Trails of the Pathfinders - G. B. Grinnell

Alexander Henry the Younger—II

In August, 1801, Henry was on his way to a new post on the Pembina, the one which Langlois had established the year before. He intended to establish also a post at Grandes Fourches, the site of the present town of Grand Forks, North Dakota. This business, and his travels to other subsidiary trading-posts that he built at various points, occupied the autumn. Game was abundant, and so were fish. The Hudson's Bay Company, the opposition, were not far off, and there was some intercourse between the men of the two companies. On March 14, during a drinking-match, occured one of the fights among the Indians which were so common in those days of abundant liquor. "Gros Bras, in a fit of jealousy, stabbed Auposoi to death with a hand-dague; the first stroke opened his left side, the second his belly, and the third his breast. He never stirred, although he had a knife in his belt, and died instantly. Soon after this, Auposoi's brother a boy about ten years of age, took the deceased's gun loaded it with two balls, and approached Gros Bras' tent. Putting the muzzle of the gun through the door, the boy fired the two balls into his breast, and killed him dead, just as he was reproaching his wife for her affection for Auposoi, and boasting of the vengeance he had taken. The little fellow ran into the woods and hid. Little Shell found the old woman, Auposoi's mother, in her tent; he instantly stabbed her. Ondainoiache then came in, took the knife, and gave her a second stab. Little Shell, in his turn, taking the knife, gave a third blow. In this manner did these two rascals continue to murder the old woman as long as there was any life in her. The boy escaped into Langlois' house, and was kept hid until they were all sober."

March 15, a swan, a turkey-buzzard, and a hawk, the first spring birds, were seen; and by the middle of April wild-fowl were plenty, and calves were becoming numerous. Passenger pigeons were passing north, and toward the end of the month some Indians came in with thirty-six whole beaver in a skin canoe. In May came the news of a Sioux attack on the Saulteurs, in which seven of the latter were killed. Henry planted his garden, and soon after made ready for his departure to join the brigade.

The next September he was back again at Panbian River, trading with the Indians, and, of course, handing out rum to them. His entry for February 15 contains a small temperance lecture which represented what he sometimes preached, but never practised. As he says: "The Indians totally neglected their ancient customs; and to what can this degeneration be ascribed but to their intercourse with us, particularly as they are so unfortunate as to have a continual succession of opposition parties to teach them roguery, and to destroy both mind and body with that pernicious article rum? What a different set of people they would be were there not a drop of liquor in the country. If a murder is committed among the Saulteurs, it is due to a drinking match. You may truly say that liquor is the root of all evil in the West."

Spring came on with the usual signs. The women were making sugar at the last of March (1803), and it was noted that spring that very few buffalo drifted down the river. The plains of the Red River were covered with water from the sudden melting of the snow, and the men suffered much, for they were continually on the march, looking up Indians along every stream. The water was commonly knee-deep, and in some places much deeper, and was usually covered with ice in the morning, making the walking tiresome, and often dangerous. Some of the best men, Henry says, lose the use of their legs while still in the prime of life. The Indians were now bringing in the proceeds of their spring hunt, and exchanging it for rum. When the time came around, Henry interrupted his hunting and his trading to plant his garden, sowing potatoes, cabbage, and many root crops. With the end of May came the mosquitoes, a terrible pest. Among the articles traded for was maple sugar, an important article of food in that country. As usual, about midsummer, Henry started down the river with his furs, and reached Fort William July 3.

On the 29th of the same month he started on his return journey, with a brigade of eight canoes; and about two months later, September 20, found himself at the present Winnipeg, and soon afterward at the old post on the Panbian River.

Horses had now begun to be used in the trade at this point, and Henry grumbles about them in a long entry, which is worth reproducing: "It is true they are useful animals, but if there were not one in all the Northwest we should have less trouble and expense. Our men would neither be so burdened with families, nor so indolent and insolent as they are, and the natives in general would be more honest and industrious. Let an impartial eye look into the affair, to discover whence originates the unbounded extravagance of our meadow gentry, both white and native, and horses will be found one of the principal causes. Let us view the bustle and noise which attended the transportation of five pieces of goods to a place where the houses were built in 1801-02. The men were up at break of day, and their horses tackled long before sunrise; but they were not ready to move before ten o'clock, when I had the curiosity to climb on top of my house to watch their motions, and observe their order of march.

"Antoine Payet, guide and second in command, leads the van with a cart drawn by two horses, and loaded with private baggage, cassetetes, bags, kettles, and mashqueminctes. Madame Payet follows the cart, with a child a year old on her back, very merry. Charles Bottineau, with two horses and a cart, loaded with 4) ?> packs, his own baggage, and two young children, with kettles and other trash hanging on to it. Madame Bottineau, with a squalling infant on her back, scolding and tossing it about. Joseph Dubord goes on foot, with his long pipe-stem and calumet in his hand. Madame Dubord follows on foot, carrying his tobacco pouch with a broad bead tail. Antoine Thellier, with a cart and two horses, loaded with t packs of goods, and Dubois' baggage. Antoine La Pointe, with another cart and horses, loaded with two pieces of goods, and with baggage belonging to Brisebois, Jasmin, and Pouliot, and a kettle hung on each side. Auguste Brisebois follows, with only his gun on his shoulder and a fresh-lighted pipe in his mouth. Michel Jasmin goes next, like Brisebois, with gun and pipe, puffing out clouds of smoke. Nicolas Pouliot, the greatest smoker in the Northwest, has nothing but pipe and pouch; those three fellows have taken a farewell dram, and lighted fresh pipes, go on brisk and merry, playing numerous pranks. Dormin Livernois, with a young mare, the property of Mr. Langlois, loaded with weeds for smoking, an old worsted bag (madame's property), some squashes and potatoes, a small keg of fresh water, and two young whelps, howling. Next goes Livernois' young horse, drawing a travaille, loaded with baggage and a large worsted mashguemcate, belonging to Madame Langlois. Next appears Madame Cameron's mare, kicking, rearing, and snorting, hauling a travaille loaded with a bag of flour, cabbage, turnips, onions, a small keg of water, and a large kettle of broth. Michel Langlois, who is master of the band, now comes on leading a horse that draws a travaille nicely covered with a new painted tent, under which his daughter and Mrs. Cameron lie at full length, very sick; this covering or canopy has a pretty effect in the caravan, and appears at a great distance in the plains. Madame Langlois brings up the rear of the human beings, following the travaille with a slow step and melancholy air, attending to the wants of her daughter, who, notwithstanding her sickness, can find no other expressions of gratitude to her parents than by calling them dogs, fools, beasts, etc. The rear-guard consists of a long train of twenty dogs, some for sleighs, some for game, and others for no use whatever, except to snarl and destroy meat. The total forms a procession nearly a mile long, and appears like a large band of Assiniboines."

Early in November Henry went over to the Hair Hills. In March, on a journey from the Hair Hills to his home, he says that he travelled in the night always, preferring to do so at this season of the year, partly to avoid snow blindness, and partly because the cold of the night makes travel easier than during the day, when the snow is melted and soft, and dogs and sledges sink deep into it. In April, when he was chasing buffalo, he came near leaving his bones in the plains, a prey for the wolves. "This was occasioned by my horse stumbling while at full speed. I was just drawing my gun from the belt to fire, holding it by the barrel, near the muzzle, when the sudden shock caused the priming to fire the gun; the ball passed near my hip and struck in the ground, and the gun flew some distance. I was in the midst of the herd; a fine large calf passing near me, I dismounted, caught him by the tail, and held him fast; he began to bleat, when instantly the mother turned and rushed at me; I was glad to let go and run to my horse. As I reflected on my narrow escape, it brought to my mind a similar affair which happened to me some years ago at Michipicoten, when shooting wildfowl in the spring, in a small canoe. In attempting to remove my gun from my left to my right side, passing the muzzle behind my back, the cock got fast in one of the bars, and, on my pulling the gun forward from behind me, she went off; the load grazed my right side, taking a piece of my belt and capot away."

In April he bought a beautiful white buffalo skin; the hair was long, soft and perfectly white, resembling a sheep's fleece. Early in May extraordinary numbers of wild pigeons were seen, and the Indian women were preparing the ground for their farming. With the summer came the usual packing of the furs, and the journey to Kamanistiquia. The return journey was a short one, and Henry reached the Panbian River early in September. In October he writes, as showing the excellence of his horse, that one day he ran an elk five miles before killing it; then chased a hare, which he killed after a long pursuit; and finally, toward evening, he ran a herd of buffalo, and killed a fat cow for supper. Besides these long races, he had covered about thirty-six miles of travel.

This winter, because he refused to give credit to an Indian for a blanket, Henry was twice shot at, but missed. On his return to his post that summer, he learned of an attack on a small camp of his Indians by Sioux a month earlier. This is the story as Henry gives it, and it may be retold because it illustrates Indian modes: "My beau-pere (father-in-law) was the first man that fell, about eight o'clock in the morning. He had climbed a tree to see if the buffalo were at hand, as they were tented there to make dried provisions. He had no sooner reached the top than two Sioux discoverers [scouts] fired at the same moment, and both balls passed through his body. He had only time to call out to his family, who were in the tent, about a hundred paces from him, 'Save yourselves, the Sioux are killing us!' and fell dead to the ground, his body breaking several branches of the tree as it dropped. The noise brought the Indians out of the tent, when, perceiving their danger, the women and children instantly ran through the plains toward an island of wood on Tongue River, about a mile distant, and on a direct line toward the fort. The men took their arms and made off also, keeping in the rear of their women and children, whom they urged on. The four surviving men had not gone more than a quarter of a mile when they saw the main body of the war party, on horseback, rushing down upon them. Crossing Tongue River, and in a few moments coming up with them, the Sioux began to fire. The four men, by expert maneuvers and incessant fire, prevented the enemy from closing in on them, while the women and children continued to fly, and the men followed.

They were within about two hundred paces of the wood, and some of the most active had actually entered it, when the enemy surrounded and fell upon them. Three of the Saulteurs fled in different directions; Grand Gueule escaped before they were completely surrounded, but the other two were killed. One who remained to protect the women and children was a brave fellow—Aceguemanche, or Little Chief; he waited deliberately until the enemy came very near, when he fired at one who appeared to be a chief, and knocked the Sioux from his horse. Three young girls and a boy were taken prisoners; the remainder were all murdered and mutilated in a horrible manner. Several women and children had escaped in the woods, where the enemy chased them on horseback, but the willows and brush were so intricate that every one of these escaped. A boy about twelve years old, when the Sioux pursued, crawled into a hollow under a bunch of willows, which a horseman leaped over without perceiving him. One of the little girls who escaped tells a pitiful story of her mother, who was killed. This woman, having two young children that could not walk fast enough, had taken one of them on her back and prevailed upon her sister-in-law to carry the other; but when they got near the woods, and the enemy rushed upon them with hideous yells and war-whoops, the young woman was so frightened that she threw down the child and soon overtook the mother, who, observing that the child was missing, and hearing its screams, kissed her little daughter—the one who relates the story—saying, with tears streaming from her eyes: 'Take courage, my daughter; try to reach the woods, and if you do, go to your eldest sister, who will be kind to you; I must turn back and recover your youngest sister, or die in the attempt. Take courage; run fast, my daughter!' Poor woman! She actually did recover her child, and was running off with both children,' when she was felled to the ground by a blow on the head with a war-club. She recovered instantly, drew her knife, and plunged it into the neck of her murderer; but others coming up, she was despatched. Thus my belle-mere ended her days."

This same story is told by Tanner, who was then an Indian captive, living with the Chippewas. Tanner even mentions Henry's name, and speaks of his father-in-law having been killed. The Saulteurs were determined to avenge the death of their relations, and Henry furnished them with ammunition for their war journey. Later, he visited the battle-field and the Sioux camp, and judged from the sign that there must have been about three hundred men in the Sioux party. In October the remains of the Sioux killed by Little Chief were discovered by some of the Indians; and the certainty that their enemies had met one loss was some satisfaction to the Saulteurs.

Although Henry had made an agreement with Mr. Miller, an agent of the Hudson's Bay Company, by which the rum to be given to the Indians should be limited, the winter did not pass without deaths due to drinking. One of these was an accident where a drunken Indian knocked down a gun which, exploding, killed one of Henry's men, who was lying on a bed in the next room. The profits for the season's work in 1805 and 1806, as given in Henry's diary, are nearly three thousand five hundred pounds.

Early in July, 1806, after his return from down the river, Henry made preparations to set off on a tour to the southwest, to the country of the Mandans, who then, as now, lived on the Missouri River. There had been heavy rains, and the plains of the Red River were covered with water, or else were so muddy that travel was slow and exceedingly laborious. The horses often sank up to their knees in mud, and at times had water up to their bellies, while the little rivulets which they crossed they were obliged to swim, carrying on their heads such articles as they wished to keep dry. Mosquitoes were a veritable plague, and Henry had prepared a mask of thin dressed caribou skin, which in some measure protected him; but those who were not provided with some defense suffered terribly. Only when the wind blew was there any relief. They were more than once obliged to make rafts, and when they were naked, hauling the raft back and forth, they had no defense against the mosquitoes. The horses suffered as much as the men.

The final start for the Mandans was from the establishment on Mouse River, and the party consisted of seven persons, of whom one was a Saulteur, a brother-in-law of Chaboillez, who had undertaken to guide the party to the Mandans. It was midsummer, and they travelled west-southwest over delightful prairies, where antelope were exceedingly abundant. After crossing Mouse River, they found buffalo in great plenty, and all in motion, from east to west. It was the rutting season, and the herds were noisy and excited. On the 18th of July, as they were crossing the high Missouri plains, they came in sight of the buttes, called Maison du Chien, now commonly known as the Dogden Buttes. This is one of the great landmarks of the country, and many stirring adventures have taken place within sight of it. A little later they could see the high red banks of the Missouri before them, a long way off.

When they reached it, they found plenty of tracks of people there, and an abundance of last year's corncobs. The winter village of the Minitaris was near. A well-defined trail led down the river, and they were several times in danger of breaking their necks in deep pits, which the natives had dug in the path to catch wolves and foxes in winter. Some of these were ten feet deep, and hollowed out in places to about thirty feet in circumference, while the entrance was no wider than a foot-path, and about five feet in length. "These holes are covered with dried grass, at the season when the wolves are caught, and every morning are found to contain some of those animals. In summer the grass grows strong and high about the mouths, entirely concealing them until one arrives upon the very brink, and he is in danger of tumbling in headlong." Down the river about five miles they came to a Mandan village. The people received them pleasantly, and the Black Cat, the chief, took them to one of his houses, which was kept for strangers. The people were desirous of trading, and could not understand why the white men should have come so far out of mere curiosity. As usual in these permanent villages of earth lodges, the horses at night were confined in one part of the lodge while the people slept in the other. The Mandans had large earthen pots of different sizes, from five gallons to one quart, used solely for boiling corn and beans. The Black Cat was told the next day by a Canadian who lived in the neighboring Mandan village, who his visitors were, and at once brought out the American flag, given him in the autumn of 1804 by Captains Lewis and Clark, and hoisted it over the hut in which the strangers were staying. When they were about to cross the river and go to the opposite village, they packed up such goods as they had, and the few things they had purchased, chiefly provisions, and gave them into the care of the chief. "These people are much given to thieving, but in the hut in which a stranger is lodged his property may be left in perfect security; none dare touch it, as the master conceives his honor concerned in whatever is placed under his immediate protection. Out of doors, if they can pick your pocket or pilfer any article, it is gone in an instant, and search would be in vain; every one would wish to appear innocent, although they are not offended when accused of stealing, but laugh the matter away."

Henry and his people crossed the river in bull-boats, and were well received at the other Mandan village. He noted the expertness of the young men in getting the horses across, one swimming ahead with the rope in his teeth, while others swam on each side, and in the rear, driving each horse very rapidly. He also saw bull-boats—a new vessel to him. They had hardly reached the village when there came in some Pawnees from down the river on an embassy to treat for peace. They could not speak the language either of the Mandans or the Minitaris, but they talked freely in signs; and this sign language seems to have been a surprise to Henry. He says: "They hold conversations for several hours upon different subjects, during the whole of which time not a single word is pronounced upon either side, and still they appear to comprehend each other perfectly well. This mode of communication is natural to them. Their gestures are made with the greatest ease, and they never seem to be at a loss for a sign to express their meaning."

These people collected their fuel in the spring, when the ice broke up, and great quantities of wood drifted down. The young men were accustomed to swim out among the drifting ice and bring in the trees, however large, which they hauled out on the bank. Immense piles of driftwood were seen opposite each village, and some of the trees were very large. While collecting this driftwood, they also drew to land great numbers of drowned buffalo, of which they were very fond.

He noticed—as have many others—that some children were gray-haired, and that others were blond. A Minitari was seen with yellow hair, something not unexampled in old times.

The men wore their hair twisted into a number of small tails, hanging down the back to below the waist. In some of them it trailed on the ground. The Cheyennes to-day tell us that a hundred years ago the men of their tribe wore their hair in the same fashion. From the village of the Mandans they went on up the river to those of the Soulier [Amahami, a tribe now extinct] and Minitari villages. Here they met Mackenzie and Caldwell, employees in the service of the Northwest Company, who had been residing some little time in the village.

Henry was not particularly well pleased with his reception here, and indeed the Indians paid little attention to the white men, and seemed to despise them. The village, which formerly contained nine hundred houses, now had only a hundred and thirty, smallpox and other diseases having reduced them to that number. While in this village the white men found it dangerous to stray out of the hut without a stout stick to keep off the dogs, which were so numerous and savage as sometimes actually to attack them. The people had many horses. Henry greatly objected to their custom of apparently becoming dissatisfied with their bargain after a trade had been concluded, and returning and taking back the article they had sold, while giving up the price paid for it. For example: "One of the natives had a turkey cock's tail, great numbers of which they got from the Schians, and which serve them as fans; this was a new and fresh one of beautiful hue. I gave him five rounds of ammunition for it, with which he appeared well satisfied, and left me, but soon returned with the ammunition, and demanded the tail. Being loth to part with it, I added five more rounds to the price, which he accepted and went away. However, he soon reappeared and I added four more; but to no purpose, for he continued to go and come until the payment amounted to thirty rounds. Upon his next appearance I offered forty rounds; but he would no longer listen to any offer, threw down my ammunition, and insisted upon my returning him the tail, which I was obliged to do."