They thought they were seeing an apparition on their way to their new homeland. Legend has it that as the Chippewa moving from the eastern Great Lakes came up from south the landform now known as Turtle Mountain appeared on the horizon like a turtle with the head pointing west and the tail to the east. In what became a fascinating cultural mosaic, French Canadian fur traders had pushed into the same area long before Lewis and Clark set foot here. They married into Native American families whose blended children became known as the Metis. The landscape of the Turtle Mountain Scenic Byway is as wide-ranging and varied as the culture that surrounds it. Tranquil marshlands teaming with waterfowl and migratory birds, enchanting grasslands filled with bison and other wildlife and a series of sparkling lakes dotting heavy forests, cover the “turtleback” hills. Scooped-out lakes created by receding glaciers gouged the ground while the materials they were pushing piled up elsewhere, leaving behind terrain elevated to 400 feet. In some areas, dense, brushy hills are forested with poplar, birch, oak willow, and aspen. In others, the landscape is flat with glacial till, prairie grasslands, and shallow ponds.
Meandering at the foot of Turtle Mountain, it is fitting for a land in which there was so much strife, land grabbing, trading clashes and other disruptions that spanned the border between the United States and Canada, the International Peace Garden was established to celebrate the now peaceful border and relations between both countries.
Today, the Turtle Mountain Chippewa community along the Byway is a vibrant multi-cultural community intertwined with traditions from both the Ojibwe (Chippewa is a derivative) and the Metis. During the long history of intermarriage dating back to the 1600s, the Metis adopted parts of Native American culture, coupled with European traditions gained from their French and British ancestors. By 1800, these industrious and adaptable people had gained fame for their Red River Carts, wagon trains that served as the freightliners of the early 19th century plains, connecting the major cities of the Northwest before the railroads came. Among the exquisite natural landscapes, you can still here the fiddles, accordions and the jaw harp that still express the musical sounds of these multicultural people.