THE LONG LABRADOR TRAIL
Author of "The Lure of the Labrador Wild," etc.
TO THE MEMORY OF MY WIFE
"A drear and desolate shore! Where no tree unfolds its leaves, And never the spring wind weaves Green grass for the hunter's tread; A land forsaken and dead, Where the ghostly icebergs go And come with the ebb and flow..."
Whittier's "The Rock-tomb of Bradore."
In the summer of 1903 when Leonidas Hubbard, Jr., went to Labrador to explore a section of the unknown interior it was my privilege to accompany him as his companion and friend. The world has heard of the disastrous ending of our little expedition, and how Hubbard, fighting bravely and heroically to the last, finally succumbed to starvation.
Before his death I gave him my promise that should I survive I would write and publish the story of the journey. In "The Lure of The Labrador Wild" that pledge was kept to the best of my ability.
While Hubbard and I were struggling inland over those desolate wastes, where life was always uncertain, we entered into a compact that in case one of us fall the other would carry to completion the exploratory work that he had planned and begun. Providence willed that it should become my duty to fulfil this compact, and the following pages are a record of how it was done.
Not I, but Hubbard, planned the journey of which this book tells, and from him I received the inspiration and with him the training and experience that enabled me to succeed. It was his spirit that led me on over the wearisome trails, and through the rushing rapids, and to him and to his memory belong the credit and the honor of success.
D. W. February, 1907.
CHAPTER I THE VOICE OF THE WILDERNESS II ON THE THRESHOLD OF THE UNKNOWN III THE LAST OF CIVILIZATION IV ON THE OLD INDIAN TRAIL V WE GO ASTRAY VI LAKE NIPISHISH IS REACHED VII SCOUTING FOR THE TRAIL VIII SEAL LAKE AT LAST IX WE LOSE THE TRAIL X "WE SEE MICHIKAMAU" XI THE PARTING AT MICHIKAMAU XII OVER THE NORTHERN DIVIDE XIII DISASTER IN THE RAPIDS XIV TIDE WATER AND THE POST XV OFF WITH THE ESKIMOS XVI CAUGHT BY THE ARCTIC ICE XVII TO WHALE RIVER AND FORT CHIMO XVIII THE INDIANS OF THE NORTH XIX THE ESKIMOS OF LABRADOR XX THE SLEDGE JOURNEY BEGUN XXI CROSSING THE BARRENS XXII ON THE ATLANTIC ICE XXIII BACK TO NORTHWEST RIVER XXIV THE END OF THE LONG TRAIL APPENDIX
The Perils of the Rapids (in color, from a painting by Oliver Kemp) Ice Encountered Off the Labrador Coast "The Time For Action Had Come" "Camp Was Moved to the First Small Lake" "We Found a Long-disused Log Cache of the Indians" Below Lake Nipishish Through Ponds and Marshes Northward Toward Otter Lake "We Shall Call the River Babewendigash" "Pete, Standing by the Prostrate Caribou, Was Grinning From Ear to Ear" "A Network of Lakes and the Country as Level as a Table" Michikamau "Writing Letters to the Home Folks" "Our Lonely Perilous Journey Toward the Dismal Wastes ...Was Begun" Abandoned Indian Camp On the Shore of Lake Michikamats "One of the Wigwams Was a Large One and Oblong in Shape" "At Last ...We Saw the Post" "A Miserable Little Log Shack" A Group of Eskimo Women A Labrador Type Eskimo Children A Snow Igloo The Silence of the North (in color, from a painting by Frederic C. Stokes) "Nachvak Post of the Hudson's Bay Company". "The Hills Grew Higher and Higher" "We Turned Into a Pass Leading to the Northward" The Moravian Mission at Ramah "Plodding Southward Over the Endless Snow" "Nain, the Moravian Headquarters in Labrador" "The Indians Were Here" Geological Specimens Maps.
THE VOICE OF THE WILDERNESS
"It's always the way, Wallace! When a fellow starts on the long trail, he's never willing to quit. It'll be the same with you if you go with me to Labrador. When you come home, you'll hear the voice of the wilderness calling you to return, and it will lure you back again."
It seems but yesterday that Hubbard uttered those prophetic words as he and I lay before our blazing camp fire in the snow-covered Shawangunk Mountains on that November night in the year 1901, and planned that fateful trip into the unexplored Labrador wilderness which was to cost my dear friend his life, and both of us indescribable sufferings and hardships. And how true a prophecy it was! You who have smelled the camp fire smoke; who have drunk in the pure forest air, laden with the smell of the fir tree; who have dipped your paddle into untamed waters, or climbed mountains, with the knowledge that none but the red man has been there before you; or have, perchance, had to fight the wilds and nature for your very existence; you of the wilderness brotherhood can understand how the fever of exploration gets into one's blood and draws one back again to the forests and the barrens in spite of resolutions to "go no more."
It was more than this, however, that lured me back to Labrador. There was the vision of dear old Hubbard as I so often saw him during our struggle through that rugged northland wilderness, wasted in form and ragged in dress, but always hopeful and eager, his undying spirit and indomitable will focused in his words to me, and I can still see him as he looked when he said them:
"The work must be done, Wallace, and if one of us falls before it is completed the other must finish it."
I went back to Labrador to do the work he had undertaken, but which he was not permitted to accomplish. His exhortation appealed to me as a command from my leader—a call to duty.
Hubbard had planned to penetrate the Labrador peninsula from Groswater Bay, following the old northern trail of the Mountaineer Indians from Northwest River Post of the Hudson's Bay Company, situated on Groswater Bay, one hundred and forty miles inland from the eastern coast, to Lake Michikamau, thence through the lake and northward over the divide, where he hoped to locate the headwaters of the George River.
It was his intention to pass down this river until he reached the hunting camps of the Nenenot or Nascaupee Indians, there witness the annual migration of the caribou to the eastern seacoast, which tradition said took place about the middle or latter part of September, and to be present at the "killing," when the Indians, it was reported, secured their winter's supply of provisions by spearing the caribou while the herds were swimming the river. The caribou hunt over, he was to have returned across country to the St. Lawrence or retrace his steps to Northwest River Post, whichever might seem advisable. Should the season, however, be too far advanced to permit of a safe return, he was to have proceeded down the river to its mouth, at Ungava Bay, and return to civilization in winter with dogs.
The country through which we were to have traveled was to be mapped so far as possible, and observations made of the geological formation and of the flora, and as many specimens collected as possible.
This, then, Hubbard's plan, was the plan which I adopted and which I set out to accomplish, when, in March, 1905, I finally decided to return to Labrador.
It was advisable to reach Hamilton Inlet with the opening of navigation and make an early start into the country, for every possible day of the brief summer would be needed for our purpose.
It was, as I fully realized, no small undertaking. Many hundreds of miles of unknown country must be traversed, and over mountains and through marshes for long distances our canoes and outfit would have to be transported upon the backs of the men comprising my party, as pack animals cannot be used in Labrador.
Through immense stretches of country there would be no sustenance for them, and, in addition to this, the character of the country itself forbids their use.
The personnel of the expedition required much thought. I might with one canoe and one or two professional Indian packers travel more rapidly than with men unused to exploration work, but in that case scientific research would have to be slighted. I therefore decided to sacrifice speed to thoroughness and to take with me men who, even though they might not be physically able to carry the large packs of the professional voyageur, would in other respects lend valuable assistance to the work in hand.
My projected return to Labrador was no sooner announced than numerous applications came to me from young men anxious to join the expedition. After careful investigation, I finally selected as my companions George M. Richards, of Columbia University, as geologist and to aid me in the topographical work, Clifford H. Easton, who had been a student in the School of Forestry at Biltmore, North Carolina (both residents of New York), and Leigh Stanton, of Halifax, Nova Scotia, a veteran of the Boer War, whom I had met at the lumber camps in Groswater Bay, Labrador, in the winter of 1903-1904, when he was installing the electric light plant in the large lumber mill there.
It was desirable to have at least one Indian in the party as woodsman, hunter and general camp servant. For this position my friend, Frank H. Keefer, of Port Arthur, Ontario, recommended to me, and at my request engaged, Peter Stevens, a full-blood Ojibway Indian, of Grand Marais, Minnesota. "Pete" arrived in New York under the wing of the railway conductor during the last week in May.
In the meantime I had devoted myself to the selection and purchase of our instruments and general outfit. Everything must be purchased in advance—from canoes to repair kit—as my former experience in Labrador had taught me. It may be of interest to mention the most important items of outfit and the food supply with which we were provided: Two canvas-covered canoes, one nineteen and one eighteen feet in length; one seven by nine "A" tent, made of waterproof "balloon" silk; one tarpaulin, seven by nine feet; folding tent stove and pipe; two tracking lines; three small axes; cooking outfit, con- sisting of two frying pans, one mixing pan and three aluminum kettles; an aluminum plate, cup and spoon for each man; one .33 caliber high- power Winchester rifle and two 44-40 Winchester carbines (only one of these carbines was taken with us from New York, and this was intended as a reserve gun in case the party should separate and return by different routes. The other was one used by Stanton when previously in Labrador, and taken by him in addition to the regular outfit). One double barrel 12-gauge shotgun; two ten-inch barrel single shot .22 caliber pistols for partridges and small game; ammunition; tumplines; three fishing rods and tackle, including trolling outfits; one three and one-half inch gill net; repair kit, including necessary material for patching canoes, clothing, etc.; matches, and a medicine kit.
The following instruments were also carried: Three minimum registering thermometers; one aneroid barometer which was tested and set for me by the United States Weather Bureau; one clinometer; one pocket transit; three compasses; one pedometer; one taffrail log; one pair binoculars; three No. 3A folding pocket Kodaks, sixty rolls of films, each roll sealed in a tin can and waterproofed, and six "Vanguard" watches mounted in dust-proof cases.
Each man was provided with a sheath knife and a waterproof match box, and his personal kit, containing a pair of blankets and clothing, was carried in a waterproof canvas bag.
I may say here in reference to these waterproof bags and the "balloon" silk tent that they were of the same manufacture as those used on the Hubbard expedition and for their purpose as nearly perfect as it is possible to make them. The tent weighed but nine pounds, was windproof, and, like the bags, absolutely waterproof, and the, material strong and firm.
Our provision supply consisted of 298 pounds of pork; 300 pounds of flour; 45 pounds of corn meal; 40 pounds of lentils; 28 pounds of rice; 25 pounds of erbswurst; 10 pounds of prunes; a few packages of dried vegetables; some beef bouillon tablets; 6 pounds of baking powder; 16 pounds of tea; 6 pounds of coffee; 15 pounds of sugar; 14 pounds of salt; a small amount of saccharin and crystallose, and 150 pounds of pemmican.
Everything likely to be injured by water was packed in waterproof canvas bags.
My friend Dr. Frederick A. Cook, of the Arctic Club, selected my medical kit, and instructed me in the use of its simple remedies. It was also upon the recommendation of Dr. Cook and others of my Arctic Club friends that I purchased the pemmican, which was designed as an emergency ration, and it is worth noting that one pound of pemmican, as our experience demonstrated, was equal to two or even three pounds of any other food that we carried. Its ingredients are ground dried beef, tallow, sugar, raisins and currants.
We had planned to go north from St. Johns on the Labrador mail boat Virginia Lake, which, as I had been informed by the Reid- Newfoundland Company, was expected to sail from St. Johns on her first trip on or about June tenth. This made it necessary for us to leave New York on the Red Cross Line steamer Rosalind sailing from Brooklyn on May thirtieth; and when, at eleven-thirty that Tuesday morning, the Rosalind cast loose from her wharf, we and our outfit were aboard, and our journey of eleven long months was begun.
As I waved farewell to our friends ashore I recalled that other day two years before, when Hubbard and I had stood on the Silvia's deck, and I said to myself:
"Well, this, too, is Hubbard's trip. His spirit is with me. It was he, not I, who planned this Labrador work, and if I succeed it will be because of him and his influence."
I was glad to be away. With every throb of the engine my heart grew lighter. I was not thinking of the perils I was to face with my new companions in that land where Hubbard and I had suffered so much. The young men with me were filled with enthusiasm at the prospect of adventure in the silent and mysterious country for which they were bound.
ON THE THRESHOLD OF THE UNKNOWN
"When shall we reach Rigolet, Captain?"
"Before daylight, I hopes, sir, if the fog holds off, but there's a mist settling, and if it gets too thick, we may have to come to."
Crowded with an unusual cargo of humanity, fishermen going to their summer work on "The Labrador" with their accompanying tackle and household goods, meeting with many vexatious delays in discharging the men and goods at the numerous ports of call, and impeded by fog and wind, the mail boat Virginia Lake had been much longer than is her wont on her trip "down north."
It was now June twenty-first. Six days before (June fifteenth), when we boarded the ship at St. Johns we had been informed that the steamer Harlow, with a cargo for the lumber mills at Kenemish, in Groswater Bay, was to leave Halifax that very afternoon. She could save us a long and disagreeable trip in an open boat, ninety miles up Groswater Bay, and I bad hoped that we might reach Rigolet in time to secure a passage for myself and party from that point. But the Harlow had no ports of call to make, and it was predicted that her passage from Halifax to Rigolet would be made in four days.
I had no hope now of reaching Rigolet before her, or of finding her there, and, resigned to my fate, I left the captain on the bridge and went below to my stateroom to rest until daylight. Some time in the night I was aroused by some one saying:
"We're at Rigolet, sir, and there's a ship at anchor close by."
Whether I had been asleep or not, I was fully awake now, and found that the captain had come to tell me of our arrival. The fog had held off and we had done much better than the captain's prediction. Hurrying into my clothes, I went on deck, from which, through the slight haze that hung over the water, I could discern the lights of a ship, and beyond, dimly visible, the old familiar line of Post buildings showing against the dark spruce-covered hills behind, where the great silent forest begins.
All was quiet save for the thud, thud, thud of the oarlocks of a small boat approaching our ship and the dismal howl of a solitary "husky" dog somewhere ashore. The captain had preceded me on deck, and in answer to my inquiries as to her identity said he did not know whether the stranger at anchor was the Harlow or not, but he thought it was.
We had to wait but a moment, however, for the information. The small boat was already alongside, and John Groves, a Goose Bay trader and one of my friends of two years before, clambered aboard and had me by the hand.
"I'm glad to see you, sir; and how is you?"
Assuring him that I was quite well, I asked the name of the other ship.
"The Harlow, sir, an' she's goin' to Kenemish with daylight."
"Well, I must get aboard of her then, and try to get a passage up. Is your flat free, John, to take me aboard of her?"
"Yes, sir. Step right in, sir. But I thinks you'd better go ashore, for the Harlow's purser's ashore. If you can't get passage on the Harlow my schooner's here doing nothin' while I goes to St. Johns for goods, and I'll have my men run you up to Nor'west River."
I thanked him and lost no time in going ashore in his boat, where I found Mr. James Fraser, the factor, and received a hearty welcome. In Mr. Fraser's office I found also the purser of the Harlow, and I quickly arranged with him for a passage to Kenemish, which is ninety miles up the inlet, and just across Groswater Bay (twelve miles) from Northwest River Post. The Harlow was to sail at daylight and I at once returned to the mail boat, called the boys and, with the help of the Virginia's crew and one of their small boats, we were transferred, bag and baggage, to the Harlow.
Owing to customs complications the Harlow was later than expected in leaving Rigolet, and it was evening before she dropped anchor at Kenemish. I went ashore in the ship's boat and visited again the lumber camp "cook house" where Dr. Hardy and I lay ill throng those weary winter weeks, and where poor Hardy died. Hardy was the young lumber company doctor who treated my frozen feet in the winter of 1903-1904. Here I met Fred Blake, a Northwest River trapper. Fred had his flat, and I engaged him to take a part of our luggage to Northwest River. Then I returned to the ship to send the boys ahead with the canoes and some of our baggage, while I waited behind to follow with Fred and the rest of the kit in his flat a half hour later.
Fred and I were hardly a mile from the ship when a heavy thunderstorm broke upon us, and we were soon drenching wet—the baptism of our expedition. This rain was followed by a dense fog and early darkness. On and on we rowed, and I was berating myself for permitting the men to go on so far ahead of us with the canoes, for they did not know the way and the fog had completely shut out the lights of the Post buildings, which otherwise would have been visible across the bay for a considerable distance.
Suddenly through the fog and darkness, from shoreward, came a "Hello! Hello!" We answered, and heading our boat toward the sound of continued "Hellos," found the men, with the canoes unloaded and hauled ashore, preparing to make a night camp. I joined them and, launching and reloading the canoes again, with Richards and Easton in one canoe and Pete and I in the other, we followed Fred and Stanton, who preceded us in the rowboat, keeping our canoes religiously within earshot of Fred's thumping oarlocks. Finally the fog lifted, and not far away we caught a glimmer of lights at the French Post. All was dark at the Hudson Bay Post across the river when at last our canoes touched the sandy beach and we sprang ashore.
What a flood of remembrances came to me as I stepped again upon the old familiar ground! How vividly I remembered that June day when Hubbard and I had first set foot on this very ground and Mackenzie had greeted us so cordially! And also that other day in November when, ragged and starved, I came here to tell of Hubbard, lying dead in the dark forest beyond! The same dogs that I had known then came running to meet us now, the faithful fellows with which I began that sad funeral journey homeward over the ice. I called some of them by name "Kumalik," "Bo'sun," "Captain," "Tinker"—and they pushed their great heads against my legs and, I believe, recognized me.
It was nearly two o'clock in the morning. We went immediately to the Post house and roused out Mr. Stuart Cotter, the agent (Mackenzie is no longer there), and received from him a royal welcome. He called his Post servant and instructed him to bring in our things, and while we changed our dripping clothes for dry ones, his housekeeper prepared a light supper. It was five o'clock in the morning when I retired.
In the previous autumn I had written Duncan McLean, one of the four men who came to my rescue on the Susan River, that should I ever come to Labrador again and be in need of a man I would like to engage him. Cotter told me that Duncan had just come from his trapping path and was at the Post kitchen, so when we had finished breakfast, at eight o'clock that morning, I saw Duncan and, as he was quite willing to go with us, I arranged with him to accompany us a short distance into the country to help us pack over the first portage and to bring back letters.
He expressed a wish to visit his father at Kenemish before starting into the country, but promised to be back the next evening ready for the start on Monday morning, the twenty-sixth, and I consented. I knew hard work was before us, and as I wished all hands to be well rested and fresh at the outset, I felt that a couple of days' idleness would do us no harm.
Some five hundred yards east of Mr. Cotter's house is an old, abandoned mission chapel, and behind it an Indian burying ground. The cleared space of level ground between the house and chapel was, for a century or more, the camping ground of the Mountaineer Indians who come to the Post each spring to barter or sell their furs. In the olden time there were nearly a hundred families of them, whose hunting ground was that section of country between Hamilton Inlet and the Upper George River.
These people now, for the most part, hunt south of the inlet and trade at the St. Lawrence Posts. The chapel was erected about 1872, but ten years ago the Jesuit missionary was withdrawn, and since then the building has fallen into decay and ruin, and the crosses that marked the graves in the old burying grounds have been broken down by the heavy winter snows. It was this withdrawal of the missionary that turned the Indians to the southward, where priests are more easily found. The Mountaineer Indian, unlike the Nascaupee, is very religious, and must, at least once a year, meet his father confessor. The camping ground since the abandonment of the mission, has lain lonely and deserted, save for three or four families who, occasionally in the summer season, come back again to pitch their tents where their forefathers camped and held their annual feasts in the old days.
Competition between the trading companies at this point has raised the price of furs to such an extent that the few families of Indians that trade at this Post are well-to-do and very independent. There were two tents of them here when we arrived—five men and several women and children. I found two of my old friends there—John and William Ahsini. They expressed pleasure in meeting me again, and a lively interest in our trip. With Mr. Cotter acting as interpreter, John made for me a map of the old Indian trail from Grand Lake to Seal Lake, and William a map to Lake Michikamau and over the height of land to the George River, indicating the portages and principal intervening lakes as they remembered them.
Seal Lake is a large lake expansion of the Nascaupee River, which river, it should be explained, is the outlet of Lake Michikamau and discharges its waters into Grand Lake and through Grand Lake into Groswater Bay. Lake Michikamau, next to Lake Mistasinni, is the larg- est lake in the Labrador peninsula, and approximately from eighty to ninety miles in length. Neither John nor William had been to Lake Michikamau by this route since they were young lads, but they told us that the Indians, when traveling very light without their families, used to make the journey in twenty-three days.
During my previous stay in Labrador one Indian told me it could be done in ten days, while another said that Indians traveling very fast would require about thirty days. It is difficult to base calculations upon information of this kind. But I was sure that, with our com- paratively heavy outfit, and the fact that we would have to find the trail for ourselves, we should require at least twice the time of the Indians, who know every foot of the way as we know our familiar city streets at home.
They expressed their belief that the old trail could be easily found, and assured us that each portage, as we asked about it in detail, was a "miam potagan" (good portage), but at the same time expressed their doubts as to our ability to cross the country safely.
In fact, it has always been the Indians' boast, and I have heard it many times, that no white man could go from Groswater Bay to Ungava alive without Indians to help him through. "Pete" was a Lake Superior Indian and had never run a rapid in his life. He was to spend the night with Tom Blake and his family in their snug little log cabin, and be ready for an early start up Grand Lake on the morrow. It was Tom that headed the little party sent by me up the Susan Valley to bring to the Post Hubbard's body in March, 1904; and it was through his perseverance, loyalty and hard work at the time that I finally succeeded in recovering the body. Tom's daughter, Lillie, was Mackenzie's little housekeeper, who showed me so many kindnesses then. The whole family, in fact, were very good to me during those trying days, and I count them among my true and loyal friends.
We had supper with Cotter, who sang some Hudson's Bay songs, Richards sang a jolly college song or two, Stanton a "classic," and then all who could sing joined in "Auld Lang Syne."
My thoughts were of that other day, when Hubbard, so full of hope, had begun this same journey-of the sunshine and fleecy clouds and beckoning fir tops, and I wondered what was in store for us now.
THE LAST OF CIVILIZATION
The time for action had come. Our canoes were loaded near the wharf, we said good-by to Cotter and a group of native trapper friends, and as we took our places in the canoes and dipped our paddles into the waters that were to carry us northward the Post flag was run up on the flagpole as a salute and farewell, and we were away. We soon rounded the point, and Cotter and the trappers and the Post were lost to view. Duncan was to follow later in the evening in his rowboat with some of our outfit which we left in his charge.
Silently we paddled through the "little lake." The clouds hung somber and dull with threatening rain, and a gentle breeze wafted to us now and again a bit of fragrance from the spruce-covered hills above us. Almost before I realized it we were at the rapid. Away to the westward stretched Grand Lake, deep and dark and still, with the rugged outline of Cape Corbeau in the distance.
Tom Blake and his family, one and all, came out to give us the whole- souled, hospitable welcome of "The Labrador." Even Atikamish, the little Indian dog that Mackenzie used to have, but which he had given to Tom when he left Northwest River, was on hand to tell me in his dog language that he remembered me and was delighted to see me back. Here we would stay for the night—the last night for months that we were to sleep in a habitation of civilized man.
The house was a very comfortable little log dwelling containing a small kitchen, a larger living-room which also served as a sleeping- room, and an attic which was the boys' bedroom. The house was comfortably furnished, everything clean to perfection, and the atmos- phere of love and home that dwelt here was long remembered by us while we huddled in many a dreary camp during the weeks that followed.
Duncan did not come that night, and it was not until ten o'clock the next morning (June twenty-seventh) that he appeared. Then we made ready for the start. Tom and his young son Henry announced their intention of accompanying us a short distance up Grand Lake in their small sailboat. Mrs. Blake gave us enough bread and buns, which she had baked especially for us, to last two or three days, and she gave us also a few fresh eggs, saying, "'Twill be a long time before you has eggs again."
At half-past ten o'clock our canoes were afloat, farewell was said, and we were beyond the last fringe of civilization.
The morning was depressing and the sky was overcast with low-hanging, heavy clouds, but almost with our start, as if to give us courage for our work and fire our blood, the leaden curtain was drawn aside and the deep blue dome of heaven rose above us. The sun shone warm and bright, and the smell of the fresh damp forest, the incense of the wilderness gods, was carried to us by a puff of wind from the south which enabled Duncan to hoist his sails. The rest of us bent to our paddles, and all were eager to plunge into the unknown and solve the mystery of what lay beyond the horizon.
Our nineteen-foot canoe was manned by Pete in the bow, Stanton in the center and Easton in the stern, while I had the bow and Richards the stern of the eighteen-foot canoe. We paddled along the north shore of the lake, close to land. Stanton, with an eye for fresh meat, espied a porcupine near the water's edge and stopped to kill it, thus gaining the honor of having bagged the first game of the trip. At twelve o'clock we halted for luncheon, in almost the same spot where Hubbard and I had lunched when going up Grand Lake two years before. While Pete cooked bacon and eggs and made tea, Stanton and Richards dressed the porcupine for supper.
After luncheon we cut diagonally across the lake to the southern shore, passed Cape Corbeau River and landed near the base of Cape Corbeau bluff, that the elevation might be taken and geological specimens secured. After making our observations we turned again toward the northern shore, where more specimens were collected. Here Tom and Henry Blake said goodby to us and turned homeward.
During the afternoon Stanton and I each killed a porcupine, making three in all for the day—a good beginning in the matter of game.
At sunset we landed at Watty's Brook, a small stream flowing into Grand Lake from the north, and some twenty miles above the rapid. Our progress during the day had been slow, as the wind had died away and we had, several times, to wait for Duncan to overtake us in his slower rowboat.
While the rest of us "made camp" Duncan cut wood for a rousing fire, as the evening was cool, and Pete put a porcupine to boil for supper. We were a hungry crowd when we sat down to eat. I had told the boys how good porcupine was, how it resembled lamb and what a treat we were to have. But all porcupines are not alike, and this one was not within my reckoning. Tough! He was certainly "the oldest inhabitant," and after vain efforts to chew the leathery meat, we turned in disgust to bread and coffee, and Easton, at least, lost faith forever in my judgment of toothsome game, and formed a particular prejudice against porcupines which he never overcame. Pete assured us, however, that, "This porcupine, he must boil long. I boil him again to-night and boil him again to-morrow morning. Then he very good for breakfast. Porcupine fine. Old one must be cooked long."
So Pete, after supper, put the porcupine on to cook some more, promising that we should find it nice and tender for breakfast.
As I sat that night by the low-burning embers of our first camp fire I forgot my new companions. Through the gathering night mists I could just discern the dim outlines of the opposite shore of Grand Lake. It was over there, just west of that high spectral bluff, that Hubbard and I, on a wet July night, had pitched our first camp of the other trip. In fancy I was back again in that camp and Hubbard was talking to me and telling me of the "bully story" of the mystic land of won- ders that lay "behind the ranges" he would have to take back to the world.
"We're going to traverse a section no white man has ever seen," he exclaimed, "and we'll add something to the world's knowledge of geography at least, and that's worth while. No matter how little a man may add to the fund of human knowledge it's worth the doing, for it's by little bits that we've learned to know so much of our old world. There's some hard work before us, though, up there in those hills, and some hardships to meet."
Ah, if we had only known!
Some one said it was time to "turn in," and I was brought suddenly to a sense of the present, but a feeling of sadness possessed me when I took my place in the crowded tent, and I lay awake long, thinking of those other days.
Clear and crisp was the morning of June twenty-eighth. The atmosphere was bracing and delightful, the azure of the sky above us shaded to the most delicate tints of blue at the horizon, and, here and there, bits of clouds, like bunches of cotton, flecked the sky. The sun broke grandly over the rugged hills, and the lake, like molten silver, lay before us.
A fringe of ice had formed during the night along the shore. We broke it and bathed our hands and faces in the cool water, then sat down in a circle near our camp fire to renew our attack upon the porcupine, which had been sending out a most delicious odor from the kettle where Pete had it cooking. But alas for our expectations! Our teeth would make no impression upon it, and Easton remarked that "the rubber trust ought to hunt porcupines, for they are a lot tougher than rubber and just as pliable."
"I don't know why," said Pete sadly. "I boil him long time."
That day we continued our course along the northern shore of the lake until we reached the deep bay which Hubbard and I had failed to enter and explore on the other trip, and which failure had resulted so tragically. This bay is some five miles from the westerly end of Grand Lake, and is really the mouth of the Nascaupee and Crooked Rivers which flow into the upper end of it. There was little or no wind and we had to go slowly to permit Duncan, in his rowboat, to keep pace with us. Darkness was not far off when we reached Duncan's tilt (a small log hut), three miles up the Nascaupee River, where we stopped for the night.
This is the tilt in which Allen Goudy and Duncan lived at the time they came to my rescue in 1903, and where I spent three days getting strength for my trip down Grand Lake to the Post. It is Duncan's sup- ply base in the winter months when he hunts along the Nascaupee River, one hundred and twenty miles inland to Seal Lake. On this hunting "path" Duncan has two hundred and fifty marten and forty fox traps, and, in the spring, a few bear traps besides.
The country has been burned here. Just below Duncan's tilt is a spruce-covered island, but the mainland has a stunted new growth of spruce, with a few white birch, covering the wreck of the primeval forest that was flame swept thirty odd years ago. Over some considerable areas no new growth to speak of has appeared, and the charred remains of the dead trees stand stark and gray, or lie about in confusion upon the ground, giving the country a particularly dreary and desolate appearance.
The morning of June twenty-ninth was overcast and threatened rain, but toward evening the sky cleared.
Progress was slow, for the current in the river here was very strong, and paddling or rowing against it was not easy. We had to stop several times and wait for Duncan to overtake us with his boat. Once he halted to look at a trap where he told us he had caught six black bears. It was nearly sunset when we reached the mouth of the Red River, nineteen miles above Grand Lake, where it flows into the Nascaupee from the west. This is a wide, shallow stream whose red- brown waters were quite in contrast to the clear waters of the Nas- caupee.
Opposite the mouth of the Red River, and on the eastern shore of the Nascaupee, is the point where the old Indian trail was said to begin, and on a knoll some fifty feet above the river we saw the wigwam poles of an old Indian camp, and a solitary grave with a rough fence around it. Here we landed and awaited Duncan, who had stopped at another of his trapping tilts three or four hundred yards below. When he joined us a little later, in answer to my inquiry as to whether this was the beginning of the old trail, he answered, "'Tis where they says the Indians came out, and some of the Indians has told me so. I supposes it's the place, sir."
"But have you never hunted here yourself?" I asked.
"No, sir, I've never been in here at all. I travels right past up the Nascaupee. All I knows about it, sir, is what they tells me. I always follows the Nascaupee, sir."
Above us rose a high, steep hill covered for two-thirds of the way from its base with a thick growth of underbrush, but quite barren on top save for a few bunches of spruce brush.
The old trail, unused for eight or ten years, headed toward the hill and was quite easily traced for some fifty yards from the old camp. Then it disappeared completely in a dense undergrowth of willows, alders and spruce.
While Pete made preparation for our supper and Duncan unloaded his boat and hauled it up preparatory to leaving it until his return from the interior, the rest of us tried to follow the trail through the brush. But beyond where the thick undergrowth began there was nothing at all that, to us, resembled a trail. Finally, I instructed Pete to go with Richards and see what he could do while the rest of us made camp. Pete started ahead, forging his way through the thick growth. In ten minutes I heard him shout from the hillside, "He here—I find him," and saw Pete hurrying up the steep incline.
When Richards and Pete returned an hour later we had camp pitched and supper cooking. They reported the trail, as far as they had gone, very rough and hard to find. For some distance it would have to be cut out with an ax, and nowhere was it bigger than a rabbit run. Duncan rather favored going as far, as Seal Lake by the trail that he knew and which followed the Nascaupee. This trail he believed to be much easier than the long unused Indian trail, which was undoubtedly in many places entirely obscured and in any case extremely difficult to follow. I dismissed his suggestion, however, with little consideration. My, object was to trace the old Indian trail and explore as much of the country as possible, and not to hide myself in an enclosed river valley. Therefore, I decided that next day we should scout ahead to the first water to which the trail led and cut out the trail where necessary. The work I knew would be hard, but we were expecting to do hard work. We were not on a summer picnic.
A rabbit which Stanton had shot and a spruce grouse that fell before Pete's pistol, together with what remained of our porcupine, hot coffee, and Mrs. Blake's good bread, made a supper that we ate with zest while we talked over the prospects of the trail. Supper fin- ished, Pete carefully washed his dishes, then carefully washed his dishcloth, which latter he hung upon a bough near the fire to dry. His cleanliness about his cooking was a revelation to me. I had never before seen a camp man or guide so neat in this respect.
The real work of the trip was now to begin, the hard portaging, the trail finding and trail making, and we were to break the seal of a land that had, through the ages, held its secret from all the world, excepting the red man. This is what we were thinking of when we gathered around our camp fire that evening, and filled and lighted our pipes and puffed silently while we watched the newborn stars of evening come into being one by one until the arch of heaven was aglow with the splendor of a Labrador night. And when we at length went to our bed of spruce boughs it was to dream of strange scenes and new worlds that we were to conquer.
ON THE OLD INDIAN TRAIL
Next morning we scouted ahead and found that the trail led to a small lake some five and a half miles beyond our camp. For a mile or so the brush was pretty thick and the trail was difficult to follow, but beyond that it was comparatively well defined though exceedingly steep, the hill rising to an elevation of one thousand and fifty feet above the Nascaupee River in the first two miles. We had fifteen hundred pounds of outfit to carry upon our backs, and I realized that at first we should have to trail slowly and make several loads of it, for, with the exception of Pete, none of the men was in training. The work was totally different from anything to which they had been accustomed, and as I did not wish to break their spirits or their ardor, I instructed them to carry only such packs as they could walk under with perfect ease until they should become hardened to the work.
The weather had been cool and bracing, but as if to add to our difficulties the sun now boiled down, and the black flies—"the devil's angels" some one called them, came in thousands to feast upon the newcomers and make life miserable for us all. Duncan was as badly treated by them as any of us, although he belonged to the country, and I overheard him swearing at a lively gait soon after the little beasts began their attacks.
"Why, Duncan," said I, "I didn't know you swore."
"I does, sir, sometimes—when things makes me," he replied.
"But it doesn't help matters any to swear, does it?"
"No, sir, but" (swatting his face) "damn the flies—it's easin' to the feelin's to swear sometimes."
On several occasions after this I heard Duncan "easin' his feelin's" in long and astounding bursts of profane eloquence, but he did try to moderate his language when I was within earshot. Once I asked him:
"Where in the world did you learn to swear like that, Duncan?"
"At the lumber camps, sir," he replied.
In the year I had spent in Labrador I had never before heard a planter or native of Groswater Bay swear. But this explained it. The lumbermen from "civilization" were educating them.
At one o'clock on July first, half our outfit was portaged to the summit of the hill and we ate our dinner there in the broiling sun, for we were above the trees, which ended some distance below us. It was fearfully hot—a dead, suffocating heat—with not a breath of wind to relieve the stifling atmosphere, and some one asked what the temperature was.
"Eighty-seven in the shade, but no shade," Richards remarked as he threw down his pack and consulted the thermometer where I had placed it under a low bush. "I'll swear it's a hundred and fifty in the sun."
During dinner Pete pointed to the river far below us, saying, "Look! Indian canoe." I could not make it out without my binoculars, but with their aid discerned a canoe on the river, containing a solitary paddler. None of us, excepting Pete, could see the canoe without the glasses, at which he was very proud and remarked: "No findin' glass need me. See far, me. See long way off."
On other occasions, afterward, I had reason to marvel at Pete's clearness of vision.
It was John Ahsini in the canoe, as we discovered later when he joined us and helped Stanton up the hill with his last pack to our night camp on the summit. I invited John to eat supper with us and he accepted the invitation. He told us he was hunting "moshku" (bear) and was camped at the mouth of the Red River. He assured us that we would find no more hills like this one we were on, and, pointing to the northward, said, "Miam potagan" (good portage) and that we would find plenty "atuk" (caribou), "moshku" and "mashumekush" (trout). After supper I gave John some "stemmo," and he disappeared down the trail to join his wife in their wigwam below.
We were all of us completely exhausted that night. Stanton was too tired to eat, and lay down upon the bare rocks to sleep. Pete stretched our tent wigwam fashion on some old Indian tepee poles, and, without troubling ourselves to break brush for a bed, we all soon joined Stanton in a dreamless slumber upon his rocky couch.
The night, like the day, was very warm, and when I aroused Pete at sunrise the next morning (July second) to get breakfast the mosquitoes were about our heads in clouds.
A magnificent panorama lay before us. Opposite, across the valley of the Nascaupee, a great hill held its snow-tipped head high in the heavens. Some four miles farther up to the northwest, the river itself, where it was choked with blocks of ice, made its appearance and threaded its way down to the southeast until it was finally lost in the spruce-covered valley. Beyond, bits of Grand Lake, like silver settings in the black surrounding forest, sparkled in the light of the rising sun. Away to the westward could be traced the rushing waters of the Red River making their course down through the sandy ridges that enclose its valley. To the northward lay a great undulating wilderness, the wilderness that we were to traverse. It was Sunday morning, and the holy stillness of the day engulfed our world.
When Pete had the fire going and the kettle singing I roused the boys and told them we would make this, our first Sunday in the bush, an easy one, and simply move our camp forward to a more hospitable and sheltered spot by a little brook a mile up the trail, and then be ready for the "tug of war" on Monday.
In accordance with this plan, after eating our breakfast we each carried a light pack to our new camping ground, and there pitched our tent by a tiny brook that trickled down through the rocks. While Stanton cooked dinner, Pete brought forward a second pack. After we had eaten, Richards suggested to Pete that they take the fish net ahead and set it in the little lake which was still some two and a half miles farther on the trail. They had just returned when a terrific thunderstorm broke upon us, and every moment we expected the tent to be carried away by the gale that accompanied the downpour of rain. It was then that Richards remembered that he had left his blankets to dry upon the tepee poles at the last camp. The rain ceased about five o'clock, and Duncan volunteered to return with Richards and help him recover his blankets, which they found far from dry.
Mosquitoes, it seemed to me, were never so numerous or vicious as after this thunderstorm. We had head nets that were a protection from them generally, but when we removed the nets to eat, the attacks of the insects were simply insufferable, so we had our supper in the tent. After our meal was finished and Pete had washed the dishes, I read aloud a chapter from the Bible—a Sunday custom that was maintained throughout the trip—and Stanton sang some hymns. Then we prevailed upon him to entertain us with other songs. He had an excellent tenor voice and a repertoire ranging from "The Holy City" to "My Brother Bob," and these and some of the old Scotch ballads, which he sang well, were favorites that he was often afterward called upon to render as we gathered around our evening camp fire, smoking our pipes and drinking in the tonic fragrance of the great solemn forest around us after a day of hard portaging. These impromptu concerts, story telling, and reading aloud from two or three "vest pocket" classics that I carried, furnished our entertainment when we were not too tired to be amused.
The rain cleared the atmosphere, and Monday was cool and delightful, and, with the exception of two or three showers, a perfect day. Camp was moved and our entire outfit portaged to the first small lake. Our net, which Pete and Richards had set the day before, yielded us nothing, but with my rod I caught enough trout for a sumptuous supper.
The following morning (July fourth) Pete and I, who arose at half-past four, had just finished preparing breakfast of fried pork, flapjacks and coffee, and I had gone to the tent to call the others, when Pete came rushing after me in great excitement, exclaiming, "Caribou! Rifle quick!" He grabbed one of the 44's and rushed away and soon we heard bang-bang-bang seven times from up the lake shore. It was not long before Pete returned with a very humble bearing and crestfallen countenance, and without a word leaned the rifle against a tree and resumed his culinary operations.
"Well, Pete," said I, "how many caribou did you kill?"
"No caribou. Miss him," he replied.
"But I heard seven shots. How did you miss so many times?" I asked.
"Miss him," answered Pete. "I see caribou over there, close to water, run fast, try get lee side so he don't smell me. Water in way. Go very careful, make no noise, but he smell me. He hold his head up like this. He sniff, then he start. He go through trees very quick. See him, me, just little when he runs through trees. Shoot seven times. Hit him once, not much. He runs off. No good follow. Not hurt much, maybe goes very far."
"You had caribou fever, Pete," suggested Richards.
"Yes," said Easton, "caribou fever, sure thing."
"I don't believe you'd have hit him if he hadn't winded you," Stanton remarked. "The trouble with you, Pete, is you can't shoot."
"No caribou fever, me," rejoined Pete, with righteous indignation at such a suggestion. "Kill plenty moose, kill red deer; never have moose fever, never have deer fever." Then turning to me he asked, "You want caribou, Mr. Wallace?"
"Yes," I answered, "I wish we could get some fresh meat, but we can wait a few days. We have enough to eat, and I don't want to take time to hunt now."
"Plenty signs. I get caribou any day you want him. Tell me when you want him, I kill him," Pete answered me, ignoring the criticisms of the others as to his marksmanship and hunting prowess. All that day and all the next the men let no opportunity pass to guy Pete about his lost caribou, and on the whole he took the banter very good-naturedly, but once confided to me that "if those boys get up early, maybe they see caribou too and try how much they can do."
After breakfast Pete and I paddled to the other end of the little lake to pick up the trail while the others broke camp. In a little while he located it, a well-defined path, and we walked across it half a mile to another and considerably larger lake in which was a small, round, moundlike, spruce-covered island so characteristic of the Labrador lakes.
On our way back to the first lake Pete called my attention to a fresh caribou track in the hard earth. It was scarcely distinguishable, and I had to look very closely to make it out. Then he showed me other signs that I could make nothing of at all—a freshly turned pebble or broken twig. These, he said, were fresh deer signs. A caribou had passed toward the larger lake that very morning.
"If you want him, I get him," said Pete. I could see he felt rather deeply his failure of the morning and that he was anxious to redeem himself. I wanted to give him the opportunity to do so, especially as the young men, unused to deprivations, were beginning to crave fresh meat as a relief from the salt pork. At the same time, however, I felt that the fish we were pretty certain to get from this time on would do very well for the present, and I did not care to take time to hunt until we were a little deeper into the country. Therefore I told him, "No, we will wait a day or two."
Pete, as I soon discovered, had an insatiable passion for hunting, and could never let anything in the way of game pass him without qualms of regret. Sometimes, where a caribou trail ran off plain and clear in the moss, it was hard to keep from running after it. Nothing ever escaped his ear or eye. He had the trained senses and instincts of the Indian hunter. When I first saw him in New York he looked so youthful and evidently had so little confidence in himself, answering my question as to whether he could do this or that with an aggravating "I don't know," that I felt a keen sense of disappointment in him. But with every stage of our journey he had developed, and now was in his element. He was quite a different individual from the green Indian youth whom I had first seen walking timidly beside the railway conductor at the Grand Central Station in New York.
The portage between the lakes was an easy one and, as I have said, well defined, and we reached the farther shore of the second lake early in the afternoon. Here we found an old Indian camping ground covering several acres. It had evidently been at one time a general rendezvous of the Indians hunting in this section, as was indicated by the large number of wigwams that had been pitched here. That was a long while ago, however, for the old poles were so decayed that they fell into pieces when we attempted to pick them up.
There was no sign of a trail leading from the old camp ground, and I sent Pete and Richards to circle the bush and endeavor to locate one that I knew was somewhere about, while I fished and Stanton and Duncan prepared an early supper. A little later the two men returned, unsuccessful in their quest. They had seen two or three trails, any of which might be our trail. Of course but one of them could be the right one.
This report was both perplexing and annoying, for I did not wish to follow for several days a wrong route and then discover the error when much valuable time had been lost.
I therefore decided that we must be sure of our position before proceeding, and early the following morning dispatched Richards and Pete on a scouting expedition to a high hill some distance to the northeast that they might, from that view-point, note the general contour of the land and the location of any visible chain of lakes leading to the northwest through which the Indian trail might pass, and then endeavor to pick up the trail from one of these lakes, noting old camping grounds and other signs. As a precaution, in case they were detained over night each carried some tea and some erbswurst, a rifle, a cup at his belt and a compass. When Pete took the rifle he held it up meaningly and said, "Fresh meat to-night. Caribou," and I could see that he was planning to make a hunt of it.
When they were gone, I took Easton with me and climbed another hill nearer camp, that I might get a panoramic view of the valley in which we were camped. From this vantage ground I could see, stretching off to the northward, a chain of three or four small lakes which, I concluded, though there was other water visible, undoubtedly marked our course. Far to the northwest was a group of rugged, barren, snow- capped mountains which were, perhaps, the "white hills," behind which the Indians had told us lay Seal Lake. At our feet, sparkling in the sunlight, spread the lake upon whose shores our tent, a little white dot amongst the green trees, was pitched. A bit of smoke curled up from our camp fire, where I knew Stanton and Duncan were baking "squaw bread."
We returned to camp to await the arrival and report of Richards and Pete, and occupied the afternoon in catching trout which, though more plentiful than in the first lake, were very small.
Toward evening, when a stiff breeze blew in from the lake and cleared the black flies and mosquitoes away. Easton took a canoe out, stripped, and sprang into the water, while I undressed on shore and was in the midst of a most refreshing bath when, suddenly, the wind died away and our tormentors came upon us in clouds. It was a scramble to get into our clothes again, but before I succeeded in hiding my nakedness from them, I was pretty severely wounded.
It was scarcely six o'clock when Richards and Pete walked into camp and proudly threw down some venison. Pete had kept his promise. On the lookout at every step for game, he had espied an old stag, and, together, he and Richards had stalked it, and it had received bullets from both their rifles. I shall not say to which hunter belonged the honor of killing the game. They were both very proud of it.
But best of all, they had found, to a certainty, the trail leading to one of the chain of little lakes which Easton and I had seen, and these lakes, they reported, took a course directly toward a larger lake, which they had glimpsed. I decided that this must be the lake of which the Indians at Northwest River had told us—Lake Nipishish (Little Water). This was very gratifying intelligence, as Nipishish was said to be nearly half way to Seal Lake, from where we had begun our portage on the Nascaupee.
What a supper we had that night of fresh venison, and new "squaw bread," hot from the pan!
In the morning we portaged our outfit two miles, and removed our camp to the second one of the series of lakes which Easton and I had seen from the hill, and the fourth lake after leaving the Nascaupee River. The morning was fearfully hot, and we floundered through marshes with heavy packs, bathed in perspiration, and fairly breathing flies and mosquitoes. Not a breath of air stirred, and the humidity and heat were awful. Stanton and Duncan remained to pitch the tent and bring up some of our stuff that had been left at the second lake, while Richards, Easton, Pete and I trudged three miles over the hills for the caribou meat which had been cached at the place where the animal was killed, Richards and Pete having brought with them only enough for two or three meals.
The country here was rough and broken, with many great bowlders scattered over the hilltops. When we reached the cache we were ravenously hungry, and built a fire and had a very satisfying luncheon of broiled venison steak and tea. We bad barely finished our meal when heavy black clouds overcast the sky, and the wind and rain broke upon us in the fury of a hurricane. With the coming of the storm the temperature dropped fully forty degrees in half as many minutes, and in our dripping wet garments we were soon chilled and miserable. We hastened to cut the venison up and put it into packs, and with each a load of it, started homeward. On the way I stopped with Pete to climb a peak that I might have a view of the surrounding country and see the large lake to the northward which he and Richards had reported the evening before. The atmosphere was sufficiently clear by this time for me to see it, and I was satisfied that it was undoubtedly Lake Nipishish, as no other large lake had been mentioned by the Indians.
We hastened down the mountain and made our way through rain-soaked bushes and trees that showered us with their load of water at every step, and when at last we reached camp and I threw down my pack, I was too weary to change my wet garments for dry ones, and was glad to lie down, drenched as I was, to sleep until supper was ready.
None of our venison must be wasted. All that we could not use within the next day or two must be "jerked," that is, dried, to keep it from spoiling. To accomplish this we erected poles, like the poles of a wigwam, and suspended the meat from them, cut in thin strips, and in the center, between the poles, made a small, smoky fire to keep the greenbottle flies away, that they might not "blow" the venison, as well as to aid nature in the drying process.
All day on July seventh the rain poured down, a cold, northwest wind blew, and no progress was made in drying our meat. There was nothing to do but wait in the tent for the storm to clear.
When Pete went out to cook dinner I told him to make a little corn meal porridge and let it go at that, but what a surprise he had for us when, a little later, dripping wet and hands full of kettles, he pushed his way into the tent! A steaming venison potpie, broiled venison steaks, hot fried bread dough, stewed prunes for dessert and a kettle of hot tea! All experienced campers in the north woods are familiar with the fried bread dough. It is dough mixed as you would mix it for squaw bread, but not quite so stiff, pulled out to the size of your frying pan, very thin, and fried in swimming pork grease. In taste it resembles doughnuts. Hubbard used to call it "French toast." Our young men had never eaten it before, and Richards, taking one of the cakes, asked Pete:
"What do you call this?"
"I don't know," answered Pete.
"Well," said Richards, with a mouthful of it, "I call it darn good."
"That's what we call him then," retorted Pete, "darn good."
And so the cakes were christened "darn goods," and always afterward we referred to them by that name.
The forest fire which I have mentioned as having swept this country to the shores of Grand Lake some thirty-odd years ago, had been particularly destructive in this portion of the valley where we were now encamped. The stark dead spruce trees, naked skeletons of the old forest, stood all about, and that evening, when I stepped outside for a look at the sky and weather, I was impressed with the dreariness of the scene. The wind blew in gusts, driving the rain in sheets over the face of the hills and through the spectral trees, finally dashing it in bucketfuls against our tent.
The next forenoon, however, the sky cleared, and in the afternoon Richards and I went ahead in one of the canoes to hunt the trail. We followed the north shore of the lake to its end, then portaged twenty yards across a narrow neck into another lake, and keeping near the north shore of this lake also, continued until we came upon a creek of considerable size running out of it and taking a southeasterly course. Where the creek left the lake there was an old Indian fishing camp. It was out of the question that our trail should follow the valley of this creek, for it led directly away from our goal. We, therefore, returned and explored a portion of the north shore of the lake, which was very bare, bowlder strewn, and devoid of vegetation for the most part—even moss.
Once we came upon a snow bank in a hollow, and cooled ourselves by eating some of the snow. Our observations made it quite certain that the trail left the northern side of the second lake through a bowlder- strewn pass over the hills, though there were no visible signs of it, and we climbed one of the hills in the hope of seeing lakes beyond. There were none in sight. It was too late to continue our search that day and we reluctantly returned to camp. Our failure was rather discouraging because it meant a further loss of time, and I had hoped that our route, until we reached Nipishish at least, would lie straight and well defined before us.
Sunday was comfortably cool, with a good stiff breeze to drive away the flies. I dispatched Richards, with Pete and Easton to accompany him, to follow up our work of the evening before, and look into the pass through the hills, while I remained behind with Stanton and Duncan and kept the fire going under our venison.
I Had expected that Duncan, with his lifelong experience as a native trapper and hunter in the Labrador interior, would be of great assistance to us in locating the trail; but to my disappointment I discovered soon after our start that he was far from good even in following a trail when it was found, though he never got lost and could always find his way back, in a straight line, to any given point.
The boys returned toward evening and reported that beyond the hills, through the pass, lay a good-sized lake, and that some signs of a trail were found leading to it. This was what I had hoped for.
Our meat was now sufficiently dried to pack, and, anxious to be on the move again, I directed that on the morrow we should break camp and cross the hills to the lakes beyond.
WE GO ASTRAY
At half-past four on Monday morning I called the men, and while Pete was preparing breakfast the rest of us broke camp and made ready for a prompt start. All were anxious to see behind the range of bowlder- covered hills and to reach Lake Nipishish, which we felt could not now be far away. As soon as our meal was finished the larger canoe was loaded and started on ahead, while Richards, Duncan and I remained behind to load and follow in the other.
With the rising sun the day had become excessively warm, and there was not a breath of wind to cool the stifling atmosphere. The trail was ill-defined and rough, winding through bare glacial bowlders that were thick-strewn on the ridges; and the difficulty of following it, together with the heat, made the work seem doubly hard, as we trudged with heavy packs to the shores of a little lake which nestled in a notch between the bills a mile and a half away. Once a fox ran before us and took refuge in its den under a large rock, but save the always present cloud of black flies, no other sign of life was visible on the treeless hills. Finally at midday, after three wearisome journeys back and forth, bathed in perspiration and dripping fly dope and pork grease, which we had rubbed on our faces pretty freely as a protection from the winged pests, we deposited our last load upon the shores of the lake, and thankfully stopped to rest and cook our dinner.
We were still eating when we heard the first rumblings of distant thunder and felt the first breath of wind from a bank of black clouds in the western sky, and had scarcely started forward again when the heavens opened upon us with a deluge.
The brunt of the storm soon passed, but a steady rain continued as we paddled through the lake and portaged across a short neck of land into a larger lake, down which we paddled to a small round island near its lower end. Here, drenched to the bone and thoroughly tired, we made camp, and in the shelter of the tent ate a savory stew composed of duck, grouse, venison and fat pork that Pete served in the most appetizing camp style.
I was astounded by the amount of squaw bread and "darn goods" that the young men of my party made away with, and began to fear not only for the flour supply, but also for the health of the men. One day when I saw one of my party eat three thick loaves of squaw bread in addition to a fair quantity of meat, I felt that it was time to limit the flour part of the ration. I expressed my fears to Pete, and advised that he bake less bread, and make the men eat more of the other food.
"Bread very good for Indian. Not good when white an eat so much. Good way fix him. Use not so much baking powder, me. Make him heavy," suggested Pete.
"No, Pete, use enough baking powder to make the bread good, and I'll speak to the men. Then if they don't eat less bread of their own accord, we'll have to limit them to a ration."
I decided to try this plan, and that evening in our camp on the island I told them that a ration of bread would soon have to be resorted to. They looked very solemn about it, for the bare possibility of a limited ration, something that they had never had to submit to, appeared like a hardship to them.
On Tuesday morning when we awoke the rain was still falling steadily. During the forenoon the storm abated somewhat and we broke camp and transferred our goods to the mainland, where the trail left the lake near a good-sized brook. Our portage led us over small bills and through marshes a mile and a half to another lake. While Pete remained at our new camp to prepare supper and Easton stayed with him, the rest of us brought forward the last load. Richards and I with a canoe and packs attempted to run down the brook, which emptied into the lake near our camp; but we soon found the stream too rocky, and were forced to cut our way through a dense growth of willows and carry the canoe and packs to camp on our backs.
The rain had ceased early in the afternoon, and the evening was delightfully cool, so that the warmth of a big camp fire was most grateful and comforting. Our day's march had carried us into a well- wooded country, and the spectral dry sticks of the old burnt forest were behind us. The clouds hung low and threatening, and in the twilight beyond the glow of our leaping fire made the still waters of the lake, with its encircling wilderness of fir trees, seem very dark and somber. The genial warmth of the fire was so in contrast to the chilly darkness of the tent that we sat long around it and talked of our travels and prospects and the lake and the wilderness before us that no white man had ever before seen, while the brook near by tumbling over its rocky bed roared a constant complaint at our intrusion into this land of solitude.
The following morning was cool and fine, but showers developed during the day. Our venison, improderly dried, was molding, and much of it we found, upon unpacking, to be maggoty. After breakfast I instructed the others to cut out the wormy parts as far as possible and hang the good meat over the fire for further drying, while with Easton I explored a portion of the lake shore in search of the trail leading out. We returned for a late dinner, and then while Easton, Richards and I caught trout, I dispatched Pete and Stanton to continue the search beyond the point where Easton and I had left off. It was near evening when they came back with the information that they had found the trail, very difficult to follow, leading to a river, some two miles and a half beyond our camp. This was undoubtedly the Crooked River, which empties into Grand Lake close to the Nascaupee, and which the Indians had told us had its rise in Lake Nipishish.
The evening was very warm, and mosquitoes were so thick in the tent that we almost breathed them. Stanton, after much turning and fidgeting, finally took his blanket out of doors, where he said it was cooler and he could sleep with his head covered to protect him; but in an hour he was back, and with his blanket wet with dew took his usual place beside me.
Below the point where the trail enters the Crooked River it is said by the Indians to be exceedingly rough and entirely impassable. We portaged into it the next morning, paddled a short distance up the stream, which is here some two hundred yards in width and rather shallow, then poled through a short rapid and tracked through two others, wading almost to our waists in some places. We now came to a widening of the river where it spread out into a small lake. Near the upper end of this expansion was an island upon which we found a long- disused log cache of the Indians. A little distance above the island what appeared to be two rivers flowed into the expansion. Richards, Duncan and I explored up the right-hand branch until we struck a rapid. Upon our return to the point where the two streams came together we found that the other canoe, against my positive instructions not to proceed at uncertain points until I had decided upon the proper route to take, had gone up the branch on the left, tracked through a rapid and disappeared.
There were no signs of Indians on either of these branches so far as we could discover, and I was well satisfied that somewhere on the north bank of the expansion, probably not far from the island and old cache which we had passed, was the trail. But evening was coming on and rain was threatening, so there was nothing to do but follow the other canoe, which had gone blindly ahead, until we should overtake it, as it contained all the cooking utensils and our tent. This fail- ure of the men to obey instructions took us a considerable distance out of our way and cost us several days' time, as we discovered later.
We tracked through some rapids and finally overhauled the others at a place where the river branched again. It was after seven o'clock, a drizzling rain was falling, and here we pitched camp on the east side of the river just opposite the junction of the two branches.
On the west fork and directly across from our camp was a rough rapid, and while supper was cooking I paddled over with Richards to try for fish. We made our casts, and I quickly landed a twenty-inch ouananiche and Richards hooked a big trout that, after much play, was brought ashore. It measured twenty-two and a half inches from tip to tip and eleven and a half inches around the shoulders. I had landed a couple more large trout, when Richards enthusiastically announced that he had a big fellow hooked. He played the fish for half an hour before he brought it to the edge of the rock, so completely exhausted that it could scarcely move a fin. We had no landing net and he attempted to lift it out by the line, when snap went the hook and the fish was free! I made a dash, caught it in my hands and triumphantly brought it ashore. It proved to be an ouananiche that measured twenty-seven and one-half inches in length by eleven and one-quarter inches in girth.
In our excitement we had forgotten all about supper and did not even know that it was raining; but we now saw Pete on the further shore gesticulating wildly and pointing at his open mouth, in pantomime suggestion that the meal was waiting.
"Well, that is fishing!" remarked Richards. "I never landed a fish as big as that before."
"Yes," I answered; "we're getting near the headwaters of the river now, where the big fish are always found."
"I never expected any such sport as that. It's worth the hard work just for this hour's fishing."
"You'll get plenty more of it before we're through the country. There are some big fellows under that rapid. The Indians told us we should find salmon in this section too, but we're ahead of the salmon, I think. They're hardly due for a month yet."
"Let's show the fellows the trout, first. They're big enough to make 'em open their eyes. Then we'll spring the ouananiche on 'cm and they'll faint. It'll, be enough to make Easton want to come and try a cast too."
So when we pushed through the dripping bushes to the tent we presented only the few big trout, which did indeed create a sensation. Then Richards brought forward his ouananiche, and it produced the desired effect. After supper Pete and Easton must try their hand at the fish, and they succeeded in catching five trout averaging, we estimated, from two to three pounds each. Richards, however, still held the record as to big fish, both trout and ouananiche, and the others vowed they would take it from him if they had to fish nights to do it.
En route up the river, in the afternoon, Pete had shot a muskrat, and I asked him that night what he was going to do with it.
"I don't know," he answered. "Muskrat no good now."
"Well, never kill any animal while you are with me that you cannot use, except beasts of prey."
This was one of the rules that I had laid down at the beginning: that no member of the party should kill for the sake of killing any living thing. I could not be angry with Pete, however, for he was always so goodnatured. No matter how sharply I might reprove him, in five minutes he would be doing something for my comfort, or singing some Indian song as he went lightheartedly about his work. I understood how hard it was for him to down the Indian instinct to kill, and that the muskrat bad been shot thoughtlessly without considering for a moment whether it were needed or not. The flesh of the muskrat at this season of the year is very strong in flavor and unpalatable, and besides, with the grouse that were occasionally killed, the fish that we were catching, and the dried venison still on hand, we could not well use it. No fur is, of course, in season at this time of year, and so there was no excuse for killing muskrats for the pelts.
In the vicinity of this camp we saw some of the largest spruce timber that we came upon in the whole journey across Labrador. Some of these trees were fully twenty-two inches in diameter at the butt and perhaps fifty to sixty feet in height. These large trees were very scattered, however, and too few to be of commercial value. For the most part the trees that we met with were six to eight, and, occasionally, ten inches through, scrubby and knotted. In Labrador trees worth the cutting are always located near streams in sheltered valleys.
That evening before we retired the drizzle turned to a downpour, and we were glad to leave our unprotected camp fire for the unwarmed shelter of our tent. While I lay within and listened to the storm, I wrote in my diary: "As I lie here, the rain pours upon the tent over my head and drips—drips—drips through small holes in the silk; the wind sweeps through the spruce trees outside and a breath of the fragrance of the great damp forest comes to me. I hear the roar of the rapid across the river as the waters pour down over the rocks in their course to the sea. I wonder if some of those very waters do not wash the shores of New York. How far away the city seems, and how glad I shall be to return home when my work here is finished!
"This is a feeling that comes to one often in the wilderness. Perhaps it is a touch of homesickness—a hunger for the sympathy and companionship of our friends."
The days that followed were days of weary waiting and inactivity. A cold northeast storm was blowing and the rain fell heavily and incessantly day and night. Trail hunting was impracticable while the storm lasted, but the halt offered an opportunity that was taken advantage of to repair our outfit; also there was much needed mending to be done, as some of our clothing was badly torn.
Everything we had in the way of wearing apparel was wet, and we set up our tent stove for the first time, that we might dry our things under cover. This stove proved a great comfort to us, and all agreed that it was an inspiration that led me to bring it. It was not an inspiration, however, but my experience on the trip with Hubbard that taught the necessity of a stove for just such occasions as this, and for the colder weather later.
Some of us went to the rapid to fish, but it was too cold for either fly or bait, and we soon gave it up. I slipped off a rock in the lower swirl of the rapid, and went into the river over head and ears. Pete, who was with me, gave audible expression to his amusement at my discomfiture as I crawled out of the water like a half drowned rat; but I could see no occasion for his hilarity and I told him so.
This experience dampened my enthusiasm as a fisherman for that day. The net was set, however, which later yielded us some trout. A fish planked on a dry spruce log hewn flat on one side, made a delicious dinner, and a savory kettle of fish chowder made of trout and dried onions gave us an equally good supper.
On July fifteenth sleet was mingled with the rain in the early morning, and it was so cold that Duncan used his mittens when doing outdoor work. Easton was not feeling well, and I looked upon our delay as not altogether lost time, as it gave him an opportunity to get into shape again.
A pocket copy of "Hiawatha," from which Stanton read aloud, furnished us with entertainment. Pete was very much interested in the reading, and I found he was quite familiar with the legends of his Indian hero, and he told us some stories of Hiawatha that I had never heard. "Hiawatha," said Pete, "he the same as Christ. He do anything he want to." Pete produced his harmonica and proved himself a very good performer.
July sixteenth was Sunday, and I decided that rain or shine we must break camp on Monday and move forwards for the inactivity was becoming unendurable.
A little fishing was done, and Pete landed a twenty-two and three- quarter inch trout, thus wresting the big-trout record from Richards. Pete was proud and boasted a great deal of this feat, which he claimed proved his greater skill as a fisherman, but which the others attributed to luck.
We were enabled to do some scouting in the afternoon, which resulted in the discovery that our camp was on an island. Nowhere could we find any Indian signs, and we were therefore quite evidently off the trail.
LAKE NIPISHISH IS REACHED
As already stated, the Indians at Northwest River Post had informed us that the Crooked River had its rise in Lake Nipishish, and I therefore decided to follow the stream from the point where we were now encamped to the lake, or until we should come upon the trail again, as I felt sure we should do farther up, rather than retrace our steps to the abandoned cache on the island in the expansion below, and probably consume considerable time in locating the old portage route from that point.
Accordingly, on Monday morning we began our work against the almost continuous rapids, which we discovered as we proceeded were characteristic of the river. A heavy growth of willows lined the banks, forcing us into the icy water, where the swift current made it very difficult to keep our footing upon the slippery bowlders of the river bed. Tracking lines were attached to the bows of the canoes and we floundered forward.
The morning was cloudy and cool and resembled a day in late October, but before noon the sun graciously made his appearance and gave us new spirit for our work. When we stopped for dinner I sent Pete and Easton to look ahead, and Pete brought back the intelligence that a half-mile portage would cut off a considerable bend in the river and take us into still water. It was necessary to clear a portion of the way with the ax. This done, the portage was made, and then we found to our disappointment that the still water was less than a quarter mile in length, when rapids occurred again.
As I deemed it wise to get an idea of the lay of the land before proceeding farther, I took Pete with me and went ahead to scout the route. Less than a mile away we found two small lakes, and climbing a ridge two miles farther on, we had a view of the river, which, so far as we could see, continued to be very rough, taking a turn to the westward above where our canoes were stationed, and then swinging again to the northeast in the direction of Nipishish, which was plainly visible. The Indians, instead of taking the longer route that we were following, undoubtedly crossed from the old cache to a point in the river some distance above where it took its westward swing, and thus, in one comparatively easy portage, saved themselves several miles of rough traveling. It was too late for us now, however, to take advantage of this.
Pete and I hurried back to the others. The afternoon was well advanced, but sufficient daylight remained to permit us to proceed a little way up the river, and portage to the shores of one of the lakes, where camp was made just at dusk.
Field mice in this section were exceedingly troublesome. They would run over us at night, sample our food, and gnawed a hole as large as a man's hand in the side of the tent. Porcupines, too, were something of a nuisance. One night one of them ate a piece out of my tumpline, which was partially under my head, while I slept.
The next morning we passed through the lakes to the river above, and for three days, in spite of an almost continuous rain and wind storm, worked our way up stream, "tracking" the canoes through a succession of rapids or portaging around them, with scarcely any opportunity to paddle.
On the afternoon of the third day, with the wind dashing the rain in sheets into our faces, we halted on a rough piece of ground just above the river bank and pitched our tent.
When camp was made Pete took me to a rise of ground a little distance away, and pointing to the northward exclaimed: "Look, Lake Nipishish! I know we reach him to-day."
And sure enough, there lay Lake Nipishish close at hand! I was more thankful than I can say to see the water stretching far away to the northward, for I felt that now the hardest and roughest part of our journey to the height of land was completed.
"That's great, Pete," said I. "We'll have more water after this and fewer and easier portages, and we can travel faster."
"Maybe better, I don't know," remarked Pete, rather skeptically. "Always hard find trail out big lakes. May leave plenty places. Take more time hunt trail maybe now. Indian maps no good. Maybe easier when we find him."
Pete was right, and I did not know the difficulties still to be met with before we should reach Michikamau.
Duncan was of comparatively little help to us now, and as I knew that he was more than anxious to return to Groswater Bay, I decided to dispense with his further services and send him back with letters to be mailed home. When I returned to the tent I said to him:
"Duncan, I suppose you would like to go home now, and I will let you turn back from here and take some letters out. Does that suit you?"