that of Louis Robidoux.
The American Fur Company had managed to send a mountain expedition up from Council Bluffs, led byLucien Fonenelle, Andrew Drips, and Michel Robidoux. This company ws actually ahead of Sublette (the only time a party ever gained such an advantage), but that was their ill luck, for Sublette's wagon tracks would have led them to Wind River and the rendezvousing free trappers. They went on to Green River, Bear Lake, and Cache Valley, searching in vain for the free men. The A. F. C. party trapped the country until the summer of 1831, when Drips and Fontenelle went below to get another outfit. Drips endeavored to return to the mountains that fall, but a third severe winter in six years forced him to hole up ner the mouth of the Laramie. Thereafter all hands accepted the realities of mountain life; there were no more efforts to transport supplies out of season (Anderson, Morgan:21)
The best account of this expedition, one of the best accounts of the fur trade ever produced, was that by Ferris:
Messrs. Dripps and Robidoux, who were to be our conductors to the Council Bluffs, overtook us on the fifth (of February, 1830), bringing with them an addition to our strength of fifty more--mules! As these our new leaders (not the mules) were noted for anything but a want of energy, we were soon again in motion, and re-crossing the Missouri near Mount Vernon, continued our course to a plantation not far from Liberty, the last village on our route, where we remained for two weeks, waitng the arrival of wagons from St. Louis, with mer chandize for the Indian trade, which from this point has to be conveyed to the mountains on pack horses. (7-8)
After narrowly escaping loosing their baggage and horses in a fire started by the carelesssnes of one of the men, by the 1st of April they had reached Belle Vue "the trading house of Messrs. Fontenelle & Dripps, situated eight miles above the mouth of the Platte." Ferris reports that the expedition of about 45 men was launched from Bellevue after a monotonous month intiated by April fools day and terminated by Mayday. By the first of May of 1830, traveling up the Platte, reaching Chimney Rock on May 26, camping on the 27th of May opposite to Scott's Bluff, crossing the Platte on June 2 in bull hide canoes, "and encamped ....above the mouth of Laramie's Fork, at the foot of the Black Hills." They saw their first Grizzly bear on June 8 and reached Independnce Rock on the Sweetwater on June 12. They crossed South Pass on June 21st and turned down the Green river, crossing it on June 26, "in bull-hide canoes" ascending Ham's Fork. They encamped on Bear River on July 8 where they killed many buffalo. They stayed along the Green River and Cache Valley for about a month.
On August 23rd,
On Ham's Fork we cached our goods, and separated into three parties, headed respectively by Messrs. Fontenelle, Dripps and Robidoux, who had each his portion of hunting ground specified, in order to avoid interference with the rest. Mr. Fontenelle was to hunt to the southward on the western tributaries of Green River; Mr. Dripps to the northeast on the sources of the same stream, and Mr. Robidoux northward on the head waters of Lewis River.
By September 31st they returned to the caches they had left, where they met Robidoux with a small party of men.
Fontenelle and Dripps, together with the Free Men, and a detachment of a new company, styled the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, were all in Cache Valley, where they intended to establish their winter quarters. Robidoux remained here twelve days, awaiting promised assistance from Fontenelle to aid him in transporting the goods to Cache Valley. At the end of that time, impatient of their slow coming, and admonished by the more rapid approach of starvation which was already grinning at us most horribly, he resolved to re-cache a part of the goods, and start with the balance.
We set off in the midst of a severe snow-storm, accompanied with chilling winds, which blew directly in our faces, and, having braved with the best temper we could, a whole day of such exposure, encamped at evening on the margin of Muddy Creek. We were met next day at noon, by the expected party. They continued on to raise the cache we had left, whilst we journeyed down to the mouth of the Muddy, there to await their return. In the meantime, hunters were dispatched in pursuit of game, who brought back with them, at the expiration of two days, the flesh of several fine bulls.
They reached Cache Valley and reunited with the others of the expedition on the fifth of October. All three parties remained in a small cove called Ogden's Hole at the northern end of Cache Valley for about ten days. While there, a member of Robidoux's party, Stephens recounted to Ferris at length their adventures:
"After leaving you," said he, "we trapped Ham's Fork to its source, crossed over to Smith's Fork, and there fell in with a party of Iroquois, who informed us that Smith, Sublette and Jackson, three partners who had been engaged in the business of this country for some years past, had sold out to a new firm, styled the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. This arrangement was made on Wind River, a source of the Big Horn, in July of last year. From that place parties were sent out in various directions, amongst which was one led by Fraeb and Jarvis, consisting of twenty-two hired men, and ten free Iroquois, with their wives and children--which departed to hunt on the waters of the Columbia. The Iroquois, however, became dissatisfied with some of the measures adopted by the leaders of the party, and separated from them to hunt the tributaries of the Bear River, where we found them. Robidoux engaged three of them, and the others promised to meet us in Cache Valley, after the hunting season. One of those hired, was immediately despatched in pursuit of Dripps, who joined us at the Boiling Kettles, on Salt River, from whence we proceeded to its mouth, and there fell in with Fraeb and Jarvis. Arrangements were now made for both companies to hunt together, and we travelled thence sixty miles to the mouth of the Lewis River, and down Snake river eighty or ninety miles to Porteneuf. Here we cached our furs, and thence continued down Snake River to the falls, forty or fifty miles below the mouth of Porteneuf. These falls are a succession of cascades by which the river falls forty or fifty feet in a few rods.
"At the Falls we separated into two parties, one of which was to hunt the Cassia, and other streams in the vicinity, whilst the other, consisting of twenty-two men, myself included, was sent to the Maladi. Our party left Snake River, and travelled north of west, through a barren desert, destitute of every species of vegetation, except a few scattering cedars, and speckled with huge round masses of black basaltic rock. At noon, we entered on a tract of country entirely covered with a stratum of black rock, which had evidently been in a fluid state, and had spread over the earth's surface to the extent of forty or fifty miles. It was doubtless lava, which had been vomited forth from some volcano, the fires of which are now extinct.
"We proceeded on over this substance, hoping to cross the whole extent without difficulty, but soon met with innumerable chasms, where it had cracked and yawned asunder at the time of cooling, to the depth often of fifty feet, over which we were compelled to leap our horses. In many places the rock had cooled into little wave-like irregularities, and was also covered with large blisters, like inverted kettles, which were easily detached by a slight blow. One of these was used as a frying pan, for some time afterwards, and found to answer the purpose quite well. In the outset of our march over this bed of lava, we got along without much trouble, but were finally brought to a full stop by a large chasm to wide to leap, and force to return back to the plain. At this time we began to feel an almost insupportable thirst. The day was an excessively sultry one, and the lava heated to that degree that we were almost suffocated by the burning atmosphere, that steamed up from it. We had, moreover, lived for some time past, upon dried buffalo meat, which is alone sufficient to engender the most maddening desire for water, when deprived of that article.
"One or two individuals, anticipating the total absence of any stream or spring on the route, had providently supplied themselves with beaver skins of water, previous to our departure in the morning, but this small supply was soon totally exhausted. At dark we found ourselves involved in a labyrinth of rocks, from which we sought, without success to extricate ourselves, and were finally obliged to halt and await the rising of the moon. Meantime we joyfully hailed the appearance of a shower, but greatly to our chagrin, it merely sprinkled slightly, and passed over. However, it was not entirely lost, for we spread out our blankets and eagerly imbibed the dampness that accumulated, but the few drops thus obtained, provoked rather than satisfied the wild thirst that was raging within us.
At the expiration of a couple of hours, the moon rose, and we proceeded cautiously in the direction of a blue mountain, where we conjectured that the river Maladi took its rise. Through the rest of the night we toiled on, and at length saw the sun climbing the east. But the benefit of his light was a mere feather in the scale, compared with the double anguish occasioned by the added heat. Some of the party had recourse to the last expedient to mitigate their excessive thirst, and others ate powder, chewed bullets, etc., but all to no purpose. At eight o'clock, we reached a narrow neck of the rock or lava, which we succeeded in crossing. Some of our companions explored the interior of the frightful chasms in search of water, but returned unsuccessful. Subordination now entirely ceased. Every one rushed forward without respect to our leaders, towards a rising plain which separated us from the blue mountain which had been our guiding beacon since the night. On reaching the summit of the plain, the whole valley about the mountain presented a sea of rock, intersected by impassable chasms and caverns.
"Orders were now given for every one to shift for himself, and exercise his best judgement in the endeavor to save his life. One of the men immediately turned his horse from north west, which had been thus far our course, to the north east, and declared that if any thought proper to follow him, they would be rewarded by the taste of water before night. We all followed him, rather because the route seemed less difficult, than any well-grounded hope of realizing his promise.
"Our suffering became more and more intense, and our poor animals, oppressed with heat and toil, and parching with thirst, now began to give out, and were left by the way side. Several of our poor fellows were thus deprived of their horses, and though almost speechless and scarcely able to stand, were compelled to totter along on foot. Many of our packed mules, unable to proceed any further, sank down and were left with their parched tongues protruding from their mouths. Some of the men, too, dropped down totally exhausted, and were left, beseeching their companions to hasten on, and return to them with water, ift hey should be so fortunate as to succeed in reaching it.
"At length, when all were nearly despairing, and almost overcome, one of our companions who had outstripped us to the top of a hill, fired off his gun. The effect was electrical. All knew that he had found water, and even our poor beasts understood the signal, for they pricked up their drooping ears, snuffed the air, and moved off at a more rapid pace. Two or three minutes of intense anxiety elapsed, we reached the top of the hill, and then beheld what gave us infinitely more delight than would the discovery of the north west passage, or the richest mine of gold that ever excited, the cupidity of man.
"There lay at the distance of about four miles, the loveliest prospect imagination could present to the dazzled senses--a lovely river sweeping along through graceful curves. The beauteous sight lent vigour to our withered limbs, and we pressed on, oh! how eagerly. At sunset we reached the margin of the stream, and man and beast, regardless of the depth, plunged, and drank, and laved, and drank again. What was nectar to such a draught! The pure cool reviving stream, a new river of life,--we drank, laughed, wept, embraced, shouted--and drank, shouted, embraced, wept, and laughed again. Fits of vomiting were brought on by the excessive quantities we swallowed, but they soon passed off, and an hour or so saw us restored to our usual spirits.
"We spent the night and the following morning in the charitable office of conveying water to our enfeebled companions, who lingered behind, and the poor beasts that had been also left by the way, and succeeded in getting them all to camp, except the person and animals of Charbineau, one of our men, who could nowhere be found, and was supposed to have wandered from the trail and perished.
They had found the Malade River (Sick River) which got its reputation for the beaver of the stream which made those who ate it sick. The next day, reports of firearms were heard by the party, and they found Mr. Work's party of forty trappers of the Hudson's Bay Company. "These men were mostly half-breeds, having squaws and children. They live by hunting furred animals, the skins of which they dress and exchange for necessaries at the trading posts of that company." (64) A few days before a party of five of these trappers were ambushed by Indians, killing two and wounding one, who later escaped. The bodies were found the following day, scalped and stripped, and they were buried. Though they had heard of the sickness caused by eating the beaver of the Maladi River, Robidoux's party "could not resist the temptation of a fine fat beaver which we cooked and eat. But we were all sick in consequence, so much so, in short, that I do not believe a single one of us will ever be induced to try the same experiment again, no matter how urgently pressed by starvation."(66)
The party trapped the Maladi to its source, and then crossed to the head of the Gordiaz River, trapping down it to the plains of the Snake River, and then returned to Cache Valley to find Dripps and Fontenelle. Charbineaux was at this camp, having lost their trail, he reached the French encampment upon the Maladi River after dark, and, believing it to be an Indian camp, skirted it and stalked about for eleven days, reached the "company at Porteneuf."
"The village he saw was the lodges of the Hudson Bay Company, and had he passed a short distance below, he would have found our camp. But his unlucky star was in the ascendant, and it cost him eleven day's toil, danger, and privation to his friends."
Such was the narrative Mr. Stevens gave me of the adventures of Robideaux's party." (67)
John Work left a journal relating the incidents described by Stevens:
Sunday (October( 10, (830). Cloudy weather a good deal of thunder and some light rain. Continued our rout up the river about 10 or 12 miles. Several of the people were out with their traps 5 beaver were taken. One of the hunters who was farthest up the river brought the news that he had met a party of 20 Americans who had arrived from the Snake River and were two days without water. One of them Frizzon an Iroquoy who formerly deserted from us came to our camp but little news was obtained from him as it was late when he arrived, and what he did tell appears to have little truth in it....
Tuesday 12 . Frost in the night, fine weather afterwards.
Left Sickly River and struck across the plaine along the foot of the Mountains N. N. E. about 16 Miles to a small river which bears the name of Bercier to the Westward lies a ridge of rugged hills and to the Eastward the extensive plain toward the Snake river. Some Indians were sculking about our camp last night seeking an opportunity to steal. One of the men going for some water when dark saw or thought he saw an Indian in the river with his head above water, the alarm was given but he could not be found though a strict search was made. Our object now is to reach Salmon river with as little delay as possible. There are two roads, nearly the same in length, that by the North branch of Sickly river and the one we are taking by Goddins river. we are induced to prefer the latter as being more level and easier for the horses, as we may a little sooner find buffaloe so that we may get some provisions which is much wanted, as several of the people are entirely out of food. Moreover by this route the party of Americans may not be inclined to follow us not knowing what road we are taking, or perhaps may not be able to follow us as their horses appear to be very lean, and they have not two per man, they have however no families or lodges and apparently very little baggage to embarrass them which gives them infinitely the advantage over us, as to expedition of movement. nevertheless we still expect to keep ahead of them. By this road also we may probably fall in with the Bannack Snake Camp and obtain a few furs in trade.
The Americans raised camp before us in the morning and proceeded up the river but on seeing us strike across the country they also left the river and followed us along the foot of the mountains and encamped some distance behind us in a little river where Payette and party were defeated two years ago. I did not see a Mr. Rabbidou who is at the head of the party but it appears this party consists of 20 men, that of the whole party of their hunters amount to upwards of 100 hunters (perhaps they exaggerate), that Crooks and Co. are the principal outfitters and Mr. Fontanelle who manages their affairs is now at Snake River with a party of 50 men. That they have great quantity of goods in Cache, But that thereare several petty Bourgeois in the party with a few men on their own accounts. They have been hunting part of the summer on the upper part of the Snake River. A party of their hunters were defeated last fall by the Blackfeet on the Yellowstone river and 18 men killed. They intended to have gone on to the F.Heads this fall but were deterred from doing so by considering the season too far advanced. (31-34)
According to this independent account, the company had been trapping in Idaho country where they were attacked by Blackfeet Indians. Another account comes from "Broken Hand" Fitzpatrick:
After the summer rendezvous of 1830 the Rocky Mountain Fur Company partners had divided into two major brigades for the fall trapping. Fraeb and Gervaise, with thirty-four men plus Indian women and children, set out for the Snake River region. Near the mouth of Salt River, which flows northward through Star Valley, Wyoming, to enter the Snake, they were met by the Robidoux party of the American Fur Company men. Although competitors, the two bands moved westward together, along the valley of the Snake and its tributaries. They ran into John Work and a band of Hudson's Bay Company men. There Americans finally made their way back in December to Bear River and to Cache Valley where the snow was three feet deep. (Hafen, 90)
Robidoux's party left Ogden's hole and passed to Cache Valley "forty miles to Bear river where we remained at the same encampment a whole month. It stormed every day, entrapping a party of four away from camp for thirty four days. Snow remained three feet deep through December. In late December they crossed over to the Great Salt Lake, "a distance of thirty miles which we accomplished in four days."
By February of 1831, they discovered that their caches left in Cache Valley had been vandalized by Snake Indians. They visited the Snake village, and the chief, being friendly to Whites, made the Indians return their goods. Apparently the Snakes had an encampment nearby the Cache Valley during the Fall of 1830, had almost attacked the traders but the Chief had prevented the attack at the last moment.
It appears they were assembling to execute their diabolical plot, and about to commence the work of blood when the Horn Chief so opportunely arrived. He instantly addressed them, reminded them of his resolution, dared them to fire a gun, called them cowards, women and in short so bullied and shamed them that they sneaked away without attempting to do us any injury. It was not for months afterwards that all this came to our knowledge, and we learned how providential had been our deliverance, and how greatly we were under obligation to the friendship, courage and presence of mine of this noble son of the forest, whose lofty heroism in our defence may proudly rival the best achievements of the days of chivalry. (72-3)
A few days after the beginning of February, Indians stole seventeen of the trappers horses, preventing them from obtaining supplies of meat. They survived for ten to twelve days on "famished wolves, ravens, magpies, and even raw hide made tender by two days boiling, were greedily devoured." They were forced then to return to Cache Valley, which they reached by the first of March.
"We saw in our route several boiling springs, the most remarkable of which bursts out from beneath a huge fragment of rock, and forms a reservoir of several rods in circumference, the bottom of which was covered with a reddish slimy matter. The water of these springs was as hot as in those on Salt River. they are situated near the trail that heads from the head of Cache Valley to the Big Lake.
They continued to suffer from starvation, and pushed on to Bear River. In April the ice disappeared, and they met three Flathead Indians who informed them that the "plains of Snake River were already free from snow. this information decided our leaders to go there and recruit our horses preparatory to the spring hunt, which would commence as soon as the small streams were disencumbered of their icy fetters; and we set about the necessary arrangements for departure."(74)
The party cached their furs on the fourth of April and set off slowly in the snow "with great fatigue" and halted at the Northern extremity of Cache Valley. The next day the snow was even thicker. Buffalo were numerous and the captured "thirty or forty" calves abandoned in the snow. "Quite as many more were observed either killed or maimed by the frighted herds in their fugitive course" (75) They reached better ground the next day, killing more skinny buffalo. On the 8th, they sought to drive a heard of bull buffalos down the river in order to stampede a "road" through the snow for the easy passage of their horses. The bulls refused to budge, and died where they stood. The next day they resumed their march. The horses couldn't make their way through, so they made pole travois and carried the horses one at a time. Then they had to gather goods scattered from one camp to the other. The next day they were obliged to make a road--" We marched on foot one after another in Indian file, ploughing our way through the snow to the forks of Porteneuf, a distance of six miles, and back again, thus beating a path for our horses, the labour of which almost overcame our strength."(76-7) The next day they reached a prairie, and took a days rest. They met two men of the Hudson bay company, and informed them that their travails in the snow was almost over. On the 13th they reached a broad, dry and barren prairie where the "Porteneuf leaves the mountains". Thus ended five months of continuous snow, and nine days of toil over sixty miles. They came to the camp of Hudson's bay, where they were treated with dried buffalo meat. The next day they left this camp hastily after an altercation with the leader, Mr. Work, who accused them of causing one of his men to desert to their party.
They went up the Snake river to resume their spring hunt. During this journey they killed many buffalo. They trapped up Henry's fork, taking "from forty to seventy beaver a day." On the twenty-eighth of May, two men went out to set traps but never returned. They were presumed killed by the Blackfeet. They met then a party of four Flathead Indians who informed them of a skirmish with the Blackfeet a few days before. They made their way to the Flathead village, killing buffalo along the way.
Two or three days after their arrival, the whole village, consisting of fifty lodges of Flatheads, Nezperces and Pen-d'orielles, came in sight, but unlike all other Indians we have hitherto seen, they advanced to meet us in a slow and orderly manner signing their songs of peace. When they had approached within fifty paces, they discharged their guns in the air, reloaded, and fired them off again in like manner. The salute of course, was returned by our party. The Indians now dismounted, left their arms and horses, and silently advanced in the following order: first came the principle chief, bearing a common English flag, then four subordinate chiefs, then a long line of warriors, then young men and boys who had not yet distinguished themselves in battle, and lastly the women and children, who closed the procession. When the Chief had come up, he grasped the hand of our Partizan, (leader,) raised it as high as his head and held it in that position while he muttered a prayer of two minutes duration. In the same manner he paid his respects to each of our party, with a prayer of a minute's length. His example was followed by the rest, in the order of rank. The whole ceremony occupied about two hours, at the end of which time each of us had shaken hads with them all. Pipes were then produced, and they seated themselves in a circle on the ground, to hold a council with our leaders respecting trade. (87-8)
By June 19, 1831, Dripps and Fontenelle, thirty men accompanied by 20 Flathead Indians, departed for St. Louis from Flathead country. Unfortunately, Ferris does not give either the first name of the Robidoux who was in charge of this party, or whether Robidoux was a member of the group who returned with Dripps and Fontenelle to St. Louis. The birth of his child entails that he probably did return with this party, leaving someone else in charge of the trapping expedition. His witnessing the legal transaction dated August 18th in St. Louis proves that he was back in St. Louis at this time.
On the other hand, if this particular Robidoux remained with the trapping party, then it was probably not Michel--possibly Louis, who never did sign this legal transaction. While the editor of the journal and Hafen believe that this Robidoux was Joseph E., I believe that this is unlikely. The fact that Robidoux is not mentioned any further in the text suggests that he may have indeed returned to St. Louis that summer and fall of 1831. That he was in St. Louis during this time is indicated by a bill for Michel Robidoux dated August 19th, 1831, at St. Louis from the American Fur Company. On that day he apparently purchased the following:
Am. Fur Company St. Louis, Aug 19th, 1831
Ms. M. Roubidoux
(Bot) of P. & J. Powell
4 Bundles 32 Bunches cut Glass Beads No. 46 @ 58 18.56
4 " 40 Bunches do. No. 45 @ 45. 18.00
4 " 60 Bunches do " 44 @ 35. 21.00 $57.56
To afc American fur Co.,
F. & Drips
This transaction is important because it identifies Michel as clearly the person in affiliatin with Fontenelle and Dripps, and Michels involvement in the Indian trade at this time. Evidence that Michel was in the Missouri area is further indicated by another order of payment to Michel Robidoux by L. Fontenelle dated the 25th of September, 1831, for service
Given for the present price of the month of October, eighteen hundred and thirty two, we promise payment to Monssieur Michel Robidoux to which I serve order for the sum of seven hundred piastres, (signed as follows?)
Bellevue, high Missouri, on 25 Sept. 1831
$700.00 L. Fontenelle
(?) for Fontenelle, Dripse & C. Cabanne.
This was a draft on the American fur company of New York paid and dated April 6th, 1833, by P.& J. Powell.
Apparently Michel played an important role in the rivalry between the American Fur Company and the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, "trailing Frapp and Gervais" to learn the location of their best beaver haunts and exploring Snake River Country. Michel may also likely have been the "Mr. Robiedes" identified as in charge of a brigade in Idaho, though Hafen and Paul Phillips believes, that it was probably Joseph IV.
It appears that Michel returned to his wife that winter of 1831, and probably spent the next year there. His first daughter was probably conceived in December of 1831, and was born on Aug. 5, 1832 in St. Louis.
The next references found of Michel are those by Orral Messmore in her book. She claims (183) that Mitchel had a trading post set up at Ft. Laramie by 1833-4, and that he was visited by Kit Carson there on a trapping expedition. No reference by Carson to Michel is made in his autobiography, but he is found that season trapping the upper reaches of the Laramie river. At least one other reference, without citing sources, claims that Michel had established a "Robidoux Fort" in the vicinity of Fort Laramie (Trish Bransky).
Lucien Fontenelle and Drips were known to have wintered on the Laramie river, and it was in 1833-4 that the first post was built there, later becoming the famous Fort Laramie of the American Fur Company. No doubt Michel Robidoux was a part of this early founding and expansion of the fort, one which involved also possibly Francois Robidoux and Francois son's. In general, the movement of Michel Robidoux in the mountains can probably be followed by the movement of Vanderburgh, Fonetenelle and Drips in the Rendezvous region, making one of the best hunts of the year of 1833 by dividing into 30 or more small trapping parties. Fontenelle and his company purchased Fort Laramie in the winter of 1834 from the Sublette and Campbell. For the next five years, Michel was probably at least indirectly associated with the Fort Laramie area.
Messmore's references are relatively inexplicit and without citation, but show that sometime during the mid to late 1830's Michel became involved in trade at the first Ft. Laramie (then Ft. William), which had become an American Fur Company post in 1836. This was the Ft. Laramie visited by Alfred Jacob Miller a year later, in company with Sir William Drummond Stewart, who was known to have been traveling with Andrew Dripps, an associate of Michel Robidoux at this time.
It appears that during the early to mid 1830's, Michel was involved in the Rendezvous complex and in the Indian trade on the Western Plains of Kansas and Nebraska. He is during this time affiliated with Dripps and Fontenelle, as well as with John Gray.
He is also loosely associated with Francis at Yellowstone and at Ft. Laramie in 1837-8. "Mitchel Robidoux's route from St. Joseph with his caravan of conestago wagons was over the Oregon trail route up the North Platte to where the North and South Platte joined, where the trappers come in from old Taos, thence northward for the rendezvous at Ft. Laramie and Ft. Platte below. The country was wild and the Indians plentiful. The Black Hills extended in those days to the Laramie, the Snake River and the Grand River in Colorado.
It is believed by the St. Joseph Historical Society that Michel Robidoux in the 1834 sent out a trading party which discovered gold in the Black Hills, which then abutted Ft. Laramie. "The party was wiped out by the Sioux Indians. One survivor wrote the story on the Thoen Stone before he himself was found and killed. The Thoen Stone was discovered in recent years long after gold in the Black Hills had been rediscovered by others." In a short article on Michel Robidoux in the St. Joseph Museum Graphic, it claims that Michel was for years a trading representative of Joseph Robidoux at Fort Laramie, Wyoming "and other points in the vast Indian region north and west of Saint Joseph."
The Thoen stone is dated June, 1834, and if it is true, then it would situate Michel at the earliest period of the construction of Fort Laramie. This stone was found in March of 1887 by one stone mason Louis Thoen, while digging up stones for the construction of his house. It was found under a large flat rock in a deep crevice and near by two large oak trees on Lookout Mountain "near Spearfish at the northern edge of the Black Hills. It had been overgrown with vegetation and packed with earth. (Rezatto, 61-3). Scrawled on both sides of this flat sandstone was the following inscription:
"Came to these Hills in 1833, seven of us, De Lacompte, Ezra Kind, G. W. Wood, T. Brown, R. Kent, W. King, Indian Crow. All dead but me, Ezra Kind. Killed by Ind beyond the high hill Got our gold June 1834"
"Got all the gold we could carry. Our ponys all got by Indians. Have lost my gun and nothing to eat and indians hunting me."
Though the authenticity of this stone has never been clearly demonstrated, several pieces of historical evidence support the contention that it was not a fake:
At the time of the intriguing discovery, Thoen requested that a John Cashner, a respected businessman of Spearfish, take charge of the controversial stone. Cashner made a thorough investigation. He pointed out that the penmanship and vocabulary were typical of a literate person in the 1830's. Manypeople came forward to testify that Louis Thoen was a conservative man, thoroughly honest and unimaginative, and that it was not in his nature to be a practical joker, especially about anything as serious as gold. (Rezatto, 62)
In 1887, newspapers across the country broadcasted the discovery of the stone, and many people came forward with information about the people identified on the stone. Cashner had received a letter from one claiming to be a nephew of T. Brown claiming that Brown had left Missouri in 1832-3 "with a man named Kent" and was never heard of again. Cashner received another letter that Kent was an uncle who disappered in the 1830's with an "adventurer named Kind". "A surviving Kind relative also wrote a plausible explanation which added credibility to the existence of the seven men listed on the controversial stone."(Rezatto, 64)
In 1878, the Deadwood Telegraph-Herald published the following account:
Every few months the minor or the adventurous prospector brings to light fresh evidence of early mining opertions in the Hills...Mining implements have been unearthed many feet below the surface of a spot where no mine workings were known tohave existed. An iron chain was found imbedded in a large tree where it had probably hung for many years."
An early pioneer of the same area found "rusty camping utensils cached on Lookout Mountain, no far from where Louis Thoen said he found his stone." (ibid, 65)
An Indian story which some historians believe refers to Ezra Kind, was allegedly repeated by aging braves on the Pine Ridge Reservation. A band of Indian hunters noticed a muddy stream in the foothills of the Black Hills. Thinking that beavers must be stirring up the usually clear water, the eager hunters followd the creek upstream where they were surprised and angered to find a party of whites gold-panning and digging the sandy banks, thus muddying the waters. Reportedly, the Indians killed all the whites but one who escaped. Later they took over the pile of gold and were able to sell it to the Hudson Bay Company for $18,000 in merchandise. (Rezatto, 64)
Whatever the truth of the Thoen Stone legend, and whatever connection Michel Robidoux may have actually had with this lost party, it does point to his probable whereabouts during this time. Whether Francois was in his company during this period is uncertain, especially as records indicate that Francis may have been over the Continental divide with his other brothers in the Taos nexus of trade and trapping.
From about 1830 until 1835, it appears that Michel Robidoux was trapping in association with Lucien Fontenelle, Andrew Dripps and John Gray. On August 19th, 1831, P. & J. Powell gave a bill of goods to Michel Robidoux, and by November 25th, Lucien Fontenelle promised to pay Robidoux. As late as August 1st, 1835, Lucien Fontenelle at Fort William wrote to Drips in regard to the settlement of affairs between John Gray and Michel Robidoux. A letter from L. Fontenelle at Fort William August, 1st, 1835,to Andrew Drips mentions probably Michel Robidoux in relation to John Gray.
My Dear Friend,
I wrote a few days ago a few lines by express and did not give you much information expecting at the time to go up, but since I have concluded that it was better for our mutual interest for me to remain at this place untill the return from the mountains should get in & then go down with them according to our agreements with Messr. Fitzpatrick, Sublette & Bridger. I reget ohwever very much that I could not make it convenient to go up and see you not only on account of business but on account of friendship--it would be too tedious for me at the present to undertake to giveyoua full view of our business, sufice it to say that it stands fair. Mr. Fitzpatrick may be able to give you some information on the subject.
I wish that you () have the good () to Little old accounts (separately) with regards our old and new concern and send me if our should not come down yourself a copy of the same--inclosed is a copy of () against Mssrs. Fitzpatrick, Sublette & Bridger which you will please include in the arrangement--you have any young Gentlemen Clerks with you who can attend to the store (& this ()) while you will be able to arrange those affairs.
John Gray & myself have not settled any of our affairs--it is left to you & him. his outfit is to be paid half by him and the other half belongs to the company. the outfit is to be charged as cash adding one hundered per cent on the same--if there has been any Horses lost by him or his party (that is the Horses which we furnished) He is to loose the one half also. As regards his arrangement with Robidoux, I do not know anything about. I leave it to you to fix. He takes up some Beans, Corn Meal & Pumpkins which are sent up by my Woman for yours.
(See ) to (them?) G.
Fitzpatrick has charge of old Gray (your horse) He is now in fine order and has not been rode coming up this far.
There are several men going up now who are hired only for the trip up & down. Mer Cerre' will tell you who they are or if he can not the men wll tell you themselves. You will find them to be a good lot of fellows. Send down if you can all those hard hands, or if you could you oughtto pay them in goods even by diminishing or lowering the old prices. I have had a good deal of difficulty in getting up this outfit on account of the heavy expenses that we are under. We ought to try & make them as small as possible if you can do arrange it.
In haste my dear Drips, I remain your friend
P. S. You will also receive a bridle from Capt. Walker which I send up to you. Bridger has fine coat, cap, pantaloons (?) (?) up for him among the goods. Present him if you please my respects.
There are two Gentlement going up with the Party who are Gentlemen & I wish that you would take them as such; the Doctor particularly. He has been of good service to us.
If you should want to come downt his fall you will have to get some persons to stay in your place to conduct a party--it will be paid by you & myself. If Bridger should also want to come down, He has to furnish a man in his place (that is an able man).
Young Provost, Bernier, Bellaaine, and three or four others are hired as Trapers. I wish that you would see that they get trapps
Horrell is to trap by the skin, you will have to furnish him with traps, Horses, etc.
Goodby my Dear Friend,
In May of that year Cabanne, by then on the Kansas, wrote to Pratte and Chouteau et al of the news of Fontenelle and Michel Robidoux:
By 1836-7, it appears that Michel may have been in affiliation with his oldest brother, Joseph, dealing principally on the plains of Nebraska and Kansas. It is apparent that Michel long had an association with Kansas. He was issued a license to trade for one year with the Indians at the mouth of the Kansas river on October 8th, 1825, apparently just before his sojourn to Santa Fe.
That he was in the St. Louis nexus of things during this period is evidenced by a series of legal transactions recorded in St. Louis, dealing principally between Michel, his wife Suzanne and Joseph Robidoux and his wife, Suzanne's sister, Angelique. The first of these is dated June 1st, 1836, and concerns the sale of a lot of land for two thousand dollars in St. Louis to Joseph Robidoux. It was Block No. Five, containty fifty-two feet on Front and Water Streets, and running 75 feet west, and adjoining a lot already owned by Joseph Robidoux. It was a lot of land that Michel had purchased from John Kerr on the 25th of October, 1824, probably after returning successfully from his first trapping expedition to the Southwest. The second deed is dated three days later, on the fourth of June, 1836, and concerns a sale of another 35 foot by 150 foot lot in St. Louis by Michel and Suzanne to one Daniel F. Lee for the sum of one thousand dollars, which Michel had acquired form one Francois William on the 24th of August, 1825, just before his second, less successful trapping expedition to the Gila River.
In July 1836, Joseph Robidoux wrote to Abbady Sarpy at Council Bluffs advising that they outfit and send Michel Robidoux to the Pawnees in order to defeat their competition there:
Ms. Abbady Sarpy Blacksnake Sixth July , 1836,
My good freind--
In haste I send this express for () the propositions that I make
During the same moment my antagonists the company Hughes, Woens Jeffries..they propose to join together in order to sojourn to the village of the pawnies....?
The next legal transaction occurred on July 25th, 1837, and follows the letter from G. A. Bird to Joseph and Michel Robidoux stating that he (Bird) believed the mortgage foreclosure of Cavelier & Petit is void and Auguste Chouteau should be held liable.
Mssrs. Joseph & Michel Robidou
Sirs I have examined the claim of Joseph Robioux, heirs to South half of Block number 6 & the west half of Block no. 36 in the City of St. Louis and to 4 by 40 arpens in Barruides Noyers and to a track said to be a League Square on the Missisippi of which 640 is confirmed lying at the upper de Moines Rapid.
I find that in 1781 or 1782 Joseph Robidoux entered into a marriage contract in usual form, that after 1790 Joseph Robidoux did made his will, that he appointed A. Chouteau his Exec. & directed that his estate should be sold, his debts paid, that the (Said due) should be distributed one fifth to his wife & the balance between his two children. He died in 1809 leaving 8 children, 6 of them not named in the will & therefore he died intestate as to them.
At the death of Joseph Robidoux his wife by Law was entitled by her marriage contract & by Law as it then was without a marrriage contract to our equal half of all that was acquired by her & her husband during marriage. Your Mother by said extinguished the provision made for her by will
All of the above Land was sold by A Chouteau as the Executor of Robidoux without any order of Court apropriated S. half of Block No. 6. My opinion is that Chouteau as Executor could not by any authority in the will bid your mother's interest in said Lands and that said sales are void as to one half of said Lands. I am inclined to the opinion that said sales are wholly void because the Indemnities required by Law were not aforesaid.
Block No. 6 was sold under a pretended foreclosure of a mortgage from Robidoux to Cavelier & Petit.
The Proceedings onthis Mortgage I think are void.
1. Because neither the christian names of said--Cavalier & Petit are mentioned in the Petition of Foreclosure. Nor is either them the names of the Widow or heirs of the deceased mentioned in said Petition. Nor s is the name of the Executor mentioned therein.
2. Because 6 of the heirs of Rubdioux were minors & no guardian was appointed to answer or defend for them.
3. Because there was no Legal (Service) at the summons upon the Executor widow or heirs of R. to appear & show cause why said mortgage should not be foreclosed.
I think therefor ethe heirs of Robidoux can hold the half of Block No 6 Subject to said Mortgage and that the estate of Chouteau is liable to pay for the rents and profits of a half of Block No 6 since this sale.
June 25th, 1836. G. A. Bird.
On July 25, Joseph, his wife, Pelagie Boyer, Michel and his wife Suzanne, all signed a deed claiming lands inherited from the parents:
for which are also claimed adverse to us by sales made as we think under circumstances such as render them void and also having claimed against the estate of Auguste Chouteau deceased for the mal administration of the Estate of our father do hereby for and in consideration of the sume of nine hundred dollars to us in hand paid by John Darnielle & George Meade, their heirs and assigns forever, all the right title claim and estate which we have or can have in Law or equity of in any lands situated anywhere in the States of Missouri and Illinois or the territory of Wisconsin as heirs or devices of our parents Joseph Robidoux and wife or either of these.
This deed was not witnessed by Michel or his wife Suzanne until August 28th, 1837, which indicates that Michel may not have been available until that time. It is interesting to note also that his wife appeared separately after Michel, suggesting that they may have been separated at this time.
In 1839, Michel bought from Joseph and Angelique for the sum of 6,500 dollars a lot in Block five of St. Louis that was twenty-six feet by seventy-two feet in size, which was bounded by other land owned by Joseph and which was first bought by him from Victor and Catherine Lagoterie on April 27th, 1812.
Documentary evidence of his whereabouts during this time is indicated by legal deposition he gave in 1838 in regard to his knowledge of the Pawnee raid on the trade caravan of Marcellin St. Vrain that was bound for Santa Fe:
State of Missouri
County of St. Louis,
Be it remembered, that on the eleventh day of July, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty-eight, before me, a justice of the peace in and for the county aforesaid, came Michelle Robidoux, who is personally known to me, and, being by me duly sworn, on his oath states: That, in the month of April last, he was at the Pawnee village on the river Platte, about two hundred miles from its mouth, ans was in the cabin of the chief of the nation, when a young Pawnee told him that he was one of a party who, in the fall preceding, had met a party of white men on one of the forks of the river Arkansas, whom they robbed of everything, viz: merchandize, horses, mules, and all their travelling equipage. The young Pawnee showed to the affiant several Spanish blankets and
Spanish bridles, with many other valuable articles, which the Indians stated they had stolen from that party of white men. From the description given to affiant by the Pawnees, of the time, place, and other circumstances of the robbery, he entertains no doubt that the party of white men alluded to by the Indians as having been robbed by them, was the company of Bent, St. Vrain, & Co., on their way to New Mexico, under the command of Marcelen St. Vrain. And further affiant saith not.
(Signed) M. Robiodux
Sworn and subscribed before me, the day and year first aforesaid.
Justice of the Peace.
St. Vrain and company never received compensation for their loss, as the government denied their claim because the incident occurred in Mexican territory. The incident is important, not only because it gives a glimpse of some key traders in that time, but because it provided a list of trade items and their values:
8 pieces moleskin, 428.5 yards at $1 $428.50
40 pieces domestics, 1,299.25 yards, at 50 cents 649.62
38 pairs brogans, at $3 114.00
15 pieces domestics, 495 yards, at 50 cents 247.50
6 pieces calico, 180 yards, at 75 cents 135.00
1 piece scarlet cloth, 36 yards, at $5 180.00
10 pounds led balls, at 50 cents 5.00
25 pounds spring steel, at 75 cents 18.75
9 mules and saddles, at $75 675.00
3 horses and saddles, at $100 300.00
25 pounds of sugar, and 15 pounds of coffee 30.00
Camp equipage 22.00
23 buffalo robes, at $4.50 103.50
10 reams of paper, at $10 100.00
1 8-quire record 20.00
25 pounds printer's ink 40.00
2 Latin missals, at $20 40.00
1 rifle 40.00
8 Spanish bridles, at $6 48.00
3 fusils, at $25 75.00
Another story that comes out of the late 1830's also associates Michel Robidoux with the area of the Pawnee's. It is evident that he was associated with an early branch of what later became the California-Oregon trail, what was known as "Lower Robidoux Crossing" of Robidoux Creek (also referred to as "Vermillion Creek") which is south of present day Beattie, Kansas.
"This cannot be confirmed. Robidoux Creek was named for Michel Robidoux, youngest brother of the founder of St. Joseph. "M Robidoux--Trapper--1841" is carved in stone southwest of the crossing. Tradition says that he married an Indian woman and operated a trading post in the vicinity. His wife was brutally tortured and killed by tribal enemies, and Robidoux left the area to spend most of his life in the fur trade near Fort. Laramie."
In May of 1947, this branch was officially renamed Robidoux Creek by the U. S. Board of Geographic place names based on the inscription on the rock found there near a ford, which is given as a "stream about 25 miles long heading near Summerfield and flowing generally southward to the Black Vermillion River 1.5 miles southwest of Frankfort; Marshall county, source in sec. 12, T. 1 S, R. 9 E, and mouth in sec. 20, T. 4 S R. 9 E, sixth principal meridian, mouth at 30 (degrees) 41' 15" N, 96 (degrees) 26' 30" W. Not: Black Vermillion Creek, Robiodux Fork,Vermilion Creek,Vermillion Creek, West Fork." ("The Renaming of Robidoux Creek, Marshall County" in Kansas Historical Quarterly)
The ford was later known as lower Robidoux crossing and was on an old Indian trail used by trappers during the 1830's and 1840's, and was due west of the Blacksnake Hills trading post.
It is apparent that Michel Robidoux was using a trail in this vicinity that was later developed into a road leading to Marysville, crossing Robidoux creek at "Lower Robidoux Crossing" south of Beattie, Kansas. Robidoux creek is known on maps of the 1880's as the "West Branch of the Vermillion River". Like so many other aspects of Michel's life, this segment appears to belong as much to folklore now as to conventional history. By and large, the history of the early trading posts do not record his presence in the area, though it is highly likely that he was indeed there. Michel purportedly operated at trading establishment at this crossing during the 1830's.
Supporting evidence for this, though sketchy and fragmentary, comes for a couple of independent sources. The first is a letter addressed from Joseph Robidoux to Abbady Sarpy dated February 3rd, 1836, in regard to goods sold to Michel Robidoux and the advantages of sending him to the Panis. It appears that at this time, Michel was in association with his oldest brother Joseph, who would almost have been like a father to him.
Another piece of evidence is the baptismal record left by C. Hoecken for Council Bluffs (Sobotka, 18), on the 12 of September 1843, a child was baptized named Therese Robidoux, to the parents of Michel Robidoux and an Indian woman of unnamed tribal affiliation. If the incident of the massacre occurred, then it may have been after this time.
It is known that the fur trade more or less collapsed by the 1842, with the last of the great rendezvous occuring in 1840. He was back in St. Louis by the winter of 1838, for his second daughter, Octavia, was born on Aug. 26, 1839. Octavia was born in Blacksnake Hills. Both sisters attended private subscription school conducted by Mrs. Israel Landis in St. Joseph. Octavia became a nun in the convents of the Sacred Heart in St. Joseph, St. Mary's in Kansas and in Chicago, where she died in 1888 (Boder, 1956:5).
Again, it appears that between the fall of 1838 and Spring of 1839 he must have visited and stayed with his wife in St. Louis. This daughter, Octavia, is the one who would later be associated with the sisters of the Sacred Heart at Marysville, Kansas. That Michel brought his family to St. Joseph, probably during the 1840's, is apparent, as we find reference to his daughters being enrolled there in a private tuition school, and later, to the death of his wife in the residence of his nephew Julius C.Robidoux.
Mitchel can be indirectly associated with the earliest Laramie post, through his associations with Sublette, Fontenelle, Drips and Bordeaux and Papin, from the period 1835-1845. It is my opinion that he was leading trapping expeditions seasonally from this nexus, and semi-annually leading caravans down to St. Joseph. According to Merril Mattes, it is certain that the Robidouxs had a post by Fort John or Laramie, by the late 1840s, but nothing is known of its exact location. He may, in association with one or more of his nephews who were apparently the Blacksmiths at Ft. Laramie during this time, been running, stocking and maintaining the trading post establishment that was apparently located on the Southwest and west side of the fort. We are faced with a dearth of documentary evidence or journal accounts to support this hypothesis. But it is certain that the same establishment of Robidoux who later relocated to Scott's Bluffs, was previously situated at Ft. Laramie in much the similar kind of arrangements.
Mitchell Robidoux, brother of Joseph Robidoux, founder of St. Joseph, traded mostly at Fort Larimer, Wyoming. He would come home telling his family he had seen the Jollie Jardin en le Monde (the prettiest park in the world), which is Yellowstone Park. He made his trips in conestoga wagons, taking loads of calicoes, beads, mirrors, bacon, suagar and other merchandise so prized by the red brothers and exchanged them for furs and buffalo hides, and float their cargoes in mackinaw scows which they built. Others would patronize and trade various little articles which tookt he fancy of either. The white men were sociable and jollly with their red brothers, enjoying each other's company quite naturally.
His long association with the Pawnee and his presence in the area make it a likely possibility that it was Michel, and not Antoine, who was associated with leading the first leg of the Aram train from St. Joseph in 1846. The Aram Train, the famous California pioneers, convened on the 1st of May, 1846, near Independence Missouri. From there they lost little time in making their way to the crossing at St. Joseph. The next day they ferried across the river and set out across Indian country. They soon fell in whith a large party of Sioux and Fox Indians:
They were mounted on ponies with fine trappings. A few days after that the party struck the Platt river, and had no sooner got settled in camp than a band of about fifty Pawnee Indians, that had been out on a buffalo hunt, came and pitched their tents near them; the party was not pleased with their company. The Indians came to camp, bringing dried buffalo meat as a present to them, but hey failed to relish the present after its being handled by those dirty looking creatures. Aram gave his share to the dog. That evening the Indians came to their camp and gave a war dance, accompanied by their kind of music; they were continually begging. The emigrants immediately began to pack up everything for an early start; to their great surprise many articles were missing. They well knew that the Indians must have taken them. The old chief was in camp begging as usual; they told him that many articles had been stolen by his men; he stoutly denied it. Aram had a Frenchman with him that could speak their language; he demanded of the chief that the stolen property should be returned, which he positively refused; finally he said that if they would give him a quantity of flour, indicating with his hands how large a pile would do, he would try and make the boys bring the property back. Roubedou, the Frenchman, advised them to make a prisoner of the chief and to threaten to turn him over to the Sioux, as they were at war with that tribe. The party took his advice and seized the old chief and pinioned his arms behind him. The old fellow began to think that he had got into a tight place; he sange out at the top of his voice for his men to bring everything back, and in less than five minutes every stolen article was returned. He was given his liberty and the party were soon on their way. (Watson, 621)
It is possible that this incident involved Antoine, but it is more likely that this may have been Michel, who was known to have dealt extensively with the Pawnee and probably knew well their language and ways of dealing. It is also evident that according to Aram, "We fell in with an old mountaineer, Kit Carson, that had spent most of his life with the Indians, he offered to pilot us to California for a nominal sum of money and a stipulated amount of provisions." This apparently was right after the incident with Robidoux, and it suggests that Michel (or Antoine) and Carson may have fallen in together, at least for a brief moment.
That Michel was still in the St. Louis nexus of the trade by 1845 is evidenced by another legal deed that was transacted on March 28th of that year in St. Louis, in which Michel and his wife sold to Joseph Robidoux the same lot of land in the city which Michel had bought from him in 1837, for the amount of $5,000 dollars. It was apparent that by the mid-1840's, either the value of land in St. Louis had substantially depreciated, or that Michel was suffering financial hardships in supporting his family, having to finally give up the lot at substantially less than he originally paid for it.
The move from Laramie to Scott's Bluffs was made in about 1846-7, and it appears to have been precipitated by a change of management, anticipation of the change over of the post to the military, and anticipation of a surging tide of emigrants. It appears also that for the most part, Mitchel Robidoux was the "man in charge" in the field of operations in this nexus.
It is my conclusion also that the majority of emigrant account's of "Robida" encountered along the trail during this period were probably Mitchel in transit.
By this period, the nature of the fur trade had been altered--beaver was replaced by buffalo hides.
If Michel Robidoux frequently used the route to Laramie from St. Joseph during this time, possibly resupplying the trading posts and transporting cargo between, then he might properly be identified as a founding father of the first half of the Oregon trail--without doubt it was in the wagon ruts of his trains that latter California, Mormon and Oregon pioneers came.
It is likely that Michel was associated with the second Fort Laramie during the time visited by Francis Parkman in 1843-4, during which Papin was the bourgeosie of this American Fur Company post. He may have been the Frenchman met by Parkman nearby Scott's Bluff on June 12th, 1846:
Henry entertained us with accts. of his adventures at one of the blows-out
given by the bourgeois at the Yellow Stone, when the traders come in the spring. It was very characteristic. This is the custom at all the forts. Overtook a company of emigrants, Americans and foreigners, encamped with whom were five men from Laramie, going down. Crept into one of the waggons--wrote letters--and gave them to these people. Then adanced to Roubideau's party, camped a mile or two in advance. Camped by them.
June 13th. (1846) Roubideau left the emigrants and joined us. Travelled 8 miles & nooned on Platte--then came 15 and 16 farther and camped by the spring at Scott Bluff. All these bluffs are singular and fantastic formations--abrupt, scored with wooded ravines, and wrought by storms into the semblance of lines of buildings. Midway on one of them gushes the spring, in the midst of wild roses, currrants, cherries, and a hundred trees; and cuts for itself a devious wooded ravine across the smooth plain below. Stood among the fresh wild roses and recalled old and delightful associations.
Henry tells a story of an attempt to murder the men at the Blackfoot fort, eight years ago, by the Gros Ventres for the sake of liquor--betrayed by a squaw.
Sometimes among the Sioux a peculiar cap is placed by a medicine man on the head of a chief or warrior in a war party, thus binding him either to be killed or to make a coup.
A war party turned back because they saw the spirits of the dead casting rocks at them.
A feast is often given to a dead chief--the pipe is offered him, and food buried for his use.
Some Inds. give themselves out to be invulnerable.
Roubideau says that the Navaho (e)s near Santa Fe make glazed pottery and beautiful ponchos.
The Apache, in the White Mts., steal the cattle, dresses, women, etc., of the Spaniards, and defy them in the midst of their towns. The latter hired an American to protect them, who raised a band of Dels., Shaws, and Americans, and chastised them. (437-8)
The next day, the party came upon "Old Smokes" Indian camp of twenty lodges at Horse Creek, where they had lunch on "sweetened tea, buffalo meat, and biscuit--then passed the pipe."
The camp was a picturesque scene. The squaws put uptemporary sun shades, and scattered their packs and utensils about--the boys splashed into the river--the horses were picketed around. The shield and three poles hung up for each lodge--medicine--Smoke's was pure white. One old fat man rode along with us, professing great friendship for the whites, and boasting what he would do against the Crows, a party of whom were out. (439)
On June 15th, they camped on the Platte, and came upon an unfinished log fort being built by Sarpy:
--log houses in form of a square, facing inwards--two Sioux lodges in the open area--corale behind, and plenty of shaggy little ponies feeding on the bottom. The bourgeois Richard received us politely, and ushered us into a log room, with a rock fireplace, and hung with rifles and their equipments, fanfaron bridles, garnished buckskin dresses, smoking apparatus, bows & quivers, etc. The men lounging around on robes--passed the pipe--an Ind. seated in the corner--Reynard filling the pipe in the chimney corner--a voyageur, with hair glued in Ind. fashion, lounging on a bedstead.
Nooned by the Platte, having invited our entertainers to a cup of coffee. Previously we arranged our toilets, washing in the mud of the Platte, which, from its late rising, was perfectly opaque. Gave our feast under a cotton wood tree, and rode towards the fort. Laramie Mt., Sybil & Adam's deserted fort, and finally Laramie appeared, as the prospect opened among the hills. Rode past the fort, reconnoitred from the walls, and passing the highest ford of L Fork, were received at the gate by Boudeau, the bourgeois. Leading our horses into the area, we found Inds.--men, women, and children--standing around, voyageurs and trappers--the surrounding apartment occupied by the squaws and children of the traders. Fort divided into two areas--one used as a corale--two bastions of clay blockhouses--another blockhouse over main entrance. They gave us a large apartment, where we spread our blankets on the floor. From a sort of balcony we saw our horses and carts brought in, and witnessed a picturesque frontier scene. Conversed and smoked in the windy porch. Horses made a great row in the corale. At night the Inds. set up their songs. At the burialplace are several Inds. laid on scaffolds, and a circle of buffalo skulls below. Vaskis, Cimoneua, Montalon, Knight, and other traders and hunters are here.
Roubidau says that twenty Iroquois warriors, from Canada, were not many years since on the Upper Missouri, and were braver and more enterprising than any other of the Inds.
It is to be presumed by this text that this Robidoux had accompanied them into the fort, and had engaged them in polite conversation along the way over the few days. No mention of a trading post at Scott's bluff is given, as presumably it had not yet been built. It is impossible that this Robidoux he mentions could have been either Joseph IV or Antoine, as other accounts place them in other places. It is probable that this individual was Michel, as Francis may have been in the St. Louis nexus during this time. The reference to the Iroquois Indians refers back at this time to the expedition he was on with Dripps and Fontenelle in the year 1831, and his references to Santa Fe bar this from being Indian Joe.
The location of both Francis and Michel in the area of St. Joseph to Fort Laramie during year of 1847 is given in the Benjamin Harding letters, several of which are addressed to them. These letters indicate, among other things, that Francois and Michel were in company together, apparently freighting goods across the plains to and from St. Joseph, where they dealt exclusively with Joseph. On May 24th of that year, Harding wrote to Joseph that:
The Iowas stole a basket from us yesterday containing a few smal articles therefore I wish you to direct J C or M & F Robidoux to send me the following articles by Roy if he whould be the bearer of this, otherwise the first opportunity.
1 Pair Scissors
2 Spools fine thread
1 Paper pins
2 or 3 boxes matches
1 steel thimble (common size for a female)
1/2 dozen skeins Black patent thread or 2 or 3 oz.
1 ball candle wicking
On June 3rd, Harding wrote to "Messrs. Robidoux--By the bearer I send five coon one wolf & 1 cat skin in hopes that they will arrive before Joe Robidoux starts for St. Louis...Yours in haste." Five days later, he wrote to both Francois and Michel, and continuing until August 31st, his letters are directed exclusively to them, indicating that they were probably in charge of the St. Joseph post while Joseph IV had sojourned for the summer in St. Louis:
June 8th. M. and F. Robidoux, Messrs--I wish you would send me as soon as possible some flour for we shall be compelled to borrow for our own consumption in a day or two. Send by bearer, Mr. Ivin, one pund Sal-Eratus.
12 June 47. M & F Robidoux, Messrs. Yours by the Indian ws received last evening. The Sacs seem particularly anxious to start as soon as possible for the Buffalo country, and they want for their outfit some things which I have not got here and Maj. Rucker tells me that if I will furnish he will warrant the payment. Therefore I wish you to forward the follwoing articles with the flour on monday.
20 Pieces good thick strong domestic for tents
1 Box tobacco or two if you have it of a cheap kind
6 or 8 pounds vermillion
1 Sack Salt
10 Pounds ground pepper.
Maj. Rucker & others here wanting vinegar. If you have or can get a half barrel (or barrel if nothing less) and forward it with the rest I wish you would do it. We shall depend on the above articles coming on monday for we are all quite as anxious for the Indians to go as they are. The Ioways talk of going with the Sacs but I fear few of them will go.
June 15. M. and F. Robidoux, Messrs.--By the bearer Brichnell, I send you four beef hides, two wolf & three coon skins. A letter sent to you by an Indian three days ago I am sorry could not have reached you before Brichnell came up. I would have gone down myself but it is very difficult for me to leave home and if I had I am notsure that Icould have done much better for your ferryman seemsto show little partiality lately to any person wishing to cross from this side. We shall be compelled to desert him and go to the upper ferry.
P. S. Send me a half doz pieces calico.
June 17. Messrs.--Yours of this date has been received together with the articles therein mentioned.
I am anxious to know why it is that you sent me such a bill. Is it for fear that I will not add percentage enough that you thus attempt to keep me in the dakr respecting the cost of goods? I think I have too correct an idea of the value of goods to suppose that you paid 10c for domestic or 20c for tobacco &c. I have bought equally as good tobacco in St. Joseph for 10c. I shall expect you to forward some Groceries &c. as soon as they are received from St. Louis when I shall want to know the original cost.
July 3d, 1847. M & F Robidoux--Messrs--By the bearer Mr. Brichnell I send you twenty seven pair of mocasins, also Fifteen dollars cash which you will probably forward to Jh Robidoux as I suppose he needs all that he can get. Mr. Brichnell is going prepared to bring some groceries &c. if they have arrived.
Please send me six pieces tape of two thirds the width of the enclosed sample. Also nine yards of dark Gingham checked.
PS. Six Small Stone Jars.
July 10/47. M & F Robidoux--Messrs. The articles sent by Brichnell were received. Brichnell thinks he can not go down yet therefore as he says you want his horse he has hired the bearer an Ioway to take him down.
He has purchased Roy's croop & to-day he is going to take possession of his hourse or a part of it at lest.
His commission has arrived.
Write by the bearer.
July 12/47. M & F. Robidoux. Messrs--Brichnell has requested me to write to you by Roy who is going down to day to purchase the wagon which B. has here. If he has not got the means to pay for it now we do not know what the prospect of his being able to pay for it hereafter.
I have secured his debt here and he has got Brichnells note for nineteen dollars. Brichnell complains of having been deceived in regard to the possession of the house. If he buys the wagon given him an order on B for it. The accompany letter you will please leave at the PO.
July 15. M. & F. Robidoux, Messrs.---Brinchnell is going to St. Jo. with a team to fetch some things for me & others. The following articles you will please
Nails Sixes Eights & Tens
Some cotton thread
1 quart varnish
1 do Spirits Turpentine
3 oz. aqua fortis
2 pounds Sal Soda
Calico Rice & Thread we are entirely out of. I have had several calls for nails lately & by keeping them I can sell some but I know not how many. The other articles for private use I must trouble you to get for me at the drug store. Do not let B complain of having too little loading.
P. S. A few dox fresh eggs will be very acceptable if you can pack them so that they will come safely.
The following letter was not sent:
July 27/47. Messrs M. & F Robidoux. Sirs--Roy has demanded an order of Brichnell from you before he will give possession of his house, which you will please forward by the bearer Mr. Scott Rucker. Send by Scott one pound Sal Eratus & some mouse traps if he can fetch them. The mice are likely to eat us out. If you will send a keg of Sal Eratus when convenient I can dispose of it here.
P. S. Brichnell wishes me to caution you against saying anything to Roy that will tend to raise any excitement for he would rather camp in a fence corner than have a quarrel with any one else.
Aug. 12. M. and F. Robidoux, Messrs.--By the bearer (Brichnell) I sendyou twenty-seven (27) dollars cash, 66 pr. moccasins, 23 lbs. deer, 1 wolf, 2 buffalo, 3 cat, 8 coon skins and 3 hides.
The following articles I wish you to forward me viz
1 keg Sal Eratus we can sell here
1 small box Tea if good. I not we can not sell it here
1 lb patent thread Black, 1 do assorted if you have it
1 doz fine combs
1 box candles
1 sack salt if B can fetch it
1/2 doz pr (?) 2 1/2 in Butts
Ribbon (assorted colors)
1 or 2 doz Brooms
Needles (assorted) some quite fine
A few gay pieces calico
A few p Brown domestic/1 p 1 1/4 wide if you have it
1 piece Bleached 1 1/4 wide if you have it that is good
1/2 box Tobacco
4 pr white American blankets.
If you can get a Try square without too much trouble & forward to me you will accomodate me much. Also 1 qt. Turpentie. I fyou have fresh eggs Brichnell contrive a plan to fetch some. The average cost of the mcsns sent ws not more than twenty cents. We are occasionally obliged to let a blanket go to bury the dead when a poor one can be made to pass.
Brichnell is likely to be taken by assault and we have been obliged to let him under our wing to prevent the squaws getting him under theirs in which case we might lose him, for I am certain the search will be a hopeless one among a parcel of fat Iowa squaws.
Aug 22/47. Messrs. Please send by the bearer the following articles. viz
1 Doz boxes percussion caps
2 Papers & Tacks (?) 4 & 8 ozs
1/2 doz Pad Locks
1 Doz Nutmegs for private use.
By August 31st, the date of Harding's next letter, Joseph has apparently returned to St. Joseph. All the subsequent letters published are directed to Joseph. On November 8th, another letter is directed to Michel and Francois Robidoux:
Nov. 8. To M. and F. Robidoux. Messrs. Tomorrow I start for Grand River. Those three barrels of flour are wanted here badly by Interpreters and others. If you have an opportunity send them and Birchnell will take care of them.
M. & F. Robidoux
It is apparent that both Michel and Francis were probably somewhere near St. Joseph during this period, working from it on the plains, at least as far as Fort Laramie. A letter from Benjamin Harding is directed exclusively for Michel Robidoux, dated March 15th, 1848:
Mr. M. Robidoux
Dr Sir. Brichnell has just been telling me of your wishing me to try to collect a claim for you against the Ioway's. I have since been to the office where I found a document from the commissioner of Indian Affairs from which I make the following extract for your information. "There is no disposition on the part of the Government to interfere with or throw any obstacle in the way of the payment by the Indians of their just debts either individual or national. The payment of their annuities to them individually will enable them to discharge those of the first class and on its being ascertained by a full and fair investigation by the Department that any of the tribes owe any which should justly be considered of the later class and which were justified by the circumstances and objects under and for which they were created no objections will be made to the Indians setting apart such portions of their annuity for their payment as can properly and consistently with their individual wants and necessities be spared for that purpose but all such claims must be presented prior to the first day of April next (1848) in order that they may be investigated and such arrangements made in regard to their payment as may appear to be requisite and proper prior to the annuity payment of next year (1848) and you will cause all claimants to be notified accordingly. It is a leading object with the department to have all old transactions with the Indians finally arranged and closed and that hereafter all
intercourse with them may be conducted and regulated according to simple and well defined principles by which all parties may clearly understand their relative positions duties and rights."
I was not aware of any such regulations having until now or it would have been my duty to have informed my employer of it. Please do so for me now.
A claim can not now be sent to the department by the first of April but perhaps if all the circumstances are noted together with the fact of your not being notified, it may still claim the attention of the Dept but if it is longer neglected it can never be collected, and even now it is very doubtful. The Department will not sanction the payment of any claim unless it is made to appear clearly not only that it is just and right, but the Indians have had a full equivalent consisting of the necessaries and comforts of Indian life.
If you will send me your note and account properly attested &c I will present them and do all that is in my power consistent with honor and duty. It will be necessary for you to send your account or a copy of it that it may be laid before the Indians for their approval. Also for the information and guidance of the Department a statement of all the facts and circumstances under which the credit was given. State fully the situation and circumstances of that band at that time. Whether they were sharing the other credits of the Ioways and whether they were receiving any annuity at all. The reason why you have not pushed your claim before. Be sure to state that you had not been informed of the before mentioned regulation of the Department, together with all the facts and circumstances that may have a tendency to force consideration of it upon the department and perhaps it would be best to certify to the whole of it under oath.
Last fall the chief of the upper band asked the agent to allow them their part of the annuity separate and that he might be allowed to pay you what he owed you, but the agents instructions were such that he could not comply with his request. That is the most I have known about your debt, except what Brichnell tells me now. The business of others I pay very little attention to unless requested.
I have said I would attend to it for you. I will do so unless my employer would consider it inconsistent with my duty to him. You had better consult him on the subject--without his consent I could do nothing.
"Mitchel" or Michel, is again mentioned in Harding's next letter dated March 16th, 1848 that is direct to Joseph, asking for directions regarding Michel's claim. Also "If Mitchell wants to buy a riding nag I have one for sale that can not fail to suit him unless he wants a pacer." The next letter, dated March 28th, also mentions Michel:
Tell Michel to send me the box which I left, 1/2 doz large white plates, and 1 1/2 yds of white flannel fromt he piece which I got from the other day. I have not got the papers ready but will have them and send them by Robidoux.
Again, on April 11th, 1848, reference is made to Michel--Maj Ruckers time expires to day consequently we shall have to let Michels acct stand until we get a new agent--which I hopewill be soon and perhaps it will be best..." Nothing more is found of Michel's claim until August 21st, 1848:
Dr. Sir. Michels papers were left by Col. Vaughn at the Comm. Office. He says they are so thronged with business that they could not examine them while he was here--they would have to wait their turn. He can write to W P Hall if he thinks best. Iwould probably be better for him to write than for me. But it is the probable that congress has adjourned ere this and heis on his way home. Brichnell wishes me to ask you to send some coarse combs. He has not combed hishairfor three months at least. I think a coal rake would be best for him.
Col Vughn caught three white men in an Indian camp last night. Vesser among them.
This is the last known reference to this claim agains the upper band of the Ioways by Michel, presumably on the extension on credit of trade items, probably of a quantity sufficient for Michel to subsequently pursue restitution of his losses. That Michel was probably in financial straights during this time is suggested by the land transaction he made in 1845, in which he sold back to Joseph property in St. Louis for less than he bought it for in 1837.
Orral Messmore notes in a description of a wedding of Pierre Isadore's son, Franklin, at St. Joseph that took place on December 14, 1843, during which the charivaries lead to some problems and an arrest. This places Mitchel within this region at this time.
It is also likely that Michel was also associated with the Robidoux posts at Scott's Bluff in 1848-9, having vacated Ft. Laramie which was then purchased, in a state of dilapidation, by the government in 1849. He may have been managing fur-caravans from this point, and guiding migrant groups acroos the Oregon trail as well. His first name has been positively identified in at least two 49'r journals as associaated with east-bound ox-trains along the Oregon trail--Howell and Page.
Mitchell Robidoux is met by the emigrant group with Henry Page on May 12th, 1849:
One such had overtaken the Jersey Company on the twelfth of May. Michel Robidoux, the younger brother of the founder of St. Joseph, gray-haired but still handsome. He knew the country ahead, every stick and clod of it, for he made his living trading out from Fort Laramie with a Conestoga wagon loaded with calico, beads, mirrors and trinkets for the Indians, to exchange for furs and buffalo hides. (Elizabeth Page, 120-121)
Joseph Hackney wrote in his Journal on that caravan: "saw a man to day that has been to fort Larime a number of times he says that the road from hear thear is as good as we have come over to day the distance thear is seven hundred and fifty miles we will have to go a few miles tomorrow to get wood we have a bad creek to cross before we can get wood."(120)
Apparently Michel told the leader of the train to pass up any letters to him for delivery, which did not take place for a few more days. In Henry Page's letter to his wife Mary from "the Banks of the Big Nemaha, Sunday Afternoon, May 12, 1849":
D'Knapp (who is our captain) told us that, Mr. Robodoux a fur trader, who lives at Fort Laramie (600 miles ahead), passed our train yesterday on his way west, to meet his train of pack mules, coming in with furs--and that we that wished, had better write, and when we met the train, we could send our letter to be mailed at St. Jo. (Elizabeth Page, 122)
It was about this same time, May 24th, 1849, that Bruce Husband from Fort John (Fort Laramie) wrote to Andrew Drips in Kansas, Missouri, complaining that "a party who passed said the free men who are with the Sioux at Ash Hollow scare people away from us, saying we are rascals and cheats."
Fort Joh, 24th May, 1849
Andrew Drips Esq.
My dear Sir.
I take the present opportunity of writing you a few lines to acquaint you with the state of matters here. After you left we were dull enough for a few days, until Robinson arrived from Mo. when I set him and Burke at whitewashing the rooms, repairing chimneys etc., we had just got through this most necessary job, when the first emigration parties arrived keeping Burke & in fact all of us employed, crossing their wagons, etc. etc.. Yesterday three Mormons arrived here from Salt lake, they were plundered by the Crows at the crossing of Platte, I bought a few (4) horses from them which were in very bad order but I got them cheap. I cut down our tongue tub & made a canoe for them with which they will leave this place to-morrow. it is a great pity you lef no robes here as I could sell inferior robes very freely to emigrants at 3.-- dollars each, as it is, no robes, no blacksmith to work & no oxen or horses (all of which would be more than ordinarily profitable,) it is impossible to make anything out of the emigration xcepting ferryage, which last will cease when Laramie falls. We might make a little by the shop etc, but every party that has passed informs me & in fact everyone here, that the free men who are with the Sioux at Ash Hollow, scare people from having anything to do with us. Mr. Roubidoux is particularly mentioned as having told that we were all damned rascals & cheats at this place. I am not aware of having given any one cause to say this of me & I shall make him aware of my opinion of his conduct if I ever see him. Mr. Campton on his way down has paid what he owed us here last fall. By the time you receive this, you will be aware of the gold fever etc. Every thing is going on well here.
I would write you more fully but there is nothing of great interest only this. (a fortune in two or three years can be made by taking seven or eight-thousand dollars worth of good serviceable merchandise into Salt Lake Valley next autumn or even next Spring.) If you think of anything like this or would feel inclined to assist me therein, I am on hand certainly.
Mr. Williams who will hand you this wishes to make arrangements to furnish horses to the Co. here. he will explain his views to your, etc.
Meantime I remain
Yours most respectfully,
P. S. I do not think I shall go back to St. Louis or even to the States again.
Among other things, this passage indicates that the Robidoux may have had operational a kind of trading post at Ash Hollow during the peak of the Gold Rush. Ash Hollow may actually be a mistaken reference to the Scott's Bluff post at Roubideau's pass, known to be in operation at the time. The reference to Robidoux in this letter may be to any one of the numerous brothers, sons or nephews who were in some connection affiliated at this post, especially since the reference to the Sioux might preclude the possibility of Michel, who was known to have been more closely affiliated with the Pawnee.
The next set of solid references to Michel come from trading licenses issued on July 23, 1850, for commerce with Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribes. Apparently, the license lists a capital of $12,000 and Michel Robidoux is one of the employees listed. (Mattes, in Hafen: 309). A license was issued a year later, on July 15, 1851, in which Michael is listed as both a guarantor and an assistant trader, with capital of $5,000.
A letter was uncovered, addressed from Joseph to a Roderick McKenzie of Montreal and dated 1851, stating that Michel was at Fort Laramie.
Evidence suggests that Mitchel, Francis and Isadore continued with the trade along the Nebraska leg of the Oregon trail, and that they may have remained at the Scott's Bluffs post, at least up until 1860, though, after 1851, the emigrant tide had subsided, and there began a long resurgence of Indian hostilities.
A letter from John Tutt at Fort Laramie to John Dougherty at Liberty dated April 14th, 1852, makes a reference to Robidoux in connection with Andrew Drips, suggesting that this may be in relation to Michel:
Fort Laramie, April 14th, 1852
As the mail will (or ought to be) be here tomorrow night, and then I shall have no time I will drop you a line now. I got your letter dated 26th Jany--on the middle of March--but as the Salt Lake mail got in about 20 minutes after, as luck had it, I could not answer you by return mail. We missed the Feby. mail as the man turned back from the Blue; but I am in hopes you got my letter about servants in good time, to send by Bootes.
In regard to Johnson I have written you. I look for him this month.
I got your & Campbells letters just in time by one day to keep me from sending off our liquors etc. I will get rid of all I can this year of everything even at a small profit.
I think Campbell most too hard about "proper energy" to be used here in selling. I can seel as many goods as any one in this country,
but I like to see the money for them.
Neither Ketchum or Dr. Wood gave you any money to take to St. Louis. It must have been the rifles or at Kearny.
I heard last mail that you & C. had sold out to Wilson & Adams.
I wrote for Turner. I hope to God he will come if I stay here two years longer on the Stretch, I believe I'll go crazy.
In the way of trading this winter with the Indians, we have got more robes than any others in the country. I have not got them all delivered yet, as we can not press fast enough with two men. Mr. Guerrier will let me know tomorrow whether he will take them down. I shall send by him if I can 400 packs as I want to get them out of my way. We have now in the house 372 lbs of No. 1 Beaver--that I shall keep for some safer mode--perhaps by Machin. I think by the time the robe & beaver trade is over I can send between 13 and $14,000 worth in all down that is if the robes average 2.85 and beaver 2.50 per lb.
I bought sugar & coffee from McClosky--paid him cash--yester I have him a draft for 1500$ of his money at 2%--I shall send allour money by Machin.
I hope there will be a big emigration this year as we sall be fixed better for them.
We are now out of many little things--my "devel" has given me a list of necessaries to be kept on hand--it comprises about 400 different articles. since Bootes went away he has ordered himself on two councils to tariff some things that Elliot & Bootes did not. He is going to "goggle" his Co, I expect as he puts them down as a necessary. However we get along very well--only it is very annoying sometimes to spar off his pointed questions. Dr. Wood is quite clever and agreeable. I hope Bootes will be back soon.
In regard to more goods, I think it best to let that alone until July or therabouts as we will then know whether the Post will be broken up.
Herbert has gone home--I do intend to let him come back here until he has had some more schooling etc.
If Mr. Turner comes, the Post is kept up and we continue our business. I want to go down in July or August, start up what goods we may want and I wish to stay down next winter in Virginia.
I shall make a conditional bargain with some 2 or 3 traders to sell them about $3000 worth of Indian goods.
Richard, Bordo, Langdon, Steele, Randall & Milner are in the boat and bridge business.
Bissonette, Sebille and Guerrier are together in the boat business.
McClosky will traffic--Robidoux and Drips ditto.
Richard is farming at Tesson's place.
I think all hands will do well this year.
We are only interested in getting 600$ the last Co. for rope etc. I sold one coil rope for $221.50 weith was 443 lbs.
If after the maile gets in, I have time I may write to you again.
The Traders generally have done pretty well this winter--considering the large amount of Indian goods disturbed at the Treaty. If however there is the same amount to be given this year, it will injure the trade very much. The trade is getting worse and worse it seems to me--so many petty traders spoil the trade.
The Crows have been here this winter. The Sioux have stolen about 25 head of horses from them and are now on the point of going to war.
Maj. Drips is going down in July. He may not come back I understand.
Hard and Guerrier will not do well unless Hard gets a good mule trade from the Kiowas and Comanches.
We have no ponies or mules to sell. I had two but sold them right off.
Spring has just about commenced this is the first day the flies have come out. We have had a very long winter. We burned more wood than the County of Platte.
Louis I hear is at Kearny--please write me what you have done with your Kearny business.
Please present my respects to your family.
M. John Tutt
Maj. John Dougherty
This evidence clearly identifies Michel's activities in the area of Fort Laramie and in connection with Major Andrew Drips, as an active and not inconsiderable trader in the region. This reference, dated 1852, demonstrates a long-term business association between Drips and Robidoux which appears to have lasted for almost 25 years in the same nexus of trade on the Western plains of Kansas, Nebraska and Dakota Territory.
The last document relating to Michel Robidoux is another deeded land transaction dated August 12, 1853. Michel and his wife sold to Henry Busemeyer, Henry Mund and Augustus Linkopf for the sum of "five" dollars a tract of land "adjoining and below the little river Martigny about four miles below Carondelet having a front of four arpents on the mississippi River by a depth of forty arpents making one hundred and sixty arpents in Superficies, being the same land acquired by said Michel Robidoux of Michel Rollette dit Laderoute by deed dated July 22, 1822."
It is possible that Michel had at least one Indian wife with offspring and descendants. Little more is now available about Michel. It is believed that Mitchel died in 1858. Mitchel's tombstone had been found on an unknown location along Noyes boulevard by a sawmill operator who was cutting down trees. It was carried home to Elwood, Kansas, across the Missouri River, and "installed as an interesting momento in the back yard." It is made of the best grade of limestone locally available, and was misspelled "Mitchel." Its face reads:
Died April 28, 1858
aged 60 years, 8 mons & 4 days
May he rest in peace.
On the side of the tomb stone his wife, Susan Agnes Vaudry, had her name inscribed. She died in 1874. Though no obituary notice of Michel has been found, an obituary of Susan appeared in the Saint Joseph Daily Morning Herald on August 27th, 1874:
We are pained to announce this morning, the demise of Mrs. Susan A. Robidoux, one of the most estimable and oldest residents of this city, at the residence of her nephew J. C. robidoux, Sr. Esq. She breathed her last in the forenoon of yesterday at the ripe age of 74. She leaves two daughters, one married to Charles J. Kathrens, now of Sioux City, and Madame Robidoux, a member of the noble and great order of the Ladies of the Sacred Heart Educational Institution.
Mrs. Robidoux was the daughter of Antoine Vaudry and Agnes Bourass
Vaudry and was born in Kahokia, Illinois in 1800. She was married in St. Louis
to Mr. Michel Robidoux, brother of Joseph Robidoux Sr., founder of the city, and who was one of the bravest and most intelligent pioneers of the Great West. As a wife, a mother, and a friend and indeed in all her relations of life, her kind and generous disposition, her fine judgment and general information made her a host of friends which lasted through life.
The funeral will take place from the residence of J.C. Robidoux, Esq. on Edmond Street, in the evening at 3 o'clock. There will be said at the Cathedral, High Solemn Requiem Mass at 10 o'clock for the departed. Friends and acquaintances of the Robidoux family are invited to attend. (Bartlett Boder, 14)
The exact circumstances of his death remain an unsolved mystery of this period, though, lacking death records, it is very possible that he died, like his brother Francois, somewhere along the many trails he blazed. A creek near Marysville, Kansas, was renamed Robidoux Creek after an inscription of the name "M. Robidoux" was found carved on a stone on its bank.
This is an interesting and an as yet unexplored connection, for Marysville was the location of Father DeSmett's famous mission school founded in the 1830's and where many half-breed French Creole children were raised. Presumably, Michel's daughter became affiliated with this school as a member of the Sacred Hearts, probably by the late 1850's. Perhaps his stone epigraph was a fitting memorial to such an enigmatic person. Is it possible that he had not other children attending this school?
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