Frenchman Creek Metis Wintering Camp

Frenchman River, or Frenchman Creek, known locally as the Whitemud is a river
in Saskatchewan which flows into Montana. It is a tributary of the Milk River, itself a
tributary of the Missouri River. The river is approximately 341 kilometers (212 mi) long.
The headwaters are found in the Cypress Hills at an elevation of 975 meters (3,199 ft). It
then flows east towards Eastend, then turns south-east.
The name origin is uncertain, although probably from the Metis people who first lived
there near Seventy Mile Crossing. The Metis hunting groups often wintered in Montana
at the fork of the Whitemud and Milk Rivers. Chief Sitting Bull came to Canada along
the Frenchman River after defeating General Custer at Little Bighorn in 1877. He went
on to Wood Mountain to live in exile for several years before returning to the United
States.
“One of the last refuges for the northern Great Plains buffalo was the Milk River Valley
in northern Montana. During the late 1870s and early 1880s many Indian and Metis
groups gathered there to hunt the diminishing herds. During the summer of 1877 Father
Rappagliosi traveled with a group of about 70 families following the buffalo herds in the
Milk River drainage. This camp spent the winter of 1877-78 living in huts along the river
bottoms in the Frenchman Creek area. The U.S. Army estimated in Frebruary 1878 that
the camp contained 108 families with 611 people. More Metis arrived during 1878 and in
October 1878 the Army estimated that about 300 Metis families were living in the area.
The camp on the Milk River included a number of Canadian Metis who had been
displaced from their farms and many families of American Metis who were members of
Chippewa Indian bands in North Dakota. These American Metis families had also
followed the shrinking buffalo herds to Montana. The priests of the Oblates of Mary
Immaculate had been active in western Canada for many years, and the Metis in the camp
were Christian and spoke French. Father Rappagliosi was already fluent in French from
his school days and enjoyed the pious reception the Metis gave him”1.

Compiled and Edited by Lawrence Barkwell
Coordinator of Metis Heritage and History Research
Louis Riel Institute

1

From: Philip Rappagliosi and Robert Bigart. Letters from the Rocky Mountain Indian Missions:
Philip Rappagliosi, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003: xxxvii - xxxviii

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