October 27, 2021 — With hunting season now well underway, it is a good time to reflect on just how much the sport has changed over the years. Yet, hunting is a sport that did not only differ with time, but with place. This is a lesson John Palliser of Ireland was to find out when he came to the United States in 1847.

Palliser was an experienced sportsmen when he arrived in America, but his experiences in England would differ greatly from those he would soon face. This became evident on one of his first hunts in America. In his journal, Palliser wrote of his first night alone:

“I [was] determined, though in a very fever-and-anguish sort of place, to camp out for the first time alone….I roasted my venison very awkwardly, and cooked some liver and kidney infamously. I remember this circumstance particularly, because it was the first night I had ever camped out solus. It is only when left to our own resources, that we sportsmen of England feel how very little we are in the habit of doing for ourselves, and how helpless we are rendered by all our civilization.” Palliser explained how hunting is more sport in England, rather than survival. The sportsmen wake up at an agreeable hour, shave, eat breakfast, then set out for the hunt with a gamekeeper to assist in carrying equipment. He continued, “Your fair lot is cast in the lap of England, a clime where running is unnecessary—fatigue is unknown beyond that wholesome amount of exertion which is just sufficient to put you in wind and spirits for the merry dance that winds up the evening. Such thoughts as these were passing through my mind as I sat by my solitary fire.”

These thoughts were only stronger after arriving to Fort Union today in 1847, just before the onset of winter. During his hunts and journeys, Palliser found himself alone, with few supplies, and no food. On hunting expeditions, a failure to bag something did not mean going hungry, but this was much different on the plains of North Dakota. He wrote, “[Those early thoughts] presented themselves in much more forcible contrast on subsequent occasions when I found myself, after an unsuccessful day’s hunting, tired, cold, and very hungry in the wild plains…”

Such an instance occurred when Palliser found himself deserted on the plains. His dog, which was part wolf, took after a female wolf. Palliser’s supplies were on a sleigh latched to the dog. Through the night, Palliser was left with only his thoughts, which inevitably strayed to England where it was “the time at which…we have our knees under the mahogany, surrounded by friends, discussing a bottle of the best, and awaiting the summons to tea in the drawing room.” Palliser was expecting his fate when the dog returned, but Palliser still found himself without food after exhausting his rations and two days of unsuccessful hunting.

Palliser, however, soon learned to be a solitary hunter. On several occasions, he hunted alone for the fort when the designated hunters fell ill. Palliser grew experienced in hunting buffalo, elk, deer, antelope, and bear. Palliser stayed on the North Dakota plains through the winter, and despite his many trials, left the following summer with great regret—and a stomach that could not handle the richness of “civilized food.” Nearly a year before, John Palliser had left St. Louis for Fort Union still a civilized sportsman. Upon his arrival in that city again, however, Palliser was clad in self-made leather garments stained with blood and grease and resembled a hunter of the plains. The Irish sportsman was indeed now a solitary hunter.

“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at prairiepublic.org, subscribe to the “Dakota Datebook” podcast, or buy the Dakota Datebook book at shopprairiepublic.org.

Load comments