Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Saddle, Sled and Snowshoe
Chapter XXIV
We visit the Ores camp—I lose Maple and the pups— Find our Indian friends "pound-keeping "—The Indian buffalo pound—Consecrating the pound— Mr. Who-Brings-Them-In--Running the buffalo In —The herd safely corralled—Wholesale slaughter— Apportioning the hunt—Finis.

My party for the next two months was made up of my old friend Joseph and a young Indian named Susa.

We started at once back to the Cree camp with four trains of dogs. On the second day out, near noon, we came to vast herds of buffalo, and my second train, composed of Maple and her pups, ran away with the buffalo. For a time we could see them, but soon they went out of sight in the distance, and leaving my old train of dogs to my men, I set out in pursuit of the runaway team. For miles I was able to track them; then the buffalo became so numerous ahead of me that all trace of the dogs was lost. As the course they ran nearly paralleled our road, I kept on until late, and after running some twenty miles, had to reluctantly give them up, and strike out to head off my men. We reached the Cree camp that night, and the Indians sympathized with me in my loss, and promised to keep on the lookout for the dogs. I felt the loss keenly, as the young dogs were developing handsomely, and were shaping to become "flyers." The camp we were now in was in their language engaged in "sitting by the place of bringing them in." This sentence of eight words in English is covered by one word of seven syllables in Cree, Pe-tah-gionte-honuk-be-win. This in short English would mean "pound - keeping." If the migration of the buffalo was west, then the mouth of the pound was west also. If this was north, the mouth of the pound was placed to the north, as it seemed to be the instinct of the buffalo when startled to run back in the direction whence he had recently come. In that direction he knew the great herds were roaming, and when startled he would fall back on these. Long before the white man came to the country, some Indians, more thoughtful than the rest, had noticed this, and concluded that a trap or corral might be built, wherein to catch them in larger numbers than they could be obtained by killing with the bow and arrows. Out of this happy thought was evolved the habit of building pounds, and killing buffalo wholesale in them.

In connection with this there was another evolution of men who became experts in bringing buffalo into the pound. These men professed to be aided by the "spirits," or "familiars," of whom they dreamt. The conjurers were not slow to make use of the "pound" business, and claimed that they could by their medicine make a pound lucky or unlucky as they pleased; all of which, as time went on, wove itself into the faith and tradition of the people, and gave these cunning fellows revenue and influence in the camps of their tribes. Ecclesiasticism and sacerdotalism were to the front, as they always are among ignorant and passively religious people. The situation of a pound was generally on the south or east side of a gently rising hill, the west or north side of this hill being prairie or open country, and the east or south side of it timber. In this timber, not far from the summit, the Cree pound was erected. This was done by chopping and clearing away the timber from a circular space—say one hundred, or one hundred and twenty-five feet in diameter. From this circle all the brush and trees, with the exception of one tree in the centre, were cleared out, and around this circle a strong fence of logs and brush was built, strong enough and high enough to hold the buffalo. At the entrance, which was made about twenty feet wide, a causeway, or sloping corduroy bridge, was built up of timber, so that there was a "jump off" into the pound of about three feet. The idea of a gate or bars had not dawned upon the people, as I will presently show. From the entrance on either side a strong brush and log fence was run out towards the north or west as was convenient. These lines of fence gradually diverged as they left the corral, until, at the end of a hundred yards or more, they were almost that distance apart. From the ends of the fence bundles of willows were placed on end at regular intervals for a mile or more, their outside terminals being fully a mile apart. These were called "watching waiters."

While the pound, the fence, and the "waiters" were being built and placed, the conjurers of the camp were making "strong medicine," wherewith to give luck and magnetism to the pound. For days and nights these medicine-makers and general dealers in the supernatural had pounded their drums and sang themselves hoarse; and now that the pound was ready for dedication, they organized a procession, and went on with the consecration of the pound and its accessories to the object in view. With solemn visages and in dignity of attitude, these priests of the old faith took their places at the head of the procession. With their medicine-bags in hand they stood like statues, while the rest formed in line, drummers and singers next to the priests. Then the whole camp, or as many as could attend, followed. At a signal the drums beat, the song was raised at the head, and then taken up all along the whole line, and to time they stepped away around the bluff, and turning into the fence, came down the lane, up over the causeway, and jumped into the pound. Turning to the left they marched around the circle of the pound, and then with short petitionary speeches, the conjurers proceeded to hang their medicine- bags on the limbs of the lone tree which stood in the centre. This done, the pound was dedicated, consecrated, and declared ready for work.

The next thing needed was buffalo. If these were within a few miles of camp, the man who had fat horses, and desired the tongues of the buffalo, be they many or few, that might be brought into the pound in one "fetch," would take his horse, ready saddled and bridled, to the tent of an expert at "bringing in," and say to him, "Here is my horse; now then go after them." Then the O-noh-che-buh-how, or "Who-Goes-After-Them," makes ready slowly and with dignity, assuming the air of one upon whom a grave responsibility is thrust, but who nevertheless is perfectly conscious that be is the one man to bear it, and perform the task entrusted to him. Thus he mounts the horse and rides forth.

This man is keenly watched by those who are on the lookout from the highest ground in the vicinity. The whole camp is in a flutter of excitement. Is the time propitious? Are the spirits friendly? Will the medicine work? Will "Who-Brings-Them-In" be wise in his handling of the buffalo? Is the pound properly located? Everybody is anxious about the new untried pound. As in the minds of other peoples the wide world over, here also was the strange mixing of reason and practice, and logic and superstition. But now those on the lookout are making signs, and it is shouted throughout the camp, "He has started a herd!" Again another sign. "The herd is a big one 1" is the shout that electrifies every man, woman and child in the encampment; and while the thrill of this is still upon them, behold, there is another sign, and the joyful news rings forth: "They are coming straight!" Again the signal is given. "Make ready; to your places, 0 men!" and there is a movement by all the able-bodied men to the lines of fence which reach out from the door of the pound, where they place themselves opposite to one another. Behind the fence, and even beyond it, behind heaps of snow and brush, the men lie in waiting until the head of the herd passes them, when from each side they rise simultaneously and urge the buffalo on into the pound.

While all this is going on near the pound and in the camp, "Mr. Who-Brings-Them-In" is doing his level best with brain and voice and horse. Lay of country and direction of wind are noted. As he rode out he looked at the position of the sun. He pulled a little of the hair off his robe and let it go above his head to determine the exact direction of the wind. This he did on a hill, so that the movement of air would not be influenced by hills and valleys. When he sighted the buffalo he stopped, and lighting his pipe thought out the whole plan as well as he could, with the known quantities before him. For what was as yet unknown he held his pipe-stem skyward, and humbly petitioned the spirits to help him. Then he shook his pipe, and detaching the stem, he put both into his fire-bag, and remounting his horse started for the buffalo. If these were scattered he set out to bunch them. Riding slightly to windward and dismounting, he pulled a small bunch of dried grass out of his bosom, and chipping off a bit of punk he placed it on his flint. Striking this with his steel, when the punk caught fire he dropped it into a little nest he had prepared in the grass; then he waved this to and fro, and if the grass caught fire soon he was satisfied. If not, he took a few grains of powder from his horn and dropped them on the spark of fire on the punk, making a flame which speedily fired the grass. In a very little time the keen scenting buffalo would notice the tiny puff of smoke and move together.

Having bunched the buffalo, if they moved in the right direction he let them go and quietly watched them from a distance. If they went to one side, he headed them back either with a whiff of smoke as before, or by letting them catch a glimpse of himself. Thus he brings them within the long line of "watching waiters"; and now the herd is becoming excited, and begins to move rapidly. Riding close, he heads them on. If they rush too fast one way, he drops behind, and rides across their track the other way; and as he does this at a quick gallop, he utters a series of strange, queer cries which seem to be almost hypnotic in their influence, for the head of the bunch jumps his way as if in response to the weird cry. When the herd is going as he wants, he talks to them encouragingly: "That is right, O mother cow; you are doing well, keep right on; you will gladden many hearts, you will fill many stomachs, you will warm and cover many bodies." Then he

would give his shrill cry, and as I have ridden beside these men when bringing in buffalo, it has seemed to me as if they had bridles in the mouths of the leaders of the herds, as these passively jumped to do their bidding. The man seemed transformed, energized, intensely consecrated to the object in view, and thus his spirit became masterful and strong in its purpose.

Now the lines of "watching waiters" are rapidly converging. The side to side rushes of the excited herd are becoming shorter, and follow one another in quick succession. Both man and buffalo are fast approaching the crucial point. It is now but two or three hundred yards to the end of the lines of brush and humanity. If the herd should break to either side before these are reached, the driver will be humiliated, the new pound made unlucky, and the whole camp sadly disappointed. "Who-Brings-Them-In" feels all this and makes supreme effort—throws his whole soul into the work. He calls, he urges, he petitions, he rides fearlessly and recklessly. Now the head of the herd is past the first of the line of concealed men, and these rise together, and others, and others, and on in a mad, wild rush sweep the deceived and thoroughly affrighted buffalo over the "jump off" and into the pound. "Who-Brings-Them-In" stays not for congratulations, but gallops to his tent, leaps from the horse, rushes in to his couch and flings himself on it, exhausted but triumphant. Perhaps that afternoon, to help him fully recover, some old friend will give him a Turkish bath.

I have described what happened when the buffalo were convenient to camp—say two or three hours' distant; but often they were a long distance away. Then the process was different. Another expert would start from camp on foot, and travel twenty, thirty or fifty miles into the north or west country, and at last, finding a suitable herd, he would slowly, by stratagem, by smoke and scent, work these toward the pound. Sometimes he would have to wait for hours for a "convenient season." Sometimes he would of necessity run for miles as fast as his strength and wind would permit, in order to turn the trend of movement into a more favorable direction for his object, and thus, after wearying days and nights, his bunch of buffalo would be sighted from the lookout, and "Who-Brings-Them-In" would ride forth and meet him, and take the herd in his turn, and the foot man would return to camp and rest.

What surprised me was that these men who went after buffalo and endured such physical hardship and nervous strain, did not receive any more than the rest in the partition of what buffalo might be brought into the pound. The man who owned the horse got the tongues, but those men who did the wonderful work of bringing in had the glory. Like the chiefs, who planned and lived for the people without any remuneration, these were the patriots of the camp.

But to return to my description of the pound. Soon the last buffalo was over the "jump off" and you may depend upon it, he was not far behind the rest, for the crowd of yelling Indians were at the heels of the herd. When all were in, the door or gap was suddenly filled by a solid line of men, who pulled their robes before them, and stood without a move as the mad herd settled into a gallop around the pound, always running as the medicine man had walked, and that was with the sun. In the meantime the pound was surrounded by the people of the camp, all rejoicing because of the success of the enterprise. Pound and medicine and men had all been blessed, and the hearts of the people were thankful.

Presently the twing of an arrow told that the work of slaughter had begun, and this was continued with arrow and flint-lock until all the large animals in the herd were dead. Then the boys were turned into the pound to fight the calves, and many a chase the calves gave them; sometimes driving the boys back up on the timber and brush of the walls of the pound. When all were dead, someone deputed for the duty would mount the back of a dead bull or big cow, and apportion the hunt.

"Slapped-in-the-Face, take that one."

"Hollow Back, you take that one."

"Who-is-Struck-in-the-Back, you have that one."

"Crooked Legs, there is yours."

"Red Bank, take that one."

"The-Man-Who-Strikes-the-Sun, here is yours."

"Bear's Child, this is for you."

"Wolf Teeth, cut that one up," etc.

In stentorian voice this man would divide the spoil, and soon the pound was full of men and women taking off the robes, cutting up the meat, and "packing" these to the tents. In a little while the new pound is left to the dogs, who in their turn hold high carnival among the refuse, fighting and feeding to the full. Not one buffalo is allowed to escape. The young and the poor must die with the strong and fat, for it is believed that if these were spared they would tell the rest, and so make it impossible to bring any more buffalo into a pound.

How this absurd idea was exploded, and how I found my lost dogs, and how we lived, and what we did and saw and experienced in the ensuing months and years, I hope to tell in a subsequent volume.


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus