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
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.