Pioneers in Canada
by Sir Harry Johnston
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7
Home - Random Browse

[Footnote 4: Alexander Mackay long afterwards left the service of the North-west Company, and was killed by savages on the Alaska coast, near Nutka Sound.]

Of course, as they neared the Rocky Mountains the navigation of the Peace River became more and more difficult. At last they left the river to find their way across the mountains till they should reach the headwaters of a stream flowing towards the Pacific Ocean. Sometimes they only accomplished three miles a day, having to carry all their goods and their canoe. The mountainous country was covered with splendid forests of spruce, pine, cypress, poplar, birch, willow, and many other kinds of trees, with an undergrowth of gooseberries, currants, and briar roses. The travellers generally followed paths made by the elk,[5] just as in the dense forests of Africa the way sometimes is cleared for human travellers by the elephant. Every now and again they resumed their journey on the river between the falls and cascades. The mountains seemed to be a solid mass of limestone, in some places without any covering of foliage.

[Footnote 5: For the word "elk" Mackenzie uses "moose deer". "Elk" in the Canadian Dominion is misapplied to the great Wapiti red deer.]

"In no part of the north-west", writes Mackenzie, "did I see so much beaver work" (along the eastern branch of the Peace River). In some places the beavers had cut down acres of large poplars, and were busily at work on their labours of dam-making during the night, between the setting and the rising sun.

Gnats and mosquitoes came with the intense heat of June to make life almost unbearable. As they got close to the Rocky Mountains they encountered Amerindians who had never seen a white man before, and who at first received them with demonstrations of great hostility and fright. But owing to the diplomatic skill of Mackenzie they gradually yielded to a more friendly attitude, and here he decided to camp until the natives had become familiarized with him and his party, and could give them information as to his route. But they could only tell that, away to the west beyond the mountains, a month's travel, there was a vast "lake of stinking water", to which came, for purposes of trade, other white men with vessels as big as islands.

These Rocky Mountain Indians made their canoes from spruce bark[6] in the following manner: The bark is taken off the spruce fir to the whole length of the intended canoe, only about eighteen feet, and is sewed with watape at both ends. Two laths are then laid across the end of the gunwale. In these are fixed the bars, and against them the ribs or timbers, that are cut to the length to which the bark can be stretched; and to give additional strength, strips of wood are laid between them. To make the whole water-tight, gum is abundantly employed.

[Footnote 6: See p. 281.]

Obtaining a guide from these people, Mackenzie continued his journey along the Parsnip, or southern branch of the upper Peace River, partly by water, partly by land till he reached its source,[7] a lake, on the banks of which he saw innumerable swans, geese, and ducks. Wild parsnips grew here in abundance, and were a grateful addition to the diet of the travellers. As to birds, they not only saw blue jays and yellow birds, but the first humming bird which Mackenzie had ever beheld in the north-west.[8]

[Footnote 7: Mr. Burpee points out that this was really the southernmost source of the mighty congeries of streams which flowed northwards to form the Mackenzie River system. Having traced the Mackenzie to the sea, its discoverer now stood four years afterwards at its most remote source, 2420 miles from its mouth at which he had seen the ice floes and the whales.]

[Footnote 8: Humming birds arrive annually in British Columbia between April and May, and stay there till the autumn. They winter in the warmer parts of California.]

From this tiny lake he made his way over lofty mountains to another lake at no great distance, and from this a small stream called the Bad River flowed southwards to join a still bigger stream, which Mackenzie thought might prove to be one of the branches of the mighty Columbia River that flows out into the Pacific through the State of Oregon. It really was the Fraser River, and of the upper waters of the Fraser Mackenzie was the discoverer.[9]

[Footnote 9: The great surveyor and map maker, David Thompson, was the first white man to reach the upper waters of the Columbia River. The Fraser River was afterwards followed to its outlet in the Straits of Georgia (opposite Vancouver Island) by Simon Fraser.]

Their experiences down the little mountain stream which was to take them into the Fraser nearly ended in complete disaster. "The violence of the current being so great as to drive the canoe sideways down the river, and break her by the first bar, I instantly jumped into the water and the men followed my example; but before we could set her straight, or stop her, we came to deeper water, so that we were obliged to re-embark with the utmost precipitation.... We had hardly regained our situations when we drove against a rock which shattered the stern of the canoe in such a manner, that it held only by the gunwales, so that the steersman could no longer keep his place. The violence of this stroke drove us to the opposite side of the river, which is but narrow, when the bow met with the same fate as the stern.... In a few moments, we came across a cascade which broke several large holes in the bottom of the canoe, and started all the bars.... The wreck becoming flat on the water, we all jumped out ... and held fast to the wreck; to which fortunate resolution we owed our safety, as we should otherwise have been dashed against the rocks by the force of the water, or driven over the cascades.... At length we most fortunately arrived in shallow water, and at a small eddy, where we were enabled to make a stand, from the weight of the canoe resting on the stones, rather than from any exertions of our exhausted strength.... The Indians, when they saw our deplorable situation, instead of making the least effort to help us, sat down and gave vent to their tears."

Nobody, however, had been killed, though much of the luggage was lost, and what remained had to be spread out to dry. Many of Mackenzie's people, however, when they took stock of their misfortunes, were rather pleased than otherwise, as they thought the disaster would stop him from any further attempt to reach the Western Sea. He wisely listened to their observations without replying, till their panic was dispelled, and they had got themselves warm and comfortable with a hearty meal and a glass of rum; though a little later only by their indifferent carelessness they nearly exploded the whole of the expedition's stock of gunpowder.

Fortunately the weather was fine. Mackenzie and his fellow countryman, Mackay, allowed nothing to dismay them or damp their spirits. Bark was obtained from the forest, the canoe was repaired, and they heard from their guide that this violent little stream would before long join a great and much smoother river. But they were tormented with sandflies and mosquitoes, and a day or two afterwards the guide bolted, while the expedition had to cross morasses in which they were nearly engulfed, and the water journey was constantly obstructed by driftwood. Nevertheless, at last they had "the inexpressible satisfaction of finding themselves on the bank of a navigable river on the western side of the first great range of mountains". Here they re-embarked, and were cheerful in spite of heavy rain.

As they paddled down this great stream, more than two hundred yards wide, snow-capped mountains rose immediately above the river. The current was strong, but perfectly safe. Flocks of ducks, entirely white, except the bill and a part of the wing, rose before them. Smoke ascending in columns from many parts of the woods showed that the country was well inhabited, and the air was fragrant with the strong odour of the gum of cypress and spruce fir.

Then came a series of cascades and falls and a most arduous portage of the heavy canoe. These labours were somewhat lightened by the discovery of quantities of wild onions growing on the banks; but these, when mixed with the pemmican, on which the party was subsisting, stimulated their appetites to an inconvenient degree, seeing that they were on short commons. Meeting with strange Indians they found no one to interpret, and had to use signs. But on the banks of the Fraser they were lucky enough to find the "real red deer", the great wapiti stag, which is absent from the far north-west, beyond the region of the Saskatchewan. The canoe was loaded with venison. The banks of the Fraser River sank to a moderate height and were covered with poplars and cypresses, birch trees, junipers, alders, and willows. The deserted house or lodge of some Amerindian tribe was visited on the banks. It was a finer structure than anything that Mackenzie had seen since he left Fort Michili-Makinak in upper Canada. It had been constructed for three families. There were three fireplaces and three beds and a kind of larder for the purpose of keeping fish. The whole "lodge" was twenty feet long by three wide, and had three doors. The walls were formed of straight spruce timbers with some skill of carpentry. The roof was covered with bark, and large rods were fixed across the upper part of the building, where fish might hang and dry.

As they continued to descend the Fraser River, with here and there a rapid which nearly swamped the canoe, and lofty cliffs of red and white clay like the ruins of ancient castles (stopping on their way to bury supplies of pemmican against their return, and to light a fire on the top of the burial place so as to mislead bears or other animals that might dig it up), they were more or less compelled to seek intercourse with the new tribes of Amerindians, whose presence on the river banks was obvious. As usual, Mackenzie had to exercise great bravery, tact, and guile to get into peaceful conversation with these half-frightened, half-angry people. The peacemaking generally concluded with the distribution of trinkets amongst the men and women, and presents of sugar to the children. Talking with these folk, however, through such interpreters as there were amongst the Indians of his crew, he learnt that lower down on the Fraser River there was a peculiarly fierce, malignant race, living in vast caves or subterranean dwellings, who would certainly massacre the Europeans if they attempted to pass through their country on their way to the sea. He therefore stopped and set some of his men to work to make a new canoe. He noticed, by the by, that these Amerindians of the Fraser had small pointed canoes, "made after the fashion of the Eskimo".

Renewing their voyage, they reached a house the roof of which just appeared above the ground. It was deserted by its inhabitants, who had been alarmed at the approach of the white men, but in the neighbourhood appeared gesticulating warriors with bows and arrows. Yet these people of underground houses turned out to be friendly and very ready to give information, partly because they were in communication with the Amerindian tribes to the east of the Rocky Mountains. From the elderly men of this tribe Mackenzie ascertained that the Fraser River flowed south by east, was often obstructed by rapids, and, though it would finally bring them to a salt lake or inlet, and then to the sea, it would cause them to travel for a great distance to the south. He noticed the complete difference in the language of these Atna or Carrier Indians[10] and that of the Nagailer or Chin Indians of the Athapaskan group on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains.

[Footnote 10: Apparently these were of the Sikanni tribe, and only another branch of the great Tinne (Athapaskan) stock.]

He, however, learnt from these Atna Indians that although the Fraser was out of the question as a quick route to the sea, if he retraced his journey a little up this river he would find another stream entering it from the west, and along this they could travel upstream. And then the route to the water "which was unfit to drink", and the region to which came people with large ships, would be of no great length. Accordingly, after having had a tree engraved with Mackenzie's name and the date, by the bank of the Fraser River, the expedition returned to the subterranean house which they had seen the day before.

"We were in our canoe by four this morning, and passed by the Indian hut, which appeared in a state of perfect tranquillity. We soon came in sight of the point where we first saw the natives, and at eight were much surprised and disappointed at seeing Mr. Mackay and our two Indians coming alone from the ruins of a house that had been partly carried away by the ice and water, at a short distance below the place where we had appointed to meet. Nor was our surprise and apprehension diminished by the alarm which was painted in their countenances.... They informed me they had taken refuge in that place, with the determination to sell their lives ... as dear as possible. In a very short time after we had separated, they met a party of the Indians, whom we had known at this place, and were probably those whom we had seen landing from their canoe. These Indians appeared to be in a state of extreme rage, and had their bows bent, with their arrows across them. The guide stopped to ask them some questions, which our people did not understand, and then set off with his utmost speed. Mr. Mackay, however, followed, and did not leave him till they were both exhausted with running.... The guide then said that some treacherous design was meditated against them, ... and conducted them through very bad ways as fast as they could run. When he was desired to slacken his pace, he answered that they might follow him in any manner they pleased, but that he was impatient to get to his family, in order to prepare shoes and other necessaries for his journey. They did not, however, think it prudent to quit him, and he would not stop till ten at night. On passing a track that was but lately made, they began to be seriously alarmed, and on enquiring of the guide where they were, he pretended not to understand. Then they all laid down, exhausted with fatigue, and without any kind of covering; they were cold, wet, and hungry, but dared not light a fire, from the apprehension of an enemy. This comfortless spot they left at the dawn of day, and, on their arrival at the lodges, found them deserted; the property of the Indians being scattered about, as if abandoned for ever. The guide then made two or three trips into the woods, calling aloud, and bellowing like a madman. At length he set off in the same direction as they had come, and had not since appeared. To heighten their misery, as they did not find us at the place appointed, they concluded that we were all destroyed, and had already formed their plan to take to the woods, and cross in as direct a line as they could proceed, to the waters of the Peace River, a scheme which could only be suggested by despair. They intended to have waited for us till noon, and if we did not appear by that time, to have entered without further delay on their desperate expedition."

Making preparations for warfare, if necessary, yet neglecting no chance of re-entering into friendly relations with the natives, Mackenzie set to work to repair the wretched canoe, which was constantly having holes knocked through her. He dealt tactfully with the almost open mutiny of his French Canadians and Indians. At last everyone settled down to the making of a new canoe, on an island in the river where there were plenty of spruce firs to provide the necessary bark. Even here they were plagued with thunderstorms. Nevertheless, the men set to work, and as they worked Mackenzie addressed them with simple fervour, saying he knew of their plans to desert him, but, come what might, he was resolved to travel on to the westwards until he reached the waters of the Pacific.

This calmed down the mutineers, and, to the great relief of all concerned, that very afternoon the runaway guide of the Atna people returned and apologized for having deserted them. He then offered once again to conduct them to the seacoast. Nevertheless, again he fled, and Mackenzie was obliged to guide the expedition, according to the information he had gathered from the natives, up the small western affluent of the upper Fraser, which he called the West Road River (now known as the Blackwater).

His perseverance was rewarded, for after proceeding up this river for some distance he saw two canoes coming towards them containing the runaway guide and six of his relations. The guide was dressed in a painted beaver robe, and looked so splendid that they scarcely knew him again. Once more he declared it really was his intention not to disappoint them. Soon afterwards they landed, buried their property and provisions, and placed their canoe on a stage, shaded by a covering of small trees and branches from the sun. Each man carried on his back four bags and a half of pemmican, of an average weight of eighty-five pounds, or other loads (instruments, goods for presents, ammunition, &c.) of ninety pounds in weight. Moreover, each of the Canadians carried a gun. The Amerindian servants of the expedition were only asked to carry loads of forty-five pounds in weight. Mackenzie's pack, and that of his companion, Mackay, amounted to about seventy pounds. Loaded like this they had to scramble up the wooded mountains, first soaked in perspiration from the heat and then drenched with heavy rain. Nevertheless they walked for about thirteen miles the first day. Now they began to meet natives who were closely in touch with the seacoast, which lay to the west at a distance of about six days' journey.

"We had no sooner laid ourselves down to rest last night than the natives began to sing, in a manner very different from what I had been accustomed to hear among savages. It was not accompanied either with dancing, drum, or rattle; but consisted of soft, plaintive tones, and a modulation that was rather agreeable: it had somewhat the air of church music." The country through which they travelled abounded in beavers. It was the month of July, however, and they were harassed with thunderstorms, some of which were followed by hailstones as big as musket balls. After one such storm the ground was whitened for two miles with these balls of ice.

In order not to be deserted by all of their new guides, Mackenzie was obliged to insist on one of them sharing his hut. This young Amerindian was dressed in beaver garments which were a nest of vermin. His hair was greased with fish oil, and his body smeared with red earth, so that at first Mackenzie thought he would never be able to sleep; but such was his fatigue that he passed a night of profound repose, and found the guide still there in the morning. In this region he notes that the balsam fir of Canada was abundant, the tree which provided the gum that cured Cartier's expedition of scurvy. Some of the natives with whom they now came into contact were remarkable for their grey eyes, a feature often observed amongst the Amerindians of the North Pacific coast.

"On observing some people before us, our guides hastened to meet them, and, on their approach, one of them stepped forward with an axe in his hand. This party consisted only of a man, two women, and the same number of children. The eldest of the women, who probably was the man's mother, was engaged, when we joined them, in clearing a circular spot, of about five feet in diameter, of the weeds that infested it; nor did our arrival interrupt her employment, which was sacred to the memory of the dead. The spot to which her pious care was devoted contained the grave of a husband and a son, and whenever she passed this way she always stopped to pay this tribute of affection."

By this time, exposure to wind and sun, the attacks of mosquitoes and flies, the difficulty of washing or of changing their clothes, had made all the Europeans of the party as dark in skin colour as the Amerindians, so that such natives as they met who had the courage to examine them, did so with the intention of discovering whether they had any white skin left. The natives whom they now encountered (belonging to the maritime tribes) were comely in appearance, and far more cleanly than the tribes of the north-west. As already mentioned, they had grey eyes, sometimes tinged with hazel. Their stature was noble, one man measuring at least six feet four inches. They were clothed in leather, and their hair was nicely combed and dressed with beads. One of a travelling band of these Indians, finding that Mackenzie's party was on short rations and very hungry, offered to boil them a kettle of fish roes.

"He took the roes out of a bag, and having bruised them between two stones, put them in water to soak. His wife then took an handful of dry grass in her hand, with which she squeezed them through her fingers. In the meantime her husband was employed in gathering wood to make a fire, for the purpose of heating stones. When she had finished her operation, she filled a watape kettle nearly full of water, and poured the roes into it. When the stones were sufficiently heated, some of them were put into the kettle, and others were thrown in from time to time, till the water was in a state of boiling. The woman also continued stirring the contents of the kettle, till they were brought to a thick consistency; the stones were then taken out, and the whole was seasoned with about a pint of strong rancid oil. The smell of this curious dish was sufficient to sicken me without tasting it, but the hunger of my people surmounted the nauseous meal. When unadulterated by the stinking oil these boiled roes are not unpalatable food."

Farther on their journey their hunger was alleviated by wild parsnips, also roots which appeared, when pulled up, like a bunch of white peas, with the colour and taste of a potato. On their way they were obliged to cross snow mountains, where the snow was so compact that their feet hardly made any perceptible impression. "Before us appeared a stupendous mountain, whose snow-clad summit was lost in the clouds." These mountains, according to the Indians, abounded in white goats.[11] Emerging from the mountains on to the lower ground, sloping towards the sea, at nightfall they came upon a native village in the thickness of the woods. Desperate with his fatigue, and risking any danger to obtain rest, Mackenzie walked straight into one of the houses, where people were busily employed in cooking fish, threw down his burden, shook hands with the people, and sat down.

[Footnote 1: Oreamnus.]

"They received me without the least appearance of surprise, but soon made signs for me to go up to the large house, which was erected, on upright posts, at some distance from the ground. A broad piece of timber with steps cut in it led to the scaffolding even with the floor, and by this curious kind of ladder I entered the house at one end; and having passed three fires, at equal distances in the middle of the building, I was received by several people, sitting upon a very wide board, at the upper end of it. I shook hands with them, and seated myself beside a man, the dignity of whose countenance induced me to give him that preference...."

Later on, this man, seeing Mackenzie's people arriving tired and hungry, rose and fetched from behind a plank, four feet wide, a quantity of roasted salmon. A whole salmon was offered to Mackenzie, and another to Mackay; half a salmon was given to each of the French Canadian voyageurs. Their host further invited them to sleep in the house, but, Mackenzie thinking it preferable to camp outside, a fire was lit to warm the weary travellers, and each was lent a thick board on which to sleep, so that he might not lie on the bare ground.

"We had not long been seated round the fire when we received a dish of salmon roes, pounded fine and beat up with water so as to have the appearance of a cream. Nor was it without some kind of seasoning that gave it a bitter taste. Another dish soon followed, the principal article of which was also salmon roes, with a large proportion of gooseberries, and an herb that appeared to be sorrel. Its acidity rendered it more agreeable to my taste than the former preparation. Having been regaled with these delicacies, for such they were considered by that hospitable spirit which provided them, we laid ourselves down to rest with no other canopy than the sky. But I never enjoyed a more sound and refreshing rest, though I had a board for my bed and a billet for my pillow."

The gooseberries, wortleberries, and raspberries which Mackenzie ate at this hospitable village were the finest he ever saw or tasted of their respective kinds. They were generally eaten together with the dry roes of salmon. Salmon was the staple food of the country, and very abundant in the river which Mackenzie was following down to the Pacific shore. The fish were usually caught in weirs, and also by dipping nets. The natives were so superstitious about the salmon, that they believed they would give offence to the spirits if they ate any other animal food, especially meat. They would scarcely allow Mackenzie to carry venison in his canoe, in case the salmon should smell it and abandon the river.

After this welcome rest they embarked in two canoes on the stream which Mackenzie calls the Salmon River. The stream was rapid, and they proceeded at a great rate, stopping every now and then to get out and walk round salmon weirs. Nevertheless, although other Indians ran before them announcing their approach towards a village, the noise of which was apparent in the distance, they were received at this place in a very hostile way, the men rapidly arming themselves with bows and arrows, spears, and axes. But Mackenzie walked on alone to greet them, and shook hands with the nearest man. Thereupon an elderly man broke from the crowd and took Mackenzie in his arms. Another then came and paid him the same compliment. One man to whom he presented his hand broke the string of a handsome robe of sea-otter skin and threw it over Mackenzie.

The chief made signs to the white men to follow him to his house, which Mackenzie found to be of larger dimensions and better materials than any he had yet seen. "Very clean mats" were spread in this house for the chief, his counsellors, and the two white men. A small roasted salmon was then placed before each person.

"When we had satisfied ourselves with the fish, one of the people who came with us from the last village approached, with a kind of ladle in one hand, containing oil, and in the other something that resembled the inner rind of the cocoanut, but of a lighter colour. This he dipped in the oil, and, having eaten it, indicated by his gestures how palatable he thought it. He then presented me with a small piece of it, which I chose to taste in its dry state, though the oil was free from any unpleasant smell. A square cake of this was next produced, when a man took it to the water near the house, and having thoroughly soaked it, he returned, and, after he had pulled it to pieces like oakum, put it into a well-made trough, about three feet long, nine inches wide, and five deep. He then plentifully sprinkled it with salmon oil, and manifested by his own example that we were to eat of it. I just tasted it, and found the oil perfectly sweet, without which the other ingredient would have been very insipid. The chief partook of it with great avidity after it had received an additional quantity of oil. This dish is considered by these people as a great delicacy; and on examination, I discovered it to consist of the inner rind of the hemlock pine tree, taken off early in summer, and put into a frame, which shapes it into cakes of fifteen inches long, ten broad, and half an inch thick; and in this form I should suppose it may be preserved for a great length of time. This discovery satisfied me respecting the many hemlock trees which I had observed stripped of their bark."

Mackenzie found some of the older men here with long beards, and to one of them he presented a pair of scissors for clipping his beard.

After describing some remarkable oblong "tables" (as they might be called) of cedar wood—twenty feet long by eight feet broad—made of thick cedar boards joined together with the utmost neatness, and painted with hieroglyphics and the figures of animals; and his visit to a kind of temple in the village, into the architecture of which strangely carved and painted figures were interwoven; Mackenzie goes on to relate an episode giving one a very vivid idea of the helplessness of "native" medicine in many diseases.

He was taken to see a son of the chief, who was suffering from a terrible ulcer in the small of his back, round which the flesh was gangrened, one of his knees being afflicted in the same way. The poor fellow was reduced to a skeleton, and apparently drawing very near to death.

"I found the native physicians busy in practising their skill and art on the patient. They blew on him, and then whistled; at times they pressed their extended fingers with all their strength on his stomach; they also put their forefingers doubled into his mouth, and spouted water from their own with great violence into his face. To support these operations the wretched sufferer was held up in a sitting posture, and when they were concluded he was laid down and covered with a new robe made of the skin of a lynx. I had observed that his belly and breast were covered with scars, and I understood that they were caused by a custom prevalent among them of applying pieces of lighted touchwood to their flesh, in order to relieve pain or demonstrate their courage. He was now placed on a broad plank, and carried by six men into the woods, where I was invited to accompany them. I could not conjecture what would be the end of this ceremony, particularly as I saw one man carry fire, another an axe, and a third dry wood. I was, indeed, disposed to suspect that, as it was their custom to burn the dead, they intended to relieve the poor man from his pain, and perform the last sad duty of surviving affection. When they had advanced a short distance into the wood, they laid him upon a clear spot, and kindled a fire against his back, when the physician began to scarify the ulcer with a very blunt instrument, the cruel pain of which operation the patient bore with incredible resolution. The scene afflicted me, and I left it."

The chief of this village had probably met Captain Cook about ten years before. He had been down in a large canoe[12] with forty of his people to the seacoast, where he saw two large vessels.

[Footnote 12: Mackenzie thus describes one of the large sea-going canoes of the coast natives: "This canoe was built of cedar, forty-five feet long, four feet broad, and three and a half in depth. It was painted black and decorated with white figures of different kinds. The gunwale fore and aft was inlaid with the teeth of the sea otter." He adds that "these coast tribes (north of Vancouver Island and of Queen Charlotte Sound) had been in indirect contact with the Spaniards since the middle of the sixteenth century, and with the Russians from the middle of the eighteenth century. Therefore, from these two directions they had learnt the use of metal, and had obtained copper, brass, and iron. They may possibly have had copper earlier still from the Northern Indians on the other side of the Rocky Mountains; but brass and iron they could, of course, only have obtained from Europeans. They had already become very deft at dealing with these metals, and twisted the iron into collars which weighed upwards of twelve pounds, also beating it into plates for their daggers and knives."]

Farther down the river the natives, instead of regaling them with fish, placed before them a long, clean, and well-made trough full of berries, most of them resembling blackberries, though white in colour, and others similar to huckleberries. In this region the women were employed in beating and preparing the inner rind of the juniper bark, to which they gave the appearance of flax, and others were spinning with a distaff; again, others were weaving robes of this fibrous thread, intermixed with strips of sea-otter skin. The men were fishing on the river with drag nets between two canoes, thus intercepting the salmon coming up the river.

At last, on Saturday, the 20th of July, 1793, they emerged from the Salmon River into an arm of the sea (probably near King Island). The tide was out, and had left a large space covered with seaweed. The surrounding hills were involved in fog.... The bay appeared to be some three miles in breadth, and on the coast the travellers saw a great number of sea otters.[13] At two in the afternoon the swell was so high, and the wind, which was against them, so boisterous, that they could not proceed along the seacoast in their leaky canoe. A young chief who had come with them as one of their guides, and who had been allowed to leave when the seacoast was reached, returned bearing a large porcupine on his back. He first cut the animal open and threw its entrails into the sea, then singed the skin and boiled it in separate pieces; nor did he go to rest till, with the assistance of two others who happened to be awake, every morsel of it had been devoured. This was fortunate, because their stock of provisions was reduced to twenty pounds' weight of pemmican, sixteen pounds of rice, and six pounds of flour amongst ten men, "in a leaky vessel, and on a barbarous coast".

[Footnote 13: These may have been small seals, but the sea otter (Enhydris lutris), now nearly extinct, was at one time found in numbers along the north-west American coast, from the Aleutian Islands and Alaska to Oregon. Owing to persecution it now leads an almost entirely aquatic life, resting at times on the masses of floating seaweed.]

The rise and fall of the tide here was noted at fifteen feet in height. Mr. Mackay collected a quantity of small mussels, which were boiled and eaten by the two Scotchmen, but not by the Canadians, who were quite unacquainted with sea shellfish.

Near Point Menzies, which had already been reached and named by Captain VANCOUVER in the spring of 1793 on his great voyage of discovery up the North American coast,[14] Alexander Mackenzie met a party of Amerindians, amongst whom was a man of insolent aspect, who, by means of signs and exclamations, made him understand that he and his friends had been fired at by a white man named Makuba (Vancouver), and that another white man, called "Bensins", had struck him on the back with the flat of his sword. This man more or less compelled Mackenzie to accompany him in the direction of his village, and on the way explained that "Makuba" had come there with his "big boat". Indeed, Mackenzie's party perceived the remains of sheds or buildings on the shore where Europeans had probably made a camp, and here they established themselves, taking up a position of defence, because the attitude of the natives was rather threatening.

[Footnote 14: GEORGE VANCOUVER (born about 1758, and probably descended from Dutch or Flemish ancestors) was one of the great pioneers of the British Empire. His name is commemorated in Vancouver's Island, an important portion of British Columbia. Vancouver entered the navy when only thirteen, sailed with Captain Cook, and eventually was appointed to command a naval expedition sent out in 1791 to survey and take over from the Spaniards the north-west American coast north of Oregon. It is remarkable that he should only have missed Mackenzie's arrival at Point Menzies by about two months. With what amazed rejoicing would these two heroic explorers have greeted one another had they met on this remote point of the Pacific coast, the one coming overland (so to speak) from Quebec and the Atlantic, and the other all the way by sea from Falmouth via the Cape of Good Hope, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, and Hawaii.]

At this camp there was a rock, and on this Alexander Mackenzie, mixing up some vermilion or red clay in melted grease, inscribed in large characters the following words: "Alexander Mackenzie, from Canada, by land, the twenty-second of July, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three". He then shifted his camp to a place three miles to the north-east, below a precipice from which issued streams of fine water as cold as ice. And here he took careful observations with his astronomical and surveying instruments, in order to fix his position. Fortunately the day was one of bright sunshine. Otherwise, had there been a long persistence of cloud, he might have been obliged to leave the Pacific coast without being able to fix precisely the place where he had reached the sea.

Then he yielded to the passionate desire of his people to withdraw inland from the possibly dangerous inhabitants of the coast, and returned with them to the encampment where the porcupine had been eaten. Here the guide made off into the woods. Mackenzie followed him, and thus reached a village from which two men issued armed with daggers and intending to attack him. While stopping to defend himself, many other people assembled, and amongst them he recognized the irritating person who incessantly repeated the names "Makuba" and "Benzins". However, this threatened danger was narrowly averted, and eventually they left the village with a supply of food; but also in a state of considerable irritation with—fleas! For some of the houses of these Pacific coast villages swarmed with fleas to such an extent that Mackenzie and his men were obliged to take to the water to rid themselves of these vermin, which swarmed also on the ground that was bare of grass.

The return journey up the Salmon River was a series of bewildering vicissitudes. Sometimes Mackenzie and his party were received in the most threatening way by persons who had been warm friends on their downward journey, then seemingly inevitable war was transformed into peace, but guides deserted, or the Amerindians from across the Rocky Mountains attempted to mutiny. However, they struggled through all their difficulties, till at last they reached the place known as the Friendly Village, and were here fortunately received with great kindness, being once more entertained "with the most respectful hospitality". "In short, the chief behaved to us with so much attention and kindness that I did not withhold anything in my power to give which might afford him satisfaction.... I presented him with two yards of blue cloth, an axe, knives, and various other articles. He gave me in return a large shell which resembled the under shell of a Guernsey oyster, but was somewhat larger. Where they procure them I could not discover, but they cut and polish them for bracelets, ear-rings, and other personal ornaments...."

The women of this place were employed in boiling sorrel and different kinds of berries in large square kettles made of cedar wood. This pottage, when it had attained a certain consistency, they took out with ladles, and poured it into frames about twelve inches square. These were then exposed to the sun, until their contents became so many dried cakes. This was their principal article of food, and probably of traffic. These people had also made portable chests of cedar, in which they packed these cakes, as well as their salmon, both dried and roasted. The only flesh they ate in addition to the salmon was that of the sea otter and the seal; except that one instance already mentioned of the young Indian who feasted on the flesh of the porcupine.

"Their faces are round, with high cheekbones, and their complexion between olive and copper. They have small grey eyes with a tinge of red,... their hair is of a dark-brown colour." The men wore their hair long, and either kept it well combed and hanging loose over the shoulders, or plaited it and bedaubed it with brown earth so as to make it quite impervious to the comb. Those who adopted this fashion had to carry a bone bodkin about with them to ease the frequent irritation which arose from the excessive abundance of vermin in their hair.

The women, on the other hand, usually wore their hair short. Mackenzie noticed that the infants had their heads enclosed with boards covered with leather, to press the skull into the shape of a wedge. The women wore a fringed apron, and over that a long robe made of skins or leather, either loose or tied round the middle with a girdle. Over these in wet weather was worn a cap in the shape of an inverted bowl or dish. The men also wore this cap, and in cold weather used the robe, but in warm weather went about in no clothing at all, except that their feet were protected with shoes made of dressed elks' skins. In wet weather, over their robe they wore a circular mat with an opening in the middle sufficiently large to admit the head. This, spreading over the shoulders, threw off the wet. As compared with the Indians of the Rocky Mountains and the great plains, the men and boys were very cleanly, being constantly in the water. The women, however, were dirty.

At the end of July, 1793, Mackenzie left what he calls the Friendly Village, and prepared to return to the east across the Rocky Mountains, having distributed to each man about twenty pounds weight of smoked salmon, flour, and pemmican. The fatigue of ascending the precipices of the mountains was past description. When they arrived at a spot where water could be obtained, and a camp made, they were in such an extremity of weariness they could hardly crawl about to gather wood for the purpose of making a fire; but two hours afterwards the Amerindians of their party arrived and came to their assistance. Then when they were sitting round a blazing fire, and some of their fatigue had lessened, they could sit and talk of past dangers, and indulge in the delightful reflection that they were thus far advanced on their homeward journey. "Nor was it possible to be in this situation without contemplating the wonders of it. Such was the depth of the precipices below, and the height of the mountains above, with the rude and wild magnificence of the scenery around, that I shall not attempt to describe such an astonishing and awful combination of objects.... Even at this place, which is only, as it were, the first step towards gaining the summit of the mountains, the climate was very sensibly changed. The air that fanned the village which we left at noon, was mild and cheering; the grass was verdant, and the wild fruits ripe around it. But here the snow was not yet dissolved, the ground was still bound by the frost, the herbage had scarce begun to spring, and the crowberry bushes were just beginning to blossom."

Eventually they found their canoe, and the property which they had left behind, in perfect safety. At this camp, where the canoe had been left behind, many natives arrived both from the upper and lower parts of the river, all of them dressed in beaver robes, which they were ready enough to sell for large knives. It struck Alexander Mackenzie as being very extraordinary that these people, who had left absolutely untouched the property stored at this place—when anyone passing by could have stolen it and never have been detected—should now be so ready to pilfer articles and utensils from the camp. So many small things had been picked up and taken away by them, when coming to sell their beaver robes, that he was obliged to take some action. So, before all these beaver-clad Amerindians had departed on their westward journey, he told the rearguard that he had noticed the thefts, and scarcely thought their relations who were guilty of stealing realized the awful mischief that would result from this dishonesty; that they were on their way now to the sea to procure large quantities of salmon from the rivers, but the salmon, which was absolutely necessary to their existence, came from the sea which belonged to the white men, and it only needed a message from the white men to the powers of nature to prevent the fish coming up from the sea into the rivers; and if this word were spoken they and their children might starve. He consequently advised them to hurry after their friends, and see that all the stolen articles were sent back. This plan succeeded. The stolen articles were restored, and then Mackenzie purchased from these people several large salmon, and his party enjoyed a delicious meal.

Mackenzie declared that there were no bison to be found on the west side of the Rocky Mountains[15] (British Columbia), and no wolves.

[Footnote 15: He was not quite accurate: there were a few "wood" bison in the north and east of British Columbia.]

Resuming their journey up the Fraser River, they passed through the narrow gut between mountainous rocks, which on the outward journey had been a passage of some risk. But now the state of the water was such that, they got up without difficulty, and had more time to examine these extraordinary rocks, which were as perpendicular as a wall, and gave the traveller the idea of a succession of enormous Gothic cathedrals. With little difficulty they transported their canoe across the water parting to the Peace River.

As they began to glide down this stream, homeward bound, they noticed at the entrance of a small tributary an object which proved to be four beaver skins hung up to attract their attention. These were the skins which had been given to Mackenzie as a present by a native as he travelled westwards. Not wishing to add to his loads, he had left the skins behind, saying he would call for them on his return. Mackenzie imagined, therefore, that, being under the necessity of leaving the river, this Indian had hung up the skins in the hope that they would attract the attention of the travellers on their return. "To reward his honesty, I left three times the value of the skins in trade goods in their place." As the Peace River carried them away from the great mountains, and the plains extended before their sight, they stopped to repair the canoe and to get in supplies of food from the herds of game that were visible. They began with a hearty meal of bison beef. "Every fear of future want was removed." Soon afterwards they killed an elk, the carcass of which weighed over two hundred and fifty pounds. "As we had taken a very hearty meal at one o'clock, it might naturally be supposed that we should not be very voracious at supper; nevertheless, a kettleful of elk flesh was boiled and eaten, and that vessel replenished with more meat and put on the fire. All that remained of the bones, &c, were placed after the Indian fashion round the fire to roast, and at ten the next morning the whole was consumed by ten persons and a large dog, who was allowed his share of the banquet. Nor did any inconvenience result from what may be considered as an inordinate indulgence."

On the 24th of August, 1793, Mackenzie was back again at Fort Chipewayan, after an absence of eleven months, having been the first white man to cross the broad continent of North America from the Atlantic to the Pacific, north of Mexico.


Mackenzie's Successors

The Spaniards of California had been aware in the middle of the eighteenth century that there was a big river entering the sea to the north of the savage country known as Oregon. The estuary of this river was reached in May, 1792, by an American sea captain of a whaling ship—ROBERT GRAY, of Boston. He crossed the bar, and named the great stream after his own ship, the Columbia. Five months afterwards (October, 1792) Lieutenant BROUGHTON, of the Vancouver expedition, entered the Columbia from the sea, explored it upstream for a hundred miles, and formally took possession of it for the King of Great Britain. The news of this discovery reached Alexander Mackenzie (no doubt after his return from his overland journey to the Pacific coast), and he at once jumped to the conclusion that the powerful stream he had discovered in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, and had partially followed on its way to the Pacific, must be the Columbia. As a matter of fact it was the river afterwards called Fraser.

If you look at the map of British North America, and then at the map of Russian Asia—Siberia—you will notice a marked difference in the arrangement of the waterways. Those of the Canadian Dominion, on the whole, flow more eastwards and westwards, or at any rate radiate in all directions, so as to constitute the most wonderful system of natural canals possessed by any country or continent. On the contrary, the rivers of Siberia flow usually in somewhat parallel lines from south to north. Siberia also is far less well provided than British North America with an abundance of navigable rivers, streams, and great lakes. Therefore the traveller in pre-railway days wishing to cross Siberia from west to east or east to west was obliged to have recourse to wheeled traffic, to ride, or to walk. Consequently, until the beginning of the twentieth century, the "exploitation" (or turning to useful account) of Siberia was a far more difficult process than the development of North America, once the question of British versus French or Spanish was settled. Siberia at one time was almost as rich in fur-bearing animals as British North America; yet so difficult was transport (and so severe were the rigours of the climate) that the Russians, once they reached the shores of the Pacific at the beginning of the eighteenth century, began to stretch out their influence to the opposite peninsula of Alaska mainly on account of the fur trade. For it was easier and less expensive to bring furs from Alaska round Cape Horn, or the Cape of Good Hope, to Europe than to convey them overland from eastern Siberia. Then, also, the Chinese market was becoming of importance to the fur trade. Already Mackenzie, at the end of the eighteenth century, is found considering whether a sea trade between China and a British port on the North Pacific coast could not be arranged so as to develop a profitable market among the mandarins and grandees of the Celestial Empire for a good proportion of the North-west Company's skins.

Peter Pond, already referred to on p. 278, is said to have expressed his intention (in 1788) of going to treat with the Empress Catherine II for a Russian occupation of the Alaskan and Columbian coasts. For this reason, or the mere desire to have a proportion of this fur-producing country, the Emperor Paul, in 1799, created a Russian Chartered Company to occupy the Alaska and north Columbian coasts. Great Britain offered no objection—in spite of having acquired some rights here by an agreement with Spain—and that is why, when you look at the map of the vast Canadian Dominion, you find with surprise that it has been robbed (one might almost say) of at least half of its legitimate Pacific seaboard. The Russian Company was allowed to claim the north Columbian coast between Alaska proper and Queen Charlotte Islands.

In 1867 the Russian Government sold all Alaska and the north Columbian coast to the United States, partly to annoy Great Britain, whom it had not forgiven for the Crimean War.

You will have noticed that quite a number of United States citizens (mostly born British subjects in New England) had taken part in the north-west fur trade immediately after the British conquest of Canada disposed of French monopolies. There were Jonathan Carver and Peter Pond, for example; and a much more worthy person than the last named—Daniel W. Harmon, a New Englander, who entered the service of the North-west Company in 1800, and followed in Mackenzie's footsteps to the upper Fraser River and the vicinity of the Skeena. Simon Fraser also, whose tracing of the Fraser River from its upper waters to the Pacific coast we shall presently deal with, was a native of Vermont, though his father came from Scotland. The furs which began to penetrate into the United States by way of Detroit and Niagara, the rising scale of luxury in dress in the towns of the eastern seaboard of the United States, the voyages of American whalers up the west coast of North America (including the discovery of the Columbia River in 1792 by Captain Robert Gray), the purchase of Louisiana from the Emperor Napoleon in 1804—with the vague claim it gave to the coast line of Oregon on the Pacific: all these circumstances inspired far-sighted persons in the United States at the beginning of the nineteenth century with a wish to secure for their Government and commerce a share in the fur trade and in these wonderful new lands of the Pacific watershed. American ships (whaling ships) had already become accustomed to sail round Cape Horn and to visit the Oregon and Alaskan coasts. The American Government therefore, immediately after the Louisiana purchase, dispatched an American expedition under Captains Meriwether Lewis and Jonathan Clarke to travel up the Missouri River and so across the mountains to the coast of Oregon, a wonderful expedition, which they carried out with great success in two years (1804-6), reaching the lower Columbia River and following it down to the sea.

Consequently, with all this in the air, it is not very surprising that the far-sighted John Jacob Astor, a wealthy German merchant of New York, should have conceived the idea of founding a great American fur-trading company and of establishing it at the mouth of the Columbia River.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century he had entered into arrangements with an Anglo-Canadian Company (the Mackinaw), which worked the southernmost part of Canada, to fuse its enterprise with his, and thus founded the South-west Company, the name of which (at any rate in current speech) was afterwards changed into the Pacific Fur-trading Company. After attempting in vain to come to a working arrangement with the great North-west Company, he decided to act quite independently and to establish the headquarters of his new concern at the mouth of the Columbia River. Accordingly, the expedition was sent out in duplicate to the mouth of the Columbia River, one-half going a six-months' voyage round Cape Horn in a sailing ship, the Tonquin, and the other marching overland or canoeing on lakes and rivers in eighteen months from Montreal via the Mississippi and Missouri. These two parties together founded "Astoria", at the mouth of the Columbia. But most of Astor's employees were British subjects derived from men of the North-west and Mackinaw Companies; and when, in 1812, war broke out between the United States and Great Britain, a British war vessel came up the Pacific coast to Astoria and promptly turned it into "Fort George". Forthwith the North-west Company bought up the derelict property of Mr. Astor's Company from his not very honest British employees, and the few Americans in the concern retreated inland, and, after almost incredible sufferings from the attacks of unfriendly Indians, succeeded in reaching the Mississippi.

This Columbia River had in reality been discovered at its sources, and traced down to the sea, between 1807 and 1811 by DAVID THOMPSON (once a Blue-coat boy in London; from 1784 to 1792 in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company, and after that one of the most famous of the Nor'-westers). The upper course of this river and its northern affluents were annexed as British by David Thompson; the lower course did not at once become the political property of the United States, but was considered vaguely to be the joint property of both nations, till the Oregon settlement of 1846. By the treaty of 1792, the southern boundary of central Canada was agreed upon as being the 49th degree of north latitude, but only between the Lake of the Woods and the Rocky Mountains. The agreement of 1846 continued the 49th degree boundary to the shore of the Pacific opposite Vancouver Island.

Prominent among the agents of the North-western Company who followed Sir Alexander Mackenzie as a pioneer towards the Pacific shores was ALEXANDER HENRY THE YOUNGER,[1] regarding whose journeys some extracts may be given.

[Footnote 1: The nephew of the Alexander Henry already mentioned as an explorer between 1761 and 1775.]

The first entry in his diary of 1799 is not particularly romantic, but shows some of the unexpected dangers attending the life of an adventurer in the far north-west. He had been riding through the Assiniboin country in the autumn of 1799, probably after one of the very indigestible meals which he describes here and there in his pages. Alone, and crossing an open plain swarming with wolves, he was seized suddenly with a violent colic, the pain of which was so terrible that he could not remain in the saddle. He dismounted, hobbled his horse, and threw himself on the grass, where he lay in agony for two hours, expecting every moment would be his last, till, quite exhausted, he fell asleep. He was awakened, however, by the howling of the wolves advancing to tear him to pieces; yet he was so weak that he was scarcely able to mount his horse, and then could only proceed at a slow walk, with the wolves snapping at his horse's heels.

Near the site of the present city of Winnipeg, in the late summer of 1800, he and his expedition were much troubled by swarms of water snakes. They were harmless but not pleasant in their familiarity, for they entered the tents and took refuge in the explorers' beds; and as they apparently came from their breeding places in Amerindian graves which covered the remains of people who had died of smallpox in a recent epidemic, they were additionally loathsome.

Smallpox indeed played a very important part in the historical development of western North America. Prior to 1780 the Amerindian tribes between the upper Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains, and between the Saskatchewans and the Missouri, were numerous and warlike. At first, about 1765, they received in very friendly fashion the pioneer British traders and French Canadians who attempted to resume the fur trade where it had been dropped by the French monopolists in 1760. But fifteen years afterwards, enraged at the violence and wrongdoing of the British and Canadian traders, and maddened by strong drink, they were planning a universal massacre of the whites, when suddenly smallpox (introduced by the Spaniards into New Mexico) came on them as a scourge, which destroyed whole tribes, and depopulated much of western North America.

Alexander Henry had many adventures with the bison of the plains. Here is one of them.

"Just as I came up to him at full speed and prepared to fire, my horse suddenly stopped. The bull had turned about to face my horse, which was naturally afraid of buffaloes, and startled at such a frightful object; he leaped to one side to avoid the bull. As I was not prepared for this I was pitched over his head, and fell within a few yards of the bull's nose; but fortunately for me he paid no more attention to my horse than to me. The grass was long, and I lay quiet until a favourable opportunity offered as he presented his placotte. I discharged both barrels of my double gun at him; he turned and made one plunge toward me, but had not time to repeat it before he fell, with his nose not more than three paces off.... I had to return on foot as my horse had bolted."

At this place—near the Red River (the season September)—the country swarmed with big game such as North America will never see any more: enormous numbers of bison, of wapiti or Canadian red deer, moose or elk, prong-buck, and of grizzly bears and black bears who followed the herds to attack them. The rivers swarmed with otters and beavers. The ground along the banks of the river was worn into a smooth, hard pavement by the hoofs of the thousands of buffaloes. Racoons, red foxes, wolves, and pumas frequented the bush country and the chumps of forest. A large white wolf, prowling rather imprudently, came within a few yards of Henry, and was shot dead. "We observed on the opposite beach no fewer than seven bears drinking all at the same time. Red deer were whistling in every direction, but our minds were not sufficiently at ease to enjoy our situation." Large flocks of swans (Cygnus columbianus) rose out of the Red River apparently in a state of alarm and confusion, possibly caused by the many herds of buffaloes rushing down to the river to drink. At night everything was quiet except the bellowing of buffaloes and the whistling of red deer. "I climbed up a tall oak at the entrance of the plain, from the top of which I had an extensive view of the country. Buffalo and red deer were everywhere in sight passing to and fro."

But the prairie had its nuisances as well as its wonders of animal life. From the end of April to the end of July the woods and grass swarmed with ticks (Ixodes), which covered the clothes of the Europeans and entered their ears and there caused serious inflammations. They would in time get such a firm hold by the insertion of their heads into the skin that they could not be removed without pulling the body from the head, which caused a terrible itching lasting for months. If left alone they adhered to the flesh until they swelled to the size of a musket ball, when they fell off of themselves. In the summertime gadflies were exasperating in their attacks on men and cattle. Mosquitoes were a veritable plague, and midges also, between June and the end of September.

Not the least of the terrors of life in the far north-west in those days was the vermin that collected in the houses or huts built for a winter sojourn. It is frequently mentioned, in the records of the pioneers, how the lodges or tents of the Amerindians swarmed with fleas and lice. Henry notes on the 19th of April, 1803: "The men began to demolish our dwelling houses, which were built of bad wood, and to build new ones of oak. The nests of mice we found, and the swarms of fleas hopping in every direction, were astonishing."

Henry reached the Pacific coast in 1814, by way of the Kootenay, Spokane, and Columbia River route, which had been discovered by David Thompson. He describes well the forests of remarkable trees on this portion of the Pacific coast, opposite the south end of Vancouver Island: the crooked oaks loaded with mistletoe, the tall wild cherry trees, the hazels with trunks thicker than a man's thigh, the evergreen arbutus, the bracken fern, blackberries, and black raspberries; and the game in these glades of trees and fern: small Columbian Mazama deer, large lynxes, bears, gluttons, wolves, foxes, racoons, and squirrels. Overhead soared huge Californian condors (Pseudogryphus).

Henry was drowned in 1812 in the estuary of the Columbia River, through the capsizing of a boat.

The question of the identity of the great river flowing to the Pacific from near the headwaters of the Peace—the river which Mackenzie had discovered and been forced to leave—was finally decided by SIMON FRASER, one of the most celebrated among the North-west Company's pioneers. Like Mackenzie, he believed this stream to be the upper Columbia.

Accompanied by John Stuart and Jules Quesnel, he left the Fraser River at its junction with the Nechaco on May 22, 1807, and, keeping as near as he could to the course of the river, found himself in the country of the Atna tribe, Amerindians of a diminutive size but active appearance, from whom he obtained an invaluable guide and faithful interpreter, Little Fellow, but for whose bravery, wise advice, and clever diplomacy the journey must have ended in disaster or disappointment—a remark which might be made about nearly all the Amerindian guides of the pioneers.

The Atna Indians were dressed in skins with the hair outside, and were armed with bows and arrows. They besmeared their bodies with fish oil and red earth, and painted their faces in different colours. Bison were quite unknown to them, being very seldom found in those latitudes on the western side of the Rocky Mountains. The country of the Atna Indians on the upper Fraser abounded in elk, wapiti, reindeer, bighorn sheep, mountain goats,[2] and beaver.

[Footnote 2: This remarkable beast (Oreamnus) they called "Aspai", and wove from its white wool an excellent cloth for their clothing.]

Here is a description by Fraser of some of the rapids in the upper part of the river named after him.

"The channel contracts to about forty yards, and is enclosed by two precipices of immense height, which bending towards each other make it narrower above than below. The water which rolls down this extraordinary passage in tumultuous waves and with great velocity has a frightful appearance. However, it being impossible to carry canoes by land, all hands without hesitation embarked, as it were, a corps perdu upon the mercy of this awful tide. Once engaged, the die was cast. Our great difficulty consisted in keeping the canoes in the middle of the stream, that is, clear of the precipice on the one side, and of the gulfs formed by the waves on the other. Thus, skimming along as fast as lightning, the crews, cool and determined, followed each other in awful silence, and when we arrived at the end we stood gazing at each other in silent gratification at our narrow escape from total destruction.... I scarcely ever saw anything so dreary and dangerous in any country (such precipices, mountains, and rapids), and I still seem to see, whichever way I turn my eyes, mountains upon mountains whose summits are covered with eternal snow."

They had to take to these same mountains, the river being unnavigable. The Asketti Indians brought them different kinds of roots, especially wild onions boiled into a syrup, excellent dried salmon, and some berries. These Indians had visited the seacoast, and had seen ships of war come there with white men, "very well dressed, and very proud, for," continued the chief, getting up and clapping his two hands upon his hips, and then striding about the place with an air of importance, "this is the way they go". In this country of the Hakamaw and Asketti Indians, dogs were much in use for carrying purposes, and could draw from one hundred to one hundred and fifty pounds. They were considered by the French Canadians very good eating, though only the smaller kinds were eaten, the large dogs being of another race and having a rank taste. They also shaved these dogs in the summer time, and wove rugs from their hair. These rugs were striped in different colours, crossing at right angles, and resembling at a distance a Highland plaid.

The tombs of the Indian villages on this western side of the Rocky Mountains were superior to anything that Fraser had ever seen amongst savages. They were about fifteen feet long, and of the form of a chest of drawers. Upon the boards and posts, beasts and birds were carved in a curious but crude manner, and pretty well proportioned. Returning to the river, when the worst of the rapids were passed, they descended it rapidly, helped by a strong current, and at length entered a lake where they saw seals, which showed that they had got near to the Pacific Ocean. They also beheld a round mountain, the now celebrated Mount Baker, which is visible from so much of the surrounding country of British Columbia and Vancouver Island. The trees were splendid, junipers thirty feet in circumference in their trunks and two or three hundred feet high. Mosquitoes, however, were in clouds. Nearer to the coast the Indians often appeared in the distance like white men, for the very literal reason that they had covered their skins with white paint. Their houses were built of cedar planks, and were six hundred and forty feet long by sixty feet broad, all under one roof, but of course separated into a great number of partitions for different families. On the outside the boards (as Mackenzie had noticed) were carved with figures of men, beasts, and birds as large as life. Simon Fraser, however, when he reached sea water, near the site of New Westminster, was greatly disappointed that any view of the main ocean should be obstructed by distant lands. He had believed all along that he was tracing the far-famed Columbia River to its entrance into the Pacific Ocean; and now that, instead of this, he had discovered an entirely new river, henceforth to be called after him but without so long a course as the Columbia, his vanity was hurt.

The Amerindians of the sea coast, opposite Vancouver Island, showed hostility to Fraser's party, as they had done farther north to Mackenzie. The Canadian voyageurs got alarmed, and told Fraser's assistant, John Stuart, that they had made up their minds to return by land across the Rocky Mountains. Fraser and the other officers of the expedition joined in arguing with them and recalling them to their senses. Finally each member of the party swore a solemn oath before Almighty God that they would sooner perish than forsake in distress any of the crew in the present voyage. After this ceremony was over all hands dressed in their best apparel, and each took charge of his own bundle. They therefore returned as much as possible by the Fraser River, and only took to the mountains when obliged by the rapids. They had to pass many difficult rocks, defiles, precipices, in which there was a beaten path made by the natives, and made possible by means of scaffolds, bridges, and ladders, so peculiarly constructed that it required no small degree of necessity, dexterity, and courage in strangers to undertake them. For instance, they had to ascend precipices by means of ladders composed of two long poles placed upright, with sticks tied crosswise with twigs; upon the end of these others were placed, and so on to any height; add to this that the ladders were often so slack that the smallest breeze put them in motion, swinging them against the rocks, while the steps leading from scaffold to scaffold were so narrow and irregular that they could scarcely be traced by the feet without the greatest care and circumspection; but the most perilous part was when another rock projected over the one they were clearing.

The Hakamaw Indians certainly deserved Fraser's grateful remembrance for their able assistance throughout these alarming situations. The descents were, if possible, still more difficult; in these places the white men were under the necessity of trusting their property to the Indians, even the precious guns were handed from one Indian to another; yet they thought nothing of it, they went up and down these wild places with the same agility as sailors do on a ship. After escaping innumerable perils in the course of the day, the party encamped about sunset, being supplied by the natives with plenty of dried fish.

Thus the main lines of the exploration of the great Canadian Dominion were completed. Alexander Mackenzie went to England in 1799 and received a knighthood for his remarkable achievements. On his return he first definitely created the New North-west or "X.Y." Company, and then brought about its fusion (after several years of bitter rivalry) with the old North-west Company; and it was this united and strengthened organization which, between 1804 and 1819, sent out so many bold pioneers to fill in the details of the map between the Columbia and Missouri on the south, and the Great Slave Lake and Liard River on the north. But during these years the energies of the Hudson's Bay Company were reviving under a strange personality—THOMAS DOUGLAS, EARL OF SELKIRK. Lord Selkirk conceived the idea of putting new life into the Hudson's Bay Company, reviving the monopolies of trading granted in its old charter, and turning its vague rights to land into the absolute ownership of the enormous area of North America north and west of the Canadian provinces. No regard of course was paid to any rights of the natives, who as a matter of fact were dying out rapidly from the effects of bad alcohol and epidemic diseases.

His motive was to establish large colonies of stalwart Highlanders as the tenants of a Chartered Company. Alexander Mackenzie had already called the north-west country "New Caledonia". Lord Selkirk wished to make it so in its population.

Already he had been instrumental in establishing a Scottish colony on Prince Edward's Island,[3] which, after some difficulties at the beginning, had soon begun to prosper. Two or three years later he came to Montreal, and there collected all the information he could obtain from the partners in the North-west Company regarding the prospects of trade and colonization in the far west. In the year 1811 he had managed to acquire the greater part of the shares in the Hudson's Bay Company, and, placing himself at its head, he sent out his first hundred Highlanders and Irish to form a feudatory colony in the Red River district (the modern Manitoba). He also dispatched an official to govern what might be called the Middle West on behalf of the Hudson's Bay Company. This person, acting under instructions, claimed the whole region beyond the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada as the private property of the Hudson's Bay Company, on the strength of their antiquated charter issued by Charles II. The agents of the North-west Company were warned (as also the two or three thousand French Canadians and half-breeds in their pay) that henceforth they must not cut wood, fish or hunt, build or cultivate, save by the permission and as the tenants of the Hudson's Bay Company.

[Footnote 3: Prince Edward's Island is off the north coast of New Brunswick. It was named after Queen Victoria's father, the Duke of Kent.]

It is not surprising that such an outrageous demand, when it was followed up by the use of armed force, soon provoked bloodshed and a state of civil war throughout the North-west Territories. Lord Selkirk himself took command on the Red River, with a small army of disciplined soldiers. At length, in 1817, the British Government intervened through the Governor-General of Canada, and in 1818 Lord Selkirk left North America disgusted, and two years afterwards died at Pau, in France, from an illness brought on by grief at the failure of his projects.

Sir Alexander Mackenzie also died suddenly in 1820, in Scotland. For twelve years he had been member of parliament for Huntingdon, and since 1812 had been the determined opponent in England of Lord Selkirk's plans of forcible colonization. After his death, however, in 1821, a sudden movement for reconciliation took place between the two Companies. Thenceforth the Hudson's Bay Company ruled over the vast regions of British North America, beyond Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and the two Canadian provinces. Under their government the work of geographical exploration went on apace. In 1834 one of their officers, J. M'Leod, discovered the Stikine River in northern British Columbia, and by 1848 J. Bell and Robert Campbell had revealed the Porcupine and Yukon Rivers. By the time Thomas Simpson, Warren Dease, and Dr. John Rae, on behalf of the Hudson's Bay Company; and Franklin, Back, Parry, Richardson, and M'Clintock, for the Imperial Government, had completed the explorations mentioned in Chapter VI, all the main features of Canadian geography were made known. The next series of pioneers were to be those of the mining industry—it was the discovery of gold in 1856 which created British Columbia; of agriculture—the wheat-growers of the Red River region made the province of Manitoba; of the steamboat; and above all the railway. Developments of science scarcely yet dreamt of will demand in further time their pioneers, and these will not come from abroad, but will assuredly be found in this splendid Canadian people, the descendants of the men or of the types of men I have attempted to describe.


Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7
Home - Random Browse