The Middle of Nowhere: Rediscovering Saskatchewan

Fifth House (1996)

A collection of non-fiction writing about Saskatchewan, from the fur trade to the 1990s. Includes vivid recollections by aboriginal people, excerpts from fur trade diaries, accounts of mounties, explorers, and settlers, as well as stories of protest politics, booze, dust, the Depression, war and the environment.

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Reviewer Comments

“a splendid collection of non-fiction pieces on Saskatchewan.“ The Toronto Globe and Mail.

Excerpt

The Last Buffalo Hunter

These descriptions of buffalo hunts were told to Mary Weekes by Norbert Welsh when he was eighty-six years old and blind. Welsh, a Metis, had been a buffalo hunter and a trader on the plains and in the valleys of the Saskatchewan and Qu’Appelle Rivers since the 1860s.

I could see buffalo all over. There were thousands and thousands of them travelling in the direction in which I had seen the bull. There was not one herd, but many. Our Chief decided that we would have breakfast before we did anything. He went from tent to tent and gathered up all the food. We had a good breakfast, and by ten o’clock were ready to chase the buffalo.

Two or three men took a herd. That afternoon twenty-five men shot three hundred buffalo. Buffalo never came very dose to camp. They would smell us, bunch together, and move away. They seldom came nearer than two or three miles.

The next day we went after the buffalo again and killed four hundred. All around us, as far as we could see, the plains were black with buffalo. The prairie seemed to be moving.

There was one thing that I did not like about that hunt. I saw hundreds of buffalo, during that week, slaughtered for their hides. The whole carcass was left to rot on the plains. One time I saw three fine fat buffalo cows lying dead, side-by-side. I jumped off my horse, cut out their tongues, tied them to my saddle, and took them home. Buffalo tongue was very choice.

There were many bands of hunters on the plains beside ours. In all my years of buffalo hunting, I never destroyed buffalo for their pelts alone. I always took the whole carcass, except the head, home.

My wife had once said that since we were going to make a living hunting buffalo, she did not want me to kill more than we could dry and pack. She told me that if I brought in an extra hide without the carcass, she would not dress it. One day my brother-in-law and I were travelling on the prairie, and we sighted a little herd of buffalo. I let fly and killed a cow. We skinned it, and took a little of the fattest part of the animal. When we reached our tent, I threw the hide and saddle down. My wife smiled, and lightly kicked the hide away. She meant what she said. I gave the hide to my mother-in-law . . .

We camped there for a week. We had a hundred people in our brigade, and they were all loaded the carts followed the hunters. It took us four days to get home. All around us the buffalo travelled. When we got back to Round Plain [near Dundurn], we found the buffalo there too. We had a good time that winter. Plenty of buffalo.

Published by

Dennis

Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based writer, blogger and a former member of Parliament