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History of Saskatchewan and The Old North West
Chapter V - Life and Customs of Prairie Traders and Hunters


Nationality of Early Traders and Hunters—Gateways to the West— Trading with the Natives—Marriages with Natives—Maintenance of Discipline—Courieuks du Bois—Degrading Effects ok Fire Water—Loneliness—Dangers from Hostile Indians— Hardships of Travel Among Indian Encampments—An Illuminating Quotation from Pond's Journal—Transportation: Carts; Dog Trains; II. B. Company's River Boats; Canoes— Varieties of Furs Sought—The Buffalo Hunts and Hunters, with Their Laws—Romance and Revelry of the Trading Posts.

Few topics in connection with the early history of the West and of Saskatchewan in particular are of greater interest than that presented to the student who undertakes to form an intelligent mental picture of the life and habits of the hardy traders who constituted the advance guard of white civilization. As indicated in preceding chapters, the majority of these adventurers were associated with the Hudson's Bay Company, or some of its important rivals. A very large proportion were Scots from the Orkneys. Many others were French-Canadians, though even the Montreal traders included a large proportion of Scotchmen. Americans were present, however, in not inconsiderable numbers, and a dozen other nationalities were represented.

Access was obtained to the country, by the Hudson's Hay Company and their dependents, by means of Hudson's Bay. The traders from Old Canada came up via the Great Lakes, the Grand Portage west of Fort William, and the series of lakes and rivers which from that point form the natural highways into the interior. In later times Pembina, just south of the Manitoba boundary, and St. Paul were the headquarters for most of the American traders. Until times within the memory of many yet living, it was quite possible for a newcomer without a guide to follow the well-beaten trails leading between Northern Saskatchewan and St. Paul or Fort Garry.

In the interior most of the traders were connected with some or other of the numerous permanent trading posts, or "forts." These were commonly built in a commanding situation at the bead of some beautiful river, or at the junction of two great streams. They were usually in the form of parallelograms from ten to twenty-four rods in width, and from eighteen to thirty in length. The walls consisted of a stockade of pickets often fifteen to twenty-five feet in height, and made of the upright trunks of trees placed in a trench and fastened along the top by horizontal beams. At each corner of the fort, if of any pretensions, there would be a strong bastion, built of squared logs, and provided with loopholes for guns sweeping every side of the fort. There were also other loopholes for musketry all along the side walls. Over the gateway there commonly was still another bastion commanding the entrance. Along the inside of the stockade was a gallery high enough to permit those occupying it to fire over the top of the pickets. Within the palisades would be gardens, an open square, and the dwellings, shops and store houses of the traders. These were often plastered within and without and washed over with white earth in the place of lime. By night sentinels would pace the gallery crying the hours, watch by watch.1 It was a very usual thing for the competing companies to establish such forts as we. have described, side by side.

Within the forts the dull routine of daily life was varied by the tumultuous celebration of numerous national festivals. The following description of such an event is from Harmon:

"Sunday, November 30, 1800. This being St. Andrew's day, which is a fete among the Scotch, and our burgeois, Mr. Macleod, belonging to that nation, the people of the fort, agreeably to the custom of the country, early in the morning presented him with a cross, etc., and at the same time a number of others who were at his door discharged a volley or two of muskets. Soon after they were invited into the hall, where they received a reasonable dram, after which Mr. Macleod made them a present of a sufficiency of spirits to keep them merry during the remainder of the day, which they drank at their own houses. In the evening they were invited to dance in the ball; and during it they received several flagons of spirits. They behaved with considerable propriety until about eleven o'clock, when their heads had become heated by the great quantity of spiritous liquor they had drunk during the course of the day and the evening. Some of them became quarrelsome, as the Canadians generally are when intoxicated, and to high words blows soon succeeded; and finally two battles were fought, which put an end to this truly genteel North Western ball."

Connected with the fort there would generally be a disproportionate army of employees and dependents of all sorts. The fort at Alexander was 'Harmon describes such forts in his diary of October 23rd and June 13th, 1800, and an interesting description is quoted in G. Mercer Adams' Canadian Norlh West from "The Story of a Dead Monopoly," Cornhill magazine. August, 1870. a relatively small one, but we find there, with Harmon in charge, one clerk, two interpreters, five labouring men and many women and children belonging either to the traders or to Indians absent on war expeditions or engaged in bunting. Harmon had about a hundred mouths to fill from the company's stores for the greater part of the summer.

The trade with the Indians was. of course, entirely a system of barter, the beaver skin being the standard of trade. When an Indian would arrive with his burden of furs, they would be separated, classified and valued by the trader, who would deliver to the hunter a number of wooden counters, each representing the value of a beaver skin, and equivalent altogether to the price placed upon the furs. When this had been settled, the Indian would proceed to the store room and lay out his counters or "beaver skins" upon the table, dividing them into little groups, each representing the amount he felt disposed or able to invest in the different articles of value to be found on the traders' shelves and selected for purchase. So many beaver skins would be for tomahawks of Birmingham manufacture, so many for scalping knives, so many for powder horns and ammunition, so many for flints, axes, blankets, guns. etc. Probably he would find at first that his pile of beaver skins set aside for the purchase of finery and luxuries was disproportionate with that devoted to some absolute necessity, and the little mounds of counters would have to be redivided. All this was a slow process, and before the hunter finally gave his order, it would probably be discussed by' him with his family. When at last the beaver skins were subdivided to his satisfaction, the Indian would step back and the trader would proceed to fill his order. Such methods still prevail in the remoter parts of the Far North.

In the daytime the Indians usually came and went freely about the fort, and frequently indulged in native dances within the enclosure. In connection with these festivities, the traders—especially, perhaps, those of the Nor' West Company—would present the Indians with a not inconsiderable supply of well-diluted liquors.

Most of the white men took from among their Indian neighbours a wife or concubine. The ceremonies tending such an event were simple. The trader made to the parents of the girl of his choice a present of such articles as he supposed would' be most acceptable, usually including an abundance of rum, and if the parents accepted the present, the girl assumed the garb of civilization, or something approaching it, and took up her residence permanently within the fort. The traders were usually under contract for a period of seven years, and at the end of that time, if they left the country, their families became the wards of the company. The young Indian women themselves seemed as a rule well pleased to take up life with the white men, even on these unpromising terms. Such matches were encouraged by the companies, as they increased the influence exercised by the traders themselves, and rendered it easier to retain them in the service.

As a general rule, those in charge of trading stations maintained their authority by moral suasion and force of character alone, but sometimes more vigorous methods were necessary. Harmon relates an amusing anecdote in this connection:

"Monday, October 7, 1811. The next day after I had chastised the Indian as above described, lie sent one of his wives to request me either to conic and see him or to send him some medicine. I, therefore, sent him some salve with which to dress the wound on his head. A few days after he became so well as to be able to bunt: and lie killed and brought home a number of beavers, with which he yesterday made a feast: and I concluded that it would be necessary for me to go. or he might think that I was afraid of him. I accordingly put a brace of pistols in my pocket and hung a sword by my side, and directed my interpreter to arm himself in a similar manner and to accompany me. We proceeded to the house of the chief, where we found nearly an hundred Indians assembled. As soon as we arrived he requested 11s to be scaled. lie then rose and stood in the centre of the circle formed by the guests, and with a distinct and elevated voice made a long harangue, in which he did not forget to make mention of the beating which he had lately received from me. lie said that if it had been given to him by any other person but the Big Knife (the name which they gave to me), he would either have lost his own life or taken that of the person attacking him. But now. he said, he considered himself as my wife; for that was the way, he said, that be treated his women (of whom be has four) when they behave ill. lie said that he thanked me for what I had done, that it bad given him sense. To this I replied that in a remote country I had left my friends and relations, who wanted for none of the good things of this world, and had come a great distance with such articles as the Indians needed, and which I would exchange for their furs, with which I could purchase more: and in this way I could always supply their necessities: that I considered the Indians as my children, and that I must chastise them when they behaved ill, as it was for their good. 'You all know,' said I, 'that 1 treat good Indians well, and that I strive to live in peace with you.' 'Yes,' replied the father-in-law to the chief. 'Big Knife speaks the truth. My son had 110 sense and vexed him, and therefore has deserved the beating which he has received.' Was then told the Indians that if ever he beard of any of them laughing at him for the beating he had received he would make them repent of their mirth.''

The moral influence of the traders upon their Indian associates was usually far from good. Harmon himself, a man of noble character, remarks in one place in his journal: "I have passed the day in reading the Bible and in meditating upon my present way of living, and I must confess that it too much resembles that of a savage." When be remonstrated with his companions on their godless behaviour, their reply was that in this country there was neither God nor devil. Many of the white men who had been in the country for a considerable had laid aside the greater part of the restraints of Christian and civilized life and degenerated morally to a level little, if any, superior lo that of the savages.- Nevertheless, there always were among the adventurers men of honour and discretion. The influence exercised by the wilderness depended in every case upon the original character of the individual white man himself. The most serious degeneration occurred not in the forts, but among the wandering white hunters and traders. These couricurs du bois had, however, their characteristic virtues— courage, endurance, enterprise, good humor and perseverance.

Often as it has been denied, practically all the traders debauched the Indians with liquor whenever it suited their purposes. When the Indians once acquired a taste for the intoxicants, it indeed became almost impossible to do business with them without the use of fire water. When the Indians first saw its effects, however, They were frequently filled with consternation. The naive criticism quoted in the following extract might well provide a text for reformers even today:

"Tuesday, January i, 1811. This being the first day of another year, our people have passed it, according lo the custom of the Canadians, in drinking and fighting. Some of the principal Indians of ibis place desired us to allow them to remain at the fort that they might see our people drink. As soon as they began to be a little intoxicated and to quarrel among themselves, the natives began to be apprehensive that something might befall them also. They therefore hid themselves under the beds and elsewhere, saying that they thought the while people had gone mad, for they appeared not to know what they were about. They perceived that those who were the most beastly the early part of the day became the most quiet the latter part, in view of which they exclaimed, 'The senses of the white people have returned to them again,' and they appeared not a little surprised at the change: for it was the first time they had seen a person intoxicated."

To men of refined and social instincts, perhaps the cruelest of the deprivations endured by the traders was the isolation from congenial companionship. In the smaller forts, except among the couricurs du bois and labourers, the only language spoken would be that of the Indians. The traders, of course, in lime became masters of several languages, but it would frequently happen that young men fresh from homes of refinement in the far East would in the wilderness be plunged into such an environment that for months together they might never hear their own language spoken, or be able to take any intelligent part in any conversation not confined severely to the routine of trade. The situation was further complicated by the diversity existing among the Indian tongues themselves. Thus Harmon's duties brought him into familiar contact with fifteen tribes, 110 two of whom spoke precisely the same language. Indeed, nine of these languages Harmon describes as radically different the one from -the other.

Intercourse with the outside world was possible only at rare intervals. The companies maintained a crude postal system, but the letters were slowly accumulated and forwarded from point to point throughout the enormous interior, and might consume a twelvemonth in ultimately arriving from or reaching the East.

Of course the more intelligent clerks and traders found relief in reading and reflection, but books were few, and the difficulties in the way of study many.

At all times the handful of white men scattered through the plains and forests were subject to more or less danger from hostile Indians. The traders connected with the Hudson's Bay Company suffered less in this regard than did the others, as none of the rival concerns succeeded equally well in impressing the natives with its authority, dignity and neutrality as regards Indian feuds. In the old records frequent references occur to periods of anxiety during which the forts were subject to actual or threatened attacks. In the open plains the traders were of course in still greater danger from Indian attack, and it was often necessary to forbear lighting fires at their encampments for fear of inviting robbery and massacre.

Generally speaking, the Indians brought their wares directly to the fort, but, especially as competition became keener, it was frequently necessary for the companies to send out representatives on trading excursions. The company's delegate, with a small retinue of servants and guides, would set off to visit scattered encampments. He would take with him a small assortment of goods for immediate use, and would make it his business to secure future permanent custom and to induce the Indians to frequent his fort. These little caravans were frequently overtaken by blizzards and severe cold. By day the party would advance as rapidly as possible and by night would encamp around a great fire, if fuel could be obtained, which was not always the case. Unexpected bad weather would, of course, disorganize more or less the party's plans, and frequently 011 these expeditions they would be obliged to go for days without food. On such occasions one can imagine with what glee the killing of a stray buffalo would be greeted. The two following entries in the journals of one of the old traders indicate the hardships to which such adventurers were accustomed for six days after 1 had sent the people to fish in the above mentioned lake (Devil's Lake J we subsisted at the fort on parchment skins, dogs, herbs, and a few small fish that we took out of the river opposite to the fort.

"During the last three days we have subsisted on tallow and dried cherries. This evening my men returned from Alexandria with sledges loaded with buffalo meat and the sight of it was truly reviving. Had this favour been withheld from us a few days longer, we must have all miserably perished by famine."

As a general rule the strangers would receive a hearty welcome in the Indian villages, but these were often a surprising distance apart. Indeed, as Harmon and others have remarked, such visitors were treated by the Indians with more real politeness than is commonly shown to strangers in the civilized parts of the world.

The reader will readily forgive me for here introducing a somewhat lengthy extract from the delightful journal of the courageous and unscrupulous Peter Pond, lie came to Canada from Connecticut between 1765 and 1769 and spent his first winter as a fur trader in the North West in the latter year. Of his relations with the North West Company we have spoken elsewhere. It may be remarked that only a fragment of Pond's journal has survived. This previous relic was saved from destruction not many years since when a worthy New England house-cleaner was consigning to the flames a mass of old papers that had lain in the garret for a century or more:

"I then embarkt. The Thirteenth Day I arrived and put my Goods into the Same House 1 Had wintered in ye year before. I heard by Sume Indians there was a large Band of the
 Natives Incampt on the Banks of the River about Two Hundred Miles above, Which Wanted to Sea a trader. I conkluded ameatlev to Put a Small asortment of Goods into a Cannoc and go up to Theni—a thing that never was attempted before By the Oldest of the traders on Account of the Rudeness of those People who were Notta-waseas By Xation But the Band was Cald Yantonoes—the Cheafe of the Band Allwase Lead them on the 1'laines. As I was about to imbark the Cheafc arrived to Give me an limitation to Cum up and trade with them. I agreed and we Seat off toGather—I By water and be by land. I was nine days Gilting up to thare Camp. The Clieafe arrived Befour me—bis Rout was Shorter than Mine By Cuting across the Plaincs. When I arived within three Miles of ye camp it Beaing Weat Weather and Cold I incampt and turned up my Canoe which Made us a grand Shelter. At Night it Began to Snow and frease and Blows Hard. We ware then on a Larg Sand flat Bv the River Side. Parley in the Morning the wind took the Canew up in the Air—Leat hir fall on the frozen flat and Broke hir in Tecis. I was then in a Sad Situation. About Xoon I Perseaved a Number of the Natives on ye Opaset Sid of the River Aproaching me—Sum on horseback —Others on foot. When thay Came Near, finding the Situation we ware in, thay forded the River and offered me thare asistans to take mv Goods up to thare Camp. I was glad and Excepted thare offer. We Marcht on with our Loded Horses and Cuming Near the Camp .Made a Stop and Seat Down on the Ground. I Perseaved five Parsons from the Camp Aproching, four was imployd in Caring a Reaver Blanket finely Panted—the Other held in his Hand a Callemeat or Pipe of Pece, Yerev finely Drest with Differant feathers with Panted Hairs. They all Seat Rv me Except the one who Held the Pipe. Thay ordered the Pipe Lit With a Grate dele of Sarremonev. After Smokeing a fue Wliifs the Stem was pinted East and West—the'n North and South—then upward toward the Skies—then to ye Earth after which we all Smoked in turn and Apeard Yerey frendlve.' I could not understand one word they said But from thare actions 1 Supposed it to be all friendship. After smokeing thay toock of my shoes and Put on me a pair of fine Mockasans or Leather shoes of thare One make, Raught in a Cureas Manner—then thay Lade me down on the Blanket—One Hold of Each Corner and Cared me to the Camp in a Lodg among a Yerev Yennar-abel Asembley of Old men. I was Plased at the Bottom or Back Part which is Asteamed the Ilighist plase.. After Smokeing an Old man Ros up on his feet with as much Greaveaty as Can be Conseaved of; lie Came to me— Laid his Hands on my Head and Grond out—I—I—I three times—then drawed his Rite Hand Down on my Amies faneing a Sort of a Crey as if be Shead tears—then sit Down—the Hole follode the Same Exampel which was twelve in Number. Thare was in the Midcl of the Lodg a Rased Pece of Ground about five Inchis in I light five feet long two and a half Brod on which was a fire & Over that Hung three Brass Kettels fild with Meete Boiling for a feast. While we ware Imployd in the Sarremony thare was watemg at the Dore four men to take me up and Care me to another least. At lengh an Old man toock up some of the Yittels out of one of ye Kittles which apeared to be a Sort of Scope thick and with Pounded Corn Mele. He fead me with three Sponfuls first and then Gave me the Dish winch was Bark & the Spoon Made out of a Buffeloes Horn to fead myself. As I had got a good apatite from the fatcages of the Day I eat Hartey. As Sun as I bad got threw with my part of ve feast I was desired to'ste'ap out the Dore which I Did. The People in Wateing then toock me and Laid me on Another Skin and Carred me to another Lodg where I went threw the same Sarremony. There was not a Woman Among Them—then to a third atter which I was taken to a Large Prepaird for me in which thev had put my People and Goods with a Large Pile of wood and six of thare Men with Spears to Gard it from the Croud. At four ocloek I Cummenced a trade with them lint ye Croud was so Grate that the Chefe was Obliged to Dubel this (.lard and I went on with my trade in Safety. Seventy-five Loges, at least ten Parsons in Each, will Make Seven Hundred and fifty. My People ware Bystanders—Note a word—Not a Word to Say or Actc. the Chefe who Came Down the River to Envite me up trade with them Gave me lo understand that my trade was to Begin at Sundown Bui lie was absent when thay Compeld me to Begin Bcfoar the time—he Like wise told me if I was to Contend with them thay Mite take all that I had. I was in a Bad Sittnation But at Sundown the Chefe arived and seeing the Crowd Grate be put to the Gard Six Men more and took the Charge on himself. He was as Well Obade & Kepi up as Smart Disapliue as I Ever Saw. One of ye band was more than Commonly Dairing—he Ordered one of the Gard io throw his Bans threw him In Case he persisted in his Imperdens— the fellow Came again—the Scutamil threw his lans & it went threw his closc and Drew a Leattel Blod But he never atemptcd agane. I Continued my trade till Near Morning. By that time thare furs ware Gon. Thay Prepard to March of As thay had La on the Spot Sum time Befour my arival, they had got out of Provishon I was not in a Situation lo Asist tham Beaing Destatute Myself. By Day Lite I Could not Sea One But the Chefe who Cept Close By me lo the last lo Prevent aney Insult which mite arise as thay ware Going of. The reson of the Behaver of these People is thay Never Saw a trader Before on thare One Ground or at Least Saw a Bale of Goods Opend. Sum traders Long Before sent thare Goods into the Planes with thare men to trade with these people—they often would have them Cheaper than the French men Could sell them. These People would fall 011 them and take the Goods from them at thair One Price til tliav Could Not Git Eney. I was the first that atempted lo go thare With a Bale of Goods. These People are in thare Sentaments Verey Averishas But in this Instans tliav made not the Least Demand for all thar Sarvis. Late in the Morneing the Chefe Left me. I went to work Bundling or Packing my furs which I Got from them."

Like the Indians, the white traders used dogs, boats, and canoes as their chief means of transportation in early days. To these were added in late times the famous Red River cart,—curious, creaking, lumbering vehicles usually drawn by oxen, and containing no metal in their structure.

Each pair of dogs could draw a load from two hundred to two hundred and fifty pounds, besides perhaps about fifty pounds of provisions for themselves and their driver. Indeed, the loads were frequently very much heavier. Cheadle reports a journey of upwards of one hundred and forty-miles made by dog sleds in less than forty-eight hours, the last seventy miles being covered without a halt for rest or food. Dog driving, however, was an art calling for much experience, not to mention an unlimited vocabulary of expletives. The clogs themselves had commonly a wolf strain in their veins, and were almost as fierce as their undomesticated cousins. In cam]) it was necessary to place out of their reach not only the provisions, but everything else of animal origin. They would invariably devour any snow-shoes, harness, or other leather goods, if given an opportunity.

The Hudson's Bay Company's traders used to mount the Saskatchewan and other northern rivers,—as indeed they frequently do even yet,—in large clumsy boats with a tree or rail attached as a rudder. Along each side was a row of oarsmen who stood to their oars when the currents were strong. These boats had also a mast and sails and were equipped with ropes by which part of the crew working on the shore would pull them up against the rapids.

The Montrealers, however, made almost exclusive use" of light canoes carrying a burden of from two to four tons and manned by from six to nine voyageurs. The freight was made up into packs of about ninety pounds each. On portages two or three of these great bundles would constitute the load for each man. It was frequently necessary to portage the canoes also. The furs in which the traders dealt included beaver, otter, muskrat, martin, bear, fox, linx, fisher, mink, wolf and buffalo. On the plains the last named animal was the chief object of chase.

Even within the memory of many now living, the prairies of Saskatchewan and other western provinces teemed with countless migratory herds of buffalo, and in early days thev were, at certain seasons, almost inconceivably numerous. In the early part of the summer during the mating season they were exceedingly ferocious, but in the latter part of the summer it would not be at all dangerous to go right among them. A well developed male in good condition would weigh from one thousand to one thousand five hundred pounds, and a female from eight hundred to one thousand pounds. Their flesh, while less of a delicacy than that of the moose, was excellent food, but the improvident hunters slew them by thousands in mere wanton sport, taking only their skins and tongues.' As time advanced, and the fur market called for ever increasing quantities of buffalo skins, this slaughter became more and more reckless, until at last the plains were denuded of the chief resource of the Indians, and the native tribes were consequently reduced to hopeless dependence on the niggardly bounty of the white man's Government.

For the traders operating from the Red River settlements, the great events of the \ear were the spring and fall buffalo bunts. In 1820 the number of ox carts assembled for the summer hunt reached five hundred, and thirty years after they would total three times that number, with two thousand men, women and children in the caravan. The men were paid three pounds, the women two pounds one shilling and the children a pound for their services in the three months' excursion.

The first expedition started about the middle of June. In early times they operated as a single band, but latterly one party, known as the Red River hunters, used to proceed to the Missouri Coteau, while the other party, known as the White Hare Plain hunters, usually operated west of the Sour is River and between the branches of the Saskatchewan.

On their return to the settlements after the summer hunt, a brief interval would be spent in trading and perfurming some of the sorely neglected duties of husbandry. Before the end of August, the autumn hunt would commence, lasting till the end of October or the early part of November. The place of rendezvous varied from year to year according to the variations in the movements of the migrating buffalo. However, during the later years of the buffalo trade the hunters usually gathered for the autumn expedition at Pembina Mountain.

As they gradually collected, scenes picturesque in the extreme were to be observed in or about the great camp. Here and there the horse dealers would be vigorously plying their calling, describing with vociferous enthusiasm the merits of their beasts, and about them would be talkative and gesticulating groups speaking in many languages. the numberless dogs with their continuous chorus of barking, the hundreds of horses neighing to their companions, the herds of cattle lowing on the plains, and the noisy welcome that greeted the continuous stream of new arrivals made the disorderly camp re-echo all day long.

The dress and general appearance of the hunters would have seemed strange indeed in eastern centers of civilization. The reader should picture to himself a concourse of vigorous pioneers whose bold and graceful abandon, noble stature, bronzed features, varying in shade from the dusky hue of the Indian to the ruddy color of the Celt, and long floating hair, sometimes straight and black", and sometimes fair and waving, would remind one that in them was incarnated the mystery of the mingling of a civilized with a barbarous race. These men were the bois brides, the children usually of French and Scottish sires and Indian mothers. Their coarse dark blue coats glittered with a barbarous profusion of great brass buttons; their long, waving sashes were of the brightest red; their trousers perhaps of corduroy, perhaps of elk or buffalo leather. Upon their feet would be the moccasins of the Indian wilds.

During the afternoon, the concourse of hunters, decked in their most brilliant finery, would move to a short distance from the encampment to engage in sports. A straight course, half a mile long, would be marked oft" upon the prairie, and well known leaders would be stationed at each end to superintend the races. On such occasions betting ran high, the stakes including horses, carts, oxen, articles of dress and many other kinds of valuables. Disputes were quickly settled by the umpires. The contestants usually wagered their own steeds, and after the race the losers would strip off saddle and bridle from their coursers and hasten to find consolation in strong liquors, which were consumed in great quantities.

H. M. Robinson, in his Great Fur Land, gives a spirited picture of the hunters' camp at nightfall:

"Towards night the huge camp becomes again resonant with a more intense babel of sounds. the lucky winner of the race course parades his gains, and depicts in graphic pantomime his share in the sports, while the loser bewails his losses in maudlin tones or arranges the terms of a new race on the morrow. The betting of the afternoon is succeeded by the deeper gambling of the evening; and the sounds of shuffling cards, the clinking of the buttons and bullets of the moccasin game, and the exclamation of triumph and despair of winner and loser, are everywhere beard. Rum flows freely; for each hunter brings a supply to tide him over the grand encampment and start him fairly on his journey. As the night advances the camp becomes more and more boisterous, the confusion worse confounded. the women disappear from the camp fires, and betake themselves to tents out of harm's way. Drunken men reel about the flaming fires; wild yells fill the still air: quarrels are engendered; fierce invectives in many tongues roll from angry lips, and the saturnalia becomes general. The camp fires, lighting up the strange scene with a lurid glare.—tent, cart and awning.—cast fantastic shadows over all. The orgv continues late into the night, and when the fires flicker and die out, their last feeble glow reveals shadowy forms stretched promiscuously about, sleeping the sleep of drunkenness."

When at last the main body of hunters had assembled, the caravan would start for the plains. After an interval allowed for stragglers to overtake the party, a president was elected, and a corps of captains was appointed. Each of these chose eight or ten assistants to perform police duties and to enforce the laws of the camp, which had been determined at the rendezvous before the expedition set out. These varied but slightly from year to year. The laws of the buffalo hunt, as drawn up at Pembina in the year 1840, included the following provisions:

(1) No buffalo to be run on the Sabbath day.

(2) No party to fork off, lag behind or go before without permission.

(3) No person to run buffalo before the general order.

(4) Every captain with his men, to patrol the camp and keep guard in turn.

(5) For the first trespass against these laws the offender to have his saddle and bridle cut up.

(6) For the second offence, the coat to be taken off the back of the offender and cut up.

(7) For the third offence, the offender to be flogged.

(8) Any person convicted of theft, even to the value of a sinew to be brought to the middle of the camp, and the crier to call out his or her name three times, adding the word "thief" at each time.

At night the carts were arranged in a great circle with the shafts projecting outwards. Within this barrier the tents were pitched at one end, and the horses and oxen were tethered at the other. All night long sentinels patrolled the camp, and a watchful guard was even maintained against the stealthy attack of treacherous and hostile Indians.

When his scouts had reported to the commander of the hunt the number and position of the buffalo herd, the camp was formed again, and the hunters prepared for the onslaught. Mounted on their fleet and highly trained horses, and cautiously taking advantage of all possible cover, they advanced regularly under their leader's command until near enough to charge the buffalo herd. At the word of command, they then swept down at a gallop upon the startled buffaloes, and poured a deadly volley into their shaggy sides. The bewildered animals, maddened with terror and pain, would scatter over the prairie, tearing up the sward, roaring in rage or agony, and making the earth tremble with their trampling. The hunters followed the herd at a gallop, loading and firing their weapons while at full speed. A charge, of powder would be settled in place by striking the gun against the saddle, the bullet being dropped from the huntsman's mouth down the barrel without any wads. It is not surprising that their crude, old-fashioned weapons frequently exploded, maiming their reckless users. The wake of the dying herd was marked by piles of dead buffalo, and the prairie was deluged with blood like a field of battle. the carts followed up, and removed the carcasses to the camp. Much of the meat was spoiled by the heat, but the hides and tongues were removed and great quantities of pemmican were made, the meat for this purpose being shredded and boiled with the tallow. This staple article of food was poured, while in a fluid state into sacks made of raw skins. The tongues were cured and the robes dressed. After the autumn hunt, however, the meat was taken back to the settlements frozen.

Such are some of the brief outlines of life among the hunters and traders who first established contact between the western provinces and the civilized world. It was a life full of adventure, glamour and romance, well fitted to call forth the sterner virtues, and characterized by a boyish commingling of frolic and toil. In their isolated posts the commanders or clerks surrounded themselves with the barbaric dignity of feudal barons and ruled their voyageurs and couricurs du bois with a despotic hand. In the seasons ot rest between their laborious duties of gathering peltries and transporting their supplies, the huntsmen gathered at the forts and held high revel. Marvelous tales of adventure were exchanged, the ancient songs of French Canada and the old lands rang out upon the air, and to the stirring notes of the bag-pipes or violin the hunters and traders danced with the Indian girls. As the season advanced the hunters would gradually settle to preparation for forthcoming excursions. Carts or sleighs, canoes or snow shoes, would be made or repaired by the men who were to use them. Harnesses would be manufactured out of rawhide strips and buffalo skins would be sewn into tents, till at last the period of comparative rest was over, and that of travel, toil and adventure returned.


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