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Pioneers in Canada by Sir Harry Johnston

Part 5 out of 6

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passage were so plentiful, flying from south to north, and halting to
rest at the lake, that Hearne felt the time had come to resume his
journey, provisions being now very plentiful and the worst of the thaw
over. The weather was remarkably fine and pleasant as the party
travelled northwards.

There must have been good patent medicines even in those days. Of
these Hearne possessed "Turlington's Drops" and "Yellow Basilicon",
and with these he not only healed the terrible wounds of a valuable
Indian who had cut his leg most severely (when making birch-bark
dishes, spoons, &c), but also the hand of another Indian, which was
shattered with the bursting of a gun. These medicines soon restored
the use of his hand, so that in a short time he was out of danger,
while the carver of birch-bark spoons was able to walk. Nevertheless,
although they were to the south of the 60th degree of latitude, the
snow was not completely melted until the end of June.

All at once the weather became exceedingly hot, the sledges had to be
thrown away, and each man had to carry on his back a heavy load. For
instance, Hearne was obliged to carry his quadrant for taking
astronomical observations, and its stand; a trunk containing books and
papers, &c.; a large compass; and a bag containing all his wearing
apparel; also a hatchet, a number of knives, files, &c., and several
small articles intended for presents to the natives--in short, a
weight of _sixty pounds_. Moreover, the barren ground was quite
unsuited to the pitching of the southern type of tent, the poles of
which obviously could not be driven into the bare rock, so that Hearne
was obliged to sleep in the open air in all weathers. Very often he
was unable to make a fire, and was constantly reduced to eating his
meat quite raw. "Notwithstanding these accumulated and complicated
hardships, we continued in perfect health and good spirits." The
average day's walk was twenty miles, sometimes without any other
subsistence than a pipe of tobacco and a drink of water.

At last they saw three musk oxen grazing by the side of a small lake.
This seemed a splendid piece of fortune, but, to their mortification,
before they could get one of them skinned, a tremendous downpour of
rain ensued, so as to make it out of their power to have a fire, for
their only form of fuel was moss. And the flesh of the musk ox eaten
raw was disgusting; it was coarse and tough, and tasted so strongly of
musk that Hearne could hardly swallow it. "None of our natural wants,"
he writes, "except thirst, are so distressing or hard to endure as
hunger.... For want of action, the stomach so far loses its digestive
powers that, after long fasting, it resumes its office with pain and
reluctance." After these prolonged fasts, his stomach was scarcely
able to contain two or three ounces of food without producing the most
agonizing pain. "We fasted many times two whole days and nights, and
twice for three days; once for nearly seven days, during which we
tasted not a mouthful of anything, except a few cranberries, water,
scraps of old leather, and burnt bones."

At a place 63 deg. north latitude he bought a canoe for a single knife
"the full value of which did not exceed one penny", having been told
that they would soon reach rivers through which they could not wade.
And, moreover, they found an Indian who was willing to carry it. In
July his guide persuaded him to join an encampment of natives--about
six hundred persons living in seventy tents--asserting that, as it was
no use proceeding much farther north in their search for the
Coppermine River that season, it would be well to winter to the west,
and resume their northern journey in the spring. The country, though
quite devoid of trees, and mostly barren rock, was covered with a herb
or shrub called by the Indian name of Wishakapakka,[2] from which the
European servants of the Hudson's Bay Company had long been used to
prepare a kind of tea by steeping it in boiling water. Here there were
multitudes of reindeer feeding on the _Cladina_ lichen and the Indians
with Hearne killed large numbers for the food of the party, and also
for their skins and the marrow in their bones.

[Footnote 2: This word is said to be a corruption or altered form of
_Wishakagami[-u]_, a liquid or broth (Kri language). The drink made
from this shrub or herb (_Ledum palustre_) is now known as Labrador
tea. It is a bitter aromatic infusion.]

The Indian who had volunteered to carry the canoe proved unequal to
his task. But Hearne found another of his carriers who was willing to
take the burden. In order, therefore, to be readier with his gun to
shoot deer, he transferred a portion of his own load to the ex-canoe
carrier. This portion consisted of the invaluable quadrant and its
stand, and a bag of gunpowder. The gunpowder was of such importance to
Hearne and his party that one wonders he made this exchange; for if he
lost this powder he had no means of killing game, and was entirely
dependent for food on the troop of Indians with whom he was
travelling, and whom he knew to be most niggardly and inhospitable.
Judge, therefore, of his horror when, at the end of a day's march,
this weakly Indian porter was missing with his load. All night Hearne
was unable to sleep with anxiety, and the whole of the next day he
spent searching the rocky ground for miles to discover some sign of
the missing man. At that season of the year it was like looking for a
needle in a pottle of hay, for there was no snow, and equally no
herbage, on which a man's foot could leave traces. However, at last,
by some miracle, they discovered the load by the banks of a little
river where a party of Indians had crossed.

Shortly afterwards, leaving his quadrant on its stand for a few
minutes, whilst he went to eat his dinner, a violent wind arose and
blew the whole thing on to the rocks, so that the quadrant was
smashed and rendered useless. On this account he determined once more
to return to Fort Prince of Wales. The Northern Indians[3] with whom
Hearne travelled backwards towards the fort were most inhospitable,
not to say dangerous. They robbed him of most of his goods, and
refused to allow their women to assist his people to dress the
reindeer skins out of which it would be necessary shortly to make
coverings to protect them from the severe cold of the autumn. In fact
Hearne was in rather a desperate condition by September, 1770, when he
was joined by a party of Indians under a famous leader, whom he calls

[Footnote 3: The Indians of the Athapaskan or Dene group were usually
called the _Northern Indians_ by the Hudson Bay people, in comparison
to all the other tribes of the more temperate regions farther south,
who were known as the _Southern Indians_ (Algonkins, &c.).]

Matonabi, though of Athapaskan stock, had, when a boy, resided several
years at Prince of Wales's Fort, and learnt a little English, and,
above all, was a master of several Algonkin dialects or languages, so
that he could discourse with the Southern Indians. As soon as he heard
of Hearne's distress he furnished him with a good, warm suit of skins,
and had the reindeer skins dressed for the Indian carriers who
accompanied Hearne. In journeying together, Matonabi invited him to
return once more, with himself as guide, to discover the copper mines.

"He attributed all our misfortunes to the misconduct of my guides, and
the very plan we pursued, by the desire of the Governor, in not taking
any women with us on this journey, was, he said, the principal thing
that occasioned all our wants. 'For,' said he, 'when all the men are
heavy laden, they can neither hunt nor travel to any considerable
distance; and in case they meet with success in hunting, who is to
carry the produce of their labour?' 'Women,' added he, 'were made for
labour; one of them can carry, or haul, as much as two men can do.
They also pitch our tents, make and mend our clothing, keep us warm at
night; and, in fact, there is no such thing as travelling any
considerable distance, or for any length of time, in this country,
without their assistance.' 'Women,' said he again, 'though they do
everything, are maintained at a trifling expense; for as they always
stand cook, the very licking of their fingers in scarce times is
sufficient for their subsistence.'

"This," added Hearne, "however odd it may appear, is but too true a
description of the situation of women in this country: it is at least
so in appearance; for the women always carry the provisions, though it
is more than probable they help themselves when the men are not

On the 7th of December, 1770, Samuel Hearne started again
from Prince of Wales's Fort, Hudsons Bay, but under very much happier
circumstances, Matonabi being practically in charge of the expedition.

Unfortunately, on reaching the Egg River, where Matonabi's people had
made a _cache_ or hiding place in which they had stored a quantity of
provisions and implements, they found that other Indians had
discovered this hiding place and robbed it of nearly every article.
This was a great disappointment to Matonabi's people; but Hearne
remarks the fortitude with which they bore this, nor did one of them
ever speak of revenge. But the expedition's scarcity of food obliged
them to push on from morning till night, day after day; yet the road
being very bad, and their sledges heavy, they were seldom able to do
more than eighteen miles a day. Hearne himself writes that he never
spent so dull a Christmas. For the last three days he had not tasted a
morsel of anything, except a pipe of tobacco and a drink of snow
water, yet he had to walk daily from morning till night heavily laden.
However, at the end of December they reached Island Lake, where they
entered a camp of Matonabi's people, and here they found a little
food in the way of fish and dried venison. From Island Lake they made
their way in a zigzag fashion, stopping often to drive reindeer into
pounds to secure large supplies of venison and of skins, till, in the
month of April, 1771, they reached a small lake with an almost
unpronounceable name, which meant "Little Fish Hill", from a high hill
which stood at the west end of this sheet of water.

On an island in this lake they pitched their tents, as deer were very
numerous. During this time also they were busily employed in preparing
staves of birch wood, about seven or eight feet long, to serve as tent
poles in the summer, and in the winter to be converted into snowshoe
frames. Here also Chief Matonabi purchased another wife. He had now
with him no less than seven, most of whom would for size have made
good grenadiers. He prided himself much on the height and strength of
his wives, and would frequently say few women could carry off heavier
loads. In fact in this country wives were very seldom selected for
their beauty, but rather for their strength.

"Ask a Northern Indian," wrote Hearne, "'What is beauty?' He will
answer: 'A broad, flat face, small eyes, high cheekbones, three or
four broad black lines across each cheek, a low forehead, a broad
chin, a clumsy hook nose, and a tawny hide.'"

But the model woman amongst these Indians was one who was capable of
dressing all kinds of skins and making them into clothing, and who was
strong enough to carry a load of about a hundred pounds in weight in
summer, and to haul perhaps double that weight on a sledge in winter.
"As to their temper, it is of little consequence; for the men have a
wonderful facility in making the most stubborn comply with as much
alacrity as could possibly be expected." When the men kill any large
beast the women are always sent to bring it to the tent. When it is
brought there, every operation it undergoes, such as splitting,
drying, pounding, is performed by the women. When anything is prepared
for eating it is the women who cook it; and when it is done, not even
the wives and daughters of the greatest chiefs in the country are
served until all the males--even the male slaves--have eaten what they
think proper. In times of scarcity it was frequently the lot of the
women to be left without a single mouthful; though, no doubt, they
took good care to help themselves in secret.


Hearne mentions that in this country among the Northern Indians the
names of the boys were various and generally derived from some place,
or season of the year, or animal; whilst the names of the girls were
chiefly taken from some part or property of a marten,[4] such as the
white marten, the black marten, the summer marten, the marten's head,
foot, heart, or tail.

[Footnote 4: A fur-bearing animal (_Mustela americana_), very like the
British pine marten.]

From the Lake of Little Fish Hill the party moved on to Lake Clowey,
and here the Northern Indians set to work to build their canoes in the
warm and dry weather, which was about to come in at the end of May.
These canoes were very slight and simple in construction and
wonderfully light, which was necessary, for some of the northern
portages might be a hundred to one hundred and fifty miles in length,
over which the canoes would have to be carried by the Indians. All the
tools employed in those days, in building such canoes and making
snowshoes and all the other furniture and utensils of Indian life,
consisted of a _hatchet_, a _knife_, a _file_, and an _awl_ obtained
from the stores of the Hudson's Bay Company. In the use of these tools
they were so dexterous that everything they manufactured was done with
a neatness which could not be excelled by the most expert mechanic.
These northern canoes were flat-bottomed, with straight, upright
sides, and sharp prow and peak. The stern part of the canoe was wider
than the rest in order to receive the baggage. The average length of
the canoe would be from twelve to thirteen feet, and the breadth in
the widest part about two feet. Generally but a single paddle was
used, and that rather attenuated. When transporting the canoes from
one river to another, a strong band of bark or fibre would be fastened
round the thwarts of the canoe, and then slung over the breast and
shoulders of the Indian that was carrying it.

From Lake Clowey the northern progress was made on foot, steady and
fatiguing walking over the barren grounds. The wooded region had been
left behind to the south; but for a distance of about twenty miles
outside the living woods there was a belt of dry stumps more or less
ancient. According to Hearne, these vestiges of trees to the north of
the present forest limit were an indication that the climate had grown
colder during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, because,
according to the traditions of the Indians and the remembrances of
their old people, the forest had formerly extended much farther to the

Whilst they were staying for the canoe building at Lake Clowey, Hearne
was a great deal bothered by the domestic troubles of his Indian
friend Matonabi. This man had been constantly trying to add to his
stock of wives as he passed up country, and at Clowey he had met the
former husband of one of these women whom he had carried off by force.
The man ventured to reproach him, whereupon Matonabi went into his
tent, opened one of his wives' bundles, and with the greatest
composure took out a new, long, box-handled knife; then proceeded to
the tent of the man who had complained, and without any parley
whatever took him by the collar and attempted to stab him to death.
The man had already received three bad knife wounds in the back before
other people, rushing in to his assistance, prevented Matonabi from
finishing him. After this, Matonabi returned to his tent as though
nothing had happened, called for water, washed the blood off his hands
and knife, and smoked his pipe as usual, asking Hearne if he did not
think he had done quite right!

"It has ever been the custom among those people for the men to wrestle
for any woman to whom they are attached; and of course the strongest
party always carries off the prize. A weak man, unless he be a good
hunter and well beloved, is seldom permitted to keep a wife that a
stronger man thinks worth his notice; for at any time when the wives
of those strong wrestlers are heavy laden either with furs or
provisions, they make no scruple of tearing any other man's wife from
his bosom and making her bear a part of his luggage. This custom
prevails throughout all their tribes, and causes a great spirit of
emulation among their youth, who are upon all occasions, from their
childhood, trying their strength and skill in wrestling. This enables
them to protect their property, and particularly their wives, from the
hands of those powerful ravishers, some of whom make almost a
livelihood by taking what they please from the weaker parties without
making them any return. Indeed it is represented as an act of great
generosity if they condescend to make an unequal exchange, as, in
general, abuse and insult are the only return for the loss which is

"The way in which they tear the women and other property from one
another, though it has the appearance of the greatest brutality, can
scarcely be called fighting. I never knew any of them receive the
least hurt in these _rencontres_; the whole business consists in
hauling each other about by the hair of the head; they are seldom
known either to strike or kick one another. It is not uncommon for one
of them to cut off his hair and to grease his ears immediately before
the contest begins. This, however, is done privately; and it is
sometimes truly laughable to see one of the parties strutting about
with an air of great importance, and calling out: 'Where is he? Why
does he not come out?' when the other will bolt out with a clean-shorn
head and greased ears, rush on his antagonist, seize him by the hair,
and, though perhaps a much weaker man, soon drag him to the ground,
while the stronger is not able to lay hold of him. It is very frequent
on those occasions for each party to have spies, to watch the other's
motions, which puts them more on a footing of equality. For want of
hair to pull, they seize each other about the waist, with legs wide
extended, and try their strength by endeavouring to vie who can first
throw the other down."

"Early in the morning of the twenty-ninth 'Captain' Keelshies (an
Indian) joined us. He delivered to me a packet of letters and a
two-quart keg of French brandy, but assured me that the powder, shot,
tobacco, knives, &c, which he received at the fort for me, were all
expended. He endeavoured to make some apology for this by saying that
some of his relations died in the winter, and that he had, according
to native custom, thrown all his own things away; after which he was
obliged to have recourse to my ammunition and other goods to support
himself and a numerous family. The very affecting manner in which he
related this story, often crying like a child, was a great proof of
his extreme sorrow, which he wished to persuade me arose from the
recollection of his having embezzled so much of my property; but I was
of a different opinion, and attributed his grief to arise from the
remembrance of his deceased relations. However, as a small recompense
for my loss, he presented me with four ready-dressed moose skins,
which was, he said, the only retribution he could then make. The moose
skins, though not the twentieth part of the value of the goods which
he had embezzled, were in reality more acceptable to me than the
ammunition and the other articles would have been, on account of their
great use as shoe leather, which at that time was a very scarce
article with us, whereas we had plenty of powder and shot."

During Hearne's stay at Lake Clowey a great number of Indians entered
into a combination with those of his party to travel together to the
Coppermine River, with no other intent than to murder the Eskimo who
frequented that river in considerable numbers. Before leaving Lake
Clowey all the Northern Indians who had assembled there prepared their
arms for the encounter, and did not forget to make shields before they
left the woods of Clowey. These shields were composed of thin boards
about three-quarters of an inch thick, two feet broad, and three feet
long, and were intended to ward off the arrows of the Eskimo.

When the now large expedition reached a river with the fearful name of
Congecathawhachaga, they found a portion of the tribe known as Copper
Indians,[5] and these had never before seen a white man. They gave a
very friendly reception to Hearne on account of Matonabi.

[Footnote 5: Or "Tantsawh[-u]ts". Like the "Dog-rib" Indians,
mentioned farther on, they belonged to the "Northern", Tinne,
Athabaskan type.]

"They expressed as much desire to examine me from top to toe as a
European naturalist would a nondescript animal. They, however, found
and pronounced me to be a perfect human being, except in the colour of
my hair and eyes; the former, they said, was like the stained hair of
a buffalo's tail, and the latter, being light, were like those of a
gull. The whiteness of my skin also was, in their opinion, no
ornament, as they said it resembled meat which had been sodden in
water till all the blood was extracted. On the whole I was viewed as
so great a curiosity in this part of the world that during my stay
there, whenever I combed my head, some or other of them never failed
to ask for the hairs that came off, which they carefully wrapped up,
saying: 'When I see you again, you shall again see your hair'."

The Copper Indians sent a detachment of their men in the double
capacity of guides and warriors, and the whole party now turned
towards the north-west, and after some days' walking reached the Stony
Mountains. "Surely no part of the world better deserves that name",
wrote, Hearne. They appeared to be a confused heap of stones quite
inaccessible to the foot of man. Nevertheless, with the Copper Indians
as guides, they got over this range, though not without being obliged
frequently to crawl on hands and knees. This range, however, had been
so often crossed by Indians coming to and fro that there was a very
visible path the whole way, the rocks, even in the most difficult
places, being worn quite smooth. By the side of the path there were
several large, flat stones covered with thousands of small pebbles.
These marks had been gradually built up by passengers going to and fro
from the copper mines in the far north. The weather all this time,
although the month was July, was very bad--constant snow, sleet, and
rain. Hearne seldom had a dry garment of any kind, and in the caves
where they lodged at night the water was constantly dropping from the
roof. Their food all this time was raw venison. One snowstorm which
fell on them was heavier than was customary even in the winter, but at
last the weather cleared up and sunshine made the journey far more

As they descended the northern side of the Stony Mountains they
crossed a large lake, passing over its unmelted ice, and called it
Musk-ox Lake, from the number of these creatures which they found
grazing on the margin of it.

This was not the first time that Hearne had seen the musk ox. These
animals were wont to come down as far south as the shores of Hudson

On the northern side of the Stony Mountains Hearne was taken by the
Indians to see a place which he called Grizzly-bear Hill, which took
its name from the numbers of those animals (presumably what we call
grizzly bears) which resorted here for the purpose of bringing forth
their young in a cave in this hill. On the east side of the adjoining
marsh Hearne was amazed at the sight of the many hills and dry ridges,
which were turned over like ploughed land by the long claws of these
bears in searching for the ground squirrels and mice which constitute
a favourite part of their food. It was surprising to see the enormous
stones rolled out of their beds by the bears on these occasions.

As they neared the Coppermine River the weather became very warm, and
the country had a good supply of firewood. Reindeer were abundant,
and, the Indians having killed some of these, Hearne sat down to the
most comfortable meal he had had for some months.

It was a kind of haggis, called by the Amerindians "biati", made with
the blood of the reindeer, a good quantity of fat shredded small, some
of the tenderest of the flesh, together with the heart and lungs, cut,
or more commonly torn, into small slivers--all which would be put into
the stomach, and roasted by being suspended before the fire by a
string. Care had to be taken that it did not get too much heat at
first, as the bag would thereby be liable to be burnt and the contents
be let out. When it was sufficiently done it emitted steam, "which",
writes Hearne, "is as much as to say: 'Come, eat me now'; and if it be
taken in time, before the blood and other contents are too much done,
it is certainly a most delicious morsel, even without pepper, salt, or
any other seasoning."

It was now almost impossible to sleep at night for the mosquitoes,
which swarmed in myriads as soon as the warmth of the sun melted the
ice and snow. When Hearne actually reached the banks of the Coppermine
River he was a little disappointed at its appearance, as it seemed to
be only one hundred and eighty yards wide, shallow, and full of
shoals. The Chipewayan Amerindians with him now sent out their spies
to try and locate the Eskimo. Presently they found that there were
five tents of them on the west side of the river.

"When the Indians received this intelligence no further attendance or
attention was paid to my survey, but their whole thoughts were
immediately engaged in planning the best method of attack, and how
they might steal on the poor Eskimo the ensuing night and kill them
all when asleep. To accomplish this bloody design more effectually the
Indians thought it necessary to cross the river as soon as possible;
and, by the account of the spies, it appeared that no part was more
convenient for the purpose than that where we had met them, it being
there very smooth, and at a considerable distance from any fall.
Accordingly, after the Indians had put all their guns, spears,
shields, &c, in good order, we crossed the river....

"When we arrived on the west side of the river, each painted the front
of his shield; some with the figure of the sun, others with that of
the moon, several with different kinds of birds and beasts of prey,
and many with the images of imaginary beings, which, according to
their silly notions, are the inhabitants of the different elements,
Earth, Sea, Air, &c. On enquiring the reason of their doing so, I
learned that each man painted his shield with the image of that being
on which he relied most for success in the intended engagement. Some
were content with a single representation; while others, doubtful, as
I suppose, of the quality and power of any single being, had their
shields covered to the very margin with a group of hieroglyphics quite
unintelligible to everyone except the painter. Indeed, from the hurry
in which this business was necessarily done, the want of every colour
but red and black, and the deficiency of skill in the artist, most of
those paintings had more the appearance of a number of accidental
blotches, than 'of anything that is on the earth, or in the water
under the earth'....

"After this piece of superstition was completed, we began to advance
towards the Eskimo tents; but were very careful to avoid crossing any
hills, or talking loud, for fear of being seen or overheard by the

When the attacking party was within two hundred yards of the Eskimo
tents, they lay in ambush for some time, watching the motions of their
intended victims; and here the Indians wanted Hearne (for whom they
had a sincere affection) to stay till the fight was over; but to this
he would not consent, lest, when the Eskimo came to be surprised, they
should try every way to escape, and, finding him alone, kill him in
their desperation.

While they lay in ambush the Northern Indians performed the last
ceremonies which were thought necessary before the engagement. These
chiefly consisted in painting their faces: some all black, some all
red, and others with a mixture of the two; and to prevent their hair
from blowing into their eyes, it was either tied before or behind, and
on both sides, or else cut short all round. The next thing they
considered was to make themselves as light as possible for running,
which they did by pulling off their stockings, and either cutting off
the sleeves of their jackets, or rolling them up close to their
armpits; and though the mosquitoes at that time "were so numerous as
to surpass all credibility", yet some of the Indians actually pulled
off their jackets and entered the lists nearly or quite naked. Hearne,
fearing he might have occasion to run with the rest, thought it also
advisable to pull off his stockings and cap, and to tie his hair as
close up as possible.

By the time the Indians had made themselves thus "completely
frightful", it was nearly one in the morning. Then, finding all the
Eskimo quiet in their tents, they rushed forth from their ambuscade,
and fell on the poor, unsuspecting creatures, unperceived till they
were close to the very eaves of the tents. A horrible massacre
forthwith took place, while Hearne stood neutral in the rear.

"The scene was shocking beyond description. The poor unhappy victims
were surprised in the midst of their sleep, and had neither time nor
power to make any resistance; men, women, and children, in all upward
of twenty, ran out of their tents stark naked, and endeavoured to make
their escape; but the Indians having possession of all the landside,
to no place could they fly for shelter. One alternative only remained,
that of jumping into the river; but, as none of them attempted it,
they all fell a sacrifice to Indian barbarity!

"The shrieks and groans of the poor expiring wretches were truly
dreadful; and my horror was much increased at seeing a young girl,
seemingly about eighteen years of age, killed so near me, that when
the first spear was stuck into her side she fell down at my feet, and
twisted round my legs, so that it was with difficulty that I could
disengage myself from her dying grasp. As two Indian men pursued this
unfortunate victim, I solicited very hard for her life; but the
murderers made no reply till they had stuck both their spears through
her body, and transfixed her to the ground. They then looked me
sternly in the face, and began to ridicule me by asking if I wanted an
Eskimo wife; and paid not the smallest regard to the shrieks and agony
of the poor wretch, who was twining round their spears like an eel!"

On his requesting that they would at least put the woman out of her
misery, one of the Indians hastily drew his spear from the place where
it was first lodged, and pierced it through her breast near the heart.
The love of life, however, even in this most miserable state, was so
predominant, that "though this might justly be called the most
merciful act that could be done for the poor creature, it seemed to be
unwelcome, for, though much exhausted by pain and loss of blood, she
made several efforts to ward off the friendly blow."... "My own
situation and the terror of my mind at beholding this butchery,
cannot easily be conceived, much less described; though I summed up
all the fortitude I was master of on the occasion, it was with
difficulty that I could refrain from tears; and I am confident that my
features must have feelingly expressed how sincerely I was affected at
the barbarous scene I then witnessed; even at this hour I cannot
reflect on the transactions of that horrid day without shedding

There were other Eskimo on the opposite shore of the river. Though
they took up their arms to defend themselves, they did not attempt to
abandon their tents, for they were utterly unacquainted with the
nature of firearms; so much so that when the bullets struck the
ground, they ran in crowds to see what was sent them, and seemed
anxious to examine all the pieces of lead which they found flattened
against the rocks. At length one of the Eskimo men was shot in the
calf of his leg, which put them in great confusion. They all
immediately embarked in their little canoes, and paddled to a shoal in
the middle of the river, which being somewhat more than a gunshot from
any part of the shore, put them out of the reach of our barbarians.

"When the savages discovered that the surviving Eskimo had gained the
shore above-mentioned, the Northern Indians began to plunder the
tents of the deceased of all the copper utensils they could find; such
as hatchets, bayonets, knives, &c, after which they assembled on the
top of an adjacent hill, and, standing all in a cluster, so as to form
a solid circle, with their spears erect in the air, gave many shouts
of victory, constantly clashing their spears against each other, and
frequently calling out _tima! tima!_[6] by way of derision to the poor
surviving Eskimo, who were standing on the shoal almost knee deep in

[Footnote 6: "_Tima_ in the Eskimo language is a friendly word similar
to _what cheer_?"--Hearne.]

"It ought to have been mentioned in its proper place," writes Hearne,
after describing further atrocities, "that in making our retreat up
the river, after killing the Eskimo on the west side, we saw an old
woman sitting by the side of the water killing salmon, which lay at
the foot of the fall as thick as a shoal of herrings. Whether from the
noise of the fall, or a natural defect in the old woman's hearing, it
is hard to determine, but certain it is, she had no knowledge of the
tragical scene which had been so lately transacted at the tents,
though she was not more than two hundred yards from the place. When we
first perceived her she seemed perfectly at ease, and was entirely
surrounded with the produce of her labour. From her manner of
behaviour, and the appearance of her eyes, which were as red as blood,
it is more than probable that her sight was not very good; for she
scarcely discerned that the Indians were enemies, till they were
within twice the length of their spears of her. It was in vain that
she attempted to fly, for the wretches of my crew transfixed her to
the ground in a few seconds, and butchered her in the most savage
manner. There was scarcely a man among them who had not a thrust at
her with his spear; and many in doing this aimed at torture rather
than immediate death, as they not only poked out her eyes, but stabbed
her in many parts very remote from those which are vital.

"It may appear strange that a person supposed to be almost blind
should be employed in the business of fishing, and particularly with
any degree of success; but when the multitude of the fish is taken
into the account, the wonder will cease. Indeed they were so numerous
at the foot of the fall, that when a light pole, armed with a few
spikes, which was the instrument the old woman used, was put under
water, and hauled up with a jerk, it was scarcely possible to miss
them. Some of my Indians tried the method, for curiosity, with the old
woman's staff, and seldom got less than two at a jerk, sometimes
three or four. Those fish, though very fine, and beautifully red, are
but small, seldom weighing more (as near as I could judge) than six or
seven pounds, and in general much less. Their numbers at this place
were almost incredible, perhaps equal to anything that is related of
the salmon in Kamschatka, or any other part of the world."

Hearne seems to have been so intent on geographical discovery that he
did not allow his feelings to influence him very long against the
society of his Amerindian companions, who apparently sat down and ate
a dish of salmon with him an hour or so after they had killed this
last old woman! The Indians now told him that they were ready again to
assist him in making an end of his survey, and apparently on foot, for
the Coppermine River was not navigable here, even for a boat.

Thus, first of all white men coming overland, he reached the sea coast
of the Arctic Ocean. The tide was then out, and a good deal of the sea
surface was covered with ice, on which he observed many seals lying
about. Along the sea coast and river banks were many birds; gulls,
divers or loons, golden plovers, green plovers, curlews, geese, and
swans. The country a little way inland was obviously inhabited by
numbers of musk oxen, reindeer, bears, wolves, gluttons, foxes, polar
hares, snowy owls, ravens, ptarmigans, gopher ground-squirrels, stoats
(ermines), and mice. In this region also he saw a bird which the
Copper Indians called the Alarm Bird. He tells us that in size and
colour it resembles a "Cobadekoock"; but as none of us know what that
is, we can only go on to imagine that the Alarm Bird was a kind of
owl, as Hearne says it was "of the owl genus". When it perceived
people or beasts it directed its way towards them immediately, and,
after hovering over them for some time, flew over them in circles or
went away with them in the same direction as they walked. All this
time the bird made a loud screaming noise like the cry of a child.
These owls were sometimes accustomed to follow the Indians for a whole
day, and the Copper Indians believed that they would in some way
conduct them to herds of deer and musk oxen, which without the birds'
assistance might never be found. They also warned Indians of the
arrival of strangers. The Eskimo, according to Hearne, paid no heed to
these birds, and it was thus that they allowed themselves to be
surprised and massacred, for if they had looked out from the direction
in which the Chipewayans were lying in ambush, they would have seen a
large flock of these owls continually flying about and making
sufficient noise to awaken any man out of the soundest sleep.

The country on either side of the estuary of the Coppermine River was
not without vegetation. There were stunted pines and tufts of dwarf
willows, and the ground was covered with a lichen or herb, which the
English of the Hudson's Bay Company knew by the name of
Wishakapaka,[7] and which they dried and used instead of tea. There
were also cranberry and heathberry bushes, but without fruit. The
scrub grew gradually thinner and smaller as one approached the sea,
and at the mouth of the river there was nothing but barren hills and

[Footnote 7: _Ledum palustre_.]

The unfortunate Eskimo of this region, judging by the examples seen by
Hearne, were of low stature, with broad thickset bodies. Their
complexion was a dirty copper colour, but some of the women were
almost fair and ruddy. Their dress, their arms and fishing tackle were
precisely similar to those of the Greenland Eskimo. Their tents were
made of deerskins, and were pitched in a circular form. But these were
only their summer habitations, those for the winter being partly
underground, with a roof framework of poles, over which skins were
stretched; and of course Nature did the rest, covering the roof with
several feet of snow. Owing to being almost entirely surrounded by
snow, these winter houses were very warm. Their household furniture
consisted of stone kettles and wooden troughs of various sizes, also
dishes, scoops, and spoons made of musk-ox horns. The stone kettles
(which some people think they borrowed from the Norse discoverers of
America in the eleventh century) were as large as to be capable of
containing five or six gallons. They were, of course, carved out of
solid blocks of stone, every one of them being ornamented with neat
moulding round the rims, and some of the large ones with fluted work
at each corner. In shape they were oblong, wider at the top than the
bottom, and strong handles of solid stone were left at each end to
lift them up.

The Eskimo hatchets were made of a thick lump of copper about five or
six inches long, and one and a half to two inches broad. They were
bevelled away at one end like a chisel. This piece of copper was
lashed into the end of a piece of wood about twelve or fourteen inches
long. The men's daggers and the women's knives were also made of
copper. The former were in shape like the ace of spades, and the
handle was made of reindeer antler.

With the Eskimo was a fine breed of dogs, with erect ears, sharp
noses, bushy tails. They were all tethered to stones to prevent them
from eating the flesh that was spread all over the rocks to dry.
Apparently, these beautiful dogs were left behind still tethered by
the wicked Amerindians, after the massacre of their owners. Hearne,
however, noticed with these Coppermine River Eskimo that the men were
entirely bald, having all their head hair pulled out by the roots. The
women wore their hair at the usual length.

Before leaving this region to return southwards, Hearne was led by the
Indians to one of the copper mines about thirty miles south-east of
the river mouth. It was no more than a jumble of rocks and gravel,
which had been rent in many ways, apparently by an earthquake shock.
This mine was at the time of Hearne's visit very poor in copper, much
of the metal having already been removed.

The Copper Indians set a great value on this native metal even at the
present day, and prefer it to iron for almost every use except that of
a hatchet, a knife, and an awl. "For these three necessary
implements", writes Hearne, "copper makes but a very poor substitute."

On the return journey, in the course of which the Great Slave
Lake--which Hearne calls "Lake Athapuscow"--was discovered and crossed
on the ice, the party travelled so hard and stayed so seldom to rest
that Hearne suffered terribly with his legs and feet. "I had so little
power to direct my feet when walking, that I frequently knocked them
against the stones with such force, as not only to jar and disorder
them, but my legs also; and the nails of my toes were bruised to such
a degree, that several of them festered and dropped off. To add to
this mishap, the skin was entirely chafed off from the tops of both my
feet, and between every toe; so that the sand and gravel, which I
could by no means exclude, irritated the raw parts so much, that for a
whole day before we arrived at the women's tents, I left the print of
my feet in blood almost at every step I took. Several of the Indians
began to complain that their feet also were sore; but, on examination,
not one of them was the twentieth part in so bad a state as mine. This
being the first time I had been in such a situation, or seen anybody
foot-foundered, I was much alarmed, and under great apprehensions for
the consequences. Though I was but little fatigued in body, yet the
excruciating pain I suffered when walking had such an effect on my
spirits, that if the Indians had continued to travel two or three days
longer at that unmerciful rate, I must unavoidably have been left
behind; for my feet were in many places quite honeycombed by the dirt
and gravel eating into the raw flesh."

"Among the various superstitious customs of those people, it is worth
remarking, and ought to have been mentioned in its proper place, that
immediately after my companions had killed the Eskimo at the Copper
River, they considered themselves in a state of uncleanness, which
induced them to practise some very curious unusual ceremonies. In the
first place, all who were absolutely concerned in the murder were
prohibited from cooking any kind of victuals, either for themselves or
others. As luckily there were two in company who had not shed blood,
they were employed always as cooks till we joined the women. This
circumstance was exceedingly favourable on my side; for had there been
no persons of the above description in company, that task, I was told,
would have fallen on me; which would have been no less fatiguing and
troublesome, than humiliating and vexatious.

"When the victuals were cooked, all the murderers took a kind of red
earth, or ochre, and painted all the space between the nose and chin,
as well as the greater part of their cheeks, almost to the ears,
before they would taste a bit, and would not drink out of any other
dish, or smoke out of any other pipe, but their own; and none of the
others seemed willing to drink or smoke out of theirs."

He goes on to relate that they practised the custom of painting the
mouth and part of the cheeks before each meal, and drinking and
smoking out of their own utensils, till the winter began to set in,
and during the whole of that time they would never kiss any of their
wives or children. They refrained also from eating many parts of the
deer and other animals, particularly the head, entrails, and blood;
and during their "uncleanness" their food was never cooked in water,
but dried in the sun, eaten quite raw, or broiled. When the time
arrived that was to put an end to these ceremonies, the men, without a
female being present, made a fire at some distance from the tents,
into which they threw all their ornaments, pipe stems, and dishes,
which were soon consumed to ashes; after which a feast was prepared,
consisting of such articles as they had long been prohibited from
eating, and when all was over each man was at liberty to eat, drink,
and smoke as he pleased, "and also to kiss his wives and children at
discretion, which they seemed to do with more raptures than I had ever
known them to do it either before or since".

On the 11th of January, as some of Hearne's companions were hunting,
they saw the track of a strange snowshoe, which they followed, and at
a considerable distance came to a little hut, where they discovered a
young woman sitting alone. As they found that she understood their
language, they brought her with them to the tents. On examination she
proved to be one of the Western Dog-rib Indians, who had been taken
prisoner by the Athapaska Indians in the summer of 1770. From these,
in the following summer, she had escaped, with the intention of
returning to her own country, but the distance being so great, and the
way being unknown to her, she forgot the track, so she built the hut
in which they found her, to protect her from the weather during the
winter, and here she had resided from the first setting in of the cold
weather. For seven months she had seen no human face. During all this
time she had supported herself in comparative comfort by snaring
grouse, rabbits, and squirrels; she had also killed two or three
beaver, and some porcupines. That she did not seem to have been in
want was evident, as she had a small stock of provisions by her when
she was discovered, and was in good health and condition; and Hearne
thought her "one of the finest women", of the real Indian type, that
he had seen in any part of North America.

"The methods practised by this poor creature to procure a livelihood
were truly admirable, and are great proofs that necessity is the real
mother of invention. When the few deer sinews that she had an
opportunity of taking with her were all expended in making snares and
sewing her clothing, she had nothing to supply their place but the
sinews of the rabbits' [he means hares'] legs and feet; these she
twisted together for that purpose with great dexterity and success.
The rabbits, &c, which she caught in those snares, not only furnished
her with a comfortable subsistence, but of the skins she made a suit
of neat and warm clothing for the winter. It is scarcely possible to
conceive that a person in her forlorn situation could be so composed
as to be capable of contriving or executing anything that was not
absolutely necessary to her existence; but there were sufficient
proofs that she had extended her care much farther, as all her
clothing, beside being calculated for real service, showed great taste
and exhibited no little variety of ornament. The materials, though
rude, were very curiously wrought and so judiciously placed as to make
the whole of her garb have a very pleasing, though rather romantic,

"Her leisure hours from hunting had been employed in twisting the
inner rind or bark of willows into small lines, like net twine, of
which she had some hundred fathoms by her; with this she intended to
make a fishing net as soon as the spring advanced. It is of the inner
bark of willows, twisted in this manner, that the Dog-rib Indians make
their fishing nets, and they are much preferable to those made by the
Northern Indians.

"Five or six inches of an iron hoop, made into a knife, and the shank
of an arrowhead of iron, which served her as an awl, were all the
metals this poor woman had with her when she eloped, and with these
implements she had made herself complete snowshoes, and several other
useful articles.

"Her method of making a fire was equally singular and curious, having
no other materials for that purpose than two hard sulphurous stones.
These, by long friction and hard knocking, produced a few sparks,
which at length communicated to some touchwood (a species of fungus
which grew on decayed poplars); but as this method was attended with
great trouble, and not always with success, she did not suffer her
fire to go out all the winter...."

Hearne regained Prince of Wales's Fort on Hudson Bay in June, 1772.
Subsequently he was dispatched, in the year 1774, to found the first
great inland trading station and fort of the Hudson's Bay Company
which was established at any considerable distance westward of Hudson
Bay--the first step, in fact, which led to this chartered company
becoming in time the ruler and colonizing agent of Alberta and British
Columbia. Hearne chose for his station of "Cumberland House" a site at
the entrance to Pine Island Lake on the lower Saskatchewan River.

In 1775 he became Governor of his old starting-point on Hudson
Bay--Fort Prince of Wales. During the American war with France, the
French admiral, La Perouse, made a daring excursion into Hudson Bay
(1782), and summoned Hearne to surrender his fort. This he felt
obliged to do, not deeming his small garrison strong enough to resist
the French force.

Samuel Hearne returned to England in 1787, and died (probably in
London) in 1792.


Alexander Mackenzie's Journeys

It has been already mentioned that the conquest of Canada by the
British led to a great increase in travel for the development of the
fur trade. Previously, under the French, permission was only granted
to a few persons to penetrate into the interior to trade with the
natives, commerce being regarded as a special privilege or monopoly to
be sold or granted by the Crown. But after the British had completely
assumed control, nothing was done to bar access to the interior. So
long as the Catholic missionaries had been practically placed in
charge of the Amerindians, and had served as buffers between them and
unscrupulous traders, they--the Amerindians--had been saved from two
scourges, smallpox and strong drink.[1] But now, unhappily, all
restrictions about trade in alcohol were removed. In their eagerness
to obtain ardent spirits and "high" wine, the Indians eagerly welcomed
British traders and French Canadians in their midst. The fur trade
developed fast. The Hudson's Bay Company had established its trading
stations only in the vicinity or on the coasts of that inland sea, far
away from the two Canadas, from the Middle West and the vast North
West. After a little reluctance and suspicion, most of the northern
Amerindian tribes were persuaded to deflect their caravans from the
routes leading to Hudson Bay, and to meet the British, the New
Englander ("Bostonian"), and the French Canadian traders at various
rendezvous on Lake Winnipeg and its tributary lakes and rivers. The
principal depot and starting-point for the north-west traders was
_Grand Portage_, on the north-west coast of Lake Superior, whence
canoes and goods were transferred by a nine-mile portage to the waters
flowing to Rainy Lake, and so onwards to the Winnipeg River and the
vast system of the Saskatchewan, the Red River, and the Assiniboine.

[Footnote 1: See Sir Alexander Mackenzie's _Travels_, p. 5.]

Amongst the pioneers in this new development of the fur trade, who
became also the great explorers of northernmost America, was Alexander
Henry (already described), THOMAS CURRIE, JAMES FINLAY, PETER POND,[2]
their supporting merchants in Montreal resolved to form a great
fur-trading association, the celebrated North-west Trading Company,
and did so in 1784.

[Footnote 2: Peter Pond was a native of Connecticut, and in the
opinion of his trading associates rather a ruffian. He was strongly
suspected of having murdered an amiable Swiss fur trader named Wadin,
and at a later date he actually did kill his trading partner, Ross.]

Two of the Montreal merchant firms participating in this confederation
(Gregory and M'Leod) were inclined to play a somewhat independent
part, and called themselves the New North-west Trading Company. They
had the foresight to engage as their principal agents in the
north-west (Sir) ALEXANDER MACKENZIE and his cousin RODERICK
MACKENZIE. Both these young men were Highlanders, probably of Norse
origin. Alexander Mackenzie was born at Stornoway, in the Island of
Lewis (Hebrides), in 1763. He was only sixteen when he started for
Canada to take up a position as clerk in the partnership concern of
Gregory & M'Leod at Montreal.

It may be said here briefly that this "New North-west Company" went at
first by the nickname of "The Little Company" or "The Potties", this
last being an Amerindian corruption of the French _Les Petits_. Later
it developed into the "X.Y. Company", or "Sir Alexander Mackenzie &
Co.". Although much in rivalry with the original "Nor'-westers", the
rivalry never degenerated into the actual warfare, the indefensible
deeds of violence and treachery, which later on were perpetrated by
the Hudson's Bay Company on the agents of the North-west, and returned
with interest by the latter. Often the New North-west agents and the
original Nor'-westers would camp or build side by side, and share
equably in the fur trade with the natives; their canoemen and
French-Canadian _voyageurs_ would sing their boating songs in chorus
as they paddled side by side across the lakes and down the rivers, or
marched with their heavy loads over the portages and along the trails.
Eventually, in 1804, the X.Y. Company and the North-west fused into
the North-west Trading Company, which until 1821 fought a hard fight
against the encroachments and jealousy of the Hudson's Bay Company.

During the period, however, from 1785 to 1812 the men of the
north-west, of Montreal, and Grand Portage (as contrasted with those
of Hudson Bay) effected a revolution in Canadian geography. They
played the role of imperial pioneers with a stubborn heroism, with
little thought of personal gain, and in most cases with full
foreknowledge and appreciation of what would accrue to the British
Empire through their success. It is impossible to relate the
adventures of all of them within the space of any one book, or even of
several volumes. Moreover, this has been done already, not only in
their own published journals and books, but in the admirable works of
Elliot Coues, Dr. George Bryce, Dr. S.J. Dawson, Alexander Ross, and
others. I must confine myself here to a description of the adventures
of Sir Alexander Mackenzie, with a glance at incidents recorded by
Simon Fraser and by Alexander Henry the Younger.

Mackenzie, having been appointed at the age of twenty-two a partner in
the New North-west Company, proceeded to Grand Portage in 1785, and
by the year 1788 (after founding Fort Chipewayan on Lake Athabaska)
conceived the idea of following the mysterious Slave River to its
ultimate outlet into the Arctic or the Pacific Ocean. He left Fort
Chipewayan on June 3, 1789, accompanied by four French-Canadian
_voyageurs_, two French-Canadian women (wives of two _voyageurs_), a
young German named John Steinbruck, and an Amerindian guide known as
"English Chief". This last was a follower and pupil of the Matonabi
who had guided Hearne to the Coppermine River and the eastern end of
the Great Slave Lake. The party of eight whites packed themselves and
their goods into one birch-bark canoe. English Chief and his two
wives, together with an additional Amerindian guide and a hunter,
travelled in a second and smaller canoe. The expedition, moreover, was
accompanied as far as Slave River by LE ROUX, a celebrated
French-Canadian exploring trader who worked for the X.Y. Company. The
journey down the Slave River was rendered difficult and dangerous by
the rapids. Several times the canoes and their loads had to be lugged
past these falls by an overland portage. Mosquitoes tortured the whole
party almost past bearance. The leaders of the expedition and their
Indian hunter had to be busily engaged (the Indian women also) in
hunting and fishing in order to get food for the support of the party,
who seemed to have had little reserve provisions with them. Pemmican
was made of fish dried in the sun and rubbed to powder. Swans, geese,
cranes, and ducks fell to the guns; an occasional beaver was also
added to the pot. When they reached the Great Slave Lake they found
its islands--notwithstanding their barren appearance--covered with
bushes producing a great variety of palatable fruits--cranberries,
juniper berries, raspberries, partridge berries, gooseberries, and the
"pathogomenan", a fruit like a raspberry.

Slave Lake, however, was still, in mid-June, under the spell of
winter, its surface obstructed with drifting ice. In attempting to
cross the lake the frail birch-bark canoes ran a great risk of being
crushed between the ice floes. However, at length, after halting at
several islands and leaving Le Roux to go to the trading station he
had founded on the shores of Slave Lake, Mackenzie and his two canoes
found their way to the river outlet of Slave Lake, that river which
was henceforth to be called by his name. Great mountains approached
near to the west of their course. They appeared to be sprinkled with
white stones, called by the natives "spirit stones"--indeed over a
great part of North America the Rocky Mountains were called "the
Mountains of Bright Stones"--yet these brilliant patches were nothing
more wonderful than unmelted snow.

A few days later the party encountered Amerindians of the Slave and
Dog-rib tribes, who were so aloof from even "Indian" civilization that
they did not know the use of tobacco, and were still in the Stone Age
as regards their weapons and implements. These people, though they
furnished a guide, foretold disaster and famine to the expedition, and
greatly exaggerated the obstacles which would be met with--rapids near
the entrance of the tributary from Great Bear Lake--before the salt
water was reached.

The canoes of these Slave and Dog-rib tribes of the Athapaskan (Tinne)
group were covered, not with birch bark, but with the bark of the
spruce fir.

The lodges of the Slave Indians were of very simple structure: a few
poles supported by a fork and forming a semicircle at the bottom, with
some branches or a piece of bark as a covering. They built two of
these huts facing each other, and made a fire between them. The
furniture consisted of a few dishes of wood, bark, or horn. The
vessels in which they cooked their victuals were in the shape of a
gourd, narrow at the top and wide at the bottom, and made of _watape_.

This was the name given to the divided roots of the spruce fir, which
the natives wove into a degree of compactness that rendered it capable
of containing a fluid. Watape fibre was also used to sew together
different parts of the bark canoes. They also made fibre or thread
from willow bark. Their cooking vessels made of this watape not only
contained water, but water which was made to boil by putting a
succession of hot stones into it. It would, of course, be impossible
to place these vessels of fibre on a fire, and apparently none of the
Amerindians of temperate North America knew anything about pottery.
Those that were in some degree in touch with the Eskimo used kettles
or cauldrons of stone. Elsewhere the vessels for boiling water and
cooking were made of bark or fibre, and the water therein was made to
boil by the dropping in of red-hot stones. The arrows of these Slave
Indians were two and a half feet long, and the barb was made of bone,
horn, flint, or copper. Iron had been quite lately introduced,
indirectly obtained from the Russians in Alaska. Their spears were
pointed with barbed bone, and their daggers were made of horn or bone.
Their great club, the _pogamagan_, was made of a reindeer's antler.
Axes were manufactured out of a piece of brown or grey stone, six to
eight inches long and two inches thick. They kindled fire by striking
together a piece of iron pyrites and touchwood, and never travelled
without a small bag containing such materials.

The Amerindians along the lower Mackenzie had heard vague and terrible
legends about the Russians, far, far away on the coast of Alaska; they
were represented as beings of gigantic stature, and adorned with
wings; which, however, they never employed in flying (possibly the
sails of their ships). They fed on large birds, and killed them with
the greatest ease. They also possessed the extraordinary power of
killing with their eyes (no doubt putting up a gun to aim), and they
travelled in canoes of very large dimensions.


"I engaged one of these Indians," writes Mackenzie, "by a bribe of
some beads, to describe the surrounding country upon the sand. This
singular map he immediately undertook to delineate, and accordingly
traced out a very long point of land between the rivers ... which he
represented as running into the great lake, at the extremity of which
he had been told by Indians of other nations there was a white man's
fort." The same people described plainly the Yukon River westward of
the mountains, and told Mackenzie it was a far greater stream than the
one he was exploring. This was the first "hint" of the existence of
the great Alaskan river which was ever recorded. They also spoke to
Mackenzie of "small white buffaloes" (?the mountain goat), which they
found in the mountains west of the Mackenzie.

Whenever and wherever Mackenzie's party met these northernmost tribes
of Athapascan Indians they were always ready to dance in between short
spells of talking. This dancing and jumping was their only amusement,
and in it old and young, male and female, went to such exertions that
their strength was exhausted. As they jumped up and down they imitated
the various noises produced by the reindeer, the bear, and the wolf.

In descending the Mackenzie River, and again on the return journey
upstream, Mackenzie notices the abundance of berries on the banks of
the river, especially the kind which was called "pears" by the French
Canadians. These were of a purple hue, rather bigger than a pea, and
of a luscious taste. There were also gooseberries and a few
strawberries. Quantities of berries were collected and dried, but
while on the lower Mackenzie the expedition fed mainly on fat geese.
On the beach of the great river they found an abundance of a sweet
fragrant root which Mackenzie calls "liquorice".

Mackenzie seemed to think that along the lower Mackenzie River, near
the sea, there were not only reindeer, bears, wolverines, martens,
foxes, and hares, but a species of white buffalo or white musk ox,
which may have been the mountain goat above referred to. He noted, in
the cliffs or banks of the lower Mackenzie, pieces of "petroleum"
which bore a resemblance to yellow wax but was more friable. His
Indian guide informed him that rocks of a similar kind were scattered
about the country at the back of the Slave Lake, near where the
Chipewayans collected copper. If so, there may be a great oilfield yet
to be discovered in Arctic Canada.

On the river coming out of the Bear Lake Mackenzie discovered coal;
the whole beach was strewn with it. He was attracted towards it by
seeing smoke and noticing a strong sulphurous smell. The whole bank of
the river was on fire for a considerable distance, and he thought this
was due to the natives having camped there and set fire to the coal in
the bank from their hearths. But subsequent travellers have also found
this lignite coal burning to waste, and imagine that, being full of
gas, it catches fire spontaneously if any landslip or other accident
exposes it to moist air. In 1906 it was still burning!

According to Mackenzie, the ground in the regions about the lower
reaches of the Mackenzie River is always frozen at least five inches
down from the surface, yet he found small spruce trees growing in
patches near the delta of this river, besides pale-yellow raspberries
of an agreeable flavour, and a great variety of other plants and

As the expedition drew near to the estuary of the great Mackenzie
River a range of lofty snowy mountains rose into sight on the west.
These mountains were said by the natives to swarm with large
bears--probably of the huge chocolate-coloured Alaska type; and again
a mention was made of "small white buffaloes", which were in all
probability the large white mountain goat (_Oreamnus_). The
Amerindians along the river greatly magnified the dangers, predicting
impassable rapids between the confluence of the Great Bear River and
the sea. But these stories were greatly exaggerated. Every now and
then the river would narrow and flow between white precipitous
limestone walls of rock, but there was no obstacle to navigation,
though it was very deep and the current fast.

The travellers now began to get within touch of the Eskimo and to hear
of their occasional raids up the river from the sea. They were said to
use slings, from which they flung stones with such dexterity as to
prove formidable in their fights with the Amerindians, who regarded
them with great respect, the more so because of their intercourse with
the mysterious white people (Russians) from whom they obtained iron.

Mackenzie just managed to reach within sight of the sea, beyond the
delta of the river, his most northern point being about 69 deg. 14" north
latitude. Hence he gazed out northwards over a vast expanse of
piled-up ice in which several small islands were embedded. In the
spaces of open water whales were visible (the small white whale,
_Beluga_). The water in between the islands was affected by the tide.
The travellers had, in fact, reached the Arctic ocean. But, owing to
the fickleness of their guides, and the danger of being detained by
some obstacle in these northern latitudes without proper supplies for
the winter, Mackenzie was afraid to stay for further investigations,
and on July 16, 1789, turned his back on the sea and commenced his
return journey up the stream of the great river which was henceforth
to bear his name.

The strength of the current made the homeward travel much more
lengthy and tedious. The Indians of the party were troublesome, and
the principal guide, English Chief, was sulky and disobedient. This
man had insisted on being accompanied by two of his wives, of whom he
was so morbidly jealous that he could scarcely bring himself to leave
them for an hour in order to go hunting or to prospect the country;
consequently he did little or nothing in the killing of game, and this
kept the expedition on very small rations. Mackenzie got wroth with
him, and so gave him a sound rating. This irritated English Chief to a
high degree, and after a long and vehement harangue he burst into
tears and loud and bitter lamentations. Thereat his friends and wives
commenced crying and wailing vociferously, though they declared that
their tears were shed, not for any trouble between the white man and
English Chief, but because they suddenly recollected all the friends
and relations they had lost within the last few years! "I did not
interrupt their grief for two hours, but as I could not well do
without them, I was at length obliged to sooth it and induce the chief
to change his resolution (to leave me), which he did with great
apparent reluctance."

Later on English Chief told Mackenzie that he feared he might have to
go to war, because it was a custom amongst the Athapaskan chiefs to
make war after they had given way to the disgrace attached to such a
feminine weakness as shedding tears. Therefore he would undertake a
warlike expedition in the following spring, but in the meantime he
would continue with Mackenzie as long as he wanted him.

Mackenzie, rejoining Le Roux at the Slave Lake, safely reached his
station at Fort Chipewayan on September 12, 1789, just as the approach
of winter was making travel in these northern regions dangerous to
those who relied on unfrozen water as a means of transit.

Mackenzie seems to have been a little disappointed with the results
of his northward journey; perhaps he had thought that the outlet of
Slave Lake and the Mackenzie River would be into the Pacific, the _Mer
de l'Ouest_ of his Canadian _voyageurs_. Yet he must have realized
that he had discovered something very wonderful after all: the
beginning of Alaska, the approach to a region which, though lying
within the Arctic circle, has climatic conditions permitting the
existence of trees, abundant vegetation, and large, strange beasts,
and which, moreover, is highly mineralized. His work in this
direction, however (and that of Hearne), was to be completed in the
RICHARDSON, and SIR JOHN ROSS--all knighthoods earned by magnificent
services in geographical exploration--and by THOMAS SIMPSON, Dr. John
Rae,[3] WARREN DEASE, JOHN M'LEOD, ROBERT CAMPBELL, and other servants
of the Hudson's Bay Company.

[Footnote 3: See p. 125.]

In October, 1792, Mackenzie had determined to make a great attempt to
reach the Pacific Ocean. By this time he and his colleagues had
explored the Peace River (the main tributary of Slave Lake), and had
realized that they could travel up it into the heart of the Rocky
Mountains. He wintered and traded at a place which he called "New
Establishment", on the banks of the Peace River, near the foothills of
the Rocky Mountains. He left this station on May 9, 1793, accompanied
by ALEXANDER MACKAY,[4] six French Canadians, and two Indian guides.
They travelled up the Peace River in a twenty-five-foot canoe, and at
first passed through scenery the most beautiful Mackenzie had ever
beheld. He describes it as follows:--

"The ground rises at intervals to a considerable height, and
stretching inwards to a considerable distance: at every interval or
pause in the rise, there is a very gently ascending space or lawn,
which is alternate with abrupt precipices to the summit of the whole,
or at least as far as the eye could distinguish. This magnificent
theatre of nature has all the decorations which the trees and animals
of the country can afford it: groves of poplars in every shape vary
the scene; and their intervals are enlivened with vast herds of elks
and buffaloes: the former choosing the steeps and uplands and the
latter preferring the plains. At this time the buffaloes were attended
with their young ones, who were striking about them; and it appeared
that the elks would soon exhibit the same enlivening circumstance. The
whole country displayed an exuberant verdure; the trees that bear a
blossom were advancing fast to that delightful appearance, and the
velvet rind of their branches reflecting the oblique rays of a rising
or setting sun, added a splendid gaiety to the scene which no
expressions of mine are qualified to describe."

[Footnote 4: Alexander Mackay long afterwards left the service of the
North-west Company, and was killed by savages on the Alaska coast,
near Nutka Sound.]

Of course, as they neared the Rocky Mountains the navigation of the
Peace River became more and more difficult. At last they left the
river to find their way across the mountains till they should reach
the headwaters of a stream flowing towards the Pacific Ocean.
Sometimes they only accomplished three miles a day, having to carry
all their goods and their canoe. The mountainous country was covered
with splendid forests of spruce, pine, cypress, poplar, birch, willow,
and many other kinds of trees, with an undergrowth of gooseberries,
currants, and briar roses. The travellers generally followed paths
made by the elk,[5] just as in the dense forests of Africa the way
sometimes is cleared for human travellers by the elephant. Every now
and again they resumed their journey on the river between the falls
and cascades. The mountains seemed to be a solid mass of limestone, in
some places without any covering of foliage.

[Footnote 5: For the word "elk" Mackenzie uses "moose deer". "Elk" in
the Canadian Dominion is misapplied to the great Wapiti red deer.]

"In no part of the north-west", writes Mackenzie, "did I see so much
beaver work" (along the eastern branch of the Peace River). In some
places the beavers had cut down acres of large poplars, and were
busily at work on their labours of dam-making during the night,
between the setting and the rising sun.

Gnats and mosquitoes came with the intense heat of June to make life
almost unbearable. As they got close to the Rocky Mountains they
encountered Amerindians who had never seen a white man before, and who
at first received them with demonstrations of great hostility and
fright. But owing to the diplomatic skill of Mackenzie they gradually
yielded to a more friendly attitude, and here he decided to camp until
the natives had become familiarized with him and his party, and could
give them information as to his route. But they could only tell that,
away to the west beyond the mountains, a month's travel, there was a
vast "lake of stinking water", to which came, for purposes of trade,
other white men with vessels as big as islands.

These Rocky Mountain Indians made their canoes from spruce bark[6] in
the following manner: The bark is taken off the spruce fir to the
whole length of the intended canoe, only about eighteen feet, and is
sewed with _watape_ at both ends. Two laths are then laid across the
end of the gunwale. In these are fixed the bars, and against them the
ribs or timbers, that are cut to the length to which the bark can be
stretched; and to give additional strength, strips of wood are laid
between them. To make the whole water-tight, gum is abundantly

[Footnote 6: See p. 281.]

Obtaining a guide from these people, Mackenzie continued his journey
along the Parsnip, or southern branch of the upper Peace River,
partly by water, partly by land till he reached its source,[7] a lake,
on the banks of which he saw innumerable swans, geese, and ducks. Wild
parsnips grew here in abundance, and were a grateful addition to the
diet of the travellers. As to birds, they not only saw blue jays and
yellow birds, but the first humming bird which Mackenzie had ever
beheld in the north-west.[8]

[Footnote 7: Mr. Burpee points out that this was really the
southernmost source of the mighty congeries of streams which flowed
northwards to form the Mackenzie River system. Having traced the
Mackenzie to the sea, its discoverer now stood four years afterwards
at its most remote source, 2420 miles from its mouth at which he had
seen the ice floes and the whales.]

[Footnote 8: Humming birds arrive annually in British Columbia between
April and May, and stay there till the autumn. They winter in the
warmer parts of California.]

From this tiny lake he made his way over lofty mountains to another
lake at no great distance, and from this a small stream called the Bad
River flowed southwards to join a still bigger stream, which Mackenzie
thought might prove to be one of the branches of the mighty Columbia
River that flows out into the Pacific through the State of Oregon. It
really was the Fraser River, and of the upper waters of the Fraser
Mackenzie was the discoverer.[9]

[Footnote 9: The great surveyor and map maker, David Thompson, was the
first white man to reach the upper waters of the _Columbia_ River. The
Fraser River was afterwards followed to its outlet in the Straits of
Georgia (opposite Vancouver Island) by Simon Fraser.]


Their experiences down the little mountain stream which was to take
them into the Fraser nearly ended in complete disaster. "The violence
of the current being so great as to drive the canoe sideways down the
river, and break her by the first bar, I instantly jumped into the
water and the men followed my example; but before we could set her
straight, or stop her, we came to deeper water, so that we were
obliged to re-embark with the utmost precipitation.... We had hardly
regained our situations when we drove against a rock which shattered
the stern of the canoe in such a manner, that it held only by the
gunwales, so that the steersman could no longer keep his place. The
violence of this stroke drove us to the opposite side of the river,
which is but narrow, when the bow met with the same fate as the
stern.... In a few moments, we came across a cascade which broke
several large holes in the bottom of the canoe, and started all the
bars.... The wreck becoming flat on the water, we all jumped out ...
and held fast to the wreck; to which fortunate resolution we owed our
safety, as we should otherwise have been dashed against the rocks by
the force of the water, or driven over the cascades.... At length we
most fortunately arrived in shallow water, and at a small eddy, where
we were enabled to make a stand, from the weight of the canoe resting
on the stones, rather than from any exertions of our exhausted
strength.... The Indians, when they saw our deplorable situation,
instead of making the least effort to help us, sat down and gave vent
to their tears."

Nobody, however, had been killed, though much of the luggage was lost,
and what remained had to be spread out to dry. Many of Mackenzie's
people, however, when they took stock of their misfortunes, were
rather pleased than otherwise, as they thought the disaster would stop
him from any further attempt to reach the Western Sea. He wisely
listened to their observations without replying, till their panic was
dispelled, and they had got themselves warm and comfortable with a
hearty meal and a glass of rum; though a little later only by their
indifferent carelessness they nearly exploded the whole of the
expedition's stock of gunpowder.

Fortunately the weather was fine. Mackenzie and his fellow
countryman, Mackay, allowed nothing to dismay them or damp their
spirits. Bark was obtained from the forest, the canoe was repaired,
and they heard from their guide that this violent little stream
would before long join a great and much smoother river. But they
were tormented with sandflies and mosquitoes, and a day or two
afterwards the guide bolted, while the expedition had to cross
morasses in which they were nearly engulfed, and the water journey
was constantly obstructed by driftwood. Nevertheless, at last they
had "the inexpressible satisfaction of finding themselves on the
bank of a navigable river on the western side of the first great
range of mountains". Here they re-embarked, and were cheerful in
spite of heavy rain.

As they paddled down this great stream, more than two hundred yards
wide, snow-capped mountains rose immediately above the river. The
current was strong, but perfectly safe. Flocks of ducks, entirely
white, except the bill and a part of the wing, rose before them. Smoke
ascending in columns from many parts of the woods showed that the
country was well inhabited, and the air was fragrant with the strong
odour of the gum of cypress and spruce fir.

Then came a series of cascades and falls and a most arduous portage
of the heavy canoe. These labours were somewhat lightened by the
discovery of quantities of wild onions growing on the banks; but
these, when mixed with the pemmican, on which the party was
subsisting, stimulated their appetites to an inconvenient degree,
seeing that they were on short commons. Meeting with strange Indians
they found no one to interpret, and had to use signs. But on the banks
of the Fraser they were lucky enough to find the "real red deer", the
great wapiti stag, which is absent from the far north-west, beyond the
region of the Saskatchewan. The canoe was loaded with venison. The
banks of the Fraser River sank to a moderate height and were covered
with poplars and cypresses, birch trees, junipers, alders, and
willows. The deserted house or lodge of some Amerindian tribe was
visited on the banks. It was a finer structure than anything that
Mackenzie had seen since he left Fort Michili-Makinak in upper
Canada. It had been constructed for three families. There were three
fireplaces and three beds and a kind of larder for the purpose of
keeping fish. The whole "lodge" was twenty feet long by three wide,
and had three doors. The walls were formed of straight spruce timbers
with some skill of carpentry. The roof was covered with bark, and
large rods were fixed across the upper part of the building, where
fish might hang and dry.

As they continued to descend the Fraser River, with here and there a
rapid which nearly swamped the canoe, and lofty cliffs of red and
white clay like the ruins of ancient castles (stopping on their way to
bury supplies of pemmican against their return, and to light a fire on
the top of the burial place so as to mislead bears or other animals
that might dig it up), they were more or less compelled to seek
intercourse with the new tribes of Amerindians, whose presence on the
river banks was obvious. As usual, Mackenzie had to exercise great
bravery, tact, and guile to get into peaceful conversation with these
half-frightened, half-angry people. The peacemaking generally
concluded with the distribution of trinkets amongst the men and women,
and presents of sugar to the children. Talking with these folk,
however, through such interpreters as there were amongst the Indians
of his crew, he learnt that lower down on the Fraser River there was a
peculiarly fierce, malignant race, living in vast caves or
subterranean dwellings, who would certainly massacre the Europeans if
they attempted to pass through their country on their way to the sea.
He therefore stopped and set some of his men to work to make a new
canoe. He noticed, by the by, that these Amerindians of the Fraser had
small pointed canoes, "made after the fashion of the Eskimo".

Renewing their voyage, they reached a house the roof of which just
appeared above the ground. It was deserted by its inhabitants, who had
been alarmed at the approach of the white men, but in the
neighbourhood appeared gesticulating warriors with bows and arrows.
Yet these people of underground houses turned out to be friendly and
very ready to give information, partly because they were in
communication with the Amerindian tribes to the east of the Rocky
Mountains. From the elderly men of this tribe Mackenzie ascertained
that the Fraser River flowed south by east, was often obstructed by
rapids, and, though it would finally bring them to a salt lake or
inlet, and then to the sea, it would cause them to travel for a great
distance to the south. He noticed the complete difference in the
language of these Atna or Carrier Indians[10] and that of the Nagailer
or Chin Indians of the Athapaskan group on the eastern side of the
Rocky Mountains.

[Footnote 10: Apparently these were of the Sikanni tribe, and only
another branch of the great Tinne (Athapaskan) stock.]

He, however, learnt from these Atna Indians that although the Fraser
was out of the question as a quick route to the sea, if he retraced
his journey a little up this river he would find another stream
entering it from the west, and along this they could travel upstream.
And then the route to the water "which was unfit to drink", and the
region to which came people with large ships, would be of no great
length. Accordingly, after having had a tree engraved with Mackenzie's
name and the date, by the bank of the Fraser River, the expedition
returned to the subterranean house which they had seen the day before.

"We were in our canoe by four this morning, and passed by the Indian
hut, which appeared in a state of perfect tranquillity. We soon came
in sight of the point where we first saw the natives, and at eight
were much surprised and disappointed at seeing Mr. Mackay and our two
Indians coming alone from the ruins of a house that had been partly
carried away by the ice and water, at a short distance below the place
where we had appointed to meet. Nor was our surprise and apprehension
diminished by the alarm which was painted in their countenances....
They informed me they had taken refuge in that place, with the
determination to sell their lives ... as dear as possible. In a very
short time after we had separated, they met a party of the Indians,
whom we had known at this place, and were probably those whom we had
seen landing from their canoe. These Indians appeared to be in a state
of extreme rage, and had their bows bent, with their arrows across
them. The guide stopped to ask them some questions, which our people
did not understand, and then set off with his utmost speed. Mr.
Mackay, however, followed, and did not leave him till they were both
exhausted with running.... The guide then said that some treacherous
design was meditated against them, ... and conducted them through very
bad ways as fast as they could run. When he was desired to slacken his
pace, he answered that they might follow him in any manner they
pleased, but that he was impatient to get to his family, in order to
prepare shoes and other necessaries for his journey. They did not,
however, think it prudent to quit him, and he would not stop till ten
at night. On passing a track that was but lately made, they began to
be seriously alarmed, and on enquiring of the guide where they were,
he pretended not to understand. Then they all laid down, exhausted
with fatigue, and without any kind of covering; they were cold, wet,
and hungry, but dared not light a fire, from the apprehension of an
enemy. This comfortless spot they left at the dawn of day, and, on
their arrival at the lodges, found them deserted; the property of the
Indians being scattered about, as if abandoned for ever. The guide
then made two or three trips into the woods, calling aloud, and
bellowing like a madman. At length he set off in the same direction as
they had come, and had not since appeared. To heighten their misery,
as they did not find us at the place appointed, they concluded that
we were all destroyed, and had already formed their plan to take to
the woods, and cross in as direct a line as they could proceed, to the
waters of the Peace River, a scheme which could only be suggested by
despair. They intended to have waited for us till noon, and if we did
not appear by that time, to have entered without further delay on
their desperate expedition."

Making preparations for warfare, if necessary, yet neglecting no
chance of re-entering into friendly relations with the natives,
Mackenzie set to work to repair the wretched canoe, which was
constantly having holes knocked through her. He dealt tactfully with
the almost open mutiny of his French Canadians and Indians. At last
everyone settled down to the making of a new canoe, on an island in
the river where there were plenty of spruce firs to provide the
necessary bark. Even here they were plagued with thunderstorms.
Nevertheless, the men set to work, and as they worked Mackenzie
addressed them with simple fervour, saying he knew of their plans to
desert him, but, come what might, _he_ was resolved to travel on to
the westwards until he reached the waters of the Pacific.

This calmed down the mutineers, and, to the great relief of all
concerned, that very afternoon the runaway guide of the Atna people
returned and apologized for having deserted them. He then offered once
again to conduct them to the seacoast. Nevertheless, again he fled,
and Mackenzie was obliged to guide the expedition, according to the
information he had gathered from the natives, up the small western
affluent of the upper Fraser, which he called the West Road River (now
known as the Blackwater).

His perseverance was rewarded, for after proceeding up this river for
some distance he saw two canoes coming towards them containing the
runaway guide and six of his relations. The guide was dressed in a
painted beaver robe, and looked so splendid that they scarcely knew
him again. Once more he declared it really was his intention not to
disappoint them. Soon afterwards they landed, buried their property
and provisions, and placed their canoe on a stage, shaded by a
covering of small trees and branches from the sun. Each man carried on
his back four bags and a half of pemmican, of an average weight of
eighty-five pounds, or other loads (instruments, goods for presents,
ammunition, &c.) of ninety pounds in weight. Moreover, each of the
Canadians carried a gun. The Amerindian servants of the expedition
were only asked to carry loads of forty-five pounds in weight.
Mackenzie's pack, and that of his companion, Mackay, amounted to about
seventy pounds. Loaded like this they had to scramble up the wooded
mountains, first soaked in perspiration from the heat and then
drenched with heavy rain. Nevertheless they walked for about thirteen
miles the first day. Now they began to meet natives who were closely
in touch with the seacoast, which lay to the west at a distance of
about six days' journey.

"We had no sooner laid ourselves down to rest last night than the
natives began to sing, in a manner very different from what I had been
accustomed to hear among savages. It was not accompanied either with
dancing, drum, or rattle; but consisted of soft, plaintive tones, and
a modulation that was rather agreeable: it had somewhat the air of
church music." The country through which they travelled abounded in
beavers. It was the month of July, however, and they were harassed
with thunderstorms, some of which were followed by hailstones as big
as musket balls. After one such storm the ground was whitened for two
miles with these balls of ice.

In order not to be deserted by all of their new guides, Mackenzie was
obliged to insist on one of them sharing his hut. This young
Amerindian was dressed in beaver garments which were a nest of
vermin. His hair was greased with fish oil, and his body smeared with
red earth, so that at first Mackenzie thought he would never be able
to sleep; but such was his fatigue that he passed a night of profound
repose, and found the guide still there in the morning. In this region
he notes that the balsam fir of Canada was abundant, the tree which
provided the gum that cured Cartier's expedition of scurvy. Some of
the natives with whom they now came into contact were remarkable for
their grey eyes, a feature often observed amongst the Amerindians of
the North Pacific coast.

"On observing some people before us, our guides hastened to meet them,
and, on their approach, one of them stepped forward with an axe in his
hand. This party consisted only of a man, two women, and the same
number of children. The eldest of the women, who probably was the
man's mother, was engaged, when we joined them, in clearing a circular
spot, of about five feet in diameter, of the weeds that infested it;
nor did our arrival interrupt her employment, which was sacred to the
memory of the dead. The spot to which her pious care was devoted
contained the grave of a husband and a son, and whenever she passed
this way she always stopped to pay this tribute of affection."

By this time, exposure to wind and sun, the attacks of mosquitoes and
flies, the difficulty of washing or of changing their clothes, had
made all the Europeans of the party as dark in skin colour as the
Amerindians, so that such natives as they met who had the courage to
examine them, did so with the intention of discovering whether they
had any white skin left. The natives whom they now encountered
(belonging to the maritime tribes) were comely in appearance, and far
more cleanly than the tribes of the north-west. As already mentioned,
they had grey eyes, sometimes tinged with hazel. Their stature was
noble, one man measuring at least six feet four inches. They were
clothed in leather, and their hair was nicely combed and dressed with
beads. One of a travelling band of these Indians, finding that
Mackenzie's party was on short rations and very hungry, offered to
boil them a kettle of fish roes.

"He took the roes out of a bag, and having bruised them between two
stones, put them in water to soak. His wife then took an handful of
dry grass in her hand, with which she squeezed them through her
fingers. In the meantime her husband was employed in gathering wood to
make a fire, for the purpose of heating stones. When she had finished
her operation, she filled a _watape_ kettle nearly full of water, and
poured the roes into it. When the stones were sufficiently heated,
some of them were put into the kettle, and others were thrown in from
time to time, till the water was in a state of boiling. The woman also
continued stirring the contents of the kettle, till they were brought
to a thick consistency; the stones were then taken out, and the whole
was seasoned with about a pint of strong rancid oil. The smell of this
curious dish was sufficient to sicken me without tasting it, but the
hunger of my people surmounted the nauseous meal. When unadulterated
by the stinking oil these boiled roes are not unpalatable food."

Farther on their journey their hunger was alleviated by wild parsnips,
also roots which appeared, when pulled up, like a bunch of white peas,
with the colour and taste of a potato. On their way they were obliged
to cross snow mountains, where the snow was so compact that their feet
hardly made any perceptible impression. "Before us appeared a
stupendous mountain, whose snow-clad summit was lost in the clouds."
These mountains, according to the Indians, abounded in white
goats.[11] Emerging from the mountains on to the lower ground, sloping
towards the sea, at nightfall they came upon a native village in the
thickness of the woods. Desperate with his fatigue, and risking any
danger to obtain rest, Mackenzie walked straight into one of the
houses, where people were busily employed in cooking fish, threw down
his burden, shook hands with the people, and sat down.

[Footnote 1: _Oreamnus_.]

"They received me without the least appearance of surprise, but soon
made signs for me to go up to the large house, which was erected, on
upright posts, at some distance from the ground. A broad piece of
timber with steps cut in it led to the scaffolding even with the
floor, and by this curious kind of ladder I entered the house at one
end; and having passed three fires, at equal distances in the middle
of the building, I was received by several people, sitting upon a very
wide board, at the upper end of it. I shook hands with them, and
seated myself beside a man, the dignity of whose countenance induced
me to give him that preference...."

Later on, this man, seeing Mackenzie's people arriving tired and
hungry, rose and fetched from behind a plank, four feet wide, a
quantity of roasted salmon. A whole salmon was offered to Mackenzie,
and another to Mackay; half a salmon was given to each of the French
Canadian _voyageurs_. Their host further invited them to sleep in the
house, but, Mackenzie thinking it preferable to camp outside, a fire
was lit to warm the weary travellers, and each was lent a thick board
on which to sleep, so that he might not lie on the bare ground.

"We had not long been seated round the fire when we received a dish of
salmon roes, pounded fine and beat up with water so as to have the
appearance of a cream. Nor was it without some kind of seasoning that
gave it a bitter taste. Another dish soon followed, the principal
article of which was also salmon roes, with a large proportion of
gooseberries, and an herb that appeared to be sorrel. Its acidity
rendered it more agreeable to my taste than the former preparation.
Having been regaled with these delicacies, for such they were
considered by that hospitable spirit which provided them, we laid
ourselves down to rest with no other canopy than the sky. But I never
enjoyed a more sound and refreshing rest, though I had a board for my
bed and a billet for my pillow."

The gooseberries, wortleberries, and raspberries which Mackenzie ate
at this hospitable village were the finest he ever saw or tasted of
their respective kinds. They were generally eaten together with the
dry roes of salmon. Salmon was the staple food of the country, and
very abundant in the river which Mackenzie was following down to the
Pacific shore. The fish were usually caught in weirs, and also by
dipping nets. The natives were so superstitious about the salmon, that
they believed they would give offence to the spirits if they ate any
other animal food, especially meat. They would scarcely allow
Mackenzie to carry venison in his canoe, in case the salmon should
smell it and abandon the river.

After this welcome rest they embarked in two canoes on the stream
which Mackenzie calls the Salmon River. The stream was rapid, and they
proceeded at a great rate, stopping every now and then to get out and
walk round salmon weirs. Nevertheless, although other Indians ran
before them announcing their approach towards a village, the noise of
which was apparent in the distance, they were received at this place
in a very hostile way, the men rapidly arming themselves with bows and
arrows, spears, and axes. But Mackenzie walked on alone to greet them,
and shook hands with the nearest man. Thereupon an elderly man broke
from the crowd and took Mackenzie in his arms. Another then came and
paid him the same compliment. One man to whom he presented his hand
broke the string of a handsome robe of sea-otter skin and threw it
over Mackenzie.

The chief made signs to the white men to follow him to his house,
which Mackenzie found to be of larger dimensions and better materials
than any he had yet seen. "Very clean mats" were spread in this house
for the chief, his counsellors, and the two white men. A small roasted
salmon was then placed before each person.

"When we had satisfied ourselves with the fish, one of the people who
came with us from the last village approached, with a kind of ladle in
one hand, containing oil, and in the other something that resembled
the inner rind of the cocoanut, but of a lighter colour. This he
dipped in the oil, and, having eaten it, indicated by his gestures how
palatable he thought it. He then presented me with a small piece of
it, which I chose to taste in its dry state, though the oil was free
from any unpleasant smell. A square cake of this was next produced,
when a man took it to the water near the house, and having thoroughly
soaked it, he returned, and, after he had pulled it to pieces like
oakum, put it into a well-made trough, about three feet long, nine
inches wide, and five deep. He then plentifully sprinkled it with
salmon oil, and manifested by his own example that we were to eat of
it. I just tasted it, and found the oil perfectly sweet, without which
the other ingredient would have been very insipid. The chief partook
of it with great avidity after it had received an additional quantity
of oil. This dish is considered by these people as a great delicacy;
and on examination, I discovered it to consist of the inner rind of
the hemlock pine tree, taken off early in summer, and put into a
frame, which shapes it into cakes of fifteen inches long, ten broad,
and half an inch thick; and in this form I should suppose it may be
preserved for a great length of time. This discovery satisfied me
respecting the many hemlock trees which I had observed stripped of
their bark."

Mackenzie found some of the older men here with long beards, and to
one of them he presented a pair of scissors for clipping his beard.

After describing some remarkable oblong "tables" (as they might be
called) of cedar wood--twenty feet long by eight feet broad--made of
thick cedar boards joined together with the utmost neatness, and
painted with hieroglyphics and the figures of animals; and his visit
to a kind of temple in the village, into the architecture of which
strangely carved and painted figures were interwoven; Mackenzie
goes on to relate an episode giving one a very vivid idea of the
helplessness of "native" medicine in many diseases.

He was taken to see a son of the chief, who was suffering from a
terrible ulcer in the small of his back, round which the flesh was
gangrened, one of his knees being afflicted in the same way. The poor
fellow was reduced to a skeleton, and apparently drawing very near to

"I found the native physicians busy in practising their skill and art
on the patient. They blew on him, and then whistled; at times they
pressed their extended fingers with all their strength on his stomach;
they also put their forefingers doubled into his mouth, and spouted
water from their own with great violence into his face. To support
these operations the wretched sufferer was held up in a sitting
posture, and when they were concluded he was laid down and covered
with a new robe made of the skin of a lynx. I had observed that his
belly and breast were covered with scars, and I understood that they
were caused by a custom prevalent among them of applying pieces of
lighted touchwood to their flesh, in order to relieve pain or
demonstrate their courage. He was now placed on a broad plank, and
carried by six men into the woods, where I was invited to accompany
them. I could not conjecture what would be the end of this ceremony,
particularly as I saw one man carry fire, another an axe, and a third
dry wood. I was, indeed, disposed to suspect that, as it was their
custom to burn the dead, they intended to relieve the poor man from
his pain, and perform the last sad duty of surviving affection. When
they had advanced a short distance into the wood, they laid him upon a
clear spot, and kindled a fire against his back, when the physician
began to scarify the ulcer with a very blunt instrument, the cruel
pain of which operation the patient bore with incredible resolution.
The scene afflicted me, and I left it."

The chief of this village had probably met Captain Cook about ten
years before. He had been down in a large canoe[12] with forty of his
people to the seacoast, where he saw two large vessels.

[Footnote 12: Mackenzie thus describes one of the large sea-going
canoes of the coast natives: "This canoe was built of cedar,
forty-five feet long, four feet broad, and three and a half in depth.
It was painted black and decorated with white figures of different
kinds. The gunwale fore and aft was inlaid with the teeth of the sea
otter." He adds that "these coast tribes (north of Vancouver Island
and of Queen Charlotte Sound) had been in indirect contact with the
Spaniards since the middle of the sixteenth century, and with the
Russians from the middle of the eighteenth century. Therefore, from
these two directions they had learnt the use of metal, and had
obtained copper, brass, and iron. They may possibly have had copper
earlier still from the Northern Indians on the other side of the Rocky
Mountains; but brass and iron they could, of course, only have
obtained from Europeans. They had already become very deft at dealing
with these metals, and twisted the iron into collars which weighed
upwards of twelve pounds, also beating it into plates for their
daggers and knives."]

Farther down the river the natives, instead of regaling them with
fish, placed before them a long, clean, and well-made trough full of
berries, most of them resembling blackberries, though white in colour,
and others similar to huckleberries. In this region the women were
employed in beating and preparing the inner rind of the juniper bark,
to which they gave the appearance of flax, and others were spinning
with a distaff; again, others were weaving robes of this fibrous
thread, intermixed with strips of sea-otter skin. The men were fishing
on the river with drag nets between two canoes, thus intercepting the
salmon coming up the river.

At last, on Saturday, the 20th of July, 1793, they emerged from the
Salmon River into an arm of the sea (probably near King Island). The
tide was out, and had left a large space covered with seaweed. The
surrounding hills were involved in fog.... The bay appeared to be some
three miles in breadth, and on the coast the travellers saw a great
number of sea otters.[13] At two in the afternoon the swell was so
high, and the wind, which was against them, so boisterous, that they
could not proceed along the seacoast in their leaky canoe. A young
chief who had come with them as one of their guides, and who had been
allowed to leave when the seacoast was reached, returned bearing a
large porcupine on his back. He first cut the animal open and threw
its entrails into the sea, then singed the skin and boiled it in
separate pieces; nor did he go to rest till, with the assistance of
two others who happened to be awake, every morsel of it had been
devoured. This was fortunate, because their stock of provisions was
reduced to twenty pounds' weight of pemmican, sixteen pounds of rice,
and six pounds of flour amongst ten men, "in a leaky vessel, and on a
barbarous coast".

[Footnote 13: These _may_ have been small seals, but the sea otter
(_Enhydris lutris_), now nearly extinct, was at one time found in
numbers along the north-west American coast, from the Aleutian Islands
and Alaska to Oregon. Owing to persecution it now leads an almost
entirely aquatic life, resting at times on the masses of floating

The rise and fall of the tide here was noted at fifteen feet in
height. Mr. Mackay collected a quantity of small mussels, which were
boiled and eaten by the two Scotchmen, but not by the Canadians, who
were quite unacquainted with sea shellfish.

Near Point Menzies, which had already been reached and named by
Captain VANCOUVER in the spring of 1793 on his great voyage of
discovery up the North American coast,[14] Alexander Mackenzie met a
party of Amerindians, amongst whom was a man of insolent aspect, who,
by means of signs and exclamations, made him understand that he and
his friends had been fired at by a white man named Makuba (Vancouver),
and that another white man, called "Bensins", had struck him on the
back with the flat of his sword. This man more or less compelled
Mackenzie to accompany him in the direction of his village, and on the
way explained that "Makuba" had come there with his "big boat".
Indeed, Mackenzie's party perceived the remains of sheds or buildings
on the shore where Europeans had probably made a camp, and here they
established themselves, taking up a position of defence, because the
attitude of the natives was rather threatening.

[Footnote 14: GEORGE VANCOUVER (born about 1758, and probably
descended from Dutch or Flemish ancestors) was one of the great
pioneers of the British Empire. His name is commemorated in
Vancouver's Island, an important portion of British Columbia.
Vancouver entered the navy when only thirteen, sailed with Captain
Cook, and eventually was appointed to command a naval expedition sent
out in 1791 to survey and take over from the Spaniards the north-west
American coast north of Oregon. It is remarkable that he should only
have missed Mackenzie's arrival at Point Menzies by about two months.
With what amazed rejoicing would these two heroic explorers have
greeted one another had they met on this remote point of the Pacific
coast, the one coming overland (so to speak) from Quebec and the
Atlantic, and the other all the way by sea from Falmouth via the Cape
of Good Hope, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, and Hawaii.]

At this camp there was a rock, and on this Alexander Mackenzie, mixing
up some vermilion or red clay in melted grease, inscribed in large
characters the following words: "Alexander Mackenzie, from Canada, by
land, the twenty-second of July, one thousand seven hundred and
ninety-three". He then shifted his camp to a place three miles to the
north-east, below a precipice from which issued streams of fine water
as cold as ice. And here he took careful observations with his
astronomical and surveying instruments, in order to fix his position.
Fortunately the day was one of bright sunshine. Otherwise, had there
been a long persistence of cloud, he might have been obliged to leave
the Pacific coast without being able to fix precisely the place where
he had reached the sea.

Then he yielded to the passionate desire of his people to withdraw
inland from the possibly dangerous inhabitants of the coast, and
returned with them to the encampment where the porcupine had been
eaten. Here the guide made off into the woods. Mackenzie followed him,
and thus reached a village from which two men issued armed with
daggers and intending to attack him. While stopping to defend himself,
many other people assembled, and amongst them he recognized the
irritating person who incessantly repeated the names "Makuba" and
"Benzins". However, this threatened danger was narrowly averted, and
eventually they left the village with a supply of food; but also in a
state of considerable irritation with--fleas! For some of the houses
of these Pacific coast villages swarmed with fleas to such an extent
that Mackenzie and his men were obliged to take to the water to rid
themselves of these vermin, which swarmed also on the ground that was
bare of grass.

The return journey up the Salmon River was a series of bewildering
vicissitudes. Sometimes Mackenzie and his party were received in the
most threatening way by persons who had been warm friends on their
downward journey, then seemingly inevitable war was transformed into
peace, but guides deserted, or the Amerindians from across the Rocky
Mountains attempted to mutiny. However, they struggled through all
their difficulties, till at last they reached the place known as the
Friendly Village, and were here fortunately received with great
kindness, being once more entertained "with the most respectful
hospitality". "In short, the chief behaved to us with so much
attention and kindness that I did not withhold anything in my power to
give which might afford him satisfaction.... I presented him with two
yards of blue cloth, an axe, knives, and various other articles. He
gave me in return a large shell which resembled the under shell of a
Guernsey oyster, but was somewhat larger. Where they procure them I
could not discover, but they cut and polish them for bracelets,
ear-rings, and other personal ornaments...."

The women of this place were employed in boiling sorrel and different
kinds of berries in large square kettles made of cedar wood. This
pottage, when it had attained a certain consistency, they took out
with ladles, and poured it into frames about twelve inches square.
These were then exposed to the sun, until their contents became so
many dried cakes. This was their principal article of food, and
probably of traffic. These people had also made portable chests of
cedar, in which they packed these cakes, as well as their salmon, both
dried and roasted. The only flesh they ate in addition to the salmon
was that of the sea otter and the seal; except that one instance
already mentioned of the young Indian who feasted on the flesh of the

"Their faces are round, with high cheekbones, and their complexion
between olive and copper. They have small grey eyes with a tinge of
red,... their hair is of a dark-brown colour." The men wore their hair
long, and either kept it well combed and hanging loose over the
shoulders, or plaited it and bedaubed it with brown earth so as to
make it quite impervious to the comb. Those who adopted this fashion
had to carry a bone bodkin about with them to ease the frequent
irritation which arose from the excessive abundance of vermin in their

The women, on the other hand, usually wore their hair short. Mackenzie
noticed that the infants had their heads enclosed with boards covered
with leather, to press the skull into the shape of a wedge. The women
wore a fringed apron, and over that a long robe made of skins or
leather, either loose or tied round the middle with a girdle. Over
these in wet weather was worn a cap in the shape of an inverted bowl
or dish. The men also wore this cap, and in cold weather used the
robe, but in warm weather went about in no clothing at all, except
that their feet were protected with shoes made of dressed elks' skins.
In wet weather, over their robe they wore a circular mat with an
opening in the middle sufficiently large to admit the head. This,
spreading over the shoulders, threw off the wet. As compared with the
Indians of the Rocky Mountains and the great plains, the men and boys
were very cleanly, being constantly in the water. The women, however,
were dirty.

At the end of July, 1793, Mackenzie left what he calls the Friendly
Village, and prepared to return to the east across the Rocky
Mountains, having distributed to each man about twenty pounds weight
of smoked salmon, flour, and pemmican. The fatigue of ascending the
precipices of the mountains was past description. When they arrived at
a spot where water could be obtained, and a camp made, they were in
such an extremity of weariness they could hardly crawl about to gather
wood for the purpose of making a fire; but two hours afterwards the
Amerindians of their party arrived and came to their assistance. Then
when they were sitting round a blazing fire, and some of their fatigue
had lessened, they could sit and talk of past dangers, and indulge in
the delightful reflection that they were thus far advanced on their
homeward journey. "Nor was it possible to be in this situation without
contemplating the wonders of it. Such was the depth of the precipices
below, and the height of the mountains above, with the rude and wild
magnificence of the scenery around, that I shall not attempt to
describe such an astonishing and awful combination of objects.... Even
at this place, which is only, as it were, the first step towards
gaining the summit of the mountains, the climate was very sensibly
changed. The air that fanned the village which we left at noon, was
mild and cheering; the grass was verdant, and the wild fruits ripe
around it. But here the snow was not yet dissolved, the ground was
still bound by the frost, the herbage had scarce begun to spring, and
the crowberry bushes were just beginning to blossom."

Eventually they found their canoe, and the property which they had
left behind, in perfect safety. At this camp, where the canoe had been
left behind, many natives arrived both from the upper and lower parts
of the river, all of them dressed in beaver robes, which they were
ready enough to sell for large knives. It struck Alexander Mackenzie
as being very extraordinary that these people, who had left absolutely
untouched the property stored at this place--when anyone passing by
could have stolen it and never have been detected--should now be so
ready to pilfer articles and utensils from the camp. So many small
things had been picked up and taken away by them, when coming to sell
their beaver robes, that he was obliged to take some action. So,
before all these beaver-clad Amerindians had departed on their
westward journey, he told the rearguard that he had noticed the
thefts, and scarcely thought their relations who were guilty of
stealing realized the awful mischief that would result from this
dishonesty; that they were on their way now to the sea to procure
large quantities of salmon from the rivers, but the salmon, which was
absolutely necessary to their existence, came from the sea which
belonged to the white men, and it only needed a message from the white
men to the powers of nature to prevent the fish coming up from the sea
into the rivers; and if this word were spoken they and their children
might starve. He consequently advised them to hurry after their
friends, and see that all the stolen articles were sent back. This
plan succeeded. The stolen articles were restored, and then Mackenzie
purchased from these people several large salmon, and his party
enjoyed a delicious meal.

Mackenzie declared that there were no bison to be found on the west
side of the Rocky Mountains[15] (British Columbia), and no wolves.

[Footnote 15: He was not quite accurate: there were a few "wood" bison
in the north and east of British Columbia.]

Resuming their journey up the Fraser River, they passed through the
narrow gut between mountainous rocks, which on the outward journey had
been a passage of some risk. But now the state of the water was such
that, they got up without difficulty, and had more time to examine
these extraordinary rocks, which were as perpendicular as a wall, and
gave the traveller the idea of a succession of enormous Gothic
cathedrals. With little difficulty they transported their canoe across
the water parting to the Peace River.

As they began to glide down this stream, homeward bound, they noticed
at the entrance of a small tributary an object which proved to be four
beaver skins hung up to attract their attention. These were the skins
which had been given to Mackenzie as a present by a native as he
travelled westwards. Not wishing to add to his loads, he had left the
skins behind, saying he would call for them on his return. Mackenzie
imagined, therefore, that, being under the necessity of leaving the
river, this Indian had hung up the skins in the hope that they would
attract the attention of the travellers on their return. "To reward
his honesty, I left three times the value of the skins in trade goods
in their place." As the Peace River carried them away from the great
mountains, and the plains extended before their sight, they stopped to
repair the canoe and to get in supplies of food from the herds of game
that were visible. They began with a hearty meal of bison beef. "Every
fear of future want was removed." Soon afterwards they killed an elk,
the carcass of which weighed over two hundred and fifty pounds. "As we
had taken a very hearty meal at one o'clock, it might naturally be
supposed that we should not be very voracious at supper; nevertheless,
a kettleful of elk flesh was boiled and eaten, and that vessel
replenished with more meat and put on the fire. All that remained of
the bones, &c, were placed after the Indian fashion round the fire to
roast, and at ten the next morning the whole was consumed by ten
persons and a large dog, who was allowed his share of the banquet. Nor
did any inconvenience result from what may be considered as an
inordinate indulgence."

On the 24th of August, 1793, Mackenzie was back again at Fort
Chipewayan, after an absence of eleven months, having been the first
white man to cross the broad continent of North America from the

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