February 27, 1911, Death of Jean La Garde, “Oldest Chippewa in state of Minnesota”

On this day in Duluth in 1911, trapper John LeGarde, called by newspapers the “Oldest Chippewa in state of Minnesota,” died in his Fond du Lac cabin of “acute congestion of the lungs.” Duluth newspaper accounts of his life are slightly conflicting—they didn’t agree on his age, or his birthplace, and while the Herald called him “John LeGarde,” the News Tribune referred to him as “Jean La Guarde.” (The Ojibwe called him Ak-i-wenci or “an old man.”) Both claimed he was over 100 years old and the son of an Ojibwe mother and a French-Canadian father. By the mid 1820s he and his mother had moved to Fond du Lac, where the American Fur Post was in operation. He joined the fur post company as a trapper and trader. A few years later he was trading at Madeline Island when he met Liola Chevier, also half Ojibwe and half French-Canadian. They married and settled on eighty acres of land in New Duluth that was later used as the site of  the U.S. Steel’s Minnesota Steel Plant. There they raised seven children, five sons and two daughters. By the time he died, LaGarde had been a widow for forty years and had outlived four of his children. The Herald mentioned that “being a Chippewa, LeGarde loved peace more than war and he never took part in any Indian outbreak and as far as the memory of the oldest white residents of [Fond du Lac] goes back, he had a reputation as being honest in all of his business transactions with white traders. He spoke English but not as fluently as French. He was a Catholic.” The News Tribune said that his only regret was losing the land where he had buried his wife. LeGarde was buried at the Fond du Lac Reservation in Carlton. You can read more about Fond du Lac here and here.

This image of John LeGarde appeared in the Duluth News Tribune along with the announcement of his death. (Image: Zenith City Press)

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