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1. Early History,  By A. B. Estlin

The first white men to explore this part of what was then known as the "Great Lone Land" were La Verendrve and his two sons.

In 1738, La Verendrye discovered the mouth of the Red River, ascended it to where it is joined by the Assiniboine, then called the "Forks", went on up the Assiniboine some 60 miles, to near where Portage la Prairie now stands. Here he built a fort called "Fort la Reine". He then sent some of his party back to the "Forks" where they built "Fort Rouge", which gave its name to the southern division of Winnipeg. Late in the year 1738 La Verendrye made a journey south, in search of the Mandan Indians, who were supposed to know a route to the western sea. It is more than probable that in this journey he followed the same route his sons took later, through Sourisford, but although he found the Mandans, he could get nothing from them about the route.

In April 1742, his two sons, Pierre, known as the Chevalier, and Francois, his younger brother, left their father at Fort la Reine, and travelled up the Assiniboine and Souris Rivers, in another effort to gain some knowledge from the Mandans.

There is every reason to believe they camped at Sourisford. as mention is made in their records of the Antler Creeks: called in Cree "He-a-pa-wa-kpa" or "Head and Horus Creek", mention is also made of the mounds nearby (see story). Next to them, in November 1797, we find the great explorer, David Thompson, also set out for the Mandan Villages. He travelled also along the rivers, as far as Sourisford. Here he was overtaken by a terrific snowstorm, in which one of his men and several of his horses got lost. To get shelter from the storm, Thompson struck east and camped in the Turtle Mountain or "Turtle Hills" as they were then called. They found the lost man, who was almost dead, but not the horses; as soon as the storm was over they continued their journey and arrived safely at the Dogden Buttes, in the general vicinity of Minot, North Dakota, or a little southeast of there. At Verendrye, N.D. there is a monument to Thompson. Thompson's party reached the "Knife River Villages" close to the Mis¬souri River a few days later, stayed there till January 10,1798, and then retraced their steps back to Cana¬da.

It might be well before going further, to say something about the Mandans. They were a tribe of Indians, but very different to the Nomad tribes. The Mandans dwelt in permanent, fortified villages, or settlements, consisting'of groups of solid, domelike mud huts. They were farmers, and grew quantities of corn, pumpkins and beans, which they stored in cellars, and traded for furs with the Indians, and also for tools and other useful merchandise brought out by the Hudson's Bay Company, and other traders. They frequently made journeys north with their produce, and the early settlers in the Red River settlement got corn from them, when a grasshopper invasion de¬stroyed their own crops.

The La Verendrye brothers spent the months of May, June and July 1742, at the Mandan villages, waiting for a party of western Indians, who were to be their guides. These were the Horse Indians, who made them friends with the Bow Indians, who took them west as far as the foothills, the brothers being the first white men to catch sight of the Rocky Moun¬tains. They then turned south, made a detour east, and arrived on the site of what is now Pierre, North Dakota, which is about 300 miles straight south of Melita.

Here, on March 30,1743, on the west bank of the Missouri River, they built a stone pyramid, and also buried a leaden plate, on which was cut with a dag¬ger, an inscription saying they had taken possession of the country in the name of the King of France, by right of discovery. This plate was found on February 16, 1913, or 170 years after by a school girl, the spring rains having washed away the earth, and ex¬posed the plate, which now lies in the State Museum of South Dakota at Bismark. They then travelled north, returning the way they had come, and rejoined their father, who was impatiently waiting for them at Fort la Reine.

Shortly after this important discovery, La Verendrye and his sons were recalled east. They had opened up a vast territory, rich in furs, but others reaped the harvest for when La Verendrye and his sons finally got a new commission from Acting Gov¬ernor De La Galissoniere, La Verendrye died, and a new Governor refused the sons permission to again go west. In 1804 Alexander Henry also made a trip to the Mandan villages, and as his diary says that sev¬eral of his companions had made the trip before, he probably also took the route via Sourisford.