1861, Contemporary News and a Retrospective View of 1826

Featured image: Antoine-Louis Barye, watercolour and pencil, “Group of bison,” (c. 1810–1875). Source: Internet Archive/ Metropolitan Museum of Art.

[Donald Gunn],“History of the Red River Settlement, Sixth Paper,” Nor’-Wester (15 April 1861), 3:

“… 1826. As early as the month of January, reports had reached the Colony, that, in consequence of the unparalleled quantity of snow in the upper country, the plains hunters wintering out there, were starving; but such reports being as frequently false as true passed unheeded for some time. About the middle of February, however, evidence had accumulated of so unmistakable a character, that Governor Mackenzie was induced to send off parties with provisions and clothing for the sufferers. At this trying moment, all depended upon the officers of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Liberal contributions were certainly made by Messrs. Ross, McDermot, and Bourke—who were at that time in partnership, and doing business at Pembina—but of course the chief burden dell on the Hudson’s Bay Company, and right nobly did they administer to the wants of the destitute and dying. These were about 100 and 150 miles beyond Pembina, and the only practicable mode of conveyance was by means of ‘flat sleds’ and dogs. The labour was thus tedious and difficult, and the expense great; but everything was done that was possible for man and beast, and the despatch and diligence were such as to save hundreds of lives that must otherwise have been lost. Sympathy was strong among the colonists too, and private liberality contributed all that limited resources could spare.

The scenes of distress among the starving families can be better imagined than described. The disaster began in December. About the 20th of that month, there was a fearful snow-storm, such as had never been witnessed before. This storm, which lasted several days, drove off the the [sic] buffalo and killed most of the hunters’ horses. Owing to its suddenness, and the almost instantaneous disappearance of horses and buffalo together, no one was prepared for the inevitable famine which followed. The hunters, too, were so scattered, that they could not render each other any assistance or even, in some cases discover each other’s whereabouts. Some were never found by anybody. Others, despairing of life, huddled together for warmth, but, in too many cases, their shelter proved their grave. Others, again, were picked up along the road to Pembina—they having made fruitless efforts to reach that place. Those that were found alive had devoured what horses the storm left them, their dogs, raw hides, and their very shoes. So reduced were they, that some of them died on their way to the Colony, even though supplies had come to them. After much labour, anxiety, and expense, the survivors were safely lodged in the Settlement, to be there supplied with the comforts they so much needed, and which, a few weeks before, they affected to despise. The total number of lives lost was 33! …”

“The Sioux on the War-path,” Nor’-Wester (1 August 1861), 2:

“The Summer Buffalo Hunt,” Nor’-Wester (1 August 1861), 2:

“Some of the hunters have returned to Pembina from the summer hunt, and through them we learn that the ‘running’ has been most successful this season. The buffalo were first found by this party at the Badger Hills, some two and a half days march beyond the Pembina Mountain, and here they had some profitable ‘runs.’ At the little Souris they came upon great herds of buffalo, 900 of which they slaughtered in the first race. After an interval of a day, the chase was renewed at the same place, when about the same number were shot down. Still the buffalo kept within sight, grazing almost within gunshot at times. Altogether during the seven or eight days they camped here they ran eight or nine times making a total of twelve runs up to the time our informant left,—and as the buffalo were numerous, and the hunters fortunate much more pemican has been made than is usual at such an early period. It is said there was no one in the brigade but made pemican. They encountered a tremendous hail storm at this place. The hail stones were extraordinarily large and came down with such force as to kill some of the colts in camp. Five or six hundred Assiniboines, Crees and Chippewas, tented alongside the Halfbreeds, hunting feasting and preparing themselves by religious ceremonies for their anticipated fight with the Sioux. To keep their hands in practice, they occasionally stole a horse or two from the camp of their neighbors—the indulgence of which peculiarity generally resulted in a demand for restitution on the part of the owners and the profession of an astonishing degree of innocence on the part of the thieves, which was, of course, followed by the production of the horse. The hunters are expected in three or four days.

The other party going in the direction of Beaver Creek have also been heard from, and are said to have found the game quite as numerous as the hunters in Dacotah.”

“Buffalo Hunt,” Nor’-Wester (1 November 1861), 2:

“The hunters have been coming in during the past few days, from their third and last trip of this season. This is what is commonly known as the ‘green meat party,’—those who go for fresh, in contradistinction from the dried meat and pemican. They have only been three weeks away, and have come heavily laden with ‘cow’s meat.’ We are happy to hear of such abundance. Our grain crop is rather scrimp this year, and it is well that meat provisions are plentiful.

This will still further depress the farmers’ market, which is very low already. Scarcely any beef, mutton or pork can be sold, as it is, although prices are at the lowest possible. Flour is the only article that is saleable. Red River has never been better cleared of money than at present.”

Go It Doctor

Illustration, “Go It Doctor!” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine 38, 224 (January 1869), 156.

“The Fall Hunt,” Nor’-Wester (15 November 1861), 2:

“A gentleman, joining in the late hunt, has kindly furnished us with some particulars respecting it. From the Pembina Mountain the usual rendezvous, the hunters set off, about the middle of Sept.—105 riders and some 600 carts under the leadership of Mr. Wm. Hallett. The holding of a grand peace Conference with the Mettonaka (The Medicine Bear) a Sioux chief, was one of their first performances. He was attended by a dozen warriors, who all came to lend a hand to the pacification. There was plenty of smoke and palaver, and many were the pledges of amity exchanged. Buffalo were not found in any numbers till the hunters came near the Little Souris, where they had six races, in which 500 buffalo were killed. There they stopped a week making pemican, in full view of great numbers of wolves, who were prowling about in large numbers and with such audacity, that dozens were seen at a time, not half a mile from the camp. About 400 of these gentry were caught on the trip. Two days subsequently the hunters divided into two bands. One section of about 40 riders and 300 carts, went towards the Devil’s Lake, in the neighborhood of which they ran several herds of buffalo. Six hundred fine cows were killed, whereupon the bull’s meat which they had previously loaded up, was thrown away to the wolves. Scratched faces, sprains, contusions of all kinds, and dislocated shoulders fell to the lot of numbers of hunters. He was a bold rider and had an extra fine horse, who escaped performing a somerset in these wild, reckless races over ground, honeycombed with badger and fox holes and crannies of all sorts and sizes.

Lord Milton, J.D. Gemmill, M. La Grange and other gentlemen-riders were among the hunters; and although novices at this sport, acquitted themselves well, and carry home with them some fine trophies of the chase. A noticeable feature in this expedition is that the signal flag carried a Union Jack—a very pretty piece of bunting—which floated over the Bonsecours Market, Montreal, on the occasion of the Prince of Wales visit to the city. It was presented to the hunters by Mr. Gremmill.”

[See also N. Hall, “Flags and the Red River Resistance,” Provisional Government of Assiniboia: Acknowlefging the Contribution of Original North American Peoples to the Creation of Manitoba website (posted 8 July 2012; revised 11 September 2014).]

Illustration. “Making for a Tree,” Harper’s Weekly (28 March 1874).

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