October 26, 2003
"Griggs and Grand Forks"
Few people would guess that Grand Forks came into being
because of a keg of beer, but supposedly its true.
Traders were the first Europeans to visit the Red River
Valley when they came to trade manufactured goods with Native Americans
in exchange for pelts and furs. Known as Les Grande Fourches, a fork created
by the joining of the Red River and the Red Lake River became a rendezvous
point as early as the 1740s.
In 1811, farmers established Selkirk Colony at present-day
Winnipeg, but to survive the winters, they depended on imported food and
equipment. Ships from England tried to supply them by coming south from
Hudson Bay via the Hayes River, but the short summers didnt cooperate.
The next step was to try to get goods that came north on the Mississippi
River from New Orleans to St. Paul. To transport goods from St. Paul,
mixed-blood Metis people created oxcart trains, but these were so slow,
they could complete only two trips per summer.
In 1858 with necessity being the mother of invention
St. Paul businessmen offered a thousand dollars to anyone who could
successfully travel from St. Paul to Winnipeg by steamboat. In 1859, Anson
Northrup beat out the competition by coming up the Minnesota River to
Crow Wing, MN, where he dismantled his boat. He then hauled it overland
to the banks of the Red River, where he put it back together again. He
launched it and successfully navigated the Red River to arrive at Fort
Garry a prize winner.
Meanwhile, traders were still conducting business at
Les Grande Fourches, which was now on the mail route that ran between
Fort Garry and Fort Abercrombie near Wahpeton. Being a halfway point,
the government established a post office on the fork in 1870. The new
steamboat business kicked into high gear, and passengers started traveling
the river as well.
Seeing a lucrative venture, railroad tycoon James Hill
partnered with a steamboat captain, Alexander Griggs, to form the Red
River Transportation Line. Griggs had proved himself a capable man who,
at 15, had honed his sailing skills on the Mississippi River to earn his
pilots license when he was only 19.
Which brings us to our story: roughly 130 years ago,
Alexander Griggs was participating in a flatboat race on the Red River
to Fort Garry. When his crew spotted a keg of beer that had accidentally
fallen off another boat, they snagged it and ended up getting so drunk
that Griggs had to tie up at the forks to spend the night.
He intended to finish the journey to Winnipeg the following
day, but morning brought them a rude surprise. During the night, the temperature
had plummeted, and their boat was frozen in place. According to the story,
the men had to build a shelter for the winter, and with time on his hands,
Griggs surveyed the land and became convinced the site would be ideal
for a new town.
So it was that on this date, in 1875, Alexander Griggs
platted his town and has ever since been known as the Father of
Grand Forks. Oh yeah, theres a county named after him, too.
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