"Now, I will give you an outline of the terms we offer you. If you agree to take treaty, every one this year gets a present of $12.00. A family of five, man, wife and three children, will thus get $60.00; a family of eight, $96.00; and after this year, and for every year afterwards, $5.00 for each person forever. To such chiefs as you may select, and that the Government approves of, we will give $25.00 each year, and the counsellors $15.00 each. The chiefs also get a silver medal and a flag, such as you see now at our tent, right now as soon as the treaty is signed. Next year, as soon as we know how many chiefs there are, and every three years thereafter, each chief will get a suit of clothes, and every counsellor a suit, only not quite so good as that of the chief. Then, as the white men are coming in and settling in the country, and as the Queen wishes the Indians to have lands of their own, we will give one square mile, or 640 acres, to each family of five; but there will be no compulsion to force Indians to go into a reserve. He who does not wish to go into a band can get 160 acres of land for himself, and the same for each member of his family. These reserves are holdings you can select when you please, subject to the approval of the Government, for you might select lands which might interfere with the rights or lands of settlers. The Government must be sure that the land which you select is in the right place. Then, again, as some of you may want to sow grain or potatoes, the Government will give you ploughs or harrows, hoes, etc., to enable you to do so, and every spring will furnish you with provisions to enable you to work and put in your crop. Again, if you do not wish to grow grain, but want to raise cattle, the Government will give you bulls and cows, so that you may raise stock. If you do not wish to grow grain or raise cattle, the Government will furnish you with ammunition for your hunt, and with twine to catch fish. The Government will also provide schools to teach your children to read and write, and do other things like white men and their children. Schools will be established where there is a sufficient number of children. The Government will give the chiefs axes and tools to make houses to live in and be comfortable. Indians have been told that if they make a treaty they will not be allowed to hunt and fish as they do now. This is not true. Indians who take treaty will be just as free to hunt and fish all over as they now are.
"In return for this the Government expects that the Indians will not interfere with or molest any miner, traveller or settler. We expect you to be good friends with every-one, and shake hands with all you meet. If any whites molest you in any way, shoot your dogs or horses, or do you any harm, you have only to report the matter to the police, and they will see that justice is done to you. There may be some things we have not mentioned, but these can be mentioned later on. Commissioners Walker and Cote are here for the half-breeds, who later on, if treaty is made with you, will take down the names of half-breeds and their children, and find out if they are entitled to scrip. The reason the Government does this is because the half-breeds have Indian blood in their veins, and have claims on that account. The Government does not make treaty with them, as they live as white men do, so it gives them scrip to settle their claims at once and forever. Half-breeds living like Indians have the chance to take the treaty instead, if they wish to do so. They have their choice, but only after the treaty is signed. If there is no treaty made, scrip cannot be given. After the treaty is signed, the Commissioners will take up half-breed claims. The first thing they will do is to give half-breed settlers living on land 160 acres, if there is room to do so; but if several are settled close together, the land will be divided between them as fairly as possible. All, whether settled or not, will be given scrip for land to the value of $240.00, that is, all born up to the date of signing the treaty. They can sell that scrip, that is, all of you can do so. They can take, if they like, instead of this scrip for 240 acres, lands where they like. After they have located their land, and got their title, they can live on it, or sell part, or the whole of it, as they please, but cannot sell the scrip. They must locate their land, and get their title before selling.
"These are the principal points in the offer we have to make to you. The Queen owns the country, but is willing to acknowledge the Indians' claims, and offers them terms as an offset to all of them. We shall be glad to answer any questions, and make clear any points not understood. We shall meet you again to-morrow, after you have considered our offer, say about two o'clock, or later if you wish. We have other Indians to meet at other places, but we do not wish to hurry you. After this meeting you can go to the Hudson's Bay fort, where our provisions are stored, and rations will be issued to you of flour, bacon, tea and tobacco, so that you can have a good meal and a good time. This is a free gift, given with goodwill, and given to you whether you make a treaty or not. It is a present the Queen is glad to make to you. I am now done, and shall be glad to hear what any one has to say."
KEENOOSHAYO (The Fish): "You say we are brothers. I cannot understand how we are so. I live differently from you. I can only understand that Indians will benefit in a very small degree from your offer. You have told us you come in the Queen's name. We surely have also a right to say a little as far as that goes. I do not understand what you say about every third year."
MR. MCKENNA: "The third year was only mentioned in connection with clothing."
KEENOOSHAYO: "Do you not allow the Indians to make their own conditions, so that they may benefit as much as possible? Why I say this is that we to-day make arrangements that are to last as long as the sun shines and the water runs. Up to the present I have earned my own living and worked in my own way for the Queen. It is good. The Indian loves his way of living and his free life. When I understand you thoroughly I will know better what I shall do. Up to the present I have never seen the time when I could not work for the Queen, and also make my own living. I will consider carefully what you have said."
MOOSTOOS (The Bull): "Often before now I have said I would carefully consider what you might say. You have called us brothers. Truly I am the younger, you the elder brother. Being the younger, if the younger ask the elder for something, he will grant his request the same as our mother the Queen. I am glad to hear what you have to say. Our country is getting broken up. I see the white man coming in, and I want to be friends. I see what he does, but it is best that we should be friends. I will not speak any more. There are many people here who may wish to speak."
WAHPEEHAYO (White Partridge): "I stand behind this man's back" (pointing to Keenooshayo). "I want to tell the Commissioners there are two ways, the long and the short. I want to take the way that will last longest."
NEESNETASIS (The Twin): "I follow these two brothers, Moostoos and Keenooshayo. When I understand better I shall be able to say more."
MR. LAIRD: "We shall be glad to hear from some of the Sturgeon Lake people."
THE CAPTAIN (an old man): "I accept your offer. I am old and miserable now. I have not my family with me here, but I accept your offer."
MR. LAIRD: "You will get the money for all your children under age, and not married, just the same as if they were here."
THE CAPTAIN: "I speak for all those in my part of the country."
MR. LAIRD: "I am sorry the rest of your people are not here. If here next year their claims will not be overlooked."
THE CAPTAIN: "I am old now. It is indirectly through the Queen that we have lived. She has supplied in a manner the sale shops through which we have lived. Others may think I am foolish for speaking as I do now. Let them think as they like. I accept. When I was young I was an able man and made my living independently. But now I am old and feeble and not able to do much."
MR. ROSS: "I will just answer a few questions that have been put. Keenooshayo has said that he cannot see how it will benefit you to take treaty. As all the rights you now have will not be interfered with, therefore anything you get in addition must be a clear gain. The white man is bound to come in and open up the country, and we come before him to explain the relations that must exist between you, and thus prevent any trouble. You say you have heard what the Commissioners have said, and how you wish to live. We believe that men who have lived without help heretofore can do it better when the country is opened up. Any fur they catch is worth more. That comes about from competition. You will notice that it takes more boats to bring in goods to buy your furs than it did formerly. We think that as the rivers and lakes of this country will be the principal highways, good boatmen, like yourselves, cannot fail to make a good living, and profit from the increase in traffic. We are much pleased that you have some cattle. It will be the duty of the Commissioners to recommend the Government, through the Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs, to give you cattle of a better breed. You say that you consider that you have a right to say something about the terms we offer you. We offer you certain terms, but you are not forced to take them. You ask if Indians are not allowed to make a bargain. You must understand there are always two to a bargain. We are glad you understand the treaty is forever. If the Indians do as they are asked we shall certainly keep all our promises. We are glad to know that you have got on without any one's help, but you must know times are hard, and furs scarcer than they used to be. Indians are fond of a free life, and we do not wish to interfere with it. When reserves are offered you there is no intention to make you live on them if you do not want to, but, in years to come, you may change your minds, and want these lands to live on. The half-breeds of Athabasca are being more liberally dealt with than in any other part of Canada. We hope you will discuss our offer and arrive at a decision as soon as possible. Others are now waiting for our arrival, and you, by deciding quickly, will assist us to get to them."
KEENOOSHAYO: "Have you all heard? Do you wish to accept? All who wish to accept, stand up!"
WENDIGO: "I have heard, and accept with a glad heart all I have heard."
KEENOOSHAYO: "Are the terms good forever? As long as the sun shines on us? Because there are orphans we must consider, so that there will be nothing to be thrown up to us by our people afterwards. We want a written treaty, one copy to be given to us, so we shall know what we sign for. Are you willing to give means to instruct children as long as the sun shines and water runs, so that our children will grow up ever increasing in knowledge?"
MR. LAIRD: "The Government will choose teachers according to the religion of the band. If the band are pagans the Government will appoint teachers who, if not acceptable, will be replaced by others. About treaties lasting forever, I will just say that some Indians have got to live so like the whites that they have sold their lands and divided the money. But this only happens when the Indians ask for it. Treaties last forever, as signed, unless the Indians wish to make a change. I understand you all agree to the terms of the Treaty. Am I right? If so, I will have the Treaty drawn up, and to-morrow we will sign it. Speak, all those who do not agree!"
MOOSTOOS: "I agree."
KEENOOSHAYO: "My children, all who agree, stand up!"
The Reverend Father Lacombe then addressed the Indians in substance as follows: He reminded them that he was an old friend, and came amongst them seven years ago, and, being now old, he came again to fulfil another duty, and to assist the Commission to make a treaty. "Knowing you as I do, your manners, your customs and language, I have been officially attached to the Commission as adviser. To-day is a great day for you, a day of long remembrance, and your children hereafter will learn from your lips the events of to-day. I consented to come here because I thought it was a good thing for you to take the Treaty. Were it not in your interest I would not take part in it. I have been long familiar with the Government's methods of making treaties with the Saulteaux of Manitoba, the Crees of Saskatchewan, and the Blackfeet, Bloods and Piegans of the Plains, and advised these tribes to accept the offers of the Government. Therefore, to-day, I urge you to accept the words of the Big Chief who comes here in the name of the Queen. I have known him for many years, and, I can assure you, he is just and sincere in all his statements, besides being vested with authority to deal with you. Your forest and river life will not be changed by the Treaty, and you will have your annuities, as well, year by year, as long as the sun shines and the earth remains. Therefore I finish my speaking by saying, Accept!"
The chiefs and counsellors stood up, and requested all the Indians to do so also as a mark of acceptance of the Government's conditions. Father Lacombe was thanked by several for having come so far, though so very old, to visit them and speak to them, after which the meeting adjourned until the following day.
At three p.m. on Wednesday, the 21st, the discussion was resumed by Mr. Laird, who, after a few preliminary remarks read the Treaty, which had been drafted by the Commissioners the previous evening. Chief Keenooshayo arose and made a speech, followed by Moostoos, both assenting to the terms, when suddenly, and to the surprise of all, the chief, who had again begin to address the Indians, perceiving gestures of dissent from his people, suddenly stopped and sat down. This looked critical; but, after a somewhat lengthy discussion, everything was smoothed over, and the chief and head men entered the tent and signed the Treaty after the Commissioners, thus confirming, for this portion of the country, the great Treaty which is intended to cover the whole northern region up to the sixtieth parallel of north latitude. The satisfactory turn of the Lesser Slave Lake Treaty, it was felt, would have a good effect elsewhere, and that, upon hearing of it at the various treaty points to the west and north, the Indians would be more inclined to expedite matters, and to close with the Commissioner's proposals. [The foregoing report of the Treaty discussions is necessarily much abridged, being simply a transcript of brief notes taken at the time. The utterances particularly of Keenooshayo, but also of his brother, were not mere harangues addressed to the "groundlings," but were grave statements marked by self-restraint, good sense and courtesy, such as would have done no discredit to a well-bred white man. They furthered affairs greatly, and in two days the Treaty was discussed and signed, in singular contrast with treaty-making on the plains in former years.]
The text of the Treaty itself, which may be of interest to the reader, will be found in full in the Appendix, page 471.
The first and most important step having been taken, the other essential adhesions had now to be effected. To save time and wintering in the country, the Treaty Commission separated, Messrs. Ross and McKenna leaving on the 22nd for Fort Dunvegan and St. John, whilst Mr. Laird set out shortly afterwards for Vermilion and Fond du Lac, on Lake Athabasca. He reached Peace River Crossing on the 30th, and met there, next day, a few Beaver Indians and the Crees of the region. The Beaver chief, who was present, did not adhere, saying that his band was at Fort Dunvegan, and that he could not get there in time. The date of the St. John Treaty had been fixed for the 21st of June, but, owing to the detentions described, the appointment could not be kept, and word was therefore sent to the Indians to stay where they were until they could be met. But when the Commissioners were within twenty-five miles of the Fort they got a letter from the Hudson's Bay Company's agent telling them that the Indians had eaten up all the provisions there, and had left for their hunting-grounds, with no hope of their coming together again that season. They therefore returned to Fort Dunvegan, and took the adhesion of some Beaver Indians, and then left for Lower Peace River. On the 8th July, Mr. Laird secured the adhesion of the Crees and Beavers at Fort Vermilion, and Messrs. Ross and McKenna of those at Little Red River, the headman there refusing to sign at first because, he said, "he had a divine inspiration to the contrary"! This was followed by adhesions taken by the latter Commissioners, on the 13th, from the Crees and Chipewyans at Fort Chipewyan.
"Here it was," Mr. McKenna writes me, "that the chief asked for a railway—the first time in the history of Canada that the red man demanded as a condition of cession that steel should be laid into his country. He evidently understood the transportation question, for a railway, he said, by bringing them into closer connection with the market, would enhance the value of what they had to sell, and decrease the cost of what they had to buy. He had a striking object-lesson in the fact that flour was $12 a sack at the Fort. These Chipewyans lost no time in flowery oratory, but came at once to business, and kept us, myself in particular, on tenterhooks for two hours. I never felt so relieved as when the rain of questions ended, and, satisfied by our answers, they acquiesced in the cession."
Next morning these Commissioners left for Smith's Landing, and, on the 17th, made treaty with the Indians of Great Slave Lake. Meanwhile Mr. Laird had proceeded to Fond du Lac, at the eastern end of Lake Athabasca, and there, on the 27th, the Chipewyans adhered, whilst Messrs. Ross and McKenna, in order to treat with the Indians at Fort McMurray and Wahpooskow, separated. The latter secured the Chipewyans and Crees at the former post, and Mr. Ross the Crees at Wahpooskow, both adjustments, by a coincidence, being made on the same day.
This completed the Treaty of 1899, known as No. 8, the most important of all since the Great Treaty of 1876.
The work of the Commission being now over, its members prepared to leave the country. Messrs. Ross and McKenna set out for Athabasca Landing, whilst Mr. Laird accompanied us to Pelican Rapids, but left us there and pushed on, like the others, for home.
There were, of course, many Indians who did not or could not turn up at the various treaty points that year, viz., the Beavers of St. John, the Crees of Sturgeon Lake, the Slaves of Hay River, who should have come to Vermilion, and the Dog-Ribs, Yellow-Knives, Slaves, and Chipewyans, who should have been treated with at Fort Resolution, on Great Slave Lake.
Accordingly, a special commission was issued to Mr. J. A. Macrae, of the Indian Office in Ottawa, who met the Indians the following year at the points named, and in May, June, and July, secured the adhesion of over 1,200 souls, making, with subsequent adhesions, a total of 3,568 souls to the 30th June, 1906.
The largest numbers were at Forts Resolution, Vermilion, Fond du Lac, and Lesser Slave Lake, the latter ranking fourth in the list. Of course, there are still to be treated with the Indians of the Mackenzie River and the Esquimaux of the Arctic coast. But Treaty Eight covers the most valuable portions of the Northern Anticlinal, though this is a conjecture, as the resources of the lower Mackenzie Basin, and even of the Barren Lands, are only now becoming known, and may yet prove to be of great value. Bishop Grouard told me that at their Mission at Fort Providence, potatoes, turnips and barley ripened, and also wheat when tried, though this, he thought, was uncertain. I have also heard Chief-factor Camsell speak quite boastfully of his tomatoes at Fort Simpson. As a matter of fact, little is known practically as to the bearing of the climate and long summer sunshine on agriculture in the Mackenzie District. But be that region what it may, there has been already ceded an empire in itself, extending, roughly speaking, from the 54th to the 60th parallel of north latitude, and from the 106th to the 130th degree of west longitude. In this domain there is ample room for millions of people; and, as I must now return to the Half-breed Commission on Lesser Slave Lake, I shall give, as we go, as fair a picture as I can of its superficial features and the inducements it offers to the immigrant.
The Half-Breed Scrip Commission.
The adjustment with the half-breeds depended, of course, upon a successful treaty with the Indians, and, this having been concluded, the latter at once, upon receipt of their payments, left for their forests and fisheries, leaving the half-breeds in full possession of the field.
It was estimated that over a hundred families were encamped around us, some in tepees, some in tents, and some in the open air, the willow copses to the north affording shelter, as well, to a few doubtful members of Slave Lake society, and to at least a thousand dogs. The "scrip tent," as it was called, a large marquee fitted up as an office, had been pitched with the other tents when the camp was made, and in this the half-breeds held a crowded meeting to talk over the terms, and to collate their own opinions as to the form of scrip issue they most desired. In this they were singularly unanimous, and, in spite of advice to the contrary urged upon them in the strongest manner by Father Lacombe, they agreed upon "the bird in the hand"—viz., upon cash scrip or nothing. This could be readily turned into money, for in the train of traders, etc., who followed up the treaty payments, there were also buyers from Winnipeg and Edmonton, well supplied with cash, to purchase all the scrip that offered, at a great reduction, of course, from face value. Whether the half-breeds were wise or foolish it is needless to say. One thing was plain, they had made up their minds. Under the circumstances it was impossible to gainsay their assertion that they were the best judges of their own needs. All preliminaries having at last been settled, the taking of declarations and evidence began on the 23rd of June, and, shortly afterwards, the issue of convertible scrip certificates, or scrip certificates for land as required, took place to the parties who had proved their title.
This was a slow process, involving in every case a careful search of the five elephant folios containing the records of the bygone issues of scrip in Manitoba and the organized Territories.
It was necessary in order to prevent the issue of scrip to parties who had already received it elsewhere. But to the credit of the Lesser Slave Lake community, few efforts were made to "come in" again, not one in fact which was a clear attempt at fraud, or which could not be accounted for by false agency. Indeed, a high tribute might well be paid here to the honesty, not only of this but of all the communities, both Indian and half-breed, throughout these remote territories. We found valuable property exposed, everywhere, evidently without fear of theft. There was a looser feeling regarding debts to traders, which we were told were sometimes ignored, partly, perhaps, owing to the traders' heavy profits, but mainly through failure in the hunt and a lack of means. But theft such as white men practice was a puzzle to these people, amongst whom it was unknown.
The most noticeable feature of the scrip issue was the never-ending stream of applicants, a surprising evidence of the growth of population in this remote wilderness. Its most interesting feature lay in the peculiarities and manners of the people themselves. They were unquestionably half-breeds, and had received Christian names, and most of them had houses of their own, and, though hunters, fishermen and trippers, their families lived comparatively settled lives. Yet the glorious instinct of the Indian haunted them. As a rule they had been born on the "pitching-track," in the forest, or on the prairies—in all sorts of places, they could not say exactly where—and when they were born was often a matter of doubt as well. [With reference to these nondescript birthplaces, the wonderful ease of parturition among Indian women may be referred to here. This is common, probably, to all primitive races, but is perhaps more marked amongst Indian mothers than any other. The event may happen in a canoe, on the trail, at any place, or at any moment, without hindering the ordinary progress of a travelling party, which is generally overtaken by the mother in a few hours. But nothing I heard here equalled in grotesque circumstances occurrences, whose truth I can vouch for, many years ago on the Saskatchewan River. In 1874, if I remember aright, a great spring freshet in the North Branch was accompanied by a tremendous ice-jam, which backed the water up, and flooded the river bank so suddenly that many Indians were drowned. On an island below Prince Albert, a woman, to save her life, had to climb a neighbouring tree, and gave birth to a child amongst the branches. The jam broke, and, wonderful to say, both mother and child got down to firm ground alive. Another case, even more gruesome, happened on the Lower Saskatchewan not so many years ago. A woman and her husband were hastening on snowshoes from their winter camp to the river, in order to share in the usual Christmas bounty and festivities at the Hudson's Bay Company's post. The woman was seized with incipient labour, and darting from her husband, with whom she had been quarrelling on the way, pushed on, and, in a frozen marsh, amongst bulrushes, on a bitterly cold night, was delivered of a child. Grumous as she was, she picked herself up, and, with incredible nerve, walked ten miles to the Pas, carrying her live infant with her, wrapped in a rabbit-skin robe.] It was not in February, but in Meeksuo pesim, "The month when the eagles return"; not in August, but in Oghpaho pesim, "The month when birds begin to fly." When called upon they could give their Christian names and answer to William or Magloire, to Mary or Madaline, but, in spite of priest or parson, their home name was a Cree one. In many cases the white forefather's name had been dropped or forgotten, and a Cree surname had taken its place, as, for example, in the name Louis Maskegosis, or Madeline Nooskeyah. Some of the Cree names were in their meaning simply grotesque. Mishoostiquan meant "The man who stands with the red hair"; Waupunekapow, "He who stands till morning." One of the applicants was Kanawatchaguayo, or "The ghost-keeper."
[It may be mentioned here that this half-breed's "inner" name, so to speak, meant "The Ghost-Keeper," for the name he gave, following an Indian usage, was not the real one. Kanawatchaguayo was the one given by the interpreter, but accompanied by the translation of the inner name, to wit, "The Ghost-Keeper." This curious custom is more fully referred to in a forthcoming work on Indian folk-lore, traditions, legends, usages, methods and manner of life, etc., by Mrs. F. H. Paget, of Ottawa. This lady is an expert Cree scholar, and her work, which I have had the pleasure of hearing her read, is the result of diligent research and of ample knowledge of Indian life and character.]
But others were strikingly poetical, particularly the female names. Payucko geesigo, "One in the Skies"; Pesawakoona kapesisk, "The silent snow in falling forming signs or symbols"; Matyatse wunoguayo, or rather, for this is a doubtful name, Powastia ka nunaghquanetungh, "Listener to the unseen rapids"; Kese koo apeoo, "She sits in heaven," were all the names of applicants for scrips, and many others could be added of like tenor. In a word, the Christian or baptismal names have not displaced the native ones, as they did in Wales and elsewhere, and amongst some of our far Eastern Indians. But there were terrifying and repulsive names as well, such as Sese kenapik kaow apeoo, "She sits like a rattle-snake"; and one individual rejoiced in the appalling surname of "Grand Bastard." These instances serve to illustrate the tendency of half-breed nomenclature at the lake towards the mother's side. Here, too, there was no reserve in giving the family name; it was given at once when asked for, and there was no shyness otherwise in demeanour. There was a readiness, for example, to be photographed which was quite distinctive. In this connection it may interest the reader to recall some of the names of girls given by the same race thousands of miles away in the East. Take those recorded by Mrs. Jameson ["Winter Studies and Summer Rambles," 1835.] during her visit to Mrs. McMurray and the Schoolcrafts, on the Island of Mackinac, over seventy years ago: Oba baumwawa geezegoquay, "The Sounds which the stars make rushing through the skies"; Zaga see goquay, "Sunbeams breaking through a cloud"; Wahsagewanoquay, "Woman of the bright foam." The people so far apart, yet their home names so similarly figurative! The education of the Red Indian lies in his intimate contact with nature in all her phases—a good education truly, which serves him well. But, awe-struck always by the mysterious beauty of the world around him, his mind reflects it instinctively in his Nature-worship and his system of names.
In speaking of the "Lakers" I refer, of course, to the primitive people of the region, and not to half-breed incomers from Manitoba or elsewhere. There were a few patriarchal families into which all the others seemed to dovetail in some shape or form. The Nooskeyah family was one of these, also the Gladu, the Cowitoreille, [A corruption, no doubt, of "Courtoreille."] and the Calahaisen. The collateral branches of these families constituted the main portion of the native population, and yet inbreeding did not seem to have deteriorated the stock, for a healthier-looking lot of young men, women and children it would be hard to find, or one more free from scrofula. There were instances, too, among these people, of extreme old age; one in particular which from confirmatory evidence, particularly the declarations of descendants, seemed quite authentic. This was a woman called Catherine Bisson—the daughter of Baptiste Bisson and an Indian woman called Iskwao—who was born on New Year's Day, 1793, at Lesser Slave Lake, and had spent all her life there since. She had a numerous progeny which she bore to Kisiskakapo, "The man who stands still." She was now blind, and was partly led, partly carried into our tent—a small, thin, wizened woman, with keen features and a tongue as keen, which cackled and joked at a great rate with the crowd around her. It was almost awesome to look at this weird piece of antiquity, who was born in the Reign of Terror, and was a young woman before the war of 1812. She was quite lively yet, so far as her wits went, and seemed likely to go on living. [This very old woman died, I believe, at Lesser Slave Lake only last spring (1908). The date of her birth was correct, and we had good reason to believe it, she must have been far over 100 years old when she died.]
There were many good points in the disposition of the "Lakers" generally, both young and old. Their kindness and courtesy to strangers and to each other was marked, and profanity was unknown. Indeed, if one heard bad language at all it was from the lips of some Yankee or Canadian teamster, airing his superior knowledge of the world amongst the natives.
The place, in fact, surprised one—no end of buggies, buckboards and saddles, and brightly dressed women, after a not altogether antique fashion; the men, too, orderly, civil, and obliging. Infants were generally tucked into the comfortable moss-bag, but boys three or four years old were seen tugging at their mothers' breasts, and all fat and generally good-looking. The whole community seemed well fed, and were certainly well clad—some girls extravagantly so, the love of finery being the ruling trait here as elsewhere. One lost, indeed, all sense of remoteness, there was such a well-to-do, familiar air about the scene, and such a bustle of clean-looking people. How all this could be supported by fur it was difficult to see, but it must have been so, for there was, as yet, little or no farming amongst the old "Lakers." It was, of course, a great fur country, and though the fur-bearing animals were sensibly diminishing, yet the prices of peltries had risen by competition, whilst supplies had been correspondingly cheapened. It was a good marten country, and, as this fur was the fad of fashion, and brought an extravagant price, the animal, like the beaver, was threatened with extinction, the more so as the rabbits were then in their period of scarcity.
There were other aspects of Lake life which there is neither space nor inclination to describe. If some features of "advanced civilization" had been anticipated there, it was simply another proof that extremes meet.
Whatever else was hidden, however, there was one thing omnipresent, namely, the mongrel dog. It was hopeless to explore the origin of an animal which seemed to draw from all sources, including the wolf and fox, and whose appetite stopped at nothing, but attacked old shirts, trousers, dunnage-bags, fry-pans, and even the outfit of a geologist, to appease the sacred rage of hunger.
It was believed that over a thousand of these dogs, mainly used in winter to haul fish, surrounded our tent, and when it is said that an ordinary half-breed family harboured from fifteen to twenty of the tribe, there is no exaggeration in the estimate. They were of all shapes, sizes and colours, and, though very civil to man, from whom they got nothing but kicks and stones, they kept up a constant row amongst themselves.
To see a scrimmage of fifty or sixty of them on land or in the water, where they went daily to fish, was a scene to be remembered. They did not bark, but loped through the woods, which were the camp's latrines, as scavengers by day, and howled in unison at regular intervals by night; for there was a sort of horrible harmony in the performance, and when the tom-toms of the gamblers accompanied it on all sides, and the pounding of dancers' feet—for in this enchanted land nobody ever seemed to go to bed—the saturnalia was complete.
It was indeed a gala time for the happy-go-lucky Lakers, and the effects of the issue and sale of scrip certificates were soon manifest in our neighbourhood. The traders' booths were thronged with purchasers, also the refreshment tents where cigars and ginger ale were sold; and, in tepees improvised from aspen saplings, the sporting element passed the night at some interesting but easy way of losing money, illuminating their game with guttering candles, minus candlesticks, and presenting a picture worthy of an impressionist's pencil.
But the two dancing floors were the chief attraction. These also had been walled and roofed with leafy saplings, their fronts open to the air, and, thronged as they generally were, well repaid a visit. Here the comely brunettes, in moccasins or slippers, their luxuriant hair falling in a braided queue behind their backs, served not only as tireless partners, but as foils to the young men, who were one and all consummate masters of step-dancing, an art which, I am glad to say, was still in vogue in these remote parts. "French-fours" and the immortal "Red River Jig" were repeated again and again, and, though a tall and handsome young half-breed, who had learned in Edmonton, probably, the airs and graces of the polite world, introduced cotillions and gave "the calls" with vigorous precision, yet his efforts were not thoroughly successful. Snarls arose, and knots and confusion, which he did his best to undo. But it was evident that the hearts of the dancers were not in it. No sooner was the fiddler heard lowering his strings for the time-honoured "Jig" than eyes brightened, and feet began to beat the floor, including, of course, those of the fiddler himself, who put his whole soul into that weird and wonderful melody, whose fantastic glee is so strangely blended with an indescribable master-note of sadness. The dance itself is nothing; it might as well be called a Rigadoon or a Sailor's Hornpipe, so far as the steps go. The tune is everything; it is amongst the immortals. Who composed it? Did it come from Normandy, the ancestral home of so many French Canadians and of French Canadian song? Or did some lonely but inspired voyageur, on the banks of Red River, sighing for Detroit or Trois Rivieres—for the joys and sorrows of home—give birth to its mingled chords in the far, wild past?
As I looked on, many memories recurred to me of scenes like this in which I had myself taken part in bygone days—Eheu! fugaces—in old Red River and the Saskatchewan; and, with these in my heart, I retired to my tent, and gradually fell asleep to the monotonous sound of the familiar yet inexplicable air.
Resources Of Lesser Slave Lake Region.
It was expected that the sergeant of the Mounted Police stationed at the Lake would have set out by boat on the 3rd for Athabasca Landing, taking with him the witnesses in the Weeghteko case—a case not common amongst the Lesser Slave Lake Indians, but which was said to be on the increase. One Pahayo—"The Pheasant"—had gone mad and threatened to kill and eat people. Of course, this was attributed by his tribe to the Weeghteko, by which he was believed to be possessed, a cannibal spirit who inhabits the human heart in the form of a lump of ice, which must be got rid of by immersion of the victim in boiling water, or by pouring boiling fat down his throat. This failing, they destroy the man-eater, rip him up to let out the evil spirit, cut off his head, and then pin his four quarters to the ground, all of which was done by his tribe in the case of Pahayo. Napesosus—"The Little Man"—struck the first blow, Moostoos followed, and the poor lunatic was soon dispatched. Arrests were ultimately made, and a boatload of witnesses was about to leave for Athabasca Landing, en route to attend the trial at Edmonton, the first of its kind, I think, on record.
There can be no doubt that such slayings are effected to safeguard the tribe. Indians have no asylums, and, in order to get a dangerous lunatic out of the way, can only kill him. There would therefore be no hangings. But, now that the Indians and ourselves were coming under treaty obligations, it was necessary that an end should be put to such proceedings.
Yet the reader must not be too severe upon the Indian for his treatment of the Weeghteko. He attributes the disease to the evil spirit, acts accordingly, and slays the victim. But an old author, Mrs. Jameson, tells us that in her day in Upper Canada lunatics were allowed to stray into the forest to roam uncared for, and perish there, or were thrust into common jails. One at Niagara, she says, was chained up for four years.
Aside from such cases of madness, which have often resulted in the killing and eating of children, etc., and which arouse the most superstitious horror in the minds of all Indians, the "savages" of this region are the most inoffensive imaginable. They have always made a good living by hunting and trapping and fishing, and I believe when the time comes they will adapt themselves much more readily and intelligently to farming and stock-raising than did the Indians to the south. The region is well suited to both industries, and will undoubtedly attract white settlers in due time.
The fisheries in Lesser Slave Lake have always been counted the best in all Athabasca. The whitefish, to be sure, are diminishing towards the head of the lake, but it is possible that this is owing to some deficiency in their usual supply of food in that quarter. Just as birds and wild-fowl return, if not disturbed, to their accustomed breeding-places, so, it is said, the fishes, year by year, drop and impregnate their spawn upon the same gravelly shallows. The food of the whitefish in the lake is partly the worms bred from the eggs of a large fly resembling the May-fly of the East. This worm has probably decreased in the upper part of the lake, and therefore the fish go farther down for food. There they are exceedingly numerous, an evidence of which is the fact that the Roman Catholic Mission alone secured 17,000 fine whitefish the previous fall. Properly protected this lake will be a permanent source of supply to natives and incomers for many years to come.
Stock-raising was already becoming a feature of the region. Some three miles above the Heart River is Buffalo Lake, an enlargement of that stream, and around and above this, as also along the Wyaweekamon, or "Passage between the Lakes," are immense hay meadows, capable of winter feeding thousands of cattle. The view of these vast meadows from the Hudson's Bay post, or from the Roman Catholic Mission close by, is magnificent.
These buildings are situated above Buffalo Lake, upon a lofty bank, with the Heart River in the foreground; and the great meadows, threaded by creeks and inlets, stretching for miles to the south of them, are one of the finest sights of the kind in the country.
In the far south was the line of forest, and to the eastward a flat-topped mountain, called by the Crees Waskahekum Kahassastakee— "The House Butte." Near this mountain is the Swan River, which joins the Lesser Slave Lake below the Narrows, and upon which, we were told, were rich and extensive prairies, and abundance of coal of a good quality. To the west were the prairies of the Salt River, well watered by creeks, with a large extent of good land now being settled on, and where wheat ripens perfectly.
There are other available areas of open country on Prairie River, which enters Buffalo Lake at its south-western end, and on which also there is coal, so that prairie land is not entirely lacking.
Though emphatically now a region of forest, there is reason to believe that vast areas at present under timber were once prairies, fed over by innumerable herds of buffalo, whose paths and wallows can still be traced in the woods. Indeed, very large trees are found growing right across those paths, and this fact, not to speak of the recollections, or traditions, of very old people, points to extensive prairies at one time rather than to an entirely wooded country.
Much of the forest soil is excellent, and the land has only to be cleared to furnish good farms. Indeed, it needs no stretch of imagination to foresee in future years a continuous line of them from Edmonton to the lake, along the three hundred miles of country intersected by the trail laid out by the Territorial Government.
As for the wheat problem, it is not at all likely that the Roman Catholic Mission would put up a flour mill, as they were then doing, if it was not a wheat country. Bishop Clut assured me that potatoes in their garden reached three and a half pounds' weight in some instances, and turnips twenty-five pounds.
The kind people of both this and the Church of England Mission generously supplied our table with vegetables and salads, and we craved no better. Chives, lettuce, radishes, cress and onions were full flavoured, fresh and delicious, and quite as early as in Manitoba. Being a timber country, lumber was, of course, plentiful, there being two sawmills at work cutting lumber, which sold, undressed, at $25 to $30 a thousand.
The whole country has a fresh and attractive look, and one could not desire a finer location than can be had almost anywhere along its streams and within its delightful and healthy borders. And yet this region is but a portal to the vaster one beyond, to the Unjigah, the mighty Peace River, to be described hereafter.
The make-weight against settlement may be almost summed up in the words transport and markets. The country is there, and far beyond it, too; but so long as there is abundance of prairie land to the south, and no railway facilities, it would be unwise for any large body of settlers, especially with limited means, to venture so far. The small local demand for beef and grain might soon be overtaken, and though stock can be driven, yet three hundred miles of forest trail is a long way to drive. Still, pioneers take little thought of such conditions, and already they were dropping in in twos and threes as they used to do in the old days in Red River Settlement, lured by the wilderness perhaps to privation, but entering a country much of which is suited by nature for the support of man.
The best reflection is that there is a really good country to fall back upon when the prairies to the south are taken up. Swamps and muskegs abound, but good land also abounds, and the time will come when the ring of the Canadian axe will be heard throughout these forests, and when multitudes of comfortable homes will be hewn out of what are the almost inaccessible wildernesses of to-day.
By the end of the first week in July the issue of scrip certificates began to fall off, though the declarations were still numerous. But land was in sight; that is to say, our release and departure for Peace River, which we were all very anxious, in fact burning, to see.
By this time there was, of course, much money afloat amongst the people, which was rapidly finding its way into the traders' pockets. There was a "blind pig," too, doing business in the locality, though we could not discover where, as everybody professed entire ignorance of anything of the kind. The fragrant breath and hilarity of so many, however, betrayed its existence, and, as a crowning evidence, before sunrise on the 6th, we were all awakened by an uproarious row amongst a tipsy crowd on the common.
The disturbance, of course, awakened the dogs, if, indeed, those wonderful creatures ever slept, and soon a prolonged howl, issuing from a thousand throats, made the racket complete. It seemed to our listening ears, for we stuck to our beds, to be a promiscuous fight, larded with imprecations in broken English, the phrase "goddam" being repeated in the most comical way. We expected to see a lot of badly bruised men in the morning, but nothing of the kind! Nobody was hurt. It proved to be a very bloodless affair, like the scrimmages of the dogs themselves, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.
On The Trail To Peace River.
By the afternoon of the 12th we had finished our work at the lake, and in the evening left the scene of so much amusement, and its lively and intelligent people, not without regret. Having said good-bye to Bishop Clut and his clergy, and to the Hudson's Bay Company's people, and others, we passed on to Salt Creek, which we crossed at dusk, and then to the South Heart River—Otaye Sepe—where we camped for the night. This affluent of the lake has a broad but sluggish current, its grassy banks sloping gently to the water's edge, like some Ontario river—the beau ideal of a pike stream. The Church of England mission was established here in charge of the Reverend Mr. Holmes, who had shown us every kindness during our long stay. As boats can ascend in high water to this point, the Hudson's Bay Company had a couple of large warehouses close by, standing alone, and filled with all kinds of goods. The trail led for many miles up a long, easy ascent, through a timber country, to an upper plateau, with, after passing the Heart River, occasional small patches of prairie on the wayside. The plateau itself is the anticlinal down which the North Heart flows to Peace River, which it joins at the crossing.
The trail so far had been good, but after crossing Slippery Creek it proved to be almost a continuous mud-hole, due to its extreme narrowness and the wet weather, closely bordered, as much of it was, by dense forests. It revealed a good farming country, however, free from stones, and the soil a rich, loamy clay throughout. It was well timbered, in some places, with the finest white poplar I had yet seen. The grass was luxuriant, and the region teemed with tiger-lilies, yarrow, and the wild rose.
The Little Prairie, as it is called, is really a lovely region, in appearance resembling the Saskatchewan country. There was an old Hudson's Bay cattle station here, at that time deserted, and here, too, we were charmed with a mirage of indescribable beauty, an enchanting portal to the mighty Peace, which we reached about mid-day on the 15th of July.
The view up the Peace River from the high prairie level is singularly beautiful, the river disclosing a series of reaches, like inland lakes, far to the west, whilst from the south comes the immense valley of the Heart, and, farther up, the Smoky River, a great tributary which drains a large extent of prairie country mixed with timber.
To the north spreads upward, and backward to its summit, the vast bank of the river, varied as to surface by rounded bare hills and valleys and flats sprinkled with aspens, cherries, and saskatoons, the latter loaded with ripe fruit.
The banks of the Peace River are a country in themselves, in which, particularly on the north side, numerous homesteads might be, and indeed have been, carved out. Descending to the river, we found a Hudson's Bay Company and Police post. The river here is about a third of a mile wide, and was in freshet, with a current, we thought, of about six miles an hour.
At Smoky River we met a couple of prospectors, Mr. Tryon, a nephew of the ill-fated Admiral, and Mr. Cooper Blachford, down from the Poker Flat mining-camp, this side the Finlay Rapids, in the Selwyn Mountains. They reached that camp by way of Ashcroft, B.C., in twenty-two days, the Peace River route being very much longer and more difficult. They described the camp there as a promising one, with much gold-bearing quartz in sight, but the cost of provisions and the extreme difficulty of development under the circumstances held it back.
There being but a few half-breeds here, we crossed the river, and decided to go on to Fort Dunvegan, and on our return complete our scrip issue at the Landing; so, partly on horseback and partly by waggon, we made our way to our first camp. The trail lay along and up and down the immense bank of the river, debouching at one place at the site of old Fort McLeod, and passing the fine St. Germain farm, with as beautiful fields of yellowing wheat as one would wish to see.
Here we got an abundant supply of vegetables, and in this ride our first taste of the Peace River mosquito—or, rather, that animal got its first taste of us. It is needless to dwell upon this pest. Like the fleas in Italy, it has been overdone in description, and yet beggars it.
All along the trail were old buffalo paths and willows. Indeed, we saw them everywhere we went on land, showing how numerous those animals were in times past. In 1793 Sir Alexander Mackenzie describes them as grazing in great numbers along these very banks, the calves frisking about their dams, and moose and red deer were equally numerous. In 1828 Sir George Simpson made a canoe journey to the Coast by way of this river, and they were still very numerous. The existing tradition is that, some sixty years ago, a winter occurred of unexampled severity and depth of snow, in which nearly all the herds perished, and never recovered their footing on the upper river. The wood buffalo still exists on Great Slave River, but, where we were, the only memorials of the animal were its paths and wallows, and its bones half-buried in the fertile earth.
On the morning of the 17th we topped the crest of the bank, and found ourselves at once in a magnificent prairie country, which swept northward, varied by beautiful belts of timber, as far as Bear Lake, to which we made a detour, then westerly to Old Wives Lake—Nootooquay Sakaigon—and on to our night camp at Burnt River, twenty-two miles from Dunvegan. The great prairie is as flat as a table, and is the exact counterpart of Portage Plains, in Manitoba, or a number of them, with the addition of belts and beautiful islands of timber, the soil being a loamy clay, unmistakably fertile. Nothing could excel the beauty of this region, not even the fairest portions of Manitoba or Saskatchewan.
On the 18th we finished our drive over a like beautiful prairie, slightly rolling, dotted with similar clumps of timber like a great park, and carpeted with ripe strawberries and flowers, including the wild mignonette, the lupin, and the phlox.
Descending a very long and crooked ravine, we reached the river flat at last, upon which is situated Fort Dunvegan, called after the stronghold of the McLeods of Skye, but alas! with no McCrimmon to welcome us with his echoing pipes! Chief-factor McDonald, in his scanty journal of Sir George Simpson's canoe voyage in 1828 from Hudson's Bay to the Pacific, does not give the date at which this post was established, but mentions its abandonment in 1823, owing to the murder of a Mr. Hughes and four men at Fort St. John by the Beaver Indians. It had been re-established by Chief-trader Campbell. Simpson, Mr. McDonald, and Mr. McGillivray, who had embarked at Fort Chipewyan, where Sir George himself had served his clerkship, spent a day at Dunvegan in August, resting and getting fresh supplies. The warring traders had united in 1821, and this voyage was undertaken in order to harmonize the Indians, who, from the bay to the coast, particularly across the mountains, had become fierce partisans of one or other of the great companies.
Sir George had his McCrimmon with him in the shape of his piper, Colin Fraser, who played and paraded before the Indians most impressively in full Highland costume. Deer and buffalo were numerous in the region, and, during the day, thirteen sacks of pemmican were made for the party from materials stored at the fort. Simpson was famous in those days for his swift journeys with his celebrated Iroquois canoemen. They were made by Canot du Maitre as it was called, the largest bark canoe made by the Indians, carrying about six tons and a crew of sixteen paddlers, and which ascended as far as Fort William. Thence further progress was made in the much smaller "North Canoes" to all points west of Lake Superior. This particular journey of nearly 3,200 miles, made almost entirely by canoe, was completed from York Factory to Fort Langley, near the mouth of Fraser River, in sixty-five days of actual paddling, an average of about fifty miles a day, nearly all up stream.
Only two buildings of the old fort remained at the time of our visit, both in a ruinous condition. The old fireplaces and the roofs of spruce bark, a covering much used in the country, were still sound, and several cellars indicated where the other buildings had stood. The later post is about a gunshot to the east of them, and the whole site had certainly been well chosen, being completely sheltered by the immensely high banks of the great and deep river, whose bends "shouldered" and seemed to shut in the place east and west, also by the "Caps," two very high hills forming the bank on each side of the river, so called from their fancied resemblance to a skull-cap. The river here is over four hundred yards in width, and its banks, from the water's edge to the upper prairie level are some six hundred feet or more in height; but, as the trail leads, the ascent of the great slope is about a mile in length.
A number of townships had been blocked here, at one time, by Mr. Ogilvie, D.L.S., but not subdivided, Fort Dunvegan being situated, if I mistake not, in the south-west corner of Township 80, Range 4, west of the Sixth Meridian.
The Roman Catholic Mission east of the fort was found to be beautifully sheltered, and neighboured by fine fields of wheat and a garden full of green peas and new potatoes. But this was on the flat. There was no farming whatever on the north side, on the upper and beautiful prairies described. A Mr. Milton had tried, it was said, about ten miles east of Dunvegan, but did not make a success of it.
Near the fort a raft was moored, on which had descended a party of four Americans. They were from the State of Wyoming, and had made their way the previous summer, by way of St. John and the Pine River, to the Nelson, a tributary of the Liard. They had had poor luck, in fact no luck at all; and this was the story of every returning party we met which had been prospecting on the various tributaries of the Peace and Liard towards the mountains. The cost of supplies, the varying and uncertain yield, but, above all, the brief season in which it is possible to work, barely six weeks—had dissipated by sad experience the bright dreams of wealth which had lured them from comfortable homes. Between seven and eight hundred people had gone up to those regions via Edmonton, bound for the Yukon, many of whom, after a tale of suffering which might have filled its boomsters' souls with remorse, had found solitary graves, and the remainder were slowly toiling out of the country, having sunk what means they possessed in the vain pursuit of gold. They brought a rumour with them that some whites who had robbed the Indians on the Upper Liard had been murdered. It was not known what white men had penetrated to that desolate region, and the rumour was discredited; at all events, it was never verified.
The treaty had been effected at Dunvegan, on the 6th, with a few Beaver Indians, who still lingered by their tepees, pitched to the west on the opposite shore. The half-breeds had camped near the fort pending our arrival, and we found them a very intelligent people, indeed, with some interesting relics of the old regime still amongst them. One, in particular, had canoed from Lachine with Simpson sixty years before. He was still lively and active, and a patriarch of the half-breed community. Large families we found to be the rule here, some parents boasting of twelve or thirteen children under age. This, and their healthy looks, spoke well for the climate, and their condition otherwise was promising, being comfortably clad, all speaking more or less English or French, whilst many could read and write.
Our work being completed here, we set out for the Crossing by waggon, our route lying over the same majestic prairies, and reached the Landing the second night, passing the Roman Catholic and Church of England Missions on the way. The former Mission is an extensive establishment, with a fine farm and garden. Indeed, with the exception of primitive outlying stations, all the principal Roman Catholic Missions, by their extent and completeness, put our own more meagrely endowed establishments into rather painful contrast.
A great concourse of natives was at the Landing awaiting our arrival. The place was covered with tepees and tents, and no less than four trading marquees had been pitched pending the scrip issue, which it took some time to complete.
Near the Landing were the mill and farm of a namesake of Sir Alexander Mackenzie. His father, indeed, was a cousin of the renowned explorer who gave his name to the great river of the North. This father, under whom, Mr. Mackenzie said, Lord Strathcona had spent his first year as a clerk in the Hudson's Bay Company's service, was drowned, with nine Iroquois, whilst running the Lachine Rapids in a bark canoe. His son came to Peace River in 1863, and his career, as he told it to me, will bear repeating. He was born at Three Rivers, in Lower Canada, in 1843, and was sent to Scotland to be educated, remaining there until he was eighteen years of age. In 1861 he joined the Hudson's Bay Company's service, wintering first at Norway House under Chief factor William Sinclair, but removed to Peace River, became a chief-trader there in 1872, and, after some years of service, retired, and has lived at the Crossing ever since.
The Landing, he told me, used to be known as "The Forks," it being here that the Smoky River joins the Peace; and here were concentrated, in bygone days, the posts and rivalries of the great fur companies. The remains of the North-West Company's fort are still visible on the north bank, a few miles above the Landing. On the south shore, in the angle of the two rivers, stood the Hudson's Bay Company's fort, whilst the old X. Y. Company's post, at that time the best equipped on the river, stood on the north bank opposite the Smoky.
In a delightful afternoon spent in rambling over this interesting neighbourhood, Mr. Mackenzie made out for me the site of the latter establishment, now in the midst of a dense thicket of nettles, shrubs, and saplings. In this locality the antagonisms of old had full play—not only those of the traders, but of the Indians—and the river exhibited much more life and movement then than at the time of our visit.
In remote days a constant warfare had been kept up by the Crees on the river, who, just as they invaded the Blackfeet on the Saskatchewan, encroached here upon the Beavers—at that time a brave, numerous and warlike tribe, but now decayed almost to extinction, the victims, it is said, of incestuous intercourse. The Beavers had also an enemy in their congeners, the Chipewyans, the three nations seemingly dividing the great river between them. But neither succeeded in giving a permanent name to it. The Unjigah, its majestic and proper name, or the Tsa-hoo-dene-desay—"The Beaver Indian River"—or the Amiskoo eeinnu Sepe of the Crees, which has the same meaning, has not taken root in our maps. The traditional peace made between its warring tribes gave it its name, the Riviere la Paix of the French, which we have adopted, and by this name the river will doubtless be known when the Indians, whose home it has been for ages, have disappeared.
On the 24th our work here was completed, and we took to our boats, which were to float us down to Vermilion and Athabasca Lake. During our stay, however, I had noted all the information that could be gained respecting the Upper Peace as an agricultural region, some of which I have already given. The knowledge obtainable about the fertile areas of the hinterlands of a vast unsurveyed country like this, though not very ample, was no doubt trustworthy as far as it went.
Trappers and traders are confined to the water, as a rule, and see little land away from the shores of streams and lakes. The only people who, through their employments, knew the interior well were the Indians and half-breed hunters. It was the statements of these, therefore, and of the few prosperous farmers and stockmen scattered here and there, which afforded us our only reliable knowledge.
The most extensive prairies adjacent to the Upper Peace River are those to the north already described. The nearest on the south side are the prairies of Spirit River, a small stream which divides several townships of first-class black, loamy soil, well wooded in parts, but with considerable prairie. The nearest farmer and rancher to Dunvegan, Mr. C. Brymner, who had lived for ten years on Spirit River, told me that during seven of these, though frost had touched his grain, particularly in June, it had done little serious harm. It was a fine hay country, he said, even the ridge hay being good, and therefore a good region for cattle, he himself having at the time over a hundred head, which fed out late in the fall and very early in the spring, owing to the Chinook winds, which enter the region and temper its climate. Southeast of Fort St. John there is a considerable area known as Pooscapee's Prairie, getting its name from an old Indian chief, and which was well spoken of, but which we did not see.
A much more extensive open country, however, is the Grand Prairie, to the south-west of the Crossing, which connects with the Spirit River country, and is drained by the Smoky River and its branches, and by its tributary, the Wapiti. There is no dispute as to whether this should or should not be called a prairie country. As a matter of fact, it is an extensive district suitable for immediate cultivation, and containing, as well, valuable timber for lumber, fencing and building.
The first inquiry the intending immigrant makes is about frost. At the Dunvegan and St. Augustine Mission farms, on the river bank above the Landing, Father Busson told me that White Russian and Red Fyfe wheat had been raised since 1881, and during all these years it had never been seriously injured, whilst the yield has reached as high as thirty-five bushels to the acre. Seeding began about the middle of April, and harvesting about the middle of August. He was of opinion that along the rim of the upper prairie level wheat would ripen, but farther back he thought it unsafe, and so no doubt it is for the present. Mr. Brick's fine farm, opposite the Six Islands, and other farms also, were a success, but, of course, all these were along the river. With regard to the upper level, I heard opinions adverse to Father Busson's, though, like his, conjectural. The inconsiderable height above the sea (Lefroy, I think, puts the upper level at about 1,600 feet), the prolonged sunlight, the whole night being penetrated with it though the sun has set, together with good methods of farming, will no doubt get rid of frost, which strikes here just as it has in every new settlement in Manitoba, and in fact throughout a great portion of the continent.
There were complaints, however, of a worse enemy than frost, namely, drought, which we were told was a characteristic feature of those magnificent prairies to the north. The wiry grass is very short there, something like the Milk River grass in Southern Alberta, and hay is scarce. This drawback will doubtless be got over hereafter by dry farming, or better still by irrigation, should the lakes to the north prove to be available.
I have pointed out disadvantages which in all likelihood will disappear with time and settlement by good farmers. It is a region, I believe, predestined to agriculture; but, in some localities, the rainfall, as has been said, is rather scant for good husbandry, and, therefore, farming to the north of the river, on the upper level, is not as yet an assured success. To the south better conditions prevail, and thither no doubt the stream of immigration will first trend.
Altogether we estimated the prairie areas of the upper river at about half a million acres, with much country, in addition, which resembles the Dauphin District in Manitoba, covered with willows and the like, which, if they can be pulled out by horse-power, as is done there, will not be very expensive to clear. There is, of course, any quantity of timber for building and fencing, though much has been destroyed by fire, the varieties being those common to the whole country. To the south, in the Yellowhead, and on the Upper Athabasca and its tributaries, there is considerable prairie also, more easily reached than Peace River; but this is apart from my subject. I may say, in conclusion, that the Upper Peace River country is a very fine one, drained by a vast and navigable river, compared with which the Saskatchewan must yield the palm, and, beyond doubt, this will be the first region to attract settlement and railway development.
Aside from settlers and a railway, the chief needs of the country are a good waggon-road to Edmonton and mail facilities, which were almost non-existent when we were there, but which have recently been to some extent supplied. Nearly three months had elapsed since we entered the country, and not a letter or paper had reached us from the outer world at any point. The imports into the country were increasing very fast, and, through competition and fashion, its principal furs were immensely more valuable than in the past.
As for the natives of the region, we found them a very worthy people, whose progress in the forms of civilized life, and to a certain extent in its elegances, was a constant surprise to us. As for the country, it was plain that all we met were making a good living in it, not by fur alone, but by successful farming, and that its settlement was but a question of time.
Down The Peace River.
We had now to descend the river, and our first night in the boats was a bad one. A small but exceedingly diligent variety of mosquito attacked us unprepared; but no ordinary net could have kept them out, anyway. It was a case of heroic endurance, for Beelzebub reigned. The immediate bank of the river was now somewhat low in places, and along it ran a continuous wall, or layer, of sandstone of a uniform height. The stream was vast, with many islands in its course, and whole forests of burnt timber were passed before we reached Battle River, 170 miles down, and which, on the 25th, we left behind us towards evening. Next morning we reached Wolverine Point, a dismal hamlet of six or seven cabins, with a graveyard in their midst. The majority of the half-breeds of the locality had collected here, the others being out hunting. This is a good farming country. Eighteen miles north-west of Paddle River there is a prairie, we were told, of rich black soil, twenty-five miles long and from one to five miles wide, and another south-west of Wolverine, about nine miles in diameter and thirty-six in circumference—clean prairie and good soil, and covered with luxuriant grass and pea-vine. The latter, I think, is watered by a stream called "The Keg," or "Keg of Rum." Wolverine is also a region of heavy spruce timber, and fish are abundant in the various streams which join the Peace River, though not in the Peace itself.
We were now approaching Vermilion, the banks of the river constantly decreasing in height as we descended, until they became quite low. Beneath a waning moon in the south, and an exquisite array of gold and scarlet clouds in the east, which dyed the whole river a delicate red, we floated down to the hamlet of Vermilion. The place proved to be a rather extensive settlement, with yellow wheat-fields and much cattle, for it is a fine hay country. The pioneer Canadians at Vermilion were the Lawrence family, which has been settled there for over twenty years. They were original residents of Shefford County, Eastern Townships, and set out from Montreal for Peace River in April, 1879, making the journey to Vermilion, by way of Fort Carlton, Isle a la Crosse and Fort McMurray, in four months and some ten days. The elder Mr. Lawrence had been engaged under Bishop Bompas to conduct a mission school at Chipewyan, but after a time removed to Vermilion, where he organized another school, which he conducted until 1891. He then resigned, and began farming on his own account, and, by and by, with great pains and expense, brought in a flour mill, whose operation stimulated settlement, and speedily reduced the price of flour from $25 to $8 a sack. Unfortunately, this useful mill was burnt in April preceding our visit. The yield of grain, moreover, most of it wheat, was estimated at 10,000 bushels, and the turning of the mill was therefore not only a great loss to Mr. Lawrence, but a severe blow to the place. The population interested in farming was estimated at about three hundred souls, thus forming the nucleus of a very promising settlement, now, of course, at its wits' end for gristing. Vermilion seemed to be a very favourable supply point in starting other settlements, being in touch by water with Loon River, Hay River, and other points east and north, where there is abundance of excellent land. For the present, and pending railway development, it was plain that the great and pressing requirement of the region was a good waggon road by way of Wahpooskow to Athabasca Landing, a distance of three hundred miles, thus avoiding the dangerous rapids of the Athabasca, or the long detour by way of Lesser Slave Lake, and making communication easy in winter time.
From Mr. Erastus Lawrence, the head of the family, we got definite information regarding the region and its prospects for agriculture. We spent Sunday at his comfortable home, and examined his farm carefully. In front of the house was a field of wheat, 110 acres in extent, as fine a field as we had ever seen anywhere, and of this they had not had a failure, he said, during all their farming experience, the return never falling below fourteen bushels to the acre, in the worst of years, twenty-five being about the average yield. They sowed late in April, but reaped generally about the 15th of August. They had never, he said, been seriously injured by frost since 1884, and in fact no frost had occurred to injure wheat since 1887. There was abundance of hay, and 10,000 head of stock, he believed, could be raised at that very point. Many hogs were raised, with great profit, bacon and pork being, of course, high-priced. One of the sons, Mr. E. H. Lawrence, said he had raised sixteen pigs, which at eighteen months dressed 370 pounds apiece. At that time there were about 500 head of cattle, 250 horses, and 200 pigs in the settlement.
After service at the Reverend Mr. Scott's neat little church, we returned to Mr. Lawrence's, and enjoyed an excellent dinner, including home-cured ham, fresh eggs, butter and cream. That was a notable Sunday for us in the wilds, and seldom to be repeated.
Strange to say, we found the true locust here, our old Red River pest, which had quartered itself on the settlement more than once. I examined numbers of them, and found the scarlet egg of the ichneumon fly under many of the shards. No one seemed to know exactly how they came, whether in flight or otherwise; but there they were, devouring some barley, but living mainly upon grass, which they seemed to prefer to grain. They had appeared nine years before our coming, and disappeared, and then, three years before, had come again.
We found quarters in a large building at the fort, which was in charge of Mr. Wilson, whose wife was a daughter of my old friend, Chief-factor Clarke, of Prince Albert, her brother having charge of the trading store. The post is a substantial one, and the store large, well stocked, and evidently the headquarters of an extensive trade. At such posts, which have generally a fringe of settlement, the Company's officers and their families, though, of course, cut off from the outer world, lead, if somewhat monotonous, by no means irksome lives. Books, music, cards and dances serve to while away spare time, and an occasional wedding, lasting, as it generally does, for several days, stirs the little community to its core. But sport, in a region abounding with game of all kinds, is the great time-killer, giving the longed-for excitement, and contributing as well to the daily bill of fare the very choicest of human food. Such a life is indeed to be envied rather than commiserated, and we met with few, if any, who cared to leave it. But such posts are the "plums" of the service, and are few and far between. At many of the solitary outposts life has a very different colour. ["At an outpost," says Mr. Bleasdell Cameron, "where a clerk is alone with his Indian servant, the life is wearisome to a degree, and privation not infrequently adds to the hardship of it. Supplies may run short, and in any case he is expected to stock himself with fish, taken in nets from the lake, near which his post is situated, for his table and his dogs, as well as to augment his larder by the expert and diligent use of his gun. Rare instances have occurred where, through accident, supplies had not reached the far-out posts for which they were intended, and the men had literally died of starvation. Out of a York boat's crew, which was taking up the annual supplies for a post far up among the Rocky Mountains, on a branch of the Mackenzie River, two or three men were drowned, and the ice beginning to take, the boat was obliged to put back to the district headquarters. The three men at the outpost were left for some weeks without the supplies, and when, after winter had set in, and it became possible to reach them with dog trains, and provisions were at length sent them, two were found dead in the post, while the third man was living by himself in a small hut some distance from the fort buildings. The explanation he gave was that he had removed to where there was a chance of keeping himself alive by snaring rabbits, which were more plentiful than at the post. But a suggestion of cannibalism surrounded the affair, for only the bones of his companions were found, and they were in the open chimney-place. Nothing was done, however, and I myself saw the survivor many times in after years."]
At dinner Mr. Wilson told us of a very curious circumstance the previous fall, at the Loon River, some eighty miles south of Vermilion—something, indeed, that very much resembled volcanic action. Indians hunting there were surprised by a great shower of ashes all over the country, thick enough to track moose by, whilst others in canoes were bewildered in dense clouds of smoke. Dr. Wade, a traveller who had just come in from Loon River, said he had discovered three orifices, or "wells," as he called them, out of which he thought the ashes might have been ejected. As there were no forest fires to account for the phenomena, they were rather puzzling.
We had begun taking depositions almost as soon as we arrived, and had a very busy time, working late and early in order to get away by the first of August. There were some interesting people here, "Old Lizotte" and his wife in particular. He was another of the "Ancient Mariners" who had left Lachine fifty-five years before with Governor Simpson—a man still of unshaken nerve and muscles as hard as iron. One by one these old voyageurs are passing away, and with them and their immediate successors the tradition perishes.
There was another character on the Vermilion stage, namely, old King Beaulieu. His father was a half-breed who had been brought up amongst the Dog Ribs and Copper Indians, and some eighty years back had served as an interpreter at Fort Chipewyan. It was he who at Fort Wedderburne sketched for Franklin with charcoal on the floor the route to the Coppermine River, the sketch being completed to and along the coast by Black Meat, an old Chipewyan Indian. King Beaulieu himself was Warburton Pike's right-hand man in his trip to the Barren Lands. He had his own story, of course, about the sportsman, which we utterly discredited. He had joined the Indian Treaty here, but repented, almost flinging his payment in our face, and demanding scrip instead. One of his sons asked me if the law against killing buffalo had not come to an end. I said, "No! the law is stricter than ever—very dangerous now to kill buffalo." Asking him what he thought the band numbered, he said, "About six hundred," and added, "What are we poor half-breeds to do if we cannot shoot them?" Pointing out the abundance of moose in the country, and that if they shot the buffalo they would soon be exterminated, he still grumbled, and repeated, "What are we poor half-breeds to do?" I have no doubt whatever that they do shoot them, since the band is reported to have diminished to about 250 head. Immediate steps should certainly be taken to punish and prevent poaching, or this band, the only really wild one on the continent, will soon be extinct.
We were now on our boats again, and heading for the Chutes, as they are called, the one obstruction to the navigation of Peace River for over six hundred miles. We debarked at the head of the rapids above the Grand Fall, and walked to their foot along a shelving and slippery portage, skirting the very edge of the torrent. The Crees call this Meatina Powistik—"The Real Rapid"—the cataract farther on being the Nepegabaketik—"Where the Water Falls."
Returning to the "Decharge," I ran the rapids with Cyr and Baptiste in one of the boats, a glorious sensation, reminding one, though shorter, of the Grand Rapids of the Saskatchewan, the waves being great, and the danger spiced by the tremendous vortex ahead. The rapids are about four hundred yards in length, and extend quite across the river, which is here of an immense width. A heavy but brief rainstorm had set in, and it was some time before we could reload and drop down to the head of the "Chaudiere," if I may call it so, for the vortex much resembles the "Big Kettle" at Ottawa. That night we spent in the York boat, its keel on the rocks and painter tied to a tree, and, lulled by the roar of the cataract, slept soundly until morning.
These falls cut somewhat diagonally across the river, the vortex being at the right bank, and close in-shore, concentred by a limestone shelf extending to the bank, flanked on the left, and at an acute angle, by a deeply-indented reef of rock. Looking up the river, the view to the west seems inclosed by a long line of trees, which, in the distance, appear to stand in the water. Thence the vast stream sweeps boldly into the south, and with a rush discharges down the rapids, and straight over the line of precipice, in a vast tumultuous greyish-drab torrent which speedily emerges into comparatively still water below. The rock here is an exceedingly hard, mottled limestone, resembling the stone at St. Andrew's Rapids on Red River. Where exposed it is pitted or bitten into by the endless action of wind and water, and lies in thick layers, forming an irregular dyke all along the shore, over the surface of which passes the portage, some forty yards in length. Though short, it is a nasty one, running along a shelf of rock into which great gaps have been gored by the torrent. Large quantities of driftwood were stuck in the rapids above, and a big pile of it had lodged at the south angle of the cataract, over which our boats had to be drawn, and dropped down, with great care and difficulty. A rounded, tall island lies, or rather stands, below the falls, towards the north shore, whose sheer escarpments and densely wooded top are very curious and striking. Two sister islands and another above the falls, all four being about a mile apart, stand in line with each other, as if they had once formed parts of an ancient marge, and, below the falls, the torrent has wrought out a sort of bay from the rock, the bank, which is high here, giving that night upon its grassy slope, overhung with dense pine woods, a picturesque camp to our boatmen. The vast river, the rapids and the falls form a majestic picture, not only of material grandeur, but of power to be utilized some day in the service of man. Though formidable, they will yet be surmounted by modern locks; and should Smith's Rapids, on the Great Slave River, be overcome by canalling, there would then be developed one of the longest lines of inland navigation on the continent.
The Red River, which joins the Peace about twenty-five miles below the Chutes, flows from the south with a course, it was said, of about two hundred miles, and up this beautiful stream there are extensive prairies. The soil is very rich at the confluence, and we noticed that in the garden at the little Hudson's Bay Company's post, where we transacted our business, vegetables and potatoes were further advanced than at Vermilion, and some ears of wheat were almost ripe. From statements made we judged this to be a region well worth special investigation; it was, in fact, one of the most inviting points for settlement we had seen on our journey.
Following down the Peace, some shoaly places were met with in the afternoon, the banks being low, sandy and uniform, with open woods to the south. The current was stately, but so slow that oars had often to be used. A chilly sunset was followed by an exceedingly brilliant display of Northern Lights, called by the Crees Pahkugh ka Neematchik—"The Dance of the Spirits." This generally presages change; but the day was fine, and next morning we passed what are called the Lower Rapids, below which the banks are lined by precipitous walls of limestone, the river narrowing to less than half of its previous width.
Landing at Peace Point, the traditional scene of the peace between the Beavers and the Chipewyans, or between the Beavers and the Crees, as Mackenzie says, or all three, we found it to be a wide and beautiful table-like prairie, begirt with aspens, on which we flushed a pack of prairie chickens. Below it, and looking upward beyond an island, a line of timber, fringed along the water's edge with willows, sweeps across the view, met half-way by a wall of Devonian rock, whose alternate glitter and shade, in the strong sunshine streaming from the east, seemed almost spectral.
The heavily timbered island added to the effect, and, with a patch of limestone on its cheek, formed a strikingly beautiful foreground.
The only exciting incident of the day was the vigorous chase, by some of the party, of an old pair of moulting gray geese with their young, all, of course, unable to fly. It was pitiful to watch the clever and fearless actions of the old birds as decoys, falling victims, at last, to parental love. Indeed, they were not worth eating, and to kill them was a sin. But when were there ever scruples over food on Peace River, that theatre of mighty feats of gormandism?
I have already hinted at those masterpieces of voracity for which the region is renowned; yet the undoubted facts related around our camp-fires, and otherwise, a few of which follow, almost beggar belief. Mr. Young, of our party, an old Hudson's Bay officer, knew of sixteen trackers who, in a few days, consumed eight bears, two moose, two bags of pemmican, two sacks of flour, and three sacks of potatoes. Bishop Grouard vouched for four men eating a reindeer at a sitting. Our friend, Mr. d'Eschambault, once gave Oskinnequ—"The Young Man"—six pounds of pemmican, who ate it all at a meal, washing it down with a gallon of tea, and then complained that he had not had enough. Sir George Simpson states that at Athabasca Lake, in 1820, he was one of a party of twelve who ate twenty-two geese and three ducks at a single meal. But, as he says, they had been three whole days without food. The Saskatchewan folk, however, known of old as the Gens de Blaireaux—"The People of the Badger Holes"—were not behind their congeners. That man of weight and might, our old friend, Chief-factor Belanger—drowned, alas, many years ago with young Simpson at Sea Falls—once served out to thirteen men a sack of pemmican weighing ninety pounds. It was enough for three days; but, there and then, they sat down and consumed it all at a single meal, not, it must be added, without some subsequent and just pangs of indigestion. Mr. B. having occasion to pass the place of eating, and finding the sack of pemmican, as he supposed, in his path, gave it a kick; but, to his amazement, it bounded aloft several yards, and then lit. It was empty! When it is remembered that, in the old buffalo days, the daily ration per head at the Company's prairie posts was eight pounds of fresh meat, which was all eaten, its equivalent being two pounds of pemmican, the enormity of this Gargantuan feast may be imagined. But we ourselves were not bad hands at the trencher. In fact, we were always hungry. So I do not reproduce the foregoing facts as a reproach, but rather as a meagre tribute to the prowess of the great of old—the men of unbounded stomach!