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Voyages from Montreal Through the Continent of North America
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JUNE 4, 1793.
We embarked this morning at four in a very heavy fog. The water had been continually rising, and, in many places, overflowed its banks. The current also was so strong, that our progress was very tedious, and required the most laborious exertions. Our course was this day, South-South-East one mile, South-South-West half a mile, South-East three quarters of a mile, North-East by East three quarters of a mile, South-East half a mile, South-East by South one mile, South-South-East one mile and three quarters, South-East by South half a mile, East by South a quarter of a mile, South-East three quarters of a mile, North-East by East half a mile, East by North a quarter of a mile, South-East half a mile, South-East by South a quarter of a mile, South-East by East half a mile, North-East by East half a mile, North-North-East three quarters of a mile to South by East one mile and a half. We could not find a place fit for an encampment, till nine at night, when we landed on a bank of gravel, of which little more appeared above water than the spot we occupied.
Wednesday, 5. — This morning we found our canoe and baggage in the water, which had continued rising during the night. We then gummed the canoe, as we arrived at too late an hour to perform that operation on the preceding evening. This necessary business being completed, we traversed to the North shore, where I disembarked with Mr. Mackay, and the hunters, in order to ascend an adjacent mountain, with the hope of obtaining a view of the interior part of the country. I directed my people to proceed with all possible diligence, and that, if they met with any accident, or found my return necessary, they should fire two guns. They also understood, that when they should hear the same signal from me, they were to answer, and wait for me, if I were behind them.
When we had ascended to the summit of the hill, we found that it extended onwards in an even, level country; so that, encumbered as we were, with the thick wood, no distant view could be obtained; I therefore climbed a very lofty tree, from whose top I discerned on the right a ridge of mountains covered with snow, bearing about North-West; from thence another ridge of high land, whereon no snow was visible, stretched towards the South: between which and the snowy hills on the East side, there appeared to be an opening, which we determined to be the course of the river.
Having obtained all the satisfaction that the nature of the place would admit, we proceeded forward to overtake the canoe, and after a warm walk came down upon the river, when we discharged our pieces twice, but received no answering signal. I was of opinion, that the canoe was before us, while the Indians entertained an opposite notion. I, however, crossed another point of land, and came again to the waterside about ten. Here we had a long view of the river, which circumstance excited in my mind, some doubts of my former sentiments. We repeated our signals, but without any return; and as every moment now increased my anxiety, I left Mr. Mackay and one of the Indians at this spot to make a large fire, and sent branches adrift down the current as notices of our situation, if the canoe was behind us; and proceeded with the other Indian across a very long point, where the river makes a considerable bend, in order that I might be satisfied if the canoe was ahead. Having been accustomed, for the last fortnight, to very cold weather, I found the heat of this day almost insupportable, as our way lay over a dry sand, which was relieved by no shade, but such as a few scattered cypresses could afford us. About twelve, we arrived once more at the river, and the discharge of our pieces was as unsuccessful as it had hitherto been. The water rushed before us with uncommon velocity; and we also tried the experiment of sending fresh branches down it. To add to the disagreeableness of our situation, the gnats and mosquitoes appeared in swarms to torment us. When we returned to our companions, we found that they had not been contented with remaining in the position where I had left them, but had been three or four miles down the river, but were come back to their station, without having made any discovery of the people on the water.
Various very unpleasing conjectures at once perplexed and distressed us: the Indians, who are inclined to magnify evils of any and every kind, had at once consigned the canoe and every one on board it to the bottom; and were already settling a plan to return upon a raft, as well as calculating the number of nights that would be required to reach their home. As for myself, it will be easily believed, that my mind was in a state of extreme agitation, and the imprudence of my conduct in leaving the people, in such a situation of danger and toilsome exertion added a very painful mortification to the severe apprehensions I already suffered: it was an act of indiscretion which might have put an end to the voyage that I had so much at heart, and compelled me at length to submit to the scheme which my hunters had already formed for our return.
At half past six in the evening, Mr. Mackay and the Cancre set off to proceed down the river, as far as they could before the night came on, and to continue their journey in the morning to the place where we had encamped the preceding evening. I also proposed to make my excursion upwards; and, if we both failed of success in meeting the canoe, it was agreed that we should return to the place where we now separated.
In this situation we had wherewithal to drink in plenty, but with solid food we were totally unprovided. We had not seen even a partridge throughout the day, and the tracks of rein-deer that we had discovered, were of an old date. We were, however, preparing to make a bed of the branches of trees, where we should have had no other canopy than that afforded us by the heavens, when we heard a shot, and soon after another, which was the notice agreed upon, if Mr. Mackay and the Indian should see the canoe: that fortunate circumstance was also confirmed by a return of the signal from the people. I was, however, so fatigued from the heat and exercise of the day, as well as incommoded from drinking so much cold water, that I did not wish to remove till the following morning; but the Indian made such bitter complaints of the cold and hunger he suffered, that I complied with his solicitations to depart; and it was almost dark when we reached the canoe, barefooted, and drenched with rain. But these inconveniences affected me very little, when I saw myself once more surrounded with my people. They informed me, that the canoe had been broken; and that they had this day experienced much greater toil and hardships than on any former occasion. I thought it prudent to affect a belief of every representation that they made, and even to comfort each of them with a consolatory dram: for, however difficult the passage might have been, it was too short to have occupied the whole day, if they had not relaxed in their exertions. The rain was accompanied with thunder and lightning.
It appeared from the various encampments which we had seen, and from several paddles we had found, that the natives frequent this part of the country at the latter end of the summer and the fall. The course to-day was nearly East-South-East two miles and a half, South by West one mile, South-South-East one mile and a half, East two miles, and South-East by South one mile.
Thursday, 6. — At half past four this morning we continued our voyage, our courses being South-East by South one mile, East by South three quarters of a mile, South-East by East two miles. The whole of this distance we proceeded by hauling the canoe from branch to branch. The current was so strong, that it was impossible to stem it with the paddles; the depth was too great to receive any assistance from the poles, and the bank of the river was so closely lined with willows and other trees, that it was impossible to employ the line. As it was past twelve before we could find a place that would allow of our landing, I could not get a meridian altitude. We occupied the rest of the day in repairing the canoe, drying our cloaths, and making paddles and poles to replace those which had been broken or lost.
Friday, 7. — The morning was clear and calm; and since we had been at this station the water had risen two inches; so that the current became still stronger; and its velocity had already been so great as to justify our despair in getting up it, if we had not been so long accustomed to surmount I last night observed an emersion of Jupiter's first satellite, but inadvertently went to bed, without committing the exact time to writing: if my memory is correct, it was 8. 18. 10. by the timepiece. The canoe, which had been little better than a wreck, being now repaired, we proceeded East two miles and a quarter, South-South-East half a mile, South-East a quarter of a mile, when we landed to take an altitude for time. We continued our route at South-East by East three quarters of a mile, and landed again to determine the latitude, which is 55. 2. 51. To this I add, 2. 45. Southing, which will make the place of taking altitude for time 55. 5. 36. with which I find that my time-piece was slow 1. 32. 23. apparent time; and made the longitude obtained 122. 35. 50. West of Greenwich.
From this place we proceeded East by South four miles and a half, East-South-East one mile and a half, in which space there falls in a small river from the East; East half a mile, South-East a mile and a half, East a quarter of a mile, and encamped at seven o'clock. Mr. Mackay and the hunters walked the greatest part of the day, and in the course of their excursion killed a porcupine.1 Here we found the bed of a very large bear quite fresh. During the day several Indian encampments were seen, which were of a late erection. The current had also lost some of its impetuosity during the greater part of the day.
Saturday, 8. — It rained and thundered through the night, and at four in the morning we again encountered the current. Our course was East a quarter of a mile, round to South by East along a very high white sandy bank on the East shore, three quarters of a mile, South-South-East a quarter of a mile, South-South-West a quarter of a mile, South-South-East one mile and a quarter, South-East two miles, with a slack current; South-East by East two miles and a quarter, East a quarter of a mile, South-South-East a quarter of a mile, South-East by South four miles and a half, South-East one mile and a half, South-South-West half a mile, East-North-East half a mile, East-South-East a quarter of a mile, South-East by South one mile, South-East by East half a mile, East by South three quarters of a mile, when the mountains were in full view in this direction, and Eastward. For the three last days we could only see them at short intervals and long distances; but till then, they were continually in sight on either side, from our entrance into the fork. Those to the left were at no great distance from us.
For the last two days we had been anxiously looking out for the carrying-place, but could nut discover it, and our only hope was in such information as we should be able to procure from the natives. All that remained for us to do, was to push forwards till the river should be no longer navigable: it had now, indeed, overflowed its banks, so that it was eight at night before we could discover a place to encamp. Having found plenty of wild parsnips, we gathered the tops, and boiled them with pemmican for our supper.
Sunday, 9. — The rain of this morning terminated in a heavy mist at half past five, when we embarked and steered South-East one mile and a half, when it veered North-North-East half a mile, South-East three quarters of a mile, East by South three quarters of a mile, East-South-East a quarter of a mile, South-South-East a quarter of a mile, South-East by East one mile, North-East by East half a mile, South-East by East half a mile, South-East by South three quarters of a mile, South-East three quarters of a mile, East by South half a mile, South-East by East half a mile, East-North-East three quarters of a mile, when it veered to South-South-East half a mile, then back to East (when a blue mountain, clear of snow, appeared ahead) one mile and a half; North-East by East half a mile, East by North one mile, when it veered to South-East half a mile, then on to North-West three quarters of a mile, and back to North-East by East half a mile, South by West a quarter of a mile, North-East by East to North-North-East half a mile, South-South-East a quarter of a mile, and East by North half a mile; here we perceived a smell of fire; and in a short time heard people in the woods, as if in a state of great confusion, which was occasioned, as we afterwards understood, by their discovery of us. At the same time this unexpected circumstance produced some little discomposure among ourselves, as our arms were not in a state of preparation, and we were as yet unable to ascertain the number of the party. I considered, that if there were but few, it would be needless to pursue them, as it would not be probable that we should overtake them in these thick woods; and if they were numerous, it would be an act of great imprudence to make the attempt, at least during their present alarm. I therefore ordered my people to strike off to the opposite side, that we might see if any of them had sufficient courage to remain; but, before we were half over the river, which in this part is not more than a hundred yards wide, two men appeared on a rising ground over against us, brandishing their spears, displaying their bows and arrows, and accompanying their hostile gestures with loud vociferations. My interpreter did not hesitate to assure them, that they might dispel their apprehensions, as we were white people, who meditated no injury, but were, on the contrary, desirous of demonstrating every mark of kindness and friendship. They did not, however, seem disposed to confide in our declarations, and actually threatened, if we came over before they were more fully satisfied of our peaceable intentions, that they would discharge their arrows at us. This was a decided kind of conduct which I did not expect; at the same time I readily complied with their proposition, and after some time had passed in hearing and answering their questions, they consented to our landing, though not without betraying very evident symptoms of fear and distrust. They, however, laid aside their weapons, and when I stepped forward and took each of them by the hand, one of them, but with a very tremulous action, drew his knife from his sleeve, and presented it to me as a mark of his submission to my will and pleasure. On our first hearing the noise of these people in the woods, we displayed our flag, which was now shewn to them as a token of friendship. They examined us, and every thing about us, with a minute and suspicious attention. They had heard, indeed, of white men, but this was the first time that they had ever seen a human being of a complexion different from their own. The party had been here but a few hours; nor had they yet erected their sheds; and, except the two men now with us, they had all fled, leaving their little property behind them. To those which had given us such a proof of their confidence, we paid the most conciliating attentions in our power. One of them I sent to recall his people, and the other, for very obvious reasons, we kept with us. In the mean time the canoe was unloaded, the necessary baggage carried up the hill, and the tents pitched.
Here I determined to remain till the Indians became so familiarized to us, as to give all the intelligence which we imagined might be obtained from them. In fact, it had been my intention to land where I might most probably discover the carrying-place, which was our more immediate object, and undertake marches of two or three days, in different directions, in search of another river. If unsuccessful in this attempt, it was my purpose to continue my progress up the present river, as far as it was navigable, and if we did not meet with natives to instruct us in our further progress, I had determined to return to the fork, and take the other branch, with the hope of better fortune.
It was about three in the afternoon when we landed, and at five the whole party of Indians were assembled. It consisted only of three men, three women, and seven or eight boys and girls. With their scratched legs, bleeding feet, and dishevelled hair, as in the hurry of their flight they had left their shoes and leggins behind them, they displayed a most wretched appearance: they were consoled, however, with beads, and other trifles, which seemed to please them; they had pemmican also given them to eat, which was not unwelcome, and in our opinion, at least, superior to their own provision, which consisted entirely of dried fish.
When I thought that they were sufficiently composed, I sent for the men to my tent, to gain such information respecting the country as I concluded it was in their power to afford me. But my expectations were by no means satisfied: they said that they were not acquainted with any river to the Westward, but that there was one from whence they were just arrived, over a carrying-place of eleven days march, which they represented as being a branch only of the river before us. Their iron-work they obtained from the people who inhabit the bank of that river, and an adjacent lake, in exchange for beaver skins, and dressed goose skins. They represented the latter as travelling, during a moon, to get to the country of other tribes, who live in houses, with whom they traffic for the same commodities; and that these also extend their journies in the same manner to the sea coast, or, to use their expression, the Stinking Lake, where they trade with people like us, that come there in vessels as big as islands. They added, that the people to the Westward, as they have been told, are very numerous. Those who inhabit the other branch they stated as consisting of about forty families, while they themselves did not amount to more than a fourth of that number; and were almost continually compelled to remain in their strong holds, where they sometimes perished with cold and hunger, to secure themselves from their enemies, who never failed to attack them whenever an opportunity presented itself.
This account of the country, from a people who I had every reason to suppose were well acquainted with every part of it, threatened to disconcert the project on which my heart was set, and in which my whole mind was occupied. It occurred to me, however, that from fear, or other motives, they might be tardy in their communication; I therefore assured them that, if they would direct me to the river which I described to them, I would come in large vessels, like those that their neighbours had described, to the mouth of it, and bring them arms and ammunition in exchange for the produce of their country; so that they might be able to defend themselves against their enemies, and no longer remain in that abject, distressed, and fugitive state in which they then lived. I added also, that in the mean time, if they would, on my return, accompany me below the mountains, to a country which was very abundant in animals, I would furnish them, and their companions, with every thing they might want; and make peace between them and the Beaver Indians. But all these promises did not appear to advance the object of my inquiries, and they still persisted in their ignorance of any such river as I had mentioned, that discharged itself into the sea.
In this state of perplexity and disappointment, various projects presented themselves to my mind, which were no sooner formed than they were discovered to be impracticable, and were consequently abandoned. At one time I thought of leaving the canoe, and every thing it contained, to go over land, and pursue that chain of connexion by which these people obtain their iron-work; but a very brief course of reflection convinced me that it would be impossible for us to carry provisions for our support through any considerable part of such a journey, as well as presents, to secure us a kind reception among the natives, and ammunition for the service of the hunters, and to defend ourselves against any act of hostility. At another time my solicitude for the success of the expedition incited a wish to remain with the natives, and go to the sea by the way they had described; but the accomplishment of such a journey, even if no accident should interpose, would have required a portion of time which it was not in my power to bestow. In my present state of information, to proceed further up the river was considered as a fruitless waste of toilsome exertion; and to return unsuccessful, after all our labour, sufferings, and dangers, was an idea too painful to indulge. Besides, I could not yet abandon the hope that the Indians might not yet be sufficiently composed and confident, to disclose their real knowledge of the country freely and fully to me. Nor was I altogether without my doubts respecting the fidelity of my interpreter, who being very much tired of the voyage, might be induced to withhold those communications which would induce me to continue it. I therefore continued my attentions to the natives, regaled them with such provisions as I had, indulged their children with a taste of sugar, and determined to suspend my conversation with them till the following morning. On my expressing a desire to partake of their fish, they brought me a few dried trout, well cured, that had been taken in the river which they lately left. One of the men also brought me five beaver skins, as a present.
Monday, 10. — The solicitude that possessed my mind interrupted my repose; when the dawn appeared I had already quitted my bed, and was waiting with impatience for another conference with the natives. The sun, however, had risen before they left their leafy bowers, whither they had retired with their children, having most hospitably resigned their beds, and the partners of them, to the solicitations of my young men.
I now repeated my inquiries, but my perplexity was not removed by any favourable variation in their answers. About nine, however, one of them, still remaining at my fire, in conversation with the interpreters, I understood enough of his language to know that he mentioned something about a great river, at the same time pointing significantly up that which was before us. On my inquiring of the interpreter respecting that expression, I was informed that he knew of a large river, that runs towards the mid-day sun, a branch of which flowed near the source of that which we were now navigating; and that there were only three small lakes, and as many carrying-places, leading to a small river, which discharges itself into the great river, but that the latter did not empty itself into the sea. The inhabitants, he said, built houses, lived on islands, and were a numerous and warlike people. I desired him to describe the road to the other river, by delineating it with a piece of coal, on a strip of bark, which he accomplished to my satisfaction. The opinion that the river did not discharge itself into the sea, I very confidently imputed to his ignorance of the country.
My hopes were now renewed, and an object presented itself which awakened my utmost impatience. To facilitate its attainment, one of the Indians was induced, by presents, to accompany me as a guide to the first inhabitants, which we might expect to meet on the small lakes in our way. I accordingly resolved to depart with all expedition, and while my people were making every necessary preparation, I employed myself in writing the following description of the natives around me.
They are low in stature, not exceeding five feet six or seven inches; and they are of that meagre appearance which might be expected in a people whose life is one sucession of difficulties, in procuring subsistence. Their faces are round, with high check bones; and their eyes, which are small, are of a dark brown colour; the cartilage of their nose is perforated, but without any ornaments suspended from it; their hair is of a dingy black, hanging loose and in disorder over their shoulders, but irregularly cut in the front, so as not to obstruct the sight; their beards are eradicated, with the exception of a few straggling hairs, and their complexion is a swarthy yellow.
Their dress consists of robes made of the skins of the beaver, the ground-hog and the rein-deer, dressed in the hair, and of the moose-skin without it. All of them are ornamented with a fringe, while some of them have tassels hanging down the seams; those of the ground-hog are decorated on the fur side with the tails of the animal, which they do not separate from them. Their garments they tie over the shoulders, and fasten them round the middle with a belt of green skin, which is as stiff as horn. Their leggins are long, and, if they were topped with a waistband, might be called trowsers: they, as well as their shoes, are made of dressed moose, elk, or rein-deer skin. The organs of generation they leave uncovered.
The women differ little in their dress, from the men, except in the addition of an apron, which is fastened round the waist, and hangs down to the knees. They are in general of a more lusty make than the other sex, and taller in proportion, but infinitely their inferiors in cleanliness. A black artificial stripe crosses the face beneath the eye, from ear to ear, which I first took for scabs, from the accumulation of dirt on it. Their hair, which is longer than that of the men, is divided from the forehead to the crown, and drawn back in long plaits behind the ears. They have also a few white beads, which they get where they procure their iron: they are from a line to an inch in length, and are worn in their ears, but are not of European manufacture. These, with bracelets made of horn and bone, compose all the ornaments which decorate their persons. Necklaces of the grisly or white bear's claws, are worn exclusively by the men.
Their arms consist of bows made of cedar, six feet in length, with a short iron spike at one end, and serve occasionally as a spear. Their arrows are well made, barbed, and pointed with iron, flint, stone, or bone; they are feathered, and from two or two feet and a half in length. They have two kinds of spears, but both are double edged, and of well polished iron; one of them is about twelve inches long, and two wide; the other about half the width, and two thirds of the length; the shafts of the first are eight feet in length, and the latter six. They have also spears made of bone. Their knives consist of pieces of iron, shaped and handled by themselves. Their axes are something like our adze, and they use them in the same manner as we employ that instrument. They were, indeed, furnished with iron in a manner that I could not have supposed, and plainly proved to me that their communication with those, who communicate with the inhabitants of the sea coast, cannot be very difficult, and from their ample provision of iron weapons, the means of procuring it must be of a more distant origin than I had at first conjectured.
They have snares made of green skin, which they cut to the size of sturgeon twine, and twist a certain number of them together; and though when completed they do not exceed the thickness of a cod-line, their strength is sufficient to hold a moose-deer; they are from one and a half to two fathoms in length. Their nets and fishing-lines are made of willow-bark and nettles; those made of the latter are finer and smoother than if made with hempen thread. Their hooks are small bones, fixed in pieces of wood split for that purpose, and tied round with fine watape, which has been particularly described in the former voyage. Their kettles are also made of watape, which is so closely woven that they never leak, and they heat water in them, by putting red-hot stones into it. There is one kind of them, made of spruce-bark, which they hang over the fire, but at such a distance as to receive the heat without being within reach of the blaze; a very tedious operation. They have various dishes of wood and bark; spoons of horn and wood, and buckets; bags of leather and net-work, and baskets of bark, some of which hold their fishing-tackle, while others are contrived to be carried on the back. They have a brown kind of earth in great abundance, with which they rub their clothes, not only for ornament but utility, as it prevents the leather from becoming hard after it has been wetted. They have spruce bark in great plenty, with which they make their canoes, an operation that does not require any great portion of skill or ingenuity, and is managed in the following manner. — The bark is taken off the tree the whole length of the intended canoe, which is commonly about eighteen feet, and is sewed with watape at both ends; two laths are then laid, and fixed along the edge of the bark which forms the gunwale; in these are fixed the bars, and against them bear the ribs or timbers, that are cut to the length to which the bark can be stretched; and, to give additional strength, strips of wood are laid between them: to make the whole water-tight, gum is abundantly employed. These vessels carry from two to five people. Canoes of a similar construction were used by the Beaver Indians within these few years, but they now very generally employ those made of the bark of the birch tree, which are by far more durable. Their paddles are about six feet long, and about one foot is occupied by the blade, which is in the shape of an heart.
Previous to our departure, the natives had caught a couple of trout, of about six pounds weight, which they brought me, and I paid them with beads. They likewise gave me a net, made of nettles, the skin of a moose-deer, dressed, and a white horn in the shape of a spoon which resembles the horn of the buffalo of the Copper-Mine-River; but their description of the animal to which it belongs does not answer to that. My young men also got two quivers of excellent arrows, a collar of white bear's claws, of a great length, horn bracelets, and other articles, for which they received an ample remuneration.
1 We had been obliged to indulge our hunters with sitting idle in the canoe, lest their being compelled to share in the labour of navigating it should disgust and drive them from us. We, therefore, employed them as much as possible on shore, as well to procure provisions, as to lighten the canoe.