The relations between the Europeans and the half-breed Metis were generally amicable. Metis would serve as employees of fur posts, hired hunters, guides, and even protectors for the various explorers who ventured into the vast expanses of forests and prairies of the northern US and southern Canada. During the 1870s, Windham Thomas Wyndham-Quin, 4th Earl of Dunraven and Mount-Earl (aka Lord Dunraven) spent much of his leisure time hunting wild game in various parts of the world. After hearing of the fine hunting in the American West, he decided to visit. He first arrived in 1872, and met and befriended a frontiersman named Texas Jack Omohundro, who traveled with Earl's party on various buffalo and elk hunts. In 1874, the Earl reuniting with Texas Jack on his second visit to the American west. Guided by some Montana Metis, they explored Yellowstone area, including the area that would later become Yellowstone Nation Park. He wrote about his trip in his book “Hunting in the Yellowstone or On the Trail of the Wapiti with Texas Jack in the Land of Geysers”.
He made a few interesting observations about the region and about how vital the Metis were to acting as guides for explorers such as himself. In discussing his route and itinerary to the west, Lord Dunraven explained:
"I should advise [anyone seeking to travel west] to go up by canoe to Fort Garry (Manitoba), visiting Kakabeka Falls, passing through the soft beauties of the Lake of the Woods and Rainy Lake and River, stopping a day or two at Fort Francis, if many lodges of Chippeways or Saulteaux happen to be congregated there, and traversing the wild grandeur of the Winnipeg Rivers. From Fort Garry they could either ride or drive in about three weeks to Fort Benton (Montana), following the Assiniboine River, and shaping their course gradually south by Qu’appelle Lakes; or else, riding up the valley of the Saskatchewan to Fort Carlton, they could thence strike due south to the South Saskatchewan, and onwards by the Cypress Hills to Milk River, and so to Benton. Good men, understanding the natives and well-acquainted with the country [i.e. the Metis guides], are to be found at Fort Garry; and there ought to be no danger from Indians, except perhaps a little just in crossing the boundary. But the risk would be so slight that it is scarcely worth considering. Indians who are hostile in the States are friendly in the British possessions; and, though going from Benton north might be uncomfortable, I should have little apprehension in crossing to Benton from the Canada side in the company of a single half-breed upon whom I could rely."
Even though the Metis were sociable with Europeans, Lord Dunraven made it clear that their feelings were not entirely wholehearted, as few felt any measure of affinity to the white man:
"…feelings of contempt for white men [are not] confined to the pure-blooded Indian. I have never seen a half-breed that did not cleave to the savage and despise the civilized [white] race. Many children of mixed marriages cannot speak a word of English; and the half-breed, whether Scotch, American, or French, invariably prefers the society of his relations on the mother's side. Many of them, too, have had ample opportunities of understanding all the benefits of our system. But the one sentiment is almost universal. They will admit that the benefits which our advanced state of society has poured upon the human race are numerous and great. They will allow that there is much to be admired in the order of our lives; but, all the same, give them the forest and the prairie, the mountain and the vale. Let the rushing of great rivers, the wailing of the wind be their music; let their homes be the birch wigwam or skin tent; let trees, and stones, and flowers, and birds, and the forests and the wild beasts therein, be the books for them to read. The two lives are different utterly; both are good they will say, but the wild life is the best."
Earl of Dunraven, Hunting in the Yellowstone or On the Trail of the Wapiti with Texas Jack in the Land of Geysers, The Macmillan Company, 1925
In 1840, US Indian Agent Amos J. Bruce, noted in his reports concerns over potential conflict between the Metis half-breeds and Pembina Ojibwe and the Yankton Sioux in the area around Devils Lake. He wrote:
It becomes my duty to lay before you, sir, the statement of a movement of the British Red river half-breeds, which would seem to call for the immediate interposition of the United States Government These people have been in the habit of making annual incursions into our territories for the purpose of hunting the buffalo, of which they destroy great numbers. Some evil-disposed person having reported that the Yancton Sioux intended to oppose by force the further hunting of these foreigners upon their lands, the half-breeds, joined by a number of Indians belonging to tribes within the British boundaries, and provided with three small cannons, left the Red River colony with the intention of attacking the Sioux if found upon the hunting-grounds.
Bruce wrote later, in 1844, that the Metis were emboldened to make regular incursions deep into Dakota Sioux country. There, they would slaughter vast numbers of buffalo. This, of course, led to a fight between the Metis and the Yanktons. Bruce remarked:
I have advice of a fight which took place a few days since, between these people, at least 150 miles within our boundary. It appears that a half-breed Chippewa of Red river was killed by a party of Yanktons, of the Missouri, which was retaliated by a large party of half-breeds upon another band of Sioux, [belonging to Lake Traverse] who had no cognizance of the affair, and who were attacked by the half breeds without any warning, and eight Sioux were killed and two taken prisoners.
Parroting Bruce’s concerns, Iowa territorial Governor John Chambers also reported to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1844. Hoping for a military presence to deter the Metis, he wrote:
These people [the Metis] are represented as being numerous, warlike, and well-armed. Their intercourse with the wild bands of the Sioux, who hunt in the plains between their residence and the Missouri river, and with whom we have no treaties, has generally been of a friendly character, and such as would have made them auxiliaries of a formidable enemy in the event of a rupture of our friendly relations with Great Britain. Recently, it seems, the friendly intercourse between them has changed its character; and the suggestion made by Colonel Bruce, of showing a military force in that region of country about the time of the annual incursions of these half breeds, would have a good effect.
Ethnological Report for Docket 113, et al., before the Indian Claims Commission.
In March of 1882, Mayor Edmond Hackett, of Bismarck, made a reconnaissance survey for the Bismarck, Mouse River, Turtle Mountain & Manitoba Railroad Company, with the designs of trying to find a way to take the land from the Indians of Turtle Mountain.
His survey and explorations led him to the international boundary line where it crosses the Turtle Mountains. During this trip through the Mouse River region, he encountered a Turtle Mountain half-breed settlement near what is present-day Sawyer, North Dakota.
While visiting the half-breeds he tried to determine who was the chief of the people, their desired claims, and to see if they would be willing to relocate to the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota.
When first we discovered the [half-breed] settlement we were saluted with the howling of about fifty half-starved dogs. The village is scattered over some three or four hundred acres; the buildings or dwellings consist of small log huts mainly, with some tepees made of skins. The general appearance of these improvements is dilapidated. Each family has a patch of about an acre under cultivation which comprises their farms. I was met by the chief at once, and he wanted to know my business, and was surprised to see a party of white men in his country at this time of year. I told him I was instructed to go to his village and have a talk with the chief, to find out their condition. He kindly invited me in his tepee.
The name of the chief is “Black Bear," and he talks broken English. He is not a full-blooded Indian. I entered the lodge; two women seemed to be the only occupants. After the pipe was handed round, supper was ordered and was gotten up on short notice, consisting of Mouse River fish, hard bread and coffee. I asked him if he was the head chief of the Turtle Mountain band of Chippewas. He answered, "No,” the head chief [Little Shell], he said, “lived at Woody Mountain, on the other side of the international line.” I asked why he did not live there with his tribe. He said the chief became disgusted here with his people and would not live with them. He also said the chief at Woody Mountain held the papers from the President for these lands. I asked how they proposed to dispose of these lands, and learned that the half-breeds wanted a reservation sixty miles long and fifty miles wide, and a certain sum of money to the chiefs. I told him that I did not believe the Government would give a reservation to the half-breeds. but that they could take 160 acres, the same as a white man, under the homestead, or pre-emption law. He said the half-breeds should have a reservation as the whites had all the money. I asked him what he thought about going to the White Earth Reservation, and he said they would not go anywhere until they got pay for their lands, and then they could go where they pleased.
Kingsbury, G.W. (1915). History of Dakota Territory, Volume 2. Bismarck: S.J. Clarke Publishing Company.
A collaborative effort of members of the Ojibwe and Metis communities