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July 6: Artist Paul Kane's Nightmarish Journey

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Last month we heard about the Irish-Canadian artist Paul Kane and the Métis bison hunt he witnessed in 1846 in what is now North Dakota. While the hunt sounded thrilling, Kane’s journey back to Upper Fort Garry near present-day Winnipeg was horrific, with terrible mosquitoes, runaway horses and a gooey trail!

Kane had acquired a guide, cart and saddle horse so he could accompany the Métis on their hunt. Kane killed two bison, and made several sketches during the hunt. When he decided to return north, it was partly because he was reeling from a fall from his horse during the previous day’s hunt.

Kane’s return trip was over 200 miles, by his estimate, through unfriendly Sioux territory. To make matters worse, his guide had fallen ill with measles, and none of the hunters would leave to escort Kane. He was about to start back on his own, when his guide said he would go, but wouldn’t cook and he wouldn’t care for the horses.

Kane rode on horseback, and the guide rode in a horse-drawn Red River cart. They encountered wolves and stray dogs drawn by the bison carcasses from the hunt. The journey was miserable. Heat had dried up sources of drinking water. The pair camped in mud and standing water, and were attacked by mosquitoes. The pair’s horses got loose, and for hours Kane waded after them.

When Kane and his guide were within a day of reaching the fort, the guide urged Kane to go on ahead. Kane did, but he and his horse soon sank into mud and water, and though he got the horse out, he had to drag him through muck “abounding with reptiles.”

Then it rained. Kane had no compass and no sun to guide him. He finally reached the Assiniboine River, and found Upper Fort Garry.

The same day, men searching for stray horses brought Kane’s guide to the fort. Two days later, on approximately this date in 1846, the man died. Kane wrote that “the poor fellow had got rapidly worse after my leaving.” The guide’s name was Francis de Gurlay. He was the only man whose full name was recorded in Kane’s diary.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura


  • Harper, J.R. (Ed.). (1971). Paul Kane’s frontier. University of Texas Press: Austin, TX
  • Eaton, D. and Urbanek, S. (1996). Paul Kane’s great nor-west. UBC Press: Vancouver, BC
  • Weekly Free Press and Prairie Farmer. 1907, January 9. Page 17: The buffalo hunt

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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