But before that, deprivation...
In the month of January, it was rumored at the Selkirk settlement, that the hunters who were on the plains of Minnesota in quest of buffalo were starving. The sufferers were from one hundred and fifty to two hundred miles from Pembina, and the only way to carry provisions to them was by dog sleds. The sympathy for their welfare was very great; and even the widow contributed a mite to their relief.
It appears from a statement made by one who was in the colony at the time, that in the (prior) month of December, 1825, a snow storm raged with violence for several days, and drove the buffalo out of the hunter's reach. As this was an unexpected contingency, they had no meat as a substitute, and famine stared them in the face.
Says an eye-witness1:
"Families here, and families there, despairing of life, huddled themselves together for warmth, and in too many cases, their shelter proved their grave. At first the heat of their bodies melted the snow; they became wet, and being without food or fuel, the cold soon penetrated, and in several instances froze the whole body into solid ice. Some again were in a state of actual delirium, while others were picked up frozen to death; one woman was found with an infant on her back within a quarter mile of Pembina. This poor creature must have traveled at the least, one hundred and twenty-five miles in three days and nights. Those that were found alive, had devoured their horses, their dogs, raw-hides, leather, and their very shoes. So great were their sufferings, that some died on the road to the colony after being relieved at Pembina. One man with his wife and three children were dug out of the snow where they had been buried for five days and nights without food, fire, or light of the sun, and the wife and two of the children recovered."When the spring came, the melting of the winter's snow produced a still greater calamity. On the second day of May, in twenty-four hours, the Red River rose nine feet; and by the fifth, the plains were submerged. A panic now seized every living thing; dogs howled, cattle lowed, children cried, mothers wept and wrung their hands, and fathers called out to their families to escape to the hills. The water continued to rise until the twenty-first, and houses and barns floated in the rushing waters. On one night a house in flames moved over the waters amid logs and uprooted trees, household furniture, and drowning cattle, reminding one of the day when "the heavens being on fire, shall be dissolved."
- From: The History of Minnesota: From the Earliest French Explorations to the Present Time, by Edward Duffield Neill, Secretary of the Minnesota Historical Society (1858))
1 - Alexander Ross