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of the plains, and a considerable settlement at Morley,
Alberta, known as Stoney Indians. In fact, this is
the common name for the Assiniboines in Canada.

12. Major Mitchell. Thomas J. Mitchell, of
Illinois, was appointed agent for the Indians of the
Milk River Agency (Fort Peck) in Montana, Jan-


Notes on Memories of a Bear Hunter

uary 22, 1^76, and served in that capacity until June
22, 1877.

13. This black paint of course meant that the war-
rior had been one of a war party which had killed

14. Red River Half breeds. In 1910 I wrote a
brief account of these people, from which the follow-
ing paragraphs are taken:

Scattered about as individuals or families, the Red
River halfbreeds were inconspicuous and of no im-
portance. By the more staid and methodical people
of Anglo-Saxon blood, they were thought of with
more or less contempt by reason of their volatile
nature and their disinclination for settled habits. But,
gathered together in a great camp moving toward the
buffalo, or in the buffalo country, they were impres-
sive because as a community they were unlike any
of the great camps of the people whose blood flowed
in their veins. In some degree they possessed the
caution and foresightedness of their Caucasian ances-
tors, but with this was united the keenness of obser-
vation, the knowledge of the habits of animals and
generally of the processes of nature which they in-
herited from their savage mothers.

Little more than half a century witnessed the be-
ginning and the ending of the great halfbreed camp,
but during the short time that they were, or seemed
to be, a people or tribe by themselves, they were well
worth studying. They were friendly and kindly in
their nature, usually on good terms with white


Hunting at High Altitudes

travelers and Indians alike; though to be sure occas-
ionally attempts at horse stealing by the Indians re-
sulted in a collision with those people, but this was
unusual. Yet it is stated that once, in the summer
of 1851, they were attacked by 1,000 Yankton Sioux,
when, after a long fight behind their breastworks,
the halfbreeds beat off the Indians.

The Red River halfbreeds were more or less no-
madic, dwelling at least for a part of the year in
tents, and in many respects living much like the In-
dians whose blood they shared. The children of em-
ployees of the Hudson's Bay Company by Indian
mothers, two classes were recognized; the French
halfbreeds and the English halfbreeds. Their Celtic
blood often hurried the French section into acts hos-
tile to the Government, or to the fur company, and
in some cases led to actual rebellion. The last of
these outbreaks took place in 1883, and was partici-
pated in by a number of simple Indians over whom
the halfbreeds had much influence. Following the
putting down of this, which from its leader was called
the second Riel rebellion, Riel was hanged, as were
also some of the Indians.

Each spring the French halfbreeds gathered at the
fort Fort Garry for their long journey to the plains,
where they killed great numbers of buffalo, drying
the meat and making pemmican for sale and for
winter subsistence, and the women dressing the hides,
which were sold to the Hudson's Bay Company.

The hunting grounds of the Red River halfbreeds
extended from the Saskatchewan on the north, south-
ward sometimes as far as the Yellowstone River.


Notes on Memories of a Bear Hunter

They followed the buffalo wherever they were, and
with them took their whole families and all their
worldly possessions, transported in the famous Red
River carts. Usually they made their start about the
1 5th of June, a part going from the Red River settle-
ment and another part from the White Horse Plain
on the Assiniboine. Once these bands traveled to-
gether, but differences sprang up among them, and
between 1850 and 1857 they hunted apart.

Sometimes the halfbreeds were absolutely improvi-
dent and thoughtless of the future. Often they made
surrounds and killed buffalo purely for the love of
killing, taking nothing but the skins and tongues,
and not recognizing that this great destruction of the
buffalo must sooner or later react upon themselves.

While often they rioted in plenty, having more food
than it was possible to consume, at other times they
suffered from hunger. If buffalo could not be found,
provisions became scarce; children cried with hunger
and all complained of the lack of food. It was a
feast or a famine.

Sometimes, too, they lost their animals. The horses
strayed away or the oxen that belonged in the camp
took the back trail and had to be searched for at great
loss of time.

On the other hand, when hunting, their industry
was very great. They had a splendid organization;
they were at peace with all the Indians of the plains,
who in early days neither wished nor dared to attack
them. The approach of a hostile party to the half-
breed camp meant merely the withdrawal of the half-
breeds within the circle of their lodges, and the turn-


Hunting at High Altitudes

ing up of carts on their sides to make breastworks
behind which to fight. The Indians of those days
had few guns or none, and scarcely ever attacked
them, except as already explained.

When the buffalo were found, if the situation was
favorable, a surround was made, but on the other
hand sometimes the buffalo were on the flat prairie,
in which case it was necessary to approach them
openly, and the horsemen could not get nearer than
four or five hundred yards before the buffalo started.
Then, if it was spring and the horses were thin and
weak, a long chase was required to overtake the buf-
falo, and sometimes they might not be overtaken at
all. If the horses were weak and the buffalo were
in such a position that there was danger that they
might escape without being overtaken, the chiefs
would sometimes send out two men to approach the
buffalo gradually from one side, and starting them
slowly to bring them close to the camp. The young
men rode at a walk or a trot parallel to the direction
in which the buffalo were headed, and before long
the buffalo began to trot and then perhaps to gallop.

If, riding on the left hand side of the herd, the
men wished to turn them to the right, they drew
away from them to a greater distance. If they wished
to turn them to the left, they directed their course
more toward the herd, which then in turn bent its
course toward the riders, as if trying to cross in front
of them. By this method of riding, the buffalo could
often be drawn some miles in one direction or the
other, and toward the waiting and concealed hunters.

On favorable ground, when a successful approach

Notes on Memories of a Bear Hunter

was made, the buffalo, with tails on end, rushed off
in headlong flight. Presently the swiftest horses be-
gan to overtake them and to disappear in the dust
kicked up by the flying herd. The noise and confus-
ion caused by the running animals was astonishing.
A thick cloud of dust hung over the scene, the air
was full of pebbles and sand kicked up by the hurry-
ing feet, shots began to be heard, and presently the
prairie was strewn with brown bodies.

In such a race the men rode their best horses, trained
buffalo runners, as experienced as their masters in
picking out the best cows, in avoiding the holes and
obstacles which lay everywhere on the prairie, in
avoiding also the charge of angry animals that they
overtook and passed. Really, the experienced rider
paid no attention to his horse and merely loaded, fired
and reloaded until the chase was over. Practically
all these men used muzzleloading flintlock guns. Their
balls they carried in their mouths, the powder was in
a cowhorn hung under the right arm. They loaded
on the run, spat a ball into the muzzle, jarred the gun
stock on the saddle or with the hand, threw some
priming into the pan, and fired. Accidents were fre-
quent. Horses fell or were caught by cows and killed,
guns burst, sometimes men were shot. By bursting
guns men lost hands, arms and sometimes even lives,
and Indian hunters have told me of men falling from
their horses in such a way that whipstocks, arrows,
bows and even guns were driven through their bodies.

Besides r?ie dangers of the actual chase there was
always a chance that a hunter separated from his own
people, working off to one side or in some concealed


Hunting at High Altitudes

place, might be attacked by Indians who, of course, at
that time were eager for the guns which all the half-
breeds possessed.

The hunter's horse drew up close to the buffalo, not
more than two or three yards from it, and the shot
was fired as the gun dropped to the level. The well-
trained horse swerved away from the buffalo at the
shot, and the man, prepared for the change of direc-
tion, at once began to reload. When the chase was
over, the hunters returned over the buffalo-strewn
prairie to identify the animals that each had killed.
This was a matter of long practice, and an outdoor
man can well understand how it was done.

Alex. Ross once asked a hunter how it was possible
that each could know his own animal in such a me-
lange? He answered, by putting a question remark-
able for its appropriate ingenuity, "Suppose," said he,
"that four hundred learned persons all wrote words
here and there on the same sheet of paper, would not
the fact be that each scholar would point out his own
hand writing?" It is true that practice makes per-
fect, but with all the perfection experience can give,
much praise is due to the observation of these people,
quarrels being rare among them on such occasions.

Soon after the hunters had left the camp, the women
started out with the carts to bring in the meat. Prob-
ably by the time they reached the killing ground, the
men had returned and were hard at work skinning
and cutting up the meat. The hunters worked back,
skinning first the animals that they had last killed and
coming the last of all to those first shot down.

The appearance of these hunters, now finishing up

Notes on Memories of a Bear Hunter

their day's work by skinning and butchering their
animals, was extraordinary. Covered with dust and
sweat, black from the flying gunpowder, bloody up
to the elbows, their faces streaked and smeared with
blood and grease as they brushed the long hair out
of their faces, they presented an extraordinary spec-
tacle of ferocity, which their unfailing good nature
and merry laughter and jest wholly belied.

After the meat and hides had been brought into
camp, they were attended to by the women after the
ordinary Indian fashion. The meat was cut into thin
flakes and dried in the heat of the sun, or if the
weather forbade this, hung up on scaffolds inside the
lodges. The fat was saved and dried, the bones
pounded up and boiled, and the fat skimmed off and
placed in bladders.

The halfbreed of the middle of the last century was
an excellent hunter, a splendid plainsman and able to
support himself and his family on the prairie under
the most adverse conditions, but he was a slow and
reluctant husbandman. Coming of two races, one of
which, though capable of long continued and most
arduous effort and endurance of hardship, had never
been accustomed to steady and continuous labor, he
was willing to work until he dropped at occupations
which he enjoyed, but not at all disposed to tasks he
regarded as irksome.

It was between 1850 and 1870 that the Red River
halfbreeds attained their greatest fame as buffalo
hunters, but when in 1883 the buffalo disappeared,
these hunters found their occupation gone, and knew
not to what to turn to gain a livelihood. No doubt


Hunting at High Altitudes

the disappearance of the buffalo had much to do with
the working up of the last Kiel rebellion, and after
that failed, the Red River halfbreeds as a camp ceased
to exist. Many of them fled over the border into the
United States and remained there, some taking up
ranches and becoming useful citizens, others remain-
ing nomads, traveling about with wagons which con-
tained all their possessions, and from the ends of
each of which protruded the family lodge poles. They
camped where night found them, and lived as best
they could. Others no doubt took up land in Canada,
and being obliged to settle down and to remain in one
place, became useful citizens of the Western Provinces
of the Dominion.

The Red River halfbreed has passed away forever.
With his picturesque lodge, his complaining cart, his
troop of dogs, his wife and daughters clad in silks,
which were stained with buffalo grease and soiled
with the dust of the prairie, he remains but a memory.

15. Pemmican, under one name or another, was
a compact form of nourishment, made by most of the
prairie Indians. A warrior setting out on foot to
make a long journey into some enemy's country often
had the many pairs of extra moccasins that he carried
stuffed with pemmican, or, if not with pemmican,
with pounded dried meat.

Among the Sioux and the Cheyennes who did not
make pemmican in such quantities as did the more
northern Indians, the dried meat was often pounded
with a small hammer on a smooth stone anvil. This
anvil stood in the middle of an oblong or circular


Notes on Memories of a Bear Hunter

piece of rawhide, on which the pounded shreds of
meat fell, to be gathered up from time to time, and
put in a sack.

As made by the Northern Blackfeet, "The meat was
dried in the usual way, and for this use only lean meat,
such as the hams, loins and shoulders was chosen.
When the time came for making the pemmican, two
large fires were built of dry quaking aspen wood, and
these were allowed to burn down to red coals. The
old women brought the dried meat to these fires and
the sheets of meat were thrown on the coals of one
of them, allowed to heat through, turned to keep them
from burning, and then thrown on the flesh side of
a dry hide that lay on the ground nearby. After a
time the roasting of this dried meat caused a smoke
to rise from the fire in use, which gave the meat a
bitter taste if cooked on it. They then turned to the
other fire, and used that until the first one had burned
clear again. After enough of the roasted meat had
been thrown on the hide, it was flailed out with sticks,
and being very brittle, was easily broken up and made
small. It was constantly stirred and pounded until
it was all fine. Meantime, the tallow of the buffalo
had been melted in a large kettle and the pemmican
bags prepared. These were made of bull's hide and
were in two pieces cut oblong, and with the corners
rounded off. Two such pieces sewn together made
a bag which would hold a hundred pounds. The
pounded meat and tallow the latter just beginning to
cool were put in a trough made of bull's hide, a
wooden spade being used to stir the mixture. After
it was thoroughly mixed, it was shoveled into one of


Hunting at High Altitudes

the sacks held open, and rammed down and packed
tight with a big stick, every effort being made to ex-
pel all the air. When the bag was full and packed
as tight as possible, it was sewn up. It was then put
on the ground, and the women jumped on it to make
it still more tight and solid. It was then laid away
in the sun to cool and dry. It usually took the meat
of two cows to make a bag of one hundred pounds;
a very large bull might make a sack of from eighty
to a hundred pounds.

"A much finer grade of pemmican was made from
the choice parts of the buffalo with marrow fat. To
this dried berries and pounded choke cherries were
added, making a delicious food which was extremely
nutritious. Pemmican was eaten either dry as it came
from the sack or stewed with water." Blackfoot
Lodge Tales, p. 206.

The word pemmican comes from the Cree language,
the original term being pimikan, which is said by some
to mean a bag full of grease and pounded meat, or
by others to mean, manufactured grease. The root is
pimu or pimiy, which means grease. The work of
collecting grease by pounding up the bones of animals
into small pieces, boiling them and skimming off the
grease, which was then put in a vessel to cool, in
primitive days occupied much of the time of old

This is only one of a large number of Indian words
which have been adopted into the English as spoken
in the United States.

16. Dr. Southworth. Dr. John W. Southworth

Notes on Memories of a Bear Hunter

was physician at the Fort Peck Agency from July I,
1876, to June 22, 1877. Nothing is known of him
or of Major Mitchell since they left the Indian ser-

17. White Beaver Creek. Tributary of Yellow-
stone from the north, lying chiefly in the eastern
part of Sweet Grass county, Montana.

18. Burial Scaffolds. The platforms were com-
monly formed of long willow twigs strung together
on sinews, and supported beneath by two or three
poles running at right angles to the twigs or length-
ways of the body. These are made in the same fashion
as back-rests or sleeping mattresses. These platforms
were sometimes placed in trees or were lashed to
four upright poles on the prairie.

Good figures of the Dakota burial platforms, taken
from Yarrow's Mortuary Customs, may be found in
Bull. 30 of the Bureau of Amer. Eth., p. 940.

The mortuary customs of the Indians were very
various, and in different parts of the country there
were different practices. Thus we have stone graves
made of slabs of flat stone, arranged in box-like form ;
we have mummies from Alaska and from the dry
southwest; in portions of the northwest cremation
was practiced, the ashes sometimes being kept in urns
and sometimes being scattered, and besides there is
the aerial sepulcher described by the author and also
aquatic burial. Besides that, the dead were often put
on tops of hills, not covered over at all, or on hills,
with stones piled over them. The whole subject has


'Hunting at High Altitude*

been quite fully treated by Dr. H. C. Yarrow in his
paper on Mortuary Customs, published as part of the
First Annual Report of the Bur.of Amer. Ethn. in 1881.
The Indians of the plains had no foolish prejudices
against being eaten by animals. Brave men often
expressed the hope that when they died their bodies
might be left out on the prairie where the birds and
the animals might feed on them, and they might thus
be scattered far and wide over the prairie. (See
Pawnee Hero Stories and Folk Tales, p. 46.)

19. George Clendenin, Jr., the son of George Clen-
denin, was born in Washington, D. C., about 1843-44.
His father was an old soldier, after the Civil War in
charge of the Rock Creek Cemetery near Washington.

Colonel Clendenin came to Montana in 1869 or 1870
and to Fort Benton in 1870. He was a man of high
ideals, who believed that he could make money in
trading with Indians without carrying a stock of
liquor. He purchased from T. C. Power & Bro. a
stock of goods for Indian trade and established a
trading post at the mouth of the Musselshell. In 1871
he sold to L. M. Black an interest in the business, and
T. C. Power retired. The fact probably is that Power
furnished the goods on credit and Black took his in-
terest, though the business was probably done in Clen-
denin's name. In the spring of 1872 Black brought
a suit for dissolution of the copartnership, and the
litigation continued until 1877. Clendenin took his
stock of goods from Benton down the river in Macki-
naw boats. The concern's chief trade was for buffalo


(See page 314.)

Notes on Memories of a Bear Hunter

After the Indian trade at the mouth of the Mussel-
shell had proved unsatisfactory, Clendenin bought out
Black and moved his stock of goods up the Missouri
River to Carroll. He traded there for three or four
years, after 1874, before closing out. It is my im-
pression that in the year 1875 ne na d a small trading
post with a very slight stock of goods at the mouth of
the Judith River, which he called Fort Claggett. This
was to catch the trade of the wandering Gros Ventres
of the Prairie, with whom the lower valley of the
Judith was a favorite camping place.

After closing out the business at Musselshell, Clen-
denin became interested in the Barker Mining District
in the southeastern part of Cascade County, Montana,
and built there a smelter in which Power and others
were interested. Clendenin was interested in the
mines of this section and operated one known as the
Clendenin Lode. While he was inspecting this in
company with Louis Heitman and others, in 1882, a
tunnel caved in and killed him.

20. John J. Healy was for many years a noted
character in Ft. Benton and the country to the North.
He was an Irishman by birth, who as a young man
had enlisted as a soldier and been stationed in the
West. After his discharge he mined and traded, and
worked in Northern Montana, where he was most
highly respected and very successful. He it was who
organized the famous Ispitsi Cavalry, and who kept
order in that northern country until the Northwest
Mounted Police came into it. After a time Montana
and Alberta became too crowded for Healy, and he


Hunting at High Altitudes

went to Alaska, where at once he impressed his fel-
lows as he had done in Montana. He died only two
or three years ago. He was a man whose life should
have been written, and it was hoped that this task
would have been undertaken by Edwin Tappen Adney,
of Nova Scotia.

"Johnny" Healy feared neither man nor devil ; and
to this day stories of his daring linger in the northern

21. The destruction of big game for the hides,
which was taking place in 1876, is hardly to be com-
prehended by those who did not see what was going
on in those early years. Buffalo, elk, mule deer, and
antelope were slaughtered by thousands without re-
gard to age or sex or season, and of the vast majority
of the animals killed, only the hide was taken. Dur-
ing the winter of 1874-1875 it was estimated that in
the valley of the Yellowstone, between the mouth of
Trail Creek and the Mammoth Hot Springs, not less
than 3,000 elk were killed for their hides alone. Buf-
falo, mule deer, and antelope suffered as much or
more than the elk. Travelers through Montana terri-
tory in the summer of 1875 constantly came on places
where buffalo carcasses were strewn everywhere, and
it was common to pass a skin-hunting outfit, whose
wagons were piled with the flat, dried hides of deer,
elk, antelope and sheep, as high as a load of hay.
This went on, as has been said, all through the year,
and the females of these hoofed animals were as
readily killed in spring or summer as at any other
time. Owing to the sparse settlement of the country


Notes on Memories of a Bear Hunter

and the enormous abundance of game animals, the
destruction was beyond belief.

At certain points near army posts, efforts were made
by officers to drive skin hunters away, and often with
success, and the general sentiment of the better class
of frontiersmen was against the butchery. , The game
laws of the territory existed only on the statute books,
and people generally were not sufficiently interested
to make any effort to have the laws enforced. They
were not supported by public sentiment. The result
of this slaughter was that the game passed out of

22. Ft. Benton. This famous trading post was
built by the American Fur Co. about 1846. It had
predecessors in the neighborhood, Ft. Mackenzie and
Ft. Brule. It was long the most famous of the fur
trading posts, partly because it stood at the head of
the navigation on the Missouri River. Fort Benton,
like others of the sod and adobe forts, finally went to
ruin under the weather, and little of it now remains.


23, Nez Perce War. Much literature has been
printed on this subject, but a good brief account, so
far as the Yellowstone Park is concerned, will be
found in General Chittenden's book. See Note 28.

24. While perhaps the killing of the Nez Perces
women may have had something to do with the
changed attitude of the warriors of the tribe, it is


Hunting at High Altitudes

believed that the real cause of their bitterness was
the fact that a number of the Nez Perces' dead were
scalped by Howard's troops. There has been some
controversy as to how this came to be done. Cer-
tainly it was against the orders issued by General
Howard. Very likely the scalps were taken by the
Bannock scouts employed by Howard, and it may
very well be that some of his white civilian scouts
had a part in it. That scalping was forbidden by

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Online LibraryGeorge Bird GrinnellHunting at high altitudes: the book of the Boone and Crockett club → online text (page 14 of 27)