Early Settlers to St. Joseph County

Pierre Navarre

Pierre Navarre was the first European to permanently settle in St. Joseph County, Indiana. In 1820 he came to the St. Joseph River Valley Region as a fur trader for John Jacob Astor’s [who?] American Fur Company.

Mr. Navarre was said to have been a kind, honest man and a lover of nature. He married Angelique Kechouechouay, a woman of mixed blood, who was part Potawatomi. Together they set up a fur trade post on the north bank of the St. Joseph River (near today’s intersection of N. Michigan Street and Riverside Drive). They built a small log cabin that served as home for their ten children as well as their trading post. They raised their children in the Catholic religion and sent them to the schools of the day.

There were no large Indian villages near the Navarre’s trading post, but it was located along trails that Indians traveled every spring and fall to do trading. They passed through in great numbers with large quantities of furs, maple sugar, and baskets.

In 1824, Alexis Coquillard bought Pierre Navarre’s fur trading post. Navarre stayed in the cabin with his family and provided for them by fishing, trapping, and farming. In 1840, the U.S. government had purchased the Potawatomi lands and forced them to move west. Navarre, although not required to go, moved west with his wife (remember-half Potawatomi) and the rest of the tribe to Kansas. He later returned to South Bend after Angelique died and lived with his daughter. Pierre Navarre died in 1864 and is buried in Cedar Grove Cemetery on the campus of the University of Notre Dame.

Alexis Coquillard

Alexis Coquillard [pronounced: CO-quill-ARD] is considered to be one of the founding fathers of the city of South Bend, Indiana. He was born in Detroit, Michigan, on September 28, 1795. At the age of 17 he served under William Henry Harrison [who?] in the War of 1812. After the war, Alexis became a fur trader as an agent for John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company.

In 1823, Mr. Coquillard came to South Bend and established a trading post on the west bank of the St. Joseph River:

Mr. Coquillard was a big man, over six-feet tall and weighed around 250 pounds. Though he could neither read nor write, he spoke French and English as well as the Potawatomi language. He was so loved and respected by the Indians that the Potawatomies wanted to make him their chief.

In 1824, Mr. Coquillard married Frances Comparet, the sister of his business partner. The newly married couple built a frame house near the fur trading post. Their only child, Theodore, was born in this house in 1846. Later, Alexis built a larger log trading post and home. He also operated a boat across the St. Joseph River because there were no bridges across the river.

Alexis Coquillard built a sawmill and two grist mills. The Kankakee Customs Mills was built in 1837. It was located at an outlet of a canal he dug near Marion Street in South Bend. After a dam was built on the St. Joseph River at South Bend in 1844, he built a modern flour grist mill on the northeast corner of Colfax Avenue and the river. This new mill burnt soon after it was in operation and while inspecting the damage, Alexis Coquillard accidentally fell and suffered a fractured skull. He died the next day, January 8, 1855.

Lathrop Taylor

Lathrop Taylor was born in 1805 and came to South Bend, Indiana, from Clinton, New York, in 1827. He was a fur trader and trapper and came here to trade with the Indians. He worked for Hanna & Company, a rival of the American Fur Company. Mr. Taylor could read and was an excellent writer, spoke French, English, and the Miami and Potawatomi languages. He developed a close relationship with the Indians and they helped him clear a place in the woods for his trading post.

Along with Alexis Coquillard, Mr. Taylor worked to found the city of South Bend. Both men bought land from the government and on March 28, 1831, they platted the town of South Bend. They planned wide streets, donated land for the county courthouse, schools, and a city cemetery. Today, the roads within downtown South Bend are still in the same location that Mr. Coquillard and Mr. Taylor first created them on a map.

In 1829, the U.S. government surveyed the lands that made up the state of Indiana. Because of this survey, the new city of South Bend was allowed to set up a post office. Lathrop Taylor was appointed the first Postmaster of what was then known as, “Southold, Allen County, Indiana.” Monthly mail was received from Vincennes, Indiana [where?]. There wasn’t much mail at the beginning of the Southold post office. There really wasn’t an actual post office building, Mr. Taylor had a wooden cabinet with small shelves where he would assign the mail. Lathrop Taylor was also the county clerk and county recorder. Early records in the county courthouse still show Mr. Taylor’s beautiful handwriting.

In 1832, the town of South Bend received and sent mail twice a week to Fort Wayne, Indiana, twice a week mail was sent to Detroit, Michigan, and once a week mail was sent to Chicago. In the same year a small fort was built in South Bend to protect the residents against the raids of Chief Black Hawk [who?] and his followers. Lathrop Taylor was appointed a Colonel and placed in charge of the fort, even though it never needed to be used. In 1833, Mr. Taylor married Mary Johnson, the daughter of Peter Johnson, a local carpenter and business owner. Together they raised six children. Mr. Taylor lived in the community he helped found until 1892, when he died at the age of 87. He is buried in South Bend City Cemetery.

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