Featured Image: photograph of bison in snow, Report of the American Bison Society 1905–1907 (1908), viii.
Excerpt from Donald Gunn, “History of the Red River, or Selkirk Settlement,” Nor’-Wester (3 April 1869), 3:
Describing the newly-arrived Selkirk Settlers’ winter experience in 1812–1813:
“… [A] small increase of numbers [in Selkirk Settler arrivals] added to Governor McDonell’s difficulties; provisions were not easily obtained at Fort Douglas [near the Forks of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers], and in consequence they could not remain together at headquarters. The colonists, after remaining a short time at the Governor’s residence, had to raise their camp before the winter set in and remove to Pembina to be within easy reach of the buffalo; the only source whence they expected to draw their supply of provisions for the now fast approaching winter; To Pembina they went, and in conjunction with his Lordship’s servants, built a few huts which they surrounded with a low stockade, and dignified the place with the honourable name of Daer. In the beginning of winter, scarcity of food began to be felt, and stern necessity compelled the new comers to separate; some went up to the post on Turtle river, others had to take to the plain and join the few men who were hunting the buffalo on those treeless wastes, and encamped along the different streams that flow into the Red river from the West.
The traders at that time were accustomed to hire hunters who supplied them with provisions. These hunters were either Indians or freemen; and at some forts freemen and Indians; when thus employed by the traders, each hunter had commonly a Company’s servant placed with him, whose duty was to receive the carcases from the hunter, to draw in the meat to a stage erected near the hunters lodge and to keep account of the number of animals, or carcasses, which he received, The meat on the stage that winter often drawn in to the Fort by men; at times by horses and dogs. Each buffalo, moose or red deer [elk] was valued at so many skins, and each skin was valued at so many shillings, Halifax currency; although most commonly paid for in merchandise. The Colony people, (or Hudson’s Nay people), for I believe they may be considered as one, were not furnished with a sufficient number of horses and dogs to draw in all the provisions required by the people at the Fort; and it has been related. that it was no uncommon sight to see from eight to twelve men harnessed like bests of burden to a huge horse sled loaded with (frozen) buffalo flesh, or meat. These poor men labored under great and nearly insurmountable difficulties, often travelling for days without snow shoes, through deep and loose snow; unaccustomed to the climate; always exposed to intense cold, and not infrequently overtaken on the plains by high winds and snow, which in a dew minutes fill the air with drift, leaving the traveller no alternative but of burying himself in a snow bank or freezing to death.
When these parties took their loads and turned for the fort they tugged for days at their unwieldy burdens. It is true, every meal lessened their freight, so much so, that when the distance was great, all they brought to the fort was very little more than would be required to feed themselves until they should return to the hunting tents again. So that those who resided at the fort fared but indifferently.
In their distress during that winter; the North-west Compan’y [sic] servants generously supplied them often with provision, and without such help some of the Colonists, and even some of the [Hudson’s Bay] Company’s servants would have perished with hunger.”
See also “Excerpts from Donald Gunn, History of Manitoba from the earliest settlement to 1835 by the late Hon. Donald Gunn, and from the admission of the province into the Dominion by Charles R. Tuttle (Ottawa: MacLean, Roger & Co., 1880),” posted on March 8, 2017.
Excerpt, “Information Wanted,” Nor’-Wester (10 April 1869), 1:
Excerpt from Donald Gunn, “History of the Red River, or Selkirk Settlement,” Nor-Wester (17 August 1869): 1:
Describing the newly-arrived Selkirk settlers’ winter experience in 1815–1816:
“… it was on the last night of the old year that the first fall of snow took place. Before this, many of the settlers, young and old, had to leave [Fort Daer] Pembina and to pass on toward Devil’s Lake where the freemen were hunting the buffalo. Fortunately for these wandered [the Selkirk Settlers] his Lordship had engaged to deed them for a term of fifteen or sixteen months or until they might reasonably expect to raise something for their subsistence from the soil. But the buffalo kept during thee mid-winter far out on the plains, so that the settlers had hard work to carry their tents on their backs [and] even a very scanty supply of food to support their families. Those at Fort Daer had to undergo greater toils and privations, all the food they could obtain had to be carried on men’s backs, at least over a distance of one hundred miles; at the hunting tents each man had to take one hundred lbs. of green buffalo beef on his back, and on top of that as much as would be considered necessary for his food by the way. The labor was new to many; the loads were heavy, the days were short—so much time was spent in returning that during the last few days of the trip hunger often compelled them to take liberties with that portion of their loads which they were expected to take undiminished to the fort, but all that could be taken to the place by that mode of conveyance was so trifling that it barely suffered to keep the few who could not go to the plains, from perishing of hunger. Those who remained at Fort Douglas [near the Forks of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers]fared still worse than those who were at Pembina. … When these families [left to relocate to Pembina and] arrived at Fort Daer there was not food enough at the place to enable those who were there to furnish them a supper. However, though unusually late, the snow fell at last. Horse and dog trains were called into operation and provisions were dragged to the Fort with greater facility and in greater quantities. The cattle were very scarce and the freemen’s horses became too poor to chase the buffalo, so that the hunters had to forego their service, and approach the buffalo by crawling; a very disagreeable mode of hunting, and far less successful than that of running the animals and killing them on horseback. An expert hunter mounted on a strong swift horse often at one race kills from four to eight, but when the hunter crawls to the herd and fires his first shot, the whole band become alarmed and throw their tails over their backs, scamper away seldom leaving the hunter the chance of a second shot at them that day. All who went to the plains in December had to travel on foot, and many of those who were then blooming maids in their teens and who are now grave and aged matrons shudder at this distant date, on recounting the miseries which they endured passing over the plains to their wintering ground; and after their arrival there their condition was far from being enviable; not altogether like the Gibeonites [sic: Gideonites] of old, reduced to the condition of hewers of wood and drawers of water, but closely approximating to that unhappy condition, the objects of those rude and savage people’s contempt. But during the winter and spring, many of the young men acquired some skill in approaching the buffalo, and being tolerable good marksmen, were able to provide to some extent for themselves which rendered them less dependent on the exertions of their hosts, and inclined the latter to form a more favorable opinion of their pale faced quests and to treat them with more respect.
Thus the winter of 1815 and ’16 was passed …”
Advertisement, “Furs and Buffalo Ropes [sic: Robes]. A. Moore,” Nor’-Wester (7 September 1869), 4:
“Prospects of the Fur Crop,” Nor’-Wester (26 October 1869), 4:
Advertisement, “J.C. Kennedy,” Nor’-Wester (23 November 1869), 3:
“Supplement: A Curiosity,” response to letter by A.M. in the Hamilton ON Times, printed in the Red River Nor’-Wester and Pioneer (23 November 1869), 5:
“As for [allegations of] the French half-breeds having no farms for a distance of ‘fifty miles long the Red River,’ it is a falsehood. They have plenty of farms, and fine ones too; and as for those who do not farm, they have always hitherto been occupied during the summer in the manufacture of pemican, an article which for consumption in the interior has no equal in nutriment and strength giving qualities, Pemican is the most nutritious portion of the bufflo, the moose, or the deer, preserved in a very portable form, and always ready for consumption. Our French fellow Colonist is not at all to be despised because he has not tilled the ground as much as others of us. He has sought out the occupation which has best suited his tastes, and hitherto that occupation has been almost as necessary for this Settlement has that of the farmer.
In conclusion we would warn our Canadian readers to beware of such letter writers as A.M. He is one of a class who speak of what they know very little about.”
Excerpts, H. McKenney, “Red River Market Report,” Red River Pioneer (1 December 1869), 3: