The Journey to the Polar Sea
by John Franklin
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

The above is a brief sketch of such parts of the manners, character and customs of the Crees as we could collect from personal observation or from the information of the most intelligent half-breeds we met with; and we shall merely add a few remarks on the manner in which the trade is conducted at the different inland posts of the Fur Companies.

The standard of Exchange in all mercantile transactions with the natives is a beaver skin, the relative value of which as originally established by the traders differs considerably from the present worth of the articles it represents; but the Indians are averse to change. Three marten, eight muskrat, or a single lynx or wolverine skin, are equivalent to one beaver; a silver fox, white fox, or otter, are reckoned two beavers, and a black fox or large black bear are equal to four; a mode of reckoning which has very little connection with the real value of these different furs in the European market. Neither has any attention been paid to the original cost of European articles in fixing the tariff by which they are sold to the Indians. A coarse butcher's knife is one skin, a woollen blanket or a fathom of coarse cloth eight, and a fowling-piece fifteen. The Indians receive their principal outfit of clothing and ammunition on credit in the autumn to be repaid by their winter hunts; the amount entrusted to each of the hunters varying with their reputations for industry and skill from twenty to one hundred and fifty skins. The Indians are generally anxious to pay off the debt thus incurred but their good intentions are often frustrated by the arts of the rival traders. Each of the Companies keeps men constantly employed travelling over the country during the winter to collect the furs from the different bands of hunters as fast as they are procured. The poor Indian endeavours to behave honestly and, when he has gathered a few skins, sends notice to the post from whence he procured his supplies but, if discovered in the meantime by the opposite party, he is seldom proof against the temptation to which he is exposed. However firm he may be in his denials at first his resolutions are enfeebled by the sight of a little rum and, when he has tasted the intoxicating beverage, they vanish like smoke and he brings forth his store of furs which he has carefully concealed from the scrutinising eyes of his visitors. This mode of carrying on the trade not only causes the amount of furs collected by either of the two Companies to depend more upon the activity of their agents, the knowledge they possess of the motions of the Indians, and the quantity of rum they carry, than upon the liberality of the credits they give, but is also productive of an increasing deterioration of the character of the Indians and will probably ultimately prove destructive to the fur trade itself. Indeed the evil has already in part recoiled upon the traders; for the Indians, long deceived, have become deceivers in their turn, and not unfrequently, after having incurred a heavy debt at one post, move off to another to play the same game. In some cases the rival posts have entered into a mutual agreement to trade only with the Indians they have respectively fitted out, but such treaties, being seldom rigidly adhered to, prove a fertile subject for disputes and the differences have been more than once decided by force of arms. To carry on the contest the two Companies are obliged to employ a great many servants whom they maintain often with much difficulty and always at a considerable expense.*

(*Footnote. As the contending parties have united the evils mentioned in this and the two preceding pages are now in all probability at an end.)

There are thirty men belonging to the Hudson's Bay Fort at Cumberland and nearly as many women and children.

The inhabitants of the North-West Company's House are still more numerous. These large families are fed during the greatest part of the year on fish which are principally procured at Beaver Lake, about fifty miles distant. The fishery, commencing with the first frosts in autumn, continues abundant till January, and the produce is dragged over the snow on sledges, each drawn by three dogs and carrying about two hundred and fifty pounds. The journey to and from the lake occupies five days and every sledge requires a driver. About three thousand fish averaging three pounds apiece were caught by the Hudson's Bay fishermen last season; in addition to which a few sturgeon were occasionally caught in Pine Island Lake; and towards the spring a considerable quantity of moose meat was procured from the Basquiau Hill, sixty or seventy miles distant. The rest of our winter's provision consisted of geese, salted in the autumn, and of dried meats and pemmican obtained from the provision posts on the plains of the Saskatchewan. A good many potatoes are also raised at this post and a small supply of tea and sugar is brought from the depot at York Factory. The provisions obtained from these various sources were amply sufficient in the winter of 1819-20; but through improvidence this post has in former seasons been reduced to great straits.

Many of the labourers and a great majority of the agents and clerks employed by the two Companies have Indian or half-breed wives, and the mixed offspring thus produced has become extremely numerous.

These metifs, or, as the Canadians term them, bois brules, are upon the whole a good-looking people and, where the experiment has been made, have shown much aptness in learning and willingness to be taught; they have however been sadly neglected. The example of their fathers has released them from the restraint imposed by the Indian opinions of good and bad behaviour; and generally speaking no pains have been taken to fill the void with better principles. Hence it is not surprising that the males, trained up in a high opinion of the authority and rights of the Company to which their fathers belonged and, unacquainted with the laws of the civilised world, should be ready to engage in any measure whatever that they are prompted to believe will forward the interests of the cause they espouse. Nor that the girls, taught a certain degree of refinement by the acquisition of an European language, should be inflamed by the unrestrained discourse of their Indian relations, and very early give up all pretensions to chastity. It is however but justice to remark that there is a very decided difference in the conduct of the children of the Orkney men employed by the Hudson's Bay Company and those of the Canadian voyagers. Some trouble is occasionally bestowed in teaching the former and it is not thrown away, but all the good that can be said of the latter is that they are not quite so licentious as their fathers are.

Many of the half-breeds both male and female are brought up amongst and intermarry with the Indians; and there are few tents wherein the paler children of such marriages are not to be seen. It has been remarked, I do not know with what truth, that half-breeds show more personal courage than the pure Crees.*

(*Footnote. A singular change takes place in the physical constitution of the Indian females who become inmates of a fort, namely they bear children more frequently and longer but at the same time are rendered liable to indurations of the mammae and prolapsus of the uterus, evils from which they are in a great measure exempt whilst they lead a wandering and laborious life.)

The girls at the forts, particularly the daughters of Canadians, are given in marriage very young; they are very frequently wives at twelve years of age and mothers at fourteen. Nay, more than once instance came under our observation of the master of a post having permitted a voyager to take to wife a poor child that had scarcely attained the age of ten years. The masters of posts and wintering partners of the Companies deemed this criminal indulgence to the vices of their servants necessary to stimulate them to exertion for the interest of their respective concerns. Another practice may also be noticed as showing the state of moral feeling on these subjects amongst the white residents of the fur countries. It was not very uncommon amongst the Canadian voyagers for one woman to be common to and maintained at the joint expense of two men; nor for a voyager to sell his wife, either for a season or altogether, for a sum of money proportioned to her beauty and good qualities but always inferior to the price of a team of dogs.

The country around Cumberland House is flat and swampy and is much intersected by small lakes. Limestone is found everywhere under a thin stratum of soil and it not unfrequently shows itself above the surface. It lies in strata generally horizontal but in one spot near the fort dipping to the northward at an angle of 40 degrees. Some portions of this rock contain very perfect shells. With respect to the vegetable productions of the district the Populus trepida, or aspen, which thrives in moist situations, is perhaps the most abundant tree on the banks of the Saskatchewan and is much prized as firewood, burning well when cut green. The Populus balsamifera or taccamahac, called by the Crees matheh meteos, or ugly poplar, in allusion to its rough bark and naked stem, crowned in an aged state with a few distorted branches, is scarcely less plentiful. It is an inferior firewood and does not been well unless when cut in the spring and dried during the summer; but it affords a great quantity of potash. A decoction of its resinous buds has been sometimes used by the Indians with success in cases of snow-blindness, but its application to the inflamed eye produces much pain. Of pines the white spruce is the most common here: the red and black spruce, the balsam of Gilead fir, and Banksian pine also occur frequently. The larch is found only in swampy spots and is stunted and unhealthy. The canoe birch attains a considerable size in this latitude but from the great demand for its wood to make sledges it has become rare. The alder abounds on the margin of the little grassy lakes so common in the neighbourhood. A decoction of its inner bark is used as an emetic by the Indians who also extract from it a yellow dye. A great variety of willows occur on the banks of the streams and the hazel is met with sparingly in the woods. The sugar maple, elm, ash, and the arbor vitae,* termed by the Canadian voyagers cedar, grow on various parts of the Saskatchewan but that river seems to form their northern boundary. Two kinds of prunus also grow here, one of which,** a handsome small tree, produces a black fruit having a very astringent taste whence the term choke-cherry applied to it. The Crees call it tawquoymeena, and esteemed it to be when dried and bruised a good addition to pemmican. The other species*** is a less elegant shrub but is said to bear a bright red cherry of a pleasant sweet taste. Its Cree name is passeeaweymeenan, and it is known to occur as far north as Great Slave Lake.

(*Footnote. Thuya occidentalis.)

(**Footnote. Prunus virginiana.)

(***Footnote. Prunus pensylvanica.)

The most esteemed fruit of the country however is the produce of the Aronia ovalis. Under the name of meesasscootoomena it is a favourite dish at most of the Indian feasts and, mixed with pemmican, it renders that greasy food actually palatable. A great variety of currants and gooseberries are also mentioned by the natives under the name of sappoommeena but we only found three species in the neighbourhood of Cumberland House. The strawberry, called by the Crees oteimeena, or heart-berry, is found in abundance and rasps are common on the sandy banks of the rivers. The fruits hitherto mentioned fall in the autumn but the following berries remained hanging on the bushes in the spring and are considered as much mellowed by exposure to the colds in winter. The red whortleberry (Vaccinium vitis idea) is found everywhere but is most abundant in rocky places. It is aptly termed by the Crees weesawgummeena, sour-berry. The common cranberry (Oxycoccos palustris) is distinguished from the preceding by its growing on moist sphagnous spots and is hence called maskoegomeena, swamp-berry. The American guelder rose whose fruit so strongly resembles the cranberry is also common. There are two kinds of it (Viburnum oxycoccos and edule) one termed by the natives peepoonmeena, winter-berry, and the other mongsoameena, moose-berry. There is also a berry of a bluish white colour, the produce of the white cornel tree, which is named musquameena, bear-berry, because these animals are said to fatten on it. The dwarf Canadian cornel bears a corymb of red berries which are highly ornamental to the woods throughout the country but are not otherwise worthy of notice for they have an insipid farinaceous taste and are seldom gathered.

The Crees extract some beautiful colours from several of their native vegetables. They dye their porcupine quills a beautiful scarlet with the roots of two species of bed-straw (Galium tinctorium and boreale) which they indiscriminately term sawoyan. The roots, after being carefully washed, are boiled gently in a clean copper kettle, and a quantity of the juice of the moose-berry, strawberry, cranberry, or arctic raspberry, is added together with a few red tufts of pistils of the larch. The porcupine quills are plunged into the liquor before it becomes quite cold and are soon tinged of a beautiful scarlet. The process sometimes fails and produces only a dirty brown, a circumstance which ought probably to be ascribed to the use of an undue quantity of acid. They dye black with an ink made of elder bark and a little bog-iron-ore, dried and pounded, and they have various modes of producing yellow. The deepest colour is obtained from the dried root of a plant which from their description appears to be cowbane (Cicuta virosa). An inferior colour is obtained from the bruised buds of the Dutch myrtle and they have discovered methods of dyeing with various lichens.

The quadrupeds that are hunted for food in this part of the country are the moose and the reindeer, the former termed by the Crees mongsoa, or moosoa, the latter attekh. The buffalo or bison (moostoosh) the red-deer or American stag (wawaskeeshoo) the apeesee-mongsoos, or jumping deer, the kinwaithoos, or long-tailed deer, and the apistat-chaekoos, a species of antelope; animals that frequent the plains above the forks of the Saskatchewan are not found in the neighbourhood of Cumberland House.

Of fur-bearing animals various kinds of foxes (makkeeshewuc) are found in the district, distinguished by the traders under the names of black, silver, cross, red, and blue foxes. The two former are considered by the Indians to be the same kind, varying accidentally in the colour of the pelt. The black foxes are very rare and fetch a high price. The cross and red foxes differ from each other only in colour being of the same shape and size. Their shades of colour are not disposed in any determinate manner, some individuals approaching in that respect very nearly to the silver fox, others exhibiting every link of the chain down to a nearly uniform deep or orange-yellow, the distinguishing colour of a pure red fox. It is reported both by Indians and traders that all the varieties have been found in the same litter. The blue fox is seldom seen here and is supposed to come from the southward. The gray wolf (mahaygan) is common here. In the month of March the females frequently entice the domestic dog from the forts although at other seasons a strong antipathy seemed to subsist between them. Some black wolves are occasionally seen. The black and red varieties of the American bear (musquah) are also found near Cumberland House though not frequently; a black bear often has red cubs, and vice versa. The grizzly bear, so much dreaded by the Indians for its strength and ferocity, inhabits a track of country nearer the Rocky Mountains. It is extraordinary that although I made inquiries extensively amongst the Indians I met with but one who said that he had killed a she-bear with young in the womb.

The wolverine, in Cree okeekoohawgees, or ommeethatsees, is an animal of great strength and cunning and is much hated by the hunters on account of the mischief it does to their marten-traps. The Canadian lynx (peeshew) is a timid but well-armed animal which preys upon the American hare. Its fur is esteemed. The marten (wapeestan) is one of the most common furred animals in the country. The fisher, notwithstanding its name, is an inhabitant of the land, living like the common marten principally on mice. It is the otchoek of the Crees, and the pekan of the Canadians. The mink (atjackash) has been often confounded by writers with the fisher. It is a much smaller animal, inhabits the banks of rivers, and swims well; its prey is fish. The otter (neekeek) is larger than the English species and produces a much more valuable fur.

The muskrat (watsuss, or musquash) is very abundant in all the small grassy lakes. They build small conical houses with a mixture of hay and earth, those which build early raising their houses on the mud of the marshes, and those which build later in the season founding their habitations upon the surface of the ice itself. The house covers a hole in the ice which permits them to go into the water in search of the roots on which they feed. In severe winters when the small lakes are frozen to the bottom and these animals cannot procure their usual food they prey upon each other. In this way great numbers are destroyed.

The beaver (ammisk) furnish the staple fur of the country. Many surprising stories have been told of the sagacity with which this animal suits the form of its habitation, retreats, and dam, to local circumstances; and I compared the account of its manners given by Cuvier in his Regne Animal with the reports of the Indians and found them to agree exactly. They have been often seen in the act of constructing their houses in the moonlight nights, and the observers agree that the stones, wood, or other materials are carried in their teeth and generally leaning against the shoulder. When they have placed it to their mind they turn round and give it a smart blow with their flat tail. In the act of diving they give a similar stroke to the surface of the water. They keep their provision of wood under water in front of the house. Their favourite food is the bark of the aspen, birch and willow; they also eat the alder, but seldom touch any of the pine tribe unless from necessity; they are fond of the large roots of the Nuphar lutea, and grow fat upon it but it gives their flesh a strong rancid taste. In the season of love their call resembles a groan, that of the male being the hoarsest, but the voice of the young is exactly like the cry of a child. They are very playful as the following anecdote will show: One day a gentleman, long resident in this country, espied five young beavers sporting in the water, leaping upon the trunk of a tree, pushing one another off and playing a thousand interesting tricks. He approached softly under cover of the bushes and prepared to fire on the unsuspecting creatures, but a nearer approach discovered to him such a similitude betwixt their gestures and the infantile caresses of his own children that he threw aside his gun. This gentleman's feelings are to be envied but few traders in fur would have acted so feelingly. The muskrat frequently inhabits the same lodge with the beaver and the otter also thrusts himself in occasionally; the latter however is not always a civil guest as he sometimes devours his host.

These are the animals most interesting in an economical point of view. The American hare and several kinds of grouse and ptarmigan also contribute towards the support of the natives; and the geese, in their periodical flights in the spring and autumn, likewise prove a valuable resource both to the Indians and white residents; but the principal article of food after the moose-deer is fish; indeed it forms almost the sole support of the traders at some of the posts. The most esteemed fish is the Coregonus albus, the attihhawmeg of the Crees and the white-fish of the Americans. Its usual weight is between three and four pounds, but it has been known to reach sixteen or eighteen pounds. Three fish of the ordinary size is the daily allowance to each man at the fort and is considered as equivalent to two geese or eight pounds of solid moose-meat. The fishery for the attihhawmeg lasts the whole year but is most productive in the spawning season from the middle of September to the middle of October. The ottonneebees (Coregonus artedi) closely resembles the last. Three species of carp (Catastomus hudsonius, C. forsterianus, and C. lesueurii) are also found abundantly in all the lakes, their Cree names are namaypeeth, meethquawmaypeeth, and wapawhawkeeshew. The occuw, or river perch, termed also horn-fish, piccarel, or dore, is common, but is not so much esteemed as the attihhawmeg. It attains the length of twenty inches in these lakes. The methy is another common fish; it is the Gadus lota, or burbot, of Europe. Its length is about two feet, its gullet is capacious and it preys upon fish large enough to distend its body to nearly twice its proper size. It is never eaten, not even by the dogs, unless through necessity but its liver and roe are considered as delicacies.

The pike is also plentiful and, being readily caught in the wintertime with the hook, is so much prized on that account by the natives as to receive from them the name of eithinyoocannooshoeoo, or Indian fish. The common trout, or nammoecous, grows here to an enormous size, being caught in particular lakes, weighing upwards of sixty pounds; thirty pounds is no uncommon size at Beaver Lake, from whence Cumberland House is supplied. The Hioden clodalis, oweepeetcheesees, or gold-eye, is a beautiful small fish which resembles the trout in its habits.

One of the largest fish is the mathemegh, cat-fish, or barbue. It belongs to the genus silurus. It is rare but is highly prized as food.

The sturgeon (Accipenser ruthenus) is also taken in the Saskatchewan and lakes communicating with it and furnishes an excellent but rather rich article of food.




January 18, 1820.

This day we set out from Cumberland House for Carlton House but, previously to detailing the events of the journey, it may be proper to describe the necessary equipments of a winter traveller in this region which I cannot do better than by extracting the following brief but accurate account of it from Mr. Hood's journal:


A snowshoe is made of two light bars of wood fastened together at their extremities and projected into curves by transverse bars. The side bars have been so shaped by a frame and dried before a fire that the front part of the shoe turns up like the prow of a boat and the part behind terminates in an acute angle; the spaces between the bars are filled up with a fine netting of leathern thongs except that part behind the main bar which is occupied by the feet; the netting is there close and strong, and the foot is attached to the main bar by straps passing round the heel but only fixing the toes so that the heel rises after each step, and the tail of the shoe is dragged on the snow. Between the main bar and another in front of it a small space is left, permitting the toes to descend a little in the act of raising the heel to make the step forward, which prevents their extremities from chafing. The length of a snowshoe is from four to six feet and the breadth one foot and a half, or one and three-quarters, being adapted to the size of the wearer. The motion of walking in them is perfectly natural for one shoe is level with the snow when the edge of the other is passing over it. It is not easy to use them among bushes without frequent overthrows, nor to rise afterwards without help. Each shoe weighs about two pounds when unclogged with snow. The northern Indian snowshoes differ a little from those of the southern Indians, having a greater curvature on the outside of each shoe, one advantage of which is that when the foot rises the over-balanced side descends and throws off the snow. All the superiority of European art has been unable to improve the native contrivance of this useful machine.

Sledges are made of two or three flat boards curving upwards in front and fastened together by transverse pieces of wood above. They are so thin that, if heavily laden, they bend with the inequalities of the surface over which they pass. The ordinary dog-sledges are eight or ten feet long and very narrow, but the lading is secured to a lacing round the edges. The cariole used by the traders is merely a covering of leather for the lower part of the body, affixed to the common sledge which is painted and ornamented according to the taste of the proprietor. Besides snowshoes each individual carries his blanket, hatchet, steel, flint, and tinder, and generally firearms.


The general dress of the winter traveller is a capot, having a hood to put up under the fur cap in windy weather or in the woods to keep the snow from his neck, leathern trousers and Indian stockings which are closed at the ankles round the upper part of his moccasins or Indian shoes to prevent the snow from getting into them. Over these he wears a blanket or leathern coat which is secured by a belt round his waist to which his fire-bag, knife, and hatchet are suspended.

Mr. Back and I were accompanied by the seaman John Hepburn; we were provided with two carioles and two sledges, their drivers and dogs being furnished in equal proportions by the two Companies. Fifteen days' provision so completely filled the sledges that it was with difficulty we found room for a small sextant, one suit of clothes, and three changes of linen, together with our bedding. Notwithstanding we thus restricted ourselves and even loaded the carioles with part of the luggage instead of embarking in them ourselves we did not set out without considerable grumbling from the voyagers of both Companies respecting the overlading of their dogs. However we left the matter to be settled by our friends at the fort who were more conversant with winter travelling than ourselves. Indeed the loads appeared to us so great that we should have been inclined to listen to the complaints of the drivers. The weight usually placed upon a sledge drawn by three dogs cannot at the commencement of a journey be estimated at less than three hundred pounds, which however suffers a daily diminution from the consumption of provisions. The sledge itself weighs about thirty pounds. When the snow is hard frozen or the track well trodden the rate of travelling is about two miles and a half an hour, including rests, or about fifteen miles a day. If the snow be loose the speed is necessarily much less and the fatigue greater.

At eight in the morning of the 18th we quitted the fort and took leave of our hospitable friend Governor Williams whose kindness and attention I shall ever remember with gratitude. Dr. Richardson, Mr. Hood, and Mr. Connolly accompanied us along the Saskatchewan until the snow became too deep for their walking without snowshoes. We then parted from our associates with sincere regret at the prospect of a long separation. Being accompanied by Mr. Mackenzie of the Hudson's Bay Company who was going to Isle a la Crosse with four sledges under his charge we formed quite a procession, keeping in an Indian file on the track of the man who preceded the foremost dogs; but as the snow was deep we proceeded slowly on the surface of the river, which is about three hundred and fifty yards wide, for the distance of six miles which we went this day. Its alluvial banks and islands are clothed with willows. At the place of our encampment we could scarcely find sufficient pine branches to floor the hut, as the Orkney men term the place where travellers rest. Its preparation however consists only in clearing away the snow to the ground and covering that space with pine branches, over which the party spread their blankets and coats and sleep in warmth and comfort by keeping a good fire at their feet without any other canopy than the heaven, even though the thermometer should be far below zero.

The arrival at the place of encampment gives immediate occupation to every one of the party; and it is not until the sleeping-place has been arranged and a sufficiency of wood collected as fuel for the night that the fire is allowed to be kindled. The dogs alone remain inactive during this busy scene, being kept harnessed to their burdens until the men have leisure to unstow the sledges and hang upon the trees every species of provision out of their reach. We had ample experience before morning of the necessity of this precaution as they contrived to steal a considerable part of our stores almost from underneath Hepburn's head, notwithstanding their having been well fed at supper.

This evening we found the mercury of our thermometer had sunk into the bulb and was frozen. It rose again into the tube on being held to the fire but quickly redescended into the bulb on being removed into the air; we could not therefore ascertain by it the temperature of the atmosphere either then or during our journey. The weather was perfectly clear.

January 19.

We rose this morning after the enjoyment of a sound and comfortable repose and recommenced our journey at sunrise but made slow progress through the deep snow. The task of beating the track for the dogs was so very fatiguing that each of the men took the lead in turn for an hour and a half. The scenery of the banks of the river improved as we advanced today; some firs and poplars were intermixed with the willows. We passed through two creeks formed by islands, and encamped on a pleasant spot on the north shore, having only made six miles and three-quarters actual distance.

The next day we pursued our course along the river; the dogs had the greatest difficulty in dragging their heavy burdens through the snow. We halted to refresh them at the foot of Sturgeon River and obtained the latitude 53 degrees 51 minutes 41 seconds North. This is a small stream which issues from a neighbouring lake. We encamped near to Mosquito Point having walked nine miles. The termination of the day's journey was a great relief to me who had been suffering during the greater part of it in consequence of my feet having been galled by the snowshoes; this however is an evil which few escape on their initiation to winter travelling. It excites no pity from the more experienced companions of the journey who travel on as fast as they can regardless of your pain.

Mr. Isbester and an Orkney man joined us from Cumberland House and brought some pemmican that we had left behind, a supply which was very seasonable after our recent loss. The general occupation of Mr. Isbester during the winter is to follow or find out the Indians and collect their furs, and his present journey will appear adventurous to persons accustomed to the certainty of travelling on a well-known road. He was going in search of a band of Indians of whom no information had been received since last October, and his only guide for finding them was their promise to hunt in a certain quarter; but he looked at the jaunt with indifference and calculated on meeting them in six or seven days, for which time only he had provision. Few persons in this country suffer more from want of food than those occasionally do who are employed on this service. They are furnished with a sufficiency of provision to serve until they reach the part where the Indians are expected to be; but it frequently occurs that on their arrival at the spot they have gone elsewhere, and that a recent fall of snow has hidden their track, in which case the voyagers have to wander about in search of them; and it often happens when they succeed in finding the Indians that they are unprovided with meat. Mr. Isbester had been placed in this distressing situation only a few weeks ago and passed four days without either himself or his dogs tasting food. At length when he had determined on killing one of the dogs to satisfy his hunger he happily met with a beaten track which led him to some Indian lodges where he obtained food.

The morning of the 21st was cold but pleasant for travelling. We left Mr. Isbester and his companion and crossed the peninsula of Mosquito Point to avoid a detour of several miles which the river makes. Though we put up at an early hour we gained eleven miles this day. Our encampment was at the lower extremity of Tobin's Falls. The snow being less deep on the rough ice which enclosed this rapid we proceeded on the 22nd at a quicker pace than usual but at the expense of great suffering to Mr. Back, myself and Hepburn, whose feet were much galled. After passing Tobin's Falls the river expands to the breadth of five hundred yards, and its banks are well wooded with pines, poplars, birch and willow. Many tracks of moose-deer and wolves were observed near the encampment.

On the 23rd the sky was generally overcast and there were several snow showers. We saw two wolves and some foxes cross the river in the course of the day and passed many tracks of the moose and red-deer. Soon after we had encamped the snow fell heavily which was an advantage to us after we had retired to rest by its affording an additional covering to our blankets. The next morning at breakfast time two men arrived from Carlton on their way to Cumberland. Having the benefit of their track we were enabled, to our great joy, to march at a quick pace without snowshoes. My only regret was that the party proceeded too fast to allow of Mr. Back's halting occasionally to note the bearings of the points and delineate the course of the river* without being left behind. As the provisions were getting short I could not therefore with propriety check the progress of the party; and indeed it appeared to me less necessary as I understood the river had been carefully surveyed. In the afternoon we had to resume the encumbrance of the snowshoes and to pass over a rugged part where the ice had been piled over a collection of stones. The tracks of animals were very abundant on the river, particularly near the remains of an old establishment called the Lower Nippeween.

(*Footnote. This was afterwards done by Dr. Richardson during a voyage to Carlton in the spring.)

So much snow had fallen on the night of the 24th that the track we intended to follow was completely covered and our march today was very fatiguing. We passed the remains of two red-deer lying at the bases of perpendicular cliffs from the summits of which they had probably been forced by the wolves. These voracious animals, who are inferior in speed to the moose or red-deer, are said frequently to have recourse to this expedient in places where extensive plains are bounded by precipitous cliffs. Whilst the deer are quietly grazing the wolves assemble in great numbers and, forming a crescent, creep slowly towards the herd so as not to alarm them much at first but, when they perceive that they have fairly hemmed in the unsuspecting creatures and cut off their retreat across the plain, they move more quickly and with hideous yells terrify their prey and urge them to flight by the only open way, which is that towards the precipice, appearing to know that when the herd is once at full speed it is easily driven over the cliff, the rearmost urging on those that are before. The wolves then descend at their leisure and feast on the mangled carcasses. One of these animals passed close to the person who was beating the track but did not offer any violence. We encamped at sunset after walking thirteen miles.

On the 26th we were rejoiced at passing the halfway point between Cumberland and Carlton. The scenery of the river is less pleasing beyond this point as there is a scarcity of wood. One of our men was despatched after a red-deer that appeared on the bank. He contrived to approach near enough to fire twice, though without success, before the animal moved away. After a fatiguing march of seventeen miles we put up at the Upper Nippeween, a deserted establishment, and performed the comfortable operations of shaving and washing for the first time since our departure from Cumberland, the weather having been hitherto too severe. We passed an uncomfortable and sleepless night and agreed next morning to encamp in future in the open air as preferable to the imperfect shelter of a deserted house without doors or windows.

The morning was extremely cold but fortunately the wind was light which prevented our feeling it severely; experience indeed had taught us that the sensation of cold depends less upon the state of temperature than the force of the wind. An attempt was made to obtain the latitude which failed in consequence of the screw that adjusts the telescope of the sextant being immovably fixed from the moisture upon it having frozen. The instrument could not be replaced in its case before the ice was thawed by the fire in the evening.

In the course of the day we passed the confluence of the south branch of the Saskatchewan, which rises from the Rocky Mountains near the sources of the northern branch of the Missouri. At Coles Falls, which commence a distance from the branch, we found the surface of the ice very uneven and many spots of open water.

We passed the ruins of an establishment which the traders had been compelled to abandon in consequence of the intractable conduct and pilfering habits of the Assineboine or Stone Indians; and we learned that all the residents at a post on the south branch had been cut off by the same tribe some years ago. We travelled twelve miles today. The wolves serenaded us through the night with a chorus of their agreeable howling but none of them ventured near the encampment. But Mr. Back's repose was disturbed by a more serious evil: his buffalo robe caught fire and the shoes on his feet being contracted by the heat gave him such pain that he jumped up in the cold and ran into the snow as the only means of obtaining relief.

On the 28th we had a strong and piercing wind from North-West in our faces and much snow-drift; we were compelled to walk as quick as we could and to keep constantly rubbing the exposed parts of the skin to prevent their being frozen, but some of the party suffered in spite of every precaution. We descried three red-deer on the banks of the river and were about to send the best marksmen after them when they espied the party and ran away. A supply of meat would have been very seasonable as the men's provision had become scanty and the dogs were without food except a little burnt leather. Owing to the scarcity of wood we had to walk until a late hour before a good spot for an encampment could be found and had then attained only eleven miles. The night was miserably cold; our tea froze in the tin pots before we could drink it and even a mixture of spirits and water became quite thick by congelation; yet after we lay down to rest we felt no inconvenience and heeded not the wolves though they were howling within view.

The 29th was also very cold until the sun burst forth when the travelling became pleasant. The banks of the river are very scantily supplied with wood through the part we passed today. A long track on the south shore called Holms Plains is destitute of anything like a tree and the opposite bank has only stunted willows; but after walking sixteen miles we came to a spot better wooded and encamped opposite to a remarkable place called by the voyagers The Neck of Land.

A short distance below our encampment, on the peninsula formed by the confluence of the Net-setting river with the Saskatchewan, there stands a representation of Kepoochikawn which was formerly held in high veneration by the Indians and is still looked upon with some respect. It is merely a large willow bush having its tops bound into a bunch. Many offerings of value such as handsome dresses, hatchets, and kettles, used to be made to it, but of late its votaries have been less liberal. It was mentioned to us as a signal instance of its power that a sacrilegious moose-deer, having ventured to crop a few of its tender twigs, was found dead at the distance of a few yards. The bush having now grown old and stunted is exempted from similar violations.

On the 30th we directed our course round The Neck of Land which is well clothed with pines and firs; though the opposite or western bank is nearly destitute of wood. This contrast between the two banks continued until we reached the commencement of what our companions called the Barren Grounds when both the banks were alike bare. Vast plains extend behind the southern bank which afford excellent pasturage for the buffalo and other grazing animals. In the evening we saw a herd of the former but could not get near to them. After walking fifteen miles we encamped. The men's provision having been entirely expended last night we shared our small stock with them. The poor dogs had been toiling some days on the most scanty fare; their rapacity in consequence was unbounded; they forced open a deal box containing tea, etc. to get at a small piece of meat which had been incautiously placed in it.


As soon as daylight permitted the party commenced their march in expectation of reaching Carlton House to breakfast, but we did not arrive before noon although the track was good. We were received by Mr. Prudens, the gentleman in charge of the post, with that friendly attention which Governor Williams' circular was calculated to ensure at every station; and were soon afterwards regaled with a substantial dish of buffalo steaks which would have been excellent under any circumstances but were particularly relished by us after our travelling fare of dried meat and pemmican, though eaten without either bread or vegetables. After this repast we had the comfort of changing our travelling dresses which had been worn for fourteen days; a gratification which can only be truly estimated by those who have been placed under similar circumstances. I was still in too great pain from swellings in the ankles to proceed to La Montee, the North-West Company's establishment distant about three miles; but Mr. Hallet, the gentleman in charge, came the following morning and I presented to him the circular from Mr. S. McGillivray. He had already been furnished however with a copy of it from Mr. Connolly, and was quite prepared to assist us in our advance to the Athabasca.

Mr. Back and I, having been very desirous to see some of the Stone Indians who reside on the plains in this vicinity, learned with regret that a large band of them had left the house on the preceding day, but our curiosity was amply gratified by the appearance of some individuals on the following and every subsequent day during our stay.

The looks of these people would have prepossessed me in their favour but for the assurances I had received from the gentlemen of the posts of their gross and habitual treachery. Their countenances are affable and pleasing; their eyes large and expressive, nose aquiline, teeth white and regular, the forehead bold, the cheek-bones rather high. Their figure is usually good, above the middle size with slender but well proportioned limbs. Their colour is a light copper and they have a profusion of very black hair which hangs over the ears and shades the face. Their dress, which I think extremely neat and convenient, consists of a vest and trousers of leather fitted to the body; over these a buffalo robe is thrown gracefully. These dresses are in general cleaned with white-mud, a sort of marl, though some use red-earth, a kind of bog-iron-ore; but this colour neither looks so light nor forms such an agreeable contrast as the white with the black hair of the robe. Their quiver hangs behind them and in the hand is carried the bow with an arrow always ready for attack or defence, and sometimes they have a gun; they also carry a bag containing materials for making a fire, some tobacco, the calumet or pipe, and whatever valuables they possess. This bag is neatly ornamented with porcupine quills. Thus equipped the Stone Indian bears himself with an air of perfect independence.

The only articles of European commerce they require in exchange for the meat they furnish to the trading post are tobacco, knives, ammunition, and spirits, and occasionally some beads, but more frequently buttons which they string in their hair as ornaments. A successful hunter will probably have two or three dozen of them hanging at equal distances on locks of hair from each side of the forehead. At the end of these locks small coral bells are sometimes attached which tinkle at every motion of the head, a noise which seems greatly to delight the wearer; sometimes strings of buttons are bound round the head like a tiara; and a bunch of feathers gracefully crowns the head.

The Stone Indians steal whatever they can, particularly horses; these animals they maintain are common property sent by the Almighty for the general use of man and therefore may be taken wherever met with; still they admit the right of the owners to watch them and to prevent theft if possible. This avowed disposition on their part calls forth the strictest vigilance at the different posts; notwithstanding which the most daring attacks are often made with success, sometimes on parties of three or four but oftener on individuals. About two years ago a band of them had the audacity to attempt to take away some horses which were grazing before the gate of the North-West Company's fort and, after braving the fire from the few people then at the establishment through the whole day and returning their shots occasionally, they actually succeeded in their enterprise. One man was killed on each side. They usually strip defenceless persons whom they meet of all their garments, but particularly of those which have buttons, and leave them to travel alone in that state, however severe the weather. If resistance be expected they not unfrequently murder before they attempt to rob. The traders when they travel invariably keep some men on guard to prevent surprise whilst the others sleep; and often practise the stratagem of lighting a fire at sunset, which they leave burning, and move on after dark to a more distant encampment—yet these precautions do not always baffle the depredators. Such is the description of men whom the traders of this river have constantly to guard against. It must require a long residence among them and much experience of their manners to overcome the apprehensions their hostility and threats are calculated to excite. Through fear of having their provisions and supplies entirely cut off the traders are often obliged to overlook the grossest offences, even murder, though the delinquents present themselves with unblushing effrontery almost immediately after the fact and perhaps boast of it. They do not on detection consider themselves under any obligation to deliver up what they have stolen without receiving an equivalent.


The Stone Indians keep in amity with their neighbours the Crees from motives of interest; and the two tribes unite in determined hostility against the nations dwelling to the westward which are generally called Slave Indians—a term of reproach applied by the Crees to those tribes against whom they have waged successful wars. The Slave Indians are said greatly to resemble the Stone Indians, being equally desperate and daring in their acts of aggression and dishonesty towards the traders.

These parties go to war almost every summer and sometimes muster three or four hundred horsemen on each side. Their leaders, in approaching the foe, exercise all the caution of the most skilful generals; and whenever either party considers that it has gained the best ground, or finds it can surprise the other, the attack is made. They advance at once to close quarters and the slaughter is consequently great though the battle may be short. The prisoners of either sex are seldom spared but slain on the spot with wanton cruelty. The dead are scalped and he is considered the bravest person who bears the greatest number of scalps from the field. These are afterwards attached to his war dress and worn as proofs of his prowess. The victorious party during a certain time blacken their faces and every part of their dress in token of joy, and in that state they often come to the establishment, if near, to testify their delight by dancing and singing, bearing all the horrid insignia of war, to display their individual feats. When in mourning they completely cover their dress and hair with white mud.

The Crees in the vicinity of Carlton House have the same cast of countenance as those about Cumberland but are much superior to them in appearance, living in a more abundant country. These men are more docile, tractable, and industrious than the Stone Indians and bring greater supplies of provision and furs to the posts. Their general mode of dress resembles that of the Stone Indians; but sometimes they wear cloth leggings, blankets, and other useful articles when they can afford to purchase them. They also decorate their hair with buttons.

The Crees procure guns from the traders and use them in preference to the bow and arrow; and from them the Stone Indians often get supplied either by stealth, gaming, or traffic. Like the rest of their nation these Crees are remarkably fond of spirits and would make any sacrifice to obtain them. I regretted to find the demand for this pernicious article had greatly increased within the last few years. The following notice of these Indians is extracted from Dr. Richardson's Journal:

The Asseenaboine, termed by the Crees Asseeneepoytuck or Stone Indians, are a tribe of Sioux who speak a dialect of the Iroquois, one of the great divisions under which the American philologists have classed the known dialects of the aborigines of North America. The Stone Indians or, as they name themselves, Eascab, originally entered this part of the country under the protection of the Crees and, in concert with them, attacked and drove to the westward the former inhabitants of the banks of the Saskatchewan. They are still the allies of the Crees but have now become more numerous than their former protectors. They exhibit all the bad qualities ascribed to the Mengwe or Iroquois, the stock whence they are sprung. Of their actual number I could obtain no precise information but it is very great. The Crees who inhabit the plains, being fur hunters, are better known to the traders.

They are divided into two distinct bands, the Ammiskwatchhethinyoowuc or Beaver Hill Crees, who have about forty tents and the Sackaweethinyoowuc or Thick Wood Crees who have thirty-five. The tents average nearly ten inmates each, which gives a population of seven hundred and fifty to the whole.

The nations who were driven to the westward by the Eascab and Crees are termed, in general, by the latter, Yatcheethinyoowuc, which has been translated Slave Indians but more properly signifies Strangers.

They now inhabit the country around Fort Augustus, and towards the foot of the Rocky Mountains, and have increased in strength until they have become an object of terror to the Eascab themselves. They rear a great number of horses, make use of firearms, and are fond of European articles, in order to purchase which they hunt the beaver and other furred animals, but they depend principally on the buffalo for subsistence.

They are divided into five nations:

First, the Pawausticeythinyoowuc, or Fall Indians, so named from their former residence on the falls of the Saskatchewan. They are the Minetarres with whom Captain Lewis's party had a conflict on their return from the Missouri. They have about four hundred and fifty or five hundred tents; their language is very guttural and difficult.

Second, the Peganooeythinyoowuc Pegans, or Muddy River Indians named in their own language Peganoekoon, have four hundred tents.

Third, the Meethcothinyoowuc, or Blood Indians, named by themselves Kainoekoon, have three hundred tents.

Fourth, the Cuskoetehwawthesseetuck, or Blackfoot Indians, in their own language Saxoekoekoon, have three hundred and fifty tents.

The last three nations or tribes, the Pegans, Blood Indians, and Blackfeet, speak the same language. It is pronounced in a slow and distinct tone, has much softness, and is easily acquired by their neighbours. I am assured by the best interpreters in the country that it bears no affinity to the Cree, Sioux, or Chipewyan languages.

Lastly the Sassees, or Circees, have one hundred and fifty tents; they speak the same language with their neighbours, the Snare Indians, who are a tribe of the extensive family of the Chipewyans.*

(*Footnote. As the subjects may be interesting to philologists I subjoin a few words of the Blackfoot language:

Peestah kan: tobacco. Moohksee: an awl. Nappoeoohkee: rum. Cook keet: give me. Eeninee: buffalo. Pooxapoot: come here. Kat oetsits: none, I have none. Keet sta kee: a beaver. Naum: a bow. Stooan: a knife. Sassoopats: ammunition. Meenee: beads. Poommees: fat. Miss ta poot: keep off. Saw: no. Stwee: cold; it is cold. Pennakomit: a horse. Ahseeu: good.)



On the 6th of February we accompanied Mr. Prudens on a visit to a Cree encampment and a buffalo pound about six miles from the house; we found seven tents pitched within a small cluster of pines which adjoined the pound. The largest, which we entered, belonged to the chief who was absent but came in on learning our arrival. The old man (about sixty) welcomed us with a hearty shake of the hand and the customary salutation of "What cheer!" an expression which they have gained from the traders. As we had been expected they had caused the tent to be neatly arranged, fresh grass was spread on the ground, buffalo robes were placed on the side opposite the door for us to sit on, and a kettle was on the fire to boil meat for us.

After a few minutes' conversation an invitation was given to the chief and his hunters to smoke the calumet with us as a token of our friendship: this was loudly announced through the camp and ten men from the other tents immediately joined our party. On their entrance the women and children withdrew, their presence on such occasions being contrary to etiquette. The calumet having been prepared and lighted by Mr. Prudens' clerk was presented to the chief who performed the following ceremony before he commenced smoking: He first pointed the stem to the south, then to the west, north, and east, and afterwards to the heavens, the earth and the fire, as an offering to the presiding spirits; he took three whiffs only and then passed the pipe to his next companion who took the same number of whiffs and so did each person as it went round. After the calumet had been replenished the person who then commenced repeated only the latter part of the ceremony, pointing the stem to the heavens, the earth and the fire. Some spirits mixed with water were presented to the old man who before he drank demanded a feather which he dipped into the cup several times and sprinkled the moisture on the ground, pronouncing each time a prayer. His first address to the Keetchee Manitou, or Great Spirit, was that buffalo might be abundant everywhere and that plenty might come into their pound. He next prayed that the other animals might be numerous and particularly those which were valuable for their furs, and then implored that the party present might escape the sickness which was at that time prevalent and be blessed with constant health. Some other supplications followed which we could not get interpreted without interrupting the whole proceeding; but at every close the whole Indian party assented by exclaiming Aha; and when he had finished the old man drank a little and passed the cup round. After these ceremonies each person smoked at his leisure and they engaged in a general conversation which I regretted not understanding as it seemed to be very humorous, exciting frequent bursts of laughter. The younger men in particular appeared to ridicule the abstinence of one of the party who neither drank nor smoked. He bore their jeering with perfect composure and assured them, as I was told, they would be better if they would follow his example. I was happy to learn from Mr. Prudens that this man was not only one of the best hunters but the most cheerful and contented of the tribe.

Four Stone Indians arrived at this time and were invited into the tent but one only accepted the invitation and partook of the fare. When Mr. Prudens heard the others refuse he gave immediate directions that our horses should be narrowly watched as he suspected these fellows wished to carry them off. Having learned that these Crees considered Mr. Back and myself to be war chiefs possessing great power and that they expected we should make some address to them I desired them to be kind to the traders, to be industrious in procuring them provision and furs, and to refrain from stealing their stores and horses; and I assured them that if I heard of their continuing to behave kindly I would mention their good conduct in the strongest terms to their Great Father across the sea (by which appellation they designate the King) whose favourable consideration they had been taught by the traders to value most highly.

They all promised to follow my advice and assured me it was not they but the Stone Indians who robbed and annoyed the traders. The Stone Indian who was present heard this accusation against his tribe quite unmoved, but he probably did not understand the whole of the communication. We left them to finish their rum and went to look round the lodges and examine the pound.

The greatest proportion of labour in savage life falls to the women; we now saw them employed in dressing skins, and conveying wood, water, and provision. As they have often to fetch the meat from some distance they are assisted in this duty by their dogs which are not harnessed in sledges but carry their burdens in a manner peculiarly adapted to this level country. Two long poles are fastened by a collar to the dog's neck; their ends trail on the ground and are kept at a proper distance by a hoop which is lashed between them immediately behind the dog's tail; the hoop is covered with network upon which the load is placed.

The boys were amusing themselves by shooting arrows at a mark and thus training to become hunters. The Stone Indians are so expert with the bow and arrow that they can strike a very small object at a considerable distance and will shoot with sufficient force to pierce through the body of a buffalo when near.

The buffalo pound was a fenced circular space of about a hundred yards in diameter; the entrance was banked up with snow to a sufficient height to prevent the retreat of the animals that once have entered. For about a mile on each side of the road leading to the pound stakes were driven into the ground at nearly equal distances of about twenty yards; these were intended to represent men and to deter the animals from attempting to break out on either side. Within fifty or sixty yards from the pound branches of trees were placed between these stakes to screen the Indians who lie down behind them to await the approach of the buffalo.

The principal dexterity in this species of chase is shown by the horsemen who have to manoeuvre round the herd in the plains so as to urge them to enter the roadway which is about a quarter of a mile broad. When this has been accomplished they raise loud shouts and, pressing close upon the animals, so terrify them that they rush heedlessly forward towards the snare. When they have advanced as far as the men who are lying in ambush they also rise and increase the consternation by violent shouting and firing guns. The affrighted beasts having no alternative run directly to the pound where they are quickly despatched either with an arrow or gun.

There was a tree in the centre of the pound on which the Indians had hung strips of buffalo flesh and pieces of cloth as tributary or grateful offerings to the Great Master of Life; and we were told that they occasionally place a man in the tree to sing to the presiding spirit as the buffaloes are advancing who must keep his station until the whole that have entered are killed. This species of hunting is very similar to that of taking elephants on the island of Ceylon but upon a smaller scale.

The Crees complained to us of the audacity of a party of Stone Indians who two nights before had stripped their revered tree of many of its offerings and had injured their pound by setting their stakes out of the proper places.

Other modes of killing the buffalo are practised by the Indians with success; of these the hunting them on horseback requires most dexterity. An expert hunter, when well mounted, dashes at the herd and chooses an individual which he endeavours to separate from the rest. If he succeeds he contrives to keep him apart by the proper management of his horse though going at full speed. Whenever he can get sufficiently near for a ball to penetrate the beast's hide he fires and seldom fails of bringing the animal down; though of course he cannot rest the piece against the shoulder nor take a deliberate aim. On this service the hunter is often exposed to considerable danger from the fall of his horse in the numerous holes which the badgers make in these plains, and also from the rage of the buffalo which when closely pressed often turns suddenly and, rushing furiously on the horse, frequently succeeds in wounding it or dismounting the rider. Whenever the animal shows this disposition which the experienced hunter will readily perceive he immediately pulls up his horse and goes off in another direction.

When the buffaloes are on their guard horses cannot be used in approaching them; but the hunter dismounts at some distance and crawls in the snow towards the herd, pushing his gun before him. If the buffaloes happen to look towards him he stops and keeps quite motionless until their eyes are turned in another direction; by this cautious proceeding a skilful person will get so near as to be able to kill two or three out of the herd. It will easily be imagined this service cannot be very agreeable when the thermometer stands 30 or 40 degrees below zero as sometimes happens in this country.

As we were returning from the tents the dogs that were harnessed to three sledges, in one of which Mr. Back was seated, set off in pursuit of a buffalo-calf. Mr. Back was speedily thrown from his vehicle and had to join me in my horse-cariole. Mr. Heriot, having gone to recover the dogs, found them lying exhausted beside the calf which they had baited until it was as exhausted as themselves. Mr. Heriot, to show us the mode of hunting on horseback or as the traders term it, running of the buffalo, went in chase of a cow and killed it after firing three shots.

The buffalo is a huge and shapeless animal quite devoid of grace or beauty; particularly awkward in running but by no means slow; when put to his speed he plunges through the deep snow very expeditiously; the hair is dark brown, very shaggy, curling about the head, neck, and hump, and almost covering the eye, particularly in the bull which is larger and more unsightly than the cow. The most esteemed part of the animal is the hump, called by the Canadians bos, by the Hudson's Bay people the wig; it is merely a strong muscle on which nature at certain seasons forms a considerable quantity of fat. It is attached to the long spinous processes of the first dorsal vertebrae and seems to be destined to support the enormous head of the animal. The meat which covers the spinal processes themselves after the wig is removed is next in esteem for its flavour and juiciness and is more exclusively termed the hump by the hunters.

The party was prevented from visiting a Stone Indian encampment by a heavy fall of snow, which made it impracticable to go and return the same day. We were dissuaded from sleeping at their tents by the interpreter at the North-West post who told us they considered the whooping-cough and measles, under which they were now suffering, to have been introduced by some white people recently arrived in the country, and that he feared those who had lost relatives, imagining we were the persons, might vent their revenge on us. We regretted to learn that these diseases had been so very destructive among the tribes along the Saskatchewan as to have carried off about three hundred persons, Crees and Asseenaboines, within the trading circle of these establishments. The interpreter also informed us of another bad trait peculiar to the Stone Indians. Though they receive a visitor kindly at their tents and treat him very hospitably during his stay yet it is very probable they will despatch some young men to waylay and rob him in going towards the post: indeed all the traders assured us it was more necessary to be vigilantly on our guard on the occasion of a visit to them than at any other time.

Carlton House (which our observations place in latitude 52 degrees 50 minutes 47 seconds North, longitude 106 degrees 12 minutes 42 seconds West, variation 20 degrees 44 minutes 47 seconds East) is pleasantly situated about a quarter of a mile from the river's side on the flat ground under the shelter of the high banks that bound the plains. The land is fertile and produces with little trouble ample returns of wheat, barley, oats, and potatoes. The ground is prepared for the reception of these vegetables about the middle of April and when Dr. Richardson visited this place on May 10th the blade of wheat looked strong and healthy. There were only five acres in cultivation at the period of my visit. The prospect from the fort must be pretty in summer owing to the luxuriant verdure of this fertile soil; but in the uniform and cheerless garb of winter it has little to gratify the eye.

Beyond the steep bank behind the house commences the vast plain whose boundaries are but imperfectly known; it extends along the south branch of the Saskatchewan and towards the sources of the Missouri and Asseenaboine Rivers, being scarcely interrupted through the whole of this great space by hills or even rising grounds. The excellent pasturage furnishes food in abundance to a variety of grazing animals of which the buffalo, red-deer, and a species of antelope are the most important. Their presence naturally attracts great hordes of wolves which are of two kinds, the large, and the small. Many bears prowl about the banks of this river in summer; of these the grizzly bear is the most ferocious and is held in dread both by Indians and Europeans. The traveller in crossing these plains not only suffers from the want of food and water but is also exposed to hazard from his horse stumbling in the numerous badger-holes. In many large districts the only fuel is the dried dung of the buffalo; and when a thirsty traveller reaches a spring he has not unfrequently the mortification to find the water salt.

Carlton House and La Montee are provision-posts, only an inconsiderable quantity of furs being obtained at either of them. The provisions are procured in the winter season from the Indians in the form of dried meat and fat and, when converted by mixture into pemmican, furnish the principal support of the voyagers in their passages to and from the depots in summer. A considerable quantity of it is also kept for winter use at most of the fur-posts as the least bulky article that can be taken on a winter journey. The mode of making pemmican is very simple, the meat is dried by the Indians in the sun or over a fire, and pounded by beating it with stones when spread on a skin. In this state it is brought to the forts where the admixture of hair is partially sifted out and a third part of melted fat incorporated with it, partly by turning the two over with a wooden shovel, partly by kneading them together with the hands. The pemmican is then firmly pressed into leathern bags, each capable of containing eighty-five pounds and, being placed in an airy place to cool, is fit for use. It keeps in this state if not allowed to get wet very well for one year and with great care it may be preserved good for two. Between three and four hundred bags were made here by each of the Companies this year.

There were eight men besides Mr. Prudens and his clerk belonging to Carlton House. At La Montee there were seventy Canadians and half-breeds and sixty women and children who consumed upwards of seven hundred pounds of buffalo meat daily, the allowance per diem for each man being eight pounds: a portion not so extravagant as may at first appear when allowance is made for bone and the entire want of farinaceous food or vegetables.

There are other provision posts, Fort Augustus and Edmonton farther up the river, from whence some furs are also procured. The Stone Indians have threatened to cut off the supplies in going up to these establishments to prevent their enemies from obtaining ammunition and other European articles; but as these menaces have been frequently made without being put in execution the traders now hear them without any great alarm though they take every precaution to prevent being surprised. Mr. Back and I were present when an old Cree communicated to Mr. Prudens that the Indians spoke of killing all the white people in that vicinity this year which information he received with perfect composure and was amused as well as ourselves with the man's judicious remark which immediately followed, "A pretty state we shall then be in without the goods you bring us."


The following remarks on a well-known disease are extracted from Dr. Richardson's Journal:

Bronchocele or Goitre is a common disorder at Edmonton. I examined several of the individuals afflicted with it and endeavoured to obtain every information on the subject from the most authentic sources. The following facts may be depended upon. The disorder attacks those only who drink the water of the river. It is indeed in its worst state confined almost entirely to the half-breed women and children who reside constantly at the fort and make use of river water drawn in the winter through a hole cut in the ice. The men, being often from home on journeys through the plain, when their drink is melted snow, are less affected; and if any of them exhibit during the winter some incipient symptoms of the complaint the annual summer voyage to the sea-coast generally effects a cure. The natives who confine themselves to snow-water in the winter and drink of the small rivulets which flow through the plains in the summer are exempt from the attacks of this disease.

These facts are curious inasmuch as they militate against the generally received opinion that the disease is caused by drinking snow-water; an opinion which seems to have originated from bronchocele being endemial to subalpine districts.

The Saskatchewan at Edmonton is clear in the winter and also in the summer except during the May and July floods. This distance from the Rocky Mountains (which I suppose to be of primitive formation) is upwards of one hundred and thirty miles. The neighbouring plains are alluvial, the soil is calcareous and contains numerous travelled fragments of limestone. At a considerable distance below Edmonton the river, continuing its course through the plains, becomes turbid and acquires a white colour. In this state it is drunk by the inmates of Carlton House where the disease is known only by name. It is said that the inhabitants of Rocky Mountain House, sixty miles nearer the source of the river are more severely affected than those at Edmonton. The same disease occurs near the sources of the Elk and Peace Rivers; but in those parts of the country which are distant from the Rocky Mountain Chain it is unknown although melted snow forms the only drink of the natives for nine months of the year.

A residence of a single year at Edmonton is sufficient to render a family bronchocelous. Many of the goitres acquire great size. Burnt sponge has been tried and found to remove the disease but an exposure to the same cause immediately reproduces it.

A great proportion of the children of women who have goitres are born idiots with large heads and the other distinguishing marks of cretins. I could not learn whether it was necessary that both parents should have goitres to produce cretin children: indeed the want of chastity in the half-breed women would be a bar to the deduction of any inference on this head.



February 8.

Having recovered from the swellings and pains which our late march from Cumberland had occasioned we prepared for the commencement of our journey to Isle a la Crosse, and requisitions were made on both the establishments for the means of conveyance and the necessary supply of provisions for the party which were readily furnished. On the 9th the carioles and sledges were loaded and sent off after breakfast; but Mr. Back and I remained till the afternoon as Mr. Prudens had offered that his horses should convey us to the encampment. At three P.M. we parted from our kind host and, in passing through the gate, were honoured with a salute of musketry. After riding six miles we joined the men at their encampment which was made under the shelter of a few poplars. The dogs had been so much fatigued in wading through the very deep snow with their heavy burdens, having to drag upwards of ninety pounds' weight each, that they could get no farther. Soon after our arrival the snow began to fall heavily and it continued through the greater part of the night.

Our next day's march was therefore particularly tedious, the snow being deep and the route lying across an unvarying level, destitute of wood except one small cluster of willows. In the afternoon we reached the end of the plain and came to an elevation on which poplars, willows, and some pines grew, where we encamped, having travelled ten miles. We crossed three small lakes, two of fresh water and one of salt, near the latter of which we encamped and were in consequence obliged to use for our tea water made from snow which has always a disagreeable taste.

We had scarcely ascended the hill on the following morning when a large herd of red-deer was perceived grazing at a little distance; and though we were amply supplied with provision our Canadian companions could not resist the temptation of endeavouring to add to our stock. A half-breed hunter was therefore sent after them. He succeeded in wounding one but not so as to prevent its running off with the herd in a direction wide of our course. A couple of rabbits and a brace of wood partridges were shot in the afternoon. There was an agreeable variety of hill and dale in the scenery we passed through today, and sufficient wood for ornament but not enough to crowd the picture. The valleys were intersected by several small lakes and pools whose snowy covering was happily contrasted with the dark green of the pine-trees which surrounded them. After ascending a moderately high hill by a winding path through a close wood we opened suddenly upon Lake Iroquois and had a full view of its picturesque shores. We crossed it and encamped.

Though the sky was cloudless yet the weather was warm. We had the gratification of finding a beaten track soon after we started on the morning of the 12th and were thus enabled to walk briskly. We crossed at least twenty hills and found a small lake or pool at the foot of each. The destructive ravages of fire were visible during the greater part of the day. The only wood we saw for miles together consisted of pine-trees stripped of their branches and bark by this element: in other parts poplars alone were growing which we have remarked invariably to succeed the pine after a conflagration. We walked twenty miles today but the direct distance was only sixteen.

The remains of an Indian hut were found in a deep glen and close to it was placed a pile of wood which our companions supposed to cover a deposit of provision. Our Canadian voyagers, induced by their insatiable desire of procuring food, proceeded to remove the upper pieces and examine its contents when, to their surprise, they found the body of a female, clothed in leather, which appeared to have been recently placed there. Her former garments, the materials for making a fire, a fishing-line, a hatchet, and a bark dish were laid beside the corpse. The wood was carefully replaced. A small owl, perched on a tree near to the spot, called forth many singular remarks from our companions as to its being a good or bad omen.

We walked the whole of the 13th over flat meadow-land which is much resorted to by the buffalo at all seasons. Some herds of them were seen which our hunters were too unskilful to approach. In the afternoon we reached the Stinking Lake which is nearly of an oval form. Its shores are very low and swampy to which circumstances and not to the bad quality of the waters it owes its Indian name. Our observations place its western part in latitude 53 degrees 25 minutes 24 seconds North, longitude 107 degrees 18 minutes 58 seconds West, variation 20 degrees 32 minutes 10 seconds East.

After a march of fifteen miles and a half we encamped among a few pines at the only spot where we saw sufficient wood for making our fire during the day. The next morning about an hour after we had commenced our march we came upon a beaten track and perceived recent marks of snowshoes. In a short time an Iroquois joined us, who was residing with a party of Cree Indians, to secure the meat and furs they should collect for the North-West Company. He accompanied us as far as the stage on which his meat was placed and then gave us a very pressing invitation to halt for the day and partake of his fare which, as the hour was too early, we declined, much to the annoyance of our Canadian companions who had been cherishing the prospect of indulging their amazing appetites at this well-furnished store ever since the man had been with us. He gave them however a small supply previous to our parting. The route now crossed some ranges of hills on which fir, birch and poplar grew so thickly that we had much difficulty in getting the sledges through the narrow pathway between them. In the evening we descended from the elevated ground, crossed three swampy meadows, and encamped at their northern extremity within a cluster of large pine-trees, the branches of which were elegantly decorated with abundance of a greenish yellow lichen. Our march was ten miles. The weather was very mild, almost too warm for the exercise we were taking.

We had a strong gale from the North-West during the night which subsided as the morning opened. One of the sledges had been so much broken the day before in the woods that we had to divide its cargo among the others. We started after this had been arranged and, finding almost immediately a firm track, soon arrived at some Indian lodges to which it led. The inhabitants were Crees belonging to the posts on the Saskatchewan from whence they had come to hunt beaver. We made but a short stay and proceeded through a swamp to Pelican Lake. Our view to the right was bounded by a range of lofty hills which extended for several miles in a north and south direction which, it may be remarked, was that of all the hilly land we had passed since quitting the plain.

Pelican Lake is of an irregular form, about six miles from east to west and eight from north to south; it decreases to the breadth of a mile towards the northern extremity and is there terminated by a creek. We went up this creek for a short distance and then struck into the woods and encamped among a cluster of the firs which the Canadians term cypres (Pinus banksiana) having come fourteen miles and a half.

February 16.

Shortly after commencing the journey today we met an Indian and his family who had come from the houses at Green Lake; they informed us the track was well beaten the whole way. We therefore put forth our utmost speed in the hope of reaching them by night but were disappointed, and had to halt at dark about twelve miles from them in a fisherman's hut which was unoccupied. Frequent showers of snow fell during the day and the atmosphere was thick and gloomy.

We started at an early hour the following morning and reached the Hudson's Bay Company's post to breakfast, and were received very kindly by Mr. MacFarlane, the gentleman in charge. The other establishment, situated on the opposite side of the river, was under the direction of Mr. Dugald Cameron, one of the partners of the North-West Company on whom Mr. Back and I called soon after our arrival and were honoured with a salute of musketry.

These establishments are small but said to be well situated for procuring furs; as the numerous creeks in their vicinity are much resorted to by the beaver, otter and musquash. The residents usually obtain a superabundant supply of provision. This season however they barely had sufficient for their own support, owing to the epidemic which has incapacitated the Indians for hunting. The Green Lake lies nearly north and south, is eighteen miles in length and does not exceed one mile and a half of breadth in any part. The water is deep and it is in consequence one of the last lakes in the country that is frozen. Excellent tittameg and trout are caught in it from March to December but after that time most of the fish remove to some larger lake.

We remained two days awaiting the return of some men who had been sent to the Indian lodges for meat and who were to go on with us. Mr. Back and I did not need this rest, having completely surmounted the pain occasioned by the snowshoes. We dined twice with Mr. Cameron and received from him many useful suggestions respecting our future operations. This gentleman, having informed us that provisions would probably be very scarce next spring in the Athabasca department in consequence of the sickness of the Indians during the hunting season, undertook at my request to cause a supply of pemmican to be conveyed from the Saskatchewan to Isle a la Crosse for our use during the winter, and I wrote to apprise Dr. Richardson and Mr. Hood that they would find it at the latter post when they passed, and also to desire them to bring as much as the canoes would stow from Cumberland.

The atmosphere was clear and cold during our stay; observations were obtained at the Hudson's Bay Fort, latitude 54 degrees 16 minutes 10 seconds North, longitude 107 degrees 29 minutes 52 seconds West, variation 22 degrees 6 minutes 35 seconds East.

February 20.

Having been equipped with carioles, sledges and provisions from the two posts, we this day recommenced our journey and were much amused by the novelty of the salute given at our departure, the guns being principally fired by the women in the absence of the men. Our course was directed to the end of the lake and for a short distance along a small river; we then crossed the woods to the Beaver River which we found to be narrow and very serpentine, having moderately high banks. We encamped about one mile and a half farther up among poplars. The next day we proceeded along the river; it was winding and about two hundred yards broad. We passed the mouths of two rivers whose waters it receives; the latter one we were informed is a channel by which the Indians go to the Lesser Slave Lake. The banks of the river became higher as we advanced and were adorned with pines, poplars and willows.

Though the weather was very cold we travelled more comfortably than at any preceding time since our departure from Cumberland as we had light carioles which enabled us to ride nearly the whole day warmly covered up with a buffalo robe. We were joined by Mr. McLeod of the North-West Company who had kindly brought some things from Green Lake which our sledges could not carry. Pursuing our route along the river we reached at an early hour the upper extremity of the Grand Rapid where the ice was so rough that the carioles and sledges had to be conveyed across a point of land. Soon after noon we left the river, inclining North-East, and directed our course North-West until we reached Long Lake and encamped at its northern extremity, having come twenty-three miles. This lake is about fourteen miles long and from three-quarters to one mile and a half broad, its shores and islands low but well wooded. There were frequent snow-showers during the day.


February 23.

The night was very stormy but the wind became more moderate in the morning. We passed today through several nameless lakes and swamps before we came to Train Lake which received its name from being the place where the traders procured the birch to make their sledges or traineaux; but this wood has been all used and there only remain pines and a few poplars. We met some sledges laden with fish, kindly sent to meet us by Mr. Clark of the Hudson's Bay Company on hearing of our approach. Towards the evening the weather became much more unpleasant and we were exposed to a piercingly cold wind and much snowdrift in traversing the Isle a la Crosse Lake; we were therefore highly pleased at reaching the Hudson's Bay House by six P.M. We were received in the most friendly manner by Mr. Clark and honoured by volleys of musketry. Similar marks of attention were shown to us on the following day by Mr. Bethune, the partner in charge of the North-West Company's fort. I found here the letters which I had addressed from Cumberland in November last to the partners of the North-West Company in the Athabasca, which circumstance convinced me of the necessity of our present journey.

These establishments are situated on the southern side of the lake and close to each other. They are forts of considerable importance being placed at a point of communication with the English River, the Athabasca and Columbia Districts. The country around them is low and intersected with water, and was formerly much frequented by beavers and otters which however have been so much hunted by the Indians that their number is greatly decreased. The Indians frequenting these forts are the Crees and some Chipewyans; they scarcely ever come except in the spring and autumn, in the former season to bring their winter's collection of furs and in the latter to get the stores they require.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11     Next Part
Home - Random Browse