Featured image: Illustration, “A Prairie Hunter of the Olden Time,” and “Prairie Hunters of the Present Time,” Harper’s Weekly (10 July 1858).
“Hunting Tour in the Western Prairies,” Nor’-Wester (9 October 1862), 3:
“The party that left this on the 22nd August, consisting of Col. Cooper and Capt. Thynne of the Grenadier Guards and Lord Dunmore and Capt. Cooper of the Fusileers, returned last Monday evening, the 6th instant, They were thus over seven weeks away. Mr. James McKay conducted them through their adventures, and did his part as companion and guide with that exquisite thoroughness and perfection that has long won for him the title of ‘Prince of Travellers’ Mr. McKay had five good men, and any number of horses and other etceteras requisite for a hunting tour of the first class.The original intention was to go to the Cypress Hills; but, even before starting, Mr. McKay was not very sanguine of accomplishing the journey, as the time was somewhat limited—the officers having to report at headquarters in Canada by the 2d November. Other circumstances also contributed to render the first plan not feasible. Their course was by Beaver Creek. At this point Lord Dunmore took ill, and the party was there delayed three days. It was expected that Lord Milton’s party might come up to them: in which case, the services of his physician would have been available for Lord Dunmore. As they did not arrive, however, after a three-days’ delay, they started. It afterwards turned out that Lord Milton’s party was eight days behind, although they left Fort Garry the same day as the heroes of this sketch. Leaving Fort Ellis, they pushed forward to the Qu’Appelle Lakes intending to go to the South Branch of the Saskatchewan. At these lakes, however, word came that there was a large war party ahead on their course. This was a band of Crees, Assiniboine, Young Dogs, and a few half-Cree Chippeways—in all about 950 tents. They were from the district around Carlton, Fort Pitt, Touchwood Hills, and Qu’Appelle Post. These allied bands were going to war with the redoubtable Blackfeet, and were by no means safe ‘customers’ for so small a party. The men were quite prepared to go on to the South Branch, if the officers of the Guards so chose. It was a question for consideration. After taking the night to ponder the matter, they concluded with deep regret that they would have to forego their long-cherished desire to see the farfamed South Branch and run buffalo on its banks. So, from the Qu’Appelle lakes, they changed their course and went to the Bruised Shell (four days’ journey): thence, turned southward to the Grand Couteau, and on to the Souris River. At the Coteau, they met in with immense herds of Buffalo—thousand on thousands of them—and here the Grenadier and Fusileers ‘ran’ to their hearts’ content, the sport, was new and was greatly enjoyed. From where they struck the Souris River, they followed it down to the Long Creek. Here, they fell in with a large body of Assiniboine—60 tents of them—and had to manage with great skill and courage to escape being plundered or killed. It was a foggy morning, and they were encamped on the side of a hill, when Mr. McKay’s eagle eye espied at a small distance on the other side of the hill, the immense stir and bustle so characteristic of Indian encampments.
The moment was a critical one. Were they to ‘run for it’ and try to escape unobserved or were they to take the risk and chance of boldly plunging into the midst of the savage horde? After some parleying, and amid not a little sensation, it was resolved to face the danger in a manly way. They charged their guns, pistols, and revolvers, and made every preparation possible. They took into account possible trouble and counted well the cost and started. As good fortune would have it Mr. McKay knew the principal brave in the camp, as well as many of the underlings. He had traded with them at Fort Ellis, and had been always a favorite. There was, thus, one guarantee for safety, but how different it might have been, had he not been there, or had some rash person been in his place! In truth it is admitted by all that but for him, the Indians would have robbed them, and if resistance had been offered, bloodshed must have ensued. Our Red River readers are aware that, immediately after the Gold Expeditions started from here last June, a party of Americans passed through St. Joseph, in 60 waggons, for Oregon or British Columbia. They were taking Governor Steven’s route, which led to the Yellowstone, on the Missouri River, and Fort Benton, and thence across the Rocky Mountains. Well, this party was plundered by the very Assiniboines, in whose camp our hunting-gentlemen were now smoking the peace calumet. The principal brave told Mr. McKay that they had robbed them of almost everything—knives, guns, flour, &c., and that they would do the same with every party that would hereafter pass through their territory.
The name of the chief was Redstone; but the spokesman, as already intimated, was his head-brave. This is, in fact, the general, though not the universal, custom among Indians. The Chief preserves a profound silence, while important conferences are being held with strangers, while the head of his staff does the speaking. This personage, on this occasion, held forth in the following strain: “You, gentlemen, must be rich. You can afford to come far on a pleasure tour, and it is, therefore, no great hardship on you, if we insist on your giving us something, especially when in enjoying yourselves, you impoverish us.” “See,” said the brave grasping the skin of his warrior-breast, “See here, this is all that I have in the world, all that I have to cover me, and it is a hard struggle to feed my poor children; and you who have plenty, come out here and shoot down the animals on which we depend—you take the food out of the mouths of our children—injuring us most seriously, and all merely for your own passing pleasures. Some of you are Halfbreeds and natives, the rest Englishmen. The latter we would not willingly harm, and the former we regard as out countrymen—born of the soil and having some of the same blood that flows in out veins. These we cannot and will not harm, they have the same right on these prairies as ourselves. If I kill a buffalo, they can claim one half, and I the other. They can have half of everything. But, though Englishmen would receive injury at our hands only amid our most profound sorrow, we must warn them and all other foreigners off our hunting-grounds. We have to do it—we must do it—for our lives depend on it, and the lives of our children and their descendants. We let you pass this time for the reasons already given, and also out of respect to our good friend and father (referring to Mr. McKay) whom we formerly knew as an honest, upright friend to our tribe; but never come here again. It is our firm determination to rob or shoot all intruders who may hereafter disturb our humble patrimony, our fathers’ hunting-ground.” So spoke the brave, with remarkable fluency and with strong emotion. His breast heaved and his bright black eyes flashed as he poured forth his feelings of bitter indignation that men who have and to spare at home should come into their country and wantonly shoot their animals for pleasure’s sake. “What would you think,” he added, “if we went to your country, killed your cattle and destroyed your grain for mere pleasure’s sake? Would you not retaliate and shoot us down? Well, good friends, you understand our feelings. We feel sore. Never come again; and make known to all whom it may concern, that we are resolved to defend out territory hereafter against intruders. This is the last time. There must be an end to all this wanton useless destruction.”
So our friends got away. To show the good discipline that reigned in that camp, we might mention the following incident: just as they were going to leave, Mr. McKay discovered that one axe was a-missing. He represented to the head men that he did not wish to be robbed, and he was sure they were too honorable to allow him to be so shabbily dealt with. At once, there was a vigorous search and the culprit was discovered—the axe was delivered, and off came the party, after purchasing some curious pipes and arrows. From the Long Creek, they cut across the country to Grand Coteau again, once more to enjoy the buffalo hunt. This time, they returned to the Souris River. On this journey, a remarkable scene met their view. The White Horse Plain people that were killed this summer by the Sioux lay in their path. The party came upon the cart which the unfortunates abandoned in the Riviere des Lacs, in their attempted flight. This stream flows into the Souris River, near the Grand Canyon. Here a few of the White Horse Plain brigade had lingered, hunting with some Halfbreeds from Fort Ellis—their own comrades having already started on their return to this place. Those killed were a man usually called ‘Old Jewish’ and his son, a lad of 14 years of age, and Corbeau’s wife—four in all. The first three were killed while straggling away from the camp, in quest of wood, the last-mentioned in camp, afterwards. For no sooner had the Sioux killed the three stragglers than they rushed upon the camp and attacked it. This woman was holding an infant child at the time, and in her anxiety to save its life, she had all the time kept her back to the enemy. She received a bullet ‘in the back’ but not as among Roman soldiers, with disgrace, for a nobler sentiment than fear made her turn her back. When the three were killed, a fourth Baptiste Ledoux was wounded and escaped by cutting the horse’s harness of him and making away on horseback. These details they learned from the St. Joseph hunters whom they met on the Souris River.
The Riviere des Lacs they followed down to the Souris River, hunting Red deer on the way. Thence they struck for the Turtle mountain, and came home by stone Lake and Pembina. On their tour they killed bears, moose, red-deer, and cabris, besides buffalo, wolves, and a host of the commoner animals. There was no accident but one—Capt. Cooper fell with his horse, while chasing a wolf, and was senseless for about ten minutes—and no illness but that of Lord Dunmore at Fort Ellis already mentioned The tour was a most pleasant one, and will long be remembered by the distinguished officers who enjoyed it.”