Pioneers in Canada
by Sir Harry Johnston
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In somewhat similar latitudes (50 deg.) the spring bursts on the Pacific coast region of British Columbia towards the end of February. "The tall raspberry bushes were in blossom with a beautiful red flower, which appeared more forward than the leaf (Rubus spectabilis). The elder had sprouts an inch long, the alder was also beginning to sprout, and willows were budding."

Although nowhere in Upper and Lower Canada (or in the maritime provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia) are the forests so splendid as in parts of British Columbia, yet nevertheless when this region was first discovered the magnificence of its woodlands greatly impressed even the explorers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, who were not as much given to praise of landscape beauty as are we of later times. These Canadian forests include oaks, elms, pines and firs, chestnuts and beeches, birch trees and sycamores, maples and poplars, willows, alders, and hazelnuts (these last sometimes growing into tall trees with thick trunks). The trees and low-growing plants are partly like those of the north-eastern United States, and partly resemble those of northern and central Europe.

Nowadays, owing to two centuries of incessant killing, the beasts and birds of Upper and Lower Canada are not nearly so abundant as they were a hundred years ago. When Canada proper was first discovered, the wapiti red deer was still found in the basin of the St. Lawrence; it has long since been extinct. There are, however, still lingering, reindeer in the north, and elk in the forests of the east. There are also Virginian deer (Mazama), but there is no bison (and, so far as we know, never has been). There is no prongbuck, and many other creatures characteristic of the United States and British Columbia are not found in Upper and Lower Canada or in the maritime provinces. The tree porcupine (Erethizon dorsatus), which the Canadians call "Urson", or "Little Bear" is found still in the well-wooded regions of eastern and southern Canada, as well as in British Columbia and Alaska. In southern Canada there is the wood hare (Lepus sylvaticus), and in the east and north the varying hare (L. americanus) which turns white in winter.

Perhaps the most characteristic animal of this region was and is still the beaver, though the beaver is found all over British North America as far north as the Saskatchewan province and westwards into British Columbia.

It is curious that the Indians of central Canada had a belief (recorded by French and English pioneers) that occasionally in the dusk, or at night, they have seen an enormously large beaver in the water, so large that at first sight they have taken it for a moose. Travellers who have related this have surmised that the Indian perhaps saw a bear swimming, or a female moose, and in the dim light mistook it for a giant beaver. But as we know that there were once giant beavers (Trogontherium) as large as a bear, existing in England, it is just possible there may have been a gigantic type of beaver lingering in Canada before the opening up of the country by Europeans.

The beaver of North America is a very similar animal to the beaver which used to exist wild in Wales, England, France, Germany, and central Europe, and which still lingers in some parts of the Rhine valley, Poland, Russia, and Siberia; but the American form is classified as a separate species—Castor canadensis.

Beavers were sometimes exterminated or diminished in numbers by an epidemic disease, which, according to JAMES TANNER[10], destroyed vast quantities of them.

[Footnote 10: A remarkable eighteenth-century pioneer who joined the Indians when a boy and lived as one of them.]

"I found them dead or dying in the water, on the ice, and on the land; sometimes I found one that, having cut a tree half down, had died at its roots; sometimes one who had drawn a stick of timber halfway to his lodge was lying dead by his burthen. Many of them which I opened were red and bloody about the heart. Those in large rivers and running water suffered less; almost all of those that lived in ponds and stagnant water, died. Since that year the beaver have never been so plentiful in the country of Red River and Hudson's Bay as they used formerly to be."

The great attraction which Canada offered to France and England as a field of adventure lay in its wonderful supply of furs. The beaver skins were perhaps the commonest article of export, and were generally regarded as a unit of value, such as a shilling might be. Other skins were valued at "so many beavers," or the smaller ones at half or a quarter of a beaver each. Besides beaver skins, which were used for making hats, as well as capes and coats, the following furs and skins were formerly, or are still, exported from Canada. "Buffalo" robes—the carefully rubbed-down hides of the bison, rendered, by shaving and rubbing, so thin and supple that they could be easily folded; reindeer and musk-ox skins treated in the same way; marten or sable skins; mink (a kind of polecat); ermine (the white winter dress of the stoat); the fishing marten, or pekan; otter skins; black bear and white polar bear skins; raccoon, muskwash, squirrel, suslik, and marmot skins, and the soft white fur of the polar hare; the white skins of the Arctic fox, the skins of the blue fox, black fox, and red fox;[11] wolf skins, and the furs of the wolverene or glutton, and of the skunk—a handsome black-and-white creature of the weasel family, which emits a most disgusting smell from a gland in its body. (The skunk only comes from the south-central parts of the Canadian Dominion). At one time a good many swans' skins were exported for the sake of the down between the feathers, also the skins of grebes.

[Footnote 11: The blue fox is the Arctic fox (Canis lagopus) in its summer dress; the black fox is a beautiful variety or sub-species of the common fox (C. vulpes); so also is the red or "cross" fox. There is also common throughout the Canadian Dominion the pretty little kit fox (Canis velox).]

* * * * *

A general fact that must not be forgotten in studying the adventures of the pioneers of Canada was the means which Nature and savage man had provided or invented for quickly traversing in all directions this enormous area of nearly half North America. These means consisted (1) of the distribution of salt and fresh water in such a way that by means of ocean-sailing ships explorers coming from the east could enter through straits and bays of the sea into the heart of Canada; and (2) the facility, on quitting the seashore, of passing up navigable rivers in boats or canoes into big lakes, and from these lakes into other rivers leading to other lakes. Moreover, the different river systems approached so closely to one another that even the Amerindians and the Eskimo, long before the white man, had realized that they had only to pick up their light canoes and carry them a few miles, to launch them on fresh waters which might provide hundreds or even thousands of miles of continuous travel. These are the celebrated "portages" of Canadian history, from the French word porter, to carry, transport. Sometimes the portages were made still easier for loaded canoes by a road being cleared through the scrub and over the rocks, and wooden rollers placed across it. Strong men could then easily haul a loaded canoe over these wooden rollers until it could be launched again in the water. Often these portages were made to circumvent dangerous rapids or waterfalls. The Indians and the French Canadians soon learnt how to steer canoes down rushes of water—rapids—which we should think very dangerous on an English river; but of course many of the rivers were obstructed at intervals by descents of water which no canoe could traverse up or down, and in these cases a path was cut from one smooth part of the river to another, and the canoe carried or hauled overland.

In this way the great French and British explorers found it possible to travel by water from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean across a width of land of something like 2500 miles. The only serious walking that had to be done was the crossing somewhere or other of the Rocky Mountains, where the streams, of course, were far too precipitate in descent to be navigable. In the hot, dusty plains of Assiniboia and the upper Missouri region the Amerindians had introduced horses, obtained indirectly from Spanish Mexico, and these were of great service to the white pioneers, especially in their pursuit of the bison.

So much for the summer season, when the rivers were full and overflowing, and the ground consisted of bare rock, sand, or soil covered with vegetation; the abundance of navigable streams and the suitability of the country to horses rendered very little walking necessary for those who wished to traverse the Canadian Dominion from end to end.

But the winter changed these conditions, the rivers became coated with thick ice, and the ground was covered, except in steep places, with an unvarying mantle of snow. Yet transport became just as easy as in the summertime, though perhaps a trifle more fatiguing. Men and women put on snowshoes shaped like tennis rackets, and flew over the hard snow quicker than a canoe could travel, dragging after them small sledges on which their luggage was packed; or, if they had not much luggage, carrying it slung round the shoulders and scurrying away on their snowshoes even swifter for the weight they carried; or they travelled over the smooth ice of the rivers and lakes.

Winter travellers, however, were sometimes troubled with a disorder known as the snowshoe evil. This arose from the placing of an unusual strain on the tendons of the leg, occasioned by the weight of the snowshoe. It often resulted in severe inflammation of the lower leg. The local remedy was a drastic one: it was to place a piece of lighted touchwood on the most inflamed part, and to leave it there till the flesh was burnt to the nerve!

In the north and the regions round Hudson's Bay, and also in the far west—British Columbia and Alaska—there were dogs, more or less of the Eskimo breed, trained by Eskimo or by Amerindians to drag the sledges. In the months of December and January it is true that the daylight in Arctic Canada (north of Lake Athapaska) became so short that the sun at its greatest altitude only appeared for two or three hours a short distance above the horizon. But there were compensations. The brilliancy of the Aurora Borealis, even without the assistance of the moon and the stars, made some amends for that deficiency, for it was frequently so light all night that travellers could see to read a very small print (Samuel Hearne). The importance of these "Northern lights" must not be overlooked in forming an opinion on the habitability of the far north in the "dark" winter months. The display was frequent and brilliant.

The Athapaskan Indians called this phenomenon Edthin, that is to say, "reindeer". When the Aurora Borealis was particularly bright in the sky they would say that deer were plentiful in that part of the heavens. Their fancy in this respect was not quite so silly as one might think. They had learnt from experience that the Aurora Borealis was in some way connected with electricity, and experience had equally shown them that the skin of the reindeer, if briskly stroked by the hand on a dark night, would emit as many electric sparks as the back of a cat. On the other hand, the Amerindians in the southern and more temperate regions thought the Aurora Borealis was a vast concourse of "spirits of the happy day" dancing in the clouds.

Thus there were no climatic reasons why, both in summer and in winter, immense distances should not be quickly covered in Canada between the Rocky Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean. This is how a mere hundred of white pioneers opened up Canada to the knowledge of the civilized world far quicker than the same area could have been discovered in Africa or Asia. Sometimes, for about a month, between the melting of the snow and ice and the steady flowing of the rivers in the late spring, or between the uncertain autumn of November and the confirmed winter of December, there might be an interval of a few weeks in which journeys had to be made on foot under conditions of great hardship, through mud, swamp, and over sharp stones or slippery rocks.

"The plains are covered with water from the melting of the snow so suddenly, and our men suffer much, as they are continually on the march, looking after Indians in every creek and little river. The water is commonly knee deep, in some places up to the middle, and in the morning is usually covered with ice, which makes it tedious and even dangerous travelling. Some of our men lose the use of their legs while still in the prime of life", wrote one eighteenth-century pioneer, in the Canadian spring.

Severe as were the winter conditions of climate, the explorers were just as willing to travel through the winter as the summer, because in the winter they were spared the awful plague of mosquitoes and midges which still renders summer and early-autumn travel throughout the whole of Canada, from the United States borders on the south to the Arctic Ocean on the north, a severe trial, and even an unbearable degree of physical suffering.


The Amerindians and Eskimo: the Aborigines of British North America

I have already attempted to describe in the first chapter the ancient peopling of America from north-eastern Asia, but it might be useful if I gave here some description of the Eskimo and Amerindian tribes of the Canadian Dominion at the time of its gradual discovery by Europeans, especially during the great explorations of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

It is evident that the ESKIMO—who are quite distinct from the Amerindians in physical type, language, customs, and industries—have been for thousands of years the only inhabitants of Arctic America. When the Norsemen came to the New World they seem to have met with Eskimo as far south as New England, but in more recent times the Eskimo have only been found inhabiting the extreme north and north-east: in Greenland, on the Labrador coast, on Baffin's Land, and along the Arctic coast of the North-American continent, between the Coppermine River and the westernmost extremity of Alaska, as well as on the opposite islands and promontories of Asia.

Their name for themselves as a people is usually "Innuit" (in Greenland, "Karalit"). Eskimo is a corruption of Eskimantsik, a northern Algonkin word meaning "eaters of raw flesh". Although their geographical range extends over a distance of about three thousand five hundred miles—from north-easternmost Asia to the east coast of Greenland—the difference in their dialects is little more than that between French and Italian; whereas the difference between the speech of one Amerindian tribe and another—even where they belong to the same language group—is very great—not less than that between German and Latin, or English and French, or even between Russian and Hindustani. This fact—of the widespread Eskimo language—makes some authorities suppose that the presence of the Eskimo in Arctic America cannot be such a very ancient event as, from other evidence, one might believe. Perhaps the bold travelling habits of the Eskimo—which makes them range over vast distances of ice and snow when hunting seals, walruses, whales, musk ox, or reindeer—enables them to keep in touch with their far-away relations.

The canoes or kayaks in which they travel (first described by the Norsemen in the tenth century) are made out of the hide of the seal or walrus. The leather is stretched over a framework constructed from driftwood or whales' bones. There is a hole in the middle for the man or woman to insert their legs. This hole they fill up with their bodies. If the canoe capsizes, the Eskimo cannot fall out, but bobs up immediately. He and the canoe are really "one-and-indivisible" when he is navigating the seas and lakes, plying deftly a large paddle.

In regard to food they were certainly not particular or squeamish. They loved best of all whales' blubber, or to drink the fishy-tasting oil from bodies of whales, seals, or walruses. Besides the meat of Polar bears and of any fur animals they could catch, or the musky beef of the musk ox, they devoured eagerly sea birds' eggs, Iceland moss, and even the parasitic insects of their own heads and bodies! Hearne relates that they will eat with a relish whole handfuls of maggots that have been produced in meat by the eggs of the bluebottle fly! On the other hand, they held cannibalism in horror, whereas for two-two's their Amerindian neighbours on the west and south would eat human flesh without repugnance.

The Eskimo, though occasionally tall, are as a rule stumpy and thickset, with very small hands and feet, broad faces, and projecting cheekbones, a narrow nose without the aquiline bridge of the Amerindian, slanting narrow eyes, and long heads containing large well-developed brains. In disposition the Eskimo are nearly always merry, affectionate to one another, honest, and modest. Modern travellers in the Arctic regions give them invariably a high character; but Frobisher, Davis, and the explorers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries accused them of treachery and an inclination to steal. Iron in any shape or form they could hardly resist taking. Moreover, if they are the same people as the Skraellings of the Norse traditions they must have been of a fiercer disposition a thousand years ago.

The Amerindians who inhabited (more or less) the rest of the Canadian Dominion, and the whole remainder of the New World, differed in physical appearance from the Eskimo mainly in being taller and better proportioned, with shorter and rounder heads, larger, fuller eyes, a bigger nose, and a handsomer personal appearance. The skin colour, as a rule, was darker and browner than the greyish- or pinkish-yellow of the Eskimo.

The various human types that went to form the Amerindian race (beside the Eskimo element in them) seem to have entered north-west America from Asia, and first to have peopled the Pacific slopes of the Rocky Mountains, after which they wandered farther and farther south till they got into a warmer climate. Then they crossed the Rocky Mountains and peopled the centre and east of what is now the United States. As they pushed their way north up the valleys of the great rivers, they no doubt killed, mingled with, or pushed back the Eskimo. At last their northernmost extensions reached to the Mackenzie River, the vicinity of Hudson's Bay, Labrador, and Newfoundland. But in all the middle, west, and even east of Canada they seem to have been relatively recent arrivals,[1] not to have inhabited the country for a great many centuries before the white man came, and all their recorded and legendary movements in North America have been from the south-west towards the north-east (after they had got across the Rocky Mountains). The few cultivated plants they had, such as maize (Indian corn), tobacco, and pumpkins, they brought with them or received from the south.

[Footnote 1: There may have been an earlier race inhabiting north-east America which was killed out or driven away by the last Glacial period.]

The only domestic animal possessed by either Eskimo or Amerindian was the dog. We are most of us by now familiar with the type of the Eskimo dog—a large, wolf-like animal with prick ears and a bushy tail curled over its back. In this carriage of the tail the Eskimo and most other true dogs differ from wolves, with whom the tail droops between the hind quarters. But there is a small wild American wolf—the coyote—which carries its tail more upright, like that of the true dog; and the coyote seems indeed an intermediate form between the wolf and the original wild dog. Most of the domestic dogs of the Amerindians[2] (as distinguished from those of the Eskimo) seem to have been derived from the coyote or small wolf of central North America.

[Footnote 2: "The dogs of the Northern Indians are of various sizes and colours, but all of them have a foxy or wolf-like appearance, sharp noses, bushy tails, and sharp ears standing erect." (Samuel Hearne).

Hearne also remarks that the northern Indians had a superstitious reverence and liking for the wolf. They would frequently go to the mouth of the burrows where the female wolves lived with their young, take out the puppies and play with them, and even paint the faces of the young wolves with vermilion or red ochre.

When first observed by Europeans the unhappy Beothiks (of Newfoundland) had apparently no domestic dogs, only "tame wolves", whom they distinguished from the wild wolves by marking their ears. They were made more angry by the European seamen attacking and killing the wolves than by anything else they did. Apparently some kind of alliance had been struck up between the Beothiks—a nation of hunters—and the wolf packs which followed in their tracks; and the Newfoundland wolves were on the way to becoming domesticated "dogs". Later on it was realized that the island did produce a special breed—the celebrated Newfoundland dog—the original type of which was much smaller than the modern type, nearly or entirely black in colour, with a sharper muzzle and less pendulous ears. But its feet were as strongly webbed and its habits as aquatic as those of the "Newfoundland" of the modern breed. Some people have noticed the resemblance between the farmers' dogs in Norway and the Newfoundland type, and have thought that the latter may not be altogether of wolf extraction, but be descended from the dogs brought from Norway and Iceland by the Norse adventurers who visited Newfoundland in the tenth and eleventh centuries.]

On the Pacific coast there were other types of domestic dog, resembling greatly breeds that are found in eastern Asia and the Pacific islands. Some of these were naked, and others grew silky hair, which was woven by the natives into cloth (see p. 323). The Eskimo dog almost certainly has been derived from northern Asia, and is closely related to the well-known Chinese breed—the chow dog—and the domestic breeds of ancient Europe. Even the commonest type of house dog in the Roman Empire was very much like an Eskimo or a chow in appearance. There is a true wild dog, however, in the Yukon province of the Canadian Dominion and in Alaska—Canis pambasileus—a dark, blackish-brown in colour. This may have been a parent of the Eskimo dog, but it is also doubtless closely allied to the original (extinct) wild dog of northern Asia, from which the chow and many other breeds are directly descended. The Eskimo never under ordinary circumstances ate their dogs; on the other hand, the Amerindians were fond of dog's flesh, and in some tribes simply bred dogs for the table.

When Europeans first reached America all these Amerindian tribes, and also the Eskimo, were still, for all practical purposes, in the Stone Age. Those who lived in the north had discovered the use of copper and had shaped for themselves knives and spear blades out of copper, but not even this metal was in use to any great extent, and for the most part they relied, down to the end of the eighteenth century, for their implements and weapons, on polished and sharpened stones, on deer's antlers, buffalo horns, sticks, sharp shells, beavers' incisor teeth,[3] the claws or spines of crustaceans, flints, and suchlike substances—in short, they were leading the same life and using almost exactly the same tools as the long-since-vanished hunter races of Europe of five thousand to one hundred thousand years ago—the people who pursued the mammoth, the bison, the Irish "elk", and the other great beasts of prehistoric Europe. Indeed, North America represented to some extent, as late as a hundred years ago, what Europe must have looked like in the days of palaeolithic Man.

[Footnote 3: Of which they made very serviceable chisels.]

* * * * *

The AMERINDIANS of the Canadian Dominion (when the country first became known to Europeans) belonged to the following groups and tribes. The order of enumeration begins in the east and proceeds westwards. I have already mentioned the peculiar Beothiks of Newfoundland.[4] In Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and the Gaspe Peninsula there were the Mikmak Indians belonging to the widespread ALGONKIN family or stock. West and south of the Mikmaks, in New Brunswick and along the borders of New England, were other tribes of the Algonkin group: the Etchemins, Abenakis, Tarratines, Penobscots, Mohikans, and Adirondacks. North of these, in the eastern part of the Quebec province, on either side of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, were the Montagnais. This name, though it looks like a French word meaning "mountaineers", was also spellt Montagnet, and in various other ways, showing that it was originally a native name, pronounced Montanye. The Montagnais in various clans extended northwards across Labrador until they touched the Eskimo, with whom they constantly fought. The interior of Labrador was inhabited by another Algonkin tribe, the Naskwapi, living in a state of rude savagery. The Algonkins proper, whose tribe gave their name to the whole stock because the French first became acquainted with them as a type, dwelt in the vicinity of Montreal, Lake Ontario, and the valley of the St. Lawrence. In upper Canada, about the great lakes and the St. Lawrence valley, were the Chippeways, or Ojibwes, and the Ottawas. West and north of Lake Michigan were the Miamis, the Potawatomis, and the Fox Indians (the Saks or Sawkis). Between Lake Winnipeg and Lake Superior were the Cheyennes (Shians); between North and South Saskatchewan, the Blackfeet or Siksika Indians (sections of which were also called Bloods, Paigans, Piegans, &c). North of Lake Winnipeg, as far as Lake Athabaska, and almost from the Rocky Mountains to the shores of Hudson's Bay, were the widespread tribe of the Kris, or Knistino.[5] The Gros Ventres or Big Bellies—properly called Atsina—inhabited the southern part of the middle west, between the Saskatchewan and the Missouri basins; and the Monsoni or Maskegon were found in eastern Rupert Land.

[Footnote 4: See also pp. 156, 164, 186, and 199. In this list I have put in italics the names of the tribes more important in history, and in capitals the principal group names.]

[Footnote 5: Kinistino, Kiristineaux, Kilistino; called "Crees" or "Kris" for short.]

All the above-enumerated tribes, except the Beothik indigenes of Newfoundland, belong to the great and widespread ALGONKIN group. (Algonkin is a word derived from the "Algommequin" of Champlain.) In the valley of the St. Lawrence the French first encountered those Indians whom they called Huron. This was a French word meaning "crested", because these people wore their hair in a great crest over the top and back of the head, which reminded the French of the appearance of a wild boar (Hure). The real name of the Hurons, who dwelt at a later date between Lakes Huron, Erie, Ontario, and the neighbourhood of Montreal, was Waiandot (Wyandot); but they went under a variety of other names, according to the clans, such as the Eries and the Atiwandoran or Neutral Nation. They were also called the "Good" Iroquois, to distinguish them from the six other nations, the IROQUOIS proper of the French Canadians, who signalized themselves by fiendish and frightful warfare against the French and the various tribes of Algonkin Indians. The Hurons and the rest of the six tribes grouped under the name of IROQUOIS[6] were of the same stock originally, forming a separate group like that of the Algonkins, though they are supposed to be related distantly to the Dakota or Siou. Amongst the "Six Nations" or tribes banded together in warfare and policy were the celebrated "Mohawks" who dwelt on the southern borders of the St. Lawrence basin and near Lake Champlain. As the others of the six nations (including the Senekas and Onondagas) inhabited the eastern United States, well outside the limits of Canada, they need not be referred to here.

[Footnote 6: "Iroquois" was a name invented by Champlain (see p. 69). Apparently this confederation called themselves Hodenosauni. The termination "ois" in all French-American names is pronounced "wa"—Irokwa.]

Between the South Saskatchewan, the Rocky Mountains, and Lake Superior, nearly outside the limits of the Canadian Dominion, was the great DAKOTA, or Siou group,[7] divided into the distinct tribe of Assiniboin or "Stone" Indians (because they used hot stones in cooking), the "Crows" or Absaroka, the Hidatsa or Minitari (also called Big Bellies, like the quite distinct Atsina of the Algonkin family), the Menomini (the most north-eastern amongst the Siouan tribes, and the first met with by the British and French Canadians south-west of Lake Superior), the Winnebagos on the southern borders of Manitoba, the Yanktons or Yanktonnais, the "Santi Siou" proper—generally calling themselves Dakota or Mdewakanton—and the "Tetons" along the northern Dakota frontier and into the Rocky Mountains—also known as Blackfeet, Sans Arcs ("without bows"), "Two-kettles", "Brules" or "Burnt" Indians, &c.

[Footnote 7: The far-famed term Siou is said to have been an abbreviation of one of the original French names for this type of Amerindian, Nadouessiou. In early books they are often called the Nadouessies.]

Next must be mentioned the very important and widespread ATHAPASKAN or Dene (Tinne) group, named after Lake Athapaska (or Athabaska), because that sheet of water became a great rallying place for these northern tribes. The Athapaskan group of Indians indeed represents the "Northern Indians" of the Hudson's Bay Company's reports and explorers. They drew a great distinction between the Northern Indians (the Athapaskan tribes) and the Southern Indians, which included all the other Amerindian groups dwelling to the south of the Athapaskan domain. But although nowadays so much associated with the far north and north-west of America, the Athabaskan group evidently came from a region much farther south, and has been cut in half by other tribal movements, wars, and migrations; for the Athapaskan family also includes the Apaches and the Navaho of the south-western portions of the United States and the adjoining territories of Mexico. The northern and southern divisions of the Athapaskan group are separated by something like twelve hundred miles. The following are the principal tribes into which the Northern ATHAPASKAN group was divided at the time of the first explorations of the north-west. There were the Chippewayan Indians[8] round about Lake Athapaska, and the Caribou Eaters or Ethen-eldeli between Lake Athapaska and Reindeer Lake. The "Slaves", or Slave Indians of the Great Slave Lake and the upper Mackenzie River; the Beaver and Sarsi Indians (known also as the Tsekehn), about the Peace River and the northern part of Alberta province; and the Yellow Knives, or Totsan-ottine (so called from their being found with light-coloured copper knives when first discovered by Europeans), north-east of the Great Slave Lake and along the Coppermine River: the Dogribs between the Great Slave Lake and Great Bear Lake, perhaps (except in Alaska) the most northern extension of the Amerindian type towards the Arctic regions. West of the Dogribs dwelt—and still dwell—the interesting tribe of Hare Indians, or Kawcho-Tinne. They extend northwards to the Anderson River, on the verge of the Arctic Ocean. West of the lower Mackenzie River, and stretching thence to the Porcupine or Yukon Rivers, are the Squinting Indians ("Loucheux", or Kuchin), who in former times were met with much farther to the south-east than at the present day. Finally, there are the Nahani Indians, who have penetrated through the Rocky Mountains to the Stikine River, reaching thus quite close to the Pacific Ocean. This penetration northwards of groups of Athapaskan Indians into districts inhabited for the most part by Amerindian tribes differing widely in language and customs from all those east of the Rocky Mountains, explains the way in which stories of the great western sea—the Pacific—reached, by means of trading intercourse, those Amerindian tribes of the middle-west and upper Canada, and so stirred up the French and English explorers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to make the marvellous journeys which are recounted in this book.

[Footnote 8: These northern Indians are described by Hearne as having very low foreheads, small eyes, high cheekbones, Roman noses, broad cheeks, and long, broad chins. Their skins were soft, smooth and polished, somewhat copper-coloured, and inclining towards a dingy brown. The hair of the head was black, strong, and straight. They were not in general above middle size, though well proportioned.]

West of the Rocky Mountains, in British Columbia and Vancouver Island (besides southern Alaska), the Amerindian tribes form the Nutka-Columbian group, which is markedly distinct from the Amerindians east of the Rocky Mountains, from whom they differ widely in language, type, and culture. They are divided into quite a large number of small separate groups—the Wakashan or Nutkas of Vancouver Island and south-western British Columbia, the Shahaptian or "Nez perces" Indians of the Columbia basin, and the Chinuks of the lower Columbia River, the Salishan or "Flathead" group (including the Atnⱥs) of the Fraser and Thompson Rivers and central British Columbia; and the Haida Indians of Queen Charlotte's Islands and the north-west coast of British Columbia. It must be remembered that these different groups are only based on the relationships of their component tribes in language or dialect, and do not always imply that the tribes belonging to them had the same customs and dispositions; but they were generally able to communicate with one another in speech, whereas if they met the Indians of another group the language might be so totally different that they could only communicate by means of signs.

Sign and gesture language[9] was extraordinarily developed amongst all the Amerindian races from the Arctic Ocean to the Antarctic. Not only that, but they were quick to understand the purpose of pictures. They could draw maps in the sand to explain the geography of their country, and Europeans could often make them understand what they required by rough drawings. They themselves related many events by means of a picture language—the beginning of hieroglyphics; and in the south-eastern parts of Canada, as in the United States, these signs or pictographs were recorded in bead-shell work—the celebrated "wampum".

[Footnote 9: "It is surprising how dexterous all these natives of the plains are in communicating their ideas by signs. They hold conferences for several hours, upon different subjects, during the whole of which time not a single word is pronounced upon either side, and still they appear to comprehend each other perfectly well. This mode of communication is natural to them; their gestures are made with the greatest ease, and they never seem to be at a loss for a sign to express their meaning" (Alex. Henry the Younger, 1800). But it should also be noted that during the last hundred years the peoples belonging to the Nutka-Columbian group have developed a trade language which they use in common. This is a mixture of Chinuk, English, French, Chinese, and Hawaaian.]

All these tribes, of course, varied very much in personal appearance, though not in disposition. The vanished Beothiks of Newfoundland are described as having been a good-looking tall people, with large black eyes and a skin so light, when washed free from dirt or paint, that the Portuguese compared them to gipsies; and the writer of Fabian's Chronicle, who saw two of them (brought back by Cabot) at Henry VII's Court, in 1499, took them for Englishmen when they were dressed in English clothes. It was these people—subsequently killed out by the British settlers on Newfoundland—who originated the term "Red Indians", or, in French, Peaux Rouges, because their skins, like those of so many other Amerindians, were painted with red ochre.

Many of the British Columbian peoples made themselves artificially ugly by flattening the sides of the head. To press the skull whilst it was soft, they squeezed the heads of their children between boards; others, such as the warlike tribes of the upper Missouri, had a passion for submitting themselves to mutilation by the medicine man of the clan, in order to please the sun god. Such would submit to large strips being cut from the flesh of their shoulders, arms, or legs, or having their cheeks slashed. The result, of course, was to leave their limbs and features horribly scarred when they healed up. In some tribes, however, a young man could not obtain—or retain—a wife unless he had shown his bravery by submitting to this mutilation. Women often cut off one or more joints of their fingers to show their grief for the death of children.

In some tribes, especially of the far north-west and of the Rocky Mountains, the personal habits of men and women, or of the women only, were so filthy, and their dislike to bathing so pronounced, that they became objects of loathing to white men; in other tribes personal cleanliness was highly esteemed, especially on the seacoast of British Columbia or along the banks of the great rivers. Usually the men were better looking and better developed than the women—for one reason, because they were better fed.

Here is a description by PETER GRANT—a pioneer of the North-West Company—of the Ojibwe Indians dwelling near the east end of Lake Superior at the beginning of the nineteenth century:—

"Their complexion is a whitish cast of copper colour, their hair black, long, straight, and of a very strong texture. The young men allow several locks of the hair to fall down over the face, ornamented with ribbons, silver brooches, &c. They gather up another lock from behind the head into a small clump, and wrap it up with very thin plates of silver, in which they fix the tail feathers of the eagle or any other favourite bird with the wearing of which they have distinguished themselves in war. They are very careful with their hair, anointing it with bears' oil, which gives it a smooth and glossy appearance. The teeth are of a beautiful ivory white, the cheeks rather high and prominent, the eyes black and lively. Their countenances are generally pleasant, and they might often be called handsome. The ears are pierced in infancy, and the lobe is extended to an unnatural size by suspending lead or any other heavy metal from the outer rim, which in time brings them down near the shoulder. The nose ornaments hang down half an inch, and nearly touch the upper lip.

"The men are bold, manly, and graceful in their gait, always carrying their bodies erect and easy. On the other hand, the women, by walking with the toes of their feet turned inwards, have a disagreeable and lame appearance. The men are specially fond of painting their faces and bodies with vermilion, white and blue clay, charcoal or soot mixed with a little grease or water. With this colour they daub the body, legs, and thighs in bars and patches, and take the greatest pains about painting the face, usually with red and black. Their skins are generally tattooed with figures representing the sun, stars, eagles, serpents, &c, especially objects which have appeared to them in their dreams. The women's faces are much less painted, usually a spot of red on each cheek and a circle of red round the roots of the hair or eyes."

Here is a summary of what Alexander Henry, sen., wrote of the Kri or Knistino Indians of Lake Athabaska about 1770:—

"The men in general tattoo their bodies and arms very much. The women confine this ornamentation to the chin, having three perpendicular lines from the middle of the chin to the lip, and one or more running on each side, nearly parallel with the corner of the mouth. Their dress consists of leather; that of the men is a pair of leggings, reaching up to the hip and fastened to the girdle. Between the legs is passed a strip of woollen stuff, but when this cannot be procured they use a piece of dressed leather about nine inches broad and four feet long, whose ends are drawn through the girdle and hang down before and behind about a foot.... The shirt is of soft dressed leather, either from the prong-buck or young red deer, close about the neck and hanging to the middle of the thigh; the sleeves are of the same, loose and open under the arms to the elbows, but thence to the wrist sewed tight. The cap is commonly a piece of leather, or skin with the hair on, shaped to fit the head, and tied under the chin; the top is usually decorated with feathers or other ornament. Shoes are made of buffalo (bison) hide, dressed in the hair, and mittens of the same. Over the whole a buffalo robe is thrown, which serves as covering day and night.

"Such is their common dress, but on particular occasions they appear to greater advantage, having their cap, shirt, leggings, and shoes perfectly clean and white, trimmed with porcupine quills and other ingenious work of their women, who are supposed to be the most skilful hands in the country at decorations of this kind. The women's dress consists of the same materials as the men's. Their leggings do not reach above the knee, and are gathered below that joint; their shoes always lack decoration. The shift or body garment reaches down to the calf, where it is generally fringed and trimmed with quillwork; the upper part is fastened over the shoulders by strips of leather; a flap or cape hangs down about a foot before and behind, and is ornamented with quillwork and fringe. This covering is quite loose, but tied around the waist with a belt of stiff parchment fastened on the side, where also some ornaments are suspended. The sleeves are detached from the body garment; from the wrist to the elbow they are sewed, but thence to the shoulder they are open underneath and drawn up to the neck, where they are fastened across the breast and back.

"Their ornaments are two or three coils of brass wire twisted around the rim of each ear, in which incisions are made for that purpose; blue beads, brass rings, quillwork, and fringe occasionally answer. Vermilion (a red clay) is much used by the women to paint the face.

"Their hair is generally parted on the crown and fastened behind each ear in large knots, from which are suspended bunches of blue beads or other ingenious work of their own. The men adjust their hair in various forms; some have it parted on top and tied in a tail on each side, while others make one long queue which hangs down behind, and around which is twisted a strip of otter skin or dressed buffalo entrails. This tail is frequently increased in thickness and length by adding false hair, but others allow it to flow loose naturally. Combs are seldom used by the men, and they never smear the hair with grease, but red earth is sometimes put upon it. White earth daubed over the hair generally denotes mourning. The young men sometimes have a bunch of hair on the crown, about the size of a small teacup, and nearly in the shape of that vessel upside down, to which they fasten various ornaments of feathers, quillwork, ermine tails, &c. Red and white earth and charcoal are much used in their toilets; with the former they usually daub their robes and other garments, some red and others white. The women comb their hair and use grease on it."

The Slave Indians (a tribe of the Athapaskan family) tattooed their cheeks with charcoal inserted under the skin, also daubed their bodies, robes, and garments profusely with red earth (generally called, in the text of travellers, vermilion), but they had another favourite pigment, procured from the regions on the west of the Rocky Mountains, some kind of graphite, like the lead of lead pencils. With this they marked their faces in black lead after red earth has been applied, and thus gave themselves a ghastly and savage appearance. Their dress consists of a leather shirt trimmed with human hair and porcupine-quill work, and leggings of leather. Their shoes and caps were made of bison leather, with the hair outside. Their necklaces were strings of grizzly-bear claws, and a "buffalo" robe was thrown over all occasionally. Some of them occasionally had quite light skins—when free of dirt or paint—and grey eyes, and their hair, instead of being black, was greyish-brown. These last features (grey eyes and brown hair) characterized many individuals among the northern British-Columbian tribes.

The Naskwapis of inland Labrador—allied in speech to the Kris and the Montagnais, but in blood to the Eskimo—are described as above the middle size in height, slender, and long-legged, their cheeks being very prominent, eyes black, nose rather flat, mouth large, lips thick, teeth white, hair rough and black, and the complexion a yellowish "frog" colour. They were dressed in elaborate and warm garments made of reindeer skin. The ordinary covering for the head of the men was the skin of a bear's head. "Thus accoutred, with the addition of a bow and quiver, a stone axe, and a bone knife, a Naskwapi man possessed no small degree of pride and self-importance" (James M'Kenzie).

The handsomest tribes of Amerindians encountered by the Canadian pioneers seem to have been the Ojibwes of Lake Superior, the Iroquois south of the St. Lawrence, and the Mandans of the upper Missouri.

Until well on in the nineteenth century none of the Canadian Amerindians were particular about wearing clothes if the weather was hot. The men, especially, were either quite oblivious of what was seemly in clothing (except perhaps the Iroquois) or thought it necessary to go naked into battle, or to remove all clothing before taking part in religious ceremonies.

It is commonly supposed that the Red Man was a rather glum person, seldom seen to smile and averse to showing any emotion. That is not the impression one derives from the many pen portraits of Amerindians in the journals of the great pioneers. Here, on the contrary, you see the natives laughing, smiling, kissing eagerly their wives and children after an absence, displaying exuberant and cordial friendship towards the white man who treated them well, having love quarrels and fits of raging jealousy, moods of deep remorse after a fight, touching devotion to their comrades or chiefs, and above all to their children. They are most emotional, indeed, and, apart from this chapter you will find frequent descriptions of how they wept at times over the remembrance of their dead relations and friends.

Hearne remarked, in 1772, that when two parties of Athapaska Indians met, the ceremonies which passed between them were very formal. They would advance within twenty or thirty yards of each other, make a full halt, and then sit or lie down on the ground, not speaking for some minutes. At length one of them, generally an elderly man, broke silence by acquainting the other party with every misfortune that had befallen him and his companions from the last time they had seen or heard of each other, including all deaths and other calamities which had happened to any other Indians during the same period. When he finished, another orator, belonging to the other party, related in like manner all the bad news that had come to his knowledge. If these orations contained any news that in the least affected either party, it would not be long before some of them began to sigh and sob, and soon after to break out into a loud cry, which was generally accompanied by most of the grown persons of both sexes; and sometimes it was common to hear them all—men, women, and children—joining in one universal howl. When the first transports of grief had subsided, they advanced by degrees, and both parties mixed with each other, the men with the men, the women with the women. They then passed round tobacco pipes very freely, and the conversation became general. They had now nothing but good news left to tell, and in less than half an hour probably nothing but smiles and cheerfulness would be seen on every face.

One direction in which the Amerindians did not shine was in their treatment of women. This perhaps was worse than in other uncivilized races. Woman was very badly used, except perhaps for the first year of courtship and marriage. Courtship began by the young man throwing sticks at the girl[10] who pleased his fancy, and if she responded he asked her in marriage. But not long after she had become a mother she sank into the position of a household drudge and beast of burden. For example, amongst the Beaver Indians, an Athapaskan tribe of the far north-west, it is related by Alexander Mackenzie that the women are permanently crippled and injured in physique by the hardships they have to undergo. "Having few dogs for transport in that country, the women alone perform that labour which is allotted to beasts of burden in other countries. It is not uncommon whilst the men carry nothing but a gun, that their wives and daughters follow with such weighty burdens that if they lay them down they cannot replace them; nor will the men deign to perform the service of hoisting them on to their backs. So that during their journeys they are frequently obliged to lean against a tree for a small degree of temporary relief. When they arrive at the place which their tyrants have chosen for their encampment, they arrange the tent in a few minutes by forming a curve of poles meeting at the top and expanding into a circle of twelve or fifteen feet in diameter at the bottom, covered with dressed skins of the moose sewn together. During these preparations the men sit down quietly to the enjoyment of their pipes, if they happen to have any tobacco."

[Footnote 10: The manner of courtship among the Ojibwes seemed to Peter Grant not only singular, but rude. "The lover begins his first addresses by gently pelting his mistress with bits of clay, snowballs, small sticks, or anything he may happen to have in his hand. If she returns the compliment, he is encouraged to continue the farce, and repeat it for a considerable time, after which more direct proposals of marriage are made by word of mouth."]

Among the Ojibwe and Huron Indians of the Great Lakes the men sometimes obliged their wives to bring up and nourish young bears instead of their own children, so that the bears might eventually be fattened for eating. If food was scarce, the women went without before even the male slaves of the tribe were unprovided with food. Women might never eat in the society of males, not even if these males were slaves or prisoners of war. If food was very scarce, the husband as likely as not killed and ate a wife; perhaps did this before slaying and eating a valuable dog. (On the other hand, Mackenzie instances the case of a woman among the Slave Indians who, in a winter of great scarcity, managed to kill and devour her husband and several relations.) So terrible was the ill-treatment of the women in some tribes that these wretched beings sometimes committed suicide to end their tortures. Even in this, however, they were not let off lightly, for the Siou men invented as a tenet of their religion the saying that "Women who hang themselves are the most miserable of all wretches in the other world".

On the other hand, the kind treatment of children by fathers as well as mothers is an "Indian" trait commented on by writer after writer. Here is a typical description by Alexander Henry the Elder, concerning the children of the Ojibwe tribe:

"As soon as the boys begin to run about, they are provided with bows and arrows, and acquire, as it were 'by instinct', an astonishing dexterity in shooting birds, squirrels, butterflies, &c. Hunting in miniature may be justly said to comprise the whole of their education and childish diversion. Such as excel in this kind of exercise are sure of being particularly distinguished by their parents, and seldom punished for any misbehaviour, but, on the contrary, indulged in every degree of excess and caprice. I have often seen grown-up boys of this description, when punished for some serious fault, strike their father and spit in his face, calling him 'bad dog', or 'old woman', and, sometimes, carrying their insolence so far as to threaten to stab or shoot him, and, what is rather singular, these too-indulgent parents seem to encourage such unnatural liberties, and even glory in such conduct from their favourite children. I heard them boast of having sons who promised at an early age to inherit such bold and independent sentiments.... Children of nine or ten years of age not only enjoy the confidence of the men, but are generally considered as companions and very deliberately join in their conversations."

When death overtook anybody the grief of the female relations was carried to great excess. They not only cut their hair, cried and howled, but they would sometimes, with the utmost deliberation, employ some sharp instrument to separate the nail from the finger and then force back the flesh beyond the first joint, which they immediately amputated. "Many of the old women have so often repeated this ceremony that they have not a complete finger remaining on either hand" (Mackenzie).

The Amerindians of North America were religious and superstitious, and had a firm faith in a world of spiritual agencies within or outside the material world around us. Most of them believed in the existence of "fairies",—woodland, earth, mountain, or water spirits—whom they declared they could see from time to time in human semblance. Or such spirit or demi-god might assume for a time or permanently the form of an animal. To all such spirits of earth, air, and water, or to the sacred animals they inhabited, sacrifices would be offered and prayers made. Great importance was attributed to dreams and visions. They accustomed themselves to make long fasts, so that they might become light-headed and see visions, or hear spirit voices in a trance. To prepare their minds for this state they would go four or five days without food, and even abstain from drinking.

Undoubtedly their "medicine men" developed great mesmeric powers, and this force, combined with rather clumsy juggling and ventriloquism, enabled them to perform a semblance of "miracles". The Iroquois offered much opposition to Christianity, thinking it would tame their warriors too quickly and affect their national independence; but by the greater part of the Amerindians the message of the Gospel brought by the French priests was eagerly received, and the converts became many and most sincere. Their reverence for the missionaries and belief in them was increased when they saw how effectually they were able to protect them from too-rapacious white adventurers, fierce soldiers, and unscrupulous traders.

The Miamis of Lake Michigan held the symbol of the cross in great respect. A young Frenchman who was trading with them got into a passion and drew his sword to avenge himself for a theft committed on his goods. The Miama chieftain, to appease him, showed him the cross, which was planted in the ground at the end of his lodge, and said to him: "Behold the tree of the Black Gown; he teaches us to pray and not to lose our temper,"—of course, referring to the missionary in the black gown who had been amongst them. Before the cross was planted here these Miamis kept in their houses one or more bogies, to which they appealed in times of distress or sickness. One of these was the skull of the bison with its horns. Another was the skin of the bear raised on a pole in the middle of the hut and retaining the head, which was usually painted green. The women sometimes died of terror from the stories told them by the men about these idols, and the Jesuits did a great deal of good by getting them abolished in many places.

The Supreme Being of the Eskimos was a goddess rather than a god: a mother of all things who lived under the sea. On the other hand, most of the Amerindian tribes believed in one great God of the Sky—Manito, as He was called by the peoples of Algonkin stock, Nainubushan by the Siou and their kindred. This Being was usually kindly disposed towards man; but they also (in most cases) believed in a bad Manito, who was responsible for most of the harm in the world. But sometimes the Great Manito was capricious, or apparently made many mistakes which he had afterwards to rectify. Thus the Siou tribes of Assiniboia believed that the Supreme Being (whom they called Eth-tom-e) first created mankind and all living things, and then, through some oversight or mistake, caused a great flood to cover the earth's surface. So in a hurry he was obliged to make a very large canoe of twigs and branches, and into this he put a pair of every kind of bird and beast, besides a family of human beings, who were thus saved from drowning, and began the world afresh when the waters subsided. This legend was something like the story of Noah's ark, but seems in some form or another to have existed in the mind of all the North-American peoples before the arrival of Christian missionaries. Much the same story was told by the Ojibwes about the Great Hare-God, Nainiboju.

The Siou and the Ojibwe (and other tribes also) believed that after death the soul lay for a time in a trance, and then found itself floating towards a River which must be crossed. Beyond the River lay the Happy Hunting Grounds, the Elysian fields; but to oppose the weary soul anxious to reach this paradise there ramped on the other side a huge, flaming-red bison bull, if it had been ordained by the Great Spirit that the soul's time was not yet come, this red bison pushed it back, and the soul was obliged to re-enter the body, which then awoke from its trance or swoon and resumed its worldly activities.

Suicide was regarded as the most heinous of crimes. Any man killing himself deliberately, fell into the river of the ghost world and was never heard of again, while women who hanged themselves "were regarded as the most miserable of all wretches in the other world".

Their belief in spirits—even ancestral spirits—taking up an abode in the bodies of beasts, birds, or reptiles, or even in plants or stones, caused them to view with respect of a superstitious kind many natural objects. Some one thing—a beast, bird, reptile, fish, plant, or strange stone had been fixed on as the abode of his tutelary spirit by some father of a family. The family grew into a clan, and the clan to a tribe, and the object sacred in the eyes of its father and founder became its "totem", crest, or symbol. As a rule, whatever thing was the totem of the individual or the clan was held sacred in their eyes, and, if it was an animal, was not killed, or, if killed, not eaten. Many of the northern Indians would refrain from killing the wolf or the glutton, or if they did so, or did it by accident, they would refuse to skin the animal. The elder people amongst the Athapaskan Indians, in Hearne's day, would reprove the young folk for "speaking disrespectfully" of different beasts and birds.

Their ideas of medicine and surgery were much mixed up with a belief in magic and in the mysterious powers of their "medicine men". This person, who might be of either sex, certainly knew a few simple medicines to be made from herbs or decoctions of bark, but for the most part he attempted to cure the sick or injured by blowing lustily on the part affected or, more wisely, by massage. A universal cure, however, for all fevers and mild ailments was sweating. Sweating huts were built in nearly every settlement. They were covered over in a way to exclude air as much as possible. The inside was heated with red-hot stones and glowing embers, on to which from time to time water was poured to fill the place with steam. The Amerindians not only went through these Turkish baths to cure small ailments but also with the idea of clearing the intelligence and as a fitting preliminary to negotiations—for peace, or alliance, or even for courtship. In many tribes if a young "brave" arrived with proposals of marriage for a man's daughter he was invited to enter the sweating house with her father, and discuss the bargain calmly over perspiration and the tobacco pipe.

Tobacco smoking indeed was almost a religious ceremony, as well as a remedy for certain maladies or states of mind. The "pipe of peace" has become proverbial. Nevertheless tobacco was still unknown in the eighteenth century to many of the Pacific-coast and far-north-west tribes, as to the primitive Eskimo. It was not a very old practice in the Canadian Dominion when Europeans first arrived there, though it appeared to be one of the most characteristic actions of these red-skinned savages in the astonished eyes of the first pioneers. They used pipes for smoking, however, long before tobacco came among them, certain berries taking the place of tobacco.

The Amerindians of the southern parts of Canada and British Columbia were more or less settled peoples of towns or villages, of fixed homes to which they returned at all seasons of the year, however far afield they might range for warfare, trade, or hunting. But the more northern tribes were nomads: people shifting their abode from place to place in pursuit of game or trade. Unlike the people of the south and west (though these only grew potatoes) they were not agriculturists: the only vegetable element in their food was the wild rice of the marshes, the sweet-tasting layer between the bark and the wood of certain trees, and the fruits or fungi of the forest or the lichen growing on the rocks. Though these people might in summertime build some hasty wigwam of boughs and moss, their ordinary dwelling place was a tent.

The Wood Indians, or Opimitish Ininiwak, of the Athapaskan group (writes Alexander Henry, sen.) had no fixed villages; and their lodges or huts were so rudely fashioned as to afford them very inadequate protection against the weather. The greater part of their year was spent in travelling from place to place in search of food. The animal on which they chiefly depended was the hare—a most prominent animal in Amerindian economy and tradition. This they took in springes. From its skin they made coverings with much ingenuity, cutting it into narrow strips and weaving this into the shape of a blanket, which was of a very warm and agreeable quality.

The Naskwapi Algonkins of inland Labrador were savages that led a wandering life through the bare, flat parts of that country, subsisting chiefly upon flesh, and clothing themselves with the skin of the caribou, which they caught in pitfalls or shot with the bow and arrow. "Very few sights, I believe, can be more distressing to the feelings of humanity than a Labrador savage, surrounded by his wife and five or six small children, half-famished with cold and hunger in a hole dug out of the snow and screened from the inclemency of the weather by the branches of the trees. Their whole furniture is a kettle hung over the fire, not for the purpose of cooking victuals, but for melting snow" (James M'Kenzie).

A description of the tents of the Kris or Knistino (Algonkins of the Athabaska region), written by Alexander Henry, sen., applies with very little difference to all the other tribes dwelling to the east of the Rocky Mountains.[11]

[Footnote 11: See also p. 249.]

These tents were of dressed leather, erected with poles, generally seventeen in number, of which two were tied together about three feet from the top. The first two poles being erected and set apart at the base, the others were placed against them in a slanting position, meeting at the top, so that they all formed nearly a circle, which was then covered with the leather. This consisted of ten to fifteen dressed skins of the bison, moose, or red deer, well sewed together and nicely cut to fit the conical figure of the poles, with an opening above, to let out smoke and admit the light. From this opening down to the door the two edges of the tent were brought close together and well secured with wooden pegs about six inches long, leaving for the door an oval aperture about two feet wide and three feet high, below which the edges were secured with similar pegs. This small entrance did well enough for the natives, who would be brought up to it from infancy, but a European might be puzzled to get through, as a piece of hide stretched upon a frame of the same shape as the door, but somewhat larger, hung outside, and must be first raised by the hand of the incomer.

Such tents were usually spacious, measuring twenty feet in diameter. The fire was always made in the centre, around which the occupants generally placed a range of stones to prevent the ashes from scattering and to keep the fire compact. New tents were perfectly white; some of them were painted with red and black figures. These devices were generally derived from the dreams of the Amerindians, being some mythical monster or other hideous animal, whose description had been handed down from their ancestors. A large camp of such tents, pitched regularly on a level plain, had a fine effect at a distance, especially when numerous bands of horses were seen feeding in all directions.

The "lodges" or long houses made of poles, fir branches, moss, &c., wherein, among the Iroquois, Algonkin, and Siou peoples, several families made a common habitation, are described here and there in the course of the narrative. The houses of the coast tribes of British Columbia were bigger, more elaborate, and permanent, and in this region the natives had acquired some idea of carpentry, and had learnt to make planks of wood by splitting with wedges or hewing with adzes.

One of these British Columbian houses was measured, and found to be seventy feet long by twenty-five feet wide; the entrance in the gable end was cut through a plank five and a half feet wide, and nearly oval. A board suspended on the outside answered for a door; on the other side of the broad plank was rudely carved a large painted figure of a man, between whose legs was the passage. But other houses on the Pacific coast, visited by Cook or Vancouver, are said to have been large enough to accommodate seven hundred people. These houses of the Pacific coast region were exceedingly filthy, sturgeon and salmon being strewn about in every direction. The men inhabiting them were often disgusting in their behaviour, while the women are declared to have been "devoid of shame or decency".

According to Mackenzie, such habitations swarmed with fleas, and even the ground round about them "was alive with this vermin". The Alexander Henrys, both uncle and nephew, complain of the flea plague (partly due to the multitude of dogs) in every Indian village or encampment.

The domestic implements of the Amerindians were few. Pottery seems to have been unknown amongst the northern tribes to the east and north of the Mississippi valley, but earthen jars and vessels were made by the Dakota-Siou group in the valley of the Mississippi. Amongst these agricultural Indians the hoe was made of a buffalo's blade bone fastened to a crooked wooden handle. The Ojibwes manufactured chisels out of beavers' teeth. The Eskimo and some of the neighbouring Amerindian tribes used oblong "kettles" of stone—simply great blocks of stone chipped, rubbed, and hollowed out into receptacles, with handles at both ends. (It is suggested that they borrowed the idea of these stone vessels for cooking from the early Norse settlers of Greenland; see p. 18.)

The Amerindians of the regions west of the Rocky Mountains made kettles or cooking vessels out of blocks of "cedar" (Juniper) wood; east of the Rocky Mountains the birch-bark kettle was universal. Of course these vessels of wood or bark could not be placed on the fire or embers to heat or boil the contents, as was possible with the "kettles" of stone or the cooking pots of clay. So the people using them heated the water in which the food or the soup was boiled by making stones red-hot in the fire and then dropping them into the birch-bark or cedar-wood tubs. Many of the northern Indians got into the way of eating their food raw because of the difficulty of making a fire away from home.

In regard to food, neither Amerindian nor Eskimo was squeamish. They were almost omnivorous, and specially delighted in putrid or noisome substances from which a European would turn in loathing, and from the eating of which he might conceivably die.

It was only in the extreme south of Canada or in British Columbia (potatoes only) that any agriculture was carried on and that the natives had maize, pumpkins, and pease to add to their dietary; but (as compared to the temperate regions of Europe and Asia) Nature was generous in providing wild fruits and grain without trouble of husbandry. The fruits and nuts have been enumerated elsewhere, but a description might be given here of the "wild oats" (Avena fatua) and the "wild rice" of the regions of central Canada and the middle west. The wild oats made a rough kind of porridge, but were not so important and so nourishing as the wild rice which is so often mentioned in the stories of the pioneers, who liked this wild grain as much as the Indians did.

This wild rice (Zizania aquatica) grew naturally in small rivers and swampy places. The stems were hollow, jointed at intervals, and the grain appeared at the extremity of the stalk. By the month of June they had grown two feet above the surface of the shallow water, and were ripe for harvesting in September. At this period the Amerindians passed in canoes through the water-fields of wild rice, shaking the ears into the canoes as they swept by. The grain fell out easily when ripe, but in order to clean it from the husk it was dried over a slow fire on a wooden grating. After being winnowed it was pounded to flour in a mortar, or else boiled like rice, and seasoned with fat. "It had a most delicate taste", wrote Alexander Henry the Elder.

Fish was perhaps the staple of Amerindian diet, because in scarcely any part of the Canadian Dominion is a lake, river, or brook far away. In the region of the Great Lakes fish were caught in large quantities in October, and exposed to the weather to be frozen at nighttime. They were then stored away in this congealed state, and lasted good—more or less—till the following April.

Pemmican—that early form of potted meat so familiar to the readers of Red-Indian romances—was made of the lean meat of the bison. The strips of meat were dried in the sun, and afterwards pounded in a mortar and mixed with an equal quantity of bison fat. Fish "pemmican" was sun-dried fish ground to powder.

A favourite dish among the northern Indians was blood mixed with the half-digested food found in the stomach of a deer, boiled up with a sufficient quantity of water to make it of the consistency of pease porridge. Some scraps of fat or tender flesh were shredded small and boiled with it. To render this dish more palatable they had a method of mixing the blood with the contents of the stomach in the paunch itself, and hanging it up in the heat and smoke of the fire for several days—in other words, the Scotch haggis. The kidneys of both moose and buffalo were usually eaten raw by the southern Indians, for no sooner was one of those beasts killed than the hunter ripped up its belly, snatched out the kidneys, and ate them warm, before the animal was quite dead. They also at times put their mouths to the wound the ball or the arrow had made, and sucked the blood; this, they said, quenched thirst, and was very nourishing.

The favourite drink of the Ojibwe Indians in the wintertime was hot broth poured over a dishful of pure snow.

The Amerindians of the Nipigon country (north of Lake Superior) and the Ojibwes and Kris often relapsed into cannibalism when hard up for food. Indeed some of them became so addicted to this practice that they simply went about stalking their fellow Indians with as much industry as if they were hunting animals. "These prowling ogres caused such terror that to sight the track of one of them was sufficient to make twenty families decamp in all the speed of their terror" (Alexander Henry). It was deemed useless to attempt any resistance when these monsters were coming to kill and eat. The people would even make them presents of clothes and provisions to allow them and their children to live. There were women cannibals as well as men (see p. 171).

As the greater part of their food came from the chase, and their only articles of commerce likewise, they devoted themselves more entirely to hunting and fishing than to any other pursuit. The women did most of the fishing (and all the skin-curing for the fur market and for their own dress), while the men pursued with weapons the beasts of the chase, trapped them in pitfalls or snares, or drove them into "pounds" (excavated enclosures).

Illustrating the wonderful sagacity of the Amerindians as game trackers, Alexander Henry the Elder tells the following story in the autumn of 1799:—

"We had not gone far from the house before we fell upon the fresh tracks of some red deer (wapiti), and soon after discovered the herd in a thicket of willows and poplars; we both fired, and the deer disappeared in different directions. We pursued them, but to no purpose, as the country was unfavourable. We then returned to the spot where we had fired, as the Indian suspected that we had wounded some of them. We searched to see if we could find any blood; on my part, I could find tracks, but no blood. The Indian soon called out, and I went to him, but could see no blood, nor any sign that an animal had been wounded. However, he pointed out the track of a large buck among the many others, and told me that from the manner in which this buck had started off he was certain the animal had been wounded. As the ground was beaten in every direction by animals, it was only after a tedious search that we found where the buck had struck off. But no blood was seen until, passing through a thicket of willows, he observed a drop upon a leaf, and next a little more. He then began to examine more strictly, to find out in what part of the body the animal had been wounded; and, judging by the height and other signs, he told me the wound must have been somewhere between the shoulder and neck. We advanced about a mile, but saw nothing of the deer, and no more blood. I was for giving up the chase; but he assured me the wound was mortal, and that if the animal should lie down he could not rise again. We proceeded two miles farther, when, coming out upon a small open space, he told me the animal was at no great distance, and very probably in this meadow. We accordingly advanced a few yards, and there we found the deer lying at the last gasp. The wound was exactly as I had been told. The sagacity of the Saulteurs [Ojibwes] in tracing big wood animals is astonishing. I have frequently witnessed occurrences of this nature; the bend of a leaf or blade of grass is enough to show the hunter the direction the game has taken. Their ability is of equally great service to war parties, when they discover the footsteps of their enemies."

The Assiniboin Indians (a branch of the Sious) down to about fifty years ago captured the bison of the plains in hundreds at a time by driving them into large excavated areas below the level of the ground.

Alexander Henry, jun., gives the following description of this procedure in 1810:—

"The pounds are of different dimensions, according to the number of tents in one camp. The common size is from sixty to one hundred paces or yards in circumference, and about five feet in height. Trees are cut down, laid upon one another, and interwoven with branches and green twigs; small openings are left to admit the dogs to feed upon the carcasses of the (old) bulls, which are generally left as useless. This enclosure is commonly made between two hummocks, on the declivity or at the foot of rising ground. The entrance is about ten paces wide, and always fronts the plains. On each side of this entrance commences a thick range of fascines, the two ranges spreading asunder as they extend to the distance of one hundred yards, beyond which openings are left at intervals; but the fascines soon become more thinly planted, and continue to spread apart to the right and left until each range has been extended about three hundred yards from the pound. The labour is then diminished by only placing at intervals three or four cross sticks, in imitation of a dog or other animal (sometimes called 'dead men'); these extend on the plain for about two miles, and double rows of them are planted in several other directions to a still greater distance. Young men are usually sent out to collect and bring in the buffalo—a tedious task, which requires great patience, for the herd must be started by slow degrees. This is done by setting fire to dung or grass. Three young men will bring in a herd of several hundred from a great distance. When the wind is aft it is most favourable, as they can then direct the buffalo with great ease. Having come in sight of the ranges, they generally drive the herd faster, until it begins to enter the ranges, where a swift-footed person has been stationed with a buffalo robe over his head, to imitate that animal; but sometimes a horse performs this business. When he sees buffaloes approaching he moves slowly toward the pound until they appear to follow him; then he sets off at full speed, imitating a buffalo as well as he can, with the herd after him. The young men in the rear now discover themselves, and drive the herd on with all possible speed. There is always a sentinel on some elevated spot to notify the camp when the buffalo appear; and this intelligence is no sooner given than every man, woman, and child runs to the ranges that lead to the pound to prevent the buffalo from taking a wrong direction. Then they lie down between the fascines and cross sticks, and, if the buffalo attempt to break through, the people wave their robes, which causes the herd to keep on, or turn to the opposite side, where other persons do the same. When the buffalo have been thus directed to the entrance of the pound, the Indian who leads them rushes into it and out at the other side, either by jumping over the enclosure or creeping through an opening left for that purpose. The buffalo tumble in pell-mell at his heels, almost exhausted, but keep moving around the enclosure from east to west, and never in a direction against the sun. What appeared extraordinary to me on those occasions was that, when word was given to the camp of the near approach of the buffalo, the dogs would skulk away from the pound and not approach until the herd entered. Many buffaloes break their legs and some their necks in jumping into the pound, as the descent is generally six or eight feet, and stumps are left standing there. The buffalo being caught, the men assembled at the enclosure, armed with bows and arrows; every arrow has a particular mark of the owner, and they are let fly until the whole herd is killed. Then the men enter the pound, and each claims his own; but commonly there is what they term the master of the pound, who divides the animals and gives each tent an equal share, reserving nothing for himself. But in the end he is always the best provided for; everyone is obliged to send him a certain portion, as it is in his tent that the numerous ceremonies relating to the pound are observed. There the young men are always welcome to feast and smoke, and no women are allowed to enter, as that tent is set apart for the affairs of the pound. Horses are sometimes used to collect and bring in buffalo, but this method is less effectual than the other; besides, it frightens the herds and soon causes them to withdraw to a great distance. When horses are used the buffalo are absolutely driven into the pound, but when the other method is pursued they are in a manner enticed to their destruction."

A somewhat similar method was adopted by the northern Kris and Athapascans for the capture of reindeer.

As regards means of transport, the use of dogs as draught animals was by no means confined to the Eskimo: they were used in wintertime to draw sledges over the snow or ice by nearly all the northern Indian tribes, and by the people of the Rocky Mountains and Pacific coast. After the Amerindians of the prairies and plains received horses (indirectly through the Spaniards of Mexico)[12] they sometimes employed the smaller and poorer kind of ponies as pack animals; but for the most part throughout the summer season of the Canadian Dominion—from May to October—transport and travel by canoe was the favourite method.

[Footnote 12: See p. 150.]

There were four very well marked types of canoe or boat in British North America. There was the already-described Eskimo kayak, made of leather stretched over a framework of wood or bone; the Amerindians of the Dominion, south of the Eskimo and east of the Rocky Mountains, used the familiar "birch-bark" canoe;[13] the peoples of the Pacific coast belt possessed something more like a boat, made out of a hollowed tree trunk and built up with planks; and the tribes of the Upper Mississippi used round coracles. Here are descriptions of all three kinds of Amerindian canoe from the pens of eighteenth-century pioneers: The birch-bark canoe used on the Great Lakes was about thirty-three feet long by four and a half feet broad, and formed of the smooth rind or bark of the birch tree fastened outside a wooden framework. It was lined with small splints of juniper cedar, and the vessel was further strengthened with ribs of the same wood, of which the two ends were fastened to the gunwales. Several bars rather than seats were laid across the canoe from gunwale to gunwale, the small roots of the spruce fir afforded the fibre with which the bark was sewn or stitched, and the gum of the pine tree supplied the place of tar and oakum. Bark, some spare fibre, and gum were always carried in each canoe for repairs, which were constantly necessary (one continually reads in the diaries of the pioneers of "stopping to gum the canoe"). The canoes were propelled with paddles, and occasionally a sail.

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