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Old Times In The Red River Valley

Heap's and Long's Lines - Some Old Stage Yarns


George B. Elliott

No. 3

The Northwestern Farmer and Breeder, 1886

"Thar, don't you see the difference in the soil,"said Cal Young one morning to an arriving Englishman as the former reinedup his coach in front of H. M. Custom's house and poor F. T. Bradley steppedout to see what was the especial freight that morning, and see it the Englishmandid, at least, he thought he did, which was the same thing to him, for whenany one makes up his mind to believe a romance it is easy to disregard materialfacts and physical laws. The careful, impartial observer cannot distinguishany difference in the soil south of Heap's and Long's lines, but in thosedays the stagers had a legend by which the soil was made to appear differentjust as you crossed the line. When you were pointing north the superiorityof the Manitoba soil was pointed out to you by the philosophical stage driver,just as the line was reached. If you were pointing south, the same superiorityof the Dakota soil was enlarged upon sometimes by the same driver, and thatwas such an extraordinary feature to me, that I began to discover that itwas one of the tricks upon travelers practiced by the drivers to while awaytime. This practice became stage worn after a time, so that the knowingtraveler got on his guard, and it was eventually only kept on hand for especiallyverdant passengers.

No, the Creating hand which adorned that beautiful prairieexpanse which stretches north, south and west from West Lynne took no noticeof Heap's or Long's lines or the great International line of 1871, for longbefore the posts and pillars which indicate these lines were planted, thewaters had divided leaving the broad expanse as boundless as the great oceanitself.

"Plains immense

Lie stretched below interminable meads,

And vast savannahs, where the wandering eye

Unfixed, in a verdant ocean lost."

Nature in her generous moments never draws narrow or contractedlines. These are the work of man, proud, conceited, ignoble man, some ofmy readers will say woman, but I say man, greedy, selfish man, who in hissordid thirst would traduce nature itself, and deny the handiwork of theGreat Creator of everything from the largest planet down to the smallestinsect. And what a pygmy man is to attempt such a task! How stupid the effort!How ridiculous the spectacle! What a grand sight in summer the prairie inSouthern Montana and Northern Dakota really is! Far as the human eye bythe aid of the field glasses can trace, you can see the great bosom of natureswelling with the stores of "purple and golden grain" regardlessof imaginary lines, and an emblem of space itself. The practiced eye ofthe skilled botanist or that of the practical agriculturist fails to detectthe slightest difference between the crops which are now waving so proudlyin Pembina county on the one side or those which wave equally proudly inManchester county on the other.

Nature made the territory and man made the boundary lines.

One of the old posts of Heap's line may still be seen almostsmothered in grass, while a mile to the south is the line still indicatedby a few time defying posts established by Major Long, U.S.A. in 1870.

There is an episode connected with both these lines whichis full of interest and therefore I shall give it.

When in October, 1871, Capt. Lloyd Wheaton, who then commandedat Fort Pembina, advanced to White's coulee, a short distance south of wherethe old Canadian Customs House stood, and "deployed a line of skirmishersand advanced" in pursuit of Fenians who had taken possession of theHudson's Bay Company's post at West Lynne and who were handling the stores,the Fenians on finding the "boys in blue" after them, precipitatelyfled in all directions, chiefly north. Capt. Wheaton however, gave ordersto one of his officers, Lt. Bannister I think, to pursue the marauders nofarther north than Heap's line, which is situated about one mile north ofthe Hudson's Bay Company's store. The post indicating the line was madeknown to Lt. Bannister and he obeyed the order to the letter, capturinga number of prisoners. Lt. Bannister did not advance north of Heap's line.The company's post was situated a little north of Long's line, and the Internationalboundary line of 1871 had not been confirmed. The Democratic press attackedCapt. Wheaton for taking his troops into Canadian territory, but in hisreport to the Adjutant General at St. Paul, Capt. Wheaton pointed out thatthe territory which he had invaded was "disputed" and that hehad not advanced with his troops north of Heap's line. This, I think, wasan effectual answer to the accusations which were made against that gallantofficer by the Democratic press: Capt. Wheaton related this anecdote tome on one occasion and I have often thought that it was a complete and ingeniousanswer to the charges which were made against him by that portion of theAmerican press which at that time expressed sympathy for the invaders. Thismay be depended upon as the records will prove, and here let me pay a justtribute, a single one to the United States Army officer of the west. Hislot is often the littlest of all. If ever there was noble self-sacrifice,I am sure the U.S. army officer on the frontier may lay just claims to self-denial,and to a loyal discharge of very often disagreeable duties, but he is acredit to the country he serves. He does his duty nobly, manfully and witha dignity took which is not always observable in the exterior, but I wouldrather say in the unobtrusive interior.

Just now there is a salt water commotion about a few mackerelon the coast, but depend upon it there will be no such correspondence withthe government of our respective countries, such as we find in the dailypress. If the diplomatic correspondence of army officers on the Americanfrontier, and British and Canadian officers is hunted up it will be foundto be a credit to their scholarship and their training. The belligerentattitude has always been assumed by the eastern editor who is permittedto fight battles figuaratively, while the western editor has to keep upa running fire of writing and fighting that would scare the plug hat offthe eastern man's head and leave his cranial anatomy in doubt or not ifit belonged to his body or to the other fellow.

I must be pardoned for this little divergence, as sketchNo. 3, is allowed a latitude while something better is being prepared.

The readers of THE FARMER AND BREEDER will agree with me,I know. The coming man is not the editor, the lawyer, the politician orthe captain of a fishing smack. For more than half of two continents, soto write, the coming man is the agriculturist. The man who can teach thetired, worn out millions of older lands how to live; how they ought to giveup the will o'the wisp which leads to wrong and destruction and so teachmen to fall into line on the great prairies which still await them withgenerous soil; and another fallacy is because a man has been brought upin eastern grooves he is unfit for the west. True, it is, he must not violentlyrush into the unknown paths of the great west, but by a gradual processhe may forget his early aspirations and catching a new grip slowly, in anew country become one of its best and honored citizens. But it will taketime, and government whether at Washington or Ottawa must not address itselfto the task of rejecting every man because he has not been brought up apractical farmer, but gradually so invite immigration as to make allowancefor men who will make good citizens of a new country, if they are slowlybrought into new ways. This is a delicate matter and much of its solutiondepends upon the well to do farmer of the newer west. He will always wanthired help, and so, once that help gets trained it will, as a rule, feelgrateful to the hand that assisted it, and so the settler in his turn mustbecome a good immigration agent by using his hired help honestly. This isa most important feature of western development, and as farmers generallylike a man to work hard, but are still honest payers it will be importantfor them to see, especially in the case of hired help, where they shouldgive encouragement and where they should not. Many of the farmers in thecentral states and in the Canadian provinces have not dealt with this questionintelligently. The result has been an army of tramps which has proved ahorrible pest, both to the farmer and to the government. Close attentionand observation by the farmers will often be necessary to assure him asto his course, whether the man in his employ has ambition for his pursuitor not. If he has not, then the farmer will not need him. If he has ambition,yet is unfit he should be treated accordingly, and so, if the farmer cannotdo anything with his prentice the employer cannot blame himself.

If he is a conscientious man he can thus acquit himselfand send the failure off.

An army of tramps in Dakota or Manitoba will not be a desirableclass. Portions of the "regular army" will no doubt find theirway into the Red River Valley soon enough, so that it will not be desirableto produce what I may be permitted to call a local crop. The problem offarm labor is one to the solution of which the Dakotan and northwesternfarmer must address himself earnestly, and in the light of past experienceof other countries, he should be able to place the subject on a better footingthat it has occupied in the past.

Researched and contributed by Trish Lewis

able to place the subject on a better footingthat it has occupied in the past.

Researched and contributed by Trish Lewis