The Pemmican War of 1811-1816

We have seen that while the eastern part of North America was involved in wars and rebellions from a period of 1756 to 1837 (Seven Years War, American Revolution, War of 1812, 1837 Rebellions), the northwestern part of North America was still very much in the thick of the fur trade.

Two fur trading companies, the Hudson`s Bay Company and the North-West Company were battling it out to see who could make the most money buying and selling furs in North America. It wasn`t much of a battle.  The Hudson`s Bay Company had a massive geographical advantage in that it could take ocean-going ships half-way across the continent, whereas the North-West Company had to rely on an elaborate system of lakes and rivers that old French fur traders had established during the days of New France. The North-West company remained competitive as long there was new territory to find and exploit.  This ended in July of 1793 when Alexander Mackenzie reached the Pacific Ocean by land. This meant that there was simply no more fur trading areas to reach.  The Hudson`s Bay Company`s competitive advantage eventually started to wear on its failing competitor.

To further pressure the North-West Company, the HBC began opening up areas for agricultural settlement.  Agriculture and settlement meant the end of the fur trade and when the HBC started the Selkirk settlement in southern Manitoba, the demise of the fur trade soon followed.

The problem with the Selkirk settlement was that is was strategically located where the Metis had set up shop trading and supplying Pemmican to the North-West company voyageurs.  The Metis owed their livelihood (not to mention their origin)to the fur trade.  The Selkirk settlement was a clear and direct threat to their way of life. When the Metis mentioned to the HBC that they maybe could have moved their settlement somewhere that wouldn`t bring about the ruin of the Metis way of life, arguments started.  These arguments led to armed battles, which for a five-year period between 1811 and 1816 became known as the Pemmican War.  The last and most violent of these battles was at Seven Oaks in 1816.  Here is a summary:

By the way, pemmican seems like really cool stuff.It is a mixture of powdered dried meat, berries, and sugar or honey.  Apparently,  it can last for years and is highly nutritious and calorie dense.  It could sustain voyageurs for months at a time. Here is a recipe that I found and that we will try in class.

Pemmican

Recipe # 1

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups lean meat (deer, beef, caribou or moose)
  • 3 cups dried fruit
  • 2 cups rendered fat
  • Unsalted nuts and about 1 shot of honey

Instructions:

Meat should be as lean as possible and double ground from your butcher if you do not have you own meat grinder. Spread it out very thin on a cookie sheet and dry at 180 degrees F for at least 8 hours or until sinewy and crispy. Pound the meat into nearly a powder consistency using a blender or other tool. Grind the dried fruit, but leave a little bit lumpy for fun texture. Heat rendered fat on the stove at medium until liquid. Add liquid fat to dried meat and dried fruit, and mix in nuts and honey. Mix everything by hand. Let cool and store. Can keep and be consumed for several years.

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