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Souris River Posts in the Hartney District

by G. A. McMorran

MHS Transactions, Series 3, 1948-49 Season

MHS Transactions were originally published by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make online versions available as a free, public service. As an historical document, Transactions may contain language that is no longer in common use and which may offend some readers. They should not be construed to represent the views of today’s Manitoba Historical Society.

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This paper is an attempt to summarize as briefly as possible what is at present known of the trading days along the Souris River, and of the posts that operated for varying periods of time above the Souris mouth.

It is rather unfortunate that outside the journals of David Thompson, Alexander Henry the Younger, Peter Fidler and Peter Garrioch, there appear to be few records in existence. The Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company journals only make brief references to the Souris River posts, in rather marked contrast to the details given of the location and operation of the "Houses" that were near the mouth of the Souris.

Thompson and Henry have left us very detailed records of their travels along the Souris, but only a few brief references are made to the Ash House, which was perhaps the first of the Souris or Mouse River posts. They each tell of stopping at, or near, the abandoned House; and Thompson has left us its latitude. That is about all. Peter Garrioch has left us an interesting story of his wanderings and trading years between Red River and Mouse River, but in only one or two instances does he give us the slightest clue to the location of his post on the Mouse River.

In order, however, to satisfactorily recall or discuss the early Souris River posts that operated for some years on the middle stretches of the river, it would seem to me to be necessary to very briefly recall the establishment dates, and the history, of the posts that existed at or very close to the Souris mouth. They were really posts on the Assiniboine; not on the Souris.

According to the late Dr. Stewart, Pine Fort was established in 1785 some fifteen miles below the Souris mouth on the Assiniboine, and until 1795 enjoyed a monopoly of fully half of the Assiniboine trade, sharing it with Fort Esperance on the Upper Assiniboine. [1] But it had one region all its own, the Missouri with its village-dwelling Mandans, and all of the Souris River country.

In 1793 this Pine Fort monopoly of the North West Company was broken, when Ronald Cameron, a free trader, went about the Souris mouth on the Assiniboine and established the first of the posts in that area. Cuthbert Grant, Sr., countered this move by sending "Old Auge" to trade alongside Cameron. Then the Hudson's Bay Company sent Donald MacKay to represent it in the same district. The three posts were all built within a year, and less than a year later there were five "oppositions" working against one another.

It is quite reasonable, therefore, to suppose that it was this keen competition for the trade of the Souris River and plains, that brought about the establishment of the Ash House (near Hartney) in 1795, just two years after the opening of the first post on the Assiniboine near the Souris mouth. It seems certain that it was simply a move on the part of the North West Company to meet the growing competition of the Hudson's Bay Company.

After the amalgamation of these two companies in 1821 the competition was between the Hudson's Bay Company and the American Fur Company, with also a considerable number of independents. This later competition brought into existence a number of small posts along the river in the Melita area of today. Some of them were quite likely still farther south in what is now North Dakota.

But it is with regard to the posts along the Souris, in the Hartney district, that I would like to try and summarize what is at present known.

The Ash House

First the Ash House. It was established in 1795 by the North West Company, and only operated for a year or more, for, as David Thompson tells us in his narrative,"... it had to be given up, from it's being too open to the incursions of the Sioux Indians." [2]

The Hudson's Bay records seem to have no knowledge of the post except that it is marked as a North West Company post on a map. [3] The position of Ash House on this map in the Hudson's Bay London archives as being on the left or north bank of the Souris River, above the Plumb River.

Thompson gives its latitude as 49 degrees, 27 minutes and 32 seconds. [4]

Latitude 49°, 27', 32" intersects the Souris River about two miles southwest of Hartney. But as Thompson in his journal account (not his narrative) of his return trip from the Mandans in January, 1798, gives the distance from the Old House to the mouth of Plum Creek as only 13 miles, it has been somewhat difficult to understand his latitude observation of 49°, 27', 32". Either his observation is wrong, or his distance from the House to Plum Creek is wrong.

The distance from his latitude reading to Plum Creek is actually about 8½ miles.

Coues in his published interpretation of Alexander Henry's journal, makes repeated references, in his accompanying notes, to Thompson's journal, which he says he at one time thought of editing. In one of these notes he thinks the location of the Ash House was in the vicinity of Menteith, a few miles below Hartney on the Souris. [5] In this he was undoubtedly influenced by David Thompson's journal entries which, as already noted, give the distance from the Old House to Plum Creek as only 13½ miles.

This seeming contradiction of Thompson's latitude observation by Coues' interpretation of the unpublished Thompson journal, resulted in S. H. Forrest, E. G. Hetherington, and others of Souris, searching the Menteith district for some years without success. The district has all been cultivated, and early residents of the district do not seem to have had much knowledge of ruins or other indications of a post. A few relics have been found, such as a key and flint iron. But they were found some distance from the river on section 18-7-22, and the north half, by Mr. R. J. McBurney. They had evidently been lost by someone travelling the old Yellow Quill Trail.

Now let us examine evidence in favor of Thompson's latitude of 49°, 27', 32".

In a letter to the Souris Plaindealer in 1935 from Saskatoon, the late A. S. Morton had this to say:

"With regard to Ash House, Thompson's latitude which you give, places it within about 1½ miles of the Hartney (Grant) site. The great astronomer's observations are usually within about half a mile of our own survey. The diary of his return trip (from the Mandans) puts Ash House 13½ miles from the entry f Plum Creek into the Souris. But Thompson's miles are usually 1½ miles so taking it the indication is again the neighborhood of Hartney."

Morton in the same letter says: "In Thompson's narrative edited for the Champlain Society in 1916, he made the distance from Macdonnell's House near the Souris mouth to Ash House as 46 and 45 miles respectively. Here again he may have worked out the distance with some reference to his observations and be very correct."

Now, let us consider Alexander Henry's evidence. Henry, according to his diary, left the North West Company post on the south bank of the Assiniboine, and opposite the Brandon House of that time, on his 1806 trip to the Missouri.6 He had been ferried across the river by the Hudson's Bay Company men. Stewart says Brandon House at that time was 6 miles above the mouth of the Souris. [7]

Alexander Henry's Evidence

In Henry's diary of 1806, he says:

"At eight o'clock we mounted and kept on a slow trot. Our course was W.S.W. for the Moose Head, where we arrived at eleven o'clock, and stopped at a small lake to refresh our horses. Here we shot a few ducks, and at one o'clock saddled and proceeded in the same direction through a very hilly country destitute of wood. From the summits of these high, barren hills we had delightful views. In some low spots were clusters of poplars; to the N. we could see the Assiniboine, N. of which we could trace the course of Rapid River, which comes from Fort Dauphin mountain." [8]

The important part of this quotation is the fact brought out that in order to see the Assiniboine River, Henry must have been on the northern side of the Brandon Hills. They were then known as the Moose Head. To follow a W.S.W. course, as he says he did, Henry must have left a point some miles above the Souris mouth, even above the point where Stewart says the Brandon House of that date was situated. He simply could net travel W.S.W. from nearer the Souris mouth and reach a point on the north side of the Brandon Hills where he could see the Assiniboine.

Incidentally the lake mentioned where he shot the ducks, is undoubtedly Lake Clementi, the Lake of the Hills on some early maps, about ten miles south of Brandon.

Henry's journal continues: "At four o'clock we came to Riviere la Souris, at the junction of the Plum River [Souris Park today], which comes in from the W.N.W. We crossed it and kept along the north side of the Riviere la Souris until sunset, when we put up for the night near Fort de la Frenier [Fort of the Ash] ... Our day's journey was about 14 leagues W.S.W. by the compass." [9]

Fourteen leagues, or 42 miles, is exactly the distance as the crow flies from the point on the Assiniboine where Henry must have crossed, or at least started his day's journey, to the site of the Ash House latitude given us by Thompson.

If Alexander Henry's starting point that day in July 1806 was a point, or post, nearer the Souris mouth, the distance to his Ash House stop would have been some miles more than the 42 that he says he travelled. But, as already noted, he could not possibly travel W.S.W. from the Souris mouth, or even some few miles above the mouth, and reach a point on the northern side of the Brandon Hills where he could see the Assiniboine River.

David Thompson’s Diary

Now let us consider David Thompson's journal and narrative records. His narrative was written when he was about 70 years of age and living in retirement in Montreal. This narrative was edited and published many years later by J. B. Tyrrell and the Champlain Society. Thompson's journal or diary written day by day by the great explorer during his years of wandering the prairie and mountain wilds of the west, has never been edited or published. Cones undoubtedly made a close study of the more than 4000 pages of closely written notes while he was editing Alexander Henry's journal, and makes repeated references, in his Henry edition, to entries by Thompson in his unpublished diary. Coues says that he actually considered editing the voluminous notes but decided that he could not recommend to any publisher the work of publishing them.

References and quotations made in this paper are from a photostat of the original Thompson notes, which the Department of Records in Toronto had made for me, and are now in my possession.

The great explorer tells us that he left McDonnell's House near the Souris mouth, on November 28, 1797. McDonnell's House was on section 19-8-16, and the north east quarter, about 6 miles north and somewhat east of Wawanesa.

His first course, according to his unpublished journal, was south by west one mile. At the House he had crossed the river Assiniboine. His next course was south 60 degrees west 7 miles to a point of woods. Then south 50 degrees west 6 miles. During this course he says he was about 6 miles southeast of the Moose Head or Brandon Hills. At the end of this last course he must have been a little south of Nesbitt and somewhat west of that village. He records the fact that it was 20 below zero with a W.S.W. gale. A cold day and he froze his nose.

Until Monday, December 4, he had to forego travel as the thermometer was as low as 36 below with S.E. gales. Their tent was smoky and they apparently put in four miserable days. They were able to kill four cows (buffaloes).

It is scarcely possible for us today to imagine or realize the courage and determination of Thompson and his handful of companions, in facing the storms, dangers and hardships of this midwinter tramp of hundreds of miles across the treeless, snow-white, windswept, uninhabited wastes of the Souris and Missouri plains. Further north they would have had shelter and fuel in the timber lands; and also food. On the plains they had no assurance of any of these necessities. Yet they never faltered, although Thompson does occasionally record his feelings and thankfulness in a briefly written "Thank God."

I might here remark that Stewart in his excellent booklet on "The Early Assiniboine Trading Posts of the Souris Mouth" says that David Thompson spent three days storm-stayed in the valley at Wawanesa on his trip to the Mandans. He was in all probability influenced by the statements made by Thompson in his published Narrative, where he briefly says: "We went about 6 miles and put up in the woods of the Mouse River, which joins the Stone Indian River about 2 miles below the House." [10]

Quite naturally Stewart would conclude from this that the great explorer put up very near Wawanesa. But Thompson's diary, or journal, gives details which do not confirm this conclusion. In his journal Thompson very distinctly says that he went some 13 miles south 50 degrees west from McDonnell's before he put up; and was storm-stayed.

It should be remembered that Stewart was not so much interested in the wanderings of Thompson along the Souris, as he was in the Forts at or near the Souris mouth on the Assiniboine. His conclusion that Thompson spent some days storm-stayed at Wawanesa had no bearing on his study and findings with regard to the trading posts near the Souris mouth. And he probably never saw Thompson's unpublished journal.

The weather moderated on December 4 to 4 below, but with a strong west by south wind. At 9.00 a.m. they set off southwest by west 10½ miles to the Mouse River. They would then be somewhere between Bunclody and Souris of today. They stopped about a quarter of an hour with five tents of Stone Indians and then went W.S.W. half a mile up the river where they crossed to the south bank.

The next course was west by north 6 miles and they "put up below the bank close to the river." One mile short of the course, he continues, "crossed a brook. At beginning of course river comes from the N.W. 2 miles of course distant about 1½ miles then approaches nearer to end of course. Put up at 3:45 p.m."

The only creek emptying into the Souris River along this part of its course, the one that crosses the Souris golf course. Thompson apparently spent night of December 4, 1797, "below the bank" just south of the present town of Souris. He does not mention Plum Creek. It is therefore unlikely that he crossed the river into what is now the Souris Park, although he would indeed then have been "below the bank." In any case he would have a very sheltered spot for one night.

The next day, December 5, he proceeded, to again quote his diary, "four miles south to a bunch of aspens alongside of the brook we crossed yesterday which we re-crossed at the end of the course."

These points are all very easily identified by anyone who knows the distance between Souris and Elgin. Also his crossing and re-crossing of the same on his next course which he tells us was 5½ miles south. Then he went south by west 7 miles. He would then be about 4 miles south and somewhat west of Elgin as the rising ground which he mentions in his notes is just about that distance south of that town.

To again quote from his diary or journal: "Turtle Mountain not appearing and the weather seeming likely to change we struck off (1.30 p.m.) for the woods of the Souris River and went W.N.W. 6 miles, then north west by west 7 miles, all plains without the least woods. At 6.30 p.m. we most providentially came to a fine hummock of oak and ash close to the stream of the river and put up. A stormy day, wind south; at 5.15 p.m. the wind changed to a gale and by 7.00 p.m. increased to a storm."

His narrative, which was written as already noted when he was about 70 years of age, gives more details of this day. "December 5th 7 am Ther 13 below zero, became mild, in the afternoon a WSW Gale came on and increased to a storm by 6 pm. Monsr. Jussomme, our Guide, informed us, that he would now take the great traverse to the Turtle Hill; we were early up, and by 7:30 am set off: he led us about South four miles to a small grove of Aspins on the banks of a brook thence about six miles to the Turtle Brook from the Hill; thence S by W seven miles; we now came on a rising ground at 1 pm, but the Turtle Hill was not in sight; and all before and around us a boundless plain; and Monsr. Jussomme could not say where we were; the weather appeared threatening and preparing for a Storm; our situation was alarming: and anxiety [was] in the face of every man, for we did not know to which hand to turn ourselves for shelter: I mounted my Horse and went to the highest ground near us, and with my telescope viewed the horizon all around, but not the least vestige of woods appeared; but at due North West from us, where there appeared the tops of a few Trees like Oaks. They anxiously enquired if I saw Woods. I told them what I had seen, and that with my old Soldier I should guide myself by the Compass, and directly proceed as the Woods were far off; McCrachan and a Canadian joined us; the other six conferred among themselves what to do, they had no faith in the Compass on land, and thought best to march in some direction until they could see woods with their own eyes; but had not proceeded half a mile before all followed us, thinking there would be a better chance of safety by being all together. The Gale of Wind came on, and kept increasing. The Snow was four to six inches in depth with a slight crust on it. We held on almost in despair of reaching the Woods; fortunately the Dogs were well broken in, and gave us no trouble. Night came upon us, and we had carefully to keep in file, at times calling to each other to learn that none were missing. At length at 7 pm, thank good Providence, we arrived at the Woods, very much fatigued; walking against the Storm was as laborious as walking knee deep in water. We got up our tent and placed ourselves under shelter. Although we had taken six hours on this last course, yet I found by my Observations we had come only thirteen miles." [11]

They apparently considered 2 miles per hour very slew travel. I think this may later prove important.

The next day, December 6, according to his journal, warm, with a heavy W.S.W. gale. To quote him again: "We were obliged to lay by not only for the weather but to hunt provisions and refresh the dogs and horses. About 2.00 p.m. the Stone Indian men paid us a visit of about ten minutes and then went off to their tents which are a distance from us."

Here I think is the most important entry as far as we are concerned: "Wefind ourselves about three miles below the Old House where people resided two years ago." Undoubtedly a reference to the Ash House or Fort de la Freniere.

In his entry of December 7 he alters this position with regard to the Ash House slightly when he says: "At 7.30 a.m. set off. Course S.W. along the river 2½ miles, S.W. by S. 2 miles to the House at which we put up at 9.45 a.m. as we had not time to cross to the Turtle Hill."

They apparently remained at the Ash House two days, as under date of December 8 he says: "A fine clear day. Would set off but I wished to give my yellow horse in care of the Indians to take in to the House [McDonnell's]. At 10.00 a.m. an old man carne to whom I gave the horse in care with a note to Mr. McDonnell."

Here again is the important part of his entry that day: "Observed latitude and longitude, sun, sun, moon, N.W., at night Jupiter."

On December 9 he went 2 miles up the river and crossed to the right bank. Then W.S.W. 4 1/2 miles, then 2½ miles to eight tents of Stone Indians and put up at 11.00 a.m. He says "a fine high sand knowl [sic] bank of river close to us."

His narrative account varies somewhat from this journal account, but without importance; he merely says that he went beyond the Stone Indian tents 3 miles to a point where fifteen tents of Assiniboines were massacred by the Sioux the year previous. His narrative gives the mileage travelled that day as 9 miles while his journal says 10½ miles. But in both cases he says the Turtle Hill was visible S. 30 degrees E.

His travels on December 5 after leaving his Souris camp "below the bank" and the details he has left as to the various courses that day, seem to me to prove conclusively that he struck the Souris River, in the storm the same evening, providentially as he says, somewhere between Hartney and Menteith. Likely not far from Hartney. On December 7 he says they travelled 4½ miles up the river to "the old trading house called the Ash House from the plenty of those fine trees. It had to be given up from its being too open to the incursions of the Sioux Indians" which is quoted from his narrative.

In my opinion these interpretations of his journal, and his narrative, all tend to prove correct his astronomical observations of 49°, 27', 32" taken at his Ash House camp.

If we admit the correctness of this interpretation of the Thompson and Henry diaries and visit the location today, we find very very little to identify the site. But we must keep in mind the fact that the post was not occupied for more than 2 years, probably about a year and a half. There would be no great accumulation of ashes around a house occupied for so short a time. It is quite reasonable to think that it wasn't a post of great size and strength. It was really an outpost of the Assiniboine River establishment; an attempt as we have already noted, to meet the competition created by the growing number of traders near the Souris mouth. It may not have even had a stockade. Before it was completely established the decision may have been reached that it was too exposed to be fully developed.

Today there is only a pile of stones to mark the spot, in an area where there appear to be few if any other stones. There is little evidence of ashes or other remains. There are no depressions or cellars, and no mounds. Nothing to outline a stockade or even a building such as exist at Fort Mr. Grant nearer Hartney, and Fort Desjarlais north of Lauder. Col. Dana Wright of the North Dakota Historical Association, visited the site in 1934, did some digging, and found one very interesting relic part of an old flint lock.

One other feature of particular interest is the existence of a very high sand knoll a few hundred yards north west of the site, and very close to the old Yellow Quill Trail still easily identified winding through the sand hills north of the river. From the top of this knoll the whole country can be seen for miles and miles. Surely such a high knoll close by would be considered of marked strategic value at a time and in a district threatened by the Sioux.

The site, or the stone pile, is about 40 or 50 feet from the river bank which forms a crescent shaped protection to the south. The bank of the river is actually to the west of the site, so that the House, if this is the site, was circled on three sides by the river although it was some few hundred yards distant on the south and east.

To the north and only a few yards distant a shallow slough still exists in wet seasons. This slough may have also been considered a protection from attack. The Yellow Quill Trail, as we have already noted, passes to the north of this slough, and I am inclined to think that the slough is an arm or short cut of the river in times of very high water. This feature may indeed be the reason for the Ash House appearing on early maps some times on the north side, and some times on the south side of the river. In times of very high water the wider stream may have been to the north of the House. In dry seasons the only water would be to the south.

Although the evidence is far from conclusive it is doubtful if we will ever be able to secure much more. If the stone pile is not the actual site, I am convinced the Old House, Fort de la Freniere, Fort of the Ash, or Ash House was somewhere in the immediate vicinity.

Thompson tells us he made repeated observations by the "sun, moon, at night Jupiter" when he spent two days at the Ash House on his outward trip; and that he made another observation when he made a brief stop "opposite the Old House" on his return trip in late January. Then he spent two weeks at McDonnell's House according to his journal, in "calculating the astronomical observations made to and from the Missouri River."

The latitude record he has left is 49 degrees, 27 minutes and 32 seconds, and this is almost exactly the latitude of the stone pile on Mr. Campbell Duthie's farm, section 12-6-24.

Alexander Henry, Jr. travelled 14 leagues, 42 miles from his Assiniboine starting point to the Ash House. And Tyrrell tells us that Thompson's survey places the Ash House 16½ miles south and 39 miles west of McDonnell's. All these mileages simply confirm Thompson's latitude.

I think we can therefore safely decide that the Ash House was on the S.E. quarter of 12-6-24. Only one piece of evidence seems to contradict Thompson's latitude and that appears in his journal where he says he travelled only 13½ miles from the abandoned Ash House to the crossing of Plum Creek where the town of Souris now stands.

A. S. Morton did not think this contradiction important; and his colleague, the late Professor Sigfusson, did not think so either. I myself think it possible to present an argument that there is something wrong with the 13½ miles; that it should be longer. Here it is: On February 2, the day in which the distance travelled appears to dispute his latitude, they travelled only 19½ miles in 8½ hours, yet he says they "walked fast on a good hard track without the need of snowshoes." About 2½ miles per hour. They made as good time as that in the storm of December 5. Evidence, I think, that the 13½ miles should be longer and therefore not at all contradictory to his latitude.

Other Known Sites

In the same stretch of the Souris we know the exact location of three other old posts. In 1934 Col. Dana Wright of St. John, ND, learned that an old lady, Mrs. Filoman Lafontaine, over 90 years of age, was living in the wilds of the sand hills near Grande Clariere, and that she could remember when one or more of the old Souris River posts operated. He visited Mrs. Lafontaine and, from the information she gave him, was able to locate Fort Mr. Grant, as she called it, on section 7-6-23 near Hartney, and Fort Desjarlais on section 31-5-24 north of Lauder.

Later the same summer S. H. Forrest, E. G. Hetherington, Harry Forrest and myself made a number of trips to these old sites and on one of the trips we located, or rather visited, another site on section 31-5-24. We were guided to the site by Mr. Geo. Landreth, of Lauder, who had known of the site for years. A French half-breed by the name of Gladu had told him that this one was older than the Fort Desjarlais site on the same section. This site is actually in Mr. Landreth's pasture field.

At that time it was considered likely that this old site was that of the Ash House, but there seems to be no evidence to prove this possibility. It is quite likely an older site than the Desjarlais, as there are indications of its being in use for a lengthy period, but it is too far west and slightly too far south to meet any of the information given us by Thompson and Henry. It must have been a post of some size and consequence for there were still cellar holes and chimney mounds to be seen in 1934. But just who operated it is still a mystery.

About 50 feet from the river bank there were 5 very distinct cellar holes, and another hole nearer the river was filled with ashes to a depth of fully 3 feet.

Mr. Landreth told us that in his time the river bank had been cut away about 20 or 30 feet by the water, and as a consequence part of the stockade and indeed some of the old building foundations are now likely in the river bed.

The site of this old fort is almost completely encircled by a depression to the east, the river being to the west, and at times is likely surrounded by water. In times of very high water it may have been entirely covered by water. There was another bed of almost pure ashes just west of one of the principal cellars; it was about a foot deep, covered an area some yards square, and was about 6 inches below the surface.

Fort Desjarlais

At Fort Desjarlais the site was more open to the wind and the ashes seem to have been scattered over the prairie on which the fort stood. In 1934 the Souris party succeeded in locating the eastern boundary of the stockade. In his we were assisted by finding a layer of ashes extending at varying depths 1 to 5 inches for a distance of at least 150 feet in the bank of the river. At the eastern end of this layer of ashes we located the remains of three oak pickets presumably the corner of the stockade as no fences had ever been known in the neighborhood. Following this line of pickets 2 more pickets were found 100 or more feet north. On the river bank, and presumably fallen from the layer of ashes above, were found fragments of crockery, glass and the stem of an old clay pipe.

According to Mrs. Lafontaine, Fort Desjarlais was built by Joe Desjarlais about the year 1836, 112 years age. It was burned about 1856, she told us, perhaps in the great prairie fire that Henry Youle Hind tells us swept the whole country from the Rocky Mountains east in that year. At the Fort, Mrs. Lafontaine also told us, besides Desjarlais, where his son-in-law, Charles Demontine, his son Baptiste Desjarlais, Eusebe Ledour and Simon Blondin. In all she told us there were always 75 or 80 men at the Fort.

One incident she distinctly recalled was the killing of two Assiniboine Indians by the Crees at the Fort. They were buried in or near the stockade. Her father, Francois Jeaunette, worked in both Fort Mr. Grant and Fort Desjarlais.

According to the old Indians living in the Turtle Mountains in 1934, Desjarlais was known as "Mitche Cote" or "Hairy Legs" and at one time operated a post on the Mouse River near where Minot now stands.

Madame Lafontaine, to whom we are indebted for information that otherwise might never have been obtained, was born at St. Francois Xavier, and lived as a young girl there until she married. Her parents she told us kept a home in the Fort Garry or Red River settlement for many years, spending the winters there. The summers were spent with the buffalo hunters and it was during this period of her life that she spent some time at Fort Desjarlais and Fort Mr. Grant. In 1880 they moved to Oak Lake and in 1886 to the sand hills of Grande Clariere close to the scenes of her early life.

Fort Mr. Grant

The site of Fort Mr. Grant can still be easily distinguished near Hartney, although the casual visitor would not notice anything unusual. It is on the north bank of the river, perhaps fifty yards from the water, with a gentle slope from the stockade remains to the river's edge which is now well-treed. A lovely spot indeed. The cellars and chimney mounds were still visible in 1948, with only a few shrubs partially covering the low mounds. A few minutes digging at this site in 1934 brought to light many of the hard clay chinks moulded to the shape of the logs, and a small leaden tag, whatever it may have been used for.

Both posts, Desjarlais and Grant, had stockades and judging from the cellar holes and chimney mounds the usual assortment of buildings common to all the establishments of that period.

The remains of these old cellars and mounds are indeed interesting. After the passing of a century or more they are merely depressions a foot or less deep.

But when a spade is used at the Desjarlais post or Fort Mr. Grant the baked clay used in the construction of the chimneys and in the chinking of the log buildings is unearthed. At the two sites mentioned the clay chinks are distinctly moulded to the shape of the logs; at the older site on section 31-5-24 the clay has either disintegrated from greater age, or from the fact that it was not baked as hard in the first place.

The late Douglas MacKay, editor of The Beaver, had the Hudson's Bay archives in London searched in 1935 for the Souris Plaindealer. We are therefore indebted to Mr. MacKay and the Hudson's Bay Company for the following information with regard to the operations of Cuthbert Grant, Jr., on the Souris River. Here are a few quotations from Mr. MacKay's letter to myself, dated November 7, 1935:

"We have no record of a Hudson's Bay Company post called Fort Grant in our archives, but the following facts will probably throw some light on the statements made by Mrs. Lafontaine and recorded in the Souris Plaindealer of 19th September, 1934.

After the abandonment of Brandon House in the spring of 1824 the Company met the opposition of the Americans who were trading near the Boundary Line by permitting settlers to trade with the Indians who would otherwise deal with the Americans. This system was in practice in 1826 and on 25th July, 1827, Governor George Simpson wrote to the Company in London informing them that Cuthbert Grant and Louis Giboche were provided with an outfit to trade from Turtle Mountain to Qu'Appelle." Simpson added:

"... as they have a number of Indian and half breed relations and are intimately acquainted and connected with all the different tribes in that quarter and not directly in the service of the Honourable Company they have it more in their power to harass our opponents than could we with a formidable establishment. (Simpson Report, No. 511, para. 36, p. 59)"

Mr. MacKay's letter continues:

In 1827 the Company sent George Taylor on a journey to ascertain the American Boundary Line and in his journal of 1827-28 (Hudson's Bay Archives B.235/a/9) Taylor records arriving at the site of Old Brandon House on 3rd November, 1827, where he met Cuthbert Grant's people. Taylor arrived at "Mr. G. Fort" on the 5th of November and rested there before continuing his journey to the Turtle Mountain. He stated that the mean of three observations taken at "Mr. G. Fort" give the latitude as 49 degrees, 28 minutes, 45 seconds N. The facts probably account for "Grant House" being shown on the Arrowsmith maps of 1832 and 1850, where the position is indicated as being on the right or south bank of the Souris River."

"At the beginning of trading season 1828-29," the letter continues "Cuthbert Grant was appointed Warden of the Plains by the Council of the Northern Department of Rupert's Land, and as it was decided to re-establish Brandon House the practice of allowing settlers to trade with the Indians near the Boundary Line was brought to an end."

An entry in the Company's Fort Garry journal of February 1825 tells of Grant's first winter trading: "It appears that a general scarcity of buffalo has prevailed this season all over the Country as we are informed by Mr. Grant who arrived this day from Brandon House [Grant's House would only be considered an outpost of Brandon House] that he was from mere necessity obliged to kill his horses and dogs on which he himself and his people subsisted as long as they lasted and were forced to abandon the place."

Here is another entry under date of March 15, 1826: "Mr. Grant, it has been reported to us this morning, has succeeded in pacifying the Stone Indians about his trading post near Brandon House and is making excellent trade."

Again under date of May 5, 1828: "Mr. Grant has arrived at this establishment at the White Horse Plains, from his trading post near Brandon House, with his returns in three bateaux amounting to 50,000 Musquash and other furs, besides a considerable quantity of provisions, robes and leather."

Cuthbert Grant was made Warden of the Plains in 1828, when it was decided to re-establish Brandon House, and his duties were cited as "the prevention of the illicit trade in furs within the district." His power and influence were simply extended by this appointment, and Grant House must have continued to harrass the independents and Americans even after the re-opening of Brandon House. Mrs. Lafontaine knew it as late as the early 1850s.

It is interesting to quote here A. S. Morton's opinion with regard to a probable connection between the operation of Grant's House and the appointment of Grant in 1828 as Warden of the Plains. Here is a quotation from a letter written to myself in August, 1939: "In the spring of 1822 Cuthbert Grant acted as guide and bodyguard to Governor Simpson on his journey from the Upper Assiniboine towards the Red River. Thereafter, viz. on May 20th, from Fort Garry, Simpson wrote to Andrew Colville on the Board of the Company, that Grant was a very able young man, had remarkable control of the half breeds, and was capable, if not happily occupied, of making trouble; he recommended that he be quietly slipped into the service of the Company. As a consequence he was employed in a post on or near Lake Manitoba. But he proved too restless a soul to be content with the dull routine of a fur post. Accordingly, Simpson, who was never at a loss to find expedients, arranged that he should become Warden of the Plains with the special duty of preventing the half breeds from smuggling furs across the line to the Americans. This along with the policy which you mention of giving licences to settlers to trade on the understanding that the furs secured were brought in to Fort Garry, goes far to explain the existence of Grant's Fort. As Grant became Warden of the Plains in 1828, it is possible that his building of the fort had something to do with his being appointed Warden."

We now know of course that Grant's House was built prior to 1826, and that therefore, as Morton suggests, it probably had something to do with his being appointed Warden of the Plains. Fort Mr. Grant on the Souris River would naturally become his headquarters, as Warden, on the Souris Plains.

Brandon House was re-established in 1828. According to Mr. Douglas MacKay's letter, Chief Trader Francis Heron, in his report from the new house on May 6, 1829, stated that he had sent Mr. George Setter and six men to pass the winter months at Oak Lake situated a little to the southward of Mountain a la Bosse." Brandon House was finally abandoned in 1832, and Mr. MacKay says "we have not found any record of outposts on the Souris River at this time other than that of Oak Lake during the winter of 1828-29 and referred to above."

"In June 1855 a post called Souris River is listed for the ensuing winter to be in charge of an interpreter. It does not appear in the lists for the following year but from trading year 1857-58 to 1860-61 it is listed as in charge of J. Sinclair, interpreter. It is not clear from these minutes whether his post was maintained all the season, or as a winter post only.

Capt. Palliser when exploring in the region in August 1857 arrived at a small post of the Hudson's Bay Company on August 11, when it was deserted, and in his report he states that it corresponded to Grant's House on Arrowsmith's map. According to Palliser's description of his route, and his accompanying maps, the small winter post was situated on the north or left bank of the Souris River and not on the right or south bank as on the Arrowsmith maps of 1850 and 1852. Henry Youle Hind covered this ground in June 1858 and he too indicated a small winter post in the Souris Sand Hills, and according to his description of his route would appear to be identical with that mentioned in Palliser's report. There is no reference in the minutes of Council to any post an the Souris River during the season of 1861-62."

It is interesting to note Hind's reference to this old post. He was at the time travelling on the left or north bank of the river. He says in his report: "The Hudson's Bay Company have a post on the river among the Sand Hills, which is maintained only during the winter; the Sioux, in summer and autumn, being altogether opposed to the approaches of civilization in their hunting grounds, mand entertaining besides a feeling of deadly hostility to the Red River half-breeds." [12] That was in 1858.

From all this I think we can safely conclude that Fort Mr. Grant just west of Hartney was established in 1824, and that for four years it harrassed the Honourable Company's opponents unofficially under special licence to Cuthbert Grant for that purpose. I am inclined to think that it continued to do so for some years after 1828, under Grant's extended power and influence as Warden of the Plains, and after the re-establishment of Brandon House.

Then in 1855, when a post for the first time is officially mentioned as on the Souris River, it became a winter establishment of the Company, and continued as such until 1860-61. After that date there is no further reference to a Souris River post in the Company's minutes. According to Mrs. Lafontaine it continued to be known as Fort Mr. Grant.

Lena's House

The Hudson's Bay Company did not have any posts on the Souris River prior to 1824 when Fort Grant was established unofficially by Cuthbert Grant under special license; but during the winter of 1801-02 it operated a post at Turtle Mountain. According to Mr. Douglas MacKay's letter the site was probably south of the International Boundary; this I doubt. The post was outfitted from Brandon House, was in charge of Henry Lena, and became known as Lena's House.

The records of Brandon House state that on November 25, 1801, the men set off, and that on December 14 John MacKay and his men followed, went 20 miles to the Souris River and slept. At sunset on the 15th, the following day, they arrived at Lena's and found four Canadians also building a House in opposition. A month later, January 1802, the XY Company was in opposition to Lena's.

Subsequent entries show that there was some "come and go" between Brandon House and the new Turtle Mountain post. But there is no further mention of Lena's in the minutes of later years. It was apparently, like the Ash House in 1795, in too dangerous a district.

Although Mr. Douglas MacKay in his letter says that Lena's House in 1801 was probably south of the United States border, I think there is rather conclusive evidence that it was in the edge of the Turtle Mountains and not too far from the south-eastern shore of Whitewater Lake.

In the summer of 1805, John Pritchard, lost on the plains of the Souris and the Pipestone for 40 days, found himself when he stumbled on two old wintering houses which he recognized as outposts of the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company Houses at the Souris mouth. For some days prior to his stumbling on the two old houses Pritchard had been in the neighborhood of Whitewater Lake. In a letter to his brother, telling of his harrowing experiences, Pritchard told of seeing an island in a large lake, undoubtedly Whitewater. For days he had kept close to a small river, likely Turtlehead Creek southeast of Deloraine. He thought he saw Indians, left the little river to go to them, found the two old wintering houses, and immediately recognized them and realized that he was at Turtle Mountains and about 60 miles from home, Brandon House.

The point of particular interest for us in this is simply that Pritchard records the two houses as Hudson's Bay and North West outposts which he knew, and about 60 miles from the mouth of the Souris. Douglas MacKay's letter and the Hudson's Bay archives tell us that only one Hudson's Bay post (Lena's) was at that time in the Turtle Mountain region, conclusive evidence, I submit, that Lena's House was somewhere between Whitewater Lake and the Turtle Mountains, some distance east of Turtlehead Creek.

John MacKay, we have already noted, says that the XY Company was in opposition to the Hudson's Bay Company at Lena's in 1802. But the union of the North West Company and the XY Company came in 1804, so that Pritchard would still be right in calling one of the two houses he stumbled on a North West post. The XY Company post after the union would be a North West post.

Turtle Mountain House

Lena's House, we have noted, was not in operation for many years, and that it was likely on the northern edge of the Turtle Mountains. It may, however, have been succeeded many years later by Turtle Mountain House.

On the 18th of June, 1846, Governor Simpson wrote to the Company in London and informed them that a new post was to be established during the season of 1846-47 at the Turtle Mountain. According to the minutes of council of the Northern Department of Rupert's Land, the appointments to this post were: 1846-47, H. Fisher, Jr., interpreter; 1847-48 an Interpreter; 1848-55, Antoine Desjarlais, interpreter.

From this it would appear that Turtle Mountain House was in existence from 1846 to 1855. The Arrowsmith map of 1857 shows Turtle Mountain House in the north-eastern part of the Turtle Mountains; which is the same location as Lena's House, if we accept the evidence left us by Pritchard.

It is perhaps worthy of note here to remark that the early settlers of the Souris district, while hauling wood from the Turtle Mountains in the early 1880's, used to pass an old house in this very same locality. It was then known as the Wassewa House; and there is now a C.N.R. station by that name.

Garrioch's Post

Just one brief note with regard to Peter Garrioch's post on the Mouse River.

Garrioch, whose diary covers the years 1843 to 1845, was one of the most bitter opponents of the Hudson's Bay Company monopoly. He tells us of his Mouse River post and his numerous trips between it and Red River. The site of his post is still unknown, and Garrioch has left us very little to work on.

It was likely in the Melita district south of the American boundary. In one of his diary entries he tells us of experiencing "a March thunder storm off the tail of the Turtle Mountains." His trail to and from Red River must have therefore, been along the Turtle Mountain, probably to the south, and thence by way of the Back Fat Lakes, the Reek Lake chain of today.

In another place he tells us he was deprived of his Mouse River post due to the authority given its agents by the United States Congress to seize all posts that "sold ardent spirits." His post must have been in American territory. There were undoubtedly many other small posts along the Souris, some of them merely winter shelters. The metis and old Indians f the Turtle Mountains, according to Dana Wright of St. John, ND, have many stories f being storm-bound for the winter at various places on the river, and of building little rude shelters with mud chimneys and small cellars. Sites f this kind seem to be rather numerous in the Melita district and are apt to be taken for the sites of trading posts, as, indeed, some f them probably were.

Summary

We know the site f Fort Mr. Grant, or Grant's House, on section 7-6-23, near Hartney. We also know the site of Fort Desjarlais on section 31-5-24, north of Lauder. And if we agree with David Thompson's repeated obsevations f 49 degrees, 27 minutes, and 32 seconds, as against his mileage of 13 miles from the old house to the crossing of Plum Creek, we can conclude that the Ash House, or Fort of the Ash, was on section 12-6-24, and probably where Mr. Dana Wright found the old flint lock at the pile of stones on Mr. Campbell Duthie's farm.

The Ash House, Fort Mr. Grant, and Fort Desjarlais were in all probability, the most important establishments on the Souris River between 1795 and 1861.

From all this we can summarize as follows:

1795

The Ash House established by the North West Company on section 12-6-24, or in the immediate neighborhood. Abandoned in 1797.

1798

Abandoned Ash House visited by David Thompson and again in January 1799. Latitude 49 degrees, 27 minutes, 32 seconds N.

1801

Lena House established as an outpost of Brandon House at Turtle Mountain, about 60 miles south of the Souris mouth.

1806

Alexander Henry, Jr. visited the Ash House in July.

1824

Brandon House on the Assiniboine abandoned. Cuthbert Grant given permission to trade on the Souris and "harrass" the opponents of the Hudson's Bay Company.

Fort Mr. Grant probably established on section 7-6-23 near Hartney.

1825

Fort Garry journal tells of first winter trade at Grant House.

1827

Governor Simpson reported to London that Grant had been authorized to trade the rich Brandon area under licence. Evidently a belated report of action taken three years before.

1828

Hudson's Bay journal reports that Grant's trade at his Souris post as good.

Brandon House re-established late in the year, and the practice of allowing settlers to trade with the Indians brought to an end.

1836

Fort Desjarlais built by Joe Desjarlais on section 31-5-24.

1843-45

Peter Garrioch operated a small post on the Mouse River south of Melita on the American side.

1855

A post called Souris River is listed in the minutes of the Hudson's Bay Company. Probably the same as Grant House. Listed again for 1857-58 to 1860-61.

1857

Captain John Palliser in August visited a Hudson's Bay post when it was empty, and says it corresponded to Grant's House on Arrowsmith map.

1858

Henry Youle Hind saw a Hudson's Bay post in July in Souris sand hills which he says was maintained only in the winters during the absence of the Sioux.

1861

Fort Mr. Grant probably closed for good.

1879

Eighteen years later, first settler reached the mouth of Plum Creek.

1881

Sowden colonization party settled the Souris district.

References

1 David Stewart, "Early Assiniboine Trading Posts of the Souris Mouth Group, 1785-1832" Transactions of the Historical and Scientific Society of Manitoba (New Series, 5, Winnipeg, 1930) pp.8-9.

2 J. B. Tyrrell, David Thompson's Narrative of his Explorations in Western America, 1784-1812 (The Champlain Society, Toronto, 1916) p.213.

3 This map is attached to a "Notice Respecting the Boundary between His Majesty's possessions in North America and the United States; with a map of America, between latitudes 40 and 70 degrees north, and longitudes 80 and 150 degrees west; exhibiting the principal trading posts of the North West Company." (B. McMillan, London, 1817).

4 Tyrell, Thompson, p.213.

5 Elliot Coues, The Manuscript Journals of Alexander Henry and of David Thompson 1799-1814, New Light on the Early History of the Greater Northwest: 3 vols., (Harper, New York, 1897), Vol. 1, p. 305, n.21.

6 Coues, New Light, Vol. I, p.297.

7 Stewart, "Assiniboine Trading Posts," p.12.

8 Coues, New Light, Vol. I, pp. 304-5.

9 Ibid., 305-6.

10 Tyrrell, Thompson, p.210.

11 Ibid, pp.212-3.

12 Henry Youle Hind, North-West Territory. Reports of Progress on the Assiniboine and Saskatchewan Exploring Expedition, (John Lovell, Toronto, 1859) p.43.

Page revised: 22 May 2010

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