Fort Desjarlais (1836-1858)Fort Desjarlais is remembered as the largest fort, most prominent and most successful of the Souris River trading posts in the fur trading days in Manitoba.

December 3rd, 2013, 3pm

Fort Desjarlais was built by Joseph Desjarlais in 1836. It was located north of present day Lauder and Hartney, MB. Where this fort was located is 10 minutes away from where I live in Hartney. I have been to the area where the fort was, but have not seen any remains. In the 1960s several cellar holes and chimney mounds were visible at the fort site, but since then there have been floods of the Souris River, which have destroyed any remnants of the fort. Had there been anything left, I’m sure the flood we had in 2011 (the flood of the century, it was called) would have destroyed anything that was left of it. The fort was 200 feet long and 150 feet deep. There was one long log building along with some other smaller ones that were surrounded by oak posts. At times, the fort employed a force of 50-80 men and kept a large number of horses. Fort Desjarlais was quite successful, although in opposition to the Hudson’s Bay Company and some other independent posts for close to 20 years. Cuthbert Grant, of HBC, had a fort only 8 kms down river from Fort Desjarlais. Grant’s main objective there was to keep independents and American traders from establishing themselves on the Souris River. Desjarlais may have had a large force of men for protective purposes from Grant, not from the First Nations in the area. Desjarlais was friendly with neighbouring tribes. According to Dakota living at the Turtle Mountains at that time, Joseph Desjarlais was known as “Mitche Cote”, or “Hairy Legs”. The success of the fort is likely due to the buffalo hunters and fur traders. Sources of income came from buffalo robes in the winter, pemmican sold to the HBC from the Metis men, and trade with trappers and First Nations. Joseph Desjarlais was also possibly trading illegally with Americans. With this income, the fort could operate all year round. The fort’s operation came to an end in 1858 due to a prairie fire that destroyed the fort. Desjarlais moved south of the border and built another post there. Many Metis moved to this area around this time and settled in the Lauder sandhills as well as Grande Clariere, which is also 10 minutes from me in the other direction. To this day, Brandon University anthropology students set up tents in the Lauder sandhills and arrange digs. Many interesting articfacts and remnants of Metis homes have been found here. I wish parts of the fort still remained. It would be such a neat hands-on part of the past to show students living in the area.

Raymond and David Wade said thanks.

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Ashleigh Skelton

Stay at home mom of 2 boys and 1 girl...busy, but fun times!

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