The French Prairie – A Hidden Piece of Oregon History

Anyone who has studied American history knows about the Oregon Trail, but did you know that before the pioneers came to Oregon via the Oregon Trail, there was already a settlement in the Willamette Valley known as the French Prairie? Don’t look to the Oregon History website for information — they all but omit this important part of history. If you want to know the history, you’re going to have to dig a little deeper.

I was working on a family tree with roots in Oregon last month, and I came across a Malo family while searching through the 1895 Oregon census. I was a bit surprised because the various Malo branches that left Quebec generally immigrated to New England. Being a Malo family researcher, I just had to find out how Eugene Malo wound up in Gervais, Oregon, living on the French Prairie. I wondered who his parents were and if I could create a genealogy for him.

Anyone who has studied American history knows about the Oregon Trail. Did you know that before the pioneers came to Oregon via the Oregon Trail, there was already a settlement in the Willamette Valley known as the French Prairie? Even the State of Oregon on their Oregon History website that begins with prehistory of Oregon, had failed to mention this community except as two small blurbs. No mention of the people of the French Prairie, who they were, or the role they played in Oregon history. I just had to find out!

The original European settlement on the French Prairie was populated by French Canadians, Acadians, and Metis people from Quebec and the Red River Valley. While the Americans were busy with the War of 1812, the North West Company brought them there in 1813 as fur trappers under the auspices of the Willamette Trading Post. By 1821 the Hudson Bay Company (HBC) absorbed the North West Company and took over the Willamette Trading Post. If you had ancestors that lived in the French Prairie community, you may find records about them in the Manitoba archives as the HBC donated their records to the province of Manitoba.

I can’t help wonder why this important part of history — the original French Prairie settlement — is all but omitted from the Oregon History website. As a descendant of the Red River Valley community, Acadians and Amerindians, I feel compelled to advocate for my ancestors buried there on the French Prairie, so far away from home and loved ones. The critical role they played in the history of Oregon should not be swept away for the more quixotic notion of pioneers and wagon trains. These pioneers were amazing and courageous, but none more so than the settlers in the French Prairie community. These French Canadian and Metis settlers paved the way for the pioneers. To know more about the French Prairie visit the website of the St. Paul Mission Historical Society.

Why Eugene Malo came to Oregon is still a mystery to me. Maybe if I dig a bit deeper I will find out. What I do know is that he is my 5th cousin. Genealogical records indicate that he first arrived in Oregon at the age of 17 in 1876, he is back with his family in Quebec in 1881, he arrived in Oregon again in 1882 at the age of 22 and also in 1888 at the age of 29. He married Eulalie Foisy, who was born on the French Prairie, daughter of Medard Godard Foisy b. 1816 in Quebec d. 1880 on the French Prairie, and Marie Anne Delard 1833 – 1908, born and died on the French Prairie. Eugene and Eulalie had nine children. I found his obituary and a photo of his headstone on the Find-A-Grave website. I posted his genealogy below.

Line of descendancy from Gilles Hayet b. and d. in France, perhaps in the area of St Malo, to Eugene Malo

1-Gilles Hayet (1610 – )
+Jeanne Héreault (1615 – 1669)
. . . . 2-Jean Hayet dit St. Malo  (1639 – 1721)
. . . . +Catherine Galbrun (1667 – 1744)
. . . . . . . . 3-Louis Hayet dit St Malo (1691 – 1770)
. . . . . . . . +Marie Madeleine Emery dit Coderre (1698 – 1753)
. . . . . . . . . . . . 4-Michel Ayet Malo (1733 – 1791)
. . . . . . . . . . . . +Marie Cecile Petit (1737 – 1771)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5-Joseph Ayet Malo (abt. 1766 -)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . +Rose Mabriand (-)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6-Joseph Ayet Malo (16 August 1791 – 7 March 1857)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . +Marie-Anne Gravel (21 July 1801 -)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7-Jean Baptiste Malo (about 1828 – 8 December 1906)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . +Délima Pelletier (15 July 1836 – 26 October 1867)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8-Eugene Malo (1859 – 6 January 1920)

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9 Comments

  • LOL knowing how hard you work when you go after any Genealogy I almost feel sorry for those guys in Oregon that will probably have to redo their website.

    This lady is like a dog on a bone once she starts working on a genealogy problem.

    Thanks Kim

  • Hello Harold, I was doing a bit of research this evening and came upon your site . I am a direct descendant of eugene malo. He is my great great grandfather. His daughter Catherine is my great grandmother. Her daughter, Gloria is my grandmother. She is still living, age 86 and remembers eating sugar cookies baked on the wood burning oven. Eugene was a builder and built much of gervais. I have their wedding photo and the sugar/flour bin that Eugene built for eulalie. Eulalie was the daughter of medare foisey, who brought the first printing press to oregon. Medare foisey married Marie delard. Joseph delard was a steersman for the hbc and first came to Oregon in 1815 and settled permanently in 1832 , he brought and Indian wife named lisette (shush wrap tribe) with him from her I am descended. She is the 19 th person buried in st. Paul pioneer cemetery. Then, Joseph married a clatsop girl named Marie poirier her photo is in the champoeg park visitor center, I grew up in Oregon and never knew my history until Catherine died because she hid her Indian ancestry. This is most of what I know. I live in newberg.

    • I read with great your article as too am a direct descendant of the people you wrote about. I am unfamiliar with your name even though we are related. I have some further information if you would care to contact me. David Malo

        • Hi, Kim…thank you for all your hard work on our Malo tree. Found Lewis Hyatt in Minn. who served in Civil War – am trying to sort through his info and that of Lewis Hyatt from Vt. who also served. Have you also encountered this individual? Merci…Marie

  • Hi Priscilla,

    I am so delighted that you found my blog post! Being descended from the Malo family I have done much research around the various Malo lines descended from Gilles Hayet and the associated families. It has always been believed that Jean Hayet dit St. Malo came from St Malo, France, but neither me, my cousin in Brittany, France or a French genealogist were able to find any record of this family in St Malo. We did though find a family in the general area of St Malo that may be a match. I hope sometime to go to France and see if that plays out.

    I have a Malo Family Genealogy blogspot and there is a photo of Catherine there that I think you will appreciate if you have not seen it before. Though my Malo’s went to New England, I live in Oregon and I was very excited when I found Eugene Malo in the Oregon census. I would love to put together a blog on Eulalie Foisy’s family.

    If you had any stories or materials you would like to share with me that would highlight the contributions the Malo and Foisy families made to the French Prairie, or to Oregon, such as more details about the printing press and building activities, please contact me through Record Click and I will compose more blogs on the topic. I have a Malo cousin in Quebec who also researches the Malo family and I know she would like to be in touch with you.

    Cousin je vous remercie pour votre commentaire blog!

    Kim

  • It was really interesting to read your article! I had a similar experience while tracing my family tree. To make a long story short…I encountered a similar situation while searching information on my family tree…turns out my 4th great uncle is Joseph Delore/Delard of French Prairie! Such an amazing history!

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