"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

The Continuing Story of Heritage

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thomas anderson

I had noted in previous entries that my family’s Métis heritage had been seemingly lost at some point in the past. In an attempt to pin down a date, I started reviewing the census reports from Red River beginning in about 1860, and was surprised to find that no one on the census was marked as ‘half-breed’. Everyone, including those that were first generation Métis, have listed their European ancestry. So James Anderson, (1808-1900) is listed as Scottish, as was Thomas Anderson (1835 – 1920) – my GG-Grandfather.

He is shown in this photo with ‘twins’ who I guess are his grandchildren, although the others in the photo are not yet identified.  You can certainly see the country-born heritage.

Yet when I reviewed a number of the affidavits written to obtain land script, the same people are identified as half-breeds. It’s an interesting situation, and only possible at this point to speculate on why this might be. In the 1861 census Louis Riel is listed as (metis) in brackets after his name.  Thomas Anderson Script 1

I do understand that there was a wide range of practice among those who were of mixed blood. The grade-school image of the metis as hunters of buffalo and users of Red River carts is only a portion of the image – there were those who lived as if white right from the outset. It is still curious why the European heritage was continued, often without mention of the Indian ancestry.

The affidavit (in part below) from the Archives of Canada, is from John James Setter swearing that he has known Thomas Anderson for 16 years, and confirms that he “is a Half breed Head of a family”.


I’m in the midst of reading Maggie Siggins’ book, Riel: A life of Revolution, which seems a very compassionate view of the history.  She does point out where she differs in her analysis from other historians, which adds some credibility to her argument.  She has this gem on page 290, from the time Riel lived in Montana with a group of Metis, from the Fort Benton Record (around 1876):

“These Canadian half breeds pay no taxes; they produce nothing but discord, violence and bloodshed wherever they are permitted to locate.  They are a worthless, brutal race of the lowest species of humanity, without one redeeming trait to commend them to the sympathy or protection of any Government.”

That sort of rhetoric, which was common enough even in Canada, is perhaps part of the reason why there seems to be little acknowledgement of that mixed ancestry.  This was in the era of the ‘reign of terror’ in Red River which followed the 1870 rebellion (summarized nicely on this web page).

Maggie Siggins notes that many historians discount the reports of violence, murder and rape done in the Red River area by the Red River Expeditionary Force, but that she had heard so many recounts of that time from people who had been in Red River, that she found it hard to believe there wasn’t some truth.  The webpage mentioned above provides a nice overview with citations, documenting a number of violent acts particularly directed against the half-breeds.

It is also likely that there was a class distinction, even among those of mixed blood.  Much of the history is written about itinerant buffalo hunters in Red River, who would travel for much of the year and only live on their land in the off-season.  This was one of the reasons that many of them lost their homestead later when it was necessary to show that some improvement had been made to the land.  There is scant mention of the Metis who had adopted a more European lifestyle.


Written by sameo416

April 7, 2013 at 3:09 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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