It is well-known that the Chippewa and Métis were trading and hunting in the more western regions of North Dakota and into points in Montana by the early part of the nineteenth century. After 1830, largely, the Chippewa had become more focused on hunting in the areas west of the Sheyenne River—especially in the region between the Mouse and Missouri River—probably due to a drop in the number of bison in eastern North Dakota. One description of a hunt to the Missouri River shows to what lengths such hunts would go to reach the fertile buffalo grounds of this region:
Early on June 21, 1840, they left Pembina after the priest had performed mass and the camp flag raised. The picturesque procession stretched some five or six miles, along the trail to the southwest. With a brief rest at noon, they traveled until five or six o’clock for night encampment. On this day they traveled twenty miles. After camping, a council meeting was held on the grass outside the circle of carts.
The next day the march was cancelled because some of the horses and oxen strayed away and had to be rounded up. On June 23rd the march resumed and they were now seeking the buffalo herds. After nine days out of Pembina, they reached the Chienne [Cheyenne] River, about one hundred and fifty miles from Pembina, and had not seen a herd of buffalo. On July 3, nineteen days out of, and more than two hundred and fifty miles from the Settlement, they came in sight of the hunting ground and the following day had the first buffalo ‘race’.
Four hundred mounted huntsmen awaited the signal from the senior captain and at eight o’clock in the morning moved toward the herd, which was about one and one-half miles away. The runners approached to within four or five hundred yards before the herd took flight, as the hunters moved in. Then shooting, yelling, noise, dust and general pandemonium broke loose and the earth trembled, as the thundering herd stampeded. In a short time the tumult died away in the distance, leaving the slain buffalo on the plain. A perilous but glorious adventure, yet sometimes fatal to both man and horse.
The carts then moved forward to garner the meat. The hunters skinned and cut up the carcasses. The women began work on the skins, as well as the meat in the preparation of pemmican. The meat had to be processed immediately to prevent spoiling. In this ‘race’, thirteen hundred and seventy-five buffalo were killed.
The expedition followed the buffalo herds west and reached the banks of the Missouri River on July 16. They spent a week there in forays after buffalo. On July 25, on their return trip home they were in the vicinity of the Chienne River. They passed through Pembina and on to the Settlement at Fort Garry, where they arrived on August 17, after a hunt lasting two months and two days.
There were sixteen hundred and thirty persons and twelve hundred and ten Red River carts in this expedition. It was estimated that a total of 1,089,000 pounds of meat were obtained on this hunt. During the spring or summer hunts, an expedition averaged about ten to twelve general races, that is when all the hunters ‘run’ at once. On these hunts there was great wastage of the spoils and scarcely one-third of the buffalo slain were turned into account.
Kade M. Ferris M.S.
Brehaut, Harry B. and P. Eng
1971 The Red River Cart and Trails: The Fur Trade. MHS Transactions, Series 3, Number 28.