Mushers And Mashers On The Frontier, 1858

Henry Youle Hind, Narrative of the Assiniboine and Saskatchewan Exploring Expedition of 1858


From the hour it was known in Selkirk Settlement that the two parties would probably start nearly at the same time, and great feeling existing among the half-breeds respecting their endurance and the ease and speed with which their dogs could accomplish a long journey, a warm spirit of emulation arose between the men attached to each party, which rapidly communicated itself to their wives and friends. Cline told me he had heard confidentially that Monkman’s plan was to give us the start for two days, and then, taking advantage of the road we should make through the untrodden wilderness, pass us triumphantly a day or two before we arrived at Crow Wing. It gradually became evident that the idea of a race from Fort Garry to Crow Wing communicated itself to the gentlemen of both parties, and indeed stimulated more or less all who were to make the jonrney.


The narrative continues with many details of the trip, dog driving, equipment, feeding and the settlements they passed through until…

Starting several hours in advance of Monkman, we arrived early in the afternoon at the Indian agency and village on the south shore of Leech Lake, and were very cordially received by the agent. The other travelers came up with us before nightfall, and the half-breeds of the united parties decided upon having a dance. Fiddles were soon procured, a capacious store was cleared of goods and packages, and the female population of the agency and village, which included some very passable half-breed girls and ” wives,” having promptly assembled, a series of lively dances commenced, which were kept up until midnight. In the absence of whisky, that curse of savage and half-civilized life, strict propriety of demeanour was maintained throughout, although there was no lack of merriment, joke, and song. The scene was rendered more striking and characteristic of the wild life of these remote woods, by the presence of some Indians who were attracted from a neighbouring camp by the unusual sounds of music and dancing.

(*The exception above proving what was otherwise the rule for the Metis mushers.)

My cariole led the way, the others of my party following close in the rear. Some forty minutes after we had started, the dogs being thoroughly warm at their work, we heard a yelp far behind us. Cline whispered to me, ” Monkman’s passing’ them ;” and during each succeeding five minutes yelp after yelp announced that the other trains were being passed, until in little more than an hour from our start I heard Monkman’s wellknown voice close behind me. Without speaking a word he and the cariole he was driving passed mine. A thrill of excitement ran through me when I felt the warm breath of his powerful dogs beat upon my face, as the noble creatures swiftly trotted past. Neither dogs nor men, nor the muffled-up inmates of the carioles made any sign. One after the other Mr. Seymour, Lord Cavendish, and Mr. Ashley, flitted noiselessly by. Cline whispered again, “They’ll make a good road, my dogs will not be far behind.” It is impossible to describe the feelings which this rapid, silent, gliding through those vast pine forests inspired. Morning dawned slowly, but the gloom of the forest seemed to grow more intense as I occasionally caught glimpses of the brightening sky above. The sun rose without a cloud, gilding the tops of tall trees with an indescribable lustre, beautifully reflected by the snow wherever the golden light penetrated. After a run of twenty-six miles Cline came up with Monkman a few minutes after he had stopped for dinner. Mr. Dickinson followed close behind me, and in another hour both parties were together again. The next run was to bring us to Crow Wing, between nineteen and twenty miles distant. Starting in the order in which we arrived at the camping ground, we hurried at a rapid gallop down the Mississippi slope; and here the race began in earnest. The road was in excellent condition, the day bright and cold, the dogs eager and hungry, and the men and travelers in good condition and in excellent spirits. After a splendid gallop of twenty miles we entered Crow Wing in the following order and close together :—Lord Cavendish first, Mr. Seymour second, Mr. Hind third, Hon. Mr. Ashley fourth, Mr. Dickinson fifth, Mr. Fleming sixth, the rest nowhere.

Page 117 Indian Wealth-The Dog

Next to the horse, the dog is the Prairie Indian’s most valuable friend. The dog is the great stand-by of the squaws, who have to attend to all the duties of the camp, the men employing themselves solely in hunting and fighting. The dogs drag on poles the camp furniture, the provisions, the little children, and all the valuables of the family. It is a very amusing sight to witness several hundred dogs solemnly engaged in moving a large camp. They look wistfully at passers-by, and take advantage of the least want of attention on the part of their mistresses to lie down, or snarl and snap at their companions in the work. They nevertheless obey the word of command with alacrity and willingness if not fatigued.The midnight howl of three or four hundred dogs is an awful and appalling sound. It rises suddenly from a low prolonged whine to a deep melancholy howl, caught up again and again to the distraction of tired travelers anxious to take rest in sleep. When any great event takes place, a dog feast is proclaimed, and it is sufficiently disgusting to see the men handle and feel the unfortunate animals as if they were sheep, with a view to select the fattest, so powerful are early habits and associations in directing our feelings and tastes. Although some of the Indian dogs we saw among the Crees of the Sandy Hills are large and ferocious looking animals, we never found them vicious or inclined to attack us ; they were always deterred from approaching by the sight of a stick or a feint at picking up a stone.

Rolette pastel

Joe Rolette, Jr


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