Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Obituary: William H. Moorhead

Apprentice Carpenter. Land Agent. Indian Trader. Trading Post Clerk. Buffalo Hunter. Undertaker. Farmer. Tavern Keeper.

Below is the obituary of an extraordinary man, one of our area's true pioneers.  I have left all the spelling as it appeared in the original article of the newspaper just as I found them, to give you a flavor of how common it was.  Some of the errors may have been due to misspellings or incorrect typesetting, but just as often there was no consistent agreed-upon spelling conventions for some words - Sometimes they just had to make their best guess!

William H. Moorhead Died Yesterday Morning at His Home In Pembina.
And Underwent a Surgical Operation Here About Two Weeks Ago
Mr. Moorhead was One of the leading Characters in the Early Settlement of the Valley and was a Typical Frontiersman —"High Water Bill" was the Name by which He was Best Known— The Funeral Occurs Tomorrow.
Pembina, N.D., July 3.—(Herald Special)— William H. Moorhead, better known during later years as "High Water Bill," died at his home in this city this morning, after an illness extending more or less over the past six months. This sobriquet he gained by his numerous prophecies as to just how high the water in the Red river would rise each year, and, be it said, his predictions were usually not far astray. As an incident in this line - it is said that this spring, before the snow melted, as he was lying in his bed on the lower floor of his house talking "high water" to a visitor, he reached down about half way on one of his bed posts and said. "You'll see the water up to this spot when the snow melts," and his prediction was verified. He refused to be carried upstairs until the water came in on the floor.
Floods had been known to fill the Red River Valley with snowmelt runoff. The earliest pioneers remembered the flood of 1861. That spring, the Red River Valley was under so much water that it was called the “largest body of fresh water in the world” – for a few weeks, anyway.   -   North Dakota Studies, FLOODS
Wm. H. Moorhead was born in Freeport, Pa., Sept. 26, 1832. He left Pittsburgh where he received a common school education, April 1, 1852, and arrived in St. Paul, a month later, where he worked at his trade—that of a carpenter—for two years.

The summer of '54 and the following winter he spent at Sauk Rapids trading with the Winnebagos, when they were removed to Blue Earth county. He then returned to St. Paul and organized a company to lay out paper townsites in northern Minnesota and Red River Valley.

In August, '57, he came to Pembina in company with Joe Rolette to build a store building for a trading post for St. Paul parties. He completed the building and remained as clerk to February, '58, when he made a trip to St. Paul with a dog train, not seeing a single house between the two points. He returned to Pembina soon after, having some fearful blizzard experiences on the way.

On June 8th of the same year he left Pembina on a buffalo hunt and returned in August with 15 Red river carts laden with furs, hides and Pemican.

After the high water of '61 which was the flood, according to his tell, he moved out to Walhalla. Here he lived on very friendly terms with the Indians until hostilities broke out which ended in the Minnesota massacre and because he refused to sell ammunition to the hostiles, he had to leave. He moved near Devils Lake and pursued his trading.

In 1862 he married Lizzie Rivier, who with her five children still survives him. About this time he moved to Pembina, where he has since resided.

Source:  Google Books
Mr. Moorhead has long enjoyed the distinction of being the second oldest white settler in the valley. Hon. Chas. Cavileer, of this city, being the oldest having come in 1841. When the Historical society of North Dakota was created in 1895, Gov. Allin appointed Mr. Moorhead a member of it and he has collected considerable information for it since.

Mr. Moorhead was a typical frontiersman and a general favorite. The history of the Red River Valley would be far from complete without an interesting reference to a man who was known far and wide for his genial good nature, and interesting stories of the pioneer's life in the northwest.

Mr. Moorhead has been a member for years of Pembina lodge No. 2, A. F. and A. M., and the funeral, which will take place Monday afternoon at 4 o'clock, will be under the auspices of that order.

[July 04, 1897, Grand Forks Herald]