The region drawn out by the Map, French Heritage in the Midwest of the United States: The Red River Valley of the North is shaped like a gigantic "U" through which the Red River of the North flows from North to South. Ignoring the "wings" that extend to the West and the East at the border, the remaining region is known as the Red River Valley of the United States, shared by both Minnesota and North Dakota. The Red River, whose waters flow toward the Hudson Bay, is a remnant of the post glacial age which drained the waters of the melting ice covering the region.
The land which extends to the East and West of the Red River was formerly beach front of the old Lake Agassiz into which the Red River drained. Today, the Red River lies upon the Valley, invisible like the spine of a prehistoric beast and almost as unnoticed as the Valley itself. The most visible quality of the Valley is its fertile lands.
As the waters of Lake Agassiz retracted, Indians hunted along the shorelines. In the 1730s and 40s, many centuries later, the French explorer LaVérendrye and his sons sought a passage to the Orient in the region. Later, about 1780, French-speaking canoe transporters called voyageurs arrived, mainly from Quebec. They worked and lived among the Native Peoples in the fur trade as did their descendants in the buffalo trade. From these contacts a new people called the Michif arose. Descendants of persons in the same territory, but of different pasts, they merged and settled along the Canadian Red River as well as at Pembina, South of the border and then West of Pembina in the United States, in total, some 2000 kilometers to the West of Quebec. Through divers contacts came into being the French-speaking Michifs who achieved majority group status in the Valley from about the 1820s until the arrival of numerous agricultural settlers in the 1870s. The settlers of the last part of the nineteenth century were from many countries and spoke many tongues. French-speaking settlers of this period came mainly from Quebec and States to the East. In this study, both academic concern and general honesty lead us to consider all francophone groups in respect to the territory they came to inhabit and the people among whom they settled.
The natural character of the region is visible in the fertile land, the sloughs, the low spots, the rivers, the coulees, the grasslands, the hills, the gorges and the mountains. The personality of the region becomes visible as the land becomes a field, the harvested grain flour and the baked flour bread. On this territory which extends some 250 kilometers from North to South and some 100 kilometers from East to West, French- Canadians settled. From Bottineau West of the Valley to the village of Oklee on the far East, to Wild Rice in the South to Pembina in the North they were attracted to settle for various reasons and through various procedures. Not surprisingly, they remained faithful to their new home even to the extent of those villagers who moved their houses, churches, and sheds to the site where the train would pass some two miles away.
The climate of this land is generally predictable, yet it holds sudden surprises, going from warm to cold, from dry to wet in a matter of hours: something explained by the openness of the region to Arctic winds as much as to those from the Gulf of Mexico. In spite of shortcomings and betrayals, does this land not seem to be accessible and generous? Perhaps, depending on the season. Both trustworthy and independent, she drew many, including French- Canadians, to her rich soil in the late 1800s as she had done earlier to her rich shores.
The Map, French Heritage in the Midwest of the United States: The Red River Valley of the North was prepared from information of censuses, atlases, local histories, and earlier studies. In this study, pioneer French-language surnames are considered to be those of the persons who first carried the names to the region. They are the names of those who gave birth to thousands of French-Canadian descendants, or those who made their presence known in other ways.
Localities where Michifs and French-Canadians settled in numbers anywhere from 10 to a 100 or more families are indicated on the Map, French Heritage in the Midwest of the United States: The Red River Valley of the North. The places where these groups settled, as well as the ethnic makeup of the localities where they settled influenced their cultural evolution. The cultural evolution of French-Canadians in the region will be the subject of a future work. The object of this web site is simply to stimulate dialogue on the French presence in the Midwest and to popularize ways of discussing the lives of French-language pioneers in this region, as well as the cultural evolution of their descendants. In doing so, we hope to shed light on the French presence in the Midwest and encourage a better understanding of Quebec, as well as all of Canada, homeland to over 3 million Americans living in the Midwest today.