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By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


North Dakota's 'Riel' history...

Posted 3/19/14 (Wed)

They say truth is stranger than fiction and if you read history books you will see how remarkable that really is.

Many of us think that what is now North Dakota began with statehood in 1889, but there were a lot of historical events that occurred and people who lived prior to statehood and the establishment of the Dakota Territory in 1861.

Some of the history of our state is obscure, some is well known and some is tangled into other sources of history.

As an example, there’s a publication called “The Beaver,” which is published by Canada’s National History Society.

As you might imagine, it has a lot to do with the fur trade and how settlers moved west and south. Back then they followed rivers not highways and that’s how Pierre La Verendrye ended up in what is now North Dakota.

There’s evidence in “The Beaver” that La Verendrye visited numerous places in present-day North Dakota. One of them is Crow Flies High Butte west of New Town. He was there more than 65 years before Lewis and Clark.

We all know about the Louisiana Purchase that President Jefferson bought really cheap. North Dakota, or part of it, was included in that massive land purchase.

But have you ever wondered about the area east of the Continental Divide and not part of the Louisiana Purchase? History doesn’t always tell us much.

From at least 1803 to 1818, that part of North Dakota that is  in the Hudson Bay drainage area, was known as Lord Selkirk’s Land.

It included almost all of the northeast as well as the area around the Souris River, which includes Minot. Back at that time, the little town of 500 we know today as Pembina, was a strategic location and the Northwest Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company both had forts there for a time since it was on the confluence of the Red and Pembina rivers.

After the convention of 1818 established the 49th Parallel, many of the fur traders moved north to “The Forks,” which is the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine rivers. That, of course, became the city of Winnipeg.

That part of North Dakota that was Lord Selkirk’s Land, then became part of the Minnesota Territory.

About that same time, there was a Metis city of 5,000 called St. Joseph. Most people who lived there became frustrated because the international boundary wasn’t placed farther south. They too, moved north to what is now Winnipeg. That city still exists today, but is now called Walhalla.

There are also documented accounts that Canada’s most notorious bandit, Louis Riel, spent time in the 1870s in North Dakota, meeting with Indian leaders and mailing letters from the post office in St. John.

It is also documented that when Riel was on the lam, he wound up working in the Gingras Trading Post near Walhalla. Apparently, he spent several years there hiding out.

In 1910, Halley’s Comet made  a return trip to the sky over the Northern Hemisphere. There are newspaper reports filed in the State Historical Society that tell us North Dakota residents were afraid the comet was going to crash into the Earth and some sort of poisonous gas would envelope the state. precautions were taken.

In 1915, the Non Partisan League political movement sprang up because farmers were getting a raw deal on their commodities. It led to the establishment the state-owned Bank of North Dakota and Mill & Elevator.

There are thousands of interesting historical accounts about North Dakota. They include:

• A ceremony in 1924 in Fort Yates where more than 20,000 Indians gathered to become U.S. citizens.

• President Franklin Roosevelt speaking on the dry bed of Devils Lake on Aug. 7, 1934. Today, the water there is 60 feet deep.

• In 1977, after playing to exhaustion in seven overtimes, Grand Forks Red River and Grand Forks Central were both awarded the state championship in high school hockey.

• In 1953, Sitting Bull’s body was exhumed illegally near Fort Yates and taken to South Dakota where a shrine stands today near the community of Mobridge where he grew up.

• In 1969, Zap was the only place in North Dakota history where the National Guard was called out to control a riot.

These and other stories can be found with just a little research. And despite being only 125 years old, North Dakota has a rich history prior to statehood.