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WALTER JOHN STRICKLAND TRAILL was born in 1847, to Thomas and Catherine (Strickland) Traill in the Province of Ontario, Canada. They were cultured and well-educated parents of Scotch ancestry. When he was eighteen years, Walter Traill was filled with the spirit of adventure and travel and decided to see the great northwest, the Indians, hunters and trappers. In 1866, through acquaintance with an officer of Hudson's Bay Company, he secured appointment as a junior clerk under a five-year contract paying 20, 25, 30, 40, 50 pounds per year plus living expenses. He was delighted, and started west by steamboat and train to St. Paul, Minnesota. There he transferred to the new St. Paul and Pacific Railroad that went as far west as Big Lake – as far as the rails had been laid – and then by stagecoach to McCauleyville across the river from Fort Abercrombie, where any resemblance to civilization ended. He crossed the river by ferry to the fort where General Custer was then in command. There he first saw buffalo – herds of them peacefully grazing in the high grass west of the fort. He rented two saddle horses and traveled the old Red River cart trail north, through Dakota to Pembina and on to Fort Garry.
Adapted From The Yesteryear's of Traill County, Pages 17 and 18, First Traill County Settlers.
While learning the duties of a junior clerk at the fort, he enjoyed the company of the other clerks, officer's, retired Hudson's Bay employees and their families and often visited the farms of Lord Selkirk settlers. After completing training he was assigned to chief trader, Robert Campbell, operating in the Swan Lake District west of Lake Manitoba; at various times served at Fort Pelly, Fort Ellice, Riding Mountain and Qu'Appelle. His duties were many and varied. Record keeping was heavy. The hunters and trappers, most of who were Indians and Metis, were furnished supplies by the company and accurate records were necessary. Furs brought in had to be inspected and appraised and account settled. Furs had to be baled for shipment via Hudson Bay or St. Paul by Red River carts or steamboat. Traill's letters describe many trips to the outposts by saddle horse, snowshoes or dog teams to check on the success of the trappers. They tell of periods of 30 and 40 degree below zero weather, of heavy snow and blinding blizzards, of sleeping in skin tents with his dog to keep him warm, of a saddle horse killed by wolves. Of times when his food supply consisting mostly of pemmican was gone and he was obliged to eat boiled dog meat. Twice he suffered from severe snow blindness from sun's glare off fields of pure white snow.
In 1869-70, everything changed. The Metis and Indians were hungry. Floods, drought and grasshoppers ruined the few crops of grain and vegetables. Buffalo herds departed from the valley to western plains and pemmican was in very short supply. The population was restive, and the government of Canada was at odds with the people of Rupert's Land. At this time there appeared on the scene a Metis by the name of Louis Riel. He was an intelligent young man who, in his youth, had been taught by Jesuit priests and sent to Montreal to study for the priesthood. He quickly tired of city life and longed to return to the wilds of Rupert's Land; and in a short time he did return. He was an accomplished orator in the manner of Samuel Adams of the American Revolution. He organized the rabble into an army and with 100 armed Metis, on November 2, 1869, captured Fort Garry, imprisoned the officials, confiscated food, supplies, guns and ammunition and proclaimed a republic.
A Hudson's Bay courier slipped out of the fort to contact Mr. Campbell, the chief factor then at Fort Pelly, with orders to save the winter collection of furs from the Metis. Mr. Campbell issued commands to all traders to assemble at Fort Ellice with all their furs. The ability of Walter Traill is shown by the fact that Campbell placed him in charge of a brigade of twenty-five fur carts, the horses, a couple Indian guides and the persons of Mrs. Campbell and two daughters. His instructions were to escape out of the country into Dakota Territory west of Turtle Mountains. The proceeded out of the fort to the west, on the south side of Assiniboine River to a point near present Brandon, and crossed the border at Cart Creed just ahead of a mounted party of Metis who had received word of their escape with a precious cargo of furs.
After crossing into Dakota and traveling southeast. One Indian guide advised Traill to turn away from the western sun and travel eastward. He followed this advice and soon came upon the fur cart trail over which he had traveled northward four years before. One night they camped at Frog Point and the next day continued as far as Caledonia. The Goose River was in flood at that time, but by evening all had crossed over. They camped opposite Buffalo River the next night and the following day Traill delivered the cart train to the Hudson's Bay post at Georgetown. He placed Mrs. Campbell and the children aboard a stagecoach to Fort Abercrombie where they were on their way to St. Paul, Montreal, and Scotland.
Mr. Traill, however, was still an employee of Hudson's Bay Company and after spending a few days in St. Paul, returned to Georgetown where a letter awaited him placing him in charge of the post at Georgetown, and directing him to return shortly to Fort Garry for further instructions. He returned to Frog Point by saddle horse and boarded a steamer for Fort Garry. He debarked, however, at Pembina and rode into St. Boniface to inform himself about the political situation at the fort. There he decided to go to the fort where his fellow officers were imprisoned; he boldly rode into the fort where his horse was confiscated and he, too, was imprisoned. When the steamboat arrived, Louis Riel confiscated it, and when re realized the ship carrying an American flag and under License, he released it and ordered it to depart. Traill was expelled from Canada July 26, 1870, as an undesirable citizen who had exported a valuable amount of furs without Riel's consent.
Traill had additional orders, Hudson's Bay Company owned several thousand acres of land and other property in the United States, and because of Traill's outstanding service to the company, he was place in charge of all posts in the valley with headquarters at Georgetown. He left the boat at Frog Point and it was their he decided to make his headquarters. He met George Weston, who became the first settler in the county, on a claim on the south bank of the Goose River at Caledonia. Walter Traill had decided that Frog Point should be the head of navigation on the Red River because the lower bank there was a natural levee, convenient for freight handling from steamboat to wagon and vice versa. Early I 1871, he ordered supplies to build a warehouse, store and hotel.
He squatted on land comprising 159.96 acres. On the trip to Alexandria he took out naturalization papers and became an American citizen. He advanced money for a special land survey. And thus became the first recorded land-owner in Traill County.
He appointed A. H. Morgan, a fellow Hudson's Bay employee, as junior clerk at Frog Point and operator of the Hotel. Hudson's Bay company, in 1871, decided to establish another post at Caledonia at the head of the rapids and Traill soon had a warehouse, store and hotel in operation with Asa Sargeant, another Hudson's Bay man, in charge of the settlement.
For a time Frog Point was metropolis of the Red River. It had the usual businesses of a frontier town and a transportation industry that assumed major proportions. Hundreds of teamsters, engaged in freighting, congregated there, and together with flatboat men, hunters, trappers and traders, kept the saloon keeper busy, and there were times of great revelry.
On June 16, 1871, Traill wrote his kin in Ontario as follows:
”I am here at Frog Point shipping Hudson's Bay Company freight and building warehouses and a hotel. I left Georgetown on June 8th and do not expect to return for some months. All the tran-sport business is being done at Frog Point so here I have my headquarters. Civilization is coming nearer. We have a stage coach in from St. Cloud every second day and a steamer from Fort Garry every third day. I have twenty men at work and a station keeper.” By August the river had fallen steadily. He wrote dismally: “I fear the boats won't be back this year. If so I must forward 700 tons of freight to Fort Garry by wagon.” But nothing was more changeable that the water level of the Red River. A few days later Traill was entertaining a group of writers from New York and Boston who had arrived from Georgetown on the ship Selkirk, on their way to Fort Garry.
In July of 1872 Mr. Traill wrote from Frog Point: “ have to do with all the shipping and receiving of freight, ticketing passengers, etc. besides having charge of all the trading posts in the valley. Here we now have a post office, express off ice and a first class hotel, which I rent to an American, Howard Morgan. Board is $5.00 per week”. In August 1872 Traill reported merchandise weighing 1, 003, 692 pounds was carried by wagon from Moorhead to Frog Point for loading on boats and barges which could not pass the Goose rapids.
The year 1875 was disastrous for Frog Point because of changes in the government in Canada. Hudson's Bay Company was deprived of its governing rights: its charter was declared void and it prepared to close its posts in the United States. Mr. Traill was placed in charge of the liquidation and he finished his work in 1876. He then took a leave of absence and traveled to Florida and points in the southwest. He resigned from the Company and engaged in the business of buying and selling grain at ST. Paul.
In 1881 he married Mary Gilbert, a widow with two children. After the death of an only son he moved to a farm he owned near Pembina. Shortly thereafter he moved to Kalispell, Montana, where he ranched for twenty years and finally moved to the orchard country of British Columbia where he died at the age of 85 years.
It is impossible today, to say who was responsible for naming Traill County in honor of Walter J. S. Traill. Perhaps it was Asa Sargeant or A. H. Morgan or George Weston or perhaps the many homesteaders along the Red and Goose Rivers. A letter from on of the old times states: “Mr. Traill brought in a hose powered threshing machine for our use thus making Caledonia a grain market and milling center for the farmers along the Goose and Red”. And, another talking about the early days said, “Mr. Traill who ran the Hudson's Bay company trusted everybody for food and tools, He let us have flour and a plow to get started with. We didn't have a thing when we came here”.
Perhaps instances like these are why we bear the name of Traill County.
Contributed by Gerry Mohn.