Friday, October 31, 2008

The Stain on the Record

From Early History of North Dakota by Clement Augustus Lounsberry comes the disturbing facts and images as described below...

"Oh! stay not to recount the tale -
'Twas bloody - and 'tis past,
The firmest check might well grow pale
To hear it to the last.
The God of heaven, who prospers us,
Could bid a nation grow.
And shield us from the red man's curse
Two hundred years ago!"

- Grenville Mellen

From the 28th of August, 1801, to the close of the year 1804, the record of the life at Fort Pembina is a series of complaints, demands, quarrels and casualties, the revolting details of which involve the characters of many brave Indians, who doubtless merit honorable mention, but who appear at best as "troublesome" and many of them as answerable for a long list of crimes, invariably with direct reference to an abnormal state of mind, attributed to over-indulgence on one side and criminal adulteration of the means of it on the other.

Dr. Elliot CouesThe record of Alexander Henry, as made up by himself, during five years of the early history of the Red River Valley, is bad enough. Others were working on the same lines. In some of their journals the record is far more shameful than Henry's, and of his Doctor Coues1 says: "The seamy side of the fur trade Henry shows us with a steady hand that we can scarcely follow with unshaken nerves, is simply hell on earth; people with no soul above a beaver skin, fired by King Alcohol in the workshop of Mammon."

Ingenious excuses were framed by the Indians for obtaining the stimulant which the white traders had encouraged them to use and taught them to prize above all things, and in the dealing out of them of the poison, there was often a nefarious liberality, let alone their questionable forms of trade, for which there can be no condemnation too severe.

Henry in commenting on the degeneracy of the Indians, said: "The Indians totally neglect their ancient ceremonies, and to what can this degeneracy be ascribed but to their intercourse with us; particularly as they are so unfortunate as to have a continual succession of opposition parties to teach them roguery and destroy both mind and body with that pernicious article, rum! What a different set of people they would be, were there not a drop of liquor in the country! If a murder is committed among the Saulteurs (Chippewa), it is always in a drinking match. We may truly say that liquor is the root of all evil in the Northwest. Great bawling and lamentation went on, and I was troubled most of the night for liquor to wash away grief."

The use of intoxicating liquor rouses the passions, among all races of men; it deadens the sensibilities, impairs and frequently destroys the memory. Love in the home of the man who is addicted to its use, his business will fail, his home will be broken, and his parents, his wife, and daughters may expect to go in sorrow to their graves. There is no evil known to man that can or does bring the destress to the human race that follows its unrestrained use.

Perhaps it has been, and may be used to some advantage in medicine and mechanic arts, but there is absolutely no compenstation that it has given or can give the world, for the ruin it has wrought in its use as a beverage. A noble race that peopled the plains and forests of North America have been nearly destroyed by its use and the white man's greed for gold, and countless thousands, aye, millions of white men have been unfitted for life's duties, not to speak of the murders and suicides, and of the miserable wrecks in the hospitals for the insane and in the penitentiaries and jails.

The flagstaff for Fort Pembina, a single oak stick, "seventy-five feet without splicing," was erected on November 28, 1801, and at the raising the men were given "two gallons of high wines, four fathoms of tobacco, and some flour and sugar, to make merry." But it was not alone the aborigines who exceeded the bounds of sobriety, for it is written, that on New Year's day the man of the X.Y. Company and the Hudson's Bay Company came over to Fort Pembina, and the manager treated the company assembled to "two gallons of alcohol, five fathoms of tobacco and some flour and sugar, the neighbors and everybody else of both sexes and all classes losing their senses, and according to the narrator, 'becoming more troublesome than double their number of Indians.'"

Good drinking water was scarce on the hunt and in the midst of the winter of 1801-02 (February 28th), Henry returned from hunting almost famished, and declared that "a draught of water was the sweetest beverage he ever drank."

Of the Indian when not degenerated by the use of intoxicants it may be said there is no selfishness in him. His anger and his appetite in those days were uncontrollable, but there is no human love stronger than his for home and kindred, and he seldom forgot to recognize "discretion" as "the better part of valor," and for that he has been called cowardly. No matter what the Indian's prospect for success in battle might be, the moment that he realized that his women and children were in danger he would return. Their protection was his first consideration. Aside from that his creed was a life for a life, a scalp for a scalp. If the Indians traveled a thousand miles, enduring privation and dangers that were appalling, it was for scalps to recompense for similar losses. It was not the love of bloodshed, or for the wanton destruction of human life. It was for revenge, none the less sweet because indulged by the untutored tribesmen.

1 - Dr. Elliott Coues was the appointed surgeon and naturalist for the Northern Boundary Commission...

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Profile: Randolph Probstfield

Randolph and Catherine ProbstfieldRandolph Probstfield (seen here with his wife Catherine) emigrated from Germany to Minnesota and became one of the earliest settlers in the Red River Valley, at the Georgetown fur station (HBC). His experiements in agriculture helped determine what could best be grown in the Valley.
Along the banks of the Red River, a woman gives birth to her third child. As her husband helps to deliver the baby, her two older children huddle at the side of the tent, trying to stay warm. The muddy waters flow by, and just days later, the group heads out again. They battle the cold, the wind and the river, only stopping when they reach the plot of land that they can call their own. “The crossing of the river that night is one that I shall never forget,” said Randolph Probstfield, an early settler to the area. “The sufferings, the anxiety, the terrors and the disappointment to me were all events most deeply impressed upon my mind.”
In his diaries, Probstfield talks of buying a ticket for the stage to Pembina, but when he went to board, it was too full and couldn't...overbooking, even in those days!

He also talked about men being robbed at Pembina by someone named 'Lennon'; later, upon arriving at Georgetown, teamsters arrived from Fort Garry. He put them up for the night and provided them with breakfast. He did a lot of business at Pembina and seemed to be coming and going between his post at Georgetown and Pembina by riverboat and stage both.

From 1874 journal...

NOTE: An interesting bit of trivia. Probstfield writes above he has agreed to testify in court for Marshall Burdick. U.S. Marshall James H. Burdick was the man who brought in James McCall, the man who shot and killed Wild Bill Hickock at Deadwood while playing poker. McCall was eventually hanged for it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Return of the Elk

Elk have been returning to Kittson County for awhile now, but it wasn't until this year that it was felt they were sufficient in numbers to once again allow their hunting.

This is the zone it covers...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Ferry Command: First Delivery

On 15 January, 1940 just west of Emerson, the silence of the early morning was broken by the sound of aircraft. A truck, loaded with 45-gal fuel drums, several cars, their motors running, a team of horses and half a dozen people, some with newsreel cameras, were waiting in the freezing cold. The bundled individuals were looking skyward just to the southern horizon. Suddenly two twin-engined planes became visible. They were the first of a consignment of eighteen planes. They came in low. The cameraman started shooting film. The planes circled, the pilots clearly visible in the cockpits. After a quick check of the wind sock they circled to the south and began their final decent. Touching down on the US side of the field, the dark camouflaged Lockheed Hudson bombers, without markings or ordnance, taxied up to the boundary line.

Joe Wilson, a local Emerson farmer, guided his team of horses, Prince and Fred, toward the planes. He attached a hook and tow rope to the aircraft’s wheel and dragged the bomber into Canada. The newsreel cameras rolled and newspaper photographers popped their flash bulbs. The sudden rush and the flashes were a slight annoyance to the team of horses, but Joe was an efficient teamster and within a matter of minutes both planes were on Canadian territory. The truck rolled up and the driver and a helper dressed in military-style coveralls, started filling the craft with fuel from the 45-gal drums. Moments after the planes were fueled up the flight crew emerged from the idling waiting cars. The engines roared into life and the Hudsons lumbered down the airstrip. Becoming airborne they circled once over the airfield and headed north for Winnipeg’s Stevenson Field.

Stevenson's Field circa 1929
- Excerpt from “Bombers Across the Border” by James McClelland. Western Canadian Aviation Museum Review, June 1996

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Civilians of Ferry Command

I received an email from a local resident of Emerson this weekend asking for our help. Yes, you read right - OUR help. This email was not only directed at me, but to all who read this blog.

As you will read below, help is being requested on collecting all extent information - oral, written, photographic, or film - on an event I covered previously - but obviously has a lot more to it.
Hello Trish

It has been awhile since we were in contact. I have a request for some information regarding some events that took place in Pembina back in 1940. I was hoping that you might be able to post it on your page.

Specifically the story goes like this:

In 1940, prior of the United States entry into World War II, a number of military aircraft were flown from California to the Pembina Airport. These planes were later flown to the border just west of Emerson, Manitoba. At that point they were towed with a team of horses into Canada (see this article regarding why...)

These events occurred in January 1940. Now the reason for my interest is that I am acting as liaison for Ted Beaudoin. These events are part of story that Mr. Beaudoin is writing.

He is an Ontario-based writer and the author of a three–volume set of books dealing with Canadian and international military/civilian aviation history adventure. He is also working on the production of a movie Earth Angels Rising. Mr. Beaudoin's purpose is to pay tribute to the civilian men and women who came to rescue of the Allied governments between 1939 and 1945. These individuals gave life to an organization known as Ferry Command. The aircraft that arrived in Pembina in 1940 may have been part of over 10,000 bombers and fighter aircraft that were ferried across six ocean bridges to various theatres of war.

Mr. Beaudoin would like to hear from any from anyone who might have information or pictures of these events. In 1940 the Pembina New Era was covering these events extensively and he was also hoping that these files might be available for research.

If any one can help they should contact Mr. Beaudoin directly or myself at:

Ted Beaudoin
52-C Empire St
Welland, ON L3B 2L4
Tel.: 905– 714-1788

James McClelland
Box 301
Emerson MB R0A 0L0
Tel: 204-373-2544

The photo accompanying this post is a picture of one of the aircraft landing along the border west of Emerson/Pembina . The aircraft is on the US side and is taxiing up to the border.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Red River Settlement Map

Bryce, George. Red River Settlement Facsimile of Section of Map 1818 [map]. Scale not given. Lord Selkirk 's Colonists : the Romantic Settlement of the Pioneers of Manitoba. London: Sampson, Low, Marston, [1910], p. 124.

The first image above is a detailed map of the Red River Settlement. It was a major settlement in the Selkirk Grant, which also included Pembina (see second map, at left...)

During part of the time period of this settlement, due to flooding and other factors, the settlers (temporarily) moved to and lived in Pembina itself.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Profile: John Tanner

John TannerJohn Tanner
b. c. 1780 - d. c.1846
Hunter, Guide & Narrator

Tanner was kidnapped in Kentucky by Ojibwes at the age of nine, then sold to an Ottawa woman who brought him to Red River. His native name is Shaw-shaw-wabe-nase; in English they would call him "The Falcon." Dr. Edwin James wrote down the stories John Tanner told about his life.

Tanner worked and traded in and around Pembina for many years. Read his own words about what his life was like...
Tanner describes his dealings with an unscrupulous North West Company post manager who won't give credit to Tanner or his fellow natives to help them survive the upcoming winter while they trap furs for him. Instead, Tanner makes a deal with an HBC man new in the area, but in spring when he brings the furs into town to pay off his HBC credit line, the North West manager tries to steal Tanner's furs at gunpoint.

“Mr. Henry had traded ten years at Pembinah; he was succeeded by a Mr. McKenzie, who remained but a short time, and after him came Mr. Wells, called by the Indians Gah-se-moan, (a sail,) from the roundness and fullness of his person. He built a strong fort on Red River, near the mouth of the Assinneboin.

The Hudson’s Bay Company had now no post in that part of the country, and the Indians were soon made conscious of the advantage which had formerly resulted to them from the competition between rival trading companies. Mr. Wells, at the commencement of winter, called us all together, gave the Indians a ten gallon keg of rum, and some tobacco, telling them, at the same time, he would not credit one of them the value of a single needle. When they brought skins, he would buy them, and give in exchange such articles as were necessary for their comfort and subsistence during the winter.

I was not with the Indians when this talk was held. When it was reported to me, and a share of the presents offered me, I not only refused to accept any thing, but reproached the Indians for their pu lanimity in submitting to such terms. They had been accustomed, for many years, to receive credits in the fall; they were now entirely destitute not of clothing merely, but of ammunition, and many of the ----- of guns and traps. How were they, without the accustomed aid from the traders, to subsist themselves and their families during the ensuing winter?

A few days afterwards, I went to Mr. Wells, and told him that I was poor, with a large family to support by my own exertions, and that I must unavoidably suffer, and perhaps perish, unless he would give me such a credit as I had always, in the fall, been accustomed to receive. He would not listen to my representation, and told me, roughly, to be gone from his house.

I then took eight silver beavers, such as are worn by the women, as ornaments on their dress, and which I had purchased the year before at just twice the price that was commonly given for a capote; I laid them before him, on the table, and asked him to give me a capote for them, or retain them as a pledge for the payment of the price of the garment, as soon as I could procure the peltries. He took up the ornaments, threw them in my face, and told me never to come inside of his house again.

The cold weather of the winter had not yet set in, and I went immediately to my hunting ground, killed a number of moose, and set my wife to make the skins into such garments as were best adapted to the winter season, and which I now saw we should be compelled to substitute for the blankets and woollen clothes we had been accustomed to receive from the traders.

I continued my hunting with good success, but the winter had not half passed, when I heard that Mr. Hanie, a trader for the Hudson’s Bay people, had arrived at Pembinah. I went immediately to him, and he gave me all the credit I asked, which was to the amount of seventy skins. Then I went to Muskrat River, where I hunted the remainder of the winter, killing great numbers of martens, beavers, otters, etc.

Early in the spring, I sent word by some Indians to Mr. Hanie, that I would go down to the mouth of the Assinneboin, and meet him there, to pay my credit, as I had skins more than enough for this purpose.

When I arrived at the Assinneboin, Mr. Hanie had not yet passed, and I stopped to wait for him opposite Mr. Well’s trading house. An old Frenchman offered me a lodging in his house, and I went in and deposited my peltries under the place he gave me to sleep in. Mr. Wells, having heard of my arrival, sent three times, urging me to come and see him. At last, I yielded to the solicitations of my brother-in-law, and crossed over with him. Mr. Wells was glad to see me, and treated me with much politeness; he offered me wine and provisions, and whatever his house afforded. I had taken nothing except a little tobacco, when I saw his Frenchman come in with my packs. They carried them past me into Mr. Well’s bed room; he then locked the door, and took out the key.

Immediately his kindness and attentions to me relaxed. I said nothing, but felt not the less anxious and uneasy, as I was very unwilling to be deprived of the means of paying Mr. Hanie his credit, still more so to have my property taken from me by violence, or without my own consent. I watched about the house, and at length found an opportunity to slip into the bed room, while Mr. Wells was then taking something from a trunk. He tried to drive me, and afterwards to push me out, but I was too strong for him. After he proceeded to this violence, I did not hesitate to take up my packs, but he snatched them from me. Again I seized them, and in the struggle that ensued, the thongs that bound them were broken, and the skins strewed about the floor.

As I went to gather them up, he drew a pistol, cocked it, and presented it to my breast. For a moment I stood motionless, thinking he would certainly kill me, as I saw he was much enraged; then I seized his hand, and turned it aside, at the same moment drawing from my belt a large knife, which I grasped firmly in my right hand, still holding him by my left. Seeing himself thus suddenly and entirely in my power, he called first for his wife, then for his interpreter, and told them to put me out of the house.

To this, the interpreter answered, “You are as able to put him out as I am.” Some of the Frenchmen were also in the house, but they refused to give him any assistance. Finding he was not likely to intimidate or overcome me by violence, he had recourse once more to milder measures. He offered to divide with me, and to allow me to retain half my peltries for the Hudson’s Bay people.

“You have always,” said he, “belonged to the north west; why should you now desert us for the Hudson’s Bay!” He then proceeded to count the skins, dividing them into two parcels; but I told him it was unnecessary, as I was determined he should not have one of them.

“I went to you,” said I, “last fall, when I was hungry and destitute, and you drove me, like a dog, from your door. The ammunition with which I killed these animals, was credited to me by Mr. Hanie, and the skins belong to him; but if this was not the case, you should not have one of them. You are a coward; you have not so much courage as a child. If you had the heart of a squaw, you would not have pointed your pistol at my breast, and have failed to shoot me. My life was in your power, and there was nothing to prevent your taking it, not even the fear of my friends, for you know that I am a stranger here, and not one among the Indians would raise his hand to avenge my death. You might have thrown my body into the river, as you would a dog, and no one would have asked you what you had done; but you wanted the spirit to do even this.”

He asked me if I had not a knife in my hand. I then showed him two, a large and a small one, and told him to beware how he provoked me to use them. At last, wearied with this altercation, he went and sat down opposite me in the large room; though he was at considerable distance, so great was his agitation, that I could distinctly hear his heart beat. He sat awhile, then went and began to walk back and forth in the yard. I collected my skins together, and the interpreter helped me to tie them up; then taking them on my back, I walked out, passed close by him, put them in my canoe, and returned to the old Frenchman’s house, on the other side.”
- From Fur Trade Stories

Read the whole book - A Narrative of the Captivity and Adventures of John Tanner - here...

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Sheriff Charley Brown: Chapter 25

Charley arrived in Winnipeg in early evening after a hot, dusty ride. The stage had made a change of horses at Morris and he dearly wanted to shake the road dust from his clothes. Seeking a hotel, he settled for Emmerling's, a large boxy building badly in need of paint. His room was small with only one 6 light window, but it had a commode stand with a full pitcher of water, a washbasin, soap and towel. Stripping, he shook the dust from his clothes and washed briefly with the available water. Dressing, he ventured down the stairs to the sparse lobby. As he dropped his room key on the desk a bald, elderly man came from an adjoining room. "Going out for supper?"

"Yes, but I plan on stopping for a drink first. Where are the main watering holes in town? By the way, I'm looking for a man named Murray."

"Never heard of him, but there are plenty of saloons and restaurants just down the street. Turn left as you leave the door. You'll find lots of action -- the closer you get to the river the rougher the clientèle. The worst and biggest saloon is the Pride of the West. That's where the military and Métis hang out. He eyed Charley closely, then said, "Anything goes there, but I would recommend you stay clear, although you look big enough to take care of yourself."

"Thanks! I'll walk out a bit and look around. I haven't been to Winnipeg for a couple of years. It's grown."

Charley found it was near dark when he left the hotel. He knew he should contact the local constabulary before hunting up Murray, it was considered a common courtesy among lawmen. Instead he decided to be a loner, the odds of trouble seeming slim.

A man wearing a none-too-clean bartender's apron was busy hanging a lantern on the outside door frame of the first saloon he encountered.

"Much business inside?" Charley inquired.

"Too early in the evening," the man replied, as he turned to the door.

A quick glance inside told Charley neither man standing at the bar was Murray. A further cursory look into three other saloons along the way availed him nothing. Evidently the bar business was quiet. Crossing the Main Street he finally approached a saloon with front windows alight. Judging from the noise inside, it seemed well patronized. By the light of lanterns, one of which hung on each side of the door, he read the faded sign -- Pride of the West.

Stepping through the open door Charley hesitated, hardly able to believe his eyes; this place was a veritable pigsty. Debris lay everywhere, sawdust mingled with clumps of mud ridged up along walls,, amid chairs and tables. There were no spittoons; soiled, rejected newspapers and cigar butts littered the floor. The huge room hung heavy with smoke; the odor from unwashed bodies overcame even the stench of the stale beer and vomit. He estimated the crowd at well over thirty, many of whom were obviously drunk. Loud talk and even shouting prevailed. From past experience Charley realized that any incident created here could blow up into a nasty free-for-all brawl.

Easing to the end of the bar closest to the door he waited long moments before a bartender noticed him. Pointing to a nearby beer glass held in the hand of a customer, Charley nodded. A full mug with an excessive head of foam slid neatly down the mahogany, stopping nearly at his elbow.

Gradually sipping the lager he began inspecting the clientèle one by one. After scanning the crowd a second time he felt disappointment. Still thirsty, he ordered a second glass of beer before deciding to abandon the search. He would contact the law in the morning and ask for assistance. A moment later he heard loud voices at the door and turned to see three men squeezing through the narrow doorway, the second man was Murray. Turning quickly, he hid his face until they passed to his rear. They stopped at mid-bar and loudly ordered drinks. Waiting until they had been served Charley moved down the bar to stand immediately behind Murray. A sharp poke on the man's back turned Murray around to face him.

"Know me, Murray?"

Murray's face turned pale, then he blustered, "You can't touch me!"

"All I want from you is the whereabouts of LaRose and Goden," replied Charley.

Murray's two friends turned, one man asking, "What's this all about, Jerry?"Murray pointed to Charley; he was gaining courage. "It was his jail I broke out of in Pembina last Friday night. He thinks I'm going to peach on my friends."

"All I want is information; I'm not interested in you; you're just a small time thief. If you don't tell me where Goden and LaRose are, I'm taking you to the magistrate and jail."

The larger of Murray's friends sneered, "I don't think so, three of us can take you apart."

His mouth stopped as Charley swung a hard underhanded fist to his solar plexus. The movement was so quick that it went unnoticed amid the noise in the bar. The man sagged forward and turned, gasping for breath as he held to the bar for support. Charley grasped Murray by the shirtfront, almost lifting him off his feet. Murray's other friend backed cautiously away, realizing this was a dangerous man. Murray seemed to freeze, his fright apparent, "I can't tell you a thing. They left me before I reached the Assiniboine River. They walked across country to the west. They're probably well out on the prairie by now. You'll never catch them."

“If you're not telling me the truth I'll be back to see you -- count on it," Charley promised. If you've lied to me I'll find out."

"Honest to God, that's what happened," Murray was attempting to compose himself “I'm not going back with you; I'll fight you; I'll hire a barrister."

Charley looked disgusted, "You're nothing but a rat. I wouldn't be bothered with the likes of you."

Turning his back to Murray and his friends he worked his way through the now crowded saloon, anxious to eat and get back to his room. Back at his hotel Charley sat on the edge of his bed, the kerosene lamp turned low. Sleep had evaded him for hours. The escape, and Marguerite's sudden leaving had left him tense. Josey's near proposition was equally disturbing, it left nothing in doubt. Gazing into the dim flicker of the lamp he decided he must set his priorities.

He decided the matter of LaRose and Goden was a lost cause. Eventually they would be found and punished. Instinctively he knew Murray's statement that the two had gone west was true. After all, Murray had nothing to lose by the revelation.

Josey was another problem he must face; she was finally pressing him. He realized his love for her had faded with the years, yet he knew that if they married they would no doubt adjust to one another and have a good relationship. After all, she was a beautiful woman and knowledgeable. He did like children and had taken an instant attachment to both George and Lucy. He mulled over the possibilities and eventually fell asleep shortly before daylight. It seemed he had only minutes of sleep before a heavy hand rapped on the door. A sharp voice came, "It's six a.m. The stage leaves at seven sharp."

Tuesday evening found him back in Pembina tending bar with John. Speaking with his partner during a lull, he said, "I'm going over to see Ian first thing in the morning."

John laughed, "No need, he's just coming in the door."

Charley moved out from behind the bar and approached Ian. He was forced to raise his voice due to the din. "Like to speak with you." Realizing there was no privacy, even in the back part of the bar, he suggested. "Got time to go upstairs with me? We can't talk here." He turned toward the door as Ian nodded.

Entering his upstairs quarters with Ian following he turned up the lamp which hung from the center of the room and led Ian to the kitchen. Lighting the table lamp there and a wall sconce he pulled back a chair. "Have a seat."

Looking apologetically at Ian, he burst, "I'm a damn fool! I let Marguerite get away from me!"

Ian took a chair and looked at him caustically, "She heard you were going to marry that woman visiting your Mother. She loved you enough to get out of your life."

"Who told her that lie?"

Ian looked uncomfortable. "It seems your Mother accosted Marguerite at Geroux's Hotel, told her you were getting married to that Watson woman and also told her she was nothing but a breed and whore, or words to that effect."

Charley froze in shock for long seconds, and then curse after curse came from his lips. "My God, my own Mother! She's made hell on earth for me in the past and now she's done it again! Why did I ever ask her to come out here? I'll never have anything to do with her again. How could she be so cruel to Marguerite. She must be crazy. Did Josey Watkins have anything to do with this?"

"I have no idea. Both Susan and her Mother attempted to smooth things over and get Marguerite to talk it over with you, but she was adamant about going to Chicago. It seems Evans had proposed marriage when he was here at New Years time, and she had turned him down."

Charley's head was spinning, "Yes, that's more of my fault. I was jealous, and failed her. Why, but why, didn't she come to me after my Mother pulled that foul trick?"

Ian remonstrated quietly, "Charley, you had every chance in the world with her. She loved you and wanted marriage. You had every opportunity to make her happy. Perhaps this way is best for her. To be honest, I don't have much sympathy for you. She and Evans may prove compatible and happy together. I know she'll try her best, that's the kind of woman she is. She's entitled to an honest and secure life after all she's been through."

Ian's advice seemed to temper Charley's anger. "Well, I wish her the best in the world. She treated me far better then I treated her. I hope she'll forgive me. I haven't done much out of line in my life, but this must certainly be my most stupid act.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Caribou Tales: Last of a Kind

Caribou TownshipAn amazing story awaits the reader below. And as is almost always the case, this amazing story is true. It happened in our county, a generation ago. I'm not sure if there are still hermits out in Caribou country as I call it, but I know there were still some in the early to mid 1980's when my mother used to tend to some of them living there at the time in her capacity as the Kittson County Homemaker (A Homemaker was a person who basically travelled all over our very rural northern county to people that were underserved, undereducated, homebound, etc., and taught them about personal finance, how to keep a clean house, and even personal hygiene...) Such people are what make our northern communities special and unique. We care about people, but we also know how to leave them alone if they so wish...

Last Man of an Ancient Culture
by Ken Korczak

In the northern part of Kittson County, Minnesota, which borders Canada, are the wild woods of Caribou Township. Few people dwell there, but my brother who lives nearby in the tiny town of Lancaster says he knows of a few “old hermits” in those woods. When you write about the paranormal for as long as I have, you develop an intuition about where a good story might be hiding. Whenever I hear about people living in isolation, chances are that something about them is off kilter. So after asking around, I was delighted to uncover this spooky story of an old Caribou hermit who died back in the 1970s.This old man had contact with almost no one, except for the two people that told me this story. I’ll call them Dan and Clare. Back in the 1970s Dan and Clare were newly married. Dan was from the Twin Cities, but Clare was born and raised in the rural Lancaster area. One of the first thing she told her new husband was that she had a “special great uncle” who lived like a hermit deep in the Caribou woods. He was some 90 years old.

She was his only connection to civilization. The old man was originally from Wales, now part of the United Kingdom. He came over to the U.S. with his wife, who died in the late 1950s. They had no children. The reason they came to America and had settled so deeply and isolated in the woods was because they were both members of an ancient, extinct religion, which Clare said was pronounced phonetically something like "Gwer Gith I Noone," or perhaps "Gwer Geth High Noon." Gwer Geth High Noon1, as I’ll call it, supposedly was a secret society, a “hidden” European culture or religion that perhaps dated back to neolithic times. Clare said she gathered from talking to her Great Uncle, who spoke only crude English, that he and his wife were among the last survivors of Gwer Geth High Noon, whom were driven out of Europe by the coming of modern times. The old man and his wife escaped to the woods of Caribou township where they could live out the rest of their lives, the last of their kind.Gwer Geth High Noon was based on the worship of various nature gods. Stones were of particular importance. The members of Gwer Geth High Noon apparently believed that the heavier the stone, the more its power “bent the world,” whatever that meant.They also held trees in high regard, especially oaks.Clare and Dan took care of the man as he grew older,although he was remarkably self sufficient. He had lived for years on deer, rabbit, and even raccoon meat. They said he made a vile drink by boiling treebark. (Note: a popular food supplement today called pycnoginal can be found in health food stores and is made from tree bark extract. It is high in vitamin C and other healthy nutrients).

Anyway, one day when Clare went to check on her uncle, she found him dead. He was was reclined peacefully on his rude bed made from torn up rags on the floor. In his hand was a branch from an oak tree. Clare was shocked to find that the man had left behind instructions on how and where he wanted to be buried.The instructions were in symbol form, drawn on the cured hide of a deer, using some kind of plant-based pigment, perhaps blueberries. The parchment contained a detailed symbolic map which showed exactly where his grave must be dug.Apparently, there was some kind of stone monument in the woods, next to which he had buried his wife many years ago. He wanted to be planted by her side under the sacred stone. The map cleverly showed the way to the stone, using natural formations as guideposts. At first Clare and Dan didn’t know what to do. They knew it was illegal to bury someone in the woods. They were also legally obligated to report his death, but were unsure if they should do so. If they did, they could not honor his last wish.This man may have been the last member of an ancient,hidden culture that had survived since the Stone Age.To have him buried in a cemetery full of Scandinavian Protestants or Polish Catholics, the majority among northern Minnesotans, just didn’t seem right. He could have been cremated, but Clare was certain that this violated the tenets of Gwer Geth High Noon.

Letting the dead old man rest on his bed of rags, Clare and Dan decided to see if they could follow the map and find the stone monument in the woods.The map proved remarkably easy to follow, and within 25 minutes of traipsing through thick woods, they found the monument indicated on the map — except it was not made out of stone — it was a metalic international border pylon signifying the U.S.-Canadain border. The tall slender pylon indeed might be mistaken for some kind of sacred monolith by a man from a different culture, and a different time. Dan and Clare knew they had real trouble now. Burying a crazy old man in the woods was one thing, but digging a grave next to an international border pylon must violate about 100 federal or international laws! What to do, what to do? After a few hours of soul searching, Clare and Dan could not decide what was best. They needed more time to think, and judged that one more day would make little difference. It was early October and quite cold outside. The old man’s shack was not heated, so he would preserve fairly well for at least another day.That night they went over and over it with each other.One of the things that touched them strongly was the fact that his poor wife was already buried out there in the woods, alone and waiting for her husband to join her in eternity. It didn’t seem right to leave her there alone, against the kindly old uncle’s wishes. Still, Dan and Clare were respectable law abiding citizens. They were good Lutherans. Before going to bed, they had decided to go by the book, and call the county coroner in the morning. But that night was the second scariest of their lives.

After a few minutes in bed, they began to hear loud footsteps walking toward their bed in the dark bedroom. It sounded like “heavy cowboy boots clomping on a hardwood floor,” they said. They could also hear “raspy breathing.” When they turned on the lights, no-one could be seen. As soon as they turned the lights off, the heavy footsteps walking up to the edge of the bed would sound again.After experiencing this a half-dozen times, they decided to sleep with the lights on, but the light burned out within minutes. As they scrambled for another bulb, they could hear the footsteps racing toward them! By this time is was 2 a.m. and they were dead tired. (No pun intended). Finally, Clare shouted:“Okay, okay, Uncle ***X! We get the message! We’ll honor your last wishes! We’ll bury you next to the sacred stone in the woods, next to your beloved wife!”After this they heard the footsteps no more, although they slept in the living room with all the lights on.

Dan and Clare could not believe what they were about to do, but after a night of sleepless terror, they felt more compelled than ever to finish what they knew they must. The task ahead of them was grisly. They had to carry the corpse of the old man about a half-hour’s walk through the tangled brush of the northern Minnesota woods. By moonlight, they needed to locate the metallic pylon marking the U.S.-Canada border. Once there, they would dig a grave in the hard ground - not yet frozen, but mighty cold - and most likely filled with tangled roots, rocks and undergrowth. It was early October but the ground was not yet frozen. On any other occasion, the evening might be considered pleasant in a brisk, autumnal sort of way.The moon would come up gibbous, and would cast plentiful light. Clare and Dan were actually glad that only a pale lunar glow would illuminate the lurid burial ritual which they must carry out illegally by modern law, but orthodox under the ancient precepts of Gwer Geth High Noon.

Dan and Clare arrived at the old man’s shack just before sundown, and even though they were deep in the woods, they waited for darkness before they dared carry the body outside and begin the old man’s final earthly journey. They half expected his body to be gone after presumably hearing his footsteps all through the previous night, but the old man was there on his bed of rags, very dead. The wait for darkness was nerve-wracking and interminable. But as deep purple twilight set in, they wrapped the body in thick blankets, and using a small trailer which they could pull by hand, they towed the body into the woods. The trip through the woods proved extremely difficult.They had to abandon the trailer after just a 100 yards because it kept catching on brush and branches. Several times the old man’s body rolled off onto the ground, to the great dismay of both Clare and Dan.Every time this happened, Clare cried out “Elgrowtrin-O’lel-Galon!” She had learned this phrasef rom her uncle, and believed it was Gwer Geth High Noon canticle against negative forces. If any of the ancient nature gods were still awake, Clare was eager to have their blessing on this macabre processional!

But eventually Dan was obliged to heave the stiff corpse over his shoulder and weave his way through the woods, following Clare, who held a dim red lamp to help illuminate the way. The gibbous moon was already above the horizon as they reached the half-way point. Dan put the body down and rested for a bit. Clare tightened up the twine which wrapped the body. Then they were off again through the thick wilderness. The trees were mostly bare, but were still thick enough to filter much of the moonlight, exaggerating the gloom. As they walked, each dry branch they stepped on cracked loud enough to be heard half way to Winnipeg,or so it seemed to the jittery couple.After what seemed like hours they finally spied the border pylon among the brush and woods, gleaming dullsilver as it reflected a tricky moonbeam that found its way through the maze of branches overhead. Thankfully, Dan put the body down but didn’t take a minute to rest before he grabbed the spade from Clare and began to dig the grave. If the old man had really buried his wife here some 20 years ago, there was no sign of a grave now. Dan didn’t let himself think about this as he worked the shovel through the difficult turf.

The digging proved exceedingly laborious. They hitroots and rocks aplenty. The ground was cold, hard and sometimes gravelly. Clare took her turn at the shovel.They decided quickly not to go very deep, although they wanted to dig deep enough to prevent an animal from rooting him up, or worse, having the frost push him up next spring. Dan and Clare wanted to sleep nights from here on, and having this body firmly planted beneath the good, rocky, Minnesota-Manitoba regolith was their best insurance of that! After the hole was some four feet deep, Dan took the shovel from his wife and said: “I’ll take 20 more scoops and then we’ll call it good enough.”Clare agreed and held their red lantern high so that Dan could see his work. Dan had the hole deep enough,so now he was just taking slices around the edges to widen it out a bit. Suddenly, the shovel made asickening crunching sound. Clare held the lamp closer and cried out at the top of her lungs:“Elgrowtrin-O’lel-Galon!!”For Dan’s shovel and struck and penetrated the skull of the old man’s wife, and part of her mottled, old skeleton now rolled out of from the side of the grave and fell down at his feet.

Dan screamed loudly andjumped out of the grave with the shovel still in his hand. They both shrieked again when they noticed that her split skull was still clamped over the pointy end of the spade. Clare said: “Elgrowtrin-O’lel-Galon! Dan, put her head back in the grave!”Dan put his foot on the skull, pushed it off the spade and dropped it into the grave. Clare slugged him hard on the upper arm. “Not like that, you moron! You don’t kick somebody’s head off a shovel into a grave!”Dan countered: “Oh, and I suppose you wanted to pull her off with your hands?!”“Oh for Christ’s sake!” Clare screamed.Dan said: “Hey, watch what you’re saying with all this Christ stuff! This is Gwer Geth High Noon, isn’t it!?”Clare grabbed her forehead and said nothing. They both controlled whatever further comments they had and moved quickly to lower the body of the old man into the grave, and into the bony arms of his wife. They wanted nothing more than to be finished and to get out of the woods, but they stayed long enough to make certain that the grave was not only well covered with soil, but also covered with brush and pieces of wood to conceal it further.

When they were finally finished, they hastened their way back. About 200yards along the way, Clare tripped, and was aghast to notice that she had tripped on the old man’s boot,which had somehow fallen off. Dan grabbed it and flung it into the woods.As they continued, they suddenly heard a loud sound of crunching branches and brush, as if something was running through the woods chasing them from behind! Their hearts exploded in their chests. Dan grabbed Clare’s hand and shouted, “Run!” As they sprinted through the woods, Dan thought: “We’ve been sighted by the Border Patrol! They’re after us!”Clare thought: “Uncle’s ***’s has called an avenging Nature Spirit on us! He’s angry because we split Aunt***’s skull!”As they ran, the crashing noise got closer. Dan tripped hard and Clare fell over top of him. The crashing noise was almost upon them. “We’re caught!”they thought. An instant later, Dan and Clare saw a huge black shape move past them, missing them by a mere three feet — it was a gigantic moose, loping through the moonlit woods. They would have felt relief if their nerves were not so jangled. They got up and moved at good speed back to the old man’s shack, got in their pick-up truck and drove home.When they got home, they were astonished by their appearance in the mirror — they looked like haggard coal miners — dirty, white-eyed, leaves and branches stuck in their hair and clothes. That night they slept little. But Clare finally drifted off and had this subtle dream: She fancied that it was 25-below zero on a January night, and that she had somehow traveled out to the see her old uncle’s resting place. Once there,she saw that the snow had drifted high in the woods,and only the peak of the border pylon stuck out from the snow, glinting silver under icy moonlight. She shivered.

Article Copyright © Ken Korczak

1 - A reader of this tale shared this...
this tale of an isolated remnant of an ancient Celtic religion really fascinated me. Being a Welshman myself, I’ve always secretly hoped that some fragments of the Old Religion still meet in the hidden regions of my homeland… as opposed to the 18th century revival of Druidism and 20th century Paganism. This story would really please Margaret Murray if she were still around!

Anyway, I tried to make sense of the phonetic words and come up with something plausible. I know a bit of Welsh so I went to an online lexicon

The best matches I could come up with were:
“Gwer” = “Gwerin”? Gwerin means “the proletariat, the common folk, the ordinary people” according to the site, and can also mean “folk” as in “folk traditions” So this part makes sense. Possibly it could even mean “the people of…” A derivative of “gwerin” means “folklore”. I suspect that “gwergeth” or possibly “gwergyth” could be one word referring to folk traditions or beliefs. This is purely speculation on my part!

“High Noon” probably ends in the letters “nwn”, pronounced “noon” in Welsh. A leap of logic sent me to the word “Annwn”, the Celtic Otherworld. It’s a complete guess but Annwn was seen as a very real place in Celtic beliefs that could be entered into through various portals (e.g. Glastonbury Tor). See the Wikipedia entry on Annwn for more.

So the full title of the old Welshman’s group could be Gwergeth Annwn, the Folk Tradition of the Otherworld.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Slice-of-Life / Land Dispute

The quote in the excerpt above is from the journal of a real-life, anonymous fur trader who worked in the Pembina/St. Vincent area, a little "slice-of-life" from 200 years ago.

The person mentioned in the quote named [Thomas] Little Shell was a chief of the major tribe in our region, the Ojibwa. What's really interesting, is that after Little Shell signed the Treaty of Old Crossing, he never again was willing to cede more of his tribe's land; what other land the United States has of theirs, was taken illegally, and is considered Ojibwa land by the tribe, to this day...

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Pemmican War

There have been some strange instigators for war over the course of human history. In North America, for example, a small war was fought over a food called Pemmican...and part of it was fought in our neck of the woods...
For a brief period, the momentum was with the HBC, who in 1816 rashly seized and captured the NWC post at Pembina, and later the NWC Fort Gibraltar at The Forks. This continuing conflict eventually led to the massacre of Hudson’s Bay Company Governor Semple and twenty of his men at Seven Oaks on 19 June 1816.

From the 1814 Pemmican War

Largely because of the threatened hostilities, on 7 November two boat-loads of Selkirk Settlers were sent south to Fort Daer on the Red River at the present site of Pembina, immediately south of the 49th parallel. (Fort Daer, built in 1812 by the first group of Red River settlers, had been named for Lord Selkirk, Baron Daer.)

From The Sacking of Peter Fidler’s Brandon House, 1816

January 8: Miles MacDonnell, (1769-1828) of the Hudson Bay Company, under authority of the British/Scots, prohibited the export of provisions from Pembina (Red River). No persons whatsoever shall take any provisions, either flesh, fish or vegetables procured or raised within the said Territory, without a license from the Governor, and whosoever shall be detected in attempting to convey shall be taken into custody and prosecuted as the law in such case directs. As an example, he seized the pemmican at the Canadian North West Company Post of La Souris. It is noteworthy that he also seized some pemmican stored at a nearby Hudson Bay Post. Most of the suppliers of pemmican at Red River are free trader Metis. Miles also served notice to quit on the other Canadian North West Company Forts, including the Canadians at River Winnipeg, Turtle River, Brandon House, Carlton House, Fort Dauphlin Portage des Prairies and River Qu Appella. It is amazing that the 'Pemmican War' did not breakout on this very day, based on British arrogance. The Metis Nation had an instinctive hostility towards Englishmen, Orkney men and Scots of the British Hudson Bay Company (or the North West Company for that matter). They formed the first Canadian Mounted Cavalry Division of the Red River Metis Nation, who watched, with increasing resentment, the actions of Miles MacDonnell (1769-1828). Miles MacDonnell (1769-1828) prohibited the running of buffalo by horsemen near the settlement because it drove the herds out of reach of the colonists. It would appear that Miles MacDonnell (1769-1828) had been commissioned to instigate a war so as to draw British armed forces into the region to secure the Hudsons Bay Company's fragile claim to the region. The Metis of Red River are angered by the British pemmican proclamation. Miles MacDonell (1769-1828) ordered the arrest of the Metis for running the buffalo with horses, and those who defied his authority included Bostonnais Pangman and Cuthbert Grant. It is noteworthy that the running of buffalo with horses is a tradition that predates the arrival of the H.B.C. in this region of Metis Country.

From the amazing website of Canadian history, particularly Metis history, by Richard Garneau

It all started this way:

In January 1814, Miles Macdonnell, the governor of the colony issued the "Pemmican Proclamation" stating that no provisions could be taken out of the boundaries of the territory. This action was needed because there were no guarantees that the next crop would be good, and another group of settlers were expected that year. The NWC and local Métis considered this a direct attack to their livelihood. It was tantamount to a declaration of war! The chief partners decided that it was imperative that the settlement fails for the Company to survive.

In 1814, the NWC and Métis started a campaign of terror. There were many shootings, skirmishes and fires to try to pursuade the colonists to give up and leave the country. Duncan Cammeron, one of the NWC partners came to the Red River settlement in the winter of 1814-15, played on their fear and convinced 133 settlers to relocate to Upper Canada. The NWC even offered them free passage in the spring. Jean-Baptiste Desautels dit Lapointe was returning to Canada himself in 1815 as his first contract had expired. Maybe he helped to transport these families?

In June of 1815 the remaining settlers were driven away by force and treat of violence. Archibald Norman Macleod of the NWC arrested the governor, Miles Macdonnell, and sent him to Fort William. The settlers fled to Jack River at the north end of Lake Winnipeg where the HBC had a trading post. The Métis moved in, razed Fort Douglas, looted everything of value, and burned the settlement.

In August, Colin Robertson, a Bay man, led the settlers back to Red River. He quickly worked to calm the Métis, seized the Nor’Wester’s Fort Gibraltar, and rebuilt Fort Douglas.

In the fall of 1815, a new governor, Robert Semple, arrived in the colony with a new group of settlers. The NWC continued to harass the settlers that winter. When the residents started hearing rumours of an attack being planned on the colony, the majority of the settlers sought safety within the walls of Fort Douglas.

In the winter of 1815-16, Jean-Baptiste Lagimodière, an independent trader and friend of the settlement carried letters by snowshoe from Red River to Lord Selkirk who was in Montreal. The letters told Selkirk of the atrocities and deportations of 1815 and convinced the Lord that the settlement needed protection or it would be destroyed once again. Selkirk recruited 30 voyageurs and 104 discharged soldiers of the War of 1812 to come with him to Red River to protect the colony. These soldiers were mostly Swiss mercenaries from the regiments of Des Meurons and Watteville. Selkirk promised them free land at Red River, or free passage back to Europe in return for their services.
From Jean-Baptiste Desautels dit Lapointe, by Marc Jolicoeur (February 2000)

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Gamesters of the Wilderness - Part I

...Twilight of the long June night - the 18th, almost the longest day in the year - had deepened into the white stillness that precedes dawn, when two forms took shape in the thicket of underbrush behind the fort; and there stepped forth, clad in buckskin cap-a-pie, musket over shoulder, war-hatchet, power-horn, dagger, pistol in belt, and unsheathed sword aglint in hand, two French wood-lopers, the far-famed coureurs de bois, whose scalping raids were to strike terror from Louisiana to Hudson's Bay...
No Robin Hoods of legend ever lived in more complete security than those "Gentlemen Adventurers Trading in Hudson's Bay" for whom Prince Rupert had secured from his cousin, King Charles, in 1670, complete monopoly of all furs north and westward of Hudson's Bay. A thousand miles of juniper swamps and impassable cataracts cut the Hudson's Bay fur traders off from the fur traders of New France to the south. To the west was impenetrable and unknown wilderness. To the north and east for eight months of the year was an impassable barrier of ice floe and berg and those elemental frozen foes to human presence.

For fifteen years after their organization the Gentlemen Adventurers of England - the Hudson's Bay Fur Company, a company numbering among its patrons King Charles II, Prince Rupert, General Munck, the Duke of York, the Duke of Marlborough, and a host of other worthies ranging from the nobility down to the goldsmiths and merchant princes of London - slumbered in security on the margin of a frozen sea. Charles Fort with its stone bastions on Rupert's River - named after King and Prince who secured the charter - quickly sent offshoots to Moose River on the west, Albany (named after an Albany far south), and Nelson (the modern York), which drained all the furs westward to the Rocky Mountains. Rupert and Moose and Albany each yearly collected three thousand five hundred beaver pelts, worth in modern money one dollar and a half each, not to mention twice as many pelts of otter and mink and marten and ermine and sable. To the north, Nelson (York) sent out in a single year as much as one hundred thousand dollars' worth of beaver. "The Gentlemen Adventurers of England Trading in Hudson's Bay" had found a gold-mine rich as Spanish El Dorado.

To be sure, Radisson, the Frenchman, who had helped to found the company with Prince Rupert, had gone over to the French fur traders one year, trading Nelson (York), bag and baggage, to the French Company of the North; but Radisson had become a British subject again and traded these forts back to England. He was in the employment of the company. Radisson was safe. To be sure, the ships of the French Fur Company had continued to come to the bay; but the French fur traders demanded four beaver for a musket, where the English demanded only two; and so those French fur-ships went back to Quebec empty of cargo. Two of the French fur-ships, meeting the Merchant of Perpetuana trapped in the ice-floes of the north, had scuttled the Hudson's Bay ship of provisions, captured master, mate, and crew, cast all in a dungeon on bread and water for eleven months in Quebec, where Edward Humes, the captain, died, and the rest were sold to life-long slavery in Martinique, whence only Smithsend, the mate, escaped. Sieur Pere, a gay adventurer from New France, had come down to the bay overland from the Great Lakes, with three comrades, to spy on the English fur-traders for the French company; but the young seigneur had been given food and a hearty Godspeed from the English, and having deliberately let his canoe float off to sea while he slept, so that he could not be sent away, had been clapped with one comrade into the fur-fort of Albany, while the two other adventurers were put on Charlton Island to earn their living hunting. The two adventurers had escaped to the mainland on a raft by night, and fleeing to Canada, a thousand miles by swamp and forest, had told a story of Pere's imprisonment that set the fire-eaters of New France in a flame. But all unknowing, the Gentlemen Adventurers of England slumbered secure on the margin of their frozen sea.

Like a bolt from the blue came the bold raiders of Pierre le Moyne d'Iberville into the midst of this security.

It was one of the long June nights, 1686, when twilight of the north merges with dawn. Fourteen cannon in all protruded from the embrasures of the four stone bastions round little Moose Factory to the southwest of the bay. The eighteen-foot pickets of the palisaded square wall were everywhere punctured with holes for musketry defence. In one bastion were three thousand pounds of powder. In another, twelve civilian soldiers slept. In a third were stored furs. The fourth bastion served as kitchen, and across the middle of the courtyard, forty by forty feet, was the two-story stone house and residence of the chief factor. The sentinel had shot the strong iron bolts of the main gates facing the waterway; but so secure did he feel of the impossibility of attack that he had lain down to sleep, wrapped in a blanket, without even loading the cannon it was his duty to guard. Twilight of the long June night - the 18th, almost the longest day in the year - had deepened into the white stillness that precedes dawn, when two forms took shape in the thicket of underbrush behind the fort; and there stepped forth, clad in buckskin cap-a-pie, musket over shoulder, war-hatchet, powder-born, dagger, pistol in belt, and unsheathed sword aglint in hand, two French wood-lopers, the far-famed coureurs des bois, whose scalping raids were to strike terror from Louisiana to Hudson's Bay. At first glance the two newcomers might have been marauding Iroquois come this outrageous distance over swamp and cataract form their own fighting ground. Closer scrutiny showed them to be young French noblemen, Pierre le Moyne d'Iberville, age twenty-four, and his brother Sainte-Helene, trained to the wild woods of Montreal, to the roving life of the wood-loper, to pillage and raid and ambuscade. Born in Montreal in 1661 and schooled to all the wilderness perils of the struggling colony's early life, Pierre le Moyne, one of nine sons of Charles le Moyne, of Montreal, became the Robin Hood of American wilds.

Sending his brother Sainte-Helene round one side of the picketed walls to peer through the embrasures of the moonlit fortress, Pierre le Moyne d'Iberville skirted round the other side himself and quickly made the discovery that not one of the cannon was loaded. The tompion was in every muzzle. Scarcely a cat's-paw of wind dimpled the waters of the bay, smooth as silk.

With a quick glance Iberville and his brother took in every detail of the situation. Then they melted back into the pallid half-light like shadows. In a trice a hundred forms had taken shape in the mist - sixty-six Indians decked in all the war-gear of savage glory from head-dress and vermilion cheeks to naked, read-stained limbs lithe as a tiger, smooth and supple as satin. Sixty-six Indians and thirty-three half-wild French soldiers, gay in all the regimentals of French pomp, commanded by old Chevalier de Troyes, veteran of a hundred wars, now commissioned to demand the release of Monsieur Pere from the forts of the English fur traders. Beside de Troyes stood de la Chesnay, Head of the Northern Company of Fur Traders in Quebec, only too glad of this chance to raid the forts of rival traders in time of peace. And well to the fore, cross in hand, head bared, the Resuit Sylvie, come to rescue the souls of northern heathendom from hell.

Impossible as it may seems, these hundred intrepid adventurers had come overland from Montreal. What did the incursion of these French raiders mean? It meant that they had set out in mid-winter on a voyage men hardly dared in summer. Without waiting for the ice to break up, they started from Montreal in March. No tents were carried; only the blanket, haversack fashion, tied to each man's back. Bivouac was under the stars. No provision but what each blanket carried! No protection but the musket on shoulder, the war-axe and powder-horn and pistol in belt! No reward but the vague promise of loot from the English wagwamming - as the Indians say - on the Northern Bay! A march of six hundred miles through trackless forests in midwinter; then down the maelstrom sweep of torrents swollen by spring thaw for three hundred miles to the juniper swamps of windfall and dank rotting forest growth around the bay!

It had been no play, this fur-trade raid; and now Iberville was back from his scouting, having seen with his own eyes that the English fur traders were really wigwamming on the bay. Hastily all burdens of blankets and food and clothes were cast aside and cached...

From Gamesters of the Wilderness: The Hudson's Bay Fur Company and the French Raiders 1670-1697, by Agnes Christina Laut

Friday, October 03, 2008

Old Customs Building

Emerson (Canadian) Customs by Noyes, now closed; my family (and many other locals) were often waved through this customs, unthinkable now in the post 9/11 age!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

"Skin for a Skin"

The Hudson Bay Company was a prominent player in the settling of St. Vincent and Pembina. Its presence was felt during the latter 18th and early 19th centuries here.

I recently requested all extent records for the HBC posts that were in or around Pembina/St. Vincent from the Hudson Bay Archives in Winnipeg. I wasn't sure they'd even allow the records to be interlibrary loaned, but to my delight, they did. Thus began hours of scrolling through microfilm, of dimly-lit faint 19th century handwriting (to me, there's no better way to spend a Saturday morning...) Until I have time to go through my copious notes from that adventure, here is some interesting trivia about 'the Company'...

The Latin motto on the HBC coat of arms is Pro Pelle Cutem, which translates roughly as "a skin for a skin". There are several interpretations of this phrase, none of which can be proven irrefutably. One suggests that it is meant to indicate that the HBC traders risked their own skins to procure furs. This interpretation derives from the Book of Job Chapter 2, verse 4: " And Satan answered the Lord and said: Skin for skin; yea all that a man hath, will he give for his life."

Historian E.E. Rich proposed a somewhat different interpretation: "The Company wanted the pelt so as to get the wool from it; it wanted the skin, cutem, for the sake of the fleece, pro pelle. Such an explanation of the motto does not exclude literary and Biblical derivations, nor the possibility that the risks of a fur-trading life were in mind." This is the more plausible interpretation. Beaver fur in the 17th century was used in its natural state, or "in the pelt". Its primary value was as a source of fibres for felt-making and to that end, the more valuable part of the fur was the short, close "wool" which lay under the long silky guard hairs.

Source: Hudson Bay Archives