Napoleon Bucksaw

Article No: 13

Napoleon Bucksaw

Some of those who will read this sketch will remember Napoleon Bucksaw. His family name was D'Auteuil. Where did he come from? The registers of the "Poor House" in Meteghan, now the "Foyer Saint-Marie", where he spent his last days, give his place of birth as Little Brook. According to the age given him then, he would have been born in 1856 or 1857. His name is not to be found in any Church registers, nor in any censuses. But we know that he was a "D'Auteuil", which became "Doty".

The first of the name in southwestern Nova Scotia was Jean Francois D'Auteuil, who used to give "Francois" as his first name. He was born in France in 1786, close to Soissons, a hundred kilometers north-east of Paris. He arrived in Yarmouth County in 1818, at the time when over two dozens of Frenchmen settled in southwestern Nova Scotia during the French Revolution and the Napoleon Wars. Here he married Luce Mius, and thus a sister to Marie, the mother of Joseph Quomino whom I told you about in my sketch No.3; a sister also to Claire, wife of Anselme Hatfield. It is strange enough that, with regard to the five daughters of Charles Amand Mius, only one, Rosalie, married an Acadian, Pierre Moulaison; they are the ancestors of the Moulaisons of Magdelen Islands. Claire and Marie married 'black men' and Marguerite, just like Luce, married a frenchman [sic], Jean Courteios, who died not long after their marriage, although Marguerite gave birth to eight children.

Jean Francois d'Auteuil and Luce Muise brought up their family in the Little Brook-Concessions region. Francois used to wear a short jacket, called in French "pet-en-l'air", a word you will find in every French dictionary but that you will never hear among the people of the upper ranks of society, although it was the nickname given him. We find him for the last time in 1871, being 85 years of age, living with his daughter Magdeleine Appoline, who had married Celestin Smith; the house was located at the northern corner of the Concession main road and the so called "Road of the Little Brook station."

I may note here that Magdeleine Appoline D'Auteuil could very well have been the mother of Napoleon D'Auteuil, born 1856-57, the first child that she had with Celestine Smith being born in 1859.

Be that what it may, Napoleon D'Auteuil was known all through the French section of southwestern Nova Scotia as "Napoleon Bucksaw". He made his living by cutting wood with his bucksaw that he carried around with him everywhere he went. For the younger generation who will read this, a bucksaw, which is now a museum item, was one set in a H-shape frame that was used in sawing wood on a sawhorse for fuel. He would go from house to house, saw wood for a free meal. He might eat two dinners or two suppers the same day, if he were to saw wood at two different places. People were good to him; it could have been by charity or simply because he was an amiable little fellow, kind and gentle in his simplicity. As there were no automobiles then, or hardly any, people travelling with their horses would pick him up. Useless to say that in his travel he never took a coach. It seems that it happened at times that he had to go without a meal or had to sleep in the mow of a barn.

My good friend Florise d'Eon of West Pubnico, now deceased, told me the following story about Napoleon Bucksaw. Around 1914, when he was about 12 years old, on a very mild and muddy Christmas eve, he went to the neighbour's house to spend part of the evening. While he was there, someone knocked on the back door and a short stocky man, wearing a full beard and carrying a bucksaw, came in; the people where he was knew him, because they called him Napoleon. They served him supper. He told them that he would saw firewood for three "fifteen pieces" a day, which meant 25 cents, thus 75 cents in all. He had heard of this man who had died in West Pubnico; so he asked my friend to pilot him to the house, thinking he might get the dead man's moccasins. Walking from Little Brook to Digby and from Digby to Pubnico and from Pubnico back to Little Brook, surely he must have worn out more than a pair of shoes or moccasins a year. "I took him to the house where the body of the dead man laid" says Florise. "We saw through the window that there was a full house of people kneeling, saying the rosary. When they had finished, Napoleon went in, but I stayed outside. He came out without any moccasins, and we walked back home in the mud." And Florise adds: "I was wondering all that time if this could be Santa Claus".

Napoleon never got married. It seems that one day, Father Mery, pastor of Church Point, told him that he should get married, a thing that had never entered his mind. Father Mery, seeing that he was surprised, told him that he had the human nature like everybody else; Napoleon was surprised to learn that he had such a thing that he had never heard of before. Father Mery even told him that he could marry Catherine-a-Dick, who was Catherine Belliveau, daughter of Frederic, whom we students, in my college days, used to call "Catherine of the chamber pots", because she used to take care during the day of the dormitories at St. Ann's College. You can imagine how surprised Catherine was when Napoleon proposed to her, telling him that it was impossible. So Napoleon, not remembering exactly what Father Mery had told him that he had, answered: "Father Mery told me that we could because we both had the human spoon...".

He was admitted at the "Poor House" in Meteghan, June 6, 1932, said to be 75 years old, but was discharged Dec. 15 of the same year. He was admitted again March 16 of the following year, when he is said to be 76 years of age. This is where he died eight months later, May 10, 1933.

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