Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Reflecting on Alexander Faribault, connecting past & present December 2, 2022

The home of town founder Alexander Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2017)

ON SATURDAY, THE HOME of Faribault’s founder, Alexander Faribault, opens for its 15th annual Christmas open house. The event features the 1853 house decorated for the holidays in the French-Canadian style. Faribault was of French-Canadian and Dakota descent.

The Faribaults’ dining room set for the holidays during the 2017 Christmas open house. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2017)

To walk through the rooms of this historic home is to feel the presence of the Faribault family, including wife Mary Elizabeth Graham and their children. The Faribaults lived here only a few years before moving to a large brick mansion on the bluffs overlooking the Straight River. With 10 children, I expect they needed more space than the wood-frame house provided.

An overview of Alexander Faribault’s gravesite at Calvary Cemetery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2020)

Across town several miles to the west atop a hill overlooking the countryside on the edge of Faribault, the life of Alexander Faribault comes full circle. It is here, in Calvary Cemetery, that this fur trader, this friend of the Dakota, this town founder, this family man, is buried.

A memorial to Alexander Faribault stands at the Calvary Cemetery entrance. The birth date here differs from the one on Faribault’s tombstone. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2020)

In April 2020, I visited this cemetery for the first time specifically looking for Faribault’s gravesite. I found it along with a memorial marker honoring him at the graveyard’s entrance.

Memorial marker words up close. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2020)

Race or creed did not color his judgments, the marker states in part. That seems to match what I’ve read about Alexander Faribault. Both his mother and wife were of Dakota heritage, thus he and his children were, too. Alexander, who traded with and befriended the Dakota, later sheltered some of them on his land. Government treaties removed indigenous peoples from their land, including in current-day Faribault. Alexander Faribault served as an interpreter in the signing of regional treaties given his knowledge of the Dakota language and culture. I wonder if he felt conflicted by how the government treated the Dakota.

This sculpture of Alexander Faribault and a Dakota trading partner stands in Faribault’s Heritage Park near the Straight River and site of Faribault’s trading post. Faribault artist Ivan Whillock created this sculpture which sits atop the Bea Duncan Memorial Fountain. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Today, 216 years after Faribault was born on November 28, 1806, an awareness and acknowledgment that indigenous peoples were the first inhabitants of this area is rising. Long before fur traders like Faribault set up trading posts in the region, the Dakota lived here, hunted here, fished here, raised their families here, called this place home.

This shows a portion of an in-ground marker for Alexander Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2020)

When I consider the friendships forged among fur traders and the Dakota, I think of the Faribault community today and those who call this place home. This city truly is a melting pot of cultures and peoples. I celebrate that. Some day I hope we can all, like our town founder, view each other through a clear lens without the filter of race or creed coloring judgment.

A holiday greeting from Alexander Faribault displayed at a past Christmas open house. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

FYI: The Alexander Faribault House Christmas Open House is from 11 am- 3 pm Saturday, December 3, at 12 First Avenue Northeast, Faribault. The event is free and is part of this weekend’s Winterfest celebration in Faribault.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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