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Voyages from Montreal Through the Continent of North America
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Tuesday, 23. — Towards morning, the Indians who had not been able to keep up with us the preceding day, now joined us, and brought two swans and a goose. At half past three we re-embarked, and steering West by North a mile and an half, with a Northerly wind, we came to the foot of a traverse across a deep bay, West five miles, which receives a considerable river at the bottom of it; the distance about twelve miles. The North-West side of the bay was covered with many small islands that were surrounded with ice; but the wind driving it a little off the land, we had a clear passage on the inside of them. We steered South-West nine miles under sail, then North-West nearly, through the islands, forming a course of sixteen miles. We landed on the main land at half past two in the afternoon at three lodges of Red-Knife Indians, so called from their copper knives. They informed us, that there were many more lodges of their friends at no great distance; and one of the Indians set off to fetch them: they also said, that we should see no more of them at present; as the Slave and Beaver Indians, as well as others of the tribe, would not be here till the time that the swans cast their feathers. In the afternoon it rained a torrent.
Wednesday, 24. — M. Le Roux purchased of these Indians upwards of eight packs of good beaver and marten skins; and there were not above twelve of them qualified to kill beaver. The English chief got upwards of an hundred skins on the score of debts due to him, of which he had many outstanding in this country. Forty of them he gave on account of debts due by him since the winters of 1786 and 1787, at the Slave Lake; the rest he exchanged for rum and other necessary articles; and I added a small quantity of that liquor as an encouraging present to him and his young men. I had several consultations with these Copper Indian people, but could obtain no information that was material to our expedition; nor were they acquainted with any part of the river, which was the object of my research, but the mouth of it. In order to save as much time as possible in circumnavigating the bays, I engaged one of the Indians to conduct us; and I accordingly equipped him with various articles of clothing, etc. I also purchased a large new canoe, that he might embark with the two young Indians in my service.
This day, at noon, I took an observation, which gave me 62. 24. North latitude; the variation of the compass being about twenty-six or twenty-seven degrees to the East.
In the afternoon I assembled the Indians, in order to inform them that I should take my departure on the following day; but that people would remain on the spot till their countrymen, whom they had mentioned, should arrive; and that, if they brought a sufficient quantity of skins to make it answer, the Canadians would return for more goods, with a view to winter here, and build a fort,1 which would be continued as long as they should be found to deserve it. They assured me that it would be a great encouragement to them to have a settlement of ours in their country; and that they should exert themselves to the utmost to kill beaver, as they would then be certain of getting an adequate value for them. Hitherto, they said, the Chepewyans always pillaged them; or, at most, gave little or nothing for the fruits of their labour, which had greatly discouraged them; and that, in consequence of this treatment, they had no motive to pursue the beaver, but to obtain a sufficient quantity of food and raiment.
I now wrote to Messrs. Macleod and Mackenzie, and addressed my papers to the former, at Athabasca.
Thursday, 25. — We left this place at three this morning, our canoe being deeply laden, as we had embarked some packages that had come in the canoes of M. Le Roux. We were saluted on our departure with some volleys of small arms, which we returned, and steered South by West straight across the bay, which is here no more than two miles and a half broad, but, from the accounts of the natives, it is fifteen leagues in depth, with a much greater breadth in several parts, and full of islands. I sounded in the course of the traverse and found six fathoms with a sandy bottom. Here, the land has a very different appearance from that on which we have been since we entered the lake. Till we arrived here there was one continued view of high hills and islands of solid rock, whose surface was occasionally enlivened with moss, shrubs, and a few scattered trees, of a very stinted growth, from an insufficiency of soil to nourish them. But, notwithstanding their barren appearance, almost every part of them produces berries of various kinds, such as cranberries, juniper berries, raspberries, partridge berries, gooseberries, and the pathegomenan, which is something like a raspberry; it grows on a small stalk about a foot and a half high, in wet, mossy spots. These fruits are in great abundance, though they are not to be found in the same places, but in situations and aspects suited to their peculiar natures.
The land which borders the lake in this part is loose and sandy, but is well covered with wood, composed of trees of a larger growth: it gradually rises from the shore, and at some distance forms a ridge of high land running along the coast, thick with wood and a rocky summit rising above it.
We steered South-South-East nine miles, when we were very much interrupted by drifting ice, and with some difficulty reached an island, where we landed at seven. I immediately proceeded to the further part of it, in order to discover if there was any probability of our being able to get from thence in the course of the day. It is about five miles in circumference, and I was very much surprised to find that the greater part of the wood with which it was formerly covered, had been cut down within twelve or fifteen years, and that the remaining stumps were become altogether rotten. On making inquiry concerning the cause of this extraordinary circumstance, the English chief informed me, that several winters ago, many of the Slave Indians inhabited the islands that were scattered over the bay, as the surrounding waters abound with fish throughout the year, but that they had been driven away by the Knisteneaux, who continually made war upon them. If an establishment is to be made in this country, it must be in the neighbourhood of this place, on account of the wood. and fishery.
At eleven we ventured to re-embark, as the wind had driven the greatest part of the ice past the island, though we still had to encounter some broken pieces of it, which threatened to damage our canoe. We steered South-East from point to point across five bays, twenty-one miles. We took soundings several times, and found frog six to ten fathom water. I observed that the country gradually descended inland, and was still better covered with wood than in the higher parts. — Wherever we approached the land, we perceived deserted lodges. The hunters killed two swans and a beaver; and at length we landed at eight o'clock in the evening, when we unloaded and gummed our canoe.
Friday, 26. — We continued our route at five o'clock, steering South-East for ten miles across two deep bays; then South-South-East, with islands in sight to the Eastward. We then traversed another bay in a course of three miles, then South one mile to a point which we named the Detour, and South-South-West four miles and an half, when there was an heavy swell of the lake. Here I took an observation, when we were in 61 40. North latitude We then proceeded South-West four miles, and West-South West among islands: on one of which our Indians killed two rein-deer, but we lost three hours aft wind in going for them: this course was nine miles. About seven in the evening we were obliged to land for the night, as the wind became too strong from the South-East. We thought we could observe land in this direction when the wind was coming on frog some distance. On the other side of the Detour, the land is low, and the shore is flat and dangerous, there being no safe place to land in bad weather, except in the islands which we had just passed. There seemed to be plenty of goose and rein-deer in this country, as we saw their tracks wherever we landed. There are also great numbers of white partridges, which were at this season of a grey colour, like that of the moor-fowl. There was some floating ice in the lake, and the Indians killed a couple of swans.
Saturday, 27. — At three this morning we were in the canoe, after having passed a very restless night from the persecution of the mosquitoes The weather was fine and calm, and our course West-South-West nine miles, when we cage to the foot of a traverse, the opposite point in sight bearing South-West, distance twelve miles. The bay is at least eight miles deep, and this course two miles more, in all ten miles. It now became very foggy, and as the bays were so numerous, we landed for two hours, when the weather cleared up, and we took the advantage of steering South thirteen miles, and passed several small bays, when we came to the point of a very deep one, whose extremity was not discernible; the land bearing South from us, at the distance of about ten miles. Our guide not having been here for eight winters, was at a loss what course to take, though as well as he could recollect, this bay appeared to be the entrance of the river. Accordingly, we steered down it, about West-South-West, till we were involved in a field of broken ice. We still could not discover the bottom of the bay, and a fog coming on, made it very difficult for us to get to an island to the South-West, and it was nearly dark when we effected a landing.
Sunday, 28. — At a quarter past three we were again on the water, and as we could perceive no current setting into this bay, we made the best of our way to the point that bore South from us yesterday afternoon. We continued our course South three miles more, South by West seven miles, West fifteen miles, when by observation we were in 61 degrees North latitude; we then proceeded West-North-West two miles. Here we came to the foot of a traverse, the opposite land bearing South-West, distance fourteen miles, when we steered into a deep bay, about a westerly course; and though we had no land ahead in sight, we indulged the hope of finding a passage, which, according to the Indian, would conduct us to the entrance of the river.
Having a strong wind aft, we lost sight of the Indians, nor could we put on shore to wait for them, without risking material damage to the canoe, till we ran to the bottom of the bay, and were forced among the rushes; when we discovered that there was no passage there. In about two or three hours they joined us, but would not approach our fire, as there was no good ground for an encampment: they emptied their canoe of the water which it had taken in, and continued their route, but did not encamp till sunset The English chief was very much irritated against the Red-Knife Indian, and even threatened to murder him, for having undertaken to guide us in a course of which he was ignorant; nor had we any reason to be satisfied with him, though he still continued to encourage us, by declaring that he recollected having passed from the river, through the woods, to the place where he had landed. In the blowing weather to-day, we were obliged to make use of our large kettle, to keep our canoe from filling, although we did not carry above three feet sail. The Indians very narrowly escaped.
Monday, 29. — We embarked at four this morning, and steered along the South-West side of the bay. At half past five we reached the extremity of the point, which we doubled, and found it to be the branch or passage that was the object of our search, and occasioned by a very long island, which separates it from the main channel of the river. It is about half a mile across, and not more than six feet in depth; the water appeared to abound in fish, and was covered with fowl, such as swans, geese, and several kinds of ducks, particularly black ducks, that were very numerous, but we could not get within gun shot of them.
The current, though not very strong, set us South-West by West, and we followed this course fourteen miles, till we passed the point of the long island, where the Slave Lake discharges itself, and is ten miles in breadth. There is not more than from five to two fathom water, so that when the lake is low, it may be presumed the greatest part of this channel must be dry. The river now turns to the Westward, becoming gradually narrower for twenty-four miles, till it is not more than half a mile wide; the current, however, is then much stronger, and the sounding were three fathom and a half. The land on the North shore from the lake is low, and covered with trees; that to the South is much higher, and has also an abundance of wood. The current is very strong, and the banks are of an equal height on both sides, consisting of a yellow clay, mixed with small stones; they are covered with large quantities of burned wood, lying on the ground, and young poplar trees, that have sprung up since the fire that destroyed the larger wood. It is a very curious and extraordinary circumstance, that land covered with spruce pine, and white birch, when laid waste by fire, should subsequently produce nothing but poplars, where none of that species of tree were previously to be found.
A stiff breeze from the Eastward drove us on at a great rate under sail, in the same course, though obliged to wind among the islands. We kept the North channel for about ten miles, whose current is much stronger than that of the South; so that the latter is consequently the better road to come up. Here the river widened, and the wind dying away, we had recourse to our paddles. We kept our course to the North-West, on the North side of the river, which is here much wider, and assumes the form of a small lake; we could not, however, discover an opening in any direction, so that we were at a loss what course to take, as our Red-Knife Indian had never explored beyond our present situation. He at the same time informed us that a river falls in from the North, which takes its rise in the Horn Mountain, now in sight, which is the country of the Beaver Indians; and that he and his relations frequently meet on that river. He also added, that there are very extensive plains on both sides of it, which abound in buffaloes and moose deer.
By keeping this course, we got into shallows, so that we were forced to steer to the left, till we recovered deep water, which we followed till the channel of the river opened on us to the southward, we now made for the shore, and encamped soon after sunset. Our course ought to have been West fifteen miles, since we took to the paddle, the Horn Mountains bearing from us North-West, and running North-North-East and South-South-West. Our soundings, which were frequent during the course of the day, were from three to six fathoms water. The hunters killed two geese and a swan: it appeared, indeed, that great numbers of fowls breed in the islands which we had passed.
Tuesday, 30. — At four this morning we got under way, the weather being fine and calm. Our course was South-West by South thirty-six miles. On the South side of the river is a ridge of low mountains, running East and West by compass. The Indians picked up a white goose, which appeared to have been lately shot with an arrow, and was quite fresh. We proceeded South-West by South six miles, and then came to a bay on our left, which is full of small islands, and appeared to be the entrance of a river from the South. Here the ridge of mountains terminates. This course was fifteen miles.
At six in the afternoon there was an appearance of bad weather; we landed therefore, for the night; but before we could pitch our tents, a violent tempest came on, with thunder, lightning, and rain, which, however, soon ceased, but not before we had suffered the inconvenience of being drenched by it. The Indians were very much fatigued, having been employed in running after wild fowl, which had lately cast their feathers; they, however, caught five swans, and the same number of geese. I sounded several times in the course of the day, and found from four to six fathoms water.______________________
1 Fort is the name given to any establishment in this country.