Mountain Men and Life in the Rocky

Subject Guide


Mountain West

Malachite’s Big Hole

Sled Dogs Gone Wild:

Dogs have always been subject to their instincts, whether idling around the camp or in the harness.  Given the proper distraction and they would forget all else to hunt and chase.  The following story is recorded by Alexander Ross and takes place in the area of the Red River Colony.  

Many a curious and amusing incident occurs at buffalo-hunting, one of which may be noticed by way of example. A friend of the writer’s, about this time, went to enjoy a few weeks’ sport in the plains, and often repeated, with a comic and serious air, a scene which took place in his own presence. Some of the hunters who were accompanying him were conveying their families across a large plain, intersected here and there with clumps of wood. When in the act of rounding one of those woody islands, a herd of buffalo suddenly burst into view, causing two dogs who were drawing a sled, on which a child and some luggage were being conveyed, to set off at full speed in pursuit, leaving the father and mother in a state of despair for the safety of their only child. The dogs soon reached the heels of the buffalo, and all were mixed pell-mell together; the dogs running, the sled swinging to and fro, and the buffalo kicking. At length a bull gored one of the dogs, and his head getting entangled in the harness, went off at the gallop, carrying the dog on his horns, the other suspended by the traces, and the sled and child whirling behind him. The enraged animal ran a good half mile before he shook himself clear of the encumbrance, although pursued by a large party, by whom many shots were fired at him without effect. The state of the parents’ feelings may be imagined; yet, to their utter astonishment, although both dogs were killed, the child escaped unhurt!

(For the source of this story see pages 16824, 16860, 16934, 18275-6 of the Selkirk Papers, M186, Manitoba Archives; Alexander Ross, The Red River Settlement…. 1856. page 247)

Paul Kane tells a similar story based on an event starting January 6th of 1848.  A wedding party consisting of a Mr. Rowand, his bride and 9 additional men were traveling from Edmonton to Fort Pitt, a distance of 200 miles, via dogsled.  The party had three carioles and six sledges, each drawn by four dogs.  On the day of January 10th Kane provides us with the following description.  

During the day a diverting occurrence took place, although it might have turned out very serious. A herd of buffaloes had come down the bank on to the ice, and did not perceive our approach until the foremost sledge was so near them as to excite the dogs, who rushed furiously after them, not withstanding all the efforts of the men to stop them. The spirit of the hunt was at once communicated through the whole line, and we were soon all, carioles and sledges, dashing along at a furious rate after the buffaloes. The frightened animals made a bold dash at last through a deep snow bank, and attempted to scramble up the steep bank of the river, the top of which the foremost one had nearly reached, when, slipping, he rolled over and knocked those behind, one on top of another, down into the deep snow-drift amongst the men and dogs, who were struggling in it.  It would be impossible to describe the wild scene of uproar and confusion that follwed. Some of our sledges were smashed, and one of the men was nearly killed; but at last we succeeded in getting clear and repairing the damages.  We then continued our wedding tour.

Paul Kane’s Frontier, By Paul Kane, 1971, pages 141-142.

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