Back to their roots: Giard descendants visit community named for their ancestor

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The descendants of Basil Giard, one of the area’s first white settlers, last week visited the community named for their ancestor. The stop in Giard, at the historic Methodist Church, was one of several the family made in northeast Iowa and southwest Wisconsin as they traced Giard history. Visitors included (left to right) Jennifer Stone Grimes, Alison Stone and Pamela Stone Becke and their families. Their late mother, Andrea Giard Stone, was the last Giard.

Several Giard residents shared history about the community, its historic church and well-known Fourth of July celebrations with the Giard descendants on May 27.

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register

 

The descendants of Basil Giard, one of the area’s first white settlers, last week visited the community named for their ancestor. The stop in Giard, at the historic Methodist Church, was one of several the family made in northeast Iowa and southwest Wisconsin as they traced Giard history.

 

“I thought, ‘We need to pass this on to our children.’ It’s pretty cool having a relative who did this stuff,” said Alison Stone, who visited with sisters Pamela Stone Becke and Jennifer Stone Grimes (and their families). 

 

Their late mother, Andrea Giard Stone, was the last Giard. 

 

“It was pronounced more French,” with a soft “G,” Alison noted. “But, when in Rome,” she joked, using the hard “G” town residents favor.

 

Alison recalled visiting Marquette in her youth, where her mother showed her the Giard tract historical marker once located in the city park.

 

“There was an article written in the newspaper with a photo of my mom standing next to the marker as the descendant of Basil,” she shared. “Then, she and I came out here to Giard. I think this is the first time anyone in the family has been back.”

 

The sisters traveled from Utah, Virginia and South Carolina for the visit. In addition to the community of Giard, the itinerary included Prairie du Chien’s Fort Crawford Museum and Old French Cemetery, where Basil Giard is buried. On Sunday, the sisters planned to inter their parents at the Lutheran cemetery in Decorah.  

 

“Our mother passed away during COVID, so we’re going to inter her where her Norwegian family has a plot,” Alison said.

 

Giard family history in the area dates back over 200 years.

 

According to a 1956 article in the North Iowa Times, Basil Giard, a French-Canadian friend of Julien Dubuque, was the first white settler to live on the site of what is now McGregor. In 1800, he was given a grant of 5,860 acres by the Spanish lieutenant governor of Louisiana, and it is from this grant that so many titles in Clayton County run. 

 

“Giard erected cabins on the present site of the city of McGregor. The tract was six miles long, east and west, and a mile and a half wide,” the article read. “He lived on this tract from 1796 to 1808, and had a portion of it under cultivation, according to a history of Clayton County by Realto E. Price.”

 

The article said Giard was also a trader, dealing profitably with the Sioux, Sacs and Fox, who had hunting grounds in the territory.

 

Unfortunately, Giard’s claim wasn’t recognized by the United States until 1816.

 

“He died about the time his claim was recognized by the U.S., leaving as heirs two daughters, Lizette and Mary, and a granddaughter Felicite, who was the daughter of Angelie Suptriennee Giard,” the article said.

 

“The tragedy of the story is he died in poverty after all the wonderful things he did to set Iowa’s place in history. His land grant was not recognized for a period of years. That story needs to be told over and over again,” stated Kathy Koether, who was one of several Giard residents who shared history about the community, its historic church and well-known Fourth of July celebrations with the Giard descendants on May 27. 

 

Koether said residents are working to erect a roadside historical marker in Giard that will recognize the community’s namesake.

 

“We have the ability to get a grant and get some help for that project. I’m serving on the Clayton County Historical Society right now, and they’re all in favor of it, of course. We’re also trying to get this church with its beautiful windows on the Historical Register,” she explained. “We’re proud of this community and would like to do something to honor Basil Giard.”

 

The Giard family was touched by the community’s reverence for Basil and willingness to share stories and insight into the area.

 

“I find it very moving, meeting everyone,” said Pamela Stone Becke.

 

“This trip humanizes Basil as a person. That’s what I was looking for: seeing the places he was or that have his legacy,” added Alison Stone.

 

Reflected another family member: “It’s very heartwarming to have been received in such a fine manner. It’s warming to know this is the heart of Giard. You’ve brought a tremendous amount of light into the question of who the Giard family is by what you presented today and what we see today. Thank you for all this and keeping the memory alive of Giard. You’re the holders of the faith, so to speak.”

 

Alison said the trip has inspired her to learn more.

 

“We haven’t really tapped all the historical records. This is the start of the genealogy search,” she noted.

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