Livingston Family History & Genealogy
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The Red River Valley was the first real home of the Metis people. There were different kinds of Metis. Most of the French Metis worked for the North West Company. Most of the British Metis worked for the Hudson's Bay Company. Some Metis didn't work for either company. Instead, they preferred to hunt and trap for themselves and sell or trade what they caught for what they needed from the fur companies. These Metis were known as Free Men. Sam Livingston, Flatboat Mclean and James Gibbons met at Fort Steele, BC, it was then called Wild Horse Creek. McLean told Gibbons about the gold in the river in Edmonton. A party of fifteen prospectors left Edmonton. They travelled by way of the Kicking Horse Pass to where Banff is now. They intended to follow an Indian trail to Mountain House Fort, but they became lost in the snow and had to return to Banff. They followed the Bow River down to where Calgary is now and thence to Mountain House. A Blackfoot raiding party took their horses and they arrived at Mountain House on foot. That party consisted of Jim Gibbons, Sam Livingston, Tom Smith and Big Tex. Richard Hardisty was in charge of the Fort and the men stayed there until spring and then came to Edmonton. Jim Gibbons went down to the Methodist Mission at Pakan, about seventy miles down the Saskatchewan River. With him were Sandy Anderson, Sam Livingston and Mike Shannon. The Reverend George McDougall was in charge. His wife and children were also there. In the spring of 1866, they mined gold on the Saskatchewan River and made about sixteen dollars a day. The work could only be done when the river was low enough to work the sand bars. Jim Gibbons stayed at Pakan that winter. In the Fall on 1867, Gibbons went with the Indians to hunt buffalo, South of where Vegreville is now. The plains were alive with buffalo. Gibbons spent the winter of 1867-68 with the Indians. In the summer of 1869, James Gibbons, with two partners, went to live at Miner's Flats (now Laurier Park).
The rest of the story is a insert from the book "Tell Me, Grandmother" as told by Dennis Dowler.
Grandfather Sam lived with his family in Wisconsin for a number of years. He was happy because he was free. Cousin Walter showed me some of the letters Grandfather Sam wrote to his parents back in Ireland. He called America the "Garden of Eden," a "Land of Promise flowing Bounteously with Food for Man." As Grandmother Jane always said, he had a way with words. But they weren't enough to persuade his parents and younger brothers and sisters to come to a strange country even when he told them that "for $1.25 an acre you can get ground and you won't have to manure it either." He finally convinced his brothers William and Richard to join him in America, but Grandfather Sam couldn't understand why the rest of the family stayed in Ireland, a land he said was full of "hunger, thirst, wickedness, wars, envy and distress."
He was so happy to be living in America that in 1850 he decided to put up with the dangers and hardships of the Oregon and California trails and go to California to seek his fortune digging gold. Grandfather Sam reached California in good spirits but he didn't find enough gold to return to Ireland a rich man, as he hoped. He found just enough to keep him looking for more. Still, he loved travelling and as a Forty-Niner, he covered a lot of country south across the Rio Grande River to Mexico, north through California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington, still further north to British Columbia and the North West Territories. He never struck it rich but he enjoyed himself; he was free and made a lot of friends.
In 1857 he heard of gold on the Fraser and Thompson river in New Caledonia, as British Columbia was then called. While Grandfather Sam was looking for gold in the Kootenay region of the Rocky Mountains, he met his friend James Gibbons. Mr. Gibbons had come from Fort Edmonton with some other prospectors and they were excited about the fine gold to be found on the North Saskatchewan River. But it was so fine that most of the prospectors didn't know how to extract the gold grains from the sand. Grandfather Sam though he could do it, so a party of fourteen prospectors, his friend Mr. Gibbons included, set off with him to try and find this fine gold.
They had to first find the North Saskatchewan River. There was no trail and they had no map. They had to fight their way through thick forests, over high mountains, along rushing rivers. Grandmother Jane said they used the Kicking Horse Pass to get to what we now call Banff. That was 1864 and nobody lived at Banff then. They tried to go across country to Rocky Mountain House but they still couldn't find the North Saskatchewan River. They found rivers but they didn't know which ones they were or where they went. Finally the prospectors split into three parties: one gave up and went south to Montana; the second wandered east along the Bow; and the third, consisting of Grandfather Sam and James Gibbons, rode north on horseback.
They followed game trails, Indian trails, creeks and rivers. They drifted about all summer, lost a lot of time and used up all their food. Summer passed into fall and still they hadn't found the North Saskatchewan River. By October they had used up all their ammunition and were forced to eat their horses. Eventually they were down to one horse, and they even lost that .... to a party of Blackfoot Indians.
Desperate, lost, weak from hunger and shivering from cold, they saw the trail of a travois in the snow and followed it. They had no idea where it led, but they stumbled along it until, more dead than alive, they collapsed at Rocky Mountain House.
Chief Factor Hardisty saved them from starvation. He welcomed them into the fort and gave them all the food he had .... rabbit stew .... and a bunk to sleep on. There wasn't much else because the Blackfoot Indians, angry that they were told to take their furs down river to Fort Edmonton, had burned the fort at Rocky Mountain House. It had been closed since the year before. There were very few people left .... just the Factor, a few Hudson's Bay workers and the famous missionary, Father Lacombe, who had his shack across the river. Chief Factor Hardisty let Sam and James rest for a week, them he gave them snowshoes and pointed the way to Fort Edmonton further down the North Saskatchewan River.
It was the middle of December 1864 when the two prospectors reached Fort Edmonton. By this time, so heartily sick of rabbit stew. They didn't want to stay at Fort Edmonton because at the time it was very small and the few workers living there spoke mostly French, Gaelic and Cree. Grandfather Sam asked if there was any other place he and his friend could stay for the winter until it was time to pan gold again, a place where people spoke English. Chief Factor Christie and Malcolm Groat, another Hudson's Bay Company man, pointed the two adventures down river to Fort Victoria, a good couple of days snowshoeing away. And that was where he met Grandmother Jane. Sam and James Gibbons stayed in Fort Victoria all winter. When the ice went in the spring, Mr. Gibbons decided to seek adventure somewhere else and he went away to Fort Edmonton. He has his name on the map too .... the town of Gibbons, near Edmonton, Alberta, is named after him.
Sam Livingston's funeral was supposed to be simple but it turned out to be the largest one in Calgary for many years. Over forty carriages joined in the procession. The N
This rest of the story is an insert from the book "Tell Me, Grandmother," as told by Dennis Dowler.
The sqwack of a car horn broke the stillness of the hot summer afternoon. I jumped up in excitement, abandoned the weeding and ran to the fence. Trundling noisily down the road in front of the house was a motor car .... a Model T Ford built in 1908. My father called it a Tin Lizzie.
Most families drove a horse and buggy, but some people had motors cars and they often drove past our place showing them off, tooting their horns and waving. Tin Lizzies could ride over the roughest roads and grind through mud better than a horse and buggy but they were a lot more noisy.
Grandmother Jane, who had been sitting beside me, sewing patches of cloth for a quilt, agreed. She looked up when the car went by. "That's certainly faster than how we travelled when I was your age, Dennis."
"What did you use, Grandmother Jane?" I rubbed the dirt from my hands and sat on the ground beside her chair. "You couldn't go very far in your travois."
"We used the travois for short trips, dear, but the Metis of the Red River Settlement were famous for their Red River carts. You think that Model T Ford is noisy, do you? You should have heard the noise made by a thousand Red River carts. The Indian people said they made so much noise that the buffalo hid in holes in the ground. Some settlers said that the squeaking and creaking of cart wheels made their blood run cold."
"Ooh," I grinned, "just like mine does when I scrape my fingernails across a slate."
"Well, imagine a thousand of them and you'll know what I mean," smiled Grandmother Jane.
"But why were the carts so noisy?"
"Because every part was made of wood, and you know what wood scraping on wood sounds like. We had no oil in those days, just buffalo grease. And even if you had greased the wheels, they would have been choked by the dust that the carts threw up from the dry prairie."
Grandmother Jane showed me a picture of a Red River cart. It looked pretty rickety. Its two wooden wheels were gigantic, almost six feet high. They were dish-shaped or bowed in such a way that their rims didn't cut deeply in the ground but rolled more easily over the bumps. The axles were just small logs lashed together with buffalo hide. Grandmother Jane said the hide was put on wet so that it shrank tight when it dried. Between the wheels there was a box or platform surrounded by a thin railing. Before they had spokes, the wheels were merely slabs from tree trunks with a hole in the middle for an axle. You wouldn't think that a cart like that could carry up to a thousand pounds, but Grandmother Jane said a Red River cart was strong enough to carry the family and all their skins and furs and household belongings. A cart was sometimes so heavy that it needed three oxen to pull it. They floated across rivers too. The wheels were taken off, strapped them to the bottom of the platform and covered everything with buffalo skins. Then the cart was tied to the horse's tail with a shaggannappi and the horse swam across the river pulling the cart. A shaggannappi was a thong made of green buffalo hide. Rope wasn't strong enough.
Although the idea behind the Red River cart probably came from the Scottish Highlands and French Quebec, it was the Metis people of the Red River who developed it. The Metis used Red River carts so much that the Cree called the Metis by a name which meant "half wagon, half man."
Metis were the first to use Red River carts to bring home meat from the hunt and crops from the fields. After 1852 when the railway reached the Mississippi River, Metis working for the Hudson's Bay Company used carts to freights goods between Fort Garry and St. Paul in Minnesota. This became a more popular route than going north to York Factory in York boats, as they did before. Travellers also used Red River cars to go across the prairie to Fort Edmonton. But the most exciting time to use them must have been on buffalo hunts. Twice a year, usually June and September, as many as two thousand people .... Metis, Indians and a few whites .... met on the plains for a buffalo hunt. The Metis loved buffalo hunting. And how they loved to dress for it! The men wore their most colorful clothes .... blue corduroy pants, brass buttons, red flannel sashes, jaunty caps and moccasins worked with all kinds of beads and quills.
The Metis usually gathered at one of two places .... White Horse Plain, about twenty miles west of Fort Garry; and Pembina, seventy-five miles south of Fort Garry. They took up so much space they must have looked like an army.
Janes father, Henry Howse, led one of the bands. "He was a caravan master." He got the carts lined up in their proper positions. He tried to place a cart with older men beside one with younger children so that the strongest could help and protect the weakest. Then he'd call out each family's name and each had to answer with its own bird call. The Howse families call was a Loon. The caravan master knew all the calls, and from time to time, he used them along the trail to check that each family was getting along all right.
Grandmother Jane told me there were several ways to hunt buffalo. One way was to surround the animals on the open plain, then ride round and round to drive them into the center of a corral. Another way was to chase them into a pen or a pound made of brush. A third way was to chase them over a steep cliff or cut bank in the river. The buffalo wouldn't be able to stop when they got to the edge, and over they'd go to their deaths .... whole herds at a time. This method was called a jumping pound.
Our family didn't suffer as much as others did. Her father worked for wages at the Hudson's Bay Company. It brought in food from St. Paul, Minnesota. My brothers set nets in the ice for catfish and pike. My sisters and I scoured the bushes for late-season berries and rose hips. We snared rabbits and got foxes in dead falls. And fortunately we had some pemmican left over from the year before. The Metis people in the Red River Settlement were famous throughout the plains for their first-grade pemmican. In those days pemmican was a mixture of dried buffalo meat, melted buffalo fat and dried summer berries.