Kelsey, Henry (1667-1724)

Henry Kelsey was the first European to describe the northern plains. In 1690, the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) sent him inland to persuade the “remoter Indians to a Trade with us.” He was already well experienced, having made two overland trips along the coast of Hudson Bay. Little is known of the two years Kelsey stayed inland. The first year is only vaguely referred to in a long introductory poem. His actual journal covers the short period from July 15 to September 12, 1691, when he was taken to meet the Naywatame. Kelsey left Deering's Point, near The Pas, Manitoba, and journeyed south across the Pasquia Hills and the upper Assiniboine River, apparently to the Touchwood Hills. After meeting the Naywatame, probably a Hidatsa band from the Missouri River, he ended his account; nothing else is known of his activities until he returned to York Factory in the summer of 1692. He never again referred to these inland experiences. Later, Kelsey advanced through the HBC ranks to become governor of York Factory. In 1722 he was recalled to England for reasons that remain unclear. Although his diary was published in 1749, doubts surrounded his accomplishments until his papers were found in Ireland in 1926; these included other journals written at the Bay, as well as descriptions of the Cree and Nakota. Kesley was the first to mention the bison and grizzly bear, and the only one to describe cremations and the “surround” bison-hunting technique. A printed copy of his Cree dictionary, in the British Museum, remains unpublished.

Dale Russell

Further Reading

Epp, H. (ed.). 1993. Three Hundred Prairie Years: Henry Kelsey's “Inland country of good report.” Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center/ Saskatchewan Archaeological Society; Kelsey, H. 1994. The Kelsey Papers (with an introduction by John Warkentin and including the introduction to the 1929 edition by Arthur G. Doughty and Chester Martin). Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center.