Faribault Lives and Times:

Alexander Faribault

Before the Story: 1806-1855

Early Years | More Dakota Ties | Business and Politics | Treaties | More

Alexander Faribault was born at Prairie du Chien, now in Wisconsin, on June 22, 1806. His father was Jean Baptiste Faribault, a well-known French-Canadian fur trader with the Northwest and American Fur Companies. His mother was Elizabeth Pelagie Kinzie Haines. (Her name is spelled differently in various documents.) Pelagie was the daughter of a French voyageur and a Wahpeton or Mdewakanton mother, so Alexander was at least 1/4 Dakota.

Prairie du Chien, where Alexander was born
Prairie du Chien, where Alexander was born. This watercolor is by artist Seth Eastman (1808-1875), who shows a scene from 1846-1848. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Alexander (originally spelled "Alexandre")was the oldest child. He had four brothers and three sisters. Their names were Lucie-Anne (Lucy), Olivier (Oliver), David-Frederick (David), Emilie (Emily), Marie-Louise (Mary Louise), Philippe (Philip) and Frederick-Daniel (Daniel). (Among them, only Philip didn't grew up to adulthood.) In 1819, the Faribault family settled on Pike Island near a new fort, Fort Snelling, at the mouth of the Minnesota River. They were invited to do this by Colonel Henry Leavenworth, who knew that Jean-Baptiste understood the Dakota who lived in the area and could help develop the fur trade in Minnesota. The Dakota were also more likely to trust people who were related to members of their tribe. The family built a log house and farmed. Alexander and his siblings also helped their father with his fur trade business. In 1822, the family moved off the island and built a home on the river bank in what was to become Mendota. By this time, Alexander was 16 years old and a licensed fur trader himself.
Fort Snelling (back), Pike Island and the Faribault and Sibley homes in Mendota (center) in about 1850. Oil on Canvas by Edward K. Thomas (1817-1906). Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society, Gift of Abram Efelt.

 

Early Years | More Dakota Ties | Business and Politics | Treaties | More

In 1825, Alexander (Faribault) strengthened his ties in the Dakota community with his marriage to Mary Elizabeth Graham. Mary Elizabeth’s mother, Hazahotawin, was the daughter or sister of a Dakota chief. Her father was a fur trader named Duncan Graham.

Early Years | More Dakota Ties | Business and Politics | Treaties | More

Working for the American Fur Company, Alexander established three trading posts along the Cannon River. The first two posts, built in about 1831 and 1832, were probably near Sakatah Lake and the present-day site of Morristown, both to the southwest of Faribault. The third post, built in 1834, was at the present-day site of Faribault. At the same time, Alexander was busy doing almost every job that could be done on the new frontier. He was not only a trader, but also a clerk for the Fur Company. This meant he helped manage the fur trade business. One historian found that Alexander and his brothers also earned money as whiskey smugglers in the 1830s! Fur traders could do this well, because they were always traveling from place to place. Once he was established in the Faribault area, Alexander started a farm and a flour mill. He was also a politician. He was elected to the territorial legislature in 1850, and the state democratic convention in 1853.

Early Years | More Dakota Ties | Business and Politics | Treaties | More

One of the most significant things Alexander Faribault did before founding his town in 1855 was to work with the government and the Dakota in establishing land treaties. The government trusted Alexander and other mixed-blood interpreters because they spoke English and often dressed like other whites. The Dakota trusted them because they spoke their language and because they considered them part of their family. Alexander traveled to Washington in 1837 to help with a treaty in which the Dakota signed away their lands east of the Mississippi. He and his brothers also helped to persuade the Dakota to sign the land treaties of 1851.

It was Alexander’s job to translate the treaty discussions. He worked for the government, not the Dakota. He probably knew that the Dakota would be cheated. But he was one of the traders who would get money when the Indians signed the paper. He would be able to pay his own debts to the fur company. He would also be able to buy land with the money. Maybe he thought he could help his Dakota family members with the money. He received $13,500 from the Traverse de Sioux treaty. One calculation says this would be the same as $300,000 today. Ultimately, Alexander testified about the fraud in U.S. court. But by that time, he had his money.

 

The Signing of the Treaty of Traverse de Sioux
The Signing of the Treaty of Traverse de Sioux. This painting by Francis Millet was done in 1905, based on sketches made by an artist present at the signing of the treaty in 1851. The painting hangs in the Governor's Reception Room at the Minnesota State Capitol. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Probably knowing he would get money after the treaties were signed, Alexander joined American Fur Company partners Alexis Bailley, Alexis’ son Henry Bailley, and Henry Sibley in planning the town of Hastings in 1851. Eventually, Alexander sold his share in the town. By 1855, he also helped to found a bank in St. Paul with Sibley and a man named William Marshall. Bankers could make money by charging interest on the money they loaned. That year, he platted Faribault with two other settlers. He had already begun developing the town, building his frame house and supporting a school.

Early Years | More Dakota Ties | Business and Politics | Treaties | More

What did Alexander Faribault think about life in 1855? Read Alexander’s story to find out. To learn about the rest of his life, read After the Story, and visit places in Faribault related to him by following In His Tracks.

 

Faribault Heritage Preservation Commission,
Faribault, Minnesota, 2003

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