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Father Jean-Pierre Aulneau de la Touche, S.J. (21 April 17058 June 1736) was a Jesuit missionary priest active in Canadamarker and the American Upper Midwest. He is referred to as "Minnesotamarker's Forgotten Martyr."

Early life

Jean-Pierre Aulneau was born at his father's chateau at Moutiers-sur-le-Laymarker, Vendéemarker, Francemarker. He studied at the minor seminary of Luçonmarker prior to entering the Jesuit novitiate at Paumarker in 1720. He spent a number of years as an intructor in La Rochellemarker and Poitiersmarker. After his Ordination to the priesthood, he sailed for Canada New France in 1734.

After a stormy and disease-ridden crossing on Le Ruby, he landed at Quebec Citymarker in Canada on August 12, 1734. After recovering his health, he lodged at the Jesuit College in Quebec, preparing for his final examination, which he passed during Lent of 1735.

Black Robe in the Northwest

After receiving an assignment as chaplain, he set out for Fort St. Charlesmarker in June, 1735. He sailed through the Great Lakesmarker to Fort St. Charlesmarker with Canadian explorer La Vérendrye (Pierre). At the time, Father Aulneau was posted farther west than any other missionary in North America. His letters to his mother in France reveal that he was deathly afraid of being assigned so far away from his Confessor.

The following year Father Aulneau, Jean Baptiste de La Vérendrye and 19 French-Canadian voyageurs were sent from Fort St. Charles to Fort Michilimackinacmarker. The purpose of the mission was to pick up supplies for an expedition to the Mandans in what is today the Northmarker and South Dakotamarker. In addition, the trip would also allow Father Aulneau a last visit to the Confessional before accompanying the explorers. Despite his fears of being so far from any other priest, his letters show a man filled with excitement and zealous to evangelize the Indians.


However, on their first night out they were all massacred by "Prairie Sioux" warriors on a nearby island in Lake of the Woodsmarker. The date was June 8, 1736. The massacre was allegedly in retaliation for La Verendrye's practice of supplying guns to Sioux enemies, especially the Assiniboine and the Cree.


When members of the friendly Cree tribe reported the massacre to La Verendrye, he gave orders for the heads of the 19 voyageurs and the decapitated bodies of Father Aulneau and young La Verendrye to be returned to Fort St. Charles. The bodies of Father Aulneau and young La Verendrye were encased in a rough hewn coffin and buried beneath the altar of the fortess chapel. The 19 heads were deposited in a nearby trench.

The massacre ended, for a time, the project of a mission to the Mandans as there was no other priest further west than Fort Michilimackinac. In 1741, Father Claude-Godefroy Coquart, a replacement for Father Aulneau, began his journey west. He would have spent some time at Fort St. Charles and is known to have joined the La Vérendryes at Fort La Reine (presently Portage la Prairie, Manitobamarker) in 1743. In doing so, Coquart was the first recorded missionary in present-day Manitoba and the first to travel beyond Lake of the Woodsmarker, a role which was to have been the task of Father Aulneau.


The letters of Father Aulneau were discovered in his family's possession in 1889 and published in an English translation in 1893. In 1908, a party of Canadianmarker Jesuits from Saint Boniface, Manitobamarker, located the site of Fort St. Charlesmarker, just inside the territorial waters of the United Statesmarker, using the letters of La Verendrye and the oral tradition of the Ojibwe Indians. The bodies of the martyred priest and his companions were reexumed and examined. The remains of Father Aulneau was recognized by the hook from the top of his cassock and the remnants of his rosary, which had been placed at his feet. All human remains and artifacts found at Fort St. Charles, were transferred across the Canadian Border to Saint Boniface, Manitobamarker, where they remain to this day.

The site of Fort St. Charlesmarker is currently owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Crookston, Minnesotamarker and remains a site of pilgrimage. The precise location of "Massacre Island," where Father Aulneau and his companions were murdered by the Sioux, continues to be debated.

See also


  • Lund, Duane R. Lake of the Woods: Earliest Accounts. Nordell Graphic Communications, Staples, Minn.1984
  • The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. IV, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948
  • The Aulneau Collection, Edited by Father Arthur Jones, S.J. Published by Saint Mary's College, Montreal, 1893.

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