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Pioneers in Canada by Sir Harry Johnston

Part 3 out of 6

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the roots of the wishakapakka herb (_Ledum palustre_, from which
Labrador tea is made), of cranberries, gooseberries, heather (with
white bell flowers), and a dwarf birch. This last, in sheltered places
where a little vegetable soil has been formed, grows into a low
scrubby bush. As to the gooseberries--here and farther south--Hearne
describes them as "thriving best on the stony or rocky ground, open
and much exposed to the sun". They spread along the ground like vines.
The small red fruit is always most plentiful and fine on the under
side of the branches, probably owing to the reflected heat of the
stones. In the bleaker places a hard, black, crumply lichen--the
"Tripe de roche" of the French Canadians (_Gyrophoreus_) grows on the
rocks and stones, and is of great service to the Amerindians, as it
furnishes them with a temporary subsistence when no animal food can be
procured. This lichen, when boiled, turns to a gummy consistence
something like sago. Hearne describes it as being remarkably good when
used to thicken broth; but some other pioneers complained that it made
them and their Indians seriously ill. Another lichen, "reindeer moss"
(_Cladina_), is also eaten by men as well as deer. The _muskegs_, or
bogs and marshes, produce in the summertime a very rapid growth of
grass (as well as breeding swarms of mosquitoes!), and thus furnish
food for the geese and swans which throng them between June and

In the summertime all these northern territories of Canada--from the
basin of Lake Winnipeg, with its white pelicans, to the Arctic
circle--swarm with birds, wild swans, geese, ducks, plovers, grouse,
cranes, eagles, owls of several kinds--especially the great snowy
eagle-owl--red-breasted thrushes, black and white snow-buntings,
scarlet grosbeaks (the female green and grey), crested jays, and
ravens "of a beautiful glossy black, richly tinged with purple", but
smaller in size than those of Europe.

This is also the country for bears. Some grizzlies still linger here.
Their range at one time extended to near the Arctic circle. In
Alaska (British as well as United States) there is an enormous
chocolate-coloured bear, the biggest in the world. The Polar bear,
usually creamy white along the seacoast, is stated to range inland
during the summer over the "barren grounds", and to develop either a
permanent local variety or a seasonal change of coat, which is
greyish-brown or blue-grey.

The black bear in northern Canada is said to give birth at times to
cubs which are cinnamon-brown in colour.

"In the early summer the black bears swim up and down the northern
rivers with their mouths open, swallowing the immense number of water
insects which have come into being at that season." Hearne goes on to
state that bears which have subsisted on this food for some days, when
cut open emit a stench that is intolerable, and which taints their
flesh to a sickening degree. The insects on which they feed are mostly
of two kinds: one a sort of grasshopper with a hard black skin, and
the other a soft, brown, sluggish fly. "This last is the most
numerous. In some of the lakes such quantities are forced into the
bays when the wind blows hard, that they are pressed together in dead
multitudes and remain a great nuisance. I have several times, in my
inland voyages from York Fort (Hudson's Bay), found it scarcely
possible to land in some of those bays for the intolerable stench of
those insects, which in some places were lying in putrid masses to the
depth of two or three feet." It is more than probable that the bears
occasionally feed on these dead insects. After the middle of July,
when they take to a diet of berries, they are excellent eating, and
continue to be so to the end of the winter.

The Arctic foxes of this region when young are sooty black all over,
and gradually change to a light ash-grey in colour, with a dark,
almost blue, tint on the head, legs, and back. In winter they usually
become white all over, with or without a black tip to the tail; but it
is recorded by some travellers that not all the foxes of the _Canis
lagopus_ species turn white; some keep their dark-grey colour all the
year round. The common fox (_C. vulpes fulvus_) in Northern Canada is
sometimes black, with white-tipped hairs. Wolves in these far northern
regions do not seem to have been so abundant as farther south.

The deer tribe are represented (north of the Athabaska region) by the
reindeer and the elk (called by the Canadians "Moose"). The wapiti or
red deer (for which the common Amerindian name in the north was
_Waskesiu_) seldom ranged farther north than the vicinity of Lake
Winnipeg. The reindeer of the "barren ground" sub-species extended to
the Arctic seacoast, and were at one time especially abundant in
Labrador. Here they were so tame, down to a hundred years ago, that
fishermen were often known to shoot many of them from the windows of
their huts near the seashore. This type (_Rangifer tarandus arcticus_)
might possibly be domesticated; not so the larger and much wilder
Caribou woodland reindeer of the more southern and western parts of
the Dominion, which dislikes the neighbourhood of man. The elk or
moose, east of the Rocky Mountains, was not found northward of about
50 deg. to 55 deg.; but west of that range extended over all British
Columbia and Alaska, in which latter country it grows to a giant
size and develops enormous antlers.

Hearne says of the elk in northern Canada: "In summer, when they
frequent the margins of rivers and lakes, they are often killed by the
Indians in the water while they are crossing rivers or swimming from
the mainland to islands, &c. When pursued in this manner, they are
the most inoffensive of all animals, never making any resistance; and
the young ones are so simple that I remember to have seen an Indian
paddle his canoe up to one of them and take it by the poll without the
least opposition; the poor, harmless animal seeming at the same time
as contented alongside the canoe as if swimming by the side of its
dam, and looking up in our faces with the same fearless innocence that
a house lamb would; making use of its fore foot almost every instant
to clear its eyes of mosquitoes, which at that time were remarkably
numerous.... The moose are also the easiest to tame and domesticate of
any of the deer kind. I have repeatedly seen them at Churchill as tame
as sheep, and even more so; for they would follow their keeper any
distance from home, and at his call return with him without the least
trouble, or ever offering to deviate from the path."

The most northern range of the elk would seem to be the region round
Lake Athabaska.

The musk ox (_Ovibos_) is perhaps the most remarkable beast of Arctic
Canada.[3] Samuel Hearne is my principal source for the following
notes as to its habits and appearance: The number of bulls is very few
in proportion to the cows, for it is rare to see more than two or
three full-grown bulls with the largest herd; and from the number of
the males that are found dead, the Indians are of opinion that they
kill each other in contending for the females. In the rutting season
they are so jealous of the cows that they run at either man or beast
who offers to approach them, and have been observed to run and bellow
even at ravens and other large birds which chanced to alight near
them. They delight in the most stony and mountainous parts of the
"barren ground", but are seldom found at any great distance from the
woods. Though they are a beast of great magnitude, and apparently of a
very unwieldy inactive structure, yet they climb the rocks with ease
and agility, and are nearly as surefooted as a goat. Like it, too,
they will feed on anything; and though they seem fondest of grass, yet
in winter, when grass cannot be had in sufficient quantity, they will
eat moss or any other herbage they can find, as also the tops of
willows and the tender branches of the pine tree.

[Footnote 3: The musk ox, which is not an ox, but a creature about
midway in structure and affinities between cattle on the one hand and
sheep and goats on the other, is a large beast comparatively, being
the size of a small ox, but appearing very much larger than it is on
account of the extremely thick coat of hair and wool. Both sexes have
horns, and the horns, after meeting in the middle and making more or
less of a boss over the forehead, droop down at the sides of the
cheeks and then turn up with sharp points. The musk ox once ranged
right across the northern world, from England and Scandinavia, through
Germany, Russia, and Siberia, to Alaska and North America. Many
thousands of years ago, during one of the Glacial periods, it
inhabited southern England. At the present day it is extinct
everywhere, excepting in the eastern parts of Arctic America, not
going west of the Mackenzie River nor south of Labrador. It is also
found in Greenland.]

"The musk ox, when full grown, is as large as the generality of
English black cattle; but their legs, though thick, are not so long,
nor is their tail longer than that of a bear; and, like the tail of
that animal, it always bends downward and inward, so that it is
entirely hid by the long hair of the rump and hind quarters. The hunch
on their shoulders is not large, being little more in proportion than
that of a deer. Their hair is in some parts very long, particularly on
the belly, sides, and hind quarters; but the longest hair about them,
particularly the bulls, is under the throat, extending from the chin
to the lower part of the chest between the fore legs. It there hangs
down like a horse's mane inverted, and is fully as long, which gives
the animal a most formidable appearance. It is of the hair from this
part that the Eskimo make their mosquito wigs (face screens or masks).
In winter the musk oxen are provided with a thick fine wool or fur
that grows at the root of the long hair, and shields them from the
intense cold to which they are exposed during that season; but as the
summer advances this fur loosens from the skin, and by frequently
rolling themselves on the ground it works out to the end of the hair,
and in time drops off, leaving little for their summer clothing except
the long hair. This season is so short in these high latitudes, that
the new fleece begins to appear almost as soon as the old one drops
off, so that by the time the cold becomes severe they are again
provided with a winter dress."

According to Hearne, the flesh of the musk ox does not resemble that
of the bison, but is more like the meat of the moose or wapiti. The
fat is of a clear white, "slightly tinged with a light azure". The
calves and young heifers are good eating, but the flesh of the bulls
both smells and tastes so strongly of musk as to be very disagreeable;
"even the knife that cuts the flesh of an old bull will smell so
strongly of musk that nothing but scouring the blade quite bright can
remove it, and the handle will retain the scent for a long time".

Bisons of the "wood" variety are (or were) found far up the heights of
the Rocky Mountains and in the regions south-west of the Great Slave
Lake. These "wood buffaloes" delight in mountain valleys, and never
resort to the plains. And higher than anything, of course, range the
great white mountain goat-antelopes (_Oreamnus montanus_) from
northern Alaska to the Columbia River.

The north and the north-west were, of course, pre-eminently the great
fur-trading regions, though all parts of the vast Dominion have at one
time or another yielded furs for commerce with the white man. The
principal fur-bearing smaller mammals of the north and north-west were
wolves, foxes, lynxes, gluttons (wolverene), otters, martens (sables)
and black fishing martens, mink (a kind of polecat), ermine-stoats,
weasels, polar hares (_Lepus timidus_), beavers, musquash, lemming,
gopher or pouched ground-squirrels, and the common red squirrel of
North America. The grey squirrel and striped chipmunk are only found
in southern Canada.

The musquash (_Fiber zibethicus_) is such a characteristic animal of
northern Canada that it is worth while to give Hearne's description of
it (I would mention it is really a huge _vole_, and no relation of the

"The musk rat or musquash builds a dwelling near the banks of ponds or
swamps to shelter it from the bitter cold of the winter, but never on
land, always on the ice, as soon as it is firm enough, taking care to
keep a hole open to admit it to dive for its food, which chiefly
consists of the roots of grass or arums. It sometimes happens in very
cold winters that the holes communicating with their dwellings under
the water are so blocked by ice that they cannot break through them.
When this is the case, and they have no provisions left in the house,
they begin to eat one another. At last there may be only one rat left
out of a whole lodge. They occasionally eat fish, but in general feed
very cleanly, and when fat are good eating. They are easily tamed and
soon grow fond of their owner. They are very cleanly and playful, and
'smell exceedingly pleasant of musk', but their resemblance to the rat
is so great that few are partial to them, though of course they are
much larger in size, and have webbed hind feet and a flat scaly tail.
In Canadian regions farther south the musquash no longer builds on the
ice, but in swamps, where it raises heaps of mud like islands in the
surrounding water. On the top of these mounds they build their nests,
and on the top of the musquash nest, or 'lodge', wild geese frequently
lay their eggs and bring forth their young brood without any fear of
being molested by foxes."

The YUKON territories of the Dominion, and above all the State of
BRITISH COLUMBIA, constitute a very distinct region from the rest of
British North America, not only in their tribes of Amerindians but in
their fauna, flora, and climate. British Columbia is one of the most
beautiful and richly endowed countries in the world. Here, in spite
of northern latitudes, the warm airs coming up from the Pacific Ocean
act somewhat in the same way as the Gulf Stream on north-west Europe,
and favour the growth of magnificent forests.

All this north-western part of British Columbia is very mountainous,
and the rocks are rich in minerals, especially gold in the Fraser and
Columbia Rivers, far north in the upper valley of the Yukon, and
copper and coal in Vancouver Island.

The rainfall in British Columbia is considerable, and the
flora--trees, plants, ferns--richer than anywhere else in North
America, with many resemblances to the trees and plants of Japan and
northern China. In British Columbia more than in any other part of the
world are found the noblest developments of the pines, firs, and
junipers (_Coniferae_).

The coast rivers swarm with salmon, and perhaps because of the
abundance of sea fish close in shore there have been developed in the
course of ages those remarkable aquatic mammals, the sea lions or fur
seals (_Otaria_), whose relationship to the true seals is a very
distant one. On the Alaskan coasts and islands is _Otaria ursina_, the
creature which provides the sealskin fur of commerce. There is also
the much larger sea lion (_Otaria stelleri_), on the coasts of British
Columbia and Vancouver Island. Alexander Henry, jun., gives some
interesting facts about this remarkable beast.

"The natives at Oak Point, during the time Mr. Keith was there, killed
five very large sea lions by spearing them at night. Two canoes being
lashed together, they approach very softly, and throw their spears,
which are fastened by a long, strong cord, with a barb so fixed in a
socket that, when it strikes the animal and pierces the flesh, it is
detached from the shaft of the spear, but remains fastened to the
cord. This is instantly made fast between the canoes; the animal
dives and swims down river, dragging the canoes with such velocity
that they may be in danger of filling, and require great skill in
steering. In this manner they are carried down some miles before the
animal becomes exhausted with loss of blood, makes for the shore, and
lies on the beach, where they dispatch it and cut it up. The price of
a sea lion among the natives is one slave and an assortment of other
articles. Mr. Keith bought the flesh of one of these animals, and we
had some roasted; it resembles bear's meat. The hair is like that of a
horse, in summer of a chestnut colour. The natives, and also the
Russians, are particularly fond of marine animals, such as whales,
&c.; they drink the oil like milk."

Another notable water beast of the British Columbia coast was the sea
otter (_Enhydris_), described on p. 305. Such an immense value was set
on its fur that it is now nearly extinct within British limits.

The huge chocolate-coloured bear of the Yukon valley has already been
mentioned; also the very large, blackish-brown wild dog (_Canis
pambasileus_), which from one or two passages in the writings of
Canadian pioneers may also be found as far south as the British
Columbian Rocky Mountains. In the Yukon country the elk (which was
formerly very common in British Columbia) grows to gigantic
proportions with longer and larger antlers than elsewhere. In the
forested mountains of British Columbia (as well as farther north) are
the wood bison, the white mountain goat, grizzly bears, black bears,
two kinds of lynx, the wapiti red deer, and the large bighorn sheep.

These (_Ovis montana_) sheep are of a grey or leaden colour; the rump
and the inner side of the legs are white; the hoofs black, about one
inch long. "The hair is rather soft, and at the roots is mixed with
exceedingly fine white wool, which seems to grow only in certain
patches. The neck is relatively much thicker than that of other
animals of the same size; the legs and hoofs are also strongly built,
like the neck." The horns of the female are comparatively small,
flat, and have only a small bend backward; they are of a
dirty-yellowish white, marked with closely connected annulations to
the very tip. The legs are brown, as are also the ends of the hairs
about the neck; the hoofs are black. "A ewe will weigh about 100 lb.
when in full flesh, with only the entrails taken out. The head bears
every resemblance to that of our European sheep." The colour of the
males is nearly the same as that of the females, only rather browner;
they are much larger and more strongly built, with a pair of enormous
horns, which incline backward. As they grow they bend downward, and in
the course of time form a complete curve and project forward. At the
root the horns are nearly three inches square, the flat sides
opposite; they are marked with closely connected ridges and end in a
tapering flat point.

When the horns grow to a great length, forming a complete curve, the
tips project on both sides of the head so as to prevent the ram from
feeding. This, with their great weight, causes the sheep to dwindle to
a mere skeleton and die. The bighorn sheep feed much in the caverns of
the Rocky Mountains, eating a kind of moss and grass growing on the
floors of these caves, and also a peculiar soft, sweet-tasting "clay",
of which the natives also are fond.

The southern part of British Columbia contains the mule deer of
western North America (_Mazama macrotis_), and a very strange rodent,
the sewellel or mountain beaver (_Haplodon_), a creature distantly
allied to squirrels, marmots, and beavers, but restricted in its
distribution to a few parts of California, Oregon, and British
Columbia. Amongst the birds noteworthy in the landscape are the
white-headed sea eagles and Californian condors (_Pseudogryphus
californianus_). Humming-birds range through British Columbia and
Vancouver Island between mid-April and October.

In the regions about the upper Kootenay River (Eastern British
Columbia), before the railway was constructed, there were wild horses,
descended, no doubt, from those which had escaped from the Spaniards
in New Mexico and California. They went in large herds, and in the
winter when the snow was deep the natives would try to catch them by
running them down with relays of fresh horses, or driving them up the
mountains into the deepest snow or some narrow pass. A noose would
then be thrown about the exhausted animal, which would be instantly
mounted by an Indian and broken immediately to the saddle. Some of
these wild horses were exceedingly swift, well-proportioned, and
handsome in shape, but they seldom proved as docile as those born in
captivity. When in a wild condition they would snort so loudly through
the nostrils on descrying an enemy that they could be heard at a
distance of five hundred yards.

The provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba--the MIDDLE
WEST--represent mainly the great prairie region of the Canadian
Dominion. Nearly all the streams here flow from the eastern side of
the Rocky Mountains and direct their course to the basin of Lake
Winnipeg and to Hudson's Bay. A few turn south-west to the Missouri
and Mississippi. The landscapes here remind one more of the middle
part of the United States. The climate is severe in winter but very
warm and dry in summer. In the extreme south, within the basin of the
upper Missouri, the "prickly pear" (_Opuntia_) cactus grows in
sheltered places, and suggests affinities with distant Colorado and

These great plains and river courses of the middle West were, until
about fifty years ago, one of the world's great natural parks or
zoological gardens. Large numbers of wapiti deer, of the smaller
Virginian deer,[4] and of the prongbuck "antelope"[5] thronged the
grassy flats, and elk browsed on the foliage of the thickets along the
river banks. Grizzly bears and black bears,[6] large grey wolves, the
small coyote wolf, the pretty little kit fox and large red fox preyed
on these herbivores, as did also pumas and lynxes. Marmots and prairie
hares (_Lepus campestris_)--often called rabbits by the pioneers, who
also named the marmots "wood-chucks"--frolicked in the herbage, and
formed the principal prey of the numerous rattlesnakes. By the shores
of streams and lakes stood rows of stately cranes: the whooping crane,
of large size, pure white, with black quill feathers, the crown of the
head crimson scarlet and the long legs black; and the purple-brown
crane, somewhat smaller in size. On hot, calm days in the region of
Lake Winnipeg the cranes soar to an amazing height, flying in circles,
till by degrees they are almost out of sight. Yet their loud note
sounds so distinct and near that the spectator might fancy they were
close to him.

[Footnote 4: _Mazama americana_, similar to, but quite distinct from,
the larger mule deer of British Columbia.]

[Footnote 5: The prongbuck (_Antilocapra americana_) is not a true
antelope, though in outward appearance it resembles a large gazelle.
It was called "cabri" by the French Canadians.]

[Footnote 6: "Bears make prodigious ravages in the brush and willows;
the plum trees, and every tree that bears fruit share the same fate.
The tops of the oaks are also very roughly handled, broken, and torn
down, to get the acorns. The havoc they commit is astonishing...."
--Alex. Henry, jun.]

The air at this season is full of great birds--eagles, buzzards,
hawks, and falcons--soaring in circles to look out for prey among the
flocks of wild swans, white geese, bernicle geese and brent geese,
duck and teal, which cover the backwaters and the marshes and shallow
lagoons. Turkey buzzards, coming up from the south, act as scavengers
during the summer months. Immense flocks of passenger pigeons,
buntings, grosbeaks, attack the ripening fruits and the wild rice of
the swamps. Grouse in uncountable numbers inhabit the drier tablelands
and open moors.[7]

[Footnote 7: Nowhere in the world are there so many kinds of grouse as
in North America. In the more northern regions are several species of
ptarmigan or snow partridges (_Lagopus_), which turn white in winter,
and the spruce partridges (_Canachites_); in the more genial climate
of the great plains of eastern Canada and in the Far West the ruffled
grouse and hazel grouse (_Bonasa_), the sage cocks (_Centrocercus_),
the prairie hens (_Tympanuchus_), and the blue or pine grouse

"To snare grouse requires no other process than making a few little
hedges across a creek, or a few short hedges projecting at right
angles from the side of an island of willows, which those birds are
found to frequent. Several openings must be left in each hedge, to
admit the birds to pass through, and in each of them a snare must be
set; so that when the grouse are hopping along the edge of the willows
to feed, which is their usual custom, some of them soon get into the
snares, where they are confined till they are taken out. I have caught
from three to ten grouse in a day by this simple contrivance, which
requires no further attendance than going round them night and
morning" (Hearne).]


But--a hundred years ago and more--the dominant features in the
fauna of the Middle West was the bison. Between the Athabaska and
Saskatchewan Rivers on the north, the Rocky Mountains on the west, and
Lake Superior on the east the bison passed backwards and forwards over
the great plains and prairies in millions, when white explorers first
penetrated these lands. They moved in herds which concealed the ground
from sight for miles. Here are some word pictures selected from the
writings of the pioneers between 1770 and 1810:

"The buffaloes chiefly delight in wide open plains, which in those
parts produce very long coarse grass, or rather a kind of small flags
and rushes, upon which they feed; but when pursued they always take to
the woods. They are of such an amazing strength, that when they fly
through the woods from a pursuer, they frequently brush down trees as
thick as a man's arm; and be the snow ever so deep, such is their
strength and agility, that they are enabled to plunge through it
faster than the swiftest Indian can run in snowshoes. To this I have
been an eyewitness many times, and once had the vanity to think that I
could have kept pace with them; but though I was at that time
celebrated for being particularly fleet of foot in snowshoes, I soon
found that I was no match for the buffaloes, notwithstanding they were
then plunging through such deep snow, that their bellies made a
trench in it as large as if many sacks had been hauled through it. Of
all the large beasts in those parts the buffalo is easiest to kill,
and the moose are the most difficult; neither are the (red) deer very
easy to come at, except in windy weather: indeed it requires much
practice and a great deal of patience to slay any of them, as they
will by no means suffer a direct approach, unless the hunter be
entirely sheltered by woods or willows.

"The flesh of the buffalo is exceedingly good eating, and so entirely
free from any disagreeable smell or taste, that it resembles beef as
nearly as possible."

"The spots of wood along the Park River are ravaged by buffaloes
(bison); none but the large trees are standing, the bark of which is
rubbed perfectly smooth, and heaps of hair and wool lie at the bottom
of the trees ... and even the grass is not permitted to grow.... The
ground is trampled more by these cattle than about the gate of a

"The Kris informed me they had seen a calf as white as snow in a herd
of buffalo. White buffalo are very scarce. They are of inestimable
value among the nations of the Missouri.... There were also some of a
dirty-grey colour, but these are very rare."

"I brought home two buffalo calves alive; they no sooner lost sight of
the herd than they followed my horse like dogs, directly into the
fort. On chasing a herd at this season the calves follow it until they
are fatigued, when they throw themselves down in high grass and lie
still, hiding their heads if possible. But seeing only a man and his
horse they remain quiet and allow themselves to be taken. Having been
a little handled, they follow like dogs."

In the spring, when the ice melted, innumerable buffaloes were killed
through attempting to cross the rivers on the melting ice. They would
drift by an observer (such as Alexander Henry, jun.) in entire herds
of drowned corpses. Vast numbers perished. They formed one continuous
line on the current for two days and two nights.

"By this time the river was crowded with them, swimming across,
bellowing and grunting terribly. The bulls really looked fierce; all
had their tails up, and each appeared eager to land first. The scene
would have struck terror to one unaccustomed to such innumerable
herds. From out in the plains, as far as the eye could reach, to the
middle of the river, they were rushing toward us, and soon began to
land about ten yards off. I shot one dead on the spot, my ball having
broken his neck; my hunter and guide only wounded theirs. This
discharge suddenly halted those on the south side, and turned those
that were still in the water."

In the autumn:--"Plains burned in every direction and blind buffalo
seen every moment wandering about. The poor beasts have all the hair
singed off; even the skin in many places is shrivelled up and terribly
burned, and their eyes are swollen and closed fast. It was really
pitiful to see them staggering about, sometimes running afoul of a
large stone, at other times tumbling down hill and falling into creeks
not yet frozen over. In one spot we found a whole herd lying dead."

Throughout British North America, from the Yukon to Newfoundland, and
from Labrador to Vancouver's Island, the rivers and freshwater lakes
swarm with fish, and fish that in most cases is exceedingly good to
eat. Salmon are most strikingly abundant in the rivers of British
Columbia and Newfoundland, but they also ascend most of the rivers
flowing into the Atlantic and Hudson's Bay. In the great lakes of
Canada and of the middle west there are trout and white fish
(_Coregonus_), pike, bass, chub, barbel, and five species of sturgeon.
In the rivers and lakes of the far north-west is found the blackfish

Hearne writes of Lake Athabasca that it swarms with fish, such as
pike, trout, perch, barbel, and other kinds not easily identified.
Apparently there is also a form of gar-pike found here (see p. 74);
this is described as having scales of a very large and stiff kind, and
being a beautiful bright silver in colour. The size of these gar-pike
range from two feet to four feet in length. Their flesh was delicately
white and soft, but so foul and rank in taste that even the Indians
would not eat it. The trout in Lake Athabaska seem to have been
enormous, weighing from 35 to 40 pounds, while pike were of about the
same weight.

The Amerindian tribes and the early European explorers lived mainly on
fish, which was a palatable and easily obtained food. Yet it must be
admitted that they had a splendid array of large and small game from
which to take their toll.

Nor was the whole Dominion, from west to east and up to the Arctic
zone, wanting in wild vegetable produce fit for man's consumption. The
sugar maple (_Acer saccharinum_) and its ally the _Negundo_ maple
provided a delicious syrup; the bark of certain poplars and the bast
of the sugar pine were chewed for their well-flavoured sweetness; the
wild rice of the marshes will be further described in the next
chapter. The wild fruits included delicious strawberries, cherries,
gooseberries, currants, black currants, grapes (in the south only),
blackberries of many kinds, whortleberries, cranberries, pears of the
service tree (_Pyrus canadensis_[8]), and raspberries of various
types--red, yellow, and black. Southern Canada and Nova Scotia
contained various nut trees of the walnut order (hickories,
butter-nuts, &c.), and hazel nuts were found everywhere except in the

[Footnote 8: Sometimes called _Amelanchier canadensis_.]

We have left undescribed what is still politically the most important
part of the whole of British North America--UPPER and LOWER CANADA.
These regions lie within the basin of the great St. Lawrence River,
beyond all doubt the most important waterway of North America, more
important even than the Mississippi. The main origin of the St.
Lawrence in the west is Lake Superior, the largest sea of fresh water
in the world, which is connected with Lake Nipigon on the north. The
waters of Lake Superior are carried over the Sault Ste. Marie rapids
into Lake Huron and find a huge backwater in Lake Michigan.[9] Out of
Lake Huron again they flow past Detroit into Lake Erie. From Duluth,
at the westernmost extremity of Lake Superior, to Buffalo, on the
easternmost point of Lake Erie, including all Lake Michigan and Lake
Huron, with its bays and channels, a steamer can pass with just the
one difficulty (easily surmounted) of the rapids at Sault Ste. Marie
between Lake Superior and Lake Huron. But after you have left Lake
Erie on the east you find yourself in the Niagara River, which at the
Niagara Falls plunges several hundred feet downwards into Lake
Ontario. From Lake Ontario to the sea along the St. Lawrence there is
uninterrupted navigation, though there are rapids that require careful
steering both with steamers and boats. Quebec marks the place where
the St. Lawrence River suddenly broadens from a river into a tidal
gulf of brackish or salt water. Ocean steamers from all over the world
can come (except during the height of the winter, when the water
freezes) to Quebec. But for the ice in wintertime Quebec would be
_the_ great sea-port of eastern Canada.

[Footnote 9: The south shore of Lake Superior, the whole of Lake
Michigan, the west shore of Lake Huron, and the south coasts of Lake
Erie and Lake Ontario are within the territories of the United

"If pitiless rock is commonly understood by an 'iron-bound shore',
then the coasts of the River St. Lawrence along the northern side of
the Gulf may truly be so styled, as nothing scarcely is to be seen
for hundreds of leagues but bare rocky mountains, capes and cliffs in
various shapes and figures, some of which are dotted with a few spruce
firs, while others present their bald pates deprived of covering by
the unmerciful hand of time." (James M'Kenzie).

The winters of the Quebec province are extremely cold, but the summer
and autumn are warm and sunny. The best winter climate, possibly, in
all Canada (though not as good as that of Vancouver Island, British
Columbia) is to be found in the small peninsula region, on the shores
of Lakes Erie and Huron, between Toronto and Detroit. This is the
district which the Jesuit missionaries described as "an earthly
paradise" even during the winter-time.

The following extracts, mostly from the journals of Alex. Henry, jun.,
give a good idea of the difference in climate and temperature between
the western and the central parts of the Canadian Dominion.

The late spring of northern Canada (Lake Nipigon, 50 deg. N. lat.):--About
May 15, the tops of the poplars begin to appear green, with fresh
buds; the hills are changing their hue from a dry straw colour to a
delightful verdure, and fragrant odours greet us.

"Early in March, 1800, in the Assiniboin country (Manitoba, about 29 deg.
N. lat.) the snow was entirely gone, for this winter had been an
abnormally mild one for central Canada. The birds soon realized the
openness of the season, for, on the 7th of March, turkey-buzzards
began to arrive from the south, and cormorants, ducks, swans, and
other spring birds; indeed, by the 24th of March not only had the snow
quite melted, but the meadows had grown so dry with the hot sun that
some accidents set them on fire. By April the 11th the weather had
become excessively hot, and immense flocks of the traveller-pigeon
(_Ectopistes_) flew northwards over the country."

In somewhat similar latitudes (50 deg.) the spring bursts on the Pacific
coast region of British Columbia towards the end of February. "The
tall raspberry bushes were in blossom with a beautiful red flower,
which appeared more forward than the leaf (_Rubus spectabilis_). The
elder had sprouts an inch long, the alder was also beginning to
sprout, and willows were budding."

Although nowhere in Upper and Lower Canada (or in the maritime
provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia) are the forests so
splendid as in parts of British Columbia, yet nevertheless when this
region was first discovered the magnificence of its woodlands greatly
impressed even the explorers of the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries, who were not as much given to praise of landscape beauty as
are we of later times. These Canadian forests include oaks, elms,
pines and firs, chestnuts and beeches, birch trees and sycamores,
maples and poplars, willows, alders, and hazelnuts (these last
sometimes growing into tall trees with thick trunks). The trees and
low-growing plants are partly like those of the north-eastern United
States, and partly resemble those of northern and central Europe.

Nowadays, owing to two centuries of incessant killing, the beasts and
birds of Upper and Lower Canada are not nearly so abundant as they
were a hundred years ago. When Canada proper was first discovered, the
wapiti red deer was still found in the basin of the St. Lawrence; it
has long since been extinct. There are, however, still lingering,
reindeer in the north, and elk in the forests of the east. There are
also Virginian deer (_Mazama_), but there is no bison (and, so far as
we know, never has been). There is no prongbuck, and many other
creatures characteristic of the United States and British Columbia are
not found in Upper and Lower Canada or in the maritime provinces. The
tree porcupine (_Erethizon dorsatus_), which the Canadians call
"Urson", or "Little Bear" is found still in the well-wooded regions
of eastern and southern Canada, as well as in British Columbia and
Alaska. In southern Canada there is the wood hare (_Lepus
sylvaticus_), and in the east and north the varying hare (_L.
americanus_) which turns white in winter.

Perhaps the most characteristic animal of this region was and is still
the beaver, though the beaver is found all over British North America
as far north as the Saskatchewan province and westwards into British

It is curious that the Indians of central Canada had a belief
(recorded by French and English pioneers) that occasionally in the
dusk, or at night, they have seen an enormously large beaver in the
water, so large that at first sight they have taken it for a moose.
Travellers who have related this have surmised that the Indian perhaps
saw a bear swimming, or a female moose, and in the dim light mistook
it for a giant beaver. But as we know that there were once giant
beavers (_Trogontherium_) as large as a bear, existing in England, it
is just possible there may have been a gigantic type of beaver
lingering in Canada before the opening up of the country by Europeans.

The beaver of North America is a very similar animal to the beaver
which used to exist wild in Wales, England, France, Germany, and
central Europe, and which still lingers in some parts of the Rhine
valley, Poland, Russia, and Siberia; but the American form is
classified as a separate species--_Castor canadensis_.

Beavers were sometimes exterminated or diminished in numbers by an
epidemic disease, which, according to JAMES TANNER[10], destroyed vast
quantities of them.

[Footnote 10: A remarkable eighteenth-century pioneer who joined the
Indians when a boy and lived as one of them.]

"I found them dead or dying in the water, on the ice, and on the land;
sometimes I found one that, having cut a tree half down, had died at
its roots; sometimes one who had drawn a stick of timber halfway to
his lodge was lying dead by his burthen. Many of them which I opened
were red and bloody about the heart. Those in large rivers and running
water suffered less; almost all of those that lived in ponds and
stagnant water, died. Since that year the beaver have never been so
plentiful in the country of Red River and Hudson's Bay as they used
formerly to be."

The great attraction which Canada offered to France and England as a
field of adventure lay in its wonderful supply of furs. The beaver
skins were perhaps the commonest article of export, and were generally
regarded as a unit of value, such as a shilling might be. Other skins
were valued at "so many beavers," or the smaller ones at half or a
quarter of a beaver each. Besides beaver skins, which were used for
making hats, as well as capes and coats, the following furs and skins
were formerly, or are still, exported from Canada. "Buffalo"
robes--the carefully rubbed-down hides of the bison, rendered, by
shaving and rubbing, so thin and supple that they could be easily
folded; reindeer and musk-ox skins treated in the same way; marten or
sable skins; mink (a kind of polecat); ermine (the white winter dress
of the stoat); the fishing marten, or pekan; otter skins; black bear
and white polar bear skins; raccoon, muskwash, squirrel, suslik, and
marmot skins, and the soft white fur of the polar hare; the white
skins of the Arctic fox, the skins of the blue fox, black fox, and red
fox;[11] wolf skins, and the furs of the wolverene or glutton, and of
the skunk--a handsome black-and-white creature of the weasel family,
which emits a most disgusting smell from a gland in its body. (The
skunk only comes from the south-central parts of the Canadian
Dominion). At one time a good many swans' skins were exported for the
sake of the down between the feathers, also the skins of grebes.

[Footnote 11: The blue fox is the Arctic fox (_Canis lagopus_) in its
summer dress; the black fox is a beautiful variety or sub-species of
the common fox (_C. vulpes_); so also is the red or "cross" fox. There
is also common throughout the Canadian Dominion the pretty little kit
fox (_Canis velox_).]

* * * * *

A general fact that must not be forgotten in studying the adventures
of the pioneers of Canada was the means which Nature and savage man
had provided or invented for quickly traversing in all directions this
enormous area of nearly half North America. These means consisted (1)
of the distribution of salt and fresh water in such a way that by
means of ocean-sailing ships explorers coming from the east could
enter through straits and bays of the sea into the heart of Canada;
and (2) the facility, on quitting the seashore, of passing up
navigable rivers in boats or canoes into big lakes, and from these
lakes into other rivers leading to other lakes. Moreover, the
different river systems approached so closely to one another that even
the Amerindians and the Eskimo, long before the white man, had
realized that they had only to pick up their light canoes and carry
them a few miles, to launch them on fresh waters which might provide
hundreds or even thousands of miles of continuous travel. These are
the celebrated "portages" of Canadian history, from the French word
_porter_, to carry, transport. Sometimes the portages were made still
easier for loaded canoes by a road being cleared through the scrub and
over the rocks, and wooden rollers placed across it. Strong men could
then easily haul a loaded canoe over these wooden rollers until it
could be launched again in the water. Often these portages were made
to circumvent dangerous rapids or waterfalls. The Indians and the
French Canadians soon learnt how to steer canoes down rushes of
water--rapids--which we should think very dangerous on an English
river; but of course many of the rivers were obstructed at intervals
by descents of water which no canoe could traverse up or down, and in
these cases a path was cut from one smooth part of the river to
another, and the canoe carried or hauled overland.

In this way the great French and British explorers found it possible
to travel by water from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean across a
width of land of something like 2500 miles. The only serious walking
that had to be done was the crossing somewhere or other of the Rocky
Mountains, where the streams, of course, were far too precipitate in
descent to be navigable. In the hot, dusty plains of Assiniboia and
the upper Missouri region the Amerindians had introduced horses,
obtained indirectly from Spanish Mexico, and these were of great
service to the white pioneers, especially in their pursuit of the

So much for the summer season, when the rivers were full and
overflowing, and the ground consisted of bare rock, sand, or soil
covered with vegetation; the abundance of navigable streams and the
suitability of the country to horses rendered very little walking
necessary for those who wished to traverse the Canadian Dominion from
end to end.

But the winter changed these conditions, the rivers became coated with
thick ice, and the ground was covered, except in steep places, with an
unvarying mantle of snow. Yet transport became just as easy as in the
summertime, though perhaps a trifle more fatiguing. Men and women put
on snowshoes shaped like tennis rackets, and flew over the hard snow
quicker than a canoe could travel, dragging after them small sledges
on which their luggage was packed; or, if they had not much luggage,
carrying it slung round the shoulders and scurrying away on their
snowshoes even swifter for the weight they carried; or they travelled
over the smooth ice of the rivers and lakes.

Winter travellers, however, were sometimes troubled with a disorder
known as the snowshoe evil. This arose from the placing of an unusual
strain on the tendons of the leg, occasioned by the weight of the
snowshoe. It often resulted in severe inflammation of the lower leg.
The local remedy was a drastic one: it was to place a piece of lighted
touchwood on the most inflamed part, and to leave it there till the
flesh was burnt to the nerve!

In the north and the regions round Hudson's Bay, and also in the far
west--British Columbia and Alaska--there were dogs, more or less of
the Eskimo breed, trained by Eskimo or by Amerindians to drag the
sledges. In the months of December and January it is true that the
daylight in Arctic Canada (north of Lake Athapaska) became so short
that the sun at its greatest altitude only appeared for two or three
hours a short distance above the horizon. But there were
compensations. The brilliancy of the Aurora Borealis, even without the
assistance of the moon and the stars, made some amends for that
deficiency, for it was frequently so light all night that travellers
could see to read a very small print (Samuel Hearne). The importance
of these "Northern lights" must not be overlooked in forming an
opinion on the habitability of the far north in the "dark" winter
months. The display was frequent and brilliant.

The Athapaskan Indians called this phenomenon _Edthin_, that is to
say, "reindeer". When the Aurora Borealis was particularly bright in
the sky they would say that deer were plentiful in that part of the
heavens. Their fancy in this respect was not quite so silly as one
might think. They had learnt from experience that the Aurora Borealis
was in some way connected with electricity, and experience had equally
shown them that the skin of the reindeer, if briskly stroked by the
hand on a dark night, would emit as many electric sparks as the back
of a cat. On the other hand, the Amerindians in the southern and more
temperate regions thought the Aurora Borealis was a vast concourse of
"spirits of the happy day" dancing in the clouds.

Thus there were no climatic reasons why, both in summer and in winter,
immense distances should not be quickly covered in Canada between the
Rocky Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean. This is how a mere hundred of
white pioneers opened up Canada to the knowledge of the civilized
world far quicker than the same area could have been discovered in
Africa or Asia. Sometimes, for about a month, between the melting of
the snow and ice and the steady flowing of the rivers in the late
spring, or between the uncertain autumn of November and the confirmed
winter of December, there might be an interval of a few weeks in which
journeys had to be made on foot under conditions of great hardship,
through mud, swamp, and over sharp stones or slippery rocks.

"The plains are covered with water from the melting of the snow so
suddenly, and our men suffer much, as they are continually on the
march, looking after Indians in every creek and little river. The
water is commonly knee deep, in some places up to the middle, and in
the morning is usually covered with ice, which makes it tedious and
even dangerous travelling. Some of our men lose the use of their legs
while still in the prime of life", wrote one eighteenth-century
pioneer, in the Canadian spring.

Severe as were the winter conditions of climate, the explorers were
just as willing to travel through the winter as the summer, because in
the winter they were spared the awful plague of mosquitoes and midges
which still renders summer and early-autumn travel throughout the
whole of Canada, from the United States borders on the south to the
Arctic Ocean on the north, a severe trial, and even an unbearable
degree of physical suffering.


The Amerindians and Eskimo: the Aborigines of British North America

I have already attempted to describe in the first chapter the ancient
peopling of America from north-eastern Asia, but it might be useful if
I gave here some description of the Eskimo and Amerindian tribes of
the Canadian Dominion at the time of its gradual discovery by
Europeans, especially during the great explorations of the eighteenth
and early nineteenth centuries.

It is evident that the ESKIMO--who are quite distinct from the
Amerindians in physical type, language, customs, and industries--have
been for thousands of years the only inhabitants of Arctic America.
When the Norsemen came to the New World they seem to have met with
Eskimo as far south as New England, but in more recent times the
Eskimo have only been found inhabiting the extreme north and
north-east: in Greenland, on the Labrador coast, on Baffin's Land, and
along the Arctic coast of the North-American continent, between the
Coppermine River and the westernmost extremity of Alaska, as well as
on the opposite islands and promontories of Asia.

Their name for themselves as a people is usually "Innuit" (in
Greenland, "Karalit"). Eskimo is a corruption of _Eskimantsik_, a
northern Algonkin word meaning "eaters of raw flesh". Although their
geographical range extends over a distance of about three thousand
five hundred miles--from north-easternmost Asia to the east coast of
Greenland--the difference in their dialects is little more than that
between French and Italian; whereas the difference between the speech
of one Amerindian tribe and another--even where they belong to the
same language group--is very great--not less than that between German
and Latin, or English and French, or even between Russian and
Hindustani. This fact--of the widespread Eskimo language--makes some
authorities suppose that the presence of the Eskimo in Arctic America
cannot be such a very ancient event as, from other evidence, one might
believe. Perhaps the bold travelling habits of the Eskimo--which makes
them range over vast distances of ice and snow when hunting seals,
walruses, whales, musk ox, or reindeer--enables them to keep in touch
with their far-away relations.

The canoes or _kayaks_ in which they travel (first described by the
Norsemen in the tenth century) are made out of the hide of the seal or
walrus. The leather is stretched over a framework constructed from
driftwood or whales' bones. There is a hole in the middle for the man
or woman to insert their legs. This hole they fill up with their
bodies. If the canoe capsizes, the Eskimo cannot fall out, but bobs up
immediately. He and the canoe are really "one-and-indivisible" when he
is navigating the seas and lakes, plying deftly a large paddle.

In regard to food they were certainly not particular or squeamish.
They loved best of all whales' blubber, or to drink the fishy-tasting
oil from bodies of whales, seals, or walruses. Besides the meat of
Polar bears and of any fur animals they could catch, or the musky beef
of the musk ox, they devoured eagerly sea birds' eggs, Iceland moss,
and even the parasitic insects of their own heads and bodies! Hearne
relates that they will eat with a relish whole handfuls of maggots
that have been produced in meat by the eggs of the bluebottle fly! On
the other hand, they held cannibalism in horror, whereas for two-two's
their Amerindian neighbours on the west and south would eat human
flesh without repugnance.

The Eskimo, though occasionally tall, are as a rule stumpy and
thickset, with very small hands and feet, broad faces, and projecting
cheekbones, a narrow nose without the aquiline bridge of the
Amerindian, slanting narrow eyes, and long heads containing large
well-developed brains. In disposition the Eskimo are nearly always
merry, affectionate to one another, honest, and modest. Modern
travellers in the Arctic regions give them invariably a high
character; but Frobisher, Davis, and the explorers of the sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries accused them of treachery and an inclination
to steal. Iron in any shape or form they could hardly resist taking.
Moreover, if they are the same people as the Skraellings of the Norse
traditions they must have been of a fiercer disposition a thousand
years ago.

The Amerindians who inhabited (more or less) the rest of the Canadian
Dominion, and the whole remainder of the New World, differed in
physical appearance from the Eskimo mainly in being taller and better
proportioned, with shorter and rounder heads, larger, fuller eyes, a
bigger nose, and a handsomer personal appearance. The skin colour, as
a rule, was darker and browner than the greyish- or pinkish-yellow of
the Eskimo.

The various human types that went to form the Amerindian race (beside
the Eskimo element in them) seem to have entered north-west America
from Asia, and first to have peopled the Pacific slopes of the Rocky
Mountains, after which they wandered farther and farther south till
they got into a warmer climate. Then they crossed the Rocky Mountains
and peopled the centre and east of what is now the United States. As
they pushed their way north up the valleys of the great rivers, they
no doubt killed, mingled with, or pushed back the Eskimo. At last
their northernmost extensions reached to the Mackenzie River, the
vicinity of Hudson's Bay, Labrador, and Newfoundland. But in all the
middle, west, and even east of Canada they seem to have been
_relatively recent arrivals_,[1] not to have inhabited the country for
a great many centuries before the white man came, and all their
recorded and legendary movements in North America have been from the
south-west towards the north-east (after they had got across the Rocky
Mountains). The few cultivated plants they had, such as maize (Indian
corn), tobacco, and pumpkins, they brought with them or received from
the south.

[Footnote 1: There may have been an earlier race inhabiting north-east
America which was killed out or driven away by the last Glacial

The only domestic animal possessed by either Eskimo or Amerindian was
the dog. We are most of us by now familiar with the type of the Eskimo
dog--a large, wolf-like animal with prick ears and a bushy tail curled
over its back. In this carriage of the tail the Eskimo and most other
true dogs differ from wolves, with whom the tail droops between the
hind quarters. But there is a small wild American wolf--the
coyote--which carries its tail more upright, like that of the true
dog; and the coyote seems indeed an intermediate form between the wolf
and the original wild dog. Most of the domestic dogs of the
Amerindians[2] (as distinguished from those of the Eskimo) seem to
have been derived from the coyote or small wolf of central North

[Footnote 2: "The dogs of the Northern Indians are of various sizes
and colours, but all of them have a foxy or wolf-like appearance,
sharp noses, bushy tails, and sharp ears standing erect." (Samuel

Hearne also remarks that the northern Indians had a superstitious
reverence and liking for the wolf. They would frequently go to the
mouth of the burrows where the female wolves lived with their young,
take out the puppies and play with them, and even paint the faces of
the young wolves with vermilion or red ochre.

When first observed by Europeans the unhappy Beothiks (of
Newfoundland) had apparently no domestic dogs, only "tame wolves",
whom they distinguished from the wild wolves by marking their ears.
They were made more angry by the European seamen attacking and killing
the wolves than by anything else they did. Apparently some kind of
alliance had been struck up between the Beothiks--a nation of
hunters--and the wolf packs which followed in their tracks; and the
Newfoundland wolves were on the way to becoming domesticated "dogs".
Later on it was realized that the island _did_ produce a special
breed--the celebrated Newfoundland dog--the original type of which was
much smaller than the modern type, nearly or entirely black in colour,
with a sharper muzzle and less pendulous ears. But its feet were as
strongly webbed and its habits as aquatic as those of the
"Newfoundland" of the modern breed. Some people have noticed the
resemblance between the farmers' dogs in Norway and the Newfoundland
type, and have thought that the latter may not be altogether of wolf
extraction, but be descended from the dogs brought from Norway and
Iceland by the Norse adventurers who visited Newfoundland in the tenth
and eleventh centuries.]

On the Pacific coast there were other types of domestic dog,
resembling greatly breeds that are found in eastern Asia and the
Pacific islands. Some of these were naked, and others grew silky hair,
which was woven by the natives into cloth (see p. 323). The Eskimo dog
almost certainly has been derived from northern Asia, and is closely
related to the well-known Chinese breed--the chow dog--and the
domestic breeds of ancient Europe. Even the commonest type of house
dog in the Roman Empire was very much like an Eskimo or a chow in
appearance. There is a true wild dog, however, in the Yukon province
of the Canadian Dominion and in Alaska--_Canis pambasileus_--a dark,
blackish-brown in colour. This may have been a parent of the Eskimo
dog, but it is also doubtless closely allied to the original (extinct)
wild dog of northern Asia, from which the chow and many other breeds
are directly descended. The Eskimo never under ordinary circumstances
ate their dogs; on the other hand, the Amerindians were fond of dog's
flesh, and in some tribes simply bred dogs for the table.

When Europeans first reached America all these Amerindian tribes, and
also the Eskimo, were still, for all practical purposes, in the Stone
Age. Those who lived in the north had discovered the use of copper and
had shaped for themselves knives and spear blades out of copper, but
not even this metal was in use to any great extent, and for the most
part they relied, down to the end of the eighteenth century, for their
implements and weapons, on polished and sharpened stones, on deer's
antlers, buffalo horns, sticks, sharp shells, beavers' incisor
teeth,[3] the claws or spines of crustaceans, flints, and suchlike
substances--in short, they were leading the same life and using almost
exactly the same tools as the long-since-vanished hunter races of
Europe of five thousand to one hundred thousand years ago--the people
who pursued the mammoth, the bison, the Irish "elk", and the other
great beasts of prehistoric Europe. Indeed, North America represented
to some extent, as late as a hundred years ago, what Europe must have
looked like in the days of palaeolithic Man.

[Footnote 3: Of which they made very serviceable chisels.]

* * * * *

The AMERINDIANS of the Canadian Dominion (when the country first
became known to Europeans) belonged to the following groups and
tribes. The order of enumeration begins in the east and proceeds
westwards. I have already mentioned the peculiar _Beothiks_ of
Newfoundland.[4] In Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick,
and the Gaspe Peninsula there were the _Mikmak_ Indians belonging to
the widespread ALGONKIN family or stock. West and south of the
Mikmaks, in New Brunswick and along the borders of New England, were
other tribes of the Algonkin group: the Etchemins, Abenakis,
Tarratines, Penobscots, _Mohikans_, and Adirondacks. North of these,
in the eastern part of the Quebec province, on either side of the Gulf
of St. Lawrence, were the _Montagnais_. This name, though it looks
like a French word meaning "mountaineers", was also spellt Montagnet,
and in various other ways, showing that it was originally a native
name, pronounced Montanye. The Montagnais in various clans extended
northwards across Labrador until they touched the Eskimo, with whom
they constantly fought. The interior of Labrador was inhabited by
another Algonkin tribe, the _Naskwapi_, living in a state of rude
savagery. The _Algonkins_ proper, whose tribe gave their name to the
whole stock because the French first became acquainted with them as a
type, dwelt in the vicinity of Montreal, Lake Ontario, and the valley
of the St. Lawrence. In upper Canada, about the great lakes and the
St. Lawrence valley, were the Chippeways, or _Ojibwes_, and the
Ottawas. West and north of Lake Michigan were the Miamis, the
Potawatomis, and the Fox Indians (the Saks or Sawkis). Between Lake
Winnipeg and Lake Superior were the _Cheyennes_ (Shians); between
North and South Saskatchewan, the _Blackfeet_ or Siksika Indians
(sections of which were also called Bloods, Paigans, Piegans, &c).
North of Lake Winnipeg, as far as Lake Athabaska, and almost from the
Rocky Mountains to the shores of Hudson's Bay, were the widespread
tribe of the _Kris_, or _Knistino_.[5] The Gros Ventres or Big
Bellies--properly called _Atsina_--inhabited the southern part of the
middle west, between the Saskatchewan and the Missouri basins; and the
Monsoni or Maskegon were found in eastern Rupert Land.

[Footnote 4: See also pp. 156, 164, 186, and 199. In this list I have
put in italics the names of the tribes more important in history, and
in capitals the principal group names.]

[Footnote 5: Kinistino, Kiristineaux, Kilistino; called "Crees" or
"Kris" for short.]

All the above-enumerated tribes, except the Beothik indigenes of
Newfoundland, belong to the great and widespread ALGONKIN group.
(Algonkin is a word derived from the "Algommequin" of Champlain.) In
the valley of the St. Lawrence the French first encountered those
Indians whom they called _Huron_. This was a French word meaning
"crested", because these people wore their hair in a great crest over
the top and back of the head, which reminded the French of the
appearance of a wild boar (_Hure_). The real name of the Hurons, who
dwelt at a later date between Lakes Huron, Erie, Ontario, and the
neighbourhood of Montreal, was _Waiandot_ (Wyandot); but they went
under a variety of other names, according to the clans, such as the
Eries and the Atiwandoran or Neutral Nation. They were also called the
"Good" Iroquois, to distinguish them from the six other nations, the
IROQUOIS proper of the French Canadians, who signalized themselves by
fiendish and frightful warfare against the French and the various
tribes of Algonkin Indians. The Hurons and the rest of the six tribes
grouped under the name of IROQUOIS[6] were of the same stock
originally, forming a separate group like that of the Algonkins,
though they are supposed to be related distantly to the Dakota or
Siou. Amongst the "Six Nations" or tribes banded together in warfare
and policy were the celebrated "Mohawks" who dwelt on the southern
borders of the St. Lawrence basin and near Lake Champlain. As the
others of the six nations (including the Senekas and Onondagas)
inhabited the eastern United States, well outside the limits of
Canada, they need not be referred to here.

[Footnote 6: "Iroquois" was a name invented by Champlain (see p. 69).
Apparently this confederation called themselves _Hodenosauni_. The
termination "ois" in all French-American names is pronounced

Between the South Saskatchewan, the Rocky Mountains, and Lake
Superior, nearly outside the limits of the Canadian Dominion, was the
great DAKOTA, or Siou group,[7] divided into the distinct tribe of
_Assiniboin_ or "Stone" Indians (because they used hot stones in
cooking), the "Crows" or Absaroka, the Hidatsa or Minitari (also
called Big Bellies, like the quite distinct Atsina of the Algonkin
family), the Menomini (the most north-eastern amongst the Siouan
tribes, and the first met with by the British and French Canadians
south-west of Lake Superior), the Winnebagos on the southern borders
of Manitoba, the Yanktons or Yanktonnais, the "_Santi Siou_"
proper--generally calling themselves _Dakota_ or Mdewakanton--and the
"Tetons" along the northern Dakota frontier and into the Rocky
Mountains--also known as _Blackfeet_, Sans Arcs ("without bows"),
"Two-kettles", "Brules" or "Burnt" Indians, &c.

[Footnote 7: The far-famed term _Siou_ is said to have been an
abbreviation of one of the original French names for this type of
Amerindian, _Nadouessiou_. In early books they are often called the

Next must be mentioned the very important and widespread ATHAPASKAN or
Dene (Tinne) group, named after Lake Athapaska (or Athabaska), because
that sheet of water became a great rallying place for these northern
tribes. The Athapaskan group of Indians indeed represents the
"Northern Indians" of the Hudson's Bay Company's reports and
explorers. They drew a great distinction between the Northern Indians
(the Athapaskan tribes) and the Southern Indians, which included all
the other Amerindian groups dwelling to the south of the Athapaskan
domain. But although nowadays so much associated with the far north
and north-west of America, the Athabaskan group evidently came from a
region much farther south, and has been cut in half by other tribal
movements, wars, and migrations; for the Athapaskan family also
includes the Apaches and the Navaho of the south-western portions of
the United States and the adjoining territories of Mexico. The
northern and southern divisions of the Athapaskan group are separated
by something like twelve hundred miles. The following are the
principal tribes into which the Northern ATHAPASKAN group was divided
at the time of the first explorations of the north-west. There were
the _Chippewayan_ Indians[8] round about Lake Athapaska, and the
Caribou Eaters or Ethen-eldeli between Lake Athapaska and Reindeer
Lake. The "_Slaves_", or Slave Indians of the Great Slave Lake and the
upper Mackenzie River; the Beaver and Sarsi Indians (known also as the
Tsekehn), about the Peace River and the northern part of Alberta
province; and the _Yellow Knives_, or Totsan-ottine (so called from
their being found with light-coloured copper knives when first
discovered by Europeans), north-east of the Great Slave Lake and along
the Coppermine River: the _Dogribs_ between the Great Slave Lake and
Great Bear Lake, perhaps (except in Alaska) the most northern
extension of the Amerindian type towards the Arctic regions. West of
the Dogribs dwelt--and still dwell--the interesting tribe of _Hare_
Indians, or Kawcho-Tinne. They extend northwards to the Anderson
River, on the verge of the Arctic Ocean. West of the lower Mackenzie
River, and stretching thence to the Porcupine or Yukon Rivers, are the
Squinting Indians ("Loucheux", or Kuchin), who in former times were
met with much farther to the south-east than at the present day.
Finally, there are the Nahani Indians, who have penetrated through the
Rocky Mountains to the Stikine River, reaching thus quite close to the
Pacific Ocean. This penetration northwards of groups of Athapaskan
Indians into districts inhabited for the most part by Amerindian
tribes differing widely in language and customs from all those _east_
of the Rocky Mountains, explains the way in which stories of the great
western sea--the Pacific--reached, by means of trading intercourse,
those Amerindian tribes of the middle-west and upper Canada, and so
stirred up the French and English explorers of the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries to make the marvellous journeys which are
recounted in this book.

[Footnote 8: These northern Indians are described by Hearne as having
very low foreheads, small eyes, high cheekbones, Roman noses, broad
cheeks, and long, broad chins. Their skins were soft, smooth and
polished, somewhat copper-coloured, and inclining towards a dingy
brown. The hair of the head was black, strong, and straight. They were
not in general above middle size, though well proportioned.]

_West_ of the Rocky Mountains, in British Columbia and Vancouver
Island (besides southern Alaska), the Amerindian tribes form the
N[-u]tka-Columbian group, which is markedly distinct from the
Amerindians _east_ of the Rocky Mountains, from whom they differ
_widely_ in language, type, and culture. They are divided into quite a
large number of small separate groups--the Wakashan or _N[-u]tkas_ of
Vancouver Island and south-western British Columbia, the Shahaptian or
"Nez perces" Indians of the Columbia basin, and the Chin[-u]ks of
the lower Columbia River, the _Salishan_ or "Flathead" group
(including the Atn[-a]s) of the Fraser and Thompson Rivers and central
British Columbia; and the _Haida_ Indians of Queen Charlotte's Islands
and the north-west coast of British Columbia. It must be remembered
that these different groups are only based on the relationships of
their component tribes in language or dialect, and do not always imply
that the tribes belonging to them had the same customs and
dispositions; but they were generally able to communicate with one
another in speech, whereas if they met the Indians of another group
the language might be so totally different that they could only
communicate by means of signs.


Sign and gesture language[9] was extraordinarily developed amongst all
the Amerindian races from the Arctic Ocean to the Antarctic. Not only
that, but they were quick to understand the purpose of pictures. They
could draw maps in the sand to explain the geography of their country,
and Europeans could often make them understand what they required by
rough drawings. They themselves related many events by means of a
picture language--the beginning of hieroglyphics; and in the
south-eastern parts of Canada, as in the United States, these signs or
pictographs were recorded in bead-shell work--the celebrated "wampum".

[Footnote 9: "It is surprising how dexterous all these natives of the
plains are in communicating their ideas by signs. They hold
conferences for several hours, upon different subjects, during the
whole of which time not a single word is pronounced upon either side,
and still they appear to comprehend each other perfectly well. This
mode of communication is natural to them; their gestures are made with
the greatest ease, and they never seem to be at a loss for a sign to
express their meaning" (Alex. Henry the Younger, 1800). But it should
also be noted that during the last hundred years the peoples belonging
to the N[-u]tka-Columbian group have developed a trade language which
they use in common. This is a mixture of Chin[-u]k, English, French,
Chinese, and Hawaaian.]

All these tribes, of course, varied very much in personal appearance,
though not in disposition. The vanished Beothiks of Newfoundland are
described as having been a good-looking tall people, with large black
eyes and a skin so light, when washed free from dirt or paint, that
the Portuguese compared them to gipsies; and the writer of Fabian's
_Chronicle_, who saw two of them (brought back by Cabot) at Henry
VII's Court, in 1499, took them for Englishmen when they were dressed
in English clothes. It was these people--subsequently killed out by
the British settlers on Newfoundland--who originated the term "Red
Indians", or, in French, _Peaux Rouges_, because their skins, like
those of so many other Amerindians, were painted with red ochre.

Many of the British Columbian peoples made themselves artificially
ugly by flattening the sides of the head. To press the skull whilst it
was soft, they squeezed the heads of their children between boards;
others, such as the warlike tribes of the upper Missouri, had a
passion for submitting themselves to mutilation by the medicine man of
the clan, in order to please the sun god. Such would submit to large
strips being cut from the flesh of their shoulders, arms, or legs, or
having their cheeks slashed. The result, of course, was to leave their
limbs and features horribly scarred when they healed up. In some
tribes, however, a young man could not obtain--or retain--a wife
unless he had shown his bravery by submitting to this mutilation.
Women often cut off one or more joints of their fingers to show their
grief for the death of children.

In some tribes, especially of the far north-west and of the Rocky
Mountains, the personal habits of men and women, or of the women only,
were so filthy, and their dislike to bathing so pronounced, that they
became objects of loathing to white men; in other tribes personal
cleanliness was highly esteemed, especially on the seacoast of British
Columbia or along the banks of the great rivers. Usually the men were
better looking and better developed than the women--for one reason,
because they were better fed.

Here is a description by PETER GRANT--a pioneer of the North-West
Company--of the Ojibwe Indians dwelling near the east end of Lake
Superior at the beginning of the nineteenth century:--

"Their complexion is a whitish cast of copper colour, their hair
black, long, straight, and of a very strong texture. The young men
allow several locks of the hair to fall down over the face, ornamented
with ribbons, silver brooches, &c. They gather up another lock from
behind the head into a small clump, and wrap it up with very thin
plates of silver, in which they fix the tail feathers of the eagle or
any other favourite bird with the wearing of which they have
distinguished themselves in war. They are very careful with their
hair, anointing it with bears' oil, which gives it a smooth and glossy
appearance. The teeth are of a beautiful ivory white, the cheeks
rather high and prominent, the eyes black and lively. Their
countenances are generally pleasant, and they might often be called
handsome. The ears are pierced in infancy, and the lobe is extended to
an unnatural size by suspending lead or any other heavy metal from the
outer rim, which in time brings them down near the shoulder. The nose
ornaments hang down half an inch, and nearly touch the upper lip.

"The men are bold, manly, and graceful in their gait, always carrying
their bodies erect and easy. On the other hand, the women, by walking
with the toes of their feet turned inwards, have a disagreeable and
lame appearance. The men are specially fond of painting their faces
and bodies with vermilion, white and blue clay, charcoal or soot mixed
with a little grease or water. With this colour they daub the body,
legs, and thighs in bars and patches, and take the greatest pains
about painting the face, usually with red and black. Their skins are
generally tattooed with figures representing the sun, stars, eagles,
serpents, &c, especially objects which have appeared to them in their
dreams. The women's faces are much less painted, usually a spot of red
on each cheek and a circle of red round the roots of the hair or

Here is a summary of what Alexander Henry, sen., wrote of the _Kri_ or
_Knistino_ Indians of Lake Athabaska about 1770:--

"The men in general tattoo their bodies and arms very much. The women
confine this ornamentation to the chin, having three perpendicular
lines from the middle of the chin to the lip, and one or more running
on each side, nearly parallel with the corner of the mouth. Their
dress consists of leather; that of the men is a pair of leggings,
reaching up to the hip and fastened to the girdle. Between the legs is
passed a strip of woollen stuff, but when this cannot be procured they
use a piece of dressed leather about nine inches broad and four feet
long, whose ends are drawn through the girdle and hang down before and
behind about a foot.... The shirt is of soft dressed leather, either
from the prong-buck or young red deer, close about the neck and
hanging to the middle of the thigh; the sleeves are of the same, loose
and open under the arms to the elbows, but thence to the wrist sewed
tight. The cap is commonly a piece of leather, or skin with the hair
on, shaped to fit the head, and tied under the chin; the top is
usually decorated with feathers or other ornament. Shoes are made of
buffalo (bison) hide, dressed in the hair, and mittens of the same.
Over the whole a buffalo robe is thrown, which serves as covering day
and night.

"Such is their common dress, but on particular occasions they appear
to greater advantage, having their cap, shirt, leggings, and shoes
perfectly clean and white, trimmed with porcupine quills and other
ingenious work of their women, who are supposed to be the most skilful
hands in the country at decorations of this kind. The women's dress
consists of the same materials as the men's. Their leggings do not
reach above the knee, and are gathered below that joint; their shoes
always lack decoration. The shift or body garment reaches down to the
calf, where it is generally fringed and trimmed with quillwork; the
upper part is fastened over the shoulders by strips of leather; a flap
or cape hangs down about a foot before and behind, and is ornamented
with quillwork and fringe. This covering is quite loose, but tied
around the waist with a belt of stiff parchment fastened on the side,
where also some ornaments are suspended. The sleeves are detached from
the body garment; from the wrist to the elbow they are sewed, but
thence to the shoulder they are open underneath and drawn up to the
neck, where they are fastened across the breast and back.

"Their ornaments are two or three coils of brass wire twisted around
the rim of each ear, in which incisions are made for that purpose;
blue beads, brass rings, quillwork, and fringe occasionally answer.
Vermilion (a red clay) is much used by the women to paint the face.

"Their hair is generally parted on the crown and fastened behind each
ear in large knots, from which are suspended bunches of blue beads or
other ingenious work of their own. The men adjust their hair in
various forms; some have it parted on top and tied in a tail on each
side, while others make one long _queue_ which hangs down behind, and
around which is twisted a strip of otter skin or dressed buffalo
entrails. This tail is frequently increased in thickness and length by
adding false hair, but others allow it to flow loose naturally. Combs
are seldom used by the men, and they never smear the hair with grease,
but red earth is sometimes put upon it. White earth daubed over the
hair generally denotes mourning. The young men sometimes have a bunch
of hair on the crown, about the size of a small teacup, and nearly in
the shape of that vessel upside down, to which they fasten various
ornaments of feathers, quillwork, ermine tails, &c. Red and white
earth and charcoal are much used in their toilets; with the former
they usually daub their robes and other garments, some red and others
white. The women comb their hair and use grease on it."

The Slave Indians (a tribe of the Athapaskan family) tattooed their
cheeks with charcoal inserted under the skin, also daubed their
bodies, robes, and garments profusely with red earth (generally
called, in the text of travellers, vermilion), but they had another
favourite pigment, procured from the regions on the west of the Rocky
Mountains, some kind of graphite, like the lead of lead pencils. With
this they marked their faces in black lead after red earth has been
applied, and thus gave themselves a ghastly and savage appearance.
Their dress consists of a leather shirt trimmed with human hair and
porcupine-quill work, and leggings of leather. Their shoes and caps
were made of bison leather, with the hair outside. Their necklaces
were strings of grizzly-bear claws, and a "buffalo" robe was thrown
over all occasionally. Some of them occasionally had quite light
skins--when free of dirt or paint--and grey eyes, and their hair,
instead of being black, was greyish-brown. These last features (grey
eyes and brown hair) characterized many individuals among the northern
British-Columbian tribes.

The Naskwapis of inland Labrador--allied in speech to the Kris and the
Montagnais, but in blood to the Eskimo--are described as above the
middle size in height, slender, and long-legged, their cheeks being
very prominent, eyes black, nose rather flat, mouth large, lips thick,
teeth white, hair rough and black, and the complexion a yellowish
"frog" colour. They were dressed in elaborate and warm garments made
of reindeer skin. The ordinary covering for the head of the men was
the skin of a bear's head. "Thus accoutred, with the addition of a
bow and quiver, a stone axe, and a bone knife, a Naskwapi man
possessed no small degree of pride and self-importance" (James

The handsomest tribes of Amerindians encountered by the Canadian
pioneers seem to have been the Ojibwes of Lake Superior, the Iroquois
south of the St. Lawrence, and the Mandans of the upper Missouri.

Until well on in the nineteenth century none of the Canadian
Amerindians were particular about wearing clothes if the weather was
hot. The men, especially, were either quite oblivious of what was
seemly in clothing (except perhaps the Iroquois) or thought it
necessary to go naked into battle, or to remove all clothing before
taking part in religious ceremonies.

It is commonly supposed that the Red Man was a rather glum person,
seldom seen to smile and averse to showing any emotion. That is not
the impression one derives from the many pen portraits of Amerindians
in the journals of the great pioneers. Here, on the contrary, you see
the natives laughing, smiling, kissing eagerly their wives and
children after an absence, displaying exuberant and cordial friendship
towards the white man who treated them well, having love quarrels and
fits of raging jealousy, moods of deep remorse after a fight, touching
devotion to their comrades or chiefs, and above all to their children.
They are most emotional, indeed, and, apart from this chapter you will
find frequent descriptions of how they wept at times over the
remembrance of their dead relations and friends.

Hearne remarked, in 1772, that when two parties of Athapaska Indians
met, the ceremonies which passed between them were very formal. They
would advance within twenty or thirty yards of each other, make a full
halt, and then sit or lie down on the ground, not speaking for some
minutes. At length one of them, generally an elderly man, broke
silence by acquainting the other party with every misfortune that had
befallen him and his companions from the last time they had seen or
heard of each other, including all deaths and other calamities which
had happened to any other Indians during the same period. When he
finished, another orator, belonging to the other party, related in
like manner all the bad news that had come to _his_ knowledge. If
these orations contained any news that in the least affected either
party, it would not be long before some of them began to sigh and sob,
and soon after to break out into a loud cry, which was generally
accompanied by most of the grown persons of both sexes; and sometimes
it was common to hear them all--men, women, and children--joining in
one universal howl. When the first transports of grief had subsided,
they advanced by degrees, and both parties mixed with each other, the
men with the men, the women with the women. They then passed round
tobacco pipes very freely, and the conversation became general. They
had now nothing but good news left to tell, and in less than half an
hour probably nothing but smiles and cheerfulness would be seen on
every face.

One direction in which the Amerindians did not shine was in their
treatment of women. This perhaps was worse than in other uncivilized
races. Woman was very badly used, except perhaps for the first year of
courtship and marriage. Courtship began by the young man throwing
sticks at the girl[10] who pleased his fancy, and if she responded he
asked her in marriage. But not long after she had become a mother she
sank into the position of a household drudge and beast of burden. For
example, amongst the Beaver Indians, an Athapaskan tribe of the far
north-west, it is related by Alexander Mackenzie that the women are
permanently crippled and injured in physique by the hardships they
have to undergo. "Having few dogs for transport in that country, the
women alone perform that labour which is allotted to beasts of burden
in other countries. It is not uncommon whilst the men carry nothing
but a gun, that their wives and daughters follow with such weighty
burdens that if they lay them down they cannot replace them; nor will
the men deign to perform the service of hoisting them on to their
backs. So that during their journeys they are frequently obliged to
lean against a tree for a small degree of temporary relief. When they
arrive at the place which their tyrants have chosen for their
encampment, they arrange the tent in a few minutes by forming a curve
of poles meeting at the top and expanding into a circle of twelve or
fifteen feet in diameter at the bottom, covered with dressed skins of
the moose sewn together. During these preparations the men sit down
quietly to the enjoyment of their pipes, if they happen to have any

[Footnote 10: The manner of courtship among the Ojibwes seemed to
Peter Grant not only singular, but rude. "The lover begins his first
addresses by gently pelting his mistress with bits of clay, snowballs,
small sticks, or anything he may happen to have in his hand. If she
returns the compliment, he is encouraged to continue the farce, and
repeat it for a considerable time, after which more direct proposals
of marriage are made by word of mouth."]

Among the Ojibwe and Huron Indians of the Great Lakes the men
sometimes obliged their wives to bring up and nourish young bears
instead of their own children, so that the bears might eventually be
fattened for eating. If food was scarce, the women went without before
even the male slaves of the tribe were unprovided with food. Women
might never eat in the society of males, not even if these males were
slaves or prisoners of war. If food was very scarce, the husband as
likely as not killed and ate a wife; perhaps did this before slaying
and eating a valuable dog. (On the other hand, Mackenzie instances the
case of a woman among the Slave Indians who, in a winter of great
scarcity, managed to kill and devour her husband and several
relations.) So terrible was the ill-treatment of the women in some
tribes that these wretched beings sometimes committed suicide to end
their tortures. Even in this, however, they were not let off lightly,
for the Siou men invented as a tenet of their religion the saying that
"Women who hang themselves are the most miserable of all wretches in
the other world".

On the other hand, the kind treatment of children by fathers as well
as mothers is an "Indian" trait commented on by writer after writer.
Here is a typical description by Alexander Henry the Elder, concerning
the children of the Ojibwe tribe:

"As soon as the boys begin to run about, they are provided with bows
and arrows, and acquire, as it were 'by instinct', an astonishing
dexterity in shooting birds, squirrels, butterflies, &c. Hunting in
miniature may be justly said to comprise the whole of their education
and childish diversion. Such as excel in this kind of exercise are
sure of being particularly distinguished by their parents, and seldom
punished for any misbehaviour, but, on the contrary, indulged in every
degree of excess and caprice. I have often seen grown-up boys of this
description, when punished for some serious fault, strike their father
and spit in his face, calling him 'bad dog', or 'old woman', and,
sometimes, carrying their insolence so far as to threaten to stab or
shoot him, and, what is rather singular, these too-indulgent parents
seem to encourage such unnatural liberties, and even glory in such
conduct from their favourite children. I heard them boast of having
sons who promised at an early age to inherit such bold and independent
sentiments.... Children of nine or ten years of age not only enjoy
the confidence of the men, but are generally considered as companions
and very deliberately join in their conversations."

When death overtook anybody the grief of the female relations was
carried to great excess. They not only cut their hair, cried and
howled, but they would sometimes, with the utmost deliberation,
employ some sharp instrument to separate the nail from the finger and
then force back the flesh beyond the first joint, which they
immediately amputated. "Many of the old women have so often repeated
this ceremony that they have not a complete finger remaining on either
hand" (Mackenzie).


The Amerindians of North America were religious and superstitious, and
had a firm faith in a world of spiritual agencies within or outside
the material world around us. Most of them believed in the existence
of "fairies",--woodland, earth, mountain, or water spirits--whom they
declared they could see from time to time in human semblance. Or such
spirit or demi-god might assume for a time or permanently the form of
an animal. To all such spirits of earth, air, and water, or to the
sacred animals they inhabited, sacrifices would be offered and prayers
made. Great importance was attributed to dreams and visions. They
accustomed themselves to make long fasts, so that they might become
light-headed and see visions, or hear spirit voices in a trance. To
prepare their minds for this state they would go four or five days
without food, and even abstain from drinking.

Undoubtedly their "medicine men" developed great mesmeric powers, and
this force, combined with rather clumsy juggling and ventriloquism,
enabled them to perform a semblance of "miracles". The Iroquois
offered much opposition to Christianity, thinking it would tame their
warriors too quickly and affect their national independence; but by
the greater part of the Amerindians the message of the Gospel brought
by the French priests was eagerly received, and the converts became
many and most sincere. Their reverence for the missionaries and belief
in them was increased when they saw how effectually they were able to
protect them from too-rapacious white adventurers, fierce soldiers,
and unscrupulous traders.

The Miamis of Lake Michigan held the symbol of the cross in great
respect. A young Frenchman who was trading with them got into a
passion and drew his sword to avenge himself for a theft committed on
his goods. The Miama chieftain, to appease him, showed him the cross,
which was planted in the ground at the end of his lodge, and said to
him: "Behold the tree of the Black Gown; he teaches us to pray and not
to lose our temper,"--of course, referring to the missionary in the
black gown who had been amongst them. Before the cross was planted
here these Miamis kept in their houses one or more bogies, to which
they appealed in times of distress or sickness. One of these was the
skull of the bison with its horns. Another was the skin of the bear
raised on a pole in the middle of the hut and retaining the head,
which was usually painted green. The women sometimes died of terror
from the stories told them by the men about these idols, and the
Jesuits did a great deal of good by getting them abolished in many

The Supreme Being of the Eskimos was a goddess rather than a god: a
mother of all things who lived under the sea. On the other hand, most
of the Amerindian tribes believed in one great God of the Sky--Manito,
as He was called by the peoples of Algonkin stock, Nainubushan by the
Siou and their kindred. This Being was usually kindly disposed towards
man; but they also (in most cases) believed in a _bad_ Manito, who was
responsible for most of the harm in the world. But sometimes the Great
Manito was capricious, or apparently made many mistakes which he had
afterwards to rectify. Thus the Siou tribes of Assiniboia believed
that the Supreme Being (whom they called Eth-tom-e) first created
mankind and all living things, and then, through some oversight or
mistake, caused a great flood to cover the earth's surface. So in a
hurry he was obliged to make a very large canoe of twigs and
branches, and into this he put a pair of every kind of bird and beast,
besides a family of human beings, who were thus saved from drowning,
and began the world afresh when the waters subsided. This legend was
something like the story of Noah's ark, but seems in some form or
another to have existed in the mind of all the North-American peoples
before the arrival of Christian missionaries. Much the same story was
told by the Ojibwes about the Great Hare-God, Nainiboju.

The Siou and the Ojibwe (and other tribes also) believed that after
death the soul lay for a time in a trance, and then found itself
floating towards a River which must be crossed. Beyond the River lay
the Happy Hunting Grounds, the Elysian fields; but to oppose the weary
soul anxious to reach this paradise there ramped on the other side a
huge, flaming-red bison bull, if it had been ordained by the Great
Spirit that the soul's time was not yet come, this red bison pushed it
back, and the soul was obliged to re-enter the body, which then awoke
from its trance or swoon and resumed its worldly activities.

Suicide was regarded as the most heinous of crimes. Any man killing
himself deliberately, fell into the river of the ghost world and was
never heard of again, while women who hanged themselves "were regarded
as the most miserable of all wretches in the other world".

Their belief in spirits--even ancestral spirits--taking up an abode in
the bodies of beasts, birds, or reptiles, or even in plants or stones,
caused them to view with respect of a superstitious kind many natural
objects. Some one thing--a beast, bird, reptile, fish, plant, or
strange stone had been fixed on as the abode of his tutelary spirit by
some father of a family. The family grew into a clan, and the clan to
a tribe, and the object sacred in the eyes of its father and founder
became its "totem", crest, or symbol. As a rule, whatever thing was
the _totem_ of the individual or the clan was held sacred in their
eyes, and, if it was an animal, was not killed, or, if killed, not
eaten. Many of the northern Indians would refrain from killing the
wolf or the glutton, or if they did so, or did it by accident, they
would refuse to skin the animal. The elder people amongst the
Athapaskan Indians, in Hearne's day, would reprove the young folk for
"speaking disrespectfully" of different beasts and birds.

Their ideas of medicine and surgery were much mixed up with a belief
in magic and in the mysterious powers of their "medicine men". This
person, who might be of either sex, certainly knew a few simple
medicines to be made from herbs or decoctions of bark, but for the
most part he attempted to cure the sick or injured by blowing lustily
on the part affected or, more wisely, by massage. A universal cure,
however, for all fevers and mild ailments was sweating. Sweating huts
were built in nearly every settlement. They were covered over in a way
to exclude air as much as possible. The inside was heated with red-hot
stones and glowing embers, on to which from time to time water was
poured to fill the place with steam. The Amerindians not only went
through these Turkish baths to cure small ailments but also with the
idea of clearing the intelligence and as a fitting preliminary to
negotiations--for peace, or alliance, or even for courtship. In many
tribes if a young "brave" arrived with proposals of marriage for a
man's daughter he was invited to enter the sweating house with her
father, and discuss the bargain calmly over perspiration and the
tobacco pipe.

Tobacco smoking indeed was almost a religious ceremony, as well as a
remedy for certain maladies or states of mind. The "pipe of peace" has
become proverbial. Nevertheless tobacco was still unknown in the
eighteenth century to many of the Pacific-coast and far-north-west
tribes, as to the primitive Eskimo. It was not a very old practice in
the Canadian Dominion when Europeans first arrived there, though it
appeared to be one of the most characteristic actions of these
red-skinned savages in the astonished eyes of the first pioneers. They
used pipes for smoking, however, long before tobacco came among them,
certain berries taking the place of tobacco.

The Amerindians of the southern parts of Canada and British Columbia
were more or less settled peoples of towns or villages, of fixed homes
to which they returned at all seasons of the year, however far afield
they might range for warfare, trade, or hunting. But the more northern
tribes were nomads: people shifting their abode from place to place in
pursuit of game or trade. Unlike the people of the south and west
(though these only grew potatoes) they were not agriculturists: the
only vegetable element in their food was the wild rice of the marshes,
the sweet-tasting layer between the bark and the wood of certain
trees, and the fruits or fungi of the forest or the lichen growing on
the rocks. Though these people might in summertime build some hasty
wigwam of boughs and moss, their ordinary dwelling place was a tent.

The Wood Indians, or Opimitish Ininiwak, of the Athapaskan group
(writes Alexander Henry, sen.) had no fixed villages; and their lodges
or huts were so rudely fashioned as to afford them very inadequate
protection against the weather. The greater part of their year was
spent in travelling from place to place in search of food. The animal
on which they chiefly depended was the _hare_--a most prominent animal
in Amerindian economy and tradition. This they took in springes. From
its skin they made coverings with much ingenuity, cutting it into
narrow strips and weaving this into the shape of a blanket, which was
of a very warm and agreeable quality.

The Naskwapi Algonkins of inland Labrador were savages that led a
wandering life through the bare, flat parts of that country,
subsisting chiefly upon flesh, and clothing themselves with the skin
of the caribou, which they caught in pitfalls or shot with the bow
and arrow. "Very few sights, I believe, can be more distressing to the
feelings of humanity than a Labrador savage, surrounded by his wife
and five or six small children, half-famished with cold and hunger in
a hole dug out of the snow and screened from the inclemency of the
weather by the branches of the trees. Their whole furniture is a
kettle hung over the fire, not for the purpose of cooking victuals,
but for melting snow" (James M'Kenzie).

A description of the tents of the Kris or Knistino (Algonkins of the
Athabaska region), written by Alexander Henry, sen., applies with very
little difference to all the other tribes dwelling to the east of the
Rocky Mountains.[11]

[Footnote 11: See also p. 249.]

These tents were of dressed leather, erected with poles, generally
seventeen in number, of which two were tied together about three feet
from the top. The first two poles being erected and set apart at the
base, the others were placed against them in a slanting position,
meeting at the top, so that they all formed nearly a circle, which was
then covered with the leather. This consisted of ten to fifteen
dressed skins of the bison, moose, or red deer, well sewed together
and nicely cut to fit the conical figure of the poles, with an opening
above, to let out smoke and admit the light. From this opening down to
the door the two edges of the tent were brought close together and
well secured with wooden pegs about six inches long, leaving for the
door an oval aperture about two feet wide and three feet high, below
which the edges were secured with similar pegs. This small entrance
did well enough for the natives, who would be brought up to it from
infancy, but a European might be puzzled to get through, as a piece of
hide stretched upon a frame of the same shape as the door, but
somewhat larger, hung outside, and must be first raised by the hand of
the incomer.

Such tents were usually spacious, measuring twenty feet in diameter.
The fire was always made in the centre, around which the occupants
generally placed a range of stones to prevent the ashes from
scattering and to keep the fire compact. New tents were perfectly
white; some of them were painted with red and black figures. These
devices were generally derived from the dreams of the Amerindians,
being some mythical monster or other hideous animal, whose description
had been handed down from their ancestors. A large camp of such tents,
pitched regularly on a level plain, had a fine effect at a distance,
especially when numerous bands of horses were seen feeding in all

The "lodges" or long houses made of poles, fir branches, moss, &c.,
wherein, among the Iroquois, Algonkin, and Siou peoples, several
families made a common habitation, are described here and there in the
course of the narrative. The houses of the coast tribes of British
Columbia were bigger, more elaborate, and permanent, and in this
region the natives had acquired some idea of carpentry, and had learnt
to make planks of wood by splitting with wedges or hewing with adzes.

One of these British Columbian houses was measured, and found to be
seventy feet long by twenty-five feet wide; the entrance in the gable
end was cut through a plank five and a half feet wide, and nearly
oval. A board suspended on the outside answered for a door; on the
other side of the broad plank was rudely carved a large painted figure
of a man, between whose legs was the passage. But other houses on the
Pacific coast, visited by Cook or Vancouver, are said to have been
large enough to accommodate seven hundred people. These houses of the
Pacific coast region were exceedingly filthy, sturgeon and salmon
being strewn about in every direction. The men inhabiting them were
often disgusting in their behaviour, while the women are declared to
have been "devoid of shame or decency".

According to Mackenzie, such habitations swarmed with fleas, and even
the ground round about them "was alive with this vermin". The
Alexander Henrys, both uncle and nephew, complain of the flea plague
(partly due to the multitude of dogs) in every Indian village or

The domestic implements of the Amerindians were few. Pottery seems to
have been unknown amongst the northern tribes to the east and north of
the Mississippi valley, but earthen jars and vessels were made by the
Dakota-Siou group in the valley of the Mississippi. Amongst these
agricultural Indians the hoe was made of a buffalo's blade bone
fastened to a crooked wooden handle. The Ojibwes manufactured chisels
out of beavers' teeth. The Eskimo and some of the neighbouring
Amerindian tribes used oblong "kettles" of stone--simply great blocks
of stone chipped, rubbed, and hollowed out into receptacles, with
handles at both ends. (It is suggested that they borrowed the idea of
these stone vessels for cooking from the early Norse settlers of
Greenland; see p. 18.)

The Amerindians of the regions west of the Rocky Mountains made
kettles or cooking vessels out of blocks of "cedar" (_Juniper_) wood;
east of the Rocky Mountains the birch-bark kettle was universal. Of
course these vessels of wood or bark could not be placed on the fire
or embers to heat or boil the contents, as was possible with the
"kettles" of stone or the cooking pots of clay. So the people using
them heated the water in which the food or the soup was boiled by
making stones red-hot in the fire and then dropping them into the
birch-bark or cedar-wood tubs. Many of the northern Indians got into
the way of eating their food raw because of the difficulty of making a
fire away from home.

In regard to food, neither Amerindian nor Eskimo was squeamish. They
were almost omnivorous, and specially delighted in putrid or noisome
substances from which a European would turn in loathing, and from the
eating of which he might conceivably die.

It was only in the extreme south of Canada or in British Columbia
(potatoes only) that any agriculture was carried on and that the
natives had maize, pumpkins, and pease to add to their dietary; but
(as compared to the temperate regions of Europe and Asia) Nature was
generous in providing wild fruits and grain without trouble of
husbandry. The fruits and nuts have been enumerated elsewhere, but a
description might be given here of the "wild oats" (_Avena fatua_) and
the "wild rice" of the regions of central Canada and the middle west.
The wild oats made a rough kind of porridge, but were not so important
and so nourishing as the wild rice which is so often mentioned in the
stories of the pioneers, who liked this wild grain as much as the
Indians did.

This wild rice (_Zizania aquatica_) grew naturally in small rivers and
swampy places. The stems were hollow, jointed at intervals, and the
grain appeared at the extremity of the stalk. By the month of June
they had grown two feet above the surface of the shallow water, and
were ripe for harvesting in September. At this period the Amerindians
passed in canoes through the water-fields of wild rice, shaking the
ears into the canoes as they swept by. The grain fell out easily when
ripe, but in order to clean it from the husk it was dried over a slow
fire on a wooden grating. After being winnowed it was pounded to flour
in a mortar, or else boiled like rice, and seasoned with fat. "It had
a most delicate taste", wrote Alexander Henry the Elder.

Fish was perhaps the staple of Amerindian diet, because in scarcely
any part of the Canadian Dominion is a lake, river, or brook far away.
In the region of the Great Lakes fish were caught in large quantities
in October, and exposed to the weather to be frozen at nighttime. They
were then stored away in this congealed state, and lasted good--more
or less--till the following April.

Pemmican--that early form of potted meat so familiar to the readers of
Red-Indian romances--was made of the lean meat of the bison. The
strips of meat were dried in the sun, and afterwards pounded in a
mortar and mixed with an equal quantity of bison fat. Fish "pemmican"
was sun-dried fish ground to powder.

A favourite dish among the northern Indians was blood mixed with the
half-digested food found in the stomach of a deer, boiled up with a
sufficient quantity of water to make it of the consistency of pease
porridge. Some scraps of fat or tender flesh were shredded small and
boiled with it. To render this dish more palatable they had a method
of mixing the blood with the contents of the stomach in the paunch
itself, and hanging it up in the heat and smoke of the fire for
several days--in other words, the Scotch haggis. The kidneys of both
moose and buffalo were usually eaten _raw_ by the southern Indians,
for no sooner was one of those beasts killed than the hunter ripped up
its belly, snatched out the kidneys, and ate them warm, before the
animal was quite dead. They also at times put their mouths to the
wound the ball or the arrow had made, and sucked the blood; this, they
said, quenched thirst, and was very nourishing.

The favourite drink of the Ojibwe Indians in the wintertime was hot
broth poured over a dishful of pure snow.

The Amerindians of the Nipigon country (north of Lake Superior) and
the Ojibwes and Kris often relapsed into cannibalism when hard up for
food. Indeed some of them became so addicted to this practice that
they simply went about stalking their fellow Indians with as much
industry as if they were hunting animals. "These prowling ogres caused
such terror that to sight the track of one of them was sufficient to
make twenty families decamp in all the speed of their terror"
(Alexander Henry). It was deemed useless to attempt any resistance
when these monsters were coming to kill and eat. The people would even
make them presents of clothes and provisions to allow them and their
children to live. There were women cannibals as well as men (see p.

As the greater part of their food came from the chase, and their only
articles of commerce likewise, they devoted themselves more entirely
to hunting and fishing than to any other pursuit. The women did most
of the fishing (and all the skin-curing for the fur market and for
their own dress), while the men pursued with weapons the beasts of the
chase, trapped them in pitfalls or snares, or drove them into "pounds"
(excavated enclosures).

Illustrating the wonderful sagacity of the Amerindians as game
trackers, Alexander Henry the Elder tells the following story in the
autumn of 1799:--

"We had not gone far from the house before we fell upon the fresh
tracks of some red deer (wapiti), and soon after discovered the herd
in a thicket of willows and poplars; we both fired, and the deer
disappeared in different directions. We pursued them, but to no
purpose, as the country was unfavourable. We then returned to the spot
where we had fired, as the Indian suspected that we had wounded some
of them. We searched to see if we could find any blood; on my part, I
could find tracks, but no blood. The Indian soon called out, and I
went to him, but could see no blood, nor any sign that an animal had
been wounded. However, he pointed out the track of a large buck among
the many others, and told me that from the manner in which this buck
had started off he was certain the animal had been wounded. As the
ground was beaten in every direction by animals, it was only after a
tedious search that we found where the buck had struck off. But no
blood was seen until, passing through a thicket of willows, he
observed a drop upon a leaf, and next a little more. He then began to
examine more strictly, to find out in what part of the body the
animal had been wounded; and, judging by the height and other signs,
he told me the wound must have been somewhere between the shoulder and
neck. We advanced about a mile, but saw nothing of the deer, and no
more blood. I was for giving up the chase; but he assured me the wound
was mortal, and that if the animal should lie down he could not rise
again. We proceeded two miles farther, when, coming out upon a small
open space, he told me the animal was at no great distance, and very
probably in this meadow. We accordingly advanced a few yards, and
there we found the deer lying at the last gasp. The wound was exactly
as I had been told. The sagacity of the Saulteurs [Ojibwes] in tracing
big wood animals is astonishing. I have frequently witnessed
occurrences of this nature; the bend of a leaf or blade of grass is
enough to show the hunter the direction the game has taken. Their
ability is of equally great service to war parties, when they discover
the footsteps of their enemies."

The Assiniboin Indians (a branch of the Sious) down to about fifty
years ago captured the bison of the plains in hundreds at a time by
driving them into large excavated areas below the level of the ground.

Alexander Henry, jun., gives the following description of this
procedure in 1810:--

"The pounds are of different dimensions, according to the number of
tents in one camp. The common size is from sixty to one hundred paces
or yards in circumference, and about five feet in height. Trees are
cut down, laid upon one another, and interwoven with branches and
green twigs; small openings are left to admit the dogs to feed upon
the carcasses of the (old) bulls, which are generally left as useless.
This enclosure is commonly made between two hummocks, on the declivity
or at the foot of rising ground. The entrance is about ten paces wide,
and always fronts the plains. On each side of this entrance commences
a thick range of fascines, the two ranges spreading asunder as they
extend to the distance of one hundred yards, beyond which openings are
left at intervals; but the fascines soon become more thinly planted,
and continue to spread apart to the right and left until each range
has been extended about three hundred yards from the pound. The labour
is then diminished by only placing at intervals three or four cross
sticks, in imitation of a dog or other animal (sometimes called 'dead
men'); these extend on the plain for about two miles, and double rows
of them are planted in several other directions to a still greater
distance. Young men are usually sent out to collect and bring in the
buffalo--a tedious task, which requires great patience, for the herd
must be started by slow degrees. This is done by setting fire to dung
or grass. Three young men will bring in a herd of several hundred from
a great distance. When the wind is aft it is most favourable, as they
can then direct the buffalo with great ease. Having come in sight of
the ranges, they generally drive the herd faster, until it begins to
enter the ranges, where a swift-footed person has been stationed with
a buffalo robe over his head, to imitate that animal; but sometimes a
horse performs this business. When he sees buffaloes approaching he
moves slowly toward the pound until they appear to follow him; then he
sets off at full speed, imitating a buffalo as well as he can, with
the herd after him. The young men in the rear now discover themselves,
and drive the herd on with all possible speed. There is always a
sentinel on some elevated spot to notify the camp when the buffalo
appear; and this intelligence is no sooner given than every man,
woman, and child runs to the ranges that lead to the pound to prevent
the buffalo from taking a wrong direction. Then they lie down between
the fascines and cross sticks, and, if the buffalo attempt to break
through, the people wave their robes, which causes the herd to keep
on, or turn to the opposite side, where other persons do the same.
When the buffalo have been thus directed to the entrance of the pound,
the Indian who leads them rushes into it and out at the other side,
either by jumping over the enclosure or creeping through an opening
left for that purpose. The buffalo tumble in pell-mell at his heels,
almost exhausted, but keep moving around the enclosure from east to
west, and never in a direction against the sun. What appeared
extraordinary to me on those occasions was that, when word was given
to the camp of the near approach of the buffalo, the dogs would skulk
away from the pound and not approach until the herd entered. Many
buffaloes break their legs and some their necks in jumping into the
pound, as the descent is generally six or eight feet, and stumps are
left standing there. The buffalo being caught, the men assembled at
the enclosure, armed with bows and arrows; every arrow has a
particular mark of the owner, and they are let fly until the whole
herd is killed. Then the men enter the pound, and each claims his own;
but commonly there is what they term the master of the pound, who
divides the animals and gives each tent an equal share, reserving
nothing for himself. But in the end he is always the best provided
for; everyone is obliged to send him a certain portion, as it is in
his tent that the numerous ceremonies relating to the pound are
observed. There the young men are always welcome to feast and smoke,
and no women are allowed to enter, as that tent is set apart for the
affairs of the pound. Horses are sometimes used to collect and bring
in buffalo, but this method is less effectual than the other; besides,
it frightens the herds and soon causes them to withdraw to a great
distance. When horses are used the buffalo are absolutely driven into
the pound, but when the other method is pursued they are in a manner
enticed to their destruction."

A somewhat similar method was adopted by the northern Kris and
Athapascans for the capture of reindeer.

As regards means of transport, the use of dogs as draught animals was
by no means confined to the Eskimo: they were used in wintertime to
draw sledges over the snow or ice by nearly all the northern Indian
tribes, and by the people of the Rocky Mountains and Pacific coast.
After the Amerindians of the prairies and plains received horses
(indirectly through the Spaniards of Mexico)[12] they sometimes
employed the smaller and poorer kind of ponies as pack animals; but
for the most part throughout the summer season of the Canadian
Dominion--from May to October--transport and travel by canoe was the
favourite method.

[Footnote 12: See p. 150.]

There were four very well marked types of canoe or boat in British
North America. There was the already-described Eskimo _kayak_, made of
leather stretched over a framework of wood or bone; the Amerindians of
the Dominion, south of the Eskimo and east of the Rocky Mountains,
used the familiar "birch-bark" canoe;[13] the peoples of the Pacific
coast belt possessed something more like a boat, made out of a
hollowed tree trunk and built up with planks; and the tribes of the
Upper Mississippi used round coracles. Here are descriptions of all
three kinds of Amerindian canoe from the pens of eighteenth-century
pioneers: The birch-bark canoe used on the Great Lakes was about
thirty-three feet long by four and a half feet broad, and formed of
the smooth rind or bark of the birch tree fastened outside a wooden
framework. It was lined with small splints of juniper cedar, and the
vessel was further strengthened with ribs of the same wood, of which
the two ends were fastened to the gunwales. Several bars rather than

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