BUTEUX, JACQUES, priest, Jesuit, missionary, explorer; b. 10 April 1599, son of Jean Buteux, a tanner of Abbeville in Picardy; killed 10 May 1652 on the upper St. Maurice River.
At the age of 21 he entered the noviciate of the Jesuits at Rouen; from 1622 to 1625 he studied philosophy at the Collège in La Flèche, where Father Massé, the pioneer of the Acadian missions in America, maintained a sacred fervour for the missions of the New World; from 1625 to 1629 Jacques Buteux taught grammar at Caen, then went back to La Flèche, where he attended the theology courses for four years; he was ordained priest in 1633. In the following year he was at Quebec, where he spent only a few months, because his superior, Father Paul Le Jeune, entrusted to his care the new habitation that Champlain was having built at Trois-Rivières. The construction work, started 4 July under Laviolette’s direction, was not yet completed when Father Buteux took over his new post, 8 Sept. 1634. He was to minister to Trois-Rivières until his death in 1652.
Trois-Rivières was at that period a gathering-place used by the Montagnais, Algonkin, and Huron Indians. In his Relation of 1636, Father Le Jeune pointed out that “As the Savages like the three Rivers better than Kébec they stop there oftener, and in greater numbers. That is why the Fathers who have been living this year in our Residence of the Conception have baptized more people than did those who remained at Kébec, where these Barbarians do not stay so long.”
Father Buteux was appointed superior of the Trois-Rivières mission in 1639, and displayed great zeal. He endeavoured to give stability to a number of Indians by settling them at the Cap de Trois-Rivières, on the left bank of the St. Maurice River. In a letter dated 1640 he rejoiced to see Indians taking an interest in the cultivation of the land. When this attempt to form an Indian village failed, the religious recruited some French settlers; in 1649, 14 land-grants were made; this is the origin of the present town of Cap-de-la-Madeleine.
The annihilation of the Huron missions in 1649 induced the missionary to reply to the pressing invitations extended by the Attikamegues who were established in the upper St. Maurice basin. “In all these regions,” wrote Buteux, “there are many other Tribes, – more than we can baptize, even if we had still forty years to live; and those people have no intercourse with us. It is from them that the Hurons, before their own country was desolated, obtained nearly all their Beavers, – the supply of which, being no longer diverted elsewhere, will now come to our French settlements, if the Iroquois do not disturb our repose.”
On 27 March 1651 Father Buteux, accompanied by two Frenchmen and some 40 Attikamegues, undertook the journey northward. The expedition lasted three months. The travellers reached regions inhabited by tribes who had had no contact with white men. Wishing to go as far as Hudson Bay the following year, Father Buteux had presents sent “to the Captains of some Tribes further to the North.” On 18 June 1651 he was back at Trois-Rivières. During July he set out on a mission in the direction of Tadoussac and Gaspé.
At the end of the account of his journey to the source of the St. Maurice, the missionary had expressed his desire to push on further with his evangelizing explorations: “I hope next Spring to make the same journey, and to push still further toward the North Sea, to find there new tribes and entire new Nations wherein the light of the faith has never yet penetrated. Since that journey, the Iroquois have entered that country which seemed almost inaccessible” (Lake Kisagami). In a letter to Father Ragueneau he added: “I would never have thought that they could have found or reached that lake with their canoes. On the journey that I made to these regions, we walked about twenty days on the snow, before coming to it.”
Despite the menace of the Iroquois, Father Buteux set off northwards once more on 4 April 1652, with an escort of some 60 Attikamegues. His dream of reaching Hudson Bay was not realized. After five weeks of forced marches, when they should have reached, if not passed, the watershed, Buteux and his companions, the soldier Pierre Fontarabie and the converted Huron Thomas Tsondoutannen, were attacked by the Iroquois: “The Huron, who was walking in front, was seized so suddenly that he had no time to take a single step backward. The two others, a little farther away, were brought to the ground by the discharge of the enemy’s muskets at them. The Father fell, wounded by two balls in his breast and another in his right arm, which was broken. . . . They were stripped entirely naked, and their bodies thrown into the river.”
Thus ended tragically, 10 May 1652, a daring apostolic venture. Word of the drama was brought back to Trois-Rivières on 8 June by the Huron Tsondoutannen, who had managed to escape.
Father Buteux has left letters, an account of his 1651 journey, and numerous documents in the parish registers of Trois-Rivières.
Archives de la paroisse de l’Immaculée-Conception, Trois-Rivières, Registres. ACSM, Mémoires et lettres du P. Jacques Buteux, dans “Mémoires touchant la mort et les vertus des pères Isaac Jogues . . .” (Ragueneau), repr. APQ Rapport, 1924–25, 3, 25, 26, 28, 45, 49. JR (Thwaites). JJ (Laverdière et Casgrain). Ernest Gagnon, “Le Père Buteux et le drame du St-Maurice (1652),” La Nouvelle-France, XIV (1915), 85–89. Albert Tessier, Jacques Buteux, le premier évangélisateur de la région du St-Maurice (1634–1652) (Pages Trifluviennes, série B, no. 6, Trois-Rivières, 1934); “Le Père Jacques Buteux,” Cahiers des Dix, I (1936), 157–70. Yvon Thériault, L’apostolat missionaire en Mauricie (Trois-Rivières, 1951), ch.III et IV.