A look at the North Dakota segment of the Metis Nation
The area around Devils Lake was great buffalo country. The mighty bison roamed the undulating prairie in uncounted numbers, moving in very early days up to and along the Red River and the Canadian lakes, and then away down to the great plains to the southwest. As the settlement along the Red River drove the buffalo back out of the valley, the great herds made the Canadian boundary, or thereabouts, the limit of their grazing land, and in the fifties and sixties they occupied the country around Big Stone Lake, the James River valley, and westward over to and beyond the Missouri River. In the country about Devils Lake they had been very numerous, and had lingered there until the Red River half-breeds and Indians became too thick, disappearing from that country in 1868.
The Red River half-breeds had for many years made Devils Lake the scene of the summer hunts. They were descendants of the French voyagers, who had married the daughters of the northern tribes and who had grown greatly in numbers and established for themselves a local habitation on the Red River, after the founding of the headquarters of the Hudson's Bay Company, at, or near, what is now Winnipeg. They were a happy-go-lucky lot, leading an easy-going existence in the Indian style when they were abroad, and after the fashion of the frontier white man in their permanent habitations. Someday, someone will arise who will write the epic of the Red River half-breed, and the world will be the richer for the knowledge of these people, half Indian, half French, having the capacity for endurance of the one race and the vivacity and appreciation of enjoyment of the other, and of their devotion to primitive Christianity on the one hand and their wild indifference to all trammels on the other.
They trapped in the winter, did service as voyageurs and freighters, and hunted the buffalo for the hides and pemmican. They did all the freighting for the old fur companies, and the screeching protest of the wooden axles of the carts, which they formed into trains miles long, could be heard on the prairie long before the outfit came into sight, their carts being built entirely of wood, with no ironwork whatever in the construction, not even an iron nail being used.
The preparation of pemmican may not have originated with the Red River half-breeds, but they most assuredly preserved the art of making it. Pemmican was made of buffalo-meat, which was dried and then pounded into pulp; hides of buffalo calves were made into sacks that were quite impervious; the sacks were filled with the lean meat; the tallow of the animals slaughtered was then melted and poured into the sacks, the tops sewed up, and when the mass hardened it would keep almost indefinitely. Pemmican formed the most nutritious and easily portable article of food, and was of great value to travelers who made long distances over plains where meat could not always be obtained. It was the article of diet most to be depended upon, and with very little pemmican in his pack, a plainsman could travel an incredible distance without fear of lacking ample subsistence. In the neighborhood of Devils Lake, an enormous quantity of this frontier delicacy was made and sold to the Hudson's Bay and American Fur companies.
These half-breeds made a permanent camp on the south side of Devils Lake, and used that for a base in their hunting expeditions, and here they had lived for years, generally on excellent terms with the nomad Indians who hunted in the same country.
from James McLaughlin, "My Friend the Indian", Indian Wars of the West and Frontier Army Life, 1862-1898: Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
A collaborative effort of members of the Ojibwe and Metis communities