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#5. (June 24th - July 4th, 1853). Bois De Sioux to the Grand Côteau Du Missouri.

To better envision this narrative think of Isaac Stevens as the center of the sun with various teams (six I believe) extending outward as with the rays of the sun. Usually Stevens stayed with the Main Train while sending smaller trains on special excursions. For example, Lambert and Tinkham train were sent to the Chippewa River; Donelson’s team to survey the Missouri River, thence to Pomme de Terre River and then they separated for other destinations. As Lambert and Tinkham set out on the first leg of their assignment (Chippewa River), Stevens instructs the organization of a special team:

I directed Lieutenant Grover to select a party of twenty picked men, twenty-six mules, three horses, and twenty-five days’ provisions, including an ox, with which to go forward on the Dead Colt Hillock Line. Towards evening they were all chosen, including Belland as guide, Davis as Meterological observer, Evelyn in charge of train, six voyageurs and teamsters, and eight dragoons, under Corporal Coster, besides Corporal Cunningham, to run the compass line. [1]

Grover’s team were to “cross the Bois de Sioux near Lake Travers, and proceeding in the general direction of Dead Colt Hillock, continuing to the mouth of the Yellowstone, making the best survey of the country that the means placed at his disposal would furnish, and connect his line with Lieutenant Donelson’s survey of the Missouri at some eligible point…” [2] This gives the reader a good idea of the scope of work to be done and the narrative provides enough detail to provide one with an ability to image taking the journey with them.

As before, Stevens describes the difficulties in traversing over marches and streams and the effort of the teamsters to get the wagons and supplies safely through these areas. As they progressed toward the Chippewa River, they encountered dramatically different conditions with “a country that was indifferent and grass that was poor and thin.” (Stevens 1853) After a day’s march in such conditions they were relieved to cross the Chippewa and finding again the rich soil and excellent grasses and two lakes in the vicinity. “Lakes bordered by wood are still numerous, which furnished our hunters with abundance of geese, ducks &c.” (Stevens 1853). The next day found them at a river which caused a discussion about which it really was. Pope’s map titled the river “Pomme de Terre” yet Boutineau claimed it was a branch of the Chippewa. Regardless of the name, they had definitely begun the approach to Indian territory.

One is given the assumption that relations may have been strained, or, perhaps they were just being cautious as the Dragoons, not the teamsters, were assigned to duties: “The Dragoons were distributed as follows: two for the pack train; two, with a led horse each, for reconnoitering duty; two to strike and pitch tents; two to catch fish; two with the howitzer; the sergeant Lindner, and seven men with the main column.” (Stevens 1853) For several days they traveled toward the Bois de Sioux without incident or anything unusual occurring. Stevens’ notes include descriptions of the waterways, water fowl of the beautiful and fertile terrain. He remarked that the most remarkable “features of this region are the intervals of level prairie, especially that near the bend of the branches of Red River, where the horizontal is as unbroken as that of a calm sea.” (Stevens 1853)

The prairie is not without its own beauty. “the long grass…bending gracefully to the passing breeze as it sweeps along the plain, gives the idea of waves, and the solitary horseman on the horizon is so indistinctly seen as to complete the picture by the suggestion of a snail, raising the first feeling of novelty to a character of wonder and delight. The flowing outlines of the rolling prairies are broken only by the small lakes and patches of timber, which relieve them of monotony and enhance their beauty; and though marshes and sloughs occur, they are too small and unfrequent to affect the generally attractive character of the country.” (Stevens 1853)

The 29th of June marked the traveler’s arrival to the Bois de Sioux. At first they struggled through a boggy stretch, again, having to unload the trains and carry supplies and sundries on their backs to get the mule trains through. They also had severe delays due to the steep soft banks of the river - all compounded by excessive heat and “mosquitos very annoying to men and animals.”

A Mr. Adams had been sent in advance to examine the Bois de Sioux to select a site for a military post and then proceed to cross the Wild Rice River and join the group at their evening camp. Activities at the camp on the 30th included “the men were employed in carefully currying and washing the animals and in catching fish. Everyone in camp at work, the remainder were detailed to build the bridge….made of heavy logs, filled in with cut willow brush and mown grass” which they used later that day as the progressed on another leg of the journey and on July 1st, their first interaction with Native Americans.

“We were very hospitably received, purchased some pemmican [lean meat, usually venison], common moccasins, and articles of dress worked with porcupine quills. Bought also some carts and oxen, being very deficient in transportation.” (Stevens 1853) They traveled about 13 miles when Stevens returned to the main group with several guests from their buying trip. Mssrs. Kittson and Roulet of the territorial legislature from Pembina; Cavilaer, collector of Customs; and Delacour, a “very clever, shrewd priest.” These gentlemen were on “their annual buying trip to St. Paul with robes, skins, pemmican, and dried meat of the buffalo, collected by trading with half-breeds of the Red River settlements.” From these men, they learned that they had bridged the Sheyenne, which would save considerable trouble and delay.

For the next few days the trains made good progress, fording streams and following the Red River trail aiming to eventually arrive at the Sheyenne River. They paused their journey at the Maple River to make camp. Stevens observed that the traveler should catch frogs for the purpose of “fishing in these streams, which abound in pike, pickerel, and large catfish. Frogs are by far the best bait that can be found. At the breaking of dawn on July 4th at their Maple River camp “we raised the American flag, made of white and red shirts contributed by the party and sewed together by Boulieau. As it went up the assembled command gave it three hearty cheers, and then indulged in some refreshments in honor of the day, ending the evening with songs and story telling.” [3]

[1] Stevens, Isaac. “Part I, General Report, Narrative of 1853” Pages 50-51

[2] Ibid. Page 51

[3] Ibid. Page 57

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