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When the hunt was organized, the march from the rendezvous area to the buffalo plains began. It was now a controlled and orderly march ,it had to be for at any moment either the buffalo or the Sioux might be encountered. At the head of the column rode the guide, carrying the flag of the buffalo hunt, he led the direction to be followed and when he halted the column halted also. Ahead and on either flank rode the scouts they kept a watch out for the herds and the Sioux, they would ride in with their intelligence. This they delivered to the captain who would be riding between the two or four columns of carts as they proceeded in formation over the prairies so at a moments notice they could halt sharply, or wheel into formation to corral the horses and oxen, to stand off the Sioux. Grant, as he rode behind the flagman, or between the columns, must often felt like Joshua leading his forces towards contact with the enemy.
The conduct of the march was determined by the need for instant reaction to news of the buffalo or the Sioux. When it was reported that the buffalo were just over the next swell of the plain, camp would be struck. The women formed the carts into a circle, inside of which they placed the livestock then they would rear the teepees outside.
The men mounted their buffalo-running horses and with Grant leading rode out with the scouts to the herd. The approach to the herd was made as near as the terrain would allow, then the hunters fanned out to the right and left, and at a gesture from Grant, rode in line over the covering ridge and charged the herd. Each man singled out his beast as the herd turned to run, shot it down from his saddle, dropped a glove, spit a new ball from his mouth into the muzzle of his rifle he would strike the stock of the rifle on his saddle to tamp the powder charge and as his experienced runner brought him alongside another lumbering cow, brought his rifle down across the saddle and fired from the waist. The kill was marked with a second glove, or other marker without a pause or a check of the kill the hunters drove on loading, firing, drunk with the fury of the chase. And so buffaloes, horses and men swept across the plains, with bellow and gun-shot, the dust whipping away from the knolls driven by the prairie wind with the long lines of slaughtered beasts stretching out behind.
The tongues and depouille` or hump meat were delicacies to be eaten at once or, in the case of the former, to be pickled in brine. The beef of rib and flank was cut in long strips for drying. The fat and sinew were carefully separated and preserved . Then the carts rolled back to camp with the spoils, and the work of drying the meat and making pemmican commenced . It was women's work , and the men loafed around the camp in the intervals of sentry or scouting duties . It was no doubt on occasions such as this , as well as during long visits to his house in winter, that Grant began the heavy drinking on which his friends have commented . For the Metis, , like the Indian, kept his door open to any visitor, and whatever he had he would give in hospitality. the rendezvous. Their start would be slow, confused , and noisy, as the whole settlement, expect for the very old and very young - men, women, dog's, horses and carts - moved out, with shouting and barking, along the Assiniboine to the Passage. And night by night the campfires would punctuate their progress across the plains of the Red River valley.
All three parties normally met at the rendezvous to proceed to the buffalo plains together. If the Sioux were at all aroused , this was necessary . Normally the rendezvous was somewhere on the Pembina River , more and more to the westward as the buffalo -herds retreated . The Pembina party moved up the river. The others proceeded from the Passage south-west to the Rivere aux Ilets de Bois (now the Boyne) and then moved southward along the great terraces at the foot of the Pembina hills until they reached the Pembina.
On no one was this rule so binding as on the chief.
If his friends remarked on his drinking at the time, his people did not remember it later. They remembered him as the ever-patient counselor the constant and kindly overseer. And it seems in accord with all we know of Grant that he himself preferred, not the drinking in the teepee, but the stroll down among the women to see how their work was getting on. He took care that they did not lack for wood when fire had to be used to aid the sun in drying the meat, that the boys did not fail to keep the dogs away, and that the men were there to load the dark slabs of dried meat and the ninety-pound leather bags of pemmican on the carts.
After the returns from the hunt were preserved, the march was resumed. The whole procedure was repeated , until the carts were filled. By 1834 some 700 carts went out, and each cart could carry between 500 and 1,000 pounds .So much dried and concentrated meat and tallow was a great store of food and of considerable value.
It was the staple which kept the western fur trade going and maintained the Red River colony.
It was not always the buffalo-herds that were encountered; sometimes it was the Sioux. Usually these encounters were mere brushes, an exchange of shots and arrows, a night raid to steal horses . Sometimes, however, the Sioux would cut off and shoot down a scout, and then picked men would ride out for revenge and to discourage the Indians by some stern act of retaliation. On a few occasions the Sioux would attack in force. Then the hunt would go into lager. The carts would be formed into a circle, surrounding the stock and the women.
The barricade would be strengthened with poles and ropes, to prevent the stock stampeding, for without them the party was lost. Then some picked men would ride out to skirmish, and others would lie out from the cart-circle behind rocks or in gun-pits to hold the enemy out of range, so that they could not shoot the horses in the lager. The Metis marksmen could usually pick off enough Indians to discourage any bold advance on the camp. And after the foe had withdrawn, the march would continue in four columns , ready instantly to wheel into square to stand off a return of the Sioux.
The one encounter of this nature which is recorded both in the memory of the people of Saint-Francois-Xavier and in writing is that which took place at the Grand Coteau in 1851. Grant was not then present , but his people fought with the discipline he had taught them, and their story will be told later.
Although he was absent from the most heroic of his people's battles on the plains, Grant nevertheless was their war leader , the man who had made the buffalo-hunters the formidable military force they were , both on the plains and in Red River. He was their leader in the formative years of the hunt, and its organization and discipline took shape under his personal leadership. The regularity of the procedure in the annual election of captain and council, the laws governing the hunt, the stern discipline of the march and the run, all these bear the impress of a single personality and a directing mind. That mind must have been Grant's .No one else among his people had the education, the experience, or the prestige to know how to shape Indian custom and tradition into a coherent and intelligent mode of government and maneuver. In particular, no one else could have been acceptable from the first to the parties from St. Boniface and Pembina as well as to the hunters of White Horse Plain.
Thus the buffalo hunt and the hunters of White Horse Plain had emerged by 1830 as the suppliers year by year of those "plains provisions" on which the operations of the fur trade and the larders of Red River were dependent. Red River was fed by its crops, the buffalo hunts, and the fisheries; and if any one of these failed, there was a shortage. In this fact lay the explanation of why Grant and his people never severed their ties with the wild life of the plains. The pemmican and dried meat they provided were a necessity. At the same time the Metis remained the bulwark of the colony against the Sioux. Grant's authority may be seen in the fact that on the hunts they were careful never to annoy the Sioux needlessly. But they could always deal with the Sioux whether the prowlers and thieves who frequently hung about the colony, or the occasional band which came to Red River.
This dual role as hunters and soldiers made Grant's people , with those of St. Boniface, and as ever ready and efficient military force. Year by year the Metis became ever more French as the Scots were assimilated, yet ever a more distinct people. They were a nation in arms, whose annual organization in the buffalo hunt gave them primitive but effective government, and a military formation admirably adapted to the plains, Their mounted marksmen could fight from either the saddle or the ground, were dashing in attack and resilient in defense. In this organization lay the strength which was to make them the decisive element in Red River in the rebellions of 1849 and 1869, under the elder and the younger Riel. But this development Grant did not plan, and he was to be its first victim. What he had done was to shape, for the livelihood and defense of his people and Red River, the instrument the Riels were to use to win self-government for the Metis and for Manitoba.
Grant influenced the growth of his people in another and equally decisive way. One object of settlement was to ensure that the ministrations of the missionaries should be available. Bishop Provencher had used all his influence to ensure the removal from Pembina to
White Horse Plain. He did his best thereafter to keep a missionary priest at Grantown. In 1830 the Reverend Jean Harper left for Quebec
and was succeeded by the Reverend M. Boucher. The new missionary kept up the services in that first rude chapel built close to Grant's house, and endeavored to teach the children, for the first schoolmaster had proven a failure. But when most of his flock went to the hunt, what was the pastor to do? Boucher went with his flock , and thereafter the hunt was normally accompanied by a priest. Thus the work of the mission was kept up summer and winter, and the good people of White Horse Plain were not without the consolations of religion during their wanderings on the plains. What dangers were attendant on these ministrations are revealed by the following adventure of Father Boucher in 1831. "The Priest Boucher [r],"wrote Thomas Simpson, "joined the band and had some singular adventures, having separated from one party to go to another ;lost his way on the plains and continued wandering about without food for days almost terrified to death by the howling of wolves on his track. When he at length fell in with Cuthbert Grant's party , he looked more like a specter than a man....And the Reverend Louis Laflech was to cheer his people in 1851 during the battle of the Grand Coteau.
It is perhaps not surprising that Boucher retired to Quebec in 1833 and was succeeded by the Reverend Charles Edouard Poire. The new cure found that the mission was one of 424 people, and that a new , larger and more durable chapel was being built to replace the flimsy first one built by the inexpert settlers of Grantown. Grant had begun the building of this first church in the early years of the settlement, but the builders were inexperienced and substantial timbers were not obtainable. Of the building of the second church which was started in 1832, the story is told of how the strong man of Grantown , Toussaint Lussier, exhibited a feat of strength. One day when his ox was pulling a huge building log up from the river he unhitched it, and hauled the great oak timber which was forty feet long and ten inches in diameter, up the river bank himself, amid the applause of his fellow workers.
The first service , which was held in this church on Christmas Eve 1833, must have been a great satisfaction to Grant. Some original chairs and part of the altar furnishings and woodwork are still used in the present church. The interior work and furnishings of the church, the grille work of the altar (made by auger holes in oak), the burning of the pascal candlestick, the fretwork of the altar - all this was accomplished over the next few years by the Reverend George's Belcourt and the Reverend J.B. Thibault. The former, especially, became expert as a turner. The benches were all hand made with wooden pegs, and were taken over from the first chapel. Three chairs, placed in the gallery for the lay sisters who came after 1844. were made by hand also. and their seats were of laced buffalo-hide.
The expert joining and turning which went into the chapel's furniture was presumably helped by the skill and tools of the cart builders who were beginning to emerge as a distinct craft at Grantown.
Three of them, Francois Richard, Michel Chalifaux, and Michel Patenaude, were to become the most expert in the colony. Their specialty was in making of the wheels, and the best Red River carts rolled on wheels made in Grantown.
Hitherto the missionary had lived in Grant's house. In 1834 a presbytery was built at the end of the chapel, and Father Poire moved into it on his return from the summer hunt. He found that Father Belcourt or Father Thibault had cared for the mission during his absence.
It was in the next year , 1834, that the registry of births, marriages and deaths was first kept at Saint-Francois-Xavier. Hitherto this had been done at St. Boniface. The records relating to Grant's family are that his daughter Nancy , aged two years and five months, died that year on August 21, and that on August 22 a son, Cuthbert Louis Marie George was born . This quick balancing of the scales of life and death were common in those days of primitive medicine and unchecked epidemics. One can only hope that young Cuthbert's coming softened the loss of little Nancy.
There was perhaps other reason for sorrow in Grant's home at this time. Grant's friends made frequent and saddened references to his drinking. By this they meant drinking beyond what was usual in an age and place in which men used liquor freely. It does seen that in the middle thirties Grant drank enough by the standards of his time to excite some comment. Moreover, in an incident much commented on at the time his drinking may have impaired his judgment in a sphere peculiarly his own. In the spring of 1834 a party of Sioux visited Fort
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