The little village of Belle Prairie began as a settlement of French Canadian traders; throughout the 19th century the dominant language and culture of residents was French. Martin Bisson was probably the first to live here. He was engaged in the fur trade as a young adult, then married Margaret Beaulieu and settled on a farm in Quebec for about twenty years before moving to what is now Belle Prairie. Bisson brought along John Branchaud and Theodore Bellefeuille, both of whom later married daughters of the Bissons. Margaret Beaulieu’s brothers, Clement and Paul, and her mother, Marguerite Beaulieu, also moved from Canada, settling upriver at Crow Wing. The Bissons lived in Bell Prairie for thirty years but they spent the last few years of their lives near White Earth, Minnesota where some of their children lived.
Catholic worship began at Belle Prairie in the late 1830s when Father Lafleche established a mission church. Noted frontier missionary Father Francis Xavier Pierz, Slovenian by birth, arrived in Minnesota in 1852 charged with serving all of the state north of the Twin Cities (he was then 67 years old!), including Ojibwe communities and the small village of Belle Prairie. He organized the parish at Belle Prairie in 1853 and built a log chapel two years later called St. Andrews Church. Pierz also established parishes at many other locations around the state, including St. Cloud, Sauk Rapids, and St. Joseph and was instrumental in attracting German immigrants to settle in central Minnesota. The name of the church in Belle Prairie was changed to Holy Family in 1872. The current church dates to 1880 and is constructed with stones pulled from the nearby rapids of Mississippi River. Additions were built in 2000.
In 1910, Belle Prairie had about two dozen residents and had a small trading post. It’s still unincorporated today and still a pretty darn small community.
Exploring the Area
Belle Prairie Park has several nice places to walk and picnic next to the Mississippi River.
Next stop downriver: Little Falls.
Next stop upriver: The Ripleys.
© Dean Klinkenberg, 2015