Sunday, August 31, 2008

Buffalo Hunt - PART I

Buffalo Hunt by Paul KanePlain of Roses. — A Desert Filter. — Making Pimmi-kon. — Canine Camp-followers. — Dry Dance Mountain. — Vigils of the Braves. — Death at the Feast. — Successful Ambush. — The Scalp Dance. — A Hunter's Appetite. — The Grand Chase. — Marking the Game. — Head over Heels. — Sketching under Difficulties. — A Troublesome Tenant.
I ARRIVED at Fort Garry about three days after the half-breeds had departed ; but as I was very anxious to witness buffalo hunting, I procured a guide, a cart for my tent, and a saddle horse for myself, and started after one of the bands. We travelled that day about thirty miles, and encamped in the evening on a beautiful plain covered with innumerable small roses. The next day was anything but pleasant, as our route lay through a marshy tract of country, in which we were obliged to strain through a piece of cloth all the water we drank, on account of the numerous insects, some of which were accounted highly dangerous, and are said to have the power of eating through the coats of the stomach, and causing death even to horses.

The next day I arrived at the Pambinaw [Pembina] River, and found the band cutting poles, which they are obliged to carry with them to dry the meat on, as, after leaving this, no more timbered land is met with until the three bands meet together again at the Turtle Mountain, where the meat they have taken and dried on the route is made into pim-mi-kon. This process is as follows: — The thin slices of dried meat are pounded between two stones until the fibres separate; about 501bs. of this are put into a bag of buffalo skin, with about 401bs. of melted fat, and mixed together while hot, and sewed up, forming a hard and compact mass; hence its name in the Cree language, pimmi signifying meat, and kon, fat. Each cart brings home ten of these bags, and all that the half-breeds do not require for themselves is eagerly bought by the Company, for the purpose of sending to the more distant posts, where food is scarce. One pound of this is considered equal to four pounds of ordinary meat, and the pimmi-kon keeps for years perfectly good exposed to any weather.

I was received by the band with the greatest cordiality. They numbered about two hundred hunters, besides women and children. They live, during these hunting excursions, in lodges formed of dressed buffalo skins. They are always accompanied by an immense number of dogs, which follow them from the settlements for the purpose of feeding on the offal and remains of the slain buffaloes. These dogs are very like wolves, both in appearance and disposition, and, no doubt, a cross breed between the wolf and dog. A great many of them acknowledge no particular master, and are sometimes dangerous in times of scarcity. I have myself known them to attack the horses and eat them.

Our camp broke up on the following morning, and proceeded on their route to the open plains. The carts containing the women and children, and each decorated with some flag, or other conspicuous emblem, on a pole, so that the hunters might recognise their own from a distance, wound off in one continuous line, extending for miles, accompanied by the hunters on horseback. During the forenoon, whilst the line of mounted hunters and carts were winding round the margin of a small lake, I took the opportunity of making a sketch of the singular cavalcade.

The following day we passed the Dry Dance Mountain [aka Dry Dance Hill or Ne-Jank-wa-win], where the Indians, before going on a war party, have a custom of dancing and fasting for three days and nights. This practice is always observed by young warriors going to battle for the first time, to accustom them to the privations and fatigues which they must expect to undergo, and to prove their strength and endurance. Should any sink under the fatigue and fasting of this ceremony, they are invariably sent back to the camp where the women and children remain.
Pembina Mountain rises on the north and east in a series of table-lands, each table about half a mile in width, sparsely timbered, and bountifully supplied with springs. On its western slope, at the base of which runs the Pembina River, the mountain terminates abruptly. Across the stream, flowing deep below the surface in a narrow valley, the banks remain of about an equal height with the mountain, stretching away toward the Missouri in a bare, treeless plain, broken only by the solitary elevation in the dim distance of Ne-Jank-wa-win (Dry Dance Hill). - From A Great Buffalo "Pot-Hunt" by H.M. Robinson
After leaving this mountain, we proceeded on our route without meeting any buffalo, although we saw plenty of indications of their having been in the neighbourhood a short time previously. On the evening of the second day we were visited by twelve Sioux chiefs, with whom the half-breeds had been at war for several years. They came for the purpose of negotiating a permanent peace, but, whilst smoking the pipe of peace in the council lodge, the dead body of a half-breed, who had gone to a short distance from the camp, was brought in newly scalped, and his death was at once attributed to the Sioux. The half-breeds, not being at war with any other nation, a general feeling of rage at once sprang up in the young men, and they would have taken instant vengeance, for the supposed act of treachery, upon the twelve chiefs in their power, but for the interference of the old and more temperate of the body, who, deprecating so flagrant a breach of the laws of hospitality, escorted them out of danger, but, at the same time, told them that no peace could be concluded until satisfaction was had for the murder of their friend. Exposed, as the half-breeds thus are, to all the vicissitudes of wild Indian life, their camps, while on the move, are always preceded by scouts, for the purpose of reconnoitring either for enemies or buffaloes. If they see the latter, they give signal of such being the case, by throwing up handfuls of dust; and, if the former, by running their horses to and fro.

Three days after the departure of the Sioux chiefs, our scouts were observed by their companions to make the signal of enemies being in sight. Immediately a hundred of the best mounted hastened to the spot, and, concealing themselves behind the shelter of the bank of a small stream, sent out two as decoys, who exposed themselves to the view of the Sioux. The latter, supposing them to be alone, rushed upon them, whereupon the concealed half-breeds sprang up, and poured in a volley amongst them, which brought down eight. The others escaped, although several must have been wounded, as much blood was afterwards discovered on their track. Though differing in very few respects from the pure Indians, they do not adopt the practice of scalping ; and, in this case, being satisfied with their revenge, they abandoned the dead bodies to the malice of a small party of Saulteaux who accompanied them.

The Saulteaux are a band of the great Ojibeway nation, both words signifying "the Jumpers," and derive the name from their expertness in leaping their canoes over the numerous rapids which occur in the rivers of their vicinity. I took a sketch of one of them, Peccothis, "the Man with a Lump on his Navel." He appeared delighted with it at first ; but the others laughed so much at the likeness, and made so many jokes about it, that he became quite irritated, and insisted that I should destroy it, or, at least, not show it as long as I remained with the tribe.

The Saulteaux, although numerous, are not a warlike tribe, and the Sioux, who are noted for their daring and courage, have long waged a savage war on them, in consequence of which the Saulteaux do not venture to hunt in the plains except in company with the half-breeds. Immediately on their getting possession of the bodies, they commenced a scalp dance, during which they mutilated the bodies in a most horrible manner. One old woman, who had lost several relations by the Sioux, rendered herself particularly conspicuous by digging out their eyes and otherwise dismembering them.

The following afternoon, we arrived at the margin of a small lake, where we encamped rather earlier than usual, for the sake of the water. Next day I was gratified with the sight of a band of about forty buffalo cows in the distance, and our hunters in full chase ; they were the first I had seen, but were too far off for me to join in the sport. They succeeded in killing twenty-five, which were distributed through the camp, and proved most welcome to all of us, as our provisions were getting rather short, and I was abundantly tired of pimmi-kon and dried meat. The fires being lighted with the wood we had brought with us in the carts, the whole party commenced feasting with a voracity which appeared perfectly astonishing to me, until I tried myself, and found by experience how much hunting on the plains stimulates the appetite.

The upper part of the hunch of the buffalo, weighing four or five pounds, is called by the Indians the little hunch. This is of a harder and more compact nature than the rest, though very tender, and is usually put aside for keeping. The lower and larger part is streaked with fat and is very juicy and delicious. These, with the tongues, are considered the delicacies of the buffalo. After the party had gorged themselves with as much as they could devour, they passed the evening in roasting the marrow bones and regaling themselves with their contents.

For the next two or three days we fell in with only a single buffalo, or small herds of them; but as we proceeded they became more frequent. At last our scouts brought in word of an immense herd of buffalo bulls about two miles in advance of us. They are known in the distance from the cows, by their feeding singly, and being scattered wider over the plain, whereas the cows keep together for the protection of the calves, which are always kept in the centre of the herd. A half-breed, of the name of Hallett, who was exceedingly attentive to me, woke me in the morning, to accompany him in advance of the party, that I might have the opportunity of examining the buffalo whilst feeding, before the commencement of the hunt. Six hours' hard riding brought us within a quarter of a mile of the nearest of the herd. The main body stretched over the plains as far as the eye could reach. Fortunately the wind blew in our faces : had it blown towards the buffaloes, they would have scented us miles off.

I wished to have attacked them at once, but my companion would not allow me until the rest of the party came up, as it was contrary to the law of the tribe. We, therefore, sheltered ourselves from the observation of the herd behind a mound, relieving our horses of their saddles to cool them. In about an hour the hunters came up to us, numbering about one hundred and thirty, and immediate preparations were made for the chase. Every man loaded his gun, looked to his priming, and examined the efficiency of his saddle-girths.

The elder men strongly cautioned the less experienced not to shoot each other; a caution by no means unnecessary, as such accidents frequently occur. Each hunter then filled his mouth with balls, which he drops into the gun without wadding; by this means loading much quicker and being enabled to do so whilst his horse is at full speed. It is true, that the gun is more liable to burst, but that they do not seem to mind. Nor does the gun carry so far, or so true ; but that is of less consequence, as they always fire quite close to the animal.

Everything being adjusted, we all walked our horses towards the herd. By the time we had gone about two hundred yards, the herd perceived us, and started off in the opposite direction at the top of their speed. We now put our horses to the full gallop, and in twenty minutes were in their midst. There could not have been less than four or five thousand in our immediate vicinity, all bulls, not a single cow amongst them.

The scene now became one of intense excitement ; the huge bulls thundering over the plain in headlong confusion, whilst the fearless hunters rode recklessly in their midst, keeping up an incessant fire at but a few yards' distance from their victims. Upon the fall of each buffalo, the successful hunter merely threw some article of his apparel — often carried by him solely for that purpose — to denote his own prey, and then rushed on to another. These marks are scarcely ever disputed, but should a doubt arise as to the ownership, the carcase is equally divided among the claimants.

The chase continued only about one hour, and extended over an area of from five to six square miles, where might be seen the dead and dying buffaloes, to the number of five hundred. In the meantime my horse, which had started at a good run, was suddenly confronted by a large bull that made his appearance from behind a knoll, within a few yards of him, and being thus taken by surprise, he sprung to one side, and getting his foot into one of the innumerable badger holes, with which the plains abound, he fell at once, and I was thrown over his head with such violence, that I was completely stunned, but soon recovered my recollection. Some of the men caught my horse, and I was speedily remounted, and soon saw reason to congratulate myself on my good fortune, for I found a man who had been thrown in a similar way, lying a short distance from me quite senseless, in which state he was carried back to the camp.

I again joined in the pursuit; and coming up with a large bull, I had the satisfaction of bringing him down at the first fire. Excited by my success, I threw down my cap and galloping on, soon put a bullet through another enormous animal. He did not, however, fall, but stopped and faced me, pawing the earth, bellowing and glaring savagely at me. The blood was streaming profusely fusely from his mouth, and I thought he would soon drop. The position in which he stood was so fine that I could not resist the desire of making a sketch. I accordingly dismounted, and had just commenced, when he suddenly made a dash at me. I had hardly time to spring on my horse and get away from him, leaving my gun and everything else behind.

When he came up to where I had been standing, he turned over the articles I had dropped, pawing fiercely as he tossed them about, and then retreated towards the herd. I immediately recovered my gun, and having reloaded, again pursued him, and soon planted another shot in him ; and this time he remained on his legs long enough for me to make a sketch. This done I returned with it to the camp, carrying the tongues of the animals I had killed, according to custom, as trophies of my success as a hunter.
Paul Kane, circa late 1850s

I have often witnessed an Indian buffalo hunt since, but never one on so large a scale. In returning to the camp, I fell in with one of the hunters coolly driving a wounded buffalo before him. In answer to my inquiry why he did not shoot him, he said he would not do so until he got him close to the lodges, as it would save the trouble of bringing a cart for the meat. He had already driven him seven miles, and afterwards killed him within two hundred yards of the tents. That evening, while the hunters were still absent, a buffalo, bewildered by the hunt, got amongst the tents, and at last got into one, after having terrified all the women and children, who precipitately took to flight. When the men returned they found him there still, and being unable to dislodge him, they shot him down from the opening in the top.

From Wanderings of an Artist Among the Indians of North America, by Paul Kane

Thursday, August 28, 2008

And They're Off - at 56 Below

Yvon Duhamel, French Canadian, who won the race in 1972The article below is from the newly opened Sports Illustrated archives. Now I'm not a sports fan per se, but I do appreciate certain sports and certain feats accomplished by individuals and sometimes groups normally known as teams. The article is about an event that used to happen in our neck of the woods, and is very familiar to anyone growing up when I did. We'd get out of school to go see the crazy participants race by in the most brutal weather we could dish out. It was truly exciting and inspirational to see the machines and the men who rode them whiz by as we hooted and hollered from our warm bus.

My cousin worked at the Artic Cat plant back in the day. She'd bring home scraps from the fabrics used to make suits. I still have a tea cozy lined with it - it keeps my tea nice and warm!

The writer of this article says that the race is different in the north than it is in the south. He's right - it's more individual against nature, pure and simple. And our little school on the prairie and the handful of kids from it were witnesses to it...

All through the night the 376 machines sat out on the shelterless prairie south of Winnipeg , 12 tight ranks of snowmobiles inside a snow fence impoundment. Shock cords crisscrossed the hoods, indenting the driver seats from side to side. Tool kits, clutch belts and parts were lashed on. Auxiliary gas tanks were bolted astern. Big blue-on-white racing numbers were plastered wherever they would fit, partly covering names of drivers, mechanics and sponsors—farm-implement dealers, lawn and garden shops, Pabst Blue Ribbon , the U.S. Navy . The machines were set. The temperature contracted to 22 below zero. The north wind blew endlessly, a steady 32 mph. No one was around. The race crews slept in motels.

Sunrise would start a 500-mile, three-day cross-country race to St. Paul and, on the evidence of nine past runnings, not more than 15% of the machines would ever get there. That would be 57 snowmobiles. Most of these expensive, evil little beauties were going to break; at about $1,700 an entry, they were derelicts already, brand-new and soon to be buried. It would be a marvel if they would even start after this night.

The tradition of a long midwinter race between Winnipeg and St. Paul goes back to 1917 and the old 510-mile Great Northern Pembina mail route. It used to be a dogsled race, with real dogs. Nowadays it runs in roadside ditches with RCMP or state police spying on the competitors at every turn and crossing. The field is accompanied the whole way by a stream of comfortable cars and trucks. (This year's race, starting Jan. 19, goes the other way, St. Paul to Winnipeg .)

If you do not own a snowmobile, you know that hardcore snowmobilers are beer-swilling oafs with no respect for privacy, quiet, fences, young trees, physical exertion or the trackless beauty of the snow itself. If you follow their trails through field and wood, you will find that they are just using this kiddie car reversion as a way to move from bar to bar. Once in a while they get what's coming to them, good and proper: they crash and break various bones.

But a look around the crowd at the drivers' meeting in Winnipeg that night shatters the stereotype. Apparently this impossible contest is selective. The racers, who come from 23 states and provinces to flirt with destruction, have passed some kind of screening, not for insanity but for good-natured, hearty wholesomeness. This is a mead hall full of Vikings about to deal with Scotsmen hand-to-hand; lots of full-face beards and crow's-feet faces lit with private excitement. They are dignified. They are somehow nice.

There are few fearless idiots in racing. These racers are disciplined; they don't just hope to finish but intend to win. How easily they shed the hoo-ha from the St. Paul Winter Carnival promoters who all want to clutch the microphone and say farewell with excessive drama. And, overcome by the scene, snowmobile PR men tear their hair. To think that they can't get through to Wide World of Sports—this thing is really big.

In business volume snowmobiles are said to involve more money than all firearms and ammunition, more than golf equipment, even more than skis and ski equipment; and this is one of the major annual races. But you would almost think the media were purposely looking the other way. Some of the factories hire their own film crews, but their helicopters can't get to Winnipeg—a blizzard stops them to the south. So the start will be almost pure sport, not commerce.

The sunrise through the gray layer of blizzard was triple, three apricot-tinted glows whole points of the compass apart—a "sun dog," meaning it is cold. Down at the border the visibility was zero. Word of this condition was sent back, and the start was delayed. Officials muttered that the machines might have to be trailered down to East Grand Forks, Minn. to start the second day.

That would be awful because there they were in the queer dawnlight, 376 machines, pointed south. But they could not be started now, only topped off with fuel. Then the drivers were kicked out of the compound once again, to mill around and breathe pure frost and wiggle their toes and wait an hour for the go/no/go announcement. The effective temperature in the wind was—56F. Still dim after rising above the horizon layer, the sun dog doubled. Someone noticed white spots on a photographer's cheeks and hustled him into an ambulance.

Frostbite is the danger. Even that morning the drivers' bodies would be hot once they were racing, but they would have to protect their faces carefully with masks of leather and rabbit fur or of wool with plumber's tape around their eyes and over their noses. They all made deflectors of the tape: over the nose and out to the face shield or helmet to keep their breath from steaming goggles. The 16-year-olds and the two women racers looked like grown monsters. One would not have wanted the job of telling these Martians that they could not start their race.

At 10 o'clock one of the officials from St. Paul climbed a snow pile, tried his frozen bullhorn—through which he sounded as if he had been breathing helium—then gave up and bawled the only news acceptable. A driver and mechanic rushed to every sled, greatly relieved. Hoods were removed, chokes set, dry gas and ether readied. The front line was allowed to crank. A cloud of exhaust fog went up, yellow, blue and white. Irregularly, the front rank jerked ahead beneath the banner. The second rank was permitted to start engines. One minute later the first was off.

If the whole race were this dangerous, nobody would get to East Grand Forks, let alone St. Paul. In the first 100 yards of sorting out, going from 30 abreast to five, to one, hitting the drifts with no visibility in the snowfog and exhaust condensation, drivers were catapulted loose and sleds overturned. Someone was hit, someone was hurt.

The second wave skidded ahead to the line. The third started engines. Broken sleds and drivers dotted the prairie. The second wave roared and went out of sight in its own smoke. One Yamaha driver hit a drift, flew horizontally above his sled and came down alongside it while the sled went end over. He slowly got up, threw the sled back on its skis, pulled the rope. It didn't start. The fourth wave cranked up, the third took off. Somehow between an observer's glances, the Yamaha disappeared.

You can't really follow this race by car. If you see the start, you can never catch up with the first wave. You drive down course, see a few desolate machines already finished, pass a few not running well and stop to watch machines from later waves come across. It approaches boredom.

Perhaps that is best. Were there spectators on the old mail run? Up here in these white expanses where the sleds stretch out sometimes half a mile apart, the race is pure, it belongs to the drivers only. If you experience it at all, you do so through some of them that you have spoken to: Ian and Dave Corbett of Winnipeg and Phil Hazen of Essex Junction, Vt., on Sno-Jets. Harry Austin, met in a bar last night, comes from The Pas, Manitoba , and drives a John Deere . Bill Benedict, from the Minnesota Iron Range, sells Arctic Cats and lives for such events as this. A professional driver who has won this race twice is Dale Cormican. You try to get to someplace from which you can see them pass, just once, see how they're running, how their time to the border compares.

Still, one can't help seeing the race as a competition between manufacturers. No independent has ever won. The big makers field their own pros. Polaris is always strong. Last year it was Arctic. Ski-Doo has a couple of top drivers in the race. So has Mercury.

This year the unusual policies of one newer manufacturer have produced a slight embarrassment. John Deere , only three years in the business, decided to go for the 500. But not just for a factory-team victory—for a numerical, statistical win with lots of independents among the finishers. The company hired Cormican to help design its machine and head the factory team, and gave dealers and customers unprecedented financial support and incentive to enter sleds. Everything Cormican discovered about tuning and strengthening the machines was shared immediately with the John Deere independents.

John Deere hoped for 100 entries. It got 187. Half the field was John Deeres. The old tractor company seemed to have gone acquisitive. Its green sleds had been winning cross-country events, and Cormican was reason enough by himself. If one asked why Cormican should so consistently run in front in this fate-ridden steeplechase, his mechanic looked up from the machine and said, in complete seriousness, "Explain Richard Petty ." That was about it.

Cormican's performance this first day was standard. He started in the fourth wave at Winnipeg 15 minutes behind the front rank. He passed about 85 machines, crashed twice, got lost once and came into East Grand Forks 11th in order of arrival. Ian and Dave Corbett both made it, with 34th and 38th best times, Phil Hazen was 111th, Harry Austin 81st. Bill Benedict ran powerfully and finished seventh in elapsed time, best among the 74 Arctic Cats.

But the bottom of the ditches had been out-of-the-question rough. Everybody rode on the sides all day. Somewhere, the side of the ditch becomes the shoulder of the road. You can go faster the higher you ride, but at some point it also becomes illegal. At the drivers' meeting that evening in East Grand Forks, Dale Cormican learned that he had been disqualified for road running. So were about 20 others. They all said they were just doing what everybody else was doing.

All entries in this race must be stock production sleds with a maximum engine displacement of 340 cc's, and the companies must manufacture at least 1,000 of them. There may be modifications for endurance, such as strengthening skis and spindles, mounting oversize or extra tanks or adapting track and suspension to the driver's taste. Engines and exhaust systems can't be touched. The engines can't be repaired during the race.

Sleds had come across the line in East Grand Forks with hoods ripped open, shields gone, skis bent or even missing. They were impounded again right away, in large well-lit shops at a new vocational training center on the outskirts of town. The drivers were shooed away into the inside halls for doughnuts, coffee and first aid.

From seven to nine that night two men per sled could enter the shops to make repairs with maybe a wife or brother waiting at the door to run out to the factory van for new parts. There was a moment when everybody was ready; an official said, "You may..." and was drowned out. In seconds you could not find space to take two steps in one direction. Sleds were jacked up or thrown on their sides, their tracks and skid frames pulled, the ice knocked off; parts and tools were handy. In the two-hour official repair period, new bogie wheels were installed, plus new hi-fax plastic inserts on the rails, new tracks, new drive sheaves, new clutches, drive belts and skis. Carburetor jets were changed for forecast temperatures (near zero), sleds were sometimes skidded out and tested. Everything had to be buttoned up by nine o'clock or finished on the starting line next day by the driver alone—after the race had resumed.

The first day had been fierce, but the second was worse. The wind was from the south, 30 mph and more, rolling up a blinding snow cloud and stringing drifts across all the east-west jogs in the route. The start was delayed an hour again because nobody could see 100 feet.

The first 50 miles were run half blind. Forty sleds went down a lane together and were not found till after dark. The sun was just a generalization. The racing was desolately personal. Only 68 machines arrived at Alexandria , and 31 of them were past the deadline. That left 37 sleds to run the final leg.

Suddenly, in Alexandria , the race had lost its character. Perhaps there is a certain minimum north latitude for these events. Now there were noisy dilettante snowmobilers all over Lake Darling; airplanes, too. You couldn't tell the racers coming to the finish line from the kids out playing. John Deere people overran Arrowwood Lodge, which itself overran a perfectly nice piece of Minnesota lake country real estate. They gathered out in front of the finish line to tally home each John Deere , prayerful that they might not lose a percentage point in their proportion of surviving machines, since Cormican was out and Polaris was methodically stacking the top places. Out of the mouths of lounges and banquet halls came the bellow of crowds nothing like that pure hardcore community at Winnipeg .

At the drivers' meeting there was positive ugliness. Inequitably, the race committee set a single cutoff time by which a sled must have arrived to qualify for the third day. But it failed to compensate for the 30-minute span between the starting times of the seven waves that had left East Grand Forks. Instead of correcting the mistake, the race director offered the first 37 drivers the choice of permitting all or none of the other 31 to continue the race. He posed it as a blackball choice: unanimous or negative.

Most of the finishers seemed to feel that anybody who had made that day's run deserved to stay in the race. But a few were less softhearted. They didn't seem so nice anymore, nor did the ousted 31, threatening lawsuits against the race officials and sabotage on the last day's race markers—or coming to the pits that night to jeer at those working on their sleds.

The only patch of innocence left seemed to be a boy leaping around his John Deere in the pit shed that night, obviously surprised to be doing so well. "You think I'm crazy, don't you?" he asked an onlooker. The observer shook his head. The kid's mechanic, another kid, didn't seem to know what went where. The first kid sprang across to show him, pounced for a tool, forgot another, straddled the sled for it. The observer wanted to tell him to slow down.

The excited youngster was No. 263: Wayne Muller from Windom, Minn. He was just one place ahead of Ian Corbett on the Sno-Jet. Harry Austin was among the 31 who came in late. Bill Benedict lost a few places during the first 50 miles because his air filler had clogged in the blizzard. When he got it changed, he ran fast again and was about 50th at the first fuel stop. Then, at 110 mph, his piston skirts began disintegrating. For a while, the pieces blew out with the exhaust. Then a chunk fell to the base, where the crankshaft pressed it through. Instead of going crazy like the properly obsessed racer he is normally, Benedict sat on his sled, lit up a cigar and thumbed the stream of pickups and vans and cars along the route.

The last day was actually comfortable. The sky was clear at times. The country became more populous, spectators watched from their driveways, helicopters hovered overhead. Wayne Muller was still in the race, but independents like him were already out of it. The pros were heading for the money now, the $35,000 pot. Polaris was uncatchable.

Roger Janssen, one of those who spoke out against letting the 31 late racers ride the final leg, had the lead temporarily on this stretch. Then he stopped at a confusing intersection and was directed down a wrong road by someone posing as a race official. It cost him 15 minutes, and he finally came in fourth, behind another factory teammate on a John Deere .

The race route led into St. Paul, winding under arched stone bridges and through park valleys, lake to lake. A hot-air balloon advertising Hershey's Cocoa cut loose from the finish line on Lake Phalen, and drifted away. Twenty-two sleds came in, not 6% of those that lay impounded out on the prairie 500 miles north three days ago. Outside the barn where the engines of the surviving sleds were being inspected, the little crowd around the finish line was already gone. The race had dived into its sponsoring city and been overwhelmed. The awards ceremony for winner Ed Monsrud of Roseau , Minn. can be skipped.

But it was something else for a while. In Manitoba that dense battalion of ingenious machines penned together on the prairie had excited a pardonable human pride and interest, such as Spanish peasants might have felt when coming upon the harbor in Cadiz . (Well, perhaps not quite such.) Just that fearsome Manitoba cold authenticated it. The sun dog was a seal of approval. Now the independents who are the heart of this grueling race were scattering back to their hometowns, many of them probably saying the hell with the Winnipeg-St. Paul International "500" Snowmobile Race. But they say that every year, and every year it is bigger than the last.

From And They're Off - at 56 Below

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Sheriff Charley Brown: Chapter 23

Marguerite's ride on the cars of the St. Paul & Pacific ended at 9 a.m. the following day. Upon arriving in St. Paul she found her connection to Chicago didn't depart until 1 p.m. that afternoon. A more pleasant surprise came when she found a small extra fee gained her a berth on one of Mr. Pullman's new sleeping cars. She dearly wanted to be rested up when she met Paul, after suffering the twenty-four hour ride on Jim Hill's straight-backed, almost cushion less train seat. That portion of the ride had left her cramped, stiff and listless.

On the second evening of her trip, after the porter made up her bed, she found an almost instant sleep due to fatigue. Awakening at dawn she dressed hurriedly, noting the fleeting scenery changes from the window. The open countryside of rolling prairie was disappearing; they were approaching congested areas, a seeming concentration of small towns and farms. As the porter came through the car to convert berths back into seats, he called repeatedly: "Chicago, in 30 minutes; Chicago in 30 minutes."

Additional snapping sounds and click-clacks came as they passed over other railroad tracks and switches. As the train slowed, numerous parallel tracks appeared, many with long lines of assorted cattle and boxcars. They passed a long freight train standing motionless on a sidetrack, dark tendrils of coal smoke drifting lazily from its bulbous stack. Two short switch engines were visible, busily moving assortments of cars here and there, evidently sorting the mixture to make up future trains.

The conductor passed quickly through the car, removing tickets tucked along the clips between the windows. His nasal voice proclaiming: "Chicago, next stop. Five minutes."

Barely moving now, the early morning sunlight was suddenly blocked out as they rolled beneath a huge roofed canopy. Amid grinding and hissing of brakes and jarring of couplings the train finally stopped. As a brakeman opened the vestibule door, he picked up a short stool, opened the outside door and lifted a floor plate. A cool breeze wafted through the car as people stood to gather belongings, impatient to debark. Many carried bulky hand luggage, apparently not having bothered to check them.

Marguerite felt tense with anxiety, but upon descending from the car steps was suddenly grasped in a close embrace by a radiant Paul. He was so eager to take her in his arms that he blocked other passengers endeavoring to leave.

Their kiss was long and fervent until they were rudely forced aside by other passengers, one of whom remarked loudly about their lack of courtesy.

Finally releasing her, he exclaimed, "Oh, Marguerite, I've missed you so much! I even met the train yesterday morning in case you arrived a day early!" His excitement was so catching; her tension and fears magically vanished. "Here, give me your bag. I've a carriage waiting just outside."

The warmth of his greeting overwhelmed her. He was the same, familiar Paul, charming, obviously bubbling with joy at seeing her. At that instant she realized the closeness they would share, there would be no further worries. All thoughts of the past vanished at that moment; she instinctively knew their marriage would be a happy one!

"Have you had breakfast?"

"No. I doubt the dining car was even open at this early hour."

"Neither have I. Let's grab a bite downtown, then we'll go out to my Father and Mother's house. They have an extra bedroom for you until we can make arrangements for the nuptials. With his arm snugly around her waist he steered her toward the exit doors leading to the street. Looking at her mischievously, he asked, "Can we get married soon? Perhaps a civil ceremony would be best since I'm not of your faith? Gosh, we never got around to discussing that problem."

Smiling happily, she turned to face him. "Whatever you want suits me fine. I'm as anxious as you. How about your folks though; will there be any disappointment at a quick ceremony?"

He pressed her back into motion. "No problem, they'll agree to anything we decide upon. I've told them how beautiful and talented you are. Don't be worried about meeting them; they'll love you as much as I do. Oh, by the way did you check any baggage?"

"Gosh, it's well you reminded me. Yes, I checked a small steamer trunk. Let me get the tag from my reticule."

Approaching their carriage, Paul spoke to the driver. “Do you mind picking up a piece of baggage?"

"No, give me the check and I'll drive closer to the baggage door. You folks step inside, I'll take care of it.”

Monday, August 25, 2008

World Archives Project

I'm participating in the project shown in this video, and I highly encourage anyone reading this to do so, also.

It's so true what they say - the records we leave behind is all we finally are. Even the memories of those who love us eventually are gone.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Mystery Man

Unknown man in buggy, in front of Christ Episcopal Church, St. Vincent, MN. Year unknown. Anyone care to take a guess? All answers welcome!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Gamble Letters: First Peek of Originals

Until we get the scans courtesy of Cindy Adams, director of the Kittson County Museum, these photos taken with a cell phone are a nice preview of the original Gamble Letters, passed on to me by one of the cousins who had the letters temporarily in their possession...

Monday, August 18, 2008

French Festival Celebrates Treaty History

A detail of a mural painted by Ben Brien shows some of the heritage of Old Crossing and Treaty Park
History will repeat itself this weekend. People will gather at Old Crossing and Treaty Park near Huot as they did 145 years ago, but the fate of the entire Red River Valley is not at stake. This time it will be for the Chautauqua and French Festival.

"The Story of Old Crossing: The Treaty of 1863" will be told on Aug. 23 and 24 at 2:30 daily at the park 10 miles southwest of Red Lake Falls.

In the treaty, the Pembina and Red Lake bands of Chippewa ceded more than 11 million acres of the Red River Valley of the North to the United States for about $510,000.

At that time, the Chippewa and Metis must have had mixed feelings about the treaty and this is still true today. This is apparent in "The Story of Old Crossing" dialogue from writings by many authors from the Upper Midwest.

It is visible in a mural painted by Bennett Brien of Belcourt, N.D. The 8 x 16-foot mural is displayed in the Polk County Museum in Crookston.

The mural, unveiled in 1988, is Brien's interpretation rather than a realistic depiction of the Old Crossing Treaty signing.

Chautauqua participants can view the mural on Sunday, Aug. 24. A bus will leave the Old Crossing Park at 9 a.m. en route to St. Peter's Church in Gentilly and the Polk County Museum in Crookston. It will return to the park by 12:15 p.m.

At the festival, people will be able to discuss the mural with Brien, who will have some of his works on display.

There is no admission charge and everyone is welcome.

Throughout the weekend, there will be programs, vendors, food and music by Coul/e, a band from St. Laurent, Manitoba.

Festival sidelights

Some sidelights of the festival include:

- Food will be served from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. each day by John Ste. Marie.

- Silent Auction bids close at 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

- Tom, Jeanne, Erin O'Neil and fellow musicians will lead a fiddlers' rendezvous.

- Baking bread in an earth oven built in the park at the 2007 festival.

- Clay Works, crafts and children's activities.

"The Story of Old Crossing" is an official Minnesota Sesquicentennial Legacy Project and is financed in part with funds provided by the State of Minnesota through its Minnesota Sesquicentennial Commission Grants Program.

The Pembina Trail RC&D Council also adopted "The Story of Old Crossing" as a project and is providing technical assistance to the Red Lake County Historical Society and the Association of the French of the North, who are the primary sponsors of the project.

Grants are provided by the Hartz Foundation, Red Lake County and by the Northwest Regional Development Commission through funding from the Minnesota State Arts Board, the Minnesota State Legislature and the McKnight Foundation.

For more information, contact Virgil Benoit at 218 253-2270, Anne Healy at 218 253-2833 or visit

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Witnesses to an Invasion

J.J. Hill came north by stagecoach…While at the border [by Pembina and St. Vincent]:

…another dramatic episode of Canadian-American history was about to unfold before his eyes. In the late 1860s the idea of annexing western Canada had thrilled such earnest men as James W. Taylor, pioneer publicist of the upper Midwest; Oscar Malmros, American consul at Fort Garry; and even Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts – as well as Midwestern demagogues like Alexander Ramsey and Ignatius Donnelly. By 1871 such sentiment had all but died out, and only the Irish-American Fenians, who were more interested in twisting the British lion’s tail than securing the blessings of United States citizenship or Manitoban, still sought to stir up trouble. Hill wrote about the unedifying events which he saw unfold at Pembina, on the international boundary, beginning on October 5:

This A.M. at 7 o’clock a band of thirty Fenians under Gen’ls Jas. O’Neill, Curly Donnelly & O’Donahue composed of about twenty of the hardest looking roughs and ten Pembina loafers made an attack on the H[udson’s] B[ay] Post at Pembina which was occupied by one of the H.G. Co. officers and his clerk and captured it without resistance being offered. They at once set about clothing their half naked squad of roughs and loading up a wagon with provisions. Either the plunder had too much attraction for them or they thought they could rest on their freshly gained laurels for they remained in the Post until 11 o’clock A.m. when they were surprised by Col. Wheaton with 23 men from Fort Pembina coming down the road in an army ambulance and a few Mule Wagons…In about twenty minutes he [Wheaton] returned with Gen’ls O’Neill, Donnelly and Curley in the ambulance and about ten men on foot…O’Donahue made good his escape…

I was a close eye witness of the whole affair and I never saw a more ridiculous scattering or silly farce. It certainly looked as if the leaders would have been very much disappointed if they had not been kindly taken charge of by the U.S. Troops and in that way kept out of harms way…O’Donahue got hungry or dry and went into a half-breed’s house and was then taken prisoner by the breeds, but not until he had made them pledge that they would not deliver him to any but the United States authorities [would he lay down his pistol].

Fenian trial continued all day [Oct. 10] and was a contemptible farce and a burlesque as…Stutsman & Potter [defense counsel] simply bullied both the court and Col. Wheaton. Prisoners were acquitted on ground of want of jurisdiction by court as the arrests were made on what has theretofore been known as British soil…
Another eyewitness to this event...
The best account of what happened was given by courier George W. Webster, who was carrying dispatches to St. Paul for Archibald. On the eve of the raid he stopped at Pembina and called on Captain Wheaton, the American officer in command of the frontier fort at Pembina. Wheaton had no information on Fenian activities. Webster then spent the night at the residence of A.B. Douglas, the Canadian customs officer. At seven the next morning O’Neill seized the Customs House. Douglas, Webster and the clerk were arrested and marched to the Fenian command post about half a mile over the U.S. frontier. Webster wrote that there was a…

Fenian force of about thirty men with General O’Neill and Colonel Curley and Donnelly and O’Donoghue – they were armed with Springfield rifles converted to breech loaders (George Allin/Allen), none of them wore uniforms. About nine o’clock the Fenians had at least twenty prisoners as they stopped all those who were not connected with them. One of the prisoners was an American citizen and as he demanded his liberation on that ground O’Donoghue was afraid to detain him… Mr. Douglas and I had previously instructed him what to do, and as soon as he got out of rifle shot of the Fenians he ran all the way to the U.S. military post and informed Captain Wheaton of the circumstances.

Wheaton was determined to put an end to the mischief before it got out of hand. He put thirty men in two wagons and came down at the gallop. Just short of the Customs House he halted the wagons and his men moved in, in skirmishing order. Douglas and Webster were rescued and were able to watch the end of the operation through a telescope from the upper windows of the Customs House…

…The release of the Fenians by American authorities was a cause of some anxiety. In his address of 13 October Archibald thought it useful to remark, “The raid for the moment is over. If renewed it will not be renewed immediately. If the Fenians were man activated by ordinary reason, it would never be renewed. But they are not.”

Archibald did not understand that all the Fenians were interested in was taking home some fragments of glory, to add to Irish folklore. The declared aims of the raids were a pretext for battle. After Pembina it was clear that no “fragments” were to be had, and there were no more raids.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Gamble Letters Come Home

Oh my word, faithful readers! Has it ever been an exciting past few days!

Alice - one of the descendents of the Gamble family whose precious letters found their way here so all of us could read and learn from them - arrived some days ago in our area, and has been making the rounds visiting the people and places of her ancestors.

What is even MORE exciting however, is that the ORIGINAL letters themselves found their way into the hands of Lori, Donna, and Alice! Yes, the caretaker of those letters for some time now, Warren Griffith, met Lori in Pembina and handed them over. It was discussed by the cousins what to do next with them.

Here's the email history:
Dear Trish:

Here I am in Minnesota and, having met Lori Bianco and her mother, Donna, I have been elected to tell you the fantastic news (since I have a computer with me):

On the way to Hallock to meet with me, they stopped in Pembina, as Warren Griffith wanted to give them the Mary Ann letters! So, Lori and Donna now have the letters! I've seen them!

If you could get back to us soon, they would like to know what best to do with them to make sure they are preserved. They were going to take them tomorrow to the museum at Lake Bronson, but wanted to check with you first.

Thanks for any help you may be able to give us! Still hope to see you on Friday - I will call you when I get to Fargo in the afternoon.
I responded...
Amazing news!!

I'm very sure that Cindy at the museum will know how to best care and preserve them. I would suggest that they be scanned and digitized and submitted to Reflections Minnesota to be part of that online archive, for sure. If there is any chance that someone could get me some scans someday of the originals, email them to me, I'd love to see the actual handwriting!!

Yes, please call me - how exciting!

Today I got this email from Cindy...
Hi Trish,
The letters have just arrived! Thank you so much for recommending that these historically valuable letters come to the museum. They are fragile, so before I scan them, I want to encapsulate them to prevent any more deterioration. Once I have done that, I will scan them & email them to you. This is a really exciting addition to our collection. Thanks, again!

Cindy Adams
I was thrilled to help, and told her so...
I'm tickled pink, Cindy. Smiling like a fool. :) So glad they finally made it there. It took some letter writing and talking it through with relatives and others concerned, but they made it. Thanks so much in advance to sharing them with me. It'll be amazing to see the actual handwriting!


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Apology in Latin

A century ago, this was the Pembina River at Pembina...

- From a postcard, posted on October 18, 1908, which read on the other side:
Ethel -

Verite, dabo consensum. Mea culpa erit. Omnia bona bonis! Pax vobiscum.

Mae H.
It was addressed to a Miss Ethel Benson, Goheen Hall, Hamline University, Hamline, Minn.

Roughly (very roughly) translated, it means "Truthfulness , blot out agreement. My fault will be. Omnia good qualities bavis! Peace unto you." I'm guessing Mae was apologizing to Ethel, one student to another, in a very collegiate manner.

Please feel free, anyone, to correct my Latin translation! I give you the handwriting below, which may or may not be correct Latin. Who knows, maybe Mae didn't spell it right in the first place. But anyone knowing Latin well might be able to figure it out despite that...

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Recollections of the Blizzard of 1966

...The 1966 blizzard was in March. What I recall is how I had to go to the barn and was worried about going off-course and freezing to death. I could not tend to my sheep during that blizzard because it was just too difficult to find [my way] and the building was completely buried. One of my good friends and neighbors lost all of his sheep who were electrocuted when the barn collapsed due to the weight of the snow. We were fortunate in that we did not loose a single sheep or lamb. They were all huddled together bleating when I dug four feet down to the top of the door. I did suffer an injury though jumping from a building onto the sharp tinge of the manure spreader. The sharp prong went through my boot. I had no idea that the manure spreader was anywhere near where I was jumping. I was just trying to feed my sheep and in a hurry. It was amazing to have buildings buried. It was not easy to get me to the doctor for a tetanus shot and treatment because of the drifts. It was the worst blizzard of my memory and I learned the lesson "Look Before You Leap" does not eliminate the radius of the risk. - Mike Rustad (who still to this day tells tales of Humboldt to his law students in far-off Boston...)

From a recent Grand Forks Herald article:

In these parts, blizzards come and go, but the biggest ones earn lasting respect.

"I think it's the same with hurricanes and with severe thunderstorms and tornadoes," said Leon Osborne, director for UND's Regional Weather Information Center. "It's just kind of this fascination for the incredible awe, the power. It's so much greater than anything we as humans produce. And there's nothing you can do about it. It overpowers you."

The most storied blizzard of recent years is the winter of 1996-97's eighth blizzard. Many recalled the storm this week on its 10th anniversary by its Herald-given name, Hannah.

If luck be a lady, Hannah was snake-eyes lousy. Its preceding rain, freezing rain and sleet, followed by blinding snow, helped push the Grand Forks-East Grand Forks Flood of '97 into certified disaster status. That icy entrance, combined with powerful winds, also downed several thousand power poles and humbled hundreds of thousands of people while crippling the region's electrical power grid.

"Hannah didn't do anybody any favors," said John Wheeler, chief meteorologist for Grand Forks' WDAZ TV and Fargo's WDAY TV and Radio.

Blizzard Hannah was the ice queen cometh show-stopping royalty with a grand entrance that demonstrated spectacularly poor timing.

But a storm that would be king?

Stormy Rivalries

Today is championship day for the NCAA's men's hockey Frozen Four. If significant Red River region blizzards of the past 100 years could be narrowed to a kind of "Frozen Four," would Hannah qualify? And which storms would it rival?

Consulting with local severe weather authorities, the Herald settled on this subjective list of "Blizzard Frozen Four" candidates (in chronological order):

-- March 1941 "Ides of March Blizzard"

-- March 1966 blizzard

-- January 1975 "Super Bowl Blizzard"

-- April 1997 "Blizzard Hannah"

"I'd rank (Hannah) up there among the great blizzards because of the incredible amount of hardship that it caused," Wheeler said. "I think that's as good a way to rank blizzards as any."

Osborne agrees: "In the last 30 years, (Hannah) is probably the most intense storm that we've had. But from the standpoint of blizzards (of the century), historically speaking, I'd barely put it in the top four."

If the magnitude of snow produced is the primary consideration, Osborne said, the 1966 blizzard "was clearly the winner. . . . We have not seen a repeat of that storm environment in 40 years."

Wheeler, too, said the '66 storm "was spectacular" in several respects. "The winds were between 40 and 50 mph most of the time the blizzard was going on. It was about 20 below." That more people didn't die, Wheeler said, is probably a testimony of better media weather coverage than existed in March 1941, when 71 people died during a "Alberta clipper" blizzard.

Wheeler said blizzards are difficult to rank because, unlike hurricanes and tornadoes, they feature multiple components that aren't nearly as easily measured.

Mark Ewens, a veteran meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, gives preference to wind speeds and extremely low pressure an intense storm staple when informally ranking blizzards. He ranks the '75 Super Bowl Blizzard first, followed by the '66 blizzard and '97's Hannah.

Observational records influence his fourth choice, a blizzard that struck North Dakota in March 1920 as his fourth choice. Fewer people are alive who remember the deadly 1920 storm. But that might not clarify matters.

"On the whole, people have really bad weather memories," Ewens said. "When we start looking at particulars, our memory tends to inflate things, especially as we get older."

Added Larry Skroch, a Grand Forks man who co-authored books about the '41 and '66 blizzards: "If you ever get caught in a storm, that's going to be the one that you remember. . . . Whatever you're doing when it hits, you remember."

That's one of the reasons he respects the '75 "Super Bowl Blizzard," which swept through the Upper Midwest right before the Minnesota Vikings' loss in New Orleans to the Pittsburgh Steelers. "My mother got caught in that one," the Cogswell, N.D., native says, so "it's a little personal for me."

But Skroch ranked the '41 and '66 blizzards as the worst the former because of the extent of human tragedy, the latter because of its paralyzing duration and massive livestock deaths. And he's very partial to Hannah, too.

Ewens, Wheeler and Skroch noted that the freezing cold weather Blizzard Hannah ushered into the valley, lasting several days, helped to stretch the Red River crest past Fargo, probably sparing it from Grand Forks-type flood damage.

Blizzards tend to be the Rodney Dangerfield of major weather storms. "Blizzards are kind of the forgotten stepchild in the weather world. Unless they're occurring on the East Coast, it's almost as if the country isn't aware of them," Osborne said.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Fair Times

The prizes awarded in the open classes at the St. Vincent Fair were recently announced. Percheron Stallion first place went to Sam Johnson, Humboldt and second to Fred McIllraith, Northcote. In Native Ponies, under 14 hands, Malcolm Sugden, Hallock took first and second and L. McGovern, St. Vincent took third.

From the Kittson County Enterprise (October 1932)

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Seifferts: "Ocian in view! O! the joy."

From the Seiffert family today comes the long-awaited news...
That subject line is a quote from William Clark's field notes when he first saw the Pacific Ocean (the spelling is his) and I thought it might be as good a line as any for Matt and David. Shortly before noon today they reached York Factory, and immediately sent us a Spot Messenger signal, followed by another one about a hundred meters away a few minutes later, followed by another (this one) a few minutes later from inside the grounds of the fort. Matthew explained to me later that this was as close as they could come to shouting their exultation to us. They have done it. Over two thousand miles and God only knows how many paddle strokes, and they have made it from St. Peter to Hudson Bay (actually, the bay is still a half-dozen miles from York Factory, but I think we can allow them this much - they could see it easily from there...)

With their usual impeccable timing, they happened to arrive on a special day at the site (which is now part of the Canadian park system). There was some sort of heritage festival going on, so there were more people there than usual. Some others had also canoed in, but when people learned that Matt and David had come all the way from Minnesota, they were accorded minor celebrity status. They told me that they had indeed taken some photos there, so we should soon get to see what they saw there. They were at York Factory only about an hour and a half, since the plane took them out about 1:00. They called me from Gillam, where they will spend the entire day tomorrow before catching the Winnipeg-bound train from Churchill at about 4:00 Friday morning. They should be getting into the station at Winnipeg about 1:00 in the afternoon on Saturday. Matthew asked me to pass on an invitation to all his new Canadian friends (you know who you are) that if you happen to be in or near Winnipeg at that time, we'll be hanging around The Forks area (which is right by the train station) from about 1:30 to 2:00. He and David would love to see you again and we'd love to meet you.

The guys sounded great on the phone (they would have sounded great to me no matter what) but they are, not surprisingly, quite tired. They took turns standing watch last night for polar bears (they never saw any) - the only night they have done so - and between that and the sleeplessness of the excitement, they did not get too much sleep. I am guessing that tonight they will make up for some of that...

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Building I-29

During the 1950's, when the Interstate was being built (I-29), the road workers and their families needed places to park their trailers. Mom and Dad rented some of their land for this. My parents became friends with many of them. These photos show two of the trailers they lived in by our house, one with my sister Sharon standing in front of it.

I've included at the end of this post a brief and fascinating history behind the interstate system in general, and why it was built. It wasn't only for transportation of civilians, but as an important part of our national defense. Our section near the border was one of the first built for that very reason, being seen as a strategic location...

From North Dakota Highways:

North Dakota native Ryan Fischer shared the following information...
I-29 has a very peculiar history. Its first stretch was completed in the late 50s from Drayton to the Canadian border, making it among the earliest sections of Interstate highway built from scratch. Why it was built so early in such a sparsely populated part of the country baffles everyone I know from back home. Ahhh, the U.S. government...[NOTE from Trish - see bottom of this post for a VERY good reason why - defense of the country in strategic locations]
Some history...
I-29 was built along the US-81 alignment across much of extreme eastern North Dakota. The segment from the Canadian border to Drayton was opened as a 2-lane, undivided alignment in the late 1950's, as an upgraded segment of ND-44. By 1975, I-29 was compete as far south as Walcott. The entire highway in the state was completed by 1977.

In early Interstate highway plans from 1957, only the Fargo to Pembina segment was planned, and this was to be designated as I-31; I-29 was reserved for the current alignment from Sioux Falls, SD, to Kansas City, MO. On October 18, 1957, the Bureau of Public Roads recommended an interstate from Fargo to Sioux Falls. North Dakota officials requested in February 1958 that the planned I-31 designation be changed to I-29, and federal officials approved.

If you look at 70s era Rand McNally road maps, you will see that the section from N.D. 5 to the Canadian border is marked "Two Lanes." While the overpasses were built and right-of-way was established for the divided, four-lane highway, this section of I-29 functioned as a two lane freeway until the late-70s.
National Interstate and Defense Highways Act (1956)

Popularly known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956, the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 established an interstate highway system in the United States. The movement behind the construction of a transcontinental superhighway started in the 1930s when President Franklin D. Roosevelt expressed interest in the construction of a network of toll superhighways that would provide more jobs for people in need of work during the Great Depression. The resulting legislation was the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1938, which directed the chief of the Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) to study the feasibility of a six-route toll network. But with America on the verge of joining the war in Europe, the time for a massive highway program had not arrived. At the end of the war, the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1944 funded highway improvements and established major new ground by authorizing and designating, in Section 7, the construction of 40,000 miles of a "National System of Interstate Highways."

When President Dwight D. Eisenhower took office in January 1953, however, the states had only completed 6,500 miles of the system improvements. Eisenhower had first realized the value of good highways in 1919, when he participated in the U.S. Army's first transcontinental motor convoy from Washington, DC, to San Francisco. Again, during World War II, Eisenhower saw the German advantage that resulted from their autobahn highway network, and he also noted the enhanced mobility of the Allies, on those same highways, when they fought their way into Germany. These experiences significantly shaped Eisenhower's views on highways and their role in national defense. During his State of the Union Address on January 7, 1954, Eisenhower made it clear that he was ready to turn his attention to the nation's highway problems. He considered it important to "protect the vital interest of every citizen in a safe and adequate highway system."

Between 1954 and 1956, there were several failed attempts to pass a national highway bill through the Congress. The main controversy over the highway construction was the apportionment of the funding between the Federal Government and the states. Undaunted, the President renewed his call for a "modern, interstate highway system” in his 1956 State of the Union Address. Within a few months, after considerable debate and amendment in the Congress, The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 emerged from the House-Senate conference committee. In the act, the interstate system was expanded to 41,000 miles, and to construct the network, $25 billion was authorized for fiscal years 1957 through 1969. During his recovery from a minor illness, Eisenhower signed the bill into law at Walter Reed Army Medical Center on the 29th of June. Because of the 1956 law, and the subsequent Highway Act of 1958, the pattern of community development in America was fundamentally altered and was henceforth based on the automobile.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Seiffert Brothers: 55 Miles in One Day!

God's RiverWow...55 miles in one day! See where they are, and read about what this means...
I don't know if the guys are that eager for fresh food, that tired of being on the river in the rain, or just enjoying a strong current, but by my measurements, they ate up about 55 miles today. If they go that far again on Tuesday, they will be on the doorstep of York Factory. I'm not sure if they plan to make it there tomorrow or not. They were supposed to give us a special signal when they thought they'd be there the next day and we haven't received that yet, but we know by now that even signals relayed from a satellite can get delayed. They can probably almost just drift the rest of the way if they are so inclined; the river is probably moving fairly swiftly here. They have dropped from about 90 meters above sea level yesterday to about 25 today (for those of you not conversant with metric, that's a bit over 200 feet). The river is obviously growing, with some additions from other streams. Right now they are at the confluence of the Hayes (which has been their highway) and God's River, which is the one that Sevareid and his friend took back in 1930.

The river definitely looks bigger now. I measured it on my computer at about a quarter mile across here. It will get a bit narrower in spots yet, but it will also be wider at the end, a half mile or more, which will almost certainly make it the biggest river of their whole trip. Speaking (or writing) of big, they have totaled up some big miles by now. Even if you ignore all the twists and turns (which I'm sure they would love to have done on the Red) they are now about 800 miles in a straight line north of where we are in St. Anthony (which is almost exactly halfway between the equator and north pole) and even farther north of where they started in St. Peter. If they were to go that far north again, they would be well north of the Arctic Circle. If they were to go that far in a straight line west, east, or south of here, they would be in Yellowstone Park, central New York, or northern Louisiana, respectively. If they were to unkink all the miles that they have traveled and go that far in a straight line, I think they would be in an ocean any way they went.

I imagine that they will be glad to unkink their bodies after more than two thousand miles of sitting. I can't imagine how they will feel when they see the bay in front of them. I'm not sure if Matt and David can imagine it yet themselves, but in a day or two they won't have to - they will know just how it feels. I hope they can describe it for us...

Monday, August 04, 2008

Seiffert Update: York Factory or Bust

The Seiffert brothers, Matt and David, are making fast times as they rapidly descend towards Hudson Bay. Last night came this latest update from their family, based on GPS data sent to them daily...
If my measurements are correct, Matt and David made 34 or more miles today, a bit faster than in the previous few days. That could be from motivation to reach the end, but I also suspect that they are benefiting from the fact that the river is definitely descending. It looks like they are 40 or more meters closer to sea level. If they maintain this pace, they could be at York Factory by Thursday or Friday. As far as I can tell, they have been in a sort of canyon for quite a few miles now - the land appears to rise about 40 to 50 meters on either side of them, where they are currently camped on the south bank of the river (there are no islands to speak of where they are right now). I think that it will flatten out a bit before they reach the end of the river. When that happens, we will be scrambling a bit at this end. Their return journey will involve a plane, a train, and our automobile. One result of that will be that these updates will be interrupted for a few days while we are traveling. We will let you know before we go that they have finished, and we will have some more info for you when we get back (I hope that the guys can add some stuff of their own by that time...)

Sunday, August 03, 2008

MN @ 150: Pembina Trail Update III

Pum the ox
I have discovered a blog that shows great updates of Orlin Ostby's trip.

I'm telling you, I think that Pum is more popular than Orlin. And why not - what a handsome fellow he is! Steven Reynolds writes:
In 2003, Orlin purchased a team of young Holstein steers, broken to drive, from a 10-year-old New Hampshire 4-Her named Thomas Philbrick, who had begun training “Pum” and “Kin” as a team as young as eight days old...Over the past five years, Pum and Kin grew in size and experience, becoming celebrities in community events and parades across northwest Minnesota and the Red River Valley region. Pum, chosen for the Pembina walk because of his sweet disposition and cool head, weighs 2360 pounds and is six feet tall at the shoulder. He can easily pull the two-wheel, early-1900s Ontario cart Orlin has modified for the trip...

Saturday, August 02, 2008

The Black Robes

Because of the colour of their cassocks, Native peoples referred to the Catholic missionaries who came to evangelize them as "Black Robes"
- From Black Robes, Library & Archives Canada

Father Lacombe: The Black Robe Voyageur, by Katherine Hughes

To read about Father Lacombe's early mission years, spent in Pembina, read on...