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The mirror. (Stillwater, Minn.) 1894-1925, August 04, 1921, Image 1

Image and text provided by Minnesota Historical Society; Saint Paul, MN

Persistent link: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn90060762/1921-08-04/ed-1/seq-1/

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Established 1887
ALEXANDER Henry, the fur
trader, was a British-American,
born in New Jersey, then a
British colony, and came to Canada
with Amherst’s Army which, in 1760,
completed the conquest of the coun
try. He was a man of strong char
acter, clever, energetic, resourceful,
and enterprising.
Soon after arriving here he was in
the country of the Great Lakes with
a large stock of goods, trading with
the Indians for furs. He was at
Michillimackinac when the garrison
was massacred by Indians engaged in
Pontiac’s war. He escaped, and for
a number of years continued to trade
about the Lakes. The Far West of
fered a wider field and larger profits,
and in June, 1775, he set out from
Sault Ste. Marie for the prairie coun
try, now Manitoba, Saskatchewan,
and Alberta. The canoe was then
the only practical means of travel,
and transportation.
Henry’s flotilla consisted of twelve
small canoes, .each navigated by three
men, and four large canoes, each with
a crew of four men. The canoes were
laden with goods that had cost Henry
three thousand pounds sterling, or
fifteen thousand dollars in round
The flotilla followed the common
waterway from Lake Superior to
Lake Winnipeg—the Pigeon River,
Rainy Lake and the Lake of the
Woods, down the Winnipeg River,
which Henry calls Winipegon; to
Lake Winnipeg.
f ‘
Proceeding northward towards the
Saskatchewan river, Henry fell in
with Joseph and Thomas Frobisher,
two of the most prominent men in the
North-West fur trade, and leading
rivals of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Henry and the Frobishers, with the
crews of ten canoes, decided to winter
together, selecting for their winter
camp a point on the Churchill river,
east of Beaver lake. The destination
was reached just in time, for the
morning after their arrival, the lake
froze over, and the canoe route was
closed until spring.
The chances these early fur-traders
took, and the extent to which th(?y
depended upon the resources of the
wilderness, are shown by the circum
stances under which the Henry-Fro
bisher party faced the oncoming of
winter in the Northland. There
were forty-three men in the party,
and when they arrived at their desti
nation they had food for only three
days. Winter was at hand, on all
sides was the wilderness, and the near
est trading post from which succor
could be obtained, was one hundred
miles distant. Habitations had to be
built and food procured at once, or
all would perish from exposure and

Henry wrote a journal in which he
gave a detailed account of his doings
in the West. He relates how the
winter camp on the Churchill was
established, and provisioned with
winter only a few days distant.
The men were at once divided into
three parties, two being sent on to
Beaver Lake to set nets through the
ice and catch fish, while the third
party was set to work building the
houses. Within ten days all were
commodiously lodged, the log build
ings being raised around a square, the
whole presenting a fort-like and for
midable appearance. One house was
for the -three traders, and the men had
four. The practice was to bury the
canoes below the frost limit, in order
to protect them from the severe cold,
which caused the bark to split; but it
was now the middle of November
and and the ground was already
frozen so hard that the pits could not
be dug. Scaffolds were therefore
erected, and the canoes were deposied
on them. The houses being finished
the men were divided anew into four
parties of nine men each, four being
reserved as wood-cutters, and each
party was charged with the duty of
providing its own food.
The winter camps having been
made secure, and the needs of the men
provided for, on New Year’s Day,
1776, Henry ,and Joseph Frobisher,
accompanied by two men, set out for
Cumberland House, a Hudson’s Bay
Company’s post on Sturgeon lake,
about two miles north of the Sas
katchewan river, and now just within
the eastern frontier of the Province of
Saskatchewan. On the fourth day
they reached their destination, where
Frobisher remained, but Henry and
his two men struck out into the wil
derness to the southwest for the
prairie country. The cold was in
tense ; the supply of provisions so
small that Henry feared it would not
last until they came up with a band
of Indians from whom buffalo meat
could be procured.
As they journeyed towards the
prairies, the woods began to dwindle.
It became difficult to find enough
wood for making a fire, and without
a fire they would have no drink, for
which they used melted snow.
One night the snow fell to the
depth of a foot, making impossible the
use of the tobaggari on which they
hauled their camp equipment and
food, The tobaggan was, therefore,
abandoned the travellers oarrying on
their backs their supplies, which were
diminishing at a rapid rate. In the
direction in which they were proceed
ing, the nearest post, Fort des Prai
ries, was distant twelve days’ journey,
and the stock of provisions was suf
ficient for only five days. Starvation
seemed probable, but the three flushed
Five days later they ate the last of
their provisions, except a cake of
chocolate, which Henry had concealed
in reserve for such an emergency.
That day they tramped as long as
their strength held out, and then they
camped. By melting snow two gal
lons of hot water were secured, and
into this Henry put enough chocolate
to color the water. Each drank half
a gallon of the liquid, and was much
refreshed. Henry assured his com
, '
Stillwater, Minnesota, Thursday, August 4, 1921.
panions that the chocolate he had
would keep them alive for five days,
and during that time they were almost
certain to meet Indians who would
supply them with food.
In the morning more warm water,
flavored with chocolate, was drunk
and for six hours they pushed on with
great vigor. Then the men became
exhausted, and they declared they
could go no farther. They advised
Henry to leave them and save him
self. As for themselves, they said
they might as well die there as any
where else. Another warm drink
revived them, and the march was con
tinued until nightfall.
In the morning the last square of
chocolate was put into the kettle, and
when the meagre breakfast had been
finished, the party was entirely with
out food. They plodded on through
the snow, surrounded during the
greater part of the day by large packs
of wolves, which at times came close
to the men, as if, knowing their ex
tremity, they had marked them for
their prey. Henry fired at them sev
eral times but always missed. "A
morsel of wolf’s flesh,” writes Henry
“would have afforded us a banquet.”
Death by starvation now seemed in
evitable, but with sunset came re
newed hope. On the ice they dis
covered the remains of the bones of a
moose, left there by the wolves. The
bones were quickly gathered, placed
in a kettle with a large quantity of
snow, and put over a fire, producing
says Henry, “a meal of strong and
excellent soup. The greater part of
the night was passed in boiling, and
regaling on our booty; and early in
the morning we found ourselves
strong enough to proceed.”
During the day they came upon an
ample supply of food in a most re
markable manner. Crossing a river,
they observed the horns of a red deer
rising above the snow that covered
the ice. “On examination,” writes
the fur-trader, “we found that the
whole carcass was with the horns, the
animal having broken through the ice
in the beginning of the winter, in at
tempting to cross the river too early
in the season, while his horns, fas
tened themselves in the ice, had pre
vented him from sinking. By cutting
away the ice we were enabled to lay
bare a part of the back and shoulder,
and thus procure a stock of food am
ply sufficient for the rest of our jour
ney. We accordingly encamped, and
employed our kettles to good purpose.
Though the deer must have been in
this situation since November, its
flesh was perfectly good. Its horns
alone were five feet high, and it will,
therefore, not appear extraordinary
that they should be seen above the
Their vigor renewed, the three
men pushed on, and two days later
they came to Fort des Prairies, which
stood below the junction of the
North and the South branches of the
Saskatchewan, a few miles east of the
site of the present town of Prince
After resting a few days at the
fort, Henry and his two companions
accompanied a band of Assiniboine
Indians, who were returning to their
village some distance to the west. On
the second day of their journey, soon
after sunrise, they descried a great
herd of buffaloes, “oxen” Henry calls
them, “extending a mile in length
and too numerous to be counted. They
travelled, not one after another as,
in the snow, other animals usually do,
but in a broad phalanx, slowly and
sometimes stopping to feed. We did
not disturb them, because to have at
tacked them would have occasioned
much delay, and they were already
sufficiently burdened not to need the
addition of the spoil.”
Driven by the stdrm from the open
plains, a herd of .buffaloes came up to
shelter themselves in the woods. The
buffaloes were so numerous and bold
that they would have trampled over
the Indian camp had it not been for
the pack of savage curs that kept the
buffaloes in check. The Indians killed
several close to their tents, but neither
the firing of the Indians nor the noise
of the dogs could drive the buffaloes
away, and they remained in an ad
jacent grove until the storm abated.
Upon arriving at the Indian vil
lage, which Henry estimated had a
population of about three thousand,
the fur-trader and his companions
were given a hearty welcome. They
were provided with a lodge, guards
were stationed in order to keep the
curious at a distance, and a feast was
given in their honor at which boiled
buffalo-tongue was the principal dish.
Feeding on the skirts of the plain
was a troop of horses, “which,” writes
Henry, “The Assiniboines possess in
numbers.” The Spaniards, many
years before this time, had introduced
horses into Mexico and the southern
part of the Mississippi Valley. From
time to time these horses escaped from
their owners, and their offspring be
came numerous. They spread north
ward, and when Henry visited the
Assiniboines in 1776 they had several
droves of horses, but they still moved
camp with the aid of dogs and hunted
the buffaloes on foot. Twenty years
later, travellers found all this
changed. Horses had come into gen
eral use as beasts of burden, and the
hunters were mounted.
Henry accompanied the Indians on
a grand buffalo hunt. The scene of
the slaughter was a grove or bluff,
which he calls “an island on the
plain.” Here was a pound, or en
closure, formed by a fence about four
feet high, and built of strong stakes
of birch, and into which were woven
the small branches of the same wood.
Having repaired the enclosure, the
Indians decoyed and drove the buf
faloes into the pound and there
slaughtered them in great numbers.
In one day this party killed seventy
two. The meat and the hides were
loaded on sledges and hauled back to
the village by the dogs. The lumps
of fat taken from the (Zaptß,Coi.3)
Vol. XXXV: No. 1

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