March 6, 1814
|Died||May 10, 1888 74) (aged|
traveling near St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S.
|Occupation||Steamboat operator, Railroad entrepreneur|
Norman Wolfred Kittson (March 6, 1814 – May 10, 1888) was one of early Minnesota's most prominent citizens. He was best known as first a fur trader, then a steamboat-line operator and finally a railway entrepreneur and owner of thoroughbred racehorses. He was part of the original syndicate that went on to create the Canadian Pacific Railway. Kittson County, Minnesota is named for him. Norman County, Minnesota also was named for him.
Norman Wolfred Kittson was the eighth of ten children born to George Kittson (1779–1832), merchant, Justice of the Peace, clerk of the Commisariat and King's auctioneer at Sorel, and later Principal Cashier of the Bank of Canada in Montreal, both in Lower Canada. Norman Wolfred's mother, Ann Tucker of Sorel, was the daughter of Sergeant John Tucker (d.1782) of the 53rd Regiment of Foot.Norman was born 6 March 1814, and baptized on 27 March of the same year in Sorel. His middle name 'Wolfred' was given to Norman to honour a family friend, Wolfred Nelson.
Norman's grandfather, Thomas Kittson, was in the British Army, probably in the 24th Regiment of Footand likely was killed or taken prisoner in the fall of 1777 at the Battles of Saratoga. Thomas was married to Julia Calcutt (1756–1835), who has likely travelled with him with the Regiment in April 1776 from Cork, Ireland to Trois-Rivières. By 1779, Julia was living with Alexander Henry in Montreal, with her infant George. Julia and Alexander had four children born out of wedlock, and did marry by licence in 1785, Montreal, likely after the official news that her husband was deceased. They had a fifth child after getting married.
Kittson received a grammar school education at Sorel, and like everyone in his family he was perfectly bilingual. His step-grandfather Alexander Henry and four of his five paternal uncles had all been active in the fur trade, particularly the North West Company. It therefore was no surprise that, seeking adventure, in 1830 he took an apprenticeship with the American Fur Company at Michilimackinac, where Alexander Henry and many others from Sorel had been active.Kittson served at various posts in what became Minnesota Territory in the United States.
Kittson left the American Fur Company in 1833 to become a clerk to the sutler at Fort Snelling. In 1839, he went into business for himself, setting up as a fur trader and supply merchant at Cold Lake, near Fort Snelling.Henry Hastings Sibley, Kittson's old friend from the American Fur Company had risen to managing agent of the AFC, but left in 1843 to form a partnership with Kittson.
In 1844, maintaining a large degree of independence, Kittson established a permanent post at Pembina, North Dakota, where he made his headquarters. km away in the Red River Colony at Rupert's Land. Kittson's almost immediate success at Pembina threatened the trade monopoly exerted by the HBC.Covering the Red River Valley, he boldly set himself up in direct competition to the Hudson's Bay Company, whose headquarters were only 100
He served in the Minnesota Territorial Council from 1852 to 1855, while living in Pembina.
Kittson collected furs from James Sinclair and established strong connections to the local French Canadians. Through his first wife, he became particularly attached to the Métis people, employing them as tripmen and trading extensively with them. All of this enabled him to play a significant part in bringing about free trade to the settlement in 1849. Guillaume Sayer was trading with Kittson prior to the trial that ended the monopoly. In 1852, Kittson relocated from Pembina to St. Joseph to avoid the periodic flooding of the Red River of the North.
In the 1850s, a contemporary described Kittson as a "sprightly, fine-looking man; cleanly and really elegantly dressed; hair just turning gray; eyes bright, with a quiet, pleasant voice; genial in nature and a man of excellent characteristics".Kittson moved to Minnesota's new capital, St. Paul, in 1854, becoming one the city's most influential businessman. He operated a fur and goods business and had several investments and real estate holdings. Kittson served on the St. Paul City Council from 1856 to 1858. From 1858 to 1859 he served as mayor.
During this period, his business interests extended into the Red River Colony, which he was committed to developing. In 1856, he opened a store at St. Boniface (now modern Winnipeg, Manitoba) and the following year he and other merchants shipped over $120,000 of furs from the Red River Settlement to St Paul. Although he sold the store in 1861, Kittson continued to import furs from the settlement and provide it with supplies. He was a long-time operator of Red River cart brigades on the Red River Trails, which served his trading businesses.
Sir George Simpson, the governor of Kittson's old rival, the Hudson's Bay Company, described him in the 1850s as "the most extensive and respectable of the American traders doing business at Red River".In 1858 Kittson was instrumental in establishing a steamboat service on the Red River of the North, a route which was also used by the HBC. Simpson's successor, Alexander Grant Dallas, managed to convert Kittson "from an opponent into an ally". In 1862, the Hudson's Bay Company appointed him shipping agent and head of navigation on the Red River, a position he retained throughout the 1860s to the great mutual benefit of both Kittson and the HBC. He co-ordinated the import of trade goods from Britain and the export of furs by cart brigades between St. Paul and Georgetown, and by the steamship International between Georgetown and the Red River Settlement.
The creation of the province of Manitoba from the former Rupert's Land in 1870 marked the end of the HBC trade monopoly. In 1872 Kittson joined up with another former competitor, James Jerome Hill, forming the Red River Transportation Company. The line had five steamboats, and Kittson had invested $75,000 by 1873. They were the only operators on the Red River during the 1870s, and were important factors in the development of Winnipeg and south Manitoba through the transportation of immigrants, mail and supplies.
In 1879, though in poor health, Kittson embarked on his last major venture. With James Hill, Kittson joined forces with Hudson's Bay Company representative Donald Alexander Smith and Montreal banker George Stephen to purchase the struggling Saint Paul and Pacific Railroad, reorganizing it into the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway. It established the first rail link between St. Boniface and St. Paul. In 1880, its net worth was $728,000; in 1885 it was $25,000,000. When Kittson sold his shares in the company in 1881, it made him a very wealthy man, running his investments into the millions. These same men later formed the nucleus of a syndicate established in 1880 that built the Canadian Pacific Railway and Great Northern Railroad.
Norman Kittson was possessed of "a sartorial elegance and a love of race horses,"and it was this latter interest on which he concentrated after retiring from business. His stables at Midway Park, St. Paul and at Erdenheim Farm near Philadelphia, kept some of the finest thoroughbreds and made him one of the most prominent race horse owners in the country. His filly, Glidelia, won the 1880 Alabama Stakes. In 1882, with his brother, James, they had purchased Aristides Welch's renowned stud farm at Erdenheim, Pennsylvania, and the bulk of its bloodstock at Chestnut Hill for $100,000. In 1884, the Kittson's colt, Rataplan, won the prestigious Travers Stakes at the Saratoga Race Course. Kittson's sons, Louis and James, were both well-known horsemen and managed Erdenheim after their father's death. They sold the studs at auction in 1896.
Norman Kittson had been married three times. His first wife, Élise Marion (1831–1868) a Métis from the Red River Colony. She was a daughter of blacksmith Narcisse Marion and the sister of Roger Marion (1846–1920), a conservative Member of Parliament. Kittson had many friends among the Red River Métis including a first cousin, Ambrose Lépine, who was an associate of Louis Riel. The Marion family, however, were opposed to Riel's Red River Rebellion. When Élise died in 1868, Kittson took her body back to St. Boniface for burial among her family and childhood friends.He then married the Swiss Sophia Perret (1817–1889), daughter of Abraham Perret (also sometimes spelled Perry), and finally he married Mary Cochrane (1842–1886). Kittson fathered nine children by his three wives.
Kittson died 10 May 1888 in a dining car after ordering dinner while traveling on the Chicago and North Western Railway towards St. Paul. It was said of him that "he gave willingly but not ostentatiously to charitable causes".Kittson left an estate of over 1.2 million dollars to be divided between his children. One Margaret Robinson declared that she had been married to Norman Kittson in 1833 as shown on a marriage certificate she produced. Her claim for a third of the estate dollars was denied, as neither the locale nor the state (Wisconsin) where the marriage supposedly took place was then extant, the priest named on the certificate was in Ohio in 1833, and the type of paper on which the certificate was printed was of more recent origin.
Papers of Norman W. Kittson are available for research use at the Minnesota Historical Society. They include fur trade account books (1851–1853, 1863–1866) and miscellaneous papers pertaining to lands, accounts, and other investments.
Norman County named after Norman Kittson.
Kittson County is a county in the northwestern corner of the U.S. state of Minnesota along the Canada–US border, south of the Canadian province of Manitoba. As of the 2020 census, the population was 4,207. Its county seat is Hallock.
Pembina is a city in Pembina County, North Dakota, United States. The population was 512 at the 2020 census. Pembina is located 2 miles (3.2 km) south of the Canada–US border. Interstate 29 passes on the west side of Pembina, leading north to the Canada–US border at Emerson, Manitoba and south to the cities of Grand Forks and Fargo. The Pembina-Emerson Border Crossing is the busiest between Blaine, Washington and Detroit, Michigan and the fifth busiest along the Canada-United States border. It is one of three 24-hour ports of entry in North Dakota, the others being Portal and Dunseith. The Noyes–Emerson Border Crossing, located 2 miles (3.2 km) to the east on the Minnesota side of the Red River, also processed cross border traffic until its closure in 2006.
Walhalla is a city in Pembina County, North Dakota, United States. It sits on the banks of the Pembina River, five miles (8 km) from the border with Manitoba (Canada) and approximately 45 mi (72 km) from the border with Minnesota. The population was 996 at the 2010 census.
Alexander Henry 'The Elder' was a fur trader, following the British Conquest of New France; a partner in the North West Company; and a founding member and vice-chairman of the Beaver Club. In 1763–64, he lived and hunted with Wawatam of the Ojibwa, who had adopted him as a brother.
Henry Hastings Sibley was a fur trader with the American Fur Company, the first U.S. Congressional representative for Minnesota Territory, the first governor of the state of Minnesota, and a U.S. military leader in the Dakota War of 1862 and a subsequent expedition into Dakota Territory in 1863.
Andrew McDermot was a Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) employee who became an independent fur trade merchant and member of the Council of Assiniboia.
The Red River Valley is a region in central North America that is drained by the Red River of the North; it is part of both Canada and the United States. Forming the border between Minnesota and North Dakota when these territories were admitted as states in the United States, this fertile valley has been important to the economies of these states and to Manitoba, Canada.
The Métis are Indigenous peoples in the three Prairie Provinces, as well as parts of Ontario, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories, and the Northern United States. They have a shared history and culture and are of mixed Indigenous and European ancestry which became a distinct group through ethnogenesis by the mid-18th century, during the fur trade era.
Pierre Guillaume Sayer was a Métis fur trader whose trial was a turning point in the ending of the monopoly of the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) of the fur trade in North America.
The Red River cart is a large two-wheeled cart made entirely of non-metallic materials. Often drawn by oxen, though also by horses or mules, these carts were used throughout most of the 19th century in the fur trade and in westward expansion in Canada and the United States, in the area of the Red River and on the plains west of the Red River Colony. The cart is a simple conveyance developed by Métis for use in their settlement on the Red River in what later became Manitoba. With carts, the Metis were not restricted to river travel to hunt bison. The Red River cart was largely responsible for commercializing the buffalo hunt.
Alexander Henry 'The Younger', was an early Canadian fur trader, explorer and diarist. From 1799 until his premature death in 1814 he kept an extensive diary which is the most complete record ever printed of the daily life of a fur trader in the north. His journals were an account of "personal doings", but cannot be considered a diary of inward thoughts. These journals cover everything that happened to him in a most matter-of-fact manner and have yielded much material for historians and other researchers of that time period in North American history. Henry married the daughter of Liard Ah-ne-him-ish Cottonwood Little Shell, the brother of the Great Pembina Chippewa Nation Grand Chief La Petite Coquille Little Shell I Corbeau and son of The Great Sioux Nation & The Great Pembina Chippewa Nation Wazhazha Mdewakanton Grand Chief Little Crow I Petit Corbeau Red Wing I.
Joseph Rolette was an American fur trader and politician during Minnesota's territorial era and the Civil War. His father was Jean Joseph Rolette, often referred to as Joe Rolette the Elder, a French-Canadian and trader himself. Joseph Rolette’s mother was Jane Fisher, who married Joe Rolette, Sr. in 1818 when she was either 13 or 14 years old. Jane's relatives took young Joseph to New York. Joseph's parents never divorced due to their Catholic faith, but became separated in 1836. As part of the settlement, Rolette Sr. built what is today known as the Brisbois House for his estranged wife on Water Street, St. Feriole Island, Prairie du Chien, WI.
The Red River Trails were a network of ox cart routes connecting the Red River Colony and Fort Garry in British North America with the head of navigation on the Mississippi River in the United States. These trade routes ran from the location of present-day Winnipeg in the Canadian province of Manitoba across the Canada–United States border, and thence by a variety of routes through what is now the eastern part of North Dakota and western and central Minnesota to Mendota and Saint Paul, Minnesota on the Mississippi.
By the Treaty of Old Crossing (1863) and the Treaty of Old Crossing (1864), the Pembina and Red Lake bands of the Ojibwe, then known as Chippewa Indians, purportedly ceded to the United States all of their rights to the Red River Valley. On the Minnesota side, the ceded territory included all lands lying west of a line running generally southwest from the Lake of the Woods to Thief Lake, about 30 miles (48 km) west of Red Lake, and then angling southeast to the headwaters of the Wild Rice River near the low-lying divide separating the watershed of the Red River of the North from the watershed of the Mississippi River. On the North Dakota side, the ceded territory included all of the Red River Valley north of the Sheyenne River. The total land area, roughly 127 miles (204 km) wide east to west and 188 miles (303 km) long north to south, consisted of nearly 11,000,000 acres (45,000 km2) of rich prairie land and forests.
Elzéar Goulet was a Métis leader in the Red River Colony, which later became the province of Manitoba, Canada. He was a supporter of Louis Riel's provisional government and was murdered by Canadian troops under the command of Col. Garnet Wolseley, after the suppression of the Red River Resistance.
William Kennedy was a Canadian fur trader, politician, and historian.
William Alexander Aitken, also known as William Alexander Aitkin, was a fur trader with the Ojibwe in the Upper Mississippi region. He was at first affiliated with the American Fur Company, founded by John Jacob Astor, but after 1838 he set up as an independent trader, based in St. Louis, Missouri.
Fur trading on the Assiniboine River and the general area west of Lake Winnipeg began as early as 1731.
Wahnata County was an extinct county in Minnesota Territory. Created as one of the original 9 counties in 1849, the county was dissolved in 1851.
Minnesota counties (−) (±)Kittson County, Minnesota (−) (±)1878 establishments in Minnesota (−) (±)Populated places established in 1878 (−) (±)(+)
William Morrison was a Canadian fur trader and explorer who established numerous trading posts throughout Minnesota and is claimed to have been the first white person to discover Lake Itasca in 1804.
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