Kenmare ND - Upside Down Under

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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


Vente de la Louisiane...

Posted 2/02/21 (Tue)

We’ve all been taught the history lesson of the Louisiana Purchase and how it, in effect, doubled the size of the United States in 1803.

Known as the Territory of Louisiana, the gargantuan land mass had been controlled by the French since 1699.

When the purchase, known as the “Vente de la Louisiane” was negotiated, the United States would pay France $15 million and France would turn over to the United States 530 million acres of property we often call the heartland and the plains.

It meant that U.S. sovereignty was now west of the Mississippi River and it pushed west to what is now Idaho and Wyoming.

The purchase included an area  that encompasses 15 states, most notably Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri among others.

It also included the Missouri River and we all know about the Lewis and Clark Expedition up the Missouri and their quest to find the Pacific Ocean.

What we may not know about the Louisiana Purchase, however, is that it didn’t stop at the Canadian border. It continued into present day Saskatchewan and Alberta.

It crossed the 49th Parallel about where Montana and North Dakota meet and continued. The purchase originally extended just beyond the 50th parallel, which is about where Swift Current, Moose Jaw and Regina are located.

However, the territory north of the 49th parallel (including the Milk River and Poplar River watersheds) was ceded to England in exchange for parts of the Red River Basin south of the 49th parallel in the Anglo-American Convention of 1818.

OK, that convention is what established the present-day Canadian border. But from 1803 when the Louisiana Purchase was made, until the 1818 convention when the British ceded the territory east of the Missouri River, most of what is now North Dakota and western Minnesota, was part of Canada that was known then as Rupert’s Land, named after the governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Essentially all of North Dakota that is in the Hudson Bay drainage was part of Rupert’s Land, a territory of British North America.

At the time, there were so few people in North Dakota’s part of Rupert’s Land that it wouldn’t have made a difference. Outside of two forts where present-day Pembina is located and the townsite of present-day Walhalla, there really weren’t any European settlers around anywhere.

Only Native Americans roamed the land. There were several tribes that included Ojibwe, Assiniboine, Arikara, Hidatsa, Mandan, Chippewa, Santee Dakota, Metis, Lakota Sioux and Yanktonai Sioux.

Also back then, Canada wasn’t what it is today. It had two parts; Upper Canada and Lower Canada. The St. Lawrence River separated the two, thus Rupert’s Land, and more specifically eastern North Dakota, was part of Upper Canada.

When you look at obscure history like this, there’s a lot missing, but often times, if you search deep enough, you might just find what you are looking for.

For instance, we know there were two competing trading forts in the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Northwest Company. Both sat in the present-day community of Pembina where the Red and Pembina rivers meet.

What we don’t know is how big was the territory of each, were they hostile toward one another, was fur trading their only motive, or were other things like shipping contraband liquor part of it?

We also know from our intertwined history with Canada that Chippewa women and French fur trappers’ offspring became known as Metis and many settled in Rupert’s Land, or eastern North Dakota and had their own language.

The question is when did that start, what is the first documentation of it? And what was it like for the children? We don’t often find out about these things.

Sometimes some of this information will pop up in the strangest places and at the strangest times.

I learned about some of this, and some of the Metis outlaws who roamed present-day North Dakota from the Metis Museum in Winnipeg.

For the most part, the Metis remained on the Canadian side and were later officially recognized as a tribe in Canada. But the United States government has not done that, and although numerous Metis decendents live here, they are not part of a tribe, at least not officially.

Thus, history can be tricky sometimes, or should I say vague, because with curiosity like Rupert’s Land, we have questions?