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Mary Weekes
Saskatoon (Sask.), Fifth House Publishers, 1994.181pp, paper, $12.95
ISBN 1-895618-38-X. First published by Thomas Nelson (New York), 1939. Distributed by University of Toronto Press. CIP

Subject Headings:
Welsh, Norbert, b. 1845-
Frontier and pioneer life-Canada, Western.
American bison-Canada, Western.

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up

Reviewed by Brenda Reed

Volume 22 Number 5
1994 October

The Last Buffalo Hunter is an original source that high school students will find accessible. It is a clearly written account of the life of a buffalo hunter and trader, Norbert Welsh, as he told it to Mary Weekes, a Saskatchewan nurse and writer, in 1931. Although he was eighty-six when he told his story, Welsh appears to have had an excellent memory, and Weekes put together an exciting and informative text from his memories.

Teachers will find this book useful when teaching the history of the Canadian West in the nineteenth century, because Welsh lived through key events and knew major figures such as Gabriel Dumont, Louis Riel, Poundmaker, Chief Starblanket, and Sitting Bull.

Teachers who are working with their students on any sort of native studies projects will find that this text helpfully explains many topics. Welsh describes how to build a tipi and a log cabin, he describes the purpose and ritual of a sun dance and a giving away dance, and he provides many examples of the customs and traditions observed by those involved on both sides of the fur trade. The most spirited descriptions are Welsh's memories of the buffalo hunts, the part of his youth that he most fondly remembered. Welsh's years of buffalo hunting were the years of the depletion of the buffalo and the end of large-scale hunting. The methods used by the hunters are well documented. There is no index, but the twenty-five chapter titles are informative.

The discussion of the Northwest Rebellion of 1885 will be of particular interest to teachers who cover this subject because although Welsh refused to participate in the rebellion on either side, he was nevertheless an eyewitness to events, and he was taken prisoner by Riel's men for a few days. Welsh focuses on the days leading up to the rebellion, and his position as a prominent man of the NorthWest is suggested when he recalls that he addressed the people of Saskatoon in early 1885 to calm their fears of rebellion.

This book is valuable because it is an original document that provides a readable account of a period of Canadian history. Students who read even a portion of this book will find that a first-hand perspective may differ from the history presented in their textbooks. Readers who are interested in the story of a Canadian pioneer will find Welsh's account worth reading for its vivid description of the hard life lived in the Canadian West during the last century.

I recommend that The Last Buffalo Hunter be purchased by all Canadian libraries.

Brenda Reed is a librarian in Kingston, Ontario

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1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995


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