Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Diary of Father Galtier--Found?

As explained in another post, below, I had recently begun to suspect that the diary of Father Lucien Galtier had not been lost, despite what Dr. Peter Scanlan wrote in 1929 regarding the item.  Therefore, on a visit to St. Gabriel's Church of Prairie du Chien, WI, the last parish of Galtier, I decided to do a search. After a  look through a number of very old ledgers kept in a cabinet,  I finally came upon what may be the remnant of the journal of the priest, but not exactly as described by Scanlan. This was last Friday and the office was about to close.  I had to leave PdC on Sunday, to my immense frustration, and have had no more chance to study what I found, except the three pages I copied.  Probably only someone like myself, who is able to instantly recognize the handwriting of Lucien Galtier, could have known the significance of  the bound journal, depicted at left--for the very reason that so little remains of it.  The label pasted on the cover is not original.  The writing upon it is not in Galtier's hand and says "Interesting old records from 1840, 1857, etc."   Whatever this is, the actual diary of Lucien Galtier, described by Dr. Scanlan, or another-- it definitely belongs to the time of his pastorate.   Dr. Scanlan having written, "It [the journal] consists of a clear statement of business matters pertaining to St. Gabriel's Church largely..." both makes it very difficult to know if the book, depicted above, is the one he referred to and yet guarantees that it can be because the pages I saw are merely that--business matters pertaining to St. Gabriels and the residence of the priest.  I do not think that St. Gabriel's had any separate account books in those days because it had no office staff.  Since this journal also pertains to expenditures for the house of Father Galtier, which belonged to him and not to the church, it must have been  the property of the priest--just as was the one of which Peter Scanlan wrote.

To my great sadness, most of the pages of the journal  had literally been ripped out, their stubs still visible.  The cover  is in rather good condition [click on images to enlarge] but it is doubtful that it ever contained about 340 pages, as Scanlan had estimated.  I was able to examine a very similar [probably the very same type, judging by the stripes on the cover] volume from the same era at the Villa Louis of Prairie du Chien and the page count is more like 240.  The first thing I did, upon recognizing the penmanship of the priest, was to look in the back of the book for the list of wild flowers that Scanlan noted Father Galtier had compiled.  They were not there.  Because of time constraints, I was not able to actually count how many pages remain in the journal today but I would be surprised if ten managed to survive the wanton desecration of this account book at some point in time--and two of them were not even written by Lucien Galtier.   My guess is that all the "interesting parts", whatever they may have been, were removed for whatever motive.  I only had time to take photos of or photocopy a few of the pages, one of them being the image below:

The page at left has the heading at the very top [in French] "Expenditures for the church and the rectory of Prairie du Chien--1857. " But the rest is in the hand of Father Jean Claude Perrodin, who was filling in at  St. Gabriel's from September of 1857 to May of 1858. [The entries of the expenses paid alternate, for some reason, between English and French, the languages in which Perrodin was fluent.] Below that, written in English and heavily crossed out are the words: "Debt of the church (the ,,,of 170.00) or more [something added in French and then inked over] =$85. Due by the .....to Mr, Galtier or by Mr. Galtier to his successor."  I could not make out all the words yet but experience has taught me that they may become clear later.  Galtier is referred to as both "Mr." and "father" in this section, which was perfectly correct for the time.  In 1857 Father Galtier took a trip to Europe and  was not quite certain of staying at Prairie du Chien, evidently.  The reason for this is known to me but does not warrant explanation here.  Galtier stayed on. All that was written  and deleted does not make the most sense but why someone Xed-out the entire summary at the top is a mystery.   The disbursements for 1857 are quite mundane, mostly for building materials, but the first one for 1858 is the interesting "March 18- paid to Mr. Kissner for playing the Melodeon-$10."  Ten bucks was quite a lot of money in 1858 and another page clarifies that it was for two months worth of playing, but it's not clear whether the Melodeon involved was an organ or an accordion.

Another page continues the total spent on the church and the priest's house up to May 26, 1858.  On May 28th, Father Perrodin signed the page of the journal, verifying that the sum of $172. had been received by the substitute priest "from L. Galtier", this last part added as an afterthought in the hand of Galtier. [in fact Peter Scanlan mentioned "All Father Galtier's signatures are simple 'L. Galtier'"] Thus ends the recordings of Jean Claude Perrodin. [In 1866 Perrodin conducted the funeral of his colleague.]  Farther down, on the left hand side is a list of names of individuals in the penmanship of Galtier.  They are mostly Irish, followed by numbers of unknown significance and, on the right, there is a "wine bill" expense such as that mentioned by Scanlan and money spent on other things, like candles, jotted down in pencil.  [Please do not copy the images in this post without my consent.  They were taken by me and therefore I own the rights to them.]  Due to all its missing pages, the journal was being used as a kind of "folder" for various letters and documents, some of them very interesting, indeed, and of equal antiquity to and older than the remaining entries of J. C. Perrodin and Lucien Galtier, including a letter written to him from Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1861. There is also a deed for land written by Galtier.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Lord of Mendota

By Marianne Luban © 2012
There was a time, in the early to mid 19th Century, when just about everyone in the Sioux country was familiar with a personable mixed-blood who ultimately became known as “old Milor”. The man had once been a tall, handsome, and athletic voyageur and continued to impress when he was already past middle age. Milor had been in the employ of fur trader Murdoch Cameron on the Minnesota River until the latter's death in 1811. Some men he encountered assumed Milor was a Canadian but, since that was the background of most of the voyageurs, who plied their pelt-laden canoes along the streams of the Northwest Territory, he was simply lumped in with the rest. After 1811, Milor very likely continued to make his living in the fur trade and, by 1835, was working for Henry Hastings Sibley, a trader who was to play a prominent role in the history of  the state of Minnesota. Sibley came to St. Peter's [now Mendota, MN, across the Minnesota from Fort Snelling] in the fall of 1834 and enlisted Milor as his interpreter. Milor, in addition to French and Sioux, spoke other Indian tongues with great ease.  Milor's actual surname was Milord, [a name not unknown even today]sometimes shortened to "Lord".

In 1835, the interpreter was loaned by Sibley to a geologist from England named George William Featherstonhaugh, who wrote the famous book “A canoe voyage up the Minnay Sotor” [1847] ,  with numerous admiring mentions of  his guide, Milor. The latter evidently did not know much English and conversed with Henry Sibley and Featherstonhaugh in French. The geologist  had not received the impression of decrepitude regarding “old Milor”:

"...He was a fine, French-man-looking Indian about fifty-five years old, tall and active and was, as he told me, the son of a French officer by a Saukie woman; "Et c'est pour quoi, Monsieur", said he, "la compagnie (the fur company) m'a donné le nom de Milor." The sequitur was not very clear, but the name was a very good one, and betokened some good qualities, of which Mr. Sibley said he possessed a great many, besides speaking the Sioux and other Indian tongues perfectly well, and having been familiar from his youth with every inch of the country."

Milor/Milord was probably an American, the son of a woman of the Sauk [or Sac] nation and that French officer. His inability with the English language signified nothing, as even unto the 20th Century, there were French-speaking elderly persons at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, a hub of the fur trade in the previous century, who did not bother with English.

Featherstonhaugh found Milor very competant and useful, but two Bible-wielding brothers had no such luck with the “old man”, who may have been much older than 55 in 1835. However, in the 19th Century, anybody ablove 50 was considered elderly. Samuel Pond, who with his brother, Gideon, was a missionary to the natives of Minnesota, met Milor in 1838 and wrote:
"....we went to Mr. [Henry] Sibley's to transact some business, and were detained overnight. At daylight the next morning Mr. Sibley sent Milor an old man in his employ to put us across the river. The cannoe was a bad one but we did not know it and, by some mismanagement, it was overset while we were getting into it, plunging us into deep water. When G. [Gideon] and I rose to the surface the old man was missing, but I caught a glimpse of his red jacket under water and drew him out. We then crossed the river and giving the old man some money to warm himself with, we walked against a cold wind in our wet garments to Lake Harriet..."
The red jacket was probably a British military coat, coveted as a garment by Indian men for its beautiful hue and dashing cut. All three men survived their immersion in the frigid water and Milor, by the account of Minnesota historian, Edward Neill, lived until around 1858, dying at Mendota. That was, of course, where Henry Sibley had his stone house, which still stands today. By the 1850 Census, it is possible to infer that Milor was the same as Joseph Lord, as a man by that name, born in Missouri in the estimated year 1768, was listed as being a part of the Sibley household.  Still, that Milor was actually 82 in 1850 may be taken cum grano salis, as the ages of the same people fluctuate considerably in the censuses of various years.  One of the reasons was that the individuals born of Native American women did not really know in what year they first saw the light of day.

Milor told Featherstonhaugh [vocalized "Fanshaw"] that he had several wives [probably of the Dakota people] and was not sure how many children, merely saying in French, "It's difficult to say, Sir; the women know better than the men who are the fathers of the children." Father Lucien Galtier, who came to St. Peter's in 1840, later wrote that among his small flock in that place was a family named Lord, of which the priest gave no particulars. A list of names “appended to the treaty concluded at Mendota in the Territory of Minnesota on the 9th day of October 1849, by John Chambers and Alexander Ramsey Commissioners for the United States, of the one part, and the Hon. Henry H. Sibley and the Halfbreeds of the Sioux Nation of Indians of the other part” included one Jean Baptiste Lord [a "Baptiste Milord", age left blank, was baptized by Father Lucien Galtier in 1843]. Another, earlier, document, signed on 31 July, 1841 “by the half breeds of the Minnesota River” mentioned them as being Joseph R. Coursolle, François Laframboise, and Jean B. Lord “by their guardian, H. H. Sibley..." Since Joseph Coursolle was born in 1829, these must have been young persons but why Sibley was the guardian of Jean Baptiste Lord, I do not know. I did not find Jean Baptiste in the 1850 Census, but there is a “Henry Lord”, age given as eleven, who resided in the household of David Faribault, and was likely the same person as Henry Milord, a half-breed who was implicated in some tragic times in Minnesota in 1862.  Whether he was the son of Milor's old age and Jean Baptiste his sibling requires further investigation.  Here is the Sibley House in later times, prior to its eventual restoration.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Anunciation Painting Returned to St. Gabriel's

The Courier Press of Prairie du Chien, WI, recently advised that an eight-foot painting of the Anunciation, referred to in another post on this page, once again hangs above the altar of the church.  The painting was taken down decades ago and sold at an auction held by St. Gabriel's.  Here's the article about the event by Don Eastman.  Unfortunately it bears no date:


The Anunciation was purchased by Mary Barrette, a descendant of one of the oldest families of the town.  Not long ago the painting was returned to St. Gabriel's and then underwent restoration.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Who Beat Up the Intruder?

Speaking of Father Galtier--this is definitely on the lighter side.  Small-town newspapers of the 19th Century tended to print some items in a rather quaint fashion.  The Prairie du Chien Patriot was no exception.  It put out an issue on Thursday, July 30, 1857 containing a tongue-in-cheek report that went like this:

"A chap who looked as if  he had been on a swell and had the blues to pay for it was up before justice Wright on Saturday last charged with attempting to break into the dwelling house of the Rev. Mr. Galtier.  He didn't get into the house  but got an awful pummelling.  The poor fellow was too drunk to distinguish a dwelling house from a brick yard.--He was discharged."

This brief article could have been worded a bit better, as it lends the distinct impression that the drunk got beat up by a priest!  Well, perhaps he did.  However, from what I know about Father Lucien Galtier, I doubt he  did the "pummelling".  One can't envision him applying a beating to an intoxicated man--except possibly in self-defense.   One can't know exactly what happened in the circumstances, but the would-be intruder ran afoul of someone, apparently.  Was it Fr. Galtier or an outraged neighbor or passer-by?  I suppose anything is possible in a frontier town, where even the local druggist sold "guns and pistols".

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Lost Diary of Father Lucien Galtier

A researcher and avid historian named Peter Scanlan wrote to Fr. William Busch of St. Paul, MN, about an item of interest to both men.  Scanlan, a medical doctor, lived in Prairie du Chien and sent his letter in 1906 during the pastorate of Father Alphonse Joerres [1899-1907] of St. Gabriel Archangel Catholic Church of that town, as that priest is mentioned in the missive.  The letter or a copy thereof is contained in the Minnesota Historical Society archives.

Scanlan rendered a description to Fr. Busch of a bound journal of about 340 pages, the diary of the late Father Lucien Galtier, depicted above.  Galtier had died at his post at St. Gabriel's in 1866.   From his description, brief as it is, this journal appears to have been very interesting, although it was not the sort of daybook in which one entered ones personal thoughts and experiences.  Mostly it consisted of record-keeping, accounts.  When Dr. Scanlan wrote his article, "Pioneer Priests at Prairie du Chien" for the Wisconsin Magazine of History in 1929, he indicated therein that the diary had become lost by then.    How could such a thing occur?   In his letter to Busch, Scanlan said, "It was the priest's private book but as he died leaving no disposition of it, the parish here would not be willing to give it up."

Lucien Galtier was, after all, a man of some renown.  He had been the first Catholic priest to be sent in 1840 to what is now the large city of St. Paul, built the first church there, and was credited with giving the city its name.  This is indicated on the tomb of the priest, located in front of St. Gabriel's,  By the beginning of the 20th Century, Galtier's diary would have been coveted by the Archdiocese of St. Paul [which claims not to have it] as a major heirloom, the historical societies of Minnesota and Wisconsin for its content [they don't possess it, either]--not to mention private collectors for their own reasons.  St. Peter's church of Mendota, Minnesota [a stone ediface that succeeded the earlier one of timber that Galtier built there] treasures a wooden altar that is very likely to have been constructed by the priest with his own hands.

Was the journal really lost--or is it just a case of  "misplaced"?   In 1956 Father Earl L. Burns, then the pastor of St. Gabriel's, printed a booklet regarding a drive to raise the $250,000 needed for a new school.  In it Burns remarked that Father Galtier wrote in his diary that the church, itself, took 18 years to complete.  How did Father Burns, who didn't come to St. Gabe's until 1954, know what was contained in Galtier's diary?   Peter Scanlan didn't die until 1956, so Burns may have learned some things about the journal from the historian or from someone else of the parish who had studied it more than 25 years earlier.  Notice I write "studied" instead of merely "read".  As Galtier's biographer I know only too well how difficult his handwriting is to decipher.  It took getting used to.  No one but those accustomed to the French penmanship of the 19th Century would find it easy.  Scanlan, too, evidently had trouble in interpreting what was there judging by something he wrote in his description.  It's very possible Father Burns received his information second hand, but it's also possible he had seen the diary with his own eyes.  It seems odd that the pastor would even mention the journal if it had been lost, as its disappearance would have been an embarrassment to the church in 1956. In this same fund-raising publication something was mentioned about the place "where Father Galtier kept his horse".  How was this recalled a century later?  The rumor is that Burns had risked the church funds on the stock market but had triumphed and the school was built.  Changes were also made to the interior of the church that were not so well-received by the congregation.  Father Burns, it is recalled, was a very determined person and did things on his own initiative.  At any rate, he  was in a perfect position to have access to Galtier's journal, if it still existed at Prairie du Chien.

Outside of his marble tomb in front of St. Gabriel's, it is difficult to find a trace of Father Galtier in Prairie du Chien now.  Rumors abound, however.   The priests of the Diocese of La Crosse, who serve the parish, have let it be known that Galtier is not even buried beneath his white monument any longer--but this writer could not find any documentation anywhere that his remains had been moved--nor was such a process known to a current historian of Prairie du Chien.  Old people of the city had been interviewed by the same scholar and nobody had heard of the move.  However, some years ago  the tomb had been surrounded by concrete [it was in a photo from 1925, for example] which was taken away in favor of grass at some point [after 1971, the date of the most recent photo I could find with the concrete still evident].  Is it possible Galtier's grave was entered then?  If so, where are his bones?  Regardless, they were presumed to be still in their original grave in June of 1941 when a delegation from St. Paul made a pilgrimage to St. Gabriel's in honor of the pioneer priest.  In this photo of the '41 ceremony, there is a large slab of stone under the tomb that no longer appears to be there today, nor was it there in the 1971 photograph.

The time came when it was decided that the interior of St. Gabriel's should be completely redone in a far simpler style.  To this end the church held a giant auction during the 1970's  in which the paintings, statues, pews, candle sticks, etc. of the decor that had more or less prevailed for over a century fell under the auctioneer's gavel.  Even an eight-foot painting of the Anunciation that had long  hung over the altar was sold to a private party, who, when asked, was not quite sure what she would do with it at the time.  A portrait of Lucien Galtier had hung in the old parish school, but when I inquired what had become of that, a school authority could not provide the answer.  It had apparently not been transferred to the present school.  Galtier's brick house, which he had willed to the congregation to be used as a Catholic school, has been torn down.   I have been informed that the priest's vestments, which were very beautiful and of considerable historic value, had "been donated to the missions", meaning foreign ones most likely.    Below is the way the inside of St. Gabriel's appeared prior to the major change:

Fast forward to 1986, the year St. Gabriel's celebrated it sesquicentennial of existence by issing a calendar that related the long history of the parish.  There is a picture of Father Galtier and his tomb and the words "He was an artist, a singer, and played violin.  He was a businessman and acted as banker for some of his parishioners."    As there can't have been anyone alive in 1986 who had known Lucien Galtier, the information about his talents and activities had to be obtained from a written source.  It is true that his colleague in Minnesota, Fr. Augustin Ravoux, had mentioned in a published memoir that Galtier possessed a splendid singing voice, but he had said nothing about the violin or art.  Nor had Dr. Scanlan in his letter to Fr. Busch.   Although Scanlan wrote that the diary reflected Galtier's business activities, among other things, the doctor misunderstood that the priest was an agent for a bank.  The will of Father Galtier [not lost and published in my biography of the priest] does mention sums he was holding for certain parishioneers.  But how was it known in 1986 that Lucien had been an artist and played an instrument?  What survived to attest to these abilities?

In 1866, the year of his death, the priest's housekeeper was Mary Garvey, to whom he bequeathed most of his household furnishings and what became of these later is unknown.  However, many other things, including paintings and a silver watch were delivered to Galtier's friend and former live-in housekeeper, Penelope McLeod of the town, according to an inventory of the probate court by direction of Galtier [although Miss McLeod is not mentioned in his testament] and their fate is also a mystery to the present writer.  A couple of the paintings with religious subjects were meant for the church and may have eventually found their way into the auction.  Some items were intended for Galtier's nephew, a priest in France, but I have no idea if he ever came to claim them. 

Friday, March 30, 2012

Beautiful 1816 Document from Prairie du Chien

By permission of the Wisconsin Historical Society

The above document was composed at Prairie du Chien in 1816 and was donated to the Wisconsin Historical Society  in 2010 by the descendants of one of the  petitioners to Congress named in writing.  It is supposed to be in the hand of John W. Johnson, fur trader, one of the few persons at Prairie du Chien who could write well in the English language in that year.  The rest were French speakers.  54 individuals, mostly making their marks, asked Congress to award them legal title to their lands and homes, as their fathers or grandfathers had been settlers since 1755.  In addition to its historic significance, the document should be helpful to genealogists, as it attests to certain parties being residents as early as 1816, at least. The rest of the pages of the petition, in remarkably fine condition for its age, a transcription and more information in the form of a description can be seen on the society's  website at