Tuesday, December 28, 2010

In Their Own Words: Charles Cavileer

Source:  State Historical Society of North Dakota
[Click to enlarge...]
By Charles Cavileer

I came here (Pembina) in 1851, in company with N.W. Kittson and others. After being here a few days Mr. Kittson asked me to act as assistant postmaster, he having been appointed postmaster some time in 1849. Joseph R. Brown was contractor to carry the mail from Pembina, Wisconsin Territory1, to Crow Wing in the same territory, via Thieving River, at its mouth at Red Lake River, thence by land and canoe to Red Lake Village, making short portages, thence making short portages between small lakes to Cass Lake and then by the same order of travel to Leach Lake and so on to Crow Lake and to the end of the route at Crow Wing Village, which was the headquarters of the North-West Fur Company for all that section of the country claimed by the Chippewas from Crow Wing to Pembina northwest and northeast to Sandy Lake, and Fond du Lac.

The contract was a go-as-you-please, on foot, horse back, cart or canoe, anyway-to-get-there affair. The contract price for carrying it was $1,100 a year. Kittson, being postmaster, could not act as sub-agent. He appointed me as assistant postmaster, and I ran the machine until some time in 1853 or '54. I did all the business of the office, made the quarterly returns and deposit of funds due the department, attending to every detail of the office, which at that time was no child's play as every letter and package had to be tied up in wrappers, waybilled and addressed to its destination. St. Paul packages contained nearly all of Minnesota, Chicago, Detroit and east and west exchange.

An example of an 1868 letter with U.S. postage
sent from Red River to St. Paul via Pembina
Source: The Minnesota Territory in Postmarks

Letter rates of postage ran 6 1/4, 12 1/2, 18 3/4, to 25 cents, according to distance, from 6 1/4 for short distances to 25 for 500 miles and over. Every letter and package had to be wrapped and addressed. Even single letters had to be wrapped and addressed to their proper offices. All wrappers had to be saved and used as long as they would hold together and an address could be put on without showing another.

But when it came to making out the quarterly reports the dance had just commenced. Every letter received and dispatched must be returned from the records kept on bills for that purpose, and it made a package about the size of a family Bible, and the footing up of columns with the amounts running from 6 1/4, 12 1/2, 18 3/4 to 25, was a corker. And right here let me tell you, with a feeling of pride, that I never had a quarterly return come back to me for correction.

Let me give you a sketch of the business at that early day, and the hardships and tricks of some of our carriers.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Pembina Christmas, 1801

From the journals of Alexander Henry (the Younger):
Friday, Dec. 25th (Christmas) - Snowed all day. Indians perpetually going around coming from one house to another, getting what they ask for, without the trouble of hunting...

28th - Red Lake Indians arrived...We have our hands full; since my arrival it has been the same - never one day quiet.

Friday, Jan. 1st, 1802 - This morning the usual ceremony of firing, etc., was performed. I treated my people with two gallons of high wine, five fathoms of tobacco, and some flour and sugar. My neighbors came visiting, and before sunrise both sexes of all parties were intoxicated and more troublesome than double their number of Saulteurs; the men were fighting and quarreling all night.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

St. Vincent WWI Veterans

'Casualty' does not always mean 'Killed in Action'
It can also mean 'Wounded' - I knew at least one of 
the men in the list when I was growing up; he was
very much alive for many years after the Great War
[Click to enlarge]

I discovered a blog today with a 'casualty listing' for Kittson County World War I veterans on it.  I excerpted from it all veterans from St. Vincent in the list you see to the left.  This type of listing only contain names of those killed or wounded in action; it's not a comprehensive list of everyone who served (so far I haven't found one that includes all who served...)

I was interested to see that one of my great uncles is listed...William Samuel Fitzgerald.  I had known he was in WWI, but nothing about his experiences. He definitely didn't die in the war, but must have been WIA.

William S. Fitzgerald's draft registration card
The Selective Service Act was only passed
the month before in May 1917...
One St. Vincent veteran of WWI that is not on the list is William's younger brother (because he wasn't a 'casualty').  Below is an image of a postcard sent by my great uncle Edward Fitzgerald, to his sister (and my grandmother) Elizabeth Jane (Fitzgerald) Fitzpatrick, while he was in basic training. Transcription of the card says: 
Co J Camp Ross, Great Lakes, Ill.  
Dear Sister:  
This is what a person can see every Wednesday afternoon at Main Comp (Company?) Notice all the visitors along the right of the picture.  
The review we had last Wednesday when Secretary Daniels was here, there was about twice as many "jackies" on the field.  
(on the other side was a photograph of service men in review...)
While William was in the Army, his younger brother Ed was in the Navy.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Old St. Vincent in Photos: 1948 Flood

The pictures below were recently shared by a reader of this blog, a descendent of an early settler of the St.Vincent/Pembina area. Most of them were taken during the 1948 flood, with a few taken in other (mostly) unspecified but close years to 1948, including one of the then-new St. Vincent elevator, identified by handwriting on the back as being erected in 1950...

From far right front backwards:  Mont(gomery) Clinton's Minneapolis-Moline
dealership, Art Clinton's home (Baker's Pool Hall), Post Office (Bill Ahles'
grainery), (George) Sylvester's Store (Old Dick Lapp Store/Ahles Store), old
City Hall, and finally, Short's Cafe (old First & Last Chance Saloon...)

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Once found in Minnesota, but
now is evidently extinct here...

In 1823, Mr. Keating noticed the Salt springs in Minnesota State and Dacotah Territory, far south of the boundary line.  Even at that early period in the history of the Settlements on Red River, five hundred dollars were cleared by one individual during one winter from the sale of the salt he had manufactured from springs near Pembina.  The price of salt in the Settlement was then six dollars per barrel weighing eighty pounds.  At a spring on Saline River, south of the boundary line, Major Long's party found the Salicornia herbacea growing very abundantly around it.  "Mr. Schweinitz states, on the authority of Mr. Nuttal, that this is the only inland locality of this plant, besides the Onondaga Salt Springs in the State of New York."

- From Report of the Exploration of the Country between Lake Superior and the Red River Settlement (1859)

Early in the exploration period of Minnesota, note was made of a potential bonanza.  It wasn't about gold, but...salt.1

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Lena Returns Home

I finally made it up to Hallock to visit my Aunt Lena yesterday.

It was a cold day, but bright and clear with an intense sunlight.  After about an hour's drive, Bill and I arrived  around 1:00pm at the Kittson Healthcare Center where Lena now lives.

We asked staff where to find Lena, then proceeded to walk down the hall to the end where her room was. Her door had a warning sign on it about being contagious and to wash hands if in contact.   I asked staff what that meant, and was told she had an extremely antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection of the bladder, and that if any physical contact was made, it was important to wash your hands.  I made a note to avoid physical contact, which was disappointing because I would have loved to hug her and be able to be hugged by her, but for now, it wasn't possible.

Walking in, I could see immediately she had a private room.  It was decorated with many photos, nic-nacs, and other  memorabilia.  Lena lay on her bed, looking up towards the ceiling.  She looked much like I remembered her, her hair still brunette and cut the same, her skin showing age, but the dark eyes and small features unmistakably her.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Scene of a Tragedy

Map showing Fitzpatrick farm where 1954 tragedy occurred
[©Google Maps, USA Farm Service Agency]
When hearing the story of the tragic spring and summer of 1954, I often wondered where the scene of the second of the two tragedies - the drowning of my uncle and my two cousins - took place.  As strange as it may sound, not once did anyone offer to show me where it happened (on the other hand, it was a very painful memory for my mother, who was very close to her brother...)  I know it happened on my family's farm (at that time owned and run by my uncle, but once my grandparent's homestead), but where the farm itself was, I had no idea.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

March 1941 Blizzard Revisited

Coverage of 1941 Blizzard in Minnesota & North Dakota
[WILMINGTON MORNING STAR, North Carolina, March 17, 1941]
Last year I wrote about the 'Ides of March' blizzard of 1941, sharing a story that a reader of this blog sent me of his memories of that event.

Now, in the course of my new job, a patron shared with me that a book had been written about the blizzard.  In the book, there are several references to local/regional stories of people touched by that storm, including the following two stories...

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

First United Stated Dragoons

In the early part of the 19th century, what would later be commonly referred to as the U.S. Cavalry, were known as the U.S. Dragoons.

In 1849, the First United States Dragoons would play a part in our area. According to an introduction to first-hand accounts documented in the book, "Minnesota as Seen By Travellers"...
...Too frequently reports of exploring expeditions are written only by the leaders...It is interesting, therefore, to get an intimate account of one of these expeditions as it appeared to an underling. The writer was a member, very probably a sergeant, of Company D, First United States Dragoons.
The writer had an appealing writing style, with much dry wit and not a little sense of humour; nothing much has changed since that time either, since he often mentioned... mosquitoes! In fact, he wrote:
"Poor hungry things! How would they have been saved from starvation, but for this expedition of ours to the North?"
This recollection is too good simply to refer to, quote from, or even serialize in entire.  Instead I bring to you in-whole, the writings of a Sergeant from Company D, describing their coming up from Fort Snelling to the Pembina/St. Vincent area to survey and establish the U.S. Boundary. I have a hunch you'll find it as fascinating as I have.

Please note that inconsistencies in spelling are from the original, and are left intact on purpose so you can experience how people wrote at this time.  It does not necessarily reflect inferior education, but rather was more common among all levels of society and rank during this time period; in general, English has been and continues to be a rather fluid and fascinating language...but that is a topic for another time!

Also, the spring/summer of 1849 was an unusually cold and wet time period - be aware of these extraordinary conditions as you read this account.

And now, "Canteen Sketches", by an unknown soldier of the ranks...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

County Seat Battle

Old Kittson County Courthouse - I must say, it has a lot more style than the current
courthouse building...too bad it couldn't have been saved. Architecturally it was
described as "...a three-story brick building above a high battered-stone basement
with Romanesque tower; unusual half-timbered attic story gables; large chimneys

on each side above medieval corbelled cornice brick." It was once described as
"...one of the finest county capitols in the northern half of Minnesota."
First 100 Years of Minnesota Bar Association
Kittson County was organized February 25, 1879. The first county commissioners, who were appointed by Governor Pillsbury, designated Hallock as the temporary county seat. However, in 1891, a group of citizens from St. Vincent, circulated a petition to move the county seat to St. Vincent, with a promise to build an $8,000 courthouse. The petition was dismissed by the county commissioners because of the "unauthorization of the circulation of the petition" and that they had no jurisdiction for this matter. 

But the whole story is a bit more interesting than that...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Church in a Saloon

Presbyterian Church, Pembina, N.D.
(Circa 1900-1909)
- Photo Courtesy:
State Historical Society of North Dakota
Before there was a Presbyterian Church in Pembina, a Presbyterian minister held services in what many would consider a highly unusual place - a local saloon.  However, I think Jesus would approve - he always did like going to where the regular people hung out...

Monday, November 22, 2010

NWMP Arrive in Fort Dufferin

North West Mounted Police trooper from 1870s
[Artist:  R.J. Marrion - Canadian War Museum]

Fort Dufferin was originally established in 1873 by the North West Mounted Police (later the Royal Canadian Mounted Police) - this site was also used by the International Boundary Commission in its mapping of the International Boundary in 1874.

That same year, men were recruited for important efforts even further west, but to get them there, they had to come down into the United States, then back up into Canada (direct travel not yet being practical due to obstacles such as the Canadian Shield...)  The article below chronicles their adventures 'getting there', coming through Fargo, then Fort Dufferin (the modern day Emerson area...)

[A thank you to Jake Rempel of Halbstadt, Manitoba...]

Friday, November 19, 2010

Civil Alert Siren

Town sirens were part of everyday life when I was growing up. We didn't question why a siren would go off at noon, 6pm, and 10pm. It just did.

Now, many years later, I was recently reminded by Emerson resident James McClelland...
I was out for my daily walk on a beautiful fall day. It was approaching noon and just at the precise moment the Emerson fire Siren gave its daily noontime blast.

The blast was no sooner over when I heard the wail of the City of Pembina's fire whistle, three miles distant. I had not been outside at noon for a while and had forgotten about the Pembina wail. Over the years it was clearly heard in Emerson as I recall three times daily. I am not sure if it still gives its three timely signals, but they were noon, six pm and ten pm. At the time Pembina City had a curfew ordinance and this was the warning for all youngsters under sixteen, to get home.

I grew up on a farm five miles north of the border and if the wind was blowing right the Pembina Fire Whistle could be easily heard.
I decided to research it, and found out that there was more to it than we realised...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Winchester Hotel

William and Georgina (Atkinson) Ardies rented the Winchester Hotel from 
Judge Conmy about 1908 and ran it for many years. This is Georgina and
her daughter Maggie Ardies (scratched-out face) in the kitchen.
[Photo Courtesy: Kent Myrick]
Interior photographs of buildings were not as common a century or more ago as they are today, mainly due to lighting concerns. To come across one of a well-known local business from that time period is definitely a rare treat. The above shot shows the kitchen of the Winchester Hotel in Pembina, originally built by Lucien Geroux1. The photograph was shared with me by a great nephew of the lady on the right, Georgina Ardies.

I didn't realize until I began my recent correspondence with the nephew - Kent Myrick - that the hotel survived as long as it did.  Kent said his father grew up there in the early 1900's...
The Winchester Hotel in Pembina was run by my Dad's "Aunt Eeny", that is, Georgina (Atkinson) Ardies, while my dad was growing up there.
William Ardies was Dad's mother's oldest brother. William's sister Margaret (Ardies) Hensal and her husband George Hensal raised my dad and his brother, (Nathan and Ardies Myrick). She was always called "Auntie Hensal", in the English tradition, instead of using her given name. Probably because the Ardies family came to Pembina by way of Quebec, where they settled when they fled Ireland in the mid-1800s.
She lived in the Winchester for years after being widowed, still lived there in 1949 when we picked her up and took her to live with us. I remember going to that side door of the Winchester which faced Heneman's grocery store.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Manslaughter at Midnight

In March 1899, an altercation occurred late in the evening outside a St. Vincent saloon at closing time.  The end result caused the death of a man...all over a hat and some whiskey...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Profile: Flora Bockwitz - Sharpshooter

Flora Bockwitz in her youth
[Photo Courtesy: Bob Bockwitz]

This is Flora Elizabeth Woll Bockwitz. According to her grandson, Bob Bockwitz, Flora had a rather unique skill set. She was a sharpshooter...

From a historical essay about her, comes this quote, from a 1971 interview of her son, Virgil Bockwitz:
One of the best lady sharp shooters, Flora Elizabeth Woll Bockwitz pioneered in Kittson County. She could match skills with anyone. She could shoot a cigarette out of her husband's mouth. This trick challenged and excited everyone.

Flora acquired this unusual skill at the age of 15. In her childhood days, such things weren't done by girls. However, this didn't bother Flora. She learned how to shoot and ride horseback better than most boys. She used the shotgun and rifle. Every time her pa went out hunting, she was right behind him.

Even after marriage she kept up this hobby. She and her husband represented some of the leading manufacturers of shotguns and rifle ammunition.

The couple made runs on the Mississippi River steamboats and made showings of their great rifle and shotgun skills. One of the ammunition companies they traveled for was the Peter's Company.
Flora takes aim at
tonight's supper...
[Photo courtesy: Bob Bockwitz]

She could shoot a hundred clay pigeons without missing a shot. She used a .22 calibre rifle in this trick. She could also shoot the tiny briquettes, as they were thrown up in the air.

The neighbors still can see her coming out of her kitchen door and shooting a chicken running across the yard at full speed. She then picked the chicken up and took it in the house and plucked and cleaned it. Then, when the men came for supper they had fresh fried chicken.
I'd say that's pretty impressive...and I'm just talking about the plucking and frying up part - I have a hard enough time having enough energy to defrost meat in the microwave and cook it up after a day's work.  But then, I suppose hard work and hunger are powerful motivators to get a meal made!

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Bronson Dam

April 1936 - Construction on the dam begins! (Photo Courtesy:  Ron Johnson)
Kittson County is naturally lakeless1, which seems odd in a state nationally recognized for its abundant water supply. In the early 1930s, as the Great Depression continued to greatly depress everyone, Kittson County was drier than usual, the region suffering through a terrible drought. As wells dried up and crops withered, officials concluded the county needed a safety net, a water storage facility on the South Branch of Two Rivers, near Bronson (later Lake Bronson). For more than a year, supporters of the plan lobbied the federal and state government for funds for the project. One of the leading voices was the mayor of Bronson, O.T. Danielson. Danielson was joined in the effort by county engineer J.E. Dishington and several other prominent Kittson County residents. It was not until Clifford Bouvette became part of the chorus in early 1936, however, that major progress was achieved.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Recovered Grave

Gravestone for John Bruce, St. Vincent resident - buried
in old Emerson, Manitoba cemetery (reason unknown)
[Photo Courtesy:  Wayne Arseny]

I recently contacted the mayor of Emerson, Manitoba concerning the upcoming St. Vincent 155th Celebration in 2012.  We got to discussing local history.  He shared this... 
...I was clearing some graves in our abandoned old Emerson cemetery.   It's situated directly east of our current one; abandoned in 1900 because the Bradley Creek made it too difficult to cross due to flooding.. a higher/closer spot was chosen.  The old cemetery was simply forgotten and lays tucked away in heavy bush cover.  The grave I was clearing was from someone who died in 1895… which stated he came from St. Vincent.  My thoughts then were how interesting that someone from there would be buried here...

Monday, November 01, 2010

1870 Fort Pembina Census

The images below are from the 1870 Fort Pembina census. There are several familiar names in the census - Joseph Rolette, Norman Kittson, William Moorhead, Nelson E. Nelson, and even Charley Brown (although for some strange reason it has him listed as coming from Germany - sure, it could be another Charley Brown, but somehow, I doubt it very much...) That mystery aside, it's a fascinating window into the diversity of individuals making up the fort, from the ethnicities to the types of support personnel helping to assist, work with, and care for the soldiers (housekeepers, sutters, doctors, hunters, translators, scouts, etc.)

Saturday, October 30, 2010


[Click to enlarge]
I try and spread the word about this blog so as many people can be aware of our local history as possible.  The other day when I did that on the Minnesota Historical Society's local history Facebook page, they paid me a very kind compliment.  It really encourages me to continue to not only write about my local history, but to continue to strive for accuracy/proper sourcing, quality/interesting content, and appealing presentation...

Friday, October 29, 2010

KCND's Legacy

Although this happened last year, I only recently came across this on an online forum about KCND/CKND/KNRR's ultimate demise...To provide a complete picture of the once-local station's 'life', I include it here (it has a happy outcome...)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ferry Command Revisited III

Click to view larger...

I stumbled across the story at left today when going through archived newspapers.  It's on the backside of an article about my mother that appeared in a February 1940 issue of the Pembina New Era.

What's interesting about this article (although the term is never mentioned in the article itself), is that it's talking about Ferry Command.

I get a big chuckle out of how it's repeatedly stated that NO airplanes are being flown across the border.  That is literally true.  But what is not mentioned is that there had been planes towed across the border just the month before, thus not breaking the letter of the Neutrality Act of 1939...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Christ Church Revisited

At this point, Christ Church was still considered a Mission...

In 1971, attempts were made to preserve Christ Church, the Episcopal church in St. Vincent. 

QUESTION:  If Christ Church was bought, restored, and donated to the St. Vincent Historical Society, how did it get back into private hands, the situation it is in today?  Some possible answers follow the article below, which documents the 1971 preservation efforts...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Census of a New Town

1857 Minnesota Territorial Census of St. Vincent...
[Click to see larger image]
The above image is of the actual 1857 census of my hometown.  If you look at the enlarged image, you will note it says that at this time, the town existed in the "...County of Pembina, Territory of Minnesota." Kittson County did not exist yet.

That year was a momentous year for St. Vincent.  It was the year it was FIRST incorporated.  First, because it was incorporated twice. 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Old Highway 81

Red line shows route of Old Highway 81
Highway 81 as it was prior to the Interstate age, was the main highway through the Pembina area, the North Dakota 'twin' to Minnesota's Highway 75, as Pembina was the twin to St. Vincent, in a manner of speaking.

I often heard the term "Old Highway 81" used in passing, by my parents and other older residents of the area, growing up. I caught on that part of it was the road that went into an area I never knew that well (not knowing anyone that lived there) called South Pembina. South Pembina was the area south of Pembina proper, across the Pembina River. It was where the old museum was, and where the park, baseball field, and grandstand still are.

However, there was a lot more in South Pembina at one time.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Story of a Building

What is the history of this building?
Photo by Megan Sugden - Used by Permission
The building at left is located in Teien Township, Kittson County, not far from the Red River of the North.  It's all that is left of the unincorporated community of Robbin.

I have crossed the river by Drayton many times, necessarily passing this building but never knowing it.  Recently I became aware that it is now more apparent to passersby.

Monday, October 11, 2010


The Manitoulin - steamer ship featured in Chuck Walker's BORDER TOWNS
The photograph above, recently located on this website, is one of the only known photographs of the original ship by that name that ran under the Great Northern Transport Company between Collingwood, ON and Duluth, MN.  It carried many emigrants from Canada to Minnesota in the 1870's and 1880's.  It had a colorful history, being known as the only ship to have sunk twice.  The short version of the story is, it caught fire in 1882 as the Manitoulin, the hull was salvaged and it was rebuilt as the Atlantic, and later burned/sunk again - this time for good - in 1903.  It was on a ship like this that the Gamble family took for part of their journey to St. Vincent, also.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Caribou Tales: Dennis Boucher

St. Nicholas Ukrainian Church (Caribou, Kittson County, Minnesota)
Let me introduce you to someone from my hometown area - eastern Kittson County to be more exact, an area known as Caribou.

His name is Dennis Boucher1, and he grew up in Caribou.

Dennis and I found one another through this website. For the past eight months, he and I have been corresponding via email, with Dennis sharing many stories of his family and area local history of which his family has been a part of. Much of it is unknown outside his family, and I am thrilled that he has been willing to share it with me.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

BOOK: Minnesota's Last Frontier

In what appears to be a self-published work, J.W. Durham1 wrote about his experiences in northwest Minnesota in the late 1800's. While most of those experiences were further east of St. Vincent in Roseau County (part of which was once included in Kittson County), there were some recollections of individuals with a connection to my hometown area, of which I share below.  Please note that the language is of its time and style, and some of the content would be considered inappropriate and even offensive to modern ears - please read with a historical frame of mind to give it proper context...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

MN Black History: George Bonga

MN Black History: George Bonga - I'm pleased to find this on Ampers, a website consortium formed by MPR and MHS made possible by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the citizens of Minnesota, aka Legacy Grant Funding voted in by Minnesotans!

Someone is finally paying attention to people like the Bonga family, a branch of that family being from Pembina.

Two amazing historical facts come out in the audio link above:

1.  One of the Bonga family met with Dred Scott when Scott was in Minnesota, and it's quite probably Scott was impressed with what he saw Bonga accomplishing as a free black man, and it could very well have further inspired him to take his case to the Supreme Court - he sued for his freedom as a slave - and

2.  Bonga wrote Bishop Whipple to intercede for the Dakota who were arrested and sentenced to hang, with President Lincoln.  Lincoln eventually commuted many of the over 300 (eventually 38 were hung in biggest mass execution in our history to this day...)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Portrait of a Saloon

First & Last Chance Saloon (St. Vincent, circa late 1800's)

You can tell me I'm wrong, but I won't believe you.

What am I talking about?  I'm referring to the fact that I firmly believe that what was once known as the First & Last Chance Saloon in St. Vincent, eventually became what was later known as Short's Cafe.

I base this on two main factors - location, and comparative known exterior architectural features.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ghost Towns: Pelan

Ode to a town that exists now only in memory...
Mattson. Caribou. Sultan. Pelan.

What do all of these towns have in common? They are towns that no longer exist, or ghost towns, that were in Kittson County. Those of us who grew up in Kittson County know of others that are headed that way shortly, such as Northcote and Orleans (some would say they are already 'there'...)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Caribou Pilgrimage

St. Nicholas was built in 1905

This past weekend, my partner Bill and I went on a Minnesota safari of sorts. We packed up a lunch, put the hiking boots on, and hit the road for Caribou Township in Northeastern Kittson County, a land of myth for me.

I know some people reading that will be amused by my description, or even perplexed. Why 'myth', you ask? Well, it's because I had heard about Caribou all my growing up, spoken of in such mysterious ways by adults that would not or could not explain to me where it was or what it meant. So I have had it in the back of my mind for years, half-forgotten and not much thought of. But once I began throwing myself more fully into local history research, it popped up in my mind's eye again and would not go away.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Old Pembina Photos - Part I of II

Recently, a friend to this blog sent me links to several of the images below, found on Digital Horizons, part of the online collection of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. I later visited the site myself and found even more. I was aware of the website, but as often happens with online collections, it's not static and changes, which is a good thing. More images are being discovered of our area all the time, and I want to share several of them with you here.

NOTE:  The first photo here shows a hotel readers of this blog should be very familiar with - at least those that have read the Chuck Walker books, Sheriff Charley Brown, and Bordertown - where it was featured in both books as well as its owner, Lucien Geroux...

Hotel built before 1882 as the Geroux House, name later changed to Winchester Hotel.
Photographer Unknown/ Ronald Olin North Dakota Postcard Collection.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Oh, Canada!

There are many humorous stories circulating online, but only a few that I find truly amusing. I received such a one this morning from my friend James McClelland from Emerson, Manitoba, entitled "Oh, Canada!"

While humor is not the normal domain of this blog, I am making an exception in this case and sharing some of the piece with you since it's geographically-related and specific. Anyone from my hometown area, or further north, will appreciate it, and those that are not, will learn a thing or two...


1. You wake up one morning to find that you suddenly have a beachfront property.
2. Hundreds of huge, horribly frigid lakes.
3. Nothing compares to a wicked Winnipeg winter.
4. You can be an Easterner or a Westerner depending on your mood.
5. You can pass the time watching trucks and barns float by.

The Official Canadian Temperature Conversion Chart

50° Fahrenheit (10° C)
• Californians shiver uncontrollably.
• Canadians plant gardens.

35° Fahrenheit (1.6° C)
• Italian Cars won't start
• Canadians drive with the windows down

32° Fahrenheit (0° C)
• American water freezes
• Canadian water gets thicker.

0° Fahrenheit (-17.9° C)
• New York City landlords finally turn on the heat.
• Canadians have the last cookout of the season.

-60° Fahrenheit (-51° C)
• Santa Claus abandons the North Pole.
• Canadian Girl Guides sell cookies door-to-door.

-109.9° Fahrenheit (-78.5° C)
• Carbon dioxide freezes makes dry ice.
• Canadians pull down their earflaps.

-173° Fahrenheit (-114° C)
• Ethyl alcohol freezes.
• Canadians get frustrated when they can't thaw the keg

-459.67° Fahrenheit (-273.15° C)
• Absolute zero; all atomic motion stops.
• Canadians start saying "cold, eh?"

-500° Fahrenheit (-295° C)
• Hell freezes over.
• The Ottawa Senators win the Stanley Cup

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Charms Revisited

One of the Charms' singles...

I recently ran across a source for old music that had available a single for the Minnesota Rock Hall of Fame inductees and Humboldt natives, The Charms...take a listen below...

Saturday, September 11, 2010


According to my statistics service, this website had the following stats over the last 30 days:

I hadn't checked my stats in months, and was surprised (but very pleased) to see the increased traffic. My main goal in creating and working hard on this website, is to showcase and promote my hometown area's local history, that it will not be forgotten, and that it can be a gift to those that come after me.

I've had emails upon emails upon blog comment from current residents, former residents, expatriates, descendants of early settlers, and authors researching our local history, etc. who contact me about the content. Many have said that this website has provided one of the few - sometimes the only - resource for a subject matter they are researching. I do not claim that all of the content is original or even the majority. It is the nature of such a website that I feature others' work(s) and am happy to do so. Some of the work I quote from others are from private collections that are not online. There are many resources online now, but not all local history is there yet, and some probably never will be.

But some of the work here is original also. Some of it is local history of a very personal nature but of broad appeal, not just personal/familial, but true local history, just that my family was intimately involved since we have deep roots in the area. Some of it is all original research and writing by me on a local history subject with no personal connection except that it happened in the region I grew up in.

I was recently in touch with the Minnesota Historical Society and asked them if any funding through the Legacy Grants could apply in preserving this website. They worked hard with me to find a way, even huddling one afternoon and discussing my situation (bless them).  They couldn't see a way for the existing guidelines to apply to my rather unique situation with a history blog.  

There are many history blogs, but not a lot of this particular type with such a narrow focus.  They gave me some alternative ideas I am now exploring, but most are long-shots.  If anyone reading this has ideas on how this blog could be preserved, I'm all ears, and would love to hear from you! For me, it's all about the history, of making sure it's not hidden or forgotten, and is accessible for generations to come...

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

City of St. Vincent - Older Than We Realized

From Minnesota Place Names:  A Geographical Encyclopedia by Warren Upham
I just found out today that St. Vincent was incorporated twice. No one knows why, but I have some theories.1 The first time in 1857, the second time in 1881. This was brought to my attention by current resident and St. Vincent City Council member Kris Baldwin Ohmann, whom I worked with earlier this year in reclaiming the Red River Valley website. I greatly appreciate Kris letting me know about this odd situation. To be honest, it makes a lot of sense that the town would have been incorporated much earlier than 1881 because it has a very old history in the region.

For purposes of organizing a community celebration of my hometown, I am hoping that everyone I will eventually be working with (I'm trying to organize a committee as we speak...) will agree to work with the earlier date - May 23, 1857 (and yes, it is verified by historians...) To keep my sanity and give us a wee more wiggle room to get things properly organized, we're likely gonna move the original, tentative date of August 6, 2011 (when it was going to be the 130th based on 1881 date) up to August 4, 2012 for the 155th based on the newly-discovered older date.

1 - For the first incorporation:  Athough it didn't become a state until 1858, Minnesota's constitution was drawn up and ratified in 1857. In fact, in February 1857, the U.S. Congress passed the Enabling Act for the State of Minnesota which allowed for it to organize and become a state.  I think St. Vincent's timing for this initial incorporation was in anticipation of the territory in which it was currently a part of, becoming a state in the very near future.  A mere week after St. Vincent incorporated that first time, an election was held to select delegates for the future state's constitutional convention on June 1, 1857.  The convention itself met in July and August 1857, and the constitution was ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1858.  St. Vincent was positioning itself for the future!  As for the second incorporation, I have yet to find anything definitive as to the reason, but I shall continue to research this - my working shot-in-the-dark theory is, maybe they reincorporated 24 years later to absorb another nearby settlement - if it's one thing I'm learning since starting this local history blog the past several years, it's that there is a LOT more to learn about my hometown than I ever imagined...

Sunday, September 05, 2010

YouTube Local History: Pembina Depot

The video above was brought to my attention by Bill Ash the other day. In the interim, Bill found out from Clarence Bingham the scoop on the last few seconds of the film showing a depot, which turned out to be the old Pembina Depot, in its glory days!

Clarence also had this to say about Olaf Hanson, whose family (including Olaf) are shown earlier in the film:
Olaf Hanson was a Customs Inspector at Pembina during the 1950s. The depot in the video is the old Great Northern depot in Pembina. Olaf had a penchant for getting in trouble with the passengers he inspected by trying to joke with them. Unfortunately, travelers were not in a joking mood when crossing the border. To make matters worse the Collector of Customs office was just a couple of miles down the road in Pembina, so they would stop and complain. My desk in the headquarters office was close to the Collector's , so I could not help but hear some of those tirades. One day Olaf inspected a young man and woman at the Pembina Border station. He ascertained they were not married while establishing their citizenship, then when he was inspecting their car/suitcase, he jokingly inquired if it was appropriate that their underwear was comingled in the suitcase. They did not appreciate his attempt at humor and stopped at the Headquarters to lodge a complaint. The Collector - John O'Keefe - subsequently had Olaf in and threatened to transfer him to Hannah, N.D., where he would not encounter so many travelers. I don't recall if the transfer was in fact ever carried out.

When we lived in Pembina the GN depot was repainted. The B&B crew came to town - about 1958/59 - and in a few days painted the depot and associated buildings that God awful brownish/mustard yellow color the GN used in those days. A year or two later the section crew chief in Pembina repainted his house and by some mysterious circumstance the color was the same as the depot.
Bill Ash has this to share about Clarence:
Clarence "Bing" Bingham is a first cousin of my mother...He grew up in Wisconsin but got a job at the Railway Express office in Noyes, MN in the early 50's and soon after took a position with US Customs at Pembina and Noyes. He is retired now and is living in the state of Oregon.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Scientific Find in Kittson County (1892)

Found via Google Books,
aka "the researcher's friend"
The following excerpt highlights a pharmacological discovery by university scientists of an important plant (Northern Senega) in locations in northwest Minnesota, including Kittson County. 

The plant (general species, Senega - sometimes spelled Seneca) was originally identified into modern medicine, in the 18th century by a Scottish physican, whose attention was brought to it by the Seneca tribe in Pennsylvania. The plant had (and continues to have) important properties used in medical products to this day. It is also important in alternative medicine, as demonstrated at this Manitoba website showcasing local herbal remedies - all available to me in my backyard.

Trivia:  Metis (introduced to it by the Ojibwa) have long used Senega/Senega, aka Snakeroot, for it's medicinal properties.

I found it fascinating to run across this medical journal report of the find from 1892 (especially since the natives in our area are mentioned as using it mainly for subsistence purposes, not medicinal as tribes in other areas of the country had...)

MARCH, 1892.


By L. E. Sayre, University of Kansas.

The geographical distribution of senega has been a subject of a good deal of interest to the members of the pharmaceutical profession and the drug trade for a number of years. Chief among the contributors to our present knowledge of the drug in this particular have been Prof. J. M. Maisch and Prof. J. U. Lloyd, as will be seen by glancing over the back numbers of the American Journal of Pharmacy, the Proceedings of the American Pharmaceutical Association, and other pharmaceutical publications.

Reference has been made to senega growing in Wisconsin and Minnesota, but there has not been very definite information given, I believe, as to its collection or the exact district of country from which it is collected in these States. "Northern Senega" has been a current term meaning a variety of senega having certain physical characteristics very unlike the original Polygala Senega. Prof. Lloyd (Proc. Amer. Pharm. Asso., 1881), describing this variety1 — which he says is derived from the Northwest from the States of Wisconsin and Minnesota—says it is very large and fleshy, sometimes white, again rather dark brown, the knotty crown measuring often from two to three inches in diameter, even of the dried plant. The root just below the knotty head is (when dry) from the size of the little finger to that of the thumb of a man ; six to ten inches in length and generally destitute of keel; not so contorted and branched as the " Southern " senega.

Northern Seneca Root
harvested in Manitoba
L. L. Dyche, Professor of Zoology and Taxidermy, of the University of Kansas, some months ago made an extensive hunting tour in the Northwest, the main point of his operations being in that country lying near the Lake of the Woods. During this hunting expedition he had an excellent opportunity of studying the country, its products and its people. On his return he handed me a root which he thought might be of some interest to me. He said it was collected in very large quantities and seemed to be one of the staples of that country. The natives depending upon its collection as one of the means of subsistence, have made this quite an industry among them. There the squaws and the children dig the root while the " Braves " hunt the valuable fur-producing animals. Prof. Dyche says that he saw at the different trading posts in Marshall and Kittson Counties, in the storehouses, as much as a thousand pounds stacked up in one heap. At a little town, Rocksted, near Thief River Falls, the Indians come in from long tramps of forty miles or more and bring in the fur, skins and this snakeroot. Here they had an immense stock on hand. Since his return, Prof. Dyche has received a letter from a trader at Jadis2, Kittson County, stating that he has on hand a thousand pounds bagged up, waiting for a fair market price.

The root referred to is undoubtedly a good sample of senega. In length it varies from 4 to 8 inches; in diameter from 1/16 to 1/2 inch. Surrounding the root is a dark scar-covered head. This head in the case of younger roots is covered with immature pinkish leaf-covered stems. The characteristic keel of Southern senega is rarely present and the contour of the root is much less contorted. The color ranges from the light yellow of young roots to the dark brown of the older ones.

Near the head, prominent annulations are present. These continue with enlarging intervals of space for some distance down the root. Lengthwise the whole root is deeply wrinkled, while frequent warty enlargements occur. The branches are not numerous. In considerable quantities, the odor of gaultheria is quite prominent, as it is also in a cold aqueous infusion. The taste is very acrid.

Under the microscope the wood is found to be cylindrical, and the ingrowth of the inner bark on one side which produces the keel of the Southern variety is not apparent in a majority of cases. The wood is whitish, ligneous and occupies about y of the diameter of the root.

A sample of the drug was handed to Mr. McClung, one of the senior students, for the estimation of the polygalic acid. He used Quevenne's process, and obtained of the pure acid 35 per cent. Methyl salicylate was abundant, as shown by the ferric chloride test.

It would seem from the above that this specimen handed to me by Prof. Dyche represented a good sample of senega; its quality, equal to the average root of the market.

I have planted some of the roots, which seem to be full of vigor, and hope to be able at some future time to classify the plant.

1 — Northern senega, collected in the northwest United States, is considerably larger than the usual variety (western senega), and darker in colour; it is less contorted and shows the keel less distinctly, but it has a very acrid taste, and is undoubtedly a good senega. It is said to be derived from Poly gala Senega, var. latifolia.

2 - Jadis (named for Mr. Jadis, Kittson County Auditor) eventually was renamed Roseau - Kittson county included the western portion of what is now Roseau County until 1894 - From Kittson County History.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Profile: Jean Baptiste Wilkie

I have written about Jean Baptiste Wilkie (1803-1886) before, but only in his role as leader of the great annual Pembina buffalo hunts.

Below is a brief yet comprehensive biography of a fascinating man from our area, telling more regarding the roles he played in our local history and beyond.  One role he played was to facilitate treaties between the Sioux and the Obijway (and Metis) in 1861; it is an amazing piece of history to read, how Wilkie (and others prominent to our area, including Dumont and Grant) played a major role in maintaining peace at a time of tension,  This process included a visit to our nationa's capital with President Lincoln. One can only wonder what influence or bearing this treaty may have had, along with broken promises from the federal government agents, on the 1862 uprising?

I have also been in touch with the Great gr gr gr granddaughter of Alexander Wilkie, Jean Baptiste Wilkie's father, who has Alexander's original Northwest Company contract in hopes it may have been scanned - that would be a fascinating piece of history to see!
This is a biography of Jean Baptiste Wilkie1, a great Metis warrior, buffalo hunter and Chief of the Metis at Pembina, North Dakota. He was one of the Metis hunters who fed the Scots Selkirk Settlers during their first six years in the country.2 In the mid-1820s he was operating a large horse ranch beside the Red River in what is now St. Vital. Because of HBC prohibitions on Metis free-trade Wilkie permanently moved his operations south of the border in the 1840s. His family then appears in the 1850 Pembina Census.

On the Chippewa side of his family he was a descendant of Mezhekamkijkok. Jean Baptiste and his family were on the Pembina Annuity Roll for Little Shell’s Band in 1867 and in 1868 appear on the Annuity Roll for Way-ke-ge-ke-zhick’s Band. Under the Red Lake and Pembina Treaty (1872) he was issued Half Breed scrip #172. His family appears in an early Red River Census.

Known as the chief of the Half Breeds in the Pembina/St. Joseph area, Jean Baptiste married Amable Elise (Isabella) Azure (b. 1808). Wilkie’s father Alexander was from Scotland and his mother’s name was Mezhekamkijkok. Jean-Baptiste’s wife, Amable Azure (b.1808) was the daughter of Pierre Azure (b. 1788) and Marguerite Assiniboine.3 Amable died in 1888 and is buried at Olga North Dakota. Two of their sons-in-law, Gabriel Dumont and Patrice Fleury, were leaders of the 1885 Metis Resistance.

The Wilkie’s had a large family:

• Jean Baptiste Jr. (b.1824) married Marie Laframboise then Isabelle Patenude.
• Judith (Berger). (b. 1825) In 1879, Judith and her husband Pierre Berger, led twenty-five Metis families to central Montana in search of the diminishing buffalo herds.
• Augustine (b. 1829)–married Marie Paquin
• Alexander (b. 1831)–married Louise Gariepy.
• Marie Catherine (b. 1834 at St. Boniface) married Michel Gladu.
• Madeleine (Dumont) (1837-1886) Madeleine married Gabriel Dumont in 1858 at St. Joseph (North Dakota). Soon after, they moved to the St. Laurent area of Saskatchewan. Madeleine gained a reputation for being hospitable and compassionate to those less fortunate than herself. There is evidence that she and her husband had a very close relationship and he greatly respected her. The couple had no children but adopted a daughter, Veronique (born 1863 at Red River) and a boy, Alexandre Fageron (Fayant). As well as coping with everyday duties, Madeleine frequently accompanied Gabriel on long trips by snowshoe, Red River cart and horseback. Indeed on several occasions she traveled alone from Batoche to Winnipeg to sell the furs that Gabriel had acquired. The ability to speak English gave her an advantage Gabriel did not have, although he spoke French and five Native languages. Madeleine also acted as a teacher for the children of Batoche. During the 1885 Resistance she nursed the wounded and distributed the meager rations and supplies. Gabriel saw to Madeleine’s safety before crossing the border into the United States after the Battle of Batoche. She soon joined him because she could not tolerate the resultant situation in the Batoche area. Her health suffered severely in Montana. Madeleine died in October 1885 at Lewistown, Montana, from consumption and complications arising from a fall from a buggy.

• Elizabeth (b. 1839)–married Antoine ‘Henry’ Fleury.
• Cecilia (b. 1843) –married Joseph Gariepy.
• Agathe (b. 1844)–married Patrice Joseph Fleury. Her husband was born in 1848 at Pembina, the son of Louison Fleury and Josephte, a Gros Ventre woman. Patrice was involved in the 1885 Resistance at Duck Lake and Batoche with Dumont. At Batoche, he was one of Dumont’s captains on the west side of the Saskatchewan River.
• Marie Marguerite (b. 1845)–married Henry Bousquet.
• Antoine (b. 1848)–married Esther Gladue.
• Mary (b. 1849)
• David (1853-1854)

Wilkie and the Chippewa reportedly had a palisaded fort on the Souris River near Towner, N.D. called “Buffalo Lodge” which was attacked and burnt down by the Dakota in 1825.

Wilkie Leads Buffalo Hunt of 1840

Alexander Ross describes a buffalo hunt out of Red River led by 37 year-old Jean
Baptiste Wilkie:

On the 15th of June, 1840, carts were seen to emerge from every nook and corner of the settlement bound for the plains ... From Fort Garry the cavalcade and camp- followers went crowding on to the public road, and thence, stretching from point to point, till the third day in the evening, when they reached Pembina, the great rendezvous on such occasions ... Here the roll was called, and general muster taken, when they numbered, on this occasion, 1,630 souls; and here the rules and regulations for the journey were finally settled. The officials for the trip were named and installed into office; and all without the aid of writing materials.

The camp occupied as much ground as a modern city, and was formed in a circle; all the carts were placed side by side, the trains out-ward. These are trifles, yet they are important to our subject. Within this line of circumvallation, the tents were placed in double, treble rows, at one end; the animals at the other in front of the tents. This is in order in all dangerous places; but where no danger is apprehended, the animals are kept on the outside. Thus the carts formed a strong barrier, not only for securing the people and their animals within, but as a place

The first step was to hold a council for the nomination of chiefs or officers, for conducting the expedition. Ten captains were named, the senior on this occasion being Jean Baptiste Wilkie, an English half-breed, brought up among the French; a man of good sound sense and long experience, and withal a fine bold-looking and discreet fellow; a second Nimrod in his way. Besides being captain, in common with the others, he was styled the great war chief or head of the camp; and on all public occasions he occupied the place of president. All articles of property found, without an owner, were carried to him, and he disposed of them by crier, who went around the camp every evening, were it only an awl. Each captain had ten soldiers under his orders; in much the same way that policemen are subject to the magistrate.4
Battle of O’Brien’s Coulée, 1848

In the mid-summer of 1848 a large Chippewa-Metis and Dakota battle took place at O’Brien’s Coulée5 near present day Olga, North Dakota. The Chippewa-Metis hunting camp was made up of 800 Metis men and 200 Chippewa Indian men. They had their families, horses and over 1,000 Red River carts. The Chippewa were led by Old Red Bear and Little Shell II. The Metis were led by Jean Baptiste Wilkie whose mother was a full-blood Chippewa. François Corvin Gosselin who along with William Gaddy who would later be a sub-leader of the 49th Rangers attached to the British Boundary Commission were also at this battle.6

Wilkie established himself at St. Joseph, North Dakota about 1847. His house was the stopping place for Indians passing through the town. A fatal encounter occurred at his home in 1861 between several Sioux and Chippewas. Several Indians were killed, among them the brother of Chippewa chief, Red Bear.

The Dakota, Chippewa, Metis Treaty of 1859

This treaty was negotiated by Jean Baptiste Wilkie on behalf of the Metis and Chippewa. William Davis (born Red River 1845) was present at this meeting as a 14 year-old. He tells the following story: There had been a conference at St. Joseph in 1858 where it was agreed that a meeting should take place the next year at Les Isles aux Mort, near Leeds N.D. (north-west of Devil’s Lake) to set the boundary lines for the hunting grounds of the Sioux, Metis and Chippewa. There was water everywhere in the vicinity of the treaty site. This created islands, leading to the name of the site.

On the first day of the conference the bands rode out and met halfway between the camps. They were on horseback and fully armed, ready for battle, if necessary. They rode in parallel lines until they were about 100 feet apart. They then turned to face each other. After a few moments of silence a Sioux Chief slowly dismounted, accepted a huge peace pipe of catlinite (pipestone) from a warrior, stepped into the lane between the lines and invited the Metis leader to join him.

The pipe was first presented to Chief John Baptiste Wilkie, leader of the mixed-bloods and after him the sub chiefs and headmen of the Sioux and the captains of the Metis puffed the pipe. When the serious matters were finished the two groups mingled freely to indulge in sports and trade, the latter consisting chiefly of barter for guns and buffalo robes and horse trading.

The next day the conference began. It was agreed that the unpleasant relations between the Chippewa (the relatives), the Metis and the Sioux were unnecessary and dangerous. The Sioux were accused of raiding the Chippewa country, stealing horses and sometimes scalping Chippewa people. The Metis were most concerned because the Sioux “made fun” with the “meat” (other portions of the body).

The Sioux charged that the Metis encouraged the coming of whites and the killing of too many buffaloes. But the line was fixed. It was to follow the Goose River from the mouth to the timber of the Goose where the river has three branches. From the source of the branches the boundary followed the stream to its mouth and continued to Dog Den Buttes, from there it ran south to the Missouri River opposite the mouth of the Knife River.

Gray Owl, Wanata or Wanaatan II (The Charger)7, Tete la Brule (Makaideya, or Burnt Earth) and Mato Wakan (Medicine Bear) were the Sioux leaders. Grey Owl was described as a fine appearing man and very eloquent by Mr. Davis. “He had fine limbs, thick and strong and was straight and tall/ He spoke well and was not afraid.”8

The Dakota Metis Treaty of 1861

In subsequent years the hunting parties of the Dakota and the Metis continued to fight over the same hunting grounds. The Dakota (the people of the “Ten Nations”, some 400 lodges) would typically gather at what was called “Sioux Coulee” near present day Langdon, North Dakota. The gathering place for the Chippewa and Metis was between Cando and Devil’s Lake. Tired of this stand-off, Chief Wilkie as leader of the Metis and Chippewa hunting parties decided to bring some resolution to the situation in the early 1860s. Gregoire Monette9 of Langdon, North Dakota tells the following story in 1917:

In order to put an end to the suspense, fear and worry of watching the enemy, the Half-Breed hunters and Chippewa Indians under Chief Wilkie decided to send a commission to Washington to interview the president and find out how to obtain peace between these tribes. Chief Wilkie and Peter Grant were the men chosen. So well did they impress the authorities at Washington that President Lincoln told them they could have all the ammunition they needed for their protection. He asked them at the same time not to induce trouble but to go to them as brothers taking with them the bravest and best to make parley for peace. This was done and Chief Wilkie, Peter Grant, Gabriel Dumont, Joseph LaFramboise, Antoine Fleury, and seven others were chosen. They went direct to the village of the Dakota’s or Nadouissioux and direct to the lodge of the chief. This they found surrounded by soldiers. They reported to the chief, and he asked for them to be brought in. The rabble had gathered about the lodge and threatened to kill them, but the soldiers would not allow them to do so saying that their chief was a brave man who would dare to come alone to a hostile camp. The crowd was so envious and angry that with their knives they slashed the tent cloth in the lodges. Although they were admitted to his presence the chief was very austere. They told him their mission, and being very tired and thirsty, Gabriel asked for a drink of water. This was refused which was known to be an indication of trouble. Chief Wilkie became alarmed and sadly dropped his fine bearing. Gabriel, his son-in-law asked him “What is wrong with you?” When the old gentleman told him his fears, he became very angry. He began at once to load his gun, saying “I won’t die before I kill my full share,” and again demanded water which was brought immediately and due respect was shown their high commission from that time forth.

When asked to fully explain their mission, as spokesman, Chief Wilkie said, “We are enemies wasting the good gift that has been bestowed upon us through nature. We are preventing each other from trapping and killing the animals. There is plenty of room and much provisions. Let us help each other as brothers, let us have peace together.” When the council was concluded, the pipe of peace was ordered to be brought. This was a very long pipe, ornamented with human hair so long as to reach the floor, bear claws and porcupine quills were also part of its decoration. The tobacco was cut by his first lieutenant; this was mixed with several herbs, and kinnikinnick. This mixing of the tobacco was to indicate the fusion of their interest and harmony of the whole people. The pipe was then handed to the Sioux chief, who took three draws and passed it to chief Wilkie. In this way it went around the lodge. Three times the pipe was filled and solemnly smoked and peace thereby established.

Chief Wilkie then distributed to them gifts of tobacco, tea and sugar. They were then given a great feast at which they told how sad they were and afraid when they thought they were going to regret their friendship, and asked how they should get safely home. The chief said with great dignity, “I will give you safe conduct; I will send my soldiers with you to your lodge and nothing will harm you. You have seen here some of my bad children and you may meet them on the way, but if they attempt to harm you, kill them and I will protect you.” The above took place on Grand Coteau, forty miles west of Devil’s Lake. Before leaving, Chief Wilkie invited the Sioux to send a delegation to visit his people, setting the day and hour for their arrival. When the time came near chief Wilkie bearing in front of him a white flag, went a mile out to meet them. About one hundred came, the chief and his staff were quartered in Chief Wilkie’s lodge, the common people were scattered so as to get better acquainted. When the time came for them to go, they, as a sign of their friendship and brotherly feeling traded all their horses taking back none they had brought with them. Much good was accomplished, although there were still bad children (perhaps on both sides). (Cited in St. Ann’s Centennial, 1985: 231-232.)
Note: The picture of Jean Baptiste Wilkie is from Manton Marble, “Red River and Beyond (Third Paper)”, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, February 1861, Vol. 22, Issue 129: 306.
Compiled by Lawrence Barkwell
Coordinator of Metis Heritage and History Research
Louis Riel Institute

1 - The Plains Cree called Wilkie and the Metis “Nakawiniuk”.
2 - The Selkirk Settlers wintered at Pembina because of its proximity to the buffalo herds.
3 - Amable’s grandparents were Joseph Azure, born 1767 in Quebec and Lizette Ma-na-e-cha (Ojibwe). He died suddenly on January 29, 1832 at St. Boniface. This family appears in the Red River Census between 1832 and 1840. In 1804 Joseph was working as a guide for the NWC; he accompanied Francois Antoine Larocque on an expedition to the source of the Missouri River.
4 - Alexander Ross, The Red River Settlement. Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1972: 245-247.
5 - So called because O’Brien lived at this location some 35 years after the event. It is a short distance west of Olga, N.D. Olga is between one branch of the Pembina River to the north and the Tongue River to the south.
6 - Libby Papers, A85, Box 36, Notebook #14. August 4, 1910 interview with Little Duck, Dominion City, MB, interpreter Roger St. Pierre. This paper was given to me by Louis Garcia, historian for the Mni Wakan Oyate.
7 - This was the son of the Yanktonai chief of that name who died in 1840, He was wintering along the Missouri River by 1828 and had frequent conflicts with the Minnesota/Pembina/Turtle Mountain Chippewa and Michifs.
8 - Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation. St. Ann’s Centennial: 100 Years of Faith. Belcourt, N.D.: 1985, pp.314-315.
9 - Gregoire was married to Philomene Wilkie (b. 1863) the grand-daughter of Chief Wilkie.