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Voyages from Montreal Through the Continent of North America
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Monday, 10. — At ten we were ready to embark. I then took leave of the Indians, but encouraged them to expect us in two moons, and expressed an hope that I should find them on the road with any of their relations whom they might meet. I also returned the beaver skins to the man who had presented them to me, desiring him to take care of them till I came back, when I would purchase them of him. Our guide expressed much less concern about the undertaking in which he had engaged, than his companions, who appeared to be affected with great solicitude for his safety.
We now pushed off the canoe from the bank, and proceeded East half a mile, when a river flowed in from the left, about half as large as that which we were navigating. We continued the same course three quarters of a mile, when we missed two of our fowling pieces, which had been forgotten, and I sent their owners back for them, who were absent on this errand upwards of an hour. We now proceeded North-East by East half a mile, North-East by North three quarters of a mile, when the current slackened; there was a verdant spot on the left, where, from the remains of some Indian timber-work, it appeared, that the natives have frequently encamped. Our next course was East one mile, and we saw a ridge of mountains covered with snow to the South-East. The land on our right was low and marshy for three or four miles, when it rose into a range of heights that extended to the mountains. We proceeded East-South-East a mile and a half, South-East by East one mile, East by South three quarters of a mile, South-East by East one mile, East by South half a mile, North-East by East one mile, South-East half a mile, East-North-East a mile and a quarter, South-South-East half a mile, North-North-East a mile and a half: here a river flowed in from the left, which was about one-fourth part as large as that which received its tributary waters. We then continued East by South half a mile, to the foot of the mountain on the South of the above river. The course now veered short, South-West by West three quarters of a mile, East by South a quarter of a mile, South half a mile, South-East by South half a mile, South-West a quarter of a mile, East by South a quarter of a mile, veered to West-North-West a quarter of a mile, South-West one eighth of a mile, East-South-East one quarter of a mile, East one sixth of a mile, South-South-West one twelfth of a mile, East-South-East one. eighth of a mile, North-East by East one third of a mile, East by North one twelfth of a mile, North-East by East one third of a mile, East one sixteenth of a mile, South-East one twelfth of a mile, North-East by East one twelfth of a mile, East one eighth of a mile, and East-South-East half a mile, when we landed at seven o'clock and encamped. During the greatest part of the distance we came to-day, the river runs close under the mountains on the left.
Wednesday, 12. — The morning was clear and cold. On my interpreter's encouraging the guide to dispel all apprehension, to maintain his fidelity to me, and not to desert in the night, "How is it possible for me," he replied, "to leave the lodge of the Great Spirit!" — When he tells me that he has no "further occasion for me, I will then return to my children." As we proceeded, however, he soon lost, and with good reason, his exalted notions of me.
At four we continued our voyage, steering East by South a mile and a half, East-South-East half a mile. A river appeared on the left, at the foot of a mountain which, from its conical form, my young Indian called the Beaver Lodge Mountain. Having proceeded South-South-East half a mile, another river appeared from the right. We now came in a line with the beginning of the mountains we saw yesterday: others of the same kind ran parallel with them on the left side of the river, which was reduced to the breadth of fifteen yards, and with a moderate current.
We now steered East-North-East one eighth of a mile, South-East by South one eighth of a mile, East-South-East one sixth of a mile, . South-West one eighth of a mile, East-South-East one eighth of a mile, South-South-East one sixth of a mile, North-East by East one twelfth of a mile, East-South-East half a mile, South-West by West one third of a mile, South-South-East one eighth of a mile, South-South-West one quarter of a mile, North-East one sixth of a mile, South by West one fourth of a mile, East three quarters of a mile, and North-East one quarter of a mile. Here the mountain on the left appeared to be composed of a succession of round hills, covered with wood almost to their summits, which were white with snow, and crowned with withered trees. We now steered East, in a line with the high lands on the right five miles; North one twelfth of a mile, North-East by North one eighth of a mile, South by East one sixteenth of a mile, North-East by North one fourth of a mile, where another river fell in from the right; North-East by East one sixth of a mile, East two miles and a half, South one twelfth of a mile, North-East half a mile, South-East one third of a mile, East one mile and a quarter, South-South-West one sixteenth of a mile, North-East by East half a mile, East one mile and three quarters, South and South-West by West half a mile, North-East half a mile, South one third of a mile, North-East by North one sixth of a mile, East by South one fourth of a mile, South one eighth of a mile, South-East three quarters of a mile. The canoe had taken in so much water, that it was necessary for us to land here, in order to stop the leakage, which occasioned the delay of an hour and a quarter, North-East a quarter of a mile, East-North-East a quarter of a mile, South-East by South a sixteenth of a mile, East by South a twelfth of a mile, North-East one sixth of a mile, East-South-East one sixteenth of a mile, South-West half a mile, North-East a quarter of a mile, East by South half a mile, South-South-East one twelfth of a mile, East half a mile, North-East by North a quarter of a mile, South-South-East a quarter of a mile, North-East by North one twelfth of a mile, where a small river flowed in from the left, South-East by East one twelfth of a mile, South by East a quarter of a mile, South-East one eighth of a mile, East one twelfth of a mile, North-East by North a quarter of a mile, South half a mile, South-East by South one eighth of a mile, North-East one fourth of a mile, South-East by East, and South-East by South one third of a mile, East-South-East, and North-North-East one third of a mile, and South by West, East and East-North-East one eighth of a mile.
Here we quitted the main branch, which, according to the information of our guide, terminates at a short distance, where it is supplied by the snow which covers the mountains. In the same direction is a valley which appears to be of very great depth, and is full of snow, that rises nearly to the height of the land, and forms a reservoir of itself sufficient to furnish a river, whenever there is a moderate degree of heat. The branch which we left was not, at this time, more than ten yards broad, while that which we entered was still less. Here the current was very trifling, and the channel so meandering, that we sometimes found it difficult to work the canoe forward. The straight course from this to the entrance of a small lake or pond, is about East one mile. This entrance by the river into the lake was almost choked up by a quantity of drift-wood, which appeared to me to be an extraordinary circumstance: but I afterwards found that it falls down from the mountains. The water, however, was so high, that the country was entirely overflowed, and we passed with the canoe among the branches of trees. The principal wood along the banks is spruce, intermixed with a few white birch, growing on detached spots, the intervening spaces being covered with willow and alder. We advanced about a mile in the lake, and took up our station for the night at an old Indian encampment. Here we expected to meet with natives, but were disappointed; but our guide encouraged us with the hope of seeing some on the morrow. We saw beaver in the course of the afternoon, but did not discharge our pieces from the fear of alarming the inhabitants; there were also swans in great numbers, with geese and ducks, which we did not disturb for the same reason. We observed also the tracks of moose-deer that had crossed the river; and wild parsnips grew here in abundance, which have been already mentioned as a grateful vegetable. Of birds, we saw bluejays, yellow birds, and one beautiful humming-bird; of the first and last, I had not seen any since I had been in the North-West.
The weather was the same as yesterday, and we proceeded between three and four in the morning. We took up the net which we had set the preceding evening, when it contained a trout, one white fish, one carp, and three jub. The lake is about two miles in length, East by South, and from three to five hundred yards wide. This I consider as the highest and Southernmost source of the Unjigab, or Peace River, latitude, 54. 24. North, longitude 121. West from Greenwich, which, after a winding course through a vast extent of country, receiving many large rivers in its progress, and passing through the Slave Lake, empties itself into the Frozen Ocean, in 70. North latitude, and about 135. West longitude.
We landed and unloaded, where we found a beaten path leading over a low ridge of land eight hundred and seventeen paces in length, to another small lake. The distance between the two mountains at this place is about a quarter of a mile, rocky precipices presenting themselves on both sides. A few large spruce trees and liards were scattered over the carrying-place. There were also willows along the side of the water, with plenty of grass and weeds. The natives had left their old canoes here, with baskets hanging on the trees, which contained various articles. From the latter I took a net, some hooks, a goats'-horn, and a kind of wooden trap, in which, as our guide informed me, the groundhog is taken. I left, however, in exchange, a knife, some fire-steels, beads, awls, &c. Here two streams tumble down the rocks from the right, and lose themselves in the lake which we had left; while two others fall from the opposite heights, and glide into the lake which we were approaching; this being the highest point of land dividing these waters, and we are now going with the stream. This lake runs in the same course as the last, but is rather narrower, and not more than half the length. We were obliged to clear away some floating drift-wood to get to the carrying-place, over which is a beaten path of only an hundred and seventy-five paces long. The lake empties itself by a small river, which, if the channel were not interrupted by large trees that had fallen across it, would have admitted of our canoe with all its lading: the impediment, indeed, might have been removed by two axemen in a few hours. On the edge of the water, we observed a large quantity of thick yellow, scum or froth, of an acrid taste and smell
We embarked on this lake, which is in the same course, and about the same size as that which we had just left, and from whence we passed into a small river, that was so full of fallen wood, as to employ some time, and require some exertion, to force a passage. At the entrance, it afforded no more water than was just sufficient to bear the canoe; but it was soon increased by many small streams which came in broken rills down the rugged sides of the mountains, and were furnished, as I suppose, by the melting of the snow. These accessory streamlets had all the coldness of ice. Our course continued to be obstructed by banks of gravel, as well as trees which had fallen across the river. We were obliged to force our way through the one, and to cut through the other, at a great expense of time and trouble. In many places the current was also very rapid and meandering. At four in the afternoon, we stopped to unload and carry, and at five we entered a small round lake of about one third of a mile in diameter. From the last lake to this is, I think, in a straight line, East by South six miles, though it is twice that distance by the winding of the river. We again entered the river, which soon ran with great rapidity, and rushed impetuously over a bed of flat stones. At half past six we were stopped by two large trees that lay across the river, and it was with great difficulty that the canoe was prevented from driving against them. Here we unloaded and formed our encampment.
The weather was cloudy and raw, and as the circumstances of this day's voyage had compelled us to be frequently in the water, which was cold as ice, we were almost in a benumbed state. Some of the people who had gone ashore to lighten the canoe, experienced great difficulty in reaching us, from the rugged state of the country; it was, indeed, almost dark when they arrived. We had no sooner landed than I sent two men down the river to bring me some account of its circumstances, that I might form a judgment of the difficulties which might await us on the morrow; and they brought back a fearful detail of rapid currents, fallen trees, and large stones. At this place our guide manifested evident symptoms of discontent: he had been very much alarmed in going down some of the rapids with us, and expressed an anxiety to return. He shewed us a mountain, at no great distance, which he represented as being on the other side of a river, into which this empties itself.
Thursday, 13. — At an early hour of this morning the men began to cut a road, in order to carry the canoe and lading beyond the rapid; and by seven they were ready. That business was soon effected, and the canoe re-laden, to proceed with the current which ran with great rapidity. In order to lighten her, it was my intention to walk with some of the people; but those in the boat with great earnestness requested me to embark, declaring, at the same time, that, if they perished, I should perish with them. I did not then imagine in how short a period their apprehension would be justified. We accordingly pushed off, and had proceeded but a very short way when the canoe struck, and notwithstanding all our exertions, the violence of the current was so great as to drive her sideways down the river, and break her by the first bar, when I instantly jumped into the water, and the men followed my example; but before we could set her straight, or stop her, we came to deeper water, so that we were obliged to re-embark with the utmost precipitation. One of the men who was not sufficiently active, was left to get on shore in the best manner in his power. We had hardly regained our situations when we drove against a rock which shattered the stern of the canoe in such a manner, that it held only by the gunwales, so that the steersman could no longer keep his place. The violence of this stroke drove us to the opposite side of the river, which is but narrow, when the bow met with the same fate as the stern. At this moment the foreman seized on some branches of a small tree in the hope of bringing up the canoe, but such was their elasticity that, in a manner not easily described, he was jerked on shore in an instant, and with a degree of violence that threatened his destruction. But we had no time to turn from our own situation to enquire what had befallen him; for, in a few moments, we came across a cascade which broke several large holes in the bottom of the canoe, and started all the bars, except one behind the scooping seat. If this accident, however, had not happened, the vessel must have been irretrievably overset.
The wreck becoming flat on the water, we all jumped out, while the steersman, who had been compelled to abandon his place, and had not recovered from his fright, called out to his companions to save themselves. My peremptory commands superseded the effects of his fear, and they all held fast to the wreck; to which fortunate resolution we owed our safety, as we should otherwise have been dashed against the rocks by the force of the water, or driven over the cascades. In this condition we were forced several hundred yards, and every yard on the verge of destruction; but, at length, we most fortunately arrived in shallow water and a small eddy, where we were enabled to make a stand, from the weight of the canoe resting on the stones, rather than from any exertions of our exhausted strength. For though our efforts were short, they were pushed to the utmost, as life or death depended on them.
This alarming scene, with all its terrors and dangers, occupied only a few minutes; and in the present suspension of it, we called to the people on shore to come to our assistance, and they immediately obeyed the summons. The foreman, however, was the first with us; he had escaped unhurt from the extraordinary jerk with which he was thrown out of the boat, and just as we were beginning to take our effects out of the water, he appeared to give his assistance. The Indians, when they saw our deplorable situation, instead of making the least effort to help us, sat down and gave vent to their tears. I was on the outside of the canoe, where I remained till every thing was got on shore, in a state of great pain from the extreme cold of the water; so that at length, it was with difficulty I could stand, from the benumbed state of my limbs.
The loss was considerable and important, for it consisted of our whole stock of balls, and some of our furniture; but these considerations were forgotten in the impressions of our miraculous escape. Our first inquiry was after the absent man, whom in the first moment of danger, we had left to get on shore, and in a short time his appearance removed our anxiety. We had, however, sustained no personal injury of consequence, and my bruises seemed to be in the greater proportion.
All the different articles were now spread out to dry. The powder had fortunately received no damage, and all my instruments had escaped. Indeed, when my people began to recover from their alarm, and to enjoy a sense of safety, some of them, if not all, were by no means sorry for our late misfortune, from the hope that it must put a period to our voyage, particularly as we were without a canoe, and all the bullets sunk in the river. It did not, indeed, seem possible to them that we could proceed under these circumstances. I listened, however, to the observations that were made on the occasion without replying to them, till their panic was dispelled, and they had got themselves warm and comfortable, with an hearty meal, and rum enough to raise their spirits.
I then addressed them, by recommending them all to be thankful for their late very narrow escape. I also stated, that the navigation was not impracticable in itself, but from our ignorance of its course; and that our late experience would enable us to pursue our voyage with greater security. I brought to their recollection, that I did not deceive them, and that they were made acquainted with the difficulties and dangers they must expect to encounter, before they engaged to accompany me. I also urged the honour of conquering disasters, and the disgrace that would attend them on their return home, without having attained the object of the expedition. Nor did I fail to mention the courage and resolution which was the peculiar boast of the North men; and that I depended on them, at that moment, for the maintenance of their character. I quieted their apprehension as to the loss of the bullets, by bringing to their recollection that we still had shot from which they might be manufactured. I at the same time acknowledged the difficulty of restoring the wreck of the canoe, but confided in our skill and exertion to put it in such a state as would carry us on to where we might procure bark, and build a new one. In short, my harangue produced the desired effect, and a very general assent appeared to go wherever I should lead the way.
Various opinions were offered in the present posture of affairs, and it was rather a general wish that the wreck should be abandoned, and all the lading carried to the river, which our guide informed us was at no great distance, and in the vicinity of woods where he believed there was plenty of bark. This project seemed not to promise that certainty to which I looked in my present operations; besides, I had my doubts respecting the views of my guide, and consequently could not confide in the representation he made to me. I therefore dispatched two of the men at nine in the morning, with one of the young Indians, for I did not venture to trust the guide out of my sight, in search of bark, and to endeavour, if it were possible, in the course of the day, to penetrate to the great river, into which that before us discharges itself in the direction which the guide had communicated. I now joined my people in order to repair, as well as circumstances would admit, our wreck of a canoe, and I began to set them the example.
At noon I had an altitude, which gave 54. 23. North latitude. At four in the afternoon I took time, with the hope that in the night I might obtain an observation of Jupiter, and his satellites, but I had not a sufficient horizon, from the propinquity of the mountains. The result of my calculation for the time was 1. 32. 28. slow apparent time.
It now grew late, and the people who had been sent on the excursion already mentioned, were not yet returned; about ten o'clock, however, I heard a man halloo, and I very gladly returned the signal. In a short time our young Indian arrived with a small roll of indifferent bark: he was oppressed with fatigue and hunger, and his clothes torn to rags: he had parted with the other two men at sunset, who had walked the whole day, in a dreadful country, without procuring any good bark, or being able to get to the large river. His account of the river, on whose banks we were, could not be more unfavourable or discouraging; it had appeared to him to be little more than a succession of falls and rapids, with occasional interruptions of fallen trees.
Our guide became so dissatisfied and troubled in mind, that we could not obtain from him any regular account of the country before us. All we could collect from him was, that the river into which this empties itself, is but a branch of a large river, the great fork being at no great distance from the confluence of this; and that he knew of no lake, or large body of still water, in the vicinity of these rivers. To this account of the country, he added some strange, fanciful, but terrifying descriptions of the natives, similar to those which were mentioned in the former voyage.
We had an escape this day, which I must add to the many instances of good fortune which I experienced in this perilous expedition. The powder had been spread out, to the amount of eighty pounds weight, to receive the air; and, in this situation, one of the men carelessly and composedly walked across it with a lighted pipe in his mouth, but without any ill consequence resulting from such an act of criminal negligence. I need not add that one spark might have put a period to all my anxiety and ambition.
I observed several trees and plants on the banks of this river, which I had not seen to the North of the latitude 52. such as the cedar, maple, hemlock, &c. At this time the water rose fast, and passed on with the rapidity of an arrow shot from a bow.
Friday, 14. — The weather was fine, clear, and warm, and at an early hour of the morning we resumed our repair of the canoe. At half past seven our two men returned hungry and cold, not having tasted food, or enjoyed the least repose for twenty-four hours, with their clothes torn into tatters, and their skin lacerated, in passing through the woods. Their account was the same as that brought by the Indian, with this exception, that they had reason to think they saw the river, or branch which our guide had mentioned: but they were of opinion that from the frequent obstructions in this river, we should have to carry the whole way to it, through a dreadful country, where much time and labour would be required to open a passage through it.
Discouraging as these accounts were, they did not, however, interrupt for a moment the task in which we were engaged, of repairing the canoe; and this work we contrived to complete by the conclusion of the day. The bark which was brought by the Indian, with some pieces of oil-cloth, and plenty of gum, enabled us to put our shattered vessel in a condition to answer our present purposes. The guide, who has been mentioned as manifesting continual signs of dissatisfaction, now assumed an air of contentment, which I attributed to a smoke that was visible in the direction of the river; as he naturally expected, if we should fall in with any natives, which was now very probable, from such a circumstance, that he should be released from a service which he had found so irksome and full of danger. I had an observation at noon, which made our latitude 54. 23. 43. North. I also took time, and found it slow apparent time 1. 38. 44.
Saturday, 15. — The weather continued the same as the preceding day, and according to the directions which I had previously given, my people began at a very early hour to open a road, through which we might carry a part of our lading; as I was fearful of risking the whole of it in the canoe, in its present weak state, and in a part of the river which is full of shoals and rapids. Four men were employed to conduct her, lightened as she was of twelve packages. They passed several dangerous places, and met with various obstructions, the current of the river being frequently stopped by rafts of drift wood, and fallen trees, so that after fourteen hours hard labour we had not made more than three miles. Our course was South-East by East, and as we had not met with any accident, the men appeared to feel a renewed courage to continue their voyage. In the morning, however, one of the crew, whose name was Beauchamp, peremptorily refused to embark in the canoe. This being the first example of absolute disobedience which had yet appeared during the course of our expedition, I should not have passed it over without taking some very severe means to prevent a repetition of it; but as he had the general character of a simple fellow, among his companions, and had been frightened out of what little sense he possessed, by our late dangers, I rather preferred to consider him as unworthy of accompanying us, and to represent him as an object of ridicule and contempt for his pusillanimous behaviour; though, in fact, he was a very useful, active, and laborious man.
At the close of the day we assembled round a blazing fire; and the whole party, being enlivened with the usual beverage which I supplied on these occasions, forgot their fatigues and apprehensions; nor did they fail to anticipate the pleasure they should enjoy in getting clear of their present difficulties, and gliding onwards with a strong and steady stream, which our guide had described as the characteristic of the large river we soon expected to enter.
Sunday, 16. — The fine weather continued, and we began our work, as we had done the preceding day; some were occupied in opening a road, others were carrying, and the rest employed in conducting the canoe. I was of the first party, and soon discovered that we had encamped about half a mile above several falls, over which we could not attempt to run the canoe, lightened even as she was. This circumstance rendered it necessary that the road should be made sufficiently wide to admit the canoe to pass; a tedious and toilsome work. In running her down a rapid above the falls, a hole was broken in her bottom, which occasioned a considerable delay, as we were destitute of the materials necessary for her effectual reparation. On my being informed of this misfortune, I returned, and ordered Mr. Mackay, with two Indians, to quit their occupation in making the road, and endeavour to penetrate to the great river, according to the direction which the guide had communicated, without paying any attention to the course of the river before us.
When the people had repaired the canoe in the best manner they were able, we conducted her to the head of the falls; she was then unloaded and taken out of the water, when we carried her for a considerable distance through a low, swampy country. I appointed four men to this laborious office, which they executed at the peril of their lives, for the canoe was now become so heavy, from the additional quantity of bark and gum necessary to patch her up, that two men could not carry her more than an hundred yards, without being relieved; and as their way lay through deep mud, which was rendered more difficult by the roots and prostrate trunks of trees, they were every moment in danger of falling; and beneath such a weight, one false step might have been attended with fatal consequences.
The other two men and myself followed as fast as we could, with the lading. Thus did we toil till seven o'clock in the evening, to get to the termination of the road that had been made in the morning. Here Mr. Mackay and the Indian joined us, after having been at the river, which they represented as rather large. They had also observed, that the lower part of the river before us was so full of fallen wood, that the attempt to clear a passage through it, would be an unavailing labour. The country through which they had passed was morass, and almost impenetrable wood. In passing over one of the embarras, our dog, which was following them, fell in, and it was with very great difficulty that he was saved, as the current had carried him under the drift. They brought with them two geese, which had been shot in the course of their expedition. To add to our perplexities and embarrasments, we were persecuted by mosquitoes and sand-flies, through the whole of the day.
The extent of our journey was not more than two miles South-East; and so much fatigue and pain had been suffered in the course of it, that my people, as might be expected, looked forward to a continuance of it with discouragement and dismay. I was, indeed, informed that murmurs prevailed among them, of which, however, I took no notice.
When we were assembled together for the night, I gave each of them a dram, and in a short time they retired to the repose which they so much required. We could discover the termination of the mountains at a considerable distance on either side of us, which, according to my conjecture, marked the course of the great river. On the mountains to the East there were several fires, as their smokes were very visible to us. Excessive heat prevailed throughout the day.
Monday, 17. — Having sat up till twelve last night, which had been my constant practice since we had taken our present guide, I awoke Mr. Mackay to watch him in turn. I then laid down to rest, and at three I was awakened to be informed that he had deserted. Mr. Mackay, with whom I was displeased on this occasion, and the Cancre, accompanied by the dog, went in search of him, but he had made his escape: a design which he had for some time meditated, though I had done every thing in my power to induce him to remain with me.
This misfortune did not produce any relaxation in our exertions. At an early hour of the morning we were all employed in cutting a passage of three quarters of a mile, through which we carried our canoe and cargo, when we put her into the water with her lading, but in a very short time were stopped by the drift-wood, and were obliged to land and carry. In short, we pursued our alternate journeys, by land and water, till noon, when we could proceed no further, from the various small unnavigable channels into which the river branched in every direction; and no other mode of getting forward now remained for us, but by cutting a road across a neck of land. I accordingly dispatched two men to ascertain the exact distance, and we employed the interval of their absence in unloading and getting the canoe out of the water. It was eight in the evening when we arrived at the bank of the great river. This journey was three quarters of a mile East-North-East, through a continued swamp, where, in many places, we waded up to the middle of our thighs. Our course in the small river was about South-East by East three miles. At length we enjoyed, after all our toil and anxiety, the inexpressible satisfaction of finding ourselves on the bank of a navigable river, on the West side of the first great range of mountains.