Prepared by Arthur Wendover and Andrew Sly.
Through the Mackenzie Basin
A Narrative of the Athabasca and Peace River Treaty Expedition of 1899
By Charles Mair
To the Hon. David Laird Leader of the Treaty Expedition of 1899 This Record is Cordially Inscribed By His Old Friend the Author
Important events of the year 1857—The Nor'-Wester newspaper—The Duke of Newcastle and the Hudson's Bay Co.'s Charter—The "Anglo-International Financial Association"—The New Hudson's Bay Company—Offers of American capitalists to purchase the Company's interests—Bill providing for purchase of the same introduced into the United States Congress—Senator Sumner's memorandum to Secretary Fish—Various efforts to arouse public interest in the Hudson's Bay Territories—Former Treaties with the Indians—Motives for treating with the Indians of Athabasca—Rush of miners and prospectors into the district—The Indian Treaty and Half-breed Commission—The Royal North-West Mounted Police Contingent—Special stipulations with the Indians provided for.
Chapter I From Edmonton To Lesser Slave Lake
Arrival of Treaty and Half-breed Commissions at Edmonton—Departure for Athabasca Landing—Tawutinaow peat beds, etc.—Arrival at the Landing—The gas well there—Boats and trackers—Mr. d'Eschambault and Pierre Cyr—Non-arrival of trackers—Police contingent volunteers to track a boat to Lesser Slave Lake—Nature of country, burnt forests, muskegs, etc.—Tracking; its difficulties—The old Indian tracker Peokus—Forest and river scenery—Placer mining—Absence of life along the river—Fertile soil.
Chapter II Lesser Slave River And Lesser Slave Lake
Lesser Slave River—Its proper name—Migration of the great Algic race—Bishop Grouard's service in the wilderness—Returning Klondikers—The rapids; poling—Accident to Peokus—Celebration of Pere Lacombe's fiftieth year of missionary labors—Arrival of half-breed trackers from Lesser Slave Lake—Great hay meadows on the Lesser Slave River—The island in Lesser Slave Lake—Trackers' gambling games—Swan River—A dangerous squall—Chief Factor Shaw—A free-traders' village.
Chapter III Treaty At Lesser Slave Lake
The Treaty point at last—Our camp at Lesser Slave Lake—The Treaty ground and assembly—"Civilized" Indians—Keenooshayo and Moostoos—The Treaty proceedings—The Treaty Commissioners separate—Vermilion and Fort Chipewyan treaties—Indian chief asks for a railway—Wahpooskow Treaty—McKenna and Ross set out for Home—Commission issued to J. A. Macrae—Numbers of Indians treated with.
Chapter IV The Half-Breed Scrip Commission
The half-breeds collect at Lesser Slave Lake—They decide upon cash, scrip or nothing—Honesty of the half-breeds and Indians—Ease of parturition amongst their women—Cree family names and their significance—Catherine Bisson—Native traits—The mongrel dog—Gambling and dancing—The "Red River jig".
Chapter V Resources Of Lesser Slave Lake Region
Indian lunatics: The Weeghteko—Treatment of lunatics in old Upper Canada—Lesser Slave Lake fisheries—Stock-raising at the lake—Prairies of the region—The region once a buffalo country—Quality of the soil—Wheat and roots and vegetables—Unwise to settle in large numbers in the country at present—The "blind pig"—A native row.
Chapter VI On The Trail To Peace River
On the trail to Peace River—The South Heart River—Good farming lands—The Little Prairie—Peace River Crossing—The vast banks of the Peace a country in themselves—Wild fruits—Prospectors from the Selwyn Mountains—The Poker Flat Mining Camp—Buffalo paths and wallows—Magnificent prairies between Peace River Landing and Fort Dunvegan—Fort Dunvegan—Sir George Simpson and Colin Fraser—Some townships blocked here—The Roman Catholic Mission—Baffled miners returning—The natives of Dunvegan—Relics of the old regime—Large families the rule—The Church missions—Back to Peace River Crossing—Tepees, tents and trading stores—Mr. Alexander Mackenzie—The sites of old fur posts—Indian names of the Peace River—Description of the agricultural and other resources of the Upper Peace River—The Chinook winds—Grand Prairie—Rainfall scanty on prairies throughout the River—Lack of waggon roads and trail facilities.
Chapter VII Down The Peace River
The descent of the Peace River—Wolverine Point—A good farming country—Paddle River and Keg of Rum River prairies—Heavy spruce forests here—Vermilion settlement—The Lawrence family and farm—Extensive wheat fields—Cattle and hog raising—Locusts—Symptoms of volcanic action—Old Lizotte and old King Beaulieu—The Chutes of Peace River—The Red River; its rich soil and prairies—Peace Point—A wild goose chase—The Gargantuan feasts of Peace River—The Quatre Fourches—Athabasca Lake.
Chapter VIII Fort Chipewyan To Fort McMurray
Fort Chipewyan and Athabasca Lake—Colin Fraser's trading-post—The Barren Ground reindeer—Feathered land game—The Indians of Fond du Lac—Mineral resources—First companies formed to prospect the Great Slave Lake minerals—The Helpman party—The Yukon Valley Prospecting and Mining Company—Assays of copper ore—A great mineral country—A railway required from Chesterfield Inlet to develop it—Moss of the Banner Lands—Lake Athabasca the rallying place of the Dene race—Meaning of Indian generic names—"Mackenzie's country"—Its first traders—The North-West Company—The original Indians—The mastodon believed by the natives to exist—Return of Klondikers from Mackenzie River—Their bad conduct—By steamer Grahame to Fort McMurray—Killing a moose—Fort McMurray.
Chapter IX The Athabasca River Region
The tar-banks—Characteristic features of the river—The rapids of the Athabasca—The cut-banks—A freshet—A fine camp—The "Indian lop-stick"—The natural gas springs—Grand Rapids—Coal abundant—Good farming country—The Point at House River—The Joli Fou Rapid—Bad tracking—Pelican Portage—Spouting gas well—Matcheese, the Indian runner.
Chapter X The Trip To Wahpooskow
The Pelican River—Poling and paddling—Character of the river and country—Great hay meadows—An Indian runner—The Pelican Mountains—Muskegs and rich soil—Pelican Lake the height of land—Abundance of fish—The first Wahpooskow Lake—The second lake—Mission of Rev. C.R. Weaver—Other missions of the C.M.S.—Mission of the Rev. Father Giroux—Other Roman Catholic missions—Indians and half-breeds—The crows and the fish—A ball at Wahpooskow—Farming land and muskeg in the district—Superstitions of the Indians—Polygamy and polyandry—The changing woods—The foex populi—A little beauty—Calling River—Another ancient woman and her memories—Our return to Athabasca Landing.
The important events of A.D. 1857, and the negotiations which led to the Transfer of the Hudson's Bay Territories—Former Treaties and the Treaty Commission of 1899.
The terms upon which Canada obtained her great possessions in the West are generally known, and much has been written regarding the tentative steps by which, after long years of waiting, she acquired them. The distinctively prairie, or southern, portion of the country and its outliers, constituting "Prince Rupert's Land," had been claimed by the Hudson's Bay Company since May, 1670, as an absolute freehold. This and the North-West Territories, in which, under terminable lease from the Crown, the Company exercised, as in British Columbia, exclusive rights to trade only, were, as the reader knows, transferred to Canada by Imperial sanction at the same time. It is not the author's intention, therefore, to cumber his pages with trite or irrelevant matter; yet certain transactions which preceded this primordial and greatest treaty of all not unfittingly may be set forth, though in the briefest way, as a pardonable introduction to the following record.
The year 1857 was an eventful one in the annals of "The North-West," the name by which the Territories were generally known in Canada. [An important event in Red River was begot of the stirring incidents of this year, namely, the starting at Fort Garry, in December, 1859, by two gentlemen from Canada, Messrs. Buckingham and Caldwell, of the first newspaper printed in British territory east of British Columbia and west of Lake Superior. It was called the Nor'-Wester, but, having few advertisements, and only a limited circulation, the originators sold out to Dr. (afterwards Sir John) Schultz, who, at his own expense, published the paper, almost down to the Transfer, as an advocate of Canadian annexation, immigration and development.] In that year two expeditions were set afoot to explore the country; one in charge of Captain Palliser, [Strange to say, Captain Palliser reported that he considered a line of communication entirely through British territory, connecting the Eastern Provinces and British Columbia, out of the question, as the Astronomical Boundary adopted isolated the prairie country from Canada. Professor Hind, on the other hand, in the same year, standing on an eminence on the Qu'Appelle, beheld in imagination the smoke of the locomotive ascending from the train speeding over the prairies on its way through Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific.] equipped by the Imperial Government, and the other, under Professor Hind, at the expense of the Government of Canada. An influential body of Red River settlers, too, at this time petitioned the Canadian Parliament to extend to the North-West its government and protection; and in the same year the late Chief Justice Draper was sent to England to challenge the validity of the Hudson's Bay Company's charter; and to urge the opening up of the country for settlement. But, above all, a committee of the British House of Commons took evidence that year upon all sorts of questions concerning the North-West, and particularly its suitability for settlement, much of which was valueless owing to its untruth. Nevertheless, the Imperial Committee, after weighing all the evidence, reported that the Territories were fit for settlement, and that it was desirable that Canada should annex them, and hoped that the Government would be enabled to bring in a bill to that end at the next session of Parliament. Five years later, the Duke of Newcastle, who became Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1859, and accompanied the Prince of Wales to Canada as official adviser in 1860, having in his possession the petition of the Red River settlers, as printed by order of the Canadian Legislature, brought the matter up in a vigorous speech in the House of Lords, in which he expressed his belief that the Hudson's Bay Company's charter was invalid, though, he added, "it would be a serious blow to the rights of property to meddle with a charter two hundred years old. But it might happen," he continued, "in the inevitable course of events, that Parliament would be asked to annul even such a charter as this, in order, as set forth in the Queen's Speech, that all obstacles to an unbroken chain of loyal settlements, stretching from ocean to ocean, should be removed." British Columbia, which had become a Province in 1858, has now urging the Imperial Government with might and main to furnish a waggon-road and telegraph line to connect her, not only with the Territories and Canada, but with the United Empire. She was met by the stiffest of opposition, the opposition of a very old corporation strongly entrenched in the governing circles of both parties. But the clamour of British Columbia was in the air, and her suggestions, hotly opposed by the Company, had been brought before the House of Lords by another peer. In the discussion which followed, the Duke of Newcastle declared that "it seemed monstrous that any body of gentlemen should exercise fee-simple rights which precluded the future colonization of that territory, as well as the opening of lines of communication through it." The Minister's idea at the time seemed to be to cancel the charter, and to concede proprietary rights around fur posts only, together with a certain money payment, considerably less, it appears, than what was ultimately agreed upon.
The Hudson's Bay Company, alarmed at the outlook and the attitude of the Colonial Secretary, offered their entire interests and belongings, trade and territorial, to the Imperial Government for a million and a half pounds sterling, an offer which the Duke was disposed to accept, but which was unfortunately declined by Mr. Gladstone, then Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Duke, who had resigned his office in 1864, died in October following, and in the meantime a change of a startling character had come over the time-honoured company, which sold out to a new company in 1863, being merged into, or rather merging into itself, an organization known as "The Anglo-International Financial Association," which included several prominent American capitalists. The old name was retained, but everything else was to be changed. The policy of exclusion was to cease, immigration was to be encouraged, and a telegraph line built through the Territories to the Pacific coast. The wire for this was actually shipped, and lay in Rupert's Land for years, until made use of by the Mackenzie Administration in the building of the Government telegraph line, which followed the railway route defined by Sir Sandford Fleming. The old Hudson's Bay Company's shares, of a par value of half a million pounds sterling, were increased to a million and a half under the new adjustment, and were thrown upon the market in shares of twenty pounds sterling each. Sir Edmund Head, an old ex-Governor of Canada, was made Governor of the new company. The Stock Exchange was not altogether favourable, and the remaining shares were only sold in the Winnipeg land boom of 1881.
The alien element in the new company seemed to inspire the politicians of the United States with surpassing hopes and ideas. An offer to purchase its territorial interests was made in January, 1866, by American capitalists, which was not unfavourably glanced at by the directorate. It was capped later on. The corollary of the proposal was a bill, actually introduced into the United States Congress in July following, and read twice, "providing for the admission of the States of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Canada East and Canada West, and for the organization of the Territories of Selkirk, Saskatchewan and Columbia." The bill provided that "The United States would pay ten millions of dollars to the Hudson's Bay Company in full of all claims to territory or jurisdiction in North America, whether founded on the Charter of the Company, or any treaty, law, or usage." The grandiosity, to use a mild phrase, of such a measure needs no comment. But though it seems amusing to the Canadian of to-day, it was by no means a joke forty years ago. As a matter of fact, the then most uninhabited Territories, cut off from the centres of Canadian activity by a wilderness of over a thousand miles, would have been invaded by Fenians and filibusters but for the fact that they were a part of the British Empire. An attempt at this was indeed made at a later date. This possibility was afterwards formulated, evidently as a threat, by Senator Charles Sumner during the "Alabama Claims" discussion, in his astonishing memorandum to Secretary Fish. "The greatest trouble, if not peril," he said, "is from Fenianism, which is excited by the British flag in Canada. Therefore, the withdrawal of the British flag cannot be abandoned as a preliminary of such a settlement as is now proposed. To make the settlement complete the withdrawal should be from this hemisphere, including provinces and islands." A refreshing proposition, truly!
It was the Imperial Government, of course, which figured most prominently throughout the "North-West" question. But, it may be reasonably asked, what was Canada doing, with her deeper interests still, to further them in those long years of discussion and delay. With the exception of the Hind Expedition, the Draper mission, the printing and discussion of the Red River settlers' petition and consequent Commission of Inquiry, certainly not much was done by Parliament. More was done outside than in the House to arouse public interest; for example, the two admirable lectures delivered in Montreal in 1858 by the late Lieutenant-Governor Morris, followed by the powerful advocacy of the Hon. William Macdougall and others, aided by the Toronto Globe, a small portion of the Canadian press, and the circulation, limited as it was, of the Red River newspaper, the Nor'-Wester, in Ontario.
An unseen, but adverse, parliamentary influence had all along hampered the Cabinet; an influence adverse not only to the acquisition of the Territories, but even to closer connection by railway with the Maritime Provinces. [Vide a series of articles contributed to the Toronto Week, in July, 1896, by Mr. Malcolm McLeod, Q.C., of Ottawa, Ont.] This sinister influence was only overcome by the great Conferences which resulted in the passage of the British North America Act in 1867, which contained a clause (Article 11, Sec. 146), inserted at the instance of Mr. Macdougall, providing for the inclusion of Rupert's Land and the North-West Territories upon terms to be defined in an address to the Queen, and subject to her approval. In pursuance of this clause, Mr. Macdougall in 1867 introduced into the first Parliament of the Dominion a series of eight resolutions, which, after much opposition, were at length passed, and were followed by the embodying address, drafted by a Special Committee of the House, and which was duly transmitted to the Imperial Government. This was followed by the mission of Messrs. Cartier and Macdougall to London, to treat for the transfer of the Territories, which, through the mediation of Lord Granville, was finally effected. The date fixed upon for the transfer was the first of December, 1869. Unfortunately for Lieutenant-Governor Macdougall, owing to the outbreak of armed rebellion at Red River, it was postponed without his knowledge, and it was not until the 15th of July, 1870, that the whole country finally became a part of the Dominion of Canada. With the latter date the annals of Prince Rupert's Land and the North-West Territory end, and the history of Western Canada begins.
But whilst the Hudson's Bay Company's territorial rights and those of Great Britain had been at last transferred to the Dominion, there remained inextinguished the most intrinsic of all, viz., the rights of the Indians and their collaterals to their native and traditional soil. The adjustment of these rights was assumed by the Canadian Parliament in the last but one of the resolutions introduced by Mr. Macdougall, and no time was lost after the transfer in carrying out its terms, "in conformity with the equitable principles which have uniformly governed the Crown in its dealings with the aborigines."
[In the foregoing brief sketch, the author, for lack of space, omits all reference to the Red River troubles, which preceded the actual transfer, as also to the military expedition under Col. Wolseley, the threatened recall of which from Prince Arthur's Landing, in July, 1870, was blocked by the bold and vigorous action of the Canada First Party in Toronto.]
Before passing on to my theme, a glance at the treaties made in Manitoba and the organized Territories may be of interest to the unfamiliar reader.
The first treaty, in what is now a part of Manitoba, was made in pursuance of a purchase of the old District of Assiniboia from the Hudson's Bay Company in 1811 by Lord Selkirk, who in that year sent out the first batch of colonists from the north of Scotland to Red River. The Indian title to the land, however, was not conveyed by the Crees and Saulteaux until 1817, when Peguis and others of their chiefs ceded a portion of their territory for a yearly payment of a quantity of tobacco. The ceded tract extended from the mouth of the Red River southward to Grand Forks, and, westward, along the Assiniboine River to Rat Creek, the depth of the reserve being the distance at which a white horse could be seen on the plains, though this matter is not very clear. The British boundary at that time ran south of Red Lake, and would still so run but for the indifference of bygone Commissioners. This purchase became the theatre of Lord Selkirk's far-seeing scheme of British settlement in the North-West, with whose varying fortunes and romantic history the average reader is familiar.
The first Canadian treaties were those effected by Mr. Weemys Simpson in 1871, first at Stone Fort, Man., covering the old purchase from Peguis and others, and a large extent of territory in addition, the stipulated terms of payment being afterwards greatly enlarged. These treaties are known as Nos. 1 and 2, and were followed by the North-West Angle Treaty, effected by Lieutenant-Governor Morris, in 1873, with the Ojibway Saulteaux. In 1874 the Qu'Appelle Treaty, after prolonged discussion and inter-tribal jealousy and disturbance, was concluded by Lieutenant-Governor Morris, the Hon. David Laird, then Minister of the Interior, and Mr. W. J. Christie, of the Hudson's Bay Company. Treaty No. 5 followed, with the cession of 100,000 square miles of territory, covering the Lake Winnipeg region, etc., after which the Great Treaty (No.6), at Forts Carlton and Pitt, in 1876, covering almost all the country drained by the two Saskatchewans, was partly effected by Mr. Morris and his associates, the recalcitrants being afterwards induced by Mr. Laird to adhere to the treaty, with the exception of the notorious Big Bear, the insurgent chief who figured so prominently in the Rebellion of 1885. The final treaty, or No. 7, made with the Assiniboines and Blackfeet, the most powerful and predatory of all our Plain Indians, was concluded by Mr. Laird and the late Lieut.-Colonel McLeod in 1877. By this last treaty had now been ceded the whole country from Lake Winnipeg to the Rocky Mountains, and from the international boundary to the District of Athabasca. But there remained in native hands still that vast northern anticlinal, which differs almost entirely in its superficial features from the prairies and plains to the south; and it was this region, enormous in extent and rich in economic resources, which, it was decided by Government, should now be placed by treaty at the disposal of the Canadian people. To this end it was determined that at Lesser Slave Lake the first conference should be held, and the initial steps taken towards the cession of the whole western portion of the unceded territory up to the 60th parallel of north latitude.
The more immediate motive for treating with the Indians of Athabasca has been already referred to, viz., the discovery of gold in the Klondike, and the astonishing rush of miners and prospectors, in consequence, to the Yukon, not only from the Pacific side, but, east of the mountains, by way of the Peace and Mackenzie rivers. Up to that date, excepting to the fur-traders and a few missionaries, settlers, explorers, geologists and sportsmen, the Peace River region was practically unknown; certainly as little known to the people of Ontario, for example, as was the Red River country thirty years before. It was thought to be a most difficult country to reach—a terra incognita—rude and dangerous, having no allurements for the average Canadian, whose notions about it, if he had any, were limited, as usual, to the awe-inspiring legend of "barbarous Indians and perpetual frost."
There is a lust, however, the unquenchable lust for gold, which seems to arouse the dullest from their apathy. This is the primum mobile; from earliest days the sensational mover of civilized man, and not unlikely to remain so until our old planet capsizes again, and the poles become the equator with troglodites for inhabitants. No barriers seem insurmountable to this rampant spirit; and, urged by it, the gold-seekers, chiefly aliens from the United States, plunged into the wilderness of Athabasca without hesitation, and without as much as "by your leave" to the native. Some of these marauders, as was to be expected, exhibited on the way a congenital contempt for the Indian's rights. At various places his horses were killed, his dogs shot, his bear-traps broken up. An outcry arose in consequence, which inevitably would have led to reprisals and bloodshed had not the Government stepped in and forestalled further trouble by a prompt recognition of the native's title. Hitherto he had been content with his lot in these remote wildernesses, and well might he be! One of the vast river systems of the Continent, perhaps the greatest of them all, considering the area drained, teeming with fish, and alive with fur and antler, was his home—a region which furnished him in abundance with the means of life, not to speak of such surplus of luxuries as was brought to his doors by his old and paternal friend, "John Company." His wants were simple, his life healthy, though full of toil, his appetite great—an appetite which throve upon what it fed, and gave rise to fabulous feats of eating, recalling the exploits of the beloved and big-bellied Ben of nursery lore.
But the spirit of change was brooding even here. The moose, the beaver and the bear had for years been decreasing, and other fur-bearing animals were slowly but surely lessening with them. The natives, aware of this, were now alive, as well, to concurrent changes foreign to their experience. Recent events had awakened them to a sense of the value the white man was beginning to place upon their country as a great storehouse of mineral and other wealth, enlivened otherwise by the sensible decrease of their once unfailing resources. These events were, of course, the Government borings for petroleum, the formation of parties to prospect, with a view to developing, the minerals of Great Slave Lake, but, above all, the inroad of gold-seekers by way of Edmonton. The latter was viewed with great mistrust by the Indians, the outrages referred to showing, like straws in the wind, the inevitable drift of things had the treaties been delayed. For, as a matter of fact, those now peaceable tribes, soured by lawless aggression, and sheltered by their vast forests, might easily have taken an Indian revenge, and hampered, if not hindered, the safe settlement of the country for years to come. The Government, therefore, decided to treat with them at once on equitable terms, and to satisfy their congeners, the half-breeds, as well, by an issue of scrip certificates such as their fellows had already received in Manitoba and the organized Territories. To this end adjustments were made by the Hon. Clifford Sifton, then Minister of the Interior and Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs, during the winter of 1898-9, and a plan of procedure and basis of treatment adopted, the carrying out of which was placed in the hands of a double Commission, one to frame and effect the Treaty, and secure the adhesion of the various tribes, and the other to investigate and extinguish the half-breed title. At the head of the former was placed the Hon. David Laird, a gentleman of wide experience in the early days in the North-West Territories, whose successful treaty with the refractory Blackfeet and their allies is but one of many evidences of his tact and sagacity. [The Hon. David Laird is a native of Prince Edward Island. His father emigrated from Scotland to that Province early in the last century, and ultimately became a member of its Executive Council. After leaving college his son David began life as a journalist, but later on took to politics, and being called, like his father, to the Executive Council, was selected as one of the delegates to Ottawa to arrange for the entrance of the Island into the Canadian Confederation. He was subsequently elected to the Dominion House of Commons, and became Minister of the Interior in the Mackenzie Administration. After three years' occupancy of this department he was made Lieut.-Governor of the North-West Territories, an office which he filled without bias and to the satisfaction of both the foes and friends of his own party. He returned to the Island at the close of his official term, but was called thence by the Laurier Administration to take charge of Indian affairs in the West, with residence in Winnipeg, which is now his permanent home.] A nature in which fairness and firmness met was, of all dispositions, the most suited to handle such important negotiations with the Indians as parting with their blood-right. Fortunately these qualities were pre-eminent in Mr. Laird, who had administered the government of the organized Territories, at a primitive stage in their history, in the wisest manner, and, at the close of his official career, returned to his home in Prince Edward Island leaving not an enemy behind him.
The other Treaty Commissioners were the Hon. James Ross, Minister of Public Works in the Territorial Government, and Mr. J. A. McKenna, then private secretary to the Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs, and who had been for some years a valued officer of the Indian Department. With them was associated, in an advisory capacity, the Rev. Father Lacombe, O.M.I., Vicar-General of St. Albert, Alta., whose history had been identified for fifty years with the Canadian North-West, and whose career had touched the currents of primitive life at all points.
[Father Lacombe is by birth a French Canadian, his native parish being St. Sulpice, in the Island of Montreal, where he was born in the year 1827. On the mother's side he is said to draw his descent from the daughter of a habitant on the St. Lawrence River called Duhamel, who was stolen in girlhood by the Ojibway Indians, and subsequently taken to wife by their chief, to whom she bore two sons. By mere accident, her uncle, who was one of a North-West Company trading party on Lake Huron, met her at an Indian camp on one of the Manitoulin islands, and having identified her as his niece, restored her and her children to her family. Father Lacombe was ordained a priest by Bishop Bourget, of Montreal, and in 1849 set out for Red River, where he became intimately associated with the French half-breeds, accompanying them on their great buffalo hunts, and ministering not only to the spiritual but to the temporal welfare of them and their descendants down to the present day. In 1851 he took charge of the Lake Ste. Anne Mission, and subsequently of St. Albert, the first house in which he helped to build; and from these Missions he visited numbers of outlying regions, including Lesser Slave Lake. His principal missionary work, however, for twenty years was pursued amongst the Blackfeet Indians on the Great Plains, during which he witnessed many a perilous onslaught in the constant warfare between them and their traditional enemies, the Crees. Being now over eighty years of age, he has retired from active duty, and is spending the remainder of his days at Pincher Creek, Alta., where, it is understood, he is preparing his memoirs for publication at an early date.]
Not associated with the Commission, but travelling with it as a guest, was the Right Rev. E. Grouard, O.M.I., the Roman Catholic Bishop of Athabasca and Mackenzie rivers, who was returning, after a visit to the East, to his headquarters at Fort Chipewyan, where his influence and knowledge of the language, it was believed, would be of great service when the treaty came under consideration there. The secretaries of the Commission were Mr. Harrison Young, a son-in-law of the Rev. George McDougall, the distinguished missionary who perished so unaccountably on the plains in the winter of 1876, and Mr. I. W. Martin, an agreeable young gentleman from Goderich, Ont. Connected with the party in an advisory capacity, like Father Lacombe, and as interpreter, was Mr. Pierre d'Eschambault, who had been for over thirty years an officer in the Hudson's Pay Company's service. The camp-manager was Mr. Henry McKay, of an old and highly esteemed North-West family. Such was the personnel, official and informal, of the Treaty Commission, to which was also attached Mr. H. A. Conroy, as accountant, robust and genial, and well fitted for the work.
The Half-breed Scrip Commission, whose duties began where the treaty work ended, was composed of Major Walker, a retired officer of the Royal North-West Mounted Police, who had seen much service in the Territories and was in command of the force present at the making of the Fort Carlton Treaty in 1876; and Mr. J. A. Cote, an experienced officer of the Land Department at Ottawa. The secretaries were Mr. J. F. Prudhomme, of St. Boniface, Man., and the writer.
Our transport arrangements, from start to finish, had been placed entirely in the hands of a competent officer of the Hudson's Bay Company, Mr. H. B. Round, an old resident of Athabasca; and to the Commission was also annexed a young medical man, Dr. West, a native of Devonshire, England, whose services were appreciated in a region where doctors were almost unknown. But not the least important and effective constituent of the party was the detachment of the Royal North-West Mounted Police, which joined us at Edmonton, minus their horses, of course; picked men from a picked force; sterling fellows, whose tenacity and hard work in the tracking-harness did yeoman service in many a serious emergency. This detachment consisted of Inspector Snyder, Sergeant Anderson, Corporals Fitzgerald and McClelland, and Constables McLaren, Lett, Burman, Lelonde, Burke, Vernon and Kerr. The conduct of these men, it is needless to say, was the admiration of all, and assisted materially, as will be seen hereafter, in the successful progress of the expedition.
Whilst it had been decided that the proposed adjustments should be effected, if possible, upon the same terms as the previous treaties, it was known that certain changes will be necessary owing to the peculiar topographic features of the country itself. For example, in much of it arable reserves, such as many of the tribes retained in the south, were unavailable, and special stipulations were necessary, in such case, so that there should be no inequality of treatment. But where good land could be had, a novel choice was offered, by which individual Indians, if they wished, could take their inalienable shares in severalty, rather than be subject to the "band," whereby many industrious Indians elsewhere had been greatly hampered in their efforts to improve their condition. But, barring such departures as these, the proposed treaties were to be effected, as I have said, according to precedent. The Commission, then, resting its arguments on the good faith and honour of the Government and people of Canada in the past, looked forward with confidence to a successful treaty in Athabasca, the record of travel and intercourse, to that end, beginning with the following narrative.
Through the Mackenzie Basin
From Edmonton To Lesser Slave Lake.
Mr. Laird, with his staff, left Winnipeg for Edmonton by the Canadian Pacific express on the 22nd of May, two of the Commissioners having preceded him to that point. The train was crowded, as usual, with immigrants, tourists, globe-trotters and way-passengers. Parties for the Klondike, for California or Japan—once the far East, but now the far West to us—for anywhere and everywhere, a C.P.R. express train carrying the same variety of fortunates and unfortunates as the ocean-cleaving hull. Calgary was reached at one a.m. on the Queen's birthday, and the same morning we left for Edmonton by the C. & E. Railway. Every one was impressed favourably by the fine country lying between these two cities, its intermediate towns and villages, and fast-growing industries. But one thing especially was not overlooked, viz., the honour due to our venerable Queen, alas, so soon to be taken from us.
In the evening we arrived at Strathcona, and found it thronged with people celebrating the day. Crossing the river to Edmonton, we got rooms with some difficulty in one of its crowded hotels, but happily awoke next morning refreshed and ready to view the town. It is needless to describe what has been so often described. Enough to say Edmonton is one of the doors to the great North, an outfitter of its traders, an emporium of its furs. And there is something more to be said. It has an old fort, or, rather, portions of one, for the vandalism which has let disappear another, and still more historic, stronghold, is manifest here as well. And truly, what savage scenes have been enacted on this very spot! What strife in the days of the rival companies! Edmonton is a city still marked by the fine savour of the "Old-Timers," who meet once a year to renew associations, and for some fleeting but glorious hours recall the past on the great river. Age is thinning them out, and by and by the remainder man will shake his "few, sad, last gray hairs," and slip out, too. But the tradition of him, it is to be hoped, will live, and bind his memory forever to the soil he trod, when all this Western world was a wilderness, each primitive settlement a happy family, each unit an unsophisticated, hospitable soul.
To our mortification we found that our supplies, seasonably shipped at Winnipeg, would not arrive for several days; a delay, to begin with, which seemed to prefigure all our subsequent hindrances. Then rain set in, and it was the afternoon of the 29th before Mr. Round could get us off. Once under way, however, with our thirteen waggons, there was no trouble save from their heavy loads, which could not be moved faster than a walk. Our first camp was at Sturgeon River—the Namao Sepe of the Crees—a fine stream in a defile of hills clothed with poplar and spruce, the former not quite in leaf, for the spring was backward, though seeding and growth in the Edmonton District was much ahead of Manitoba. The river flat was dotted with clumps of russet-leaved willows, to the north of which our waggons were ranged, and soon the quickly pitched tents, fires and sizzling fry-pans filled even the tenderfoot with a sense of comfort.
Next morning our route lay through a line of low, broken hills, with scattered woods, largely burnt and blown down by the wind; a desolate tract, which enclosed, to our left, the Lily Lake—Ascutamo Sakaigon—a somewhat marshy-looking sheet of water. Some miles farther on we crossed Whiskey Creek, a white man's name, of course, given by an illicit distiller, who throve for a time, in the old "Permit days," in this secluded spot. Beyond this the long line of the Vermilion Hills hove in sight, and presently we reached the Vermilion River, the Wyamun of the Crees, and, before nightfall, the Nasookamow, or Twin Lake, making our camp in an open besmirched pinery, a cattle shelter, with bleak and bare surroundings, neighboured by the shack of a solitary settler. He had, no doubt, good reasons for his choice; but it seemed a very much less inviting locality than Stony Creek, which we came to next morning, approaching it through rich and massive spruce woods, the ground strewn with anemones, harebells and violets, and interspersed with almost startlingly snow-white poplars, whose delicate buds had just opened into leaf.
Stony Creek is a tributary of a larger stream, called the Tawutinaow, which means "a passage between hills." This is an interesting spot, for here is the height of land, the "divide" between the Saskatchewan and the Athabasca, between Arctic and Hudson Bay waters, the stream before us flowing north, and carrying the yellowish-red tinge common to the waters on this slope. A great valley to the left of the trail runs parallel with it from the Sturgeon to the Tawutinaow, evidently the channel of an ancient river, whose course it would now be difficult to determine without close examination. At all events, it stretches almost from the Saskatchewan to the Athabasca, and indicates some great watershed in times past. Hay was abundant here, and much stock, it was evident, might be raised in the district.
Towards evening we reached the Tawutinaow bridge, some eighteen miles from the Landing, our finest camp, dry and pleasant, with sward and copse and a fine stream close by. Here is an extensive peat bed, which was once on fire and burnt for years—a great peril to freighters' ponies, which sometimes grazed into its unseen but smouldering depths. The seat of the fire was now an immense grassy circle, with a low wall of blackened peat all around it.
In the morning an endless succession of small creeks was passed, screened by deep valleys which fell in from hills and muskegs to the south, and at noon, jaded with slow travel, we reached Athabasca Landing. A long hill leads down to the flat, and from its brow we had a striking view of the village below and of the noble river, which much resembles the Saskatchewan, minus its prairies. We were now fairly within the bewildering forest of the north, which spreads, with some intervals of plain, to the 69th parallel of north latitude; an endless jungle of shaggy spruce, black and white poplar, birch, tamarack and Banksian pine. At the Landing we pitched our tents in front of the Hudson's Bay Company's post, where had stood, the previous year, a big canvas town of "Klondikers." Here they made preparation for their melancholy journey, setting out on the great stream in every species of craft, from rafts and coracles to steam barges. Here was begun an episode of that world-wide craze, which has run through all time, and almost every country, in which were enacted deeds of daring and suffering which add a new chapter to the history of human fearlessness and folly.
The Landing was a considerable hamlet for such a wilderness, being the shipping point to Mackenzie River, and, via the Lesser Slave Lake, to the Upper Peace. It consisted of the Hudson's Bay Company's establishment, with large storehouses, a sawmill, the residence and church of a Church of England bishop, and a Roman Catholic station, with a variety of shelters in the shape of boarding-houses, shacks and tepees all around. From the number of scows and barges in all stages of construction, and the high timber canting-tackles, it had quite a shipyard-like look, the population being mainly mechanics, who constructed scows, small barges, called "sturgeons," and the old "York," or inland boat, carrying from four to five tons. Here, hauled up on the bank, was the Hudson's Bay Company's steamer, the Athabasca, a well-built vessel about 160 feet long by 28 feet beam. This vessel, it was found, drew too much water for the channel; so there she lay, rotting upon her skids. It was a tantalizing sight to ourselves, who would have been spared many a heart-break had she been fit for service. A more interesting feature of the Landing, however, was the well sunk by the Government borer, Mr. Fraser, for oil, but which sent up gas instead. The latter was struck at a considerable depth, and, when we were there, was led from the shaft under the river bank by a pipe, from which it issued aflame, burning constantly, we were told, summer and winter. Standing at the gateway of the unknown North, and looking at this interesting feature, doubly so from its place and promise, one could not but forecast an industrial future, and "dream on things to come."
Shortly after our arrival at the Landing, news, true or false, reached us that the ice was still fast on Lesser Slave Lake. At any rate, the boat's crew expected from there did not turn up, and a couple of days were spent in anxious waiting. Some freight was delayed as well, and a thunderstorm and a night of rain set the camp in a swim. The non-arrival of our trackers was serious, as we had two scows and a York boat, with a party all told of some fifty souls, and only thirteen available trackers to start with. It seemed more than doubtful whether we could reach Lesser Slave Lake on treaty-schedule time, and the anxiety to push on was great. It was decided to set out as we were and trust to the chapter of accidents. We did not foresee the trials before us, the struggle up a great and swift river, with contrary winds, rainy weather, weak tracking lines and a weaker crew. The chapter of accidents opened, but not in the expected manner.
The York boat and one of the scows were fitted up amidships with an awning, which could be run down on all sides when required, but were otherwise open to the weather, and much encumbered with lading; but all things being in readiness, on the 3rd of June we took to the water, and, a photograph of the scene having been taken, shoved off from the Landing. The boats were furnished with long, cumbrous sweeps, yet not a whit too heavy, since numbers of them snapped with the vigorous strokes of the rowers during the trip. A small sweep, passed through a ring at the stern, served as a rudder, by far the best steering gear for the "sturgeons," but not for a York boat, which is built with a keel and can sail pretty close to the wind. Ordinarily the only sail in use is a lug, which has a great spread, and moves a boat quickly in a fair wind. In a calm, of course, sweeps have to be used, and our first step in departure was to cross the river with them, the boatmen rising with the oars and falling back simultaneously to their seats with perfect precision, and handling the great blades with practised ease. When the opposite shore was reached, the four trackers of each boat leaped into the water, and, splashing up the bank, got into harness at once, and began, with changes to the oars, the unflagging pull which lasted for two weeks. This harness is called by the trackers "otapanapi"—a Cree word—and it must be borne in mind that scarcely any language was spoken throughout this region other than Cree. A little English or French was occasionally heard; but the tongue, domestic, diplomatic, universal, was Cree, into which every half-breed in common talk lapsed, sooner or later, with undisguised delight. It was his mother tongue, copious enough to express his every thought and emotion, and its soft accents, particularly in the mouth of woman, are certainly very musical. Emerson's phrase, "fossil poetry," might be applied to our Indian languages, in which a single stretched-out word does duty for a sentence.
But to the harness. This is simply an adjustment of leather breast-straps for each man, tied to a very long tracking line, which, in turn, is tied to the bow of the boat. The trackers, once in it, walk off smartly along the bank, the men on board keeping the boats clear of it, and, on a fair path, with good water, make very good time. Indeed, the pull seems to give an impetus to the trackers as well as to the boat, so that a loose man has to lope to keep up with them. But on bad paths and bad water the speed is sadly pulled down, and, if rapids occur, sinks to the zero of a few miles a day. The "spells" vary according to these circumstances, but half an hour is the ordinary pull between "pipes," and there being no shifts in our case, the stoppages for rest and tobacco were frequent. At this rate we calculated that it would take eight or ten days to reach the mouth of Lesser Slave River. Mr. d'Eschambault and myself, having experienced the crowded state of the first and second boats, and foregathered during the trip, decided to take up our quarters on the scow, which had no awning, but which offered some elbow room and a tolerably cozy nook amongst the cases, bales and baggage with which it was encumbered.
We had a study on board, as well, in our steersman, Pierre Cyr, which partly attracted me—a bronzed man, with long, thin, yet fine weather-beaten features, frosty moustache and keenly-gazing, dry, gray eyes—a tall, slim and sinewy man, over seventy years of age, yet agile and firm of step as a man of thirty. Add the semi-silent, inward laugh which Cooper ascribes to his Leather-Stocking, and you have Pierre Cyr, who might have stood for that immortal's portrait. That he had a history I felt sure when I first saw him seated amongst his boatmen at the Landing, and, on seeking his acquaintance, was not surprised to learn that he had accompanied Sir John Richardson on his last journey in Prince Rupert's Land, and Dr. Rae on his eventful expedition to Repulse Bay, in 1853, in search of Franklin. He looked as if he could do it again—a vigorous, alert man, ready and able to track or pole with the best—a survivor, in fact, of the old race of Red River voyageurs, whose record is one of the romances of history.
Another attraction was my companion, Mr. d'E. himself—a man stout in person, quiet by disposition, and of few words; a man, too, with a lineage which connected him with many of the oldest pioneer families of French Canada. His ancestor, Jacques Alexis d'Eschambault, originally of St. Jean de Montaign, in Poictou, came to New France in the 17th century, where, in 1667, he married Marguerite Rene Denys, a relative of the devoted Madame de la Peltrie, and thus became brother-in-law to M. de Ramezay, the owner of the famous old mansion in Montreal, now a museum. Jacques d'Eschambault's son married a daughter of Louis Joliet, the discoverer of the Mississippi, and became a prominent merchant in Quebec, distinguishing himself, it is said, by having the largest family ever known in Canada, viz., thirty-two children. Under the new regime my companion's grandfather, like many another French Canadian gentleman, entered the British army, but died in Canada, leaving as heir to his seigneurie a young man whose friendship for Lord Selkirk led him to Red River as a companion, where he subsequently entered the Hudson's Bay Company's service, and died, a chief-factor, at St. Boniface, Man. His son, my companion, also entered the service, in 1857, at his father's post of Isle a la Crosse, served seven years at Cumberland, nine at other distant points, and, finally, fifteen years as trader at Reindeer Lake, a far northern post bordering on the Barren Lands, and famous for its breed of dogs. My friend had some strange virtues, or defects, as the ungodly might call them; he had never used tobacco or intoxicants in his life, a marvellous thing considering his environment. He possessed, besides, a fine simplicity which pleased one. Doubled up in the Edmonton hotel with a waggish companion, he was seen, so the latter affirmed, to attempt to blow out the electric light, a thing which, greatly to his discomfiture, was done by his bed-fellow with apparent ease. Being a man of scant speech, I enjoyed with him betimes the luxury of it. But we had much discourse for all that, and I learnt many interesting things from this old trader, who seemed taciturn in our little crowd, but was, in reality, a tower of intelligent silence beat about by a flood of good-humoured chaff and loquacity.
At our first night's camp we were still in sight of the Landing, which looked absurdly near, considering the men's hard pull; and from there messengers were sent to Baptiste Lake, the source of Baptiste Creek, which joins the Athabasca a few miles up, and where there was a settlement of half-breed fishermen and hunters, to procure additional trackers if possible. On their unsuccessful return, at eleven a.m., we started again—newo pishawuk, as they call it, "four trackers to the line," as before and early in the afternoon were opposite Baptiste Creek, and, weather compelling, rowed across, and camped there that evening. It rained dismally all night, and morning opened with a strong head wind and every symptom of bad weather. A survey party from the Rocky Mountains, in a York boat, tarried at our camp, bringing word that the ice-jam was clear in Lesser Slave Lake, which was cheering, but that we need scarcely look for the expected assistance. They also gave a vague account of the murder of a squaw by her husband for cannibalism, which afterwards proved to be groundless, and, with this comforting information, sped on.
It is ridiculously easy to go down the Athabasca compared with ascending it. The previous evening a Baptiste Lake hunter, bound for the Landing, set on from our camp at a great rate astride of a couple of logs, which he held together with his legs, and disappeared round the bend below in a twinkling. A priest, too, with a companion, arrived about dusk in a canoe, and set off again, intending to beach at the Landing before dark.
Of course, several surmises were current regarding the non-arrival of our trackers, the most likely being Bishop Grouard's, that, as the R. C. Mission boats and men had not come down either, the Indians and half-breeds were too intent upon discussing the forthcoming treaty to stir.
So far it had been the rain and consequent bad tracking which had delayed us; but still we were too weak-handed to make headway without help, and it was at this juncture that the Police contingent stepped manfully into the breach, and volunteered to track one of the boats to the lake. This was no light matter for men unaccustomed to such beastly toil and in such abominable weather; but, having once put their hands to the rope, they were not the men to back down. With unfaltering "go" they pulled on day after day, landing their boat at its destination at last, having worked in the harness and at the sweeps, without relief, from the start almost to the finish.
Meanwhile all enjoyed good health and spirits in spite of the weather. There were fair grounds for the belief that Mr. Ross, who had set out by trail from Edmonton, would reach the lake in time to distribute to the congregated Indians and half-breeds the Government rations stored there for that purpose, and, therefore, our anxiety was not so great as it would otherwise have been.
Our trackers being thus reinforced, the outlook was more satisfactory, not so much in increased speed as in the certainty of progress. The rain had ceased, and though the sky was still lowering, the temperature was higher. Tents were struck, and the boats got under way at once, taking chances on the weather, which, instead of breaking up in another deluge, improved. Eight men were now put to each line, Peokus, a remarkable old Blackfoot Indian, captured and adopted in boyhood by the Crees, and who afterwards attracted the attention of us all, being detailed to lead the Police gang, who, raw and unused to the work, required an experienced tracker at their head.
The country passed through hitherto was rolling, hilly, and densely forested, but, alas, with prostrate trunks and fire-blasted "rampikes," which ranged in all directions in desolate profusion. The timber was Banksian pine, spruce, poplar and birch, much of it merchantable, but not of large size. It was pitiful to see so much wealth destroyed by recent fires, and that, too, at the possible opening of an era of real value in the near future. The greatest destruction was evidently on the north side of the river, but the south had not escaped.
As regards the soil in these parts, it was, so far, impossible to speak favourably. The hunters described the inland country as a wilderness of sand-hills, surrounded by quaking-bogs, muskegs and soft meadows. Judging by exposures on the river bank, there are, here and there, fertile areas which may yet be utilized; but probably the best thing that could happen to that part of the country would be a great clearing fire to complete the destruction of its dead timber and convert its best parts into prairie and a summer range for cattle.
We were now approaching a portion of the river where the difficulties of getting on were great. The men had to cope with the swift current, bordered by a series of steep gumbo slides, where the tracking was hazardous; where great trees slanted over the water, tottering to their fall, or deep pits and fissures gaped in the festering clay, into which the men often plunged to their arm-pits. It was horrible to look upon. The chain-gang, the galley-slaves, how often the idea of them was recalled by that horrid pull! Yet onward they went, with teeth set and hands bruised by the rope, surmounting difficulty after difficulty with the pith of lions.
At last a better region was reached, with occasionally a better path. Here the destruction by fire had been stayed, the country improved, and the forest outlines became bold and noble. Hour by hour we crept along a like succession of majestic bends of the river, not yet flushed by the summer freshet, but flowing with superb volume and force. Fully ten miles were made that day, the men tracking like Trojans through water and over difficult ground, but fortunately free from mosquitoes, the constant head winds keeping these effectually down. The cool weather in like manner kept the water down, for it is in this month that the freshet from the Rocky Mountains generally begins, filling the channel bank-high, submerging the tracking paths, and bearing upon its foaming surface such a mass of uprooted trees and river trash that it is almost impossible to make head against it.
The next morning opened dry and pleasant, but with a milky and foreboding sky. Again the boats were in motion, passing the Pusquatenao, or Naked Hill, beyond which is the Echo Lake—Katoo Sakaigon—where a good many Indians lived, having a pack-trail thereto from the river.
The afternoon proved to be hot, the clouds cumulose against a clear, blue sky, with occasional sun-showers. The tracking became better for a time, the lofty benches decreasing in height as we ascended. Innumerable ice-cold creeks poured in from the forest, all of a reddish-yellow cast, and the frequent marks on trees, informing passing hunters of the success of their friends, and the number of stages along the shore for drying meat, indicated a fine moose country.
The next day was treaty day, and we were still a long way from the treaty post. The Police, not yet hardened to the work, felt fagged, but would not own up, a nephew of Sir William Vernon Harcourt bringing up the rear, and all slithering, but hanging to it with dogged perseverance. Nothing, indeed, can be imagined more arduous than this tracking up a swift river, against constant head winds in bad weather. Much of it is in the water, wading up "snies," or tortuous shallow channels, plunging into numberless creeks, clambering up slimy banks, creeping under or passing the line over fallen trees, wading out in the stream to round long spits of sand or boulders, floundering in gumbo slides, tripping, crawling, plunging, and, finally, tottering to the camping-place sweating like horses, and mud to the eyes—but never grumbling. After a whole day of this slavish work, no sooner was the bath taken, supper stowed, and pipes filled, than laughter began, and jokes and merriment ran round the camp-fires as if such things as mud and toil had never existed.
The old Indian, Peokus, heading the Police line, was a study. His garb was a pair of pants toned down to the colour of the grime they daily sank in, a shirt and corduroy vest to match, a faded kerchief tied around his head, an Assomption sash, and a begrimed body inside of all—a short, squarely built frame, clad with rounded muscles—nothing angular about him!—but the nerves within tireless as the stream he pulled against. On the lead, in harness, his long arms swung like pendulums, his whole body leant forward at an acute angle, the gait steady, and the step solid as the tramp of a gorilla. Some coarse black hairs clung here and there to his upper lip; his fine brown eyes were embedded in wrinkles, and his swarthy features, though clumsy, were kindly—a good-humoured face, which, at a cheerful word or glance, lit up at once with the grotesque grin of an animated gargoyle. This was the typical old-time tracker of the North; the toiler who brought in the products of man's art in the East, and took out Nature's returns—the Indian's output—ever since the trade first penetrated these endless solitudes.
The forest scenery now became very striking; primeval masses of poplar and birch foliage, which spread away and upward in smoothest slopes, like vast lawns, studded with the sombre green of the pine tops which towered above them. Here and there the bends of the river crossed at such angles as to enclose a lake-like expanse of water. The river also took a fine colouring from its tributaries, a sort of greenish-yellow tinge, and now became flecked with bubbles and thin foam, so that we feared the freshet, which would have been disastrous.
At mid-day we reached Shoal Island—Pakwao Ministic—and here the poles were got out and the trackers took the middle of the river for nearly a mile, until deep water was reached. Placer miners had evidently been at work here, but with poor results, we were told. Below Baptiste Creek, however, the yield had been satisfactory, and several miners had made from $2.00 to $2.50 a day over their living expenses. Above the Baptiste there was nothing doing; indeed, we did not pass a single miner at work on the whole route, and it was the best time for their work. The gold is flocculent, its source as mysterious as that of the Saskatchewan, if the theory that the latter was washed out of the Selkirks before the upheaval of the Rockies is astray.
A fresh moose head, seen lying on the bank, indicated a hunting party, but no human life was seen aside from our own people. Indeed, the absence of life of any kind along the river, excepting the song-birds, which were in some places numerous, was surprising. No deer, no bears, not even a fox or a timber wolf made one's fingers itch for the trigger. A few brent, which took wing afar off, and a high-flying duck or two, were the sole wildings observed, save a big humble-bee which droned around our boat for an instant, then darted off again. Even fish seemed to be anything but plentiful.
That night's camp was hurriedly made in a hummocky fastness of pine and birch, where we found few comfortable bedding-places. In the morning we passed several ice-ledges along shore, the survivals of the severe winter, and, presently, met a canoe with two men from Peace River, crestfallen "Klondikers," who had "struck it rich," they said, with a laugh, and who reported good water. Next morning a very early start was made, and after some long, strong pulls, and a vigorous spurt, the mouth of the Lesser Slave River opened at last on our sight.
We had latterly passed along what appeared to be fertile soil, a sandy clay country, which improved to the west and south-west at every turn. It had an inviting look, and the "lie," as well, of a region foreordained for settlement. It was irritating not to be able to explore the inner land, but our urgency was too great for that. From what we saw, however, it was easy to predict that thither would flow, in time, the stream of pioneer life and the bustle of attending enterprise and trade.
Lesser Slave River And Lesser Slave Lake.
It is unnecessary to inform the average reader that the Lesser Slave River connects the Lesser Slave Lake with the Athabasca; any atlas will satisfy him upon that point. But its peculiar colouring he will not find there, and it is this which gives the river its most distinctive character. Once seen, it is easy to account for the hue of the Athabasca below the Lesser Slave River; for the water of the latter, though of a pale yellow colour in a glass, is of a rich burnt umber in the stream, and when blown upon by the wind turns its sparkling facets to the sun like the smile upon the cheek of a brunette. Its upward course is like a continuous letter S with occasional S's side by side, so that a point can be crossed on foot in a few minutes which would cost much time to go around. Its proper name, too, is not to be found in the atlases, either English or French. There it is called the Lesser Slave River, but in the classic Cree its name is Iyaghchi Eennu Sepe, or the River of the Blackfeet, literally the "River of the Strange People." The lake itself bears the same name, and even now is never called Slave Lake by the Indians in their own tongue. This fact, to my mind, casts additional light upon an obscure prehistoric question, namely, the migration of the great Algic, or Algonquin, race. Its early home was, perhaps, in the far south, or south-west, whence it migrated around the Gulf of Florida, and eastward along the Atlantic coast, spreading up its bays and inlets, and along its great tributary rivers, finally penetrating by the Upper Ottawa to James's, and ultimately to the shores of Hudson Bay. I know there is strong adverse opinion as to the starting-point of this migration, and I only offer my own as a suggestion based upon the facts stated, and as, therefore, worthy of consideration. Sir Alexander Mackenzie speaks of the Blackfeet "travelling north-westward," and that the Crees were "invaders of the Saskatchewan from the eastward." Indeed, he says the latter were called by the Hudson's Bay Company's officers at York Factory "their home-guards." One thing seems certain, viz., that the Crees got their firearms from the English at Hudson Bay in the 17th century. Thence that great tribe, called by themselves the Naheowuk, but by the Ojibway Saulteaux the Kinistineaux, and by the voyageurs Christineaux, or, more commonly, the Crees—a word derived, some think, from the first syllable of the latter name, or perhaps from the French crier, to shout—descended upon the Blackfeet, who probably at that time occupied this region, and undoubtedly the Saskatchewan, and drove them south along a line stretching to the Rocky Mountains.
The tradition of this expulsion is still extant, as also of the great raids made by the Blackfeet and their kindred in times past into their ancient domain. I remember visiting, with my old friend Attakacoop—Star-Blanket—the deceased Cree chief, twenty years ago, the triumphal pile of red deer horns raised by the Blackfeet north of Shell River, a tributary of the North Saskatchewan. It is called by the Crees Ooskunaka Assustakee, and the chief described its great size in former days, and the tradition of its origin as told to him in his boyhood. Be all this as it may, and this is not the place to pursue the inquiry, the stream in question is, to the Crees who live upon it, not the River of the Slaves, but the "River of the Blackfeet." How it came by its white name is another question. Possibly some captured Indians of the tribe called the Slaves to this day, reduced to servitude by the Crees, were seen by the early voyageurs, and gave rise to the French name, of which ours is a translation. Slavery was common enough amongst the Indians everywhere. A thriving trade was done at the Detroit in the 18th century in Pawnees, or Panis, as they were called, captured by Indian raiders on the western prairies and sold to the white settlers along the river. I have seen in Windsor, Ont., an old bill of sale of one of these Pani slaves, the consideration being, if I recollect aright, a certain quantity of Indian corn.
To return to the river. The distance from Athabasca Landing to the Lesser Slave is called sixty-five miles, but this must have been ascertained by measuring from point to point, for, following the shore up stream, as boats must, it is certainly more. To the head of the river is an additional sixty miles, and thence to the head of the lake seventy-five more. The Hudson's Bay Company had a storehouse at the Forks, and an island was forming where the waters meet, the finest feature of the place being an echo, which reverberated the bugler's call at reveille very grandly.
A spurt was made in the early morning, the trackers first following a bank overgrown with alders and sallows, all of a size, which looked exactly like a well-kept hedge, but soon gave way to the usual dense line of poplar and spruce, rooted to the very edges of the banks, which are low compared with those of the Athabasca. After ascending it for some distance, it being Sunday, we camped for the day upon an open grassy point, around which the river swept in a perfect semi-circle, the dense forest opposite towering in one equally perfect, and glorious in light and shade and harmonious tints of green, from sombre olive to the lightest pea. The point itself was covered with strawberry vines and dotted with clumps of saskatoons all in bloom.
It was a lovely and lonely spot, which was soon converted into a scene of eating and laughter, and a drying ground for wet clothes. Towards evening Bishop Grouard and Father Lacombe held a well-attended service, which in this profound wilderness was peculiarly impressive. Listening, one thought how often the same service, these same chants and canticles, had awakened the sylvan echoes in like solitudes on the St. Lawrence and Mississippi in the old days of exploration and trade, and of missionary zeal and suffering. It recalled, too, the thought of man's evanescence and the apparent fixedness of his institutions.
Shortly after our tents were pitched a boat drifted past with five jaded-looking men aboard—more baffled Klondikers returning from Peace River. We had heard of numbers in the interior who could neither go on nor return, and expected to meet more castaways before we reached the lake. In this we were not astray, and several days after in the upper river we met a York boat loaded with them, alert and unmistakable Americans, but with the worn features of disappointed men.
We were now constantly encountering the rapids, which extended for about twenty-five miles, and very difficult and troublesome they proved to be to our heavily-loaded craft. Most of them were got over slowly by combined poling and tracking, the line often breaking with the strain, and the boats being kept in the channel only by the most strenuous efforts of the experienced men on board. If a monias (a greenhorn) took the bow pole, as was sometimes the case, the orders of our steersman, Cyr, were amusing to listen to. "Tughkenay asswayegh tamook!" (Be on your guard!) "Turn de oder way! Turn yourself! Turn your pole—Hell!" Then, of course, came the customary rasp on the rocks, but, if not, the cheery cry followed to the trackers ashore, "Ahchipitamook!" (Haul away!) and on we would go for a few yards more. Once, towards the end of this dreary business, when we were all crowded into the Commissioner's boat, where we took our meals, in the first really stiff rapid the keel grated as usual upon the rocks. With a better line we might have pulled through, but it broke, and the boat at once swung broadside to the current and listed on the rocks immovably, though the men struggling in the water did their best to heavy her off. The third boat then came up, and shortly afterwards the Police boat. But getting their steering sweeps fouled and lines entangled, it was nearly an hour before Cyr's boat, being first lightened, could swing to starboard of the York, and take off the passengers. The York boat was then shouldered off the rocks by main force, and all got under way again. At this juncture our old Indian, Peokus—or Pehayokusk, to give him his right name, to wit, "The giblets of a bird"—met with a serious accident, which, much to our regret, laid him up for several days. In his eagerness to help he slipped from a sunken log, and the bruise knocked the wind out of him completely. We took off his wet clothes and rubbed him, and laid him by the fire, where the doctor's care and a liberal dram of spirits soon fetched him to rights. A look of pleased wonder passed over his clumsy features as the latter did its work. Caliban himself could not have been more curiously surprised.
This was not our last stick: there were other awkward rapids near by; but by dint of wading, shouldering, pulling and tracking, we got over the last of them and into a deep channel for good, having advanced only five miles after a day of incessant toil, most of it in the water.
Our camp that night was a memorable one. The day was the fiftieth anniversary of Father Lacombe's ministration as a missionary in the North-West, and all joined in presenting him with a suitable address, handsomely engrossed by Mr. Prudhomme on birch bark, and signed by the whole party. A poem, too, composed by Mr. Cote, a gentleman of literary gifts and taste, also written on bark, was read and presented at the same time. [The poem, the text of which was secured from the author too late for insertion here, will be found in the Appendix, p. 490.] Pere Lacombe made a touching impromptu reply, which was greatly appreciated. Many of us were not of the worthy Father's communion, yet there was but one feeling, that of deep respect for the labours of this celebrated missionary, whose life had been a continuous effort to help the unbefriended Indian into the new but inevitable paths of self-support, and to shield him from the rapacity of the cold incoming world now surging around him. After the presentation, over a good cigar, the Father told some inimitable stories of Indian life on the plains in the old days, which to my great regret are too lengthy for inclusion here. One incident, however, being apropos of himself, must find place. Turning the conversation from materialism, idealism, and the other "isms" into which it had drifted, he spoke of the fears so many have of ghosts, and even of a corpse, and confessed that, from early training, he had shared this fear until he got rid of it in an incident one winter at Lac Ste. Anne. He had been sent for during the night to administer extreme unction to a dying half-breed girl thirteen miles away. Hitching his dogs to their sled he sped on, but too late, for he was met on the trail by the girl's relatives, bringing her dead body wrapped in a buffalo skin, and which they asked him to take back with him and place in his chapel pending service. He tremblingly assented, and the body was duly tied to his sled, the relatives returning to their homes. He was alone with the corpse in the dense and dark forest, and felt the old dread, but reflecting on his office and its duties, he ran for a long distance behind the sled until, thoroughly tired, he stepped on it to rest. In doing this he slipped and fell upon the corpse in a spasm of fear, which, strange to say, when he recovered from it, he felt no more. The shock cured him, and, reaching home, he placed the girl's body in the chapel with his own hands. It reminded him, he said, of a Community at Marseilles whose Superior had died, but whose money was missing. The new Superior sent a young priest who had a great dread of ghosts down to the crypt below the church to open the coffin and search the pockets of the dead. He did so, and found the money; but in nailing on the coffin lid again, a part of his soutane was fastened down with it. The priest turned to go, advanced a step, and, being suddenly held, dropped dead with fright. These gruesome stories were happily followed by an hour or two of song and pleasantry in Mr. McKenna's tent, ending in "Auld Lang Syne" and "God Save the Queen." It was a unique occasion in which to wind up so laborious a day; and our camp itself was unique—on a lofty bluff overlooking the confluence of the Saulteau River with the Lesser Slave—a bold and beautiful spot, the woods at the angle of the two rivers, down to the water's edge, showing like a gigantic V, as clean-cut as if done by a pair of colossal shears.
Next morning rowing took the place of poling and tracking for a time, and, presently, the great range of lofty hills called, to our right, the Moose Watchi, and to our left, the Tuskanatchi—the Moose and Raspberry Mountains—loomed in the distance. Here, and when only a few miles from the lake, a York boat came tearing down stream full of lithe, young half-breed trackers—our long-expected assistants from the Hudson's Bay Company's post, as we would have welcomed much more warmly had they come sooner, for we had little but the lake now to ascend, up which a fair breeze would carry us in a single night.
Doubtless it would have done so if it had come; but the same head-winds and storms which had thwarted us from the first dogged us still. We had camped near the mouth of Muskeg Creek, a good-sized stream, and evidently the cause hitherto of the Lesser Slave's rich chocolate colour; for, above the forks, the latter took its hue from the lake, but with a yellowish tinge still. From this point the river was very crooked, and lined by great hay meadows of luxuriant growth. Skirting these, reinforced as we were, we soon pulled up to the foot of the lake, where stood a Hudson's Bay Company's solitary storehouse. There some change of lading was made, in order to reach "the Island," some seven miles up, and the only one in the lake, sails being hoisted for the first time to an almost imperceptible wind.
The island, where we were to camp simply for the night—as we fondly thought—was found to be a sprawling jumble of water-worn pebbles, boulders and sand, with a long narrow spit projecting to the east, much frequented by gulls, of whose eggs a large number were gathered. To the south, on the mainland, is the site of the old North-West Company's post, near to which stood that of the Hudson's Bay Company, for they always planted themselves cheek by jowl in those days of rivalry, so that there should be no lack of provocation. A dozen half-breed families had now their habitat there, and subsisted by fishing and trapping. On the island our Cree half-breeds enjoyed the first evening's camp by playing the universal button-hiding game called Pugasawin, and which is always accompanied by a monotonous chant and the tom-tom, anything serving for that hideous instrument if a drum is not at hand. They are all inveterate gamblers in that country, and lose or win with equal indifference. Others played a peculiar game of cards called Natwawaquawin, or "Marriage," the loser's penalty being droll, but unmentionable. These amusements, which often spun out till morning, were broken up by another rattling storm, which lasted all night and all the next day. We had lost all count of storms by this time, and were stolidly resigned. The day following, however, the wind was fresh and fair, and we made great headway, reaching the mouth of Swan River—Naposeo Sepe—about mid-day.
This stream is almost choked at its discharge by a conglomeration of slimy roots, weeds and floatwood, and the banks are "a melancholy waste of putrid marshes." It is a forbidding entrance to a river which, farther up, waters a good farming country, including coal in abundance.
The wind being strong and fair, we spun along at a great rate, and expected to reach the treaty point before dark, reckoning, as usual, without our host. The wind suddenly wheeled to the south-west, and a dangerous squall sprang up, which forced us to run back for shelter fully five miles. There was barely time to camp before the gale became furious, raging all night, and throwing down tents like nine-pins. About one a.m. a cry arose from the night-watch that the boats were swamping. All hands turned out, lading was removed, and the scows hauled up on the shingle, the rollers piling on shore with a height and fury perfectly astonishing for such a lake. By morning the tempest was at its height, continuing all day and into the night. The sunset that evening exhibited some of the grandest and wildest sky scenery we had ever beheld. In the west a vast bank of luminous orange cloud, edged by torn fringes of green and gray; in the south a sea of amethyst, and stretching from north to east masses of steel gray and pearl, shot with brilliant shafts and tufts of golden vapour. The whole sky streamed with rich colouring in the fierce wind, as if possessed at once by the genii of beauty and storm. The boatmen, noting its aspect, predicted worse weather; but, fortunately, morning belied the omens—our trials were over.
We were now nearing Shaw's Point, a long willowed spit of land, called after a whimsical old chief-factor of the Hudson's Bay Company who had charge of this district over sixty years before. He appears to have been a man of many eccentricities, one of which was the cultivation a la Chinois of a very long finger-nail, which he used as a spoon to eat his egg. But of him anon. By four p.m. we had rounded his Point, and come into view of Wyaweekamon—"The Outlet"—a rudimentary street with several trading stores, a billiard saloon and other accessories of a brand-new village in a very old wilderness.
Here we were at the treaty point at last, safe and sound, with new interests and excitements before us; with wild man instead of wild weather to encounter; with discords to harmonize and suspicions to allay by human kindness, perhaps by human firmness, but mainly by the just and generous terms proffered by Government to an isolated but highly interesting and deserving people.
Treaty At Lesser Slave Lake.
On the 19th of June our little fleet landed at Willow Point. There was a rude jetty, or wharf, at this place, below the little trading village referred to, at which loaded boats discharged. Formerly they could ascend the sluggish and shallow channel connecting the expansion of the Heart River, called Buffalo Lake, with the head of Lesser Slave Lake, a distance of about three miles, and as far as the Hudson's Bay Company's post, around which another trading village had gathered. This temporary fall in the water level partly accounted for the growth of the village at Willow Point, where sufficient interests had arisen to cause a jealousy between the two hamlets. Once upon a time Atawaywe Kamick was supreme. This is the name the Crees give to the Hudson's Bay Company, meaning literally "the Buying House." But now there were many stores, and "free trade" was rather in the ascendant. In the middle was safety, and therefore the Commissioners decided to pitch camp on a beautiful flat facing the south and fronting the channel, and midway between the two opposing points of trade. A feu de joie by the white residents of the region, of whom there were some seventy or eighty, welcomed the arrival of the boats at the wharf, and after a short stay here, simply to collect baggage, a start was made for the camping ground, where our numerous tents soon gave the place the appearance of a village of our own.
Tepees were to be seen in all directions from our camp—the lodges of the Indians and half-breeds. But no sooner was the treaty site apparent than a general concentration took place, and we were speedily surrounded by a bustling crowd, putting up trading tents and shacks, dancing booths, eating-places, etc., so that with the motley crowd, including a large number of women and children, and a swarm of dogs such as we never dreamt of, amounting in a short space by constant accessions to over a thousand, we were in the heart of life and movement and noise.
Mr. Ross, as already stated, had gone on by trail from Edmonton, partly in order to inspect it, and managed to reach the lake before us, which was fortunate, since Indians and half-breeds had collected in large numbers, and women thus able to allay their irritation and to distribute rations pending the arrival of the other members of the Commission. During the previous winter, upon the circulation in the North of the news of the coming treaty, discussion was rife, and every cabin and tepee rang with argument. The wiseacre was not absent, of course, and agitators had been at work for some time endeavouring to jaundice the minds of the people—half-breeds, it was said, from Edmonton, who had been vitiated by contact with a low class of white men there—and, therefore, nothing was as yet positively known as to the temper and views of the Indians. But whatever evil effect these tamperings might have had upon them, it was felt that a plain statement of the proposals of the Government would speedily dissipate it, and that, when placed before them in Mr. Laird's customary kind and lucid manner, they would be accepted by both Indians and half-breeds as the best obtainable, and as conducing in all respects to their truest and most permanent interests.
On the 20th the eventful morning had come, and, for a wonder, the weather proved to be calm, clear and pleasant. The hour fixed upon for the beginning of negotiations was two p.m., up to which time much hand-shaking had, of course, to be undergone with the constant new arrivals of natives from the forest and lakes around. The Church of England and Roman Catholic clergy, the only missionary bodies in the country, met and dined with our party, after which all adjourned to the treaty ground, where the people had already assembled, and where all soon seated themselves on the grass in front of the treaty tent—a large marquee—the Indians being separated by a small space from the half-breeds, who ranged themselves behind them, all conducting themselves in the most sedate and orderly manner.
Mr. Laird and the other Commissioners were seated along the open front of the tent, and one could not but be impressed by the scene, set as it was in a most beautiful environment of distant mountains, waters, forests and meadows, all sweet and primeval, and almost untouched by civilized man. The whites of The region had also turned out to witness the scene, which, though lacking the wild aspect of the old assemblages on the plains in the early 'seventies, had yet a character of its own of great interest, and of the most hopeful promise.
The crowd of Indians ranged before the marquee had lost all semblance of wildness of the true type. Wild men they were, in a sense, living as they did in the forest and on their great waters. But it was plain that these people had achieved, without any treaty at all, a stage of civilization distinctly in advance of many of our treaty Indians to the south after twenty-five years of education. Instead of paint and feathers, the scalp-lock, the breech-clout, and the buffalo-robe, there presented itself a body of respectable-looking men, as well dressed and evidently quite as independent in their feelings as any like number of average pioneers in the East. Indeed, I had seen there, in my youth, many a time, crowds of white settlers inferior to these in sedateness and self-possession. One was prepared, in this wild region of forest, to behold some savage types of men; indeed, I craved to renew the vanished scenes of old. But, alas! one beheld, instead, men with well-washed, unpainted faces, and combed and common hair; men in suits of ordinary "store-clothes," and some even with "boiled" if not laundered shirts. One felt disappointed, almost defrauded. It was not what was expected, what we believed we had a right to expect, after so much waggoning and tracking and drenching, and river turmoil and trouble. This woeful shortcoming from bygone days attended other aspects of the scene. Instead of fiery oratory and pipes of peace—the stone calumets of old—the vigorous arguments, the outbursts of passion, and close calls from threatened violence, here was a gathering of commonplace men smoking briar-roots, with treaty tobacco instead of "weed," and whose chiefs replied to Mr. Laird's explanations and offers in a few brief and sensible statements, varied by vigorous appeals to the common sense and judgment, rather than the passions, of their people. It was a disappointing, yet, looked at aright, a gratifying spectacle. Here were men disciplined by good handling and native force out of barbarism—of which there was little to be seen—and plainly on the high road to comfort; men who led inoffensive and honest lives, yet who expressed their sense of freedom and self-support in their speech, and had in their courteous demeanour the unmistakable air and bearing of independence. If provoked by injustice, a very dangerous people this; but self-respecting, diligent and prosperous in their own primitive calling, and able to adopt agriculture, or any other pursuit, with a fair hope of success when the still distant hour for it should arrive.
The proceedings began with the customary distribution of tobacco, and by a reference to the competent interpreters who had been appointed by the Commission, men who were residents, and well known to the Indians themselves, and who possessed their confidence. The Indians had previously appointed as spokesman their Chief and head-man, Keenooshayo and Moostoos, a worthy pair of brothers, who speedily exhibited their qualities of good sense and judgment, and, Keenooshayo in particular, a fine order of Indian eloquence, which was addressed almost entirely to his own people, and which is lost, I am sorry to say, in the account here set down.
Mr. Laird then rose, and having unrolled his Commission, and that of his colleagues, from the Queen, proceeded with his proposals. He spoke as follows:
"Red Brothers! we have come here to-day, sent by the Great Mother to treat with you, and this is the paper she has given to us, and is her Commission to us signed with her Seal, to show we have authority to treat with you. The other Commissioners, who are associated with me, and who are sitting here, are Mr. McKenna and Mr. Ross and the Rev. Father Lacombe, who is with us to act as counsellor and adviser. I have to say, on behalf of the Queen and the Government of Canada, that we have come to make you an offer. We have made treaties in former years with all the Indians of the prairie, and from there to Lake Superior. As white people are coming into your country, we have thought it well to tell you what is required of you. The Queen wants all the whites, half-breeds and Indians to be at peace with one another, and to shake hands when they meet. The Queen's laws must be obeyed all over the country, both by the whites and the Indians. It is not alone that we wish to prevent Indians from molesting the whites, it is also to prevent the whites from molesting or doing harm to the Indians. The Queen's soldiers are just as much for the protection of the Indians as for the white man. The Commissioners made an appointment to meet you at a certain time, but on account of bad weather on river and lake, we are late, which we are sorry for, but are glad to meet so many of you here to-day.
"We understand stories have been told you, that if you made a treaty with us you would become servants and slaves; but we wish you to understand that such is not the case, but that you will be just as free after signing a treaty as you are now. The treaty is a free offer; take it or not, just as you please. If you refuse it there is no harm done; we will not be bad friends on that account. One thing Indians must understand, that if they do not make a treaty they must obey the laws of the land—that will be just the same whether you make a treaty or not; the laws must be obeyed. The Queen's Government wishes to give the Indians here the same terms as it has given all the Indians all over the country, from the prairies to Lake Superior. Indians in other places, who took treaty years ago, are now better off than they were before. They grow grain and raise cattle like the white people. Their children have learned to read and write.