"Old Man River" by A. B. Estlin
The Souris, or Mouse River as the part that runs through North Dakota
is called, has a history of its own. In the days of subdividing land
and selling it as town lots, the Souris was shewn on the maps as a
navigable river, with steamers plying up and down, but with the single
exception of Hugh Sutherland's coalfields adventures, of which I wrote
in the early history chapter, (see "The First Settlers") the only other
vessels that the writer ever heard of were fer¬ries.
The first of these was built by W. F. Thomas in 1881 but it was small,
and when settlers began to arrive with heavy loads, a scow was built
and oper¬ated by William Essensa who had settled at Sourisford that
year. When the writer and his party, who had travelled from Emerson
with their ox teams, arrived on the east bank of the Souris in June
1882 the river was very high, and the flats were flooded, making a
crossing of probably one-half mile. When Essensa came across to make
arrangements for tak¬ing the party over, we asked what it would cost,
and were told $7 for each wagon or cart load and the loads had to be
unloaded, reloaded on the opposite bank and the oxen swam across. As we
had seven or eight wagons and not much money we discussed the matter
far into the night, and finally decided not to cross, but to turn back,
and look over the land at the west end of the Turtle Mountain which we
did and settled there. Settlers were now coming in increasing numbers
and it was necessary to provide more means for crossing, as there was
merchandise to be brought in, and some of the early settlers had some
wheat to get gristed. So in 1888 a ferry boat was built to operate at
Livingstone crossing which was between sections four and five, in
township four and range twenty-six, a mile east of the present town of
The money to build this boat was raised by public subscription and the
names of R. M. Graham, G. L. Dodds, James McConnell, James Duncan,
Innes Melvin, Ben Clapp and others appear on the ac¬counts. The lumber
was brought from Deloraine and the work of building done by Ben Clapp.
Innes Melvin was the "crew and the captain".
It was quite a large boat, and cost with rope S266.89 and was used
until bridges were built.
The first bridge at Melita was built in 1891 and the first at
Sourisford in 1897.
But although bridges were built and grades made, Old Man River was not
conquered, for in the spring of 1902 he came out of his bank, and
flooded the flats, so that the municipality of Arthur had to provide
means of conveying people across. They employed Dan Maxwell who built a
servicable boat, which was operated by Captain McAuley, until the water
went down in May. The next year (1903) there was no flood but the
following year, 1904, the flats were again flooded.
This time the municipal fleet was augmented by the addition of the
paddle wheel steamer "Empress of Ireland" built and commanded by
Captain R. C. Large of Coulter, from which port she sailed on her
voyage to Melita where she carried passengers on short trips, as well
as doing ferry duty. This was the last time Melita was a port, but now
the government has built two dams it is quite probable that boating
will again come into its own.
The river's history would be incomplete without some mention of its
victims. The first of these that I can discover was a young man called
Thompson who was drowned in 1882. He was alone at the time, and was not
missed for some time. As soon as his absence was discovered every
effort was put forth to find him. Alfred Gould, who was a good swimmer,
dived re¬peatedly, trying to locate him but to no purpose. The body was
found sometime after, further down the river, caught in the willows.
The next fatality occurred in the spring of 1893 when John Nelson
Burwash of Waskada was coming to Melita from his farm southwest of the
present town of Waskada. The water was high that spring and the creek
that runs into the Souris from the "Blind Souris" was very high.
Burwash followed the trail down the creek bank but apparently did not
realize how deep it was. The fatality was not discovered until some
Indians found the body of the pony when search was made and his body
was found by or in the buckboard he was driving. This accident occurred
near the present bridge over the creek just east of the traffic bridge
on the highway east of Melita.
In 1902 another fatality occurred when Mrs. Wil¬son, who lived close to
the river at Melita, was supposed to have gone to dip up a pail of
water when the rotted ice gave way and she fell in and was drowned. In
1904 a young man attempted to ride across the submerged grade at
Melita, in spite of all attempts to disuade him, when he went too near
the edge and the horse slipped and they went into the deep water at the
side of the grade. The horse must have struck him as he never rose.
This occurred in full view of a large crowd who watched him leave.
In 1909 there were two fatalities, a little boy, Roy Badgley, and a
young man called Hays, who worked in the Union bank. These were both
bathing acci¬dents and occurred in July.