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Little Shell Tribe History


As Told by Mrs. Clemence Gourneau Berger.

"I was born at Pembina, North Dakota, February 16, 1847, the oldest of eleven children of Joseph Gourneau and Judith McMillan Gourneau, who were part of the members of the Red River half-breed colonies.

At the age of twenty-three years I met and later married Isaie Berger. We were married at the site of what is now Walhalia, North Dakota, on August 1, 1870."

Shortly after their marriage, they came to Montana, and resided a few years along the Milk River country, then came to Lewistown in 1879, and settled on a homestead on the Boyd Creek, where they lived and carried on what little farming was done in the early days. They were blessed with a family of twelve children. In 1902, they sold out and moved to the Forest Grove neighborhood, and lived their till Mr. Berger passed away in 1920. Soon after that she moved to Lewistown, to live with her children.

Mrs. Berger was not fortunate in haing much schooling, but she was a bright and industrious woman, very keen about telling of her early life and how she came to settle in Judith Basin. Here is the story as she told it.

"While we roamed the praries of western Minnesota and the Dakotas, we were always in the company of people of part Indian blood, and traveled in many groups. We left Walhalia, North Dakota in 1870, shortly after we were married, and set out traveling all over the Dakotas, just camping here and there without thought of settling permanently in any place, just following the buffalo trails. you might think that we lived the life of real Indians, but one thing we always with us which they did not- religion. Wherever we were we had some jesuit missionaries with us. They baptized our children and instructed them in the Catholic faith, and we always did try to live in accordance with their teaching. In fact, in those early days, I believe people generally were more deeply religious than they are now. Every night we had a prayer meeting. Just before a buffalo hunt, we would see our men on bended knee in prayer.

We endured many hardships, too. There were times when we could not find any buffalo or other game, somehow, we were all happy and, with all our miseries, we never heard any complaints.

Our men did all the hunting, and we women did all the tanning of the buffalo hides, made jerky meat, pemmican and moccasins. For other supplies, we generally had some trader with us, like Francis Janeaux and others, who always had a supply of tea, sugar, tobacco and so forth.

Coming west from the Canadian lines around the country called the Wood Mountains, where we lived for some time, and where my first two children were born, we went to the Milk River country. There we would stay for a time, then back again as far north as the Cypress Hills in Canada. We returned again to Montana, where we stayed for six years. We were there when Chief Joseph and his fleeing band of Nex Perces were being pursued by our United States Army. These poor indians were about starved. They traded their good horses for any amount of dried meat, and also bedding. It was a most pitiful site to see their children, heads sticking out of some sacks made for the purpose and fastened on each side of the mother, riding on horseback.

As time went by buffalo were thinning out; we had several meetings to decide on what to do next. We realized we could not live on hunting game forever.

One general meeting was called, and it was then decided that we should settle permanently somewhere in 1878. I remember my father-in-law, Pierre Berger, decided to cross the Missouri River and come West. He told his son that he heard of a place through a Cree Indian friend, which he believed sutable for all.

Of his daughters-in-law, I was asked if I was willing to go along with them. I hesitated, as I could not make up my mind at once, as I had always regarded Minnesota as my home, and naturally wanted to go back there. But they finally got my consent to travel further west.

So in the spring of 1879 a band of twenty-five families headed by Pierre Berger started from Milk River to Fort Benton, where we crossed the Missouri River and on down to Arrow Creek. We never saw such Bad Lands, and believe me, it was not pleasant riding in our Red River carts over a wild, rough country, making our own trails. Somehow we got through safely to the mouth of Spring Creek, around the Judith Mountains to the north of them, then followed Box Elder Creek, and around the Snowy Mountains. We came in by way of the gap to the famous Judith Basin which was, indeed a paradise land of plenty; game of all kinds, lots of good water and timber. What more could we want? After finding what we had searched for, our journey ended right here.

The only white man we found here was named Bowles. He was living with a Piegan woman. He had a little trading post. We were greatly molested by Indian marauders stealing our horses. This country was their main route.

Of the twenty-five families who came here with us were I recall, all the Pierre Berger family, Fleurys, LaFountains, Doneys, Fayants Wilkies, Ledoux and Ben Cline. Our party all settled along the foothills of the Judith Mountains. One of the party named LaFountain, who was blind, settled on Blind Breed Creek, which got its name from the poor unfortunate. Later the Doneys and Fayants moved and settled in the area of Fort Maginnis.

In the late summer of 1879, more of our people followed us here, including Janeaux, Morase, Laverdure, Wells, Daniels and LaTray families. Mose LaTray helped build the original log post office which still stands.

The following year Antoine Ouelette and family came in January, Janeaux, Morase and Ouelette took up homesteads in what is now Lewistown.

Soon after this country was opened by our people, other nations came flocking in, and in no time we had a community."

Mrs Berger passed away in Lewistown, in December, 1943, at the age of ninety-six years.

Story taken from Lewistown Daily News- December 31, 1943

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The Little Shell Tribe Newsletter is FREE to all Enrolled Tribal Members. It is published 12 months a year and is supported by particle funding by the Little Shell Tobacco Abuse Prevention Program. To place your name on the list for the newsletter, Click Here to get the Address/phone number to request your name and address be placed on the newsletter subscription list. The Contact is Toni Jo Atchison, Tobacco Abuse Prevention Specialist

Toni Jo Atchison, Little Shell Tobacco Abuse Prevention Specialist Announces Tribal Newsletter is FREE to Tribal Members

By the LittleShellTribe.com Webmaster:

Toni Jo Atchison, Little Shell Tribal Tobacco Abuse Prevention Specialist has announced that the Tribal newsletter is FREE to all Enrolled Tribal Members. Previously, a subscription of $10 was required for the newsletter and was published quartely. The subscription cost covered monies that funded the creation, mailing of the newsletter, along with helping with office expenses. Now, with funding provided in part under a contract with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, Montana Tobacco Use Prevention Program, and the Little Shell Tobacco Abuse Prevention Program, the Newsletter will be published 12 months a year. To place your name on the List for the newsletter (if you do not currently receive it), contact Toni Jo at the main office or write a letter requesting your name to be placed on it. Tribal and Non-Tribal members are still welcome and are encourgaged to send donations to the Office to help with tribal expenses.

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