The Cossettes of Wild Rice, North Dakota

Wild Rice, North Dakota

The Cossettes of Wild Rice, North Dakota

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The Founding of Wild Rice

In the 1840's this area of the Dakotas was only occupied by buffalo hunters and fur traders.  Most of these were French Catholics and one early missionary who ministered to them was Father Lafleche who wrote in 1856 about celebrating Mass at Wild River (now the Wild Rice River).  

With settlers moving into the Dakota Territories, the US Government established Ft. Abercrombie on the west bank of the Red River in 1858 to provide a military presence for their protection.  This became a trade center and a native and white population grew up around the fort.  In 1865 Father Genin stopped there for three days to administer to the Catholic soldiers and civilians in the vicinity of the fort while on his way  to St. Boniface, Manitoba.  In 1867 Genin was based at Ft. Abercrombie and started to make his plans for a permanent mission to the natives which he hoped to build near the junction of the Red and Wild Rice rivers.  In September 1868 he wrote to Bishop Tache in St. Boniface that his house at Wild Rice River was almost complete.  At about that same time, a party of missionaries arrived from St. Boniface, guided by Ulphie Cossette who had just completed a commission with the Hudson's bay Company and had been discharged at Winnipeg.  Ulphie Cossette went on to Quebec but returned the next summer, along with his wife and two of his brothers, to claim the homestead land adjacent to Father Genin's Holy Cross mission.  Father Lafleche had left the Dakotas and was now Bishop of Trois Rivieres.  His promotion of the good land to be found at the Wild River resulted in more French Catholic settlers from Quebec arriving each year.  The first white child born in Cass county was Ulphie Cossette's daughter, Marie Flore, born at Wild Rice on March 21, 1870.  His wife died the next year and was the first settler to be buried in the Holy Cross Cemetery. 

In 1870, Cossette built the first log cabin church for Genin but it burned down the next year.  Unfortunately, as the area became settled, Father Genin turned his missionary attentions further away and so the next church which Cossette started to build in 1872 was only completed in 1876, delayed by the priest's absences from his developing flock. 

 The 1876 Church

The Holy Cross Cemetery today

The memorial reads:
On this site in 1871 was built the log mission chapel of Holy Cross.  Buried in the churchyard were many who died on this frontier.  in memory of those who rest here, some in unmarked graves, this stone is placed by Fargo Assembly, 4th Degree Knights of Columbus.
The Sauvageau family, which also arrived from Quebec soon after the Cossette's, told this story of their early days:
"They had a 12 x 14 foot frame shack with a lean-to kitchen.  For the first two or three years they subsisted on fish and game and a bit of flour toted from Ft. Abercrombie.  The two years of 1871 and 1872 witnessed two terrible prairie fires but they fought them with back fire and wide plowing and were not burned out".
Oliva Rivard (nee Denis and so possibly Ulphie's niece), in an article published in the Fargo Forum March 24, 1957, tells of her husband building a log cabin for their first home "He cut trees from stands along the river two miles away and put up the cabin.".  Mrs. Rivard said she filled the cracks with buffalo manure they gathered on the prairie and mixed with water and used as plaster to make the structure wind-tight.  "I made my own bed.  I took pieces of wood and fastened it together and I got hay from the prairie and put it over the wood.  That was our first mattress."

Map of Stanley township, Cass county showing Wild Rice and the farms of the Cossettes and their related families

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This site was last updated 04/11/06