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Voyages from Montreal Through the Continent of North America
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Friday, 24. — At five we continued our course, but, in a very short time, were under the necessity of applying to the aid of the line, the stream being so strong as to render all our attempts unavailing to stem it with the paddles. We passed a small river, on each side of which the natives and Esquimaux collect flint. The bank is an high, steep, and soft rock, variegated with red, green, and yellow hues. From the continual dripping of water, parts of it frequently fall and break into small stony flakes like slate, but not so hard. Among them are found pieces of Petrolium, which bears a resemblance to yellow wax, but is more friable. The English chief informed me that rocks of a similar kind are scattered about the country at the back of the Slave Lake, where the Chepewyans collect copper.
At ten, we had. an aft wind, and the men who had been engaged in towing, re-embarked. At twelve, we observed a lodge on the side of the river, and its inhabitants running about in great confusion, or hurrying to the woods. Three men waited our arrival, though they remained at some distance from us, with their bows and arrows ready to be employed; or at least, that appeared to be the idea they wished to convey to us, by continually snapping the strings of the former, and the signs they made to forbid our approach. The English chief, whose language they, in some degree understood, endeavoured to remove their distrust of us; but till I went to them with a present of beads, they refused to have any communication with us.
When they first perceived our sail, they took us for the Esquimaux Indians, who employ a sail in their canoes. They were suspicious of our designs, and questioned us with a view to obtain some knowledge of them. On seeing us in possession of some of the clothes, bows, etc., which gust have belonged to some of the Deguthee Denees, or Quarrellers, they imagined that we had killed some of them, and were bearing away the fruits of our victory. They appeared, indeed, to be of the same tribe, though they were afraid of acknowledging it. From their questions, it was evident that they had not received any notice of our being in those parts.
They would not acknowledge that they had any women with them, though we had seen them running to the woods; but pretended that they had been left at a considerable distance from the river, with some relations, who were engaged in killing rein-deer. These people had been here but a short time, and their lodge was not yet completed; nor had they any fish in a state of preparation for their provision. I gave them a knife and some beads for an horn-wedge or chisel, with which they split their canoe-wood. One of my Indians having broken his paddle, attempted to take one of theirs, which was immediately contested by its owner, and on my interfering to prevent this act of injustice, he manifested his gratitude to me on the occasion. We lost an hour and a half in this conference.
The English chief was during the whole of the time in the woods, where some of the hidden property was discovered, but the women contrived to elude the search that was made after them. Some of these articles were purloined, but I was ignorant of this circumstance till we had taken our departure, or I should have given an ample remuneration. Our chief expressed his displeasure at their running away to conceal themselves, their property, and their young women, in very bitter terms. He said his heart was against those slaves; and complained aloud of his disappointment in coming so far without seeing the natives, and getting something from them.
We employed the sail and the paddle since ten this morning, and pitched our tents at seven in the evening. We had no sooner encamped than we were visited by an Indian whom we had seen before, and whose family was at a small distance up the river: at nine he left us. The weather was clear and serene.
Saturday, 25. — We embarked this morning at a quarter past three, and at seven we passed the lodge of the Indian who had visited us the preceding evening. There appeared to have been more than one family, and we naturally concluded that our visitor had made such an unfavourable report of us, as to induce his companions to fly on our approach. Their fire was not extinguished, and they had left a considerable quantity of fish scattered about their dwelling.
The weather was now very sultry; but the current had relaxed of its force, so that the paddle was sufficient for our progress during the greatest part of the day. The inland part of the country is mountainous and the banks of the river low, but covered with wood, among which is the poplar, but of small growth, and the first which we had seen on our return. A pigeon also flew by us, and hares appeared to be in great plenty. We passed many Indian encampments which we did not see in our passage down the river. About seven the sky, to the Westward, became of a steel blue colour, with lightning and thunder. We accordingly landed to prepare ourselves against the coming storm; but before we could erect our tents, it came on with such violence that we expected it to carry every thing before it. The ridge pole of my tent was broken in the middle, where it was sound, and nine inches and an half in circumference; and we were obliged to throw ourselves flat on the ground to escape being wounded by the stones that were hurled about in the air like sand. The violence of the storm, however, subsided in a short time, but left the sky overcast with the appearance of rain.
Sunday, 26. — It rained from the preceding evening to this morning, when we embarked at four o'clock. At eight we landed at three large Indian lodges. Their inhabitants, who were asleep, expressed uncommon alarm and agitation when they were awakened by us, though most of them had seen us before. Their habitations were crowded with fish, hanging to dry in every part; but as we wanted some for present use, we sent their young men to visit the nets, and they returned with abundance of large white fish, to which the name has been given of poisson inconnu; some of a round shape, and green colour; and a few white ones; all which were very agreeable food. Some beads, and a few other trifles, were gratefully received in return. These people are very fond of iron work of any kind, and my men purchased several of their articles for small pieces of tin.
There were five or six persons whom we had not seen before; and among them was a Dog-rib Indian, whom some private quarrel had driven from his country. The English chief understood him as well as one of his own nation, and gave the following account of their conversation :
He had been informed by the people with whom he now lives, the Hare Indians, that there is another river on the other side of the mountains to the South-West, which falls into the Belhoullay Toe, or White-man's Lake, in comparison of which that on whose banks we then were, was but a small stream; that the natives were very large, and very wicked, and kill common men with their eyes; that they make canoes larger than ours; that those who inhabit the entrance of it kill a kind of beaver, the skin of which is almost red; and that large canoes often frequent it. As there is no known communication by water with this river, the natives who saw it went over the mountains.
As he mentioned that there were some beavers in this part of the country, I told him to hunt it, and desire the others to do the same, as well as the martens, foxes, beaver-eater or wolverine, &c., which they might carry to barter for iron with his own nation, who are supplied with goods by us, near their country. He was anxious to know whether we should return that way; at the same time he informed us, that we should see but few of the natives along the river, as all the young men were engaged in killing rein-deer, near the Esquimaux Lake, which, he also said, was at no great distance. The latter he represented as very treacherous, and added, that they had killed one of his people. He told us likewise, that some plan of revenge was meditating, unless the offending party paid a sufficient price for the body of the murdered person.
My Indians were very anxious to possess themselves of a woman that was with the natives, but as they were not willing to part with her, I interfered, to prevent her being taken by force; indeed, I was obliged to exercise the utmost vigilance, as the Indians who accompanied me were ever ready to take what they could from the natives, without making them any return. About twelve, we passed a river of some appearance, flowing from the Eastward. One of the natives who followed us, called it the Winter Road River. We did not find the stream strong to-day, along the shore, as there were many eddy currents; we therefore employed the sail during some hours of it, and went on shore for the night at half past seven.
Monday, 27. — The weather was now fine, and we renewed our voyage at half past two. At seven we landed where there were three families, situated close to the rapids. We found but few people; for as the Indian who followed us yesterday had arrived here before us, we supposed that the greater part had fled, on the intelligence which he gave of our approach. Some of these people we had seen before, when they told us that they had left their property at a lake in the neighbourhood, and had promised to fetch it before our return; but we now found them as unprovided as when we left them. They bad plenty of fish, some of which was packed up in birch bark.
During the time we remained with them, which was not more than two hours, I endeavoured to obtain some additional intelligence respecting the river which had been mentioned on the preceding day; when they declared their total ignorance of it, but from the reports of others, as they had never been beyond the mountains, on the opposite side of their own river; they had, however, been informed that it was larger than that which washed the banks whereon they lived, and that its course was towards the mid-day sun. They added, that there were people at a small distance up the river, who inhabited the opposite mountains, and had lately descended from them to obtain supplies of fish. These people, they suggested, must be well acquainted with the other river, which was the object of my inquiry. I engaged one of them, by a bribe of some beads, to describe the circumjacent country upon the sand. This singular gap he immediately undertook to delineate, and accordingly traced out a very long point of land between the rivers, though without paying the least attention to their courses, which he represented as running into the great lake, at the extremity of which, as he had been told by Indians of other nations, there was a Belhoullay Couin, or White Man's Fort. This I took to be Unalascha Fort, and consequently the river to the West to be Cook's River; and that the body of water or sea into which this river discharges itself at Whale Island, communicates with Norton Sound. I made an advantageous proposition to this man to accompany me across the mountains to the other river, but he refused it. At the same time he recommended me to the people already mentioned, who were fishing in the neighbourhood, as better qualified to assist me in the undertaking which I had proposed.
One of this small company of natives was grievously afflicted with ulcers in his back, and the only attention which was paid to his miserable condition, as far at least as we could discover, proceeded from a woman, who carefully employed a bunch of feathers in preventing the flies from settling upon his sores.
At ten this morning we landed near the lodges which had already been mentioned to us, and I ordered my people to make preparation for passing the remaining part of the day here, in order to obtain that familiarity with the natives which might induce them to afford me, without reserve, the information that I should require from them. This object, however, was in danger of being altogether frustrated, by a misunderstanding that had taken place between the natives and my young Indians, who had already arrived there. Before the latter could disembark, the former seized the canoe, and dragged it on shore, and in this act of violence the boat was broken, from the weight of the persons in it. This insult was on the point of being seriously revenged, when I arrived, to prevent the consequences of such a disposition. The variation of the compass was about twenty-nine degrees to the East.
At four in the afternoon I ordered my interpreter to harangue the natives, assembled in council; but his long discourse obtained little satisfactory intelligence from them. Their account of the river to the Westward, was similar to that which he had already received: and their description of the inhabitants of that country was still more absurd and ridiculous. They represented them as being of a gigantic stature, and adorned with wings; which, however, they never employed in flying. That they fed on large birds, which they killed with the greatest ease, though common men would be certain victims of their ferocity if they ventured to approach them. They also described the people that inhabited the mouth of the river as possessing the extraordinary power of killing with their eyes, and devouring a large beaver at a single meal. They added that canoes of very large dimensions visited that place. They did not, however, relate these strange circumstances from their own knowledge, but on the reports of other tribes, as they themselves never ventured to proceed beyond the first mountains, where they went in search of the small white buffaloes, as the inhabitants of the other side endeavour to kill them whenever they meet. They likewise mentioned that the sources of those streams which are tributary to both the great rivers are separated by the mountains. It appeared to us, however, that these people knew more about the country than they chose to communicate, or at least reached me, as the interpreter, who had long been tired of the voyage, might conceal such a part of their communications as, in his opinion, would induce me to follow new routes, or extend my excursions.
No sooner was the conference concluded, than they began to dance, which is their favourite, and, except jumping, their only amusement. In this pastime old and young, male and female, continued their exertions, till their strength was exhausted. This exercise was accompanied by loud imitations of the various noises produced by the rein-deer, the bear, and the wolf.
When they had finished their antics, I desired the English chief to renew the former subjects; which he did without success. I therefore assumed an angry air, expressed my suspicions that they withheld their information, and concluded with a menace, that if they did not give me all the satisfaction in their power, I would force one of them along with me to-morrow, to point out the other river. On this declaration, they all, at one and the same moment, became sick, and answered in a very faint tone, that they knew no more than they had already communicated, and that they should die if I took any of them away. They began to persuade my interpreter to remain with them, as they loved him as well as they did themselves, and that he would be killed if he continued with me. Nor did this proposition, aided as it was by the solicitation of his women, fail of producing a considerable effect upon him, though he endeavoured to conceal it from me.
I now found that it would be fruitless for me to expect any accounts of the country, or the other great river, till I got to the river of the Bear Lake, where I expected to find some of the natives who promised to wait for us there. These people had actually mentioned this river to me when we passed them, but I then paid no attention to that circumstance, as I imagined it to be either a misunderstanding of my interpreter, or that it was an invention which, with their other lies, might tend to prevent me from proceeding down their river.
We were plentifully supplied with fish, as well dry as fresh, by these people; they also gathered as many whortle berries as we chose, for which we paid with the usual articles of beads, awls, knives, and tin. I purchased a few beaver-skins of them, which, according to their accounts, are not very numerous in this country; and that they do not abound in moose-deer and buffaloes. They were alarmed for some of their young men, who were killing geese higher up the river, and entreated us to do them no harm. About sunset I was under the necessity of shooting one of their dogs, as we could not keep those animals from our baggage. It was in vain that I had remonstrated on this subject, so that I was obliged to commit the act which has been just mentioned. When these people heard the report of the pistol, and saw the dog dead, they were seized with a very general alarm, and the women took their children on their backs and ran into the woods. I ordered the cause of this act of severity to be explained, with the assurance that no injury would be offered to themselves. The woman, however, to whom the dog belonged, was very much affected, and declared that the loss of five children, during the preceding winter, had not affected her so much as the death of this animal. But her grief was not of very long duration; and a few beads, &c., soon assuaged her sorrow. But as they can without difficulty get rid of their affliction, they can with equal ease assume it, and feign sickness if it be necessary with the same versatility. When we arrived this morning, we found the women in tears, from an apprehension that we were come to take them away. To the eye of an European they certainly were objects of disgust; but there were those among my party who observed some hidden charms in these females which rendered them objects of desire, and means were found, I believe, that very soon dissipated their alarms and subdued their coyness.
On the upper part of the beach, liquorice grew in great abundance and it was now in blossom. I pulled up some of the roots, which were large and long; but the natives were ignorant of its qualities, and considered it as a weed of no use or value.
Tuesday, 28. — At four this morning I ordered my people to prepare for our departure; and while they were loading the canoe, I went with the English chief to visit the lodges, but the greater part of their inhabitants had quitted them during the night, and those that remained pretended sickness and refused to rise. When, however, they were convinced that we did not mean to take any of them with us, their sickness abandoned them, and when we had embarked, they came forth from their huts, to desire that we would visit their nets, which were at a small distance up the river, and take all the fish we might find in them. We accordingly availed ourselves of this permission, and took as many as were necessary for our own supply.
We landed shortly after where there were two more lodges, which were full of fish, but without any inhabitants, who were probably with the natives whom we had just left. My Indians, in rummaging these places, found several articles which they proposed to take; I therefore gave beads and awls to be left as the purchase of them; but this act of justice they were not able to comprehend, as the people themselves were not present. I took up a net and left a large knife in the place of it. It was about four fathoms long, and thirty-two meshes in depth; these nets are much more convenient to set in the eddy current than our long ones. This is the place that the Indians call a rapid, though we went up it all the way with the paddle; so that the current could not be so strong here, as in many other parts of the river; indeed, if it were so, the difficulty of towing would be almost insuperable, as in many parts, the rocks, which are of a great height, and rather project over the water, leave no shore between them and the stream. These precipices abound in swallows' nests. The weather was now very sultry, and at eleven we were under the necessity of landing to gum our canoe.
In about an hour we set forward, and at one in the afternoon, went on shore at a fire, which we supposed to have been kindled by the young men, who, as we had been already informed, were hunting geese. Our hunters found their canoe and the fowl they had got, secreted in the woods; and soon after, the people themselves, whom they brought to the water side. Out of two hundred geese, we picked thirty-six which were eatable; the rest were putrid, and emitted a horrid stench. They had been killed some time without having been gutted, and in this state of loathsome rottenness, we have every reason to suppose they are eaten by the natives. We paid for those which we had taken, and departed. At seven in the evening, the weather became cloudy and overcast; at eight we encamped; at nine it began to thunder with great violence; a heavy rain succeeded, accompanied with a hurricane, that blew down our tents, and threatened to carry away the canoe, which had been fastened to some trees with a cod-line. The storm lasted two hours, and deluged us with wet.
Wednesday, 29. — Yesterday the weather was cloudy, and the heat insupportable; and now we could not put on clothes enough to keep us warm. We embarked at a quarter past four with an aft wind, which drove us on at a great rate, though the current is very strong. At ten we came to the other rapid, which we got up with the line on the West side, where we found it much stronger than when we went down; the water had also fallen at least five feet since that time, so that several shoals appeared in the river which we had not seen before. One of my hunters narrowly escaped being drowned in crossing a river that falls in from the Westward, and is the most considerable, except the mountain river, that flows in this direction. We had strong Northerly and cold wind throughout the whole of the day, and took our station for the night at a quarter past eight. We killed a goose and caught some young ones.
Thursday, 30. — We renewed our voyage at four this morning, after a very rainy night. The weather was cloudy, but the cold had moderated, and the wind was North-West. We were enabled to employ the sail during part of the day, and encamped at about seven in the evening. We killed eleven old geese and forty young ones which had just begun to fly. The English chief was very much irritated against one of his young gen: that jealousy occasioned this uneasiness, and that it was not without very sufficient cause, was all I could discover. For the last two or three days we had eaten the liquorice root, of which there is a great abundance on the banks of the river. We found it a powerful astringent.
Friday, 31. — The rain was continual throughout the night, and did not subside till nine this morning, when we renewed our progress. The wind and weather the same as yesterday. About three in the afternoon it cleared up and the wind died away, when it became warm. At five the wind veered to the East, and brought cold along with it. There were plenty of whortle berries, raspberries, and a berry called poire, which grows in the greatest abundance. We were very much impeded in our way by shoals of sand and small stones which render the water shallow at a distance from the shore. In other places the bank of the river is lofty: it is formed of black earth and sand, and, as it is continually falling, displayed to us, in some parts, a face of solid ice, to within a foot of the surface. We finished this day's voyage at a quarter before eight, and in the course of it killed seven geese.
We now had recourse to our corn, for we had only consumed three days of our original provision since we began to mount the current. It was my intention to have ascended the river on the South side from the last rapid, to discover if there were any rivers of consequence that flow from the Westward; but the sand-banks were so numerous and the current so strong, that I was compelled to traverse to the opposite side, where the eddy currents are very frequent, which gave us an opportunity of setting our nets and making much more headway.