The history of Grand Forks, North Dakota is rich in its diversity. The first people to inhabit the area were nomadic Native American tribes who,during buffalo hunts, traversed the area that would become Grand Forks County. The first Europeans to visit the region were fur traders who made alliances with the native people to trade beaver and bison furs for manufactured goods.
In 1811, Thomas Douglas, the Earl of Selkirk, established an agricultural colony at present-day Winnipeg, Manitoba. The young colony was dependent on imported food and equipment to build new farms and survive the harsh winters. Ships from England tried to supply the settlers via Hudson’s Bay and the Hayes River. However, the short arctic summer often interfered with the unloading and transport of the precious cargo.
The solution to the problem was to find another, albeit slower, route. It was more reliable to have goods transported by way of New Orleans, up the Mississippi River to St. Paul, Minnesota, then move the goods over land with wooden oxcarts (“Red River carts”) through the Minnesota and Red River Valleys to the Selkirk Settlement. The oxcarts were organized into trains driven by Metis (people of Native American and European descent), who understood the rigors of the trails and how to overcome breakdowns and natural obstacles. The pace was very slow. An oxcart train could usually only make two trips a summer.
In 1858, the businessmen of St. Paul offered a thousand-dollar reward to the first man who could successfully navigate the Red River by steamboat. This prize was collected by Anson Northrup in 1859. Northrup took his steamboat, the North Star, up the Minnesota River to Crow Wing, dismantled it, and transported the parts to the Red River near Georgetown, Minnesota. Renamed the Anson Northrup, his steamboat arrived at Fort Garry, north of Winnipeg, to a cheering crowd.
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