Felix St. Vrain was a United States Indian Agent that was brutally killed during the Black Hawk War. Although he had no practical experience in dealing with indigenous peoples or their culture, Felix was awarded his position based on family political ties. Unraveling the truth from the myths and fear- drenched stories of the times has taken lifetimes and the insight of several different historians. Our insight comes from the listed sources, combined with genealogical research.
Born 23 Mar 1799 in Spanish Lake, St. Louis County, Missouri , Felix Auguste Antoine de Hault de Lassus St. Vrain was the son of Marie Felicite Chauvet Dubreuil and Jacques Marcellin Ceran de Hault de Lassus de Saint Vrain. Felix’s patriarchal family was one of nobility, as 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 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 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 and married on 30 Apr 1796. Marie Felicite and Jacques had ten children including their second child, Ceran St. Vrain and their youngest child, Marcellin St. Vrain. They 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 when Felix was only 19 years of age leaving his wife with several young children to care for.
Felix was a Steam Saw Mill Operator in Kaskaskia, Illinois on the 1830 Census. He had been born Protestant but converted to Catholicism to marry his wife. He married Marie Pauline ‘Mary’ Gregoire on 30 Oct 1822 in Sainte Genevieve, Missouri. The pair had at least 5 children, the last two being twins. First born was Marie Felicite born 16 Aug 1823, then Julia Emilie born 11 Jun 1825, then Emma Angelique born 24 Jun 1826 and twins Felix Auguste and Francoise born 27 Aug 1829. The twins did not survive infancy.
Shortly after the twins birth and the 1830 Census, Felix began working for the United States Government as an Indian Agent. He was assigned to the Sauk and Fox Nations around Rock Island. Before Felix’s placement as an agent, Superintendant William Clark and Agent Thomas Forsyth, who had 18 years experience with Indigenous people, along with several of his peers, had been dismissed. Politically connected but completely inexperienced, Felix took the position. It was a time of vast political unrest between the tribes and the US Government, mostly based on land claims and the ever expanding settlement of Europeans and Americans. Many of the indigenous peoples felt that their peers had to rights to sell lands to the US Government that they shouldn’t have to observe treaties that they hadn’t personally agreed to. For his part, Felix seems to have attempted to reason with both Superintendent William Clark and Chief Black Hawk by suggesting treaties verses Military force.
When the Black Hawk War began, Felix was stationed at Fort Armstrong [Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Armstrong,_Illinois]. The situation between the US Government, and inter-tribe relations were all tense and slowly deteriorating. In 1832 Felix traveled to St. Louis in what appeared to be an effort to attempt to convince the Government that they should refrain from interfering with native affairs. It is unclear what spawned the attack on Felix and his men when they left the boat of General Atkinson – Perhaps he was seen as betraying the people’s interests, perhaps he was an easier target for a roving band of unaligned warriors. For ages stories and rumours grew and evolved from the events that transpired. The following is our most basic account.
A party of 6 men are headed from Dixon’s Ferry to Galena. On 22 May 1832 while travelling through Buffalo Grove they discovered the body of William Durley, who had been killed in the Buffalo Grove Massacre. Among them were Aaron Hawley, John Fowler, Thomas Kenney, William Hale, Aquilla Floyd and Alexander Higgenbotham. The men turn around and travel back to Dixon’s Ferry to report their findings.
Agent St. Vrain was ordered to deliver dispatches from General Henry Atkinson at Dixon’s Ferry back to Fort Armstrong. Agent Felix St. Vrain along with Aaron Hawley, Joseph H Fowler (Often mistaken as John Fowler), William Hale, as well as of Aquilla Floyd, Thomas Kenney and Alexander Higginbotham all headed out to Buffalo Grove to see to the burial of William Durley’s remains, and then spent the night at Fort Hamilton. In the morning of the 24 of May 1832, the men left the fort only to stop for breakfast after about 3 miles. They were approached by 30 Warriors of the Ho-Chunk or Winnebago tribe who were likely sympathetic to the Sauk cause. None of the tribes claimed the event, and who was responsible has long been in debate.
The men retreated, but four were shot and killed – Agent St. Vrain, John Fowler, William Hale and Aaron Hawley were all deceased. In an account from General George Wallace Jones, brother-in-law of Felix and the one responsible for identifying his body, he noted that the warriors had scalped the dead men, but Felix had been mutilated. His hands, feet and head had been removed, as well as his heart which was reportedly passed around to be consumed by the men to eat.
At least one source from the time noted that Aquilla Floyd was also killed, his remains are entered in the cemetery at Kellogg’s Grove with the other Massacre victim. According to news print of the time, survivors Alexander Higgerbotham and Thomas Kenney (And someone recorded as Aquilla Floyd) arrived in Galena, Illinois at 7am on 26 May 1832. Colonel Henry Dodge led a detachment that buried the bodies of St. Vrain and some of the other victims. It is believed the remains of Aaron Hawley were never recovered, that he survived the initial attack only to fall later in the escape. It was also recorded that later the Chief Black Hawk was in possession of Aaron Hawley’s horse.
In 6 Jan 1834 and 24 Mar 1834 petitions were heard in the US Congress to provide relief for the family of Agent Felix St. Vrain. Marie Pauline ‘Mary’ Gregoire St. Vrain and her surviving children were provided a 640 acre land grant in the state of Missouri.
The Sauks and the Black Hawk War: With Biographical Sketches – Perry A. Armstrong (Online)
|For U.S. Indian Affairs Agent Felix St. Vrain||For Governor George Wallace Jones|
|Old Lead Regional Historical Society
|Dubuque County Genealogy
|Kansas State Historical Society
|A Guide to the George Wallace Jones Papers
|Wikipedia: Felix St. Vrain
|Wikipedia: George Wallace Jones
|Early St. Louis by P. Davidson-Peters, Felix St. Vrain:
|Find A Grave
Find A Grave Memorial# 7878895
|Wikipedia: St. Vrain Massacre
|Black Hawk’s War Chronology compiled by Robert A. Braun
|Find A Grave
Find A Grave Memorial# 14795566