Featured image: George Seton, watercolour, “Buffalo Hunter’s Camp,” dated 5 May 1858. Source: Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1950-63-1.6R.
Advertisement, Nor’-Wester (28 March, April, and May 1860):
“The Fur Trade. Return of the Hunters,” Nor’-Wester (14 May 1860), 3:
“The busy season of the fur-merchant is close at hand. Many of the traders and hunters have already arrived with the furs they have been able to collect during the winter, and their number is being increased every day with fresh arrivals. On the whole, they appear to have done tolerably well. The principal traffic has been in buffalo robes, the finer furs being somewhat scarce. The fur-trade is no longer monopolised by the Hudson’s Bay Company. Although they may claim the exclusive right, under their charter, to hunt and to traffic with the Indians, that right has not of late years been enforced. And hundreds of private individuals every winter pitch their tents on the plains, and hunt their food, and trap, and barter for furs for the American and European markets. These persons resolve themselves into two classes—the hunter, who follows the pursuits both of bartering for furs and hunting for them—in most cases doing very little in either line of business; and the ‘freeman,’ who confines himself almost exclusively to the trade of selling goods to the Indians, receiving their furs in payment—a profitable occupation, as the many who have become independent thereby can fully testify. The expeditions generally leave the settlement in the month of September and return in May or the beginning of June. The valley of the Saskatchewan is the principal field of their operations, and here they keep up a brisk competition with the Company. Among civilised men, competition is said to be the life of the trade. But here, if it is continued on the same principle as that on which it is now conducted, it will before long prove its death: for the abominable fire-water which forms so large a proportion of the value of the white man’s commodities, will leave no Indians to carry on the traffic. The Indians are fully sensible of the low depths of degradation to which they are being sunk by the introduction of spirituous liquors into their country, and bitterly complain of being subjected to temptations which they are helpless to resist. It is really distressing to see so interesting a race of people hopelessly debased in order to satisfy the cupidity of a few unprincipled traders, and we earnestly hope that the Fur-Trade Council will not close its session next month without doing something to check this disgraceful traffic.
This year the majority of the hunters and traders wintered between the Missouri and the Touchwood Hills, having started too late to enable them to proceed onward in the direction of the Rocky Mountains. The country which is richest in the fur-bearing animals is that further north; but its distance from the Settlements and the extreme cold, leave the Company in undisputed sway. The Indians are getting wary of the hunters, who, they say, drive away the buffalo by running them on horseback. They gave them free liberty to hunt, Indian fashion—that is by creeping stealthily up to the animals and then firing; forbidding them, however, to chase the buffalo with horses. Some of the hunters, therefore, unaccustomed to this mode of attack, have made but little by their expedition. The main body of the party who have already returned, are a present camped at the White Horse Plains, where they are holding out for higher prices than the Company (who are their chief customers) seem disposed to give; although it is said that they will purchase the furs at any rates rather than allow them to fall into the hands of other speculators. In the absence of transactions, it is not possible to give other than an approximate tariff; appending the prices stated by the Montreal Commercial Review to prevail at St. Paul and Montreal respectively. Our rates are given in sterling money—those of the foreign markets in dollars and cents:
We would supplement the above lists by stating that buffalo robes in bundles unassorted may be bought her for about £[illegible: 5.30.02? 5.00.02?].”
“The Summer Buffalo Hunt,” Nor’-Wester (14 June 1860), 2:
“The last of the carts left a few days ago for the summer buffalo hunt on the Western prairies. From what we can learn, the expedition is not quite so large this season as it has been in years gone by, many of the hunters reserving themselves for the ‘dry meat hunt’ in the autumn. Mr. Chapin, an American gentleman whose arrival with Mr. Kittson we noticed a short time ago, forms one of the present party. It is reported that the Sioux Indians are peaceably disposed, and will offer no obstacle to the half-breed hunters penetrating their country.”
Notice, Nor’-Wester (14 June 1860), 2:
“Back from the Plains,” Nor’-Wester (14 July 1860), 3:
“A few of the plain-hunters who left the Settlement about a month ago, returned this week. They belonged to the main-river party; but did not continue with it over a few days after reaching the buffalo, which were so plentiful that the plains were literally covered with them. In two or three ‘runs’ the hunters shot enough of the game to load their carts. The main body are expected to arrive here shortly. While on this trip, they fell in with a large band of Sioux near Devil’s Lake; it was supposed they could not have numbered less than 1,000 fighting men. This formidable body continued alongside of them for several days, and many were the interlocutions before a proper understanding could be come to. Suspicions and counter-suspicions being at length quieted, the peace concluded last winter at Fort Garry was confirmed and acted upon. It was stipulated, however, that there should be no sly approaches to each other’s camps by night, and that if any infringed this rule, those molested were at liberty to shoot the culprits. On the day of parting, the Halfbreeds made some presents to the Sioux chiefs, and so there will be good feeling at least for this year, The White Horse Plain hunters refused to make any peace last winter, fearing that it would, on the part of the Sioux, be simply masked treachery. Consequently, the Sioux are at liberty to act with or against them, as they please. When the main-river party left, the Sioux set out to find the White Horse Plain folks and offer them terms of peace and friendship or—do something worse. Our informants add, that some disease had broken out in the Sioux camp which was attended with fearful results—about fifty having died in less than a month. Not long before, these Sioux had obtained from the United States officials on the frontier a large quantity of goods which they believed contained (whether designedly or not) the elements of that destructive disease. It adds to a conviction which they have long cherished, that the Yankees would like very well to see them thinned, if not exterminated, and would even help in securing that object.”
“The Summer Hunt,” Nor’-Wester (14 August 1860), 2:
“[I]n another part of to-fay’s paper will be found a well-written article, the first of two communications to the columns of The Nor’-Wester, on the subject of the buffalo-hunt. The party to which our contributor was attached was what is known as the ‘main-river band,’ and was made up almost exclusively of hunters and their families residing on the Red River between Fort Garry and Pembina. Another expedition—the ‘White Horse Plain Hunters’—taking its name from the district in which its ranks are for the most part filled, but including also many others living on the Assiniboine from its mouth to Portage la Prairie, its most remote settlement—went out about the same time; with what success we have not yet heard. It should be remarked that there are two seasons for hunting the buffalo—summer and autumn. Of the beef killed in the summer, a small quantity is dried in thin strips, and the remainder chopped up very small and made into pemican—a highly concentrated and healthy food, much used by travellers and by the laboring part of the Red River population: whilst the cattle killed in the autumn are preserved fresh, by the action of frost, throughout the winter. Hence, the former is called the ‘dried meat hunt,’ and the latter the ‘green-meat hunt.’ The flesh of the beast derived from the summer chase is turned to the most profitable account; on the other hand, the skin is more valuable in autumn, the animal at that time putting on his warm, thick coat to protect himself from the rigors of winter. The quantity of buffalo-meat annually slaughtered and cured throughout the country for pemican is something surprising. The Indians draw from the chase their sole supplies. The Hudson’s Bay Company’s servants on the Saskatchewan have little else to depend upon, and when, as last year, this source fails them, are reduced to short rations of horse-steaks and boiled dog. And, as we have already remarked, the strong, brawny arms and stout, muscular frames of our own people draw their chief support and nourishment from the same staff of life. To provide for all these demands requires great exertion; and thus it is that hundreds, we might safely say thousands in our midst make hunting the buffalo the great concern of their lives. The muster-roll of the main-river party alone swells to the dimensions of an army. Here it is—not simply derived from mere approximation, but correctly ascertained by a close and careful count:—500 men, 600 women, 680 children; 730 horses, 300 oxen, and 950 carts. As may be supposed, such a formidable host, with appetites sharpened by the pure, invigorating breezes of the plains and the life-giving exercise of the chase, was capable of doing a vast amount of execution to the provisions; and one scarcely wonders on being told that two or three thousand fat carcases [sic] would barely serve them in food until they got home. The buffalo first appeared in sight in the neighbourhood of Bad Hill, about sixty miles from the boundary line, and in a run in which 220 hunters were engaged, 1,300 buffalo were shot. The camp then moved southwards by the Sand Hills, until they came within five miles of the Little Souris River, and at this place they killed over 1,000. Here they stayed awhile to fry their meat and manufacture pemican, and whilst thus occupied a herd of about 250 came by at a trot, running their last race; they were all brought down and converted into pemican. After that, and up to the latest time intelligence came from the camp, three small herds—one of 80, another of 30, and a third of 15—were destroyed and consumed on the plains. Buffalo growing scarce, the expedition moved back to Devil’s Lake, where the more serious business of buffalo shooting was relived by bear, beaver, and deer hunt. This sport over—and good sport it was, several grizzly bears and a variety of lesser animals being made to bite the dust—a council was held and a resolution passed to go to the Couteau de la Prairie to hunt the buffalo which were still wanting to fill the carts. Mr. Chapin, a gentleman from Philadelphia, and Lieut, Whure, R.C.R., accompanied the party, and, for young hunters, were unusually successful. Mr. Chapin killed ten buffalo, and Lieut. Whyte seven or eight.”
“Fatal Accident in the Plains,” Nor’-Wester (14 August 1860), 3:
“Off to the Buffalo Hunt. Interview with the Hunters and Sioux,” Nor’-Wester (14 August 1860), 4:
“The stirring accounts which I had heard of the exciting sport of buffalo running-running inspired me with a desire to employ a few weeks’ leave at my disposal in a visit to the Plains to take part in the first of the semi-annual hunts. The Brigade which I accompanied consisted of hunters from Pembina, St. Joseph, and a few from the Settlement. At a later period we were joined by the main body of the Red River party, and as both brigades thought numbers of importance in case of any hostile meeting with the Sioux, we remained together. On the morning of the 11th June, we crossed the pretty river of Pembina, at the point where it flows past St. Joseph, at the foot of the Mountain. Ascending this mountain in advance of the brigade, and looking down on the valley below, the scene that lay before me was picturesque in the extreme. The long line of cats, with their white coverings, slowly winding their way upward—the riders in advance, whose firm seats and easy bearing bespoke them the free children of the west—hunters that knew no fear—combined to form a tout ensemble well worthy of the painter’s brush. Arrived at the summit of the mountain, the party halted for dinner, and this our first repast was well watered by the rains of heaven. We procured a supply of wood here, sufficient to last us two or three weeks, as it was not probable we should be able to obtain any more before the expiration of that period, and then resumed our journey, halting an hour before sunset. At night, our camp was pitched in a circle—he carts being formed into a ring, in rear of which the tents were placed, each tent behind its own carts. Inside this ring the horses and cattle are placed from sunset to sunrise, to prevent them being stolen by the Sioux, who have the reputation—a well-earned one, indeed—of being clever horse-stealers. The neighing of horses and the bellowing of cattle close to my tent at first rather disturbed my slumbers. One soon gets accustomed to that kind of noise, but to another, never. I refer to the howling and barking of a few thousand dogs which accompanied the brigade for the purpose of being fattened for the winter. These brutes seemed to delight in noise, and the bark of one was quite sufficient to get the entire canine population of the camp yelping in full chorus. Their howling was really diabolical—surpassing, in my opinion, the performance of the curs of far-famed Constantinople, that city par malheur of dogs.
In the night time the camp is guarded by soldiers, usually chosen from among the young hunters of the expedition. These are placed under the orders of the captain of the day, and their duties are to see that the circle is properly formed, without any opening remaining through which horses or cattle might escape, and also to alarm the camp in case of anyone approaching. This duty is taken in turn by the soldiers, according to a written list. Each one is obliged to serve—none are excepted. The captains are chosen by lot, with a due regard to age and ability, whist the whole are under a chief to whom all cases of disputes are referred, and whose decision none may question. At the meetings of the hunters which are occasionally held, the chief and captain [sic: captains] alone speak; the rest obey. Amongst so many followers of the chase, there may, however, be seen some aged men whose looks both time and sorrow have silvered, and to their opinions the chief and captain give a willing and respectful deference. To enforce the laws of the camp, which are numerous and necessary, fines are imposed on those who violate them. These fines vary in magnitude according to the enormity of the offense, and have been found very effectual in preserving order. In the brigade there are twelve guides—hunters of experience, who had travelled the prairie from boyhood, and to these, who take duty in turn, the safe conduct of the party is entrusted Their office is not by any means a sinecure. To avoid marshes, go round lakes, and find a path between precipitous hills, requires a very correct knowledge of the country, and is certainly a very difficult and responsible duty.
We travelled over a rolling prairie, interspersed abundantly with small lakes and marshes, where winged game of all kinds were to be found. Every one on horseback is obliged to carry his gun, in case of any sudden attack by the Sioux, but firing when near buffalo, or supposed to be so, is strictly prohibited, as the noise made might alarm the animals and delay the chase several days.
At the end of a week during which nothing of importance had occurred, except the daily events of [illegible: rains?] and terrific thunder-storms, we determined to visit the Sioux camp, about three days’ journey, and containing 350 lodges and 1,500 braves. On our way thither we were met by a party of thirty Sioux, who remained with us until within half a day’s march of their encampment, when accompanied by a few of the hunters, they pushed on ahead. Of this small party, I made myself one, being anxious to see the Sioux camp. A long and somewhat tedious ride brought us within sight of it, but we were yet fully three miles distant when we were met by the entire mounted population, who escorted us to their dwellings. Some of their horses were very fine animals of American descent, but they were generally small and tough, showing unmistakable signs of Indian blood. The Sioux themselves, painted and feathered as Indians delight to adorn their persons, were really fine-looking men, above the middle height, and made in proportion. Judging by their exclamations, they were well pleased to see us, and in their own primitive fashion they accorded us a friendly welcome. We found the camp pitched on a hill, beneath which lay a pretty lake, whose calm waters reflected back the busy scenes around. The lodges were arranged in a kind of square, with openings between each, and presented an appearance of cleanliness one had expected to see in an Indian settlement of tents. Arrived in in the camp, we were obliged to make the circuit of the lodges to satisfy the curiosity of the feminine part of the community, who, by the bye, are much better looking than the sisterhood of the Cree or Saulteaux [illegible: women?]. Having retired from the presence of the ladies, we were invited into a chief’s tent to eat pemican and smoke the Pipe of Peace. We smoked little and ate less and were [illegible: passed?] from one lodge to another, in each of which the same scene was enacted. At last, having in this manner made the round of some thirty lodges, we were summoned to take part in the crowning ceremony—a dog-feast, in the soldiers’ lodge.
This lodge was the largest and finest I had yet seen, and the ground was plentifully strewed with handsome furs. When we entered the chief and his warriors were already seated, and they motioned us to take our places on the chief’s right hand.”
Notices, Nor’-Wester (28 August 1860), 2:
“Departure of the Freemen,” Nor’-Wester (28 August 1860), 3:
“Towards the close of last week forty families from the White Horse Plains left on their annual fur-trading and trapping expedition among the Assiniboine and Cree Indians. They will pitch their camps four days’ journey beyond the forks of the Belly and Paint[?] rivers, near the head waters of the Saskatchewan, a few miles north of the 49th parallel—the boundary line dividing British North American from the territory of the United States. Here they run no risk of competition, the Hudson’s Bay Company’s posts on this side of the Rocky Mountains being much farther to the north and to the north-east. Their carts are well laden with goods, to be bartered with the Indians for furs, and they start with every prospect of profitable termination to their enterprise. They will winter at Belly River, and return to the Settlement about the end of April.”
“The White Horse Plain Hunters,” Nor’-Wester (28 August 1860), 3:
“To-day we complete the account of the summer buffalo-hunt of the Red River and Pembina party up to the time of their leaving Devil’s Lake on a more distant enterprise. The return of the White Horse Plain Brigade enables us also to give the interesting statistics of their expedition. They started on the 10th of June, intending to go to the Grand Coteau, but turned off at the ‘Dog’s House,’ and found buffalo enough near Turtle Mountain and Big Head River to save them the trouble of a longer journey. The party numbered 154 families, including 210 men able to carry arms (of whom 160 were buffalo ‘runners’); and 700 ‘non-combatants,’ women and children. They took with them 642 horses, 50 oxen, 6 cows, 522 dogs, 533 carts, 1 waggon [sic], 232 guns, 10 revolvers, 21,000 bullets, and 270 quarts of gunpowder. They made twelve ‘runs’ in which they killed 3,270 buffalo—1,151 bulls, 1,893 cows, and 226 calves. The carcases [sic] produced 1,964 bags of pemmican, 2,429 bales of dried meat, 15,120 pounds of marrow fat, and 9,600 pounds of tallow. We are very sorry to hear the double misfortune which befell one of the families, making at one stroke a poor woman a widow, a mother, and childless. Alexander Swain had twice discharged his gun, each time bringing down a buffalo, and was loading it again when an accident occurred which deprived him of life. He had put in his powder too soon after the last discharge, and with his mouth over the muzzle was endeavoring to blow it home, when it suddenly ignited and severely burnt his mouth and throat. He fell from his horse in the midst of the chase, and was carried into camp. The injuries he had received prevented him from taking any food and he died two days afterwards from starvation. The shock was so great to the widow that she prematurely gave birth to a child, which was unfortunately smothered by her accidentally falling upon it; and the same grave on the prairie which received the father enclosed also the newly-born infant.”
“The Buffalo Hunt,” Nor’-Wester (28 August 1860), 4:
“Having somewhat refreshed ourselves, after our hard ride the previous day and night, by a short morning’s nap and hearty breakfast, once more in company with the brigade we got underway, and made our direction the Sioux camp.
This visit of the Halfbreeds to the Sioux was an event of no common occurrence, for generally it is the hunters’ aim to avoid them as much as possible. This year, however, both the Sioux and Halfbreeds wished to make peace which should be binding on both parties, and for this reason the hunters visited the camp of their old antagonists. The riders of our brigade formed a long line in advance of the carts, the captains leading; and certainly it would be no easy matter to find a finer-looking body of mounted men. During the day we were met by large numbers of Sioux on horseback, painted and feathered to an extravagant degree, who joined our riders and sung their wild plaintive songs as they onward rode. Our brigade having arrived within about two miles of the Indian camp, halted, and on the borders of a pretty little lake we pitched our tents. More than ordinary care was taken this evening to make the ring of carts complete, and allow no opening to remain through which the cattle might escape and thus fall an easy prey to the ever-watchful Sioux. Crowds of these curious people visited us from the moment of our arrival till long after the setting of the sun. They rode round and round our camp and never seemed to tire of gazing on us. In horses, carts—in everything, in fact—for to these poor children of the prairie all was new—they found some interest. At length the last rider returned to his camp to make preparations for the great peace-congress of the following day. The morning had scarcely dawned when our hunters were astir and commenced erecting the large tent for the reception of those who were to take part in the day’s proceedings. For a wonder, the weather is fine. About noon the tent is completed; buffalo robes are strewn over the grass; the chief and captains of the brigade have taken their seats; the great pipe is filled but not yet lighted; when, amidst a profound silence, the chiefs of the Sioux nation enter, attended by their body-guard of warriors. On their approach, the hunters rise, shake hands with them, and motion them to be seated. The pipe of peace is now lighted and each one smokes in his turn. The first chief then addresses the hunters in a long and well-spoken speech. He welcomes them to the land of the Dacotahs; expresses his own wish and that of his nation for peace; speaks of war and blood as of events gone by, likening them to the waters of a fast-flowing stream; and ends by presenting a horse to the chief of the hunters. Other chiefs speak next, and each professes a wish that peace might take the place of war, and that Sioux and Halfbreed should be as brothers. And now the hunters speak. In everything they meet the wishes of the Sioux. Peace is their will; for peace they have come hither; the Sioux are to them as the children of one common Father, and as such they call them brethren. A few presents are then given the Sioux, and, with a last smoke of the calumet, the treaty of 1860 is ratified. Next day our new allies paid us a second visit, and for our amusement danced their ‘Buffalo-head Dance.’ The scene was certainly a novel one. Nearly every one of these Indians has the mask of a buffalo head hanging on a post outside his lodge, and this he places upon his head whenever he is called to join in the dance. Sometimes there is attached to it a strip of skin of the entire length of the animal, having the tail attached, which, passing over the back of the dancer, is allowed to drag along the ground. They kept up this dance for several hours and then graciously took all the presents offered to them. Later in the evening, we were again amused by a festival in which Indian girls were the sole performers. They danced and sung remarkably well, and were attired most gracefully in white deer-skin, profusely ornamented with porcupine quills and beads. The moccasins which they wore were adorned with rows of plaited horse-hair, and small strings of tin-work, which tinkled merrily and made a pleasing music during the movements of the dance. They received many presents from the young hunters, which they took with evident pleasure and no small degree of vanity, for amongst their own nation the men seldom pay them such attention. Each Sioux is a knight and lord. His squaws are his slaves, and the only things which he seems worthy of his exertions are, to mount his prancing steed, with his bow and quiver slung, his arrow-shield upon his arm, and, his shining spear in rest, appear upon the war-parade; or, divested of all his plumes and trappings, and armed with a simple bow ad quiver, to ride amongst the flying herd of buffalo, and drive deep to life’s fountain the whizzing arrow.
A third day which we spent with the Sioux was almost entirely devoted to horse-racing and exchange of horses. Early on the morning of the fourth day, we struck camp and bade adieu to our Indian friends.
We journeyed for three days without anything of interest occurring, and on the afternoon of the fourth day we came upon the tracks of buffalo, which some of us followed until we came in sight of the buffalo themselves—a herd of many thousands, quietly grazing at the foot of a neighboring hill. We returned to camp with the pleasing intelligence, and the crier thereupon made his circuit, giving notice that early in the morning the camp would move, and that before noon the first run would be made. A night spent in active preparation precedes the still busier morning. The camp gets early under way, and, after a short journey, halts. The riders then come to the front of the carts, and the captain of the front of the carts, and the captain of the day being appointed, we follow him, and attend to the details of the plan he lays down for the conduct of the chase. From the summit of some rising ground we wee the buffalo, quietly ruminating over the cud, unsuspicious of the impending danger, not more than a mile before us. Dismounting, we unloose the saddle girths, charge our guns, and such as load in the half-breed fashion, place a few bullets in their mouths to enable them to charge a second, third, or fourth time with greater expedition. All our preparations complete, we tighten up the girths, leap into the saddle, and, with our loaded guns, advance in a long line towards the buffalo. The captain leads, and any one who attempts to pass has to pay a heavy fine. We proceed at an easy canter until within some four or five hundred yards of the buffalo, when we break into a hand-gallop [sic: hard gallop?], but still keeping in a long unbroken line. But now the herd discovers us. They wheel about, and are off at full gallop. The captain gives the ‘Advance!’ and all spur their willing steeds, which fly over the prairie in a whirlwind of dust. The hundred yards or so which intervened between the riders and the buffalo are soon passed, and now the bang-bang of the guns is heard, and many a goodly buffalo measures his length on the prairie greensward. Again the guns are loaded, again the report is heard, and again a hundred buffalo bite the dust. After the first grand mélèe one sees buffalo scattered in all directions, and after them in hot pursuit the intrepid hunters, who continue the chase until six or seven head have fallen to each gun. The runners mark their respective buffalo with their distinctive brands, and then return to camp and send out the carts to bring in the carcases [sic]. The hunter’s work is now at an end. His wife and daughters cut up the meat, and dry some of it on poles and make the rest into pemican. For three days after our first run, we ran the same herd of buffalo each day, with varying success. The first day’s run brought down 800 buffalo; the second, 500; the numbers killed on the subsequent days I did not learn. Our provisions being properly dried and cured, we moved camp from where we had now been located for six days—a movement for which I was by no means sorry, for the effluvia arising from the refuse pieces of meat which were left for the wolves was anything but agreeable.
Three or four days’ journey brought us once more in sight of buffalo in such large quantities that they almost blackened the prairie. Again we ran them, and many hundreds more fell to the hunters’ unerring aim. We visited all the likely places for buffalo in the vicinity of the Souris River, and then returned to Devil’s Lake. Some deer were shot on the Cheyenne River and in the small islands which abound in Devil’s Lake. We also killed some brown bears; but the grizzly bears which now and then appeared in the distance were too wary to come within range of the guns. On the Cheyenne I enjoyed much beaver-hunting, which afforded excellent sport.
I had now remained nearly six weeks with the hunter’s brigade, and having seen sufficient for one summer of buffalo hunting and life on the prairie, I left my friends’ camp on the banks of the Cheyenne River, and with a small party of two, which was afterwards increased by two more, returned to the Settlement.”
Advertisement, Nor’-Wester (28 September 1860), 2:
“Hunting at Devil’s Lake,” Nor’-Wester (15 October 1860), 4:
“A letter has reached us from Mt. G.W. Northrup, who is acting as guide to a party of English gentlemen, hunting in the neighborhood of Devil’s Lake, correcting some misapprehensions which have prevailed regarding that section of the country, and giving other particulars of interest to the general reader.
From 200 to 300 carts (he writes) composing the last brigade of hunters, are encamped about six miles from here (Devil’s Lake), to the southward. They are now on their return, and have not been very successful. Many carts are light. They state that the other divisions are more heavily laden.
The Sioux have returned homewards, via the Missouri River. They keep a sharp eye upon their Sisitonan brethren who, having been more industrious with the hoe, are now hopping through the Green Corn Dance and luxuriating on succotash.
We have now been out ten days. Leaving Georgetown, we proceeded directly to the Butte Michaux, and thence north to Wamelushka Lake, up to which point we had not encountered a single buffalo or crossed a fresh trail made this summer. We are now engaged in hunting elk upon the islands and in the heavy timber on thesouth side of the Lake, varying the sport by taking out of the water some of the finest pike I have ever seen.
All agree that the scenery of the Devil’s Lake is unsurpassed, and I know well that no scenery in any other part of Minnesota or Dakota can equal it. On the south side and near the middle of the Lake, rises up to a height of 300 feet the ‘Mini-wakan Chantay,’ from which the view is perfectly charming. Almost the entire Lake can be seen at once. The long black points and islands are densely covered with timber, and the rugged shores and steep bluffs give it a wild and savage aspect. Our Englishmen are delighted with the trip, thus far. Although we have not fallen in with the buffalo yet, we have had a quantity of fresh provisions in the shape of elk, geese, hares, and fish. In regard to fish, I think this lake cannot be excelled. The size of the pike approaches the incredible. I will merely say, that the smallest caught weigh eight or nine pounds, and dead ones to be found occasionally along the shore, would in a healthy state weigh 30 lbs.
We are about to direct our course westward, and expect to fall in with buffalo near the Coteau du Missouri. We shall follow the Coteau towards the White Earth, to hunt antelope, and then proceed along the east bank of the Missouri for the Black Tail or Jumping Deer, returning by the head of the Coteau des Prairies and Big Stone Lake.
A paragraph noticing the return of Sir Grenveille Smith and other Englishmen, appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer, stating also that the waters of Devil’s Lake were salty and unfit for use. Now I write you from the shore of the lake, and assure you that we use the water, and have not discovered in it the least particle of saline impregnation. It has a sweetish taste, but is not at all disagreeable. Wamelushka Lake is strongly impregnated with alkaline, not saline, matter. This is a lake about fifteen miles long, and in the shape of a horse-shoe, Devil’s Lake is nearly forty miles between the extreme points.
Should you notice the fact of our party of hunters being on the plains, you might wish to know our ‘Ogima’s’ name. Mr. Madden is an English officer, who has hunted over most countries—is finishing up on buffalo, elk, and antelope—and has great hopes of punishing a ‘grizzly’ before his return. As guide, I should certainly like to have him meet one, but hardly think that we will be fortunate enough to see one so low down the Missouri.”
“Agricultural and Commercial,” Nor’-Wester (29 October), 4:
“Returned from the Buffalo Hunt,” Nor’-Wester (29 October 1860) 2:
“Lieut Dunn, of the Royal Canadian Rifles, returned a few days ago, from a hunting excursion in the west. He was six or seven weeks away, and had excellent sport. He set out with the St. Joseph Brigade, but joined the Red River party before returning. The hunt, he says, was on the whole a success. Those in quest of fresh meat were a good deal disconcerted by the extremely fine, warm weather. He went as far as Rivière aux Souris, close to the Grand Coteau. But we forebear at present to enter upon any details—reserving them until the different parties shall have arrived, when we may be enabled to furnish some statistics as well as descriptive sketches.”
Opinion piece [possibly written by Rev. Cochran], “The Plain-Hunting Business,” Nor’-Wester (15 November 1860), 2–3:
“The last of the ‘gens de la prairie‘ have arrived. For a week past, they have been coming in—the late bad weather having proved too severe a test of strength and speed for them all to arrive together. Generally speaking, the hunters have been very successful: in some cases only partially so. Profitable or not, however, the hunting business is over for the year. The three regular annual hunting expeditions to the western plains of Dacotah have already one their work. All is quiet once more. The occasion is, we think, a fitting one for the consideration of the bearings and influences of buffalo-hunting, viewed as the business, or regular, ordinary pursuit of a large proportion of the Red River people.
Some hundreds of young men and old take a jaunt out west, two or three times every year, to provide themselves with meat provisions. What they do not actually use, they dispose of for clothing, groceries, and other necessities. This seems right and proper enough. Everybody has a right to choose their particular method by which he is to make a living—so long, at least, as he does not engage in any business positively illegal or immoral. Still, there are certain respects in which this mode of obtaining a livelihood must be considered objectionable. We believe that it unsettles the minds of those engaged in it—’unsettles’ them, in the sense that they become unfit for those steady and sure, though slow, pursuits which characterize the industrious and the successful in every country. It creates an undue relish for the novel and the exciting, and in the same proportion a dislike of honest, genuine labor. Is this merely theory? It is certainly correct in theory, for our love of ease is natural and strong; and when fostered, soon over-rides all the promptings of a wise forethought, self-interest, or ambition. But we are not borne out by reason alone: our statement will bear the test of facts and every-day experience. It might be said that the hunting is not so much a cause of un-settled, indolent habits, as a result or consequence of them—that is, that the plain-hunters do not become careless or slothful by following this occupation, but follow it because they are so. This distinction may be rather nice and metaphysical; yet we must admit that it has some foundation. As a general thing, the hunters are French or English Halfbreeds—principally the former—and they naturally enough possess traits of character peculiar both to the red man and the white. Their tastes and habits are, in fact, a sort of compromise. They follow to some extent, the quiet, plodding occupations of the European; but also the primitive, easy-going, pleasure-giving pursuits of the Indian. This quite natural and reasonable; and therefore we admit that our plain-hunters may be, to a great extent, biased by physical causes independent of, and anterior to, all acquired habits. Still, we hold that the practice of buffalo-hunting is a cause as well as an effect—it is active as well as passive—it creates or strengthens, as well as indicates, restless habits.
It also encourages extravagance. The quantity of meat provisions consumed by the hunters is something enormous. Although numbering but six or seven hundred souls—counting men, women and children—they use, or rather misuse, as much as would suffice for six or seven thousand in Great Britain, France, or Germany. It is no adequate answer to say that, having little else, they are obliged to use more than they otherwise would. We can say, from personal knowledge, that there is as much wasted about a regular hunter’s establishment in one year, as would supply a small [illegible] of Europeans for the same period. And hence the reproachful jest frequently cast up to them that one day they are feasting, and the next, starving. This is true of a great many. The abundance in which they revel all summer creates habits of extravagance and waste quite incurable. This system continues in winter, when stores cannot be replenished, and the consequence is that matter of course feasting suddenly gives place to awful fasting. And thus leads to another very prevalent end—that of taking debt. Plain-hunters are everlastingly in debt. So systemic, indeed, has this become among them, that the man who is free from debt is accounted a rare curiosity.
Again. The education and general upbringing of the young are much neglected. Boys and girls instead of being kept at school and otherwise trained in what may be useful and beneficial, are made to wander about all summer, like savages. And as to church going and Sabbath-keeping, they are out of the question. So strongly have the Catholic clergy felt this, that they usually send out a priest with the party.
This hunting life denotes a rude or primitive state of society. History teaches that a people who live by hunting are only in the first stage of civilisation. The various periods of a nation’s growth may be denominated: the hunting, the pastoral, the agricultural, and the manufacturing. We do not believe that this regular series will be developed in this country, for such gradation are traceable only in the case of a people emerging from barbarism by their own exertions; but we do think that the first link in the chain holds good here. Our professional hunters are passionately fond of their occupation. They look forward to the summer’s duties with the greatest longing: the pleasures of the chase form the all-absorbing topic at the fireside and by the way. And why so? Because the business just suits the tastes of nature’s children. It is pleasant—allows plenty of time for trifling—requires no skill, and no patient or painstaking exertions. This is the reason why it is with them the occupation of occupations; but this very reason stamps it as outlandish, temporary make-shift, quite unworthy of people pretending to a respectable degree of civilisation. We can understand the eagerness and the relish with which the gentleman-traveller betakes himself to buffalo-hunting. It is something new, and something professedly for pleasure. His case is very different, however, from that of those who live by and for it—who attend to it as formally and regularly as the farmer does to his fields, or the merchant to his goods. No. Our hunters ought, as soon as practicable, to relinquish their present method of gaining a livelihood. It is a very precarious one at best, and cannot be expected to last for ever. Either the Minnesota authorities will put a stop to these gratuitous excursions into their territories, or the ruinous annual slaughter will exterminate the buffalo; and then where will our hunting folks be? They will have unfitted themselves and their children for the quiet, plodding pursuits of honest industry, and will prove a burden and a nuisance to the rest of the settlers.”
“The Fall Buffalo Hunt,” Nor’-Wester (15 November 1860), 3:
“(Written for the Nor’-Wester)
On Sunday, the ninth day of September, 1860, the quiet little River Pembina had its solitude invaded by its half yearly visitor; the buffalo hunters of the Red River. On that day, a camp of about sixty lodges and six times as many carts was already formed in the valley of the River, at a distance of about 30 miles S. W. of St. Joseph, the little village on Pembina Mountain; and only a few tardy ones were wanting to complete the brigade. The lodges were pitched without regularity, and wherever the whim of the owner led him: each one was like its neighbor, varying but in size, age, and discoloration; from the new, white twelve-skin habitation of the wealthy man; to the shabby, smoky little affair of the one-horse hunter. The carts were ranged round each tent—their number betokening the importance of the owner; for with the buffalo hunters as with the rest of the world, the power of the almighty dollar or its current equivalent in horses and carts is most keenly appreciated. The men generally sat in groups, or paid long visits in one another’s tents, smoking their half and half of weed and tobacco and enjoying a dignified ease; or else shot ducks for their families, for before the buffalo are found it is sometimes difficult to keep the family pot a-boiling. They were of course hard at work fixing their things for the two months journey, and children amused themselves as children always do; with, I think if possible more noise than usual. On the day I speak of, laws had been made to take effect the following morning: a Chief, eight councilors and eight Captains had been elected, guides chosen, and an army of forty soldats raised.—these last I fancy on rather uncertain terms of remuneration. About one third of the hunters came from White Horse Plain, the remainder belonged entirely to the Red River. The people of St. Joseph intended to set out from their village by themselves, while the rest of the White Horse Plain people would form a third party.
Everything being ready, on Monday morning the 10th, the brigades started, A large hill called Nepah-we win, about three miles from the [illegible: right track?] may be considered as the point of departure.
This hill, I am told, is almost sacred among the Indians; it being the place where they used to dance long ago; and they came from immense distances to join in [those periodical hops?], which were, no doubt very grand affairs in their own way, and considered quite as pleasant to all parties concerned as the ball at Montreal the other day. From this hill, our course lay about W. S. W. to the Bout des Bois on the Rivière aux Souris; passed by a hill called the Batte des Braireaux, which has a singular [rock of natural obelisk?] on the top, and Lac des [Robes?] and the thence about [ten?] miles to the south of the Turtle hills; passing which no other great land mark is seen, with the exception of the Rivière aux [Sauls?]—a little muddy stream that falls into the Souris; until we arrived at the Boat des Bois where the belt of wood which is on both sides of the river stands. This part of the journey was made in five days, counting the first night at the Butte des Brairreaux, and the three following at certain nameless swamps well known to the buffalo hunters. The rate of travelling was I should say about 20 or 25 miles a day, and on the fourth day the first buffalo were killed; they were bulls, but meat was [earned?] and that is a thing the prairie people will not do without if is to be got for the killing.
The usual hour for marching was between seven and eight; about half an hour before which the cry of “[attende?]!” resounded through the camp, and a white flag emblazoned “[Pavilion?] Guide” raised on the guide’s cart. At the magic sound a hundred little boys start off to drive the cattle, women bustle and pack the carts, and strike the tents; the children, now quiet as mice make themselves generally useful, the carts are hitched up; the men lit their pipes and all is in readiness to start. At length the guide’s cart, his wife acting as standard bearer drives out from among the others and leads off, the rest following in three or more long lines. And so we travel on till about midday when we halt near water for dinner; to yoke again in an hour’s time and go on as before until sunset; then the carts are drawn up in a ring, cattle un-yoked, tents pitched, fires lighted, and the pot on.
Supper over, and night coming on, the voice of one of the Captains is heard to ring out, “Ho! Ho! Soldats!” Out spring the chosen forty not as one would suppose from their title, to give battle, but to perform the more practical and necessary duty of closing the ring and driving in the cattle, to preserve them from those admirers of horse flesh the Sioux. This duty performed, from some lodge hard by, the prefatory squeak of a fiddle is heard followed by some lively reel or jig as quick as man can scrape cat gut; soon others strike up, accompanied sometimes by a little dancing, performed by a single individual, on a buffalo skin inside a tent. If the night is warm, perhaps a dance is got up outside in which a blushing damsel or two will join, and in such case the evening’s amusement is complete, and all hands vote it “a very delightful ball.” Then there are singing parties; where they sing terribly long songs well known by the audience who however always applaud vociferously; and card parties: where the stakes are anything you please—bullets and ball [was?] preferred; and gossiping parties among the elderly females, but alas! without the social cup of tea—it is too precious to give away; and pardes [sic: parades?] of all sorts, even to one of young men, who go about the camp at midnight, singing Indian war songs in a minor key. But in time all the noise ceases—all is still—every one is asleep, or trying to fancy they are, when a low, doleful moan is set up by one of the dogs, gradually rising into a weird screech, in which dog after dog joins, until they make up the most sleep-preventing melancholy-inspiring noise that man was ever blessed with in the middle of the night. It is annoying to be awakened by a great dog with a bass voice baying with might and main not a yard from one’s ear, It made me long for a good blackthorn.
We crossed to the left bank of the Souris on Saturday the 15th Sept., and ran a band of buffalo five miles from the river. They halted that day, and the following; for except when absolutely necessary, the people of the plains never travel or hunt on Sunday. About 8 A.M. all the people meet in the middle of the ring, and the prayers of the Roman Catholic Church are read. It is, I believe, customary for a clergyman of their Church to accompany the hunters, but this Autumn there was none.
From the Bout des Bois the brigade proceeded almost south, bearing a little to the east, and passing certain hills named the Roche Blanche, Loge de Boeuf, and others, and on Saturday 22nd camped at the Butte Noire, a hill about 40 miles north of Fort Mandan on the Missouri, having had some very successful races on the way. On Monday they ran again; and on Tuesday the hunters crossed the river where the buffalo covered the hills for a distance of about three miles, and great was the slaughter. Every one has seen or read of a buffalo run so it is needless in me to describe it here.
After the run is over, the hunter rides to where his buffalo fell, and marks each one; after which he doffs his coat and moccasins, tucks up his shirt sleeves, and proceeds to cut up. And capital butchers these men of the plains are, not very dainty dissections, nor quite the style of an English market, but just in the quickest and simplest way for themselves, and they do it well. Then up jingle the carts sent from camp; the meat is thrown in, and off they go to cut up another, and perhaps a third, or more if the hunter has been fortunate; after which they all jolt back to camp, to gladden the hearts of the women with their store.
The brigade remained almost stationary from Tuesday 25th till Monday 1st October, running whenever they had a chance. On Monday we moved, the hunters going on in front, as I expected, to meet buffalo, but we were disappointed; though to make up for it, we met the hunters of a small brigade of 100 carts from the Prairie Portage under Mr. Henry Hallett. We camped about 15 miles farther up the river; and in this place we remained 11 days.
After encamping, according to the usual way of spreading information in the camp, one of the Councillors shouted out with a prefatory “Ho! Ho! nos gens!” that the hunters would proceed the following morning with carts to the Grand Couteau de Missouri, about 15 miles off; that they would run there, and return; and that in the mean time pemican was to be made. They accordingly went, and returned in two or three days having had good success.
Our camp was now about 25 miles north of the Missouri, and 10 north west of Fort Mandan. Close to us, in the woods of the river, were twelve ruined log houses, which were built eight years ago, by some people who wintered there for two years; but I believe the Sioux found them out, and they thought best not to return. The Souris is a beautiful little river, its waters are clear as crystal, and flowing over a sandy bottom, bear a striking contrast [to the turpidity?] with our [fine?] old Assiniboine and its mud banks. The Souris takes its rise in the range of hills I have already mentioned—the Coteau de Missouri, a ridge stretching for a great distance on the left bank of the Grand River—and [runs?] with a singularly roundabout course into the Assiniboine. Both the Missouri and Souris are very much below the level of the prairie the ground suddenly falling in a precipitous descent of two or three hundred feet, with a perfect flat, varying from one mile to [two?] in width, to the [ascent?] on the other side. Through this flat, and bordered with a strip of wood, is the river, but it is evident that its bed at some time covered the whole valley between the heights. I found great pieces of iron in the Souris River, brought down, I fancy, by the water from the Coteau.
As I said before, we remained in our camp from the 1st to the 12th October. All this time the women were engaged in drying the meat and skins. The process of meat drying is very simple: a frame of light poles of about fifteen yards in length and five feet in height, is run out in front of each tent, on which the meat, cut very thin, is hung in large strips; and thus exposed to the heat of the sun, it takes from two to four days to dry. Sometimes, when the sun’s rays are not very strong, the process is expedited by fires places underneath the scaffolding. When the meat is nearly all dried the pemmican making begins: a hole of four feet by two and a half is dug and a large fire made therein. A row of green sticks is then placed a little above the ground and the meat put on to roast. When roasted, about 70 or 60 lbs. is thrown on a buffalo skin, and men and boys set to work to pound the meat, which is performed with heavy flails that soon reduce it to a brown shapeless mass. In the meantime, the grease has been boiling away like mad in a cauldron on another fire, and the women have made the bag of skin. The grease is ladled out on to the buffalo skin, and meat and grease being thoroughly incorporated is all shovelled into the bag, pressed down, sewn up, and the ‘Taureau’ is made.
Many were the Councils held in the camp—at least two or three daily—and grave affairs they were. They always met in the centre of the ring, and sat down in a circle with their legs crossed. Some hon. member would then make a proposition, and look round for a seconder, but he would have to wait. Every man sat with arms folded, with bended head, knit brows, and downcast eyes, ruminating for the [bare lite?]. At last, some quick-thinker would look up and say that he did not see anything so very wrong in the proposal; but that of course others there knew better than he, &c. &c. In about an hour a conclusion would be arrived at, when they would all separate. They met generally to receive the reports of the young men who had been out “on discovery;” and the [Areopagus?] then determined from their accounts whether there should be a “run” or not. We ran several times whilst in this camp, but after Tuesday, the 25th September, no more was seen of the great bands of buffalo.
On Thursday, the 11th October a general assembly was held to determine whether another band should be sent to the Coteau, which proposition was negatived by an overwhelming majority, who thought better to trust to luck and get the fresh meat out away home. It was accordingly arranged that the Red River folks should start homeward on the following morning, leaving the White Horse Plain people to return by another route. On that night the numbers of the camp were as follows: 107 men capable of carrying arms, 308 women and children, 322 horses, 245 oxen, 440 carts and 72 tents. The number of buffalo brought to camp up to that date was 1 152.
On the morning of the 12th, we turned homeward by the same road that we came. This part of the journey was made quickly, although the cattle were getting very poor. From the Butte Noire to the Bout des Bois, the prairie is very level and uninteresting, with the exception of the country around a hill name Loge de Boeuf (so called from a number of buffalo skins on its summit). At the foot of this hill which is very steep and rises abruptly from the plain, is a beautiful little lake, full of swans, geese and ducks; and from its top a splendid view may be had of the river winding through its ancient bed, with bold bluffs on the other side, stretching far back on the plain. From this my be seen the hill called L’Hivernement, from which, it is said, a man went to the Missouri and back in one day, very long ago. One can also see the Maison du Chien, and Win-se-a-kaw-esin, or the place where the Sioux made a great slaughter of their enemies once upon a time. Good drinking water is not too plentiful on this part of the road—the ponds being generally impregnated with diverse salts.
We crossed the river above the Bout des Bois on the 17th, and continued our marca [sic: march]. As we approached the end of the hunting, the laws against independent running and firing in the neighborhood of buffalo, were disregarded and it was every man for himself—kill who can: but after the 18th, no more buffalo were killed. On the 20th we crossed a fire which we had seen for two nights previously, and for that and the two following days the animals had only what little herbage was left in the few swamps that we met. We camped on the 21st at a swamp about five miles S.W. of Butte des Braireaux, and starting at two o’clock the following morning, arrived at Pembina River in the afternoon.
Next morning before sunrise, I bade farewell to the buffalo-hunters, and got into the Settlement the evening of the following day, the 24th October.”