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Near the beginning of this century the British government had to deal with the problem of providing for large numbers of poor Highlanders, evicted from their rude cottages and lands that the lordly nobles might turn the territory into deer forests. A party of these evicted tenants from Kildonan, in Sutherlandshire, were induced by the Earl of Selkirk to seek a new home in the centre of the American wilderness, in the chartered territory of the Hudson Bay Company. By purchase or by proxy, the earl, himself a large proprietor, had obtained control of the administration of the company in London when its stock was greatly depressed, and received from it in 1811, probably with but nominal compensation, a grant of 116,000 square miles for a settlement. Its central point was at the confluence of
the Red and the Assiniboin rivers. A party of the Highlanders, scantily furnished for the rough experiences before them, arrived at York Factory, on the bay, in the autumn, and there they were compelled to winter. Not till the following autumn, 1812, did they reach their destination at Fort Garry. Their route by water and portages had been through four hundred miles of river, with rocky ascents of seven hundred feet and an open lake voyage of three hundred miles. Desolate and piteous were their experiences for many years. In fact, they had actually started on their desperate effort to return to Scotland, when they were met by their patron the earl, in 1816, with a fresh body of settlers and supplies. They had been wellnigh reduced to starvation by the failure of their first crops, by devastating
* (Reproduction of a cut in Dent's Last Forty Years, following a drawing by the Earl of Dufferin. There are other views in Alexander Ross's Red River; in S. H. Scudder's Winnipeg Country, or Roughing it, with an eclipse Party by A. Rochester Fellow (Boston, 1886); in Stuart Cumberland's Queen's Highway from Ocean to Ocean (London, 1887); in Jas. C. Hamilton's Prairie Province (Toronto, 1876). – ED.]
floods, and by devouring grasshoppers. It seemed as if the accumulations of misfortune had been visited more overwhelmingly and in all forms of ill upon them than upon any other severely tried company of wilderness exiles.
* [Extracted from the map in A. Amos's Report of the Trials relative to the Destruction of the Earl of Selkirk's Settlement (London, 1820). — KEY: A, the place where Gov. Semple and his party were massacred, 19th June, 1816. B to C, settlers' lots, established 1814 ; laid waste by the North West Company, 1815 and 1816; and reëstablished 1817. C to D, lots laid waste in 1815 and not reëstablished. E to F, where the Germans and Swiss of the Regiment de Meuron settled in 1817. G, site of chapel and other buildings, built in 1818 by Catholic missionaries from Quebec. Cf. plan of the Selkirk settlement in H. Y. Hind's Canadian Red River Exploring Exped. of 1857 (London, 1860), p. 172. – Ed.]
But the worst of all their woes, one of which they had no warning, was that they found themselves on a scene which was the centre of a state of
NOTE. – [A small map contained in the large map in Alexander M'Donell's Narrative of Transactions in the Red River Country (London, 1819). Fort Gibraltar was a post of the North West Company; Fort Douglas belonged to Selkirk and the Hudson Bay Company. — Ed.]
(Ruins of FORT
real warfare between the Bay and the North West companies, where their rivalry was the sharpest and the most vindictive in its hostilities. Remote as the scene was from the Bay posts, the North West Company, with its traffic to Canada by its own route of travel, had strongly possessed itself here by its own posts, as a region for most lucrative traffic. Of course, these emigrant Highlanders were regarded as intruders of the most unwelcome and offensive sort, coming to break in upon the wilderness with the stir and noise and restraints of civilization. In a pitched fight on June 19, 1816, Governor Semple, the local governor of the Bay Company, with nearly a score of his supporters, were killed by the defiant forces of the North West Company. The sanguinary strife continued with increasing bitterness till 1820. Then a negotiation was instituted by Mr. Ellice, before referred to, which resulted in the union of the two companies in 1821, on equal terms. The proprietary rights of the chartered company seem to have been offset by the energetic enterprise of the Northwesters. No more European emigrants were sent to Lord Selkirk's settlement after his death in Switzer
land in 1820.
As this colonial enterprise of Lord Selkirk, known afterwards as the Red River Settlement, became so important and so troublesome an element in the affairs of the Bay Company, - opening, indeed, the controversy which closed only with the extinction of the company, a few more particulars concerning it will be here in place. The founder of the colony was said to have had a religious object in view. It was not his intention that the colony should grow and be reinforced by further emigrants from Europe. Having been started by a sufficient body, equipped as agriculturists and mechanics, it was intended that retired servants of the Bay Company, half-breeds and converted and, so to speak, civilized savages, should find there a common and congenial residence, making a sort of oasis in the desert for a happy family. It proved a distressing
caricature of such a fancy. In 1817 Sel1808* *
kirk obtained a deed of the territory from the chiefs of the Salteaux and Cree tribes, the consideration being the annual payment of one hundred pounds of tobacco. The Crees at once and ever after denied that the Salteaux had any rights in the terri
After a cut in Bryce's Manitoba.
tory.' So here was trouble from the old proprietors. Selkirk, being in Canada at the time of the bloody assault by the employés of the North West Company, in which Governor Semple and twenty of his party were killed, came with a military force by Fort William and partially restored order. For the first twelve years Selkirk managed the affairs of his colony, with lavish outlays and renewed enterprise, against multiplied discouragements. The undertaking was said to have brought his estate under a charge of £85,000. After his death, for about twelve more years, his executors nominally had the colony in charge. But the company really acted for them till, in 1838, it recovered the territory by full purchase.
Probably there was never presented on the face of the earth a stranger medley, nor a more heterogeneous combination of the elements of humanity, than in the Red River Settlement. Planted seven hundred miles away from sea-water, and that mostly bound in ice, it was wholly isolated from the world. Its natural outlet for trade, if such it should ever have, and it could not prosper without it, — was through the region now Minnesota, in the United States, whose people the Bay Company was resolute to exclude. A whole year was necessary for an answer to an order from Europe. Humanity was represented in the territory by English, French, Scotch, Swiss, and Indian, and before long by the inevitable Yankee. But few of these were permanent settlers, who cast in their lot for fixed residence. Nominally land was free to desirable occupants. But there proved to be annoying conditions imposed by the company; and humanity shaded off into many tints and colors, through English half-breeds and French half-breeds, and their progeny through generation after generation, in many variations. For religion, there was a free choice between paganism, the Roman and the English churches, Scotch Presbyterianism, Wesleyanism, etc. The magnates of the place were the retired servants of the company, with their Indian families, - comfortable, sure of the otium, tenacious of the dignitas.
The propitious coalition of the two companies gave the now strengthened proprietors under the old charter spirit to apply for, and influence to obtain, through Parliament, what was called an additional grant. It was obtained in the same year as that which ratified the coalition of the two rival companies. This was a grant of the right of “exclusive trade” over the re
1 When the parliamentary committee of in- never been fulfilled by Selkirk and his succesquiry of 1857 was engaged in investigating the sors, though he had saved Selkirk's life, and affairs of the Bay Company, Penguis, the aged that the land deeded had been vastly extended. chief of the Salteaux tribe, wrote a letter com- He adds: “We have many things to complain plaining of the treatment received by him since of against the Hudson's Bay Company. They this negotiation. His statement was fortified by pay us little for our furs, and when we are old we testimonials, which he had received from Lord are left to shift for ourselves. We could name Selkirk and Sir George Simpson, of his friend- many old men who have starved to death in liness, fidelity, and good service. As he was “in sight of many of the company's principal forts.” the decline of life and poor, Simpson had as- “ The traders have never done anything but rob sured him an annuity for life from the Honor- and keep us poor, but the farmers have taught able Hudson's Bay Company of £ 5 sterling." us how to farm and raise cattle.” (British DocuPenguis charges that the contract with him had ments, Reports of Committees, vol. xv. p. 445.)