NEW MONTHLY MAGAZINE
DECEMBER, 1879, TO MAY, 1880
RED RIVER OF THE NORTH, THE . . . Henry VanDyke, Jun.
Head of Navigation, Red River. . . . . . . . . . . . .801
Haying on the Prairie. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . .802
Map of Red River Valley . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..803
Buildings on the Dalrymple Farms . . . . . . . . . .804
Haying on the Dalrymple Farms . . . . . . . . . . . .805
Homestead Claim, Red River Valley . . . . . . . . .807
Indian Tents . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . .808
View of Pembina from the Red River . . . . . . . .809
Mennonite Houses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . .810
A Mennonite Interior . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . 811
Street View in the City of Winnipeg . . . . . . . . .812
Steamboat Landing on the Red River . . . . . . . . 813
"Is that my Homestead, or Lake Winnipeg?". .. 815
Fort Garry . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . 815
Assiniboine River . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . .816
Tail-Piece . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . 817
HARPER & BROTHERS, PUBLISHERS
327 to 335 PEARL STREET
NEW MONTHLY MAGAZINE
No. CCCLX - May, 1880 - Vol. LX
THE RED RIVER OF THE NORTH
by Henry Van Dyke, Jun.
"We an wohlgebahnten Strassen
Man in neuer Schenke weilt,
Wo dem Fremdling reichermassen
Ackerfeld ist zugetheilt,
Siedeln wir uns an mit andern.
Eilet, eilet, einzuwandern
In das neue Vaterland!
Heil dir, Fuhrer! Heil dir, Bnad!"
- - Goethe
"I hear the tread of pioneers
Of nations yet to be,
The first low wash of waves where soon
Shall roll a human sea."
- - Whittier
We had come to the conclusion, Gad and I, that the onlyway to find out anything about the Red River and Manitoba was to go thitherand behold with our own eyes; for it must be confessed that our virtuousattempts to prepare ourselves for the role of "intelligent travelers"had been a blank failure. We had plunged into a fierce, omnivorous courseof reading. We devoured everything that professed to contain any informationabout the Red River of the North, from Mayne Reid's Young Voyageursdown to the latest reports of the Canadian Immigration Department and therailway companies. What was the result? It worked like madness in the brain.For how was it possible, we reasoned, with the feeble incredulity of effeteEastern minds, that the same country should be at once a fertile gardenand a howling wilderness; that it should be the happy hunting ground ofthe Indians, and the home a large and industrious population; that the climateshould be temperate and agreeable, while the mercury was frozen in the bulb,and the wind blowing at the rate of fifty miles an hour? These things puzzledus.
When we turned to our traveled acquaintances for enlightenmentand help, we were baffled. For if the person questioned had heavy investmentsin the Red River Valley, we found that he had seen only those portions ofit which were like paradise in summer weather. But if his interests werein Texas or Kansas, he had been impressed chiefly by the desolate aspectof the Red River country, the intense cold of the winters, and the enormoussize of the mosquitoes. All this was confusing to the mind and perilousto our faith in human veracity. So we packed our trunk with sketch booksand notebooks, bought a supply of ammunition and a patent filter, and setout to see for ourselves.
On the westward journey we found many of our fellow travelersbound for the same region. Some of them were going out as new settlers;some of them were "old" settlers who had been on a visit to theEast, and were returning. They entered readily into conversation. It seemedto be a pleasure to them to talk - as, indeed, it is to all rational beingsexcept Englishmen. They were frank and communicative in regard to theirpersonal history. They were also given to large stories. It was sometimesa terrible strain on the listener's imagination. On one occasion I incautiouslysaid to a loquacious old gentleman that I supposed they had some quite bigfarms out on the Red River.
"Big farms!" said he. "Great Scott! Why,there's farms out there bigger'n the hull State o' Rhode Island. A man startsout in the mornin' to plough a furrer, and he ploughs right ahead till night,an' then camps out, an' ploughs back the nex' day."
The expression of childlike innocence on Gad's face wassicklied o'er with a pale cast of thought, and he silently felt for thefilter.
We left St. Paul by the St. Paul, Minneapolis, and ManitobaRailway, and rode all night in a northwesterly direction across the Stateof Minnesota. About daybreak we came into the Red River Valley. Dismissfrom your mind all the associations that are called up by this word. Understandthat in the West a valley is not necessarily "a hollow between hillsor mountains." That is a narrow Eastern conception. As we looked outfrom the car window for the first time upon this famous valley, we saw abroad level plain covered with short grass, and flooded by the rising sunwith red and golden light. Doubtless there were hills somewhere in the world,but they were invisible. Far away on the left a dim blue line of timbermarked the course of the Red River, and another line far in front of usindicated the approach of a tributary stream. This was all that broke thelake-like expanse. We realized at once what we had heard before, that itwas in fact a lake without any water in it.
A few words will explain the character and probable formationof the Red River Valley. It is about three hundred miles long and fiftymiles wide - a flat prairie, extending northward from Lake Traverse, inMinnesota, until it passes by a gentle slope beneath the water of Lake Winnipeg.About thirty miles north of the southern and higher extremity of the valleythe Red River comes meandering in from the east. It is a sluggish stream,flowing in a ditch in the middle of the prairie, and is altogether inadequatein size and force to have made the valley which bears its name. When weseek an explanation of this vast alluvial plain, we must find a much largerbody of water to account for its formation, and this is done by the theorywhich connects it with the great Mississippi system. There are many indicationsthat the whole drainage of this region was at one time southward. The valleyof the Mississippi, with its true line of continuation along the Minnesota,must have formerly contained a vastly larger body of water than now flowsthrough it. This valley, beginning at Big Stone Lake, is separated onlyby a slight barrier from Lake Traverse. Now imagine that a few thousandyears ago the level of the continent was a little different from what itis now, a few hundred feet higher at the north, and lower at the south,then this barrier would be overcome, and all the waters of the WinnipegBasin would flow southward through the Red River and Minnesota Valley intothe Mississippi. The present northward outlet through the Nelson River wouldbe stopped. There would be a mighty stream draining the whole central regionof the continent into the Gulf of Mexico. Now imagine, again, the continentis gradually depressed at the north, and elevated at the south - a changewhich we know from observation is still continuing along the sea coast;the result of such an oscillation will be to diminish the slope and velocityof the great southward river. It will have less and less power to cut itsway through obstacles. It will be dammed by the granite ledges near BigStone Lake. It will spread out into a vast lake larger than Superior andMichigan put together. The waters of this lake will be shallow and muddy,and the deposit of alluvium very rapid. As the northward depression continues,the outlet toward the south will become more and more feeble. It will degenerateinto a mere driblet. And at last the great body of water will cut a newchannel northward into Hudson Bay. The Nelson River, with rocky channeland numerous rapids, bears all the marks of an outlet thus recently formed.
This is but a rough and hasty outline of the theory whichhas been advanced by General G. K. Warren, of the United States EngineerCorps, and supported by him in a series of admirable reports. It may seemdry, but it offers an explanation of two very important facts - the immensefertility of this ancient lake bed, which is now called the Red River Valley,and the impossibility of a route from Manitoba, through the Nelson Riverand Hudson Bay, to England. These facts have a direct bearing on the commercialwelfare of the United States, for they put the transportation of the productsof the rich Northwest into the hands of our railways and steamboats.
More than two-thirds of the Red River Valley lies in Minnesotaand Dakota; the remaining third is in the British province of Manitoba.Two railroads have been opened into the valley within the past six years- the St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Manitoba, which now runs parallel withthe river to St. Vincent, on the British border, where it connects withthe Pembina branch of the Canadian Pacific to Winnipeg, and the NorthernPacific which crosses the valley at right angles, and opens up the wonderfullyfertile land lying on the west side of the river, in Dakota. Into this territorya great flood of immigration is now pouring. The rapid influx began in 1877.In the last quarter of that year the government land offices disposed ofmore than 400,000 acres in Minnesota, and during the same period the railwayssold over 500,000 acres. In all, over a million acres were taken up by settlersin those three months, mostly in the Red River Valley. Since 1872 the NorthernPacific has sold 800,000 acres of Red River lands. In the land districtstraversed by this road the government has assigned 1,323,416 acres in theyear ending June 30, 1878, and 1,964,644 acres in the year ending June 30,1879. Together with the lands sold by the railway during the same time,this makes the astounding total of 4,500,000 acres disposed of in two years.Embracing the same territory, present statistics show the following: Presentpopulation, 69,600; increase in past year, 19,900. Area in wheat, 1879,281,430 acres; increase, 20,660. Total area in cultivation, 360,900; increase,116,660. New breaking, 1879, 133,600.
And now, if the intelligent reader has carefully skippedthese statistics, we will continue our narrative of travel. Casselton, inDakota, on the Northern Pacific, was the first objective point which Gadand I desired to reach. Not that the town itself had anything to allureus. It is simply a cluster of wooden stores and houses that have sprungup like huge misshapen mushrooms on the level prairie. But as we stood onthe platform of the little railway station, we saw by the number of agriculturalmachines standing around the freight depot, and the farm wagons and teamsof all descriptions driving in and out of town, that Casselton must be a"promising" place. The chief ground of its promise is undoubtedlythe vicinity of the gigantic wheat farms, of which all the world has beentalking and writing.
These farms have four great divisions, called after themen who have money invested in them - Grandin, Cass, Cheney, and Alton.They include in all 75,000 acres, 20,000 of which were in wheat this year.The original cost of the land was from forty cents to five dollars an acre.It is said that a large portion of it was obtained by buying Northern Pacificshares from the frightened Dutch holders in Amsterdam, when they were readyto sell at any price, and getting them transferred into land. The wholeof this vast tract is under the personal supervision of Mr. Oliver Dalrymple- a tall, thin Yankee, with keen eye and firm mouth.
The farms are cut up into divisions of 5,000 acres, witha superintendent for each. These divisions are again divided into sectionsof 2,500 acres. On each division there is a complete set of buildings, includinga dwelling house for the superintendent, a boarding house for the hands,a stable, a granary, a blacksmith's shop, and a machine house. there aremounted division foremen, and gang foremen, each of whom oversees twentyteams; there are over a hundred self-binding reapers and twenty steam-threshersemployed. The horses and mules are numbered by hundreds. The men employedat harvest would make a little army. In fact, it is just that - the armysystem applied to agriculture. This general marshals his men, arrays hisinstruments of war, and with mechanical precision the whole force movesforward to conquer and exact rich tribute from the land.
We rode about over the farm with the courteous superintendentof one of the divisions. The air of the September morning was clear andkeen. It had been cold enough during the previous night to make a quarterof an inch of ice. But there was life and vigor in every breath; plentyof ozone, or whatever that mysterious substance may be which makes men andhorses happy and lively when they inhale it. The blue sky spanned a cloudlessarch above us. There was not a fence nor a hill to break the prairie level.Southward we could see the timber line of the Maple River, but on the norththe horizon was smooth and unbroken - a slender rim of earth meeting thesky. The red barns and white houses of the divisions stood out high anddistinct. There were broad stretches of the golden-brown grass of the yetunbroken prairies, vast fields of pale yellow stubble from which the harvesthad already been gathered, and here and there fields in which the shockswere still standing, and the steam-thresher, monstrum horrendum, informe,ingens, devoured the remnant of the wheat.
"The fly-wheel with a mellow murmur turned,
While ever rising on its mystic stair,
In the dim light from secret chambers borne,
The straw of harvest, severed from the corn,
Climbed and fell over in the smoky air."
A little way off we saw a long line of teams pushing slowlyacross the boundless plain. They were ploughing. It was a very differentsight from that ploughing which we have seen in the steep fields of NewEngland, where Johnny steers the old horse, carefully along the hill sides,and the old man guides the plough as best he can through the stony ground;different, also, from that ploughing which Rosa Bonheur has painted so wonderfullyin her picture at the Luxembourg, in which the French peasant drives hisfour-in-hand of mighty oxen, butting their way through the misty morningair. Here on this Western farm there were twelve sulky ploughs, each drawnby four mules, moving steadily along a two mile furrow. The shining bladescut smoothly into the sod, and left a rich black wake of virgin earth behindthem. As we looked out over the great plain, and slowly took in the extent,the fertility, the ease of cultivation, we echoed the local brag: "Thisis a big country, and don't you forget it!"
"Yes," said Gad, "that is the trouble: it'stoo big. I can't get it on canvas. A man might as well try to paint a deadcalm in mid-ocean."
We spent an evening in the comfortable home of one of thesuperintendents, and heard him explain the system of bookkeeping. Everyman is engaged by contract, for a certain time, to do certain work, forcertain wages. He receives his money on presenting to the cashier a timecheck certifying the amount and nature of his labor. The average price paidto hands is $18 a month and board. In harvest they get $2.25 a day. A recordis kept by the foreman of the amount of wheat turned out by each thresher,by the driver of each wagon of the amount of wheat loaded by him, and bythe receiver at the elevator of the amount of wheat brought in by each team.All the farm machinery and provisions are bought at first hands for wholesaleprices. Mules and horses are bought in St. Louis. Wheat is not stacked orstored, but shipped to market as rapidly as possible. Everything is regulatedby an exact system, and this is what makes the farms a success.
Brains and energy in the man who controls them and in thosewhom he chooses as his subordinate officers - this is the secret of theenormous profits which have been made on the Dalrymple farms. The cost ofraising the first crop is about $11 an acres; each subsequent crop costs$8. The average yield for this year was about nineteen bushels to the acre.This could be sold at Fargo on October 1 for 80 cents a bushel. A briefcalculation will give you $4.20 per acre profit on the new land, and $7.20for all the rest; or, say, $130,000 gain on one crop. These figures I believeto be small, rather than too large.
But does this large farming pay for the country? It absorbsgreat tracts of land, and keeps out smaller farmers. It employs tramps,who vanish when the harvest is over, instead of increasing the permanentpopulation. It exhausts the land. The cultivation is very shallow. Thereis no rotation of crops. Everything is taken from the ground; nothing isreturned to it. Even the straw is burned. The result of this is that theaverage crop from any given acre grows smaller every year, and it is simplya question of time under the present system how long it will take to exhaustthe land.
A great many lies have been told about the Red River region- lies proportionate to the size of the country. It may not be out of placehere to indicate a few of them. The water of this region is not good.In the rivers it is muddy; in the wells it is alkaline. The mosquitoes arelarge, vigorous, and active. For them, stone walls do not a prison make,nor iron bars a cage. They are a burden; and so, in certain seasons, isthe grasshopper.
The climate is not mild. In fact, it is sometimestoo cold for comfort, in spite of the protection afforded by the isothermalline. There is a strange reluctance on the part of the writers who describethis country to mention the figures marked by the thermometer in winter.The inhabitants also show a consummate skill in avoiding the subject.
"Pretty cold here in winter, eh?"
"Wa'al, ye-es: its's cold - but he'lthy!"
"Wa'al, no; ye see, it mos'ly blows away."
"How low does the thermometer go?"
"Wa'al, I dunno. Ye see, we live indoors, an' so we keep our'n thar."
Another point on which the public has been much deceivedis the average yield of wheat. I asked a very intelligent gentleman theother day what he supposed would be a good crop of wheat in the Red RiverValley, and he answered, "Perhaps sixty bushels to the acre."In point of fact, forty bushels is an uncommonly fine yield, and the averageis not much above twenty bushels. I have before me the returns from twoof the divisions of the Dalrymple farms. The figures for the smaller oneare as follows: 3,338 acres in wheat yield 63,190 bushels; 200 acres inoats yield 7,641 bushels; 120 acres in barley yield 2,374 bushels.
The price of land in the vicinity of Casselton has rapidlyincreased. Railroad land is worth from $10 to $20 an acre; and there islittle to be had. There is excellent government land, some miles back fromthe road, still unclaimed. Living is dear. Fuel is scarce and high. Woodcosts $5.50 a cord, and coal $10 a ton.
Over against all these disadvantages you may set the simplefact that wheat can be raised here more easily and more profitably thananywhere else in the world. Here is a level plain. It does not need clearing,for there are no trees or stones; it does not need fencing, for there arebut few cattle; and the herding laws must always afford strict and sufficientprotection. All that is necessary to do is "break" the prairiesod to a depth of three or four inches in the spring, "backset"it in the fall, and in the following spring sow a bushel and a half of wheatto the acre, and reap twenty bushels at harvest.
From Casselton we returned to the east side of the RedRiver, and went northward along the valley. Everywhere we saw the same things.The level, fertile land; the wooden towns that have sprung up as if by magicalong the railways; the agricultural machines standing at every depot; wagonsloaded with sacks of wheat; cars receiving their freights of grain fromthe elevators beside the track - over all an air of prosperity and bustlewhich marks a new country. Some of the towns, like Fargo, and Moorhead andCrookston, possess brick stores, which confer in this region a sort of municipalaristocracy. Other towns have run down as rapidly as they once sprang up.Surely there is nothing so ghastly as new ruins, a row of dilapidated shanties,or a huge wooden hotel in which the want of custom is signified by the needof paint and the decay of window shutters.
"The hall is dirty and broad and bare,
And never a guest goes up the stair;
The flies on the ceiling buzz and creep,
While the landlord sits in the bar asleep."
There is very little in these infant cities to please theeye or gratify the sense of beautiful order. The citizens have been toobusy to make any attempts at adornment, or even to remove the debris ofbuilding operations from the streets. Everything has a crude, unfinishedlook. We could not expect it to be otherwise. And yet, to the man who haslived in a picturesque New England village, or a well-built city, or evenin an ordinarily pleasant country home in some older part of our country,there must be a constant uneasiness, a strong temptation to homesickness,when he arrives at one of these Red River towns. And if it he his fate tospend much time in the hotels of this region, he will be thoroughly unhappy.The misguided person who wrote that verse about finding his warmest welcomein an inn, never traveled through this valley.
Candor compels me to record that we found a happy exceptionto all this in the little hotel at Pembina. Blessings on you. Mrs. W_____!for under your regime we found rest and comfort. It was your nimble needlealso, O most excellent housewife, that repaired a distressing accident tomy only pair of corduroys, and enable me again to appear without disgracein the company of civilized men.
Pembina is an ancient settlement. It was one of the firsttrading posts established in this region. The tame Indians still haunt theplace. There is a United States military post on the western bank of theRed River and a village of a few hundred inhabitants about half a mile away.Pembina has but small chance of growing to any great size, for there arefive towns laid out here within a circle of as many miles; and St. Vincentin Minnesota and Emerson in Manitoba, both on the eastern bank of the RedRiver, have already stripped their older neighbor. Everything depends uponthe line of travel; and now the great highway on the western bank of theriver, which was once the only route connecting Lord Selkirk's settlementwith the civilized world, has been superseded by the railway.
In was at Pembina that we saw for the first time that famousvehicle of the country, the Red River cart. We were idling on the grassybluff in front of the fort, enjoying the warm sunlight and the deliciousair, when we beheld a caravan approaching. At the head came a Chippewa bravein his long blanket and best read leggings, trimmed with beads. The twopoints of his toilet upon which he had evidently spent the most care werehis hair and his legs. He was followed by two carts drawn by ponies of Gothicand despondent appearance. Beside them wandered two other ponies equallyangular, two squaws with pappooses slung at their backs, and a younger braveless picturesque than the patriarch. They halted near us, and while Gadwas sketching the tipi and the family, I ventured to make a closerinspection of the carts.
The Red River cart is sui generis; it is an epitomeof the history and description of a peculiar country. It is built on themodel of the Normandy peasant's cart, and tell us at once that its inventorswere of French descent. It is simply a light box with a pair of shafts,mounted upon an axle connecting two enormous wheels. There is no concessionmade to the aversion of the human frame to sudden violent changes of level;there is no weakness of luxury about this vehicle. The wheels are broadin the felloes, so as not to cut through the prairie sod. They are longin the spokes, so as to pass safely through fords and mud holes. They arevery much dished, so that they can be strapped together, and a rawhide stretchedover them to make a boat. The whole cart is made of wood; there is not abit of iron about it, so that, if anything breaks, the material to repairit is easily found. The axles are never greased, and they furnish an incessantanswer to the old conundrum, "What makes more noise than a pig undera gate?"
The contents of the carts were indiscriminate and indescribable;a bundle of ragged bedding, a gun, an axle, tent poles, a canvas cover,cooking utensils, a buffalo skin, a baby, and several puppies. These lastwere the only provisions visible; and the noble brave indicated that unlesshis white brother would help him, he and his offspring must endure the pangsof hunger for many days. This was probably a flight of barbaric fancy; butwe have him a little money, out of regard for his family, and his possibleconnection with our old friend, Hiawatha, who belonged to the same tribe.
Some miles west of Pembina, on the British side of theboundary, there is a large settlement of Russian Mennonites. The historyof these people is full of interest. They are named after Menno Simons,who was a Romish priest in Friesland about the middle of the sixteenth century.He was not a man of high birth or education, but he seems to have had agreat natural strength of mind and character. He became convinced of thenecessity of reformation in the Church, more particularly as regards thepurity of life of Christians, and their separation from the world. He enteredvigorously into the work of preaching and teaching his doctrines, and theresult of his work was the formation of a sect of Baptist Quakers in Hollandand North Germany who bore the name of Mennonites. They were peaceable andindustrious citizens, willing to contribute money for the support of governmenteven in war, but positively refusing to take an oath or to bear arms. Inthe course of time they became divided into several branches, more or lessstrict in their views. One of these divisions arose at the time when buttonswere first introduced into general use. The stricter Mennonites regardedthem as a worldly innovation, and, adhering to the use of hooks and eyes,were called "Hookers," in distinction from the more lax brethren,who were called "Buttoners." The first Mennonites came to thiscountry among the Dutch settlers of New York; there was a Mennonite churchbuilt near Philadelphia in 1683, and the present number of the sect in theUnited States is estimated at 60,000. The Russian Mennonites are more recentimmigrants. They were originally inhabitants of West Prussia, and emigratedto Russia in the latter part of the eighteenth century, having obtaineda promise from the Emperor Paul that they should not be called upon formilitary service. This promise was revoked by the present Emperor, and theywere informed that they must prepare for army in 1881, or else leave thecountry. Large numbers of them decided to come to America. Kansas and Minnesotahave received considerable colonies, and about 7,000 have come to Manitoba,where the government has reserved 500,000 acres for their settlements.
It was a beautiful morning when we set out on a "prairieyacht," behind a pair of quick-stepping horses, to visit the MennoniteReserve. Our road lay along the north bank of the Pembina River, skirtingthe edge of the timber, and occasionally cutting across a point of woodswhich ran out into the open prairie. We passed many thrifty-looking farms,where the men were still working at the remnant of the harvest. At Smuggler'sPoint there was a long tavern, and we stopped for a little dinner. The landlordwas a frontiersman who had tried life in many territories. We asked himwhether the Mennonites were good settlers, and how he liked them.
"Well," he said, "they're quiet enough;and some on 'em lives pretty white; but they ain't no good to the country.They live on black bread and melons, and raise their own tobacker; and whena crowd on 'em comes in here to drink, each man steps up and drinks, andpays for his own liquor."
Such conduct as this, of course, is subversive of the veryfirst principle of American society, which recognizes "treating"as the true medium of friendly intercourse.
A few miles farther on we found the farm village of Blumennort.It is not the largest of the villages on this reserve, but it will serveas a type of the rest. The high road was simply a well worn wagon trackover the bare plain. An irregular line of a dozen low thatched houses oneach side of the road and a steam sawmill made up the village. The farmsradiate from this centre. Every man cultivates his own land, and the four-and-twentyfamilies have the advantage of living close together, and making commonfront against the hardship and loneliness of frontier life. Each villagehas its head man, or Schulz - its school-master who teaches in German; andif the village is too small for a church, the Pfarrer comes overfrom some larger town to preach at stated times.
We sat on the steps of the mill, talking with some of thevillagers, and eating a watermelon, which was passed around from man toman for each to cut off a slice with his pocket-knife. The Mennonite Germanis a barbarous dialect; it has not been improved by ninety years' sojournin Russia. But it served as a medium of communication. They told us thattheir village had been unfortunate; that they had been forced to move twiceon account of the wetness of the land. The present situation seemed to bebetter. They like the country better than Russia. But one of the men, whohad not yet taken up his allotment of land, complained greatly that underthe new law, made this summer, he could get only eighty acres of homestead.He thought of going to America (i.e., the United States), where he couldget one hundred and sixty acres. "But how about the oath of allegiance?"we asked. He shrugged his shoulders and grinned, from which we concludedthat he must be a Buttoner of the looser stamp.
The men expressed some anxiety to know if Sitting Bullwere coming to make war in Manitoba. They had heard that he was marchingwith four thousand braves to attack Emerson. They seemed much relieved tohear that he was many hundred miles to the west of them.
On the other side of the road I saw a clay threshing-floorbetween some wheat stacks, and an old man driving a team of horses overit to tread out the grain. The method was old-fashioned enough to be quitea novelty. I went over to watch it, and thus chanced to make the acquaintanceof the proprietor of the stacks and the horses. He was a pleasant, talkativeold man, who had come from Russia within a year, and was just beginningto make a home for himself. This was his first crop, and he thought it wouldaverage over twenty bushels to the acre. Three or four barefooted girls,ruddy and strong, were brushing up the grain as the horses trod it out,and winnowing it. The scene was picturesque, and I called Gad over to makea sketch of it. But something in his dark and rolling eye, or some naturaltimidity, sent the maidens scampering off to hide behind the stacks, fromwhich they made rapid sallies to gather up a little wheat in their aprons.Meanwhile the old farmer was asking many questions. He was particularlyanxious to know the value of Russian money in New York, for he still hada little stock of rubles which he had brought with him from his old home.The Mennonites are, almost without exception, well-to-do people. What isthe mysterious connection between the doctrine of non-resistance and worldlyprosperity? Why do they always go together?
After a while Brother Peters asked us to go home with him,and see his house, which was but a few yards away from the threshing-floor.It was built of logs, plastered with clay, and thatched with straw. Thechimney was a square hole in the roof. The inside of the house was rough,but comfortable, or at least it might be made so. The floor was made ofclay. Peters was particular to impress upon us that the house was not finished;he had bought the shell, as it stood, from another man, and he pointed outwith admirable pride how he proposed to wall of a Gastzimmer hereand a Speisezimmer there. The central point of the establishmentwas the great oven, which answered at once for purposes of cooking the foodand warming the rooms. All improvements in the place the old man intendedto make with his own hands at his work bench, which occupied one side ofthe living room. These people on the prairies understand what house-makingmeans very much better than the dwellers in cities can possibly understandit. We dabble in the refinements of decorative art, and fret ourselves becausea color does not harmonize or a line is our of symmetry. It is, after all,only a question of what kind of veneer we shall use to cover the frame-workof life. The men and women of the frontier touch the solid facts of existence.They have to face the problem - given a prairie and a pile of lumber,how to make a house?
As we sat there in that rude room talking with the oldRussian, puffing away quietly at a pipe of the peace-making Indian weed,we seemed to have entered quite into the circle of his domestic life. Inone corner of the room sat the old Hausfrau combing her scanty locks.The eldest daughter was very busy with some household work, while the littlegrandchild played on the floor beside the work-bench. In the middle of theroom was the dinner table; presently three or four girls came in from theirwork, and we were cordially asked to sit down with them to their Vesperbrodof black bread, melons, and coffee. When we went away the old man invokedmany blessings on us, and we promised to send him a copy of Harper'sMagazine. Here's a greeting to you, Peters. May you have Schweinsgluck!
It was a dull rainy evening when we bade farewell to Pembina,and were ferried across the shallow muddy river to St. Vincent. I supposeit is called the Red River because the water is of a whity-brown color.At the railway station confusion reigned. A large party of immigrants hadjust arrived with through tickets by the steamboat line to Winnipeg. Butowing to the lowness of the water, and an accident which occurred a fewweeks before, there was no boat ready to go down the river. The party mustgo on by rail, and the officers of the branch line from St. Vincent to St.Boniface, opposite Winnipeg, refused to make any allowance for the steamboattickets. Despair ruled in the crowded, murky car into which we were packed.Many of the poor immigrants could ill afford the additional cost. We hadto pay $3.25 for riding over sixty-five miles of wretched track at the rateof ten miles an hour. The road-bed is so rough that when they run at higherspeed, the engine bell is rung by the oscillation.
Long after midnight we were landed in the mud at St. Boniface.Here we fell into the hands of the custom-house Philistines. Never haveI seen courtesy and intelligence so successfully concealed under a veilof rude stupidity. Gad stood by in the cold damp gloom, and gave vigorousexpression to his feelings in four different languages, while the officerof customs ploughed through our carefully packed trunk, upsetting our guntrappings, and sniffing at paint tubes, until at last he concluded to detainthe luggage on suspicion, and we went off wearily to find our way acrossthe river to Winnipeg. We arrived finally at the (so-called) "besthotel in town." May a kind fortune preserve us from the worst!
Morning light revealed to us the metropolis of the Northwest.We say a broad main street bordered with high wooden sidewalks, and rowsof shops of every shape and size. Some were rude wooden shanties; otherswere fine buildings of yellow brick. High over all towered the handsomespire of the Knox Church. Several saw and grist mills sent up incessantpuffs of white steam into the clean air. The street was full of bustle andlife. There were wagons of all descriptions standing before the stores.Long lines of Red River carts were loading with freight for the interior.The sidewalks were filled with a miscellaneous crowd of people; German peasants,the women in dark blue gowns and head kerchiefs, the men marked by theirlittle flat caps; French half-breeds, with jaunty buckskin jackets, many-coloredscarfs around their waists, and their black hair shining with oil; Indians,dark, solemn, gaunt, stalking along in blanket and moccasins; Scotch andEnglish people, looking as they do in the world over, but here, perhaps,a little quicker and more energetic. The middle of the street, though therehad been but a single night of rain was a vast expanse of mud - mud so tenaciousthat the wheels of the wagons driving through it were almost as large asmill-wheels; and when we dared to cross it, we came out on the other sidewith much difficulty, and feet of elephantine proportions.
The city of Winnipeg, which eight years ago was nothingmore than a cluster of houses about the Hudson Bay Company's fort, now containsover seven thousand inhabitants. It is the distributing centre for a largeregion, a place of great business activity, and so situated in relationto the back country and the facilities for transportation that it is sometimescalled "the Bleeder's Paradise." It is built on a clay bank atthe junction of the Assiniboine with the Red River. The nature of the soilis such that it is difficult to find a good foundation for a house, andmany of the larger buildings have settled and cracked.
We had the driest time of the year for our visit, but inthe course of our excursions about the town we were impressed by the generalwetness of the land. In fact, it was very forcibly brought home to our consciousness,for we almost succeeded in bogging a fine horse as we were driving homeone day through the back streets of the city. Those prairie bog holes aredeceptive. They often look dry, but they have no bottom. When a Winnipeggergets his wagon stuck in one of them, he loosens the traces and lets thehorses scramble out; and then, pulling off his clothes, goes in to extricatethe vehicle, which, by the skillful use of ropes, he usually accomplishes.Our personal explorations in Manitoba were not thorough enough to enableus to speak of the general character of the land, and indeed no amount oftravel at this season of the year would have qualified us to give a fairdescription. But all travelers who have gone through the country in thespring and early summer speak of it as being very rich, but very much underwater. The lower part of the Red River Valley has always been subject toinundation. In August, 1877, the roads were so impassable, and conveyancesso dear, that it was difficult to go outside of Winnipeg, and in consequencemany people who had come to settle in the province went back discouraged.This year one hundred and forty Mennonite families were forced to removefrom the Red River Reserve because the land was too wet to cultivate. ProfessorHind, whose report is standard authority, says: "The country possessinga mean elevation of 100 feet above Lake Winnipeg - - may be estimated at70,000 square miles, of which nine-tenths are lake, marsh, or surface rockof Silurian or Devonian age." Along the banks of the Red River andthe Assiniboine the land is somewhat drier and better, but it is all takenup by the so-called Settlement Belt, which is expressly excepted from thehomestead provisions of the Dominion Lands Act. As a result of all this,most of the immigrants are forced to go further west, to Portage la Prairieor beyond, where the land is higher and not in need of drainage. Still furtheraway, in the Northwest Territory, along the Little Saskatchewan and theBig Saskatchewan, the country is reported to be most fertile. But the immigrantswho go there must pay enormously for transportation in carts across theprairies, and are practically without a market for their products. For althoughat present they can sell their wheat and potatoes to the new-comers whohave not yet arrived at the producing stage, yet the time must come whenthe production will increase and immigration decrease until the local marketis oversupplied, and then farming will be neither amusing nor profitable.The Canadian Pacific Railway will, of course, remove this difficulty; butit is hard to say where it will run or how soon it will be finished. Thehopes of the people are set upon the completion of this road, and thus farthey seem to find no trouble in living on hopes and growing fat withal.
The immigration into Manitoba has been astonishingly rapid.Two causes have recently operated to check it. A great deal of the bestland in the province is excepted from the homestead provisions of the LandAct by a complicated system of reserves. For instance, a belt of five mileson either side of the proposed railway line is only open to purchasers atsix dollars an acre. The second and still greater obstacle is the law passedin July last, practically limiting the homestead grant to eighty acres.It is absurd to suppose that settlers will content themselves with thisamount when they can get 160 acres of equally good land under similar conditionsby simply crossing the imaginary line which divides the British Possessionsfrom the United States. In the light of these facts it was amusing to reada quotation from a speech made in September last, at an agricultural dinner,by Lord Beaconsfield, in which he gravely stated that nearly all of thelargest land-holders in the extreme western States of American had soldout their farms and gone to seek a living in the new Canadian territory.As an effort of the Oriental imagination, this was excellent; but as history,it was amazingly incorrect. The immigrants into Manitoba, with the exceptionof the Mennonites, have been almost without exception British subjects,and a very large majority of them have come from the province of Ontario.Large numbers, being dissatisfied, have recrossed the line, and settledin Dakota and Minnesota. In Pembina County alone the number of Canadiansis reckoned at one-half of the population.
The most interesting object in Winnipeg - perhaps we maysay the only thing which has anything of the picturesque about it - is FortGarry, the headquarters of "the Governor and company of adventurersof England trading into Hudson's Bay." It stands well up above theswift, muddy current of the Assiniboine. Seen from the opposite bank ofthe river in the lingering glow of an amber twilight, there is an air ofantiquity and romance about the rough gray wall, pierced by a low gateway,and flanked by rude turrets which lean as if they had heard of Pisa, andwere trying to introduce the graces of civilization into the wilderness.Here the blue banner of the Hudson Bay Company has floated for many yearsabove the little quadrangle where the white man and the red man have metto barter the products of Europe for the skins of the wild north land. "Propelle cutem," skin for skin, is the motto of the Company, and manya poor fellow has paid for his gains in peltry by losing his own scalp atlast. Millions of skins have been gathered from the lonely forest and thefrozen waste into these low dark storehouses. Shiploads of cloth and beadsand powder and firewater have passed over these battered counters to civilizethe Indian. Here the Governor of the Company once rules over the land ofAssiniboia. Here the half-breeds gathered themselves in 1869 to resist theauthority of the Canadian government. It was the dream of their leader,Louis Riel, to found a nation of mixed races, and that sensational loveof liberty which runs in the Gallic blood spoke in its native language andafter its ancient fashion here in this far wilderness. It sounds like anecho of Paris to read the deliverances of the Comite National des Metisde la Riviere Rouge which were issued from this gray old fort. But atlast the power of Great Britain arrived on the scene in the shape of a militaryforce, which Colonel Wolseley, now of Zulu fame, had led across the swampsand through the trackless forests between Winnipeg and Montreal. The nationof mixed races vanished into thin air, and the province of Manitoba cameinto substantial being. This was in the summer of 1870, and since then theold fort has fallen into the humdrum of a mere commercial life.
The Red River at Winnipeg is about a hundred yards wide.The gray and rugged Cathedral of St. Boniface still stands on the easternbank, and the bells of the Roman mission still "call from their turretstwain." But the "voyageur" no longer sweeps along the currentand hears their far-off vesper chiming. Twenty years ago the first steamboatpuffed its way down the river, and the silent-gliding canoe fleets havevanished. There is nothing of hardship or adventure about a voyage on theRed River now, and it was simply in the interest of physical comfort, andfor the sake of variety, that we chose to leave Winnipeg by water. The Minnesotawas run up alongside of the steep bank (for in this country they do notneed wharves), and we embarked for St. Vincent. The craft was peculiar.In the air she was quite majestic, with her two stories and double smoke-stacks.But under water she was only a flat-boat with a draught of two feet. A huge"kick-behind" wheel extended completely across the stern, andmade the boat shake as if with the palsy when we turned out from the bankand headed upstream. The river flowed with a still, muddy current, betweenhigh banks covered with bushes and small timber. Here and there we say aclearing and some tumble-down cabins, the homes of the half-breeds. Theyare a strange race, in whose veins the blood of England, Scotland, and Franceis mingled with that of the Indian tribes. They are social, fond of excitement,gifted with great physical strength and endurance, but without the moralqualities of patience, industry, and order. In olden times they were thecanoe-men and sledge-drivers of the Hudson Bay Company. We saw their clumsydug-outs moored along the river banks, and the numerous set lines indicatedthat they preferred the easiest possible way of fishing. Flocks of wildduck and plover flew before us as we steamed slowly against the current,passing around sharp curves in the river, and almost doubling on our course.Kingfishers perched motionless on the overhanging branches, or swept swiftlypast with their sharp chir-r-r-ing cry. The boat struck on many a stoneand sandbar; but with a convulsive shiver that made all the woodwork crack,and a tremendous splashing of the great wheel, she scraped safely over.Then the dusk gathered on the stream and on the brown woods, and the lightfaded in the clear sky, until the moon came swimming over the tree tops,and all was sliver bright as we floated on, ever rounding new points onlyto see the same curve of water, the same motionless banks, stretching awaybefore us. At sunrise we looked out upon the same picture, and at noon ourvoyage was ended at St. Vincent.
The chronicle of our Red River trip would be incompleteif it lacked the record of our stay at the town of Hallock - a town smallin population, large in hopes, and abundant in prairie chickens. How shallI describe the primitive state of society in that infant city? How do justiceto the excellence of the shooting, and more particularly to the great excitementof the impromptu dog fight, especially at that moment when, in a peaceabledesire to separate the contestants, I kicked the wrong dog? But at lastall came to an end, and we were riding homeward for the last time acrossthe prairie. The vast plain was golden brown in the light of the autumnsun. Here and there a great square of black earth was exposed in a new "breaking."Far away to the west we could see a faint blue line of timber. On the nearerwoods that fringed the banks of Two Rivers the hues of the declining yearwere rich and sombre. Flocks of prairie chickens went whirling away beforeus, with their clucking note that sounds like a derisive laughter. Highup in the air a long flock of wild geese was moving swiftly across the sky.Over all hung the mellow haze of Indian summer. There was a strange softbeauty in the scene, like that which rests upon the sea in a golden calm.As as the haze grew thicker, the sun sank lower and lower, like a ball ofmolten iron slowly cooling, until at last it was lost in the gathering gloom.Then the yellow stars came out with tremendous light. The small of fallenleaves was in the air. And on the far horizon, rising and falling, sinkingand flaring up again, burned a red line of prairie fires.
The article was found by Don Huggins and sent to this websiteby Cynthia Baldwin.
Permission to reproduce the article for this website wasgranted by Harper's Magazine.
at sounds like a derisive laughter. Highup in the air a long flock of wild geese was moving swiftly across the sky.Over all hung the mellow haze of Indian summer. There was a strange softbeauty in the scene, like that which rests upon the sea in a golden calm.As as the haze grew thicker, the sun sank lower and lower, like a ball ofmolten iron slowly cooling, until at last it was lost in the gathering gloom.Then the yellow stars came out with tremendous light. The small of fallenleaves was in the air. And on the far horizon, rising and falling, sinkingand flaring up again, burned a red line of prairie fires.
The article was found by Don Huggins and sent to this websiteby Cynthia Baldwin.
Permission to reproduce the article for this website wasgranted by Harper's Magazine.