MSS-059-Settling the American West: the Role of the Canadiens and Métis-part 1

Episode 059-March 1, 2017

Rob Foxcurran is the co-author of Songs Upon the Rivers: the Buried History of the French-Speaking Canadiens and Métis from the Great Lakes and the Mississippi across to the Pacific (published by Baraka Books). For too long, the Canadiens and Métis were written out of both Canadian and American history. Rob and his co-authors, Michel Bouchard and Sébastien Malette, correct this omission in this first of several volumes. [Header image from LAC, 1989-401 and C-002771 and e011153912]

Settling the American West: the Role of the Canadiens and Métis

During this discussion, Rob and I discussed the following:

  • Several occurrences led up to Rob writing this book:
  • He noticed that according to the 1970 US census, the French were the fifth largest national origin group. Yet they were not in the top twenty for country of origin for American immigrants. Why?
  • He saw a map with dots representing locations of French-speakers. There were dots in the Pacific Northwest. Where were these people?
  • A co-worker was a French-speaking Abenaki Indian.
  • He kept running into information indicating an early and significant presence of Canadiens & Metis in the northern half of the US, but he couldn’t find any books written on the topic.

Westward movement

Early settlements were limited to the lower St. Lawrence/Great Lakes system and the lower Mississippi.

By allying themselves with Natives, the Canadiens set up outposts along the Illinois shore of the Mississippi and eastern Michigan.

French-Canadians went west two centuries before emigrating south to New England.

By the mid-1600s, there were Canadian explorers, missionaries, traders, and trappers heading into the interior of North American via the Ottawa River and Lake Michigan, establishing settlements in what is now our American Mid-West (or the Pays d’en Haut).

During the 1720s, they began to work their way up into the Missouri River Basin (la Haute Louisiane).

Around 1805-7, there were three expeditions to the Pacific Northwest (la Colombie).

In the forty years prior to the US purchase of the Louisiana Territory in 1803, this area had become a refuge for colonists escaping the collapsing French Empire in America. The refugees consisted of the Acadians, the Canadians from the Illinois shore of Nouvelle France, those from the St. Lawrence Valley, and from Saint-Domingue (today Haiti).

Historical treatment

Canadiens and Métis were shortchanged. The main cause was that the Canadien West ended up in U.S. territory. Hence it fell out of Canadian national history, and wasn’t written back into US history.

There was a clear need to diminish the presence of the Canadiens and Métis in the American West, both quantitatively and qualitatively.

French/Native marriage

One of the earliest thoroughly-recorded transactions was the marriage of a French-Canadian, Pierre Michel, and a Flathead Indian woman from the early nineteenth century (found in Ross Cox’s book, Adventures on the Columbia River). This union was focused more on the bonds related by military matters rather than trade.

For earlier marriages between Frenchmen and Natives, see Indian Women and French Men: Rethinking Cultural Encounter in the Western Great Lakes by Susan Sleeper-Smith.

For a book which explains the motivations of the people living in the interior, see Tanis Thorne’s book, The Many Hands of My Relations. Here she explains the factors that were both pushing and pulling the burgeoning French bi-cultural population of the lower Missouri upriver. She also notes that between 1800 and 1830, biracial children often moved back and forth between Indian and French relatives.

The role of the French and Métis

The best single sentence summary is from Jay Gitlin’s book, The Bourgeois Frontier: French Towns, French Traders, and American Expansion.

The true legacy of the French in the American West is the role they played in western expansion, in negotiating the course of the American Empire…

French/Métis settlements are found in many western and mid-western states, including Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Montana, Washington state, Oregon, and Idaho. One of the best existing sites to view French-Canadian architecture in the American mid-west today is Ste. Genevieve, Missouri.

To be continued…


Language Tips

If you’re new to the podcast and the French language is not on your list of achievements, then you might find the Language Tips segments in episodes 1 through 41 to be helpful.

NFT 2018

In the last episode and in the MSS Facebook group, I asked for your help. (Thanks to those who responded.) We will be visiting the lands of our ancestors in the summer of 2018. Do you know of particular historic sites we should not miss in the towns of Neuville, Cap-Santé, Deschambault, and Grondines along the northern shore of the St. Lawrence west of Quebec? Please email me with suggestions at maplestarsandstripes [at] gmail [dot] com.

La Salpêtrière

Yvonne from Connecticut wrote in with a question about the Filles du Roi who lived at La Salpêtrière before traveling to New France. Was it as bad as she read? Are there any records?

Anne Morddel from the French Genealogy Blog (episode #49) wrote in with:

As to the Filles du Roi…Some time back, I was able to find in the BN Arsenal [BN, of course, stands for Bibliothèque nationale or national library] a list of women sent from Salpêtrière to Louisiana in the early 18th century. Looking at the manuscript collection for all of the BN on Gallica, it seems that 1719 is the earliest date for anything concerning prisoners at Salpêtrière and their being transported.

The Archives of the Assistance Publique des Hopitaux de Paris [or the Public Assistance of Hospitals of Paris] is no longer online (great pity, that, for they were a lot of fun). They have digitized all that remains of the entry and departure ledgers of Salpêtrière and other hospitals/prisons and — if they ever go online again or if your listener ever comes to Paris, it might be possible to read a ledger and find, next to a name, a person transported. However, their website seems to say that their earliest record is 1701, too late, I fear.

The Fille du Roy have been pretty thoroughly researched and I doubt that much more will be found in the archives. Then again, those surprises in attics still happen!

For more information on the Filles du Roi and La Salpêtrière, I’d suggest reading pages 39-50 of Aimee Kathleen Runyan’s master’s thesis called Daughters of the Kings and Founders of a Nation: Les Filles du Roi in New France.


Thanks to Kristin58 for the following review:

In December, with help from two angels at the French Canadian Heritage Society of Michigan, I finally unearthed the source of the family story that an ancestor adopted the name Hall from the original French Canadian name. Using parish records, I discovered our Betry-Boucher family! It was the best Christmas present ever! It opened up curiosity for French-Canadian history and genealogy – out of which I discovered this amazing podcast. In one short month I’ve learned so much listening to these podcasts – some more than once. This is a MUST podcast for anyone with interest in French Canadian genealogy, history and family stories. Its a fascinating history – everyone should listen! Thank you for your commitment to presenting a bre[a]dth of information.

And Thank You, Kristin58, for listening!


Here are more suggestions following Survey 56’s question, Which podcasts, other than those specifically about genealogy, do you listen to that other genealogists might be interested in?

The Land of Desire: French History and Culture



“This is a newish podcast, so far mostly concerned with the history of modern France but it’s fun and interesting. Especially the history of food and city vs. country cultures.”

A Taste of the Past


Carol likes this podcast because it “delves into the history of food origins, culture and regions. I was hooked when they explained how war rations worked in WW2 and what homemakers were able to do with very little. (This would have been my Grandmother!)” Check out The Creolization of Fried Chicken.




It’s tagline reads, “Gastropod looks at food through the lens of science and history.” It includes an episode on The Maple Boom.

Hardcore History

One listener said that this podcast is “long, really in-depth on whatever historical subject he’s covering. Extensive suggested reading lists.”

French-Canadian News

What's Happening HeaderThe French Canadian Heritage Society of Michigan

March 11, 11 AM, at the Mount Clemens Public Library: FCHSM will hold its annual get-acquainted meeting. The topic of discussion is “Do you have an ‘interesting ancestor?’” Bring your charts and your story.

The Quebec Family History Society

March 11 at 10:30 AM, at the Briarwood Presbyterian Church Hall in Beaconsfield: Join them for a lecture with Caitlyn Bailey on the Canadian Centre for the Great War, a Montreal-based historical organization that tells the story of Canada’s social history during the First World War.

April 1 from 1-4 PM, at the QFHS Heritage Centre in Pointe-Clare: Lorraine Gosselin will present Family Tree Maker – What Do I Do Now? Ancestry discontinued support for Family Tree Maker and eventually sold it to another company. Lorraine will present information that might help you decide what to do next.

The French-Canadian Genealogical Society in Tolland, CT

April 22 from 1-3 PM, at the United Congregational Church on the Green in Tolland, CT: the FCGSC’s Spring General Membership Meeting. Guest speaker Ron Blanchette will give a presentation on how and why Quebec City and the rest of New France were doomed with the 1759 battle on the Plains of Abraham. Ron will describe the mistakes made by the French defenders and the incredible luck of the British that turned into success. Even though this battle lasted only minutes, it cost the lives of the two generals, Wolf and Montcalm, and meant the exit of France from any control of North America. This meeting is open to non-members.

The Vermont French-Canadian Genealogical Society

  • March 4, An Introduction to DNA Testing with Ed McGuire
  • March 11, FamilyTreeDNA Workshop with Ed McGuire
  • March 18, Using PRDH and LAFRANCE Effectively with Jane Whitmore
  • April 1, Bringing Your Ancestors to Life with Lillian Robinson

Classes run from 10:30 AM until noon and are held at the Vermont Genealogy Library in Colchester, Vermont.

The French-Canadian Heritage Society of California

March 26, from 10 AM to 4 PM, at the Southern California Genealogical Society and Family Research Library in Burbank, CA: It’s Spring Meeting time. In celebration of the 150th Anniversary of Confederation, there will be a presentation titled “Coming Together-the 150th Anniversary of the Canadian Confederation.” In the afternoon you can take advantage of helpful volunteers and research your family in the library.

Get Maple Stars and Stripes

How to Contact Maple Stars and Stripes

One comment on “MSS-059-Settling the American West: the Role of the Canadiens and Métis-part 1

  1. Nicolás

    Can’t wait till part II of this. One of the best shows ever.


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