For over two centuries, the North American fur trade brought Indians and Euro-Canadians together in the mutual enterprise of exchanging Native trapped furs for European manufactured goods. By the 1790s, the Montreal-based North West Company had extended its fur trade network from the St. Lawrence River valley to beyond the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
Scattered across a vast network of waterways were over 100 wintering posts, each located near Indian hunting and trapping camps that were the main source of furs.
In the fall of 1804, John Sayer, a wintering partner of the North West Company and his crew of èngage departed from Fort St. Louis, near modern day Superior, Wis. They traveled up the Brule, portaged over the height of land, canoed down the St. Croix River and up the Snake River, arriving at Cross Lake, near modern Pine City, Minn. Sayer originally intended to build a post near Cross Lake. The location for his wintering operations changed to a site two miles upriver, however, after he conferred with local Ojibwe leaders.
The lateness of the season necessitated a hurried construction of a wintering post. Sayer's eight voyageurs completed the project over the next six weeks and, on November 20th, "the Doors of the Fort where fixd & Shut." During this period, Sayer's attention was on the busy fall trade season. He traded for surplus wild rice and provided credits to the area's beaver hunters. These credits were to be paid off in the spring with furs before the NorWesters departed for the annual rendezvous. Sayer's journal shows, "April 27th "pack'd up all our Baggage & at 2 PM embark'd."