1930s’ stories about 1850-60s’ hunting, and another story originating c. 1820

Featured image: John Arnot Fleming, “Prairie Portage,” in Henry Youle Hind, Narrative of the Canadian Red river exploring expedition of 1857, and of the Assinniboine and Saskatchewan exploring expedition of 1858 (London: Longman Green, Longman and Roberts, 1860), 145.

Excerpt from George William Sanderson, “Through Memories Window.” As told to Mary Sophia Desmarais Campbell in 1834-1935-1936. Archives of Manitoba, MG 9 A107, manuscript.

“I began my ‘bon voyage’ Sept 29, 1846, at or near Port Nelson, Hudson’s Bay. My grandfather had come from Scotland with the Hudson’s Bay Company when a young man. My father was also an employee of the company. … When my father’s term with the Hudson’s Bay Co. expired, he and my mother decided to return to the Red River Settlement, near where they had previously lived. … (my mother, who during our lifetime together, had always been my very best friend, counselor, and guide, was Elizabeth Anderson, a daughter of John Anderson also a native born Manitoban) … My poor father was drowned whilst taking one of the boats over a dangerous point. My mother and we children were going along the shore, when suddenly he disappeared and was never seen again. That was a long time ago, but to this  day I cannot look at a man rowing a boat.

When we reached our destination my mother and family settled down at Red River but not for long, the settlement was getting over crowded. My mothers father with his seven sons and sons-in-law, and their families and Mr. Peter Whitford with all his sons and daughters moved west to what is now Portage La Prairie [see image above]. … I can remember quite well at our first stopping place that they arranged the Red River Carts to form a barricade. My grandfather told us children to be quiet and stay where we ere told to, and we had to mind too.

… They all settled along the Assiniboine River and among these settlers I grew to manhood. My mother remarried, her husband was William Sutherland, a son of Cpt. Sutherland of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Among my boyhood chums were Adams, Demers, Foulds, Birds, Whitfords, Pochas, and Andersons.

… Buffalo meat was our chief article of food. Every summer for weeks at a time the settlers moved to the plains and killed buffalo, dried the meat and made pemmican of some of it. They sold the robes to the Hudson’s Bay Co. I have been told that when the hunter first began to chase the buffalo any old horse would do, but in later years one had to have a very swift horse. It took a good rider and a man had to be quick to kill a buffalo. The guns were all muzzle loaders and the rider carried a powder horn on his right side, a shot or bullet pouch on the other, and the gun caps in his waist coat pocket. The bullets for immediate use he held in his mouth, The horses were well trained and could be guided by the motions and gestures, or leaning of the riders body. Being a cripple I had to forego the pleasures of the hunt, but I went often to the plains with my parents and saw the buffalo hunt and helped cut and dry the meat.

Once only did I ride after buffalo. My chum Jimmy Adams and I rode together, when we got near the … buffalo I looked at Jimmy and he had his mouth open, laughing at the old bulls running. I had to laugh too and dropped the bullets out of my mouth, consequently neither of us fired a shot. The Pochas, father and seven sons were at that hunt and it was a pleasure to see how they could handle their guns and horses. Talk about your moving pictures, I can shut my eyes yet and see in memory what the screen could not portray.

When a Frenchman took his boy out to teach him to hunt he got along side of the boy and his horse and whipped the horse, if the boy showed any signs of cowardice or fright he laid the whip on him too. Consequently the French were good hunters. I only know of one occasion where a buffalo bull attacked a hunter. He turned around and before it could be prevented he ran one of his horns into the breast of a young Indian, lifted him right off the horse and ran away with him on his horns. He must have got his horn upward under the lads ribs. In the excitement of the chase no one took any notice of the accident. I will never understand why they were so careless or callous. When the chase was over they began to look for the poor lads body and though they rode about for miles they could not locate it anywhere.


Stereoscope card, “The Famous American Bison that once roamed,” (New York NY: Keystone View Company, n.d.).

A herd of buffalo was a fine sight, the cows with their calves, the magnificent bulls, and a few steers [males without testicles] among them. An Indian told me that those steers had been the victims of an attack by wolves on the calves. Wolves were plentiful those days and it would have been an easy matter for them to maim a calf.

Buffalo were not easy to domesticate. Suza Pocha once brought a calf home from the plains. It was never contented with the other cattle, always wandering away. Once all the cattle from the settlement went about twelve miles away led by Suza’s buffalo calf. There was quite a to do over it. The old women were afraid they would lose their few cows, so indignantly they ordered Suza to butcher his buffalo calf, which he did.

… I never did see a real battle between the Indians and French but I was told of many by grandparents. I am sorry I did not remember more, my grandmother Anderson [Marie Anne Desmarais] was a French girl and here is a story she told me when I was a boy.

‘When I was quite young, about fifteen we were out buffalo hunting somewhere near the Quapelle [sic: Qu’Appelle] Valley. There were in our outfit about twenty white men, a few Cree Indians, several women and children. I had to help cut the meat and hand [sic: hang] it up to dry. One evening we could see five horsemen on a hill in the distance, my father, who was acting foreman of the outfit on that trip sent two of our own men to go and see who they were. When they reached them they learned that they were Blackfeet and seemed to be quite friendly. They invited them to their camp for supper, one of the lads did not want to go but the other was quite willing, so as he did not wish to desert his friend he went too. When the supper was over every one seemed to be talking at once. A young woman singing to her baby in French said “Go away as quickly as you can and warn your people, there is treachery afoot, they intend to murder you all while you are asleep” This girl had been stolen when a child by the Blackfeet and had a habit of singing French songs to herself. One lad said to the other one, “let us make a rush for our horses”, the other said, “there is no danger, I won’t go yet” so he stayed and was never seen by his friend again. The other one rushed for his horse got safely back to camp and gave the warning, so when the Blackfeet came at mid-night they were cut down like grass, our men were ready for them on all sides. Early next morning we could see what was left, them rolling their dead into water, they probably thought that by doing so we could not take their dirty scalps.’

… Another time out on the plains after buffalo, Uncle David [Bow/ Sanderson] took another of his jealous fits, I don’t know how the trouble started, he was in the tent quite close when suddenly we heard him yelling for ‘Marak’ (that was king [sic: kind] of a pet name he had for her). He was shouting ‘Marak, Marak, come quickly, Oh Marak bring the powder horn quick, I am poisoned’, the old fool had taken a dose of poison that he kept for poisoning wolves. Of course Marie hurried, got him his powder horn and a cup of water, he poured about half a cup of gun powder into the cup, filled it with water and drank it. I expect that cured him in more ways than one for I never again heard of Uncle David being jealous.”


Postcard, “Monarchs of the Plains,” (Rapid City SD: Rushmore Photo Co., 1915).

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