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.
By almost any account you read regarding the subsistence of the indigenous people of the prairies, it is indisputable that Pemmican was the favorite food of the Indians and the Metis.
Pemmican can be made from the flesh of any animal, but it was usually made from buffalo meat. The process of making it was to first cut meat into slices, then to dry the meat either by fire or in the sun. Once the meat was dried, it was then pounded into a thick flaky “fluffy” powder. Once rendered down, the meat was put into large bags made from buffalo hides. To this, rendered, melted fat melted fat was poured. The quantity of fat was nearly half the total weight of the finished product, in a portion where for every five pounds of powdered meat, four pounds of fat would be poured. The best pemmican generally saw berries and sugar mixed in for flavor. Once complete, the whole composition formed a solid block that could be cut into portions for later use.
Fish was also used to make pemmican. During sturgeon fishing, much of the sturgeon flesh was cured and stored for later use. This was made by drying and pounding sturgeon flesh into a powder, to which sturgeon oil and berries were added. This mixture was then packed into sturgeon skin bags, and used similar to bison pemmican.
A person could subsist on buffalo (or fish) Pemmican in good times and lean. Pemmican, with its high fat content, provides a high calorie source of energy that is almost unrivaled. Thus, it was an important food throughout the year, but especially in winter because it stayed “fresh” almost forever and could be stored without worry for years without spoiling.
Pemmican could be eaten when other foods were scarce, it could be used to stretch a meal, or it could be eaten on its own just like a block of fatty jerky – a great, portable source of food energy on long hunts or while doing any task where energy was needed. When cooked, Pemmican was easily turned into rubaboo (the most popular method by far) making a delicious stew that could feed an entire camp. Another method was to serve it fried – mixed with a little flour – to create a tasty roux that could be sopped up with bannock bread for a filling meal.
So what does pemmican taste like?' The only way you can describe the taste, is that it tastes 'Like pemmican.' There is nothing else in the world that bears the slightest resemblance. In terms of its quality as a food, it is a ‘super food’.
Indian Claims Commission Testimony Regarding Mixed-bloods as Part of, or Distinct from, the Chippewa Indians
The following is the result of Indian Claims Commission testimony of David B. Stoudt of the American Anthropological Association, Friday, September 21, 1962, regarding the issue of historical Metis, or half-breeds, as part of the Turtle Mountain and Pembina Bands, their historical development, and the exclusion of (or inclusion of) them as Indian, or as distinct from Indians.
Question: What do you understand "half -breed"' to be, or a mixed blood to be?
Answer: A person who first of all, would have to be a person of mixed biological background -- racially mixed.
Question: With some Indian blood in him?
Answer: Yes. Then, secondly, half-bred to me, is distinguished by a person who is sort of marginal with two different cultures in his or her background.
Question: In your study of the evidence did you discover that in many cases the half-breeds were members of these tribes or bands of Chippewas?
Answer: Yes, there were some that were biologically mixed who were living an Indian way of life and regarded themselves p as Indians.
Question: Where did you know the difference was, if some of them were members of the tribes and bands, how could you tell which ones were Indians and which ones were not?
Answer: By the references made by various observers who so consistently find it necessary in their recollections, sports, accounts, and the like, to make a distinction between two social groups, one of whom they called Indians, one of whom they called half-breeds.
Question: So you ended up with in some cases, considering half-breeds Chippewas and in some cases not, is that what it amounts to?
Answer: Yes. And this is a distinction that is based now primarily on cultural differences, not the biological ones. We have two processes running along here, sometimes independent, sometimes merged. One is a biological process, one is cultural.
Question: How is a half-breed determined, by the person himself or by somebody else?
Answer: I think I indicated this morning that I would prefer to make the distinction on the basis of their own self-identification and self-regard.
Question: So it could have been possible that many of these persons who called themselves half-breeds might have been full-blooded Indians, or vice versa, is that true?
Answer: The likelihood is here that if a person were full-blooded they wouldn't think of themselves as non-Indian.
Question: Well, if they were half-bloods, might they mistakenly perhaps consider themselves full-blooded Indians?
Answer: They might.
Question: It is very difficult to tell which is which in the study of history of these people, isn't that true?
Answer: Yes, and certainly it is difficult to tell how many of each there would be who are both biologically and culturally mixed, or persons, and distinguish that number from those who were biologically and culturally purely Indian.
Question: In these cases, where you had occasion to study these people, did you resolve any doubts in favor of the Indian being half-breed rather than a full-blood?
Answer: No, I don't believe I did.
Question: Would you say that the half-breed group of Chippewas was the larger percentage of it than other Indian tribes in North America at the time in question here?
Answer: I would be hesitant to make a statement like that.
Question: Have you studied any other tribes in North America in this connection?
Question: So you don't know whether there was a difference here than there was in other tribes?
Answer: I have the general feeling from review of the materials that in and near the subject area of this case there were a somewhat higher proportion of persons who were biologically and culturally mixed whom I called half-breed than in many other parts of North America, but I couldn't anchor this in exact numbers.
Question: That is just a feeling you have? There is no authority to give substance to that opinion?
Answer: The reason I have that feeling is they do emerge so early in the historical account.
Question: The half-breeds?
Question: How early did they emerge?
Answer: They make their appearance as soon as the Red River Valley settlements were made in the northeast area of the subject area.
Question: What time would that be approximately?
Answer: The very early 1800s.
Question: So that early in the history of this entire influence of the mixture evidenced itself, is that correct?
Question: And a great proportion of these people were of that mixture, is that true?
Question: But they nevertheless conducted themselves and were considered as Indian tribes, as members of the Indian tribes, is that right?
Answer: There might have been some that were members of an Indian group, yes.
Question: Do you mean it is possible that that could have been true? Don't you know as a matter of fact most of these tribes considered many of their half-breeds as full members of their tribes?
Answer: Oh, yes, indeed.
Question: And they were so considered by the United States in their dealings with them?
Answer: Very often, yes.
Question: Were there any cases where they weren't?
Answer: Well, I recall the McCumber Commission period, in which there was very systematic attempts to make this very kind of distinction between those who were, shall I say, legitimate members of the Indian group and those who were really not members of it, who were called half-breeds.
Question: Was that McCumber's doing, or his committee, that brought about that?
Answer: I don't remember the details of exactly how that committee was formed.
Question: At that time they we pretty active in striking people off the rolls that were against the approval of the McCumber agreement, isn't that so?
Question: But in McCumber's negotiations, or hearings that he held, he made no distinction between the members of that group, whether they were mixed-bloods or full-bloods, is that true? Wasn't the determination whether they were part Canadians or not?
Answer: I believe that was the major one.
Question: Even McCumber recognized as Indians those people of mixed-blood who were qualified members in his judgment of the Turtle Mountain group, is that right?
Answer: Yes, that is right.
Testimony before the Indian Claims Commission. Dockets #213, 191, 221, 246, and 350.
The Great Slave Lake area – especially the area around Fort Resolution – was a major center of Metis occupation since the inception of the fur trade in the Northwest Territories. Initially this community was mostly of Cree-French heritage, but the group was, over time, an amalgamation that added Chipewyan, Scotch, English and other heritages. It is possible to make the claim that many of the Metis of Fort Resolution, and the rest of the Mackenzie District south of Fort Simpson, can be classified as having roots as “Red River” Metis (Slobodin 1966:12–14). This is because many people who would be classified as Metis have their origins with people who came north in the service of the early traders from the Red and Saskatchewan River valleys (but especially the Red River Valley).
It is certain that many of the Red River Metis who came to the Great Slave Lake area were “freemen” who had previously worked for the Hudson Bay Company, but for various reasons did not remain in the service and came here for new opportunities. However, it is known that some of these Metis returned to Red River country – many being forced to remove by compulsion of the Hudson's Bay Company (Rich 1961:474). Many of the Metis joined the Indian people and adopted their culture, and some assumed a rather complete Indian cultural identity and their children were culturally rather fully “Indian and not Metis after a few generations, with no traces of any Michif language present, but rather seeing Chipewyan as their first language and French and English secondary. The Metis and Indian populations thus became intertwined by complex ties of kinship, language, and culture.
Because of this rampant assimilation of the early Metis into Chipewyan culture, it could be argued that modern-day use of the word Metis to describe them is something of a misnomer. During negotiations for Treaty, the Indian community first recommended as their chief the eminent leader, Pierre Beaulieu. The fact that the Indian people of Fort Resolution chose Beaulieu doesn’t mean that they necessarily believed he could speak well on their behalf because he was a mixed-blood (aka Metis), but rather shows that they did not draw distinction between themselves and the Metis people who had been absorbed into their community as Indians. The confusion, and the renewed use of the term Metis to designate people who were not fully Chipewyan, was not because they were a separate identifiable “Metis” community, but rather because the Treaty Commissioner tried to lessen the impact of the treaty on the government by striking half-breeds from the treaty list, with no one recognized as being “mixed” being permitted to take Treaty in 1900. The Catholic priest was the government's main source in removing people from the rolls and naming them as not “Indian”.
In some sense, the argument could be made that those people in the Northwest Territories now calling themselves Metis are doing so not because they are culturally Metis, or that they necessarily are Metis. While some of them do descend from early Metis who came from the Red River region and who were Metis, over the period of a hundred-plus years, the community was absorbed into Chipewyan society and had assimilated completely as Indian. It was only after many of them were removed from the Treaty paylists in 1900 that the idea of calling this community “Metis” came forward as a designator for them. Perhaps a more appropriate term would be non-status Indian, rather than Metis, as they are culturally Indian and certainly indigenous. Nonetheless, this “picking of nits” and semantic argument does not diminish their existence as a distinct community, but it does call into question using the term Metis to define them as they evolved along a completely different cultural and historical trajectory to the actual historic, or modern-day Metis Nation.
Rich, E.E. 1961 Hudson's Bay Company, 1670–1870. 3 Vols. (Vol. III, 1821–1870). New York: Macmillan.
Slobodin, R. 1964 “The Subarctic Metis as Products and Agents of Culture Contact,” Arctic Anthropology, 2:50–55.
Indian land documents can be informative and can provide a glimpse into your family's past. One of the most valuable tools online for searching Indian land is the Bureau of Land Management's General Land Office records website.
This website provides live access to Federal land conveyance records for the Public Land States, including image access to more than five million Federal land title records issued between 1788 and the present. We also have images of survey plats and field notes, land status records, and control document index records. Due to organization of documents in the GLO collection, this site does not currently contain every Federal title record issued for the Public Land States.
So let's start a quick search... [note that any of the images below can be clicked for an expanded view]
First, we open the Search by Documents Type search menu. We enter location.
The selected state is Minnesota. Next, we enter the name of the person we are searching for.
Then, we can limit our search to specific land information (by query). We will use Indian Allotment as our Authority.
We get our results after the system does its search.
The search shows that John B Charette indeed had land under this authority. It was issued in 1874 in Marshall County, Minnesota and has an Accession # tied to the 1863 Red Lake & Pembina Band Treaty at the Old Crossing. If we click the blue link, more information will open up.
When opened, the following information is revealed: that it is a Chippewa treaty patent, issued in the State of Minnesota on January 20, 1874 and it was not canceled. It shows the land office that issued the patent and what tribe the patent was issued to (Chippewa) and how many acres and where the land is at. If you click the location link at the bottom, a map will open up.
This map shows where the land was in relation to the surrounding area. In this case it is near the Red River Valley at the junction with the Park River - the location of a popular trading post at the time. It is just south of the modern-day community of Drayton, North Dakota.
If you click the patent image link above a copy of the original treaty patent will open.
This document can be printed or downloaded as a PDF. It shows the information related to the Pembina/Red Lake treaty and lists the name of the individual and the certificate number.
If you click the related documents link, the original USGS survey of the land will be made available.
To do your own search, visit the BLM GLO Website at https://glorecords.blm.gov/
One of the most vivid and detailed descriptions of a Metis buffalo hunt that I have found recently was written about in great detail in the Appleton’s Journal of Literature, Science, and Arts, for July of 1870. The Description speaks of “brigades” and hunting strategy, with a unique mention of Metis women driving the carts at the end of the great hunt. The description is as follows:
The most picturesque and exciting buffalo-hunts are those of the half-breeds in the northern Red-River country, where annually almost the entire population proceed in brigades to the great buffalo-ranges. From the earliest spring the preparations for these hunts begin. Rude carts, on two wheels, built entirely of wood, with large hubs and wide felloes, are constructed in great numbers. These are drawn by oxen, with harnesses of raw-hides. With as many carts as he can afford, for the transportation homeward of the buffalo hides and meat, and at least one fast buffalo-horse, with a gun, plenty of powder and balls, the hunter is prepared for the plains. The hunters go in "brigades", as they are called, of several hundreds, and often the entire town departs on the excursion—men, women, children, oxen, horses, dogs, with full supply of tents and housekeeping utensils. Women and boys drive the carts, while the hunters, mounted on their horses, guard the train, or ride off in search of buffalo-signs. At night they gather in a circle, called a corral, where the carts are ranged side by side, with the shafts turned inward. Within this circle the tents are raised and the lodge-fires made. A large camp of half-breeds is a striking sight. The dress of both men and women is exceedingly picturesque. They wear moccasins worked with beads. The men's trousers are usually of corduroy, their coats of common blue, adorned with hoods between their shoulders, and large brass buttons, a gay sash around the waist, and a jaunty cap of otter or badger skin, complete their toilet. Mr. Manton Marble gives, in a description of a visit to the Red-River country in an early number of Harper’s Magazines, a stirring account of an attack by a half-breed brigade upon a herd of buffalo, which we in part transcribe:
Just as the leader was sounding the horn, which was the order to catch up the horses, a rider was seen galloping at full speed down the hither side of a hill by which he had been hid from sight on the rolling prairie. All knew the message he had to bring, before hearing it from his lips. He had seen a herd of hundreds steadily pushing their way over the prairie toward the northeast, just beyond a high ridge which was the limit of sight in the direction the brigade was then travelling—nearly due south. The oxen that had been harnessed were again loosed, all the buffalo-runners saddled, and every hunter eagerly examined his gun and ammunition. The horses, too, knew what was in the wind; and the more high-spirited ones among them, which had been trained to the hunt, stood shivering with excitement, snuffing the air, and pawing the ground with their hoofs, needing a man's strength to hold them in. All the able-bodied men were speedily armed and accoutered, their superfluous clothing thrown off, sashes tied tighter, and girths buckled a hole or two higher, and, in less than five minutes from the time the rider had got to camp, the leader had given the order to advance, and more than three hundred horsemen were steadily trotting southward in the direction of the herd. In a few moments, they had reached a point where the ground began to rise gently to the height of the low ridge, on the top of which they would be visible to the herd. Here all drew rein, while the leader, with one or two of the older hunters, dismounted and crept along up the slope to reconnoiter, observe the progress of the herd and the lay of the land, in order to determine from which direction the charge had better be made. There was little time to be lost; the buffalo were already opposite the hunters, and the old bulls ahead might, at any moment, take a trail leading over the ridge and in full-sight of the train. A moment's glance told experienced eyes, peering through the tops of the long green grass, that the ground toward which they were moving was a rolling prairie with abrupt ascents and descents, and therefore full of badger-holes, dangerous able to the horse and his rider, while the ground which they had just passed over was very nearly level, with here and there a marsh, and fenced in, so to speak, by the stream which ran hither and thither, and wound around by the dinner camp-ground. Hastening down the slope and remounting their horses, a few quick, low words from the leader explained the order of the charge. A dozen or more of the fleetest runners were sent to the westward around the ridge, to head the herd and start them bock. The rest of the hunters gathered under its edge with ears pricked up.
The ruse was successful. The dozen hunters coming boldly into sight directly in their path, and spreading out slowly to the right and left without chasing them, and the favorable nature of the ground, making it harder for them to go to the one side or the other than backward, turned them almost in their tracks. The herd was not so large, but that very many of the buffaloes could see the hunters. The sage and long-bearded veterans who had led them stopped, were crowded ahead a few yards by the pressure of those behind, and then all were huddling together, cows and calves in the center, and the bulls crowding around, until the leaders broke through and led off at a steady gallop on the back track. This was the critical moment. The dozen hunters shouted at the tops of their lungs, and settled into a steady gallop on their trail. The three hundred and fifty horsemen came flying over the ridge and down its slope in full pursuit, and in front of them all, not a quarter of a mile away, a herd of nearly a thousand buffaloes in headlong flight, tails out, heads down, and nostrils red and flaring. For the first few hundred yards the chase was nip and tuck. The buffaloes were doing their best possible, as they always can at the beginning of a chase, and the horses had not so good ground, and were hardly settled down to their work. But soon the tremendous strides of the buffalo-runners began to tell in the chase and the heavy head long and forehanded leap of the buffalo to grow just perceptibly slack.
One after another the swiftest of the runners caught up to the herd, and over the plain. The green sward is torn up, clouds of dust arise, swift shots like volleys of musketry buffet the air, the hunters fly along with loosened rein, trusting to their horses to clear the badger-holes that here and there break the ground, and to keep their own flanks and the riders' legs from the horns of the buffaloes by whom they must pass to fit alongside the fat and swifter cow singled out for prey. And still they keep up this tremendous gait, flying buffalo and pursuing horse men. As fast as one fires he draws the plug of his powder-horn with his teeth, pours in a hasty charge, takes one from his mouthful of wet bullets and drops it without wadding or rammer upon the powder, settles it with a blow against the saddle, keeps the muzzle lifted till he is close to his game, then lowers and fires in the same instant without an aim, the muzzle of the gun often grazing the shaggy monster's side; then leaning off, his horse wheels away, and, loading as he flies, he spurs on in chase of another, and another, and another; and in like manner the three hundred of them. One after one the buffaloes lagged behind, staggered, and fell, at first singly and then by scores, till in a few moments the whole herd was slain, save only a few old bulls not worth the killing, which were suffered to gallop safely away. One after one the hunters drew rein, and, dismounting from their drenched horses, walked back through the heaps of dead buffalo and the puddles of blood, singling out of the hundreds dead with unerring certainty the ones they had shot. Not a dispute arose among the hunters as to the ownership of any buffalo killed. To a novice in the hunt they all looked alike, differenced only by size and sex, and the plain on which all were lying as is each square rod the facsimile of every other square. The novices had thrown on their killed a sash or coat or knife-sheath; but the best hunters had no need of this. To their keen eyes no two rods were alike, and they could trace their course as easily as if only four and not thousands of hoofs had torn the plain.
The carts driven by the women come up, knives are drawn, and with marvelous dexterity the shaggy skins are stripped off, the great, bloody frame divided, huge bones and quivering flesh, all cut into pieces of portable size, the carts loaded, and by sunset all are on their way to camp.
Reference: Appleton’s Journal of Literature, Science, and Arts, No. 66 Vol. IV. Saturday, July 2, 1870.
While it is natural for people to try to separate Métis from Indian – especially here and now when we try to identify who is what for purposes of things like hunting rights, educational benefit, and enrollment or citizenship in Indigenous communities – during the early 1800s, ethnicity and ethnic identity was a very fluid thing for those people who would later become the nucleus of the Métis Nation during the 1870s.
In July of 1832 Father George A. Belcourt, a priest from Québec who was familiar working with Indian people was assigned to work with the local Saulteaux community surrounding Red River. His assignment was desired because there was a growing concern that the Anglicans were having influence on the native population which could lead to a shift in alliance of the Indian population. Belcourt selected a site for his mission along the Assiniboine River at a location where a large number of Saulteaux Indians and Métis gathered and camped during the spring. The exact location of the first mission, known as St. Paul des Saulteaux, was somewhere on the left bank of the Assiniboine River, somewhere near Portage La Prairie or St. Eustache. Once the Mission was established, St-Paul des Saulteaux was inhabited primarily by Saulteaux Indians, or Métis who were affiliated with the Saulteaux bands.
During the 1840 census of the Red River, St-Paul des Saulteaux (Saulteaux Village) listed ninety-eight people residing in the village grouped into twenty-three households. Only 13 “homes” were enumerated with most people residing in tents and tipis. The surnames of most heads of household were apparently Métis (i.e. French or Scottish derived), but it cannot be assumed that these individuals were ethnically or cultural different than the full-blood Saulteaux of the region. The settlement was quite well known and drew annual visits from many of the surrounding Saulteaux bands. Visits from Red Lake Chippewa (from Minnesota) were also recorded.
The Mission, although serving as a winter and spring camp for the Saulteaux/ Métis, was not a permanent settlement by any means. Most residents were prone to travel across their territory hunting for most of the year and sometimes returned to the location infrequently (e.g. every few years, or so). Despite the efforts of Father Belcourt, most of the Saulteaux were unwilling to settle permanently.
By the 1860s the Mission was moved to the location of Baie St-Paul and had become a “Métis” rather than Saulteaux settlement. Nonetheless, this community shows that at least until the 1860s or 1870, ethnic identity of the Métis was a relatively fluid thing. While the Métis culture was developing and solidifying as a distinct phenomenon, for much of the early part of the century most (eventual) Métis could assume the identity of their Indian bands (such as the Saulteaux) and could pass between identities without problems – a truly unique truth that speaks to the indigenous, rather than white/settler, basis of the Métis Nation.
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.