The Turtle Mountain Land Office; Whitewater Coulee, the Souris River and a Solitary Indian Grave

In the morning, before hitching our horses, we visited some of the new farms in the neighbourhood and found all the occupants, without exception, fully satisfied with their lots. Mr. Bolton was finishing sowing a crop of 23 acres using a single yoke of oxen.i Mr. Brondgeest, the leading farmer of the place, had seventy-one acres under crop – first year – and had two teams of horses working steadily at new breaking.ii His confidence in the country was strong. Your readers will realize how rapidly this district is filling up when I mention that, from a nearby rise on the prairie, the homes of eleven settlers could be counted.

When we returned to the store, we harnessed our horses and lightened our load to some extent. Because we intended to pass this way again on our way to Millford, we left part of our camp outfit here. Arriving at the

Land Officeiii

situated at the junction of the Boiler and Boundary Commission trails in………………….found it down in the small valley of the

Whitewater Coulee.iv

It is not two years since the office was established at this point by Mr. George F. Newcombe, formerly crown timber inspector for Manitoba.v Mr. Newcombe went to work with a will, employing his leisure moments in cultivating the section he is located upon. It now excites the admiration of every visitor to the office, many of whom, of course, rather enviously think the “agent” had the pick of the land. This is not so. Places just as fine are still to be found in a wild state waiting but for the same labour and taste to make them equally as beautiful as the homestead of Mr. Newcombe at the “Land Office”.

Entering the office, where we were received in a friendly manner, my companion presented his letter of credentials from Ottawa stating that he was a delegate from the north of Ireland visiting this country in the interests of his countrymen. His intention was to promote their immigration to Manitoba where they might receive the benefit of the “free grant land” in the great Northwest.

Mr. Newcombe shared a good deal of useful information with us and, after examining the maps of the office, we finally determined to call on Mr. Gauvreau, Mr. Newcombe’s assistant, before going on to the Souris.vi A short drive of three miles brought us to the residence of Mr. Gauvreau just as the sun was disappearing in the west. We received a hearty welcome, and stating our business to him, while the preparations for supper were going on, Mr. Gauvreau imparted to my companion valuable information concerning the wants of new settlers settling in a new country.

An early start was made the next morning and by one o’clock the same day we had the satisfaction of camping for our midday meal on the banks of the broad

Souris,vii

a large stream, but not at present navigable, although, a year ago last spring, Sutherland Bros. floated some flat boats loaded with coal down to Winnipeg. The mines from which this coal was secured are situated at the Second Crossing of the Souris. Strong convictions are held of their great importance to the future of this country. From the First Crossing of the Souris to the Land Office is thirty miles and, with the exception of Township 2 in Range 24 west, the land is almost all good although here and there is a section rather broken and stony. The First Crossing of the Souris is situated in Township 2, Range 27 west. At the time we were there, the ford was not passable, the few settlers located across the Souris crossing this stream in a flat bottomed boat. Horses and cattle have to swim across the Souris; wagons or carts are hauled through the stream by a long rope.

Whilst the horses were resting, for an hour or so we enjoyed some good sport by shooting some of the numerous ducks on the river. Bidding goodbye to the banks of the lonesome Souris, (which at this point is almost destitute of timber), we turned our backs on the west and arrived at the hospitable shanty of Mr. Gauvreau about 10 o’clock in the evening. It had been a hard day’s drive, but the scenery of this beautiful country well repaid us for the trip. In the morning with Mr. Gauvreau we took a ramble around inspecting some of the fine sections of land in the neighbourhood bordering on the timber of the Turtle. Here, on one of the highest mounds of the Whitewater Coulee, we came across a

Solitary Indian Grave.

On four crotches about seven feet high in the air, a rude coffin was elevated and covered with a bright scarlet cloth indicating that he was the son of the Chief of the Mountain.viii This mode of burial was viewed by my companion with great wonder and astonishment.

i

. This would no doubt have been Mr. James Bolton, in February 1881, the pioneer settler of N 1/2 32-2-21, the section directly south of the Whitewater store. Turning to the Manitoba Daily Free Press, 6 September 1881, quoting from the Pilot Mound Signal, we note the following:

It is reported that a man named Beck, from the Turtle Mountain District, the other day eloped with the wife of a farmer named Bolten. The lady took all her husband’s money and one child, leaving the two eldest with the robbed and deserted father.

ii

. The Manitoba Mountaineer, published in Nelsonville, 1 August 1882, refers to Mr. T. W. Brondgeest as “a late employee of this office”. That same issue carried a lengthy column entitled “Turtle Mountain Notes” written by a correspondent of the Manitoba Mountaineer using the pen name “White Pine”.

Waubeesh is rapidly coming to the front as the future city of the Turtle Mountain district and bids fair before long to eclipse many of her older sisters in the province. The large grist mill being built by Messrs. Hurt & Brondgeest is nearly completed and now ready for the machinery which will be placed in position either next week or the week following. ….. Mr. T. W. Brondgeest, a practical representative of the “Arts Preservative of all Arts”, intends starting a newspaper here and in connection with the printing office of Mr. Chas. J. Hart will conduct a stationery establishment. … Mr. John A. Brondgeest, one of the enterprising men of this section, has some very fine stock and is the proud possessor of the famous stallion “Rologram” who won such a good reputation as a runner in Kentucky and other states. He also has the well known blood mare “Molly Darling”, the trotting mare “Lady Douglas” and eight other half-bred mares, besides a number of Jersey and graded cattle. A church and school have been contracted for. A large company assembled at the residence of Mr. J.A. Brondgeest on Friday last and enjoyed an old fashioned picnic. The time was spent in various games until the shades of night warned the company that some of them had several miles to travel and they accordingly went their several ways. A cricket match was played during the afternoon by picked elevens of the Turtle Mountain cricket club.

iii

. (42). TURTLE MOUNTAIN LAND OFFICE 19-2-22w, Winchester Mun. In April 1880 an Order-in-Council established the first land office in the Turtle Mountain Country with Mr. George F. Newcombe in charge of a territory that extended over 100 miles into what is now Saskatchewan. Several months later he selected the junction of the Commission Trail and a trail linking the Souris River with North Dakota as the site for this office.

The junction of these two ancient trails was located in the bottom of Turtle Head Creek where both forded this stream. Thus he chose the most convenient location both for settlers coming in from the east along the Commission Trail and the north from the Assiniboine River. In order to assist the latter, one of his first tasks was to upgrade the trail to the Assiniboine River. Only a few weeks previous, the portion of this trail directly west of the land office had been used by Messrs. McGarvie and Heiman, the leaders of the federal government expedition to the present location of Estevan to assess the coal deposits in that area.

iv

. The little valley in which the Turtle Mountain Land Office was located is known by several names; Turtle Head Creek, Whitewater Coulee, Renton’s Ravine, Newcombe’s Hollow and Sleepy Hollow.

v

.

G.F. NEWCOMBE DIED LAST NIGHT

Was one of the most prominent members

of the Masonic craft in Manitoba

One of the oldest Masons in Manitoba, G. F. Newcombe, died in the General Hospital at 9:30 last night. He resided at 59 Ellen Street and was 68 years of age. The deceased had been sick of cancer of the stomach for some time and was not expected to recover.

For the past year he had been agent for the Canadian Masons Mutual Life association, and as most of his time was spent in travelling throughout Manitoba, he was a well known figure in practically every town of the province and also the Northwest Territory. He was also known as one of the most sociable of men and wherever he went was sincerely welcomed.

Mr. Newcombe was the oldest Past Grand Master in Manitoba connected with the Masons. He was honoured with that position in the years 1877 and 1878. He was preceded in the high office by two gentlemen, Rev. W. C. Clark and Hon. W. M. Kennedy who held the office in the years 1875 and 1876 respectively. His figure was a familiar one to all members of the Masonic order and he was actively associated with the St. Johns Lodge No. 4 until the time of his death. He was also connected with the Napinka Lodge No. 77 and one or two others.

The deceased was born in Nova Scotia and leaves a family of two sons and two daughters.

The funeral arrangements have not been completed but the service will be held under the direction of the St. Johns Lodge No. 4.

The Winnipeg Free Press, 12 December 1907

GEORGE H. NEWCOMBE

The death of Geo. H. Newcombe in the General Hospital in Winnipeg on the 10th removes another old timer. Mr. Newcombe was the Dominion Lands Agent in old Deloraine for some time after the office was opened in the sheltered nook of Renton’s Ravine. Subsequently he was for a number of years a resident of Napinka and of late years a resident of Winnipeg. He was at one time Grand Master of the Masonic Grand Lodge of Manitoba. Many settlers who applied for entry for lands have long since gone before, but there are still many in the district who will remember him as the one to whom their introduction was an application for a homestead.

The Deloraine Times, 18 December 1907

vi

. Mr. Pierre Valmore Gauvreau’s original homestead was the NW 12-2-20w. He filed for this on 3 August 1880, the day in which the first entries for land in the Turtle Mountains were accepted in a tent on this section. (See the recollections of Mrs. Wm. Cumpstone in Beckoning Hills.) Quite possibly he was assisting Mr. Codd who is recalled as having accepted these first entries.

In July of 1882 Mr. Gauvreau purchased n 1/2 7-2-23, a farm six miles southwest of the land office. It was then situated just a mile from the trail heading southwest into Dakota Territory and today is located on Highway 21 six miles southwest of Deloraine. If Buckboard’s distance of three miles to Mr. Gauvreau’s residence is correct, he must have been living at some other location in May of 1881.

In June 1881, writing to the Winnipeg Daily Times, Mr. Gauvreau reported that the office had already disposed of 5000 acres of homesteads and pre-emptions and while the 1880 census of the district noted only seventeen families residing here, there were now a total of fifty families with a population in the range of 500. The name chosen for the township, he added, was Zulu and soon a column entitled “Zulu Zephyrs” was a frequent feature of the Times along with Rockwood Ripples and various other equally melodious names.

There is no question that during the early 1880s the land office was the busiest place on the Mountain. Many pioneers spoke of seeing the entire flat in the creek bottom covered with dozens of teams waiting until their owners had completed their business here. Writing to the Daily Times in May 1882, Mr. Newcombe reported that as many as seventy people were sometimes waiting to be served by himself and his assistant, and occasionally those who arrived early in the morning had to wait until late the following day before their turn came to be served.

vii

. (44). SOURISFORD 26-2-7w, Arthur Municipality. One of the most historic sites along the trail, this site has been known by many names, HE-A-PA-WA-KA, (translated as HEAD AND HORNS) and the RED DEERS HEAD CROSSING. Mr. Walter Thomas, one of the earliest settlers, arrived here in 1879. SOURISBURG was a name in use by the summer of 1881 but when a post office was opened in December 1883 it received the name Sourisford. Other townsites in the immediate vicinity were SOURISAPOLIS, and SOURIS CITY. Today the area is best known as the site of western Canada’s oldest pioneer picnic dating back to 1 July 1882.

viii

. The chief of the Mountain, H’dam-ani, (He Who Rattles As He Walks) lived four miles directly south of the Dominion Land Office. Born about 1830, and also known as Wigiya, (Yellow Tent) he originally had been a chief of the Mackalow band of the Dakota Indians. (The Dakotas are also known as the Sioux from the French corruption of a term of enmity applied to them by the Ojibways.) His original home had been near Redwood Falls, Minnesota, sixty miles southwest of Minneapolis. In 1863, following the Minnesota Uprising of the previous year, 100 lodges of his tribe fled four hundred miles northwest to escape the brutal retaliations of the US Army. Arriving in the Turtle Mountains, H’dam-ani purchased this land from the chief warrior of local Ojibways for four horses and seven sacred pipes.

Ten years later, when Chief H’dam-ani welcomed the International Boundary Commission, only about 30 lodges remained. Having conferred with Canadian Boundary Commissioner D.R. Cameron in 1873, early in 1874 Chief H’dam-ani had a local trader, George Arthur Hill, write two letters to Commissioner Cameron in which he requested the Commissioner to assist him in securing a guarantee to his land. In the years following, as the buffalo disappeared, the Sioux of the Turtle Mountain were occasionally reduced to starvation. Nevertheless, and in spite of repeated requests, it was not until 1888 that they received any sort of guarantee to land on which they resided or official recognition by the Department of Indian Affairs.

Chief H’dam-ani had six children, the eldest being Catkiahduza, born in 1860 to his first wife, Wiyan. This son remained in the United States, adopted his wife’s family name and as Edwin Phelps became a well-known Congregationalist missionary. By his second wife Tunka, who died early in 1908 at the age of 76, Chief H’dam-ani had five children; two daughters, Han-yet-usap-win and Hay-et-uad-uza; and three sons, Maz-adu-sawin, Hoken-aske and Tama-za-wasta. Early pioneers recalled that two of these sons and Chief Hydam-ini’s daughter Hay-et-uad-uza died of TB before they were thirty. It was one of these sons whose grave Mr. Tennant and Mr. Gauvreau saw in the trees. Apparently he died only a short time before as, many years later, Mr. Newcombe’s daughter wrote of the chief’s son as having died shortly after she was born in February 1881.

Settlers arriving in the district during the summer of 1880 found Chief H’dam-ani and his band camped on Sections 31 & 32 in Township 1-22w. Section 31 became their reserve. Situated on the headwaters of Turtle Head Creek, Chief H’dam-ani eventually built a small log home near the present abandoned Ferguson buildings on the southeast quarter. Two burial grounds were located on this reserve, the main one on a hill behind Chief H’dam-ani’s house. The latter may very well have been where Messrs. Tennant and Gauvreau visited his son’s grave.

After the Turtle Mountain Reserve #60 was dissolved in 1909, the remaining Indians were forced to move elsewhere. Most went either to the reserves in the vicinity of Oak Lake or Griswold; a few went to North Dakota. Chief H’dam-ani died while visiting his grandson, Charlie Eagle, on 18 August 1914, at the Oak River Reserve, (now called the Sioux Valley Reserve), at the age of 82.

Since the former residents of the Reserve still brought their dead back to their cemetery on the Mountain, Chief H’dam-ani’s final resting place may also be “on one of the highest mounds of Whitewater Coulee.”

Chief H’dam-ani’s grandson, Charlie Eagle became the well-known Chief Sitting Eagle who spent his last days in the Turtle Mountains living in a cabin not far from the former home of his grandfather who had raised him. He died in April 1944 and is buried in the Deloraine Cemetery.

For a fascinating series of articles about the Turtle Mountain Reserve, Chief H’dam-ani and his brother-in-law, the feared Chief Inkpaduta whose son is claimed to have personally killed Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, see the January 1992 issues of the Deloraine Times and Star.

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