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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


July 1 2, 2003 - Issue 91


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Interesting Sidelights on the History of the Early Fur Trade Industry (Part 9)

From The Eau Claire Leader - Sunday September 13, 1925
credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)

Further Extracts from the McLeod Diary

(NOTE: In the article of last week McLeod's diary account closed with the announcement of the arrival of General Dickson and his party at La Pointe on Lake Superior on their way to the fur trading station on the Red River, where he planned to recruit half-breed officers, for his wild scheme of establishing an Indian kingdom somewhere in California.)

Saluted by Indians

La Pointe, October 11, 1836 - Upon our arrival we received a salute of three guns from the Indians. This place is called Middle Isle, and is very pleasantly located. The principle post of the American Fur Company is on this island. They derive a great profit from the traffic in fish, which are caught in great numbers. We were civilly treated by the gentlemen in charge of the post at our arrival.

Wednesday, October 13, 1836 - Left La Pointe about 1 pm today, having procured the bateau from Gauthier to take us to Fond du Lac, it being impossible to get canoes at La Pointe.

Met Mr. Warren

October 15, 1836 - Left our encampment about 2 pm today. Met Mr. Warren of the American Fur Company near the De Tour. He gave General Dickson letters to the different persons in charge of the fur posts in the interior requesting them to aid us with guides, provisions, etc., to enable us to prosecute our journey to the Red River. The old gentleman expressed his doubts of our being able to get farther than Leech Lake before the small rivers were frozen.

(NOTE: The Mr. Warren referred to was Lyman Warren, who later was in charge of an Indian post near Chippewa City on the Chippewa River, and who has bee frequently mentioned in the series of letters published.)

Caught in Storm

October 16, 1836 - Left our camp at daybreak. About 11 o'clock a severe snow storm commenced and in a short time the wind on the lake increased so violently that it was with great difficulty we could keep the bateau from being driven on the rocks, which line the coast in this part of the lake for many miles. The fur company boat, which kept us company narrowly, escaped swamping, being very heavily laden. After some difficulty both boats made the mouth of a small river, but which was too shallow to admit them. We then had to jump into the water up to our middles to unload the boats and pull them over the sand, to prevent them from being filled with water. Encamped cold and uncomfortable enough.

Detained by Elements

October 21, 1836 - For the past 3 days we have been detained at the Bois Brule by a severe storm. Extremely could and many of the small streams are nearly frozen. Short of provisions, we were placed on a biscuit each per day.

October 22, 1836 - Left Bois Brule at daybreak and arrived at Fond du Lac about 5 in the evening. After resting, rowed up the St. Louis River and reached the American Fur Company post at 11 o'clock this night.

Sunday, October 23, 1836 - Visited the trading post of the American Fur Company. Received much useful instruction respecting our route to the Red River, also were furnished canoes and a guide to conduct us to Sandy Lake.

Start "Grand Portage"

October 24, 1836 - Commenced making the Grand Portage, which is about 9 miles long. Had to climb hills nearly 50 feet high and many of them nearly perpendicular. We all had to assist in carrying our luggage, in loads of 100 lbs and upwards? and had to make four trips each. Made three miles and encamped fatigued enough after our first day's portage.

October 25, 1836 - Continued our portaging but found a better road, if road it can be called, and felt much less fatigued.

October 26, 1836 - Again to the damned portaging. Met an Indian while at breakfast who informed our guide that the upper part of the St. Louis River was frozen, which quite discouraged us. I mean disappointed us, and discouraged our little half-breed guide, so much so that he said it was useless to go on.

October 27, 1836 - Arrived at the end of the Long Portage and set to work preparing our canoes for an immediate start, ice or no ice.

Start Off in Canoe

Saturday, October 29, 1836 - Started with canoes in the Rapids. Got to the end of the Portage de Coteaux with much difficulty. Lat in the evening I walked with our guide a distance of 15 miles through miserable roads.

Sunday, October 30, 1836 - Returned from the Fort alone about 2 pm, having procured a new guide, the first having refused to obey his master and come with us? New guide arrived this evening.

October 31, 1836 - Started with our new guide, a smart Chippewa and got through about half of the rapid, but with difficulty.

Take Wrong Route

November 4, 1836 - Early in the day entered the Prairie and through an error in the map went up the wrong channel, which lead us into an endless swamp. Found our error when we had lost nearly the whole day. Saw three immense moose but could not get near enough for a shot at them.

November 5, 1836 - Got to the Savannah Portage, which we found so damnable that we had to wade in water up to our hips for nearly three miles and carry our trunks, etc., to boot.

General Dickson Starts off on Foot

Wednesday, November 9, 1836 - General Dickson and Captain Parys left encampment to proceed to Sandy Lake on foot. About 11 o'clock we started in canoes but found great difficulty in getting through water so shallow. 2 pm Entered Sandy Lake, which is surrounded with lovely scenery and is one of the most delightful lakes I have ever seen.

Thursday, November 10, 1836 - Making preparations for an immediate start up the Mississippi River 300 miles to Winnipeg. Weather still mild. Hope to get there with canoes.

Friday, November 11, 1836 - Left Sandy Lake at 1 pm. came up the Mississippi about 10 miles. River very windy.

Make 50 Miles in a Day

November 12, 1836 - Made about 50 miles today.
November 13, 1836 - Came 40 miles, weather cold.
November 15, 1836 - Exceedingly cold, with snowstorm. Obliged to encamp early. Fingers nearly frozen.

November 17, 1836 - All day paddling through immense prairies, with grass 7 to 8 feet high. Made portage to get into Lake Lacrosse, ½ mile. Crossed the lake after dark and fell in with Indians who guided us to a fishing lodge on the northwest side of the lake, near which we encamped.

Broke Through Ice

November 19, 1836 - Started about 9 am, found passage at upper end of lake frozen. Obliged to break ice for a long distance to get near shore. In doing so I broke the canoe in which I was. I had to jump on the ice and haul her up to prevent her from sinking. Made a long portage of three miles to Little Lake Winnipeg.

Saturday, November 26, 1836 - We left Upper Lake Winnipeg about 10 am crossed the lake on the ice 15 miles. Walking difficult and exceedingly fatiguing, as there is no snow as yet upon the ice.

Traveled by Moonlight

Sunday, November 27, 1836 - Started two hours before day, by moonlight. Morning was cold but delightfully clear and pleasant. About sun up took the ice on the Mississippi River inlet to Lake Winnipeg. Followed it about fifteen miles and at 11 am came to Red Cedar Lake, or Cass Lake, as it is called on the map? crossed Cass Lake. Found it bad walking on the ice, which is as smooth as the surface of a polished mirror. At 4 pm arrived at the Fur Company station at Cass Lake.

Leave Cass Lake

Tuesday, November 29, 1836 - Left Cass Lake? had a bad walking day on small lakes. Ice very smooth and difficult to stand on. Came about 30 miles. One of the men gave out early in the day and had to encamp 5 miles behind us with a comrade who remained behind with him.

Falls Through Ice

November 30, 1836 - Still on the small lakes and had bad walking. At the entrance to Rice Lake I feel through the ice and got a severe ducking, as it was about 15 feet deep. I got out without assistance and started as fast as possible for the encampment, which had been make by one of our party who had preceded us, but having mistaken the direction passed the camp by 5 miles and was nearly frozen before some of our party, who had followed me came up, as my hands were so benumbed that I could not start a fire.

Arrive at Red Lake

Thursday, December 1, 1836 - Arrived about 10 o'clock fatigued enough at Red Lake, a large lake, from 60 to 70 miles long and 15 to 20 wide, which empties its waters into the Red River, which flows into Great Lake Winnipeg. Mr. Fairbanks, the person in charge here treated us with great hospitality. He appears to have been many years in the Indian Country, as he has six fine children by a native woman. He speaks the Chippewa language very fluently and is otherwise well acquainted with Indian affairs.

(NOTE: This Mr. Fairbanks came from New York with Lyman Warren. He established the first post at Cass Lake.)

Treated To Bear Meat

Monday, December 5, 1836 - Weather severely cold; at 8 am we entered the Red Fork of the Red River and had traveled about a mile when one of our party got his face bad frozen. Obliged to stop and light a fire. In the evening came to three Indian lodges where we were treated with a small piece of boiled bear's meat, and went on our way with renewed vigor

Deserted by Guides

Friday, December 9, 1836 - We had proceeded on the prairie about fifteen miles when we came to a grove of poplars, were we discovered a number of hares. Some of the party being weak and all of them fatigued we proposed an hour's rest while our sportsman would go out and enjoy themselves among the hares. Our guides laid down their packs with evident satisfaction and joined the persons who went in search of the hares. In the meantime the rest of the party wandered about in various directions some in search of water, and some to look for a good place to camp as we purposed to have a feast of hares? In this manner we continued our ramble for five miles, till we discovered a favorable place for camping. In the evening when all our party had mustered we found our guides missing, but suspected no harm as they appeared very happy and cheerful all day. But long after dark we had fired a number of shots and the guides not coming in we began to have serious apprehensions that they had deserted us and dispatched a person in search of them. He returned about midnight with the unpleasant intelligence that he had found, unopened, the packs, which the guides had carried, their carrying straps taken off, and their bundle of provision, etc., gone. This was indeed melancholy proof that the young rascals had deserted us.

Wolves Add to Misery

To add to the painful reflection that we were in a wild and unknown country, with but a few days allowance of miserable food, without guides, we were all night annoyed by howling wolves in every direction around our camp. Connected with the cries of this animal we had fear of an attack from the Sioux Indians, as has frequently happened in the very prairie in which we were then encamped. These Indians when they have hostile intentions gather their bands together by imitating the cries of a wolf or the screams of an owl and never attack but at the dawn of day. We had been informed of their habits and were frequently warned to be on guard, so that night - what from losing our guides - the cries of wolves, or supposed enemies, few of us slept, although all were wearied by fatigue and long privations.

Two Turn Back

Saturday, December 10, 1836 - At daybreak we were summoned together and informed by General Dickson that as our guides had deserted us and as we had but provisions and had yet to travel 300 miles in strange country, of which we had not an accurate map, he left us al to act, each man for himself, to either follow him, as it was his determinations to trust to fortune and push forward, or return to Red Lake and there wait until they could procure a guide. I had previously made up my mind to continue my route at every risk, and all the rest with two exceptions, preferring to follow General Dickson; we made immediate preparations to start.

For the first fifteen miles we had come in the prairie we found the marks of an old track, which formerly led to Pembina when there was a post, there was a post there of the American Fur Company and we had strong hopes we would be able to find the trail in different places, sufficiently distinct to indicate the proper route, but this morning all our hopes were clouded by the appearance of a heavy snow storm. However, we had taken our determination and were not easily shaken. We each shouldered his pack and having bid a melancholy adieu to our friends who were to return, who said they had not a hope of seeing us again and promised to inform our friends should we perish, we entered upon the path and proceeded for a number of miles in great silence, not so much as uttering a word to each other.

Reach an Immense Open Plain

At length we came to an immense open plain, without the appearance of a tree upon it as far as the eye could reach, except in the northwest course, where we could distinguish trees about 25 miles distant. Here we lost the path completely, but having held a consultation we determined to proceed across the plain in the direction of the trees, and endeavoring if possible to arrive at them before dark, as we did not like the idea of sleeping out in the plain without fire to warm or water to cook our food. Long after dark we came to a ravine in the prairie, which contained some ice but not a drop of water. Here we determined to remain until morning, as the trees were still a great distance away, as near as we could distinguish. We found a small clump of under wood and having made a small fire with a few branches and each ate a handful of parched corn with some water - we lay down near our little blaze and endeavored to sleep but the attempt was fruitless. We passed a most miserable night. The wind below strong before from the northwest and so cold we had difficultly keeping from freezing, as we had but one blanket each.

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