Thursday, March 12, 2009

Alexander Henry's Diary - Part I

Pembina River Post (1802)


We pass our time chasing buffalo, for which we have many good horses, and take plenty of sturgeon...An Indian made medicine to ask his Manitou whether a certain sick person would recover. He started his juggling after dark, and sang for a long time, keeping chorus with a rattle. At times he pretended to converse with a spirit, muttering very low; then he interpreted to the bystanders what his Manitou had told him concerning the case - the case and nature of the sickness, and then some crime committed which prevented the cure. Before his conversation with the spirit his juggling machine always appeared in motion, bending to and fro as if shaken by the wind, while he continued to sing with his utmost force, and appeared greatly agitated; when suddenly he ceased and appeared deeply engaged in discourse. This ceremony continued until after midnight, when he at last declared he was in doubt whether the sick person would recover or not.


A boy about 10 years of age was putting his gun in order to shoot ducks; his old mother was sitting opposite in the tent, and observed he was giving himself trouble to no purpose, as he could not kill a duck. This was jocular, as she knew he was an excellent little hunter for his age, and he took it as such. Having loaded and primed his gun, he aimed it at the old woman's head, saying, "If I cannot kill a duck I can kill you, if I want to." The gun went off and blew her brains out. The lad's gun fell from his hands; when he recollected himself he declared he had no intention of shooting his mother, and could not account for the discharge. However, the old woman was dead; her brains and hair were sticking to the tent-pole near which she had been sitting. The lad appeared much afflicted, as he was very fond of her.


Mr. Langlois and others started for the Hair hills. This caravan demands notice, to show the vast difference it makes in a place where horses are introduced. It is true they are useful animals, but if there were not one in all the North West, we should have less trouble and expense. Our men would neither be so burdened with families, nor so indolent and insolent as they are, and the natives in general would be more honest and industrious. Let an impartial eye look into the affair, to discover whence originates the unbounded extravagance of our meadow gentry, both white and native, and horses will be found one of the principal causes. Let us view the bustle and noise which attended the transportation of five pieces of goods to a place where the houses were built in 1801-02. The men were up at break of day and their horses tackled long before sunrise; but they were not ready to move before ten o'clock, when I had the curiosity to climb on top of my house to watch their motions and observe their order of march.

Antoine Payet, guide and second in command, leads the van, with a cart drawn by two horses and loaded with his private baggage, cassetête1, bags, kettles, and mashqueminctes [?]8. Madame Payet follows the cart with a child a year old on her back, very merry. Charles Bottineu2, with two horses and a cart loaded with 1 1/2 packs, his own baggage, and two young children with kettles and other trash hanging on to it. Madame Bottineau with a squalling infant on her back, scolding and tossing it about. Joseph Dubord goes on foot, with his long pipe-stem and calumet in his hand; Madame Dubord follows on foot, carrying his tobacco pouch with a broad bead tail. Antoine Thellier3, with a cart and two horses, loaded with 1 1/2 packs of goods and Dubois' baggage. Antoine La Pointe4 with another cart and horses, loaded with two pieces of goods and with baggage belonging to Brisebois, Jasmin, and Pouliot, and a kettle hung on each side. Auguste Brisebois5 follows with only his gun on his shoulder and a fresh-lighted pipe in his mouth. Michel Jasmin6 goes next, like Brisebois, with gun and pipe puffing out clouds of smoke. Nicolas Pouliot, the greatest smoker in the North West, has nothing but pipe and pouch. Those three fellows, having taken a farewell dram and lighted fresh pipes, go on brisk and merry, playing numerous pranks. Domin Livernois7, with a young mare, the property of Mr. Langlois, loaded with weeds for smoking, an old worsted bag (madame's property), some squashes and potatoes, a small keg of fresh water, and two young whelps howling. Next goes Livernois' young horse, drawing a travaille loaded with his baggage and a large worsted mashguemcate [?] belonging to Madame Langlois. Next appears Madame [John] Cameron's mare, kicking, rearing, and snorting, hauling a travaille loaded with a bag of flour, cabbages, turnips, onions, a small keg of water, and a large kettle of broth. Michel Langlois, who is master of the band, now comes on leading a horse that draws a travaille nicely covered with a new painted tent, under which his daughter and Mrs. Cameron lie at full length, very sick; this covering or canopy has a pretty effect in the caravan, and appears at a great distance in the plains. Madame Langlois brings up the rear of the human beings, following the travaille with a slow step and melancholy air, attending to the wants of her daughter, who notwithstanding her sickness, can find no other expressions of gratitude to her parents than by calling them dogs, fools, beasts, etc. The rear guard consists of a long train of 20 dogs, some for sleighs, some for game, and others of no use whatever, except to snarl and destroy meat. The total forms a procession nearly a mile long...

From Early Canadiana Online, Alexander Henry journals

1 Cassetête is good French for tomahawk, literally something to break a head with, and may be intended here; copy so reads plainly. But F. cassette - casket - was the usual word with the voyageurs for any sort of a box in which they carried small articles, as distinguished from the large packs, sacks, bales, or other "pieces" of which most of their loads consisted. The curious word which follows kettles I cannot make out.

2 Name reappearing in MS, and print as Battineau, Battimeau, and Bottureau. Charles is listed as voyageur N.W. Co., Lower Red r., 1802, and we shall find him with Henry to 1808.

3 Plainly so in copy; no other record noted.

4 Antoine Lapointe, voyageur N.W. Co., remains with Henry to 1808; he had been about 15 years in this country in Oct., 1818, when he was in Toronto as a witness in the Semple case. Joseph Lapointe is listed voyageur N.W. Co., Fort Dauphin, 1804. Michel Lapointe, listed, Nepigon, 1804.

5 Auguste Brisebois appears in print as Angus, evidently by mistaking the abbreviation "Aug." for "Ang." He remains with Henry to 1808. Joseph Brisebois was guide N.W. Co., Upper Re r., 1804. Michel Brisebois, one of the oldest inhabitants of Prairie de Chien, was made a judge by Lewis Cass, May 12th, 1819; died 1839.

6 Michel Jasmin, sometimes Jesmin, voyageur N.W. Co.; no record beyond 1804.

7 Dominic or Dominique Livernois; no further record.

8 "Interesting. I notice that earlier in the same passage, the author also uses the word "mashqueminetes." I don't know any Native American word exactly like "mashguemcate" or "mashqueminetes," but I bet they're supposed to be the Cree/Ojibway word for "bag," usually spelled Muskimoot in English (maskimot in Cree, mashkimod in Ojibway.) It fits in with the rest of the text anyway."

Laura Redish
Native Languages of the Americas