MSS-061-Settling the American West: the Role of the Canadiens and Métis-Part 3

Episode 061-May 1, 2017

This month Rob and I conclude the three-part series on Settling the American West. I really hope you learned as much from it as I have. In this episode, we look at some of the French and Métis who were erased from the history books, including those involved in the historical events of the purchase of the Louisiana Territory and the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Rob also introduces us to some of the common folk who added so much to the settling of the West.

Settling the American West: the Role of the Canadiens and Métis-Part 3

In this last part of Settling the American West, Rob and I discussed the following:

Forgotten Canadiens and Métis

The Louisiana Purchase

  • Fort de Chartres’s French flag did not come down after the British took over Canada until a British garrison finally showed up in 1765.
    When this territory was purchased, there were already about 41,000 French-speaking people there. They were the French-speaking Creoles, people coming in from France, thousands of Canadians from the St. Lawrence River area and Illinois country, and many displaced Acadians.
    Songs upon the Rivers covers some of the prominent families who settled in this territory, like that of Jean-Gabriel Cerré, Auguste Chouteau, and Antoine Soulard. But it also covers many common families, like Rivet, Dorion, Robidoux, Gervais, Lucier, Labonté, Provost, Campeau, Laframboise, Franchère, and Plamondon.
    Several descendants of these common families, like the Métis Papin family, went on to prominent positions, including one as vice-president of the United States. This Charles Curtis was the great-great-grandson of Chief White Plume and spoke Kansas, French, and English.
    The Louisiana Purchase brought into the United States hundreds of thousands of Indians and a French-speaking population of about 41,000.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition

George Drouillard played a significant role during the expedition as chief translator, scout, and hunter. George was the Métis son of Pierre Drouillard and a Shawnee woman.

Three groups of French-Canadians who participated directly with the expedition as it went up the Missouri River:

  • The six Frenchmen who went all the way to the Pacific with Lewis and Clark:
    • George Drouillard
      Toussaint Charbonneau, the other principal translator and Sacajawea’s husband
      François Labiche
      Jean-Baptiste Lepage
      Pierre Cruzatte, the fiddle player
      The sixth was Sacajawea and Toussaint Charbonneau’s son, Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, who was carried to the Pacific and back on his mother’s back.
  • Those who headed up in 1804 and came back in 1805-They returned with the first year’s journals and numerous specimens. The head of this crew was Jean-Baptiste Deschamps. Crew members included those with the surnames Hébert, Laliberté, Malboeuf, Pinot, Lajeunesse, Primeau, Rivet, and Roy.
  • Those embedded along the Missouri River as the expedition headed upriver in 1804-They established peaceful relations with tribes along the river. These men were Régis Loisel, Pierre Dorion (father and son), Joseph Gravelines, René Jusseaume, François Larocque, and Pierre-Antoine Tabeau.

The American captains of the expedition were totally reliant on this other ethnic group. This was also the first communication between representatives of the US government and the inhabitants of the middle and upper Missouri since the Louisiana Purchase.

Further west

Names from 200-250 years ago that appear in the history books of the Mid-west whose descendants or other branches appear along the Columbia River and in the Pacific Northwest:

Surname table






The most famous French-Canadian of all who straddles the Great Lakes and the Pacific Northwest is Paul Bunyan. The stories of Paul Bunyan began in the St. Lawrence River Valley and migrated through the woods to Michigan and Wisconsin, and then on to the Pacific Northwest. Author James Stevens’s sources were the French-Canadian lumbermen, or bûcherons.

Ethnic identity

French-speaking Métis were written out of both White history and Indian history.
Regional histories are a way to correct the simplified national theme.


  • Edited compilations such as catholic church records, regional histories, family histories
  • Harriet Munnick’s 19th century Catholic church records translated into English and organized by locale-8 volumes, a great way to get you quickly to the originals
  • Oral histories
  • American French Genealogical Society in Woonsocket, RI
  • Records at BAnQ
  • Frontier militia rosters found online (Washington state) or in state archives or legislative archives
  • The Mapping of a Continent: An Historic Atlas of North America by Raymonde Litalien, Jean-Francois Palomino, & Denis Vaugeois (Septentrion) – available in both English and French
  • Territorial histories
  • Books (see Rob’s bibliography)

Songs Upon the Rivers

Book cover-Songs

Songs Upon the Rivers is available at:


The future

Volume 2: picks up where volume one leaves off and covers the period from the 1840s to late 1850s mostly in Washington, Oregon, and Montana.

  • An article by Rob Foxcurran soon to be published in the Columbia magazine (published by the Washington State Historical Society): focuses on the French language component in the Pacific Northwest pidgin or Chinook trade jargon

There are also plans for a future French translation of volume 1.

Contact Rob Foxcurran

Email: robert [dot] r [dot] foxcurran [at] gmail [dot] com


Contest winner

The winner of our second giveaway and winner of a copy of Songs Upon the Rivers was Cheryl Klemmer of Connecticut. Congratulations, Cheryl. Your book is on its way.


To be continued next month.

French-Canadian News

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The Franco-American Centre

  • May 2, 7:30 PM at the Dana Center Lecture Room in Manchester: Henri Vaillancourt and Jo-Ann Bélanger will present the Canoe Building Tradition and Demonstration. They will explain the role and process of traditional canoe building.
  • May 20, from noon to 3 PM, Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum in Warner: an Indian Museum Tour including many artifacts from some of the over 600 Native tribes in North America.

The French Canadian Heritage Society of Michigan

  • May 13, at 11 AM, at the Mount Clemens Public Library: host speaker Karen Marrero, Ph.D. will talk about Va à la rivière’: What Songs Can Tell us about the History of le détroit.

The Quebec Family History Society

  • Upcoming classes:
  • May 6, 1 to 4 PM, at the QFHS Heritage Centre and Library in Pointe-Claire, Quebec: Kyla Ubbink will speak on Preserving Your Family Photographs and Family Documents.
  • May 13, 10:30 AM, at the Briarwood Presbyterian Church Hall in Beaconsfield: Kristian Gravenor will speak on Stories of Montreal’s Past.
  • May 17, 1-4 PM, at the QFHS Heritage Centre in Pointe-Claire: an Open House. Here you can learn about the 20 billion family history records for Quebec, Canada, the United States, the British Isles, and many other parts of the world that are available in the Q.F.H.S. Library. Various members will be there to answer your genealogical questions.

The Vermont French-Canadian Genealogical Society

  • May 6: Genealogy Research in New York State with Dr. Anastasia Pratt. This class runs from 10:30 AM until noon and is held at the Vermont Genealogy Library in Colchester, Vermont.

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