Remembrance in Stone

Walter J. S. Traill Cairn

County: Traill, North Dakota

Location: at NE cnr of junct Traill County 2 and Traill County 21; 10 mi E of Buxton exit off I29

Coordinates: N47o36.401' W96o52.564'

Walter John Strickland Traill was the first private landowner in the eastern North Dakota county that bears his surname. Traill was a trader with the Hudson's Bay Company who established the town of Frog Point (now the Belmont Park campground site) as a center of cross-border Red River trade more than 130 years ago. Expelled from Canada during Louis Riel's Metis rebellion of 1869-70, Traill quickly established himself as a key commercial broker south of the border.

Though he spent just six years in what was to be Traill County, the trader was instrumental in the settlement of the region by extending credit and access to farm implements to struggling new arrivals. In the words of one of the old settlers, "Mr. Traill who ran the Hudson's Bay Company trusted everybody for food and tools. He let us have flour and gave us a plow to get started with for we didn't have a thing when we came here."

1875 marked the turning point in Traill's good fortune in Dakota Territory, when the United States expelled the Hudson's Bay Company from its borders. By the next year Traill completed the liquidation of the company's assets in Dakota and resigned from the company. He spent some time in Florida and the southwest before returning in the late 1870s to Dakota Territory, where he operated a farm near Pembina.

Walter J. S. Traill was memorialized for his achievements in 1966, when the Old Settlers' Memorial Organization dedicated a ten-foot stone cairn in his honor. The dedication received little local publicity at the time, and the monument has become even more obscure since, even to residents of Traill County. Although the memorial itself is quite visible, it is not immediately identifiable as a historic site, and the plaque marking it as such faces north, the least visible location from the two nearby roadways. The obscurity of the Traill cairn can be attributed also to the supplanting of his memory by another, more inclusive monument to old settlers erected at Belmont Park. Although Traill was popular and eventually did become an American citizen, the fact remains that his activities in Traill County represented the interests of a foreign company and were generally restricted to the area of Frog Point. It appears that the historical memory of Walter J.S. Traill will be carried on more by the name of the North Dakota county than by this rather curious monument.--Research by Timothy Haugrud, HIST 489, NDSU, Spring 2007

Recommended Reading

Beal, Leonard, Beatrice O. Anderson, and Clarence Anderson, Eds. Yesteryears in Traill, Vol. 1. Dallas: Taylor Publishing Company, 1976.

Glasrud, Clarence A., Ed. Roy Johnson's Red River Valley. Moorhead: Red River Valley Historical Society, 1982.

Stanley, George F. G. The Birth of Western Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1960.

Obituary of Walter J. S. Traill

Photo Gallery Photos by Tim Haugrud, 18 March 2007 Video
2 August 2007

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Remembrance in Stone / Center for Heritage Renewal