If the art or ingenuity of the good citizens of New York has not produced very many objects worthy of admiration, the faces of their lovely fair make ample amends for it. Among the crowds of charmers who throng the fashionable promenade of Broadway, scarcely an ordinary face is to be seen. I, in fact, saw more pretty faces there in one hour than in all my tour in Britain.
I landed in New York without any prejudice against the Americans, and I now take leave of their commercial capital with feelings of esteem and regret. In the society I frequented I neither saw nor heard anything unworthy of, or unbecoming the descendants of Britons. Some little peculiarities, the natural result of circumstances, I certainly noticed; some differences also in their social life; but I shall leave it to those who are disposed to find fault to criticise these matters.
PASSAGE FROM NEW YORK TO ALBANY BY STEAMER—THE PASSENGERS—ARRIVAL AT ALBANY—JOURNEY TO MONTREAL.
The navigation of the Hudson not being yet interrupted by ice, I determined on proceeding to Albany by steamboat, in preference to the railroad, with the view of seeing the far-famed scenery of the country through which the river flows. I accordingly embarked on the 5th of February. We had not proceeded far, however, when we found the face of the country covered with snow; and thus the pleasure I had anticipated from my aquatic trip was in a great measure lost.
Winter had set in in earnest, and the cold became so severe as we ascended, that the deck was abandoned, and the nearest seat to the stove was considered the best. The passengers being now all crowded below, the group presented a complete epitome of American society: here were members of the legislature proceeding to the capital on parliamentary duty; here also were congregated in the same cabin, merchants, mechanics, and farmers, messing at the same board, and at first mixed up promiscuously together. They did not, however, long continue so; the more respectable part, separating from the crowd, occupied one end of the cabin, the plebeians occupied the other. Thus the homogeneous ingredients of the mass having united, no further mixture took place during the passage.
It is true, one of patrician rank might occasionally be observed stepping beyond the ideal boundary, and sitting down among the plebeians, probably some of his constituents,—would call for a pipe, and, stretching out his legs, commence to puff, spit, and debate, like one of themselves; and having by these means convinced them that he still considered them as his equals, would retire again ad suos.
The Americans are accused by Europeans of being cold and reserved towards strangers; for my part, I found them sociable and communicative in the extreme. A few hours after I had embarked on board the steamboat I found myself quite at home. I was much pleased to observe the rational manner in which the passengers amused themselves. Little groups were formed, where religion, politics and business matters were discussed with excellent sense and judgment. These seemed to be the common topics of discourse in both ends of the cabin. I frequented both, and saw nothing indecorous or improper in either, save the spitting and the outrageous rush to the table; such a scene as the latter is only to be seen in America.
The servants bawl out at the top of their lungs:—
"Time enough, gentlemen! time enough! No hurry, no hurry!"
Onward they rush, however, crowding, pushing, elbowing, until they take their seats. I was, however, particularly struck with the attention shown to the ladies, the great sobriety of all classes, and the total absence of impure or profane expressions in conversation. How unlike the scenes one witnesses on board our steamboats in Britain, where the meaner sort of passengers seem to travel on purpose to indulge in drinking!
I arrived at Albany late on the 7th, our progress having been much retarded by the quantity of ice drifting in the river. Finding that the mail was to start for Canada in the course of the night, I decided on going with it, without seeing the capital of New York. Owing to the mildness of the season up to the present time, the roads were in the worst possible condition, and the motion of the carriage passing rapidly over the rugged surface of the muddy roads recently frozen solid, was not only disagreeable, but even painful.
We continued, however, to jolt on night and day, without rest, save during the short time necessary for changing or baiting cattle. The roads became worse, if possible, as we proceeded. A considerable quantity of snow had fallen lately, which rendered travelling in a wheeled carriage not only disagreeable in the extreme, but also dangerous. We broke down several times, but without serious inconvenience. On one of these occasions we picked ourselves up opposite a farm house, in which we took shelter while the driver was putting matters to rights. It being yet early, the inmates were still in bed; we nevertheless found a rousing fire blazing on the hearth, and seated ourselves around it.
All of a sudden the door of a small apartment flew open, and a large black cat sprang in amongst us.
"Ha! what do you think of that, now?" said one of the passengers, addressing himself to me. "What do you think of the ingenuity of our Yankee cats? Had Boz witnessed that feat, we should have had a page or two more to his notes; and I am sure it would have proved at least as interesting to the reader as the nigger driver's conversation with his cattle."
"That's a fact," said I.
After being jolted and pitched about until every bone in my body ached again, I reached St. John's on the 12th; and the snow being now sufficiently deep to admit of travelling with sleighs, the remainder of the journey to Montreal was accomplished in comparative comfort.
EMBARK FOR THE NORTH—PASSENGERS ARRIVE AT FORT WILLIAM—DESPATCH FROM GOVERNOR—APPOINTED TO MACKENZIE'S RIVER DISTRICT—PORTAGE LA LOCHE—ADVENTURE ON GREAT SLAVE LAKE—ARRIVE AT FORT SIMPSON—PRODUCTIONS OF THE POST.
I spent the remainder of the winter enjoying the good things of this life, and on the 28th of April received orders to proceed to Lachine, preparatory to embarking for the north. I embarked on the 29th, but the crews were so intoxicated that we were compelled to land on an island near by, to allow them to recover from the effects of their carousals.
I was joined here by Captain Stalk of the 71st, and Lieutenant Lefroy of the Artillery; the former accompanying us on a jaunt of pleasure, the latter on a scientific expedition. There were also four junior clerks in the Company's service. Our brigade consisted of three large canoes manned by about fifty Canadians, and Iroquois Indians.
We were detained in our insular encampment by stress of weather until the 2d of May, when we set out. Our crews being now perfectly sober, plied their paddles with the utmost good-will, singing and whooping, apparently delighted with their situation. Ignorance here was bliss; they little dreamed of the life that awaited them. I may here premise, that as I have already narrated the particulars of a similar voyage, I shall pass on to the different stages of our route without noticing the uninteresting incidents of our daily progress.
We arrived at Fort William on the 28th of May, where we exchanged our large Montreal canoes for smaller. Here Captain S. remained to await his passage back to Canada; not much disposed to try such a jaunt of pleasure again, I suspect,—and Lieutenant L., taking a canoe for himself with a view of prosecuting his scientific researches more at leisure than our go-a-head mode of travelling admitted, left us also. We were detained a day at Fort William, repairing canoes, arranging crews, &c., and on the 30th, I took leave of my excellent compagnons de voyage with sincere regret.
On descending Lac la Pluie River, we landed at an extensive Sauteux camp, where we found a Protestant (Methodist) Missionary, with a native interpreter as his only companion. I learned with much regret, that this gentleman's exertions in his vocation had been attended with little or no success, although he had been two years engaged in it; while the Romish priests, in the same space of time, had converted numbers.
The natives were occupied with the sturgeon fishing, and had apparently been tolerably successful. Having procured a supply for the use of our crews by barter, we set off, and without experiencing any accident, reached Bas de la Riviere on the 13th of June, where I found letters from the Governor, directing me to proceed with all possible speed to York Factory.
Having learned on my way coming up, that one of the gentlemen in McKenzie's River district had resigned, and would quit the country this year,—I felt convinced I should be appointed his successor; that being one of the most wretched parts of the Indian country, it was quite a matter of course that I should be sent thither. Knowing from dear-bought experience, however, that my constitution could no longer bear the hardships and privations to which I had been so long subjected, I wrote the Governor on the subject, and requested that he would grant me an appointment where I might enjoy some degree of comfort—a favour which I humbly conceived my former services entitled me to—otherwise I should retire from the service. We had a fine passage across Lake Winnipeg, and I landed at Norway House with all my party safe and sound, on the 18th of June. I remained there till the 21st, and then set out for York Factory, where I had been about ten days, when an express arrived from Norway House with the Governor's final orders to me, and also his reply to my last communication, which I here insert at full length.
"Red River Settlement, "June 22, 1843.
"My eyes are so completely worn out, that I cannot give you a single private line under my own hand. I have perused with attention your private letter of the 14th instant, and should have been glad had it been in my power to have met your wishes in regard to an appointment; but from the few commissioned gentlemen disposable this season, it was quite impossible to consult wishes. You were, therefore, long before receipt of your letter, appointed to McKenzie's River. That is now one of the finest fields we have for extension of trade, and I count much on your activity for promoting our views in that quarter. But while directing your attention to the extension of your district, you must likewise use your best endeavours to curtail the indents, as they have of late been on a most alarming scale, comprehending nearly as many articles as appear in our Columbia requisition; if you look on my notes on the last requisition, you will find that I have been under the necessity of making some further curtailments. I am sorry the idea of retiring has entered your mind, as I was in hopes we could count upon some efficient services out of you while still young and vigorous.
"The Company have of late declined making any purchases of retired interests; it would be therefore quite unnecessary to make any application on that head, as they have lost money by all the recent purchases they have made in that way.
"I am at the Lower Fort, where Mr. Ross came in on me very unexpectedly, just as we were preparing to get on horseback for the upper part of the settlement, so that I am much pressed for time, which will account for the brevity of this communication.
"Pray let me hear from you in Canada by the last canoes, as I shall not then have taken my departure from Montreal.
"I remain, &c. &c.
(Signed) "GEORGE SIMPSON."
Judging, from the instructions contained in the above communication, that I was appointed to the charge of the district, I made up my mind to try how far my health could endure the hardships of which I already had had more than my share; and without a moment's delay, set out for Norway House in a light canoe, where I arrived on the 16th of July. My friend Mr. C—— arrived with his returns from Athabasca a few days afterwards, and his arrangements being completed on the 24th, I embarked as a passenger with him.
We reached the small river Mithai on the 4th of September, when we found the water so low as barely to admit of the passage of the light boats. It happened most fortunately that there were a number of Chippewayan Indians encamped on the spot at the time, else we should have been completely at a nonplus. The crews, good souls! hired those Indians at their own expense, to carry the greater part of the property in their small canoes to the upper part of the river. At the portage we found a number of half-breeds, with their horses, from the Saskatchewan, awaiting our arrival, in the expectation of being employed to transport the goods. Nor were they disappointed; sooner than undergo the harassing toil of carrying the outfit across a portage of twelve miles, the men hired the half-breeds, parting with their most valuable articles in payment.
Several propositions have been made, of late years, to the Governor, for sparing the men the inhuman labour of this portage, which they must either perform, or sacrifice a considerable part of their paltry wages to avoid it. It was suggested, for instance, that a sufficient number of horses should be stationed at a certain locality, with the requisite conveniences, near the portage, and a couple of men hired on purpose to take care of them, whose wages the winterers should pay out of their own pockets, which they readily assented to; as the transport, by this arrangement, would only cost them one-third of what it cost them to employ the half-breeds. His Excellency, however, was quite "sick" of the Portage La Loche subject; he knew as much about it as anybody, and felt quite assured that it was the easiest part of the men's duties throughout the voyage! While canoes were used, the duty at Portage la Loche was not nearly so severe as at present; a canoe carried only twenty-five pieces, and was manned by six men; a boat's crew consists only of seven men, while the cargo consists of from sixty to seventy pieces.
The descent of the Clear Water and Athabasca rivers was effected without any accident, and we arrived at Athabasca on the 16th of September; whence I set out again, after a few days' delay, for Fort Resolution, on Great Slave Lake, where I was detained by stress of weather until the 29th.
I left the post late in the evening, and intended to encamp on an island at a convenient distance; but the season being far advanced, I felt anxious to proceed, and inquired of my pilot whether he thought there would be any risk in travelling all night? "Not the least," was the reply; and we rowed on accordingly till morning; when lo! the only objects to be seen were sea and sky. In vain we strained the organs of vision to discover land; there we were, as if in the midst of the ocean, surrounded on all sides by the unbroken circle of the horizon. I do not know that I ever felt more seriously alarmed than at this moment, thus to find myself exposed on an unknown sea, as it might well be termed, in an open boat, and at such an advanced period of the season, without any means of ascertaining what course to steer for land. It would appear our steersman had been napping at the helm in the course of the night, and thus allowed the boat to deviate from her course without noticing it; hence the awkwardness and even the danger of our present situation.
While considering with myself what was best to be done, a fine breeze sprang up; I ordered the sail to be hoisted immediately, determined on going before it until we made land, no matter where. Fortunately the wind continued steady all day, and we at length reached the land a little after sunset, having run at least forty miles. We put ashore at the first convenient landing we could find, and encamped for the night. Having consulted a map I had with me, and observing by the sun the direction in which we had crossed the lake, (for we had actually crossed it at its greatest width,) I could make out pretty clearly that we had turned our backs to our true course! We had, however, a good supply of provisions, and a voyageur is never discouraged while he has the provender before him. Having now learned, to my cost, what confidence my pilot was entitled to, I determined on keeping land in view for the future.
We embarked early next morning, and, after a tedious and laborious passage of seven days, arrived at Big Island fishery at the outlet of the Lake on the 8th of October, where I found a boat ready to start with a cargo of fish, in which I embarked; and landing finally at Fort Simpson on the 16th, my long trip of five months per mare et terram, was brought to a close; and high time it should, for the weather was become excessively cold, and the ice was forming along the beach.
I was much grieved to find Mr. Lewis confined to bed in consequence of a shocking accident he had lately met with, his right hand being blown off by the accidental discharge of his fowling-piece.
Having perused the governor's official letter to Mr. Lewis, I found the following paragraph in it relating to myself:—"On retiring from the district next season, you will be pleased to invest Mr. McLean with the management, handing to that gentleman all correspondence, papers, &c., connected with the public business." This paragraph, taken in conjunction with the instructions I had previously received, confirmed both Mr. L. and myself in the opinion that I was to succeed him in the charge; and we took our measures accordingly.
I was very agreeably surprised to find that the high latitude of this locality (61 deg. north) did not prevent agricultural operations from being carried on with success. Although the season had been rather unfavourable, the farm yielded four hundred bushels of potatoes, and upwards of one hundred bushels of barley; the barnyard, with its stacks of barley and hay, and the number of horned cattle around it, had quite the air of a farm standing in the "old country." It is to be regretted that the gentlemen here should have paid so little attention to the cultivation of the soil in former times, as the produce would, ere now, not only have contributed to the support of the establishment, but have afforded assistance to the natives in years of scarcity.
For these three years past the distress of the natives in this quarter has been without parallel; several hundreds having perished of want—in some instances, even at the gates of the trading post, whose inmates, far from having it in their power to relieve others, required relief themselves. Here, as in most other parts of the wooded country, rabbits form the principal subsistence of the natives, and when they fail, starvation is the sure and inevitable result; but no former period has been so productive of distress, to so fearful an extent, as the present. With the produce of the farm, Mr. L. was enabled to save the lives of all those who resorted to his own post; but at Forts Good Hope, Norman, and De Liard, no assistance could be given; as those posts, like most others in the Indian country, depend entirely on the means the country affords in fish, flesh, and fowl, for their subsistence.
STATEMENTS IN THE EDINBURGH CABINET LIBRARY—ALLEGED KINDNESS OF THE HUDSON'S BAY COMPANY TO THE INDIANS—AND GENEROSITY—SUPPORT OF MISSIONARIES—SUPPORT WITHDRAWN—PREFERENCE OF ROMAN CATHOLICS—THE NORTH-WEST COMPANY—CONDUCT OF A BRITISH PEER—RIVALRY OF THE COMPANIES—COALITION—CHARGES AGAINST THE NORTH-WEST COMPANY REFUTED.
A volume of the Edinburgh Cabinet Library, in which the Company's territories are described, came lately into my hands. It is there remarked, that "the Company's posts serve as hospitals, to which the Indians resort during sickness, and are supplied with food and medicine; that when winter arrives, the diseased and infirm are frequently left there; that the Company have made the most laudable efforts to instruct and civilize them, employing, at a great expense, Missionaries and Teachers," &c.
I am well aware that the author of this valuable production took it for granted that the information he had obtained, relative to our treatment of the Indians, and other matters, was correct, or he would not have permitted it to go forth to the world under the authority and sanction of his name. But without intending any disrespect to the author, I take leave to state that the above quotations have not the slightest foundation in fact. Our posts serve as hospitals! I have now passed twenty-four years of my life-time in the country; I have served in every quarter of it; and I own that I have never yet known a single instance of an Indian being retained at any inland post for medical treatment. The knowledge the natives possess of the medicinal virtues of roots and herbs, is generally equal to the cure of all their ailments; and we are, in fact, more frequently indebted to them, than they to us, for medical advice. I may mention, however, by way of exception to the general rule, that the depots along the coast are well supplied with medicines, and that there are medical men there who administer them to the natives when they apply for them.
In the interior we are allowed to doctor ourselves as we best can. What with the salubrity of the climate, and our abstemious fare, we are enabled, with the aid of a little Turlington balsam, and a dose of salts, perhaps, to overcome all our ailments. Most of us also use the lancet, and can even "spread a plaster, or give a glister," when necessary; but the Indians seldom trouble us.
As to the instruction the natives receive from us, I am at a loss to know what it is, where imparted, and by whom given. "A tale I could, unfold!" But let it pass: certain it is, that neither our example nor our precept has had the effect of improving the morals or principles of the natives;—they are neither more enlightened, nor more civilized, by our endeavours, than if we had never appeared among them. The native interpreters even grow old in our service as ignorant of Christianity as the rudest savages who have never seen the face of a white man.
The Church Missionary Society has had two Missionaries stationed at Red River settlement for some years past, one of whom is designated the Company's Chaplain, and is allowed 100l. per annum; the Roman Catholic bishop, too, receives his 100l., and doubtless understands, without any inspiration, the Company's policy in granting the annuity. The gentleman who conducts the academy has also 100l. a-year; thus we have 300l., forming the sum total of the "great expenses" the Company are at. It is quite true there are thirteen schools at Red River; there are also eighteen windmills, and the Company furnishes just as much wind for the mills as funds for the support of the schools or teachers. Other teachers than those above specified I have neither seen nor heard of.
Some years ago five Missionaries were sent out to the Hudson's Bay territory by the Wesleyan Missionary Society. After having laboured for some time in the territory, by a decision of the Council the rank of commissioned gentleman, together with the usual allowances attached to that rank, was conferred on them.
The Missionaries had every reason to be grateful for these acts of kindness, and they both felt and expressed their gratitude. Their object, however, in coming to the country was to serve God, not the Hudson's Bay Company; and they proceeded to discharge their duty in the manner their conscience approved, instructing and enlightening the natives with the zeal and perseverance for which their sect is so eminently distinguished. The good fruits were soon apparent; in some parts of the country successful attempts were made to collect the natives: they were taught to cultivate the soil, to husband their produce, so as to render them less dependent on fortuitous circumstances for a living; they were taught to read and write, and to worship God "in spirit and in truth," and numbers "were daily added to the Church;" when, lo! it was discovered that the time devoted to religious exercises, and other duties arising out of the altered circumstances of the converts, was so much time lost to the fur-hunt; and from the moment this discovery was made, no further encouragement was given to the innovators. Their labours were strictly confined to the stations they originally occupied, and every obstacle was thrown in the way of extending their missions. Even after some of them had travelled into the remotest parts, and opened up an amicable intercourse with the natives, they were told that collecting the Indians into villages was a measure not to be thought of, as the habitual indolence of the natives precluded the idea of their being induced to cultivate the soil; that even if they were so inclined, the country presented few localities fit for the purpose, &c.
Notwithstanding the high authority whence these allegations emanated, I think I can show the reader that they are in a great measure without foundation.
Here (in lat. 61 deg. north) we raise crops of barley and potatoes—the former in abundance every year,—the latter, however, are sometimes cut off by the frosts; but this is no more than happens in Canada, and many parts of the United States. The fact is, that there are many favourable situations for agriculture to be found in every district of the Company's territories, except perhaps one or two on the shores of Hudson's Bay. The banks of the Athabasca, Peace, Slave, and McKenzie rivers present many localities fit for farming operations; and in the more southern districts they are, of course, far more frequent.
[Footnote 2: On the banks of the McKenzie River.]
Had the Protestant ministers been allowed a free scope, and the encouragement they at first received been continued, they would ere now have had Missions established in many districts; and there can hardly be a doubt that they would have succeeded here, as elsewhere, in overcoming the natural sloth of the natives. Their good intentions, however, have been frustrated, and they have now the additional mortification of finding themselves supplanted by Romish priests, who, no later than last year, were allowed a free passage in the Company's craft, even to a district where a Protestant Missionary had been settled for several years previously, and had made considerable progress in converting the natives. Not only was he allowed a passage to the district, but he was lodged and entertained in the Company's establishment.
The consequences of this strange procedure are obvious: the poor ignorant natives, hearing such conflicting doctrines, are at a loss what to think or what to believe; and, naturally enough, conclude that both are alike impostors, and therefore in many cases decline their instructions. It must be acknowledged, however, that the Romish priest is often more successful than the Protestant missionary, and that for obvious reasons. With the former, the Indian needs only profess a desire to become a Christian, and he is forthwith baptized; whereas with the latter, a probationary course—a trial of the proselyte's sincerity—is deemed indispensable. The peculiar dress, moreover, of the Romish ministers, and their imposing ritual, make a great impression on the senses of a barbarous people.
"He indeed," say the Indians, when speaking of the priest, "he indeed looks like a great 'man of medicine;' but these others are just like our traders; we can see no difference."
The fact, too, need not be disguised, that we ourselves find the priests far more accommodating than these meddling parsons. The priests, for instance, allow us to amuse ourselves in any manner we think fit, week-day or Sunday; and far from finding fault, ten to one if they don't join in the sport; the Protestant minister, on the contrary, never allows a violation of the sacred day to pass unnoticed, nor fails to warn the delinquent of the consequences. The priest connives at the Indian's hunting on Sunday—the minister strictly forbids it: the priests are single—the ministers are generally married, and their maintenance of course involves a far heavier expense. Considering these things, no reasonable person can surely find fault with us for preferring those who allow us to put what construction we please on the moral law, and at the same time oppose no obstacles to the advancement of our temporal interests.
And here I cannot but express my regret that our Protestant churches should have so long neglected the cultivation of a field that promised such rich harvests as the interior of America. The superstitions of the aborigines scattered through the Hudson's Bay Company's territories are so gross, and so inconsistent with unsophisticated common sense; and their prejudices in favour of them have been so much shaken by their intercourse with the gentlemen of the trading posts and the other Europeans, whom they are accustomed to look up to as beings of a superior race, that there could be but little difficulty in removing what remains of these prejudices; and thus one of the greatest obstacles to the success of a Missionary in other parts of the heathen world, can scarcely be said to exist among them.
The Church of England, it is true, has done a little, but she might have done more—much more. Had the Missionaries at Red River exerted themselves, from the time of their first arrival in the country, in educating natives as Missionaries, and sent them forth to preach the Word, the pure doctrines of Christianity would, ere now, have been widely disseminated through the land. But nothing of this kind has been attempted: nor could it be attempted—now that I think of it—the laying on of "the hands of a Bishop" being indispensable.
As to the diseased and infirm being frequently left at our posts in winter, all I can say is, that I have never seen any such at any of the posts I wintered at, or at any of the posts I visited; nor is it likely that, when we ourselves depend on the natives for a considerable part of our subsistence, we can do much to support them. We support neither old nor young, diseased nor infirm—that is the truth.
In the work above quoted I find the following paragraph relating to the North-West Company.
"Although the rivalry of the North-West Company had the effect of inspiriting and extending the trade; it was carried by them in many respects beyond the legitimate limits, not scrupling at open violence and bloodshed, in which Europeans and natives were alike sufferers."
The controversy between those rival companies has long since been forgotten; but the subject being again obtruded on the public notice, evidently in the spirit of prejudice, there can be nothing improper, I presume, in representing matters in their true and proper light. Many of the individuals thus calumniated are still alive and settled in the civilized world, where they are esteemed for qualities diametrically opposite to those ascribed to them by their slanderer.
It is well known that the chief advantages the Hudson's Bay Company now possess, they owe to the adventurous North-West traders; by these traders the whole interior of the savage wilds was first explored; by them the water communications were first discovered and opened up to commercial enterprise; by them the first trading posts were established in the interior; by them the natives were first reconciled to the whites; and by them the trade was first reduced to the regular system which the Hudson's Bay Company still follows. When all this had been done by the North-West Company, and they had begun to reap the reward of their toils, and hardships, and dangers, and expenditure—then did the Honourable Hudson's Bay Company, led on by a British peer, step forward and claim, as British subjects, an equal right to share the trade.
Their noble leader appeared first in Montreal in the guise of a traveller, where he was received by the North-Westers with open arms, was kindly and hospitably entertained by them, his minutest inquiries regarding their system of trade were candidly and freely answered; and the information thus obtained in the character of a traveller, a guest, and a friend, he forthwith proceeded to use to effect their ruin. Had, however, the North-West Company continued true to themselves, all his arts and attempts would have failed. Had not dissension arisen in the ranks, it is clear that they—not the Hudson's Bay Company—would have granted the capitulation. Unfortunately for themselves, however, the partners in the interior, seeing the contest continue so long, and the expenses swallow up all the profits, despaired of the success that was almost within their grasp, and commencing a correspondence among themselves, finally determined on opening a negotiation with their rivals. Two of their number were accordingly sent home, invested with full powers to act for the general interest. Those gentlemen arrived just as the Directors of the North-West Company in London were about to conclude a most advantageous treaty—a few days more, and the articles had been ratified by the signatures of both parties. At this conjuncture the Delegates arrived, and instead of first communicating with their own Directors, went straight to the Hudson's Bay House, and presented their credentials. The Hudson's Bay Company saw their advantage, and instead of receiving, now dictated the terms; and thus the name of the North-West Company was merged in that of its rival, and the Canadian people were deprived of all interest in that trade which owed its origin to the courage and enterprise of their forefathers.
Such were the relative circumstances of the Hudson's Bay and North-West Companies. From 1674 to 1813 the Hudson's Bay Company slumbered at its posts along the shores of Hudson's Bay, never attempting to penetrate beyond the banks of the Saskatchewan, until the North-Westers had led and cleared the way; and in this manner began their rivalry. That collisions should follow, marked by violence and outrage, need not be wondered at. But violence and outrage were not confined to one side; both parties exceeded the limits prescribed by law. Yet while stern justice alike condemns both, which is the more guilty party? or which has the greater claims on our sympathy?
As to the North-West Company being guilty of the blood of innocent Indians,—the charge is as false as it is invidious. When the blood of their servants was shed without cause or provocation, as frequently happened when they first encountered the fierce savage, they punished the aggressors as the law of God allows, demanding "blood for blood." But while the author (or rather his informant, whose ribbon I can plainly distinguish, although he strikes in the dark) so freely censures the North-West Company for avenging the murder of their people, does he mean to insinuate that nothing of the kind is done under the humane and gentle rule of the Hudson's Bay Company? What became of the Hannah Bay murderers? They were conveyed to Moose Factory, bound hand and foot, and there shot down by the orders of the Chief Factor. Did the murders committed by the natives at New Caledonia, Thompson's River, and the Columbia, pass unavenged? No! the penalty was fully paid in blood for blood.
But since the author's informant seems disposed to "rake up the smouldering embers" of days bygone, I shall take the liberty of telling him of a tragedy that was enacted at the ancient date of 1836-7. In that winter, a party of men, led by two clerks, was sent to look for some horses that were grazing at a considerable distance from the post. As they approached the spot they perceived a band of Assineboine Indians, eight in number (if I remember aright), on an adjacent hill, who immediately joined them, and, delivering up their arms, encamped with them for the night. Next morning a court martial was held by the two clerks and some of the men, to determine the punishment due to the Indians for having been found near the company's horses, with the supposed intention of carrying them off. What was the decision of this mock court martial? I shudder to relate, that the whole band, after having given up their arms, and partaken of their hospitality, were condemned to death, and the sentence carried into execution on the spot,—all were butchered in cold blood!
With the exception of the massacre of the Indians in McKenzie's River district in 1835, no such deed of blood had been heard of in the country. Yet our author's impartial informant, perfectly acquainted as he was with all the circumstances of the case, and ready enough as he is to trumpet to the world the alleged crimes of the North-West Company, takes no notice of it! It may be said that the Company are not answerable for crimes committed by their servants without their knowledge. True; but when they are made fully acquainted with those misdeeds, and allow the perpetrators to escape with impunity, the guilt is transferred to their own head; "invitat culpam qui peccatum praeterit." The proceedings of this court-martial were reported at head-quarters, and the punishment awarded to these murderers was—a reprimand! After this, what protection, or generosity, or justice, can the Indians he said to receive from the Hudson's Bay Company?
The Indians to this day talk of their Northwest "fathers" with regret. "Our old traders, our fathers, did not serve us so," is a remark I have frequently heard in every part of the country where the North-West Company had established posts. Had their rule been distinguished by oppression or injustice, the natives would rather have expressed their satisfaction at its suppression; had it been tyrannical or oppressive, it would not have been long tolerated. The natives in those times were numerous and warlike; the trading-posts were isolated and far apart; and in the summer season, when the managers proceeded to the depots, with the greater part of their people, were entirely at the mercy of the natives, who would not have failed to take advantage of such opportunities to avenge their wrongs, had they suffered any. The posts, in fact, were left entirely to their protection, and depended on them for support during the absence of the traders, who, on their return in autumn, found themselves surrounded by hundreds of rejoicing Indians, greeting their "fathers" with every manifestation of delight;—he who had not a gun to fire strained his lungs with shouting.
The native population has decreased at an extraordinary rate since those times. I do not mean to affirm that this decrease arises from the Hudson's Bay Company's treatment of them; but, from whatever cause arising, it is quite certain they have greatly decreased. Neither can it be denied, that the natives are no longer the manly, independent race they formerly were. On the contrary, we now find them gloomy and dispirited, unhappy and discontented.
As to our vaunted "generosity" to the natives, I am at a loss to know in what it consists. When a band of Indians arrive at a trading post, each individual is presented with a few inches of tobacco; here (at Fort Simpson) in winter we add a fish to each. After their furs are traded, a few flints, awls, and hooks, and a trifle of ammunition is given them, in proportion to their hunts, and then—"Va-t-en." This is about the average amount of "generosity" they receive throughout the country; varied, however, by the differences of disposition observable in the Hudson's Bay Company's traders, as among all other mortals. Some of us would even withhold the awls and hooks, if we could; others, at the risk of being "hauled up" for extravagance, would add another hook to the number.
Were the Company's standing rules and regulations acted upon, we might perhaps have some title to the generosity we boast of. In these rules we are directed to supply poor Indians with ammunition and fishing tackle, gratis. This looks very well on paper; but are we allowed the means of bestowing these gratuities? Certainly not. Our outfits, in many cases, are barely sufficient to meet the exigencies of the trade; they are continually reduced in proportion to the decrease in the returns; and the strictest economy is not only recommended, but enforced. On the due fulfilment of these commands our prospects in the service depend; and few indeed will think of violating them, or of sacrificing their own interests to benefit Indians. I repeat that, far from having it in our power to bestow anything gratuitously, we are happy when allowed sufficient means to barter for the furs the Indians bring us.
[Footnote 3: When the Israelites were ordered to provide straw for their bricks, the material could be procured in Egypt, although at the expense of great additional toil;—not so the supplies for the Indian trade; in the event of a deficiency, neither money nor labour can procure them.]
The Company also make it appear by their standing rules, that we are directed to instruct the children, to teach the servants, &c.; but where are the means of doing so? A few books, I have been told, were sent out for this purpose, after the coalition; what became of them I know not. I never saw any. The history of commercial rule is well known to the world; the object of that rule, wherever established, or by whomsoever exercised, is gain. In our intercourse with the natives of America no other object is discernible, no other object is thought of, no other object is allowed.
ARRIVAL OF MR. LEFROY—VOYAGE TO THE LOWER POSTS OF THE MACKENZIE—AVALANCHE—INCIDENTS OF THE VOYAGE—VOYAGE TO PORTAGE LA LOCHE—ARBITRARY AND UNJUST CONDUCT OF THE GOVERNOR—DESPOTISM—MY REPLY TO THE GOVERNOR.
In the early part of this winter several Indians came in, complaining that they were starving for want of food; and their emaciated forms proved that they did not complain without cause. Our means, however, were too limited to afford them any effectual relief. We were glad to learn afterwards, that although many suffered, none died from actual want; and the rabbits soon afterwards appearing in greater numbers than had been seen for years past, relief was obtained.
Towards the latter end of March, I was gratified by the arrival of Mr. Lefroy. This gentleman seems equal to all the hardships and privations of a voyageur's life, having performed the journey from Athabasca hither, a distance of at least six hundred miles, on snow-shoes, without appearing to have suffered any inconvenience from it; thus proving himself the ablest mangeur de lard we have had in the country for a number of years: there are many of our old winterers who would have been glad to excuse themselves if required to undertake such a journey.
The winter passed without any remarkable occurrence; and on the breaking up of the river, I set off for the lower posts, on the 23d of May, accompanied by Mr. Lefroy, whose zeal for scientific discovery neither cold, nor hunger, nor fatigue, seems to depress. We arrived at Fort Norman on the 27th of May; and after a few hours' delay, embarked, proceeding down stream, night and day.
We reached Fort Good Hope on the 29th, late in the evening; but evening, morning, midnight, and noon-day, are much the same here: I wrote at midnight by the clear light of heaven. The scientific reader need not be informed, that within the arctic circle the sun is but a very short time beneath the horizon, during the summer solstice. The people of Fort Good Hope see him rising and setting behind the same hill; and in clear weather his rays shed a light above the horizon even after he is set; while during the winter solstice the same hill nearly conceals him from view. Yet the gentleman in charge of this post has passed two years without an inch of candle to light himself to bed; and his predecessor did the same; so that he has no reason to complain.
On our way down we observed a land-slip, or avalanche of earth, that had just tumbled into the river. Mr. Lefroy examined the bank whence it had been detached, and found, by measurement, that the frozen ground was forty-six feet in depth!
Our short sojourn at Fort Good Hope was rendered very unpleasant by the dismal weather; it continued snowing the whole time we remained. The storm abating, we embarked at an early hour, on the 31st of May, and had not proceeded above a few leagues, when a fair breeze sprang up, greatly to the satisfaction of all, but especially of the poor fellows whose toil it relieved. It continued increasing; reef after reef was taken in, till our sheet was finally reduced to a few feet in depth; yet so furious was the gale that we ascended the strongest current with nearly the same velocity we had descended; while the snow fell so thick, and the spray from the river was driven about so violently by the wind, that we could scarce see our way, and only escaped being dashed against the beach by keeping in the centre of the stream. It was also extremely cold; so that our situation in an open boat was not the most enviable.
We arrived at Fort Norman on the 2d of June, about five, A.M., and remained until eleven, A.M., when we embarked, the gale still continuing with unabated violence. Immediately after leaving the Fort the gale carried away our mast; fortunate it was for us that it gave way, else the boat must have capsized. We soon got another mast from the Fort, and sped on our way night and day, if it can be said there is any night here, when the light is so powerful as to throw the stars into the shade. Without experiencing much change in wind or weather, we arrived at Fort Simpson on the 8th of June; having thus performed a voyage of about 1,400 miles (going and coming) in eleven days, including stoppages. I found Mr. Lewis so far recovered from the effects of his wound as to be able to take the same active part in the management of affairs as formerly.
The returns from the different posts being now received, we found them to amount to upwards of 15,000l. in value, according to the tariff of last year. Everything being ready for our departure, we left Fort Simpson on the 15th of June, Mr. Lefroy embarking with us. We proceeded to Great Slave Lake without interruption, the weather extremely fine. Within a day's rowing of Fort Resolution we encountered a field of ice that arrested our progress, till a change of wind carried it out to sea.
The moment a passage opened we observed a large canoe making for our encampment. It proved to be Mr. Lefroy's, which he had left with the most of his people at Athabasca. Mr. Lefroy embarked in his own craft, and we proceeded to Fort Resolution in company; and as he had determined on following a different route to Athabasca, we parted here, most probably never to meet again in this life. Few gentlemen ever visited this country who acquired so general esteem as Mr. Lefroy; his gentlemanly bearing and affable manners endeared him to us all. We arrived at Athabasca on the 5th of July, and at Portage La Loche on the 25th, where we found an increased number of half-breeds waiting our arrival.
The brigade from York Factory arrived with the outfit on the 2d of August, and we exchanged cargoes with the utmost expedition, they receiving the returns of the district, and we the outfit brought by them. By this conveyance I received letters from the Governor, acquainting me "that another gentleman was appointed to the charge of McKenzie's River District, and that he (the Governor) could not conceive on what grounds I fancied myself to be the person so appointed, as he was certain I could not have arrived at such a conclusion from perusing the instructions I had received from him last year!" Until now I thought I understood the English language as well as most people; but the Governor makes it appear plainly enough that I ought still to confine myself to the old Celtic.
The instructions above referred to being given in the foregoing pages, I shall leave the reader to form his own opinion of one who, in the high and honourable position of a Governor, could treat so ungenerously one whom he admitted to be a faithful and meritorious servant, and whom he had acknowledged to be deserving of preferment: and that not on the present only, but on several former occasions.
This last insult I consider the climax to the wrongs I have so long suffered. First I am appointed in the usual terms to the charge of a district. I am allowed to continue in that opinion for a twelvemonth; I enter into correspondence with the gentlemen of the district as their future superintendent, and make my arrangements with them as such; and, au bout du compte, am ordered back to the same district to mix with the crowd, and submit to another master. I leave it to the reader to judge whether such a Governor could possibly have the interests of the Company at heart; even supposing for a moment there were no injustice in the case; I leave it to him to consider what effect a conduct and measures so vacillating, unsteady and arbitrary, are likely to have on the service and interests of the Company.
This last act of the Governor made me completely disgusted with a service where such acts could be tolerated. In no colony subject to the British Crown is there to be found an authority so despotic as is at this day exercised in the mercantile Colony of Rupert's Land; an authority combining the despotism of military rule with the strict surveillance and mean parsimony of the avaricious trader. From Labrador to Nootka Sound the unchecked, uncontrolled will of a single individual gives law to the land. As to the nominal Council which is yearly convoked for form's sake, the few individuals who compose it know better than to offer advice where none would be accepted; they know full well that the Governor has already determined on his own measures before one of them appears in his presence. Their assent is all that is expected of them, and that they never hesitate to give. Many years pass without such a thing as a legally constituted Council being held. A legal Council ought to consist of seven members besides the Governor; three chief factors and four chief traders. The Council, however, seldom consists of more than five members and the Governor.
Some years ago, I happened to be at an establishment where a "Council" was about to be held. On inquiring of his Excellency's Secretary what subject of moment he thought would first engage their attention—
"Engage their attention!" he replied; "bless your heart, man! the minutes of Council were all drawn out before we arrived here; I have them in my pocket."
Clothed with a power so unlimited, it is not to be wondered at that a man who rose from a humble situation should in the end forget what he was and play the tyrant. Let others, if they will, submit to be so ruled with a rod of iron. I at least shall not.
In reply to his favour, I addressed the following letter to his Excellency, a transcript of which I transmitted to the Committee.
"Portage La Loche, "August 3, 1844.
"To SIR GEORGE SIMPSON, Governor of Rupert's Land:—
"SIR—I have the honour to acknowledge your several favours from Lachine and Red River, and am mortified to learn by them you should think me so stupid as not to understand your letters on the subject of my appointment to the charge of the district; your language being so clear, in fact, as to admit of no other construction than the one I put upon it. By referring to the minutes of Council for 1843, I find myself appointed to Fort Good Hope for that year; but you wrote me subsequently to the breaking up of the Council, and used these words: 'That is now the finest field we have for the extension of trade, and I count much on your activity for promoting our views in that quarter. But while directing your attention to the extension of your district, you must also use your best endeavours to curtail the indents.'
"Your letter to Mr. C.F. Lewis states, in nearly these words, that I 'am appointed to succeed him;' and you beg of him 'to deliver into my hands all the documents that refer to the affairs of the district.' Mr. Lewis understood your letters in the same sense as myself, and so did every other person who perused them. What your object may have been in altering this arrangement afterwards, is best known to yourself; and whether such conduct can be reconciled with the principles of honour and integrity which you so strongly recommend in others, and which are so necessary to the well-being of society, is a question which I shall leave for the present to your own decision; while I cannot avoid remarking, that the treatment I have experienced from you on this and on many other occasions, is as unworthy of yourself and as unworthy of the high station you fill, as I am undeserving of it.
"When in 1837, I was congratulated by every member of Council then present at Norway House on the prospect of my immediate promotion, (having all voted for me,) your authority was interposed, and I was, as a matter of course, rejected. You were then candid enough to tell me that I should not have your interest until the two candidates you then had in view were provided for, and that it would then be my turn. With this assurance from you I cheerfully prepared for my exile to Ungava. My turn only came, however, after seven other promotions had been made, and I found myself the last on the list of three gentlemen who were promoted at the same time.
"You are pleased to jest with the hardships I experienced while battling the watch with opposition in the Montreal department, and the privations I afterwards endured in New Caledonia. Surely, Sir, you ought to have considered it sufficient to have made me your dupe, and not add insult to oppression. While in the Montreal department I have your handwriting to show your approval of my 'meritorious conduct,' the course I was pursuing being 'the direct road to preferment;' and your intention, even then, 'to recommend me to the favourable notice of the Governor and Committee;'—promises in which I placed implicit confidence at the time, being as yet a stranger to the ways of the world.—The result of these promises, however, was that the moment opposition had ceased, I was ordered to resign my situation to another, and march to enjoy the 'delectable scenery' of New Caledonia; from thence you sent me to Ungava, where you say you are not aware I experienced any particular hardship or privation.
"You are aware of the circumstances in which I found myself when I arrived there: that consideration was not allowed to interpose between me and my duty, however; and I accordingly traversed that desolate country in the depth of winter,—a journey that nearly cost myself and my companions our lives. I then continued to explore the country during the entire period of my command, and finally succeeded in discovering a practicable communication with Esquimaux Bay, and in determining the question so long involved in uncertainty as to the riches the interior possessed, and by so doing saved an enormous expense to the concern. The Hon. Committee are aware of my exertions in that quarter, themselves, as I had the honour of being in direct communication with them while there.
"I have the honour, &c. (Signed) "JOHN MCLEAN."
SITUATION OF FORT SIMPSON—CLIMATE—THE LIARD—EFFECTS OF THE SPRING FLOODS—TRIBES INHABITING MACKENZIE'S RIVER DISTRICT—PECULIARITIES—DISTRESS THROUGH FAMINE—CANNIBALISM—ANECDOTE—FORT GOOD HOPE SAVED BY THE INTREPIDITY OF M. DECHAMBAULT—DISCOVERIES OF MR. CAMPBELL.
Mr. Lewis embarked for York Factory on the 4th of August. I set out on my return on the 6th, and arrived at Fort Simpson on the 22d. Having prepared and sent off the outfit for the different posts with all possible expedition, I found myself afterwards at leisure to note down whatever I thought worthy of being recorded with reference to this section of the country.
There are seven posts in this district; three on the River Liard and its tributaries; three on the banks of McKenzie's River, and one on Peel's River. About two degrees to the north of Good Hope, Fort Simpson, the depot of the district, is situated at the confluence of the Liard and McKenzie, in lat. 61 deg. north. Heat and cold are here felt in the extremes; the thermometer frequently falls to 50 deg. minus in winter, and rises sometimes to 100 deg. in the shade in summer. The River Liard has its source in the south among the Rocky Mountains: its current is remarkably strong; and in the early part of summer, when swollen by the melting of the snow, it rushes down in a foaming torrent, and pours into the McKenzie, still covered with solid ice, when a scene ensues terrific and grand:—the ice, resisting for some time the force of the flood, ultimately gives way with the noise of thunder, and clashing, roaring and tumbling, it rolls furiously along until it accumulates to such an extent as to dam the river across. This again presents, for a time, a solid barrier to the flood, which is stopped in its course; it then rises sometimes to the height of thirty and forty feet, overflowing the adjacent country for miles, and levelling the largest trees with the ground. The effects of this frightful conflict are visible in all the lower grounds along the river. The trading posts are situated on the higher grounds, yet they are not secure from danger. Fort Good Hope was swept clean away some years ago, and its inmates only saved themselves by getting into a boat that happened fortunately to be at hand. The McKenzie opens about the end of May, and is ice-bound in November.
The tribes who inhabit the banks of the McKenzie, and the interior parts of the district, are members of the powerful and numerous Chippewayan family, and are known by the names of Slaves, Dogribs, Rabbitskins, and Gens des Montagnes. The Loucheux, or Squint-Eyes, frequent the post on Peel's River, and speak a different language; their hunting-grounds are within the Russian boundary, and are supposed to be rich in fur-bearing animals. The Loucheux have no affinity with the Chippewayan tribes, nor with their neighbours, the Esquimaux, with whom, however, they maintain constant intercourse, though not always of the most friendly kind, violent quarrels frequently occurring between them. The various dialects spoken by the other tribes are intelligible to all; in manners, customs, and personal appearance, there is also the closest similarity.
In one point, however, these tribes differ, not only from the parent tribe, but from all the other tribes of America;—they treat their women with the utmost kindness, the men performing all the drudgery that usually falls to the women. Here the men are the hewers of wood and drawers of water; they even clear away the snow for the encampment; and, in short, perform every laborious service. This is indeed passing strange;—the Chippewayans, and all other Indians, treat their women with harshness and cruelty; while the women on the banks of the McKenzie—Scottice—"wear the breeks!" The Rabbitskins and Slaves are in truth a mild, harmless, and even a timid race; could it be this softness of disposition that induced the weaker sex first to dispute, and finally to assume the supremacy?—or what cause can be assigned for a trait so peculiar in this remotely situated portion of the Indian race?
These tribes clothe themselves with the skins of rabbits, and feed on their flesh; when the rabbits fail, they are reduced to the greatest distress both for food and raiment. I saw a child that remained naked for several days after its birth, its parents having devoured every inch of their miserable dress that could be spared from their bodies: it was at last swaddled in crow's skins!
These two tribes generally live near the banks of the great rivers, and seem disposed to pass their pilgrimage on earth with as little toil, and as little regard to comfort, as any people in being. They pass summer and winter in the open air; they huddle together in an encampment, without any other shelter from the inclemency of the weather than what is afforded by the spreading branches of some friendly pine, and use no more fire than what is barely sufficient to keep them from freezing. Their wants are few, and easily provided for; when they have killed a few deer to afford them sinews for making rabbit-snares, they may be said to be independent for the remainder of the season. Their work consists in setting those snares, carrying home the game caught in them, eating them when cooked, and then lying down to sleep. A taste, however, for articles of European manufacture is gaining ground among them, and to obtain those articles a more active life is necessary, so that some tolerable fur-hunters are now to be found among them.
The Dogribs occupy the barren grounds that are around Great Bear Lake, and extend to the Copper-mine River. That part of the country abounds in rein-deer, whose skin and flesh afford food and raiment to the natives. They are a strong, athletic, well-formed race of Indians, and are considered more warlike than their neighbours, who evidently dread them.
None of the Indians who frequent the posts on McKenzie's River have hereditary chiefs; the dignity is conferred by the gentlemen in charge of posts on the best hunters. On these occasions a suit of clothes is bestowed, the most valued article of which is a coat of coarse red cloth, decorated with lace; and, as the reward of extraordinary merit, a felt hat is added, ornamented in the same manner, with a feather stuck in the side of it. Thus equipped, the new-made chief sallies forth to receive the gratulations of his admiring friends and relatives, among whom the coat is ultimately divided, and probably finishes its course in the shape of a tobacco-pouch. In course of time, the individuals thus distinguished obtain some weight in the councils of their people, but their influence is very limited; the whole of the Chippewayan tribes seem averse to superior rule.
Like the Esquimaux and Carriers, they seem to have had no idea of religion prior to the settlement of Europeans among them; all the terms they at present use in reference to the subject seem of recent origin, and invented by the interpreters. They name the Deity, "Ya ga ta-that-hee-hee,"—"The Man who reclines on the sky;" angels are called "the birds of the Deity,"—"ya gat he-be e Yadze;" the devil, "Ha is linee," or, "the sorcerer."
The Slaves and Rabbitskins have also their magicians, whom alone they fear and reverence. Polygamy is not common, yet there are instances of one man having two female masters. In times of famine the cravings of hunger often drive these poor Indians to desperation, when the feelings of humanity and of nature seem utterly eradicated.
During the fearful distress of the two past years, a band of Slaves came to Fort Simpson in a condition not to be described. Many of them had perished by the way; but the history of one family is the most shocking I ever heard. The husband first destroyed the wife, and packed her up as provision for the journey. The supply proving insufficient, one of the children was next sacrificed. The cannibal was finally left by the party he accompanied with only one child remaining—a boy of seven or eight years of age. Mr. Lewis immediately despatched two men with some pemmican, to meet him; the aid came too late,—they found the monster roasting a part of his last child at the fire. Horrified at the sight, they uttered not a word, but threw the provisions into the encampment, and retreated as fast as they could. A few days afterwards this brute arrived strong and hearty, and appeared as unconcerned as if all had gone on well with him and his family. Cannibalism is more frequently known among the Slaves and Rabbitskins than any other of the kindred tribes; and it is said that women are generally the perpetrators of the crime; it is also said, that when once they have tasted of this unhallowed food they prefer it to every other.
All the Chippewayan tribes dispose of their dead by placing them in tombs made of wood, and sufficiently strong to resist the attacks of wild beasts. The body is laid in the tomb at full length, without any particular direction being observed as to the head or feet. Neither they, nor any other Indians I am acquainted with, place their dead in a sitting posture.
It is affirmed by some writers that the Indians have a tradition among them of the migration of their progenitors from east to west. I have had every opportunity of investigating the question, and able interpreters wherever I wintered; but I never could learn that any such tradition existed. Even in their tales and legends there is never any reference to a distant land; when questioned in regard to this, their invariable answer is, "Our fathers and our fathers' fathers have hunted on these lands ever since the flood, and we never heard of any other country till the whites came among us." These tribes have the same tradition in regard to the flood, that I heard among the Algonquins at the gates of Montreal, some trifling incidents excepted.
Unlike most other Indians, the Slaves have no fixed bounds to their hunting-grounds, but roam at large, and kill whatever game comes in their way, without fear of their neighbours. The hunter who first finds a beaver-lodge claims it as his property, but his claim is not always respected.
Besides the Indians enumerated in the preceding pages, a number of stragglers, but little known to us, occasionally resort to the post. A band of these—nine in number—made their appearance at Fort Norman this summer; and, after trading their furs, set out for Fort Good Hope, with the avowed intention of plundering the establishment, and carrying off all the women they could find. On arriving at the post they rushed in, their naked bodies blackened and painted after the manner of warriors bent on shedding blood; each carrying a gun and dirk in his hands.
The chief, on being presented with the usual gratuity—a piece of tobacco, rudely refused it; and commenced a violent harangue against the whites, charging them with the death of all the Indians who had perished by hunger during the last three years; and finally challenged M. Dechambault, the gentleman in charge of the post, to single combat. M. Dechambault, dicto citius, instantly sprung upon him, and twisting his arm into his long hair, laid him at his feet; and pointing his dagger at his throat, dared him to utter another word. So sudden and unexpected was this intrepid act, that the rest of the party looked on in silent astonishment, without power to assist their fallen chief, or revenge his disgrace. M. Dechambault was too generous to strike a prostrate foe, even although a savage, but allowed the crest-fallen chief to get on his legs again; and thus the affair ended.
The Company owe the safety of the establishment to Mr. D.'s intrepidity: had he hesitated to act at the decisive moment, the game was up with him, for he had only two lads with him, on whose aid he could place but little reliance. Mr. D. has been thirty years in the Company's service, and is still a clerk; but he is himself to blame for his want of promotion, having been so inconsiderate as to allow himself to be born in Canada, a crime which admits of no expiation.
This district is at present by far the richest in furs of any in the country; this is owing partly to the indolence of the natives, and partly to the circumstance of the beaver in some localities being, through the barrenness of the surrounding country, inaccessible to the hunter. When the haunts of the animal become overcrowded, they send forth colonies to other quarters.
At the first arrival of the Europeans, large animals, especially moose and wood rein-deer, were abundant everywhere. In those times the resources of the district were adequate to the supply of provisions for every purpose; whereas, of late years, we have been under the necessity of applying for assistance to other districts.
A new field has lately been laid open for the extension of the trade of this district. An enterprising individual—Mr. R. Campbell—having been for several years employed in exploring the interior, last summer succeeded in finding his way to the west side of the Rocky Mountain chain. The defile he followed led him to the banks of a very large river, on which he embarked with his party of hardy pioneers; and following its course for several days through a charming country, rich in game of every description—elk, rein-deer, and beaver, he eventually fell in with Indians, who received them kindly, although they had never seen Europeans before. From them he learned that a party of whites, Russians of course, had ascended the river in the course of the summer, had quarrelled with the natives, and killed several of them; and that the whites had returned forthwith to the coast. These friendly Indians entreated Mr. C. to proceed no farther, representing that he and his party were sure to fall victims to their revenge. This, however, could not shake his resolution; he had set out with the determination of proceeding to the sea at all hazards, and no prospect of danger could turn him from it; till his party refused to proceed farther on any conditions, when he was compelled to return.
The returns of this district have, for years past, averaged 12,000l. per annum; the outfit, including supplies for officers and servants, has not exceeded as many hundreds. The affairs of the different posts are managed by seven or eight clerks and postmasters; and there are about forty hired servants—Europeans, Canadians, and half-breeds; Indians are hired for the trip to the portage. The living for some years past has not been such as Gil Blas describes, as "fit to tickle the palate of a bishop;" at Fort Simpson we had, for the most part of the season, fish and potatoes for breakfast, potatoes and fish for dinner, and cakes made of flour and grease for supper. The fish procured in this quarter is of a very inferior quality.
MR. MACPHERSON ASSUMES THE COMMAND—I AM APPOINTED TO FORT LIARD, BUT EXCHANGE FOR GREAT SLAVE LAKE—THE INDIANS—RESOLVE TO QUIT THE SERVICE—PHENOMENA OF THE LAKE.
On the 2d of October Mr. McPherson arrived from Canada, and I forthwith demitted the charge. I was now appointed to Fort Liard, but the season being far advanced, it had been found necessary to appoint another previously, whose arrangements for the season being completed, it was deemed expedient that I should pass the winter at Great Slave Lake; and I embarked for that station accordingly on the 4th, and arrived on the 16th.
This post formerly belonged to Athabasca, but is now transferred to McKenzie's River district. The natives consist of Chippewayans, properly so called, and Yellow Knives, a kindred tribe; the former inhabit the wooded parts of the country, extending along the northern and eastern shores of the lake; and the latter, the opposite side extending towards the Arctic regions, where there is no wood to be found; it abounds, however, in rein-deer and musk oxen. The Yellow Knives were at one time a powerful and numerous tribe; but their number has been greatly diminished by a certain disease that lately prevailed among them, and proved peculiarly fatal. They also waged a short but bloody war with the Dogribs, that cost many lives. They muster at present between sixty and eighty men able to bear arms.
The Chippewayans in this quarter are a shrewd sensible people, and evince an eager readiness to imitate the whites. Some years ago a Methodist Missionary visited Athabasca; and although he remained but a short time, his instructions seemed to have made a deep impression. They observe the Sabbath with great strictness, never stirring from their lodges to hunt, nor even to fetch home the game when killed, on that day; and they carefully abstain from all the grosser vices to which they formerly were addicted. What might not be expected of a people so docile, if they possessed the advantages of regular instruction!
Having fortunately a supply of books with me, and other means of amusement, I found the winter glide away without suffering much from ennui; my health, however, proved very indifferent; and that circumstance alone would have been sufficient to induce me to quit this wretched country, even if my earlier prospects had been realized, as they have not been. From the accompt current, I find my income as chief trader for 1841 amounts to no more than 120l.: "Sic vos non vobis mellificatis apes;" and since things are come to this pass, it is high time I should endeavour to make honey for myself, in some other sphere of life. I therefore transmitted my resignation to head-quarters.
I cannot close this chapter without mentioning a singular phenomenon which the lake presents in the winter season. The ice is never less than five feet in thickness, frequently from eight to nine; yet the water under this enormous crust not only feels the changes in the atmosphere, but anticipates them. An approaching change of wind or weather is known twenty-four hours before it occurs. For instance, while the weather is perfectly calm, if a storm be at hand, the lake becomes violently agitated the day before; when calm weather is to succeed, it is indicated in like manner by the previous stillness of the lake, even when the gale is still raging in the air. In summer there is no perceptible current in the lake; in winter, however, a current always sets in the direction of the wind, and indicates a change of wind by running in a different direction. These curious points have been ascertained by the long observation of our fishermen, who, in the beginning of winter, bore holes in the ice for the purpose of setting their lines, and visit them every day, both in order to keep them open, and to take up what fish may be caught.
In consequence of the frequent shifting of the current, they experience no little difficulty in adjusting their lines, the current being occasionally so strong as to raise them to an angle of forty degrees. Thus, if the lines were too long, and the current not very strong, they would drag on the bottom; if too short, and the current strong, they would be driven up upon the ice. The approach of a storm is indicated, not by any heaving of the ice, but by the strength of the current, and the roaring of the waves under the ice, which is distinctly heard at a considerable distance, and is occasionally increased by the collision of detached masses of broken ice, which, in the earlier part of the season, have been driven under the main crust.
REFLECTIONS—PROSPECTS IN THE SERVICE—DECREASE OF THE GAME—COMPANY'S POLICY IN CONSEQUENCE—APPEAL OF THE INDIANS—MEANS OF PRESERVING THEM, AND IMPROVING THEIR CONDITION—ABOLITION OF THE CHARTER—OBJECTIONS ANSWERED.
The history of my career may serve as a warning to those who may be disposed to enter the Hudson's Bay Company's service. They may learn that, from the moment they embark in the Company's canoes at Lachine, or in their ships at Gravesend, they bid adieu to all that civilized man most values on earth. They bid adieu to their family and friends, probably for ever; for if they should remain long enough to attain the promotion that allows them the privilege of revisiting their native land—a period of from twenty to twenty-five years—what changes does not this life exhibit in a much shorter time? They bid adieu to all the comforts and conveniences of civilized life, to vegetate at some desolate, solitary post, hundreds of miles, perhaps, from any other human habitation, save the wig-wam of the savage; without any other society than that of their own thoughts, or of the two or three humble individuals who share their exile. They bid adieu to all the refinement and cultivation of civilized life, not unfrequently becoming semi-barbarians,—so altered in habits and sentiments, that they not only become attached to savage life, but eventually lose all relish for any other.
I can give good authority for this. The Governor, writing me last year regarding some of my acquaintances who had recently retired, observes—"They are comfortably settled, but apparently at a loss what to do with themselves; and sigh for the Indian country, the squaws, and skins, and savages."
Such are the rewards the Indian trader may expect;—add to these, in a few cases, the acquisition of some thousands, which, after forty years' exile, he has neither health, nor strength, nor taste to enjoy. Few instances have occurred of gentlemen retiring with a competency under thirty-five or forty years' servitude, even in the best days of the trade; what period may be required to attain that object in these times, is a question not easily solved. Up to 1840, one eighty-fifth share had averaged 400l. per annum; since then, however, the dividends have been on the decline, nor are they ever likely to reach the same amount, for several reasons,—the chief of which is the destruction of the fur-bearing animals.
In certain parts of the country, it is the Company's policy to destroy them along the whole frontier; and our general instructions recommend that every effort be made to lay waste the country, so as to offer no inducement to petty traders to encroach on the Company's limits. Those instructions have indeed had the effect of ruining the country, but not of protecting the Company's domains. Along the Canadian frontier, the Indians, finding no more game on their own lands, push beyond the boundary, and not only hunt on the Company's territory, but carry a supply of goods with them, which they trade with the natives. Their Honours' fiat has also nearly swept away the fur animals on the west side of the Rocky Mountains; yet I doubt whether all this precaution will ensure the integrity of their domains. The Americans have taken possession of the Columbia, and will speedily multiply and increase: ere many years their trappers will be found scouring the interior, from the banks of the Columbia to New Caledonia, and probably penetrating to the east side of the Rocky Mountains. Should they do so, that valuable part of the country embraced by the Peace and McKenzie Rivers would soon be ruined; for the white trapper makes a clean sweep wherever he goes. Taking all these circumstances into consideration, I do not see any great probability—to say the least—that the trade will ever attain the prosperity of days bygone.
Even in such parts of the country as the Company endeavour to preserve, both the fur-bearing and larger animals have of late become so scarce, that some tribes are under the necessity of quitting their usual hunting-grounds. A certain gentleman, in charge of a district to which some of those Indians withdrew, on being censured for harbouring them in his vicinity, writes thus:—"Pray, is it surprising, that poor Indians, whose lives are in jeopardy, should relish a taste of buffalo meat? It is not the Chippewayans alone that leave their lands to go in search of food to preserve their lives; the Strongwood Crees and Assineboines are all out in the plains, because, as they affirm, their usual hunting-grounds are so exhausted that they cannot live upon them. It is no wish of mine that those Indians should visit us—we have trouble enough with our own,—but to turn a poor Indian out of doors, who arrives at the Company's establishment nearly dead with hunger, is what I am not able to do."
In the work already quoted I find it stated "that the Company have carefully nursed the various animals, removing their stations from the various districts where they had become scarce, and taking particular care to preserve the female while pregnant! instead, therefore, of being in a state of diminution, as generally supposed, the produce is increasing throughout their domains." Fudge! It is unnecessary to say, that if this statement were correct, we should not hear such distressing accounts of starvation throughout the country. No people can be more attached to their native soil than the Indians; and it is only the most pressing necessity that ever compels them to remove.
In 1842 the Governor and Committee issued positive orders that the beavers should be preserved, and every effort made to prevent the Indians from killing them for a period of three years. This was, in a great measure, "shutting the stable door after the steed was stolen." The beavers had already been exterminated in many parts of the country; and even where some were yet to be found, our injunctions to the natives to preserve them had but little weight. To appease their hunger they killed whatever game came in their way, and as we were not permitted to buy the beaver skins, they either converted them into articles of clothing for themselves or threw them away. Now (1845) the restriction is removed, and the beavers have sensibly increased; but mark the result: the natives are not only encouraged but strenuously urged to hunt, in order that the parties interested may indemnify themselves for their lost time; and ere three years more shall have elapsed, the beaver will be found scarcer than ever.
It is thus evident that whatever steps their Honours may take to preserve the game, the attainment of that object, in the present exhausted state of the country, is no longer practicable.
As to the Company's having ever issued orders, or recommended any particular measures for the preservation of the larger animals, male or female, the statement is positively untrue. The minutes of the Council are considered the statutes of the land, and in them the provision districts are directed to furnish so many bags of pemmican, so many bales of dry meat, and so many cwt. of grease, every year; and no reference whatever is made to restrictions of any kind in killing the animals. The fact is, the provisions must be forthcoming whatever be the consequence; our business cannot be carried on without them.
That the natives wantonly destroy the game in years of deep snow is true enough; but the snow fell to as great a depth before the advent of the whites as after, and the Indians were as prone to slaughter the animals then as now; yet game of every description abounded and want was unknown. To what cause then are we to ascribe the present scarcity? There can be but one answer—to the destruction of the animals which the prosecution of the fur-trade involves.
As the country becomes impoverished, the Company reduce their outfits so as to ensure the same amount of profit,—an object utterly beyond their reach, although economy is pushed to the extreme of parsimony; and thus, while the game becomes scarcer, and the poor natives require more ammunition to procure their living, their means of obtaining it, instead of being increased, are lessened. As an instance of the effects of this policy, I shall mention what recently occurred in the Athabasca district.
Up to 1842 the transport of the outfit required four boats, when it was reduced to three. The reduction in the article of ammunition was felt so severely by the Chippewayans, that the poor creatures, in absolute despair, planned a conspiracy to carry off the gentleman at the head of affairs, and retain him until the Company should restore the usual outfit.
Despair alone could have suggested such an idea to the Chippewayans, for they have ever been the friends of the white man. Mr. Campbell, however, who had passed his life among them, conducted himself with so much firmness and judgment, that, although the natives had assembled in his hall with the intention of carrying their design into execution, the affair passed over without any violence being attempted.
The general outfit for the whole northern department amounted in 1835, to 31,000l.; now (1845) it is reduced to 15,000l., of which one-third at least is absorbed by the stores at Red River settlement, and a considerable portion of the remainder by the officers and servants of the Company throughout the country. I do not believe that more than one half of the outfit goes to the Indians.
While the resources of the country are thus becoming yearly more and more exhausted, the question naturally suggests itself, What is to become of the natives when their lands can no longer furnish the means of subsistence? This is indeed a serious question, and well worthy of the earnest attention of the philanthropist. While Britain makes such strenuous exertions in favour of the sable bondsmen of Africa, and lavishes her millions to free them from the yoke, can nothing be done for the once noble, but now degraded, aborigines of America? Are they to be left to the tender mercies of the trader until famine and disease sweep them from the earth? People of Britain! the Red Men of America thus appeal to you;—from the depths of their forest they send forth their cry—
"Brethren! beyond the Great Salt Lake, we, the Red Men of America salute you:— "Brethren!
"We hear that you are a great and a generous people; that you are as valiant as generous; and that you freely shed your blood and scatter your gold in defence of the weak and oppressed; if it be so, you will open your ears to our plaints.
"Brethren! Our ancients still remember when the Red Men were numerous and happy; they remember the time when our lands abounded with game; when the young men went forth to the chase with glad hearts and vigorous limbs, and never returned empty; in those days our camps resounded with mirth and merriment; our youth danced and enjoyed themselves; they anointed their bodies with fat; the sun never set on a foodless wigwam, and want was unknown.
"Brethren! When your kinsmen came first to us with guns, and ammunition, and other good things the work of your hands, we were glad and received them joyfully; our lands were then rich, and yielded with little toil both furs and provisions to exchange for the good things they brought us.
"Brethren! Your kinsmen are still amongst us; they still bring us goods, and now we cannot want them; without guns and ammunition we must die. Brethren! our fathers were urged by the white men to hunt; our fathers listened to them; they ranged wood and plain to gratify their wishes; and now our lands are ruined, our children perish with hunger.
"Brethren! We hear that you have another Great Chief who rules over you, to whom even our great trading Chief must bow; we hear that this great and good Chief desires the welfare of all his children; we hear that to him the white man and the red are alike, and, wonderful to be told! that he asks neither furs nor game in return for his bounty. Brethren! we feel that we can no longer exist as once we did; we implore your Great Chief to shield us in our present distress; we desire to be placed under his immediate care, and to be delivered from the rule of the trading Chief who only wants our furs, and cares nothing for our welfare.
"Brethren! Some of your kinsmen visited us lately; they asked neither our furs nor our flesh; their sojourn was short; but we could see they were good men; they advised us for our good, and we listened to them. Brethren! We humbly beseech your Great Chief that he would send some of those good men to live amongst us: we desire to be taught to worship the Great Spirit in the way most pleasing to him: without teachers among us we cannot learn. We wish to be taught to till the ground, to sow and plant, and to perform whatever the good white people counsel us to do to preserve the lives of our children.
"Brethren! We could say much more, but we have said enough,—we wish not to weary you.
"Brethren! We are all the children of the Great Spirit; the red man and the white man were formed by him. And although we are still in darkness and misery, we know that all good flows from him. May he turn your hearts to pity the distress of your Red Brethren! Thus have we spoken to you."
Such are the groans of the Indians. Would to Heaven they were heard by my countrymen as I have heard them! Would to Heaven that the misery I have witnessed were seen by them! The poor Indians then would not appeal to them in vain. I can scarcely hope that the voice of a humble, unknown individual, can reach the ears, or make any impression on the minds of those who have the supreme rule in Britain; but if there are there men of rank, and fortune, and influence, whose hearts sympathise with the misery and distress of their fellow-men, whatever be their country or hue—and, thank God! there are not a few—it is to those true Britons that I would appeal in behalf of the much-wronged Indians; the true and rightful owners of the American soil.
If I am asked what I would suggest as the most effective means for saving the Indians, I answer: Let the Company's charter be abolished, and the portals of the territory be thrown wide open to every individual of capital and enterprise, under certain restrictions; let the British Government take into its hands the executive power of the territory, and appoint a governor, judges, and magistrates; let Missionaries be sent forth among the Indians;—already the whole of the Chippewayan tribes, from English River to New Caledonia, are disposed to adopt our religion as well as our customs, so that the Missionaries' work is half done. Let those of them who manifest a disposition to steady industry be encouraged to cultivate the ground: let such as evince any aptitude for mechanics be taught some handicraft, and congregated in villages, wherever favourable situations can be found—and there is no want of them. Let schools be established and supported by Government—not mere common schools, where reading, writing, arithmetic, and perhaps some of the higher branches may be taught; but training and industrial schools. Where the soil or climate is unfit for husbandry, other means of improving their condition might be resorted to. In the barren grounds, bordering on the Arctic regions, rein-deer still abound. Why should not the Indians succeed in domesticating these animals, and rendering them subservient to their wants, as the Laplanders do? I have been informed that the Yellow Knives, and some of the other tribes inhabiting these desert tracts, have the art of taming the fawns, which they take in great numbers while swimming after their dams, so that they follow them like dogs till they see fit to kill them.
Such, in brief, are the measures which, after much experience, and long and serious consideration, I would venture to propose in behalf of the Indians; and most happy shall I be if anything I have said shall have the effect of awakening the public interest to their condition; or form the groundwork of any plan which, by the blessing of God, may have the effect of preserving and christianizing the remnants of these unhappy tribes.
It may be objected, that the Company have had their charter renewed for a period of twenty-one years, which does not expire till 1863; and that Government is bound in honour to sustain the validity of the deed. But if Government is bound to protect the interests of the Hudson's Bay Company, is it less bound to protect the property and lives of their weak, ignorant, and wronged subjects? The validity of the original charter, the foundation of the present, is, however, more than questioned: nay, it has been declared by high authority to be null and void. Admitting its validity, and admitting that the dictates of honour call for the fulfilment of the charter in guarding the profits of the few individuals (and their dependants) who assemble weekly in the old house in Fenchurch Street; are we to turn a deaf ear to the still small voice of justice and humanity pleading in behalf of the numerous tribes of perishing Indians? Now, now is the time to apply the remedy; in 1863, where will the Indian be?
If it is urged that the measures I propose violate the charter, deprive the Company of their sovereignty, and reduce them to the situation of subjects; still, I say, they will have vast advantages over every other competitor. Their ample resources, their long exclusive possession of the trade, their experience, the skill and activity of their agents, will long, perhaps permanently, secure to them the greatest portion of the trade; while the Indians will be greatly benefited by a free competition.
If it be urged that the profits will be so much reduced by competition, that the trade will not be worth pursuing; I answer, that competition has certainly a natural tendency to reduce profits; but experience proves that it has also a tendency to reduce costs. A monopolist company never goes very economically to work; and, although much economy, or rather parsimony, of a very questionable and impolitic kind, has been of late years attempted to be introduced into the management of the Hudson's Bay Company's affairs, a free and fair competition will suggest economy of a sounder kind—the facilitating of transport, the improvement of portages, and the saving of labour. Where are the evils which interested alarmists predicted would follow the modification of the East India Company's charter?
I have spoken of restrictions to be imposed on those who engage in the trade. These are;—that no one be allowed to engage in it without a licence from Government;—that these licensed traders should be confined to a certain locality, beyond which they should not move, on any pretext;—and that no spirituous liquors should be sold or given to the Indians under the severest penalties—such as the forfeiture of the offender's licence, and of their right to participate in the trade in all time coming.
WESLEYAN MISSION—MR. EVANS—ENCOURAGEMENT GIVEN BY THE COMPANY—MR. EVANS'S EXERTIONS AMONG THE INDIANS—CAUSES OF THE WITHDRAWAL OF THE COMPANY'S SUPPORT—CALUMNIOUS CHARGES AGAINST MR. EVANS—MR. E. GOES TO ENGLAND—HIS SUDDEN DEATH.
Allusion has been made in a former chapter to the Company's encouragement of Missionaries; I shall now add a few facts by way of illustration.
The Rev. Mr. Evans, a man no less remarkable for genuine piety than for energy and decision of character, had been present at several of the annual meetings of the Indians at Manitoulin Island, and had felt his sympathy deeply awakened by the sight of their degradation and spiritual destitution. While thus affected, he received an invitation from the American Episcopal Methodists to go as a Missionary among the Indians resident in the Union. Feeling, however, that his services were rather due to his fellow-subjects, he resolved to devote his labours and his life to the tribes residing in the Hudson's Bay territory. Having made known his intentions to this Canada Conference, he, together with Messrs. Thomas Hurlburt, and Peter Jacobs, was by them appointed a Missionary, and at their charges sent to that territory. No application was made to the Company, and neither encouragement nor support was expected from them. Mr. E. and his brother Missionaries began their operations by raising with their own hands, unassisted, a house at the Pic; themselves cutting and hauling the timber on the ice. They obtained, indeed, a temporary lodging at Fort Michipicoton, but they not only found their own provisions, but the comforts of the establishment were materially increased by Mr. E.'s and his interpreter's success in fishing and hunting. Late in the fall, accompanied by two Indian boys in a small canoe, Mr. E. made a voyage to Sault Ste. Marie for provisions: and on this expedition, rendered doubly hazardous by the lateness of the season, and the inexperience of his companions, he more than once narrowly escaped being lost.
Returning next season to Canada for his family, he met Sir G. Simpson, on Lake Superior. Having learned that the Mission was already established, and likely to succeed, Sir George received him with the utmost urbanity, treating him not only with kindness but with distinction; he expressed the highest satisfaction at the establishment of the Mission, promised him his utmost support, and at length proposed that arrangement, which, however apparently auspicious for the infant Mission, was ultimately found to be very prejudicial to it.