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.

1 comment:

  1. When I was attending grade school in the 1950's, I had as a classmate one Terry Lord, [male] of whom our teacher said he was a descendant of one of the earliest families in Minnesota. I feel quite sure he was connected somehow to Old Milor.