Mapping Peter Erasmus's, Buffalo Days and Nights

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All features are listed in alphabetical order by the name that Erasmus uses for them in the text.

Linear and area features are listed with rivers first, alphabetically, followed by areas.

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Download geographic data for point features Erasmus mentions (settlements, peaks, passes) as CSV or KMZ.

Download geographic data for linear features Erasmus mentions (rivers), and area features (mountain ranges, lakes), as geoJSON or KMZ.

Download a list of references for this project (XLSX).

(For the internal structure of these files, see data notes, below.)


In 1920, Henry Thompson, an Alberta newspaperman, began interviewing 87-year-old Peter Erasmus, who lived near him in the area of Whitefish Lake, Alberta. Erasmus, who had been born in 1833 in the Red River settlement of what is now Manitoba, told him his life story, an account later published in book form by the Glenbow Institute as Buffalo Days and Nights, by Peter Erasmus as told to Henry Thompson. Thompson went over the story repeatedly with Erasmus over a series of years, and said that the consistency of it impressed him.

Erasmus's life covered a period of radical change in the northern prairies of what is today Alberta. When he was born, this area was dominated by the bison-hunting cultures of the Cree and Blackfoot, with the isolated Hudson Bay Company post at Fort Edmonton (in what the HBC thought of as “Rupert's Land”) holding an absolute monopoly over doing business with them. By the time of his death in 1931, it was fenced, plowed and gridded with roads, a province called Alberta in a country called Canada. The population was dominated by Euro-Canadian settlers and their descendants while the indigenous people were corralled into a reserve system.

Erasmus was a Métis (his father was a Dane and his mother was a Cree) and he had a genius for languages. He spoke Swampy and Plains Cree, Ojibway, English, Blackfoot and Stoney (Assiniboine), not to mention the Ancient Greek he had also studied as part of a half-hearted attempt to become a minister. At the age of  twenty-four he was hired as the interpreter for a missionary based in Pigeon Lake, southwest of Fort Edmonton. Travelling with voyageurs going up the North Saskatchewan river in boats, it took Erasmus weeks to get there in the summer of 1856.

He had excellent rapport with the Plains Cree, and worked for a series of prominent missionaries over the years: the Reverend Henry Bird Steinhauer, (another Métis, operating a mission at Whitefish Lake), and John and George McDougall. He also worked for the Palliser Expedition, sent from Britain to survey the southern Plains in 1858-1860. Erasmus's accounts of the tactics used while hunting bison are compelling and extraordinary.

Several processes converged to end this era. The number of bison declined sharply due to over-hunting, a phenomenon for which the Americans were frequently blamed. In 1870 the new nation of Canada asserted control over Rupert's Land, and the number of settlers moving west began to increase. The government of Canada anticipated that the indigenous nations of the plains would have to become farmers in order to survive, and signed a series of treaties with them to bring this about. In 1876 Erasmus was hired by two prominent Cree chiefs, Mista-wa-sis (Big Child) and Ah-tuk-a-kup (Star Blanket), to interpret during negotiations for what is today known as Treaty Six.

In his later years, Erasmus worked as an independent trader, a fur buyer, a government agent and as a farmer.

For more on Peter Erasmus, see the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, at

You will find these fields in the  data:
  • Name: what this place is called today, as best I can determine
  • Ref1: map or other geographic reference that gives us the location of this feature
  • Ref2: secondary reference
  • Case: Any justification, if needed, for how we know this is here
  • Called: What the author called the place
  • Page: the page(s) on which this is mentioned in the Glenbow Institute edition of Buffalo Days and Nights
  • Notes: additional observations or quotes from the text

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