Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Major Samuel Woods reached Pembina on this date in 1849, traveling through the newly-formed Minnesota Territory to establish a military presence on the Red River of the North. Also known as the Pope Expedition, after the group’s surveyor John Pope, Woods was also tasked with meeting with local tribes to learn whether “their lands in the Red River Valley may be purchased and opened for white settlement.” These secondary orders came from the Secretary of the Interior, Thomas Ewing.
Pope’s expedition was by no means the first arrival of Europeans in the area. One of the earlier groups was the Selkirk Settlers in 1812, a colony established by the British. The colony had a history of conflict. The proximity to the British-Canadian and American boundary was not only a detriment to the white and Metis settlers, but also to the nearby Native Americans. Northern tribes would cross the border to reach the best buffalo grounds, located in Sioux territory to the south. Varying allegiances between whites and tribesmen on both sides led to bitter disputes that, at times, became violent. Pembina, located on the banks of the Red River, often found itself in the middle of the melee.
Minnesota Territory was incorporated in March of 1849 and included modern Minnesota, as well as much of present-day North and South Dakota. The U.S. Government hoped to open the new territory to settlement and realized that a military fort would be necessary to maintain order. The Army ordered Major Woods, then stationed at Fort Snelling, to travel to Pembina and find a suitable location. Accompanied by forty members of the Dragoons from Sauk Center, Woods spent fifty-seven days traveling up the Sauk River Trail and down the Red River, finally reaching Pembina on August 1st. Members of Woods’ party complained of the incessant rain, thunderstorms, and, most passionately, of the “mosquito armies.” The terrible mud from the rain prevented the heavy wagons from traveling across the prairies, and the group was repeatedly delayed. After locating a potential site for what would later become Fort Abercrombie, Woods and his team were again delayed in Pembina due to the rains. Finally, by mid-August, the prairie had dried out enough to permit the expedition’s return to Sauk Center.
Dakota Datebook written by Jayme Job
Babcock, Willoughby Maynard. 1927 Minnesota as Seen By Travelers: a Dragoon on the March to Pembina in 1849. Minnesota Pioneer: St Paul: pp. 61-74.
Lounsberry, Clement Augustus. 1919 Early History of North Dakota: Essential Outlines
of American History. Liberty Press: New York: p. 259.