October 2017 Readers’ Letters | HistoryNet MENU
A reader recalls his youth in Pembina, N.D., and points out some particulars from Jon Guttman's April 2017 feature "No Country for Lost Irishmen."

October 2017 Readers’ Letters

By HistoryNet Staff
7/26/2017 • Wild West Magazine

Pembina Particulars
I enjoyed Jon Guttman’s “No Country for Lost Irishmen” [April 2017] immensely. I loved the fact that the Fort Pembina soldiers stopped the invasion from the U.S. side. I spent 1958–59 and then 1966–72 living in Pembina. That is where I graduated high school. My dad was at first in the Border Patrol, then switched to being an immigration officer, and he worked at the border station north of Pembina, a stone’s throw from where the Hudson’s Bay Co. trading post (attacked by O’Neill in 1871) would have been. Pembina was founded in 1797 and was the first settlement in what would become Dakota Territory and ultimately North Dakota.

The sketch on P. 59 [see above] does not show the military fort. The sketch shows the Hudson’s Bay Co. outpost, Fort Daer, on the left and the North West Fur Co. outpost, Fort Pembina, on the right. Neither was a U.S. Army fort. They were British concerns in direct competition and just across the Pembina River from each other around 1812 (before anyone knew where the border was and almost 60 years earlier than the Fenian incident). The river at the bottom of the sketch is the much wider Red River of the North, which flows into Lake Winnipeg and eventually into Hudson Bay. When the international boundary was set at the 49th parallel (1818), and Major Stephen Long made a trip to officially mark it (1823), the settlers in and around Fort Daer (recent arrivals from Britain) abandoned it and moved north to stay under British control. The Hudson’s Bay Co. took over the fort on the north side of the river, keeping the name Fort Pembina, though that British company knew it was on U.S. soil.

As for the map on P. 60, the Hudson’s Bay Co. trading post is shown on the north bank of the Pembina River (where it was in 1823). By the time of the 1871 Fenian incident the outpost had been rebuilt a couple miles farther north, right on the border, but errantly just south of it, as the article correctly stated. The map should also show Fort Pembina (in 1871) south of the Pembina River, about a mile south of the community of Pembina on the west bank of the Red River. The HBC post and the fort were about 3 miles apart. 

L.J. Charbonneau
Pembina, N.D. 

The editor responds: Thank you for your recollections, information and corrections.

Thuer System
In George Layman’s “Leave the Holster at Home” [Guns of the West, June 2017 Wild West] the Thuer system is referenced as being used to convert Colt percussion revolvers for metallic cartridges. The Thuer system was an attempt by Colt to evade Smith & Wesson’s patent on a bored-through cylinder. The Thuer system was rare and not used much, as it used a cone-shaped cartridge that loaded in the front of the cylinder. Many Colts were converted after Smith & Wesson’s patent expired using the Richards conversion. Also many early cartridge Colts were assembled at the factory using older Colt parts and new cylinders.

W.H. Allen
East Wenatchee, Wash.

Sitting Bull Role
I must cry foul. John Koster’s April 2017 Indian Life article, “The Lakota Diplomat,” fails to give proper credit for Fanny Kelly’s release from captivity. According to authors Stanley Vestal and Robert Utley, Sitting Bull (pictured) deserves much of the credit for her freedom. As Bull was leader of the Stronghearts (special forces) and already a chief, his help was imperative. After failed negotiations with Fanny’s “owner” (Brings Plenty), Bull directed his tough friend Crawler to take her by force. Kelly was clueless, paranoid and lacked social graces. She failed to know the chief, mistakenly accused the Indians of planning an attack and showed no gratitude for her release. On the reservation the U.S. government picked puppet chiefs. They said Sitting Bull had no power. With a hand gesture he cleared the council. Big medicine! When they tried to buy Lakota land for 50 cents an acre, it was mainly Bull’s influence (not Grass) that raised the price to a more reasonable $1.25 per acre. The aptly named Crook Commission illegally kept Sitting Bull and patriots from the final meeting, while the puppets sold their birthrights. With righteous indignation Bull exclaimed to a reporter, “There are no Indians left but me!”

Greg Mauz
San Angelo, Texas

Author John Koster responds: Fanny Kelly told her own story in her book, which contains questionable details. For example, she claimed she and her husband were headed West to seek a better life. But the inventory of milk cows, calves and trade goods in her Indian depredation claim suggested they already had a pretty good life. To that extent, Greg Mauz is right on target. In fact, his version seems to jibe nicely with that of John Grass, minus the names. However, since Kelly gave Grass the credit for her rescue, and since Grass and his wife both confirmed it to Colonel A.B. Welch, I suspect the generally accurate and reliable Robert Utley and Stanley Vestal (real name Walter Campbell), the latter notorious for his gullibility, somewhat embellished Sitting Bull’s power in the 1860s.

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