Michel Branamour Menard, Indian trader, entrepreneur, and founder of the Galveston City Company (see GALVESTON, TEXAS), the only son of Michel B. and Marguerite (de Noyer) Menard, was born on December 5, 1805, at La Prairie, near Montreal, Quebec. The illiterate youth became an engagé of the American Fur Company at Detroit about 1820 and worked in the Minnesota area for two years. In 1822 he joined his uncle, Pierre Menard, former lieutenant governor of Illinois, in the fur trade at Kaskaskia, where he learned to read and write French and eventually English. While working for Menard, he became a resident trader to a band of Shawnees living near Ste. Genevieve, Missouri. He was chosen a chief and moved with the tribe to the White River in Arkansas Territory and later, in 1828, to the Red River below Pecan Point. On December 1, 1829, Menard applied for citizenship in Nacogdoches, where he continued to collect skins and furs from the Shawnees and other Indians. He also began trading at Saltillo, Coahuila, exchanging horses, mules, and permits to locate Texas land for manufactured goods. By 1834 he owned 40,000 acres scattered from the lower Trinity River above Liberty to Pecan Point. He built a combination sawmill and gristmill on Menard Creek in 1833, which he operated with the aid of his cousin, Pierre J. Menard, and other relatives who moved to Texas. He continued to send forest products to Menard and Vallé and the American Fur Company until 1836.
Menard represented Liberty County at the Convention of 1836 and, though he believed independence impractical, bowed to majority will and signed the Texas Declaration of Independence. President David G. Burnet named him to negotiate a peace treaty with the Shawnees, Delawares, and Kickapoos in northeastern Texas. Among Menard's land speculations was the 1834 arrangement to acquire title to a league and labor on the eastern end of vacant Galveston Island, a site forbidden to non-Hispanic Texans without permission from the president of Mexico. Menard was unable to develop it prior to 1836, and his title was questioned by rival claimants during the First Congress of the Republic of Texas. He had to pay the republic $50,000 to clear his title and had to take in many other partners besides the original investors, Samuel May Williams and Thomas F. McKinney. The Galveston City Company was organized in April 1838 and began issuing deeds to investors and purchasers. Menard, as Texas commissioner, unsuccessfully sought a loan from the United States for the new republic in 1836–37 and represented Galveston in the Fifth Congress, 1840–41.
He married four times. His first wife, Marie Diana LeClerc of St. Genevieve, whom he married about 1832, died of cholera aboard a ship en route to Texas from New Orleans on May 14, 1833. He married his second cousin, Adeline Catherine Maxwell, in late 1837, but she died during the yellow fever epidemic in Galveston in July 1838. Next he wed Mary Jane Riddle in 1843; she died in 1847. His fourth wife was Rebecca Mary Bass, a widow with two daughters whom Menard adopted in 1850, the same year the couple became parents of a son. Menard struggled to make his speculations and businesses more profitable, but financial reverses in 1856 finally hurt him severely. Menard was a Catholic and a Mason and was known as a great raconteur. No two accounts of his life are the same, due to his prodigious tales to friends and family. He died at home in Galveston on September 2, 1856, and was buried in the Catholic Cemetery in Galveston.