Peter (or Pierre) Bostonais Pangman, Métis leader, bison hunter (born 20 October 1791 in the North Saskatchewan River Valley area, present-day AB; died 4 March 1850 in St. François Xavier, present-day MB). Peter Bostonais Pangman was a skilled hunter who helped provide much-needed bison meat to the Red River Colony. He was actively involved in the Pemmican Wars and events surrounding the Battle of Seven Oaks. As part of the Pembina fur trade, Pangman was a key figure who rallied and inspired the Red River Valley Métis to see and express themselves with an identity separate from surrounding Indigenous peoples. The name Bostonais is variously spelled Bastonnais and Bostonnais.
Early Life and Career
Peter Bostonais Pangman’s father, Peter Pangman Sr., was a colourful North West Company (NWC) fur trader originally from New Jersey, United States, who travelled constantly. Because of Pangman Sr.’s long absences, his wife, Marguerite Sauteuse, born in Pembina, Minnesota Territory and said to be of Cree or Assiniboine heritage, was the dominant parental figure in their son’s life. The Métis called Pangman Jr. “Bostonais,” likely a nod to his father’s American East Coast roots.
A skilled hunter and horse rider, Bostonais Pangman received an offer to work as a fur trader with the NWC when he was 15 years old. While he took the position, he preferred to hunt bison in the Pembina region, as did many other Plains Indigenous traders and hunters (see Buffalo Hunt).
In 1812, he joined John McLeod Sr., chief trader for the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), as he travelled up the Red River to create an HBC post at the fork of Turtle River (today’s Grand Forks). Pangman left the company when Peter Fidler, who later took charge of this location, refused to give him equipment he had been promised.
Marriage and Family
Bostonais Pangman married Marguerite Angélique (Wewgikabawik) (1802–52). The couple had eight children: Angélique (born 1814), Marguerite (circa 1819), Pierre (1820), Marie (circa 1829), Theophile (circa 1831), Catherine (circa 1831) and Marianne (circa 1832). It is believed that Pangman also had a son from a previous marriage.
DID YOU KNOW?
Parks Canada suggests that Bostonais Pangman was known as Tête Jaune (“Yellow Head”), after which Alberta’s Yellowhead Pass in Jasper National Park is named. However, other proposed candidates for Tête Jaune are Pierre Bostonais and Pierre Hatsinaton, both identified as Haudenosaunee.
After Lord Selkirk founded the Red River Colony in present-day Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1812–13, more settlers arrived and began to occupy traditional Métis hunting territory. This put a strain on the region’s food resources. In 1812, Bostonais Pangman witnessed the start of conflict between the Métis, the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) and the settlers, led by Miles Macdonell, Lord Selkirk’s recently appointed HBC governor of the colonial district of Assiniboia (present-day Manitoba). The Métis provided the Red River colonists with bison meat as provisions for two winters, but this ended in January 1814 when Macdonell implemented the Pemmican Proclamation.
This regulation forbade the export of pemmican from the Red River area without Macdonell’s permission. This concentrated mixture of dried meat, melted fat and, occasionally, berries provided vital nourishment for North West Company (NWC) voyageur boat brigades travelling outside the territory. Therefore, the Métis, who supplied the NWC with pemmican, resented this effort to control their essential foodstuff.
Pangman and the Resistance
After Macdonell had Bostonais Pangman arrested for hunting bison, the Métis hunter grew even more determined to resist the restrictions. He held a group of Macdonell’s men captive for six days at a Turtle River encampment as his freeman party painted their faces, sang and drummed. He was arrested in March 1815 by HBC men on a charge of assault.
Agitated NWC employees urged the Métis to destroy the Selkirk colony, which they almost did twice. Pangman was active in Métis raids on the new settlement. By June 1815, the Métis were demanding that the settlers leave the area. As one of four chiefs who were all NWC employees, Pangman drew up Métis treaty terms alongside Cuthbert Grant, William Shaw and Bonhomme Montour. The four helped negotiate the withdrawal of the settlers from Red River on 25 June 1815, signing a document that demanded “no trace of a settlement to remain.” James Sutherland and James White accepted terms on behalf of the colonists.
Within a year, however, their negotiated peace ended as ongoing tensions erupted. In his journal, Fidler identified Bostonais Pangman as one of the men who sacked HBC’s Brandon House in 1816, which housed almost 29,000 pounds of meat. This was an act of retaliation against Fidler and his HBC men who had destroyed the NWC post at the site of today’s Brandon, Manitoba.
In March that year, Macdonell and three others held Pangman captive. Fidler wrote: “Bostonais… was lately a prisoner at the Forks. I suppose he is liberated on parole. This man has great influence with the half breeds [Métis].”
Fidler described a group of about 50 Indigenous men, Métis and freemen, including Pangman, arriving on horseback and waving a Métis flag with its infinity symbol on 1 June 1816. He wrote that Pangman was one of four men who broke down the store door and barn door and left with most of the contents, along with some of the Company’s horses.
Such skirmishes, which formed the “pemmican wars,” became part of the escalating fur trade disputes between the HBC and NWC. This culminated in the Battle of Seven Oaks or la Victoire de la Grenouillère on 19 June 1816.
Battle of Seven Oaks
HBC Governor Robert Semple and 28 men, mostly from the HBC, confronted about 60 Métis and First Nations men as they headed west, crossing Frog Plain north of the settlement, to deliver pemmican to the NWC canoe brigades on Lake Winnipeg. Gunfire and hand-to-hand combat left Semple and 20 of his party dead. On the Métis side, a teenage warrior died and one man was wounded. Although there is no evidence that Pangman was present at the incident, his half-brother Joseph Pelletier, also known as “Assiniboine,” took part in the battle.
Later, Pelletier sought an agreement between the groups by negotiating with Captain d’Orsonnens, who led the Swiss mercenaries hired by Lord Selkirk to retake the colony. When Lord Selkirk and Saulteaux Chief Peguis tried to sign a treaty, Pangman grew angry. He believed that Métis were a distinct Indigenous people with an equal right to land and resources. According to Lawrence Barkwell, coordinator of Métis heritage and history research at the Louis Riel Institute: “It is believed that Pangman told [Peguis] that if he made treaty with Selkirk, without Métis input and consent, the Métis would forcibly expel the Plains Ojibwe from the area.”
Pangman settled in Grantown (what is now St. François Xavier). According to the 1840 census, he cultivated two acres and owned a house and stable, four horses, one ox, two carts and a canoe. A later census notes that Pangman worked six acres of land. According to at least one source, Pangman convinced 50 other families to relocate from Pembina to Grantown, which was named for Cuthbert Grant.
Although his fellow Métis leader Cuthbert Grant has overshadowed him in history, Bostonais Pangman was an early Métis nationalist who fought to preserve his people’s traditional way of life.