8: The First Hunters
the most recent retreat of
glaciers that covered this land,
humans, who had populated other parts of the world, made their way to
Turtle Mountain. It was the first place in the region to be free of
ice. It was soon home to both the hunter and the hunted.
The Clovis Culture
The first to arrive were a group we call the Clovis Culture. That was
about 12000 years ago.
They came from the south, around New Mexico and Arizona, and would have
moved north slowly as the climate warmed and the ice
know little about them, but can identify them by the tools they left
behind, especially the stone points they crafted for the tips of their
Clovis points that have been found in Southwestern Manitoba were made
of Knife River flint from southern North Dakota, and crafted into sharp
points shaped like a willow leaf. Attached to sturdy spears,
points could be used to take down even the huge woolly mammoth.
Taking down a mammoth would take skill, teamwork, courage and the best
weapon you could get. These spear points would have been very valuable.
The next “settlers” were the Folsom people. Their spear points were
smaller and thinner than the Clovis points. This may have been because
they were hunting smaller animals. Mammoths had slowly become
It was pre-historic buffalo that the Folsom hunters hunted.
From about 10000 to 70000 years ago the Plano people hunted buffalo and
pronghorn here. Pronghorn are the only large mammals in North
to survive the coming of man. But buffalo were becoming the most
By about 6000 years ago, agriculture, which developed far to the south,
had appeared in Manitoba.
The Pronghorn survived in Manitoba until about 1900, and now prefers
the wide-open spaces of Saskatchewan and Alberta.
9: Big Game
There was a time when mastodons, mammoths, camels, horses, and huge
long-haired bison roamed the Souris Plains and sought shelter on Turtle
Traces of them start to disappear at about the end of the last ice age
– about 12000 BC, and by 6000 BC two-thirds of the species of North
American mammals that weighed more than 60 kilograms at maturity had
Could it have been that the climate was getting warmer and drier? The
animals that travelled in large herds may have not been able to adapt.
Or the warmer temperatures may have disrupted breeding cycles.
If climate was the problem, why were the animals not able to move to a
more suitable region?
Another possibility is that these large mammals faced a new threat –
As the ice retreated, human hunters spread across the continent,
continually improving and adapting their hunting practices. These
humans, unlike the other predators, were able to organize and
improvise. They were deadly enemies.
Perhaps the climate may have weakened the populations and the humans
finished them off.
A mammoth tusk found in Southern Manitoba, on display at the Moncur
Gallery in Boissevain
A mammoth skull
For more about Big Game
10: The Buffalo People
about 4500 years ago the
was similar to what we have today.
In Southwestern Manitoba a series of cultures developed great skill in
hunting and using the buffalo.
When the first European traders and explorers came to this land they
found that the people here depended on the buffalo for nearly
everything. It was their main food. The hides gave them shelter and
clothing. Tools were made from the bones and sinews.
By drying the meat in strips and pounding in fat and berries they made
pemmican – a food that was nutritious and would last nearly forever
The lifestyle was developed over hundreds of years.
The Oxbow culture were perhaps the first to stew or boil their meat by
placing heated stones in a lined pit full of water, meat and bones. It
was an especially good way of removing the rich marrow from cracked
bison bones. They also left the first tepee rings, and they were the
first to bury their dead. They lived in the region for a long time.
The McKean people continued to perfect methods for killing, processing,
and using the buffalo. A well-known buffalo kill and butchering site at
Cherry Point on Oak Lake has yielded important artifacts left there
over 2000 years ago. They would drive small herds into the marsh at the
edge of the lake where some would get bogged down were hunters could
kill them with spears.
The Pelican Lake People may have been the first to think of killing
buffalo by driving herds over steep cliffs. They also seem to have
perfected the use of the Buffalo Pound – herding animals into a fenced
enclosure where they could kill them with spears. They traded widely to
the south and east, and crafted ornaments from the shells and copper
The Besant-Sonata Culture was also a trading culture. Remains of their
pottery have been found in dozens of sites throughout southern
Manitoba, including sites along the Souris River, and at Clay Banks
Buffalo Jump site near Cartwright.
11: The Buffalo Lifestyle
buffalo you might see in a zoo
today would weigh no more than 1,500
kg and have a maximum height of 1.80 metres.
But its ancestors, who roamed the Souris Plains about 10000 years ago,
were much bigger. Bison latifrons it was called. It was 2.5 meters high
and his head held an antler more than 2.5 meters long.
An artist has imagined what the modern and the
Ice-Age animals might look like side by side.
About 5000 years ago the buffalo cultures became the main residents of
the plains. Vegetation and climate stabilized, evolving to what we know
Hunting practices probably evolved along with the buffalo.
From 1000 to 2000 years ago southwestern Manitoba was home to many
seasonal camp and bison kill sites for hunter-gatherers.
Elsewhere in North America during those times Inca, Mayan and Aztec
civilizations of Central and South America had erected large
The Anasazi, or Ancient Pueblo Peoples were building cliff dwellings in
Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. To the east the Iroquois and
Huron civilizations flourished in their large villages.
The north-central plains were one spot in North America were
agriculture wasn’t important. The climate wasn’t suitable and the huge
bison herds provided nearly everything the people needed.
This region was home to several cultures that were very good at using
Of course they took advantage of other available large game, they
trapped small animals, and foraged for seeds and vegetables.
They adapted to their surrounding.
The hunter / gatherer lifestyle was the logical choice for the time and
place. In other places, and at other times, other strategies were
12: The Hunt
centuries the Plains People
found hunting methods that worked for
them in their region. If there were steep cliffs or valleys, they
might create a buffalo jump, by herding the animals over the edge.
If there were no hills they might build a buffalo pound – a fenced in
area - and trap the animals inside where they could be shot by arrows.
The Pelican Lake people used Buffalo Jumps and perfected the use of the
Buffalo Pound. They traded widely to the south and east and crafted
ornaments from the shells and copper they obtained.
The Brockinton Site along the Souris River near Melita, has been
carefully examined and is one of many buffalo kill sites in
The site was occupied by three different cultures over the last 1600
years. These occupations left behind valuable evidence about how the
people lived. For instance, things like the type of pottery they used
and the type of material they used for arrowheads tell us about where
they traded, and how far they might have travelled.
Buffalo bones can easily be found today along the banks of the Souris
marshy shoreline along Oak
was a favorite kill site over 1000
years ago. The McKean People would drive buffalo into the marsh where
they could more easily kill them with spears.
13: Weapons and Tools
The Awesome Atlati
The spear is used all across the world.
The bow and arrow was created in Africa and the first people to arrive
in North America brought them along.
They also brought along the atlati - a powerful weapon capable of
sending a projectile over 120 yards and killing a wooly mammoth.
It was the first complex weapon system developed by humans. It
originated in Europe over 30,000 years ago and spread wherever humans
The atlatl consists of two parts: the atlatl itself and the dart. The
atlatl is held in the hand, and acts as a lever to propel the dart with
more force. The atlatl can be made completely of wood, bone, or both
and some may incorporate weights made from stone or shell.
Numerous detachable tips that were used on weapons such as arrows or
spears have been collected. Stone points may be unifacial (one cutting
edge) or bifacial and may be manufactured by flaking or grinding.
Projectile points are particularly useful time markers for the
archaeologist because of members of a culture, often kept to a
For example, three styles of projectile points are associated with the
McKean culture: McKean, Duncan and Hanna. The McKean has a concave base
with no side notching, the Duncan has a similar base but includes
side-notching. The Hanna point has wider corner notches.
Scrapers were also generally made of stone. They were used to scrape
hides to remove hair and fat, and to soften skin. They were also used
for cutting skin.
Scrapers are typically formed by chipping the end of a flake of stone
in order to create one sharp side and to keep the rest of the sides
dull so you could hang on to them.
14: The First Nations
The Turtle Mountain – Souris Plains area has been home to many
cultures, and on trading routes that connected those cultures to others
far distant from here. In the past 2000 years the people living
increased their dependence on immense herds of buffalo.
The herds were always on the move and roamed a huge territory. To make
use of them the hunters had to move with them. Permanent villages were
By the 1700’s when explorers from New France began showing an interest
in this region, it was often visited by hunters from Nakota
(Assiniboine), Dakota (Sioux), Cree, and Ojibway people.
It was the Nakota, whom LaVerendrye encountered on his trips in 1838
Over the centuries various cultures developed better weapons and
sharper tools. They learned to use all parts of a buffalo carcass to
provide food, clothing, shelter and tools. They developed hunting
methods, relying on stealth, marksmanship, camouflage, and finally the
mass killing fields allowed by pounds and jumps. They got really good
at harvesting and using the most readily available resource on the
A successful society is able to offer its people a fair chance at
health and happiness. They were successful.
The Plains People were originally from the east where they had lived in
villages, and existed by hunting, gathering and growing crops.
When they moved to the plains they had to be able to move with the
buffalo. They developed portable houses called teepees.
Today we refer to descendants of these groups of people as First
Nations. Their ancestors have a long history in this land.
Campsite and Villages
The Souris River and its valley had resources that both animals and
humans need. It offered a reliable source of fresh water, shelter,
game, wood and wild fruit.
The river had been witness to the activities of the large-game hunting
societies of the Clovis and Folsom people who closely followed the
receding glaciers. These and later peoples left evidence of their
travels and habitations in the area – tipi rings, fireplaces, medicine
wheels, surface graves and stone circles are only some of the
impressions that remain.
Turtle Mountain also afforded shelter and resources for campsites, both
short and long term.
15: Territory Changes 1805 - 1877
In 1805 the southwest corner was
mainly Assiniboine territory.
when this map shows that the Ojibway were the main occupants of
this land. The Assiniboine had moved west.
16: The Assinibione (Nakota)
Assiniboine (Nakota) Camp, Manitoba, July 17, 1874
In the summer of 1738 a group of about 100 Assiniboine lodges camped
beside Cherry Creek (near present-day Boissevain) had an interesting
visitor. A group of French traders led by Sieur de la Verendrye came to
them with a request.
He was looking for a route to what he referred to as a Western Sea. He
knew of a tribe he called the Mandans who lived somewhere to the south.
He wanted help in finding them.
Several of the Assiniboine agreed to travel with him to show him the
way to the Mandan villages on the Missouri River.
The Assiniboine were good partners to the Europeans. They gained new
trade goods, which made their work easier. In turn, the Assiniboine
helped Europeans traders as middlemen, excellent horsemen, and
providers of food to trading posts.
From the Lake of the Woods region, the Assiniboine moved west sometime
before 1680. It was here on the prairies that the Assiniboine
discovered the buffalo.
They wintered in places like Turtle Mountain where shelter and wildlife
In the long run, the relationship with European traders had a
devastating effect on the Assiniboine. Along with trade goods the
newcomers brought whiskey, guns and disease – the guns proved useful
but the whiskey and disease caused great damage.
One-half to two-thirds of the population died in the smallpox epidemic
of 1780-81, before being cut in half again in the 1819-20 epidemic of
measles and whooping cough.
By 1865, the Assiniboine were reduced to about one-tenth their original
number. They migrated west and this once dominant nation were placed on
reserves in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Montana. Manitoba has no
Assiniboine reserves, only individual members living off-reserve.
Only a few hundred remain today and are known by their original name -
17: The Dakota
Turtle Mountain Dakota. Chief H'Damani is seen here third from the
The Dakota people have deep roots in the Turtle Mountain – Souris
In the 1600 and 1700’s the Dakota lived in in territory that is now
Ontario, Quebec and the north-eastern US states.
In 1851 the Dakota were forced to sign a treaty with the powerful
American government. They were forced to surrender all of their land
and move west.
In the summer of 1862 a minor confrontation led to a widespread armed
revolt as some of the more desperate leaders tried to reclaim their
lands, their lives, and a different future for their children.
The uprising failed, and soon after, about 1000 Dakota came to
Manitoba. They arrived claiming that they had an historic right to be
on British soil; that these lands were in fact part of their
The Canadian government allowed the Dakota to stay but never did sign a
Treaty with them.
Turtle Mountain Reserve (IR#60)
In 1862 a Dakota Santee band led by Chief H'damani claimed to have
bought the land referred to as “Turtle Mountain” from the Ojibway and
requested a reserve for his people.
At first the Manitoba Government declined, but H’Damani was determined
to provide for his people. When he refused to move to the Oak Lake
Reserve when it opened in 1877, the government finally gave in and the
Turtle Mountain Reserve was established. It became the smallest reserve
in Canada, measuring only one square mile.
Later H'damani and a few others turned down a $200 government pay-off
to relocate to a reserve near Pipestone. By 1909, only H’damani, his
grandson Chaske (later known as Sitting Eagle) and a few others