As you know, the St. Peter area is rich in history and geography. It was the home of five governors, almost the capital of the state, and the site of the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux. But apart from these big events, what about lesser known people and places?

Did you know there was an Old French Cemetery here? Hard to believe, but true. But, where was it and who was buried there?

Frank Mayer, an artist who was present at the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux, sketched it near the signing site. There were a number of crosses and a picket fence. This would’ve been in 1851. By 1900, nothing remained of the Old French Cemetery. Its actual location was a mystery. Where could it have been?

Its location would obviously be related to the Treaty Site. But, as Hughes states, “the old settlers … differed greatly as to the spot on which the Treaty was signed.”

In an attempt to pin down this spot, statements were given by Mrs. Louisa Carpenter, William Le Duc, and others. A consensus was reached as to its location. It was on high ground, back , i.e. west, of the river, near the former trading post of Louis Provencalle. A large rock monument was placed there in a ceremony by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1914.

It is still there.

The Old French Cemetery then lay just south of this site, across a steep gully or ravine. A monument records its location. To get there, follow Old Minnesota Avenue north to a parking lot. There are no longer any grave markers or anything to indicate a cemetery was once there. So, assuming this was it, who was buried there? And, why was it called “The Old French Cemetery”?

In 1901 Louisa Carpenter, whose family farm was nearby, stated, ”I well remember the little cemetery which lay just across to the south of that small gully and ditch. It had a picket fence about it and there were crosses on the graves painted black and the names of the people on them and some figures to show how old they were. Father’s (Louis Laramie) first wife was buried there and Provencalle’s (the fur trader) wife and son, and a son of Chief Red Iron, and Montraville’s wife and some of his children and several other people, mostly French and half breeds” (Thomas Hughes, Old Traverse des Sioux, page 109).

Laramie, Provencalle, Montraville and their families were early French settlers engaged in the fur trading business. This is likely where the name “Old French Cemetery” comes from.

So, there you have it. A little bit of French Connection in our backyard.

In this author’s view, It certainly would seem plausible that by the time Traverse des Sioux became more populated after the Treaty Signing, another, much larger, cemetery would have had to be in the town. But, where? Any ideas to this mystery?

Robert Douglas is a professor emeritus of Gustavus Adolphus College. He has been fascinated by the historical geography of this area for a long time. Reach him at bdouglas@gac.edu.

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