Wildlife: The Beginning Of A History

by

Rocky Bakken

Senior High Division

The wilderness bore the mark of the industrious beaver,his dams creating new marshes and eventually new lakes. His fur drew theMountain Men west, solitary trappers who blazed the trail for rancher, lumberman,and homesteader.

Today, the Red River Valley is noted as being a great farmingand agricultural center. Sugar beets, wheat, and potatoes reign on the throneof the agricultural industry. Yet, many years ago, the solitary fur trapperblazed the trail and opened the doors to the vast Red River Valley. Thebrave and courageous men set out not in quest of a rich farmland, but ratherfor the wily and beautiful beaver, mink and other fur bearing animals.

The joining point of the Pembina and Red River was a majorsite for many fur traders. In the winter of 1797-1798, Charles Chaboillezset up at Pembina one of the first North West Company trading posts withinthe present boundaries of North Dakota. On the other side of the river inSt. Vincent, Minnesota, Peter Grant set up a trading post as early as 1794.After crossing still another border and river, Thomas Miller, with eightorkney men, arrived at Pembina and built a post on the east side of theRed River in what is now Emerson, Manitoba. Norman W. Kittson and HenryHasting Sibley, a fur trader who became Minnesota's first Governor, werealso familiar names in the Pembina area. Yes, it truly was the fur tradethat brought people, civilization, and prosperity to our valley.

Yet it was not only the fur trade which drew attentionto the Valley. The unexploited land seemed to be a gift from above. Untouchedby the dirty fingers of civilization, the land abounded with Mother Nature'sgreatest effort: Wildlife. The area was also glorified by exceptional beautyof landscape. In 1875, Charles Hallock wrote:

I remember well when the railroad made its bold push northward to Lake Superior, and let in the light of the western sun upon the gloomy tamarack swamps and the thickets of balsam, which had grown up in impenetrable shade; and how, through the open vistas, the sheen of nameless lakes, whose existence had not been suspected, burst forth unexpectedly, here and there, like the story of new constellations. Innumerable streams leaped out of the secluded recesses with joyous bounds, and crossed the surveyor's line, sparkling in the sun. All the waters seemed alive with fish anxious to be hooked, and even the timorous deer waltzed forth into the unwanted sunshine and threw up their heels in the enjoyment of the sensation.

Such an abundantly stocked preserve was never found before! Such multitudes of deer roamed in the forests! Such countless myriads of trout filled the ice cold streams! Such monster muskellunge ploughed the lacustrine depths like submarine torpedoes! Multitudes of moose paths were disclosed, and elaborate dams built by beavers, old Indian trails in use for centuries, clandestine war paths, long hidden by the bush, windfalls marking the tracks of unrecorded cyclones, frames abandoned teepees, with the litter of former occupation strewn about. (1)

The honorable Charles Hallock, noted author and sportsman,built the original Hotel Hallock in the present village of Hallock. Mr.Hallock called his hotel a "Sportsman's Paradise". Famous huntersand sportsmen from all over the nation were attracted to this sportsman'sparadise.

In August 1880, the hotel that was destined to burn downeleven years later, was completed on the line of the Minneapolis and Manitobarailroad. The hotel was visited by marvelous guests, including such distinguishedpeople as Jim Hill and Andrew Carnegie. These sportsmen came at a time whenthere seemed to be no limit to the amount of game. Pictures of the hugestructure show an incredible amount of big game trophies, fish and gamebirds. This area was true sportsman's haven. Bands of elk came within afew miles of town, at times moose ran directly through the village, blackbear cubs came up from the lowlands to play with the school children. Inthe winter, the empty storage buildings were filled with wolf and coyotefurs while prairie chickens nested at the edge of town.

But before Hallock came to the valley, and before civilizationmade its push westward; the buffalo and Indians had domain over the valley.Although Pembina got its name from the Indians, it was the buffalo who hadsole proprietorship of the Pembina area. Before the massive beasts weredriven to near total extinction, they used Pembina area stamping ground.For hundreds of years, the loathsome creatures used the region to fightout their battles. They fought to capture or regain the leadership of themassive herds.

In 1800, Alexander Henry was the leader of an expeditionwhich set up a trading post in Pembina. From there he vividly describesan encounter with the great American bison.

At daybreak I was awakened by the bellowing of buffaloes. I got up and was astonished when I climbed into S. Bastian (part of the fort). On my right, the plains were black and appeared as of in motion moving northward. Our dogs were confined within the fort, which allowed the buffalo to pass within a few paces. I had seen almost incredible number of buffalo during the fall, but nothing in comparison to what I now could see. The ground was covered at every point of the compass as far as the eye could reach, and every animal was in motion. (2)

As the next hundred years passed, the buffalo slaughterwas taking place. The large herds dwindled and accounts of the large herdsin this area seemed to diminish. Yet, there are a few people still alivetoday that can tell of encounters with the great herds: one of these peopleis Silas Matthews. Mr. Matthews, an immigrant from Prince Edward Island,came over to the valley at the age of 10, in 1905. As a long time residentof the Humboldt area, he has come into contact with many various forms ofwildlife and nature. One of his most memorable experiences was with thebuffalo.

Mr. Matthews tells of a time when during the early springfloods, one of the last herds crossed the Red River. The buffalo were ontheir annual migration from South Dakota to Manitoba. During the flood,there was only one spot that was shallow enough to cross. The buffalo tookadvantage of this crossing and for days and days people could see the buffalomarch single file across the shallow crossing. Mr. Matthews believed thisto be one of the most impressive sights of his life. He describes the buffaloas beautiful, magnificent creatures.

Today, the wild buffalo is a thing of the past, but forthose who saw the impressive sights, the memory of the huge beasts has beencaptured and will remain forever. The buffalo is not the only animal whichremains in the memory of the "old timers" of the valley. The valleyhas a history abundant in wildlife events. There have been accounts of peoplewho met eye to eye in hand combat with the lynx. There are stories of thewinter of 1916 when the terrifying wolf packs roamed the countryside. Peoplewere afraid to walk alone unarmed for fear of these animals. But, for themost part, the lynx, wolf, bobcat, eagle and other predators were on theother end of the deal and were being senselessly slaughtered. The worldpredator and the animal it is applied means danger. The danger is not meantfor people but for the predator. Ironically, the animals which brought peopleand eventually farmers to the valley, have been fully or nearly exterminatedby the farmer. This killing may have been necessary to protect people andfarm stock, but only in the local sense. Many animals, predators and non-predators,such as, the buffalo, were senselessly killed off, some of good reason butother, whose range did not come in contact with civilization, were killedonly as a cruel sport. Today, hunters and farmers realize this and stateparks and wildlife reserves have been set aside for protection of predatorsand other animals that are harmful if in local existence.

Hunting, as it has changed with the time, has and alwayswill be an integral part of life in the Red River Valley. Hunting's longhistory of events has been an important part of family well being as ithas been a sport. In the days of the early explorers, hunting was a barenecessity. As time ran on and farmers brought cattle, hogs, and other domesticmeat supplies, the importance of hunting declined. Hunting now started todevelop into a sport rather than necessity. This is when the slaughter ofthe seemingly endless supply took place. Marksmanship was a matter of pridefor the early families and shooting matches were a social event of greatimportance, often with live turkeys as prizes and sometimes as targets.The main targets were flocks of birds passing overhead. Soon after peoplefinally realized the animal population was not unlimited, game seasons,limits, and wildlife conservation measures were put in to use. Today, throughtradition and more important, conservation measures, hunting is still oneof the major sports and pastimes of the Valley.

Kittson county, named after famous hunter, fur trader andexplorer, Norman W. Kittson, has long been a center point for hunting andfarming. This is made quite evident from a Kittson County Enterprise headline:

Region rated as one of best grouse grounds on North AmericanContinent. Deer attract hunters from all sections of state. Fertility ofsoil makes county famous as vegetable "Garden of Eden" and wealthyarea. (3)

When grouse and prairie chicken season opens, hunters fromall parts of the state and surrounding states to share in the sport of uplandshooting. The county is still considered as famous as ever for its exceptionalgrounds. It is considered one of the best upland game sections on the NorthAmerican Continent.

When deer season opens, it's big game time in the valley.The experienced woodsman down to the first season novice, come to favoritespots and try their luck. Chances are, the hunters, who may have come fromhundreds of miles around, will come home with broad smiles on their faces,and their trophies on the hood of the jeep. Hunters are offered many otherspecies to go after, such as, moose and rabbit. The duck and goose seasonprobably arouses as much attention as does the deer season. The many swampsand tamaracks in the eastern part of Kittson County are a favorite stopover for the migratory birds. In good spots a man can still get his limitevery time.

Thousands of lakes filled with bass, walleye, and pikemake fishing by far the biggest pastime and sport for nature enthusiastsduring the summer. Ice fishing is also a popular winter sport.

This area is a true sportsman's paradise as Charles Hallockdescribed it. Buffalo herds, many of the various large flocks of migratorybirds, were common sites of yesteryears. Today, these and other forms ofwildlife are all but gone.

The bald eagle was also once a common sight in the valleymany years ago. Today, bald eagles are seen only on rare occasion. I hadthe joy, thrill and excitement of seeing our national emblem fly above thecar on my way home from church. The sight of this beautiful bird which isso seldom seen, stirred many emotions in my mind. The bald eagle made merealize the importance of wildlife conservation.

For thousands of years, hunting in America was a necessity.For hundreds it has been a sport. Its future now depends on making an acceptablenew balance with nature. The crucial question: Will people pressure continueto overwhelm and domesticate the land, or can our remarkably adaptable gamebirds, fish and other animals continue to supply themselves - and us?

Will the founder of a history, the industrious beaver,always have a home here in our Red River Valley?

(1) Charles Hallock, founder of Hallock, Kittson CountyEnterprise Fiftieth Anniversary Issue, p. 24

(2) Alexander Henry, Kittson County Enterprise, FiftiethAnniversary Issue, p. 4

(3) Kittson County Enterprise, Fiftieth Anniversary Issue,p. 21

 

Bibliography

Dakota Territorial Centennial "The 100th Anniversaryof Dakota Territory"

Kittson County Enterprise. "Fiftieth Anniversary Issue"J. E. Bouvette & Sons, Publishers

Matthews, Silas, Interview, January 28, 1975

Waterman, Charles F., Hunting In America, Holt Reinhart& Winston

Pembina, Pamphlet, June 1957

Matthews, Silas, Interview, January 28, 1975

Waterman, Charles F., Hunting In America, Holt Reinhart& Winston

Pembina, Pamphlet, June 1957