A Choquet Doctor among Montana Natives

John Philip Sergeant, from Pickering, Ontario, sent us a very interesting Family History (we adapted it for publication), that was written in September 1983, by his grandmother, Marguerite Leonora Choquette.  It tells about the fascinating life of Laurent Henri Choquette, who was the first white doctor the Flathead tribe of Montana had ever had.  The story of Laurent Henri's son, Laurent Robert (photo on the right), is also recounted.

LAURENT HENRI son of Henri Choquet and Delphine Laurent was born August 9, 1843, in Varennes, Quebec.  He was a very friendly boy and well liked.  When he was in school the art professor became interested in him as he had a very promising voice.  He helped Henri and after a few years training, he became quite a good singer.  He sang in the church choir and was often asked to sing at local concerts.  He used to read a great deal and his favorite books were those written on the adventures of the new west.  He was intrigued by these stories and dreamed of seeing the west.  This was about the time the slogan "Go west young man" originated.  He became a doctor of medicine and married Hermine Brunet, an only child.  Henri and Hermine had eight children.


Laurent Henri, whom they called Henri, was practicing medicine in St. Philippe la Prairie, Quebec and had four children, Henri, Laurent Robert, Ernestine and Regina (two of their children had died in infancy). Henri continued to be interested in the progress of the development of the west, and when the government asked for young men to go out and help in opening new towns etc., he applied and was accepted.  He was given a post as government physician to the Indians in Ronan, Montana, in the United States.  Hermine was not as enthusiastic as Henri about the move, but as her mother agreed to go with them, she told Henri she would be willing to go. Henri arranged for his wife, mother-in-law and children to follow him in a few months, they would go by train two-thirds of the way, and then by wagon train.  Henri took the train as far as he could, then bought a horse and joined a train of pack-horse travellers to destination.  He was thrilled with the country and especially the beautiful sunsets.  


When he arrived in Montana he found he was the first white doctor the Flathead tribe had ever had.  He was advised too that he would have to care for several white families of various nationalities spread over an area of some miles who were settlers.  The Indians had their own medicine man and were very wary of being treated by the white doctor.  One of the government agents stayed with Henri a short time and took him around the area he was to travel and care for the families settled there. He met a young priest, who like himself, had just arrived., and who was to cover a large area taking care of the moral needs of those who wished him to.  Henri was pleased with the house he was given, a large frame house with a fenced yard and about one-quarter mile from the reservation.  The Indians seemed docile, but were not accustomed to the white man and if they disliked anyone, they would gather at night and paint themselves and dance about the fire, and ride out and turn the home of the offender.  Henri was anxious to get on the good side of the Indians, and knew he would have to work at it, as they were very reluctant to accept him as they preferred their own medicine man.  Henri was somewhat worried at times at the thought of his wife and family coming out, and wondered how Hermine and her mother would adapt to this new way of living.


Fortunately for Henri, shortly after his arrival, he found one of the Indian boys, the nephew of the chief, quite ill, and with a few gestures and the odd word he had learned of their dialect, he made the chief understand that he could help the boy.  He understood from the chief that they had faith in their own ways and Henri left without doing anything for the boy.  The next evening, one of the Indian boys came to him, he made him understand he was to go with him, so Henri did. When they arrived at the reservation, he was taken into the tepee where the sick boy was.  Henri found he had a high fever, and he gave him medication.  He was afraid to leave as he could not give instructions to those with him as they would not understand, so he stayed with him through the night, and by next morning the fever had broken and the boy was much better.  The medicine man had performed his treatment just outside the tepee dancing and chanting, and tried to persuade the chief that he had cured the boy.  The chief who had been with Henri all night, was impressed by his gentle care and also the little black bag which contained interesting little vials and instruments.  He called the head men of his tribe and they smoked the pipe with Henri, this was a great honor and Henri thus became a brother of the Flathead tribe. The chief was a wise and just man, and with time, he and Henri became very good friends.


By the time his family arrived, Henri was becoming accustomed to the new country and way of living.  He loved the mountains just west of Ronan, called the Bitterroot range, and to the north was a lovely lake called the Flathead Lake (left picture), and not too far was a town called Missoula (right picture) which was fast becoming a city and plans were made to build a college and many buildings. The first night they were in the house, the children were very excited about being with their father and he had many tales to tell them. Hermine and her mother were very tired and put the children to bed early. She was a small person and very blond and had long hair, which she used to brush every night before going to bed.  Henri had not had time to put up curtains in the windows and as she was brushing her hair, she heard noises and looked at the  window; she was terrified when she saw several Indians with their faces pressed against the pane looking at her.


Henri had two dogs, small black and white terriers, one called Beau and the other Belle.  The boys were so happy and had a lot of fun playing with them.  Hermine worried and did not want the boys to go beyond the yard, but they were, like their father, adventuresome, and soon were getting out and before long they were playing with the little Indian children.  They would sometimes go with their father when he visited the Indians and some of the old Indian ladies or squaws, as they called them, would give them gifts they had made, shoes or a vest made of deer hide which they had beaded.  They were very sensitive about the gifts they gave, and you could not refuse to take and wear them.  Soon the children were running around with moccasins and buckskin suits, and if it had not been for the fact they were fair, one would have thought them Indian.  Henri was anxious for the well-being of his family and explained to them that it was important the Indians like them.  After the family had been there a short time, he asked Hermine and her mother if they would make a very large cake as he wanted to have the chief and some of his men come to the house, and would like to serve them the cake.  When they came into the house Hermine was  so frightened she could not hold the plate steadily so her mother passed it.  Henri had told her to pass it first to the chief, which she did, but when she held the cake in front of him, which was cut into small squares, the chief took the plate and emptied it all into a pocket he had in his jacket.  Poor Mrs.Brunet was flabbergasted, and Henri told her to get more and serve each just one piece of cake at a time, and this worked out better. The Indians stared at Hermine and her mother and gave Hermine an Indian name meaning White Angel.


Henri was working hard to learn to speak English and the Flathead dialect, and the children soon learned to speak with the little Indian children, and as a school had been set up nearby they learned to speak English.  A year after their arrival they had a son, Ernest.  When the Indians heard this they were happy for Henri and came to visit the baby boy.  As was their custom they bestowed a special blessing by transferring from one of their heads to the new baby, a big black lice.  Hermine and her mother almost panicked, this tiny white baby with white blond hair and the big black lice in it.  Henri hurried the Indians out and Mrs.Brunet immediately extracted the unwelcome 'blessing' from the baby's head, killed it, and washed her hands and the baby's head.


After a few years another son was born to Henri and Hermine, and at that time Henri decided this was to be the last of their family, so he gave him two names, one from the first letter of the alphabet and one from the last.  They called him Arnold Zenon. Henri would often have to make calls and be away from home two or more days and he sometimes took one of the  boys with him.  Laurent Robert was always happy to go with his father.  On one occasion, when Laurent had accompanied Henri, they had quite an experience on their way back home.  They were riding in a buggy and an electrical storm came up.  The horse became frightened and they decided to stop for a time.  They pulled up under a clump of trees and waited for the storm to abate and to rest and calm the horse.  A bolt of lightening struck and for a few seconds Henri was stunned, then he roused Laurent and they got out of the buggy.  The horse was lying on the ground; he had been struck by the lightening bolt and killed.  The storm eased up and Henri and Laurent walked to a nearby house where a young couple lived.  They brought Henri and his son in and made them welcome.  They gave them supper and kept them overnight.  The next morning they loaned Henri a horse which they hitched to the buggy and went on home.  


In 1891 Henri and Hermine decided they would return to Canada.  They had spent eight years in Ronan.  Their son Henri who was fifteen years old, wanted to stay on and continue his studies at the college in Missoula. When they arrived in Montreal the children were excited being in such a large city. Laurent was thrilled with the big buildings and the fire engines.  He would follow after them and was so fascinated watching the firemen working, he would forget the time and his mother would be worried.

Laurent Henri died suddenly in 1893.

LAURENT ROBERT was born in St. Philippe La Prairie on the 3rd February 1880. He wen with his family to Montana. After his father diedhe went to college in Montreal and later taught in a Business College both in English and in French.  He had cousins who lived in the country and would often visit them, and one evening they went to a party in the next town.  It was the 25th November which is the feast of la Sainte Catherine, when they had ‘pull toffee’ parties.  They skated to the town early in the evening.  They would make the toffee and when it was cooked would let it cool slightly, put butter on their hands and each boy would take a ball of candy and choose a girl to 'pull' with him.

Laurent chose a very pretty brown-eyed, brown-haired girl called
Noemie Seguin.  They pulled the toffee and when it had cooled and was firm, they cut it in pieces.  This was fun and a good way to get acquainted.  For Laurent, it was love at first sight.  Laurent was twenty-two at the time and Noemie was sixteen.  He asked her to go out with him.  He was very fond of music and took her to concerts and several times to the opera.  He used to tell Noemie about their life in Montana, and that he would like to return to the west. He had been thinking of going someplace near the Rocky Mountains in Canada.  The following year he left for Calgary, Alberta, and had asked Noemie to think about marrying him and coming to live in the west.


Laurent worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway Company and wrote often to Noemie.  He missed her very much and they decided to get married the following year.  He returned to Montreal and they were married on the 5th January 1905 and left for Calgary. Laurent and Noemie had five children - four girls and one boy. The picture on the left shows Laurent with his son Lawrence and daughters Marguerite (top right) and Marie (bottom Right).

(Photos courtesy of
John Philip Sergeant).

More informations about the Flathead Tribe :

The Flathead (people), also known as the Salish North American tribe originally inhabiting the region in the vicinity of Flathead Lake and Flathead River, in what is now northwestern Montana. The name Flatheads was given to the Salish byother North American tribes along the Columbia River to the west, who compressed the heads of their babies into a peak by means of a cone-shaped wicker headpiece. By contrast, the heads of the Salish, which were normal in shape, had a flat appearance. Although not warlike, the Salish defended themselves with great bravery against their enemies, the Blackfoot. In 1885, after ceding their land by treaty to the United States, the Salish, Kootenai, and Upper Pend d'Oreille people were placed on reservations in northwestern Montana. (Source : Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2000)

Today, The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Indian Reservation are the 6,800 modern representatives of several Salish, Kootenai and Pend O'Reilles bands who lived in western Montana, northern Idaho, and eastern Washington in the early 1800s. Around 4,000 tribal members currently live on the Flathead Reservation, along with about 1,100 Indians from other tribes and perhaps three times as many non-Indians. (Source : The People of the Flathead Nation)


Sites related The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes

Geography of the Area

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