Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)
Click Here to return to
Voyages from Montreal Through the Continent of North America
Return to the Previous Chapter
The current of the river was so strong, that I should have complied with the wishes of my people, and gone by land, but one of my Indians was so weak, that it was impossible for him to perform the journey. He had been ill some time; and, indeed, we had been all of us more or less afflicted with colds on the sea coast. Four of the people therefore set off with the canoe, and it employed them an hour to get half a mile. In the mean time the native, who has been already mentioned as having treated us with so much insolence, and four of his companions, went up the river in a canoe, which they had above the rapid, with as many boxes as men in her. This circumstance was the cause of fresh alarm, as it was generally concluded that they would produce the same mischief and danger in the villages above, as they had in that below. Nor was it forgotten that the young chief had left us in a manner which would not be interpreted in our favour by his father and friends.
At length the canoe arrived, and the people declared in the most unreserved terms, that they would proceed no further in her; but when they were made acquainted with the circumstances which have just been described, their violence increased, and the greater part of the men announced their determination to attempt the mountains, and endeavour, by passing over them, to gain the road by which we came to the first village. So resolved were they to pursue this plan, that they threw everything which they had into the river, except their blankets. I was all this time sitting patiently on a stone, and indulging the hope that, when their frantic terror had subsided, their returning reason would have disposed them to perceive the rashness of their project; but when I observed that they persisted in it, I no longer remained a silent listener to their passionate declarations, but proceeded to employ such arguments as I trusted would turn them from their senseless and impracticable purpose. After reproving my young Indian in very severe terms, for encouraging the rest to follow their mad design of passing the mountains, I addressed myself generally to them, stating the difficulty of ascending the mountains, the eternal snows with which they were covered, our small stock of provisions, which two days would exhaust, and the consequent probability that we should perish with cold and hunger. I urged the folly of being affected by the alarm of danger which might not exist, and if it did, I encouraged them with the means we possessed of surmounting it. Nor did I forget to urge the inhumanity and injustice of leaving the poor sick Indian to languish and die. I also added, that as my particular object had been accomplished, I had now no other but our common safety; that the sole wish of my heart was to employ the best means in my power, and to pursue the best method which my understanding could suggest, to secure them and myself from every danger that might impede our return.
My steersman, who had been with me for five years in that capacity, instantly replied that he was ready to follow me wherever I should go, but that he would never again enter that canoe, as he had solemnly sworn he would not, while he was in the rapid. His example was followed by all the rest, except two, who embarked with Mr. Mackay,1 myself, and the sick Indian. The current, however, was so strong, that we dragged up the greatest part of the way, by the branches of trees. Our progress, as may be imagined, was very tedious, and attended with uncommon labour; the party who went by land being continually obliged to wait for us. Mr. MacKay's gun was carried out of the canoe and lost, at a time when we appeared to stand in very great need of it, as two canoes, with sixteen or eighteen men, were coming down the stream; and the apprehensions which they occasioned did not subside till they shot by us with great rapidity.
At length we came in sight of the house, when we saw our young Indian with six others, in a canoe coming to meet us. This was a very encouraging circumstance, as it satisfied us that the natives who had preceded, and whose malignant designs we had every reason to suspect, had not been able to prejudice the people against us. We, therefore, landed at the house, where we were received in a friendly manner, and having procured some fish, we proceeded on our journey.
It was almost dark when we arrived at the next house, and the first persons who presented themselves to our observation were the turbulent Indian and his four companions. They were not very agreeable objects; but we were nevertheless well received by the inhabitants, who presented us with fish and berries. The Indians who had caused us so much alarm, we now discovered to be inhabitants of the islands, and traders in various articles, such as cedar-bark, prepared to be wove into mats, fish-spawn, copper, iron, and beads, the latter of which they get on their own coast. For these they receive in exchange roasted salmon, hemlock bark cakes, and the other kind made of salmon roes, sorrel, and bitter berries. Having procured as much fish as would serve us for our supper, and the meals of the next day, all my people went to rest except one, with whom I kept the first watch.
Wednesday, 24. — After twelve last night, I called up Mr. Mackay, and one of the men, to relieve us, but as a general tranquillity appeared to prevail in the place, I recommended them to return to their rest. I was the first awake in the morning, and sent Mr. Mackay to see if our canoe remained where we left it; but he returned to inform me that the Islanders had loaded it with their articles of traffic, and were ready to depart. On this intelligence I hurried to the water side, and seizing the canoe by the stem, I should certainly have overset it, and turned the three men that were in it, with all their merchandise, into the river, had not one of the people of the house, who had been very kind to us, informed me, that this was their own canoe, and that my guide had gone off with ours. At the same moment the other two Indians who belonged to the party, jumped nimbly into it, and pushed off with all the haste and hurry that their fears may be supposed to dictate.
We now found ourselves once more without a guide or a canoe. We were, however, so fortunate as to engage, without much difficulty, two of these people to accompany us; as, from the strength of the current, it would not have been possible for us to have proceeded by water without their assistance. As the house was upon an island, we ferried over the pedestrian party to the main bank of the river and continued our course till our conductors came to their fishing ground, when they proposed to land us, and our small portion of baggage; but as our companions were on the opposite shore, we could not acquiesce, and after some time persuaded them to proceed further with us. Soon after we met the chief who had regaled us in our voyage down the river. He was seining between two canoes, and had taken a considerable quantity of salmon. He took us on board with him, and proceeded upwards with great expedition. These people are surprisingly skilful and active in setting against a strong current. In the roughest part they almost filled the canoe with water, by way of a sportive alarm to us.
We landed at the house of the chief, and he immediately placed a fish before me. Our people now appeared on the opposite bank, when a canoe was sent for them. As soon as they had made their meal of fish, they proceeded on their route, and we followed them; the chief and one of the natives having undertaken to conduct us.
At five in the afternoon we came to two houses, which we had not seen in going down. They were upon an island, and I was obliged to send for the walking party, as our conductors, from the lateness of the hour, refused to proceed any further with us till the next day. One of our men, being at a small distance before the others, had been attacked by a female bear with two cubs, but another of them arrived to his rescue, and shot her. Their fears probably prevented them from killing the two young ones. They brought a part of the meat, but it was very indifferent. We were informed that our former guide, or young chief, had passed this place, at a very early hour of the morning, on foot.
These people take plenty of another fish, besides salmon, which weigh from fifteen to forty pounds. This fish is broader than the salmon, of a greyish colour, and with a hunch on its back: the flesh is white, but neither rich nor well flavoured. Its jaw and teeth are like those of a dog, and the latter are larger and stronger than any I had ever seen in a fish of equal size: those in front bend inwards, like the claws of a bird of prey. It delights in shallow water, and its native name is Dilly.
We received as many fish and berries from these people as completely satisfied our appetites. The latter excelled any of the kind that we had seen. I saw also, three kinds of gooseberries, which, as we passed through the woods, we found in great abundance.
Thursday, 25. — I arose before the sun, and the weather was very fine. The men who were to accompany us went to visit their machines, and brought back plenty of fish, which they strung on a rope, and left them in the river. We now embarked thirteen in a canoe, and landed my men on the South bank, as it would have been impracticable to have stemmed the tide with such a load. The underwood was so thick that it was with great difficulty they could pass through it. At nine we were under the necessity of waiting to ferry them over a river from the South, which is not fordable. After some time we came to two deserted houses, at the foot of a rapid, beyond which our boatmen absolutely refused to conduct us by water. Here was a road which led opposite to the village. We had, however, the curiosity to visit the houses, which were erected upon posts, and we suffered very severely for the indulgence of it; for the floors were covered with fleas, and we were immediately in the same condition, for which we had no remedy but to take to the water. There was not a spot round the houses free from grass, that was not alive, as it were, with this vermin.
Our guides proposed to conduct us on our way, and we followed them on a well-beaten track. They, however, went so fast, that we could not all of us keep up with them, particularly our sick Indian, whose situation was very embarrassing to us, and at length they contrived to escape. I very much wished for these men to have accompanied us to the village, in order to do away any ill impressions which might have arisen from the young chief's report to his father, which we were naturally led to expect would not be in our favour.
This road conducted us through the finest wood of cedar trees that I had ever seen. I measured several of them that were twenty-four feet in the girth, and of a proportionate height. The alder trees are also of an uncommon size; several of them were seven feet and an half in circumference, and rose to forty feet without a branch; but my men declared that they had, in their progress, seen much larger of both kinds. The other wood was hemlock, white birch, two species of spruce-firs, willows, &c. Many of the urge cedars appeared to have been examined, as I suppose by the natives, for the purpose of making canoes, but finding them hollow at heart, they were suffered to stand. There was but little underwood, and the soil was a black rich mould, which would well reward the trouble of cultivation. From the remains of bones on certain spots, it is probable that the natives may have occasionally burned their dead in this wood.
As it was uncertain what our reception might be at the village, I examined every man's arms and ammunition, and gave Mr. Mackay, who had unfortunately lost his gun, one of my pistols. Our late conductors had informed us that the man whom we left in a dying state, and to whom I had administered some Turlington's balsam, was dead; and it was by no means improbable that I might be suspected of hastening his end.
At one in the afternoon we came to the bank of the river, which was opposite to the village, which appeared to be in a state of perfect tranquillity. Several of the natives were fishing above and below the weir, and they very readily took us over in their canoes. The people now hurried down to the water side, but I perceived none of the chief's family among them. They made signs to me to go to his house; I signified to them not to crowd about us, and indeed drew a line, beyond which I made them understand they must not pass. I now directed Mr. Mackay, and the men to remain there, with their arms in readiness, and to keep the natives at a distance, as I was determined to go alone to the chief's house; and if they should hear the report of my pistols, they were ordered to make the best of their way from these people, as it would then be equally fruitless and dangerous to attempt the giving me any assistance, as it would be only in the last extremity, and when I was certain of their intention to destroy me, that I should discharge my pistols. My gun I gave to Mr. Mackay, when, with my loaded pistols in my belt, and a poignard in my hand, I proceeded to the abode of the chief. I had a wood to pass in my way thither, which was intersected by various paths and I took one that led to the back, instead of the front of the house; and as the whole had been very much altered since I was here before, I concluded that I had lost my way. But I continued to proceed, and soon met with the chief's wife, who informed me, that he was at the next house. On my going round it, I perceived that they had thrown open the gable ends, and added two wings, nearly as long as the body, both of which were hung round with salmon as close as they could be placed. As I could discover none of the men, I sat down upon a large stone near some women who were supping on salmon roes and berries. They invited me to partake of their fare, and I was about to accept their invitation when Mr. Mackay joined me, as both himself and all my party were alarmed at my being alone. Nor was his alarm lessened by an old man whom he met in the wood, and who made use of signs to persuade him to return. As he came without his gun, I gave him one of my pistols. When I saw the women continue their employment without paying the least attention to us, I could not imagine that any hostile design was preparing against us. Though the non-appearance of the men awakened some degree of suspicion that I should not be received with the same welcome as on my former visit. At length the chief appeared, and his son, who had been our guide, following him; displeasure was painted in the old man's countenance, and he held in his hand a bead tobacco pouch which belonged to Mr. Mackay, and the young chief had purloined from him. When he had approached within three or four yards of me, he threw it at me with great indignation, and walked away. I followed him, however, until he had passed his son, whom I took by the hand, but he did not make any very cordial return to my salutation; at the same time he made signs for me to discharge my pistol, and give him my hanger which Mr. Mackay had brought me, but I did not pay the least attention to either of his demands.
We now joined the chief, who explained to me that he was in a state of deep distress for the loss of his son, and made me understand that he had cut off his hair and blackened his face on the melancholy occasion. He also represented the alarm which he had suffered respecting his son who had accompanied us; as he apprehended we had killed him, or had all of us perished together. When he had finished his narrative, I took him and his son by their hands, and requested them to come with me to the place where I had left my people, who were rejoiced to see us return, having been in a state of great anxiety from our long absence. I immediately remunerated the young chief for his company and assistance in our voyage to the sea, as well as his father, for his former attentions. I gave them cloth and knives, and, indeed, a portion of everything which now remained to us. The presents had the desired effect of restoring us to their favour; but these people are of so changeable a nature, that there is no security with them. I procured three robes and two otter-skins, and if I could have given such articles in exchange as they preferred, I should probably have obtained more. I now represented the length of the way which I had to go, and requested some fish to support us on our journey, when he desired us to follow him to the house, where mats were immediately arranged and a fish placed before each of us.
We were now informed, that our dog, whom we had lost, had been howling about the village ever since we left it, and that they had reason to believe he left the woods at night to eat the fish he could find about the houses. I immediately dispatched Mr. Mackay, and a man, in search of the animal, but they returned without him.
When I manifested my intention to proceed on my journey, the chief voluntarily sent for ten roasted salmon, and having attended us with his son, and a great number of his people, to the last house in the village, we took our leave. It was then half past three in the afternoon.
I directed Mr. Mackay to take the lead, and the others to follow him in Indian files, at a long and steady pace, as I determined to bring up the rear. I adopted this measure from a confusion that was observable among the natives which I did not comprehend. I was not without my suspicions that some mischief was in agitation, and they were increased from the confused noise we heard in the village. At the same time a considerable number came running after us; some of them making signs for us to stop, and others rushing by me. I perceived also, that those who followed us were the strangers who live among these people, and are kept by them in a state of awe and subjection; and one of them made signs to me that we were taking a wrong road. I immediately called out to Mr. Mackay to stop. This was naturally enough taken for an alarm, and threw my people into great disorder. When, however, I was understood, and we had mustered again, our Indian informed us, that the noise we heard was occasioned by a debate among the natives, whether they should stop us or not. When, therefore, we had got into the right road, I made such arrangements as might be necessary for our defence, if we should have an experimental proof that our late and fickle friends were converted into enemies.
Our way was through a forest of stately cedars, beneath a range of lofty hills, covered with rooks, and without any view of the river. The path was well beaten, but rendered incommodious by the large stones which lay along it.
As we were continuing our route, we all felt the sensation of having found a lost friend at the sight of our dog; but he appeared, in a great degree, to have lost his former sagacity. He ran in a wild way backwards and forwards; and though he kept our road; I could not induce him to acknowledge his master. Sometimes he seemed disposed to approach as if he knew us; and then, on a sudden, he would turn away, as if alarmed at our appearance. The poor animal was reduced almost to a skeleton, and we occasionally dropped something to support him, and by degrees he recovered his former sagacity.
When the night came on we stopped at a small distance from the river, but did not venture to make a fire. Everyman took his tree, and laid down in his clothes, and with his arms, beneath the shade of its branches. We had removed to a short distance from the path; no sentinel was now appointed, and every one was left to watch for his own safety.
Friday, 26. — After a very restless, though undisturbed night, we set forward as soon as day appeared, and walked on with all possible expedition, till we got to the upper, which we now called Friendly Village, and was the first we visited on our outward journey.
It was eight in the morning of a very fine day when we arrived, and found a very material alteration in the place since we left it. Five additional houses had been erected and were filled with salmon: the increase of inhabitants was in the same proportion. We were received with great kindness, and a messenger was dispatched to inform the chief, whose name was Soocomlick, and who was then at his fishing-weir, of our arrival. He immediately returned to the village to confirm the cordial reception of his people; and having conducted us to his house, entertained U8 with the most respectful hospitality. In short, he behaved to us with so much attention and kindness, that I did not withhold anything in my power to give, which might afford him satisfaction. I presented him with two yards of blue cloth, an axe, knives, and various other articles. He gave me in return a large shell which resembled the under shell of a Guernsey oyster, but somewhat larger. Where they procured them I could not discover, but they cut and polish them for bracelets, ear-rings, and other personal ornaments. He regretted that he had no sea-otter skins to give me, but engaged to provide abundance of them whenever either my friends or myself should return by sea; an expectation which I thought it right to encourage among these people. He also earnestly requested me to bring him a gun and ammunition. I might have procured many curious articles at this place, but was prevented by the consideration that we must have carried them on our backs upwards of three hundred miles through a mountainous country. The young chief, to his other acts of kindness, added as large a supply of fish as we choose to take.
Our visit did not occasion any particular interruption of the ordinary occupation of the people; especially of the women, who were employed in boiling sorrel, and different kinds of berries, with salmon-roes, in large square kettles of cedar wood. This pottage, when it attained a certain consistency, they took out with ladles, and poured it into frames of about twelve inches square and one deep, the bottom being covered with a large leaf, which were then exposed to the sun till their contents became so many dried cakes. The roes that are mixed up with the bitter berries, are prepared in the same way. From the quantity of this kind of provision, it must be a principal article of food, and probably of traffic. These people have also portable chests of cedar, in which they pack them, as well as their salmon, both dried and roasted. It appeared to me that they eat no flesh, except such as the sea may afford them, as that of the sea-otter and the seal. The only instance we observed to the contrary, was in a young Indian who accompanied us among the islands, and has been already mentioned as feasting on the flesh of a porcupine; whether this be their custom throughout the year, or only during the season of the salmon fishery; or, whether there were any castes of them, as in India, I cannot pretend to determine. It is certain, however, that they are not hunters, and I have already mentioned the abhorrence they expressed at some venison which we brought to their village. During our former visit to these people, they requested us not to discharge our fire-arms, lest the report should frighten away the salmon, but now they expressed a wish that I should explain the use and management of them. Though their demeanour to us was of the most friendly nature, and they appeared without any arms, except a few who accidentally had their daggers, I did not think it altogether prudent to discharge our pieces; I therefore fired one of my pistols at a tree marked for the purpose, when I put four out of five buck shot with which it was loaded, into the circle, to their extreme astonishment and admiration.
These people were in general of the middle stature, well set, and better clothed with flesh than any of the natives of the interior country. Their faces are round, with high cheek bones, and their complexion between the olive and the copper. They have small grey eyes, with a tinge of red; they have wedge heads, and their hair is of a dark brown colour, inclining to black. Some wear it long, keep it well combed, and let it hang loose over their shoulders, while they divide and tie it in knots over the temples. Others arrange its plaits, and bedaub it with brown earth, so as to render it impervious to the comb; they, therefore, carry a bodkin about them to ease the frequent irritation, which may be supposed to proceed from such a state of the head. The women are inclined to be fat, wear their hair short, and appear to be very subject to swelled legs, a malady that probably proceeds from the posture in which they are always sitting: as they are chiefly employed in the domestic engagements of spinning, weaving, preparing the fish, and nursing their children, which did not appear to be numerous. Their cradle differed from any that I had seen; it consisted of a frame fixed round a board of sufficient length, in which the child, after it has been swathed, is placed on a bed of moss, and a conductor contrived to carry off the urinary discharge. They are slung over one shoulder by means of a cord fastened under the other, so that the infant is always in a position to be readily applied to the breast, when it requires nourishment. I saw several whose heads were inclosed in boards covered with leather, till they attain the form of a wedge. The women wear no clothing but the robe, either loose or tied round the middle with a girdle, as the occasion gay require, with the addition of a fringed apron, already mentioned, and a cap, in the form of an inverted bowl or dish. To the robe and cap, the men add, when it rains, a circular mat with an opening in the middle sufficient to admit the head, which extending over the shoulders, throws off the wet. They also occasionally wear shoes of dressed moose-skin, for which they are indebted to their neighbors. Those parts, which among all civilized nations are covered frog familiar view, are here openly exposed.
They are altogether dependent on the sea and rivers for their sustenance, so that they may be considered as a stationary people; hence it is that the men engage in those toilsome employments, which the tribes who support themselves by the chase, leave entirely to the women. Polygamy is permitted among them, though, according to my observation, most of the men were satisfied with one wife, with whom, however, chastity is not considered as a necessary virtue. I saw but one woman whose under lip was split sad disfigured with an appendent ornament. The men frequently bathe, and the boys are continually in the water. They have nets and lines of various kinds and sizes, which are made of cedar bark, and would not be known from those made of hemp. Their hooks consist of two pieces of wood or bone, forming when fixed together, an obtuse angle.
Their spears or darts are from four to sixteen feet in length; the barb or point being fixed in a socket, which, when the animal is struck, slips from it: thus the barb being fastened by a string to the handle, remains as a buoy; or enables the aquatic hunter to tire and take his prey. They are employed against sea-otters, seals, and large fish.
Their hatchets are made principally of about fourteen inches of bar-iron, fixed into a wooden handle, as I have already described them; though they have some of bone or horn: with these, a mallet and wooden wedge, they hew their timbers and form their planks. They must also have other tools with which they complete and polish their work, but my stay was so short, my anxiety so great, and my situation so critical, that 'many circumstances may be supposed to have escaped me. Their canoes are made out of the cedar tree, and will carry from eight to fifty persons.
Their warlike weapons, which, as far as I could judge, they very seldom have occasion to employ, are bows and arrows, spears, and daggers. The arrows are such as have been already described, but rather of a slighter make. The bows are not more than two feet and an half in length; they are formed of a slip of red cedar; the grain being on one side untouched with any tool, while the other is secured with sinews attached to it by a kind of glue. Though this weapon has a very slender appearance, it throws an arrow with great force, and to a considerable distance. Their spears are about ten feet long, and pointed with iron. Their daggers are of various kinds, being of British, Spanish, and American Manufacture.
Their household furniture consists of boxes, troughs, and dishes formed of wood, with different vessels made of watape. These are employed, according to their several applications, to contain their valuables, and provisions, as well as for culinary purposes, and to carry water. The women make use of muscle-shells to split and clean their fish, and which are very well adapted to that purpose.
Their ornaments are necklaces, collars, bracelets for the arms, wrists, and legs, with ear-rings, &c.
They burn their dead, and display their mourning, by cutting their hair short, and blackening their faces. Though I saw several places where bodies had been burned, I was surprised at not seeing any tomb or memorial of the dead, particularly when their neighbours are so superstitiously attentive to the erection and preservation of them.
From the number of their canoes, as well as the quantity of their chests and boxes, to contain their moveables, as well as the insufficiency of their houses, to guard against the rigours of a severe winter, and the appearance of the ground around their habitations, it is evident that these people reside here only during the summer or salmon season, which does not probably last more than three months. It may be reasonably inferred, therefore, that they have villages on the seacoast, which they inhabit during the rest of the year. There it gay be supposed they leave the sick, the infirm, and the aged; and thither they gay bear the ashes of those who die at the place of their summer residence.
Of their religion I can say but little, as my means of observation were very contracted. I could discover, however, that they believed in a good and evil spirit: and that they have some forms of worship to conciliate the protection of one, and perhaps to avert the enmity of the other, is apparent from the temples which I have described; and where, at stated periods, it may be presumed they hold the feasts, and perform the sacrifices, which their religion, whatever it may be, has instituted as the ceremonials of their public worship.
From the very little I could discover of their government, it is altogether different from any political regulation which had been remarked by me among the savage tribes. It is on this river alone that one gan appears to have an exclusive and hereditary right to what was necessary to the existence of those who are associated with him. I allude to the salmon weir, or fishing place, the sole right to which confers on the chief an arbitrary power. Those embankments could not have been formed without a very great and associated labour; and, as might be supposed, on the condition that those who assisted in constructing it should enjoy a participating right in the advantages to be derived from it. Nevertheless, it evidently appeared to me, that the chief's power over it, and the people, was unlimited, and without control. No one could fish without his permission, or carry home a larger portion of what he had caught, than was set apart for him. No one could build a house without his consent; and all his commands appeared to be followed with implicit obedience. The people at large seemed to be on a perfect equality, while the strangers among them were obliged to obey the commands of the natives in general or quit the village. They appear to be of a friendly disposition, but they are subject to sudden gusts of passion, which are as quickly composed; and the transition is instantaneous, from violent irritation to the most tranquil demeanor. Of the many tribes of savage people whom I have seen, these appear to be the most susceptible of civilization. They might soon be brought to cultivate the little ground about them which is capable of it. There is a narrow border of a rich black soil, on either side of the river, over a bed of gravel, which would yield any grain or fruit that are common to similar latitudes in Europe.
The very few words which I collected of their language, are as follows : —
1 It is but common justice to him, to mention in this place that I had every reason to be satisfied with his conduct.