A People on the Move

A People on the Move

The Métis of the Western Plains

By Irene Ternier Gordon

Amazing Stories Series

Pulished by Heritage House, 2009, Victoria, B.C.

Blurb from Heritage House catalogue:

The blossoming of Métis society and culture in the 19th century marked a fascinating and colourful era in western Canadian history. Drawing from journals and contemporary sources, Irene Ternier Gordon presents a lively account of Métis life in the area that is now Saskatchewan and Alberta. Here are the stories of the masters of the plains — Métis buffalo hunters, traders and entrepreneurs like Louis Goulet, Norbert Welsh and the legendary Gabriel Dumont. From the delightful details of marriage customs, feasts and fancy clothing to the sad consequences of the events of 1885, this book is a vivid chronicle of Métis life.


It was late afternoon on Saturday, July 12, 1851. Scouts from the St. François Xavier buffalo-hunting party had just reached the top of the first terrace of the Grand Coteau of the Missouri River. They caught sight of a large Sioux encampment and signalled back to the rest of the group. Jean-Baptiste Falcon, chief of the hunt, ordered camp be made immediately and that it be put in defensive mode.

Falcon sent five scouts with a spyglass to check out the Sioux camp. They rode to the top of the nearest high bluff and looked down on a camp that they estimated to hold at least 2,000 warriors. The scouts, scorning concealment, rode boldly towards the camp. A party of 20 Sioux rode out to meet them. When the two groups met, the Sioux surrounded the Métis and invited them to accompany them to their camp.

Two of the Métis, realizing that the Sioux considered them prisoners, suddenly kicked their horses into a gallop and escaped under fire back to their camp. The Sioux followed. They assured Falcon that they had peaceful intentions, but said that they were hard up and needed help. They promised that a small party of them would return the next day to release the three remaining prisoners in exchange for some gifts.

The Métis did not believe the Sioux promise, but they did not expect trouble that night because the Sioux did not fight at night. After dark, two men were sent to the main party of buffalo hunters, some 12 to 18 kilometres away, to ask for help. Could they arrive back with reinforcements in time?

Early Sunday morning, Father LaFlèche, who was travelling with the hunters, said Mass. Shortly afterwards the Sioux arrived—not the promised small group, but a whole army of men shouting and brandishing weapons that glinted in the fierce morning sunlight.

Falcon sent 30 of the hunters out to meet the Sioux.

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© Copyright 2020 Irene Ternier Gordon All rights reserved