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.
The writer's main object in first committing to writing the following Notes was to while away the many lonely and wearisome hours which are the lot of the Indian trader;—a wish to gratify his friends by the narrative of his adventures had also some share in inducing him to take up the pen.
While he might justly plead the hacknied excuse of being urged by not a few of those friends to publish these Notes, in extenuation of the folly or presumption, or whatever else it may be termed, of obtruding them on the world, in these days of "making many books;" he feels that he can rest his vindication on higher grounds. Although several works of some merit have appeared in connexion with the subject, the Hudson's Bay territory is yet, comparatively speaking, but little known; no faithful representation has yet been given of the situation of the Company's servants—the Indian traders; the degradation and misery of the many Indian tribes, or rather remnants of tribes, scattered throughout this vast territory, is in a great measure unknown; erroneous statements have gone abroad in regard to the Company's treatment of these Indians; as also in regard to the government, policy, and management of the Company's affairs;—on these points, he conceives that his plain, unvarnished tale may throw some new light.
Some of the details may seem trivial, and some of the incidents to be without much interest to the general reader; still as it was one chief design of the writer to draw a faithful picture of the Indian trader's life,—its toils, annoyances, privations, and perils, when on actual service, or on a trading or exploring expedition; its loneliness, cheerlessness, and ennui, when not on actual service; together with the shifts to which he is reduced in order to combat that ennui;—such incidents, trifling though they may appear to be, he conceives may yet convey to the reader a livelier idea of life in the Hudson's Bay Company's territories than a more ambitious or laboured description could have done. No one, indeed, who has passed his life amid the busy haunts of men, can form any just idea of the interest attached by the lonely trader to the most trifling events, such as the arrival of a stranger Indian,—the coming of a new clerk,—a scuffle among the Indians,—or a sudden change of weather. No one, unaccustomed to their "short commons," can conceive the intense, it may be said fearful, interest and excitement with which the issue of a fishing or hunting expedition is anticipated.
Should his work contribute, in any degree, to awaken the sympathy of the Christian world in behalf of the wretched and degraded Aborigines of this vast territory; should it tend in any way to expose, or to reform the abuses in the management of the Hudson's Bay Company, or to render its monopoly less injurious to the natives than hitherto it has been; the writer's labour will have been amply compensated. Interested as he still is in that Company, with a considerable stake depending on its returns, it can scarcely be supposed that he has any intention, wantonly or unnecessarily, to injure its interests.
GUELPH, CANADA WEST, 1st March, 1849.
THE FIRST VOLUME.
The Hudson's Bay Company and Territories
I enter the Hudson's Bay Company's Service—Padre Gibert
On Service—Lake of Two Mountains—Opposition—Indians—Amusements at the Posts
Portage des Chats—Tactics of our Opponents—Treachery of an Iroquois—Fierce yet ludicrous nature of the Opposition
Arrival at the Chats—Installed as Bourgeois—First Trading Excursion—Bivouac in the Woods—Indian Barbarity
Trip to Fort Coulonge—Mr. Godin—Natives
Superseded—Feelings on the Occasion—More Opposition—AE. Macdonell—Tactics—Melancholy Death of an Indian
Activity of our Opponents—Violent Conduct of an Indian—Narrow Escape—Artifice—Trip to Indian's Lodge—Stupidity of Interpreter
Expedition to the Bear's Den—Passage through the Swamp—Cunning of the Indians—A Scuffle—Its Results
Pere Duchamp—Mr. S.'s Instructions—Unsuccessful—Trading Excursion—Difficulties of the Journey—Lose our way—Provisions fail—Reach the Post—Visit to an Algonquin Chief—His abusive Treatment—Success
Success of the Iroquois Traders—Appointed to the Charge of the Chats—Canadian disputes Possession—Bivouac without a Fire—Ruse to baffle my Opponents—Roman Catholic Bigotry
Journey to Montreal—Appointment to Lac de Sable—Advantages of this Post—Its Difficulties—Governor's flattering Letter—Return from Montreal—Lost in the Woods—Sufferings—Escape
Narrowly escape Drowning—Accident to Indian Guide—Am nearly Frozen to Death—Misunderstanding between Algonquins and Iroquois—Massacre at Hannah Bay
Fall through the Ice—Dangerous Adventure at a Rapid—Opponents give in—Ordered to Lachine—Treatment on my Arrival—Manners, Habits, and Superstitions of the Indians—Ferocious Revenge of a supposed Injury—Different Methods of the Roman Catholic and Protestant Missionary—Indian Councils—Tradition of the Flood—Beaver Hunting—Language
Embark for the Interior—Mode of Travelling by Canoes—Little River—Lake Nipissing—French River—Old Station of Indian Robbers—Fort Mississaga—Indians—Light Canoe-Men—Sault Ste. Marie—Lake Superior—Canoe-men desert—Re-taken—Fort William—M. Thibaud—Lac la Pluie and River—Indians—White River—Narrow Escape—Conversation with an Indian about Baptism
Continuation of the Voyage—Run short of Provisions—Dogs Flesh—Norway House—Indian Voyageurs—Ordered to New Caledonia—Lake Winnipeg—McIntosh's Island submerged—Cumberland House—Chippewayan and Cree Indians—Portage La Loche—Scenery—Athabasca—Healthiness of the Climate
Arrival of Mr. F. from Caledonia—Scenery—Land-slip—Massacre at Fort St. John's—Rocky Mountain Portage—Rocky Mountains—Magnificent Scenery—McLeod's Lake—Reception of its Commander by the Indians
Arrival at New Caledonia—Beautiful Scenery—Indian Houses—Amusements at the Fort—Threatened Attack of Indians—Expedition against them—Beefsteaks—New Caledonian Fare—Mode of catching Salmon—Singular Death of native Interpreter—Indian Funeral Rites—Barbarous Treatment of Widows
Indian Feast—Attempt at Dramatic Representation—Religion—Ordered to Fort Alexandria—Advantages of the Situation—Sent back to Fort St. James—Solitude—Punishment of Indian Murderer—Its Consequences—Heroic Adventure of Interpreter
Appointed to the Charge of Fort George—Murder of Mr. Yale's Men—Mysterious Loss of Mr. Linton and Family—Adventures of Leather Party—Failure of Crops—Influenza
Climate of New Caledonia—Scenery—Natural Productions—Animals—Fishes—Natives—Their Manners and Customs—Duelling—Gambling—Licentiousness—Language
TWENTY-FIVE YEARS' SERVICE
HUDSON'S BAY TERRITORY.
THE HUDSON'S BAY COMPANY AND TERRITORIES.
That part of British North America known by the name of the Hudson's Bay territory extends from the eastern coast in about 60 deg. W. long. to the Russian boundary in 142 deg. W.; and from the Gulf of St. Lawrence, along the Ottawa River and the northern shores of Lakes Huron and Superior, and thence to the boundary line of the United States; extending in latitude thence to the northern limit of America; being in length about 2,600 miles, and in breadth about 1,400 miles. This extensive space may be divided into three portions, each differing most materially in aspect and surface. The first and most extensive is that which is on the east, from the Labrador coast, round Hudson's Bay, northward to the Arctic region, and westward to the Rocky Mountains. This is entirely a wooded district, affording that plentiful supply of timber which forms so large a branch of the Canadian export trade. These interminable forests are principally composed of pines of large size, but which towards the northern boundary are of a very stinted growth. Another portion is the prairie country, reaching from Canada westward to the Rocky Mountains, and intersected by the boundary line of the United States. In general, the soil is rich alluvial, which being covered with luxuriant herbage, affords pasturage for the vast herds of wild buffaloes which roam over these extensive plains. The western part is that which lies between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, including the Oregon territory, which was likely to have led to a serious misunderstanding between Great Britain and the United States.
These extensive portions are divided by the Hudson's Bay Company into four departments, and these departments are again subdivided into districts. At the head of each department and district a chief factor or chief trader generally presides, to whom all the officers within their respective jurisdictions are amenable. Those in charge of posts, whatever may be their rank, are subject to the authority of the person at the head of the district; and that person receives his instructions from the superintendent of the department. The whole affairs of the country at large are regulated by the Governor and Council, and their decisions again are referred, for final adjustment, to the Governor and Committee in London.
The Montreal department comprehends all the districts and posts along the Gulf and River St. Lawrence; also the different posts along the banks of the Ottawa and the interior country. The depot of the department is at Lachine, where all the returns are collected, and the outfits prepared.
The southern department has its depot at Moose Factory, in James's Bay; it includes the districts of Albany, Rupert's House, Temiscamingue, Lake Huron, and Lake Superior, together with several isolated posts along the shores of the Bay.
The northern department is very extensive, having for its southern boundary the line which divides the British from the American territories, sweeping east and west from Lac La Pluie, in 95 deg. W. long, and 49 deg. N. lat. to the Rocky Mountains in 115 deg. W. long.; then, with the Rocky Mountains for its western boundary, it extends northward to the Arctic Sea. The whole of this vast country is divided into the following districts: Norway House, Rainy Lake, Red River, Saskatchewan, English River, Athabasca, and McKenzie's River. The depot of this department is York Factory, in Hudson's Bay, and is considered the grand emporium; here the grand Council is held, which is formed of the Governor and such chief factors and chief traders as may be present. The duty of the latter is to sit and listen to whatever measures the Governor may have determined on, and give their assent thereto, no debating or vetoing being ever thought of; the Governor being absolute, his measures therefore more require obedience than assent. Chief traders are also permitted to sit in council as auditors, but have not the privilege of being considered members.
The Columbia department is bounded on the east by the Rocky Mountains, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean. An ideal line divides it on the south from the province of California, in lat. 41 deg. 30'; and it joins the Russian boundary in lat. 55 deg.. This, although a very extensive department, does not consist of many districts; New Caledonia is the principal, situated among the Rocky Mountains, and having several of its posts established along the banks of the Fraser River, which disembogues itself into the Gulf of Georgia in nearly 49 deg. lat. and 122 deg. W. long. The next is Colville, on the Columbia River, along with some isolated posts near the confluence of the same river. The forts, or trading posts, along the north-west coast, have each their respective commander. The shipping business is conducted by a person appointed for that purpose, who is styled, par excellence, the head of the "Naval department." The Company have a steamboat and several sailing vessels, for the purpose chiefly of trading with the natives along the coast. The primary object, however, is not so much the trade, as to keep brother Jonathan in check, (whose propensity for encroaching has of late been "pretty much" exhibited,) and to deter him from forming any establishments on the coasts; there being a just apprehension that if once a footing were obtained on the coast, an equal eagerness might be manifested for extending their locations into the interior. Strong parties of hunters are also constantly employed along the southern frontier for the purpose of destroying the fur-bearing animals in that quarter; the end in view being to secure the interior from the encroachments of foreign interlopers. The depot of this department is at Fort Vancouver, on the Columbia River.
The Hudson's Bay Company, as it at present exists, was incorporated in the winter of 1820-21, a coalition having been then formed with the North-West Company. Upon this taking place, an Act of Parliament was obtained which gave them not only the possession of the territory they had originally held by virtue of their royal charter, but also investing them with the same rights and privileges conferred by that charter in and over all the territories that had been settled by the North-West Company for a term of twenty-one years.
The Governor, Deputy-Governor, and managing Committee, are, properly speaking, the only capitalists. The stock is divided into one hundred shares; sixty of which their Honours retain for themselves; and the remaining forty are divided among the chief traders and chief factors, who manage the affairs in the Indian country. A chief factor holds two of these shares, and a chief trader one; of which they retain the full interest for one year after they retire, and half interest for the six following years. These cannot be said to be stock-holders, for they are not admitted to any share in the executive management; but according to the present system they are termed Commissioned Officers, and receive merely the proceeds of the share allotted to them. They enjoy, however, one very superior advantage,—they are not subjected to bear their share in any losses which the Company may sustain. It is generally reckoned that the value of one share is on an average about 350l. sterling a-year. By the resignation of two chief traders, one share is at the Company's disposal the year after, which is then bestowed on a clerk. When two chief factors retire, a chief trader is promoted in like manner. Promotion also take place when the shares of the retired partners fall in.
I ENTER THE HUDSON'S BAY COMPANY'S SERVICE—PADRE GIBERT.
I entered the service of the Company in the winter of 1820-21, and after passing my contract at Montreal in the month of January, I took up my residence for the remainder of the season with a French priest, in the parish of Petit le Maska, for the purpose of studying the French language. The Padre was a most affable, liberal-minded man, a warm friend of England and Englishmen, and a staunch adherent to their government, which he considered as the most perfect under the sun. The fact is, that the old gentleman, along with many others of his countrymen who had escaped from the horrors of the French Revolution, had found an asylum in our land of freedom, which they could find nowhere else; and the personal advantages that had accrued to him from that circumstance, naturally induced a favourable disposition towards his benefactors, their laws, and their institutions. Though the Padre was extremely liberal in his political opinions, his management of his worldly affairs bore the stamp of the most sordid parsimony. He worshipped the golden calf, and his adoration of the image was manifest in everything around him. He wore a cassock of cloth which had in former times been of a black colour, but was now of a dusky grey, the woollen material being so completely incorporated with dust as to give it that colour. His table was furnished with such fare as his farm produced, with the addition, on particular occasions, of a bottle of black strap. A charming nymph, of some fifty years of age or so, had the management of the household, and discharged all her duties with strict decorum and care. I have the beauties of her person in my mind's eye to this day. She was hump-backed, short-necked, and one-eyed, and squinted bewitchingly with the remaining one: she had a short leg and a long one, a high shoulder and a low. In short, the dear creature seemed to be formed, or rather deformed, by the hand of nature on purpose to fill the situation of housekeeper for a priest,—so that whatever might be his age, no scandal could possibly attach itself to him from such a housekeeper. The man-servant was directly the counterpart of the charming Marguerite; he also was far advanced in the vale of years, and was of a most irascible temper. To stir up Joseph to the grinning point was a very easy matter; and his frantic gesticulations, when thus goaded to wrath by our teasing pleasantries, (there were two other young gentlemen beside myself,) were of the most extraordinary description, and afforded infinite amusement. We never failed to amuse ourselves at Joseph's expense, when the Padre's absence permitted our doing so with impunity,—especially as a small present of tobacco, which was always kept at hand for such occasions, soon made us friends again. But it sometimes happened that such jokes were carried too far, so as to render the offering of incense quite unacceptable, when the touch of metal could alone produce the desired effect.
I remained with Father Gibert until spring, and shall take leave of him by relating an anecdote or two illustrative of his loyalty and benevolence. Some time during Madison's unprovoked war with Great Britain, an alarm came from the upper part of the parish of which Father Gibert was cure, that a party of Americans had been seen marching down the country. The Capitaine of militia, who was the cure's next door neighbour, was immediately sent for, and by their joint influence and authority a considerable number of habitans were soon assembled under arms, such as they were. The Father then shouldering his musket, and placing himself at the head of his parishioners, led them into his garden, which was enclosed by a picket fence, and bordered on the highway. Here the loyal band took their stand under cover of the fence, waiting to give Jonathan a warm reception the moment he came within reach. The supposed Americans proved to be a small detachment of British troops, and thus the affair ended.
On another occasion during the same period the Padre's loyalty and good humour were manifested, though in a different manner. While amusing himself in the garden one day, he overheard two Irish soldiers engaged in conversation to this effect:—
"You know that the ould boy asks every body afore he gives any praties, if they belong to St. Patrick; well, is it a hard matter to tell him we do, agrah?"
"Sure you'd be telling a lie, Paddy!"
"Never mind that," said Paddy, "I'll spake."
The old gentleman immediately returned to the house, and entering by a back door, was snugly seated in his arm-chair, book in hand, when the two Hibernians were admitted.
"Well, my boys, what is your business with me?"
"We would be wanting a few praties, if your Riverence could spare them."
"Aha! you are from Ireland, I perceive. Irishmen very fond of potatoes! Well, my boys, I have a few remaining, and you shall have some if you belong to St. Patrick."
"Faith, and it is all as your honour says; we are Irishmen, and we belong to St. Patrick."
The old gentleman ordered Joseph to supply them with the "blessed root," without any further parley. Then addressing the speaker in a voice of assumed choler, exclaimed:—
"You are a great raskail! does your religion teach you to tell lies? You are Protestant both of you. However, if you do not belong to St. Patrick, you belong to the King of England, and I give my potatoes for his sake. But you must never try to impose upon an old priest again, or you may not come so well off."
ON SERVICE—LAKE OF TWO MOUNTAINS—OPPOSITION—INDIANS—AMUSEMENTS AT THE POSTS.
I arrived at Montreal about the beginning of May, and soon learnt that I was appointed to the post at Lake of Two Mountains. The Montreal department was headed at that time by Mr. Thane, a man of rather eccentric character, but possessed of a heart that glowed with the best feelings of humanity. I was allowed to amuse myself a few days in town, having directions however to call at the office every day, in case my services should be required. The period of departure at length arrived. I was one evening accosted by Mr. Thane in these terms:—"I say, youngster, you have been trifling away your time long enough here; you must hold yourself ready to embark for your destination to-morrow morning at five o'clock precisely. If you delay one moment, you shall have cause to remember it." Such positive injunctions were not disregarded by me. I was of course ready at the time appointed, and after all the hurry, had the honour of breakfasting with my commander before departing; but the woful and disheartening accounts of the hardships and privations I was to suffer in the country to which I was to proceed, fairly spoiled my appetite. I was told that my only lodging was to be a tent, my only food Indian corn, when I could get it; and many other comforts were enumerated with the view of producing a certain effect, which my countenance no doubt betrayed, whilst he chuckled with the greatest delight at the success of his jokes. I took leave, and found myself that evening at the Lake of Two Mountains. On my arrival, a large building was pointed out to me as the Company's establishment, to which I soon found admittance, and was, to my great surprise, ushered into a large well furnished apartment. Tea had just been served, with a variety of substantial accompaniments, to which I felt heartily disposed to do ample justice, after my day's abstinence. This was very different entertainment from what I had been led to expect in the morning; would it had been my lot to be always so agreeably deceived!
The village of the Lake of Two Mountains is inhabited by two distinct tribes of the aborigines—viz. the Iroquois and the Algonquins; the latter are a tribe of the Sauteux nation, or Ojibbeway, and live principally by the chase. The former cultivate the soil, and engage as voyageurs, or in any other capacity that may yield them the means of subsistence. They are a very hardy industrious race; but neither the habits of civilized life, nor the influence of the Christian religion, appear to have mitigated, in any material degree, the ferocity that characterized their pagan ancestors. Although they do not pay great deference to the laws of God, they are sufficiently aware of the consequences of violating the laws of man, and comport themselves accordingly.
The Catholic seminary and church, along with the gardens of the establishment, almost divide the village into two equal parts; yet this close proximity does not appear to encourage any friendly intercourse between the two tribes. They in fact seldom pass their respective limits, and, with few exceptions, cannot converse together, the language of the one being unintelligible to the other.
The Company established a post here in the spring of 1819, and when I arrived it was in charge of Mr. Fisher, then a senior clerk. He had two other clerks under him, besides myself, a like number of attaches, two interpreters, two servants, and a horse to ride upon. With such an establishment to rule over, need it be matter of surprise that our bourgeois was in his own estimation a magnate of the first order? N'importe,—whatever might be his vanity, he possessed those qualities which constitute a first-rate Indian trader, and he required them to fill successfully his present situation. A number of petty traders were settled in the village, who, whenever the Company entered the lists against them, laid aside the feuds that subsisted among themselves, and joined to oppose their united efforts against the powerful rival that threatened to overwhelm them all. The spring fur campaign was about to open when I made my debut at the post. The natives being daily expected from the interior, all parties watched their arrival night and day. This was not a very harassing duty to us, as we relieved each other; but the situation of our superior was exceedingly irksome and annoying. The moment an Indian canoe appeared (the Indians always arrived at night), we were ordered to apprize him of it; having done so, he was immediately at the landing-place, our opponents being also there, attending to their own interests. Some of the natives were supplied by the Company, others by the petty traders; and according as it happened to be the customers of either that arrived, the servants assisted in unloading the canoes, conveying the baggage to their houses, and kindling a fire. Provisions were furnished in abundance by both parties. While these preliminary operations were being performed by the servants, the traders surrounded the principal object of their solicitude—the hunter; first one, then another, taking him aside to persuade him of the superior claims each had on his love and gratitude. After being pestered in this manner for some time, he, (the hunter,) eventually allowed himself to be led away to the residence of one of the parties, where he was treated to the best their establishment afforded; the natives, however, retaining their furs, and visiting from house to house, until satiated with the good cheer the traders had to give them, when they at length gave them up, but not always to the party to whom they were most indebted. They are generally great rogues; the sound of the dollars, which the Company possessed in abundance, often brought the furs that were due to the petty trader to the Company's stores; while some of our customers were induced by the same argument to carry their furs to our rivals.
For a period of six weeks or so, the natives continued to arrive; sometimes in brigades, sometimes in single canoes; during the whole of this period we were occupied in the manner now described, day and night. So great was the pressure of business, that we had scarcely time to partake of the necessary refreshment. When they had at length all arrived, we enjoyed our night's rest, if indeed our continually disturbed slumbers could be called rest:—what with the howling of two or three hundred dogs, the tinkling of bells with which the horses the Indians rode were ornamented, the bawling of the squaws when beaten by their drunken husbands, and the yelling of the savages themselves when in that beastly state, sleep was impossible,—the infernal sounds that continually rent the air, produced such a symphony as could be heard nowhere else out of Pandemonium. No liquors were sold to the natives at the village, but they procured as much as they required from the opposite side of the lake. Some wretches of Canadians were always ready, for a trifling consideration, to purchase it for them; thus the law prohibiting the sale of liquor to the Indians was evaded. After wallowing in intemperance for some time, they ultimately submitted to the authority of the priests, confessed their sins, received absolution, and became good Christians for the remainder of the season. If any indulged in the favourite vice—a few always did—they were confined to their quarters by their families. After attending mass on Sundays, they amused themselves playing at ball, or running foot races; and it was only on such occasions they were seen to associate with their neighbours the Iroquois. They took opposite sides in the games; small stakes were allowed, merely to create an interest in the issue of the contest. The chiefs of both tribes sat smoking their pipes together, viewing the sports in silent gravity, and acting as umpires in all cases of doubt between the parties. They, in fact, led a glorious life during the three months they remained at the village; that period was to them a continued carnival. The best fare the country afforded—the best attire that money could procure—all that sensuality, all that vanity could desire—their means permitted them to enjoy. Their lands not having been hunted on during the war, the beaver multiplied at an extraordinary rate, and now swarmed in every direction. Every individual belonging to the tribe might then have acquired an independent fortune. They arrived at the village, their canoes laden with furs; but the characteristic improvidence of their race blinded them to future consequences. Such was their wasteful extravagance, that the money obtained by the sale of their furs was dissipated ere half the summer season was over. The traders supplied them afterwards with all requisites at a moderate per centage; and when they embarked in autumn for their hunting grounds, they found themselves deeply involved in debt, a few only excepted.
In the course of this summer, some of our opponents foreseeing the probable issue of the contest they were engaged in, proposed terms of capitulation, which were in most instances readily assented to by the Company; the inventories and outstanding debts were assumed at a certain valuation. They retired from the field, some with annuities for a stipulated period, while to others a round sum of money was granted; in either case the party bound himself, under certain penalties, not to interfere in the trade for a stated period of time.
In this manner the Company got rid of all petty opponents, with the exception of two who continued the unequal contest. By the latter end of August the natives had all started for the interior, leaving behind only a few decrepit old men and women. The scene was now completely changed; a death-like stillness prevailed where but a few days before all was activity, bustle and animation. Two of my brother scribes were ordered to the interior; one to the distant Lake Nipissingue, the other to the Chats. Mr. Fisher set off to enjoy himself in Montreal, Mr. Francher, the accountant, being appointed locum-tenens during his absence. Another young Scot and myself, together with two or three non-descripts, formed the winter establishment. Having just quitted the scenes of civilized life, I found my present solitude sufficiently irksome; the natural buoyancy of youthful spirits, however, with the amusements we got up amongst us, conspired to banish all gloomy thoughts from my mind in a very short time. We—my friend Mac and myself—soon became very intimate with two or three French families who resided in the village, who were, though in an humble station, kind and courteous, and who, moreover, danced, fiddled and played whist.
 This gentleman's name was Cockburn;—he met his end a few years afterwards in a very melancholy manner, while on his way to Montreal (having retired from the service). He rolled over the canoe on a dark night, and disappeared for ever!
There was another family of a different status from the others, that of Capt. Ducharme, the king's interpreter, a kind-hearted, hospitable man, who frequently invited us to his house, where we enjoyed the charms of polished society and good cheer. The captain's residence was in the Iroquois division of the village; this circumstance led us to form another acquaintance that for some time afforded us some amusement, en passant. We discovered that a very ugly old widow, who resided in that quarter, had two very pretty young daughters, to whom we discoursed in Gaelic; they answered in Iroquois; and in a short time the best understanding imaginable was established between us, (Mac and myself, be it always understood.) No harm came of it, though; I vow there did not; the priests, it seems, thought otherwise. Our acquaintance with the girls having come to their knowledge, we were one day honoured with a visit from the Iroquois padre; the severe gravity of whose countenance convinced us at a glance of the nature of his mission. I must do him the justice to say, however, that his address to us was mild and admonitory, rather than severe or reproachful. I resolved from that moment to speak no more Gaelic to the Iroquois maidens; Mac continued his visits.
We always amused ourselves in the evenings with our French confreres, (whom I have mentioned as "nondescripts," from the circumstance of their being under no regular engagement with the Company,) playing cards or fiddling and dancing. We were on one occasion engaged in the latter amusement en pleine midi—our Deputy Bourgeois being one of the party, and all of us in the highest possible glee, when lo! in the midst of our hilarity, the hall door flew open and the great man stood sternly before us. The hand-writing on the wall could scarcely have produced a more startling effect on the convivial party of old, than did this unexpected apparition upon us. We listened to the reprimand which followed in all due humility, none more crest-fallen than our worthy Deputy. Mr. Fisher then opened his portmanteau and drew forth a letter, which he presented to my friend Mac, exclaiming in a voice of thunder, "Read that, gentlemen, and hear what Mr. Thane thinks of your conduct." We read and trembled; Mac's defiance of the authority of the priests offended them mortally; a formal complaint was consequently preferred against the innocent and the guilty, (although there was no guilt in fact, unless speaking Gaelic to the wood-nymphs could be so construed,) and drew upon us the censures this dreadful missive conveyed. The magnate remained a few days, and on his departure for town, we resumed our usual pastimes, but selected a different path to Captain Ducharme's. The Fathers had requested, when this establishment was first formed, that some of the Company's officers should attend church on Sundays for the purpose of showing a good example to the natives. I did so, on my part, very regularly until Christmas Eve, when having witnessed the ceremonies of the midnight mass, I determined on remaining at home in future. I shuddered with horror at the idolatrous rites, as they appeared to me, which were enacted on that occasion. The ceremonies commenced with the celebration of mass; then followed the introduction of the "Infant Jesus," borne by four of the choristers, attired in surplices of white linen. The image being placed by them on a sofa in front of the altar, the superior of the seminary made his debut, retiring to the railing that surrounds the altar, when he knelt, and bending low his head apparently in devout adoration, he arose, then advanced two steps towards the altar and knelt again; he knelt the third time close to the side of the image, which he devoutly embraced, then withdrew: the younger priests performed the same ceremonies; and after them every one of their congregation: yet these people protest that their religion has no connexion with idolatry, and that the representations of Protestants regarding it are false and calumnious. If we credit them, however, we must belie the evidence of our own senses; but the fact is, there are not a few Roman Catholics who speak with very little respect themselves of some of these mummeries.
PORTAGE DES CHATS—TACTICS OF OUR OPPONENTS—TREACHERY OF AN IROQUOIS—FIERCE, YET LUDICROUS NATURE OF THE OPPOSITION.
MR. Fisher returned from town in the month of March; he had learnt that our opponents intended to shift the scene of operations to the Chats, (where the greater number of the Indians pass on their way going to or returning from their hunting grounds,) and were making preparations of a very extensive nature for the spring competition. The Company were not tardy in adopting such measures as were deemed the most efficient to meet them on their own terms. We understood that they had hired two bullies for the purpose of deciding the matter par voie de fait. Mr. Fisher hired two of the same description, who were supposed to be more than a match for the opposition party. On the 28th of April, 1822, our opponents set off in two large canoes, manned by eight men in each; we followed in three canoes with twenty-four men, under the command of three leaders—namely, Captain Ducharme, who had volunteered on the occasion, Mr. Lyons, a retired trader, and myself. Nothing occurred worthy of description on our passage to the Chats.
The Ottawa is at this point interrupted by a ledge of rock, which extends across its whole breadth. In forcing a passage for itself through this barrier, it is divided into several channels, which form as many beautiful cascades as they fall into the extensive basin that receives them below. On one of the islands thus formed, the natives make a portage. Here, then, we took our station close to a cascade: our opponents commenced building a hut on one side of the path, we on the other. While this operation was in progress, basilisk looks denoted the strength of feeling that pervaded the breasts of either party, but not a word was exchanged between us. Our hut was first completed, when our champion clambered aloft, and crowed defiance; three times he crowed (aloud), but no responding voice was heard from the opposite camp. This act was altogether voluntary on the part of our man, but it did not displease us, as the result convinced us that we stood on safe ground, should any violence be attempted. Our opponents were enraged at the want of spirit evinced by their men, and determined on being revenged upon us in a manner that showed the virulence of their animosity. A number of lumber men were making up their rafts within a short distance of us at the time, who were for the most part natives of the Emerald Isle. Paddy's "knocking down for love" is proverbial. Our opponents immediately sent them word that the Hudson's Bay Company had brought up a bully from Montreal who defied "the whole of the Grand River." "By my faith, does he thin," said Pat; "let us have a look at him, any how."
On the succeeding evening (after the occurrence of the circumstance above related) we were surprised to see the number of canoes that arrived at the portage from all directions. The crew of each canoe as they landed went direct to our opponents, where they appeared to be liberally supplied with spirits. Their object was sufficiently evident, as the potent agent they had employed, in a short time, produced the desired effect. Oaths and execrations were heard amid crowing and yelling. Our Canadians all took to their heels, except our noble game-cock and two others; and now the drama opened. A respectable good looking fellow stept out from the crowd, accompanied by another man, a Canadian, and advancing to our champion, asked him "if he would not sell his feathers" (his hat being decorated with them). It is unnecessary to state the reply. An altercation ensued, and blows would undoubtedly have succeeded, had I not then interfered. I invited the stranger to my tent, and having opened my garde de vin, produced some of the good things it contained. A little conversation with my guest, proved him to be a shrewd sensible man; and when I explained the nature of our dispute with our rivals, he comprehended in an instant the object they had in view in circulating the reports which induced him and others to assemble at the portage. The consanguinity of the sons of Erin and Caledonia was next touched upon, and the point settled to our mutual satisfaction; in short, my brother Celt and I parted as good friends as half-an-hour's acquaintance and a bottle of wine could make us. At the conclusion of our interview he departed, and meeting our champion, cordially shook him by the hand; then addressing his companions, remarked, "This, my lads, is a quarrel between the traders, in which we have no right to interfere at all; for my own part, I am very much obliged to the jintlemin on both sides o' the road, for traiting me so jintaily; but Jack Hall shall not be made a tool of by anybody whatsumdever."
Jack Hall embarked with his crew, and was soon afterwards followed by the others. Both parties were thus again in their previous positions, and a little tact saved us from the fatal consequences that might have ensued, had their villainous design proved successful. The daring insult was keenly felt by us all, and accordingly one of our trio despatched a message to the only individual of the opposite party who had any pretension to the title of gentleman, soliciting the pleasure of his company to take the air next morning. The invitation was accepted. Our party kept the appointment, and remained for two hours on the ground, awaiting the arrival of their friends; but the friends allowed them the sole enjoyment of the morning air.
A few days afterwards the natives began to make their appearance, and scenes of a revolting nature were of frequent occurrence. Rum and brandy flowed in streams, and dollars were scattered about as if they had been of no greater value than pebbles on the beach. The expenses incurred by both parties were very great; but while this lavish expenditure seriously affected the resources of the petty traders, the coffers of the Company were too liberally filled to be sensibly diminished by such outlay. Nevertheless, the natives would not dispose of their furs until they reached the village.
We remained at the portage until the 7th of June, when the natives having all passed, we embarked, and arrived at the lake on the 10th, where we were shocked to learn that our Bourgeois had had a very narrow escape from the treachery of an Iroquois during our absence, the particulars of which were thus related to us. Mr. Fisher had advanced a sum to this scoundrel two years before, and seeing him pass his door the ensuing spring after the debt had been contracted, with his furs, which he carried to our opponents, he watched his return, and calling him in, demanded payment; an insolent reply was the return for his kindness, which so much exasperated him, that he kicked him out in presence of several other Indians. The insult was not forgotten. Soon after his arrival this spring, he sent for Mr. Fisher, who complied with the invitation, expecting payment of his debt. The moment he entered the house, however, he discovered that he had been inveigled. The Indian stood before him, his face painted, and a pistol in his hand, which he presented. In an instant Mr. Fisher bared his breast, and staring his enemy fiercely in the face, exclaimed, "Fire, you black dog! What! did you imagine you had sent for an old woman?"
 The term Bourgeois is used for Master throughout the Indian country.
Mr. Fisher's knowledge of the Indian character saved his life; had he betrayed the slightest symptom of fear, he was a dead man; but the undaunted attitude he assumed staggered the resolution of the savage; a new bias seemed to operate on his mind, probably through a feeling of respect for the determined courage displayed by his intended victim. He could not brace his nerves to a second effort; his hand dropped listlessly by his side; his gaze was fixed on Mr. Fisher for a moment; then dashing the pistol violently on the ground, he beckoned him to withdraw.
 At that period some of the Iroquois made good hunts, trapping beaver along the main rivers and outskirts of the Algonquin lands.
Immediately after the close of the spring trade, the most formidable of our opponents hinted that he might be induced to quit the field; a negotiation was accordingly opened with him, which soon terminated in a favourable issue, on very advantageous terms to the retiring party.
The solitary being who remained behind was thus thrown upon his own resources, and his efforts to maintain the unequal contest unaided, were so feeble and ineffectual, that the Company might be said to hold a monopoly of the fur-trade at this period; but thereafter they paid dearly for their triumph, as further sacrifices had yet to be made ere they could enjoy it in quiet. A Canadian merchant, in easy circumstances, who dwelt opposite to the village, having learned the advantageous terms obtained by the petty traders from the Company, addressed a very polite note to Mr. Fisher, stating his intention to try his fortune as a trader, but that he would have no objection to postpone the attempt for five years, provided the Company would allow him 150l. per annum, during that period. The proposal was submitted to Mr. Thane, who laconically replied, "Let him do his worst, and be...." Accordingly, St. Julien immediately commenced operations. He hired one end of an Indian house, which he fitted up as a trader's shop: Fisher hired the other end. St. Julien then removed to another: Fisher occupied the other end of that house also. St. Julien next rented a whole house: Fisher purchased a house, placed it upon rollers, and wheeled it directly in front of that of his rival, rearwards, scarcely leaving sufficient room for one person to pass between the premises. This caused great amusement to the Indians; not so to St. Julien, who had not anticipated so excessive a desire on the part of any of the Company's officers for so close an intimacy; and at the end of six weeks he took his departure without pay or pension from the Company.
In the course of this summer our Algonquins received a visit from a party of Ottawas, (this tribe occupies the hunting grounds in the vicinity of Michimmakina or Makinaw, and speaks the Sauteaux language,) which created considerable alarm in the village, as they came for the purpose of demanding satisfaction for the murder of one of their tribe, which had been perpetrated two years before by an Algonquin. The details of the atrocious deed were communicated to me as follows. The Ottawas and Algonquins, with their families, were proceeding in company to the Lake, in the spring of 1819, when being encamped in the neighbourhood of the long Sault rapid, the Algonquin sprang upon his unsuspecting companion, and cleft his skull with his tomahawk, without the least apparent provocation; then dragging the body to the water's edge, he cut it up into small pieces, and threw them in. He next despatched the woman, and mutilated her body in the same savage manner, having first committed the most horrible barbarity on her person; (the recital of which curdled my blood; and yet our Christianized (?) Algonquins laughed heartily on hearing it!) The demon in human form, with the yet reeking tomahawk raised over the heads of his wife and children, made them swear that they would never divulge the horrid deed; but they did disclose it; and it was from the wife the tale of horror was elicited. The object of the Ottawas was not revenge. Compensation to the full estimated value of the lives of a man and woman was all they demanded; and that they received to an amount that far exceeded their expectations. Had the murderer been in the village the chiefs declared they would have given him up; but they had already delivered him over to the proper authorities, and he was then in prison waiting his sentence.
It has been already mentioned, that the Company had assumed the outstanding debts of the petty traders. When the accounts were closed this autumn, the aggregate amount of liabilities due to the Company exhibited the enormous sum of seventy-two thousand dollars—not a shilling of that sum has ever been repaid.
Soon after the departure of the natives for the interior, I was notified of my appointment to the charge of the Chats post. My friend Mac also received marching orders; and after parting with him I took leave of the Lake of Two Mountains on the 20th of August.
ARRIVAL AT THE CHATS—INSTALLED AS BOURGEOIS—FIRST TRADING EXCURSION—BIVOUAC IN THE WOODS—INDIAN BARBARITY.
I ARRIVED at the Chats on the 26th of August, 1822. As we approached the establishment, the crew struck up a song which soon attracted the notice of its only inmate; a tall gaunt figure, who was observed moving toward the landing-place, where it remained stationary. With the exception of this solitary being, no sign of animation was perceptible. We landed, and found the recluse to be the gentleman whom I was to succeed. The men belonging to the post were at the time employed elsewhere; fire-arms were therefore discharged, to summon them to return. An old interpreter and two men, constituting the force at this station, soon made their appearance. Such an uncommon event as an arrival seemed to produce an exhilarating effect upon them. Immediately after my landing the charge was made over to me; and on the following day my predecessor, Mr. Macdonald, took his departure, leaving me to the fellowship of my own musings, which for a time assumed but sombre hues; but I was then young, and the hopes and aspirations of an ardent mind threw a halo around the gloomy path that lay before me, and resting upon the bright spots that glimmered in the distant background, concealed from my view the toils and miseries I had to experience in the intermediate passage.
On assuming the responsibility of this post, I found myself in a position which gratified my vanity. I was Bourgeois of the Chats; had an interpreter and two men subject to my orders; and could make such arrangements as my own inclinations dictated, without the surveillance of a superior. I was, in fact, master of my own time and of my own actions; could fiddle when I pleased, and dance when I had a mind with my own shadow; no person here dared to question my actions.
About the beginning of September the natives began to pass for the interior, and to my great surprise appeared to be in want of further supplies, although they had left the Lake amply provided with everything necessary. Some of them took advances here again to a considerable amount. I learned from them that a petty trader who had just then sprung into existence, intended to establish a couple of posts in the interior of the district—(this post being subject to the Lake of Two Mountains.) This was rather an unpleasant piece of intelligence, and quite unexpected by my superiors or myself. I despatched a messenger to head-quarters to give the alarm, and was soon joined by a reinforcement of men conducted by a junior clerk and an interpreter. Preparations were then made to follow up this new competitor the moment he appeared. He did not allow us to remain long in suspense. A few days afterwards his party was observed passing in two canoes; our people were immediately in their wake, and I remained with but one man and the old interpreter during the winter. I had only two Indian hunters to attend to; one in the immediate vicinity of the post, the other about three days' journey distant. Late in autumn I was gratified by a visit from the superintendent of the district, who expressed himself perfectly satisfied with my arrangements. As soon as the river set fast with ice, I resolved on paying a visit to my more remote customer, and assumed the snow-shoes for the first time. I set out with my only man, leaving the old interpreter sole occupier of the post. My man had visited the Indian on several occasions during the previous winter, and told me that he usually halted at a Chantier, on the way to his lodge. We arrived late in the evening at the locality in question, and finding a quantity of timber collected on the ice, concluded that the shanty must be close at hand. We accordingly followed the lumber-track until we reached the hut which had formerly afforded such comfortable accommodation to my companion. Great was our disappointment, however, to find it now tenantless, and almost buried in snow. I had made an extraordinary effort to reach the spot in the hope of procuring good quarters for the night, and was now so completely exhausted by fatigue that I could proceed no further. The night was dark, and to make our situation as cheerless as possible, it was discovered that my companion had left his "fire-works" behind—a proof of his inexperience. Under these circumstances our preparations were necessarily few. Having laid a few boughs of pine upon the snow, we wrapped ourselves up in our blankets, and lay down together. I passed the night without much rest; but my attendant—a hardy Canadian—kept the wild beasts at bay by his deep snoring, until dawn. I found myself completely benumbed with cold; a smart walk, however, soon put the blood in circulation, and ere long we entered a shanty where we experienced the usual hospitality of these generous folks. Here we borrowed a "smoking-bag," containing a steel, flint, and tinder. With the aid of these desiderata in the appointments of a voyageur, we had a comfortable encampment on the following night.
 The hut used by the lumbermen, and the root of the well-known "shanty."
The mode of constructing a winter encampment is simply this:—you measure with your eye the extent of ground you require for your purpose, then taking off your snow-shoes, use them as shovels to clear away the snow. This operation over, the finer branches of the balsam tree are laid upon the ground to a certain depth; then logs of dry wood are placed at right angles to the feet at a proper distance, and ignited by means of the "fire-works" alluded to. In such an encampment as this, after a plentiful supper of half-cooked peas and Indian corn—the inland travelling fare of the Montreal department—and a day's hard walking, one enjoys a repose to which the voluptuary reclining on his bed of down is a perfect stranger.
We reached our destination on the following day about noon, where we found but little to recompense us for our journey. Both our own people from the outpost and our opponents had already traded all the furs the Indian had to dispose of, although his supplies at the Lake of Two Mountains and at my post amounted to a sum that would have required his utmost exertions to pay. We remained that night at his lodge, and very early on the succeeding morning, started on our return. With the exception of a couple of trips I made to the inland posts, nothing disturbed the monotony of my avocations during the remaining part of the winter. Petty traders swarmed all over the country; the posts which were established in the interior to cope with them traded freely with the natives, in order to secure their furs from competitors. Thus the immense sacrifices which the Company had made to obtain a monopoly, as they imagined, yielded them no advantage whatever; and repeated defalcations on the part of the natives, induced them to curtail their advances at their principal station. The natives, however, found no difficulty in procuring their requisites in exchange for their furs, either from the posts belonging to the Company in the interior, or from the opposition; for they were, with few exceptions, of the same character as the individual already alluded to.
The Indian whom I mentioned as residing in the neighbourhood of the establishment arrived, late in autumn, from the Lake, where he could not obtain a charge of ammunition on credit. I supplied all his wants liberally, knowing him to be a good hunter, though a notorious rogue; and he set out for his hunting grounds, to all appearance well pleased.
In the course of the winter a Yankee adventurer opened a "grog shop," within a short distance of the depot, who appeared to have no objection to a beaver's skin in exchange for his commodities. My Indian debtor returned in the month of March, with a tolerable "hunt," and pitched his tent midway between the post and my Yankee neighbour. I called upon the Indian immediately for payment, which he told me I should receive on the morrow. I went accordingly at the time appointed, and was annoyed to find that he had already disposed of a part of his furs for the Yankee's whiskey; and I therefore demanded payment in a tone of voice which clearly indicated that I was in earnest. To-morrow was mentioned again; but having come with the determination of being satisfied on the spot, I seized, without further ceremony, what furs remained, and throwing them out of the wigwam to my man, who was placed there to receive them, I remained within, to bear the brunt of the Indian's resentment, should he show any, until my man had secured the prize. I was well prepared to defend myself, in case of any violence being offered. Nothing of the kind was attempted, however; and I took my leave, after sustaining a volley of abuse, which did me no harm. The Indian paid me a visit next morning, for the purpose of settling accounts, a small balance being due to him, which, at his own request, was paid in rum. I soon after received another visit, for nectar, on credit; this request I granted.
The visits, however, were repeated so often for the same purpose, that I at length found it advisable to give a denial, by proxy, not wishing to part on bad terms with him, if possible, on account of the spring hunt. I absented myself from the house, having instructed my interpreter how to act. I took my station in a small grove of pines, close by, watching for the appointed signal to apprise me of the departure of the Indian. My attention was suddenly arrested by most doleful cries at the house; and presently the voice of my interpreter was heard, calling me loudly by name. I ran at the top of my speed, and arrived just in time to save the life of a poor old woman, who had been making sugar in my neighbourhood. I found the father and two sons, both approaching manhood, in a complete state of nudity, dancing round the body of their victim (to all appearance dead), their bodies besmeared with blood, and exulting in the barbarous deed they had committed. My interpreter informed me, that as soon as they observed the old woman approaching the house, the Christian father told his sons that now was the time to take revenge for the death of their brother, whose life had been destroyed by this woman's "bad medicine." We drove the wretches away, and carried the miserable woman into the house; and so dreadfully bruised and mangled were her head and face, that not the least trace of her features could be distinguished. At the end of a month she recovered sufficiently to crawl about. Her son passed in the spring, with an excellent hunt. When I related to him the manner his mother had been treated by the Indians, and the care I had taken of her, he coolly replied that he was sure they were bad Indians. "It was very charitable of you," said he, "to have taken so much care of the old woman. Come to my wigwam next winter, and I shall trade with you, and treat you well." In the meantime every skin he had went to our opponents, although he was deeply indebted to the Company.
TRIP TO FORT COULONGE—MR. GODIN—NATIVES.
A large canoe arrived from Montreal about the latter end of June, by which I received orders to proceed to Fort Coulonge, situated about eighty miles higher up the Ottawa, to relieve the person then in charge of that post. I accordingly embarked in the same canoe, accompanied by my young friend Mr. MacDougal, who joined me last autumn, and who kindly volunteered to proceed along with me to my destination. This canoe was under the charge of people hired for the trip, and directed by the bowsman, or guide. I soon discovered that I was considered merely as a piece of live lumber on board. My companion and myself were reduced to the necessity of cooking our own victuals, or of going without them. We pitched our tent as best we could, and packed it up in the morning without the slightest offer of assistance from the crew.
No incident worthy of notice occurred until we reached the Grand Calumet Portage, the longest on the Ottawa River. The crew slept at the further end of the portage, whither the canoe and part of the cargo had been carried during the day, and we pitched our tent there also in the usual awkward manner. The weather was very fine in the evening, but soon after night-fall a tremendous storm burst upon us: our tent was blown about our ears in an instant. We endeavoured to compose ourselves to rest underneath, but found it impracticable. We then attempted to pitch it anew, but our strength and ingenuity were not sufficient for the purpose. We tried afterwards to find shelter under the canoe (the rain pouring in torrents), but the crew were already in possession, and so closely packed, that not an inch was unoccupied. Thus baffled on every hand, we passed the night completely exposed to the "pelting of the pitiless storm," learning a lesson of practical philosophy which I have not yet forgotten.
We arrived at Fort Coulonge early the next day, when a portly old gentleman, bearing a paunch that might have done credit to an Edinburgh baillie, came puffing down to the landing-place to receive us. We soon discovered that Mr. Godin was only "nominally" in charge of the establishment, for that his daughter, a stout, masculine-looking wench, full thirty summers blown, possessed what little authority was required for the management of affairs.
We arrived on Wednesday. The father proposed setting out for Montreal on Friday; the daughter objected the ill luck of the day: it was finally determined that they should embark on Thursday, however late. The necessary preparations were immediately commenced under her ladyship's superintendence, and being completed late in the evening, they embarked, leaving me perfectly alone. The contracts with the men had just expired, which I proposed to renew, but the answer from one and all was, "I shall follow my bourgeois." This was the result of the old gentleman's arrangements (having been ordered off contrary to his wishes), and which might have been anticipated by those who appointed me to the situation; but it would have been derogatory to the exalted rank of their highnesses to bestow any consideration on such trivial matters as related to the comfort or convenience of a paltry apprentice! Their neglect, however, might have been attended on this occasion with serious consequences to the Company's interests, as I had never seen any of the Indians of that quarter before, and knew very little of their mode of trading. It was a fortunate circumstance for myself that I understood the language sufficiently well to converse with the natives, otherwise my situation would have been disagreeable in the extreme. I remained alone until the latter end of July, when I was joined by an English lad, whom I induced by the promise of high wages to leave his former employers (lumbermen) and share my solitude.
The history of my predecessor being rather singular, a few words here regarding him may perhaps not be considered out of place. He commenced his career as a hired servant, or Voyageur, as they are termed in the country, and was thirty years of age before he knew a letter of the alphabet. Being a man possessed of strong natural parts, and great bodily strength withal, he soon distinguished himself as an under trader of uncommon tact,—his prowess as a pugilist also gave him a very decided advantage in the field of competition. Endowed with such qualifications, his services were duly appreciated by the traders, and he knew full well how to turn them to his own advantage. He served all parties alike; that is, he served each in turn, and cheated and deceived them all.
After the organization of the North-West Company, he entered their service; and returning to the same quarter, Temiscamingue, where he had wintered for his last employer, he passed the post unperceived, and falling in with a band of Indians, whom he himself had supplied the preceding autumn, told them he still belonged to the same party, and traded all their furs on the spot. The North-West Company gave him charge of a post, when his subtle management soon cleared the country of opposition.
The natives of Temiscamingue were in those times very treacherous, as they would be at this day, did they not dread the consequences; several men had been murdered by them, and they at length became exceedingly bold and daring in deeds of violence. One example is sufficient:—Godin happened, on one occasion, to remain at his post with only one man, who attended the nets,—fish being the staff of life in that quarter. Visiting them regularly every day to procure his own and his master's subsistence, his return was one morning delayed much beyond the usual time. Godin felt so anxious, that he determined on going to the fishery to learn the cause; and just as he had quitted the house with that intention, he met an Indian who had been for some time encamped in the vicinity, and asked him—
"I have killed a white dog this morning," was the reply.
"Indeed!" said Godin, feigning ignorance of the Indian's meaning: "Pray, to whom did he belong?"
"He was a stray dog, I believe."
Conversing with him in this strain, he threw the Indian completely off his guard, while he approached him until he was sufficiently near him for his purpose, when, raising his powerful arm, he struck the savage a blow under the ear that felled him to the ground,—he fell to rise no more. The next moment, a couple of well-disposed Indians came to inform Godin of the murder of his man, which it appeared they could not prevent. "My children," said he, with the utmost composure, "the Master of life has punished your kinsman on the spot for taking the life of a white man; he told me just now that he had killed a white dog, and had scarcely finished the sentence when he fell down dead at my feet. Feel his body, it must be still warm; examine it, and satisfy yourselves that he has suffered no violence from me, and you see that I have no weapons about me."
Godin was soon afterwards removed to Fort Coulonge, and was allowed a high salary by the North-West Company. Here he learned to read and write, and married a fair countrywoman of his own, who resided the greater part of the time in Montreal, where, to make the gentleman's establishment complete, he had the good taste to introduce his mistress. A circumstance that presents his character in its true colours made his wife acquainted with his infidelity. Writing to both his ladies at the same time, he unwittingly addressed his mistress's letter to his wife, by which she learnt, with other matters, that a present of ten prime otters had been sent to her rival. The enraged wife carried the letter to Mr. Thane, from whom, however, she met with a very different reception to what she had anticipated. After perusing the letter, he ordered her immediately out of his presence. "Begone, vile woman!" he exclaimed: "What! would you really wish to see your husband hanged?"
The Company were well aware of Godin's tricks, but winked at them on account of his valuable services. He was removed from Fort Coulonge in consequence of mismanagement, (occasioned by aberration of his mental faculties,) and was allowed by the Company to retire with a pension of 100l. per annum. The transcript of a public letter, addressed to Mr. Thane, will show his attainments in literature; and, with this I shall close my sketch of Mr. Godin:—
"Vot letre ma te livie par Guiaume dean aisi qui le butin tout a bon ord le Shauvages on ben travaie set anne et bon aparans de bon retour st. anne Dieu merci je ne jami vu tant de moustique et de maragoen com il en a st anne je pens desend st anne ver le meme tan com l'anne pase.
"Cher Mon'r, &c.
The Indians attached to this post speak the Sauteux language, and are denominated "Tetes des Boules" by the French, and "Men of the Woods" by the other Indians. Although so near to priests and ministers, they are still Pagans, but are nevertheless a quiet harmless race, and excellent hunters. The greater part of them originally belonged to Temiscamingue, and were drawn to this quarter by Mr. Godin. A considerable number of Algonquins also trade here, where they pass the greater part of their lives without visiting the Lake. The people appear to me to differ in no respect from their heathen brethren, save in the very negligent observance of certain external forms of worship, and in being more enlightened in the arts of deceiving and lying.
About the middle of August, I was gratified by the arrival of Mr. Godin's interpreter, and three men, by whom I received letters from head-quarters, informing me that my neighbours of last winter intended to establish posts in this quarter also, and that I should soon be joined by a strong reinforcement of men, to enable me to cope successfully with them. We complain of solitude in the Indian forests, yet the vicinity of such a neighbour is considered the greatest evil; and instead of cherishing the feelings enjoined in the Decalogue, one hates his neighbour as the d——l, and employs every means to get rid of him.
The natives having been all supplied, had taken their departure for their hunting-grounds by the latter end of August; I then commenced making the arrangements requisite for the coming contest.
SUPERSEDED—FEELINGS ON THE OCCASION—MORE OPPOSITION—AE. MACDONELL—TACTICS—MELANCHOLY DEATH OF AN INDIAN.
About the middle of September, I observed a north canoe paddling in for the landing-place, having a gentleman passenger on board, who immediately on landing ordered his servant to carry his baggage up to the Fort. On his entering the house, the apparent mystery was soon unfolded. Mr. Siviright handed me a letter from Mr. Thane, conveying the agreeable Intelligence of my being superseded by the bearer,—commanding me to obey him as my bourgeois, and to conduct myself in such a manner as to give Mr. S. every satisfaction. The latter injunction I felt very little inclination to comply with at the time; in fact, the slight put upon me caused my northern blood to rise to fever heat; and in this excited frame of mind I sat down to reply to the "great man's" communication, in which I gave vent to my injured feelings in very plain language. What he may have thought of the epistle, I know not, as he never deigned to reply. It was inconsiderate in me, however, to have so acted; but prudence had not yet assumed her due influence over me.
Mr. S. had been at that time twenty-four years in the service, I only three; he had therefore a superior claim to any I could advance: but why not inform me at once that my appointment to the charge was merely temporary? This double dealing manifested a distrust of me, for which no cause could possibly be assigned: that excited my resentment, and not the circumstance of being superseded.
Towards the latter end of the month of September, our opponents made their appearance in three small canoes, while I embarked in pursuit with the same number. One of my north canoes was in charge of three men, the others contained two, counting myself as a man. Having become rather expert as an amateur voyageur, I considered myself capable of undertaking the real duty now, and accordingly volunteered my services as steersman, as no additional hand could be spared, without great inconvenience to my bourgeois. A little experience convinced me, however, that my zeal exceeded my ability. My opponent was in a light canoe, and moved, about with a celerity that my utmost exertions could not cope with; for as soon as an Indian canoe appeared, he paddled off for it; I of course attempted to compete, but generally arrived just in time to find that he had already concluded his transaction with the hunters.
We reached Black River on the third day from Fort Coulonge, where it appeared my opponent's intention to remain for some time, to await the arrival of certain Indians who were expected down by that river. I determined therefore to despatch a canoe to Fort Coulonge, to acquaint Mr. S with the particulars above related; and sent back therewith such of the property as I thought could be dispensed with at the time, as it was quite evident we could not keep up with our opponent in the portages with such a quantity of baggage as we then had, and we could obtain no information that could be depended upon as to their ultimate destination—it might be at the distance of a hundred miles, or only ten.
My messengers were but two days absent; and I was not a little mortified to learn from them, that Mr. S., instead of attending to my suggestions, not only returned all the property I had sent, but nearly an equal quantity in addition. He wrote me his reasons for doing so; but I felt assured that he had no other object in view than to show me that he was the superior, I the subordinate; and I resolved from that moment, to perform no more extra duty.
After continuing a fortnight at our encampment, we again embarked, when I ordered the third man in the large canoe into my own, and tossing my paddle down stream, took my station in the middle of my canoe. A few hours' paddling brought us to an old shanty in the island of Allumette, where, to my great joy, I perceived my opponent intended to fix his winter quarters. We accordingly commenced erecting a couple of huts, a store, and dwelling-house, in close proximity to him. This being the best season of the year for the natives to hunt, it was the interest of all parties not to molest them; and we therefore employed our time in preparing suitable accommodation for the winter.
On the completion of our arrangements, I set out, about the beginning of October, on a visit to Fort Coulonge; and on the day after my arrival there we observed a north canoe paddling slowly past, and distinguished the features of every individual on board through a telescope, but could recognise no one: however, to clear up the doubt, the interpreter was sent after them in a small canoe, with instructions to make a close scrutiny. They no sooner discovered that he was in pursuit, than they ceased paddling. After a long confabulation he learned that they were proceeding to Sault St. Marie, where they intended to settle. I passed two days with my bourgeois, and returned home, where we—our opponents and ourselves—watched each other's movements, being our only occupation until the end of November, when Mr. S. paid me a visit, which proved anything but gratifying.
He (Mr. S.) had learned from some lumbermen, that the "Settlers for the Sault Ste. Marie" were an opposition party conducted by Mr. AEneas Macdonell, my predecessor at the Chats; and that he purposed to settle for the winter near Lac des Allumettes. This gentleman's engagement had been cancelled at the earnest solicitation of his father, whom death had lately deprived of another son; and who now, to requite the favour granted to him by the Company, sent this son in opposition! We had barely a sufficient number of men to perform the necessary duties of the two posts already established; we were, therefore, completely at a loss to meet this emergency. Mr. S. could spare one man only from his own post, whom he brought up to me.
I embarked early next morning with one of my own men, in search of the "settler." On reaching Lac des Allumettes on the same evening, our attention was arrested by the voices of Indians, singing on an island. We immediately pulled in for the spot, and found a large camp of Algonquins, men, women and children, all in a state of intoxication; from whom I learned, though with much difficulty, the whereabouts of Macdonell's retreat. Quitting this disgusting scene as speedily as possible, we resumed our paddles, and soon afterwards discovered the opposition post. When we landed, my quondam mess-mate advanced to receive me, and, after a cordial shake of the hand, kindly invited me to pass the night with him. I gladly accepted the offer; and was not a little concerned to perceive that his preparations for winter were already complete; a circumstance which gave him a decided advantage. Happening in the course of conversation to express my surprise at seeing him in the character of an opponent, he told me that nothing could be farther from his intention than to oppose the Company. He came to this quarter for the purpose of preparing timber for the Quebec market; in provincial phrase, "to make a shanty." But I knew well enough his designs.
I started early next morning on my return, and immediately thereafter prepared a small outfit; and re-embarked next evening with five men in two canoes, leaving the interpreter in charge of the post, with one man to assist him.
Having experienced very bad weather on our way, and consequently some delay, we did not reach our new station until late in the evening of the fourth day. I immediately sent back two of the men to the interpreter, and retained three with myself, which placed me on a par with my opponent in point of numbers. But he was now ready for active operations, while I had every thing to prepare. I resolved, however, to forego every personal comfort and convenience rather than allow him to enjoy any advantage over me. I accordingly assisted in erecting a small hut, which I intended should serve for dwelling-house for myself and men, trading-shop, store and all.
A couple of days after our arrival, Macdonell was seen walking down to the water's edge with a very cautious step, accompanied by one of his men, bearing his canoe, basket fashion, on one arm, and a large bundle on the other, from which, notwithstanding his steady pace, the jumbling sound of liquor was distinctly heard.
"Holla, Mac, where are you going with your basket?"
"Why, I am going across to Herd's shanty, to get my axes ground."
"My dear fellow, how can you think of risking yourself in such a gimcrack contrivance as that? I must absolutely send a couple of my men along with you to see no accident happens to you."
Having a parcel of goods ready for emergencies of this kind, my men started in a moment, and embarked at the same time as my neighbour. I continued with my only man completing my castle; but the earth being already hard frozen, no clay could be obtained for the purpose of plastering; the interstices between the logs were therefore caulked with moss; a large aperture being left in the roof to serve the double purpose of chimney and window. I had formerly seen houses so constructed—somewhere—but let no one dare to imagine that I allude to "my own, my native land." Stones were piled up against the logs, to protect them from the fire. The timber required for floor, door, and beds, was all prepared with the axe; our building being thus rendered habitable without even going to the extent of Lycurgus' frugal laws, for the axe was our only implement.
My opponent returned in four days, having been at an Indian camp, not far distant, where both he and our people traded a considerable quantity of furs. This was our only trip by open water. As soon as the river became ice-bound, we were again in motion.
To enter into minute details of our various movements would but prove tedious; I shall therefore present a general sketch of our mode of life at this period, and such occurrences as I may consider worthy of note.
Macdonell had chosen his situation with great judgment. The majority of the Algonquins take their start from the Grand River at this place for their hunting-grounds. Some of them not being more than a day's journey distant from us, the joyful intelligence soon spread amongst them that an opposition party had been established in their neighbourhood; they accordingly flocked about us as soon as travelling became practicable on the ice, and generally brought with them the means of ensuring a friendly reception. One party came in at this early season with all their fall hunts, which they bartered for liquors and provisions, and encamped close by, enjoying themselves, until an event occurred that alarmed them so much, (being with some reason considered by them as a punishment for the wicked life they had led,) that with the utmost precipitation they struck their camp.
I was joined early in the month of January by a party of men and a clerk, whom Mr. S. had ordered, or rather "requested," from Montreal; and having, on the day of their arrival, received an invitation from one of our Algonquin chiefs to pay him a trading visit, I started next day, leaving Mr. Lane in charge, accompanied by two men, and reached the chief's wigwam late in the evening. As soon as I was seated, he asked me if I had not met the Matawin Indians. On my replying in the negative, he informed me that they had passed his place early in the morning, loaded with furs, and that they expressed their intention of proceeding to the post before they halted. These Indians had all been supplied by myself in autumn to a large amount; so that the intelligence acted on my nerves like an electric shock. I felt much fatigued on entering the lodge, but I now sprung to my feet, as fresh for the journey as when I had commenced it; and ordering one of my men to return with me, left the other, an experienced hand, to manage affairs with the chief.
I arrived at my post about two next morning, when I found the Indians, some at our hut, some at our opponent's, all of them approaching the climax of Indian happiness, and Mr. Lane in a state of mind bordering on distraction. Neither he nor any of the men had ever seen any of these Indians before, nor did they understand a word of the language. The Indians were honest enough, however, to give him their furs in charge till my return; reserving only a small quantity to dispose of at discretion. My arrival was soon announced at my neighbour's, and brought the whole bevy about me in an instant, only one individual remaining behind. On inquiring into the cause of his absence, his companions replied that he had fallen asleep immediately after he had supped, and that they did not wish to disturb him.
A few hours afterwards I was not a little surprised to see my neighbour entering our hut hurriedly, who addressed me thus:—
"My dear Mac, it is true we are in opposition, but no enmity exists between us. A dreadful misfortune happened in my house last night.—Come and see!"
I instantly complied with his request; proceeded to his hut, and saw the Indian who was said to be asleep, with his eyes closed—for ever; a sad spectacle, for it was evident that the death of the poor wretch had been caused by intemperance; he was found in the morning lying on his face, and his body already stiff. We were both alike involved in the same awful responsibility, for the Indians drank as much at one house as the other, though his death occurred at the establishment of the other party. The Company only permit the sale of liquors to the natives when the presence of opponents renders it an indispensable article of trade, as it is by this unhallowed traffic that the petty traders realize their greatest profit. Yet this plea of necessity, however satisfactory it may appear in a certain quarter, will not, I feel assured, be accepted in our vindication by the world, nor hereafter in our justification at that tribunal where worldly considerations have no influence. Information soon reached the camp of the calamity that had happened, which promptly silenced the clamorous mirth that prevailed; and the voice of mourning succeeded—the Indians being all in good crying trim, that is, intoxicated; for I have never seen an Indian shed a tear when sober.
No more liquor was traded; the relatives of the deceased departed with the body to the Lake of Two Mountains, and the other Indians started for their hunting-grounds—thus granting us a short respite from the arduous duties in which we had been engaged. While the Indians remained about us we never enjoyed a moment's refreshing rest, our hut being crowded with them night and day. It was at times with difficulty we could prepare our victuals, or, when cooked, command sufficient time to partake of a hasty meal, in the midst of the "living mass" that environed us. All this was extremely annoying; but other comforts must be added ere this picture of the life we then led is complete. The motions of our opponents must needs be attended to, at dawn of day; each morning every path was carefully examined, to ascertain that no one had started during night: these precautions were also punctually taken by our opponents; and every stratagem that could be devised to elude each other's vigilance put in practice, it being the "interest" of each party to reach the Indians alone.
ACTIVITY OF OUR OPPONENTS—VIOLENT CONDUCT OF AN INDIAN—NARROW ESCAPE—ARTIFICE—TRIP TO INDIAN'S LODGE—STUPIDITY OF INTERPRETER.
When we discovered that our opponents had outwitted us, we would despatch messengers in pursuit; and I need scarcely add, the same means were resorted to by our neighbours, when inquisitive about our movements. We had now the advantage in point of numbers, being nearly two to one; yet it so happened that we seldom could perform a trip unattended; very frequently by a single man against two or three—still he got his share; for the system of trade in this quarter does not allow violent means being employed to obtain possession of the products of the hunt. The mode of procedure is this:—On entering the lodge of an Indian, you present him with a small keg of nectar, as a propitiatory offering; then, in suppliant tones, request payment of the debt he may owe you, which he probably defers to a future day—the day of judgment. If your opponent be present, you dare not open your lips in objection to the delay; for you may offend his dignity, and consequently lose all his furs. This you are aware of, and accordingly proceed to untie your pack, and exposing its contents to view, solicit him to give, at least, the preference in trade. Your opponent, on the other side of the fire-place, having also poured out his libation, imitates your example in every respect; and most probably he may secure the wife, while you engage the husband as customers.
A few weeks elapsed without the arrival of any hunters, and we were beginning to recover from the effects of our late fatigues, when a numerous band arrived from a considerable distance, and encamped on the same spot that had been occupied by those lately noticed, and the same riotous scenes were again enacted, although these new comers were fully aware of the misfortune that had already occurred in consequence of similar disgusting intemperance.
Among this band was a son of the principal sachem of the Algonquins, who was acknowledged heir apparent to his dad's vermin, and who assumed the airs of a man of great consequence, in virtue of his prospective dignity. The father bore a respectable character; the son was a sot. In consideration of his furs, however, I paid him some little attentions, though much against my inclination. He came one evening reeling into our hut, more than "half-seas over," having been thus far advanced on his voyage to Elysium through the insinuating influences of my opponent's "fire-water;" and seating himself on a three-legged stool, close to the fire-place, he soon began to nod; then, losing his equilibrium, ultimately fell at full length on the floor. I could not suppress a smile at sight of his copper highness's prostrate position, when springing up in a furious passion, he seized an axe, and proceeded to demolish the seat. I wrested the axe from his grasp, and reprimanded him sharply for his insolence. This exasperated him to the utmost: he swore I was in league with the stool to insult him; but that he should be revenged on us both before morning. Uttering these menaces, he set out for the camp.
It so happened that a strong party of men arrived on that evening from Fort Coulonge with supplies, and were huddled together with myself and my men, all under the same roof. The greater part of them lay down to rest; but a few still continued the vigil, indulging in the favourite luxury of smoking, and chatting about the enjoyments of "Mont-rial,"—when, all of a sudden, the dread-inspiring war-whoop echoed through our little hut; the next instant the door flew off its wooden hinges, and fell with a crash on the floor, exhibiting to view the person of the Indian, standing on the threshold, holding a double-barrelled gun in his hand, with blackened face and his eyes flashing fire.
The men had now all started to their feet, as well as myself. The moment the eyes of the savage fell upon me, in the midst of the crowd, he brought the piece to bear upon me, or at least attempted to do so; but I sprang upon him with a bound, and beat the muzzle down; instantly the discharge followed: we then struggled for the possession of the gun, which I quickly wrested from his grasp; and, applying the butt end of it "gently" to his ear, laid him sprawling at my feet.
On the discharge of the gun, I heard a voice calling out, "Mon Dieu!" and another, in a plaintive tone, exclaiming, "Ah mon garcon!" This was all I heard distinctly, when every voice joined in one cry, "Tueons le crapaud;" and presently the wretched Indian was kicked and cuffed by as many as could press round him. I called on them to desist—as well have spoken to the wind!—not a soul heeded my orders. At length one of them observed, "What occasion is there for more beating of him—the black dog is dead enough."
I looked about for the person whom I supposed to have been wounded, in vain—the whole mass was in motion. As soon as the tumult had subsided, however, I was glad to find that no one had received any serious injury; the ball had grazed the thigh of a youth (who had arrived from Montreal on a visit to his father), and lodged in a log of the building.
The uproar occasioned by the men soon brought the Indians from the camp about the hut; and perceiving the apparently lifeless body stretched on the floor, they raised a yell that was reverberated by the surrounding hills. "Revenge! revenge!" shouted every savage present. We mustered too strong, however, to permit their threats being put into execution without great hazard to themselves; which fact pressed itself so powerfully on their minds, that for the present they discreetly vented their rage in abuse, and returned to their quarters. Satisfied by the feeble beating of the Indian's pulse that the vital spark was not extinct, I would not allow his kinsmen to remove him. Towards morning, recovering the use of speech, he inquired, in a voice scarcely audible, if he "had shed the blood of a white man?" I replied in the affirmative. "Then," said he, "it would have been better had you despatched me at once, for I shall certainly be hanged."
With the view of pacifying the natives, I deemed it advisable to represent the young man's wound as very severe, and exercised my wits to give my representation the semblance of truth. I caused the young man's leg to be carefully bandaged; and, luckily, happening to have a fresh beaver in the house, the bandage was speedily besmeared with its blood, and the sound patient placed in bed, with instructions how to act his part. The Indians returned early on the following morning to inquire after their young chief, and being all perfectly sober, I descanted on the calamity of the previous night, describing my young man's case to be of such a serious nature as to induce the apprehension that death, or at least amputation of the limb, would be the consequence. In confirmation of the veracity of this statement, the afflicted leg was exposed to view, while the patient's groans, which impressed on the minds of the bystanders the conviction of the pain he endured, prevented too close a scrutiny.
"Alas!" they exclaimed, "it is all very true. Wagh! this is indeed a sad business; but the bad fire-water is to blame for it all."
My stratagem had succeeded. Most of the natives acknowledged the justice of the punishment inflicted on their young chief, who had a brother present, however, whose sullen countenance betrayed the vindictive feelings in his breast, although he maintained a profound silence.
The Fort Coulonge party started early next day, dragging their wounded companion on a sled, until they were out of sight. The relatives of the chief removed him to the camp, where he soon recovered. All the other Indians took their departure on the day following the affray. Shortly afterwards we were favoured with a visit from one whose hunting-grounds bordered on Rice Lake, a distance of 150 miles. I had advanced this Indian all the supplies he required previous to Mr. Siviright's arrival, which formed a pretty large amount. On examining the books, he animadverted upon the advance in terms of disapprobation, as being very imprudent to risk so much with an Indian. Most gratified and happy was I then to learn from the hunter that he had sufficient to liquidate the debt, and nearly as much more to trade. On making out his requisition for the latter purpose, it was found that four sleds at least would be required for the transport of all the property. To employ this number in one direction, however, would leave my neighbour at liberty to prosecute his views in another quarter without the necessary attendance. Still, I determined on risking a point, and securing at all hazards the valuable prize now offered. Obtaining a piece at the sacrifice of a pawn is considered good play.
I proceeded accordingly with the Indian, accompanied by four men, all with heavily laden sleds, with a pack of goods strapped over my shoulders weighing eighty pounds. Macdonell did not follow, as the Indian gave him no encouragement. We reached the Indian's lodge on the eleventh day from the post, when the abundant display of furs I beheld gave assurance of being amply remunerated for my trip. There were eleven packs of beaver piled upon a scaffold, besides some others, amounting to at least 600l. sterling. My hospitable customer detained me two days with him to partake of his good cheer. After settling accounts with him, together with payment of the sum he owed, seven of the eleven packs were placed in my possession, with which I started on my return, as proud as if I had been advanced to a share in the Company.
We arrived at the post after an absence of twenty-five days; and I was mortified to learn that my substitute had most stupidly bungled affairs. A number of Indians had come in during my absence who were considered our best friends, and entering our hut without noticing our opponent, threw down their bundles, thereby clearly indicating, according to the usual custom, their intention of trading with one party only. On the other hand, should they leave a bundle at the door, it shows that they intend to divide its contents between two parties. With these particulars the interpreter's experience rendered him perfectly well acquainted, but he "cau'd na be fasht."