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Through the Mackenzie Basin by Charles Mair

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Prepared by Arthur Wendover and Andrew Sly.

Through the Mackenzie Basin

A Narrative of the Athabasca and Peace River Treaty Expedition of 1899

By Charles Mair

To the Hon. David Laird
Leader of the Treaty Expedition of 1899
This Record is Cordially Inscribed
By His Old Friend the Author



Important events of the year 1857--The _Nor'-Wester_ newspaper--The
Duke of Newcastle and the Hudson's Bay Co.'s Charter--The
"Anglo-International Financial Association"--The New Hudson's Bay
Company--Offers of American capitalists to purchase the Company's
interests--Bill providing for purchase of the same introduced into
the United States Congress--Senator Sumner's memorandum to Secretary
Fish--Various efforts to arouse public interest in the Hudson's Bay
Territories--Former Treaties with the Indians--Motives for treating
with the Indians of Athabasca--Rush of miners and prospectors into
the district--The Indian Treaty and Half-breed Commission--The Royal
North-West Mounted Police Contingent--Special stipulations with the
Indians provided for.

Chapter I
From Edmonton To Lesser Slave Lake

Arrival of Treaty and Half-breed Commissions at Edmonton--Departure
for Athabasca Landing--Tawutinaow peat beds, etc.--Arrival at the
Landing--The gas well there--Boats and trackers--Mr. d'Eschambault
and Pierre Cyr--Non-arrival of trackers--Police contingent volunteers
to track a boat to Lesser Slave Lake--Nature of country, burnt
forests, muskegs, etc.--Tracking; its difficulties--The old Indian
tracker Peokus--Forest and river scenery--Placer mining--Absence of
life along the river--Fertile soil.

Chapter II
Lesser Slave River And Lesser Slave Lake

Lesser Slave River--Its proper name--Migration of the great Algic
race--Bishop Grouard's service in the wilderness--Returning
Klondikers--The rapids; poling--Accident to Peokus--Celebration of
Pere Lacombe's fiftieth year of missionary labors--Arrival of
half-breed trackers from Lesser Slave Lake--Great hay meadows on the
Lesser Slave River--The island in Lesser Slave Lake--Trackers'
gambling games--Swan River--A dangerous squall--Chief Factor Shaw--A
free-traders' village.

Chapter III
Treaty At Lesser Slave Lake

The Treaty point at last--Our camp at Lesser Slave Lake--The Treaty
ground and assembly--"Civilized" Indians--Keenooshayo and Moostoos--The
Treaty proceedings--The Treaty Commissioners separate--Vermilion and
Fort Chipewyan treaties--Indian chief asks for a railway--Wahpooskow
Treaty--McKenna and Ross set out for Home--Commission issued to J. A.
Macrae--Numbers of Indians treated with.

Chapter IV
The Half-Breed Scrip Commission

The half-breeds collect at Lesser Slave Lake--They decide upon cash,
scrip or nothing--Honesty of the half-breeds and Indians--Ease
of parturition amongst their women--Cree family names and their
significance--Catherine Bisson--Native traits--The mongrel dog--Gambling
and dancing--The "Red River jig".

Chapter V
Resources Of Lesser Slave Lake Region

Indian lunatics: The Weeghteko--Treatment of lunatics in old Upper
Canada--Lesser Slave Lake fisheries--Stock-raising at the lake--Prairies
of the region--The region once a buffalo country--Quality of the
soil--Wheat and roots and vegetables--Unwise to settle in large numbers
in the country at present--The "blind pig"--A native row.

Chapter VI
On The Trail To Peace River

On the trail to Peace River--The South Heart River--Good farming
lands--The Little Prairie--Peace River Crossing--The vast banks of
the Peace a country in themselves--Wild fruits--Prospectors from
the Selwyn Mountains--The Poker Flat Mining Camp--Buffalo paths and
wallows--Magnificent prairies between Peace River Landing and Fort
Dunvegan--Fort Dunvegan--Sir George Simpson and Colin Fraser--Some
townships blocked here--The Roman Catholic Mission--Baffled miners
returning--The natives of Dunvegan--Relics of the old regime--Large
families the rule--The Church missions--Back to Peace River
Crossing--Tepees, tents and trading stores--Mr. Alexander Mackenzie--The
sites of old fur posts--Indian names of the Peace River--Description
of the agricultural and other resources of the Upper Peace River--The
Chinook winds--Grand Prairie--Rainfall scanty on prairies throughout the
River--Lack of waggon roads and trail facilities.

Chapter VII
Down The Peace River

The descent of the Peace River--Wolverine Point--A good farming
country--Paddle River and Keg of Rum River prairies--Heavy spruce
forests here--Vermilion settlement--The Lawrence family and
farm--Extensive wheat fields--Cattle and hog raising--Locusts--Symptoms
of volcanic action--Old Lizotte and old King Beaulieu--The Chutes of
Peace River--The Red River; its rich soil and prairies--Peace Point--A
wild goose chase--The Gargantuan feasts of Peace River--The Quatre
Fourches--Athabasca Lake.

Chapter VIII
Fort Chipewyan To Fort McMurray

Fort Chipewyan and Athabasca Lake--Colin Fraser's trading-post--The
Barren Ground reindeer--Feathered land game--The Indians of Fond du
Lac--Mineral resources--First companies formed to prospect the Great
Slave Lake minerals--The Helpman party--The Yukon Valley Prospecting
and Mining Company--Assays of copper ore--A great mineral country--A
railway required from Chesterfield Inlet to develop it--Moss of
the Banner Lands--Lake Athabasca the rallying place of the Dene
race--Meaning of Indian generic names--"Mackenzie's country"--Its
first traders--The North-West Company--The original Indians--The
mastodon believed by the natives to exist--Return of Klondikers from
Mackenzie River--Their bad conduct--By steamer _Grahame_ to Fort
McMurray--Killing a moose--Fort McMurray.

Chapter IX
The Athabasca River Region

The tar-banks--Characteristic features of the river--The rapids of
the Athabasca--The cut-banks--A freshet--A fine camp--The "Indian
lop-stick"--The natural gas springs--Grand Rapids--Coal abundant--Good
farming country--The Point at House River--The Joli Fou Rapid--Bad
tracking--Pelican Portage--Spouting gas well--Matcheese, the Indian

Chapter X
The Trip To Wahpooskow

The Pelican River--Poling and paddling--Character of the river
and country--Great hay meadows--An Indian runner--The Pelican
Mountains--Muskegs and rich soil--Pelican Lake the height of
land--Abundance of fish--The first Wahpooskow Lake--The second
lake--Mission of Rev. C.R. Weaver--Other missions of the C.M.S.--Mission
of the Rev. Father Giroux--Other Roman Catholic missions--Indians and
half-breeds--The crows and the fish--A ball at Wahpooskow--Farming land
and muskeg in the district--Superstitions of the Indians--Polygamy and
polyandry--The changing woods--The _foex populi_--A little
beauty--Calling River--Another ancient woman and her memories--Our
return to Athabasca Landing.



The important events of A.D. 1857, and the negotiations which led
to the Transfer of the Hudson's Bay Territories--Former Treaties
and the Treaty Commission of 1899.

The terms upon which Canada obtained her great possessions in the
West are generally known, and much has been written regarding the
tentative steps by which, after long years of waiting, she acquired
them. The distinctively prairie, or southern, portion of the
country and its outliers, constituting "Prince Rupert's Land,"
had been claimed by the Hudson's Bay Company since May, 1670, as
an absolute freehold. This and the North-West Territories, in
which, under terminable lease from the Crown, the Company exercised,
as in British Columbia, exclusive rights to trade only, were, as
the reader knows, transferred to Canada by Imperial sanction at
the same time. It is not the author's intention, therefore, to
cumber his pages with trite or irrelevant matter; yet certain
transactions which preceded this primordial and greatest treaty
of all not unfittingly may be set forth, though in the briefest
way, as a pardonable introduction to the following record.

The year 1857 was an eventful one in the annals of "The North-West,"
the name by which the Territories were generally known in Canada.
[An important event in Red River was begot of the stirring
incidents of this year, namely, the starting at Fort Garry, in
December, 1859, by two gentlemen from Canada, Messrs. Buckingham
and Caldwell, of the first newspaper printed in British territory
east of British Columbia and west of Lake Superior. It was called
the _Nor'-Wester_, but, having few advertisements, and only a limited
circulation, the originators sold out to Dr. (afterwards Sir John)
Schultz, who, at his own expense, published the paper, almost down
to the Transfer, as an advocate of Canadian annexation, immigration
and development.] In that year two expeditions were set afoot to
explore the country; one in charge of Captain Palliser, [Strange
to say, Captain Palliser reported that he considered a line of
communication entirely through British territory, connecting the
Eastern Provinces and British Columbia, out of the question, as
the Astronomical Boundary adopted isolated the prairie country
from Canada. Professor Hind, on the other hand, in the same year,
standing on an eminence on the Qu'Appelle, beheld in imagination
the smoke of the locomotive ascending from the train speeding
over the prairies on its way through Canada from the Atlantic to
the Pacific.] equipped by the Imperial Government, and the other,
under Professor Hind, at the expense of the Government of Canada.
An influential body of Red River settlers, too, at this time
petitioned the Canadian Parliament to extend to the North-West
its government and protection; and in the same year the late Chief
Justice Draper was sent to England to challenge the validity of the
Hudson's Bay Company's charter; and to urge the opening up of the
country for settlement. But, above all, a committee of the British
House of Commons took evidence that year upon all sorts of questions
concerning the North-West, and particularly its suitability for
settlement, much of which was valueless owing to its untruth.
Nevertheless, the Imperial Committee, after weighing all the evidence,
reported that the Territories were fit for settlement, and that it
was desirable that Canada should annex them, and hoped that the
Government would be enabled to bring in a bill to that end at the
next session of Parliament. Five years later, the Duke of Newcastle,
who became Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1859, and
accompanied the Prince of Wales to Canada as official adviser
in 1860, having in his possession the petition of the Red River
settlers, as printed by order of the Canadian Legislature, brought
the matter up in a vigorous speech in the House of Lords, in which
he expressed his belief that the Hudson's Bay Company's charter
was invalid, though, he added, "it would be a serious blow to the
rights of property to meddle with a charter two hundred years old.
But it might happen," he continued, "in the inevitable course of
events, that Parliament would be asked to annul even such a charter
as this, in order, as set forth in the Queen's Speech, that all
obstacles to an unbroken chain of loyal settlements, stretching
from ocean to ocean, should be removed." British Columbia, which
had become a Province in 1858, has now urging the Imperial Government
with might and main to furnish a waggon-road and telegraph line
to connect her, not only with the Territories and Canada, but
with the United Empire. She was met by the stiffest of opposition,
the opposition of a very old corporation strongly entrenched in
the governing circles of both parties. But the clamour of British
Columbia was in the air, and her suggestions, hotly opposed by
the Company, had been brought before the House of Lords by
another peer. In the discussion which followed, the Duke of
Newcastle declared that "it seemed monstrous that any body of
gentlemen should exercise fee-simple rights which precluded
the future colonization of that territory, as well as the
opening of lines of communication through it." The Minister's
idea at the time seemed to be to cancel the charter, and to
concede proprietary rights around fur posts only, together
with a certain money payment, considerably less, it appears,
than what was ultimately agreed upon.

The Hudson's Bay Company, alarmed at the outlook and the attitude
of the Colonial Secretary, offered their entire interests and
belongings, trade and territorial, to the Imperial Government
for a million and a half pounds sterling, an offer which the
Duke was disposed to accept, but which was unfortunately declined
by Mr. Gladstone, then Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Duke,
who had resigned his office in 1864, died in October following,
and in the meantime a change of a startling character had come
over the time-honoured company, which sold out to a new company
in 1863, being merged into, or rather merging into itself,
an organization known as "The Anglo-International Financial
Association," which included several prominent American capitalists.
The old name was retained, but everything else was to be changed.
The policy of exclusion was to cease, immigration was to be
encouraged, and a telegraph line built through the Territories
to the Pacific coast. The wire for this was actually shipped,
and lay in Rupert's Land for years, until made use of by the
Mackenzie Administration in the building of the Government
telegraph line, which followed the railway route defined by
Sir Sandford Fleming. The old Hudson's Bay Company's shares,
of a par value of half a million pounds sterling, were increased
to a million and a half under the new adjustment, and were thrown
upon the market in shares of twenty pounds sterling each. Sir
Edmund Head, an old ex-Governor of Canada, was made Governor
of the new company. The Stock Exchange was not altogether
favourable, and the remaining shares were only sold in the
Winnipeg land boom of 1881.

The alien element in the new company seemed to inspire the
politicians of the United States with surpassing hopes and
ideas. An offer to purchase its territorial interests was made
in January, 1866, by American capitalists, which was not
unfavourably glanced at by the directorate. It was capped later
on. The corollary of the proposal was a bill, actually introduced
into the United States Congress in July following, and read twice,
"providing for the admission of the States of Nova Scotia, New
Brunswick, Canada East and Canada West, and for the organization
of the Territories of Selkirk, Saskatchewan and Columbia." The
bill provided that "The United States would pay ten millions of
dollars to the Hudson's Bay Company in full of all claims to
territory or jurisdiction in North America, whether founded on
the Charter of the Company, or any treaty, law, or usage." The
grandiosity, to use a mild phrase, of such a measure needs no
comment. But though it seems amusing to the Canadian of to-day,
it was by no means a joke forty years ago. As a matter of fact,
the then most uninhabited Territories, cut off from the centres
of Canadian activity by a wilderness of over a thousand miles,
would have been invaded by Fenians and filibusters but for the
fact that they were a part of the British Empire. An attempt
at this was indeed made at a later date. This possibility was
afterwards formulated, evidently as a threat, by Senator Charles
Sumner during the "Alabama Claims" discussion, in his astonishing
memorandum to Secretary Fish. "The greatest trouble, if not
peril," he said, "is from Fenianism, which is excited by the
British flag in Canada. Therefore, the withdrawal of the British
flag cannot be abandoned as a preliminary of such a settlement
as is now proposed. To make the settlement complete the withdrawal
should be from this hemisphere, including provinces and islands."
A refreshing proposition, truly!

It was the Imperial Government, of course, which figured most
prominently throughout the "North-West" question. But, it may
be reasonably asked, what was Canada doing, with her deeper
interests still, to further them in those long years of
discussion and delay. With the exception of the Hind Expedition,
the Draper mission, the printing and discussion of the Red
River settlers' petition and consequent Commission of Inquiry,
certainly not much was done by Parliament. More was done
outside than in the House to arouse public interest; for
example, the two admirable lectures delivered in Montreal
in 1858 by the late Lieutenant-Governor Morris, followed by
the powerful advocacy of the Hon. William Macdougall and
others, aided by the Toronto _Globe_, a small portion of the
Canadian press, and the circulation, limited as it was, of
the Red River newspaper, the _Nor'-Wester_, in Ontario.

An unseen, but adverse, parliamentary influence had all along
hampered the Cabinet; an influence adverse not only to the
acquisition of the Territories, but even to closer connection
by railway with the Maritime Provinces. [_Vide_ a series of articles
contributed to the Toronto Week, in July, 1896, by Mr. Malcolm
McLeod, Q.C., of Ottawa, Ont.] This sinister influence was only
overcome by the great Conferences which resulted in the passage
of the British North America Act in 1867, which contained a clause
(Article 11, Sec. 146), inserted at the instance of Mr. Macdougall,
providing for the inclusion of Rupert's Land and the North-West
Territories upon terms to be defined in an address to the Queen,
and subject to her approval. In pursuance of this clause, Mr.
Macdougall in 1867 introduced into the first Parliament of the
Dominion a series of eight resolutions, which, after much opposition,
were at length passed, and were followed by the embodying address,
drafted by a Special Committee of the House, and which was duly
transmitted to the Imperial Government. This was followed by
the mission of Messrs. Cartier and Macdougall to London, to
treat for the transfer of the Territories, which, through the
mediation of Lord Granville, was finally effected. The date
fixed upon for the transfer was the first of December, 1869.
Unfortunately for Lieutenant-Governor Macdougall, owing to the
outbreak of armed rebellion at Red River, it was postponed
without his knowledge, and it was not until the 15th of July,
1870, that the whole country finally became a part of the
Dominion of Canada. With the latter date the annals of Prince
Rupert's Land and the North-West Territory end, and the history
of Western Canada begins.

But whilst the Hudson's Bay Company's territorial rights and
those of Great Britain had been at last transferred to the
Dominion, there remained inextinguished the most intrinsic
of all, viz., the rights of the Indians and their collaterals
to their native and traditional soil. The adjustment of these
rights was assumed by the Canadian Parliament in the last but
one of the resolutions introduced by Mr. Macdougall, and no
time was lost after the transfer in carrying out its terms,
"in conformity with the equitable principles which have uniformly
governed the Crown in its dealings with the aborigines."

[In the foregoing brief sketch, the author, for lack of space, omits
all reference to the Red River troubles, which preceded the actual
transfer, as also to the military expedition under Col. Wolseley, the
threatened recall of which from Prince Arthur's Landing, in July,
1870, was blocked by the bold and vigorous action of the Canada
First Party in Toronto.]

Former Treaties.

Before passing on to my theme, a glance at the treaties made
in Manitoba and the organized Territories may be of interest
to the unfamiliar reader.

The first treaty, in what is now a part of Manitoba, was made in
pursuance of a purchase of the old District of Assiniboia from the
Hudson's Bay Company in 1811 by Lord Selkirk, who in that year sent
out the first batch of colonists from the north of Scotland to Red
River. The Indian title to the land, however, was not conveyed by
the Crees and Saulteaux until 1817, when Peguis and others of their
chiefs ceded a portion of their territory for a yearly payment of
a quantity of tobacco. The ceded tract extended from the mouth
of the Red River southward to Grand Forks, and, westward, along
the Assiniboine River to Rat Creek, the depth of the reserve being
the distance at which a white horse could be seen on the plains,
though this matter is not very clear. The British boundary at that
time ran south of Red Lake, and would still so run but for the
indifference of bygone Commissioners. This purchase became the
theatre of Lord Selkirk's far-seeing scheme of British settlement
in the North-West, with whose varying fortunes and romantic history
the average reader is familiar.

The first Canadian treaties were those effected by Mr. Weemys Simpson
in 1871, first at Stone Fort, Man., covering the old purchase from
Peguis and others, and a large extent of territory in addition,
the stipulated terms of payment being afterwards greatly enlarged.
These treaties are known as Nos. 1 and 2, and were followed by the
North-West Angle Treaty, effected by Lieutenant-Governor Morris, in
1873, with the Ojibway Saulteaux. In 1874 the Qu'Appelle Treaty,
after prolonged discussion and inter-tribal jealousy and disturbance,
was concluded by Lieutenant-Governor Morris, the Hon. David Laird,
then Minister of the Interior, and Mr. W. J. Christie, of the
Hudson's Bay Company. Treaty No. 5 followed, with the cession of
100,000 square miles of territory, covering the Lake Winnipeg region,
etc., after which the Great Treaty (No.6), at Forts Carlton and
Pitt, in 1876, covering almost all the country drained by the two
Saskatchewans, was partly effected by Mr. Morris and his associates,
the recalcitrants being afterwards induced by Mr. Laird to adhere
to the treaty, with the exception of the notorious Big Bear, the
insurgent chief who figured so prominently in the Rebellion of 1885.
The final treaty, or No. 7, made with the Assiniboines and Blackfeet,
the most powerful and predatory of all our Plain Indians, was
concluded by Mr. Laird and the late Lieut.-Colonel McLeod in 1877.
By this last treaty had now been ceded the whole country from Lake
Winnipeg to the Rocky Mountains, and from the international boundary
to the District of Athabasca. But there remained in native hands
still that vast northern anticlinal, which differs almost entirely in
its superficial features from the prairies and plains to the south;
and it was this region, enormous in extent and rich in economic
resources, which, it was decided by Government, should now be placed
by treaty at the disposal of the Canadian people. To this end it was
determined that at Lesser Slave Lake the first conference should be
held, and the initial steps taken towards the cession of the whole
western portion of the unceded territory up to the 60th parallel of
north latitude.

The more immediate motive for treating with the Indians of Athabasca
has been already referred to, viz., the discovery of gold in the
Klondike, and the astonishing rush of miners and prospectors, in
consequence, to the Yukon, not only from the Pacific side, but,
east of the mountains, by way of the Peace and Mackenzie rivers. Up
to that date, excepting to the fur-traders and a few missionaries,
settlers, explorers, geologists and sportsmen, the Peace River
region was practically unknown; certainly as little known to the
people of Ontario, for example, as was the Red River country thirty
years before. It was thought to be a most difficult country to
reach--a _terra incognita_--rude and dangerous, having no allurements
for the average Canadian, whose notions about it, if he had any, were
limited, as usual, to the awe-inspiring legend of "barbarous Indians
and perpetual frost."

There is a lust, however, the unquenchable lust for gold, which
seems to arouse the dullest from their apathy. This is the _primum
mobile_; from earliest days the sensational mover of civilized man,
and not unlikely to remain so until our old planet capsizes again,
and the poles become the equator with troglodites for inhabitants.
No barriers seem insurmountable to this rampant spirit; and,
urged by it, the gold-seekers, chiefly aliens from the United
States, plunged into the wilderness of Athabasca without
hesitation, and without as much as "by your leave" to the
native. Some of these marauders, as was to be expected,
exhibited on the way a congenital contempt for the Indian's
rights. At various places his horses were killed, his dogs shot,
his bear-traps broken up. An outcry arose in consequence, which
inevitably would have led to reprisals and bloodshed had not the
Government stepped in and forestalled further trouble by a prompt
recognition of the native's title. Hitherto he had been content
with his lot in these remote wildernesses, and well might he be!
One of the vast river systems of the Continent, perhaps the
greatest of them all, considering the area drained, teeming
with fish, and alive with fur and antler, was his home--a
region which furnished him in abundance with the means of life,
not to speak of such surplus of luxuries as was brought to his
doors by his old and paternal friend, "John Company." His wants
were simple, his life healthy, though full of toil, his appetite
great--an appetite which throve upon what it fed, and gave rise
to fabulous feats of eating, recalling the exploits of the
beloved and big-bellied Ben of nursery lore.

But the spirit of change was brooding even here. The moose, the
beaver and the bear had for years been decreasing, and other
fur-bearing animals were slowly but surely lessening with them.
The natives, aware of this, were now alive, as well, to concurrent
changes foreign to their experience. Recent events had awakened
them to a sense of the value the white man was beginning to
place upon their country as a great storehouse of mineral and
other wealth, enlivened otherwise by the sensible decrease of
their once unfailing resources. These events were, of course,
the Government borings for petroleum, the formation of parties
to prospect, with a view to developing, the minerals of Great Slave
Lake, but, above all, the inroad of gold-seekers by way of Edmonton.
The latter was viewed with great mistrust by the Indians, the
outrages referred to showing, like straws in the wind, the
inevitable drift of things had the treaties been delayed. For,
as a matter of fact, those now peaceable tribes, soured by
lawless aggression, and sheltered by their vast forests, might
easily have taken an Indian revenge, and hampered, if not
hindered, the safe settlement of the country for years to come.
The Government, therefore, decided to treat with them at once
on equitable terms, and to satisfy their congeners, the half-breeds,
as well, by an issue of scrip certificates such as their fellows
had already received in Manitoba and the organized Territories.
To this end adjustments were made by the Hon. Clifford Sifton,
then Minister of the Interior and Superintendent-General of
Indian Affairs, during the winter of 1898-9, and a plan of
procedure and basis of treatment adopted, the carrying out
of which was placed in the hands of a double Commission, one
to frame and effect the Treaty, and secure the adhesion of
the various tribes, and the other to investigate and extinguish
the half-breed title. At the head of the former was placed the
Hon. David Laird, a gentleman of wide experience in the early
days in the North-West Territories, whose successful treaty
with the refractory Blackfeet and their allies is but one of many
evidences of his tact and sagacity. [The Hon. David Laird is a native
of Prince Edward Island. His father emigrated from Scotland to that
Province early in the last century, and ultimately became a member of
its Executive Council. After leaving college his son David began life
as a journalist, but later on took to politics, and being called,
like his father, to the Executive Council, was selected as one of
the delegates to Ottawa to arrange for the entrance of the Island
into the Canadian Confederation. He was subsequently elected to the
Dominion House of Commons, and became Minister of the Interior in
the Mackenzie Administration. After three years' occupancy of this
department he was made Lieut.-Governor of the North-West Territories,
an office which he filled without bias and to the satisfaction of
both the foes and friends of his own party. He returned to the Island
at the close of his official term, but was called thence by the
Laurier Administration to take charge of Indian affairs in the West,
with residence in Winnipeg, which is now his permanent home.] A
nature in which fairness and firmness met was, of all dispositions,
the most suited to handle such important negotiations with the
Indians as parting with their blood-right. Fortunately these
qualities were pre-eminent in Mr. Laird, who had administered the
government of the organized Territories, at a primitive stage in
their history, in the wisest manner, and, at the close of his
official career, returned to his home in Prince Edward Island
leaving not an enemy behind him.

The other Treaty Commissioners were the Hon. James Ross, Minister
of Public Works in the Territorial Government, and Mr. J. A.
McKenna, then private secretary to the Superintendent-General
of Indian Affairs, and who had been for some years a valued
officer of the Indian Department. With them was associated, in
an advisory capacity, the Rev. Father Lacombe, O.M.I., Vicar-General
of St. Albert, Alta., whose history had been identified for fifty
years with the Canadian North-West, and whose career had touched
the currents of primitive life at all points.

[Father Lacombe is by birth a French Canadian, his native parish
being St. Sulpice, in the Island of Montreal, where he was born in
the year 1827. On the mother's side he is said to draw his descent
from the daughter of a habitant on the St. Lawrence River called
Duhamel, who was stolen in girlhood by the Ojibway Indians, and
subsequently taken to wife by their chief, to whom she bore two
sons. By mere accident, her uncle, who was one of a North-West
Company trading party on Lake Huron, met her at an Indian camp on
one of the Manitoulin islands, and having identified her as his
niece, restored her and her children to her family. Father Lacombe
was ordained a priest by Bishop Bourget, of Montreal, and in 1849
set out for Red River, where he became intimately associated with
the French half-breeds, accompanying them on their great buffalo
hunts, and ministering not only to the spiritual but to the temporal
welfare of them and their descendants down to the present day. In
1851 he took charge of the Lake Ste. Anne Mission, and subsequently
of St. Albert, the first house in which he helped to build; and from
these Missions he visited numbers of outlying regions, including
Lesser Slave Lake. His principal missionary work, however, for
twenty years was pursued amongst the Blackfeet Indians on the Great
Plains, during which he witnessed many a perilous onslaught in the
constant warfare between them and their traditional enemies, the
Crees. Being now over eighty years of age, he has retired from
active duty, and is spending the remainder of his days at Pincher
Creek, Alta., where, it is understood, he is preparing his memoirs
for publication at an early date.]

Not associated with the Commission, but travelling with it as a
guest, was the Right Rev. E. Grouard, O.M.I., the Roman Catholic
Bishop of Athabasca and Mackenzie rivers, who was returning, after
a visit to the East, to his headquarters at Fort Chipewyan, where
his influence and knowledge of the language, it was believed,
would be of great service when the treaty came under consideration
there. The secretaries of the Commission were Mr. Harrison Young, a
son-in-law of the Rev. George McDougall, the distinguished missionary
who perished so unaccountably on the plains in the winter of 1876,
and Mr. I. W. Martin, an agreeable young gentleman from Goderich,
Ont. Connected with the party in an advisory capacity, like Father
Lacombe, and as interpreter, was Mr. Pierre d'Eschambault, who
had been for over thirty years an officer in the Hudson's Pay
Company's service. The camp-manager was Mr. Henry McKay, of an
old and highly esteemed North-West family. Such was the personnel,
official and informal, of the Treaty Commission, to which was also
attached Mr. H. A. Conroy, as accountant, robust and genial, and
well fitted for the work.

The Half-breed Scrip Commission, whose duties began where the
treaty work ended, was composed of Major Walker, a retired
officer of the Royal North-West Mounted Police, who had seen
much service in the Territories and was in command of the force
present at the making of the Fort Carlton Treaty in 1876; and
Mr. J. A. Cote, an experienced officer of the Land Department at
Ottawa. The secretaries were Mr. J. F. Prudhomme, of St. Boniface,
Man., and the writer.

Our transport arrangements, from start to finish, had been placed
entirely in the hands of a competent officer of the Hudson's Bay
Company, Mr. H. B. Round, an old resident of Athabasca; and to
the Commission was also annexed a young medical man, Dr. West,
a native of Devonshire, England, whose services were appreciated
in a region where doctors were almost unknown. But not the least
important and effective constituent of the party was the detachment
of the Royal North-West Mounted Police, which joined us at Edmonton,
minus their horses, of course; picked men from a picked force;
sterling fellows, whose tenacity and hard work in the tracking-harness
did yeoman service in many a serious emergency. This detachment
consisted of Inspector Snyder, Sergeant Anderson, Corporals
Fitzgerald and McClelland, and Constables McLaren, Lett, Burman,
Lelonde, Burke, Vernon and Kerr. The conduct of these men, it
is needless to say, was the admiration of all, and assisted
materially, as will be seen hereafter, in the successful progress
of the expedition.

Whilst it had been decided that the proposed adjustments should
be effected, if possible, upon the same terms as the previous
treaties, it was known that certain changes will be necessary
owing to the peculiar topographic features of the country itself.
For example, in much of it arable reserves, such as many of the
tribes retained in the south, were unavailable, and special
stipulations were necessary, in such case, so that there should
be no inequality of treatment. But where good land could be had,
a novel choice was offered, by which individual Indians, if they
wished, could take their inalienable shares in severalty, rather
than be subject to the "band," whereby many industrious Indians
elsewhere had been greatly hampered in their efforts to improve
their condition. But, barring such departures as these, the proposed
treaties were to be effected, as I have said, according to precedent.
The Commission, then, resting its arguments on the good faith and
honour of the Government and people of Canada in the past, looked
forward with confidence to a successful treaty in Athabasca, the
record of travel and intercourse, to that end, beginning with
the following narrative.

Through the Mackenzie Basin

Chapter I

From Edmonton To Lesser Slave Lake.

Mr. Laird, with his staff, left Winnipeg for Edmonton by the
Canadian Pacific express on the 22nd of May, two of the
Commissioners having preceded him to that point. The train
was crowded, as usual, with immigrants, tourists, globe-trotters
and way-passengers. Parties for the Klondike, for California
or Japan--once the far East, but now the far West to us--for
anywhere and everywhere, a C.P.R. express train carrying the
same variety of fortunates and unfortunates as the ocean-cleaving
hull. Calgary was reached at one a.m. on the Queen's birthday,
and the same morning we left for Edmonton by the C. & E.
Railway. Every one was impressed favourably by the fine country
lying between these two cities, its intermediate towns and
villages, and fast-growing industries. But one thing especially
was not overlooked, viz., the honour due to our venerable Queen,
alas, so soon to be taken from us.

In the evening we arrived at Strathcona, and found it thronged with
people celebrating the day. Crossing the river to Edmonton, we
got rooms with some difficulty in one of its crowded hotels, but
happily awoke next morning refreshed and ready to view the town.
It is needless to describe what has been so often described.
Enough to say Edmonton is one of the doors to the great North,
an outfitter of its traders, an emporium of its furs. And
there is something more to be said. It has an old fort, or,
rather, portions of one, for the vandalism which has let disappear
another, and still more historic, stronghold, is manifest here as
well. And truly, what savage scenes have been enacted on this
very spot! What strife in the days of the rival companies!
Edmonton is a city still marked by the fine savour of the
"Old-Timers," who meet once a year to renew associations, and
for some fleeting but glorious hours recall the past on the
great river. Age is thinning them out, and by and by the
remainder man will shake his "few, sad, last gray hairs,"
and slip out, too. But the tradition of him, it is to be hoped,
will live, and bind his memory forever to the soil he trod,
when all this Western world was a wilderness, each primitive
settlement a happy family, each unit an unsophisticated,
hospitable soul.

To our mortification we found that our supplies, seasonably shipped
at Winnipeg, would not arrive for several days; a delay, to begin
with, which seemed to prefigure all our subsequent hindrances.
Then rain set in, and it was the afternoon of the 29th before Mr.
Round could get us off. Once under way, however, with our thirteen
waggons, there was no trouble save from their heavy loads, which
could not be moved faster than a walk. Our first camp was at
Sturgeon River--the Namao Sepe of the Crees--a fine stream in a
defile of hills clothed with poplar and spruce, the former not
quite in leaf, for the spring was backward, though seeding and
growth in the Edmonton District was much ahead of Manitoba. The
river flat was dotted with clumps of russet-leaved willows, to
the north of which our waggons were ranged, and soon the quickly
pitched tents, fires and sizzling fry-pans filled even the
tenderfoot with a sense of comfort.

Next morning our route lay through a line of low, broken hills,
with scattered woods, largely burnt and blown down by the wind; a
desolate tract, which enclosed, to our left, the Lily Lake--Ascutamo
Sakaigon--a somewhat marshy-looking sheet of water. Some miles
farther on we crossed Whiskey Creek, a white man's name, of course,
given by an illicit distiller, who throve for a time, in the old
"Permit days," in this secluded spot. Beyond this the long line of
the Vermilion Hills hove in sight, and presently we reached the
Vermilion River, the Wyamun of the Crees, and, before nightfall,
the Nasookamow, or Twin Lake, making our camp in an open besmirched
pinery, a cattle shelter, with bleak and bare surroundings,
neighboured by the shack of a solitary settler. He had, no doubt,
good reasons for his choice; but it seemed a very much less inviting
locality than Stony Creek, which we came to next morning, approaching
it through rich and massive spruce woods, the ground strewn with
anemones, harebells and violets, and interspersed with almost
startlingly snow-white poplars, whose delicate buds had just opened
into leaf.

Stony Creek is a tributary of a larger stream, called the
Tawutinaow, which means "a passage between hills." This is
an interesting spot, for here is the height of land, the
"divide" between the Saskatchewan and the Athabasca, between
Arctic and Hudson Bay waters, the stream before us flowing
north, and carrying the yellowish-red tinge common to the
waters on this slope. A great valley to the left of the trail
runs parallel with it from the Sturgeon to the Tawutinaow,
evidently the channel of an ancient river, whose course it would
now be difficult to determine without close examination. At all
events, it stretches almost from the Saskatchewan to the Athabasca,
and indicates some great watershed in times past. Hay was
abundant here, and much stock, it was evident, might be raised
in the district.

Towards evening we reached the Tawutinaow bridge, some eighteen
miles from the Landing, our finest camp, dry and pleasant, with
sward and copse and a fine stream close by. Here is an extensive
peat bed, which was once on fire and burnt for years--a great
peril to freighters' ponies, which sometimes grazed into its
unseen but smouldering depths. The seat of the fire was now an
immense grassy circle, with a low wall of blackened peat all
around it.

In the morning an endless succession of small creeks was passed,
screened by deep valleys which fell in from hills and muskegs
to the south, and at noon, jaded with slow travel, we reached
Athabasca Landing. A long hill leads down to the flat, and from
its brow we had a striking view of the village below and of the
noble river, which much resembles the Saskatchewan, minus its
prairies. We were now fairly within the bewildering forest of
the north, which spreads, with some intervals of plain, to the
69th parallel of north latitude; an endless jungle of shaggy
spruce, black and white poplar, birch, tamarack and Banksian pine.
At the Landing we pitched our tents in front of the Hudson's Bay
Company's post, where had stood, the previous year, a big canvas
town of "Klondikers." Here they made preparation for their
melancholy journey, setting out on the great stream in every
species of craft, from rafts and coracles to steam barges.
Here was begun an episode of that world-wide craze, which has
run through all time, and almost every country, in which were
enacted deeds of daring and suffering which add a new chapter
to the history of human fearlessness and folly.

The Landing was a considerable hamlet for such a wilderness,
being the shipping point to Mackenzie River, and, via the Lesser
Slave Lake, to the Upper Peace. It consisted of the Hudson's Bay
Company's establishment, with large storehouses, a sawmill, the
residence and church of a Church of England bishop, and a Roman
Catholic station, with a variety of shelters in the shape of
boarding-houses, shacks and tepees all around. From the number
of scows and barges in all stages of construction, and the high
timber canting-tackles, it had quite a shipyard-like look, the
population being mainly mechanics, who constructed scows, small
barges, called "sturgeons," and the old "York," or inland boat,
carrying from four to five tons. Here, hauled up on the bank, was
the Hudson's Bay Company's steamer, the _Athabasca_, a well-built
vessel about 160 feet long by 28 feet beam. This vessel, it was
found, drew too much water for the channel; so there she lay,
rotting upon her skids. It was a tantalizing sight to ourselves,
who would have been spared many a heart-break had she been fit
for service. A more interesting feature of the Landing, however,
was the well sunk by the Government borer, Mr. Fraser, for oil,
but which sent up gas instead. The latter was struck at a
considerable depth, and, when we were there, was led from the
shaft under the river bank by a pipe, from which it issued
aflame, burning constantly, we were told, summer and winter.
Standing at the gateway of the unknown North, and looking
at this interesting feature, doubly so from its place and
promise, one could not but forecast an industrial future,
and "dream on things to come."

Shortly after our arrival at the Landing, news, true or false,
reached us that the ice was still fast on Lesser Slave Lake. At
any rate, the boat's crew expected from there did not turn up,
and a couple of days were spent in anxious waiting. Some freight
was delayed as well, and a thunderstorm and a night of rain set
the camp in a swim. The non-arrival of our trackers was serious,
as we had two scows and a York boat, with a party all told of some
fifty souls, and only thirteen available trackers to start with.
It seemed more than doubtful whether we could reach Lesser Slave
Lake on treaty-schedule time, and the anxiety to push on was great.
It was decided to set out as we were and trust to the chapter of
accidents. We did not foresee the trials before us, the struggle
up a great and swift river, with contrary winds, rainy weather,
weak tracking lines and a weaker crew. The chapter of accidents
opened, but not in the expected manner.

The York boat and one of the scows were fitted up amidships with
an awning, which could be run down on all sides when required,
but were otherwise open to the weather, and much encumbered with
lading; but all things being in readiness, on the 3rd of June we
took to the water, and, a photograph of the scene having been
taken, shoved off from the Landing. The boats were furnished
with long, cumbrous sweeps, yet not a whit too heavy, since numbers
of them snapped with the vigorous strokes of the rowers during
the trip. A small sweep, passed through a ring at the stern,
served as a rudder, by far the best steering gear for the
"sturgeons," but not for a York boat, which is built with a
keel and can sail pretty close to the wind. Ordinarily the
only sail in use is a lug, which has a great spread, and moves
a boat quickly in a fair wind. In a calm, of course, sweeps have
to be used, and our first step in departure was to cross the
river with them, the boatmen rising with the oars and falling
back simultaneously to their seats with perfect precision, and
handling the great blades with practised ease. When the opposite
shore was reached, the four trackers of each boat leaped into
the water, and, splashing up the bank, got into harness at
once, and began, with changes to the oars, the unflagging pull
which lasted for two weeks. This harness is called by the
trackers "otapanapi"--a Cree word--and it must be borne in mind
that scarcely any language was spoken throughout this region other
than Cree. A little English or French was occasionally heard; but
the tongue, domestic, diplomatic, universal, was Cree, into which
every half-breed in common talk lapsed, sooner or later, with
undisguised delight. It was his mother tongue, copious enough
to express his every thought and emotion, and its soft accents,
particularly in the mouth of woman, are certainly very musical.
Emerson's phrase, "fossil poetry," might be applied to our Indian
languages, in which a single stretched-out word does duty for
a sentence.

But to the harness. This is simply an adjustment of leather
breast-straps for each man, tied to a very long tracking line,
which, in turn, is tied to the bow of the boat. The trackers,
once in it, walk off smartly along the bank, the men on board
keeping the boats clear of it, and, on a fair path, with good
water, make very good time. Indeed, the pull seems to give an
impetus to the trackers as well as to the boat, so that a loose
man has to lope to keep up with them. But on bad paths and
bad water the speed is sadly pulled down, and, if rapids occur,
sinks to the zero of a few miles a day. The "spells" vary
according to these circumstances, but half an hour is the
ordinary pull between "pipes," and there being no shifts in
our case, the stoppages for rest and tobacco were frequent.
At this rate we calculated that it would take eight or ten
days to reach the mouth of Lesser Slave River. Mr. d'Eschambault
and myself, having experienced the crowded state of the first
and second boats, and foregathered during the trip, decided to
take up our quarters on the scow, which had no awning, but
which offered some elbow room and a tolerably cozy nook amongst
the cases, bales and baggage with which it was encumbered.

We had a study on board, as well, in our steersman, Pierre Cyr,
which partly attracted me--a bronzed man, with long, thin, yet
fine weather-beaten features, frosty moustache and keenly-gazing,
dry, gray eyes--a tall, slim and sinewy man, over seventy
years of age, yet agile and firm of step as a man of thirty.
Add the semi-silent, inward laugh which Cooper ascribes to
his Leather-Stocking, and you have Pierre Cyr, who might
have stood for that immortal's portrait. That he had a history
I felt sure when I first saw him seated amongst his boatmen at
the Landing, and, on seeking his acquaintance, was not surprised
to learn that he had accompanied Sir John Richardson on his
last journey in Prince Rupert's Land, and Dr. Rae on his eventful
expedition to Repulse Bay, in 1853, in search of Franklin. He
looked as if he could do it again--a vigorous, alert man, ready
and able to track or pole with the best--a survivor, in fact,
of the old race of Red River voyageurs, whose record is one
of the romances of history.

Another attraction was my companion, Mr. d'E. himself--a man
stout in person, quiet by disposition, and of few words; a man,
too, with a lineage which connected him with many of the oldest
pioneer families of French Canada. His ancestor, Jacques Alexis
d'Eschambault, originally of St. Jean de Montaign, in Poictou,
came to New France in the 17th century, where, in 1667, he married
Marguerite Rene Denys, a relative of the devoted Madame de la
Peltrie, and thus became brother-in-law to M. de Ramezay, the
owner of the famous old mansion in Montreal, now a museum. Jacques
d'Eschambault's son married a daughter of Louis Joliet, the
discoverer of the Mississippi, and became a prominent merchant
in Quebec, distinguishing himself, it is said, by having the
largest family ever known in Canada, viz., thirty-two children.
Under the new _regime_ my companion's grandfather, like many another
French Canadian gentleman, entered the British army, but died
in Canada, leaving as heir to his seigneurie a young man whose
friendship for Lord Selkirk led him to Red River as a companion,
where he subsequently entered the Hudson's Bay Company's service,
and died, a chief-factor, at St. Boniface, Man. His son, my
companion, also entered the service, in 1857, at his father's
post of Isle a la Crosse, served seven years at Cumberland, nine
at other distant points, and, finally, fifteen years as trader
at Reindeer Lake, a far northern post bordering on the Barren Lands,
and famous for its breed of dogs. My friend had some strange
virtues, or defects, as the ungodly might call them; he had never
used tobacco or intoxicants in his life, a marvellous thing
considering his environment. He possessed, besides, a fine
simplicity which pleased one. Doubled up in the Edmonton hotel
with a waggish companion, he was seen, so the latter affirmed,
to attempt to blow out the electric light, a thing which, greatly
to his discomfiture, was done by his bed-fellow with apparent
ease. Being a man of scant speech, I enjoyed with him betimes
the luxury of it. But we had much discourse for all that, and
I learnt many interesting things from this old trader, who seemed
taciturn in our little crowd, but was, in reality, a tower of
intelligent silence beat about by a flood of good-humoured chaff
and loquacity.

At our first night's camp we were still in sight of the Landing,
which looked absurdly near, considering the men's hard pull; and
from there messengers were sent to Baptiste Lake, the source of
Baptiste Creek, which joins the Athabasca a few miles up, and
where there was a settlement of half-breed fishermen and hunters,
to procure additional trackers if possible. On their unsuccessful
return, at eleven a.m., we started again--newo pishawuk, as they
call it, "four trackers to the line," as before and early in the
afternoon were opposite Baptiste Creek, and, weather compelling,
rowed across, and camped there that evening. It rained dismally
all night, and morning opened with a strong head wind and every
symptom of bad weather. A survey party from the Rocky Mountains,
in a York boat, tarried at our camp, bringing word that the
ice-jam was clear in Lesser Slave Lake, which was cheering, but
that we need scarcely look for the expected assistance. They
also gave a vague account of the murder of a squaw by her
husband for cannibalism, which afterwards proved to be groundless,
and, with this comforting information, sped on.

It is ridiculously easy to go down the Athabasca compared with
ascending it. The previous evening a Baptiste Lake hunter, bound
for the Landing, set on from our camp at a great rate astride
of a couple of logs, which he held together with his legs, and
disappeared round the bend below in a twinkling. A priest, too,
with a companion, arrived about dusk in a canoe, and set off
again, intending to beach at the Landing before dark.

Of course, several surmises were current regarding the non-arrival
of our trackers, the most likely being Bishop Grouard's, that,
as the R. C. Mission boats and men had not come down either,
the Indians and half-breeds were too intent upon discussing
the forthcoming treaty to stir.

So far it had been the rain and consequent bad tracking which
had delayed us; but still we were too weak-handed to make headway
without help, and it was at this juncture that the Police
contingent stepped manfully into the breach, and volunteered
to track one of the boats to the lake. This was no light matter
for men unaccustomed to such beastly toil and in such abominable
weather; but, having once put their hands to the rope, they
were not the men to back down. With unfaltering "go" they
pulled on day after day, landing their boat at its destination
at last, having worked in the harness and at the sweeps,
without relief, from the start almost to the finish.

Meanwhile all enjoyed good health and spirits in spite of the
weather. There were fair grounds for the belief that Mr. Ross,
who had set out by trail from Edmonton, would reach the lake in
time to distribute to the congregated Indians and half-breeds
the Government rations stored there for that purpose, and,
therefore, our anxiety was not so great as it would otherwise
have been.

Our trackers being thus reinforced, the outlook was more
satisfactory, not so much in increased speed as in the certainty
of progress. The rain had ceased, and though the sky was still
lowering, the temperature was higher. Tents were struck, and
the boats got under way at once, taking chances on the weather,
which, instead of breaking up in another deluge, improved.
Eight men were now put to each line, Peokus, a remarkable old
Blackfoot Indian, captured and adopted in boyhood by the Crees,
and who afterwards attracted the attention of us all, being
detailed to lead the Police gang, who, raw and unused to the
work, required an experienced tracker at their head.

The country passed through hitherto was rolling, hilly, and
densely forested, but, alas, with prostrate trunks and fire-blasted
"rampikes," which ranged in all directions in desolate profusion.
The timber was Banksian pine, spruce, poplar and birch, much of
it merchantable, but not of large size. It was pitiful to see
so much wealth destroyed by recent fires, and that, too, at the
possible opening of an era of real value in the near future.
The greatest destruction was evidently on the north side of the
river, but the south had not escaped.

As regards the soil in these parts, it was, so far, impossible
to speak favourably. The hunters described the inland country
as a wilderness of sand-hills, surrounded by quaking-bogs,
muskegs and soft meadows. Judging by exposures on the river
bank, there are, here and there, fertile areas which may yet
be utilized; but probably the best thing that could happen to
that part of the country would be a great clearing fire to
complete the destruction of its dead timber and convert its
best parts into prairie and a summer range for cattle.

We were now approaching a portion of the river where the difficulties
of getting on were great. The men had to cope with the swift current,
bordered by a series of steep gumbo slides, where the tracking was
hazardous; where great trees slanted over the water, tottering to
their fall, or deep pits and fissures gaped in the festering clay,
into which the men often plunged to their arm-pits. It was horrible
to look upon. The chain-gang, the galley-slaves, how often the idea
of them was recalled by that horrid pull! Yet onward they went,
with teeth set and hands bruised by the rope, surmounting difficulty
after difficulty with the pith of lions.

At last a better region was reached, with occasionally a better
path. Here the destruction by fire had been stayed, the country
improved, and the forest outlines became bold and noble. Hour by
hour we crept along a like succession of majestic bends of the
river, not yet flushed by the summer freshet, but flowing with
superb volume and force. Fully ten miles were made that day,
the men tracking like Trojans through water and over difficult
ground, but fortunately free from mosquitoes, the constant head
winds keeping these effectually down. The cool weather in like
manner kept the water down, for it is in this month that the
freshet from the Rocky Mountains generally begins, filling the
channel bank-high, submerging the tracking paths, and bearing
upon its foaming surface such a mass of uprooted trees and river
trash that it is almost impossible to make head against it.

The next morning opened dry and pleasant, but with a milky and
foreboding sky. Again the boats were in motion, passing the
Pusquatenao, or Naked Hill, beyond which is the Echo Lake--Katoo
Sakaigon--where a good many Indians lived, having a pack-trail
thereto from the river.

The afternoon proved to be hot, the clouds cumulose against a
clear, blue sky, with occasional sun-showers. The tracking became
better for a time, the lofty benches decreasing in height as we
ascended. Innumerable ice-cold creeks poured in from the forest,
all of a reddish-yellow cast, and the frequent marks on trees,
informing passing hunters of the success of their friends, and
the number of stages along the shore for drying meat, indicated
a fine moose country.

The next day was treaty day, and we were still a long way from
the treaty post. The Police, not yet hardened to the work, felt
fagged, but would not own up, a nephew of Sir William Vernon
Harcourt bringing up the rear, and all slithering, but hanging
to it with dogged perseverance. Nothing, indeed, can be imagined
more arduous than this tracking up a swift river, against constant
head winds in bad weather. Much of it is in the water, wading up
"snies," or tortuous shallow channels, plunging into numberless
creeks, clambering up slimy banks, creeping under or passing the
line over fallen trees, wading out in the stream to round long
spits of sand or boulders, floundering in gumbo slides, tripping,
crawling, plunging, and, finally, tottering to the camping-place
sweating like horses, and mud to the eyes--but never grumbling.
After a whole day of this slavish work, no sooner was the bath
taken, supper stowed, and pipes filled, than laughter began,
and jokes and merriment ran round the camp-fires as if such
things as mud and toil had never existed.

The old Indian, Peokus, heading the Police line, was a study.
His garb was a pair of pants toned down to the colour of the
grime they daily sank in, a shirt and corduroy vest to match,
a faded kerchief tied around his head, an Assomption sash, and
a begrimed body inside of all--a short, squarely built frame,
clad with rounded muscles--nothing angular about _him!_--but the
nerves within tireless as the stream he pulled against. On the
lead, in harness, his long arms swung like pendulums, his whole
body leant forward at an acute angle, the gait steady, and the
step solid as the tramp of a gorilla. Some coarse black hairs
clung here and there to his upper lip; his fine brown eyes were
embedded in wrinkles, and his swarthy features, though clumsy,
were kindly--a good-humoured face, which, at a cheerful word
or glance, lit up at once with the grotesque grin of an animated
gargoyle. This was the typical old-time tracker of the North; the
toiler who brought in the products of man's art in the East, and
took out Nature's returns--the Indian's output--ever since the
trade first penetrated these endless solitudes.

The forest scenery now became very striking; primeval masses of
poplar and birch foliage, which spread away and upward in smoothest
slopes, like vast lawns, studded with the sombre green of the pine
tops which towered above them. Here and there the bends of the
river crossed at such angles as to enclose a lake-like expanse
of water. The river also took a fine colouring from its tributaries,
a sort of greenish-yellow tinge, and now became flecked with
bubbles and thin foam, so that we feared the freshet, which would
have been disastrous.

At mid-day we reached Shoal Island--Pakwao Ministic--and here the
poles were got out and the trackers took the middle of the river
for nearly a mile, until deep water was reached. Placer miners
had evidently been at work here, but with poor results, we
were told. Below Baptiste Creek, however, the yield had been
satisfactory, and several miners had made from $2.00 to $2.50 a
day over their living expenses. Above the Baptiste there was
nothing doing; indeed, we did not pass a single miner at work
on the whole route, and it was the best time for their work.
The gold is flocculent, its source as mysterious as that of the
Saskatchewan, if the theory that the latter was washed out of
the Selkirks before the upheaval of the Rockies is astray.

A fresh moose head, seen lying on the bank, indicated a hunting
party, but no human life was seen aside from our own people.
Indeed, the absence of life of any kind along the river, excepting
the song-birds, which were in some places numerous, was surprising.
No deer, no bears, not even a fox or a timber wolf made one's
fingers itch for the trigger. A few brent, which took wing afar
off, and a high-flying duck or two, were the sole wildings observed,
save a big humble-bee which droned around our boat for an instant,
then darted off again. Even fish seemed to be anything but plentiful.

That night's camp was hurriedly made in a hummocky fastness of
pine and birch, where we found few comfortable bedding-places.
In the morning we passed several ice-ledges along shore, the
survivals of the severe winter, and, presently, met a canoe
with two men from Peace River, crestfallen "Klondikers," who
had "struck it rich," they said, with a laugh, and who reported
good water. Next morning a very early start was made, and after
some long, strong pulls, and a vigorous spurt, the mouth of the
Lesser Slave River opened at last on our sight.

We had latterly passed along what appeared to be fertile soil,
a sandy clay country, which improved to the west and south-west
at every turn. It had an inviting look, and the "lie," as well,
of a region foreordained for settlement. It was irritating not
to be able to explore the inner land, but our urgency was too
great for that. From what we saw, however, it was easy to
predict that thither would flow, in time, the stream of pioneer
life and the bustle of attending enterprise and trade.

Chapter II

Lesser Slave River And Lesser Slave Lake.

It is unnecessary to inform the average reader that the Lesser
Slave River connects the Lesser Slave Lake with the Athabasca;
any atlas will satisfy him upon that point. But its peculiar
colouring he will not find there, and it is this which gives
the river its most distinctive character. Once seen, it is easy
to account for the hue of the Athabasca below the Lesser Slave
River; for the water of the latter, though of a pale yellow colour
in a glass, is of a rich burnt umber in the stream, and when blown
upon by the wind turns its sparkling facets to the sun like the
smile upon the cheek of a brunette. Its upward course is like
a continuous letter S with occasional S's side by side, so that
a point can be crossed on foot in a few minutes which would
cost much time to go around. Its proper name, too, is not to
be found in the atlases, either English or French. There it
is called the Lesser Slave River, but in the classic Cree its
name is Iyaghchi Eennu Sepe, or the River of the Blackfeet,
literally the "River of the Strange People." The lake itself
bears the same name, and even now is never called Slave Lake
by the Indians in their own tongue. This fact, to my mind,
casts additional light upon an obscure prehistoric question,
namely, the migration of the great Algic, or Algonquin, race.
Its early home was, perhaps, in the far south, or south-west,
whence it migrated around the Gulf of Florida, and eastward
along the Atlantic coast, spreading up its bays and inlets,
and along its great tributary rivers, finally penetrating by
the Upper Ottawa to James's, and ultimately to the shores of
Hudson Bay. I know there is strong adverse opinion as to the
starting-point of this migration, and I only offer my own as
a suggestion based upon the facts stated, and as, therefore,
worthy of consideration. Sir Alexander Mackenzie speaks of the
Blackfeet "travelling north-westward," and that the Crees were
"invaders of the Saskatchewan from the eastward." Indeed, he says
the latter were called by the Hudson's Bay Company's officers at
York Factory "their home-guards." One thing seems certain, viz.,
that the Crees got their firearms from the English at Hudson
Bay in the 17th century. Thence that great tribe, called by
themselves the Naheowuk, but by the Ojibway Saulteaux the
Kinistineaux, and by the voyageurs Christineaux, or, more
commonly, the Crees--a word derived, some think, from the first
syllable of the latter name, or perhaps from the French _crier_,
to shout--descended upon the Blackfeet, who probably at that
time occupied this region, and undoubtedly the Saskatchewan,
and drove them south along a line stretching to the Rocky

The tradition of this expulsion is still extant, as also of the
great raids made by the Blackfeet and their kindred in times
past into their ancient domain. I remember visiting, with my
old friend Attakacoop--Star-Blanket--the deceased Cree chief,
twenty years ago, the triumphal pile of red deer horns raised
by the Blackfeet north of Shell River, a tributary of the North
Saskatchewan. It is called by the Crees Ooskunaka Assustakee,
and the chief described its great size in former days, and the
tradition of its origin as told to him in his boyhood. Be all
this as it may, and this is not the place to pursue the inquiry,
the stream in question is, to the Crees who live upon it, not
the River of the Slaves, but the "River of the Blackfeet." How
it came by its white name is another question. Possibly some
captured Indians of the tribe called the Slaves to this day, reduced
to servitude by the Crees, were seen by the early voyageurs, and
gave rise to the French name, of which ours is a translation.
Slavery was common enough amongst the Indians everywhere. A
thriving trade was done at the Detroit in the 18th century in
Pawnees, or Panis, as they were called, captured by Indian
raiders on the western prairies and sold to the white settlers
along the river. I have seen in Windsor, Ont., an old bill of
sale of one of these Pani slaves, the consideration being, if
I recollect aright, a certain quantity of Indian corn.

To return to the river. The distance from Athabasca Landing to
the Lesser Slave is called sixty-five miles, but this must have
been ascertained by measuring from point to point, for, following
the shore up stream, as boats must, it is certainly more. To the
head of the river is an additional sixty miles, and thence to
the head of the lake seventy-five more. The Hudson's Bay Company
had a storehouse at the Forks, and an island was forming where
the waters meet, the finest feature of the place being an echo,
which reverberated the bugler's call at _reveille_ very grandly.

A spurt was made in the early morning, the trackers first following
a bank overgrown with alders and sallows, all of a size, which
looked exactly like a well-kept hedge, but soon gave way to the
usual dense line of poplar and spruce, rooted to the very edges
of the banks, which are low compared with those of the Athabasca.
After ascending it for some distance, it being Sunday, we camped
for the day upon an open grassy point, around which the river
swept in a perfect semi-circle, the dense forest opposite towering
in one equally perfect, and glorious in light and shade and
harmonious tints of green, from sombre olive to the lightest
pea. The point itself was covered with strawberry vines and
dotted with clumps of saskatoons all in bloom.

It was a lovely and lonely spot, which was soon converted into
a scene of eating and laughter, and a drying ground for wet
clothes. Towards evening Bishop Grouard and Father Lacombe held
a well-attended service, which in this profound wilderness was
peculiarly impressive. Listening, one thought how often the same
service, these same chants and canticles, had awakened the sylvan
echoes in like solitudes on the St. Lawrence and Mississippi in
the old days of exploration and trade, and of missionary zeal and
suffering. It recalled, too, the thought of man's evanescence and
the apparent fixedness of his institutions.

Shortly after our tents were pitched a boat drifted past
with five jaded-looking men aboard--more baffled Klondikers
returning from Peace River. We had heard of numbers in the
interior who could neither go on nor return, and expected to
meet more castaways before we reached the lake. In this we
were not astray, and several days after in the upper river
we met a York boat loaded with them, alert and unmistakable
Americans, but with the worn features of disappointed men.

We were now constantly encountering the rapids, which extended
for about twenty-five miles, and very difficult and troublesome
they proved to be to our heavily-loaded craft. Most of them were
got over slowly by combined poling and tracking, the line often
breaking with the strain, and the boats being kept in the channel
only by the most strenuous efforts of the experienced men on board.
If a monias (a greenhorn) took the bow pole, as was sometimes the
case, the orders of our steersman, Cyr, were amusing to listen to.
"Tughkenay asswayegh tamook!" (Be on your guard!) "Turn de oder way!
Turn yourself! Turn your pole--Hell!" Then, of course, came the
customary rasp on the rocks, but, if not, the cheery cry followed
to the trackers ashore, "Ahchipitamook!" (Haul away!) and on we
would go for a few yards more. Once, towards the end of this dreary
business, when we were all crowded into the Commissioner's boat,
where we took our meals, in the first really stiff rapid the keel
grated as usual upon the rocks. With a better line we might have
pulled through, but it broke, and the boat at once swung broadside
to the current and listed on the rocks immovably, though the men
struggling in the water did their best to heavy her off. The
third boat then came up, and shortly afterwards the Police boat.
But getting their steering sweeps fouled and lines entangled, it
was nearly an hour before Cyr's boat, being first lightened, could
swing to starboard of the York, and take off the passengers.
The York boat was then shouldered off the rocks by main force,
and all got under way again. At this juncture our old Indian,
Peokus--or Pehayokusk, to give him his right name, to wit, "The
giblets of a bird"--met with a serious accident, which, much to
our regret, laid him up for several days. In his eagerness to
help he slipped from a sunken log, and the bruise knocked the
wind out of him completely. We took off his wet clothes and rubbed
him, and laid him by the fire, where the doctor's care and a
liberal dram of spirits soon fetched him to rights. A look of
pleased wonder passed over his clumsy features as the latter
did its work. Caliban himself could not have been more curiously

This was not our last stick: there were other awkward rapids
near by; but by dint of wading, shouldering, pulling and tracking,
we got over the last of them and into a deep channel for good,
having advanced only five miles after a day of incessant toil,
most of it in the water.

Our camp that night was a memorable one. The day was the fiftieth
anniversary of Father Lacombe's ministration as a missionary in
the North-West, and all joined in presenting him with a suitable
address, handsomely engrossed by Mr. Prudhomme on birch bark,
and signed by the whole party. A poem, too, composed by Mr.
Cote, a gentleman of literary gifts and taste, also written on
bark, was read and presented at the same time. [The poem, the text
of which was secured from the author too late for insertion here,
will be found in the Appendix, p. 490.] Pere Lacombe made a touching
impromptu reply, which was greatly appreciated. Many of us were not
of the worthy Father's communion, yet there was but one feeling,
that of deep respect for the labours of this celebrated missionary,
whose life had been a continuous effort to help the unbefriended
Indian into the new but inevitable paths of self-support, and to
shield him from the rapacity of the cold incoming world now surging
around him. After the presentation, over a good cigar, the Father
told some inimitable stories of Indian life on the plains in the
old days, which to my great regret are too lengthy for inclusion
here. One incident, however, being _apropos_ of himself, must find
place. Turning the conversation from materialism, idealism, and the
other "isms" into which it had drifted, he spoke of the fears so
many have of ghosts, and even of a corpse, and confessed that, from
early training, he had shared this fear until he got rid of it in an
incident one winter at Lac Ste. Anne. He had been sent for during
the night to administer extreme unction to a dying half-breed girl
thirteen miles away. Hitching his dogs to their sled he sped on,
but too late, for he was met on the trail by the girl's relatives,
bringing her dead body wrapped in a buffalo skin, and which
they asked him to take back with him and place in his chapel
pending service. He tremblingly assented, and the body was
duly tied to his sled, the relatives returning to their homes.
He was alone with the corpse in the dense and dark forest, and
felt the old dread, but reflecting on his office and its duties,
he ran for a long distance behind the sled until, thoroughly
tired, he stepped on it to rest. In doing this he slipped and
fell upon the corpse in a spasm of fear, which, strange to say,
when he recovered from it, he felt no more. The shock cured him,
and, reaching home, he placed the girl's body in the chapel
with his own hands. It reminded him, he said, of a Community
at Marseilles whose Superior had died, but whose money was
missing. The new Superior sent a young priest who had a great
dread of ghosts down to the crypt below the church to open the
coffin and search the pockets of the dead. He did so, and found
the money; but in nailing on the coffin lid again, a part of
his soutane was fastened down with it. The priest turned to go,
advanced a step, and, being suddenly held, dropped dead with
fright. These gruesome stories were happily followed by an hour
or two of song and pleasantry in Mr. McKenna's tent, ending in
"Auld Lang Syne" and "God Save the Queen." It was a unique occasion
in which to wind up so laborious a day; and our camp itself was
unique--on a lofty bluff overlooking the confluence of the
Saulteau River with the Lesser Slave--a bold and beautiful
spot, the woods at the angle of the two rivers, down to the
water's edge, showing like a gigantic V, as clean-cut as if
done by a pair of colossal shears.

Next morning rowing took the place of poling and tracking for a
time, and, presently, the great range of lofty hills called, to
our right, the Moose Watchi, and to our left, the Tuskanatchi--the
Moose and Raspberry Mountains--loomed in the distance. Here, and
when only a few miles from the lake, a York boat came tearing down
stream full of lithe, young half-breed trackers--our long-expected
assistants from the Hudson's Bay Company's post, as we would have
welcomed much more warmly had they come sooner, for we had little
but the lake now to ascend, up which a fair breeze would carry us
in a single night.

Doubtless it would have done so if it had come; but the same
head-winds and storms which had thwarted us from the first
dogged us still. We had camped near the mouth of Muskeg Creek,
a good-sized stream, and evidently the cause hitherto of the
Lesser Slave's rich chocolate colour; for, above the forks, the
latter took its hue from the lake, but with a yellowish tinge
still. From this point the river was very crooked, and lined by
great hay meadows of luxuriant growth. Skirting these, reinforced
as we were, we soon pulled up to the foot of the lake, where stood
a Hudson's Bay Company's solitary storehouse. There some change of
lading was made, in order to reach "the Island," some seven miles
up, and the only one in the lake, sails being hoisted for the first
time to an almost imperceptible wind.

The island, where we were to camp simply for the night--as we
fondly thought--was found to be a sprawling jumble of water-worn
pebbles, boulders and sand, with a long narrow spit projecting
to the east, much frequented by gulls, of whose eggs a large
number were gathered. To the south, on the mainland, is the
site of the old North-West Company's post, near to which stood
that of the Hudson's Bay Company, for they always planted
themselves cheek by jowl in those days of rivalry, so that
there should be no lack of provocation. A dozen half-breed
families had now their habitat there, and subsisted by fishing
and trapping. On the island our Cree half-breeds enjoyed the
first evening's camp by playing the universal button-hiding
game called Pugasawin, and which is always accompanied by a
monotonous chant and the tom-tom, anything serving for that
hideous instrument if a drum is not at hand. They are all
inveterate gamblers in that country, and lose or win with
equal indifference. Others played a peculiar game of cards
called Natwawaquawin, or "Marriage," the loser's penalty
being droll, but unmentionable. These amusements, which
often spun out till morning, were broken up by another
rattling storm, which lasted all night and all the next day.
We had lost all count of storms by this time, and were stolidly
resigned. The day following, however, the wind was fresh and
fair, and we made great headway, reaching the mouth of Swan
River--Naposeo Sepe--about mid-day.

This stream is almost choked at its discharge by a conglomeration
of slimy roots, weeds and floatwood, and the banks are "a
melancholy waste of putrid marshes." It is a forbidding entrance
to a river which, farther up, waters a good farming country,
including coal in abundance.

The wind being strong and fair, we spun along at a great rate,
and expected to reach the treaty point before dark, reckoning,
as usual, without our host. The wind suddenly wheeled to the
south-west, and a dangerous squall sprang up, which forced us
to run back for shelter fully five miles. There was barely time
to camp before the gale became furious, raging all night, and
throwing down tents like nine-pins. About one a.m. a cry arose
from the night-watch that the boats were swamping. All hands
turned out, lading was removed, and the scows hauled up on the
shingle, the rollers piling on shore with a height and fury
perfectly astonishing for such a lake. By morning the tempest
was at its height, continuing all day and into the night. The
sunset that evening exhibited some of the grandest and wildest
sky scenery we had ever beheld. In the west a vast bank of
luminous orange cloud, edged by torn fringes of green and gray;
in the south a sea of amethyst, and stretching from north to
east masses of steel gray and pearl, shot with brilliant shafts
and tufts of golden vapour. The whole sky streamed with rich
colouring in the fierce wind, as if possessed at once by the
genii of beauty and storm. The boatmen, noting its aspect,
predicted worse weather; but, fortunately, morning belied the
omens--our trials were over.

We were now nearing Shaw's Point, a long willowed spit of land,
called after a whimsical old chief-factor of the Hudson's Bay
Company who had charge of this district over sixty years before.
He appears to have been a man of many eccentricities, one
of which was the cultivation _a la Chinois_ of a very long
finger-nail, which he used as a spoon to eat his egg. But of
him anon. By four p.m. we had rounded his Point, and come into
view of Wyaweekamon--"The Outlet"--a rudimentary street with
several trading stores, a billiard saloon and other accessories
of a brand-new village in a very old wilderness.

Here we were at the treaty point at last, safe and sound, with
new interests and excitements before us; with wild man instead
of wild weather to encounter; with discords to harmonize and
suspicions to allay by human kindness, perhaps by human firmness,
but mainly by the just and generous terms proffered by Government
to an isolated but highly interesting and deserving people.

Chapter III

Treaty At Lesser Slave Lake.

On the 19th of June our little fleet landed at Willow Point.
There was a rude jetty, or wharf, at this place, below the
little trading village referred to, at which loaded boats
discharged. Formerly they could ascend the sluggish and shallow
channel connecting the expansion of the Heart River, called
Buffalo Lake, with the head of Lesser Slave Lake, a distance
of about three miles, and as far as the Hudson's Bay Company's
post, around which another trading village had gathered. This
temporary fall in the water level partly accounted for the growth
of the village at Willow Point, where sufficient interests had
arisen to cause a jealousy between the two hamlets. Once upon
a time Atawaywe Kamick was supreme. This is the name the
Crees give to the Hudson's Bay Company, meaning literally "the
Buying House." But now there were many stores, and "free
trade" was rather in the ascendant. In the middle was safety,
and therefore the Commissioners decided to pitch camp on a
beautiful flat facing the south and fronting the channel, and
midway between the two opposing points of trade. A _feu de joie_
by the white residents of the region, of whom there were some
seventy or eighty, welcomed the arrival of the boats at the
wharf, and after a short stay here, simply to collect baggage,
a start was made for the camping ground, where our numerous
tents soon gave the place the appearance of a village of our own.

Tepees were to be seen in all directions from our camp--the
lodges of the Indians and half-breeds. But no sooner was the
treaty site apparent than a general concentration took place,
and we were speedily surrounded by a bustling crowd, putting
up trading tents and shacks, dancing booths, eating-places,
etc., so that with the motley crowd, including a large number
of women and children, and a swarm of dogs such as we never
dreamt of, amounting in a short space by constant accessions
to over a thousand, we were in the heart of life and movement
and noise.

Mr. Ross, as already stated, had gone on by trail from Edmonton,
partly in order to inspect it, and managed to reach the lake
before us, which was fortunate, since Indians and half-breeds
had collected in large numbers, and women thus able to allay
their irritation and to distribute rations pending the arrival
of the other members of the Commission. During the previous
winter, upon the circulation in the North of the news of the
coming treaty, discussion was rife, and every cabin and tepee
rang with argument. The wiseacre was not absent, of course,
and agitators had been at work for some time endeavouring to
jaundice the minds of the people--half-breeds, it was said,
from Edmonton, who had been vitiated by contact with a low
class of white men there--and, therefore, nothing was as yet
positively known as to the temper and views of the Indians.
But whatever evil effect these tamperings might have had upon
them, it was felt that a plain statement of the proposals of
the Government would speedily dissipate it, and that, when
placed before them in Mr. Laird's customary kind and lucid
manner, they would be accepted by both Indians and half-breeds
as the best obtainable, and as conducing in all respects to
their truest and most permanent interests.

On the 20th the eventful morning had come, and, for a wonder,
the weather proved to be calm, clear and pleasant. The hour
fixed upon for the beginning of negotiations was two p.m., up
to which time much hand-shaking had, of course, to be undergone
with the constant new arrivals of natives from the forest and
lakes around. The Church of England and Roman Catholic clergy,
the only missionary bodies in the country, met and dined with
our party, after which all adjourned to the treaty ground, where
the people had already assembled, and where all soon seated
themselves on the grass in front of the treaty tent--a large
marquee--the Indians being separated by a small space from the
half-breeds, who ranged themselves behind them, all conducting
themselves in the most sedate and orderly manner.

Mr. Laird and the other Commissioners were seated along the open
front of the tent, and one could not but be impressed by the
scene, set as it was in a most beautiful environment of distant
mountains, waters, forests and meadows, all sweet and primeval,
and almost untouched by civilized man. The whites of The region
had also turned out to witness the scene, which, though lacking
the wild aspect of the old assemblages on the plains in the early
'seventies, had yet a character of its own of great interest,
and of the most hopeful promise.

The crowd of Indians ranged before the marquee had lost all
semblance of wildness of the true type. Wild men they were,
in a sense, living as they did in the forest and on their great
waters. But it was plain that these people had achieved, without
any treaty at all, a stage of civilization distinctly in advance
of many of our treaty Indians to the south after twenty-five
years of education. Instead of paint and feathers, the scalp-lock,
the breech-clout, and the buffalo-robe, there presented itself a
body of respectable-looking men, as well dressed and evidently
quite as independent in their feelings as any like number of
average pioneers in the East. Indeed, I had seen there, in my
youth, many a time, crowds of white settlers inferior to these
in sedateness and self-possession. One was prepared, in this
wild region of forest, to behold some savage types of men;
indeed, I craved to renew the vanished scenes of old. But,
alas! one beheld, instead, men with well-washed, unpainted
faces, and combed and common hair; men in suits of ordinary
"store-clothes," and some even with "boiled" if not laundered
shirts. One felt disappointed, almost defrauded. It was not
what was expected, what we believed we had a right to expect,
after so much waggoning and tracking and drenching, and river
turmoil and trouble. This woeful shortcoming from bygone days
attended other aspects of the scene. Instead of fiery oratory and
pipes of peace--the stone calumets of old--the vigorous arguments,
the outbursts of passion, and close calls from threatened violence,
here was a gathering of commonplace men smoking briar-roots,
with treaty tobacco instead of "weed," and whose chiefs replied
to Mr. Laird's explanations and offers in a few brief and sensible
statements, varied by vigorous appeals to the common sense and
judgment, rather than the passions, of their people. It was a
disappointing, yet, looked at aright, a gratifying spectacle.
Here were men disciplined by good handling and native force out
of barbarism--of which there was little to be seen--and plainly
on the high road to comfort; men who led inoffensive and honest
lives, yet who expressed their sense of freedom and self-support
in their speech, and had in their courteous demeanour the
unmistakable air and bearing of independence. If provoked
by injustice, a very dangerous people this; but self-respecting,
diligent and prosperous in their own primitive calling, and
able to adopt agriculture, or any other pursuit, with a fair
hope of success when the still distant hour for it should arrive.

The proceedings began with the customary distribution of tobacco,
and by a reference to the competent interpreters who had been
appointed by the Commission, men who were residents, and well
known to the Indians themselves, and who possessed their confidence.
The Indians had previously appointed as spokesman their Chief and
head-man, Keenooshayo and Moostoos, a worthy pair of brothers,
who speedily exhibited their qualities of good sense and judgment,
and, Keenooshayo in particular, a fine order of Indian eloquence,
which was addressed almost entirely to his own people, and which
is lost, I am sorry to say, in the account here set down.

Mr. Laird then rose, and having unrolled his Commission, and
that of his colleagues, from the Queen, proceeded with his
proposals. He spoke as follows:

"Red Brothers! we have come here to-day, sent by the Great Mother
to treat with you, and this is the paper she has given to us, and
is her Commission to us signed with her Seal, to show we have
authority to treat with you. The other Commissioners, who are
associated with me, and who are sitting here, are Mr. McKenna
and Mr. Ross and the Rev. Father Lacombe, who is with us to
act as counsellor and adviser. I have to say, on behalf of the
Queen and the Government of Canada, that we have come to make
you an offer. We have made treaties in former years with
all the Indians of the prairie, and from there to Lake Superior.
As white people are coming into your country, we have thought
it well to tell you what is required of you. The Queen wants
all the whites, half-breeds and Indians to be at peace with
one another, and to shake hands when they meet. The Queen's
laws must be obeyed all over the country, both by the whites
and the Indians. It is not alone that we wish to prevent Indians
from molesting the whites, it is also to prevent the whites from
molesting or doing harm to the Indians. The Queen's soldiers
are just as much for the protection of the Indians as for the
white man. The Commissioners made an appointment to meet you
at a certain time, but on account of bad weather on river and
lake, we are late, which we are sorry for, but are glad to meet
so many of you here to-day.

"We understand stories have been told you, that if you made a
treaty with us you would become servants and slaves; but we wish
you to understand that such is not the case, but that you will
be just as free after signing a treaty as you are now. The treaty
is a free offer; take it or not, just as you please. If you
refuse it there is no harm done; we will not be bad friends
on that account. One thing Indians must understand, that if they
do not make a treaty they must obey the laws of the land--that
will be just the same whether you make a treaty or not; the
laws must be obeyed. The Queen's Government wishes to give the
Indians here the same terms as it has given all the Indians all
over the country, from the prairies to Lake Superior. Indians
in other places, who took treaty years ago, are now better off
than they were before. They grow grain and raise cattle like
the white people. Their children have learned to read and write.

"Now, I will give you an outline of the terms we offer you. If you
agree to take treaty, every one this year gets a present of $12.00.
A family of five, man, wife and three children, will thus get $60.00;
a family of eight, $96.00; and after this year, and for every year
afterwards, $5.00 for each person forever. To such chiefs as you
may select, and that the Government approves of, we will give
$25.00 each year, and the counsellors $15.00 each. The chiefs
also get a silver medal and a flag, such as you see now at our
tent, right now as soon as the treaty is signed. Next year, as
soon as we know how many chiefs there are, and every three years
thereafter, each chief will get a suit of clothes, and every
counsellor a suit, only not quite so good as that of the chief.
Then, as the white men are coming in and settling in the country,
and as the Queen wishes the Indians to have lands of their own,
we will give one square mile, or 640 acres, to each family of
five; but there will be no compulsion to force Indians to go
into a reserve. He who does not wish to go into a band can get
160 acres of land for himself, and the same for each member of
his family. These reserves are holdings you can select when you
please, subject to the approval of the Government, for you might
select lands which might interfere with the rights or lands of
settlers. The Government must be sure that the land which you
select is in the right place. Then, again, as some of you may
want to sow grain or potatoes, the Government will give you
ploughs or harrows, hoes, etc., to enable you to do so, and
every spring will furnish you with provisions to enable you to
work and put in your crop. Again, if you do not wish to grow
grain, but want to raise cattle, the Government will give you
bulls and cows, so that you may raise stock. If you do not
wish to grow grain or raise cattle, the Government will furnish
you with ammunition for your hunt, and with twine to catch fish.
The Government will also provide schools to teach your children
to read and write, and do other things like white men and their
children. Schools will be established where there is a sufficient
number of children. The Government will give the chiefs axes
and tools to make houses to live in and be comfortable. Indians
have been told that if they make a treaty they will not be allowed
to hunt and fish as they do now. This is not true. Indians who
take treaty will be just as free to hunt and fish all over as
they now are.

"In return for this the Government expects that the Indians will
not interfere with or molest any miner, traveller or settler.
We expect you to be good friends with every-one, and shake hands
with all you meet. If any whites molest you in any way, shoot
your dogs or horses, or do you any harm, you have only to report
the matter to the police, and they will see that justice is done
to you. There may be some things we have not mentioned, but these
can be mentioned later on. Commissioners Walker and Cote are
here for the half-breeds, who later on, if treaty is made with
you, will take down the names of half-breeds and their children,
and find out if they are entitled to scrip. The reason the
Government does this is because the half-breeds have Indian
blood in their veins, and have claims on that account. The
Government does not make treaty with them, as they live as
white men do, so it gives them scrip to settle their claims at
once and forever. Half-breeds living like Indians have the
chance to take the treaty instead, if they wish to do so. They
have their choice, but only after the treaty is signed. If
there is no treaty made, scrip cannot be given. After the
treaty is signed, the Commissioners will take up half-breed
claims. The first thing they will do is to give half-breed
settlers living on land 160 acres, if there is room to do so;
but if several are settled close together, the land will be
divided between them as fairly as possible. All, whether settled
or not, will be given scrip for land to the value of $240.00,
that is, all born up to the date of signing the treaty. They
can sell that scrip, that is, all of you can do so. They can
take, if they like, instead of this scrip for 240 acres, lands
where they like. After they have located their land, and got
their title, they can live on it, or sell part, or the whole
of it, as they please, but cannot sell the scrip. They must
locate their land, and get their title before selling.

"These are the principal points in the offer we have to make
to you. The Queen owns the country, but is willing to acknowledge
the Indians' claims, and offers them terms as an offset to all
of them. We shall be glad to answer any questions, and make clear
any points not understood. We shall meet you again to-morrow,
after you have considered our offer, say about two o'clock, or
later if you wish. We have other Indians to meet at other places,
but we do not wish to hurry you. After this meeting you can go
to the Hudson's Bay fort, where our provisions are stored, and
rations will be issued to you of flour, bacon, tea and tobacco,
so that you can have a good meal and a good time. This is a free
gift, given with goodwill, and given to you whether you make a
treaty or not. It is a present the Queen is glad to make to you.
I am now done, and shall be glad to hear what any one has to say."

KEENOOSHAYO (The Fish): "You say we are brothers. I cannot understand
how we are so. I live differently from you. I can only understand
that Indians will benefit in a very small degree from your offer.
You have told us you come in the Queen's name. We surely have also
a right to say a little as far as that goes. I do not understand
what you say about every third year."

MR. MCKENNA: "The third year was only mentioned in connection with

KEENOOSHAYO: "Do you not allow the Indians to make their own
conditions, so that they may benefit as much as possible? Why I
say this is that we to-day make arrangements that are to last as
long as the sun shines and the water runs. Up to the present I
have earned my own living and worked in my own way for the Queen.
It is good. The Indian loves his way of living and his free life.
When I understand you thoroughly I will know better what I shall
do. Up to the present I have never seen the time when I could not
work for the Queen, and also make my own living. I will consider
carefully what you have said."

MOOSTOOS (The Bull): "Often before now I have said I would carefully
consider what you might say. You have called us brothers. Truly
I am the younger, you the elder brother. Being the younger, if
the younger ask the elder for something, he will grant his request
the same as our mother the Queen. I am glad to hear what you have
to say. Our country is getting broken up. I see the white man
coming in, and I want to be friends. I see what he does, but it
is best that we should be friends. I will not speak any more.
There are many people here who may wish to speak."

WAHPEEHAYO (White Partridge): "I stand behind this man's back"
(pointing to Keenooshayo). "I want to tell the Commissioners
there are two ways, the long and the short. I want to take the
way that will last longest."

NEESNETASIS (The Twin): "I follow these two brothers, Moostoos and
Keenooshayo. When I understand better I shall be able to say more."

MR. LAIRD: "We shall be glad to hear from some of the Sturgeon Lake

THE CAPTAIN (an old man): "I accept your offer. I am old and
miserable now. I have not my family with me here, but I accept
your offer."

MR. LAIRD: "You will get the money for all your children under age,
and not married, just the same as if they were here."

THE CAPTAIN: "I speak for all those in my part of the country."

MR. LAIRD: "I am sorry the rest of your people are not here.
If here next year their claims will not be overlooked."

THE CAPTAIN: "I am old now. It is indirectly through the Queen
that we have lived. She has supplied in a manner the sale shops
through which we have lived. Others may think I am foolish for
speaking as I do now. Let them think as they like. I accept. When
I was young I was an able man and made my living independently.
But now I am old and feeble and not able to do much."

MR. ROSS: "I will just answer a few questions that have been put.
Keenooshayo has said that he cannot see how it will benefit you
to take treaty. As all the rights you now have will not be
interfered with, therefore anything you get in addition must
be a clear gain. The white man is bound to come in and open
up the country, and we come before him to explain the relations
that must exist between you, and thus prevent any trouble. You
say you have heard what the Commissioners have said, and how
you wish to live. We believe that men who have lived without
help heretofore can do it better when the country is opened
up. Any fur they catch is worth more. That comes about from
competition. You will notice that it takes more boats to
bring in goods to buy your furs than it did formerly. We think
that as the rivers and lakes of this country will be the principal
highways, good boatmen, like yourselves, cannot fail to make a
good living, and profit from the increase in traffic. We are
much pleased that you have some cattle. It will be the duty
of the Commissioners to recommend the Government, through the
Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs, to give you cattle
of a better breed. You say that you consider that you have a
right to say something about the terms we offer you. We offer
you certain terms, but you are not forced to take them. You
ask if Indians are not allowed to make a bargain. You must
understand there are always two to a bargain. We are glad you
understand the treaty is forever. If the Indians do as they are
asked we shall certainly keep all our promises. We are glad to
know that you have got on without any one's help, but you must
know times are hard, and furs scarcer than they used to be.
Indians are fond of a free life, and we do not wish to interfere
with it. When reserves are offered you there is no intention
to make you live on them if you do not want to, but, in years
to come, you may change your minds, and want these lands to
live on. The half-breeds of Athabasca are being more liberally
dealt with than in any other part of Canada. We hope you will
discuss our offer and arrive at a decision as soon as possible.
Others are now waiting for our arrival, and you, by deciding
quickly, will assist us to get to them."

KEENOOSHAYO: "Have you all heard? Do you wish to accept? All who
wish to accept, stand up!"

WENDIGO: "I have heard, and accept with a glad heart all I have heard."

KEENOOSHAYO: "Are the terms good forever? As long as the sun shines
on us? Because there are orphans we must consider, so that there
will be nothing to be thrown up to us by our people afterwards. We
want a written treaty, one copy to be given to us, so we shall know
what we sign for. Are you willing to give means to instruct children
as long as the sun shines and water runs, so that our children
will grow up ever increasing in knowledge?"

MR. LAIRD: "The Government will choose teachers according to the
religion of the band. If the band are pagans the Government will
appoint teachers who, if not acceptable, will be replaced by others.
About treaties lasting forever, I will just say that some Indians
have got to live so like the whites that they have sold their
lands and divided the money. But this only happens when the Indians
ask for it. Treaties last forever, as signed, unless the Indians
wish to make a change. I understand you all agree to the terms of
the Treaty. Am I right? If so, I will have the Treaty drawn up,
and to-morrow we will sign it. Speak, all those who do not agree!"

MOOSTOOS: "I agree."

KEENOOSHAYO: "My children, all who agree, stand up!"

The Reverend Father Lacombe then addressed the Indians in substance
as follows: He reminded them that he was an old friend, and came
amongst them seven years ago, and, being now old, he came again to
fulfil another duty, and to assist the Commission to make a treaty.
"Knowing you as I do, your manners, your customs and language, I
have been officially attached to the Commission as adviser. To-day
is a great day for you, a day of long remembrance, and your children
hereafter will learn from your lips the events of to-day. I consented
to come here because I thought it was a good thing for you to take
the Treaty. Were it not in your interest I would not take part
in it. I have been long familiar with the Government's methods
of making treaties with the Saulteaux of Manitoba, the Crees of
Saskatchewan, and the Blackfeet, Bloods and Piegans of the Plains,
and advised these tribes to accept the offers of the Government.
Therefore, to-day, I urge you to accept the words of the Big Chief
who comes here in the name of the Queen. I have known him for
many years, and, I can assure you, he is just and sincere in
all his statements, besides being vested with authority to deal
with you. Your forest and river life will not be changed by
the Treaty, and you will have your annuities, as well, year
by year, as long as the sun shines and the earth remains.
Therefore I finish my speaking by saying, Accept!"

The chiefs and counsellors stood up, and requested all the
Indians to do so also as a mark of acceptance of the Government's
conditions. Father Lacombe was thanked by several for having come
so far, though so very old, to visit them and speak to them,
after which the meeting adjourned until the following day.

At three p.m. on Wednesday, the 21st, the discussion was resumed
by Mr. Laird, who, after a few preliminary remarks read the
Treaty, which had been drafted by the Commissioners the previous
evening. Chief Keenooshayo arose and made a speech, followed by
Moostoos, both assenting to the terms, when suddenly, and to the
surprise of all, the chief, who had again begin to address the
Indians, perceiving gestures of dissent from his people, suddenly
stopped and sat down. This looked critical; but, after a somewhat
lengthy discussion, everything was smoothed over, and the chief
and head men entered the tent and signed the Treaty after the
Commissioners, thus confirming, for this portion of the country,
the great Treaty which is intended to cover the whole northern
region up to the sixtieth parallel of north latitude. The
satisfactory turn of the Lesser Slave Lake Treaty, it was felt,
would have a good effect elsewhere, and that, upon hearing of
it at the various treaty points to the west and north, the Indians
would be more inclined to expedite matters, and to close with
the Commissioner's proposals. [The foregoing report of the Treaty
discussions is necessarily much abridged, being simply a transcript
of brief notes taken at the time. The utterances particularly of
Keenooshayo, but also of his brother, were not mere harangues
addressed to the "groundlings," but were grave statements marked by
self-restraint, good sense and courtesy, such as would have done no
discredit to a well-bred white man. They furthered affairs greatly,
and in two days the Treaty was discussed and signed, in singular
contrast with treaty-making on the plains in former years.]

The text of the Treaty itself, which may be of interest to
the reader, will be found in full in the Appendix, page 471.

The first and most important step having been taken, the other
essential adhesions had now to be effected. To save time and
wintering in the country, the Treaty Commission separated,
Messrs. Ross and McKenna leaving on the 22nd for Fort Dunvegan
and St. John, whilst Mr. Laird set out shortly afterwards for
Vermilion and Fond du Lac, on Lake Athabasca. He reached Peace
River Crossing on the 30th, and met there, next day, a few Beaver
Indians and the Crees of the region. The Beaver chief, who was
present, did not adhere, saying that his band was at Fort Dunvegan,
and that he could not get there in time. The date of the St. John
Treaty had been fixed for the 21st of June, but, owing to the
detentions described, the appointment could not be kept, and word
was therefore sent to the Indians to stay where they were until
they could be met. But when the Commissioners were within twenty-five
miles of the Fort they got a letter from the Hudson's Bay Company's
agent telling them that the Indians had eaten up all the provisions
there, and had left for their hunting-grounds, with no hope of
their coming together again that season. They therefore returned
to Fort Dunvegan, and took the adhesion of some Beaver Indians,
and then left for Lower Peace River. On the 8th July, Mr. Laird
secured the adhesion of the Crees and Beavers at Fort Vermilion,
and Messrs. Ross and McKenna of those at Little Red River, the
headman there refusing to sign at first because, he said, "he
had a divine inspiration to the contrary"! This was followed by
adhesions taken by the latter Commissioners, on the 13th, from
the Crees and Chipewyans at Fort Chipewyan.

"Here it was," Mr. McKenna writes me, "that the chief asked for
a railway--the first time in the history of Canada that the red
man demanded as a condition of cession that steel should be laid
into his country. He evidently understood the transportation
question, for a railway, he said, by bringing them into closer
connection with the market, would enhance the value of what they
had to sell, and decrease the cost of what they had to buy. He
had a striking object-lesson in the fact that flour was $12
a sack at the Fort. These Chipewyans lost no time in flowery
oratory, but came at once to business, and kept us, myself
in particular, on tenterhooks for two hours. I never felt so
relieved as when the rain of questions ended, and, satisfied
by our answers, they acquiesced in the cession."

Next morning these Commissioners left for Smith's Landing, and,
on the 17th, made treaty with the Indians of Great Slave Lake.
Meanwhile Mr. Laird had proceeded to Fond du Lac, at the eastern
end of Lake Athabasca, and there, on the 27th, the Chipewyans
adhered, whilst Messrs. Ross and McKenna, in order to treat
with the Indians at Fort McMurray and Wahpooskow, separated.
The latter secured the Chipewyans and Crees at the former post,
and Mr. Ross the Crees at Wahpooskow, both adjustments, by a
coincidence, being made on the same day.

This completed the Treaty of 1899, known as No. 8, the most
important of all since the Great Treaty of 1876.

The work of the Commission being now over, its members prepared
to leave the country. Messrs. Ross and McKenna set out for Athabasca
Landing, whilst Mr. Laird accompanied us to Pelican Rapids, but left
us there and pushed on, like the others, for home.

There were, of course, many Indians who did not or could not turn
up at the various treaty points that year, viz., the Beavers of St.
John, the Crees of Sturgeon Lake, the Slaves of Hay River, who should
have come to Vermilion, and the Dog-Ribs, Yellow-Knives, Slaves,
and Chipewyans, who should have been treated with at Fort Resolution,
on Great Slave Lake.

Accordingly, a special commission was issued to Mr. J. A. Macrae,
of the Indian Office in Ottawa, who met the Indians the following
year at the points named, and in May, June, and July, secured
the adhesion of over 1,200 souls, making, with subsequent adhesions,
a total of 3,568 souls to the 30th June, 1906.

The largest numbers were at Forts Resolution, Vermilion, Fond
du Lac, and Lesser Slave Lake, the latter ranking fourth in
the list. Of course, there are still to be treated with the
Indians of the Mackenzie River and the Esquimaux of the Arctic
coast. But Treaty Eight covers the most valuable portions of
the Northern Anticlinal, though this is a conjecture, as the
resources of the lower Mackenzie Basin, and even of the Barren
Lands, are only now becoming known, and may yet prove to be of

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