In 1852 Walhalla had about 30 houses, some of them were quite neat and pretty. They were built of logs and were mudded smoothly on the inside and outside. They had wooden shingles. Most of the people at that time still lived in tents made of buffalo or deerskin. Walhalla was a busy, hustling town with a mixed population of Chippewa Indians, Frenchmen, and half-breeds called Metis. There were about 1200 people living here then.
In a log house in Walhalla lived Felix and Marguerite Latraille and their children. Her maiden name was Marguerite Jellibois, which means nice wood. After her marriage to Felix Latraille, the couple came here from Canada with the traders and voyageurs about 1845. Felix was working for the United States government looking after the Indians in this area.
Everyone who passed along the story of Marguerite Latraille tells of her kindness and helpfulness to her neighbors. It was this kindness that made her famous in the Walhalla area.
The Martyrs story begins in 1852 when a Baptist preacher named Elijah Terry came to Walhalla with a friend named James Tanner. They bought land here nearby the Gingras trading post and started to haul logs from the woods to build a house. They worked on this most of the summer but sometime in the fall while they were busy cutting down trees, Elijah Terry was ambushed by a group of hostile Sioux Indians. He was shot with many arrows and had some hatchet wounds too. He died and was scalped by the Indians. A Frenchman who was in the woods with him heard the noise and ran to where Terry was and found him dead.
The Frenchman begged the Catholic priest to allow Terry to be buried in the Catholic cemetery so he could be in holy ground. The priest agreed but would only let Terry’s body be buried along the edge by the fence, a place reserved for suicides. In those days Catholics did not allow people of other religions to be buried in their cemetery and there were no other cemeteries here at the time.
The next attempt at bringing a Protestant religion to this area was in the following year, 1853, when Reverends Alonzo Barnard and David Spencer and their wives and children came here from Cass Lake in Minnesota. A famous trader at Walhalla, Norman Kittson, had gotten the government to pay $500 for the Barnards and Spencers to come here and start a church and school. When they came here they stayed in Norman Kittson’s warehouse, which is the building that is in the state park behind the Walhalla clinic. That building used to be on Emmerling Avenue in the old days.
Before they could get their houses built, Mrs. Barnard got very sick in October with consumption. Her husband took her to Winnipeg to the closest doctor and left the other children with an Indian squaw, Marguerite Latraille. Mrs. Barnard got medicine from the doctor and the doctor told her she was going to die. She wanted to go back to Walhalla to see her children once more before she died. On the way back, out in the open plains near Morris, Manitoba, they were hit by a terrible blizzard and had to spend the night in the cold with only a tent made of buffalo skin to keep them warm. During the night Mrs. Barnard got worse and worse and her husband knew that he would have to turn around and take her back to Winnipeg. Her last wish was to be buried in the corner of the yard at Walhalla so her children could visit her grave often. But Mrs. Sarah Philena Barnard was buried in Winnipeg when she died.
In December her husband went back to Winnipeg and had her body dug up and he brought it to Walhalla where she was buried in the yard as she wished. Her husband bought a tombstone in Selkirk, near Winnipeg, but it broke in half before he got it here. But it was placed on her grave anyway. The stone is now at the Walhalla Chamber office where everyone can see it.
In 1854 Mr. Barnard went back east to find a home for his children and on his return trip to Walhalla met his friend Reverend Spencer along the way who had his own sad tale to tell.
On August 3, 1854, Reverend Spencer’s wife Cornelia was awake during the night with her baby boy who was fussing and she heard a voice outside. So she carried her baby with her and went to look out the window to see what had made the noise. When she opened the curtain on the window, Indians were standing right there with guns loaded and they fired three shots at her. One hit her in the chest and two in the neck. She staggered back to sit on the edge of the bed, still holding her baby boy. Her husband woke up and saw that she was hurt badly. He put the seven-month-old baby, covered in its mother’s blood, into the cradle and held his wife all night as she was dying. In the morning neighbors came to find him in shock still holding his wife with the baby moaning in the cradle and the other two small girls terrified and crying. Marguerite Latraille and her husband Felix came to help. Marguerite nursed the baby boy and helped take care of the other children at her home. Felix Latraille built a wooden coffin for Mrs. Spencer. There were no other Protestant ministers here at that time so Mr. Spencer had to do the funeral service for his own wife.
Some weeks later, Mr. Spencer took his children to his wife’s mother. Mrs. Latraille had already been taking care of the Spencer children, was hired to go with Mr. Spencer so she could keep taking care of them til the following spring. They set out for the east in one of the last red river ox carts in a long train of carts headed for St. Paul, 400 miles away. This was one of Norman Kittson’s caravans with heavily loaded carts of furs and buffalo skins.
The two little girls sat with their father in his cart, while the baby was in a swing suspended from the high axle under the cart. This is how the baby was carried across the plains. This is how many of the half-breeds carried their children in the squeaky-wheeled carts.
On June 21, 1888 the citizens of Walhalla had a special ceremony for the re-burial of the martyrs. Felix Latraille dug up their remains because he knew where they were buried. He was the one who buried them when they died 30 years before. In pictures taken on that day, you can see that Felix and his Chippewa wife Marguerite are in a place of honor in the very first row. Felix is holding a shovel and an axe. He is sitting on a bent over small sapling. At this special ceremony the son of Mrs. Spencer came and spoke to the audience. He was the baby boy who was baptized in his mother’s blood the night she was killed by the Sioux. He grew to manhood and became a minister himself. All those years later he was able to meet Marguerite Latraille, who had cared for him when he was a baby.
Marguerite lived to be a very old woman and was known for telling stories of her life in the old days when she was a young woman. She had many stories about buffalo hunts with her brothers and father. She knew how to make pemmican and buffalo skin tents. She died when she was 104 years old and is buried in the Leroy cemetery.
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