At noon on the 29th, after passing through the remainder of Holy Lake, we entered the Weepinapannis, a narrow grassy river which runs parallel to the lake for a considerable distance and forms its south bank into a narrow peninsula. In the morning we arrived at the Swampy Portage where two of the boats were broken against the rocks. The length of the day's voyage was nineteen miles and a half.
In consequence of the accident yesterday evening we were detained a considerable time this morning until the boats were repaired, when we set out and, after ascending a strong rapid, arrived at the portage by John Moore's Island. Here the river rushes with irresistible force through the channels formed by two rocky islands; and we learned that last year a poor man, in hauling a boat up one of these channels, was, by the breaking of the line, precipitated into the stream and hurried down the cascade with such rapidity that all efforts to save him were ineffectual. His body was afterwards found and interred near the spot.
The Weepinapannis is composed of several branches which separate and unite again and again, intersecting the country in a great variety of directions.
We pursued the principal channel and, having passed the Crooked Spout with several inferior rapids and crossed a small piece of water named Windy Lake, we entered a smooth deep stream about three hundred yards wide which has got the absurd appellation of the Rabbit Ground. The marshy banks of this river are skirted by low barren rocks behind which there are some groups of stunted trees. As we advanced the country, becoming flatter, gradually opened to our view and we at length arrived at a shallow, reedy lake, the direct course through which leads to the Hill Portage. This route has however of late years been disused and we therefore turned towards the north and, crossing a small arm of the lake, arrived at Hill Gates by sunset; having come this day eleven miles.
Hill Gates is the name imposed on a romantic defile whose rocky walls, rising perpendicularly to the height of sixty or eighty feet, hem in the stream for three-quarters of a mile, in many places so narrowly that there is a want of room to ply the oars. In passing through this chasm we were naturally led to contemplate the mighty but probably slow and gradual effects of the water in wearing down such vast masses of rock; but in the midst of our speculations the attention was excited anew to a grand and picturesque rapid which, surrounded by the most wild and majestic scenery, terminated the defile. The brown fishing-eagle had built its nest on one of the projecting cliffs.
WHITE FALL LAKE AND RIVER.
In the course of the day we surmounted this and another dangerous portage called the Upper and Lower Hill Gate Portages, crossed a small sheet of water, termed the White Fall Lake and, entering the river of the same name, arrived at the White Fall about an hour after sunset, having come fourteen miles on a South-West course.
The whole of the 2nd of October was spent in carrying the cargoes over a portage of thirteen hundred yards in length and in launching the empty boats over three several ridges of rock which obstruct the channel and produce as many cascades. I shall long remember the rude and characteristic wildness of the scenery which surrounded these falls; rocks piled on rocks hung in rude and shapeless masses over the agitated torrents which swept their bases, whilst the bright and variegated tints of the mosses and lichens that covered the face of the cliffs, contrasting with the dark green of the pines which crowned their summits, added both beauty and grandeur to the scene. Our two companions, Back and Hood, made accurate sketches of these falls. At this place we observed a conspicuous lop-stick, a kind of landmark which I have not hitherto noticed, notwithstanding its great use in pointing out the frequented routes. It is a pine-tree divested of its lower branches and having only a small tuft at the top remaining. This operation is usually performed at the instance of some individual emulous of fame. He treats his companions with rum and they in return strip the tree of its branches and ever after designate it by his name.
In the afternoon, whilst on my way to superintend the operations of the men, a stratum of loose moss gave way under my feet and I had the misfortune to slip from the summit of a rock into the river betwixt two of the falls. My attempts to regain the bank were for a time ineffectual owing to the rocks within my reach having been worn smooth by the action of the water; but after I had been carried a considerable distance down the stream I caught hold of a willow by which I held until two gentlemen of the Hudson's Bay Company came in a boat to my assistance. The only bad consequence of this accident was an injury sustained by a very valuable chronometer (Number 1733) belonging to Daniel Moore, Esquire, of Lincoln's Inn. One of the gentlemen to whom I delivered it immediately on landing in his agitation let it fall, whereby the minutehand was broken, but the works were not in the smallest degree injured and the loss of the hand was afterwards supplied.
During the night the frost was severe; and at sunrise on the 3rd the thermometer stood at 25 degrees. After leaving our encampment at the White Fall we passed through several small lakes connected with each other by narrow, deep, grassy streams, and at noon arrived at the Painted Stone. Numbers of muskrats frequent these streams; and we observed in the course of the morning many of their mud-houses rising in a conical form to the height of two or three feet above the grass of the swamps in which they were built.
The Painted Stone is a low rock, ten or twelve yards across, remarkable for the marshy streams which arise on each side of it, taking different courses. On the one side the watercourse which we had navigated from York Factory commences. This spot may therefore be considered as one of the smaller sources of Hayes River.
ECHEMAMIS AND SEA RIVERS.
On the other side of the stone the Echemamis rises and, taking a westerly direction, falls into Nelson River. It is said that there was formerly a stone placed near the centre of this portage on which figures were annually traced and offerings deposited by the Indians; but the stone has been removed many years and the spot has ceased to be held in veneration. Here we were overtaken by Governor Williams who left York Factory on the 20th of last month in an Indian canoe. He expressed much regret at our having been obliged to leave part of our stores at the Rock depot, and would have brought them up with him had he been able to procure and man a boat, or a canoe, of sufficient size.
Having launched the boats over the rock we commenced the descent of the Echemamis. This small stream has its course through a morass and in dry seasons its channel contains, instead of water, merely a foot or two of thin mud. On these occasions it is customary to build dams that it may be rendered navigable by the accumulation of its waters. As the beavers perform this operation very effectually endeavours have been made to encourage them to breed in this place, but it has not hitherto been possible to restrain the Indians from killing that useful animal whenever they discover its retreats. On the present occasion there was no want of water, the principal impediment we experienced being from the narrowness of the channel, which permitted the willows of each bank to meet over our heads and obstruct the men at the oars. After proceeding down the stream for some time we came to a recently-constructed beaver dam through which an opening was made sufficient to admit the boat to pass. We were assured that the breach would be closed by the industrious creature in a single night. We encamped about eight miles from the source of the river, having come during the day seventeen miles and a half.
On the 4th we embarked amidst a heavy rain and pursued our route down the Echemamis. In many parts of the morass by which the river is nourished and through which it flows, is intersected by ridges of rock which cross the channel and require the boat to be lifted over them. In the afternoon we passed through a shallow piece of water overgrown with bulrushes and hence named Hairy Lake; and in the evening encamped on the banks of Blackwater Creek, by which this lake empties itself into Sea River; having come during the day twenty miles and three-quarters.
On the morning of the 5th we entered Sea River, one of the many branches of Nelson River. It is about four hundred yards wide and its waters are of a muddy white colour. After ascending the stream for an hour or two and passing through Carpenter's Lake, which is merely an expansion of the river to about a mile in breadth, we came to the Sea River Portage where the boat was launched across a smooth rock to avoid a fall of four or five feet.
PLAY GREEN LAKES.
Reembarking at the upper end of the portage we ran before a fresh gale through the remainder of Sea River, the lower part of Play Green Lake and, entering Little Jack River, landed and pitched our tents. Here there is a small log hut, the residence of a fisherman who supplies Norway House with trout and sturgeon. He gave us a few of these fish which afforded an acceptable supper. Our voyage this day was thirty-four miles.
Little Jack River is the name given to a channel that winds among several large islands which separate Upper and Lower Play Green Lakes. At the lower end of this channel Big Jack River, a stream of considerable magnitude, falls into the lake. Play Green is a translation of the appellation given to that lake by two bands of Indians who met and held a festival on an island situated near its centre. After leaving our encampment we sailed through Upper Play Green Lake and arrived at Norway Point in the forenoon.
The waters of Lake Winnipeg and of the rivers that run into it, the Saskatchewan in particular, are rendered turbid by the suspension of a large quantity of white clay. Play Green Lake and Nelson River, being the discharges of the Winnipeg, are equally opaque, a circumstance that renders the sunken rocks, so frequent in these waters, very dangerous to boats in a fresh breeze. Owing to this one of the boats that accompanied us, sailing at the rate of seven miles an hour, struck upon one of these rocks. Its mast was carried away by the shock but fortunately no other damage sustained. The Indians ascribe the muddiness of these lakes to an adventure of one of their deities, a mischievous fellow, a sort of Robin Puck, whom they hold in very little esteem. This deity, who is named Weesakootchaht, possesses considerable power but makes a capricious use of it and delights in tormenting the poor Indians. He is not however invincible and was foiled in one of his attempts by the artifice of an old woman who succeeded in taking him captive. She called in all the women of the tribe to aid in his punishment, and he escaped from their hands in a condition so filthy that it required all the waters of the Great Lake to wash him clean; and ever since that period it has been entitled to the appellation of Winnipeg, or Muddy water.
Norway Point forms the extremity of a narrow peninsula which separates Play Green and Winnipeg Lakes. Buildings were first erected here by a party of Norwegians who were driven away from the colony at Red River by the commotions which took place some time ago. It is now a trading post belonging to the Hudson's Bay Company. On landing at Norway House we met with Lord Selkirk's colonists who had started from York Factory the day before us. These poor people were exceedingly pleased at meeting with us again in this wild country; having accompanied them across the Atlantic they viewed us in the light of old acquaintances. This post was under the charge of Mr. James Sutherland, to whom I am indebted for replacing a minutehand on the chronometer which was broken at the White Fall, and I had afterwards the satisfaction of finding that it went with extraordinary regularity.
The morning of the 7th October was beautifully clear and the observations we obtained place Norway House in latitude 53 degrees 41 minutes 38 seconds North, and longitude 98 degrees 1 minute 24 seconds West; the variation of the magnetic needle 14 degrees 12 minutes 41 seconds East, and its dip 83 degrees 40 minutes 10 seconds. Though our route from York Factory has rather inclined to the South-West the dip, it will be perceived, has gradually increased. The difference produced by reversing the face of the instrument was 7 degrees 39 minutes. There was too much wind to admit of our observing with any degree of accuracy the quantity of the magnetic force.
We left Norway House soon after noon and, the wind being favourable, sailed along the northern shore of Lake Winnipeg the whole of the ensuing night; and on the morning of the 8th landed on a narrow ridge of sand which, running out twenty miles to the westward, separates Limestone Bay from the body of the Lake. When the wind blows hard from the southward it is customary to carry boats across this isthmus and to pull up under its lee. From Norwegian Point to Limestone Bay the shore consists of high clay cliffs against which the waves beat with violence during strong southerly winds. When the wind blows from the land and the waters of the lake are low a narrow sandy beach is uncovered and affords a landing-place for boats. The shores of Limestone Bay are covered with small fragments of calcareous stones. During the night the Aurora Borealis was quick in its motions and various and vivid in its colours. After breakfasting we reembarked and continued our voyage until three P.M., when a strong westerly wind arising we were obliged to shelter ourselves on a small island which lies near the extremity of the above-mentioned peninsula. This island is formed of a collection of small rolled pieces of limestone and was remembered by some of our boatman to have been formerly covered with water. For the last ten or twelve years the waters of the lake have been low, but our information did not enable us to judge whether the decrease was merely casual, or going on continually, or periodical. The distance of this island from Norway House is thirty-eight miles and a half.
The westerly winds detained us all the morning of the 9th but at two P.M. the wind chopped round to the eastward; we immediately embarked and the breeze afterwards freshening we reached the mouth of the Saskatchewan at midnight having run thirty-two miles.
Sunday, October 10.
The whole of this day was occupied in getting the boats from the mouth of the river to the foot of the grand rapid, a distance of two miles. There are several rapids in this short distance during which the river varies its breadth from five hundred yards to half a mile. Its channel is stony. At the grand rapid the Saskatchewan forms a sudden bend from south to east and works its way through a narrow channel deeply worn into the limestone strata. The stream, rushing with impetuous force over a rocky and uneven bottom, presents a sheet of foam and seems to bear with impatience the straightened confinement of its lofty banks. A flock of pelicans and two or three brown fishing-eagles were fishing in its agitated waters, seemingly with great success. There is a good sturgeon fishery at the foot of the rapid. Several golden plovers, Canadian grosbeaks, crossbills, woodpeckers and pin-tailed grouse were shot today; and Mr. Back killed a small striped marmot. This beautiful little animal was busily employed in carrying in its distended pouches the seeds of the American vetch to its winter hoards.
The portage is eighteen hundred yards long and its western extremity was found to be in 53 degrees 08 minutes 25 seconds North latitude and 99 degrees 28 minutes 02 seconds West longitude. The route from Canada to the Athabasca joins that from York Factory at the mouth of the Saskatchewan, and we saw traces of a recent encampment of the Canadian voyagers. Our companions in the Hudson's Bay boats, dreading an attack from their rivals in trade, were on the alert at this place. They examined minutely the spot of encampment to form a judgment of the number of canoes that had preceded them; and they advanced, armed, and with great caution, through the woods. Their fears however on this occasion were fortunately groundless.
By noon on the 12th, the boats and their cargoes having been conveyed across the portage, we embarked and pursued our course. The Saskatchewan becomes wider above the Grand Rapid and the scenery improves. The banks are high, composed of white clay and limestone, and their summits are richly clothed with a variety of firs, poplars, birches and willows. The current runs with great rapidity and the channel is in many places intricate and dangerous from broken ridges of rock jutting into the stream. We pitched our tents at the entrance of Cross Lake, having advanced only five miles and a half.
CROSS, CEDAR AND PINE ISLAND LAKES.
Cross Lake is extensive, running towards the north-east it is said for forty miles. We crossed it at a narrow part and, pulling through several winding channels formed by a group of islands, entered Cedar Lake which, next to Lake Winnipeg, is the largest sheet of fresh water we had hitherto seen. Ducks and geese resort hither in immense flocks in the spring and autumn. These birds are now beginning to go off owing to its muddy shores having become quite hard through the nightly frosts. At this place the Aurora Borealis was extremely brilliant in the night, its coruscations darting at times over the whole sky and assuming various prismatic tints of which the violet and yellow were predominant.
After pulling, on the 14th, seven miles and a quarter on the lake, a violent wind drove us for shelter to a small island, or rather a ridge of rolled stones thrown up by the frequent storms which agitate this lake. The weather did not moderate the whole day and we were obliged to pass the night on this exposed spot. The delay however enabled us to obtain some lunar observations. The wind having subsided we left our resting place the following morning, crossed the remainder of the lake, and in the afternoon arrived at Muddy Lake which is very appropriately named as it consists merely of a few channels winding amongst extensive mudbanks which are overflowed during the spring floods. We landed at an Indian tent which contained two numerous families amounting to thirty souls. These poor creatures were badly clothed and reduced to a miserable condition by the whooping-cough and measles. At the time of our arrival they were busy in preparing a sweating-house for the sick. This is a remedy which they consider, with the addition of singing and drumming, to be the grand specific for all diseases. Our companions having obtained some geese in exchange for rum and tobacco, we proceeded a few more miles and encamped on Devil's Drum Island, having come during the day twenty miles and a half. A second party of Indians were encamped on an adjoining island, a situation chosen for the purpose of killing geese and ducks.
On the 16th we proceeded eighteen miles up the Saskatchewan. Its banks are low, covered with willows, and lined with drift timber. The surrounding country is swampy and intersected by the numerous arms of the river. After passing for twenty or thirty yards through the willow thicket on the banks of the stream we entered an extensive marsh, varied only by a distant line of willows which marks the course of a creek or branch of the river. The branch we navigated today is almost five hundred yards wide. The exhalations from the marshy soil produced a low fog although the sky above was perfectly clear. In the course of the day we passed an Indian encampment of three tents whose inmates appeared to be in a still more miserable condition than those we saw yesterday. They had just finished the ceremony of conjuration over some of their sick companions; and a dog which had been recently killed as a sacrifice to some deity was hanging to a tree where it would be left (I was told) when they moved their encampment.
We continued our voyage up the river to the 20th with little variation of scenery or incident, travelling in that time about thirty miles. The near approach of winter was marked by severe frosts which continued all day unless when the sun chanced to be unusually bright and the geese and ducks were observed to take a southerly course in large flocks. On the morning of the 20th we came to a party of Indians encamped behind the bank of the river on the borders of a small marshy lake for the purpose of killing waterfowl. Here we were gratified with the view of a very large tent. Its length was about forty feet, its breadth eighteen, and its covering was moose-deer leather with apertures for the escape of the smoke from the fires which are placed at each end; a ledge of wood was placed on the ground on both sides the whole length of the tent, within which were the sleeping-places, arranged probably according to families; and the drums and other instruments of enchantment were piled up in the centre. Amongst the Indians there were a great many half-breeds who led an Indian life. Governor Williams gave a dram and a piece of tobacco to each of the males of the party.
On the morning of the 21st a heavy fall of snow took place which lasted until two in the afternoon. In the evening we left the Saskatchewan and entered the Little River, one of the two streams by which Pine Island Lake discharges its waters. We advanced today fourteen miles and a quarter. On the 22nd the weather was extremely cold and stormy and we had to contend against a strong head wind. The spray froze as it fell and the oars were so loaded with ice as to be almost unmanageable. The length of our voyage this day was eleven miles.
The following morning was very cold; we embarked at daylight and pulled across a part of Pine Island Lake about three miles and a half to Cumberland House. The margin of the lake was so encrusted with ice that we had to break through a considerable space of it to approach the landing-place. When we considered that this was the effect of only a few days' frost at the commencement of winter we were convinced of the impractibility of advancing further by water this season, and therefore resolved on accepting Governor Williams' kind invitation to remain with him at this post. We immediately visited Mr. Connolly, the resident partner of the North-West Company, and presented to him Mr. McGillivray's circular letter. He assured us that he should be most desirous to forward our progress by every means in his power, and we subsequently had ample proofs of his sincerity and kindness. The unexpected addition of our party to the winter residents at this post rendered an increase of apartments necessary; and our men were immediately appointed to complete and arrange an unfinished building as speedily as possible.
Some mild weather succeeded to the severe frosts we had at our arrival; and the lake had not been entirely frozen before the 6th; but this morning the ice was sufficiently firm to admit of sledges crossing it. The dogs were harnessed at a very early hour and the winter operations commenced by sending for a supply of fish from Swampy River where men had been stationed to collect it just before the frost set in. Both men and dogs appeared to enjoy the change; they started in full glee and drove rapidly along. An Indian who had come to the house on the preceding evening to request some provision for his family, whom he represented to be in a state of starvation, accompanied them. His party had been suffering greatly under the epidemic diseases of whooping-cough and measles; and the hunters were still in too debilitated a state to go out and provide them with meat. A supply was given to him and the men were directed to bring his father, an old and faithful hunter, to the house, that he might have the comforts of nourishment and warmth. He was brought accordingly but these attentions were unavailing as he died a few days afterwards. Two days before his death I was surprised to observe him sitting for nearly three hours, in a piercingly sharp day, in the saw-pit, employed in gathering the dust and throwing it by handfuls over his body, which was naked to the waist. As the man was in possession of his mental faculties I conceived he was performing some devotional act preparatory to his departure, which he felt to be approaching and, induced by the novelty of the incident, I went twice to observe him more closely; but when he perceived that he was noticed he immediately ceased his operation, hung down his head and, by his demeanour, intimated that he considered my appearance an intrusion. The residents at the fort could give me no information on the subject and I could not learn that the Indians in general observe any particular ceremony on the approach of death.
The sky had been overcast during the last week; the sun shone forth once only and then not sufficiently for the purpose of obtaining observations. Faint coruscations of the Aurora Borealis appeared one evening but their presence did not in the least affect the electrometer or the compass. The ice daily became thicker in the lake and the frost had now nearly overpowered the rapid current of the Saskatchewan River; indeed parties of men who were sent from both the forts to search for the Indians and procure whatever skins and provisions they might have collected crossed that stream this day on the ice. The white partridges made their first appearance near the house, which birds are considered as the infallible harbingers of severe weather.
Monday, November 22.
The Saskatchewan and every other river were now completely covered with ice except a small stream not far from the fort through which the current ran very powerfully. In the course of the week we removed into the house our men had prepared since our arrival. We found it at first extremely cold notwithstanding that a good fire was kept in each apartment and we frequently experienced the extremes of heat and cold on opposite sides of the body.
We obtained observations for the dip of the needle and intensity of the magnetic force in a spare room. The dip was 83 degrees 9 minutes 45 seconds and the difference produced by reversing the face of the instrument 13 degrees 3 minutes 6 seconds. When the needle was faced to the west it hung nearly perpendicular. The Aurora Borealis had been faintly visible for a short time the preceding evening. Some Indians arrived in search of provision having been totally incapacitated from hunting by sickness; the poor creatures looked miserably ill and they represented their distress to have been extreme. Few recitals are more affecting than those of their sufferings during unfavourable seasons and in bad situations for hunting and fishing. Many assurances have been given me that men and women are yet living who have been reduced to feed upon the bodies of their own family to prevent actual starvation; and a shocking case was cited to us of a woman who had been principal agent in the destruction of several persons, and amongst the number her husband and nearest relatives, in order to support life.
The atmosphere had been clear every day during the last week, about the end of which snow fell, when the thermometer rose from 20 degrees below to 16 degrees above zero. The Aurora Borealis was twice visible but faint on both occasions. Its appearance did not affect the electrometer nor could we perceive the compass to be disturbed.
The men brought supplies of moose meat from the hunter's tent which is pitched near the Basquiau Hill, forty or fifty miles from the house and whence the greatest part of the meat is procured. The residents have to send nearly the same distance for their fish and on this service horse-sledges are used. Nets are daily set in Pine Island Lake which occasionally procure some fine sturgeon, tittameg and trout, but not more than sufficient to supply the officers' table.
This day was so remarkably fine that we procured another set of observations for the dip of the needle in the open air; the instrument being placed firmly on a rock the results gave 83 degrees 14 minutes 22 seconds. The change produced by reversing the face of the instrument was 12 degrees 50 minutes 55 seconds.
There had been a determined thaw during the last three days. The ice on the Saskatchewan River and some parts of the lake broke up and the travelling across either became dangerous. On this account the absence of Wilks, one of our men, caused no small anxiety. He had incautiously undertaken the conduct of a sledge and dogs in company with a person going to Swampy River for fish. On their return, being unaccustomed to driving, he became fatigued and seated himself on his sledge where his companion left him, presuming that he would soon rise and hasten to follow his track. He however returned safe in the morning and reported that, foreseeing night would set in before he could get across the lake, he prudently retired into the woods before dark where he remained until daylight, when the men who had been despatched to look for him met him returning to the house, shivering with cold, he having been unprovided with the materials for lighting a fire, which an experienced voyager never neglects to carry.
We had mild weather until the 20th of December. On the 13th there had been a decided thaw that caused the Saskatchewan, which had again frozen, to reopen and the passage across it was interrupted for two days. We now received more agreeable accounts from the Indians who were recovering strength and beginning to hunt a little; but it was generally feared that their spirits had been so much depressed by the loss of their children and relatives that the season would be far advanced before they could be roused to any exertion in searching for animals beyond what might be necessary for their own support. It is much to be regretted that these poor men, during their long intercourse with Europeans, have not been taught how pernicious is the grief which produces total inactivity, and that they have not been furnished with any of the consolations which the Christian religion never fails to afford. This however could hardly have been expected from persons who have permitted their own offspring the half-casts to remain in lamentable ignorance on a subject of such vital importance. It is probable however that an improvement will soon take place among the latter class, as Governor Williams proposes to make the children attend a Sunday school and has already begun to have divine service performed at his post.
The conversations which I had with the gentlemen in charge of these posts convinced me of the necessity of proceeding during the winter into the Athabasca department, the residents of which are best acquainted with the nature and resources of the country to the north of the Great Slave Lake; and whence only guides, hunters and interpreters can be procured. I had previously written to the partners of the North-West Company in that quarter requesting their assistance in forwarding the Expedition and stating what we should require. But, on reflecting upon the accidents that might delay these letters on the road, I determined on proceeding to the Athabasca as soon as I possibly could, and communicated my intention to Governor Williams and Mr. Connolly with a request that I might be furnished by the middle of January with the means of conveyance for three persons, intending that Mr. Back and Hepburn should accompany me whilst Dr. Richardson and Mr. Hood remained till the spring at Cumberland House.
After the 20th of December the weather became cold, the thermometer constantly below zero. Christmas Day was particularly stormy but the gale did not prevent the full enjoyment of the festivities which are annually given at Cumberland House on this day. All the men who had been despatched to different parts in search of provision or furs returned to the fort on the occasion and were regaled with a substantial dinner and a dance in the evening.
January 1, 1820.
The New Year was ushered in by repeated discharges of musketry; a ceremony which has been observed by the men of both the trading Companies for many years. Our party dined with Mr. Connolly and were treated with a beaver which we found extremely delicate. In the evening his voyagers were entertained with a dance in which the Canadians exhibited some grace and much agility; and they contrived to infuse some portion of their activity and spirits into the steps of their female companions. The half-breed women are passionately fond of this amusement but a stranger would imagine the contrary on witnessing their apparent want of animation. On such occasions they affect a sobriety of demeanour which I understand to be very opposite to their general character.
This day I wrote to Governor Williams and Mr. Connolly requesting them to prepare two canoes with crews and appointments for the conveyance of Dr. Richardson and Mr. Hood, with our stores, to Chipewyan as soon as the navigation should open, and had the satisfaction of receiving from both these gentlemen renewed assurances of their desire to promote the objects of the Expedition. I conceived it to be necessary, previous to my departure, to make some arrangement respecting the men who were engaged at Stromness. Only one of them was disposed to extend his engagement and proceed beyond the Athabasca Lake and, as there was much uncertainty whether the remaining three could get from the Athabasca to York Factory sufficiently early to secure them a passage in the next Hudson's Bay ship, I resolved not to take them forward unless Dr. Richardson and Mr. Hood should fail in procuring other men from these establishments next spring, but to despatch them down to York to bring up our stores to this place: after which they might return to the coast in time to secure their passage in the first ship.
I delivered to Dr. Richardson and Mr. Hood a memorandum containing the arrangements which had been made with the two Companies respecting their being forwarded in the spring, and some other points of instruction for their guidance in my absence together with directions to forward the map of our route which had been finished, since our arrival, by Mr. Hood, the drawing and the collections of natural history by the first opportunity to York Factory for conveyance to England.*
(*Footnote. As Samuel Wilks, who had accompanied the Expedition from England, proved to be quite unequal to the fatigue of the journey I directed him to be discharged in the spring and sent to England by the next ship.)
The houses of the two Companies at this post are situated close to each other at the upper extremity of a narrow island which separates Pine Island Lake from the Saskatchewan River, and are about two miles and three-quarters from the latter in a northern direction. They are log-houses, built without much regard to comfort, surrounded by lofty stockades and flanked with wooden bastions. The difficulty of conveying glass into the interior has precluded its use in the windows where its place is poorly supplied by parchment, imperfectly made by the native women from the skin of the reindeer. Should this post however continue to be the residence of Governor Williams it will be much improved in a few years, as he is devoting his attention to that point. The land around Cumberland House is low but the soil, from having a considerable intermixture of limestone, is good and capable of producing abundance of corn and vegetables of every description. Many kinds of pot-herbs have already been brought to some perfection and the potatoes bid fair to equal those of England. The spontaneous productions of nature would afford ample nourishment for all the European animals. Horses feed extremely well even during the winter and so would oxen if provided with hay which might be easily done.* Pigs also improve but require to be kept warm in the winter. Hence it appears that the residents might easily render themselves far less dependent on the Indians for support and be relieved from the great anxiety which they too often suffer when the hunters are unsuccessful. The neighbourhood of the houses has been much cleared of wood from the great demand for fuel; there is therefore little to admire in the surrounding scenery, especially in its winter garb; few animated objects occur to enliven the scene; an occasional fox, marten, rabbit or wolf and a few birds contribute the only variety. The birds which remained were ravens, magpies, partridges, crossbills and woodpeckers. In this universal stillness the residents at a post feel little disposed to wander abroad except when called forth by their occupations; and as ours were of a kind best performed in a warm room we imperceptibly acquired a sedentary habit. In going out however we never suffered the slightest inconvenience from the change of temperature though the thermometer in the open air stood occasionally thirty degrees below zero.
(*Footnote. The wild buffalo scrapes away the snow with its feet to get at the herbage beneath, and the horse, which was introduced by the Spanish invaders of Mexico and may be said to have become naturalised, does the same; but it is worthy of remark that the ox more lately brought from Europe has not yet acquired an art so necessary for procuring its food. Extract from Dr. Richardson's Journal.)
The tribe of Indians who reside in the vicinity and frequent these establishments is that of the Crees, or Knisteneaux. They were formerly a powerful and numerous nation which ranged over a very extensive country and were very successful in their predatory excursions against their neighbours, particularly the northern Indians and some tribes on the Saskatchewan and Beaver Rivers; but they have long ceased to be held in any fear and are now perhaps the most harmless and inoffensive of the whole Indian race. This change is entirely to be attributed to their intercourse with Europeans; and the vast reduction in their numbers occasioned, I fear, principally by the injudicious introduction of ardent spirits. They are so passionately fond of this poison that they will make any sacrifice to obtain it. They are good hunters and in general active. Having laid the bow and arrow altogether aside and the use of snares, except for rabbits and partridges, they depend entirely on the Europeans for the means of gaining subsistence as they require guns and a constant supply of powder and shot; so that these Indians are probably more completely under the power of the trader than any of the other tribes. As I only saw a few straggling parties of them during short intervals, and under unfavourable circumstances of sickness and famine, I am unable to give from personal observation any detail of their manners and customs; and must refer the reader to Dr. Richardson's account of them in the following chapter. That gentleman during his longer residence at the post had many opportunities of seeing them and acquiring their language.
This morning the sporting part of our society had rather a novel diversion: intelligence having been brought that a wolf had borne away a steel trap in which he had been caught, a party went in search of the marauder and took two English bulldogs and a terrier which had been brought into the country this season. On the first sight of the animal the dogs became alarmed and stood barking at a distance, and probably would not have ventured to advance had they not seen the wolf fall by a shot from one of the gentlemen; they then however went up and behaved courageously, and were enraged by the bites they received. The wolf soon died of its wounds and the body was brought to the house where a drawing of it was taken by Mr. Hood and the skin preserved by Dr. Richardson. Its general features bore a strong resemblance to many of the dogs about the fort, but it was larger and had a more ferocious aspect. Mr. Back and I were too much occupied in preparing for our departure on the following day to join this excursion.
The position of Cumberland House by our observations is latitude 53 degrees 56 minutes 40 seconds North; longitude 102 degrees 16 minutes 41 seconds West by the chronometers; variations 17 degrees 17 minutes 29 seconds East; dip of the needle 83 degrees 12 minutes 50 seconds. The whole of the travelling distance between York Factory and Cumberland House is about six hundred and ninety miles.
DR. RICHARDSON'S RESIDENCE AT CUMBERLAND HOUSE. HIS ACCOUNT OF THE CREE INDIANS.
DR. RICHARDSON'S RESIDENCE AT CUMBERLAND HOUSE.
January 19, 1820.
From the departure of Messrs. Franklin and Back on the 19th of January for Chipewyan until the opening of the navigation in the spring the occurrences connected with the Expedition were so much in the ordinary routine of a winter's residence at Fort Cumberland that they may be perhaps appropriately blended with the following general but brief account of that district and its inhabitants.
Cumberland House was originally built by Hearne, a year or two after his return from the Copper-Mine River, and has ever since been considered by the Hudson's Bay Company as a post of considerable importance. Previous to that time the natives carried their furs down to the shores of Hudson's Bay or disposed of them nearer home to the French Canadian traders who visited this part of the country as early as the year 1697.
The Cumberland House district, extending about one hundred and fifty miles from east to west along the banks of the Saskatchewan, and about as far from north to south, comprehends, on a rough calculation, upwards of twenty thousand square miles, and is frequented at present by about one hundred and twenty Indian hunters. Of these a few have several wives but the majority only one; and as some are unmarried we shall not err greatly in considering the number of married women as only slightly exceeding that of the hunters. The women marry very young, have a custom of suckling their children for several years, and are besides exposed constantly to fatigue and often to famine; hence they are not prolific, bearing upon an average not more than four children, of whom two may attain the age of puberty. Upon these data the amount of each family may be stated at five, and the whole Indian population in the district at five hundred.
This is but a small population for such an extent of country, yet their mode of life occasionally subjects them to great privations. The winter of our residence at Cumberland House proved extremely severe to the Indians. The whooping-cough made its appearance amongst them in the autumn, and was followed by the measles which, in the course of the winter, spread through the tribe. Many died and most of the survivors were so enfeebled as to be unable to pursue the necessary avocations of hunting and fishing. Even those who experienced only a slight attack, or escaped the sickness altogether, dispirited by the scenes of misery which environed them, were rendered incapable of affording relief to their distressed relations and spent their time in conjuring and drumming to avert the pestilence. Those who were able came to the fort and received relief, but many who had retired with their families to distant corners to pursue their winter hunts experienced all the horrors of famine. One evening early in the month of January a poor Indian entered the North-West Company's House, carrying his only child in his arms and followed by his starving wife. They had been hunting apart from the other bands, had been unsuccessful and, whilst in want, were seized with the epidemical disease. An Indian is accustomed to starve and it is not easy to elicit from him an account of his sufferings. This poor man's story was very brief; as soon as the fever abated he set out with his wife for Cumberland House, having been previously reduced to feed on the bits of skin and offal which remained about their encampment. Even this miserable fare was exhausted and they walked several days without eating, yet exerting themselves far beyond their strength that they might save the life of the infant. It died almost within sight of the house. Mr. Connolly, who was then in charge of the post, received them with the utmost humanity and instantly placed food before them; but no language can describe the manner in which the miserable father dashed the morsel from his lips and deplored the loss of his child. Misery may harden a disposition naturally bad but it never fails to soften the heart of a good man.
HIS ACCOUNT OF THE CREE INDIANS.
The origin of the Crees, to which nation the Cumberland House Indians belong, is, like that of the other aborigines of America, involved in obscurity; but the researches now making into the nature and affinities of the languages spoken by the different Indian tribes may eventually throw some light on the subject. Indeed the American philologists seem to have succeeded already in classing the known dialects into three languages:
1. The Floridean, spoken by the Creeks, Chickesaws, Choctaws, Cherokees, Pascagoulas, and some other tribes who inhabit the southern parts of the United States.
2. The Iroquois, spoken by the Mengwe, or Six Nations, the Wyandots, the Nadowessies, and Asseeneepoytuck.
3. The Lenni-lenape, spoken by a great family more widely spread than the other two and from which, together with a vast number of other tribes, are sprung our Crees. Mr. Heckewelder, a missionary who resided long amongst these people and from whose paper (published in the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society) the above classification is taken, states that the Lenape have a tradition amongst them of their ancestors having come from the westward and taken possession of the whole country from the Missouri to the Atlantic, after driving away or destroying the original inhabitants of the land whom they termed Alligewi. In this migration and contest, which endured for a series of years, the Mengwe, or Iroquois, kept pace with them, moving in a parallel but more northerly line, and finally settling on the banks of the St. Lawrence and the great lakes from whence it flows. The Lenape, being more numerous, peopled not only the greater part of the country at present occupied by the United States, but also sent detachments to the northward as far as the banks of the River Mississippi and the shores of Hudson's Bay. The principal of their northern tribes are now known under the names of Saulteurs or Chippeways, and Crees; the former inhabiting the country betwixt Lakes Winnipeg and Superior, the latter frequenting the shores of Hudson's Bay from Moose to Churchill, and the country from thence as far to the westward as the plains which lie betwixt the forks of the Saskatchewan.
The Crees, formerly known by the French Canadian traders under the appellation of Knisteneaux, generally designate themselves as Eithinyoowuc (men) or, when they wish to discriminate themselves from the other Indian nations, as Nathehwywithinyoowuc (Southern-men).*
(*Footnote. Much confusion has arisen from the great variety of names applied without discrimination to the various tribes of Saulteurs and Crees. Heckewelder considers the Crees of Moose Factory to be a branch of that tribe of the Lenape which is named Minsi, or Wolf Tribe. He has been led to form this opinion from the similarity of the name given to these people by Monsieur Jeremie, namely, Monsonies; but the truth is that their real name is Mongsoaeythinyoowuc, or Moose-deer Indians; hence the name of the factory and river on which it is built. The name Knisteneaux, Kristeneaux, or Killisteneaux, was anciently applied to a tribe of Crees, now termed Maskegons, who inhabit the river Winnipeg. This small tribe still retains the peculiarities of customs and dress for which it was remarkable many years ago, as mentioned by Mr. Henry in the interesting account of his journeys in these countries. They are said to be great rascals. The great body of the Crees were at that time named Opimmitish Ininiwuc, or Men of the Woods. It would however be an endless task to attempt to determine the precise people designated by the early French writers. Every small band naming itself from its hunting grounds was described as a different nation. The Chippeways who frequented the Lake of the Woods were named from a particular act of pillage Pilliers, or Robbers: and the name Saulteurs, applied to a principal band that frequented the Sault St. Marie, has been by degrees extended to the whole tribe. It is frequently pronounced and written Sotoos.)
The original character of the Crees must have been much modified by their long intercourse with Europeans; hence it is to be understood that we confine ourselves in the following sketch to their present condition, and more particularly to the Crees of Cumberland House. The moral character of a hunter is acted upon by the nature of the land he inhabits, the abundance or scarcity of food, and we may add, in the present case, his means of access to spiritous liquors. In a country so various in these respects as that inhabited by the Crees the causes alluded to must operate strongly in producing a considerable difference of character amongst the various hordes. It may be proper to bear in mind also that we are about to draw the character of a people whose only rule of conduct is public opinion and to try them by a morality founded on divine revelation, the only standard that can be referred to by those who have been educated in a land to which the blessings of the Gospel have extended.
Bearing these considerations in mind then we may state the Crees to be a vain, fickle, improvident, and indolent race, and not very strict in their adherence to truth, being great boasters; but on the other hand they strictly regard the rights of property,* are susceptible of the kinder affections, capable of friendship, very hospitable, tolerably kind to their women, and withal inclined to peace.
(*Footnote. This is perhaps true of the Cumberland House Crees alone: many of the other tribes of Crees are stated by the traders to be thieves.)
Much of the faulty part of their character no doubt originates in their mode of life; accustomed as a hunter to depend greatly on chance for his subsistence the Cree takes little thought of tomorrow; and the most offensive part of his behaviour—the habit of boasting—has been probably assumed as a necessary part of his armour which operates upon the fears of his enemies. They are countenanced however in this failing by the practice of the ancient Greeks, and perhaps by that of every other nation in its ruder state. Every Cree fears the medical or conjuring powers of his neighbour, but at the same time exalts his own attainments to the skies. "I am God-like," is a common expression amongst them, and they prove their divinity-ship by eating live coals and by various tricks of a similar nature. A medicine bag is an indispensable part of a hunter's equipment. It is generally furnished with a little bit of indigo, blue vitriol, vermilion, or some other showy article, and is, when in the hands of a noted conjurer, such an object of terror to the rest of the tribe that its possessor is enabled to fatten at his ease upon the labours of his deluded countrymen.
A fellow of this description came to Cumberland House in the winter of 1819. Notwithstanding the then miserable state of the Indians the rapacity of this wretch had been preying upon their necessities, and a poor hunter was actually at the moment pining away under the influence of his threats. The mighty conjurer, immediately on his arrival at the House, began to trumpet forth his powers, boasting among other things that, although his hands and feet were tied as securely as possible yet, when placed in a conjuring house, he would speedily disengage himself by the aid of two or three familiar spirits who were attendant on his call. He was instantly taken at his word and, that his exertions might not be without an aim, a capot or great coat was promised as the reward of his success. A conjuring-house having been erected in the usual form, that is by sticking four willows in the ground and tying their tops to a hoop at the height of six or eight feet, he was fettered completely by winding several fathoms of rope round his body and extremities and placed in its narrow apartment, not exceeding two feet in diameter. A moose-skin being then thrown over the frame secluded him from our view. He forthwith began to chant a kind of hymn in a very monotonous tone. The rest of the Indians, who seemed in some doubt respecting the powers of a devil when put in competition with those of a white man, ranged themselves around and watched the result with anxiety. Nothing remarkable occurred for a long time. The conjurer continued his song at intervals and it was occasionally taken up by those without. In this manner an hour and a half elapsed; but at length our attention, which had begun to flag, was roused by the violent shaking of the conjuring-house. It was instantly whispered round the circle that at least one devil had crept under the moose-skin. But it proved to be only the "God-like man" trembling with cold. He had entered the lists stripped to the skin and the thermometer stood very low that evening. His attempts were continued however with considerable resolution for half an hour longer, when he reluctantly gave in. He had found no difficulty in slipping through the noose when it was formed by his countrymen; but in the present instance the knot was tied by Governor Williams who is an expert sailor. After this unsuccessful exhibition his credit sunk amazingly, and he took the earliest opportunity of sneaking away from the fort.
About two years ago a conjurer paid more dearly for his temerity. In a quarrel with an Indian he threw out some obscure threats of vengeance which passed unnoticed at the time but were afterwards remembered. They met in the spring at Carlton House after passing the winter in different parts of the country, during which the Indian's child died. The conjurer had the folly to boast that he had caused its death and the enraged father shot him dead on the spot. It may be remarked however that both these Indians were inhabitants of the plains and had been taught, by their intercourse with the turbulent Stone Indians, to set but comparatively little value on the life of a man.
It might be thought that the Crees have benefited by their long intercourse with civilised nations. That this is not so much the case as it ought to be is not entirely their own fault. They are capable of being and, I believe, willing to be, taught; but no pains have hitherto been taken to inform their minds,* and their white acquaintances seem in general to find it easier to descend to the Indian customs and modes of thinking, particularly with respect to women, than to attempt to raise the Indians to theirs. Indeed such a lamentable want of morality has been displayed by the white traders in their contests for the interests of their respective companies that it would require a long series of good conduct to efface from the minds of the native population the ideas they have formed of the white character. Notwithstanding the frequent violations of the rights of property they have witnessed and but too often experienced in their own persons, these savages, as they are termed, remain strictly honest. During their visits to a post they are suffered to enter every apartment in the house without the least restraint and, although articles of value to them are scattered about, nothing is ever missed. They scrupulously avoid moving anything from its place although they are often prompted by curiosity to examine it. In some cases indeed they carry this principle to a degree of self-denial which would hardly be expected. It often happens that meat which has been paid for (if the poisonous draught it procures them can be considered as payment) is left at their lodges until a convenient opportunity occurs of carrying it away. They will rather pass several days without eating than touch the meat thus entrusted to their charge, even when there exists a prospect of replacing it.
(*Footnote. Since these remarks were written the union of the rival Companies has enabled the gentlemen who have now the management of the fur trade to take some decided steps for the religious instruction and improvement of the natives and half-breed Indians, which have been more particularly referred to in the introduction.)
The hospitality of the Crees is unbounded. They afford a certain asylum to the half-breed children when deserted by their unnatural white fathers; and the infirm, and indeed every individual in an encampment, share the provisions of a successful hunter as long as they last. Fond too as a Cree is of spiritous liquors he is not happy unless all his neighbours partake with him. It is not easy however to say what share ostentation may have in the apparent munificence in the latter article; for when an Indian, by a good hunt, is enabled to treat the others with a keg of rum he becomes the chief of the night, assumes no little stateliness of manner, and is treated with deference by those who regale at his expense. Prompted also by the desire of gaining a NAME they lavish away the articles they purchase at the trading posts and are well satisfied if repaid in praise.
Gaming is not uncommon amongst the Crees of all the different districts, but it is pursued to greater lengths by those bands who frequent the plains and who, from the ease with which they obtain food, have abundant leisure. The game most in use amongst them, termed puckesann, is played with the stones of a species of prunus which, from this circumstance, they term puckesann-meena. The difficulty lies in guessing the number of stones which are tossed out of a small wooden dish and the hunters will spend whole nights at the destructive sport, staking their most valuable articles, powder and shot.
It has been remarked by some writers that the aboriginal inhabitants of America are deficient in passion for the fair sex. This is by no means the case with the Crees; on the contrary their practice of seducing each other's wives proves the most fertile source of their quarrels. When the guilty pair are detected the woman generally receives a severe beating, but the husband is for the most part afraid to reproach the male culprit until they get drunk together at the fort; then the remembrance of the offence is revived, a struggle ensues and the affair is terminated by the loss of a few handfuls of hair. Some husbands however feel more deeply the injury done to their honour and seek revenge even in their sober moments. In such cases it is not uncommon for the offended party to walk with great gravity up to the other and, deliberately seizing his gun or some other article of value, to break it before his face. The adulterer looks on in silence, afraid to make any attempt to save his property. In this respect indeed the Indian character seems to differ from the European that an Indian, instead of letting his anger increase with that of his antagonist, assumes the utmost coolness lest he should push him to extremities.
Although adultery is sometimes punished amongst the Crees in the manner above described yet it is no crime provided the husband receives a valuable consideration for his wife's prostitution. Neither is chastity considered as a virtue in a female before marriage, that is before she becomes the exclusive property of one hunter.
The Cree women are not in general treated harshly by their husbands and possess considerable influence over them. They often eat and even get drunk in consort with the men; a considerable portion of the labour however falls to the lot of the wife. She makes the hut, cooks, dresses the skins, and for the most part carries the heaviest load: but when she is unable to perform her task the husband does not consider it beneath his dignity to assist her. In illustration of this remark I may quote the case of an Indian who visited the fort in winter. This poor man's wife had lost her feet by the frost and he was compelled not only to hunt and do all the menial offices himself but in winter to drag his wife with their stock of furniture from one encampment to another. In the performance of this duty as he could not keep pace with the rest of the tribe in their movements he more than once nearly perished of hunger.
These Indians however, capable as they are of behaving thus kindly, affect in their discourse to despise the softer sex and on solemn occasions will not suffer them to eat before them or even come into their presence. In this they are countenanced by the white residents, most of whom have Indian or half-breed wives but seem afraid of treating them with the tenderness or attention due to every female lest they should themselves be despised by the Indians. At least this is the only reason they assign for their neglect of those whom they make partners of their beds and mothers of their children.
Both sexes are fond of and excessively indulgent to their children. The father never punishes them and if the mother, more hasty in her temper, sometimes bestows a blow or two on a troublesome child her heart is instantly softened by the roar which follows and she mingles her tears with those that streak the smoky face of her darling. It may be fairly said then that restraint or punishment forms no part of the education of an Indian child, nor are they early trained to that command over their temper which they exhibit in after years.
The discourse of the parents is never restrained by the presence of their children, every transaction between the sexes being openly talked of before them.
The Crees, having early obtained arms from the European traders, were enabled to make harassing inroads on the lands of their neighbours and are known to have made war excursions as far to the westward as the Rocky Mountains, and to the northward as far as Mackenzie's River; but their enemies being now as well armed as themselves the case is much altered.
They show great fortitude in the endurance of hunger and the other evils incident to a hunter's life; but any unusual accident dispirits them at once, and they seldom venture to meet their enemies in open warfare or to attack them even by surprise unless with the advantage of superiority of numbers. Perhaps they are much deteriorated in this respect by their intercourse with Europeans. Their existence at present hangs upon the supplies of ammunition and clothing they receive from the traders and they deeply feel their dependent situation. But their character has been still more debased by the passion for spiritous liquors so assiduously fostered among them. To obtain the noxious beverage they descend to the most humiliating entreaties and assume an abjectness of behaviour which does not seem natural to them and of which not a vestige is to be seen in their intercourse with each other. Their character has sunk among the neighbouring nations. They are no longer the warriors who drove before them the inhabitants of the Saskatchewan and Missinippi. The Cumberland House Crees in particular have been long disused to war. Betwixt them and their ancient enemies, the Slave nations, lie the extensive plains of Saskatchewan, inhabited by the powerful Asseeneepoytuck or Stone Indians who, having whilst yet a small tribe entered the country under the patronage of the Crees, now render back the protection they received.
The manners and customs of the Crees have, probably since their acquaintance with Europeans, undergone a change at least equal to that which has taken place in their moral character; and although we heard of many practises peculiar to them yet they appeared to be nearly as much honoured in the breach as the observance. We shall however briefly notice a few of the most remarkable customs.
When a hunter marries his first wife he usually takes up his abode in the tent of his father-in-law and of course hunts for the family; but when he becomes a father the families are at liberty to separate or remain together as their inclinations prompt them. His second wife is for the most part the sister of the first but not necessarily so for an Indian of another family often presses his daughter upon a hunter whom he knows to be capable of maintaining her well. The first wife always remains the mistress of the tent and assumes an authority over the others which is not in every case quietly submitted to. It may be remarked that whilst an Indian resides with his wife's family it is extremely improper for his mother-in-law to speak or even look at him; and when she has a communication to make it is the etiquette that she should turn her back upon him and address him only through the medium of a third person. This singular custom is not very creditable to the Indians if it really had its origin in the cause which they at present assign for it namely that a woman's speaking to her son-in-law is a sure indication of her having conceived a criminal affection for him.
It appears also to have been an ancient practice for an Indian to avoid eating or sitting down in the presence of the father-in-law. We received no account of the origin of this custom and it is now almost obsolete amongst the Cumberland House Crees, though still partially observed by those who frequent Carlton.
Tattooing is almost universal with the Crees. The women are in general content with having one or two lines drawn from the corners of the mouth towards the angles of the lower jaw; but some of the men have their bodies covered with a great variety of lines and figures. It seems to be considered by most rather as a proof of courage than an ornament, the operation being very painful and, if the figures are numerous and intricate, lasting several days. The lines on the face are formed by dextrously running an awl under the cuticle and then drawing a cord, dipped in charcoal and water, through the canal thus formed. The punctures on the body are formed by needles of various sizes set in a frame. A number of hawk bells attached to this frame serve by their noise to cover the suppressed groans of the sufferer and, probably for the same reason, the process is accompanied with singing. An indelible stain is produced by rubbing a little finely-powdered willow-charcoal into the punctures. A half-breed whose arm I amputated declared that tattooing was not only the most painful operation of the two but rendered infinitely more difficult to bear by its tediousness having lasted in his case three days.
A Cree woman at certain periods is laid under considerable restraint. They are far however from carrying matters to the extremities mentioned by Hearne in his description of the Chipewyans, or Northern Indians. She lives apart from her husband also for two months if she has borne a boy and for three if she has given birth to a girl.
Many of the Cree hunters are careful to prevent a woman from partaking of the head of a moose-dear lest it should spoil their future hunts; and for the same reason they avoid bringing it to a fort, fearing lest the white people should give the bones to the dogs.
The games or sports of the Crees are various. One termed the game of the mitten is played with four balls, three of which are plain and one marked. These being hid under as many mittens the opposite party is required to fix on that which is marked. He gives or receives a feather according as he guesses right or wrong. When the feathers, which are ten in number, have all passed into one hand a new division is made, but when one of the parties obtains possession of them thrice he seizes on the stakes.
The game of Platter is more intricate and is played with the claws of a bear or some other animal marked with various lines and characters. These dice which are eight in number and cut flat at their large end are shook together in a wooden dish, tossed into the air and caught again. The lines traced on such claws as happen to alight on the platter in an erect position indicate what number of counters the caster is to receive from his opponent.
They have however a much more manly amusement termed the Cross although they do not engage even in it without depositing considerable stakes. An extensive meadow is chosen for this sport and the articles staked are tied to a post or deposited in the custody of two old men. The combatants, being stripped and painted and each provided with a kind of battledore or racket, in shape resembling the letter P with a handle about two feet long and a head loosely wrought with network so as to form a shallow bag, range themselves on different sides. A ball being now tossed up in the middle each party endeavours to drive it to their respective goals and much dexterity and agility is displayed in the contest. When a nimble runner gets the ball in his cross he sets off towards the goal with the utmost speed and is followed by the rest who endeavour to jostle him and shake it out; but, if hard pressed, he discharges it with a jerk, to be forwarded by his own party or bandied back by their opponents until the victory is decided by its passing the goal.
Of the religious opinions of the Crees it is difficult to give a correct account, not only because they show a disinclination to enter upon the subject but because their ancient traditions are mingled with the information they have more recently obtained by their intercourse with Europeans.
None of them ventured to describe the original formation of the world but they all spoke of a universal deluge caused by an attempt of the fish to drown Woesackootchacht, a kind of demigod with whom they had quarrelled. Having constructed a raft he embarked with his family and all kinds of birds and beasts. After the flood had continued for some time he ordered several waterfowl to dive to the bottom; they were all drowned but a muskrat, having been despatched on the same errand, was more successful and returned with a mouthful of mud out of which Woesackootchacht, imitating the mode in which the rats construct their houses, formed a new earth. First a small conical hill of mud appeared above the water; by and by, its base gradually spreading out, it became an extensive bank which the rays of the sun at length hardened into firm land. Notwithstanding the power that Woesackootchacht here displayed his person is held in very little reverence by the Indians; and in return he seizes every opportunity of tormenting them. His conduct is far from being moral and his amours and the disguises he assumes in the prosecution of them are more various and extraordinary than those of the Grecian Jupiter himself; but as his adventures are more remarkable for their eccentricity than their delicacy it is better to pass them over in silence. Before we quit him however we may remark that he converses with all kinds of birds and beasts in their own languages, constantly addressing them by the title of brother but, through an inherent suspicion of his intentions, they are seldom willing to admit of his claims of relationship. The Indians make no sacrifices to him, not even to avert his wrath. They pay a kind of worship however and make offerings to a being whom they term Kepoochikawn.
This deity is represented sometimes by rude images of the human figure but more commonly merely by tying the tops of a few willow bushes together; and the offerings to him consist of everything that is valuable to an Indian; yet they treat him with considerable familiarity, interlarding their most solemn speeches with expostulations and threats of neglect if he fails in complying with their requests. As most of their petitions are for plenty of food they do not trust entirely to the favour of Kepoochikawn but endeavour at the same time to propitiate the animal, an imaginary representative of the whole race of larger quadrupeds that are objects of the chase.
In the month of May whilst I was at Carlton House the Cree hunter engaged to attend that post resolved upon dedicating several articles to Kepoochikawn and, as I had made some inquiries of him respecting their modes of worship, he gave me an invitation to be present. The ceremony took place in a sweating-house or, as it may be designated from its more important use, a temple which was erected for the occasion by the worshipper's two wives. It was framed of arched willows, interlaced so as to form a vault capable of containing ten or twelve men ranged closely side by side, and high enough to admit of their sitting erect. It was very similar in shape to an oven or the kraal of a Hottentot and was closely covered with moose-skins except at the east end which was left open for a door. Near the centre of the building there was a hole in the ground which contained ten or twelve red-hot stones having a few leaves of the taccohaymenan, a species of prunus, strewed around them. When the women had completed the preparations the hunter made his appearance, perfectly naked, carrying in his hand an image of Kepoochikawn, rudely carved and about two feet long. He placed his god at the upper end of the sweating-house with his face towards the door and proceeded to tie round its neck his offerings, consisting of a cotton handkerchief, a looking-glass, a tin pan, a piece of riband, and a bit of tobacco which he had procured the same day at the expense of fifteen or twenty skins. Whilst he was thus occupied several other Crees who were encamped in the neighbourhood, having been informed of what was going on arrived and, stripping at the door of the temple, entered and ranged themselves on each side; the hunter himself squatted down at the right hand of Kepoochikawn. The atmosphere of the temple having become so hot that none but zealous worshippers would venture in the interpreter and myself sat down on the threshold and the two women remained on the outside as attendants.
The hunter who throughout officiated as high priest commenced by making a speech to Kepoochikawn in which he requested him to be propitious, told him of the value of the things now presented, and cautioned him against ingratitude. This oration was delivered in a monotonous tone and with great rapidity of utterance, and the speaker retained his squatting posture but turned his face to his god. At its conclusion the priest began a hymn of which the burden was, "I will walk with God, I will go with the animal"; and at the end of each stanza the rest joined in an insignificant chorus. He next took up a calumet filled with a mixture of tobacco and bear-berry leaves and, holding its stem by the middle in a horizontal position over the hot stones, turned it slowly in a circular manner, following the course of the sun. Its mouth-piece being then with much formality held for a few seconds to the face of Kepoochikawn it was next presented to the earth, having been previously turned a second time over the hot stones; and afterwards with equal ceremony pointed in succession to the four quarters of the sky then, drawing a few whiffs from the calumet himself, he handed it to his left-hand neighbour by whom it was gravely passed round the circle; the interpreter and myself, who were seated at the door, were asked to partake in our turn but requested to keep the head of the calumet within the threshold of the sweating-house. When the tobacco was exhausted by passing several times round the hunter made another speech, similar to the former but was if possible still more urgent in his requests. A second hymn followed and, a quantity of water being sprinkled on the hot stones, the attendants were ordered to close the temple, which they did by very carefully covering it up with moose-skins. We had no means of ascertaining the temperature of the sweating-house; but before it was closed not only those within but also the spectators without were perspiring freely. They continued in the vapour bath for thirty-five minutes, during which time a third speech was made and a hymn was sung and water occasionally sprinkled on the stones which still retained much heat, as was evident from the hissing noise they made. The coverings were then thrown off and the poor half-stewed worshippers exposed freely to the air; but they kept their squatting postures until a fourth speech was made in which the deity was strongly reminded of the value of the gifts and exhorted to take an early opportunity of showing his gratitude. The ceremony concluded by the sweaters scampering down to the river and plunging into the stream. It may be remarked that the door of the temple and of course the face of the god was turned to the rising sun; and the spectators were desired not to block up entirely the front of the building but to leave a lane for the entrance or exit of some influence of which they could not give me a correct description. Several Indians, who lay on the outside of the sweating-house as spectators, seemed to regard the proceedings with very little awe and were extremely free in the remarks and jokes they passed upon the condition of the sweaters and even of Kepoochikawn himself. One of them made a remark that the shawl would have been much better bestowed upon himself than upon Kepoochikawn, but the same fellow afterwards stripped and joined in the ceremony.
I did not learn that the Indians worship any other god by a specific name. They often refer however to the Keetchee-Maneeto, or Great Master of Life, and to an evil spirit, or Maatche-Maneeto. They also speak of Weettako, a kind of vampire or devil into which those who have fed on human flesh are transformed.
Whilst at Carlton I took an opportunity of asking a communicative old Indian of the Blackfoot nation his opinion of a future state; he replied that they had heard from their fathers that the souls of the departed have to scramble with great labour up the sides of a steep mountain, upon attaining the summit of which they are rewarded with the prospect of an extensive plain, abounding in all sorts of game and interspersed here and there with new tents pitched in agreeable situations. Whilst they are absorbed in the contemplation of this delightful scene they are descried by the inhabitants of the happy land who, clothed in new skin-dresses, approach and welcome with every demonstration of kindness those Indians who have led good lives, but the bad Indians, who have imbrued their hands in the blood of their countrymen, are told to return from whence they came and, without more ceremony, precipitated down the steep sides of the mountain.
Women who have been guilty of infanticide never reach the mountain at all but are compelled to hover round the seats of their crimes with branches of trees tied to their legs. The melancholy sounds which are heard in the still summer evenings and which the ignorance of the white people considers as the screams of the goat-sucker are really, according to my informant, the moanings of these unhappy beings.
The Crees have somewhat similar notions but, as they inhabit a country widely different from the mountainous lands of the Blackfoot Indians, the difficulty of their journey lies in walking along a slender and slippery tree laid as a bridge across a rapid stream of stinking and muddy water. The night owl is regarded by the Crees with the same dread that it has been viewed by other nations. One small species, which is known to them by its melancholy nocturnal hootings (for as it never appears in the day few even of the hunters have ever seen it) is particularly ominous. They call it the cheepai-peethees, or death bird, and never fail to whistle when they hear its note. If it does not reply to the whistle by its hootings the speedy death of the inquirer is augured.
When a Cree dies that part of his property which he has not given away before his death is burned with him, and his relations take care to place near the grave little heaps of firewood, food, pieces of tobacco, and such things as he is likely to need in his journey. Similar offerings are made when they revisit the grave, and as kettles and other articles of value are sometimes offered they are frequently carried off by passengers, yet the relations are not displeased provided sufficient respect has been shown to the dead by putting some other article, although of inferior value, in the place of that which has been taken away.
The Crees are wont to celebrate the returns of the seasons by religious festivals but we are unable to describe the ceremonial in use on these joyous occasions from personal observation. The following brief notice of a feast which was given by an old Cree chief according to his annual custom on the first croaking of the frogs is drawn up from the information of one of the guests. A large oblong tent or lodge was prepared for the important occasion by the men of the party, none of the women being suffered to interfere. It faced the setting sun and great care was taken that everything about it should be as neat and clean as possible. Three fireplaces were raised within it at equal distances and little holes were dug in the corners to contain the ashes of their pipes. In a recess at its upper end one large image of Kepoochikawn and many smaller ones were ranged with their faces towards the door. The food was prepared by the chief's wife and consisted of marrow pemmican, berries boiled with fat, and various other delicacies that had been preserved for the occasion.
The preparations being completed and, a slave whom the chief had taken in war having warned the guests to the feast by the mysterious word peenasheway, they came, dressed out in their best garments, and ranged themselves according to their seniority, the elders seating themselves next the chief at the upper end and the young men near the door.
The chief commenced by addressing his deities in an appropriate speech in which he told them that he had hastened as soon as summer was indicated by the croaking of the frogs to solicit their favour for himself and his young men, and hoped that they would send him a pleasant and plentiful season. His oration was concluded by an invocation to all the animals in the land and, a signal being given to the slave at the door, he invited them severally by their names to come and partake of the feast.
The Cree chief having by this very general invitation displayed his unbounded hospitality next ordered one of the young men to distribute a mess to each of the guests. This was done in new dishes of birch bark, and the utmost diligence was displayed in emptying them, it being considered extremely improper in a man to leave any part of that which is placed before him on such occasions. It is not inconsistent with good manners however but rather considered as a piece of politeness that a guest who has been too liberally supplied should hand the surplus to his neighbour. When the viands had disappeared each filled his calumet and began to smoke with great assiduity, and in the course of the evening several songs were sung to the responsive sounds of the drum and seeseequay, their usual accompaniments.
The Cree drum is double-headed but, possessing very little depth, it strongly resembles a tambourine in shape. Its want of depth is compensated however by its diameter which frequently exceeds three feet. It is covered with moose-skin parchment, painted with rude figures of men and beasts having various fantastic additions, and is beat with a stick. The seeseequay is merely a rattle formed by enclosing a few grains of shot in a piece of dried hide. These two instruments are used in all their religious ceremonies except those which take place in a sweating-house.
A Cree places great reliance on his drum and I cannot adduce a stronger instance than that of the poor man who is mentioned in a preceding page as having lost his only child by famine, almost within sight of the fort. Notwithstanding his exhausted state he travelled with an enormous drum tied to his back.
Many of the Crees make vows to abstain from particular kinds of food either for a specific time or for the remainder of their life, esteeming such abstinence to be a certain means of acquiring some supernatural powers, or at least of entailing upon themselves a succession of good fortune.
One of the wives of the Carlton hunter, of whom we have already spoken as the worshipper of Kepoochikawn, made a determination not to eat of the flesh of the Wawaskeesh or American stag; but during our abode at that place she was induced to feed heartily upon it, through the intentional deceit of her husband who told her that it was buffalo meat. When she had finished her meal her husband told her of the trick and seemed to enjoy the terror with which she contemplated the consequences of the involuntary breach of her vow. Vows of this nature are often made by a Cree before he joins a war party, and they sometimes, like the eastern bonzes, walk for a certain number of days on all fours or impose upon themselves some other penance equally ridiculous. By such means the Cree warrior becomes god-like; but unless he kills an enemy before his return his newly-acquired powers are estimated to be productive in future of some direful consequence to himself.
As we did not witness any of the Cree dances ourselves we shall merely mention that, like the other North American nations, they are accustomed to practice that amusement on meeting with strange tribes before going to war and on other solemn occasions.
The habitual intoxication of the Cumberland House Crees has induced such a disregard of personal appearance that they are squalid and dirty in the extreme; hence a minute description of their clothing would be by no means interesting. We shall therefore only remark in a general manner that the dress of the male consists of a blanket thrown over the shoulders, a leathern shirt or jacket, and a piece of cloth tied round the middle. The women have in addition a long petticoat; and both sexes wear a kind of wide hose which, reaching from the ankle to the middle of the thigh, are suspended by strings to the girdle. These hose or, as they are termed, Indian stockings, are commonly ornamented with beads or ribands, and from their convenience have been universally adopted by the white residents as an essential part of their winter clothing. Their shoes, or rather short boots for they tie round the ankle, are made of soft dressed moose-skins, and during the winter they wrap several pieces of blanket round their feet.
They are fond of European articles of dress, considering it as mean to be dressed entirely in leather, and the hunters are generally furnished annually with a capot or great coat, and the women with shawls, printed calicoes, and other things very unsuitable to their mode of life but which they wear in imitation of the wives of the traders; all these articles, however showy they may be at first, are soon reduced to a very filthy condition by the Indian custom of greasing the face and hair with soft fat or marrow instead of washing them with water. This practice they say preserves the skin soft and protects it from cold in the winter and the mosquitoes in summer, but it renders their presence disagreeable to the olfactory organs of an European, particularly when they are seated in a close tent and near a hot fire.
The only peculiarity which we observed in their mode of rearing children consists in the use of a sort of cradle extremely well adapted to their mode of life. The infant is placed in the bag having its lower extremities wrapped up in soft sphagnum or bog-moss, and may be hung up in the tent or to the branch of a tree without the least danger of tumbling out; or in a journey suspended on the mother's back by a band which crosses the forehead so as to leave her hands perfectly free. It is one of the neatest articles of furniture they possess, being generally ornamented with beads and bits of scarlet cloth, but it bears a very strong resemblance in its form to a mummy case.
The sphagnum in which the child is laid forms a soft elastic bed which absorbs moisture very readily and affords such a protection from the cold of a rigorous winter that its place would be ill supplied by cloth.
The mothers are careful to collect a sufficient quantity in autumn for winter use; but when through accident their stock fails they have recourse to the soft down of the typha, or reed mace, the dust of rotten wood, or even feathers, although none of these articles are so cleanly or so easily changed as the sphagnum.