MNBC reflects on the contributions of Métis woman Sophie Morigeau

Sophie Morigeau’s life is a remarkable representation of independence, strength and willingness to push the gender construct of her time.  

Sophie Morigeau was born around 1836 to Pachina Finley and Isabella Taylor-also known by the names Elizabeth or Lizette. Sophie is of mixed descent on her maternal grandmother’s side and her paternal grandfather’s side.1 She was later adopted by Francois Morigeau, who worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company.  

On September 29, 1852, she was married at age of 15 to Jean Baptiste Chabotte, a settler and a Hudson’s Bay employee who was 24 years of age. The 1860 census records show them living together and her using his last name. However, the 1870 census records suggest that they divorced after 8-10 years of marriage as she had reclaimed Morigeau as her last name and was living with her mother.2   

Sophie challenged gender norms with her multiple partnerships throughout her lifetime and her childlessness. People often speculated that either she was unable, or she chose not to bear children. Records in Fort Steele archives show that Francois Morigeau Jr. knew of a plant that caused infertility, suggesting that he and Sophie chose not to bear children.3  

The first story of her life as a packer date back to 1858 near Green River, Wyoming: “There was a French Canadian, named Marjeau, who had brought a lot of groceries and some trinkets for the Indian trade, in a big wagon with four yoke of oxen all the way from Council Bluffs.” 4 Life as a packer was quite dangerous. On one occasion, Sophie injured an eye when she was struck by a branch while riding horseback, which led to her wearing an eye-patch, making her a more recognizable figure in Métis feminist history. Other stories are told about a wagon accident where she had amputated her protruding rib and tied it to the rafters of her cabin with a delicate pink ribbon. 5 

In 1872, she acquired 320 acres of land near Windemere – where she started a trading post – her brother opened a store in Golden to which they did business together. She later opened two more trading posts: one at 69 Ranch, Montana from 1878-1880 and at Sophie’s Creek, Montana from 1880-1916. Stories were told of her charging tolls to fish at Sophie’s Creek, and when fishermen refused to pay, she went into the river and scared all the fish away. Documentation shows the fluctuations of abundance and scarcity at Sophie’s trading post, referring to a harsh winter in 1892 that had devastating effects on her herds of livestock. 6 

Sophie Morigeau’s knowledge, skills and success as a tradeswoman and bootlegger are attributed to knowledge that was passed down to her through her family and community. Her birth father, Pachina, and grandfather, Jacco, were well versed in their knowledge of the land and were known as the “best woodsmen, trappers and hunters in the Northwest.” 7  

These oral stories about Sophie Morigeau are only the beginning, we are committed to amplifying the extraordinary lives and stories of historical Métis women who contributed to the richness of Métis Nation across the Northwest.   
 
For inquiries, contact Ministry of Women and Gender Equity mowge@mnbc.ca.

This map, drawn by Angus McDonald was for the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1870, documents two Morigeau claims, one by Morigeau and one by Morigeau Jr.