The Arctic Prairies
OF 2,000 MILES IN SEARCH OF THE CARIBOU
BEING THE ACCOUNT OF A VOYAGE TO THE REGION NORTH OF AYLMER LAKE
By Ernest Thompson Seton
Author of "Wild Animals I Have Known", "Life Histories", Etc.
THE RIGHT HONOURABLE
SIR WILFRID LAURIER, G. C. M. G.
PREMIER OF CANADA
What young man of our race would not gladly give a year of his life
to roll backward the scroll of time for five decades and live that
year in the romantic bygone-days of the Wild West; to see the great
Missouri while the Buffalo pastured on its banks, while big game
teemed in sight and the red man roamed and hunted, unchecked by
fence or hint of white man's rule; or, when that rule was represented
only by scattered trading-posts, hundreds of miles apart, and
at best the traders could exchange the news by horse or canoe and
months of lonely travel?
I for one, would have rejoiced in tenfold payment for the privilege
of this backward look in our age, and had reached the middle life
before I realised that, at a much less heavy cost, the miracle was
For the uncivilised Indian still roams the far reaches of absolutely
unchanged, unbroken forest and prairie leagues, and has knowledge
of white men only in bartering furs at the scattered trading-posts,
where locomotive and telegraph are unknown; still the wild Buffalo
elude the hunters, fight the Wolves, wallow, wander, and breed;
and still there is hoofed game by the million to be found where the
Saxon is as seldom seen as on the Missouri in the times of Lewis
and Clarke. Only we must seek it all, not in the West, but in the
far North-west; and for "Missouri and Mississippi" read "Peace and
Mackenzie Rivers," those noble streams that northward roll their
mile-wide turbid floods a thousand leagues to the silent Arctic
This was the thought which spurred me to a six months' journey
by canoe. And I found what I went in search of, but found, also,
abundant and better rewards that were not in mind, even as Saul,
the son of Kish, went seeking asses and found for himself a crown
and a great kingdom.
Four years have gone by since I lived through these experiences.
Such a lapse of time may have made my news grow stale, but it has
also given the opportunity for the working up of specimens and
scientific records. The results, for the most part, will be found
in the Appendices, and three of these, as indicated—namely, the
sections on Plants, Mammals, and Birds—are the joint work of my
assistant, Mr. Edward A. Preble, and myself.
My thanks are due here to the Right Honourable Lord Strathcona, G.
C. M. G., Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, for giving me access
to the records of the Company whenever I needed them for historical
purposes; to the Honourable Frank Oliver, Minister of the Interior,
Canada, for the necessary papers and permits to facilitate scientific
collection, and also to Clarence C. Chipman, Esq., of Winnipeg,
the Hudson's Bay Company's Commissioner, for practical help in
preparing my outfit, and for letters of introduction to the many
officers of the Company, whose kind help was so often a Godsend.
ERNEST THOMPSON SETON.
DEPARTURE FOR THE NORTH
In 1907 I set out to journey by canoe down the Athabaska and adjoining
waters to the sole remaining forest wilds—the far north-west of
Canada—and the yet more desert Arctic Plains, where still, it was
said, were to be seen the Caribou in their primitive condition.
My only companion was Edward A. Preble, of Washington, D. C., a
trained naturalist,—an expert canoeist and traveller, and a man
of three seasons' experience in the Hudson's Bay Territory and the
Mackenzie Valley. While my chief object was to see the Caribou,
and prove their continued abundance, I was prepared incidentally
to gather natural-history material of all kinds, and to complete
the shore line of the ambiguous lake called "Aylmer," as well as
explore its sister, the better-known Clinton-Colden.
I went for my own pleasure at my own expense, and yet I could not
persuade my Hudson's Bay Company friends that I was not sent by
some government, museum or society for some secret purpose.
On the night of May 5 we left Winnipeg, and our observations began
with the day at Brandon.
From that point westward to Regina we saw abundant evidence that
last year had been a "rabbit year," that is, a year in which the
ever-fluctuating population of Northern Hares (Snowshoe-rabbits
or White-rabbits) had reached its maximum, for nine-tenths of the
bushes in sight from the train had been barked at the snow level.
But the fact that we saw not one Rabbit shows that "the plague" had
appeared, had run its usual drastic course, and nearly exterminated
the species in this particular region.
Early next morning at Kininvie (40 miles west of Medicine Hat,
Alberta) we saw a band of 4 Antelope south of the track; later
we saw others all along as far as Gleichen. All were south of the
track. The bands contained as follows: 4, 14, 18, 8, 12, 8, 4, 1,
4, 5, 4, 6, 4, 18, 2, 6, 34, 6, 3, 1, 10, 25, 16, 3, 7, 9 (almost
never 2, probably because this species does not pair), or 232
Antelope in 26 bands along 70 miles of track; but all were on the
south side; not one was noted on the north.
The case is simple. During the past winter, while the Antelope were
gone southward, the Canadian Pacific Railway Company had fenced its
track. In spring the migrants, returning, found themselves cut off
from their summer feeding-grounds by those impassable barb-wires, and
so were gathered against the barrier. One band of 8, at a stopping
place, ran off when they saw passengers alighting, but at half a
mile they turned, and again came up against the fence, showing how
strong is the northward impulse.
Unless they learn some way of mastering the difficulty, it means
extermination for the Antelope of the north Saskatchewan.
From Calgary we went by train to Edmonton. This is the point
of leaving the railway, the beginning of hard travel, and here we
waited a few days to gather together our various shipments of food
and equipment, and to await notice that the river was open.
In the north the grand event of the year is the opening of the
rivers. The day when the ice goes out is the official first day
of spring, the beginning of the season; and is eagerly looked for,
as every day's delay means serious loss to the traders, whose men
are idle, but drawing pay as though at work.
On May 11, having learned that the Athabaska was open, we left
Edmonton in a livery rig, and drove 94 miles northward though a most
promising, half-settled country, and late the next day arrived at
Athabaska Landing, on the great east tributary of the Mackenzie,
whose waters were to bear us onward for so many weeks.
Athabaska Landing is a typical frontier town. These are hard words,
but justified. We put up at the principal hotel; the other lodgers
told me it was considered the worst hotel in the world. I thought
I knew of two worse, but next morning accepted the prevailing view.
Our canoe and provisions arrived, but the great convoy of scows
that were to take the annual supplies of trade stuff for the far
north was not ready, and we needed the help and guidance of its
men, so must needs wait for four days.
This gave us the opportunity to study the local natural history
and do a little collecting, the results of which appear later.
The great size of the timber here impressed me. I measured a typical
black poplar (P. balsamifera), 100 feet to the top, 8 feet 2 inches
in circumference, at 18 inches from the ground, and I saw many
thicker, but none taller.
At the hotel, also awaiting the scows, was a body of four
(dis-)Mounted Police, bound like ourselves for the far north. The
officer in charge turned out to be an old friend from Toronto, Major
A. M. Jarvis. I also met John Schott, the gigantic half-breed, who
went to the Barren Grounds with Caspar Whitney in 1895. He seemed
to have great respect for Whitney as a tramper, and talked much of
the trip, evidently having forgotten his own shortcomings of the
time. While I sketched his portrait, he regaled me with memories
of his early days on Red River, where he was born in 1841. 1 did
not fail to make what notes I could of those now historic times.
His accounts of the Antelope on White Horse Plain, in 1855, and
Buffalo about the site of Carberry, Manitoba, in 1852, were new
and valuable light on the ancient ranges of these passing creatures.
All travellers who had preceded me into the Barren Grounds had
relied on the abundant game, and in consequence suffered dreadful
hardships; in some cases even starved to death. I proposed to rely
on no game, but to take plenty of groceries, the best I could buy
in Winnipeg, which means the best in the world; and, as will be
seen later, the game, because I was not relying on it, walked into
camp every day.
But one canoe could not carry all these provisions, so most of it
I shipped on the Hudson's Bay Company scows, taking with us, in
the canoe, food for not more than a week, which with camp outfit
was just enough for ballast.
Of course I was in close touch with the Hudson's Bay people. Although
nominally that great trading company parted with its autocratic
power and exclusive franchise in 1870, it is still the sovereign
of the north. And here let me correct an error that is sometimes
found even in respectable print—the Company has at all times been
ready to assist scientists to the utmost of its very ample power.
Although jealous of its trading rights, every one is free to enter
the territory without taking count of the Company, but there has
not yet been a successful scientific expedition into the region
without its active co-operation.
The Hudson's Bay Company has always been the guardian angel of the
I suppose that there never yet was another purely commercial concern
that so fully realized the moral obligations of its great power,
or that has so uniformly done its best for the people it ruled.
At all times it has stood for peace, and one hears over and over
again that such and such tribes were deadly enemies, but the Company
insisted on their smoking the peace pipe. The Sioux and Ojibway,
Black-Foot and Assiniboine., Dog-Rib and Copper-Knife, Beaver and
Chipewyan, all offer historic illustrations in point, and many
others could be found for the list.
The name Peace River itself is the monument of a successful effort
on the part of the Company to bring about a better understanding
between the Crees and the Beavers.
Besides human foes, the Company has saved the Indian from famine and
plague. Many a hunger-stricken tribe owes its continued existence
to the fatherly care of the Company, not simply general and
indiscriminate, but minute and personal, carried into the details
of their lives. For instance, when bots so pestered the Caribou of
one region as to render their hides useless to the natives, the
Company brought in hides from a district where they still were
The Chipewyans were each spring the victims of snow-blindness until
the Company brought and succeeded in popularizing their present
ugly but effectual and universal peaked hats. When their train-dogs
were running down in physique, the Company brought in a strain of
pure Huskies or Eskimo. When the Albany River Indians were starving
and unable to hunt, the Company gave the order for 5,000 lodge poles.
Then, not knowing how else to turn them to account, commissioned
the Indians to work them into a picket garden-fence. At all times
the native found a father in the Company, and it was the worst thing
that ever happened the region when the irresponsible free-traders
with their demoralizing methods were allowed to enter and traffic
where or how they pleased.
DOWN THE NOISY RIVER WITH THE VOYAGEURS
At Athabaska Landing, on May 18, 1907, 10.15 A. M., we boarded the
superb Peterborough canoe that I had christened the Ann Seton. The
Athabaska River was a-flood and clear of ice; 13 scows of freight,
with 60 half-breeds and Indians to man them, left at the same time,
and in spite of a strong headwind we drifted northward fully 31
miles an hour.
The leading scow, where I spent some time, was in charge of John
MacDonald himself, and his passengers comprised the Hudson's Bay
Company officials, going to their posts or on tours of inspection.
They were a jolly crowd, like a lot of rollicking schoolboys,
full of fun and good-humour, chaffing and joking all day; but when
a question of business came up, the serious businessman appeared
in each, and the Company's interest was cared for with their best
powers. The bottle was not entirely absent in these scow fraternities,
but I saw no one the worse for liquor on the trip.
The men of mixed blood jabbered in French, Cree, and Chipewyan
chiefly, but when they wanted to swear, they felt the inadequacy
of these mellifluous or lisping tongues, and fell back on virile
Saxon, whose tang, projectivity, and wealth of vile epithet
evidently supplied a long-felt want in the Great Lone Land of the
Dog and Canoe.
In the afternoon Preble and I pushed on in our boat, far in advance
of the brigade. As we made early supper I received for the twentieth
time a lesson in photography. A cock Partridge or Ruffed Grouse
came and drummed on a log in open view, full sunlight, fifty feet
away. I went quietly to the place. He walked off, but little alarmed.
I set the camera eight feet from the log, with twenty-five feet of
tubing, and retired to a good hiding-place. But alas! I put the
tube on the left-hand pump, not knowing that that was a dummy.
The Grouse came back in three minutes, drumming in a superb pose
squarely in front of the camera. I used the pump, but saw that it
failed to operate; on going forward the Grouse skimmed away and
returned no more. Preble said, "Never mind; there will be another
every hundred yards all the way down the river, later on." I could
only reply, "The chance never comes but once," and so it proved.
We heard Grouse drumming many times afterward, but the sun was low,
or the places densely shaded, or the mosquitoes made conditions
impossible for silent watching; the perfect chance came but once,
as it always does, and I lost it.
About twenty miles below the Landing we found the abandoned winter
hut of a trapper; on the roof were the dried up bodies of 1 Skunk,
2 Foxes, and 30 Lynxes, besides the bones of 2 Moose, showing the
nature of the wild life about.
That night, as the river was brimming and safe, we tied up to the
scows and drifted, making 30 more miles, or 60 since embarking.
In the early morning, I was much struck by the lifelessness of the
scene. The great river stretched away northward, the hills rose
abruptly from the water's edge, everywhere extended the superb
spruce forest, here fortunately unburnt; but there seemed no sign of
living creature outside of our own numerous, noisy, and picturesque
party. River, hills, and woods were calm and silent. It was
impressive, if disappointing; and, when at last the fir stillness
was broken by a succession of trumpet notes from the Great Pileated
Woodpecker, the sound went rolling on and on, in reverberating
echoes that might well have alarmed the bird himself.
The white spruce forest along the banks is most inspiring, magnificent
here. Down the terraced slopes and right to the water's edge on the
alluvial soil it stands in ranks. Each year, of course, the floods
undercut the banks, and more trees fall, to become at last the
flotsam of the shore a thousand miles away.
There is something sad about these stately trees, densely packed,
all a-row, unflinching, hopelessly awaiting the onset of the
inexorable, invincible river. One group, somewhat isolated and
formal, was a forest life parallel to Lady Butler's famous "Roll
Call of the Grenadiers."
At night we reached the Indian village of Pelican Portage, and
landed by climbing over huge blocks of ice that were piled along
the shore. The adult male inhabitants came down to our camp, so
that the village was deserted, except for the children and a few
As I walked down the crooked trail along which straggle the cabins,
I saw something white in a tree at the far end. Supposing it to be
a White-rabbit in a snare, I went near and found, to my surprise,
first that it was a dead house-cat, a rare species here; second,
under it, eyeing it and me alternately, was a hungry-looking Lynx.
I had a camera, for it was near sundown, and in the woods, so I
went back to the boat and returned with a gun. There was the Lynx
still prowling, but now farther from the village. I do not believe
he would have harmed the children, but a Lynx is game. I fired,
and he fell without a quiver or a sound. This was the first time
I had used a gun in many years, and was the only time on the trip.
I felt rather guilty, but the carcass was a godsend to two old
Indians who were sickening on a long diet of salt pork, and that
Lynx furnished them tender meat for three days afterward; while
its skin and skull went to the American Museum.
On the night of May 20, we camped just above Grand Rapids—Preble
and I alone, for the first time, under canvas, and glad indeed
to get away from the noisy rabble of the boatmen, though now they
were but a quarter mile off. At first I had found them amusing
and picturesque, but their many unpleasant habits, their distinct
aversion to strangers, their greediness to get all they could out
of one, and do nothing in return, combined finally with their habit
of gambling all night to the loud beating of a tin pan, made me
thankful to quit their company for a time.
At Grand Rapids the scows were unloaded, the goods shipped over
a quarter-mile hand tramway, on an island, the scows taken down a
side channel, one by one, and reloaded. This meant a delay of three
or four days, during which we camped on the island and gathered
Being the organizer, equipper, geographer, artist, head, and tail of
the expedition, I was, perforce, also its doctor. Equipped with a
"pill-kit," an abundance of blisters and bandages and some "potent
purgatives," I had prepared myself to render first and last aid to
the hurt in my own party. In taking instructions from our family
physician, I had learned the value of a profound air of great
gravity, a noble reticence, and a total absence of doubt, when I
did speak. I compressed his creed into a single phrase: "In case of
doubt, look wise and work on his 'bowels.'" This simple equipment
soon gave me a surprisingly high standing among the men. I was
a medicine man of repute, and soon had a larger practice than I
desired, as it was entirely gratuitous.
The various boatmen, Indians and half-breeds, came with their
troubles, and, thanks chiefly to their faith, were cured. But one
day John MacDonald, the chief pilot and a mighty man on the river,
came to my tent on Grand Island. John complained that he couldn't
hold anything on his stomach; he was a total peristaltic wreck indeed
(my words; his were more simple and more vivid, but less sonorous
and professional). He said he had been going down hill for two
weeks, and was so bad now that he was "no better than a couple of
"Exactly so," I said. "Now you take these pills and you'll be all
right in the morning." Next morning John was back, and complained
that my pills had no effect; he wanted to feel something take hold
of him. Hadn't 1 any pepper-juice or brandy?
I do not take liquor on an expedition, but at the last moment
a Winnipeg friend had given me a pint flask of pure brandy—"for
emergencies." An emergency had come.
"John! you shall have some extra fine brandy, nicely thinned with
pepper-juice." I poured half an inch of brandy into a tin cup, then
added half an inch of "pain-killer."
"Here, take this, and if you don't feel it, it means your insides
are dead, and you may as well order your coffin."
John took it at a gulp. His insides were not dead; but I might have
been, had I been one of his boatmen.
He doubled up, rolled around, and danced for five minutes. He did
not squeal—John never squeals—but he suffered some, and an hour
later announced that he was about cured.
Next day he came to say he was all right, and would soon again be
as good as half a dozen men.
At this same camp in Grand Rapids another cure on a much larger
scale was added to my list. An Indian had "the bones of his foot
broken," crushed by a heavy weight, and was badly crippled. He
came leaning on a friend's shoulder. His foot was blackened and much
swollen, but I soon satisfied myself that no bones were broken,
because he could wriggle all the toes and move the foot in any
"You'll be better in three days and all right in a week," I said,
with calm assurance. Then I began with massage. It seemed necessary
in the Indian environment to hum some tune, and I found that the
"Koochy-Koochy" lent itself best to the motion, so it became my
With many "Koochy-Koochy"-ings and much ice-cold water he was
nearly cured in three days, and sound again in a week. But in the
north folk have a habit (not known elsewhere) of improving the
incident. Very soon it was known all along the river that the Indian's
leg was broken, and I had set and healed it in three days. In a
year or two, I doubt not, it will be his neck that was broken, not
once, but in several places.
Grand Island yielded a great many Deermice of the arctic form, a
few Red-backed Voles, and any number of small birds migrant.
As we floated down the river the eye was continually held by tall
and prominent spruce trees that had been cut into peculiar forms
as below. These were known as "lob-sticks," or "lop-sticks," and
are usually the monuments of some distinguished visitor in the
country or records of some heroic achievement. Thus, one would be
pointed out as Commissioner Wrigley's lob-stick, another as John
MacDonald's the time he saved the scow.
The inauguration of a lob-stick is quite a ceremony. Some person
in camp has impressed all with his importance or other claim to
notice. The men, having talked it over, announce that they have
decided on giving him a lob-stick. "Will he make choice of some
prominent tree in view?" The visitor usually selects one back from
the water's edge, often on some far hilltop, the more prominent the
better; then an active young fellow is sent up with an axe to trim
the tree. The more embellishment the higher the honor. On the trunk
they then inscribe the name of the stranger, and he is supposed
to give each of the men a plug of tobacco and a drink of whiskey.
Thus they celebrate the man and his monument, and ever afterwards
it is pointed out as "So-and-so's lob-stick."
It was two months before my men judged that I was entitled to a
lob-stick. We were then on Great Slave Lake where the timber was
small, but the best they could get on a small island was chosen
and trimmed into a monument. They were disappointed however, to
find that I would by no means give whiskey to natives, and my treat
had to take a wholly different form.
Grand Rapids, with its multiplicity of perfectly round pot-hole
boulders, was passed in four days, and then, again in company with
the boats, we entered the real canyon of the river.
Down Athabaska's boiling flood
Of seething, leaping, coiling mud.
HUMAN NATURE ON THE RIVER
Sunday morning, 26th of May, there was something like a strike
among the sixty half-breeds and Indians that composed the crews.
They were strict Sabbatarians (when it suited them); they believed
that they should do no work, but give up the day to gambling and
drinking. Old John, the chief pilot, wished to take advantage of the
fine flood on the changing river, and drift down at least to the
head of the Boiler Rapids, twenty miles away, The breeds maintained,
with many white swear words, for lack of strong talk in Indian, that
they never yet knew Sunday work to end in anything but disaster,
and they sullenly scattered among the trees, produced their cards,
and proceeded to gamble away their property, next year's pay,
clothes, families, anything, and otherwise show their respect for
the Lord's Day and defiance of old John MacDonald. John made no
reply to their arguments; he merely boarded the cook's boat, and
pushed off into the swift stream with the cooks and all the grub.
In five minutes the strikers were on the twelve big boats doing
their best to live up to orders. John said nothing, and grinned at
me only with his eyes.
The breeds took their defeat in good part after the first minute,
and their commander rose higher in their respect.
At noon we camped above the Boiler Rapids. In the evening I climbed
the 400- or 500-foot hill behind camp and sketched the canyon
looking northward. The spring birds were now beginning to arrive,
but were said to be a month late this year. The ground was everywhere
marked with moose sign; prospects, were brightening.
The mania for killing that is seen in many white men is evidently
a relic of savagery, for all of these Indians and half-breeds
are full of it. Each carries a rifle, and every living thing that
appears on the banks or on the water is fusilladed with Winchesters
until it is dead or out of sight. This explains why we see so
little from the scows. One should be at least a day ahead of them
to meet with wild life on the river.
This morning two Bears appeared on the high bank—and there was the
usual uproar and fusillading; so far as could be learned without
any effect, except the expenditure of thirty or forty cartridges
at five cents each.
On the 27th we came to the Cascade Rapids. The first or Little
Cascade has about two feet fall, the second or Grand Cascade, a
mile farther, is about a six foot sheer drop. These are considered
very difficult to run, and the manner of doing it changes with
every change in season or water level.
We therefore went through an important ceremony, always carried
out in the same way. All 13 boats were beached, the 13 pilots went
ahead on the bank to study the problem, they decided on the one
safe place and manner, then returned, and each of the 13 boats was
run over in 13 different places and manners. They always do this.
You are supposed to have run the Cascades successfully if you cross
them alive, but to have failed if you drown.. In this case all were
Below the Cascades I had a sample of Indian gratitude that set me
thinking. My success with John MacDonald and others had added the
whole community to my medical practice, for those who were not
sick thought they were. I cheerfully did my best for all, and was
supposed to be persona grata. Just below the Cascade Rapids was
a famous sucker pool, and after we had camped three Indians came,
saying that the pool was full of suckers—would I lend them my
canoe to get some?
Away they went, and from afar I was horrified to see them clubbing
the fish with my beautiful thin-bladed maple paddles. They returned
with a boat load of 3- and 4-pound Suckers (Catostomus) and 2
paddles broken. Each of their friends came and received one or two
fine fish, for there were plenty. I, presumably part owner of the
catch, since I owned the boat, selected one small one for myself,
whereupon the Indian insolently demanded 25 cents for it; and
these were the men I had been freely doctoring for two weeks! Not
to speak of the loaned canoe and broken paddles! Then did I say a
few things to all and sundry—stinging, biting things, ungainsayable
and forcible things—and took possession of all the fish that were
left, so the Indians slunk off in sullen silence.
Gratitude seems an unknown feeling among these folk; you may give
presents and help and feed them all you like, the moment you want
a slight favour of them they demand the uttermost cent. In attempting
to analyse this I was confronted by the fact that among themselves
they are kind and hospitable, and at length discovered that their
attitude toward us is founded on the ideas that all white men are
very rich, that the Indian has made them so by allowing them to
come into this country, that the Indian is very poor because he
never was properly compensated, and that therefore all he can get
out of said white man is much less than the white man owes him.
As we rounded a point one day a Lynx appeared statuesque on a stranded
cake of ice, a hundred yards off, and gazed at the approaching
boats. True to their religion, the half-breeds seized their rifles,
the bullets whistled harmlessly about the "Peeshoo"—whereupon he
turned and walked calmly up the slope, stopping to look at each
fresh volley, but finally waved his stumpy tail and walked unharmed
over the ridge. Distance fifty yards.
On May 28 we reached Fort MacMurray.
Here I saw several interesting persons: Miss Christine Gordon, the
postmaster; Joe Bird, a half-breed with all the advanced ideas of
a progressive white man; and an American ex-patriot, G———, a
tall, raw-boned Yank from Illinois. He was a typical American of
the kind, that knows little of America and nothing of Europe; but
shrewd and successful in spite of these limitations. In appearance
he was not unlike Abraham Lincoln. He was a rabid American, and
why he stayed here was a question.
He had had no detailed tidings from home for years, and I never saw
a man more keen for the news. On the banks of the river we sat for
an hour while he plied me with questions, which I answered so far
as I could. He hung on my lips; he interrupted only when there seemed
a halt in the stream; he revelled in, all the details of wrecks
by rail and sea. Roosevelt and the trusts—insurance scandals—the
South the burnings in the West—massacres—murders—horrors—risings—these
were his special gloats, and yet he kept me going with "Yes—yes—and
then?" or "Yes, by golly—that's the way we're a-doing it. Go on."
Then, after I had robbed New York of $100,000,000 a year, burnt 10
large towns and 45 small ones, wrecked 200 express trains, lynched
96 negroes in the South and murdered many men every night for 7
years in Chicago—he broke out:
"By golly, we are a-doing it. We are the people. We are a-moving
things now; and I tell you I give the worst of them there European
countries, the very worst of 'em, just 100 years to become
Think of that, ye polished Frenchmen; ye refined, courteous Swedes;
ye civilised Danes; you have 100 years to become truly Americanised!
All down the river route we came on relics of another class of
wanderers—the Klondikers of 1898. Sometimes these were empty winter
cabins; sometimes curious tools left at Hudson's Bay Posts, and in
some cases expensive provisions; in all cases we heard weird tales
of their madness.
There is, I am told, a shanty on the Mackenzie above Simpson, where
four of them made a strange record. Cooped up for months in tight
winter quarters, they soon quarrelled, and at length their partnership
was dissolved. Each took the articles he had contributed, and those
of common purchase they divided in four equal parts. The stove, the
canoe, the lamp, the spade, were broken relentlessly and savagely
into four parts—four piles of useless rubbish. The shanty was
divided in four. One man had some candles of his own bringing.
These he kept and carefully screened off his corner of the room so
no chance rays might reach the others to comfort them; they spent
the winter in darkness. None spoke to the other, and they parted,
singly and silently, hatefully as ever, as soon as the springtime
opened the way.
DOWN THE SILENT RIVER WITH THE MOUNTED POLICE
At Fort MacMurray we learned that there was no telling when the
steamer might arrive; Major Jarvis was under orders to proceed
without delay to Smith Landing; so to solve all our difficulties
I bought a 30-foot boat (sturgeon-head) of Joe Bird, and arranged
to join forces with the police for the next part of the journey.
I had made several unsuccessful attempts to get an experienced native
boatman to go northward with me. All seemed to fear the intending
plunge into the unknown; so was agreeably surprised when a sturdy
young fellow of Scottish and Cree parentage came and volunteered
for the trip. A few inquiries proved him to bear a good reputation
as a river-man and worker, so William C. Loutit was added to my
expedition and served me faithfully throughout.
In time I learned that Billy was a famous traveller. Some years
ago, when the flood had severed all communication between Athabaska
Landing and Edmonton, Billy volunteered to carry some important
despatches, and covered the 96 miles on foot in one and a half days,
although much of the road was under water. On another occasion he
went alone and afoot from House River up the Athabaska to Calling
River, and across the Point to the Athabaska again, then up to the
Landing-150 rough miles in four days. These exploits I had to find
out for myself later on, but much more important to me at the time
was the fact that he was a first-class cook, a steady, cheerful
worker, and a capable guide as far as Great Slave Lake.
The Athabaska below Fort MacMurray is a noble stream, one-third
of a mile wide, deep, steady, unmarred; the banks are covered with
unbroken virginal forests of tall white poplar, balsam poplar,
spruce, and birch. The fire has done no damage here as yet, the
axe has left no trace, there are no houses, no sign of man except
occasional teepee poles. I could fancy myself floating down the
Ohio two hundred years ago.
These were bright days to be remembered, as we drifted down
its placid tide in our ample and comfortable boat, with abundance
of good things. Calm, lovely, spring weather; ducks all along the
river; plenty of food, which is the northerner's idea of bliss;
plenty of water, which is the river-man's notion of joy; plenty
of leisure, which is an element in most men's heaven, for we had
merely to float with the stream, three miles an hour, except when
we landed to eat or sleep.
The woods were donning their vernal green and resounded with the
calls of birds now. The mosquito plague of the region had not yet
appeared, and there was little lacking to crown with a halo the
memory of those days on the Missouri of the North.
Native quadrupeds seemed scarce, and we were all agog when one of
the men saw a black fox trotting along the opposite bank. However,
it turned out to be one of the many stray dogs of the country. He
followed us a mile or more, stopping at times to leap at fish that
showed near the shore. When we landed for lunch he swam the broad
stream and hung about at a distance. As this was twenty miles from
any settlement, he was doubtless hungry, so I left a bountiful
lunch for him, and when we moved away, he claimed his own.
At Fort McKay I saw a little half-breed boy shooting with a bow
and displaying extraordinary marksmanship. At sixty feet he could
hit the bottom of a tomato tin nearly every time; and even more
surprising was the fact that he held the arrow with what is known
as the Mediterranean hold. When, months later, I again stopped at
this place, I saw another boy doing the very same. Some residents
assured me that this was the style of all the Chipewyans as well
as the Crees.
That night we camped far down the river and on the side opposite
the Fort, for experience soon teaches one to give the dogs no
chance of entering camp on marauding expeditions while you rest.
About ten, as I was going to sleep, Preble put his head in and
said: "Come out here if you want a new sensation."
In a moment I was standing with him under the tall spruce trees,
looking over the river to the dark forest, a quarter mile away,
and listening intently to a new and wonderful sound. Like the
slow tolling of a soft but high-pitched bell, it came. Ting, ting,
ting, ting, and on, rising and falling with the breeze, but still
keeping on about two "tings" to the second; and on, dulling as
with distance, but rising again and again.
It was unlike anything I had ever heard, but Preble knew it of old.
"That", says he, "is the love-song of the Richardson Owl. She is
sitting demurely in some spruce top while he sails around, singing
on the wing, and when the sound seems distant, he is on the far
side of the tree."
Ting, ting, ting, ting, it went on and on, this soft belling
of his love, this amorous music of our northern bell-bird. .
Ting, TING, ting, ting, ting, TING, ting, ting, ting, ting, TING,
ting—oh, how could any lady owl resist such strains?—and on, with
its ting, ting, ting, TING, ting, ting, ting, TING, the whole night
air was vibrant. Then, as though by plan, a different note—the
deep booming "Oho-oh-who-oh who hoo" of the Great Homed Owl—was
heard singing a most appropriate bass.
But the little Owl went on and on; 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes
at last had elapsed before I turned in again and left him. More
than once that night I awoke to hear his "tinging" serenade upon
the consecrated air of the piney woods.
Yet Preble said this one was an indifferent performer. On the
Mackenzie he had heard far better singers of the kind; some that
introduce many variations of the pitch and modulation. I thought
it one of the most charming bird voices I had ever listened to—and
felt that this was one of the things that make the journey worth
On June 1 the weather was so blustering and wet that we did not
break camp. I put in the day examining the superb timber of this
bottom-land. White spruce is the prevailing conifer and is here
seen in perfection. A representative specimen was 118 feet high, 11
feet 2 inches in circumference, or 3 feet 6 1/2 inches in diameter
1 foot from the ground, i.e., above any root spread. There was
plenty of timber of similar height. Black spruce, a smaller kind,
and tamarack are found farther up and back in the bog country.
jackpine of fair size abounds on the sandy and gravelly parts.
Balsam poplar is the largest deciduous tree; its superb legions
in upright ranks are crowded along all the river banks and on the
islands not occupied by the spruce. The large trees of this kind
often have deep holes; these are the nesting sites of the Whistler
Duck, which is found in numbers here and as far north as this tree,
but not farther. White poplar is plentiful also; the hillsides are
beautifully clad with its purplish masses of twigs, through which
its white stem gleam like marble columns. White birch is common
and large enough for canoes. Two or three species of willow in
impenetrable thickets make up the rest of the forest stretches.
At this camp I had the unique experience of showing all these seasoned
Westerners that it was possible to make a fire by the friction of
two sticks. This has long been a specialty of mine; I use a thong
and a bow as the simplest way. Ordinarily I prefer balsam-fir or
tamarack; in this case I used a balsam block and a spruce drill,
and, although each kind failed when used with drill and block the
same, I got the fire in half a minute.
On June 3 we left this camp of tall timber. As we floated down we
sighted a Lynx on the bank looking contemplatively into the flood. One
of the police boys seized a gun and with a charge of No. 6 killed
the Lynx. Poor thing, it was in a starving condition, as indeed
are most meat-eaters this year in the north. Though it was fully
grown, it weighed but 15 pounds.
In its stomach was part of a sparrow (white-throat?) and a piece
of rawhide an inch wide and 4 feet long, evidently a portion of a
dog-harness picked up somewhere along the river. I wonder what he
did with the bells.
That night we decided to drift, leaving one man on guard. Next day,
as we neared Lake Athabaska, the shores got lower, and the spruce
disappeared, giving way to dense thickets of low willow. Here
the long expected steamer, Graham, passed, going upstream. We now
began to get occasional glimpses of Lake Athabaska across uncertain
marshes and sand bars. It was very necessary to make Fort Chipewyan
while there was a calm, so we pushed on. After four hours' groping
among blind channels and mud banks, we reached the lake at
midnight—though of course there was no night, but a sort of gloaming
even at the darkest—and it took us four hours' hard rowing to
cover the ten miles that separated us from Chipewyan.
It sounds very easy and commonplace when one says "hard rowing,"
but it takes on more significance when one is reminded that those
oars were 18 feet long, 5 inches through, and weighed about 20 pounds
each; the boat was 30 feet long, a demasted schooner indeed, and
rowing her through shallow muddy water, where the ground suction
was excessive, made labour so heavy that 15 minute spells were all
any one could do. We formed four relays, and all worked in turn
all night through, arriving at Chipewyan. 4 A.M., blistered, sore,
and completely tired out.
Fort Chipewyan (pronounced Chip-we-yan') was Billy Loutit's home,
and here we met his father, mother, and numerous as well as interesting
sisters. Meanwhile I called at the Roman Catholic Mission, under
Bishop Gruard, and the rival establishment, under Reverend Roberts,
good men all, and devoted to the cause, but loving not each other.
The Hudson's Bay Company, however, was here, as everywhere in the
north, the really important thing.
There was a long stretch of dead water before we could resume our
downward drift, and, worse than that, there was such a flood on the
Peace River that it was backing the Athabaska, that is, the tide
of the latter was reversed on the Rocher River, which extends
twenty-five miles between here and Peace mouth. To meet this, I
hired Colin Fraser's steamer. We left Chipewyan at 6.15; at 11.15
camped below the Peace on Great Slave River, and bade farewell to
The reader may well be puzzled by these numerous names; the fact
is the Mackenzie, the Slave, the Peace, the Rocher, and the Unchaga
are all one and the same river, but, unfortunately, the early
explorers thought proper to give it a new name each time it did
something, such as expand into a lake. By rights it should be the
Unchaga or Unjiza, from the Rockies to the Arctic, with the Athabaska
as its principal southern tributary.
The next day another Lynx was collected. In its stomach were
remains of a Redsquirrel, a Chipmunk, and a Bog-lemming. The last
was important as it made a new record.
The Athabaska is a great river, the Peace is a greater, and the
Slave, formed by their union, is worthy of its parents. Its placid
flood is here nearly a mile wide, and its banks are covered with
a great continuous forest of spruce trees of the largest size. How
far back this extends I do not know, but the natives say the best
timber is along the river.
More than once a Lynx was seen trotting by or staring at us from
the bank, but no other large animal.
On the night of June 7 we reached Smith Landing.
A CONFERENCE WITH THE CHIEFS
A few bands of Buffalo are said to exist in the country east of
Great Slave River. Among other matters, Major Jarvis had to report
on these, find out how many were left, and exactly where they were.
When he invited me to join his expedition, with these questions in
view, I needed no pressing.
Our first business was to get guides, and now our troubles began.
Through the traders we found four natives who knew the Buffalo
range—they were Kiya, Sousi, Kirma, and Peter Squirrel. However,
they seemed in no way desirous of guiding any one into that
country. They dodged and delayed and secured many postponements,
but the Royal Mounted Police and the Hudson's Bay Company are the
two mighty powers of the land, so, urged by an officer of each,
these worthies sullenly assembled to meet us in Sousi's cabin.
Sousi, by the way, is Chipewyan for Joseph, and this man's name
was Joseph Beaulieu. Other northern travellers have warned all that
came after them to beware of the tribe of Beaulieu, so we were on
Sullen silence greeted us as we entered; we could feel their
covert antagonism. Jarvis is one of those affable, good-tempered
individuals that most persons take for "easy." In some ways he may
be so, but I soon realised that he was a keen judge of men and their
ways, and he whispered to me: "They mean to block us if possible."
Sousi understood French and had some English, but the others professed
ignorance of everything but Chipewyan. So it was necessary to call
in an interpreter. How admirably he served us may be judged from
the following sample secured later.
Q. Are the Buffalo near?
A. Wah-hay-was-ki busquow Kai-ah taw nip-ee-wat-chow-es-kee
nee-moy-ah. Kee-as-o-win sugee-meesh i-mush-wa mus-tat-e-muck
ne-mow-ah pe-muk-te-ok nemoy-ah dane-tay-tay-ah.
Interpreter. He say "no."
Q. How long would it take to get them?
A. Ne-moy-ah mis-chay-to-ok Way-hay-o ay-ow-ok-iman-kah-mus-to-ok.
Mis-ta-hay cha-gowos-ki wah-hay-o musk-ee-see-seepi. Mas-kootch
e-goot-ah-i-ow mas-kootch ne-moy-ah muk-eboy sak-te-muk mas-kootch
gahk-sin-now ne-moy-ah gehk-kee-win-tay dam-foole-Inglis.
Interpreter. He say "don't know."
Q. Can you go with us as guide?
A. Kee-ya-wah-lee nas-bah a-lash-tay wah-lee-lee lan-day. (Answer
literally) "Yes, I could go if I could leave the transport."
Interpreter's answer, "Mebby."
After a couple of hours of this bootless sort of thing we had
made no headway toward getting a guide, nor could we get definite
information about the Buffaloes or the Wolves. Finally the meeting
suffered a sort of natural disintegration.
Next day we tried again, but again there were technical difficulties,
grown up like mushrooms over night.
Kiya could not go or lend his horses, because it was mostly
Squirrel's country, and he was afraid Squirrel would not like it.
Squirrel could not go because it would be indelicate of him to
butt in after negotiations had been opened with Kiya. Kirma was not
well. Sousi could not go because his wife was sick, and it preyed
on his mind so that he dare not trust himself away from the
settlement; at least, not without much medicine to fortify him
against rheumatism, home-sickness, and sadness.
Next day Kiya sent word that he had business of great moment, and
could not meet us, but would see that early in the morning Squirrel
was notified to come and do whatever we wished. In the morning Squirrel
also had disappeared, leaving word that he had quite overlooked a
most important engagement to "portage some flour across the rapids,"
not that he loved the tump line, but he had "promised," and to keep
his word was very precious to him.
Jarvis and I talked it over and reviewed the information we had.
At Ottawa it was reported that the Wolves were killing the calves,
so the Buffalo did not increase. At Winnipeg the Wolves were so
bad that they killed yearlings; at Edmonton the cows were not safe.
At Chipewyan the Wolves, reinforced by large bands from the Barren
Grounds, were killing the young Buffalo, and later the cows and
young bulls. At Smith's Landing the Wolves had even tackled an old
bull whose head was found with the large bones. Horses and dogs
were now being devoured. Terrible battles were taking place between
the dark Wolves of Peace River and the White Wolves of the Barrens
for possession of the Buffalo grounds. Of course the Buffalo were
disappearing; about a hundred were all that were left.
But no one ever sees any of these terrible Wolves, the few men who
know that country have plenty of pemmican, that is neither Moose
nor Caribou, and the Major briefly summed up the situation: "The
Wolves are indeed playing havoc with the Buffalo, and the ravenous
leaders of the pack are called Sousi, Kiya, Kirma, and Squirrel."
Now of all the four, Sousi, being a Beaulieu and a half-breed, had
the worst reputation, but of all the four he was the only one that
had admitted a possibility of guiding us, and was to be found on the
fifth morning. So his views were met, a substitute found to watch
his fishing nets, groceries to keep his wife from pining during his
absence, a present for himself, the regular rate of wages doubled,
his horses hired, his rheumatism, home-sickness, and sadness provided
against, a present of tobacco, some more presents, a promise of
reward for every Buffalo shown, then another present, and we set
OUT WITH SOUSI BEAULIEU
It's a, fine thing to get started, however late in the day, and
though it was 3.20 P. M. before everything was ready, we gladly
set out—Sousi, Major Jarvis, and myself—all mounted, the native
leading a packhorse with provisions.
And now we had a chance to study our guide. A man's real history
begins, of course, about twenty years before he is born. In
the middle of the last century was a notorious old ruffian named
Beaulieu. Montreal was too slow for him, so he invaded the north-west
with a chosen crew of congenial spirits. His history can be got from
any old resident of the north-west. I should not like to write it
as it was told to me.
His alleged offspring are everywhere in the country, and most
travellers on their return from this region, sound a note of warning:
"Look out for every one of the name of Beaulieu. They are a queer
lot." And now we had committed ourselves and our fortunes into the
hands of Beaulieu's second or twenty-second son—I could not make
sure which. He is a typical half-breed, of medium height, thin,
swarthy, and very active, although he must be far past 60. Just how
far is not known, whether 59 69 or 79, he himself seemed uncertain,
but he knows there is a 9 in it. The women of Smith's Landing say
59, the men say 79 or 89.
He is clad in what might be the cast-off garments of a white tramp,
except for his beaded moccasins. However sordid these people may be
in other parts of their attire, I note that they always have some
redeeming touch of color and beauty about the moccasins which
cover their truly shapely feet. Sousi's rifle, a Winchester, also
was clad in a native mode. An embroidered cover of moose leather
protected it night and day, except when actually in use; of
his weapons he took most scrupulous care. Unlike the founder of
the family, Sousi has no children of his own. But he has reared a
dozen waifs under prompting of his own kind heart. He is quite a
character—does not drink or smoke, and I never heard him swear.
This is not because he does not know how, for he is conversant with
the vigor of all the five languages of the country, and the garment
of his thought is like Joseph's coat—Ethnologically speaking, its
breadth and substance are French, but it bears patches of English,
with flowers and frills, strophes, and classical allusions of Cree
and Chipewyan—the last being the language of his present "home
There was one more peculiarity of our guide that struck me forcibly.
He was forever considering his horse. Whenever the trail was very
bad, and half of it was, Sousi dismounted and walked—the horse
usually following freely, for the pair were close friends.
This, then, was the dark villain against whom we had been warned.
How he lived up to his reputation will be seen later.
After four hours' march through a level, swampy country, forested
with black and white spruce, black and white poplar, birch, willow,
and tamarack, we came to Salt River, a clear, beautiful stream,
but of weak, salty brine.
Not far away in the woods was a sweet spring, and here we camped
for the night. Close by, on a place recently burnt over, I found
the nest of a Green-winged Teal. All cover was gone and the nest
much singed, but the down had protected the 10 eggs. The old one
fluttered off, played lame, and tried to lead me away. I covered
up the eggs and an hour later found she had returned and resumed
That night, as I sat by the fire musing, I went over my life when
I was a boy in Manitoba, just too late to see the Buffalo, recalling
how I used to lie in some old Buffalo wallow and peer out over the
prairie through the fringe of spring anemones and long to see the
big brown forms on the plains. Once in those days I got a sensation,
for I did see them. They turned out to be a herd of common cattle,
but still I got the thrill.
Now I was on a real Buffalo hunt, some twenty-five years too late.
Will it come? Am I really to see the Wild Buffalo on its native
plains? It is too good to be true; too much like tipping back the
sands of time.
THE BUFFALO HUNT
We left camp on Salt River at 7.45 in the morning and travelled
till 11 o'clock, covering six miles. It was all through the same
level country, in which willow swamps alternated with poplar and
spruce ridges. At 11 it began to rain, so we camped on a slope under
some fine, big white spruces till it cleared, and then continued
westward. The country now undulated somewhat and was varied with
Sousi says that when first he saw this region, 30 years ago, it
was all open prairie, with timber only in hollows and about water.
This is borne out by the facts that all the large trees are in such
places, and that all the level open stretches are covered with
sapling growths of aspen and fir. This will make a glorious settlement
some day. In plants, trees, birds, soil, climate, and apparently
all conditions, it is like Manitoba.
We found the skeleton of a cow Buffalo, apparently devoured
by Wolves years ago, because all the big bones were there and the
About two in the afternoon we came up a 200-foot rise to a beautiful
upland country, in which the forests were diversified with open
glades, and which everywhere showed a most singular feature. The
ground is pitted all over with funnel-shaped holes, from 6 to 40
feet deep, and of equal width across the rim; none of them contained
water. I saw one 100 feet across and about 50 feet deep; some expose
limestone; in one place we saw granite.
At first I took these for extinct geysers, but later I learned that
the whole plateau called Salt Mountain is pitted over with them.
Brine is running out of the mountain in great quantities, which
means that the upper strata are being undermined as the salt washes
out, and, as these crack, the funnels are formed no doubt by the
loose deposits settling.
In the dry woods Bear tracks became extremely numerous; the whole
country, indeed, was marked with the various signs. Practically
every big tree has bearclaw markings on it, and every few yards
there is evidence that the diet of the bears just now is chiefly
berries of Uva ursi.
As we rode along Sousi prattled cheerfully in his various tongues;
but his steady flow of conversation abruptly ended when, about 2
P. M., we came suddenly on some Buffalo tracks, days old, but still
Buffalo tracks. All at once and completely he was the hunter. He
leaped from his horse and led away like a hound.
Ere long, of course, the trail was crossed by two fresher ones;
then we found some dry wallows and several very fresh tracks. We
tied up the horses in an old funnel pit and set about an elaborate
hunt. Jarvis minded the stock, I set out with Sousi, after he had
tried the wind by tossing up some grass. But he stopped, drew a
finger-nail sharply across my canvas coat, so that it gave a little
shriek, and said "Va pa," which is "Cela ne va pas" reduced to its
bony framework. I doffed the offending coat and we went forward as
shown on the map. The horses were left at A; the wind was east. First
we circled a little to eastward, tossing grass at intervals, but,
finding plenty of new sign, went northerly and westward till most
of the new sign was east of us. Sousi then led for C, telling me to
step in his tracks and make no noise. I did so for long, but at
length a stick cracked under my foot; he turned and looked reproachfully
at me. Then a stick cracked under his foot; I gave him a poke in the
ribs. When we got to the land between the lake at D, Sousi pointed
and said, "They are here." We sneaked with the utmost caution that
way—it was impossible to follow any one trail—and in 200 yards Sousi
sank to the ground gasping out, "La! la! maintenon faites son portrait
au taut que vous voudrez." I crawled forward and saw, not one, but
half a dozen Buffalo. "I must be nearer," I said, and, lying flat
on my breast, crawled, toes and elbows, up to a bush within 75
yards, where I made shot No. 1, and saw here that there were 8 or
9 Buffalo, one an immense bull.
Sousi now cocked his rifle-I said emphatically: "Stop! you must not
fire." "No?" he said in astonished tones that were full of story
and comment. "What did we come for?" Now I saw that by backing
out and crawling to another bunch of herbage I could get within 50
"It is not possible," he gasped.
"Watch me and see," I replied. Gathering all the near vines
and twisting them around my neck, I covered my head with leaves
and creeping plants, then proceeded to show that it was possible,
while Sousi followed. I reached the cover and found it was a bed
of spring anemones on the far side of an old Buffalo wallow, and
there in that wallow I lay for a moment revelling in the sight. All
at once it came to me: Now, indeed, was fulfilled the long-deferred
dream of my youth, for in shelter of those flowers of my youth, I
was gazing on a herd of wild Buffalo. Then slowly I rose above the
cover and took my second picture.
But the watchful creatures, more shy than Moose here, saw the
rising mass of herbage, or may have caught the wind, rose lightly
and went off. I noticed now, for the first time, a little red calf;
ten Buffalo in all I counted. Sousi, standing up, counted 13. At
the edge of the woods they stopped and looked around, but gave no
third shot for the camera.
I shook Sousi's hand with all my heart, and he, good old fellow,
said: "Ah! it was for this I prayed last night; without doubt it
was in answer to my prayer that the Good God has sent me this great
Then back at camp, 200 yards away, the old man's tongue was loosed,
and he told me how the chiefs in conference, and every one at the
Fort, had ridiculed him and his Englishmen—"who thought they
could walk up to Buffalo and take their pictures."
We had not been long in camp when Sousi went off to get some water,
but at once came running back, shouting excitedly, "My rifle,
my rifle!" Jarvis handed it to him; he rushed off to the woods. I
followed in time to see him shoot an old Bear and two cubs out of
a tree. She fell, sobbing like a human being, "Oh! Oh! Oh-h-h-h!"
It was too late to stop him, and he finished her as she lay helpless.
The little ones were too small to live alone, so shared her fate.
It seems, as Sousi went to the water hole, he came on an old Bear
and her two cubs. She gave a warning "koff, koff." The only enemies
they knew about and feared, were Buffalo, Moose, and Wolves; from
these a tree was a safe haven. The cubs scrambled up a tall poplar,
then the mother followed. Sousi came shouting in apparent fear; I
rushed to the place, thinking he was attacked by something, perhaps
a Buffalo bull, but too late to stop the tragedy that followed.
That night he roasted one of the cubs, and as I watched the old
cannibal chewing the hands off that little baby Bear it gave me a
feeling of disgust for all flesh-eating that lasted for days. Major
Jarvis felt much as I did, and old Sousi had exclusive joy in all
his bear meat.
Next morning I was left at camp while Jarvis and Sousi went off to
seek for more Buffalo. I had a presentiment that they would find
none, so kept the camera and went off to the Lake a mile west, and
there made drawings of some tracks, took photos, etc., and on the
lake saw about twenty-five pairs of ducks, identified Whitewinged
Scoter, Pintail, Green-winged Teal, and Loon. I also watched the
manoeuvres of a courting Peetweet. He approached the only lady with
his feathers up and his wings raised; she paid no heed (apparently),
but I noticed that when he flew away she followed. I saw a large
garter snake striped black and green, and with 2 rows of red
spots, one on each side. It was very fat and sluggish. I took it
for a female about to lay. Later I learned from Sousi and others
that this snake is quite common here, and the only kind found,
but in the mountains that lie not far away in the west is another
kind, much thicker, fatter, and more sluggish. Its bite is fearfully
poisonous, often fatal; "but the Good God has marked the beast by
putting a cloche (bell) in its tail."
About 10 I turned campward, but after tramping for nearly an
hour I was not only not at home, I was in a totally strange kind
of country, covered with a continuous poplar woods. I changed my
course and tried a different direction, but soon was forced to the
conclusion that (for the sixth or seventh time in my life) I was
"Dear me," I said, "this is an interesting opportunity. It comes
to me now that I once wrote an essay on 'What To Do and What Not
To Do When Lost In the Woods.' Now what in the world did I say in
it, and which were the things not to do. Yes, I remember now, these
were the pieces of advice:
"1st. 'Don't get frightened.' Well, I'm not; I am simply amused.
"2d. 'Wait for your friends to come.' Can't do that; I'm too busy;
they wouldn't appear till night.
"3d. 'If you must travel, go back to a place where you were sure
of the way.' That means back to the lake, which I know is due west
of the camp and must be west of me now."
So back I went, carefully watching the sun for guidance, and soon
realised that whenever I did not, I swung to the left. After nearly
an hour's diligent travel I did get back to the lake, and followed
my own track in the margin to the point of leaving it; then, with
a careful corrected bearing, made for camp and arrived in 40 minutes,
there to learn that on the first attempt I had swung so far to the
left that I had missed camp by half a mile, and was half a mile
beyond it before I knew I was wrong. (See map on p. 46.)
At noon Jarvis and Sousi came back jubilant; they had seen countless
Buffalo trails, had followed a large bull and cow, but had left
them to take the trail of a considerable Band; these they discovered
in a lake. There were 4 big bulls, 4 little calves, 1 yearling, 3
2-year-olds, 8 cows. These allowed them to come openly within 60
yards. Then took alarm and galloped off. They also saw a Moose and
a Marten—and 2 Buffalo skeletons. How I did curse my presentiment
that prevented them having the camera and securing a really fine
At 2 P. M. Sousi prepared to break camp. He thought that by going
back on our trail he might strike the trail of another herd off
to the south-east of the mountain. Jarvis shrewdly suspected that
our guide wanted to go home, having kept his promise, won the
reward, and got a load of Bear meat. However, the native was the
guide, we set out in a shower which continued more or less all day
and into the night, so we camped in the rain.
Next day it was obvious, and Sousi no longer concealed the fact,
that he was making for home as fast as he could go.
At Salt River I found the little Teal back on her eggs in the
burnt ground. At 3.30 we reached Smith Landing, having been absent
exactly 3 days, and having seen in that time 33 Buffalo, 4 of them
calves of this year, 3 old Buffalo skeletons of ancient date, but
not a track or sign of a Wolf, not a howl by night, or any evidence
of their recent presence, for the buffalo skeletons found were
obviously very old.
And our guide—the wicked one of evil ancestry and fame—he was
kind, cheerful, and courteous through out; he did exactly as he
promised, did it on time, and was well pleased with the pay we gave
him. Speak as you find. If ever I revisit that country I shall be
glad indeed to secure the services of good old Sousi, even if he
is a Beaulieu.
We were now back at Smith Landing, and fired with a desire to make
another Buffalo expedition on which we should have ampler time and
cover more than a mere corner of the range. We aimed, indeed, to
strike straight into the heart of the Buffalo country. The same
trouble about guides arose. In this case it was less acute, because
Sousi's account had inspired considerably more respect. Still it
meant days of delay which, however, I aimed to make profitable by
investigations near at hand.
After all, the most interesting of creatures is the two-legged one
with the loose and changeable skin, and there was a goodly colony
of the kind to choose from. Most prominent of them all was Thomas
Anderson, the genial Hudson's Bay Company officer in charge of
the Mackenzie River District. His headquarters are at Fort Smith,
16 miles down the river, but his present abode was Smith Landing,
where all goods are landed for overland transport to avoid the long
and dangerous navigation on the next 16 miles of the broad stream.
Like most of his official brethren, he is a Scotchman; he was born
in Nairn, Scotland, in 1848. At 19 he came to the north-west in
service of the company, and his long and adventurous life, as he
climbed to his present responsible position, may be thus skeletonised:
He spent six months at Fort Temiscamingue,
1 year at Grand Lac,
3 years at Kakabonga,
5 years at Hunter's Lodge, Chippeway,
10 years at Abitibi,
3 years at Dunvegan, Peace River,
1 year at Lesser Slave Lake,
2 months at Savanne, Fort William,
10 years at Nipigon House,
3 years at Isle a la Crosse,
4 years on the Mackenzie River, chiefly at Fort Simpson,
6 months at Fort Smith.
Which tells little to the ears of the big world, but if we say that
he spent 5 years in Berlin, then was moved for 3 years to Gibraltar,
2 years to various posts on the Rhine, whence he went for 4 years
to St. Petersburg; thence to relieve the officer in charge of
Constantinople, and made several flying visits to Bombay and Pekin,
we shall have some idea of his travels, for all were afoot, on
dogsled, or by canoe.
What wonderful opportunities he had to learn new facts about the
wood folk—man and beast—and how little he knew the value of the
glimpses that he got! I made it my business to gather all I could
of his memories, so far as they dwelt with the things of my world,
and offer now a resume of his more interesting observations on
hunter and hunted of the North. [Since these notes were made, Thomas
Anderson has "crossed the long portage."]
The following are among the interesting animal notes:
Cougar. Ogushen, the Indian trapper at Lac des Quinze, found tracks
of a large cat at that place in the fall of 1879 (?). He saw them
all winter on South Bay of that Lake. One day he came on the place
where it had killed a Caribou. When he came back about March he saw
it. It came toward him. It was evidently a cat longer than a Lynx
and it had a very long tail, which swayed from side to side as
it walked. He shot it dead, but feared to go near it believing it
to be a Wendigo. It had a very bad smell. Anderson took it to be
a Puma. It was unknown to the Indian. Ogushen was a first-class
hunter and Anderson firmly believes he was telling the truth. Lac
des Quinze is 15 miles north of Lake Temiscamingue.
Seals. In old days, he says, small seals were found in Lake Ashkeek.
This is 50 miles north-east from Temiscamingue. It empties into
Kippewa River, which empties into Temiscamingue. He never saw one,
but the Indians of the vicinity told of it as a thing which commonly
happened 50 or 60 years ago. Ashkeek is Ojibwa for seal. It is
supposed that they wintered in the open water about the Rapids.
White Foxes, he says, were often taken at Cree Lake. Indeed one or
two were captured each year. Cree Lake is 190 miles south-east of
Fort Chipewyan. They are also taken at Fort Chipewyan from time to
time. One was taken at Fondulac, east end of Lake Athabaska, and
was traded at Smith Landing in 1906. They are found regularly at
Fondulac, the east end of Great Slave Lake, each year.
In the winter of 1885-6 he was to be in charge of Nipigon House,
but got orders beforehand to visit the posts on Albany River. He
set out from Fort William on Lake Superior on his 1,200-mile trip
through the snow with an Indian whose name was Joe Eskimo, from
Manitoulin Island, 400 miles away. At Nipigon House he got another
guide, but this one was in bad shape, spitting blood. After three
days' travel the guide said: "I will go to the end if it kills me,
because I have promised, unless I can get you a better guide. At
Wayabimika (Lake Savanne) is an old man named Omeegi; he knows the
road better than I do." When they got there, Omeegi, although very
old and half-blind, was willing to go on condition that they should
not walk too fast. Then they started for Osnaburgh House on Lake
St. Joseph, 150 miles away. The old man led off well, evidently knew
the way, but sometimes would stop, cover his eyes with his hands,
look at the ground and then at the sky, and turn on a sharp angle.
He proved a fine guide and brought the expedition there in good
Next winter at Wayabimika (where Charley de la Ronde [Count de la
Ronde.] was in charge, but was leaving on a trip of 10 days) Omeegi
came in and asked for a present—"a new shirt and a pair of pants."
This is the usual outfit for a corpse. He explained that he was to
die before Charley came back; that he would die "when the sun rose
at that island" (a week ahead). He got the clothes, though every
one laughed at him. A week later he put on the new garments and
said: "To-day I die when the sun is over that island!" He went
out, looking at the sun from time to time, placidly smoking. When
the sun got to the right place he came in, lay down by the fire,
and in a few minutes was dead.
We buried him in the ground, to his brother's great indignation
when he heard of it. He said: "You white men live on things that
come out of the ground, and are buried in the ground, and properly,
but we Indians live on things that run above ground, and want to
take our last sleep in the trees."
Another case of Indian clairvoyance ran thus: About 1879, when
Anderson was at Abitibi, the winter packet used to leave Montreal,
January 2, each year, and arrive at Abitibi January 19. This year
it did not come. The men were much bothered as all plans were upset.
After waiting about two weeks, some of the Indians and half-breeds
advised Anderson to consult the conjuring woman, Mash-kou-tay
Ish-quay (Prairie woman) a Flathead from Stuart Lake, B. C. He
went and paid her some tobacco. She drummed and conjured all night.
She came in the morning and told him: "The packet is at the foot
of a rapid now, where there is open water; the snow is deep and
the travelling heavy, but it will be here to-morrow when the sun
is at that point."
Sure enough, it all fell out as she had told. This woman married
a Hudson's Bay man named MacDonald, and he brought her to Lachine,
where she bore him 3 sons; then he died of small-pox, and Sir
George Simpson gave orders that she should be sent up to Abitibi
and there pensioned for as long as she lived. She was about 75 at
the time of the incident. She many times gave evidence of clairvoyant
power. The priest said he "knew about it, and that she was helped
by the devil."
A gruesome picture of Indian life is given in the following incident.
One winter, 40 or 50 years ago, a band of Algonquin Indians at
Wayabimika all starved to death except one squaw and her baby; she
fled from the camp, carrying the child, thinking to find friends
and help at Nipigon House. She got as far as a small lake near
Deer Lake, and there discovered a cache, probably in a tree. This
contained one small bone fish-hook. She rigged up a line, but had
no bait. The wailing of the baby spurred her to action. No bait,
but she had a knife; a strip of flesh was quickly cut from her
own leg, a hole made through the ice, and a fine jack-fish was the
food that was sent to this devoted mother. She divided it with the
child, saving only enough for bait. She stayed there living on fish
until spring, then safely rejoined her people.
The boy grew up to be a strong man, but was cruel to his mother,
leaving her finally to die of starvation. Anderson knew the woman;
she showed him the sear where she cut the bait.
A piece of yet, more ancient history was supplied him in Northern
Ontario, and related to me thus:
Anderson was going to Kakabonga in June, 1879, and camped one
night on the east side of Birch Lake on the Ottawa, about 50 miles
north-east of Grand Lake Post.
He and his outfit of two canoes met Pah-pah-tay, chief of the Grand
Lake Indians, travelling with his family. He called Anderson's
attention to the shape of the point which had one good landing-place,
a little sandy bay, and told him the story he heard from his people
of a battle that was fought there with the Iroquois long, long ago.
Four or five Iroquois war-canoes, filled with warriors, came to
this place on a foray for scalps. Their canoes were drawn up on
the beach at night. They lighted fires and had a war-dance. Three
Grand Lake Algonquins, forefathers of Pah-pah-tay, saw the dance
from, hiding. They cached their canoe, one of them took a sharp
flint—"we had no knives or axes then"—swam across to the canoes,
and cut a great hole in the bottom of each.
The three then posted themselves at three different points in the
bushes, and began whooping in as many different ways as possible.
The Iroquois, thinking it a great war-party, rushed to their canoes
and pushed off quickly. When they were in deep water the canoes
sank and, as the warriors swam back ashore, the Algonquins killed
them one by one, saving alive only one, whom they maltreated, and
then let go with a supply of food, as a messenger to his people, and
to carry the warning that this would be the fate of every Iroquois
that entered the Algonquin country.
Reference to my Smith Landing Journal for June 17 shows the following:
"The Spring is now on in full flood, the grass is high, the trees
are fully leaved, flowers are blooming, birds are nesting, and the
mosquitoes are a terror to man and beast."
If I were to repeat all the entries in that last key, it would make
dreary and painful reading; I shall rather say the worst right now,
and henceforth avoid the subject.
Every traveller in the country agrees that the mosquitoes are
a frightful curse. Captain Back, in 1833 (Journal, p. 117), said
that the sand-flies and mosquitoes are the worst of the hardships
to which the northern traveller is exposed.
T. Hutchins, over a hundred years ago, said that no one enters the
Barren Grounds in the summer, because no man can stand the stinging
insects. I had read these various statements, but did not grasp the
idea until I was among them. At Smith Landing, June 7, mosquitoes
began to be troublesome, quite as numerous as in the worst part of
the New Jersey marshes. An estimate of those on the mosquito bar
over my bed, showed 900 to 1,000 trying to get at me; day and night,
without change, the air was ringing with their hum.
This was early in the season. On July 9, on Nyarling River, they
were much worse, and my entry was as follows:
"'On the back of Billy's coat, as he sat paddling before me, I
counted a round 400 mosquitoes boring away; about as many were on
the garments of his head and neck, a much less number on his arms
and legs. The air about was thick with them; at least as many
more, fully 1,000, singing and stinging and filling the air with
a droning hum. The rest of us were equally pestered.
"'The Major, fresh, ruddy, full-blooded, far over 200 pounds in
plumpness, is the best feeding ground for mosquitoes I (or they,
probably) ever saw; he must be a great improvement on the smoke-dried
Indians. No matter where they land on him they strike it rich,
and at all times a dozen or more bloated bloodsuckers may be seen
hanging like red currants on his face and neck. He maintains that
they do not bother him, and scoffs at me for wearing a net. They
certainly do not impair his health, good looks, or his perennial good
humour, and I, for one, am thankful that his superior food-quality
gives us a corresponding measure of immunity."
At Salt River one could kill 100 with a stroke of the palm and
at times they obscured the colour of the horses. A little later
they were much worse. On 6 square inches of my tent I counted 30
mosquitoes, and the whole surface was similarly supplied; that is,
there were 24,000 on the tent and apparently as many more flying
about the door. Most of those that bite us are killed but that
makes not the slightest perceptible difference in their manners
or numbers. They reminded me of the Klondike gold-seekers. Thousands
go; great numbers must die a miserable death; not more than one in
10,000 can get away with a load of the coveted stuff, and yet each
believes that he is to be that one, and pushes on.
Dr. L. 0. Howard tells us that the mosquito rarely goes far from
its birthplace. That must refer to the miserable degenerates they
have in New Jersey, for these of the north offer endless evidence
of power to travel, as well as to resist cold and wind.
On July 21, 1907, we camped on a small island on Great Slave Lake.
It was about one-quarter mile long, several miles from mainland,
at least half a mile from any other island, apparently all rock,
and yet it was swarming with mosquitoes. Here, as elsewhere, they
were mad for our blood; those we knocked off and maimed, would
crawl up with sprained wings and twisted legs to sting as fiercely
as ever, as long as the beak would work.
We thought the stinging pests of the Buffalo country as bad as
possible, but they proved mild and scarce compared with those we
yet had to meet on the Arctic Barrens of our ultimate goal.
Each day they got worse; soon it became clear that mere adjectives
could not convey any idea of their terrors. Therefore I devised a
mosquito gauge. I held up a bare hand for 5 seconds by the watch,
then counted the number of borers on the back; there were 5 to 10.
Each day added to the number, and when we got out to the Buffalo
country, there were 15 to 25 on the one side of the hand and
elsewhere in proportion. On the Nyarling, in early July, the number
was increased, being now 20 to 40. On Great Slave Lake, later that
month, there were 50 to 60. But when we reached the Barren Grounds,
the land of open breezy plains and cold water lakes, the pests
were so bad that the hand held up for 5 seconds often showed from
100 to 125 long-billed mosquitoes boring away into the flesh. It
was possible to number them only by killing them and counting the
corpses. What wonder that all men should avoid the open plains,
that are the kingdom of such a scourge.
Yet it must not be thought that the whole country is similarly and
evenly filled. There can be no doubt that they flock and fly to
the big moving creatures they see or smell. Maybe we had gathered
the whole mosquito product of many acres. This is shown by the
facts that if one rushes through thick bushes for a distance, into
a clear space, the mosquitoes seem absent at first. One must wait
a minute or so to gather up another legion. When landing from a
boat on the Northern Lakes there are comparatively few, but even
in a high wind, a walk to the nearest hilltop results in one again
moving in a cloud of tormentors. Does not this readiness to assemble
at a bait suggest a possible means of destroying them?
Every one, even the seasoned natives, agree that they are a terror
to man and beast; but, thanks to our flyproof tents, we sleep immune.
During the day I wear my net and gloves, uncomfortably hot, but a
blessed relief from the torment. It is easy to get used to those
coverings; it is impossible to get used to the mosquitoes.
For July 10 I find this note: "The Mosquitoes are worse now than
ever before; even Jarvis, Preble, and the Indians are wearing face
protectors of some kind. The Major has borrowed Preble's closed net,
much to the latter's discomfiture, as he himself would be glad to
This country has, for 6 months, the finest climate in the world,
but 2 1/2 of these are ruined by the malignancy of the fly plague.
Yet it is certain that knowledge will confer on man the power to
wipe them out.
No doubt the first step in this direction is a thorough understanding
of the creature's life-history. This understanding many able mien
are working for. But there is another line of thought that should
not be forgotten, though it is negative—many animals are immune.
Which are they? Our first business is to list them if we would
learn the why of immunity.
Frogs are among the happy ones. One day early in June I took a
wood-frog in my hand. The mosquitoes swarmed about. In a few seconds
30 were on my hand digging away; 10 were on my forefinger, 8 on my
thumb; between these was the frog, a creature with many resemblances
to man—red blood, a smooth, naked, soft skin, etc.—and yet not a
mosquito attacked it. Scores had bled my hand before one alighted
on the frog, and it leaped off again as though the creature were
red hot. The experiment repeated with another frog gave the same
result. Why? It can hardly be because the frog is cold-blooded,
for many birds also seem, to be immune, and their blood is warmer
Next, I took a live frog and rubbed it on my hand over an area
marked out with lead pencil; at first the place was wet, but in a
few seconds dry and rather shiny. I held up my hand till 50 mosquitoes
had alighted on it and begun to bore; of these, 4 alighted on the
froggy place, 3 at once tumbled off in haste, but one, No. 32, did
sting me there. I put my tongue to the frog's back; it was slightly
I took a black-gilled fungus from a manure pile to-day, rubbed a
small area, and held my hand bare till 50 mosquitoes had settled
and begun to sting; 7 of these alighted on the fungus juice, but
moved off at once, except the last; it stung, but at that time the
juice was dry.
Many other creatures, including some birds, enjoy immunity, but
I note that mosquitoes did attack a dead crane; also they swarmed
onto a widgeon plucked while yet warm, and bored in deep; but I
did not see any filling with blood.
There is another kind of immunity that is equally important and
obscure. In the summer of 1904, Dr. Clinton L. Bagg, of New York,
went to Newfoundland for a fishing trip. The Codroy country was,
as usual, plagued with mosquitoes, but as soon as the party crossed
into the Garnish River Valley, a land of woods and swamps like the
other, the mosquitoes had disappeared. Dr. Bagg spent the month of
August there, and found no use for nets, dopes, or other means of
fighting winged pests; there were none. What the secret was no one
at present knows, but it would be a priceless thing to find.
Now, lest I should do injustice to the Northland that will some
day be an empire peopled with white men, let me say that there are
three belts of mosquito country the Barren Grounds, where they are
worst and endure for 2 1/2 months; the spruce forest, where they
are bad and continue for 2 months, and the great arable region of
wheat, that takes in Athabaska and Saskatchewan, where the flies
are a nuisance for 6 or 7 weeks, but no more so than they were in
Ontario, Michigan, Manitoba, and formerly England; and where the
cultivation of the land will soon reduce them to insignificance,
as it has invariably done in other similar regions. It is quite
remarkable in the north-west that such plagues are most numerous
in the more remote regions, and they disappear in proportion as
the country is opened up and settled.
Finally, it is a relief to know that these mosquitoes convey no
disease—even the far-spread malaria is unknown in the region.
Why did I not take a "dope" or "fly repellent," ask many of my
In answer I can only say I have never before been where mosquitoes
were bad enough to need one. I had had no experience with fly-dope.
I had heard that they are not very effectual, and so did not add
one to the outfit. I can say now it was a mistake to leave any means
untried. Next time I carry "dope." The following recipe is highly
Pennyroyal, one part,
Oil of Tar, " "
Spirits of Camphor, " "
Sweet Oil, or else vaseline, three parts.
Their natural enemies are numerous; most small birds prey on them;
dragon-flies also, and the latter alone inspire fear in the pests.
When a dragon-fly comes buzzing about one's head the mosquitoes
move away to the other side, but it makes no considerable difference.
On Buffalo River I saw a boatman or water-spider seize, and devour
a mosquito that fell within reach; which is encouraging, because,
as a rule, the smaller the foe, the deadlier, and the only creature
that really affects the whole mosquito nation is apparently a small
red parasite that became more and more numerous as the season wore
on. It appeared in red lumps on the bill and various parts of the
stinger's body, and the victim became very sluggish. Specimens
sent to Dr. L. 0. Howard, the authority on mosquitoes, elicited
the information that it was a fungus, probably new to science.
But evidently it is deadly to the Culex. More power to it, and the
cause it represents; we cannot pray too much for its increase.
Now to sum up: after considering the vastness of the region
affected—three-quarters of the globe—and the number of diseases
these insects communicate, one is inclined to say that it might be
a greater boon to mankind to extirpate the mosquito than to stamp
out tuberculosis. The latter means death to a considerable proportion
of our race, the former means hopeless suffering to all mankind;
one takes off each year its toll of the weaklings the other spares
none, and in the far north at least has made a hell on earth of
the land that for six months of each year might be a human Paradise.
A BAD CASE
My unsought fame as a medicine man continued to grow. One morning
I heard a white voice outside asking, "Is the doctor in?" Billy
replied: "Mr. Seton is inside." On going forth I met a young American
who thus introduced himself: "My name is Y———, from Michigan.
I was a student at Ann Arbor when you lectured there in 1903. 1
don't suppose you remember me; I was one of the reception committee;
but I'm mighty glad to meet you out here."
After cordial greetings he held up his arm to explain the call and
said: "I'm in a pretty bad way."
He unwound the bandage and showed a hand and arm swollen out of all
shape, twice the natural size, and of a singular dropsical pallor.
"Have you any pain?"
"I can't sleep from the torture of it."
"Where does it hurt now?"
"In the hand."
"How did you get it?"
"It seemed to come on after a hard crossing of Lake Athabaska. We
had to row all night."
I asked one or two more questions, really to hide my puzzlement.
"What in the world is it?" I said to myself; "all so fat and puffy."
I cudgelled my brain for a clue. As I examined the hand in silence
to play for time and conceal my ignorance, he went on:
"What I'm afraid of is blood-poisoning. I couldn't get out to a
doctor before a month, and by that time I'll be one-armed or dead.
I know which I'd prefer."
Knowing, at all events, that nothing but evil could come of fear,
I said: "Now see here. You can put that clean out of your mind.
You never saw blood-poisoning that colour, did you?"
"That's so," and he seemed intensely relieved.
While I was thus keeping up an air of omniscience by saying nothing,
Major Jarvis came up.
"Look at this, Jarvis," said I; "isn't it a bad one?
"Phew," said the Major, "that's the worst felon I ever saw."
Like a gleam from heaven came the word felon. That's what it was,
a felon or whitlow, and again I breathed freely. Turning to the
patient with my most cock-sure professional air, I said:
"Now see, Y., you needn't worry; you've hurt your finger in
rowing, and the injury was deep and has set up a felon. It is not
yet headed up enough; as soon as it is I'll lance it, unless it
bursts of itself (and inwardly I prayed it might burst). Can you
get any linseed meal or bran?"
"Well, then, get some clean rags and keep the place covered with
them dipped in water as hot as you can stand it, and we'll head
it up in twenty-four hours; then in three days I'll have you in
good shape to travel." The last sentence, delivered with the calm
certainty of a man who knows all about it and never made a mistake,
did so much good to the patient that I caught a reflex of it myself.
He gave me his good hand and said with emotion: "You don't know
how much good you have done me. I don't mind being killed, but I
don't want to go through life a cripple."
"You say you haven't slept?" I asked.
"Not for three nights; I've suffered too much."
"Then take these pills. Go to bed at ten o'clock and take a pill;
if this does not put you to sleep, take another at 10.30. If you are
still awake at 11, take the third; then you will certainly sleep."
He went off almost cheerfully.
Next morning he was back, looking brighter. "Well," I said, "you
slept last night, all right."
"No," he replied, "I didn't; there's opium in those pills, isn't
"I thought so. Here they are. I made up my mind I'd see this out
in my sober senses, without any drugs."
"Good for you," I exclaimed in admiration. "They talk about Indian
fortitude. If I had given one of those Indians some sleeping pills,
he'd have taken them all and asked for more. But you are the real
American stuff, the pluck that can't be licked, and I'll soon have
you sound as a dollar."
Then he showed his immense bladder-like hand. "I'll have to make
some preparation, and will operate in your shanty at 1 o'clock,"
I said, thinking how very professional it sounded.
The preparation consisted of whetting my penknife and, much more
important, screwing up my nerves. And now I remembered my friend's
brandy, put the flask in my pocket, and went to the execution.
He was ready. "Here," I said; "take a good pull at this brandy."
"I will not," was the reply. "I'm man enough to go through on my
"'Oh! confound your mettle," I thought, for I wanted an excuse to
take some myself, but could not for shame under the circumstances.
"Are you ready?"
He laid his pudding-y hand on the table.
"You better have your Indian friend hold that hand."
"I'll never budge," he replied, with set teeth, and motioned the
Indian away. And I knew he would not flinch. He will never know
(till he reads this, perhaps) what an effort it cost me. I knew only
I must cut deep enough to reach the pus, not so deep as to touch
the artery, and not across the tendons, and must do it firmly, at
one clean stroke. I did.
It was a horrid success. He never quivered, but said: "Is that all?
That's a pin-prick to what I've been through every minute for the
I felt faint, went out behind the cabin, and—shall I confess
it?—took a long swig of brandy. But I was as good as my promise:
in three days he was well enough to travel, and soon as strong as
I wonder if real doctors ever conceal, under an air of professional
calm, just such doubts and fears as worried me.
THE SECOND BUFFALO HUNT
Though so trifling, the success of our first Buffalo hunt gave us
quite a social lift. The chiefs were equally surprised with the
whites, and when we prepared for a second expedition, Kiya sent
word that though he could not act as guide, I should ride his own
trained hunter, a horse that could run a trail like a hound, and
was without guile.
I am, always suspicious of a horse (or man) without guile.
I wondered what was the particular weakness of this exceptionally
trained, noble, and guileless creature. I have only one prejudice
in horseflesh—I do not like a white one. So, of course, when
the hunter arrived he was, white as marble, from mane to tail and
hoofs; his very eyes were of a cheap china colour, suggestive of
cataractine blindness. The only relief was a morbid tinge of faded
shrimp pink in his nostrils and ears. But he proved better than he
looked. He certainly did run tracks by nose like a hound, provided I
let him choose the track. He was a lively walker and easy trotter,
and would stay where the bridle was dropped, So I came to the
conclusion that Kiya was not playing a joke on me, but really had
lent me his best hunter, whose sepulchral whiteness I could see would
be of great advantage in snow time when chiefly one is supposed to
Not only Kiya, but Pierre Squirrel, the head chief, seemed to harbour
a more kindly spirit. He now suddenly acquired a smattering of
English and a fair knowledge of French. He even agreed to lead us
through his own hunting grounds to the big Buffalo range, stipulating
that we be back by July 1, as that was Treaty Day, when all the
tribe assembled to receive their treaty money, and his presence as
head chief was absolutely necessary.
We were advised to start from Fort Smith, as the trail thence was
through a dryer country; so on the morning of June 24, at 6.50, we
left the Fort on our second Buffalo hunt.
Major A. M. Jarvis, Mr. E. A. Preble, Corporal Selig, Chief Pierre
Squirrel, and myself, all mounted, plus two pack-horses, prepared
for a week's campaign. Riding ahead in his yellow caftan and black
burnoose was Pierre Squirrel on his spirited charger, looking most
picturesque. But remembering that his yellow caftan was a mosquito
net, his black burnoose a Hudson's Bay coat, and his charger an
ornery Indian Cayuse, robbed the picture of most of its poetry.
We marched westerly 7 miles through fine, dry, jack-pine wood,
then, 3 miles through mixed poplar, pine, and spruce, And came to
the Slave River opposite Point Gravois. Thence we went a mile or
so into similar woods, and after another stretch of muskegs. We
camped for lunch at 11.45, having covered 12 miles.
At two we set out, and reached Salt River at three, but did not
cross there. It is a magnificent stream, 200 feet wide, with hard
banks and fine timber on each side; but its waters are brackish.
We travelled north-westerly, or northerly, along the east banks
for an hour, but at length away from it on a wide prairie, a mile
or more across here, but evidently extending much farther behind
interruptions of willow clumps. Probably these prairies join, with
those we saw on the Beaulieu trip. They are wet now, though a horse
can go anywhere, and the grass is good. We camped about six on a dry
place back from the river. At night I was much interested to hear
at intervals the familiar Kick-kick-kick-kick of the Yellow Rail
in the adjoining swamps. This must be its northmost range; we did
not actually see it.
Here I caught a garter-snake. Preble says it is the same form as
that at Edmonton. Our guide was as much surprised to see me take
it in my hands, as he was to see me let it go unharmed.
Next morning, after a short hour's travel, we came again to Salt
River and proceeded to cross. Evidently Squirrel had selected the
wrong place, for the sticky mud seemed bottomless, and we came near
losing two of the horses.
After two hours we all got across and went on, but most of the horses
had shown up poorly, as spiritless creatures, not yet recovered
from the effects of a hard winter.
Our road now lay over the high upland of the Salt Mountain, among
its dry and beautiful woods. The trip would have been glorious but
for the awful things that I am not allowed to mention outside of
Pierre proved a pleasant and intelligent companion; he did his
best, but more than once shook his head and said: "Chevaux no good."
We covered 15 miles before night, and all day we got glimpses of
some animal on our track, 300 yards behind in the woods. It might
easily have been a Wolf, but at night he sneaked into camp a forlorn
and starving Indian dog. Next day we reached the long looked-for
Little Buffalo River. Several times of late Pierre had commented on
the slowness of our horses and enlarged on the awful Muskega that
covered the country west of the Little Buffalo. Now he spoke out
frankly and said we had been 21 days coming 40 miles when the road
was good; we were now coming to very bad roads and had to go as
far again. These horses could not do it, and get him back to Fort
Smith for July 1—and back at any price he must be.
He was willing to take the whole outfit half a day farther westward,
or, if we preferred it, he would go afoot or on horseback with the
pick of the men and horses for a hasty dash forward; but to take
the whole outfit on to the Buffalo country and get back on time
was not possible.
This was a bad shake. We held a council of war, and the things that
were said of that Indian should have riled him if he understood.
He preserved his calm demeanour; probably this was one of the
convenient times when all his English forsook him. We were simply
raging: to be half-way to our goal, with abundance of provisions,
fine weather, good health and everything promising well, and then
to be balked because our guide wanted to go back. I felt as savage
as the others, but on calmer reflection pointed out that Pierre
told us before starting that he must be back for Treaty Day, and
even now he was ready to do his best.
Then in a calm of the storm (which he continued to ignore) Pierre
turned to me and said: "Why don't you go back and try the canoe
route? You can go down the Great River to Grand Detour, then portage
8 miles over to the Buffalo, go down this to the Nyarling, then up
the Nyarling into the heart of the Buffalo country; 21 days will
do it, and it will be easy, for there is plenty of water and no
rapids," and he drew a fairly exact map which showed that he knew
the country thoroughly.
There was nothing to be gained by going half a day farther.
To break up our party did not fit in at all with our plans, so, after
another brief stormy debate in which the guide took no part, we
turned without crossing the Little Buffalo, and silently, savagely,
began the homeward journey; as also did the little Indian dog.
Next morning we crossed the Salt River at a lower place where was
a fine, hard bottom. That afternoon we travelled for 6 miles through
a beautiful and level country, covered with a forest of large poplars,
not very thick; it will some day be an ideal cattle-range, for it
had rank grass everywhere, and was varied by occasional belts of
jack-pine. In one of these Preble found a nest with six eggs that
proved to be those of the Bohemian Chatterer. These he secured,
with photograph of the nest and old bird. It was the best find of
The eggs proved of different incubation—at least a week's
difference—showing that the cool nights necessitated immediate
We camped at Salt River mouth, and next afternoon were back at Fort
Smith, having been out five days and seen nothing, though there
were tracks of Moose and Bear in abundance.
Here our guide said good-bye to us, and so did the Indian dog.
BEZKYA AND THE PILLS
During this journey I had successfully treated two of the men for
slight ailments, and Squirrel had made mental note of the fact.
A result of it was that in the morning an old, old, black-looking
Indian came hobbling on a stick to my tent and, in husky Chipewyan,
roughly translated by Billy, told me that he had pains in his head
and his shoulder and his body, and his arms and his legs and his
feet, and he couldn't hunt, couldn't fish, couldn't walk, couldn't
eat, couldn't lie, couldn't sleep, and he wanted me to tackle
the case. I hadn't the least idea of what ailed the old chap, but
conveyed no hint of my darkness. I put on my very medical look
and said: "Exactly so. Now you take these pills and you will find
a wonderful difference in the morning." I had some rather fierce
rhubarb pills; one was a dose but, recognising the necessity for
eclat, I gave him two.
He gladly gulped them down in water. The Indian takes kindly to
pills, it's so easy to swallow them, so obviously productive of
results, and otherwise satisfactory. Then, the old man hobbled off
to his lodge.
A few hours later he was back again, looking older and shakier
than ever, his wet red eyes looking like plague spots in his ashy
brown visage or like volcanic eruptions in a desert of dead lava,
and in husky, clicking accents he told Billy to tell the Okimow
that the pills were no good—not strong enough for him.
"Well," I said, "he shall surely have results this time." I gave
him three big ones in a cup of hot tea. All the Indians love tea,
and it seems to help them. Under its cheering power the old man's
tongue was loosened. He talked more clearly, and Billy, whose
knowledge of Chipewyan is fragmentary at best, suddenly said: "I'm
afraid I made, a mistake. Bezkya says the pills are too strong.
Can't you give him something to stop them?
"Goodness," I thought; "here's a predicament," but I didn't know
what to do. I remembered a western adage, "When you don't know a
thing to do, don't do a thing." I only said: "Tell Bezkya to go home,
go to bed, and stay there till to-morrow, then come here again."
Away went the Indian to his lodge. I felt rather uneasy that day
and night, and the next morning looked with some eagerness for the
return of Bezkya. But he did not come and I began to grow unhappy.
I wanted some evidence that I had not done him an injury. I wished
to see him, but professional etiquette forbade me betraying myself
by calling on him. Noon came and no Bezkya; late afternoon, and
then I sallied forth, not to seek him, but to pass near his lodge,
as though I were going to the Hudson's Bay store. And there, to my
horror, about the lodge I saw a group of squaws, with shawls over
their heads, whispering, together. As I went by, all turned as one
of them pointed at me, and again they whispered.
"Oh, heavens!" I thought; "I've killed the old man." But still
I would not go in. That night I did not sleep for worrying about
it. Next morning I was on the point of sending Billy to learn the
state of affairs, when who should come staggering up but old Bezkya.
He was on two crutches now, his complexion was a dirty gray, and
his feeble knees were shaking, but he told Billy—yes, unmistakably
this time—to tell the Okimow that that was great medicine I had
given him, and he wanted a dose just like it for his wife.
FORT SMITH AND THE SOCIAL QUEEN
Several times during our river journey I heard reference to
an extraordinary woman in the lower country, one who gave herself
great airs, put on style, who was so stuck up, indeed, that she had
"two pots, one for tea, one for coffee." Such incredible pomposity
and arrogance naturally invited sarcastic comment from all the
world, and I was told I should doubtless see this remarkable person
at Fort Smith.
After the return from Buffalo hunt No. 2, and pending arrangements
for hunt No. 3, 1 saw more of Fort Smith than I wished for, but
endeavoured to turn the time to account by copying out interesting
chapters from the rough semi-illegible, perishable manuscript
accounts of northern life called "old-timers." The results of this
library research work appear under the chapter heads to which they
At each of these northern posts there were interesting experiences
in store for me, as one who had read all the books of northern travel
and dreamed for half a lifetime of the north; and that was—almost
daily meeting with famous men. I suppose it would be similar if
one of these men were to go to London or Washington and have some
one tell him: that gentle old man there is Lord Roberts, or that
meek, shy, retiring person is Speaker Cannon; this on the first
bench is Lloyd-George, or that with the piercing eyes is Aldrich,
the uncrowned King of America. So it was a frequent and delightful
experience to meet with men whose names have figured in books of
travel for a generation. This was Roderick MacFarlane, who founded
Fort Anderson, discovered the MacFarlane Rabbit, etc.; here was
John Schott, who guided Caspar Whitney; that was Hanbury's head
man; here was Murdo McKay, who travelled with Warburton Pike in
the Barrens and starved with him on Peace River; and so with many
Very few of these men had any idea of the interest attaching
to their observations. Their notion of values centres chiefly on
things remote from their daily life. It was very surprising to see
how completely one may be outside of the country he lives in. Thus
I once met a man who had lived sixteen years in northern Ontario,
had had his chickens stolen every year by Foxes, and never in his
life had seen a Fox. I know many men who live in Wolf country, and
hear them at least every week, but have never seen one in twenty
years' experience. Quite recently I saw a score of folk who had
lived in the porcupiniest part of the Adirondacks for many summers
and yet never saw a Porcupine, and did not know what it was when
I brought one into their camp. So it was not surprising to me to
find that although living in a country that swarmed with Moose, in
a village which consumes at least a hundred Moose per annum, there
were at Fort Smith several of the Hudson's Bay men that had lived
on Moose meat all their lives and yet had never seen a live Moose.
It sounds like a New Yorker saying he had never seen a stray cat.
But I was simply dumfounded by a final development in the same line.
Quite the most abundant carpet in the forest here is the uva-ursi
or bear-berry. Its beautiful evergreen leaves and bright red berries
cover a quarter of the ground in dry woods and are found in great
acre beds. It furnishes a staple of food to all wild things, birds
and beasts, including Foxes, Martens, and Coyotes; it is one of the
most abundant of the forest products, and not one hundred yards from
the fort are solid patches as big as farms, and yet when I brought
in a spray to sketch it one day several of the Hudson's Bay officers
said: "Where in the world did you get that? It must be very rare,
for I never yet saw it in this country." A similar remark was made
about a phoebe-bird. "It was never before seen in the country"; and
yet there is a pair nesting every quarter of a mile from Athabaska
Landing to Great Slave Lake.
Fort Smith, being the place of my longest stay, was the scene of
my largest medical practice.
One of my distinguished patients here was Jacob McKay, a half-breed
born on Red River in 1840. He left there in 1859 to live 3 years
at Rat Portage. Then he went to Norway House, and after 3 years
moved to Athabaska in 1865. In 1887 he headed a special government
expedition into the Barren Grounds to get some baby Musk-ox skins.
He left Fort Rae, April 25, 1887, and, travelling due north with
Dogrib Indians some 65 miles, found Musk-ox on May 10, and later
saw many hundreds. They killed 16 calves for their pelts, but no
old ones. McKay had to use all his influence to keep the Indians
from slaughtering wholesale; indeed, it was to restrain them that
he was sent.
He now lives at Fort Resolution.
One morning the chief came and said he wanted me to doctor a sick
woman in his lodge. I thought sick women a good place for an amateur
to draw the line, but Squirrel did not. "Il faut venir; elle est
At length I took my pill-kit and followed him. Around his lodge
were a score of the huge sled dogs, valuable animals in winter,
but useless, sullen, starving, noisy nuisances all summer. If you
kick them out of your way, they respect you; if you pity them, they
bite you. They respected us.
We entered the lodge, and there sitting by the fire were two squaws
making moccasins. One was old and ugly as sin; the second, young
and pretty as a brown fawn. I looked from one to the other in doubt,
"Laquelle est la malade?"
Then the pretty one replied in perfect English: "You needn't talk
French here; I speak English,' which she certainly did. French is
mostly used, but the few that speak English are very proud of it
and are careful to let you know.
"Are you ill?" I asked.
"The chief thinks I am," was the somewhat impatient reply, and she
broke down in a coughing fit.
"How long have you had that?" I said gravely.
I tapped my chest for reply.
"Oh! since last spring."
"And you had it the spring before, too, didn't you?"
"Why, yes! (a pause). But that isn't what bothers me."
"Isn't your husband kind to you?"
"Is this your husband?"
"No! F——- B——- is; I am K——-."
Again she was interrupted by coughing.
"Would you like something to ease that cough?" I asked.
"No! It isn't the body that's sick; it's the heart."
"Do you wish to tell me about it?"
"I lost my babies."
"Two years ago. I had two little ones, and both died in one month.
I am left much alone; my husband is away on the transport; our
lodge is nearby. The chief has all these dogs; they bark at every
little thing and disturb me, so I lie awake all night and think
about my babies. But that isn't the hardest thing."
"What is it?"
She hesitated, then burst out: "The tongues of the women. You don't
know what a hell of a place this is to live in. The women here don't
mind their work; they sit all day watching for a chance to lie about
their neighbours. If I am seen talking to you now, a story will be
made of it. If I walk to the store for a pound of tea, a story is
made of that. If I turn my head, another story; and everything is
carried to my husband to make mischief. It is nothing but lies,
lies, lies, all day, all night, all year. Women don't do that way
in your country, do they?"
"No," I replied emphatically. "If any woman in my country were
to tell a lie to make another woman unhappy, she would be thought
very, very wicked."
"I am sure of it," she said. "I wish I could go to your country
and be at rest." She turned to her work and began talking to the
others in Chipewyan.
Now another woman entered. She was dressed in semi-white style,
and looked, not on the ground, as does an Indian woman, on seeing
a strange man, but straight at me.
"Bon jour, madame," I said.
"I speak Ingliss," she replied with emphasis.
"Indeed! And what is your name?"
"I am Madame X———-."
And now I knew I was in the presence of the stuckup social queen.
After some conversation she said: "I have some things at home you
like to see."
"Where is your lodge?" I asked.
"Lodge," she replied indignantly; "I have no lodge. I know ze Indian
way. I know ze half-breed way. I know ze white man's way. I go ze
white man's way. I live in a house—and my door is painted blue."
I went to her house, a 10 by 12 log cabin; but the door certainly
was painted blue, a gorgeous sky blue, the only touch of paint in
sight. Inside was all one room, with a mud fireplace at one end
and some piles of rags in the corners for beds, a table, a chair,
and some pots. On the walls snow-shoes, fishing-lines, dried fish
in smellable bunches, a portrait of the Okapi from Outing, and a
musical clock that played with painful persistence the first three
bars of "God Save the King." Everywhere else were rags, mud, and
dirt. "You see, I am joost like a white woman," said the swarthy
queen. "I wear boots (she drew her bare brown feet and legs under
her) and corsets. Zey are la," and she pointed to the wall, where,
in very truth, tied up with a bundle of dried fish, were the articles
in question. Not simply boots and corsets, but high-heeled Louis
Quinze slippers and French corsets. I learned afterward how they
were worn. When she went shopping to the H. B. Co. store she had
to cross the "parade" ground, the great open space; she crowded her
brown broad feet into the slippers, then taking a final good long
breath she strapped on the fearfully tight corsets outside of all.
Now she hobbled painfully across the open, proudly conscious that
the eyes of the world were upon her. Once in the store she would
unhook the corsets and breathe comfortably till the agonized
triumphant return parade was in order.
This, however, is aside; we are still in the home of the queen. She
continued to adduce new evidences. "I am just like a white woman.
I call my daughter darrr-leeng." Then turning to a fat, black-looking
squaw by the fire, she said: "Darrr-leeng, go fetch a pail of
But darling, if familiar with that form of address, must have been
slumbering, for she never turned or moved a hair's-breadth or gave
a symptom of intelligence. Now, at length it transpired that the
social leader wished to see me professionally.
"It is ze nairves," she explained. "Zere is too much going on in
this village. I am fatigue, very tired. I wish I could go away to
some quiet place for a long rest."
It was difficult to think of a place, short of the silent tomb,
that would be obviously quieter than Fort Smith. So I looked wise,
worked on her faith with a pill, assured her that she would soon
feel much better, and closed the blue door behind me.
With Chief Squirrel, who had been close by in most of this, I now
walked back to my tent. He told me of many sick folk and sad lodges
that needed me.
It seems that very few of these people are well. In spite of their
healthy forest lives they are far less sound than an average white
community. They have their own troubles, with the white man's maladies
thrown in. I saw numberless other cases of dreadful, hopeless,
devastating diseases, mostly of the white man's importation. It is
heart-rending to see so much human misery and be able to do nothing
at all for it, not even bring a gleam of hope. It made me feel like
a murderer to tell one after another, who came to me covered with
cankerous bone-eating sores, "I can do nothing"; and I was deeply
touched by the simple statement of the Chief Pierre Squirrel, after
a round of visits: "You see how unhappy we are, how miserable and
sick. When I made this treaty with your government, I stipulated
that we should have here a policeman and a doctor; instead of that
you have sent nothing but missionaries."
RABBITS AND LYNXES IN THE NORTH-WEST
There are no Rabbits in the north-west. This statement, far from
final, is practically true to-day, but I saw plenty of Lynxes, and
one cannot write of ducks without mentioning water.
All wild animals fluctuate greatly in their population, none
more so than the Snowshoe or white-rabbit of the north-west. This
is Rabbit history as far back as known: They are spread over some
great area; conditions are favourable; some unknown influence endows
the females with unusual fecundity; they bear not one, but two or
three broods in a season, and these number not 2 or 3, but 8 or 10
each brood. The species increases far beyond the powers of predaceous
birds or beasts to check, and the Rabbits after 7 or 8 years of
this are multiplied into untold millions. On such occasions every
little thicket has a Rabbit in it; they jump out at every 8 or 10
feet; they number not less than 100 to the acre on desirable ground,
which means over 6,000 to the square mile, and a region as large as
Alberta would contain not less than 100,000,000 fat white bunnies.
At this time one man can readily kill 100 or 200 Rabbits in a day,
and every bird and beast of prey is slaughtering Rabbits without
restraint. Still they increase. Finally, they are so extraordinarily
superabundant that they threaten their own food supply as well as
poison all the ground. A new influence appears on the scene; it is
commonly called the plague, though it is not one disease but many
run epidemic riot, and, in a few weeks usually, the Rabbits are
This is an outline of the established routine in Rabbit vital
statistics. It, of course, varies greatly in every detail, including
time and extent of territory involved, and when the destruction is
complete it is an awful thing for the carnivores that have lived
on the bunny millions and multiplied in ratio with their abundance.
Of all the northern creatures none are more dependent on the Rabbits
than is the Canada Lynx. It lives on Rabbits, follows the Rabbits,
thinks Rabbits, tastes like Rabbits, increases with them, and on
their failure dies of starvation in the unrabbited woods.
It must have been a Hibernian familiar with the north that said:
"A Lynx is nothing but an animated Rabbit anyway."
The Rabbits of the Mackenzie River Valley reached their flood
height in the winter of 1903-4. That season, it seems, they actually
Late the same winter the plague appeared, but did not take them at
one final swoop. Next winter they were still numerous, but in 1907
there seemed not one Rabbit left alive in the country. All that
summer we sought for them and inquired for them. We saw signs of
millions in the season gone by; everywhere were acres of saplings
barked at the snow-line; the floor of the woods, in all parts visited,
was pebbled over with pellets; but we saw not one Woodrabbit and
heard only a vague report of 3 that an Indian claimed he had seen
in a remote part of the region late in the fall.
Then, since the Lynx is the logical apex of a pyramid of Rabbits,
it naturally goes down when the Rabbits are removed.
These bobtailed cats are actually starving and ready to enter
any kind of a trap or snare that carries a bait. The slaughter of
Lynxes in its relation to the Rabbit supply is shown by the H. B.
Company fur returns as follows:
In 1900, number of skins taken 4,473
" 1901 " 5,781
" 1902 " 9,117
" 1903 " 19,267
" 1904 " 36,116
" 1905 " 58,850
" 1906 " 61,388
" 1907 " 36,201
" 1908 " 9,664
Remembering, then, that the last of the Rabbits were wiped out in
the winter of 1906-7, it will be understood that there were thousands
of starving Lynxes roaming about the country. The number that we
saw, and their conditions, all helped to emphasise the dire story
of plague and famine.
Some of my notes are as follows:
May 18th, Athabaska River, on roof of a trapper's hut found the
bodies of 30 Lynxes.
May 19th, young Lynx shot to-day, female, very thin, weighed only
12 1/2 lbs., should have weighed 25. In its stomach nothing but
the tail of a white-footed mouse. Liver somewhat diseased. In its
bowels at least one tapeworm.
June 3d, a young male Lynx shot to-day by one of the police boys,
as previously recorded. Starving; it weighed only 15 lbs.
June 6th, adult female Lynx killed, weighed 15 lbs.; stomach contained
a Redsquirrel, a Chipmunk, and a Bog-lemming. (Synaptomys borealis.)
June 18th, young male Lynx, weight 13 lbs., shot by Preble on Smith
Landing; had in its stomach a Chipmunk (borealis) and 4 small young
of the same, apparently a week old; also a score of pinworms. How
did it get the Chipmunk family without digging them out?
June 26th, on Salt Mt. found the dried-up body of a Lynx firmly
held in a Bear trap.
June 29th, one of the Jarvis bear-cub skins was destroyed by the
dogs, except a dried-up paw, which he threw out yesterday. This
morning one of the men shot a starving Lynx in camp. Its stomach
contained nothing but the bear paw thrown out last night.
These are a few of my observations; they reflect the general
condition—all were starving. Not one of them had any Rabbit in its
stomach; not one had a bellyful; none of the females were bearing
young this year.
To embellish these severe and skeletal notes, I add some incidents
supplied by various hunters of the north.
Let us remember that the Lynx is a huge cat weighing 25 to 35 or
even 40 lbs., that it is an ordinary cat multiplied by some 4 or
5 diameters, and we shall have a good foundation for comprehension.
Murdo McKay has often seen 2 or 3 Lynxes together in March, the
mating season. They fight, and caterwaul like a lot of tomcats.
The uncatlike readiness of the Lynx to take to water is well known;
that it is not wholly at home there is shown by the fact that if
one awaits a Lynx at the landing he is making for, he will not turn
aside in the least, but come right on to land, fight, and usually
The ancient feud between cat and dog is not forgotten in the north,
for the Lynx is the deadly foe of the Fox and habitually kills it
when there is soft snow and scarcity of easier prey. Its broad feet
are snowshoes enabling it to trot over the surface on Reynard's
trail. The latter easily runs away at first, but sinking deeply
at each bound, his great speed is done in 15 or 6 miles; the Lynx
keeps on the same steady trot and finally claims its victim.
John Bellecourt related that in the January of 1907, at a place 40
miles south of Smith Landing, he saw in the snow where a Lynx bad
run down and devoured a Fox.
A contribution by T. Anderson runs thus:
In late March, 1907, an Indian named Amil killed a Caribou near
Fort Rae. During his absence a Lynx came along and gorged itself
with the meat, then lay down alongside to sleep. A Silver Fox came
next; but the Lynx sprang on him and killed him. When Amil came
back he found the Fox and got a large sum for the skin; one shoulder
was torn. He did not see the Lynx but saw the tracks.
The same old-timer is authority for a case in which the tables were
A Desert Indian on the headwaters of the Gatineau went out in the
early spring looking for Beaver. At a well-known pond he saw a
Lynx crouching on a log, watching the Beaver hole in the ice. The
Indian waited. At length a Beaver came up cautiously and crawled
out to a near bunch of willows; the Lynx sprang, but the Beaver
was well under way and dived into the hole with the Lynx hanging
to him. After a time the Indian took a crotched pole and fished
about under the ice; at last he found something soft and got it
out; it was the Lynx drowned.
Belalise ascribes another notable achievement to this animal.
One winter when hunting Caribou near Fond du Lac with an Indian
named Tenahoo (human tooth), they saw a Lynx sneaking along after
some Caribou; they saw it coming but had not sense enough to run
away. It sprang on the neck of a young buck; the buck bounded away
with the Lynx riding, but soon fell dead. The hunters came up;
the Lynx ran off. There was little blood and no large wound on the
buck; probably its neck was broken. The Indian said the Lynx always
kills with its paw, and commonly kills Deer. David MacPherson
corroborates this and maintains that on occasion it will even kill
In southern settlements, where the Lynx is little known, it is
painted as a fearsome beast of limitless ferocity, strength, and
activity. In the north, where it abounds and furnishes staple furs
and meat, it is held in no such awe. It is never known to attack
man. It often follows his trail out of curiosity, and often the
trapper who is so followed gets the Lynx by waiting in ambush; then
it is easily killed with a charge of duck-shot. When caught in a
snare a very small club is used to "add it to the list." It seems
tremendously active among logs and brush piles, but on the level
ground its speed is poor, and a good runner can overtake one in a
few hundred yards.
David MacPherson says that last summer he ran down a Lynx on a
prairie of Willow River (Mackenzie), near Providence. It had some
90 yards start; he ran it down in about a mile, then it turned to
fight and he shot it.
Other instances have been recorded, and finally, as noted later,
I was eye-witness of one of these exploits. Since the creature can
be run down on hard ground, it is not surprising to learn that men
on snow-shoes commonly pursue it successfully. As long as it trots
it is safe, but when it gets alarmed and bounds it sinks and becomes
exhausted. It runs in a circle of about a mile, and at last takes
to a tree where it is easily killed. At least one-third are taken
in this way; it requires half an hour to an hour, there must be
soft snow, and the Lynx must be scared so he leaps; then he sinks;
if not scared he glides along on his hairy snow-shoes, refuses
to tree, and escapes in thick woods, where the men cannot follow
EBB AND FLOW OF ANIMAL LIFE
Throughout this voyage we were struck by the rarity of some sorts
of animals and the continual remarks that three, five, or six years
ago these same sorts were extremely abundant; and in some few cases
the conditions were reversed.
For example, during a week spent at Fort Smith, Preble had out a
line of 50 mouse-traps every night and caught only one Shrew and
one Meadowmouse in the week. Four years before he had trapped on
exactly the same ground, catching 30 or 40 Meadowmice every night.
Again, in 1904 it was possible to see 100 Muskrats any fine evening.
In 1907, though continually on the lookout, I saw less than a score
in six months. Redsquirrels varied in the same way.
Of course, the Rabbits themselves were the extreme case, millions
in 1904, none at all in 1907. The present, then, was a year of low
ebb. The first task was to determine whether this related to all
mammalian life. Apparently not, because Deermice, Lynxes, Beaver,
and Caribou were abundant. Yet these are not their maximum years;
the accounts show them to have been so much more numerous last
There is only one continuous statistical record of the abundance
of animals, that is the returns of the fur trade. These have been
kept for over 200 years, and if we begin after the whole continent
was covered by fur-traders, they are an accurate gauge of the
abundance of each species. Obviously, this must be so, for the whole
country is trapped over every year, all the furs are marketed, most
of them through the Hudson's Bay Company, and whatever falls into
other hands is about the same percentage each year, therefore the
H. B. Co. returns are an accurate gauge of the relative rise and
fall of the population.
Through the courtesy of its officials I have secured the Company's
returns for the 85 years—1821-1905 inclusive. I take 1821 as the
starting-point, as that was the first year when the whole region
was covered by the Hudson's Bay Company to the exclusion of all
First, I have given these accounts graphic tabulation, and at once
many interesting facts are presented to the eye. The Rabbit line
prior to 1845 is not reliable. Its subsequent close coincidence
with that of Lynx, Marten, Skunk, and Fox is evidently cause and
The Mink coincides fairly well with Skunk and Marten.
The Muskrat's variation probably has relation chiefly to the amount
of water, which, as is well known, is cyclic in the north-West.
The general resemblance of Beaver and Otter lines may not mean
anything. If, as said, the Otter occasionally preys on the Beaver,
these lines should in some degree correspond.
The Wolf line does not manifest any special relationship and seems
to be in a class by itself. The great destruction from 1840 to 1870
was probably due to strychnine, newly introduced about then.
The Bear, Badger, and Wolverine go along with little variation.
Probably the Coon does the same; the enormous rise in 1867 from
an average of 3,500 per annum. to 24,000 was most likely a result
of accidental accumulation and not representative of any special
abundance. Finally, each and every line manifests extraordinary
variability in the '30's. It is not to be supposed that the
population fluctuated so enormously from one year to another, but
rather that the facilities for export were irregular.
The case is further complicated by the fact that some of the totals
represent part of this year and part of last; nevertheless, upon
the whole, the following general principles are deducible:
(a) The high points for each species are with fair regularity 10
(b) In the different species these are not exactly coincident.
(c) To explain the variations we must seek not the reason for the
increase—that is normal—but for the destructive agency that ended
This is different in three different groups.
First. The group whose food and enemies fluctuate but little. The
only examples of this on our list are the Muskrat and Beaver, more
especially the Muskrat. Its destruction seems to be due to a sudden
great rise of the water after the ice has formed, so that the Rats
are drowned; or to a dry season followed by severe frost, freezing
most ponds to the bottom, so that the Rats are imprisoned and starve
to death, or are forced out to cross the country in winter, and so
are brought within the power of innumerable enemies.
How tremendously this operates may be judged by these facts. In
1900 along the Mackenzie I was assured one could shoot 20 Muskrats
in an hour after sundown. Next winter the flood followed the
frost and the Rats seemed to have been wiped out. In 1907 1 spent
6 months outdoors in the region and saw only 17 Muskrats the whole
time; in 1901 the H. B. Co. exported over 11 millions; in 1907,
407,472. The fact that they totalled as high was due, no doubt, to
their abundance in eastern regions not affected by the disaster.
Second. The group that increases till epidemic disease attacks
their excessively multiplied hordes. The Snowshoe-Rabbit is the
only well-known case today, but there is reason for the belief that
once the Beaver were subjected to a similar process. Concerning the
Mice and Lemmings, I have not complete data, but they are believed
to multiply and suffer in the same, way.
Third. The purely carnivorous, whose existence is dependent on the
Rabbits. This includes chiefly the Lynx and Fox, but in less degree
all the small carnivores.
In some cases such as the Marten, over-feeding seems as inimical
to multiplication as under-feeding, and it will be seen that each
year of great increase for this species coincided with a medium
year for Rabbits.
But the fundamental and phenomenal case is that of the Rabbits
themselves. And in solving this we are confronted by the generally
attested facts that when on the increase they have two or three
broods each season and 8 to 10 in a brood; when they are decreasing
they have but one brood and only 2 or 3 in that. This points to some
obscure agency at work; whether it refers simply to the physical
vigour of the fact, or to some uncomprehended magnetic or heliological
cycle, is utterly unknown.
The practical consideration for the collecting naturalist is this:
Beaver, Muskrat, Otter, Fisher, Raccoon, Badger, Wolverine, Wolf,
Marten, Fox reached the low ebb in 1904-5. All are on the upgrade;
presumably the same applies to the small rodents. Their decacycle
will be complete in 1914-15, so that 1910-11 should be the years
selected by the next collecting naturalist who would visit the
For those who will enter before that there is a reasonable prospect
of all these species in fair numbers, except perhaps the Lynx and
the Caribou. Evidently the former must be near minimum now (1909)
and the latter would be scarce, if it is subject to the rule of the
decacycle, though it is not at all proven that such is the case.
THE PELICAN TRIP
We were still held back by the dilatory ways of our Indian friends,
so to lose no time Preble and I determined to investigate a Pelican
Most persons associate the name Pelican with tropic lands and
fish, but ornithologists have long known that in the interior of
the continent the great white Pelican ranges nearly or quite to
the Arctic circle. The northmost colony on record was found on an
island of Great Slave Lake (see Preble, "N.A. Fauna," 27), but this
is a very small one. The northmost large colony, and the one made
famous by travellers from Alexander Mackenzie downward, is on the
great island that splits the Smith Rapids above Fort Smith. Here,
with a raging flood about their rocky citadel, they are safe from
all spoilers that travel on the earth; only a few birds of the air
need they fear, and these they have strength to repel.
On June 22 we set out to explore this. Preble, Billy, and myself,
with our canoe on a wagon, drove 6 miles back on the landing trail
and launched the canoe on the still water above Mountain Portage.
Pelican Island must be approached exactly right, in the comparatively
slow water above the rocky island, for 20 feet away on each side
is an irresistible current leading into a sure-death cataract. But
Billy was a river pilot and we made the point in safety.
Drifted like snow through the distant woods were the brooding birds,
but they arose before we were near and sailed splendidly overhead
in a sweeping, wide-fronted rank. As nearly as I could number them,
there were 120, but evidently some were elsewhere, as this would
not allow a pair to each nest.
We landed safely and found the nests scattered among the trees and
fallen timbers. One or two mother birds ran off on foot, but took
wing as soon as clear of the woods—none remained.
The nests numbered 77, and there was evidence of others long
abandoned. There were 163 eggs, not counting 5 rotten ones, lying
outside; nearly all had 2 eggs in the nest; 3 had 4; 5 had 3; 4 had
1. One or two shells were found in the woods, evidently sucked by
Gulls or Ravens.
All in the nests were near hatching. One little one had his beak
out and was uttering a hoarse chirping; a dozen blue-bottle flies
around the hole in the shell were laying their eggs in it and
on his beak., This led us to examine all the nests that the flies
were buzzing around, and in each case (six) we found the same state
of affairs, a young one with his beak out and the flies "blowing"
around it. All of these were together in one corner, where were a
dozen nests, probably another colony of earlier arrival.
We took about a dozen photos of the place (large and small). Then
I set my camera with the long tube to get the old ones, and we went
to lunch at the other end of the island. It was densely wooded and
about an acre in extent, so we thought we should be forgotten. The
old ones circled high overhead but at last dropped, I thought, back
to the nests. After an hour and a half I returned to the ambush;
not a Pelican was there. Two Ravens flew high over, but the Pelicans
were far away, and all as when we went away, leaving the young to
struggle or get a death-chill as they might. So much for the pious
Pelican, the emblem of reckless devotion—a common, dirty little
cock Sparrow would put them all to shame.
We brought away only the 5 rotten eggs. About half of the old
Pelicans had horns on the bill.
On the island we saw a flock of White-winged Crossbills and heard
a Song-sparrow. Gulls were seen about. The white spruce cones littered
the ground and were full of seed, showing that no Redsquirrel was
on the island.
We left successfully by dashing out exactly as we came, between
the two dangerous currents, and got well away.
THE THIRD BUFFALO HUNT
The Indians are simply large children, and further, no matter how
reasonable your proposition, they take a long time to consider it
and are subject to all kinds of mental revulsion. So we were lucky
to get away from Fort Smith on July 4 with young Francois Bezkya
as guide. He was a full-blooded Chipewyan Indian, so full that he
had knowledge of no other tongue, and Billy had to be go-between.
Bezkya, the son of my old patient, came well recommended as a good
man and a moose-hunter. A "good man" means a strong, steady worker,
as canoeman or portager. He may be morally the vilest outcast unhung;
that in no wise modifies the phrase "he is a good man." But more:
the present was a moosehunter; this is a wonderfully pregnant phrase.
Moose-hunting by fair stalking is the pinnacle of woodcraft. The
Crees alone, as a tribe, are supposed to be masters of the art;
but many of the Chipewyans are highly successful. One must be a
consummate trailer, a good shot, have tireless limbs and wind and
a complete knowledge of the animal's habits and ways of moving and
thinking. One must watch the wind, without ceasing, for no hunter
has the slightest chance of success if once the Moose should scent
him. This last is fundamental, a three-times sacred principle. Not
long ago one of these Chipewyans went to confessional. Although a
year had passed since last he got cleaned up, he could think of
nothing to confess. Oh! spotless soul! However, under pressure of
the priest, he at length remembered a black transgression. The fall
before, while hunting, he went to the windward of a thicket that seemed
likely to hold his Moose, because on the lee, the proper side, the
footing happened to be very bad, and so he lost his Moose. Yes!
there was indeed a dark shadow on his recent past.
A man may be a good hunter, i.e., an all-round trapper and woodman,
but not a moose-hunter. At Fort Smith are two or three scores of
hunters, and yet I am told there are only three moose-hunters. The
phrase is not usually qualified; he is, or is not, a moose-hunter.
Just as a man is, or is not, an Oxford M.A. The force, then, of
the phrase appears, and we were content to learn that young Bezkya,
besides knowing the Buffalo country, was also a good man and a
We set out in two canoes, Bezkya and Jarvis in the small one, Billy,
Selig, Preble, and I in the large one, leaving the other police
boys to make Fort Resolution in the H. B. steamer.
Being the 4th of July, the usual torrential rains set in. During
the worst of it we put in at Salt River village. It was amusing
to see the rubbish about the doors of these temporarily deserted
cabins. The midden-heaps of the Cave-men are our principal sources
of information about those by-gone races; the future ethnologist who
discovers Salt River midden-heaps will find all the usual skulls,
bones, jaws, teeth, flints, etc., mixed with moccasin beads from
Venice, brass cartridges from New England, broken mirrors from
France, Eley cap-boxes from London, copper rings, silver pins,
lead bullets, and pewter spoons, and interpersed with them bits of
telephone wires and the fragments of gramophone discs. I wonder
what they will make of the last!
Eight miles farther we camped in the rain, reaching the Buffalo
Portage next morning at 10, and had everything over its 5 miles by
7 o'clock at night.
It is easily set down on paper, but the uninitiated can scarcely
realise the fearful toil of portaging. If you are an office man,
suppose you take an angular box weighing 20 or 30 pounds; if a
farmer, double the weight, poise it on your shoulders or otherwise,
as you please, and carry it half a mile on a level pavement in
cool, bright weather, and I am mistaken if you do not find yourself
suffering horribly before the end of a quarter-mile; the last part
of the trip will have been made in something like mortal agony.
Remember, then, that each of these portagers was carrying 150 to
250 pounds of broken stuff, not half a mile, but several miles,
not on level pavement, but over broken rocks, up banks, through
quagmires and brush—in short, across ground that would be difficult
walking without any burden, and not in cool, clear weather, but through
stifling swamps with no free hand to ease the myriad punctures of
his body, face, and limbs whenever unsufficiently protected from
the stingers that roam in clouds. It is the hardest work I ever
saw performed by human beings; the burdens are heavier than some
men will allow their horses to carry.
Yet all this frightful labour was cheerfully gone through by white
men, half-breeds, and Indians alike. They accept it as a part of
their daily routine. This fact alone is enough to guarantee the
industrial future of the red-man when the hunter life is no longer
Next day we embarked on the Little Buffalo River, beginning what
should have been and would have been a trip of memorable joys but
for the awful, awful, awful—see Chapter IX.
The Little Buffalo is the most beautiful river in the whole world
except, perhaps, its affluent, the Nyarling.
This statement sounds like the exaggeration of mere impulsive
utterance. Perhaps it is; but I am writing now after thinking the
matter over for two and a half years, during, which time I have
seen a thousand others, including the upper Thames, the Afton, the
Seine, the Arno, the Tiber, the Iser, the Spree, and the Rhine.
A hundred miles long is this uncharted stream; fifty feet its breadth
of limpid tide; eight feet deep, crystal clear, calm, slow, and
deep to the margin. A steamer could ply on its placid, unobstructed
flood, a child could navigate it anywhere. The heavenly beauty of
the shores, with virgin forest of fresh, green spruces towering a
hundred feet on every side, or varied in open places with long rows
and thick-set hedges of the gorgeous, wild, red, Athabaska rose,
made a stream that most canoemen, woodmen, and naturalists would
think without a fault or flaw, and with every river beauty in its
highest possible degree. Not trees and flood alone had strenuous
power to win our souls; at every point and bank, in every bend,
were living creatures of the north, Beaver and Bear, not often seen
but abundant; Moose tracks showed from time to time and birds were
here in thousands. Rare winter birds, as we had long been taught
to think them in our southern homes; here we found them in their
native land and heard not a few sweet melodies, of which in faraway
Ontario, New Jersey, and Maryland we had been favoured only with
promising scraps when wintry clouds were broken by the sun. Nor were
the old familiar ones away—Flicker, Sapsucker, Hairy Woodpecker,
Kingfisher, Least Flycatcher, Alder Flycatcher, Robin, Crow, and
Horned Owl were here to mingle their noises with the stranger melodies
and calls of Lincoln Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, Olive-sided Flycatcher,
Snipe, Rusty Blackbird, and Bohemian Waxwing.
Never elsewhere have I seen Horned Owls so plentiful. I did not know
that there were so many Bear and Beaver left; I never was so much
impressed by the inspiring raucous clamour of the Cranes, the
continual spatter of Ducks, the cries of Gulls and Yellowlegs.
Hour after hour we paddled down that stately river adding our 3
1/2 miles to its 1 mile speed; each turn brought to view some new
and lovelier aspect of bird and forest life. I never knew a land
of balmier air; I never felt the piney breeze more sweet; nowhere
but in the higher mountains is there such a tonic sense abroad;
the bright woods and river reaches were eloquent of a clime whose
maladies are mostly foreign-born. But alas! I had to view it all
swaddled, body, hands, and head, like a bee-man handling his swarms.
Songs were muffled, scenes were dimmed by the thick, protecting,
suffocating veil without which men can scarcely live.
Ten billion dollars would be all too small reward, a trifle totally
inadequate to compensate, mere nominal recognition of the man who
shall invent and realise a scheme to save this earthly paradise
from this its damning pest and malediction.
DOWN TO FUNDAMENTALS
At 8.30 A. M., 10 miles from the portage, we came to the Clew-ee,
or White Fish River; at 6.30 P. M. made the Sass Tessi, or Bear
River, and here camped, having covered fully 40 miles.
Now for the first time we were all together, with leisure to
question our guide and plan in detail. But all our mirth and hopes
were rudely checked by Corporal Selig, who had entire charge of
the commissary, announcing that there were only two days' rations
In the dead calm that followed this bomb-shell we all did some
thinking; then a rapid fire of questions demonstrated the danger
of having a guide who does not speak our language.
It seems that when asked how many days' rations we should take on
this Buffalo hunt he got the idea how many days to the Buffalo. He
said five, meaning five days each way and as much time as we wished
there. We were still two days from our goal. Now what should we
do? Scurry back to the fort or go ahead and trust to luck? Every
man present voted "go ahead on half rations."
We had good, healthy appetites; half rations was veritable hardship;
but our hollow insides made hearty laughing. Preble disappeared
as soon as we camped, and now at the right time he returned and
silently threw at the cook's feet a big 6-pound Pike. It was just
right, exactly as it happens in the most satisfactory books and plays.
It seems that he always carried a spoon-hook, and went at once to
what he rightly judged the best place, a pool at the junction of
the two rivers. The first time he threw he captured the big fellow.
Later he captured three smaller ones in the same place, but evidently
there were no more.
That night we had a glorious feast; every one had as much as he
could eat, chiefly fish. Next morning we went on 4 1/2 miles farther,
then came to the mouth of the Nyarling Tessi, or Underground River,
that joins the Buffalo from the west. This was our stream; this
was the highway to the Buffalo country. It was a miniature of the
river we were leaving, but a little quicker in current. In about
2 miles we came to a rapid, but were able to paddle up. About 6
miles farther was an immense and ancient log-jamb that filled the
stream from bank to bank for 190 yards. What will be the ultimate
history of this jamb? It is added to each year, the floods have no
power to move it, logs in water practically never rot, there is no
prospect of it being removed by natural agencies. I suspect that
at its head the river comes out of a succession of such things,
whence its name Underground River.,
Around this jamb is an easy portage. We were far now from the haunts
of any but Indians on the winter hunt, so were surprised to see on
this portage trail the deep imprints of a white man's boot. These
were made apparently within a week, by whom I never learned. On the
bank not far away we saw a Lynx pursued overhead by two scolding
Lunch consisted of what remained of the Pike, but that afternoon
Bezkya saw two Brown Cranes on a meadow, and manoeuvring till they
were in line killed both with one shot of his rifle at over 100
yards, the best shot I ever knew an Indian to make. Still, two
Cranes totalling 16 pounds gross is not enough meat to last five
men a week, so we turned to our Moosehunter.
"Yes, he could get a Moose." He went on in the small canoe with
Billy; we were to follow, and if we passed his canoe leave a note.
Seven miles above the log-jamb, the river forked south and west;
here a note from the guide sent us up the South Fork; later we
passed his canoe on the bank and knew that he had landed and was
surely on his way "to market." What a comfortable feeling it was to
remember that Bezkya was a moose-hunter! We left word and travelled
till 7, having come 11 miles up from the river's mouth. Our supper
that night was Crane, a little piece of bread each, some soup, and
At 10 the hunters came back empty-handed. Yes, they found a fresh
Moose track, but the creature was so pestered by clouds of ————
that he travelled continually as fast as he could against the wind.
They followed all day but could not overtake him. They saw a Beaver
but failed to get it. No other game was found.
Things were getting serious now, since all our food consisted of
1 Crane, 1 tin of brawn, 1 pound of bread, 2 pounds of pork, with
some tea, coffee, and sugar, not more than one square meal for
the crowd, and we were 5 men far from supplies, unless our hunting
proved successful, and going farther every day.
Next morning (July 9) each man had coffee, one lady's finger
of bread, and a single small slice of bacon. Hitherto from choice
I had not eaten bacon in this country, although it was a regular
staple served at each meal. But now, with proper human perversity,
I developed an extraordinary appetite for bacon. It seemed quite
the most delicious gift of God to man. Given bacon, and I was ready
to forgo all other foods. Nevertheless, we had divided the last of
it. I cut my slice in two, revelled in half, then secretly wrapped
the other piece in paper and hid it in the watch-pocket of my
vest, thinking "the time is in sight when the whole crowd will be
thankful to have that scrap of bacon among them." (As a matter of
fact, they never got it, for five days later we found a starving
dog and he was so utterly miserable that he conjured that scrap
from the pocket next my heart.)
We were face to face with something like starvation now; the game
seemed to shun us and our store of victuals was done. Yet no one
talked of giving up or going back. We set out to reach the Buffalo
country, and reach it we would.
That morning we got 7 little Teal, so our lunch was sure, but
straight Teal without accompaniments is not very satisfying; we
all went very hungry. And with one mind we all thought and talked
about the good dinners or specially fine food we once had had.
Selig's dream of bliss was a porterhouse steak with a glass of foaming
beer; Jarvis thought champagne and roast turkey spelt heaven just
then; I thought of my home breakfasts and the Beaux-Arts at New
York; but Billy said he would he perfectly happy if he could have
one whole bannock all to himself. Preble said nothing.
WHITE MAN AND RED. MEAT, BUT NOTHING MORE
There was plenty of hollow hilarity but no word of turning back.
But hold! yes, there was. There was one visage that darkened more
each day, and finally the gloomy thoughts broke forth in words
from the lips of—our Indian guide. His recent sullen silence was
now changed to open and rebellious upbraiding.
He didn't come here to starve. He could do that at home. He was
induced to come by a promise of plenty of flour. "All of which was
perfectly true. But," he went on, "We were still 11 days from the
Buffalo and we were near the head of navigation; it was a case
of tramp through the swamp with our beds and guns, living on the
country as we went, and if we didn't have luck the Coyotes and
Before we had time to discuss this prospect, a deciding step was
announced, by Jarvis, He was under positive orders to catch the
steamer Wrigley at Fort Resolution on the evening of July 10. It was
now mid-day of July 9, and only by leaving at once and travelling
all night could he cover the intervening 60 miles.
So then and there we divided the remnants of food evenly, for
"Bezkya was a moose-hunter."
Then Major Jarvis and Corporal Selig boarded the smaller canoe.
We shook hands warmly, and I at least had a lump in my throat;
they were such good fellows in camp, and to part this way when
we especially felt bound to stick together, going each of us on a
journey of privation and peril, seemed especially hard; and we were
so hungry. But we were living our lives. They rounded the bend, we
waved goodbye, and I have never seen them since.
Hitherto I was a guest; now I was in sole command, and called a
council of war. Billy was stanch and ready to go anywhere at any
cost. So was Preble. Bezkya was sulky and rebellious. Physically,
I had been at the point of a total breakdown when I left home; the
outdoor life had been slowly restoring me, but the last few days
had weakened me sadly and I was not fit for a long expedition on
foot. But of one thing I was sure, we must halt till we got food.
A high wind was blowing and promised some respite to the Moose from
the little enemy that sings except when he stings, so I invited
Bezkya to gird up his loins and make another try for Moose.
Nothing loath, he set off with Billy. I marked them well as they
went, one lithe, sinewy, active, animal-eyed; the other solid and
sturdy, following doggedly, keeping up by sheer blundering strength.
I could not but admire them, each in his kind.
Two hours later I heard two shots, and toward evening the boys came
back slowly, tired but happy, burdened with the meat, for Bezkya
was a moosehunter.
Many shekels and gladly would I have given to have been on that
moose hunt. Had I seen it I could have told it. These men, that
do it so well, never can tell it. Yet in the days that followed
I picked up a few significant phrases that gave glimpses of its
Through the crooked land of endless swamp this son of the woods
had set out "straightaway west." A big track appeared crossing a
pool, seeming fresh. "No! he go by yesterday; water in track not
muddy." Another track was found. "Yes, pretty good; see bite alder.
Alder turn red in two hours; only half red." Follow long. "Look
out, Billy; no go there; wrong wind. Yes, he pass one hour; see
bit willow still white. Stop; he pass half-hour; see grass still
bend. He lie down soon. How know? Oh, me know. Stand here, Billy.
He sleep in thick willow there."
Then the slow crawl in absolute stillness, the long wait, the
betrayal of the huge beast by the ear that wagged furiously to
shake off the winged bloodsuckers. The shot, the rush, the bloody
trail, the pause in the opening to sense the foe, the shots from
both hunters, and the death.
Next day we set out in the canoe for the Moose, which lay conveniently
on the river bank. After pushing through the alders and poling up
the dwindling stream for a couple of hours we reached the place
two miles up, by the stream. It was a big bull with no bell, horns
only two-thirds grown but 46 inches across, the tips soft and
springy; one could stick a knife through them anywhere outside of
the basal half.
Bezkya says they are good to eat in this stage; but we had about
700 pounds of good meat so did not try. The velvet on the horns is
marked by a series of concentric curved lines of white hair, across
the lines of growth; these, I take it, correspond with times of
check by chill or hardship.
We loaded our canoe with meat and pushed on toward the Buffalo
country for two miles more up the river. Navigation now became very
difficult on account of alders in the stream. Bezkya says that only
a few hundred yards farther and the river comes from underground.
This did not prove quite correct, for I went half a mile farther
by land and found no change.
Here, however, we did find some Buffalo tracks; one went through
our camp, and farther on were many, but all dated from the spring
and were evidently six weeks old.
There were no recent tracks, which was discouraging, and the air
of gloom over our camp grew heavier. The weather had been bad ever
since we left Fort Smith, cloudy or showery. This morning for the
first time the day dawned with a clear sky, but by noon it was
cloudy and soon again raining. Our diet consisted of nothing but
Moose meat and tea; we had neither sugar nor salt, and the craving
for farinaceous food was strong and growing. We were what the.
natives call "flour hungry"; our three-times-a-day prospect of Moose,
Moose, Moose was becoming loathsome. Bezkya was openly rebellious
once more, and even my two trusties were very, very glum. Still,
the thought of giving up was horrible, so I made a proposition:
"Bezkya, you go out scouting on, foot and see if you can locate a
band. I'll give you five dollars extra if you show me one Buffalo."
At length he agreed to go provided I would set out for Fort
Resolution at once unless he found Buffalo near. This was leaving
it all in his hands. While I was considering, Preble said: "I tell
you this delay is playing the mischief with our Barren-Ground trip;
we should have started for the north ten days ago," which was in
truth enough to settle the matter.
I knew perfectly well beforehand what Bezkya's report would be.
At 6.30 he returned to say he found nothing but old tracks. There
were no Buffalo nearer than two days' travel on foot, and he should
like to return at once to Fort Resolution.
There was no further ground for debate; every one and everything
now was against me. Again I had to swallow the nauseating draught
of defeat and retreat.
"We start northward first thing in the morning," I said briefly,
and our third Buffalo hunt was over.
These, then, were the results so far as Buffalo were concerned:
Old tracks as far down as last camp, plenty of old tracks here and
westward, but the Buffalo, as before on so many occasions, were
two days' travel to the westward.
During all this time I had lost no good opportunity of impressing
on the men the sinfulness of leaving a camp-fire burning and of
taking life unnecessarily; and now, I learned of fruit from this
seeding. That night Bezkya was in a better humour, for obvious
reasons; he talked freely and told me how that day he came on a
large Blackbear which at once took to a tree. The Indian had his
rifle, but thought, "I can kill him, yet I can't stop to skin him
or use his meat," so left him in peace.
This is really a remarkable incident, almost unique. I am glad
to believe that I had something to do with causing such unusual
ON THE NYARLING
All night it rained; in the morning it was dull, foggy, and showery.
Everything was very depressing, especially in view of this second
defeat. The steady diet of Moose and tea was debilitating; my legs
trembled under me. I fear I should be a poor one to stand starvation,
if so slight a brunt should play such havoc with my strength.
We set out early to retrace the course of the Nyarling, which in
spite of associated annoyances and disappointments will ever shine
forth in my memory as the "Beautiful River."
It is hard, indeed, for words to do it justice. The charm of a
stream is always within three feet of the surface and ten feet of
the bank. The broad Slave, then, by its size wins in majesty but
must lose most all its charm; the Buffalo, being fifty feet wide,
has some waste water; but the Nyarling, half the size, has its
birthright compounded and intensified in manifold degree. The water
is clear, two or three feet deep at the edge of the grassy banks,
seven to ten feet in mid-channel, without bars or obstructions
except the two log-jambs noted, and these might easily be removed.
The current is about one mile and a half an hour, so that canoes
can readily pass up or down; the scenery varies continually and is
always beautiful. Everything that I have said of the Little Buffalo
applies to the Nyarling with fourfold force, because of its more
varied scenery and greater range of bird and other life. Sometimes,
like the larger stream, it presents a long, straight vista of a
quarter-mile through a solemn aisle in the forest of mighty spruce
trees that tower a hundred feet in height, all black with gloom,
green with health, and gray with moss.
Sometimes its channel winds in and out of open grassy meadows that
are dotted with clumps of rounded trees, as in an English park.
Now it narrows to a deep and sinuous bed, through alders so rank
and reaching that they meet overhead and form a shade of golden
green; and again it widens out into reedy lakes, the summer home
of countless Ducks, Geese, Tattlers Terns, Peetweets, Gulls, Rails,
Blackbirds, and half a hundred of the lesser tribes. Sometimes the
foreground is rounded masses of kinnikinnik in snowy flower, or
again a far-strung growth of the needle bloom, richest and reddest
of its tribe—the Athabaska rose. At times it is skirted by tall
poplar woods where the claw-marks on the trunks are witness of the
many Blackbears, or some tamarack swamp showing signs and proofs
that hereabouts a family of Moose had fed to-day, or by a broad
and broken trail that told of a Buffalo band passing weeks ago.
And while we gazed at scribbled records, blots, and marks, the loud
"slap plong" of a Beaver showed from time to time that the thrifty
ones had dived at our approach.
On the way up Jarvis had gone first in the small canoe; he saw 2
Bears, 3 Beaver, and 1 Lynx; I saw nothing but birds. On the way
down, being alone, the luck came my way.
At the first camp, after he left, we heard a loud "plong" in the
water near the boat. Bezkya glided to the spot; I followed—here
was a large Beaver swimming. The Indian fired, the Beaver plunged,
and we saw nothing more of it. He told Billy, who told me, that it
was dead, because it did not slap with its tail as it went down.
Next night another splashed by our boat.
This morning as we paddled we saw a little stream, very muddy,
trickling into the river. Bezkya said, "Beaver at work on his dam
there." Now that we were really heading for flour, our Indian showed
up well. He was a strong paddler, silent but apparently cheerful,
ready at all times to work. As a hunter and guide he was of course
first class. About 10.30 we came on a large Beaver sunning himself
on a perch built of mud just above the water. He looked like a
huge chestnut Muskrat. He plunged at once but came up again yards
farther down, took another look and dived, to be seen no more.
At noon we reached our old camp, the last where all had been
together. Here we put up a monument on a tree, and were mortified
to think we had not done so at our farthest camp.
There were numbers of Yellowlegs breeding here; we were surprised
to see them resting on trees or flying from one branch to another.
A Great Gray-owl sitting on a stump was a conspicuous feature of
our landscape view; his white choker shone like a parson's.
Early in the morning we saw a Kingbird. This was our northernmost
record for the species.
We pressed on all day, stopping only for our usual supper of Moose
and tea, and about 7 the boys were ready to go on again. They
paddled till dark at 10. Camped in the rain, but every one was
well pleased, for we had made 40 miles that day and were that much
nearer to flour.
This journey had brought us down the Nyarling and 15 miles down
It rained all night; next morning the sun came out once or twice but
gave it up, and clouds with rain sprinklings kept on. We had struck
a long spell of wet; it was very trying, and fatal to photographic
After a delicious, appetising, and inspiring breakfast of straight
Moose, without even salt, and raw tea, we pushed on along the line
of least resistance, i.e., toward flour.
A flock of half a dozen Bohemian Waxwings were seen catching flies
among the tall spruce tops; probably all were males enjoying a stag
party while their wives were home tending eggs or young.
Billy shot a female Bufflehead Duck; she was so small-only 8 inches
in slack girth—that she could easily have entered an ordinary
Woodpecker hole. So that it is likely the species nest in the abandoned
holes of the Flicker. A Redtailed Hawk had its nest on a leaning
spruce above the water. It was a most striking and picturesque
object; doubtless the owner was very well pleased with it, but a
pair of Robins militant attacked him whenever he tried to go near
A Beaver appeared swimming ahead; Bezkya seized his rifle and
removed the top of its head, thereby spoiling a splendid skull but
securing a pelt and a new kind of meat. Although I was now paying
his wages the Beaver did not belong to me. According to the custom
of the country it belonged to Bezkya. He owed me nothing but service
as a guide. Next meal we had Beaver tail roasted and boiled; it
was very delicious, but rather rich and heavy.
At 3.45 we reached Great Slave Lake, but found the sea so high
that it would have been very dangerous to attempt crossing to Fort
Resolution, faintly to be seen a dozen miles away.
We waited till 7, then ventured forth; it was only 11 miles across
and we could send that canoe at 5 1/2 miles an hour, but the wind
and waves against us were so strong that it took 3 1/2 hours to
make the passage. At 10.30 we landed at Resolution and pitched our
tent among 30 teepees with 200 huge dogs that barked, scratched,
howled, yelled, and fought around, in, and over the tent-ropes
all night long. Oh, how different from the tranquil woods of the
FORT RESOLUTION AND ITS FOLK
Early next morning Preble called on his old acquaintance, Chief
Trader C. Harding, in charge of the post. Whenever we have gone to
H. B. Co. officials to do business with them, as officers of the
company, we have found them the keenest of the keen; but whenever
it is their personal affair, they are hospitality out-hospitalled.
They give without stint; they lavish their kindness on the stranger
from the big world. In a few minutes Preble hastened back to say
that we were to go to breakfast at once.
That breakfast, presided over by a charming woman and a genial,
generous man, was one that will not be forgotten while I live.
Think of it, after the hard scrabble on the Nyarling! We had real
porridge and cream, coffee with veritable sugar and milk, and
authentic butter, light rolls made of actual flour, unquestionable
bacon and potatoes, with jam and toast—the really, truly things—and
we had as much as we could eat! We behaved rather badly—intemperately,
I fear—we stopped only when forced to do it, and yet both of us
came away with appetites.
It was clear that I must get some larger craft than my canoe to
cross the lake from Fort Resolution and take the 1,300 pounds of
provisions that had come on the steamer. Harding kindly offered the
loan of a York boat, and with the help chiefly of Charlie McLeod
the white man, who is interpreter at the fort, I secured a crew to
man it. But oh, what worry and annoyance it was! These Great Slave
Lake Indians are like a lot of spoiled and petulant children,
with the added weakness of adult criminals; they are inconsistent,
shiftless, and tricky. Pike, Whitney, Buffalo Jones, and others
united many years ago in denouncing them as the most worthless and
contemptible of the human race, and since then they have considerably
deteriorated. There are exceptions, however, as will be seen by
One difficulty was that it became known that on the Buffalo expedition
Bezkya had received three dollars a day, which is government
emergency pay. I had agreed to pay the regular maximum, two dollars
a day with presents and keep. All came and demanded three dollars.
I told them they could go at once in search of the hottest place
ever pictured by a diseased and perfervid human imagination.
If they went there they decided not to stay, because in an hour
they were back offering to compromise. I said I could run back to
Fort Smith (it sounds like nothing) and get all the men I needed
at one dollar and a half. (I should mortally have hated to try.)
One by one the crew resumed. Then another bombshell. I had offended
Chief Snuff by not calling and consulting with him; he now gave
it out that I was here to take out live Musk-ox, which meant that
all the rest would follow to seek their lost relatives. Again my
crew resigned. I went to see Snuff. Every man has his price. Snuff's
price was half a pound of tea; and the crew came back, bringing,
however, several new modifications in our contract.
Taking no account of several individuals that joined a number of
times but finally resigned, the following, after they had received
presents, provisions, and advance pay, were the crew secured to
man the York boat on the "3 or 4" days' run to Pike's Portage and
then carry my goods to the first lake.
Weeso. The Jesuits called him Louison d'Noire, but it has been
corrupted into a simpler form. "Weeso" they call it, "Weeso" they
write it, and for "Weeso" you must ask, or you will not find him.
So I write it as I do "Sousi" and "Yum," with the true local colour.
He was a nice, kind, simple old rabbit, not much use and not
over-strong, but he did his best, never murmuring, and in all the
mutinies and rebellions that followed he remained staunch, saying
simply, "I gave my word I would go, and I will go." He would make
a safe guide for the next party headed for Aylmer Lake. He alone
did not ask rations for his wife during his absence; he said, "It
didn't matter about her, as they had been married for a long time
now." He asked as presents a pair of my spectacles, as his eyes
were failing, and a marble axe. The latter I sent him later, but
he could not understand why glasses that helped me should not help
him. He acted as pilot and guide, knowing next to nothing about
Francois d'Noire, son of Weeso, a quiet, steady, inoffensive chap,
but not strong; nevertheless, having been there once with us, he
is now a competent guide to take any other party as far as Pike's
C., a sulky brute and a mischief-maker. He joined and resigned
a dozen times that day, coming back on each occasion with a new
S., grandson of the chief, a sulky good-for-nothing; would not have
him again at any price; besides the usual wages, tobacco, food,
etc., he demanded extra to support his wife during his absence.
The wife, I found, was a myth.
T., a sulky good-for-nothing.
Beaulieu, an alleged grandson of his grandfather. A perpetual
breeder of trouble; never did a decent day's work the whole trip.
Insolent, mutinous, and overbearing, till I went for him with intent
to do bodily mischief; then he became extremely obsequious. Like
the rest of the foregoing, he resigned and resumed at irregular
Yum (William), Freesay; the best of the lot; a bright, cheerful,
intelligent, strong Indian, boy. He and my old standby, Billy
Loutit, did virtually all the handling of that big boat. Any one
travelling in that country should secure Yum if they can. He was
worth all the others put together.
THE CHIPEWYANS, THEIR SPEECH AND WRITING
Sweeping generalisations are always misleading, therefore I offer
some now, and later will correct them by specific instances.
These Chipewyans are dirty, shiftless, improvident, and absolutely
honest. Of the last we saw daily instances in crossing the country.
Valuables hung in trees, protected only from weather, birds, and
beasts, but never a suggestion that they needed protection from
mankind. They are kind and hospitable among themselves, but grasping
in their dealings with white men, as already set forth. While they
are shiftless and lazy, they also undertake the frightful toil of
hunting and portaging. Although improvident, they have learned to
dry a stock of meat and put up a scaffold of white fish for winter
use. As a tribe they are mild and inoffensive, although they are
the original stock from which the Apaches broke away some hundreds
of years ago before settling in the south.
They have suffered greatly from diseases imported by white men,
but not from whiskey. The Hudson's Bay Company has always refused
to supply liquor to the natives. What little of the evil traffic
there has been was the work of free-traders. But the Royal Mounted
Police have most rigorously and effectually suppressed this.
Nevertheless, Chief Trader Anderson tells me that the Mackenzie
Valley tribes have fallen to less than half their numbers during
the last century.
It is about ten, years since they made the treaty that surrendered
their lands to the government. They have no reserves, but are free
to hunt as their fathers did.
I found several of the older men lamenting the degeneracy of
their people. "Our fathers were hunters and our mothers made good
moccasins, but the young men are lazy loafers around the trading
posts, and the women get money in bad ways to buy what they should
make with their hands."
The Chipewyan dialects are peculiarly rasping, clicking, and
guttural, especially when compared with Cree.
Every man and woman and most of the children among them smoke.
They habitually appear with a pipe in their mouth and speak without
removing it, so that the words gurgle out on each side of the pipe
while a thin stream goes sizzling through the stem. This additional
variant makes it hopeless to suggest on paper any approach to their
The Jesuits tell me that it was more clicked and guttural fifty
years ago, but that they are successfully weeding out many of the
more unpleasant catarrhal sounds.
In noting down the names of animals, I was struck by the fact that
the more familiar the animal the shorter its name. Thus the Beaver,
Muskrat, Rabbit, and Marten, on which they live, are respectively
Tsa, Dthen, Ka, and Tha. The less familiar (in a daily sense) Red
Fox and Weasel are Nak-ee-they, Noon-dee-a, Tel-ky-lay; and the
comparatively scarce Musk-ox and little Weasel, At-huh-le-jer-ray
and Tel-ky-lay-azzy. All of which is clear and logical, for the
name originally is a description, but the softer parts and sharp
angles are worn down by the attrition of use—the more use they
have for a word the shorter it is bound to get. In this connection
it is significant that "to-day" is To-ho-chin-nay, and "to-morrow"
The Chipewyan teepee is very distinctive; fifty years ago all were
of caribou leather, now most are of cotton; not for lack of caribou,
but because the cotton does not need continual watching to save it
from the dogs. Of the fifty teepees at Fort Chipewyan, one or two
only were of caribou but many had caribou-skin tops, as these are
less likely to bum than those of cotton.
The way they manage the smoke is very clever; instead of the two
fixed flaps, as among the Plains River Indians, these have a separate
hood which is easily set on any side (see III). Chief Squirrel lives
in a lodge that is an admirable combination of the white men's tent
with its weather-proof roof and the Indian teepee with its cosy
fire. (See cut, p. 149.)
Not one of these lodges that I saw, here or elsewhere, had the
slightest suggestion of decoration.
For people who spend their whole life on or near the water these are
the worst boatmen I ever saw. The narrow, thick paddle they make,
compared with the broad, thin Iroquois paddle, exactly expressed
the difference between the two as canoemen. The Chipewyan's mode of
using it is to sit near the middle and make 2 or perhaps 3 strokes
on one side, then change to the other side for the same, and so
on. The line made by the canoes is an endless zigzag. The idea of
paddling on one side so dexterously that the canoe goes straight
is yet on an evolutionary pinnacle beyond their present horizon.
In rowing, their way is to stand up, reach forward with the 30-pound
16 1/2-foot oar, throw all the weight on it, falling backward into
the seat. After half an hour of this exhausting work they must rest
15 to 20 minutes. The long, steady, strong pull is unknown to them
in every sense.
Their ideas of sailing a boat are childish. Tacking is like washing,
merely a dim possibility of their very distant future. It's a
sailing wind if behind; otherwise it's a case of furl and row.
By an ancient, unwritten law the whole country is roughly divided
among the hunters. Each has his own recognised hunting ground,
usually a given river valley, that is his exclusive and hereditary
property; another hunter may follow a wounded animal into it, but
not begin a hunt there or set a trap upon it.
Most of their time is spent at the village, but the hunting ground
is visited at proper seasons.
Fifty years ago they commonly went half naked. How they stood the
insects I do not know, and when asked they merely grinned significantly;
probably they doped themselves with grease.
This religious training has had one bad effect. Inspired with horror
of being "naked" savages, they do not run any sinful risks, even
to take a bath. In all the six months I was among them I never saw
an Indian's bare arms, much less his legs. One day after the fly
season was over I took advantage of the lovely weather and water
to strip off and jump into a lake by our camp; my Indians modestly
turned their backs until I had finished.
If this mock modesty worked for morality one might well accept it,
but the old folks say that it operates quite the other way. It has
at all events put an end to any possibility of them taking a bath.
Maybe as a consequence, but of this I am not sure, none of these
Indians swim. A large canoe-load upset in crossing Great Slave Lake
a month after we arrived and all were drowned.
Like most men who lead physical lives, and like all meat-eating
savages, these are possessed of a natural proneness toward strong
An interesting two-edged boomerang illustration of this was given
by an unscrupulous whiskey trader. While travelling across country
he ran short of provisions but fortunately came to a Chipewyan
lodge. At first its owner had no meat to spare, but when he found
that the visitor had a flask of whiskey he offered for it a large
piece of Moose meat; when this was refused he doubled the amount,
and after another refusal added some valuable furs and more meat
till one hundred dollars worth was piled up.
Again the answer was "no."
Then did that Indian offer the lodge and everything he had in it,
including his wife. But the trader was obdurate.
"Why didn't you take it," said the friend whom he told of the
affair; "the stuff would have netted five hundred dollars, and all
for one flask of whiskey."
"Not much," said the trader, "it was my last flask I wouldn't 'a'
had a drop for myself. But it just shows, how fond these Indians
are of whiskey."
While some of the Chipewyans show fine physique, and many do great
feats of strength and endurance, they seem on the whole inferior
Thus the strongest portager on the river is said to be Billy
Loutit's brother George. At Athabaska Landing I was shown a house
on a hill, half a mile away, to which he had carried on his back
450 pounds of flour without stopping. Some said it was only 350
pounds, but none made it less. As George is only three-quarters
white, this is perhaps not a case in point. But during our stay
at Fort Smith we had several athletic meets of Indians and whites,
the latter represented by Preble and the police boys, and no matter
whether in running, walking, high jumping, broad jumping, wrestling,
or boxing, the whites were ahead.
As rifle-shots, also, the natives seem far inferior. In the matter
of moose-hunting only, as already noted, the red-man was master.
This, of course, is a matter of life-long training. A white man
brought up to it would probably do as well as an Indian even in
this very Indian department.
These tribes are still in the hunting and fishing stage; they make
no pretence of agriculture or stockraising. Except that they wear
white man's clothes and are most of them nominally Roman Catholics,
they live as their fathers did 100 years ago. But there is one
remarkable circumstance that impressed me more and more—practically
every Chipewyan reads and writes his own language.
This miracle was inborn on me slowly. On the first Buffalo hunt we
had found a smoothened pole stuck in the ground by the trail. It
was inscribed as herewith.
"What is that Sousi?" "It's a notice from Chief William that Swiggert
wants men on the portage," and he translated it literally: "The fat
white man 5 scows, small white man 2 scows, gone down, men wanted
for Rapids, Johnnie Bolette this letter for you. (Signed) Chief
Each of our guides in succession had shown a similar familiarity
with the script of his people, and many times we found spideresque
characters on tree or stone that supplied valuable information.
They could, however tell me nothing of its age or origin, simply
"We all do it; it is easy."
At Fort Resolution I met the Jesuit fathers and got the desired
chance of learning about the Chipewyan script.
First, it is not a true alphabet, but a syllabic; not letters, but
syllables, are indicated by each character; 73 characters are all
that are needed to express the whole language. It is so simple
and stenographic that the fathers often use it as a rapid way of
writing French. It has, however, the disadvantage of ambiguity at
times. Any Indian boy can learn it in a week or two; practically
all the Indians use it. What a commentary on our own cumbrous and
illogical spelling, which takes even a bright child two or three
years to learn!
Now, I already knew something of the Cree syllabic invented by
the Rev. James Evans, Methodist missionary on Lake Winnipeg in the
'40s, but Cree is a much less complex language; only 36 characters
are needed, and these are so simple that an intelligent Cree can
learn to write his own language in one day.
In support, of this astounding statement I give, first, the 36
characters which cover every fundamental sound in their language
and then a sample of application. While crude and inconcise, it
was so logical and simple that in a few years the missionary had
taught practically the whole Cree nation to read and write. And
Lord Dufferin, when the matter came before him during his north-west
tour, said enthusiastically: "There have been men buried in
Westminster Abbey with national honours whose claims to fame were
far less than those of this devoted missionary, the man who taught
a whole nation to read and write."
These things I knew, and now followed up my Jesuit source of
"Who invented this?"
"I don't know for sure. It is in general use."
"Was it a native idea?"
"Oh, no; some white man made it."
"Where? Here or in the south?"
"It came originally from the Crees, as near as we can tell."
"Was it a Cree or a missionary that first thought of it?"
"I believe it was a missionary."
"Frankly, now, wasn't it invented in 1840 by Rev. James Evans,
Methodist missionary to the Crees on Lake Winnipeg?"
Oh, how he hated to admit it, but he was too honest to deny it.
"Yes, it seems to me it was some name like that. 'Je ne sais pas.'"
Reader, take a map of North America, a large one, and mark off the
vast area bounded by the Saskatchewan, the Rockies, the Hudson Bay,
and the Arctic circle, and realise that in this region, as large
as continental Europe outside of Russia and Spain, one simple,
earnest man, inspired by the love of Him who alone is perfect
love, invented and popularised a method of writing that in a few
years—in less than a generation, indeed—has turned the whole native
population from ignorant illiterates to a people who are proud to
read and write their own language. This, I take it, is one of the
greatest feats of a civiliser. The world has not yet heard, much
less comprehended, the magnitude of the achievement; when it does
there will be no name on the Canadian roll of fame that will stand
higher or be blazoned more brightly than that of James Evans the
THE DOGS OF FORT RESOLUTION
It sounds like the opening of an epic poem but it is not.
The Chipewyan calender is divided in two seasons—dog season and
canoe season. What the horse is to the Arab, what the Reindeer is
to the Lap and the Yak to the Thibetan, the dog is to the Chipewyan
for at least one-half of the year, until it is displaced by the
During dog season the canoes are piled away somewhat carelessly or
guarded only from the sun. During canoe season the dogs are treated
atrociously. Let us remember, first, that these are dogs in every
doggy sense, the worshipping servants of man, asking nothing but
a poor living in return for abject love and tireless service, as
well as the relinquishment of all family ties and natural life. In
winter, because they cannot serve without good food, they are well
fed on fish that is hung on scaffolds in the fall in time to be
frozen before wholly spoiled. The journeys they will make and the
devoted service they render at this time is none too strongly set
forth in Butler's "Cerf Vola" and London's "Call of the Wild." It
is, indeed, the dog alone that makes life possible during the white
half-year of the boreal calender. One cannot be many days in the
north without hearing tales of dog prowess, devotion, and heroism.
A typical incident was related as follows by Thomas Anderson:
Over thirty years ago, Chief Factor George McTavish and his driver,
Jack Harvey, were travelling from East Main to Rupert's House (65
miles) in a blizzard so thick and fierce that they could scarcely
see the leading dog. He was a splendid, vigorous creature, but all
at once he lay down and refused to go. The driver struck him, but
the factor reproved the man, as this dog had never needed the whip.
The driver then went ahead and found open water only a few feet
from the dogs, though out of sight. After that they gave the leader
free rein, surrendered themselves to his guidance, and in spite of
the blinding blizzard they struck the flagpole of Rupert's between
11 and 12 that night, only a little behind time.
Many of the wild Wolf traits still remain with them. They commonly
pair; they bury surplus food; the mothers disgorge food for the
young; they rally to defend one of their own clan against a stranger;
and they punish failure with death.
A thousand incidents might be adduced to show that in the north
there is little possibility of winter travel without dogs and little
possibility of life without winter travel.
But April comes with melting snows and May with open rivers and
brown earth everywhere; then, indeed, the reign of the dog is over.
The long yellow-birch canoe is taken down from the shanty roof or
from a sheltered scaffold, stitched, gummed, and launched; and the
dogs are turned loose to fend for themselves. Gratitude for past
services or future does not enter into the owner's thoughts to
secure a fair allowance of food. All their training and instinct
prompts them to hang about camp, where, kicked, stoned, beaten,
and starved, they steal and hunt as best they may, until the sad
season of summer is worn away and merry winter with its toil and
good food is back once more.
From leaving Fort MacMurray we saw daily the starving dog, and
I fed them when I could. At Smith Landing the daily dog became a
daily fifty. One big fellow annexed us. "I found them first," he
seemed to say, and no other dog came about our camp without a fight.
Of course he fared well on our scraps, but many a time it made my
heart ache and my food-store suffer to see the gaunt skeletons in
the bushes, just beyond his sphere of influence, watching for a
chance to rush in and secure a mouthful of—anything to stay the
devastating pang. My journal of the time sets forth in full detail
the diversity of their diet, not only every possible scrap of
fish and meat or whatsoever smelled of fish or meat, but rawhide,
leather, old boots, flour-bags, potato-peelings, soap, wooden
fragments of meat-boxes, rags that have had enough animal contact
to be odorous. An ancient dishcloth, succulent with active service,
was considered a treat to be bolted whole; and when in due course
the cloth was returned to earth, it was intact, bleached, purged, and
purified as by chemic fires and ready for a new round of benevolences.
In some seasons the dogs catch Rabbits enough to keep them up. But
this year the Rabbits were gone. They are very clever at robbing
fish-nets at times, but these were far from the fort. Reduced
to such desperate straits for food, what wonder that cannibalism
should be common! Not only the dead, but the sick or disabled of
their own kind are torn to pieces and devoured. I was told of one
case where a brutal driver disabled one of his dogs with heavy blows;
its companions did not wait till it was dead before they feasted.
It is hard to raise pups because the mothers so often devour their
own young; and this is a charge I never heard laid to the Wolf,
the ancestor of these dogs, which shows how sadly the creature has
been deteriorated by contact with man. There seems no length to
which they will not go for food. Politeness forbids my mentioning
the final diet for which they scramble around the camp. Never in my
life before have I seen such utter degradation by the power of the
endless hunger pinch. Nevertheless—and here I expect the reader to
doubt, even as I did when first I heard it, no matter how desperate
their straits-these gormandisers of unmentionable filth, these
starvelings, in their dire extremity will turn away in disgust from
duck or any other web-footed water-fowl.
Billy Loutit had shot a Pelican; the skin was carefully preserved
and the body guarded for the dogs, thinking that this big thing,
weighing 6 or 7 pounds, would furnish a feast for one or two. The
dogs knew me, and rushed like a pack of Wolves at sight of coming
food. The bigger ones fought back the smaller. I threw the prize,
but, famished though they were, they turned away as a man might
turn from a roasted human hand. One miserable creature, a mere
skeleton, sneaked forward when the stronger ones were gone, pulled
out the entrails at last, and devoured them as though he hated
I can offer no explanation. But the Hudson's Bay men tell me it is
always so, and I am afraid the remembrance of the reception accorded
my bounty that day hardened my heart somewhat in the days that
On the Nyarling we were too far from mankind to be bothered
with dogs, but at Fort Resolution we reentered their country. The
following from my journal records the impression after our enforced
three days' stay:
"Tuesday, July 16, 1907.—Fine day for the first time since July
3. At last we pulled out of Fort Resolution (9.40 A. M.). I never
was so thankful to leave a place where every one was kind. I think
the maddest cynophile would find a cure here. It is the worst
dog-cursed spot I ever saw; not a square yard but is polluted
by them; no article can be left on the ground but will be carried
off, torn up, or defiled; the four corners of our tent have become
regular stopping places for the countless canines, and are disfigured
and made abominable, so that after our escape there will be needed
many days of kindly rain for their purification. There certainly
are several hundred dogs in the village; there are about 50 teepees
and houses with 5 to 15 dogs at each, and 25 each at the mission
and H. B. Co. In a short walk, about 200 yards, I passed 86 dogs.
"There is not an hour or ten minutes of day or night that is not
made hideous with a dog-fight or chorus of yelps. There are about
six different clans of dogs, divided as their owners are, and a
Dogrib dog entering the Yellow-knife or Chipewyan part of the camp
is immediately set upon by all the residents. Now the clansmen of
the one in trouble rush to the rescue and there is a battle. Indians
of both sides join in with clubs to belabour the fighters, and the
yowling and yelping of those discomfited is painful to hear for
long after the fight is over. It was a battle like this, I have
been told, which caused the original split of the tribe, one part
of which went south to become the Apaches of Arizona. The scenes
go on all day and all night in different forms. A number of dogs
are being broken in by being tied up to stakes. These keep up
a heart-rending and peculiar crying, beginning with a short bark
which melts into a yowl and dies away in a nerve-racking wail.
This ceases not day or night, and half a dozen of these prisoners
are within a stone's throw of our camp.
"The favourite place for the clan fights seems to be among
the guy-ropes of our tent; at least half a dozen of these general
engagements take place every night while we try to sleep.
"Everything must be put on the high racks eight feet up to be safe
from them; even empty tins are carried off, boots, hats, soap, etc.,
are esteemed most toothsome morsels, and what they can neither eat,
carry off, nor destroy, they defile with elaborate persistency and
A common trick of the Indians when canoe season arrives is, to put
all the family and one or two of the best dogs in the canoes, then
push away from the shore, leaving the rest behind. Those so abandoned
come howling after the canoes, and in unmistakable pleadings beg
the heartless owners to take them in. But the canoes push off toward
the open sea, aiming to get out of sight. The dogs howl sadly on
the shore, or swim after them till exhausted, then drift back to
the nearest land to begin the summer of hardship.
If Rabbits are plentiful they get along; failing these they catch
mice or fish; when the berry season comes they eat fruit; the weaker
ones are devoured by their brethren; and when the autumn arrives
their insensate owners generally manage to come back and pick up
the survivors, feeding them so that they are ready for travel when
dog-time begins, and the poor faithful brutes, bearing no grudge,
resume at once the service of their unfeeling masters.
All through our voyage up Great Slave Lake we daily heard the sad
howling of abandoned dogs, and nightly, we had to take steps to
prevent them stealing our food and leathers. More than once in the
dim light, I was awakened by a rustle, to see sneaking from my tent
the gray, wolfish form of some prowling dog, and the resentment I
felt at the loss inflicted, was never more than to make me shout
or throw a pebble at him.
One day, as we voyaged eastward (July 23) in the Tal-thel-lay
narrows of Great Slave Lake, we met 5 canoes and 2 York boats of
Indians going west. A few hours afterward as, we were nooning on
an island (we were driven to the islands now) there came a long
howling from the rugged main shore, a mile away to the east of
us; then it increased to a chorus of wailing, and we knew that the
Indians had that morning abandoned their dogs there. The wailing
continued, then we saw a tiny black speck coming from the far
shore. When it was half-way across the ice-cold bay we could hear
the gasps of a tired swimmer. He got along fairly, dodging the cakes
of ice, until within about 200 yards, when his course was barred
by a long, thin, drifting floe. He tried to climb on it, but was
too weak, then he raised his voice in melancholy howls of despair.
I could not get to him, but he plucked up heart at length, and
feebly paddling went around till he found an opening, swam through
and came on, the slowest dog swimmer I ever saw. At last he struck
bottom and crawled out. But he was too weak and ill to eat the meat
that I had ready prepared for him. We left him with food for many
days and sailed away.
Another of the dogs that tried to follow him across was lost in the
ice; we heard his miserable wailing moans as he was carried away,
but could not help him. My Indians thought nothing of it and were
amused at my solicitude.
A couple of hours later we landed on the rugged east coast to study
our course through the ice. At once., we were met by four dogs that
trotted along the shore to where we landed. They did not seem very
gaunt; one, an old yellow female, carried something in her mouth;
this she never laid down, and growled savagely when any of the others
came near. It proved to be the blood-stained leg of a new-killed
dog, yellow like herself.
As we pulled out a big black-and-white fellow looked at us
wistfully from a rocky ledge; memories of Bingo, whom he resembled
not a little, touched me. I threw him a large piece of dried meat.
He ate it, but not ravenously. He seemed in need, not of food, but
A few miles farther on we again landed to study the lake; as we
came near we saw the dogs, not four but six, now racing to meet
us. I said to Preble: "It seems to me it would be the part of mercy
to shoot them all." He answered: "They are worth nothing now, but
you shoot one and its value would at once jump up to one hundred
dollars. Every one knows everything that is done in this country.
You would have six hundred dollars' damages to pay when you got
back to Fort Resolution."
I got out our stock of fresh fish. The Indians, seeing my purpose,
said: "Throw it in the water and see them dive." I did so and found
that they would dive into several feet of water and bring up the
fish without fail. The yellow female was not here, so I suppose
she had stayed to finish her bone.
When we came away, heading for the open lake, the dogs followed us
as far as they could, then gathering on a flat rock, the end of a
long point, they sat down, some with their backs to us; all raised
their muzzles and howled to the sky a heart-rending dirge.
I was thankful to lose them in the distance.
THE VOYAGE ACROSS THE LAKE
Hitherto I have endeavoured to group my observations on each
subject; I shall now for a change give part of the voyage across
Great Slave Lake much, as it appears in my journal.
"July 16, 1907.—Left Fort Resolution at 9.40 A. M. in the York boat
manned by 7 Indians and Billy Loutit, besides Preble and myself, 10
in all; ready with mast and sail for fair wind, but also provided
with heavy 16-foot oars for head-winds and calm. Harding says we
should make Pike's Portage in 3 or 4 days.
"Reached Moose Island at 11.30 chiefly by rowing; camped. A large
dog appeared on the bank. Freesay recognised it as his and went
ashore with a club. We heard the dog yelping. Freesay came back
saying: 'He'll go home now.'
"At 1.30 went on but stopped an unnecessary half-hour at a saw-mill
getting plank for seats. Reached the Big, or Main, River at 4.10;
stopped for tea again till 4.50, then rowed up the river till 5.40;
rested 15 minutes, rowed till 6.30; rested 15 minutes, rowed till
7; then got into the down current of the north branch or mouth of
the Slave; down then we drifted till 8, then landed and made another
meal, the fourth to-day, and went on drifting at 8.30.
"At 9.30 we heard a Ruffed Grouse drumming, the last of the season,
also a Bittern pumping, some Cranes trumpeting, and a Wood Frog
croaking. Snipe were still whirring in the sky. Saw Common Tern.
"At 10.15, still light, we camped for the night and made another
meal. The Indians went out and shot 2 Muskrats, making 7 the total
of these I have seen in the country. This is the very lowest ebb.
Why are they so scarce? Their low epoch agrees with that of the
"July 17.—Rose at 6 (it should have been 4, but the Indians would
not rouse); sailed north through the marsh with a light east breeze.
At noon this changed to a strong wind blowing from the north, as it
has done with little variation ever since I came to the country. These
Indians know little of handling a boat and resent any suggestion.
They maintain their right, to row or rest, as they please, and land
when and where they think best. We camped on a sand-bar and waited
till night; most exasperating when we are already behind time. The
Indians set a net, using for tie-strings the bark of the willow
(Salix bebbiana). They caught a Jack-fish. Reached Stony Island at
night, after many stops and landings. The Indians land whenever in
doubt and make a meal (at my expense), and are in doubt every two
hours or so. They eat by themselves and have their own cook. Billy
cooks for us, i.e., Preble, Weeso, and myself. Among the crew I
hear unmistakable grumblings about the food, which is puzzling, as
it is the best they ever had in their lives; there is great variety
and no limit to the quantity.
"Made 6 meals and 17 miles to-day, rowing 7, sailing 10.
"July 18.—Left Stony Island at 6.55; could not get the crew started
sooner; sailing with a light breeze which soon died down and left
us on a sea of glass. I never before realised how disgusting a calm
"Camped at 9.15 on one of the countless, unnamed, uncharted islands
of the lake. It is very beautiful in colour, red granite, spotted
with orange and black lichen on its face, and carpeted with caribou
moss and species of cetraria, great patches of tripe-de-roche, beds
of saxifrage, long trailers, and masses of bearberry, empetrum,
ground cedar, juniper, cryptograma, and many others; while the
trees, willow, birch, and spruce are full of character and drawing.
Sky and lake are in colour worthy of these rich details, the bird
life is well represented and beautiful; there is beauty everywhere,
and 'only man is vile.'
"I am more and more disgusted with my Indian crew; the leader in
mischief seems to be young Beaulieu. Yesterday he fomented a mutiny
because I did not give them 'beans,' though I had given them far
more than promised, and beans were never mentioned. Still, he had
discovered a bag of them among my next month's stores, and that
"To-day, when sick of seeing them dawdling two hours over a meal
when there are 6 meals a day, I gave the order to start. Beaulieu
demanded insolently: 'Oh! who's boss?' My patience was worn out.
I said: 'I am, and I'll show you right now,' and proceeded to do
so, meaning to let him have my fist with all the steam I could get
back of it. But he did not wait. At a safe distance he turned and
in a totally different manner said: 'I only want to know; I thought
maybe the old man (the guide). I'll do it, all ri, all ri,' and he
smiled and smiled.
"Oh! why did I not heed Pike's warning to shun all Beaulieus; they
rarely fail to breed trouble. If I had realised all this last night
before coming to the open lake I would have taken the whole outfit
back to Resolution and got rid of the crowd. We could do better
with another canoe and two men, and at least make better time than
this (17 miles a day).
"Yesterday the Indian boys borrowed my canoe, my line, and in my
time, at my expense, caught a big fish, but sullenly disregarded
the suggestion that, I should have a piece of it.
"Each of them carries a Winchester and blazes at every living
thing that appears. They have volleyed all day at every creature
big enough to afford a mouthful—Ducks, Gulls, Loons, Fish, Owls,
Terns, etc.—but have hit nothing. Loons are abundant in the water
and are on the Indians' list of Ducks, therefore good food. They
are wonderfully expert at calling them. This morning a couple of
Loons appeared flying far to the east. The Indians at once began
to mimic their rolling whoo-ooo-whoo-ooo; doing it to the life. The
Loons began to swing toward us, then to circle, each time nearer.
Then all the callers stopped except Claw-hammer, the expert; he
began to utter a peculiar cat-like wail. The Loons responded and
dropped their feet as though to alight. Then at 40 yards the whole
crew blazed away with their rifles, doing no damage whatever. The
Loons turned away from these unholy callers, and were none the
worse, but wiser.
"This scene was repeated many times during the voyage. When the
Loons are on the water the Indians toll them by flashing a tin pan
from the bushes behind which the toller hides till the bird is in
range. I saw many clever tollings but I did not see a Loon killed.
"July 19.—I got up at 4, talked strong talk, so actually got away
at 5.30. Plenty grumbling, many meals to-day, with many black looks
and occasional remarks in English: 'Grub no good.' Three days ago
these men were starving on one meal a day, of fish and bad flour;
now they have bacon, dried venison, fresh fish, fresh game, potatoes,
flour, baking powder, tea, coffee, milk, sugar, molasses, lard,
cocoa, dried apples, rice, oatmeal, far more than was promised,
all ad libitum, and the best that the H. B. Co. can supply, and yet
they grumble. There is only one article of the food store to which
they have not access; that is a bag of beans which I am reserving
for our own trip in the north where weight counts for so much.
Beaulieu smiles when I speak to him, but I know he is at the bottom
of all this mischief. To day they made 6 meals and 17 miles—this
"About 7.30 a pair of Wild Geese (Canada) appeared on a bay. The
boys let off a whoop of delight and rushed on them in canoe and in
boat as though these were their deadliest enemies. I did not think
much of it until I noticed that the Geese would not fly, and it
dawned on me that they were protecting their young behind their own
bodies. A volley of shot-guns and Winchesters and one noble head
fell flat on the water, another volley and the gander fell, then
a wild skurrying, yelling, and shooting for some minutes resulted
in the death of the two downlings.
"I could do nothing to stop them. I have trouble enough in matters
that are my business and this they consider solely their own. It
is nothing but kill, kill, kill every living thing they meet. One
cannot blame them in general, since they live by hunting, and in
this case they certainly did eat every bit of all four birds, even
to their digestive organs with contents; but it seemed hard to have
the devotion of the parents made their death trap when, after all,
we were not in need of meat.
"July 20.—Rose at 4; had trouble on my hands at once. The Indians
would not get up till 5, so we did not get away till 6.20. Beaulieu
was evidently instructing the crew, for at the third breakfast all
together (but perhaps 2) shouted out in English, 'Grub no good!
"I walked over, to them, asked who spoke; no one answered; so, I
reviewed the bargain, pointed out that I had given more than agreed,
and added: 'I did not promise you beans, but will say now that if
you work well I'll give you a bean feast once in a while.'
"They all said in various tongues and ways, 'That's all ri.' Beaulieu
said it several times, and smiled and smiled.
"If the mythical monster that dwells in the bottom of Great Slave
Lake had reached up its long neck now and taken this same half-breed
son of Belial, I should have said, 'Well done, good and faithful
monster,' and the rest of our voyage would have been happier. Oh!
what a lot of pother a beneficent little bean can make.
"At noon that day Billy announced that it was time to give me a
lobstick; a spruce was selected on a slate island and trimmed to
its proper style, then inscribed:
E. T. SETON
E. A. PREBLE
W. C. LOUTIT
"Now I was in honour bound to treat, the crew. I had neither the
power nor the wish to give whiskey. Tobacco was already provided,
so I seized the opportunity of smoothing things by announcing a
feast of beans, and this, there was good reason to believe, went
far in the cause of peace.
"At 1.30 for the first time a fair breeze sprang up or rather lazily
got up. Joyfully then we raised our mast and sail. The boys curled
up to sleep, except Beaulieu. He had his fiddle and now he proceeded
to favour us with 'A Life on the Ocean Wave,' 'The Campbells are
Coming,' etc., in a manner worthy of his social position and of
his fiddle. When not in use this aesthetic instrument (in its box)
knocks about on deck or underfoot, among pots and pans, exposed in
all weather; no one seems to fear it will be injured.
"At 7 the usual dead calm was restored. We rowed till we reached
Et-then Island at 8, covering two miles more or 32 in all to-day.
I was unwilling to stop now, but the boys, said they would row all
day Sunday if I would camp here, and then added, 'And if the wind
rises to-night we'll go on.'
"At 10 o'clock I was already in bed for the night, though of course
it was broad daylight. Preble had put out a line of mouse-traps,
when the cry was raised by the Indians now eating their 7th meal:
Chim-pal-le! Hurra! Chilla quee!' ('Sailing wind! Hurra, boys!').
"The camp was all made, but after such a long calm a sailing wind
was too good to miss. In 10 minutes every tent was torn down and
bundled into the boat. At 10.10 we pulled out under a fine promising
breeze; but alas! for its promise! at 10.30 the last vestige of
it died away and we had to use the oars to make the nearest land,
where we tied up at 11 P. M.
"That night old Weeso said to me, through Billy, the interpreter:
'To-morrow is Sunday, therefore he would like to have a prayer-meeting
"'Tell him,' I said, 'that I quite approve of his prayer-meeting,
but also it must be understood that if the good Lord sends us a
sailing wind in the morning that is His way of letting us know we
"This sounded so logical that Weeso meekly said, 'All right.'
"Sure enough, the morning dawned with a wind and we got away after
the regular sullen grumbling. About 10.20 the usual glassy calm set
in and Weeso asked me for a piece of paper and a pencil. He wrote
something in Chipewyan on the sheet I gave, then returned the pencil
and resumed his pilotic stare at the horizon, for his post was at
the rudder. At length he rolled the paper into a ball, and when I
seemed not observing dropped it behind him overboard.
"'What is the meaning of that, Billy?' I whispered.
"'He's sending a prayer to Jesus for wind.' Half an hour afterward
a strong head-wind sprang up, and Weeso was severely criticised
for not specifying clearly what was wanted.
"There could be no question now about the propriety of landing.
Old Weeso took all the Indians off to a rock, where, bareheaded
and in line, they kneeled facing the east, and for half an hour he
led them in prayer, making often the sign of the cross. The headwind
died away as they came to the boat and again we resumed the weary
rowing, a labour which all were supposed to share, but it did not
need an expert to see that Beaulieu, Snuff, and Terchon merely
dipped their oars and let them drift a while; the real rowing of
that cumbrous old failure of a sailboat was done by Billy Loutit
and Yum Freesay."
CROSSING THE LAKE—ITS NATURAL HISTORY
All day long here, as on the Nyarling, I busied myself with compass
and sketch-book, making the field notes, sketches, and compass
surveys from which my various maps were compiled; and Preble let no
chance go by of noting the changing bird and plant life that told
us we quit the Canadian fauna at Stony Island and now were in the
This is the belt of dwindling trees, the last or northmost zone of
the forest, and the spruce trees showed everywhere that they were
living a life-long battle, growing and seeding, but dwarfed by
frost and hardships. But sweet are the uses of adversity, and the
stunted sprucelings were beautified, not uglified, by their troubles.
I never before realised that a whole country could be such a series
of charming little Japanese gardens, with tiny trees, tiny flowers,
tiny fruits, and gorgeous oriental rugs upon the earth and rocks
I photographed one group of trees to illustrate their dainty elfish
dwarfishness, but realising that no one could guess the height
without a scale, I took a second of the same with a small Indian
sitting next it.
Weeso is a kind old soul; so far as I could see he took no part
in the various seditions, but he was not an inspiring guide. One
afternoon he did something that made a final wreck of my confidence.
A thunderstorm was rumbling in the far east. Black clouds began
travelling toward us; with a line of dark and troubled waters below,
the faint breeze changed around and became a squall. Weeso looked
scared and beckoned to Freesay, who came and took the helm. Nothing
We were now running along the north shore of Et-then, where are to
be seen the wonderful 1,200-foot cliffs described and figured by
Captain George Back in 1834. They are glorious ramparts, wonderful
in size and in colour, marvellous in their geological display.
Flying, and evidently nesting among the dizzy towers, were a few
Barn-swallows and Phoebe-birds.
This cliff is repeated on Oot-sing-gree-ay, the next island, but
there it is not on the water's edge. It gives a wonderful echo which
the Indians (not to mention myself) played with, in childish fashion.
On Sunday, 21 July, we made a new record, 6 meals and 20 miles.
On July 22 we made only 7 meals and 11 miles and camped in the
narrows Tal-thel-lay. These are a quarter of a mile wide and have
a strong current running westerly. This is the place which Back
says is a famous fishing ground and never freezes over, even in the
hardest winters. Here, as at all points, I noted the Indian names,
not only because they were appropriate, but in hopes of serving the
next traveller. I found an unexpected difficulty in writing them
down, viz.: no matter how I pronounced them, old Weeso and Freesay,
my informants, would say, "Yes, that is right." This, I learned,
was out of politeness; no matter how you mispronounce their words
it is good form to say, "That's it; now you have it exactly."
The Indians were anxious to put out a net overnight here, as they
could count on getting a few Whitefish; so we camped at 5.15. It is
difficult to convey to an outsider the charm of the word "whitefish."
Any northerner will tell you that it is the only fish that is
perfect human food, the only food that man or dog never wearies of,
the only lake food that conveys no disorder no matter how long or
freely it is used. It is so delicious and nourishing that there
is no fish in the world that can even come second to it. It is as
far superior in all food qualities to the finest Salmon or Trout as
a first-prize, gold-medalled, nut-fed thoroughbred Sussex bacon-hog
is to the roughest, toughest, boniest old razor-backed land-pike
that ever ranged the woods of Arkansas.
That night the net yielded 3 Whitefish and 3 Trout. The latter,
being 4 to 8 pounds each, would have been reckoned great prizes
in any other country, but now all attention was on the Whitefish.
They certainly were radiantly white, celestial in color; their
backs were a dull frosted silver, with here and there a small
electric lamp behind the scales to make its jewels sparkle. The
lamps alternated with opals increased on the side; the bellies were
of a blazing mother-of-pearl. It would be hard to imagine a less
imaginative name than "white" fish for such a shining, burning
opalescence. Indian names are usually descriptive, but their name
for this is simply "The Fish." All others are mere dilutes and cheap
imitations, but the Coregonus is at all times and par excellence
Nevertheless, in looking at it I could not help feeling that this
is the fat swine, or the beef Durham of its kind. The head, gills,
fins, tail, vital organs and bones all were reduced to a minimum
and the meat parts enlarged and solidified, as though they were
the product of ages of careful breeding by man to produce a perfect
food fish, a breeding that has been crowned with the crown of
The Indians know, for the best of reasons, the just value of every
native food. When Rabbits abound they live on them but do not
prosper; they call it "starving on rabbits." When Caribou meat is
plenty they eat it, but crave flour. When Moose is at hand they
eat it, and are strong. When Jack-fish, Sucker, Conies, and Trout
are there, they take them as a variant; but on Whitefish, as on
Moose, they can live with out loathing, and be strong. The Indian
who has his scaffold hung with Whitefish when winter comes, is
"And what," says the pessimist, "is the fly in all this precious
ointment?" Alasl It is not a game fish; it will not take bait,
spoon, or fly, and its finest properties vanish in a few hours
The Whitefish served in the marble palaces of other lands is as
mere dish-water to champagne, when compared with the three times
purified and ten times intensified dazzling silver Coregonus as
it is landed on the bleak shores of those far-away icy lakes. So
I could not say 'No' to the Indian boys when they wanted to wait
here, the last point at which they could be sure of a catch.
That night (22d July) five canoes and two York boats of Indians
landed at the narrows. These were Dogribs of Chief Vital's band;
all told they numbered about thirty men, women, and children; with
them were twenty-odd dogs, which immediately began to make trouble.
When one is in Texas the topic of conversation is, "How are the
cattle?" in the Klondike, "How is your claim panning out?" and in
New York, "How are you getting on with your novel?" On Great Slave
Lake you say, "Where are the Caribou?" The Indians could not tell;
they had seen none for weeks, but there was still much ice in the
east end of the lake which kept them from investigating. They had
plenty of dried Caribou meat but were out of tea and tobacco. I had
come prepared for this sort of situation, and soon we had a fine
stock of dried venison.
These were the Indians whose abandoned dogs made so much trouble
for us in the days that followed.
At 4 P. M. of 23d of July we were stopped by a long narrow floe of
broken ice. Without consulting me the crew made for the shore.
It seemed they were full of fears: "What if they should get caught
in that floe, and drift around for days? What if a wind should
arise (it had been glassy calm for a week)? What if they could',
not get back?" etc., etc.
Preble and I climbed a hill for a view. The floe was but half a
mile wide, very loose, with frequent lanes.
"Preble, is there any reason why we should not push through this
floe using poles to move the cakes?"
On descending, however, I found the boys preparing to camp for "a
couple of days," while the ice melted or drifted away somewhere.
So I said, "You get right into this boat now and push off; we can
easily work our way through." They made no reply, simply looked
sulkier than ever, and proceeded to start a fire for meal No. 5.
"Weeso," I said, "get into your place and tell your men to follow."
The old man looked worried and did nothing, He wanted to do right,
but he was in awe of his crew.
Then did I remember how John MacDonald settled the rebellion on
"Get in there," I said to Preble and Billy. "Come on, Weeso." We
four jumped into the boat and proceeded to push off with all the
Authorities differ as to the time it took for the crew to make up
their minds. Two seconds and eleven seconds are perhaps the extremes
of estimate. They came jumping aboard as fast as they could.
We attacked the floe, each with a lodge-pole; that is, Billy and
Preble did in the bow, while Freesay and I did at the rear; and
in thirty-five minutes we had pushed through and were sailing the
The next day we had the same scene repeated with less intensity,
in this case because Freesay sided with me. What would I not give
to have had a crew of white men. A couple of stout Norwegian sailors
would have done far better than this whole outfit of reds.
When we stopped for supper No. 1 a tiny thimbleful of down on two
pink matches ran past, and at once the mother, a Peetweet, came
running in distress to save her young. The brave Beaulieu fearlessly
seized a big stick and ran to kill the little one. I shouted out,
"Stop that," in tones that implied that I owned the heaven, the
earth, the sea, and all that in them is, but could not have saved
the downling had it not leaped into the water and dived out of
sight. It came up two feet away and swam to a rock of safety, where
it bobbed its latter end toward its adversaries and the open sea
I never before knew that they could dive.
About eight o'clock we began to look for a good place to camp and
make meal No. 6. But the islands where usually we found refuge
from the dogs were without wood, and the shores were too rugged
and steep or had no dry timber, so we kept going on. After trying
one or two places the Indians said it was only a mile to Indian
Mountain River (Der-sheth Tessy), where was a camp of their friends.
I was always glad of a reason for pushing on, so away we went. My
crew seized their rifles and fired to let their village know we were
coming. The camp came quickly into view, and volley after volley
was fired and returned.
These Indians are extremely poor and the shots cost 5 and 6 cents
each. So this demonstration totalled up about $2.00.
As we drew near the village of lodges the populace lined up on shore,
and then our boys whispered, "Some white men." What a peculiar
thrill it gave me! I had seen nothing but Indians along the route
so far and expected nothing else. But here were some of my own
people, folk with whom I could talk. They proved to be my American
friend from Smith Landing, he whose hand I had lanced, and his
companion, a young Englishman, who was here with him prospecting
for gold and copper. "I'm all right now," he said, and, held up
the hand with my mark on it, and our greeting was that of white
men meeting among strangers in a far foreign land.
As soon as we were ashore a number of Indians came to offer meat
for tobacco. They seemed a lot of tobacco-maniacs. "Tzel-twee" at
any price they must have. Food they could do without for a long
time, but life without smoke was intolerable; and they offered their
whole dried product of two Caribou, concentrated, nourishing food
enough to last a family many days, in exchange for half a pound of
nasty stinking, poisonous tobacco.
Two weeks hence, they say, these hills will be alive with Caribou;
alas! for them, it proved a wholly erroneous forecast.
Y.'s guide is Sousi King Beaulieu (for pedigree, see Warburton
Pike); he knows all this country well and gave us much information
about the route. He says that this year the Caribou cows went north
as usual, but the bulls did not. The season was so late they did
not think it worth while; they are abundant yet at Artillery Lake.
He recognised me as the medicine man, and took an early opportunity
of telling me what a pain he had. Just where, he was not sure,
but it was hard to bear; he would like some sort of a pain-killer.
Evidently he craved a general exhilarator. Next morning we got
away at 7 A. M. after the usual painful scene about getting up in
the middle of the night, which was absurd, as there was no night.
Next afternoon we passed the Great White Fall at the mouth of Hoar
Frost River; the Indians call it Dezza Kya. If this is the Beverly
Falls of Back, his illustrator was without information; the published
picture bears not the slightest resemblance to it.
At three in the afternoon of July 27th, the twelfth day after we
had set out on the "three or four day run" from Resolution, this
exasperating and seemingly interminable voyage really did end, and
we thankfully beached our York boat at the famous lobstick that
marks the landing of Pike's Portage.
THE LYNX AT BAY
One of the few rewarding episodes of this voyage took place on the
last morning, July 27. We were half a mile from Charleston Harbour
when one of the Indians said "Cheesay" (Lynx) and pointed to the
south shore. There, on a bare point a quarter mile away, we saw a
large Lynx walking quietly along. Every oar was dropped and every
rifle seized, of course, to repeat the same old scene; probably
it would have made no difference to the Lynx, but I called out:
"Hold on there! I'm going after that Cheesay."
Calling my two reliables, Preble and Billy, we set out in the canoe,
armed, respectively, with a shotgun, a club, and a camera.
When we landed the Lynx was gone. We hastily made a skirmishing line
in the wood where the point joined the mainland, but saw no sign of
him, so concluded that he must be hiding on the point. Billy took
the right shore, Preble the left, I kept the middle. Then we marched
toward the point but saw nothing. There were no bushes except a low
thicket of spruce, some 20 feet across and 3 or 4 feet high. This
was too dense to penetrate standing, so I lay down on my breast
and proceeded to crawl in under the low boughs. I had not gone six
feet before a savage growl warned me back, and there, just ahead,
crouched the Lynx. He glared angrily, then rose up, and I saw, with
a little shock, that he had been crouching on the body of another
Lynx, eating it. Photography was impossible there, so I took a
stick and poked at him; he growled, struck at the stick, but went
out, then dashed across the open for the woods. As he went I got
photograph No. 1. Now I saw the incredible wonder I had heard of—a
good runner can outrun a Lynx. Preble was a sprinter, and before the
timber 200 yards off was reached that Lynx was headed and turned;
and Preble and Billy were driving him back into my studio. He made
several dashes to escape, but was out-manoeuvred and driven onto
the far point, where he was really between the devils and the deep
sea. Here he faced about at bay, growling furiously, thumping his
little bobtail from side to side, and pretending he was going to
spring on us. I took photo No. 2 at 25 yards. He certainly did look
very fierce, but I thought I knew the creature, as well as the men
who were backing me. I retired, put a new film in place, and said:
"Now, Preble, I'm going to walk up to that Lynx and get a close
photo. If he jumps for me, and he may, there is nothing can save
my beauty but you and that gun."
Preble with characteristic loquacity says, "Go ahead."
Then I stopped and began slowly approaching the desperate creature
we held at bay. His eyes were glaring green, his ears were back,
his small bobtail kept twitching from side to side, and his growls
grew harder and hissier, as I neared him. At 15 feet he gathered his
legs under him as for a spring, and I pressed the button getting,
Then did the demon of ambition enter into my heart and lead me
into peril. That Lynx at bay was starving and desperate. He might
spring at me, but I believed that if he did he never would reach
me alive. I knew my man—this nerved me—and I said to him: "I'm
not satisfied; I want him to fill the finder. Are you ready?"
So I crouched lower and came still nearer, and at 12 feet made No.
4. For some strange reason, now the Lynx seemed less angry than he
"He didn't fill the finder; I'll try again," was my next. Then
on my knees I crawled up, watching the finder till it was full of
Lynx. I glanced at the beast; he was but 8 feet away. I focused
And now, oh, wonder! that Lynx no longer seemed annoyed; he had
ceased growling and simply looked bored.
Seeing it was over, Preble says, "Now where does he go? To the
"No, indeed!" was the reply. "He surely has earned his keep; turn
him loose. It's back to the woods for him." We stood aside; he saw
his chance and dashed for the tall timber. As he went I fired the
last film, getting No. 6; and so far as I know that Lynx is alive
and well and going yet.
THE LAST OF THAT INDIAN CREW
Carved on the lobstick of the Landing were many names famous in
the annals of this region, Pike, Maltern, McKinley, Munn, Tyrrel
among them. All about were evidences of an ancient and modern
camp—lodge poles ready for the covers, relics and wrecks of all
sorts, fragments of canoes and sleds, and the inevitable stray
First we made a meal, of course; then I explained to the crew that
I wanted all the stuff carried over the portage, 31 miles, to the
first lake. At once there was a row; I was used to that. There had
been a row every morning over getting up, and one or two each day
about other details. Now the evil face of Beaulieu showed that his
tongue was at work again. But I knew my lesson.
"You were brought to man the boat and bring my stuff over this
portage. So do it and start right now."
They started 3 1/4 miles with heavy loads, very heavy labour I must
admit, back then in four hours to make another meal, and camp.
Next morning another row before they would get up and take each
another load. But canoe and everything were over by noon. And then
came the final scene.
In all the quarrels and mutinies, old Weeso had been faithful to
me. Freesay had said little or nothing, and had always worked well
and cheerfully. Weeso was old and weak, Freesay young and strong,
and therefore he was the one for our canoe. I decided it would pay
to subsidise Weeso to resign in favour of the younger man. But, to
be sure, first asked Freesay if he would like to come with me to
the land of the Musk-ox. His answer was short and final, "Yes,"
but he could not, as his uncle had told him not to go beyond this
portage. That settled it. The childlike obedience to their elders
is admirable, but embarrassing at times.
So Weeso went after all, and we got very well acquainted on that
long trip. He was a nice old chap. He always meant well; grinned
so happily, when he was praised, and looked so glum when he was
scolded. There was little of the latter to do; so far as he knew,
he did his best, and it is a pleasure now to conjure up his face
and ways. His cheery voice, at my tent door every morning, was the
signal that Billy had the breakfast within ten minutes of ready.
"Okimow, To" (Chief, here is water), he would say as he set down
the water for my bath and wondered what in the name of common sense
should make the Okimow need washing every morning. He himself was
of a cleaner kind, having needed no bath during the whole term of
There were two peculiarities of the old man that should make him
a good guide for the next party going northward. First, he never
forgot a place once he had been there, and could afterward go to
it direct from any other place. Second, he had the most wonderful
nose for firewood; no keen-eyed raven or starving wolf could go more
surely to a marrow-bone in cache, than could Weeso to the little
sticks in far away hollows or granite clefts. Again and again,
when we landed on the level or rocky shore and all hands set out
to pick up the few pencil-thick stems of creeping birch, roots
of annual plants, or wisps of grass to boil the kettle, old Weeso
would wander off by himself and in five minutes return with an
armful of the most amazingly acceptable firewood conjured out of
the absolutely timberless, unpromising waste. I never yet saw the
camp where he could not find wood. So he proved good stuff; I was
glad we had brought him along.
And I was equally glad now to say good-bye to the rest of the crew.
I gave them provisions for a week, added a boiling of beans, and
finally the wonderful paper in which I stated the days they had
worked for me, and the kind of service they had rendered, commended
Freesay, and told the truth about Beaulieu.
"Dat paper tell about me," said that worthy suspiciously.
"Yes," I said, "and about the others; and it tells Harding to pay
you as agreed."
We all shook hands and parted. I have not seen them since, nor do
I wish to meet any of them again, except Freesay.
My advice to the next traveller would be: get white men for the trip
and one Indian for guide. When alone they are manageable, and some
of them, as seen already, are quite satisfactory, but the more of
them the worse. They combine, as Pike says, the meanest qualities
of a savage and an unscrupulous moneylender. The worst one in the
crowd seems most readily followed by the others.
GEOLOGICAL FORCES AT WORK
It seems to me that never before have I seen the geological forces
of nature so obviously at work. Elsewhere I have seen great valleys,
cliffs, islands, etc., held on good evidence to be the results of
such and such powers formerly very active; but here on the Athabaska
I saw daily evidence of these powers in full blast, ripping, tearing
reconstructing, while we looked on.
All the way down the river we saw the process of undermining the
bank, tearing down the trees to whirl them again on distant northern
shores, thus widening the river channel until too wide for its normal
flood, which in time, drops into a deeper restricted channel, in
the wide summer waste of gravel and sand.
Ten thousand landslides take place every spring, contributing
their tons of mud to the millions that the river is deporting to
the broad catch basins called the Athabaska and Great Slave Lakes.
Many a tree has happened to stand on the very crack that is the
upmost limit of the slide and has in consequence been ripped in
Many an island is wiped out and many a one made in these annual
floods. Again and again we saw the evidence of some island, continued
long enough to raise a spruce forest, suddenly receive a 6-foot
contribution from its erratic mother; so the trees were buried to
the arm-pits. Many times I saw where some frightful jam of ice had
planed off all the trees; then a deep overwhelming layer of mud
had buried the stumps and grown in time a new spruce forest. Now
the mighty erratic river was tearing all this work away again,
exposing all its history.
In the delta of the Slave, near Fort Resolution, we saw the plan of
delta work. Millions of tons of mud poured into the deep translucent
lake have filled it for miles, so that it is scarcely deep enough
to float a canoe; thousands of huge trees, stolen from the upper
forest, are here stranded as wing-dams that check the current and
hold more mud. Rushes grow on this and catch more mud. Then the
willows bind it more, and the sawing down of the outlet into the
Mackenzie results in all this mud being left dry land.
This is the process that has made all the lowlands at the mouth
of Great Slave and Athabaska Rivers. And the lines of tree trunks
to-day, preparing for the next constructive annexation of the lake,
are so regular that one's first thought is that this is the work
of man. But these are things that my sketches and photographs will
show better than words.
When later we got onto the treeless Barrens or Tundra, the process
was equally evident, though at this time dormant, and the chief
agent was not running water, but the giant Jack Frost.
Part of my plan was to leave a provision cache every hundred
miles, with enough food to carry us 200 miles, and thus cover the
possibility of considerable loss. I had left supplies at Chipewyan,
Smith, and Resolution, but these were settlements; now we were
pushing off into the absolute wilderness, where it was unlikely
we should see any human beings but ourselves. Now, indeed, we
were facing all primitive conditions. Other travellers have made
similar plans for food stores, but there are three deadly enemies
to a cache—weather, ravens, and wolverines., I was prepared for
all three. Water-proof leatheroid cases were to turn the storm,
dancing tins and lines will scare the ravens, and each cache tree
was made unclimbable to Wolverines by the addition of a necklace of
charms in the form of large fish-hooks, all nailed on with points
downward. This idea, borrowed from, Tyrrell, has always proved a
success; and not one of our caches was touched or injured.
Tyrrell has done much for this region; his name will ever be
linked with its geography and history. His map of the portage was
a godsend, for now we found that our guide had been here only once,
and that when he was a child, with many resultant lapses of memory
and doubts about the trail. My only wonder was that he remembered
as much as he did.
Here we had a sudden and unexpected onset of black flies; they
appeared for the first time in numbers, and attacked us with a
ferocity that made the mosquitoes seem like a lot of baby butterflies
in comparison. However, much as we may dislike the latter, they at
least do not poison us or convey disease (as yet), and are repelled
by thick clothing. The black flies attack us like some awful
pestilence walking in darkness, crawling in and forcing themselves
under our clothing, stinging and poisoning as they go. They are,
of course, worst near the openings in our armour, that is necks,
wrists, and ankles. Soon each of us had a neck like an old fighting
bull walrus; enormously swollen, corrugated with bloats and wrinkles,
blotched, bumpy, and bloody, as disgusting as it was painful. All
too closely it simulated the ravages of some frightful disease, and
for a night or two the torture of this itching fire kept me from
sleeping. Three days, fortunately, ended the black fly reign,
and left us with a deeper sympathy for the poor Egyptians who on
account of their own or some other bodies' sins were the victims
of "plagues of flies."
But there was something in the camp that amply offset these annoyances;
this was a spirit of kindness and confidence. Old Weeso was smiling
and happy, ready at all times to do his best; his blundering about
the way was not surprising, all things considered, but his mistakes
did not matter, since I had Tyrrell's admirable maps. Billy, sturdy,
strong, reliable, never needed to be called twice in the morning.
No matter what the hour, he was up at once and cooking the breakfast
in the best of style, for an A 1 cook he was. And when it came to
the portages he would shoulder his 200 or 250 pounds each time.
Preble combined the mental force of the educated white man with
the brawn of the savage, and although not supposed to do it, he
took the same sort of loads as Billy did. Mine, for the best of
reasons, were small, and consisted chiefly of the guns, cameras,
and breakables, or occasionally, while they were transporting the
heavy stuff, I acted as cook. But all were literally and figuratively
in the same boat, all paddled all day, ate the same food worked
the same hours, and imbued with the same spirit were eager to reach
the same far goal. From this on the trip was ideal.
We were 3 1/2 days covering the 8 small lakes and 9 portages (30
miles) that lie between the two great highways, Great Slave Lake
and Artillery Lake; and camped on the shore of the latter on the
night of July 31.
Two of these 9 lakes had not been named by the original explorers.
I therefore exercised my privilege and named them, respectively,
"Loutit" and "Weeso," in honour of my men.
The country here is cut up on every side with caribou trails; deep
worn like the buffalo trails on the plains, with occasional horns
and bones; these, however, are not so plentiful as were the relics
of the Buffalo. This, it proved, was because the Caribou go far
north at horn-dropping time, and they have practically no bones
that the Wolves cannot crush with their teeth.
Although old tracks were myriad-many, there were no new ones. Weeso
said, however, "In about four days the shores of this lake will
be alive with Caribou." It will show the erratic nature of these
animals when I say that the old man was all wrong; they did not
appear there in numbers until many weeks later, probably not for
Here, at the foot of Artillery Lake, we were near the last of the
timber, and, strange to say, we found some trees of remarkably large
growth. One, a tamarac, was the largest and last seen; the other,
a spruce—Pike's Lobstick—was 55 inches in girth, 1 foot from the
At this camp Weeso complained that he was feeling very sick; had
pains in his back. I could not make out what was the matter with
him, but Billy said sagaciously, "I think if you give him any kind
of a pill he will be all right. It doesn't matter what, so long as
it's a pill."
Of course "cathartic" is good blind play in case of doubt. He got
a big, fierce rhubarb, and all went well.
CARIBOU-LAND AT LAST
On the morning of August 1 we launched on Artillery Lake, feeling,
for the tenth time, that now we really were on the crowning stretch of
our journey, that at last we were entering the land of the Caribou.
Over the deep, tranquil waters of the lake we went, scanning the
painted shores with their dwindling remnants of forest. There is
something inspiring about the profundity of transparency in these
lakes, where they are 15 feet deep their bottoms are no more
obscured than in an ordinary eastern brook at 6 inches. On looking
down into the far-below world, one gets the sensation of flight as
one skims overhead in the swift canoe. And how swift that elegant
canoe was in a clear run I was only now finding out. All my
previous estimates had been too low. Here I had the absolute gauge
of Tyrrell's maps and found that we four paddling could send her,
not 3 1/2, but 4 1/2 or 5 miles an hour, with a possibility of 6
when we made an effort. As we spun along the south-east coast of
the lake, the country grew less rugged; the continuous steep granite
hills were replaced by lower buttes with long grassy plains between;
and as I took them in, I marvelled at their name—the Barrens; bare
of trees, yes, but the plains were covered with rich, rank grass,
more like New England meadows. There were stretches where the herbage
was rank as on the Indiana prairies, and the average pasture of
the bleaker parts was better than the best of central Wyoming. A
cattleman of the West would think himself made if he could be sure
of such pastures on his range, yet these are the Barren Grounds.
At 3 we passed the splendid landmark of Beaver Lodge Mountain. Its
rosy-red granite cliffs contrast wonderfully with its emerald cap
of verdant grass and mosses, that cover it in tropical luxuriance,
and the rippling lake about it was of Mediterranean hues.
We covered the last 9 miles in 1 hour and 53 minutes, passed the
deserted Indian village, and landed at Last Woods by 8.30 P. M.
The edge of the timber is the dividing line between the Hudsonian
and the Arctic zones, It is the beginning of the country we had
come to see; we were now in the land of the Caribou.
At this point we were prepared to spend several days, leave a cache,
gather a bundle of choice firewood, then enter on the treeless
That night it stormed; all were tired; there was no reason to bestir
ourselves; it was 10 when we arose. Half an hour later Billy came
to my tent and said, "Mr. Seton, here's some deer." I rushed to
the door, and there, with my own eyes, I saw on a ridge a mile away
four great, Caribou standing against the sky.
We made for a near hill and met Preble returning; he also had seen
them. From a higher view-point the 4 proved part of a band of 120.
Then other bands came in view, 16, 61, 3, 200, and so on; each valley
had a scattering few, all travelling slowly southward or standing
to enjoy the cool breeze that ended the torment of the flies. About
1,000 were in sight. These were my first Caribou, the first fruits
of 3,000 miles of travel.
Weeso got greatly excited; these were the forerunners of the vast
herd. He said, "Plenty Caribou now," and grinned like a happy child.
I went in one direction, taking only my camera. At least 20 Caribou
trotted within 50 feet of me.
Billy and Weeso took their rifles intent on venison, but the Caribou
avoided them and 6 or 8 shots were heard before they got a young
All that day I revelled in Caribou, no enormous herds but always
a few in sight.
The next day Weeso and I went to the top ridge eastward. He with
rifle, I with camera. He has a vague idea of the camera's use, but
told Billy privately that "the rifle was much better for Caribou."
He could not understand why I should restrain him from blazing away
as long as the ammunition held out. "Didn't we come to shoot?" But
he was amenable to discipline, and did as I wished when he understood.
Now on the top of that windy ridge I sat with this copper-coloured
child of the spruce woods, to watch these cattle of the plains.
The Caribou is a travelsome beast, always in a hurry, going against
the wind. When the wind is west, all travel west; when it veers,
they veer. Now the wind was northerly, and all were going north,
not walking, not galloping—the Caribou rarely gallops, and then
only for a moment or two; his fast gait is a steady trot a 10-mile
gait, making with stops about 6 miles an hour. But they are ever
on the move; when you see a Caribou that does not move, you know
at once it is not a Caribou; it's a rock.
We sat down on the hill at 3. In a few minutes a cow Caribou came
trotting from the south, caught the wind at 50 yards, and dashed
In 5 minutes another, in 20 minutes a young buck, in 20 minutes
more a big buck, in 10 minutes a great herd of about 500 appeared
in the south. They came along at full trot, lined to pass us on the
southeast. At half a mile they struck our scent and all recoiled as
though we were among them. They scattered in alarm, rushed south
again, then, gathered in solid body, came on as before, again
to spring back and scatter as they caught the taint of man. After
much and various running, scattering, and massing, they once more
charged the fearsome odour and went right through it. Now they
passed at 500 yards and gave the chance for a far camera shot.
The sound of their trampling was heard a long way off—half a
mile—but at 300 yards I could not distinguish the clicking of the
feet, whereas this clicking was very plainly to be heard from the
band that passed within 50 yards of me in the morning.
They snort a good deal and grunt a little, and, notwithstanding
their continual haste, I noticed that from time to time one or two
would lie down, but at once jump up and rush on when they found
they were being left behind. Many more single deer came that day,
but no more large herds.
About 4.30 a fawn of this year (2 1/2 or 3 months) came rushing
up from the north, all alone. It charged up a hill for 200 yards,
then changed its mind and charged down again, then raced to a bunch
of tempting herbage, cropped it hastily, dashed to a knoll, left
at an angle, darted toward us till within 40 yards, then dropped
into a thick bed of grass, where it lay as though it had unlimited
I took one photograph, and as I crawled to get one nearer, a shot
passed over my head, and the merry cackle told me that Weeso had
yielded to temptation and had 'collected' that fawn.
A young buck now came trotting and grunting toward us till within
16 paces, which proved too much for Weeso, who then and there,
in spite of repeated recent orders, started him on the first step
toward my museum collection.
I scolded him angrily, and he looked glum and unhappy, like a naughty
little boy caught in some indiscretion which he cannot understand.
He said nothing to me then, but later complained to Billy, asking,
"What did we come for?"
Next morning at dawn I dreamed I was back in New York and that a
couple of cats were wailing under my bedroom window. Their noise
increased so that I awoke, and then I heard unaccountable caterwauls.
They were very loud and near, at least one of the creatures was. At
length I got up to see. Here on the lake a few yards from the tent
was a loon swimming about, minutely inspecting the tent and uttering
at intervals deep cat-like mews in expression of his curiosity.
The south wind had blown for some days before we arrived, and the
result was to fill the country with Caribou coming from the north.
The day after we came, the north wind set in, and continued for
three days, so that soon there was not a Caribou to be found in
In the afternoon I went up the hill to where Weeso left the
offal of his deer. A large yellowish animal was there feeding. It
disappeared over a rock and I could get no second view of it. It
may have been a wolf, as I saw a fresh wolf trail near; I did not,
however, see the animal's tail.
In the evening Preble and I went again, and again the creature was
there, but disappeared as mysteriously as before when we were 200
yards away. Where it went we could not guess. The country was open
and we scoured it with eye and glass, but saw nothing more of the
prowler. It seemed to be a young Arctic wolf, yellowish white in
colour, but tailless,
Next day, at noon Preble and Billy returned bearing the illusive
visitor; it was a large Lynx. It was very thin and yet, after
bleeding, weighed 22 pounds. But why was it so far from the forest,
20 miles or more, and a couple of miles from this little grove that
formed the last woods?
This is another evidence of the straits the Lynxes are put to for
food, in this year of famine.
GOOD-BYE TO THE WOODS
The last woods is a wonderfully interesting biological point or
line; this ultimate arm of the forest does not die away gradually
with uncertain edges and in steadily dwindling trees. The latter
have sent their stoutest champions to the front, or produced, as
by a final effort, some giants for the line of battle. And that
line, with its sentinels, is so marked that one can stand with
a foot on the territory of each combatant, or, as scientists call
them, the Arctic Region and the cold Temperate.
And each of the embattled kings, Jack-frost and Sombre-pine, has
his children in abundance to possess the land as he wins it. Right
up to the skirmish line are they.
The low thickets of the woods are swarming with Tree-sparrows,
Redpolls, Robins, Hooded Sparrows, and the bare plains, a few
yards away, are peopled and vocal with birds to whom a bush is an
abomination. Lap-longspur, Snowbird, Shorelarks, and Pipits are
here soaring and singing, or among the barren rocks are Ptarmigan
in garments that are painted in the patterns of their rocks.
There is one sombre fowl of ampler wing that knows no line—is at
home in the open or in the woods. His sonorous voice has a human
sound that is uncanny; his form is visible afar in the desert and
sinister as a gibbet; his plumage fits in with nothing but the
night, which he does not love. This evil genius of the land is the
Raven of the north. Its numbers increased as we reached the Barrens,
and the morning after the first Caribou was killed, no less than
28 were assembled at its offal.
An even more interesting bird of the woods is the Hooded Sparrow,
interesting because so little known.
Here I found it on its breeding-grounds, a little late for its
vernal song, but in September we heard its autumnal renewal like
the notes of its kinsmen, White-throat and White-crowned Sparrows,
but with less whistling, and more trilled. In all the woods of
the Hudsonian Zone we found it evidently at home. But here I was
privileged to find the first nest of the species known to science.
The victory was robbed of its crown, through the nest having
fledglings instead of eggs, but still it was the ample reward of
hours of search.
Of course it was on the ground, in the moss and creeping plants,
under some bushes of dwarf birch, screened by spruces. The structure
closely resembled that of the Whitethroat was lined with grass
and fibrous roots; no down, feathers, or fur were observable. The
young numbered four.
The last woods was the limit of other interesting creatures—the
Ants. Wherever one looks on the ground, in a high, dry place,
throughout the forest country, from Athabaska Landing northward
along our route, there is to be seen at least one Ant to the square
foot, usually several. Three kinds seem common—one red-bodied,
another a black one with brown thorax, and a third very small and
all black. They seem to live chiefly in hollow logs and stumps,
but are found also on marshes, where their hills are occasionally
so numerous as to form dry bridges across.
I made many notes on the growth of timber here and all along the
route; and for comparison will begin at the very beging.
In March, 1907, at my home in Connecticut, I cut down an oak tree
(Q. palustris) that was 110 feet high, 32 inches in diameter, and
yet had only 76 rings of annual growth.
In the Bitterroot Mountains of Idaho, where I camped in September,
1902, a yellow pine 6 feet 6 inches high was 51 inches in circumference
at base. It had 14 rings and 14 whorls of branches corresponding
exactly with the rings.
At the same place I measured a balsam fir—84 feet high, 15 inches
in diameter at 32 inches from the ground. It had 52 annual rings
and 50 or possibly 52 whorls of branches. The most vigorous upward
growth of the trunk corresponded exactly with the largest growth
of wood in the stump. Thus ring No. 33 was 3/8 inch wide and whorl
No. 33 had over 2 feet of growth, below it on the trunk were others
which had but 6 inches.
On the stump most growth was on north-east side; there it was
9 inches, from pith to bark next on east 8 1/2 inches, on south 8
inches, north 6 1/2 inches, west 6 1/2 inches, least on north-west
side, 6 inches. The most light in this case came from the north-east.
This was in the land of mighty timber.
On Great Slave River, the higher latitude is offset by lower
altitude, and on June 2, 1907, while among the tall white spruce
trees I measured one of average size—118 feet high, 11 feet 2 inches
in girth a foot from the ground (3 feet 6 1/2 inches in diameter),
and many black poplars nearly as tall were 9 feet in girth.
But the stunting effect of the short summer became marked as we
went northward. At Fort Smith, June 20, I cut down a jackpine that
was 12 feet high, 1 inch in diameter, with 23 annual rings at the
bottom; 6 feet up it had 12 rings and 20 whorls. In all it appeared
to have 43 whorls, which is puzzling. Of these 20 were in the lower
part. This tree grew in dense shade.
At Fort Resolution we left the Canadian region of large timber and
entered the stunted spruce, as noted, and at length on the timber
line we saw the final effort of the forests to combat Jack Frost
in his own kingdom. The individual history of each tree is in three
First, as a low, thick, creeping bush sometimes ten feet across,
but only a foot high. In this stage it continues until rooted enough
and with capital enough to send up a long central shoot; which is
stage No. 2.
This central shoot is like a Noah's Ark pine; in time it becomes
the tree and finally the basal thicket dies, leaving the specimen
in stage No. 3.
A stem of one of the low creepers was cut for examination; it was
11 inches through and 25 years old. Some of these low mats of spruce
have stems 5 inches through. They must be fully 100 years old.
A tall, dead, white spruce at the camp was 30 feet high and 11
inches in diameter at 4 feet from the ground. Its 190 rings were
hard to count, they were so thin. The central ones were thickest,
there being 16 to the inmost inch of radius; on the outside to the
north 50 rings made only 1/2 an inch and 86 made one inch.
Numbers 42 and 43, counting from the outside, were two or three
times as thick as those outside of them and much thicker than the
next within; they must have represented years of unusual summers.
No. 99 also was of great size. What years these corresponded with
one could not guess, as the tree was a long time dead.
Another, a dwarf but 8 feet high, was 12 inches through. It had
205 rings plus a 5-inch hollow which we reckoned at about 100 rings
of growth; 64 rings made only 1 3/8 inches; the outmost of the 64
was 2 inches in from the outside of the wood. Those on the outer
two inches were even smaller, so as to be exceedingly difficult to
count. This tree was at least 300 years old; our estimates varied,
according to the data, from 300 to 325 years.
These, then, are the facts for extremes. In Idaho or Connecticut
it took about 10 years to produce the same amount of timber as took
300 years on the edge of the Arctic Zone.
THE TREELESS PLAINS
On August 7 we left Camp Last Woods. Our various specimens, with a
stock of food, were secured, as usual, in a cache high in two trees,
in this case those already used by Tyrrell seven years before, and
guarded by the magic necklace of cod hooks.
By noon (in 3 hours) we made fifteen miles, camping far beyond
Twin Buttes. All day long the boat shot through water crowded with
drowned gnats. These were about 10 to the square inch near shore
and for about twenty yards out, after that 10 to the square foot
for two hundred or three hundred yards still farther from shore,
and for a quarter mile wide they were 10 to the square yard.
This morning the wind turned and blew from the south. At 2 P. M.
we saw a band of some 60 Caribou travelling southward; these were
the first seen for two or three days. After this we saw many odd
ones, and about 3 o'clock a band of 400 or 500. At night we camped
on Casba River, having covered 36 miles in 7 hours and 45 minutes.
The place, we had selected for camp proved to be a Caribou crossing.
As we drew near a dozen of them came from the east and swam across.
A second band of 8 now appeared. We gave chase. They spurted; so
did we. Our canoe was going over 6 miles an hour, and yet was but
slowly overtaking them. They made the water foam around them. Their
heads, necks, shoulders, backs, rumps, and tails were out. I never
before saw land animals move so fast in the water. A fawn in danger
of being left behind reared up on its mother's back and hung on
with forefeet. The leader was a doe or a young buck, I could not
be sure which; the last was a big buck. They soon struck bottom
and bounded along on the shore. It was too dark for a picture.
As we were turning in for the night 30 Caribou came trotting and
snorting through the camp. Half of them crossed the water, but the
rest turned back when Billy shouted.
Later a band of two hundred passed through and around our tents.
In the morning Billy complained that he could not sleep all night
for Caribou travelling by his tent and stumbling over the guy ropes.
From this time on we were nearly always in sight of Caribou, small
bands or scattering groups; one had the feeling that the whole land
was like this, on and on and on, unlimited space with unlimited
A year afterward as I travelled in the fair State of Illinois,
famous for its cattle, I was struck by the idea that one sees far
more Caribou in the north than cattle, in Illinois. This State has
about 56,000 square miles, of land and 3,000,000 cattle; the Arctic
Plains have over 1,000,000 square miles of prairie, which, allowing
for the fact that I saw the best of the range, would set, the Caribou
number at over 30,000,000. There is a, good deal of evidence that
this is not far from the truth.
The reader may recollect the original postulate of my plan. Other
travellers have gone, relying on the abundant Caribou, yet saw none,
so starved. I relied on no Caribou, I took plenty of groceries,
and because I was independent, the Caribou walked into camp nearly
every day, and we lived largely on their meat, saving our groceries
for an emergency, which came in an unexpected form. One morning
when we were grown accustomed to this condition I said to Billy:
"How is the meat?"
"Nearly gone. We'll need another Caribou about Thursday."
"You better get one now to be ready Thursday. I do not like it so
steaming fresh. See, there's a nice little buck on that hillside."
"No, not him; why he is nearly half a mile off. I'd have to pack
him in. Let's wait till one comes in camp."
Which we did, and usually got our meat delivered near the door.'
Caribou meat fresh, and well prepared, has no superior, and the
ideal way of cooking it is of course by roasting.
Fried meat is dried meat,
Boiled meat is spoiled meat,
Roast meat is best meat.
How was it to be roasted at an open fire without continued vigilance?
By a very simple contrivance that I invented at the time and now
offer for the use of all campers.
A wire held the leg; on the top of the wire was a paddle or shingle
of wood; above that, beyond the heat, was a cord.
The wind gives the paddle a push; it winds up the cord, which then
unwinds itself. This goes on without fail and without effort, never
still, and the roast is perfect.
Thus we were living on the fat of many lands and on the choicest
fat of this.
And what a region it is for pasture. At this place it reminds one
of Texas. Open, grassy plains, sparser reaches of sand, long slopes
of mesquite, mesas dotted with cedars and stretches of chapparal
and soapweed. Only, those vegetations here are willow, dwarf birch,
tiny spruce, and ledum, and the country as a whole is far too green
and rich. The emerald verdure of the shore, in not a few places,
carried me back, to the west coast of Ireland.
The daily observations of route and landmark I can best leave
for record on my maps. I had one great complaint against previous
explorers (except Tyrrell); that is, they left no monuments. Aiming
to give no ground of complaint against us, we made monuments at
all important points. On the, night of August 8 we camped at Cairn
Bay on the west side of Casba Lake, so named because of the five
remarkable glacial cairns or conical stone-piles about it. On the
top of one of these I left a monument, a six-foot pillar of large
On the afternoon of August 9 we passed the important headland that
I have called "Tyrrell Point." Here we jumped off his map into
the unknown. I had, of course, the small chart drawn by Sir George
Back in 1834, but it was hastily made under great difficulties,
and, with a few exceptions, it seemed impossible to recognize his
landscape features. Next day I explored the east arm of Clinton-Colden
and discovered the tributary that I have called "Laurier River,"
and near its mouth made a cairn enclosing a Caribou antler with
inscription "E. T. Seton, 10 Aug., 1907."
Future travellers on this lake will find, as I did, that the
Conical Butte in the eastern part is an important landmark. It is
a glacial dump about 50 feet above the general level, which again
is 100 feet above the water, visible and recognizable from nearly
all parts of the lake.
Thus we went on day by day, sometimes detained by head or heavy
winds, but making great progress in the calm, which nearly always
came in the evening; 30 and 35 miles a day we went, led on and
stimulated by the thirst to see and know. "I must see what is over
that ridge," "I must make sure that this is an island," or "Maybe
from that lookout I shall see Lake Aylmer, or a band of Caribou,
yes, or even a band of Musk-ox." Always there was some reward, and
nearly always it was a surprise.
From time to time we came on Snowbirds with their young broods,
evidently at home. Ptarmigan abounded. Parry's Groundsquirrel
was found at nearly all points, including the large islands. The
Laplongspur swarmed everywhere; their loud "chee chups" were the
first sounds to greet us each time we neared the land. And out over
all the lake were Loons, Loons, Loons. Four species abound here;
they caterwaul and yodel all day and all night, each in its own
particular speech, From time to time a wild hyena chorus from the
tranquil water in the purple sunset haze suggested, that a pack of
goblin hounds were chivying a goblin buck, but it turned out always
to be a family of Red-throated Loons, yodelling their inspiring
One day when at Gravel Mountain, old Weeso came to camp in evident
fear—"far off he had seen a man." In this country a man must mean
an Eskimo; with them the Indian has a long feud; of them he is in
terror. We never learned the truth; I think he was mistaken.
Once or twice the long howl of the White Wolf sounded from the
shore, and every day we saw a few Caribou.
A great many of the single Caribou were on the small islands. In
six cases that came under close observation the animal in question
had a broken leg. A broken leg generally evidences recent inroads
by hunters, but the nearest Indians were 200 miles to the south, and
the nearest Eskimo 300 miles to the north. There was every reason
to believe that we were the only human beings in that vast region,
and certainly we had broken no legs. Every Caribou fired at (8) had
been secured and used. There is only one dangerous large enemy common
in this country; that is the White Wolf. And the more I pondered
it, the more it seemed sure that the Wolves had broken the Caribous'
How! This is the history of each case: The Caribou is so much swifter
than the Wolves that the latter have no chance in open chase; they
therefore adopt the stratagem of a sneaking surround and a drive
over the rocks or a precipice, where the Caribou, if not actually
killed, is more or less disabled. In some cases only a leg is
broken, and then the Caribou knows his only chance is to reach the
water. Here his wonderful powers of swimming make him easily safe,
so much so that the Wolves make no attempt to follow. The crippled
deer makes for some island sanctuary, where he rests in peace till
his leg is healed, or it may be, in some cases, till the freezing of
the lake brings him again into the power of his floe.
These six, then, were the cripples in hospital, and I hope our
respectful behaviour did not inspire them with a dangerously false
notion of humanity.
On the island that I have called Owl-and-Hare, we saw the first
White Owl and the first Arctic Hare.
In this country when you see a tree, you know perfectly well it is
not a tree; it's the horns of a Caribou. An unusually large affair
of branches appeared on an island in the channel to Aylmer. I landed,
camera in hand; the Caribou was lying down in the open, but there
was a tuft of herbage 30 yards from him, another at 20 yards.
I crawled to the first and made a snapshot, then, flat as a rug,
sneaked my way to the one estimated at 20 yards. The click of the
camera, alarmed the buck; he rose, tried the wind, then lay down
again, giving me another chance. Having used all the films, I now
stood up. The Caribou dashed away and by a slight limp showed that
he was in sanctuary. The 20-yard estimate proved too long; it was
only 16 yards, which put my picture a little out of focus.
There never was a day, and rarely an hour of each day, that we did
not see several Caribou. And yet I never failed to get a thrill
at each fresh one. "There's a Caribou," one says with perennial
intensity that is evidence of perennial pleasure in the sight.
There never was one sighted that did not give us a happy sense of
satisfaction—the thought "This is what we came for."
One of my objects was to complete the ambiguous shore line of Aylmer
Lake. The first task was to find the lake. So we left the narrows
and pushed on and on, studying the Back map, vainly trying to identify
points, etc. Once or twice we saw gaps ahead that seemed to open
into the great inland sea of Aylmer. But each in turn proved a
mere bay.—On August 12 we left the narrows; on the 13th and 14th
we journeyed westward seeking the open sea. On the morning of the
15th we ran into the final end of the farthest bay we could discover
and camped at the mouth of a large river entering in.
As usual, we landed—Preble, Billy, and I—to study topography,
Weeso to get firewood, and curiously enough, there was more firewood
here than we had seen since leaving Artillery Lake. The reason of
this appeared later.
I was utterly puzzled. We had not yet found Aylmer Lake, and had
discovered an important river that did not seem to be down on any
We went a mile or two independently and studied the land from all
the high hills; evidently we had crossed the only great sheet of
water in the region. About noon, when all had assembled at camp,
I said: "Preble, why, isn't this Lockhart's River, at the western
extremity of Aylmer Lake?" The truth was dawning on me.
He also had been getting light and slowly replied: "I have forty-nine
reasons why it is, and none at all why it isn't."
There could be no doubt of it now. The great open sea of Aylmer was
a myth. Back never saw it; he passed in a fog, and put down with a
query the vague information given him by the Indians. This little
irregular lake, much like Clinton-Colden, was Aylmer. We had covered
its length and were now at its farthest western end, at the mouth
of Lockhart's River.
How I did wish that explorers would post up the names of the
streets; it is almost as bad as in New York City. What a lot of
time we might have saved had we known that Sandy Bay was in Back's
three-fingered peninsula! Resolving to set a good example I left a
monument at the mouth of the river. The kind of stone made it easy
to form a cross on top. This will protect it from wandering Indians;
I do not know of anything that will protect it from wandering white
In the afternoon, Preble, Billy, and I went northward on foot to
look for Musk-ox. A couple of miles from camp I left the others
and went more westerly.
After wandering on for an hour, disturbing Longspurs, Snowbirds,
Pipits, Groundsquirrel, and Caribou, I came on a creature that gave
me new thrills of pleasure. It was only a Polar Hare, the second we
had seen; but its very scarceness here, at least this year, gave
it unusual interest, and the Hare itself helped the feeling by
letting me get near it to study, sketch, and photograph.
It was exactly like a Prairie Hare in all its manners, even to the
method of holding its tail in running, and this is one of the most
marked and distinctive peculiarities of the different kinds.
On the 16th of August we left Lockhart's River, knowing now that
the north arm of the lake was our way. We passed a narrow bay out
of which there seemed to be a current, then, on the next high land,
noted a large brown spot that moved rather quickly along. It was
undoubtedly some animal with short legs, whether a Wolverine a
mile away, or a Musk-ox two miles away, was doubtful. Now did that
canoe put on its six-mile gait, and we soon knew for certain
that the brown thing was a Musk-ox. We were not yet in their country,
but here was one of them to meet us. Quickly we landed. Guns and
cameras were loaded.
"Don't fire till I get some pictures—unless he charges," were the
orders. And then we raced after the great creature grazing from
We had no idea whether he would run away or charge, but knew that
our plan was to remain unseen as long as possible. So, hiding behind
rocks when he looked around, and dashing forward when he grazed,
we came unseen within two hundred yards, and had a good look at
the huge woolly ox. He looked very much like an ordinary Buffalo,
the same in colour, size, and action. I never was more astray in
my preconcept of any animal, for I had expected to see something
like a large brown sheep.
My, first film was fired. Then, for some unknown reason, that
Musk-ox took it into his head to travel fast away from us, not
even stopping to graze; he would soon have been over a rocky ridge.
I nodded to Preble. His rifle rang; the bull wheeled sharp about
with an angry snort and came toward us. His head was up, his eye
blazing, and he looked like a South African Buffalo and a Prairie
Bison combined, and seemed to get bigger at every moment. We were
safely hidden behind rocks, some fifty yards from him now, when I
got my second snap.
Realising the occasion, and knowing my men, I said: "Now, Preble, I
am going to walk up to that bull and get a close picture. He will
certainly charge me, as I shall be nearest and in full view. There
is only one combination that can save my life: that is you and that
Then with characteristic loquacity did Preble reply: "Go ahead."
I fixed my camera for twenty yards and quit the sheltering rock.
The bull snorted, shook his head, took aim, and just before the
precious moment was to arrive a heavy shot behind me, rang out, the
bull staggered and fell, shot through the heart, and Weeso cackled
aloud in triumph.
How I cursed the meddling old fool. He had not understood. He
saw, as he supposed, "the Okimow in peril of his life," and acted
according to the dictates of his accursedly poor discretion. Never
again shall he carry a rifle with me.
So the last scene came not, but we had the trophy of a Musk-ox
that weighed nine hundred pounds in life and stood five feet high
at the shoulders—a world's record in point of size.
Now we must camp perforce to save the specimen. Measurements, photos,
sketches, and weights were needed, then the skinning and preparing
would be a heavy task for all. In the many portages afterwards the
skull was part of my burden; its weight was actually forty pounds,
its heaviness was far over a hundred.
What extraordinary luck we were having. It was impossible in our
time limit to reach the summer haunt of the Caribou on the Arctic
Coast, therefore the Caribou came to us in their winter haunt on
the Artillery Lake. We did not expect to reach the real Musk-ox
country on the Lower Back River, so the Musk-ox sought us out on
Aylmer Lake. And yet one more piece of luck is to be recorded. That
night something came in our tent and stole meat. The next night
Billy set a trap and secured the thief—an Arctic Fox in summer
coat. We could not expect to go to him in his summer home, so he
came to us.
While the boys were finishing the dressing of the bull's hide, I,
remembering the current from the last bay, set out on foot over the
land to learn the reason. A couple of miles brought me to a ridge
from which I made the most important geographical discovery of the
journey. Stretching away before me to the far dim north-west was
a great, splendid river—broad, two hundred yards wide in places,
but averaging seventy or eighty yards across—broken by white
rapids and waterfalls, but blue deep in the smoother stretches and
emptying into the bay we had noticed. So far as the record showed,
I surely was the first white man to behold it. I went to the margin;
it was stocked with large trout. I followed it up a couple of miles
and was filled with the delight of discovery. "Earl Grey River"',
I have been privileged to name it after the distinguished statesman,
now Governor-general of Canada.
Then and there I built a cairn, with a record of my visit, and
sitting on a hill with the new river below me, I felt that there
was no longer any question of the expedition's success. The entire
programme was carried out. I had proved the existence of abundance
of Caribou, had explored Aylmer Lake, had discovered two great
rivers, and, finally, had reached the land of the Musk-ox and secured
a record-breaker to bring away. This I felt was the supreme moment
of the journey.
Realizing the farness of my camp, from human abode—it could scarcely
have been farther on the continent—my thoughts flew back to the
dear ones at home, and my comrades, the men of the Camp-fire Club.
I wondered if their thoughts were with me at the time. How they must
envy me the chance of launching into the truly unknown wilderness,
a land still marked on the maps as "unexplored!" How I enjoyed the
thoughts of their sympathy over our probable perils and hardships,
and imagined them crowding around me with hearty greetings on my
safe return! Alas! for the rush of a great city's life and crowds,
I found out later that these, my companions, did not even know that
I had been away from New York.
THE ARCTIC PRAIRIES AND MY FARTHEST NORTH
Camp Musk-Ox provided many other items of interest besides the Great
River, the big Musk-ox, and the Arctic Fox. Here Preble secured a
Groundsquirrel with its cheek-pouches full of mushrooms and shot
a cock Ptarmigan whose crop was crammed with leaves of willow and
birch, though the ground was bright with berries of many kinds. The
last evening we were there a White Wolf followed Billy into camp,
keeping just beyond reach of his shotgun; and, of course, we saw
Caribou every hour or two.
"All aboard," was the cry on the morning of August 19, and once
more we set out. We reached the north arm of the lake, then turned
north-eastward. In the evening I got photos of a Polar Hare, the
third we had seen. The following day (August 20), at noon, we camped
in Sandhill Bay, the north point of Aylmer Lake and the northernmost
point of our travels by canoe. It seems that we were the fourth
party of white men to camp on this spot.
Captain George Back, 1833-34.
Stewart and Anderson, 1855.
Warburton Pike, 1890.
E. T. Seton, 1907.
All day long we had seen small bands of Caribou. A score now appeared
on a sandhill half a mile away; another and another lone specimen
trotted past our camp. One of these stopped and gave us an
extraordinary exhibition of agility in a sort of St. Vitus's jig,
jumping, kicking, and shaking its head; I suspect the nose-worms
were annoying it. While we lunched, a fawn came and gazed curiously
from a distance of 100 yards. In the after-noon Preble returned
from a walk to say that the Caribou were visible in all directions,
but not in great bands.
Next morning I was awakened by a Caribou clattering through camp
within 30 feet of my tent.
After breakfast we set off on foot northward to seek for Musk-ox,
keeping to the eastward of the Great Fish River. The country is
rolling, with occasional rocky ridges and long, level meadows in the
lowlands, practically all of it would be considered horse country;
and nearly every meadow had two or three grazing Caribou.
About noon, when six or seven miles north of Aylmer, we halted
for rest and lunch on the top of the long ridge of glacial dump
that lies to the east of Great Fish River. And now we had a most
complete and spectacular view of the immense open country that we
had come so far to see. It was spread before us like a huge, minute,
and wonderful chart, and plainly marked with the processes of its
Imagine a region of low archaean hills, extending one thousand
miles each way, subjected for thousands of years to a continual
succession of glaciers, crushing, grinding, planing, smoothing,
ripping up and smoothing again, carrying off whole ranges of broken
hills, in fragments, to dump them at some other point, grind them
again while there, and then push and hustle them out of that region
into some other a few hundred miles farther; there again to tumble
and grind them together, pack them into the hollows, and dump them
in pyramidal piles on plains and uplands. Imagine this going on
for thousands of years, and we shall have the hills lowered and
polished, the valleys more or less filled with broken rocks.
Now the glacial action is succeeded by a time of flood. For another
age all is below water, dammed by the northern ice, and icebergs
breaking from the parent sheet carry bedded in them countless
boulders, with which they go travelling south on the open waters.
As they melt the boulders are dropped; hill and hollow share equally
in this age-long shower of erratics. Nor does it cease till the
progress of the warmer day removes the northern ice-dam, sets free
the flood, and the region of archaean rocks stands bare and dry.
It must have been a dreary spectacle at that time, low, bare hills
of gneiss, granite, etc.; low valleys half-filled with broken rock
and over everything a sprinkling of erratic boulders; no living thing
in sight, nothing green, nothing growing, nothing but evidence of
mighty power used only to destroy. A waste of shattered granite
spotted with hundreds of lakes, thousands of lakelets, millions of
ponds that are marvellously blue, clear, and lifeless.
But a new force is born on the scene; it attacks not this hill or
rock, or that loose stone, but on every point of every stone and
rock in the vast domain, it appears—the lowest form of lichen,
a mere stain of gray. This spreads and by its own corrosive power
eats foothold on the granite; it fructifies in little black velvet
spots. Then one of lilac flecks the pink tones of the granite,
to help the effect. Soon another kind follows—a pale olive-green
lichen that fruits in bumps of rich brown velvet; then another
branching like a tiny tree—there is a ghostly kind like white
chalk rubbed lightly on, and yet another of small green blots, and
one like a sprinkling of scarlet snow; each, in turn, of a higher
and larger type, which in due time prepares the way for mosses
In the less exposed places these come forth, seeking the shade,
searching for moisture, they form like small sponges on a coral
reef; but growing, spread and change to meet the changing contours
of the land they win, and with every victory or upward move, adopt
some new refined intensive tint that is the outward and visible
sign of their diverse inner excellences and their triumph. Ever
evolving they spread, until there are great living rugs of strange
textures and oriental tones; broad carpets there are of gray and
green; long luxurious lanes, with lilac mufflers under foot, great
beds of a moss so yellow chrome, so spangled with intense red sprigs,
that they might, in clumsy hands, look raw. There are knee-deep
breadths of polytrichum, which blends in the denser shade into a
moss of delicate crimson plush that baffles description.
Down between the broader masses are bronze-green growths that run
over each slight dip and follow down the rock crannies like streams
of molten brass. Thus the whole land is overlaid with a living,
corrosive mantle of activities as varied as its hues.
For ages these toil on, improving themselves, and improving the
country by filing down the granite and strewing the dust around
The frost, too, is at work, breaking up the granite lumps; on every
ridge there is evidence of that—low, rounded piles of stone which
plainly are the remnants of a boulder, shattered by the cold. Thus,
lichen, moss, and frost are toiling to grind the granite surfaces
Much of this powdered rock is washed by rain into the lakes and
ponds; in time these cut their exits down, and drain, leaving each
a broad mud-flat. The climate mildens and the south winds cease
not, so that wind-borne grasses soon make green meadows of the
broad lake-bottom flats.
The process climbs the hill-slopes; every little earthy foothold
for a plant is claimed by some new settler, until each low hill is
covered to the top with vegetation graded to its soil, and where
the flowering kinds cannot establish themselves, the lichen pioneers
still maintain their hold. Rarely, in the landscape, now, is any of
the primitive colour of the rocks; even the tall, straight cliffs
of Aylmer are painted and frescoed with lichens that flame and
glitter with purple and orange, silver and gold. How precious and
fertile the ground is made to seem, when every square foot of it
is an exquisite elfin garden made by the little people, at infinite
cost, filled with dainty flowers and still later embellished with
One of the wonderful things about these children of the Barrens
is the great size of fruit and flower compared with the plant. The
cranberry, the crowberry, the cloudberry, etc., produce fruit any
one of which might outweigh the herb itself.
Nowhere does one get the impression that these are weeds, as often
happens among the rank growths farther south. The flowers in the
wildest profusion are generally low, always delicate and mostly
in beds of a single species. The Lalique jewelry was the sensation
of the Paris Exposition of 1899. Yet here is Lalique renewed and
changed for every week in the season and lavished on every square
foot of a region that is a million square miles in extent.
Not a cranny in a rock but is seized on at once by the eager little
gardeners in charge and made a bed of bloom, as though every inch
of room were priceless. And yet Nature here exemplifies the law
that our human gardeners are only learning: "Mass your bloom, to
As I stood on that hill, the foreground was a broad stretch of old
gold—the shining sandy yellow of drying grass—but it was patched
with large scarlet mats of arctous that would put red maple to its
reddest blush. There was no Highland heather here, but there were
whole hillsides of purple red vaccinium, whose leaves were but a
shade less red than its luscious grape-hued fruit.
Here were white ledums in roods and acre beds; purple mairanias
by the hundred acres, and, framed in lilac rocks, were rich, rank
meadows of golden-green by the mile.
There were leagues and leagues of caribou moss, pale green or lilac,
and a hundred others in clumps, that, seeing here the glory of the
painted mosses, were simulating their ways, though they themselves
were the not truly mosses at all.
I never before saw such a realm of exquisite flowers so exquisitely
displayed, and the effect at every turn throughout the land was
colour, colour, colour, to as far outdo the finest autumn tints of
New England as the Colorado Canyon outdoes the Hoosac Gorge. What
Nature can do only in October, elsewhere, she does here all season
through, as though when she set out to paint the world she began
on the Barrens with a full palette and when she reached the Tropics
had nothing left but green.
Thus at every step one is wading through lush grass or crushing
prairie blossoms and fruits. It is so on and on; in every part of
the scene, there are but few square feet that do not bloom with
flowers and throb with life; yet this is the region called the
Barren Lands of the North.
And the colour is an index of its higher living forms, for this
is the chosen home of the Swans and Wild Geese; many of the Ducks,
the Ptarmigan, the Laplongspur and Snowbunting. The blue lakes echo
with the wailing of the Gulls and the eerie magic calling of the
Loons. Colonies of Lemmings, Voles, or Groundsquirrels are found
on every sunny slope; the Wolverine and the White Wolf find this
a land of plenty, for on every side, as I stood on that high hill,
were to be seen small groups of Caribou.
This was the land and these the creatures I had come to see. This
was my Farthest North and this was the culmination of years of
dreaming. How very good it seemed at the time, but how different
and how infinitely more delicate and satisfying was the realisation
than any of the day-dreams founded on my vision through the eyes
of other men.
On this hill we divided, Preble and Billy going northward; Weeso
and I eastward, all intent on finding a herd of Musk-ox; for this
was the beginning of their range. There was one continual surprise
as we journeyed—the willows that were mere twigs on Aylmer Lake
increased in size and were now plentiful and as high as our heads,
with stems two or three inches thick. This was due partly to the
decreased altitude and partly to removal from the broad, cold sheet
of Aylmer, which, with its July ice, must tend to lower the summer
For a long time we tramped eastward, among hills and meadows, with
Caribou. Then, at length, turned south again and, after a 20-mile
tramp, arrived in camp at 6.35, having seen no sign whatever of
Musk-ox, although this is the region where Pike found them common;
on July 1, 1890, at the little lake where we lunched, his party
killed seven out of a considerable band.
At 9.30 that night Preble and Billy returned. They had been over Icy
River, easily recognised by the thick ice still on its expansions,
and on to Musk-ox Lake, without seeing any fresh tracks of a Musk-ox.
As they came into camp a White Wolf sneaked away.
Rain began at 6 and continued a heavy storm all night. In the morning
it was still in full blast, so no one rose until 9.30, when Billy,
starved out of his warm bed, got up to make breakfast. Soon I
heard him calling: "Mr. Seton, here's a big Wolf in camp!" "Bring
him in here," I said. Then a rifle-shot was heard, another, and
Billy appeared, dragging a huge White Wolf. (He is now to be seen
in the American Museum.)
All that day and the next night the storm raged. Even the presence
of Caribou bands did not stimulate us enough to face the sleet.
Next day it was dry, but too windy to travel.
Billy now did something that illustrates at once the preciousness
of firewood, and the pluck, strength, and reliability of my cook.
During his recent tramp he found a low, rocky hollow full of large,
dead willows. It was eight miles back; nevertheless he set out,
of his own free will; tramped the eight miles, that wet, blustery
day, and returned in five and one-half hours, bearing on his back
a heavy load, over 100 pounds of most acceptable firewood. Sixteen
miles afoot for a load of wood! But it seemed well worth it as we
revelled in the blessed blaze.
Next day two interesting observations were made; down by the shore
I found the midden-heap of a Lemming family. It contained about
four hundred pellets: their colour and dryness, with the absence
of grass, showed that they dated from winter.
In the evening the four of us witnessed the tragic end of a
Lap-longspur. Pursued by a fierce Skua Gull, it unfortunately dashed
out over the lake. In vain then it darted up and down, here and
there, high and low; the Skua followed even more quickly. A second
Skua came flying to help, but was not needed. With a falcon-like
swoop, the pirate seized the Longspur in his bill and bore it away
to be devoured at the nearest perch.
At 7.30 A. M., August 24, 1907, surrounded by scattering Caribou,
we pushed off from our camp at Sand Hill Bay and began the return
At Wolf-den Point we discovered a large and ancient wolf-den in the
rocks; also abundance of winter sign of Musk-ox. That day we made
forty miles and camped for the night on the Sand Hill Mountain in
Tha-na-koie, the channel that joins Aylmer and Clinton-Colden. Here
we were detained by high winds until the 28th.
This island is a favourite Caribou crossing, and Billy and Weeso
had pitched their tents right on the place selected by the Caribou
for their highway. Next day, while scanning the country from the
top of the mount, I saw three Caribou trotting along. They swam the
river and came toward me. As Billy and Weeso were in their tents
having an afternoon nap, I thought it would be a good joke to stampede
the Caribou on top of them, so waited behind a rock, intending to
jump out as soon as they were past me. They followed the main trail
at a trot, and I leaped out with "horrid yells" when they passed
my rock, but now the unexpected happened. "In case of doubt take
to the water" is Caribou wisdom, so, instead of dashing madly into
the tents, they made three desperate down leaps and plunged into
the deep water, then calmly swam for the other shore, a quarter
of a mile away.
This island proved a good place for small mammals. Here Preble
got our first specimen of the White Lemming. Large islands usually
prove better for small mammals than the mainland. They have the
same conditions to support life, but being moated by the water are
usually without the larger predatory quadrupeds.
The great central inland of Clinton-Colden proved the best place
of all for Groundsquirrels. Here we actually found them in colonies.
On the 29th and 30th we paddled and surveyed without ceasing and
camped beyond the rapid at the exit of Clinton-Colden. The next
afternoon we made the exit rapids of Casba Lake. Preble was preparing
to portage them, but asked Weeso, "Can we run them?"
Weeso landed, walked to a view-point, took a squinting look and
said, "Ugh!" (Yes). Preble rejoined, "All right! If he says he can,
he surely can. That's the Indian of it. A white man takes risks;
an Indian will not; if it is risky he'll go around." So we ran the
rapids in safety.
Lighter each day, as the food was consumed, our elegant canoe went
faster. When not detained by heavy seas 30 or 40 miles a day was
our journey. On August 30 we made our last 6 miles in one hour and
6 1/2 minutes. On September 2, in spite of head-winds, we made 36
miles in 8 1/4 hours and in the evening we skimmed over the glassy
surface of Artillery Lake, among its many beautiful islands and
once more landed at our old ground—the camp in the Last Woods.
THE FIRST WOODS
How shall I set forth the feelings it stirred? None but the shipwrecked
sailor, long drifting on the open sea, but come at last to land,
can fully know the thrill it gave us. We were like starving Indians
suddenly surrounded by Caribou. Wood—timber—fuel—galore! It was
hard to realise—but there it was, all about us, and in the morning
we were awakened by the sweet, sweet, home-like song of the Robins
in the trees, singing their "Cheerup, cheerily," just as they do
it in Ontario and Connecticut. Our cache was all right; so, our
stock of luxuries was replenished. We now had unlimited food as well
as unlimited firewood; what more could any one ask? Yet there was
more. The weather was lovely; perfect summer days, and the mosquitoes
were gone, yes, now actually nets and flybars were discarded for
good. On every side was animal life in abundance; the shimmering
lake with its Loons and islands would fit exactly the Indian's dream
of the heavenly hunting-grounds. These were the happy halcyon days
of the trip, and we stayed a week to rest and revel in the joys
In the morning I took a long walk over the familiar hills; the
various skeletons we had left were picked bare, evidently by Gulls
and Ravens, as no bones were broken and even the sinews were left.
There were many fresh tracks of single Caribou going here and
there, but no trails of large bands. I sent Weeso off to the Indian
village, two miles south. He returned to say that it was deserted
and that, therefore, the folk had gone after the Caribou, which
doubtless were now in the woods south of Artillery Lake. Again the
old man was wholly astray in his Caribou forecast.
That night there was a sharp frost; the first we had had. It
made nearly half an inch of ice in all kettles. Why is ice always
thickest on the kettles? No doubt because they hold a small body
of very still water surrounded by highly conductive metal.
Billy went "to market" yesterday, killing a nice, fat little Caribou.
This morning on returning to bring in the rest of the meat we found
that a Wolverine had been there and lugged the most of it away.
The tracks show that it was an old one accompanied by one or maybe
two young ones. We followed them some distance but lost all trace
in a long range of rocks.
The Wolverine is one of the typical animals of the far North. It
has an unenviable reputation for being the greatest plague that
the hunter knows. Its habit of following to destroy all traps for
the sake of the bait is the prime cause of man's hatred, and its
cleverness in eluding his efforts at retaliation give it still more
It is, above all, the dreaded enemy of a cache, and as already
seen, we took the extra precaution of putting our caches up trees
that were protected by a necklace of fishhooks. Most Northern
travellers have regaled us with tales of this animal's diabolical
cleverness and wickedness. It is fair to say that the malice, at
least, is not proven; and there is a good side to Wolverine character
that should be emphasized; that is, its nearly ideal family life,
coupled with the heroic bravery of the mother. I say "nearly" ideal,
for so far as I can learn, the father does not assist in rearing
the young. But all observers agree that the mother is absolutely
fearless and devoted. More than one of the hunters have assured me
that it is safer to molest a mother Bear than a mother Wolverine
when accompanied by the cubs.
Bellalise, a half-breed of Chipewyan, told me that twice he had
found Wolverine dens, and been seriously endangered by the mother.
The first was in mid-May, 1904, near Fond du Lac, north side of
Lake Athabaska. He went out with an Indian to bring in a skiff left
some miles off on the shore. He had no gun, and was surprised by
coming on an old Wolverine in a slight hollow under the boughs of
a green spruce. She rushed at him, showing all her teeth, her eyes
shining blue, and uttering sounds like those of a Bear. The Indian
boy hit her once with a stick, then swung himself out of danger up
a tree. Bellalise ran off after getting sight of the young ones;
they were four in number, about the size of a Muskrat, and pure
white. Their eyes were open. The nest was just such as a dog might
make, only six inches deep and lined with a little dry grass.
Scattered around were bones and fur, chiefly of Rabbits.
The second occasion was in 1905, within three miles of Chipewyan,
and, as before, about the middle of May. The nest was much like
the first one; the mother saw him coming, and charged furiously,
uttering a sort of coughing. He shot her dead; then captured the
young and examined the nest; there were three young this time. They
were white like the others.
Not far from this camp, we found a remarkable midden-yard of Lemmings.
It was about 10 feet by 40 feet, the ground within the limits was
thickly strewn with pellets, at the rate of 14 to the square inch,
but nowhere were they piled up. At this reckoning, there were over
800,000, but there were also many outside, which probably raised
the number to 1,000,000. Each pellet was long, brown, dry, and
curved, i.e., the winter type. The place, a high, dry, very sheltered
hollow, was evidently the winter range of a colony of Lemmings that
in summer went elsewhere, I suppose to lower, damper grounds.
After sunset, September 5, a bunch of three or four Caribou trotted
past the tents between us and the Lake, 200 yards from us; Billy
went after them, as, thanks to the Wolverine, we were out of meat,
and at one shot secured a fine young buck.
His last winter's coat was all shed now, his ears were turning
white and the white areas were expanding on feet and buttocks; his
belly was pure white.
On his back and rump, chiefly the latter, were the scars of 121
bots. I could not see that they affected the skin or, hair in the
Although all of these Caribou seem to have the normal foot-click,
Preble and I worked in vain with the feet of this, dead one to make
the sound; we could not by any combination of movement, or weight
or simulation of natural conditions, produce anything like a "click."
That same day, as we sat on a hill, a cow Caribou came curiously
toward us. At 100 yards she circled slowly, gazing till she got
the wind 150 yards to one side, then up went her tail and off she
trotted a quarter of a mile, but again drew nearer, then circled
as before till a second time the wind warned her to flee. This she
did three or four times before trotting away; the habit is often
Next afternoon, Billy and I saw a very large buck; his neck was
much swollen, his beard flowing and nearly white. He sighted us
afar, and worked north-west away from us, in no great alarm. I got
out of sight, ran a mile and a half, headed him off, then came on
him from the north, but in spite of all I could do by running and
yelling, he and his band (3 cows with 3 calves) rushed galloping
between me and the lake, 75 yards away. He was too foxy to be driven
back into that suspicious neighbourhood.
Thus we had fine opportunities for studying wild life. In all
these days there was only one unfulfilled desire: I had not seen
the great herd of Caribou returning to the woods that are their
This herd is said to rival in numbers the Buffalo herds of story,
to reach farther than the eye can see, and to be days in passing
a given point; but it is utterly erratic. It might arrive in early
September. It was not sure to arrive until late October, when the
winter had begun. This year all the indications were that it would
be late. If we were to wait for it, it would mean going out on the
ice. For this we were wholly unprepared. There were no means of
getting the necessary dogs, sleds, and fur garments; my business
was calling me back to the East. It was useless to discuss the
matter, decision was forced on me. Therefore, without having seen
that great sight, one of the world's tremendous zoological spectacles
the march in one body of millions of Caribou—I reluctantly gave
the order to start. On September 8 we launched the Ann Seton on
her homeward voyage of 1,200 upstream miles.
FAREWELL TO THE CARIBOU
All along the shore of Artillery Lake we saw small groups of Caribou.
They were now in fine coat; the manes on the males were long and
white and we saw two with cleaned antlers; in one these were of a
brilliant red, which I suppose meant that they were cleaned that
day and still bloody.
We arrived at the south end of Artillery Lake that night, and were
now again in the continuous woods what spindly little stuff it
looked when we left it; what superb forest it looked now—and here
we bade good-bye to the prairies and their Caribou.
Now, therefore, I shall briefly summarise the information I gained
about this notable creature. The species ranges over all the
treeless plains and islands of Arctic America. While the great body
is migratory, there are scattered individuals in all parts at all
seasons. The main body winters in the sheltered southern third of
the range, to avoid the storms, and moves north in the late spring,
to avoid the plagues of deer-flies and mosquitoes. The former
are found chiefly in the woods, the latter are bad everywhere; by
travelling against the wind a certain measure of relief is secured,
northerly winds prevail, so the Caribou are kept travelling northward.
When there is no wind, the instinctive habit of migration doubtless
directs the general movement.
How are we to form an idea of their numbers? The only way seems
to be by watching the great migration to its winter range. For the
reasons already given this was impossible in my case, therefore,
I array some of the known facts that will evidence the size of the
Warburton Pike, who saw them at Mackay Lake, October 20, 1889, says:
"I cannot believe that the herds [of Buffalo] on the prairie ever
surpassed in size La Foule (the throng) of the Caribou. La Foule
had really come, and during its passage of six days I was able to
realize what an extraordinary number of these animals still roam
the Barren Grounds."
From figures and facts given me by H. T. Munn, of Brandon, Manitoba,
I reckon that in three weeks following July 25, 1892, he saw at
Artillery Lake (N. latitude 62 1/2 degrees, W. Long. 112 degrees)
not less than 2,000,000 Caribou travelling southward; he calls this
merely the advance guard of the great herd. Colonel Jones (Buffalo
Jones), who saw the herd in October at Clinton-Colden, has given me
personally a description that furnishes the basis for an interesting
calculation of their numbers.
He stood on a hill in the middle of the passing throng, with a
clear view ten miles each way and it was one army of Caribou. How
much further they spread, he did not know. Sometimes they were
bunched, so that a hundred were on a space one hundred feet square;
but often there would be spaces equally large without any. They
averaged at least one hundred Caribou to the acre; and they passed
him at the rate of about three miles an hour. He did not know how
long they were in passing this point; but at another place they
were four days, and travelled day and night. The whole world seemed
a moving mass of Caribou. He got the impression at last that they
were standing still and he was on a rocky hill that was rapidly
running through their hosts.
Even halving these figures, to keep on the safe side, we find that
the number of Caribou in this army was over 25,000,000. Yet it is
possible that there are several such armies. In which case they
must indeed out-number the Buffalo in their palmiest epoch. So much
for their abundance to-day. To what extent are they being destroyed?
I looked into this question with care.
First, of the Indian destruction. In 1812 the Chipewyan population,
according to Kennicott, was 7,500. Thomas Anderson, of Fort Smith,
showed me a census of the Mackenzie River Indians, which put them
at 3,961 in 1884. Official returns of the Canadian government give
them in 1905 at 3,411, as follows:
Peel . . . . . . . . . . 400
Arctic Red River . . . . . . 100
Good Hope . . . . . . . . 500
Norman . . . . . . . . . 300
Wrigley . . . . . . . . . 100
Simpson . . . . . . . . . 300
Rae . . . . . . . . . . 800
Liard and Nelson . . . . . . 400
Yellowknives . . . . . . . 151
Dogribs . . . . . . . . . 123
Chipewyans . . . . . . . . 123
Hay River . . . . . . . . 114
Of these the Hay River and Liard Indians, numbering about 500, can
scarcely be considered Caribou-eaters, so that the Indian population
feeding on Caribou to-day is about 3,000, less than half what it
was 100 years ago.
Of these not more than 600 are hunters. The traders generally agree
that the average annual kill of Caribou is about 10 or 20 per man,
not more. When George Sanderson, of Fort Resolution, got 75 one
year, it was the talk of the country; many got none. Thus 20,000
per annum killed by the Indians is a liberal estimate to-day.
There has been so much talk about destruction by whalers that I
was careful to gather all available information. Several travellers
who had visited Hershell Island told me that four is the usual
number of whalers that winter in the north-east of Point Barrow.
Sometimes, but rarely, the number is increased to eight or ten,
never more. They buy what Caribou they can from Eskimo, sometimes
aggregating 300 or 400 carcasses in a winter, and would use more
if they could get them, but they cannot, as the Caribou herds are
then far south. This, E. Sprake Jones, William Hay, and others,
are sure represents fairly the annual destruction by whalers on
the north coast. Only one or two vessels of this traffic go into
Hudson's Bay, and these with those of Hershell are all that touch
Caribou country, so that the total destruction by whalers must be
under 1,000 head per annum.
The Eskimo kill for their own use. Franz Boas ("Handbook of American
Indians") gives the number of Eskimo in the central region at
1,100. Of these not more than 300 are hunters. If we allow their
destruction to equal that of the 600 Indians, it is liberal, giving
a total of 40,000 Caribou killed by native hunters. As the whites
rarely enter the region, this is practically all the destruction
by man. The annual increase of 30,000,000 Caribou must be several
millions and would so far overbalance the hunter toll that the
latter cannot make any permanent difference.
There is, moreover, good evidence that the native destruction has
diminished. As already seen, the tribes which hunt the Barren-Ground
Caribou, number less than one-half of what they did 100 years ago.
Since then, they have learned to use the rifle, and this, I am
assured by all the traders, has lessened the destruction. By the
old method, with the spear in the water, or in the pound trap, one
native might kill 100 Caribou in one day, during the migrations;
but these methods called for woodcraft and were very laborious. The
rifle being much easier, has displaced the spear; but there is a
limit to its destruction, especially with cartridges at five cents
to seven cents each, and, as already seen, the hunters do not
average 20 Caribou each in a year.
Thus, all the known facts point to a greatly diminished slaughter
to-day when compared with that of 100 years ago. This, then, is my
summary of the Barren-Ground Caribou between the Mackenzie River
and Hudson's Bay. They number over 30,000,000, and may be double
of that. They are in primitive conditions and probably never more
numerous than now.
The native destruction is less now than formerly and never did make
any perceptible difference.
Finally, the matter has by no means escaped the attention of the
wide-awake Canadian government represented by the Minister of the
Interior and the Royal North-west Mounted Police. It could not be
in better hands; and there is no reason to fear in any degree a
repetition of the Buffalo slaughter that disgraced the plains of
the United States.
OLD FORT RELIANCE TO FORT RESOLUTION
All night the storm of rain and snow raged around our camp on
the south shore of Artillery Lake, but we were up and away in the
morning in spite of it. That day, we covered five portages (they
took two days in coming out). Next day we crossed Lake Harry and
camped three-quarters of a mile farther on the long portage. Next
day, September 11, we camped (still in storm) at the Lobstick Landing
of Great Slave Lake. How tropically rich all this vegetation looked
after the "Land of little sticks." Rain we could face, but high
winds on the big water were dangerous, so we were storm-bound until
September 14, when we put off, and in two hours were at old Fort
Reliance, the winter quarters of Sir George Back in 1833-4. In the
Far North the word "old" means "abandoned" and the fort, abandoned
long ago, had disappeared, except the great stone chimneys. Around
one of these that intrepid explorer and hunter-Buffalo Jones-had
built a shanty in 1897. There it stood in fairly good condition,
a welcome shelter from the storm which now set in with redoubled
fury. We soon had the big fireplace aglow and, sitting there in
comfort that we owed to him, and surrounded by the skeletons of
the Wolves that he had killed about the door in that fierce winter
time, we drank in hot and copious tea the toast: Long life and
prosperity to our host so far away, the brave old hunter, "Buffalo
The woods were beautiful and abounded with life, and the three
days we spent there were profitably devoted to collecting, but on
September 17 we crossed the bay, made the short portage, and at
night camped 32 miles away, on the home track.
Next morning we found a camp of Indians down to the last of their
food. We supplied them with flour and tobacco. They said that
no Caribou had come to the Lake, showing how erratic is the great
In the afternoon we came across another band in still harder luck.
They had nothing whatever but the precarious catch of the nets,
and this was the off-season. Again we supplied them, and these were
among the unexpected emergencies for which our carefully guarded
supplies came in.
In spite of choppy seas we made from 30 to 35 miles a day, and
camped on Tal-thel-lay the evening of September 20. That night as
I sat by the fire the moon rose in a clear sky and as I gazed on
her calm bright disc something seemed to tell me that at that moment
the dear ones far away were also looking on that radiant face.
On the 21st we were storm-bound at Et-then Island, but utilised
the time collecting. I gathered a lot of roots of Pulsatilla and
Calypso. Here Billy amused us by catching Wiskajons in an old-fashioned
springle that dated from the days when guns were unknown; but the
captured birds came back fearlessly each time after being released.
All that day we had to lie about camp, keeping under cover on account
of the rain. It was dreary work listening to the surf ceaselessly
pounding the shore and realising that all these precious hours
were needed to bring us to Fort Resolution, where the steamer was
to meet us on the 25th.
On the 23d it was calmer and we got away in the gray dawn at 5.45.
We were now in Weeso's country, and yet he ran us into a singular
pocket that I have called Weeso's Trap—a straight glacial groove
a mile long that came to a sudden end and we had to go back that
The old man was much mortified over his blunder, but he did not
feel half so badly about it as I did, for every hour was precious
What a delight it was to feel our canoe skimming along under the
four paddles. Three times as fast we travelled now as when we came
out with the bigger boat; 5 1/2 miles an hour was frequently our
rate and when we camped that night we had covered 47 miles since
On Kahdinouay we camped and again a storm arose to pound and bluster
all night. In spite of a choppy sea next day we reached the small
island before the final crossing; and here, perforce, we stayed
to await a calmer sea. Later we heard that during this very storm
a canoe-load of Indians attempted the crossing and upset; none were
swimmers, all were drowned.
We were not the only migrants hurrying southward. Here for the
first time in my life I saw Wild Swans, six in a flock. They were
heading southward and flew not in very orderly array, but ever
changing, occasionally forming the triangle after the manner of
Geese. They differ from Geese in flapping more slowly, from White
Cranes in flapping faster, and seemed to vibrate only the tips of
the wings. This was on the 23d. Next day we saw another flock of
seven; I suppose that in each case it was the old one and young of
As they flew they uttered three different notes: a deep horn-like
"too" or "coo," a higher pitched "coo," and a warble-like
"tootle-tootle," or sometimes simply "tee-tee." Maybe the last did
not come from the Swans, but no other birds were near; I suppose
that these three styles of notes came from male, female, and young.
Next morning 7 flocks of Swans flew overhead toward the south-west.
They totalled 46; 12 were the most in one flock. In this large flock
I saw a quarrel No. 2 turned back and struck No. 3, his long neck
bent and curled like a snake, both dropped downward several feet
then 3, 4 and 5 left that flock. I suspect they were of another
But, later, as we entered the river mouth we had a thrilling glimpse
of Swan life. Flock after flock came in view as we rounded the rush
beds; 12 flocks in all we saw, none had less than 5 in it, nearly
100 Swans in sight, at once, and all rose together with a mighty
flapping of strong, white wings, and the chorus of the insignificant
"too-too-tees" sailed farther southward, probably to make the great
Swan tryst on Hay River.
No doubt these were the same 12 flocks as those observed on the
previous days, but still it rejoiced my heart to see even that
many. I had feared that the species was far gone on the trail of
the Passenger Pigeon.
But this is anticipating. We were camped still on the island north
of the traverse, waiting for possible water. All day we watched In
vain, all night the surf kept booming, but at three in the morning
the wind dropped, at four it was obviously calmer. I called the
boys and we got away before six; dashing straight south in spite
of rolling seas we crossed the 15-mile stretch in 3 3/4 hours, and
turning westward reached Stony Island by noon. Thence southward
through ever calmer water our gallant boat went spinning, reeling
off the level miles up the river channel, and down again on its
south-west branch, in a glorious red sunset, covering in one day
the journeys of four during our outgoing, in the supposedly far
speedier York boat. Faster and faster we seemed to fly, for we had
the grand incentive that we must catch the steamer at any price
that night. Weeso now, for the first time, showed up strong; knowing
every yard of the way he took advantage of every swirl of the river;
in and out among the larger islands we darted, and when we should
have stopped for the night no man said "Stop", but harder we
paddled. We could smell the steamer smoke, we thought, and pictured
her captain eagerly scanning the offing for our flying canoe; it
was most inspiring and the Ann Seton jumped up to 6 miles an hour
for a time. So we went; the night came down, but far away were the
glittering lights of Fort Resolution, and the steamer that should
end our toil. How cheering. The skilly pilot and the lusty paddler
slacked not—40 miles we had come that day—and when at last some
49, nearly 50, paddled miles brought us stiff and weary to the
landing it was only to learn that the steamer, notwithstanding
bargain set and agreed on, had gone south two days before.
GOING UP THE LOWER SLAVE
What we thought about the steamboat official who was responsible
for our dilemma we did not need to put into words; for every one
knew of the bargain and its breach: nearly every one present had
protested at the time, and the hardest things I felt like saying
were mild compared with the things already said by that official's
own colleagues. But these things were forgotten in the hearty greetings
of friends and bundles of letters from home. It was eight o'clock,
and of course black night when we landed; yet it was midnight when
we thought of sleep.
Fort Resolution is always dog-town; and now it seemed at its
worst. When the time came to roll up in our blankets, we were fully
possessed of the camper's horror of sleeping indoors; but it was
too dark to put up a tent and there was not a square foot of ground
anywhere near that was not polluted and stinking of "dog-sign,"
so very unwillingly I broke my long spell of sleeping out, on this
131st day, and passed the night on the floor of the Hudson's Bay
Company house. I had gone indoors to avoid the "dog-sign" and next
morning found, alas, that I had been lying all night on "cat-sign."
I say lying; I did not sleep. The closeness of the room, in spite
of an open window, the novelty, the smells, combined with the
excitement of letters from home, banished sleep until morning came,
and, of course, I got a bad cold, the first I had had all summer.
Here I said "good-bye" to old Weeso. He grinned affably, and when I
asked what he would like for a present said, "Send me an axe like
yours," There were three things in my outfit that aroused the cupidity
of nearly every Indian, the Winchester rifle, the Peterboro canoe
and the Marble axe, "the axe that swallows its face." Weeso had
a rifle, we could not spare or send him a canoe, so I promised to
send him the axe. Post is slow, but it reached him six months later
and I doubt not is even now doing active service.
Having missed the last steamer, we must go on by canoe. Canoeing
up the river meant "tracking" all the way; that is, the canoe must
be hauled up with a line, by a man walking on the banks; hard work
needing not only a strong, active man, but one who knows the river.
Through the kindness of J. McLeneghan, of the Swiggert Trading
Company, I was spared the horrors of my previous efforts to secure
help at Fort Resolution, and George Sanderson, a strong young
half-breed, agreed to take me to Fort Smith for $2.00 a day and
means of returning. George was a famous hunter and fisher, and
a "good man" to travel. I marked his broad shoulders and sinewy,
active form with joy, especially in view of his reputation. In one
respect he was different from all other half-breeds that I ever
knew—he always gave a straight answer. Ask an ordinary half-breed,
or western white man, indeed, how far it is to such a point, his
reply commonly is, "Oh, not so awful far," or "It is quite a piece,"
or "It aint such a hell of a ways," conveying to the stranger no
shadow of idea whether it is a hundred yards, a mile, or a week's
travel. Again and again when Sanderson was asked how far it was to
a given place, he would pause and say, "Three miles and a half,"
or "Little more than eight miles," as the case might be. The usual
half-breed when asked if we could make such a point by noon would
say "Maybe. I don't know. It is quite a piece." Sanderson would
say, "Yes," or "No, not by two miles," according to circumstances;
and his information was always correct; he knew the river "like a
On the afternoon of September 27 we left "Dogtown" with Sanderson
in Weeso's place and began our upward journey. George proved as
good as his reputation. The way that active fellow would stride
along the shore, over logs and brush, around fallen trees, hauling
the canoe against stream some three or four miles an hour was
perfectly fine; and each night my heart was glad and sang the old
refrain, "A day's march nearer home."
The toil of this tracking is second only to that of portageing.
The men usually relieve each other every 30 minutes. So Billy and
George were the team. If I were going again into that country and
had my choice these two again would be my crew.
Once or twice I took the track-line myself for a quarter of an hour,
but it did not appeal to me as a permanent amusement. It taught me
one thing that I did not suspect, namely, that it is much harder to
haul a canoe with three inches of water under her keel than with
three feet. In the former case, the attraction of the bottom is
most powerful and evident. The experience also explained the old
sailor phrase about the vessel feeling the bottom: this I had often
heard, but never before comprehended.
All day we tracked, covering 20 to 25 miles between camps and hourly
making observations on the wild life of the river. Small birds and
mammals were evidently much more abundant than in spring, and the
broad, muddy, and sandy reaches of the margin were tracked over by
Chipmunks, Weasels, Foxes, Lynxes, Bear, and Moose.
A Lynx, which we surprised on a sand-bar, took to the water without
hesitation and swam to the mainland. It went as fast as a dog, but
not nearly so fast as a Caribou. A large Fox that we saw crossing
the river proved very inferior to the Lynx in swimming speed.
The two portages, Ennuyeux and Detour, were duly passed, and on the
morning of October 3, as we travelled, a sailboat hove into sight.
It held Messrs. Thomas Christy, C. Harding, and Stagg. We were now
within 11 days of Fort Smith, so I took advantage of the opportunity
to send Sanderson back. On the evening of the 3d we came to Salt
River, and there we saw Pierre Squirrel with his hundred dogs and
at 1 P. M., October 4, arrived at Fort Smith.
FORT SMITH AND THE TUG
Here again we had the unpleasant experience of sleeping indoors,
a miserable, sleepless, stifling night, followed by the inevitable
Next day we rode with our things over the portage to Smith Landing.
I had secured the tug Ariel to give us a lift, and at 7 P. M.,
October 5, pulled out for the next stretch of the river, ourselves
aboard the tug, the canoe with a cargo towed behind.
That night we slept at the saw-mill, perforce, and having had
enough of indoors, I spread my, blankets outside, with the result,
as I was warned, that every one of the numerous dogs came again and
again, and passed, his opinion on my slumbering form. Next night
we selected an island to camp on, the men did not want to stay on
the mainland, for "the woods are full of mice and their feet are so
cold when they run over your face as you sleep." We did not set up
our tents that time but lay on the ground; next morning at dawn,
when I looked around, the camp was like a country graveyard, for
we were all covered with leaves, and each man was simply a long
mound. The dawn came up an ominous rose-red. I love not the rosy
dawn; a golden dawn or a chill-blue dawn is happy, but I fear the
dawn of rose as the red headlight of a storm. It came; by 8.30 the
rain had set in and steadily fell all day.
The following morning we had our first accident. The steamer with
the loaded canoe behind was rushing up a rapid. A swirl of water
upset the canoe, and all our large packs were afloat. All were
quickly recovered except a bag of salted skins. These sank and were
seen no more.
On October 9 we arrived at Fort Chipewyan. As we drew near that
famous place of water-fowl, the long strings and massed flocks of
various geese and ducks grew more and more plentiful; and at the
Fort itself we found their metropolis. The Hudson's Bay Company
had killed and salted about 600 Waveys or Snow Geese; each of the
Loutit families, about 500; not less than 12,000 Waveys will be
salted down this fall, besides Honkers, White-fronts and Ducks.
Each year they reckon on about 10,000 Waveys, in poor years they
take 5,000 to 6,000, in fat years 15,000. The Snow and White-fronted
Geese all had the white parts of the head more or less stained with
orange. Only one Blue Goose had been taken. This I got; it is a
westernmost record. No Swans had been secured this year; in fact,
I am told that they are never taken in the fall because they never
come this way, though they visit the east end of the lake; in the
spring they come by here and about 20 are taken each year. Chipewyan
was Billy Loutit's home, and the family gave a dance in honour of
the wanderer's return. Here I secured a tall half-breed, Gregoire
Daniell, usually known as "Bellalise," to go with me as far as
There was no good reason why we should not leave Chipewyan in three
hours. But the engineer of my tug had run across an old friend;
they wanted to have a jollification, as of course the engine
was "hopelessly out of order." But we got away at 7 next day—my
four men and the tug's three. At the wheel was a halfbreed—David
MacPherson—who is said to be a natural-born pilot, and the best
in the country. Although he never was on the Upper Slave before,
and it is an exceedingly difficult stream with its interminable,
intricate, shifting shallows, crooked, narrow channels, and
impenetrable muddy currents, his "nose for water" is so good that
he brought us through at full speed without striking once. Next
time he Will be qualified to do it by night.
In the grove where we camped after sundown were the teepee and
shack of an Indian (Chipewyan) Brayno (probably Brenaud). This is
his hunting and trapping ground, and has been for years. No one
poaches on it; that is unwritten law; a man may follow a wounded
animal into his neighbour's territory, but not trap there. The
nearest neighbour is 10 miles off. He gets 3 or 4 Silver Foxes
every year, a few Lynx, Otter, Marten, etc.
Bellalise was somewhat of a character. About 6 feet 4 in height,
with narrow, hollow chest, very large hands and feet and a nervous,
restless way of flinging himself about. He struck me as a man who
was killing himself with toil beyond his physical strength. He was
strongly recommended by the Hudson's Bay Company people as a "good
man," I liked his face and manners, he was an intelligent companion,
and I was glad to have secured him. At the first and second camps
he worked hard. At the next he ceased work suddenly and went aside;
his stomach was upset. A few hours afterwards he told me he was
feeling ill. The engineer, who wanted him to cut wood, said to me,
"That man is shamming." My reply was short: "You have known him
for months, and think he is shamming; I have known him for hours
and I know he is not that kind of a man."
He told me next morning, "It's no use, I got my breast crushed by
the tug a couple of weeks ago, I have no strength. At Fort McKay
is a good man named Jiarobia, he will go with you."
So when the tug left us Bellalise refunded his advance and returned
to Chipewyan. He was one of those that made me think well of his
people; and his observations on the wild life of the country showed
that he had a tongue to tell, as well as eyes to see.
That morning, besides the calls of Honkers and Waveys we heard the
glorious trumpeting of the White Crane. It has less rattling croak
and more whoop than that of the Brown Crane. Bellalise says that
every year a few come to Chipewyan, then go north with the Waveys
to breed. In the fall they come back for a month; they are usually
in flocks of three and four; two old ones and their offspring,
the latter known by their brownish colour. If you get the two old
ones, the young ones are easily killed, as they keep flying low
over the place.
Is this then the secret of its disappearance? and is it on these
far breeding grounds that man has proved too hard?
At Lobstick Point, 2 P. M., October 13, the tug turned back and
we three continued our journey as before, Preble and Billy taking
turns at tracking the canoe.
Next day we reached Fort McKay and thus marked another important
stage of the journey.
FORT McKAY AND JIAROBIA
Fort McKay was the last point at which we saw the Chipewyan style
of teepee, and the first where the Cree appeared. But its chief
interest to us lay in the fact that it was the home of Jiarobia, a
capable river-man who wished to go to Athabaska Landing. The first
thing that struck us about Jiarobia—whose dictionary name by the
way is Elzear Robillard—was that his house had a good roof and
a large pile of wood ready cut. These were extremely important
indications in a land of improvidence. Robillard was a thin, active,
half-breed of very dark skin. He was willing to go for $2.00 a day
the round-trip (18 days) plus food and a boat to return with. But
a difficulty now appeared; Madame Robillard, a tall, dark half-breed
woman, objected: "Elzear had been away all summer, he should stay
home now." "If you go I will run off into the backwoods with the
first wild Indian that wants a squaw," she threatened. "Now," said
Rob, in choice English, "I am up against it." She did not understand
English, but she could read looks and had some French, so I took
"If Madame will consent I will advance $15.00 of her husband's pay
and will let her select the finest silk handkerchief in the Hudson's
Bay store for a present."
In about three minutes her Cree eloquence died a natural death;
she put a shawl on her head and stepped toward the door without
looking at me. Rob, nodded to me, and signed to go to the Hudson's
Bay store; by which I inferred that the case was won; we were going
now to select the present. To my amazement she turned from all the
bright-coloured goods and selected a large black silk handkerchief.
The men tell me it is always so now; fifty years ago every woman
wanted red things. Now all want black; and the traders who made
the mistake of importing red have had to import dyes and dip them
Jiarobia, or, as we mostly call him, "Rob," proved most amusing
character as well as a "good man" and the reader will please note
that nearly all of my single help were "good men." Only when I had
a crowd was there trouble. His store of anecdote was unbounded and
his sense of humour ever present, if broad and simple. He talked
in English, French, and Cree, and knew a good deal of Chipewyan.
Many of his personal adventures would have fitted admirably into
the Decameron, but are scarcely suited for this narrative. One
evening he began to sing, I listened intently, thinking maybe I
should pick up some ancient chanson of the voyageurs or at least
a woodman's "Come-all-ye." Alas! it proved to be nothing but the
Which reminds me of another curious experience at the village of
Fort Smith. I saw a crowd of the Indians about a lodge and strange
noises proceeding therefrom. When I went over the folk made way for
me. I entered, sat down, and found that they were crowded around
a cheap gramophone which was hawking, spitting and screeching some
awful rag-time music and nigger jigs. I could forgive the traders
for bringing in the gramophone, but why, oh, why, did they not
bring some of the simple world-wide human songs which could at least
have had an educational effect? The Indian group listened to this
weird instrument with the profoundest gravity. If there is anything
inherently comic in our low comics it was entirely lost on them.
One of Rob's amusing fireside tricks was thus: He put his hands
together, so: (illustration). "Now de' tumbs is you and your fader,
de first finger is you and your mudder, ze next is you and your
sister, ze little finger is you and your brudder, ze ring finger
is you and your sweetheart. You and your fader separate easy, like
dat; you and your brudder like dat, you and your sister like dat,
dat's easy; you and your mudder like dat, dat's not so easy; but
you and your sweetheart cannot part widout all everything go to
Later, as we passed the American who lives at Fort McMurray, Jiarobia
said to me: "Dat man is the biggest awful liar on de river. You
should hear him talk. 'One day,' he said, 'dere was a big stone
floating up de muddy river and on it was tree men, and one was
blind and one was plumb naked and one had no arms nor legs, and de
blind man he looks down on bottom of river an see a gold watch, an
de cripple he reach out and get it, and de naked man he put it in
his pocket.' Now any man talk dat way he one most awful liar, it
is not possible, any part, no how."
Now we resumed our daily life of tracking, eating, tracking,
camping, tracking, sleeping. The weather had continued fine, with
little change ever since we left Resolution, and we were so hardened
to the life that it was pleasantly monotonous.
How different now were my thoughts compared with those of last
Spring, as I first looked on this great river.
When we had embarked on the leaping, boiling, muddy Athabaska, in
this frail canoe, it had seemed a foolhardy enterprise. How could
such a craft ride such a stream for 2,000 miles? It was like a mouse
mounting a monstrous, untamed, plunging and rearing horse. Now we
set out each morning, familiar with stream and our boat, having no
thought of danger, and viewing the water, the same turbid flood,
as, our servant. Even as a skilful tamer will turn the wildest
horse into his willing slave, so have we conquered this river and
made it the bearer of our burdens. So I thought and wrote at the
time; but the wise tamer is ever alert, never lulled into false
security. He knows that a heedless move may turn his steed into
a deadly, dangerous monster. We had our lesson to learn.
That night (October 15) there was a dull yellow sunset. The morning
came with a strong north wind and rain that turned to snow, and
with it great flocks of birds migrating from the Athabaska Lake.
Many rough-legged Hawks, hundreds of small land birds, thousands
of Snow-birds in flocks of 20 to 200, myriads of Ducks and Geese,
passed over our heads going southward before the frost. About 8.30
the Geese began to pass in ever-increasing flocks; between 9.45
and 10 I counted 114 flocks averaging about 30 each (5 to 300) and
they kept on at this rate till 2 P. M. This would give a total of
nearly 100,000 Geese. It was a joyful thing to see and hear them;
their legions in flight array went stringing high aloft, so high
they looked not like Geese, but threads across the sky, the cobwebs,
indeed, that Mother Carey was sweeping away with her north-wind
broom. I sketched and counted flock after flock with a sense of
thankfulness that so many, were left alive. Most were White Geese,
but a twentieth, perhaps, were Honkers.
The Ducks began to pass over about noon, and became more numerous
than the Geese as they went on.
In the midst of this myriad procession, as though they were the
centre and cause of all, were two splendid White Cranes, bugling
as they flew. Later that day we saw another band, of three, but
these were all; their race is nearly run.
The full moon was on and all night the wild-fowl flew. The frost
was close behind them, sharp and sudden. Next morning the ponds
about us had ice an inch thick and we heard of it three inches at
But the sun came out gloriously and when at ten we landed at Fort
McMurray the day was warm and perfect in its autumnal peace.
Miss Gordon, the postmaster, did not recognise us at first. She
said we all looked "so much older, it is always so with folks who
Next morning we somehow left our tent behind. It was old and of
little value, so we did not go back, and the fact that we never
really needed it speaks much for the sort of weather we had to the
end of the trip.
A couple of Moose (cow and calf) crossed the river ahead of us,
and Billy went off in hot pursuit; but saw no more of them.
Tracks of animals were extremely abundant on, the shore here.
Large Wolves became quite numerous evidently we were now in their
country. Apparently they had killed a Moose, as their dung was full
of Moose hair.
We were now in the Canyon of the Athabaska and from this on our
journey was a fight with the rapids. One by one my skilful boatmen
negotiated them; either we tracked up or half unloaded, or landed
and portaged, but it was hard and weary work. My journal entry for
the night of the 18th runs thus:
"I am tired of troubled waters. All day to-day and for five days
back we have been fighting the rapids of this fierce river. My
place is to sit in the canoe-bow with a long pole, glancing here
and there, right, left, and ahead, watching ever the face of this
snarling river; and when its curling green lips apart betray a
yellow brown gleam of deadly teeth too near, it is my part to ply
with might and main that pole, and push the frail canoe aside to
where the stream is in milder, kindlier mood.' Oh, I love not a
brawling river any more than a brawling woman, and thoughts of the
broad, calm Slave, with its majestic stretches of level flood, are
now as happy halcyon memories of a bright and long-gone past."
My men were skilful and indefatigable. One by one we met the hard
rapids in various ways, mostly by portaging, but on the morning
of the 19th we came to one so small and short that all agreed the
canoe could be forced by with poles and track-line. It looked an
insignificant ripple, no more than a fish might make with its tail,
and what happened in going up, is recorded as follows:
THE RIVER SHOWS ITS TEETH
"Oct. 20, 1907.—Athabaska River. In the Canyon. This has been
a day of horrors and mercies. We left the camp early, 6.55—long
before sunrise, and portaged the first rapid. About 9 we came to
the middle rapid; this Billy thought we could track up, so with
two ropes he and Rob were hauling us, I in bow, Preble in stem;
but the strong waters of the middle part whirled the canoe around
suddenly, and dashed her on a rock. There was a crash of breaking
timber, a roar of the flood, and in a moment Preble and I and, all
the stuff were in the water.
"'My journals,' I shouted as I went down, and all the time the
flood was boiling in my ears my thought was, 'My journals,'—'my
"The moment my mouth was up again above the water, I bubbled out,
'My journals,—save my journals,' then struck out for the shore.
Now I saw Preble hanging on to the canoe and trying to right it.
His face was calm and unchanged as when setting a mousetrap. 'Never
mind that, save yourself,' I called out; he made no response, and,
after all, it was safest to hang on to the canoe. I was swept into
a shallow place at once, and got on my feet, then gained the shore.
"'My journals—save them first!' I shouted to the two boys, and
now remembered with horror, how, this very morning, on account of
portaging, I had for the first time put all three journals in the
handbag, that had disappeared, whereas the telescope that used to
hold two of them, was floating high. It is the emergency that proves
your man, and I learned that day I had three of the best men that
ever boarded a boat. A glance showed Preble in shallow water coolly
hauling in the canoe.
"Rob and Billy bounded along the rugged shores, from one ice-covered
rock to another, over piles of drift logs and along steep ledges
they went; like two mountain goats; the flood was spotted with
floating things, but no sign of the precious journal-bag. Away out
was the grub-box; square and high afloat, it struck a reef. 'You
save the grub,' yelled Billy above the roaring, pitiless flood,
and dashed on. I knew Billy's head was cool and clear, so I plunged
into the water, ice-cold and waist deep—and before the merciless
one could snatch it along, I had the grub-box safe. Meanwhile Rob
and Billy had danced away out of sight along that wild canyon bank.
I set out after them. In some eddies various articles were afloat,
a cocoa tin, a milk pot, a bag of rare orchids intended for a friend,
a half sack of flour, and many little things I saved at cost of a
fresh wetting each time, and on the bank, thrown hastily up by the
boys, were such bundles as they had been able to rescue.
"I struggled on, but the pace was killing. They were young men
and dog-runners; I was left behind and was getting so tired now I
could not keep warm; there was a keen frost and I was wet to the
skin. The chance to rescue other things came again and again. Twelve
times did I plunge, into that deadly cold river, and so gathered
a lot of small truck. Then knowing I could do little more, and
realising that everything man could do would be done without me,
turned back reluctantly. Preble passed me at a run, he had left
the canoe in a good place and had saved some bedding.
"'Have you seen my journal-bag?' He made a quick gesture down the
river, then dashed away. Alas! I knew now, the one irreplaceable
part of our cargo was deep in the treacherous flood, never to be
"At the canoe I set about making a fire; there was no axe to cut
kindling-wood, but a birch tree was near, and a pile of shredded
birch-bark with a lot of dry willow on it made a perfect fire-lay;
then I opened my waterproof matchbox. Oh, horrors! the fifteen
matches in it were damp and soggy. I tried to dry them by blowing
on them; my frozen fingers could scarcely hold them. After a time
I struck one. It was soft and useless; another and another at
intervals, till thirteen; then, despairing, I laid the last two on
a stone in the weak sunlight, and tried to warm myself by gathering
firewood and moving quickly, but it seemed useless a very death
chill was on me. I have often lighted a fire with rubbing-sticks,
but I needed an axe, as well as a buckskin thong for this, and I had
neither. I looked through the baggage that was saved, no matches
and all things dripping wet. I might go three miles down that
frightful canyon to our last camp and maybe get some living coals.
But no! mindful of the forestry laws, we had as usual most carefully
extinguished the fire with buckets of water, and the clothes were
freezing on my back. 1 was tired out, teeth chattering. Then came
the thought, Why despair while two matches remain? I struck the
first now, the fourteenth, and, in spite of dead fingers and the
sizzly, doubtful match, it cracked, blazed, and then, oh blessed,
blessed birch bark!—with any other tinder my numbed hands had
surely failed—it blazed like a torch, and warmth at last was mine,
and outward comfort for a house of gloom.
"The boys, I knew, would work like heroes and do their part as
well as man could do it, my work was right here. I gathered all the
things along the beach, made great racks for drying and a mighty
blaze. I had no pots or pans, but an aluminum bottle which would
serve as kettle; and thus I prepared a meal of such things as
were saved—a scrap of pork, some tea and a soggy mass that once
was pilot bread. Then sat down by the fire to spend five hours of
growing horror, 175 miles from a settlement, canoe smashed, guns
gone, pots and pans gone, specimens all gone, half our bedding
gone, our food gone; but all these things were nothing, compared
with the loss of my three precious journals; 600 pages of observation
and discovery, geographical, botanical, and zoological, 500 drawings,
valuable records made under all sorts of trying circumstances,
discovery and compass survey of the beautiful Nyarling River,
compass survey of the two great northern lakes, discovery of two
great northern rivers, many lakes, a thousand things of interest
to others and priceless to me—my summer's work—gone; yes, I could
bear that, but the three chapters of life and thought irrevocably
gone; the magnitude of this calamity was crushing. Oh, God, this
is the most awful blow that could have fallen at the end of the
six months' trip.
"The hours went by, and the gloom grew deeper, for there was no
sign of the boys. Never till now did the thought of danger enter
my mind. Had they been too foolhardy in their struggle with the
terrible stream? Had they, too, been made to feel its power? My guess
was near the truth; and yet there was that awful river unchanged,
glittering, surging, beautiful, exactly as on so many days before,
when life on it had seemed so bright.
"At three in the afternoon, I saw a fly crawl down the rocks a
mile away. I fed the fire and heated up the food and tea. In twenty
minutes I could see that it was Rob, but both his hands were empty.
'If they had found it,' I said to myself, 'they would send it back
first thing, and if he had it, he would swing it aloft,' Yet no,
nothing but a shiny tin was in his hands and the blow had fallen.
The suspense was over, anyway. I bowed my head, 'We have done what
"Rob came slowly up, worn out. In his hand a tin of baking-powder.
Across his breast was a canvas band. He tottered toward me, too
tired to speak in answer to my unspoken question, but he turned
and there on his back was the canvas bag that held labour of all
these long toilsome months.
"'I got 'em, all right,' he managed to say, smiling in a weak way.
"'And the boys?'
"'All right now.'
"'Thank God!' I broke down, and wrung his hand; 'I won't forget,'
was all I could say. Hot tea revived him, loosened his tongue, and
I heard the story.
"I knew,' he said, 'what was first to save when I seen you got
ashore. Me and Billy we run like crazy, we see dat bag 'way out in
the deep strong water. De odder tings came in de eddies, but dat
bag it keep 'way out, but we run along de rocks; after a mile it
came pretty near a point, and Billy, he climb on a rock and reach
out, but he fall in deep water and was carried far, so he had to
swim for his life. I jump on rocks anoder mile to anoder point; I
got ahead of de bag, den I get two logs, and hold dem between my
legs for raft, and push out; but dat dam river he take dem logs
very slow, and dat bag very fast, so it pass by. But Billy he swim
ashore, and run some more, and he make a raft; but de raft he stick
on rock, and de bag he never stick, but go like hell.
"'Den I say, "Here, Billy, you give me yo' sash," and I run tree mile
more, so far I loss sight of dat bag and make good raft. By'mebye
Billy he come shouting and point, I push out in river, and paddle,
and watch, and sure dere come dat bag. My, how he travel! far out
now; but I paddle and push hard and bump he came at raft and I grab
him. Oh! maybe I warn't glad! ice on river, frost in air, 14 mile
run on snowy rocks, but I no care, I bet I make dat boss glad when
he see me."
"Glad! I never felt more thankful in my life! My heart swelled with
gratitude to the brave boys that had leaped, scrambled, slidden,
tumbled, fallen, swum or climbed over those 14 perilous, horrible
miles of icy rocks and storm-piled timbers, to save the books that,
to them, seemed of so little value, but which they yet knew were,
to me, the most precious of all my things. Guns, cameras, food,
tents, bedding, dishes, were trifling losses, and the horror of
that day was turned to joy by the crowning mercy of its close.
"'I won't forget you when we reach the Landing, Rob!' were, the
meagre words that rose to my lips, but the tone of voice supplied
what the words might lack. And I did not forget him or the others;
and Robillard said afterward, 'By Gar, dat de best day's work I
ever done, by Gar, de time I run down dat hell river after dem dam
In an hour the other men came, back. The rest of the day we put
in drying the things, especially our bedding. We used the aluminum
bottle, and an old meat tin for kettle; some bacon, happily saved,
was fried on sticks, and when we turned in that night it was with
light and thankful hearts, in spite of our manifold minor losses.
Morning dawned bright and beautiful and keen. How glorious that
surging river looked in its noble canyon; but we were learning
thoroughly that noble scenery means dangerous travel—and there
was much noble scenery ahead; and I, at least, felt much older than
before this upset.
The boys put in a couple of hours repairing the canoe, then they
studied the river in hopes of recovering the guns. How well the
river-men seemed to know it! Its every ripple and curl told them
a story of the bottom and the flood.
"There must be a ledge there," said Billy, "just where we upset.
If the guns went down at once they are there. If they were carried
at all, the bottom is smooth to the second ledge and they are
there." He pointed a hundred yards away.
So they armed themselves with grappling-poles that had nails for
claws. Then we lowered Rob in the canoe into the rapid and held on
while he fished above the ledge.
"I tink I feel 'em," said Rob, again and again, but could not bring
them up. Then Billy tried.
"Yes, they are there." But the current was too fierce and the hook
too poor; he could not hold them.
Then I said: "There is only one thing to do. A man must go in at
the end of the rope; maybe he can reach down. I'll never send any
man into such a place, but I'll go myself."
So I stripped, padded the track-line with a towel and put it around
my waist, then plunged in. Ouch! it was cold, and going seven miles
an hour. The boys lowered me to the spot where I was supposed to
dive or reach down. It was only five feet deep, but, struggle as
I might, I could not get even my arm down. I ducked and dived, but
I was held in the surface like a pennant on an air-blast. In a few
minutes the icy flood had robbed me of all sensation in my limbs,
and showed how impossible was the plan, so I gave the signal to
haul me in; which they did, nearly cutting my body in two with the
rope. And if ever there was a grovelling fire-worshipper, it was
my frozen self when I landed.
Now we tried a new scheme. A tall spruce on the shore was leaning
over the place; fifty feet out, barely showing, was the rock that
wrecked us. We cut the spruce so it fell with its butt on the shore,
and lodged against the rock. On this, now, Rob and Billy walked
out and took turns grappling. Luck was with Rob. In a few minutes
he triumphantly hauled up the rifle and a little later the shotgun,
none the worse.
Now, we had saved everything except the surplus provisions and my
little camera, trifling matters, indeed; so it was with feelings
of triumph that we went on south that day.
In the afternoon, as we were tracking up the last part of the Boiler
Rapid, Billy at the bow, Rob on the shore, the line broke, and we
were only saved from another dreadful disaster by Billy's nerve
and quickness; for he fearlessly leaped overboard, had the luck to
find bottom, and held the canoe's head with all his strength. The
rope was mended and a safe way was found. That time I realized
the force of an Indian reply to a trader who sought to sell him a
cheap rope. "In the midst of a rapid one does not count the cost
of the line."
At night we camped in a glorious red sunset, just above the Boiler
Rapid. On the shore was a pile of flour in sacks, inscribed in
Cree, "Gordon his flour."
Here it was, the most prized foreign product in the country, lying
unprotected by the highway, and no man seemed to think the owner
foolish. Whatever else, these Indians are, they are absolutely
The heavenly weather of the Indian Summer was now upon us. We
had left all storms and frost behind, and the next day, our final
trouble, the lack of food, was ended. A great steamer hove in
sight—at least it looked like a steamer—but, steadily coming on,
it proved a scow with an awning and a stove on it. The boys soon
recognised the man at the bow as William Gordon, trader at Fort
McMurray. We hailed him to stop when he was a quarter of a mile
ahead, and he responded with his six sturdy oarsmen; but such was
the force of the stream that he did not reach the shore till a
quarter-mile below us.
"Hello, boys, what's up?" He shouted in the brotherly way that
all white men seem to get when meeting another of their race in a
"Had an upset and lost all our food."
"Ho! that's easy fixed." Then did that generous man break open
boxes, bales, and packages and freely gave without a stint, all the
things we needed: kettles, pans, sugar, oatmeal, beans, jam, etc.
"How are you fixed for whiskey?" he asked, opening his own private,
"We have none and we never use it," was the reply. Then I fear I
fell very low in the eyes of my crew.
"Never use it! Don't want it! You must be pretty damn lonesome in
a country like this," and he seemed quite unable to grasp the idea
of travellers who would not drink.
Thus the last of our troubles was ended. Thenceforth the journey
was one of warm, sunny weather and pleasant travel. Each night the
sun went down in red and purple fire; and each morning rose in gold
on a steel-blue sky. There was only one bad side to this, that was
the constant danger of forest fire. On leaving each camp—we made
four every day—I put the fire out with plenty of water, many
buckets. Rob thought it unnecessary to take so much trouble. But
great clouds of smoke were seen at several reaches of the river,
to tell how dire it was that other campers had not done the same.
WHEN NATURE SMILED
It seems a law that every deep valley must be next a high mountain.
Our sorrows ended when we quit the canyon, and then, as though in
compensation, nature crammed the days with the small joys that seem
so little and mean so much to the naturalist.
Those last few days, unmarred of the smallest hardship, were one
long pearl-string of the things I came for—the chances to see and
be among wild life.
Each night the Coyote and the Fox came rustling about our camp, or
the Weasel and Woodmouse scrambled over our sleeping forms. Each
morning at gray dawn, gray Wiskajon and his mate—always a pair
came wailing through the woods, to flirt about the camp and steal
scraps of meat that needed not to be stolen, being theirs by right.
Their small cousins, the Chicadees, came, too, at breakfast time,
and in our daily travelling, Ruffed Grouse, Ravens, Pine Grosbeaks,
Bohemian Chatterers, Hairy Woodpeckers, Shrikes, Tree-sparrows,
Linnets, and Snowbirds enlivened the radiant sunlit scene.
One afternoon I heard a peculiar note, at first like the
"cheepy-teet-teet" of the Pine Grosbeak, only louder and more
broken, changing to the jingling of Blackbirds in spring, mixed
with some Bluejay "jay-jays," and a Robin-like whistle; then I saw
that it came from a Northern Shrike on the bushes just ahead of
us. It flew off much after the manner of the Summer Shrike, with
flight not truly undulatory nor yet straight, but flapping half
a dozen times—then a pause and repeat. He would dive along down
near the ground, then up with a fine display of wings and tail to
the next perch selected, there to repeat with fresh variations and
shrieks, the same strange song, and often indeed sang it on the
wing, until at last he crossed the river.
Sometimes we rode in the canoe, sometimes tramped along the easy
shore. Once I came across a Great Homed Owl in the grass by the
water. He had a fish over a foot long, and flew with difficulty
when be bore it off. Another time I saw a Horned Owl mobbed by two
Wiskajons. Spruce Partridge as well as the Ruffed species became
common: one morning some of the former marched into camp at
breakfast time. Rob called them "Chickens"; farther south they are
called "Fool Hens," which is descriptive and helps to distinguish
them from their neighbours—the "Sage Hens." Frequently now we
heard the toy-trumpeting and the clack of the Pileated Woodpecker
or Cock-of-the-Pines, a Canadian rather than a Hudsonian species.
One day, at our three o'clock meal, a great splendid fellow of the
kind gave us a thrill. "Clack-clack-clack," we heard him coming,
and he bounded through the air into the trees over our camp. Still
uttering his loud "Clack-clack-clack," he swung from tree to tree
in one long festoon of flight, spread out on the up-swoop like an
enormous black butterfly with white-starred wings. "Clack-clack-clack,"
he stirred the echoes from the other shore, and ignored us as he
swooped and clanged. There was much in his song of the Woodpecker
tang; it was very nearly the springtime "cluck-cluck" of a magnified
Flicker in black; and I gazed with open mouth until he thought
fit to bound through the air to another woods. This was my first
close meeting with the King of the Woodpeckers; I long to know him
better. Mammals, too, abounded, but we saw their signs rather than
themselves, for most are nocturnal. The Redsquirrels, so scarce last
spring, were quite plentiful, and the beach at all soft places
showed abundant trace Of Weasels, Chipmunks, Foxes, Coyotes,
Lynx, Wolves, Moose, Caribou, Deer. One Wolf track was of special
interest. It was 5 1/2 inches, long and travelling with it was the
track of a small Wolf; it vividly brought back the days of Lobo
and Blanca, and I doubt not was another case of mates; we were
evidently in the range of a giant Wolf who was travelling around
with his wife. Another large Wolf track was lacking the two inner
toes of the inner hind foot, and the bind foot pads were so faint
as to be lost at times, although the toes were deeply impressed in
the mud. This probably meant that he, had been in a trap and was
starved to a skeleton.
We did not see any of these, but we did see the post-graduate
evidences of their diet, and were somewhat surprised to learn that
it included much fruit, especially of the uva-ursi. We also saw
proof that they had eaten part of a Moose; probably they had killed
Coyote abounded now, and these we saw from time to time. Once I
tramped up within thirty feet of a big fellow who was pursuing some
studies behind a log. But again the incontrovertible-postmortem-evidence
of their food habits was a surprise—the bulk of their sustenance
now was berries, in one case this was mixed with the tail hairs—but
no body hairs—of a Chipmunk. I suppose that Chipmunk escaped minus
his tail. There was much evidence that all those creatures that
can eat fruit were in good condition, but that flesh in its most
accessible form—rabbits—was unknown, and even next best thing—the
mice—were too scarce to count; this weighed with especial force
on the Lynxes; they alone seemed unable to eke out with fruit. The
few we saw were starving and at our camp of the 28th we found the
wretched body of one that was dead of hunger.
On that, same night we had a curious adventure with a Weasel.
All were sitting around the camp-fire at bed-time, when I heard
a distinct patter on the leaves. "Something coming," I whispered.
All held still, then out of the gloom came bounding a snow-white
Weasel. Preble was lying on his back with his hands clasped behind
his head and the Weasel fearlessly jumped on my colleague's broad
chest, and stood peering about.
In a flash Preble's right elbow was down and held the Weasel prisoner,
his left hand coming to assist. Now, it is pretty well known that
if you and a Weasel grab each other at the same time he has choice
"I have got him," said Preble, then added feelingly, "but he got
me first. Suffering Moses! the little cuss is grinding his teeth
The muffled screaming of the small demon died away as Preble's
strong left hand crushed out his life, but as long as there was a
spark of it remaining, those desperate jaws were grinding deeper
into his thumb. It seemed a remarkably long affair to us, and from
time to time, as Preble let off some fierce ejaculation, one of us
would ask, "Hello! Are you two still at it," or, "How are you and
your friend these times, Preble?"
In a few minutes it was over, but that creature in his fury seemed
to have inspired himself with lock-jaw, for his teeth were so driven
in and double-locked, that I had to pry the jaws apart before the
hand was free.
The Weasel may now be seen in the American Museum, and Preble in the
Agricultural Department at Washington, the latter none the worse.
So wore away the month, the last night came, a night of fireside
joy at home (for was it not Hallowe'en?), and our celebration took
the form of washing, shaving, mending clothes, in preparation for
our landing in the morning.
All that night of Hallowe'en, a Partridge drummed near my untented
couch on the balsam boughs. What a glorious sound of woods and life
triumphant it seemed; and why did he drum at night? Simply because
he had more joy than the short fall day gave him time to express.
He seemed to be beating our march of victory, for were we not in
triumph coming home? The gray firstlight came through the trees
and showed us lying each in his blanket, covered with leaves, like
babes in the woods. The gray Jays came wailing through the gloom,
a faroff Cock-of-the-Pines was trumpeting in the lovely, unplagued
autumn woods; it seemed as though all the very best things in the
land were assembled and the bad things all left out, so that our
final memories should have no evil shade.
The scene comes brightly back again, the sheltering fir-clad shore,
the staunch canoe skimming the river's tranquil reach, the water
smiling round her bow, as we push from this, the last of full five
The dawn fog lifts, the river sparkles in the sun, we round the last
of a thousand headlands. The little frontier town of the Landing
swings into view once more—what a metropolis it seems to us now!—The
Ann Seton lands at the spot where six months ago she had entered
the water. Now in quick succession come the thrills of the larger
life—the letters from home, the telegraph office, the hearty
good-bye to the brave riverboys, and my long canoe-ride is over.
I had held in my heart the wanderlust till it swept me away, and
sent me afar on the back trail of the north wind; I have lived in
the mighty boreal forest, with its Red-men, its Buffalo, its Moose,
and its Wolves; I have seen the Great Lone Land with its endless
plains and prairies that do not know the face of man or the crack
of a rifle; I have been with its countless lakes that re-echo nothing
but the wail and yodel of the Loons, or the mournful music of the
Arctic Wolf. I have wandered on the plains of the Musk-ox, the
home of the Snowbird and the Caribou. These were the things I had
burned to do. Was I content? Content!! Is a man ever content with
a single sip of joy long-dreamed of?
Four years have gone since then. The wanderlust was not stifled any
more than a fire is stifled by giving it air. I have taken into
my heart a longing, given shape to an ancient instinct. Have I not
found for myself a kingdom and become a part of it? My reason and
my heart say, "Go back to see it all." Grant only this, that I
gather again the same brave men that manned my frail canoe,
and as sure as life and strength continue I shall go.