Father Marquette, of course, by his wild cattle means the bison, of which he proceeds to give an excellent description. He adds: "They are very fierce, and not a year passes without their killing some savages. When attacked, they catch a man on their horns if they can, toss him in the air, throw him on the ground, then trample him under foot and kill him. If a person fires at them from a distance with either a bow or a gun, he must immediately after the shot throw himself down and hide in the grass, for if they perceive him who has fired they run at him and attack him."
Soon after entering the Mississippi, Marquette noticed some rocks which by their height and length inspired awe. "We saw upon one of them two painted monsters which at first made us afraid, and upon which the boldest savages dare not long rest their eyes. They are as large as a calf; they have horns on their heads like those of deer, a horrible look, red eyes, a beard like a tiger's, a face somewhat like a man's, a body covered with scales, and so long a tail that it winds all round the body and ends like that of a fish. Green, red, and black are the three colours composing the picture. Moreover, these two monsters are so well painted that we cannot believe that any savage is their author, for good painters in France would find it difficult to paint so well, and, besides, they are so high up on the rock that it is difficult to reach that place conveniently to paint them."
[Footnote 10: These remarkable rock pictures were situated immediately above the present city of Alton, Illinois. In 1812 they still remained in a good state of preservation, but the thoughtless Americans had gradually destroyed them by 1867 in quarrying the rock for building stone.]
As the Jolliet expedition paddled down the Mississippi—ever so easily and swiftly—a marvellous panorama unfolded itself before the Frenchmen's fascinated gaze. Immense herds of bison occasionally appeared on the river banks, flocks of turkeys flew up from the glades and roosted in the trees and on the river bank. Everywhere the natives seemed friendly, and Father Marquette was usually able to communicate with them through his knowledge of the Illinois Algonkin dialect, which the Siou understood.
On their first meeting with the Mississippi Indians, the French explorers were not only offered the natives' pipes to smoke in token of peace, but an old man amongst the latter uttered these words to Jolliet: "How beautiful the sun is, O Frenchman, when thou comest to visit us. Our village awaits thee, and thou shalt enter all our cabins in peace."... "There was a crowd of people," writes Marquette; "they devoured us with their eyes, but nevertheless preserved profound silence. We could, however, hear these words addressed to us from time to time in a low voice: 'How good it is, my brothers, that you should visit us'.
"... The council was followed by a great feast, consisting of four dishes, which had to be partaken of in accordance with all their fashions. The first course was a great wooden platter full of sagamite, that is to say, meal of Indian corn boiled in water, and seasoned with fat. The Master of the Ceremonies filled a spoon with sagamite three or four times, and put it to my mouth as if I were a little child. He did the same to Monsieur Jollyet. As a second course he caused a second platter to be brought, on which were three fish. He took some pieces of them, removed the bones therefrom, and, after blowing upon them to cool them, he put them in our mouths as one would give food to a bird. For the third course, they brought a large dog that had just been killed, but, when they learned that we did not eat this meat, they removed it from before us. Finally, the fourth course was a piece of wild ox, the fattest morsels of which were placed in our mouths.... We thus pushed forward and no longer saw so many prairies, because both shores of the river are bordered with lofty trees. The cotton wood, elm and bass wood are admirable for their height and thickness. There are great numbers of wild cattle whom we hear bellowing. We killed a little parroquet, with a red and yellow head and green body.... We have got down to near the 33 deg. of latitude.... We heard from afar savages who were inciting one another to attack us by their continual yelling. They were armed with bows and arrows, hatchets, clubs, and shields.... Part of them embarked in great wooden canoes, some to ascend, others to descend the river in order to surround us on all sides.... Some young men threw themselves into the water and seized my canoe, but the current compelled them to return to land. One of them hurled his club, which passed over without striking us. In vain I showed the calumet (pipe of peace), and made them signs that we were not coming to war against them. The alarm continued; they were already preparing to pierce us with arrows from all sides when God suddenly touched the hearts of the old men who were standing at the water's edge, who checked the ardour of their young men.... Whereon we landed, not without fear on our part. First we had to speak by signs, because none of them understood the six languages which I spoke. At last we found an old man who could speak a little Illinois. We informed them that we were going to the sea.
"The next day was spent in feasting on Indian corn and dogs' flesh. The people here had an abundance of Indian corn, which they sowed at all seasons. They cook it in great earthen jars which are very well made, and also have plates of baked earth. The men go naked and wear their hair short; they pierce their noses, from which, as well as from their ears, hang beads.... Their cabins are made of bark, and are long and wide. They sleep at the two ends, which are raised two feet above the ground. They know nothing of the beaver, and their wealth consists in the skins of wild cattle. They never see snow in their country, and recognize the winter only through the rains."
The expedition had passed the confluence of the Missouri and that of the Ohio, and had finally reached the place where the Arkansas River enters the Mississippi. Here the Frenchmen gathered from the natives that the sea was only ten days distant, and this sea they knew (for Jolliet was able to take astronomical observations and to make a rough survey) could only be the Gulf of Mexico. Jolliet feared if he prosecuted his journey any farther, he and his people would fall into the hands of the Spaniards and be imprisoned, if not killed. Therefore, at this point on the Lower Mississippi, the expedition turned back. Its return journey was a weary business, for the current was against the canoes as they were propelled northwards up the Great River. But Jolliet learnt from the natives of a better homeward route, that of following the Illinois River upstream until the expedition came within a very short distance of Lake Michigan, near where Chicago now stands. The canoes were carried over a low ridge of ground, launched again in the Chicago River, and so passed into Lake Michigan. (There is, in fact, at this point the remains of an ancient water connection between Lake Michigan and the Illinois River, and a canal now connects the two systems.) Jolliet, in describing this region, realized that by cutting a canal through two miles of prairie it would be possible to go "in a small ship" from Lake Erie or Lake Superior "to Florida".
Father Marquette remained at his new mission on the Fox River (he died two years afterwards on the shores of the Straits of Michili-makinak). Jolliet, on returning by way of the Ottawa River to Quebec, was nearly drowned in the La Chine Rapids (Montreal), and all his papers and maps were lost. The natives with him also perished, but he struggled to shore with difficulty, and went on his way to Quebec to report his wonderful discoveries to the Governor, Frontenac. Fortunately Father Marquette had also kept a journal and had made maps, and these reaching the superior of his mission arrived in time to confirm Jolliet's statements.
Jolliet married at Quebec, and proceeded to explore and develop the regions along the north coast of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, travelling in this work as far as Hudson's Bay. He was given by the French Government the Island of Anticosti as a reward for his achievements, but the work and capital which he put into the development of this long-neglected island came to nothing; for it was captured by the English, and Jolliet died a poor man whilst attempting to explore the coast of Labrador.
As to ROBERT CAVALIER DE LA SALLE, he had, after all, discovered the Ohio, and had descended that river as far as the site of the present town of Louisville. Then he interested the Governor (Frontenac) of Canada in his enterprises. A fort, called Fort Frontenac, was built at what is now Kingston, at the point where the St. Lawrence leaves Lake Ontario. La Salle returned to France, and obtained the grant of the lordship of this fort and the surrounding country on conditions of maintaining the whole cost of the establishment, and making a settlement of colonists. Another visit to France in 1677-8 secured him further support and capital, and he returned from France with a companion, Henry de Tonty.
La Salle, with de Tonty, started from Fort Frontenac in September, 1678, so intensely anxious to commence his discoveries that he disregarded the difficulties of the winter season. On his way to Niagara he paid a visit to the Iroquois to conciliate them, and cleverly got from them permission to build a vessel on Lake Erie and also to erect a blacksmith's forge, near where Niagara now stands. The blacksmith's forge grew rapidly into a fort before the Indians were aware of what was being done. By August, 1679, he had built and launched (in spite of extraordinary calamities and misfortunes) on the Upper Niagara River the first sailing boat which ever appeared on the four great upper lakes of the St. Lawrence basin.
In this ship he sailed through Lake Erie and past Detroit into Lake Huron, and thence to Green Bay (Lake Michigan), stopping at intervals amongst the canoes of the amazed natives, who for the first time heard the sound of cannon, for he had armed his vessel with guns. At Green Bay he collected a large quantity of furs, which had been obtained in trade by the men he had sent on in advance. He loaded up his sailing boat, the Griffon, and sent her on a voyage back to the east to transport this splendid load of furs to the merchants with whom he had become deeply indebted. Unhappily the Griffon foundered in a storm on Lake Michigan, and was never heard of again. Meantime La Salle, with de Tonty and Father HENNEPIN, the discoverer of Niagara, had travelled in canoes to the south-east end of Lake Michigan, had passed up the Joseph River, and thence by portage into the Kankaki, which flows into the Illinois. This river he descended till he stopped near the site of the modern Peoria. Below this place he built a fort—for it was winter time—and although the natives were not very friendly he collected enough information from them to satisfy himself that he could easily pass down the Illinois to the Mississippi.
He sent one of the Frenchmen, Michel Accault, together with Father Hennepin, to explore the Illinois down to the Mississippi; de Tonty he placed in charge of the fort with a small garrison; and then himself, on the last day of February, 1680, started to walk overland from Lake Michigan to Detroit. Eventually, by means of a canoe, which he constructed himself, he regained Fort Frontenac and Montreal. When he returned to Fort Crevecoeur, on the Illinois River, it was to meet with the signs of a horrible disaster. The Iroquois in his absence had descended on the place with a great war party. They had massacred the Illinois people dwelling in a big settlement near the fort, and the remains of their mutilated bodies were scattered all over the place. Their town had been burnt; the fort was empty and abandoned. There were no traces of the Frenchmen, however, amongst the skulls and skeletons lying around him; for the skulls retained sufficient hair to show that they belonged to Amerindians. Nevertheless, he deposited his new stock of goods and most of his men in the ruins of the Fort Crevecoeur, and descended the River Illinois to the Mississippi. But he was obliged to turn back. On the west bank of the river were the scared Illinois Indians, on the east the raging Iroquois. Whenever La Salle could safely visit a deserted camp he would examine the remains of the tortured men tied to stakes to see if amongst them there was a Frenchman.
[Footnote 11: He had named this place "Heartbreak" because when building it he had learnt of the loss of his sailing ship Griffon, with the splendid supply of furs which was to have paid off his debts, with all his reserve supplies and his men. This was not the limit of his troubles; for, after the overland journey of appalling hardships through a country of melting ice, flood, swamp, and hostile Iroquois—the Iroquois being furious with La Salle for having outwitted them in the building of this fort, and seeking him everywhere to destroy him—when he got to Montreal it was only to learn that a ship, coming from France with further supplies for his great journey had been wrecked at the mouth of the St. Lawrence!]
But de Tonty was not dead. After incredible adventures he had escaped the raids of the Iroquois and had reached the Straits of Michili-makinak, between Lakes Michigan and Huron, and there met La Salle, who was once more on his way to Montreal.
Again de La Salle and de Tonty, in the winter of 1681, returned to the south end of Lake Michigan, and made their way over the snow to the Illinois River. On the 6th February, 1682, they left the junction of the Illinois and the Mississippi to trace that great river to its outlet in the sea. La Salle reached the delta on the 6th April, 1682, having on the way taken possession of the country in the name of the King of France. Accault and Father Hennepin had meantime paddled up the Northern Mississippi as far as its junction with the Wisconsin. At this place their party was surrounded and captured by a large band of Siou warriors.
The Frenchmen were at first in danger of being killed, as the Sious refused to smoke with them the pipe of peace. But being much less bloodthirsty than the Iroquois, they soon calmed down and treated their captives with a certain rough friendliness. All their goods were taken from them, even the vestments worn by Father Hennepin. But they were well supplied with food such as the country produced—bison, beef, fish, wild turkeys, and the grain of the wild rice, which made such excellent flour. They were gradually conveyed by the Siou to a large settlement of that tribe on the shore of Mille Lacs, a sheet of water not far distant from the westernmost extremity of Lake Superior. Whilst staying at this Siou town Hennepin conversed with Indians from the far north and north-west, and from what they told him came to the conclusion that there was no continuous waterway or "Strait of Anian" across the North-American continent, but that the land extended to the north-west till it finally joined the north-eastern part of Asia—a guess that was not very far wrong. But he also surmised that there were rivers in the far west which led to an ocean—the Pacific—across which ships might go to Japan and China without passing to the southward of the Equator.
[Footnote 12: The real name of the Siou, as far as we can arrive at it through the records of the French pioneers, was Issati or Naduessiu.]
Whilst moving up and down the northern Mississippi, bison-hunting with the Indians, the Frenchmen were met near the site of St. Paul by one of the great French pioneers of the seventeenth century, the Sieur DANIEL DE GREYSOLON DU L'HUT. This remarkable man, who was an officer of the French army, had already planted the French arms at the Amerindian settlement of Mille Lacs in 1679, and had established himself as a powerful authority at the west end of Lake Superior. He had also summoned a great council of Amerindian tribes—the Siou from the Upper Mississippi, the Assiniboins from the Lake of the Woods (between Lake Superior and Lake Winnipeg), and the Kri Indians from Lake Nipigon. He had further discovered, in 1679, the water route of the St. Croix River from near Lake Superior to the Mississippi.
Du L'Hut soon persuaded the Siou to let his fellow countrymen return with him to Lake Superior. Accault remained behind with the Siou, delighted with their wild, roving life, and no doubt married an Indian wife and became the father of some of those bold half-breeds who played such a great part in the subsequent history of innermost Canada. But Father Hennepin returned to Montreal, and made his way eventually to France, where he fell into great disgrace and was unfrocked. He had richly merited this treatment, for after he heard of the death of La Salle he impudently claimed the discovery of the whole course of the Mississippi River for himself, and for a long time was believed. He will certainly go down in history as the man who discovered and described Niagara Falls (in 1678), and he also assisted greatly to clear up the geography of the time by the information he collected from the Amerindians as to the vast extent of the North-American continent; but he was a boastful, unscrupulous man.
Du L'Hut, who came to the rescue of Accault and Hennepin, was of noble family, and a member of the king's bodyguard. He decided, however, to seek his fortune in Canada, and obtained a commission as captain. It was his cousin, Henri de Tonty, who had accompanied La Salle. After returning to France to fight in the wars then going on, he came back to Canada with a younger brother, Claude. He had in him the spirit of great adventurers, and longed to visit the unknown countries of the upper Mississippi. In the early part of these journeys he rescued his fellow countrymen from the keeping of the Sious in the manner described. After that he spent thirty years travelling and trading about North America, from the northern Mississippi into what we should now call Manitoba, and from the vicinity of Lake Winnipeg to Hudson Bay. He brought the great Amerindian nation of the Dakotas into direct relations with the French. He was absolutely fearless, and in no period of Canadian history has France been more splendidly represented in the personality of any of her officers than she was by Daniel de Greysolon du L'Hut. His was a tiresome name for English scribes and speakers. It was therefore written by them "Duluth" and pronounced Dălăth (instead of "Dueluet"). It is the name given to the township near the southernmost extremity of Lake Superior.
When the journeys of du L'Hut came to an end—he died at Montreal in 1710—and after the era of great French explorations in North America drew to a close, the French power was beginning to be eclipsed by that of the British, who were building up the foundations of a colony on the shores of Hudson's Bay, and were taking steps to acquire Newfoundland and to colonize New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
Nevertheless, in 1720, the King of France, or rather the regent acting for the king, decided that a serious attempt must be made to discover the Western Sea, or Pacific Ocean, from the French posts which had been established in what is now known as Manitoba. The French had already discovered the Missouri, and had heard from several Indian tribes that it was possible to cross the Rocky Mountains and descend by other rivers to the waters of a great ocean, the coasts of which were visited by Spaniards. Several expeditions were sent out, more or less under the control of Jesuits, but did not accomplish much.
The really great discoveries which link the "Great North-West" for all time in history with France and French names were initiated by PIERRE GAULTIER DE LA VERENDRYE, who was born in 1685 at the town of Three Rivers, in Lower Canada, where his father was Governor. He entered the army at the age of twelve, and took part in the French campaigns in Flanders, winning the rank of lieutenant at the battle of Malplaquet, where he received nine wounds and was left for dead on the field. He then returned to Canada, not having the necessary means with which to support the position of a lieutenant; and then, as France seemed to have entered upon a period of protracted peace, he determined to become an explorer. In 1728, when he was commandant of the trading post of Nipigon, to the north of Lake Superior, he heard from an Indian that there was a great lake beyond Lake Superior, out of which flowed a river towards the west, which ultimately led to a great salt lake where the water ebbed and flowed. As a matter of fact, these stories simply referred to Lake Winnipeg, but the importance of them lay in the fact that they acted as a powerful incentive to La Verendrye to push his explorations westwards, and perhaps discover a route to the Pacific Ocean.
[Footnote 13: The water of Lake Winnipeg—whatever it may be now—was frequently stated by Amerindians in earlier days to be "stinking water", or salt, brackish water, disagreeable to drink, and this lake exhibits a curious phenomenon of a regular rise and fall, reminding the observer of a tide, a phenomenon by no means confined to Lake Winnipeg, but occurring on sheets of water of much smaller extent.]
La Verendrye afterwards went to Quebec, where he discussed his plans for Western exploration with the Governor of New France, the Marquis de Beauharnais, who was a distant connection of the Beauharnais family from which sprang the first husband of the Empress Josephine, the grandfather of Napoleon III.
This Governor entered into his scheme with enthusiasm, though he could obtain little or no money from the ministers of Louis XVI. But a way out of the difficulty was found by the Governor giving La Verendrye the monopoly of the fur trade in the far North-West. This monopoly enabled La Verendrye to obtain the funds for his expenditure from the merchants of Montreal, and in the summer of 1731 he started out on his explorations, accompanied by three of his sons, his nephew, fifty soldiers and French Canadian canoe men, and a Jesuit missionary. For a guide they had the Indian, Oshagash, who had first told La Verendrye of the western river and the salt water. After many delays, necessitated by the need for trading in furs to satisfy the merchants of Montreal, La Verendrye and his expedition skated on snowshoes down the ice of the Winnipeg River and reached the shores of Lake Winnipeg. They were probably the first white men to arrive there. La Verendrye established forts and posts along his route from Lake Nipigon, but his expedition had not been a commercial success. There was a deficit of L1700 between the amount realized in furs and the cost of the equipment and wages of the French and French Canadians. De Beauharnais made a fresh appeal to the French Court; he urged that the expenditure to convey La Verendrye's expedition to the Pacific Ocean would not be a large one—perhaps only L1500.
[Footnote 14: What we should call to-day a "concession".]
But the French Court was obdurate; it would not furnish a penny. Thus La Verendrye, in all probability, was prevented from forestalling the British explorers of sixty and seventy years later, besides the expeditions of Captain Cook and Captain Vancouver, which secured for Great Britain a foothold on the Pacific seaboard of British Columbia.
La Verendrye in his fort on Lake Winnipeg was in a desperate position. He made a hasty journey back to Montreal and even Quebec, to beat up funds and to pacify the capitalists of his fur-trading monopoly. He painted in glowing colours the prospects of cutting off the trade of the Hudson's Bay Company and the building up of an immense commerce in valuable furs, and these men agreed once again to furnish the funds for the extension of the expedition. On his return he took back with him his youngest son, Louis, a boy of eighteen. Whilst he had been absent from Fort St. Charles (a post which he had built on the Lake of the Woods, in communication by water with the Winnipeg River), on Lake Winnipeg, that place was visited by a party of Siou Indians. They found the fort occupied in the absence of the French by a number of Kri or "Knistino" Indians in French service. These Kris were frightened at the arrival of the Sious and fired guns at them. "Who fired on us?" demanded these haughty Indians from Dakota, and the Kris replied, "The French". Then the Sious withdrew, but vowed to be completely revenged on the treacherous white man.
When La Verendrye reached Fort St. Charles its little garrison was almost at the point of starvation. He had travelled himself ahead of his party, and the immense stock of supplies and provisions he was bringing up country were a long way behind him when he reached the fort. He therefore sent back his son Jean, together with the most active of his Canadian voyageurs and the Jesuit missionary, in order that they might meet the heavily laden canoes and hurry them up country as fast as possible. But this party was met by the Sious on Rainy River, who massacred them to a man. They were afterwards found lying in a circle on the beach, decapitated and mutilated. The heads of most of them were wrapped ironically in beaver skins, and La Verendrye's son, Jean, was horribly cut and slashed, and his mutilated, naked body decorated with garters and bracelets of porcupine quills.
Meantime, during his absence in Lower Canada, two of his sons in charge of Fort Maurepas, on Lake Winnipeg, had been very active. They had discovered the great size of this lake, and also the entrance of the Red River on the south. They then proceeded to explore both the Red River and its western tributary the Assiniboin. On the Assiniboin was afterwards built the post of Fort La Reine, and from this place in 1738 La Verendrye started with two of his sons, several other Frenchmen, a few Canadian voyageurs, and twenty-five Assiniboin Indians. Leaving the Assiniboin River, they crossed the North Dakota prairies on foot. Owing to the timidity of his Indian guides, La Verendrye was not led direct to the Missouri River, the "Great River of the West", but along a zigzag route which permitted his guides to reinforce their numbers at Assiniboin villages, and every now and then join in a bison hunt. All the party were on foot, horses not then having reached the Assiniboin tribe. But on the 28th of November, 1738, they drew near to the Missouri and were met by a chief of the great Mandan tribe, who was accompanied by thirty of his warriors, and who presented La Verendrye with young maize cobs and leaves of native tobacco, these being regarded as emblems of peace and friendship.
The Mandan tribe differed materially in its habits and customs from the Indians to the north, who supported themselves mainly, if not entirely, by hunting, who cared very little for agriculture, and moved continually like nomads over great stretches of country, living chiefly in tents or temporary villages. The Mandans, on the other hand, were a people who practised agriculture, and had permanent and well-constructed towns. In fact, their civilization and demeanour made such an impression on the Assiniboin and other northern tribes that they had been considered a sort of "white people", somewhat akin to Europeans, and La Verendrye was a little disappointed to find them only Amerindians in race and colour.
The six hundred Assiniboins who had gathered about La Verendrye's expedition proved to be a great trouble to him, as they were constantly picking quarrels with the Mandans, who were very dishonest. Accordingly, La Verendrye arranged with the Mandans to frighten them away by pretending that the Siou Indians were on the warpath. The six hundred Assiniboins bolted, but took with them La Verendrye's interpreter, so that he was henceforth obliged to communicate with the Mandans by means of signs and gestures. This and other reasons decided him to return—even though it was the depth of winter, to Fort La Reine, but not before he had given the head chief of the Mandans a flag and a leaden plate which (unknown to the Mandans) meant taking possession of their country in the name of the French king.
The journey back to Fort La Reine, over the plains of the Assiniboin, was a terrible experience. The party had to travel in the teeth of an almost unceasing north-east wind which was freezingly cold. Night after night they were obliged to dig deep holes in the snow for their sleeping places. La Verendrye nearly died of agonizing pain and fatigue during this journey, and was a long time recovering from its effects.
As they continued to receive friendly messages from the Mandans, inviting them to make further discoveries, LA VERENDRYE'S sons, PIERRE and FRANCOIS, set out in the spring of 1742, and, after some checks and disappointments, managed with a single Mandan guide to reach Broad Lands on the Little Missouri River, where they noticed the earths of different colours, blue, green, red, black, white, and yellow, which are so characteristic of this region. They reached the village of the Crow Indians, passed through a portion of the friendly tribe, the Cheyennes (the name was probably pronounced Shian) and got into the country which was constantly being ravaged by the Snake Indians, or Shoshones. Here, on the 1st of January, 1743, when the mists of morning cleared away, they saw upon the horizon the outline of huge mountains. As they travelled westwards or south-westwards, day after day, the jagged blue wall resolved itself into towering snow-capped peaks, glittering in the sun and provoking the appellation of "the Mountains of Bright Stones", a name probably given to the Rocky Mountains by the Amerindians, but used in all the earlier French and English maps until the end of the eighteenth century.
[Footnote 15: The term Rocky Mountains was probably first officially applied by the American expedition, under Lewis and Clarke, sent out by the United States Government in 1804 to take possession of the coast of Oregon, but it was used twenty or thirty years earlier by British explorers of Western Canada.]
On the 12th of January they reached the very foot of the mountains, the slopes of which they saw were thickly covered with magnificent forests of pine and fir—forests, that have since suffered to an appalling extent from annual bush fires, which so far the United States Government seems unable to check. Here they were to meet with a bitter disappointment. They were travelling with a very large war party of the Bow Indians for the purpose, if need be, of attacking and routing the Shoshones; but a Shoshone camp at the base of the mountains was found to be deserted, and the Bow Indians jumped to the conclusion that the Shoshones had turned back through the forest unseen, and were now making with all speed for the principal war camp of the Bow Indians, where they would massacre the women and children. They would listen to no remonstrances from the two Frenchmen, who perforce had also to travel back, either alone or with the Bow Indians, in the direction of their war camp, where the idea of a Shoshone attack was found to be baseless. Eventually, the two La Verendrye brothers were obliged to make their way to the Missouri River, and abandon any idea of finding a way to the Western Ocean across the Rocky Mountains.
The French pioneers had already heard of the Spaniards in California, and the possibility of getting into touch with them. They had now discovered, first of all Europeans, the Rocky Mountains—that great snowy range of North America which extends from Robson Peak on the eastern borders of British Columbia to Baldy Peak in New Mexico.
Afterwards the La Verendryes directed their attention more to the opportunities of reaching the Far West through the streams that flowed into the system of Lake Winnipeg, and in this way discovered, in or about 1743, the great River Saskatchewan. This river La Verendrye's sons followed up till they reached the junction between the North and the South Rivers, and then they probably learnt a good deal more of the Southern Saskatchewan, on which they may have built one or two posts. La Verendrye himself thought that this would prove to be the best route by which the French could reach the Western Sea.
By this time the French Government was becoming alive to the importance of these discoveries, and it conferred a decoration on La Verendrye, and allowed him to hope that he might be furnished with means for further exploration. But he died soon afterwards, at the close of 1749, and after his death his sons were treated with gross ingratitude and neglect. The self-seeking Governor of New France endeavoured to secure the fur trade for his own friends, and sent an officer with a terribly long name—Captain Jacques Repentigny Le Gardeur de Saint Pierre—to continue the exploration towards the Pacific. From 1750 to 1763 the French occupation of this region of the two Saskatchewan Rivers was extended till in all probability the French got within sight of the northern Rocky Mountains in the vicinity of Calgary. Then came the English conquest of Canada to stop all further enterprise in this direction, and the story was next to be taken up by English, Scottish, and Canadian explorers.
It will be men with English and Scottish names, mainly, who will henceforth complete the work begun and established so magnificently by Cartier, Brule, Nicollet, Jolliet, La Salle, du L'Hut, and La Verendrye, though the French Canadians will also play a notable part, together with "Americans", from New England.
The Geographical Conditions of the Canadian Dominion
Before we continue to follow the adventures of the pioneers of British North America, I think—even if it seems wearisome and discursive—my readers would better understand this story if I placed before them a general description of what is now the Dominion of Canada, more particularly as it was seen and discovered by the earliest European explorers.
The most prominent feature on the east, and that which was nearest to Europe, was the large island of NEWFOUNDLAND, 42,000 square miles in extent, that is to say, nearly as large as England without Wales. It seems to bar the way of the direct sea access by the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the very heart of North America; and, until the Straits of Belle Isle and of Cabot were discovered, did certainly arrest the voyages of the earliest pioneers. Newfoundland, as you can see on the map, has been cut into and carved by the forces of nature until it has a most fantastic outline. Long peninsulas of hills alternate with deep, narrow gulfs, and about the south-east and east coasts there are innumerable islets, most of which in the days of the early discoverers were the haunt of millions of sea birds who resorted there for breeding purposes. The heart of Newfoundland, so to speak, is an elevated country with hills and mountains rising to a little over 2000 feet. A great deal of the country is, or was, dense forests, chiefly consisting of fir trees. As numerous almost as the sea birds were the seals and walruses which frequented the Newfoundland coasts. Inland there were very large numbers of reindeer, generally styled nowadays by the French-Canadian name of Caribou. Besides reindeer there were wolves, apparently of a smaller size than those of the mainland. There were also lynxes and foxes, besides polar bears, martens, squirrels, &c. The human inhabitants of Newfoundland, whom I shall describe in the next chapter, were known subsequently by the name of Beothuk, or Beothik, a nickname of no particular meaning. They had evidently been separated for many centuries from contact with the Amerindians of the mainland, though they may have been visited occasionally on the north by the Eskimo. They had in fact been so long separated from the other Amerindians of North America that they were strikingly different from them in their habits, customs, and language.
[Footnote 1: The first Frenchmen visiting North America, and seeing the caribou without their horns, thought they were a kind of wild ass. The reindeer of Newfoundland is a sub-species peculiar to this island.]
The climate of Newfoundland is not nearly so cold as that of the mainland, nor so hot in summer, but it is spoilt at times by fogs and sea mists which conceal the landscape for days together. In the wintertime, and quite late in the spring, quantities of ice hang about the shores of the islands, and when the warm weather comes, these accumulations of ice slip away into the Atlantic in the form of icebergs and are most dangerous to shipping.
To the south-east of Newfoundland the sea is very shallow for hundreds of miles, the remains no doubt of a great extension of North America in the direction of Europe which had sunk below the surface ages ago. In this shallow water—the "Banks" of Newfoundland—fish, especially codfish, swarmed in millions, and still continue to swarm with little, if any, diminution from the constant toll of the fishing fleets. Another creature found in great abundance on these coasts is the true lobster, which filled as important a part in the diet of the Beothuk natives, before the European occupation, as the salmon did in the dietary of the British Columbian tribes.
[Footnote 2: Homarus americanus. The lobster of Newfoundland and the coasts of North-east America is closely related to the common lobster of British waters. These true lobsters resemble the freshwater crayfish in having their foremost pair of legs modified into large, unequal-sized claws. The European rock-lobster of the Mediterranean and French coasts (the langouste of the French) has no large claws.]
The next most striking feature in the geography of Eastern North America is NOVA SCOTIA. AS you look at it on the map this province seems to be a long peninsula connected with the mainland by the narrow isthmus of Chignecto; but its northernmost portion—Cape Breton—really consists of two big and two little islands, only separated from Nova Scotia by a very narrow strait—the Gut of Canso. On the north of Nova Scotia lies the large Prince Edward Island, and north of this again the small group of the Magdalen Islands, discovered by Cartier, the resort of herds of immense walruses at one time. Due west of Nova Scotia the country, first flat (like Nova Scotia itself) and at one time covered with magnificent forests, rises into a very hilly region which culminates on the north in the Shikshok Mountains of the Gaspe Peninsula (nearly 4000 feet in height) and the White Mountains (over 6000 feet) and the Adirondak Mountains (over 5000 feet). The White, the Green, and the Adirondak Mountains lie just within the limits of the United States.
North of the Gaspe Peninsula, in the great Gulf of St. Lawrence, is Anticosti Island, which rises on the south in a series of terraces until it reaches an altitude of about 2000 feet. This island, which is well wooded, was said to have swarmed with reindeer at one time, and perhaps other forms of deer also, and to have possessed grizzly bears which fed on the deer, besides Polar bears visiting it in the winter.
Newfoundland is separated from the mainland of LABRADOR on the north by the Strait of Belle Isle, and from Cape Breton Island on the south by Cabot Strait. Labrador is an immense region on the continent, where the coast (except for the deep inlet of Melville Lake) soon rises into an elevated plateau 2000 feet in height, which is strewn with almost uncountable lakes, out of which rivers flow north, south, east, and west. On the north-east corner of Labrador there are mountains from 3000 to 4000 feet, overlooking the sea. The whole of this vast Labrador or Ungava Peninsula, which is bounded on the south by the River and Gulf of St. Lawrence, and on the north by Hudson's Bay and Hudson's Straits, is an inhospitable land, at no time with much population.
"The winter of Labrador is long and severe; one would need to have blood like brandy, a skin of brass, and an eye of glass not to suffer from the rigours of a Labrador winter. In the summer the frequent fogs render the air damp, and the constant breezes from the immense fields of ice floating in the gulf keep the land very cool, and make any alteration in the winter dress almost unnecessary" (James M'Kenzie). Labrador and the lands farther north on the continent of North America are separated from Greenland on the east by the broad straits—a great branch of the Atlantic—named after Davis and Baffin, who first explored them. Passing up Davis Strait, along the coast of Labrador to beyond 60 deg. N. lat., the voyager comes to Hudson's Straits, which, if followed up first to the northwards and then to the south-west, would lead him into the great expanse of Hudson's Bay, one of the most important features in the geography of North America.
HUDSON'S BAY, which is a great inland sea with an area of about 315,000 square miles, has a southern loop or extension called James Bay, the shores of which are not at a very great distance either from Lake Superior to the south-west, or from the source of the River Saguenay on the south. The Saguenay flows into the Lower St. Lawrence River. It is therefore not surprising that as soon as the French began to settle in Lower Canada they heard of a vast northern inland sea of salt water—Hudson's Bay. But the people who discovered and surveyed Hudson's Bay during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries were always on the search for a passage out of its waters into the Arctic Sea, which would enable them to get right round America into the Pacific Ocean.
In Arctic North America Nature really seems to have been preparing during millions of years a grim joke with which to baffle exploring humanity! It is easy enough to pass from Davis Straits into Hudson's Bay, but to get out of Hudson's Bay in the direction of the Arctic Ocean is like getting out of a very cleverly arranged maze. There are innumerable false exits, which have disappointed one Arctic explorer after another. When they had discovered that Hudson's Bay to the south was only like a great bottle, and had no outlet, they explored its northern waters; and when they found Chesterfield Inlet on the north-west, which leads into Baker Lake, they thought perhaps here was the passage through into the Arctic Sea. But no; that was no good. To the north of Chesterfield Inlet was a broad channel called Roe's Welcome, which led into Wager Bay and through frozen straits into Fox's Channel, and this again into Ross Bay. Here only a very narrow isthmus separates Hudson's Bay from the Arctic Sea; but still it is an isthmus of solid land. Turning to the north-east and north there are the broad waters of Fox's Channel leading into Fox's Basin; but the north-west corner of this inland sea was so blocked with ice and islands that it was not until the year 1822 that the real northern outlet of Hudson's Bay was discovered by Captain EDWARD PARRY to be the narrow Fury and Hecla Straits (the discovery was not completed until 1839 by the Hudson's Bay Company's explorers T. SIMPSON and W. DEASE).
Here you have found the way out into the Gulf of Boothia, which communicates in the north with Barrow Strait and Baffin's Bay. But across the supposed peninsula of Boothia there were discovered, in 1847, by Dr. JOHN RAE (also an officer of the Hudson's Bay Company) the narrow Bellot Straits, which lead into Franklin Straits and so into M'Clintock Channel and the Arctic Ocean. After this you might theoretically (if the ice permitted it) sail or steam your ship through Victoria Straits and Coronation Gulf till you got into Beaufort Sea (part of the open Arctic Ocean), or, by turning round Prince Albert Land, pass through the Prince of Wales' Straits or M'Clure Straits into the same Beaufort Sea.
The North-West Passage across the Arctic extremity of North America, therefore, did exist after all, and the directest route would be up Davis Straits, through Hudson's Straits into Fox's Basin, then through the Fury and Hecla Straits into the Gulf of Boothia, then through the Bellot Straits and Franklin Straits (past Victorialand and Kemp Peninsula) and out through the Dolphin and Union Straits into the Arctic Ocean, and so on round the north coast of Alaska, past Bering's Straits into Bering Sea and the Pacific. But of course the accumulations of ice completely block continuous navigation.
The huge jagged island of BAFFIN'S LAND differs from much of Arctic America in that it has high land rising into mountains. This is so completely covered with ice that it is of little interest under present circumstances to the world of civilization, though the large herds of musk oxen which it once supported were of much use to Arctic explorers as a food supply in winter. The coasts are inhabited by a few thousand Eskimo, and Davis Straits and Baffin's Bay possess a certain amount of commercial importance owing to the whale fisheries which are carried on there by the British, the Danes, the Americans, and the Eskimo. In fact the importance of these whale fisheries have of late made the Americans of the United States a little inclined to challenge the British possession of these great Arctic islands. North Devon, North Somerset, Prince of Wales' Land, Melville Island, Banks Land, Prince Albert Land, &c. &c, are names of other great Arctic islands completely within the grip of the ice. The nature of their interior is almost unknown. They are at present of use to no form of man unless it be to a few wandering Eskimo, who come to their coasts in the summer to kill seals.
The great NORTH-WEST TERRITORIES of the Canadian Dominion extend from the American frontier of Alaska (which is the 141 deg. of W. long.) to the Ungava Peninsula, which abuts on Labrador. Where this vast region slopes to the Arctic Ocean and Hudson's Bay it is rather low and flat, except between Alaska and the Mackenzie River, and between the Mackenzie and the watershed of Hudson's Bay. The principal river system in the far North-West is that of the great Mackenzie River, which flows into the Arctic Ocean (Beaufort Sea) through an immense delta, and is one of the longest rivers in the world. The southernmost sources of the Mackenzie (such as the Peace River and the Athabaska River) rise in the Rocky Mountains to the east of British Columbia. These waters are stored for a time in Lake Athabaska, and then under the name of Slave River flow northwards into the Great Slave Lake, and out of this, under the name of Mackenzie River, into Beaufort Sea, through an immense delta. The Great Bear Lake is also a feeder of the Mackenzie.
Two other Arctic rivers at one time thought to be of great importance as means of communication with the Arctic Ocean, are the Great Fish River, which flows into Elliot Bay, and the Coppermine River, which enters Coronation Gulf. The other northward-flowing rivers (passing through innumerable lakes and lakelets) enter Hudson's Bay.
West of the great Mackenzie River rises the northernmost extension of the Rocky Mountains. All this easternmost part of Alaska, which is under British control, is a region of great elevation, something like parts of Central Asia. The streams which rise here unite in the great Yukon River, and this has its outlet in Bering's Sea. Some points of the great mountains within the limits of British territory in this direction reach to nearly 20,000 feet (Mount Logan).
But the climate of the northern parts of the Canadian Dominion differs very greatly in the west as compared to the east. For instance, the northern parts of Labrador are cruelly Arctic, hopelessly frozen, though they are in the same latitude as St. Petersburg (the capital of European Russia) and as the splendidly forested northern parts of British Columbia. Eastern Labrador is a region in which explorers have frequently perished from cold and starvation. Although in the lofty parts of the Yukon country (three hundred and fifty miles north of treeless Labrador) the winter is intensely cold, and the ground is frozen for a considerable depth downwards, all the year round, there are still great forests; and a white and Amerindian population find it possible to live there all the year round, while animal life is extremely abundant. On the other hand, a good deal of the territory between Mackenzie River and Hudson's Bay is almost uninhabitable, except during the summertime, owing to the depth of the snow and the bare rocky nature of the ground.
The treeless area north of Lake Athabaska (the "barren lands" of the Canadian Dominion) seems to consist of nothing but slabs of rock and loose stones. Yet this region is far from being without vegetation. The rock is often covered with a thin or thick sod of lichen ("reindeer moss", in some districts three feet deep) intermixed with the roots of the wishakapakka herb (Ledum palustre, from which Labrador tea is made), of cranberries, gooseberries, heather (with white bell flowers), and a dwarf birch. This last, in sheltered places where a little vegetable soil has been formed, grows into a low scrubby bush. As to the gooseberries—here and farther south—Hearne describes them as "thriving best on the stony or rocky ground, open and much exposed to the sun". They spread along the ground like vines. The small red fruit is always most plentiful and fine on the under side of the branches, probably owing to the reflected heat of the stones. In the bleaker places a hard, black, crumply lichen—the "Tripe de roche" of the French Canadians (Gyrophoreus) grows on the rocks and stones, and is of great service to the Amerindians, as it furnishes them with a temporary subsistence when no animal food can be procured. This lichen, when boiled, turns to a gummy consistence something like sago. Hearne describes it as being remarkably good when used to thicken broth; but some other pioneers complained that it made them and their Indians seriously ill. Another lichen, "reindeer moss" (Cladina), is also eaten by men as well as deer. The muskegs, or bogs and marshes, produce in the summertime a very rapid growth of grass (as well as breeding swarms of mosquitoes!), and thus furnish food for the geese and swans which throng them between June and October.
In the summertime all these northern territories of Canada—from the basin of Lake Winnipeg, with its white pelicans, to the Arctic circle—swarm with birds, wild swans, geese, ducks, plovers, grouse, cranes, eagles, owls of several kinds—especially the great snowy eagle-owl—red-breasted thrushes, black and white snow-buntings, scarlet grosbeaks (the female green and grey), crested jays, and ravens "of a beautiful glossy black, richly tinged with purple", but smaller in size than those of Europe.
This is also the country for bears. Some grizzlies still linger here. Their range at one time extended to near the Arctic circle. In Alaska (British as well as United States) there is an enormous chocolate-coloured bear, the biggest in the world. The Polar bear, usually creamy white along the seacoast, is stated to range inland during the summer over the "barren grounds", and to develop either a permanent local variety or a seasonal change of coat, which is greyish-brown or blue-grey.
The black bear in northern Canada is said to give birth at times to cubs which are cinnamon-brown in colour.
"In the early summer the black bears swim up and down the northern rivers with their mouths open, swallowing the immense number of water insects which have come into being at that season." Hearne goes on to state that bears which have subsisted on this food for some days, when cut open emit a stench that is intolerable, and which taints their flesh to a sickening degree. The insects on which they feed are mostly of two kinds: one a sort of grasshopper with a hard black skin, and the other a soft, brown, sluggish fly. "This last is the most numerous. In some of the lakes such quantities are forced into the bays when the wind blows hard, that they are pressed together in dead multitudes and remain a great nuisance. I have several times, in my inland voyages from York Fort (Hudson's Bay), found it scarcely possible to land in some of those bays for the intolerable stench of those insects, which in some places were lying in putrid masses to the depth of two or three feet." It is more than probable that the bears occasionally feed on these dead insects. After the middle of July, when they take to a diet of berries, they are excellent eating, and continue to be so to the end of the winter.
The Arctic foxes of this region when young are sooty black all over, and gradually change to a light ash-grey in colour, with a dark, almost blue, tint on the head, legs, and back. In winter they usually become white all over, with or without a black tip to the tail; but it is recorded by some travellers that not all the foxes of the Canis lagopus species turn white; some keep their dark-grey colour all the year round. The common fox (C. vulpes fulvus) in Northern Canada is sometimes black, with white-tipped hairs. Wolves in these far northern regions do not seem to have been so abundant as farther south.
The deer tribe are represented (north of the Athabaska region) by the reindeer and the elk (called by the Canadians "Moose"). The wapiti or red deer (for which the common Amerindian name in the north was Waskesiu) seldom ranged farther north than the vicinity of Lake Winnipeg. The reindeer of the "barren ground" sub-species extended to the Arctic seacoast, and were at one time especially abundant in Labrador. Here they were so tame, down to a hundred years ago, that fishermen were often known to shoot many of them from the windows of their huts near the seashore. This type (Rangifer tarandus arcticus) might possibly be domesticated; not so the larger and much wilder Caribou woodland reindeer of the more southern and western parts of the Dominion, which dislikes the neighbourhood of man. The elk or moose, east of the Rocky Mountains, was not found northward of about 50 deg. to 55 deg.; but west of that range extended over all British Columbia and Alaska, in which latter country it grows to a giant size and develops enormous antlers.
Hearne says of the elk in northern Canada: "In summer, when they frequent the margins of rivers and lakes, they are often killed by the Indians in the water while they are crossing rivers or swimming from the mainland to islands, &c. When pursued in this manner, they are the most inoffensive of all animals, never making any resistance; and the young ones are so simple that I remember to have seen an Indian paddle his canoe up to one of them and take it by the poll without the least opposition; the poor, harmless animal seeming at the same time as contented alongside the canoe as if swimming by the side of its dam, and looking up in our faces with the same fearless innocence that a house lamb would; making use of its fore foot almost every instant to clear its eyes of mosquitoes, which at that time were remarkably numerous.... The moose are also the easiest to tame and domesticate of any of the deer kind. I have repeatedly seen them at Churchill as tame as sheep, and even more so; for they would follow their keeper any distance from home, and at his call return with him without the least trouble, or ever offering to deviate from the path."
The most northern range of the elk would seem to be the region round Lake Athabaska.
The musk ox (Ovibos) is perhaps the most remarkable beast of Arctic Canada. Samuel Hearne is my principal source for the following notes as to its habits and appearance: The number of bulls is very few in proportion to the cows, for it is rare to see more than two or three full-grown bulls with the largest herd; and from the number of the males that are found dead, the Indians are of opinion that they kill each other in contending for the females. In the rutting season they are so jealous of the cows that they run at either man or beast who offers to approach them, and have been observed to run and bellow even at ravens and other large birds which chanced to alight near them. They delight in the most stony and mountainous parts of the "barren ground", but are seldom found at any great distance from the woods. Though they are a beast of great magnitude, and apparently of a very unwieldy inactive structure, yet they climb the rocks with ease and agility, and are nearly as surefooted as a goat. Like it, too, they will feed on anything; and though they seem fondest of grass, yet in winter, when grass cannot be had in sufficient quantity, they will eat moss or any other herbage they can find, as also the tops of willows and the tender branches of the pine tree.
[Footnote 3: The musk ox, which is not an ox, but a creature about midway in structure and affinities between cattle on the one hand and sheep and goats on the other, is a large beast comparatively, being the size of a small ox, but appearing very much larger than it is on account of the extremely thick coat of hair and wool. Both sexes have horns, and the horns, after meeting in the middle and making more or less of a boss over the forehead, droop down at the sides of the cheeks and then turn up with sharp points. The musk ox once ranged right across the northern world, from England and Scandinavia, through Germany, Russia, and Siberia, to Alaska and North America. Many thousands of years ago, during one of the Glacial periods, it inhabited southern England. At the present day it is extinct everywhere, excepting in the eastern parts of Arctic America, not going west of the Mackenzie River nor south of Labrador. It is also found in Greenland.]
"The musk ox, when full grown, is as large as the generality of English black cattle; but their legs, though thick, are not so long, nor is their tail longer than that of a bear; and, like the tail of that animal, it always bends downward and inward, so that it is entirely hid by the long hair of the rump and hind quarters. The hunch on their shoulders is not large, being little more in proportion than that of a deer. Their hair is in some parts very long, particularly on the belly, sides, and hind quarters; but the longest hair about them, particularly the bulls, is under the throat, extending from the chin to the lower part of the chest between the fore legs. It there hangs down like a horse's mane inverted, and is fully as long, which gives the animal a most formidable appearance. It is of the hair from this part that the Eskimo make their mosquito wigs (face screens or masks). In winter the musk oxen are provided with a thick fine wool or fur that grows at the root of the long hair, and shields them from the intense cold to which they are exposed during that season; but as the summer advances this fur loosens from the skin, and by frequently rolling themselves on the ground it works out to the end of the hair, and in time drops off, leaving little for their summer clothing except the long hair. This season is so short in these high latitudes, that the new fleece begins to appear almost as soon as the old one drops off, so that by the time the cold becomes severe they are again provided with a winter dress."
According to Hearne, the flesh of the musk ox does not resemble that of the bison, but is more like the meat of the moose or wapiti. The fat is of a clear white, "slightly tinged with a light azure". The calves and young heifers are good eating, but the flesh of the bulls both smells and tastes so strongly of musk as to be very disagreeable; "even the knife that cuts the flesh of an old bull will smell so strongly of musk that nothing but scouring the blade quite bright can remove it, and the handle will retain the scent for a long time".
Bisons of the "wood" variety are (or were) found far up the heights of the Rocky Mountains and in the regions south-west of the Great Slave Lake. These "wood buffaloes" delight in mountain valleys, and never resort to the plains. And higher than anything, of course, range the great white mountain goat-antelopes (Oreamnus montanus) from northern Alaska to the Columbia River.
The north and the north-west were, of course, pre-eminently the great fur-trading regions, though all parts of the vast Dominion have at one time or another yielded furs for commerce with the white man. The principal fur-bearing smaller mammals of the north and north-west were wolves, foxes, lynxes, gluttons (wolverene), otters, martens (sables) and black fishing martens, mink (a kind of polecat), ermine-stoats, weasels, polar hares (Lepus timidus), beavers, musquash, lemming, gopher or pouched ground-squirrels, and the common red squirrel of North America. The grey squirrel and striped chipmunk are only found in southern Canada.
The musquash (Fiber zibethicus) is such a characteristic animal of northern Canada that it is worth while to give Hearne's description of it (I would mention it is really a huge vole, and no relation of the beaver):—
"The musk rat or musquash builds a dwelling near the banks of ponds or swamps to shelter it from the bitter cold of the winter, but never on land, always on the ice, as soon as it is firm enough, taking care to keep a hole open to admit it to dive for its food, which chiefly consists of the roots of grass or arums. It sometimes happens in very cold winters that the holes communicating with their dwellings under the water are so blocked by ice that they cannot break through them. When this is the case, and they have no provisions left in the house, they begin to eat one another. At last there may be only one rat left out of a whole lodge. They occasionally eat fish, but in general feed very cleanly, and when fat are good eating. They are easily tamed and soon grow fond of their owner. They are very cleanly and playful, and 'smell exceedingly pleasant of musk', but their resemblance to the rat is so great that few are partial to them, though of course they are much larger in size, and have webbed hind feet and a flat scaly tail. In Canadian regions farther south the musquash no longer builds on the ice, but in swamps, where it raises heaps of mud like islands in the surrounding water. On the top of these mounds they build their nests, and on the top of the musquash nest, or 'lodge', wild geese frequently lay their eggs and bring forth their young brood without any fear of being molested by foxes."
The YUKON territories of the Dominion, and above all the State of BRITISH COLUMBIA, constitute a very distinct region from the rest of British North America, not only in their tribes of Amerindians but in their fauna, flora, and climate. British Columbia is one of the most beautiful and richly endowed countries in the world. Here, in spite of northern latitudes, the warm airs coming up from the Pacific Ocean act somewhat in the same way as the Gulf Stream on north-west Europe, and favour the growth of magnificent forests.
All this north-western part of British Columbia is very mountainous, and the rocks are rich in minerals, especially gold in the Fraser and Columbia Rivers, far north in the upper valley of the Yukon, and copper and coal in Vancouver Island.
The rainfall in British Columbia is considerable, and the flora—trees, plants, ferns—richer than anywhere else in North America, with many resemblances to the trees and plants of Japan and northern China. In British Columbia more than in any other part of the world are found the noblest developments of the pines, firs, and junipers (Coniferae).
The coast rivers swarm with salmon, and perhaps because of the abundance of sea fish close in shore there have been developed in the course of ages those remarkable aquatic mammals, the sea lions or fur seals (Otaria), whose relationship to the true seals is a very distant one. On the Alaskan coasts and islands is Otaria ursina, the creature which provides the sealskin fur of commerce. There is also the much larger sea lion (Otaria stelleri), on the coasts of British Columbia and Vancouver Island. Alexander Henry, jun., gives some interesting facts about this remarkable beast.
"The natives at Oak Point, during the time Mr. Keith was there, killed five very large sea lions by spearing them at night. Two canoes being lashed together, they approach very softly, and throw their spears, which are fastened by a long, strong cord, with a barb so fixed in a socket that, when it strikes the animal and pierces the flesh, it is detached from the shaft of the spear, but remains fastened to the cord. This is instantly made fast between the canoes; the animal dives and swims down river, dragging the canoes with such velocity that they may be in danger of filling, and require great skill in steering. In this manner they are carried down some miles before the animal becomes exhausted with loss of blood, makes for the shore, and lies on the beach, where they dispatch it and cut it up. The price of a sea lion among the natives is one slave and an assortment of other articles. Mr. Keith bought the flesh of one of these animals, and we had some roasted; it resembles bear's meat. The hair is like that of a horse, in summer of a chestnut colour. The natives, and also the Russians, are particularly fond of marine animals, such as whales, &c.; they drink the oil like milk."
Another notable water beast of the British Columbia coast was the sea otter (Enhydris), described on p. 305. Such an immense value was set on its fur that it is now nearly extinct within British limits.
The huge chocolate-coloured bear of the Yukon valley has already been mentioned; also the very large, blackish-brown wild dog (Canis pambasileus), which from one or two passages in the writings of Canadian pioneers may also be found as far south as the British Columbian Rocky Mountains. In the Yukon country the elk (which was formerly very common in British Columbia) grows to gigantic proportions with longer and larger antlers than elsewhere. In the forested mountains of British Columbia (as well as farther north) are the wood bison, the white mountain goat, grizzly bears, black bears, two kinds of lynx, the wapiti red deer, and the large bighorn sheep.
These (Ovis montana) sheep are of a grey or leaden colour; the rump and the inner side of the legs are white; the hoofs black, about one inch long. "The hair is rather soft, and at the roots is mixed with exceedingly fine white wool, which seems to grow only in certain patches. The neck is relatively much thicker than that of other animals of the same size; the legs and hoofs are also strongly built, like the neck." The horns of the female are comparatively small, flat, and have only a small bend backward; they are of a dirty-yellowish white, marked with closely connected annulations to the very tip. The legs are brown, as are also the ends of the hairs about the neck; the hoofs are black. "A ewe will weigh about 100 lb. when in full flesh, with only the entrails taken out. The head bears every resemblance to that of our European sheep." The colour of the males is nearly the same as that of the females, only rather browner; they are much larger and more strongly built, with a pair of enormous horns, which incline backward. As they grow they bend downward, and in the course of time form a complete curve and project forward. At the root the horns are nearly three inches square, the flat sides opposite; they are marked with closely connected ridges and end in a tapering flat point.
When the horns grow to a great length, forming a complete curve, the tips project on both sides of the head so as to prevent the ram from feeding. This, with their great weight, causes the sheep to dwindle to a mere skeleton and die. The bighorn sheep feed much in the caverns of the Rocky Mountains, eating a kind of moss and grass growing on the floors of these caves, and also a peculiar soft, sweet-tasting "clay", of which the natives also are fond.
The southern part of British Columbia contains the mule deer of western North America (Mazama macrotis), and a very strange rodent, the sewellel or mountain beaver (Haplodon), a creature distantly allied to squirrels, marmots, and beavers, but restricted in its distribution to a few parts of California, Oregon, and British Columbia. Amongst the birds noteworthy in the landscape are the white-headed sea eagles and Californian condors (Pseudogryphus californianus). Humming-birds range through British Columbia and Vancouver Island between mid-April and October.
In the regions about the upper Kootenay River (Eastern British Columbia), before the railway was constructed, there were wild horses, descended, no doubt, from those which had escaped from the Spaniards in New Mexico and California. They went in large herds, and in the winter when the snow was deep the natives would try to catch them by running them down with relays of fresh horses, or driving them up the mountains into the deepest snow or some narrow pass. A noose would then be thrown about the exhausted animal, which would be instantly mounted by an Indian and broken immediately to the saddle. Some of these wild horses were exceedingly swift, well-proportioned, and handsome in shape, but they seldom proved as docile as those born in captivity. When in a wild condition they would snort so loudly through the nostrils on descrying an enemy that they could be heard at a distance of five hundred yards.
The provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba—the MIDDLE WEST—represent mainly the great prairie region of the Canadian Dominion. Nearly all the streams here flow from the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains and direct their course to the basin of Lake Winnipeg and to Hudson's Bay. A few turn south-west to the Missouri and Mississippi. The landscapes here remind one more of the middle part of the United States. The climate is severe in winter but very warm and dry in summer. In the extreme south, within the basin of the upper Missouri, the "prickly pear" (Opuntia) cactus grows in sheltered places, and suggests affinities with distant Colorado and California.
These great plains and river courses of the middle West were, until about fifty years ago, one of the world's great natural parks or zoological gardens. Large numbers of wapiti deer, of the smaller Virginian deer, and of the prongbuck "antelope" thronged the grassy flats, and elk browsed on the foliage of the thickets along the river banks. Grizzly bears and black bears, large grey wolves, the small coyote wolf, the pretty little kit fox and large red fox preyed on these herbivores, as did also pumas and lynxes. Marmots and prairie hares (Lepus campestris)—often called rabbits by the pioneers, who also named the marmots "wood-chucks"—frolicked in the herbage, and formed the principal prey of the numerous rattlesnakes. By the shores of streams and lakes stood rows of stately cranes: the whooping crane, of large size, pure white, with black quill feathers, the crown of the head crimson scarlet and the long legs black; and the purple-brown crane, somewhat smaller in size. On hot, calm days in the region of Lake Winnipeg the cranes soar to an amazing height, flying in circles, till by degrees they are almost out of sight. Yet their loud note sounds so distinct and near that the spectator might fancy they were close to him.
[Footnote 4: Mazama americana, similar to, but quite distinct from, the larger mule deer of British Columbia.]
[Footnote 5: The prongbuck (Antilocapra americana) is not a true antelope, though in outward appearance it resembles a large gazelle. It was called "cabri" by the French Canadians.]
[Footnote 6: "Bears make prodigious ravages in the brush and willows; the plum trees, and every tree that bears fruit share the same fate. The tops of the oaks are also very roughly handled, broken, and torn down, to get the acorns. The havoc they commit is astonishing...." —Alex. Henry, jun.]
The air at this season is full of great birds—eagles, buzzards, hawks, and falcons—soaring in circles to look out for prey among the flocks of wild swans, white geese, bernicle geese and brent geese, duck and teal, which cover the backwaters and the marshes and shallow lagoons. Turkey buzzards, coming up from the south, act as scavengers during the summer months. Immense flocks of passenger pigeons, buntings, grosbeaks, attack the ripening fruits and the wild rice of the swamps. Grouse in uncountable numbers inhabit the drier tablelands and open moors.
[Footnote 7: Nowhere in the world are there so many kinds of grouse as in North America. In the more northern regions are several species of ptarmigan or snow partridges (Lagopus), which turn white in winter, and the spruce partridges (Canachites); in the more genial climate of the great plains of eastern Canada and in the Far West the ruffled grouse and hazel grouse (Bonasa), the sage cocks (Centrocercus), the prairie hens (Tympanuchus), and the blue or pine grouse (Dendrapagus).
"To snare grouse requires no other process than making a few little hedges across a creek, or a few short hedges projecting at right angles from the side of an island of willows, which those birds are found to frequent. Several openings must be left in each hedge, to admit the birds to pass through, and in each of them a snare must be set; so that when the grouse are hopping along the edge of the willows to feed, which is their usual custom, some of them soon get into the snares, where they are confined till they are taken out. I have caught from three to ten grouse in a day by this simple contrivance, which requires no further attendance than going round them night and morning" (Hearne).]
But—a hundred years ago and more—the dominant features in the fauna of the Middle West was the bison. Between the Athabaska and Saskatchewan Rivers on the north, the Rocky Mountains on the west, and Lake Superior on the east the bison passed backwards and forwards over the great plains and prairies in millions, when white explorers first penetrated these lands. They moved in herds which concealed the ground from sight for miles. Here are some word pictures selected from the writings of the pioneers between 1770 and 1810:
"The buffaloes chiefly delight in wide open plains, which in those parts produce very long coarse grass, or rather a kind of small flags and rushes, upon which they feed; but when pursued they always take to the woods. They are of such an amazing strength, that when they fly through the woods from a pursuer, they frequently brush down trees as thick as a man's arm; and be the snow ever so deep, such is their strength and agility, that they are enabled to plunge through it faster than the swiftest Indian can run in snowshoes. To this I have been an eyewitness many times, and once had the vanity to think that I could have kept pace with them; but though I was at that time celebrated for being particularly fleet of foot in snowshoes, I soon found that I was no match for the buffaloes, notwithstanding they were then plunging through such deep snow, that their bellies made a trench in it as large as if many sacks had been hauled through it. Of all the large beasts in those parts the buffalo is easiest to kill, and the moose are the most difficult; neither are the (red) deer very easy to come at, except in windy weather: indeed it requires much practice and a great deal of patience to slay any of them, as they will by no means suffer a direct approach, unless the hunter be entirely sheltered by woods or willows.
"The flesh of the buffalo is exceedingly good eating, and so entirely free from any disagreeable smell or taste, that it resembles beef as nearly as possible."
"The spots of wood along the Park River are ravaged by buffaloes (bison); none but the large trees are standing, the bark of which is rubbed perfectly smooth, and heaps of hair and wool lie at the bottom of the trees ... and even the grass is not permitted to grow.... The ground is trampled more by these cattle than about the gate of a farmyard."
"The Kris informed me they had seen a calf as white as snow in a herd of buffalo. White buffalo are very scarce. They are of inestimable value among the nations of the Missouri.... There were also some of a dirty-grey colour, but these are very rare."
"I brought home two buffalo calves alive; they no sooner lost sight of the herd than they followed my horse like dogs, directly into the fort. On chasing a herd at this season the calves follow it until they are fatigued, when they throw themselves down in high grass and lie still, hiding their heads if possible. But seeing only a man and his horse they remain quiet and allow themselves to be taken. Having been a little handled, they follow like dogs."
In the spring, when the ice melted, innumerable buffaloes were killed through attempting to cross the rivers on the melting ice. They would drift by an observer (such as Alexander Henry, jun.) in entire herds of drowned corpses. Vast numbers perished. They formed one continuous line on the current for two days and two nights.
"By this time the river was crowded with them, swimming across, bellowing and grunting terribly. The bulls really looked fierce; all had their tails up, and each appeared eager to land first. The scene would have struck terror to one unaccustomed to such innumerable herds. From out in the plains, as far as the eye could reach, to the middle of the river, they were rushing toward us, and soon began to land about ten yards off. I shot one dead on the spot, my ball having broken his neck; my hunter and guide only wounded theirs. This discharge suddenly halted those on the south side, and turned those that were still in the water."
In the autumn:—"Plains burned in every direction and blind buffalo seen every moment wandering about. The poor beasts have all the hair singed off; even the skin in many places is shrivelled up and terribly burned, and their eyes are swollen and closed fast. It was really pitiful to see them staggering about, sometimes running afoul of a large stone, at other times tumbling down hill and falling into creeks not yet frozen over. In one spot we found a whole herd lying dead."
Throughout British North America, from the Yukon to Newfoundland, and from Labrador to Vancouver's Island, the rivers and freshwater lakes swarm with fish, and fish that in most cases is exceedingly good to eat. Salmon are most strikingly abundant in the rivers of British Columbia and Newfoundland, but they also ascend most of the rivers flowing into the Atlantic and Hudson's Bay. In the great lakes of Canada and of the middle west there are trout and white fish (Coregonus), pike, bass, chub, barbel, and five species of sturgeon. In the rivers and lakes of the far north-west is found the blackfish (Dallia).
Hearne writes of Lake Athabasca that it swarms with fish, such as pike, trout, perch, barbel, and other kinds not easily identified. Apparently there is also a form of gar-pike found here (see p. 74); this is described as having scales of a very large and stiff kind, and being a beautiful bright silver in colour. The size of these gar-pike range from two feet to four feet in length. Their flesh was delicately white and soft, but so foul and rank in taste that even the Indians would not eat it. The trout in Lake Athabaska seem to have been enormous, weighing from 35 to 40 pounds, while pike were of about the same weight.
The Amerindian tribes and the early European explorers lived mainly on fish, which was a palatable and easily obtained food. Yet it must be admitted that they had a splendid array of large and small game from which to take their toll.
Nor was the whole Dominion, from west to east and up to the Arctic zone, wanting in wild vegetable produce fit for man's consumption. The sugar maple (Acer saccharinum) and its ally the Negundo maple provided a delicious syrup; the bark of certain poplars and the bast of the sugar pine were chewed for their well-flavoured sweetness; the wild rice of the marshes will be further described in the next chapter. The wild fruits included delicious strawberries, cherries, gooseberries, currants, black currants, grapes (in the south only), blackberries of many kinds, whortleberries, cranberries, pears of the service tree (Pyrus canadensis), and raspberries of various types—red, yellow, and black. Southern Canada and Nova Scotia contained various nut trees of the walnut order (hickories, butter-nuts, &c.), and hazel nuts were found everywhere except in the north.
[Footnote 8: Sometimes called Amelanchier canadensis.]
We have left undescribed what is still politically the most important part of the whole of British North America—UPPER and LOWER CANADA. These regions lie within the basin of the great St. Lawrence River, beyond all doubt the most important waterway of North America, more important even than the Mississippi. The main origin of the St. Lawrence in the west is Lake Superior, the largest sea of fresh water in the world, which is connected with Lake Nipigon on the north. The waters of Lake Superior are carried over the Sault Ste. Marie rapids into Lake Huron and find a huge backwater in Lake Michigan. Out of Lake Huron again they flow past Detroit into Lake Erie. From Duluth, at the westernmost extremity of Lake Superior, to Buffalo, on the easternmost point of Lake Erie, including all Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, with its bays and channels, a steamer can pass with just the one difficulty (easily surmounted) of the rapids at Sault Ste. Marie between Lake Superior and Lake Huron. But after you have left Lake Erie on the east you find yourself in the Niagara River, which at the Niagara Falls plunges several hundred feet downwards into Lake Ontario. From Lake Ontario to the sea along the St. Lawrence there is uninterrupted navigation, though there are rapids that require careful steering both with steamers and boats. Quebec marks the place where the St. Lawrence River suddenly broadens from a river into a tidal gulf of brackish or salt water. Ocean steamers from all over the world can come (except during the height of the winter, when the water freezes) to Quebec. But for the ice in wintertime Quebec would be the great sea-port of eastern Canada.
[Footnote 9: The south shore of Lake Superior, the whole of Lake Michigan, the west shore of Lake Huron, and the south coasts of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario are within the territories of the United States.]
"If pitiless rock is commonly understood by an 'iron-bound shore', then the coasts of the River St. Lawrence along the northern side of the Gulf may truly be so styled, as nothing scarcely is to be seen for hundreds of leagues but bare rocky mountains, capes and cliffs in various shapes and figures, some of which are dotted with a few spruce firs, while others present their bald pates deprived of covering by the unmerciful hand of time." (James M'Kenzie).
The winters of the Quebec province are extremely cold, but the summer and autumn are warm and sunny. The best winter climate, possibly, in all Canada (though not as good as that of Vancouver Island, British Columbia) is to be found in the small peninsula region, on the shores of Lakes Erie and Huron, between Toronto and Detroit. This is the district which the Jesuit missionaries described as "an earthly paradise" even during the winter-time.
The following extracts, mostly from the journals of Alex. Henry, jun., give a good idea of the difference in climate and temperature between the western and the central parts of the Canadian Dominion.
The late spring of northern Canada (Lake Nipigon, 50 deg. N. lat.):—About May 15, the tops of the poplars begin to appear green, with fresh buds; the hills are changing their hue from a dry straw colour to a delightful verdure, and fragrant odours greet us.
"Early in March, 1800, in the Assiniboin country (Manitoba, about 29 deg. N. lat.) the snow was entirely gone, for this winter had been an abnormally mild one for central Canada. The birds soon realized the openness of the season, for, on the 7th of March, turkey-buzzards began to arrive from the south, and cormorants, ducks, swans, and other spring birds; indeed, by the 24th of March not only had the snow quite melted, but the meadows had grown so dry with the hot sun that some accidents set them on fire. By April the 11th the weather had become excessively hot, and immense flocks of the traveller-pigeon (Ectopistes) flew northwards over the country."