Last updated: December 29, 2022
Marie LeFevere Bailly
Part Odawa and part French, the highly respected and traditionally skilled Marie “Mo-nee” Bailly lived through rapidly changing times; she experienced shifting control over the Northwest Territory and the detrimental effects of manifest destiny on Indigenous American peoples. She resolutely oversaw the family and homestead on the Little Calumet River for more than 30 years after the death of her husband, raising their children and grandchildren in an ever-foreign world.
Records of Marie’s life are scant. In fact, because of her ancestry, she was omitted from federal censuses. Much of her life’s story is anecdotal, gleaned from her granddaughter, Frances Howe, in her book, The Story of a French Homestead in the Old Northwest. Frances lived with her grandmother and mother Rose for over a decade at the Bailly Homestead. Frances wrote her book in 1907, over four decades after her grandmother Marie’s death. The book’s historical accuracy is scrutinized because of Frances’ obvious embellishments; however, for their traces of truth and to better illustrate Marie’s life, select stories from Frances are included. To better understand Marie’s world, regional events that would have affected her life are also included.
Marie Lefevre was born around 1783 at a small fur-trading settlement known to outsiders as Frenchtown along the River Raisin just east of Detroit, Michigan. Today it is known as Monroe, Michigan. He was a prominent early settler to Frenchtown. Many French-Canadians had moved to Detroit in decades past, and now they were beginning to disperse. They brought with them many of their French traditions, including devout Catholicism. Marie’s father was a skilled trapper and trader by the name of Lefevre of Gascon. In accordance with common practice of the time, Lefevre, who was a French-Canadian fur trader, married a Native American woman— Marie’s mother. Marie’s mother had Odawa family living in an area known as Waganakisi, or L’ Arbre Croche, “Land of Crooked Trees.” The village stood at Lake Michigan’s Little Traverse Bay near today’s Cross Village, Michigan. Today's Little Traverse Band of Odawa Indians are descendents of these peoples. As she grew to a young girl on this growing outpost on the bank of River Raisin near Lake Erie, Marie was already living between two cultural worlds, that of the Native Americans and that of the French.
Around 1790 when Marie was about 7, her father suddenly died. Marie’s mother was shocked when her husband’s European relatives arrived at the Lefevre home in Frenchtown, claimed all possessions and the home—kicking Marie, her mother, and sister out onto the street. Frances wrote of the event:
Never to her dying day did my Grandmother forget the awful desolation of that day and hour, when jeering, mocking strangers took possession of their home, and they stood by the roadside, taking nothing with them but the clothes they happened to be wearing.
As a result of Jay’s Treaty in 1795, British troops withdrew from Detroit and Americans began to settle around the area. Marie’s mother brought them to her family’s village on Lake Michigan, Waganakisi. At the village along Lake Michigan she was raised in Odawa culture, albeit with influences, especially in religion, of over a century of French contact. She became traditionally skilled and excelled in story-telling. John Couchis Wright, Marie’s great-grandson, was born near Waganakisi (L’ Arbre Croche) in 1874. He wrote of of the Odawa’s semi-nomadic lifestyle from the century past:
They spent the warm summer months at or near the village of L’Arbre Croche ; the men being occupied by hunting, fishing, in the making of weapons and pipes, or lounging about ; the women weaving beautifully ornamented mats in colors, made from rushes and bark of slippery elm ; fashioning baskets, bags, pails, etc., and attending the gardens. But when the cold blasts of winter began to arrive, gradually they migrated toward the south, stopping along the coast as the occasion might require, and going as far as the hunting and trapping grounds of Northern Indiana and Illinois.
L’Arbre Croche contained remains of a Jesuit mission from decades before; including a large wooden cross, a missionary house, and a church. Although the presence of priests and acceptance of Catholicism fluctuated throughout the years, many Odawa continued to practice aspects of Christianity. Marie married an Odawa or Métis man by the name of Kougowma (or Kiogima) de La Vigne. They moved to Mackinac Island, where Marie gave birth to their daughter Agatha de la Vigne around 1797, when Marie was about 14.
In 1799, a Catholic missionary, Father Richard, came to L’Arbre Croche and spread smallpox to the Odawa, killing about half of the population where Marie spent the later part of her childhood. Father Richard came to Mackinac Island around 1802 and found the island’s inhabitants relatively unreceptive to Catholicism. Memories of previous disease outbreaks from missionaries may have made the Odawa more receptive to the growing pan-American Indian movement. Around 1805, a Shawnee Native American named Tenskwatawa and often referred to as “The Prophet” from Southern Illinois was gaining popularity. He began accumulating a following of Indigenous resistance to American expansion through his unity preachings.
Echoing the Prophet’s sentiment, Le Maigouis, The Trout, gave a speech in 1807 outside the American’s fort’s walls at Mackinac Island to promote the necessity of Indigenous unity for survival. The Trout was Odawa and his message would have sent ripples in the community that Marie and her daughters were connected to. Marie was around 24 at the time. The substance of The Trout’s message, which he claimed came from the Great Spirit, was distributed by newspapers in August of 1807:
My children—you are to have very little intercourse with the whites. They are not your father, as you call them ; but your brethren. I am your father. When you call me so, you do well, I am the father of the English, of the French, of the Spaniards, and the Indians ; I created the first man, who was the common father of all these people as well as yourselves, and it is through him, that I now address you. But the Americans I did not make. They are not my children, but the children of the devil. They grew from the scum of the great water, when it was troubled by the evil sprity, and the froth was driven into the woods by a strong east wing, they are numerous, but I hate them. They are unjust ; they have taken away your lands, which were not made for them.
My Children—The whites I placed on the other side of the Great Lake, that they might be a seperate people. To them I gave different manners, customs, animals, vegetables, &c. For their use. To them I have given cattle, sheep swine, and poultry for themselves only. You are not to keep any of these animals, nor to eat of their meat. To you I have given the deer, the bear, and all wild animals, and the fish that swim in the rivers, and the corn that grows in the fields, for your own use ; and you are not to give your meat or corn to the whites to eat.
My Children—You may salute the whites when you meet them, but must not shake hands. You must not get drunk ; it is a great sin… you must not drink one DROP OF WHISKEY. It is the drink of the evil sprit. It was not made by me, but by the Americans. It is poison. It makes you sick. It burns your insides…
My Children—You must plant corn for yourselves, for your wives, and for your children, and when you do it, you are to help each other, but plant no more than is necessary for your own use. You must not sell it to the whites. It was not made for them. I made all the trees of the forest for your use ; but the maple I love best, because it yields sugar for your little ones. You must make it only for them, but sell none to the whites… by making too much you spoil the trees, and give them pain by cutting and barking them, for they have a feeling like yourselves… If a white man is starving, you may sell him a very little corn, and a very little sugar, but it must be by measure and by weight.
My Children—You are indebted to the white traders, but you must pay them no more than half their credits, because they have cheated you. You must pay them in skins, gums, canoes, &c. But not in meat, corn, or sugar. You must not dress like the whites, nor wear hats like them, but pluck out your hair, as in ancient times, and wear the feather of the eagle on your heads; and when the weather is not severe, you must go naked, excepting the breach cloth ; and when you are clothed, it must be in skins, or in leather of your own dressing.
My Children—You complain that the animals of the forest are few and scattered. How should it be otherwise ; you destroy them yourselves, for their skins only, and leave their bodies to rot, or give the best pieces to the whites. I am displeased when I see this, and take them back to the earth, that they may not come to you again. You must kill no more animals than are necessary, to feed and clothe you…
My Children—Your women must not live with the traders, or other white men, unless they are lawfully married. But I do not like even this ; because my white & red children were thus marked, with different colors that they might be separate people.
In his conclusion, The Trout warned the villages that do not listen to his talk, “will be cut off from the face of the earth.” In 1808, Marie gave birth to her second daughter, Theresa; shortly after, Marie’s husband Kougowma de la Vigne died. During the winter of 1808-1809, the Trout and many other L’ Arbre Croche Odawa traveled to Tenskwatawa’s Prophetstown at the confluence of the Wabash and Tippecanoe Rivers in Indiana to join other tribes in the Prophet's resistance. That winter, disease singled out the Odawa and approximately 160 died of tuberculosis. The Odawa returned to L’ Arbre Croche and declared Tenskwatawa a false prophet. Looking for renewal of spiritual power, many Odawa turned again to Catholicism.
A few years after the death of her husband, Marie found companionship with Joseph Bailly around 1810. Bailly was a French-Canadian fur-trader on the island who had been involved with the trade since around 1793. He traded on the Grand River in Michigan in the late 1790s and taught his apprentice Jean Baptiste Beaubien there. Bailly also worked on the St. Joseph River in Michigan, where he mentored Alexander Robinson, a young, Metis, British-Odawa boy who was born on Mackinac Island. Decades later, Robinson would become a Potawatomi chief.
Because both Marie and Joseph had previous marriages, their union was likely a social ceremony rather than a religious one. In 1810, Marie was about 27 and Joseph was 36. On Mackinac Island, Marie gave birth to their daughters Esther, Rose, and Eleanor; born in 1811, 1813, and 1815, respectively.
In July of 1812 while Marie was pregnant and with three small girls, Britain laid siege to and captured the American’s Fort Mackinac— igniting the War of 1812. The fort was not reclaimed by the Americans until three years later at war’s end.
Warfare and unrest was fueled by the Battle of Fort Dearborn in August of 1812. Potawatomi who were angered by Americans’ false promises attacked Nathan Heald, his men, and the fort’s inhabitants on their retreat to Fort Wayne in Indiana. At the time of the attack, Joseph had sent Alexander Robinson by canoe from their post on the St. Joseph River to Fort Dearborn to buy corn. He stealthily entered the area and took refuge in the house of Archange Ouilmette, where he heard the “shocks of the combatants” and “shrieks of the victims.” Three days later when other hostile Native Americans arrived at the fort. Robinson along with Black Patridge and Shabonna stood on the front porch of the Ouilmette house, protecting the Kinzie family within. John Kinzie was an early trader of the region who occasionally worked with Joseph Bailly. His ties to the fur trade would garner him protection from even pro-British Native Americans like Shabonna and Billy Caldwell. After negotiations, the hostile group left. Black Partridge put the Kinzie family in a boat. They were guided to St. Joseph and then to Detroit. Alexander Robinson took the American prisoners, Nathan Heald and his wife, to British-occupied Mackinac Island.
In January of 1813, Marie’s birthplace was host to warfare at the Battle of Frenchtown when British and Indigenous forces attacked the American’s fort. That winter, Joseph Bailly conducted trade on the Grand River. While it is unclear where Marie and Joseph spent all of this tumultuous period, Frances maintained that Joseph’s fur trade business had brought them to the St. Joseph River in present day Southwestern Michigan.
In December of 1813, Marie’s husband Joseph was seized as a prisoner of war for being a part of the pro-Britain Canadian militia unit. Americans wanted to cut off Native American’s supply lines so they could not aid Britain in the war. Joseph spent three months imprisoned in Detroit. It is unclear how much time Marie spent with Joseph, if any, during the months he spent away from Mackinac, trading. Considering their number of small children, Marie and Joseph’s separation may have been a common occurrence, although this time it was under more stressful and dangerous circumstances. Local historian Olga Schiemann, who knew Frances Howe well, wrote of Bailly’s quick release:
His understanding of the causes of the War and his wide aquaintance with men on both the American and the British sides, together with his friendliness and lack of animosity plainly showed he was a man of affairs…
Following his release in March of 1814, Bailly carried a letter from H. Butler, a Canadian official that addressed all officers of the United States and directed them to allow Bailly to pass through to his trading post on the St. Joseph River. In the summer of 1814, American’s initiated a weeklong battle in an attempt to regain the fort on Mackinac Island. Though the invasion ultimately failed, Joseph was deported with other Canadian Loyalists eastward to Drummond Island, which was under control of the British. Americans regained the fort on Mackinac in July of 1815. In October, Joseph was involved in a legal case on Drummond Island regarding his time as prisoner of war. Around 1816, Marie gave birth to their only son, Robert, on Drummond Island. While legislation passed that required a trader to be American to receive a license in what is today Michigan, Joseph could continue trading on the British-controlled island. Likely in response to the same legislation, Joseph became an American citizen in the fall 1818 and the family returned to Mackinac Island so that Joseph could again enter the trade scene.
In 1819, Marie’s first daughter Agatha was married at her and Joseph’s home on Mackinac to Edward Biddle. Elizabeth Baird, part of a prominent Great Lakes fur trade family and niece of North America’s first female millionaire, Madame LaFramboise, attended. She described Marie as a powerful storyteller, “one could have listened to her all day and never tired. They were told in the Odawa language.” She also described Agatha’s marriage scene, detailing the clothing that Agatha, Marie, and her aunt Madame LaFramboise wore:
“...a double skirt made of fine narrow broadcloth, with but one pleat on each side; no fullness in front nor in back. The skirt reached about half-way between the ankle and the knee, and was elaborately embroidered with ribbon and beads on both the lower and upper edges. On the lower, the width of the trimming was six inches, and on the upper, five inches. The same trimming extended up the overlapping edge of the skirt. Above this horizontal trimming were rows of ribbon, four or five inches wide, placed so near together that only a narrow strip of the cloth showed, like a narrow cord. Accompanying this was worn a pair of legging made of broadcloth. When the skirt is black, the leggins are of scarlet broadcloth, the embroidery about three inches from the side edge. Around the bottom the trimming is between four and five inches in width. The moccasins, also, were embroidered with ribbon and beads. Then we come to the blanket, as it is called, which is of fine broadcloth, either black or red, with most elaborate work of ribbon; no beads, however, are used on it….
The waist, or sacque, is a sort of loose-fitting garment made of silk for extra occasions, but usually of calico. It is made plain, without either embroidery of ribbon or beads. The sleeves snugly fit the arm and the wrist, and the neck has only a binding to finish it. Beads enough are worn around the neck to fill in and come down in front. Silver brooches are worn according to taste. The hair is worn plain, parted in the middle, braided down the back, and tied up again, making a double queue. At this wedding, four such dresses appeared – those of the bride, her mother, Madame Laframboise, and Madame Schindler.”
Land cession treaties that stripped Indigenous peoples of their traditional lands began to appear across the region. Dr. Kelli Mosteller, Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s Cultural Heritage Center’s Director, said of this time:
The federal government started to talk about the ‘Indian problem’ during this period, and the ‘Indian problem’ is essentially, ‘What do we do with Native Americans who have been living on lands that we want to occupy?’
In August of 1821, another treaty was under negotiations. The negotiations took over two weeks at Fort Dearborn and included much debate because of the size of the tract. Potawatomi Chief Matea is noted for having stated:
Our country was given to us by the Great Spirit, who gave it to us to hunt upon, to make our cornfields upon, to live upon, and to make down our beds upon when we die. And he would never forgive us, should we bargain it away. When you first spoke to us for lands at St. Mary’s, we said we had a little, and agreed to sell you a piece of it; but we told you we could spare no more. Now you ask us again. You are never satisfied! We have sold you a great tract of land already; but it is not enough! We sold it to you for the benefit of your children, to farm and to live upon. We have now but little left. We shall want it all for ourselves. We know not how long we may live, and we wish to have some lands for our children to hunt upon. You are gradually taking away our hunting-grounds. Your children are driving us before them. We are growing uneasy. What lands you have, you may retain forever; but we shall sell no more.
Lewis Cass, Governor of the Michigan Territory, successfully swayed opinions with threats and withholding whiskey. The Treaty of Chicago passed and ceded the majority of the Odawa’s winter hunting grounds in southern Michigan, to the Americans—nearly 4 million acres. Joseph and his family remained on Mackinac Island where he continued to trade.
In the summer of 1822, Joseph and Marie settled along the bank of the Little Calumet River in today’s Indiana Dunes National Park. Joseph was already familiar with the region and the local Potawatomi from his years in the trade. The site was strategically located near two Native American trails, including the northern branch of the Sauk Trail which connected Detroit to Fort Dearborn and beyond. Around this same time, Marie gave birth to her sixth and last daughter, Hortense. Granddaughter Frances Howe relayed a story in her book about how the cabin was first constructed in a lower area. One evening, a stupendous storm flooded the cabin, and it had to be moved up the hill the following morning. She wrote, “Grandmother used to say, jestingly, that the home floated up to the summit of the hill.” It is important to note that although Frances quotes Marie in English, Marie never spoke the language and only limitedly understood French.
For about years, their home was the only non-Indigenous settlement in the Calumet Area. Because of this, it was a point of interest as one of the few stopping places on the trail from Detroit to Fort Dearborn. Odawa and Potawatomi were frequent visitors to the Homestead. Like the Odawa, local Potawatomi seasonally shifted southward in the winter. When the Potawatomi left for their annual migration to the Kankakee River, Joseph and Marie safely stored their possessions at the homestead.
Joseph was intent on educating their children to the best of his ability. Marie and Joseph sent their children to the Carey Mission on the St. Joseph River in present day Niles, Michigan. Their daughters were known to speak Odawa, French, and English fluently. This Baptist school began in 1822 specifically for Native American and Métis children to provide Western education and cultural assimilation. McCoy supported the Indian Removal Act and continued constructing missions west of the Mississippi following the bill’s passage in 1830. In 1827, Typhoid fever hit the school and killed Joseph and Marie’s youngest and only son, Robert. Joseph constructed an enormous oak cross and the family buried their son and brother at a nearby site that would become known as the Bailly Cemetery. The cross would have undoubtedly reminded Marie of her childhood home along Lake Michigan.
In September of that year, further north along the St. Joseph River from the school, the Treaty of St. Joseph was signed between Governor Cass and Potawatomi chiefs which ceded additional Indigenous land between Detroit and Chicago in Michigan for the purpose of a “territorial road.” When developed, the road’s route would follow the Native American trail that passed the Bailly Homestead. The trail would have undoubtedly been special to Marie; it not only connected her to her birthplace, but through its travelers— to her Indigenous culture.
The seizure of Indigenous lands intensified after President Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act in 1830. States who had negotiated treaties in years past now had support for removal with federal backing. A flow of easterners heading west began to come past the Homestead as land cession treaties took land from tribes and opened it to predominantly Euro-American settlers. Marie, about 47 years old, was experiencing a change of worlds again. She witnessed her people being removed from their homeland, and the shifting attitudes of Indigenous peoples by Americans. The infringement of Native American land by Euro-American settlement led to a final Indigenous resistance in the area, the Blackhawk War of 1832 in Northern Illinois. The majority of Americans at the time considered Native Americans as uncivilized and an impediment in gaining control of the continent. In an account he wrote from a visit in 1831, Ronald Tinkham praises the Bailly daughters while slighting Marie for her ancestry:
… and just at sunset arrived at Bailey’s or Bayee’s, trading post. I never was weary nor hungry or had my feet sore before. We had walked 27 miles. The old trader was not home, but his daughters were. Fine girls, indeed, for this or any other country, tho’ their father is an ugly, illiterate man, and their mother a full blooded Odawa, yet he is rich and has given three of his daughters a good English education. They speak English, French and Indian with correctness and fluency; dress in the English fashion, and are quite accomplished and genteel in their manner.
The string of Euro-American migration westward accelerated after the Blackhawk War. Chief Shabonna, a prominent Odawa-born figure involved in both the Battle of Fort Dearborn and the Blackhawk War, was said to be a frequent visitor to the Homestead. By 1833, the major Native American trail connecting Detroit to Chicago that passed the Homestead was converted to the stagecoach road known as the Old Chicago Road. A number of accounts comment on the hospitality of Marie, the impressiveness of their girls, and the dirtiness of Joseph. Their home was furnished with mahogany furniture, books, sterling silver, china dishes, and musical instruments, including a piano. In 1833, writer Charles Fenno Hoffman and his party were ejected from their coach as they traveled past the Homestead on the Old Chicago Road. He wrote of Marie coming to assistance:
A very respectable-looking Indian female, the wife, probably, of the French gentleman who owned the post, came out, and civilly furnished us with basins and towels to clean our hands and faces, which were sorely bespattered with mud…
He continued with a description of the Homestead:
The trading establishment consisted of six or eight log-cabins, of a most primitive construction, all of them grey with age, and so grouped on the bank of the river as to present an appearance quite picturesque.
An account from another visit of that year written by Dr. Valentine A. Boyer’s describes the Homestead and the family’s generosity, but also reveals some problematic insects:
… Departing from Laport the only place of note before we reached the Lake shore was a French Trader`s location on the Grand [Little] Calumet, consisting of six or more log shanties, for storage purposes, together with the house in which his family resided, and a stable for his cattle and horses. When we arrived there Old Mr. Baillie, for that was his name, received us very kindly and offered us one of his storage shanties…
Taking possession of the one pointed out, we found therein, several bunks in which was spread a bear skin or two and several deer skins. Being provided with a skillet, pans and a coffee pot, Mother and Sister soon prepared one of the most palatable meals we had had for some time.
…Feeling somewhat recuperated after the hearty meal we enjoyed, we began to look for our comfort, for our sleep, we found sleeping accommodations slim, Mr. Dean and myself betook us to the bunk with the bear skins without divesting ourselves of any of our clothing but our coats…
But alas, our anticipated enjoyment was soon blasted – and to our serious disappointment, the famished fleas and bugs who had been the only occupants of the place for some time set about feasting on us so voraciously that fatigued as I was, having fallen asleep nearly as soon as I touched the bear-skin, I was after a few hours sleep aroused from my slumber, springing out of the bunk I hurried out of doors with all dispatch possible where I found Mr. Dean, who had preceded me, fast asleep on the wagon tongue of his wagon with the end board of the wagon for a pillow apparently thankful that he had escaped alive from the tormenting pests.
In 1833, another Treaty of Chicago was signed which gave Native Americans in the area (mostly Potawatomi,) two years to leave their ancestral homeland. They would have to walk to a newly promised home about 500 miles away in Kansas. The same treaty awarded Joseph Bailly money, allegedly for his assistance to convince the Potawatomi to sign. Bailly used this money to begin construction of an early version of the “big house” seen at the Homestead today. Weatherboard covered the original, hand-hewn, white oak logs, but Joseph would not live to see it completed. The treaty also awarded land in Will County, Illinois to Marie and Joseph’s daughters. When a railroad was constructed through that area in the early 1850’s, they named the nearby stop “Monee” after Marie. Frances wrote that Marie never had a Native American name, but that her maternal relatives called her Maunee because there is no “r” sound in Algonquin languages and it is supplemented by an “n.” While reasoning for the spelling is debated, Marie Bailly is the accepted namesake of Monee, Illinois.
Frances recounted a story from when Odawa stopped to camp at the family homestead in the early years. A couple of Odawa girls were sent to purchase potatoes from the Morgans, the only other nearby farm. The girls came running back after they were victims of “improper advances” by two of Jesse Morgan’s sons. Frances maintains that Marie mediated the situation to peace by speaking to the Odawa. Frances wrote of another occasion when her grandmother baffled a dry goods merchant by helping coordinate purchases with her daughters and him.
[He] was greatly surprised and frightened when he saw Grandmother take a key from a special hiding place to use it to unlock her husband’s strong box, an ironbound, oaken chest. Putting aside his papers and account books she drew forth a well-filled urse and sat down to superintend her daughters’ purchases…
On January 28, 1834, Marie and Joseph’s oldest, Esther, married John Whistler at Joseph’s former employee’s home, Mr. Beaubien, outside of Chicago. John was the son of American Captain Whistler who came to build Fort Dearborn in 1803. John and Esther have the first marriage license in Cook County, and began living together in Chicago. Also in 1834, Joseph platted the “Town of Bailly” along the little Calumet River with the hope of stabilizing finances since the fur trade had come to an end. He used “Lefevre” and many of his and Marie’s children’s names for street names. Although the town was never built, a community known as “Baillytown” would spring up around the Homestead in the decades to come.
According to Frances, her Grandfather began to wind up business affairs and make arrangements for the event of his death. On December 21, 1835, Joseph Bailly died. A local man, Jacob Beck, orchestrated the burial. In accordance to women’s property rights at the time, his death inevitably left Marie and their daughters’ lives in turmoil:
Indiana’s earliest property laws were based upon the English common law tradition that considered women almost as perpetual juveniles. Women forfeited all personal interest in property upon marriage. They could not make wills or convey property. They had extremely limited rights of inheritance and no right to an independent income.
A legal agreement regarding property before marriage could offer a married woman some protection. Most married women, however, were dependent upon their husbands for everything. Married women and widows generally had little control over their own destinies.
Frances wrote of the period after Joseph’s death and the court’s requirement of an “administrator:”
The peculiar circumstances of Grandfather’s death and burial, led to some misunderstandings, it was falsely supposed that he had died suddenly, and that his business and his affairs generally, must be in great confusion, and that therefore a man must be needed to wind them up. In vain the family protested this theory, the judge was obstinate, and in defiance of all laws governing the actions of probate court, forced Grandmother and herdaugthers, who he treated as unreasonable women, to be coerced into subjection, to accept as an administrator to one whom they had the most reason to dread, a man against who Grandfather had specially warned them. It was a disastrous performance. Of course Grandfather’s prudence in winding up all his business and settling all his affairs absolutely prevented this person from doing all the harm he wished to do, but he did embezzle a considerable amount, his conduct being so boldly dishonest that he was brought before the grand jury in a very short time, charged with fraudulent conduct (a true bill was found against him, he did not wait to stand trial, but fled into the far west, in those days, the safe refuge for all such characters.)
Never again in Indiana was such a piece of cruel injustice perpetuated against a bereaved family, the lesson thereof was taken deeply to heart by the Indiana lawmakers, the laws declaring the right of a widow to administrate her husband’s estate were yet more clearly denied, and any attempt to weaken them was for many and many a year met by reference to the maladministration of the estate of Joseph Bailly…
After Porter county probate court had recognized its error, by discharging the dishonest administrator, life at the Homestead began to regulate itself in accordance with Grandfathers wishes.
Following her father’s death, Esther moved back to Indiana with John Whistler to live at and manage the Homestead. Frances wrote of Ester’s husband’s influence to Bailly land and home, “Uncle Whistler… never defrauded the estate or did anything to diminish its value.” Joseph’s son Alexis, from a previous wife, came to help settle the estate and became administrator with Marie. For two years he lived at the Homestead, sorting out his father’s real estate and attempting to settle the Bailly estate without success. Marie lived with her daughter Theresa in a one-story, three-roomed cottage that had been used as quarters for the men needed in the services of the fur trade.
In 1836, a dream harbor city was platted on Lake Michigan along Dunes Creek. A saw mill was constructed, and white pine trees from the dune bluffs provided lumber for construction. In 1837, T. H. Ball moved with his family to the city, City West, when he was about 9 years old. Later in life, Ball became an early regional historian who compiled a history of Northwest Indiana in 1900. In his account, he wrote of some of his memories of the early city on Dunes Creek. He recalled that when they arrived, there were around sixteen families living in newly constructed houses, and there was even a hotel. City West was mostly located within today’s Indiana Dunes State Park and centralized around the main parking lot and pavilion area. Ball wrote (in third-person) fondly of his seven months living in City West, and noted Native Americans in the area:
… seeing the travelling parties almost every week on their ponies, going to and from the neighboring Baillytown [Homestead], and visiting at their wigwams the hunting parties that came from Green Bay in their large, birch-bark canoes, and camped for weeks near the growing village... here he first saw an Indian burial place and saw Indians mourning over their buried dead…
Immediately north and west of this area was a noted Potawatomi burial mound. Ball wrote:
On a sandy knoll, between the village and the lake, on the bank of the creek, there was an Indian burial ground of some size, the marks or inscriptions on the head-boards seeming to have been painted with Indian puccoon root. Here the villagers did not bury ; this sacred spot they did not disturb. Near this, in the summer and fall, some Indian encampments were held ; the Indians being quiet, peaceable hunting parties, one party at least having come down Lake Michigan from Green Bay…
Frequently the Indian parties came on good ponies from Bailly-town [Homestead], men, women, and children passing along the west street of the village, then going by their burial place to the lake shore, sometimes going eastward to the city, sometimes westward. In a few days they would return.
Ball also noted that the Native American women and papooses on the ponies were always subjects of much interest to the White women and children. By the end of that year, a financial crash swept the country and caused the residents of City West to scatter. In 1899, Ball interviewed a Mrs. Sarah Beck Stonex, daughter of Jacob Beck, the man who prepared Joseph Bailly for burial. Ball and Stonex connected on the fact that they had both happened to attend a “frontier burial service” in City West in 1837.
In 1835 a delegation of Odawa leaders from Little Traverse Bay traveled to Washington D.C. in an attempt to negotiate for keeping land in Michigan. An Odawa “head man” and interpreter, Kanapima, wrote Lewis Cass, now Secretary of War under President Andrew Jackson that December:
It is a heart-rending thought to our simple feelings to think of leaving our native country forever, and which has been bought with the price of, their native blood, and which has been thus safely transmitted to us. It is, we say, a heart-rending thought to us to think so; there are many local endearments which make the soul shrink with horror at the idea of rejecting our country forever—the mortal remains of our deceased parents, relations and friends, cry out to us as it were, for our compassion, our sympathy and our love.
In 1836, the Treaty of Washington ceded the near entirety of the Odawa’s traditional lands in the northern half of Michigan’s lower peninsula, as well as much of the upper peninsula—totaling nearly 16 million acres. In exchange for title of the land, the treaty provided Odawa permission to stay within established reservations and continue to hunt and fish on surrounding lands. Despite this, negotiations eroded over time and the American government continued to push for the Odawa’s removal. But Kanapima was well educated, having been schooled in Cincinnati and later, Rome. He understood his people’s rights and wrote letters and petitions to avoid removal of Odawa at L’Arbre Croche. Thanks to his efforts, an Odawa reservation exists in the area today. The fate of Potawatomi in Indiana did not follow this exception. After local additional treaties were signed that ceded Potawatomi land in Northwest Indiana, Chief Menominee and his people refused to leave. He wrote a federal agent in 1838:
The President does not know the truth. He, like me, has been imposed upon. He does not know that you made my young chiefs drunk and got their consent and pretended to get mine. He would not drive me from my home and the graves of my tribe, and my children, who have gone to the Great Spirit, nor allow you to tell me that your braves will take me, tied like a dog.
Despite the resistance, over 800 Potawatomi were rounded up by mounted militia that September and forced to leave. The two month trek exposed the vulnerable Potawatomi to sicknesses, killing many in an event known as the Potawatomi Trail of Death.
Although Joseph Bailly and his son were buried in the family’s cemetery near the Homestead, a man named Jacob Stair had purchased the land from the federal government. In 1838, Marie’s daughter Theresa paid delinquent taxes on the property and Mr. Stair deeded the land to her. Two years later in 1840, Theresa, her husband and children followed the Potawatomi’s forced migration to Kansas.
In 1841, Marie’s daughter Rose married Francis Howe at the Homestead. The family spent the day strolling through the autumn woods, and Rose and Francis planted an oak and an elm and entwined them in memory of the day. Since Joseph had been alive, traveling priests made visits to the Homestead. One priest who was to be known as Father Maurice de St. Palais visited the Bailly homestead in the early 1840s. Likely influenced by his visits, 26 year old Eleanor decided to enter the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary’s of the Woods in November of 1841. Shortly after arriving, Mother Theodore of St. Mary’s complimented Eleanor while slighting her Indigenous heritage:
A new postulant arrived last week who appears desirable. She alone could serve as proof that the Lord has His elect everywhere and that He watches over them. She seems only half civilized, but she has received direction of the Holy Spirit. She has been brilliantly educated and knows vocal and instrumental music, which pleases Monseigneur greatly. I do not know whether she will remain, as I wish only those whom God would choose, and in spite of all her fine qualities, we would not receive her if as to virtue she were not suitable.
Father Guegen, friend of Father Maurice, recalled to Frances a visit he made to the Homestead while Ester and John lived there. His description from the 19th century is similar to its appearance today:
The house stands on a hill, a sort of clay cliff, there is a very pretty river, winding gracefully around the foot of the hill, and enough of the natural groves are left to give the impression of a dense forest, while all the buildings are in keeping with the scenery and stand just in the position best suited to the landscape.
Father Guegen noted that Marie and Theresa were on Mackinac Island at the time, visiting Agatha. He had a fine supper at the Homestead and spent the night. Frances wrote that the next morning, Esther translated confessions for some Native Americans in the area, and then Father Guegen gave mass.
At age 30 in 1842, Esther Whistler died in childbirth while delivering her fifth healthy baby. After Esther’s death, Mr. Whistler and their Métis children also followed the Potawatomi’s forced migration and moved to Kansas, where he worked as a trader with his half sister-in-law, Therese (also likely known as Mary Nadeau.) Marie continued to live at the Homestead with her youngest, Hortense. During the late 1840s, Francis and Rose Howe lived in Chicago but Mr. Howe ran a sawmill near the cemetery and logged the Bailly land for lumber. Many European-American settlers continued to come to the area that was being cleared.
Following Hortense’s marriage to Joel Wicker in July of 1849, Marie moved back to Mackinac Island to live with Agatha, a respected member of an unusual band of Indigenous and Métis peoples from multiple regional tribes. While Marie was away, a cholera epidemic in Chicago killed Rose’s husband Francis and four of their children in 1850. Rose gave birth to Marie’s last grandchild, Frances Howe, a few months later in 1851. Frances’ oldest sister, also named Rose, was the only of her 5 siblings to survive the cholera outbreak. Following Francis’ death, Hortense’s husband, Joel Wicker, oversaw operation of the sawmill near the Homestead.
Shortly before the family’s tragedy, James Oliver Van De Veld, was consecrated as the second Bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. According to Frances, De Veld, a “reformer," brought grief to Rose after her husband Francis’ death. Granddaughter Frances wrote that De Veld objected to the acceptance of a Catholic lady’s legal liberty accorded to her by laws of the United States. She maintained that Rose had administered and closed her husband’s estate, managed her own paternal inheritance, and was acknowledged the natural guardian of her children. Frances wrote that in Belgium, Rose would have been subject to a guardian after the death of her husband. De Veld’s views had apparently aligned with Belgium, and concurrently, with Illinois. In Illinois, women did not have the rights to property or their earnings until the Married Women’s Property Act was passed in 1861. Rose was in a legal bind concerning her property in Chicago. According to Olga Scheiman, Rose disposed of the Chicago home and in the counsel of one of her husband’s good friends, purchased property at State and Jackson as an investment. The Vidette-Messenger of Porter County provided another claim; that Rose left Chicago after gossip spread that shared how her parents, Joseph and Marie, had never had a church-sanctioned marriage. It also claims that the gossip was the reason for France’s 1907 book, which vehemently rejects notions of their marriage being illegitimate.
Frances wrote that Rose explained her housing situation to family friend, Father Maurice, Bishop St. Palais—who came to her assistance. Father Maurice traveled to Mackinac Island and successfully petitioned Marie to help her daughter Rose by moving back to live at the old Homestead. Marie showed remorse to leave because she was well-known, respected, and comfortable living with Agatha and her tribe on Mackinac Island.
According to Frances, following Marie’s return to the Homestead, she could invite Rose into her home to allow her the “virtuous freedom of an American Lady” with respect to the property. Although married women would not be granted personal property rights in Indiana until 1879, widows gained inheritance rights in May of 1852.
Sometime around 1853, Marie returned to live at the Homestead with her daughter Rose, and granddaughters Rose and Frances. During this time, Hortense’s husband,Mr. Wicker, had the most influence over the estate. Frances approached the topic in her book:
… he was a man wholly ignorant of the family history, having no sympathy with the traditions of the past, and possessed with an idea that his wife had been wronged in her inheritance, so he managed matter wholly with reference to this idea. The matter which he misunderstood was in relation to the embezzling administrator ; he judged the affair wholly by the county records, which certainly made no note of the cruel coercion used on Grandmother and her daughters, compelling them to accept as administrator, one whom they had every reason to dread and dislike.
As he read the barren statement of legal proceedings, he judged the family had asked the court to appoint this man to take charge of the estate, and that therefore Aunt Hortense should have been compensated for the damage done by him to the estate, during her minorry, overlooking the fact that Grandmother ceded one-third interest to cover up all such claims. He also disliked the unavoidable intrusion of the foster sister [Agatha] into the family inheritance, so altogether his management of this lumber enterprise tended chiefly to give him an opportunity of making his wife’s inheritance furnish funds for his own investments.
Not long after Marie, Rose, and her daughters returned, Marie’s youngest daughter Hortense Wicker died in 1855. Marie had to bury a third child in the family plot.
According to Frances, Marie wished for the Homestead to remain undivided to preserve its memories after her death. She said that Marie had tried to buy back Esther’s son’s shares of the estate, but they refused. Frances wrote that Joel Wicker acquired property from Esther’s sons. Mr. Wicker continued to operate the sawmill and clear Bailly land of timber. He sold the stumpland, known as “Slab City,” to an increasing stream of Swedish immigrants. The name derived from the rough shelters of the workers at the saw mill, built of the waste product from squaring the logs. By the end of the 19th century, the surge of Swedish immigration had given Porter County about 20% of the state’s Swedish population, with many living in or around what became known as “Baillytown.” Mr. Wicker acquired more of the Bailly property in 1856 when he gained ownership of the cemetery, just a quarter mile south east of where he operated a sawmill. By this time, around 20 Swedish families were already living in the area.
Marie chose to live in the old kitchen, a separate structure detached from the main house. She dwelt there except for the three coldest months of winter. The Bishop who helped convince Marie to return to the Homestead from Mackinac had told her that he would send a priest once a year to perform mass, a promise, Frances said, he kept. Marie continued the family custom of visiting the cemetery every Sunday, where her husband, son, daughters, and many grandchildren were buried. Frances wrote of her grandmother:
…her health remained good for one of her advanced age, and for one who had undergone so much hardship and so much sorrow ; she was always very cheerful, very kind and very thoughtful of others, prayer was her recreation, and during the last two years of her life, her constant occupation, yet she never hesitated to lay aside her devotions to perform an act of kindness or charity, or to receive a friend affectionately. She never seemed to be lonely, though she had no society except what our presence gave her. Sometimes a family of Potawattamies came up from Central Illinois to make maple sugar, in a fine forest of hard maple nearby ; they would come and visit her and she would return their visits, otherwise she maintained a sort of cloister rule of never leaving the premises.
Frances also described her grandmother’s dress:
Grandmother’s wrap was either a handsome shawl, or else a sober mantle of broadcloth, sometimes thrown Madonna style over her head as well as her shoulders… Grandmother’s soft, silky, iron-gray hair was neatly braided into a small tress and tied with the black ribbon of widowhood.
Marie’s daughter Eleanor, who had gone to Sister’s Providence of St. Mary’s of the Woods, became Mother Cecilia in 1856. Marie’s granddaughter, Rose, attended school Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, and was the first formal graduate in 1860. Rose’s mother, Rose, sent a letter to her at school in 1857, illuminating a period that Marie spent alone with her granddaughter Frances:
… I too started on a journey, which you must remember I had to take, Frankie preferred not to go with me of which I was very glad, though I intended to have taken her. As you had just left, I thought it might be too much for her to bear, but to my very agreeable astonishment, she preferred to remain with her Grandmother for fear, as she said, she would be lonely.
After Rose’s days long journey, she returned to the Homestead late one moonlit night:
…both Grandma and grandchild were fast asleep. I was much relieved when I saw them sound and safe. It appears they had both been crying that evening, each told of the other. Three nights they spent alone and this was to be the fourth, two helpless beings, one for age and one from childhood, and not enjoying the comfort of speaking the same language, that is, to have much conversation together, it was pitiful!
Rose finished her letter with her worry about gathering wood being relieved because a neighbor had agreed to help them out. She notes that Marie, who was about 74 at the time, had been carrying from the woods every stick they used. In March of 1864, Rose acquired title to the cemetery property. In 1865, Marie’s daughter Rose and granddaughters Rose and Frances attended President Lincoln’s Inaugural Ball. Although reasons for the invitation are unknown, Frances was just 14 at the time; her dress and invitation are preserved by the Westchester Township History Museum.
France recalled that over the years, her grandmother had gradually grown “more and more feeble.” She wrote of her grandmother’s final months:
Early in the March of 1866… she slipped in crossing the lawn, not noticing a thin sheet of ice lying in the path, she fell in such a manner as to jar her spine ; being too old for the forces of nature to rally, this was her death blow.
In July, with her mother on her deathbed, Rose constructed a wooden fence around the family’s cemetery and instructed neighbors to abstain from burying their dead there; she even asked them to remove their already buried, but few complied. On September 15, 1866, Marie died in her quarters, the old kitchen, the same walls where her husband passed 31 years before. France wrote, “The funeral was devoid of pomp, as her husband’s had been, for such was her wish…”.
Following Marie's death, Porter County courts chose to divide the Homestead’s remaining 160 acre estate in half. The 80 acres that contained the homestead went to Rose and the remaining 80 acres to her brother-in-law Joel Wicker, who quickly made sale of his half. Rose had sold most of her inheritance property between the deaths of her parents, and in order to comply with her affidavit of continued residence, she had to remain at the homestead for a number of years. In 1869, Rose ordered the old kitchen where her mother dwelled and both her parents died to be converted to a chapel. Then she left with her two daughters, Rose and Frances, for a five year sojourn to visit Catholic churches and shrines around Europe and the Holy Land. Among others, they traveled to Germany, France, Belgium, Italy, Nazareth, Bethlehem, Jerusalem.
Rose, Frances, and Rose visited Belgium in the spring and summer of 1874 where they witnessed a stigmatic—Louise Lateau. During her period of over 10 years, Louise would allegedly enter “ecstasies” where she would bleed from her hands as if from nail punctures every Friday promptly at 3:00 P.M.. Frances wrote about the experience with Louise Lateau in a religious journal and later published a book on the subject. In an compilation of religious literature published in 1897, Frances and her writings were described: “Her writings are characterized by a strong tendency toward theological questions, which prove that a woman may think and write deeply as well as piously.” Shortly after Rose returned to the Homestead from Europe with her daughters in 1874, she had the red brick house adjacent to the main house built for her daughter, Rose, who died 5 years later.
Marie’s daughter, Rose, died on May 15, 1891 at age 78. Following her mother’s death, Frances acquired ownership of the family cemetery. As Frances approached her own death, she became increasingly worried about preserving her family’s history. To curb threats of curiosity seekers, she had a concrete wall built around the cemetery’s 1867 wall. The interior was then enclosed by filling it with sand, giving it the appearance it maintains today. Frances died while visiting her adopted daughter in California on January 20, 1917. Her burial was the final internment at the Bailly Cemetery.
Marie lived as a relict negotiator in two worlds, that of the French and the Indigenous. She was born into tumultuous times where the French, British, and English all had interests in the area. She experienced a myriad of conflicts, warfare and land cession; and their effects, throughout her lifetime. Susan Sleeper-Smith wrote of Marie in Indian Women and French Men, Rethinking Cultural Encounters in the Western Great Lakes:
She learned her mediation skills in a world where identity was kin-based and where ethnicity had limited meeting. She experienced raising children and leaving children in a “society [that] determined identity through ethnicity, and increasingly, by race… [and a] world where racial prejudice mitigated against their acceptance.
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The content for this article was written by Joseph Gruzalski, a researcher with Indiana Dunes National Park. Funds were made possible by a National Park Foundation grant.