Our Valuable Red River


Diane Olson


Hi, I'm a beaver. That's right, a beaver. I live in theRed River with the rest of my family and many friends. We like it here. The river is our home. It's very valuable to us, but it's valuable toyou, even though you don't live in it like we do.

The Red River of the North begins at Wahpeton and goesnorth until it flows into Lake Winnipeg. It's only about 275 miles straightfrom Wahpeton to Lake Winnipeg, but the river's path is so crooked thatit runs nearly 350 miles.

Besides these facts, another interesting thing about ourriver is how it was formed. If you wonder how I know, I'll tell you. Ihad relatives on the Red River way before you did. They were much biggerthan me, of course. Some were even nine feet long and weighed almost 500pounds (1) but they were beavers, just the same. The things that I am goingto tell you have been passed down for generations in my family.

Thousands of years ago this whole area was covered withglaciers which came from the north. As they moved, their pressure on theground created a very uniform land contour, compared to what there was before. These glaciers moved rocks, gravel, clay, sand, and anything that was intheir way. By pushing all this into holes they went over, they leveledoff the land.

After a while, the glaciers began to melt. Lake Agassizwas the result. This lake extended from the southern part of eastern NorthDakota to the southern part of Saskatchewan. It made the land of the valleyeven more flat. When the last of the glaciers disappeared and Lake Agassizdrained into Hudson Bay, the only thing left was this level area, containinglarge lakes and a long river running down through the lowest part of theoriginal lake. As time went on, the river's size decreased. Along itscourse it deposited many layers of silt and alluvium. Today this alluviumcovers 5 - 10 miles on either side of the river. Because of this fertilefarming area, our river has been given the nickname the "American Nile."

That's how we got our valuable Red River. But maybe youwonder why I say this river of ours is valuable. There are a variety ofreasons. One is transportation.

In early days, the Red River carried steamboats on it. These boats were needed for the United States to trade with different Britishsettlements and also to trade with the Hudson Bay Company. At first therewas only one big problem: no one wanted to carry a steamboat over land toget it to the river. The St. Paul Chamber of Commerce decided to try andsolve that problem by offering a cash bonus to anyone who would launch aboat on the river. Anson Northup went to extremes to get the money. First,he sailed a steamboat up the Mississippi to Crow Wing. He then took thesteamboat apart and got 34 ox teams to haul it over to the Red. It tooka while, but when he got there, he put the boat back together, launchedit, and started merrily up to Fort Garry. After a while, the boat captainsmade a joke out of the winding, crookedness of the river. One pilot saidhe met himself coming back! (2)

Another way that the Red River helped in providing transportationwas more indirect than the steamboating. James J. Hill had a big part inthis. He was interested in the river because he planned to build a railroadleading to it. When it was built, trains could carry things to trade asfar as the river, then the river could carry the freight north. In tryingto carry out this idea, Mr. Hill became friends with Norman W. Kittson andlater the two of them started a company. Mr. Hill visited the Red RiverValley many times trying to develop his idea. Since the valley wasn't verycivilized, he went through many experiences that a man of position, as hewas, wouldn't have expected. He did things, such as, making tea out ofsnow, eating pemmicam (thin slices of buffalo meat or venison), and sleepingon the ground. Anyway, through all this, he made it. By 1872, there wasa railroad built to meet the Red River.

However, transportation isn't the only reason that ourRed River is so valuable. It serves other purposes - big and small. Asmall but important job is being the boundary between our state of Minnesotaand North Dakota. Even in earlier times, the river was used as a boundary. The Sioux and the Chippewas were having troubles and fights trying to decidewhat land was whose. The United States Government stepped in and used aline running by the Red River as a boundary between them. If the Indianshad thought of that in the first place, they would have been a lot happier.

The Indians also helped name our river. However, Pierrede la Verendyre is the one credited with naming it. In his Journal it saysthat in 1729, while he was exploring the Dakota Territory, the Indians toldhim of a Riviere Rouge." Switching around those French words of "RiverRed" the title of Red River was arrived at.

As I said before, our Red River is valuable. Since it'sso valuable it attracts people to it. Early settlers were attracted becausethey knew that by a big river like the Red, they's always have enough water,fertile land, and an easy, close means of transportation. Today, the riverattracts people for the same reasons and others. However, the river alsodrives people away at different times. This happens when a flood comes. But even though people leave because of floods, some always come to taketheir place.

Since I'm a young beaver, that's about all I know aboutour valuable Red River. I can only tell you what I know, of course. Butthere is one more thing: this river of ours is very, very important to me. You could do without it, but I'm not sure if I could. The river helpsyou a lot, but it's my home.

(1) Edmund C. Bray, A Million Years in Minnesota. TheScience Museum, 1962. p. 21

(2) Theodore C. Blegen, Building Minnesota, D.C. Heathand Company, 1938 p. 154


Blegen, Theodore C., Minnesota, A History of the State,University of Minnesota Press, 1963

Blegen, Theodore C. Building Minnesota, D.C. Heath andCompany, Boston, Massachusetts, 1938

Bray, Edmund C., A Million Years in Minnesota. The ScienceMuseum, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1962

A History of Pembina County, published under the auspicesof the Pembina Centennial Committee, 1967

Murray, Stanley Norman, The Valley Comes of Age, NorthDakota Institute for Regional Studies, 1967

Ross, Alexander, The Red River Settlement, Smith, Elderand Company, 1856

Steffen, Bernard P. and Lloyd B. Parker, Pembina, publishedunder the auspices of the Pembina Community Club.

 loyd B. Parker, Pembina, publishedunder the auspices of the Pembina Community Club.