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F7

"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 Melita.

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.