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Book Review - Sixteen Years in the Indian Country

Manitoba Pageant, April 1958, Volume 3, Number 3

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make this online version available as a free, public service. As an historical document, the article may contain language and views that are no longer in common use and may be culturally sensitive in nature.

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The Macmillan Company of Canada have recently published Daniel Harmon's Journal under the title Sixteen Years in the Indian Country. This valuable book is edited by the Dominion Archivist, Dr. W. Kaye Lamb, who has added a splendid introduction which acquaints the reader with the man Harmon, and his time.

To give you a taste of the picturesque prose of this trader journalist we quote these brief passages which recount visits to the old North West Company fort, Montagne a la Bosse, in the fall of 1804 and the spring of 1805. Between Oak Lake and Virden on No. 1 highway at a point where the road passes very close to the edge of the Assiniboine River valley, a cairn marks the site of this old trading post.

October 26th, Friday - 1804 - Agreeable to Mr. Chaboillez's instructions on the 6th Inst. in company with Mr. La Roque & an Indian who served as Guide, left this place a Horse back to go to Montagne a la Basse, our course being nearly South over a Plain Country and on the 9th we reached Riviere Qui Appelle (Qu'Appelle River) where the North West & X.Y. Coys. have each a fort and where we passed one night with Monsr. Poitras who has charge of the Post, and the next morning we continued our march, always in beautiful Plains till the eleventh in the afternoon when we arrived at Montagne a la Basse where we found Messrs. C. Chaboillez & Charles McKenzie &c. &c. This is a well built Fort and beautifully situated on a very high bank of the Red River (the Assiniboine River is meant), and the Country all around a level Plain, but as the Fort stands on a much more elevated place than the Country on the opposite side of the River we can from the Fort Gate (as I am informed) at almost all seasons of the year see Buffaloe Grazing or Deer & Cabri bounding across the Plains. All of which cannot fail to render this a very pleasant situation. And here I passed eight Days in the company of the above mentioned Gentlemen, and had not a little satisfaction in their conversation. At times all of us would mount our Horses to take a ride out into the Plain, and frequently try the speed of our Beasts. However on the 19th I left that enchanted abode, accompanied by Messrs. Chaboillez & McKenzie &c. & the Day following arrived at Riviere qui Appelle, where we found our people waiting our arrival and as the Canoes go no further up the River, owing to the shallow water this Season, the Goods intended for Alexandria will be taken there on Horses backs. We therefore gave out such things as we thought necessary and sent the People off and the Day following Mr. Chaboillez &c. returned home and I accompanied by Mr. McKenzie, and a Mr. Allen McDonell (my X.Y. Neighbor) set off for this place where we arrived this afternoon, after making a pleasant jaunt of twenty one Days. Here I have to pass the Winter with me, Mr. Goedike two Interpreters, twenty labouring Men fifteen Women & as many children.

This cairn of fieldstone marks the approximate site of Fort Montagne a la Bosse, a trading post of the North-West Company established about 1790. Overlooking the Assiniboine Valley east of Virden, the original site of the fort was destroyed when the Canadian Pacific Railway was built for it became a huge gravel pit from which gravel was taken for constructing the line. From the cairn a beautiful vista of the valley is seen.
Source: The Virden Story by Ida Clingan.

April 10, Wednesday - 1805 - On the 24th Ult. I accompanied by one Man a Horse back sat off for Montagne a la Basse, and when we were arrived there we were not a little surprised to find the Gates shut and about eighty Lodges of Crees & Assiniboins encamped about the Fort, who threatened to massacre all the White People who were in it, and those blood thirsty Savages had the boldness to throw Balls over the Palisades & tell our People to gather them up, as they might probably want them a few Days hence. I after having past several Days there sat off to return home but as I got out of the Fort Gate, three rascally Indians stepped up towards me, one of whom laid hold of my Horses Bridle and stopped my Horse, in saying that he belonged to him and added that he would take him from me. However I told him that he had sold the Beast to Mr. Chaboillez, and he had given him to me, therefore he must go and speak to that Gentleman about the Horse as I had nothing to do with him, but the rascal would not let go of the Bridle, and when I saw that, I gave a pretty good blow with the butt end of my whip on his knuckles and then another to my Horse, which made him spring forward & leave the Indian behind, & so I continued my route. But the villain with one of his companions followed us nearly half of the Day, but after that we saw them no more. On my return I remained four Days at Riviere qui Appelle where I passed my time very agreeably in the company of Messrs. John McDonald & Thomas McMurray (both for the X. Y. Company) and Andrew Poitras - but in leaving that place I had the River to cross, and at that late Season the ice was bad, so much so that my Horse with me upon him fell through twice, and the last time I was very nigh going under the Ice, but kind Providence spared me once more.

See also:

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Fort Montagne a la Bosse Monument (RM of Woodworth)

Page revised: 14 March 2012

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