Bio: Joseph LaRocque

Who was Joseph Larocque?

The Larocque Cabin was established on what is now the Terry Bergevin Farm in 1823 or 1824. The founder was Joseph Larocque who came to Oregon Territory in 1812 on board the Beaver, a supply ship for the Pacific Fur (Astor) Company. Joseph was 17 years old. Fort Astoria was still under construction when he arrived but he was immediately sent up the Columbia River with 98 other men to compete with the North West Company for beaver pelts. He was a “middleman,” or boat rower, middle of the boat.

The leader of the competition was another Joseph Larocque, likely a relative, who was 25 years old and was building the North West Company post Fort Kamloops at the confluence of the North and South Thompson Rivers in present-day British Columbia. During this same time when Joseph of the Beaver and Joseph of Kamloops were paddling up and down the Columbia, another mystery Joseph Larocque joined the Columbia fur trade to further confuse later historians and genealogists.

The Joseph we’re concerned with was assigned to build the Astorian’s Fort Spokane. Later, and a couple hundred miles northeast, Joseph, on 17 October 1812, arrived in Montana to help Ross Cox build the Flathead Post. This is likely where he “married” Marie Flathead who later disappeared from the scene. Marie is likely why some of Jospeh’s children’s ages “don’t add up.”

In 1813 the Northwest Company bought the Astor Company and Joseph went to work for or with his “cousin” Joseph Larocque. When the Hudson’s Bay Company bought out the North West Company in 1821 the Bay Company had their pick of North West employees they wished to keep. Joseph was not hired and was not among the 86 men the Bay Company paid to transport back to Rainy Lake (near Lake Superior). Joseph was probably by then “married” to Lizette Walla Walla and had become a “free trapper.” Lizette was the daughter or sister of Walla Walla Chief Peo Peo Mox Mox.

In a famous (or infamous) fur trade story, Joseph may have been the “disgruntled Frenchman” who built the still at Cayuse Station, dead on the route of the Hudson’s Bay Company Snake River Brigade. In 1822 the Brigade was held up at Cayuse Station for three weeks until everyone sobered up. The next year Joseph Larocque was hired by the Bay Company as a “horse herd.” The site of the Larocque cabin is about four miles from the Hudson’s Bay Farm headquarters near Umapine, Oregon. There is no evidence except circumstance to support Joseph’s starring role in this story, nor is there any concrete evidence verifying Joseph Larocque’s identity, travels, marriages, and/or children. He is often confused with other Joseph Larocques by the Catholic Church Records, by post and personal journals, and by four generations of historians.

In the 1860 census of Washington Territory Joseph is listed as 65 years old, a farmer, and the head of the household. Also residing at his house were his son Joseph Sebastian Larocque and his spouse, Mary Ann Walla Walla, age 40, and their children. This house was likely the same one or an iteration that Joseph built when hired as a “horse herd” by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1823 or 1824. This was the same house 4 that was riddled with bullets in December 1855 when the Oregon Mounted Volunteers used it as their headquarters and hospital during the four-day Battle of Walla Walla, a conflict that forever changed the French, Métis culture in the Walla Walla Valley.

Between 2005 and 2007 Joey Larocque played defensive back for the Oregon State University Beavers football team. I wonder if this athletic young man knows anything of his ancestry?

Sam Pambrun 18 June 2012