Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Through the Mackenzie Basin by Charles Mair

Part 2 out of 3

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.3 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

great value. Bishop Grouard told me that at their Mission at
Fort Providence, potatoes, turnips and barley ripened, and also
wheat when tried, though this, he thought, was uncertain. I have
also heard Chief-factor Camsell speak quite boastfully of his
tomatoes at Fort Simpson. As a matter of fact, little is known
practically as to the bearing of the climate and long summer
sunshine on agriculture in the Mackenzie District. But be that
region what it may, there has been already ceded an empire in
itself, extending, roughly speaking, from the 54th to the 60th
parallel of north latitude, and from the 106th to the 130th degree
of west longitude. In this domain there is ample room for millions
of people; and, as I must now return to the Half-breed Commission
on Lesser Slave Lake, I shall give, as we go, as fair a picture
as I can of its superficial features and the inducements it
offers to the immigrant.

Chapter IV

The Half-Breed Scrip Commission.

The adjustment with the half-breeds depended, of course, upon
a successful treaty with the Indians, and, this having been
concluded, the latter at once, upon receipt of their payments,
left for their forests and fisheries, leaving the half-breeds
in full possession of the field.

It was estimated that over a hundred families were encamped around
us, some in tepees, some in tents, and some in the open air, the
willow copses to the north affording shelter, as well, to a few
doubtful members of Slave Lake society, and to at least a thousand
dogs. The "scrip tent," as it was called, a large marquee fitted
up as an office, had been pitched with the other tents when the
camp was made, and in this the half-breeds held a crowded meeting
to talk over the terms, and to collate their own opinions as to
the form of scrip issue they most desired. In this they were
singularly unanimous, and, in spite of advice to the contrary
urged upon them in the strongest manner by Father Lacombe, they
agreed upon "the bird in the hand"--viz., upon cash scrip or
nothing. This could be readily turned into money, for in the
train of traders, etc., who followed up the treaty payments,
there were also buyers from Winnipeg and Edmonton, well supplied
with cash, to purchase all the scrip that offered, at a great
reduction, of course, from face value. Whether the half-breeds
were wise or foolish it is needless to say. One thing was plain,
they had made up their minds. Under the circumstances it was
impossible to gainsay their assertion that they were the best
judges of their own needs. All preliminaries having at last been
settled, the taking of declarations and evidence began on the
23rd of June, and, shortly afterwards, the issue of convertible
scrip certificates, or scrip certificates for land as required,
took place to the parties who had proved their title.

This was a slow process, involving in every case a careful search
of the five elephant folios containing the records of the bygone
issues of scrip in Manitoba and the organized Territories.

It was necessary in order to prevent the issue of scrip to parties
who had already received it elsewhere. But to the credit of the
Lesser Slave Lake community, few efforts were made to "come in"
again, not one in fact which was a clear attempt at fraud, or
which could not be accounted for by false agency. Indeed, a high
tribute might well be paid here to the honesty, not only of this
but of all the communities, both Indian and half-breed, throughout
these remote territories. We found valuable property exposed,
everywhere, evidently without fear of theft. There was a looser
feeling regarding debts to traders, which we were told were sometimes
ignored, partly, perhaps, owing to the traders' heavy profits, but
mainly through failure in the hunt and a lack of means. But theft
such as white men practice was a puzzle to these people, amongst
whom it was unknown.

The most noticeable feature of the scrip issue was the never-ending
stream of applicants, a surprising evidence of the growth of
population in this remote wilderness. Its most interesting
feature lay in the peculiarities and manners of the people
themselves. They were unquestionably half-breeds, and had
received Christian names, and most of them had houses of their
own, and, though hunters, fishermen and trippers, their families
lived comparatively settled lives. Yet the glorious instinct
of the Indian haunted them. As a rule they had been born on the
"pitching-track," in the forest, or on the prairies--in all
sorts of places, they could not say exactly where--and when
they were born was often a matter of doubt as well. [With reference
to these nondescript birthplaces, the wonderful ease of parturition
among Indian women may be referred to here. This is common, probably,
to all primitive races, but is perhaps more marked amongst Indian
mothers than any other. The event may happen in a canoe, on the
trail, at any place, or at any moment, without hindering the ordinary
progress of a travelling party, which is generally overtaken by the
mother in a few hours. But nothing I heard here equalled in grotesque
circumstances occurrences, whose truth I can vouch for, many years
ago on the Saskatchewan River. In 1874, if I remember aright, a great
spring freshet in the North Branch was accompanied by a tremendous
ice-jam, which backed the water up, and flooded the river bank so
suddenly that many Indians were drowned. On an island below Prince
Albert, a woman, to save her life, had to climb a neighbouring tree,
and gave birth to a child amongst the branches. The jam broke, and,
wonderful to say, both mother and child got down to firm ground
alive. Another case, even more gruesome, happened on the Lower
Saskatchewan not so many years ago. A woman and her husband were
hastening on snowshoes from their winter camp to the river, in order
to share in the usual Christmas bounty and festivities at the
Hudson's Bay Company's post. The woman was seized with incipient
labour, and darting from her husband, with whom she had been
quarrelling on the way, pushed on, and, in a frozen marsh, amongst
bulrushes, on a bitterly cold night, was delivered of a child.
Grumous as she was, she picked herself up, and, with incredible
nerve, walked ten miles to the Pas, carrying her live infant with
her, wrapped in a rabbit-skin robe.] It was not in February, but in
_Meeksuo pesim_, "The month when the eagles return"; not in August,
but in Oghpaho pesim, "The month when birds begin to fly." When
called upon they could give their Christian names and answer to
William or Magloire, to Mary or Madaline, but, in spite of priest or
parson, their home name was a Cree one. In many cases the white
forefather's name had been dropped or forgotten, and a Cree surname
had taken its place, as, for example, in the name Louis Maskegosis,
or Madeline Nooskeyah. Some of the Cree names were in their meaning
simply grotesque. Mishoostiquan meant "The man who stands with the
red hair"; Waupunekapow, "He who stands till morning." One of the
applicants was Kanawatchaguayo, or "The ghost-keeper."

[It may be mentioned here that this half-breed's "inner" name, so to
speak, meant "The Ghost-Keeper," for the name he gave, following
an Indian usage, was not the real one. Kanawatchaguayo was the one
given by the interpreter, but accompanied by the translation of
the inner name, to wit, "The Ghost-Keeper." This curious custom is
more fully referred to in a forthcoming work on Indian folk-lore,
traditions, legends, usages, methods and manner of life, etc., by
Mrs. F. H. Paget, of Ottawa. This lady is an expert Cree scholar,
and her work, which I have had the pleasure of hearing her read, is
the result of diligent research and of ample knowledge of Indian
life and character.]

But others were strikingly poetical, particularly the female
names. Payucko geesigo, "One in the Skies"; Pesawakoona kapesisk,
"The silent snow in falling forming signs or symbols"; Matyatse
wunoguayo, or rather, for this is a doubtful name, Powastia ka
nunaghquanetungh, "Listener to the unseen rapids"; Kese koo
apeoo, "She sits in heaven," were all the names of applicants
for scrips, and many others could be added of like tenor. In a
word, the Christian or baptismal names have not displaced the
native ones, as they did in Wales and elsewhere, and amongst
some of our far Eastern Indians. But there were terrifying and
repulsive names as well, such as Sese kenapik kaow apeoo, "She
sits like a rattle-snake"; and one individual rejoiced in the
appalling surname of "Grand Bastard." These instances serve
to illustrate the tendency of half-breed nomenclature at the
lake towards the mother's side. Here, too, there was no reserve
in giving the family name; it was given at once when asked for,
and there was no shyness otherwise in demeanour. There was a
readiness, for example, to be photographed which was quite
distinctive. In this connection it may interest the reader
to recall some of the names of girls given by the same race
thousands of miles away in the East. Take those recorded by
Mrs. Jameson ["Winter Studies and Summer Rambles," 1835.]
during her visit to Mrs. McMurray and the Schoolcrafts, on the
Island of Mackinac, over seventy years ago: Oba baumwawa geezegoquay,
"The Sounds which the stars make rushing through the skies"; Zaga
see goquay, "Sunbeams breaking through a cloud"; Wahsagewanoquay,
"Woman of the bright foam." The people so far apart, yet their home
names so similarly figurative! The education of the Red Indian
lies in his intimate contact with nature in all her phases--a good
education truly, which serves him well. But, awe-struck always by
the mysterious beauty of the world around him, his mind reflects it
instinctively in his Nature-worship and his system of names.

In speaking of the "Lakers" I refer, of course, to the primitive
people of the region, and not to half-breed incomers from Manitoba or
elsewhere. There were a few patriarchal families into which all the
others seemed to dovetail in some shape or form. The Nooskeyah family
was one of these, also the Gladu, the Cowitoreille, [A corruption,
no doubt, of "Courtoreille."] and the Calahaisen. The collateral
branches of these families constituted the main portion of the native
population, and yet inbreeding did not seem to have deteriorated the
stock, for a healthier-looking lot of young men, women and children
it would be hard to find, or one more free from scrofula. There
were instances, too, among these people, of extreme old age; one
in particular which from confirmatory evidence, particularly the
declarations of descendants, seemed quite authentic. This was a woman
called Catherine Bisson--the daughter of Baptiste Bisson and an
Indian woman called Iskwao--who was born on New Year's Day, 1793, at
Lesser Slave Lake, and had spent all her life there since. She had a
numerous progeny which she bore to Kisiskakapo, "The man who stands
still." She was now blind, and was partly led, partly carried into
our tent--a small, thin, wizened woman, with keen features and a
tongue as keen, which cackled and joked at a great rate with the
crowd around her. It was almost awesome to look at this weird piece
of antiquity, who was born in the Reign of Terror, and was a young
woman before the war of 1812. She was quite lively yet, so far as her
wits went, and seemed likely to go on living. [This very old woman
died, I believe, at Lesser Slave Lake only last spring (1908). The
date of her birth was correct, and we had good reason to believe it,
she must have been far over 100 years old when she died.]

There were many good points in the disposition of the "Lakers"
generally, both young and old. Their kindness and courtesy to
strangers and to each other was marked, and profanity was unknown.
Indeed, if one heard bad language at all it was from the lips of
some Yankee or Canadian teamster, airing his superior knowledge
of the world amongst the natives.

The place, in fact, surprised one--no end of buggies, buckboards and
saddles, and brightly dressed women, after a not altogether antique
fashion; the men, too, orderly, civil, and obliging. Infants were
generally tucked into the comfortable moss-bag, but boys three or
four years old were seen tugging at their mothers' breasts, and all
fat and generally good-looking. The whole community seemed well fed,
and were certainly well clad--some girls extravagantly so, the love
of finery being the ruling trait here as elsewhere. One lost, indeed,
all sense of remoteness, there was such a well-to-do, familiar air
about the scene, and such a bustle of clean-looking people. How all
this could be supported by fur it was difficult to see, but it must
have been so, for there was, as yet, little or no farming amongst the
old "Lakers." It was, of course, a great fur country, and though
the fur-bearing animals were sensibly diminishing, yet the prices
of peltries had risen by competition, whilst supplies had been
correspondingly cheapened. It was a good marten country, and, as this
fur was the fad of fashion, and brought an extravagant price, the
animal, like the beaver, was threatened with extinction, the more so
as the rabbits were then in their period of scarcity.

There were other aspects of Lake life which there is neither
space nor inclination to describe. If some features of "advanced
civilization" had been anticipated there, it was simply another
proof that extremes meet.

Whatever else was hidden, however, there was one thing omnipresent,
namely, the mongrel dog. It was hopeless to explore the origin of an
animal which seemed to draw from all sources, including the wolf and
fox, and whose appetite stopped at nothing, but attacked old shirts,
trousers, dunnage-bags, fry-pans, and even the outfit of a geologist,
to appease the sacred rage of hunger.

It was believed that over a thousand of these dogs, mainly used
in winter to haul fish, surrounded our tent, and when it is said
that an ordinary half-breed family harboured from fifteen to twenty
of the tribe, there is no exaggeration in the estimate. They were
of all shapes, sizes and colours, and, though very civil to man,
from whom they got nothing but kicks and stones, they kept up a
constant row amongst themselves.

To see a scrimmage of fifty or sixty of them on land or in the
water, where they went daily to fish, was a scene to be remembered.
They did not bark, but loped through the woods, which were the camp's
latrines, as scavengers by day, and howled in unison at regular
intervals by night; for there was a sort of horrible harmony in
the performance, and when the tom-toms of the gamblers accompanied
it on all sides, and the pounding of dancers' feet--for in this
enchanted land nobody ever seemed to go to bed--the saturnalia
was complete.

It was indeed a gala time for the happy-go-lucky Lakers, and the
effects of the issue and sale of scrip certificates were soon
manifest in our neighbourhood. The traders' booths were thronged
with purchasers, also the refreshment tents where cigars and ginger
ale were sold; and, in tepees improvised from aspen saplings, the
sporting element passed the night at some interesting but easy
way of losing money, illuminating their game with guttering
candles, minus candlesticks, and presenting a picture worthy
of an impressionist's pencil.

But the two dancing floors were the chief attraction. These also
had been walled and roofed with leafy saplings, their fronts open
to the air, and, thronged as they generally were, well repaid a
visit. Here the comely brunettes, in moccasins or slippers, their
luxuriant hair falling in a braided queue behind their backs,
served not only as tireless partners, but as foils to the young
men, who were one and all consummate masters of step-dancing, an
art which, I am glad to say, was still in vogue in these remote
parts. "French-fours" and the immortal "Red River Jig" were
repeated again and again, and, though a tall and handsome young
half-breed, who had learned in Edmonton, probably, the airs and
graces of the polite world, introduced cotillions and gave "the
calls" with vigorous precision, yet his efforts were not thoroughly
successful. Snarls arose, and knots and confusion, which he did
his best to undo. But it was evident that the hearts of the dancers
were not in it. No sooner was the fiddler heard lowering his
strings for the time-honoured "Jig" than eyes brightened, and
feet began to beat the floor, including, of course, those of
the fiddler himself, who put his whole soul into that weird and
wonderful melody, whose fantastic glee is so strangely blended
with an indescribable master-note of sadness. The dance itself
is nothing; it might as well be called a Rigadoon or a Sailor's
Hornpipe, so far as the steps go. The tune is everything; it is
amongst the immortals. Who composed it? Did it come from Normandy,
the ancestral home of so many French Canadians and of French
Canadian song? Or did some lonely but inspired voyageur, on the
banks of Red River, sighing for Detroit or Trois Rivieres--for
the joys and sorrows of home--give birth to its mingled chords in
the far, wild past?

As I looked on, many memories recurred to me of scenes like this in
which I had myself taken part in bygone days--_Eheu! fugaces_--in
old Red River and the Saskatchewan; and, with these in my heart,
I retired to my tent, and gradually fell asleep to the monotonous
sound of the familiar yet inexplicable air.

Chapter V

Resources Of Lesser Slave Lake Region.

It was expected that the sergeant of the Mounted Police stationed
at the Lake would have set out by boat on the 3rd for Athabasca
Landing, taking with him the witnesses in the Weeghteko case--a
case not common amongst the Lesser Slave Lake Indians, but which
was said to be on the increase. One Pahayo--"The Pheasant"--had
gone mad and threatened to kill and eat people. Of course, this
was attributed by his tribe to the Weeghteko, by which he was
believed to be possessed, a cannibal spirit who inhabits the
human heart in the form of a lump of ice, which must be got rid
of by immersion of the victim in boiling water, or by pouring
boiling fat down his throat. This failing, they destroy the man-eater,
rip him up to let out the evil spirit, cut off his head, and then
pin his four quarters to the ground, all of which was done by his
tribe in the case of Pahayo. Napesosus--"The Little Man"--struck
the first blow, Moostoos followed, and the poor lunatic was soon
dispatched. Arrests were ultimately made, and a boatload of
witnesses was about to leave for Athabasca Landing, _en route_ to
attend the trial at Edmonton, the first of its kind, I think,
on record.

There can be no doubt that such slayings are effected to safeguard
the tribe. Indians have no asylums, and, in order to get a dangerous
lunatic out of the way, can only kill him. There would therefore be
no hangings. But, now that the Indians and ourselves were coming
under treaty obligations, it was necessary that an end should be
put to such proceedings.

Yet the reader must not be too severe upon the Indian for his
treatment of the Weeghteko. He attributes the disease to the evil
spirit, acts accordingly, and slays the victim. But an old author,
Mrs. Jameson, tells us that in her day in Upper Canada lunatics were
allowed to stray into the forest to roam uncared for, and perish
there, or were thrust into common jails. One at Niagara, she says,
was chained up for four years.

Aside from such cases of madness, which have often resulted in the
killing and eating of children, etc., and which arouse the most
superstitious horror in the minds of all Indians, the "savages" of
this region are the most inoffensive imaginable. They have always
made a good living by hunting and trapping and fishing, and I believe
when the time comes they will adapt themselves much more readily and
intelligently to farming and stock-raising than did the Indians to
the south. The region is well suited to both industries, and will
undoubtedly attract white settlers in due time.

The fisheries in Lesser Slave Lake have always been counted the best
in all Athabasca. The whitefish, to be sure, are diminishing towards
the head of the lake, but it is possible that this is owing to some
deficiency in their usual supply of food in that quarter. Just as
birds and wild-fowl return, if not disturbed, to their accustomed
breeding-places, so, it is said, the fishes, year by year, drop and
impregnate their spawn upon the same gravelly shallows. The food of
the whitefish in the lake is partly the worms bred from the eggs of
a large fly resembling the May-fly of the East. This worm has probably
decreased in the upper part of the lake, and therefore the fish go
farther down for food. There they are exceedingly numerous, an
evidence of which is the fact that the Roman Catholic Mission alone
secured 17,000 fine whitefish the previous fall. Properly protected
this lake will be a permanent source of supply to natives and incomers
for many years to come.

Stock-raising was already becoming a feature of the region. Some
three miles above the Heart River is Buffalo Lake, an enlargement
of that stream, and around and above this, as also along the
Wyaweekamon, or "Passage between the Lakes," are immense hay
meadows, capable of winter feeding thousands of cattle. The view
of these vast meadows from the Hudson's Bay post, or from the
Roman Catholic Mission close by, is magnificent.

These buildings are situated above Buffalo Lake, upon a lofty
bank, with the Heart River in the foreground; and the great
meadows, threaded by creeks and inlets, stretching for miles
to the south of them, are one of the finest sights of the kind
in the country.

In the far south was the line of forest, and to the eastward a
flat-topped mountain, called by the Crees Waskahekum Kahassastakee--
"The House Butte." Near this mountain is the Swan River, which joins
the Lesser Slave Lake below the Narrows, and upon which, we were
told, were rich and extensive prairies, and abundance of coal of a
good quality. To the west were the prairies of the Salt River, well
watered by creeks, with a large extent of good land now being settled
on, and where wheat ripens perfectly.

There are other available areas of open country on Prairie River,
which enters Buffalo Lake at its south-western end, and on which
also there is coal, so that prairie land is not entirely lacking.

Though emphatically _now_ a region of forest, there is reason to
believe that vast areas at present under timber were once prairies,
fed over by innumerable herds of buffalo, whose paths and wallows
can still be traced in the woods. Indeed, very large trees are
found growing right across those paths, and this fact, not to speak
of the recollections, or traditions, of very old people, points to
extensive prairies at one time rather than to an entirely wooded

Much of the forest soil is excellent, and the land has only to
be cleared to furnish good farms. Indeed, it needs no stretch of
imagination to foresee in future years a continuous line of them
from Edmonton to the lake, along the three hundred miles of country
intersected by the trail laid out by the Territorial Government.

As for the wheat problem, it is not at all likely that the Roman
Catholic Mission would put up a flour mill, as they were then doing,
if it was not a wheat country. Bishop Clut assured me that potatoes
in their garden reached three and a half pounds' weight in some
instances, and turnips twenty-five pounds.

The kind people of both this and the Church of England Mission
generously supplied our table with vegetables and salads, and we
craved no better. Chives, lettuce, radishes, cress and onions
were full flavoured, fresh and delicious, and quite as early
as in Manitoba. Being a timber country, lumber was, of course,
plentiful, there being two sawmills at work cutting lumber,
which sold, undressed, at $25 to $30 a thousand.

The whole country has a fresh and attractive look, and one could
not desire a finer location than can be had almost anywhere
along its streams and within its delightful and healthy borders.
And yet this region is but a portal to the vaster one beyond, to
the Unjigah, the mighty Peace River, to be described hereafter.

The make-weight against settlement may be almost summed up in the
words transport and markets. The country is there, and far beyond
it, too; but so long as there is abundance of prairie land to the
south, and no railway facilities, it would be unwise for any large
body of settlers, especially with limited means, to venture so far.
The small local demand for beef and grain might soon be overtaken,
and though stock can be driven, yet three hundred miles of forest
trail is a long way to drive. Still, pioneers take little thought
of such conditions, and already they were dropping in in twos and
threes as they used to do in the old days in Red River Settlement,
lured by the wilderness perhaps to privation, but entering a
country much of which is suited by nature for the support of man.

The best reflection is that there is a really good country to
fall back upon when the prairies to the south are taken up.
Swamps and muskegs abound, but good land also abounds, and the
time will come when the ring of the Canadian axe will be heard
throughout these forests, and when multitudes of comfortable
homes will be hewn out of what are the almost inaccessible
wildernesses of to-day.

By the end of the first week in July the issue of scrip certificates
began to fall off, though the declarations were still numerous.
But land was in sight; that is to say, our release and departure
for Peace River, which we were all very anxious, in fact burning,
to see.

By this time there was, of course, much money afloat amongst the
people, which was rapidly finding its way into the traders'
pockets. There was a "blind pig," too, doing business in the
locality, though we could not discover where, as everybody
professed entire ignorance of anything of the kind. The fragrant
breath and hilarity of so many, however, betrayed its existence,
and, as a crowning evidence, before sunrise on the 6th, we were
all awakened by an uproarious row amongst a tipsy crowd on the

The disturbance, of course, awakened the dogs, if, indeed, those
wonderful creatures ever slept, and soon a prolonged howl,
issuing from a thousand throats, made the racket complete. It
seemed to our listening ears, for we stuck to our beds, to be
a promiscuous fight, larded with imprecations in broken English,
the phrase "goddam" being repeated in the most comical way. We
expected to see a lot of badly bruised men in the morning, but
nothing of the kind! Nobody was hurt. It proved to be a very
bloodless affair, like the scrimmages of the dogs themselves,
full of sound and fury signifying nothing.

Chapter VI

On The Trail To Peace River.

By the afternoon of the 12th we had finished our work at the lake,
and in the evening left the scene of so much amusement, and its
lively and intelligent people, not without regret. Having said
good-bye to Bishop Clut and his clergy, and to the Hudson's Bay
Company's people, and others, we passed on to Salt Creek, which
we crossed at dusk, and then to the South Heart River--Otaye
Sepe--where we camped for the night. This affluent of the lake has
a broad but sluggish current, its grassy banks sloping gently to
the water's edge, like some Ontario river--the beau ideal of a pike
stream. The Church of England mission was established here in charge
of the Reverend Mr. Holmes, who had shown us every kindness during
our long stay. As boats can ascend in high water to this point, the
Hudson's Bay Company had a couple of large warehouses close by,
standing alone, and filled with all kinds of goods. The trail led
for many miles up a long, easy ascent, through a timber country, to
an upper plateau, with, after passing the Heart River, occasional
small patches of prairie on the wayside. The plateau itself is the
anticlinal down which the North Heart flows to Peace River, which it
joins at the crossing.

The trail so far had been good, but after crossing Slippery Creek
it proved to be almost a continuous mud-hole, due to its extreme
narrowness and the wet weather, closely bordered, as much of it was,
by dense forests. It revealed a good farming country, however, free
from stones, and the soil a rich, loamy clay throughout. It was well
timbered, in some places, with the finest white poplar I had yet
seen. The grass was luxuriant, and the region teemed with
tiger-lilies, yarrow, and the wild rose.

The Little Prairie, as it is called, is really a lovely region,
in appearance resembling the Saskatchewan country. There was an
old Hudson's Bay cattle station here, at that time deserted, and
here, too, we were charmed with a mirage of indescribable beauty,
an enchanting portal to the mighty Peace, which we reached about
mid-day on the 15th of July.

The view up the Peace River from the high prairie level is
singularly beautiful, the river disclosing a series of reaches,
like inland lakes, far to the west, whilst from the south comes
the immense valley of the Heart, and, farther up, the Smoky River,
a great tributary which drains a large extent of prairie country
mixed with timber.

To the north spreads upward, and backward to its summit, the vast
bank of the river, varied as to surface by rounded bare hills and
valleys and flats sprinkled with aspens, cherries, and saskatoons,
the latter loaded with ripe fruit.

The banks of the Peace River are a country in themselves, in
which, particularly on the north side, numerous homesteads might
be, and indeed have been, carved out. Descending to the river,
we found a Hudson's Bay Company and Police post. The river here
is about a third of a mile wide, and was in freshet, with a
current, we thought, of about six miles an hour.

At Smoky River we met a couple of prospectors, Mr. Tryon, a nephew
of the ill-fated Admiral, and Mr. Cooper Blachford, down from the
Poker Flat mining-camp, this side the Finlay Rapids, in the Selwyn
Mountains. They reached that camp by way of Ashcroft, B.C., in
twenty-two days, the Peace River route being very much longer and
more difficult. They described the camp there as a promising one,
with much gold-bearing quartz in sight, but the cost of provisions
and the extreme difficulty of development under the circumstances
held it back.

There being but a few half-breeds here, we crossed the river, and
decided to go on to Fort Dunvegan, and on our return complete our
scrip issue at the Landing; so, partly on horseback and partly by
waggon, we made our way to our first camp. The trail lay along
and up and down the immense bank of the river, debouching at one
place at the site of old Fort McLeod, and passing the fine St.
Germain farm, with as beautiful fields of yellowing wheat as one
would wish to see.

Here we got an abundant supply of vegetables, and in this ride our
first taste of the Peace River mosquito--or, rather, that animal
got its first taste of us. It is needless to dwell upon this pest.
Like the fleas in Italy, it has been overdone in description,
and yet beggars it.

All along the trail were old buffalo paths and willows. Indeed, we
saw them everywhere we went on land, showing how numerous those
animals were in times past. In 1793 Sir Alexander Mackenzie describes
them as grazing in great numbers along these very banks, the calves
frisking about their dams, and moose and red deer were equally
numerous. In 1828 Sir George Simpson made a canoe journey to the
Coast by way of this river, and they were still very numerous. The
existing tradition is that, some sixty years ago, a winter occurred
of unexampled severity and depth of snow, in which nearly all the
herds perished, and never recovered their footing on the upper river.
The wood buffalo still exists on Great Slave River, but, where we
were, the only memorials of the animal were its paths and wallows,
and its bones half-buried in the fertile earth.

On the morning of the 17th we topped the crest of the bank, and
found ourselves at once in a magnificent prairie country, which
swept northward, varied by beautiful belts of timber, as far as
Bear Lake, to which we made a detour, then westerly to Old Wives
Lake--Nootooquay Sakaigon--and on to our night camp at Burnt
River, twenty-two miles from Dunvegan. The great prairie is as
flat as a table, and is the exact counterpart of Portage Plains,
in Manitoba, or a number of them, with the addition of belts and
beautiful islands of timber, the soil being a loamy clay, unmistakably
fertile. Nothing could excel the beauty of this region, not even
the fairest portions of Manitoba or Saskatchewan.

On the 18th we finished our drive over a like beautiful prairie,
slightly rolling, dotted with similar clumps of timber like a
great park, and carpeted with ripe strawberries and flowers,
including the wild mignonette, the lupin, and the phlox.

Descending a very long and crooked ravine, we reached the river
flat at last, upon which is situated Fort Dunvegan, called after
the stronghold of the McLeods of Skye, but alas! with no McCrimmon
to welcome us with his echoing pipes! Chief-factor McDonald, in
his scanty journal of Sir George Simpson's canoe voyage in 1828
from Hudson's Bay to the Pacific, does not give the date at
which this post was established, but mentions its abandonment
in 1823, owing to the murder of a Mr. Hughes and four men at
Fort St. John by the Beaver Indians. It had been re-established
by Chief-trader Campbell. Simpson, Mr. McDonald, and Mr.
McGillivray, who had embarked at Fort Chipewyan, where Sir
George himself had served his clerkship, spent a day at Dunvegan
in August, resting and getting fresh supplies. The warring
traders had united in 1821, and this voyage was undertaken in
order to harmonize the Indians, who, from the bay to the coast,
particularly across the mountains, had become fierce partisans
of one or other of the great companies.

Sir George had his McCrimmon with him in the shape of his piper,
Colin Fraser, who played and paraded before the Indians most
impressively in full Highland costume. Deer and buffalo were
numerous in the region, and, during the day, thirteen sacks of
pemmican were made for the party from materials stored at the fort.
Simpson was famous in those days for his swift journeys with his
celebrated Iroquois canoemen. They were made by _Canot du Maitre_ as
it was called, the largest bark canoe made by the Indians, carrying
about six tons and a crew of sixteen paddlers, and which ascended as
far as Fort William. Thence further progress was made in the much
smaller "North Canoes" to all points west of Lake Superior. This
particular journey of nearly 3,200 miles, made almost entirely by
canoe, was completed from York Factory to Fort Langley, near the
mouth of Fraser River, in sixty-five days of actual paddling, an
average of about fifty miles a day, nearly all up stream.

Only two buildings of the old fort remained at the time of our
visit, both in a ruinous condition. The old fireplaces and the
roofs of spruce bark, a covering much used in the country, were
still sound, and several cellars indicated where the other
buildings had stood. The later post is about a gunshot to the
east of them, and the whole site had certainly been well chosen,
being completely sheltered by the immensely high banks of the
great and deep river, whose bends "shouldered" and seemed to shut
in the place east and west, also by the "Caps," two very high
hills forming the bank on each side of the river, so called from
their fancied resemblance to a skull-cap. The river here is over
four hundred yards in width, and its banks, from the water's edge
to the upper prairie level are some six hundred feet or more in
height; but, as the trail leads, the ascent of the great slope
is about a mile in length.

A number of townships had been blocked here, at one time, by
Mr. Ogilvie, D.L.S., but not subdivided, Fort Dunvegan being
situated, if I mistake not, in the south-west corner of Township
80, Range 4, west of the Sixth Meridian.

The Roman Catholic Mission east of the fort was found to be
beautifully sheltered, and neighboured by fine fields of wheat and
a garden full of green peas and new potatoes. But this was on the
flat. There was no farming whatever on the north side, on the upper
and beautiful prairies described. A Mr. Milton had tried, it was
said, about ten miles east of Dunvegan, but did not make a success
of it.

Near the fort a raft was moored, on which had descended a party of
four Americans. They were from the State of Wyoming, and had made
their way the previous summer, by way of St. John and the Pine
River, to the Nelson, a tributary of the Liard. They had had poor
luck, in fact no luck at all; and this was the story of every
returning party we met which had been prospecting on the various
tributaries of the Peace and Liard towards the mountains. The cost
of supplies, the varying and uncertain yield, but, above all, the
brief season in which it is possible to work, barely six weeks--had
dissipated by sad experience the bright dreams of wealth which had
lured them from comfortable homes. Between seven and eight hundred
people had gone up to those regions via Edmonton, bound for the
Yukon, many of whom, after a tale of suffering which might have
filled its boomsters' souls with remorse, had found solitary graves,
and the remainder were slowly toiling out of the country, having
sunk what means they possessed in the vain pursuit of gold. They
brought a rumour with them that some whites who had robbed the
Indians on the Upper Liard had been murdered. It was not known what
white men had penetrated to that desolate region, and the rumour was
discredited; at all events, it was never verified.

The treaty had been effected at Dunvegan, on the 6th, with a few
Beaver Indians, who still lingered by their tepees, pitched to the
west on the opposite shore. The half-breeds had camped near the
fort pending our arrival, and we found them a very intelligent
people, indeed, with some interesting relics of the old regime
still amongst them. One, in particular, had canoed from Lachine
with Simpson sixty years before. He was still lively and active,
and a patriarch of the half-breed community. Large families we
found to be the rule here, some parents boasting of twelve or
thirteen children _under_ age. This, and their healthy looks, spoke
well for the climate, and their condition otherwise was promising,
being comfortably clad, all speaking more or less English or French,
whilst many could read and write.

Our work being completed here, we set out for the Crossing by
waggon, our route lying over the same majestic prairies, and reached
the Landing the second night, passing the Roman Catholic and Church
of England Missions on the way. The former Mission is an extensive
establishment, with a fine farm and garden. Indeed, with the
exception of primitive outlying stations, all the principal Roman
Catholic Missions, by their extent and completeness, put our own
more meagrely endowed establishments into rather painful contrast.

A great concourse of natives was at the Landing awaiting our
arrival. The place was covered with tepees and tents, and no
less than four trading marquees had been pitched pending the
scrip issue, which it took some time to complete.

Near the Landing were the mill and farm of a namesake of Sir
Alexander Mackenzie. His father, indeed, was a cousin of the
renowned explorer who gave his name to the great river of the
North. This father, under whom, Mr. Mackenzie said, Lord
Strathcona had spent his first year as a clerk in the Hudson's
Bay Company's service, was drowned, with nine Iroquois, whilst
running the Lachine Rapids in a bark canoe. His son came to
Peace River in 1863, and his career, as he told it to me, will
bear repeating. He was born at Three Rivers, in Lower Canada,
in 1843, and was sent to Scotland to be educated, remaining there
until he was eighteen years of age. In 1861 he joined the Hudson's
Bay Company's service, wintering first at Norway House under
Chief factor William Sinclair, but removed to Peace River, became
a chief-trader there in 1872, and, after some years of service,
retired, and has lived at the Crossing ever since.

The Landing, he told me, used to be known as "The Forks," it being
here that the Smoky River joins the Peace; and here were concentrated,
in bygone days, the posts and rivalries of the great fur companies.
The remains of the North-West Company's fort are still visible on
the north bank, a few miles above the Landing. On the south shore,
in the angle of the two rivers, stood the Hudson's Bay Company's
fort, whilst the old X. Y. Company's post, at that time the best
equipped on the river, stood on the north bank opposite the Smoky.

In a delightful afternoon spent in rambling over this interesting
neighbourhood, Mr. Mackenzie made out for me the site of the
latter establishment, now in the midst of a dense thicket of
nettles, shrubs, and saplings. In this locality the antagonisms
of old had full play--not only those of the traders, but of the
Indians--and the river exhibited much more life and movement then
than at the time of our visit.

In remote days a constant warfare had been kept up by the Crees
on the river, who, just as they invaded the Blackfeet on the
Saskatchewan, encroached here upon the Beavers--at that time a
brave, numerous and warlike tribe, but now decayed almost to
extinction, the victims, it is said, of incestuous intercourse. The
Beavers had also an enemy in their congeners, the Chipewyans, the
three nations seemingly dividing the great river between them. But
neither succeeded in giving a permanent name to it. The Unjigah, its
majestic and proper name, or the Tsa-hoo-dene-desay--"The Beaver
Indian River"--or the Amiskoo eeinnu Sepe of the Crees, which has
the same meaning, has not taken root in our maps. The traditional
peace made between its warring tribes gave it its name, the Riviere
la Paix of the French, which we have adopted, and by this name the
river will doubtless be known when the Indians, whose home it has
been for ages, have disappeared.

On the 24th our work here was completed, and we took to our boats,
which were to float us down to Vermilion and Athabasca Lake.
During our stay, however, I had noted all the information that
could be gained respecting the Upper Peace as an agricultural
region, some of which I have already given. The knowledge obtainable
about the fertile areas of the hinterlands of a vast unsurveyed
country like this, though not very ample, was no doubt trustworthy
as far as it went.

Trappers and traders are confined to the water, as a rule, and see
little land away from the shores of streams and lakes. The only
people who, through their employments, knew the interior well were
the Indians and half-breed hunters. It was the statements of these,
therefore, and of the few prosperous farmers and stockmen scattered
here and there, which afforded us our only reliable knowledge.

The most extensive prairies adjacent to the Upper Peace River
are those to the north already described. The nearest on the
south side are the prairies of Spirit River, a small stream which
divides several townships of first-class black, loamy soil, well
wooded in parts, but with considerable prairie. The nearest farmer
and rancher to Dunvegan, Mr. C. Brymner, who had lived for ten
years on Spirit River, told me that during seven of these, though
frost had touched his grain, particularly in June, it had done
little serious harm. It was a fine hay country, he said, even the
ridge hay being good, and therefore a good region for cattle, he
himself having at the time over a hundred head, which fed out late
in the fall and very early in the spring, owing to the Chinook
winds, which enter the region and temper its climate. Southeast
of Fort St. John there is a considerable area known as Pooscapee's
Prairie, getting its name from an old Indian chief, and which was
well spoken of, but which we did not see.

A much more extensive open country, however, is the Grand Prairie,
to the south-west of the Crossing, which connects with the Spirit
River country, and is drained by the Smoky River and its branches,
and by its tributary, the Wapiti. There is no dispute as to whether
this should or should not be called a prairie country. As a matter
of fact, it is an extensive district suitable for immediate
cultivation, and containing, as well, valuable timber for lumber,
fencing and building.

The first inquiry the intending immigrant makes is about frost.
At the Dunvegan and St. Augustine Mission farms, on the river bank
above the Landing, Father Busson told me that White Russian and
Red Fyfe wheat had been raised since 1881, and during all these
years it had never been seriously injured, whilst the yield has
reached as high as thirty-five bushels to the acre. Seeding
began about the middle of April, and harvesting about the middle
of August. He was of opinion that along the rim of the upper
prairie level wheat would ripen, but farther back he thought
it unsafe, and so no doubt it is for the present. Mr. Brick's
fine farm, opposite the Six Islands, and other farms also, were
a success, but, of course, all these were along the river. With
regard to the upper level, I heard opinions adverse to Father
Busson's, though, like his, conjectural. The inconsiderable
height above the sea (Lefroy, I think, puts the upper level at
about 1,600 feet), the prolonged sunlight, the whole night being
penetrated with it though the sun has set, together with good
methods of farming, will no doubt get rid of frost, which strikes
here just as it has in every new settlement in Manitoba, and in
fact throughout a great portion of the continent.

There were complaints, however, of a worse enemy than frost, namely,
drought, which we were told was a characteristic feature of those
magnificent prairies to the north. The wiry grass is very short
there, something like the Milk River grass in Southern Alberta,
and hay is scarce. This drawback will doubtless be got over hereafter
by dry farming, or better still by irrigation, should the lakes to
the north prove to be available.

I have pointed out disadvantages which in all likelihood will
disappear with time and settlement by good farmers. It is a region,
I believe, predestined to agriculture; but, in some localities, the
rainfall, as has been said, is rather scant for good husbandry, and,
therefore, farming to the north of the river, on the upper level,
is not as yet an assured success. To the south better conditions
prevail, and thither no doubt the stream of immigration will first

Altogether we estimated the prairie areas of the upper river at
about half a million acres, with much country, in addition, which
resembles the Dauphin District in Manitoba, covered with willows
and the like, which, if they can be pulled out by horse-power,
as is done there, will not be very expensive to clear. There
is, of course, any quantity of timber for building and fencing,
though much has been destroyed by fire, the varieties being
those common to the whole country. To the south, in the Yellowhead,
and on the Upper Athabasca and its tributaries, there is considerable
prairie also, more easily reached than Peace River; but this is
apart from my subject. I may say, in conclusion, that the Upper
Peace River country is a very fine one, drained by a vast and
navigable river, compared with which the Saskatchewan must yield
the palm, and, beyond doubt, this will be the first region to
attract settlement and railway development.

Aside from settlers and a railway, the chief needs of the country
are a good waggon-road to Edmonton and mail facilities, which
were almost non-existent when we were there, but which have
recently been to some extent supplied. Nearly three months had
elapsed since we entered the country, and not a letter or paper
had reached us from the outer world at any point. The imports
into the country were increasing very fast, and, through
competition and fashion, its principal furs were immensely
more valuable than in the past.

As for the natives of the region, we found them a very worthy
people, whose progress in the forms of civilized life, and to a
certain extent in its elegances, was a constant surprise to us.
As for the country, it was plain that all we met were making a good
living in it, not by fur alone, but by successful farming, and that
its settlement was but a question of time.

Chapter VII

Down The Peace River.

We had now to descend the river, and our first night in the boats
was a bad one. A small but exceedingly diligent variety of mosquito
attacked us unprepared; but no ordinary net could have kept them
out, anyway. It was a case of heroic endurance, for Beelzebub
reigned. The immediate bank of the river was now somewhat low
in places, and along it ran a continuous wall, or layer, of
sandstone of a uniform height. The stream was vast, with many
islands in its course, and whole forests of burnt timber were
passed before we reached Battle River, 170 miles down, and which,
on the 25th, we left behind us towards evening. Next morning we
reached Wolverine Point, a dismal hamlet of six or seven cabins,
with a graveyard in their midst. The majority of the half-breeds
of the locality had collected here, the others being out hunting.
This is a good farming country. Eighteen miles north-west of
Paddle River there is a prairie, we were told, of rich black
soil, twenty-five miles long and from one to five miles wide,
and another south-west of Wolverine, about nine miles in
diameter and thirty-six in circumference--clean prairie and
good soil, and covered with luxuriant grass and pea-vine. The
latter, I think, is watered by a stream called "The Keg," or
"Keg of Rum." Wolverine is also a region of heavy spruce timber,
and fish are abundant in the various streams which join the Peace
River, though not in the Peace itself.

We were now approaching Vermilion, the banks of the river constantly
decreasing in height as we descended, until they became quite low.
Beneath a waning moon in the south, and an exquisite array of gold
and scarlet clouds in the east, which dyed the whole river a
delicate red, we floated down to the hamlet of Vermilion. The
place proved to be a rather extensive settlement, with yellow
wheat-fields and much cattle, for it is a fine hay country. The
pioneer Canadians at Vermilion were the Lawrence family, which has
been settled there for over twenty years. They were original
residents of Shefford County, Eastern Townships, and set out from
Montreal for Peace River in April, 1879, making the journey to
Vermilion, by way of Fort Carlton, Isle a la Crosse and Fort McMurray,
in four months and some ten days. The elder Mr. Lawrence had been
engaged under Bishop Bompas to conduct a mission school at Chipewyan,
but after a time removed to Vermilion, where he organized another
school, which he conducted until 1891. He then resigned, and began
farming on his own account, and, by and by, with great pains and
expense, brought in a flour mill, whose operation stimulated
settlement, and speedily reduced the price of flour from $25 to $8
a sack. Unfortunately, this useful mill was burnt in April preceding
our visit. The yield of grain, moreover, most of it wheat, was
estimated at 10,000 bushels, and the turning of the mill was
therefore not only a great loss to Mr. Lawrence, but a severe blow
to the place. The population interested in farming was estimated
at about three hundred souls, thus forming the nucleus of a very
promising settlement, now, of course, at its wits' end for gristing.
Vermilion seemed to be a very favourable supply point in starting
other settlements, being in touch by water with Loon River, Hay
River, and other points east and north, where there is abundance
of excellent land. For the present, and pending railway development,
it was plain that the great and pressing requirement of the region
was a good waggon road by way of Wahpooskow to Athabasca Landing,
a distance of three hundred miles, thus avoiding the dangerous
rapids of the Athabasca, or the long detour by way of Lesser Slave
Lake, and making communication easy in winter time.

From Mr. Erastus Lawrence, the head of the family, we got definite
information regarding the region and its prospects for agriculture.
We spent Sunday at his comfortable home, and examined his farm
carefully. In front of the house was a field of wheat, 110 acres
in extent, as fine a field as we had ever seen anywhere, and of
this they had not had a failure, he said, during all their farming
experience, the return never falling below fourteen bushels to the
acre, in the worst of years, twenty-five being about the average
yield. They sowed late in April, but reaped generally about the 15th
of August. They had never, he said, been seriously injured by frost
since 1884, and in fact no frost had occurred to injure wheat since
1887. There was abundance of hay, and 10,000 head of stock, he
believed, could be raised at that very point. Many hogs were raised,
with great profit, bacon and pork being, of course, high-priced. One
of the sons, Mr. E. H. Lawrence, said he had raised sixteen pigs,
which at eighteen months dressed 370 pounds apiece. At that time
there were about 500 head of cattle, 250 horses, and 200 pigs in the

After service at the Reverend Mr. Scott's neat little church,
we returned to Mr. Lawrence's, and enjoyed an excellent dinner,
including home-cured ham, fresh eggs, butter and cream. That was
a notable Sunday for us in the wilds, and seldom to be repeated.

Strange to say, we found the true locust here, our old Red River
pest, which had quartered itself on the settlement more than once.
I examined numbers of them, and found the scarlet egg of the
ichneumon fly under many of the shards. No one seemed to know
exactly how they came, whether in flight or otherwise; but there
they were, devouring some barley, but living mainly upon grass,
which they seemed to prefer to grain. They had appeared nine years
before our coming, and disappeared, and then, three years before,
had come again.

We found quarters in a large building at the fort, which was in
charge of Mr. Wilson, whose wife was a daughter of my old friend,
Chief-factor Clarke, of Prince Albert, her brother having charge
of the trading store. The post is a substantial one, and the
store large, well stocked, and evidently the headquarters of an
extensive trade. At such posts, which have generally a fringe
of settlement, the Company's officers and their families, though,
of course, cut off from the outer world, lead, if somewhat
monotonous, by no means irksome lives. Books, music, cards and
dances serve to while away spare time, and an occasional wedding,
lasting, as it generally does, for several days, stirs the little
community to its core. But sport, in a region abounding with game
of all kinds, is the great time-killer, giving the longed-for
excitement, and contributing as well to the daily bill of fare the
very choicest of human food. Such a life is indeed to be envied
rather than commiserated, and we met with few, if any, who cared to
leave it. But such posts are the "plums" of the service, and are few
and far between. At many of the solitary outposts life has a very
different colour. ["At an outpost," says Mr. Bleasdell Cameron,
"where a clerk is alone with his Indian servant, the life is
wearisome to a degree, and privation not infrequently adds to the
hardship of it. Supplies may run short, and in any case he is
expected to stock himself with fish, taken in nets from the lake,
near which his post is situated, for his table and his dogs, as well
as to augment his larder by the expert and diligent use of his gun.
Rare instances have occurred where, through accident, supplies had
not reached the far-out posts for which they were intended, and the
men had literally died of starvation. Out of a York boat's crew,
which was taking up the annual supplies for a post far up among
the Rocky Mountains, on a branch of the Mackenzie River, two or
three men were drowned, and the ice beginning to take, the boat was
obliged to put back to the district headquarters. The three men
at the outpost were left for some weeks without the supplies, and
when, after winter had set in, and it became possible to reach them
with dog trains, and provisions were at length sent them, two were
found dead in the post, while the third man was living by himself in
a small hut some distance from the fort buildings. The explanation
he gave was that he had removed to where there was a chance of
keeping himself alive by snaring rabbits, which were more plentiful
than at the post. But a suggestion of cannibalism surrounded the
affair, for only the bones of his companions were found, and they
were in the open chimney-place. Nothing was done, however, and I
myself saw the survivor many times in after years."]

At dinner Mr. Wilson told us of a very curious circumstance the
previous fall, at the Loon River, some eighty miles south of
Vermilion--something, indeed, that very much resembled volcanic
action. Indians hunting there were surprised by a great shower of
ashes all over the country, thick enough to track moose by, whilst
others in canoes were bewildered in dense clouds of smoke. Dr. Wade,
a traveller who had just come in from Loon River, said he had
discovered three orifices, or "wells," as he called them, out of
which he thought the ashes might have been ejected. As there were
no forest fires to account for the phenomena, they were rather

We had begun taking depositions almost as soon as we arrived, and
had a very busy time, working late and early in order to get away
by the first of August. There were some interesting people here,
"Old Lizotte" and his wife in particular. He was another of the
"Ancient Mariners" who had left Lachine fifty-five years before
with Governor Simpson--a man still of unshaken nerve and muscles
as hard as iron. One by one these old voyageurs are passing away,
and with them and their immediate successors the tradition

There was another character on the Vermilion stage, namely, old
King Beaulieu. His father was a half-breed who had been brought
up amongst the Dog Ribs and Copper Indians, and some eighty years
back had served as an interpreter at Fort Chipewyan. It was he
who at Fort Wedderburne sketched for Franklin with charcoal on
the floor the route to the Coppermine River, the sketch being
completed to and along the coast by Black Meat, an old Chipewyan
Indian. King Beaulieu himself was Warburton Pike's right-hand man
in his trip to the Barren Lands. He had his own story, of course,
about the sportsman, which we utterly discredited. He had joined
the Indian Treaty here, but repented, almost flinging his payment
in our face, and demanding scrip instead. One of his sons asked
me if the law against killing buffalo had not come to an end. I
said, "No! the law is stricter than ever--very dangerous now to kill
buffalo." Asking him what he thought the band numbered, he said,
"About six hundred," and added, "What are we poor half-breeds to
do if we cannot shoot them?" Pointing out the abundance of moose
in the country, and that if they shot the buffalo they would soon
be exterminated, he still grumbled, and repeated, "What are we
poor half-breeds to do?" I have no doubt whatever that they do
shoot them, since the band is reported to have diminished to about
250 head. Immediate steps should certainly be taken to punish and
prevent poaching, or this band, the only really wild one on the
continent, will soon be extinct.

We were now on our boats again, and heading for the Chutes, as they
are called, the one obstruction to the navigation of Peace River
for over six hundred miles. We debarked at the head of the rapids
above the Grand Fall, and walked to their foot along a shelving
and slippery portage, skirting the very edge of the torrent. The
Crees call this Meatina Powistik--"The Real Rapid"--the cataract
farther on being the Nepegabaketik--"Where the Water Falls."

Returning to the "Decharge," I ran the rapids with Cyr and Baptiste
in one of the boats, a glorious sensation, reminding one, though
shorter, of the Grand Rapids of the Saskatchewan, the waves being
great, and the danger spiced by the tremendous vortex ahead. The
rapids are about four hundred yards in length, and extend quite
across the river, which is here of an immense width. A heavy but
brief rainstorm had set in, and it was some time before we could
reload and drop down to the head of the "Chaudiere," if I may call
it so, for the vortex much resembles the "Big Kettle" at Ottawa.
That night we spent in the York boat, its keel on the rocks and
painter tied to a tree, and, lulled by the roar of the cataract,
slept soundly until morning.

These falls cut somewhat diagonally across the river, the vortex
being at the right bank, and close in-shore, concentred by a limestone
shelf extending to the bank, flanked on the left, and at an acute
angle, by a deeply-indented reef of rock. Looking up the river,
the view to the west seems inclosed by a long line of trees, which,
in the distance, appear to stand in the water. Thence the vast
stream sweeps boldly into the south, and with a rush discharges
down the rapids, and straight over the line of precipice, in a
vast tumultuous greyish-drab torrent which speedily emerges into
comparatively still water below. The rock here is an exceedingly
hard, mottled limestone, resembling the stone at St. Andrew's
Rapids on Red River. Where exposed it is pitted or bitten into
by the endless action of wind and water, and lies in thick layers,
forming an irregular dyke all along the shore, over the surface
of which passes the portage, some forty yards in length. Though
short, it is a nasty one, running along a shelf of rock into which
great gaps have been gored by the torrent. Large quantities of
driftwood were stuck in the rapids above, and a big pile of it
had lodged at the south angle of the cataract, over which our
boats had to be drawn, and dropped down, with great care and
difficulty. A rounded, tall island lies, or rather stands, below
the falls, towards the north shore, whose sheer escarpments and
densely wooded top are very curious and striking. Two sister
islands and another above the falls, all four being about a mile
apart, stand in line with each other, as if they had once formed
parts of an ancient marge, and, below the falls, the torrent
has wrought out a sort of bay from the rock, the bank, which
is high here, giving that night upon its grassy slope, overhung
with dense pine woods, a picturesque camp to our boatmen.
The vast river, the rapids and the falls form a majestic picture,
not only of material grandeur, but of power to be utilized some
day in the service of man. Though formidable, they will yet
be surmounted by modern locks; and should Smith's Rapids, on
the Great Slave River, be overcome by canalling, there would
then be developed one of the longest lines of inland navigation
on the continent.

The Red River, which joins the Peace about twenty-five miles below
the Chutes, flows from the south with a course, it was said, of
about two hundred miles, and up this beautiful stream there are
extensive prairies. The soil is very rich at the confluence, and
we noticed that in the garden at the little Hudson's Bay Company's
post, where we transacted our business, vegetables and potatoes
were further advanced than at Vermilion, and some ears of wheat
were almost ripe. From statements made we judged this to be a
region well worth special investigation; it was, in fact, one
of the most inviting points for settlement we had seen on our

Following down the Peace, some shoaly places were met with in the
afternoon, the banks being low, sandy and uniform, with open woods
to the south. The current was stately, but so slow that oars had
often to be used. A chilly sunset was followed by an exceedingly
brilliant display of Northern Lights, called by the Crees Pahkugh
ka Neematchik--"The Dance of the Spirits." This generally presages
change; but the day was fine, and next morning we passed what
are called the Lower Rapids, below which the banks are lined by
precipitous walls of limestone, the river narrowing to less than
half of its previous width.

Landing at Peace Point, the traditional scene of the peace between
the Beavers and the Chipewyans, or between the Beavers and the
Crees, as Mackenzie says, or all three, we found it to be a wide
and beautiful table-like prairie, begirt with aspens, on which we
flushed a pack of prairie chickens. Below it, and looking upward
beyond an island, a line of timber, fringed along the water's
edge with willows, sweeps across the view, met half-way by a wall
of Devonian rock, whose alternate glitter and shade, in the strong
sunshine streaming from the east, seemed almost spectral.

The heavily timbered island added to the effect, and, with a patch
of limestone on its cheek, formed a strikingly beautiful foreground.

The only exciting incident of the day was the vigorous chase, by some
of the party, of an old pair of moulting gray geese with their young,
all, of course, unable to fly. It was pitiful to watch the clever
and fearless actions of the old birds as decoys, falling victims,
at last, to parental love. Indeed, they were not worth eating, and
to kill them was a sin. But when were there ever scruples over
food on Peace River, that theatre of mighty feats of gormandism?

I have already hinted at those masterpieces of voracity for which
the region is renowned; yet the undoubted facts related around our
camp-fires, and otherwise, a few of which follow, almost beggar
belief. Mr. Young, of our party, an old Hudson's Bay officer, knew
of sixteen trackers who, in a few days, consumed eight bears, two
moose, two bags of pemmican, two sacks of flour, and three sacks of
potatoes. Bishop Grouard vouched for four men eating a reindeer at
a sitting. Our friend, Mr. d'Eschambault, once gave Oskinnequ--"The
Young Man"--six pounds of pemmican, who ate it all at a meal, washing
it down with a gallon of tea, and then complained that he had not had
enough. Sir George Simpson states that at Athabasca Lake, in 1820, he
was one of a party of twelve who ate twenty-two geese and three ducks
at a single meal. But, as he says, they had been three whole days
without food. The Saskatchewan folk, however, known of old as the
Gens de Blaireaux--"The People of the Badger Holes"--were not behind
their congeners. That man of weight and might, our old friend,
Chief-factor Belanger--drowned, alas, many years ago with young
Simpson at Sea Falls--once served out to thirteen men a sack of
pemmican weighing ninety pounds. It was enough for three days; but,
there and then, they sat down and consumed it all at a single meal,
not, it must be added, without some subsequent and just pangs of
indigestion. Mr. B. having occasion to pass the place of eating, and
finding the sack of pemmican, as he supposed, in his path, gave it
a kick; but, to his amazement, it bounded aloft several yards, and
then lit. It was empty! When it is remembered that, in the old
buffalo days, the daily ration per head at the Company's prairie
posts was eight pounds of fresh meat, which was all eaten, its
equivalent being two pounds of pemmican, the enormity of this
Gargantuan feast may be imagined. But we ourselves were not bad
hands at the trencher. In fact, we were always hungry. So I do not
reproduce the foregoing facts as a reproach, but rather as a meagre
tribute to the prowess of the great of old--the men of unbounded

On the afternoon of the 4th we rounded Point Providence, the soil
exposures sandy, the timber dense but slender, and early next
morning reached the Quatre Fourches, which was at that time flowing
into Lake Athabasca. It is simply a waterway of some thirty miles
in length, which connects Peace River with the lake, and resembles,
in size and colour, Red River in Manitoba. It is one of "the
rivers that turn"--so called from their reversing their current
at different stages of water. A small stream of this kind connects
the South Saskatchewan with the Qu'Appelle, and another, a navigable
river, the Lower Saskatchewan with Cumberland Lake. The Quatre
Fourches is thus both an inlet and an outlet, but not of the lake
in a right sense. The real outlet is the Rocher River, which joins
the Peace River at the intersection of latitude 59 with the 111.30th
degree of longitude, beyond which the united streams are called
the Great Slave River.

The Quatre Fourches--"The Four Forks"--gets its name from the
junction of a channel which connects a small lake called the Mamawee
with the south-west angle of Lake Athabasca, Fort Chipewyan being
situated on an opposite shore upon an arm of the lake, here about
six miles wide. The stream is sluggish, and is thickly wooded to the
water's edge, with here and there an exposure of red granite. It is
a very beautiful stream, and it was a pleasure to get out of the
great river and its oppressive vastness into the familiar-looking,
homely water, its eastern rocks and exquisite curves and bends.
Rounding a point, we came upon a camp of Chipewyans drying fish and
making birch-bark canoes, all of them fat, dirty, like ourselves,
and happy; and, passing on, at dusk we reached the outlet and the

It was blowing hard, but we decided to cross to the fort, where
a light had been run up for our guidance, and which, by vigorous
rowing, we reached by midnight. Here Mr. Laird was waiting to
receive us, the other Commissioners having departed for Fort
McMurray and Wahpooskow.

Next morning we saw the lake to better advantage. It is called by
the Chipewyans Kaytaylaytooway, namely, "The Lake of the Marsh,"
corresponding to the Athapuskow of the Crees, corrupted into the
Rabasca of the French voyageurs, and meaning "The Lake of the Reeds."
At one time, it may be mentioned, it was also known as "The Lake
of the Hills," and its great tributary, the Athabasca, was the Elk
River; but these names have not survived.

Chapter VIII

Fort Chipewyan To Fort McMurray.

Chipewyan, it may be remarked, is not a Dene word. It is the name
which was given by the Crees to that branch of the race when they
first came in contact with them, owing to their wearing a peculiar
coat, or tunic, which was pointed both before and behind; now
disused by them, but still worn by the Esquimaux, and, until
recent years, by the Yukon Indians. Though somewhat similar
in sound, it has no connection, it is asserted, with the word
Chippeway, or Ojibway. For all that, the words are perhaps
closely akin. The writer for the accurate use in this narrative
of words in the Cree tongue is under obligation to experts.
When preparing his notes to his drama of "Tecumseh" he was
indebted to his friend, Mr. Thomas McKay, of Prince Albert,
Sask., a master of the Cree language, for the exact origin
and derivation of the words Chippeway and Ojibway. Both are
corruptions of O-cheepo-way, _cheepo_ meaning "tapering," and
_way_ "sound," or "voice." The name was begot of the Ojibway's
peculiar manner of lowering the voice at the end of a sentence.
As "_wyan_" means a skin, it is not improbable that the word
Chipewyan means tapering or "pointed" skin, referring, of course,
to the peculiar garb of the Athapuskow Indians when the Crees
first met with them.

The sites of old posts are to be found all over this region; but
Chipewyan in the beginning of the last century was the great supply
and trading-post of the North-West Company. From Sir John Franklin's
Journal (1820) it would appear that the Hudson's Bay Company had
begun, and, for some reason not given, had ceased trading on Lake
Athabasca, as he says "Fort Wedderburne was a small post built
on Coal Island--now called Potato Island-about A.D. 1815, when
the Hudson's Bay Company recommenced trading in this part of the
country." He often visited this island post, then in charge of
a Mr. Robertson, and, in June, engaged there for his memorable
journey his bowmen, steersmen and middlemen, and an interpreter,
his other men being furnished by the rival company. Fort Chipewyan
was in charge at that time of Messrs. Keith and Black, of the
North-West Company, a noticeable feature of the post being a
tower built, Franklin says, about the year 1812, "to watch
Indians who had evil designs."

The site was well chosen, being sheltered from storms from the lake
side by a great bulwark of wooded and rocky islands. The largest
is Potato Island, just opposite, its outliers being the Calf and
English Islands--the Lapeta, Echeranaway and Theyaodene of the
Chipewyans; the Petac, Moostoos and Akayasoo of the Crees.

Fort Chipewyan stands upon a rising ground fronting a sort of bay
formed by these islands, and at the time of our visit consisted of
a trading-store, several large warehouses and the master's residence,
etc., all of solid timber, erected in the days of Chief-factor
MacFarlane, who ruled here for many years.

[Mr. MacFarlane's career in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company
is typical of the varied life and movements of its old-time
adventurous traders. He entered the service in 1852, his first
winter being spent as a clerk at Pembina (now Emerson), and also
as trader in charge at the Long Creek outpost. From here he was
transferred to Fort Rae, and afterwards to Fort Good Hope, Mackenzie
River, where he remained six years. His next post was Fort Anderson,
on the Begh-ula, or Anderson River, in the Barren Grounds, which he
held for five years, much of his scientific work being done during
excursions from this point. Afterwards he became trader and
accountant at Fort Simpson, and was for two years in charge of
the Mackenzie River district. This was succeeded by a six months'
residence at Fort Chipewyan, where, subsequently, for fifteen years
he had charge of the district. For two years he had control of
the Caledonia district, in British Columbia, but removed to Fort
Cumberland, Sask., where he remained for five years. Other removals
followed until he finally retired from the service, and, returning
to Winnipeg, has lived there ever since.]

But old as the fort is, it has no relics--not even a venerable
cabin. In the store were a couple of not very ancient flint-locks,
and, upstairs, rummaging through some dusty shelves, I came across
one volume of the Edinburgh, or second, edition of Burns in gray
paper boards--a terrible temptation, which was nobly resisted.
Though there was once a valuable library here, with many books now
rare and costly, yet all had disappeared.

East of the fort are shelving masses of red granite, completely
covered by a dark orange lichen, which gives them an added warmth
and richness; and on the highest part stood a square lead sun-dial,
which, at first sight, I thought had surely been set up by Franklin
or Richardson, but which I was told was very modern indeed, and
put up, if I am not mistaken, by Mr. Ogilvie, D.L.S. To the west
of the fort is the Church of England Mission, and, farther up,
the Roman Catholic establishment, the headquarters of our esteemed
fellow-voyager, Bishop Grouard. [The first Roman Catholic Mission in
Athabasca was formed by Bishop Farrand the year after Bishop Tache's
visit to Fort Chipewyan, about A.D. 1849, he being then a missionary
priest. Bishop Farrand established other missions on Peace River,
and went as far north as Fort Resolution, on Great Slave Lake.
He died in 1890, and was succeeded by our guest, Bishop Grouard,
O.M.I., _Eveque d'Ibora_, the present occupant of the See of Athabasca
and Mackenzie River. This prelate was born at Le Mans, in France,
and was educated there, but finished his education in Quebec. He was
ordained by Bishop Tache, near Montreal, in 1862, and was sent at
once to Chipewyan, where he learnt the difficult language of the
natives in a year. He has worked at many points, and perhaps no man
in all the North, with the exception of Archdeacon Macdonald, or the
late Anglican Bishop Bompas, has or had as accurate a knowledge of
the great Dene race, with its numerous subdivisions of Chipewyans,
Beavers, Yellow Knives, Dog Ribs, Slaves, Nahanies, Rabbit Skins,
Loucheaux, or Squint Eyes (so named from the prevalence of
strabismus amongst them), and of other tribes. All these were at one
time not only at war with the Crees, but with each other, with the
exception of the Slaves, who were always a tame and meek-spirited
race, and were often subjected to and treated like dogs by the
others. Indeed they were called by the Crees, Awughkanuk, meaning
"cattle."] In line with the fort buildings, and facing the lake,
stood a row of whitewashed cottages, all giving the place, with its
environs, deeply indented shore and rugged spits of red granite, the
quaint appearance of some secluded fishing village on the Gulf of
St. Lawrence.

In sight, but above the bay, was the trading-post of Colin Fraser,
whose father, the McCrimmon of the North-West, was Sir George
Simpson's piper. The late Chief-factor Camsell, of Fort Simpson,
and myself paddled up to it, and were most hospitably entertained
by Mr. Fraser and his agreeable family. His father's bagpipes,
still in excellent order, were speedily brought out, and it was
interesting to handle them, for they had heralded the approach of
the autocratic little Governor to many an inland post from Hudson's
Bay to Fraser River, over seventy years before.

Several days were spent at the fort taking declarations, but,
unlike Vermilion or Dunvegan, there were few large families here,
the applicants being mainly young people. The agricultural resources
of this region of rocks are certainly meagre compared with those of
Peace River. Potatoes, where there is any available soil, grow to
a good size; barley was nearly ripe when we were there, and wheat
ripens, too. But, of course, it is not a farming region, nor are
fish plentiful at the west end of the lake, the Athabasca River,
which enters there, giving for over twenty miles eastward a muddy
hue to the water. The rest of the lake is crystal clear, and
whitefish are plentiful, also lake trout, which are caught up to
thirty, and even forty, pounds' weight.

The distance from Fort Chipewyan to Fond du Lac is about 185 miles,
but the lake extends over 75 miles farther eastward in a narrow arm,
giving a total length of about 300 miles, the greatest width being
about 50 miles. The whole eastern portion of the lake is a desolate
scene of primitive rock and scrub pine, with many quartz exposures,
which are probably mineralized, but with no land, not even for
a garden. The scenery, however, from Black Bay to Fond du Lac
is very beautiful, consisting largely of islands as diversified
and as numerous as the Thousand Islands in the St. Lawrence.
These extremely solitary spots should be, one would think, the
breeding-grounds of the pelican, though it is said this bird really
breeds on islands in the Great Slave River. If disturbed by man it
is reputed to destroy its young and desert the place at once.

The Barren Ground reindeer migrate to the east end of this lake
in October, and return in March or April, but this is not certain.
Sometimes they unaccountably forsake their old migratory routes,
causing great suffering, in consequence, to the Indians. Moose
frequent the region, too, but are not numerous, whilst land game,
such as prairie chickens, ptarmigan, and a grouse resembling
the "fool-hen," is rather plentiful.

The Indians of Fond du Lac are healthy, though somewhat uncleanly
in their habits, and fond of dress, which is that of the white
man, their women being particularly well dressed.

As an agricultural country the region has no value whatever; but
its mineral resources, when developed, may prove to be rich and
profitable. Mining projects were already afoot in the country,
but far to the north on Great Slave Lake.

What was known as the "Helpman Party" was formed in England by
Captain Alene, who died of pneumonia in December, 1898, three
days after his arrival at Edmonton. The party consisted of a
number of retired army officers, including Viscount Avonmore,
with a considerable capital, $50,000 of which was expended.
They brought some of their outfit from England, but completed
it at Edmonton, and thence went overland late in the spring. But
sleighing being about over, they got to Lesser Slave Lake with
great difficulty, and there the party broke up, Mr. Helpman and
others returning to England, whilst Messrs. Jeffries and Hall
Wright, Captain Hall, and Mr. Simpson went on to Peace River
Crossing. From there they descended to Smith's Portage, on
the Great Slave River, and wintered at Fort Resolution, on
Great Slave Lake.

In the following spring they were joined by Mr. McKinlay, the
Hudson's Bay Company's agent at the Portage, and he, accompanied
by Messrs. Holroyd and Holt, who had joined the party at Smith's
Landing, and by Mr. Simpson, went off on a prospecting tour through
the north-east portion of Great Slave Lake, staking, _en route_, a
number of claims, some of which were valuable, others worthless. The
untruthful statements, however, of one of the party, who represented
even the worst of the claims as of fabulous value, brought the
whole enterprise into disrepute. The members of the party mentioned
returned to England ostensibly to raise capital to develop their
claims, but nothing came of it, not because minerals of great
value do not exist there, but on account of remoteness and the
difficulties of transport.

In 1898 another party was formed in Chicago, called "The Yukon
Valley Prospecting and Mining Company," its chief promoters being
a Mr. Willis and a Mr. Wollums of that city. The capital stock was
put at a quarter of a million dollars, twenty-five thousand dollars
being paid up. These organizers interested thirty-three other men in
the enterprise, the agreement being that these should go to Dawson
at the expense of the stockholders, and locate mining claims there,
a half-interest in all of which was to be transferred to the
company. These men proceeded to Calgary, and outfitted for Dawson,
which they wished to reach by ascending the Peace River. At Calgary
they were fortunate in procuring as leader a gentleman of large
experience in the North, W. J. McLean, Esq., a retired Chief-factor
of the Hudson's Bay Company, who pointed out the difficulties of
such a route, and recommended, instead, a possible one via Great
Slave Lake and the Mackenzie River to Fort Simpson, and thence up
the Liard River to the height of land at or near Francis Lake, and
so down the Pelly River and on to Dawson.

In February the party, led by him, left Edmonton with 160 ponies,
sleds and sleighs, loaded with supplies, and proceeded, by an
extremely difficult forest trail, to Lesser Slave Lake. They had
no feed for the horses, save what they drew, and, of course, they
reached the lake completely exhausted. Here, by Mr. McLean's advice,
they sold the horses, and with the proceeds hired local freighters
to carry them and their supplies to Peace River Crossing, where
boats were built in which the party, with the exception of one
of the organizers, Mr. Willis, who had returned in high dudgeon
to Chicago, set out for Great Slave Lake. Before getting to Fort
Resolution, Mr. McLean got private information from a former
servant of his at that post, which led to an expedition to the
north-east end of the lake, where he made valuable finds of copper
and other minerals. Another trip was made, and additional claims
were taken, and on Mr. McLean's return with a lot of samples
of ore, he with another prospector, came out, and proceeded to
Chicago. His samples were tested there and in Winnipeg, and yielded
in copper from 11 to 32 per cent.; and the galena 60 ozs. of
silver to the ton. Other minerals, such as sulphur, coal, asphalt,
petroleum, iron and salt were discovered, all of great promise,
and his opinion is that when transport is extended to that region,
it will prove to be a great storehouse of mineral wealth.

The other members of the party had at various times and places
separated, some going here and some there; but all eventually
left the country, and the company died a natural death. But Mr.
McLean is not only a firm believer in the mineral wealth of the
North, but in its resources otherwise. There are extensive areas
of large timber, and the lakes swarm with fish. The soil on the
Liard River is excellent, and he tells me that not only wheat but
Indian corn will ripen there, as he himself grew both successfully
when in charge of that district.

The mining enterprises referred to fell through, but I have described
them at some length since they are very interesting as being the
first attempts at prospecting with a view to development in those
remote regions. Failure, of course, at such a distance from transport
and supplies, was inevitable. But some of the prospectors, Captain
Hall and others who came out with ourselves, seemed to have no doubt
that much of the country they explored is rich in minerals. Indeed,
should the ancient repute of the Coppermine River be justified by
exploration, perhaps the most extensive lodes on the continent
will yet be discovered there.

If the Hudson's Bay route were developed, a short line of rail from
the western end of Chesterfield Inlet would tap the mining regions
prospected, and develop many great resources at present dormant. The
very moss of the Barren Lands may yet prove to be of value, and be
shipped to England as a fertilizer. I have been told by a gentleman
who has travelled in Alaska that an enterprising American there is
preparing to collect and ship moss to Oregon, where it will be
fermented and used as a fertilizer in the dairy industry.

To return to Lake Athabasca. It seemed at one time to have been the
rallying-place of the great Tine or Dene race, to which, with the
exception of the Crees, the Loucheaux, perhaps, and the Esquimaux,
all the Indians of the entire country belong. It is said to have
been a traditional and central point, such as Onondaga Lake was to
the Iroquois.

It is noticeable that, in the nomenclature of the various Indians of
the continent, the names by which they were known amongst themselves
generally meant men, "original men," or people; e.g., the Lenni
Lenape of the Delawares, with its equivalent, the Anishinape of the
Saulteaux, and the Naheowuk of the Crees. It is also the meaning of
the word Dene, the generic name of a race as widely sundered, if not
as widely spread, as the Algonquin itself.

The Chipewyan of Lake Athabasca speaks the same tongue as the Apache
of Arizona, the Navajo of Sonora, the Hoopa of Oregon, and the
Sarcee of Alberta. The word Apache has the same root-meaning as
the word Dene though that fierce race was also called locally the
Shisindins, namely, "The Forest People," doubtless from its original
habitat in this region.

Owing to the agglutinative character of the aboriginal languages,
numbering over four hundred, some philologists are inclined to
attribute them all to a common origin, the Basque tongue being
one of the two or three in Europe which have a like peculiarity.
In the languages of the American Indians one syllable is piled
upon another, each with a distinct root-significance, so that
a single word will often contain the meaning of an ordinary
English sentence. This polysynthetic character undoubtedly
does point to a common origin, just as the Indo-European tongues
trace back to Sanskrit. But whether this is indicative of the
ancient unity of the American races, whose languages differed
in so many other respects, and whose characteristics were so
divergent, is another question.

One interesting impression, begot of our environment, was that we
were now emphatically in what might be called "Mackenzie's country."
In his "General History of the Fur-Trade," published in London in
1801, Sir Alexander tells us that, after spending five years in Mr.
Gregory's office in Montreal, he went to Detroit to trade, and
afterwards, in 1785, to the Grand Portage (Fort William).

The first traders, he tells us, had penetrated to the Athabasca,
via Methy Portage, as early as 1791, and in 1783-4 the merchants
of Lower Canada united under the name of The North-West Company,
the two Frobishers--Joseph Frobisher had traded on the Churchill
River as early as 1775 and Simon McTavish being managers. The
Company, he says, "was consolidated in July, 1787," and became
very powerful in more ways than one, employing, at the time he
wrote, over 1,400 men, including 1,120 canoemen. "It took four
years from the time the good, were ordered until the furs were
sold;" but, of course, the profits, compared with the capital
invested, were very great, until the strife deepened between
the Montrealers. and the Hudson's Bay Company, whose first
inland post was only established at Sturgeon River, Cumberland
Lake, in 1774, by the adventurous, if not over-valiant, Samuel
Hearne. The rivalries of these two companies nearly ruined
both, until they got rid of them by uniting in 1821, when the
Nor'-Westers became as vigorous defenders of King Charles's
Charter as they had before been its defiers and defamers.

Fort Chipewyan was established, Mackenzie says, by Mr. Pond, in
1788, the year after his own arrival at the Athabasca, where, by
the way, in the fall of 1787, he describes Mr. Pond's garden at
his post on that river as being "as fine a kitchen garden as
he ever saw in Canada." Fort Chipewyan, however, though not
established by Mackenzie, was his headquarters for eight years.
From here he set out in June, 1789, on his canoe voyage to the
Arctic Ocean, and from here in October, 1792, he started on his
voyage up the Peace River on his way to the Pacific coast, which
he reached the following year.

In his history he states: "When the white traders first ventured
into this country both tribes were numerous, but smallpox destroyed
them." And, speaking of the region at large, he, perhaps, throws
an incidental side-light upon the Blackfoot question. "Who the
original people were," he says, "that were driven from it when
conquered by the Kinisteneaux (the Crees) is not now known, as
not a single vestige remains of them. The latter and the Chipewyans
are the only people that have been known here, and it is evident
that the last mentioned consider themselves as strangers, and seldom
remain longer than three or four years without visiting their
friends and relatives in the Barren Grounds, which they term their
native country."

[It is a reasonable conjecture that these "original people," driven
from Athabasca in remote days, were the Blackfeet Indians and their
kindred, who possibly had their base at that time, as in subsequent
days, at the forks and on both branches of the Saskatchewan. The
tradition was authentic in Dr. (afterwards Sir John) Richardson's
time. Writing on the Saskatchewan eighty-eight years ago he places
the Eascabs, "called by the Crees the Assinipoytuk, or Stone
Indians, west of the Crees, between them and the Blackfeet." The
Assiniboines are an offshoot of the great Sioux, or Dakota, race
called by their congeners the Hohas, or "Rebels." They separated
from their nation at a remote period owing to a quarrel, so the
tradition runs, between children, and which was taken up by their
parents. Migrating northward the Eascabs, as the Assiniboines called
themselves, were gladly received and welcomed as allies by the
Crees, with whom, as Dr. Richardson says, "they attacked and
drove to the westward the former inhabitants of the banks of the
Saskatchewan." "The nations," he continues, "driven westward by
the Easeabs and Crees are termed by the latter Yatchee-thinyoowuc,
translated Slave Indians, but properly 'Strangers.'" This word
Yatchee is, of course, the Iyaghchi of the Crees in their name for
Lesser Slave River and Lake. Richardson describes them as inhabiting
the country round Fort Augustus and the foot of the Rockies, and "so
numerous now as to be a terror to the Assiniboines themselves." They
are divided, he says, into five nations, of whom the Fall Indians,
so called from their former residence at Cole's Falls, near the
Forks of the Saskatchewan, were the most numerous, consisting of 500
tents, the Piegans of 400, the Blackfeet of 350, the Bloods of 300,
and the Sarcees of 150, the latter tribe being a branch of the
Chipewyans which, having migrated like their congeners, the Apaches,
from the north, joined the Crees as allies, just as the Assiniboines
did from the south.]

Besides Mackenzie's, another name, renowned in the tragic annals of
science, is inseparably connected with this region, viz., that of
Franklin, who has already been incidentally referred to. Others
recur to one, but these two great names are engrained, so to
speak, in the North, and cannot be lightly passed over in any
descriptive work. The two explorers were friends, or, at any rate,
acquaintances; and, before leaving England, Franklin had a long
conversation in London with Mackenzie, who died shortly afterwards.
The record of his "Journey to the Shores of the Polar Ocean,"
accompanied by Doctor Richardson and Midshipmen Back and Hood, in
the years 1819-20-21 and '22, practically began at York Factory in
August of the former year. The rival companies were still at war,
and in making the portage at the Grand Rapids of the Saskatchewan,
with a party of Hudson's Bay Company traders, "they advanced," he
says, "armed, and with great caution." When he returned on the 14th
July, 1822, to York, the warring companies had united, and he and
his friends were met there by Governor Simpson, Mr. McTavish, and
all the united partners, after a voyage by water and land of over
5,500 miles. Franklin spent part of the winter at Cumberland post,
which had been founded to counteract the rivalry of Montreal.
"Before that time," he says, "the natives took their furs to
Hudson's Bay, or sold to the French Canadian traders, who," he adds,
"visited this part of the country as early as 1697." If so, the
credit for the discovery of the Saskatchewan has been wrongly given
to the Chevalier, as he was called, a son of Varenne, Sieur de la

Franklin left Cumberland in January, 1820, by dog train for
Chipewyan, via Fort Carlton and Green Lake. Fort Carlton was the
great food supply post, then and long afterwards, of the Hudson's
Bay Company, buffalo and wapiti being very abundant. The North-West
Company's fort, called La Montee, was three miles beyond Carlton,
and harbored seventy French Canadians and sixty women and children,
who consumed seven hundred pounds of meat daily, the ration being
eight pounds. This post was at that time in charge of Mr. Hallett,
a forebear, if I mistake not, of my old friend, William Hallett,
leader of the English Plain Hunt, and a distinguished loyalist in
the rebellion of 1869.

Franklin and Back left Fort Carlton on the 8th February, and
reached Green Lake on the 17th. The North-West Company's post at
the lake was managed by Dugald Cameron, and that of the Hudson's
Bay Company by a Mr. MacFarlane, and, having been equipped at
both posts with carioles, sledges and provisions, they left
"under a fusillade from the half-breed women." From the end of
the lake they followed for a short distance a small river, then
"crossed the woods to Beaver River, and proceeding along it,
passed the mouths of two rivers, the latter of which, they were
told, was a channel by which the Indians go to Lesser Slave
Lake." On the 11th of March they reached Methy Lake--so called
from an unwholesome fish of the burbot species found there,
only the liver of which is fit to eat--crossed the Methy
portage on the 13th, and, amidst a chaos of vast ravines and
the wildest of scenery, descended the next day to the Clearwater
River. Thence they followed the Indian trail on the north bank,
passing a noted scene, "a romantic defile of limestone rocks
like Gothic ruins," and, crossing a small stream, found pure
sulphur deposited by springs and smelling very strongly. On
the 17th they got to the junction of the Clearwater with the
Athabasca, where Port McMurray now stands, and next day reached
the Pierre an Calumet post, in charge of a Mr. Stewart, who
had twice crossed the mountains to the Pacific coast. The
place got its name from a soft stone found there, of which
the Indians made their pipes.

Franklin notes the "sulphurous springs" and "bituminous salt" in
this region, also the statement of Mr. Stewart, who had a good
thermometer, "that the lowest temperature he had ever witnessed
in many years, either at the Athabasca or Great Slave Lake, was
45 degrees below zero," a statement worth recording here.

On the 26th of March the party arrived at Fort Chipewyan, the
distance travelled from Cumberland House being 857 miles. He
notes that at the time of his arrival the fort was very bare
of both buffalo and moose meat, owing, it was said, to the trade
rivalry, and that where some eight hundred packs of fur used to
be shipped from that point, only one-half of that number was now
sent. Liquor was largely used by both companies in trade, and
scenes of riot and violence ensued upon the arrival of the Indians
at the fort in spring, and whom he describes otherwise as "reserved
and selfish, unhospitable and beggars, but honest and affectionate
to children." They painted round the eyes, the cheek-bones and the
forehead, and all the race, except the Dog Ribs and the Beavers,
believed that their forefathers came from the East. The Northern
Indians, Franklin says, suppose that they originally sprang from
a dog, and about A.D. 1815 they destroyed all their dogs, and
compelled their women to take their place. Their chiefs seemed to
have no power save over their own families, and their conjurers
were supported by voluntary contributions of provisions. These
are some of the chief characteristics Franklin notes of the Indians
who frequented Fort Chipewyan, at which point he spent several
months. One extraordinary circumstance, however, remains to be
mentioned. It is that of a young Chipewyan who lost his wife in
her first pregnancy. He applied the child to his left breast,
from which a flow of milk took place. "The breast," he adds,
"became of an unusual size." Here he and Back, afterwards Admiral
Back, were joined by Dr. Richardson and Mr. Hood, who had come
from Cumberland House by the difficult Churchill River route,
and on July 18th, at noon, the whole party left the fort on
their tragic expedition, the party, aside from those named,
consisting of John Hepburn, seaman, an interpreter and fifteen
voyageurs, including, unfortunately, an Iroquois Indian, called
Michel Teroahante. At two p.m. they entered Great Slave River,
here three-quarters of a mile wide, and, passing Red Deer Islands
and Dog River, encountered the rapids, overcome by seven or eight
portages, from the Casette to the Portage of the Drowned, all
varying in length from seventy to eight hundred yards.

On the 21st they landed at the mouth of Salt River to lay in a
supply of salt for their journey, the deposits lying twenty-two
miles up by stream. These natural pans, or salt plains, he
describes--and the description answers for to-day--as "bounded on
the north and west by a ridge between six and seven hundred feet
high." Several salt springs issue at its foot, and spread over the
plain, which is of tenacious clay, and, evaporating in summer,
crystallize in the form of cubes. The poisson inconnu, a species
of salmon which ascends from the Arctic Ocean, is not found, he
says, above this stream. A few miles below it, however, a buffalo
plunged into the river before them, which they killed, and those
animals still frequent the region.

On the 25th of July they passed through the channel of the
Scaffold to Great Slave Lake, and, landing at Moose Deer Island,
found thereon the rival forts, of course, within striking distance
of each other, and in charge, as usual, of rival Scotsmen. At Great
Slave Lake I must part company with Franklin's Journal, since our
own negotiations only extended to its south shores. But who that
has read it can ever forget the awful return journey of the party
from the Arctic coast, through the Barren Lands, to their own winter
quarters, which they so aptly named Fort Resolution? In the tales
of human suffering from hunger there are few more terrible than
this. All the gruesome features of prolonged starvation were present;
the murder of Mr. Hood and two of the voyageurs by the Iroquois;
his bringing to the camp a portion of human flesh, which he declared
to be that of a wolf; his death at the Doctor's hands; the dog-like
diet of old skins, bones, leather pants, moccasins, _tripe de roche_;
the death of Peltier and Semandre from want, and the final relief
of the party by Akaitcho's Indians, and their admirable conduct.
And all those horrors experienced over five hundred miles beyond
Fort Chipewyan, itself thousands of miles beyond civilization!
Did the noble Franklin's last sufferings exceed even these? Perhaps;
but they are unrecorded.

To return to our muttons. Some marked changes had taken place, and
for the better, in Chipewyan characteristics since Franklin's day;
not surprising, indeed, after eighty years of contact with educated,
or reputable, white men; for miscreants, like the old American
frontiersmen, were not known in the country, and if they had been,
would soon have been run out. There was now no paint or "strouds"
to be seen, and the blanket was confined to the bed. In fact, the
Indians and half-breeds of Athabasca Lake did not seem to differ in
any way from those of the Middle and Upper Peace River, save that
the former were all hunters and fishermen, pure and simple, there
being little or no agriculture. It was impossible to study the
manners and customs of the aborigines, since we had no time to
observe them closely. They have their legends and traditions and
remnants of ceremonies, much of which is upon record, and they
cherish, especially, some very curious beliefs. One, in particular,
we were told, obtained amongst them, namely, that the mastodon
still exists in the fastnesses of the Upper Mackenzie. They describe
it as a monster many times larger than the buffalo, and they
dread going into the parts it is supposed to haunt. This singular
opinion may be the survival of a very old tradition regarding that
animal, but is more likely due to the presence of its remains in
the shape of tusks and bones found here and there throughout the
Mackenzie River district and the Yukon.

[A similar belief, it is said, exists amongst the Indians of the
Yukon. The remains of the primeval elephant are exceedingly abundant
in the tundras of Siberia, and a considerable trade in mammoth ivory
has been carried on between that region and England for many years.
It is supposed that the Asian elephant advanced far to the North
during the interglacial period and perished in the recurrent glacial
epoch. Its American congener, the mastodon, found its way from Asia
to this continent during the Drift period, when, it is believed,
land communication existed in what is now Bering's Strait, and
perished in a like manner. It was not a sudden but a gradual
extinction in their native habitats, due to natural causes, such
as encroaching ice and other material changes in the animals'
environment. This, I believe, is the accepted scientific opinion of
to-day. But the fact that these animals are at times exposed entire
by the falling away of ice-cliffs or ledges, their flesh being quite
fresh and fit food for dogs, and even men, opens up a very
interesting field of inquiry and conjecture. In the bowels of a
mammoth recently revealed in North-Eastern Siberia vegetable food
was found, probably tropical, at all events unknown to the botany of
to-day. The foregoing facts seem to be at variance with the doctrine
of Uniformity, or with anything like a slow process. The entombment
of these animals must have been very sudden, and due, one would
naturally think, to a tremendous cataclysm followed by immediate
freezing, else their flesh would have become tainted. A recent
English writer predicts another deluge owing to the constant
accumulation of ice at the Antarctic Pole, which for untold ages has
been attracting and freezing the waters of the Northern Hemisphere.
A lowering process, he says, has thus been going on in the ocean
levels to the north through immeasurable time, its record being the
ancient water-marks now high up on the mountain sides of British
Columbia and elsewhere. It is certainly not unthinkable that, if
subject to such a displacement of its centre of gravity, our planet
at some inconceivably remote period capsized, so that what were
before the Tropics became the Poles, and that such a catastrophe is
not only possible but is certain to happen again. As a conjecture it
may be unscientific; but how many of the accepted theories of science
have ceased to be! As a matter of fact, she has been very busy
burying her dead, particularly of late years, and her theory of the
extinction of the primeval elephant may yet prove to be one of them.]

On the 9th the steamer _Grahame_ arrived from Smith's Landing,
bringing with her about 120 baffled Klondikers, returning to
the United States, there being still some sixty more, they
said, down the Mackenzie River, who intended to make their
way out, if possible, before winter. They had a solitary woman
with them who had discarded a duffer husband, and who looked
very self-reliant, indeed, being girt about with bowie-knife
and revolver, but otherwise not alarming.

It was certainly a motley crowd, and some of its members by no
means honest. Chief-factor Camsell, who had just come from Fort
Simpson, told me they had stolen from every house where they had
a chance, and mentioned, amongst other things, a particularly
ungrateful theft of a whip-saw from a native's cabin shortly
after an Indian had, with much pains, overtaken them with a similar
one, which they had lost on the trail. Their departure, therefore,
was not lamented, and the natives were glad to get rid of them.

We ourselves boarded the steamer for Fort McMurray on the 11th, but,
owing to bad weather, did not get off till midday, and even then the
lake was so rough that we had to anchor for a while in the lee of an
island. Colin Fraser had started ahead of us with his big scow and
cargo of furs, valued at $15,000, and kept ahead with his fine crew
of ten expert trackers. When the weather calmed we steamed across to
the entrance of one of the various channels connecting the Athabasca
River with the lake, and soon found ourselves skirting the most
extensive marshes and feeding-grounds for game in all Canada; a
delta renowned throughout the North for its abundance of waterfowl,
far surpassing the St. Clair flats, or any other region in the East.

Next morning, upon rounding a point, three full-grown moose were
seen ahead, swimming across the river. An exciting, and even hazardous,
scene ensued on board, the whole Klondike crowd firing, almost at
random, hundreds of shots without effect. Two of the noble brutes
kept on, and reached the shore, disappearing in the woods; but the
third, a three year-old bull moose, foolishly turned, and lost its
life in consequence. It was hauled on deck, bled and flayed, and
was a welcome addition to the steamer's table.

That night a concert was improvised on deck, in which the music-hall
element came to the front. But one speedily tired of the "Banks of
the Wabash," and other ditties; in fact, we were burning to get to
Fort McMurray, where we expected letters and papers from the outer
world and home, and nothing else could satisfy us. By evening we
had passed Burnt Point, also Poplar Point, where the body of an
unfortunate, called Patterson, who had been drowned in one of the
rapids above, was recovered in spring by some Indians, the body
being completely enclosed in a transparent coffin of ice. On the
following day we passed Little Red River, and next morning reached
the fort, where, to our infinite joy, we received the longed-for
letters and papers--our first correspondence from the far East.

Fort McMurray consisted of a tumble-down cabin and trading-store
on the top of a high and steep bank, which had yet been flooded
at times, the people seeking shelter on an immense hill which
overlooked it. Above an island close by is the discharge of the
Clearwater River, the old canoe route by which the supplies for the
district used to come, via Isle a la Crosse. At McMurray we left
the steamer and took to our own boats, our Commission occupying one,
and Mr. Laird and party the other. The trackers got into harness at
once, and made very good time for some miles, the current not being
too swift just here for fast traveling.

Chapter IX

The Athabasca River Region.

We were now traversing perhaps the most interesting region in all
the North. In the neighbourhood of McMurray there are several
tar-wells, so called, and there, if a hole is scraped in the bank,
it slowly fills in with tar mingled with sand. This is separated
by boiling, and is used, in its native state, for gumming canoes
and boats. Farther up are immense towering banks, the tar oozing
at every pore, and underlaid by great overlapping dykes of
disintegrated limestone, alternating with lofty clay exposures,
crowned with poplar, spruce and pine. On the 15th we were still
following the right bank, and, anon, past giant clay escarpments
along it, everywhere streaked with oozing tar, and smelling
like an old ship.

These tar cliffs are here hundreds of feet high, of a bold and
impressive grandeur, and crowned with firs which seem dwarfed
to the passer-by. The impregnated clay appears to be constantly
falling off the almost sheer face of the slate-brown cliffs, in
great sheets, which plunge into the river's edge in broken masses.
The opposite river bank is much more depressed, and is clothed
with dense forest.

The tar, whatever it may be otherwise, is a fuel, and burned in our
camp-fires like coal. That this region is stored with a substance
of great economic value is beyond all doubt, and, when the hour of
development comes, it will, I believe, prove to be one of the
wonders of Northern Canada. We were all deeply impressed by this
scene of Nature's chemistry, and realized what a vast storehouse of
not only hidden but exposed resources we possess in this enormous
country. What is unseen can only be conjectured; but what is seen
would make any region famous. We now came once more to outcrops of
limestone in regular layers, with disintegrated masses overlying
them, or sandwiched between their solid courses. A lovely niche, at
one point, was scooped out of the rock, over the coping of which
poured a thin sheet of water, evidently impregnated with mineral,
and staining the rock down which it poured with variegated tints of
bronze, beautified by the morning sun.

With characteristic grandeur the bends of the river "shouldered"
into each other, giving the expanses the appearance of lakelets;
and after a succession of these we came to the first rapid,
"The Mountain"--Watchikwe Powistic--so called from a peak at its
head, which towered to a great height above the neighbouring banks.
The rapid extends diagonally across the river in a low cascade,
with a curve inward towards the left shore. It was decided to
unload and make the portage, and a very ticklish one it was. The
boats, of course, had to be hauled up stream by the trackers,
and grasping their line I got safely over, and was thankful. How
the trackers managed to hold on was to me a mystery; but the steep
and slippery bank was mere child's play to them. The right bank,
from its break and downward, bears a very thick growth of alders,
and here we found the wild onion, and a plant resembling spearmint.

In the evening we reached the next rapid, called the Cascades--Nepe
Kabatekik--"Where the water falls," and camping there, we had a
symposium in our tent, which I could not enjoy, having headache and
heartburn, a nasty combination. The 16th was the hottest day of the
season--a hard one on the trackers, who now pulled along walls of
solid limestone, perpendicular or stepped, or wrought into elaborate
cornices, as if by the art of some giant stonecutter. At one place
we came to a lovely little _rideau_, and on the opposite shore were
two curious caves, scooped out of the rock, and supported by
Egyptian-like columns wrought by the age-action of water.

Towards evening we reached the Crooked Rapid--Kahwakak o
Powestik--and here the portage path followed on the summit of the
limestone rampart, which the viscous gumbo-slides made almost
impassable in rainy weather, and indeed very dangerous, forming, at
the time we passed, pits of mud and broken masses of half-hard clay,
along the very verge of the wall of rock, likely at any moment to
give way and precipitate one into the raging torrent below. At other
parts the path was jammed out to the wall-edge, to be stepped round
with a gulp in the throat. But these and other features of a like
interesting character, though a lively experience to the tenderfoot,
were of no account whatever to those wonderful trackers. At one of
the worst spots I was hesitating as to how and where I should step
next, when a carrier, returning for his load, seeing my fix, humped
his back with a laugh and gave me a lift over.

We camped for the night below a point where the river makes a sharp
bend, parallel with its course. This we surmounted in the morning,
following a rounded wall of limestone, for all the world like a
decayed rampart of some ancient city. A wide floor of rock at its
base made beautiful walking to a place where the lofty escarpment
showed exposures of limestone underlying an enormous mass of dark
sandstone, topped by tar-clay. It is a portentous cliff, bearing
a curiously Eastern look, as if some great pyramid had been riven
vertically, and the exposed surface scarred and scooped by the
weather into a multitude of antic hollows, grotesque projections,

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest