Sunday, June 20, 2010

Anatomy of a Print

Boundary Post Rupert Land / Pembina by Major George Seton1
(The Illustrated London News, January 29, 1870)
Additional Information from Glenbow Archives:
In background Cree medicine man with pipe
leads procession to willow enclose for a dog
dance ritual. Cree camp at right. Midewiwin ritual.

I bought the above print from an antique maps and prints dealer out of London. I've seen this print many times over the years, in different online digital collections, and referenced in different articles and books. I decided to look into the background of the print to finally get to the bottom of who drew it, who wrote the article, who published it, and if the image was actually authentic and/or accurate...

From the accompanying article to the original illustration:
The British-American Frontier.

The revolt of the French and Indian half-breed population in the Red River and Lake Winnipeg district of North America, several hundred miles west of Lake Superior, is rather a troublesome affair. This district is part of the Hudson's Bay Company's vast territory, which has lately been transferred to the Dominion of Canada. The insurrection hitherto has been confined to the neighbourhood of Lake Winnipeg, from which the British Canadians have been expelled; the Governor, Mr. Macdougall, has been obliged to return to Canada, and Fort Garry remains in the possession of the rebels. It is thought these were instigated by some of the French priests to resist the establishment of the Canadian Government, but the Vicar-General of Quebec, accompanied by Colonel de Salaberri, himself a half-breed, has gone to the Red River country to use his influence on the side of loyalty and to persuade the Winnipeg people to lay down their arms.

Another influence to be noted in stirring up the insurrection and keeping it alive is that of American annexationists at Pembina, cooperating with others engaged in business at Red River. Pembina is a settlement of three or four log-houses on the Dacotah side of the frontier, where every white resident but one is said to hold an office of some sort or other. Besides the few residents, there has been an Illinois lawyer, who is described as 'running the machine' in the interests of annexation. All the American versions of the affair have come from him. Hence the exaggerated stories about the Indians being called to arms, for which there has been no foundation except in the circumstance that Colonel Dennis garrisoned the Sonte Fort in the Lower Settlement with fifty Swamp Indians, an inoffensive set of semi-civilized half-breeds who live by farming in that neighbourhood. It has, of course, been the policy of the annexationists to lead the American people and Government to believe the Canadian officials have been inciting the Indians to take up arms. The most recent canard of this sort has been that Macdougall bribed the Sioux to make a descent on Pembina, in revenge for the conduct of the people there2. If the trouble should continue, and should tend towards annexation, there certainly would be reason to look for a movement of the Indians in that direction. This, however could not be owing to Canadian influence, but to the fears of the Indians themselves, who naturally dread the prospect of their being brought under American sway. We have to thank Major G. Seton, who was lately in that part of the world, for a View of the plains near Pembina, with the boundary-post there erected to mark the frontier between the United States and British territory of Rupert's Land. the boundless level of rich grass is here traversed by the road, or track, which appears in the foreground. Major Seton's sketch is also an illustration of the habits and costumes of the Cree Indians. These are represented as walking in procession, headed by the Medicine Man, with the sacred rattle in hand, within which is celebrated a 'Dog Feast', so called from their eating dogs on the occasion, and being a mixture of religious ceremony and social mirth. In the half-distance are their tents, made of dressed bison (called buffalo) leather, with their badges or armorial bearings painted upon them, beside which stand their carts, made without a particle of iron, and which are very strong and so light as to be serviceable as rafts when deep water has to be crossed. In the foreground is a group of two young Indians in their gala costume, with their dogs, which in winter are used to drag sledges.
When I first viewed this sketch, I thought it was unrealistic [based on my experience viewing actual photographs of the time] on what the natives looked like. Then I found several specific references concerning the specific event this print depicts. These references, including the above text, explain this was representing the indigenous population in ceremonial dress, which then makes more sense...

1 - Major George Seton (1819-1905) of the 93rd Highlanders and the Royal Canadian Rifles (British Army). Seton came to Lower Fort Garry (Red River) in advance of his troops and, in July 1857, met John Palliser of the Palliser Expedition there. [From Fur Trade Family History]

2 - To our local history's shame, this included behavior such as the instance below, documented in a book published in 1871 based on eye-witness accounts:

...Some officers attached to Major Hatch's battalion had visited the colony and gained some of its residents over to their interests to such an extent that they cordially entered into a scheme for kidnapping one of the principal chiefs, "Little Six," a half brother of "Little Crow," and one of his followers named "Medicine Bottle," were selected as the men to be caught. These Indians having been purposely permitted to drink more alcohol than was good for them, were drugged with laudanum and chloroform, and while in a state of insensibility were conveyed to Pembina, where their surprise and consternation were great when, on waking from their lethargy, they found themselves securely bound and surrounded by a group of soldiers under command of Major Hatch. This incident was commented on somewhat severely by some newspapers in the United States, which amused themselves by trying to magnify it into another "Trent affair." It also excited great dissatisfaction among people in the settlement, who feared retaliation on the part of the Sioux against the English in crossing the Plains during summer...

Another more recent account was more blunt (and in my opinion, honest) saying
Major Edwin Hatch, a subordinate of Sibley operating out of the village of Pembina, just south of the Canadian obrder, retains John McKenzie, an American living in Canada, to bribe a pair of Canadian officials into drugging Shakopee and Medicine Bottle during a "friendly meeting." The two unconscious Indians were then handed over to Hatch in Pembina. After the hangings, the Minnesota legislature appropriated the sum of $1,000 to reward McKenzie for his part in the crime [William W. Folwell, A History of Minnesota (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1924) pp. 443-50. Also see Robin W. Winks, "The British North American West and the Civil War," North Dakota History, Vol 24, 1957.]
By the way, the context was the aftermath of the Dakota War...