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David Thompson in North Dakota

David Thompson Monument near Verendrye, North Dakota
David Thompson Monument near Verendrye, North Dakota

Have you ever wondered what traveling the North Dakota landscape was like during the winter a couple hundred years ago?

The journals of David Thompson, fur trader, explorer, cartographer, and surveyor, give some insight. Thompson was hired by the Northwest Company to identify potential trading post locations around the 49th parallel. During the winter of 1797, he led an expedition from present-day Manitoba to the Mandan Villages.

Below are a few excerpts from his trip.

December 5, 1797: Turtle Hill [Turtle Mountain] was not in sight…and all before and around us a boundless plain. I mounted my horse and went to the highest ground near us, and with my telescope viewed the horizons all around, but not the least vestige of woods appeared (with the exception of the tops of a few trees to the northwest).

December 10, 1797: 20 below zero…We had to cross a plain of twenty-two miles…

December 16, 1797: 19 below zero…had to cross a wide plain to a grove of oaks on the Mouse River…our course SW by nineteen miles…

December 19, 1797: 17 below zero…there are no hills worth notice, all is open to the free passage of the winds from every quarter.

December 22, 1797: There are woods along this river [Mouse]…all the rest are boundless plains.

December 23, 1797: In the sight of Dog Tent Hill (now known as Dog Den Butte)

December 26, 1797: The sound of the wind was like the waves of the sea on a shoal shore.

December 30, 1797: We have taken thirty-three days to perform a journey of ten days in good weather. The distance we have gone over is 238 miles.

Further Reading:

Chuck Lura has a broad knowledge of "Natural North Dakota"and loves sharing that knowledge with others. Since 2005, Chuck has written a weekly column, “Naturalist at Large,” for the Lake Metigoshe Mirror, and his “The Naturalist” columns appear in several other weekly North Dakota newspapers.
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