In 1851, Charles Cavalier traveled west from Pembina towards the Turtle Mountains and Mouse River with Norman Kittson, Father George Belcourt, William Grady, James McKay, and a few others men. Cavalier and Kittson started out on the journey in the early morning in December. The party traveled using dog sled trains. After a day of travel, the party camped on the western edge of the Pembina Mountains in a deep ravine, surrounded by heavy timber and high hills.
The following morning, they started out across the plains. Not a tree could be seen, but deep snow spread all around them. After a little distance upon the open prairie, the party spotted (in Cavalier’s words) “Countless millions of buffalo, all feeding and going northwest!” They traveled the rest of the day in sight of a living sea of buffalo. As Cavelier did not have snow shoes, he was forced to remain in his sled for 16 hours until the party reached the Turtle Mountain about sundown. As the entered the hills, Cavelier noted: “As we looked back up the plain, [we] saw the moving mass of those noble fellows, it was the grandest sight I ever saw.”
They traveled into the Turtle Mountains until about 11 o'clock that night before they found a camp, which consisted of 15 or 20 lodges of half-breeds. Here they remained through the next day, enjoying the hospitalities of the hunters, while enjoying a hearty meal of buffalo. After a good night of rest, the party made an early departure to travel through the rest of the Turtle Mountains, with the hope of reaching the Mouse River later that day. As soon as the party turned down the south side of the Turtle Mountains, they saw a caravan of the half-breeds on a line headed west. Cavalier and his party joined with the procession and they journeyed on through the day, until they finally reached a winter settlement of about 40-50 half-breed families who were living in log cabins on the Mouse River (probably at Sawyer). Cavalier spent about 21 days and enjoyed his time with the half-breeds—even accompanying them on a hunt where they harvested over 400 buffalo in one hunt.
When Cavalier and his party made their homeward journey, they followed the same path east. The first day they left a bit late in the day and had to camp on Willow Creek, south of the Turtle Mountains. At their camp they enjoyed some tea and pemmican. Although it was cold, Cavelier stated that the group maintained comfort by sleeping in a group: “I kept comfortable and warm, sleeping between the two half-breed boys who were with me, with plenty of robes although the thermometer was 49° below zero at Pembina. But when we came out of our robes in the morning, with no fire, nothing to eat, and got into the [sleds], then came the tug of war.” The party traveled north and by that afternoon they had reached the half-breed camp at the Turtle Mountains again.
That evening, Cavalier and his crew were welcomed with a bush dance held in the largest of the log houses. They stayed through the following day then they started back east again, soon coming upon the same large herd of buffalo they had seen before. Just as they were reaching the Pembina hills, a blizzard swept in from the northwest, and they were forced to take refuge in a clump of poplars where they (surprisingly) found a voyageur of the Hudson Bay Company who was also seeking shelter in the woods. They spent the night in friendly conversation, eating meat and bread, and drinking hot tea. The next morning they renewed their journey, reaching Pembina safely.
Chamberlain-Holley, Frances. (1890) Once their Home: our Legacy from the Dakotahs, Historical, Biographical, and Incidental from far-off Days Down to the Present. Chicago: Donohue & Henneberry
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