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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


March 22, 2003 - Issue 83


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Interesting Sidelights on the History of the Early Fur Trade Industry (Part 10)

Continued Article from The Eau Claire Leader - September 20, 1925
credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)


(NOTE: A continuation of McLeod's Diary)

Travel All Day without Eating
Sunday, December 11, 1836 - Never was the dawn of a day more welcomed to the miserable likes of us. To save time our allowance of rice was boiled in the night but the continued blowing of the wind had so filled it with charcoal and ashes that but two or three of our company could stomach a few spoonfuls of it. The rest, myself among the number, traveled all day without eating a morsel or drinking a drop and the snow which we so dreaded the day before would have been more welcome than gold today. Our course today was west northwest. We saw a great number of pheasants but they were so wild that all our attempts to kill some of them failed.

In the evening we came to a fine stream of water running through a fine grove of elms. The sight was hailed with delight and here we determined to camp. A few moments after are arrival an Indian with a gun in his hand and a bullet in his mouth came cautiously creeping up to us. I discovered him and conjectured his intentions immediately ran up to him and offered him my hand, which he accepted with a feigned smile, at the same time observing, as near as I could understand that he was glad to fine we were Englishmen and friendly to his tribe, adding that the bullet he carried was intended for one of us, supposing us enemies. The savage had lived for some weeks with his squaw, dogs, etc. upon a bear, which he had killed, on his way to some hunting grounds at a distance from the prairie. We engaged him to conduct us to nearest Pembina on the Red River, and having made a few presents he returned to his squaw.

Doubt Guide's Good Faith
Monday, December 12, 1836 - Started with our new guide, course west, and northwest by west. Doubt of honest intentions of the Indian arose from him changing the course from what we had reason to suppose was the correct one. At 1 pm encamped on a branch of the stream we had left in the morning, as it will take all day tomorrow to cross the plain to the next place.

Tuesday, December 13, 1836 - Started at daybreak. Our guide was reluctant to accompany us from the appearance of a storm, which at this season is dangerous to the traveler. After difficulty he was persuaded by us to come, but still doubtful of his honesty from his continual inclining to the west. At 11 am discovered trees to the west-northwest, which the Indian guide said were on the banks of the Red River and near Pembina, to which place he had agreed to guide us. Late in the evening, after a long and fatiguing journey we came to the banks of the river which sight gave us a variety of pleasing feelings. Crossed the river and immediately changed our course to the north. We had gone but a few miles when the Indian requested his pay, a blanket, saying he had left his squaw alone with but little food and he was anxious to return, assuring us that a few hours walk would bring us to Pembina, near which we would find on the river bank the old cart track, which in three days would lead us to the settlement at Assinoboia. His story was plausible. We suffered ourselves to be duped and the rascal returned, no doubt laughing at our credulity.

Many Taken Seriously Ill
Having gone some several miles and perceiving no appearance of the settlement, which formerly existed at Pembina and being all much fatigued we encamped what we thought was a large stream flowing from the prairie into the Rice River, but upon cutting the ice we found to our disappointment that it was a pool of stagnant water. Hunger compelled us to cook our remaining pint each of rice with the mineral water and either from its effects or that of some bear grease, which I got from the squaw, we were nearly all taken severely ill in the course of the night.

Wednesday, December 14, 1836 - So unwell was I that it was with difficulty I could walk for 10 minutes at a time without throwing myself down on the grass. Our route today extends from point to point on the Red River across the immense plain which extents to the west 15 or 20 days journey.

Reach Red River Settlement
(NOTE: After many more hardships the party arrived at the Red River settlement. McLeod in reflecting on the part of the journey just completed writes as follows:)

Upon our departure from Red Lake we each carried a knapsack of clothes and provisions, which weighted in all about 50 pounds to the person. Upon this most miserable food, the only kind we could get, we had marched 500 miles, at a very inclement season, where sometimes we had to camp without wood or water. Yet we got through, without guides, to the great astonishment of many of the oldest voyageurs in the place.

McLeod Describes a Buffalo Hunt
"The first season of buffalo hunting commences about the 15th of June and is continued until about August 1st. The second season commences in September and terminates late in the fall, about November 1st, leaving time sufficient to return home before the cold weather sets in. I allude to the Brules hunting, as the Indians who inhabit the buffalo country killed these animals at all seasons. (NOTE: The "Brules" were evidently the white and mix blood inhabitants of that region.)

How Brules Carried the Hunt
The Brules general set out with 500 to 600 carts drawn principally by oxen. Their wives and daughters usually accompany these carts, for the purpose of preparing the meat, which is done by stripping it from the bones and spreading it upon a scaffold of poles elevated from 3 to 4 feet above the ground, under they which they build a fire of buffalo dung. In this manner they continue to dry the meat as fast as it is killed by the hunters. It takes the flesh of twelve of the largest beasts thus prepared to load a cart drawn by one ox - and allowing 600 carts to the spring season would make 7,200 of these animals killed in a month by the Brules alone, not including the Indian tribes, such as the Sioux, Mandan, Gros Ventrers, etc., all of whom inhabit the buffalo country and destroy these animals by the thousands and add to this, that in the spring nearly all the animals killed are cows, the meat of the male not being any good after a certain season. These different causes account for the rapid decrease of the buffalo within the past few years. I have been informed by a Brule hunter that at the last hunt they had to go a journey of 15 days to the west, 6 days further than they had ever gone before.

Making Pemmican
In the fall hunt besides the dry meat they make Pemmican and also bring home a quantity of meat in its natural state.
The Pemmican is made by drying the meat as before mentioned. It is then beaten into small pieces and placed in a sack made of buffalo skin, into which is poured a quantity of the melted fat of this animal. When it cools it is preserved in this sack and sewed up. In this manner it will keep for 3 or 4 years. The sacks are in various sizes but the common sizes are from 100 to 150 pounds.

Big Squad of Horsemen
The usual number of horsemen attending these hunts is about 500, however not more than 200 to 300 act as hunters and are those possessing the swiftest horses. The hunters are exceedingly expert, notwithstanding which many accidents occur. I have seen broken arms and disabled hands this latter accident frequently occurring from their manner of loading their guns. They never use wadding. The powder is carelessly thrown in, in more or less quantities, the ball is then tumbled in and off goes the shot. This is done to save time and it is almost incredible what a number shots one person will discharge in riding the distance of 3 or 4 miles with the horse at its top speed.

A gentleman who has lived many years in the buffalo country says that upon the least calculation from four to five hundred thousand of these animals are killed yearly on this side of the Missouri River.

Start on 750 Mile Hike
Sunday, February 26, 1837 - Left La Fourche, Red River Colony this evening and came up the settlement to prepare for an early start tomorrow to St. Peters, 750 miles on foot.

Monday, February 27, 1837 - Started at daybreak; cold with sharp head wind. About 10 am a sever snowstorm commenced. Obliged to take shelter in the house of a Mr. Meikeljohn. Came about 9 miles and at 5 pm cleared off. Prospects of a fine day tomorrow and tonight I prepared snowshoes and etc. for the journey.

Tuesday, February 28, 1837 - Started at daybreak, bad walking because the snow is deep. Crossed the long traverse and waited for the dogs to come up. At 3 pm had to camp. Dogs to fatigue to proceed. Dogs never travel well the first day.

March 1, 1837 - Left encampment at sunrise. Found it exceeding cold sleeping out after having been in a house for two months. Came 40 miles today. Arrived at a shanty where we found 14 persons, men, women and children without food. They had been living for 7 days on an occasional hare or pheasant. The hunter's life is ever a precarious one. We relieved them with pemmican from our stock for the journey, which in all probability will be the cause of our fasting some days before we reach Lake Traverse, the first trading post from this, distance of more than 400 miles.

Feet Blistered and Bleeding
March 3, 1837 - Had a cold and stormy night and was unable to leave camp until 9 o'clock. The wind changed to the north bringing with a snowstorm, which caught us on the prairie many miles from shelter. At 3 pm we came to small wood on a bend of the Tongue River. One of our party, Mr. Pary, not having come up we encamped. He has no snowshoes and persisted in not bringing any with him, which may lead to unhappy consequences, as he is unable to keep up with us on the plains and should we be separated by a storm he would inevitably perish. I feel miserably fatigued and my feet are severely blisters by the strings of the snowshoes. At every step the blood from my toes oozes through my moccasins.

March 4, 1837 - Came a long distance today. Snow deep and very heavy, which clogs the snowshoes and makes them exceedingly, fatiguing to carry. Encamped on a branch of the Park River. Find Major Long's map very incorrect.

March 7, 1837 - Last night excessively cold. Today unable to leave camp; so stormy it is impossible to see the distance of 40 yards on the plain and the distance to the next wood encampment is 30 miles.

Cover 30 Miles
March 8, 1837 - Wind north and piercing on the prairie. We crossed the plain and arrived at the Turtle River at 3 pm having come 30 miles.

Sunday, March 12, 1837 - Started at daybreak, route principally over immense hills. Saw 13 buffalo. One shot at by guide, it was severely wounded but not killed. Mr. Pary unable to keep up with us, afraid to lose him as the drifts fill up our tracks, which obliges us to frequently wait for him, consequently we were unable to get across the plain to a place of encampment. This evening we are suffering the severest torments for want of water. The guide espied the carcasses of 2 buffaloes recently killed. Being a hunter himself curious led him two the spot where to his great delight he found a few small pieces of wood brought there by hunters some days previous, by which means we were enabled to melt a kettle of snow.

No Fire, No Water, No Breakfast
March 13, 1837 - Passed a more comfortable night than expected. Morning miserable; having to creep out from under our buffalo skins and take to the plains to warm ourselves; no fire, no water, no breakfast. I took a small piece of frozen pemmican and ate it with a handful of snow, at the same time walking as fast as possible to warm myself.

Violent storm came on, the guide said we were lost and would all perish. At 3 pm having walked more than 30 miles since daybreak we perceived through the drift a clump of trees where we arrived soon after happy to escape passing a second night on the plain, where it is more than probably we should have all been frozen to death.

(NOTE: In another article the McLeod diary account will be completed. Much has been omitted. Probably not more than a third of it has been given here.)

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