Sunday, January 11, 2009

Dog Sleds & Pembina

The voyageurs driving the dogs rarely rode on the sleds. On a well packed trail the drivers ran on snowshoes, following the sleds. Sometimes the drivers used tag lines to help control the vehicle and they always brandished a whip which was combined with a healthy dose of strong language to control the team. If no packed trail was available the drivers hiked ahead of their animals, using their snowshoes to pack the trail. Sometimes drivers had to break trail for days at a time. On January 13, 1802 Alexander Henry set out from his Red River post for the Assiniboine, by way of Riviere aux Gratias and upon his return he recorded, “Each of my men had a train of two dogs, with my baggage and provisions, and I a train drawn by three stout dogs. Snow very deep; my men were obliged to beat the road all the way on snowshoes. We were one day going to Riviere aux Gratias; five thence to Portage la Prairie; five thence to Riviere la Souris; two thence to Delorme’s house in the Hair hills ; four to Langlois’ house; and one back to Panbian (Pembina) river. All this distance my men walked hard upon snowshoes.”

If the eighteen days that Henry’s men spent breaking trail were at all typical, they were probably very long days indeed. The dog-sledge traveling day usually began many hours before sunrise and didn’t end until well into the long winter nights. Alexander Henry was no stranger to this routine. His journal entries made while traveling...in 1811 show that on February 4th the party started at 4:30 am, and on February 12th they were on the trail at 3:00. On that day they made camp early, at 3:00 p.m. because the dogs were too exhausted to continue. More often than not the voyageurs stayed on the trail until daylight had long been replaced by the feeble glow of the Northern Lights.