Alexander Faribault's Photo

Alexander Faribault's story: 1855
Before the story
After the story
In his tracks
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Mary Whipple's_story: 1862
Before the Story
After the Story
In her tracks


Taopi's story: 1864
Before the story
After the story
In his tracks


Bishop Henry Whipple's story: 1867
Before the story
After the story
In his tracks


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Alexander Faribault’s Story
Faribault — Spring 1855

The story below is an example of historic fiction. The story takes place at a real place and time in history. It includes real people who lived at that time, but some of the characters’ actions and thoughts were invented by the author. You can use the links within the story to take A Closer Look at the history facts and ideas the author used to create the story. You can find more facts about Alexander Faribault by reading about his life Before the Story and After The Story. You can also see buildings and places in Faribault related to him by following In His Tracks.

Sight of the Bluffs | Beyond the Fur Trade | Problems | A House in Town | More

Alexander Faribault Alexander Faribault. Courtesy of the Alexander Faribault House.

Alexander Faribault tipped back in his wicker chair. The chair creaked in mild protest as he balanced on its two back legs. He propped his boots on the still-new porch railing in front of him. He sighed contentedly and patted his pockets, searching for his pipe. Over his boot-tops, he could see the green marsh grasses growing in the Straight River flood plain. The ground still smelled damp from the spring thaw. Beyond the grass, the water of the river swept by. Late afternoon sun lit the impressive bluffs across the water.

He never tired of this view. He first saw this spot more than twenty years ago as a young fur trader. The sight of the bluffs remained with him for a long time. He told his friend and employer, Henry Sibley, about the view. He said he could not imagine a better spot to spend the rest of his life.

Alexander tapped his clay pipe gently against his hand to loosen the old tobacco, and let the breeze whisk it over the edge of the porch. His wife scolded him when he smoked too much, although she sometimes enjoyed a pipe herself. Pipe smoking was a habit he had picked up as a young fur trader. By the time he was 28, Alexander had been a fur trader for twelve years. His dream of living near the bluffs came true. He was permitted to build a trading post where the Cannon and Straight Rivers came together. The log building he constructed was simple, but served his needs. His Dakota family and friends brought furs to the post, furs gathered through long winters of trapping. Alexander gave them blankets, knives, beads and flour. A fur trade company sent the furs to Europe, where they were in high demand for warm and fashionable hats.

 

A trading post
A trading post. This is a modern photo of a reenactment of trading at a fur post. (KSTP Bicentennial Minutes crew filming George Bonga segment, 1975.) Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Sight of the Bluffs | Beyond the Fur Trade| Problems | A House in Town | More

The fur trade didn’t keep him busy all year. As Alexander pinched a bit of pungent tobacco from the leather pouch he wore around his neck, he thought about his past adventures. He had begun farming near the trading post with French-Canadian friends from Mendota. Alexander enjoyed many wild prairie buffalo hunts deep in the territory with Henry Sibley. (His Dakota friends were excellent hunting guides.) He explored the upper reaches of the Mississippi with Henry Rice. He and his lovely wife, Elizabeth, enjoyed their many children.

Alexander Faribault (top) and son George (right) on the ocassion of George's marriage to Euphrasine St. Antoine (center)
Alexander Faribault (top) and son George (right) on the occassion of George's marriage to Euphrasine St. Antoine (center). Alexander's father, Jean Baptiste is to the left, with Catholic priest Augustin Ravoux. Photo courtesy of the Sibley Historic Site, Minnesota Historical Society.

Sight of the Bluffs | Beyond the Fur Trade | Problems | A House in Town | More

Alexander frowned a bit, gently tamping the crumbled brown leaves into the bowl of the pipe. He had had so much fun during those years. But after a few good years, it had become hard for the trappers to find beaver and other animals. He simply didn't receive enough pelts each season. But the Wahpekute continued to bring their few furs to the post. They desperately needed his supplies to get them through the long winters. They couldn’t count on the buffalo any more. These trappers were his family and friends. It would have been an insult not to loan them the food and blankets he could so readily get from the fur company. Soon Alexander owed the fur company a lot of money.
These items are much like those traded or used at Alexander Faribault's fur trade post. These items are much like those traded or used at Alexander Faribault's fur trade post. From left to right: brass kettle, fur, eating utensils, trade beads, tin cup, vermillion powder and a trader's sash. The items are lying on a coarse wool blanket like those traded to the Dakota.

But then the sale of Indian lands put money in the pockets of traders like him. Alexander could also thank his friend Sibley for helping him with his debts. Sibley raised Alexander’s salary as a fur trade company clerk. (Of, course, it didn't hurt that Faribault's daughter Agnes had married Sibley's business partner.) But the raise meant Alexander had to spend more time managing the trading post at Mendota. He was tied down with his job. And Sibley kept making new decisions about how to handle the fur trade and the Indians.

Alexander placed the cold pipe in his mouth, realizing that he would have to get up to light it. He frowned and chewed on the stem a bit. He still wasn't sure all the decisions made by the state's leaders were good ones. He wasn't sure his own decisions had been right, either. He kept having to explain to his extended Dakota family and other friends what these "leaders" expected them to do. They had to move. They needed to cut their hair. They had to wear different clothes. They needed to sign papers to make promises. He always had a sick feeling in his stomach when they did this. He knew that his settler friends and his Dakota friends were not speaking the same language, no matter how well he translated.

Wearing different clothes. Wearing different clothes. White settlers pressured Indians to abandon traditional clothing in favor of settler's clothing. Indian family, Rosebud Agency, South Dakota, ca. 1890. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Sight of the Bluffs | Beyond the Fur Trade | Problems | A House in Town | More

Somehow, out of all the promises and translating and papers, Alexander found himself on the porch of this fine house. It was his, on paper at least. So was most of the land in the brand-new town behind the house. And paper was what seemed to matter to his settler companions. They were creating this new state, and they had papers for everything.

Alexander stood and leaned on the porch post, looking farther out into the river valley. In quiet moments like this, he admitted that his path to this beautiful spot on the porch troubled him. But his important friends like Sibley and Major Forbes had admired his new home when they visited. They said it suited him. And, Alexander reasoned, his choices would benefit his extended Dakota family. He would work to be a leader and make money as a town proprietor. The Dakota were having a hard time keeping up with the changes around them. But anything he could do to make the town grow, Alexander thought, would provide him more to share with others. It was the Dakota way of life his mother had taught him. He was happy Elizabeth understood. She had learned the same from her mother.

Alexander walked around the back of the house to where the fire still smoldered under Elizabeth's wash tub. He plunged his pipe into the embers. From the house behind him, he heard the laughter of his young sons Alexander and William. It was good to hear them on this fine afternoon. Maybe he would take them on a stroll along the river. They could stop by the site of his old post. They could visit some of his Dakota friends who still lived in the area. Or maybe they could scramble up the bluff. From his land there, they could see all of his new town.

Alexander pulled his pipe from the embers and drew gently on the stem. The tobacco glowed evenly in the bowl. Even while deep in thought, he'd prepared his pipe well. It was time to call the boys. New experiences were waiting for all of them.

Sight of the Bluffs | Beyond the Fur Trade | Problems | A House in Town | More

You can find more facts about Alexander Faribault by reading about his life Before the Story and After The Story. You can also see buildings and places in Faribault related to him by following In His Tracks.

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