When Lewis and Clark first formed the Corps of Discovery, it consisted of 59 people and one dog. Most were military men, but some were civilians. Of those, Sacajawea, her husband Charbonneau, and their baby Jean Baptiste are probably the best known. Another who has often been written about was an interpreter and fur trapper named George Drouillard.
Drouillard was considered to be one of the most valuable members of the expedition, as he excelled at trading with the natives, was able to recover stolen horses, was a skilled hunter and knew his way around in the wild. He was extremely hard working and loyal. Having been born to a Shawnee mother, he knew the ways of the natives as the Corps travelled through the west. At the end of the journey, Meriweter Lewis reported to Thomas Jefferson that, “If it was not for George Drouillard, the Expedition would have never survived.”
While I was reading Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage this past spring, the line “Born north of present day Detroit, Michigan…” caught my eye. A number of years ago, I researched my father’s side of our family. I had heard some history from my dad about how Peche Island, a small piece of land on the Canadian side of the Detroit River, was “swindled” away from our family by Hiram Walker, and that his great grandma had put a curse on the island. Dad vehemently refused to have any Hiram Walker bottles in his liquor cabinet, so I was fairly sure there was some teeth to the story. In searching “Peche Island” on Google, there was a very interesting article in the Walkerville Times called The Curse of Peche Island, in which my great-great grandmother, Rosalie Drouillard LaForest, had cursed to Walker’s men who forced her off that nothing would ever come of the island….and to her word, nothing ever did. There have been several attempts to develop the island, and they have all have failed.
So there was that name; Rosalie Drouillard LaForest, born north of present day Detroit, Michigan. I pondered the connection while reading Ambrose’s account and wondered, is it possible that I’m related to George Drouillard? Well, one thing the French-Canadiens and the Catholic Church do well; they keep great birth, death and marriage records. Couple that with the excellent genealogy sites available on the web, I was pretty sure I’d be able to follow it back and find out. I tabled the search, as we were concentrating on traveling across the country.
When we were staying at Lewis and Clark Caverns this past week, I read how Lewis, Clark, Charbonneau, Drouillard, and Sargeant Gass had hiked over the very land we were camped on. The tabled search came back to my mind, so I dug into it. I knew George was born in 1773; this was going to go back a ways. As follows:
James Belisle (me)
Rene Belisle (my dad)
Mamie LaForest Belisle (my grandma)
Alfred LaForest (my great grandpa)
Rosalie Drouillard LaForest (my great-great grandma)
Francois Drouillard (my third great grandpa)
Alexis Drouillard (my fourth great grandpa)
Francois Drouillard (my fifth great grandpa)
Jean Baptiste Drouillard (my sixth great grandpa)
Well, Jean Baptiste had another son named Pierre, who had a son named George Pierre Drouillard. In his genealogy listing, it states that he was an interpreter on the Lewis and Clark expedition. Well, dang….from what I can gather on the web, George is my first cousin, six times removed!
I was actually able to trace back to a seventh great grandfather, Simon Drouillard, a French soldier who had served under Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, founder of Detroit. Simon was attacked and killed by the Iroquois in 1733 near Detroit. His son and my sixth great grandfather, Jean Baptiste, was killed in the French and Indian War at Pittsburgh in 1755. He was the first family member on my grandma’s side to actually settle in Detroit, back in 1749.
Before we pulled out from Lewis and Clark Caverns, we headed into the hamlet of Three Forks. Our destination, just west of town, was a fishing access on the Jefferson River called Drouillard. It was here that my cousin met his early demise at the hands of the Blackfeet Indians in 1810.
George and two other companions were ambushed while they were checking their traps along this stretch of the Jefferson. He was working for the St. Louis Missouri Fur Company at the time. He had been warned about going out without a larger group of men, but he felt he was too much an Indian himself to be caught. According to one account, the two men with him were lanced… but Drouillard met a much more gruesome fate. When a search party found them later, George had been hacked to pieces. Perhaps this was in response to a killing of two Blackfeet by him and Meriwether Lewis four years earlier, after the Indians had stolen their horses. No one knows for sure, but his death sent a message that the Blackfeet didn’t want white men trapping fur in their territory. George Drouillard was buried in an unmarked grave on the river bank.
A small memorial marks the approximate location where he met his fate.
We paid our respects and headed to the other side of Three Forks to find the headwaters of the Missouri River, which we will touch on in another post.
It was really interesting for a history buff like myself to find this bit of information. I’m definitely going to journey back along the other branches of my family tree to see what I can find. What connections are in your past? We would love to hear about them. Who knows…maybe we are cousins!
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