Two great Chiefs or Ackhaiyoot have complete authority in directing the movements of the party and in distributing provisions. The Attoogawnoeuck or lesser chiefs are respected principally as senior men. The tribe seldom suffers from want of food if the chief moves to the different stations at the proper season. They seem to follow the eastern custom respecting marriage. As soon as a girl is born the young lad who wishes to have her for a wife goes to her father's tent and proffers himself. If accepted a promise is given which is considered binding and the girl is delivered to her betrothed husband at the proper age.
They consider their progenitors to have come from the moon. Augustus has no other idea of a Deity than some confused notions which he has obtained at Churchill.
When any of the tribe are dangerously ill a conjurer is sent for and the bearer of the message carries a suitable present to induce his attendance. Upon his arrival he encloses himself in the tent with the sick man and sings over him for days together without tasting food; but Augustus as well as the rest of the uninitiated are ignorant of the purport of his songs and of the nature of the Being to whom they are addressed. The conjurors practise a good deal of jugglery in swallowing knives, firing bullets through their bodies, etc., but they are at these times generally secluded from view and the bystanders believe their assertions without requiring to be eye-witnesses of the fact. Sixteen men and three women amongst Augustus' tribe are acquainted with the mysteries of the art. The skill of the latter is exerted only on their own sex.
Upon the map being spread before Augustus he soon comprehended it and recognised Chesterfield Inlet to be the opening into which salt-waters enter at spring tides and which receives a river at its upper end. He termed it Kannoeuck Kleenoeuck. He has never been farther north himself than Marble Island, which he distinguishes as being the spot where the large ships were wrecked, alluding to the disastrous termination of Barlow and Knight's Voyage of Discovery.* He says however that Esquimaux of three different tribes have traded with his countrymen and that they described themselves as having come across land from a northern sea. One tribe who named themselves Ahwhacknanhelett he supposes may come from Repulse Bay; another designated Ootkooseekkalingmoeoot or Stone-Kettle Esquimaux reside more to the westward; and the third the Kangorrmoeoot or White Goose Esquimaux describe themselves as coming from a great distance and mentioned that a party of Indians had killed several of their tribe in the summer preceding their visit. Upon comparing the dates of this murder with that of the last massacre which the Copper Indians have perpetrated on these harmless and defenceless people they appear to differ two years; but the lapse of time is so inaccurately recorded that this difference in their accounts is not sufficient to destroy their identity; besides, the Chipewyans, the only other Indians who could possibly have committed the deed, have long since ceased to go to war. If this massacre should be the one mentioned by the Copper Indians the Kangorrmoeoot must reside near the mouth of the Anatessy, or River of Strangers.
(Footnote. See Introduction to Hearne's Journey page 24.)
The winter habitations of Esquimaux who visit Churchill are built of snow and, judging from one constructed by Augustus today, they are very comfortable dwellings. Having selected a spot on the river where the snow was about two feet deep and sufficiently compact he commenced by tracing out a circle twelve feet in diameter. The snow in the interior of the circle was next divided with a broad knife having a long handle into slabs three feet long, six inches thick, and two feet deep, being the thickness of the layer of snow. These slabs were tenacious enough to admit of being moved about without breaking or even losing the sharpness of their angles and they had a slight degree of curvature corresponding with that of the circle from which they were cut. They were piled upon each other exactly like courses of hewn stone around the circle which was traced out and care was taken to smooth the beds of the different courses with the knife, and to cut them so as to give the wall a slight inclination inwards, by which contrivance the building acquired the properties of a dome. The dome was closed somewhat suddenly and flatly by cutting the upper slabs in a wedge-form instead of the more rectangular shape of those below. The roof was about eight feet high, and the last aperture was shut up by a small conical piece. The whole was built from within and each slab was cut so that it retained its position without requiring support until another was placed beside it, the lightness of the slabs greatly facilitating the operation. When the building was covered in a little loose snow was thrown over it to close up every chink and a low door was cut through the walls with a knife. A bed-place was next formed and neatly faced up with slabs of snow, which was then covered with a thin layer of pine branches to prevent them from melting by the heat of the body. At each end of the bed a pillar of snow was erected to place a lamp upon, and lastly a porch was built before the door and a piece of clear ice was placed in an aperture cut in the wall for a window.
The purity of the material of which the house was framed, the elegance of its construction, and the translucency of its walls which transmitted a very pleasant light, gave it an appearance far superior to a marble building and one might survey it with feelings somewhat akin to those produced by the contemplation of a Grecian temple reared by Phidias; both are triumphs of art, inimitable in their kinds.
Annexed there is a plan of a complete Esquimaux snow-house and kitchen and other apartments copied from a sketch made by Augustus with the names of the different places affixed. The only fireplace is in the kitchen, the heat of the lamps sufficing to keep the other apartments warm. (Not included in this ebook.)
REFERENCES TO THE PLAN.
A. Ablokeyt, steps. B. Pahloeuk, porch. C. Wadl-leek, passage. D. Haddnoeweek, for the reception of the sweepings of the house. E. G. Tokheuook, antechamber, or passage. F. Annarroeartoweek. H. Eegah, cooking-house. I. Eegah-natkah, passage. K. Keidgewack, for piling wood upon. L. Keek kloweyt, cooking side. M. Keek loot, fireplace built of stone. N. Eegloo, house. O. Kattack, door. P. Nattoeuck, clear space in the apartment. a. d. Eekput, a kind of shelf where the candle stands; and b. c. a pit where they throw their bones and other offal of their provision. Q. Eegl-luck, bed-place. R. Eegleeteoet, bedside or sitting-place. S. Bed-place, as on the other side. T. Kie'gn-nok, small pantry. U. Hoergloack, storehouse for provisions.
Several deer were killed near the house and we received some supplies from Akaitcho. Parties were also employed in bringing in the meat that was placed en cache in the early part of the winter. More than one half of these caches however had been destroyed by the wolves and wolverines, a circumstance which, in conjunction with the empty state of our storehouse, led us to fear that we should be much straitened for provisions before the arrival of any considerable number of reindeer in this neighbourhood.
A good many ptarmigan were seen at this time and the women caught some in snares, but not in sufficient quantity to make any further alteration in the rations of deers' meat that were daily issued. They had already been reduced from eight to the short allowance of five pounds.
Many wolves prowled nightly about the house and even ventured upon the roof of the kitchen, which is a low building, in search of food; Keskarrah shot a very large white one, of which a beautiful and correct drawing was made by Mr. Hood.
The temperature in February was considerably lower than in the preceding month although not so low as in December, the mean being minus 25.3 degrees. The greatest temperature was 1 degree above zero and the lowest 51 degrees below.
On the 5th of March the people returned from Slave Lake bringing the remainder of our stores consisting of a cask of flour, thirty-six pounds of sugar, a roll of tobacco, and forty pounds of powder. I received a letter from Mr. Weeks wherein he denied that he had ever circulated any reports to our disadvantage, and stated that he had done everything in his power to assist us, and even discouraged Akaitcho from leaving us when he had sent him a message saying that he wished to do so if he was sure of being well received at Fort Providence.
We mentioned the contents of the letter to the Indians who were at the house at the time, when one of the hunters, who had attended the men on their journey, stated that he had heard many of the reports against us from Mr. Weeks himself and expressed his surprise that he should venture to deny them. St. Germain soon afterwards arrived from Akaitcho and informed us that he left him in good humour and apparently not harbouring the slightest idea of quitting us.
On the 12th we sent four men to Fort Providence, and on the 17th Mr. Back arrived from Fort Chipewyan, having performed since he left us a journey of more than one thousand miles on foot. I had every reason to be much pleased with his conduct on this arduous undertaking, but his exertions may be best estimated by the perusal of the following narrative.
MR. BACK'S NARRATIVE OF HIS JOURNEY TO CHIPEWYAN, AND RETURN.
On quitting Fort Enterprise with Mr. Wentzel and two Canadians, accompanied by two hunters and their wives, our route lay across the barren hills. We saw during the day a number of deer and occasionally a solitary white wolf, and in the evening halted near a small knot of pines. Owing to the slow progress made by the wives of the hunters we only travelled the first day a distance of seven miles and a half. During the night we had a glimpse of the fantastic beauties of the Aurora Borealis and were somewhat annoyed by the wolves whose nightly howling interrupted our repose. Early the next morning we continued our march, sometimes crossing small lakes (which were just frozen enough to bear us) and at other times going large circuits in order to avoid those which were open. The walking was extremely bad throughout the day for, independent of the general unevenness of the ground and the numberless large stones which lay scattered in every direction, the unusual warmth of the weather had dissolved the snow which not only kept us constantly wet but deprived us of a firm footing, so that the men with their heavy burdens were in momentary apprehension of falling. In the afternoon a fine herd of deer was descried and the Indians, who are always anxious for the chase and can hardly be restrained from pursuing every animal they see, set out immediately. It was late when they returned, having had good success and bringing with them five tongues and the shoulder of a deer. We made about twelve miles this day. The night was fine and the Aurora Borealis so vivid that we imagined more than once that we heard a rustling noise like that of autumnal leaves stirred by the wind; but after two hours of attentive listening we were not entirely convinced of the fact. The coruscations were not so bright nor the transition from one shape and colour to another so rapid as they sometimes are, otherwise I have no doubt from the midnight silence which prevailed that we should have ascertained this yet undecided point.
The morning of the 20th was so extremely hazy that we could not see ten yards before us; it was therefore late when we started and during our journey the hunters complained of the weather and feared they should lose the track of our route. Towards the evening it became so thick that we could not proceed, consequently we halted in a small wood situated in a valley, having only completed a distance of six miles.
The scenery consisted of high hills which were almost destitute of trees, and lakes appeared in the valleys. The cracking of the ice was so loud during the night as to resemble thunder and the wolves howled around us. We were now at the commencement of the woods and at an early hour on the 21st continued our journey over high hills for three miles, when the appearance of some deer caused us to halt and nearly the remainder of the day was passed in hunting them. In the evening we stopped within sight of Prospect Hill having killed and concealed six deer. A considerable quantity of snow fell during the night.
The surrounding country was extremely rugged, the hills divided by deep ravines and the valleys covered with broken masses of rocks and stones; yet the deer fly (as it were) over these impediments with apparent ease, seldom making a false step, and springing from crag to crag with all the confidence of the mountain goat. After passing Reindeer Lake (where the ice was so thin as to bend at every step for nine miles) we halted, perfectly satisfied with our escape from sinking into the water. While some of the party were forming the encampment one of the hunters killed a deer, a part of which was concealed to be ready for use on our return. This evening we halted in a wood near the canoe track after having travelled a distance of nine miles. The wind was South-East and the night cloudy with wind and rain.
On the 24th and 25th we underwent some fatigue from being obliged to go round the lakes which lay across our route and were not sufficiently frozen to bear us. Several rivulets appeared to empty themselves into the lakes, no animals were killed and few tracks seen. The scenery consisted of barren rocks and high hills covered with lofty pine, birch, and larch trees.
We continued our journey, sometimes on frozen lakes and at other times on high craggy rocks. When we were on the lakes we were much impeded in our journey by different parts which were unfrozen. There was a visible increase of wood, consisting of birch and larch, as we inclined to the southward. About ten A.M. we passed Icy Portage where we saw various tracks of the moose, bear and otter and, after a most harassing march through thick woods and over fallen trees, we halted a mile to the westward of Fishing Lake; our provisions were now almost expended; the weather was cloudy with snow.
On the 27th we crossed two lakes and performed a circuitous route, frequently crossing high hills to avoid those lakes which were not frozen; during the day one of the women made a hole through the ice and caught a fine pike which she gave to us; the Indians would not partake of it from the idea (as we afterwards learnt) that we should not have sufficient for ourselves: "We are accustomed to starvation," said they, "but you are not." In the evening we halted near Rocky Lake. I accompanied one of the Indians to the summit of a hill where he showed me a dark horizontal cloud extending to a considerable distance along the mountains in the perspective, which he said was occasioned by the Great Slave Lake and was considered as a good guide to all the hunters in the vicinity. On our return we saw two untenanted bears' dens.
The night was cloudy with heavy snow, yet the following morning we continued our tedious march; many of the lakes remained still open and the rocks were high and covered with snow which continued to fall all day, consequently we effected but a trifling distance and that too with much difficulty. In the evening we halted, having only performed about seven miles. One of the Indians gave us a fish which he had caught though he had nothing for himself; and it was with much trouble that he could be prevailed upon to partake of it. The night was again cloudy with snow. On the 29th we set out through deep snow and thick woods and after crossing two small lakes stopped to breakfast, sending the women on before as they had already complained of lameness and could not keep pace with the party. It was not long before we overtook them on the banks of a small lake which, though infinitely less in magnitude than many we had passed, yet had not a particle of ice on its surface. It was shoal, had no visible current, and was surrounded by hills. We had nothing to eat and were not very near an establishment where food could be procured; however as we proceeded the lakes were frozen and we quickened our pace, stopping but twice for the hunters to smoke. Nevertheless the distance we completed was but trifling, and at night we halted near a lake, the men being tired and much bruised from constantly falling amongst thick broken wood and loose stones concealed under the snow. The night was blowing and hazy with snow.
On the 30th we set out with the expectation of gaining the Slave Lake in the evening; but our progress was again impeded by the same causes as before so that the whole day was spent in forcing our way through thick woods and over snow-covered swamps. We had to walk over pointed and loose rocks which, sliding from under our feet, made our path dangerous and often threw us down several feet on sharp-edged stones lying beneath the snow. Once we had to climb a towering and almost perpendicular rock which not only detained us but was the cause of great anxiety for the safety of the women who, being heavily laden with furs and one of them with a child at her back, could not exert themselves with the activity which such a task required. Fortunately nothing serious occurred though one of them once fell with considerable violence. During the day one of the hunters broke through the ice but was soon extricated; when it became dark we halted near the Bow String Portage, greatly disappointed at not having reached the lake. The weather was cloudy, accompanied with thick mist and snow. The Indians expected to have found here a bear in its den and to have made a hearty meal of its flesh, indeed it had been the subject of conversation all day and they had even gone so far as to divide it, frequently asking me what part I preferred, but when we came to the spot—oh! lamentable! it had already fallen a prey to the devouring appetites of some more fortunate hunters who had only left sufficient evidence that such a thing had once existed, and we had merely the consolation of realising an old proverb. One of our men however caught a fish which, with the assistance of some weed scraped from the rocks (tripe de roche) which forms a glutinous substance, made us a tolerable supper; it was not of the most choice kind yet good enough for hungry men. While we were eating it I perceived one of the women busily employed scraping an old skin, the contents of which her husband presented us with. They consisted of pounded meat, fat, and a greater proportion of Indians' and deers' hair than either; and though such a mixture may not appear very alluring to an English stomach it was thought a great luxury after three days' privation in these cheerless regions of America. Indeed had it not been for the precaution and generosity of the Indians we must have gone without sustenance until we reached the fort.
On the 1st of November our men began to make a raft to enable us to cross a river which was not even frozen at the edges. It was soon finished and three of us embarked, being seated up to the ankles in water. We each took a pine branch for a paddle and made an effort to gain the opposite shore in which, after some time (and not without strong apprehensions of drifting into the Slave Lake) we succeeded. In two hours the whole party was over, with a comfortable addition to it in the shape of some fine fish which the Indians had caught: of course we did not forget to take these friends with us and, after passing several lakes, to one of which we saw no termination, we halted within eight miles to the fort. The Great Slave Lake was not frozen.
In crossing a narrow branch of the lake I fell through the ice but received no injury; and at noon we arrived at Fort Providence and were received by Mr. Weeks, a clerk of the North-West Company in charge of the establishment. I found several packets of letters for the officers, which I was desirous of sending to them immediately but, as the Indians and their wives complained of illness and inability to return without rest, a flagon of mixed spirits was given them and their sorrows were soon forgotten. In a quarter of an hour they pronounced themselves excellent hunters and capable of going anywhere; however their boasting ceased with the last drop of the bottle when a crying scene took place which would have continued half the night had not the magic of an additional quantity of spirits dried their tears and once more turned their mourning into joy. It was a satisfaction to me to behold these poor creatures enjoying themselves for they had behaved in the most exemplary and active manner towards the party, and with a generosity and sympathy seldom found even in the more civilised parts of the world, and the attention and affection which they manifested towards their wives evinced a benevolence of disposition and goodness of nature which could not fail to secure the approbation of the most indifferent observer.
The accounts I here received of our goods were of so unsatisfactory a nature that I determined to proceed, as soon as the lake was frozen, to Moose-Deer Island or if necessary to the Athabasca Lake, both to inform myself of the grounds of the unceremonious and negligent manner in which the Expedition had been treated and to obtain a sufficient supply of ammunition and other stores to enable it to leave its present situation and proceed for the attainment of its ultimate object.
I despatched to Fort Enterprise one of the men with the letters and a hundred musket-balls which Mr. Weeks lent me on condition that they should be returned the first opportunity. An Indian and his wife accompanied the messenger. Lieutenant Franklin was made acquainted with the exact state of things, and I awaited with much impatience the freezing of the lake.
A band of Slave Indians came to the fort with a few furs and some bear's grease. Though we had not seen any of them it appeared that they had received information of our being in the country and knew the precise situation of our house, which they would have visited long ago but from the fear of being pillaged by the Copper Indians. I questioned the chief about the Great Bear and Marten Lakes, their distance from Fort Enterprise, etc., but his answers were so vague and unsatisfactory that they were not worth attention; his description of Bouleau's Route (which he said was the shortest and best and abundant in animals) was very defective though the relative points were sufficiently characteristic had we not possessed a better route. He had never been at the sea and knew nothing about the mouth of the Copper-Mine River. In the evening he made his young men dance and sometimes accompanied them himself. They had four feathers in each hand. One commenced moving in a circular form, lifting both feet at the same time, similar to jumping sideways. After a short time a second and third joined and afterwards the whole band was dancing, some in a state of nudity, others half dressed, singing an unmusical wild air with (I suppose) appropriate words, the particular sounds of which were ha! ha! ha! uttered vociferously and with great distortion of countenance and peculiar attitude of body, the feathers being always kept in a tremulous motion. The ensuing day I made the chief acquainted with the object of our mission and recommended him to keep at peace with his neighbouring tribes and to conduct himself with attention and friendship towards the whites. I then gave him a medal, telling him it was the picture of the King whom they emphatically term their Great Father.
We observed two mock moons at equal distances from the central one, and the whole were encircled by a halo, the colour of the inner edge of the large circle was a light red inclining to a faint purple.
Two parhelia were observable with a halo; the colours of the inner edge of the circle were a bright carmine and red lake intermingled with a rich yellow, forming a purplish orange; the outer edge was pale gamboge.
A man was sent some distance on the lake to see if it was sufficiently frozen for us to cross. I need scarcely mention my satisfaction when he returned with the pleasing information that it was.
I quitted Fort Providence, being accompanied by Mr. Wentzel, Beauparlant, and two other Canadians, provided with dogs and sledges. We proceeded along the borders of the lake, occasionally crossing deep bays, and at dusk encamped at the Gros Cap, having proceeded twenty-five miles.
We set out on the lake with an excessively cold north-west wind and were frequently interrupted by large pieces of ice which had been thrown up by the violence of the waves during the progress of congelation, and at dusk we encamped on the Reindeer Islands.
The night was fine with a faint Aurora Borealis. Next day the wind was so keen that the men proposed conveying me in a sledge that I might be the less exposed, to which after some hesitation I consented. Accordingly a reindeer skin and a blanket were laid along the sledge and in these I was wrapped tight up to the chin and lashed to the vehicle, just leaving sufficient play for my head to perceive when I was about to be upset on some rough projecting piece of ice. Thus equipped we set off before the wind (a favourable circumstance on the lake) and went on very well until noon, when the ice, being driven up in ridges in such a manner as to obstruct us very much, I was released, and I confess not unwillingly though I had to walk the remainder of the day.
There are large openings in many parts where the ice had separated and, in attempting to cross one of them, the dogs fell into the water and were saved with difficulty. The poor animals suffered dreadfully from the cold and narrowly escaped being frozen to death. We had quickened our pace towards the close of the day but could not get sight of the land, and it was not till the sun had set that we perceived it about four miles to our left, which obliged us to turn back and head the wind. It was then so cold that two of the party were frozen almost immediately about the face and ears. I escaped from having the good fortune to possess a pair of gloves made of rabbits' skin with which I kept constantly chafing the places which began to be affected. At six P.M. we arrived at the fishing-huts near Stony Island and remained the night there. The Canadians were not a little surprised at seeing us whom they had already given up for lost—nor less so at the manner by which we had come—for they all affirmed that the lake near them was quite free from ice the day before.
At an early hour we quitted the huts, lashed on sledges as before, with some little addition to our party; and at three hours thirty minutes P.M. arrived at the North-West Fort on Moose-Deer Island where I was received by Mr. Smith with whom I had been acquainted at the Athabasca. He said he partly expected me. The same evening I visited Messrs. McVicar and McAulay at Hudson's Bay Fort when I found the reports concerning our goods were but too true, there being in reality but five packages for us. I also was informed that two Esquimaux, Augustus the chief, and Junius his servant, who had been sent from Fort Churchill by Governor Williams to serve in the capacity of interpreters to the Expedition, were at the fort. These men were short of stature but muscular, apparently good-natured, and perfectly acquainted with the purpose for which they were intended. They had built themselves a snow-house on an adjacent island where they used frequently to sleep. The following day I examined the pieces and to my great disappointment found them to consist of three kegs of spirits, already adulterated by the voyagers who had brought them, a keg of flour and thirty-five pounds of sugar, instead of sixty. The ammunition and tobacco, the two greatest requisites, were left behind.
I lost no time in making a demand from both parties and, though their united list did not furnish the half of what was required, yet it is possible that everything was given by them which could be spared consistently with their separate interests, particularly by Mr. McVicar who in many articles gave me the whole he had in his possession. These things were sent away immediately for Fort Enterprise, when an interpreter arrived with letters from Lieutenant Franklin which referred to a series of injurious reports said to have been propagated against us by someone at Fort Providence.
Finding a sufficiency of goods could not be provided at Moose-Deer Island I determined to proceed to the Athabasca Lake and ascertain the inclinations of the gentlemen there. With this view I communicated my intentions to both parties but could only get dogs enough from the North-West Company to carry the necessary provisions for the journey. Indeed Mr. Smith informed me plainly he was of opinion that nothing could be spared at Fort Chipewyan, that goods had never been transported so long a journey in the winter season, and that the same dogs could not possibly go and return; besides it was very doubtful if I could be provided with dogs there; and finally that the distance was great and could take sixteen days to perform it. He added that the provisions would be mouldy and bad and that from having to walk constantly on snowshoes I should suffer a great deal of misery and fatigue. Notwithstanding these assertions on the 23rd of December I left the fort with Beauparlant and a Bois-brule, each having a sledge drawn by dogs, laden with pemmican. We crossed an arm of the lake and entered the Little Buffalo River which is connected with the Salt River and is about fifty yards wide at its junction with the lake—the water is brackish. This route is usually taken in the winter as it cuts off a large angle in going to the Great Slave River. In the afternoon we passed two empty fishing-huts and in the evening encamped amongst some high pines on the banks of the river having had several snow-showers during the day which considerably impeded the dogs so that we had not proceeded more than fifteen miles.
December 24 and 25.
We continued along the river, frequently making small portages to avoid going round to the points, and passed some small canoes which the Indians had left for the winter. The snow was so deep that the dogs were obliged to stop every ten minutes to rest; and the cold so excessive that both the men were badly frozen on both sides of the face and chin. At length, having come to a long meadow which the dogs could not cross that night, we halted in an adjoining wood and were presently joined by a Canadian who was on his return to the fort and who treated us with some fresh meat in exchange for pemmican. During the latter part of the day we had seen numerous tracks of the moose, buffalo, and marten.
The weather was so cold that we were compelled to run to prevent ourselves from freezing; our route lay across some large meadows which appeared to abound in animals, though the Indians around Slave Lake are in a state of great want. About noon we passed a sulphur-stream which ran into the river; it appeared to come from a plain about fifty yards distant. There were no rocks near it and the soil through which it took its course was composed of a reddish clay. I was much galled by the strings of the snowshoes during the day and once got a severe fall occasioned by the dogs running over one of my feet and, dragging me some distance, my snowshoe having become entangled with the sledge. In the evening we lost our way from the great similarity of appearance in the country and it was dark before we found it again when we halted in a thick wood after having come about sixteen miles from the last encampment. Much snow fell during the night.
At an early hour on the 27th of December we continued our journey over the surface of a long but narrow lake and then through a wood which brought us to the grand detour on the Slave River. The weather was extremely cloudy with occasional falls of snow which tended greatly to impede our progress from its gathering in lumps between the dogs' toes; and though they did not go very fast yet my left knee pained me so much that I found it difficult to keep up with them. At three P.M. we halted within nine miles of the Salt River and made a hearty meal of mouldy pemmican.
December 28 and 29.
We had much difficulty in proceeding owing to the poor dogs being quite worn out and their feet perfectly raw. We endeavoured to tie shoes on them to afford them some little relief but they continually came off when amongst deep snow so that it occupied one person entirely to look after them. In this state they were hardly of any use among the steep ascents of the portages, when we were obliged to drag the sledges ourselves. We found a few of the rapids entirely frozen. Those that were not had holes and large spaces about them from whence issued a thick vapour, and in passing this we found it particularly cold; but what appeared most curious was the number of small fountains which rose through the ice and often rendered it doubtful which way we should take. I was much disappointed at finding several falls (which I had intended to sketch) frozen almost even with the upper and lower parts of the stream; the ice was connected by a thin arch and the rushing of the water underneath might be heard at a considerable distance. On the banks of these rapids there was a constant overflowing of the water but in such small quantities as to freeze before it had reached the surface of the central ice so that we passed between two ridges of icicles, the transparency of which was beautifully contrasted by the flakes of snow and the dark green branches of the overhanging pine.
Beauparlant complained bitterly of the cold whilst among the rapids but no sooner had he reached the upper part of the river than he found the change of the temperature so great that he vented his indignation against the heat. "Mais c'est terrible," said he, to be frozen and sunburnt in the same day. The poor fellow, who had been a long time in the country, regarded it as the most severe punishment that could have been inflicted on him and would willingly have given a part of his wages rather than this disgrace had happened; for there is a pride amongst old Voyagers which makes them consider the state of being frost-bitten as effeminate and only excusable in a Pork-eater or one newly come into the country. I was greatly fatigued and suffered acute pains in the knees and legs, both of which were much swollen when we halted a little above the Dog River.
December 30 and 31.
Our journey these days was by far the most annoying we had yet experienced but, independent of the vast masses of ice that were piled on one another, as well as the numerous open places about the rapids (and they did not a little impede us) there was a strong gale from the north-west and so dreadfully keen that our time was occupied in rubbing the frozen parts of the face and in attempting to warm the hands in order to be prepared for the next operation. Scarcely was one place cured by constant friction than another was frozen; and though there was nothing pleasant about it yet it was laughable enough to observe the dexterity which was used in changing the position of the hand from the face to the mitten and vice versa. One of the men was severely affected, the whole side of his face being nearly raw. Towards sunset I suffered so much in my knee and ankle from a recent sprain that it was with difficulty I could proceed with snowshoes to the encampment on the Stony Islands. But in this point I was not singular for Beauparlant was almost as bad and without the same cause.
January 1, 1821.
We set out with a quick step, the wind still blowing fresh from the north-west, which seemed in some measure to invigorate the dogs; for towards sunset they left me considerably behind. Indeed my legs and ankles were now so swelled that it was excessive pain to drag the snowshoes after me. At night we halted on the banks of Stony River, when I gave the men a glass of grog to commemorate the new year, and the next day, January 2, we arrived at Fort Chipewyan, after a journey of ten days and four hours—the shortest time in which the distance had been performed at the same season. I found Messrs. G. Keith and S. McGillivray in charge of the fort, who were not a little surprised to see me. The commencement of the New Year is the rejoicing season of the Canadians when they are generally intoxicated for some days. I postponed making any demand till this time of festivity should cease; but on the same day I went over to the Hudson's Bay fort and delivered Lieutenant Franklin's letters to Mr. Simpson. If they were astonished on one side to see me, the amazement was still greater on the other for reports were so far in advance that we were said to have already fallen by the spears of the Esquimaux.
I made a demand from both parties for supplies such as ammunition, gun-flints, axes, files, clothing, tobacco and spirits. I stated to them our extreme necessity and that without their assistance the Expedition must be arrested in its progress. The answer from the North-West gentlemen was satisfactory enough; but on the Hudson's Bay side I was told that any further assistance this season entirely depended on the arrival of supplies expected in a few weeks from a distant establishment. I remained at Fort Chipewyan five weeks during which time some laden sledges did arrive, but I could not obtain any addition to the few articles I had procured at first. A packet of letters for us from England having arrived I made preparations for my return, but not before I had requested both Companies to send next year from the depots a quantity of goods for our use specified in lists furnished to them.
The weather during my abode at Chipewyan was generally mild with occasional heavy storms, most of which were anticipated by the activity of the Aurora Borealis; and this I observed had been the case between Fort Providence and the Athabasca in December and January, though not invariably so in other parts of the country. One of the partners of the North-West Company related to me the following singular story: He was travelling in a canoe in the English River and had landed near the Kettle Fall when the coruscations of the Aurora Borealis were so vivid and low that the Canadians fell on their faces and began praying and crying, fearing they should be killed; he himself threw away his gun and knife that they might not attract the flashes for they were within two feet from the earth, flitting along with incredible swiftness and moving parallel to its surface. They continued for upwards of five minutes as near as he could judge and made a loud rustling noise like the waving of a flag in a strong breeze. After they had ceased the sky became clear with little wind.
Having got everything arranged and had a hearty breakfast with a coupe de l'eau de vie (a custom amongst the traders) I took my departure or rather attempted to do so for, on going to the gate, there was a long range of women who came to bid me farewell. They were all dressed (after the manner of the country) in blue or green cloth, with their hair fresh greased, separated before, and falling down behind, not in careless tresses but in a good sound tail, fastened with black tape or riband. This was considered a great compliment and the ceremony consisted in embracing the whole party.
I had with me four sledges laden with goods for the Expedition and a fifth belonging to the Hudson's Bay Company. We returned exactly by the same route, suffering no other inconvenience but that arising from the chafing of the snowshoe and bad weather. Some Indians whom we met on the banks of the Little Buffalo River were rather surprised at seeing us, for they had heard that we were on an island which was surrounded by Esquimaux. The dogs were almost worn out and their feet raw when on February the 20th we arrived at Moose-Deer Island with our goods all in good order. Towards the end of the month two of our men arrived with letters from Lieutenant Franklin containing some fresh demands, the major part of which I was fortunate enough to procure without the least trouble. Having arranged the accounts and receipts between the Companies and the Expedition, and sent everything before me to Fort Providence, I prepared for my departure; and it is but justice to the gentlemen of both parties at Moose-Deer Island to remark that they afforded the means of forwarding our stores in the most cheerful and pleasant manner.
I took leave of the gentlemen at the forts and in the afternoon got to the fisheries near Stony Island where I found Mr. McVicar who was kind enough to have a house ready for my reception; and I was not a little gratified at perceiving a pleasant-looking girl employed in roasting a fine joint and afterwards arranging the table with all the dexterity of an accomplished servant.
We set out at daylight and breakfasted at the Reindeer Islands. As the day advanced the heat became so oppressive that each pulled off his coat and ran till sunset when we halted with two men who were on their return to Moose-Deer Island. There was a beautiful Aurora Borealis in the night; it rose about North by West and divided into three bars, diverging at equal distances as far as the zenith and then converging until they met in the opposite horizon; there were some flashes at rightangles to the bars.
We arrived at Fort Providence and found our stores safe and in good order. There being no certainty when the Indian who was to accompany me to our house would arrive, and my impatience to join my companions increasing as I approached it, after making the necessary arrangements with Mr. Weeks respecting our stores, on March the 10th I quitted the fort with two of our men who had each a couple of dogs and a sledge laden with provision. On the 13th we met the Indian near Icy Portage who was sent to guide me back. On the 14th we killed a deer and gave the dogs a good feed; and on the 17th at an early hour we arrived at Fort Enterprise, having travelled about eighteen miles a day. I had the pleasure of meeting my friends all in good health after an absence of nearly five months, during which time I had travelled one thousand one hundred and four miles on snowshoes, and had no other covering at night in the woods than a blanket and deer-skin with the thermometer frequently at minus 40 degrees and once at minus 57 degrees, and sometimes passing two or three days without tasting food.
CONTINUATION OF PROCEEDINGS AT FORT ENTERPRISE. SOME ACCOUNT OF THE COPPER INDIANS. PREPARATIONS FOR THE JOURNEY TO THE NORTHWARD.
CONTINUATION OF PROCEEDINGS AT FORT ENTERPRISE. SOME ACCOUNT OF THE COPPER INDIANS.
March 18, 1821.
I shall now give a brief account of the Copper Indians termed by the Chipewyans Tantsawhotdinneh, or Birch-rind Indians. They were originally a tribe of the Chipewyans and, according to their own account, inhabited the south side of Great Slave Lake at no very distant period. Their language, traditions, and customs, are essentially the same with those of the Chipewyans but in personal character they have greatly the advantage of that people, owing probably to local causes or perhaps to their procuring their food more easily and in greater abundance. They hold women in the same low estimation as the Chipewyans do, looking upon them as a kind of property which the stronger may take from the weaker whenever there is just reason for quarrelling, if the parties are of their own nation, or whenever they meet if the weaker party are Dog-Ribs or other strangers. They suffer however the kinder affections to show themselves occasionally; they in general live happily with their wives, the women are contented with their lot, and we witnessed several instances of strong attachment. Of their kindness to strangers we are fully qualified to speak; their love of property, attention to their interests, and fears for the future made them occasionally clamorous and unsteady; but their delicate and humane attention to us in a season of great distress at a future period are indelibly engraven on our memories. Of their notions of a Deity or future state we never could obtain any satisfactory account; they were unwilling perhaps to expose their opinions to the chance of ridicule. Akaitcho generally evaded our questions on these points but expressed a desire to learn from us and regularly attended Divine Service during his residence at the fort, behaving with the utmost decorum.
This leader indeed and many others of his tribe possess a laudable curiosity which might easily be directed to the most important ends; and I believe that a well-conducted Christian mission to this quarter would not fail of producing the happiest effect. Old Keskarrah alone used boldly to express his disbelief of a Supreme Deity and state that he could not credit the existence of a Being whose power was said to extend everywhere but whom he had not yet seen, although he was now an old man. The aged sceptic is not a little conceited as the following exordium to one of his speeches evinces: "It is very strange that I never meet with anyone who is equal in sense to myself." The same old man in one of his communicative moods related to us the following tradition: The earth had been formed but continued enveloped in total darkness, when a bear and a squirrel met on the shores of a lake; a dispute arose as to their respective powers, which they agreed to settle by running in opposite directions round the lake, and whichever arrived first at the starting point was to evince his superiority by some signal act of power. The squirrel beat, ran up a tree, and loudly demanded light which, instantly beaming forth, discovered a bird dispelling the gloom with its wings; the bird was afterwards recognised to be a crow. The squirrel next broke a piece of bark from the tree, endowed it with the power of floating, and said, "Behold the material which shall afford the future inhabitants of the earth the means of traversing the waters."
The Indians are not the first people who have ascribed the origin of nautics to the ingenuity of the squirrel. The Copper Indians consider the bear, otter, and other animals of prey, or rather some kind of spirits which assume the forms of these creatures, as their constant enemies and the cause of every misfortune they endure; and in seasons of difficulty or sickness they alternately deprecate and abuse them.
Few of this nation have more than one wife at a time and none but the leaders have more than two. Akaitcho has three and the mother of his only son is the favourite. They frequently marry two sisters and there is no prohibition to the intermarriage of cousins but a man is restricted from marrying his niece.
The last war excursion they made against the Esquimaux was ten years ago when they destroyed about thirty persons at the mouth of what they term Stony-Point River, not far from the mouth of the Copper-Mine River. They now seem desirous of being on friendly terms with that persecuted nation and hope through our means to establish a lucrative commerce with them. Indeed the Copper Indians are sensible of the advantages that would accrue to them were they made the carriers of goods between the traders and Esquimaux.
At the time of Hearne's visit the Copper Indians, being unsupplied with firearms, were oppressed by the Chipewyans; but even that traveller had occasion to praise their kindness of heart. Since they have received arms from the traders the Chipewyans are fearful of venturing upon their lands; and all of that nation who frequent the shores of Great Slave Lake hold the name of Akaitcho in great respect. The Chipewyans have no leader of equal authority among themselves.
The number of the Copper Indians may be one hundred and ninety souls namely eighty men and boys and one hundred and ten women and young children. There are forty-five hunters in the tribe. The adherents of Akaitcho amount to about forty men and boys; the rest follow a number of minor chiefs.
For the following notices of the nations on Mackenzie's River we are principally indebted to Mr. Wentzel who resided for many years in that quarter.
The Thlingchadinneh or Dog-Ribs or as they are sometimes termed after the Crees, who formerly warred against them, Slaves, inhabit the country to the westward of the Copper Indians as far as Mackenzie's River. They are of a mild, hospitable, but rather indolent disposition; spend much of their time in amusements and are fond of singing and dancing. In this respect and in another they differ very widely from most of the other aborigines of North America. I allude to their kind treatment of the women. The men do the laborious work whilst their wives employ themselves in ornamenting their dresses with quill-work and in other occupations suited to their sex. Mr. Wentzel has often known the young married men to bring specimens of their wives' needlework to the forts and exhibit them with much pride. Kind treatment of the fair sex being usually considered as an indication of considerable progress in civilisation it might be worthwhile to inquire how it happens that this tribe has stepped so far beyond its neighbours. It has had undoubtedly the same common origin with the Chipewyans, for their languages differ only in accent, and their mode of life is essentially the same. We have not sufficient data to prosecute the inquiry with any hope of success but we may recall to the reader's memory what was formerly mentioned, that the Dog-Ribs say they came from the westward, whilst the Chipewyans say that they migrated from the eastward.
When bands of Dog-Ribs meet each other after a long absence they perform a kind of dance. A piece of ground is cleared for the purpose, if in winter of the snow, or if in summer of the bushes; and the dance frequently lasts for two or three days, the parties relieving each other as they get tired. The two bands commence the dance with their backs turned to each other, the individuals following one another in Indian file and holding the bow in the left hand and an arrow in the right. They approach obliquely after many turns and, when the two lines are closely back to back, they feign to see each other for the first time and the bow is instantly transferred to the right hand and the arrow to the left, signifying that it is not their intention to employ them against their friends. At a fort they use feathers instead of bows. The dance is accompanied with a song. These people are the dancing-masters of the country. The Copper Indians have neither dance nor music but what they borrow from them. On our first interview with Akaitcho at Fort Providence he treated us as has already been mentioned with a representation of the Dog-Rib Dance; and Mr. Back during his winter journey had an opportunity of observing it performed by the Dog-Ribs themselves.
The chief tribe of the Dog-Rib nation, termed Horn Mountain Indians, inhabit the country betwixt Great Bear Lake and the west end of Great Slave Lake. They muster about two hundred men and boys capable of pursuing the chase. Small detachments of the nation frequent Marten Lake and hunt during the summer in the neighbourhood of Fort Enterprise. Indeed this part of the country was formerly exclusively theirs, and most of the lakes and remarkable hills bear the names which they imposed upon them. As the Copper Indians generally pillage them of their women and furs when they meet they endeavour to avoid them and visit their ancient quarters on the barren grounds only by stealth.
Immediately to the northward of the Dog-Ribs, on the north side of Bear Lake River, are the Kawchodinneh or Hare Indians who also speak a dialect of the Chipewyan language and have much of the same manners with the Dog-Ribs, but are considered both by them and by the Copper Indians to be great conjurors. These people report that in their hunting excursions to the northward of Great Bear Lake they meet small parties of Esquimaux.
Immediately to the northward of the Hare Indians on both banks of Mackenzie's River are the Tykotheedinneh, Loucheux, Squint-Eyes, or Quarrellers. They speak a language distinct from the Chipewyan. They war often with the Esquimaux at the mouth of Mackenzie's River but have occasionally some peaceable intercourse with them, and it would appear that they find no difficulty in understanding each other, there being considerable similarity in their languages. Their dress also resembles the Esquimaux and differs from that of the other inhabitants of Mackenzie's River. The Tykotheedinneh trade with Fort Good-Hope, situated a considerable distance below the confluence of Bear Lake River with Mackenzie's River and, as the traders suppose, within three days' march of the Arctic Sea. It is the most northern establishment of the North-West Company, and some small pieces of Russian copper coin once made their way thither across the continent from the westward. Blue or white beads are almost the only articles of European manufacture coveted by the Loucheux. They perforate the septum of the nose and insert in the opening three small shells which they procure at a high price from the Esquimaux.
On the west bank of Mackenzie's River there are several tribes who speak dialects of the Chipewyan language that have not hitherto been mentioned. The first met with on tracing the river to the southward from Fort Good-Hope are the Ambawtawhootdinneh, or Sheep Indians. They inhabit the Rocky Mountains near the sources of the Dawhootdinneh River which flows into Mackenzie's and are but little known to the traders. Some of them have visited Fort Good-Hope. A report of their being cannibals may have originated in an imperfect knowledge of them.
Some distance to the southward of this people are the Rocky Mountain Indians, a small tribe which musters about forty men and boys capable of pursuing the chase. They differ but little from the next we are about to mention, the Edchawtawhootdinneh, Strong-bow, Beaver, or Thickwood Indians who frequent the Riviere aux Liards or south branch of Mackenzie's River. The Strong-bows resemble the Dog-Ribs somewhat in their disposition; but when they meet they assume a considerable degree of superiority over the latter who meekly submit to the haughtiness of their neighbours. Until the year 1813 when a small party of them, from some unfortunate provocation, destroyed Fort Nelson on the Riviere aux Liards and murdered its inmates, the Strong-bows were considered to be a friendly and quiet tribe and esteemed as excellent hunters. They take their names in the first instance from their dogs. A young man is the father of a certain dog but when he is married and has a son he styles himself the father of the boy. The women have a habit of reproving the dogs very tenderly when they observe them fighting: "Are you not ashamed," say they, "are you not ashamed to quarrel with your little brother?" The dogs appear to understand the reproof and sneak off.
The Strong-bows and Rocky Mountain Indians have a tradition in common with the Dog-Ribs that they came originally from the westward, from a level country where there was no winter, which produced trees and large fruits now unknown to them. It was inhabited also by many strange animals, amongst which there was a small one whose visage bore a striking resemblance to the human countenance. During their residence in this land their ancestors were visited by a man who healed the sick, raised the dead, and performed many other miracles, enjoining them at the same time to lead good lives and not to eat of the entrails of animals, nor to use the brains for dressing skins until after the third day; and never to leave the skulls of deer upon the ground within the reach of dogs and wolves but to hang them carefully upon trees. No one knew from whence this good man came or whither he went. They were driven from that land by the rising of the waters and, following the tracks of animals on the seashore, they directed their course to the northward. At length they came to a strait which they crossed upon a raft but the sea has since frozen and they have never been able to return. These traditions are unknown to the Chipewyans.
The number of men and boys of the Strong-bow nation who are capable of hunting may amount to seventy.
There are some other tribes who also speak dialects of the Chipewyan upon the upper branches of the Riviere aux Liards such as the Nohhannies and the Tsillawdawhootdinneh or Brushwood Indians. They are but little known but the latter are supposed occasionally to visit some of the establishments on Peace River.
Having now communicated as briefly as I could the principal facts that came to our knowledge regarding the Indians in this quarter I shall resume the narrative of events at Fort Enterprise. The month of March proved fine. The thermometer rose once to 24 degrees above zero and fell upon another day 49 degrees below zero but the mean was minus 11 1/2 degrees.
On the 23rd the last of our winter's stock of deer's meat was expended and we were compelled to issue a little pounded meat which we had reserved for making pemmican for summer use. Our nets which were set under the ice on the 15th produced only two or three small fish daily. Amongst these was the round-fish, a species of Coregonus which we had not previously seen.
On the following day two Indians came with a message from the Hook, the chief next to Akaitcho in authority amongst the Copper Indians. His band was between West Marten and Great Bear Lakes and he offered to provide a quantity of dried meat for us on the banks of the Copper-Mine River in the beginning of summer, provided we sent him goods and ammunition. It was in his power to do this without inconvenience as he generally spends the summer months on the banks of the river near the Copper Mountain; but we had no goods to spare and I could not venture to send any part of our small stock of ammunition until I saw what the necessities of our own party required. I told them however that I would gladly receive either provisions or leather when we met and would pay for them by notes on the North-West Company's post; but to prevent any misunderstanding with Mr. Weeks I requested them to take their winter's collection of furs to Fort Providence before they went to the Copper-Mine River. They assured me that the Hook would watch anxiously for our passing as he was unwell and wished to consult the doctor.
Several circumstances having come lately to my knowledge that led me to suspect the fidelity of our interpreters they were examined upon this subject. It appeared that in their intercourse with the Indians they had contracted very fearful ideas of the danger of our enterprise which augmented as the time of our departure drew near, and had not hesitated to express their dislike to the journey in strong terms amongst the Canadians, who are accustomed to pay much deference to the opinions of an interpreter. But this was not all; I had reason to suspect they had endeavoured to damp the exertions of the Indians with the hope that the want of provision in the spring would put an end to our progress at once. St. Germain in particular had behaved in a very equivocal way since his journey to Slave Lake. He denied the principal parts of the charge in a very dogged manner but acknowledged he had told the leader that we had not paid him the attention which a chief like him ought to have received; and that we had put a great affront on him in sending him only a small quantity of rum. An artful man like St. Germain, possessing a flow of language and capable of saying even what he confessed, had the means of poisoning the minds of the Indians without committing himself by any direct assertion; and it is to be remarked that, unless Mr. Wentzel had possessed a knowledge of the Copper Indian language, we should not have learned what we did.
Although perfectly convinced of his baseness I could not dispense with his services; and had no other resource but to give him a serious admonition and desire him to return to his duty, after endeavouring to work upon his fears by an assurance that I would certainly convey him to England for trial if the Expedition should be stopped through his fault. He replied, "It is immaterial to me where I lose my life, whether in England or in accompanying you to the sea, for the whole party will perish." After this discussion however he was more circumspect in his conduct.
On the 28th we received a small supply of meat from the Indian lodges. They had now moved into a lake about twelve miles from us, in expectation of the deer coming soon to the northward.
PREPARATIONS FOR THE JOURNEY TO THE NORTHWARD.
On the 29th Akaitcho arrived at the house, having been sent for to make some arrangements respecting the procuring of provision and that we might learn what his sentiments were with regard to accompanying us on our future journey. Next morning we had a conference which I commenced by showing him the charts and drawings that were prepared to be sent to England, and explaining fully our future intentions. He appeared much pleased at this mark of attention and, when his curiosity was satisfied, began his speech by saying that although a vast number of idle rumours had been floating about the barren grounds during the winter he was convinced that the representations made to him at Fort Providence regarding the purport of the Expedition were perfectly correct. I next pointed out to him the necessity of our proceeding with as little delay as possible during the short period of the year that was fit for our operations, and that to do so it was requisite we should have a large supply of provisions at starting. He instantly admitted the force of these observations and promised that he and his young men should do their utmost to comply with our desires, and afterwards in answer to my questions informed us that he would accompany the Expedition to the mouth of the Copper-Mine River or, if we did not meet with Esquimaux there, for some distance along the coast; he was anxious he said to have an amicable interview with that people, and he further requested that, in the event of our meeting with Dog-Ribs on the Copper-Mine River, we should use our influence to persuade them to live on friendly terms with his tribe. We were highly pleased to find his sentiments so favourable to our views and, after making some minor arrangements, we parted mutually content. He left us on the morning of the 31st, accompanied by Augustus who, at his request, went to reside for a few days at his lodge.
On the 4th of April our men arrived with the last supply of goods from Fort Providence, the fruits of Mr. Back's arduous journey to the Athabasca Lake, and on the 17th Belanger le gros and Belanger le rouge, for so our men discriminated them, set out for Slave Lake with a box containing the journals of the officers, charts, drawings, observations, and letters addressed to the Secretary of State for Colonial Affairs. They also conveyed a letter for Governor Williams in which I requested that he would if possible send a schooner to Wager Bay with provisions and clothing to meet the exigencies of the party should they succeed in reaching that part of the coast.
Connoyer, who was much tormented with biliary calculi and had done little or no duty all the winter, was discharged at the same time and sent down in company with an Indian named the Belly.
The commencement of April was fine and for several days a considerable thaw took place in the heat of the sun which, laying bare some of the lichens on the sides of the hills, produced a consequent movement of the reindeer to the northward and induced the Indians to believe that the spring was already commencing. Many of them therefore quitted the woods and set their snares on the barren grounds near Fort Enterprise. Two or three days of cold weather however towards the middle of the month damped their hopes, and they began to say that another moon must elapse before the arrival of the wished-for season. In the meantime their premature departure from the woods caused them to suffer from want of food and we were in some degree involved in their distress. We received no supplies from the hunters, our nets produced but very few fish, and the pounded meat which we had intended to keep for summer use was nearly expended. Our meals at this period were always scanty and we were occasionally restricted to one in the day.
The Indian families about the house, consisting principally of women and children, suffered most. I had often requested them to move to Akaitcho's lodge where they were more certain of receiving supplies but, as most of them were sick or infirm, they did not like to quit the house, where they daily received medicines from Dr. Richardson, to encounter the fatigue of following the movements of a hunting camp. They cleared away the snow on the site of the autumn encampments to look for bones, deer's feet, bits of hide, and other offal. When we beheld them gnawing the pieces of hide and pounding the bones for the purpose of extracting some nourishment from them by boiling we regretted our inability to relieve them, but little thought that we should ourselves be afterwards driven to the necessity of eagerly collecting these same bones a second time from the dunghill.
At this time, to divert the attention of the men from their wants, we encouraged the practice of sliding down the steep bank of the river upon sledges. These vehicles descended the snowy bank with much velocity and ran a great distance upon the ice. The officers joined in the sport and the numerous overturns we experienced formed no small share of the amusement of the party, but on one occasion, when I had been thrown from my seat and almost buried in the snow, a fat Indian woman drove her sledge over me and sprained my knee severely.
On the 18th at eight in the evening a beautiful halo appeared round the sun when it was about 8 degrees high. The colours were prismatic and very bright, the red next the sun.
On the 21st the ice in the river was measured and found to be five feet thick and, in setting the nets in Round Rock Lake, it was there ascertained to be six feet and a half thick, the water being six fathoms deep. The stomachs of some fish were at this time opened by Dr. Richardson and found filled with insects which appear to exist in abundance under the ice during the winter.
On the 22nd a moose-deer was killed at the distance of forty-five miles; St. Germain went for it with a dog-sledge and returned with unusual expedition on the morning of the third day. This supply was soon exhausted and we passed the 27th without eating, with the prospect of fasting a day or two longer, when old Keskarrah entered with the unexpected intelligence of having killed a deer. It was divided betwixt our own family and the Indians and during the night a seasonable supply arrived from Akaitcho. Augustus returned with the men who brought it, much pleased with the attention he had received from the Indians during his visit to Akaitcho.
Next day Mr. Wentzel set out with every man that we could spare from the fort for the purpose of bringing meat from the Indians as fast as it could be procured. Dr. Richardson followed them two days afterwards to collect specimens of the rocks in that part of the country. On the same day the two Belangers arrived from Fort Providence having been only five days on the march from thence.
The highest temperature in April was plus 40 degrees, the lowest minus 32 degrees, the mean plus 4.6 degrees. The temperature of the rapid, examined on the 30th by Messrs. Back and Hood, was 32 degrees at the surface, 33 degrees at the bottom.
On the 7th of May Dr. Richardson returned. He informed me that the reindeer were again advancing to the northward but that the leader had been joined by several families of old people and that the daily consumption of provision at the Indian tents was consequently great. This information excited apprehensions of being very scantily provided when the period of our departure should arrive.
The weather in the beginning of May was fine and warm. On the 2nd some patches of sandy ground near the house were cleared of snow. On the 7th the sides of the hills began to appear bare and on the 8th a large house-fly was seen. This interesting event spread cheerfulness through our residence and formed a topic of conversation for the rest of the day.
On the 9th the approach of spring was still more agreeably confirmed by the appearance of a merganser and two gulls, and some loons or arctic divers, at the rapid. This day to reduce the labour of dragging meat to the house the women and children and all the men except four were sent to live at the Indian tents.
The blueberries, crow-berries, eye-berries, and cranberries, which had been covered and protected by the snow during the winter might at this time be gathered in abundance and proved indeed a valuable resource. The ground continued frozen but the heat of the sun had a visible effect on vegetation; the sap thawed in the pine-trees and Dr. Richardson informed me that the mosses were beginning to shoot and the calyptrae of some of the jungermanniae already visible.
On the 11th Mr. Wentzel returned from the Indian lodges having made the necessary arrangements with Akaitcho for the drying of meat for summer use, the bringing fresh meat to the fort and the procuring a sufficient quantity of the resin of the spruce fir, or as it is termed by the voyagers gum, for repairing the canoes previous to starting and during the voyage. By my desire he had promised payment to the Indian women who should bring in any of the latter article and had sent several of our own men to the woods to search for it. At this time I communicated to Mr. Wentzel the mode in which I meant to conduct the journey of the approaching summer. Upon our arrival at the sea I proposed to reduce the party to what would be sufficient to man two canoes in order to lessen the consumption of provisions during our voyage or journey along the coast and, as Mr. Wentzel had expressed a desire of proceeding no farther than the mouth of the Copper-Mine River, which was seconded by the Indians who wished him to return with them, I readily relieved his anxiety on this subject, the more so as I thought he might render greater service to us by making deposits of provision at certain points than by accompanying us through a country which was unknown to him, and amongst a people with whom he was totally unacquainted. My intentions were explained to him in detail but they were of course to be modified by circumstances.
On the 14th a robin (Turdus migratorius) appeared; this bird is hailed by the natives as the infallible precursor of warm weather. Ducks and geese were also seen in numbers and the reindeer advanced to the northward. The merganser (Mergus serrator) which preys upon small fish, was the first of the duck tribe that appeared; next came the teal (Anas crecca) which lives upon small insects that abound in the waters at this season; and lastly the goose which feeds upon berries and herbage. Geese appear at Cumberland House in latitude 54 degrees usually about the 12th of April; at Fort Chipewyan in latitude 59 degrees on the 25th of April; at Slave Lake in latitude 61 degrees on the 1st of May; and at Fort Enterprise in latitude 64 degrees 28 minutes on the 12th or 14th of the same month.
On the 16th a minor chief amongst the Copper Indians attended by his son arrived from Fort Providence to consult Dr. Richardson. He was affected with snow-blindness which was soon relieved by the dropping of a little laudanum into his eyes twice a day. Most of our own men had been lately troubled with this complaint but it always yielded in twenty or thirty hours to the same remedy.
On the 21st all our men returned from the Indians and Akaitcho was on his way to the fort. In the afternoon two of his young men arrived to announce his visit and to request that he might be received with a salute and other marks of respect that he had been accustomed to on visiting Fort Providence in the spring. I complied with his desire although I regretted the expenditure of ammunition and sent the young man away with the customary present of powder to enable him to return the salute, some tobacco, vermilion to paint their faces, a comb and a looking-glass.
At eleven Akaitcho arrived; at the first notice of his appearance the flag was hoisted at the fort and upon his nearer approach a number of muskets were fired by a party of our people and returned by his young men. Akaitcho, preceded by his standard-bearer, led the party and advanced with a slow and stately step to the door where Mr. Wentzel and I received him. The faces of the party were daubed with vermilion, the old men having a spot on the right cheek, the young ones on the left. Akaitcho himself was not painted. On entering he sat down on a chest, the rest placed themselves in a circle on the floor. The pipe was passed once or twice round and in the meantime a bowl of spirits and water and a present considerable for our circumstances of cloth, blankets, capots, shirts, etc., was placed on the floor for the chief's acceptance and distribution amongst his people. Akaitcho then commenced his speech but I regret to say that it was very discouraging and indicated that he had parted with his good humour, at least since his March visit. He first inquired whether, in the event of a passage by sea being discovered, we should come to his lands in any ship that might be sent? And being answered that it was probable but not quite certain that someone amongst us might come, he expressed a hope that some suitable present should be forwarded to himself and nation, "for" said he, "the great Chief who commands where all the goods come from must see from the drawings and descriptions of us and our country that we are a miserable people." I assured him that he would be remembered, provided he faithfully fulfilled his engagement with us.
He next complained of the non-payment of my notes by Mr. Weeks, from which he apprehended that his own reward would be withheld. "If," said he, "your notes to such a trifling amount are not accepted whilst you are within such a short distance and can hold communication with the fort, it is not probable that the large reward which has been promised to myself and party will be paid when you are far distant on your way to your own country. It really appears to me," he continued, "as if both the Companies consider your party as a third company, hostile to their interests, and that neither of them will pay the notes you give to the Indians."
Afterwards in the course of a long conference he enumerated many other grounds of dissatisfaction, the principal of which were our want of attention to him as chief, the weakness of the rum formerly sent to him, the smallness of the present now offered, and the want of the chief's clothing, which he had been accustomed to receive at Fort Providence every spring. He concluded by refusing to receive the goods now laid before him.
In reply to these complaints it was stated that Mr. Weeks' conduct could not be properly discussed at such a distance from his fort, that no dependence ought to be placed on the vague reports that floated through the Indian territory, that for our part, although we had heard many stories to his (Akaitcho's) disadvantage, we discredited them all, that the rum we had sent him, being what the great men in England were accustomed to drink, was of a milder kind but in fact stronger than what he had been accustomed to receive, and that the distance we had come and the speed with which we travelled precluded us from bringing large quantities of goods like the traders, that this had been fully explained to him when he agreed to accompany us and that, in consideration of his not receiving his usual spring outfit, his debts to the Company had been cancelled and a present, much greater than any he had ever received before, ordered to be got ready for his return. He was further informed that we were much disappointed in not receiving any dried meat from him, an article indispensable for our summer voyage and which he had led us to believe there was no difficulty in procuring, and that in fact his complaints were so groundless in comparison with the real injury we sustained from the want of supplies that we were led to believe they were preferred solely for the purpose of cloaking his own want of attention to the terms of his engagement. He then shifted his ground and stated that if we endeavoured to make a voyage along the sea-coast we should inevitably perish, and he advised us strongly against persisting in the attempt. This part of his harangue, being an exact transcript of the sentiments formerly expressed by our interpreters, induced us to conclude that they had prompted his present line of conduct by telling him that we had goods or rum concealed. He afterwards received a portion of our dinner in the manner he had been accustomed to do, and seemed inclined to make up matters with us in the course of the evening, provided we added to the present offered to him. Being told however that this was impossible since we had already offered him all the rum we had and every article of goods we could spare from our own equipment his obstinacy was a little shaken, and he made some concessions but deferred giving a final answer until the arrival of Humpy his elder brother. The young men however did not choose to wait so long and at night came for the rum, which we judged to be a great step towards a reconciliation.
St. Germain, the most intelligent of our two interpreters and the one who had most influence with the Indians, being informed that their defection was in a great measure attributed to the unguarded conversations he had held with them, and which he had in part acknowledged, exerted himself much on the following day in bringing about a change in their sentiments and with some success. The young men, though they declined hunting, conducted themselves with the same good humour and freedom as formerly. Akaitcho being as he said ashamed to show himself kept close in his tent all day.
On the 24th one of the women who accompanied us from Athabasca was sent down to Fort Providence under charge of the old chief who came some days before for medicine for his eyes. Angelique and Roulante, the other two women, having families, preferred accompanying the Indians during their summer hunt. On the 25th clothing and other necessary articles were issued to the Canadians as their equipment for the ensuing voyage. Two or three blankets, some cloth, ironwork, and trinkets were reserved for distribution amongst the Esquimaux on the sea-coast. Laced dresses were given to Augustus and Junius. It is impossible to describe the joy that took possession of the latter on the receipt of this present. The happy little fellow burst into ecstatic laughter as he surveyed the different articles of his gay habiliments.*
(*Footnote. These men kept their dresses and delighted in them. An Indian chief on the other hand only appears once before the donor in the dress of ceremony which he receives and then transfers it to some favourite in the tribe whom he desires to reward by this robe of honour.)
In the afternoon Humpy the leader's elder brother, Annoethaiyazzeh, another of his brothers, and one of our guides arrived with the remainder of Akaitcho's band; as also Long-legs, brother to the Hook, with three of his band. There were now in the encampment thirty hunters, thirty-one women, and sixty children, in all one hundred and twenty-one of the Copper Indian or Red-Knife tribe. The rest of the nation were with the Hook on the lower part of the Copper-Mine River.
Annoethaiyazzeh is remarkable amongst the Indians for the number of his descendants; he has eighteen children living by two wives, of whom sixteen were at the fort at this time.
In the evening we had another formidable conference. The former complaints were reiterated and we parted about midnight without any satisfactory answer to my questions as to when Akaitcho would proceed towards the river and where he meant to make provision for our march. I was somewhat pleased however to find that Humpy and Annoethaiyazzeh censured their brother's conduct and accused him of avarice.
On the 26th the canoes were removed from the places where they had been deposited as we judged that the heat of the atmosphere was now so great as to admit of their being repaired without risk of cracking the bark. We were rejoiced to find that two of them had suffered little injury from the frost during the winter. The bark of the third was considerably rent but it was still capable of repair.
The Indians sat in conference in their tents all the morning and in the afternoon came into the house charged with fresh matter for discussion.
Soon after they had seated themselves and the room was filled with the customary volume of smoke from their calumets the goods which had been laid aside were again presented to the leader, but he at once refused to distribute so small a quantity amongst his men and complained that there were neither blankets, kettles, nor daggers amongst them, and in the warmth of his anger he charged Mr. Wentzel with having advised the distribution of all our goods to the Canadians and thus defrauding the Indians of what was intended for them. Mr. Wentzel of course immediately repelled this injurious accusation and reminded Akaitcho again that he had been told on engaging to accompany us that he was not to expect any goods until his return. This he denied with an effrontery that surprised us all, when Humpy, who was present at our first interview at Fort Providence, declared that he heard us say that no goods could be taken for the supply of the Indians on the voyage; and the first guide added, "I do not expect anything here, I have promised to accompany the white people to the sea and I will therefore go, confidently relying upon receiving the stipulated reward on my return." Akaitcho did not seem prepared to hear such declarations from his brothers and, instantly changing the subject, began to descant upon the treatment he had received from the traders in his concerns with them with an asperity of language that bore more the appearance of menace than complaint. I immediately refused to discuss this topic as foreign to our present business and desired Akaitcho to recall to memory that he had told me on our first meeting that he considered me the father of every person attached to the Expedition, in which character it was surely my duty to provide for the comfort and safety of the Canadians as well as the Indians. The voyagers, he knew, had a long journey to perform and would in all probability be exposed to much suffering from cold on a coast destitute of wood, and therefore required a greater provision of clothing than was necessary for the Indians who, by returning immediately from the mouth of the river, would reach Fort Providence in August and obtain their promised rewards. Most of the Indians appeared to assent to this argument but Akaitcho said, "I perceive the traders have deceived you; you should have brought more goods but I do not blame you." I then told him that I had brought from England only ammunition, tobacco, and spirits and that, being ignorant what other articles the Indians required, we were dependent on the traders for supplies, but he must be aware that every endeavour had been used on our parts to procure them, as was evinced by Mr. Back's journey to Fort Chipewyan. With respect to the ammunition and tobacco we had been as much disappointed as themselves in not receiving them, but this was to be attributed to the neglect of those to whom they had been entrusted. This explanation seemed to satisfy him. After some minutes of reflection his countenance became more cheerful and he made inquiry whether his party might go to either of the trading posts they chose on their return, and whether the Hudson's Bay Company were rich, for they had been represented to him as a poor people? I answered him that we really knew nothing about the wealth of either Company, having never concerned ourselves with trade, but that all the traders appeared to us to be respectable. Our thoughts I added are fixed solely on the accomplishment of the objects for which we came to the country. Our success depends much on your furnishing us with provision speedily, that we may have all the summer to work and, if we succeed, a ship will soon bring goods in abundance to the mouth of the Copper-Mine River. The Indians talked together for a short time after this conversation and then the leader made an application for two or three kettles and some blankets to be added to the present to his young men; we were unable to spare him any kettles but the officers promised to give a blanket each from their own beds.
Dinner was now brought in and relieved us for a time from their importunity. The leading men as usual received each a portion from the table. When the conversation was resumed the chief renewed his solicitations for goods, but it was now too palpable to be mistaken that he aimed at getting everything he possibly could and leaving us without the means of making any presents to the Esquimaux or other Indians we might meet. I resolved therefore on steadily refusing every request and, when he perceived that he could extort nothing more, he rose in an angry manner and, addressing his young men, said: "There are too few goods for me to distribute; those that mean to follow the white people to the sea may take them."
This was an incautious speech as it rendered it necessary for his party to display their sentiments. The guides and most of the hunters declared their readiness to go and came forward to receive a portion of the present which was no inconsiderable assortment. This relieved a weight of anxiety from my mind and I did not much regard the leader's retiring in a very dissatisfied mood.
The hunters then applied to Mr. Wentzel for ammunition that they might hunt in the morning and it was cheerfully given to them.
The officers and men amused themselves at prison-bars and other Canadian games till two o'clock in the morning, and we were happy to observe the Indians sitting in groups enjoying the sport. We were desirous of filling up the leisure moments of the Canadians with amusements, not only for the purpose of enlivening their spirits but also to prevent them from conversing upon our differences with the Indians, which they must have observed. The exercise was also in a peculiar manner serviceable to Mr. Hood. Ever ardent in his pursuits he had, through close attention to his drawings and other avocations, confined himself too much to the house in winter, and his health was impaired by his sedentary habits. I could only take the part of a spectator in these amusements, being still lame from the hurt formerly alluded to.
The sun now sank for so short a time below the horizon that there was more light at midnight than we enjoyed on some days at noon in the wintertime.
On the 27th the hunters brought in two reindeer. Many of the Indians attended divine service this day and were attentive spectators of our addresses to the Almighty.
On the 28th I had a conversation with Long-legs whose arrival two days before has been mentioned. I acquainted him with the objects of our Expedition and our desire of promoting peace between his nation and the Esquimaux, and learned from him that his brother the Hook was by this time on the Copper-Mine River with his party and that, although he had little ammunition, yet it was possible he might have some provision collected before our arrival at his tents. I then decorated him with a medal similar to those given to the other chiefs. He was highly pleased with this mark of our regard and promised to do everything for us in his power. Akaitcho came in during the latter part of our conversation with a very cheerful countenance. Jealousy of the Hook and a knowledge that the sentiments of the young men differed from his own with respect to the recent discussions had combined to produce this change in his conduct, and next morning he took an opportunity of telling me that I must not think the worse of him for his importunities. It was their custom he said to do so however strange it might appear to us, and he as the leader of his party had to beg for them all; but as he saw we had not deceived him by concealing any of our goods and that we really had nothing left he should ask for no more. He then told me that he would set out for the river as soon as the state of the country admitted of travelling. The snow he remarked was still too deep for sledges to the northward and the moss too wet to make fires. He was seconded in this opinion by Long-legs whom I was the more inclined to believe knowing that he was anxious to rejoin his family as soon as possible.
Akaitcho now accepted the dress he had formerly refused and next day clothed himself in another new suit which he had received from us in the autumn. Ever since his arrival at the fort he had dressed meanly and pleaded poverty but, perceiving that nothing more could be gained by such conduct, he thought proper to show some of his riches to the strangers who were daily arriving. In the afternoon however he made another though a covert attack upon us. He informed me that two old men had just arrived at the encampment with a little pounded meat which they wished to barter. It was evident his intention was merely to discover whether we had any goods remaining or not. I told him that we had nothing at present to give for meat, however much we stood in need of it, but that we would pay for it by notes on the North-West Company in any kind of goods they pleased. After much artful circumlocution and repeated assurances of the necessities of the men who owned the meat he introduced them and they readily agreed to give us the provision on our own terms.
I have deemed it my duty to give the details of these tedious conversations to point out to future travellers the art with which these Indians pursue their objects, their avaricious nature, and the little reliance that can be placed upon them when their interests jar with their promises. In these respects they agree with other tribes of northern Indians but, as has been already mentioned, their dispositions are not cruel and their hearts are readily moved by the cry of distress.
The average temperature for May was nearly 32 degrees, the greatest heat was 68 degrees, the lowest 8 degrees.
We had constant daylight at the end of the month and geese and ducks were abundant, indeed rather too much so for our hunters were apt to waste upon them the ammunition that was given to them for killing deer. Uncertain as to the length of time that it might be required to last we did not deem a goose of equal value with the charge it cost to procure it.
Dr. Richardson and Mr. Back having visited the country to the northward of the Slave Rock and reported that they thought we might travel over it I signified my intention of sending the first party off on Monday the 4th of June. I was anxious to get the Indians to move on before, but they lingered about the house, evidently with the intention of picking up such articles as we might deem unnecessary to take. When Akaitcho was made acquainted with my purpose of sending away a party of men he came to inform me that he would appoint two hunters to accompany them and at the same time requested that Dr. Richardson or, as he called him, the Medicine Chief, might be sent with his own band. These Indians set a great value upon medicine and made many demands upon Dr. Richardson on the prospect of his departure. He had to make up little packets of the different articles in his chest, not only for the leader but for each of the minor chiefs who carefully placed them in their medicine bags, noting in their memories the directions he gave for their use. The readiness with which their requests for medical assistance were complied with was considered by them as a strong mark of our good intentions towards them and the leader often remarked that they owed much to our kindness in that respect, that formerly numbers had died every year but that not a life had been lost since our arrival amongst them. In the present instance however the leader's request could not be complied with. Dr. Richardson had volunteered to conduct the first party to the Copper-Mine River whilst the rest of the officers remained with me to the last moment to complete our astronomical observations at the house. He therefore informed the leader that he would remain stationary at Point Lake until the arrival of the whole party, where he might be easily consulted if any of his people fell sick as it was in the neighbourhood of their hunting grounds.
On the 2nd the stores were packed up in proper-sized bales for the journey. I had intended to send the canoes by the first party but they were not yet repaired, the weather not being sufficiently warm for the men to work constantly at them without the hazard of breaking the bark. This day one of the new trading guns which we had recently received from Fort Chipewyan burst in the hands of a young Indian, fortunately however without doing him any material injury. This was the sixth accident of the kind which had occurred since our departure from Slave Lake. Surely this deficiency in the quality of the guns, which hazards the lives of so many poor Indians, requires the serious consideration of the principals of the trading Companies.
On the 4th at three in the morning the party under the charge of Dr. Richardson started. It consisted of fifteen voyagers, three of them conducting dog sledges, Baldhead and Basil, two Indian hunters with their wives, Akaiyazzeh a sick Indian and his wife, together with Angelique and Roulante, so that the party amounted to twenty-three exclusive of children.
The burdens of the men were about eighty pounds each, exclusive of their personal baggage which amounted to nearly as much more. Most of them dragged their loads upon sledges but a few preferred carrying them on their backs. They set off in high spirits.