Residents in Mendota – The John LeClaire Family History
Introduction – Researching the LeClaire Name
Through this research, I’ve found different spellings for the surname LeClaire. The different
spellings came about through phonetically spelling the name and/or mis-interpretation of the
hand writing. LeClaire, the name we use today, is an American version of the French name
LeClerc or LeClare. In the 1870 US Federal Census the hand writing is interpreted as LeClain. In
the 1905 Census of Minnesota the handwriting is interpreted as Mcclair. In other places,
oftentimes, the ‘e’ was dropped at the end resulting in LeClair.
As outlined in this paper, the John F. LeClaire family traces its Native American ancestry and
their home town of Mendota to Hypolite Dupuis and his wife Angelique “Red Woman” Renville.
His wife’s (Cecelia Devine) ancestry traces back to Joseph Turpin and Angelique Marie Makwa.
The current Dupuis House, in Mendota, was home to Hypolite Dupuis, his wife Angelique
Renville and his family. Hypolite had moved to Mendota around 1840. He, at first, lived in a
small cabin on the General Henry Sibley property until he built his home in 1854, just up the hill
from General Sibley’s House. He stayed in Mendota for over 35 years and is buried in St. Peter’s
Catholic Cemetery located in Mendota, Minnesota. (Daily Globe, (St. Paul, Minn. 1878-1884,
July 29, 1879 Image 4).
Hypolite’s wife, Angelique, was the daughter of Joseph Renville Jr. and Mary (Little Crow 2’s
daughter). Angelique’s Indian name was Red Woman or Weouina Rxha. Joseph Renville Jr.
(1779 -1846) was a mixed blood son of Joseph Renville Sr. and Miniyuhe, a Dakota Sioux. Joseph
Renville Jr. was a Dakota interpreter, voyageur and fur trader.
From the census data, we know that Jean-Baptiste Octave LeClerc was born in Canada in 1837.
He married Marguerite Louise Dupuis, the daughter of Hypolite and Angelique, in Mendota, MN
in 1857. On Aug. 24, 1862 Octave enlisted in the Minnesota Goodhue Rangers and mustered
out on Sep. 22,1862, nearly one month later. The Dakota Uprising had started just a week
before he enlisted and lasted until September 26, 1862 and in December of that year, 38
Indians were hanged at Mankato, MN. After the Dakota War of 1862, Congress rescinded all
treaties with the Dakota and ordered their removal from Minnesota. There is no evidence that
Octave, Marguerite or her parents, Hypolite and Angelique, ever left Mendota as evidenced by: Marguarite’s parents, Hypolite and Angelique Dupuis, built their home
(the Dupuis House) in 1854 and lived there until they sold the home to
Timothy Fee in 1871.
Octavie (sp) LeClaire, his wife, Marg, and their four children are listed in
the 1865 Minnesota State Census (Line 77) as Mendota residents with
four children. Both Octave and Marguerite, including their children, are listed as LeClain
as the surname in the 1870 U.S. Federal Census. In 1870, Octave was a
Switchman for the Railroad. The LeClain (sp) family resided in Mendota,
MN. In 1880, Fred LeClaire, Octave and Marguarite’s son, married Selina
(Celina) Robinette in Mendota, MN. They, too, remained life-long
John F. LeClaire Family
One of Fred and Selina’s sons, John F. LeClaire was born on June 4, 1886. This is the same year
that Congress established the Shakopee Mdewakanton Reservation and other reservations for
the Dakota who never left Minnesota. For the next century, life for the Dakota people was one
of poverty and hardship. It appears that most of the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Indians did
not move to any reservation. Mendota was their home. Even though life was difficult in
Mendota, it was more so on the reservations.
John Francis lived with his parents until the age of 27 when he married 16-year-old Cecelia
Devine also a Mendota resident. They were married at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in 1913. They
bought a home in Mendota on Highway 13 near the railroad tracks. It included a large utility
building next to it.
In 1918 John Francis registered for the draft for WWI. At the time, he was a Stationary Engineer
working for Geo. J Grant Construction Co. He was considered short at 5’ 2” with a medium
build. He did not serve in WWI most likely because he was married and had two living children
at the time. His second daughter had died in 1916 at 3 months old due to pneumonia.
John Francis was a hard worker with a growing family. While construction jobs were his primary
source of income, he would also work as an electrician, doing many jobs for his neighbors and
relatives in Mendota. By 1924, he and Cecelia had six living children and he decided to take a
construction job working on a new bridge that was going to be built going across the river.
From 1924 to 1926, John worked on the construction of the Mendota Bridge. It was a
dangerous job with few safety rules. He would tell stories of men getting seriously hurt or
falling into the still-wet concrete, their bodies never to be recovered. The workers would stop
what they were doing, bow their heads, say a short prayer for their co-worker, friend or
neighbor and then get right back to work. He would talk of the difficulties of the job and the
huge amount of concrete needed. Most of his Mendota relatives and neighbors were excited
for the bridge, looking forward to easier access to Minneapolis and St. Paul. Up until the
opening of the bridge they would have to take a ferry across the river. After the bridge was
completed, John continued to work on construction projects, along with occasional electrician
The prohibition of selling beer ended in early 1933 and John decided he would complete one
more construction job. He turned his utility building into a bar with seating areas and a dance
floor. He applied for a 3.2 license and once it was approved, he put up a large sign on the front
of the building, sponsored by Hamm’s Beer, notifying everyone that the Mendota Tavern was
now open for business. Even after Prohibition was finally over on Dec. 5, 1933, John never
applied for a liquor license to sell hard liquor. He kept it as 3.2 beer joint, serving set-ups to
people who brought in their own bottles of alcohol.
With nine children now living in their cramped, three-bedroom house, John stayed in the
tavern, tending bar from opening until closing, putting his children to work as needed. Cecelia
closely watched the money and paid the bills. At the tavern he acquired the nickname “Knute.”
He would be called that the remainder of his life.
The Mendota Tavern became a gathering place for relatives and friends, hosting weddings,
baby showers, graduations and birthdays. In addition to selling 3.2 beer and set-ups, he also
sold candy, peanuts, pickles, chips, pickled eggs and other various snacks. He had a pin ball
machine and there was a jukebox and a piano at one end of the building next to the dance
floor. If someone could play the piano, no matter the skill level, the LeClaire girls would break
out in song and/or dance. When there was a special occasion, the food would be plentiful with
pot luck dishes from the Mendota village residents, friends and relatives. This place, like many
of the other bars in the neighborhood, would have poker games, cribbage, dice games and
other gambling opportunities going on throughout the day. Laughter and friendly banter
On Sundays, it was a tradition for Cecelia to prepare a large dinner in their home for their family
and other relatives and neighbors who would stop by. Cecelia and John raised chickens and had
a large garden in their back yard to help feed the attendees.
The LeClaire family had the first home in Mendota to have a telephone, bringing neighbors
from all around Mendota to knock on the door and ask to use it. They were never turned away.
Hobos would jump off the train passing through Mendota and stop at the first house they saw –
the LeClaire house. Although Cecelia was very afraid of them, when they knocked on the door
begging for food, she would oblige them, however, she never let them come in the house.
The LeClaire home and the Mendota Tavern were busy places. People would come to the
tavern from St. Paul, the farms from the surrounding areas and Fort Snelling to have a grand old
time, laughing, dancing to the jukebox and singing.
If the patrons brought their children, there were plenty of games for them to play in the parking
lot, from kick-the-can to flashlight tag and there were always plenty of children outside to
participate, rain or shine.
On April 25, 1942, grey-haired “Knute” registered for the draft once again. He was 55 years old
with nine living children, two others were deceased. Once again, he did not serve.
Knute owned and managed the Mendota Tavern until his death at the age of 67. He died on
Christmas Eve, 1953 surrounded by his children, their spouses and grandchildren who had
gathered to celebrate the joys of the season.
John F. LeClaire, was my grandfather. I was 5 years old when he died. I can clearly remember
my grandfather sitting in his favorite chair looking like he fell asleep. I noticed blood coming
from his ear just as one of my aunts came over to shake him awake. He never woke up. I
remember people crying, my grandmother being sedated after Dr. Culligan said, “He’s gone.”
The priest from St. Peter’s Church came to give him his last rights and comfort the family. The
grandchildren intuitively knew that something bad had happened, staying quiet and out of the
way. Gifts were forgotten on this somber occasion.
Cecelia Devine was my grandmother. Her father, John J. Devine was born in Dublin, Ireland. He
came alone to the United States when he was about 12 years old. When he was old enough, he
joined the army and was stationed at Fort Snelling, MN. He married sixteen-year-old, Lilly Rose
LeClaire on Aug. 31, 1892. Lilly Rose was born and raised in Mendota. Her ancestors can be
traced to Joseph Turpin (DIT Sandrille) and Angelique Marie Makwa. John and Lilly first lived in
St. Paul, MN and had their first child, Julia, in 1895. Shortly after, they moved to the White
Earth Reservation when John got a job working for the Ojibwe as a bookkeeper. Cecelia and her
sister, Anna, were both born on the reservation. Because of birth records, it appears that they
stayed on the reservation for four or five years. They moved back to Mendota and their other
seven children were born in Mendota
In 1989, I wrote a paper about my grandmother for a college class called “Women in Minnesota
History.” I have attached that paper to this writeup.
Mendota was a town of American Indians, French Canadians, a few Irish and I knew at least one
family who was Swedish.
Growing up in Mendota, we intuitively knew that we were Indian (Native American) but it was
never talked about. My grandfather’s brother, Albert, had an accident and injured his head. The
“white” hospital wouldn’t admit him and told them he had to go to a reservation hospital. The
Pipestone hospital was not equipped to deal with his injury. He suffered for several days before
he died. After that time, my grandfather would never again admit to being Indian. My
grandmother, Cecelia, would never admit to being a mixed blood either.
I first noticed my grandfather’s race documented as Indian in the Thirteenth Census of the
United States – 1910. All other documentation about his race indicate that he was white.
John and Cecelia had 11 children, all born in Mendota. The children are:
Mae Cecilia (1915-Sep. 29, 1935) – She was killed by a hit and run drunk driver. She was
walking home from work with her boyfriend. Her body was found just south of the
Ann Marie (1916) – She died at 3 months old due to pneumonia.
Dorothy Marie (Jan.27, 1918 – Oct. 31, 19780 – She married Thomas “Al” McCoy. The
couple first lived in Mendota then moved to So. St. Paul. She had four children.
John Alfred (Aug. 22, 1919 – Dec. 13, 2004) – John was nicknamed “Bum” because he
would hop on the train going through Mendota and travel to many different cities,
always returning home to Mendota. He was married and divorced three times,
returning to Mendota to live with relatives and friends. He had four children with his
first wife, Elsie Crawford. His two youngest children, Jami and John David, were raised
by John (Knute) and Cecelia LeClaire in Mendota.
Alice Bernice (Mar. 27, 1921 – Mar. 31, 2002) – She married Marvin Bolin. She lived her
entire life in the Mendota area. Her son and his family still live in the Mendota Heights
home, just up the hill from Mendota.
Lucille Celina (Mar. 26, 1922 – Nov. 3, 2001) – She married John Winkler. They moved
to Las Vegas after gambling was shut down in Minnesota. He was a slot machine
mechanic. After John’s death, he was brought back and buried in St. Peter’s Catholic
Cemetery in Mendota. Lucille remained in the Mendota area until her death. She had
Mildred Irene (Aug. 9, 1923 – Aug. 16, 1955) – She married Johnny Morrissey. Mildred
had heart problems and died when she was 32 years old. She had no children and is
buried at Fort Snelling.
Delores Agnes – (my mother) (July 27, 1926 – Feb. 23, 2003) – She married Raymond
Evan Titus. She lived most of her life in Mendota. She lived a few years in Mendota
Heights and in her later years she lived in an apartment across the river from Mendota.
She had six children, many of whom still live near Mendota – Mendota Heights and
Audrey Ann (July 14, 1928 – June 29, 1988) – She never married and lived her entire life
in Mendota. She had a stroke in May 1988 and died one month later.
Clyde Allen (July 13, 1932 – Apr. 1, 2016) – After getting out of the army, he married
Joyce Shulkatis and had four children. He is buried at Fort Snelling.
Robert Patrick (Feb. 13, 1935 – n/a) – After getting out of the army, he married Donna
Bowers and has seven children.
For nearly all the members of this family, Mendota is or has been home.
Buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery is John F. LeClaire, his wife Cecelia, Mae LeClaire, Ann Marie
LeClaire, John A. LeClaire, Alice LeClaire Bolin, Lucille LeClaire Winkler, Delores LeClaire Titus,
her son Timothy Titus, and Audrey LeClaire.