The Red River Settlement

The Red River Settlement

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The Red River Settlement

The Red River Settlement was founded by the Fifth Earl of Selkirk, Thomas Douglas, In
the year 1812. He called his settlement Aissinidoia. Aissinidoia was a close knit community whose economy was built around the Hudson Bay Company. The settlement was split into two major groupings: The French speaking and predominate Roman Catholic Metis and the English speaking and predominate Protestant “country born”.

The Earl of Selkirk, Thomas Douglas, bought the Hudson Bay Company in 1811 and was
able to get a grant of land for 300 000km2. The Earl called this settlement Aissinidoia. The Earl hoped his settlement would attract some former Hudson Bay Company employees. He hoped the settlement would produce enough food for his company.

The Metis were half-breed French/Natives. They were extremely helpful to the settlers
when the first moved to the red river area. Some historians believe that if it was not for the Metis that the settlement would not have survived. Eventually the Metis allied with the North West Company who were highly opposed to the Hudson Bay Company moving in. The Nor’westers were worried that they could lose their fur supply and pemmican.

In 1815 the Nor’westers tempted people to move to Upper Canada with offers of better
land. The Earl of Selkirk quickly resettled the colony. Some tension between the nor’westers, with their allies the Metis, and the settlers led to violence. North West Company men and half-breeds now resorted to violence on a large scale, killing 22 in the massacre of Seven Oaks (June 19, 1816). Upon hearing of the violence the earl went to the fighting with a group of Swiss soldiers. Not only did they win the battle but also captured the Nor’westers trading post of Fort William. Other attacks followed. The result of these moves was a series of court charges and counter charges that ruined Selkirk. When Lord Selkirk's legal battles were finally settled, he returned to England.
He died in France in the year 1820, just a few months before the two bickering companies resolved their differences and merged.

Once Selkirk heard what happened he made his way to where the fight was happening with
some Swiss soldiers. Selkirk re-established his colony and also took controlled fort William. The last fight proved to be the last straw for the fur trade companies in the area.

The Red River Cart was an excellent transportation method invented by the Metis.

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One
man could drive up to 10 carts carrying up to 550 kg each. They would tie the following ox to the back of the lead cart. etc. They were mainly used for carrying hides and furs.
Sometimes the carts would follow hunting parties and haul the slain animals. In the years in and around 1856 almost all goods in the Red River region were being transported by these carts. One of the best facts about these carts is how simple they were. They could easily be repaired in the middle of the prairie with very few tools. They were made only of wood and were pulled by an ox or a pony. Trains of one hundred to two hundred carts would all leave a town at once. The cart shortly became a symbol of the Metis and the trails that the carts followed became known as Red River trails. In 1878 Harper’s Magazine included a description of the Red River Cart which I have included here:
“It is simply a light box with a pair of shafts, mounted on an axle connecting two enormous wheels. Ther is no concession made to the aversion of the human frame to sudden violent changes of level; there is no weakness of luxury about this vehicle. The wheels are broad in the felloes (rims), so as not to cut through the prairie sod. They are long in the spokes, so as to pass safely through fords and mudholes. They are very much dished so that they can be strapped together and rawhide stretched over them to make a boat. The whole cart is made of wood; there is not a bit of metal about it, so that, if anything breaks, the material to repair it is easily found.

The axles are never greased and they furnish an incessant answer to the old conundrum: "What makes more noise than a pig in a poke?”
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