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Hunting, Trapping, and 2 Journals

Hunting, Trapping, and 2 Journals

Since writing my article on Euro-American trapping and hunting in the Great Lakes, I have been reading and rereading more journals with this idea in mind. About 6 months ago, I was rereading Michel Curot’s journal from 1803-4 and found some gems. I was especially excited since Curot was a trader on the Yellow River in WISCONSIN. This was truly local info and not the more Northwestern stuff that I typically find more of this happening on.

In Curot’s journal, we see continual hunting for waterfowl and fishing (especially with nets but also with spear) by Curot’s men. Also, steel traps seem to be mentioned on a few occasions, showing again that they existed at least to an extent in Wisconsin. Some of the hunting and fishing was likely for amusement but mostly to help provision the post. Fishing especially seemed to provide a considerable food necessity, and when the nets were empty… the men went hungry. This seems a common theme throughout the Great Lakes.

Beyond just waterfowl and fish, we also see some hunting for bigger game and fur bearers. Sometimes, the men hunt on their own, sometimes with local native hunters.

“Le petit Loup went with Savoiard deer hunting but they killed nothing. I stayed at this encampment.” Not too successful but there are other accounts of better success like when Smith kills a deer on Jan. 31st 1804.

Speaking of the destinations of some of the men; “… Reaume, where he could set traps for beaver and otter and also hunt deer.”

Jan. 6, 1804 “Smith” is credited for a beaver and a lynx. on the 8 & 9th “Smith killed an otter that he gave me on account for what he had had from me.” Smith again on April 15 & 16th “Yesterday Smith visited the nets and took 6 fish. He gave me on account 2 muskrat skins.” I wonder if these muskrats were accidental catches in his fish net?

Another journal that was just suggested to me by my friend Jeremy Kingsbury is Duncan M’Gillivray: at Ft. George on the Saskatchewan 1794,95. He suggested this for the large amount of hunting and fishing in it. This journal is truly a gem for this. Only a few pages into the journal, while the men are voyaging to their wintering post, they stumble across a beaver lodge and decided to take profits into their own hands. This detailed description of what they did is given:

“At noon we found a Beaver lodge built on the side of a small dam; as it appeared a task of no great difficulty we resolved to work it; for this purpose we began by cutting passage in the dam, in order to evacuate the water which left them with out any resource to save themselves but their lodge. This we afterwards attacked, and destroyed in a few hours the fabric which their ingenuity had been constructing for many years – in short we killed the whole of this family, which consisted of 4 old Beavers with as many young ones and carried them to the Canoes…”

One of the coolest parts of the journal is that M’Gillivray sends out a number of his men to live as and among the Indian for the winter. This would have greatly reduced the amount of provisions he would have needed and mouths and bodies to shelter and feed. Additionally, it helped bring in hides for the company. M’Gillivray states:

“About 15 men who are permitted to pass the Winter in the Plains, have been this day equipped with ammunition &c and whatever furs they chance to Kill will be traded on the Indian terms. – Sent off 2 men who are engaged to hunt for the Fort during 3 months.”

As mentioned, beyond the 15 that were sent off to hunt and trap for the winter as natives, 2 additional men were sent off to hunt to provision for the post. The men that were engaged to go off and hunt were in addition to the hunting of the men still at the post and M’Gillivray himself. The meat this hunting provides is dear to the men and necessary to get them through the very cold prairie winter. Of the cost of these provisions, M’Gillivray states, “Provisions are very expensive in this Department; the two Hunters have scarcely killed 200 Buffalos and their payment will amount to 7 or 800 Beavers, exclusive of the ammunition they have already expended…” What the men do not hunt for themselves, they have to purchase from the natives. This cost dips into profits and, at times, was quite costly. Shrewd local natives even took advantage of this as shown when M’Gillivray is talking about the scarcity of game due to prairie fires burning at that time. “The Indians often make use of this method [my note: setting prairie to fire] to frighten away the animals in order to enhance the value of their own provisions.”

Another enlightening quote from M’Gillivray is on hunting in general and his attitude toward it as both entertainment, exercise, and preparation for the life of a wintering trading party.

“Hunting is the only amusement which this Country affords and we enjoy it in the most extensive sense of the word. In our vacations from business we fly to it with impatience to pass a few agreable hours and when we are successfull it gives us satisfaction, to think that we have united pleasure and profit together, as we depend entirely for subsistence, on the animals arround the Fort; besides from the nature of the Country & quantity of animal food which we devour, I am persuaded that violent exercise is very necessary for the preservation of the constitution and no pastime whatever is better calculated to promote health and inure the Body to the hardships & fatigues which we are often forced to undergo, that the chace.”

This quote also gives us some thoughts on the importance of us as reenactors actually going out and hunting and trapping as these men did. If this is what helped acclimate the men to ” the hardships & fatigues which we are often forced to undergo” it also will us a taste of what it was like to winter as a fur trade employee. It is these tastes and experiences that help us understand the history on a more personal level and create in us the experiences and skills that we wish to portray at reenactment.

Towards the end of the journal (May 8th) it mentions that the 15 men return from hunting beaver for the winter (therefore, according to my math, having been out 7 months and a day ) “… they have Killed in all about 2,000 Beavers most of which are of the first quality.” That is a considerable amount of beaver hunting/trapping for 15 men.

Again, the more I read, the more I see European descent men also engaging in trapping and hunting game in the Great Lakes fur trade. While most hides and provisions are being hunted and trapped by the American Indians of these areas, the time spent, especially during the winter lull, trapping and hunting by the white fur trade employees is surprising.

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