Chesterton Tribune

'Bailly Women' a chapter in region history

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Duneland Historical Society members and guests heard about “Bailly Women” in a program presented by Joan Costello and Betty Canright February 21 at the Library Service Center.

Marie Bailly has often been recorded as Joseph Bailly’s Native American wife. Actually her father was a Frenchman and her mother was both French and Ottawa. When her father died, his European family claimed his property and ignored his American marriage.

Marie, her mother and sister were taken in by her mother’s family where the girls were raised in native customs. When of age, Marie begged her mother to arrange a marriage to a Christian man but she was wed to a man named de la Vigne whose family has been considered by history to be the Borgias of the Ottawa nation. Eventually Marie divorced him according to tribal custom and with her two children returned to her mother.

She later met and married Joseph Bailly and moved to the current site of the Bailly Homestead in about 1822. Together they had five children: Esther, Rose, Eleanor, Robert (who died at the age of 10), and Hortense.

Well revered as a very pious woman, Marie died at the Homestead in 1866 at the age of 83. The town of Monee, Illinois is named for Marie Bailly because that section of land totaling 1,280 acres was granted to her as a result of the Treaty of Tippecanoe in 1832.

The native tribes could not pronounce the letter “r” so the name Marie because Ma-nee, eventually Monee.

In 1841 at the age of 26, Eleanor Bailly, third child of Marie and Joseph Bailly, joined the Sisters of Providence, a small band of French nuns who, under the leadership of Mother Theodore Guerin, had arrived in the vicinity of Terre Haute, Indiana, just the year before. Eleanor took the name Sister Mary Cecilia. It was said of her in the congregation records, “Eleanor Bailly was certainly humanly speaking a brilliant subject and a great acquisition for the struggling Community. Educated at Detroit and in Canada in both French and English and skilled as a musician, she had received advantages comparable to the best which America offered in her time.”

Upon the death of their founder, Mother Theodore Guerin, in 1856, Mary Cecilia was elected Superior General, serving in that position for 12 years during which time the congregation and its properties experienced great growth. After serving in that position, she returned to teaching and eventually started the first Catholic school in Chesterton, then known as Calumet.

The school operated between 1869-1871. Although she tried to found a boarding school at the old Bailly Homestead, that was not going to come to pass and she eventually spent her last days at St Ann’s Orphanage in Terre Haute, where she died in 1898 at the age of 83. During her later years, Mother Mary Cecilia wrote a simple narrative about the life of Mother Theodore Guerin, which is now considered the most important piece of evidence in her cause for sainthood.

The last Bailly family member who lived at the homestead was Frances Howe, the daughter of Francis and Rose Bailly Howe and granddaughter of Joseph. She and her mother and sister came from Chicago to the homestead in the mid 1850s after the death of Francis from cholera.

Frances was an intriguing woman who was known to everyone in the area and mentioned in memoirs written by several local residents. In 1907 she wrote a book about her family titled “A French Homestead in the Old Northwest”. This book became a resource for writers who came after her but many of her family stories are at odds with earlier records of the Baillys and the Homestead.

She was well educated and well traveled and local folks felt that she considered herself above her neighbors. In 1905 she wrote letters to the Chesterton Tribune which stated that the Bailly Homestead was not a farm and she was not an Indian.

By 1891 she was the sole surviving family member at the Homestead and she began major remodeling or as the Tribune reported “rebuilding” of her home.

Frances raised a girl named Emma Bachman who, according to Margaret Larson in her book “Memoirs of Old Baillytown ‘Plus’” came from a convent at St. Mary of the Woods.

The date of her arrival is unclear but the Tribune reported that Frances adopted her in 1904 after she came of age.

Frances died January 20, 1917 while in California to visit Emma who had married a man named Houston. It was not until January 24, 1918 that her body was returned to Indiana and buried in the Bailly Cemetery.

Sylven Cook Remembers

Attending the meeting and sharing his memories was Sylven Cook, who was one of two boys who served at the funeral and accompanied the mourners to the cemetery.

He remembers a service at old St. Patrick Church and a severe snow storm. The party used bobsleds to make the trip and cut barbed wire fences in order to go across farmers’ fields and avoid snow blocked roads. He remembers the Catholic Priest who officiated and Emma Bachman Houston, the adopted daughter.

Howard Johnson Honored

Society member Howard Johnson, who is recovering from surgery at Whispering Pines, has been named an Honorary Member of the Duneland Historical Society for his many contributions to local history and to the work of the group.


Posted 4/4/2002