GENERAL ARTICLES

THE WANING HERDS

NORBERT WELSH March 1 1933
GENERAL ARTICLES

THE WANING HERDS

NORBERT WELSH March 1 1933

THE WANING HERDS

NORBERT WELSH

Mary Weekes

PART FIVE

NEVER in all my buffalo chasing did I get hurt by buffalo, nor do I know of any other hunters that were ever attacked. In the race, the buffalo were too frightened to stop for fight. Sometimes a wounded buffalo would make a dash at me, but I would let fly and knock him down. A man had to be auick with his gun.

A good buffalo horse knows what he is about. Always when I got on my buffalo runner he started to lope, to dance, he was so glad to run—le-gallon.

Always before starting on a buffalo hunt, the hunters in my brigade got on their knees and said a little prayer.

We liked to shoot the buffalo cows because they had the fattest and tenderest meat, and in the fall and winter they had the best hides. The two-year-old steers were fine for their hides. We shot these in June and July, when they were fat and profitable for pemmican. The furs of the old buffalo steers were poor. The hair was too coarse. In the fall we shot nothing but cows. They were fine for pemmican and dried meat, and their hides were fine as well. We were very particular about choosing our animals.

In the spring of 1868 we went back to Fort Garry. I sold 200 robes at $19 a robe. Other furs—badger, wolf, skunk and so on—fetched me about $12 apiece. In all I got $5,000 for my. furs. Each man in the brigade had his own business. We carried gold or paper money. Sometimes we had a red cotton handkerchief full of bills. I often thought of putting money in the bank, but always I waited for a bigger haul. I was becoming a more important trader all the time.

I started out again this year with an outfit worth $2,000. Up to this time I had been using Red River carts, but now I was making money and getting stylish.

I went to James MacKay at St.

James, a parish near Fort Garry, and bought ten carts from him. They were Red River carts, but had been made in the States, in St. Paul, in the style of a wagon. They had only two wheels, but were lighter, stronger, and looked neater than the old Red River carts that I had been using.

MacKay told me they were worth $50 apiece, but he did not want to sell them because he had bought them to send all over. He was a trader, mail carrier and business man. I asked how much he would take for ten. He asked me how $40 apiece would catch me. I counted out $400, and asked him to bring them.

By Jove ! He told me I was the right kind of man to deal with, adding that the barefoot boy was getting on. In St. James they used to call me the barefoot boy.

I sold my old carts to other traders for what I could get —$5, $10, or $15 apiece. Now I had a swell new outfit.

It was after freeze-up when we reached Round Plain. The buffalo were beginning to get scarce. We did not get many. We returned to our wintering ground. Unfortunately, that was about all the buffalo we got all winter. We would see one now and again, but the big herds had disappeared. The Indians came near to starving that winter. We were all right because when we got to Round Plain we bought a lot provisions for the winter from the other traders -pemmican, dried meat and fat. As the winter progressed, we sold a good deal of it back to them.

The Indians went away in all directions, wherever they heard there were buffalo. The old Indians were great story tellers, and when I wasn’t busy I used to visit, in their camps and listen to their war stories. There were many stories told, too. about the old Hudson’s Bay ]x One of the men who had worked at Fort Edmonton told me about the death of John Rowand, chief Hudson’s Bay factor of that post.

Rowand was before my time, but he was one of the principal factors in this country in that day. I knew his son well. I had worked for him for four years at what is now

Silver Heights, Winnipeg, when I was a boy. John Rowand was a very wicked man. hasty, quick-tempered. His son. John, was always scrapping with the hired men of the company, and one day lie was getting the worst of it. One of the employees ran into his father’s office and told the old man about it. The old man came running out, shouted to his son, “Can’t you do lx*tter than that?’’ and fell dead.

Now. it seems that the old factor had always expressed a wish that his bones should lxburied in England. Rowand was a big man. He weighed about 200 pounds. However, his wife and sons decided to have the bones sent to England.

They called in an old Indian named Ka-min-a-coush, told him to cut the body to pieces and boil the bones. They gave this old Indian three horses and five gallons of Hudson's Bay rum to attend to this work. So the old Indian t his glass of rum, then he took his knife, sharpened it properly and cut the old factor to pieces, took all the bones out of the flesh. The men at the post made a coffin, put the flesh into it, and buried the coffin at Ford Edmonton just beside the old fort.

Now, Ka-min-a-coush got two big Hudson’s Bay copper kettles, put the bones into them, added a lot of lye, and boiled them until there was nothing left but bare white bones. The whole family gathered and had the bones placed in a coffin. Then they shipped the coffin to old Fort Garry, to the chief factor there, who placed it in a York Boat, which took it to York Factory, where it was placed on board a boat bound for England. After leaving port a great storm arose which lasted for five days. The crew came to the conclusion that John Rowand’s spirit was haunting them. He had been a tyrant in life, he was still master in death. They decided to pitch his bones into the sea. This done, the storm died down.

I did not have more than seventyfive robes to take back to Fort Garry that spring, but I had some other stuff. I just covered expenses, but I had some goods left.

goods When I took account of stock, I could not, of course, put it down in writing, so this is what I did. I would figure up how much goods I had taken out, how many dollars worth. Then I would estimate how much I had sold, and how much I had left. That year I had seventy-five robes. They would bring me, I figured, at least $1.000. Well, I’ve got some other furs that will bring me, say. about $5(X). I always reckoned the stuff I had to sell lower than the price at which I sold. Then I’d balance the two things together. I’ve got so much goods, and I’ve got so many furs. Well, I’m not in the hole yet.

Massacre of the Blackfeet

I DIDNT take such a big outfit the seventh year, still I had I fully $2.(XX) worth of goods. The brigades kept going to Round Plain because it was a lucky place. The buffalo used to winter there more than at any other place. They were near water and had a fine wintering ground. It was sheltered in the north, and ojien in the south.

We went out and had a good hunt and came back. We didn’t do much business that winter. The buffalo had gone south again. Very few' were seen on the jilains. I had a jxxir winter as far as business went.

When there was no hunting the Indians kept themselves amused by holding dancing jiarties or going on the warpath. The Blackfeet were their hated enemies, and they fought them every chance they got.

Tac-cou-pe-ka-ma-chash, “Tying Knot,” who belonged to Black Bear’s band, told me about Pointed Cap, who led a band of Crees against the Blackfeet.

This is howan Indian chief invites his Indians to go on the warpath. If he wants to do it in the right w'ay. he takes a fine new red Hudson’s Bay blanket, and a fathom of red Hudson’s Bay cloth two yards covers his horse with them, wrajis a black blanket around himself and leads the horse around the camp, singing his war song.

That is his invitation to his braves to follow him.

Now, this Pointed Cap assembled about eighty-five choice warriors to make ready to travel to the fork of the Red Deer River and the Saskatchewan to make war on the Blackfeet. Pointed Cap was not a chief but headman of a big tribe of Crees who liad an encampment near Edmonton. They went off.

As usual, a day from the fighting ground they stopjied and made provisions for so many days. They killed buffalo and got ready. Pointed Cap sent two of his warriors out to scoutfind out how' far they were from the big Blackfoot camp.

The scouts returned at the end of the third day. and reported that they had found a big Black foot encamj> ment of 100 tents. Pointed Cap said that they would crush them dowft. that there would be about one camp apiece for them. Next morning they started.

They camjx-d within five miles of the Black foot encampment, where they could see all the tents and horses.

Now these Crees did not attack in open fight but crept ujxm the Black foot camp unawares. They started their raid at the break of day and jiut all the tents down but one. Father Lacombe was in that tent. He called out to the Crees to have mercy on the Blackfeet whom they had taken unawares. One Cree savage called to Father Lacombe that if he put his head out of the tent he would get his brains blown out.

Tying Knot said that Father Lacombe could not stop them. They killed nearly all the Blackfeet, men. women and children about 500. They completely destroyed that great camp.

They took scalps, horses and even lodges with them, and returned to their camp at Edmonton. They did not touch Father Lacombe. Years afterward when Tying Knot got blind, he told me that his blindness was a punishment from God. He had become a Christian. He liad been too cruel, he thought, to the Indians whom he had killed. I le had tortured them terribly. Father Lacombe reported that the Indians had fought like dogs.

Well, to return to our hunt, it was a quiet winter. The great buffalo herds chased by the hunters had gone south into American territory. It was too far for the half-breed hunters to follow, and. besides, they were not allowed to cross the line. Only the Indians were allowed to hunt on American territory. Toward spring the herds came back to their grazing grounds. Still, the buffalo were now practically gone from the Canadian plains.

In the spring we went back to Fort Garry. 1 sold my robes and furs for $2,500. My profit was only $500. I didn’t cover expenses. Still. I was travelling, and it was a gf/xi life.

The next year, in July, 1870, we started from Fort Garry and made for Batoche. The only crossing on the South branch of the Saskatchewan River was at this jxiint. Batoche. so we made for it. It was the narrowest jxfint in the river.

When we got there we made a ferryboat of our own. We took two big buffalo hides and soaked them properly, then w'e stretched them on the ground and sewed them together with sinew. Now we got two large logs and hew'ed them dowm on two sides to make them lighter. Over these logs, which w'ere held apart by crosspieces, we stretched the buffalo hides and lashed them tightly. The size of this raft when finished w-as twelve feet long and ten feet wide. When the skins got dry, w'e rubbed buffalo tallow into the seams to

make them watertight. The tallow acted like pitch. We melted the tallow by holding it in our mouths. We let the raft dry for a day, after filling the seams, before using it.

Now, we attached heavy Hudson’s Bay cord-line to our barque, and óne man swam the river with them. We ran our carts, one at a time, on to this ferryboat, and the men on the opposite bank pulled the raft across. We jiulled it back. We must have had 200 carts. It took us three days to cross them. Then we unfastened the hides and kept them for future use.

When we got across the river we went on to the Hudson’s Bay jx>st at Fort Carlton to see ff we could buy some provisions as ours were getting low. The buffalo were getting scarce, and we could get no jxmmican at this post. But the factor gave each family a little allowance, which was good of him. He showed no [partiality. We stopped there for two days. At the end of that time we started for

the plains to look for buffalo, for a time without success.

We travelled southward for two days, along the North branch of the Saskatchewan River toward Battleford. We met a little bunch of buffalo. Those who had buffalo runners got on their backs and raced after the quarry. An old Indian rode up to me after I had shot one buffalo. He told me he was camping near there and had nothing to eat. I told him to jump off his horse, help me skin the butfalo and I would give him half. The old fellow w'as proud and glad. His name was Cha-chetch. “Stutter.” We stopjped there that day.

The next day we got to Battleford. Noot-na-to-see-pee, the Indians called it. Then w'e went farther west and reached Sounding Lake. The next morning a man galloped up to our camp. We were getting buffalo now'. I had been in tw'o races and my share was twelve. We w’ere skinning buffalo, and drying and curing the meat when this rider, who was Gabriel Dumont, came.

Dumont asked to see the chief of our brigade, Charles Trottier. He had come to ask if he could join our camp. Trottier asked him how many families there were in his brigade. He told us that there were two half-breed families, and about twenty-five families of Indians. We had heard that Dumont’s brigade had the smalljpox. Trottier told him this and asked him why he didn’t tell the truth, sjpeak like a man. Dumont replied that Trottier had not given him time to explain that only the tw'o half-breed families did not have smalljpox.

Trottier agreed to let Dumont and his two half-breed families join us in tw'o or three days, if they hadn’t developed the disease in that time, but not inside the camp. They must camp at a distance, and in the meantime a guard would be kept over them. This was done. Trottier called a meeting and selected some headmen to keep guard.

The whole brigade arrived and wanted to come into our camp. Our chief ordered us to take our guns and back him up. We were ordered to shcx>t the first man that came near our camp.

We kept Dumont’s brigade half a mile aw'ay from us. But the beggars would come at night and wash their running sores in our spring water. Dumont was no kind of a leader. I don’t know how he got his name as a leader. He could not control his Indians.

Well, our chief called a meeting and we decided that we would dig four wells, one at each corner of the camp. The soil was sandy and it was easy to get water. We got the wells dug. and at night four men were appointed to guard each well.

At the end of the third day—the two half-breed families were to be admitted to our camp in four days--one of Gabriel’s relations, a sister’s child, died of smallpox. Now, we could not let them in at all.

The Indians in Dumont’s brigade had lots of furs and buffalo meat, but we daren’t trade with them. We gave them a few things that they neededtea. sugar and tobacco—but we could not afford to give them goods for nothing.

There was nobody to do anything for these Indians. No doctor. They had black smalljxix. Some days there were ten or twelve deaths. It was pitiful to see them. One day I visited their camp on horseback. ; Of course it was warm, being summertime, but they lay all uncovered. Horrible cramps drew their bodies up until they rested on the tips of their heels and the tops of their heads. They died in agony. In one way these Indians were not to be pitied because they had brought this disease ujx>n themselves. We found out that they had come upon a camp of Blackfeet suffering with this disease, had raided it, and carried away their women and children.

Now, we had stopped there for quite a while, and had got pretty well loaded up with jxmmican and dried meat that we had got ourselves. There were about twenty-five or twenty-eight families in our brigade, so Charles Trottier said that we had better go back to Round Plain to get rid of Dumont’s brigade. We did. Soon after we reached our wintering place, a message came from Batoche, from Dumont, asking Trottier to send some rum or alcohol. Alcohol was the only treatment they knew or had for smallpox. They wanted ten gallons.

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It appears that after we separated from him, Dumont had got into the camp of his father at Batoche where they had smallpox, 'frottier came to me and said that, since his house was not finished, he could not spare his time or that of his men to take the alcohol. My house was ready. He wondered if I would make the trip to Batoche, a distance

of sixty miles, which would take four days there and back. I agreed to go if my wife had no objection.

I started with the alcohol. My. they were glad to see me! Some were recovering. Before I entered the camp, I took a big glass of liquor. That was what the doctors advised long ago. They said it would keep one from getting the disease.

The buffalo were disappearing fast, and there was not much trading, not enough to pay for our outfit. In the spring of 1871 I

decided not to go back to Fort Garry but to Fort Qu’Appelle. So I came here to Lebret, called after Pierre Lebret, a priest.

When we got here, by Jove, we found the people all starving. There was a scattered settlement here, as there was around all the old Hudson’s Bay posts, of about 400 or 500 people. They were half-breed hunters mostly. These settlers had nothing to eat but dried fish.

We had got word from the Hudson’s Bay Company post at Fort Qu’Appelle, from Isaac Cowieclerk in charge of the post while the chief factor, Archibald MacDonald, was at Ford Ellice—that no furs brought in from the West were to be taken to Fort Garry. They were afraid smallpox would be carried in the furs.

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Well, I had some fine robes. I think I had about seventy buffalo robes and about $200 worth of small furs. Charles Trottier, refusing to believe that the brigades had been forbidden to go to Fort Garry, decided to leave his family at Lebret and go on. I asked him if he would buy and take my furs. They were good furs and I did not want them on my hands. I agreed to let him have the buffalo robes for $5 apiece and the other ; furs for $150. He was willing to do this, but ; said that he would not be able to pay me until he came back. I knew he was good for it, so I w as satisfied.

I stayed at Lebret for two weeks, then started for the plains again to hunt buffalo and buy up dried meat and pemmican. It was a good trip. I came back to Fort Qu’Appelle with ten carts loaded right up with as much meat as the horses could draw. I had travelled over the plains in the direction of Cypress Hills and Wood Mountain. I sold all those provisions to Cowie for $1,200. At that time meat did not fetch a very good price.

I came back to my camp at Lebret—it was down where the graveyard is now', on the southeast quarter of Lebret cemetery -and asked my wife if she would be willing to go on ahead to our wintering place at Round Plain whHe I wrent to Fort Garry for supplies. It w'as now the beginning of

August. My wife started for Round Plain, and I for Fort Garry.

When I reached Fort Garry. I settled the few accounts that I had, then I bought $1,000 worth of goods. I paid cash for them and started for Round Plain. We struck some buffalo on the way but finally settled down at Round Plain for the winter.

In the spring of 1872 we were allowed to go back to Fort Garry. I sold my furs but did not get a very big price. Buyers were still afraid of smallpox. I made about $2,000 out of my entire outfit.

In the Cypress Hills

THIS YEAR I took out an outfit of $1,800 from Fort Garry. I had been long enough on the Round Plain. I thought I would take a change, take a trip south to the Cypress Hills, now Fort Walsh. I put up a house for the winter in what was called the Four-Mile Coulee. The Indians called it Wa-pa-lounis-ou-si-pi-sis.

It was a fine open fall. About the beginning of December wre made a good hunt. Myself, I shot over one hundred buffalo. We had good weather to dry and cure our meat.

One day w e were busy baling and packing our meat when three Redcoats rode up. One of them stepped up and spoke to me in English, asked me if there was anyone in the brigade who could speak English. I told him that he had the right man. Then I asked him what he wanted to know. He told me that he wanted two interpreters, one that could speak English and French, and one that could speak English and Black foot. I told him that I could get them for him.

He told me that he was going out to the

Black foot camp and wanted to know how far it was. Well, of course, the country w'as not surveyed at this time, but I told him that it must be about 150 miles from where w'e were.

The next day Major Walsh called for two men I had picked. He had a good-sized troop—about fifty or sixty mounted policemen. When he w'as leaving. Major Walsh said:

“Welsh, I w'ill see you again w'hen I come back from the Black foot camp. I want to establish a fort here at the Cypress Hills.”

We had now finished our hunt, so we w'ent back to the Cypress Hills; we were about two days travel away, about forty or fifty miles. I selected a place in a big coulee, which was called the Four-Mile Coulee, for our wintering place. There were about sixty families in this brigade.

By-and-by w'e heard that Major Walsh w'as back from the Black foot country. He came and selected a place about four miles from where we were. We w'ere on the north side of the hills, he w'ent to the south side and built a fort—put up a log building for himself and his men. He stationed himself at this fort.

Soon a big American company came and started a store at Cypress Hills. A man named Baker Clarke was at the head of the company. Another big company also started a store—I forget the name of it. Here w'ere all the traders trying to do business around this post. I tell you it w'as pretty hard now to get a robe from the Indians or half-breeds. Prices went up. The stores had a greater variety of goods than the traders to offer. Just the same I managed to get my share.

To be Continued