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The Romantic Settlement of Lord Selkirk's Colonists
Chapter 11 The Silver Chief Arrives

The scene changes to the home of the founder of the Colony. The Earl of Selkirk is living at his interesting seat—St. Mary's Isle, and letter after letter arrives which has taken many weeks on the road, coming down through trackless prairie, across the middle and Eastern States of America and reaching him via New York. These letters continue to increase in being more and more terrible until his island home seems to be in a state of siege.

St. Mary's Isle lies at the mouth of the Dee on Solway Frith, opposite the town of Kirkcudbright. Here in 1778 Paul Jones, the so-called pirate in the employ of the Revolutionary Government in America, had landed, invested the dwelling with his men, and carried away all the plate and jewels of the House of Selkirk. The Old Manor House of St. Mary's Isle, with its very thick stone wall on one side, evidently had been a keep or castle. It was at one time given to the church and became a monastery, then it was enlarged and improved to become the dwelling of the family of the Douglasses, which it is to this day.

But now the far cry from Red River reverberated across the Atlantic. The startling succession of events of 1815 reached the Earl one after another. It was late in the year when he made up his mind, but taking his Countess, his two daughters and his only son, Dunbar, a mere boy, and crossing the ocean he heard, on his arrival in New York, of the complete destruction by flight and expulsion of the people of his Colony. About the end of October he reached Montreal, but winter was too near to allow him to travel up the lakes and through the wilds to Red River.

The winter in Montreal was long, but the atmosphere of opposition to Lord Selkirk in that city, the home of the Nor'-Westers, was more trying to him than the frost and snow. His every movement was watched. Even the avenues of Government power seemed by influential Nor'-Westers to be closed against him. An appeal to Sir Gordon Drummond, the Governor-General, could obtain no more than a promise of a Sergeant and six men to protect him personally should he go to the far West, and the appointment of himself as a Justice of the Peace in Upper Canada and the Indian Territory was grudgingly given.

The active mind of his Lordship occupied the time of winter well. He planned nothing less than introducing to the banks of Red River a body of men as settlers, who could, like the returned exiles to Jerusalem, work with sword in one hand and a tool of industry in the other. The man of resource finds his material ready made. Two mercenary regiments from Switzerland which had been fighting England's battles in America had just been disbanded, and Lord Selkirk at once engaged them to go as settlers, under his pay, to Red River. From the commanding officer of the larger regiment these have always been called the "De Meurons." From these two regiments—one at Montreal and the other at Kingston—he engaged an hundred men, each provided with a musket, and with rather more than that number of expert voyageurs started in June 16th, 1816, for the North-West. The route followed by him was up Lake Ontario to Toronto, then across country to Georgian Bay and through it to Ste. Sault Marie. At Drummond Island, being the last British garrison toward the West, he got from the Indians news of the efforts of the Nor'-Westers to involve them in the wars of the whites. The Indians had, however, resisted all their temptations. Lord Selkirk again overtook his party and passed through the St. Mary's River into Lake Superior.

Here a new grief awaited him.

Two canoes coming from Fort William brought him the sad news about Governor Semple and his party being killed at Seven Oaks, as it did also of the second expulsion of the Colonists. Lord Selkirk had been intending to go west to where Duluth now stands and then overland to the Red River.

He now changed his plans and with true Scottish pluck headed directly to Fort William. Here assaults, arrests and imprisonments took place. It is needless for us to give the details of this unfortunate affair, except to say that the seizure of the Fort brought much trouble afterwards to the founder.

Moving some miles up the Kaministiquia River Lord Selkirk made his military encampment, which bore the name of "Pointe De Meuron."

Plans were soon made for the spring attack on Fort Douglas.

In March, stealthily crossing the silent pathways for upwards of four hundred miles and striking the Red River some where near the international boundary line, the De Meurons came northward and made a circuit towards Silver Heights. There, having constructed ladders, they next made a night attack on Fort Douglas, and being trained soldiers easily captured it, and restored it to its rightful owner, Lord Selkirk.

On May day, 1817, Lord Selkirk, with his body guard, left Fort William and following the water-courses arrived at his own Fort in the last week of June. Fort Douglas was the centre of his Colony, and there he was at once the chief figure of the picture.

None of the Selkirk Settlers' descendants who are living to-day saw him in Fort Douglas, but a number who have passed away have told the writer that they remembered him well. He was tall in stature, thin and refined in appearance. He had a benignant face, his manner was easy and polite. To the Indians he was especially interesting. They caught the idea that being a man of title he was in some way closely connected with their Great Father the King. Because of his generosity to them in making a treaty, they called him "The Silver Chief." He was the source of their treaty money.

It is said that some of the last party to reach his Colony had seen him at Kildonan in Scotland, where he had visited them, and encouraged them in their departure for the Colony.

His first duties were to the unfortunate settlers, who had been brought back from Jack River.

Lord Selkirk gathered the Colonists on the spot where the church and burial ground of St. John's are still found. "The Parish," said he, "shall be Kildonan. Here you shall build your church, and that lot," he said, pointing to the lot across the little stream called Parsonage Creek, "is for a school." He was thus planning to carry out the devout imagination of the greatest religious leader of his nation, John Knox: "A church and a school for every parish."

Perhaps the most interesting episode in Lord Selkirk's visit was his treaty-making with the Indians. The plan of securing a strip of land on each side of the river was said to have been decided to be as much as could be seen by looking under the belly of a horse out upon the prairie. This was about two miles. Hence the river lots were generally about two miles long.

His meeting with the Indians was after the manner of a great "Pow-wow." The Indians are fluent and eloquent speakers, though they indulge in endless repetitions.

Peguis, the Saulteaux chief, befriended the white man from the beginning. He denounced the Bois-brulés. He said, "We do not acknowledge these men as an independent tribe."

"L'Homme Noir," the Assiniboine chief, among other things, said: "We have often been told you were our enemy, but we hear from your own mouth the words of a true friend."

"Robe Noire," the Chippewa, tried in lofty style to declare: "Clouds have over-whelmed me. I was a long time in doubt and difficulty, but now I begin to see clearly."

While Lord Selkirk was still in his Colony, the very serious state of things on the banks of Red River and the pressure of the British Government led to the appointment, by the Governor-General of Canada, of a most clear-minded and peace-loving man as Commissioner. This appointment was all the more pleasing on account of Mr. W.B. Coltman being a resident Canadian of Quebec. Coltman was one man among a thousand. He was patient and kind and just. Though he had come to the Colony prejudiced against Lord Selkirk, he found his Lordship so fair and reasonable that he became much attached to the man represented in Montreal and the far East as a destructive ogre.

The Commissioner's report covered one hundred pages, and it was in all respects a model. He thoroughly understood the motives of both parties, and his decisions led to a perfect era of peace, and moreover in the end to the union of the Hudson's Bay and Nor'-West Companies.

Lord Selkirk's coming was like a ray of sunshine to the Colonists of Red River. Being of an intensely religious disposition, the people reminded him afterwards that the elder who came out in 1815, who was able to baptize and marry, had been carried away by main force by the Nor'-Westers to Canada in 1818, so that they were without religious services. They always continued to have prayer meetings and to keep up the pious customs of their fathers. This practise long survived among them. In repeating his promise of a clergyman, Lord Selkirk asserted to them: "Selkirk never forfeited his word."

His work done among his Colonists, he left them never to see them again. He went south from Fort Douglas to the United States, visited, it is said, St. Louis, came to the Eastern States, and rejoined in Montreal his Countess and children who had in his absence lived in great anxiety. One of his daughters, afterwards Lady Isabella Hope, told the writer nearly thirty years ago that she as a girl remembered seeing Lord Selkirk as he returned from this long journey, coming around the Island into Montreal Harbor paddled by French voyageurs in swift canoes to his destination. His attention was immediately given to law suits and actions brought against him in the courts of Upper Canada. These legal conflicts originated from the troubles about the two centres—Fort Douglas and Fort William—where the collisions had taken place. The influence of the Nor'-Westers in Montreal was so great that the U.E. Loyalists of Upper Canada sympathised with them against the noble philanthropist. Justice was undoubtedly perverted in Upper Canada in themost shameless way. Weak in body at the best, Lord Selkirk by his misfortunes, losses and legal persecution began to fail in health. With the sense of having been unjustly defeated, and anxious about his Colonists in Red River, he returned with his family to Britain to his beloved St. Mary's Isle. He sought for justice from the British Parliament, but could there get no movement in his favor. A copy of a letter to him from Sir Walter Scott, his old friend, is in the hands of the writer, but Sir Walter was himself too ill at the time to lend him aid in presenting his case before the British public. Heart-broken, he gave up the struggle. With the Countess and his family he went to the South of France and died on April 8th, 1820, at Pau, and his bones lie in the Protestant Cemetery of Orthes.

He had not fought in vain. He had broken down single-handed a system of organized terrorism in the heart of North America, for the Nor'-Westers never rose to strength again. They united in a few years with the Hudson's Bay Company. He established a Colony that has thriven; he cherished a lofty vision; he made mistakes in action, in judgment, and in a too great optimism, but if we understand him aright he bore an untainted and resolute soul.

"Only those are crown'd and sainted
Who with grief have been acquainted
Making Nations nobler, freer."

"In their feverish exultations,
In their triumph and their yearning,
In their passionate pulsations,
In their words among the nations
The Promethean fire is burning."

"But the glories so transcendent
That around their memories cluster,
And on all their steps attendant,
Make their darken'd lives resplendent
With such gleams of inward lustre."

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