The Life and Times of Ceran St. Vrain

Title-HistoryCeranStVrain

St. Vrain

Image of Ceran St. Vrain from ‘When Old Trails were New’ Written by Blanche Grant

Ceran de Hault de Lassus de St. Vrain was known as one of the original Mountain Men, a pioneer in trapping and trading along the American Frontier. Despite his noble roots, Ceran became a figure of survival in the early wilderness. He was knowing for having at least three wives and having children from each. Later in life Ceran’s keen business sense and patronage of Taos, New Mexico and then Mora, New Mexico held him as a citizen and community leader. His legacy is a picture of true American History.

The family of Madame Domitille Josepha Dumont Danzin de Beaufort and Marquis Pierre Charles De Hault De Lassus De Luziere left France during the Revolution and came to North American in 1790. Their family was ancient nobility from the town of Bouchaine, Hainaut, Flanders in Northern France. [Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bouchain] Pierre Charles had been a Knight of the Military order, the Grand Cross of the Royal Order of St. Michael, and had papers from the King of France himself, King Louis VXI, stating that he did not have to prove his noble birth. Through out his life he preferred the title’ M. de Luziere’. A rather large collection of his personal papers from both France and early Missouri and Louisiana are in possession of the Missouri Historical Society Archives. Josepha and Pierre had four children together, Charles, Camille, Jacques and Odille.

Jacques Marcellin Ceran de Hault de Lassus de Saint Vrain was the second son of Josepha and Pierre. He was born in 1770 in Bouchaine, Hainaut, Flanders in Northern France. He had served in the Navy before the Revolution in France, commander of the war ship ‘La Fleche’ translating to ‘The Arrow’. He joined his family in North America in about 1794. Jacques married Marie Felicite Chauvet Dubreuil on 30 Apr 1796. The pair had 10 children including their second child, Ceran St. Vrain, Felix St. Vrain who was the US Agent killed in the St. Vrain Massacre, and their youngest child, Marcellin St. Vrain. He established a home at Spanish Pond, about 12 miles north of the old Bellefontaine Fort and thrived there. Jacques had a great many investments and land claims that had difficulties including a lead mine and a Brewery which was destroyed by fire in 1812. He died 22 Jun 1818 at 48 years of age.

Ceran was born 5 May 1802 near Spanish Lake, Missouri. He received some formal education in the town school, although as it can be seen in his letters, he was lacking education in spelling and grammar. He was only 13 years of age upon the death of his father, his large family instantly becoming a burden upon his Mother. It is easy to see how the older children would be willing to learn trade skills verses being in their own home without financial support.

Ceran lived in General Bernard Pratte’s household from his mid teens on. From 1822-1824 he worked for Bernard Pratte and Company. He received a wage of 20 dollars a month and had a good position where he was well trusted by the General.
By 1824 Ceran had formed a partnership with Francois Guerin for trapping along the New Mexico trade route, which General Pratte owned 1/3 of the company’s stock. The trip was a long one, and Guerin ended the partnership and returned to St. Louis while Ceran remained in Taos, New Mexico. Ceran then took up trapping and was joined by General Pratte’s eldest son, Sylvestre Pratte. The pair had been friends while growing up and shared several expeditions together.

In April of 1825 Ceran entered a partnership with Paul Baillio, with whom he worked with until at least 1828. It was indicated that he was fluent enough in Spanish to over see his own trades. Within that year Ceran had wed his first wife, her name was Maria Delores Del Luna, she was the daughter of Ana Maria Tafoya and Rafae Antonio Luna. By 10 May 1827 Ceran’s first son, Jose Vincent, was born in Taos, New Mexico. In August 1827 Ceran and Sylvestre Pratte went on an expedition of 36 men to go outside of the Mexican Federation for trapping. Sylvestre was losing the respect of his men and several of the men he traded with due to a series of bad decisions, as well his father had stopped covering the drafts he was writing the company. He was in debt, he had made agreements for trading that weren’t being honoured, and he needed a successful season. Unfortunately it was not to be, as Sylvestre was bitten by a rabid dog (Another book noted the dog had Hydrophobia) and died a painful death. Losing his childhood friend in such a manner greatly distressed Ceran. The party suffered several other horrific events before having run-ins with authorities over the legitimacy of their trade. Several pelts were taken from them, and although they barely broke even in trading, Ceran paid at least $500 and change to refund Paul Baillio some of the losses the venture made.

In the 1829-1830 season Ceran returned to St. Louis, and then headed west over the Santa Fe Trail where he had extremely good luck, turning the original investment of Pratte and Company from $3000 to $10,000. During this time Ceran was working with Andrew Carson, a sibling of Kit Carson.

On 15 Feb 1831 Ceran became a naturalized citizen of New Mexico. He continued to deal in furs, particularly beaver. He made an arrangement with Charles Bent to begin selling supplies, and by 1832 the pair had formed the company known as Bent & St. Vrain which dealt in merchandise, but mostly in furs. They had at least one store by 1832. By 1834 the company had erected a stockade fort called Fort Williams, better known as Bent’s Fort. In the years that followed, Ceran spent time trading with indigenous peoples of the area as well as establishing Fort Saint Vrain in 1837 and Bent’s Fort in 1842. Ceran’s younger brother Marcellin successfully managed Fort St. Vrain, although the company closed the operation in 1845, Marcellin continued to run it until 1848. Native people of the area called Ceran ‘Black Beard’. He was noted as slower moving and less volatile than his dynamic partner, Bent. The pair got along exceedingly well and began trades and relations with the U.S. Army as well, making a name and reputation for themselves.

Ceran took his second wife early in 1842. Her name was Maria Ygnacia Truillo, she was the daughter of Manuela Coca and Antonio Jose Trujillo. This was Ceran’s most prolific marriage, as they had at least four children. Matias was born 17 Feb 1842. Joseph Felix was born 4 Nov 1843, Isabel (Also spelled Ysabel and Isabelita along with other variations) Trujillo was born 10 May 1846, Marcellino was born 10 Oct 1847. Isabelita went on to marry Pedro Jose Gomez on 4 Oct 1863 in Taos, and they in turn had children and descendants, she died 25 Dec 1900 and is buried in the St. Vrain Cemetery.

By 1843 along with other prominent residents of Toas, New Mexico, Ceran petitioned Governor Armijo for a huge tract of land in southern Colorado for the supposed purpose of establishing a farming colony. Often called the Las Animas Grant, this was about four million acres of land that these commercial and political figures wanted to control in anticipation of profit. These grants fall under much speculation and complications, but ultimately Charles Bent became part owner of the grant in 1844, and after the Mexican War, Ceran and his agents sold 97,000 acres of the land.

Upon the threat of the Mexico War beginning, Bent and Ceran returned to Missouri where Ceran stayed for a few months and Charles returned earlier. Ceran made his way back to Toas, New Mexico where Charles became appointed the first Civil Governor of New Mexico. Ceran spent his time trying to manage the company store, fighting for his land grant rights and attending social and political events to support his partner. On 17 Jan 1847 a revolt was staged by Mexicans and Pueblo indigenous people that lead to the murder and scalping of Governor Bent and several officials and citizens. Ceran organized volunteers in a fury, and 68 mounted men composed of Mountain Men from both sides of the border joined the winter march of Colonel Sterling Price. The force of Mountain Men was called the ‘Avengers’. Ceran was elevated to Captain in rank. He was imperative to the success of dispersing the rebel forces, especially in their final efforts at the Taos Pueblo Church in the end. Ceran personally was noted as the man who shot rebel leader Pablo Chavez, who was wearing Charle’s Bent’s shit and coat at the time of their meeting in battle. In turn, Ceran’s life was saved by a New Mexican man named Manuel Chaves when a man attacked him and Chaves struck him with the butt of his rifle. In the aftermath he stayed in Taos as an interpreter during the trails for the rebels who had been captured. Of the captured rebels 15 were convicted of treason and sentenced to death, they were executed in April of 1847. Ceran was nominated as the new Civil Governor to succeed Charles Bent, but his appointment was unsuccessful.

Ceran offered to sell Bent’s Fort to the US Army, but they declined despite still using the fort. Ceran made his income by supplying the US Military with food and supplies while they suppressed attacks by indigenous peoples from the area with saw flair ups of unrest after the original rebellion. Bent & St. Vrain Company acknowledged a junior partner in Charles’ younger brother, William Bent. The company established another store in Santa Fe in 1847, but almost immediately Ceran sold his entire stock to Judge Joab Houghton and J.W. Folger. By 1850 he had dropped his partnership with William Bent.

It is estimated that when Ceran sold parts of his land grant that the land became Canon City in Colorado and Denver City. Ceran had Saw Mills built in the Rio Grande Valley and supplied limber to a variety of customers including the public buildings of Santa Fe. In 1853 he attempted to raise interest in the railroad projects that were beginning in New Mexico, he also attempted to incorporate the First National Bank of New Mexico without success. By 1855 he had moved to Mora, New Mexico and made his home there. He erected the first Flour Mill in Mora and increased his fortune selling grain and flour to the US Military. He was also appointed Lieutenant Colonel in the Mounted Volunteers and charged with recruiting troops to quell the native rebellions under Colonel F.F. Fauntleroy. He maintained his position for the beginning months of the Civil War, and was commissioned as Colonel of the First New Mexican Calvary, but resigned his commission on 20 Sep 1861.

Ceran became very successful when he began expanding into publishing, establishing the Santa Fe Gazette, by 1858 he was designated the public printer of the territory. In 1860 he joined the Bent Lodge of Masons when it was founded in Mora. His final and fourth marriage was to the former Louisa Branch in the early 1860s. They had one daughter, Felicitas St. Vrain born in 1862. One of his children from each union was still alive upon the drafting of his will in 1866. On 2 Apr 1866 he noted Vincente, Felix and Felicitas St. Vrain his heirs.

Ceran died 28 Oct 1870 at his daughter’s home in Mora, New Mexico. His funeral was held two days later, and was attended by over 2000 people including officers and troops from Fort Union. He was buried by the Masons with full Military Honours in his family plot.

 


 

Books:

A History of New Mexico – Calvin A. Roberts, Susan A. Roberts
http://www.amazon.ca/History-New-Mexico-Revised-Edition/dp/0826335071

Annals of St. Louis in its Early Days under the French and Spanish Dominations – Frederic L. Billon (Online)
https://archive.org/details/cihm_00427

Kit Carson & His Three Wives: A Family History – Marc Simmons
http://www.amazon.com/Kit-Carson-His-Three-Wives/dp/0826332978

Mountain Men and Fur Traders of the Far West: Eighteen Biographical Sketches – LeRoy Reuben Hafe, Ceran St. Vrain written by Harold H. Dunham of the University of Denver
http://www.amazon.com/Mountain-Men-Fur-Traders-West/dp/0803272103

Old Families of Louisiana – George Campbell Huchet de Kernion, Charles Patton Dimitry and Stanley Clisby Arthur
http://www.amazon.com/Old-Families-Louisiana-Stanley-Arthur/dp/1565544560

The Hispano Homeland – Richard L. Nostrand
http://www.amazon.com/The-Hispano-Homeland-Richard-Nostrand/dp/0806128895

The Taos Trappers: The Fur Trade in the Far Southwest, 1540-1846 – by David J. Weber
http://www.amazon.com/The-Taos-Trappers-Trade-Southwest/dp/0806117028

When Old Trails Were New – Blanche Grant
http://www.amazon.com/When-Trails-Were-Southwest-Heritage/dp/0865346062


 

Links:

Missouri History Museum Website:
http://mohistory.org/
The St. Vrain Fort Website:
http://stvrainsfort.homestead.com/
Wikipedia: Ceran St. Vrain
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ceran_St._Vrain
Additional Genealogical Source: Abi Westwood:
http://familytreemaker.genealogy.com/users/w/e/s/Abigail-Westwood-1/index.html
Additional Genealogical Source: Alice Kelly:
http://familytreemaker.genealogy.com/users/k/e/l/Alice-B-Kelly/index.html
Additional Genealogical Information from Moises Cornelio Martinez:
http://familytreemaker.genealogy.com/users/m/a/r/Moises-C-Martinez/index.html
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