HINSDALE PIONEER OF FRENCH, CREE., CHIPPEWA DESCENT
TELLS F.B. GILLETTE STORY OF DAYS WHEN BUFFALO
ROAMED PLAINS OF NORTHEASTERN MONTANA
(This is taken from an edition of the Glasgow Courier that
was printed in 1930-31. It is of my grandfather, I have changed
the way they had his name spelled in the article, which was Militaire,
correct spelling, Malaterre. There is also some discrepancy in
his age from what is reported here and what is on church records
in Canada. mdb)
F. B. Gillett
Where the Hudson's Bay company, chartered by King Charles II
of England in 1670, recruited its factors and agents among the
English, Scotch-Irish, Scotch and Welsh and dispatched them into
the wilds of Canada as videttes and outposts, the earliest French
traders and later the Northwest Fur company relied extensively
on employees shipped from France in the beginning and later upon
descendants of these earlier emigres--and mixture of French, Cree,
Chippewa and others of northern tribes.
The issue between the Hudson's Bay company and the Northwest
Fur company was largely determined in and about the old Fort Garry,
later called Winnipeg, the defeat of the Northwest company resulting
in dispersal of the irreconcilable elements among the French descended
population and the Swiss artisans of Lord Selkirk's colony on
Lake Winnipeg. Some sought refuge as far south as present St.
Paul, to give birth to that settlement. Others less adamant in
their principles and loyalties were absorbed into Hudson's Bay
organization, with Fort Garry as the administrative capital of
the northwest empire. It was strategically situated, with waterways
radiating to all points of the compass and with converging overland
trails seeking out the passes and most practicable route to distant
fur producing areas.
Three important routes, among others, were the water and land
trail by the Red River of the North to St. Anthony's Falls, where
in the future were to grow the Twin Cities,(Minneapolis and Saint
Paul). Another westward, on the Saskatchewan and Assinniboine
Rivers, and the third, altogether a land trail on the Hudson Bay
divide to the Turtle Mountains, Woody Mountains, Sweet Grass Hills
and Cypress Hills. This early commerce had found Cadotte's Pass
at the head of the Sun River, coming out onto the Camas prairie
and the Flathead valley.
(The reporter here gives the name Friesian Dupuyer as the name
Charley Malaterres mother.
In the Catholic Church records, she is listed as Freisan Marchand
dit La Pierre. In French "dit" means, known as, or AKA.
My mother told a story that was told to her.
The story was, at the age of about 9 or 10, Freisan had been
found out on the prairie. She was the sole survivor of a small
party of Metis hunters that had been killed by the Sioux. The
girl had been hidden by her parents and not been found by the
Sioux. Louis Malaterre who carried mail for the Hudson’s
Bay Company came upon the remains of the massacre. He found the
girl who had not left the scene and was surviving on the carcass
of a buffalo that had been killed prior to the attack, and rainwater.
He took the young girl to the nuns at St. Anthony Falls, which
later became St. Paul Minnesota. Through the years he would go
to see the girl and when she was older they were married. This
story is no doubt a true version as nothing was to be gained by
telling a story such as this.
Parents of Malaterre
Freighting up and down the Red River of the North for the Hudson's
Bay Company, with ox teams and batteaux, among others, was Louis
Malaterre, couier-du-bois and voyageur, born into the fur trade
of French Canadian, Chippewa and Cree parentage.
At St. Anthony's falls, in later years rechristened St. Paul,
was Freisian Dupuyer, absorbing transiently of learning with the
Malaterre married her and among the children born to them were
John Malaterre, now 82, living at Havre, Mary, later Mrs. John
Parrent, and Charley Malaterre now 75, living at Hinsdale.
Louis Malaterre, in the service of the company headquarters at
Fort Q'Appelle, as a camp tender for distant trappers and hunters,
driving dog teams into the far north and carrying the mail and
messages wherever ordered. His son recalls one trip made by his
father from Q'Appelle to Fort Bufford, thence to Fort Benton and
return, carrying mail with husky dog hitched to a small travois.
Intercepted by hostile Indians on the return trip, the mail carrier
escaped by putting his horse, which had been presented to him
at Fort Benton, into Medicine lake , his enemies being afoot he
was able to elude them by swimming the then broad expanse of the
The Malaterre family soon tired of rude settlements and drifted
with parties of Red river breeds into the buffalo range north
of the Missouri, the Milk and Marias rivers, transporting their
infants and aged on Red River carts and travois, accompanied always
Charley Malaterre of Hinsdale, now 75, first recalls seeing the
Milk river country when he about 10 years old. The party to which
his parents had attached themselves arrived in what is now the
Valley and Phillips county region.
Then the so-called northern herd of buffalo were legion in number,
antelope were as thick as sheep, whitetail and blacktail deer
abounded, there were many elk and the carnivore that preyed upon
them, wolves and silver tip bear, were ever present.
Game birds were rarely killed for food as being too trivial to
waste ammunition on.
Streams were filled with beaver. Long, lush grasses were seen
as far as the eye could reach, lakes existed of considerable magnitude,
where today, the presence of surface water has not been seen within
the memory of most men.
The social economy of the native Indians, the nomad half-breeds
and their French-Canadian associates was little advanced beyond
that of the late stone age and wandering parties moved about from
place to place in the train of restless buffalo herds, their meandering
carrying them about over the immense catchments basin of the Missouri
and its tributaries coming in from the north.
The buffalo supplied meat, bones for household implements, horns
sealed with fats made good food containers. Sinews were used to
sew the hides in the making of teepees. Deer furnished a finer
quality of material for clothing and moccasin, berries of all
sorts were abundant, camas roots and other edible roots were to
had in certain sections and the threat of famine rarely presented
The universal and fundamental law of the plains rovers was conservation
of animal life. Barter supplied such civilized necessities as
the nomads had been converted to by contacts their with traders.
Father DeSmet, Father Palladino and others of the Black Robes
in the Flathead were known to band of which Charley Malaterre
and his parents were members. His only education consisted of
brief periods during two winters at the old St. Peter's mission,
between Helena and Great Falls. The rest was acquired in the "prairie"
Rarely did these bands penetrate south of the Missouri as the
inherent fear of the Sioux from his earliest recollection and
later the terror inspired by Sitting Bull and his warriors operated
as effective deterrent. Malaterre recalls seeing Sitting Bull
on two occasions, one in camp near Tiger Butte, south of present
Glasgow, and again near Black Butte, in the vicinity of present
Havre. At one time, Sioux raiders had seized a trunk full of valuables,
which they buried at the foot of Black Butte, but rainy weather,
mud slides and the elements eliminated all the trace of the hiding
place so that search over many years has failed to disclose the
loot. To this day occasional sporadic effort are made to find
the treasure trove.
SEES MISSOURI FALLS
Malaterre recalls this first view of the Great
Falls of the Missouri. There was a single hunter's cabin where
today stands Great Falls. The buffalo movement was then in progress
across the Missouri near the falls, coming from the direction
of the Judith and headed towards the Cypress hills in the spring
of the year.
Refugees from the disastrous Riel rebellion flocked into American
territory after the debacle of the half-breed war for independence
in Canada in 1870 and joined with their kinsmen and friends in
following the buffalo. Malaterre recalls the story of the gathering
of the nucleus for the Allard-Pablo buffalo herd in the Flathead
in this way.
Sam Pablo and Charley Allard crossed from the Flathead through
Cadotte's pass and made their way into the buffalo range north
of the Marias River, bringing with them several fresh milk cows.
There they harried the buffalo cows until trailing calves were
wearied, then roped a number of calves, transporting them back
to the Flathead and sustaining them meantime on cow's milk.
Malaterre killed his last buffalo just west of Black Coulee,
a tributary coming into the Marias river south of Chester in what
is now Liberty county, the year being 1888 as nearly as he can
Harking back to earlier date, Malaterre relates of being a spectator
of a rarely practiced method of buffalo hunting. This incident
occurred in the territory near Battleford in Saskatchewan, when
he was a boy at 7 or 8, with a band of Cree staging a hunt.
As a preliminary, a shallow coulee narrowing down into the small
box canyon was first selected, low wing fences were thrown up
of rocks, buffalo bones, small sticks and brush, extending to
considerable distances and making a lane about 50 to 100 feet
in width, the canyon further down being blocked by dead falls
and down timber. A high tree in the center of the "cul-de-sac"
thus created was dedicated to the use of the chief medicine man.
TRAPPING THE BUFFALO
All preparations completed, the trap was allowed to stand to
unused until the medicine man sought his station in the high tree,
the hunters stationed themselves in ambush encircling the coulee
basin, all in concealment, and a single rider, mounted on the
fastest horse was dispatched to ride into the lead of the heard,
monotonous chant, gesticulating and weaving about in his saddle.
The curiosity of a single buffalo, or a small group being attracted,
the rider swerved in the direction of the mouth of the lane.The
gregarious herd instinct impelled others to follow in the trail
of the leader and a portion of the herd was generally successfully
diverted into the lane. Such was the perversity of the immense
bests that none apparently had sufficient initiative or ingenuity
to jump over the low obstacles which formed the wing fences. As
soon as a large enough number to supply the anticipated needs
of the camp were corralled in the trap, a small group of Indians
erected a flimsy barrier of poles, brush, hides and colored cloth
across the entrance to deeper section of the coulee. Against this
the buffalo would not retreat. No shot was fired until the medicine
man ordered, after arising in his high station to sing a song
of thanks to the Great Spirit, to perform ritualistic and ceremonial
gesticulations, accompanied by the shaking of rattles, gongs and
With these preliminaries completed, the medicine man pointed
out the old bull or two-year-old heifer that had assumed the leadership
in following the decoy Indian into the trap and admonished all
that its life was sacred and every precaution was taken to safeguard
his animal and allowed its ultimate escape in gratitude after
the slaughter was complete. Then the signal for the shooting was
given and the ambushed Indians arose in their places to proceed
with the killing, firing slowly, methodically, purposefully and
with no confusion or excitement until the imprisoned host was
The smallpox epidemic of 1870, according to Mr. Malaterre, decimated
the plains dwellers and so panic stricken were they that small
groups broke away form the original large bands and stood off
any approaching former friend or relatives at the point of the
gun, thus hoping to avoid contagion and death. Indians arranged
dead on floors to teepees, heads out and feet to the center like
the spokes of a wheel, and left after weighing edges of the buffalo
hide teepees down with stones. With the passage of time, action
of wind, weather, sum and frost disintegrated the teepee covers
exposing the whitened bones of the victims of the scourge safe
from desecration at the hands of man by reason of fear until wandering
stock and the elements should scatter the memorial. Until well
into the eighties, these rings could be seen in all stages of
disintegration in many sections of the Missouri basin.
Mr. Malaterre memory is keen, although his sight is dimming with
the years, his carriage erect and step is brisk. He carries a
carved diamond willow cane with its handle formed from the horn
of a two-year- old buffalo heifer and his happiness is complete
when chance brings another pioneer across his path to recall transiently
to life from behind the curtain of eternity that legion of hardy,
rough and courageous associated of the old days before civilization
had conquered the northwest.
My grandfather passed away in June of 1932. Melvin Beaudry