St.John North Dakota History

Early Postmark of 1887St. John, ND History

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Father MaloFather John F. Malo, a pioneer of the area, was responsible for what would become St. John, North Dakota. He was known to be in the area as early as 1879 when he was a missionary. Born in St. Jean, Quebec, Father Malo was ordained priest in Montreal and was later sent to Yankton, Dakota Territory to work among the Metchif Indians. The Catholic Indian Bureau of Washington, DC was assisted in its early years by the efforts of Father Malo who was very familiar with the Metchif Indians of the Dakota Territory.

Father Malo moved onto the south west corner of Section 3 and started to build the mission St. Claude. This was the beginning of the settlement of whites and was also the start of a movement to encourage settlement and farming in the area. He had no legal title to the land but none-the-less he quickly planted a garden and welcomed all.

In the beginning Father Malo traveled throughout the County saying Mass in homes. Without a proper church he was even known to have served a few open air Masses on sunny hillsides.

A log building was constructed which measured roughly twenty by forty feet to serve as the Chapel. The floor was of dirt and its three pews were made of sawn logs. The attic would be Father Malo’s living quarters. The local families helped with the building; sawn logs were used for framing and the first roof covering was made of sod. When the population of the area grew another addition of equal size was added and a room for the home-keeper added in the back. The contents of St. Claude were very humble, a small table served as the first alter.

Felicia Mousette BergeronOnce established he opened a school in the Chapel and asked Felicia Mousette to assist in the teaching duties. Felicia was a daughter of Ambrose and Victorine Lemay who lived in Mendota, Minnesota. Ambrose and his family weres passing through, originally intending to settle in Grafton the family was relocating to St. John. Felicia was 15 years old when Father Malo asked her to begin teachingduring his absence in the winter of 1882. Felicia’s father decided to move the family again, resettling in the Butte St. Paul region near Tarsus, Lordsburg Township, Bottineau County. In 1885 Felicia married Arcade Bergeron and soon after that she completed the County Teaching Exams and received the first Teachers Certificate in Bottineau County.

Father Malo’s personal account of his early days are documented on the front page of the Baptismal Register No. 1 covering the years 1882-1884. The first alter boys to assist Father Malo were the two twin sons of Flavien and Zelia Croteau, Anthime and Emile.

St. John, Dakota Territory 1885The town grew as more settlers came to the area. As the population increased the town developed southward towards the current site of St. John. Mr. Martineau opened up the first general store around St. John Pool Hall1883 which was known simply as the F. Martineau Store. There was also an office built for the US Customs, St. John was one of the first ports of entry into this unsurveyed region. Other businesses such as a hotel, a saloon and a pool hall were quick to follow. A flour mill, the first in Rolette County, was brought in and erected on land in Section 22 which belonged to David Plaisance, an uncle of Zelia Croteau.

Copies of the 1885 government survey map shown above are available from the Montana
Bureau of Land Management Office

Material in this history of St. John comes from many sources including:
St. John: City at the End of the Rainbow, Historical Highlites of Bottineau County,
the State Historical Society of ND, History of Rolette County North Dakota and
Yarns of the Pioneers
and especially from the writings of many
of the pioneer families themselves.


Special Thanks to Gerald, Helen, Cathy and Wilma for all of your help!!
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