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A Search for the Hunters

In 1856, Colonel C. F. Smith led a military expedition to the Pembina area, to find out where a military post might be erected to serve the Dakota territory.

Smith's expedition attempted to follow the same route Major Wood did in 1849. He traveled south as far as the Goose River; from there Smith veered northwest to Devil's Lake; then went to the northeast to a point on the Park River; then northward to St. Joseph; and from there to Pembina.

Smith’s men did not encounter any Indians or half-breeds until reaching St. Joseph. When he got to Pembina, he found no more than two dozen cabins, virtually deserted and (in his words) “gone to decay.”[1]

According to Smith, reports were that the Chippewa, Dakota, and the “Red river people” [Metis half-breeds] were all hunting in the region between the Devils Lake and the Sheyenne River, but that only large hunting parties entered the region out of fear of conflict. Because so many people were there, they tended to ignore each other rather than fight.

Smith thought that establishing military posts at St. Joseph and at Devils Lake would be beneficial to the region, as a military presence would deter conflicts and would serve as a barrier to half-breeds crossing back and forth across the border. He also noted that if a post were to be established in the Pembina region, many of the roving half-breeds would likely settle in the region due to the added protection offered by troops against attacks.

Later in the summer, Smith reported about a combined half-breed and Chippewa hunt. The hunt took place between the Maple and Rush Rivers [in Cass County, near Fargo]. Smith’s soldiers had encountered the trail of the summer hunting party from Red River, and passed near where the hunting party had encamped. His men followed the trail of the hunters northwest, to Devil's Lake, then to St. Joseph, where he learned that a total of 900 men, women, and children – 300 of whom were Chippewa warriors – had been on this hunt. The hunt wasn’t that successful in harvesting buffalo. The reason for this, Smith later found out, was that the Chippewa who came along for the hunt were only using hunting as a cover for their real intentions, which were to go to war against the Sioux. When the half-breeds refused to fight against the Sioux, the Chippewa hunters got angry at their half-breed cousins and, in revenge broke the rules of the hunt – driving the buffalo off. [2]



[1] Cong. Doc. Ser. #998, p. 426.​

[2] Wheeler-Voegelin, E., and Hickerson, Harold. (1974) The Red Lake and Pembina Chippewa. New York: Garland Pub. Inc.

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