letter to the editor:
|HINSDALE PIONEER OF FRENCH-CANADIAN-CREE ANCESTRY
TELLS F.B. GILLETTE STORY OF DAYS WHEN BUFFALO
ROAMED PLAINS OF NORTHEASTERN MONTANA
(This is taken from an edition of the Glasgow Courier that was printed in August of 1931. It is of my grandfather I have changed the way they had his name spelled in the article, which was Militaire, to the correct spelling Malaterre. There is also some descrepency in his age from what is reported here and what is on church records in Canada.
F. B. Gillette
Where the Hudson's Bay company, chartered by King Charles II of England in 1670, recruited its factors and agents among the English, Scotch-Irish, Scotch and Welsh and dispatched them into the wilds of Canada as videttes and outposts, the earliest French traders and later the Northwest Fur company relied extensively on employees shipped from France in the beginning and later upon descendants of these earlier emigres--and mixture of French-Cree, Chippewas and others of northern tribes.
The issue between the Hudson's Bay company and the Northwest Fur company was largely determined in and about the old Fort Garry, later called Winnipeg, the defeat of the Northwest company resulting in dispersal of the irreconcilable elements among the French descended population and the Swiss artisans of Lord Selkirk's colony on Lake Winnipeg, who sought refuge as far south as present St. Paul, to give birth to that settlement. Others less adamant in their principles and loyalties, were absorbed into Hudson's Bay organization, with Fort Garry as the administrative capital of the northwest empire. It was strategically situated, with waterways radiating to all points of the compass and with converging overland trails seeking out the passes and most practicable route to distant fur producing areas.
Three important routes, among others, were the water and land trail by the Red River of the North to St. Anthony's falls, where in the future were to grow the Twin Cities, another westward on the Saskatchewan and Assinniboine rivers, and the third, altogether a land trail on the Hudson Bay divide to the Turtle mountains, Woody mountains, Sweet Grass hills and Cypress hills. This early commerce had found Cadotte's pass at the head of the Sun river, coming out onto the Camas prairie and the Flathead valley.
(The reporter here gives the name Friesian Duypuyer as the name of his mother, in the Catholic Church records, she is listed as Freisan Marchand dit La Pierre. In French "dit" means known as, or AKA. My mother told a story that was told to her, that as a girl of about 8 or nine years of age. This girl Freisan had been found out on the prairrie, she was the sole survivor of a small party of Metis hunters that had been killed by the Sioux. The girl had been hidden by her parents and not been found by the Sioux. Louis Malaterre who carried mail for the Hudson"s Bay Company came upon the remains of the massacre. He found the girl who had not left the scene and was surviving on the carcass of a buffalo that had been killed prior to the attack and rain water. He took the young girl to the nuns at St. Anthony Falls which later became St. Paul Minnesota. Through the years he would go to see the girl and when she was older they were married. This story is no doubt a truer version as nothing was to be gained by telling a story such as this)
Malaterre married her and among the children born to them were John Malaterre, now 82, living at Havre, Mary, later Mrs. John Parrent, and Charley Malaterre now 75, living at Hinsdale.
Louis Malaterre, in the service of the company headquarters at Fort Q'Appelle, as a camp tender for distant trappers and hunters, driving dog teams into the far north and carrying the mail and messages wherever ordered. His son recalls one trip made by his father from Q'Appelle to Fort Bufford, thence to Fort Benton and return, carrying mail with husky dog hitched to a small travois. Intercepted by hostile Indians on the return trip, the mail carrier escaped by putting his horse, which had been presented to him at Fort Benton, into Medicine lake and swimming across its then broad extent to safety, his enemies being afoot.
The Malaterre family soon tired of rude settlements and drifted with parties of Red river breeds into the buffalo range north of the Missouri, the Milk and Marias rivers, transporting their infants and aged on Red River carts and travois, accompanied always by priests.
Charley Malaterre of Hinsdale, now 75, first recalls seeing the Milk river country when he about 10 years old. The party to which his parents had attached themselves arrived in what is now the Valley and Phillips county region. Then the so-called northern herd of buffaloes were legion in number, antelope were as thick as sheep, whitetail and blacktail deer abounded, there were many elk and the carnivore that preyed upon them wolves and silver tips, were ever present.
Game birds were rarely killed for food as being too trivial to waste ammunition on.
Streams were filled with beaver. Long, lush grassed were seen as far as they could reach, lakes existed of considerable magnitude where today the presence of surface water has not been seen within the memory of most m
The buffalo supplied meat, bones for household implements, horns sealed with fats made good food containers. Sinews were used to sew the hides in the making of teepees. Deer furnished a finer quality of material for clothing and moccasin, berries of all sorts were abundant, camas roots and other edible roots were to had in certain sections and the treat of famine rarely presented itself.
The universal and fundamental law of the plains rovers was conservation of animal life. Barter supplied such civilized necessities as the nomads had been converted to by contacts with traders.
Father DeSmet, Father Palladino and others of the Black Robes in the Flathead were known to band of which Charley Malaterre and his parents were members. His only education consisted of brief periods during two winters at the old St. Peter's mission, between Helena and Great Falls. The rest was acquired in the "prairie" school.
Rarely did these bands penetrate south of the Missouri as the inherent fear of the Sioux from his earliest recollection and later the terror inspired by Sitting Bull and his warriors operated as effective deterrent. Malaterre recalls seeing Sitting Bull on two occasions, one in camp near Tiger Butte, south of present Glasgow, and again near Black Butte, in the vicinity of present Havre. At one time, Sioux raiders had seized a trunkful of valuables, which they buried at the foot of Black Butte, but rainy weather, mud slides and the elements eliminated all the trace of the hiding place so that search over many years has failed to disclose the loot. To this day occasional sporadic effort are made to find the treasure trove.
Refugees from the disastrous Riel rebellion flocked into American territory after the debacle of the half-breed war for independence in Canada in 1870 and joined with their kinsmen and friends in following the buffalo. Malaterre recalls the story of the gathering of the nucleus for the Allard-Pablo buffalo herd in the Flathead in this way.
Sam Pablo and Charley Allard crossed from the Flathead through Cadotte's pass and made their way into the buffalo range north of Marias, bringing with them several fresh milk cows.
There they harried the buffalo cows until trailing calves were wearied, then roped a number of calves, transporting them back to the Flathead and sustaining them meantime on cow's milk.
Malaterre killed his last buffalo just west Black coulee, a tributary coming into the Marias river south of Chester in what is now Liberty county, the year being 1888 as nearly as he can recall.
Harking back to earlier date, Malaterre relates of being a spectator of a rarely practiced method of buffalo hunting. This incident occurred in the territory near Battleford in Saskatchewan, when he was a boy at 7 or 8, with a band of Cree staging a hunt.
As a preliminary, a shallow coulee narrowing down into the small box canyon was first selected, low wing fences were thrown up of rocks, buffalo bones, small sticks and brush, extending to considerable distances and making a lane about 50 to 100 feet in width, the canyon further down being blocked by dead falls and down timber. A high tree in the center of the "cul-de-sac" thus created was dedicated to the use of the chief medicine man.
The gregarious herd instinct impelled others to follow in the trail of the leader and a portion of the herd was generally successfully diverted into the lane. Such was the perversity of the immense bests that none apparently had sufficient initiative or ingenuity to jump over the low obstacles which formed the wing fences. As soon as a large enough number to supply the anticipated needs of the camp were corralled in the trap, a small group of Indians erected a flimsy barrier of poles, brush, hides and colored cloth across the entrance to deeper section of the coulee. Against this the buffalo would not retreat. No shot was fired until the medicine man ordered, after arising in his high station to sing a song of thanks to the Great Spirit, to perform ritualistic and ceremonial gesticulations, accompanied by the shaking of rattles, gongs and tom toms.
With these preliminaries completed, the medicine man pointed out the old bull or two-year-old heifer that had assumed the leadership in following the decoy Indian into the trap and admonished all that its life was sacred and every precaution was taken to safeguard his animal and allowed its ultimate escape in gratitude after the slaughter was complete. Then the signal for the shooting was given and the ambushed Indians arose in their places to proceed with the killing, firing slowly, methodically, purposefully and with no confusion or excitement until the imprisoned host was slain.
Mr. Malaterre memory is keen, although his sight is dimming with the years, his carriage erect and step is brisk. He carries a carved diamond willow cane with its handle formed from the horn of a two-year- old buffalo heifer and his happiness is complete when chance brings another pioneer across his path to recall transiently to life from behind the curtain of eternity that legion of hardy, rough and courageous associated of the old days before civilization had conquered the northwest.
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