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The Selkirk Colony and the Minnesota fur trade

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A Thesis
Presented to
the Faculty of the Department of History
The University of Southern California
In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Degree
Master of Arts
Frank J . Long
August, 1941
UMI Number: EP59505
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This thesis, written by
F HAR u J ♦ 1.'0 N Gr
u n d e r the d i r e c t io n o f h.US. F a c u l t y C o m m i t t e e ,
a n d a p p r o v e d by a l l it s m e m b e r s , has been
presented to an d accepted by the C o u n c i l on
G r a d u a t e S t u d y an d Research in p a r t i a l f u l f i l l ­
m e n t o f the r e q u ire m e n ts f o r the degree o f
D a te
.-A.RiE JA
Faculty Committee
One of the most interesting pages in tiie history of any
country is its early exploration and settlement.
Some sections
of the United States have been well studied and the early his­
tory rather thoroughly written while other sections, for one
reason or another, have received very little notice.
great valley along the Red River of the North is one of the
areas which has been slighted, as its settlement made no im­
mediate or spectacular change in the history of the United
The author of this study became interested in the
history of the Red River Valley after finding traces of the
old Red River Trail near his home at Detroit Lakes, Minnesota.
This trail had been the connecting link between the furtrading posts in northwestern Minnesota and their markets at
St. Paul.
Subsequent investigations convinced the writer
that the history of the trade in that section of the state
had never been thoroughly covered.
After deciding to make a study of that area the author
went to the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul where
he found the letters of Norman W. Kittson, the fur-trader at
Pembina, to his partner, Henry Hastings Sibley, among the
Sibley papers.
From these letters and other manuscripts the
story of the American Fur Company and its struggle against
the Hudson's Bay Company was worked out.
A trip was later made to Winnipeg, Canada, where the
research was carried on at the Hudson's Bay House and the
Provincial Library.
The investigations made at those two
sources were of great value as they completed the history and
gave the other side of the struggle which took place.
From these sources the author has attempted to write
the true story of an epoch in Minnesota history which, al­
though it is of no vast importance, certainly deserves to
be remembered.
THE RED RIVER V A L L E Y ............................
The Red River V a l l e y .........................
The Indians in the v a l l e y ...................
Coming of the white m a n .....................
The Hudson's Bay C o m p a n y .....................
The North West C o m p a n y .......................
The .American Fur C o m p a n y .....................
THE EARL OF S E L K I R K ..............................
Early l i f e ....................................
Social philosophy ..............................
Plan for c o l onization .......................
Prince Edward Island Colony ...................
Baldoon Colony
Early travels in America
A stockholder in the Hudson's Bay Company . . .
Purchases land in the Red River Valley
S E T T L E M E N T ......................................
Plans for Red River S e t t l e m e n t ...............
First s e t t l e r s ................................
Nelson e n c a m p m e n t ..............................
The colony organized
SETTLEMENT (continued)
Opposition of the North West Company
Fort Daer
. . . . .
Hardships of colonists
The MacDonell p r o c l a m a t i o n ...................
Retaliations of the North West Company
The attack of 1 8 1 5 .......................
The massacre of 1 8 1 6 .....................
Retaliations for the m a s s a c r e .................
Capture of Fort W i l l i a m .....................
Selkirk visits the colony .....................
Death of S e l k i r k ..............................
French colonists
Swiss colonists
End of the North West C o m p a n y .................
Half-breeds in the c o l o n y .....................
Illegal trade at P e m b i n a .....................
Major Long’s expedition .......................
Efforts of the Hudson’s Bay Company to end the
illegal trade ................................
Early Red River T r a i l .........................
Dangers of the t r a i l .......................
THE FUR TRADE (continued)
The flood of 1826 .................................. 65
trade * . . . ......... * .................... 66
of free t r a d e .................................. 67
American Fur C o m p a n y ......................... 69
Sibley and K i t t s o n ................................ 70
American Fur Company at P e m b i n a ................... 72
Buffalo hunting ..................................
The contrasts between the Hudson’s Bay Company
and the American Fur C o m p a n y ................... 75
Red River c a r t s .........
Red River T r a i l ................................80
liquor t r a d e .................................. 84
Appalling condition of theIndians
Need of s o l d i e r s .................................. 87
The Judge Poleson affair
VI.C O N C L U S I O N ............................................. 92
Free t r a d e ......................................... 92
Pembina since 1 8 4 9 ................................ 93
Red River Settlement becomes the city of
W i n n i p e g ......................................... 93
The Swiss at Fort S n e l l i n g ........................ 94
Founding of St. P a u l .............................. 96
B I B L I O G R A P H Y ............................................... 98
Map: The Red River C o u n t r y ......................
Copy of map in Wood, Louis Aubrey, The Red
River Colony, Toronto, 1921. P. 48.
Illustration: Fort D o u g l a s .................
Copy of illustration in the museum of the
Hudson’s Bay Company, Winnipeg, Canada.
Map: The Red River T r a i l s ........................
Copy of map in Nute, Grace Lee, "The Red
River Trails," Minnesota History, vol. VI,
St. Paul. P. 27*T
Illustration: Dog-teams on the Red River Trail
Copy of illustration in the museum of the
Hudson’s Bay Company, Winnipeg, Canada.
The Red River Valley is about 350 miles long and ap­
proximately fifty miles wide, although its width varies
greatly from place to place.
This valley was formed by the
last glacial drift that covered the area.
melted a huge lake, Agassiz, was formed.
As the glacier
Lake Agassiz,
larger than any of the present Great Lakes, drained south
through the Minnesota River and into the Mississippi until
the glacier melted and left a much better drainage system to
the north.
In time the entire lake disappeared except for a
few smaller lakes which were left on the lower ground; Big
Stone Lake remained as the source of the Minnesota River;
Lake Traverse, a few miles to the north of Big Stone, became
the source of the Red River.
Lake Winnipeg receives the Red
River and drains, via the Nelson, into Hudson Bey.
Before the coming of the white man the valley was
well populated with Indians who hunted the buffalo in the
valley and fur-bearing animals in the forests to the east.
The first white men to reach the valley were Frenchmen who
came to trade with the Indians.
Their explorations were cut
short, however, when France lost all her American lands to
England, and for another thirty years the Indians saw few
white men.
The next white men to come in contact with the Sioux
and Chippewa Indians of the valley were members of the
Hudson’s Bay Company*
This English company had been organized
in the year 1670 under the name of "The Governor and Company
of Adventurers of England Trading into Hudson’s Bay."
company, soon known as the Hudson’s Bay Company, was granted
complete legislative, judicial, and executive powers as well
as the monopoly of the fur trade of all land draining into
the Hudson Bay.-*-
Within a few years the company had estab­
lished posts on most of the important rivers along the bay
and began to push into the interior.
The company built its
first post on the Red River during the summer of 1793.2
When England gained control of the French holdings in
North America in 1763 the old French system of fur-trade was
rejected and anyone who wished could trade with the Indians.
As a result, a vast number of free traders began to infiltrate
into the back country.
When these free traders attempted to
work in the same localities as the Hudson’s Bay posts they
found that they were no match for that powerful organization.
To combat the company the free trappers organized a con­
federation known as the North 'West Company in 1783, with
^ "Hudson’s Bay Company," Encyclopaedia Britannica,
14th edition, XI, 86l.
^ John Pritchett, "Some Red River Fur-trade
Activities," 403-404.
headquarters in Montreal.
In 1795 a contest for leadership
caused a split in the company that was not mended until
The rejoining of the two divisions was a signal for
all members of the North West Company to attempt inroads
upon the holdings of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
The Earl of
Selkirk wrote
the ferocious spirit which had been fostered among the
clerks and servants of the two companies by six years
of continual violence, was all turned against the
Hudson’s Bay Company: and there is reason to believe
not only that a systematic plan was formed for driving
their traders out of all the valuable beaver countries,
but that hopes were entertained of reducing that
company to so low an ebb, as in time to induce them to
make over their chartered rights to their commercial
Extreme violence did break out at times.
were frequently set upon and their entire stock of goods
stolen; often culminating in actual murder.
In almost all
cases the traders of the North West Company were the aggres­
sors; not that the Hudson’s Bay men were better, but they
were so inferior in numbers as to make it imprudent for them
to launch acts of a g g r e s s i o n . 5
The North West Company was too loosely constructed an
^ Pritchett, ’’Some Red River Pur-trade Activities,”
^ Earl of Selkirk, A Sketch of the British Pur Trade
in North America; with Observations Relative to the NorthWest Company of Montreal, 67-68.
^ Ibid. , 76.
organization to long survive, and internal dissension caused
it to weaken.
In 1821 the Hudson's Bay Company was com­
pletely victorious and the British Parliament incorporated
the remnants of the North West Company a3 a part of Ihe
Hudson*s Bay organization.^
During the eighteen-thirties a third unit, the
American Fur Company, made its appearance in the Red River
Valley, but before the advent of this company took place
actual settlement of the valley had begun.
This settlement
or colony, which was later to develop into the city of
Winnipeg, was the direct result of the life work of Thomas
Douglas, the fifth Earl of Selkirk.
^ "North-West Company," Encyclopaedia Americana
(1938 edition), XX, 431.
Thomas Douglas was born on June 20, 1771, at St,
Mary's Isle at the mouth of the Dee in Kirkcudbrightshire,
His father was the fourth Earl of Selkirk, a
family that could trace its ancestry back for seven hundred
years, and included some of the greatest men in all
The young Douglas lived a very normal life as a boy
and at the age of fifteen entered the University of Edinburgh
where he remained until he was nineteen.
He was the young­
est of seven sons and naturally had no expectation of be­
coming the Earl of Selkirk.
As a result, his education was
of a more practical type than it might otherwise have been.
This education gave him a great advantage over other noble­
men as a colonizer as he was much better able to understand
the problems of the working men.
During his years at the university, Douglas followed
the trend of the day and became a radical in his ideas of
social change.
As soon as he was graduated he decided to
study the accomplishments of a country that was in the
^ George Bryce, Mackinzie, Selkirk, Simpson, 161-162.
Louis Aubrey Wood, The Red River Colony, 6-7.
hands of the people, so he went to France where the
Revolution was in full swing.
Although he kept his sym­
pathy for the oppressed through the bloody weeks in France,
he decided that change should not be hurried and went back
to Scotland a confirmed conservative.-^
Douglas had hardly settled down in Scotland before
his sympathetic mind was brought to bear on the problems
of the peasants in that country.
The landholders had just
discovered that there was more money in the raising of
sheep than there was in farming so the peasants were being
ejected from their farms by the hundreds.
Where there had
been scores of small farmers on the land before the in­
closure, a half dozen were all that were needed to herd the
Most of the families moved to the cities where the
head of the household attempted to find work in an already
labor-glutted industrial center.
Other families moved to
the seashore where they attempted to make a living by fish­
ing, but had little success.
A vast majority of them were
forced to live in the very dregs of poverty.
It is very possible that Douglas would never have
been able to do anything more than sympathize with the
peasants if a series of disasters had not caused the death
of his six brothers and given Douglas the title of Baron
Bryce, MacKinzie, Selkirk, Simpson, 163.
of Daer and Shortcleugh when he was twenty-six years of age.
Two years later, in 1799, his father also passed away and
Douglas became the fifth Earl of Selkirk.^
The new Earl of Selkirk believed that the only pos­
sible way to alleviate the suffering of the Scots was trans­
Almost at once he fixed Canada in his mind as
the best place to send the people, and he began a systematic
study of the best places for settlement.
It was natural
that a mind such as Selkirk’s was soon struck by the pitiful
conditions of the Indians in eastern Canada.
promptly decided that it was the duty of the British govern­
ment to do something about these people who had been dispos­
sessed of their lands.
Between 1802 and 1810 he wrote three
important documents on the American Indian.
These works
were so clear in their insight into the problems and so
reasonable in their conclusions that they at once won him
national r e c o g n i t i o n . ^
Selkirk suggested that the best
solution to the problem was the creating of reserves of land
that should be for the Indians alone.
He went on to state
^ Bryce, Mackinzie, Selkirk. Simpsont 16$.
5 The titles of Selkirk’s booklets were: (l)
Observations on a Proposal for Forming a Society for the
Civilization and Improvement of the llorth'~~American TndTans
Within the British Boundary, J 2 ) On the Civilization of the
Indian in British America, and (3T ”Sketch of the British
Fur Trade in 1806.
that, due to the very objectionable effects of liquor upon
the Indians, the trade in alcohol should be firmly suppressed within the reserves.
This solution to the Indian
problem was the best that had been brought forward and the
plan has since been used in both the United States and
In 1807 Selkirk married Jean Wedderburn-Colvile.
A few months later he laid a plan for military preparedness
before the House of Lords.
He stated that the danger from
Napoleon was so great that ”every young man between the ages
of eighteen and twenty-five, through-out Great Britain,
should be enrolled and completely trained to military dis­
He submitted a very workable plan for carrying
out his idea, but England was against the undemocratic
principles involved and the House of Lords killed it.
idea was so well worked out, however, that in the next year
(1808) he was made a fellow in the Royal Society.^
It is
interesting to note that one hundred and twTenty-two years
later England was forced to follow the example of Europe
and set up a military training system almost identical to
that proposed by Selkirk.
^ Bryce, Ivlackinzie, Selkirk, Simpson, 168-169.
7 Ibid. , 167.
® Wood, Hed River Colony, 28.
It is not to be thought that during those years of
varied interests he had forgotten his own people; they had
always been his greatest problem.
In 1802 he had taken his
first step towards actual aid for the Scots.
At that time
he sent a long letter to Lord Pelham, the Home Secretary,
telling of the terrible state of affairs in Scotland and
suggesting transportation to Canada as a reasonable solu­
In his discussion of Canada he stated:9
No tract of land remains unoccupied on the seacoast of British America, except barren and frozen
deserts. To find sufficient extent of good soil in a
temporate climate we must go far inland. This incon­
venience is not, however, an insurmountable obstacle
to the prosperity of a colony, and appears to be
amply compensated by the other advantages that are to
be found in some remote parts of British territory.
At the western extremity of Canada, upon the waters
which fall into Lake Winnipeg, and, uniting with the
great river of Port Nelson, discharge themselves into
Hudson Bay, is a country which the Indian traders
represent as fertile, and a climate far more temporate
than the shores of the Atlantic under the same parallel,
and not more severe than that of Germany and Poland.
Here, therefore, the colonists may, with moderate
exertion of industry, be certain of a comfortable
subsistence, and they may also raise some valuable
objects of exportation. . . .
The British government did not favor Selkirk’s plan.
Napoleon had become the first consul of France and it was
apparent that England might need all the man-power she could
The government did go so far, however, as to say that
^ George Bryce, The Remarkable History of the Hudson’s
Bay Company, 203.
it would not stop any attempt that Selkirk might decide to
m ake.10
It is very probable that the government thought that
the enterprise would be dropped as soon as Selkirk realized
that his own fortune would have to be risked to get the
colonists over to Canada, but they underrated the caliber
of the man.
Selkirk at once began choosing families here
and there that were willing to make the trip to the Red
River if their expenses were p a i d . H
All plans for the colony went along nicely until a
new opponent to colonization appeared.
According to the
charter of the Hudson’s Bay Company, that company had com­
plete control of the fur trade in the Red River district and
the company wanted no settlers to disrupt their organiza­
tion in that country.
The headquarters of the firm immedi­
ately went into action and exerted all its pressure on the
government to stop Selkirk’s plan, and, as a direct result,
he received a note from the government to the effect that
it could not sanction his settlement on the Red River.
The fact that Selkirk was able to change his plans
almost instantly gives good reason to believe that he
Wood, Red River Colony, 15-16.
11 Ibid., 17.
Loo. cit.
expected tiie interference and was ready for it.
He at once
requested permission to take his settlers to Prince Edward
Island in the mouth of the St. Lawrence River.
As the
Hudson's Bay Company had no objection to that, his plea was
Very little need be said about the settlement on
Prince Edward Island.
In the year 1803 Selkirk sent over
eight hundred people and divided the island into farms for
The colony went through the usual period of hunger
and disease, but escaped the worst of the hardships that
American colonists so often experienced.
The lack of major
disasters in the colony was almost entirely due to Selkirk’s
willingness to spend money on his c o l o n y . ^
During the next year, 1804, Selkirk bought a large
tract of land near Chatham in southern Ontario where he
started a second colony.
This second venture was named
Baldoon after one of his holdings in Scotland.
nately his purchase was low swampy marshland and the colony
was a flat failure.^
After several years of heart-breaking
struggle the colonists left the land, and in 1818 Selkirk
Bryce, Mackinzie, Selkirk, Simpson, 175.
Ibid., 176-177.
^ Douglas l.IacKay, The Honourable Company, 134.
sold Baldoon to a Hudson1s Bay trader, John M ' N a b . ^
Lord Selkirk had not been willing to remain in
Scotland while the people were sent over to Prince Edward
Within a month after the settlers reached the
island Selkirk landed there to check up on the work that
had been done and to see that all was well.
As soon as his colony was well established Selkirk
made a tour that took him through most of the settled parts
of Canada and then went down into the United States.
the fall he returned to Montreal where he spent the winter.
"During his stay there he collected a mass of information
anent the fur trade and the fur traders— by the irony of
circumstances nobody helped him more in this matter than
the partners of the North-West C o m p a n y . E a r l y in the
winter Selkirk was invited to one of the famous banquets of
the Beaver Club (the organization of the favored few holding
the highest esteem of the North-West Company) and while he
was there he showed himself to be so interested in the
traders and the fur country that he was welcome in their
midst at any time during the rest of the winter.
It is held by many that Selkirk1s actions during that
winter were not those of a gentleman.
The letter that he
Wood, Red River Colony, 20.
Edward Bolland Osborn, Creater Canada, 27.
wrote to Lord Pelham (see page 9) proves he was already in­
terested in the settling of the Red River Valley.
in Montreal he questioned the fur traders about this land
that was in the heart of their country.
The fine pictures
that they drew of the fertile lands probably confirmed
Selkirk’s belief that it was the best place for the settle­
There seems to be little doubt that Selkirk gathered
this information from the North West Company knowing that in
using it he would be dealing a vital blow to the company. °
During the next five years Selkirk was so busy in
England that he was unable to spend much time on his dream
of a colony in the heart of Canada.
clear to go ahead with his plans.
In 1809 he saw his way
A check-up on the land
of the Red River Valley brought out the fact that this land
had been part of that granted to the Hudson's Bay Company
in its original charter and was still under its jurisdic­
Selkirk wanted to be absolutely certain of his
ground before starting action, so he hired five of the most
important lawyers in England and had them check on the
Hudson’s Bay Company’s charter.
All five of the lawyers
agreed that the charter, and the land grant under it, was
absolutely sound.
They also concurred in the opinion that
18 Bryce, Mackinzie, Selkirk. Simpson, 186.
the company had the right to lease or sell any or all of
the land.^
The stockholders of the Hudson’s Bay Company refused
to even consider selling any of their land in the rich fur
Selkirk had to find another way and the best
tactics seemed to be in controlling the Hudson*s Bay Company’s
At that time he had little or no stock in the or­
ganization, but fortunately his father-in-law, WedderburnColvile had invested heavily in the company.
These shares
of stock were placed under Selkirk’s control.2^
This stock
was not enough, however, to give him control of the company
and he asked several of his friends to buy up more shares
for him.
By 1810 the wars in Europe had so disrupted trade
that the Hudson’s Bay Company appeared to be on the point
of bankruptcy.
Selkirk’s helpers found that the stock­
holders were willing to sell their shares at almost any
price offered and in a short time all of the needed shares
had been purchased.
"He purchased . . . a controlling
interest in its [the Hudson’s Bay Company’s] stock--some
40,000 out of t 100,000--and obtained from the Directors
Bryce, Mackinzie, Selkirk, Simpson, 189-1912(1
MacKay, The Honourable Company, 134.
2^ Wood, Red River Colony, 28-31-
. . . a grant of 116,000 square miles of territory.
. . .r,22
That grant covered most of the present Province of Manitoba
and large sections of both Minnesota and North Dakota.
is still considered by many to be the finest wheat-land in
the world, and for this great tract of land Selkirk paid
the sum of ten shillings.^
The purchase had not been made without a struggle
from his opponents and before the grant was signed Selkirk
was forced to make certain concessions to the c o m pany.^
He agreed that the company was to keep its jurisdiction over
the land and that the company could keep its monopoly in the
fur trade.
The agreement made the definite statement that
no member of the colony should engage in the fur t r a d e . ^
If Selkirk could have seen how many years of suffering and
howmany lives would be lost as a
it is
result of that monopoly,
probable that he would have waited until he was strong
enough to get the land without making the concession— even
if it meant the postponement of colonization for several
^2 I. Castell Hopkins, The Story of the Dominion, 218.
23 Wood, Red River Colony, 34.
Anonymous, Statement Respecting The Earl of
Selkirk*s Settlement Upon the Red River, 8-9*
25 Ibid., 5.
The Earl of Selkirk was never a man to procrastinate.
As soon as he had succeeded in his purchase of land from the
Hudson*s Bay Company he gave the order for his own organiza­
tion to go into action.
His agents went into all parts of
Scotland picking out what was fondly believed to be an
excellent group.
Unfortunately, Selkirk*s agents were not
the best and the conglomeration that assembled for the trip
to America included a fair sampling of the poor in any group.
Wood said:
Some were stalwart men in the prime of life, men
who looked forward to homes of their own on a distant
shore; others with youth on their side, were eager for
the trail of the flying moose or the sight of a painted
redskin; a few were women, steeled to bravery through
fires of want and sorrow. Too many were wastrels,
cutting adrift from a blighted past. A goodly number
were malcontents, wondering whether to go or to stay.l
Probably the main reason for Selkirk*s failure to get
together a better group of settlers was the activity of the
North West Company.
That company had rather marked success
in discouraging the people that Selkirk wanted.
It is
amply proved that Selkirk expected this opposition by his
^ Louis Aubrey Wood, The Red River Colony. 39*
2 Arthur S. Morton, A History of the Canadian West,
remark of December, 1811, when he wrote, ”1 have every
reason to expect that every means the North West Company can
attempt to thwart it [the colony] will be resorted to.**^
The company continued its activities even after the
colonists held their rendezvous at Stornaway.
The Scots
were told wild, and often too true, stories of the terrible
winters; the dangers of massacre by the Indians; and the
hardships of the trail to the Red River.^
Nor were these
activities of the company entirely without success.
Of the
twenty-four to twenty-six men who were to go along as clerks
for the Hudson’s Bay Company all but four had left the ships
before they s a i l e d . ^
it was only by prompt action that
Captain MacDonell, Selkirk’s appointed governor for the
colony, kept the immigrants themselves from wholesale de­
The sailing was delayed several times and instead of
weighing anchor early in the spring it was actually late in
July, 1811, before the embarkation took place.
The fleet
was made up of three ships, the ’’Prince of Wales,” the
’’Eddystone,” and the ’’Edward and Anne.”^
Douglas MacKay, The Honourable Company, 135.
^ John MacLeod, Diary, 2.
G-eorge Bryce, The Remarkable History of the Hudson’s
Bay Company, 209-
The "Edward and Anne" was an old hulk that was put
back into commission to carry the colonists.
Although it was
not at all seaworthy and was greatly undermanned, it carried
seventy-six of the 105 colonists.
The other ships of the
fleet carried trade goods for the Hudson’s Bay Company.?
The trip to the new world was a long one and it was
not until sixty-one days later, September 2 4 , 1811, that the
fleet dropped anchor at York Factory in the Hudson’s Bay.
was much too late to start the trip to the colony so Captain
MacDonell took his people up the river a few miles where they
made a temporary camp for the winter.&
It is probable that
he first asked for permission to keep his people at the fort
but accepted the factor’s claim of a lack of room and food.
The factor did, however, give them what aid he could during
the winter.^
"Nelson encampment"
was formed entirely of the sim­
plest type of log cabin; high in front and sloping to the
This in itself was a rather difficult project, as
most of the colonists were little versed in the use of the
MacDonell found that he had a far greater problem when
7 Wood, Red River Colony, 39-42.
Bryce, Hudson’s Bay Company, 209*
^ MacLeod, Diary, 2.
10 Bryce, o£. cit., 199.
he tried to get these same men to go out and kill the animals
whose meat was absolutely essential.
In a letter to Selkirk
Captain MacDonell states, "There never was a more awkward
squad, not a man, not even an officer, of the party knew how
to put a gun to his eye or had ever fired a shot."'L1
The winters of the Hudson Bay region are long, bitterly
cold, and completely monotonous.
The colonists lacked warn
clothing and were forced to remain in the close confinement
of the cabins.
All food gave out except for the salt pork
from York Factory and the little fresh meat that the colo­
nists were able to kill.
It was natural that both scurvy and
rebellion were to be found in the encampment.
MacDonnell soon cured the scurvy by administering the sap of
the white spruce to the patients, but he found the rebellious
group more difficult.
In fact, there was a complete split in
the camp and the rebels (distinctly a minority group) moved
out to the edge of the camp where they built a cabin of their
own and steadfastly refused to recognize the authority of
Captain MacDonell until the spring breakup when they quietly
took their regular places in the organization.'1'2
As soon as the weather was sufficiently warm to allow
outdoor work Captain MacDonell set his men to the task of
^ Wood, Red River Colony, UU •
Bryce, Hudson*s Bay Company, 210-211.
Scat* or Miles
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building four large log flatboats.
These huge rafts were ill-
made but, nevertheless, strong enough to carry all the colo­
nists, their goods and the few animals that they had with
Although the colonists were ready to start long
before the first of June they were forced to wait until that
date for the ice to go out of the r i v e r . ^
The colonists were under the impression that the journey
up the river would be an easy and comparatively short one, as
it truly was in a canoe, but the four flatboats were some­
thing to reckon with.
The average distance covered in a day
was about thirteen miles during the entire trip up the Kelson
River, over three portages to Oxford House, on to Norway
House on the upper arm of Lake Winnipeg, across the lake, and
up the Red River to Point Douglas (now in the city of Winnipeg)
where they made their settlement--seven hundred miles from
Nelson encampment .1-3
Once more the colonists faced the problem of building
homes for themselves, but this time the buildings had to be
built in such a fashion that they would stand for years.
seems probable that Lord Selkirk had made arrangements for a
group of expert
1-3 Wood,
1-3 Wood,
Canadians to help with the building of the
Red River Colony,51«
Hudson* s Bay Company, 201.
o p . cit. ,52-53.
colony, but these men failed to put in their appearance.^
While these buildings were still in the process of
erection Captain MacDonell made arrangements for the formal
ceremony of taking over of the land in the name of the Earl
of Selkirk.
MacDonell invited the officers from the Hudson’s
Bay post at Point Douglas and from the North West Company’s
post, Fort Gibraltar, which was situated about two miles up
the river.
Although the men from the Hudson’s Bay post were
in full attendance, the officers of the North West post
flatly refused to attend.*^
For the first half year of the Red River Settlement
the policy of the North West Company vacillated from day to
The company seemed to accept the fact that the colony
would fail, as it most certainly would have done, had it not
been, as McGillivrary said, that ”successive embarkations of
emigrants [sic] to the new colony took place in the year
[sic] 1811, 1812, and 1813; some from Ireland, but chiefly
from the northern part of Scotland . . .”
The North
Westers, however, were unwilling to leave the disorganization
of the colony to chance and soon sent the rumor among their
half-breed helpers that the colonists were their worst
Morton, Canadian W e s t , 547.
MacLeod, Diary, 4.
^ William McGillivrary, ”A Statement Relative to the
Settlers from the Red River,” 23.
enemies, and that it was their intention to enslave all
This naturally caused great unrest among the
breeds, and it was fortunate that John MacLeod, then an
official in the Hudson’s Bay Company heard the rumor.
immediately called a meeting of the half-breeds and told
them that there was no truth in the story and that the colo­
nists wanted to be friends; thus ending any immediate danger
of an outbreak.
Although the half-breeds had been suspicious of the
settlement the full blooded Indians were friendly from the
It was to this group that Governor MacDonell went
when he found that his colony faced starvation during the
coming winter.
The Indians pointed out that the buffalo sel­
dom wintered as far north as Fort Douglas and that MacDonell
should take his colony south for the winter.
The Indians
led the colonists up the Red River until they were south of
the Pembina River.
Here, on the eastern side of the Red
River, 2*iacDonell built Fort Daer.20
This new outpost was located in the true buffalo
country and a supply of meat was assured for the winter.
Under these circumstances the arrival of seventy-one new
colonists under Owen Keveny was not the disaster that it
-*•9 MacLeod, Diary, 5-6.
20 Wood, Red River Colony, 58.
otherwise would have been.
The group had made the entire
trip from England during the summer of 1812.
As the winter progressed, the colonists noticed a
marked change in the attitude of the Indians, who now became
somewhat hostile.
The difficulty can best be explained in
the words of John MacLeod:*^
In the course of this winter some of the principal
Indians appertaining to this Post informed me that
they were advised by Yellow Head--meaning Alexander
McDonnell of the North West Company--to make very heavy
demands on the colonists for their land or to drive
them from it. I observed to them that they were no
children and might very clearly see what the North West
Company’s motives were:
that they only wanted to have
the country to themselves and then use the Indians as
they liked. They allowed that the observation was
just. . .
During that first winter the Indians probably did
save the colony from starvation, but it is possible that the
help of this group has been somewhat exaggerated, as it is
entirely true that the buffalo were so thick and "so tame
that they came to rub themselves on the stockades of the
Alexander Ross gives about the best picture of the
winter of 1812 when he states:
21 Wood, Red River Colony, 58.
MacLeod, Diary, 8-9.
George Bryce, MacKinzie, Selkirk, Simpson, 20L.
^ Alexander Ross, Red River Settlement: Its R i s e ,
Progress and Present State, 23.
At Pembina the people passed the winter in tents or
huts according to the Indian fashion, and lived on the
products of the chase in common with the natives*
mode of life was not without its charms; it tended to
foster kind and generous feelings between the two races,
who parted with regret when the Scotch, in May 1813, re­
turned to the colony to commence the labours of agri­
Most of the colonists believed that the coming of the
spring and the move back to Port Douglas would end their
hardships, but this was not the case.
They lacked the tools
necessary in breaking the tough sod of the prairie, so very
little planting was done.
Before fall came all animals and
fish disappeared and the colonists were forced to cook and
eat weeds— finding the good ones by trying them all.2'*
The Hudson's Bay Company might have given some aid to
the colonists at this time if MacDonell had been more diplo­
matic in ruling his colony.
As it was, he constantly issued
orders that were contrary to the policies of the company.
At the same time there were officials in the company who be­
lieved that the colony should be placed completely under the
jurisdiction of the Hudson's Bay Company.
In order to gain
that power, the officers of the company circulated stories
as to the weakness of the colony.
An example of this can be
found in the remark of William Auld when he stated, ° "Only
Wood, Red River Colony, 59.
Morton, Canadian W e s t , 555*
17 men were on the sick list when I left, but the rest are the
laziest dirtiest devils you ever saw."
Fortunately for the
colonists, Auld was soon removed from his office.
The few plots of land that were seeded flourished, but
they v/ere all too few.
It did prove to the settlers, how­
ever , that the land was fertile and under more favorable
circumstances would xarovide them their livelihood. ^
Fall found the colony in almost the identical situa­
tion that it had been in on the previous year.
Once more
they were forced to move south of the Pembina River to Fort
Daer in order to hunt the buffalo.
The second winter at the
fort was vastly different than the first.
The buffalo, in
their wanderings, had chosen a different locality to winter,
and the Indian had followed the buffalo.
The half-breeds of
the North West Company once more had been stirred up and
were definitely hostile.
The suffering of the colonists
during the winter was appalling and in the spring the colo­
nists returned to Fort Douglas ”in a state of great destitu­
tion; having had to barter away their clothing for food,
many of them frost bitten, half naked, and so discouraged,
that they had resolved never to return to Pembina again under
any circumstances.’1
Reginald G-. Trotter, Canadian History, 226.
Ross, Red River Settlement, 25.
During that winter Governor MacDonell made the great­
est blunder of his career.
Early in the winter he had seen
that the situation was going to be desperate and that food
had to be found in one way or another.
He knew that both
the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company gathered
up great quantities of dried meat in the Red River Valley
and sent it to their posts throughout the entire west.
January 8, 1814, MacDonell issued a proclamation to the
effect that neither fur company was to ship any food supplies
out of the land owned by the Earl of Selkirk. 7 Both com­
panies depended on the supplies from the valley and were
enraged by the proclamation.
When MacDonell confiscated food
supplies, he won the enmity of both companies, although he
saw to it that everything taken was paid for.
The Hudson’s
Bay Company was too completely under the control of the Earl
of Selkirk to do anything about it, but the North West
Company, which had always disliked the plan of colonization,
decided that drastic steps should be taken to smash the
The North West Company began exporting food from the
valley in even greater quantities and MacDonell promptly
7 Eor complete text of proclamation see House of
Commons, Papers Relating to the Red River Settlement, 10-11.
Chester Martin, "Lord Selkirk’s Work in Canada,"
Oxford Historical and Literary Studies, vol. 7, 67-72.
confiscated all that he could find; in one seizure alone he
took possession of six hundred bags of pemmican.
This led
to counter-seizures and the year 1814 is a continuous story
of pillage on both sides.
Several years later, when Alexander M*Donell of the
North West Company was in disgrace for his scandalous treat­
ment of the colonists he brought out a booklet which claimed
that the need for food was not the reason for the proclama­
He claimed that Governor Miles MacDonell had heard of
the defeat of the English on the Great Lakes.
Knowing that
the Lakes formed an important link in the waterways of the
North West Company, and that the victory was certain to
cripple the company, he had issued the proclamation in hope
that this second blow might completely crush the organiza32
He then went on at some length to prove that the
representative of the Earl of Selkirk had no power to stop
trade on the land and that the North West Company w a s , there33
fore, under no compulsion to obey the proclamation. ^
■When news of the proclamation reached the Earl of
Selkirk he instantly recognized the danger in it and sent
31 Ross, Red River Settlement, 27-28.
^ Alexander M ’Donell, A Narrative of Transactions in
the Red River Country ; from the Coramencernent of the Opera­
tions of the Earl of Selkirk Till the Summer of the Year
181 6 , 19-20.
33 Ibid.. , 20.
an order to Governor MacDonell to cancel it.
This was done,
but the colony had convinced the North West Company that,
unless something v/as done, their organization faced utter
r u m . 34
During the entire history of the North West Company
that organization was never able to realize that the Red
River Settlement was nothing more than an honest attempt to
improve the lot of the poor in Scotland.
The company in­
sisted that the settlement was a plan worked out by the
Hudson's Bay Company. ^
It is true that the settlement was
far less dangerous to the Hudson's Bay Company than it was
to the North West Company.
The former organization had one
small post at Fort Douglas while the latter had fur posts
scattered along every creek and lake throughout the terri­
Alexander M'Donell pointed out the belief of the
North West Company when he wrote
I have heard it stated with confidence, that his
Lordship's views were completely and entirely uncon­
nected with the objects of trade; whereas they have
always appeared to us in the country, from the measures
adopted since his Lordship's connection with the
Hudson's Bay Company, as the principal inducement which
led to that connection.
^ iviartin, Lord Selkirk*s Work, 67-72.
John Pritchett, "Some Red River Fur-trade Activi­
ties," 405.
3^ Sir John Bourinot, Canada Under British Rule, 225.
3? M'Donell, Transactions, 12.
The phrase "measures adopted" was not a reference to
MacDonell*s proclamation alone.
When the Earl of Selkirk
became a powerful influence in the Hudson*s Bay Company he
spent considerable time studying the difficulties of that
organization and aroused it to an effort of competition that
it had never before shown— all of which merely convinced the
North West Company that the whole problem of settlement was
nothing more than a pawn in a movement for expansion.
Immediate action by the company was halted by the
arrival of a sizable group of new colonists.
This group of
ninety-one settlers had a story of their own that is well
worth mentioning.
The group had embarked on the "Prince of
v/ales" during the summer of 1813.
Shortly after embarkation
a fever, probably typhus, broke out and many of the passengers
The fever stayed by the ship all the way across the
Atlantic, and it was probably because of this, that the
captain set all passengers ashore at Churchill and fled in­
stead of taking them down to York.
The colonists were without food, supplies, or shelter,
but, by prompt action, they were able to build log cabins
before winter set in.
Probably the one thing that kept the
entire group from starving was the unlimited supply of
partridges to be found in the woods.
Early in April, 181A, forty-one of the most ablebodied settlers started down the coast to York and, after
sending aid to the remaining group, they started up the
Kelson R i v e r . ^
The unexpected reinforcements for the Red River
Settlement probably saved the colony from an immediate mas­
The North West Company after some hesitation decided
to postpone all action until after the great meeting of the
partners of the North West Company that was to take place
y e a r .
This plan was carried out and "The plans
adopted . . . appear to have been arranged at the annual
meeting of the North West Company1s partners, in the summer
of 1814, at their trading post, called Fort William, on Lake
the ensuing events, it seems probable
that no definite plan was worked o u t , but it was decided that
something had to be done and that some more peaceful plan
than the letting of blood had best be tried first.
Action branched out in several directions as soon as
the meeting was over.
Fort Gibraltar, a North West post at
the confluence of the Assiniboine and Red Rivers, and about
a half mile from the settlement, had never been regularly
used until that time, when two powerful men of the company,
38 v/ood, Red River Colony, 61-63.
Bryce, kackinzie, Selkirk, Simpson, 220.
Anonymous, Statement Respecting The Earl of
Selkirk1s Settlement Upon the Red River, 10.
Alexander M ’Donell and Duncan Cameron, moved i n . ^ Seemingly
tiie move was made out of a new policy of friendship for the
colonists, and the company official did give the colonists
really good advice on a number of things, impressed the fact
upon them that they could never make a living in the valley,
and later offered them free transportation to the Georgian
Bay in Upper Canada where they would be given good farms.
Discouragement and danger from the Indians caused about 150
of the settlers to accept the offer.
The danger from the Indians was another problem of the
Representatives of the North West Company visited
both the Crees and the Chippewas in an attempt to work them
into a fighting pitch in case the plan of transporting the
colonists failed.
After the 150 colonists had been moved,
the actions of the North West Company were seen in their true
light and the one fourth of the colony that was still intact
managed to remain on friendly terms v/ith the Indians.
wrote bitterly that the North West Company was once more
telling the Indians that their land was being stolen from them
and that the colonists intend to make slaves of them as soon
as they were powerful enough to do s o . ^
Anonymous, Statement Respecting Selkirk, 11.
^ Bryce, Mackinzie, Selkirk, Simpson, 209.
Anonymous, op. cit. , 23-24.
House of Commons, Papers, 2-3.
The North West Company promptly wrote an answer de­
claring that the statements of the Earl of Selkirk were
entirely untrue.
The company went on to state, however, if
the settlers insisted on treating the Indians as they had in
the past, that the company would be unable to keep the
Indians from retalliation.
After considering the entire situation the Sari of
Selkirk decided that the best way to prevent an open break
in hostilities would be to have a group of British soldiers
stationed at the colony.
In his letter to the Hudson's Bay
Company requesting that this be done, he asked that they
station the soldiers there for at least two years; at which
time the colony would be able to take care of i t s e l f . ^
so often happens in such cases, the Hudson's Bay Company
ferred the matter to the British government who in turn sent
it on to Sir Gordon Drummond at Quebec.
Sir Gordon wrote to
Selkirk and told him that he had talked to a number of North
West Company officials at Quebec and that the Red River
Settlement was absolutely safe from that company.
for soldiers was denied. '
The request
It is possible that the home offices of the North West
House of Commons, Papers, 7.
Ibid. , 2.
Ibid., 5.
Company, in London and Quebec, believed that the settlement
was safe*
The organization of the company was so loose that
each section was able to do about as it pleased.
The govern­
ment however, was far from certain that the colonists were
safe and a pointed letter came out from Downing S t r e e t : ^
You will take especial care, whatever measures you
may adopt . . . to abstain from doing any act or expres­
sing any opinion which may tend to affect the question
in dispute between the Hudson’s Bay and North-West
companies; the sole object of the present instruction
being to secure the lives and properties of His Majesty’s
subjects established on the Red River, from the predatory
attacks of the Indian nations in the neighborhood, with
which they state themselves to be threatened.
In a second letter the North West Company is notified
that the government is well aware that the company can handle
the Indian situation in the valley and that the company is
expected to do so.
The letter goes o n : ^
The North-West Company, therefore, will be considered
responsible in the eyes of the world, as well as in
those of His Majesty’s government, for any such horrid
catastrophe as I have alluded to, whether arising from
the instigation of their subordinate agents or from the
uninfluenced malignity of the Indians themselves.
Too often high officials have written hot letters
while subordinates have gone on with the work which both
groups deny.
The North West Company officials claimed that
the Red River Settlement was safe but the company’s members
4-8 House of Commons, Papers, 1.
49 Ibid., 7.
in the valley completed, what they believed, was the destruc­
tion of the colony.
By various stories the half-breeds1
distrust of the colonists was fanned to a fighting pitch and
an army of them rode out against the colony.
John MacLeod,
a member of the Hudsonfs Bay Post described the ensuing
battle in his diary:50
June 25th 1815 While I was in charge, a sudden
attack was made by an armed band of the N. W. party
under the leadership of Alexander MacDonell [sic]
(Yellowhead) and Cuthbert Grant, on the settlement and
Hudson1s Bay C y ’s Post, at the Porks.
They numbered
about 70 or 80 well armed and on horseback. Having had
some warning of i t , I assumed command of both the
Colony and H. B. C. parties. Mustering with inferior
numbers and with only a few guns, we took a stand against
Taking my place amongst the colonists I fought
with them. All fought bravely and kept up the fight as
long as possible. Many, all about me, falling wounded;
one, mortally.
Only thirteen out of our band unscathed.
The brunt of the struggle was near the H. B. C. Post:
close to which, was our blacksmiths smithy— a log
building about ten feet by ten.
Being hard pressed, I
thought of the little cannon (a three or four pounder)
lying idle in the Post where it could not be well used.
One of the settlers (Hugh McLean) went with two of
my men, with his cart to fetch it, with all the cart
chains he could get, and some powder.
Finally got the
whole to the blacksmith’s smithy: where, chopping up
the chains into lengths for shot, we opened a fire of
chain-shot on the enemy, which drove back the main body,
and scattered them, and saved the post from utter de­
struction and pillage.
All the colonists houses were however destroyed by
fire. Houseless, wounded and in extreme distress, they
took to the boats; and saving what they could, started
for Norway House, declaring they would never return.
50 MacLeod, Diary, 13-16.
The enemy still prowled about; determined, apparently, to
expel, dead or alive, all of our party.
All of the H. B.
C ’s. Officers and men refused to remain, except two brave
fellows in the service, viz Archibald Currie and James
Macintosh, who with noble Hugh MacLean, joined me in
holding the fort in the Smithy.
G-overnor MacDonell [sic]
was a prisoner.
In their first approach the enemy appeared determined
more to frighten than to kill. Their demonstrations, in
line of battle, mounted and in full ”war-paint” and equip­
ment, was formidable, but their fire, especially at first,
was desultory.
Our party--numbering only about half
theirs— while preserving a general line of defence, ex­
posed itself as little as possible, but returned the
enemy’s fire, sharply checking the attack; and our line
was never broken by them.
On the contrary, when the chain
firing began, the enemy retired out of range of our
artillery, but by a flank movement, reached the colony
houses, where they quickly and resistlessly plied the
torch in destruction.
To their credit, be it said, they
took no life; nor property.
Of killed on our side, there was only poor Wm. Warren
of the H. B. C ’s. service, a worthy brave gentleman, who
taking a leading part in the battle too fearlessly exposed
Of the enemy, probably, the casualties were
greater, for they presented better target: and we cer­
tainly fired to kill. From the Smithy we could, and did,
protect the Trade Post, but could not the buildings of
the colonists, which were along the bank of the Red River,
while the Post faced the Assiniboine more than the Red
Fortunately for us in the ’’Fort” (the Smithy), the
short nights were never too dark for our watch and ward.
The battle was far from a bloody one— it appears that
none of the half-breeds were killed— but it did prove to what
lengths the company would go.
The colonists were forced to
take to their boats and start down the river immediately.
They did not take much -with them ’’for as yet they had neither
Anonymous, Statement Respecting Selkirk, 25.
cow nor plough, only a horse or t w o . ”52
The colonists fled
down the Red River and across Lake Winnipeg to Norway House
on the Jack River.
Here in utter bewilderment, they awaited
aid from the Earl of Selkirk.
Governor Miles MacDonell was forced to surrender and
was held a prisoner by the North West Company, which promptly
sent a very bitter denunciation of him to Montreal.
letter attempted to make MacDonell out as a half madman in
search of plunder from the North West Company.
A short time
later they sent MacDonell to Montreal for trial where the
courts removed him from office as governor, but he was never
brought to t r i a l . ^
It is very possible that the colony would have broken
up at this point if a new leader had not appeared in the
Alexander Ross writes, ’’The Hudson’s Bay Company
interposed at this crisis, and, under their protection, the
settlers were brought back from the place of their exile, a
distance of 300 miles.”55
The facts, however, point out that
Colin Robertson, took control without any authorization from
Hudson’s Bay.
Robertson was a young man who had just entered
^2 MacLeod, Diary, 17.
House of Commons, Papers, 11-13*
Bryce, Mackinzie, Selkirk, Simpson, 210.
Ross, Red River Settlement, 29-30.
the service of Hudson’s Bay and was traveling to Fort Douglas
to take over His duties when he found the settlers at Norway
Robertson explains why he took control:56
In my mind the interests of the Konble Hudson Bay
Co. was so far involved in the preservation of that
Settlement that I only considered myself as farther
displaying my zeal for their service in rendering my
aid to its restoration.
Robertson talked to the settlers and finally persuaded
(MacLeod states, "in fact, forced” ) them to return to Fort
Robertson writes very mildly about the situa-
The remainder of the colonists I found at Norway
House on there [sic] way to England.
It was here that
I volunteered my services to these people, to conduct
them back to Red River, and the measures I adopted on
my arrival for their preservation were the measures
. . . any man would have done were he so situated.
Selkirk soon heard of the attack on his colony and
immediately sent out the largest group of settlers that he
had ever sent to the colony and appointed Robert Semple as
the new governor until he could arrive with the new colonists.
The colonists discovered, when they got back to the
settlement, that all had not been lost.
John MacLeod had
E. E. Rich and Harvey Fleming, Colin Robertson’s
Correspondence Book, 25357 MacLeod, Diary, 20.
Rich and Fleming, ojd. cit. , 23-
taken care of their crops, mended the fences, and even cut
and stacked their
course all the buildings that
had been burnt had to be rebuilt.
The history of the Red River Settlement is a story of
continuous blunders.
The North West Company had overstepped
itself and it is very probable that, had nothing been done,
they would never have dared to bother the colony again.
Governor Semple, however, was not willing to forget the
On March 20, 1816, he divided his large band of
fighting men into two groups.
The first group he placed
under Colin Robertson and sent it against Fort Gibraltar.
The second group, which marched against the post at Pembina,
he probably led himself.
Both posts surrendered without
Fort Gibraltar was completely demolished and
its timbers were floated down the river and used to strengthen
Fort D o u g l a s . ^
MacLeod points out that the loss of Pembina and Fort
Gibraltar cut the North West Company’s line to all the western
posts and that the company was forced to do something drastic.
The Hudson’s Bay Company did what it could by arming
59 MacLeod, Diary, 18.
60 Ibid. , 22-23.
^ Bryce, Mackinzie, Selkirk, Simpson, 22L.
MacLeod, 0£. cit. , 2L.
some of the settlers and having their officers drill the men,
but more than a show of force was necessary to halt the swift
movement of e v e nts.^
The ftorth West Company quickly strengthened its forces
and on June 19, 1816, Cuthbert Grant rode out with a group of
half-breeds to destroy the settlement.
Unfortunately there
was no historian at the fort to give a true story of the
action that occurred.
It is known, however, that the governor
underestimated the seriousness of the situation when he took
a small group of men and went out to meet the approaching
John MacLeod wrote a short account of the
Governor Semple and his staff, with a force of about
thirty [28], went out to meet their fate in the socalled "Massacre of 1816"— when like a huddling flock
of sheep, on the open plains, they were shot down and
tomahawked by the exasperated band of the N. W. party
(between 30 and 40). Twenty-one of the Semple party
with the Governor himself, thus paid the forfeit of
their lives for what has been called his rashness.
express no opinion of the matter:
accounts of the
rencontre vary: I was then elsewhere; at other work
The action was over in a few minutes.
Indeed, it
ended so soon that, rather than satisfying the half-breeds,
it only aroused their blood and they started for the fort.
It is doubtful, indeed, whether one innocent head
would have been spared; and that any escaped was due
jidward B. Osborn, Greater Canada, 29.
MacLeod, Diary, 19.
to the generosity and heroism of Mr. Grant, the chief
of the hostile party, who rushed before his own people,
and at the imminent peril of his life kept them at bay,
and saved the remnant of the settlers from expirpation
Their houses, however, were ransacked, their
goods pillaged, and the whole colony driven into
At the time of the massacre Robertson was at York Factory on
the Hudson Bay, awaiting a ship to take him to England.
soon as the news of the settlement’s disaster reached him he
changed his plans and started up the Nelson River in a canoe.
Once again he found the settlers at Norway House, but the
colonists were now set in their plans to return to England
and he was unable to induce them to go back to their colony.
After several days of discussion he did get them to agree to
remain at Norway House until the Earl of Selkirk had time to
hear of the situation and take some action.^6
Upper Canada was appalled at the news of the massacre
as the North West Company was certain it would be.
That com­
pany took immediate steps to disclaim any connection with the
It is with much concern I have to mention [says a
report of the House of Commons], that blood has been
shed at the Red River, to an extent greatly to be de­
plored; but it is consolatory to those interested in
the North West company to find, that none of their
Ross, Red River Settlement» 36.
Rich and Fleming, Colin Robertson* s Letters, 151*
House of Commons, Papers, 55*
traders or people were concerned, nor at tiie time within
a hundred miles of the scene of contest.
Little was ever done to punish the perpetrators of
the outrage.
It is true that a number of the men were sent
to York, Canada, and tried for murder, but the evidence was
so conflicting, because of false swearing on the part of the
witnesses, that all the prisoners were released.
The year 1816 was the darkest that the colony was to
live through.
At that time it seemed impossible that the
settlement could survive, but the Earl of Selkirk was not
a man who could be easily subdued and within a short time he
took drastic steps to save his colony.
68 Bourinot, Canada, 225-
The Earl of Selkirk had planned to visit his colony
ever since the first boat load had sailed in 1811.
of one type or another kept him in Scotland until 1815, when
finally he embarked for Canada.
He planned to go to the
colony by way of the Great Lakes rather than by the Nelson
and Red Rivers, since he had business in Montreal.
He spent
the winter in that city and was still there when he received
the news, during the following summer, of the massacre of his
Selkirk at once decided to place the war on a larger
scale than ever before and immediately addressed a request to
the Canadian government pleading for soldiers.
His request
received little consideration, for the North West Company was
still all-powerful in the City of Montreal.'*'
As soon as the
Earl of Selkirk realized he could expect no aid from the
government he hired "a large group of ’voyageurs,’ enlisted
about a hundred men that had belonged to de Meurons* regiment
and had served as mercenaries in the French army during the
war with Spain, bought artillery and small arms, and set out
with his army forthwith.2
1 George Bryce, Mackinzle, Selkirk, Simpson, 231-232.
Edward B. Osborn, Greater Canada, 30.
Before he left Montreal he contrived to have himself
appointed Justice of the Peace for the Indian Territories and
Upper Canada.
This office added considerable dignity to him
as leader of the expedition and gave an official air to the
very questionable proceeding that he was soon to indulge in.
His first objective was Fort William, the North West Company’s
headquarters on Lake Superior, and he arrived at his destina­
tion with such dis£>atch that the company received no word of
it before his arrival.
Selkirk sent two of his men to the
fort and demanded its surrender, and, as he had such an over­
whelming superiority of numbers, this was carried out without
The Earl of Selkirk was in a hurry and wasted no time
at the fort.
He arrested the three important officials of
the company, McG-illivrary, McKinzie, and Fraser and sent them
to Montreal for trial as accessories in the massacre of the
Red River settlement (unfortunately, McKinzie was drowned
enroute when a canoe capsized), seized L 12,000 worth of furs
and a quantity of other valuable property, and prepared to
march on to the Red River.^
The march, however, could not be made as soon as he
had hoped.
The trip to Fort William, had been a fast and
3 Bryce, Mackinzie, Selkirk, Simpson, 235.
^ Osborn, Greater Canada, 31*
exhausting one; his men were weary and his equipment was in
need of immediate repair.
After considerable discussion he
agreed to postpone the trip to the settlement.
Fort William was most unfortunate.
The stay at
As soon as the North West
Company's officials were landed in Montreal they were re­
leased on bail and they promptly swore out warrants for the
arrest of Selkirk.
The company saw to it that a constable
was immediately sent to Fort William, where Selkirk was found
making preparations for his departure.
The Marl of Selkirk
was in no mood to tarry, and the constable had no sooner ex­
plained his mission than "he was taken by the shoulders and
put off the premises and told to go home a g a i n . T h e
West Company now had the Earl of Selkirk where it wanted him;
for he had not only taken their property violently, but he had
also resisted arrest by a constable of the government.
It is still something of a mystery to historians how
Selkirk was able to leave Fort William, cross the wilderness
of lakes, rivers and forests between that post and Fort
Douglas, and arrive there without a whisper of his coming
preceding him.
Fort Douglas was closed but unguarded the
night that he arrived and it was no great feat for the ex­
perienced de Meurons to scale the walls and have the fort
under their control almost before the inhabitants realized
^ Osborn, Greater Canada, 31.
that they were attacked.^
The Eari of Selkirk’s first move after gaining control
of the settlement was to dispatch a messenger to his colonists
on the Jack River requesting them to return, which they im­
mediately did upon learning that his Lordship was in the
Before their return had been accomplished Selkirk
began surveying the land.
Until the time of his arrival the
land had never been formally given to the colonists and no
man had been able to claim any strip of land as his own.
Selkirk plotted out farms for all the settlers and placed
plenty of land in reserve for the future settlers.
As soon
as the colonists arrived from the Jack River each man was
given his plot of land and a promise that he would have no
dues to pay.
When the land was given o u t , Selkirk remembered the
need for public lands.
He set aside land for a church and
a school and made provisions for constructing appropriate
buildings in the near future.?
His next move was to call an Indian Council.
problem of the Indian ownership of the land had always been
with the colony.
Although the North West Company had failed
when it tried to incite the Indians on this point, there was
^ Osborn, Greater Canada, 3 2 .
^ Bryce, Mackinzie, Selkirk. Simpson, 237-238.
D O U G L A S .
always danger of contention at some future date.
During the
consultation with the Indians, Selkirk managed the delicate
problem with such diplomacy and honesty that the matter was
closed for all time to come.
Alexander Ross seems to have
been entirely correct when he wrote
The experienced eye of his Lordship saw things at
a glance, and so correct and unerring was his judgement,
that nothing he planned at this early date could in
after years be altered to advantage.
The visit of the Earl of Selkirk to his colony was
not the protracted stay that he had expected to make.
was certain that there would be repercussions from the
ejection of the constable at Fort William, so he was not
surprised when he received a notice that he was expected to
appear in Montreal for trial.
Although he was urged to flee
to England by way of Hudson Bay, he at once set out for
The North West Company had mustered all of its forces
to break the Earl of Selkirk and, although he fought the case
with all his energy, the trial was truely a farce.
He was
found guilty and paid the fine of L 2,000 and departed for
® Alexander Ross, Red River Settlement: Its R i s e ,
Progress and Present State, 45.
9 Bryce, Mackinzie, Selkirk, Simpson, 243-244.
George TWrong, The Canadians, 359.
Selkirk arrived at his home a broken and embittered
He had made a magnificent effort to help his fellow
countrymen and, for doing so, he had been denounced, accused
of ulterior motives, and finally called into court where he
was given a huge fine on false testimony.
The mental strain
brought about by these events coupled with the rigors of his
travels in America, brought about a physical breakdown.
wife took him to southern France in the hope that a change
of climate might bring relief.
All efforts to revive his
health failed, and he died there in 1820."^
The work of the Earl of Selkirk had not been in vain.
His colony along the Red River had been given new life by
his visit, and his plans, which were carried out, assured
the colony that it would continue to grow.
It is true that
his colonists were still to have years of bitter fighting,
but they were now more experienced in frontier life and were
capable of fighting their battles without assistance.
the winter of 1817, and again in 1818, the entire colony
moved south to Pembina, but they were not to suffer the hard­
ships of the first years because, as Ross wrote
They now became good hunters; they could kill buffalo;
walk on snowshoes; had trains of dogs trimmed with
Wrong, The Canadians, 359Ross, Red River Settlement, 50.
ribbons, bells, and feathers, in true Indian style; and
in other respects, were making rapid strides toward a
savage life.
The history of the settlement of most colonies is the
same in that it is always a story of one hardship after
another; in the case of the Red River Settlement the next
problem to present itself was that of the grasshopper.
hoppers had been found in the colony from the time of settle­
ment but it was not until 1817 that they appeared in numbers
great enough to cause any appreciable loss; in that year their
damage was enormous.
Fidler states:
The grasshoppers has [sic] made Great havoc in the
Crops at the Colony particularly in the Barley scarcely
leaving any. The 3d. August they came in great Clouds
from the S. Westward and in two Days there was scarcely
any barley left standing and in some places they did
great damage to the Potatoes and wheat.
For years to come the grasshoppers were to be a con­
tinual menace to the colony.
Time after time crops were com­
pletely ruined, but was never quite seriously enough to bring
about the disbanding of the settlement.
The desire for land has always been a strong one for
civilized man.
Stories of disaster, massacre, and crop
failure went out from the Red River Settlement, but the pros­
pect of free land was greater than these dangers, and new
settlers continually moved into the colony.
Peter Fidler, note in the Red River Settlement
John MacLeod brought the first Frenchmen.
In 1818
MacLeod was in Montreal standing trial for helping capture
After his case was thrown out of court he talked
to a number of French farmers and two French priests and
persuaded them to accompany him to the c o l o n y . ^
These two
French priests were the first men of the church to establish
a permanent residence in the colony. ^
The Scotch, following
the plan of Selkirk, had built a stone church in 1817, but
all their requests for a spiritual leader had been ignored.
The first Swiss people reached the Red River in 1821.
The Earl of Selkirk had made plans for the moving of Swiss
to his colony, but he died before his plans could be com­
It appears that the death of Selkirk was kept from
the new colonists— probably from fear that knowledge of it
would cause some of them to turn back.
It is certain that
this first group that came over (on the "Lord Nelson"*^) were
given to understand that Selkirk would sail with them and it
was not until they were aboard ship that they were informed
that Colonel May would be in charge.
^ John MacLeod, Diary, 28.
Ross, Red River Settlement, 43.
Alexander Ross, letter to Sir George Simpson, n. d.
Augustus L. Chetlain, T,The Red River Colony."
Mrs. Waldenmaier, Letter to the Hudson’s Bay Company.
The Swiss realized that in some way they had been
deceived and were naturally discontented.
They reached the
colony at a most unfortunate time and "learned to their dis­
may that the locusts or grasshoppers had passed through the
country . . . literally destroying all the crops."^-9
It was vital to the colony that they collect buffalo
meat for the winter but the increase in members made a move
to Pembina impossible.
Chetlain w r o t e : ^
it was resolved to send some seventy-five of the younger
and more hardy of the colonists to Pembina, up the river,
near the United States boundary, sixty miles distant,
where it was believed that the buffalo, elk and deer
were more abundant, and where jerked buffalo meat and
pemmican could be obtained from the Indians of the
The members of the colony heard nothing from the group
at Pembina and failed to receive any of the needed food sup­
"Our suffering was great toward spring, when there
was a lack of all provisions, at which time we lived on fish,
without even salt."
The group at Pembina failed to find
the buffalo and other animals that they expected.
As the
winter progressed the few animals in that vicinity migrated
to other regions, and before spring set in and the buffalo
had returned, the party was forced to eat most of the sled
-*-9 Chetlain, "The Red River Colony."
20 Loc. oit.
21 Mrs. Grisard, Letter to A. L. Chetlain.
dogs they had with them.
Spring brought some relief to the colony, as food
supplies were shipped in, but even that meant little to most
of the settlers.
Wheat, which they ground in their own
coffee mills, cost $2.00 a bushel; potatoes were the same
price; meat was twelve pounds for $1.00; coffee and tobacco
two; sugar was $1.00 a pound; and salt was $1.00 a quart . 23
The situation seemed hopeless to the Scots and Swiss
There was a continuous agitation among the settlers
to move to some other, and more promising, locality.
Taliaferro, the Indian agent at Fort Snelling, states in his
journal that "3 Scotchmen arrived 2U December [1821] from
Red River--report 150 families of the Colony all ankious
[sic] to get away— They despair of succeeding in the . . .
[Red River C o l o n y ] . " ^
The same situation was again expressed,
about a year later, when the commanding officer at Fort
Snelling wrote:2 **
I received . . . [a letter] from Col. Dickson
requesting passports for himself, Spaidlaw, and Kennith
[sic] McKenzie. . . . Bailey writes that the grass­
hoppers again destroyed their crops and the settlers
were about to abandon the new colony in dispair.
22 Chetlain, "The Red River Colony."
2^ Grisard, Letter to A. L. Chetlain.
2^ Lawrence Taliaferro, Journal No. 2, 77.
25 Lawrence Taliaferro, Papers, Letter number 30.
The situation in the colony did appear to be hopeless.
settlers were desperately poor and a fair trial seemed to
prove that the land could not supply the needs for existence.
Indirectly, the Hudson*s Bay Company saved the colony.
That company’s struggle with the North West Company had be­
come so bitter that only one thing could save the both of
them from bankruptcy: amalgamation.
In the year 1821 the
joining of the two companies under the name of the Hudson’s
Bay Company was accomplished.
The new company immediately
began a complete reorganization, which brought about the dis­
charge of hundreds who had been employed by the North West
Company; scores of others refused to work for the company
that they had fought against for years.
Some of these men
drifted to other parts of the country, but most of them
p A
decided to settle in the Red River colony.
The Hudson’s Bay Company welcomed the new settlers,
both white and half-breed, and did what it could to encourage
them, believing that, once farming had been made successful,
the company could buy its needed food products from this
The men were given land on a near-by strip of land
called White Horse Plain and men were sent among them for the
sole purpose of teaching them farming.
The company did not
Henry M. Robinson, The Great Fur Land, 137•
^ Sir George Simpson, Letter to Hudson’s Bay Company,
N. P., June 5, 1824.
meet the success that it hoped for.
The half-breeds had
lived their lives in a carefree manner and were by tempera­
ment ill-suited to the life of a farmer.
Within a short time
the company withdrew its aid as being nothing more nor less
than a waste of time and money.^8
The men who really seemed to do the most good for the
half-breeds were the two Catholic priests, who worked with
them continually.
The half-breeds were more or less godless,
but they did have a few remnants of Christianity for their
Indian mothers had been converted by the early French mission­
aries years before.
The priests were unable to teach their
charges to work the soil, but with Christian teaching some of
the savagery was taken from their actions and it became a
little less dangerous to live near them.2^
There was one business that the newcomers to the colony,
both white and half-breed, did understand.
trade in furs.
They knew how to
The Hudson’s Bay Company had been granted the
right, by the Earl of Selkirk, to suppress fur trade in the col
ony and up to the advent of this new group, there had been
next to none of it.
As soon as the half-breed discovered
John Pritchett, "Some Red River Fur-trade Activities,
E. E. Rich and Harvey Fleming, Colin Robertson’s
Correspondence Book, 66.
that he disliked farming he turned to the illegal trade and
a controversy grew up over the subject that was to last for
thirty years.
The original colonists that the Earl of Selkirk sent
over to the Red River Settlement were farmers by trade.
had no knowledge of the fur trade and were not interested in
Indeed, they were so busy attempting to keep alive during
the first ten years of the settlement that they had little
time for anything else.
Even after the trade had gained some
headway the Scotch and Swiss immigrants proved to be com­
pletely uninterested.
The advent of the discharged employees of the North
West Company in 1821 was definitely the time when the colony
first went into the business of fur trading.
These men found
that it was a very simple matter to slip away from the colony
for a day or two and take their trading goods out to one of
the Indian camps.
Their goods were soon converted into furs
and the trader could be back at his home, and innocently
working his farm before anyone became suspicious.^
Pembina became the main point of exchange for the
illegal fur trade of the colony.
Goods were sent to Pembina
from St. Pet e r ’s*' at a considerable cost and risk.
In the
John Pritchett,
"Some Red River Fur-trade Activities,"
Now Ivlendota, Minnesota.
dark of the night the traders from the Red River Settlement
would smuggle their furs down to Pemhina where they would be
exchanged for more trade goods*
This system was highly sat­
isfactory for all concerned; the colonists had a market for
their furs and the Pembina traders made a very sizable
One point in the controversy between the Hudson*s Bay
Company and the traders of the American Fur Gompany at
Pembina caused the traders considerable uneasiness*
Hudson*s Bay Company claimed that the village of Pembina was
north of the national boundary and that the Americans were
trespassing on British soil*
The argument had rather wide
repercussions, and in 1823 the United States decided to
settle the matter*
Major Stephen Long was ordered up the
Mississippi River, from his station in St* Louis, to the
mouth of the Minnesota River*
He was to follow the Minnesota
to its source, portage to the Red, and follow that river to
At this point he was to locate the forty-ninth
parallel and find out whether or not Pembina was in the
United States*
When Major Long arrived in Pembina and made his cal­
culations he found that of the sixty houses in Pembina only
one was on the British side of the line and that the trading
3 Pritchett,
"Some Fur-trade Activities," 412-413#
posts were well within the United States
Major Long’s statement that there were sixty houses
in the village gives the impression that Pembina was far
larger than it actually was.
Outside of the ten or twelve
buildings that had been erected by the traders there was
nothing to be found there but the very miserable huts that
the half-breeds lived in during certain seasons of the year.
But the valley was going through a more prosperous period
and more people were drifting in to settle; most of them
took up their lands at the Red River Settlement.
The fact
that the grasshoppers had failed to put in an appearance and
the crops were good was helping the colony considerably.
As soon as the Hudson’s Bay Company discovered that
it could not remove the Americans from Pembina it decided to
so guard the line that no traders would be able to get into
Pembina to trade.
The company passed a number of rules that
it hoped would limit the trade.
These laws went so far as
to prohibit a settler from buying horses, leather, or even
provisions for his own use from the Indians.
These laws
were so restrictive that even the peaceful farmers of the
settlement fought them.
Letters were sent to the headquarters
of the Hudson’s Bay Company demanding that the restrictions
4 Pritchett,
’’Some Fur-trade Activities, ” 264*
5 Bishop Provencher,
Better to A. Dionne,
July 19,
be removed.
The London offices realized that the company
bad carried the matter too far and revoked most of the
The next move of the company was to give blank war­
rants to all of its officers for the immediate arrest of all
violators found in the illicit trade.
Most of the traders,
however, managed to keep out of the hands of the officers.'
The Hudson’s Bay Company knew that most of the
settlers had nothing to do with the fur trade and decided to
get this group to bring pressure upon the lav/breakers.
company got forty-nine of the leading citizens of the Red
River Settlement to sign an agreement binding the entire
settlement to refrain from entering into the fur trade.
agreement was a flat failure.
Most of the men in the fur
trade were half-breeds and this group claimed that as long
as they had Indian blood in their veins they had the Godgiven right to hunt, trap, and trade in furs wherever and
whenever they pleased.
The Hudson’s Bay Company soon discovered that it
could not keep the half-breeds from trading with the Indians,
so the only thing that could be done was to force the
^ Pritchett,
’’Some Pur-trade Activities," 411.
? George Simpson,
Letter to McKenzie,
® Pritchett, o£. cit.t 407-408.
July 12, 1827.
traders to do their business with the coinpany.
This new
plan was no more successful than the other had been.
traders could get more for their furs at Pembina, so to
Pembina they were taken.
Probably the greatest reason for
the better price at Pembina was the comparatively easy route
of shipment from Pembina to the American markets.
During a
wet summer the furs could be shipped over the Red and
Minnesota Rivers, with only one short portage, to Port
Snelling on the Mississippi.
If the summer was dry, ox
carts could be used in the wide valley of the river.
transportation costs were much less than those paid by the
Hudson’s Bay Company.
The route through Minnesota had been used by the
colonists for several years before the fur traders began
operation along it; so far as it is known it was first cov­
ered in the winter of 1819-1820.
Daring the summer of 1819
all crops in the colony were destroyed by grasshoppers and
the need for seed for the next year was imperative.
In the
dead of winter a group of men set out along the Red River on
They followed the Minnesota to its junction with
the Mississippi and then down that river to Prairie du Chien.
As soon as the rivers opened up the men bought 250 bushels
of wheat and started back up the river.
They made the en­
tire trip by river from Prairie du Chien to the Red River
Settlement with only the one short portage.
The importance
of this trip must not be overlooked since it indicated that
the Red River and Pembina settlements could carry on trade
with far greater ease and speed with the United States than
with the home country.^
During the next year, 1821, the trail was opened up
to a new type of traffic.
When the settlers first came over
to the colony they brought a few cattle and sheep with them,
but during the years of starvation these animals were killed
for food.
A young half-breed saw a way to turn an honest
dollar and went down into the United States where he bought
a small herd of cattle.
He drove the cattle north along the
rivers and in due time arrived at the colony.
He had no
difficulty in disposing of his animals at what were claimed
to have been exorbitant prices.
Tne disgust of tnose who bought the cattle can well
be imagined when late that summer another herd was brought
up the trail.
This second herd had been contracted for by
the Harl of Selkirk before he died and the cattle were dis­
tributed among the settlers free of c h a r g e . ^
The trail was used again for cattle in the year 1825
when a Missourian by the name of Dickson brought a herd to
9 Alexander Ross, The Red River Settlement, 5 0.
10 pritchett, "Some Pur-trade Activities," 409.
11 Augustus Chetlain,
"The Red River Colony."
the colony.
Dickson, however, was unfortunate in that the
colonists had just had a hard year and money was very
The Red River Trail was not free from danger.
of the trail was through the land claimed by the warlike
As a general rule the early groups were not molested,
but upon at least one occasion the Indians fell upon a group,
killing the men and scattering the cattle . ^
Hot all of the traffic on the Red River Trail was from
the south; it offered the one avenue of escape for all the
dissatisfied groups within the settlement.
The Swiss, who had
arrived in the colony in 1820, were appalled by the hardships
and the dangers of the country.
After spending one winter in
the colony they decided to seek a milder climate, and about
165 started out over the trail.
The route was well known and
they had no difficulty in reaching Fort Snelling on the
Mississippi, where most of them squatted and built homes on
land belonging to the f o r t . ^
Two years later, in 1823, thirteen more Swiss families
went south.
As it was a rather dry summer they bought all
the carts in the colony, about a half dozen, and used those
12 Bishop Provencher, Letter to Bishop Plessis,
August 8, 1925.
13 Pritchett,
"Some Fur-trade Activities," 409.
"The Red River Colony."
E a r ly T ra ils from F o rt G arry and Pembina
F o rt
S n e llin g
2.TheEastN»ms Trail
l.TkWoods Trail
Lake or
th e
Wo o ds
L. Winnebagoshish
:Detroit L ; \
Sandy Lake
M u l e Lacs
Lake Traverse
EfbowL? \
O s a k is
Big Stone Lake
rt Snellin
Scale of M il e s
to carry their goods up the Red River Valley*
When they
reached the Minnesota they found that it was navigable, so
they built dugouts and floated down the river to the fort.
Some of the families went on down the Mississippi but most
of them were satisfied to build homes near those who had
preceded t h e m . ^
In 1824 there was a sudden halt in the movement along
the trail.
A Scotchman by the name of Tully took his family
and moved south.
About sixty miles south of Pembina they
were surprised by a Sioux war party which killed Tully and
his wife and carried off the two children.
This incident
rather chilled the ardent spirits in the settlement and it
was not until 1826 that another group ventured upon the
The spring of 1826 was a disastrous one.
The sudden
melting of the snow caused the Red River to overflow and the
settlers at the colony were forced to flee, losing almost
all of their possessions.
When the water subsided and they
could return to their farms about 250 of the discouraged
settlers decided to m i g r a t e . ^
The Hudson’s Bay Company did
Cheltain, ’’The Red River Colony.”
George Simpson, Letter to Andrew Colvile, May 31,
Bishop Provencher, Letter to Bishop Panet, July
15 , 1826.
everything it coaid to persuade the colonists to remain,
but as it found that this was out of the question the entire
group was supplied with free provisions, an interpreter, a
guide, and an armed escort of forty-five men.
The entire
trip was completed without any major difficulties*-1-^
The migration seriously depleted the colony.
Few of
the original settlers remained to till the soil, but the
half-breeds and old employees of the North West Company had
found a means of carrying on a profitable business and the
first traders were using the trail that the settlers had
worked out.
The Hudson’s Bay Company mustered all its forces to
fight the illicit operations at the settlement.
In 1822 a
new fort and trading post, Fort Gerry, was erected in the
settlement and from this post the company’s police scoured
the country for the t r a d e r s . ^
The migration of the Swiss from the colony had a
direct effect upon the fur trade.
The threatened extinction
of the settlement brought the realization to the company that
it had been able to get certain products in the colony that
it had previously been forced to get in England or go
"The Red River Colony."
St. Paul, Minnesota Pioneer. July 7, 1849.
20 Melvin Ormond Hammond, Canadian Footprints, 237.
In order to save the settlement the London
directors sent word to their officials in the Red River
Valley that the company would not allow the fur trade or any
type of oppression to hinder the settlement and growth of
the colony.
The notice from London put the officers at the
post in the rather difficult position of enforcing the trade
laws without bothering the traders.
Actually, the men at
Fort Gerry were powerless to do anything and they dropped
all pretence of enforcing the law.
The traders were allowed
to carry on their trade very openly and the only thing that
the company did do was attempt to attract the traders and
get them to carry on their business with the company.
goodly share of the traders, however, continued to carry
their goods to the Americans.
The period of freedom for the traders could not last.
They were taking enormous quantities of furs out of the
country, and as long as the Hudson*s Bay Company had the
legal right to stop the trade, it was certain that sooner or
later they would try.
In 1834 the heirs of the Earl of
Selkirk turned his holdings in the valley back to the
Hudson’s Bay Company.
By that time the colony had estab­
lished itself so well that it was once more safe for the
company to enforce the trade laws.
21 Pritchett,
"Some Fur-trade Activities," 411
The company organized the entire territory under the
name of Assiniboia, which was to be governed by a president
and a council of fifteen.
This group did not, however, have
any control over the fur trade; that remained in the hands
of the company.
When the company decided once more to attempt the
eradication of the illegal trade it had to consider the
enormous expenditures of money that would have to be made.
In an attempt to shift this expense onto the shoulders of
those who were causing it, a tariff of 7-1/2 per cent was
placed on all goods imported or exported from Assiniboia.
This tax was publicly announced to be for the "maintenance
of tranquility," but the colonists rightly guessed that it
was to be used to break the fur traders.
The tariff did give the company some funds to use
against the traders, but in the long run the policy was a
poor one.
The tax naturally raised the prices on most of
the commodities in the colony while the prices at Pembina
remained the same.
The traders immediately found it much
more difficult to smuggle their furs into Pembina and their
goods back to the settlement, but the profits were infinitely
Despite the new efforts of the company, the trade
22 Reginald Trotter, Canadian History, 226.
Pritchett, "Some Pur-trade Activities," 411.
in Pembina continued to g r o w . ^
It was quite natural that opposition to the tariff
was bitter in the colony.
The farmer claimed, quite cor­
rectly, that they, and not the traders, were paying the tax.
The home offices of the company considered the matter, and
in 1836 the tax was lowered to 3 per cent and then to 4 per
cent in 1837, where it remained until Canada took over the
territory in 1870.
While the Hudson’s Bay Company was waging war against
the illegal trade in Assiniboia, another and less bitter
struggle was going on among the American fur traders south
of the line.
When the North West Company left Pembina and
the expedition of Major Long proved that the village was in
the United States, a number of free traders had drifted into
Pembina and established temporary trading posts.
there were usually too many of them and the returns for any
one trader were relatively small.
The time was ripe for some
trader or company to move in which would have enough backing
to force the small traders out and place the Pembina fur
trade on a truly business basis.
The organization that did
this work was the American Fur Company.
The American Fur Company had been expanding northward
St. Paul, Minnesota Pioneer, August 1, 18^0.
"Some Fur-trade Activities,” 412.
for a number of years.
As early as 1816 it bad established
a post on Red Lake, about 1£G miles south of the Red River
Settlement, but it had presented no particular menace to the
Hudson’s Bay Company until 1829, when one of its traders set
up a post at Pembina.
The new company was in many ways similar to the old
North West Company.
The individual traders had a tendency
to go where they pleased and trade in any way that they
This method did little towards the strengthening of
the organization as it often happened that a poor trader was
master of the best location.
company’s traders at Pembina.
This was very true of the
Por the first eleven years of
the company’s post in Pembina, until 1840, there was nothing
more there than a poor trader competing with the others for
his meager share of the profits.
In that year, however, the
company sent Joseph Rolette, one of their better traders,
Pembina and in three years he was in complete control of the
trade in the
v i l l a g e .
The headquarters of the American Fur Company for
Minnesota was located in St. Peters, a small village on the
Mississippi, and was under the direction of Henry Hastings
In 1843 Sibley took a new man, Norman W. Kittson,
into the organization and appointed him the director of the
26 Pritchett,
"Some Fur-trade Activities,” 413#
northern half of the territory.
At the same time the two
men entered into a partnership whereby Kittson was to carry
on the trade at some post in his territory while Sibley
furnished the necessary capital.
post on Big Stone Lake,
Kittson established his
the source of the Red River.
The quick and certain moves that Kittson made after
reaching his headquarters seem to prove that he immediately
understood the importance of a post at Pembina.
In the fall
of the first year, 1843, be wrote to Sibley stating that at
some time during the coming winter he expected to make a
trip to the Red River S e t t l e m e n t . H e
did not say that he
had any plans for Pembina, but certainly he had no other
need of making the trip.
He made the trip and it is evident that he talked
witn traders in the settlement.
During the following summer
one of the traders in the settlement became impatient and
wrote a letter to the effect that he was still interested in
carrying on trade with him and that he believed that Kittson
could do well at P e m b i n a . ^
One problem threatened for a time to keep Kittson
from Pembina.
There had been several clashes between the
Indians around Big Stone Lake and the half-breeds to the
Sibley Papers, Kittson to Sibley, September 18, 1843.
28 Ibid., July 16, 1844.
Kittson called a council of the Indians and asked
them for permission to establish a cart trail through their
country to the land of the half-breeds at Pembina and was
After some time spent in diplomatic negotiations
the Indians reconsidered their refusal and agreed to the
Kittson understood that this did not mean that the
trail would always be free of the danger of Indian attack,
but it was at least established v/ith their good will and the
way to Pembina was
o p e n .
Kittson went to Pembina that same year and relieved
Joseph Rolette of his duties there.
However, he realized
the value of Rolette and kept him there as his right-hand
man and general trouble shooter.
When Kittson went to Pembina it appears that he had
no particular intention of trading for furs in the land of
the Hudson’s Bay Company.
That he expected to trade to some
extent is certain, but all of his correspondence pointed
out that the Hudson’s Bay Company had been drawing furs from
south of the line for years and that he hoped to put an end
to it.
It is true that Pembina was ideally located for the
fur trade even with the exclusion of trade with the Red River
To the east of the post was the great forest
29 Sibley Papers, Kittson to Sibley, August 22, 1844.
30 Pritchett,
’’Some Pur-trade Activities,” 413*
belt; a land dotted by hundreds of lakes and teeming with
fur-bearing animals.
The great buffalo range of the valley was to the
southwest of Pembina.
For years the Hudson’s Bay Company
post at the settlement bought approximately 20,000 buffalo
robes per annum, and all of the robes came from south of the
The expeditions of the half-breeds into the United
States in search of the buffalo were extremely colorful.
John McLeod wrote a vivid description of the hunt:
When they set out for the plains, they observe all
the order and regularity of a military march; officers
being chosen for the enforcement of discipline, who
are subject to the orders of a chief. . . . They take
their departure from the settlement about the latter
part of June, to the number of from 1,200 to 1,500
souls; each hunter possesses at least six carts, and
some twelve; the whole number may amount to 5,000 carts.
Besides his riding nag and cart horses, he has also at
least one buffalo runner, which he never mounts until
he is about to charge the buffalo.
The "runner" is
tended with all the care which the cavalier of old be­
stowed on his war steed; his housing and trappings are
garnished with beads and porcupine quills, exhibiting
all the skill wrhich the hunter’s wife or belle can
exercise; while head and tail display all the colours
of the rainbow in the variety of ribbon attached to them.
. . , scouts are sent out to ascertain the spot v^here
the herd may be found.
The joyful discovery being made,
the scouts apprise the main body by galloping backwards
and forwards, when a halt is immediately ordered.
camp is pitched; the hunters mount their runners; and
the whole being formed into an extended line, with the
31 Clarence W. Rife, "Norman V/. Kittson," 228.
3^ St. Paul, Minnesota Register, April 7, 1849*
utmost regularity, they set forward at a hard gallop;
not a soul advances an inch in front of the line, until
within gun-shot of the herd, when they rein up for a
The whole body then, as if with one voice, shout
the war whoop, and rush on the herd at full gallop; each
hunter, singling out an animal, pursues it until he finds
an opportunity of taking sure aim; the animal being dis­
patched, some article is dropped upon it that can be
afterwards recognized.
The hunter immediately sets off
in chase of another, priming, loading, and taking aim at
full speed. A first-rate runner not unfrequently secures
ten buffaloes at a ”000x 8 6 ;** from four to eight is the
usual number. He who draws the first blood claims the
animal, and each individual hunter is allowed whatever
he kills.
The moment the firing commences, the women set out with
the carts, and cut up and convey the meat to the camp;
where it is dried by means of bones and fat.
Two or three
days are required for the operation, then they set out
again; and the same herd perhaps, yields a sufficient
quantity to load all the carts, each carrying about one
thousand pounds— an enormous quantity in the aggregate;
yet the herd is sometimes so numerous that all this
slaughter does not seem to diminish it.
The buffalo hunt affords much of the excitement, and
some of the dangers, of the battlefield.
The horses are
often gored by the infuriated bulls, to the great peril—
sometimes to the loss— of the rider*s life; serious
accidents too happen from falls.
There are no better
horsemen in the world than the Red River !*brules;** and
so long as the horse keeps on his legs, the rider sticks
to him.
The falls are chiefly occasioned by the deep
holes the badger digs all over the prairies; if the horse
plunges into one of these, both horse and man roll on the
ground. Fatal accidents, also, occasionally happen from
gun shots in the "melee**. . .33
Twice each year the half-breeds held their great buf­
falo h u n t s . K n o w i n g this, Kittson had good reason to
^ Stewart Wallace, ed., John McLean*s Notes of a
Twenty-five Years* Service in the Hudson’s Bay Territory,
St. Paul, Minnesota Register, April 7 , 1849.
believe he could do all his trading in the United States and
still have a successful post at Pembina.
He made one great
error, however, in believing that the Hudson’s Bay Company
would meekly lose all the trade from south of the boundary.
The company had spent years in building up the trade and had
no intention of allowing any interloper to reap the rewards.
Kittson wrote to Sibley:
I perceive from the movements of the H. B. Company
that I am strongly to be opposed and they are making
strong preparations for the contest, it seems from
there [sic] own statements that they are determined to
drive us out of the country immediately without mercy,
how far they will be successful time only can decide,
but if the signs of the times are to be depended upon,
I should certainly decide against them.35
After some study of the situation Kittson decided
that, in a battle with the Hudson’s Bay Company, he could
draw more furs from the north than the company could from
the south, and cheerfully entered the battle.
Both organi­
zations used every method to be found in a continuous series
in an attempt to ruin the competitor.
The Hudson’s Bay
Company had one distinct advantage in that it used rum in the
trade, which Kittson refused to do, but he was able to counter­
act the attraction of rum by offering much better prices for
the furs.
Upon several occasions, when Kittson deemed it
25 Sibley Papers, Kittson to Sibley, T3eptember 10,
2^ Rife, "Norman W. Kittson," 250.
necessary, he was not only trading for furs; he was also
buying them.
In one letter be informed Sibley that he would
need from $2,500 to $3,000 in cash to pay certain trappers
for their pelts*
He never cared to carry on his business by
paying cash, but it was the one means by which he could make
certain that the best trappers would bring their pelts to
him. 37
In the fight with the Hudson's Bay Company, Kittson
had a vulnerable spot that worried him.
After Kittson con­
structed the Red River Trail up through the Sioux country
to Pembina there was always a possibility that some of the
Indians might f o l l o w up> the trail and do their trading in
the company's post.
This would certainly mean a great loss
to the American Pur Company.
almost realized.
In 1845 his worst fears were
He made a trip to the post on Big Stone
Lake and ’when he returned to Pembina a small band of Sioux
went with him, although he did attempt to dissuade them.
The Indians went on up to the Red River Settlement where
they entered the Hudson's Bay Post.
A drunken Chippewa saw
them and as they left the post shot and killed one of them.
The murderer was caught, tried, and executed within the week
but the Sioux went home in disgust.
Kittson wrote jubilantly
about the unexpected bit of luck which would probably keep
37 Sibley Papers, Kittson to Sibley, September 10,
the Sioux in their own country.
Early in the spring of 184,6 the Hudson’s Bay Company
attempted to wage the war from a new angle.
By falsely
representing one of their employees, Mr. Fisher, as an
American citizen he was able to procure a license to trade
on American soil.
Just before the furs began to be brought
in from the field, Fisher moved to Pembina and set up a post
next to Kittson’s.
Kittson immediately dispatched a message
to Sibley asking that the license be revoked, but before any
action could be taken the trappers brought in their furs for
Fortunately for Kittson, Fisher proved to be a
poor trader and got very few of the furs that were brought
in, and at the end of the season Fisher closed his post and
went back to the settlement.
Kittson was not quite as open in his attempts to draw
the trade out of Canada.
He and his men used every cause of
complaint in the Red River Settlement to draw the settlers
away from the Hudson’s Bay C o m p a n y . ^
The method was quite
successful and by the fall of 1845 Kittson was able to in­
form his partner, ”1 have the promises and^goode [sic]
3® Sibley Papers, Kittson to Sibley, September 10,
Ibid., March 2, 1846.
Pritchett, "Some Fur-trade Activities,” 414-
wishes of most of the good hunters.
. . .
It is very probable that the hunters were the only
people who profited by the fight between the two organiza­
The high prices that competition forced the com­
panies to pay for furs soon brought them to the conclusion
that they had to work out a peaceful settlement.
Just what
arrangements Kittson made with the Hudson*s Bay Company are
not known but he wrote to Sibley and told him that all the
differences had been settled and that he was being treated
with **every mark of attention,” even to sending unopened
mail through their channels to the e a s t . ^
The willingness that each expressed to be of assist­
ance to the other, even when the struggle against each other
was bitter, was unique.
During the same year that the
Hudson*s Bay Company attempted to ruin the post at Pembina
by sending Fisher there, two new officials of the Hudson*s
Bay Company arrived at Fort Sneiling from the East.
had no knowledge of the Red River Trail that they had to
travel so they went immediately to Sibley and got everything
they needed for the t r i p . ^
A year later Sibley received a
letter from the Hudson’s Bay Company asking him to equip one
Sibley Papers, Kittson to Sibley, September 10,
Ibid., December 4, 1847.
Sibley Papers, Christie to Sibley, September 10,
of their officials, a Mr* Darling, with "a Guide together
with as many Horses and Carts as will carry himself and his
Baggage to the Red River Settlement*
* . .”44
The carts that were requested were rather unusual
products which had been worked out to fit the needs along
the Red River Trail*
They were made entirely of wood,
fastened together with strips of buffalo hide and wooden
During the first few years the two wheels were simply
disks taken from a log, but later on spokes were used.
wheels were about five and a half feet high and often as
much as eight inches wide*
The large box or rack which
rested on the wooden axle would hold seven or eight hundred
No grease was used on the axle of the cart and
the squeal of the wheels could often be heard for as much as
three miles.4^
7/hen the carts were on the trail there was usually
one man for every four carts and twelve men in each group,
all 'well mounted and armed.
At night the carts were formed
into a circle witn the shafts in and during times of danger
the single ox for each cart was left wvithin the enclosure.
Guards were posted every night.47
The carts were able to
44 Sibley Papers, Finlayson to Sibley, n* d.
45 Antoinette Ford, M y Minnesota, 96.
46 ibid., 98.
47 ibid.. 97.
ford the streams under most conditions, but if the streams
were in flood stage the drivers made pontoons by distending
one or two buffalo robes with willow sticks and floated the
carts across*
An American Fur Company Caravan on the Red River Trail
often consisted of three or four hundred carts which started
from Pembina as soon as the grass was high enough to furnish
By traveling about fifteen miles a day the carts would
reach St. Paul late in
On the return trip the carts
carried the miscellaneous assortment of merchandise to be
found in any country store.
It appears that the general line
of trade goods was chosen by Sibley, who was on hand to pick
up whatever the market had to offer, but it was not uncommon
for Kittson to write and tell him of some article which was
badly needed or in popular d e m a n d . ^
The danger of Indian attack along the trail was always
In the same year that Kittson went to Pembina the
half-breeds at the Red River Settlement killed several Sioux,
causing that tribe to go on the warpath and closing the trail
for the rest of the year.
One group of Americans did
attempt to drive a herd of cattle through to the Red River
St. Paul, Minnesota Pioneer, August 1, 1850.
Ibid., July 26, 1849.
Sibley Papers, Kittson to Sibley, March 30, 1845*
Sibley Papers, Riggs to Sibley, August 22, 1844.
Settlement, but it was attacked.
One man was killed, the
herd scattered, and all the valuables stolen.52
Men were
immediately sent out from the post on Big Stone Lake and
they found the rest of the drivers wandering aimlessly over
the prairie.53
In I846 Kittson wrote from Big Stone Lake that he had
had no actual trouble on the trail up to that place.
believed that he would be out of the dangerous territory be­
fore the Indians had finished the fresh supply of whisky,
which they had acquired from a free trader, and were ready
for the w a r p a t h . 5^
Kittson*s outfit was always well equipped
and he was not worried about a massacre.
To him trouble with
the Indians meant only one thing: that a number of Indians
would get killed and as a result the war would become more
bitter and the post at Big Stone Lake would have less trade.
His confidence in the ability of his men to take care of his
outfit is brought out in a letter to Sibley:55
I have been told by the half-breed hunters who were
in the plains last fall that the Sissetons [a group of
Sioux] intended attacking me on my way to St. Peters
this next spring, I have not the least doubt that they
said so, but do not believe they will attempt such a
52 Sibley Papers, Rinville to Sibley, August 17, 1844.
Sibley Papers, Kittson to Sibley, August 22, 1844.
5^ Ibid., August 7, I846.
Ibid*» February 1, 1848.
thing, however it would be well if you could send word
to L. Travarse to let them Know what might be the con­
sequences should they molest me on the road.
During the winter the Red River Trail presented an
entirely different picture*
The Indians kept to their
villages and constituted no great danger to the traveler.
The deep snow and lack of feed brought all freighting to a
standstill, but mail could be sent between Pembina and St.
Paul much more rapidly.
Two men would make the trip with
a dog team In about eighteen days; one man on snowshoes went
ahead to break a trail while the second followed behind the
toboggan to hold it back when coming down off snowdrifts.56
The Hudson’s Bay Company soon discovered that by using the
Red River Trail they could send mail to England during the
Previously their mail was sent to Hudson Bay where
it had to wait until the ice went out and ships could get in
to pick it up.57
The greatest hardship of the winter trail was the
extreme cold of the river valley where it is not unusual for
the thermometer to register from forty to fifty degrees below
Often blizzards would catch them in the open country
and the men would have no choice but to dig a hole in a drift
56 st. Paul, Minnesota Pioneer, March 6, 18$0.
57 St. Paul, Minnesota Chronicle and Register, March
16, 1850.
From a painting by Charles Comfort
T h e la s t d og team s le a v in g L o w e r F o r t G a rr y , on th e R e d R iv e r , 1909
where they would huddle together, dogs and men, until the
weather cleared up and they could see to go on.
During the
winter of 1845 Kittson was caught out in such a storm.
I arrived from my St. Peters trip on the 20th of
December after experiencing most severe cold weather,
so much so, that I was fearful of being badly frozen,
but luckily I escaped with only the loss of part of
my nose and ears.
Kittson had worked out a fine trail for the shipping
of his goods, but his big problem remained that of procuring
the furs from the Indians and half-breeds.
Although he had
written in 1845 that everything looked very promising for
the next year, the actual profits for 1846 were so small that
Kittson wrote to Sibley asking him if he wanted to continue
the post, at the same time stating very definitely that he
wanted to remain there.59
It would seem that Sibley agreed,
as Kittson remained at Pembina.
Kittson at no time admitted that it was the case but
his letters would seem to point out that the greatest reason
for a lack of profit was his consistent refusal to enter the
liquor trade.
He fully understood the undesirable effects
of liquor upon the Indian and the misery that it meant for
He also knew what the Indian really needed and confined
5*3 Sibley Papers, Kittson to Sibley, March 2, I846.
J Loc. cit.
his trade to those products.
In order to get the natives to
trade for his products he knew that he had to keep liquor
out of the country.
In 1845 Kittson wrote that the small
traders were ruining the trade.
One trader, a Mr* Brown,
had been especially bothersome and had drawn a number of
Indians away from the post by giving them a small keg of
whisky for ten beffalo robes.
During the following year the Hudson’s Bay Company
made a great effort to get the trade by sending their officers
south of the boundary where they could meet the Indians and
half-breeds as they were returning from the buffalo hunt.
Liquor was almost the only article used in the trade.
requested Sibley to get him some type of official permission
to destroy all the spirits that he could find south of the
line, claiming that he could thus make short work of both the
Hudson’s Bay Company’s new system and drive out the group of
free traders.
It is quite evident that he did not receive this per­
mission, as he wrote in the next year, 1847, that the Indians
were still trading for whisky.
He also stated that he had
reached an agreement with the Hudson’s Bay Company and that
it had not been trading in liquor.
Evidently the Indians
Sibley Papers, Kittson to Sibley, March 30, 1845*
I W d - . March 2, 184.6.
were trading with free traders, over whom Kittson had no
In a short time the Hudson’s Bay Company dis­
covered that it could not compete for trade without the aid
of whisky and returned to the trade . ^
The conditions of the Indians during this period were
indeed appalling.
They traded everything they had for drink
and were often completely unequipped when winter set in.
early as 1822 a group of starving half-breeds had been taken
from Pembina to the Red River Settlement where the church fed
them until s p r i n g . ^
The period of destitution was at its
worst during the winters of 1845 and 1846.
Kittson w r o t e ^
during the first year that it would be terrible as the
are so badly provided, that it is wonderful how it is
possible for them to kill anything; they have not a
single trap, most of them are without ammunition, and
probably one out of twenty may have an axe, and thus
they have spent the winter.
The second winter was even worse.
During the late
summer he wrote that the buffalo had migrated, the corn crop
had failed, and that the Indians were certain to starve unless
62 Sibley Papers, Kittson to Sibley, December 4 , 1847.
St. Paul, Minnesota Pioneer, November 28, 1850.
Provencher, Letter to Plessis, July, 1823.
Sibley Papers, Kittson to Sibley, February 6, 1845.
cold weather drove the game back into the valley.
state of affairs went on for several years and even as late
as 1850 large numbers of Indians starved southeast of
Pembina . ^
During this period Kittson awoke to the fact that the
Indians would be wiped out of Northern Minnesota unless two
steps were taken: the end of the liquor trade and the saving
of the buffalo.
Kittson pointed out that buffalo meat was
the main source of food for the Indian and that the con­
tinued drives of the half-breeds for robes would soon end
the great herds.
Something had to be done at once. 0
The American Fur Company had neither the time nor the
authority to save the Indians.
Kittson rightfully claimed
that it was the duty of the United States Government to do so
and asked that soldiers be stationed at Pembina to enforce
the laws.
Other men approved of the plan, and during the
summer of 1849 a company of dragoons were sent to Pembina
where they remained for a few weeks.
They were to make a
report on the situation, and as everything was very quiet
while they were there, no soldiers were stationed there
66 Sibley Papers, Kittson to Sibley, August 7, 1846.
Ballender, Letter to Simpson, February 13, 18$0.
St. Paul, Minnesota Chronicle and Register, March
16 , 1850.
As soon as the dragoons retired the half-breeds went
on their second hunting expedition of the year.
When this
was discovered in St. Paul the newspapers immediately went
to the aid of Kittson in an attempt to get permanent soldiers
at P e m b i n a , b u t all attempts failed and the soldiers were
never sent.
While Kittson was busily attempting to gain complete
control of the trade the Hudson’s Bay Company had made sev­
eral moves of its own.
set up.
A very rigid system of espionage was
In any case where it was thought that a colonist
was trading in furs his house was searched and if furs were
found it was not at all uncommon for the colonist to see his
house go up in f l a m e s . ^
In 1845 the Company had tried out a plan that appeared
to be powerful enough to stop the trade.
There had never
been a completely legal deed given to the colonists for their
At this time the Company announced that deeds would
be given but that they had been so made that any man found
in the fur trade would lose his land.
Among more civilized
people the plan might have worked, but the half-breeds had
st. Paul, Minnesota Pioneer, March 6 and 13, 1850.
1 St. Paul, Minnesota Chronicle and Register, October
13, 1849; Minnesota Pioneer, November 21, 1850.
Pritchett, f,Some Fur-trade Activities," 415*
never been interested in the ownership of land.
It was there
and they used it— as a result the company had no requests for
deeds except by the very few remaining Scotch and Swiss who
never had been in the trade.72
At Pembina and St. Paul the new laws were looked upon
with considerable interest.
The general idea in Minnesota
seemed to be that sooner or later the half-breeds would be­
come tired of the situation and move to Pembina en masse.
hopes of the Americans were never realized.73
While the Hudson’s Bay Company was attempting to en­
force its laws at home it was also trying to break Kittson
at Pembina.
In 1850 a Mr. Sutter set up a fur post at
Pembina that was probably sponsored by the company.
did very little business but the officer at Red River wrote,
"but his opponent, so far as I can learn, is doing still
There is no doubt that both the Hudson’s Bay Company
and the American Fur Company were, in the later 1840*s,
attempting to steal all possible trade from the others terri­
tory and were having some success.
In 1849 the Hudson’s Bay
Company went so far as to pursue a man accused of illegal
72 Pritchett, "Some Fur-trade Activities,” 418.
St. Paul, Minnesota Pioneer, July 26, 1849.
7^ Ballender, Letter to Simpson, February 13, 1850.
trading across the boundary where it captured and returned
him to Fort Gerry.
He was fined L 1,000.
At another time
two known men of the company established fur trading posts
south of the boundary and openly traded without lic e n s e s . ^
While the Hudson's Bay Company was making those moves
to control the trade south of the boundary they were forced
to admit that "Of late years a considerable amount of
American specie has found its way into the settlement, proba­
bly in exchange for furs clandestinely disposed of by the
merchants beyond the l i n e . "77
For two years the Hudson’s Bay
Company succeeded in almost completely ending Kittson's trade
north of the line.
In 184-6 the company convinced the British
government that a troop of soldiers should be stationed at
Fort Gerry.
The soldiers remained there until 184.8 and dur­
ing that time the illegal trade became so dangerous that it
was almost completely dropped.7^
Indeed, the post at Pembina
had so little trade that Sibley favored giving up the post
and it was only through the urging of Kittson that he agreed
to keep on with the fight.79
jt is very probable that the
75 st. Paul, Minnesota Register, August 11, I84.9 .
St. Paul, Minnesota Chronicle and Register, March
2 , 1850.
77 Wallace, John McLeod's Notes, 380.
^ Pritchett, "Some Fur-trade Activities," 4-22.
Sibley Papers, Kittson to Sibley, February 1, 184-8.
post at Pembina would have been dropped within a year if the
soldiers had not been withdrawn and the trade started up once
During the late summer of 1849 the entire question of
free trade came to a head.
Four half-breeds were arrested by
the Hudson's Bay Company for illegal fur trade.
On the day
of the trial some five or six hundred half-breeds surrounded
the courthouse, all armed and determined that the culprits
should not be punished.**0
When Judge Poleson saw the mob
surrounding his office he was seized by panic and, according
to the Minnesota Pioneer,
his honor was taken with a sudden leaving. With most
uncharacteristic liberality, he paid a bystander $5 to
take his seat on the bench . . . and sneaked out through
the crowd; mounted his horse and fled at full speed.
Leaning foreward of his horse's head, so strong was his
leaning to be away and away from danger's reach.
The trial was held under the substitute judge and the
men were found guilty, but no sentence was ever given.
half-breeds had discovered that they were strong enough to
hold their own, and the Hudson's Bay Company, recognizing
this, never again attempted to enforce its rulings against
the trader.
Free trade had actually come to stay.
**° St. Paul, Minnesota Pioneer, July 26, 1849^
Ibid*, August 2, 1849.
The advent of free trade in the Red River Valley was
hailed throughout the Minnesota territory as a great victory
for the American Fur Company, as indeed it was, but it was
never to be of any great benefit to either Kittson or Sibley.
For years they had been drawing trade from across the boundary
by the simple plan of paying better prices.
This method gave
them a huge volume of business, but it left the organization
a very small margin of profit.
When the Hudson’s Bay Company
was forced to allow free trade, it decided to use the same
principle as Kittson.
Within a short time the half-breeds
were very willing to trade with the Hudson’s Bay Company
because of its superior prices.
Kittson and Sibley kept their post at Pembina until
1855, but by that time their small reserves were gone and
they chose to withdraw rather than go bankrupt.
It is a great
tribute to Kittson that soon after leaving Pembina and estab­
lishing a home in St. Paul he was asked to become an agent of
the Hudson’s Bay Company and that he served in that capacity
in St. Paul for several years.^
Both men had become famous in the fur trade.
^ Clarence W. Rife, ’’Norman W. Kittson,” 252.
in 1858, Minnesota was admitted to statehood it was quite
natural that Sibley should be elected the first governor.
Kittson was recognized as the greatest authority on north­
western Minnesota, so James J. Hill went to him when he began
his plans for a railroad from St. Paul to the Red River
Kittson joined forces with Hill and profits from
the railroad, which was later named the Great Northern, made
them both millionaires.
Pembina saw its greatest days during the time of
In 1849 it had a population of about six hundred,
which made it the second largest settlement in Minnesota
Unfortunately, there was little reason for a
settlement there except for the fur trade.
Today the village
of Pembina is little larger than it was a hundred years ago.
The history of the Red River Settlement was not to end
with the vanishing fur trade.
When free trade came, the
settlement had about seven thousand inhabitants, including
perhaps seven hundred Indians.
were only fifty families.
Of the original Scotch there
Except for a few English and
Orkneysnen who had drifted in, the rest of the inhabitants
consisted of half-breeds.
In the settlement there were four
Episcopal churches, a Catholic cathedral, and a chapel.
^ Rife, "Norman Kittson," 252.
^ St. Paul, Minnesota Register, July 28, 1849•
were seven schools, most of them under church control, but
most of the settlers found the expense of educating their
children too great and dispensed with it.^
By the middle of the nineteenth century the settlers
had discovered the best methods to be used in farming the
fertile valley of the Red River and were beginning to raise
great quantities of wheat.
Most of the surplus was purchased
by Fort Gerry and sent to the various Hudson’s Bay posts
throughout Canada.^
The population continued to grow, and in 1867 it was
estimated to be about twelve thousand.
The fur trade had
become of secondary importance and the great wheat farms had
come into their own.
The village itself had taken a new name
from the great lake to the north, Winnipeg, and was, within
the next few years, to become the most important city in
Central Canada.
The story of the Swiss and Scotch who went south on
the Red River Trail is a history of its own and cannot be
recounted here.
A brief outline of their achievements, how­
ever, must be included.
When the Swiss began migrating to Minnesota there was
^ St. Paul, Minnesota Pioneer, June 7, 1849.
5 Ballender, Letter to Simpson, February 13, 1850.
^ Carl Wittke, A History of Canada, 201.
no land open for settlement.
It was entirely "Indian
Country" and the only strips of land that the United States
had procured by treaty was the military reservation for Fort
Many of the Swiss went down the Mississippi but
most of them squatted on the land belonging to the fort.
cleared this land, built homes, and went to farming.
Major Joseph Plympton assumed command of the fort in 1839 he
immediately protested to the government that the squatters
were cutting vast amounts of wood, and, if the fort was to be
used for several years, fuel would become a major problem.
He made a map of the locality around the fort and suggested
which parts should be kept free of settlers; those already
in the section to be ejected.
His plan was approved by the
The squatters, all of whom were very poor, discovered
a new means of making a little money, and no doubt it was
another important cause of their eviction from the land.
surgeon at Fort Snelling wrote to the surgeon-general of the
army, stating, "Since the middle of the winter we have been
completely inundated with ardent spirits, and consequently
the most beastly scenes of intoxication among the soldiers
? William Watts Folwell, A History of Minnesota, vol.
I, 213.
8 Ibid.. 218-219.
and the Indians in the vicinity . . .n9
The squatters refused to leave the land and sent a
memorial to the government requesting the right to remain, or
if they had to leave, payment for the improvements that they
had made upon the land.
Little or no attention was given to
the request and the settlers remained on their f a r m s . ^
The squatters were again warned to get off the land,
hut most of them remained where they were.
On May b, 1849,
a detachment of soldiers ejected the people, took the more
important articles out of the buildings for the settlers,
and then burned all buildings to the ground.11
The Swiss did not leave that section of the country,
as might be expected.
They moved along the Mississippi until
they were just off the military reservation and established
a settlement of their own which for years went by the lowly
name of Pigs Eye.12
As it happened, Pigs Eye was the logical end for the
Red River Trail and within a short time the carts were all
stopping there to unload their furs and buy the supplies for
The trade brought more people to the settlement
9 Folwell, History of Minnesota, 220.
10 Ibid., 217.
11 Antoinette Ford, My Minnesota, 8912 Sibley Papers, Kittson to Sibley, July 15, 1844.
and a dignity that caused the name to he changed to St.
The furs were shipped down the river from St. Paul
during the summer; during the winter the river was frozen
and steamboats were not expected before the latter part of
The fur trade at St. Paul was truly enormous for
a few years.
"It was not an uncommon sight," wrote Ford,*^
"to see acres of bales of buffalo skins near the river,
ready to be shipped."
But no section of the country could
long carry on the fur trade on such a scale.
The traders
soon looked for other means of making a living and con­
structed great grist, flour, and lumber mills along the
Truly, the work of the Earl of Selkirk and Norman W.
Kittson had not been in vain.
Due to their efforts the
founding of two great cities, Winnipeg and St. Paul, was
A great road through the country was opened up
and a barren wilderness was started on its way towards a
great agricultural region.
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