Continued from The Adventures of Paul Kane: Part 11.
The Adventures of Paul Kane: Part 12
Life at Fort Edmonton
Kane and his companions spent two days at Fort Assiniboine, doing little more than “sleep before the fire and eat fish”. On December 2nd, they left for Fort Edmonton and proceeded down a trail through the forest. They shot and killed many rabbits that crossed their path, and saw many more suspended from Indian snares on the side of the trail.
The travellers arrived at Fort Edmonton on December 5th. The fort’s factor, John Edward Harriott, gave Kane a room to himself, which the painter decided to make his headquarters for the winter. He spent the season sketching the Cree, Assiniboine, Sarcee, Gros Ventre, and Blackfoot Indians, who came to the fort to sell dried buffalo meat and fat. The Indian and Metis women of the fort processed these ingredients into huge quantities of pemmican, which was later distributed to other HBC forts.
That winter, Kane accompanied Mr. Harriott and other HBC officers on a buffalo hunt. Upon returning from this successful venture, they found an enormous buffalo bull blocking their path. Mr. Harriott fired his musket at the animal, prompting it to charge at him in a rage. The hunters spent the next few minutes desperately evading the bull’s fury, firing musketball after musketball into its tough hide. “At last,” Kane wrote, “after receiving sixteen bullets in his body, he slowly fell, dying harder than I had ever seen an animal die before.”
Another event which Kane described on in his diary was the frontier-style feast hosted in the Fort Edmonton’s colourful dining hall on Christmas Eve. The feast was followed by a dance which lasted until midnight, attended by English traders, French-Canadian voyageurs, Metis men and women, and Indians of various nations who were all “laughing, and jabbering in as many different languages as there were styles of dress”.
On one occasion during his stay in Edmonton, Kane accompanied the fort’s sole horsekeeper, an old Metis warrior named Francois Lucie, on a buffalo hunt, during which Lucie showed Kane an old Indian hunting trick called “making a calf”. After finding a buffalo herd, Lucie dressed himself in a buffalo robe while Kane put on a wolf skin. Lucie crouched in a snow, crawled around, and bellowed like a buffalo calf. When the Metis caught the attention of the herd, Kane tackled him, whereupon Lucie bellowed more earnestly. Apparently convinced that one of their young ones was being attacked by a prairie wolf, the herd rushed to Lucie’s assistance. When the buffalo were within musket range, the hunters stood up and fired at them, killing two cows and causing the rest to flee.
The Pipe Stem Ceremony
On January 6th, 1848, Paul Kane left Fort Edmonton with nine men and a newly-married couple bound for Fort Pitt. The party travelled by dogsled down the frozen North Saskatchewan River, subsisting on buffalo they shot along the way. In an effort to save time, they took a cross-country shortcut, during which they encountered and visited with a friendly band of Cree Indians.
The company arrived at Fort Pitt after seven days of travelling, having had several small adventures along the way. There, Kane fell in with a band of Cree Indians whose head chief was preparing to make war on the Blackfoot. In an effort to induce his braves to accompany him on the war path, the chief performed a pipe stem ceremony in which certain pipe stems, considered sacred by the Cree, were taken out of their bundles and carried in procession to each teepee in the camp. At the door of each lodge, the chief, with tears streaming down his face, implored its male inhabitants to join him in his crusade for the sake of their friends, relatives, and ancestors who had been killed by the Blackfoot. After the ceremony, the chief allowed Kane to make a sketch of the artifact, but never left the artist alone with it, believing that if it fell to the ground, terrible things would happen to him and his tribe.
Continued in The Adventures of Paul Kane: Part 13.