Continued from The Adventures of Paul Kane: Part 13.
The Adventures of Paul Kane: Part 14
Skirmish Near Fort Pitt
On June 1st, the company encountered a war party of Blackfoot, Gros Ventre, and Sarcee braves who were roaming the prairies in search of Cree and Assiniboine scalps. The voyageurs were obliged to hide the only Cree among them under the blankets which covered their cargo. Kane and the leader of the train, a man named Mr. Harriott, left the boats to greet the warriors. Despite their ferocious reputation, the Blackfoot greeted them with courtesy and friendship, laying out buffalo robes for them to sit on and laying down their weapons as they stopped to smoke with them. The only brave who seemed bent on fighting was a war chief of considerable repute named Omoxesisixany, or “Big Snake”, who strode around cracking his whip and singing war songs. He was finally prevailed upon by his companions to sit with Kane and Harriott and smoke the pipe of peace.
The Blackfoot invited Harriott and Kane to camp with them that night, and the two readily accepted, Harriott for the purpose of developing amity between the Blackfoot and the Hudson’s Bay Company and Kane for the purpose of sketching some of the Blackfoot chiefs. “I had some difficulty at first in getting the chiefs to let me take their likenesses,” the artist wrote, “but after they comprehended what I wanted, they made no objections.”
The next day, the Blackfoot held a medicine dance in order to give themselves good luck in their upcoming battles with the Cree. As they considered Kane’s artisitic abilities the mark of a powerful medicine man, the Blackfoot invited Kane to attend the ceremony. Kane contributed to the ‘medicine making’ by sketching the Blackfoot’s sacred pipe stem, which was unveiled for the ceremony.
The voyageurs continued their journey the following day, stopping once in order to allow Mr. Harriott to speak with a travelling Blackfoot chief who was his old friend. They arrived at Fort Carlton on June 4th, and spent several days there, hoping to wait out the impending clash between the Blackfoot and the local Cree.
The battle took place on June 5th, and news of the occurrence reached Fort Carlton the following day. According to Kane, the Cree had gathered together to form a large war party of their own about fourteen miles from the fort. They held a medicine dance around a tall pole, from the top of which they hung their medicine bundles. Following the ceremony, they set out in search of the Blackfoot.
Shortly after their departure, the Blackfoot discovered the Cree’s medicine pole. One of the Blackfoot braves decided to climb the pole in order to remove the medicine bundles at its top, and in doing so, spied the Cree war party in the distance.
As the Blackfoot warriors advanced towards their enemies, they were spotted by a Cree scout who underestimated their numbers. The Cree braves subsequently rushed to meet their foes, sure of an easy victory. They only realized their error by the time they engaged the Blackfoot vanguard in hand-to-hand combat, whereupon they fled for their lives, abandoning their teepees as they raced across the prairie. The only Cree warrior who refused to abandon the field was a chief named Pe-ho-this, who rode through the Blackfoot ranks and dispatched many a brave with his war club, wielding his weapon with bullish tenacity as he was riddled with arrows and musket balls. With the Blackfoot hot on his heels, his horse finally brought his shattered body back to the abandoned Cree camp, where two elderly Cree warriors clad in their finest attire had remained to meet their ends.
Upon hearing that the Blackfoot had gained the upper hand in this skirmish, Mr. Harriott decided to resume the journey, knowing that Blackfoot would return south to their country now that they had acquired some Cree scalps.
Continued in The Adventures of Paul Kane: Part 15.