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Selections from the Unpublished Recollections of Mrs. W. C. Pinkham, Part 2

by Jean Anne Drever Pinkham

Manitoba Pageant, Volume 19, Number 3, Spring 1974

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.

Part 1 here

My father very soon built a very comfortable house, my mother named it Clova Cottage, after some house in Aberdeen. I believe Mr. Charles Mair has a photo of it and it was shown on a screen a short time ago at an entertainment got up by the “Old Timers”. By this time my mother was able to keep two servants, a nurse to whom she paid ten shillings a month, and a general servant at fifteen shillings; these were considered good wages at that time. My mother went to a lot of trouble training them; they were half-breeds of course. She was always kind and considerate but their work must be well done. She advised them about the spending of their money, and on their having a supply of good and useful clothing, which was comparatively cheap. She insisted on their attending church once every Sunday, and in the evening assembled us all around the dining room table, servants and all, and we had to read a chapter from the Bible, verse about, and then my father had prayers.

The only means of lighting the house in those days was by tallow candles. In the autumn an animal was killed, which served us for our winter’s supply of fresh meat. Every part of the animal was used, the beef was cut in quarters and hung up in an outside store room and was soon frozen; white and black puddings were made and hung up; the head was made into “Head Cheese” and the tallow into candle tips, dozens and dozens of them, and stowed away in boxes for winter use. I remember our first coal oil lamp, and the excitement of filling and lighting it, it was quite a ceremony and some of the neighbors came to see the effect. We were all a little frightened of it but thought it was a wonderful light.

There were only four houses of any importance in the village at that time, one belonged to Mr. Andrew McDermott, an Irishman, and one to his son-in-law, Mr. Bannatyne, a Scotchman: one to Mr. John Rowand, and the other belonged to my father. For parts of the year we were surrounded by Indian camps; we did not mind them as a rule, as they were very well behaved, and even when they had too much “Fire Water” they did not trouble us much. My father was always a good friend to them and I think they liked him, and on one occasion when he was very ill with Typhus Fever, they surrounded the house, singing and shouting; my mother was alarmed and asked them to go away; they told her they heard he was ill and were trying to drive out the “bad spirit” but they went quietly.

I, and my three sisters, attended Miss M. Davis’ boarding school at St. Andrew’s. She was a wonderful woman, her father was a Hudson’s Bay Factor and sent her, at an early age, to England to be educated. As she grew older she realized that her relations in the Red River were receiving no education, so she decided to return to the Settlement and open a school. Her sister, “Miss Nancy”, as we always called her, kept house for her; she could neither read nor write, but was a fine woman, and we were very fond of her.

My mother was greatly interested in the Indians and Plain hunters, and never lost an opportunity of telling them of a Saviour and a future life. Mrs. John Inkster, a life long friend, was a great help to her, as she spoke the Indian language, and I remember a very small and very old Indian woman, who walked with two sticks, we called her Wifie, coming regularly to see my mother. Wifie had white patches on her face and breast, and I always thought she had leprosy. The Indians always preferred to sit on the floor and it was part of my work to spread a small blanket, kept for the purpose, on the kitchen floor for her to sit on.

The Indian women were very clever, and did the most beautiful bead, silk and quill work; they dyed the quills of the porcupine and also horse hair, and worked it up in all sorts of patterns on the moccasins, slippers, baskets, etc. We wore moccasins almost entirely, as the only boots one could buy were of the roughest kind. For dancing we wore slippers of deer skin, embroidered in silk, beautifully tanned and white and as soft as chamois, the men wore them as well, many a pair I have danced into holes. They also made baskets or ‘rogans’ of birch bark which were most useful for work baskets and other things. I still have the remains of a large one I used (for want of something better) as a bath for several of my babies, and at one time I had it made into a swing cot. They also made very large and strong rogans of the birch bark. I imagine they must have been of double thickness, and in pyramid shape, in which to transport the salt from the “Salt Plains.” I do not remember where these Plains were situated or how the salt was manufactured, but it was very soft and white. There were times when it was difficult to obtain, and I remember when we were at Miss Davis’ boarding school, often having to eat sturgeon and sea pie, which were our chief articles of food, without any salt. A little Englishwoman was staying with one of our Missionaries, and at dinner helped herself to an ordinary amount of salt, and left a small quantity on her plate, and I remember she got quite a wigging from her host in consequence, as the salt was quite expensive.

It seems a pity that the Indians have not been encouraged to continue their beautiful work. I think they must do quite a bit in Alberta, as I was very much struck with the appearance of the Indians at our last “Stampede”. The warriors wore the most wonderful headdresses of feathers, and much bead work, apparently their hand has not lost its cunning.

The Plain hunters, who dealt with my father were very fond of my mother, who always had a kind word for them. When they returned from their hunt they always brought us presents of berry pemmican, and bladders of marrow fat, made I suppose, from buffalo marrow bones, it was particularly pure and good. The Hudson’s Bay shop was of course the principal shop in the settlement, and there you could buy pemmican and dried meat, with groceries at one end of the shop, and some of the finest silks on the other. There were some very grand bonnets to be bought there from time to time. We never had our parcels made up for us; if you wanted a pound of tea, (The Hudson’s Bay Company always imported the very finest Shouchong) you were asked what you had brought to put it in, and often you had to purchase a Bandana handkerchief for the purpose, into which the tea was deposited, and then tied around with a string, and if you bought a pound of sugar, it was put on top of that, and again a string was tied around it, but as often as not, if the Indians or the half-breeds, were buying these things, they spread out a corner of their blankets on the counter, and the groceries were deposited in them in the same way.

I think the Hudson’s Bay Company, and a few of the other traders or merchants, got most of their supplies from the Old Country, which were brought to the Settlement by the York boats. The arrival of these boats was always a great excitement and the whole village was on the bank of the river to see them disembark. We used to get word in some way that the boats had arrived at the Lower Fort, I suppose by some man riding up from the Fort, so we knew pretty well just when they would come, and made preparations for them, which consisted chiefly in preparing a tin pail full of rum, and providing a tin cup for each man to have a drink, and indeed the poor fellows needed it. As the boat was approaching you could hear the men singing boat songs, and shouting. When they did arrive there was a great hand shaking and much good fellowship, then there was the business of unloading the boats. Viscount Milton describes the marvellous way these men could carry their burdens, I believe some of them were able to carry 630 pounds over a portage, as follows: “These loads are carried in a manner which allows the whole strength of the body to be put into the work, a broad leather strap is placed around the forehead, the ends of the strap passing back over the shoulder, support the pieces, which thus carried lie along the spine, from the small of the back to the crown of the head. When fully loaded the voyageur stands with his body bent forward, and with one hand steadying the ‘pieces’ trots briskly away over the steep and rock strewn portage, his bare or moccasined feet, enable him to pass nimbly over slippery places.” I have often seen them with an immense bale of goods and perhaps a barrel of rum on top, run up a steep bank.

I remember the horrors of the Sioux Massacre in the United States in 1862. These Indians complained of bad treatment from the Government, and laid their plans for revenge; no doubt the Government wished to treat them well, but their agents failed, and in consequence, hundreds of men, women, and children were murdered and scalped.

The military were soon after them; a large number of them crossed the Border, and came to the Upper Fort for protection. Viscount Milton, in his book The North-West Passage, says “They came for ammunition”, but I do not think so, I think they came for protection, knowing well that the American soldiers could not cross the line. I shall never forget their arrival, I think they came on a Saturday night and were kept inside the Fort until the morning; no doubt the Hudson’s Bay Company had to feed them. On Sunday hundreds of them came into the Village, dressed in the spoils of war. It was said that they had strings of twenty dollar gold pieces around their necks; I do not remember that, but I do re-member scalps of fair women, hung on their belts, and they had all sorts of finery, among other things. One young Sioux, wore a beautiful pale blue China crepe shawl, with its deep fringe around his loins, for a breech cloth. We were all in a great state of excitement, and felt we were very much at their mercy. There was no going to Church that day. The merchants gave them tea, tobacco and other things, feeling if they did not, the Indians would probably help themselves. Nothing very serious occurred, but later on the Americans offered a reward for the capture of Little Six, one of the worst of their leaders. He was captured, and the gossip was that it was done by a respectable citizen who had him chloroformed, put into a Red River `sled’ and sent over the border, during the night. It put the Settlers into a very uncomfortable position, as the Sioux soon got word of this and the man was stalked by the wonderful stealth habitual to an Indian. They were all around the houses, watching—watching—and I remember one night my father and brother were away from home and my mother, I and three sisters were alone in the house, (we had put out all the lights) and we sat in mortal terror and every now and then we could hear them, tapping, tapping on the windows with their knives.

The same year, Viscount Milton and Doctor Cheadle, came to the country; they appeared like beings from another world. Their book to which I have already referred, is worth reading. Lord Dunmore arrived the same year on his way to hunt buffalo, I wish I could describe to you a real buffalo hunt.

We girls had a very pleasant life in a simple and friendly way, none of the girls had very fine clothes, I have often, when hearing of a dance, begun to make a muslin or tarleton dress in the morning and worn it at night, and that without the help of a sewing machine. Mr. McDermott had two or three sons married, and living at Sturgeon Creek, and our greatest excitement was to get up a party and drive out there, in a Cariole, or cutter, if you were fortunate enough to own one. We generally arrived about six o’clock in the evening, and danced until eight o’clock the next morning; mothers brought their babies, and laid them in rows in their messbags under the seats placed around the room while they “cut in” to dance a Red River Jig. One wonders that the babies did not get mixed up. I do not think they ever did; we usually had a very good supper, consisting of buffalo and deer tongues, beautifully corned, moose nose, and beaver tails. I do not believe we were ever troubled with drunkenness at these parties; if men took too much they kept out of the way.

Mrs. McDermott had several very fine daughters. Sally married Governor McTavish and Annie married Mr. Bannatyne, the latter was always a good friend to me when I was a young girl, she was a handsome woman and could hold her own with anyone, she always dressed beautifully and was very vivacious. She was much given to good works and was the first to start working for the General Hospital in Winnipeg. She organized work parties for it, with me as her lieutenant, and many a garment have I made and sold at bazaars for the hospital. I believe her father gave the land on which the present hospital was built.

Part 3 here

Page revised: 20 July 2009

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