Editor’s note: In honour of National Indigenous History Month, RETROactive is pleased to share another post written by historical researcher Matt Hiltermann, on behalf of the Métis Nation of Alberta Region 3. Marsii Matt!
Written by: Matt Hiltermann
The history of the Métis in the MacLeod-Pincher Creek area before 1874 is difficult to parse, due in-part to the shifting nomenclature of the area. During the 19th century, the Belly River was variously applied to not only its modern course, but also the Oldman river between its confluence with the Belly and its confluence with the Bow. Sometimes, its French name, the Gros Ventre River, was even applied to the entirety of the South Saskatchewan. As such, determining where events took place along the so-called “Belly River” can be difficult to determine. Most references to the Belly River, however, likely take place in what is now the Oldman River watershed, so these early accounts are pertinent to discussions of the Métis history at Pincher Creek, Fort MacLeod and Lethbridge.
The lack of literature – both primary and secondary – reflects the distance of the Oldman-Belly watershed from imperial – and later colonial – record makers, such as fur traders and missionaries, who were situated primarily on the North Saskatchewan and Missouri Rivers, hundreds of miles away. Still, while evidence is sparse, the few sources that ventured into the Oldman-Belly Watershed inevitably make mention of Métis people or of Métis families in the area.
The earliest accounts of trading parties into the Belly River country come from Peter Fidler, who wintered among the Peigan there in 1793. Beyond that, it is only mentioned once between 1795 and 1821. The Belly River only comes back into focus during the 1822, when Francis Heron led a party of Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) employees and contracted Freemen into the region as part of the HBC’s Bow River Expedition. On October 27, 1822, “Mr Heron and his Party consisting of Messrs. J.E. Harriott[,] Dond. Manson, Hugh Munro, Alexr Douglas and Twenty men” departed for the Oldman-Belly Watershed. It is worth noting that Harriott would spend most of his career trading with the Blackfoot at Rocky Mountain House and Peigan Post (aka Old Bow Post), while Munro would marry a Piikani woman and live out most of his life among the Blackfoot. It not clear who the other 20 men on the expedition are, although the likes Jimmy Jock Bird, Louis Brunais (Bruneau), Jack and George Ward, and Michel Patenaude were probably among their numbers, as all of these freemen had or would later develop kin connections with the Blackfoot, Tsuut’ina or Gros Ventre, and remained active in the Southern Alberta Trade throughout the 1820s. [i] These men were Métis themselves or gave rise to prominent Métis families.Read more