Friday, August 28, 2009

Early Pembina: In Their Own Words

Collections of the State Historical Societyof North Dakota, Volume 2FOUNDING OF PEMBINA

Pembina Post Established

The Park River Post having been abandoned May 4, 1801, and the Langlois party having joined Henry's, the reunited Red River Brigade moved down the river to the spot selected originally by Chaboillez, and established the post at Pembina. Chief Tabishaw and other Indians arrived on the 8th. Nothing was then seen of the Indian settlement that was said to have been near the old Fort Panbian, erected by Chaboillez, which had entirely disappeared.

The Post Named

May 17, 1801, Alexander Henry selected the spot for building a fort at Pembina. The post was completed October 1, 1801, and thereafter Henry's scattered forces made their headquarters at Pembina.

The post was name "Fort Panbian," and was later called the "Pembina House." It was built on the north side of the Penbian River - afterward changed to Pembina - between that and the Red River, 100 paces from each, on land afterwards entered by Joseph Rolette, and in 1870, James J. Hill, subsequently president of the Great Northern Railroad, purchased of Mr. Rolette the identical ground on which the establishment stood, embracing five acres, where he built a bonded warehouse for trade with the Indians and settlements in Manitoba.

Norman W. Kittson, a later trader at Pembina, and identified with transportation and other interests of the Red River country and of Minnesota, was a relative of Alexander Henry. Henry's post consisted of a storehouse, 100x20 feet, built of logs. Later a stockade and other buildings, including store rooms, shops, warehouses and a stable for fifty horses, were added.

The Hudson's Bay Company built, the fall of 1801, a post on the east side of the Red River, near Peter Grant's old post, and the X.Y. Company built a post, also on the Pembina River at the Grand Passage, which was destroyed by fire April 1, 1803.

The name of Pembina, applied to the post and the mountains, previous to 1801 known as the Hair Hills, is claimed by recognized authorities to be derived from the Chippewa words anepeminan sipi, a red berry known among the whites as the "high bush cranberry."

The early efforts to create the "Territory of Pembina" were antagonized because it was alleged that the word was insignificant, when in the debates in Congress it was pronounced "Pembyny," by a usually well informed congressman, all efforts in that direction ceased. Early in 1882, the Bismarck Tribune, then edited by the author of these pages, used "North Dakota" in the date line of that paper, and from that time the friends of "North Dakota" were united in their efforts to secure "North Dakota" for the name of the proposed new state. Dakota had become noted for its great wheat fields, and it was desired, also, to retain whatever benefit might accrue from that fact, as the famous farms were in the northern part of the territory.

Michael Langlois

Michael Langlois of the Red River Brigade, after the trading post was established the fall of 1801, on the Pembina River, was sent to the Pembina Mountains, then known as Hair Hills, to establish a post at the foot of the steep, sandy banks, where the river first issues from the mountains, and the X.Y. Company sent four men there to build alongside of his establishment; also, aside from the two houses mentioned, there was another trading post in the Pembina Mountains, known as the De Lorme House, where Henry called on his rounds, visiting his several outlying posts that winter. These trips were made with dog sledges and snow shoes.

The following winter of 1801-02, Michael Langlois took at the Pembina Mountaints, 200 beaver skins, 24 black bear, 5 brown bear, 160 wolf, 39 fox, 14 faccoon, 57 fisher, 5 otter, and 15 mink. In September, 1802, he was ordered by Mr. Henry to Red Lake, but ailing to make that point, spent the winter at Leech Lake, accompanied by Hoseph Duford. The winter of 1803-04, he passed at the Pembina Mountains post with Le Sieur Toussaint and turned in 182 beaver skins, 51 bear, and 148 wolf. Maymiutch, Carlo's brother, an Indian who went up the river with the "brigade," while under the influence of liquor, shot at Michael Langlois December 21, 1803. The following season, 1804-05, Langlois was in charge of the same station with ames Caldwell. The returns of catch are as follows: 16 beaver skins, 37 bear, 251 wolf.

Other employees at Fort Pembina in 1801, or about that period, who conducted the work of the post, were Jean Baptiste Le Duc (possibly Larocque), Joachim Daisville, Andre La Grosser, Andre Beauchemin, Jean Baptiste Larocque, Jr., Etienne Roy, Francois Sint, Joseph Maceon, Charles Bellgarde, Joseph Hamel, Nicholas Pouliotte and Hoseph Dubois - all of Henry's Red River Brigade.

You can read more about the founding of Pembina, and what daily life was like in the early years of 1801 and onwards here, in Alexander Henry's own words. It's amazing the hard work that it, and the fascinating to read of the cultural differences, clashes, and sometimes harmony of the natives with the explorers, fur traders, and others coming into the country from afar. Everyone had their own motives and goals, and most of them were more gray than black and white. People will always be people, and there's no getting around that. When you actually read about ordinary people going about their ordinary lives, you find out a LOT more than reading so-called history books. I'd love to find some history written by the natives, and I'll be the first to share it, if I find it!

Running the Buffalo

Charles Cavileer spent over fifty years of his life in the Red River Valley. Mrs. Cavileer, his widow, is a grand-daughter of Alexander Murray, one of the Selkirk settlers, and a survivor of the Seven Oaks massacre; a daughter of Donald Murray, one of the early merchants of Winnipeg, and on her mother's side, a grand-daughter of James Herron, an old-time trader. Speaking of running the buffalo, she said:
"I can see them now as they started on the hunt. I can see them rushing into the herd of buffalo, the hunter with his mouth filled with balls, loading and firing rapidly. Loose powder was quickly poured into the muzzle of the gun and a ball dropped into place, and the point of the gun lowered and fired, resulting often in explosion, for the reason that the ball had not reached the powder, or had been thrown out of place by the quick movement of the gun. Riding alongside of the herd, which was on the run with all the desperation possible in frightened animals, they were hot down by the thousands in a single day, and then the work of pemmican making commenced, on the ground where they animals were slain."
Check out book in my Google library called “Early History of North Dakota” for references on Pembina’s early settlement – pretty interesting stuff in there! P. 31, 39 (chapter on founding of Pembina), etc. P. 42 has many interesting facts about oral history, firsts, etc.