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Voyages from Montreal Through the Continent of North America
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Wednesday, 1. At half past four in the morning we continued our voyage, and in a short time found the river narrowed to about half a mile. Our course was Westerly among islands, with a strong current. Though the land is high on both sides, the banks are not perpendicular. This course was twenty-one miles; and on sounding we found nine fathoms water. We then proceeded West-North-West nine miles, and passed a river upon the South-East side; we sounded, and found twelve fathoms; and then we went North-West by West three miles. Here I lost my lead, which had fastened at the bottom, with part of the line, the current running so strong that we could not clear it with eight paddles, and the strength of the line, which was equal to four paddles. Continued North by West five miles, and. saw a high mountain, bearing South from us; we then proceeded North-West by North four miles. We now passed a small river on the North side, then doubled a point to West-South-West. At one o'clock there came on lightning and thunder, with wind and rain, which ceased in about half an hour, and left us almost deluged with wet, as we did not land. There were great quantities of ice along the banks of the river.
We landed upon a small island, where there were the poles of four lodges standing, which we concluded to have belonged to the Knisteneaux, on their war excursions, six or seven years ago. This course was fifteen miles West, to where the river of the Mountain falls in from the Southward. It appears to be a very large river, whose mouth is half a mile broad. About six miles further a small river flows in the same direction; and our whole course was twenty-four miles. We landed opposite to an island, the mountains to the Southward being in sight. As our canoe was deeply laden, and being also in daily expectation of coming to the rapids or fall, which we had been taught to consider with apprehension, we concealed two bags of pemmican in the opposite island, in the hope that they would be of future service to us. The Indians were of a different opinion, as they entertained no expectation of returning that season, when the hidden provisions would be spoiled. Near us were two Indian encampments of the last year. By the manner in which these people cut their wood, it appears that they have no iron tools. The current was very strong during the whole of this day's voyage, and in the article of provisions two swans were all that the hunters were able to procure.
Thursday, 2. — The morning was very foggy: but at half past five we embarked; it cleared up, however, at seven, when we discovered that the water, from being very limpid and clear, was become dark and muddy. This alteration must have proceeded from the influx of some river to the Southward, but where these streams first blended their waters, the fog had prevented us from observing. At nine we perceived a very high mountain ahead, which appeared, on our nearer approach, to be rather a cluster of mountains, stretching as far as our view could reach to the Southward, and whose tops were lost in the clouds. At noon there was lightning, thunder, and rain, and at one, we came abreast of the mountains; their summits appeared to be barren and rocky, but their declivities were covered with wood; they appeared also to be sprinkled with white stones, which glistened in the sun, and were called by the Indians manetoe aseniah, or spirit stones. I suspected that they were Talc, though they possessed a more brilliant whiteness; on our return, however, these appearances were dissolved, as they were nothing more than patches of snow.
Our course had been West-South-West thirty miles and we proceeded with great caution, as we continually expected to approach some great rapid or fall. This was such a prevalent idea, that all of us were occasionally persuaded that we heard those sounds which betokened a fall of water. Our course changed to West by North, along the mountains, twelve miles, North by West, twenty-one miles, and at eight o'clock in the evening, we went on shore for the night, on the North side of the river. We saw several encampments of the natives, some of which had been erected in the present spring, and others at some former period. The hunters killed only one swan and a beaver; the latter was the first of its kind which we had seen in this river. The Indians complained of the perseverance with which we pushed forward, and that they were not accustomed to such severe fatigue as it occasioned.
Friday, 3. — The rain was continual through the night, and did not subside till seven this morning, when we embarked and steered North-North-West for twelve miles, the river being enclosed by high mountains on either side. We had a strong head-wind, and the rain was so violent as to compel us to land at ten o'clock. According to my reckoning, since my last observation, we had run two hundred and seventeen miles West, and forty-four miles North. At a quarter past two the rain subsided, and we got again under way, our former course continuing for five miles. Here a river fell in from the North, and in a short time the current became strong and rapid, running with great rapidity among rocky islands, which were the first that we had seen in this river, and indicated our near approach to rapids and falls. Our present course was North-West by North ten miles, North-West three miles, West-North-West twelve miles, and North-West three miles, when we encamped at eight in the evening, at the foot of an high hill, on the North shore, which in some parts rose perpendicular from the river. I immediately ascended it, accompanied by two men and some Indians, and in about an hour and an half, with very hard walking, we gained the summit, when I was very much surprised to find it crowned by an encampment. The Indians informed me, that it is the custom of the people who have no arms to choose these elevated spots for the places of their residence, as they can render them inaccessible to their enemies, particularly the Knisteneaux, of whom they are in continual dread. The prospect from this height was not so extensive as we expected, as it was terminated by a circular range of hills, of the same elevation as that on which we stood. The intervals between the hills were covered with small lakes, which were inhabited by great numbers of swans. We saw no trees but the pine and the birch, which were small in size and few in number.
We were obliged to shorten our stay here, from the swarms of mosquitoes which attacked us on all sides and were, indeed, the only inhabitants of the place. We saw several encampments of the natives in the course of the day, but none of them were of this year's establishment. Since four in the afternoon the current had been so strong, that it was at length, in an actual ebullition, and produced an hissing noise like a kettle of water in a moderate state of boiling. The weather was now become extremely cold, which was the more sensibly felt, as it had been very sultry sometime before and since we had been in the river.
Saturday, 4. — At five in the morning, the wind and weather having undergone no alteration from yesterday, we proceeded North-West by West twenty-two miles, North-West six miles, North-West by North four miles and West-North-West five miles; we then passed the mouth of a small river from the North, and after doubling a point, South-West one mile, we passed the influx of another river from the South. We then continued our course North-North-West, with a mountain ahead, fifteen miles, when the opening of two rivers appeared opposite to each other: we then proceeded West four miles, and North-West thirteen miles. At eight in the evening, we encamped on an island. The current was as strong through the whole of this day as it had been the preceding afternoon; nevertheless, a quantity of ice appeared along the banks of the river. The hunters killed a beaver and a goose, the former of which sunk before they could get to him: beavers, otters, bears, etc., if shot dead at once, remain like a bladder, but if there remains enough of life for them to struggle, they soon fill with water and go to the bottom.
Sunday, 5. — The sun set last night at fifty-three minutes past nine, by my watch, and rose at seven minutes before two this morning: we embarked soon after, steering North-North-West, through islands for five miles, and West four miles. The river then increased in breadth, and the current began to slacken in a small degree; after the continuation of our course, we perceived a ridge of high mountains before us, covered with snow. West-South-West ten miles, and at three-quarters past seven o'clock, we saw several smokes on the North shore, which we made every exertion to approach. As we drew nearer, we discovered the natives running about in great apparent confusion; some were making to the woods, and others hurrying to their canoes. Our hunters landed before us, and addressed the few that had not escaped, in the Chipewyan language, which, so great was their confusion and terror, they did not appear to understand. But when they perceived that it was impossible to avoid us, as we were all landed, they made us signs to keep at a distance, with which we complied, and not only unloaded our canoe, but pitched our tents, before we made any attempt to approach them. During this interval, the English chief and his young men were employed in reconciling them to our arrival; and when they had recovered from their alarm of hostile intention, it appeared that some of them perfectly comprehended the language of our Indians; so that they were at length persuaded, though not without evident signs of reluctance and apprehension, to come to us. Their reception, however, soon dissipated their fears, and they hastened to call their fugitive companions from their hiding places.
There were five families, consisting of twenty-five or thirty persons, and of two different tribes, the Slave and Dog-rib Indians. We made them smoke, though it was evident they did not know the use of tobacco; we likewise supplied them with grog; but I am disposed to think, that they accepted our civilities rather from fear than inclination. We acquired a more effectual influence over them by the distribution of knives, beads, awls, rings, gartering, fire-steels, flints, and hatchets; so that they became more familiar even than we expected, for we could not keep them out of our tents: though I did not observe that they attempted to purloin anything.
The information which they gave respecting the river, had so much of the fabulous, that I shall not detail it: it will be sufficient just to mention their attempts to persuade us that it would require several winters to get to the sea, and that old age would come upon us before the period of our return: we were also to encounter monsters of such horrid shapes and destructive powers as could only exist in their wild imaginations. They added, besides, that there were two impassable falls in the river, the first of which was about thirty days' march frog us.
Though I placed no faith in these strange relations, they had a very different effect upon our Indians, who were already tired of the voyage. It was their opinion and anxious wish, that we should not hesitate to return. They said that, according to the information which they had received, there were very few animals in the country beyond us, and that as we proceeded, the scarcity would increase, and we should absolutely perish from hunger, if no other accident befel us. It was with no small trouble that they were convinced of the folly of these reasonings; and by my desire, they induced one of those Indians to accompany us, in consideration of a small kettle, an axe, a knife, and some other articles.
Though it was now three o'clock in the afternoon, the canoe was ordered to be reloaded, and as we were ready to embark our new recruit was desired to prepare himself for his departure, which he would have declined; but as none of his friends would take his place, we gay be said, after the delay of an hour, to have compelled him to embark. Previous to his departure a ceremony took place, of which I could not learn the meaning; he cut off a lock of his hair, and having divided it into three parts, he fastened one of them to the hair on the upper part of his wife's head, blowing on it three times with the utmost violence in his power, and uttering certain words. The other two he fastened with the same formalities, on the heads of his two children.
During our short stay with these people, they amused us with dancing, which they accompanied with their voices: but neither their song or their dance possessed much variety. The men and women formed a promiscuous ring. The former have a bone dagger or piece of stick between the fingers of the right hand, which they keep extended above the head, in continual motion: the left they seldom raise so high, but work it backwards and forwards in a horizontal direction; while they leap about and throw themselves into various antic postures, to the measure of their music, always bringing their heels close to each other at every pause. The men occasionally howl in imitation of some animal, and he who continues this violent exercise for the longest period, appears to be considered as the best performer. The women suffer their arms to hang as without the power of motion. They are a meagre, ugly, ill-made people, particularly about the legs, which are very clumsy and covered with scabs. The latter circumstance proceeds probably from their habitually roasting them before the fire. Many of them appeared to be in a very unhealthy state, which is owing, as I imagine, to their natural filthiness. They are of a moderate stature, and as far as could be discovered, through the coat of dirt and grease that covers them, are of a fairer complexion than the generality of Indians who are the natives of warmer climates.
Some of them have their hair of a great length; while others suffer a long tress to fall behind, and the rest is cut so short as to expose their ears, but no other attention whatever is paid to it. The beards of some of the old men were long, and the rest had them pulled out by the roots so that not a hair could be seen on their chins. The men have two double lines, either black or blue, tattooed upon each cheek, from the ear to the nose. The gristle of the latter is perforated so as to admit a goose-quill or a small piece of wood to be passed through the orifice. Their clothing is made of the dressed skins of the rein or goose-deer, though more commonly of the former. These they prepare in the hair for winter, and make shirts of both, which reach to the middle of their thighs. Some of them are decorated with an embroidery of very neat workmanship with porcupine quills and the hair of the moose, coloured red, black, yellow, and white. Their upper garments are sufficiently large to cover the whole body, with a fringe round the bottom, and are used both sleeping and awake. Their leggins come half way up the thigh, and are sewed to their shoes: they are embroidered round the ancle, and upon every seam. The dress of the women is the same as that of the men. The former have no covering on their private parts, except a tassel of leather which dangles from a small cord, as it appears, to keep off the flies, which would otherwise be very troublesome. Whether circumcision be practised among them, I cannot pretend to say, but the appearance of it was general among those whom I saw.
Their ornaments consist of gorgets, bracelets for the arms and wrists, made of wood, horn, or bone, belts, garters, and a kind of band to go round the head, composed of strips of leather of one inch and an half broad, embroidered with porcupine quills, and stuck round with the claws of bears or wild fowl inverted, to which are suspended a few short thongs of the skin of an animal that resembles the ermine, in the form of a tassel. Their cinctures and garters are formed of porcupine quills woven with sinews, in a style of peculiar skill and neatness: they have others of different materials, and more ordinary workmanship; and to both they attach a long fringe of strings of leather, worked round with hair of various colours. Their mittens are also suspended from the neck in a position convenient for the reception of the hands.
Their lodges are of a very simple structure: a few poles supported by a fork, and forming a semicircle at the bottom, with some branches or a piece of bark as a covering, constitutes the whole of their native architecture. They build two of these huts facing each other, and make the fire between them. The furniture harmonises with the buildings: they have a few dishes of wood, bark, or horn; the vessels in which they cook their victuals are in the shape of a gourd, narrow at the top and wide at the bottom, and of watape,1 fabricated in such a manner as to hold water, which is made to boil by putting a succession of red-hot stones into it. These vessels contain from two to six gallons. They have a number of small leather bags to hold their embroidered work, lines, and nets. They always keep a large quantity of the fibres of willow bark, which they work into thread on their thighs. Their nets are from three to forty fathoms in length, and from thirteen to thirty-six inches in depth. The short deep ones they set in the eddy current of rivers, and the long ones in the lakes. They likewise make lines of the sinews of the rein-deer, and manufacture their hooks from wood, horn, or bone. Their arms and weapons for hunting, are bows and arrows, spears, daggers, and pogamagans, or clubs. The bows are about five or six feet in length, and the strings are of sinews or raw skins. The arrows axe two feet and an half long, including the barb, which is variously formed of bone, horn, flint, iron, or copper, and are winged with three feathers. The pole of the spears is about six feet in length, and pointed with a barbed bone of ten inches. With this weapon they strike the rein-deer in the water. The daggers are flat and sharp-pointed, about twelve inches long, and made of horn or bone. The pogamagon is made of the horn of the rein-deer, the branches being all cut off, except that which forms the extremity. This instrument is about two feet in length, and is employed to despatch their enemies in battle, and such animals as they catch in snares placed for that purpose. These are about three fathom long, and are made of the green skin of the rein or moose-deer, but in such small strips, that it requires from ten to thirty strands to make this cord, which is not thicker than a cod-line; and strong enough to resist any animal that can be entangled in it. Snares or nooses are also made of sinews to take lesser animals, such as hares and white partridges, which are very numerous. Their axes are manufactured of a piece of brown or grey stone frog six to eight inches long, and two inches thick. The inside is flat, and the outside round and tapering to an edge, an inch wide. They are fastened by the middle with the flat side inwards to a handle two feet long, with a cord of green skin. This is the tool with which they split their wood, and we believe, the only one of its kind among them. They kindle fire, by striking together a piece of white or yellow pyrites and a flint stone, over a piece of touchwood. They are universally provided with a small bag containing these materials, so that they are in a continual state of preparation to produce fire. From the adjoining tribes, the Red-Knives and Chepewyans, they procure, in barter for marten skins and a few beaver, small pieces of iron, of which they manufacture knives, by fixing them at the end of a short stick, and with them and the beaver's teeth, they finish all their work. They keep them in a sheath hanging to their neck, which also contains their awls both of iron and horn.
Their canoes are small, pointed at both ends, flat-bottomed and covered in the fore part. They are made of the bark of the birch-tree and fir-wood, but of so slight a construction, that the man whom one of these light vessels bears on the water, can, in return, carry it over land without any difficulty. It is very seldom that more than one person embarks in them, nor are they capable of receiving more than two. The paddles are six feet long, one half of which is occupied by a blade of about eight inches wide. These people informed us, that we had passed large bodies of Indians who inhabit the mountains on the east side of the river.
At four in the afternoon we embarked, and our Indian acquaintance promised to remain on the bank of the river till the fall, in case we should return. Our course was West-South-West, and we soon passed the Great-Bear-Lake River, which is of a considerable depth, and a hundred yards wide: its water is clear, and has the greenish hue of the sea. We had not proceeded more than six miles when we were obliged to land for the night, in consequence of an heavy gust of wind, accompanied with rain. We encamped beneath a rocky hill, on the top of which, according to the information of our guide, it blew a storm every day throughout the year. He found himself very uncomfortable in his new situation, and pretended that he was very ill, in order that he might be permitted to return to his relations. To prevent his escape it became necessary to keep a strict watch over him during the night.
Monday, 6. — At three o'clock, in a very raw and cloudy morning, we embarked, and steered West-South-West four miles, West four miles, West-North-West five miles, West eight miles, West by South, sixteen miles, West twenty-seven miles, South-West nine miles, then West six miles, and encamped at half past seven. We passed through numerous islands, and had the ridge of snowy mountains always in sight. Our conductor informed us that great numbers of bears and small white buffaloes frequent those mountains, which are also inhabited by Indians. We encamped in a similar situation to that of the preceding evening, beneath another high rocky hill, which I attempted to ascend, in company with one of the hunters, but before we had got half way to the summit, we were almost suffocated by clouds of mosquitoes, and were obliged to return. I observed, however, that a river flowed from the Westward: I also discovered a strong rippling current or rapid which ran close under a steep precipice of the hill.
Tuesday, 7. — We embarked at four in the morning, and crossed to the opposite side of the river, in consequence of the rapid; but we might have spared ourselves this trouble, as there would have been no danger in continuing our course, without any circuitous deviation whatever. This circumstance convinced us of the erroneous account given by the natives of the great and approaching dangers of our navigation, as this rapid was stated to be one of them. Our course was now North-North-West three miles. West-North West four miles, North West ten miles, North two miles, when we came to a river that flowed from the Eastward. Here we landed at an encampment of four fires, all the inhabitants of which ran off with the utmost speed, except an old man and an old woman. Our guide called aloud to the fugitives, and entreated them to stay, but without effect: the old man, however, did not hesitate to approach us, and represented himself as too far advanced in life, and too indifferent about the short time he had to remain in the world, to be very anxious about escaping from any danger that threatened him; at the same time he pulled his grey hairs from his head by handfuls to distribute among us, and implored our favour for himself and his relations. Our guide, however, at length removed his fears, and persuaded him to recall the fugitives, who consisted of eighteen people; whom I reconciled to me on their return with presents of beads, knives, awls, &c., with which they appeared to be greatly delighted. They differed in no respect from those whom we had already seen; nor were they deficient in hospitable attentions; they provided us with fish, which was very well boiled, and cheerfully accepted by us. Our guide still sickened after his home, and was so anxious to return thither, that we were under the necessity of forcing him to embark.
These people informed us that we were close to another great rapid, and that there were several lodges of their relations in its vicinity.
Four canoes, with a man in each, followed us, to point out the particular channels we should follow for the secure passage of the rapid. They also abounded in discouraging stories concerning the dangers and difficulties which we were to encounter.
From hence our course was North-North-East two miles, when the river appeared to be enclosed, as it were, with lofty, perpendicular, white rocks, which did not afford us a very agreeable prospect. We now went on shore, in order to examine the rapid, but did not perceive any signs of it, though the Indians still continued to magnify its dangers: however, as they ventured down it, in their small canoes, our apprehensions were consequently removed, and we followed them at some distance, but did not find any increase in the rapidity of the current; at length the Indians informed us that we should find no other rapid but that which was now bearing us along. The river at this place is not above three hundred yards in breadth, but on sounding I found fifty fathoms water. At the two rivulets that offer their tributary streams from either side, we found six families, consisting of about thirty-five persons, who gave us an ample quantity of excellent fish, which were, however, confined to white fish, the poisson inconnu, and another of a round form and greenish colour, which was about fourteen inches in length. We gratified them with a few presents, and continued our voyage. The men, however, followed us in fifteen canoes.
This narrow channel is three miles long, and its course North-North-East. We then steered North three miles, and landed at an encampment of three or more families, containing twenty-two persons, which was situated on the bank of a river, of a considerable appearance, which came from the Eastward. We obtained hares and partridges from these people, and presented in return such articles as greatly delighted them. They very much regretted that they had no goods or merchandise to exchange with us, as they had left them at a lake, from whence the river issued, and in whose vicinity some of their people were employed in setting snares for rein-deer. They engaged to go for their articles of trade, and would wait our return, which we assumed them would be within two months. There was a youth among them in the capacity of a slave, whom our Indians understood much better than any of the natives of this country whom they had yet seen; he was invited to accompany us, but took the first opportunity to conceal himself, and we saw him no more.
We now steered West five miles, when we again landed, and found two families, containing seven people, but had reason to believe that there were others hidden in the woods. We received from them two dozen of hares, and they were about to boil two more, which they also gave us. We were not ungrateful for their kindness, and left them. Our course was now North-West four miles, and at nine we landed and pitched our tents, when one of our people killed a grey crane. Our conductor renewed his complaints, not, as he assured us, from any apprehension of our ill-treatment, but of the Esquimaux, whom he represented as a very wicked and malignant people; who would put us all to death. He added, also, that it was but two summers since a large party of them came up this river, and killed many of his relations. Two Indians followed us from the last lodges.
Wednesday, 8. — At half past two in the morning we embarked, and steered a Westerly course, and soon after put ashore at two lodges of nine Indians. We made them a few trifling presents, but without disembarking, and had proceeded but a small distance from thence, when we observed several smokes beneath a hill, on the North shore, and on our approach we perceived the natives climbing the ascent to gain the woods. The Indians, however, in the two small canoes which were ahead of us, having assured them of our friendly intentions, they returned to their fires, and we disembarked. Several of them were clad in hare-skins, but in every other circumstance they resembled those whom we had already seen. We were, however, informed that they were of a different tribe, called the Harc Indians, as hares and fish are their principal support, from the scarcity of rein-deer and beaver, which are the only animals of the larger kind that frequent this part of the country. They were twenty-five in number; and among them was a woman who was afflicted with an abscess in the belly, and reduced, in consequence, to a mere skeleton: at the same time several old women were singing and howling around her; but whether these noises were to operate as a charm for her cure, or merely to amuse and console her, I do not pretend to determine. A small quantity of our usual presents were received by them with the greatest satisfaction.
Here we made an exchange of our guide, who had become so troublesome that we were obliged to watch him night and day, except when he was upon the water. The man, however, who had agreed to go in his place soon repented of his engagement, and endeavoured to persuade us that some of his relations further down the river, would readily accompany us, and were much better acquainted with the river than himself. But, as he had informed us ten minutes before that we should see no more of his tribe, we paid very little attention to his remonstrances, and compelled him to embark.
In about three hours a man overtook us in a canoe, and we suspected that his object was to facilitate, in some way or other, the escape of our conductor. About twelve we also observed an Indian walking along the North-East shore, when the small canoes paddled towards him. We accordingly followed, and found three men, three women, and two children, who had been on an hunting expedition. They had some flesh of the rein-deer, which they offered to us, but it was so rotten, as well as offensive to the smell, that we excused ourselves from accepting it. They had also their wonderful stories of danger and terror, as well as their countrymen, whom we had already seen; and we were now informed, that behind the opposite island there was a Manitoc or spirit, in the river, which swallowed every person that approached it. As it would have employed half a day to have indulged our curiosity in proceeding to examine this phenomenon, we did not deviate from our course, but left these people with the usual presents, and proceeded on our voyage. Our course and distance this day were West twenty-eight miles, West-North-West twenty-three miles, West-South-West six miles, West by North five miles, South-West four miles, and encamped at eight o'clock. A fog prevailed the greater part of the day, with frequent showers of small rain._____________________________
1 Watape is the name given to the divided roots of the spruce fir, which the natives weave into a degree of compactness that renders it capable of containing a fluid. The different parts of the bark canoes are also sewed together with this kind of filament.