A story from Alec DeMerce – later known as “Racky,” who left his home in Canada early in the 19th century to become a wanderer in the western wilds.
Alec found the Dakota in this area (Sleepy Eye) to be friendly and never returned neither to his home nor to civilization. He spent his time trapping and hunting and probably was the first white man to know Chief Sleepy Eye.
Alec DeMerce had several Indian wives at different times and raised a number of children. Alec ended up marring Chief Sleepy’s first sister (second sibling) Tate, English name Louisa. They had six children together; Rosalia, Madeline, Jeanetle, Francis, Alexis and John. Alec DeMerce however had two other children from his previous wives, Dennis and Frank
One of Alec’s daughters, Rosalie, married a man by the name of Hyacinthe Coutourier or “French Cap,” as he was commonly known, who was another French Canadian. A trading post was located near the lake in about the year 1829, and different traders kept it up more or less constantly until the Indian Uprising of 1862. We have been told about a large Sisseton-Dakota Indian village as having existed at what is now called Sleepy Eye Lake. It was still thriving at the time when Coutourier settled here in 1856 or 1857.
The lake was called by the Indians, Bedatasche, meaning as interpreted by some, Big Wood Tree, and by others, Pretty Water With Big Trees.
It was about this time that the lake went dry, after a long series of very dry years. It soon filled again, dried up once more, in recent years filled again and has since held its level. Ish-Tak-Ha-Ba was Chief of the Sissetons for many years. He took part in negotiations for the treaty at Traverse de Sioux in 1851. So far as is known, he never counseled the breaking of that treaty, nor did anything to prevent the carrying into effect of its terms, though he no doubt regretted the necessity of making it as much as any of his contemporaries. He, with many others, looked upon the whites as a force irresistible and as a power with which the wisest course was to make the best terms possible.
Chief Sleepy Eye died in 1860, before the uprising of 1862, the village site was not long occupied by Chief Sleepy’s people, but Hyacinthe Coutourier had not changed his location. Hyacinthe and Rosalie Coutourier lived on the east shore of Sleepy Eye Lake near the tribe’s camp. Their home was located east of the farm buildings on the Todnem farm. The Todnem farm was directly across the street from where the St. Mary’s Cemetery is presently. Couturier’s home consisted of three rooms downstairs and two bedrooms upstairs.
A trader named Ross lived in a small clearing in the grove on the east side of what has since been called Ross Lake, a small lake nearly a mile southeast of Sleepy Eye Lake. Mrs. Coutourier was a half-blood Dakota and Chief Sleepy Eye’s niece, and he a French Canadian, who for years lived with these Indians; yet on hearing of the intended uprising (a friendly squaw had informed them) they got to New Ulm, the nearest settlement, as quickly as they could, knowing that the Indians in their excitement and lust for blood would make no exceptions. Ross took his family across the Cottonwood River, which was heavily fringed with timber and underbrush on both sides. Hiding in daylight and traveling only at night, they worked their way eastward arriving at Mankato without having seen any Indians. A child was born to Mrs. Ross while en route. Their house was burned, probably by the Indians, however, it did not take place during the first raid of the Indians because soldiers who came through the area shortly after, found it intact with guns and ammunition in the house where Mr. Ross had left them.
Page 2 of 2 - When the Coutouriers returned they also found their house undisturbed, but French Cap found three dead Indians, bound in bark and tied to the limbs of a large oak a few rods southwest of his house. Thirty-eight Indians implicated in the uprising were hanged at Mankato on Dec. 26, 1862.
For more information about the Uprising of 1862; www.browncountydakotawarcommemoration.com.