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[1- Métis and Red River carts c. 1860]
In July 1874, Samuel Steele began his trip west in service with the North West Mounted Police with the rank of sergeant-major from Fort Garry, Manitoba. The cavalcade that left Manitoba had assorted wagons, Red River carts, oxen, cattle, farming equipment, provisions and horses. The group formed a long line of eight miles.
[2-Near Fort Carlton (Prince Albert) - click to enlarge]
After a week’s rest at Fort Carlton, on September 19, 1874, the cavalcade resumed their trek to Fort Edmonton. Prior to their departure they had been informed the Blackfoot and Crees were again on the warpath. The cart trail was very rough with roots and stones, and the horses began to lag without grain. Game was plentiful with sightings of cranes, white wild geese and large numbers of the grey Canadian goose.
Many of the drivers of the Red River carts were Métis who provided music with a violin and would dance a jig on a door which they carried in their carts for this purpose.
When the Métis grew tired of the fare provided: ducks, geese, prairie chickens and pemmican, they caught skunks, boiled them three times before roasting, stating they preferred them to other food.
Fort Pitt , a National Historic Site, is located on the north side of the North Saskatchewan River 60km north of Lloydminster. It had been a Hudson’s Bay Company trading post. It had been established as a half way point between Fort Carlton and Fort Edmonton. The fort was built where the territories of the Cree, Assiniboine and Blackfoot nations converged. Fort Pitt also played an important part in the North West Rebellion in 1885 which will be covered in another post.
Sam Steele wrote of the toll the day to day conditions took on their tired horses and oxen. Some days there were long stretches of several hundred yards where the trail was covered with water.
Heavy rains had made the trail into muddy ruts or bogs or swampy areas. Often the horses lay down to rest overnight and were unable to rise without the help of the men, who rubbed their legs to restore circulation. Their cavalcade was strung out over the trail, and those in the rear with the cattle and worn out horses had to help them along.
[5- Near Smoky Lake, Alberta - click to enlarge]
On October 19, 1874 they reached Fort Victoria (also known as the Victoria Settlement), a Hudson Bay Company post with a palisaded enclosure, located on a narrow ridge next to the North Saskatchewan River. A mission had been founded by the Rev. George McDougall, one of the pioneers of the Methodist church, and around the fort on the river bank were a group of thatched log houses of the Scotch and English half-breeds who had followed him. The people made their living by hunting buffalo, fishing and freighting. Their crops would be sown in the spring and left until harvest time. There was no concern whether the crops failed or not, as the buffalo herds were not far and there were many lakes for fishing.
[6 -Near Smoky Lake. Note the grass in the foreground is prairie wool, a native prairie grass. Click to enlarge.]
Fort Victoria was located at what is now known as Smoky Lake, Alberta. It has been designated a National Historic Site .
TO BE CONTINUED
For previous posts on this series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
Forty Years In Canada by Col. Samuel B. Steele (1915)
Illustrated History of Canada, Edited by Craig Brown (2007)
Photo Credits: -wikipedia, -Jordon CC=nc-sa-flickr, -thepatrick CC=nc-sa-flickr, -Daniel Paquet CC=sa-flickr, -benjcarson CC=nc-sa-flickr.
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