Fort Ellice was an important trading location and a central point on the Canadian prairies. Trails passed from it to every point. One went up the right bank of the Assiniboine to Fort Pelly, 140 miles to the north. Another passed to the west and threw off a branch when opposite Qu’Appelle, which passed through Qu’Apppelle and north to the Touchwood Hills. The main trail passed westward to Moose Jaw Creek and from thence to the Cypress Hills where it ceased or merged into another which followed the right bank of the South Saskatchewan from Batoche’s ferry to the country on the Milk River.
Another trail from Fort Ellice led to the southwest, by Moose Mountain to Wood Mountain, and was the usual route taken by the Indian and Metis hunters when going out for the buffalo. Other trails lead south towards Brandon House, the Turtle Mountains, and the Missouri buffalo plains.
These trails were seldom direct. Travelers had to meander from side to side according as wood and water could be found. Other, older Indian trails went from hill top to hill top so that buffalo could be seen.
In the rare occasion where any individual broke away from the band and hunted by himself, scaring the herd before the call to hunt was given, no notice was taken at the immediate time, but that night a party of ogichidaag would approach the man’s lodge and call him out. When he came, he was grabbed and his shirt was cut to shreds. He would then be flogged by the leader of the ogichidaag. When the punishment was over, the man would be asked if he would ever again violate custom by hunting ahead of the party. If he said no, he was freed. If he said he would, he would be driven from the camp.
If a man violating the rules agreed to follow the rules, but failed to honor his word, he might be killed or else his property would be smashed and destroyed, his lodge cut up, and he would be shamed publicly. If, after this chastisement, he truly repented, at the end of a few days the ogichidaag would go about the camp and collect new items for the man and restore his property so that he could take care of his family.
This system was learned and used by the Metis of Red River – most who came from Ojibwe families and spent significant time living and hunting with them. Much like their Ojibwe family, the Metis would elect hunt leaders and eventually enacted “laws of the hunt” which were based on the Ojibwe rules. The Metis rules of the hunt were as follows:
For more information:
Ross, Alexander (1855) The Fur Hunters of the Far West: A Narrative of Adventures in the Oregon and Rocky Mountains, Volume 1. Smith, Elder and Company,
Skinner, Alanson (1914) Political Organizations, Cults, and Ceremonies of the Plains-Ojibway and Plains-Cree Indians. the University of California
Cultural changes began to happen as well, with a blending of designs appearing in clothing, decorative beadwork, and other outward displays of material wealth. In 1820, Peter Fidler noted that many of the people he encountered were starting of decorate themselves in “very flashy” silver ornaments, necklaces made of wampum, arm and wrist bands with gorgets, broaches, and beadwork. More colors were used such as fancy leggings garnished with ribbons and beads, and other garish clothing items were employed to look (at all times) very “tastefully arranged”.
For more information, read: Peers, Laura L. (Laura Lynn). 1994. “Ojibwa Of Western Canada, 1780 To 1870.” Manitoba Studies In Native History. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press.
The first notice of smallpox occurs in the journals of La Verendrye on March 26, 1736. His journal entry records that a group of Cree, living near Winnipeg, had all died of smallpox. The extent of this particular epidemic cannot be ascertained from the single reference. However, the extinction of an entire band must surely have been accompanied by similar fatalities among other groups of the people.
Another epidemic between 1780-1783, is better documented. Fur trader accounts speak of great mass of burials and report that at least one-half of the Cree died. This epidemic affected almost every tribe in the region who were in contact with the Hudson Bay traders. Through trade and warfare, the disease had spread to every known part of the country.
An old Cree man whom explorer David Thompson encountered related that a Cree/Piegan war party had caught smallpox from the Snake Indians about 1780. More than half their number were killed by the disease. Thompson also related that, according to best information, the disease was caught by the Ojibwe and Dakota at about the same time. From them it spread further so that more than one half of all of the northern plains and forest fringe tribes died. In addition to the human death toll, Thompson noted a peculiar coincidence in the decline of animal species -- bison, deer, moose, and even wild fowl became scarce for a few years before the supply returned to normal.
Epidemics of smallpox seemed to happen about every thirty-five or forty years, with the next major epidemic of smallpox and measles happening from 1816 to 1818, greatly affecting the Cree and Ojibwe people.
While the majority of disease came from the east via voyageurs and the fur trade, one of the most famous outbreaks occurred between 1836 and 1840, when the American Fur Company steamboat S.S. St. Peter carried infected people and supplies into the upper Missouri Valley, bringing a new strain of smallpox from St. Louis to Fort Union. Tens of thousands of people died, and the disease spread to all corners of the upper Great Plains. Some bands, such as the Mandan, nearly became extinct as a result.
READ MORE: ANTHROPOLOGICAL PAPERS OF THE AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY VOLUME XXXVII, PART II, THE PLAINS CREE, BY DAVID G. MANDELBAUM (1940)
A collaborative effort of members of the Ojibwe and Metis communities