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Mennonite immigration, it was not unknown to Manitobans. The Metis had regularly crossed this land en route to their annual buffalo hunts further west. One Pembina pioneer recalling the buffalo hunts of the 1860's claimed that the Metis of the Red River Settlement would join the Dakota hunters at Pembina or near the present site of Gretna."
The Gretna site might be probable in that an old fur trade and exploration route, later known as the Boundary Commission Trail or Post Road, lay just north of Gretna. Buffalo bones turned up in the old village hayland just north of the village of Reinland attest to the existence of buffalo herds in this region. 5 By 1860, however, the remaining buffalo herds were far to the west leaving most of the area between the Red River and Pembina Hills as an area to pass through.
A second trail running from Scratching River to St. Joseph (a Metis settlement founded in 1853 and now called Walhalla) also crossed the Mennonite Reserve in a north-south direction. Due to this close proximity, Metis squatters could be found on the western fringes of the Reserve for part of the year up until 1900.6
This area was also known to eastern Canadians. As early as 1857 John Palliser passed through the southern parts of the future reserve along the Pembina River, and was impressed by the fine and luxuriant prairie grass. While he was unsure as to the wheat growing potential of the region, he felt that the area was well adapted for settlement and admirably suited for grazing. 7 These findings along with reports of the commission surveying the boundary in 1872-73 were available to pro spective settlers from eastern Canada.
The prospect of settling on the treeless prairie, however, deterred the Ontario settlers who were accustomed to settling in close proximity to water and wood. Even though hundreds of settlers passed through what was to become the West Reserve and later the Rural Municipality of Rhineland in the 1870's, they did so to reach the rolling wooded terrain beyond Nelsonville and Mountain City. By 1875 a vast stretch of prairie between Emerson and Nelsonville still lay largely unsettled.
There were a number of Ontario and English settlers homesteading on township 1 range 1 east in the early 1870's, but they clung to the wooded areas by the River Aux Marais. Some of the settlers in the Pembina Hills hoped that the treeless plain would become settled in the next fifteen to twenty years, but none were willing to risk farming there themselves."
The Mennonites coming in 1875 were themselves hesitant at the prospect of settling on the open plains. Like the Ontario settlers before them, they were concerned with obtaining land with accessible wood and hay. There was a considerable delay as immigrant leaders again