A continuation of McLeod's Diary)
All Day without Eating
December 11, 1836 - Never was the dawn of a day more welcomed
to the miserable likes of us. To save time our allowance of
rice was boiled in the night but the continued blowing of
the wind had so filled it with charcoal and ashes that but
two or three of our company could stomach a few spoonfuls
of it. The rest, myself among the number, traveled all day
without eating a morsel or drinking a drop and the snow which
we so dreaded the day before would have been more welcome
than gold today. Our course today was west northwest. We saw
a great number of pheasants but they were so wild that all
our attempts to kill some of them failed.
the evening we came to a fine stream of water running through
a fine grove of elms. The sight was hailed with delight and
here we determined to camp. A few moments after are arrival
an Indian with a gun in his hand and a bullet in his mouth
came cautiously creeping up to us. I discovered him and conjectured
his intentions immediately ran up to him and offered him my
hand, which he accepted with a feigned smile, at the same
time observing, as near as I could understand that he was
glad to fine we were Englishmen and friendly to his tribe,
adding that the bullet he carried was intended for one of
us, supposing us enemies. The savage had lived for some weeks
with his squaw, dogs, etc. upon a bear, which he had killed,
on his way to some hunting grounds at a distance from the
prairie. We engaged him to conduct us to nearest Pembina on
the Red River, and having made a few presents he returned
to his squaw.
Guide's Good Faith
Monday, December 12, 1836 - Started with our new guide, course
west, and northwest by west. Doubt of honest intentions of
the Indian arose from him changing the course from what we
had reason to suppose was the correct one. At 1 pm encamped
on a branch of the stream we had left in the morning, as it
will take all day tomorrow to cross the plain to the next
December 13, 1836 - Started at daybreak. Our guide was reluctant
to accompany us from the appearance of a storm, which at this
season is dangerous to the traveler. After difficulty he was
persuaded by us to come, but still doubtful of his honesty
from his continual inclining to the west. At 11 am discovered
trees to the west-northwest, which the Indian guide said were
on the banks of the Red River and near Pembina, to which place
he had agreed to guide us. Late in the evening, after a long
and fatiguing journey we came to the banks of the river which
sight gave us a variety of pleasing feelings. Crossed the
river and immediately changed our course to the north. We
had gone but a few miles when the Indian requested his pay,
a blanket, saying he had left his squaw alone with but little
food and he was anxious to return, assuring us that a few
hours walk would bring us to Pembina, near which we would
find on the river bank the old cart track, which in three
days would lead us to the settlement at Assinoboia. His story
was plausible. We suffered ourselves to be duped and the rascal
returned, no doubt laughing at our credulity.
Taken Seriously Ill
gone some several miles and perceiving no appearance of the
settlement, which formerly existed at Pembina and being all
much fatigued we encamped what we thought was a large stream
flowing from the prairie into the Rice River, but upon cutting
the ice we found to our disappointment that it was a pool
of stagnant water. Hunger compelled us to cook our remaining
pint each of rice with the mineral water and either from its
effects or that of some bear grease, which I got from the
squaw, we were nearly all taken severely ill in the course
of the night.
December 14, 1836 - So unwell was I that it was with difficulty
I could walk for 10 minutes at a time without throwing myself
down on the grass. Our route today extends from point to point
on the Red River across the immense plain which extents to
the west 15 or 20 days journey.
Red River Settlement
After many more hardships the party arrived at the Red River
settlement. McLeod in reflecting on the part of the journey
just completed writes as follows:)
our departure from Red Lake we each carried a knapsack of
clothes and provisions, which weighted in all about 50 pounds
to the person. Upon this most miserable food, the only kind
we could get, we had marched 500 miles, at a very inclement
season, where sometimes we had to camp without wood or water.
Yet we got through, without guides, to the great astonishment
of many of the oldest voyageurs in the place.
Describes a Buffalo Hunt
first season of buffalo hunting commences about the 15th of
June and is continued until about August 1st. The second season
commences in September and terminates late in the fall, about
November 1st, leaving time sufficient to return home before
the cold weather sets in. I allude to the Brules hunting,
as the Indians who inhabit the buffalo country killed these
animals at all seasons. (NOTE: The "Brules" were
evidently the white and mix blood inhabitants of that region.)
Brules Carried the Hunt
Brules general set out with 500 to 600 carts drawn principally
by oxen. Their wives and daughters usually accompany these
carts, for the purpose of preparing the meat, which is done
by stripping it from the bones and spreading it upon a scaffold
of poles elevated from 3 to 4 feet above the ground, under
they which they build a fire of buffalo dung. In this manner
they continue to dry the meat as fast as it is killed by the
hunters. It takes the flesh of twelve of the largest beasts
thus prepared to load a cart drawn by one ox - and allowing
600 carts to the spring season would make 7,200 of these animals
killed in a month by the Brules alone, not including the Indian
tribes, such as the Sioux, Mandan, Gros Ventrers, etc., all
of whom inhabit the buffalo country and destroy these animals
by the thousands and add to this, that in the spring nearly
all the animals killed are cows, the meat of the male not
being any good after a certain season. These different causes
account for the rapid decrease of the buffalo within the past
few years. I have been informed by a Brule hunter that at
the last hunt they had to go a journey of 15 days to the west,
6 days further than they had ever gone before.
the fall hunt besides the dry meat they make Pemmican and
also bring home a quantity of meat in its natural state.
The Pemmican is made by drying the meat as before mentioned.
It is then beaten into small pieces and placed in a sack made
of buffalo skin, into which is poured a quantity of the melted
fat of this animal. When it cools it is preserved in this
sack and sewed up. In this manner it will keep for 3 or 4
years. The sacks are in various sizes but the common sizes
are from 100 to 150 pounds.
Squad of Horsemen
usual number of horsemen attending these hunts is about 500,
however not more than 200 to 300 act as hunters and are those
possessing the swiftest horses. The hunters are exceedingly
expert, notwithstanding which many accidents occur. I have
seen broken arms and disabled hands this latter accident frequently
occurring from their manner of loading their guns. They never
use wadding. The powder is carelessly thrown in, in more or
less quantities, the ball is then tumbled in and off goes
the shot. This is done to save time and it is almost incredible
what a number shots one person will discharge in riding the
distance of 3 or 4 miles with the horse at its top speed.
gentleman who has lived many years in the buffalo country
says that upon the least calculation from four to five hundred
thousand of these animals are killed yearly on this side of
the Missouri River.
on 750 Mile Hike
February 26, 1837 - Left La Fourche, Red River Colony this
evening and came up the settlement to prepare for an early
start tomorrow to St. Peters, 750 miles on foot.
February 27, 1837 - Started at daybreak; cold with sharp head
wind. About 10 am a sever snowstorm commenced. Obliged to
take shelter in the house of a Mr. Meikeljohn. Came about
9 miles and at 5 pm cleared off. Prospects of a fine day tomorrow
and tonight I prepared snowshoes and etc. for the journey.
February 28, 1837 - Started at daybreak, bad walking because
the snow is deep. Crossed the long traverse and waited for
the dogs to come up. At 3 pm had to camp. Dogs to fatigue
to proceed. Dogs never travel well the first day.
1, 1837 - Left encampment at sunrise. Found it exceeding cold
sleeping out after having been in a house for two months.
Came 40 miles today. Arrived at a shanty where we found 14
persons, men, women and children without food. They had been
living for 7 days on an occasional hare or pheasant. The hunter's
life is ever a precarious one. We relieved them with pemmican
from our stock for the journey, which in all probability will
be the cause of our fasting some days before we reach Lake
Traverse, the first trading post from this, distance of more
than 400 miles.
Blistered and Bleeding
3, 1837 - Had a cold and stormy night and was unable to leave
camp until 9 o'clock. The wind changed to the north bringing
with a snowstorm, which caught us on the prairie many miles
from shelter. At 3 pm we came to small wood on a bend of the
Tongue River. One of our party, Mr. Pary, not having come
up we encamped. He has no snowshoes and persisted in not bringing
any with him, which may lead to unhappy consequences, as he
is unable to keep up with us on the plains and should we be
separated by a storm he would inevitably perish. I feel miserably
fatigued and my feet are severely blisters by the strings
of the snowshoes. At every step the blood from my toes oozes
through my moccasins.
4, 1837 - Came a long distance today. Snow deep and very heavy,
which clogs the snowshoes and makes them exceedingly, fatiguing
to carry. Encamped on a branch of the Park River. Find Major
Long's map very incorrect.
7, 1837 - Last night excessively cold. Today unable to leave
camp; so stormy it is impossible to see the distance of 40
yards on the plain and the distance to the next wood encampment
is 30 miles.
8, 1837 - Wind north and piercing on the prairie. We crossed
the plain and arrived at the Turtle River at 3 pm having come
March 12, 1837 - Started at daybreak, route principally over
immense hills. Saw 13 buffalo. One shot at by guide, it was
severely wounded but not killed. Mr. Pary unable to keep up
with us, afraid to lose him as the drifts fill up our tracks,
which obliges us to frequently wait for him, consequently
we were unable to get across the plain to a place of encampment.
This evening we are suffering the severest torments for want
of water. The guide espied the carcasses of 2 buffaloes recently
killed. Being a hunter himself curious led him two the spot
where to his great delight he found a few small pieces of
wood brought there by hunters some days previous, by which
means we were enabled to melt a kettle of snow.
Fire, No Water, No Breakfast
13, 1837 - Passed a more comfortable night than expected.
Morning miserable; having to creep out from under our buffalo
skins and take to the plains to warm ourselves; no fire, no
water, no breakfast. I took a small piece of frozen pemmican
and ate it with a handful of snow, at the same time walking
as fast as possible to warm myself.
storm came on, the guide said we were lost and would all perish.
At 3 pm having walked more than 30 miles since daybreak we
perceived through the drift a clump of trees where we arrived
soon after happy to escape passing a second night on the plain,
where it is more than probably we should have all been frozen
In another article the McLeod diary account will be completed.
Much has been omitted. Probably not more than a third of it
has been given here.)