The Spirit of Resistance 6

In his book, The Red River Settlement, It’s Rise, Progress, and Present State, Alexander Ross describes three classes of Metis people who frequented the settlement.   The highest were the buffalo hunters who naturally, through pemmican sales, could afford to equip themselves for the hunt. The hunters were followed by the fishermen who lived near the lakes, surviving on fish. The lowest class were extremely poor, lacking both means and ambition. You could find them trailing in the wake of the hunt looking for any kind of subsistence. Also among the lower class were the old voyageurs and orphans. The Metis were a wondering people flowing in from lands east of the Rockies, using the Red River area as a rendezvous point.

Ross gives us an amusing anecdote about travel with a friend where the party comes upon a log hut in the woods. The guide introduces them to a family within, a husband, wife, elder daughter and a four-year-old. On the floor, four men are asleep, travelers. There is no furniture except for the bed the girl is sleeping on. Soon the rain comes and the roof is torn off. The floor becomes covered with water. No one seems too upset.

The child goes over to the fire to light a pipe of tobacco for her mother. She hands it to her mother and commences suckling after which she cries for the pipe. It is duly filled and handed to her. She then passes it to her father who then passes it to the older girl. The family would like to offer tea but they have none. Ross supplies it and they drink cup after cup of strong black tea. There is no food for the fish are low so Ross supplies food as well. The family regales their guests with tales of their winter with the Assiniboines. There they worked all winter tanning hides and preparing provisions which they sold for the highly prized tea, a staple of their diet along with fish and tobacco.

Relying on the buffalo was not as noble and idyllic as media would have us believe. In December of 1826, winter storms drove the buffalo ever onward away from the hunters towards Pembina, North Dakota. The weather was so severe that it killed the horses and put the people on foot.  It took some time for news of the disaster to reach the settlement during which horses, dogs, and even shoe leather were eaten. Many were found crawling along in the snow but some were found buried or frozen trying to survive. On the heels of this disaster followed a terrible flood during the spring break-up where not only the waters rose but the ice along with it to sweep everything away. This ice traveled to Lake Winnipeg and collided with the ice there which created a back-flow. The community was ready to move on until suddenly the water fell. The price of available goods sky-rocketed. The De Meuron soldiers who had come to the colony to defend it, now sold the settlers own cows back to them for exorbitant prices.

When I was a child my father told me stories of the great flood that hit Winnipeg just years before I was born. He amused me by telling me how people were rowing boats and canoes past the windows of their house.

It is worth thinking about the community as a whole in this instance. The Scots willingly helped the less fortunate Metis during these times, just as the Metis helped them by providing pemmican when they first arrived.

The Spirit of Resistance 4

In 1834, the infant Red River Colony was surrounded on all sides by First Nations people. The Cree and Assiniboine on the west, the Saulteaux on the east, the  swampy Crees on the north and the Sioux to the south.  The general state was one of peaceful co-existence. The Sioux perhaps the most powerful tribe on the continent at the time, had begun to disperse and move west but was still large enough to pose a major threat to the colony. Problems arose from the competition between the Cree and Saulteaux for control of their land. The Saulteaux had been included in the treaty made with Lord Selkirk because they were present at the time but this was not their homeland  The Cree very much resented the fact. They threatened to remove the Saulteaux along with the white settlers if their names were not stricken from the treaty.  This at times would send the panicked  colonists running for shelter to the forts and armed men out in scouting parties to search the settlement for any sign of trouble. Many of the settlers hesitated to sign their deeds until they were secure. The Saulteaux did not have a good reputation in the colony, spending much of their time annoying the colonists by begging. Education was lost on them and many were condemned for murder and theft.

The Sioux were the great warriors of the plains, occupying the huge region between Pembina, North Dakota and St. Peter’s, in the south. The center of their land was about 300 miles from the Red River colony. Many would travel north to the colony for the pure adventure of it where they would be given minor gifts to return with as well as a story of courage and bravery.  The stories were always recited at gatherings where the gifts of tobacco or ammunition would be dispersed.

Two visits by the Sioux were recorded by George Simpson, governor of the HBC.  In 1834, the Sioux chief, Burning Earth with 36 men arrived at Fort Garry. Things were going well until a party of Saulteaux rode in threatening revenge for the loss of their relatives by the Sioux. Simpson stationed a guard for the Sioux and escorted them back out to the open plains where they would be at greater advantage. When the Saulteaux pursued them across the river in canoe, the governor raised his gun to order them back. The colonists cried out in alarm leading the Saulteaux to think they wanted the shooting. There were 100 armed Saulteaux to 7 or 8 armed Sioux. Finally, one of the colonists struck down Simpson’s gun, preventing a full-blown massacre.

On another occasion, Fort Garry was visited by the great Sioux chief, Wanatah who arrived with 250 armed men.  He left 180 warriors back while he approached the Fort with 70. Since they were received cordially there was no trouble.  The Sioux visited the colony on 2 more occasions. Although Governor Simpson wrote that a lasting peace had been affected between the Saulteaux and the Sioux, the author, Alexander Ross then sherif of the colony did not believe such “deadly animosity” could ever allow the breach to be mended.


Getting it Right

I suppose there are many reasons one would pursue their ancestors down the path and into the past, there to be confronted by errors in judgement, locked and half-open doors and at times utter incredulity.  In the space of the last 24 hours, I have been confronted by the wildest errors both in documents and online. It makes one want to laugh and cry at the same time.  This is not to say I am an expert by any means but seriously?

Look at the example below,JB Beauchamp anc. errors

Apparently, Jean’s father was born after him. Two names have ridiculous variations. Angelique Pambrum, Josephte Dit Doney  and apparently he married another man, Amable! Shall I go on? Shame on Ancestry for letting this happen.  Get as close to the actual docs as you can. In this case I am looking at Sprague and Frye’s The Genealogy of the First Metis Nation 2012. Jean and his wife Angleique Pangman were both born in 1800.

Now to the Glenbow Museum,

JB Beauchamp Glenbow errors

Now these people are are citing Sprague and Frye. Here we have Jean born in 1839 instead of 1829 as in the book (Table 1) to Marie Ann Goneville instead of Janeville. Who’s going to call up Sprague and Frye?

Last night as I was nearing the point of exhaustion, I decided to search the Daigneault family for records. I hit a few censuses. Census takers are the bane of a genealogist’s existence.  I submitted 3 corrections to ancestry. One of the transcribers unbelievably put the husband of the next family down as the spouse of the head of the family before. The other did not even absorb the initials on the census and put a boy down as a sister. The S was for “son”. That being said some of the censuses are almost illegible. Interestingly, I did not find that at all in Ireland and England.

The point is that some of us have to do the work because our ancestors didn’t. Most of my Metis relatives could not even read or write, never mind whether their scrip got ripped off or not.

Lords of the Forest Part 2

The land of the Iroqouis was one of great fertility and beauty and formed a large rectangle which was divided into five north-south strips, one to each tribe. Each area had its own lake or river system and was governed by it’s own council. Each council had a ceremonial fire, the smoke of which together was seen as a giant longhouse, more than 200 miles from end to end. The eastern door of this symbolic longhouse was guarded by the Mohawk tribe. The western door was protected by the Seneca’s. In between were the Oneidas and Cayugas and between them were the Onondagas. By the late 1600’s, as other tribes were defeated, the influence of the Longhouse spread from New England to the Mississippi and from Ontario to Tennesseeiroquois-five-nations-1650

The Seneca in 1680, numbered near 5,000 and that population contained 1,000 of the fiercest warriors in America. The settlement contained four main villages with 150 longhouses. The longhouse was a rectangular structure made from poles and sheets of bark.  It could measure up to 150 feet long and 25 feet wide. At each end would be painted the symbol of that particular clan. Inside, every 12 feet, a small fire burned, the smoke rising up through vents in the roof.  Along the walls, were platforms, one upper for storage and one lower for sleeping, each partitioned off to accomodate a whole family. From the rafters hung braids of corn, strings of dried apples and squash, hanks of tobacco and bundles of roots. Each family occupied a position in the whole, part of a family descended down from the mother’s line for the Iroqouis were a matrilineal society. The women owned all material goods except for the men’s personal belongings. When a boy married, he moved into his brides house and when a girl married, her husband joined her family.


Longhouse Interior

The lineage ran from family to clan to half-tribe and then whole tribe. Children had to marry outside of their own clan and preferably not to a blood relation. It was in the power of a woman, if her husband was killed to demand compensation in the form of an enemy captive. When the captive was brought, she could adopt him or have him tortured or even killed.

A matriarchal society was the natural outcome of the life of the men in the tribe who spent vast amounts of time away, at war, hunting or searching for beaver to trade. They could be away as long as three months. This left most of the camp maintenance up to the women who worked tirelessly, harvesting up to a million bushels of corn a year as well as squash, beans and sunflower seeds. Corn, squash and beans were known as “the three sisters” and were planted with each other.  Corn would provide the stalk for beans to grow up and squash would shelter the earth from the heat.  Surplus food was stored in underground granaries. When their husbands came home loaded with meat from deer, elk or beaver carcasses, a feast would be held with stews made with meat and vegetables, corn dumplings, mushrooms, baked apples, nuts and berries. (It is interesting to note that these people were among the first Amerindians to have tooth decay as corn turned to sugar in their mouths. The northern peoples had strong cavity free teeth, though their gums may have suffered.)

Of course, the most important role of an Iroqouis woman was to bear children. When her time came, she would quietly slip off and the baby would be born in the privacy of trees and shadow. The child was washed, wrapped and carried back to the waiting village. The mother would nurse him until three or four years of age. When the mother must travel or was otherwise busy, she would place the baby in a “tikinaagan” or cradleboard which could be attached to a horse or stood on the ground while she worked. If she carried a pack, the strap would be across her forehead, otherwise on her chest or arms. Below an older child who probably did not enjoy being constrained. Being confined in these cradleboards often resulted in hip displacement as it forced the femur into an unnatural position.


Mohawk Cradleboard

As the Iroqouis child grew, often with his father absent, his mother would be sure that he was loved but not spoiled. Children were taught from an early age their gender role, boys fighting each other with pretend clubs and girls learning their role by following their mothers to the fields. They were taught to eat sparingly and were bathed in cold water to toughen them. Corn played a large part in the care of children, being used to bandage fingers, deworm with a brew from corn ashes and scrub with the cob when they were dirty.

From the age of eight years, each child began to practice the role they would play. At puberty,  a boy would make a trip into the forest with an elder to find his guardian spirit, a vision quest. He might throw himself against rocks repeatedly to prove his manhood and recount his dreams in detail to determine with the elder,  what his guardian spirit would be. There was no greater day for a young man, than when he rode off to his first battle at around age eighteen.

The Seneca, “keepers of the western door” were rivaled in their ferocity only by their eastern brothers, the Mohawk. The name “Iroqouis” was given to them by the Algonquian, meaning “Nation of Snakes”. Their style of fighting was ambush, their weapons as silent as the mocassined runners themselves;  tomahawk, bow, arrow and knife often made of flint sharpened to a razors edge.  The sound of the hatchet in a tree meant it was time to go on the warpath, generally to avenge the death of one of the tribe. After a raid, a tree would be emblazoned with the clan symbol and a count of victims and captives.


Weapons Used by the Woodland Indians

The fate of a captive was not a happy one. At first, his wrists would be tied in a symbolic slave band, then he might be beaten, bitten or burned. When they arrived at the village he would have to “run the guantlet”. If he survived this, he might be adopted by the tribe as the women and children were.  If the tribe’s women were still bitter about the loss of their loved ones, the prisoner was doomed.  They might poke him with red hot embers, tear his hair out and set fire to the cords he was bound with. They might pull out his nails and take slices of flesh, perhaps eating some of them to symbolically ingest his wisdom and strength.

Something would have to happen to stop the inter-tribal warfare that could decimate the whole Iroqouis population.