Red River Ancestry
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(Last Updated: July 24, 2016)


WHITE BEAR (Mes-ka-nee-powit) TURNER, a half-breed, was born around 1780 somewhere in the region of York Factory, Hudson Bay.


In my opinion it is obvious that WHITE BEAR was a child of Elizabeth BEAR & Philip TURNOR (1751-1799), an HBC surveyor born in England. At the time he was born there were simply no other people with a surname of TURNOR or TURNER who ventured anywhere near Cumberland House, the homeland of the BEAR family. The BEAR part of his name most likely came from his mother who raised him almost independently in the life-style of an Indian. ** MORE ABOUT PHILIP TURNOR


Chipewyan Territory

Fox Lake, where WHITE BEAR’s first child was born, is located just to the north of Split Lake.
The Fox Lake Indian Band was established from the main body of York Factory Indians.


William ASHAM about his BEAR Ancestors


WHITE BEAR’s daughter, Elizabeth BEAR, passed down some interesting stories to her grandson, Chief William ASHAM (b-1853) who wrote an interesting narrative entitled "The History of My Ancestors - The Swampy Cree Indians". Some quotes: “These Indians inhabited the most of the northern part of this country. They were scattered, living in different places, never having a permanent abode, roaming from place to place, continually hunting whereby they made their livelihood. A number came from York Factory, Cumberland, Moose Lake, The Pas, Chemawawin, Grand Rapids and all over the surrounding country.”
“In those days ships were plying back and forth each summer from the old country to York Factory, bringing merchandise for the country at large, at the same time bringing their employees, white men, most of them being single men (here she is undoubtedly referring to both Philip TURNOR). The merchandise was unloaded at York Factory from where it was distributed in different districts inland where the HBC had stations and stores. These employees, white men, were distributed as well to these various stations. This being the case, the white men and the Swampy Cree Indians were pretty well scattered throughout the northern part of the country. The white men and the Red Men came in contact with each other pretty often. In time the white men began to understand the Cree language, and in this way they began to be quite friendly and familiar with each other, and in the course of events the white men took upon themselves young Swampy Cree Indian women for wives, lived together as man and wife. - - “


In the fall of 1787 Philip TURNOR (then the Post Master at Frederick House, sailed to England. He didn’t return until the fall of 1789. He spent the winter of 1789-90 at Cumberland House where he was based until October of 1792 when he returned to York and sailed back to England for the last time, never more to return. (He died there in 1799). He had essentially abandoned his Indian wife and his half-breed children at Cumberland House. WHITE BEAR would have been about twelve years old then.


As heartless as it might seem, it was not unusual for white HBC employees to leave their native wives and children behind when they retired to their homeland. In most cases the children had been raised by their Indian mothers and relatives in the manner and custom of their indigenous race. They had no desire to leave their friends and relatives, and their white fathers knew it would be very difficult for them to adjust to a strange new world where they might be looked down upon because of their race.


One has to wonder whether WHITE BEAR and John TURNER (b-c1782) were one and the same, or whether they were brothers. John TURNER appears in the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives (HBCA) as a canoe man and interpreter, etc. In any case it seems quite plausible that when WHITE BEAR became a young man he too would have been employed at least part of the time by the HBC in like manner due to his father’s influence. ** MORE ABOUT JOHN TURNER in HBCA


Marriage to A-KEE-NA-SOM


Around 1800 (perhaps earlier) WHITE BEAR married (most likely according to Native custom) an Indian woman named A-KEE-NA-SOM (from Scrip filed by his son David).  


It is very likely that any of the St Peters Indians bearing the surname BEAR who were born in the early 1800’s were either children or close relatives of either WHITE BEAR or his wife. For this reason I have included Sally WAPISK (who married Donald SUTHERLAND), Margaret BEAR (who married Alex KENNEDY) and John BEAR (who married Catherine ERASMUS) as children with question marks (?) preceding their names to indicate that so far I have been unable to definitely prove who their parents really were.


In 1807 son David TURNER aka BEAR was born at Fox Lake (near Split Lake) in the York Factory. David and the rest of the children I have listed are fairly well proven to be children of WHITE BEAR.


Son William BEAR was born around 1813, daughter Mary around 1815.


Arrival of Reverend John WEST
Union of the North West Company (NWC) and the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC)


On Aug 13, 1820, Reverend John WEST (1778-1845) arrived at York Factory destined for Red River, the first Chaplain appointed by the HBC to Rupertsland. WEST recorded in his Journal “During my stay at this post, I visited several Indian families, and no sooner saw them crowded together in their miserable-looking tents, than I felt a lively interest (as I anticipated) in their behalf.” On his way south, WEST stopped at Norway House for about a month, then proceeded to Red River, arriving at Fort Douglas by mid October.


1821 was the year that the NWC merged with the HBC ending many bitter years of rivalry between the two companies. Following the merger, due to the austerity that followed, many fur-traders and voyageurs were either dismissed or retired and offered free land to settle and farm in Red River country. Assuming WHITE BEAR worked at least part-time with the HBC, he may have been affected by the cut-backs too. In any case this was an era when countless men from the north flocked to Red River to become part of the new settlement.


Chief WHITE BEAR Moves to Red River (St Peters)


Archdeacon John Alexander MACKAY (1838-1923) wrote: When Mr. WEST first arrived in the Red River settlement, the news was carried far and wide, and the Indians at Cumberland House heard of him. They were told that a man had arrived, different from any other white man that they had ever seen. He had not come to trade furs, but he had a book which it was said contained the words of Kissay Munito, The Great Spirit. It was spring-time and the Indians were assembled, celebrating one of their annual feasts. They discussed the news and they decided that it would be good to hear the words of the Great Munito, so they deputed three young men, lately married, to go with their wives to the Red River, spend a winter there, learn all they could, and return the next spring to report what they had heard. The mission was carried out and in due time in the early summer of the next year the messengers returned. The Indians were again assembled, observing their heathen festival. The young men told what they had heard from the mouth of the white man who had the Great Book. When they had told their story, WHITE BEAR, the Chief, spoke and said: "If what we have heard is true, we are wrong in our way of serving Munito. I must hear more of these words; I will go myself to hear God's Word." Then he took his drum and medicine bag and handed them to one of the leading men and said: "Take care of these. If I believe what I hear from the Book, I will not come back, and I shall not want these things any more. If I do not believe, I will come back and take them again." He never came back. He became one of the first settlers in the Indian Settlement, and the families among the Indians of St. Peter's Reserve who have the surname of "BEAR" are his descendants. A similar story was later related by Sheriff Colin INKSTER (1843-1934) who married Anna TAIT.


More from William ASHAM: Amongst the number (of Cree women) who have been chosen for a wife was an aunt of mine (Mary BEAR), the name of the man who selected her was Wallack TAIT, nick name, proper name William TAIT. In this union they raised children, a number of these white men who had wives and children remained in the country and in time they were lawfully married. Amongst the number who remained in this country was William TAIT. About this time it was reported from time to time, somewhere to the south there was a certain river – it’s name being Red River – that its banks on each side of the river were very good for farming purposes. William TAIT, when his term expired, instead of returning to the old country, he came south and in the course of time landed himself, wife and children and took up land at the north end of the City of Winnipeg, formerly known as Point Douglas.” This was William TAIT (1792-1878) who eventually settled in the Poplar Point area near the south end of Lake Manitoba.


“Now we will return to those who were left behind, the father, the mother, brothers and sister of the wife of William TAIT. In two or three year’s time the family began to be very lonely for their daughter (Mary). The family consisted five in number – the old man, the old woman, two brothers, and one girl (Margaret) that in time would become my very own mother. Nothing would satisfy them but to see the daughter. They had a family consultation over the matter, whether there would be any possibility to undertake the journey. After giving a most careful consideration from every angle, they decided to make the journey. The only solitary route they knew was to come south. The following morning they began to make preparation for the journey. The first consideration was given to two particular articles, the drum and the medicine bag, as it was considered the most sacred articles, it had to be packed by itself. The next articles were three flint-lock trading guns, powder, shot, including a few bullets for big game, bedding, a few tin pots and plates, tea kettle, one cooking kettle. This completed everything for the journey. The conveyance for the journey was two birch bark canoes. They broke camp that same day, loaded the canoes, and began the journey, coming south. “


The Pas - Grand Rapids

This map shows part of the route taken by White Bear on his way to Red River


Departure of Reverend John WEST – Arrival of Reverend David JONES


Reverend WEST continued his missionary work amongst the Indians of Red River and beyond, travelling far and wide until his final departure in 1823 and the coincidental arrival of his replacement, Reverend David JONES (1796-1844).


Daughter Elizabeth BEAR (grandmother of William ASHAM) was born around 1823.


More from William ASHAM: “They started from somewhere north of Cumberland, came by Saskatchewan River as far as Cedar Lake, made a portage to Lake Winnipegosis. In a few days they were at a loss as to where they were. Just at this conjecture they came to an Indian camp – in this place there was a map written with a charcoal on a piece of birth. This map brought them to the north end of Manitoba Lake, then they came upon another camp of Indians. This map brought them to the extreme south end of the Lake. From this place they were unable to go further, no stream which would bring them to Assiniboyne. This being the case they put up camp for the night. After the evening meal, the old man, WAPASK, or WHITE BEAR, went over to a small house situated not far distant from the camp fire. When coming near the house he was met by a French half-breed who spoke the Cree language fluently. The old man, WAPASK, explained the difficulties he had to contend with from the time he left his camping grounds north, particularly not knowing the route, and now that he was entirely at a loss, not knowing what to do, asking the French half-breed whether there was any stream that would bring him to Assiniboine River. The French said there was no such stream, the only possible way for him to do was to make a portage, and the undertaking would be great – the reason given, the portage would be quite a long distance. The Frenchman gave him full directions of the route, telling him when coming to a river it would be the Assiniboine River. The old man returned to the camp fire and told the family what the Frenchman had said about the portage. The two young men said if there was no other possible way for them to do to reach the Assiniboine River, they would make the portage. The following morning the two young men took one canoe each, the old man and the old woman including the girl carried the bedding, the little girl carrying pots and kettles. When mid-day came they rested for a while, at the same time having something to eat. Late in the evening the landed their canoes on the Assiniboine River. They made camp fire made tea, had something to eat, and rested for the night. The following morning, thinking probably they would meet strangers that day, they put on their ornamented attire. Amongst the ornaments were pieces of copper, tin, including a few thimbles, long plaited black hair, painted faces with different colors. They began the journey down stream. With the current they went pretty fast, at mid day they put ashore and had something to eat. By this time they thought they had come far enough to tap the Red River. At last they thought they passed the Forks of the River without knowing it, they then had a family council planning what would be the next best thing to do. The two young men offered themselves to walk as there were a few small houses along the banks of the river, that they would make enquiry about the Forks of the River – at the same time making enquiry as to whether they had ever heard the name of Wallack TAIT or William TAIT. The first two places the made enquiry they didn’t succeed in getting any information. Of course, at intervals they waited for the canoes and reported. They third place the made enquiry, the man told them he had heard the name Wallack TAIT but didn’t know the man, also told them that they were nearing the Forks of the River; that there were a few houses near that place and probably would secure the required information at that place. Before going further, they went down to the river, waited for the canoes, and reported, started off again, coming near to the Forks of the river the saw a few houses near the place. The rest of the story tells of the joyfully meeting with Wallack TAIT and their sister. The last page is signed Grandson of WAPASK. Address – William ASHAM, Hodgson, Manitoba; dated Feb 1, 1932.


** We don’t seem to have a time-frame in which to relate the journey of WHITE BEAR (WAPUSK) from Cumberland to Red River. However, it would seem that Reverend John WEST had departed from Red River around the same time and had been replaced by Reverend JONES by the time WHITE BEAR arrived.


In October of 1825 William COCKRAN (1798-1865) and his wife arrived at Red River as assistants to Reverend JONES.


On Feb 13, 1828 Mary BEAR was church-wed at St Johns to William TATE (1792-1878), son of Catherine METISSE & James TATE (1759-c1834) from Orkneys.In 1832 son William married in Red River to Margaret TATE,Mary’s sister.


In 1828 Reverend JONES took leave of absence from Red River, returned to England, married Mary LLOYD and returned that fall with his bride to resume his clerical and teaching duties.




In 1832 (re Pam) WHITE BEAR was baptised by Reverend David JONES.


In 1832 construction of Lower Ft Garry was begun. This new fort became an important trading center for supplying goods to northern fur trading posts and packing furs for shipment to York Factory. Encouraged by Governor George SIMPSON (1786-1860), Reverend JONES proposed a boarding-school or seminary at Upper Church “for the moral improvement, religious instruction, and general education of Boys; the sons of Gentlemen belonging to the Fur Trade.” This establishment became known as the Red River Academy, the first English-speaking high school in the northwest.


In 1839 Reverend John SMITHURST (1807-1867) arrived to relieve Reverend William COCKRAN from the burden imposed by the exclusive charge of the Indian Settlement (St Peters).


SMITHURST had to wait until Oct 7, 1840, for his first Wedding, but it was a notable one: Chief PEGUIS (1774-1864) to “Victoria”. ** MORE ABOUT CHIEF PEGUIS




Smithurst Registry: Burials: March 24, 1844, The WHITE BEAR, aged 80.


It was around 1844-45 that daughter Elizabeth married James ASHAM (1823-1901)


In 1848 alleged son John married Catherine ERASMUS, daughter of Catherine BUDD and Peter ERASMUS (1794-1849) from Denmark. ** MORE ABOUT PETER ERASMUS


Son Thomas apparently had two wives (Nelly, an Indian) and Isabel BEARDY (b-1820) who was recorded with him in the St Peters Reserve (MB) in 1870.


If you have more information of comments about this family or any of the BEAR families of St Peters who may have been descendants, we would love to hear from you on the Forum under the Topic set up for that purpose.



=========================== Family Details ===========================







?3. 1804 JOHN BEAR (Catherine ERASMUS)


4. 1807 DAVID TURNER aka BEAR (m1. Eliza SMITH, m2. Maria TAIT)


5. 1810 THOMAS BEAR (m1. Nelly Indian, m2. Isabel BEARDY)

6. 1813 WILLIAM BEAR (m. Margaret TATE)


7. 1815 MARY BEAR (m1. William TAIT / TATE)


8. 1823 ELIZABETH BEAR (m. James ASHAM)