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Comments on the Wood Cree Indian

Manitoba Pageant, January 1958, Volume 3, Number 2

This article was published originally in Manitoba Pageant by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct inquiries to webmaster@mhs.mb.ca.

Taken from The North-West Passage by Land which is an account of an expedition across the continent made by two English gentlemen, Viscount Milton and Dr. W. B. Cheadle in 1862-3.

The Wood Crees are of different habits and dispositions to their relatives the Crees of the Plains — a sort of solitary trappers and hunters on foot, contrasted with a race of gregarious horsemen. They are very peaceable, and pride themselves upon honesty unknown amongst their lawless brethren of the prairies. During the six months we spent amongst the Crees of the Woods, we had not occasion to complain of a single theft. Three months of this time we lived amongst them entirely alone, and, although they often importuned us to give them different things to which they took a fancy, they never offered to dispute our right of ownership.

They are most expert trappers and hunters of moose, and occasionally seek buffalo when they enter the skirts of the woods in severe winters. They are far better clothed and equipped than the Plain Indians, being able to obtain what they may require at the trading posts in exchange for furs. But they often suffer severely from starvation, as moose are now becoming scarce; while the Plain Crees, following the buffalo, seldom lack food, although they possess little marketable property wherewith to buy clothes and luxuries at the Forts. These Indians, as indeed all others we met with, managed their families admirably. An Indian child is seldom heard to cry, and matrimonial squabbles seem unknown. Our friend Keenamontiayoo was a most affectionate husband and father, and his wife and children obeyed him at a word, evidently looking up to him as a superior being, to be loved with respect.

Milton and Cheadle wintered in what is now northern Saskatchewan. Late in December their guide returned to Red River for supplies and Dr. Cheadle was left alone with a young Indian boy, the son of their Hunter. The following excerpt is an account of the manner in which they got along together.

La Ronde came in on the 27th, and on the following day set out with Bruneau on their distant journey. They took with them two dog-sleighs, and the best train of dogs to be obtained at Carlton. The provision they expected to bring was four sacks of flour and thirty or forty pounds of tea; and the journey of 600 miles and back would occupy at least two months. The snow was now so deep that a track would require to be trodden out with snow-shoes to enable the dogs to travel, and the undertaking was certain to be very laborious. The route they intended to take was by Touchwood Hills and Fort Pelly on to the Manitobah Lake, and thence to Fort Garry.

Cheadle, now left with only the Indian boy went off into the woods to make another attempt to circumvent his ancient enemy, the wolverine. With pack slung on his back, gun on shoulder, and axe in belt, little Misquapamayoo stalked along to lead the way, with all the dignity and confidence of a practised hunter. No track or sign escaped his observant eye, and he made and set traps, arranged the camp, cut wood and cooked meals, with the readiness and skill of an old trapper. The heavier work of wood-chopping and the weightier pack fell, of course, to Cheadle's share; but Misquapamayoo was indefatigable in performing everything in his power, and this was by no means contemptible, for he could carry weights and use an axe in a manner which would have surprised an English boy of the same age. He assumed an air of grave superiority over his companion in all things relating to the hunter's or voyageur's craft which was very amusing, although certainly justified by the facts of the case.

The two spent their time in the woods merrily enough, for it was impossible to be dull with such a lively, light-hearted companion as Misquapamayoo. This may, perhaps, be thought strange, when it is stated that Cheadle, when he set out, did not know more than two or three words of the Cree language. Yet this very circumstance was a prolific source of amusement, and nothing delighted the boy more than to instruct his companion, falling into fits of laughter at his mispronunciations and mistakes. The easy manner in which communication was carried on between the two, each ignorant of the other's language, was very astonishing. But Misquapamayoo appeared to divine by instinct what was required, and it seemed difficult to believe at first that he really did not understand a word of English. The perceptions of an Indian are so nice, his attention so constant on the alert, and his conclusions so rapidly formed, that he draws inferences from general signs with great readiness and accuracy.

Page revised: 30 June 2009

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