The Red River cart used by the Turtle Mountain Chippewa and Metis was capable of carrying nearly a thousand pounds of cargo. It could transport this weight faster and several times more efficiently than a horse travois, especially when linked together into a wagon train of several dozen carts. A historical example describes the amazing construction and capacity of the Red River cart:
"The carts composing the train were of uniform make, and of a species called “Red River carts”. They are constructed entirely of wood, without any iron whatever, the axels and rims of the wheels forming no exception to the rule. Although this might at first sight appear a disadvantage, as denoting a want of strength, yet it is really the reverse, because in the country traversed by these vehicles, wood is abundant and always to be obtained in quantities sufficient to mend any breakages which might take place. The only tool necessary, not only to mend but to construct a cart, are an axe, a saw, a screw-auger, and a draw knife. . .Each cart is drawn by an ox, and in cases where speed is an object, a horse is substituted. . .[with] the wiry little “Indian ponies”, one of which, with a load of four or five hundred pounds in the cart behind him, will overtake from fifty to sixty miles a day in a measured, but by no means hurried, jog trot. The common rate of progress made by heavy [ox] freight carts is about twenty miles a day, of traveling ten hours, the load averaging about eight hundred pounds per cart." (Hargrave 1871: 58-59)
This new technology allowed the Chippewa and Metis to carry massive amounts of buffalo meat and hides, which was not previously possible. With the Red River cart the Turtle Mountain Chippewa were able to rise above the loss of the beaver trade of the early 1800s and were no longer confined to hunting for mere subsistence with the extras serving as trade fodder. Instead, a cultural revolution had begun.
In terms of sheer yield, the buffalo hunts that followed were almost beyond reason in terms of the amounts of meat and hides taken by the Chippewa and Métis, and the economic ramifications were astounding in terms of human organization. Unlike tribal-level organization, the cart-driven buffalo hunts were coordinated to include hundreds of people to maximize yield:
"The operations connected with these buffalo hunts give employment to somewhat over one thousand men and twelve hundred Red River carts. The people go to them with their families, who are employed in preparing the meat after the animals have been killed. The whole of those connected with the [hunting] business may be divided into two sections, of which one leaves the [Red River] settlement by the road leading to Pembina, and the other. . .[on] White Horse Plain." (Hargrave 1871: 169)
Adapted from Red River, Joseph James Hargrave, 1871 - Fort Garry (Man.)
Christmas is a time for traditions and being with family. It is a special time when we express our culture and our love of family. Below is a short response about Christmas from 1936, where Christmas celebration at Turtle Mountain is described.
"The old French and Indian spirit of Christmas begins at Christmas Eve with midnight mass. After the services are over we all begin to greet our friends. Then we hurry to get home to the little ones and do our part with Santa Clause."
"We are awakened in the morning very early, by the sounds of little bugles, trumpets, drums and all sorts of merrymaking toys. The little children with their mouths filled with candy and laughter make all happy and we wish the world a Merry Christmas!"
"When supper was over, individual jigging began. This is a special feature of our dances. The fiddler, with the fiddle casually against his ribs, struck up the Red River jig. One of the best jiggers chose his partner and began..."
From "Indians at Work" United States. Bureau of Indian Affairs, United States. Office of Indian Affairs 1936
In 1879, it was reported that there were numerous hostilities happening between settlers and the Indians of Montana. Many depredations were committed, and it was reported that a large number of the hostiles were “half-breeds and foreign Indians from British Canada, including some Indians under Sitting Bull”.
While some of the attacks against settlers were done by the half-breeds directly, they were mainly accused of providing weapons and ammunition to the hostile Indians forces. Because of this, in July of that year, Col. Miles was sent from Fort Keogh, Montana, with a military force that was intent on breaking up the half-breed camps and forcing them to return to Canada.
After a small chase and battle with the Yanktonai Sioux, where several Indians were killed and where Miles lost one soldier and three Indian scouts, he was able to turn his attentions towards the half-breeds who had originally fled into Canada to Wood Mountain when the Indian camp was attacked, but who had again returned back into Milk River territory.
On August 4, Miles and Capt. Overshine arrested a band of half-breeds, including 143 carts and 193 horses, at Porcupine Creek. The next day four camps were arrested and 308 carts were confiscated. In total, 829 half-breeds were arrested and 665 Red River carts were seized by Col. Miles. They were deported across the border back into Canada.
At the end of the hostilities, accounts reported that 20 white people had been killed and 200 head of cattle had been stolen.
Adapted from: Congressional Serial Set, 63rd Congress, 2nd Session (1914)
Fur trader Alexander Henry described a personal hunt that he took with J.B. Desmerais, a Metis hunter employed by the North West Company. The hunt took place near present-day Drayton, North Dakota, on the Minnesota side of the Red River in Marshall County:
"On approaching the Bois Perce, we found immense herds of buffalo, which appeared to touch the river and extend westward on the plains as far as the eye could reach. The meadows were alive with them. On the east side of the river we now for the first time saw buffalo; they appeared to be fully as many as there were on the west side. This is the first place we have found in coming up the river where the plain on that side comes down to the water and forms an open communication with that of the west side. It is from this circumstance that this spot derives its name of Bois Perce. As we did not wish to raise the buffalo, we tied our horses on the spot where I wished my people to camp."
"Desmarais and I went after buffalo; we soon crawled within gunshot, and each opened fire in turn, keeping ourselves concealed as much as possible in the long grass. At every shot they would start, but did not appear inclined to run off. We both emptied our powder horns, and by that time several cows were down. Having no more ammunition we went to dress our cows; but the herd started and with them all our wounded cows—not one remained on the spot. We were mortified to have fired so many shots to no purpose. We came back to where we had left our horses, and found the canoes we were waiting for had just arrived."
From NEW LIGHT ON THE EARLY HISTORY OF THE GREATER NORTHWEST THE MANUSCRIPT JOURNALS OF ALEXANDER HENRY
In his book, Indian Boyhood, Charles Eastman recounts a Metis bush dance that he witnessed as a young boy. According to Eastman, after a successful winter buffalo hunt, his band of Dakota Sioux were invited to attend the half-breeds' dance. Eastman didn't realize that the new year begins in mid-winter, as the Sioux counted that the year starting when the winter ends.
The dance took place in a log cabin along the Souris River, near Sawyer, North Dakota. According to Eastman:
"I thought it was the dizziest thing I ever saw. One man sat in a corner, sawing away at a stringed board [fiddle], and all the while he was stamping the floor with his foot and giving an occasional shout. When he called out, the dancers seemed to move faster".
"The men danced with women--something that we Indians never do--and when the man in the corner shouted they would swing the women around. It looked very rude to me, as I stood outside with the other boys and peeped through the chinks in the logs. At one time a young man and woman facing each other danced in the middle of the floor. I thought they would surely wear their moccasins out against the rough boards; but after a few minutes they were relieved by another couple".
Eastman continued: "Then an old man with long curly hair and a fox-skin cap danced alone in the middle of the room, slapping the floor with his moccasined foot in a lightning fashion that I have never seen equaled. He seemed to be a leader among them. When he had finished, the old man invited our principal chief into the middle of the floor, and after the Indian had given a great whoop, the two drank in company. After this, there was so much drinking and loud talking among the men, that it was thought best to send us children back to the camp".
Adapted from Indian boyhood, by Eastman, Charles Alexander, 1858-1939, (1911)
A family of moose was sitting in their lodge when a calumet pipe appeared and came floating in through the door. The pipe floated towards them and passed near each of the Moose, who ignored it in turn. When it reached the youngest of the bull moose, he brazenly grabbed the pipe and smoked it.
The old moose yelled and tried to stop the young bull, as he knew that the pipe was the prayers of the Metis who were smoking to ask the spirits for success in their hunt. "Now, tomorrow, they will find us!!" the old bull said. But the young moose was not afraid. He was fast and young and believed he could outrun puny men on their two legs.
When the moose went out to graze the next day, they caught the scent of the Metis hunters. The hard crust on the snow made it hard for the moose to move quickly. Even so, the young moose was still sure he could outrun those two legged men. But the hunters were wearing snowshoes. They followed him until he grew tired, and then they shot and killed him. The Metis gave a prayer of thanks and thanked the young bull for allowing himself to be killed so that they could survive the harsh winter. They treated his body with honor and left offerings for his soul.
When the young moose woke up in heaven, he appeared to the old moose in a dream. He told him, "Those Metis hunters treated me with respect and made good offerings to me. It is a good thing to allow them to catch us when they honor us."
And so to this day, those Metis who honor and show respect for the moose will always be successful in their hunts and rewarded with meat when they need it.
Adapted from The Native Stories from Keepers of the Animals, by Joseph Bruchac
A collaborative effort of members of the Ojibwe and Metis communities