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Northern Boundary Survey


The Treaty of Ghent in 1814 ended the War of 1812 and established a Commission to set the boundary between the United States and Canada. In 1822 this commission established the boundary at the 49th Parallel, but for the next fifty years there was little attention paid to it.

However, there were two early attempts to mark the location of the 49th Parallel along the Red River, one in 1823 by the Stephen Long Expedition and again in 1849 when Major Samuel J. Woods visited the site of Pembina. Wood’s expedition was also charged to determine the feasibility of establishing a permanent military post to control the unrestricted hunting and trapping in the area south of the boundary. As settlement and commerce increased in the area, the need to survey and mark the boundary became more evident.

In 1872 the Northern Boundary Commission began a survey from the Red River to the Lake of the Woods. It was completed in the spring of 1873. Next came a survey of the remaining 765 miles between the Red River and the crest of the Rockies. Working westward from Pembina, the survey party completed 408 miles of the tract during the 1873 season.

By the end of 1873, Bismarck had become the hub for commerce on the Northern Plains and the supplies flowed into the warehouses and docks. It was the meeting point of the river boats and the railroads and would serve as the jumping off point for the boundary survey now that the Red River part of the project was completed. The International Boundary Line had been extended well into Montana Territory.

On this date in 1874, the Steamboat Fontenelle made preparations to leave Bismarck and steam upriver to Fort Buford. It carried 75 men, 150 animals and 30 wagons, along with the forage and supplies for the survey crew under the command of Major Twining. The Steamboat Far West also prepared to get underway carrying the military escort for the survey party. The escort consisted of five companies of infantry and ten companies of cavalry under Major Marcus Reno. Although only 357 miles of the boundary remained to be surveyed, most of this stretched through hostile Indian country. The survey work was completed in early fall although the building of monuments marking the border would continue for another year.

For 140 years this unfortified boundary has continued to serve as a property marker between two friendly neighbors.

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis


“The North Dakota-Canada Boundary” by William Lass, North Dakota History Volume 63 #4, Fall 1996.

The Bismarck Tribune June 10, 1874