Menard Leaves Lasting Legacy
By Wanda Bobinger
Michel Branamour Menard was born December 5, 1805 in the village of La Prairie, near Montreal, Canada. His parents were French. At the age of 14, he left home to seek adventure. He roamed the Northwest overland and up and down the rivers, living with trappers and trading with Indians.
In 1823, he went to Kaskaskia, Ill, to make his home with an uncle, Pierre Menard, an Indian agent. There he learned to speak English and entered into the employ of his uncle as an Indian trader and moved with the Indians to territory west of the Mississippi, establishing himself in the Arkansas area. Here he traded with the Shawnee on White River, making friends with the tribe and eventually becoming a chief. After 1825, migration began into the Louisiana region and Menard arrived in Texas on November 28, 1829. For some time he traded among the Mexicans and Indians in Nacogdoches.
Michel Branamour Menard, his first cousin, Peter J. Menard with his wife and young son, S.C. Hiroms and G.S. Thomas were among the earliest settlers of what would later become Polk County. The area located in the southeast corner of the country, north of Menard Creek and east of the Trinity River, is known today as Ace. The first settlers simply called the community Trinity, the Hiroms and Smithfield.
The first land grant was applied for in 1826 and obtained, finally, in 1831. By 1833, M.B. Mernard and Thomas McKinney built one of the earliest steam sawmills in East Texas on the Trinity River at a place known as Menard's Bayou or Menard's Mill.
When the Texas Declaration of Independence was unanimously accepted on March 2, 1836 at Washington-on-the-Brazos, Menard signed the document and was one of the writers of the Republic's first constitution.
On November 30, 1836, President Sam Houston appointed Menard to negotiate a loan of $5 million on the bonds of the government of Texas. In December 1836, Menard purchased for $50,000 one league and one labor of land on Galveston Island and laid out the town.
John Audubon visited the island in the spring of 1837 and wrote that he 'found nothing but deer, snakes, mosquitoes, and a few wretched Mexicans and Indians.' But within a month, word had spread rapidly of Menard's plans for the new city. Galveston prospered, despite epidemics and hurricanes. Commerce flourished, construction could not keep up with the influx of population.
Michel B. and Peter J. Menard opened a huge merchandising house. Michel founded the Galveston City Company with Samuel May Williams and several others. He served in the House of Representatives in the Fifth Congress of the Republic, 1840-1841.
Menard, although a Roman Catholic, was a member of the Harmony Lodge No. 6, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons. He erected the impressive St. Mary's Cathedral, which would accommodate over 1,000 parishioners and St. Joseph's, a smaller building which seated 500. Menard died on September 2, 1856 and is buried in a marked grave in the old Catholic Cemetery in Galveston.
The beautiful home of M.B. Menard has been restored by Galveston County Historical Commission and is open to the public for tours.
When Menard County was created in 1858, it was named 'in honor of Michel Branamour Menard.'
The Menards, Michel Branamour and Peter J., made valuable contributions to local and state history.
A long and beautiful creek bearing the name Menard flows into the Trinity River near the Liberty County line. Fed by many clear springs, it is still a delight to swimmers and fishermen. The community of Menard's Chapel was established on the creek, with a house used for both church and school. The Menard Chapel Cemetery has received a State Historical Marker.