In 1850 the area known as Pembina, in the cold, flat northern reaches of the Red River, was home to more than a thousand people. Most of them were "Métis"--mixed-race people descended from French, British, American, and Indian people. In long "trains" of two-wheeled oxcarts, the Red River folk made annual treks to St. Paul and other points south, hauling furs and buffalo products to market.
"Within the circle of their camp is heard a strange melange of language, as diverse as their parentage. You may hear French, Gaelic, English, Cree, and Ojibewa, with all the wild accompaniment of mingled accent, soft and musical, abrupt and guttural, in such strange, startling contrasts as flings an additional interest about the mysterious people."
Harper's New Monthly Magazine, January 1859.