#9. Red River Hunters and the Assiniboine

We rejoin our surveying teams after their departure from the Red River Hunters as they begin their westerly journeys. As before, one or two teams departed in different directions to take various survey readings and notations of the land, atmosphere, flora and fauna along their routes. The descriptions provided by Stevens’ journal vary little for a time as the landscape, while providing scenic pleasure, offers little of dramatic impact. Stevens was sufficiently impacted by the scenery leading to and at Butte de Morale to write:


We passed to-day a narrow lake, some three miles in length, somewhat resembling a canal. It lay at the foot of a high hill or butte, called the Butte de Morale. Here occurred an engagement between some half-breeds and Sioux, in which one of the former, by the name of Morale, was killed; hence its name. The altitude of this butte, as determined by barometric measurement, is 281.8 feet above the level of the Shyenne river. Our way was strewn by the carcasses of many buffaloes, killed by the Red river hunting party. At times the air was very much tainted. One of our men reported having rode through a section of land, some quarter of a mile square, on which were strewn the remains of some three hundred buffaloes. In killing these animals, the choice pieces and hides are only taken, while the remainder is left as prey to wolves or to rot on the prairie.”[1]


Lithographic Print, “Butte de Morale” by Stanley Del.


In the next line, Stevens’ writes rather poetically about the beauty of their camp “beautifully located on a range of hills” with an “excellent spring near by” that furnished them with an abundant supply of fresh cold water. There were in fact a chain of lakes called the “White Wood” lakes. These may be the same as the “Whitewood” lakes in North Dakota today. From the journal, one would think that they were in the “Land of 1000 Lakes” (Minnesota) not the Dakota’s. Traveling between 14-16 miles each day Stevens’ writings remain picturesque and one can imagine what parts of this country may have looked like prior to the turn of the 20th Century.


Their eventual destination is Fort Union, still several days distant, and they seem to crisscross over branches of the Shyenne river with the Grand Côteau du Missouri in sight through most of that leg of the journey. The Grand Côteau was a large plateau that stretched along the eastern side of the valley of the Missouri River in the Dakota’s. As they traveled along they passed alongside three coulees; landforms in which their steppes are cracked by drainage areas from snow and rain; thence passed through additional prairie lands. In this region there were Americans, Indians and French and Canadian peoples. On the evening of July 23rd, Stevens writes of being invited to dine with another party of Red River Hunters and several guests, including Canadian Governor Pierre de L’ Orme.


Seated around the camp fire between the two tents we had a very pleasant conference with our friends[Red River Hunters]. I was very favorably impressed with Governor de L’Orme, and with his opinion, as well as that of his associates, in regard to their right to hunt on our territory, they being residents of the country north of our boundary line. [Canada] They claim the protection of both governments, and the doubt as to the position of the boundary line makes them ignorant as to which one they have the most claim upon. During the hunting season they carry with them their families and their property, and they consider that this territory is open to them; that the right to hunt on it belongs to them, and that their children born during this transit over our soil possess the heritage of American citizens. [2]


Stevens’ view was that while these individuals held no fee simple to the land, they ought to have the same right and title upon which the government acknowledged the Indian tribes to possess - a right of occupation. This ideology had the goal of obtaining new citizens and protecting and building up the frontier, and “having in this vicinity always a controlling check upon the Indians.” (Stevens 1853)


The political services anticipated of Stevens by the government becomes evident during this meeting as he writes “their virtuous mode of life; their industry and frugality; their adaptation to frontier life, all combine to render them a valuable class of people, and well worthy the attention of our government. They expressed a desire that I should represent these things to the government, and I assured them that I would do so with pleasure.”[3]



“Provisional Metis Government” de L’Orme is back row, 2nd from left.

Library and Archives of Canada. PA-012854; 3194516.


July 24th saw Stevens and other back on their assignments, some heading toward the Mouse River, others toward the River of the Lakes. Tinkham, Lander and Boulieau were sent to look “carefully for coals and iron, and to see what quantities are likely to be supplied” in the Mouse River valley and the River of the Lakes. Their journey ended after just over 15 miles that day, about 150 miles away from Fort Union, which they mapped out in seven segments. At Fort Union they would procure additional wagons or carts to aid in the journey to Fort Benton. Stevens sent forth a letter to Lieutenant Grover, who had already arrived at Fort Union apprising him of their labors to that point and instructing the lieutenant to have his report ready upon their arrival.


On the 25th, Stevens received a letter from Osgood by the hands of an Assiniboine Indian from a camp about seven miles distant. Osgood reported that they were welcome into the camp which numbered 150 lodges and around 1,200 people. He wrote that the Assiniboine’s built a lodge in the center of the camp for their visitors and treated them with great hospitality.


The 26th and 27th passed without incident as they traversed plains, hills and small tendrils of water. It was shortly after 12 o’clock that they arrived about a quarter mile from the Assiniboine camp and a number of their members rode out to greet Stevens and his team.


FACTS about the Assiniboine Indians:



Assiniboine Chief in Full Regalia

Photographer: Adolph F. Muhr, c. 1898.

Encyclopaedia Britannica


Assiniboine is pronounced "ah-SIN-uh-boin." It comes from the Ojibwe name for the tribe, Asiniibwaan, which means "stone Sioux." The Ojibwe probably called them this because they used heated stones to boil most of their food. In their own language, the Assiniboines call themselves the Nakota or Nakoda, which means "the allies."


The Assiniboine Indians are original people of Montana, North Dakota, Alberta, and Saskatchewan.


1600’s: Assiniboine Indians population was estimated around 10,000. Constant warfare decimated the male population and an 1838 smallpox epidemic in 1838 killed between one-half and two-thirds of the tribe’s members.


The Assiniboine people speak English today and their elders also speak their native Nakoda language.


There is a great deal more to learn if you visit: http://fortpecktribes.org/tribal_history.html



[1] Stevens, Isaac. “Part I, General Report, Narrative of 1853” Pages 67-68. [2] Ibid. Page 70. [3] Ibid. Page 70.