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Voyages from Montreal Through the Continent of North America
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Saturday, 22. — At six in the morning we proceeded on our voyage, with two of the Indians, one of them in a small pointed canoe, made after the fashion of the Esquimaux, and the other in our own. This precaution was necessary in a two-fold point of view, as the small canoe could be sent ahead to speak to any of the natives that might be seen down the river, and, thus divided, would not be easy for them both to make their escape. Mr. Mackay also embarked with the Indian, which seemed to afford him great satisfaction, and he was thereby enabled to keep us company with diminution of labour.
Our courses were South-South-East a mile and a half, South-East half a mile, South by East four miles and a half, South-East by South half a mile, South by West half a mile, South-East by East one mile, South-South-West a mile and a half, South by East one mile and a quarter. The country, on the right, presented a very beautiful appearance: it rose at first rather abruptly to the height of twenty-five feet, when the precipice was succeeded by an inclined plain to the foot of another steep; which was followed by another extent of gently-rising ground: these objects, which were shaded with groves of fir, presenting themselves alternately to a considerable distance.
We now landed near a house, the roof of which alone appeared above ground; but it was deserted by its inhabitants who had been alarmed at our approach. We observed several men in the second steep, who displayed the same postures and menacing actions as those which we have so lately described. Our conductors went to them immediately on an embassy of friendship, and, after a very vociferous discourse, one of them was persuaded to come to us, but presented a very ferocious aspect: the rest, who were seven in number, soon followed his example. They held their bows and arrows in their hands, and appeared in their garments, which were fastened round the neck, but left the right arm free for action. A cord fastened a blanket or leather covering under the right armpit, so that it hung upon the left shoulder, and might be occasionally employed as a target, that would turn an arrow which was nearly spent. As soon as they had recovered from their apprehensions, ten women made their appearance, but without any children, whom, I imagine, they had sent to a greater distance, to be out of the reach of all possible danger. I distributed a few presents among them, and left my guides to explain to them the object of my journey, and the friendliness of my designs, with which they had themselves been made acquainted; their fears being at length removed, I gave them a specimen of the use to which we applied our firearms: at the same time, I calmed their astonishment, by the assurance, that, though we could at once destroy those who did us injury, we could equally protect those who shewed us kindness. Our stay here did not exceed half an hour, and we left these people with favourable impressions of us.
From this place we steered East by North half a mile, South by East three quarters of a mile, and South by West a mile and a half, when we landed again on seeing some of the natives on the high ground, whose appearance was more wild and ferocious than any whom we had yet seen. Indeed I was under some apprehension that our guides, who went to conciliate them to us, would have fallen a prey to their savage fury. At length, however, they were persuaded to entertain a more favourable opinion of us, and they approached us one after another, to the number of sixteen men, and several women, I shook hands with them all, and desired my interpreters to explain that salutation as a token of friendship. As this was not a place where we could remain with the necessary convenience, I proposed to proceed further, in search of a more commodious spot. They immediately invited us to pass the night at their lodges, which were at no great distance, and promised, at the same time, that they would, in the morning, send two young men to introduce us to the next nation, who were very numerous, and ill-disposed towards strangers. As we were pushing from the shore, we were very much surprised at hearing a woman pronounce several words in the Knisteneaux language. She proved to be a Rocky Mountain native, so that my interpreters perfectly understood her. She informed us that her country is at the forks of this river, and that she had been taken prisoner by the Knisteneaux, who had carried her across the mountains. After having passed the greatest part of the summer with them, she had contrived to escape, before they had reached their own country, and had re-crossed the mountains, when she expected to meet her own friends: but after suffering all the hardships incident to such a journey, she had been taken by a war-party of the people with whom she then was, who had driven her relations from the river into the mountains. She had since been detained by her present husband, of whom she had no cause to complain; nevertheless she expressed a strong desire to return to her own people.
I presented her with several useful articles, and desired her to come to me at the lodges, which she readily engaged to do. We arrived thither before the Indians, and landed, as we had promised. It was now near twelve at noon, but on attempting to take an altitude, I found the angle too great for my sextant.
The natives whom we had already seen, and several others, soon joined us, with a greater number of women than I had yet seen; but I did not observe the female prisoner among them. There were thirty-five of them, and my remaining store of presents was. not sufficient to enable me to be very liberal to so many claimants. Among the men I found four of the adjoining nation, and a Rocky-Mountain Indian, who had been with them for some time. As he was understood by my interpreters, and was himself well acquainted with the language of the strangers, I possessed the means of obtaining every information respecting the country, which it might be in their power to afford me. For this purpose I selected an elderly man, from the four strangers, whose countenance had prepossessed me in his favour. I stated to these people, as I had already done to those from whom I had hitherto derived information, the objects of my voyage, and the very great advantages which they would receive from my successful termination of it. They expressed themselves very much satisfied at my communication, and assured me that they would not deceive me respecting the subject of my inquiry. Au old man also, who appeared to possess the character of a chief, declared his wish to see me return to his land, and that his two young daughters should then be at my disposal. I now proceeded to request the native, whom I had particularly selected, to commence his information, by drawing a sketch of the country upon a large piece of bark, and he immediately entered on the work, frequently appealing to, and sometimes asking the advice of, those around him. He described the river as running to the East of South, receiving many rivers, and every six or eight leagues encumbered with falls and rapids, some of which were very dangerous, and six of them impracticable. The carrying-places he represented as of great length, and passing over hills and mountains. He depicted the lands of three other tribes, in succession, who spoke different languages. Beyond them he knew nothing either of the river or country, only that it was still a long way to the sea; and that, as he had heard, there was a lake, before they reached the water, which the natives did not drink. As far as his knowledge of the river extended, the country on either side was level, in many places without wood, and abounding in red deer, and some of a small fallow kind. Few of the natives, he said, would come to the banks for some time; but, that at a certain season they would arrive there in great numbers, to fish. They now procured iron, brass, copper, and trinkets, from the Westward; but formerly these articles were obtained from the lower parts of the river, though in small quantities. A knife was produced which had been brought from that quarter. The blade was ten inches long, and an inch and a half broad, but with a very blunted edge. The handle was of horn. We understood that this instrument had been obtained from white men, long before they had heard that any came to the Westward. One very old man observed, that as long as he could remember, he was told of white people to the Southward; and that he had heard, though he did not vouch for the truth of the report, that one of them had made an attempt to come up the river, and was destroyed.
These people describe the distance across the country as very short to the Western ocean; and, according to my own idea, it cannot be above five or six degrees. If the assertion of Mr. Mears be correct, it cannot be so far, as the inland sea which he mentions within Nootka, must come as far East as 126. West longitude. They assured us that the road was not difficult, as they avoided the mountains, keeping along the low lands between them, many parts of which are entirely free from wood. According to their account, this way is so often travelled by them, that their path is visible throughout the whole journey, which lies along small lakes and rivers. It occupied them, they said, no more than six nights, to go to where they meet the people who barter iron, brass, copper, beads, &c., with them, for dressed leather, and beaver, bear, lynx, fox, and marten skins. The iron is about eighteen inches of two-inch bar. To this they give an edge at one end, and fix it to a handle at right angles, which they employ as an axe. When the iron is worn down, they fabricate it into points for their arrows and pikes. Before they procured iron they employed bone and horn for those purposes. The copper and brass they convert into collars, arm-bands, bracelets, and other ornaments. They sometimes also point their arrows with those metals. They had been informed by those whom they meet to trade with, that the white people, from whom these articles are obtained, were building houses at the distance of three days, or two nights journey from the place where they met last fall. With this route they all appeared to be well acquainted.
I now requested that they would send for the female prisoner whom I saw yesterday; but I received only vague and evasive answers. They probably apprehended, that it was our design to take her from them. I was, however, very much disappointed at being prevented from having an interview with her, as she might have given me a correct account of the country beyond the forks of the river, as well as of the pass, through the mountains, from them.
My people had listened with great attention to the relation which had been given me, and it seemed to be their opinion, that it would be absolute madness to attempt a passage through so many savage and barbarous nations. My situation may indeed, be more easily conceived than expressed: I had no more than thirty days provision remaining, exclusive of such supplies as I might obtain from the natives, and the toil of our hunters, which, however, was so precarious as to be matter of little dependence: besides, our ammunition would soon be exhausted, particularly our ball, of which we had not more than a hundred and fifty, and about thirty pound weight of shot, which, indeed, might be converted into bullets, though with great waste.
The more I heard of the river, the more I was convinced it could not empty itself into the ocean to the North of what is called the river of the West, so that with its windings, the distance must be very great. Such being the discouraging circumstances of my situation, which were now heightened by the discontents of my people, I could not but be alarmed at the idea of attempting to get to the discharge of such a rapid river, especially when I reflected on the tardy progress of my return up it, even if I should meet with no obstruction from the natives; a circumstance not very probable, from the numbers of them which would then be on the river, and whom I could have no opportunity of conciliating in my passage down, for the reasons which have been already mentioned. At all events, I must give up every expectation of returning this season to Athabasca. Such were my reflections at this period; but instead of continuing to indulge them, I determined to proceed with resolution, and set future events at defiance. At the same time I suffered myself to nourish the hope that I might be able to penetrate with more safety, and in a shorter period, to the ocean by the inland western communication.
To carry this project into execution I must have returned a considerable distance up the river, which would necessarily be attended with very serious inconvenience, if I passed over every other; as in a voyage of this kind, a retrograde motion could not fail to cool the ardour, slacken the zeal, and weaken the confidence of those, who have no greater inducement to the undertaking, than to follow the conductor of it. Such was the state of my mind at this period, and such the circumstances with which it was distressed and distracted.
the people who had given me the foregoing information I presented
some beads, which they preferred to any other articles in my
possession, and I recompensed in the same manner two of them who
communicated to me the following vocabulary in the language of the
Nagailer and Atnah tribes.
The Atnah language has no affinity to any with which I am acquainted; but the Nagailer differs very little from that spoken by the Beaver Indians, and is almost the same as that of the Chepewyans.
We had a thunder-storm with heavy rain; and in the evening when it had subsided, the Indians amused us with singing and dancing, in which they were joined by the young women. Four men now arrived whom we had not yet seen; they had left their families at some distance in the country, and expressed a desire that we should visit them there.
Sunday, 23. — After a restless night, I called the Indians together, from whom I yesterday received the intelligence which has been already mentioned, in the hope that I might obtain some additional information. From their former account they did not make the least deviation; but they informed me further, that where they left this river, a small one from the Westward falls into it, which was navigable for their canoes during four days, and from thence they slept but two nights, to get to the people with whom they trade, and who have wooden canoes much larger than ours, in which they go down a river to the sea. They continued to inform me, that if I went that way we must leave our own canoe behind us; but they thought it probable that those people would furnish us with another. From thence they stated the distance to be only one day's voyage with the current to the lake whose water is nauseous, and where they had heard that great canoes came two winters ago, and that the people belonging to them, brought great quantities of goods and built houses.
At the commencement of this conversation, I was very much surprised by the following question from one of the Indians: "What," demanded he, "can be the reason that you are so particular and anxious in your inquiries of us respecting a knowledge of this country: do not you white men know every thing in the world?" This interrogatory was so very unexpected, that it occasioned some hesitation before I could answer it. At length, however, I replied, that we certainly were acquainted with the principal circumstances of every part of the world; that I knew where the sea is, and where I myself then was, but that I did not exactly understand what obstacles might interrupt me in getting to it; with which, he and his relations must be well acquainted, as they had so frequently surmounted them. Thus I fortunately preserved the impression in their minds, of the superiority of white people over themselves.
It was now, however, absolutely necessary that I should come to a final determination which route to take; and no long interval of reflection was employed, before I preferred to go over land: the comparative shortness and security of such a journey, were alone sufficient to determine me. I accordingly proposed to two of the Indians to accompany me, and one of them readily assented to my proposition.
I now called those of my people about me, who had not been present at my consultation with the natives; and after passing a warm eulogium on their fortitude, patience, and perseverance, I stated the difficulties that threatened our continuing to navigate the river, the length of time it would require, and the scanty provision we had for such a voyage: I then proceeded for the foregoing reasons to propose a shorter route, by trying the overland road to the sea. At the same time, as I knew from experience, the difficulty of retaining guides, and as many circumstances might occur to prevent our progress in that direction, I declared my resolution not to attempt it, unless they would engage, if we could not after all proceed over land, to return with me, and continue our voyage to the discharge of the waters, whatever the distance might be. At all events, I declared, in the most solemn manner, that I would not abandon my design of reaching the sea, if I made the attempt alone, and that I did not despair of returning in safety to my friends.
This proposition met with the most zealous return, and they unanimously assured me, that they were as willing now as they had ever been, to abide by my resolutions, whatever they might be, and to follow me wherever I should go. I therefore requested them to prepare for an immediate departure, and at the same time gave notice to the man who had engaged to be our guide, to be in readiness to accompany us. When our determination to return up the river was made known, several of the natives took a very abrupt departure; but to those who remained, I gave a few useful articles, explaining to them at the same time, the advantages that would result to them, if their relations conducted me to the sea, along such a road as they had described. I had already given a moose skin to some of the women for the purpose of making shoes, which were now brought ns; they were well sewed but ill-shaped, and a few beads were considered as a sufficient remuneration for the skill employed on them. Mr. Mackay, by my desire, engraved my name, and the date of the year on a tree.
When we were ready to depart, our guide proposed, for the sake of expedition, to go over land to his lodge, that he might get there before us, to make some necessary preparation for his journey. I did not altogether relish his design, but was obliged to consent: I thought it prudent, however, to send Mr. Mackay, and the two Indians along with him. Our place of rendezvous, was the subterraneous house which we passed yesterday.
At ten in the morning we embarked, and went up the current much faster than I expected with such a crazy vessel as that which carried us. We met our people at the house as had been appointed; but the Indian still continued to prefer going on by land, and it would have been needless for me to oppose him. He proceeded, therefore, with his former companions, whom I desired to keep him in good humour by every reasonable gratification. They were also furnished with a few articles that might be of use if they should meet strangers.
In a short time after we had left the house, I saw a wooden canoe coming down the river, with three natives in it, who, as soon as they perceived us, made for the shore, and hurried into the woods. On passing their vessel, we discovered it to be one of those which we had seen at the lodges. A severe gust of wind, with rain, came from the South-South-East. This we found to be a very prevalent wind in these parts. We soon passed another wooden canoe drawn stern foremost on the shore; a circumstance which we had not hitherto observed. The men worked very hard, and though I imagined we went a-head very fast, we could not reach the lodges, but landed for the night at nine, close to the encampment of two families of the natives whom we had formerly seen at the lodges. I immediately went and sat down with them, when they gave some roasted fish; two of my men who followed me were gratified also with some of their provisions. The youngest of the two natives now quitted the shed, and did not return during the time I remained there. I endeavoured to explain to the other by signs, the cause of my sudden return, which he appeared to understand. In the mean time my tent was pitched, and on my going to it, I was rather surprised that he did not follow me, as he had been constantly with me during the day and night I had passed with his party on going down. We, however, went to rest in a state of perfect security; nor had we the least apprehension for the safety of our people who were gone by land.
We were in our canoe by four this morning, and passed by the Indian hut, which appeared in a state of perfect tranquillity. We soon came in sight of the point where we first saw the natives, and at eight were much surprised and disappointed at seeing Mr. Mackay, and our two Indians coming alone from the ruins of a house that had been partly carried away by the ice and water, at a short distance below the place where we had appointed to meet. Nor was our surprise and apprehension diminished by the alarm which was painted in their countenances. When we had landed, they informed me that they had taken refuge in that place, with the determination to sell their lives, which they considered in the most imminent danger, as dear as possible. In a very short time after they had left us, they met a party of the Indians, whom we had known at this place, and were probably those whom we had seen to land from their canoe. They appeared to be in a state of extreme rage, and had their bows bent, with their arrows across them. The guide stopped to ask them some questions, which my people did not understand, and then set off with his utmost speed. Mr. Mackay, however, did not leave him till they were both exhausted with running. When the young man came up, he then said, that some treacherous design was meditated against them, as he was induced to believe from the declaration of the natives, who told him that they were going to do mischief, but refused to name the enemy. The guide then conducted them through very bad ways, as fast as they could run; and when he was desired to slacken his pace, he answered that they might follow him in any manner they pleased, but that he was impatient to get to his family, in order to prepare shoes, and other necessaries, for his journey. They did not, however, think it prudent to quit him, and he would not stop till ten at night. On passing a track that was but lately made, they began to be seriously alarmed, and on inquiring of the guide where they were, he pretended not to understand them. They then all laid down, exhausted with fatigue, and without any kind of covering: they were cold, wet, and hungry, but dared not light a fire, from the apprehension of an enemy. This comfortless spot they left at the dawn of the day, and, on their arrival at the lodges, found them deserted; the property of the Indians being scattered about, as if abandoned for ever. The guide then made two or three trips into the woods, calling aloud, and bellowing like a madman. At length he set off in the same direction as they came, and had not since appeared. To heighten their misery, as they did not find us at the place appointed, they concluded that we were all destroyed, and had already formed their plan to take to the woods, and cross in as direct a line as they could proceed, to the waters of the Peace River, a scheme which could only be suggested by despair. They intended to have waited for us till noon, and if we did not appear by that time, to have entered without further delay on their desperate expedition.
This alarm among the natives was a very unexpected as well as perilous event, and my powers of conjecture were exhausted in searching for the cause of it. A general panic seized all around me, and any further prosecution of the voyage was now considered by them as altogether hopeless and impracticable. But without paying the least attention to their opinions or surmises, I ordered them to take every thing out of the canoe, except six packages: when that was done, I left four men to take care of the lading, and returned with the others to our camp of last night, where I hoped to find the two men, with their families, whom we had seen there, and to be able to bring them to lodge with us, when I should wait the issue of this mysterious business. This project, however, was disappointed, for these people had quitted their sheds in the silence of the night, and had not taken a single article of their little property with them.
These perplexing circumstances made a deep impression on my mind, not as to our immediate safety, for I entertained not the least apprehension of the Indians I had hitherto seen, even if their whole force should have been combined to attack us, but these untoward events seemed to threaten the prosecution of my journey; and I could not reflect on the possibility of such a disappointment but with sensations little short of agony. Whatever might have been the wavering disposition of the people on former occasions, they were now decided in their opinions as to the necessity of returning without delay; and when we came back to them, their cry was "Let us re-embark, and be gone." This, however, was not my design, and in a more peremptory tone than I usually employed, they were ordered to unload the canoe, and take her out of the water. On examining our property, several articles appeared to be missing, which the Indians must have purloined; and among them were an axe, two knives, and the young men's bag of medicines. We now took a position that was the best calculated for defence, got our arms in complete order, filled each man's flask of powder, and distributed an hundred bullets, which were all that remained, while some were employed in melting down shot to make more. The weather was so cloudy, that I had not an opportunity of taking an observation.
While we were employed in making these preparations, we saw an Indian in a canoe come down the river, and land at the huts, which he began to examine. On perceiving us he stood still, as if in a state of suspense, when I instantly dispatched one of my Indians towards him, but no persuasions could induce him to have confidence in us; he even threatened that he would hasten to join his friends, who would come and kill us. At the conclusion of this menace he disappeared. On the return of my young man, with this account of the interview, I pretended to discredit the whole, and attributed it to his own apprehensions and alarms. This, however, he denied, and asked with a look and tone of resentment, whether he had ever told me a lie? Though he was but a young man, he said, he had been on war excursions before he came with me, and that he should no longer consider me as a wise man, which he had hitherto done.
To add to our distresses we had not an ounce of gum for the reparation of the canoe, and not one of the men had sufficient courage to venture into the woods to collect it. In this perplexing situation I entertained the hope that in the course of the night some of the natives would return, to take away a part at least of the things which they had left behind them, as they had gone away without the covering necessary to defend them from the weather and the flies. I therefore ordered the canoe to be loaded, and dropped to an old house, one side of which, with its roof, had been carried away by the water; but the three remaining angles were sufficient to shelter us from the woods. I then ordered two strong piquets to be driven into the ground, to which the canoe was fastened, so that if we were hard pressed we had only to step on board and push off. We were under the necessity of making a smoke to keep off the swarms of flies, which would have otherwise tormented us; but we did not venture to excite a blaze, as it would have been a mark for the arrows of the enemy. Mr. Mackay and myself, with three men kept alternate watch, and allowed the Indians to do as they fancied. I took the first watch, 'and the others laid down in their clothes by us. I also placed a centinel at a small distance, who was relieved every hour. The weather was cloudy, with showers of rain.
Tuesday, 15. — At one I called up the other watch, and laid down to a small portion of broken rest. At five I arose, and as the situation which we left yesterday was preferable to that which we then occupied, I determined to return to it. On our arrival Mr. Mackay informed me that the men had expressed their dissatisfaction to him in a very unreserved manner, and had in very strong terms declared their resolution to follow me no further in my proposed enterprise. I did not appear, however, to have received such communications from him, and continued to employ my whole thoughts in contriving means to bring about a reconciliation with the natives, which alone would enable me to procure guides, without whose assistance it would be impossible for me to proceed, when my darling project would end in disappointment.
At twelve we saw a man coming with the stream upon a raft, and he must have discovered us before we perceived him, as he was working very hard to get to the opposite shore, where he soon landed, and instantly fled into the woods. I now had a meridional altitude, which gave 60. 23. natural horizon (the angle being more than the sextant could measure with the artificial horizon) one mile and a half distant; and the eye five feet above the level of the water, gave 52. 47. 51. North latitude.
While I was thus employed, the men loaded the canoe, without having received any orders from me, and as this was the first time they had ventured to act in such a decided manner, I naturally concluded that they had preconcerted a plan for their return. I thought it prudent, however, to take no notice of this transaction, and to wait the issue of future circumstances. At this moment our Indians perceived a person in the edge of the woods above us, and they were immediately dispatched to discover who it was. After a short absence they returned with a young woman whom we had seen before: her language was not clearly comprehended by us, so that we could not learn from her, at least with any degree of certainty, the cause of this unfortunate alarm that had taken place among the natives. She told us that her errand was to fetch some things which she had left behind her; and one of the dogs whom we found here, appeared to acknowledge her as his mistress. We treated her with great kindness, gave her something to eat, and added a present of such articles as we thought might please her. On her expressing a wish to leave us, we readily consented to her departure, and indulged the hope that her reception would induce the natives to return in peace, and give us an opportunity to convince them, that we had no hostile designs whatever against them. On leaving us, she went up the river, without taking a single article of her own, and the dog followed. The wind was changeable throughout the day, and there were several showers in the course of it.
Though a very apparent anxiety prevailed among the people for their departure, I appeared to be wholly inattentive to it, and at eight in the evening I ordered four men to step into the canoe, which had been loaded for several hours, and drop down to our guard-house, and my command was immediately obeyed: the rest of us proceeded there by land. When I was yet at a considerable distance from the house, and thought it impossible for an arrow to reach it, having a bow and quiver in my hand, I very imprudently let fly an arrow, when, to my astonishment and infinite alarm, I heard it strike a log of the house. The men who had just landed, imagined that they were attacked by an enemy from the woods. Their confusion was in proportion to their imaginary danger, and on my arrival I found that the arrow had passed within a foot of one of the men; though it had no point, the weapon, incredible as it may appear, had entered an hard, dry log of wood upwards of an inch. But this was not all: for the men readily availed themselves of this circumstance, to remark upon the danger of remaining in the power of a people possessed of such means of destruction. Mr. Mackay having the first watch, I laid myself down in my cloak.
Wednesday, 16. — At midnight a rustling noise was heard in the woods which created a general alarm, and I was awakened to be informed of the circumstance, but heard nothing. At one I took my turn of the watch, and our dog continued unceasingly to run backwards and forwards along the skirts of the wood in a state of restless vigilance. At two in the morning the centinel informed me, that he saw something like an human figure creeping along on all-fours about fifty paces above us. After some time had passed in our search, I at length discovered that his information was true, and it appeared to me that a bear had occasioned the alarm; but when day appeared, it proved to be an old, grey-haired, blind man, who had been compelled to leave his hiding-place by extreme hunger, being too infirm to join in the flight of the natives to whom he belonged. When I put my hand on this object of decaying nature, his alarm was so great, that I expected it would have thrown him into convulsions. I immediately led him to our fire which had been just lighted, and gave him something to eat, which he much wanted, as he had not tasted food for two days. When his hunger was satisfied, and he had got warm and composed, I requested him to acquaint me with the cause of that alarm which had taken place respecting us among his relations and friends, whose regard we appeared to have conciliated but a few days past. He replied, that very soon after we had left them, some natives arrived from above, who informed them that we were enemies; and our unexpected return, in direct contradiction to our own declarations, confirmed them in that opinion. They were now, he said, so scattered, that a considerable time would elapse, before they could meet again. We gave him the real history of our return, as well as of the desertion of our guide, and, at the same time, stated the impossibility of our proceeding, unless we procured a native to conduct us. He replied, that if he had not lost his sight, he would with the greatest readiness have accompanied us on our journey. He also confirmed the accounts which we had received of the country, and the route to the Westward. I did not neglect to employ every argument in my power, that he might be persuaded of our friendly dispositions to the inhabitants wheresoever we might meet them.
At sun-rise we perceived a canoe with one man in it on the opposite side of the river, and at our request, the blind man called to him to come to us, but he returned no answer, and continued his course as fast as he could paddle down the current. He was considered as a spy by my men, and I was confirmed in that opinion, when I saw a wooden canoe drifting with the stream close in to the other shore, where it was more than probable that some of the natives might be concealed. It might, therefore, have been an useless enterprise, or perhaps fatal to the future success of our undertaking, if we had pursued these people, as they might, through fear have employed their arms against us, and provoked us to retaliate.
The old man informed me, that some of the natives whom I had seen here were gone up the river, and those whom I saw below had left their late station to gather a root in the plains, which, when dried, forms a considerable article in their winter stock of provisions. He had a woman, he said, with him, who used to see us walking along the small adjoining river, but when he called her he received no answer, so that she had probably fled to join her people. He informed me, also, that he expected a considerable number of his tribe to come on the upper part of the river to catch fish for their present support, and to cure them for their winter store; among whom he had a son and two brothers.
In consequence of these communications, I deemed it altogether unnecessary to lose any more time at this place, and I informed the old man that he must accompany me for the purpose of introducing us to his friends and relations, and that if we met with his son or brothers, I depended upon him to persuade them, or some of their party, to attend us as guides in our meditated expedition. He expressed his wishes to be excused from this service, and in other circumstances we should not have insisted on it, but, situated as we were, we could not yield to his request.
At seven in the morning we left this place, which I named Deserter's River or Creek. Our blind guide was, however, so averse to continuing with us, that I was under the very disagreeable necessity of ordering the men to carry him into the canoe; and this was the first act during my voyage, that had the semblance of violent dealing. He continued to speak in a very loud tone, while he remained, according to his conjecture, near enough to the camp to be heard, but in a language that our interpreters did not understand. On asking him what he said, and why he did not speak in a language known to us, he replied, that the woman understood him better in that which he spoke, and he requested her, if she heard him, to come for him to the carrying-place, where he expected we should leave him.
At length our canoe was become so leaky, that it was absolutely unfit for service; and it was the unremitting employment of one person to keep her clear of water: we, therefore, inquired of the old man where we could conveniently obtain the articles necessary to build a new one; and we understood from him that, at some distance up the river, we should find plenty of bark and cedar.
At ten, being at the foot of a rapid, we saw a small canoe coming down with two men in it. We thought it would be impossible for them to escape, and therefore struck off from the shore with a design to intercept them, directing the old man at the same time to address them; but they no sooner perceived us, than they steered into the strength of the current, where I thought that they must inevitably perish; but their attention appeared to be engrossed by the situation of their canoe, and they escaped without making us the least reply.
About three in the afternoon we perceived a lodge at the entrance of a considerable river on the right, as well as the tracks of people in the mud at the mouth of a small river on the left. As they appeared to be fresh, we landed, and endeavoured to trace them, but without success. We then crossed over to the lodge, which was deserted, but all the usual furniture of such buildings remained untouched.
Throughout the whole of this day the men had been in a state of extreme ill-humour, and as they did not choose openly to vent it upon me, they disputed and quarrelled among themselves. About sun-set the canoe struck upon the stump of a tree, which broke a large hole in her bottom; a circumstance that gave them an opportunity to let loose their discontents without reserve. I left them as soon as we had landed, and ascended an elevated bank, in a state of mind which I scarce wish to recollect, and shall not attempt to describe. At this place there was a subterraneous house, where I determined to pass the night. The water had risen since we had passed down, and it was with the utmost exertion that we came up several points in the course of the day.
We embarked at half past four, with very favourable weather, and at eight we landed, where there was an appearance of our being able to procure bark; we, however, obtained but a small quantity. At twelve we went on shore again, and collected as much as was necessary for our purpose. It now remained for us to fix on a proper place for building another canoe, as it was impossible to proceed with our old one, which was become an absolute wreck. At five in the afternoon we came to a spot well adapted to the business in which we were about to engage. It was on a small island not much encumbered with wood, though there was plenty of the spruce kind on the opposite land, which was only divided from us by a small channel. We now landed, but before the canoe was unloaded, and the tent pitched, a violent thunder-storm came on, accompanied with rain, which did not subside till the night had closed in upon us. Two of our men who had been in the woods for axe-handles, saw a deer, and one of them shot at it, but unluckily missed his aim. A net was also prepared and set in the eddy at the end of the island.