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ALBERT AND LILLIE LECLAIRE
THE FAMILY OF ALBERT AND LILLIE LECLAIRE
Albert LeClaire, a Mdewakanton Dakota Indian, was 1st of seven children. He was born on May 12, 1885 in Mendota, Minnesota. His parents were Frederick LeClaire and Celina Robinette LeClaire. Frederick’s parents were Jean-Baptiste Octave (Wakon) LeClerc (LeClaire) and Marguerite Dupuis. Octave came to Mendota with his brother Phillip in 1848. Octave and Marguerite had 12 children born between 1858 and 1884. All the children were baptized in Mendota. They resided in Mendota until the 1862 Uprising. After the uprising, they camped on land belonging to Alexander Faribault. They could not stay in Mendota because all the Dakota Indians were forced out of the state and sent to Crow Creek, South Dakota. They could not go to Crow Creek, because they had helped the white settlers. ” Only Faribault’s reputation in the city named for him enabled him to so defy public opinion as to harbor members of the hated Indian race on his property. As it was, he was threatened and had to publish in the local newspaper, the Central Republican Newspaper on June 10, 1863,a detailed statement identifying the Indians who were living on his land.” They lived in extreme poverty, preserved from starvation only by the charity of their white friends. “They had no money, and their attempts to raise crops were largely unsuccessful. They dug and sold ginseng, until the land was so dug over that several years would be required for the ginseng to recover. They were not allowed to dig on other people’s land.” They lived there for 4 years, along with the other “friendlies” who had helped the white settlers during the uprising. Land records located by Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Community members put them back in Mendota in 1883, and copies of land transactions between Octave and others date from then until 1887.
Octave’s wife Marguerite was the daughter of Hypolite Dupuis and Angelique Renville. Hypolite Dupuis was listed on the 1849 census of Mendota. He was employed by Henry Sibley , who was a partner in the American Fur Company. He served as the first County Treasurer. He built a home in Mendota in1856. The Dupuis House was purchased by the Minnesota Daughters of the American Revolution in 1924 to preserve the rich history of the beginning of Minnesota. It was remodeled and opened as a Tea House in 1928 The Tea House has since closed. It is currently being run by the Minnesota Historical Society. It is open for tours, along with the Sibley and Faribault homes from May to September.
Angelique Renville was the daughter of Joseph Renville and Mary, a sister of Big Thunder, the father of Little Crow (Taoyataduta). Mary was Little Crow’s aunt. Angelique Renville Dupuis was a signer of the Treaty with the Traverse Des Sioux Bands of 1841, as was Joseph Renville.
Celina Robinette’s parents were Vanosse Robinette and Mathilde LaBatte. Mathilde LaBatte’s father, Francois LaBatte was one of the first killed in the 1862 uprising. Celina and Frederick LeClaire were married on June 23, 1880 in St. Peter’s Church in Mendota. Lillian Felix was born on September 6, 1881 in Mendota She was also baptized there at St. Peter’s church on Sept. 12, 1881. She was sixth of seven children. Her parents were Peter Felix Jr. and Margaret Bellecourt. Peter Felix Jr. was the son of Peter Felix Sr. and Rosalie Frenier (Mazasnawin-Iron Woman). In 1838 a Power of Attorney from Peter Felix Sr. was given to General Henry Sibley for Rosalie and daughter Sophie, to be sure they received treaty money. Rosalie Frenier signed the Treaty with the Traverse Des Sioux Bands of 1841.
Lillie attended Carlisle Indian School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania from 1897 to 1904. She was enrolled at Santee, Nebraska, although she never lived there. Lillie married Albert LeClaire on July 12, 1904 in Hastings, Minnesota. They resided in Mendota after their marriage. In 1908, she wrote to the Department of Indian Affairs asking for a patent for premises she owned in Nebraska, so she could sell it and buy a home in Mendota. Albert and Lillie lived in Mendota until about 1919, when they started farming at the Prior Lake Indian Community.
Three of their children, Oliver Albert LeClaire, Selisha Lillian LeClaire and Raymond Sylvester LeClaire were born in Mendota. Margaret Celina LeClaire and Russell Francis LaClaire were born in Shakopee, then Prior Lake Indian community. Because of the treatment the older children received at school in Shakopee called half-breeds -dirty Indians-etc. Lillie moved back to Mendota, while Albert stayed and farmed at Prior Lake with his son Russell. Albert and Lillie and their children can be found
on the Pipestone Indian Census in 1937 and also 1940. Albert is on the rolls at Prior Lake Indian Community. Albert and his parents and siblings are also listed on the 1899 Census of Mdewakanton Sioux of Minnesota done by James McLaughlin.
Albert applied for additional land at Prior Lake in 1937. J.W. Balmer, Superintendent of the Pipestone Indian School requested this for him. Two additional plots of land were assigned to him on November 9, 1937. This land had been abandoned by George and Meredith Crooks. He also applied for
and received a Planned Productive Loan in 1939. Lillian Felix LeClaire died on August 30, 1940 at the age of 58 at West Side General Hospital.
Her daughter Margaret LeClaire Nordin was in attendance. Margaret tells a story that when her mother died, a candle by her bed went out and the glass broke, which scared the woman who was in the next bed. Albert LeClaire was injured in a car accident by his farm in Prior Lake. The hospital in Shakopee refused to treat him because he was an Indian. They had to send to Pipestone, Minnesota for an ambulance to come and get him and take him to the Indian Hospital there. This happened in December of 1941, and because of the delay in treatment, Albert passed away in Pipestone on January 28, 1942 at the age of 56. Albert’s death was hastened by discrimination.
The five children of Albert and Lillian lived in poverty both at Prior Lake and Mendota. They were the object of discrimination and ridicule from the whites and at school. It is little wonder that after Albert’s death, not one of them wanted to work and live on the farm. The assignment was abandoned and was eventually reassigned.
It is clear that Albert and Lillian and their family were some of the original Mdewakanton Prior Lake Indian Community residents. At one time Albert’s farm was in excess of 50 acres; a substantial part of the original reservation. The house or shack that was built by Albert, Russell and his cousins, the Ross’s. The house still stands on that land today, the only remnant of the early years there. Lillie’s children are cousins of Norman Crooks (deceased) and Amos Crooks Jr. Enrolled members of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and have maintained contact throughout the years to the present.
The majority of the ancestors of Albert and Lillian LeClaire are buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery in Mendota. Many were baptized, married had funeral’s there as well.
The following history was written by Lillian Rose Brown Anderson, granddaughter of Albert and Lillian LeClaire and daughter of Selisha LeClaire and Morris Brown:
I, Lillian Rose Anderson, nee: Brown, was born in Mendota on September 8, 1934, at home.
My grandmother, Lillian LeClaire was there for my mother. I was being born breech. She had to assist the Doctor. I didn’t breath for a few minutes–yes-minutes (as told to me). My grandmother hit my behind and then my back and something flew out of me and I started to cry. My mom, dad, grandmother, grandfather, and Great Aunt Jennie LaCroix all applauded, cried, laughed, hugged, said prayers, rejoiced.
I was born at 8:30 p.m. My father, grandfather and uncles wore a path around the house waiting for me to appear–their first child and grandchild.
The house I was born in was built by my father, Morris Brown and grandfather, Albert LeClaire and uncle and cousins. Shortly after my birth the house was put on skids and moved by a team of horses to where it sits today. It has been added onto by the new owners. My Aunt Margaret and her husband Reuben Nordin bought my grandparent’s house in Mendota. They tore it down and built a new house farther back on the property. My cousin Clarice Gombold (nee Nordin) bought the house from them. She sold it to her sister, Roxanne Hop, who still lives there today.
Most all the people in Mendota are related and most all the houses are still there that were there when I was a child. We all went to St. Peter’s church. the first Catholic church in the territory. I attended all weddings, baptisms and most all funerals there. All my ancestors are buried at Mendota. In fact, the grave yard was just up the hill behind our home. There was a time when the family was responsible for keeping the grave yard clean. We all did it.
Our grandparents also had a farm at Shakopee then call Prior Lake reservation . The school we attended in Mendota was the same school my mom went to. It still survives. It was sold to a private company because the village of Mendota couldn’t pay the taxes. It was moved a block or so away. I feel bad about this. I wish we could get it back and make a museum for all to see. It is probably one of the last 2 room school houses left that are original. When I went to the school it was so wonderful because I knew everybody. We were like a big family of sisters and brothers. Every mother in Mendota watched out for all the children. I’d hear someone say “Dolly” (my nickname), your mom wants you to go home.” We had such respect for all the people. It was Mrs. or Mr., Auntie, Uncle, Grandfather, Grandmother, Mother, Father. I didn’t know that people had first names.
We moved from Mendota (Mom didn’t want to move) in 1944. We had to because Dad got a job in Minneapolis. He had to walk the Mendota Bridge both ways (we didn’t have a car). Then he had to take the streetcar to 15th Ave. and 6th St. It was the only job he could get. (a bartender) Dad only went to the 4th grade. My father was Irish, English and German. So you see, with 4 children to feed, we had to move out of Mendota because there was any employment in Mendota. So we sold our family home and moved to Minneapolis. We hated it!!! We went back to Mendota on the streetcar and walked the Mendota Bridge often to see our relatives and friends. I always walked past our old home and cried!
The Norden’s, Rabbinate’s, Leclaire, LaCroix’s all lived there. I always wished I could go into my family home and stay there, but of course it wasn’t ours anymore. I’d cry all the way back to Minneapolis. Mom had tears, sister Beverly and brothers Morris and Bob were pretty little so I don’t know how they felt at the time. I know now they felt the same way about Mendota.
About my grandparents, Albert and Lillian LeClaire–they were the salt of the earth, respected and loved by all. My grandmother Lillian was at the birth of many Mendota babies. She raised 5 kids. She was a wonderful person. I spent many many days and nights with her and grandfather. She used to feed anyone who knocked at the door, mostly transients. The railroad tracks were just across the highway in Mendota. They would knock on the door and ask for food. She’d give them a meal and they’d do work around the yard. I think all the hobos on that railroad line knew about Lillian LeClaire, the Angel of Mendota. You were pretty sure of a meal at her door.
We used to go to the farm when Grandmother was out there. She preferred to stay in her home in Mendota. She had a pickle keg at the farm outside the door and us kids always would dive into it. Most all my cousins remember the pickle jar. My cousins, Uncle Albert’s children were living with Grandmother and Grandfather at Mendota. We were always together–there and at the farm.
Mendota was a wonderful place to grow up. Everyone was either related by blood or by marriage. We knew everybody and everybody knew us. Our houses didn’t have numbers on them. Everybody knew where your house was. You had to go to the only grocery store (Mr. Newhouse) for the mail. We all had mail boxes there.
We walked all over (no cars). We’d meet to get the mail and before you knew it, half the town was either in the store or outside just visiting. I wish I could go back there and buy my ancestral home.
Our mother and uncles were treated very badly as children. My mother was the most beautiful curly haired little girl ever, and she and my uncles were called “dirty Indians”. That was at Shakopee school, called little red school. Grandmother Lilly took the kids back to Mendota, where Lilly grew up and went to school there. Until she was forced to go to Carlisle Indian School for 7 years. Our family, the LeClaire and Felix go back to the early 1700’s in Mendota. We are here to stay we are the Mendota Mdewakanton!