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Metis Remembrances

Updated: Sep 14, 2022

Below are two stories found in an old copy of the Bureau of Indian Affairs news sheet "Indians at Work" - a publication that was printed for Bureau of Indian Affairs employees and for members of the US Congress to read about the progress made on the various Indian reservations under the administration of the BIA. This copy, from February 15, 1937, offers two separate stories regarding the Metis at Turtle Mountain. The first story is in regards to how the Turtle Mountain Reservation got its name, and the second is about the Red River Carts used by the Metis in the 19th century.



The origin of the name " Turtle Mountain" has three local explanations . The first was given by Ka-ne-na-to-wake-chin (Mirage) , a very old Indian who sat in his lodge smoking his kinikinick. He said : "Long , long ago a party of Chippewa Indians saw a big , a very big turtle climbing up the east slope over there. They told the 'Metis' and now everybody call it Montagne du Tortu Turtle Mountain."

Corbet Bercier, another old-timer, after saying that the mountains have always been called "La Montagne du Tortu" probably because there were so many turtles in the lakes , laughed and said : "There is another reason. Many years ago three McGillis men, Corbet, Jerome and another, all big men, found a big turtle near the west end of the mountain toward the Souris (Mouse) River. He was so big; they all stood on his back and when another man lit a fire under the turtle's back end, the turtle walked off with the three men. So they call this place 'Turtle Mountain.'"

However, most of the old-timers here seem to agree that the name comes from the general outline of these highlands as seen from the Canadian side - the head of the turtle near Deloraine, Canada, the tail near Rolla, North Dakota.


The old Red River carts and the buffalo are linked in the minds of most of us with the romance of pioneer days in the Dakotas.Today it is impossible to obtain any of the carts which saw actual service in the old days, but there are several of the old-timers still living who made use of them and there are a few who manufactured them in the old days. Among these is Louis Allery, a French-Chippewa, born in 1885 at White Horse Plains in Manitoba.

As a boy Mr. Allery went on hunting trips with his father with the cart trains. They made their winter homes on the Red, Assiniboine, or Pembina Rivers and worked at making new carts during the winter months. These they sold for about $20.00 each. Mr. Allery followed the trade of cart making until the introduction of wagons put the cart out of business.

Albert Laviolette is also an expert cart builder. Mr. Laviolette is one of the real old-timers and makes his home at St. John, North Dakota. Mr. Dana Wright, an officer of the State Historical Society of North Dakota has been instrumental in having two of these carts placed where they will be preserved - one at the State Museum and one at the Pembina Airport . Both were built here in the Turtle Mountains; the one for the Pembina Airport by Mr. Allery; the one for the museum by Mr. Laviolette.

The original Red River carts were developed in the Pembina settlement over a hundred years ago . Previous to this the canoe and the travois had been the only means of transportation . The products of the buffalo hunt were too weighty for these limited means of transportation so necessity mothered the invention of the Red River cart. In making these carts only the simplest tools were available; an axe, an auger, a chisel and sometimes a home-made draw shave which was made of a gun barrel . Solid wheels were made by cutting off sections of logs.

The hubs were made of elm if possible to obtain it and the wheels were of oak. These were fastened together with wooden pins. Sometimes the wheels were wrapped with tough buffalo hide called " laganappe " to make a sort of tire. The shaves and body were of light wood but the sticks on the side were made of oak.


Indians at Work, Feb 15, 1937. US Bureau of Indian Affairs, Washington, DC. USGPO.

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Love this ,I wish I would have paid more attention to my Native culture growing up.

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