Francois Auguste Chardon

c. 1795 - c. April 21, 1848

Chardon, Francois Auguste, fur trader (c. 1795-c. April 21, 1848). Born at Philadelphia, of French extraction, he reached New Orleans before 1815 and on January 8 of that year probably served under Andrew Jackson in the celebrated battle. From 1817 he worked for Bartholomew Berthold out of St. Louis and from at least 1820 served the fur trading firm in the Osage country, where he learned the language, acquired a wife and fathered a son. Chardon was transferred to the upper Missouri River from establishment there in 1827 of the Upper Missouri Outfit of the American Fur Company. He acquired an Arikara wife who remained with him a year, a 15-year-old Sioux girl-wife who also shortly left, and another Sioux woman as wife. The first gave birth to two of his sons, of who Francis Bolivar Chardon survived him. Chardon remained on the upper river system with brief interludes the rest of his life, and became a well-known fur trader, and one of the most highly paid, receiving a top salary of $800 a year. From the summer of 1829 his movements are well documented. He was at Fort Tecumseh (Fort Pierre) for a time; among the distinguished visitors was Prince Paul of Wurttenmburg. In 1832 he was at Fort Union, where he dealt with the Assiniboins as well as the Sioux. During his more than two years there he was host to Catlin, Nathaniel Wyeth and Maximilian, among other noted visitors. Chardon was sent in 1833 to build and occupy Fort Jackson at the mouth of the Milk River in Blackfoot country, but the next year was sent to Fort Clark among the Mandans. Here he kept a journal from 1834 to 1839, the account noteworthy historically for its graphic description of the 1837 smallpox epidemic which all but wiped out the Mandans. Chardon was moved in 1843 to Fort McKenzie, again in Blackfoot country. By now he had become an alcoholic and frequently left the daily management of affairs to volatile-tempered Alexander Harvey, an often vicious, intemperate man. A band of Blackfeet stole cattle from the post late in 1843 and killed a Negro servant who sought to recover the animals; in retaliation, but unfortunately against an innocent band of Indians, Harvey laid a cannon ambush February 19, 1844, while Chardon presumably was incapacitated by alcohol, and murdered some of the Indians, wounding many others. Because of subsequent Blackfoot hostility, Fort McKenzie was burned and the site abandoned. A new post, Fort Francis A. Chardon, was built at the mouth of the Judith River, it in turn was destroyed by the company, and a Fort Lewis constructed at the site of the later Fort Benton, Montana. Chardon returned to Fort Clark, but shortly established a new post, the later Fort Berthold where, after an interlude in St. Louis because he had been ordered out of the Indian country charged with selling liquor to the natives, he died, purportedly of rheumatism. He was buried at Fort Pierre, South Dakota. Chardon had many amiable and good qualities, and befriended Audubon and other important visitors to his post, but he had faults which became apparent in his career.