Monday, September 15, 2008

Fort Pembina Revealed

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Dear Readers, some of you may wonder, where in the world does this woman find this stuff? Well, let me tell you, I find this stuff in the most unlikely places sometimes. I'll give you a hint - I search just about every available database and under about every subject related to our area. You just never know what you will find. Such was the case with today's post.

I found a book on the forts of the frontier in our area, that had a very detailed description of Fort Pembina when it was located near the confluence of the Pembina and Red Rivers (see recent post about that...) Normally I jot down my sources but for whatever reason I did not do so in this case, much to my shame. It was an old book, and that's all I can tell you. That's what happens when you do the research but don't look at it until months or years later!

One thing I'm curious about that is mentioned below, and that is the post's cemetery, which sounds like it is somewhere in what is commonly known as South Pembina. Has anyone ever located it...?

Fort Pembina, Dakota Territory, is located at the extreme northeast point of the Territory; latitude, 48 degrees, 56' 46". 3 north; logitude, 20 degrees, 10' west. It is about two hundred miles north of the watershed which divides the Mississippi Valley from the valley fo the Red River of the North, and is situated on the west or left bank of the river. It is one mile south of the village of Pembina, Dak., and about three and one-half miles south of the boundary-line between the United States and the Dominion of Canada, as established by the International Boundary Commission in September, 1872. Sixty-six miles north of the fort is the town of Winnipeg, (Fort Garry,) a rapidly growing place, with a population of three thousand. Thirty miles westward is a range of tableland extending irregularly north and south for many miles, with an abrupt front of several hundred feet in height on the eastern border, called the Pembina Mountain. This is the nearest high land to the post. Eastward, in Minnesota, is a prairie region with many swamps, and impassable except during the winter.

There is no mineral formation, no stones or sand in the vicinity. Sand is brought from the base of Pembina Mountain, and limestone is found near Fort Garry. The surface soil consists of a black clayey loam from 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 feet deep, and very fertile. Beneath this is a white clay slightly mixed with marl, but which makes good brick of a cream color, like the Milwaukee brick. This stratum is underlaid by a stiff, moist, blue clay, at least sixty feet in depth.

There are no springs or ponds on the reservation. Water is generally found by digging wells to the depth of 10 to 25 feet, but is not universally distributed at that depth. It seems to flow in veins among the strata of blue clay; and will sometimes be met at a depth of 12 feet, while at no great distance it is not found at the depth of 40 feet.

The site of the fort is 30 feet above low water in the Red River, and is subject to overflow at irregular intervals. In 1826 there was a very destructive flood, which carried away houses and barns, and again in 1852 and 1861 there were great freshets.

The climate is dry and cold, and severe gales of wind are not uncommon. Winter begins in November, and spring in May; and by the 15th of the latter month the grass is fairly started on the prairie.

Planting is done in May and the first ten days of June. The hardy Indian ponies, and even mules, live through the winter without shelter. They reach the dead prairie grass by pawing away the snow, and quench their thirst by eating the latter.

Cattle cannot endure the exposure, and require to be fed eight months of the year. Sheep thrive well, and are raised in considerable numbers near Fort Garry. The climate is too cold for swine, which are unprofitable except where they have access to oak woods.

The principle indigenous plants of the vicinity are the following: The wild strawberry ripens the second week in June, continues in season three weeks, and is immediately succeeded by the wild raspberry. The wild black currant and high bush blueberry ripen in July; the wild red plum and chokecherry in August. The hazel-nut, wild grape, and bush cranberry ripen in September. These fruits form the principal food of the Indians during the summer.

The chief forest trees are the oak, ash, elm, basswood, cottonwood, and willow.

The wild animals of this region are the moose, elk, red deer, black bear, wolf, red fox, cross fox, silver fox, raccoon, black marten, prairie gray squirrel, ground-squirrel, flying-squirrel, rabbit, skunk, beaver, otter, milk, and muskrat. The buffalo, which a few years ago roamed in vast herds over the plains of Dakota, has not been seen in this vicinity since 1867. Hunters still start from Pembina to follow them to their retreats; and at Wood Mountain, five hundred miles westward, there is a settlement of nearly one hundred families who still live by hunting the buffalo.

Of birds, the bald-headed eagle, kestrel, hawk, shrike, whip-poor-will, woodpecker, chimney swallow, and martin spend the summer in this region, arriving in April and May, and returning southward in October and November. The crane, loon, cormorant, swan, pelican, wild goose, white brant, ducks, mallard, widgeon, blue and green winged teal, and muganser are also summer visitors. The wild pigeon arrives in April, hatches in July, and departs in September. The prairie-chicken remains all the year. They are hatched in July, and are large enough to kill in the latter part of August.

Sturgeon are caught in the Red River weighing from fifty to two hundred pounds. Their flesh is highly esteemed; and the oil is a favorite domestic remedy for contusions and sprains. The pickerel, wall-eyed pike, (a species of salmon,) the cat-fish, and the gold-eye, (a small species of white-fish,) are also caught in great quantities for food.

Reptiles are few in number, small and harmless. Not so are the insects. The horse-fly is extremely numerous and troublesome in July and August. A large fly, called here the "bull-dog," caused great annoyance to the stock of the boundary commission near the Lake of the Woods; but is not very numerous near this post. The mosquitoes swarm in myriads in summer both day and night. They have been known to kill cattle by filling the trachea and causing suffocation. The hardy Canadian voyageurs have been so prostrated by the torture of their bites in crossing the prairies, that they have lain down and wept.

Every year, since the establishment of the post, vast swarms of winged ants have been observed about the 20th of August moving northward. They presented the appearance of dark quivering masses several hundred feet from the ground, were several hours in passing, and the sound of their wings was like the hum of innumerable swarms of bees. They never alighted in the vicinity of Pembina, but occasional stragglers reached the ground. In each instance there was found a large brown female ant one-third of an inch in length, heavy with eggs. Upon her back was mounted a small black male ant, in the act of impregnation.

Grasshoppers have been observed in the Northwest ever since the first settlement of the country, and, although sometimes absent for several years, their reappearance is only a question of time, and is looked for with dread.

The inhabitants above Saint Joseph's, Dak., and a large portion of the settlers in Manitoba, refrained from planting seed in 1873, fearing the their labor would be in vain. The grasshoppers hatched in immense numbers in Manitoba, and began flying south in July, and on twelve different days were observed at the post in the air. They alighted in the vicinity on several days and destroyed a quantity of growing grain by eating off the stalks near the head; but they soon resumed their flight southward.

On the 25th of March, 1870, a special order (No. 43) was issued from headquarters Department of Dakota, detailing Companies I and K, Twentieth Infantry, to establish a new military post at or near Pembina, Dak. In compliance with this order, Company I, commanded by Capt. Loyd Wheaton1, and accompanied by Asst. Surg. Ezra Woodruff, as medical officer, left Fort Abercrombie, then an extreme frontier post, in May, embarking on two flat-boats, to float to their destination by the current of the Red River. The region to be traversed was a wilderness with only three small settlements. Twenty-two miles from Abercrombie was passed the Mission of the Holy Cross, where a few Indians and half-breeds were gathered under the care of a priest. Twenty-eight miles farther appeared Georgetown, a Hudson's Bay trading post of two or three houses; and thence to Grand Forks, one hundred miles from Abercrombie, there was not a single habitation. Grand Forks, where the principal affluent of the Red River entered, had but a single hut, occupied by one Mick Hoffman, and used by the mail-carriers as a station. The wide prairie, clothed with young grass, showed not a sign of life, except an occasional bird and millions of minute grasshoppers just hatched. Thence to Pembina there was not a single house. At that time the trade of Fort Garry, singular vehicles were composed entirely of wood, and consisted of two wheels near six feet in diameter, with very broad tires, and a small body resting on the axle and shafts. Both ponies and oxen were used to draw them, attached by a peculiar harness of raw-hide. Those carts would carry from six hundred to eight hundred pounds, and one man could drive five or six of them in a train. No grease was used, and as a long train crept over the prairie and indescribable noise was made by the creaking of the wheels. It was estimated that three thousand of these carts passed south through Pembina in one season, carrying furs as freight, and returned loaded with various supplies. The broad felloes of the wheels prevented their sinking in the soft ground, and the driver, with only the most primitive tools, could at any time or place repair a broken cart or even construct a new one. When progress was interrupted by a swollen stream, the cart could be taken to pieces and floated across. The irregular mails were transported on these carts during the summer, and through the long winter they arrived by dog-trains, or on the back of a hardy half-breed voyageur.

During the past four years the Red River country has vied with any other portion of the West in the rapidity of its progress. There are now thousands of swellings where in 1870 there were not more than half a dozen, and every lot of land along the river from Grand Forks to Pembina is said to be taken up by actual settlers. Five steamboats ply upon the Red River, reaching Moorhead, the crossing of the Northern Pacific Railroad, during high water, but are unable to ascend so far during the direst part of summer.

In September, 1871, the Minnesota Stage Company established a line of stages, running thrice a week from Fort Abercrombie to Fort Garry. The Saint Paul and Saint Vincent Railroad was, in the spring of 1874, graded within nine miles of Pembina, but the rails were not then laid beyond the crossing of Red Lake River. A telegraph line was completed in the autumn of 1872, crossing the parade at Fort Pembina. Thousands of Canadian emigrants have within the last few years passed this place to settle in the bleak regions of the Assinaboine and the Saskatchewan, and are rapidly populating the country between this point and Winnipeg.

Captain Wheaton, with Company I, Twentieth Infantry, arrived at Pembina on the 19th of May. They were joined soon after by Company K from Fort Totten, under command of Capt. A.A. Harbach. The site selected was within the angle formed by the confluence of the Pembina and Red Rivers. The reservation extends three miles along the former and one mile on the latter. It is a level prairie, except the northwest corner, crossed by the Pembina River, which is skirted with Timber.

The fort is four miles south of the boundary-line between the United States and the British possessions, as established by Capt D.P. Heap, United States Engineers, in May, 1870, and three miles south of the old and still-recognized line surveyed by Major Long in 1823. The fort is located in the northeast angle of the reservation, about two hundred yards from the bank of the Red River, from which it is subject to overflow at irregular intervals.

The buildings are arranged in the form of a rectangle and face the parade-ground, 386 by 280 feet. The whole is surrounded by a wooden palisade fence, and has capacity for two companies of infantry. All the buildings are of wood, except the magazine, which is of brick. The other buildings consisted of four double sets of officers' quarters; two company barracks, with separate kitchens; guard house, hospital, bake-house, storehouse, and stable.

The hospital and buildings for quarters are constructed in the same manner. Planks three inches thick are laid upon the ground, on which are placed oak posts. Upon these a balloon frame is erected.

The outside is covered with inch boards, tarred felt, and pine sheathing; the inside is lathed and plastered with two coats, the officers' quarters and hospital being also hard-finished. The roofs are covered with inch boards, tarred felt, and shingles; the floors are double, with tarred felt between the courses.

The officers' quarters are four double frame buildings, for the accommodation of eight officers. They are situated on the south side of the parade, and face the north; are one and a half stories high, 46 1/2 by 30 feet, each traversed by a hall in the center from front to rear, 7 feet wide. From this hall the stairway ascends to the attic. The ceiling of the first floor is 11 feet high; of the attic 4 1/2 at the sides and 9 feet in the center. The lower story is divided in parlor, 12 by 16 feet, sitting room 14 by 15 feet, dining room 11 by 15 feet, and kitchen 10 by 13 feet. The attic contains two large bedrooms and two closets.

There is an open fire-place in the parlor; the other rooms have flues for stoves. The rooms are well lighted, and ventilation is secured by registers in the flues.

The company barracks, two in number, built on the plan above described, are located on the north side of the parade. Each building is 178 by 25 feet, and 14 feet from the floor to ceiling. Along the south front is a piazza eight feet in width. The center of the building is occupied by two orderly-rooms, 14 by 15 feet. The remainder consists of two dormitories or squad-rooms. Each squad room is lighted by six windows; ventilated by the chimney-flues and cold air boxes opening in the floor. In contains one open fire-place and a flue for stove. One 35-inch box heating-stove, with drum, is found sufficient to warm the room. Iron bedsteads are used. There is no wash-room or bath-room. The sinks are in rear of the barracks, and are pits 10 feet deep covered with houses. Fifteen feet in rear of each barrack is a commodious and well-furnished building, 53 by 20 feet, comprising the company kitchen, mess-room, and two pantries.

A substantial log building, 60 by 212 feet, and divided into three equal rooms, is used as quarters for laundresses.

The guard-house is located north of the company kitchens, and consists of a wooden building 38 by 25 feet. A hall, 5 feet wide, passes through the center north and south, from which doors open into the guard-room and prison-rooms. The former is 15 by 24 feet, and of the latter, one is 14 by 16, the other 9 1/2 by 16 feet. The height of the ceiling is 10 feet. In the guard-room is an open fire-place, and in the prison rooms flues for stoves. The former has two windows and each of the latter, one. Registers are placed in the flues for ventilation. The average occupancy in 1873 was 10.51.

The hospital, situated in the southwestern corner of the garrison, consists of an administration building and a ward. The former is one and one-half stories high, 37 feet square, with an L on the western side, 21 by 14 feet, for kitchen and pantry. The first floor is crossed by two halls at right angles, having four rooms, viz: dispensary, office, store-room, and dining room. A stairway with one landing, ascends to the attic; which contains four rooms, entered from a central hall 7 feet wide. One of these rooms is assigned to attendants, one as steward's room, and a third for a dead room. It had no special fixtures for post-mortem examinations. The ward is one room, 45 by 25 feet, outside measurement. Attached to the southwest corner of the ward, is a room 10 by 13 feet, built for a bath-room and water-closet. It has no furniture save one tin bath-tub. The ward is lighted by ten windows, four on each side and two in the south end. All the windows in the hospital on the first floor are hung with weights. The ventilation of the administration building is by flues containing registers, and is ample. The ward is ventilated by a cold-air box opening in the center of the floor, over which is placed a ventilating-stove. A special ventilating-chimney is built at the south end of the ward, with a register near the ceiling. There are also registers in the chimneys at the north end of the ward. The extreme coldness of the climate renders these provisions sufficient, it being extremely difficult to keep the cold air out. The hospital is warmed entirely by stoves. Two 31-inch box heating-stoves suffice to keep the air in the ward at a proper temperature. The ward is an airy, cheerful-looking apartment, the dispensary neatly fitted up and well furnished. The sink is a double apartment built over a pit 12 feet deep, and is neatly policed. It is in rear of the southern end of the ward, and is reached by a door from the bath-room.

The bakery is in the northeastern portion of the fort, twenty-five feet north and in rear of the company-kitchen. It contains two large ovens and is in good order.

There is no school-room, chapel, or laundry.

The stable is situated about three hundred yards southeast of the fort, near the river-bank. It is a frame building, 140 by 30 feet, raised 2 feet from the ground on posts, and contains stalls for fifty-six horses. It is covered with inch boards and sheetings, and roofed with shingles. No tarred felt is used. The floor is of 2-inch pain plank.

Water is hauled from the river in barrels in winter and in a tank in summer. The supply is ample and the quality good. There are twelve galvanized-iron cisterns, each of a capacity of one hundred and ten barrels. They are sunk into the ground, one at each set of officers' quarters, one at each barrack, one at the hospital, and one at the storehouse. They are useless in winter.

An examination of the Red River water was made in December, 1874, by Asst. Surg. V. Havard, U.S.A., at a time when the river was covered with thick ice. The result showed (grains per gallon):

Organic matters as obtained by incineration, 4.90
Oxidizable organic matter, as obtained by the permanganate of potassa test, 4.12
Carbonate of lime, 10.09
Chloride of sodium, 1.92
Sulphates (approximate), 2.00
Phosphates, a trace
Magnesia, a comparatively large quantity, no precisely determined

The suspended matters, mostly sand and clay, with some organic impurities, estimated from 2-4 grains per gallon.

The water when shaken has a reddish-yellow tint, but after settling is, at this season, perfectly clear. It is without taste and no complaint has ever been traced to its use.

There are no facilities for bathing at the post in winter. The river is used in summer.

Slops, offal, and excreta are carted away in barrels and emptied on the bank of the river at a distance from the post.

The cemetery is one-third of a mile south of the post, on the Fort Abercrombie road. It is two acres in extent, inclosed by a wooden fence, and thus far contains three graves.

A plat of eight acres in extent, lying southeast of the post, has been enclosed with a rail-fence, and plowed for a post garden. This piece of ground, owing to unskillful management, has yet produced but little. A smaller tract has also been cultivated. The principal products have been potatoes, onions, beets, carrots, parsnips, radishes, green peas, and beans. The supply has never been sufficient for the wants of the garrison. A hospital garden was to be commenced in 1874. There are no officers' gardens. Summer vegetables can be procured in limited quantities from the settlers in the vicinity.

The soldiers have an out-door gymnasium for summer practice, and have started a dramatic association, which furnishes much amusement, and is a source of relaxation to the men.

Lloyd Wheaton1 - Colonel Lloyd Wheaton was born in Calhoun County, Michigan, July 15, 1838. He came to Llinois at the age of fifteen, and settled at Peoria. he learned civil engineering from his father, and followed his profession until the breaking out of the war, when he joined the first company of volunteers raised in Peoria. The company was mustered into the 8th infantry on its original organization at Springfield. When the regiment was mustered for three years' service he was made First Lieutenant. At the battle of Shiloh, where he was seriously wounded, he won his promotion to the captaincy, and from that passed step by step to the colonelcy of the regiment; gaining his promotion through every grade by gallant and meritorious conduct. He was one of the first men to enter the rebel works at Fort Blakely, and was always in the front when danger was near. That was Lloyd Wheaton leading up to establishing Fort Pembina; later in life, he would become Brigadeer General Wheaton, and play a major role in the Spanish-American War in the Philipines...