Frank Fiske
1 may 1947 Bismarck Leader(?)

As this is being written, on April 23, men are covering the grave of the last of the Primeau family. The funeral was attended by a very few who remembered the glory that once was borne by one who was known as Emma, the daughter of the well known early day Missouri River fur trader, Charles Primeau. Emma was born 86 years ago at her fathers post near the present city of Fort Pierre, S.D. When she was a young woman she married Edw. Forte thus bringing about a coincidence in names -- she was born in a fort, grew up in another fort and married a Forte.

In the Charles Primeau family there were seven children all of whom became prominent along the upper Missouri River, in 1814. He was French born at St. Louis, Missouri, in 1814. He was French and Spanish. At the age of eighteen years he came up the river on the Yellowstone, the first steamboat that ran as for up as the mouth of the Yellowstone where the famous Fort Union stood.

After a short stay at Union Primeau returned to Pierre, then said to have been called Old Tecumseh. Here he entered the service of the American Fur Company. In 1843 he was put in charge of Fort Clark up in the Mandan Indian country where he was quite successful though he had some unpleasant experience with the Sioux war parties that came to harass the Mandan and Arickarees. He tried to ward off the battle but suffered the loss of horses and men for his pains.

Primeau left Fort Clark to take charge of a post at Running Water, S.D., and for twenty years he did business at several places along the river as far up [as] the present Fort Yates where he had a fort on the east side of the Missouri.

When his future was most promising, he married Mary Louise Seers, her mother being a Sioux and her father a captain. To this union were born seven children all of whom became well known along the upper Missouri. But the old man had many hardships and reverses. The hostile Indians ran off his horse herds, and attacked and killed many of his men. The worst disaster that befell him was the burning of one of his forts on the upper Moreau River. Here his assistants, Louis Agard and Charles Halsey, had traded for thousands of fine robes and the Indians took them all and destroyed the fort. Agard was nearly killed on Fox Ridge by an Indian who struck him with one of those three-knifed war clubs, and Charles Halsey only escaped death because he was such a swift runner.

With the end of profitable fur trading the Primeaus came up to the new Standing Rock Agency in 1879, where they lived with the Charles Halsey family for about one year. The two Charless were great friends, but Halsey was now getting ready to embark in the cattle business while Primeau was too old to seek now adventures. So Primeau remained at the agency as interpreter for fourteen years when he was obliged to retire on account of his extreme age.

I have seen the old gentleman standing before his log cabin in the warm sun of a spring dayjust standing there thinking of the old, old days when he would be scanning the country for signs of a war party. Now his wife was gone [1885] and his children had grown to adulthood. There was nothing left for him, and he died soon after and was buried at Fort Yates [1897].

In the early 80s Edward Forte came to the fort as a soldier in the 17th Infantry. He was an expert in woodwork and on leaving the army became the head carpenter at the agency. There he met and won Emma Primeau and for a long time the couple lived happily while rearing a family of fine children. In 1900 Ed left the agency and took the contract to build the first school at Pollock, S.D.. The following year he did the courthouse at Linton after which he left the country to enter a soldiers home, finally dying in Wyoming.

As a girl Emma Primeau was one of the most popular and beautiful of all the belles who grace the halls of old Fort Yates. She had many suitors but found her true mate in Ed Forte. She was a cultured girl and had been educated in St. Louis along with all of her brothers and sisters. Old man Primeau spared nothing for the good of his children and one of his acts of devotion was the purchase of a grand piano in St. Louis and shipped it by steamboat to his post near Pierre at a cost, so tis said, of $1000. This undoubtedly, was the first in the Dakota Territory -- the pioneer piano of them all.


- Typewritten article dated 5/1/47 (1 may 1947), written for the weekly Bismarck Leader. Frank Fiske was a journalist and photographer living at Fort Yates, Standing Rock Agency, North Dakota. Not all information contained in this article corresponds with Standing Rock records and other historical sources.

- Emma Genevieve Primeau Forte, born: 9-24-1861, died 4/23/1947 (handwritten notes on text).

- Charles and Mary Louise Primeau actually had ten children, not counting stepson Charles Braxeau: Bruce, Margarette (b.1841?), Antoine, Theresa, Susan [Kirk] (b.1844/7), Joseph (b.1851), Louis (b.1853), Leon (b.1857), Mary Louise [Lee/Kelly] (b.1860), and Emma [Forte] (b.1861/2), all registered 1/2 Standing Rock Sioux Indian Blood. (Charles Braxeau is listed as a 1/2 brother to the children of Charles Primeau and Mary Louise Sears in the Standing Rock records.)

- Charles Primeau, according to other records, was born in 1811 and baptized in 1814 in St. Louis. He was the son of Paul Primeau and Pelagie Bissonet. His father, Paul Primeau, comes from a long line of French Canadian families from Qubec. He is listed as an engag with the Lewis and Clark expedition in the years 1803-05 and was a contributor to the founding of the first Roman Catholic college in St. Louis. The Primeau family came from Normandy, France, to Qubec, Canada prior to 1687. Individual members moved from Lachine and the area around Montreal, to Chateuguay, culminating with Paul and Pierres move to St. Louis, Missouri prior to 1799. Pelagie was born in St. Louis and has been referred to as a creole, but given that all four grandparents seem to be French, the reference probably refers to her being born French in the United States. - Mary Louise Seers (b. 1822, d. 1885) is recorded in the 1885 Standing Rock census as being a full Indian, and in the Standing Rock records as a full Mixed Blood Sioux. She was first married to Antoine Brasseaux of St. Louis: Brasseaux married an Indian woman and left several descendants on the river. The wife of Brasseaux later became the wife of Primeau, the trader, who, in the early sixties was established near Fort Pierre. -South Dakota Historical Collections, (Pierre, 1966) v. 33, p. 461, note 10.

Charles Primeau, an employee of this Agency, formerly an Indian Trader and a man of considerable means, but in 1863 his trading posts were raided by the Sioux and a number of thousand dollars worth of goods ... [were] taken. -Major James McLaughlin, Papers,13 april 1883

- Walter Kelly, father of Theodore Primeau Kelly, was also a soldier in the 17th Infantry at Fort Yates, but had enlisted under the alias Walter Lee. In 1893 Louis and Joseph Primeau, along with Walter Lee/Kelly and Edward Forte, contributed $5.00 apiece to the monument dedicated to the Indian Police who were killed in the arrest of Sitting Bull ordered by Major James McLaughlin in december 1890. Louis Primeau was the translator of the arrest order into Dakota, scout and guide who led the Indian Police to Sitting Bull's location the evening of 14 december 1890. Forte and Lee/Kelly were both married to Primeau women, Emma (1884) and Mary Louise (1892) respectively, younger sisters of Louis and Joseph.

State Historical Society of North Dakota, North Dakota Heritage Center, Bismarck, ND

The Photographs of Frank Fiske contains 87 individually matted and framed images and an introduction panel. Fiske is best known for his images of everyday life at the Standing Rock Reservation during the early twentieth century. A handout is included.

The exhibit presents 88 pieces of varying sizes, for wall mounting, requiring approximately 175 running feet, shipped in two wooden crates, 40"L X 40"W X 17"H and 28"L X 20"W X 29"H, weighing 328 lbs. total. - Carrington Health Center, Carrington- April 12 - July 18, 1999

Front Page News portrays life in North Dakota through newspaper front pages. The newspapers date from the earliest publication at Fort Union to contemporary issues. Images of newspaper offices and people enhance the front pages. A handout is included. The exhibit contains 23 front pages, 17 images, and an introduction panel, for wall mounting, requiring 75 running feet, shipped in two wooden crates 30"L X 31"H X 23"W and 33"L X 23"H X 27"W, weighing 425 lbs. total. - Buffalo Historical Society, Buffalo- June 7 - November 7, 1999

North Dakota Indian Schools - Fort Totten State Historic Site- May 15 - September 15, 1999

North Dakota Indian Schools surveys the role formalized education played in the assimilation of Indian children into Euro-American society. The exhibit includes boarding and day schools, mission and government schools, schools on and off the reservation, and schools in operation today. The exhibit consists of 14 panels, 32" X 48", for wall mounting, requiring 60 running feet, shipped in two cases on wheels, 50"L X 33"H X 15"W, weighing about 220 lbs. total.


Media Release 16 December 1998

NDSU Library features Frank Fiske photographs

Life in central and southern North Dakota during the first half of the 20th Century will be the subject of a special photographic exhibit entitled "The Photographs of Frank B. Fiske" at the Lower Level Gallery, NDSU Library, Fargo, from December 21, 1998 to March 28, 1999.

Photographs have been selected from among 7,000 images in the Frank B. Fiske photograph collection, owned by the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Fiske, a photographer, worked in the North Dakota area from 1900-1952. The exhibit was developed by the State Historical Society of North Dakota and is part of the agency's traveling exhibit program. Funding for the exhibit was provided by the North Dakota Heritage Foundation, Inc.

Frank Bennett Fiske was born in 1883 and spent most of his life in the Fort Yates, North Dakota, area. There Fiske learned the photography trade from S.T. Fansler, operator of the post studio. When Fansler abandoned the studio in 1900, the teenage Fiske took over. Except for a few brief periods, Fiske continued to operate at Fort Yates until his death in 1952.

Fiske was best known for his Indian portraits, for which he won the North Dakota Art Award in 1950. These portraits were widely distributed and appeared on postcards, calendars, and highway markers, as well as in art exhibitions.

Fiske's photographic work, however, extended far beyond his portraits. The importance of Fiske's work and his collection of nearly 7,000 images rests in its documentation of everyday life at Fort Yates and the Standing Rock Indian agency during the early part of this century. These photographs, eighty-six of which will be presented in the exhibit, detail virtually every aspect of life during the period.

The Photographs of Frank B. Fiske

Frank Bennett Fiske (1883-1952), born at Fort Bennett, Dakota Territory, spent most of his life in the Fort Yates area. George Fiske, Frank's father, moved his family to Fort Yates in 1889, working as a civilian wagon master with the U.S. Army. There young Frank attended school, worked as a cabin boy on a steamboat, and learned the photography trade from S.T. Fansler, operator of the post studio. When Fansler abandoned the studio in 1900, the teenage Frank Fiske took over.

The military post closed in 1903 and activity at the photographic studio declined. Fiske spent some time in Bismarck, at one point operating a studio there and at another time working in the Butler Studio. From 1925-1928 he moved his family and studio to McLaughlin, South Dakota. Except for these brief periods, Fiske continued to operate at Fort Yates until his death in 1952.

In addition to his photography, Fiske worked for a time (1912-1917) as an assistant riverboat pilot, as Sioux County Auditor and Treasurer during the 1920's, and as publisher of the Sioux County Pioneer-Arrow from 1929-1939. He wrote two books, Taming of the Sioux (1917) and Life and Death of Sitting Bull (1933).

Fiske was best known for his Indian portraits, for which he won the North Dakota Art Award in 1950. Fiske's portraits of the Standing Rock Sioux received not only artistic recognition, but also his primary commercial emphasis. The portraits appeared on postcards and calendars as well as in art exhibitions. His picture of Red Tomahawk, for example, was reproduced on North Dakota highway markers.

Fiske's photography, however, extended far beyond his portraits. In his collection of nearly 7,000 images there is ample documentation of life in central and southern North Dakota during the first half of this century, with particular emphasis on the Fort Yates area. Riverboats on the Missouri and life at Standing Rock Agency were subjects of particular interest, but the importance of the collection lies in its documentation of everyday life at Fort Yates and Standing Rock Agency during the early part of this century. Most of these photographs were taken during the years 1900-1928, Fiske's most active years as a photographer. In addition, some of the photographs in the collection pre-date Fiske, since he acquired a few negatives from his predecessor when he took over the studio in 1900.

Following Fiske's death, control of the collection went to his wife of 33 years, Angela Cournoyer Fiske, and eventually to the couple's daughter, Francine Fiske Peters. Although much of the negative collection was stored at the Society's headquarters soon after Mr. Fiske's death, ownership rested with the family until 1970, when the collection was acquired by the State Historical Society of North Dakota through the generosity of the Gold Seal Company and its chairman, Harold Schafer. The following year Mrs. Peters donated approximately 1,000 original studio prints to the collection.

The Photographs of Frank B. Fiske

Killdeer, North Dakota, Rodeo arena. "Chutes and corrals where the cowboys shoot and yell," not dated.

Standing Rock Agency. Agent's office, February, 1905. Agent J.M. Carignan is facing the camera.

"The Shimmy Game," not dated.

Fort Yates, Standing Rock Agency. Issuing plows. Agency boarding school in the background, not dated.

F.Y. Batchelor, ca. 1900. Young Fiske served as a cabin boy on this Missouri River steamboat from 1898 to 1900.

This family portrait, identified as that of the Buffalo Boy family, was probably taken in about 1912-1914, although Fiske copyrighted the photograph in 1931. Fiske was best known for his portraits of the Standing Rock Sioux, and in 1950 was awarded the North Dakota Art Award for his work.

For further information about the Fiske exhibit, please contact Michael M. Miller, NDSU Library (Tel: 701-231-8416; E-mail: mmmiller@badlands.nodak.edu), or Claudia Berg, SHSND, Bismarck (Tel: 701-328-2102; E-mail: ccmail.cberg@ranch.state.nd.us).

Heard Museum, Phoenix, Arizona, Collections Guide http://www.heard.org/research/col.html

RC 33 The Fiske portfolios, ca. 1900, c1983 / by F. B. Fiske ; introduction by Frank Vyzralek and Rod Slemmons ; for the North Dakota Heritage Foundation.

2 portfolios (30 photographic prints ) ; 15 x 18 inches.

Scope: Excerpted from the accompanying pamphlet: Frank Bennett Fiske was a rarity among those American photographers whose work centered upon the American Indian. Unlike most such artistts, Fiske was a native of the Dakotas and grew up with many of those people who later became subjects for his camera on the reservation lands bordering the Missouri River. The Sioux Indian peple of the Standing Rock Agency were friends, neighbors--a part of his life and upbringing.

The son of a soldier, Fiske was born June 11, 1883, at the military post of Fort Bennett (from whence came his middle name), about 30 miles north of Pierre, South Dakota, on the west bank ofthe Missouri. Photography was another absorbing interest and the young Frank Fiske devoted many hourse to learning the business from S. T. "Dick" Fansler, operator of the post studio at Fort Yates.

The portfolios include formal, posed portraits of Sioux men, women, and children; most are made in a studio before a painted backdrop, though a few are made in natural settings. A few photographs of other subjects, including council tipis, a war eagle, and missionaries

a faithful & accurate transcription.
notes, research & webwork: tpkunesh@kunesh.net