Who Was Alexander Faribault?

                                                              256px-Alexander_Faribault.jpg

                                                              Portrait of Alexander Faribault from 1900.

Alexander Faribault, the future founder of the city of Faribault, Minnesota, was born on 22 June 1806 at Prairie du Chien, now in Wisconsin territory. His father, Jean-Baptiste Faribault, was a French-Canadian fur trader who had been with the Northwest and American Fur Companies since June 1796.1  His mother was Elizabeth Pelagie Kinzie Haines, daughter of a French voyageur and Dakota mother. Alexander was the oldest of eight siblings. He had four brothers and three sisters whose names were Lucie-Anne, Olivier, David-Frederick, Emilie, Marie-Louise, Philippe and Frederick-Daniel.

 In 1819, the Faribault family moved to Pike Island, near Fort Snelling, at the invitation of Colonel Henry Leavenworth, who knew that Jean-Baptiste Faribault’s knowledge of the Dakota who lived in the area could help develop the fur trade in Minnesota. The family later moved to Mendota in 1822, by which time Alexander had become a licensed fur trader.

In the same year, Alexander was granted a license to set up a trading post on the St. Peters (Minnesota) River. After his marriage to Mary Elizabeth Graham in 1825, he made a trip to the Cannon Valley area with the company of Joseph Dashner, a guide, long-time friend and colleague. Something about the site attracted Faribault and he resolved to settle there permanently as soon as he was able.2  He set up a trading post at Traverse des Sioux, a few miles north of St Peter, and operated another on Lake Elysian in Waseca County where he traded with the Wahpekute Indians. Faribault and his companions established three to four trading posts in this general area between 1828 to the mid-1830s and, in 1834, set up a post at the confluence of the Cannon and Straight Rivers.3  In 1844, he moved the post to the site of present-day Faribault and there, with his earnings from the fur trade, built the first frame house in the area in 1853.

Faribault is generally considered a friend and protector of the Indians. After the Wahpekute were dispossessed of their land, he allowed them to live on his farm and provided for their needs.

Faribault is remembered as a generous and compassionate man. Although he died in poverty, he was once a wealthy man, owning much of the property in Faribault. Many schools and churches—both Protestant and Catholic—were started with his financial support, including the Shattuck and Seabury Divinity schools. During his work as a translator for the government in 1850s, he befriended Henry M. Rice, whose name Faribault later adopted for the county. He played a crucial role in translating government treaties, which were later violated by the European settlers. Despite this, among the Wahpekute, whose trust he had earned, Faribault is generally considered a friend and protector of the Indians. After the Wahpekute were dispossessed of their land, he allowed them to live on his farm and provided for their needs. This quality of his is often cited as the reason that Rice County never had serious difficulties with the Sioux during the Sioux Uprisings in the 1860s.4

  1. Richard J. Steimann, “The Wapacootas and the White Man: The Story of the Early Development of Faribault,” (paper written for an independent interim study at St John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota), 20. ↩

  1. Richard J. Steimann, “The Wapacootas and the White Man: The Story of the Early Development of Faribault,” (paper written for an independent interim study at St John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota), 24. ↩

  1. Richard J. Steimann, “The Wapacootas and the White Man: The Story of the Early Development of Faribault,” (paper written for an independent interim study at St John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota), 34 ↩

  1. Kenneth Bjork, “The Alexander Faribault House,” Minnesota History 35.7 (1957): 321. ↩