Having been born and raised in Minnesota, I was surrounded by French place names during my youth. I swam in the Rivière St. Croix, fished in Milles Lacs, and lived near Larpenteur Avenue, finally figuring out how this long, straight avenue had gotten its name. My father was an engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and I accompanied him on visits to river towns with names like Prairie du Chien, Le Sueur, Frontenac and La Crosse.
Studying history at the University of Minnesota it was natural that I gravitated toward French history. Completing my M.A. at Minnesota, I moved on to Rutgers University to earn a Ph.D. I spent a glorious year in Paris, working at the Bibliothèque Nationale, the Archives des Affaires Étrangères at the Quai d’Orsay and the Archives de la Guerre at Château de Vincennes. Walking through the Tuileries (with my baguette sandwich) on my way from the BN to the AAE, I thought about the francophile Thomas Jefferson sitting in the Tuileries observing construction of the Hôtel de Salm, which splendid building eventually influenced his architecture, both at the White House and at Monticello.
Completing my Ph.D. at Rutgers, I accepted a position at Illinois State University teaching European and French history. Discovering rich French archives in Illinois and Missouri I gravitated from French history to French colonial history, and I’ve never looked back. My first book on the subject, Colonial Ste. Genevieve: An Adventure on the Mississippi Frontier, appeared in 1985, and it was followed in succession by a half dozen more. All these books deal with the colonial settlements of the middle Mississippi River valley, and it is that French universe of the Pays des Illinois I’ve striven to bring to life. My books have received numerous awards, and I have been decorated by the French government as a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques. My highest honor is now to receive La Médaille d’Or du Mérite Francophone.