Noted fur trader, Alexander Ross, described a Metis and Ojibwe hunting expedition that took place in 1840. According to Ross, two expeditions were undertaken that year by a group that include about 1,630 men, women, and children. The hunters started their hunt leaving from Red River Colony where they made a stop at Fort Garry to purchase supplies before traveling south to Pembina. In his description, Ross gives detailed information about the highly organized political organization of the hunting party and the rules followed by the hunters while on the march.
According to Ross, “The first step was to hold a council for the nomination of chiefs or officers. Then captains were named, the senior [leader] on this occasion being Jean Baptiste Wilkie, an English half-breed, brought up among the French. Besides being captain…[Wilkie] was styled the great war chief or head of the camp; and on all public occasions he occupied the place of president. Each captain had ten soldiers under his orders; in much the same way that policemen are subject to a magistrate. Ten guides were likewise appointed. Their duties were to guide the camp, each in his turn -- that is day about -- during the expedition. "The hoisting of the flag every morning is the signal for raising camp. Half an hour is the full time allowed to prepare for the march; but if anyone is sick, or their animals have strayed, notice is sent to the guide, who halts until all is made right. From the time the flag is hoisted, however, till the hour for camping arrives, it is never taken down. The flag taken down is the signal for encamping. While it is up, the guide is chief of the expedition and the Captains are subject to him, and the soldiers of the day are his messengers: he commands all. The moment the flag is lowered, his functions cease, and the captains' and soldiers' duties commence. They point out the order of the camp, and every cart, as it arrives, moves to its appointed place."
Ross further stated that the captains and other chief men laid down rules to be observed by the hunters. Most of these rules concern restrictions on hunting without general orders being given, and the punishment for infractions of these rules.
The hunt of 1840 left Pembina on the 21st of June.
While on the march, many of the hunters and their families experienced severe hunger. On the ninth day the expedition reached the Sheyenne River without having seen any buffalo. But on the nineteenth day, along the Missouri River, the hunters finally encountered buffalo on July 4th. About 400 huntsmen, all mounted took up their position in a line at one end of the camp while Captain Wilkie surveyed the buffalo, examined the ground, and issued his orders.
At the end of the day’s hunt, 1,375 buffalo had been harvested.
SOURCE: Red Lake & Pembina Chippewa by Voegelin and Hickerson, ICC Docket 18A