Monroe Evening News
September 28, 2002
French history celebrated - 09/28/2002

The eight-hour program helped more than 130 people researching their French-Canadian roots and heritage. 


The French-Canadian folklore in Monroe County, long a subject of muskrat jokes and the famous River Raisin Massacre, is a tradition worth passing on. 

That’s the message Dennis M. Au tried to pass along at a genealogy seminar Saturday at Monroe County Community College hosted by the Frenchtown Chapter of the French-Canadian Heritage Society. 

More than 130 participants got an earful of amusing stories, folklore tales and songs about early French-Canadian settlers during the forum, called “Muskrat Tracks — Tracing Your Early French.” 

Mr. Au, 50, is a descendant of the “Muskrat French,” the Canadian pioneers who settled along the River Raisin in Monroe County in the 18th century. He opened his 45-minute address with this greeting: “Comment c’a va, you mushrat you.” 

His father was German, but his step-grandmother, or “Mimi,” was Elnora Bomia, a French woman who spoke both English and French. Peppered with questions from her grandson, she taught him much about his ancestry. 

“This is a heritage you can pass on,” the former assistant director of the Monroe County Historical Museum urged the throng. “These are defining traditions of who you are. Give your Canadian identity to the next generation.” 

Since hardly anyone speaks French any more in the area, the muskrat remains as one of the most defining symbols of the French-Canadian heritage in this area. But be careful how you pronounce it. 

“You can always tell if someone isn’t from here if they say ‘muskrat’ instead of mushrat,” he said. 

He described how his family ate the famous marsh rodent regularly when he was young and how muskrat is prepared for eating: it’s cleaned carefully and stripped of fat; par boiled in onions, cabbage and parsley; fried in butter and onions, and smothered in cream corn. The oldest of his two daughters loves the meal. 

“It’s delicious. It doesn’t taste like anything else, except maybe wild duck,” he said. “The point is, if you have these traditions, pass them on.” 

Muskrat is the main dish served at many wildlife dinners held in the winter. 

“Even politicians better eat mushrat if they want to be elected,” Mr. Au mused. 

Although residents don’t speak French here any more like they do in Quebec, some of the folktales, songs and traditions still are around. 

Like the tradition of “chavarri,” where relatives and friends of newlyweds surprise the couple on their wedding night or days afterward late at night. They bang pots and pans, ring bells or fire shotguns in the air to announce their arrival. 

It happened to Mr. Au and his wife 25 years ago when some of his relatives missed the wedding and came two weeks afterward. 

“They made quite a din until the bride and bridegroom brought out something to eat,” he said. 

“It’s just a good time, a way to welcome the couple into the family.” 

The New Year’s holiday traditions of family get-togethers, dances and children asking for parents’ or grandparents’ new year blessings also were popular. French families served meat pies (toutiere), pork meat balls (boulette), sliders and dumplings (glissants) and square cake (galette care). 

Also common during the holidays was a “guianne,” where bands of young men would go in costumes and sing songs at someone’s home. They would ask the master of the house for “a slab of pork or a piece of clothing.” If the master refused, they would look for the “prettiest girl and dance her feet off,” Mr. Au said. 

Another tradition Mr. Au gleaned from the Reaume family here in the county was the “Dance the Hog Trough” before a wedding when the older unmarried brother had to dance with hogs because his younger brother found a bride first. 

He sang a French version of “Un p’tit coup” (“Don’t Smoke the Pipe So Much”) by the late Rev. Lambert M. LaVoy of Erie from a folksong made famous by Mr. Au’s friend, Marcel Beneteau of Windsor, Ontario. The song is titled “Take a Little Swig – It’s Very Agreeable.” 

He recorded a song called “Sweet Salute” by the late Clarence Reaume, who lived on LaPlaisance Creek. It was about a homemade family brew made from scratch. 

“It actually was a drinking song – you just keep adding vegetables,” Mr. Au said, and the audience laughed. 

He also played a recorded lullaby from Ed Labadie of Bolles Harbor sung to put children to sleep. The silly song, called a “Loup Garou,” was about a chicken laying eggs in a cupboard. 

He also told two mysterious medieval folktales – “Dancing with the Devil” and a big police dog that threatened a community. He concluded with a tale he borrowed from Oneal Petee of Erie about what was the meanest animal alive. 

“These tales made it into English and can be passed on at the appropriate time,” he said. 

Most of those attending are members of the society, said Liana Trombley of Carleton and Donna Nightingale of Flat Rock, who served as co-coordinators for the seminar. 

Sandy (DuVall) Masserant of Monroe was among the members who came to the seminar looking for more research on her family. 

A descendant of Francois Navarre, one of the earliest founders of the Frenchtown settlement, Mrs. Masserant noted how many times families will change the spelling of their last names. 

“They get Anglicized by English-speaking people,” she said. “People change it on a whim from one generation to another.” 

Mr. Au, who lives in Evansville, Ind., was one of five guest speakers during the eight-hour forum. Chris Kull, archivist at the Monroe County Historical Museum since 1982, said the museum is a great place to begin one’s geneaological study. The museum gets about 1,000 inquiries for research each year. 

“About 75 percent of those come in to do the research,” Mrs. Kull said. 

Her interest in local history stems from her ancestors, who were some of the earliest settlers in the county. 

She said the museum collection includes maps, photographs, city directories and obit clippings that date back to the 1830s. The obit file is the most widely used resource. 

Keyword: MNews

Monroe Evening News
July 08, 2002
Monroe County's history rich

Monroe County's link with history is obvious to even the most casual observer.

Its rich heritage is due, in part, to the fact that a river runs through it.

Some of the earliest Native American settlements took shape in the area because of the "Nummasepee," or "River of Sturgeon" as the early tribes called it.

Indeed, the first white settler, Francois Navarre, got a deed from local tribes for a 500-acre farm on the river's south bank on June 3, 1785. Before long, the area became known as 

Frenchtown because of the increasing number of French who had settled in the area. They renamed the Nummasepee the Riviere aux Raisins because of the grapevines that girdled its banks.

In 1788, French settlers built their first church -- the second oldest in Michigan -- and called it St. Antoine Riviere aux Raisins. It would be the first of many churches in the community, many of which still stand today.

Besides the historic churches and vintage architecture, Monroe County has preserved well other vestiges of its past. The Navarre-Anderson Trading Post and Martha Barker County Store at N. Custer and Raisinville Rds. are prime examples.

Dating to the late 1700s, the trading post was started by Col. John Anderson, one of the first Americans to settle in the area. Today, the building is said to be the oldest surviving wooden structure in Michigan and it is maintained as a working exhibit by the Monroe County Historical Museum.

Although the thread of history weaves throughout the county, the area's largest claims to historical fame may be its tie to the War of 1812 and the life of Gen. George Armstrong Custer.

The settlement of Frenchtown was the scene of the Battle of the River Raisin on Jan. 18, 1813, when American and British troops clashed along the banks of the frozen river. A subsequent massacre of remaining wounded soldiers and settler families on Jan. 23 became a rallying cry for the rest of the war. The battle and massacre was one of the bloodiest episodes on American soil in military history. The River Raisin Battlefield Visitors Center at 1403 E. Elm Ave. provides background and interpretive exhibits about the area's role in the War of 1812.

A review of Monroe County history can't be done without mentioning Gen. Custer, a Civil War hero who met his demise at the Battle of Little Big Horn.

Gen. Custer's boyhood home was Monroe and he met and wed his wife, Elizabeth (Libbie), here. The Monroe County Historical Museum has a premier exhibit of Custer 

memorabilia and a statue of Custer on his horse sits aside W. Elm Ave. and N. Monroe St., a main intersection in town.

Other key historical sites around the county include:

-- Loranger Square and the 1871-vintage county courthouse.

-- Bridge School in Raisinville Township -- now used as the Raisinville Township Hall at 96 Ida-Maybee Rd. -- the site of the first public school in Michigan, a log cabin built in 1828.

-- The Old Mill on M-50 at the River Raisin in Dundee, a water gristmill built in 1865 on the National Register of Historic Places that houses a historical museum.

-- The Lost Peninsula near the Michigan-Ohio line, a monument to "The Toledo War," a border dispute that ended when Toledo became part of Ohio and Michigan was given the Upper Peninsula.

Monroe County celebrates its history, most visibly by posting historical markers. They mark significant locations, events or people in local history. Here is a list of markers that visitors can find dotting the area.

Monroe, Central Monroe County

The American Surrender -- N. Dixie Hwy. and E. Noble Ave.

Anderson Trading Post -- 203 E. Elm Ave.

The Armory Opera House -- E. Second at Washington St.

Boston Custer -- Autie Reed -- Woodland Cemetery, Jerome St. 

Boy Scouts in Monroe County -- E. Second and Washington Sts.

Boyd School -- Cass St. between W. Third and W. Fourth Sts.

Bridge School -- Ida-Maybee Rd. at Dixon Rd., south side of River Raisin (now Raisinville Township Hall)

British Victory at Frenchtown -- Heck Park, N. Dixie Hwy. 

Capture of Gen. Winchester -- Kentucky Ave. and E. Third St.

Col. Oliver Johnson's Home -- W. Second and Cass Sts.

The Custer Home -- 3048 N. Custer Rd.

Death of Capt. Woolfolk -- E. Elm and Riverview Aves.

Death of Col. John Allen -- E. Second St. near Winchester St.

Deloeuil Blacksmith Shop -- N. Custer Rd. and Ave. deLafayette.

Dr. Eduard Dorsch -- 18 E. First St.

Dr. George Francis Heath - 29 E. Front St.

Editor Ellis -- 1825 -- The Monroe Evening News, 20 W. First St.

Edward D. Ellis -- Ellis Reference and Information Center, 3700 S. Custer Rd., Monroe.

Edward M. Knabusch -- La-Z-Boy Incorporated, 1248 N. Telegraph Rd.

Famous Waterfront -- N. Dixie Hwy. at entrance to Sterling State Park

First Battle of the River Raisin -- Hellenberg Park, E. Front St.

First District Court -- E. Elm Ave., north side, east of N. Dixie Hwy. and railroad tracks

First Presbyterian Church -- southwest corner of E. First and Washington Sts. in Loranger Square

Frenchtown Township -- Frenchtown Township Hall, 2744 Vivian Rd. 

Historic Crossroads -- northwest corner of S. Monroe and W. Front Sts.

Historic River Raisin -- N. Monroe St. next to Monroe St. bridge over the River Raisin

Historical Museum -- 126 S. Monroe St.

Holy Ghost Lutheran Church -- 3589 Heiss Rd.

Indian Attack -- Kentucky Ave.

J. Sterling Morton -- northwest corner of E. Fifth and Washington Sts.

Lake Erie's Marshes -- E. Elm Ave. exit on northbound I-75.

LaPlaisance Bay -- Hoffman access site, LaPlaisance Rd., Bolles Harbor.

LaPlaisance Bay Settlement -- E. Albain Rd.

La-Z-Boy Chair Co. -- La-Z-Boy Incorporated, 1248 N. Telegraph Rd.

Lutherans in Monroe County -- St. Paul's Lutheran Church, 4615 W. Albain Rd.

McDowell Papermill -- N. Custer and Raisinville Rds. 

Major-General George Armstrong Custer -- southwest corner N. Monroe St. and W. Elm Ave.

Martin Luther King Memorial Bridge -- St. Mary's Park pedestrian bridge, W. Elm Ave.

Masonry in Monroe -- 8 N. Monroe St.

Memorial Place -- S. Monroe St. between W. Sixth and W. Seventh Sts.

Monroe County Since 1817 -- Monroe County Courthouse, southeast corner E. First and Washington Sts., in Loranger Square.

Monroe Pike -- northeast corner Telegraph Rd. and W. Front St. 

Monroe's Paper Industry -- E. Elm Ave. west of N. Dixie Hwy.

Monroe's Soldiers --- 23 W. First St.

Murder of Capt. Hart -- 850 N. Dixie Hwy. 

Navarre-Anderson Trading Post -- N. Custer Rd. east of Raisinville Rd.

Old Burial Ground -- N. Monroe St., west side between W. Grove St. and Sylvan Dr.

Old Hull Road -- N. Dixie Hwy. east of I-75.

Old Michigan Southern -- W. First and W. Front Sts., on triangle

Old Whipping Post -- northwest corner of E. First and Washington Sts. in Loranger Square

Papermill School -- N. Custer Rd. and Raisinville Rds. 

Port of Monroe -- Winchester and E. Front Sts.

The Potter's Field -- Monroe County Community College, 1555 S. Raisinville Rd.

Raisin Massacre of 1813 -- E. Elm Ave. east of the Winchester St. bridge near the River Raisin.

St. Antoine, Riviere Aux Raisins -- N. Custer Rd. north of Ave. deLafayette.

St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception - northwest corner of Elm Ave. and N. Monroe St.

St. Paul's United Methodist Church -- southeast corner E. Second and S. Monroe Sts.

Sandy Creek Settlement -- N. Dixie Hwy. at Sandy Creek Rd.

A Storied Homestead -- Sawyer Homestead, 320 E. Front St.

Tecumseh's Headquarters -- E. Elm Ave. and Tremont St.

Trinity Lutheran Church -- Scott St., between E. Third and E. Fourth Sts.

U.S. 17th Infantry Campsite -- River Raisin Battlefield Center, 1403 E. Elm Ave.

University of Michigan -- northwest corner S. Macomb and E. Second Sts.

Waterloo Dam -- 1820 -- Veterans Park, N. Custer Rd.

Wayne Stockade -- northeast corner E. Elm Ave. and N. Monroe St. 

Northern Monroe County

Spaulding Cemetery and Plank Rd. -- Plank Rd. east of Milan.

Southern Monroe County

Erie and Kalamazoo Railroad - Brown St., Ottawa Lake

Historic Banner Oak School -- Sterns and Crabb Rds., Bedford Township

Ida Township/Ida Village -- Lewis Ave. in Ida

Liberty Corners Church -- Sterns and Jackman Rds., Bedford Township.

St. Joseph Sur La Baie -- St. Joseph Catholic Church, 2214 Manhattan St., Erie

"War" With Happy Ending -- S. Dixie Hwy. in Erie Township (crossroads)

Western Monroe County

Dundee -- Hub of the Highways -- Dundee Memorial Park, center of Dundee Village Square

Dundee's Old Mill -- Toledo Ave. near M-50, Dundee.

Macon Indian Reserve -- 414 Main St., Dundee

Monroe Evening News
October 18, 2001
Women of the Raisin

Evening News staff writer


The battle of the War of 1812 that took place along the River Raisin showed that soldiers had courage and honor to protect their land and their families. 

The women also had the strength to battle for their freedom. They displayed this not on the battlefield, but by protecting their own home and children. 

Members of the Monroe County Historical Commission are making sure that the courageous women are not forgotten. This year's Lantern Tours will focus on five women who lived in French Town during the war and how they stood up to the Indians. The tour is called "Forgotten Women of the Raisin." 

"After doing some research on the battle, we noticed a lot of women's names and their stories," said Ralph Naveaux, assistant director of the Monroe County Historical Museum. "We knew some of the names, but others were less known. We thought this year was a good time to get their stories out." 

The tours, which begin Friday, will be held at the Navarre-Anderson Trading Post. Up to 60 volunteers will re-enact five different scenarios, all focusing on the courageous efforts of women during that time. The five women are Polly Robert Knaggs, Cynthia Tibbets Rhoades, Martha Huntington Lewis, Mary Moore and Sarah Egnew Mulhollen. 

The re-enactment takes place at a time when residents of the River Raisin settlement, also known as French Town in the 1800s, was at war with the British and Native Americans in the area. 

The guided tours, led by those dressed in 1812 garb, takes participants back nearly 200 years to a time when women had to fend for themselves while their husbands fought in the war. 

"The tour will re-enact the settlers when it was late summer, early fall in 1812 at the River Raisin when the British occupied the land," said Mr. Naveaux, who wrote most of the script for the lantern tours. "The men were battling in the war or had money on their head so they had to hide." 

Which left the women and children at home at that time. The re-enactment will show how these five women dealt with the enemy attempting to invade their property. 

"All of the scenarios are intriguing; it's amazing what you find out about these women when faced with no protection," Mr. Naveaux said. 

One of scenarios, based on Polly Robert Knaggs, displays the bravery she had when Indians invaded her home while she was alone. Looking for liquor, the Indians pushed their way into the Knaggs home. Refusing to let the Indians get drunk in her home, Mrs. Knaggs denied them the alcohol. 

With tomahawks waving in her face, Mrs. Knaggs still blocked them from the liquor and refused to let them win the battle. The Indians tried to smoke her out of the upstairs room where the liquor was located by spreading gunpowder on the wooden floor. Still refusing to give up, Mrs. Knaggs ran the Indians out by using a hickory splint broom to scatter the powder. 

"Out of the five scenarios, three of the women's homes were raided by Indians and the other two evacuated their homes and became refugees," Mr. Naveaux said. 

The lantern tours, in its 16th year, is for all ages. A tour guide helps narrate the scenario and those attending are welcome to ask questions. 

The cost is $5 each and most of the proceeds go toward paying off expenses of the tour. 

"We are starting to see more teachers bringing students, which is good because it is important for students to know what happened at that time," he said. "We usually get a wide range of ages and we are hoping for a good turnout this year." 

If you go 

What: Lantern Tours. This year's theme is "Forgotten Women of the Raisin." 

When: Evenings of Oct. 19, 20, 25, 26 and 27. Guided tours will begin at 7:30 p.m., followed by three other groups at 20-minute intervals. 

Where: Navarre-Anderson Trading Post, located near the corner of N. Custer and Raisinville Rds. 

Cost: $5 each 

Reservations: Reservations for date and time are necessary and may be made by calling 240-7780. 

Monroe Evening News
July 20, 2001
Monroe's age debated

Evening News staff writer 

While Detroit celebrates its 300th anniversary, some people here might be wondering: Just how old is Monroe? 

"It's the ongoing debate," said Jeffrey Green, historical preservation planner for Monroe. 

Detroit is basing the beginning of its existence on the day Cadillac set foot on the grounds that would become Fort Wayne. But in Monroe, historians seem to agree that Monroe became Monroe when Francois Navarre bought a large tract of land along the River Raisin near Navarre St. along the southern bank. 

If that was the case, then Monroe's birthday is June 3, 1785, even though it was first called the River Raisin Settlement. That makes it 216 years old. 

"I thought we were closer to Detroit (in age)," said Rob Peven, assistant director of the Monroe County planning department. "I guess not." 

However, there are other significant dates to consider as to the beginning of the city's existence. The city could choose 1817, which is the date the county was established. It also was near the time the community was named Monroe after President James Monroe. That would make Monroe only 184 years old. 

Or, some could consider the birth of Monroe in 1827, the year it became an incorporated village. That would make the city 174 years old. 

One thing for sure, though, is that Monroe is the third oldest community in Michigan. Or is it? 

"I don't know how they figured that out," said Ralph Naveaux, assistant director of the Monroe County Historical Museum. "It's a vague area." 

It's difficult to determine ages of cities because many historians aren't exactly sure - or agree -when a piece of land becomes established. Additionally, the type of person who settles on that land makes a difference. 

For instance, the French had settled in the Upper Peninsula's Sault Ste. Marie and St. Ignace regions in the 1600s, but those communities don't boast ages in the 400s. And Indians occupied land here in Monroe long before Mr. Navarre bought that significant chunk of property. 

Mr. Peven said he thinks a significant milestone to a settlement's identity is permanent structures. If that were the case, it would support the 1785 date because the Potawatomi Indians who were here first were partially nomadic and their structures weren't really considered permanent. The first permanent structure is the trading post on N. Custer Rd. 

Mr. Green has a suggestion on how to settle the matter regarding Monroe's state rank in terms of age. 

"I've heard everything that we're the second oldest to the third oldest," he said. "I think it's safe to say that we're one of the oldest." 

With that debate sort of settled, now local officials can start preparing for a big celebration marking the birth of Monroe. Generally, it is agreed that Monroe's birthday is June 3, 1785. 

"That should be the date we celebrate," Mr. Peven said. 

"I would say that would be a legitimate date," agreed Mr. Green. 

So Monroe would celebrate its 250th birthday 34 years from now in the year 2035. And to celebrate a tricentennial like Detroit, Monroe's residents will have to wait until 2085 - or a mere 84 years.