Big cakes of ice were piled in high barricades along the rivers where we crossed them, and at these places we had to let the komatik down with care on one side and help the dogs haul it up with much labor on the other; and on the level, through the rough ice hummocks or amongst the rocks, the drivers were kept busy steering to prevent collisions with the obstructions, while the dogs rushed madly ahead, and we, on the komatik, clung on for dear life and watched our legs that they might not get crushed. Once or twice we turned over, but the drivers never lost their hold of the komatik or control of the dogs.
It was dark when we reached Emuk's skin tupek and were welcomed by a group of Eskimos, men, women and children. Iksialook was of the number, and he was so worn and haggard that I scarcely recognized him. He had seen hardship since our parting. The people were very dirty and very hospitable. They took us into the tupek at once, which was extremely filthy and made insufferably hot by a sheet-iron tent stove. The women wore sealskin trousers and in the long hoods of their adikeys, or upper garments, carried babies whose bright little dusky-hued faces peeped timidly out at us over the mothers' shoulders. A ptarmigan was boiled and divided between Easton and me, and with that and bread and butter from Edmunds's box and hot tea we made a splendid supper. After a smoke all around, for the women smoke as well as the men, polar bear and reindeer skins were spread upon spruce boughs, blankets were given us for covering, and we lay down. Eleven of us crowded into the tupek and slept there that night. How all the Eskimos found room I do not know. I was crowded so tightly between one of the fat women on one side and Easton on the other that I could not turn over; but I slept as I had seldom ever slept before.
The next forenoon we crossed the Mukalik River and soon after reached Whale River, big and broad, with blocks of ice surging up and down upon the bosom of the restless tide. The Post is about ten miles from its mouth. We turned northward along its east bank and, in a little while, came to some scattered spruce woods, which Edmunds told me were just below his home. Then at a creek, above which stood the miniature log cabin and small log storehouse comprising the Post buildings, I got off and climbed up through rough ice barricades.
Never in my life have I had such a welcome as I received here. Mrs. Edmunds came out to meet me. She told me that they had been watching for us at the Post all the morning and how glad they were that we were safe, and that we had come to see them, and that we must stay a good long time and rest. For two-score years they had lived in that desolate place and never before had a traveler come to visit them. In all that time the only white people they had ever met were the three or four connected with the Post at Fort Chimo, for the ship never calls at Whale River on her rounds. Edmunds brings the provisions over from Fort Chimo in a little schooner. There are five in the family—Edmunds and his wife, their daughter (a young woman of twenty) and her husband, Sam Ford (a son of John Ford at George River), and Mary's baby.
A good wash and clean clothing followed by a sumptuous dinner of venison put us on our feet again. I suffered little as a result of the fasting period, but Easton had three or four days of pretty severe colic. This is the usual result of feast after famine, and was to be expected.
And now I learned the details of Potokomik's journey out. When the three Eskimos left us in the shack they started at once in search of Emuk's tupek. The storm that raged for two days swept pitilessly across their path, but they never halted, pushing through the deep- ening snow in single file, taking turns at going ahead and breaking the way, until night, and then they stopped. They had no ax and could have no fire, so they built themselves a snow igloo as best they could without the proper implements and it protected them against the drifting snow and piercing wind while they slept. On the second day they shot, with their rifles, seven ptarmigans. These they plucked and ate raw. They saw no more game, and finally became so weak and exhausted they could carry their rifles no farther and left them on the trail. Each night they built a snow house. With increasing weakness their progress was very slow; still they kept going, staggering on and on through the snow. It was only their lifelong habit of facing great odds and enduring great hardships that kept them up. Men less inured to cold and privation would surely have succumbed. They were making their final fight when at last they stumbled into Emuk's tupek. Kumuk sat down and cried like a child. It was two weeks before any of them was able to do any physical work. They looked like shadows of their former selves when I saw them at Whale River.
It was after dark Sunday night when my letter to Edmunds reached the Post. Earlier in the evening Edmunds and his man had crossed the river, which is here over half a mile in width, and pitched their camp on the opposite shore, preparatory to starting up the river the next morning on a deer hunt, herds having been reported to the northward by Eskimos. Mrs. Edmunds read the letter, and she and Mary were at once all excitement. They lighted a lantern and signaled to the camp on the other side and fired guns until they had a reply. Then, for fear that Edmunds might not understand the urgency of his immediate returns they kept firing at intervals all night, stopping only to pack the komatik box with the clothing and food that Edmunds was to bring to us. Neither of the women slept. With the thought of men starving out in the snow they could not rest. The floating ice in the river and the swift tide made it impossible for a boat to cross in the darkness, but with daylight Edmunds returned, harnessed his dogs, and was off to meet us as has been described.
We had left George River on October twenty-second, and it was the eighth of November when we reached Whale River, and in this interval the caribou herds that the Indians had reported west of the Koksoak had passed to the east of Whale River and turned to the northward. Fifty miles inland the Indian and Eskimo hunters had met them. The killing was over and they told us hundreds of the animals lay dead in the snow above. So many had been butchered that all the dogs and men in Ungava would be well supplied with meat during the winter, and numbers of the carcasses would feed the packs of timber wolves that infested the country or rot in the next summer's sun. Sam Ford had gone inland but was too late for the big hunt and only killed four or five deer. The wolves were so thick, he told us, that he could not sleep at night in his camp with the noise of their howling. One Eskimo brought in two wolf skins that were so large when they were stretched a man could almost have crawled into either of them. I saw wolf tracks myself within a quarter mile of the Post, for the animals were so bold they ventured almost to the door.
Edmunds is a famous hunter. During the previous winter, besides attending to his post duties, he killed nearly half a hundred caribou to supply his Post and Fort Chimo with man and dog food, and in the same season his traps yielded him two hundred fox pelts—mostly white ones—his personal catch. This was not an unusual year's work for him. Mary inherits her father's hunting instincts. In the morning she would put her baby in the hood of her adikey, shoulder her gun, don her snowshoes, and go to "tend" her traps. One day she did not take her gun, and when she had made her rounds of the traps and started homeward discovered that she was being followed by a big gray timber wolf. When she stopped, the wolf stopped; when she went on, it followed, stealing gradually closer and closer to her, almost imperceptibly, but still gaining upon her. She wanted to run, but she realized that if she did the wolf would know at once that she was afraid and would attack and kill her and her baby; so without hastening her pace, and only looking back now and again to note the wolf's gain, she reached the door of the house and entered with the animal not ten paces away. Now she always carries a gun and feels no fear, for she can shoot.
I took advantage of the delay at Whale River to partially outfit for the winter. Edmunds and his family rendered us valuable assistance and advice, securing for us, from the Eskimos, sealskin boots, and from the Indians who came to the Post while we were there, deer skins for trousers, koolutuks and sleeping bags, Mrs. Edmunds and Mary themselves making our moccasins, mittens and duffel socks.
The Eskimos were all away at their hunting grounds and it was not possible to secure a dog team to carry us on to Fort Chimo. Therefore, when Edmunds announced one day that he must send Sam Ford and the Eskimo servant over with the Post team for a load of provisions, I availed myself of the opportunity to accompany them, and on the twenty-eighth of November we said good-by to the friends who had been so kind to us and again faced toward the westward.
The morning was clear, crisp and bracing; the temperature was twenty degrees below zero. We ascended the river some seven or eight miles before we found a safe crossing, as the tide had kept the ice broken in the center of the channel below, and piled it like hills along the banks.
I noted that the Whale River valley was much better wooded than any country we had seen for a long time—since we had left the head waters of the George River, in fact—and the Indians say it is so to its source. The trees are small black spruce and larch, but a fairly thick growth. This "bush," however, is evidently quite restricted in width, for after crossing the river we were almost immediately out of it, and the same interminable, barren, rocky, treeless country that we had seen to the eastward extended westward to the Koksoak.
That night was spent in a snow igloo. The next day we crossed the False River, a wide stream at its mouth, but a little way up not over two hundred yards wide. At twelve o'clock a halt was made at an Eskimo tupek for dinner.
The people were, as these northern people always are, most hospitable, giving us the best they had—fresh venison and tea. After but an hour's delay we were away again, and at three o'clock, with the dogs on a gallop, rounded the hill above Fort Chimo and pulled into the Post, the farthest limit of white man's habitation in all Labrador.
We were welcomed by Mr. Duncan Mathewson, the Chief Trader, who has charge of the Ungava District for the Hudson's Bay Company, and Dr. Alexander Milne, Assistant Commissioner of the Company, from Winnipeg, who had arrived on the Pelican and was on a tour of inspection of the Labrador Coast Posts.
The Chief Trader's residence is a small building, and Mr. Mathewson was unable to entertain us in the house, but he gave orders at once to have a commodious room in one of the dozen or so other buildings of the Post fitted up for us with beds, stove and such simple furnishings as were necessary to establish us in housekeeping and make us comfortable during our stay with him. Here we were to remain until the Indian and Eskimo hunters came for their Christmas and New Year's trading, at which time, I was advised, I should probably be able to engage Eskimo drivers and dogs to carry us eastward to the Atlantic coast.
THE INDIANS OF THE NORTH
Fort Chmio is situated upon the east bank of the Koksoak River and about twenty-five miles from its mouth, where the river is nearly a mile and a half wide. There are two trading posts here; one, that of the Hudson's Bay Company, consisting of a dozen or so buildings, which include dwelling and storehouses and native cabins; the other that of Revellion Brothers, the great fur house of Paris, colloquially referred to as "the French Company," which stands just above and ad- joining the station of the Hudson's Bay Company. This latter Post was erected in the year 1903, and has nearly as many buildings as the older establishment. We used to refer to them respectively as "London" and "Paris."
The history of Fort Chimo extends back to the year 1811, when Kmoch and Kohlmeister, two of the Moravian Brethren of the Okak Mission on the Atlantic coast, in the course of their efforts for the conversion of the Eskimos to Christianity cruised into Ungava Bay, discovered the George River, which they named in honor of King George the Third, and then proceeded to the Koksoak, which they ascended to the point of the present settlement. The natives received them well. They erected a beacon on a hill, tarried but a few days and then turned back to Okak. Upon their return they gave glowing accounts of their reception by the natives and the great possibilities for profitable trade, but they did not deem it advisable themselves to extend their labors to that field.
In the course of time this report drifted to England and to the ears of the officials of the Hudson's Bay Company, who were attracted by it, and in 1827 Dr. Mendry, an officer of the Company at Moose Factory, with a party of white men and Indian guides crossed the peninsula from Richmond Gulf, through Clearwater Lake to the head waters of the Larch River, a tributary of the Koksoak, thence descended the Larch and Koksoak to the place where the Moravians had erected the beacon, and on a low terrace, just across the river from the beacon, established the original Fort Chimo. The difficulties of navigation and the consequent uncertainty and expense of keeping the Post supplied with provisions and articles of trade were such, however, that after a brief trial Ungava was abandoned.
The opportunities for lucrative trade here were not forgotten by the Company, and in the year 1837 Factor John McLean was detailed to re- establish Fort Chimo. This he did, and a year later built the first Post at George River. During the succeeding winter he crossed the interior with dogs to Northwest River. Upon their return journey McLean and his party ate their dogs and barely escaped perishing from starvation; one of his Indians, who was sent ahead, reaching Fort Chimo and bringing succor when McLean and the others, through extreme weakness, were unable to proceed farther. In the following summer McLean built the fort on Indian House Lake, and the other one that has been mentioned, on a large lake to the westward—Lake Eraldson he called it—presumably the source of Whale River. Later he succeeded in crossing to Northwest River by canoe, ascending the George River and descending the Atlantic slope of the plateau by way of the Grand River. His object was to establish a regular line of communication between Fort Chimo and Northwest River, with interior posts along the route. The natural obstacles which the country presented finally forced the abandonment of this plan as impracticable, and the two interior posts were closed after a brief trial. This was before the days of steam navigation, and with sailing vessels it was only possible to reach these isolated northern stations in Ungava Bay with supplies once every two years. Even these infrequent visits were so fraught with danger and uncertainty that finally, in 1855, Fort Chimo and George River were again abandoned as unprofitable. In 1866, however, the building of the Company's steamship Labrador made yearly visits possible, and in that year another attack was made upon the Ungava district and Fort Chimo was rebuilt, George River Post re- established, and a little later the small station at Whale River was erected. With the improved facilities for transportation the trade with Indians and Eskimos, and the salmon and white whale fisheries carried on by the Posts, now proved most profitable, and the Company has since and is still reaping the reward of its persistence.
Dr. Milne, as has been stated, was not a permanent resident of the Post. Regularly stationed here, besides Mathewson, there is a young clerk, a cooper, a carpenter, and a handy man, all Scotchmen, and a comparatively new arrival, Rev. Samuel M. Stewart, a missionary of the Church Mission Society of England. Of Mr. Stewart, who did much to relieve the monotony of our several weeks' sojourn at Fort Chimo, and his remarkable self-sacrifice and work, I shall have something to say later.
The day after our arrival we took occasion to pay our respects to Monsieur D. The'venet, the officer in charge of the "French Post." Our reception was most cordial. M. The'venet is a gentleman by birth. He was at one time an officer in the French cavalry, but his love of adventure and active temperament rebelled against the inactivity of garrison duty and he resigned his commission in the army, came to Canada, and joined the Northwest mounted police in the hope of obtaining a detail in the Klondike. In this he was disappointed, and the outbreak of the South African war offering a new field of adventure he quit the police, enlisted in the Canadian Mounted Rifles, and served in the field throughout the war. After his return to Canada and discharge from the army, he took service with Revellion Brothers.
M. The'venet invited us to dine with him that very evening, and we were not slow to accept his hospitality. His bright conversation, pleasing personality and unstinted hospitality offered a delightful evening and we were not disappointed. This and many other pleasant evenings spent in his society during our stay at Fort Chimo were some of the most enjoyable of our trip.
Here an agreeable surprise awaited me. When we sat down to dinner The'venet called in his new half-breed French-Indian interpreter, and who should he prove to be but Belfleur, one of the dog drivers who in April, 1904, accompanied me from Northwest River to Rigolet, when I began that anxious journey over the ice with Hubbard's body. He was apparently as well pleased at the meeting as I. Belfleur and a half- breed Scotch-Eskimo named Saunders are employed as Indian and Eskimo interpreters at the French Post, and are the only ones of M. The'venet's people with whom he can converse. Belfleur speaks French and broken English, and Saunders English, besides their native languages.
None of the people of Ungava, with the exception of two or three, speaks any but his mother tongue, and they have no ambition, apparently, to extend their linguistic acquirements. It is, indeed, a lonely life for the trader, who but once a year, when his ship arrives, has any communication with the great world which he has left behind him. No white woman is here with her softening influence, no physician or surgeon to treat the sick and injured, and never until the advent of Mr. Stewart any permanent missionary.
The natives that remain at Fort Chimo all the year are three or four families of Eskimos, a few old or crippled Indians, and some half- breed Indians and Eskimos, who do chores around the Posts and lead an uncertain existence. The half-breed Indian children are taken care of at the "Indian house," a log structure presided over by the "Queen" of Ungava, a very corpulent old Nascaupee woman, who lives by the labor of others and draws tribute from trading Indians who make the Indian house their rendezvous when they visit the Post. She is and always has been very kind, and a sort of mother, to the little waifs that nearly every trader or white servant has left behind him, when the Company's orders transferred him to some other Post and he abandoned his temporary wife forever.
The Indians of the Ungava district are chiefly Nascaupees, with occasionally a few Crees from the West. "Nenenot" they call themselves, which means perfect, true men. "Nascaupee" means false or untrue men and is a word of opprobrium applied to them by the Mountaineers in the early days, because of their failure to keep a compact to join forces with the latter at the time of the wars for supremacy between the Indians and Eskimos. Nascaupee is the name by which they are known now, outside of their own lodges, and the one which we shall use in referring to them. In like manner I have chosen to use the English Mountaineer, rather than the French Montagnais, in speaking of the southern Indians. North of the Straits of Belle Isle the French word is never heard, and if you were to refer to these Indians as "Montagnais" to the Labrador natives it is doubtful whether you would be understood.
Both Mountaineers and Nascaupees are of Cree origin, and belong to the great Algonquin family. Their language is similar, with only the variation of dialect that might be expected with the different environments. The Nascaupees have one peculiarity of speech, however, which is decidedly their own. In conversation their voice is raised to a high pitch, or assumes a whining, petulant tone. An outsider might believe them to be quarreling and highly excited, when in fact they are on the best of terms and discussing some ordinary subject in a most matter of fact way.
In personal appearance the Nascaupees are taller and more angular than their southern brothers, but the high cheek bones, the color and general features are the same. They are capable of enduring the severest cold. In summer cloth clothing obtained in barter at the Posts is, worn, but in winter deerskin garments are usual. The coat has the hair inside, and the outside of the finely dressed, chamoislike skin is decorated with various designs in color, in startling combinations of blue, red and yellow, painted on with dyes obtained at the Post or manufactured by themselves from fish roe and mineral products. When the garment has a hood it is sometimes the skin of a wolf's head, with the ears standing and hair outside, giving the wearer a startling and ferocious appearance. Tight-fitting deerskin or red cloth leggings decorated with beads, and deerskin moccasins complete the costume.
Some beadwork trimming is made by the women, but they do little in the way of needlework embroidery, and the results of their attempts in this direction are very indifferent. This applies to the full-blood Nascaupees. I have seen some fairly good specimens of moccasin embroidery done by the half-breed women at the Post, and by the Mountaineer women in the South.
The Nascaupees are not nearly so clean nor so prosperous as the Mountaineers, and, coming very little in contact with the whites, live now practically as their forefathers lived for untold generations before them—just as they lived, in fact, before the white men came. They are perhaps the most primitive Indians on the North American continent to-day.
The Mountaineers, on the other hand, see much more, particularly during the summer months, of the whites and half-breeds of the coast. Most of those who spend their summers on the St. Lawrence, west of St. Augustine, have more or less white blood in their veins through consorting with the traders and settlers. With but two or three exceptions the Mountaineers of the Atlantic coast, Groswater Bay, and at St. Augustine and the eastward, are pure, uncontaminated Indians.
The line of territorial division between the Nascaupee and Mountaineer Indians' hunting grounds is pretty closely drawn. The divide north of Lake Michikamau is the southern and the George River the eastern boun- dary of the Nascaupee territory, and to the south and to the east of these boundaries, lie the hunting grounds of the Mountaineers.
These latter, south of the height of land, as has been stated, are practically all under the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, and are most devout in the observance of their religious obligations. While it is true that their faith is leavened to some extent by the superstitions that their ancestors have handed down to them, yet even in the long months of the winter hunting season they never forget the teachings of their father confessor.
The Nascaupees are heathens. About the year 1877 or 1878 Father P'ere Lacasse crossed overland from Northwest River, apparently by the Grand River route, to Fort Chimo, in an attempt to carry the work of the mission into that field. The Nascaupees, however, did not take kindly to the new religion, and unfortunately during the priest's stay among them, which was brief, the hunting was bad. This was attributed to the missionary's presence, and the sachems were kept busy for a time dispelling the evil charm. No one was converted. Let us hope that Mr. Stewart, who is there to stay, and is an earnest, persistent worker, will reach the savage confidence and conscience, though his opportunity with the Indians is small, for these Nascaupees tarry but a very brief time each year within his reach. With open water in the summer they come to the Fort with the pelts of their winter catch. These are exchanged for arms, ammunition, knives, clothing, tea and tobacco, chiefly. Then, after a short rest they disappear again into the fastnesses of the wilderness above, to fish the interior lakes and hunt the forests, and no more is seen of them until the following summer, excepting only a few of the younger men who usually emerge from the silent, snow-bound land during Christmas week to barter skins for such necessaries as they are in urgent need of, and to get drunk on a sort of beer, a concoction of hops, molasses and unknown ingredients, that the Post dwellers make and the "Queen" dispenses during the holiday festivals.
Reindeer, together with ptarmigans (Arctic grouse) and fish, form their chief food supply, with tea always when they can get it. All of these northern Indiana are passionately fond of tea, and drink unbelievable quantities of it. Little flour is used. The deer are erratic in their movements and can never be depended upon with any degree of certainty, and should the Indians fail in their hunt they are placed face to face with starvation, as was the case in the winter of 1892 and 1893, when full half of the people perished from lack of food.
Formerly the migrating herds pretty regularly crossed the Koksoak very near and just above the Post in their passage to the eastward in the early autumn, but for several years now only small bands have been seen here, the Indians meeting the deer usually some forty or fifty miles farther up the river. When the animals swim the river they bunch close together; Indian canoe men head them off and turn them up- stream, others attacking the helpless animals with spears. An agent of the Hudson's Bay Company told me that he had seen nearly four hundred animals slaughtered in this manner in a few hours. When bands of caribou are met in winter they are driven into deep snow banks, and, unable to help themselves, are speared at will.
Of course when the killing is a large one the flesh of all the animals cannot be preserved, and frequently only the tongues are used. Of late years, however, owing to the growing scarcity of reindeer, it is said the Indians have learned to be a little less wasteful than for- merly, and to restrict their kill more nearly to their needs, though during the winter I was there hundreds were slaughtered for tongues and sinew alone. Large quantities of the venison are dried and stored up against a season of paucity. Pemmican, which was formerly so largely used by our western Indians, is occasionally though not generally made by those of Labrador. When deer are killed some bone, usually a shoulder blade, is hung in a tree as an offering to the Manitou, that he may not interfere with future hunts, and drive the animals away.
The Indian religion is not one of worship, but one of fear and superstition. They are constanly in dread of imaginary spirits that haunt the wilderness and drive away the game or bring sickness or other disaster upon them. The conjurer is employed to work his charms to keep off the evil ones. They evidently have some sort of indefinite belief in a future existence, and hunting implements and other offerings are left with the dead, who, where the conditions will permit, are buried in the ground.
Sometimes the very old people are abandoned and left to die of starvation unattended. Be it said to the honor of the trading companies that they do their utmost to prevent this when it is possible, and offer the old and decrepit a haven at the Post, where they are fed and cared for.
The marriage relation is held very lightly and continence and chastity are not in their sight virtues. A child born to an unmarried woman is no impediment to her marriage. If it is a male child it is, in fact, an advantage. Love does not enter into the Indian's marriage relationship. It is a mating for convenience. Gifts are made to the girl's father or nearest male relative, and she is turned over, whether she will or no, to the would-be husband. There is no ceremony. A hunter has as many wives as he is physically able to control and take care of—one, two or even three. Sometimes it happens that they combine against him and he receives at their hands what is doubtless well-merited chastisement.
The men are the hunters, the women the slaves. No one finds fault with this, not even the women, for it is an Indian custom immemorial for the woman to do all the hard, physical work.
The Mountaineer Indians that we met on the George River, and one Indian who visited Fort Chimo while we were there, are the only ones of the Labrador that I have ever seen drive dogs. This Fort Chimo Indian, unlike the other hunters of his people, has spent much time at the Post, and mingled much with the white traders and the Eskimos, and, for an Indian, entertains very progressive and broad views. He was, with the exception of a humpbacked post attache' who had an Eskimo wife, the only Indian I met that would not be insulted when one addressed him in Eskimo, for the Indians and Eskimos carry on no social intercourse and the Indians rather despise the Eskimos. The Indian referred to, however, has learned something of the Eskimo language, and also a little English—English that you cannot always understand, but must take for granted. He informed me, "Me three man—Indian, husky (Eskimo), white man." He was very proud of his accomplishments.
The Indian hauls his loads in winter on toboggans, which he manufactures himself with his ax and crooked knife—the only woodworking tools he possesses. The crooked knives he makes, too, from old files, shaping and tempering them.
The snowshoe frames are made by the men, the babiche is cut and netted by the women, who display wonderful skill in this work. The Mountaineers make much finer netted snowshoes than the Nascaupees, and have great pride in the really beautiful, light snowshoes that they make. No finer ones are to be found anywhere than those made by the Groswater Bay Mountaineers. Three shapes are in vogue—the beaver tail, the egg tail and the long tail. The beaver-tail snowshoes are much more difficult to make, and are seldom seen amongst the Nascaupees. With them the egg tail is the favorite.
The Ungava Indians never go to the open bay in their canoes. They have a superstition that it will bring them bad luck, for there they say the evil spirits dwell. Of all the Indians that visit Fort Chimo only two or three have ever ventured to look upon the waters of Ungava Bay, and these had their view from a hilltop at a safe distance.
It is safe to say that there is not a truthful Indian in Labrador. In fact it is considered an accomplishment to lie cheerfully and well. They are like the Crees of James Bay and the westward in this respect, and will lie most plausibly when it will serve their purpose better than truth, and I verily believe these Indians sometimes lie for the mere pleasure of it when it might be to their advantage to tell the truth.
One good and crowning characteristic these children of the Ungava wilderness possess—that of honesty. They will not steal. You may have absolute confidence in them in this respect. And I may say, too, that they are most hospitable to the traveler, as our own experience with them exemplified. For their faults they must not be condemned. They live according to their lights, and their lights are those of the untutored savage who has never heard the gospel of Christianity and knows nothing of the civilization of the great world outside. Their life is one of constant struggle for bare existence, and it is truly wonderful how they survive at all in the bleak wastes which they inhabit.
NOTE.—It must not be supposed that all of the statements made in this chapter with reference to the Indian, particularly the Nascaupees, are the result of my personal observations. During our brief stay at Ungava, much of this information was gleaned from the officers of the two trading companies, and from natives. In a number of instances they were verified by myself, but I have taken the liberty, when doubt or conflicting statements existed, of referring to the works of Mr. A. P. Low of the Canadian Geological Society and Mr. Lucien M. Turner of the Bureau of Ethnology at Washington, to set myself right.
THE ESKIMOS OF LABRADOR
During our stay in Ungava, and the succeeding weeks while we traveled down the ice-bound coast, we were brought into constant and intimate contact with the Eskimos. We saw them in almost every phase of their winter life, eating and sleeping with them in their tupeks and igloos, and meeting them in their hunting camps and at the Fort, when they came to barter and to enjoy the festivities of the Christmas holiday week.
The Cree Indians used to call these people "Ashkimai," which means "raw meat eaters," and it is from this appellation that our word Eskimo is derived. Here in Ungava and on the coast of Hudson's Bay, they are pretty generally known as "Huskies," a contraction of "Huskimos," the pronunciation given to the word Eskimos by the English sailors of the trading vessels, with their well-known penchant for tacking on the "h" where it does not belong, and leaving it off when it should be pronounced.
The Eskimos call themselves "Innuit," [Singular, Innuk; dual, Innuek] which means people—humans. The white visitor is a "Kablunak," or outlander, while a breed born in the country is a "Kablunangayok," or one partaking of the qualities of both the Innuk and the Kablunak. Those who live in the Koksoak district are called "Koksoagmiut," * and those of the George River district are the "Kangerlualuksoagmiut." **
The ethnologists, I believe, have never agreed upon the origin of the Eskimo, some claiming it is Mongolian, some otherwise. In passing I shall simply remark that in appearance they certainly resemble the Mongolian race. If some of the men that I saw in the North were dressed like Japanese or Chinese and placed side by side with them, the one could not be told from the other so long as the Eskimos kept their mouths closed.
In our old school geographies we used to see them pictured as stockily built little fellows. In real life they compare well in stature with the white man of the temperate zone. With a very few exceptions the Eskimos of Ungava average over five feet eight inches in height, with some six-footers.
* Kok, river; soak, big; miut, inhabitants; Koksoagmiut, inhabitants of the big river.
** Literally, inhabitants of the very big bay. The George River mouth widens into a bay which is known as the Very Big Bay.
Their legs are shorter and their bodies longer than the white man's, and this probably is one reason why they have such wonderful capacity for physical endurance. In this respect they are the superior of the Indian. With plenty of food and a bush to lie under at night the Indian will doubtless travel farther in a given time than the Eskimo. But turn them both loose with only food enough for one meal a day for a month on the bare rocks or ice fields of the Arctic North, and your Indian will soon be dead, while your Eskimo will emerge from the test practically none the worse for his experience, for it is a usual experience with him and he has a wonderful amount of dogged perseverance. The Eskimo knows better how to husband his food than the Indian; and give him a snow bank and he can make himself comfortable anywhere. The most gluttonous Indian would turn green with envy to see the quantities of meat the Eskimo can stow away within his inner self at a single sitting; but on the other hand he can live, and work hard too, on a single scant meal a day, just as his dogs do.
The facial characteristics of the Eskimo are wide cheek bones and round, full face, with a flat, broad nose. I used to look at these flat, comfortable noses on very cold days and wish that for winter travel I might be able to exchange the longer face projection that my Scotch-Irish forbears have handed down to me for one of them, for they are not so easily frosted in a forty or fifty degrees below zero temperature. By the way, if you ever get your nose frozen do not rub snow on it. If you do you will rub all the skin off, and have a pretty sore member to nurse for some time afterward. Grasp it, instead, in your bare hand. That is the Eskimo's way, and he knows. My advice is founded upon experience.
They are not so dark-hued as the Indians—in fact, many of them are no darker than the average white man under like conditions of exposure to wind and storm and sun would be. The hair is straight, black, coarse and abundant. The men usually wear it hanging below their ears, cut straight around, with a forehead bang reaching nearly to the eyebrows. The women wear it braided and looped up on the sides of the head.
What constitutes beauty is of course largely a question of individual taste. My own judgment of the Eskimos is that they are very ugly, although I have seen young women among them whom I thought actually handsome. This was when they first arrived at the Post with dogs and komatik and they were dressed in their native costume of deerskin trousers and Koolutuk, their cheeks red and glowing with the exercise of travel and the keen, frosty atmosphere. A half hour later I have seen the same women when stringy, dirty skirts had replaced the neat- fitting trousers, and Dr. Grenfell's description of them when thus clad invariably came to my mind: "A bedraggled kind of mop, soaked in oil and filth." This tendency to ape civilization by wearing civilized garments, is happily confined to their brief sojourns at the Post. When they are away at their camps and igloos their own costume is almost exclusively worn, and is the best possible costume for the climate and the country. The adikey, or koolutuk, of the women, has a long flap or tail, reaching nearly to the heels, and a sort of apron in front. The hood is so commodious in size that a baby can be tucked away into it, and that is the way the small children are carried. The men wear cloth trousers except in the very cold weather, when they don their deer or seal skins. Their adikey or koolutuk reaches half way to their knees, and is cut square around. The hood of course, in their case, is only large enough to cover the head. It might be of interest to explain that if this garment is made of cloth it is an adikey; if of deerskin, a koolutuk, and if made of sealskin, a netsek—all cut alike. If they wear two cloth garments at the same time, as is usually the case, the inner one only is an adikey, the outer one a silapak.
Their language is the same from Greenland to Alaska. Of course different localities have different dialects, but this is the natural result of a different environment. Missionary Bohlman, whom I met at Hebron, told me that before coming to Labrador he was attached to a Greenland mission. When he came to Ms new field he found the language so similar to that in Greenland that he had very little difficulty in making himself understood. When Missionary Stecker a few years ago went from Labrador to Alaska he was able to converse with the Alaskan Eskimos. It is held by some authorities that Greenland was peopled by Labrador Eskimos who crossed Hudson Strait to Baffin Land, and thence made their way to Greenland, having originally crossed from Siberia into Alaska, thence eastward, skirting Hudson Bay. This is entirely feasible. I heard of one umiak (skin boat) only a few years ago having crossed to Cape Chidley from Baffin Land. Even in Labrador there are many different dialects. The "Northerners," the people inhabiting the northwest arm of the peninsula, have many words that the Koksoagmiut do not understand. The intonation of the Ungava Eskimos, particularly the women, is like a plaint. At Okak they sing their words. Each settlement on the Atlantic coast has its own dialect. It is a difficult language to learn. Words are compounded until they reach a great and almost unpronounceable length.* Naturally the coming of the trader has introduced many new words, as tobaccomik, teamik, etc., "mik" being the accusative ending. The Eskimo in his language cannot count beyond ten. If he wishes to express twelve, for instance, he will say, "as many fingers as a man has and two more." To express one hundred he would say, "five times as many fingers and toes as a man has," and so on. It is not a written language, but the Moravians have adapted the English alphabet to it and are teaching the Eskimos to read and write. Mr. Stewart in his work has adapted the Cree syllabic characters to the Eskimo, and he is teaching the Ungava people to write by this method, which is largely phonetic. Both the Moravians and Mr. Stewart are instructing them in the mystery of counting in German.
*The following will illustrate this; it is part of a sentence quoted from a Moravian missionary pamphlet: "Taimailinganiarpok, illagget Labradormiut namgminek akkilejungnalerkartinaget pijariakartamingnik tamainik, sakkertitsijungnalerkartinagillo ajokertnijunik."
** The Eskimo numerals are as follows: 1, attansek; 2, magguk; 3, pingasut; 4, sittamat; 5, tellimat; 6, pingasoyortut; 7, aggartut; 8, sittamauyortut; 9, sittamartut; 10, tellimauyortut.
Cleanliness is not one of the Eskimos' virtues, and they are frequently infested with vermin, which are wont to transfer their allegiance to visitors, as we learned in due course, to our discomfiture. For many months of the year the only water they have is obtained by melting snow or ice. In sections where there is no wood for fuel this must be done over stone lamps in which seal oil is burned, and it is so slow a process that the water thus procured is held too precious to be wasted in cleansing body or clothing. One of the missionaries remarked that "the children must be very clean little creatures, for the parents never find it necessary to wash them."
They treat the children with the greatest kindness and consideration— not only their own, but all children, generally. I did not once see an Eskimo punish a child, nor hear a harsh word spoken to one, and they are the most obedient youngsters in the world. A missionary on the Atlantic coast told me that once when he punished his child an Eskimo standing near remarked: "You don't love you child or you wouldn't punish it." And this is the sentiment they hold.
Love is not essential to a happy marriage among the Eskimos. When a man wants a woman he takes her. In fact they believe that an unwilling bride makes a good wife. Potokomik's wife was most unwilling, and he took her, dragging her by the tail of her adikey from her father's igloo across the river on the ice to his own, and they have "lived happily ever after," which seems to prove the correctness of the Eskimo theory as to unwilling brides. Of course if Potokomik's wife had not liked him after a fair trial, she could have left him, or if she had not come up to his expectations he could have sent her back home and tried another. It is all quite simple, for there is no marriage ceremony and resort to South Dakota courts for divorce is unnecessary. If a man wants two wives, why he has them, if there are women enough. That, too, is a very agreeable arrangement, for when he is away hunting the women keep each other company. Small families are the rule, and I did not hear of a case where twins had ever been born to the Eskimos.
Dancing and football are among their chief pastimes. The men enter into the dance with zest, but the women as though they were performing some awful penance. Both sexes play football. They have learned the use of cards and are reckless gamblers, sometimes staking even the garments on their backs in play.
The Eskimo is a close bargainer, and after he has agreed to do you a service for a consideration will as likely as not change his mind at the last moment and leave you in the lurch. At the same time he is in many respects a child.
The dwellings are of three kinds: The tupek—skin tent; igloowiuk— snow house; and permanent igloo, built of driftwood, stones and turf— the larger ones are igloosoaks.
Flesh and fish, as is the case with the Indians, form the principal food, but while the Indians cook everything the Eskimos as often eat their meat and fish raw, and are not too particular as to its age or state of decay. They are very fond of venison and seal meat, and for variety's sake welcome dog meat. A few years ago a disease carried off several of the dogs at Fort Chimo and every carcass was eaten. One old fellow, in fact, as Mathewson related to me, ate nothing else during that time, and when the epidemic was over bemoaned the fact that no more dog meat could be had.
On the Atlantic coast where the snow houses are not used and the Eskimos live more generally during the winter in the close, vile igloos, there is more or less tubercular trouble. Even farther south, where the natives have learned cleanliness, and live in comfortable log cabins that are fairly well aired, this is the prevailing disease. After leaving Ramah, the farther south you go the more general is the adoption of civilized customs, food and habits of life, and with the increase of civilization so also comes an increased death rate amongst the Eskimos. Formerly there was a considerable number of these people on the Straits of Belle Isle. Now there is not one there. South of Hamilton Inlet but two full-blood Eskimos remain. Below Ramah the deaths exceed the births, and at one settlement alone there are fifty less people to-day than three years ago.
Civilization is responsible for this. At the present time there remains on the Atlantic coast, between the Straits of Belle Isle and Cape Chidley, but eleven hundred and twenty-seven full-blood Eskimos. Five years hence there will not be a thousand. In Ungava district, where they have as yet accepted practically nothing of civilization, the births exceed the deaths, and I did not learn of a single well- authenticated case of tuberculosis while I was there. There were a few cases of rheumatism. Death comes early, however, owing to the life of constant hardship and exposure. Usually they do not exceed sixty or sixty-five years of age, though I saw one man that had rounded his three score years and ten.
Formerly they encased their dead in skins and lay them out upon the rocks with the clothing and things they had used in life. Now rough wooden boxes are provided by the traders. The dogs in time break the coffins open and pick the bones, which lie uncared for, to be bleached by the frosts of winter and suns of summer. Mr. Stewart has collected and buried many of these bones, and is endeavoring now to have all bodies buried.
Of all the missionaries that I met in this bleak northern land, devoted as every one of them is to his life work, none was more devoted and none was doing a more self-sacrificing work than the Rev. Samuel Milliken Stewart of Fort Chimo. His novitiate as a missionary was begun in one of the little out-port fishing villages of Newfoundland. Finally he was transferred to that fearfully barren stretch among the heathen Eskimos north of Nachvak. Here he and his Eskimo servant gathered together such loose driftwood as they could find, and with this and stones and turf erected a single-roomed igloo. It was a small affair, not over ten by twelve or fourteen feet in size, and an imaginary line separated the missionary's quarters from his servant's. On his knees, in an old resting place for the dead, with the bleaching bones of heathen Eskimos strewn over the rocks about him, he consecrated his life efforts to the conversion of this people to Christianity. Then he went to work to accomplish this purpose in a businesslike way. He set himself the infinite task of mastering the difficult language. He lived their life with them, visiting and sleeping with them in their filthy igloos—so filthy and so filled with stench from the putrid meat and fish scraps that they permit to lie about and decay that frequently at first, until he became accustomed to it, he was forced to seek the open air and relieve the resulting nausea. But Stewart is a man of iron will, and he never wavered. He studied his people, administered medicines to the sick, and taught the doctrines of Christianity—Love, Faith and Charity—at every opportunity. That first winter was a trying one. All his little stock of fuel was exhausted early. The few articles of furniture that be had brought with him he burned to help keep out the frost demon, and before spring suffered greatly with the cold. The winter before our arrival he transferred his efforts to the Fort Chimo district, where his field would be larger and he could reach a greater number of the heathens. During the journey to Fort Chimo, which was across the upper peninsula, with dogs, he was lost in storms that prevailed at the time, his provisions were exhausted, and one dog had been killed to feed the others, before he finally met Eskimos who guided him in safety to George River. At Fort Chimo the Hudson's Bay Company set aside two small buildings to his use, one for a chapel, the other a little cabin in which he lives. Here we found him one day with a pot of high-smelling seal meat cooking for his dogs and a pan of dough cakes frying for himself. With Stewart in this cabin I spent many delightful hours. His constant flow of well-told stories, flavored with native Irish wit, was a sure panacea for despondency. I believe Stewart, with his sunny temperament, is really enjoying his life amongst the heathen, and he has made an obvious impression upon them, for every one of them turns out to his chapel meetings, where the services are conducted in Eskimo, and takes part with a will.
The Eskimo religion, like that of the Indian, is one of fear. Numerous are the spirits that people the land and depths of the sea, but the chief of them all is Torngak, the spirit of Death, who from his cavern dwelling in the heights of the mighty Torngaeks (the mountains north of the George River toward Cape Chidley) watches them always and rules their fortunes with an iron hand, dealing out misfortune, or withholding it, at his will. It is only through the medium of the Angakok, or conjurer, that the people can learn what to do to keep Torngak and the lesser spirits of evil, with their varying moods, in good humor. Stewart has led some of the Eskimos to at least outwardly renounce their heathenism and profess Christianity. In a few instances I believe they are sincere. If he remains upon the field, as I know he wishes to do, he will have them all professing Christianity within the next few years, for they like him. But he has no more regard for danger, when he believes duty calls him, than Dr. Grenfell has, and it is predicted on the coast that some day Dr. Grenfell will take one chance too many with the elements.
Of course, coming among the Eskimos as we did in winter, we did not see them using their kayaks or their umiaks,* but our experience with dogs and komatik was pretty complete. These dogs are big wolfish creatures, which resemble wolves so closely in fact that when the dogs and wolves are together the one can scarcely be told from the other. It sometimes happens that a stray wolf will hobnob with the dogs, and litters of half wolf, half dog have been born at the posts.
* A large open boat with wooden frame and sealskin covering. The women row the umiaks while the men sit idle. It is beneath the dignity of the latter to handle the oars when women are present to do it.
There are no better Eskimo dogs to be found anywhere in the far north than the husky dogs of Ungava. Wonderful tales are told of long distances covered by them in a single day, the record trip of which I heard being one hundred and twelve miles. But this was in the spring, when the days were long and the snow hard and firm. The farthest I ever traveled myself in a single day with dogs and komatik was sixty miles. When the snow is loose and the days are short, twenty to thirty miles constitute a day's work.
From five to twelve dogs are usually driven in one team, though sometimes a man is seen plodding along with a two-dog team, and occasionally as many as sixteen or eighteen are harnessed to a komatik, but these very large teams are unwieldy.
The komatiks in the Ungava district vary from ten to eighteen feet in length. The runners are about two and one-half inches thick at the bottom, tapering slightly toward the top to reduce friction where they sink into the snow. They are usually placed sixteen inches apart, and crossbars extending about an inch over the outer runner on either side are lashed across the runners by means of thongs of sealskin or heavy twine, which is passed through holes bored into the crossbars and the runners. The use of lashings instead of nails or screws permits the komatik to yield readily in passing over rough places, where metal fastenings would be pulled out, or be snapped off by the frost. On either side of each end of the overlapping ends of the crossbars notches are cut, around which sealskin thongs are passed in lashing on the load. The bottoms of the komatik runners are "mudded." During the summer the Eskimos store up turf for this purpose, testing bits of it by chewing it to be sure that it contains no grit. When the cold weather comes the turf is mixed with warm water until it reaches the consistency of mud. Then with the hands it is molded over the bottom of the runners. The mud quickly freezes, after which it is carefully planed smooth and round. Then it is iced by applying warm water with a bit of hairy deerskin. These mudded runners slip very smoothly over the soft snow, but are liable to chip off on rough ice or when they strike rocks, as frequently happens, for the frozen mud is as brittle as glass. On the Atlantic coast from Nachvak south, mud is never used, and there the komatiks are wider and shorter with runners of not much more than half the thickness, and as you go south the komatiks continue to grow wider and shorter. In the south, too, hoop iron or whalebone is used for runner shoeing.
A sealskin thong called a bridle, of a varying length of from twenty to forty feet, is attached to the front of the komatik, and to the end of this the dogs' traces are fastened. Each dog has an individual trace which may be from eight to thirty feet in length, depending upon the size of the team, so arranged that not more than two dogs are abreast, the "leader" having, of course, the longest trace of the pack. This long bridle and the long traces are made necessary by the rough country. They permit the animals to swerve well to one side clear of the komatik when coasting down a hillside. In the length of bridle and trace there is also a wide variation in different sections, those used in the south being very much shorter than those in the north. The dog harness is made usually of polar bear or sealskin. There are no reins. The driver controls his team by shouting directions, and with a walrus hide whip, which is from twenty-five to thirty-five feet in length. An expert with this whip, running after the dogs, can hit any dog he chooses at will, and sometimes he is cruel to excess.
To start his team the driver calls "oo-isht," (in the south this becomes "hoo-eet") to turn to the right "ouk," to the left "ra-der, ra-der" and to stop "aw-aw." The leader responds to the shouted directions and the pack follow.
The Ungava Eskimo never upon any account travels with komatik and dogs without a snow knife. With this implement he can in a little while make himself a comfortable snow igloo, where he may spend the night or wait for a storm to pass.
In winter it is practically impossible to buy a dog in Ungava. The people have only enough for their own use, and will not part with them, and if they have plenty to eat it is difficult to employ them for any purpose. This I discovered very promptly when I endeavored to induce some of them to take us a stage on our journey homeward.
THE SLEDGE JOURNEY BEGUN
Tighter and tighter grew the grip of winter. Rarely the temperature rose above twenty-five degrees below zero, even at midday, and oftener it crept well down into the thirties. The air was filled with rime, which clung to everything, and the sun, only venturing now a little way above the southern horizon, shone cold and cheerless, weakly penetrating the ever-present frost veil. The tide, still defying the shackles of the mighty power that had bound all the rest of the world, surged up and down, piling ponderous ice cakes in mountainous heaps along the river banks. Occasionally an Eskimo or two would suddenly appear out of the snow fields, remain for a day perhaps, and then as suddenly disappear into the bleak wastes whence he had come.
Slowly the days dragged along. We occupied the short hours of light in reading old newspapers and magazines, or walking out over the hills, and in the evenings called upon the Post officers or entertained them in our cabin, where Mathewson often came to smoke his after-supper pipe and relate to us stories of his forty-odd years' service as a fur trader in the northern wilderness.
One bitter cold morning, long before the first light of day began to filter through the rimy atmosphere, we heard the crunch of feet pass our door, and a komatik slipped by. It was Dr. Milne, away to George River and the coast on his tour of Post inspection, and our little group of white men was one less in number.
We envied him his early leaving. We could not ourselves start for home until after New Year's, for there were no dogs to be had for love or money until the Eskimos came in from their hunting camps to spend the holidays. Everything, however, was made ready for that longed-for time. Through the kindness of The'venet, who put his Post folk to work for us, the deerskins I had brought from Whale River were dressed and made up into sleeping bags and skin clothing, and other neces- saries were got ready for the long dog journey out.
Christmas eve came finally, and with it komatik loads of Eskimos, who roused the place from its repose into comparative wakefulness. The newcomers called upon us in twos or threes, never troubling to knock before they entered our cabin, looked us and our things over with much interest, a proceeding which occupied usually a full half hour, then went away, sometimes to bring back newly arriving friends, to introduce them. A multitude of dogs skulked around by day and made night hideous with howling and fighting, and it was hardly safe to walk abroad without a stick, of which they have a wholesome fear, as, like their progenitors, the wolves, they are great cowards and will rarely attack a man when he has any visible means of defense at hand.
Christmas afternoon was given over to shooting matches, and the evening to dancing. We spent the day with The'venet. Mathewson was not in position to entertain, as the Indian woman that presided in his kitchen partook so freely of liquor of her own manufacture that she became hilariously drunk early in the morning, and for the peace of the household and safety of the dishes, which she playfully shied at whoever came within reach, she was ejected, and Mathewson prepared his own meals. At The'venet's, however, everything went smoothly, and the sumptuous meal of baked whitefish, venison, with canned vegetables, plum pudding, cheese and coffee—delicacies held in reserve for the occasion—made us forget the bleak wilderness and ice-bound land in which we were.
It seemed for a time even now as though we should not be able to secure dogs and drivers. No one knew the way to Ramah, and on no account would one of these Eskimos undertake even a part of the journey without permission from the Hudson's Bay Company. As a last resort The'venet promised me his dogs and driver to take us at least as far as George River, but finally Emuk arrived and an arrangement was made with him to carry us from Whale River to George River, and two other Eskimos agreed to go with us to Whale River. The great problem that confronted me now was how to get over the one hundred and sixty miles of barrens from George River to Ramah, and it was necessary to arrange for this before leaving Fort Chimo, as dogs to the eastward were even scarcer than here. Mathewson finally solved it for me with his promise to instruct Ford at George River to put his team and drivers at my disposal. Thus, after much bickering, our relays were arranged as far as the Moravian mission station at Ramah, and I trusted in Providence and the coast Eskimos to see us on from there. The third of January was fixed as the day of our departure.
Our going in winter was an event. It gave the Post folk an opportunity to send out a winter mail, which I volunteered to carry to Quebec.
Straggling bands of Indians, hauling fur-laden toboggans, began to arrive during the week, and the bartering in the stores was brisk, and to me exceedingly interesting. Money at Fort Chimo is unknown. Values are reckoned in "skins"—that is, a "skin" is the unit of value. There is no token of exchange to represent this unit, however, and if a hunter brings in more pelts than sufficient to pay for his purchases, the trader simply gives him credit on his books for the balance due, to be drawn upon at some future time. As a matter of fact, the hunter is almost invariably in debt to the store. A "skin" will buy a pint of molasses, a quarter pound of tea or a quarter pound of black stick tobacco. A white arctic fox pelt is valued at seven skins, a blue fox pelt at twelve, and a black or silver fox at eighty to ninety skins. South of Hamilton Inlet, where competition is keen with the fur traders, they pay in cash six dollars for white, eight dollars for blue (which, by the way, are very scarce there) and not infrequently as high as three hundred and fifty dollars or even more for black and silver fox pelts. The cost of maintaining posts at Fort Chimo, however, is somewhat greater than at these southern points.
Here at Ungava the Eskimos' hunt is confined almost wholly to foxes, polar bears, an occasional wolf and wolverine, and, of course, during the season, seals, walrus, and white whales. An average hunter will trap from sixty to seventy foxes in a season, though one or two exceptional ones I knew have captured as many as two hundred. The Indians, who penetrate far into the interior, bring out marten, mink and otter principally, with a few foxes, an occasional beaver, black bear, lynx and some wolf and wolverine skins. There is a story of a very large and ferocious brown bear that tradition says inhabits the barrens to the eastward toward George River. Mr. Peter McKenzie told me that many years ago, when he was stationed at Fort Chimo, the Indians brought him one of the skins of this animal, and Ford at George River said that, some twenty years since, he saw a piece of one of the skins. Both agreed that the hair was very long, light brown in color, silver tipped and of a decidedly different species from either the polar or black bear. This is the only definite information as to it that I was able to gather. The Indians speak of it with dread, and insist that it is still to be found, though none of them can say positively that he has seen one in a decade. I am inclined to believe that the brown bear, so far as Labrador is concerned, has been exterminated.
New Year's is the great day at Fort Chimo. All morning there were shooting matches and foot races, and in the afternoon football games in progress, in which the Eskimo men and women alike joined. The Indians, who were recovering from an all-night drunk on their vile beer, and a revel in the "Queen's" cabin, condescended to take part in the shooting matches, but held majestically aloof from the other games. Some of them came into the French store in the evening to squat around the room and watch the dancing while they puffed in silence on their pipes and drank tea when it was passed. That was their only show of interest in the festivities. Early on the morning of the second they all disappeared. But these were only a fragment of those that visit the Post in summer. It is then that they have their powwow.
At last the day of our departure arrived, with a dull leaden sky and that penetrating cold that eats to one's very marrow. The'venet and Belfleur came early and brought us a box of cigars to ease the tedium of the long evenings in the snow houses. All the little colony of white men were on hand to see us off, and I believe were genuinely sorry to have us go, for we had become a part of the little coterie and our coming had made a break in the lives of these lonely exiles. Men brought together under such conditions become very much attached to each other in a short time. "It's going to be lonesome now," said Stewart. "I'm sorry you have to leave us. May God speed you on your way, and carry you through your long journey in safety."
Finally our baggage was lashed on the komatik; the dogs, leaping and straining at their traces, howled their eagerness to be gone; we shook hands warmly with everybody, even the Eskimos, who came forward won- dering at what seemed to them our stupendous undertaking, the komatik was "broken" loose, and we were away at a gallop.
Traveling was good, and the nine dogs made such excellent time that we had to ride in level places or we could not have kept pace with them. When there was a hill to climb we pushed on the komatik or hauled with the dogs on the long bridle to help them along. When we had a descent to make, the drag—a hoop of walrus hide—was thrown over the front end of one of the komatik runners at the top, and if the place was steep the Eskimos, one on either side of the komatik, would cling on with their arms and brace their feet into the snow ahead, doing their utmost to hold back and reduce the momentum of the heavy sledge. To the uninitiated they would appear to be in imminent danger of having their legs broken, for the speed down some of the grades when the crust was hard and icy was terrific. When descending the gentler slopes we all rode, depending upon the drag alone to keep our speed within reason. This coasting down hill was always an exciting experi- ence, and where the going was rough it was not easy to keep a seat on the narrow komatik. Occasionally the komatik would turn over. When we saw this was likely to happen we discreetly dropped off, a feat that demanded agility and practice to be performed successfully and gracefully.
It was a relief beyond measure to feel that we were at length, after seven long months, actually headed toward home and civilization. Words cannot express the feeling of exhilaration that comes to one at such a time.
We did not have to go so far up Whale River to find a crossing as on our trip to Fort Chimo, and reached the eastern side before dark. Sometimes the ice hills are piled so high here by the tide that it takes a day or even two to cut a komatik path through them and cross the river, but fortunately we had very little cutting to do. Not long after dark we coasted down the hill above the Post, and the cheerful lights of Edmunds' cabin were at hand.
Here we had to wait two days for Emuk, and in the interim Mrs. Edmunds and Mary went carefully over our clothes, sewed sealskin legs to deerskin moccasins, made more duffel socks, and with kind solicitation put all our things into the best of shape and gave us extra moccasins and mittens. "It is well to have plenty of everything before you start," said Mrs. Edmunds, "for if the huskies are hunting deer the women will do no sewing on sealskin, and if they're hunting seals they'll not touch a needle to your deerskins, though you are freezing."
"Why is that?" I asked.
"Oh, some of their heathen beliefs," she answered. "They think it would bring bad luck to the hunters. They believe all kinds of foolishness."
Emuk had never been so far away as George River, and Sam Ford was to be our pilot to that point, and to return with Emuk. The Eskimos do not consider it safe for a man to travel alone with dogs, and they never do it when there is the least probability that they will have to remain out over night. Two men are always required to build a snow igloo, which is one reason for this. It was therefore necessary for me at each point, when employing the Eskimo driver for a new stage of our journey, also to engage a companion for him, that he might have company when returning home.
Our coming to Whale River two months before had made a welcome innovation in the even tenor of the cheerless, lonely existence of our good friends at the Post—an event in their confined life, and they were really sorry to part from us.
"It will be a long time before any one comes to see us again—a long time," said Mrs. Edmunds, sadly adding: "I suppose no one will ever come again."
When we said our farewells the women cried. In their Godspeed the note of friendship rang true and honest and sincere. These people had proved themselves in a hundred ways. In civilization, where the selfish instinct governs so generally, there are too many Judases. On the frontier, in spite of the rough exterior of the people, you find real men and women. That is one reason why I like the North so well.
We left Whale River on Saturday, the sixth of January, with one hundred and twenty miles of barrens to cross before reaching George River Post, the nearest human habitation to the eastward. Our fresh team of nine dogs was in splendid trim and worked well, but a three or four inch covering of light snow upon the harder under crust made the going hard and wearisome for the animals. The frost flakes that filled the air covered everything. Clinging to the eyelashes and faces of the men it gave them a ghostly appearance, our skin clothing was white with it, long icicles weighted our beards, and the sharp atmosphere made it necessary to grasp one's nose frequently to make certain that the member was not freezing.
When we stopped for the night our snow house which Emuk and Sam soon had ready seemed really cheerful. Our halt was made purposely near a cluster of small spruce where enough firewood was found to cook our supper of boiled venison, hard-tack and tea, water being procured by melting ice. Spruce boughs were scattered upon the igloo floor and deerskins spread over these.
After everything was made snug, and whatever the dogs might eat or destroy put safely out of their reach, the animals were unharnessed and fed the one meal that was allowed them each day after their work was done. Feeding the dogs was always an interesting function. While one man cut the frozen food into chunks, the rest of us armed with cudgels beat back the animals. When the word was given we stepped to one side to avoid the onrush as they came upon the food, which was bolted with little or no chewing. They will eat anything that is fed them—seal meat, deer's meat, fish, or even old hides. There was always a fight or two to settle after the feeding and then the dogs made holes for themselves in the snow and lay down for the drift to cover them.
The dogs fed, we crawled with our hot supper into the igloo, put a block of snow against the entrance and stopped the chinks around it with loose snow. Then the kettle covers were lifted and the place was filled at once with steam so thick that one could hardly see his elbow neighbor. By the time the meal was eaten the temperature had risen to such a point that the place was quite warm and comfortable—so warm that the snow in the top of the igloo was soft enough to pack but not quite soft enough to drip water. Then we smoked some of The'venet's cigars and blessed him for his thoughtfulness in providing them.
Usually our snow igloos allowed each man from eighteen to twenty inches space in which to lie down, and just room enough to stretch his legs well. With our sleeping bags they were entirely comfortable, no matter what the weather outside. The snow is porous enough to admit of air circulation, but even a gale of wind without would not affect the temperature within. It is claimed by the natives that when the wind blows, a snow house is warmer than in a period of still cold. I could see no difference. A new snow igloo is, however, more comfortable than one that has been used, for newly cut snow blocks are more porous. In one that has been used there is always a crust of ice on the interior which prevents a proper circulation of air.
On the second day we passed the shack where Easton and I had held our five-day fast, and shortly after came out upon the plains—a wide stretch of flat, treeless country where no hills rise as guiding landmarks for the voyageur. This was beyond the zone of Emuk's wanderings, and Sam went several miles astray in his calculations, which, in view of the character of the country, was not to be wondered at, piloting as he did without a compass. However, we were soon set right and passed again into the rolling barrens, with ever higher hills with each eastern mile we traveled.
At two o'clock on the afternoon of Tuesday, January ninth, we dropped over the bank upon the ice of George River just above the Post, and at three o'clock were under Mr. Ford's hospitable roof again.
Here we had to encounter another vexatious delay of a week. Ford's dogs had been working hard and were in no condition to travel and not an Eskimo team was there within reach of the Post that could be had. There was nothing to do but wait for Ford's team to rest and get into condition before taking them upon the trying journey across the barren grounds that lay between us and the Atlantic.
CROSSING THE BARRENS
On Tuesday morning, January sixteenth, we swung out upon the river ice with a powerful team of twelve dogs. Will Ford and an Eskimo named Etuksoak, called by the Post folk "Peter," for short, were our drivers.
The dogs began the day with a misunderstanding amongst themselves, and stopped to fight it out. When they were finally beaten into docility one of them, apparently the outcast of the pack, was limping on three legs and leaving a trail of blood behind him. Every team has its bully, and sometimes its outcast. The bully is master of them all. He fights his way to his position of supremacy, and holds it by punishing upon the slightest provocation, real or fancied, any encroachment upon his autocratic prerogatives. Likewise he dis- ciplines the pack when he thinks they need it or when he feels like it, and he is always the ringleader in mischief. When there is an outcast he is a doomed dog. The others harass and fight him at every opportunity. They are pitiless. They do not associate with him, and sooner or later a morning will come when they are noticed licking their chops contentedly, as dogs do when they have had a good meal— and after that no more is seen of the outcast. The bully is not always, or, in fact, often the leader in harness. The dog that the driver finds most intelligent in following a trail and in answering his commands is chosen for this important position, regardless of his fighting prowess.
This morning as we started the weather was perfect—thirty-odd degrees below zero and a bright sun that made the hoar frost sparkle like flakes of silver. For ten miles our course lay down the river to a point just below the "Narrows." Then we left the ice and hit the overland trail in an almost due northerly direction. It was a rough country and there was much pulling and hauling and pushing to be done crossing the hills. Before noon the wind began to rise, and by the time we stopped to prepare our snow igloo for the night a northwest gale had developed and the air was filled with drifting snow.
Early in the afternoon I began to have cramps in the calves of my legs, and finally it seemed to me that the muscles were tied into knots. Sharp, intense pains in the groin made it torture to lift in feet above the level of the snow, and I was never more thankful for rest in my life than when that day's work was finished. Easton confessed to me that he had an attack similar to my own. This was the result of our inactivity at Fort Chimo. We were suffering with what among the Canadian voyageurs is known as mal de roquette. There was nothing to do but endure it without complaint, for there is no relief until in time it gradually passes away of its own accord.
This first night from George River was spent upon the shores of a lake which, hidden by drifted snow, appeared to be about two miles wide and seven or eight miles long. It lay amongst low, barren hills, where a few small bunches of gnarled black spruce relieved the otherwise unbroken field of white.
The following morning it was snowing and drifting, and as the day grew the storm increased. An hour's traveling carried us to the Koroksoak River—River of the Great Gulch—which flows from the northeast, following the lower Torngaek mountains and emptying into Ungava Bay near the mouth of the George. The Koroksoak is apparently a shallow stream, with a width of from fifty to two hundred yards. Its bed forms the chief part of the komatik route to Nachvak, and therefore our route. For several miles the banks are low and sandy, but farther up the sand disappears and the hills crowd close upon the river. The gales that sweep down the valley with every storm had blown away the snow and drifted the bank sand in a layer over the river ice. This made the going exceedingly hard and ground the mud from the komatik runners.
The snowstorm, directly in our teeth, increased in force with every mile we traveled, and with the continued cramps and pains in my legs it seemed to me that the misery of it all was about as refined and complete as it could be. It may be imagined, therefore, the relief I felt when at noon Will and Peter stopped the komatik with the announcement that we must camp, as further progress could not be made against the blinding snow and head wind.
Advantage was taken of the daylight hours to mend the komatik mud. This was done by mixing caribou moss with water, applying the mixture to the mud where most needed, and permitting it to freeze, which it did instantly. Then the surface was planed smooth with a little jack plane carried for the purpose.
That night the storm blew itself out, and before daylight, after a breakfast of coffee and hard-tack, we were off. The half day's rest had done wonders for me, and the pains in my legs were not nearly so severe as on the previous day.
January and February see the lowest temperatures of the Labrador winter. Now the cold was bitter, rasping—so intensely cold was the atmosphere that it was almost stifling as it entered the lungs. The vapor from our nostrils froze in masses of ice upon our beards. The dogs, straining in the harness, were white with hoar frost, and our deerskin clothing was also thickly coated with it. For long weeks these were to be the prevailing conditions in our homeward march.
Dark and ominous were the spruce-lined river banks on either side that morning as we toiled onward, and grim and repellent indeed were the rocky hills outlined against the sky beyond. Everything seemed frozen stiff and dead except ourselves. No sound broke the absolute silence save the crunch, crunch, crunch of our feet, the squeak of the komatik runners complaining as they slid reluctantly over the snow, and the "oo-isht-oo-isht, oksuit, oksuit" of the drivers, constantly urging the dogs to greater effort. Shimmering frost flakes, suspended in the air like a veil of thinnest gauze, half hid the sun when very timidly he raised his head above the southeastern horizon, as though afraid to venture into the domain of the indomitable ice king who had wrested the world from his last summer's power and ruled it now so absolutely.
With every mile the spruce on the river banks became thinner and thinner, and the hills grew higher and higher, until finally there was scarcely a stick to be seen and the lower eminences had given way to lofty mountains which raised their jagged, irregular peaks from two to four thousand feet in solemn and majestic grandeur above our heads. The gray basaltic rocks at their base shut in the tortuous river bed, and we knew now why the Koroksoak was called the "River of the Great Gulch." These were the mighty Torngaeks, which farther north attain an altitude above the sea of full seven thousand feet. We passed the place where Torngak dwells in his mountain cavern and sends forth his decrees to the spirits of Storm and Starvation and Death to do destruction, or restrains them, at his will.
In the forenoon of the third day after leaving George River we stopped to lash a few sticks on top of our komatik load. "No more wood," said Will. "This'll have to see us through to Nachvak." That afternoon we turned out of the Koroksoak River into a pass leading to the northward, and that night's igloo was at the headwaters of a stream that they said ran into Nachvak Bay.
The upper part of this new gulch was strewn with bowlders, and much hard work and ingenuity were necessary the following morning to get the komatik through them at all. Farther down the stream widened. Here the wind had swept the snow clear of the ice, and it was as smooth as a piece of glass, broken only by an occasional bowlder sticking above the surface. A heavy wind blew in our backs and carried the komatik before it at a terrific pace, with the dogs racing to keep out of the way. Sometimes we were carried sidewise, sometimes stern first, but seldom right end foremost. Lively work was necessary to prevent being wrecked upon the rocks, and occasionally we did turn over, when a bowlder was struck side on.
There were several steep down grades. Before descending one of the first of these a line was attached to the rear end of the komatik and Will asked Easton to hang on to it and hold back, to keep the komatik straight. There was no foothold for him, however, on the smooth surface of the ice, and Easton found that he could not hold back as directed. The momentum was considerable, and he was afraid to let go for fear of losing his balance on the slippery ice, and so, wild-eyed and erect, he slid along, clinging for dear life to the line. Pretty soon he managed to attain a sitting posture, and with his legs spread before him, but still holding desperately on, he skimmed along after the komatik. The next and last evolution was a "belly-gutter" position. This became too strenuous for him, however, and the line was jerked out of his hands. I was afraid he might have been injured on a rock, but my anxiety was soon relieved when I saw him running along the shore to overtake the komatik where it had been stopped to wait for him below.
This gulch was exceedingly narrow, with mountains, lofty, rugged and grand rising directly from the stream's bank, some of them attaining an altitude of five thousand feet or more. At one point they squeezed the brook through a pass only ten feet in width, with perpendicular walls towering high above our heads on either side. This place is known to the Hudson's Bay Company people as "The Porch."
In the afternoon Peter caught his foot in a crevice, and the komatik jammed him with such force that he narrowly escaped a broken leg and was crippled for the rest of the journey. Early in the afternoon we were on salt water ice, and at two o'clock sighted Nachvak Post of the Hudson's Bay Company, and at half past four were hospitably welcomed by Mrs. Ford, the wife of George Ford, the agent.
This was Saturday, January twentieth. Since the previous Tuesday morning we had had no fire to warm ourselves by and had been living chiefly on hard-tack, and the comfort and luxury of the Post sitting room, with the hot supper of arctic hare that came in due course, were appreciated. Mr. Ford had gone south with Dr. Milne to Davis Inlet Post and was not expected back for a week, but Mrs. Ford and her son Solomon Ford, who was in charge during his father's absence, did everything possible for our comfort.
The injury to Peter's leg made it out of the question for him to go on with us, and we therefore found it necessary to engage another team to carry us to Ramah, the first of the Moravian missionary stations on our route of travel, and this required a day's delay at Nachvak, as no Eskimos could be seen that night. The Fords offered us every assistance in securing drivers, and went to much trouble on our behalf. Solomon personally took it upon himself to find dogs and drivers for us, and through his kindness arrangements were made with two Eskimos, Taikrauk and Nikartok by name, who agreed to furnish a team of ten dogs and be on hand early on Monday morning. I considered myself fortunate in securing so large a team, for the seal hunt had been bad the previous fall and the Eskimos had therefore fallen short of dog food and had killed a good many of their dogs. I should not have been so ready with my self-congratulation had I seen the dogs that we were to have.
Nachvak is the most God-forsaken place for a trading post that I have ever seen. Wherever you look bare rocks and towering mountains stare you in the face; nowhere is there a tree or shrub of any kind to relieve the rock-bound desolation, and every bit of fuel has to be brought in during the summer by steamer. They have coal, but even the wood to kindle the coal is imported. The Eskimos necessarily use stone lamps in which seal oil is burned to heat their igloos. The Fords have lived here for a quarter of a century, but now the Company is abandoning the Post as unprofitable and they are to be transferred to some other quarter.
"God knows how lonely it is sometimes," Mrs. Ford said to me, "and how glad I'll be if we go where there's some one besides just greasy heathen Eskimos to see."
The Moravian mission at Killenek, a station three days' travel to the northward, on Cape Chidley, has deflected some of the former trade from Nachvak and the Ramah station more of it, until but twenty-seven Eskimos now remain at Nachvak.
Early on Monday morning not only our two Eskimos appeared, but the entire Eskimo population, even the women with babies in their hoods, to see us off. The ten-dog team that I had congratulated myself so proudly upon securing proved to be the most miserable aggregation of dogskin and bones I had ever seen, and in so horribly emaciated a condition that had there been any possible way of doing without them I should have declined to permit them to haul our komatik. However I had no choice, as no other dogs were to be had, and at six o'clock— more than two hours before daybreak—we said farewell to good Mrs. Ford and her family and started forward with our caravan of followers.
We took what is known as the "outside" route, turning right out toward the mouth of the bay. By this route it is fully forty miles to Ramah. By a short cut overland, which is not so level, the distance is only about thirty miles, but our Eskimos chose the level course, as it is doubtful whether their excuses for dogs could have hauled the komatik over the hills on the short cut. An hour after our start we passed a collection of snow igloos, and all our following, after shaking hands and repeating, "Okusi," left us—all but one man, Korganuk by name, who decided to honor us with his society to Ramah; so we had three Eskimos instead of the more than sufficient two.
Though the traveling was fairly good the poor starved dogs crawled along so slowly that with a jog trot we easily kept in advance of them, and not even the extreme cruelty of the heathen drivers, who beat them sometimes unmercifully, could induce them to do better. I remonstrated with the human brutes on several occasions, but they pretended not to understand me, smiling blandly in return, and making unintelligible responses in Eskimo.
Before dawn the sky clouded, and by the time we reached the end of the bay and turned southward across the neck, toward noon, it began to snow heavily. This capped the climax of our troubles and I questioned whether our team would ever reach our destination with this added impediment of soft, new snow to plow through.
From the first the snow fell thick and fast. Then the wind rose, and with every moment grew in velocity. I soon realized that we were caught under the worst possible conditions in the throes of a Labrador winter storm—the kind of storm that has cost so many native travelers on that bleak coast their lives.
We were now on the ice again beyond the neck. Perpendicular, clifflike walls shut us off from retreat to the land and there was not a possibility of shelter anywhere. Previous snows had found no lodgment into banks, and an igloo could not be built. Our throats were parched with thirst, but there was no water to drink and nowhere a stick of wood with which to build a fire to melt snow. The dogs were lying down in harness and crying with distress, and the Eskimos had continually to kick them into renewed efforts. On we trudged, on and endlessly on. We were still far from our goal.
All of us, even the Eskimos, were utterly weary. Finally frequent stops were necessary to rest the poor toiling brutes, and we were glad to take advantage of each opportunity to throw ourselves at full length on the snow-covered ice for a moment's repose. Sometimes we would walk ahead of the komatik and lie down until it overtook us, frequently falling asleep in the brief interim. Now and again an Eskimo would look into my face and repeat, "Oksunae" (be strong), and I would encourage him in the same way.
Darkness fell thick and black. No signs of land were visible—nothing but the whirling, driving, pitiless snow around us and the ice under our feet. Sometimes one of us would stumble on a hummock and fall, then rise again to resume the mechanical plodding. I wondered sometimes whether we were not going right out to sea and how long it would be before we should drop into open water and be swallowed up. My faculties were too benumbed to care much, and it was just a calculation in which I had no particular but only a passive interest.
The thirst of the snow fields is most agonizing, and can only be likened to the thirst of the desert. The snow around you is tantalizing, for to eat it does not quench the thirst in the slightest; it aggravates it. If I ever longed for water it was then.
Hour after hour passed and the night seemed interminable. But somehow we kept going, and the poor crying brutes kept going. All misery has its ending, however, and ours ended when I least looked for it. Un- expectedly the dogs' pitiful cries changed to gleeful howls and they visibly increased their efforts. Then Korganuk put his face close to mine and said: "Ramah! Ramah!" and quite suddenly we stopped before the big mission house at Ramah.
ON THE ATLANTIC ICE
The dogs had stopped within a dozen feet of the building, but it was barely distinguishable through the thick clouds of smothering snow which the wind, risen to a terrific gale, swirled around us as it swept down in staggering gusts from the invisible hills above. A light filtered dimly through one of the frost-encrusted windows, and I tapped loudly upon the glass.
At first there was no response, but after repeated rappings some one moved within, and in a moment the door opened and a voice called to us, "Come, come out of the snow. It is a nasty night." Without further preliminaries we stepped into the shelter of the broad, com- fortable hall. Holding a candle above his head, and peering at us through the dim light that it cast, was a short, stockily built, bearded man in his shirt sleeves and wearing hairy sealskin trousers and boots. To him I introduced myself and Easton, and he, in turn, told us that he was the Reverend Paul Schmidt, the missionary in charge of the station.
Mr. Schmidt's astonishment at our unexpected appearance at midnight and in such a storm was only equaled by his hospitable welcome. His broken English sounded sweet indeed, inviting us to throw off our snow-covered garments. He ushered us to a neat room on the floor above, struck a match to a stove already charged with kindling wood and coal, and in five minutes after our entrance we were listening to the music of a crackling fire and warming our chilled selves by its increasing heat.
Our host was most solicitous for our every comfort. He hurried in and out, and by the time we were thoroughly warmed told us supper was ready and asked us to his living room below, where Mrs. Schmidt had spread the table for a hot meal. Each mission house has a common kitchen and a common dining room, and besides having the use of these the separate families are each provided with a private living room and a sleeping room.
It is not pleasant to be routed out of bed in the middle of the night, but these good missionaries assured us that it was really a pleasure to them, and treated us like old friends whom they were overjoyed to see. "Well, well," said Mr. Schmidt, again and again, "it is very good for you to come. I am very glad that you came tonight, for now we shall have company, and you shall stay with us until the weather is fine again for traveling, and we will talk English together, which is a pleasure for me, for I have almost forgotten my English, with no one to talk it to."
It was after two o'clock when we went to bed, and I verily believe that Mr. Schmidt would have talked all night had it not been for our hard day's work and evident need of rest.
When we arose in the morning the storm was still blowing with unabated fury. We had breakfast with Mr. Schmidt in his private apartment and were later introduced to Mr. Karl Filsehke, the storekeeper, and his wife, who, like the Schmidts, were most hospitable and kind. At all of the Moravian missions, with the exception of Killinek "down to Chidley," and Makkovik, the farthest station "up south," there is, besides the missionary, who devotes himself more particularly to the spiritual needs of his people, a storekeeper who looks after their material welfare and assists in conducting the meetings.
In Labrador these missions are largely, though by no means wholly, self-supporting. Furs and blubber are taken from the Eskimos in exchange for goods, and the proflts resulting from their sale in Europe are applied toward the expense of maintaining the stations. They own a small steamer, which brings the supplies from London every summer and takes away the year's accumulation of fur and oil. Since the first permanent establishment was erected at Nain, over one hundred and fifty years ago, they have followed this trade.
During the day I visited the store and blubber house, where Eskimo men and women were engaged in cutting seal blubber into small slices and pounding these with heavy wooden mallets. The pounded blubber is placed in zinc vats, and, when the summer comes, exposed in the vats to the sun's heat, which renders out a fine white oil. This oil is put into casks and shipped to the trade.
In the depth of winter seal hunting is impossible, and during that season the Eskimo families gather in huts, or igloosoaks, at the mission stations. There are sixty-nine of these people connected with the Ramah station and I visited them all with Mr. Schmidt. Their huts were heated with stone lamps and seal oil, for the country is bare of wood. The fuel for the mission house is brought from the South by the steamer.