Sunday, 29 December 2013

The Beef Jerky Wars

Although not technically beef jerky, Pemmican, is as close as you are going to get. Pemmican is a mixture of fat and protein (mainly buffalo, but deer, beef or anything else that was available), and is a nutritious food. It is a Cree food used by fur traders to remain nourished during the long treks across the Canadian plains during the turn of the century. It began with the Red River community in what is now Winnipeg Manitoba. The Metis began making it, as it basically lasts 'forever; without going bad. So how does something like Pemmican cause a war? I will show you how.

In 1811, Thomas Douglas, the 5th Earl of Selkirk, set up the community of Red River, on a 116,000 Sq miles of land granted to him from the Hudson's Bay Company, in what is now Winnipeg. Douglas had a growing interest in the HBC, and wanted his Red River colony to help block fur trade to the rival North West Company. In 1814, the Governor of Red River, issued a proclamation limiting the number of buffalo that could be slaughtered per season by the local Metis peoples. This proclamation caused the Metis to call for their own sovereign Red River State for the Metis. They continued to ignore the proclamation, and killed more buffalo than they were allowed. They stopped exporting buffalo meat, but continued make it into Pemmican, which was consumed locally and sold to traders passing through the Red River Valley.

In 1815,  the Governor forbade the export of local goods, which included Pemmican. In the process, he confiscated more than 400 pouches of Pemmican belonging to the North West Company. He forced the NWC to then close its trading posts within the limits of the Red River Community, and as a result the Nor'Westerners  and their Metis allies vowed to wage a war against the community. Cuthbert Grant was granted the position of Captain-General of the Metis militia groups and designed a Metis flag for their to-be sovereign state.

With the fear of complete bloodshed, only 13 families remained in the Red River community, the rest had been driven out or left for their safety, and the Governor quickly surrendered.  The numerous Metis militia groups continued to raze farms and burned buildings in the colony to show their anger with the local government.

The Metis demanded that the HBC remove the grants given to the Red River community and allow them free rain to hunt buffalo and remove any laws that limited their local heritage. They made it clear that the Red River Metis identified as a distinctive community and values system.

Many thought the conflict would end, but the war escalated the following year, when the HBC company  burned the NWC's Fort at Gibraltar. As a result Grant, and the Metis waged war against the HBC by attacking the Brandon House, a major HBC trading post, and continued its halt its trade of Pemmican to all traders travelling though its territory.

The HBC finally realised that it needed to end the terror or else it would face further loses to its rich fur trade, met with the Metis and read them a strict proclamation against acts of violence. Grant, refused to accept the proclamation, and shot the HBC Governor. A small arms battle ensued, where the Metis overwhelmingly won. The Pemmican War, was no longer a commercial struggle between two rival fur companies, but it had developed into a guerrilla war.

As an act of retaliation against the Metis, Douglas led a group of mercenaries against the Nor'Westerners and the Metis. He captured Fort William in the process and arrested 15 senior NWC officials, and charged tghen with treason, conspiracy, and murder. This officially ended the war, but the Red River community never became the fur trade enterprise Douglas wanted it to be. In order to avoid a future conflict, the Crown forced the merging of the HBC and NWC in 1921, under the HBC banner.

Remembering History - The Pemmican War

For a recipe on how to make Pemmican, please visit,