In 1840 Alexander Ross, a Canadian trader, witnessed a buffalo hunt on the Sheyenne River, of which he gives the following account:
At 8 o'clock the cavalcade made for the buffalo, first at a slow trot, then at a gallop, and lastly at full speed. Their advance was on a dead level, the plains having no hollows, or shelter of any kind, to conceal the approach. When within four or five hundred yards, the buffalo began to curve their tails and paw the ground, and in a moment more to take might, and the hunters burst in among them and began to fire.
"Those who have seen a squadron of horse dash into battle may imagine the scene. The earth seemed to tremble when the horses started, but when the animals fled it was like the shock of an earthquake. The air was darkened, and the rapid firing at last became more faint, and the hunters became more distant.
During the day at least two thousand buffalo must have been killed, for there were brought into camp 1,375 tongues. The hunters were followed by the carts which brought in the carcasses. Much of the meat was useless because of the heat of the season, but the tongues were cured, the skins saved, and the pemmican prepared.
For years, buffalo hunting had been carried on as a business, under strict organization. A priest accompanied the hunt to look after the spiritual welfare of the hunters and their families. The women went along to do the drudgery of the camp and care for the meat.
When the herd was reached there was the early morning attack, after due preparation, each hunter killing from five to twenty, according to his skill and equipment, and each was able to claim his own from the size or form or combination of bullet and buckshot used by him.
When the meat was cared for another assault was made on the herd, with which they sometimes kept in touch six to eight weeks, the attacks being repeated until all of the carts and available ponies were loaded for the return trip.
In 1849, 1,210 half-breed carts were among the Pembina hunters. When they halted at night the carts were formed in a circle, the shafts projecting outward. Tents were pitched in one extremity of the enclosure, and the animals gathered at the other end. The camp was a complete organization, captains and chiefs being elected to command.
No person was allowed to act on his own responsibility. nor to use even a sinew without accounting for it. No hunter was allowed to lag, or lop off, or go before, without permission, each being required to take his turn on guard or patrol, and no work was allowed to be done on the Sabbath day. A camp crier was appointed, and any offender was proclaimed a thief, or whatever the nature of the offense might be.
Source: North Dakota history and people, outlines of American history. Clement Lounsberry - W.C. & Cox Co. - 1974
While the modern popular culture image of the Métis man is a jaunty voyageur in a candy-striped Hudson Bay blanket capote with a yarn toque, and a brightly-colored sash wrapped around the coat, reality was less like that European-created myth, but much more interesting.
In general, the standard capote of choice employed by the Métis during the first half of the 19th century was a classic cut, with broad lapels, dropping to about the knees. This coat was most often a beautiful cerulean blue color. When possible, the capote would be fastened by brass buttons (if these were available), but could as easily be fastened by bone disks or other metal available through local traders.
Trousers were most often corduroy – brown, khaki, or black in color – and footwear was usually moccasins that could be beaded or left plain depending on the taste of the wearer. Decorations were limited, primarily the ever-popular sash that is associated with the Métis people, and leg garters that were either beaded leather bands or smaller woven sashes. The waist sash was used as a belt, and the cinching of it about the waist served as a way to secure one’s trousers and keep the capote closed. The leg garters were both decorative and useful – cutting off unwanted airflow into the pants while riding. Headwear was subjective, but often a fur cap (or turban) was worn – much in the fashion of the Ojibwe who used these sorts of hats – especially in cooler weather.
The manner of dress was commented upon in several historical accounts dealing with the Métis men of Red River:
The young [men] of the neighborhood array themselves in the bewildering apparel which obtains upon occasions of this nature: a blue cloth capote, with brass buttons; black or drab corduroy trousers, the aesthetic effect of which is destroyed by a variegated sash, with fringed ends, pendants about the knees; moccasins, and a fur cap with gaudy tassel (Robinson 1879).
In another instance, Hudson Bay Company factor Alexander Ross provides a vivid description of his own encounter with Métis dress:
From Fort Garry I invited my friend to accompany me on a visit to the upper part of the [Red River] settlement, as he was anxious to know what kind of life the Canadians and half-breeds lead in this part of the world. We had not proceeded far before we met a stout, well-made, good-looking man, dressed in a common blue capote, red belt, and corduroy trousers…” Ross continued, “…the universal costume of both French Canadians and half-breeds, the belt [sash] being the simple badge of distinction; the former wearing it generally over, and the latter as generally under the capote. The stature of the half-breeds is of the middle size, and generally slender, countenances rather pleasing than otherwise. In manners mild, unassuming [not effeminate], and somewhat bashful. On the whole, however, they are a sedate and grave people, rather humble than haughty in their demeanor, and are seldom seen to laugh among strangers (Ross 1856).
A more vibrant description of the manner of dress is provided in an 1880 Smithsonian monograph about the Métis:
In their dress the Métis show no marked peculiarities, but betray, in a tempered way, the fondness of the Indian for finery and gaudy raiment. In Manitoba the men usually wear a blue overcoat or capot with conspicuous brass buttons, black or drab corduroy trousers, a belt or scarf around the waist, leggings, and moccasins, the whole variously adorned with colored fringes, scallops, and beads. The legging is an important article of the young [men's dress]; it is usually made of blue cloth, extends to the knee, below which it is tied with a gaudy garter of worsted work, and has a broad stripe of heavy bead work running down the outer seam (Harvard, Norris, et al 1880).
As the century progressed, access to manufactured clothing became easier than sewing leather or blanket cloth. European shirts, trousers, hats, and suits were readily obtainable and much sought after as a symbol of wealth. Even then, the old accoutrements died hard. Sashes, garters, and fringe remained staples of Métis dress.
Another style adopted by Métis men was quite similar to that of the ‘Western Cowboy’, as popularized in North American folklore. This often included dungarees, a fine shirt, ‘cowboy’ hat, kerchief, and an overcoat made of black or dark blue, or a leather jacket with fringes and fur. One of the most famous photographs showing this style of dress is an 1885 photo of Métis general, Gabriel Dumont, dressed in his finest plains outfit, holding his trusty rifle.
Women’s clothing was much more varied and ranged from highly practical to quite fashionable.
During the earlier part of the 19th century, when life consisted of accompanying the men on their annual hunting expeditions onto the plains, women would dress quite often in clothing that mirrored their Indian mothers – with broadcloth dresses, shawls, and always wearing comfortable moccasins that were usually beaded in beautiful floral designs.
When not on the annual hunt, bright colored calicoes, bead-worked shirts, and even store purchased black or dark blue dresses were the norm.
A report on the Metis population provides a very brief description of the standard dress of women in the Red River region during the middle of the 19th century:
The women generally dress in a black gown with a black shawl thrown over the head, in a manner at once comfortable and becoming. The girls often wear a colored shawl about their shoulders and a showy handkerchief upon the head; they like scarlet petticoats and prize gaudy ribbons and jewelry (USACE 1854).
As time went on and the wealth generated by the buffalo hunt started to disappear, store bought clothing was often not an option for some Metis women. In other cases, life on the edge of society, or on reservation, saw innovative measures taken to sew clothing from available materials.
Below is a request by the Indian Agent asking for guns and ammunition for the "Friendly" Indians of the Missouri River. At the time, there was a general prohibition on ammunition, and the Red River Metis were selling ammunition to the River Tribes. Those who bought the ammunition were considered "Hostile".
During my recent trip to Fort Sully and Fort Rice, I found the universal complaint of friendly Indians to be regarding the prohibition of the sale of ammunition. Under the date of 15th September last, I wrote the Hon. Commissioner of Indian Affairs upon the subject. I have the honor to again draw attention of the Commissioner to that communication.
I have advised with all the military, and I have advised with all the others within this agency from Crow Creek to Fort Rice, and I have not yet found one not in favor of setting this order aside. The Indians who gather at these different points are friendly to the government and enemies to the hostile Indians. and fear them as enemies. They say they are willing to help protect the whites if they can only be permitted to purchase the means with which to do it. The Indians inimical (hostile) to the government procure all the ammunition they desire from traffic with the Red river half-breeds. This the friendly Indians understand, and tell me this prohibition has driven many of their young mean into the hostile camp; and again, it is now approaching the season of the year when the Indians, settled along the Missouri river, must subsist to a great extent upon such small game as cannot be successfully hunted with bows and arrows.
Justice to these Indians requires that the order be immediately abrogated. I think it a very dangerous order to enforce among these Indians. At this place, Fort Sully and Fort Rice the Indians of known friendship should be permitted to purchase ammunition in small quantities, sufficient for hunting purposes. An arrangement as to the quantity and manner of purchase can easily be made between the commander of the district, with whom I have conferred upon this subject, and the agent. I trust this subject may be regarded of sufficient importance to command immediate attention.
J. R. HANSON,
United States Indian Agent of the Upper Missouri Sioux.
"Letter of Secretary of the Interior Communicating, in Compliance with a Resolution of the Senate of the 8th Instant, Information Touching the Origin and Progress of Indian Hostilities on the Frontier" Date: Jan 01, 1867 - Dec 31, 1867
Cree women were the keepers of the lodge fires. They were known as the "iskwêw" (or iskwêwak, plural). The keepers of the lodge fires were the givers of life who kept the family warm and who ensured that there was a warm meal for their people to eat.
Enhanced & colorized by Dibaajimowin (08/07/2020)
Gabriel Dumont was a Métis hunter, merchant, ferryman, and political and military leader who was instrumental in the 1885 resistance against the government of Canada.
He was born in December 1837 at Red River Settlement, Manitoba, the second son of Isidore Dumont and Louise Laframboise. He married Madeleine Wilkie in 1858 at St Joseph (Walhalla, North Dakota).
During the North-West Resistance his military tactics scored some blows against the Canadian forces, and he was known for his great intelligence and skill.
Following the resistance he fled to the United States where he was harbored by friendly Métis at Turtle Mountain and Walhalla, North Dakota. He traveled to the east coast and was reputed to have been with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show for a brief time.
He was eventually granted clemency by the Canadian government and he returned to Canada, where he died, May 19, 1906 in Bellevue (St-Isidore-de-Bellevue) Sask.
Enhanced & Colorized by Dibaajimowin (07/26/2020)
Ayabe-Way-We-Tung, Chief Little Shell III (1896).
Photo taken during the delegation to Washington, DC.
It was reported that Little Shell and his delegates traveled by foot from Turtle Mountain to Devils Lake in the dead of winter to go to Washington. During the 80 mile walk in the middle of winter, temperatures were -40 windchill.
During the 1950s, a North Dakota State Senator recounted how, when he was a child, he and his family were sleeping in their homestead house. They heard some people enter the house in the middle of the night. They were too afraid to investigate, so they waited until morning. In the morning his father found Little Shell and his men busy cooking bacon. They enjoyed breakfast before heading back out in the cold and finishing their trek to Devils Lake.
Enhanced & colorized by Dibaajimowin (07/21/2020)
TERM OF LEADERSHIP: 1872-1903
After the passing of his father in 1872, Ayabe-way-we-tung became the third Little Shell Chief.
His first order of business as chief was to negotiate with Washington, hoping to secure an amenable treaty for his people for their lands in North Dakota, and for the establishment of a reservation that would serve them as a permanent homeland against the encroachment of white settlers. During his delegation of 1876, Little Shell and the other leaders of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa made a petition to the US Government asking for a settlement of their issues. They made several key points and concessions, and asked for considerations for their request to cede over 9-million acres of land in North Dakota. Among their main points were to define their territory formally with the government, to lodge a complaint about the establishment of the Sioux reservation at Devils Lake, and to ask for the establishment of a formal reservation of 50 by 60 miles in the area surrounding the Turtle Mountains. Unfortunately, the government refused to act upon their petition and soon thereafter a smaller reservation was established by Executive order in 1882. This reservation was further diminished in 1884 to the present-day size of 6 by 12 miles. The reduction of the reservation remained a bone of contention for Little Shell throughout all future negotiations with the government.
In 1892, negotiations between the government and the tribe were arbitrarily commenced in order to settle the title to 10-million acres of land yet unceded by Little Shell and the Turtle Mountain Band. The negotiating committee was headed by P. J. McCumber, and became known as the McCumber Commission. Even though Little Shell was the hereditary chief of the Band, the McCumber Committee refused to negotiate with him and his council – forcing Little Shell to walk out of the negotiations in protest. Taking advantage of this, McCumber instead undercut Little Shell by dealing with a “Committee of 32” which had been elected the previous year to deal with some internal problems within the tribe. The result of this negotiation was the so-called “Ten Cent Treaty” by which the Turtle Mountain Band, under the Committee of 32, agreed to cede their claims to their nearly 10-million acres of land for one-million dollars. This “treaty” was quickly contested by Little Shell and his council, who spent the next twelve years in a legal battle with the US Government. As a result, the Ten Cent Treaty was never ratified by Congress.
Little Shell III passed away in 1903 and Congress quickly ratified an amended McCumber Agreement (the Davis Agreement) in 1904.
Enhanced & Colorized by Dibaajimowin (07/20/2020)
This unique village existed until the early 1900s under chiefs Cobenais and Mickinock who maintained several camps along the Roseau River in northern Minnesota. The main village was located on the shores of Roseau Lake, which has since been drained for agriculture in the early 20th century.
Mickinock was famous for quelling a settler panic during the Ghost Dance phenomenon, when local white settlers heard a rumor that there would be an Indian uprising. The settlers fled their homes, leaving their livestock. Mickinock, Cobenais, and others fed and watered the livestock of several farms until word could be sent that there was no uprising. This saved the livestock from starvation.
There was also a legend of a windigo that supposedly lived in the muskeg around the lake. One day, it was reported that the windigo could be seen walking near the village and the next day Mickinock's wife died.
This photo, taken in 1887, shows Cobenais (wearing a green blanket around his waist) and Mickinock (holding a rifle), their wives and other relatives. The man standing with the little girl is a Metis man named Billy McGillis. He was originally from Red River settlement, but was forced to flee when he was accused of a murder. He wound up south of the Medicine Line at Mickinock's village and stayed - becoming their interpreter as he knew English.
Today, there is a stone monument designating where the village once stood.
Photo Enhanced & Colorized by Dibaajimowin (07/19/2020)
Dibaajimowin was created as a way to share interesting and unique stories and other information about the Metis and Ojibwe people (and others) so that these can be used by our guests to educate themselves and others about the history, culture, and language of the people.