In 1870, after the Red River Métis under Louis Riel failed in their attempt to maintain an independent government, the people of the Red River settlement entered Confederation as the tiny province of Manitoba, the first province created under the new Dominion government. For a time Manitoba was often called the postage stamp province because at first it only covered an area of 11,000 square miles, its northern boundary traversing the lower part of Lake Winnipeg. Its population comprised approximately 12.000 persons, only 13 percent of whom were white; 5 percent were Indians, and 82 percent were of mixed blood. To the north and west lay the vast reaches of the North-West Territories, with their sparse, nomadic, Indian population and scattered white traders.
Hallowell, A. Irving (Alfred Irving), and Jennifer S. H. Brown. 1991. “Ojibwa Of Berens River, Manitoba: Ethnography Into History.” Case Studies In Cultural Anthropology. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers.
Under authority of an act of Congress approved June 19, 1860 (12 Stat. 44, 59), a means was set forth providing for negotiations with the Red Lake and Red River (Pembina) Bands of Ojibwe for the extinguishment of their title to lands in the Red River valley. As a result, territorial governor Alexander Ramsey arranged for a treaty between the United States and the Red Lake and Pembina Bands of Chippewa Indians. The treaty (aka “the Old Crossing Treaty”) was concluded on October 2, 1863, and was ratified with amendments on March 1, 1863. This treaty was subsequently altered to arrange various monetary issues and to warrant the issuance of scrip (in certain cases) on April 12, 1864. It was finally ratified on April 21, 1864, and proclaimed by Congress on April 25, 1864, and signed by the President on May 6, 1864 (13 Stat. 667 and 13 Stat. 689).
Under the cession terms of the treaty, the Pembina and Red Lake bands ceded much of the Red River Valley. The total land area ceded included roughly 127 miles (204 km) east to west and 188 miles (303 km) north to south; comprising nearly 11,000,000 acres (45,000 km2) of rich prairie lands and forests. On the Minnesota side, the ceded territory included all lands lying west of a line running generally southwest from the Lake of the Woods to Thief Lake, then angling southeast to the headwaters of the Wild Rice River. On the North Dakota side, the ceded territory included all of the Red River Valley north of the Sheyenne River to Stump Lake, to the headwaters of the Salt River to the US/Canadian border.
In addition to various allowances for annuities and other compensation, Article 8 of the treaty made a provision for the half-breed members of the bands, allowing them to take 160 acre “homesteads” within the ceded area.
Article 8 states:
“ARTICLE VIII. In further consideration of the foregoing cession, it is hereby agreed that the United States shall grant to each male adult half-breed or mixed-blood who is related by blood to the said Chippewas of the said Red Lake or Pembina bands, who has adopted the habits and customs of civilized life, and who is a citizen of the United States, a homestead of one hundred and sixty acres of land, to be selected at his option, within the limits of the tract of country hereby ceded to the United States, on any land not previously occupied by actual settlers or covered by prior grants, the boundaries thereof to be adjusted in conformity with the lines of the official surveys when the same shall be made, and with the laws and regulations of the United States affecting the location and entry of the same.”
On March 1, 1864, during an executive session of the Senate, Article 8 was amended to add a provision that stated that no scrip, or patent, would issue until such 160 acre selections were “proved up” with residence and cultivation of the land:
“In further consideration of the foregoing cession, it is hereby agreed that the United States shall grant to each male adult half-breed or mixed-blood who is related by blood to the said Chippewas of the said Red Lake or Pembina bands who has adopted the habits and customs of civilized life, and who is a citizen of the United States, a homestead of one hundred and sixty acres of land, to be selected at his option, within the limits of the tract of country hereby ceded to the United States, on any land not previously occupied by actual settlers or covered by prior grants, the boundaries thereof to be adjusted in conformity with the lines of the official surveys when the same shall be made, and with the laws and regulations of the United States affecting the location and entry of the same: Provided, That no scrip shall be issued under the provisions of this article, and no assignments shall be made of any right, title, or interest at law or in equity until a patent shall issue, and no patent shall be issued until due proof of five years' actual residence and cultivation, as required by the act entitled “An act to secure homesteads on the public domain.”
On April 21, 1864, this article was again amended to allow for the issuance of scrip in certain cases. It was established under Article 7 as follows:
“ARTICLE VII. It is further agreed by the parties hereto, that, in lieu of the lands provided for the mixed-bloods by article eight of said treaty, concluded at the Old Crossing of Red Lake River, scrip shall be issued to such of said mixed-bloods as shall so elect, which shall entitle the holder to a like amount of land, and may be located upon any of the lands ceded by said treaty, but not elsewhere, and shall be accepted by said mixed-bloods in lieu of all future claims for annuities.”
In total, over 400 patents were perfected and issued to mixed-blood Pembina and Red Lake Chippewa members. These lands were selected in seven (7) Counties in North Dakota and seven (7) Counties in Minnesota, mostly along several major travel and hunting routes such as the Red Lake River, Maple River, Pembina River, and the Red River itself. Land tended to be concentrated in 5 specific areas: the Pembina River area of North Dakota, the Red River (both Minnesota and North Dakota), the Red Lake River (Minnesota), and the Grandin and Cassleton areas of North Dakota, with some isolated selections (or small groupings of selections) elsewhere in the ceded area.
A list of those half-breeds who received patents and scrip under the 1863/64 Old Crossing Treaty are provided below.
During a debate in the House of Commons, July 20, 1886, Min. Joseph Royal, Lieutenant Governor of the Northwest Territories and M.P. of the Canadian Parliament for Provencher, argued on behalf of the Metis and outlined the injustice that they faced from 1869 until the 1885 uprisings. He admonished the house for the theft of half-breed lands and scrip, the ignoring of the Metis as a distinct people with distinct rights, and the general exodus of many Metis to places such as Turtle Mountain (in North Dakota), Duck Lake, Qu'Appelle, Battleford and St. Albert, and the disappearance of the population at Wood Mountain who fled into Montana following the defeat at Batoche.
A portion of his speech is as follows:
I believe those immediate causes were aggravated to a large extent by the shameful speculation that was carried on at the expense of the half-breeds in the years following 1870. By the Manitoba Act a certain reserve had been set out for the extinguishment of the Indian title in favor of the people of that part of the country. In fact, the half-breeds under that Act were recognized as a distinct people, having distinct privileges and rights, which the Government of Canada had to deal with and settle. And let me here say that with respect of North-West grievances, there are three causes of the grievances in connection with the North-West affairs. There are letters and petitions addressed to the Government by the people, both of Manitoba and the North West Territories. Those letters and petitions have been read and commented upon at great length by some hon. gentlemen opposite, more especially by the leader of the Opposition. Then we have the resolutions and Bills of Rights proposed by Riel and his white Grit followers at Prince Albert and elsewhere; and the resolutions proposed at the Moosomin and Calgary meetings, and they form a distinct part of the grievances.
The third class of grievances is composed of the grievances of the Opposition, and I believe they are the only grievances with which to deal in the settlement of this question. Under the Manitoba Act as stated the half-breeds wore entitled to have a certain lot of land for the extinguishment of the Indian title. A reserve, comprising 1,400,000 acres of land, was set apart for the purpose. But long were the delays. It is not my intention to make more of those details than should be made of them. And so long were the delays in the apportionment of those reserves, and so protracted the issue of letters patent, that the people became doubtful of the good faith of the Government, and were easily induced by speculators to sell their rights to the land. They were canvassed by those speculators, who informed them that it would take many years to get possession of their 240 acres; that the Government did not desire that they should get possession of them; and other arguments of that kind were used.
I suppose hon. gentlemen opposite know something about that, for I believe that some of them and some of their friends own several thousand acres of these reserves. I presume that at one time 240 acres of half-breed claims were actually purchased for 5, 6, 7 and 8 pounds, and those prices prevailed during the Administration of hon. gentlemen opposite. The result was that the half-breeds lost confidence in Canadian laws and Canadian promises, and were easily induced to part with their reservations for a mere trifle. In fact, at the present day, I do not suppose that one-twentieth of these reserves remain in the hands of the original owners, and that is the reason why we see so many of these reserves in certain parishes lying waste. The result was, that in 1880, 1881 and 1883, a large number of these half-breeds left the Province, some going towards the Turtle Mountain district, in Dakota, and were thus lost to us entirely, others going westward to increase materially the half-breed settlements at Duck Lake, Qu'Appelle, Battleford and St. Albert. It is stated that, of a strong colony which formerly existed at Wood Mountain, only a few remain, the others having gone to the United States. Only a few thousand half-breeds now remain in Manitoba, although their population at the time of the transfer, in 1870, was 12,000 or 13,000.
House of Commons debates (Vol. 4). (1886). Ottawa: Queens Printer.
Here, in 2018, we listen to politicians and media discussions about immigration often taking place using less than flattering words. This is nothing new, as racist points of view about immigration have been part of the American discourse for centuries. However, the discussion rarely includes indigenous people from Canada, such as the Metis, who made their homeland on the prairies of what is now Manitoba, North Dakota, Minnesota, and other border states and provinces before Canada and the United States had developed the international boundary.
This 1953 article discusses the historical Metis disregard for the boundary in the framework of the (then) present-day discussion on border security, using racist terms and a colonial disregard for Indigenous rights.
Minneapolis Star (September 1, 1953. p. 12)
Upper Midwest Had ‘Wetbacks’ Too
Red River half-breeds came down from Canada to hunt the buffalo more than a century ago.
By Jay Edgerton of the Star editorial page staff
Illegal entry of the United States, dramatized today in the "wetback" border troubles, of the southwestern states, is nothing new in the nation's history. More than 100 years ago the part of the, Upper Midwest that became Minnesota, North and South Dakota was having pioneer "wetback" trouble from Canada. Troops were sent to the border several times but then, as now, officialdom was none too successful in stopping the illicit traffic. Minnesota's original "wetbacks" were the Bois Brules, or Red River half-breeds, who swarmed down out of Canada twice each year in the early part of the nineteenth century to hunt the buffalo on the teeming prairies of what is now Minnesota and the Dakotas. Although the country was unsettled and still beyond the frontier the United States had many reasons for opposing the Canadian half-breed forays, chief among them being that it brought trouble with the Indians, particularly the Sioux.
In the summer of 1844 a large party of Red River Metis ran into a war party of Yankton Sioux. One half-breed was killed. The Canadians fought back, killing eight Indians. This brought on "Indian trouble." The Sioux went on the warpath and promptly attacked an American party they met near Otter Tail Lake. All through the I840s the Red River half breeds were a major frontier problem. Their buffalo hunts were the biggest ever seen. In 1840 more than 1,600 half-breeds went out to hunt on the Red River prairies. More than 20,000 buffalo were killed.
To the half-breeds and to the buffalo there was no such thing as an international boundary. The, buffalo wandered where they willed and the Red River men saw no reason why they couldn't kill them where they found them. To the Red River men, and also to the Indians, the buffalo was a way of life. The buffalo was food, clothing and shelter. Anything that interfered with good buffalo hunting was a matter of life and death, both to the tribes and to the half-breeds.
In those days there were no elaborate immigration restrictions such as those governing the Mexican “wetbacks”' today. But the military authorities at Fort Snelling did have laws they could work with such as the one John Jacob Astor, head of the American Fur Company, had gotten through congress in 1816.
This prohibited trading with American Indians by anyone not an American citizen. As most of the Canadian forays involved some contact with the American tribes frequently with “swaps” and sales of Canadian goods the army had legal authority to go after the half-breeds. The first military expedition against the Red River raiders came in 1845. Two companies of the First Dragoons (mounted infantry) were sent north from Fort Atkinson, Iowa territory. They discovered they were able to get promises from Canadians to stay off American soil, but once the troops were withdrawn the Red River me went speedily back to the buffalo chase.
In 1849, the war department ordered another military expedition to the Red River country. This was organized at Fort Snelling, and was commanded Brevet Major Samuel Woods, a captain of the sixth infantry, and included a company of dragoons. It marched all the way to Pembina, then a fur trading post and a motley collection of Indian lodges.
Despite all threats and shows of force, the “wetback” buffalo-hunters continued invading the United States annually until the extinction of the buffalo. Even today legal red-tape at the boundary is largely meaningless to the Indians and half-breeds of the Minnesota and North Dakota boundary country. They know it as “the line”, but to them—as Joseph Kinsey Howard reported in his book on the Metis, “Strange Empire”—it is merely a nuisance.
Source: Minneapolis Star. September 1, 1953 (page 12 of 42). (1953, Sep 01). Minneapolis Star (1947-1982)
In 1906, Congress passed an Act (amended in 1907), authorizing mixed-blood Indians on White Earth Reservation, Minnesota, to sell the lands which the Government had previously allotted to them. Many of the mixed-bloods sold all or part of their allotments since the passage of the act. However, in time, the Government suspected that in the sale of certain lands fraud had been committed intentionally by the original white purchaser, the mixed-blood seller, or both.
In 1910, the US Justice Department began to bring suits against the present white owners of more than 1,300 pieces of such land—whether or not the present owners were the original purchasers who bought the land from the mixed-blood allottees.
Both the Government and the defendants in these suits spent significant time and resources trying to ascertain the facts as to the blood status of the original White Earth members who sold their land as mixed-bloods. The method that was normally used was to take testimony from the mixed-bloods, incorporating such “evidence” as physical appearance, genealogy, and family ‘reputation’ as it related to their genealogy and blood status. Despite the evidence collected, which usually weighed in favor of the mixed-blood and against the defendants, additional information was sought to protect the claims of the white men who bought the land. Thus, the defendants then sought to determine the blood status of the mixed-bloods by using atavistic anthropometric methods.
In 1914, Albert Jenks of the University of Minnesota, was called upon to provide an “expert” opinion on behalf of the defendants. His work sought to try to determine blood status/blood degree using eugenic and atavistic “scientific” methods that were popularized by Samuel Morton (and others) to try to determine the face-breadth head-breadth index of a sampling of mixed-bloods from Red Lake, Bois Fort/Nett Lake, Mille Lacs, Cass Lake, Leech Lake, Lake Winnibegoshish, and Bowstring Lake, Minnesota, and from the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota, to see if this index could be introduced as a means of determining the blood status, or blood-quantum of mixed-blood Indians.
Jenks conducted his research at White Earth in 1914, before moving on to Bois Fort and Nett Lake over the winter of 1914-1915, Minnesota. The remainder of his work was performed over 1915-1916. His work included measuring the head breadth and length, face breadth and height, nasal breadth and length, color of eyes, skin and hair, texture and quantity of hair, and nature of incisor teeth.
His work is typical of the various methods used by the Government and others to try to separate, classify, and eventually destroy tribal communities in America and was one of the many tools used to justify the use of blood quantum as a means of restricting, erasing and eliminating Indigenous people in America.
Jenks, A. (1916) Indian-white Amalgamation: an Anthropometric Study by Albert Ernest jenks, Ph.D. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota.
WALHALLA (ST. JOSEPH)
A beautifully situated community located in the wooded river valley at the slope of Second Pembina Mountain, Walhalla (or Old St. Joseph) got its start when trader Norman Kittson built a trading post here in 1843 to take advantage of the many Ojibwe and Metis who camped here throughout the year.
Antoine B. Gingras, a half-breed trader, also started a post here in 1843. Later, in 1848, Father George Belcourt established a mission here which was called St. Joseph to work with the 50+ families who made this their regular home. In 1851, additional missionaries arrived, and in 1853 the Pembina Belfry, known as the “Angelus Bell”, was relocated to St. Joseph to officially sanctify the mission. The bell is believed to have been brought from Pembina to St. Joseph by Red River cart.
By 1860 the settlement had become an important fur trading post, with a population of 1,800—mostly Metis half-breeds and Plains Ojibwe. In 1862 a post office was established and it was a burgeoning town with a strong community. However, by 1870, the good furs became scarce in the rivers and streams of the Pembina hills, and the buffalo had virtually disappeared. By 1871, Walhalla was inhabited only by a priest, the U. S. customs inspector, and some 50 Metis people who had settled here (more or less) permanently.
The town revived and was platted in 1877. It was renamed Walhalla by the Icelandic people who were settling in the region. Although most of the Metis inhabitants left the area, some families still remain in the area until today, and each year a festival is held at the Gingras Trading Post State Park.
Originally known as Leroy’s Trading Post, Leroy was established as a Metis community during the 1850s. This post, on the Pembina River, consisted of several households of Metis log cabins scattered in the timber along the river. In 1873, Father LaFlock transferred the Saint Joseph Mission from Walhalla to Leroy to serve the Metis living here, and a post office was established in 1887.
Over the decades, the town lost most of its inhabitants to out-migration and old age. The town is now a ghost town, with no census returns during the 2010 census. However, an interesting legend, or ghost story, does persist for Leroy. A road, known as White Lady Lane, goes through the Tetrault Woods between Leroy and Walahalla. Local legend tells of a young girl who became pregnant out of wedlock. Her religious parents forced her to marry the man against her will, and after the wedding, the baby died. The distraught girl hanged herself from a bridge, and her ghost has been seen hanging from the bridge in her wedding dress. The bridge is located down a narrow road off County 9.
This small town, now nearly a ghost town, Olga was originally known as St. Pierre, due to the mission established by Catholic priest, Cyrille Saint Pierre, who was assigned as postmaster in 1882, but it was shortly thereafter renamed Olga in 1883.
A small Metis community lived at this location, and it was a favorite camping ground for the Plains Ojibwe and Metis. During the 1800s, and a famous battle between the Ojibwe/Metis and Dakota Sioux—the Battle of O’Brien’s Coulee—took place about a mile from Olga in 1848.
WPA Federal Writers Project (1935). North Dakota: A Guide to the Northern Prairie State. Washington: USGPO
Barnes-Williams, Mary Ann (1966). Origins of North Dakota Place Names. Bismarck: Tribune Publishing
The name Pembina comes from the Michif word “lii paabinaan” (drawn from the Ojibwe word “aniibimin”) for the highbush cranberries that lend their flaming color to the nearby woods in autumn.
The community traces its beginnings to about 1797 when Charles Chaboillez, of the North West Fur Company, established a temporary wintering fur trading post at the confluence of the Pembina and Red Rivers. Shortly afterward the Hudson's Bay Company opened a post here, under the operation of Alexander Henry, in 1800, and the X Y Company also established several posts in this area. The three companies competed heavily for the majority of trade with the half-breed Metis and the Ojibwe who frequented the area, providing cheap trade goods and rum.
In 1812, about 227 Scotch and Swiss colonists were brought to Pembina by William Douglas, the Earl of Selkirk, under an agreement with Hudson's Bay Company to settle and farm the area, as Pembina was under British control until 1818, when the international boundary placed it under the control of the United States.
Throughout the early and middle part of the nineteenth century Pembina was the one of the main rendezvous for Metis and Plains Ojibwe hunters, and the town was the starting point for the great Pembina buffalo hunts. Stories abound about the massive hunts that left Pembina, often taking in millions of pounds of pemmican and furs in a single season before returning to trade them back. Hundreds of Metis maintained residence at Pembina, and the surrounding area, using it as their main wintering place.
Although a church and a school were started at Pembina early in the 1800s, the community made little progress until 1843 when Norman Kittson, of the American Fur Company, established a large trading store that he kept stocked with goods of all kinds, brought up from St. Paul. His business thrived as it served as a middle-man hub where he would buy furs in bulk and have them shipped to St. Paul by Red River cart. The carts would, in turn, haul valuable goods back to Pembina for trade with the half-breeds and Indians. Kittson also served as postmaster, creating an avenue for communication with the outside world.
As the fur trade dwindled down during the 1860s, the place became less important and many of the half-breeds and Ojibwe began to filter west towards Turtle Mountain and the western Plains. After the signing of the 1863 Old Crossing Treaty, white farmers began to stake claims in the region. Pembina was finally incorporated as a city in 1885, and the traditional indigenous owners of the land eventually abandoned the area, with the exception of a few Metis families who took homesteads and remained. Their descendants can still be found in Pembina and many of the surrounding communities to this day.
WPA Federal Writers Project (1935). North Dakota: A Guide to the Northern Prairie State. Washington: USGPO
Barnes-Williams, Mary Ann (1966). Origins of North Dakota Place Names. Bismarck: Tribune Publishing
In 1909, cowboy and countryman Randall Kemp wrote a detailed description of a “half-breed” dance that he witnessed years earlier on the Colville Reservation in Washington state. An interesting description, this account shows the distant reach of Metis culture far to the west of the original prairie origins. A summary of his account is as follows:
The desire to attend a dance of this description had been uppermost with me for a long time. I longed to take it all in, write it up and allow the readers of some widely circulated journal to know just how it was in reality. It was the month of July that a companion and myself were camped at Okanogan Smith's ranch…
A messenger arrived at the ranch and brings the welcome tidings that the dance, a surprise party would go on. Everybody was invited, a splendid time was expected and if we desired to enjoy the fun all we had to do was saddle our horses, mount and go. It scarcely appeared an instant until we were on our way, bounding over the prairie-like river bottom toward the scene of the festivities.
I had ridden fifty miles that day to see what was to be seen and was determined to take it all in. In due time we arrived at the Ingraham ranch, dismounted and, after promising each other to say nothing to our families about our interests in the affair, we were ushered into the room where the company were assembled."
"It appears at this time almost impossible to describe the scene that met our eyes. A low room about twenty feet square, around the sides of which were rough benches on which sat persons of the different sexes, of, it appeared to me, every shade imaginable, from the pure white man and woman to the blackest Indian, interspersed with mixed blood of all shades of copper. All ages, too, were represented. The room was a perfect babel of sounds. Some were conversing in English, some in the Indian tongue, others were carrying on their conversations in Chinook, and in one corner two Chinamen, who had come down from Rock creek, were having a war of words, apparently, in their native language.
Sitting on a chair placed on the top of a common table in another corner was a bald-headed man busily engaged in tuning an antiquated looking fiddle. "Hudson's Bay," remarked my companion, pointing toward the musician. I did not know at this time the meaning of these two words in that connection, but afterward I thoroughly understood the meaning of Hudson's Bay fiddler, and, if the reader is patient, will endeavor to describe this backwoods disciple of Paganini. A Hudson's Bay fiddler is one of the old fur company's employees with a taste for music which is only brought to the surface by an energetic use of the bow. They are as necessary adjuncts to a half-breed dance as the half-breeds themselves. They can generally play but imperfectly a few old-style tunes. If a string on the instrument breaks, and there is not another within 100 miles, does the dance cease on account of the lack of music? No! Mr. Hudson's Bay fastens on a tow string, a piece of barb wire from the nearest fence, anything that will make a noise when stretched, and the fun goes on.
"Take your pardners for a quadrille," yelled old Hudson's Bay, as he drew the bow across the tightened strings of the fiddle, which appeared to be tuned to his satisfaction. Instantly the hum of voices ceased, and there was a hurrying of feet on the puncheon floor. The first thing that I knew I was bowing and extending my left arm to the first purely Native American lady I saw. There was no need of introduction. She accepted me as a partner, and we took our places in one of the sets that were forming. "All ready," shouted old Hudson's Bay as he tucked the fiddle under his chin. "Jeemeny whiz! Here's room for another". A young fellow took a plaited rawhide rope from his belt, and dexterously lassoed a comely looking half-breed girl at the other side of the room and brought her to him by pulling the lariat hand over hand. Thus we were standing in waiting for the dance to go on. I turned to my lady so as to carefully study her features as well as make-up, but was startled by the hoarse voice of old Hudson's Bay with the request to "say-loot your pardners. On With the Dance”. Then the dance commenced in real earnest.
I do not know the name of the tune that old Hudson's Bay ground out of the fiddle, and I was too modest to inquire. What it lacked in melody was made up in energy and vim by the dancers. The rubber soles of Mr. Pete's rubber boots touched the ceiling at times, while the clatter of Mr. Sam's hob-nailed underpinning was not much unlike the thumping of stamps in a quartz mill. The ladies, with their moccasined feet, skipped nimbly about, while I, in the excitement occasioned by the newness of everything, soon noticed that I had neglected to remove the heavy pair of Mexican spurs from my top riding boots."
Kemp, Randall H. (1909) A Half Breed Dance and Other Far West Stories: Mining Camp, Indian and Hudson Bay Tales Based on the Experiences of the Author. Spokane: Inland Printing.
In a Letter from the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, accompanying the Annual Report of the Board of Regents for the year 1879, a very vivid description of the Metis people was given. This description discussed such issues as the Metis homeland and settlements, the tribes from which the Metis derived their Indian blood and kinship, their housing, mode of dress, the linguistic aspects of the Metis people, and some of the family names of the Metis Nation. A highly detailed document, it provides a very good basis for additional research into the Metis people.
In discussing homeland and community, the document states that the province of Manitoba, extending from the boundary line to Lake Winnipeg, is the great center of the Metis homeland. In this area, strong communities were concentrated around Winnipeg in places such as Fort Garry, St. Boniface, St. Vital, St. Norbert, St. Agatha, St. Anne, St. Charles, and St. Francis Xavier (or Grantstown). The population estimate for the area was place around 6,500 people, with an additional 500 living in various area around the shores of Lake Winnipeg, Lake Manitoba, and in the Rainy Lake district of Ontario.
In the Saskatchewan district, the letter stated that many of the settlements were scattered along the Saskatchewan River, clustering around tradition posts, and in Alberta settlements were most numerous along the base of the Rocky Mountains in places such as Fort Edmonton, St. Albert, and St. Anne, with the number residing in that area totaling around 2,500 Metis. At little Slave Lake (and vicinity) an additional 500 Metis were living, and other large concentrations include about 500 souls in the vicinity of Lac Labiche, 300 at Peace River and vicinity, and varying numbers of scattered families ranging as far north as the Great Slave Lake. Other places with concentrations of Metis included Turtle Mountain in what is now North Dakota, Wood Mountains in Saskatchewan, Cypress Hills in Saskatchewan and Alberta, Milk River and French Creek, Montana, and additional groups in British Columbia at the Fraser and Okanagan Rivers, Lakes Kamloops, Babine, and Stuart.
The document estimated that over 33,000 Metis were living in the Canadian northwest. The letter also made a hypothetical guess that if the French-descended families outside the Metis homeland, stated to be “tainted with Indian blood”, residing in places such as eastern Canada, Illinois, and Missouri were included, perhaps an additional 7,000 people might be added to this total.
BLOOD AND KINSHIP
The letter also discussed some of the tribes to which the Metis were related by blood and kinship. These tribes included early admixture with Montagnais, Ottawa, and Huron, with limited mixing with Iroquois and Ottawa tribes. The majority of Metis, it states, derived their bloodlines from the Ojibwe, Cree, and Assiniboine, with minor influence of Dakota Sioux. Those Metis hailing from Saskatchewan were mostly of Cree extraction, Metis hailing from around Pembina, St. Joseph, Winnipeg, Rainy River, the Red River were mainly of Ojibwe and Saulteaux blood, while the Metis of Alberta northward to the Great Slave Lake were exclusively of Cree origin. The Metis who possessed Iroquois blood were small in number and hailed from around Lake Winnipeg and at areas near the Rocky Mountains. Of the other tribal bloodlines, a small proportion of Blackfeet and Montagnais Metis were known to be operating near the base of the Rocky Mountains; the Blackfeet Metis living in the south and the Metis with Montagnais blood living to the north with the Cree derived Metis. Metis with Assiniboine ties were more common in southern Manitoba, and northern North Dakota, and some groups with Ojibwe, Assiniboine, and Dakota Sioux blood were operating in the Red River and Devil’s Lake region of North Dakota. There were some Gros Ventre and Flathead associated Metis in Montana, with some Cree and Ojibwe Metis there as well, mostly in the Milk River region.
HOUSING AND DRESS
In terms of housing, the letter states that the average Metis house—especially those typical along the Red River—were small, one-story log structures with one, sometimes two or three rooms, and very sparsely furnished. In one corner of the principal room, the bed of the heads of the family were usually placed. An open fire-place, constructed to be tall and narrow—so as to accommodate logs placed upright—was along the middle of one of the walls. If possible, a table, dresser, and a few boxes serving duty as storage and as chairs, constituted the furniture. Almost all activities would happen in this room, including eating and sleeping.
In their dress the Metis, it was noted, had a remarkable fondness for finery and gaudy attire. The Manitoba Metis men usually wore a blue overcoat (or capote) with conspicuous brass buttons, black or drab corduroy trousers, and a belt or sash around their waist, with garter leggings and moccasins. Their clothes would usually be variously adorned with colored fringes, scallops, and beads. Younger men might wear leggings made of blue cloth, which would extend to the knee, below which was tied with a gaudy garter with heavy bead work running down the outer seam. The Metis women generally dressed in a black gown with a black shawl thrown over the head, while young girls often wore a colored shawl about their shoulders and a showy bonnet or kerchief upon the head. The women loved the color scarlet and prized gaudy ribbons and jewelry.
It was noted that the Metis generally spoke several languages, including one or more Indian dialects, French-patois, and often English. Most of the Metis residing in the United States could speak and understand English and used it when conversing with white men, but spoke their native language between themselves. Similarly, the Metis at Red River, Saskatchewan, and Milk River settlements, only spoke English when conversing with white men. In terms of Indian languages, the Metis around Rainy River westward spoke mostly Ojibwe, while the further west one went Cree became the language of choice. Many of the Metis in what is now North Dakota could speak Ojibwe, Dakota Sioux, and Cree, while in other places the dialect of the tribe from which they originated was spoke (e.g. Gros Ventre, Assiniboine, etc.) While French is understood by the Metis, the French is a patois that is not comprehensive but contains a large number of peculiar words and expressions grown out of the character of the land they live in, and their mode of life they live. Their pronunciation is generally understood by a Frenchman in spite of its difference, but the French spoke by the white man is not readily understood by the average Metis.
SOME FAMILY NAMES
The names of Metis, it was stated, were primarily derived from the original French Canadian families from the east. Some of the names found around the Lakes in Manitoba included: Bonaventure, Saint-Arnaud, De Montigny, Saint-Cyr, Saint-Germain, La Morandiére, and La Ronde. Farther north, names included: De Mandeville, Saint-George, Laporte, Saint-Luc, Racette, Lépinais, and De Charlais [Desjarlais]. Among the most common family names at Red River were: Boucher, Bourassa, Boyer, Cadotte, Capelette, Carrière, Charette, Delorme, Deschambeau, Dumas, Flamand, Garneau, Gosselin, Grand Bois, Gaudry, Goulet, Hupé, Larocque, Lucier, Lagemodière, Laderoute, Lepuie, Laframbaise, Letendre, Morin, Montreuil, Martel, Normand, Rinville, and Villebrun. Other common names included: Saint-André, Bellanger, Bonneau, Boucher, Baudry, Biron, Chevalier, Cadotte, Chenier, Deschamps, Frichette, Giroux, Gendron, Grondin, Hamelin, Lapierre, Lavallée, Lécuyer, Lévéque, Lusignau, Labutte, Lépine, Mainville, Nolin, Plaute, Pelletier, Perrault, Pilotte, Piquette, Riel, Saintonge, and Thibault. Further west, names like Gregoire, Maison, Lachapelle, Delorme, Vaudal, Lucier, Gervais, and Rondeau could be found. Some Metis names found in Montana included: Asselin, Jaugras, Moriceau, Lade route, Lafontaine, Larose, Lavallée, Poirier, Dupuis, Bisson, Houille, and Carrier. Some of the names found in British Columbia included: Allard, Boucher, Boulanger, Danant, Dionne, Durocher, Falandeau, Gagnou, Giraud, Lacroix, Lafleur, Napoleon, Perault. Some of the names that began with the “La” possibly originated in the wilderness and were not necessarily derived from white fathers. Other names could be found, and any of these names listed above, and others, could be found in and among all Metis communities. Some Scottish and English names were also present, but these are not listed.
In terms of work, the Metis could be found in a variety of positions working at trading posts as porters, laborers, and other positions. Many moved goods from place to place in their carts, and some were boatmen. Trading establishments also hired Metis men to serve as trappers and hunters to supply the posts with goods to sell and trade. Estimates are that about 25 percent of Metis were employed this way. Others served as guides and interpreters. The vast majority are hunters who are dependent on the buffalo and work the hide and pemmican trade. Their women are expert in tanning hides and robes. It is said that their bead-work was outstanding and they were very skillful in the ornamentation of furs and buckskin.
Annual Report of the Board of Regions for the year 1879, Smithsonian Institute, Washington: Smithsonian Institute.
During the latter part of July, 1870, a contingent of soldiers under the command of Major C.J. Dickey, of the 22nd U.S. Infantry, was accompanying a paymaster between Fort Buford and Fort Stevenson, in what is now North Dakota.
About twenty soldiers were in the contingent. On their first day of travel, they camped near a stream called ‘Rising Waters’, about twenty-five miles upriver from Ft. Berthold. While there they were met by two half-breed mail carriers—Scotty Richmond and George Keplin—who usually transported the mail between the various forts along the Missouri. These men were considered quite fearless in their jobs because they were from the region and knew most of the local tribes quite well. Keplin himself was quite a character. He was born the son of one of the original Scotch founders of the Selkirk and a Cree woman. He was reputed to speak Cree, Ojibwe, Dakota, Mandan, and many other tribal languages. Because of this, Keplin was considered one of the most trustworthy mail carrier's on the northern plains.
Just around noon, the soldiers spotted three Indians coming over the bluffs from the direction of the Fort Berthold agency. They were mounted and riding at full speed. Not knowing what to make of this, the soldiers mounted their horses, but upon seeing this the Indians quickly turned down a draw and hid themselves in a wooded area. Major Dickey sent a few men, accompanied by Kelpin, to investigate. Keplin was to serve as interpreter. Unfortunately, Keplin and Scotty Richmond has spent most of the night and part of the morning drinking whiskey. Keplin and was heavily under the influence and instead of staying with the soldiers, he fool heartedly rushed ahead and reached the tree-line.
One of the Sioux men stepped forward and Keplin yelled to him in Dakota, “Who are you?” The man looked at Keplin and said, “I am Bad Hand of the Sissetonwan”. He turned and motioned to his friends standing behind him in the trees and continued, “These men are my friends. I see that you are with some white soldiers. This is good because my people are friends with the whites.” Wobbly in his saddle, Keplin stared at Bad Hand, who continued speaking, “Why do you and the soldiers chase us? We have done nothing wrong.” With the whiskey talking, Keplin called out, “I have come to fight you!”
Bad Hand didn’t seemed upset by this, instead he simply raised his gun and said, “Then fight it is.” With that, Bad Hand pulled the trigger and shot Keplin straight off of his horse—dead. Bad Hand then ran forward, grabbed Keplin’s gun and belt of cartridges, and ran back to the shelter of the grove. Just arriving, the soldiers took up positions and surrounded the grove of trees.
Almost as if by some twist of fate, a party of Mandan and Hidatsa came riding over the hill. They had been in pursuit of Bad Hand and his companions. Once they arrived they informed the soldiers that they were following the Sioux, seeking vengeance for killing some of the people at Ft. Berthold and stealing some horses. The Mandan and Hidatsa also took up positions around the trees and their leader, Poor Wolf, shouted to the Sioux: “We have come to kill you, Bad Hand. You killed our people and you stole from us. You do not deserve to live. Prepare to die!” Upon this, the Mandan and Hidatsa warriors began firing into the trees.
After a few volleys had been fire, Bad Hand spoke up from the tree cover: “You will kill us because you are hundreds in number, and we are few. My friend is dying, but I refuse to die without taking one of you with me to the spirit lands.” It was finally decided that one of the Mandan warriors would walk out into the open to draw the fire of the Sioux. In this way they could see exactly where they were hiding and put an end to them once and for all.
A young Mandan warrior volunteered for this task. He was given various charms, smudged by one of the older warriors, and they sang a song together before he walked out to his suicide task. Striking up his courage, the young warrior walked bravely out and was almost immediately shot. In response, about 200 shots were rained down on the spot where the killing shot came. Bad Hand was no more. The body of Band Hand and another of his companions were then scalped. Bad Hand’s head was cut entirely off as a war trophy. One of the Hidatsa warriors noted that they only had two bodies here, but they had been chasing three men. They searched the area, but no trace of the third man was found.
About three days later, a young Dakota lad arrived exhausted at Fort Buford. He was briefly detained by the soldiers, but he escaped in the middle of the night, never to be seen again.
Taylor, J. H. (1897). Sketches of frontier and Indian life on the upper Missouri and Great Plains: Embracing the authors personal recollections of noted frontier characters and some observations of wild Indian life during a twenty-five years residence in the two Dakotas. Bismarck, ND: Self Published.
A collaborative effort of members of the Ojibwe and Metis communities