[1-Prairie coulee in southern Saskatchewan - click to enlarge]
In July 1874, Samuel Steele began his trip west in service with the North West Mounted Police from Manitoba.
[2-Red River Cart in 1870]
The cavalcade that left Manitoba had assorted wagons, Red River carts, oxen, cattle, farming equipment, provisions and horses. Steele’s group under Inspector Jarvis left the main force at La Roche Percée (west of Estevan, Saskatchewan in the Souris River valley where there is a National Historic Site, 254 miles west of the Red River) to travel to Fort Edmonton via Fort Ellice and Fort Carlton, a distance of 875 miles by trail. The Assiniboine nation lived in Roche Percée in the 1700s and ate the wild plums that grew there. Before the arrival of the European settlers the area was known as a battleground. The NWMP continued their journey on August 3rd making their way to Fort Ellice, a Hudson’s Bay Company post, located on Beaver Creek near the confluence of the Assiniboine and Qu’Appelle Rivers. The wooded countryside before La Roche Percee changed to undulating grasslands which improved the horses’ and cattle’s health.
Fort Ellice was reached on August 14th (near present day St-Lazare in west-central Manitoba just east of the Saskatchewan border), 130 miles from La Roche Percee. It had been built in 1831 by the Hudson’s Bay Company in an area known as Rupert’s Land, and was on the Carlton Trail that ran from the Red River Settlement to Fort Edmonton. The fort was a large fenced enclosure with dwellings and stores, located on the bank of the Assiniboine River several hundred feet above, surrounded by bluffs of aspen and poplar. Steele noted the valley was more than a mile wide, partly timbered with meadows on which large herds of ponies and cattle were grazing. Their own horses and cattle were turned out on the flats, where the troops soon learned there were quicksand traps in many places and had to rescue their animals on several occasions.
When they left Fort Ellice on August 18th, they left behind the quartermaster, sick men, half the cows and calves, some provisions, stores and several horses in poor condition. Map of northwest portion of NWMP journey.
While they traveled it was noted that prairie fires had damaged the poplar groves in the grasslands. The aboriginals and half-breed buffalo hunters would set the prairies on fire so the buffalo would come to their area for the rich, green grass that would appear in the spring. There was a scarcity of trees except where the lakes and creeks were numerous, due to the country being burned every year.
On their journey they met groups of red river carts driven by hunters, freighters and traders with buffalo robes, dried meat and pemmican. Steele describes pemmican as being “a stew of pemmican, flour, wild onions and preserved potatoes”. The aboriginals made their pemmican with strips of buffalo, deer, caribou meat that was dried and smoked over a fire, then later pounded into flakes, then mixed with fat from bone marrow and either Saskatoon berries or Chokecherries. The heated mixture was poured into buffalo hide bags of 45 or 90-pound capacity. The quantities were made to last from a season up to four years. ParksCanada mentioned that pemmican was not often offered at trading posts as a product.
[3- Fort Carlton Historic Provincial Site - click to enlarge]
Eight weeks later, weary of making eight miles per day on diminishing rations, they arrived at Fort Carlton (located near what is now Duck Lake, Saskatchewan and where there is a provincial historic site) for a week’s rest.
[4- Area outside Fort Carlton]
[6-Fort Carlton Sign - click to enlarge]
[7- Fort Carlton]
[8- Fur shed]
[9-Officer's bed with buffalo skin and HBC blanket]