Battle on the
Buffalo Range -
Between the half-breeds who form a large portion of the population of
the settlements of the Northwest, along the Red River of the North, and
their neighbors, the Sioux, exists a bitter enmity. Peace is seldom
declared between them, and when parties of Sioux and half-breeds meet,
bloody battles are the result.
Although the half-breeds are more civilized than the Indians, and live
in villages, generally near the forts or trading posts, they depend
largely upon buffalo-meat for their winter food, and upon buffalo-robes,
for which the traders give them guns, powder, shot, blankets, tea,
coffee, sugar, and other necessaries and luxuries of their life. To
obtain this meat and these robes they organize grand buffalo hunts every
summer and fall, each of which lasts for several months, and in which
hundreds of men engage. The hunters travel from their homes to the
distant hunting grounds on horseback; but they take with them long
trains of very curious-looking ox-carts, in which the women and
children, who go with their husbands and fathers on these long trips,
ride, and in which the buffalo-meat and hides are carried home.
The ox-carts, or "Pembina buggies," as they are often called, are very
strong and clumsy, and are made entirely of wood, generally by their
owners. The wooden wheels, turning on the ungreased wooden axles, make
the most horrible creaking and groaning; and when, as is often the case,
several hundred or a thousand of these carts are in one train, the noise
they make can be heard for miles.
Each cart is drawn by a single ox, attached to the rude shafts by a
simple and home-made harness of rawhide, with the aid of which the
patient beast draws a load of a thousand pounds for hundreds of miles,
at the rate of twenty or thirty miles a day.
As they approach the buffalo range, where they expect to find their
game, the hunters know that at any moment they may run across hunting
parties of the Sioux, and for them they keep a sharp look-out night and
Some years ago a brave hunter by the name of Jean Bedell, whose home was
in Pembina, joined one of these great hunting parties, taking with him
his wife and their little child, a baby of but a few months old. The
party to which Jean belonged was so large that they had but little fear
of Indians, and did not guard against being surprised by them as
carefully as usual.
One morning as the brigade broke camp, and the long line of carts moved
slowly away toward Devil's Lake, which could be seen gleaming in the
distance, and near which the hunters felt sure they would find buffalo,
Jean Bedell found that a portion of his harness had given out, and he
must stay behind and mend it. He had just finished his task, and started
on after the carts, the groaning and screeching of which could still be
heard in the distance, when other and more terrible sounds, borne
clearly to his ear, caused him to come to a sudden halt.
The sounds that so startled him were quick shots, almost as steady as
volleys of musketry, and the terrible yell with which the Sioux charges
upon his enemy. Far down the valley the hunter could see sharp flashes
of fire pierce the cloud of dust that hung over the train of ox-carts,
and the dark mass of Sioux warriors charging down the hill-side, lashing
their ponies, firing and yelling as they went.
CUT OFF.—Drawn by W. M. Cary.
Alone, and cut off from his companions, with his wife and baby to
protect, Jean Bedell had nothing to do but lie down, with his trusty
rifle in hand, powder and bullets by his side, and wait, determined to
sell his life as dearly as possible if worst came to worst.
For hours the hunter watched the fight, while his wife crouched in the
bottom of the cart, with her baby in her arms. He could see that the
carts had been formed in a semicircle, and from behind them his comrades
withstood charge after charge of the Indians, who would dash up to the
barrier of heavy carts, pour in a volley, and sweep away beyond rifle
range, until their own guns were reloaded.
At last, late in the afternoon, the battle came to an end. The Indians,
finding it impossible to drive the hunters from behind their barrier,
suddenly withdrew, and taking their dead with them, disappeared over the
hill down which they had dashed in the morning. They might make another
attack, but for the present all was safe, and Jean Bedell might rejoin
his friends. When he reached them, he found that though they were
rejoiced to have driven off the hated Sioux, their joy was mingled with
much sorrow, for there were many dead to be buried, and many wounded to
be cared for. Among the dead were several of the little children, to
whom stray bullets had found their way; and when Jean Bedell and his
wife saw the poor little bodies, they were very thankful that, on
account of a broken harness, their own darling baby had been kept at a
safe distance from the terrible battle.