Jacob Fahlström

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Jacob Fahlström, c. 1850.

Jacob Fahlström (1795–1859), aka Father Jacob, was the first Swede ever to settle in Canada. He was working as an employee for the Hudson's Bay Company.


Jacob Fahlstrom was known to the Indians, as "Yellowhead," (Because of his blond hair) and to the white settlers as the "Swede Indian." He was, in fact, the first Swede in Minnesota, for which reason Prince Bertil of Sweden in June 1948, unveiled a plaque in his honor on Kellogg Blvd. in St. Paul.

Fahlstrom was born in Stockholm in 1795 of a well-to-do family, but the boy had a wandering foot which took him down to the docks where he shipped as cabin boy on a vessel captained by his uncle. At 14 he experienced shipwreck on the English coast, after which he made his way to London where he joined up with Lord Selkirk's expedition to Hudson Bay. He became a fur trader, first for the Hudson's Bay Company and later for the American Fur Company. As he traveled from one Indian village to another in quest of pelts, he learned in addition to the English he had picked up, an Indian language and with it a handy working knowledge of Indian psychology.

In his wanderings Jacob Fahlstrom drifted southward to Ft. Snelling where he took two jobs: supplying the fort with wood and carrying the mail north to the Lake Superior region, and from Prairie du Chien to St. Croix Falls. In 1823 he married Marguerite, daughter of Pierre Bonga of the Lake Superior Chippewas. In 1837 or 1838 the "Swede Indian" was converted at the Kaposia mission. Thereafter he became a sort of missionary to the Indians and also to the men of the lumber camps in the north woods.

In 1841 Fahlstrom moved to what was to be Washington County where he took up a claim at Valley Creek near Afton. His home there was pretty well filled with nine children, but still the latch string was always for traveling purposes. It is said that he once owned 80 acres (320,000 m2) where the business district of St. Paul stands today. Unfortunately he gave up this claim because he thought the place was too hilly. He had more use for the island he owned in White Bear Lake; it was covered with sugar maples, and his wife and children made sugar there every spring.

Jacob Fahlstrom died in 1859, his wife surviving until 1880.

Their graves at Valley Creek remain unmarked, although he has been honored by having his portrait hung in the Swedish Art Institute of Minneapolis. It is not a work of art, however, but rather dark and forbidding with a half-circle fringe of whiskers, revealing nothing of the character of the man which was kindly, sincere and devoted. In Easton's HISTORY OF THE ST. CROIX VALLEY we catch this glimpse of him: "Jacob Fahlstrom was a sort of preacher, and he could pray pretty well, and could be depended on upon to do so, providing a good meal was in sight. Many a good meal he got at Carli's (Tamarack House at Stillwater) in return for his old-fashioned prayers."

The missionaries at Kaposia and Red Rock considered "Father Jacob" as he had noe came to be called, such a valuable brand snatched from the burning that his conversion seemed like compensation for their unproductive labors among the Sioux. Elder Brunson is said to have stated that this event alone justified the existence of the Kaposia mission. Here was one who understood the red men far better than they, one who could be depended upon to carry the Gospel on all his adventurous journeys among the Indians and likewise the white settlements in what is now Washington County.