For as long as I can remember I was told “you are the descendants of Voyagers and Indians.” A pedigree anyone would be proud of. The stories I was told were validated in my sixth grade Minnesota History class and again in college. My family, my amazing courageous family had a hand in shaping the Minnesota that we all know and love. This, this place that I love has always been my home. My roots are forever tied to this land. I am Minnesota and she is me.
For years I have heard about the Clement H. Beaulieu house in Crow Wing State Park. The park is a little over two hours from minneapolis, practically in my backyard, but I never felt the need to venture. I am a firm believer that we are drawn to locations and when it’s our time to go, we go there. This day was 35 and 66 years in the making, it was time for us to go HOME.
As far as weather goes, today was a beautiful sunny calm Minnesota Saturday. A day meant for exploring. Only I could get lost in a state park. If the arrow is pointing left, I will turn right and then wonder why I’m doing a U turn. Only me. Anyways, with a little rerouting we found the parking area for the “Crow Wing Main Street” trail, parked and headed on down the path. My Dad is one of those types who likes to stop and read all of the signs, so I trudged ahead of him and waited. He caught up to me as I spied the roof line through the trees a huge gust of wind came up and my Dad looked at me and said “He knows we are here!”
We reached the over look and began to read the plaques. I will admit it’s kind of weird seeing your last name in print and tied to the historic building in front of you. This house is simple by today’s standards, however back in its day the home was a bustling hub of hospitality and business. Clement a “half breed” was sent from Wisconsin to develop the fur trade in Minnesota. He was a well respected man who had great success. His home over looked the river and Crow Wing village.
I circled the house many times in an effort to engrave all of its details into my brain. Faced pressed to the glass I tried imaging what the inside looked like in Clements day. The interior of today is a far cry from what it looked like in the late 1800s. This house if it could talk, would have an incredible story to tell. Stories of love and loss, business deals, parties, family, and of the community that once surrounded it. My dad and I soaked it all in. This place was our place, this this home is where our story began.
Clement lived in this home until he moved to White Earth in 1873. White Earth, a place that I know of so well, but never visited. This reservation is where my Grandfather’s tale began. My Grandfather was a product of the assimilation and relocation of the American Indian. The government calls the program a success, I call it a failure. Ripping children form their parents, their language, their culture, and their religion does more harm than good. My Grandfather was taken form the White Earth when he was five years old and he never returned. Today, my Dad and I were the first ones from our branch of the family to return HOME.
Our name is present on the Reservation. There is a Street named after us and a township too. My goal wasn’t to visit the township, but to find the graves of my ancestors. Find A Grave . Com told me that Clement was buried in Calvary Cemetery. Which is a small cemetery nestled on top of a hill surrounded by soy bean fields. It was simply beautiful. As we pulled in I noticed a plot with a large fence around it and figured that had to be our family’s plot. I went to the fenced in area and my dad wandered to the very back of the cemetery.
The gate gave me some trouble, but I was determined and eventually I won. AJ 1, Gate 0. As I walked through the gate a strong swirling wind came up and I was home, my ancestors were acknowledging me, their lost family who returned HOME. I traced my fingers across their names as I read them aloud to the wind and laid tobacco down. I can honestly say I have never seen my last name on so many stones at once. Heck I’ve only ever seen it on one stone and that is my Grandfather’s.
I looked up to see my dad waving his arm and the wind carried his shouts, so I bid them goodbye, wrestled with the gate again, and walked to the back of the cemetery. He had found more of our family. Two graves nestled along the fence line. I laid tobacco down and moved through the cemetery along side my Dad. We made our way back to the more populated area and found five more sets of graves. I started to notice a few stones for babies. When I traced my hand across their names, I no longer felt alone, for my ancestors know the heart ache of child loss too. Our babies no matter how much time has passed, will always be ours.
My Dad and I got back in the car and on our way out of the cemetery I looked up to see an Eagle soaring over the soy bean field. Our visit had been acknowledge and our ancestors were happy to have us home. From the cemetery we drove to the town of White Earth. As we drove around I said to my dad “just think your Dad could have fished in that pound or played in that field!? It’s beautiful here, he got ripped from beauty and dropped in an orphanage that lead to a farm.” My dad said “Yeah,” as he looked out the window. He had done what his Dad never did, he went home for him. We went HOME for Clifford, a child of the White Earth who was once lost, but now is found.
This trip meant the world to me. It was simple yet profound and I am grateful to have had my dad along for the ride. This trip was for him as I know he has always wondered where his Dad came from and today he found his HOME.