#8. : (July 16 - 17, 1853 ). Red River Hunters.

We return to the journey on the 16th of July (1853) when the different mule trains and teams rejoin Stevens’ group from their various assignments. Also, a large group of the Red River Hunters had also arrived. They had been described as large blended community including Europeans, Indians, “half-breeds, traders or former employees of the Hudson Bay and Fur Companies, various individuals of European descent.” (Stevens 1853) Embedded in the group was a small band of Prairie Chippewa Indians. The blend of languages spoken were unique mixtures of several, however, French was the primary language used by the Red River Hunters.


“They [Red River Hunters] camped near by and the close yard which they formed presented quite a contrast to the open camp adopted by us. They make a circular or square yard of the carts, placed side by side, with the hubs adjoining, presenting a barrier impassable either to man or beast. The tents of lodges were arranged within, at a distance of about twenty feet from the carts, and were of a conical shape, built of poles covered with skins, with an opening at the top for the passage of smoke and for ventilation. They were 104 in number, being occupied generally by two families, averaging about ten persons to the lodge. Skins were spread over the tops of the carts, and underneath many of the train found comfortable lodging places.”[1]



Red River Cart courtesy of Red River North Heritage website:

https://redrivernorthheritage.com/first-nations-and-metis-photo-gallery/



“Camp Red River Hunters” by Stanley Del


It must have been quite an impressive site for the surveying teams seeing this large encampment so different from anything they knew. While the surveying teams kept their animals in larger pens, the Red River Hunters (hereinafter “Hunters”) allowed theirs to run loose during the day and corralled during the evenings. The Stevens’ teams posted twelve guards at night and the “Hunters” posted thirty-six men as sentinels throughout the night.


The two camps were approximately two hundred yards apart, but Stevens wrote of “much visiting between them. I was struck with the good conduct and hospitable kindness of these people. A small band of Prairie Chippewa Indians…visited our camp during the evening, and entertained us with one of their national dances.” [2]


The leader of the Hunters was Governor J.B. Wilkie, who greatly impressed Stevens. “I was much pleased with Governor Wilkie…He is a man of about sixty years of age, of fine appearance and pleasant manners. This part are residents of Pembina (North Dakota) and its vicinity. When at home they are engaged in agriculture, raising wheat, corn, potatoes, and barley [and dairy]…They are industrious and frugal in their habits, are mostly of the Romish persuasion, leading a virtuous and pious life. They are generally accompanied by their priests, and attend strictly to their devotions, having exercises every sabbath, on which day theiy neither march nor hunt.” [3] Stevens went into great detail about their municipal government and the arrangement of their parishes. When on hunts, such as that current one when they met, “they select a man from the whole number, who is styled governor of the hunt, who takes charge of the party, regulates its movement, acts as referee in all cases where any differences arise between the members in regard to game or other matters, and takes command in case of difficulty with the Indians.”[4]


Stevens goes into detail describing the various clothing worn by the Hunters, including the “Hudson Bay coat has a capot [hood/bonnet] attached to it. The belts are finely knit, of differently colored wool or worsted yarn, and are worn after the manner of sahes. Their powder horn and shot bag, attached to bands finely embroidered with beads or worked with porcupine quills, are worn across each shoulder, making an X before and behind. Many also have a tobacco pouch strung to their sashes, in which is tobacco mixed with kini-kinick (dried bark of the osier willow scraped fine), a fire steel, punk, and several flints. Add to these paraphernalia a gun, and a good idea will be formed of the costume of the Red River Hunter. The women are industrious, dress in gaudy calicoes, are fond of beads and finery, and are remarkably apt at making bead work, moccasins, seeing, &c.” [5]

If Stevens did not have his mission, it was apparent that he would have enjoyed remaining with the large party when it came time for their departure. The surveying teams purchased a supply of “pemmican, dried meat, sugar, and other things, some of the men buying moccasins, whips and other necessaries.” (Stevens 1853) He engaged the service of Alexis Le Bombard to guide a team to the Yellowstone. Le Bombard was “from the Yellowstone this season, and the impression gathered from my interview with him, as well as the representations of others, satisfied me that he will be extremely valuable as a guide.” (Stevens 1853)


On July 17th, after the departure of the Indians, Stevens and several of the principal men met with Governor Wilkie where he (Stevens) gained valuable knowledge about the potential for establishing a military post at Lake Miniwakan. After that fruitful conversation, the surveying teams were on the Red River trail again following their compass toward the Shyenne river, crossing only 40 rods from the compass line on what was deemed good road for the wagons despite some high land. Having set of so late in the day, they traveled just ten miles before establishing an overnight camp.


[1] Stevens, Isaac. “Part I, General Report, Narrative of 1853” Page 65. [2] Ibid. Page 65. [3] Ibid. Page 65. [4] Ibid. Page 65. [5] Ibid. Page 65.

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