The Journey to the Polar Sea
by John Franklin
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Three Chipewyan lads came in during our stay to report what furs the band to which they belonged had collected and to desire they might be sent for, the Indians having declined bringing either furs or meat themselves since the opposition between the Companies commenced. Mr. Back drew a portrait of one of the boys.

Isle a la Crosse Lake receives its name from an island situated near the forts on which the Indians formerly assembled annually to amuse themselves at the game of the Cross. It is justly celebrated for abundance of the finest tittameg, which weigh from five to fifteen pounds. The residents live principally upon this most delicious fish which fortunately can be eaten a long time without disrelish. It is plentifully caught with nets throughout the year except for two or three months.

March 4.

We witnessed the Aurora Borealis very brilliant for the second time since our departure from Cumberland. A winter encampment is not a favourable situation for viewing this phenomenon as the trees in general hide the sky. Arrangements had been made for recommencing our journey today but the wind was stormy and the snow had drifted too much for travelling with comfort; we therefore stayed and dined with Mr. Bethune who promised to render every assistance in getting pemmican conveyed to us from the Saskatchewan to be in readiness for our canoes when they might arrive in the spring; Mr. Clark also engaged to procure six bags for us and to furnish our canoes with any other supplies which might be wanted and could be spared from his post, and to contribute his aid in forwarding the pemmican to the Athabasca if our canoes could not carry it all.

I feel greatly indebted to this gentleman for much valuable information respecting the country and the Indians residing to the north of Slave Lake and for furnishing me with a list of stores he supposed we should require. He had resided some years on Mackenzie's River and had been once so far towards its mouth as to meet the Esquimaux in great numbers. But they assumed such a hostile attitude that he deemed it unadvisable to attempt opening any communication with them and retreated as speedily as he could.

The observations we obtained here showed that the chronometers had varied their rates a little in consequence of the jolting of the carioles, but their errors and rates were ascertained previous to our departure. We observed the position of this fort to be latitude 55 degrees 25 minutes 35 seconds North, longitude 107 degrees 51 minutes 00 seconds West, by lunars reduced back from Fort Chipewyan, variation 22 degrees 15 minutes 48 seconds West, dip 84 degrees 13 minutes 35 seconds.

March 5.

We recommenced our journey this morning, having been supplied with the means of conveyance by both the Companies in equal proportions. Mr. Clark accompanied us with the intention of going as far as the boundary of his district. This gentleman was an experienced winter traveller and we derived much benefit from his suggestions; he caused the men to arrange the encampment with more attention to comfort and shelter than our former companions had done. After marching eighteen miles we put up on Gravel Point in the Deep River.

At nine the next morning we came to the commencement of Clear Lake. We crossed its southern extremes and then went over a point of land to Buffalo Lake and encamped after travelling twenty-six miles. After supper we were entertained till midnight with paddling songs by our Canadians who required very little stimulus beyond their natural vivacity to afford us this diversion. The next morning we arrived at the establishments which are situated on the western side of the lake near a small stream called the Beaver River. They were small log buildings hastily erected last October for the convenience of the Indians who hunt in the vicinity. Mr. MacMurray, a partner in the North-West Company, having sent to Isle a la Crosse an invitation to Mr. Back and I, our carioles were driven to his post and we experienced the kindest reception. These posts are frequented by only a few Indians, Crees, and Chipewyans. The country round is not sufficiently stocked with animals to afford support to many families and the traders subsist almost entirely on fish caught in the autumn prior to the lake being frozen but, the water being shallow, they remove to a deeper part as soon as the lake is covered with ice. The Aurora Borealis was brilliantly displayed on both the nights we remained here, but particularly on the 7th when its appearances were most diversified and the motion extremely rapid. Its coruscations occasionally concealed from sight stars of the first magnitude in passing over them, at other times these were faintly discerned through them; once I perceived a stream of light to illumine the under surface of some clouds as it passed along. There was no perceptible noise.

Mr. MacMurray gave a dance to his voyagers and the women; this is a treat which they expect on the arrival of any stranger at the post.

We were presented by this gentleman with the valuable skin of a black fox which he had entrapped some days before our arrival; it was forwarded to England with other specimens.

Our observations place the North-West Company's House in latitude 55 degrees 53 minutes 00 seconds North, longitude 108 degrees 51 minutes 10 seconds West, variation 22 degrees 33 minutes 22 seconds East.

The shores of Buffalo Lake are of moderate height and well wooded but immediately beyond the bank the country is very swampy and intersected with water in every direction. At some distance from the western side there is a conspicuous hill which we hailed with much pleasure as being the first interruption to the tediously uniform scene we had for some time passed through.

On the 10th we recommenced our journey after breakfast and travelled quickly as we had the advantage of a well-beaten track. At the end of eighteen miles we entered upon the river Loche which has a serpentine course and is confined between alluvial banks that support stunted willows and a few pines; we encamped about three miles farther on and in the course of the next day's march perceived several holes on the ice and many unsafe places for the sledges. Our companions said the ice of this river is always in the same insecure state, even during the most severe winter, which they attributed to warm springs. Quitting the river we crossed a portage and came upon the Methye Lake and soon afterwards arrived at the trading posts on its western side. These were perfect huts which had been hastily built after the commencement of the last winter. We here saw two hunters who were Chipewyan half-breeds and made many inquiries of them respecting the countries we expected to visit, but we found them quite ignorant of every part beyond the Athabasca Lake. They spoke of Mr. Hearne and of his companion Matonnabee, but did not add to our stock of information respecting that journey. It had happened before their birth but they remembered the expedition of Sir Alexander Mackenzie towards the sea.

This is a picturesque lake about ten miles long and six broad and receives its name from a species of fish caught in it but not much esteemed; the residents never eat any part but the liver except through necessity, the dogs dislike even that. The tittameg and trout are also caught in the fall of the year. The position of the houses by our observations is latitude 56 degrees 24 minutes 20 seconds North, longitude 109 degrees 23 minutes 06 seconds West, variation 22 degrees 50 minutes 28 seconds East.

On the 13th we renewed our journey and parted from Mr. Clark to whom we were much obliged for his hospitality and kindness. We soon reached the Methye Portage and had a very pleasant ride across it in our carioles. The track was good and led through groups of pines, so happily placed that it would not have required a great stretch of imagination to fancy ourselves in a well-arranged park. We had now to cross a small lake and then gradually ascended hills beyond it until we arrived at the summit of a lofty chain of mountains commanding the most picturesque and romantic prospect we had yet seen in this country. Two ranges of high hills run parallel to each other for several miles until the faint blue haze hides their particular characters, when they slightly change their course and are lost to the view. The space between them is occupied by nearly a level plain through which a river pursues a meandering course and receives supplies from the creeks and rills issuing from the mountains on each side. The prospect was delightful even amid the snow and though marked with all the cheerless characters of winter; how much more charming must it be when the trees are in leaf and the ground is arrayed in summer verdure! Some faint idea of the difference was conveyed to my mind by witnessing the effect of the departing rays of a brilliant sun. The distant prospect however is surpassed in grandeur by the wild scenery which appeared immediately below our feet. There the eye penetrates into vast ravines two or three hundred feet in depth that are clothed with trees and lie on either side of the narrow pathway descending to the river over eight successive ridges of hills. At one spot termed the Cockscomb the traveller stands insulated as it were on a small slip where a false step might precipitate him into the glen. From this place Mr. Back took an interesting and accurate sketch to allow time for which we encamped early, having come twenty-one miles.

The Methye Portage is about twelve miles in extent and over this space the canoes and all their cargoes are carried, both in going to and from the Athabasca department. It is part of the range of mountains which separates the waters flowing south from those flowing north. According to Sir Alexander Mackenzie "this range of hills continues in a South-West direction until its local height is lost between the Saskatchewan and Elk Rivers, close on the banks of the former in latitude 53 degrees 36 minutes North, longitude 113 degrees 45 minutes West, when it appears to take its course due north." Observations taken in the spring by Mr. Hood place the north side of the portage in latitude 56 degrees 41 minutes 40 seconds North, longitude 109 degrees 52 minutes 15 seconds West, variation 25 degrees 2 minutes 30 seconds East, dip 85 degrees 7 minutes 27 seconds.

At daylight on the 14th we began to descend the range of hills leading towards the river, and no small care was required to prevent the sledges from being broken in going down these almost perpendicular heights, or being precipitated into the glens on each side. As a precautionary measure the dogs were taken off and the sledges guided by the men, notwithstanding which they descended with amazing rapidity and the men were thrown into the most ridiculous attitudes in endeavouring to stop them. When we had arrived at the bottom I could not but feel astonished at the laborious task which the voyagers have twice in the year to encounter at this place in conveying their stores backwards and forwards. We went across the Clear Water River which runs at the bases of these hills, and followed an Indian track along its northern bank, by which we avoided the White Mud and Good Portages. We afterwards followed the river as far as the Pine Portage, when we passed through a very romantic defile of rocks which presented the appearance of Gothic ruins, and their rude characters were happily contrasted with the softness of the snow and the darker foliage of the pines which crowned their summits. We next crossed the Cascade Portage which is the last on the way to the Athabasca Lake, and soon afterwards came to some Indian tents containing five families belonging to the Chipewyan tribe. We smoked the calumet in the chief's tent, whose name was the Thumb, and distributed some tobacco and a weak mixture of spirits and water among the men. They received this civility with much less grace than the Crees, and seemed to consider it a matter of course. There was an utter neglect of cleanliness and a total want of comfort in their tents; and the poor creatures were miserably clothed. Mr. Frazer, who accompanied us from the Methye Lake, accounted for their being in this forlorn condition by explaining that this band of Indians had recently destroyed everything they possessed as a token of their great grief for the loss of their relatives in the prevailing sickness. It appears that no article is spared by these unhappy men when a near relative dies; their clothes and tents are cut to pieces, their guns broken, and every other weapon rendered useless if some person do not remove these articles from their sight, which is seldom done. Mr. Back sketched one of the children which delighted the father very much, who charged the boy to be very good since his picture had been drawn by a great chief. We learned that they prize pictures very highly and esteem any they can get, however badly executed, as efficient charms. They were unable to give us any information respecting the country beyond the Athabasca Lake which is the boundary of their peregrinations to the northward. Having been apprised of our coming they had prepared an encampment for us; but we had witnessed too many proofs of their importunity to expect that we could pass the night near them in any comfort whilst either spirits, tobacco or sugar remained in our possession; and therefore preferred to go about two miles farther along the river and to encamp among a cluster of fine pine-trees after a journey of sixteen miles.

On the morning of the 15th, in proceeding along the river, we perceived a strong smell of sulphur, and on the north shore found a quantity of it scattered, which seemed to have been deposited by some spring in the neighbourhood: it appeared very pure and good. We continued our course the whole day along the river, which is about four hundred yards wide, has some islands, and is confined between low land extending from the bases of the mountains on each side. We put up at the end of thirteen miles and were then joined by a Chipewyan who came, as we supposed, to serve as our guide to Pierre au Calumet but, as none of the party could communicate with our new friend otherwise than by signs, we waited patiently until the morning to see what he intended to do. The wind blew a gale during the night and the snow fell heavily. The next day our guide led us to the Pembina River which comes from the southward where we found traces of Indians who appeared to have quitted this station the day before; we had therefore the benefit of a good track which our dogs much required as they were greatly fatigued, having dragged their loads through very deep snow for the last two days. A moose-deer crossed the river just before the party: this animal is plentiful in the vicinity. We encamped in a pleasant well-sheltered place, having travelled fourteen miles.

A short distance on the following morning brought us to some Indian lodges which belonged to an old Chipewyan chief named the Sun and his family consisting of five hunters, their wives and children. They were delighted to see us and, when the object of our expedition had been explained to them, expressed themselves much interested in our progress; but they could not give a particle of information respecting the countries beyond the Athabasca Lake. We smoked with them and gave each person a glass of mixed spirits and some tobacco. A Canadian servant of the North-West Company who was residing with them informed us that this family had lost numerous relatives, and that the destruction of property which had been made after their deaths was the only cause for the pitiable condition in which we saw them as the whole family were industrious hunters and therefore were usually better provided with clothes and other useful articles than most of the Indians. We purchased from them a pair of snowshoes in exchange for some ammunition. The Chipewyans are celebrated for making them good and easy to walk in; we saw some here upwards of six feet long and three broad. With these unwieldy clogs an active hunter, in the spring when there is a crust on the surface of the snow, will run down a moose or red-deer.

We made very slow progress after leaving this party on account of the deep snow, but continued along the river until we reached its junction with the Athabasca or Elk River. We obtained observations on an island a little below the Forks which gave longitude 111 degrees 8 minutes 42 seconds West, variation 24 degrees 18 minutes 20 seconds East. Very little wood was seen during this day's march. The western shore near the Forks is destitute of trees; it is composed of lofty perpendicular cliffs which were now covered with snow. The eastern shore supports a few pines.

March 18.

Soon after our departure from the encampment we met two men from the establishment at Pierre au Calumet, who gave us correct information of its situation and distance. Having the benefit of their track we marched at a tolerably quick pace and made twenty-two miles in the course of the day though the weather was very disagreeable for travelling, being stormy with constant snow. We kept along the river the whole time: its breadth is about two miles. The islands appear better furnished with wood than its banks, the summits of which are almost bare. Soon after we had encamped our Indian guide rejoined us; he had remained behind the day before without consulting us to accompany a friend on a hunting excursion. On his return he made no endeavour to explain the reason of his absence but sat down coolly and began to prepare his supper. This behaviour made us sensible that little dependence is to be placed on the continuance of an Indian guide when his inclination leads him away.

Early the next morning we sent forward the Indian and a Canadian to apprise the gentleman in charge of Pierre au Calumet of our approach; and after breakfast the rest of the party proceeded along the river for that station which we reached in the afternoon. The senior partner of the North-West Company in the Athabasca department, Mr. John Stuart, was in charge of the post. Though he was quite ignorant until this morning of our being in the country we found him prepared to receive us with great kindness and ready to afford every information and assistance agreeably to the desire conveyed in Mr. Simon McGillivray's circular letter. This gentleman had twice traversed this continent and reached the Pacific by the Columbia River; he was therefore fully conversant with the different modes of travelling and with the obstacles that may be expected in passing through unfrequented countries. His suggestions and advice were consequently very valuable to us but, not having been to the northward of the Great Slave Lake, he had no knowledge of that line of country except what he had gained from the reports of Indians. He was of opinion however that positive information on which our course of proceedings might safely be determined could be procured from the Indians that frequent the north side of the lake when they came to the forts in the spring. He recommended my writing to the partner in charge of that department, requesting him to collect all the intelligence he could and to provide guides and hunters from the tribe best acquainted with the country through which we proposed to travel.

To our great regret Mr. Stuart expressed much doubt as to our prevailing upon any experienced Canadian voyagers to accompany us to the sea in consequence of their dread of the Esquimaux who, he informed us, had already destroyed the crew of one canoe which had been sent under Mr. Livingstone to open a trading communication with those who reside near the mouth of the Mackenzie River; and he also mentioned that the same tribe had driven away the canoes under Mr. Clark's direction, going to them on a similar object, to which circumstance I have alluded in my remarks at Isle a la Crosse.

This was unpleasant information but we were comforted by Mr. Stuart's assurance that himself and his partners would use every endeavour to remove their fears as well as to promote our views in every other way; and he undertook as a necessary part of our equipment in the spring to prepare the bark and other materials for constructing two canoes at this post.

Mr. Stuart informed us that the residents at Fort Chipewyan, from the recent sickness of their Indian hunters, had been reduced to subsist entirely on the produce of their fishing-nets, which did not yield more than a bare sufficiency for their support; and he kindly proposed to us to remain with him until the spring but, as we were most desirous to gain all the information we could as early as possible and Mr. Stuart assured us that the addition of three persons would not be materially felt in their large family at Chipewyan, we determined on proceeding thither and fixed on the 22nd for our departure.

Pierre au Calumet receives its name from the place where the stone is procured, of which many of the pipes used by the Canadians and Indians are made. It is a clayey limestone, impregnated with various shells. The house, which is built on the summit of a steep bank rising almost perpendicular to the height of one hundred and eighty feet, commands an extensive prospect along this fine river and over the plains which stretch out several miles at the back of it, bounded by hills of considerable height and apparently better furnished with wood than the neighbourhood of the fort where the trees grow very scantily. There had been an establishment belonging to the Hudson's Bay Company on the opposite bank of the river but it was abandoned in December last, the residents not being able to procure provision from their hunters having been disabled by the epidemic sickness which has carried off one-third of the Indians in these parts. They belong to the Northern Crees, a name given them from their residing in the Athabasca department. There are now but few families of these men who formerly by their numbers and predatory habits spread terror among the natives of this part of the country.

There are springs of bituminous matter on several of the islands near these houses; and the stones on the riverbank are much impregnated with this useful substance. There is also another place remarkable for the production of a sulphureous salt which is deposited on the surface of a round-backed hill about half a mile from the beach and on the marshy ground underneath it. We visited these places at a subsequent period of the journey and descriptions of them will appear in Dr. Richardson's Mineralogical Notices.

The latitude of the North-West Company's House is 57 degrees 24 minutes 06 seconds North, but this was the only observation we could obtain, the atmosphere being cloudy. Mr. Stuart had an excellent thermometer which indicated the lowest state of temperature to be 43 degrees below zero. He told me 45 degrees was the lowest temperature he had ever witnessed at the Athabasca or Great Slave Lake after many years' residence. On the 21st it rose above zero and at noon attained the height of 43 degrees; the atmosphere was sultry, snow fell constantly, and there was quite an appearance of a change in the season. On the 22nd we parted from our hospitable friend and recommenced our journey, but under the expectation of seeing him again in May, at which time the partners of the Company usually assemble at Fort Chipewyan where we hoped the necessary arrangements for our future proceedings would be completed. We encamped at sunset at the end of fourteen miles, having walked the whole way along the river which preserves nearly a true north course and is from four hundred to six hundred yards broad. The banks are high and well clothed with the liard, spruce, fir, alder, birch-tree and willows. Having come nineteen miles and a half on the 23rd we encamped among pines of a great height and girth.

Showers of snow fell until noon on the following day but we continued our journey along the river whose banks and islands became gradually lower as we advanced and less abundantly supplied with wood except willows. We passed an old Canadian who was resting his wearied dogs during the heat of the sun. He was carrying meat from some Indian lodges to Fort Chipewyan, having a burden exceeding two hundred and fifty pounds on his sledge which was dragged by two miserable dogs. He came up to our encampment after dark. We were much amused by the altercation that took place between him and our Canadian companions as to the qualifications of their respective dogs. This however is such a general topic of conversation among the voyagers in the encampment that we should not probably have remarked it had not the old man frequently offered to bet the whole of his wages that his two dogs, poor and lean as they were, would drag their load to the Athabasca Lake in less time than any three of theirs. Having expressed our surprise at his apparent temerity he coolly said the men from the lower countries did not understand the management of their dogs and that he depended on his superior skill in driving, and we soon gathered from his remarks that the voyagers of the Athabasca department consider themselves very superior to any other. The only reasons which he could assign were that they had borne their burdens across the terrible Methye Portage and that they were accustomed to live harder and more precariously.

March 25.

Having now the guidance of the old Canadian we sent forward the Indian and one of our men with letters to the gentleman at the Athabasca Lake. The rest of the party set off afterwards and kept along the river until ten when we branched off by portages into the Embarras River, the usual channel of communication in canoes with the lake. It is a narrow and serpentine stream confined between alluvial banks which support pines, poplars and willows. We had not advanced far before we overtook the two men despatched by us this morning. The stormy weather had compelled them to encamp as there was too much drifting of the snow for any attempt to cross the lake. We were obliged, though most reluctantly, to follow their example but comforted ourselves with the reflection that this was the first time we had been stopped by the weather during our long journey which was so near at an end. The gale afterwards increased, the squalls at night became very violent, disburdened the trees of the snow and gave us the benefit of a continual fall of patches from them, in addition to the constant shower. We therefore quickly finished our suppers and retired under the shelter of our blankets.


March 26.

The boisterous weather continued through the night and it was not before six this morning that the wind became apparently moderate and the snow ceased. Two of the Canadians were immediately sent off with letters to the gentlemen at Fort Chipewyan. After breakfast we also started but our Indian friend, having a great indisposition to move in such weather, remained by the fire. We soon quitted the river and, after crossing a portage, a small lake and a point of land, came to the borders of the Mammawee Lake. We then found our error as to the strength of the wind, and that the gale still blew violently and there was so much drifting of the snow as to cover the distant objects by which our course could be directed. We fortunately got a glimpse through this cloud of a cluster of islands in the direction of the houses, and decided on walking towards them; but in doing this we suffered very much from the cold and were obliged to halt under the shelter of them and await the arrival of our Indian guide. He conducted us between these islands, over a small lake, and by a swampy river into the Athabasca Lake, from whence the establishments were visible. At four P.M. we had the pleasure of arriving at Fort Chipewyan and of being received by Messrs. Keith and Black, the partners of the North-West Company in charge, in the most kind and hospitable manner. Thus terminated a winter's journey of eight hundred and fifty-seven miles, in the progress of which there was a great intermixture of agreeable and disagreeable circumstances. Could the amount of each be balanced I suspect the latter would much preponderate; and amongst these the initiation into walking in snowshoes must be considered as prominent. The suffering it occasions can be but faintly imagined by a person who thinks upon the inconvenience of marching with a weight of between two and three pounds constantly attached to galled feet and swelled ankles. Perseverance and practice only will enable the novice to surmount this pain.

The next evil is the being constantly exposed to witness the wanton and unnecessary cruelty of the men to their dogs, especially those of the Canadians who beat them unmercifully and habitually vent on them the most dreadful and disgusting imprecations. There are other inconveniences which, though keenly felt during the day's journey, are speedily forgotten when stretched out in the encampment before a large fire, you enjoy the social mirth of your companions who usually pass the evening in recounting their former feats in travelling. At this time the Canadians are always cheerful and merry and the only bar to their comfort arises from the frequent interruption occasioned by the dogs who are constantly prowling about the circle and snatching at every kind of food that happens to be within their reach. These useful animals are a comfort to them afterwards by the warmth they impart when lying down by their side or feet as they usually do. But the greatest gratifications a traveller in these regions enjoys are derived from the hospitable welcome he receives at every trading post, however poor the means of the host may be; and from being disrobed even for a short time of the trappings of a voyager and experiencing the pleasures of cleanness.

The following are the estimated distances in statute miles which Mr. Back and I had travelled since our departure from Cumberland:

From Cumberland House to Carlton House: 263. From Carlton House to Isle a la Crosse: 230. From Isle a la Crosse to north side of the Methye Portage: 124. From the Methye Portage to Fort Chipewyan: 240.

Total: 857 miles.




March 26, 1820.

On the day after our arrival at Fort Chipewyan we called upon Mr. MacDonald, the gentleman in charge of the Hudson's Bay Establishment called Fort Wedderburne, and delivered to him Governor Williams' circular letter which desired that every assistance should be given to further our progress, and a statement of the requisitions which we should have to make on his post.

Our first object was to obtain some certain information respecting our future route and accordingly we received from one of the North-West Company's interpreters, named Beaulieu, a half-breed who had been brought up amongst the Dog-ribbed and Copper Indians, some satisfactory information which we afterwards found tolerably correct respecting the mode of reaching the Copper-Mine River which he had descended a considerable way, as well as of the course of that river to its mouth. The Copper Indians however he said would be able to give us more accurate information as to the latter part of its course as they occasionally pursue it to the sea. He sketched on the floor a representation of the river and a line of coast according to his idea of it. Just as he had finished an old Chipewyan Indian named Black Meat unexpectedly came in and instantly recognised the plan. He then took the charcoal from Beaulieu and inserted a track along the sea-coast which he had followed in returning from a war excursion made by his tribe against the Esquimaux. He detailed several particulars of the coast and the sea which he represented as studded with well-wooded islands and free from ice close to the shore in the month of July, but not to a great distance. He described two other rivers to the eastward of the Copper-Mine River which also fall into the Northern Ocean, the Anatessy, which issues from the Contwayto or Rum Lake, and the Thloueeatessy or Fish River, which rises near the eastern boundary of the Great Slave Lake; but he represented both of them as being shallow and too much interrupted by barriers for being navigated in any other than small Indian canoes.

Having received this satisfactory intelligence I wrote immediately to Mr. Smith of the North-West Company and Mr. McVicar of the Hudson's Bay Company, the gentlemen in charge of the posts at the Great Slave Lake, to communicate the object of the Expedition and our proposed route, and to solicit any information they possessed or could collect from the Indians relative to the countries we had to pass through and the best manner of proceeding. As the Copper Indians frequent the establishment on the north side of the lake I particularly requested them to explain to that tribe the object of our visit and to endeavour to procure from them some guides and hunters to accompany our party. Two Canadians were sent by Mr. Keith with these letters.

The month of April commenced with fine and clear but extremely cold weather; unfortunately we were still without a thermometer and could not ascertain the degrees of temperature. The coruscations of the Aurora Borealis were very brilliant almost every evening of the first week and were generally of the most variable kind. On the 3rd they were particularly changeable. The first appearance exhibited three illuminated beams issuing from the horizon in the north, east, and west points, and directed towards the zenith; in a few seconds these disappeared and a complete circle was displayed, bounding the horizon at an elevation of fifteen degrees. There was a quick lateral motion in the attenuated beams of which this zone was composed. Its colour was a pale yellow with an occasional tinge of red.

On the 8th of April the Indians saw some geese in the vicinity of this lake but none of the migratory birds appeared near the houses before the 15th when some swans flew over. These are generally the first that arrive; the weather had been very stormy for the four preceding days and this in all probability kept the birds from venturing farther north than where the Indians had first seen them.

In the middle of the month the snow began to waste daily and by degrees it disappeared from the hills and the surface of the lake. On the 17th and 19th the Aurora Borealis appeared very brilliant in patches of light bearing North-West. An old Cree Indian having found a beaver-lodge near to the fort, Mr. Keith, Back, and I accompanied him to see the method of breaking into it and their mode of taking those interesting animals. The lodge was constructed on the side of a rock in a small lake having the entrance into it beneath the ice. The frames were formed of layers of sticks, the interstices being filled with mud, and the outside was plastered with earth and stones which the frost had so completely consolidated that to break through required great labour with the aid of the ice chisel and the other iron instruments which the beaver hunters use. The chase however was unsuccessful as the beaver had previously vacated the lodge.

On the 21st we observed the first geese that flew near the fort and some were brought to the house on the 30th but they were very lean. On the 25th flies were seen sporting in the sun and on the 26th the Athabasca River, having broken up, overflowed the lake along its channel; but except where this water spread there was no appearance of decay in the ice.


During the first part of this month the wind blew from the North-West and the sky was cloudy. It generally thawed during the day but froze at night. On the 2nd the Aurora Borealis faintly gleamed through very dense clouds.

We had a long conversation with Mr. Dease of the North-West Company who had recently arrived from his station at the bottom of the Athabasca Lake. This gentleman, having passed several winters on the Mackenzie's River and at the posts to the northward of Slave Lake, possessed considerable information respecting the Indians and those parts of the country to which our inquiries were directed, which he very promptly and kindly communicated. During our conversation an old Chipewyan Indian named the Rabbit's Head entered the room, to whom Mr. Dease referred for information on some point. We found from his answer that he was a stepson of the late chief Matonnabee who had accompanied Mr. Hearne on his journey to the sea, and that he had himself been of the party but, being then a mere boy, he had forgotten many of the circumstances. He confirmed however the leading incidents related by Hearne and was positive he reached the sea, though he admitted that none of the party had tasted the water. He represented himself to be the only survivor of that party. As he was esteemed a good Indian I presented him with a medal which he received gratefully and concluded a long speech upon the occasion by assuring me he should preserve it carefully all his life. The old man afterwards became more communicative and unsolicited began to relate the tradition of his tribe respecting the discovery of the Copper-Mine, which we thought amusing: and as the subject is somewhat connected with our future researches I will insert the translation of it which was given at the time by Mr. Dease, though a slight mention of it has been made by Hearne.

The Chipewyans suppose the Esquimaux originally inhabited some land to the northward which is separated by the sea from this country; and that in the earliest ages of the world a party of these men came over and stole a woman from their tribe whom they carried to this distant country and kept in a state of slavery. She was very unhappy in her situation and effected her escape after many years residence among them. The forlorn creature wandered about for some days in a state of uncertainty what direction to take, when she chanced to fall upon a beaten path which she followed and was led to the sea. At the sight of the ocean her hope of being able to return to her native country vanished and she sat herself down in despair and wept. A wolf now advanced to caress her and, having licked the tears from her eyes, walked into the water, and she perceived with joy that it did not reach up to the body of the animal; emboldened by this appearance she instantly arose, provided two sticks to support herself, and determined on following the wolf. The first and second nights she proceeded on without finding any increase in the depth of the water and, when fatigued, rested herself on the sticks whose upper ends she fastened together for the purpose. She was alarmed on the third morning by arriving at a deeper part, but resolved on going forward at any risk rather than return; and her daring perseverance was crowned with success by her attaining her native shore on the fifth day. She fortunately came to a part where there was a beaten path which she knew to be the track made by the reindeer in their migrations. Here she halted and prepared some sort of weapon for killing them; as soon as this was completed she had the gratification to behold several herds advancing along the road, and had the happiness of killing a sufficient number for her winter's subsistence, which she determined to pass at that place, and therefore formed a house for herself after the manner she had learned from the Esquimaux. When spring came and she emerged from her subterraneous dwelling (for such the Chipewyans suppose it to have been) she was astonished by observing a glittering appearance on a distant hill which she knew was not produced by the reflection of the sun and, being at a loss to assign any other cause for it, she resolved on going up to the shining object and then found the hill was entirely composed of copper. She broke off several pieces and, finding it yielded so readily to her beating, it occurred to her that this metal would be very serviceable to her countrymen if she should find them again. While she was meditating on what was to be done the thought struck her that it would be advisable to attach as many pieces of copper to her dress as she could and then proceed into the interior in search of some inhabitants who, she supposed, would give her a favourable reception on account of the treasure she had brought.

It happened that she met her own relations and the young men, elated with the account she had given of the hill, made her instantly return with them, which she was enabled to do, having taken the precaution of putting up marks to indicate the path. The party reached the spot in safety but the story had a melancholy catastrophe. These youths, overcome by excess of joy, gave loose to their passions and offered the grossest insults to their benefactress. She powerfully resisted them for some time and, when her strength was failing, fled to the point of the mountain as the only place of security. The moment she had gained the summit the earth opened and ingulphed both herself and the mountain to the utter dismay of the men who were not more astonished at its sudden disappearance than sorrowful for this just punishment of their wickedness. Ever since this event the copper has only been found in small detached pieces on the surface of the earth.


On the 10th of May we were gratified by the appearance of spring though the ice remained firm on the lake. The anemone (pulsatilla, pasque flower) appeared this day in flower, the trees began to put forth their leaves, and the mosquitoes visited the warm rooms. On the 17th and 18th there were frequent showers of rain and much thunder and lightning. This moist weather caused the ice to waste so rapidly that by the 24th it had entirely disappeared from the lake. The gentlemen belonging to both the Companies quickly arrived from the different posts in this department, bringing their winter's collection of furs which are forwarded from these establishments to the depots.

I immediately waited on Mr. Colin Robertson, the agent of the Hudson's Bay Company, and communicated to him, as I had done before to the several partners of the North-West Company, our plan and the requisitions we should have to make on each Company, and I requested of all the gentlemen the favour of their advice and suggestions. As I perceived that the arrangement of their winter accounts and other business fully occupied them I forbore further pressing the subject of our concerns for some days until there was an appearance of despatching the first brigade of canoes. It then became necessary to urge their attention to them; but it was evident from the determined commercial opposition and the total want of intercourse between the two Companies that we could not expect to receive any cordial advice or the assurance of the aid of both without devising some expedient to bring the parties together. I therefore caused a tent to be pitched at a distance from both establishments and solicited the gentlemen of both Companies to meet Mr. Back and myself there for the purpose of affording us their combined assistance.

With this request they immediately complied and on May 25th we were joined at the tent by Mr. Stuart and Mr. Grant of the North-West Company and Mr. Colin Robertson of the Hudson's Bay Company, all of whom kindly gave very satisfactory answers to a series of questions which we had drawn up for the occasion and promised all the aid in their power.


Furnished with the information thus obtained we proceeded to make some arrangements respecting the obtaining of men and the stores we should require for their equipment as well as for presents to the Indians; and on the following day a requisition was made on the Companies for eight men each and whatever useful stores they could supply. We learned with regret that, in consequence of the recent lavish expenditure of their goods in support of the opposition, their supply to us would of necessity be very limited. The men too were backward in offering their services, especially those of the Hudson's Bay Company who demanded a much higher rate of wages than I considered it proper to grant.

June 3.

Mr. Smith, a partner of the North-West Company, arrived from the Great Slave Lake bearing the welcome news that the principal chief of the Copper Indians had received the communication of our arrival with joy and given all the intelligence he possessed respecting the route to the sea-coast by the Copper-Mine River; and that he and a party of his men, at the instance of Mr. Wentzel, a clerk of the North-West Company whom they wished might go along with them, had engaged to accompany the Expedition as guides and hunters. They were to wait our arrival at Fort Providence on the north side of the Slave Lake. Their information coincided with that given by Beaulieu. They had no doubt of our being able to obtain the means of subsistence in travelling to the coast. This agreeable intelligence had a happy effect upon the Canadian voyagers, many of their fears being removed: several of them seemed now disposed to volunteer; and indeed on the same evening two men from the North-West Company offered themselves and were accepted.

June 5.

This day Mr. Back and I went over to Fort Wedderburne to see Mr. Robertson respecting his quota of men. We learned from him that, notwithstanding his endeavours to persuade them, his most experienced voyagers still declined engaging without very exorbitant wages. After some hesitation however six men engaged with us who were represented to be active and steady; and I also got Mr. Robertson's permission for St. Germain, an interpreter belonging to this Company, to accompany us from Slave Lake if he should choose. The bowmen and steersmen were to receive one thousand six hundred livres Halifax per annum, and the middle men one thousand two hundred, exclusive of their necessary equipments; and they stipulated that their wages should be continued until their arrival in Montreal or their rejoining the service of their present employers.

I delivered to Mr. Robertson an official request that the stores we had left at York Factory and the Rock Depot with some other supplies might be forwarded to Slave Lake by the first brigade of canoes which should come in. He also took charge of my letters addressed to the Admiralty. Five men were afterwards engaged from the North-West Company for the same wages and under the same stipulations as the others, besides an interpreter for the Copper Indians; but this man required three thousand livres Halifax currency which we were obliged to give him as his services were indispensable.

The extreme scarcity of provision at the posts rendered it necessary to despatch all our men to the Mammawee Lake where they might procure their own subsistence by fishing. The women and children resident at the fort were also sent away for the same purpose; and no other families were permitted to remain at the houses after the departure of the canoes than those belonging to the men who were required to carry on the daily duty.

The large party of officers and men which had assembled here from the different posts in the department was again quickly dispersed. The first brigade of canoes laden with furs was despatched to the depot on May 30th and the others followed in two or three days afterwards. Mr. Stuart, the senior partner of the North-West Company, quitted us for the same destination on June 4th; Mr. Robertson for his depot on the next day; and on the 9th we parted with our friend Mr. Keith, to whose unremitting kindness we felt much indebted. I entrusted to his care a box containing some drawings by Mr. Back, the map of our route from Cumberland House, and the skin of a black beaver (presented to the Expedition by Mr. Smith) with my official letters addressed to the Under-Secretary of State. I wrote by each of these gentlemen to inform Dr. Richardson and Mr. Hood of the scarcity of stores at these posts and to request them to procure all they possibly could on their route. Mr. Smith was left in charge of this post during the summer; this gentleman soon evinced his desire to further our progress by directing a new canoe to be built for our use which was commenced immediately.

June 21.

This day an opportunity offered of sending letters to the Great Slave Lake and I profited by it to request Mr. Wentzel would accompany the Expedition agreeably to the desire of the Copper Indians, communicating to him that I had received permission for him to do so from the partners of the North-West Company. Should he be disposed to comply with my invitation I desired that he would go over to Fort Providence and remain near the Indians whom he had engaged for our service. I feared lest they should become impatient at our unexpected delay and, with the usual fickleness of the Indian character, remove from the establishment before we could arrive. It had been my intention to go to them myself, could the articles with which they expected to be presented on my arrival have been provided at these establishments; but as they could not be procured I was compelled to defer my visit until our canoes should arrive. Mr. Smith supposed that my appearance amongst them without the means of satisfying any of their desires would give them an unfavourable impression respecting the Expedition which would make them indifferent to exertion if it did not even cause them to withdraw from their engagements.

The establishments at this place, Forts Chipewyan and Wedderburne, the chief posts of the Companies in this department, are conveniently situated for communicating with the Slave and Peace Rivers from whence the canoes assemble in the spring and autumn; on the first occasion they bring the collection of furs which has been made at the different outposts during the winter; and at the latter season they receive a supply of stores for the equipment of the Indians in their vicinity. Fort Wedderburne is a small house which was constructed on Coal Island about five years ago when the Hudson's Bay Company recommenced trading in this part of the country. Fort Chipewyan has been built many years and is an establishment of very considerable extent, conspicuously situated on a rocky point of the northern shore; it has a tower which can be seen at a considerable distance. This addition was made about eight years ago to watch the motions of the Indians who intended, as it was then reported, to destroy the house and all its inhabitants. They had been instigated to this rash design by the delusive stories of one among them who had acquired great influence over his companions by his supposed skill in necromancy. This fellow had prophesied that there would soon be a complete change in the face of their country, that fertility and plenty would succeed to the present sterility, and that the present race of white inhabitants, unless they became subservient to the Indians, would be removed and their place be filled by other traders who would supply their wants in every possible manner. The poor deluded wretches, imagining they would hasten this happy change by destroying their present traders, of whose submission there was no prospect, threatened to extirpate them. None of these menaces however were put in execution. They were probably deterred from the attempt by perceiving that a most vigilant guard was kept against them.

The portion of this extensive lake which is near the establishments is called The Lake of the Hills, not improperly as the northern shore and the islands are high and rocky. The south side however is quite level, consisting of alluvial land, subject to be flooded, lying betwixt the different mouths of the Elk River and much intersected by water. The rocks of the northern shore are composed of syenite over which the soil is thinly spread; it is however sufficient to support a variety of firs and poplars and many shrubs, lichens and mosses. The trees were now in full foliage, the plants generally in flower, and the whole scene quite enlivening. There can scarcely be a higher gratification than that which is enjoyed in this country in witnessing the rapid change which takes place in the course of a few days in the spring; scarcely does the snow disappear from the ground before the trees are clothed with thick foliage, the shrubs open their leaves and put forth their variegated flowers, and the whole prospect becomes animating. The spaces between the rocky hills, being for the most part swampy, support willows and a few poplars. These spots are the favourite resort of the mosquitoes, which incessantly torment the unfortunate persons who have to pass through them.

Some of the hills attain an elevation of five or six hundred feet at the distance of a mile from the house; and from their summits a very picturesque view is commanded of the lake and of the surrounding country. The land above the Great Point at the confluence of the main stream of the Elk River is six or seven hundred feet high and stretches in a southern direction behind Pierre au Calumet. Opposite to that establishment, on the west side of the river, at some distance in the interior, the Bark Mountain rises and ranges to the North-West until it reaches Clear Lake, about thirty miles to the southward of these forts, and then goes to the south-westward. The Cree Indians generally procure from this range their provision as well as the bark for making their canoes. There is another range of hills on the south shore which runs towards the Peace River.

The residents of these establishments depend for subsistence almost entirely on the fish which this lake affords; they are usually caught in sufficient abundance throughout the winter though at the distance of eighteen miles from the houses; on the thawing of the ice the fish remove into some smaller lakes and the rivers to the south shore. Though they are nearer to the forts than in winter it frequently happens that high winds prevent the canoes from transporting them thither and the residents are kept in consequence without a supply of food for two or three days together. The fish caught in the net are the attihhawmegh, trout, carp, methye, and pike.*

(*Footnote. See above.)

The traders also get supplied by the hunters with buffalo and moose-deer meat (which animals are found at some distance from the forts) but the greater part of it is either in a dried state or pounded ready for making pemmican and is required for the men whom they keep travelling during the winter to collect the furs from the Indians, and for the crews of the canoes on their outward passage to the depots in spring. There was a great want of provision this season, and both the Companies had much difficulty to provide a bare sufficiency for their different brigades of canoes. Mr. Smith assured me that after the canoes had been despatched he had only five hundred pounds of meat remaining for the use of the men who might travel from the post during the summer and that, five years preceding, there had been thirty thousand pounds in store under similar circumstances. He ascribed this amazing difference more to the indolent habits which the Indians had acquired since the commercial struggle commenced than to their recent sickness, mentioning in confirmation of his opinion that they could now, by the produce of little exertion, obtain whatever they demanded from either establishment.

At the opening of the water in spring the Indians resort to the establishments to settle their accounts with the traders and to procure the necessaries they require for the summer. This meeting is generally a scene of much riot and confusion as the hunters receive such quantities of spirits as to keep them in a state of intoxication for several days. This spring however, owing to the great deficiency of spirits, we had the gratification of seeing them generally sober. They belong to the great family of the Chipewyan or Northern Indians, dialects of their language being spoken in the Peace and Mackenzie's Rivers and by the populous tribes in New Caledonia, as ascertained by Sir Alexander Mackenzie in his journey to the Pacific. They style themselves generally Dinneh men or Indians, but each tribe or horde adds some distinctive epithet taken from the name of the river or lake on which they hunt, or the district from which they last migrated. Those who come to Fort Chipewyan term themselves Saweessawdinneh (Indians from the rising sun or Eastern Indians) their original hunting grounds being between the Athabasca and Great Slave Lakes and Churchill River. This district, more particularly termed the Chipewyan lands or barren country, is frequented by numerous herds of reindeer which furnish easy subsistence and clothing to the Indians, but the traders endeavour to keep them in the parts to the westward where the beavers resort. There are about one hundred and sixty hunters who carry their furs to the Great Slave Lake, forty to Hay River, and two hundred and forty to Fort Chipewyan. A few Northern Indians also resort to the posts at the bottom of the Lake of the Hills, on Red Deer Lake, and to Churchill. The distance however of the latter post from their hunting grounds and the sufferings to which they are exposed in going thither from want of food have induced those who were formerly accustomed to visit it to convey their furs to some nearer station.

These people are so minutely described by Hearne and Mackenzie that little can be added by a passing stranger whose observations were made during short interviews and when they were at the forts, where they lay aside many of their distinguishing characteristics and strive to imitate the manners of the voyagers and traders.

The Chipewyans are by no means prepossessing in appearance: they have broad faces, projecting cheek-bones and wide nostrils; but they have generally good teeth and fine eyes. When at the fort they imitate the dress of the Canadians except that instead of trousers they prefer the Indian stockings, which only reach from the thigh to the ankle, and in place of the waistband they have a piece of cloth round the middle which hangs down loosely before and behind. Their hunting dress consists of a leathern shirt and stockings over which a blanket is thrown, the head being covered with a fur cap or band. Their manner is reserved and their habits are selfish; they beg with unceasing importunity for everything they see. I never saw men who either received or bestowed a gift with such bad grace; they almost snatch the thing from you in the one instance and throw it at you in the other. It could not be expected that such men should display in their tents the amiable hospitality which prevails generally amongst the Indians of this country. A stranger may go away hungry from their lodges unless he possess sufficient impudence to thrust uninvited his knife into the kettle and help himself. The owner indeed never deigns to take any notice of such an act of rudeness except by a frown, it being beneath the dignity of a hunter to make disturbance about a piece of meat.

As some relief to the darker shades of their character it should be stated that instances of theft are extremely rare amongst them. They profess strong affection for their children and some regard for their relations who are often numerous, as they trace very far the ties of consanguinity. A curious instance of the former was mentioned to us and so well authenticated that I shall venture to give it in the words of Dr. Richardson's Journal:

A young Chipewyan had separated from the rest of his band for the purpose of trenching beaver when his wife, who was his sole companion and in her first pregnancy, was seized with the pains of labour. She died on the third day after she had given birth to a boy. The husband was inconsolable and vowed in his anguish never to take another woman to wife, but his grief was soon in some degree absorbed in anxiety for the fate of his infant son. To preserve its life he descended to the office of nurse, so degrading in the eyes of a Chipewyan as partaking of the duties of a woman. He swaddled it in soft moss, fed it with broth made from the flesh of the deer and, to still its cries, applied it to his breast, praying earnestly to the great Master of Life to assist his endeavours. The force of the powerful passion by which he was actuated produced the same effect in his case as it has done in some others which are recorded: a flow of milk actually took place from his breast. He succeeded in rearing his child, taught him to be a hunter and, when he attained the age of manhood, chose him a wife from the tribe. The old man kept his vow in never taking a second wife himself but he delighted in tending his son's children and, when his daughter-in-law used to interfere, saying that it was not the occupation of a man, he was wont to reply that he had promised to the Great Master of Life, if his child were spared, never to be proud like the other Indians. He used to mention too, as a certain proof of the approbation of Providence that, although he was always obliged to carry his child on his back while hunting, yet that it never roused a moose by its cries, being always particularly still at those times. Our informant* added that he had often seen this Indian in his old age and that his left breast even then retained the unusual size it had acquired in his occupation of nurse.

(*Footnote. Mr. Wentzel.)


We had proof of their sensibility towards their relations in their declining to pitch their tents where they had been accustomed for many years, alleging a fear of being reminded of the happy hours they had formerly spent there in the society of the affectionate relatives whom the sickness had recently carried off. The change of situation however had not the effect of relieving them from sorrowful impressions, and they occasionally indulged in very loud lamentations as they sat in groups within and without their tents. Unfortunately the spreading of a severe dysentery amongst them at this time gave occasion for the renewal of their grief. The medicinal charms of drumming and singing were plentifully applied and once they had recourse to conjuring over a sick person. I was informed however that the Northern Indians do not make this expedient for the cure of a patient so often as the Crees; but when they do the conjurer is most assiduous and suffers great personal fatigue. Particular persons only are trained in the mysteries of the art of conjuring to procure the recovery of the sick or to disclose future events.

On extraordinary occasions the man remains in his narrow conjuring tents for days without eating before he can determine the matter to his satisfaction. When he is consulted about the sick the patient is shut up with him; but on other occasions he is alone and the poor creature often works his mind up to a pitch of illusion that can scarcely be imagined by one who has not witnessed it. His deluded companions seat themselves round his tent and await his communication with earnest anxiety, yet during the progress of his manoeuvres they often venture to question him as to the disposition of the Great Spirit.

These artful fellows usually gain complete ascendancy over the minds of their companions. They are supported by voluntary contributions of provision that their minds may not be diverted by the labour of hunting from the peculiar duties of their profession.

The chiefs among the Chipewyans are now totally without power. The presents of a flag and a gaudy dress still bestowed upon them by the traders do not procure for them any respect or obedience except from the youths of their own families. This is to be attributed mainly to their living at peace with their neighbours and to the facility which the young men find in getting their wants supplied independent of the recommendation of the chiefs which was formerly required. In war excursions boldness and intrepidity would still command respect and procure authority; but the influence thus acquired would probably cease with the occasion that called it forth. The traders however endeavour to support their authority by continuing towards them the accustomed marks of respect hoisting the flag and firing a salute of musketry on their entering the fort.

The chief halts at a distance from the house and despatches one of his young men to announce his approach and to bring his flag, which is carried before him when he arrives. The messenger carries back to him some vermilion to ornament the faces of his party, together with a looking-glass and comb, some tobacco, and a few rounds of ammunition that they may return the salute. These men paint round the eyes, the forehead, and the cheekbones.

The Northern Indians evince no little vanity by assuming to themselves the comprehensive title of The People, whilst they designate all other nations by the name of their particular country. If men were seen at a distance and a Chipewyan was asked who those persons were he would answer The People if he recognised them to belong to his tribe and never Chipewyans; but he would give them their respective names if they were Europeans, Canadians, or Cree Indians.

As they suppose their ancestors to come originally from the east those who happen to be born in the eastern part of their territory are considered to be of the purest race. I have been informed that all the Indians who trade at the different posts in the north-west parts of America imagine that their forefathers came from the east, except the Dog-Ribs who reside between the Copper Indian Islands and the Mackenzie's River and who deduce their origin from the west, which is the more remarkable as they speak a dialect of the Chipewyan language. I could gather no information respecting their religious opinions except that they have a tradition of the deluge.

The Chipewyans are considered to be less expert hunters than the Crees, which probably arises from their residing much on the barren lands where the reindeer are so numerous that little skill is requisite. A good hunter however is highly esteemed among them. The facility of procuring goods since the commercial opposition commenced has given great encouragement to their native indolence of disposition, as is manifested by the difference in the amount of their collections of furs and provision between the late and former years. From six to eight hundred packs of furs used formerly to be sent from this department, now the return seldom exceeds half that amount. The decrease in the provision has been already mentioned.

The Northern Indians suppose that they originally sprang from a dog; and about five years ago a superstitious fanatic so strongly impressed upon their minds the impropriety of employing these animals, to which they were related, for purposes of labour that they universally resolved against using them any more and, strange as it may seem, destroyed them. They now have to drag everything themselves on sledges. This laborious task falls most heavily on the women; nothing can more shock the feelings of a person accustomed to civilised life than to witness the state of their degradation. When a party is on a march the women have to drag the tent, the meat, and whatever the hunter possesses, whilst he only carries his gun and medicine case. In the evening they form the encampment, cut wood, fetch water, and prepare the supper; and then, perhaps, are not permitted to partake of the fare until the men have finished. A successful hunter sometimes has two or three wives; whoever happens to be the favourite assumes authority over the others and has the management of the tent. These men usually treat their wives unkindly and even with harshness; except indeed when they are about to increase the family and then they show them much indulgence.

Hearne charges the Chipewyans with the dreadful practice of abandoning, in extremity, their aged and sick people. The only instance that came under our personal notice was attended with some palliating circumstances: An old woman arrived at Fort Chipewyan during our residence with her son, a little boy about ten years old, both of whom had been deserted by their relations and left in an encampment when much reduced by sickness: two or three days after their departure the woman gained a little strength and, with the assistance of the boy, was enabled to paddle a canoe to the fishing station of this post where they were supported for some days until they were enabled to proceed in search of some other relations who they expected would treat them with more kindness. I learned that the woman bore an extremely bad character, having even been guilty of infanticide and that her companions considered her offences merited the desertion.

This tribe since its present intimate connection with the traders has discontinued its war excursions against the Esquimaux, but they still speak of that nation in terms of the most inveterate hatred. We have only conversed with four men who have been engaged in any of those expeditions; all these confirm the statements of Black Meat respecting the sea-coast. Our observations concerning the half-breed population in this vicinity coincided so exactly with those which have been given of similar persons in Dr. Richardson's account of the Crees that any statement respecting them at this place is unnecessary. Both the Companies have wisely prohibited their servants from intermarrying with pure Indian women, which was formerly the cause of many quarrels with the tribes.

The weather was extremely variable during the month of June; we scarcely had two clear days in succession, and the showers of rain were frequent; the winds were often strong and generally blowing from the north-east quarter. On the evening of the 16th the Aurora Borealis was visible but after that date the nights were too light for our discerning it.

The mosquitoes swarmed in great numbers about the house and tormented us so incessantly by their irritating stings that we were compelled to keep our rooms constantly filled with smoke which is the only means of driving them away: the weather indeed was now warm. Having received one of Dollond's eighteen-inch spirit thermometers from Mr. Stuart, which he had the kindness to send us from his post at Pierre au Calumet after he had learned that ours had been rendered useless, I observed the temperature at noon on the 25th of June to be 63 degrees.

On the following morning we made an excursion accompanied by Mr. Smith round the fishing stations on the south side of the lake for the purpose of visiting our men; we passed several groups of women and children belonging to both the forts, posted wherever they could find a sufficiently dry spot for an encampment. At length we came to our men, pitched upon a narrow strip of land situated between two rivers. Though the portion of dry ground did not exceed fifty yards yet they appeared to be living very comfortably, having formed huts with the canoe's sail and covering, and were amply supported by the fish their nets daily furnished. They sometimes had a change in their fare by procuring a few ducks and other waterfowl which resort in great abundance to the marshes by which they were surrounded.

July 2.

The canoe which was ordered to be built for our use was finished. As it was constructed after the manner described by Hearne and several of the American travellers a detail of the process will be unnecessary. Its extreme length was thirty-two feet six inches, including the bow and stern pieces, its greatest breadth was four feet ten inches, but it was only two feet nine inches forward where the bowman sat, and two feet four inches behind where the steersman was placed, and its depth was one foot eleven and a quarter inches. There were seventy-three hoops of thin cedar and a layer of slender laths of the same wood within the frame. These feeble vessels of bark will carry twenty-five pieces of goods, each weighing ninety pounds exclusive of the necessary provision and baggage for the crew of five or six men, amounting in the whole to about three thousand three hundred pounds' weight. This great lading they annually carry between the depots and the posts in the interior; and it rarely happens that any accidents occur if they be managed by experienced bowmen and steersmen, on whose skill the safety of the canoe entirely depends in the rapids and difficult places. When a total portage is made these two men carry the canoe, and they often run with it though its weight is estimated at about three hundred pounds exclusive of the poles and oars which are occasionally left in where the distance is short.

On the 5th we made an excursion for the purpose of trying our canoe. A heavy gale came on in the evening which caused a great swell in the lake and in crossing the waves we had the satisfaction to find that our birchen vessel proved an excellent sea-boat.

July 7.

This morning some men and their families, who had been sent off to search for Indians with whom they intended to pass the summer, returned to the fort in consequence of a serious accident having befallen their canoe in the Red Deer River; when they were in the act of hauling up a strong rapid the line broke, the canoe was overturned, and two of the party narrowly escaped drowning; fortunately the women and children happened to be on shore or in all probability they would have perished in the confusion of the scene. Nearly all their stores, their guns and fishing nets were lost, and they could not procure any other food for the last four days than some unripe berries.

Some gentlemen arrived in the evening with a party of Chipewyan Indians from Hay River, a post between the Peace River and the Great Slave Lake. These men gave distressing accounts of sickness among their relatives and the Indians in general along the Peace River, and they said many of them have died. The disease was described as dysentery. On the 10th and 11th we had very sultry weather and were dreadfully tormented by mosquitoes. The highest temperature was 73 degrees.


July 13.

This morning Mr. Back and I had the sincere gratification of welcoming our long-separated friends, Dr. Richardson and Mr. Hood, who arrived in perfect health with two canoes, having made a very expeditious journey from Cumberland notwithstanding they were detained near three days in consequence of the melancholy loss of one of their bowmen by the upsetting of a canoe in a strong rapid but, as the occurrences of this journey together with the mention of some other circumstances that happened previous to their departure from Cumberland, which have been extracted from Mr. Hood's narrative, will appear in the following chapter, it will be unnecessary to enter further into these points now.

The zeal and talent displayed by Dr. Richardson and Mr. Hood in the discharge of their several duties since my separation from them drew forth my highest approbation. These gentlemen had brought all the stores they could procure from the establishments at Cumberland and Isle a la Crosse; and at the latter place they had received ten bags of pemmican from the North-West Company, which proved to be mouldy and so totally unfit for use that it was left at the Methye Portage. They got none from the Hudson's Bay post. The voyagers belonging to that Company, being destitute of provision, had eaten what was intended for us. In consequence of these untoward circumstances the canoes arrived with only one day's supply of this most essential article. The prospect of having to commence our journey from hence almost destitute of provision and scantily supplied with stores was distressing to us and very discouraging to the men. It was evident however that any unnecessary delay here would have been very imprudent as Fort Chipewyan did not at the present time furnish the means of subsistence for so large a party, much less was there a prospect of our receiving a supply to carry us forward. We therefore hastened to make the necessary arrangements for our speedy departure. All the stores were demanded that could possibly be spared from both the establishments; and we rejoiced to find that, when this collection was added to the articles that had been brought up by the canoes, we had a sufficient quantity of clothing for the equipment of the men who had been engaged here, as well as to furnish a present to the Indians, besides some few goods for the winter's consumption; but we could not procure any ammunition which was the most essential article, or spirits, and but little tobacco.

We then made a final arrangement respecting the voyagers who were to accompany the party; and fortunately there was no difficulty in doing this as Dr. Richardson and Mr. Hood had taken the very judicious precaution of bringing up ten men from Cumberland who were engaged to proceed forward if their services were required. The Canadians whom they brought were most desirous of being continued, and we felt sincere pleasure in being able to keep men who were so zealous in the cause and who had given proofs of their activity on their recent passage to this place by discharging those men who were less willing to undertake the journey; of these three were Englishmen, one American, and three Canadians. When the numbers were completed which we had been recommended by the traders to take as a protection against the Esquimaux we had sixteen Canadian voyagers and our worthy and only English attendant John Hepburn, besides the two interpreters whom we were to receive at the Great Slave Lake; we were also accompanied by a Chipewyan woman. An equipment of goods was given to each of the men who had been engaged at this place similar to what had been furnished to the others at Cumberland; and when this distribution had been made the remainder were made up into bales preparatory to our departure on the following day. We were cheerfully assisted in these and all our occupations by Mr. Smith who evinced an anxious desire to supply our wants as far as his means permitted.

Mr. Hood having brought up the dipping needle from Cumberland House, we ascertained the dip to be 85 degrees 23 minutes 42 seconds, and the difference produced by reversing the face of the instrument was 6 degrees 2 minutes 10 seconds. The intensity of the magnetic force was also observed. Several observations had been procured on both sides of the moon during our residence at Fort Chipewyan, the result of which gave for its longitude 111 degrees 18 minutes 20 seconds West, its latitude was observed to be 58 degrees 42 minutes 38 seconds North, and the variation of the compass 22 degrees 49 minutes 32 seconds East. Fresh rates were procured for the chronometers and their errors determined for Greenwich time by which the survey to the northward was carried on.




March, 1820.

Being desirous of obtaining a drawing of a moose-deer, and also of making some observation on the height of the Aurora Borealis, I set out on the 23rd to pass a few days at the Basquiau Hill. Two men accompanied me with dogs and sledges who were going to the hill for meat. We found the Saskatchewan open and were obliged to follow it several miles to the eastward. We did not then cross it without wading in water which had overflowed the ice, and our snowshoes were encumbered with a heavy weight for the remainder of the day. On the south bank of the Saskatchewan were some poplars ten or twelve feet in circumference at the root. Beyond the river we traversed an extensive swamp bounded by woods. In the evening we crossed the Swan Lake, about six miles in breadth and eight in length, and halted on its south side for the night, twenty-four miles South-South-West of Cumberland House.

At four in the morning of the 24th we continued the journey and crossed some creeks in the woods and another large swamp. These swamps are covered with water in summer to the depth of several feet which arises from the melted snow from the higher grounds. The tracks of foxes, wolves, wolverines and martens were very numerous. The people employed in carrying meat set traps on their way out and take possession of their captures at their return, for which they receive a sum from the Company proportioned to the value of the fur.

In the evening we crossed the Goose Lake which is a little longer than Swan Lake and afterwards the river Sepanach, a branch of the Saskatchewan forming an island extending thirty miles above and forty below Cumberland House. We turned to the westward on the Root River which enters the Sepanach and halted on its banks, having made in direct distance not more than twenty miles since the 23rd.

We passed the Shoal Lake on the 25th and then marched twelve miles through woods and swamps to a hunting tent of the Indians. It was situated in a grove of large poplars and would have been no unpleasant residence if we could have avoided the smoke. A heavy gale from the westward with snow confined us for several days to this tent. On the 30th two Indians arrived, one of whom, named the Warrior, was well known at the House. We endeavoured to prevail upon them to set out in quest of moose which they agreed to do on receiving some rum. Promises were of no avail; the smallest present gratification is preferred to the certainty of ample reward at another period; an unfailing indication of strong animal passions and a weak understanding. On our compliance with their demand they departed.

The next day I went to the Warrior's tent distant about eleven miles. The country was materially changed: the pine had disappeared and gentle slopes with clumps of large poplars formed some pleasing groups: willows were scattered over the swamps. When I entered the tent the Indians spread a buffalo robe before the fire and desired me to sit down. Some were eating, others sleeping, many of them without any covering except the breechcloth and a blanket over the shoulders, a state in which they love to indulge themselves till hunger drives them forth to the chase. Besides the Warrior's family there was that of another hunter named Long-legs whose bad success in hunting had reduced him to the necessity of feeding on moose leather for three weeks when he was compassionately relieved by the Warrior. I was an unwilling witness of the preparation of my dinner by the Indian women. They cut into pieces a portion of fat meat, using for that purpose a knife and their teeth. It was boiled in a kettle and served in a platter made of birch bark from which, being dirty, they had peeled the surface. However the flavour of good moose meat will survive any process that it undergoes in their hands except smoking.

Having provided myself with some drawing materials I amused the Indians with a sketch of the interior of the tent and its inhabitants. An old woman who was relating with great volubility an account of some quarrel with the traders at Cumberland House broke off from her narration when she perceived my design, supposing perhaps that I was employing some charm against her; for the Indians have been taught a supernatural dread of particular pictures. One of the young men drew with a piece of charcoal a figure resembling a frog on the side of the tent and, by significantly pointing at me, excited peals of merriment from his companions. The caricature was comic, but I soon fixed their attention by producing my pocket compass and affecting it with a knife. They have great curiosity which might easily be directed to the attainment of useful knowledge. As the dirt accumulated about these people was visibly of a communicative nature I removed at night into the open air where the thermometer fell to 15 degrees below zero although it was the next day 60 degrees above it.

In the morning the Warrior and his companion arrived; I found that, instead of hunting, they had passed the whole time in a drunken fit at a short distance from the tent. In reply to our angry questions the Warrior held out an empty vessel as if to demand the payment of a debt before he entered into any new negotiation. Not being inclined to starve his family we set out for another Indian tent ten miles to the southward, but we found only the frame or tent poles standing when we reached the spot. The men, by digging where the fireplace had been, ascertained that the Indians had quitted it the day before and, as their marches are short when encumbered with the women and baggage, we sought out their track and followed it. At an abrupt angle of it which was obscured by trees the men suddenly disappeared and, hastening forward to discover the cause, I perceived them both still rolling at the foot of a steep cliff over which they had been dragged while endeavouring to stop the descent of their sledges. The dogs were gazing silently with the wreck of their harness about them and the sledges deeply buried in the snow. The effects of this accident did not detain us long and we proceeded afterwards with greater caution.


The air was warm at noon and the solitary but sweet notes of the jay, the earliest spring bird, were in every wood. Late in the evening we descried the ravens wheeling in circles round a small grove of poplars and, according to our expectations, found the Indians encamped there.

The men were absent hunting and returned unsuccessful. They had been several days without provisions and, thinking that I could depend upon the continuance of their exertions, I gave them a little rum; the next day their set out and at midnight they swept by us with their dogs in close pursuit.

In the morning we found that a moose had eaten the bark of a tree near our fire. The hunters however again failed; and they attributed the extreme difficulty of approaching the chase to the calmness of the weather, which enabled it to hear them at a great distance.

They concluded, as usual when labouring under any affliction, that they were tormented by the evil spirit, and assembled to beat a large tambourine and sing an address to the Manito or deity, praying for relief according to the explanation which I received; but their prayer consisted of only three words constantly repeated. One of the hunters yet remained abroad and, as the wind rose at noon, we had hopes that he was successful. In the evening he made his appearance and, announcing that he had killed a large moose, immediately secured the reward which had been promised.

The tidings were received with apparent indifference by people whose lives are alternate changes from the extremity of want to abundance. But as their countenances seldom betray their emotions it cannot be determined whether their apathy is real or affected. However the women prepared their sledges and dogs with the design of dismembering and bringing home the carcass, a proceeding to which, in their necessitous condition, I could have had neither reasonable nor available objections without giving them a substitute. By much solicitation I obtained an audience and offered them our own provisions on condition of their suspending the work of destruction till the next day. They agreed to the proposition and we set out with some Indians for the place where the animal was lying. The night advancing we were separated by a snowstorm and, not being skilful enough to follow tracks which were so speedily filled up, I was bewildered for several hours in the woods, when I met with an Indian who led me back at such a pace that I was always in the rear, to his infinite diversion. The Indians are vain of their local knowledge which is certainly very wonderful. Our companions had taken out the entrails and young of the moose, which they buried in the snow.

The Indians then returned to the tents and one of my men accompanied them; he was the person charged with the management of the trade at the hunting tent; and he observed that the opportunity of making a bargain with the Indians while they were drinking was too advantageous to be lost.

It remained for us to prevent the wolves from mangling the moose; for which purpose we wrapped ourselves in blankets between its feet and placed the hatchets within our reach. The night was stormy and apprehension kept me long awake but, finding my companion in so deep a sleep that nothing could have roused him except the actual gripe of a wolf, I thought it advisable to imitate his example as much as was in my power rather than bear the burden of anxiety alone. At daylight we shook off the snow which was heaped upon us and endeavoured to kindle a fire, but the violence of the storm defeated all our attempts. At length two Indians arrived with whose assistance we succeeded, and they took possession of it to show their sense of our obligations to them. We were ashamed of the scene before us; the entrails of the moose and its young, which had been buried at our feet, bore testimony to the nocturnal revel of the wolves during the time we had slept. This was a fresh subject of derision for the Indians whose appetites however would not suffer them to waste long upon us a time so precious. They soon finished what the wolves had begun and with as little aid from the art of cookery, eating both the young moose and the contents of the paunch raw.

I had scarcely secured myself by a lodge of branches from the snow and placed the moose in a position for my sketch when we were stormed by a troop of women and children with their sledges and dogs. We obtained another short respite from the Indians but our blows could not drive, nor their caresses entice, the hungry dogs from the tempting feast before them.

I had not finished my sketch before the impatient crowd tore the moose to pieces and loaded their sledges with meat. On our way to the tent a black wolf rushed out upon an Indian who happened to pass near its den. It was shot and the Indians carried away three black whelps to improve the breed of their dogs. I purchased one of them, intending to send it to England, but it perished for want of proper nourishment.

The latitude of these tents was 53 degrees 12 minutes 46 seconds North, and longitude by chronometers 103 degrees 13 minutes 10 seconds West. On the 5th of April we set out for the hunting tent by our former track and arrived there in the evening.

As the increasing warmth of the weather had threatened to interrupt communication by removing the ice orders had been sent from Cumberland House to the people at the tent to quit it without delay, which we did on the 7th. Some altitudes of the Aurora Borealis were obtained.

We had a fine view at sunrise of the Basquiau Hill, skirting half the horizon with its white sides chequered by forests of pine. It is seen from Pine Island Lake at the distance of fifty miles and cannot therefore be less than three-fourths of a mile in perpendicular height; probably the greatest elevation between the Atlantic Ocean and the Rocky Mountains.

A small stream runs near the hunting tent, strongly impregnated with salt. There are several salt springs about it which are not frozen during the winter.

The surface of the snow, thawing in the sun and freezing at night, had become a strong crust which sometimes gave way in a circle round our feet, immersing us in the soft snow beneath. The people were afflicted with snow blindness, a kind of ophthalmia occasioned by the reflection of the sun's rays in the spring.

The miseries endured during the first journey of this nature are so great that nothing could induce the sufferer to undertake a second while under the influence of present pain. He feels his frame crushed by unaccountable pressure, he drags a galling and stubborn weight at his feet, and his track is marked with blood. The dazzling scene around him affords no rest to his eye, no object to divert his attention from his own agonising sensations. When he arises from sleep half his body seems dead till quickened into feeling by the irritation of his sores. But fortunately for him no evil makes an impression so evanescent as pain. It cannot be wholly banished nor recalled by the force of reality by any act of the mind, either to affect our determinations or to sympathise with another. The traveller soon forgets his sufferings and at every future journey their recurrence is attended with diminished acuteness.

It was not before the 10th or 12th of April that the return of the swans, geese, and ducks gave certain indications of the advance of spring. The juice of the maple-tree began to flow and the women repaired to the woods for the purpose of collecting it. This tree which abounds to the southward is not I believe found to the northward of the Saskatchewan. The Indians obtain the sap by making incisions into the tree. They boil it down and evaporate the water, skimming off the impurities. They are so fond of sweets that after this simple process they set an extravagant price upon it.

On the 15th fell the first shower of rain we had seen for six months, and on the 17th the thermometer rose to 77 degrees in the shade. The whole face of the country was deluged by the melted snow. All the nameless heaps of dirt accumulated in the winter now floated over the very thresholds, and the long-imprisoned scents dilated into vapours so penetrating that no retreat was any security from them. The flood descended into the cellar below our house and destroyed a quantity of powder and tea; a loss irreparable in our situation.

The noise made by the frogs which this inundation produced is almost incredible. There is strong reason to believe that they outlive the severity of winter. They have often been found frozen and revived by warmth, nor is it possible that the multitude which incessantly filled our ears with its discordant notes could have been matured in two or three days.

The fishermen at Beaver Lake and the other detached parties were ordered to return to the post. The expedients to which the poor people were reduced to cross a country so beset with waters presented many uncouth spectacles. The inexperienced were glad to compromise with the loss of property for the safety of their persons and, astride upon ill-balanced rafts with which they struggled to be uppermost, exhibited a ludicrous picture of distress. Happy were they who could patch up an old canoe though obliged to bear it half the way on their shoulders through miry bogs and interwoven willows. But the veteran trader, wedged in a box of skin with his wife, children, dogs, and furs, wheeled triumphantly through the current and deposited his heterogeneous cargo safely on the shore. The woods reechoed with the return of their exiled tenants. A hundred tribes, as gaily dressed as any burnished natives of the south, greeted our eyes in our accustomed walks, and their voices, though unmusical, were the sweetest that ever saluted our ears.

From the 19th to the 26th the snow once more blighted the resuscitating verdure, but a single day was sufficient to remove it. On the 28th the Saskatchewan swept away the ice which had adhered to its banks, and on the morrow a boat came down from Carlton House with provisions. We received such accounts of the state of vegetation at that place that Dr. Richardson determined to visit it in order to collect botanical specimens, as the period at which the ice was expected to admit of the continuation of our journey was still distant. Accordingly he embarked on the 1st of May.

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