Who was Pierre Bottineau?

by JanePeck on April 6, 2011

Bio: Pierre Bottineau was a Métis (French-Ojibwe/Cree)  man, born during a buffalo hunt near the Red River (present -day Grand Forks, ND)  in 1817 to an Ojibwe/Assiniboine mother and a French father from Quebec, Canada. Raised in St. Boniface (present-day Winnipeg) he spoke 4-5 languages, but likely had no schooling. When his name was pronounced in Ojibwe or Michif (metis language) the ‘t’  was said as  ‘ch’. He was called ‘Buchino’.  Pierre was the forefather of St. Paul, Minneapolis, Osseo, and Red Lake Falls.

Pierre began hunting and trapping while young, learning the fur trade. Trained to be a guide and trader across the prairie and forests by Antoine le Compte, he carried mail between fur posts. Pierre was first hired by Henry Sibley as a guide in 1837. He married Geneviève Laurence the year before, a Métis from St. Boniface. After many trips  to the Fort Snelling area, he moved here with his family in 1840, and was one of the first settlers of St. Paul with his brothers Sévère and Charles. He and other French and Metis  built the first church, it was  French Catholic and named St. Paul’s. There is a memorial along the river at Jackson and Kellogg in St. Paul to this church, with the names of the builders.   The town was named after the church.  Pierre owned Baptist Hill, which much later was flattened for Lowertown, and is now Mears Park.

Mr. Bottineau  sold this land and moved to St. Anthony Falls in the mid 1840s with his family and brothers to become one of the very first  to live in  Minneapolis, donating land for a Catholic church and to the Sisters of St. Joseph for a school. He built the second frame house in the town for his family. His daughter Mary attended Sister Philomene’s first  French boarding school in St. Paul. He owned 320 acres in NE Mpls. When the Metis oxcart trains came into town, they often stayed on Pierre’ s land in St. Anthony where dances were common. The  Bottineau library and neighborhood are lasting memories of his presence. He divided and sold the land, some  to Henry Sibley,  before moving to Elk River to buy David Faribault’s land in 1852. Pierre had run a small fur trading post up there.  Genevieve died in childbirth the year before. He then married Martha Gervais, another Metis woman from a founding family of St. Paul. He fathered over 20 children in his two marriages.

Pierre continued working for Henry Sibley and the American Fur Company, moving goods up and down the Mississippi. He was an interpreter for many negotiations and guided Sibley, Ramsey, and many other well-known leaders in their expeditions.   Oregon Governor Steven who was guided by Pierre, commented on the strong feelings of warmth in his home and respect for his Ojibwe mother who lived with them.

Like many Metis or mixed bloods, when conflict arose Pierre was caught in the middle. Bottineau  was hired, along with a great many mixed bloods  to guide and scout for Sibley in his 1862 campaigns to find Little Crow and his warriors, though his division returned before there were many killings. He interpreted for Gov. Ramsey’s treaty with the Red Lake and Pembina Ojibwe. After the treaty was approved, he brought some 70 French and Metis families to found the town of Red Lake Falls. There are many Bottineaus in the Red Lake Falls area and across Minnesota and North Dakota.

There is no complete biography of Pierre Bottineau at this time,  and we hope that Virgil Benoit will write one.  A full geneology is available  by  James  Chesebro, 1989.

In Bottineau Jig: Untold Tales of Early Minnesota, performed by Dance Revels Moving History April 2011, the older reminiscing Pierre  Bottineau was played and narrated by Virgil Benoit  of Red Lake Falls. See video interview in prior post.

The  younger Pierre was played by  dancer/actor Paulino Brener. See photo and bio in prior post.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

c June 12, 2013 at 11:20 am

Not alot of info on Pierre bottineau out there…. I recently visited bottineau ND. I’m curious by nature and like to see the history of the places I visit. I am currently taking some leadership classes and thought he would be a great paper. Thanks for the post.

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nicole gero January 1, 2015 at 11:58 pm

My maiden last name is Butchino….my aunt has done our family genology and has traced it to Pierre he is great ×5 or 6 I believe great grandfather! This is way cool, I was skeptical bc of the name bottineau but now I know how it switched to butchino!

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JanePeck January 10, 2015 at 11:51 pm

This is so interesting. i didn’t know anyone was still named Butchino! Cool. That tells me that you likely have Metis blood in your family.

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Barbara Shewchuk February 6, 2015 at 2:55 pm

There is now a full biography of Pierre Bottineau.

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JanePeck February 7, 2015 at 11:24 am

Good news! What is the correct title and author, please?

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Deanna Bottineau May 24, 2015 at 11:16 pm

I am a great great great granddaughter of Pierre Bottineau.

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JanePeck July 17, 2015 at 9:30 pm

Deanna, do you have family stories about him? Wish there was an actual biography. There is a pamphlet only now. He and other mixed blood ancestors seldom get their due in the history books.

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Dennis Bottineau September 23, 2015 at 1:22 pm

My name is Dennis Bottineau and Pierre was my Great-Great- Father !!

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