Thunder Bay To Red River
( Originally Published 1876 )
DULUTH-SUPERIOR CITY-DULUTH TO FARGO-THE ST. LOUIS RIVER-THE NORTHERN PACIFIC RAIL-WAY-" THE LAST TURN "-THE MISSISSIPPI-SCENERY-FARGO.
A PLEASANT sail of eighteen hours in the Manitoba, an excellent vessel of the Sarnia line, brings us in sight of this little city, at the western end of Lake Superior, and creeping up the stony and almost treeless hill that rises behind. It is a straggling town, that grew too fast, where the town-lot fever struck deep and had many victims. The Northern Pacific Railway runs from Duluth to the Missouri River. Great were the hopes raised in the hearts of the Duluthians as this railway was being constructed and Jay Cook reigned. But the day came, the money king fell from his greenback throne, the road got into the sheriff's hands, and the little city came to a sudden halt. The land fever had its crisis many of the stores are vacant. " To let " is on some of the pretty houses that lie on the hillside, and vacant lots are a drug in the market. For its future, Duluth must depend on the development of the grain trade to be produced by the prairies through which the Northern Pacific runs, and the mineral resources in which, no doubt, the whole surrounding region abounds, and its connection by Red River boats, stages and proposed railway with the British Fertile Belt to the North West. A narrow-gauge rail-road is being surveyed, to run northerly seventy-five miles to a rich iron region. At a distance of six miles, across the St. Louis Bay, in the State of Wisconsin, is Superior City with a fate similar to that of Duluth.
From Duluth to Fargo, on the Red River, is 254 miles. For some distance, the Northern Pacific runs along the course of the St. Louis, which opens with a long marshy mouth into Lake Superior. The soft bed soon gives place to a rocky bottom of the most rugged appearance, in which, in the wet season, the river runs a foaming tor-rent. Now its bed is nearly dry, with here and there a little waterfall and rapid. The ground along its banks is deceitful full of sand and boulders. At several places we find our train passing through the air with no apparent support from terra firma. We thus rest on wooden stilt-like frame-work, of which one end pierces the ground, the other supports the roadway. To the unaccustomed the position is anything but assuring. However, railways must be built, and when stone and iron are scarce timber must answer instead and does till the crash comes, as come it surely will. At the old Indian town of Fond du Lac, fifteen miles from Duluth, where a century ago our great Nor'-West Company had an important fort and depot but that was while this region was still British the river runs a beautiful glassy stream, then spreads into a crystal lake, with bushy isles and banks of grass and rushes. The grand and rugged scenery now begins, ending at Thompson, where the road crosses the St. Louis. In this short distance, about eight miles, we pass and see the Dalles of the St. Louis in their broad and unhewn beds of slate, foaming and seething in a thousand whirlpools. Pine-clad hills hang over them. Then the aspect changes
the wild waters gather into a quiet stream, and glide past, with surface scarce broken by a ripple. Our Yale friends take the road for St. Paul's, which branches from the Northern Pacific, twenty-four miles from Duluth. Doubtless the prairie chickens will soon groan for their coming. We have now left the St. Louis and entered a beautiful land. Great elms spread their arms on either side. No scant has nature here shown in her wild garden. In rows and in groups stand the elms, and as the train goes swiftly through, the nearer trees seem to recede, and those behind to move on in a majestic dance of giants. We think of the German legend, the Erl-King, that holds out its enchanted limbs and cries " Come hither, come hither, my child ! " or do these giants of the plain resent this encroachment on their beautiful domains, and shake their arms and struggle to pursue as the train goes whist-ling and rattling through their avenues ? The scene still changes beautiful lakes in smiling meadows of luxuriant verdure appear one after another. Wild ducks and geese swim upon them, while pigeons and blackbirds are plentiful. We look for signs of inhabitants, but they are few. Fences are seldom seen. The great meadows that skirt the grassy lakes and ponds are swampy, and will not be cropped till the drier and richer prairie land has been exhausted. Lake, pond, meadow and park, as demesnes of some great nobleman, are passed rapid review, but nature alone has been the unrivalled gardener. Cedars and hardwoods come in view ere we reach Brainerd, a little city in the forest, one hundred and fifteen miles on our way. Here are the workshops of the road, a large hotel and handsome white board building, also put up by the Railway Company as a. temporary home for emigrants. Each alternate section or square mile along the line be-longs to the Company, who offer strong inducements to settlers. The main street has a few buildings and stores, but the most noticeable features are its billiard and drinking saloons. Over one, beside which grows a tree, is the name, " The Last Turn." This is the spot where two Indians, in 1873, last turned their poor eyes on the light of this world. Accused of ravishing a young woman, murdering her, and destroying her remains by fire, they were arrested. A lot of roughs sat playing cards and drinking, and as the play lagged, one jumped up and cried, " To the jail ! the Indians ! " The result was soon reached. This tree was the gallows, and this saloon sign their only monument. Which were the more guilty, the poor struggling victims, or those who yelled round them and shot at them as they hung, eternity alone will reveal. The unfortunate girl's name was Ellen McArthur. She was quarter Chippewa, and was walking over the prairie towards her uncle's when met by the two scoundrels, her murderers, Gegeance and Tibiscogushekweb. The meaning of this last name is " The saine sky further off." Before this, these fellows had killed one Bearman, of Little Falls. The railroad now crosses the Upper Mississippi, a yellow stream flowing through muddy banks of some eighty feet in height. It was spanned by a wooden bridge of the stilt and girder kind, but we passed over on a scow. About the end of July a heavy train was on the bridge and nearly over, when the timbers cracked. Down went the cars, drawing the engine, with its engineer and brakesman and six others to destruction, few of whom lived to see another day. Those who did may see and admire, if they can, another bridge, twin brother of the last, completed across the chasm. Terrible was the scene as the confused crashing heap went, with the cries of broken and drowning men into the waters. The rest of our ride was over the prairie. The quality of the land we had passed was poor, light or swampy now it improves, becomes loamy, and as we come nearer Red River, we see the deep black soil which is universal along the bed of that river. Due north are the head waters of the Mississippi and Red River ; the little streams and lakes that form the beginnings of these two great rivers, in many places but a few rods apart, yet the waters of the one will go to the Southern Ocean ; of the other, to Hudson's Bay. At Detroit Lake we are much tempted to stay and try our hand on the ducks that cover the beautiful water. At Glyndon, two hundred and forty-one miles from Duluth, the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad crosses the Northern Pacific and goes north as far as Crookston, a distance of seventy miles. Twelve miles more bring us into the straggling little city of Moorhead ; but we keep our seats, pass over a long bridge that spans the Red River of the. North, alight at the Headquarters Hotel, with its long two-storied balcony, and find ourselves in snug quarters and at the western end of our trip. Our course will to-morrow be northerly down the river.