- Transcriber's note: Special characters are encoded thusly: ā, ē, and ō represent "a", "e", and "o" with superior macron. -
TWENTY-FIVE YEARS' SERVICE
HUDSON'S BAY TERRITORY.
BY JOHN M'LEAN.
IN TWO VOLUMES.
RICHARD BENTLEY, NEW BURLINGTON STREET,
PUBLISHER IN ORDINARY TO HER MAJESTY.
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THE SECOND VOLUME.
Journey to Norway House 9
Arrival at York Factory—Its Situation—Climate—Natives—Rein-Deer—Voyage to Ungava—Incidents of the Voyage—Arrival at Ungava—Situation and Aspect 16
Exploring Expedition through the Interior of Labrador—Difficulties—Deer Hunt—Indian Gluttony—Description of the Country—Provisions run short—Influenza 32
Distressing Bereavement—Exploring Party—their Report—Arrival at Esquimaux—Establish Posts—Pounding Rein-Deer—Expedition up George's River—Its Difficulties—Hamilton River—Discover a stupendous Cataract—Return by George's River to the Sea—Sudden Storm and miraculous Escape 60
Esquimaux arrive from the North Shore of Hudson's Strait on a Raft—Despatch from the Governor—Distress of the Esquimaux—Forward Provisions to Mr. E——. Return of the Party—Their deplorable Condition 81
Trip to Esquimaux Bay—Governor's Instructions—My Report to the Committee—Recommend the Abandonment of Ungava Settlement—Success of the Arctic Expedition conducted by Messrs. Dease and Simpson—Return by Sea to Fort Chimo—Narrowly escape Shipwreck in the Ungava River—Impolitic Measure of the Governor—Consequent Distress at the Post 88
Another exploring Expedition—My Promotion—Winter at Chimo—Obtain permission to visit Britain—Ungava abandoned 98
Climate of Ungava—Aurora Borealis—Soil—Vegetable Productions—Animals—Birds—Fish—Geological Features 102
The Nascopies—Their Religion—Manners and Customs—Clothing—Marriage—Community of Goods 118
The Esquimaux—Probable Origin—Identity of Language from Labrador to Behring's Straits—Their Amours—Marriages—Religion—Treatment of Parents—Anecdote—Mode of Preserving Meat—Amusements—Dress—The Igloe, or Snow-House—Their Cuisine—Dogs—The Sledge—Caiak, or Canoe—Ouimiak, or Boat—Implements—Stature 131
Labrador—Esquimaux Half-Breeds—Moravian Brethren—European Inhabitants—Their Virtues—Climate—Anecdote 155
Voyage to England—Arrival at Plymouth—Reflections—Arrive at the place of my Nativity—Changes—Depopulation—London—The Thames—Liverpool—Embark for New York—Arrival—The Americans—English and American Tourists—England and America—New York 167
Passage from New York to Albany by Steamer—The Passengers—Arrival at Albany—Journey to Montreal 187
Embark for the North—Passengers—Arrive at Fort William—Despatch from Governor—Appointed to McKenzie's River District—Portage La Loche—Adventure on Great Slave Lake—Arrive at Fort Simpson—Productions of the Post 193
Statements in the Edinburgh Cabinet Library—Alleged Kindness of the Hudson's Bay Company to the Indians—And Generosity—Support of Missionaries—Support withdrawn—Preference of Roman Catholics—The North-West Company—Conduct of a British Peer—Rivalry of the Companies—Coalition—Charges against the North-West Company refuted 207
Arrival of Mr. Lefroy—Voyage to the Lower Posts of the McKenzie—Avalanche—Incidents of the Voyage—Voyage to Portage La Loche—Arbitrary and unjust Conduct of the Governor—Despotism—My Reply to the Governor 228
Situation of Fort Simpson—Climate—The Liard—Effects of the Spring Floods—Tribes inhabiting McKenzie's River District—Peculiarities—Distress through Famine—Cannibalism—Anecdote—Fort Good Hope saved by the Intrepidity of M. Dechambault—Discoveries of Mr. Campbell 241
Mr. McPherson assumes the Command—I am appointed to Fort Liard, but exchange for Great Slave Lake—The Indians—Resolve to quit the Service—Phenomena of the Lake 255
Reflections—Prospects in the Service—Decrease of the Game—Company's Policy in consequence—Appeal of the Indians—Means of Preserving them, and improving their Condition—Abolition of the Charter—Objections answered 260
Wesleyan Mission—Mr. Evans—Encouragement given by the Company—Mr. Evans' Exertions among the Indians—Causes of the Withdrawal of the Company's Support—Calumnious Charges against Mr. E.—Mr. E. goes to England—His sudden Death 278
SKETCH OF RED RIVER SETTLEMENT.
Red River—Soils—Climate—Productions—Settlement of Red River through Lord Selkirk by Highlanders—Collision between the North-West and Hudson's Bay Companies—Inundation—Its Effects—French Half-Breeds—Buffalo Hunting—English Half-Breeds—Indians—Churches—Schools—Stores—Market for Produce—Communication by Lakes 289
Sir G. Simpson—His Administration 311
* * * * *
VOCABULARY of the PRINCIPAL INDIAN DIALECTS in use among the Tribes in the Hudson's Bay Territory 323
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TWENTY-FIVE YEARS' SERVICE
HUDSON'S BAY TERRITORY.
* * * * *
JOURNEY TO NORWAY HOUSE.
I started from Stuart's Lake on the 22d of February, and arrived at Fort Alexandria on the 8th of March. Although the upper parts of the district were yet buried in snow, it had disappeared in the immediate neighbourhood of the establishment, and everything wore the pleasing aspect of spring.
Mr. F—— was about to remove to a new post he had erected on the west bank of the river. Horses were provided for us to perform the journey overland to Okanagan. We left on the 13th; on the 15th we encamped on the borders of Lac Vert, having experienced a violent snow-storm in the early part of the day. The lake and circumjacent country presented a beautiful scene; the spurs of the Rocky Mountains bounding the horizon and presenting a rugged outline enveloped in snow—the intervening space of wooded hill and dale clothed in the fresh verdure of the season; and the innumerable low points and islands in the lake contributing to the variety of the landscape.
Hitherto we had found much snow on the ground, and our progress in consequence was very slow. Our tardy horses subsisting on whatever they could pick during the night, or when we halted for our meals, began to falter, so that we were under the necessity of stopping to allow them to feed wherever any bare ground appeared.
On the evening of the 18th we came in sight of Kamloops' Lake, which, to my great surprise, was not only clear of ice, but the valley in which it is situated appeared clothed with verdure, while the heights on the other side were still covered with snow. The valley looks to the south, and is protected from the cold winds by the neighbouring high grounds.
On arriving at Kamloops' post we found two Canadians in charge, Mr. B—— having set off a few days before for the depot at Fort Vancouver. We met with a cordial reception from his men, who entertained us with horse-flesh and potatoes for supper; and next day we bountifully partook of the same delicacies, my prejudice against this fare having completely vanished.
Fort Kamloops is situated at the confluence of Thompson's River and its north branch; the Indians attached to it are a tribe of the Atnahs. Their lands are now destitute of fur-bearing animals, nor are there many animals of the larger kind to be found; they however find subsistence in the variety of edible roots which the country affords. They have the character of being honest, quiet, and well-disposed towards the whites. As soon as the young women attain the age of puberty, they paint their faces after a fashion which the young men understand without explanation. They also dig holes in the ground, which they inlay with grass or branches, as a proof of their industry; and when they are in a certain state they separate from the community and live in small huts, which they build for themselves. Should any one unwittingly touch them, or an article belonging to them, during their indisposition, he is considered unclean; and must purify himself by fasting for a day, and then jumping over a fire prepared by pure hands.
We left Kamloops on the 20th, and after travelling about twenty miles found the ground covered with snow, which increased in depth as we advanced. The track left by Mr. B——'s party was of great service to us.
We encamped at the extremity of Okanagan Lake, where we found a small camp of natives nearly starved to death; the unfortunate creatures passed the night in our encampment, and we distributed as much of our provisions amongst them as we could possibly spare. This encampment afforded me as miserable a night's lodging as I had ever met with; a snow-storm raged without intermission till daylight, when we set out so completely benumbed that we could not mount our horses till we had put the blood in circulation by walking.
We overtook Mr. B—— on the 25th, his horses completely jaded and worn out by the fatigues of the journey; the great depth of the snow indeed would have utterly precluded travelling had he not adopted the precaution of driving a number of young horses before the loaded horses to make a track.
The country through which we have travelled for the last few days is exceedingly rugged, and possesses few features to interest the traveller.
We arrived at the post of Okanagan on the 28th, situated on the left bank of the Columbia River. The ground was still covered with snow to the depth of two feet, and had been five feet deep in the course of the winter—an extraordinary circumstance, as there generally falls so little snow in this quarter, that the cattle graze in the plain nearly all winter. The Indians are designated Okanagans, and speak a dialect of the Atnah. Their lands are very poor, yielding only cats, foxes, &c.; they subsist on salmon and roots.
Messrs. F—— and D—— arrived from Fort Vancouver on the 7th of April, and we embarked on the 8th in three boats manned by retiring servants. Mr. B—— accompanied us, having obtained permission to cross the Rocky Mountains.
We arrived at Colville on the 12th, where we met with a most friendly reception from a warmhearted Gael, (Mr. McD.) The gentlemen proceeding to the depot in charge of the accounts of the Columbia department generally remain here a few days to put a finishing hand to these accounts—an operation which occupied us till the 22d, when we re-embarked, leaving Messrs. D—— and B—— behind; the former being remanded to Fort Vancouver; and the latter, having changed his mind, in an evil hour for himself, returned to his old quarters; where he was murdered sometime afterwards by an Indian who had lost his father, and thought that the company of his old trader would solace him for the absence of his children.
ARRIVAL AT YORK FACTORY—ITS SITUATION—CLIMATE—NATIVES—REIN-DEER—VOYAGE TO UNGAVA—INCIDENTS OF THE VOYAGE—ARRIVAL AT UNGAVA—SITUATION AND ASPECT.
I arrived at York Factory, the depot of the Northern department, early in July. This establishment presents a more respectable appearance than any other that I have seen in Rupert's Land, and reflects no small credit on the talents and taste of him who planned, and partly executed, the existing improvements, all which have been effected since the coalition. When Mr. McT. first assumed the command, the buildings were of the most wretched description—the apartments had more the appearance of cells for criminals, than of rooms for gentlemen.
The yielding nature of the swampy ground on which the buildings were to be erected rendering it necessary to lay a solid foundation, the object was accomplished in the face of every difficulty, and at a great expense; and the present commodious buildings were commenced, but not finished by the projector. Other improvements have been made since then, so that they afford every comfort and convenience that could be expected in so unfavourable a situation.
The depot is at present under the charge of a chief factor, assisted by a chief trader, a surgeon, and two clerks. Here there is always a sufficient supply of goods and provisions on hand to meet the demand of the trade for two years—a wise precaution, as in the event of any accident happening to prevent the vessel from reaching her destination, the trade would not be interrupted. The very emergency thus provided for occurred last autumn; the ship, after dropping anchor in her usual mooring ground, was compelled by stress of weather to bear away for England, after loosing her anchors, and sustaining other serious damages. Yet notwithstanding this untoward event, the gentlemen in charge of the different districts set off for the interior with their outfits complete.
The climate, although extremely disagreeable, is not considered unhealthy. In summer the extremes of heat and cold are experienced in the course of a few hours; in the morning you may be wearing nankeen, and before noon, duffle. Were the heat to continue for a sufficient length of time to thaw the ground thoroughly, the establishment could not be kept up save at a great sacrifice of life, through the mephitic exhalations from the surrounding swamps. The ground, however, seldom thaws more than eighteen inches, and the climate therefore is never affected by them to such a degree as to become unhealthy.
One of Mr. McT——'s most beneficial improvements was to clear the swamps surrounding the factory of the brushwood with which they were thickly covered; and the inmates are now in a great measure relieved from the torture to which they were formerly exposed from the mosquitoes. These vampires are not so troublesome in the cleared ground, but whoever dares to intrude on their domain pays dearly for his temerity. Every exposed part of the body is immediately covered with them; defence is out of the question; the death of one is avenged by the stings of a thousand equally bloodthirsty; and the unequal contest is soon ended by the flight of the tormented party to his quarters, whither he is pursued to his very door.
There seems to be no foundation for the opinion generally entertained that the natives do not suffer from the stings of these insects. The incrustation of filth with which their bodies are covered undoubtedly affords some protection, the skin not being so easily pierced; but no incrustation, however thick, can be a defence against the attacks of myriads; and in fact, the natives complain as loudly of the mosquitoes as the whites.
The Indians of this quarter are denominated Swampies, a tribe of the Cree nation, whose language they speak with but little variation, and in their manners and customs there is a great similarity. But the Swampies are a degenerate race, reduced by famine and disease to a few families; and these have been still farther reduced by an epidemic which raged among them this summer. They were attacked by it immediately on their return from the interior with the produce of their winter hunts, and remained in hopes of being benefited by medical advice and attendance. Their hopes, however, were not realized; they were left entirely in charge of a young man without experience and without humanity; and the disease was unchecked. Every day the death of some poor wretch was made known to us by the firing of guns, by which the survivors fancied the evil spirit was frightened away from the souls of their departed friends.
Not many years ago this part of the country was periodically visited by immense herds of rein-deer; at present there is scarcely one to be found. Whether their disappearance is owing to their having changed the course of their migrations, or to their destruction by the natives, who waylaid them on their passage, and killed them by hundreds, is a question not easily determined. It may be they have only forsaken this part of the country for a time, and may yet return in as great numbers as ever: be that as it may, the present want to which the Indians are subject, arises from the extreme scarcity of those animals, whose flesh and skins afforded them food and clothing. Their subsistence is now very precarious; derived principally from snaring rabbits and fishing; and rabbits also fail periodically.
Their fare during summer, however, soon obliterates the remembrance of the privations of winter: fish is then found in every lake, and wild-fowl during the moulting season become an easy prey; while young ducks and geese are approached in canoes, and are destroyed with arrows in great numbers, ere they have acquired the use of their wings. The white man similarly situated would undoubtedly think of the long winter he had passed in want, and would provide for the next while he could;—so much foresight, however, does not belong to the Indian character.
Fishing and hunting for the establishment affords employment to a few Indians during summer, and is an object of competition among them, on account of the incomparable gratification it affords—grog drinking—to which no earthly bliss can be compared in the Indian's estimation. To find the Company serving out rum to the natives as payment for their services in this remote quarter, created the utmost surprise in my mind: no excuse can be advanced which can justify the unhallowed practice, when the management of the native population is left entirely to themselves. Why then is it continued? Strange to say, while Indians were to be seen rolling drunk about the establishment, an order of Council appeared, prohibiting the sale of ardent spirits in any quantity exceeding two gallons to the Company's officers of whatever rank, with the view of preventing the demoralization of the natives!
Most of the natives have a smattering of English, and are said to be a quiet, harmless race, addicted to few bad habits. Their remote situation, and impoverished country protect them from the hostile inroads of neighbouring tribes; hence the tame and pacific demeanour by which they are distinguished. The poor Swampy often retires to rest without a morsel to eat for himself or family, and that for days together; yet he is under no apprehension from his enemies, and enjoys his night's rest undisturbed; whereas, the warrior of the plain, while he revels in abundance, seldom retires to rest without apprehension; the hostile yell may, in fact, rouse him from his midnight slumber, either to be butchered himself, or to hear the dying groans of his family while he escapes. Thus chequered is the life of man with good and evil in every condition, whether civilized or savage.
Every preparation for our departure being now completed, I took leave of Fort York, its fogs, and bogs, and mosquitoes, with little regret. We embarked on the 22d of August, in a brig that had fortunately escaped the mishaps of the other vessels last autumn; and after being delayed in port by adverse winds till the 26th, we finally stood out to sea, having spoken the Prince Rupert just come in. The fields of ice, that had been observed a few days previously, having now entirely disappeared, the captain concluded that the passage was clear for him, and accordingly steered for the south. He had not proceeded far in this direction, however, when we fell in with such quantities of ice as to interrupt our passage; but we still continued to force our way through. Convinced at length of the futility of the attempt, we altered our course to a directly opposite point, standing to the north, until we came abreast of Churchill, and then bore away for the strait, making Mansfield Island on the 7th of September. We encountered much stream ice on our passage, from which no material injury was sustained; although the continual knocking of our rather frail vessel against the ice created a good deal of alarm, from the effect the collision produced, shaking her violently from stem to stern.
We were thus passing rapidly through the straits without experiencing any accident worthy of notice, when I inquired of our captain, one evening, how soon he expected to make the Island of Akpatok. He replied, "To-morrow morning about nine o'clock." We retired to rest about ten, P.M., and I had not yet fallen asleep, when I heard an unusual bustle on deck, and one of the men rushing down to the captain's room to call him up. I instantly dressed and went on deck, where I soon learned the cause;—a dark object, scarcely distinguishable through the fog and gloom of night, was pointed out to me on our lee beam, two cable-lengths distant, on which we had been rushing, propelled by wind and current, at the rate of thirteen knots an hour, when it was observed. A few moments more, and we had been launched into eternity. Had the vigilance of the look-out been relaxed for a minute, or had the slightest accident occurred to prevent the vessel from wearing at the very instant, our doom was certain.
The western extremity of the Island of Akpatok, terminating in a high promontory seemingly cut down perpendicular to the water's edge, formed the danger we had so providentially escaped. Next day we saw the dismal spot in all its horrors. The island was still partially covered with snow, and no traces of vegetation were discernible; but a fresh breeze springing up we soon lost sight of this desolate spot, and made the mouth of the Ungava, or South River, about an hour after sunset. The captain was a perfect stranger on the coast, and had but a very imperfect chart to guide him; he nevertheless stood boldly in for the land, and fortunately discovered the mouth of the river, which we entered as darkness closed in upon us.
By this time the breeze, that had carried us on so rapidly, increased to a gale, so that if we had not entered the river so opportunely, the consequences might have been serious. We were utterly unacquainted with the coast, which presented a thousand dangers in the shape of rocks and breakers, that were observable in every direction, as far as the eye could reach to seaward; we therefore congratulated ourselves on our fancied security—for it was only fancied, as will presently appear. We kept firing as we approached the land, with the view of apprizing the people of the post, who were directed to await us at the mouth of the river. No sound was heard in reply until we had advanced a few miles up the river, when we were gratified with hearing the report of muskets, and presently several torches were visible blazing a little ahead.
The night was uncommonly dark, the banks of the river being scarcely perceptible; and although it appeared to me we were much nearer then than prudence would warrant, we still drew nearer, when our progress was suddenly arrested. The vessel struck violently on a sunken rock, and heeled over so much that she was nearly thrown on her beam-ends. Swinging round, however, with the force of the current, she soon got off again; and our captain, taking the hint, instantly dropped anchor. Soon after a couple of Esquimaux came alongside in their canoes, who gave us to understand by signs that they were sent to pilot us to the post.
Next day, as soon as the tide proved favourable, our Esquimaux made signs to weigh anchor, which being done, one of them took his station by the side of the helmsman, and never moved a moment from the spot, pointing out the deep channel, with which he appeared well acquainted; although the utmost anxiety appeared depicted in his countenance, lest any accident should happen. Once or twice we touched slightly, when he expressed his dissatisfaction by a deep groan; he managed so well, however, that he brought us to good anchoring ground ere nightfall. From 10 A.M. until late in the evening we had only advanced twenty-five miles, although we pressed against the current with top-gallant sails set and a strong wind in our favour.
Immediately we anchored, Captain Humphrey and myself determined on rowing up to the post, where we arrived about four, P.M. I need scarcely say with what joy our arrival was hailed by people so seldom visited by strangers, in a situation which had no regular communication as yet with any other part of the world.
I was much gratified by the appearance of every thing about the establishment. The buildings had just been finished with materials sent out from England, through the considerate and kindly feeling of the Committee, whose compassion had been excited by the accounts they had heard of the miserable hovels in which the people were lodged when the place was first settled. After passing an hour or two examining the fort, (as it is called par excellence,) we returned to the ship, and weighing anchor at an early hour the next morning, (11th September,) we were soon brought up to the establishment, and landed without loss of time amid a violent snow-storm. It afforded us no small consolation, however, to reflect that we had no further cause to apprehend danger from icebergs or rocks, and that the post afforded us greater comfort as to living and accommodation than we had been led to expect.
The vessel, having discharged cargo, dropped down with the stream on the 15th, leaving us to reflect in undisturbed solitude on the dreary prospects before us. The clank of the capstan, while the operation of weighing was being executed, echoing from the surrounding hills, suggested the question, "When shall that sound be heard again?" From the melancholy reverie which this idea suggested I was roused by the voice of my fellow exile, "the companion of my joys and sorrows," in whose society such gloomy thoughts could not long dwell.
This post is situated in lat. 59 deg. 28', standing on the east bank of South River, about thirty miles distant from the sea, surrounded by a country that presents as complete a picture of desolation as can be imagined; moss-covered rocks without vegetation and without verdure, constitute the cheerless landscape that greets the eye in every direction. A few stunted pines growing in the villages form the only exception; and at this season of the year, when they shed their leaves, contribute but little to the improvement of the scene.
EXPLORING EXPEDITION THROUGH THE INTERIOR OF LABRADOR—DIFFICULTIES—DEER-HUNT—INDIAN GLUTTONY—DESCRIPTION OF THE COUNTRY—PROVISIONS RUN SHORT—INFLUENZA.
The Company having learned, through a pamphlet published by the Moravian missionaries of Labrador, that the country produced excellent furs, were induced by the laudable desire of "ameliorating the condition of the natives," to settle it; and a party was accordingly sent overland from Moose Factory to take possession in the summer of 1831. The Moravians, finding their intention thus anticipated, left both the cure of souls and trade of furs to the Company.
Whatever may have been the Company's real motives in forming a settlement in this quarter, the profits derived from it added but little to the dividends; the substance that glittered at a distance like gold proved to be but base metal. Beavers were nowhere to be found; and although the martens brought an extraordinary high price, they were far from plentiful; while the enormous expense of supplying the district by sea, and supporting it on imported provisions, rendered the "Ungava adventure" a subject of rather unpleasant discussion among the partners, most of whom were opposed to the measure from the first.
Mr. Simpson was, in fact, the prime mover of the project, and aware of the discontent caused by its failure, determined on making every effort to reduce the expense, and, if possible, to increase the returns. Accordingly, I was directed to push outposts into the interior, to support my people on the resources of the country, and at the same time to open a communication with Esquimaux Bay, on the coast of Labrador, with the view of obtaining in future my supplies from thence by inland route; "there being no question of the practicability of the rivers." So said not he who had seen those rivers.
Mr. Erlandson had traversed the country in the spring of 1834, and represented to me the utter impossibility of carrying my instructions into effect. Meantime, the Committee, having learned by despatches from York Factory that the vessel intended for the business of the district had been lost, and the other, in which I made my passage, placed in so critical a situation as to render her safety in spring a very doubtful matter, considered it advisable to provide for the worst by freighting a small schooner to carry us out our supplies. This vessel very unexpectedly made her appearance on the 22d of September, and we thus found ourselves supplied with goods and provisions for two years' consumption.
Having, as above mentioned, learned from Mr. Erlandson the difficulties of the inland route, and also that a great number of the natives had gone to Esquimaux Bay, with the intention of remaining there, I considered it incumbent upon me to visit that quarter at an early period of the winter, and I accordingly set out from Fort Chimo on the 2d of January. I submit the following narrative of my journey to the reader.
"Tuesday, the 2d of January, 1838.—I left Fort Chimo at eleven A.M., accompanied by the following men, viz.:—
"Donald Henderson, Henry Hay, and two Indian guides, who are to accompany me throughout the journey; Pierre Neven and M. Ferguson go part of the way, each driving a sled of two dogs, loaded with provisions, the other men having sleds drawn by themselves.
"Wednesday, the 3d.—Left our encampment before dawn of day. Excessively cold—some of us got frost-bitten, but not severely. Our principal guide, finding his companion unable to keep up with us, set off to his lodge in quest of a substitute. Encamped early, having proceeded about nine miles.
"Thursday, the 4th.—Started at seven A.M. Reached High Fall Creek at nine A.M. Halted to wait for our guide, who soon joined us, alone, finding no person willing to accompany him. Resumed our march at half-past nine; had not proceeded far, when we perceived that our young guide, Pellican, was left considerably in the rear. We waited till he overtook us, and the miserable creature appearing completely exhausted with fatigue, we encamped at an early hour. Eight miles.
"Friday, the 5th.—Lightened Pellican's sled, and set off at five A.M.; fine weather, though sharp. Advanced sixteen miles.
"Saturday, the 6th.—As the ice was covered with water close to our encampment, it was deemed advisable to await the light of day. Set off at eight A.M., but found it impossible to move forward in consequence of the immense quantity of snow that had fallen during the night. It continuing still to snow, and blowing a violent gale at same time, I gave up the struggle. Advanced about a mile.
"Sunday, the 7th.—Got up about three A.M., literally buried in snow. Our blankets being wet, we waited in our encampment drying them till eight o'clock, when we started with only half loads, with which we intended to proceed to the first lake, and then return for the remainder; but to our great satisfaction we soon discovered that the tempest which had incommoded us so much last night had cleared the ice of snow; we therefore returned for the property we had left; then proceeding at a fine rate, having beautiful weather, we soon reached the lake; when my guides, discovering a herd of deer on an adjacent hill, immediately set off at a bound, followed by Pellican and my two brules. I saw at once my day's journey was at an end, and accordingly directed my encampment to be made. Our hunters joined us in the evening with the choice parts of three deer they had killed. Proceeded eight miles.
"Monday, the 8th.—Very cold, tempestuous weather. Our progress was much retarded by the great depth of snow in the woods through which our route lay. Thirteen miles.
"Tuesday, the 9th.—Blowing a hurricane; the cold being also intense, we could not venture out on the ice without incurring the risk of being frost-bitten; we therefore remained in our quarters, such as they were, until the weather should moderate.
"Wednesday, the 10th.—My guides appeared very unwilling to quit their encampment this morning, pretending indisposition. They might have been really ill; but the beastly manner in which they had been gorging themselves for the past two days being well known to be the cause of their illness, no one felt disposed to pity them. I therefore sprang into their encampment, and pitching the remainder of their choice morsels into the snow, drove them out before me. Travelled through woods the whole day. Encamped at half-past three. Eighteen miles.
"Thursday, the 11th.—Started at five, A.M. Soon fell on a large lake, on which we travelled till three, P.M., when we encamped. Thus far the lake extends S.E. and N.W., being about two miles in width. As Mr. Erlandson was the first European who had traversed these inhospitable wilds, I had the gratification of giving his name to the lake. It is reported by the natives to abound in fish of the best quality; rein-deer are also said to be numerous at certain seasons of the year. Proceeded fifteen miles.
"Friday, the 12th.—Being immoderately cold, and the wind blowing direct in our faces, we could not attempt travelling on the lake.
"Saturday, the 13th.—Weather fine. Left Erlandson's Lake about one, A.M.; it still stretched out before us as far as the eye could reach, and cannot be less than forty miles in length; its medium breadth, however, does not exceed two miles and a half. The circumjacent country is remarkably well wooded, even to the tops of the highest hills, and is reported by the natives to abound in martens. A few industrious Indians would not fail to turn such advantages to good account; but they can avail the Company very little, while the natives alone are in possession of them. Went on twenty-four miles.
"Sunday, the 14th.—Set off at five, A.M. Passed over several small lakes; the country well wooded. Entered upon a small river about noon, the banks covered with large pine. Encamped at three, P.M. Advanced sixteen miles.
"Monday, the 15th.—Took our departure at seven, A.M. Travelled without halting the whole day. Eighteen miles.
"Tuesday, the 16th.—Decamped at five, A.M.; the snow very deep in the woods. Fell on Whale River at ten, A.M. The face of the country presents scarcely any variety; from Erlandson's Lake to this river it is generally well wooded, but afterwards becomes extremely barren, nothing to be seen on both sides of the river but bare rocks. Proceeded sixteen miles.
"Wednesday, the 17th.—Started at five, A.M. Our route in the morning led us through a chain of small lakes, and brought us out again on Whale River, on which we travelled till four, P.M. The appearance of the country much the same as described yesterday. Proceeded eighteen miles.
"Thursday, the 18th.—P. Neven being unable to travel from indisposition, I resolved on passing the day to await the issue, deeming his malady to be of no very serious nature. In the meantime I took an exact account of my provisions which I found to be so far reduced, that no further assistance was required for its conveyance. I accordingly made the necessary arrangements to send the men back.
"Friday, the 19th.—Early in the morning, P. Neven (being now convalescent) and Mordoch Ferguson set off on their return, whilst I and my party proceeded on our onward route. I retained a sled of dogs, intending to drive them myself. We travelled eleven miles on Whale River, then struck across the country to the eastward. Encamped at four, P.M. Fourteen miles.
"Saturday, the 20th.—The moon affording no longer light to find our way in the night, we must now wait till daylight. Started at seven A.M.; crossed a point of wood, chiefly larch, of a miserably small growth; then came out on a large lake (comparatively speaking), on which we travelled till four, P.M. Thirteen miles.
"Sunday, the 21st.—Set off at seven A.M. About eleven, we fell on the fresh tracks of a large herd of deer, which my guides carefully examined; their experience not only enabling them to determine the precise time they had passed, but the very spot where they were likely to be found, which they affirmed was close to us. My dogs being very much reduced, and not having the means of increasing their present modicum of food, I determined on availing myself of an opportunity which might not again occur of procuring a supply. The Indians accordingly set off in quest of them, desiring us at their departure to make no fire until the sun had reached a certain position in the heavens which they pointed out to us. We made our encampment at the time appointed, and were soon joined by our hunters, dragging after them a fine doe; they had got only one shot at the herd, which immediately took to the bare hills, where pursuit was in vain. Our guides being encamped by themselves, I was curious to ascertain by ocular evidence the manner in which the first kettle would be disposed of, nor did I wait long till my curiosity was gratified. The cannibals fell upon the half-cooked flesh with a voracity which I could not have believed even savages capable of; and in an incredibly short space of time the kettle was disposed of;—and this, too, after their usual daily allowance, which is equal to, and sometimes exceeds, that of the other men, who say they have enough. Proceeded seven miles.
"Monday, the 22nd.—On examining the remains of the deer this morning, I found my quadrupeds would benefit but little by my good intentions and loss of time, our guides having applied themselves so sedulously to the doe during the night, as to leave but little for their canine brethren. We started at seven, A.M., the travelling very heavy in the woods. About noon we came upon a large lake, where we made better speed. Thirteen miles.
"Tuesday, the 23rd.—Travelled through woods the greater part of the day; encamped at four o'clock. Sixteen miles.
"Wednesday, the 24th.—Decamped at seven, A.M. Our route lay through swamps and small lakes, with strips of wood intervening. Martens appear to be numerous, but beavers must be extremely rare, for we have discovered no traces whatever of their existence anywhere along our route, though innumerable small lakes and rivers, such as beavers frequent, are to be met with in every direction; but the country produces no food for them. At ten A.M. we arrived at a considerable lake, where my guides told me we had reached the highest land. On asking them if this were the lake where we intended to build, they pointed to the south-west, saying it was four days' journey off in that direction!—so far had I been led from the route I intended to have followed, notwithstanding the perfect understanding I had with my perfidious guides prior to our departure from the establishment. Encamped at three, P.M. Twelve miles.
"Thursday, the 25th.—Immediately on leaving our encampment, we fell on a large river flowing to the north-east, which I took to be George's River. We followed it for a short distance, and then directed our course over bare hills. Encamped at three, P.M. Eleven miles.
"Friday, the 26th.—Having passed the night in a clump of small pines, which sheltered us from the inclemency of the weather, we were not aware of the violence of the storm which was raging round us, until, pursuing our route over a ridge of bare hills, we were completely exposed to its fury. We found the cold intense, the wind blowing in our faces, so that it was impossible to proceed. Observing a hummock of wood close to us, we shaped our course for it, where we were no sooner arrived, than it began to snow and drift. The few trees to which we had retreated being far apart, and the wind blowing with the utmost violence, we experienced the greatest difficulty in clearing an encampment. The storm continuing unabated, we passed a miserable day in our snow burrow. Two miles.
"Saturday, the 27th.—Arose from our comfortless couche at half-past four. The snow having drifted over us, and being melted by the heat of the fire in the early part of the night, we found our blankets and capotes hard frozen in the morning. Thawing and drying them occupied us till nine A.M., when we set off. Snow very deep. Proceeded nine miles.
"Sunday, the 28th.—Set off at seven, A.M. Snow still increasing in depth, and our progress decreasing in proportion. At one, P.M., we came upon a large river flowing to the north, on which we travelled a short distance; then followed the course of a small stream running in an easterly direction. Leaving this stream, our route lay over marshes and small lakes; the country flat, yielding dwarf pine intermixed with larch. Encamped at half-past four; advanced eight miles.
"Monday, the 29th.—Started at seven. Appearance of the country much the same as yesterday. Fifteen miles.
"Tuesday, the 30th.—Decamped at seven. Weather mild, and walking heavy. Our principal guide appears rapidly declining in strength, which does not surprise me, considering the laborious duty he has had to perform; always beating the track a-head, without being once relieved by his worthless associate. Fourteen miles.
"Wednesday, the 31st.—Started at seven. Still very mild. Observed a few small birch trees. Encamped at four, P.M. Fifteen miles.
"Thursday, the 1st of February.—Started at the usual hour. We have been travelling through a very rough country for these two days past. The fact is, that our guides, having only passed here in summer, are unacquainted with the winter track. We are, therefore, evidently pursuing a circuitous course, which, with every other disadvantage, subjects us to the risk of running short of provisions,—a contingency which our reduced stock warns us to prepare for ere long. We can afford no more food to the dogs; their load is now transferred to the men's sleds. Fifteen miles.
"Friday, the 2d.—Decamped at seven, A.M. Pursued our route over extensive swamps and small lakes, where there is scarcely any wood to be seen. The face of the surrounding country being level, the least elevation commands a most extensive view; but the eye turns away in disgust from the cheerless prospect which the desolate flats present. I deemed it expedient to curtail our allowance of provisions this evening. Eighteen miles.
"Saturday, the 3d.—Set off at seven, A.M. Reached Michigama Lake at one, P.M.; on which we travelled till five o'clock, when we encamped on an island. Proceeded twenty miles.
"Sunday, the 4th.—Left our encampment at the usual hour. Halted for our scanty meal at ten, A.M. After an hour's delay we resumed our march, and encamped at four, P.M., on an island near the mainland on the east side of the lake, having performed about twenty miles. I here repeated to the Indians my earnest wish to proceed to Esquimaux Bay, by North River, which takes its rise in this lake. They replied that nothing could induce them to comply with my wishes, as inevitable starvation would be the consequence; no game could be found by the way, and we would have, therefore, to depend solely on our own provisions, which were barely sufficient for the shortest route. I had thus the mortification to find, that I should entirely fail in accomplishing the main object I had in view in crossing the country.
"Monday, the 5th.—Decamped at seven, A.M. Reached the mainland at half-past eight; then ascended a river flowing from the north-east, which discharges itself into Michigama Lake, Pellican taking the lead, being the only one acquainted with this part of the country. The Indians shot an otter. No wood to be seen, but miserably small pine, thinly scattered over the country. Encamped at Gull Lake. Fifteen miles.
"Tuesday, the 6th.—Left our encampment at seven. Our guide lost his way about noon, which after an hour's search, he succeeded in finding; when we resumed our slow march, Pellican proceeding at a snail's pace, which neither threats nor entreaties could in the least accelerate. Encamped at five, P.M. Eleven miles.
"Wednesday, the 7th.—Started at half-past six, A.M. Arrived at the site of an extensive Indian camp, which appeared to have been recently occupied. Our guides knowing the Indians to be their friends from Ungava, and their trail leading in the direction of our route, required no longer to be urged on. An immediate impulse was given to Pellican's sluggish motions, increasing his speed to such a degree, that it required our utmost exertions to keep up with him. Encamped near a high fall on North-West River, which is here walled in by inaccessible precipices on both sides. The view above the fall is interrupted by stupendous rocks; the natives say that the appearance of the river and surrounding country is the same from this fall to Michigama Lake; the river is deemed to be impracticable for any kind of craft. Eighteen miles.
"Thursday, the 8th.—Set off at seven, A.M. Fine travelling on the river. We passed two portages and rapids. Encamped at forty-five minutes past five. Twenty miles.
"Friday, the 9th.—Decamped at seven. Travelling good; the banks of the river high and precipitous, and almost destitute of wood. We observed, however, a few birches. Encamped at six, P.M. Twenty miles.
"Saturday, the 10th.—Started at eight, A.M. About noon we arrived at a wide expansion of the river, where it suddenly bends to the west. Here we again quitted the river, directing our course to the eastward. The navigation of this part of the river is represented by the natives to be impracticable, and similar to the upper part. Our snow-shoes being the worse for wear, we encamped at an early hour for the purpose of repairing them. Advanced fifteen miles.
"Sunday, the 11th.—Decamped at seven, A.M. Pursued our course through the roughest country I ever travelled. The appearance of it struck me as resembling the ocean when agitated by a storm, supposing its billows transformed into solid rock. We commenced ascending and descending in the morning, and kept at it till night. The men complained much of fatigue. Proceeded fourteen miles.
"Monday, the 12th.—The weather being so much overcast that we could not find our way, we remained in our encampment till eight, A.M. Encamped at a quarter past five. Fifteen miles.
"Tuesday, the 13th.—Set off at half-past seven, amidst a tremendous snow-storm, which continued without intermission the whole day; we sunk knee-deep in the snow, and found it not the most pleasant recreation in the world. About noon we passed a hut, which my guide told me had been the residence of a trader, two years ago. Late in the evening we arrived at another hut, on North West River, where we found two of Mr. McGillivray's people, who were stationed there for the purpose of trapping martens. Nine miles.
"Wednesday, the 14th.—The weather being unpropitious, and finding ourselves very snug in our present quarters, we passed the day enjoying the comfort of a roof.
"Thursday, the 15th.—Left our Canadian hosts at early dawn; the snow very deep on the river. Proceeded till ten, A.M., when D. Henderson was suddenly seized by a violent fit, which completely incapacitated him from travelling. Discovering a hut close by, a fire was immediately kindled in it, and a place prepared for our invalid to lie down; in our present circumstances nothing more could be done. I waited by him till two, P.M., then pursued my route, accompanied by the Indians, leaving H. Hay to take care of him. Accomplished fourteen miles.
"Friday, the 16th.—Set off at four, A.M. Arrived at dusk at Port Smith, where, although I was well known, my Esquimaux dress and long beard defied recognition, until I announced myself by name.
"Saturday, the 17th.—An Indian was despatched early in the morning, to meet my men with a supply of the north-west panacea, Turlington Balsam; and I was glad to see them arrive in the evening, more in want of food than medicine."
Two days after our arrival, all the Nascopie or Ungava Indians, at present residing in this part of the country, numbering seventy or eighty souls, came to the establishment, with the produce of their winter hunts. Mr. McGillivray and myself having come to an understanding regarding them, we both addressed them, representing to them the advantages they would derive from having posts so conveniently situated on their lands, &c. After some deliberation among themselves, they expressed their intention to be guided by our advice, and to return forthwith to their lands. Having sent off my despatches by Indian couriers, for Mashquaro, on the 3d of March, to be forwarded thence to Canada, via the Company's posts along the Gulf and River St. Lawrence, I sent H. Hay for my guides (who had gone to pay the kettles of their friends a visit), preparatory to my departure hence, which has been deferred to a much later period than I had calculated upon, from the prevalence of excessively bad weather for a fortnight.
Hay, having met the Indians on the way, returned the same evening; but they were so emaciated that I could scarcely recognise them, looking like so many spectres—a metamorphosis caused by the influenza, at that time prevalent in the country. My principal guide, however, declared himself able to proceed on the journey, with a light load; and it was arranged that Pellican should accompany his relative. Two young men, who came in with my guide, appearing not quite so much reduced as the others, I proposed to them to accompany me as far as Michigama Lake, to assist in hauling our provisions, which they consented to do; and they accordingly took their departure along with my guide, on the 4th of March. Myself and two men, along with my "husky" interpreter, followed next morning; but as we are to retrace our steps by the same way we came, it will be unnecessary to narrate the occurrences of each day.
We arrived in the evening at the first Indian camp, where I found one of the young men I had hired, relapsed into his former malady, and unable to proceed further. This, although a disappointment, did not much affect me, as I had hopes my guide would be able to continue his route, from the circumstance of his having passed on to the farthest camp. When we arrived, about noon next day, and found, not only our guide, but every individual in the camp, suffering under the fatal malady,—this was the climax to my disappointment. I determined on returning to Fort Smith with my guide, where, by proper treatment, I hoped he might yet recover in time to admit of my returning before the end of the season.
I accordingly returned, accompanied by H. Hay, who conducted the dog-sledge, on which I had placed my sick Indian, leaving D. Henderson in charge of the provisions, along with the Esquimaux. On the morning of the 9th, I despatched H. Hay to join Henderson, with directions to haul the provisions on to McGillivray's hut, there to await further orders.
My guide, for a few days, appeared to be in a hopeless state, refusing sustenance of any kind, and became delirious. This was the crisis of the malady; for he soon began to take some food, and recovered strength daily. He at length proposed to attempt the journey, to which I joyfully assented; and once more took leave of Fort Smith, on the 19th of March, and joined my men next day.
Remaining two days, to give the guide time to recruit his strength, I started on the morning of the 23d; the Indians had recovered strength enough to enable them to proceed towards their winter deposit of provisions, near Michigama Lake, leaving us an excellent track. We overtook them on the 26th. I found it impossible to separate my guide from his relatives while we pursued the same route. We arrived on the 30th at their last stage, and encamped together.
Next morning as we were about to start, a message arrived from my guide, announcing his determination to proceed no farther, unless Pellican were permitted to accompany us. I sent for him immediately, and endeavoured to impress on his mind the unreasonableness of such a proposition, our provisions being scarcely sufficient for ourselves—that it would expose the whole party to the risk of starvation; but I addressed a thing without reason and without understanding, and was accordingly obliged, once more, to yield.
We reached the highest land on the 2d of April, where, on examining our remaining stock of provisions, the alarming fact that it was altogether insufficient to carry us to the establishment, was but too apparent. It was therefore necessary to take immediate measures to avert, if possible, an evil that threatened so fearful consequences; and the only course that presented itself was to divide into two parties,—the one to proceed with all possible despatch to the fort, by the shortest route, and to send forward a supply to the other, which it was anticipated would reach them ere they were reduced to absolute want.
Pursuant to this resolution I set off, accompanied by the guide and H. Hay; leaving D. Henderson to make the best of his way, with the Esquimaux and Pellican. Having taken but a very small share of the provisions with us, and meeting with no game on the way, we were soon reduced to the utmost extremity. One of our dogs being starved to death, we were ultimately obliged to knock the surviving one on the head, to supply ourselves with what we considered, in present circumstances, "food for the gods." Such as it was, it enabled us to keep soul and body together till we reached Fort Chimo, on the 20th of April, where we found all the Nascopies of this part of the country assembled to greet the arrival of their long-expected friends—our guides. I immediately selected a couple of smart-looking lads to go to meet my rear-guard,—the other servants about the establishment, who were accustomed to snow-shoes, being absent, watching the deer.
On the third day after their departure the couriers returned, with Pellican. On inquiring of the latter what had become of my men, he replied that he had left them encamped at a lake about sixty miles distant, where the Esquimaux, abandoning himself to despair, could not be prevailed upon to go a step farther; and that he (Pellican) had been sent forward by Henderson to urge on the party whom they expected. They were within a day's journey of them; and yet the wretches returned immediately on meeting Pellican, leaving the others to their fate. No Indians I had ever known would have acted so basely; yet these are an "unsophisticated race" of aborigines, who have but little intercourse with the whites, and must, of course, be free from the contamination of their manners. Our hunters being now arrived, were sent off, without delay, in quest of the missing; and I had the satisfaction to see my famished compagnons de voyage arrive, on the 26th of April.
DISTRESSING BEREAVEMENT—EXPLORING PARTY—THEIR REPORT—ARRIVAL OF ESQUIMAUX—ESTABLISH POSTS—POUNDING REIN-DEER—EXPEDITION UP GEORGE'S RIVER—ITS DIFFICULTIES—HAMILTON RIVER—DISCOVER A STUPENDOUS CATARACT—RETURN BY GEORGE'S RIVER TO THE SEA—SUDDEN STORM, AND MIRACULOUS ESCAPE.
Having thus ascertained the impracticability of the inland communication, I transmitted the result of my observations to the Governor—a report which, I doubt not, proved rather unpalatable to his Excellency, unaccustomed as he is to have any of his movements checked by that impudent and uncompromising word—impossible. I was much gratified to find that the deer-hunt had proved uncommonly successful; so that I had now the means of carrying into effect the Governor's instructions on this point. On the approach of spring, preparations were made for establishing a post inland; guides were hired for the purpose, and every precaution taken to insure success.
At this time I was visited by a very grievous affliction, in the loss of my beloved wife, whose untimely death left me in a more wretched condition than words can express. This was truly an eventful year for me;—within that space I became a husband, a father, and a widower;—I traversed the continent of America, performing a voyage of some 1,500 miles by sea, and a journey by land of fully 1,200 miles, on snow-shoes.
As soon as the navigation became practicable (June 18), Mr. Erlandson set off for the interior, with his outfit, in three small canoes, and after much toil reached his destination on the 10th of July. On the return of the men who had assisted in the transport, I fitted out an expedition to explore the coast to the westward, with the view of ascertaining the capabilities of that quarter, for the extension of the business. The party was absent about a month; and their report was entirely unfavourable to the project of carrying our "ameliorating system" so far. The navigation of the coast is exceedingly dangerous, from the continual presence of ice, and the extraordinary force of the currents. While the coast proved so inaccessible, the interior of the country wears a still more dreary and sterile aspect; not a tree, nor shrub, nor plant of any land, is to be seen, save the lichens that cover the rocks, and a few willows. The native Esquimaux, whom our people had seen, evinced the same amicable disposition by which their whole race is distinguished. They received our people with open arms, and some of the young damsels seemed disposed to cultivate a closer intimacy with them than their ideas of propriety, or at least their olfactory nerves, would sanction. The effluvia that proceeds from their persons in the summer season is quite insufferable; it is as if you applied your nose to a cask of rancid oil.
In the course of the summer, several Esquimaux arrived from the westward, with a considerable quantity of fox-skins,—the only fur this barren country yields. Some of these poor creatures had passed nearly two years on their journey hither, being obliged to hunt or fish for their living as they travelled. They set off on their return with a little tobacco, or a few strings of beads;—very few having the means of procuring guns and ammunition.
Nothing worthy of notice occurred till the month of September, when I was gratified by the arrival of despatches from Canada, by a junior clerk appointed to the district. By him we received the first intelligence of the stirring events that had taken place in the colonies during the preceding year. The accounts of the triumphs of my countrymen's arms over French treachery and Yankee hatred, diverted my thoughts, for the first time, from the melancholy subject of my late bereavement; the thoughts of which my solitude served rather to cherish than dispel.
Having learned from the natives that a river fell into the bay, about eighty miles to the eastward, that offered greater facilities for carrying on the business in the interior than our present communication, I ordered the men who had assisted Mr. Erlandson, to descend by this river,—an enterprise which was successfully accomplished. Their report confirming that of the natives, I forthwith determined on establishing a post there; and the season being now far advanced, I had no sooner decided on the step than I set about carrying it into execution. A party was despatched with every requisite for the purpose, about the 15th of September; and I received a communication from them in October, informing me that they had discovered a convenient situation for erecting the buildings. The materials being found on the spot, and the men aware of the approach of winter, and straining every nerve to secure themselves against its rigours, the buildings, such as they were, were raised and already occupied.
In the early part of winter, being, I may say, entirely alone,—for there remained only one man and an interpreter with me,—I amused myself by shooting partridges, which abounded in the neighbourhood that season; but the cold became so excessive as the winter advanced, that I was compelled to forego that amusement, and confine myself to the four walls of my prison, with the few books I possessed as my only companions. My despatches for the civilized world being completed, I was altogether at a loss how to forward them, as none of the natives could be induced, even by a high reward, to undertake the journey. At length one was found who consented to accompany one of my men to Mr. Erlandson's post, but no farther.
My couriers were absent six weeks, and I had the mortification to learn on their return that the packet remained at the outpost, owing to an accident that befel one of the Indian guides, and which incapacitated him for the trip. Our friends would thus remain in ignorance of our fate for nearly two years. The report received regarding the inland adventure proved very satisfactory as far as the trade was concerned; but the privations suffered by those engaged in it, it was painful to learn; their sole subsistence consisted of fish, rendered extremely unpalatable from the damage it had sustained from the heat of the sun, and a few rabbits and partridges. Who would not be an Indian trader?
Early in the month of March the rein-deer made their appearance again, and every countenance brightened up at the thoughts of the approaching pastime. I fell on a plan, however, that divested the sport of much of its attractions, although calculated to ensure greater success. A favourable position being selected, a certain extent of ground was fenced in so as to form a "pound" of nearly a circular shape, a gap being left in it to admit the game from the river side. This done, I caused branches to be placed on the ice above and below the deer pass, which the animals observing, became alarmed, and running from side to side of the open space between the lines of branches, at length made a dash at the opposite side of the river, and entered the trap prepared for them at a gallop, continuing at the top of their speed until stopped by the upper part of the "pound," when they wheeled round, and making for the entrance, were received with a volley of balls from the huntsmen; a continual fire being kept up upon them in this manner until they all dropped.
The scene presented by the slaughter was anything but agreeable, yet stern necessity compelled me to continue the butchery; and the success that attended my scheme far exceeded my expectations. The first herd that entered, in number about fifty, burst through the fence; but our works were immediately strengthened, so as to defy their efforts in future to escape. A herd of 300 was soon after entrapped, and in the course of two hours all were killed.
Having thus obtained an ample stock of provisions, the different parties employed at the fishing and hunting stations were recalled, and preparations were begun for our summer campaign, in which I determined to take an active part. The favourable report of last summer respecting the East or George's River, combined with reports that had reached me since of another large river flowing a short distance to the south of Esquimaux Bay, suggested the possibility of carrying on our business on this line of communication. With the view, therefore, of carrying this design into effect, I had a boat built in the course of the winter, in which I embarked with a strong crew on the 25th of June, the river not being clear of ice at an earlier period; and sweeping down on the top of the current at railroad speed, reached the sea in about three hours.
It being still early in the day, and no ice to be seen, we pulled for the opposite side of the bay, in the hope of reaching it ere dark. The weather being perfectly calm we advanced rapidly, and had proceeded about seven miles with every prospect of effecting our purpose, when lo! the tide was observed to be making against us; and the ice returning with it, apparently in a compact body, we were placed in rather a critical situation. The sun was declining, while the coast presented a solid wall of ice, which precluded the possibility of landing anywhere nearer than the mouth of South River.
Towards that point, therefore, the head of the boat was directed, and the crew, seeing the imminence of the danger, rowed with all their might; and by dint of strenuous exertions, we made good our landing ere the ice closed in around us. A few minutes after not a speck of water could be descried.
Next morning, the ice still covered the bay, leaving only a narrow strip of open water along the shore; into this channel we pushed our boat, and for some time made but little progress, being continually interrupted by pieces of ice, which the high tide detached from the shore. Our channel, however, soon widened, and in a short time not a particle of ice could be seen, disappearing as if by magic; for in a few minutes after it began to move, no traces of it could be discovered as far as the eye could reach to seaward. We reached East or George's River, without further interruption, on the 3d of July, where we were detained by unfavourable weather until the 5th.
The post established here last autumn is situated in a still more cheerless spot than Fort Chimo, being surrounded by rugged hills, whose sides are covered with the debris of rock, which appears to have been detached from the hills by the process of decay. The post stands at the foot of one of those frightful hills, while another rises immediately in front; the intervening valleys, or cavities, present nothing to enliven the scene, save a few stunted pines, and here and there a patch of snow.
The few Esquimaux who inhabit this region of sterility and desolation, at first appeared delighted with the idea of having whites among them: finding, however, that our presence yielded them no advantage, they soon became indifferent about us, and proceeded to the Moravian settlement with the produce of their hunts, where they obtained their little wants at a far cheaper rate than our tariff allowed.
My crew, leaving Fort Siviright, consisted of ten able men; and an Indian guide accompanied us in his canoe. As we ascended, our difficulties increased at every step, the water being much lower than last year. I found myself engaged in a more laborious work than I had ever yet undertaken—towing the boat day after day against a current flowing in a continuous rapid, so as to admit of not one moment's relaxation, unless during the short interval allowed for rest to such as could take it—no easy matter when myriads of sand-flies and mosquitoes filled the air and tortured us incessantly.
We continued to advance in this manner, hauling, pulling, carrying, and even launching the boat for about fifteen days, when we reached an expansion of the river, without any perceptible current, and sufficiently deep to admit of the use of the oar.
Our labour was now supposed to be at an end by those who had explored the river; no further doubts were entertained as to our soon reaching Esquimaux Bay, where letters from our friends and news from all quarters would reward us for all our toils. Let not him who knows not what it is to be shut out from his friends, society, and the great world, year after year, think lightly of the reward which the solitary trader, in his remote seclusion, values so highly. Our hopes, however, were soon dissipated. Having reached the upper extremity of the still water, we encountered difficulties that defied every attempt to surmount.
The lake just referred to proved to be the source of the lower stream; the rivulet that flowed into it from above being so shallow as scarcely to admit of the passage of a small canoe. It was therefore impossible to proceed with the boat, a circumstance that placed me in a rather perplexing position; for I had the outfit for the interior in charge, without which the business, so lately established with every prospect of success, would fail.
There was, however, no time to be lost in vain regrets; the advanced period of the season required instant decision, and our stock of provisions was diminishing rapidly. I therefore determined on proceeding to the outpost in the small canoe belonging to our guide, taking two of the men with me, and leaving the rest of the crew to erect a temporary post; and in the mean time sent my guide to apprize the Indians in the vicinity of the steps I had taken to supply their wants next winter.
These arrangements completed, I embarked in an eggshell of a canoe, so small as not to admit of anything save the smallest possible supply of provisions,—tent, basket, &c. remaining behind. Soon after leaving our encampment, we came to a portage some ten miles in length, and struck the river again, where, from the report of the men, I expected no further difficulties would impede our progress. But the event did not answer my expectations; from the continual drought of the season the water proved so low that we had to drag along our canoe, wading in the water, where a boat would have passed with ease last year. In this manner we continued our toilsome voyage without relaxation for several days, carrying our canoe and baggage overland, or wading in the water from early dawn until late at night, when we threw ourselves down on the ground to pass the night without shelter from the weather or protection from the stings of our merciless persecutors the mosquitoes, who pursued their avocation with unwearied assiduity, so that our rest was small, and that little afforded us but scanty refreshment.
Our progress, but slow, from the difficulties of the route, was rendered still slower by our frequent deviations from our course; my guides having paid but little attention to their instructions last year. We at length reached the post on the 16th of August, half starved, half naked, and half devoured. A friendly reception, and the good cheer the place afforded, soon restored our spirits, if not our "inexpressibles;" and although much annoyed that no Indians could be induced to guide us to Esquimaux Bay, I determined on making the attempt with such assistance as Mr. Erlandson could give me, who was well acquainted with the upper part of the river.
After one day's rest, we embarked in a canoe sufficiently large to contain several conveniences, to which I had been for some time a stranger,—a tent to shelter us by night, and tea to cheer us by day; we fared, too, like princes, on the produce of "sea and land," procured by the net and the gun. We thus proceeded gaily on our downward course without meeting any interruption, or experiencing any difficulty in finding our way; when, one evening, the roar of a mighty cataract burst upon our ears, warning us that danger was at hand. We soon reached the spot, which presented to us one of the grandest spectacles in the world, but put an end to all hopes of success in our enterprise.
About six miles above the fall the river suddenly contracts, from a width of from four hundred to six hundred yards, to about one hundred yards; then rushing along in a continuous foaming rapid, finally contracts to a breadth of about fifty yards, ere it precipitates itself over the rock which forms the fall; when, still roaring and foaming, it continues its maddened course for about a distance of thirty miles, pent up between walls of rock that rise sometimes to the height of three hundred feet on either side. This stupendous fall exceeds in height the Falls of Niagara, but bears no comparison to that sublime object in any other respect, being nearly hidden from the view by the abrupt angle which the rocks form immediately beneath it. If not seen, however, it is felt; such is the extraordinary force with which it tumbles into the abyss underneath, that we felt the solid rock shake under our feet, as we stood two hundred feet above the gulf. A dense cloud of vapour, which can be seen at a great distance in clear weather, hangs over the spot. From the fall to the foot of the rapid—a distance of thirty miles—the zigzag course of the river presents such sharp angles, that you see nothing of it until within a few yards of its banks. Might not this circumstance lead the geologist to the conclusion that the fall had receded this distance? The mind shrinks from the contemplation of a subject that carries it back to a period of time so very remote; for if the rock,—syenite, always possessed its present solidity and hardness, the action of the water alone might require millions of years to produce such a result!
After carrying our canoe and baggage for a whole day through bogs, and swamps, and windfalls, in the hope of finding the river accessible, we at length gave up the attempt; and with heavy hearts and weary limbs retracing our steps, we reached the outpost, without accident, after an absence of fifteen days. Finding it impossible to remove either the returns, or the small quantity of goods remaining on hand, I determined on leaving a couple of the men to pass the winter here; and Mr. Erlandson accompanied me to assume the charge of the temporary post, where I had left his outfit. Here we arrived on the 1st of September, and I was delighted at finding my men living in the midst of abundance;—the surrounding country apparently abounding with rein-deer, and the lake affording fish of the best quality. I remained with the men two days to expedite the buildings which were yet unfinished; and in the meantime a party of Indians arrived, whom we persuaded to carry our despatches to Esquimaux Bay.
After seeing my couriers off, I left Mr. Erlandson with two men to share his solitude, and reached the sea without experiencing any adventure worth notice. Proceeding along the coast, I was induced, one evening, by the flattering appearance of the weather, to attempt the passage of a deep bay; which being accomplished, there was little danger of being delayed afterwards by stress of weather. This step I soon had cause to repent. The sea hitherto presented a smooth surface; not a breath of wind was felt, and the stars shone out brightly. A few clouds began to appear on the horizon; and the boat began to rise and fall with the heaving of the sea. Understanding what these signs portended, we immediately pulled for the shore; but had scarcely altered our course when the stars disappeared, a tremendous noise struck upon our ears from seaward, and the storm was upon us. In the impenetrable obscurity of the night, not a trace of land could be discovered; but we continued to ply our oars, while each succeeding billow threatened immediate destruction.
The horrors of our situation increased; the man on the out-look called out that he saw breakers a-head in every direction, and escape appeared to be next to impossible. My crew of Scottish Islanders, however, continued their painful exertions without evincing the apprehensions they must have felt, by a murmur. The crisis was now at hand. We approached so near to the breakers that it was impossible to avoid them; and the men lay on their oars, expecting the next moment would be their last.
In such a situation the thoughts of even the most depraved naturally carry them beyond the limits of time; and by these thoughts, I believe, the soul of every one was absorbed; yet the men lost not their presence of mind. Suddenly, the voice of the look-out was heard amid the roar of the breakers, calling our attention to a dark breach in the line of foam that stretched out before us, which he fancied to be a channel between the rocks. A few desperate strokes brought us to the spot, when, to our unspeakable joy, we found it to answer the man's conjecture; but, so narrow was the passage, that the oars on both sides of the boat struck the rocks; a minute afterwards we found ourselves becalmed and in safety. The boat being moored, and the men ordered to watch by turns, we lay down to sleep, as we best could, supperless, and without having tasted food since early dawn.
The wind still blew fresh on the ensuing morning; but we found, to our great satisfaction, that we had entered a kind of channel that lay along the shore, where we were protected from the storm by the innumerable rocky islets that stretched along the mainland. Regarding the labyrinth of islands through which we had effected a passage in the darkness, we were struck with wonder at our escape; and felt convinced that the hand of Providence alone could have guided us through such perils in safety.
ESQUIMAUX ARRIVE FROM THE NORTH SHORE OF HUDSON'S STRAIT, ON A RAFT—DESPATCH FROM THE GOVERNOR—DISTRESS OF THE ESQUIMAUX—FORWARD PROVISIONS TO MR. E——. RETURN OF THE PARTY—THEIR DEPLORABLE CONDITION.
We reached Fort Chimo on the 20th September. A greater number of Esquimaux were assembled about the post than I had yet seen; and among them I was astonished to find a family from the north side of the Strait, and still more astonished when I learned the way they had crossed—a raft formed of pieces of drift wood picked up along the shore, afforded the means of effecting the hazardous enterprise.
On questioning them what was their object in risking their lives in so extraordinary an adventure, they replied, that they wanted wood to make canoes, and visit the Esquimaux on the south side of the Strait.
"And what if you had been overtaken by a storm?" said I.
"We should all have gone to the bottom," was the cool reply.
In fact, they had made a very narrow escape, a storm having come on just as they landed on the first island.
The fact of these people having crossed Hudson's Strait on so rude and frail a conveyance, strongly corroborates, I think, the opinion that America was originally peopled from Asia. The Asiatic side of Behring's Strait affording timber sufficiently large for the purpose of building boats or canoes, there seems nothing improbable in supposing that, when once in possession of that wonderful and useful invention—a boat, they might be induced, even by curiosity—that powerful stimulus to adventure—to visit the nearest island, and from thence proceed to the continent of America; and finding it, perhaps, possessed of superior advantages to the shores they had left, settle there. My voyageur was evidently induced as much by curiosity as by the desire of procuring a canoe, to visit the south side of Hudson's Strait, where the passage is as wide as between the island in Behring's Strait and the two continents.
At an early period of the winter I was gratified by the arrival of despatches from the civilized world. The packet was found by the Indians at Esquimaux Bay, whither I had sent them, and forwarded to me by Mr. Erlandson's two men. By his letters I was grieved to learn that starvation stared him in the face; the fishing, that promised so well when I passed, having entirely failed, and no deer were to be found. He wrote me, however, that he would maintain his post while a piece of parchment remained to gnaw!
The Governor's letters conveyed the thanks of the Governor and Committee for my "laudable exertions;" while his Excellency intimated, in language not to be misunderstood, that my promotion depended on my successful management of the affairs of Ungava, "which he regretted to find were still in an unpromising state."
What effect this announcement had on my feelings need not be mentioned—after a painful servitude of eighteen years thus to be compelled to make renewed, and even impossible exertions ere I obtained the reward of my toil, while many others had reached the goal in a much shorter time without experiencing either hardship or privation,—the injustice I had suffered, or the deceit that had been practised on me. As a balm to my wounded feelings, my correspondents in the north informed me that seven clerks had been promoted since I left Norway House.
Many of the Esquimaux referred to in a preceding page passed the winter in this quarter, not daring to return in consequence of an hostile rencontre they had had with some of their own tribes on their way hither. The quarrel, like most Indian quarrels, originated in an attempt to carry off women: both parties had recourse to arms, and a desperate struggle ensued, in which our visitors were completely defeated, with the loss of several lives.
They remained about the post for a short time, admiring its wonderful novelties—wonderful to them—and then proceeded some distance up the river to waylay the deer that had already crossed unobserved by them. The poor creatures, unaware of this fact, remained on the ground until every article that afforded any kind of sustenance was consumed; when they started for the post, leaving the weaker of the party to follow as they best could. They all arrived the same day except two widows, who had lost their husbands in the fray. I sent off two young men with a supply of provisions to meet them, but the wretches, having devoured the food, returned without the women, although I had previously supplied their own wants. Next morning I sent off one of my own men, accompanied by an Esquimaux; but, as might have been expected, the women were found lying dead on the ice near each other.
Although Mr. Erlandson did not particularly request any assistance from me, the report he communicated as to the failure of provisions was sufficient to induce me to use my best endeavours to relieve his wants. With this view I hired an Indian lad to act as guide to a party whom I despatched overland with the necessary supplies. The guide assured me they would perform the journey, going and coming, in a month. The appointed period passed, and no accounts of them; and week after week, until I at last despaired of ever seeing them in life. At the end of about two months they made their appearance, but in so deplorable a state of emaciation that we could scarcely recognise them.
The roads proved so bad that they were nearly a month on their way going, and consequently they had consumed almost all the provisions they had for the whole trip. Mr. Erlandson's scanty supply not allowing him to afford them any assistance for their return, they commenced their journey homeward with one meal a day, which they continued until all was gone, when they fed on their dogs; and they finally arrived at the house without having tasted any kind of food for three days. Their spectre-like forms excited the greatest pity; the interpreter, who came to tell me of their arrival, was in tears. No time was lost in administering relief; but the greatest caution was necessary in administering it, or the consequences might have been fatal.
I was mortified to find, on the approach of spring, that my stock of goods did not admit of supplying the interior; and I was consequently compelled to relinquish the advantages that had cost us so much to acquire. Without goods we could not, of course, maintain our position in that quarter.
TRIP TO ESQUIMAUX BAY—GOVERNOR'S INSTRUCTIONS—MY REPORT TO THE COMMITTEE—RECOMMEND THE ABANDONMENT OF UNGAVA SETTLEMENT—SUCCESS OF THE ARCTIC EXPEDITION, CONDUCTED BY MESSRS. DEASE AND SIMPSON—RETURN BY SEA TO FORT CHIMO—NARROWLY ESCAPE SHIPWRECK IN THE UNGAVA RIVER—INHUMAN AND IMPOLITIC MEASURE OF THE GOVERNOR—CONSEQUENT DISTRESS AT THE POST.
Immediately on the opening of the navigation I started for Esquimaux Bay, with two Indians, in a small canoe, and without any of the usual conveniences. Mr. Erlandson having been ordered to the southern department, followed in another canoe.
Arrived at the post, we were gratified by the receipt of despatches just come to hand by the ship. The Governor's letter apprized me that a vessel would be sent round to Ungava every alternate year; and strictly enjoined me to have no further communication with Esquimaux Bay overland, "as much unnecessary expense was incurred by these journeys." Thus were we consigned to our fate for a period of two years with as little feeling as if we had been so many cattle, and debarred from all communication with our friends, by word or letter, merely to save a trifling expense!
Could the Honourable Company be swayed by so paltry a consideration in subjecting us to so grievous an inconvenience? Surely not; a body of men so respectable could neither have authorized nor sanctioned such sordid parsimony. The generous proposition originated with Mr. Simpson alone, and to him be the honour ascribed.
Being fully persuaded in my own mind of the utter hopelessness of the Ungava adventure, I transmitted a report to the Governor and Committee on the subject; recommending the abandonment of the settlement altogether, as the enormous expense of supplying us by sea precluded the idea of any profit being ever realised; while it was quite evident the Company's benevolent views toward the Esquimaux could not be carried into effect. The extreme poverty and barrenness of their country, and their pertinacious adherence to their seal-skin dresses, which no argument of ours could induce them to exchange for the less comfortable articles of European clothing, were insurmountable obstacles. The Honourable Company, while they wished to supply the wants of the Esquimaux, still urged the expediency of securing the trade of the interior.
A circumstance that came to my knowledge in the course of the winter promised the attainment of that object. I learned from an old Indian, that the fall and rapid I met with on my way to the sea the preceding season, could be avoided, by following a chain of small lakes. My informant had never seen those falls himself, and could, from the oral report he had heard, give but a very imperfect description of the route. Still, I determined on making another attempt to explore the whole river, knowing well, that if I succeeded in discovering the new route, there could be no further difficulty in supplying the interior. Meantime, I was gratified to learn, by letters from my friend Mr. Dease, that the expedition in which he had been engaged was crowned with success;—the long sought-after north-west passage being at length laid open to the knowledge of mankind, and a question, that at one time excited the enterprise of the merchant and the curiosity of the learned, settled beyond a doubt.
While on this subject, I cannot help expressing my surprise at the manner Mr. Dease's name is mentioned in the published narrative of the expedition, where he is represented as being employed merely as purveyor. It might have been said with equal propriety that Mr. Simpson was employed merely as astronomer. The fact is, the services of both gentlemen were equally necessary; and to the prudence, judgment, and experience of Mr. Dease, the successful issue of the enterprise may undoubtedly be ascribed, no less than to the astronomical science of Mr. Simpson.
Having finished my correspondence, I embarked for Fort Chimo, on board a brig that had been recently built for the trade of this district and that of Esquimaux Bay. Our passage afforded no adventure worthy of notice; icebergs we saw in abundance, whose dimensions astonished us, but having no desire to form a close acquaintance with them, we kept at a respectful distance; and finally entered the Ungava River, on the 24th of August, at so early an hour of the day, that we expected to reach the post ere night-fall.
We were doomed to disappointment. As we ascended the river, the breeze fell, and darkness set in upon us; yet we still pressed on. Presently, however, so dense a fog arose, that nothing could be seen a yard off. In this dilemma our safest course would have been to anchor, but unfortunately that part of the river was the most unfavourable possible for our purpose, from the extraordinary strength of the current, and the rocky nature of the bottom. Our skipper seemed quite at a loss, but accident decided. The vessel struck, altered her course a little, struck again, put about, and struck again and again. The anchor was dropped as the only chance of escaping the dangers in which we were involved. The anchor dragged a short time, and finally caught apparently in a cleft of the rocks.
Soon after the tide began to flow, and we fancied our dangers over; but the crisis was not yet come. The ebb-tide returned, rushing down with the current of the river with such overwhelming velocity, that we expected the vessel would be torn from her moorings. Two men were placed at the helm to keep her steady, but, in spite of their utmost exertions, she was dashed from side to side like a feather, while the current pitched into her till the water entered the hawse-holes. Pitching, and swinging, and dashed about in this fearful manner for some time, the anchor was at length disengaged, and dragged along the bottom with a grating noise, which, with the roaring of the rapid, and the whistling of the wind through the rigging, formed a combination of sounds that would have appalled the most resolute. The fog having cleared away, we discovered a point projecting far into the river, some two hundred yards below, towards which we were drifting broadside, and rapidly nearing. The boats were got ready, to escape, if possible, the impending catastrophe, when the vessel was suddenly brought to with a tremendous jerk, and instantly swung round to the tide. By this time, however, its strength was considerably abated, and daylight soon appearing, I sent on an Esquimaux who had come on board, with a note to the post, requesting that a pilot should be sent us with the utmost despatch.
Meantime, seeing our way clear before us, we weighed anchor, and advanced to within three miles of the establishment, when a boat was seen approaching, rowed by six stout islanders. On coming along-side, a rope was thrown to them, and made fast to the fore-stem. Four of the men had scrambled on board, when a sudden blast swelled our sails, and propelled us through the water with such force, that the fore-part of the boat was torn away, leaving one of the men floundering in the water, and the other clinging to the rope. The latter was dragged on board, severely bruised; but the former remained in the water for at least two hours, and would have perished before our eyes, had he not got hold of a couple of oars, by which he managed to keep himself afloat. We soon anchored opposite the post, and every exertion being made to expedite the departure of the vessel, we were in the course of a few days left to vegetate in quiet.
On examining the quantity of provisions I had received, I was not a little alarmed to find it scarcely sufficient for the consumption of one year, his Excellency's communication having acquainted me that it was a supply for two years! Thus we were thrown on the precarious resources of the country for life or for death; for if those resources should fail us, we must either remain and starve on the spot, or, abandoning the settlement, endeavour to escape to Esquimaux Bay and run the risk of starving by the way. Economy so ill-timed argued as little in favour of the Governor's judgment as of his humanity. Admitting our lives were of so trifling a value, the abandonment of the settlement, with all the goods and furs in it, would have subjected the Company to a very serious loss. Every precaution, however, was taken to provide against a contingency which involved such serious consequences; the men were dispersed in every direction to shift for themselves, some being supplied with guns and ammunition, others with nets, a lake of considerable extent having been lately discovered, which the natives reported to abound with fish. Early in the month of December my fishermen came in with the mortifying intelligence of the entire failure of the fishery; and soon after a messenger arrived from the hunting party to beg a supply of provisions, which my limited means, alas! compelled me to deny. Not a deer had been seen, and the partridges had become so scarce of late that they barely afforded the means of sustaining life. All I could therefore do for my poor men was to supply them with more ammunition and send them off again.
While their lot was thus wretched, mine was not enviable; one solitary meal a day was all I allowed myself and those who remained with me; and I must do them the justice to say, that they submitted to these privations without a murmur, being aware that it was only by exercising the most rigid economy that our provisions could hold out the allotted time; the arrival of the ship being an event too uncertain to be calculated upon. By stinting ourselves in this manner, we managed to eke out a miserable subsistence, without expending much of our imported provisions, until the arrival of the deer in the month of March, when we fared plentifully if not sumptuously.
ANOTHER EXPLORING EXPEDITION—MY PROMOTION—WINTER AT CHIMO—OBTAIN PERMISSION TO VISIT BRITAIN—UNGAVA ABANDONED.
1841.—On the opening of the navigation I set out on another exploring expedition. Without entering into particulars so devoid of interest, I would merely observe that, with patience and perseverance, we ultimately succeeded in making good our passage by the Hamilton, or Grand River, and found it to answer our expectations in every respect.
On arriving at Esquimaux Bay, we found the vessel from Quebec riding at anchor—a joyful sight, since it gave assurance that we should hear from friends and relatives, and receive intelligence of the events that had occurred in the world for the last twelve months. The Governor's communication acquainted me with my promotion, and sincerely congratulated me on the event. Whether I had reason or not to doubt his sincerity, let the reader judge who knows the treatment I had experienced at his hands. Fifteen years ago I was assured of being in the "direct road to preferment,"—twenty years of toil and misery have I served to obtain it.