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October 20, 2000

A moose-hunting adventure of long ago

With the moose hunting season just ending, a century old moose hunting story from my Mattawa file may be of interest. Several years ago, Mattawa resident Liane Dickson gave the Mattawa Museum a copy of an article called "Antoine's Moose-Yard" from the October 1890 issue of Harper's Magazine (Mattawa's John Dickson Public Library is named after her husband). 

The sixteen page article, with thirteen illustrations, describes the adventure of two well-known New York artists who, while drinking one night, decided to go moose hunting in Canada.

They approached Harper's, got an advance on the story and headed for Montreal. One of the men was Frederic Remington (1861-1909) one of America's best known illustrators and sculptors. He did the drawings featured in the article, and his friend and partner on the trip Julian Ralph wrote the story. 

Somehow they knew W.C. Van Horne, the President of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Remington may have sold him some art. 

Van Horne sent several telegrams trying to find a hunting location with guides, etc. to support the adventure. Colin Rankin, the factor of the Mattawa Hudson's Bay post (and the first mayor of the town of Mattawa) agreed to arrange the expedition, and the two men headed for Mattawa. 

Mattawa was a bustling place in 1890. Leo Morel's book Mattawa the Meeting of the Waters, lists six hotels, including Peter O'Farrall's Ottawa Hotel, which was where our moose hunters were booked. 

The Harper's Story goes on at great length to describe the hotel and Mr. O'Farrall, who was quite a character. The author describes Mattawa as a place "ravaged by fire and axe" with "great spirited horses racing ahead of fur laden sleighs." 

Mr Rankin was ill so his accountant John DeSousa took care of the preparations for the hunt for the men. Their city clothes were replaced by a full range of Hudson Bay bush clothes, and they were given a week's supply of provisions.

Two Native trappers who happened to be in town were assigned to guide the men in a "great portage sleigh." The two guides came from "an Indian village three miles away." They were Alexandre Antoine, the head Indian, another man named Pierre, and another Native man named Alphonse was the teamster. The Antoine name is well known in Mattawa today, going back to the Algonquin Chief Antoine Kiwiwisens, whose name is remembered in Antoine Creek, Antoine Township and Mount Antoine. 

A group of Antoine descendants recently established the Antoine First Nation, "to improve relations with non-Algonqiuns among whom we live" and to look after the interests of the band. They have a Chief, a council and a representative, councillor Dave Joanisse, on the Algonquin Land Claim Committee.

When Joanisse was contacted regarding Alexandre Antoine in the story, he was familiar with the Harper's article, and indicated that the other guide Pierre was Pierre Ignace. Alexandre and Pierre were good friends and are well known in the Antoine genealogy. 

When I called Joanisse he was being visited by Chief Gary Antoine, the brother of his wife Donna Antoine. Donna and Gary Antoine are direct descendants of François Antoine, who is referred to in the Harper's article along with his brother Alexandre-the "head Indian"-as "famous Hudson Bay Company trappers."

When the two moose hunters were ready, the five men headed off to a location near Crooked Lake to Antoine's moose-yard (Mattawa trapper Roger Labelle informs me that Crooked Lake is approximately twenty-five miles north-west of Mattawa off highway 533 in Antoine Township. The lake is just beyond his trap line, and he confirms that moose are still hunted there every year). After travelling several miles on good roads, the hunters turned down an old logging road which was driven at breakneck speed with the sleigh turning over a couple of times. They eventually arrived deep in the bush and did not see another person for a week.

The first night they slept on balsam boughs by a campfire. The next day they proceeded further into the bush, often walking behind the sleighs because of the rough roads. Alexandre and Pierre would occasionally dash off into the woods to clear a trap they had previously set. 

Eventually they came to Antoine's cabin, a small log replica of a lumberman's camboose bunkhouse, with a fire pit in the middle of the floor and a hole in the ceiling to let the smoke out. 

The five men settled in and spent the next few days waiting fo the right conditions for the hunt. Remington probably worked on some of the thirteen drawings that later appeared in the story.

The author describes the cold at night and notes that-while he and Remington were buried in blankets-the Indians had "their blankets pushed down to their knees, asleep in shirts and trousers." 

They ate well, including more fish than they could handle. Eventually they started on the hunt, walking for miles through the light snow. In several places they found signs of moose, but no moose. Two bulls had fought and moved on from the yard. 

Eventually Alexandre "motioned with a warning gesture." They moved slowly forward until suddenly they saw five moose, "alarmed and ready to run," about fifty yards away. Shots were fired and the biggest bull fell. 

The second bull ran but fell a short distance away, and two cows and a calf got away. 

It had taken longer than they expected but they got their moose. 

A week later Remington turned in his drawings and Ralph his story called "Antoine's Moose-Yard" which was published one hundred and ten years ago this month and read widely across North America.  

Frederic Remington died in 1909 at age 48, twenty years after his Mattawa adventure. He is recognized as one of America's "national treasures" because he depicted the Wild West and the American Indian as "no one else." 

Many of his 2,739 drawings and 25 bronze sculptures and material from his eight books are on display in the Remington Memorial Art Museum in Ogdensburg, New York (just across the St. Lawrence River from Kingston, Ontario).  

Full copies of the Harper's article are available at cost from Dave Joanisse at Antoine First Nation in Mattawa at (705) 744-5695.

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