Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 29, No. 1, Winter 2009, pp. 000-000
George McDougall, chairman of the Methodist Missions to the Indians of the Northwest Territories, kept a large, black book in which he jotted sermon notes, references to classical and biblical literature and sometimes simply his itineraries by horseback from Victoria, the primary Methodist mission in the far British northwest. Under the "s" tab and labeled "Saskatchewan," he noted repeatedly in the 1860s the food crisis facing North Saskatchewan residents. In sum: ''A time of starvation. No buffalo."
In this article I analyze a buffalo hunt which occurred in 1869. That spring, many hundreds of Cree, Assiniboine, Stoney, and Metis hunters going to the Plains were joined by a contingent of Wesleyan Methodists and their Native affiliates from Fort Edmonton, Pigeon Lake, Lac Ste. Anne, Lac La Biche, and Whitefish Lake-all located on the most northern and westerly fringes of the northern Great Plains. Their expedition and other hunts joined by Protestant or Roman Catholic missions help identify some of the strategies of competition and cooperation emerging in the western boreal and parkland regions in the midst of predicted but rapid environmental change. Missionaries of the North Saskatchewan river basin joined the multiethnic hunt of 1869 to serve both the spiritual and physical needs of their followers. The aboriginal hunting parties who had long employed cooperative hunts, however, used this occasion as a further means to open up new territories and better coordinate their efforts. It also marked a larger shift in strategies of political and social importance. Instead of following nearby herds and waiting for their seasonal migration to areas within reach of home territories, this assembly and others of the decade fell into a larger pattern of cooperation, successful or not. Milloy identified them as "heavily armed migrations" launched by the Cree, who for want of food were traveling with larger assemblies into traditional Blackfoot territory, "not as a party of warriors, in search of plunder and glory" but as hunters.