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WAPINESIW (Wappenessew, Wabunmashue; the name means white bird), Cree leading Indian; fl.1755–72.

The first documented reference to Wapinesiw comes from 1755, when Anthony Henday* of the Hudson’s Bay Company met him on his expedition from York Factory (Man.) to the prairies. On 2 February Henday, camped near Devil’s Pine Creek (Ghostpine Creek, Alta), noted “we are joined by a French Leader named Wappenessew.” Since an Indian, before being eligible to assume the role of trading captain, or leading Indian, had to have a family and proven abilities as a hunter and trader, it is probable that Wapinesiw was at least in his early 30s when he met Henday.

Leading Indians occupied an important position in the fur trade [see Matonabbee]. They served as middlemen between fur-traders and Indians who trapped the furs but were unwilling to travel to the bayside posts to trade. Henday reported that Wapinesiw “hath a great sway amongst the Indians, commands above 20 canoes and is greatly taken notice of by the French at Basquea house [The Pas, Man.], where he hath constantly frequented.” He recognized that Wapinesiw, either by encouraging other Indians to come down to trade or by himself bringing down the furs, could provide a valuable service for the HBC, which had not yet committed itself to the concept of inland posts. Henday accordingly lured him away from the French with a gift of trading goods on behalf of the company. Wapinesiw travelled down to York later in 1755 and became a regular visitor at the post for roughly the next 15 years. Initially, he brought 20 canoes of prime furs with him every year, but by the 1760s this number had grown to 30. In 1762 Humphrey Marten, chief at York, listed him as one of the nine Cree trading captains who visited the post regularly. All of these leaders were said to bring in 30 canoes or more every year.

When the Canadian pedlars invaded York’s hinterland in the late 1760s they tried to regain the allegiance of Wapinesiw. In 1770 they succeeded, and he began to use his influence to induce “the Indians to resort to the pedlars” and to protect the canoes travelling up and down from Michilimackinac (Mackinaw City, Mich.) from the interference of other tribes on the way. According to reports reaching York, he “lives in . . . [Thomas Corry’s] House all the Winter, dines at Table with the Master, & his family are Cloathed . . . & no favour is refused.” It is possible that he continued to visit York, if only to increase the competition for his services. Corry wrote from the Saskatchewan country on 2 June 1772 to inform Andrew Graham*, acting chief at York, both that Wapinesiw “Dwos knot go to see you this Springe But . . . will go to the Grandportge [near Grand Portage, Minn.] with me,” and that “he says he will Com to see you the next Spring.” That July Wapinesiw was reported accompanying Corry and seven of his canoes down to “the Grand Fort.” Graham attempted to persuade him to return to the HBC by sending a present of tobacco and felt confident of success provided the Canadians’ “New England Rum does not prevail.” There are no further references to Wapinesiw, and it is probable that he died in the 1770s at an age of about 50 or 60.

Arthur J. Ray

HBC Arch. B.239/a/66, p.55; B.239/b/23, pp.14–15; E.2/4, p.53. Docs. relating to NWC (Wallace). HBRS, XXVII (Williams). [Anthony Henday], “York Factory to the Blackfeet country: the journal of Anthony Hendry, 1754–55,” ed. and intro. L. J. Burpee, RSC Trans., 3rd set., I (1907), sect.ii, 307–69.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Arthur J. Ray, “WAPINESIW,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 2, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/wapinesiw_4E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/wapinesiw_4E.html
Author of Article:   Arthur J. Ray
Title of Article:   WAPINESIW
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1979
Year of revision:   1979
Access Date:   October 2, 2023