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Grant soldiers of the Buffalo Hunt (5)
River, and that his windmill still ground the grists of the people of Grantown. He was, in short, still the chief man of the settlement.
The settlement itself was growing steadily. There were, in 1848, 146 families resident at White Horse Plain. These were mostly the original fifty families and their children, but others had joined them, and in 1840 a considerable number of settlers had come down from the northwest to take up lots in Grantown.
The parish continued to be a worry to Bishop Provencher, not because its people were not devout, but because few priests could stand the rigors of life on the plains in the northwest winter. In 1839 the Reverend Charles Poire` followed Harper back to Quebec. He was succeeded by the Reverend J.A. Mayrand, but Mayrand's health soon gave out, and the mission relied on the intermittent services of Reverend Georges Belcourt and the Reverend J.B. Thibault, both busied in the main with Indian missionary work.
Grant knew the value of christianizing the Indians and realized the necessity for educating his people. He aided Bishop Provencher at ST. Boniface by providing accommodations for any priest who could come to Grantown to minister to the needs of the parishioners. The priests who came held school for the boys in Grant's home; and he looked to Bishop Provencher to find young women with some education who would be willing to come for short periods and hold classes for the girls, Grant's zeal for the church he was helping to found is also evidenced in the parish records where his name appears as godfather for many of the Indians he was trying to christianize.
As early as 1838 Bishop Provencher was anxious to replace the church of 1833 by a more substantial structure. Unfortunately work men could not be procured and for years the building could not go forward as planned. Though progress was slow , the new church was finally completed in the early 1840's, and the finishing touch to this new church proved to be a bell for its steeple. In 1820 Lord Selkirk had sent out a bell weighing 180 pounds for St. Boniface Cathedral and after the cathedral received a chime of three bells in 1840, Lord Selkirk's bell was passed on to the Saint-Francois mission. This church was in use for many years, though as time went on it too proved insubstantial and had to buttressed. The bell hung there until 1868, when it was blown down in a storm. Its subsequent history is worth noteing. For long years it lay forgotten in a long grass of the church yard and with new generations all knowledge of its existence and significance was lost. ninety years it rusted in obscurity, but it was rescued and now rests in the museum in the St. Boniface city hall.
Cuthbert Grant knew of the significance of that bell, and must have felt gratified when it was hung in the church at Grantown. How the sound of that bell would break the silence of the empty prairie, ringing joyfully for weddings and in slow, solemn tones funerals. It was an acquisition of which the Metis were very proud.
The priest house was also poor in condition, and the Governor had not yet given the Bishop title to the land on which it stood; nor had a schoolmaster yet been found to maintain a school at the church. It was for these reasons, the poverty of his mission and the unreliability of secular priests with no special vocation for mission work, that Bishop Provencher was to seek and find in 1844 the help of two orders especially devoted to missionary work. The Oblates of Mary Immaculate, of whom Father Tache was one, came to the northwest in 1844, and the Sister of Charity, or the gray Nuns, arrived at St. Boniface in the same year.
The war with the Sioux , and problems arising in the home community were not, however, to be the only troubles in which Cuthbert Grant was engaged in 1844. Trouble had broken out within the colony itself, and it was such as to call for Grant's exertions both as Warden of the Plains and as a Sheriff of Assiniboia. That year saw an outburst of free trading which was to lead up to the Sayer trial of 1849, with all that was to mean to Grant.
The origins of this new trouble were both immediate and remote.
The remote origins lay back in the twenties, when Grant himself had traded under a special license given by Simpson. He had bought furs free traders might have bought, and traded them to the company .
Thus the monopoly was preserved and the free trade died down.
But at least one other trader, Andrew McDermot, a former clerk of the Hudson Bay Company, had been given a special license in 1823.
Thereafter he continued as a storekeeper in the colony, and it may be as trader in furs who sold to the company also. During the thirties the free trade was tolerably under control. But private traders, notably Andrew McDermot and a younger man and a half-breed, James Sinclair, continued to deal in groceries and dry goods, which were sold for currency or produce. These men also became engaged , as Grant has done, in freighting supplies for the company. Both as traders and freighters they served the company's interests by performing functions the company was glad to leave to them, and as long as they sold any furs they traded to the company little was feared.
In 1843, however, the Chief Factor at Fort Garry, Duncan Finlayson, refused to renew McDermot and Sinclair's contracts as freighters. Difficulties followed over the forwarding from York Factory of an experimental shipment of tallow which they had made. The reasons given were that their services as freighters had not been satisfactory, and that there was no room in the ship of the year for the tallow.
McDermot and Sinclair chose to regard Finlayson's action as a punitive measure directed at their trading in furs, and one cannot escape the impression that the Chief Factor's interest was to put two able and ambitious traders in their places.
If such was his purpose, he must have regretted his action. For two things immediately happened. One was a visit of Norman W. Kittson to Red River in December of 1843. It is difficult to believe that the visit was not inspired by the angry Red River traders, although the breakup of the American Fur Company was causing the traders on the Mississippi to cast their eyes northward again. In the summer of 1844 Kittson opened a trading-post at Pembina, and the danger Simpson had feared and avoided in the 1820's, of a trading-post beyond the reach of the company to which the Metis might resort, had been realized.
The second consequence of Finlayson's action followed immediately. The young half-breeds of Red River rushed into the fur trade.
A new generation was coming, that of the mixed-blood sons of the fur-trade officers and servants who had settled in Red River, as Grant's people had done. There their children had grown up and, after a fashion, had been educated. But the company rarely employed half-breeds in posts of trust, whether clerical or higher. Red River farming had little to offer, for want of a market for farm produce. The market for the "plains provisions" of the buffalo-hunt was soon glutted in a year of good hunts. So many a bright young man had little enough to stir his ambitions or engage his energies in Red River.
But the free trade gave entrance to the one really rewarding enterprise of the country, the fur trade. Furs produced profitable returns, certainly in goods from St. Peter's on the Mississippi, and sometimes in gold or dollars. Numbers of them now rushed into the fur trade. All round Red River at Lake Manitoba, at Portage la Prairie, on the Winnipeg River and the Roseau, they trapped or traded. The furs they concealed in their houses, in the stables, in the woods along the rivers, in the bluffs of oak on the prairies. Some ran their furs to Kittson at Pembina. Some went to St. Peter's itself, such as that band whose adventures Peter Garrioch recorded in his unpublished journal, and which cut the trail through the woods east of Red River to avoid the warring Sioux, the trail thereafter known as the Crow-wing trail.
This was not tame free trading, in which the company ultimately received the furs. This was real free trading in which the furs went to other buyers. It was entirely illegal, and of course highly dangerous, both because the practice would spread if not checked, and also because the high prices it caused would encourage the Indians to bring their furs for hundreds of miles.
Nothing could have been more distressing to Grant than this outburst of free trading. As Warden of the Plains, as Sheriff and Magistrate , he was bound to try to suppress it. But his own people were tempted by the profits of the free trade, by their manner of life and their past, to take part in it. If Grant did his duty,, he might forfeit the affection of his people, If he did not, he would lose his offices and his income.
Thus Grant faced years of trouble after 1844, for the fur-trade dispute was to run until the Sayer trail of 1849, and indeed beyond.
But at first there was no doubt of where he stood. The first reaction of the company and of the Council of Assiniboia was to endeavor to suppress the free trade by all public and private means. Houses and premise were searched for furs. When furs were found, they were confiscated . In all this Grant took part as an officer of the law.
The Council of Assiniboia imposed new and higher duties on goods coming in from the United States, particularly on the stoves which the free traders needed to heat their trading cabins. The wording of land titles was tightened, in order to make effective the clause providing for forfeiture of lands on conviction of trading in furs. This apparently raised the question of by what title lands were held in Grantown. The mail of private traders was made subject to inspection by officers of the Hudson's Bay Company, although in this Grant had no part. But clearly Grant was the company's man; he was on the side of the law and against the free traders who had sprung up in Red River. Fortunately few of his own Grantown people seem to have been involved at this time. The open and defiant free traders came from the lower Red, in the parishes of St. John's, Middle -church, and St. Andrew. When in August 1845 a number of half-breeds, led by James Sinclair, wrote to Chief Factor Alexander Christie, who had succeeded Finlayson at Fort Garry, to ask a series of questions relating to the rights of the native-born people of Rupert's Land, no Grantown name appeared among them.
By that date the free traders were openly challenging the monopoly of the Hudson Bay Company and were seeking to undermine its political authority, A petition for help was sent to the Congress of the United States, another to the Government of the United Kingdom.
The peace of Red River was seriously threatened, and Grant and his people might well have had serious work to do , if the dispute with the United States over the Oregon territory had not led to the dispatch of a detachment of British troops to Red River in 1846.
The troops were to remain for two years. Their presence both quieted the turbulent half-breeds and soothed the discontented free traders by affording them an unaccustomed market. Public life in Red River once more became sedate and unruffled. So also was Grant private life. Peace with the Sioux left the hunts untroubled ; the suppression of the free trade gave no further occasion for raiding homes or searching the oak islands of the plains for furs. An epidemic of measles imported from Missouri in 1846 must have caused him concern as a father and physician, for the disease was severe upon a population not at all immunized to it. But Grant's family escaped the deaths the disease brought to some households. In 1848 his daughter Marie Rose was married to one of the Grantown boys, Pierre Gariepy.
One change had come over the parish of Saint-Francois-Xavier.
While Bishop Provencher still hoped to establish a school in the parish, he had given up his endeavors to maintain a secular priest there. The service were performed by Oblates sent out from St. Boniface, or by the Reverend M. Belcourt from Baie-Saint-Paul. That stout missionary was soon to fall foul of Governor Simpson, however, for he supported the half-breeds in their demand for self-government in the spring of 1846 . The good priest was promptly accused of trading in furs- he may have accepted some as gifts from his Indian converts- and was sent packing to Quebec. Governor Simpson erred in this, for Father Belcourt returned to Pembina in 1848, and in 1852 led his flock up the Pembina River to St. Joseph in the United States territory of Dakota, which thereafter became a second home to the Red River Metis and a haven to free traders and any one else in trouble with the authorities in Rupert's Land. (All Simpson's careful work of the 1820's , in which Grant had been his indispensable ally, was beginning to crumble away.) By the fall of 1848 Grantown was again served by a secular priest of their own, for in that year the Reverend Louis Lafleche, who had served in the mission at Lac la Ronge in the northwest, was sent to Saint-Francois-Xavier to recuperate after the strain of northern service, and for the next few years served his people in the parish and on the hunt.
The uneasy truce in the free trade struggle which had existed since 1846 ended abruptly in the spring of 1849. The peace and progress of the three preceding years came to an end shortly after Chief 'Factor John Ballenden took over from Chief Factor Alexander Christie the trying job of suppressing free trade without challenging the half-breeds to a trial of strength. The task was much more difficult now, for the withdrawal of the troops in 1848 had left the free traders again at liberty to defy the law. The troops , it is true, had been replaced in 1848 by a small band of Chelsea out-pensioners. These last, if resolutely commanded, might have strengthened the forces of the law and order in Red River, but their commander, Major W. B. Caldwell, was a slow-witted and irresolute man. He was also Governor of Assiniboia, an office held by the Chief Factor at Fort Garry since 1835, but this additional authority only aggravated the effect of his want of intelligence and resolution . Moreover, he was soon at odds with his second-in command, Captain V. C. Foss , and suspended him from discharging the duties of his office. The result was the pensioners could scarcely be counted on to support the civil power in Red River.
There was in consequence considerable free trading during the winter, and Ballenden determined to take legal action in an endeavor to check it. He laid charges against four Metis: Guillaume Sayer, McGillis, Laronde and Goulet. Sayer and McGillis were from Grantown McGillis being a brother-in-law of Grant. The case came up for trial on May 17, 1849 with Sayer the first of the four to enter the dock.
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