Part 1 out of 4
Notify Juliet Sutherland, Charles Bidwell
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
LIFE IN THE BACKWOODS,
A SEQUEL TO
ROUGHING IT IN THE BUSH.
BY SUSANNA MOODIE,
Author of "LIFE IN THE CLEARINGS," "FLORA LYNDSAY,"
"GEOFFREY MONCTON," etc., etc.
I sketch from Nature, and the picture's true;
Whate'er the subject, whether grave or gay,
Painful experience in a distant land
Made it mine own.
JOHN W. LOVELL COMPANY,
14 AND 16 VESEY STREET.
CHAPTER I.--A Journey to the Woods--Corduroy Roads--No Ghosts in Canada
CHAPTER II.--The Wilderness and our Indian Friends--The House on Fire--No
Papoose; the Mother all alone
CHAPTER III.--Running the Fallow--A Wall of Fire--"But God can save us
CHAPTER IV.--Our Logging Bee--"Och! my ould granny taught me."--Signal
CHAPTER V.--A Trip to Stony Lake--A Feast in an Outhouse--The Squatter's
CHAPTER VI.--Disappointed Hopes--Milk, Bread and Potatoes our only Fare--
The Deer Hunt
CHAPTER VII.--The Little Stumpy Man--Hiding from the Sheriff--An
CHAPTER VIII.--The Fire--"Oh, dear Mamma, do save Papa's Flute"--"No time
to be clane!"
CHAPTER IX.--The Outbreak--Moodie joins the Volunteers--"Scribblin' and
Scrabblin' when you should be in bed"
CHAPTER X.--The Whirlwind--Two Miles of Trees Levelled to the Ground--Sick
CHAPTER XI.--The Walk to Dummer--Honest, Faithful Jenny--A sad History--
Tried and Found most Faithful
CHAPTER XII.--A Change in our Prospects--In a Canoe--Nearing the Rapids--
CHAPTER XIII.--The Magic Spell--"The Sleighs are Come!"--Leaving the
Bush--End of Life in the Backwoods
LIFE IN THE BACKWOODS
A SEQUEL TO
ROUGHING IT IN THE BUSH.
* * * * *
A JOURNEY TO THE WOODS.
'Tis well for us poor denizens of earth
That God conceals the future from our gaze;
Or Hope, the blessed watcher on Life's tower,
Would fold her wings, and on the dreary waste
Close the bright eye that through the murky clouds
Of blank Despair still sees the glorious sun.
It was a bright, frosty morning when I bade adieu to the farm, the
birthplace of my little Agnes, who, nestled beneath my cloak, was sweetly
sleeping on my knee, unconscious of the long journey before us into the
wilderness. The sun had not as yet risen. Anxious to get to our place of
destination before dark, we started as early as we could. Our own fine
team had been sold the day before for forty pounds; and one of our
neighbours, a Mr. D____, was to convey us and our household goods to Douro
for the sum of twenty dollars. During the week he had made several
journeys, with furniture and stores; and all that now remained was to be
conveyed to the woods in two large lumber-sleighs, one driven by himself,
the other by a younger brother.
It was not without regret that I left Melsetter, for so my husband had
called the place, after his father's estate in Orkney. It was a beautiful,
picturesque spot; and, in spite of the evil neighbourhood, I had learned
to love it; indeed, it was much against my wish that it was sold. I had a
great dislike to removing, which involves a necessary loss, and is apt to
give to the emigrant roving and unsettled habits. But all regrets were now
useless; and happily unconscious of the life of toil and anxiety that
awaited us in those dreadful woods, I tried my best to be cheerful, and to
regard the future with a hopeful eye.
Our driver was a shrewd, clever man, for his opportunities. He took charge
of the living cargo, which consisted of my husband, our maid-servant, the
two little children, and myself--besides a large hamper, full of poultry--
a dog, and a cat. The lordly sultan of the imprisoned seraglio thought fit
to conduct himself in a very eccentric manner, for at every barnyard we
happened to pass, he clapped his wings, and crowed so long and loud that
it afforded great amusement to the whole party, and doubtless was very
edifying to the poor hens, who lay huddled together as mute as mice.
"That 'ere rooster thinks he's on the top of the heap," said our driver,
laughing. "I guess he's not used to travelling in a close conveyance.
Listen! How all the crowers in the neighbourhood give him back a note of
defiance! But he knows that he's safe enough at the bottom of the basket."
The day was so bright for the time of year (the first week in February),
that we suffered no inconvenience from the cold. Little Katie was
enchanted with the jingling of the sleigh-bells, and, nestled among the
packages, kept singing or talking to the horses in her baby lingo.
Trifling as these little incidents were, before we had proceeded ten miles
on our long journey, they revived my drooping spirits, and I began to feel
a lively interest in the scenes through which we were passing.
The first twenty miles of the way was over a hilly and well-cleared
country; and as in winter the deep snow fills up the inequalities, and
makes all roads alike, we glided as swiftly and steadily along as if they
had been the best highways in the world. Anon, the clearings began to
diminish, and tall woods arose on either side of the path; their solemn
aspect, and the deep silence that brooded over their vast solitudes,
inspiring the mind with a strange awe. Not a breath of wind stirred the
leafless branches, whose huge shadows, reflected upon the dazzling white
covering of snow, lay so perfectly still, that it seemed as if Nature had
suspended her operations, that life and motion had ceased, and that she
was sleeping in her winding-sheet, upon the bier of death.
"I guess you will find the woods pretty lonesome," said our driver, whose
thoughts had been evidently employed on the same subject as our own. "We
were once in the woods, but emigration has stepped ahead of us, and made
our'n a cleared part of the country. When I was a boy, all this country,
for thirty miles on every side of us, was bush land. As to Peterborough,
the place was unknown; not a settler had ever passed through the great
swamp, and some of them believed that it was the end of the world."
"What swamp is that?" asked I.
"Oh, the great Cavan swamp. We are just two miles from it; and I tell you
the horses will need a good rest, and ourselves a good dinner, by the time
we are through it. Ah! Mrs. Moodie, if ever you travel that way in summer,
you will know something about corduroy roads. I was 'most jolted to death
last fall; I thought it would have been no bad notion to have insured my
teeth before I left C____. I really expected that they would have been
shook out of my head before we had done manoeuvring over the big logs."
"How will my crockery stand it in the next sleigh?" quoth I. "If the road
is such as you describe, I am afraid that I shall not bring a whole plate
"Oh! the snow is a great leveller--it makes all rough places smooth. But
with regard to this swamp, I have something to tell you. About ten years
ago, no one had ever seen the other side of it; and if pigs or cattle
strayed away into it, they fell a prey to the wolves and bears, and were
"An old Scotch emigrant, who had located himself on this side of it, so
often lost his beasts that he determined during the summer season to try
and explore the place, and see if there were any end to it. So he takes an
axe on his shoulder, and a bag of provisions for the week, not forgetting
a flask of whiskey, and off he starts all alone, and tells his wife that
if he never returned, she and little Jock must try and carry on the farm
without him; but he was determined to see the end of the swamp, even if it
led to the other world. He fell upon a fresh cattle-track, which he
followed all that day; and towards night he found himself in the heart of
a tangled wilderness of bushes, and himself half eaten up with mosquitoes
and black-flies. He was more than tempted to give in, and return home by
the first glimpse of light.
"The Scotch are a tough people; they are not easily daunted--a few
difficulties only seem to make them more eager to get on; and he felt
ashamed the next moment, as he told me, of giving up. So he finds out a
large, thick cedar-tree for his bed, climbs up, and coiling himself among
the branches like a bear, he was soon fast asleep.
"The next morning, by daylight, he continued his journey, not forgetting
to blaze with his axe the trees to the right and left as he went along.
The ground was so spongy and wet that at every step he plunged up to his
knees in water, but he seemed no nearer the end of the swamp than he had
been the day before. He saw several deer, a raccoon, and a groundhog,
during his walk, but was unmolested by bears or wolves. Having passed
through several creeks, and killed a great many snakes, he felt so weary
towards the second day that he determined to go home the next morning. But
just as he began to think his search was fruitless, he observed that the
cedars and tamaracks which had obstructed his path became less numerous,
and were succeeded by bass and soft maple. The ground, also, became less
moist, and he was soon ascending a rising slope, covered with oak and
beech, which shaded land of the very best quality. The old man was now
fully convinced that he had cleared the great swamp; and that, instead of
leading to the other world, it had conducted him to a country that would
yield the very best returns for cultivation. His favourable report led to
the formation of the road that we are about to cross, and to the
settlement of Peterborough, which is one of the most promising new
settlements in this district, and is surrounded by a splendid back
We were descending a very steep hill, and encountered an ox-sleigh, which
was crawling slowly up it in a contrary direction. Three people were
seated at the bottom of the vehicle upon straw, which made a cheap
substitute for buffalo robes. Perched, as we were, upon the crown of the
height, we looked completely down into the sleigh, and during the whole
course of my life I never saw three uglier mortals collected into such a
narrow space. The man was blear-eyed, with a hare-lip, through which
protruded two dreadful yellow teeth which resembled the tusks of a boar.
The woman was long-faced, high cheek-boned, red-haired, and freckled all
over like a toad. The boy resembled his hideous mother, but with the
addition of a villainous obliquity of vision which rendered him the most
disgusting object in this singular trio.
As we passed them, our driver gave a knowing nod to my husband, directing,
at the same time, the most quizzical glance towards the strangers, as he
exclaimed, "We are in luck, sir! I think that 'ere sleigh may be called
We made ourselves very merry at the poor people's expense, and Mr. D____,
with his odd stories and Yankeefied expressions, amused the tedium of our
progress through the great swamp, which in summer presents for several
miles one uniform bridge of rough and unequal logs, all laid loosely
across huge sleepers, so that they jumped up and down, when pressed by the
wheels, like the keys of a piano. The rough motion and jolting occasioned
by this collision is so distressing that it never fails to entail upon the
traveller sore bones and an aching head for the rest of the day. The path
is so narrow over these logs that two wagons cannot pass without great
difficulty, which is rendered more dangerous by the deep natural ditches
on either side of the bridge, formed by broad creeks that flow out of the
swamp, and often terminate in mud-holes of very ominous dimensions. The
snow, however, hid from us all the ugly features of the road, and Mr.
D____ steered us through it in perfect safety, and landed us at the door
of a little log house which crowned the steep hill on the other side of
the swamp, and which he dignified with the name of a tavern.
It was now two o'clock. We had been on the road since seven; and men,
women, and children were all ready for the good dinner that Mr. D____ had
promised us at this splendid house of entertainment, where we were
destined to stay for two hours, to refresh ourselves and rest the horses.
"Well, Mrs. J____, what have you got for our dinner?" said the driver,
after he had seen to the accommodation of his teams.
"Pritters and pork, sir. Nothing else to be had in the woods. Thank God,
we have enough of that!"
D____ shrugged up his shoulders, and looked at us.
"We've plenty of that same at home. But hunger's good sauce. Come, be
spry, widow, and see about it, for I am very hungry."
I inquired for a private room for myself and the children, but there were
no private rooms in the house. The apartment we occupied was like the
cobbler's stall in the old song, and I was obliged to attend upon them in
"You have much to learn, ma'am, if you are going to the woods," said Mrs.
"To unlearn, you mean," said Mr. D____. "To tell you the truth, Mrs.
Moodie, ladies and gentlemen have no business in the woods. Eddication
spoils man or woman for that location. So, widow (turning to our hostess),
you are not tired of living alone yet?"
"No, sir; I have no wish for a second husband. I had enough of the first.
I like to have my own way--to lie down mistress, and get up master."
"You don't like to be put out of your _old_ way," returned he, with a
She coloured very red; but it might be the heat of the fire over which she
was frying the pork for our dinner.
I was very hungry, but I felt no appetite for the dish she was preparing
for us. It proved salt, hard, and unsavoury.
D____ pronounced it very bad, and the whiskey still worse, with which he
washed it down.
I asked for a cup of tea and a slice of bread. But they were out of tea,
and the hop-rising had failed, and there was no bread in the house. For
this disgusting meal we paid at the rate of a quarter of a dollar a-head.
I was glad when, the horses being again put to, we escaped from the rank
odour of the fried pork, and were once more in the fresh air.
"Well, mister; did not you grudge your money for that bad meat?" said
D____, when we were once more seated in the sleigh. "But in these parts,
the worse the fare the higher the charge."
"I would not hare cared," said I, "if I could have got a cup of tea."
"Tea! it's poor trash. I never could drink tea in my life. But I like
coffee, when 'tis boiled till it's quite black. But coffee is not good
without plenty of trimmings."
"What do you mean by trimmings?"
He laughed. "Good sugar, and sweet cream. Coffee is not worth drinking
Often in after years have I recalled the coffee trimmings, when
endeavouring to drink the vile stuff which goes by the name of coffee in
the houses of entertainment in the country.
We had now passed through the narrow strip of clearing which surrounded
the tavern, and again entered upon the woods. It was near sunset, and we
were rapidly descending a steep hill, when one of the traces that held our
sleigh suddenly broke. D____ pulled up in order to repair the damage. His
brother's team was close behind, and our unexpected stand-still brought
the horses upon us before J. D____ could stop them. I received so violent
a blow from the head of one of them, just in the back of the neck, that
for a few minutes I was stunned and insensible. When I recovered, I was
supported in the arms of my husband, over whose knees I was leaning, and
D____ was rubbing my hands and temples with snow.
"There, Mr. Moodie, she's coming to. I thought she was killed. I have seen
a man before now killed by a blow from a horse's head in the like manner."
As soon as we could, we resumed our places in the sleigh; but all
enjoyment of our journey, had it been otherwise possible, was gone.
When we reached Peterborough, Moodie wished us to remain at the inn all
night, as we had still eleven miles of our journey to perform, and that
through a blazed forest-road, little travelled, and very much impeded by
fallen trees and other obstacles; but D____ was anxious to get back as
soon as possible to his own home, and he urged us very pathetically to
The moon arose during our stay at the inn, and gleamed upon the straggling
frame houses which then formed the now populous and thriving town of
Peterborough. We crossed the wild, rushing, beautiful Otonabee river by a
rude bridge, and soon found ourselves journeying over the plains or level
heights beyond the village, which were thinly wooded with picturesque
groups of oak and pine, and very much resembled a gentleman's park at
home. Far below, to our right (for we were upon the Smith-town side) we
heard the rushing of the river, whose rapid waters never receive curb from
the iron chain of winter. Even while the rocky banks are coated with ice,
and the frost-king suspends from every twig and branch the most beautiful
and fantastic crystals, the black waters rush foaming along, a thick steam
rising constantly above the rapids, as from a boiling pot. The shores
vibrate and tremble beneath the force of the impetuous flood, as it whirls
round cedar-crowned islands and opposing rocks, and hurries on to pour its
tribute into the Rice Lake, to swell the calm, majestic grandeur of the
Trent, till its waters are lost in the beautiful bay of Quinte, and
finally merged in the blue ocean of Ontario.
The most renowned of our English rivers dwindle into little muddy rills
when compared with the sublimity of the Canadian waters. No language
can adequately express the solemn grandeur of her lake and river scenery;
the glorious islands that float, like visions from fairy land, upon the
bosom of these azure mirrors of her cloudless skies. No dreary breadth
of marshes, covered with flags, hide from our gaze the expanse of
heaven-tinted waters; no foul mud-banks spread their unwholesome
exhalations around. The rocky shores are crowned with the cedar, the
birch, the alder, and soft maple, that dip their long tresses in the pure
stream; from every crevice in the limestone the harebell and Canadian rose
wave their graceful blossoms.
The fiercest droughts of summer may diminish the volume and power of these
romantic streams, but it never leaves their rocky channels bare, nor
checks the mournful music of their dancing waves. Through the openings in
the forest, we now and then caught the silver gleam of the river tumbling
on in moonlight splendour, while the hoarse chiding of the wind in the
lofty pines above us gave a fitting response to the melancholy cadence of
The children had fallen asleep. A deep silence pervaded the party. Night
was above us with her mysterious stars. The ancient forest stretched
around us on every side, and a foreboding sadness sunk upon my heart.
Memory was busy with the events of many years. I retraced step by step the
pilgrimage of my past life, until arriving at that passage in its sombre
history, I gazed through tears upon the singularly savage scene around me,
and secretly marvelled, "What brought me here??"
"Providence," was the answer which the soul gave. "Not for your own
welfare, perhaps, but for the welfare of your children, the unerring hand
of the great Father has led you here. You form a connecting link in the
destinies of many. It is impossible for any human creature to live for
himself alone. It may be your lot to suffer, but others will reap a
benefit from your trials. Look up with confidence to Heaven, and the sun
of hope will yet shed a cheering beam through the forbidden depths of this
The road became so bad that Mr. D____ was obliged to dismount, and lead
his horses through the more intricate passages. The animals themselves,
weary with their long journey and heavy load, proceeded at foot-fall. The
moon, too, had deserted us, and the only light we had to guide us through
the dim arches of the forest was from the snow and the stars, which now
peered down upon us through the leafless branches of the trees, with
"It will be past midnight before we reach your brother's clearing," (where
we expected to spend the night,) said D____. "I wish, Mr. Moodie, we had
followed your advice, and staid at Peterborough. How fares it with you,
Mrs. Moodie, and the young ones? It is growing very cold."
We were now in the heart of a dark cedar swamp, and my mind was haunted
with visions of wolves and bears; but beyond the long, wild howl of a
solitary wolf, no other sound awoke the sepulchral silence of that dismal
"What a gloomy spot," said I to my husband. "In the old country,
superstition would people it with ghosts."
"Ghosts! There are no ghosts in Canada!" said Mr. D____. "The country is
too new for ghosts. No Canadian is afeard of ghosts. It is only in old
countries, like your'n, that are full of sin and wickedness, that people
believe in such nonsense. No human habitation has ever been erected in
this wood through which you are passing. Until a very few years ago, few
white persons had ever passed through it; and the Red Man would not pitch
his tent in such a place as this. Now, ghosts, as I understand the word,
are the spirits of bad men, that are not allowed by Providence to rest in
their graves, but, for a punishment, are made to haunt the spots where
their worst deeds were committed. I don't believe in all this; but,
supposing it to be true, bad men must have died here before their spirits
could haunt the place. Now, it is more than probable that no person ever
ended his days in this forest, so that it would be folly to think of
seeing his ghost."
This theory of Mr. D____'s had the merit of originality, and it is not
improbable that the utter disbelief in supernatural appearances, which is
common to most native-born Canadians, is the result of the same very
reasonable mode of arguing. The unpeopled wastes of Canada must present
the same aspect to the new settler that the world did to our first parents
after their expulsion from the garden of Eden; all the sin which could
defile the spot, or haunt it with the association of departed evil, is
concentrated in their own persons. Bad spirits cannot be supposed to
linger near a place where crime has never been committed. The belief in
ghosts, so prevalent in old countries, must first have had its foundation
in the consciousness of guilt.
After clearing this low, swampy portion of the wood, with much difficulty,
and the frequent application of the axe, to cut away the fallen timber
that impeded our progress, our ears were assailed by a low, roaring,
rushing sound, as of the falling of waters.
"That is Herriot's Falls," said our guide. "We are within two miles of our
Oh, welcome sound! But those two miles appeared more lengthy than the
whole journey. Thick clouds, that threatened a snow-storm, had blotted out
the stars, and we continued to grope our way through a narrow, rocky path,
upon the edge of the river, in almost total darkness. I now felt the
chillness of the midnight hour, and the fatigue of the long journey, with
double force, and envied the servant and children, who had been sleeping
ever since we left Peterborough. We now descended the steep bank, and
prepared to cross the rapids.
Dark as it was, I looked with a feeling of dread upon the foaming waters
as they tumbled over their bed of rocks, their white crests flashing,
life-like, amid the darkness of the night.
"This is an ugly bridge over such a dangerous place," said D____, as he
stood up in the sleigh and urged his tired team across the miserable,
insecure log-bridge, where darkness and death raged below, and one false
step of his jaded horses would have plunged us into both. I must confess I
drew a freer breath when the bridge was crossed, and D____ congratulated
us on our safe arrival in Douro.
We now continued our journey along the left bank of the river, but when in
sight of Mr. S____'s clearing, a large pine-tree, which had newly fallen
across the narrow path, brought the teams to a stand-still. The mighty
trunk which had lately formed one of the stately pillars in the sylvan
temple of Nature, was of too large dimensions to chop in two with axes;
and after half-an-hour's labour, which to me, poor, cold, weary wight!
seemed an age, the males of the party abandoned the task in despair. To go
round it was impossible; its roots were concealed in an impenetrable wall
of cedar-jungle on the right-hand side of the road, and its huge branches
hung over the precipitous bank of the river.
"We must try and make the horses jump over it," said D____. "We may get an
upset, but there is no help for it; we must either make the experiment, or
stay here all night, and I am too cold and hungry for that--so here goes."
He urged his horses to leap the log; restraining their ardour for a moment
as the sleigh rested on the top of the formidable barrier, but so nicely
balanced, that the difference of a straw would almost have overturned the
heavily-laden vehicle and its helpless inmates. We, however, cleared it in
safety. He now stopped, and gave directions to his brother to follow the
same plan that he had adopted; but whether the young man had less
coolness, or the horses in his team were more difficult to manage, I
cannot tell: the sleigh, as it hung poised upon the top of the log, was
overturned with a loud crash, and all my household goods and chattels were
scattered over the road. Alas, for my crockery and stone china! Scarcely
one article remained unbroken.
"Never fret about the china," said Moodie; "thank God, the man and the
horses are uninjured."
I should have felt more thankful had the crocks been spared too; for, like
most of my sex, I had a tender regard for china, and I knew that no fresh
supply could be obtained in this part of the world. Leaving his brother to
collect the scattered fragments, D____ proceeded on his journey. We left
the road, and were winding our way over a steep hill, covered with heaps
of brush and fallen timber, and as we reached the top, a light gleamed
cheerily from the windows of a log house, and the next moment we were at
my brother's door.
I thought my journey was at an end; but here I was doomed to fresh
disappointment. His wife was absent on a visit to her friends, and it had
been arranged that we were to stay with my sister, Mrs. T____, and her
husband. With all this I was unacquainted; and I was about to quit the
sleigh and seek the warmth of the fire when I was told that I had yet
further to go. Its cheerful glow was to shed no warmth on me, and, tired
as I was, I actually buried my face and wept upon the neck of a hound
which Moodie had given to Mr. S____, and which sprang up upon the sleigh
to lick my face and hands. This was my first halt in that weary
wilderness, where I endured so many bitter years of toil and sorrow. My
brother-in-law and his family had retired to rest, but they instantly rose
to receive the way-worn travellers; and I never enjoyed more heartily a
warm welcome after a long day of intense fatigue, than I did that night of
my first sojourn in the backwoods.
THE WILDERNESS, AND OUR INDIAN FRIENDS.
The clouds of the preceding night, instead of dissolving into snow,
brought on a rapid thaw. A thaw in the middle of winter is the most
disagreeable change that can be imagined. After several weeks of clear,
bright, bracing, frosty weather, with a serene atmosphere and cloudless
sky, you awake one morning surprised at the change in the temperature;
and, upon looking out of the window, behold the woods obscured by a
murky haze--not so dense as an English November fog, but more black
and lowering--and the heavens shrouded in a uniform covering of
leaden-coloured clouds, deepening into a vivid indigo at the edge of the
horizon. The snow, no longer hard and glittering, has become soft and
spongy, and the foot slips into a wet and insidiously-yielding mass at
every step. From the roof pours down a continuous stream of water, and the
branches of the trees collecting the moisture of the reeking atmosphere,
shower it upon the earth from every dripping twig. The cheerless and
uncomfortable aspect of things without never fails to produce a
corresponding effect upon the minds of those within, and casts such a damp
upon the spirits that it appears to destroy for a time all sense of
enjoyment. Many persons (and myself among the number) are made aware of
the approach of a thunder-storm by an intense pain and weight about the
head; and I have heard numbers of Canadians complain that a thaw always
made them feel bilious and heavy, and greatly depressed their animal
I had a great desire to visit our new location, but when I looked out upon
the cheerless waste, I gave up the idea, and contented myself with hoping
for a better day on the morrow; but many morrows came and went before a
frost again hardened the road sufficiently for me to make the attempt.
The prospect from the windows of my sister's log hut was not very
prepossessing. The small lake in front, which formed such a pretty object
in summer, now looked like an extensive field covered with snow, hemmed in
from the rest of the world by a dark belt of sombre pine-woods. The
clearing round the house was very small, and only just reclaimed from the
wilderness, and the greater part of it covered with piles of brushwood, to
be burned the first dry days of spring. The charred and blackened stumps
on the few acres that had been cleared during the preceding year were
every thing but picturesque; and I concluded, as I turned, disgusted, from
the prospect before me, that there was very little beauty to be found in
the backwoods. But I came to this decision during a Canadian thaw, be it
remembered, when one is wont to view every object with jaundiced eyes.
Moodie had only been able to secure sixty-six acres of his government
grant upon the Upper Kutchawanook Lake, which, being interpreted, means in
English, the "Lake of the Waterfalls," a very poetical meaning, which most
Indian names have. He had, however, secured a clergy reserve of two
hundred acres adjoining; and he afterwards purchased a fine lot which
likewise formed a part of the same block, one hundred acres, for L150.
[Footnote: After a lapse of fifteen years, we have been glad to sell
these lots of land, after considerable clearings had been made upon them,
for less than they originally cost us.] This was an enormously high price
for wild land, but the prospect of opening the Trent and Otonabee for the
navigation of steamboats and other small craft, was at that period a
favourite speculation, and its practicability, and the great advantages to
be derived from it, were so widely believed, as to raise the value of the
wild lands along these remote waters to an enormous price; and settlers in
the vicinity were eager to secure lots, at any sacrifice, along their
Our government grant was upon the lake shore, and Moodie had chosen for
the site of his log house a bank that sloped gradually from the edge of
the water, until it attained to the dignity of a hill. Along the top of
this ridge, the forest-road ran, and midway down the hill, our humble
home, already nearly completed, stood, surrounded by the eternal forest.
A few trees had been cleared in its immediate vicinity, just sufficient to
allow the workmen to proceed, and to prevent the fall of any tree injuring
the building, or the danger of its taking fire during the process of
burning the fallow.
A neighbour had undertaken to build this rude dwelling by contract, and
was to have it ready for us by the first week in the new year. The want of
boards to make the divisions in the apartments alone hindered him from
fulfilling his contract. These had lately been procured, and the house was
to be ready for our reception in the course of a week. Our trunks and
baggage had already been conveyed by Mr. D____ hither; and in spite of my
sister's kindness and hospitality, I longed to find myself once more
settled in a home of my own.
The day after our arrival, I was agreeably surprised by a visit from
Monaghan, whom Moodie had once more taken into his service. The poor
fellow was delighted that his nurse-child, as he always called little
Katie, had not forgotten him, but evinced the most lively satisfaction at
the sight of her dark friend.
Early every morning, Moodie went off to the house; and the first fine day,
my sister undertook to escort me through the wood, to inspect it. The
proposal was joyfully accepted; and although I felt _rather_ timid when I
found myself with only my female companion in the vast forest, I kept my
fears to myself, lest I should be laughed at. This foolish dread of
encountering wild beasts in the woods, I never could wholly shake off,
even after becoming a constant resident in their gloomy depths, and
accustomed to follow the forest-path, alone, or attended with little
children, daily. The cracking of an old bough, or the hooting of the owl,
was enough to fill me with alarm, and try my strength in a precipitate
flight. Often have I stopped and reproached myself for want of faith in
the goodness of Providence, and repeated the text, "The wicked are afraid
when no man pursueth: but the righteous are as bold as a lion," as if to
shame myself into courage. But it would not do; I could not overcome the
weakness of the flesh. If I had one of my infants with me, the wish to
protect the child from any danger which might beset my path gave me for a
time a fictitious courage; but it was like love fighting with despair.
It was in vain that my husband assured me that no person had ever been
attacked by wild animals in the woods, that a child might traverse them
even at night in safety; whilst I knew that wild animals existed in those
woods, I could not believe him, and my fears on this head rather increased
The snow had been so greatly decreased by the late thaw, that it had been
converted into a coating of ice, which afforded a dangerous and slippery
footing. My sister, who had resided for nearly twelve months in the woods,
was provided for her walk with Indian moccasins, which rendered her quite
independent; but I stumbled at every step. The sun shone brightly, the air
was clear and invigorating, and, in spite of the treacherous ground and my
foolish fears, I greatly enjoyed my first walk in the woods. Naturally of
a cheerful, hopeful disposition, my sister was enthusiastic in her
admiration of the woods. She drew such a lively picture of the charms of a
summer residence in the forest that I began to feel greatly interested in
her descriptions, and to rejoice that we too were to be her near
neighbours and dwellers in the woods; and this circumstance not a little
reconciled me to the change.
Hoping that my husband would derive an income equal to the one he had
parted with from the investment of the price of his commission in the
steamboat stock, I felt no dread of want. Our legacy of L700 had afforded
us means to purchase land, build our house, and give out a large portion
of land to be cleared, and, with a considerable sum of money still in
hand, our prospects for the future were in no way discouraging.
When we reached the top of the ridge that overlooked our cot, my sister
stopped, and pointed out a large dwelling among the trees. "There, S____,"
she said, "is your home. When that black cedar swamp is cleared away, that
now hides the lake from us, you will have a very, pretty view." My
conversation with her had quite altered the aspect of the country, and
predisposed me to view things in the most favourable light. I found Moodie
and Monaghan employed in piling up heaps of bush near the house, which
they intended to burn off by hand previous to firing the rest of the
fallow, to prevent any risk to the building from fire. The house was made
of cedar logs, and presented a superior air of comfort to most dwellings
of the same kind. The dimensions were thirty-six feet in length, and
thirty-two in breadth, which gave us a nice parlour, a kitchen, and two
small bedrooms, which were divided by plank partitions. Pantry or
storeroom there was none; some rough shelves in the kitchen, and a deal
cupboard n a corner of the parlour, being the extent of our accommodations
in that way.
Our servant, Mary Tate, was busy scrubbing out the parlour and bedroom;
but the kitchen, and the sleeping-room off it, were still knee-deep in
chips, and filled with the carpenter's bench and tools, and all our
luggage. Such as it was, it was a palace when compared to Old Satan's log
hut, or the miserable cabin we had wintered in during the severe winter of
1833, and I regarded it with complacency as my future home.
While we were standing outside the building, conversing with my husband, a
young gentleman, of the name of Morgan, who had lately purchased land in
that vicinity, went into the kitchen to light his pipe at the stove, and,
with true backwood carelessness, let the hot cinder fall among the dry
chips that strewed the floor. A few minutes after, the whole mass was in a
blaze, and it was not without great difficulty that Moodie and Mr. R____
succeeded in putting out the fire. Thus were we nearly deprived of our
home before we had taken up our abode in it.
The indifference to the danger of fire in a country where most of the
dwellings are composed of inflammable materials, is truly astonishing.
Accustomed to see enormous fires blazing on every hearth-stone, and to
sleep in front of these fires, his bedding often riddled with holes made
by hot particles of wood flying out during the night, and igniting beneath
his very nose, the sturdy backwoodsman never dreads an enemy in the
element that he is used to regard as his best friend. Yet what awful
accidents, what ruinous calamities arise, out of this criminal negligence,
both to himself and others!
A few days after this adventure, we bade adieu to my sister, and took
possession of our new dwelling and commenced "a life in the woods."
The first spring we spent in comparative ease and idleness. Our cows had
been left upon our old place during the winter. The ground had to be
cleared before it could receive a crop of any kind, and I had little to do
but to wander by the lake shore, or among the woods, and amuse myself.
These were the halcyon days of the bush. My husband had purchased a very
light cedar canoe, to which he attached a keel a sail; and most of our
leisure hours, directly the snows melted, were spent upon the water.
These fishing and shooting excursions were delightful. The pure beauty of
the Canadian water, the sombre but august grandeur of the vast forest that
hemmed us in on every side and shut us out from the rest of the world,
soon cast a magic spell upon our spirits, and we began to feel charmed
with the freedom and solitude around us. Every object was new to us. We
felt as if we were the first discoverers of every beautiful flower and
stately tree that attracted our attention, and we gave names to fantastic
rocks and fairy isles, and raised imaginary houses and bridges on every
picturesque spot which we floated past during our aquatic excursions. I
learned the use of the paddle, and became quite a proficient in the gentle
It was not long before we received visits from the Indians, a people whose
beauty, talents, and good qualities have been somewhat overrated, and
invested with a poetical interest which they scarcely deserve. Their
honesty and love of truth are the finest traits in characters otherwise
dark and unlovely. But these are two God-like attributes, and from them
spring all that is generous and ennobling about them.
There never was a people more sensible of kindness, or more grateful for
any little act of benevolence exercised towards them. We met them with
confidence; our dealings with them were conducted with the strictest
integrity; and they became attached to our persons, and in no single
instance ever destroyed the good opinion we entertained of them.
The tribes that occupy the shores of all these inland waters back of the
great lakes, belong to the Chippewa or Missasagua Indians, perhaps the
least attractive of all these wild people, both with regard to their
physical and mental endowments. The men of this tribe are generally small
of stature, with very coarse and repulsive features. The forehead is low
and retreating, the observing faculties large, the intellectual ones
scarcely developed; the ears large, and standing off from the face; the
eyes looking towards the temples, keen, snake-like, and far apart; the
cheek-bones prominent; the nose long and flat, the nostrils very round;
the jaw-bone projecting, massy, and brutal; the mouth expressing ferocity
and sullen determination; the teeth large, even, and dazzilngly white. The
mouth of the female differs widely in expression from that of the male;
the lips are fuller, the jaw less projecting, and the smile is simple and
agreeable. The women are a merry, light-hearted set, and their constant
laugh and incessant prattle form a strange contrast to the iron
taciturnity of their grim lords.
Now I am upon the subject, I will recapitulate a few traits and sketches
of these people, as they came under my own immediate observation.
A dry cedar swamp, not far from the house, by the lake shore, had been
their usual place of encampment for many years. The whole block of land
was almost entirely covered with maple-trees, and had originally been an
Indian sugar-bush. Although the favourite spot had now passed into the
hands of strangers, they still frequented the place, to make canoes and
baskets, to fish and shoot, and occasionally to follow their old
occupation. Scarcely a week passed away without my being visited by the
dark strangers; and as my husband never allowed them to eat with the
servants, but brought them to his own table, they soon grew friendly and
communicative, and would point to every object that attracted their
attention, asking a thousand questions as to its use, the material of
which it was made, and if we were inclined to exchange it for their
commodities? With a large map of Canada, they were infinitely delighted.
In a moment they recognized every bay and headland in Ontario, and almost
screamed with delight when, following the course of the Trent with their
fingers, they came to their own lake.
How eagerly each pointed out the spot to his fellows; how intently their
black heads were bent down, and their dark eyes fixed upon the map! What
strange, uncouth exclamations of surprise burst from their lips as they
rapidly repeated the Indian names for every lake and river on this
wonderful piece of paper!
The old chief, Peter Nogan, begged hard for the coveted treasure. He would
give "Canoe, venison, duck, fish, for it; and more, by and by."
I felt sorry that I was unable to gratify his wishes; but the map had cost
upwards of six dollars, and was daily consulted by my husband, in
reference to the names and situations of localities in the neighbourhood.
I had in my possession a curious Japanese sword, which had been given to
me by an uncle of Tom Wilson's--a strange gift to a young lady; but it was
on account of its curiosity, and had no reference to my warlike
propensities. This sword was broad, and three-sided in the blade, and in
shape resembled a moving snake. The hilt was formed of a hideous carved
image of one of their war-gods; and a more villainous wretch was never
conceived by the most distorted imagination. He was represented in a
sitting attitude, the eagle's claws, that formed his hands, resting upon
his knees; his legs terminated in lion's paws; and his face was a strange
compound of beast and bird--the upper part of his person being covered
with feathers, the lower with long, shaggy hair. The case of this awful
weapon was made of wood, and, in spite of its serpentine form, fitted it
exactly. No trace of a join could be found in this scabbard, which was of
hard wood, and highly polished.
One of my Indian friends found this sword lying upon the book-shelf, and
he hurried to communicate the important discovery to his companions.
Moodie was absent, and they brought it to me to demand an explanation of
the figure that formed the hilt. I told them that it was a weapon that
belonged to a very fierce people who lived in the East, far over the Great
Salt Lake; that they were not Christians, as we were, but said their
prayers to images made of silver, and gold, and ivory, and wood, and that
this was one of them; that before they went into battle they said their
prayers to that hideous thing, which they had made with their own hands.
The Indians were highly amused by this relation, and passed the sword from
one to the other, exclaiming, "A god!--Owgh!--A god!"
But, in spite of these outward demonstrations of contempt, I was sorry to
perceive that this circumstance gave the weapon a great value in their
eyes, and they regarded it with a sort of mysterious awe.
For several days they continued to visit the house, bringing along
with them some fresh companion to look at Mrs. Moodie's _god!_--until,
vexed and annoyed by the delight they manifested at the sight of the
eagle-beaked monster, I refused to gratify their curiosity by not
producing him again.
The manufacture of the sheath, which had caused me much perplexity, was
explained by old Peter in a minute. "'Tis burnt out," he said. "Instrument
made like sword--heat red-hot--burnt through--polished outside."
Had I demanded a whole fleet of canoes for my Japanese sword, I am certain
they would have agreed to the bargain. The Indian possesses great taste,
which is displayed in the carving of his paddles, in the shape of his
canoes, in the elegance and symmetry of his bows, in the cut of his
leggings and moccasins, the sheath of his hunting-knife, and in all the
little ornaments in which he delights. It is almost impossible for a
settler to imitate to perfection an Indian's cherry-wood paddle. My
husband made very creditable attempts, but still there was something
wanting--the elegance of the Indian finish was not there. If you show
them a good print, they invariably point out the most natural and the
best-executed figure in the group. They are particularly delighted with
pictures, examine them long and carefully, and seem to feel an artist-like
pleasure in observing the effect produced by light and shade.
I had been showing John Nogan, the eldest son of old Peter, some beautiful
coloured engravings of celebrated females; and to my astonishment he
pounced upon the best, and grunted out his admiration in the most approved
Indian fashion. After having looked for a long time at all the pictures
very attentively, he took his dog Sancho upon his knee, and showed him the
pictures, with as much gravity as if the animal really could have shared
in his pleasure. The vanity of these grave men is highly amusing. They
seem perfectly unconscious of it themselves; and it is exhibited in the
most childlike manner.
Peter and his son John were taking tea with us, when we were joined by my
brother Mr. S____. The latter was giving us an account of the marriage of
Peter Jones, the celebrated Indian preacher.
"I cannot think," he said, "how any lady of propeity and education could
marry such a man as Jones. Why, he's as ugly as Peter here."
This was said, not with any idea of insulting the red-skin on the score of
his beauty, of which he possessed not the smallest particle, but in total
forgetfulness that our guest understood English. Never shall I forget the
red flash of that fierce, dark eye as it glared upon my unconscious
brother. I would not have received such a fiery glance for all the wealth
that Peter Jones obtained with his Saxon bride. John Nogan was highly
amused by his father's indignation. He hid his face behind the chief; and
though he kept perfectly still, his whole frame was convulsed with
A plainer human being than poor Peter could scarcely be imagined; yet he
certainly deemed himself handsome. I am inclined to think that their ideas
of personal beauty differ very widely from ours. Tom Nogan, the chief's
brother, had a very large, fat ugly squaw for his wife. She was a mountain
of tawny flesh; and, but for the innocent, good-natured expression, which,
like a bright sunbeam penetrating a swarthy cloud, spread all around a
kindly glow, she might have been termed hideous.
This woman they considered very handsome, calling her "a fine squaw--
clever squaw--a much good woman;" though in what her superiority
consisted, I never could discover, often as I visited the wigwam. She was
very dirty, and appeared quite indifferent to the claims of common decency
(in the disposal of the few filthy rags that covered her). She was,
however, very expert in all Indian craft. No Jew could drive a better
bargain than Mrs. Tom; and her urchins, of whom she was the happy mother
of five or six, were as cunning and avaricious as herself. One day she
visited me, bringing along with her a very pretty covered basket for sale.
I asked her what she wanted for it, but could obtain from her no
satisfactory answer. I showed her a small piece of silver. She shook her
head. I tempted her with pork and flour, but she required neither. I had
just given up the idea of dealing with her, in despair, when she suddenly
seized upon me, and, lifting up my gown, pointed exultingly to my quilted
petticoat, clapping her hands, and laughing immoderately.
Another time she led me all over the house, to show me what she wanted in
exchange for _basket_. My patience was well nigh exhausted in following
her from place to place, in her attempt to discover the coveted article,
when, hanging upon a peg in my chamber, she espied a pair of trowsers
belonging to my husband's logging-suit. The riddle was solved. With a
joyful cry she pointed to them, exclaiming "Take basket.--Give them!" It
was with no small difficulty that I rescued the indispensables from her
From this woman I learned a story of Indian coolness and courage which
made a deep impression on my mind. One of their squaws, a near relation of
her own, had accompanied her husband on a hunting expedition into the
forest. He had been very successful, and having killed more deer than they
could well carry home, he went to the house of a white man to dispose of
some of it, leaving the squaw to take care of the rest until his return.
She sat carelessly upon the log with his hunting-knife in her hand, when
she heard the breaking of branches near her, and, turning round, beheld a
great bear only a few paces from her.
It was too late to retreat; and seeing that the animal was very hungry,
and determined to come to close quarters, she rose, and placed her back
against a small tree, holding her knife close to her breast, and in a
straight line with the bear. The shaggy monster came on. She remained
motionless, her eyes steadily fixed upon her enemy, and as his huge arms
closed around her, she slowly drove the knife into his heart. The bear
uttered a hideous cry, and sank dead at her feet. When the Indian
returned, he found the courageous woman taking the skin from the carcass
of the formidable brute.
The wolf they hold in great contempt, and scarcely deign to consider him
as an enemy. Peter Nogan assured me that he never was near enough to one
in his life to shoot it; that, except in large companies, and when greatly
pressed by hunger, they rarely attack men. They hold the lynx, or
wolverine, in much dread, as they often spring from trees upon their prey,
fastening upon the throat with their sharp teeth and claws, from which a
person in the dark could scarcely free himself without first receiving a
dangerous wound. The cry of this animal is very terrifying, resembling the
shrieks of a human creature in mortal agony.
My husband was anxious to collect some of the native Indian airs, as they
all sing weil, and have a fine ear for music, but all his efforts proved
abortive. "John," he said to young Nogan (who played very creditably on
the flute, and had just concluded the popular air of "Sweet Home"),
"cannot you play me one of jour own songs?"
"Yes,--but no good."
"Leave me to be the judge of that. Cannot you give me a war-song?"
"Yes,--but no good," with an ominous shake of the head.
"No fit for white man."--with an air of contempt.--"No good, no good!"
"Do, John, sing us a love-song," said I, laughing, "if you have such a
thing in your language."
"Oh! much love-song--very much--bad--bad--no good for Christian man.
Indian song no good for white ears." This was very tantalizing, as their
songs sounded very sweet from the lips of their squaws, and I had a great
desire and curiosity to get some of them rendered into English.
To my husband they gave the name of "the musician," but I have forgotten
the Indian word. It signified the maker of sweet sounds. They listened
with intense delight to the notes of his flute, maintained a breathless
silence during the performance; their dark eyes flashing in fierce light
at a martial strain, or softening with the plaintive and tender.
The affection of Indian parents to their children, and the deference
which they pay to the aged, is a beautiful and touching trait in their
One extremely cold, wintry day, as I was huddled with my little ones over
the stove, the door softly unclosed, and the moccasined foot of an Indian
crossed the floor. I raised my head, for I was too much accustomed to
their sudden appearance at any hour to feel alarmed, and perceived a tall
woman standing silently and respectfully before me, wrapped in a large
blanket. The moment she caught my eye she dropped the folds of her
covering from around her, and laid at my feet the attenuated figure of a
boy, about twelve years of age, who was in the last stage of consumption.
"Papouse die," she said, mournfully, clasping her hands against her
breast, and looking down upon the suffering lad with the most heartfelt
expression of maternal love, while large tears trickled down her dark
face. "Moodie's squaw save papouse--poor Indian woman much glad."
Her child was beyond all human aid. I looked anxiously upon him, and knew,
by the pinched-up features and purple hue of his wasted cheek, that he had
not many hours to live. I could only answer with tears her agonizing
appeal to my skill.
"Try and save him! All die but him." (She held up five of her fingers.)
"Brought him all the way from Mutta Lake [Footnote: Mud Lake, or Lake
_Shemong_, in Indian.] upon my back, for white squaw to cure."
"I cannot cure him, my poor friend. He is in God's care; in a few hours he
will be with Him."
The child was seized with a dreadful fit of coughing, which I expected
every moment would terminate his frail existence. I gave him a
tea-spoonful of currant-jelly, which he took with avidity, but could not
retain a moment on his stomach.
"Papouse die," murmured the poor woman; "alone--alone! No papouse; the
mother all alone."
She began re-adjusting the poor sufferer in her blanket. I got her some
food, and begged her to stay and rest herself; but she was too much
distressed to eat, and too restless to remain. She said little, but her
face expressed the keenest anguish; she took up her mournful load, pressed
for a moment his wasted, burning hand in hers, and left the room.
My heart followed her a long way on her melancholy journey. Think what
this woman's love must have been for that dying son, when she had carried
a lad of his age six miles, through the deep snow upon her back, on such a
day, in the hope of my being able to do him some good. Poor heartbroken
mother! I learned from Joe Muskrat's squaw some days after that the boy
died a few minutes after Elizabeth Iron, his mother, got home.
They never forget any little act of kindness. One cold night, late in the
fall, my hospitality was demanded by six squaws, and puzzled I was how to
accommodate them all. I at last determined to give them the use of the
parlour floor during the night. Among these women there was one very old,
whose hair was as white as snow. She was the only gray-haired Indian I
ever saw, and on that account I regarded her with peculiar interest. I
knew that she was the wife of a chief, by the scarlet embroidered
leggings, which only the wives and daughters of chiefs are allowed to
wear. The old squaw had a very pleasing countenance, but I tried in vain
to draw her into conversation. She evidently did not understand me; and
the Muskrat squaw, and Betty Cow, were laughing at my attempts to draw her
out. I administered supper to them with my own hands, and after I had
satisfied their wants, (which is no very easy task, for they have great
appetites,) I told our servant to bring in several spare mattresses and
blankets for their use. "Now mind, Jenny, and give the old squaw the best
bed," I said; "the others are young and can put up with a little
The old Indian glanced at me with her keen, bright eye; but I had no idea
that she comprehended what I said. Some weeks after this, as I was
sweeping over my parlour floor, a slight tap drew me to the door. On
opening it I perceived the old squaw, who immediately slipped into my hand
a set of beautifully-embroidered bark trays, fitting one within the other,
and exhibiting the very best sample of the porcupine-quill work. While I
stood wondering what this might mean, the good old creature fell upon my
neck, and kissing me, exclaimed, "You remember old squaw--make her
comfortable! Old squaw no forget you. Keep them for her sake," and before
I could detain her she ran down the hill with a swiftness which seemed to
bid defiance to years. I never saw this interesting Indian again, and I
concluded that she died during the winter, for she must have been of a
A friend was staying with us, who wished much to obtain a likeness of
Old Peter. I promised to try and make a sketch of the old man the next
time he paid us a visit. That very afternoon he brought us some ducks in
exchange for pork, and Moodie asked him to stay and take a glass of
whiskey with him and his friend Mr. K____. The old man had arrayed himself
in a new blanket-coat, bound with red, and the seams all decorated with
the same gay material. His leggings and moccasins were new, and
elaborately fringed; and, to cap the climax of the whole, he had a blue
cloth conical cap upon his head, ornamented with a deer's tail dyed blue,
and several cock's feathers. He was evidently very much taken up with the
magnificence of his own appearance, for he often glanced at himself in a
small shaving-glass that hung opposite, with a look of grave satisfaction.
Sitting apart that I might not attract his observation, I got a tolerably
faithful likeness of the old man, which, after sightly colouring, to show
more plainly his Indian finery, I quietly handed over to Mr. K____. Sly as
I thought myself, my occupation and the object of it had not escaped the
keen eye of the old man. He rose, came behind Mr. K____'s chair, and
regarded the picture with a most affectionate eye. I was afraid that he
would be angry at the liberty I had taken. No such thing! He was as
pleased as Punch.
"That Peter?" he grunted. "Give me--put up in wigwam--make dog too!
Owgh! owgh!" and he rubbed his hands together, and chuckled with delight.
Mr. K____ had some difficulty in coaxing the picture from the old chief;
so pleased was he with this rude representation of himself. He pointed to
every particular article of his dress, and dwelt with peculiar glee on the
cap and blue deer's tail.
A few days after this, I was painting a beautiful little snow-bird, that
our man had shot out of a large flock that alighted near the door. I was
so intent upon my task, to which I was putting the finishing strokes, that
I did not observe the stealthy entrance (for they all walk like cats) of a
stern-looking red man, till a slender, dark hand was extended over my
paper to grasp the dead bird from which I was copying, and which as
rapidly transferred it to the side of the painted one, accompanying the
act with the deep guttural note of approbation, the unmusical, savage
My guest then seated himself with the utmost gravity in a rocking-chair,
directly fronting me, and made the modest demand that I should paint a
likeness of him, after the following quaint fashion:
"Moodie's squaw know much--make Peter Nogan toder day on papare--make
Jacob to-day--Jacob young--great hunter--give much duck--venison--to
Although I felt rather afraid of my fierce-looking visitor, I
could scarcely keep my gravity; there was such an air of pompous
self-approbation about the Indian, such a sublime look of conceit in his
"Moodie's squaw cannot do every thing; she cannot paint young men," said
I, rising, and putting away my drawing materials, upon which he kept his
eye intently fixed, with a hungry, avaricious expression. I thought it
best to place the coveted objects beyond his reach. After sitting for some
time, and watching all my movements, he withdrew, with a sullen,
disappointed air. This man was handsome, but his expression was vile.
Though he often came to the house, I never could reconcile myself to his
Late one very dark, stormy night, three Indians begged to be allowed to
sleep by the kitchen stove. The maid was frightened out of her wits at the
sight of these strangers, who were Mohawks from the Indian woods upon the
Bay of Quinte, and they brought along with them a horse and cutter.
The night was so stormy, that, after consulting our man--Jacob Faithful,
as we usually called him--I consented to grant their petition, although
they were quite strangers, and taller and fiercer-looking than our friends
I was putting my children to bed, when the girl came rushing in, out of
breath. "The Lord preserve us, madam, if one of these wild men has not
pulled off his trowsers, and is a-sitting mending them behind the stove!
and what shall I do?"
"Do?-why, stay with me, and leave the poor fellow to finish his work."
The simple girl had never once thought of this plan of pacifying her
outraged sense of propriety.
Their sense of hearing is so acute that they can distinguish sounds at
an incredible distance, which cannot be detected by a European at all.
I myself witnessed a singular exemplification of this fact. It was
mid-winter; the Indians had pitched their tent, or wigwam, as usual, in
our swamp. All the males were absent on a hunting expedition up the
country, and had left two women behind to take care of the camp and its
contents, Mrs. Tom Nogan and her children, and Susan Moore, a young girl
of fifteen, and the only truly beautiful squaw I ever saw. There was
something interesting about this girl's history, as well as her
appearance. Her father had been drowned during a sudden hurricane, which
swamped his canoe on Stony Lake; and the mother, who witnessed the
accident from the shore, and was near her confinement with this child,
boldly swam out to his assistance. She reached the spot where he sank, and
even succeeded in recovering the body; but it was too late; the man was
The soul of an Indian that has been drowned is reckoned accursed, and he
is never permitted to join his tribe on the happy hunting-grounds, but his
spirit haunts the lake or river in which he lost his life. His body is
buried on some lonely island, which the Indians never pass without leaving
a small portion of food, tobacco, or ammunition, to supply his wants; but
he is never interred with the rest of his people. His children are
considered unlucky, and few willingly unite them selves to the females of
the family, lest a poition of the father's curse should be visited on
The orphan Indian girl generally kept aloof from the rest, and seemed so
lonely and companionless, that she soon attracted my attention and
sympathy, and a hearty feeling of good-will sprang up between us. Her
features were small and regular, her face oval, and her large, dark,
loving eyes were full of tenderness and sensibility, but as bright and shy
as those of the deer. A rich vermilion glow burnt upon her olive cheek and
lips, and set off the dazzling whiteness of her even and pearly teeth. She
was small of stature, with delicate little hands and feet, and her figure
was elastic and graceful. She was a beautiful child of nature, and her
Indian name signified "the voice of angry waters." Poor girl, she had been
a child of grief and tears from her birth! Her mother was a Mohawk, from
whom she, in all probability, derived her superior personal attractions;
for they are very far before the Missasaguas in this respect.
My friend and neighbour, Emilia S____, the wife of a naval officer, who
lived about a mile distant from me, through the bush, had come to spend
the day with me; and hearing that the Indians were in the swamp, and the
men away, we determined to take a, few trifles to the camp, in the way of
presents, and spend an hour in chatting with the squaws.
What a beautiful moonlight night it was, as light as day!--the great
forest sleeping tranquilly beneath the cloudless heavens--not a sound to
disturb the deep repose of nature but the whispering of the breeze, which,
during the most profound calm, creeps through the lofty pine tops. We
bounded down the steep bank to the lake shore. Life is a blessing, a
precious boon indeed, in such an hour, and we felt happy in the mere
consciousness of existence--the glorious privilege of pouring out the
silent adoration of the heart to the Great Father in his universal temple.
On entering the wigwam, which stood within a few yards of the clearing, in
the middle of a thick group of cedars, we found Mrs. Tom alone with her
elvish children, seated before the great fire that burned in the centre of
the camp; she was busy boiling some bark in an iron spider. The little
boys, in red flannel shirts, which were their only covering, were
tormenting a puppy, which seemed to take their pinching and pommelling in
good part, for it neither attempted to bark nor to bite, but like the eels
in the story, submitted to the infliction because it was used to it. Mrs.
Tom greeted us with a grin of pleasure, and motioned us to sit down upon a
buffalo skin, which, with a courtesy so natural to the Indians, she had
placed near her for our accommodation.
"You are all alone," said I, glancing round the camp. "Ye'es; Indian away
hunting--Upper Lakes. Come home with much deer."
"And Susan, where is she?"
"By and by," (meaning that she was coming). "Gone to fetch water--ice
thick--chop with axe--take long time."
As she ceased speaking, the old blanket that formed the door of the tent
was withdrawn, and the girl, bearing two pails of water, stood in the open
space, in the white moonlight. The glow of the fire streamed upon her
dark, floating locks, danced in the black, glistening eye, and gave a
deeper blush to the olive cheek! She would have made a beautiful picture;
Sir Joshua Reynolds would have rejoiced in such a model--so simply
graceful and unaffected, the very _beau ideal_ of savage life and
unadorned nature. A smile of recognition passed between us. She put down
her burden beside Mrs. Tom, and noiselessly glided to her seat.
We had scarcely exchanged a few words with our favourite, when the old
squaw, placing her hand against her ear, exclaimed, "Whist! whist!"
"What is it?" cried Emilia and I, starting to our feet, "Is there any
"A deer--a deer--in bush!" whispered the squaw, seizing a rifle that stood
in a corner. "I hear sticks crack--a great way off. Stay here!"
A great way off the animal must have been, for though Emilia and I
listened at the open door, an advantage which the squaw did not enjoy, we
could not hear the least sound: all seemed still as death. The squaw
whistled to an old hound, and went out.
"Did you hear any thing, Susan?"
She smiled, and nodded.
"Listen; the dog has found the track."
The next moment the discharge of a rifle, and the deep baying of the dog,
woke up the sleeping echoes of the woods; and the girl started off to help
the old squaw to bring in the game that she had shot.
The Indians are great imitators, and possess a nice tact in adopting the
customs and manners of those with whom they associate. An Indian is
Nature's gentleman--never familiar, coarse, or vulgar. If he take a meal
with you, he waits to see how you make use of the implements on the table,
and the manner in which you eat, which he imitates with a grave decorum,
as if he had been accustomed to the same usage from childhood. He never
attempts to help himself, or demand more food, but waits patiently until
you perceive what he requires. I was perfectly astonished at this innate
politeness, for it seems natural to all the Indians with whom I have had
There was one old Indian, who belonged to a distant settlement, and only
visited our lakes occasionally on hunting parties. He was a strange,
eccentric, merry old fellow, with a skin like red mahogany, and a wiry,
sinewy frame, that looked as if it could bid defiance to every change of
temperature. Old Snow-storm, for such was his significant name, was rather
too fond of the whiskey-bottle, and when he had taken a drop too much, he
became an unmanageable wild beast. He had a great fancy for my husband,
and never visited the other Indians without extending the same favour to
us. Once upon a time, he broke the nipple of his gun; and Moodie repaired
the injury for him by fixing a new one in its place, which little kindness
quite won the heart of the old man, and he never came to see us without
bringing an offering of fish, ducks, partridges, or venison, to show his
One warm September day, he made his appearance bareheaded, as usual, and
carrying in his hand a great checked bundle.
"Fond of grapes?" said he, putting the said bundle into my hands. "Fine
grapes--brought them from island, for my friend's squaw and papouses."
Glad of the donation, which I considered quite a prize, I hastened into
the kitchen to untie the grapes and put them into a dish. But imagine my
disappointment, when I found them wrapped up in a soiled shirt, only
recently taken from the back of the owner. I called Moodie, and begged him
to return Snow-storm his garment, and to thank him for the grapes.
The mischievous creature was highly diverted with the circumstance, and
"Snow-storm," said he, "Mrs. Moodie and the children are obliged to you
for your kindness in bringing them the grapes; but how came you to tie
them up in a dirty shirt?"
"Dirty!" cried the old man, astonished that we should object to the fruit
on that score. "It ought to be clean; it has been washed often enough.
Owgh! You see, Moodie," he continued, "I have no hat--never wear hat--want
no shade to my eyes--love the sun--see all around me--up and down--much
better widout hat. Could not put grapes in hat--blanket-coat too large,
crush fruit, juice run out. I had noting but my shirt, so I takes off
shirt, and brings grape safe over the water on my back. Papouse no care
for dirty shirt; their _lee-tel bellies have no eyes_."
In spite of this eloquent harangue, I could not bring myself to use the
grapes, ripe and tempting as they looked, or give them to the children.
Mr. W____ and his wife happening to step in at that moment, fell into such
an ecstacy at the sight of the grapes, that, as they were perfectly
unacquainted with the circumstance of the shirt, I very _generously_
gratified their wishes by presenting them with the contents of the large
dish; and they never ate a bit less sweet for the novel mode in which they
were conveyed to me!
The Indians, under their quiet exterior, possess a deal of humour. They
have significant names for every thing, and a nickname for every one, and
some of the latter are laughably appropriate. A fat, pompous, ostentatious
settler in our neighbourhood they called _Muckakee_, "the bull-frog."
Another, rather a fine young man, but with a very red face, they named
_Segoskee_, "the rising sun." Mr. Wood, who had a farm above ours, was a
remarkably slender young man, and to him they gave the appellation of
_Metiz_, "thin stick." A woman, that occasionally worked for me, had a
disagreeable squint; she was known in Indian by the name of _Sachabo_,
"cross-eye." A gentleman with a very large nose was _Choojas_, "big, or
ugly nose." My little Addie, who was a fair, lovely creature, they viewed
with great approbation, and called _Anoonk_, "a star;" while the rosy
Katie was _Nogesigook,_ "the northern lights." As to me, I was
_Nonocosiqui_, a "humming-bird;" a ridiculous name for a tall woman, but
it was reference to the delight I took in painting birds. My friend,
Emilia, was "blue cloud;" my little Donald, "frozen face;" young C____,
"the red-headed woodpecker," from the colour of his hair; my brother,
_Chippewa_, and "the bald-headed eagle." He was an especial favourite
The Indians are often made a prey of and cheated by the unprincipled
settlers, who think it no crime to overreach a red skin. One anecdote will
fully illustrate this fact. A young squaw, who was near becoming a mother,
stopped at a Smith-town settler's house to rest herself. The woman of the
house, who was Irish, was peeling for dinner some large white turnips,
which her husband had grown in their garden. The Indian had never seen a
turnip before, and the appearance of the firm, white, juicy root gave her
such a keen craving to taste it that she very earnestly begged for a small
piece to eat. She had purchased at Peterborough a large stone-china bowl,
of a very handsome pattern, (or, perhaps, got it at the store in exchange
for a _basket_,) the worth of which might be half-a-dollar. If the poor
squaw longed for the turnip, the value of which could scarcely reach a
copper, the covetous European had fixed as longing a glance upon the china
bowl, and she was determined to gratify her avaricious desire and obtain
it on the most easy terms. She told the squaw, with some disdain, that her
man did not grow turnips to give away to "Injuns," but she would sell her
one. The squaw offered her four coppers, all the change she had about her.
This the woman refused with contempt. She then proffered a basket; but
that was not sufficient; nothing would satisfy her but the bowl. The
Indian demurred; but opposition had only increased her craving for the
turnip in a tenfold degree; and, after a short mental struggle, in which
the animal propensity overcame the warnings of prudence, the squaw gave up
the bowl, and received in return _one turnip_. The daughter of this woman
told me this anecdote of her mother as a very clever thing. What ideas
some people have of moral justice!
I have said before that the Indian never forgets a kindness. We had a
thousand proofs of this, when, overtaken by misfortune, and withering
beneath the iron grasp of poverty, we could scarcely obtain bread for
ourselves and our little ones; then it was that the truth of the Eastern
proverb was brought home to our hearts, and the goodness of God fully
manifested towards us, "Cast thy bread upon the waters, and thou shalt
find it after many days." During better times we had treated these poor
savages with kindness and liberality, and when dearer friends looked
coldly upon us they never forsook us. For many a good meal I have been
indebted to them, when I had nothing to give in return, when the pantry
was empty, and "the hearth-stone growing cold," as they term the want of
provisions to cook at it. And their delicacy in conferring these favours
was not the least admirable part of their conduct. John Nogan, who was
much attached to us, would bring a fine bunch of ducks, and drop them at
my feet "for the papouse," or leave a large muskinonge on the sill of the
door, or place a quarter of venison just within it, and slip away without
saying a word, thinking that receiving a present from a poor Indian might
hurt our feelings, and he would spare us the mortification of returning
When an Indian loses one of his children, he must keep a strict fast for
three days, abstaining from food of any kind. A hunter, of the name of
Young, told me a curious story of their rigid observance of this strange
"They had a chief," he said, "a few years ago, whom they called 'Handsome
Jack'--whether in derision, I cannot tell, for he was one of the ugliest
Indians I ever saw. The scarlet fever got into the camp--a terrible
disease in this country, and doubly terrible to those poor creatures who
don't know how to treat it. His eldest daughter died. The chief had fasted
two days when I met him in the bush. I did not know what had happened, but
I opened my wallet, for I was on a hunting expedition, and offered him
some bread and dried venison. He looked at me reproachfully.
"Do white men eat bread the first night their papouse is laid in the
"I then knew the cause of his depression, and left him."
On the night of the second day of his fast another child died of the
fever. He had now to accomplish three more days without tasting food.
It was too much even for an Indian. On the evening of the fourth, he was
so pressed by ravenous hunger, that he stole into the woods, caught a
bull-frog, and devoured it alive. He imagined himself alone, but one of
his people, suspecting his intention, had followed him, unperceived, to
the bush. The act he had just committed was a hideous crime in their eyes,
and in a few minutes the camp was in an uproar. The chief fled for
protection to Young's house. When the hunter demanded the cause of his
alarm, he gave for answer, "There are plenty of flies at my house. To
avoid their stings I came to you."
It required all the eloquence of Mr. Young, who enjoyed much popularity
among them, to reconcile the rebellious tribe to their chief.
They are very skilful in their treatment of wounds, and many diseases.
Their knowledge of the medicinal qualities of their plants and herbs is
very great. They make excellent poultices from the bark of the bass and
the slippery-elm. They use several native plants in their dyeing of
baskets and porcupine quills. The inner bark of the swamp-alder, simply
boiled in water, makes a beautiful red. From the root of the black briony
they obtain a fine salve for sores, and extract a rich yellow dye. The
inner bark of the root of the sumach, roasted, and reduced to powder, is a
good remedy for the ague; a tea-spoonful given between the hot and cold
fit. They scrape the fine white powder from the large fungus that grows
upon the bark of the pine into whiskey, and take it for violent pains in
the stomach. The taste of this powder strongly reminded me of quinine.
I have read much of the excellence of Indian cookery, but I never could
bring myself to taste any thing prepared in their dirty wigwams. I
remember being highly amused in watching the preparation of a mess, which
might have been called the Indian hotch-potch. It consisted of a strange
mixture of fish, flesh, and fowl, all boiled together in the same vessel.
Ducks, partridges, muskinonge, venison, and muskrats, formed a part of
this delectable compound. These were literally smothered in onions,
potatoes, and turnips, which they had procured from me. They very
hospitably offered me a dishful of the odious mixture, which the odour of
the muskrats rendered every thing but savoury; but I declined, simply
stating that I was not hungry. My little boy tasted it, but quickly left
the camp to conceal the effect it produced upon him.
Their method of broiling fish, however, is excellent. They take a fish,
just fresh out of the water, cut out the entrails, and, without removing
the scales, wash it clean, dry it in a cloth, or in grease, and cover it
all over with clear hot ashes. When the flesh will part from the bone,
they draw it out of the ashes, strip off the skin, and it is fit for the
table of the most fastidious epicure.
The deplorable want of chastity that exists among the Indian women of this
tribe seems to have been more the result of their intercourse with the
settlers in the country than from any previous disposition to this vice.
The jealousy of their husbands has often been exercised in a terrible
manner against the offending squaws; but this has not happened of late
years. The men wink at these derelictions in their wives, and share with
them the price of their shame.
The mixture of European blood adds greatly to the physical beauty of the
half-race, but produces a sad falling off from the original integrity of
the Indian character. The half-caste is generally a lying, vicious roguel,
possessing the worst qualities of both parents in an eminent degree. We
have many of these half-Indians in the penitentiary, for crimes of the
The skill of the Indian in procuring his game, either by land or water,
has been too well described by better writers than I could ever hope to
be, to need any illustration from my pen, and I will close this long
chapter with a droll anecdote which is told of a gentleman in this
The early loss of his hair obliged Mr.____ to procure the substitute of a
wig. This was such a good imitation of nature, that none but his intimate
friends and neighbours were aware of the fact. It happened that he had had
some quarrel with an Indian, which had to be settled in one of the petty
courts. The case was decided in favour of Mr.____, which so aggrieved the
savage, who considered himself the injured party, that he sprang upon him
with a furious yell, tomahawk in hand, with the intention of depriving him
of his scalp. He twisted his hand in the locks which adorned the cranium
of his adversary, when--horror of horrors!--the treacherous wig came off
in his hand, "Owgh! owgh!" exclaimed the affrighted savage, flinging it
from him, and rushing from the court as if he had been bitten by a
rattlesnake. His sudden exit was followed by peals of laughter from the
crowd, while Mr.____ coolly picked up his wig, and dryly remarked that it
had saved his head.
BURNING THE FALLOW.
It is not my intention to give a regular history of our residence in the
bush, but merely to present to my readers such events as may serve to
illustrate a life in the woods.
The winter and spring of 1834 had passed away. The latter was uncommonly
cold and backward; so much so that we had a very heavy fall of snow upon
the 14th and 15th of May, and several gentlemen drove down to Cobourg in a
sleigh, the snow lying upon the ground to the depth of several inches.
A late, cold spring in Canada is generally succeeded by a burning, hot
summer; and the summer of '34 was the hottest I ever remember. No rain
fell upon the earth for many weeks, till nature drooped and withered
beneath one bright blaze of sunlight; and the ague and fever in the woods,
and the cholera in the large towns and cities, spread death and sickness
through the country.
Moodie had made during the winter a large clearing of twenty acres around
the house. The progress of the workmen had been watched by me with the
keenest interest. Every tree that reached the ground opened a wider gap in
the dark wood, giving us a broader ray of light and a clearer glimpse of
the blue sky. But when the dark cedar swamp fronting the house fell
beneath the strokes of the axe, and we got a first view of the lake my joy
was complete: a new and beautiful object was now constantly before me,
which gave me the greatest pleasure. By night and day, in sunshine or in
storm, water is always the most sublime feature in a landscape, and no
view can be truly grand in which it is wanting. From a child, it always
had the most powerful effect upon my mind, from the great ocean rolling in
majesty, to the tinkling forest rill, hidden by the flowers and rushes
along its banks. Half the solitude of my forest home vanished when the
lake unveiled its bright face to the blue heavens, and I saw sun and moon
and stars and waving trees reflected there. I would sit for hours at the
window as the shades of evening deepened round me, watching the massy
foliage of the forests pictured in the waters, till fancy transported me
back to England, and the songs of birds and the lowing of cattle were
sounding in my ears. It was long, very long, before I could discipline my
mind to learn and practise all the menial employments which are necessary
in a good settler's wife.
The total absence of trees about the doors in all new settlements had
always puzzled me, in a country where the intense heat of summer seems to
demand all the shade that can be procured. My husband had left several
beautiful rock-elms (the most picturesque tree in the country) near our
dwelling, but, alas! the first high gale prostrated all my fine trees, and
left our log cottage entirely exposed to the fierce rays of the sun. The
confusion of an uncleared fallow spread around us on every side. Huge
trunks of trees and piles of brush gave a littered and uncomfortable
appearance to the locality, and as the weather had been very dry for some
weeks, I heard my husband daily talking with his choppers as to the
expediency of firing the fallow. They still urged him to wait a little
longer, until he could get a good breeze to carry the fire well through
Business called him suddenly to Toronto, but he left a strict charge with
old Thomas and his sons, who were engaged in the job, by no means to
attempt to burn it off till he returned, as he wished to be upon the
premises himself in case of any danger. He had previously burnt all the
heaps immediately about the doors. While he was absent, old Thomas and his
second son fell sick with the ague, and went home to their own township,
leaving John, a surly, obstinate young man, in charge of the shanty, where
they slept, and kept their tools and provisions. Monaghan I had sent to
fetch up my three cows, as the children were languishing for milk, and
Mary and I remained alone in the house with the little ones. The day was
sultry, and towards noon a strong wind sprang up that roared in the pine
tops like the dashing of distant billows, but without in the least degree
abating the heat. The children were lying listlessly upon the floor for
coolness, and the girl and I were finishing sun-bonnets, when Mary
suddenly exclaimed, "Bless us, mistress, what a smoke!" I ran immediately
to the door, but was not able to distinguish ten yards before me. The
swamp immediately below us was on fire, and the heavy wind was driving a
dense black cloud of smoke directly towards us.
"What can this mean?" I cried, "Who can have set fire to the fallow?"
As I ceased speaking, John Thomas stood pale and trembling before me.
"John, what is the meaning of this fire?"
"Oh, ma'am, I hope you will forgive me; it was I set fire to it, and I
would give all I have in the world if I had not done it."
"What is the danger?"
"Oh, I'm terribly afeard that we shall all be burnt up," said the fellow,
beginning to whimper.
"Why did you run such a risk, and your master from home, and no one on the
place to render the least assistance?"
"I did it for the best," blubbered the lad. "What shall we do?"
"Why, we must get out of it as fast as we can, and leave the house to its
"We can't get out," said the man, in a low, hollow tone, which seemed the
concentration of fear; "I would have got out of it if I could; but just
step to the back door, ma'am, and see."
I had not felt the least alarm up to this minute; I had never seen a
fallow burnt, but I had heard of it as a thing of such common occurrence
that I had never connected with it any idea of danger. Judge then, my
surprise, my horror, when, on going to the back door, I saw that the
fellow, to make sure of his work, had fired the field in fifty different
places. Behind, before, on every side, we were surrounded by a wall of
fire, burning furiously within a hundred yards of us, and cutting off all
possibility of retreat; for could we have found an opening through the
burning heaps, we could not have seen our way through the dense canopy of
smoke; and, buried as we were in the heart of the forest, no one could
discover our situation till we were beyond the reach of help. I closed the
door, and went back to the parlour. Fear was knocking loudly at my heart,
for our utter helplessness annihilated all hope of being able to effect
our escape--I felt stupefied. The girl sat upon the floor by the children,
who, unconscious of the peril that hung over them, had both fallen asleep.
She was silently weeping; while the fool who had caused the mischief was
A strange calm succeeded my first alarm; tears and lamentations were
useless; a horrible death was impending over us, and yet I could not
believe that we were to die. I sat down upon the step of the door, and
watched the awful scene in silence. The fire was raging in the cedar
swamp, immediately below the ridge on which the house stood, and it
presented a spectacle truly appalling. From out the dense folds of a
canopy of black smoke, the blackest I ever saw, leaped up continually red
forks of lurid flame as high as the tree tops, igniting the branches of a
group of tall pines that had been left standing for sun-logs. A deep gloom
blotted out the heavens from our sight. The air was filled with fiery
particles, which floated even to the door-step--while the crackling and
roaring of the flames might have been heard at a great distance. Could we
have reached the lake shore, where several canoes were moored at the
landing, by launching out into the water we should have been in perfect
safety; but, to attain this object, it was necessary to pass through this
mimic hell; and not a bird could have flown over it with unscorched wings.
There was no hope in that quarter, for, could we have escaped the flames,
we should have been blinded and choked by the thick, black, resinous
smoke. The fierce wind drove the flames at the sides and back of the house
up the clearing; and our passage to the road, or to the forest, on the
right and left, was entirely obstructed by a sea of flames. Our only ark
of safety was the house, so long as it remained untouched by the consuming
element. I turned to young Thomas, and asked him, how long he thought that
"When the fire clears this little ridge in front, ma'am. The Lord have
mercy upon us, then, or we must all go!"
"Cannot _you_, John, try and make your escape, and see what can be done
for us and the poor children?"
My eye fell upon the sleeping angels, locked peacefully in each other's
arms, and my tears flowed for the first time. Mary, the servant-girl,
looked piteously up in my face. The good, faithful creature had not
uttered one word of complaint, but now she faltered forth,
"The dear, precious lambs!--Oh! such a death!"
I threw myself down upon the floor beside them, and pressed them
alternately to my heart, while inwardly I thanked God that they were
asleep, unconscious of danger, and unable by their childish cries to
distract our attention from adopting any plan which might offer to effect
The heat soon became suffocating. We were parched with thirst, and there
was not a drop of water in the house, and none to be procured nearer than
the lake. I turned once more to the door, hoping that a passage might
have-been burnt through to the water. I saw nothing but a dense cloud of
fire and smoke--could hear nothing but the crackling and roaring of
flames, which were gaining so fast upon us that I felt their scorching
breath in my face.
"Ah," thought I--and it was a most bitter thought--"what will my beloved
husband say when he returns and finds that poor Susy and his dear girls
have perished in this miserable manner? But God can save us yet."
The thought had scarcely found a voice in my heart before the wind rose to
a hurricane, scattering the flames on all sides into a tempest of burning
billows. I buried my head in my apron, for I thought that our time was
come, and that all was lost, when a most terrific crash of thunder burst
over our heads, and, like the breaking of a water-spout, down came the
rushing torrent of rain which had been pent up for so many weeks. In a few
minutes the chip-yard was all afloat, and the fire effectually checked.
The storm which, unnoticed by us, had been gathering all day, and which
was the only one of any note we had that summer, continued to rage all
night, and before morning had quite subdued the cruel enemy, whose
approach we had viewed with such dread.
The imminent danger in which we had been placed struck me more forcibly
after it was past than at the time, and both the girl and myself sank upon
our knees, and lifted up our hearts in humble thanksgiving to that God who
had saved us by an act of His Providence from an awful and sudden death.
When all hope from human assistance was lost, His hand was mercifully
stretched forth, making His strength more perfectly manifested in our
"He is their stay when earthly help is lost,
The light and anchor of the tempest-toss'd."
There vas one person, unknown to us, who had watched the progress of that
rash blaze, and had even brought his canoe to the landing, in the hope of
getting us off. This was an Irish pensioner named Dunn, who had cleared a
few acres on his government grant, and had built a shanty on the opposite
shore of the lake.
"Faith, madam! an' I thought the captain was stark, staring mad to fire
his fellow on such a windy day, and that blowing right from the lake to
the house. When Old Wittals came in and towld us that the masther was not
to the fore, but only one lad, an' the wife an' the chilther at home,--
thinks I, there's no time to be lost, or the crathurs will be burnt up
intirely. We started instanther, but, by Jove! We were too late. The swamp
was all in a blaze when we got to the landing, and you might as well have
tried to get to heaven by passing through the other place."
This was the eloquent harangue with which the honest creature informed me
the next morning of the efforts he had made to save us, and the interest
he had felt in our critical situation. I felt comforted for my past
anxiety, by knowing that one human being, however humble, had sympathized
in our probable fate; while the providential manner in which we had been
rescued will ever remain a theme of wonder and gratitude.
The next evening brought the return of my husband, who listened to the
tale of our escape with a pale and disturbed countenance; not a little
thankful to find his wife and children still in the land of the living.
For a long time after the burning of that fallow, it haunted me in my
dreams. I would awake with a start, imagining myself fighting with the
flames, and endeavouring to carry my little children through them to the
top of the clearing, when invariably their garments and my own took fire
just as I was within reach of a place of safety.
There was a man in our town,
In our town, in our town--
There was a man in our town,
He made a logging-bee;
And he bought lots of whiskey,
To make the loggers frisky--
To make the loggers frisky
At his logging bee
The Devil sat on a log heap,
A log heap, a log heap--
A red hot burning log heap--
A-grinning at the bee;
And there was lots of swearing,
Of boasting and of daring,
Of fighting and of tearing,
At that logging bee
J. W. D. M.
A logging-bee followed the burning of the fallow, as a matter of course.
In the bush, where hands are few, and labour commands an enormous rate of
wages, these gatherings are considered indispensable, and much has been
written in their praise; but, to me, they present the most disgusting
picture of a bush life. They are noisy, riotous, drunken meetings, often
terminating in violent quarrels, sometimes even in bloodshed. Accidents of
the most serious nature often occur, and very little work is done, when we
consider the number of hands employed, and the great consumption of food
and liquor. I am certain, in our case, had we hired with the money
expended in providing for the bee, two or three industrious, hard-working
men, we should have got through twice as mueh work, and have had it done
well, and have been the gainers in the end.
People in the woods have a craze for giving and going to bees, and run to
them with as much eagerness as a peasant runs to a race-course or a fair;
plenty of strong drink and excitement making the chief attraction of the
bee. In raising a house or barn, a bee may be looked upon as a necessary
evil, but these gatherings are generally conducted in a more orderly
manner than those for logging. Fewer hands are required; and they are
generally under the control of the carpenter who puts up the frame, and if
they get drunk during the raising they are liable to meet with very
Thirty-two men, gentle and simple, were invited to our bee, and the maid
and I were engaged for two days preceding the important one, in baking and
cooking for the entertainment of our guests. When I looked at the quantity
of food we had prepared, I thought that it never could be all eaten, even
by thirty-two men. It was a burning-hot day towards the end of July, when
our loggers began to come in, and the "gee!" and "ha!" of the oxen
resounded on every side. There was my brother S____, with his frank
English face, a host in himself; Lieutenant ____ in his blouse, wide white
trowsers, and red sash, his broad straw hat shading a dark manly face that
would have been a splendid property for a bandit chief; the four gay,
reckless, idle sons of ____, famous at any spree, but incapable of the
least mental or physical exertion, who considered hunting and fishing as
the sole aim and object of life. These young men rendered very little
assistance themselves, and their example deterred others who were inclined
There were the two R____s, who came to work and to make others work; my
good brother-in-law, who had volunteered to be the Grog Bos, and a host of
other settlers, among whom I recognized Moodie's old acquaintance, Dan
Simpson, with his lank red hair and long freckled face: the Youngs, the
hunters, with their round, black, curly heads and rich Irish brogue; poor
C____, with his long, spare, consumptive figure, and thin, sickly face.
Poor fellow, he has long since been gathered to his rest!
There was the ruffian squatter P____, from Clear Lake,--the dread of all
honest men; the brutal M____, who treated oxen as if they had been logs,
by beating them with handspikes; and there was Old Wittals, with his low
forehead and long nose, a living witness of the truth of phrenology, if
his large organ of acquisitiveness and his want of conscientiousness could
be taken in evidence. Yet in spite of his derelictions from honesty, he
was a hard-working, good-natured man, who, if he cheated you in a bargain,
or took away some useful article in mistake from your homestead, never
wronged his employer in his day's work.
He was a curious sample of cunning and simplicity--quite a character in
his way--and the largest eater I ever chanced to know. From this ravenous
propensity, for he eat his food like a famished wolf, he had obtained the
singular name of "Wittals." During the first year of his settlement in the
bush, with a very large family to provide for, he had been often in want
of food. One day he came to my brother, with a very long face.
"'Fore God! Mr. S---, I'm no beggar, but I'd be obliged to you for a loaf
of bread. I declare to you on my honour that I have not had a bit of
wittals to dewour for two whole days."
He came to the right person with his petition. Mr. S--- with a liberal
hand relieved his wants, but he entailed upon him the name of "Old
Wittals," as part payment. His daughter, who was a very pretty girl, had
stolen a march upon him into the wood, with a lad whom he by no means
regarded with a favourable eye. When she returned, the old man
confronted her and her lover with this threat, which I suppose he
considered "the most awful" punishment that he could devise.
"March into the house, Madam 'Ria (Maria); and if ever I catch you with
that scamp again, I'll tie you up to a stump all day, and give you no
I was greatly amused by overhearing a dialogue between Old Wittals and one
of his youngest sons, a sharp, Yankeefied-looking boy, who had lost one of
his eyes, but the remaining orb looked as if it could see all ways at
"I say, Sol, how came you to tell that tarnation tearing lie to Mr. S____
yesterday? Didn't you expect that you'd catch a good wallopping for the
like of that? Lying may be excusable in a man, but 'tis a terrible bad
habit in a boy."
"Lor', father, that worn't a lie. I told Mr. S____, our cow worn't in his
peas. Nor more she wor; she was in his wheat."
"But she was in the peas all night, boy."
"That wor nothing to me; she worn't in just then. Sure I won't get a
licking for that?"
"No, no, you are a good boy; but mind what I tell you, and don't bring me
into a scrape with any of your real lies."
Prevarication, the worst of falsehoods, was a virtue in his eyes. So much
for the old man's morality.
Monaghan was in his glory, prepared to work or fight, whichever should
come uppermost; and there was old Thomas and his sons, the contractors for
the clearing, to expedite whose movements the bee was called. Old Thomas
was a very ambitious man in his way. Though he did not know A from B, he
took it into his head that he had received a call from Heaven to convert
the heathen in the wilderness; and every Sunday he held a meeting in our
logger's shanty, for the purpose of awakening sinners, and bringing over
"Injun pagans" to the true faith. His method of accomplishing this object
was very ingenious. He got his wife, Peggy--or "my Paggy," as he called
her--to read aloud for him a text from the Bible, until he knew it by
heart; and he had, as he said truly, "a good remembrancer," and never
heard a striking sermon but he retained the most important passages, and
retailed them secondhand to his bush audience.
I must say that I was not a little surprised at the old man's eloquence
when I went one Sunday over to the shanty to hear him preach. Several
wild young fellows had come on purpose to make fun of him; but his
discourse, which was upon the text, "We shall all meet before the
judgment-seat of Christ," was rather too serious a subject to turn into a
jest, with even old Thomas for the preacher. All went on very well until
the old man gave out a hymn, and led off in such a loud, discordant voice,
that my little Katie, who was standing between her father's knees, looked
suddenly up, and said, "Mamma, what a noise old Thomas makes!" This remark
led to a much greater noise, and the young men, unable to restrain their
long-suppressed laughter, ran tumultuously from the shanty. I could have
whipped the little elf; but small blame could be attached to a child of
two years old, who had never heard a preacher, especially such a preacher
as the old back woodsman, in her life. Poor man! he was perfectly
unconscious of the cause of the disturbance, and remarked to us, after the
service was over,
"Well, ma'am, did not we get on famously? Now, worn't that a _bootiful_
"It was, indeed; much better than I expected."
"Yes, yes; I knew it would please you. It had quite an effect on those
wild fellows. A few more such sermons will teach them good behaviour. Ah!
the bush is a bad place for young men. The farther in the bush, say I, the
farther from God, and the nearer to hell. I told that wicked Captain I____
of Dummer so the other Sunday; 'an',' says he, 'if you don't hold your
confounded jaw, you old fool, I'll kick you there.' Now, ma'am, now, sir,
was not that bad manners in a gentleman, to use such _appropriate
epitaphs_ to a humble servant of God, like I?"
And thus the old man ran on for an hour, dilating upon his own merits and
the sins of his neighbours.
There was John R____, from Smith-town, the most notorious swearer in the
district; a man who esteemed himself clever, nor did he want for natural
talent, but he had converted his mouth into such a sink of iniquity that
it corrupted the whole man, and all the weak and thoughtless of his own
sex who admitted him into their company. I had tried to convince John
R____ (for he often frequented the house under the pretence of borrowing
books) of the great crime that he was constantly committing, and of the
injurious effect it must produce upon his own family, but the mental
disease had taken too deep a root to be so easily cured. Like a person
labouring under some foul disease, he contaminated all he touched. Such
men seem to make an ambitious display of their bad habits in such scenes,
and if they afford a little help, they are sure to get intoxicated and
make a row. There was my friend, old Ned Dunn, who had been so anxious to
get us out of the burning fallow. There was a whole group of Dummer Pines:
Levi, the little wiry, witty poacher; Cornish Bill, the honest-hearted old
peasant, with his stalwart figure and uncouth dialect; and David and
Ned--all good men and true; and Malachi Chroak, a queer, withered-up,
monkey-man, that seemed like some mischievous elf, flitting from heap to
heap to make work and fun for the rest; and many others were at that bee
who have since found a rest in the wilderness: Adam T____, H____, J.
M____, H. N____ These, at different times, lost their lives in those
bright waters in which, on such occasions as these, they used to sport and
frolic to refresh themselves during the noonday heat. Alas! how many, who
were then young and in their prime, that river and its lakes have swept
Our men worked well until dinner-time, when, after washing in the lake,
they all sat down to the rude board which I had prepared for them, loaded
with the best fare that could be procured in the bush. Pea-soup, legs of
pork, venison, eel, and raspberry pies, garnished with plenty of potatoes,
and whiskey to wash them down, besides a large iron kettle of tea. To pour
out the latter, and dispense it round, devolved upon me. My brother and
his friends, who were all temperance men, and consequently the best
workers in the field, kept me and the maid actively employed in
replenishing their cups.
The dinner passed off tolerably well; some of the lower order of the Irish
settlers were pretty far gone, but they committed no outrage upon our
feelings by either swearing or bad language, a few harmless jokes alone
circulating among them.
Some one was funning Old Wittals for having eaten seven large cabbages at
Mr. T____'s bee, a few days previous. His son, Sol, thought himself, as in
duty bound, to take up the cudgel for his father.
"Now, I guess that's a lie, anyhow. Fayther was sick that day, and I tell
you he only ate five."
This announcement was followed by such an explosion of mirth that the boy
looked fiercely round him, as if he could scarcely believe the fact that
the whole party were laughing at him.
Malachi Chroak, who was good-naturedly drunk, had discovered an old pair
of cracked bellows in a corner, which he placed under his arm, and
applying his mouth to the pipe, and working his elbows to and fro,
pretended that he was playing upon the bagpipes, every now and then
letting the wind escape in a shrill squeak from this novel instrument.
"Arrah, ladies and jintlemen, do jist turn your swate little eyes upon me
whilst I play for your iddifications the last illigant tune which my owld
grandmother taught me. Och hone! 'tis a thousand pities that such musical
owld crathurs should be suffered to die, at all at all, to be poked away
into a dirthy dark hole, when their canthles shud be burnin' a-top of a
bushel, givin' light to the house. An' then it is she that was the
illigant dancer, stepping out so lively and frisky, just so."
And here he minced to and fro, affecting the airs of a fine lady. The
supposititious bagpipe gave an uncertain, ominous howl, and he flung it
down, and started back with a ludicrous expression of alarm.
"Alive, is it ye are? Ye croaking owld divil, is that the tune you taught
"Och! my owld granny taught me, but now she is dead.
That a dhrop of nate whiskey is good for the head;
It would make a man spake when jist ready to dhie,
If you doubt it--my boys!--I'd advise you to thry.
"Och! my owld granny sleeps with her head on a stone,--
'Now, Malach, don't throuble the gals when I'm gone!'
I thried to obey her; but, och, I am shure,
There's no sorrow on earth that the angels can't cure.
"Och! I took her advice--I'm a bachelor still;
And I dance, and I play, with such excellent skill,
(_Taking up the bellows, and beginning to dance._)
That the dear little crathurs are striving in vain
Which first shall my hand or my fortin' obtain."
"Malach!" shouted a laughing group. "How was it that the old lady taught
you to go a-courting?
"Arrah, that's a sacret! I don't let out owld granny's sacrets," said
Malachi, gracefully waving his head to and fro to the squeaking of the
bellows; then, suddenly tossing back the long, dangling, black elf-locks
that curled down the sides of his lank, yellow cheeks, and winking
knowingly with his comical little deep-seated black eyes, he burst out
"Wid the blarney I'd win the most dainty proud dame,
No gal can resist the soft sonnd of that same;
Wid the blarney, my boys--if yon doubt it, go thry--
But hand here the bottle, my whistle is dhry."
The men went back to the field, leaving Malachi to amuse those who
remained in the house; and we certainly did laugh our fill at his odd
capers and conceits.
Then he would insist upon marrying our maid. There could be no refusal--
have her he would. The girl, to keep him quiet, laughingly promised that
she would take him for her husband. This did not satisfy him. She must
take her oath upon the Bible to that effect. Mary pretended that there was
no bible in the house, but he found an old spelling-book upon a shelf in
the kitchen, and upon it he made her swear, and called upon me to bear
witness to her oath, that she was now his betrothed, and he would go next
day with her to the "praist." Poor Mary had reason to repent her frolic,
for he stuck close to her the whole evening, tormenting her to fulfil her
contract. After the sun went down, the logging-band came in to supper,
which was all ready for them. Those who remained sober ate the meal in
peace, and quietly returned to their own homes; while the vicious and the
drunken staid to brawl and fight.
After having placed the supper on the table, I was so tired with the