Wednesday, February 27, 2008

News from the Past V

Pembina, Minnesota Territory - Froze to Death
Sunday, January 1, 1860

DREADFUL DEATH ON THE PRAIRIES – Lost and Frozen – A Mr. Mackenzie this day met his death on the prairies of Minnesota under the following distressing circumstances, the account of which is extracted from “The North-Wester,” published at the Red River settlement:
A party, including Mr. Mackenzie, started from Georgetown, at the mouth of the Buffalo River, to cross the prairie to Fort Garry. They started December 23rd, taking mules. The latter gave out in three days, distance only half done, and provisions getting short. Here they were, helpless in the heart of a vast, dreary, unknown prairie, in a cold, bleak month, far beyond the reach of all sympathy and aid, with starvation staring them in the face.

On Thursday, the 29th, Mr Mackenzie resolved to reach Pembina, and send back succor. The engineer accompanied him. The day was cold and stormy, and a bitter blast from the north drove them back. They all camped together that night near Pine River, about fifty miles from Pembina. In the morning Mackenzie started again alone. He had a presentiment that he would not get through. He wore but one thin coat, and was lightly clad throughout, wish to be as little burdened with clothes as possible, as he intended to run most of the way. A bit of [pemicam], the size of his fist, was all his food. On Monday morning David Tait pushed ahead, and reached Pembina the same evening. Mr M. had not been there.

Two men were sent, and they fell in with the remnant of the party shortly after midnight on Tuesday, and, after supplying their urgent needs, went off in search of Mackenzie. Wednesday they came upon traces which brought them to his corpse. After leaving his companions, he seemed to have followed the trail for a considerable distance, and then to have lost his way. Night came upon him, and, bewildered by the growing darkness and the drifting snow, he made towards a clump of trees, with the intention, probably, of kindling a fire. If such was his object, he seemed to be unable to accomplish it; and his beaten track showed that, to keep himself from freezing, he had spent the hours of that lonesome night in running round in a circle.

With the break of day, he again started across the trackless waste, every step that he took carrying him farther and farther from the spot which he was straining every nerve to reach. Another weary day of fruitless travel was followed by a second night even more dreary than the first. Again he had managed to stave off what he must have felt to have been the hour of dissolution, by long hours of ceaseless activity. A third day’s journey brought him towards Lac des Roseaux. Here he attempted to run around as before; but the strength and courage which had heretofore sustained him now forsook him.

He dragged his tired footsteps through the loose snow toward a tree, from which he plucked a branch and hung thereon a shred of his tattered coat, as a signal to mark his dismal resting-place; he next tore off another branch of the same tree which he placed as a pillow for his cold bed, and then laid upon it his weary head and died. His right hand was on his heart, and his left hung by his side, firmly holding a compass. The body gave indications of having undergone great suffering. Some portions of it had been frozen and thawed many times in succession, before death intervened and released it from further anguish.

Vincent's Semi-annual United States Register, Jan-Jun 1860 pages 5-6